When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Head for the Hills!

Favorite fur hat, Liv and Finn

I felt like I was on the ropes.  Bad mammogram (OOF!), Blind Alan put down 15 minutes before my biopsy (BIFF!), cancer diagnosis the next day (POW!), got served with $17,000 summons night before surgery (SOCKO!), breast cancer tumor surgery and lymph node biopsy (BAM!), and two days later Mom’s house is sold (KA-POW!).  Her home of 35 years, the place of many family gatherings and milestones, was where I last recovered from surgery.  The cops showed up that night, but that’s another story.  I cannot rest even though I’m supposed to recuperate.  I feel like inertia equals death.  I gotta move.

What, me worry?  The night before my biopsy. We joked about it.  Yotel NYC with Emma.

I have a month of “recovery”.  After that, I start 12 weeks of Taxol, and another chemo for Her-2 positive breast cancer called Herceptin.   I’m expecting to be knocked out (BANG!).  No, I can’t avoid it without risking my life.  Yes, my hair was going to fall out in about the third or fourth week of chemo.  I wasn’t afraid, but I was filled with dread.  I think the people around me were more afraid and anxious than I was.  The calls, messages, texts, cards and the gifts started to arrive on a daily basis.  It was like cancer Christmas.  I’m always amazed when someone does something nice for me, only because like all people, I have the sneaking feeling I don’t deserve it.  I certainly didn’t expect it, though I don’t know what to expect really.  Now I know when someone gets cancer, I need to give them a gift!  I hear chemo is boring and it takes three hours and I’m going to keep busy.  I even got a Kindle!  I had sworn off buying a THIRD Kindle as husband #2 broke my first one, and then ran away with my second one, along with my dignity and any desire to buy a third.  But here it was and I was glad.  In fact, I cried when I opened it.  It’s the kindness that was killing me.

One of the most amazing gifts I received was a plane ticket to Colorado from my friend Liv and an invitation for a girl’s weekend in Red Cliff at my friend Jill’s mountain house.  I had been in Colorado just one year earlier in February for the birth of Liv’s son, Finn.  I was at her wedding, helped out when Lillian was born, when she graduated nursing school, proofread a letter to get her dream job, and when I left Colorado, I swore I would always be there.  She told me her due date and I booked a ticket. I never thought that it works in reverse.  I needed to go away but be close with friends - to both escape and engage.  I am a fake Buddhist tourist but being in the present moment, practicing self-care and also giving lovingkindness made all the sense in the world.  Was I running away from my problems?  Maybe.  Never underestimate the power of denial.  But I was always going back.  The uncertainty of the future made the present more real, feeling every minute, noticing details I had blanked out, feeling every change in my mind and my body, every fleeting thought or twinge or twitch or tickle.

I’m in the airport with my leopard-print carry-on that I use whether I’m leaving for a weekend or a week.  Another part of my fake Buddhist tourist practice is I’m really trying to let go of “stuff”.  If it doesn’t fit in the bag, I’m sure I can live without it.  I run into legendary Continental sound man Noel Ford who is on his way to a Dinosaur, Jr. gig in Denver, and he invites me to the show.  I’m already working on how I can do this – maybe go to the gig then drive to the mountains, rent a car, I’m already tour managing in my head.  I need to let go and give to up to the gods.  This isn’t my gig  I’m being whisked away to the mountains.  I have no expectations yet feel excited.  It’s another Christmas morning.  And it looks like Christmas!  There are mountains and snow and evergreens and mountain lodges.  I’m wearing my snow boots and my favorite fur hat and it feels like a Christmas film

OR a chick flick starring Jill, Julie, Lindsey, Lisa, Liv and Rita.  It’s a familiar scenario of girls’ getaway without attachments.  Everyone has brought enough food and drink to be snowed in for months.  We gather in the communal dining area, preparing a meal together with unscripted parts.  Each woman literally brings something different to the long rectangular table – her traditions, tricks, flair and finesse.  It was as we rehearsed it but completely improvised.  The food circles in a ritualistic rhythm, with microbrew or wine on a whim.  When we are full, we start to pour out one by one, the group listening as a singular truth is spoken and heard.  We are not work or wives or mothers or makers but we are connected - a communal collective, individual and whole. 

We dig deeper and unimportant details fall away.  We temper the depth with the shallow of the hot tub.  We tread the snowy catwalk to the steaming cauldron. I can only sit on the edge, sutures still raw.  It is the occasion that I am there but not the reason. It all hangs out.  Muscles and minds fall deeper into relaxation. The speedball of the hot and cold eases and invigorates without any tension.  We are fluid as we slip from once scene to the next.

The outdoor hot tub is only matched by indoor fire.  We overlook the small, snowy town from the third-story glass panel.  A guitar is brought into the circle and there is more to open.  There is nothing more intimate for me than playing and singing in front of a small group in the light, especially people I care about and I can watch watching me.  There is no blinding spotlight obscuring faceless shadows.  I’m more anxious about this performance than cancer.  I find the words, both angelic and antagonistic:

And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars were just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no
Might last a day, yeah
Mine is forever
Might last a day, yeah
Mine is forever
Well they get what they want, and they never want it again
Well they get what they want, and they never want it again
Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to
Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to

When I’m urgently belting it out, I feel it and I mean it and I live it.  I could lose everything.  I could give it away but no one can take it from me.  In this room, in my mind and in my heart.  I have everything.  I take everything.  It’s momentary and memory.  It’s fleeting and forever.  Mine is forever.

We walk down the street to the local tavern.  There’s a pretty lively crowd being the only place in town.  We order our drinks and check the place out.  I’m wearing my fur hat and a young woman bounds up and says, “I love your hat!”  Compliments kick the door open and we chat.  She is only 26 but is a cancer survivor from childhood.  She is now racing cars because she, too, feels like she cannot stop moving forward – and at great speed.  I can tell by her speech patterns she feels the urgency of every moment.  She does not fear death, she fears inertia.  I am humbled.  I’m just getting started.  We leave the bar, and I ran back, pulled the hat off my head and handed it to her.  It felt good to give it, a gesture, a reach, a bridge.  It’s her cancer Christmas now. 

I’m traveling a little lighter.  As I come to the bridge, there is no turning back.  I can’t stop and I can’t look down.  I  don’t want to look back.  I feel like I will lose myself, banished to hell forever, never to walk in the light of the living again.  Rolling stone gathers no moss.  Eyes forward.  Keep on keepin’ on.  I may even get a few licks in.


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