Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Gold Stars

I am a stubborn, loud, scrappy individual.
It would seem silly to assume that this stupid cancer ( a haywire cellular version of myself) is anything less.

So, Christmas Eve came with some not so great news. Could be because of all of my mocking of the Caucasian Jesus-Mary-n-Josephs. (I'm sorry Brookside-Boulevard-nativity-scene-putter-uppers, Mary did not look like a Rockwellian Gweneth Paltrow). Could be. Could be simply that cancer is a nasty evil thing that wants to live just as bad as I do.

The big bad ugly chemo isn't working as well as The Captain had hoped. The lymph nodes in my neck have gotten a little bigger. The tumor hasn't gotten any smaller. The skin involvement hasn't decreased. I can't have surgery yet.


But there are other methods to try, other means of beating this fucker back. Instead of Napalming my entire body, as we've been doing since July, The Captain has decided to use a smarter, more targeted type of Chemo in the form of pills. I had no idea it even came in pills. The pills have names I cannot even begin to pronounce. I will take twelve of them a day for a week or some other such insane regimen. This part isn't over.

Sometimes I feel like I'm on some really messed up trip to Mordor.

I cry like I sweat. Most girls "glow" or "perspire". Most girls let loose one angelic Hepburn tear. I sweat like a linebacker and I cry like a six year old.

The good Captain, unnerved by my weeping, set out some new plans of attack. One of his ideas was to have me skip this awesome stuff (Adriamyacin and Cytoxan) that's made me so sick. We could reconvene in two weeks and go from there with the pills. The pills won't make me so sick. For a minute that sounded like a gift. To not feel this bad for two whole weeks, fourteen whole days! Think of the minutes. Praise little Caucasian baby Jesus! But the chemo is doing some work and to let my body off of it would simply offer cancer an easier window to slip through. I told him to string up the drip. I'm stubborn, not stupid.

I've spent the last four days laid out by the nasty crap I voluntarily put in my body. Worse than the worst chemically induced recreational hangover I've ever had. Worse than waking up licking the asphalt in the Soldier Field parking lot. Worse than the shot-for-shot Jaegermeister incident of 94'! Worse than all the rest.

I am a proponent of the gold star. I love a gold star. A solid mark of measured accomplishment. As we get older there aren't so many (*sigh*). I guess I believed this bad trip would come without setbacks if I just applied myself. I come from an "apply yourself" people. Abigail, apply yourself! See, gold star! Easy peasy. If I just roar long and hard and mean at this thing long enough it will just wither and die. No. This thing will roar back. It is made of me. And how do you apply yourself when getting out of bed and into the kitchen without puking on the dog seems like it should come with triumphant theme music? I freak out a little (more than usual) if I cannot measure progress and feel as if I'm failing. And failure is not an option. Really....

This is not a linear journey. I have been fooling myself into believing if I just put my head down and kept one foot in front of the other than it would all be alright. I have not failed because its not alright. It just isn't alright. It's cancer, not a women's history final. It will get less not alright. I just have to give up on the idea that setbacks can't happen. They will happen. And I'll get through it.

So nasty bitch cancer, you may be mean and roar big and bad but I'm going to roar back, meaner and louder, and guess what- I've got thumbs fucker, so I win!! Kiss my gold star! I win because today I didn't throw up on the dog, so HA!

Cue the theme music.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sweaters and Fools

It is the beginning of longer days. December 22nd and we begin crawling into longer hours of daylight. No one has told the temperature fairies however because it is "powerful cold" out there. If the actual air temperature goes into the single digits, its really not even worth mentioning. The alarmist weather people are simply mocking the idea of warmth when they say things like "And including the windchill, it feels like 26 degrees below zero....". Thank you. I'm not leaving my house. Until April.

I can't however. The last round of Chemo happens Christmas Eve, and I need to be there. I'm going to wear my closest approximation of a Holiday Sweater. It's green. Sans reindeer or glittery appliqued elves, but green nonetheless. It will look particularly striking offset by the giant cherry red tubes of Adriamyacin the poor nurse lady will have to administer. What sort of gift do you get someone who manually injects poison into your veins? I bet you Emily Post can't answer that either. If I could I would get every single one of those lovelies a Villa in Niece, a pony, a box of chocolates. Oncology nurses are made of some brass, yo!

So this bit is ending. Though I am insanely glad and want to run about in footy pajamas, I am strangely apprehensive about what happens next. I've got a handle on this chemo thing, these weird poisons running in my veins. I never thought, back in August, that I ever would. Funny what is possible when you have no choice, eh?

So surgery. Surgery? Will I go into fits? Will I play in traffic in its aftermath? I don't know. I will tell you this, however; I want this nasty beast gone, gone, gone!! Away from me and my family and my friends. Gone away so there will be no more fear and awfulness. I just want the thing gone. The thing happens to be dying off in my left breast. My rational brain ferociously wants it gone, cut off, removed, physically not on me anymore, And take the other one too for that matter because I'm not going to dance this dance again.

But then my heart, the same heart that searched out second and third opinions, the same heart that tried to find another solution, that heart...that heart isn't so sure its that strong. To which my rational head says "Get over it, wussy pants. You can't win lying down!!" I think that's true. You can't. Grieve the loss and get on with it. I don't have a cold. I have cancer. Intense navel contemplation is a luxury I cannot afford.

It is a character flaw. Yes. I know. It likely has a name. I see things in black and white. I recognize it. It's possible that it's a defense mechanism I've been mastering my whole life for this exempt purpose. Who knows. Is it healthy? I don't care really if it gets me up in the morning. People fool themselves all the time with far more dangerous excuses.

My resolution for 09' is to not suffer fools.....(and I, in my own silliness, am included). I have very little time for bullshit anymore.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Snow

Christmas. A word that strikes fear in the hearts of men.

When I was a kid, the official start of the Christmas season came with a familiar trip down Second Avenue (on the bus) on a day rather like today. My mother was always irrevocably moved by the first New York City snowfall. It didn't happen often, and the snow never stuck around for longer than eight minutes, but it would be on a day like today after I got home from school that we two intrepid souls would venture downtown and engage in the Manhattan Christmas tree buying ritual.

My mother is about five foot three...in a hat. A wee person. I was young, 5,6,7...not much taller. The snow would begin to fall and my mother would wax on about its beauty, winsomely winding a woolen scarf about my neck. Then she'd dig around for her snow boots and her weird, fluffy winter hat. She'd whistle "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" in the elevator downstairs. And together, arm in arm, we would set off into the city's first snow to buy a Christmas tree.

The blissful holiday magic, however, sort of ended there. Usually about the time we got to the bus stop.

My mother was the sort of New Yorker who disdained cabs. Cabs were an extravagance. The subway. The bus. These were the legitimate modes of transport. She usually walked everywhere, but with a six year old in tow she conceded to a bus ride down to Hell's Kitchen. It was cold, I remember. Northeastern winter cold. Her whistling would quiet and I would begin my overtures as to how cold my feet were. But it was Christmastime.

I don't know why all the Christmas trees in New York were sold on 23rd Street but they were so there we would travel with our fellow Midtown dwellers, like we had seen a star or something. We had come to this place, by foot, by bus, by pachyderm, to haggle for the best deal on a live Fraser Fir. And it had to be a Fraser Fir. None of those other trees that lost their needles (!). No, no it was going to be a real live Fraser Fir and she was absolutely not going to pay full price for it and $50... you've got to be kidding and where did you think you were, Westchester? To watch my mother work a tree lot was a thing of beauty.

As a kid, wandering these makeshift evergreen dealerships was like walking through a sidewalk forest circus. They'd go on for blocks, populated by the most wonderful assortment of unsavories trying to sell you one thing or another; a Rolex, a dime bag, a Cabbage Patch Kid. More often than not, wearing a Santa had and sucking on a cigar. I would always stand next to the 14 or 18 foot trees, trying desperately hard to convince her that our apartment was, in fact, as big as The Met. "Yes, yes it will too fit, Mommy!!", lamenting the fact that our measly 8 foot ceilings were going to ruin Christmas. Pouting often ensued.

But finally, as the pretty snow had given way to miserably windy, raw cold, my mother and the tree-dealer would settle on a price not insulting to either of them. The tree man would "tie it up" for free, which is the evergreen equivalent of trussing a turkey. And then, deal done, tree gotten, my tiny mother and I would begin to drag that Fraser Fir the twenty-odd blocks back to our apartment.

This is where the Holiday fun really started.

I was a kid. I wasn't used to being out late in the cold on a school night. (That's my best excuse for ridiculous Holiday behavior). Three blocks into it, I'd start in about how I was so cold I was going to sit down and die of cold to which my mother would respond how she'd hate to leave me on the sidewalk for all the crazy people, but she would if I didn't stop complaining. Not receiving the appropriate response, I would start in on how we'd passed two bus stops already and how the bus was the warmest place ever and that I would personally convince the bus driver to let us have a tree on the bus. My mother would remind me how mean New York City bus drivers were and how our tree was so big the bus wouldn't even stop. Hopeless, desperate, and thinking about nothing but hot chocolate I would start in about how if she really loved me she would get a cab and how other kid's Mom's didn't have weird hang ups about cabs, especially at night when it was so cold with a tree and everything......

It was usually about this point when she would throw up her hands in exhaustion. Flushed and freezing, she'd remind me how Santa was watching to which I'd smart-off something about his reindeer at least having fur coats. At wits end, she'd finally give in and make me sit on the Christmas tree a few feet back from the street (because cabs WILL NOT stop for anyone with a Christmas tree, kid or no kid, snow or no snow), swallow her pride and hail a taxi. After several pulling away with mention of the word "Tree", eventually a kind-hearted cabbie would take pity on us. I would, of course, do my absolute best to look desperate and in need of warm chocolaty beverages. The cabbie would tie the tree to the roof and all the money my poor mother had saved in the haggling would be spent on the tip for the driver who helped drag the tree inside.

Every year. It happened like that every year.

Christmas is not about trees or presents or lights or dinner parties. Its not about Jesus or wise men for that matter either. It is about memory.

This day, (some may say arbitrary, some may not) happens at the end of every year where the memories of all the year's past days sort of culminate. It is impossible to escape. It is burned into our collective knowing. Christian, non-Christian, consumer, non-consumer. Where were we last year? It's a benchmark. It isn't as desperate as New Year's Eve. Too much of our childhoods were tangled up in its ribbons, for good or bad. The remembering is deeper. There is more hope in it. Hope in memory.

December 25th is three days after the shortest day of the year. In the darkest part, where the light is weakest, it is a mark of a quiet beginning.