Swirls of light and dark trap my brain like the nightgown wrapped around my legs from turning over so frequently during my fitful sleep. My mouth is so dry that my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth in an almost painful way. My eyes are so dry that I fear blinking will cause my cornea to crack. My head is throbbing in the back as though I am hungover though I haven’t had a drink in well over 22 years. I guess it’s dehydration. I was always dehydrated the day after a drinking binge. I carefully untie my legs from the tangled mess that is my nightgown and put my feet on the floor. Once I find my slippers, I duck walk to the bathroom hurriedly to make sure I don’t pee on the floor. Stupid aging. It’s not for sissies. I brush my teeth and perform my morning ablutions before praying. I suck down two full glasses of water, hoping to hydrate and ease this rotten headache. My belly is full but my tear ducts are still clogged. I give up and pour coffee. Mornings are quiet and good.
My friend, Naunie, died in the wee hours this morning. Her body just gave out after several bouts with ovarian cancer. We knew that she was going to pass soon, but the news still came as a massive kick to the crotch this morning. I pray that her husband and children and family and friends are all blessed with peace and patience while they muddle through this sad and difficult time.
Naunie’s death comes only a month after my other friend, Shelly, died of pancreatic cancer. Shelly’s case seemed whirlwind, having been diagnosed in September and then passing in early January. She, too, was married and had children and grandchildren. I continue to pray that her husband and family and friends are also able to find peace.
I am begging Allah to help ME to find peace. I loved these two women. Naunie created a study program to help my son to pass his U.S. History standardized test so that he could graduate. She introduced me to “compassionate entrepreneurship” through her part-time sales work with “Trades of Hope.” She had the most brilliant smile that started in her toes and continued up until it just illuminated any room that she happened to enter. Naunie was passionate about her family, her teaching career, her ability to help others, and her love for God. I only knew her for four years, but I am a better person for having met her.
Shelly and I met at work in 1986. We studied Arabic together and became good friends, commiserating together over how much we hated our instructor. We worked together and lived within a mile of each other. We both accepted assignments overseas in different countries, but stayed in touch over the years. Shelly was the first visitor I had after I came home from the hospital following my second child’s birth. We would sometimes go for years without contact and then pick right up where we left off. She loved to laugh and I was elated when she and Bruce married and had children together. They seemed to complete each other. Shelly had the most generous heart of anyone I knew.
I am struggling with the whys behind their deaths. I mean, I am a firm believer in each of us being destined to die at our prescribed times. I guess the believer in me still struggles with Allah’s timeline and why them instead of me? Why was I blessed to have my cancer discovered earlier than theirs? Why was my surgery successful in containing the tumor and theirs spread?
Why am I so angry that this wretched disease that is so commonplace is still keeping the undertakers so busy? I am trying so hard to be patient and trust that Allah is the Most Compassionate and that in His compassion, He knew when to call these women out of their pain and into His realm. But I still agonize and ache for their young children, and for their husbands who are left to carry on with the raising and comforting and caring of these young children.
Please don’t misunderstand. I do not think that it is what war veterans call “survivor’s guilt.” I have no feelings of remorse that I am not dying. In fact, I am quite grateful that I am living and with a very positive prognosis. I am so angry that there really was never a chance, short of a miracle, for either one of them. There is still no effective early detection method for pancreatic or ovarian cancers. Why not?! Is no one making an effort to find one? We hear about breast, uterine, cervical, labial, colon, prostate, lung, esophageal, and skin cancers frequently. But those dodgy pancreases and ovaries are just…, well, difficult.
So, I am sad today. I am angry today. I will probably continue to eat my feelings (the leftover piece of apple pie I had for breakfast was a good start.) I will smile to myself as I remember different interactions and fond memories that I had with both of these fine women. I will mourn these women. And I will continue to throw up my middle fingers occasionally today and shout, “Fuck you, cancer!” because it is taking my friends away from me and their families. And I will continue to be hopeful that some amazing person will find the best and easiest and least expensive way to detect these life-stealing diseases with enough time that they will no longer be death sentences.
So, last year I had my son shave my head for me while I was undergoing chemotherapy. I guess it has been about six months since he did it. And I knew that it would come back completely gray. I had been dyeing my hair since I was 14. I figured that it would be all wiry and gross but it’s not. It’s thick and kind of salt-and-peppery and (thank God!) still curly. Had it come in straight, I don’t think I would know what to do with it. At any rate, I’ve gone from skinhead to slightly over 2.5 inches in six months time. Yay!
Also, my eyebrows are starting to come back and, while my eyelashes haven’t, they stopped falling out at least.
Since I stopped just celebrating the whatever-th anniversary of my 29th birthday and completely embraced my true age when I hit 50, I am considering just leaving my hair gray. It’s kind of cool and then I won’t ruin the texture with shitty box dyes that I find on sale in the supermarket and I won’t have to worry about touch-ups anymore. Randa’s sort of getting used to it now. She’s only told me twice in the last couple of weeks that I have “old hair.” I figure it will just match my “old ass” and my “old griping” as I yell at kids to get off my lawn! (No, really. I actually had to do that a couple of months ago while I was lying on my bed, trying to sleep off the exhaustion following a radiation treatment when I heard a couple of kids right in front of my bedroom window discussing which Pokemon they were able to catch here. I literally yelled out the window, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” and they ran off.)
At any rate, after all this cancer crap, I’m living life to the fullest. From here on out, I will not lie about my age. I am 51 and loving it. I am gray and that’s okay. I have wrinkles and stretchmarks, but I earned every one of them. Some wrinkles I got from aging, but many more from laughing. Most of the stretchmarks are from having my amazing five children, but there are plenty of others I got from gaining weight. And dude, don’t give me any shit about the scale or the size of my pants. Those are just numbers. I’m working on my health and I don’t care what YOUR opinion is on MY obesity. I’m a work in progress just like everybody else and I LIKE ME. Once I’ve completed kicking cancer’s ass, I’ll have the energy to focus on work-outs and other activities. Right now, I’m doing what I can to survive and LIVE. The continued therapies I’m on are still wiping me out. And now that I’m on this estrogen suppression medication, all bets are off. I am just not me and I’m still adjusting to the weirdness that my body is becoming. I’m doing better and that’s great. But it will be a while before I can get back to my previous energy levels.
The major news that you can walk away from this blog with is this: I have actual HAIR again. It’s now remotely stylish, but it is hair. And I’m so freakin’ excited about it. I may have to buy a brush.
…I was in the 6th grade in Weierhof, Germany. I was the youngest in my class because I’d skipped first grade. My teacher was Mrs. Smith. She wore her hair very short and had big glasses and wore brightly colored polyester pants suits with lovely print scarves around her neck and hot pink lipstick. She introduced me to science fiction books when she read A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madelaine L’Engle to our class. I first became certified in CPR by the Red Cross that year.
The DYA did not offer softball for girls in my age group. So, always the rebel, I joined the boys Little League team.
This raised quite a ruckus with the coach, SGT Redding and his son, Eric, who also happened to be my best friend.
However, the second day of practice they both were silent when they walked out on the field with Eric’s younger sister, Sherina in tow. Apparently, MRS. Redding outranked SGT Redding and Sherina and I became the first two girls to play on the boys team. This encouraged Amy (the daughter of the only civilian nurse at our small dispensary) to join and also another friend of mine, Susan, who lived in our building. The boys were not pleased at first, but when we all played at 150% during every game, they all came to respect us and treated us the same as any other guy.
Star Wars came out that year in the movie theater. (About a year after it premiered in the states.) My parents wouldn’t let me go to see it because it was rated PG. Once again, I became the overprotected dork.
Summers in Weierhof were full of dirt clod wars, mud pies, picking and eating Italian plums out of the trees next to our house, baseball, buying orange creamsicles from the Shopette and playing Chinese jumprope. We ran through the hay fields across from our building and through the basements of our building where the laundry and storage rooms were located with those freakish yellow lights spaced just far enough apart to leave the scariest shadow monsters on the wall that could eat you or make you wet your pants if you didn’t run through fast enough.
The Grizzles lived in the middle stairwell and Mrs. Grizzle had two chow dogs and they looked like lions to me. She also was a nightmare to the housing inspector because she considered herself an artist who filled an entire wall in their living room with a paisley design made entirely of thumbtacks. Also, she taught a stained glass art class at my school. I didn’t really like them though. And my parents let them babysit us when they took relatives to Paris for a weekend.
Our community was small and when it was time to come in the house my mother used to open the dining room window and blow two short blasts into a Drill Sergeant’s whistle. It was so loud that if could be heard from one end of the housing area to the other. We had exactly five minutes from the whistle to get upstairs and into the house or we were restricted to our rooms the next day. If we couldn’t hear it, we were too far from the house. And many were the times that I set world speed records on my purple banana seat bicycle pedaling to get home before I got grounded.
Ten was great.
So I completed my radiation therapy a week ago tomorrow. Thank God. I didn’t think my skin could handle much more. I have been piling on the silver sulfadiazine creme to help the burn heal faster and to alleviate the pain. It’s starting to peel now, like a bad sunburn from wearing only the right half of my bikini top.
I got to ring the bell when I left the radiation clinic last week. It was great. They are a great bunch of people over there. And while I won’t miss driving out to downtown Fort Worth every single weekday morning in rush hour traffic for a 10 minute zapping session, I will miss seeing the nurses and technicians there. They are amazing people who are truly invested in seeing their patients beat this bitch we call cancer.
So now that chemo and radiation are through, I still have to complete the Herseptin treatments (once ever 3 weeks until April) and I take a pill every day for the next 5 years to kill off my estrogen. I should have a handlebar mustache by the end of February.
The important thing is that we’ll be improving my chances of it not coming back. I think dropping it from like 28% chance of recurrence to 4%. So it’s an exhausting means to an end. And I’m okay with that. We caught it early. We handled it. And we are giving me what I need to keep living my best life.
Get your mammograms, people. Get your PAP smears. Get a colonoscopy. No, none of them are comfortable. But they sure do help with early detection. ❤
Every two hours like clockwork I wake up to pee. Weirdly, I have to have a sip of water before I get out of bed and race to the bathroom in a frantic duck-walk or I won’t be able to blow my nose. Dehydration sucks. It started when I crossed that line into “borderline diabetes” and with chemotherapy it has just gotten horribly worse. I have nose bleeds frequently now. And I am trying to watch my diet but the chemo regime requires me to take steroids to prevent allergic reactions. So during the time I’m on steroids, I am suffering literal hunger pangs and eating all of the food in the house.
I can do this. I can make it. I HAVE to make it because giving up and not fighting this is not an option. And I have completed 11 of the 12 chemotherapy sessions. I can do this. The finish line is in sight.
But I don’t want to. I don’t want to sit there for another four and a half hours getting pumped full of chemicals and saline solution and fight through another week of side effects and insomnia and nausea. I will do it. But I don’t WANT to do it.
Just this part of my treatment plan will be over at the end of this week. Then I’ll be moving into the next stage. And maybe it won’t be so bad. I will fight this disease from coming back because I am not a quitter. And my family needs me.
I can do this.
Dude! I am actually wearing a sweater today. (A jumper for you British readers.) It’s bright red and knit with acrylic yarn and it was a gift from my bonus mom. (She likes me to wear bright colors and thinks I wear too much black. It matches perfectly with my black scarf with the red and white skulls on it. 😉
So I had been faking the Fall is here mentality by making soups and stews during out 897th day of July earlier this week, but then we had the most spectacular and wonderful storm (complete with hail that probably will bring that asshole door-to-door guy who refuses to understand that I will NOT repair hail bumps on my car.) And the temperature outside now matches the one I hold dear to my soul.
And I sat down here motivated to write, took a big swig of hot coffee and the hotflashes kicked in. *augh* It’s a conspiracy. I shut off the air, embraced the cool weather, wore a sweater, got kicked in the middle-aged hormones. GAH! I am hoping it goes away quickly this time. I don’t want to be sweaty all day but I also don’t want to take off this snuggly sweater either. I feel Autumn-y and why should’t I? I tolerated this ridiculous heat for 2.5 Seasons. I actually turned the A/C on back in April and I usually make the kids wait until the furniture melts. Sweat has been pouring off my head, back, and boobs for literally more than half the year, I deserve to feel the coolness of Autumn.
Hotflashes are not just feeling a little warm. My menopausal sisters can confirm that it feels like someone has set fire to the inside of your head and it rapidly spreads downward through your face, into your chest and spreads to back, armpits, and arms. I literally sweat through my shirts (I go through at least 3 a day, perhaps my sweaty Irish heritage goes beyond red hair and freckles) and some days cool showers and ceiling fans are just not enough for relief.
Conversations with curious Christians who ask menopausal Muslim women who wear hijab ridiculously inconsiderate questions when it is 104 degrees Fahrenheit outside, such as, “Aren’t you hot in that?” makes our internal thermometer elevate by at least 3 more degrees of hot flash to about 115.
“Well, I am NOW!” Notice that this question is never asked during the winter. Conversations with climate change deniers is also similar. “Well, this was a mild Summer compared to last year,” said a baby-boomer to me that I love. “The fuck it was,” I answered in my mind. “It wasn’t 117 this year but it DID get to 112 for three days in a row soooooo, uhm doesn’t count as milder, especially when hot flashing on top of that.”
See, here’s the thing: Being a girl/woman is hard. We have to develop boobs and that hurts. And then we get periods and that comes with cramps that can hurt. And then we have all the emotional shit that comes along with boobs and periods (read: boys) and that hurts. And later when we end up having relationships, sex, babies, more hurts. And these are just the things that we ACTUALLY get told about (most of the time) by older women in our lives. But no one pulls you to the side to tell you about the black wiry hair chins, how the acne doesn’t really go away, the hotflashes, the night sweats, and the handle bar mustache you’re going to develop when your estrogen resigns from its duties. If there is any doubt that women are the stronger sex, re-read all of this paragraph. Men could not hang.
At any rate, I am going to enjoy my Fall. I will wear sweaters and mop the sweat off my head and just not wear blush because it looks like I’m having a heart attack when my whole face turns bright red and my cheeks are even rosier as my body fights its way deeper into middle age. And yeah, I’m complaining BUT it sure beats the alternative.
Being a SAHM is really not just about playing with your small children, looking up fabulous recipes on Pinterest, and sweeping up Cheerios from under the couch. While I have done all of the above as a SAHM, I’m telling you that it’s truly a juggling act of many full-time jobs rolled into one with fucking laundry added on top. I am the Personal Assistant, Maker-of-Appointments, Chauffeur, Head Chef, Dishwasher, Busboy, Personal Shopper, Automated Medicine Distributor, Finder of All-Things-Lost, Nurse, Proofreader/Editor of All Essays and Homework, Research Assistant, Bill Payer, Accounts Prioritizer (When there is not enough to cover all bills,) Disciplinarian, Chronic Volunteer, Coupon Clipper, Hair Stylist, Schedule Maker, Sole Keeper of the Thermostat Level and Punisher of Anyone who Changes the Thermostat without Express Permission, and the Primary Person to Talk Anxious College Students Off the Ledge When Panic Ensues.
This list is not all-inclusive. I have at least 14 other job titles but that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.
So, we’ve established that I’m busy. Most women are busy. We hold the world together with Scotch tape and bobby pins, all while balancing the carpool schedules and making sure that there is enough money in the account to cover the Netflix and Hulu payments after the mortgage is paid. We also still manage to go to the doctor for our regular check-ups and screenings so that we can stay on top of our health because there is no one out there qualified to do all the shit that we do on a regular basis. I speak from personal experience when I say that even I do not like my own kids on some days. How on earth would a stepmom take over running the lives of this big ole family of 7?
I go each Spring to have a mammogram done. I usually am called back to have a second one done as I have what is known as “dense breast tissue.” So when my regular breast clinic sent me to Moncrief Cancer Institute to have my mammogram done this year, the technician seemed upset when I said, “See you in a week or two,” as I was leaving. She insisted that their machine was a state-of-the-art 4D mammography machine and that there is simply no way I would be called back for a “dense breast tissue” retake. I got the letter 10 days later telling me to report to my regular breast clinic for another mammogram and a sonogram. The mammography radiologist contacted me later the same day as my sonogram and scheduled a biopsy for the following week. I just kept going through the motions and assuring my husband that my “fat boobs” were the culprit and that everything would be fine. And it was fine, until it wasn’t.
The radiologist called me as soon as he had the results and told me that the biopsy was positive for cancer and that I would be contacted by the surgical oncology department on Monday. They called and scheduled an appointment with me for that Thursday. Everything was like a well-oiled scheduling machine. The first mammogram at Moncrief was on April 1st. The second mammogram and sonogram were done April 12th. The biopsy was done on April 19th. And I was talking to the surgical oncologist a week after that. We did blood work and genetic testing and a heart scan and an MRI over the ten days.
My doctor assured me that there was no wrong answer and that it was entirely up to me how we proceeded. I could opt for a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy), a complete mastectomy, or a double mastectomy. She said that we could work with the cosmetic surgeons to reconstruct boobs out of fat harvested from my own belly. So, like every option has a silver lining!
And while I wanted so badly to come out of this joint looking like a Barbie doll, I opted to take one for the team and just have the partial mastectomy to cut down on the recuperation time and limit the surgery to only one.
The main factor in the decision was my adult daughter with Autism who has severe difficulty to change in her schedule, and with me being her primary caretaker, it would have been excruciating for both of us. The downside to this choice is that I have to do radiation treatment. Bleh.
I opted to push back the partial mastectomy until June only so that I could watch my youngest son graduate from high school without the word “cancer” hanging over the event. And then I had the 11 mm tumor cut out of me on June 12, 2019. Within two months I went from a mammogram to Invasive Ductal Carcinoma to cancer-free.
My sister mentioned that if I had to choose a cancer, this is the one to have. I agree. The advancements that have been made in diagnosis and treatment are absolutely amazing. I wish that these same advancements would soon be made for ovarian cancers. So far there is no good method for regularly screening of it.
I am currently undergoing chemotherapy. I have completed eight of my twelve chemo treatments. Once I complete the chemo, I will undergo radiation treatment, followed by 13 weeks of infusions of Herseptin. We have to kill off all my hormones, I guess. My estrogen, progesterone, and her2 receptors are all positive for cancer. I am nauseated a lot. Sometimes I feel stiff and have joint pains in my hips, knees, feet, and spine. I get nosebleeds from being dehydrated a lot and I have ulcers on my tongue and throat. But I am managing. And it’s all a means to an end, right? I am going to kick cancer’s ass and keep it from coming back to me.
Oh, yeah…my hair. Soooo, my scalp is super sensitive now and my hair was thinning pretty badly. It was coming out in gobs in the shower and unfortunately, the result of that was a lot of clogged drain repairs. Also, who really wants to eat hair at dinner? I had been asking my daughter to cut my hair off and she was chronically busy and couldn’t. I figured she just didn’t want to do it. For her, it was a big emotional thing that stressed her out. So I asked my son.
Ismail, being a recovering home hair-cut victim, was more than happy to oblige me. We went on the back porch and, using shears, he cut my hair into a mullet. I was not impressed. Then he started using the clippers and gave me a fade. About the time that I was sporting a Marine Corps “high and tight” I threatened to beat him to death with the clippers. So he removed the guard and now I’m bald. I have decided to wear eye makeup regularly so that I don’t look like my brother’s twin. My husband appreciates this.
My head is still sensitive but the little stubble holds my hijab in place and it doesn’t fall forward like it used to when I eat. Now that it is starting to come in a little bit more, I’m thinking I may just embrace my gray and not dye it anymore. We’ll see.
I have kept my cancer journey a little close to my chest since the beginning because I did not want to have to deal with that being the topic of every frigging conversation. Also, I always noticed that when someone is fighting a brutal disease, that they always end up consoling their friends and extended family. I didn’t want to do this. I needed my energy for my fight and the only people I wanted to console were my husband and children. So I kept the news to a small circle of wagons that I slowly made larger as I needed to.
We are getting by with support of family and friends. My kids are helping out more and things are just a little “out of whack” but survivable. I am keeping my outlook positive. I have been fortunate to have mostly good health my entire life and this is just my bump in the road, if you will. Just my turn.
But I am writing this in a public forum now to remind women everywhere to get your mammograms annually. If I had waited until I felt a lump, I would have been in stage 3 or 4 before diagnosis. With regular screenings, early detection is possible. Mine was caught at stage 1.
Please get screened regularly. Don’t become one of the 40,000 women who die of breast cancer complications each year.
Last week the former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, was sentenced to ten years in prison for the murder of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, when she went into his apartment, allegedly thinking it was her own, and shot him dead on his couch while he was eating ice cream. The initial conviction ten days earlier, was surprising enough for us in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, especially considering that the judge instructed the jury to consider the “Castle doctrine,” even though Guyger was not defending her own home but was actually in the victim’s home. Ten years was not enough.
There is a lot that did not come out in the trial. There had to have been something other than distraction from her 15 hour shift and the sexting she had been doing with her partner prior to walking into the wrong apartment and shooting a man to death on his couch, armed only with a spoon and a bowl of ice cream. We’ll never know what actually happened. We’ll only have her narrative and the narrative of the overheard aftermath by Botham Jean’s now dead neighbor across the hall. But we do know that if their roles had been reversed and Botham Jean had entered the wrong apartment and shot Amber Guyger dead, he would not have had his jury instructed to consider the “Castle doctrine,” and he’d have ended up with life in prison at the very least. Ten years was not enough.
So, I was discussing with my best friend the entire case and verdict and sentencing. She was deep in thought and kept saying, “I don’t know what to tell my kids.”
I suggested that she tell them to never try to get out of jury duty. “If we continue to get out of jury duty and treat it as a nuisance, then the ‘jury of our peers’ will always look like old, white retirees because that’s whose left to fill the seats when all of the African-Americans, Latinx, Muslims, and women are doing whatever it is that they feel is more important than jury duty. Guyger was only convicted because her jury was made of predominantly women and people of color.”
Again, my friend said, “But what do I tell my kids? That they’re not even safe in their own homes? That they can still be gunned down while unarmed in the safety of their own homes by white cops?”
I had not even considered what she was asking because of my own white privilege. I only have to be concerned about these dangers on September 11 each year because we are Muslim. Most of the time, my sons just blend in with all the other white people around them. Only my daughters and I alert anyone to which direction we pray because of our hijabs. So being concerned for their safety 24/7 even in their own homes was not a blip on my radar. So much for being “woke.”
I apologized to her for being short-sighted. I get it a little more now. Being an ally is a continual learning process. I looked at the whole situation again and realized the bigger picture for my African-American sisters and their fears for their children. They are right. Ten years is not enough.
Blue. Or maybe sort of a deep violet, like when the sun is setting in the desert sky. Yeah. That’s how she feels. Not quite sad or depressed. Just kind of in the feels of it all with a touch of alone sprinkled with a fine dusting of “damn, I wish the sun would come back.”
She goes through the motions of her day. Mundane tasks that, in all honesty, anyone can do but doesn’t. She starts the laundry and then washes the dishes. She flips the load to the dryer and starts another load of wash. Then back to the kitchen to make dinner. Her kids are uninterested in learning to cook anymore, so she skips asking for their assistance and watches a British crime show series on her smartphone with the Bluetooth headset.
Her family trickles in around dinner time. Two or three of the teens discuss whatever game or meme or viral video they all have in common this week. One engages with her about his day and her day for as long as it takes to inhale a meal without chewing. He clears his plate. One daughter has already gone to bed and her husband is engrossed in international news.
She cleans up and readies the coffee pot for tomorrow morning. By the time she gets to bed, her husband is already snoring. Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe tomorrow she’ll feel pink or orange. But tonight it’s still a deep violet blue.