Category Archives: cancer

Everyone Says Hi

It’s so weird to me that when someone we love dies, the world just keeps moving. I feel like everything should stop while we all process the sad news, but it simply doesn’t work that way. Monday morning when I found out David Bowie had passed away I felt like I had been punched in the stomach by a schoolyard bully. He took my lunch money, too. I was left alone by the monkey bars with tears in my eyes. During the weekly staff meeting, I reported that I was sad. A few of my co-workers said they thought of me right away when they heard the news, while other co-workers looked at me like I was a crazy person. Well, crazier than usual. They just don’t get it.

I have learned that some people just don’t give a shit about music. I have read that “pop music of today is disposable.” Have you listened to what’s popular today? A lot of repetition…verse and chorus sound the same…weird topics about nothing at all. No wonder we only hear it in the background while we’re twerking in the club and then walk away, discarding the wasted tracks. It’s like a deep kiss from a sultry lover followed up by a stinging backhand slap to the face. I’m not saying music can’t be fun. There’s a time and a place for upbeat, dance/pop/country music that regales a summer evening at the beach drinking beer out of a plastic cup with one’s friends. But the non-stop, constant barrage of this stuff is enough to make an authentic music lover sad.

That being said, it’s easy to see why many people don’t care about music. I guess I was lucky that I grew up in a family that thrived on creativity. My Mom is a wonderful writer and can make up funny stories. Although she claims to have no musical ability, she is above and beyond, a music supporter. In a previous blog I told you about my brother and me listening to my Mom’s 45’s from the magical striped box in the closet. Paul and I listened to her records before we listened to anything we picked. The Beatles, The Doors, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Herman’s Hermits…we heard them first through Mom. And you know my brother Paul is about the most musical person I know. (See previous blogs.) He is also the biggest David Bowie fan I know. I may have only been a casual Bowie fan, if not for Paul. Luckily, Paul encouraged me to listen beyond “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hear what Bowie was really about.

And what was Bowie really about, you ask? He was about life. He was a lover and a fighter. He was happy and he was angry. He was one of us. He wasn’t perfect or conventionally beautiful. He wrote and sang about what we all were living every single day. He showed us that it was cool to be different. It was okay to love yourself, no matter what. Fuck what those other people say!

Although it’s sad to see him go, we are all so lucky to be able to share in his life. And just think of all the people after us who will continue to celebrate his catalog of creation. It’s special to us because we were here when it happened and that’s why we are so shocked and sad. He told us to be heroes and now we have to be. We have to keep talking about music and art and fashion and innovation. Let’s inspire each other just like Bowie inspired us. Those people who don’t care about music…or just don’t understand it, leave them be. Wish them well and put on your headphones. You get it. Remember, you’re not alone. There are others just like you and we accept you just as you are, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. ‘Don’t stay in a sad place where no one cares how you are. Everyone says hi.’

 One time with me….Awwwww….WHAM, BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!!!!!!!

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Beautiful animation by Helen Green

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Is This Cup Half Empty? (Dedicated to Ray North)

I’ve been struggling with a thought lately. Here’s my question: Am I living life to the fullest? What does that even mean? I hear people talk about it all the time, but who actually does it? I asked some of my friends and family what they thought.

I have a friend at work. Yeah, can you believe that? His name is Joe. He is a writer. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but he makes me laugh every day. He’s one of those people that just makes the day better. You can give Joe the most boring topic and he will think of something clever to write about it. He self-published a children’s book, They Don’t Make Books About Uncles and he’s working on a play that I know will be successful…he’s just that kind of guy. Although I’ve only known Joe for a short time, I very much admire him and I know that he has changed my life for the better. He has inspired and encouraged me to write and create and try. That being said, I asked Joe what it means to live life to the fullest. We have the same job and it’s not always glamorous. Yes, we write and create, but there are rules and guidelines to follow and it can get monotonous and frustrating. It’s not always easy to be a creative type in the corporate world. Joe told me that it’s hard to live every moment to the fullest, but it’s what you make of the good things that happen. He said we have to fully enjoy the successes and the happy times. I happen to know that Joe’s family and friends are very important to him and he works to cultivate those relationships. Immerse yourself in the great moments and don’t worry about the small, mundane stuff. Maybe work is just what you have to do to get to the next great moment. I think Joe is on to something. He seems like a happy person to me.

Jeanne and Joe

I also discussed this topic with Steve. You all remember Steve; he’s my husband. You may remember him from such blogs as…you get it. I asked, “Steve, are you living life to the fullest?” He said, “Well, I sure am busy.” That’s not what I meant and I’m sure he knew that. Steve’s passion is music and sound. I believe that when he’s playing music or recording, he is doing what he loves most. In those moments, he is living life to the fullest. In our discussion, we talked about how it may be hard to live life to the fullest when you have to worry about bills and money. One cannot simply travel and take time out to write a novel or produce an album. How can a person be happy when he is hungry or homeless? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Is it only rich people who can really take advantage of a full life?

Jeanne and Steve

I have been listening to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. In this book, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. It’s a choice one makes to pursue their creative endeavors in a responsible and mature way. She explains that creating is free. It’s for the rich and the poor. She mentions that if only the rich could create, the world would surely be a boring place. She cautions her listeners/readers to never make the artistic craft a burden. Work at it because you love it. Don’t do it to impress other people or even make a living. Do it for yourself; to make you happy. She describes a different way of thinking about being creative and talks about her path as a writer and novelist. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love for herself to work through her own life issues. It just happened to resound with millions of readers. (If you’re a creative type, I would highly recommend listening to or reading “Big Magic.”)

While I’m tossing all of these ideas around in my head, something sad happened. One of my brother’s best friends from high school, Ray North has been battling cancer for awhile. After a brave fight, Ray passed away on November 10th. My brother flew to Texas where Ray was getting treatment to be with him and to ultimately say goodbye. I hadn’t seen Ray since I was in high school. We went to the same school, but my brother and Ray graduated the year before I started. Basically, I knew Ray through Paul. Since I always thought my brother was pretty cool, I knew that Ray was cool, too. He was really cute, he could sing, he was in marching band and he had this killer smile. Oh, and he wasn’t rude to me, his friend’s stupid kid sister. Paul recently talked about when he walked into his new high school as a sophomore, he was very nervous. Ray was one of the first people to talk to Paul and made him feel welcome, including Paul in the “cool crowd.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s a gift you never forget about.

At Ray’s wake and funeral I learned even more about him. He has a lovely family. A beautiful wife and four happy kids. Paul and his friend Eric, (also one of Ray’s good friends from high school,) made a slideshow about Ray. In every picture Ray’s smile shone. There were pictures of Ray goofing around with his family growing up and then enjoying happy moments with his wife and kids. I am not kidding, at Ray’s funeral, the church was packed. Not one empty seat. And it was a pretty big church. I was astounded at all of the lives Ray had touched at church, at work, through Scouting, or just within the community. Everyone in that huge room loved Ray. He wasn’t the type of guy you sorta liked. You could only love Ray. One quote from the homily stuck with me. It’s a quote from Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.

“No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.”

Every person who spoke was touched by Ray. Ray enriched the lives of others just by being himself. He created a happy life for himself and for those around him. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t famous, but without a doubt, he lived life to the fullest.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about living life to the fullest, but God or the cosmos, or whatever you believe in, brought me an example when I needed one. So, I’ll take a dash of Joe, a pinch of Steve, a generous portion of Elizabeth Gilbert and mix it all up with Ray to fashion my own life from now on. It’s probably not something I will be good at every day, but at least I have some wise and trustworthy guides to lead the way. I wish I could tell you exactly what it means to live life to the fullest, but I’m not still not entirely sure what it means. I think it’s a different story for all of us. It’s about finding contentment and creativity inside of yourself, loving everyone as hard as you can and ultimately leaving behind a legacy of infectious joy. Also, if you have a killer smile, that could really help.

Ray

Keep Your Pants On, It’s Going to be Alright!

One of the first things people ask when you get married is, “when are you going to have kids?” And then as time goes on people ask, “Why don’t you have any kids?” I’ve read several blogs about single or married women who don’t have kids. They come across as proud or belligerent about not having kids. Like they are taking some stance against society or something. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not have children. Yep, it’s really okay. You may have guessed that I don’t have kids. I won’t bore you with the reasons why, but it’s not a decision I made lightly. Having a kid is a huge responsibility. It seems that many people aren’t up for the task. Leaving small children in a hot car or abusing them so badly that they are not able to function with other people ever again. It’s sad. You don’t have to be smart or rich or responsible to have one baby or ten babies.

That being said, I’d like to talk about love. If you’re a non-mom, you’ll be able to relate to this statement. “You just can’t understand what it’s like to love unless you have your own child.” Yes, people have said it to me and I’ve read it countless times. “You wouldn’t understand, you don’t have kids.” That’s another good one. People don’t necessarily mean any harm when they say this, they just aren’t thinking past their own lives. What I am proposing is that a person without children, including me, is more than capable of experiencing real and profound love. I’m talking about love that you feel deep within your core. Feelings that twist your stomach and fill your soul with buzzing currents of electricity. Oh, you want examples? Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared. Brace yourself for three tales of profound love.

My first story is about my brother Paul. Paul and I lived together in our 20s. I think we lived together for about 7 years. We lived in an awful place that wasn’t very safe. We didn’t have heat in the winter or AC in the summer. Oh, I forgot to mention the bathroom ceiling caved in and water just poured out of it for years. I’m not exaggerating here. Our landlord, John Not-Coola was a very awkward man who had no sense of humor and not a compassionate bone in his body. And he smelled funny. Anyway, we finally got our “shit” together and moved to a better place. Soon after, Paul got a great job…in South Carolina. What? So, we prepared for Paul to move away. Far away. We got a small group together and drove Paul to South Carolina in two cars. It’s about a 13-hour drive. We had fun getting Paul’s new apartment together, but then it was time for me to go home. Everyone else went down to the car and it was just me and Paul. My eyes filled with tears and I told Paul I was really sad to leave him there. He said he knew and we would be okay. It broke my heart to walk away, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Luckily, we spent a lot of time on the phone and still had a blast together. That was before Facebook and all that, so we still talked to people on the phone back then, kids. I still missed him every day. My best friend. A few years later, Paul moved back home. Yay! I’m sure it’s because he couldn’t stand to be without me. I’m pretty special, you know.

Grab a tissue, here’s the next one. You may remember from a previous post that I had major surgery about 5 years ago. I won’t gross you out with the details, because it is, in fact, pretty gross. I was scared out of my mind. I was pretty convinced that I was going to die. Spoiler alert: I made it. Anyway, Steve drove me to the hospital bright and early that day. He made sure to have some fun songs playing in the car to lighten the mood. My Mom met us at the hospital and I was soon led away to the “back” to prepare. Before I walked away, I handed Steve the ring he bought me and asked him to hang on to it. After waiting around for a torturous amount of time, it was finally time to be wheeled back into surgery. My Mom said something comforting to me about Jesus, which was nice, while the tears were just pouring out of my eyes…again. I thought that would be the last time I saw my Mom or Steve. I remember someone, (I later found out it was my doctor) saying that my turtle tattoo was really cute. “Count backwards from 99.” I thought, “99, 98…” and then I was waking up from surgery. Oh my gosh, I made it! The epidural didn’t take, so I was in a lot of pain. They wouldn’t release me to a hospital room until the pain subsided a bit. About two hours later, I was moved to a room. I was told my Mom and boyfriend were on their way up to see me. I didn’t realize they had actually been waiting for a total of about 8 hours. My Mom walked in the room first and I was so happy to see her! Steve walked in behind her and the tears started again. I was overwhelmed with relief and love. “I’m so happy to see you,” I said. He gave me a big smile and I saw his eyes fill up, too. That feeling was intense. It was happy, sad and almost too much to bear. I will never forget that moment and exactly what it felt like.IMG_0278

One more story to share with you. Of course it’s about my Mom. Several years ago, as I was going through a divorce, my Mom was going through cancer treatment. Mom wasn’t too thrilled with me at the time. Divorce is a sensitive topic in our family. It seems like more and more people are dealing with cancer lately, so maybe many of you can relate or have similar stories. I can still remember my Mom telling me over the phone that she had cancer. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My Mom can’t have cancer, that doesn’t make sense. First came surgery to remove the tumor. It was outpatient and she was pretty much fine. We even laughed together that day. At that time, she still looked like herself. She didn’t look sick at all. What really makes you sick is the chemo. That’s when your skin turns grey and your face is bloated and you lose your hair. Seeing my Mom look like that was heart-breaking. Definitely an image that is burned into my mind forever. You’re not supposed to drive yourself to chemo, so I drove my Mom. They would take her into a room where other people were receiving chemo, too. It took a couple of hours, so I would usually get some rest, as her appointments were early in the morning and I worked nights. Then I would pick her up afterwards. She would be okay and we’d go get some lunch. There was one time in particular I’d like to tell you about when she wasn’t okay. I dropped Mom off and went home to nap. I got a call to come back because Mom was really upset. I got there as fast as I could and found my poor Mom pale as a ghost and crying hysterically. She was in a little room by herself off of the main room. I remember the windows were up high and I could see the sun and some purple flowers someone had planted near a tree. I held my Mom’s hand and she told me a doctor told her what her chances for a full recovery would be. My stomach lurched as I waited for the number: 70%. I guess some doctors feel that full disclosure is a good idea, but maybe you wait until someone isn’t hooked up to poisonous chemicals and feeling as low as possible. Mom was already scared, but that just pushed her over the edge into terrified. I told her 70% seemed pretty good to me as we all have a 50/50 chance of making it through today. You just never know what life can bring on any given day. Plus, it’s just a number, not a representation of who she actually is. I told her I loved her and she wasn’t alone. A nice nurse brought her some crackers and juice and Mom calmed down. She told me she was glad I was there and that ignited my heart. As I mentioned, things were a little tense between us at the time, so hearing my Mom say that meant so much to me. “I’m glad I’m here too.” I think of this moment often as it was almost like time stopped during that 30 minute exchange. We were two women helping each other through a horrible moment with real love and compassion. It’s a memory I hold dear. After chemo and radiation, my Mom has been cancer-free. That’s a gift I never take for granted.IMG_0004

What I’m trying to say here is that we shouldn’t tell others what they can or cannot understand. Just because a woman or man doesn’t have kids doesn’t mean they don’t “get it.” Certainly, people with kids have a very different life experience that is filled with love, happiness, anger, chaos, total satisfaction and heavy disappointment. Oh, wait…that sounds like my life, too. And everyone else’s life. Bottom line: we’re all on this planet together and we are all capable of giving and receiving love no matter what sort of packaging it presents itself. A brother, a boyfriend, a Mom, a cat, a baby, an aunt or uncle…it’s all love and it can all be impactful and profound. And there aren’t any diapers to change, nor spaghetti in your hair.