Lara Bradshaw

Recently, Facebook reminded me that it has been a year since my relationship with He Who Shall Not be Named ended.  Between this and hearing about the death of my first boyfriend, I have been thinking about my past relationships in a Carrie Bradshaw sort of way.  Step in because we are about to go down memory lane.

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My first boyfriend died a couple of weeks ago after suffering a heart attack in his sleep. When I heard about his death, I wasn’t surprised at all. He was an alcoholic, and he battled alcoholism for a very long time. When he died, I wasn’t surprised and that made me feel guilty.

Aren’t you supposed to feel shocked when someone dies unexpectedly? I mean, even when a friend of mine who has had stage four breast cancer has taken a turn and died from the disease, I have felt shocked. I guess hearing that a middle-aged man who has had a horrible disease for probably two decades dies of a heart attack isn’t a shocking end to that particular story.

He was the first man I ever had the relationship talk with, and he was my first breakup. Boy, I did not take that breakup well. I pretty much reacted like a textbook jilted ex girlfriend, and the things I said and did are not anything I am proud of. One of the many lessons I learned from my relationship with him and the subsequent breakup was pretty much a list of what not to do the next go around.

I don’t want to paint him as an alcoholic and nothing else, because he was more than his disease. He had a good heart, and he loved his friends and family fiercely.  He had a pitbull for a long time, and she was his constant companion. If funds were low on his end, and he had to choose between him eating and her eating, he’d feed his dog first. I credit him and his precious pittie for why I love that breed.

I hope his family and any of his loved ones find peace during this time of mourning. I also hope if there’s an afterlife, he is there and he’s reunited with his favorite creature – Harpooa.

Then a week or so ago, my Ex told me he bought a house in an affluent neighborhood for himself, his girlfriend and her daughter.  I have no doubt that the man is going to beat me down the aisle, and that’s a-okay. I’m not in a Moving On competition with him.

After telling me his good news, he asked me how I was doing, like this would affect me negatively. I might have said too bluntly, “Why would I care? Our relationship has been over for years.”

Keep in mind, our relationship officially ended a year go.

I meant every word of it, including the emphasis on the years part. Him telling me that he and his new lady love were starting their new life together had absolutely no affect on me.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

Elie Wiesel

It’s absolutely true that the opposite of love is truly indifference. When our relationship ended, feelings may have lingered for a couple of weeks, and looking back, I’m not even sure if that was because I missed him or change was just scary.

I did care for my Ex but well before our relationship ended, I stopped loving him the way you’re supposed to love someone you’re supposedly in a relationship with. When one or both parties aren’t committed to being in a relationship with each other, that type of love just fades away. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being my boyfriend and became a safety net, but I just didn’t want to admit that.

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I learned the hard way that he wasn’t who I was looking for, and given his behavior, I certainly was not who he was looking for. He’s going to get the family he’s always wanted, and he just didn’t want that with me. I never came with a guarantee that I’d always be around.

When we were together, I thought I wanted a family, and I resented him terribly for never wanting that with me. I thought I wanted to have a family and be a mother, but months after he and I broke up, I realized that part of my desire to have a family with him was to have some sort of a connection with someone supposed to be in a relationship with me.

While I know I would have been a great mother, I honestly don’t feel like my life is missing anything like I did when I was with him. I realized that the empty feeling I felt with him was just… well, how I felt about him.

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Don’t get me wrong – I wish him well, and I don’t hate him.  Once again, the opposite of love is indifference. Hell, he and I still share custody of Boomer and Mal. I want him to be happy, and he and I took way too long in realizing that involved finding other people. The ex and I have a history and not all of it was great or fantastic, but it certainly wasn’t all bad.

Right now, I am a 37 year old woman with a condition that affects my adrenal glands and one ovary. That pretty much cements the fact that I am not having kids, which is perfectly fine. I love what I do for a living and want to keep exploring different aspects of that and growing.

Again, nothing feels missing from my life. I get to be an aunt and go home to a quiet house. Wait, who am I kidding. With my two dogs, my house is never quiet, haha.

While painful, the mistakes and bad choices I have made allowed me to truly understand what it is I want in a significant other (a nerd for books or pop culture, a partner who wants to go out and be active with me, and someone who wants to go out and have adventures – big or small) and what I did not want in someone (i.e., smoker, drinker, or exhibited any obsessive qualities).

Right now, I couldn’t be happier with the man in my life who I have told everything. I’m not kidding – I have told this man allll my deep, dark secrets. All of them. He even sent a cease and desist email to my stalker (a married man with a kid), who I have asked repeatedly to stop contacting me who felt like ruining my birthday by sending me a  message from a spoofed number. Yeah, asshole. I know it was you.

My boyfriend has my back and I have his. He and I have something really great going on, and I look forward to spending as much time as I possibly can with him whenever possible.

Yo, yo, Get Up Swinging readers. I am back, kind of. A lot has happened since I last updated and if you’re interested, keep on reading.

The primary reason why I went on an unintended blog hiatus is the fact I started a new job. In mid-October of last year, I resigned from the job that I had been at for more than 9 years. It was a long time coming, and I could not be more excited. I made a lot of wonderful friends at my old company, and I wouldn’t be at my new job if it was not for this nine-year stint.

Boy, though, I could not be more excited and relieved to be moving on. I had plateaued at that company years ago, and there was nowhere for me to go. I had been getting negative reviews for three years in a row, and I wasn’t given any type of raise. I felt like I was repeatedly running into a wall hard, getting up dazed and then running back into the wall again.

When the opportunity for this new job for more money, opportunities and the chance at a real career path, I jumped at it. Did I ever. I was so unhappy and miserable at my old job, and my life had to change. There was drama when I left and I got threatened with a non-compete. That’s why I remained pretty much silent for the last nine months because I was afraid of being accused of doing anything untoward. Now, my non compete period is over, and I feel free to share about my life, especially my professional life, without threat of litigation.

I am happy at this new job. Sometimes the hours make me want to curl up into a fetal position and whisper to myself “it’ll be okay.” I am at a job that pays so much better, offers career training and opportunities and has expanded my skill set in ways I never could before. I’m grateful. I’m being challenged and at the same time, appreciated.

I honestly feel like a completely different person since I switched jobs.  I don’t wake up feeling a suffocating sense of dread.

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The other big change in my life occurred a couple of months ago. My boyfriend of 7.5 years and I broke up, and he moved out. Sigh… Things that cannot be undone were done and now we’re done.

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Our relationship was not right for two years, probably three. I knew something was not right for at least two years, and I should have ended it back when the signs were there. The signs were neon, blinking and in all caps.

RELATIONSHIP IS OVER.

I was not ready then. I was scared. I was scared to live on my own and without him. I also wanted it to work out, and I tried so hard to make it work. He was with me during cancer. We had gone on so many adventures together. I went skydiving with him. My longest relationship before him was 10 months.

When things become bad for a long period of time and you find yourself in relationship purgatory, then both people need to want to leave it to ever go anywhere. He never wanted to leave the purgatory. We were stuck. We were not being completely honest with each other, him definitely more so than me. We avoided the truth staring at us in the face.

It’s done now. I could hate him, curse his name and tear up all his pictures. Frankly, I used up all that jilted ex girlfriend energy in those two years since I knew he was not on the level. Now that it’s over, there’s a sense of relief and sadness. I can and will forgive hi, because how else could I ever move on?

The sick irony of it all is now that we have laid all the ugly truths on the table, he and I are closer than we ever were in the last couple of years of our relationship. I don’t know if this honesty is the result of a sense of freedom now that the commitment ties have been cut. Like, why not just say it because it’s not like we can break up even more so than we are? Ah who knows, maybe I’m being cynical and this openness is the result of two people who learned the value of each other too late.

We are going to try to be co-dog owners unless it gets too fraught with emotions of the negative variety. I’m already dating, which some might say is too quick since my relationship has only been over for a month or so.  I don’t think so. I had been mourning the loss of this relationship for a long time, thinking about dating a lot toward the end. Now I’m here. It’s not that I’m not sad or am throwing parties that I’m single. It’s that I’m a social person who loves being around people.

I’m not going to let the end of this relationship make me a cynic, I won’t. I still believe in love and part of me will always love the Ex. He and I weren’t right for each other. I don’t see us ever getting back together but I can’t see a life without him in some manner. Maybe that’s early break up thoughts dancing in my head right now but that’s the mentality I have at the moment.

There you have it. I’m at a new job that pays me so much better and has an actual career path. I’m newly single too. Lots and lots of change here in Get Up Swinging land. Hopefully more positive changes will keep happening now that I’m no longer in relationship purgatory or at a job where I was going nowhere.

I’m going somewhere for once. It’s pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to who I meet along the way and who might want to go for the ride with me.

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What Does “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” meant to you?

Before we all know it, Pinktober is going to rear its ugly head once again, and everywhere you look will be pink ribbons – from the grocery store, to chain restaurants and maybe a part of your downtown running path is now covered in bras (that one made me want to set the bras on fire) – all for the sake of “awareness.”  I know I have gone on and on and on about breast cancer awareness month.  I think pretty much everyone who knows me or who is familiar with Get Up Swinging knows how I feel about this month.

Well, I wanted to ask other folks with cancer, any cancer, the question: “What does Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean to you?”  The responses mostly came from other women who have had breast cancer since that’s the disease I have, but there responses from others who have undergone treatment for cancers other than breast.

 

Here are responses from those who have metastatic breast cancer:

“Even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I loathed October. No matter where you go there is a sea of pink, ribbons, t-shirts, key chains, etc. What started out as something good had morphed into a retail/marketing machine that line the pockets of those ‘bringing awareness.’  Now after living with Stage 4 breast cancer for the past year, I understand how serious this is. There isn’t a female on this planet that isn’t ‘aware’ – that doesn’t ‘feel their boobies.’  Every person diagnosed with breast cancer COULD develop metastatic disease. Early detection does not guarantee safety.  What will save more of the 40,000 people that will die from breast cancer each year is research.  And that means money for research – not awareness.  What Komen and the others give to research is sickening. Nancy Brinkman should be ashamed of what her memorial to her precious Suzy has become. More lives could benefit from research and the clinical trials that are born of research. Until we can change the perspective of the public at large this will be an ongoing disconnect and more people will die – like me.”

“Nothing,” and then: “I have metastatic breast cancer.  When I die, I will not have lost at all.  Another reason October grosses me out: battle metaphors.”

“I think my stance has only grown stronger since being diagnosed stage 4 in the last 12 months.  I have a really hard time going grocery shopping.  I’m already getting the stupid emails about playing secret games.  How does that raise awareness?  I’m trying to come up with something for [metastatic breast cancer] similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  We’ve just got to come up with something good.”  The same friend then said, “I still really just want to punch that Komen lady in the throat.  Do you think that will bring more awareness?  I bet it’d do more for mets than a pink frying pan.  (I’m totally kidding…. Sort of.)”

Here are the responses from those who had breast cancer, aka the people who we’re supposed to celebrate during this month (allegedly):

“Hell.”

“Enough awareness already.  Time to focus on research for those with mets.  I used to like pink.  Sometimes now I struggle with wearing it.  Oh, and it makes me want to throat punch people.”  It will shock y’all that wasn’t something I said, but damn, it’s something I truly feel.

“I cringe every October now.  SGK has created an atmosphere wherein people actually resent breast cancer charities – even the good ones. It makes me very sad.  I used to like pink, too.  Now it just makes my butt pucker.”

“Absolutely nothing.  It’s a disgusting marketing ploy.”

“It means companies profit off of a disease (mostly).”

“That I’m going to flip the fuck out the next time someone posts something about not wearing underwear or using their boobs to get out of a speeding ticket because they are playing a ‘fun’ breast cancer awareness game.   And October, the month that used to be my favorite, is now the month that I won’t be able to, even for a minute, forget I had breast cancer.”

“Well, it means breast cancer awareness for everyone else, but for me, that’s every month every day.”

 “Breast cancer is sadly something we’ve all heard of.  We’re all aware of it each October because it’s shoved down our throats.  I’m all for education of things like triple negative or IBC or mets, etc., but buying a pink frying pan isn’t going to do that either.  By the way, I don’t think that pink is a vile color; I do love it, but I hate all the negative bullshit that it stands for now.  Hopping off my soapbox now….”

“I guess the month is more personal to me.  I got THAT phone call from the breast surgeon on October 1, 2012 telling me my biopsy was malignant.  ‘Sorry for the phone call, but we need to act on this PDQ.’  So, two weeks later, I’m in surgery for seven hours, having a double mastectomy and tram flap.  I’m sick of pink.  I’m sick of Tamoxifen.   I hate cancer.”

“Most people are unaware or ignorant to anything until it happens to them or someone they love.  I feel like I’ve been under the breast cancer cloud since I was about 13 and my aunt, who was like my second mother, was diagnosed and had her mastectomy.  I don’t know if her struggle was a warning to me, so I’d catch mine earlier because she ignored hers for a while before she got checked. . . .  I try to see everything for the benefit it could or does have, but the little awareness ‘games’ piss me off because people think they are doing something when they really are not.  If the month gets more women to do self-exams, check up on something suspicious, get a physical, or donate time or money who would’ve never thought to do before, I pray that is the good that comes out of it.  It’s kind of a hard month, but so is every day once your life changes that little bomb of a seed has been planted in your mind and body.”

“I definitely feel the attention has to shift from awareness to cure.  I think we all are aware now. However, maybe any attention to the disease is good attention?   I will tell you though it pisses me right off when I see crap like … For breast cancer awareness I will be brave and post a picture of myself on Facebook without makeup…. Puuuuleeeze. Personally, those who post those self-serving pictures (oh girl, you’re gorgeous without make up, wish I could look half as great) did abso’f ing’lutely nothing to help my treatment go more smoothly – physically or mentally.  If they want to see the face of bravery, I suggest they take a field trip to the waiting room of the women’s cancer center and look at the beautiful faces there with their heads covered with baseball caps, scarves, wigs or nothing.  I encourage them to look into the eyes of those women, which might be brimming with tears because they were just given the news they did not want to hear, or tears of relief because they did.  Regardless of age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or any other defining factor.  These women and their families and support systems have hearts full of hope.  So my hope is that October brings meaningful advances in the cure and prevention of breast cancer.”

“I don’t have a lot of attachment to it.  I went to a nice breast cancer fundraiser last night with all the pink bells and whistles for the cancer center that saved my life and had a good time and made some donations.  But, there was a lot of ‘stuff’ there, that had I been in the throes of treatment or diagnosis, would have absolutely pushed me over the edge.  So, I have awareness of the real deal!  I do feel that I’ve helped shape some fundraising events so that they don’t push those buttons for others by creating awareness myself.  I’m thinking it is a good month for me to keep being true about how it all is.  At the same time, I can stay positive about the whole thing because my doctors told me the money that is raised truly helps patients and research and I believe that.  Plus my mom with Alzheimer’s only likes to wear hot pink…which is pretty weird since my sister and I are both breast cancer survivors. She doesn’t consciously understand the significance. I think I will stay away from the pink cupcakes though; and I will definitely be remembering those we have lost who no longer can pink partake. . . .  I admit, I did buy my mom a pair of breast cancer awareness sneakers because they were hot pink.  I think like a penny supposedly goes to help somebody.  *snark*”

Responses from people who had cancer, but not breast cancer:

“Well, I don’t have that type of cancer, but to me, it means I expect to see women without cancer showing off their boobs and bras and women with cancer not feeling great about being flooded with images of boobs.”  When I read this response, I actually shouted “YES!” loudly at my desk.

“Blegh.  What about the other kinds of cancer?  Pinkification stinks.”  I agree.

“I wish oral CA had the same publicity as breast CA.”

If those with breast cancer are expressing disgust and resentment at the very month that is supposed to celebrate them, then changes need to be made.  We need to stop trivializing a deadly disease by wrapping it up in a pretty pink bow.  Men also get breast cancer, and I couldn’t even fathom how horrifying Pinktober would be to a man with breast cancer.  If a friend sends you an invite for the stupid annual Facebook game so many people mentioned above, respond with links from those with cancer as to why these games are offensive.

Most of the time people mean well, but I have come across so many people who want to use Pinktober as an excuse to have a girls’ night out and drink (dumb) or just say boobies or knockers or hooters.   We need to take breast cancer seriously, even if deals with a body part that can reduce grown adults into immature 10-year olds.

I asked Lori Marx-Rubiner, the president of Metavivor, how can anyone help a loved one going through breast cancer treatment, and here is her response:

What can people do?

Give of themselves – run errands: dry cleaner, market, carpool

Make a meal – check first abt dietary restrictions

Keep patient company during treatment

Come by with a good movie

Check in 6-7 days after treatment, when the attention has died down

 

If you don’t have a specific person in mind-

Volunteer at a treatment or support center

Organize a local fundraiser

Sign up for Army of Women

 

No time?

Send a gift card – Jamba Juice, bookstore, Netflix subscription, local restaurant that delivers

Donate to research or directly

Robin Williams

Out of all celebrity deaths, Robin Williams’ suicide seems to be hitting me the hardest.  When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with “Aladdin.”  I played that cassette repeatedly while I was in my family’s basement, trying to keep to myself.  Despite the inability to carry a tune, I knew every word and inflection of this soundtrack by heart.   I especially loved the song “Friend Like Me,” and as a weirdo kid, it felt like the genie/Robin Williams was my friend.

If a Robin Williams movie came out, I always made an effort to watch it, even if he wasn’t starring in the movie.  Even if role was small, like in “Nine Months,” he made it larger than life.  I watched “Mork & Mindy” when it was on Nick at Night.  I loved “Hook,” “Jumanji,” “Good Will Hunting,” and of course, “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

He made me laugh.  If it was in the movies or in a television interview that he overtook with his manic wit, Robin Williams made me laugh and feel better.

During my first ever trip to New York City, I spent an entire day just walking around and taking pictures.  I walked from the Upper West Side to the entrance of Central Park.  I stopped to watch a group of performers, and out of the corner of my eye – I saw Robin Williams.  He was walking quickly through the crowd, and he dashed across the street.  I wanted to say something to him but I was so starstruck.  I just saw my childhood hero!  Since I couldn’t say anything, I took a picture instead.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

When I heard about his death, I immediately felt sad, but when I read that it was an apparent suicide after he had been struggling with depression, I felt devastated.

Depression hit me after cancer treatment, which caught me by surprise.  I had never experienced depression before.  For a long time, I kept thinking I could will myself out of the despair I felt.  I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did after treatment, like I just went through hell, so why couldn’t I escape it?

My life felt hopeless, and I believed I was resigned to a life of illness and pain, that all I was Cancer Girl, and this was how I was going to die.  I was my mother’s daughter, after all.  For awhile, I was obsessed with the thought of my cancer coming back either locally or distant (i.e., stage 4).  I was living in the “what ifs” and “what just happened,” and the present was just bleak.  My relationships suffered.  Even my beloved pooch couldn’t grab me out of the complete despair I felt, though bless her heart, she tried.

After the horrible thoughts that the world would be better without me consumed me daily, in late 2012, I reached out for help.  It took me way too long to realize that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness.  It was an act of someone who recognized that her will wasn’t enough.  I continually seek help for depression, and sometimes I am ashamed to admit that.  There’s a stigma to mental illness.  I’ve been managing my depression with therapy and running.  It’s not just a phase or something I can just snap out of.  It’s not a weakness in my character – it’s a weakness in my brain chemistry.  And it’s okay that I see someone to help me cope with depression.

Robin Williams’ suicide just hit me right smack dab in the feels.  I’ve already come across the blog posts saying that he was a coward or selfish, and it just breaks my heart.  He was a sick man who struggled with addiction and depression his whole life.  Nobody will know his frame of mind when he committed this act, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree he must have been sinking in a despair that nobody could understand or withstand.  When someone dies of cancer, we call them brave.  When someone dies as the result of mental illness, they are called weak or cowardly.

If you have never struggled with mental illness in any of its forms, I envy you.  Let me just say – don’t be fooled into thinking that since you’re mentally “sound,” you’re an expert on mental health.  You’re not.

You’re lucky.

Update

Since the passing of The Boyfriend’s family member of cancer, I have been at a loss for something to write. Normally, I will come across something on social media, like a ridiculous and offensive campaign all in the name of “awareness,” or an ignorant comment from someone high-profile, and I’ll furiously write a blog. My righteous indignation serving as a guide to my angry typing.

After watching someone die from cancer and seeing the grief and pain the whole process inflicted on his family, I am just tired. I am at a loss. Cancer made its way into my life once again, and as it does, the disease just took, stole and destroyed.

I listened to the nonsensical words from a man, who had been praised for his sharp mind. I saw the last laboured breaths of a frail man, who had slipped into unconsciousness for the last five days of his life. I tried to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible among his family members, feeling like an interloper among grievers. I didn’t know him prior to his illness.

This period of when he was actively dying, and my life went on hold, ready to change at a phone call’s notice, really got inside my head. Instead of being the one in the hospital bed, I was the hospital visitor who unfortunately understood the cancer lingo. I watched the man I love grieve for someone he loved. I learned, as we all do, how helpless we are in the face of death.

I flash-backed to my own treatment at the sight of the tubes and the beeping machines. During this period before and after he died, I felt unfamiliar pains in my back and hip. At times, I thought in a panic, “Do I now have metastatic cancer?” My worst nightmare was the main topic of conversation for a solid month.

The boyfriend needed me, so I dedicated myself to being the loving partner for him, all the while keeping inside my fears and worries. He shouldn’t, nor did he, have to console me while someone in his family was actively dying of cancer. This man was there for me during my cancer treatment, and I would be there for him to hell and back.

I have cried. I have felt anger, like deep within my belly anger. When someone is dying of cancer (not just living with metastatic cancer, but actively dying from the disease), the constant helplessness is exhausting.

I have listened. I have given countless hugs. I have reserved judgment over how someone may choose to cope with stress. I have come to accept my cancer-related fears as a constant in my life, and that new normal I have heard so much about.

Since the Boyfriend’s family member’s death was several weeks ago, now it’s the moving on portion of this process. Occasional moments of sadness flares up, but we’ll talk those out. The Boyfriend and I just scheduled our first vacation in two years. We’ll be leaving next month for a week long vacation of fun, work-free, stress-free living.

Time to re-gather the strength and passion I feel for cancer, and move on and forward. It’s not like cancer is taking a break.

Angels

A family member of the Boyfriend died of cancer yesterday.  I won’t go into that here because his family isn’t one to broadcast anything about them, and I want to respect that.

What has been on my mind lately is something that a hospice nurse said to us while we were sitting in the hospice room for Boyfriend’s family member: “I’m not really religious or anything, but what I do believe is that angels come to us before we die.  I’ve had patients, right before they pass, begin talking to people who aren’t in the room.  When I ask them who they are speaking to, they’ll say a spouse or their parent who has been long gone.  I had one patient say right before he died: ‘Amazing.’  So I truly believe that our loved ones come to us before we die, and they take us to where we’re going next.”

Most of my friends and family members rarely hear me discuss religion or anything spiritual.  Heck, I bet some would guess I’m atheist (I’m not).

I was raised Catholic, and when I turned 16 and had my confirmation, my father told me that I was an adult in the church’s eyes.  If I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t have to go.  So I didn’t, much to some of my family members’ dismay.  My father never pressured me to return to church, which I am grateful for.  I’ve had issues with the Catholic religion based on their social views, and because of that, it’s not been a religion I want to associate myself with.  I felt then, and I still do to this day, the Catholic Church is behind the times, and it’s oppressive.

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Good little Catholic girl?

The God I choose to believe in is not a spiteful or vengeful God, and He created us all in his likeness.  I remember one time, in high school, this girl in my yearbook class was on this rant about homosexuality.  She was talking about how it’s a sin, according to the Bible.  When I asked her the last time she went to church or read the bible, she cursed me out.   (Yeah, I wasn’t popular in high school.)

While I haven’t been to a church or service, really, for most of my adult life, I haven’t stopped believing.   Most of my belief in God and heaven is tied up with my mom.  I want to believe that I will see her again, and I’ve always felt her presence in my life when I needed strength.  When I was in an emergency room in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after experiencing the then-most tragic event in my life, I was talking to her in between sobbing.

When I heard the hospice nurse talk about those about who are about to die who see their loved ones, I almost lost it.  (I waited until I was in the car by myself before sobbing.)  I have no doubt that my mother would be there, my grandfather (her father) and my grandmother (my dad’s mother) will be those who I see.  The idea that while still alive, I’ll still see my lost loved ones again filled my heart in a way I hadn’t felt, probably ever.  In that moment in the hospice room, I physically felt my beliefs, if that makes sense.  I was overcome with such extreme emotion that I was afraid I was going to make a scene in front of Boyfriend’s family, which would have been the absolute worse.

The nurses there also reminded me that there are angels on Earth.  Those who provide hospice care to the dying are absolute angels.  To do what they do, day in and day out, I’m just blown away.  It definitely takes a special type of person to be surrounded by death and their grieving loved ones, and still be smiling and asking, “What can I do for you?”

Even those this wasn’t my family member dying, it was still awful to watch him/her dying.   Watching anybody dying is pretty horrifying.  This was my first time being so death-adjacent after my own cancer diagnosis, and it was frightening to watch.  I felt bad for the actual person dying, helpless watching Boyfriend and his family be so distraught, and then guilty for wondering, “Is this my future?”

Boyfriend’s family member is at peace and no longer suffering.  I hope whoever greeted him/her onto his next journey was someone incredibly special.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest from it.”

Mark Twain

Book Report: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”

— Cheryl Strayed, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Back in February, my blog post “Don’t Disappear from the Pictures,” which I had cross-posted on The Huffington Post, was well received.  Much to my surprise, it received thousands of likes, and the blog was shared more than 1,800 times.  When my friend, Julia, read it, she messaged me on Facebook, and highly recommended I read the book “Wild.”  She promised I would love it, and I would relate to it 100 percent.  She then assigned it to me as a book report and get back to her in two weeks.

Yeah. . . it took me three months to finish, though that had nothing to do with the book itself.  Sorry Julia!

Cheryl Strayed is an amazing writer.  Hands-down, this is the best memoir I have ever read.  (Right now, I’m reading “Orange is the New Black,” and I’m noticing a difference between showing, not telling – Piper Kerman tells and Cheryl Strayed shows.)  I highly recommend everyone should read this, especially if you’ve experienced a profound loss in your life.  Even though Cheryl’s situation was different than mine – her mother died of cancer when she was in her early 20s, and mine died of cancer when I was only 7 – the emotions and the ache for your mother when you need her the most is the same.  I related to her anguish, sorrow and determination to figure out her life without her mother in it.

When I came across the above passage, I re-read it several times, just letting the words soak in.  “She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill.  I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”   The loss of my mother has defined me – the motherless girl.  She died at an age where I never fought with her.   I didn’t rebel against her or done any other teenage-angst daughter stuff that mothers endure.  Since she died when I was seven years old, she was frozen in time as the Ideal Mother.  She was my fantasized “what if” world.  When I reached adulthood, I began viewing her as a real person, someone who was far from perfect but loved her family very much.

When I reached adulthood, the loss of my mother defined me again – I had to get annual screenings for the same disease that killed her.   I didn’t have her guidance or knowledge as I navigated breast cancer myself.  I never felt as alone or as empty as I did during chemotherapy.   I had to keep filling my bowl, so speak, by befriending others going through this as well.  I didn’t have her, but I wasn’t alone.

“Wild”  inspired me.  Her story made me even more determined to work on my story, and make it count.  To show, not tell.   To pour my heart into my story, just like Cheryl Strayed did.

To the Nurse Practitioner at St. Clair Hospital,

Remember me?  I am the woman who came to be with her boyfriend, a stubborn man who would rather be anywhere else in the world except a hospital, and you dismissed the two of us like a pair of hypochondriacs.  I have never encountered a nurse, doctor or nurse practitioner as rude, condescending and dismissive as you were today.  I am a professional sickie, and I encounter nurses and doctors all the time.  You, whoever you were, were insufferable and rude.

A grown man, who until recently has been the picture of decent health, came in and said he had been sick for going on three months and hasn’t been able to fight any virus or infection in the last couple of months.  He said he has been light headed and have been feeling pain in his shoulders and lower back.  He told you that he has been to a doctor as well as urgent care in the previous month, and he keeps getting worse.  What do you do?  You order a chest xray, a flu swab and a CT of his sinuses.  When all of that came back clear, you came in and had absolutely no patience at all with any follow up questions.

Why are you in the healthcare field, which involves helping people, if you’re such a bitch?  I was not being rude at all.  I was being a concerned loved one for someone who has been sick for months.  You talked down to me, even talking to me SLOWER like I am learning impaired.

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I have never been so angry and furious in recent years.  My sick loved one came to get help, answers, and you behaved as if he was overreacting, like apparently it is NORMAL to be sick for weeks on end?  That’s not normal.  This is not normal.  He should be able to get better, and he has been consistently sick for a long time.

Commenting that you thought I wasn’t understanding what you were saying was rude, condescending and awful.  The look you interpreted as not understanding words, as if I am learning impaired, was the look of a girlfriend who wanted to launch out of her chair and beat you senseless.  You made someone I love and care about feel hopeless and upset, and hours later, I am wondering why someone like you is dealing with sick people if you hate people so much.

Worst worst patient care I have witnessed.  Congrats, St. Clair.  I’ll make sure to never visit your hospital.  I’ll keep my sickie ailments to Allegheny Health System.

My grandmothers

In my life, I have had three grandmothers.  When friends my age talk about visiting their grandparents, I feel a slight twinge of jealously.  My last grandparent died when I was in my early 20s, just barely into adulthood.  I’ve been thinking about each of these women and the roles and impact they had on my life.

Grandma

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This is my father’s mother, who my brothers and I just called Grandma.  She died when I was in my early 20s, so I luckily I have more solid memories of her.  Grandma wasn’t a very emotional person.  I don’t remember her being  excited or angry or any extreme emotion.   Whenever we visited her, Grandma never sat down and ate with us.  She stayed in the kitchen, and she was ready if you needed seconds or more tea or water.

Grandma was always there for my brothers and I growing up.  She showed up to graduations, confirmations, weddings, whatever she could.  She sent birthday cards and Christmas cards.  Grandma was there.  When my mother died of metastatic breast cancer, Grandma came up and helped take care of my brothers and me.  While she was not an emotionally demonstrative woman, I always knew that she cared and loved us because she was there.  She is why I believe that if you care, you show up.  If it’s not in person, you call or send a card.  You show up.

Granny

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This was my mother’s mother, who my brothers and I called Granny.  She died of lung cancer when I was three, maybe four, years old.  I have two very faint memories of Granny.  I’m not even sure if they are memories, maybe snippets.  Granny was the only one who called me Lolly, and when she died, that nickname died with her.   The other thing I remember about Granny was her gravelly, low voice, which said to me, “Give me some sugar, Lolly.”  No lie, she is the reason why I never wanted to smoke or became a smoker.  Her voice scared me as a child, and that fear never left me in middle school and high school when my classmates began smoking in secret.

However, Granny wasn’t just a cautionary tale for me.   I’ve gone through old photos of her, Papa and my mother probably hundreds of time.  Plus, my father has  been a historian of my mother’s side of the family, and he’s told me so many stories of her and my mothers side of the family.  Granny comes across as stoic and proper, like she would have been that old-fashioned Southern stereotype you see and hear about.   Beautiful and strong – I bet nobody messed with her, like I know nobody messed with my mother.  (Maybe I’m like them both?)  A couple of years ago, my dad gave me a huge pile of letters that Granny wrote to my mother and father in the 1970s.  It’s so neat that I have tangible evidence of my grandmother’s love for her daughter.

Nana

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Nana, my stepmother’s mother, was an amazing woman.  Hands down, the absolute best.  I couldn’t, nor would I ever, say a bad thing about this woman.  When Nana came to visit, she would ask everyone what their favorite meal and/or dessert was, and then she would make it for you.  Whenever I’ve talked about Nana in recent years, I’ve joked that when Nana came to town, everyone in the house would gain about five pounds.  I used to spend hours in the kitchen with her as she baked dozens of cookies, and she would talk about whatever you wanted.  Nana was silly and joked about silly things, calling her bra “an over the shoulder boulder holder.”  Nana would also listen to you, and you always knew she cared.

The thing I loved most about Nana was that I never felt like a step-granddaughter to her, just family.  She made me feel included and important.  When she passed away, the world lost a wonderful light.  Whenever I bake cookies or cupcakes in my kitchen, I think back to the time I spent with her in the kitchen.  I like to think she’s in the kitchen with me, smiling and telling stories.

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I am very proud of the fact that I come from a line of strong and loyal women, like Grandma and Granny.  I also feel blessed that Nana considered me a part of her family.   Like I feel about my mother, I hope that I am making these three amazing women proud.