A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Burying a Groundhog….

“Ashes to ashes – Dust to dust.” ~The Bible?

All spring, my family and I have delighted in watching a trio of baby groundhogs hanging out in our yard.

Sometimes, they are accompanied by a larger groundhog who we have been calling Homer P. Groundhog for the last couple of years.  Although, it’s more likely that we should be calling her Henrietta, since according to my research, male groundhogs are dead beat dads.

As the spring has progressed, we’ve watched as the trio has become increasingly more  independent and brave; venturing further into the yard and away from the comforts of one another and their various hiding places.

Today, while I was busy moving a large pile of mulch, I saw the trio peeping in and out of the wood-line at the back of our property and darting in and out from underneath our shed.  It was as though they were watching me work and hoping I might stop to play.

So, I started singing just like Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and they ran into my arms for a cuddle, while a tiny bluebird perched on my shoulder and a baby bunny hoped excitedly around my feet waiting to be picked up.  I may or may not have made that last bit up.

Anyway,  as I continued my chores, I was oblivious to the predator lurking in the trees until it was too late.  As I was making my way through the lawn with a wheel-barrow full of mulch intended for a flower bed around our shed, I saw a huge hawk take flight from the ground near the doorway.

I was momentarily in awe of the bird.  I’ve seen them quite a bit, but never that close and I’ve never seen one land in the yard.  Wow, I thought.  I wish had been able to get a picture.  

Then, as I continued toward the shed, I saw him….one of the trio….lying motionless on the ground.

“Oh, no!”  I said, crouching to see if he might still be breathing.  There were no significant injuries that I could see at first, but upon closer inspection, I saw a small amount of blood on his chest near one of his little armpits.

“Really?”  I said, looking up into the trees where the hawk was perched.  “That is so fucked up.  He was a baby.  You should be ashamed of yourself.”  

“Get away from my kill, or I’ll scalp you.”  The hawk said in return.

“Just try it, assshole.”  I said, waving my shovel in his direction.

After shouting profanities at one another for a couple of minutes, I told him he should come and claim his meal.  But he just called me an overly sensitive bitch and asked me if I was on my period, before taking flight and fleeing the scene of his crime, leaving me to deal with the body.

As I stood there, I saw two tiny heads, what remained of the trio, now the duo, poke out from underneath the shed before quickly disappearing again.

I said nothing, just stood there.  Again, the duo poked their little heads out, but this time, they made a tiny, high pitched barking noise before hiding again.

I backed away and for the next hour, I watched as the duo peeked out from underneath the shed, calling for their sibling.  Ugh, it was heartbreaking.

I didn’t want them to have to continue to see their loved one like that; dead and waiting to be claimed by something, so I decided to bury him.

I was making the grave marker out of two sticks and some twine, when two men pulled into the driveway.  About a week ago, I had posted some old fencing material for the taking on Facebook Marketplace and the two were there to claim it.

“Hey,” I said, the makeshift cross in my hand, “I just buried something in the woods.”  

It wasn’t until the words had spilled from my mouth that I realized how creepy and odd they must have sounded.  And so of course, I decided to run with the theme.

“What did you bury?”  One of the men asked me.

“I can’t tell you that,” I said.  “You know where I live now.  Come along though.  The stuff you’re looking for is in the woods back here.”  

Then, I began to whistle a tune as I walked towards the woods with my little crucifix;  (One, two, Freddy’s coming for you)….”Just a little farther, we’re almost there.”

Just before we hit the path to the woods, I stopped and said, “I was just joking.  I buried a groundhog.”

They did not seem assuaged….but who could blame them, really?  I mean, what kind of a person buries a groundhog?

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Flashback Friday – That Time I Wore A Hair Piece….

Earlier this week, while trying to keep myself occupied….and my anxiety at bay….until an upcoming doctors appointment, I decided to clean out and reorganize a closet that has essentially served as a dumping ground for things that otherwise have no sensible place, or purpose.

The task was long overdue and a good distraction.  As I pulled out things like a taxidermy bull frog wearing a sombrero and playing a vihuela and a small jar containing a couple of baby teeth, my hand brushed across something hairy resting in the back of the closet on one of the shelves.

Instinctively, I jerked my hand back and bent to gaze, squinting into the dark recesses of the closet, trying to figure out what might be living back there.

Did we end up getting that cat?  I briefly wondered.  Oh man, when was the last time I saw the dog?  

Then it dawned on me.  My wig.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I of course wanted to know if I was going to lose my hair.

“Yes.”  My doctor said.  “And when it falls out, it will fall out in chunks, which can be very distressing.  I always suggest that my patients just go ahead and shave it off.  Just get it over with all at once.”

At first, I thought the loss of my hair would be no big deal for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having hair, but I’ve never been one of those people who is deeply attached to it.

I’ve never cried after a bad haircut and over the years I’ve never been afraid to experiment with different lengths….including a super short pixie cut I sported throughout much of the late 90’s.

But, as the time grew nearer to when my doctor predicted it would begin to fall out, I found I couldn’t do it.  It seemed an outwardly visible symbol that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to see it.

So, my doctor’s advice to go all GI Jane was the only time throughout the entire ordeal that I did not do exactly as he advised.  It was a decision I regretted when it began coming out in large pieces and precisely when he said it would.

It was horrifying to find that by pulling, ever so slightly at my scalp, the hair strands would pull free as though they had never been attached at the roots.  I was surprised to find myself equally, if not more distressed, at the prospect of shaving my head as I’d been by the news of my diagnosis.

I delayed the inevitable for a few more days, but after a shower left me with sporadic, patchy bald spots….that made me look like I was on the verge of becoming that creepy doll from Toy Story….I gave in and headed off to have it shaved….a baseball hat clutched in my hand and my husband in tow.

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When the hairdresser asked, “What are we doing today?”  I told her it all had to go.

“Are you thinking a choppy bob or something even shorter?”  She asked, running her hands through my spotty hair that left strands between her fingers, with a somewhat confused expression.

“I have to shave it off.”  I said.  “I lost a bet with my husband and he’s being really mean about the whole thing.”

“OH!”  Was her shocked reply.  “Really!?”         

“No.”  I told her.  “I have cancer.  So, one way or the other, it’s gotta go!”

This was the way I preferred to tell everyone I had cancer.  When I was initially diagnosed, I  sent an email to family and friends that asked,“Hey!  Anyone know where I can get one of those yellow LiveStrong bracelets?”

As the responses came in, I responded with varying degrees of “Thanks, I have cancer now, so I figure, why not get the accessories!”

During the initial discussion about my impending hair loss with my doctor, he provided me with several resources for securing a respectable wig.  They were references his patients over the years had shared and he was happy to pass along the leads.

I wasn’t sure if I was a wig person, a scarf person, or a hat person, but I knew I wasn’t a bald is beautiful person.  My head looked lumpy, with strange lines that made me wonder if I might have been abducted and experimented on by aliens at some point in my life and I reasoned a wig might at least give me the appearance of a normal person.

I settled on a shop in New Hampshire that catered specifically to women undergoing cancer treatments.  I made an appointment for a wig fitting and my best friend flew in to be with me for the event.

When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a very sweet woman who introduced herself as my personal stylist for the day.  She escorted us to a private room where I was free to try on as many wigs as I wanted in the comforts of my own space, while she bustled about pulling different styles and color options for me to try and offering styling tips and tricks along the way.

I shared with her that I was concerned it would look exactly like I was wearing a wig.  That everyone would know, and I would just end up looking….well, sad.

Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something scalped from the head of a Barbie doll.

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“All those women in Hollywood….they are all wearing some kind of hair piece.  No one has hair that glossy or full or perfect.”  She told me.  “We sell the best here and trust me, no one is going to know the difference.”   

For the next many hours, my friend and I laughed so hard I thought I might go into labor as I tried on everything from pin straight platinum blonde wigs with fringe bangs, to dark black curly wigs that looked like eighties Cher.

I tried on mullets, the Farrah Fawcett shag, the “Rachel,” the 90’s era style haircut made famous by Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends.

I tried sleek bobs and spiral curls and every hair style ever seen on the Golden Girls.  It was hysterically funny and the laughter felt so refreshing that it alone was worth the trip.

Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham.  My stylist gave me instructions on keeping it clean and preserving its shape and style.

She also cautioned me against wearing it close to open flames or bursts of heat….like those from an opened oven, or boiling water….which caused a whole new hysterical burst of giggles as my friend and I imagined various scenarios where I might find myself wearing it when it caught fire.

I left wearing the Posh, but it didn’t stay on my head for long.  It was itchy against my scalp and though it looked as real as it possibly could, I was terribly self-conscious about it.

Eventually, the wig made its way into its cardboard travel case, and was replaced with a pink stocking cap that said, “Cancer Sucks” in white embroidered letters across the front.

I told myself I just needed to get used to it….that I would practice wearing it at home first and then maybe test it out on short errands.  I could never shake the anxiety that having it on caused though.

What if I sneezed and the hairline of the wig ended up at my eyebrows?

What if a strong wind blew through, yanking it from my head and I had to chase after it while it rolled like a tumbleweed through the Whole Foods parking lot?

What if I had an itch and people could see the entire piece shift as I scratched?

What if it shifted throughout the day without my knowing it and it ended up sideways?

In the end, the only time I wore it for a prolonged period of time, was for a holiday party thrown by a college friend of my husbands.  The guest list for the party was long and included a wide range of close friends and acquaintances my husband had known for many years.

I didn’t feel like answering the myriad of questions that always came with seeing a bald, pregnant lady.  I just wanted to enjoy the food at the party and the rare evening out as a normal person, so I put the wig on for the night.

All evening, I made frequent trips to the bathroom to pull it off, scratch furiously at my scalp and replace it.  Or, to just double check that it hadn’t shifted in too noticeable a way.

As soon as we were back in the car, I pulled it off and hung my head out of the car window like a Xoloitzcuintle, enjoying the cool air on my scalp and deciding once and for all, I was just going to be a hat person.

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I kept the wig, but instead of wearing it, I used it as a tool to harass my family, our cleaning service and anyone else who might come through our house.

When it wasn’t perched on its metal rack on my bathroom sink in a variety of styles and with random hair accessories stuck to it, it was posed on a teddy bear in one of my step-children’s bedrooms waiting for them at bedtime.

Sometimes, I would leave it lying on a pillow in bed with socks stuffed into the cap to give it the look of someone sleeping under the covers.

Once, I affixed it over a remote control car and drove it through our living room scaring the piss out of the dog….literally.

After a while though, I ran out of ideas.  So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the closet deciding I would eventually donate it.

Yesterday, as I held it in my hands, running my fingers through the smooth synthetic hair, I knew it was time to find it a new home….preferably with someone who could really use it.

But first….and then I made my way to my sons bedroom, retrieved his remote control car, and went in search for the dog.

I Love the Smell of Cal-Stat….& Other Long Term Side-Effects of Cancer

“The best thing we can do is go on with our normal routine.”
~Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Recently, I celebrated one of my cancerversaries….a pretty big one too; five years, disease free.

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Back when I was going through the cancer, my family and friends would check-in on me all the time.  “How are you doing?  How are you feeling?  Is there I anything I can do for you, anything you need?”  they would ask.

So many people were worried about me and for me.  I was added to prayer lists across multiple denominations all over the country.  People mediated for me and gave me small tokens of faith meant to bring healing.  They sent me inspirational quotes and cards and handwritten letters and books about faith and grace.

I both loved and hated the attention.

I loved it, because it made me feel important and wanted and loved.  It made me feel tethered to life at at time when I was terrified I wouldn’t survive.

I hated it, because I prefer to spend most of my time trying to just blend in.  I’m not comfortable being the center of attention, ever.  I’m not comfortable with attention period.  I prefer to go unnoticed.  At all times.  Like an awkward ninja.

But being pregnant with cancer was the sick persons equivalent of being famous.  There was no blending.  Everyone noticed me.

At the hospital, walking into the infusion center with my big, pregnant belly, the nurses, other patients, volunteers, even the janitorial staff would remark with compassion about my plight.

When my hair started to fall out and I had to shave my head, seemingly every person on the planet began to notice me.  It was like I was walking around with a neon, blinking sign that said, “I am pregnant.  AND I have cancer.  Feel bad for me.”

And please don’t take this the wrong way.  I really did appreciate the support, even from total strangers, but it was overwhelming at a time when I could barely manage the broad spectrum of my emotions on a day to day basis.

Some days, I was the person who would respond with uncontrollable tears and fear.

Other days, I was the person who would say things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, really.  I’m going to be fine and so will my baby.  At worst, he’ll glow in the dark for six months or so, but they’ve assured me it won’t last.”  (Lies)

But now, it’s been nearly eight years since my diagnosis and I’m five years disease free, which means for all intents and purposes, I am cured.  Every night and every day, I say a silent prayer of thanks for this life I’m so blessed to be living.

Now, it’s only on the cancerversaries that people ask how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and I always say, “Great!  I’m doing great.  I feel great!”  and that’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.

When you look at me, you can’t see the cancer anymore.  The chemo glow is gone from my face (think less glow, more wild animal trapped in a cage).  My hair has grown back and I don’t have any physical scars, save for the four small radiation markers that were tattooed on my chest.  I don’t have any physical limitations, at least none I’m aware of.

If we were to meet as strangers, you would never know I was a survivor….unless you got close enough to smell my favorite perfume and then you might ask why I smell like the exam room at your doctor’s office.  (I’ll explain in a second).

The whole truth is this, I am cured, but I’m also not.  I don’t physically have cancer any more, but it’s side effects still linger.

I’m not the exact same person I was before the disease.  In some ways, I’m a better version of the person I was before and in other ways, maybe not so much.

I have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.  Cancer reset me in a way I think I needed, though I won’t go so far as to say I am grateful for it.

On the flip side, I am also far less tolerant and patient with people I think are ignorant.  I’m talking to you Trump supporters and the state of Alabama.

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So what I really want to say when someone asks me how I’m doing is this:

“I’m great, I feel great and also….”


1. I love the smell of Cal-Stat

Literally.

If you are one of those people who loves diffusing a specific essential oil, or burning aromatherapy candles because it helps to alleviate your stress, or anxiety, or just generally makes you feel good….well, that’s what Cal-Stat does for me.

BTW, in case you don’t know, Cal-Stat is a hospital grade hand-sanitizer.

And since you can buy it on Amazon, I am free to wear it like it’s perfume.  And I do.

The smell reminds me of my doctors and being at the hospital for my treatments, which some might think would have the opposite effect, but not for me.

I LOVE going to the hospital.

I feel safe there, surrounded by machines that beep and all the sterilized equipment.  I like when they take my blood and check my vitals.

If I could persuade my doctor to scan me every week, I would.  But apparently, that’s a ton more radiation than would be good for my already radiated body, so he very patiently tells me no every time I ask for a quick zap through the machine.

He likes to tell me it’s a good thing I no longer need to see him more than once a year and of course, that’s true, but my doctor and the hospital are my comfort items.

And since they won’t let me move in, and I can’t just fit my doctor into my pocket….and he refuses to come and live at my house, Cal Stat is the next best thing.


2.  Speaking of Anxiety…

Me:  I feel really great!

Anxiety:  (while I’m minding my own business watching a Southern Charm marathon)  No you don’t.  Remember that headache you had a month ago?  That was a brain tumor and now it’s too late.  You are riddled with tumors.  RIDDLED.  Really.  You should Google it.

So, that’s been fun.


3.   Bucket lists are kind of my jam

Actually, lists in general are my jam.  I love the small pleasure of making a list and crossing things off.  But my version of a “bucket list” doesn’t only include big adventures, or once in a lifetime vacations.

It’s an ever changing, running To-Do list of all the things I’ve said I want to do over the years, but haven’t followed through on.

Every new year, in lieu of a resolution, I review my list.  I mark off the things I’ve done, I add new things and I carry over the stuff I didn’t accomplish.

It includes books I want to read, recipes I’d like to test out, DIY projects I want to complete and activities I want to do with my family.

I feel the pressures of time and the shortness of life in a way I never did before.  My list is a way of keeping me accountable to the actual living of life.

For me, that means all the small things; baking Christmas cookies with my son, teaching him to ski, taking him camping, teaching him how to fish, carving out time just for my marriage and carving out time just for me.


4.  But I also have a Fuck-It-Bucket:

I will never be the exact right amount of enough for everyone.  And quite frankly, I don’t care to try.

I’m no longer available for things, or people that make me feel like shit.

Also, I’m going to eat the cake and all the taco’s and none of the kale.

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5.  Everything hurts and I’m dying…

I had no reason to believe I had cancer, before I was told I had cancer.  I was in my early 30’s and seemingly, perfectly healthy.  I was 22 weeks pregnant and my child was developing without a single complication or concern.  Life was good.  REALLY good.

When I was diagnosed, my doctors theorized that the cancer had been developing for 6-9 months before it ever said a word.  It was terrifying to me that I’d been living with cancer for that long and had no idea.

In the years that have since passed, I have become obsessed with trying to remember how I was feeling during those months I was sick, but didn’t know it.

Were there any clues I missed?  Symptoms I didn’t recognize?  Something, anything I can watch out for now, so that if it comes back, I’ll know before it gets another head start?

The answer is mostly no, which is scary AF.  So as a result, I pretty much think everything is cancer.

Muscle aches = bone cancer

Those occasional post child-birth hemorrhoids = colon cancer

New freckle (age spot, fine) = skin cancer

Headache = brain cancer

Cough = lung cancer

Stomach ache = cancer in all the organs

Normal?  What’s that?


In the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some gradual, physical changes that have sent me reeling.  My Google search history currently reads like I might be preparing for a gynecological board exam.

And of course, the more I read, the more aware I become of my body.

I have to pee.  When was the last time I went?  Am I urinating more frequently than I was before?

I think I look a little bloated.  Am I?  Wait, do I feel pain in my abdomen, my pelvis?  Where is my pelvis?    

I feel tired.  Am I more tired than usual?  What exactly is fatigue and when is it just fatigue and when is it, you know, FATIGUE?

My back hurts.  But I think it just feels stiff, or is that what “pressure” feels like?  Oh God, how can I tell the difference?  Why doesn’t Google have a definitive answer?

I just ate.  Did I eat as much as I normally eat?  Do I feel sick now?

I’m crying.  I’m crying a lot.  I’m terrified and anxious and if I stop moving, I’m going to have to sit with this.  And if I have to sit with it, the “what if’s” are going to start running through my brain like a freight train.

What if I have cancer again?

What if this time I can’t survive it?

What if I don’t get to watch my son grow-up?

What if he forgets about me?

What if….what if….what if….

And then today a casual friend says, “Hey, how are you?”

“Great!  I say.  “Just great….”