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….”

Wild Potato Chip Bags….

“Don’t be afraid to walk alone.  Don’t be afraid to like it.”
~John Mayer

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail.

If you’ve been following the news of late, you might have heard a lot about the trail recently.  Sadly, two hikers were attacked on a section in Virginia this past Saturday.  One of the victims, a 43-year-old military veteran named Robert S. Sanchez, was killed.

Deaths along the trail are rare, and killings even rarer; two to three million people from all over the world, hike all or part of the trail annually, yet Saturday’s murder was only the 10th in the last 45 years.

And yes, I understand that’s of small comfort to those who know and love the victims.

My heart breaks for them and their family and friends.  And it breaks for the trail too.  I know that probably sounds strange, but there is just something about taking a long walk on a dirt path that’s so very good for the soul.

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I’ve been section hiking the trail for the last 5 years.  Not continuously, of course, but in sections.

There are a few ways one can endeavor to hike the trail.  You can thru-hike….which means you start at either the northern or southern end and go all the way….2,190 miles through 14 states, stopping at intervals to resupply, shower, wash clothes, etc.

You could slack pack….which is a thru-hike with a twist.  Slack packers carry a small backpack with a day’s worth of supplies.  They hike (some run) a bunch of miles from a designated starting point to a designated stop on the trail, where a car is waiting to transport the hiker to a meal and a bed….and then back to the trail to pick up where she left off, and repeat….day after day….until completed.

Or, you can section-hike the trail….like me, completing chunks of the trail over a series of backpacking trips until you’ve pieced all the sections together and completed the whole thing….it can take years.

No matter how you experience it though, it’s an experience worth having.  I love the trail.

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Sunset, Mt. Killington Summit, Vermont

I love the people you meet on the trail….fellow hikers and wanderers from all walks of life; the ridge runners, caretakers and the people who live along the trail and are often eager to provide a little trail magic to those who amble past.

Like, the cookie lady who leaves out plates of fresh baked cookies for passing hikers.

And Jim Tabor, a trail maintainer in Pennsylvania who leaves hand-carved, wooden spoons along the trail.

And the caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin in Massachusetts who make pancakes every morning for hikers who stay the night.

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Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts

I love that you can feel totally comfortable taking food from a stranger you meet on the trail….or bunking down next to one in a tent or a shelter.

I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag at night….cozy in the confines of my tent….reading by the light of my headlamp….or simply lying there and listening to the varied sounds of the woods at night.

I love how people are happy to connect and share a bit about themselves and their own journey’s around pots of trail food and campfires.

I love how, inevitably, the conversation almost always turns to gear and pack weight and how I learn something new from a fellow hiker every time I venture out.

I love the huge sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a particularly difficult section of trail….and how grounded and centered and confident I feel from having lived for days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed to survive on my back.

I love that I miss it when I leave it.

I love the natural beauty of the trail, its history and the stories of the many unique individuals who have hiked it.

People like Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran, who, in 1948, told friends he was going to “walk off the war” and became the first known person to thru-hike the trail from end to end.  His journey has inspired dozens of other military veterans struggling with PTSD.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the trail solo in 1955….at the age of 67 and wearing a pair of Keds sneakers.

At the time of her journey, Emma was divorced, having survived a 33 year marriage, during which she was often savagely beaten.  She later said that when her husband became violent, she would run from the house into the woods, where she found peace and solitude.

One day, she told her grown children she was going for a walk….and then she completed the AT.

She hiked the trail again five years later at the age of 72….and again at the age of 75.  She was the first to hike the trail three times.

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Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

In 1990, Bill Irwin was the first blind person to hike the trail.  He relied solely on his guide dog, Orient, as he ascended mountains and forded rivers.  A recovering alcoholic who turned to religion in his sobriety, Mr. Irwin once said the first bible verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”   Not long after, he decided that an AT hike would serve as a powerful example of living his faith.

In 2016, a group of 40 thru-hikers carried a pair of size 13 boots known simply as “Paul’s Boots,” the entire length of the trail.  Each hiker carried the boots for hundreds of miles before passing them off to the next hiker waiting to take Paul along on the walk.

Paul was an Australian who had dreamed of hiking the trail, but never got the chance.  He died of a heart-attack in July, 2015 at the age of 53; leaving behind a packed backpack and three pairs of polished hiking boots.

His wife wrote a letter to Paul’s favorite podcast, “Dirtbag Diaries” hoping that perhaps someone might be able to take a pair of Paul’s boots out onto the trail, just for a picture, but the trail community did far more than that.

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Paul’s Boots on the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. End of the trail.

I don’t know that I will ever attempt a thru-hike.  I’m not sure it’s my style. I earned my trail name, Mosey (yes, we take on trail names which are typically bestowed upon us by another hiker), because that’s the way I hike the trail.  I mosey.

It’s not unusual for me to plan my hikes based on a campsite I want stay at, or a particularly beautiful overlook where I might like to hang-out for an afternoon and read a book, bird-watch, or just simply sit awhile.

One afternoon, I was sitting on a large rock in a small river, soaking my feet, reading a book and having some lunch, when a thru-hiker I had been crossing paths with off and on for days stopped and said, “You really do just mosey along, don’t ya?  That’s your trail name, kiddo, Mosey.”    

I’m not concerned with crushing the big miles.  I’m not racing the change in seasons.  I have the luxury of time on my hikes and so I try and absorb every step of it.

But don’t get me wrong.  Thru-hikers are beasts!  It takes a significant amount of grit and fortitude to tough it out and that, in and of itself, is it’s own special journey.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to complete a section with my dad.  He filled a chunk of my childhood with memories of long hikes in state parks, canoe trips down winding rivers, bike rides along abandoned railroad beds, fishing from small, tucked away ponds only my dad seemed to know about, long drives on rural, country roads, camping and boating.

It was from my dad that I developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for the outdoors.

“Never do this.”  My dad would often to say to my brother and I as he stooped to pick up a discarded wrapper, bottle, or can tossed along a trail.  “Never litter.”

“Why?” My brother and I would ask when we were young.

“Because….it turns wild.”  My dad would say.  “Haven’t you ever come across a wild potato chip bag?”

“No!”  My brother and I would exclaim, wide-eyed.  “What do they do?”  

“Ooh, they are vicious!”  My dad would say.

Thanks to my dad, over the years, the outdoors became a peaceful sanctuary and a trusted friend, where I love to disappear as often as possible with a book in hand….or my husband and our little one in tow….to spend hours happily embraced by the woods or a mountain….exploring a new trail, rock-hopping across a stream, or just quietly sitting and watching as my son explores the abundance of rocks and trees and sticks and flowers.

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Since the terrible tragedy that occurred this past Saturday, I have been getting dozens of texts and social media tags from concerned family and friends with links to the articles.

“Are you still going this year?”  They ask.  “Aren’t you afraid?”

And the answer is, “Yes, I’m still going and no, I’m not afraid.”

It has saddened and frustrated me to hear and read the commentary from people who are shouting things like, “Well, of course this happened!  They were out in the WOODS, with STRANGERS!”  

When, in reality, it was among the safest places they could be.

Safer than getting into an Uber.

Safer than walking through a major city.

Safer than attending any large scale public event (concerts, movies, marathons, etc.)

Safer than going for a jog through most neighborhoods….

What happened is not a reflection of the trail or the hiking community, and it would be a shame if it scared people away from the experience, but I don’t think it will.

I think now, more than ever, those of us who love the trail and are drawn to the adventure, will hike on.

What a waste it would be if we didn’t.

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A Eulogy for my Step-Mom….

“You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family.” ~My Step-Mom

A year ago, my step-mom, Cindy, passed away.  She was found on her front porch by her mailman.  She was 58 years old.

I like to imagine she was found in death, like I remember her best in life.  Dressed to the nine’s.  Hair and makeup, perfect.  A Kool Mild cigarette in one well manicured hand and a Cosmopolitan in the other.  Almost like she’d just stepped out of an episode of Mad Men.

In reality, I think it likely looked far more tragic.  And for a woman who prided herself on optics, it seems an exceptionally cruel way for death to have come knocking.

Although she had been my step-mom for nearly 30 years, I learned of her death via Facebook; one cryptic post.

To be fair, I suppose she wasn’t technically my step-mom any more.  She and my dad had divorced a few years prior and in the wake of their divorce, she made it clear that she was divorcing my brother and me as well.

So perhaps, I didn’t deserve to be counted among those who got a phone call with a gentle breaking of the news.  I wasn’t family anymore.

Cindy was a beautiful, funny, vivacious, silly, complicated woman, who was also a drug addict.

It began in the late-90’s, when she was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition in the aftermath of a work related injury to her left arm.  It wasn’t a serious injury, but it required minor, outpatient surgery.  In the months that followed, the pain never lessened.  Instead, it became increasingly more severe.

Once, while at their home for the weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night and found Cindy in the bathroom, sweating profusely.  She looked like she wanted to crawl out of her own body for the pain and she couldn’t stop vomiting.  Her left arm, from her elbow to her hand, was swollen and waxy looking.

When I talked to my dad about it the next day, he said it had been going on for months and no one was able to explain it.  She’d been to doctor after doctor, most of whom suggested it was all in her head.

Eventually, she was properly diagnosed, but not before she began to lose some of the strength and coordination in her left hand, along with her spirit and her interest in life.

After the diagnosis, her treatment included things like nerve blocks, physical therapy, and narcotics; specifically, Oxycodone.  There were other treatment options as well, but over time, she abandoned those for the quick fix of the drug.

Then, there were more drugs; many, more drugs.  Drugs for insomnia, anxiety, depression, different drugs for the pain, etc., etc., etc.

By the time I was an adult, she seemed to have connections in pharmaceuticals….and not the legal kind.  But, she always maintained that her doctors knew what she was taking and she didn’t seem as though she felt she needed to hide anything.  The pills were always in prescription bottles with her name on them, but had I looked closer, I would have noticed the expiration dates had long since passed.

Eventually, she started mixing her meds and washing them down with alcohol.  Then, my brother found a small baggie in their house that contained a white powdery substance.  At first, he thought it was cocaine, but later learned, at a family gathering when Cindy became inebriated, that she’d been grinding up her medications and snorting them.

“My doctor told me to,” she said, “because it helps the medication get into my system faster and then I don’t have to take as many pills.  It’s better for my liver.”

We didn’t believe her, but we didn’t question her either.  There were no staged interventions, or heart-felt discussions about our concerns for her well-being.  We didn’t call a hotline, or the authorities.  We didn’t talk to our dad about it.  We didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t do anything at all.

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Looking back on those days, it was so obvious that she was losing herself and that we were losing her.  Her personality began to subtly and then drastically change. Sometimes, she would wander around in a fuzzy bathrobe and a pair of Ugg slippers, looking disheveled and vacant.  Sometimes, she was mean; very clearly angry with everyone and everything and looking for a fight.

But then, she would sort of snap out of it and she’d be almost back to her old self and we could still see glimpses of the person she’d used to be; impeccably groomed, upbeat and silly.  Maybe she was fine after all, we’d think.

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Cindy had never been able to have children of her own, save for two twin boys she had miscarried late in the pregnancy.  They weren’t my fathers children, they had been conceived when she was married to her first husband.

A few years after the miscarriage, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.  A few years after that, she’d had to have an emergency hysterectomy.

As a kid, I couldn’t understand all that loss.  I just saw her as the kind of aunt and step-mom who never missed an opportunity to shower the kids in her life with fun.

She always came home from the store with an assortment of quirky things.  Like wind up toys in the shapes of animals wearing formal wear, small tubes of slime, glow in the dark Yo-Yo’s and other treasures she’d discovered in some check-out aisle, or when wandering through a Five and Dime shop.

She brought home weird candy that came in tins shaped like coffins, or a toilet.  There were sour elixirs in test tubes and lollipops with real bugs like centipedes and grasshoppers in their centers.

She also always stocked up on the latest National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News and Sun magazines.  We would all take turns reading, while laughing and seriously debating the truthfulness of the articles.

She introduced us to movies like Hairspray, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Tommy and many other off-beat flicks we watched on repeat until we had them memorized.

She loved cartoons and on Saturday mornings, we’d lounge around in the living room watching old episodes of the Flintstones, the Jetsons and the Smurfs.

When I was an early teen, she got a job at a factory that made car parts for the now defunct, Saturn automobiles.  She worked a second shift, so that during our extended summer visits with our dad, someone would always be home with my brother and me.

Every morning, we would watch The People’s Court and all the daytime talk shows; Sally Jesse Raphael, Donahue, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, etc, followed by repeats of Designing Women and the Golden Girls.  

In the evenings, my brother and I would wait for her to come home and while she ate her dinner, we would watch old sitcoms on Nick at Nite, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dick Van Dyke, Rhoda and Laverne and Shirley.

Cindy loved Elvis and Rod Stewart, who she called, “Rod the Bod” and occasionally, she would break out into one of their songs, while doing a little dance and trying to entice our dad, who didn’t dance, to join her, while she giggled and swayed.

She regaled us with tales from her 20’s, that often included stories about dancing her nights away in Disco clubs.

Like the story about the man who approached her one night wearing a silk shirt, with the top most buttons undone, so as to show off his ample chest hair (sexy), and wearing a necklace in the shape of a working stop-light.  She said he walked up to her and switched the light on his necklace from green to red and said, “I saw you from the across the room baby and my heart stopped.”

My brother and I would erupt into shrieks of laughter at how corny and gross it all sounded and she would say, “What!?  That was cool!”

At one point, she had raced American muscle cars at a local drag strip.  She would tell us that when she pulled up to the starting line, wearing a sparkly pink helmet and a rhinestone jumpsuit, the men would laugh.  And then….she’d leave them in her dust.

Cindy loved a good scary story, the quirkier and more paranormal, the better.  Her favorite authors were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  But as much as she loved to read scary stories, she loved to tell them more.

In the summer, we’d gather around an enormous bon-fire in their yard, surrounded by thick woods, and she would tell us an elaborate story that always had local origins. Inevitably, she would manage to scare us into screams, tears, wet pants….and afterwards, she would laugh until she cried, while recounting how scared we’d been.

She loved the water and for a number of years, she and my dad lived on a lake and we’d spend our weekends on their boat from sun up to sun down.  We’d water ski and tube and read and swim and float.

She knew a million recipes that almost always included a can of some type of Campbell’s soup and my brother and I thought she was the best cook around.

I loved to watch her work in the kitchen and though I was a tom-boy with no interest in cooking, or anything domestic, I would sit on a stool at the counter and we’d chat about anything and everything, while she cooked.

She was high maintenance and a total girly girl, who took a Caboodle case full of makeup and hair products along on our annual, weeklong camping trips and I don’t recall ever seeing her without a glossy red manicure on her perfect fingernails.   “A girl’s always gotta look her best” she would say.

Her hair was naturally curly and she wore it the exact same way, until she discovered Chi flat irons in early 2,000.

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Her personal life and backstory were fascinating to me and she never held back the details.  I could ask her anything and she didn’t hesitate to tell me.

But the questions I should have been asking later in life, I never did.

Her addiction seemed to draw to the surface old, buried wounds from her childhood and her first marriage and the loss of her babies and her inability to have biological children of her own.

And it was addiction that kept her from coping with these things in a healthy way. Instead, she began to dwell and stew in resentment and it wreaked havoc on her mental health and her relationships.

I had always imagined that Cindy would be a funny and quirky grandma for my kids.  I looked forward to sending them to her house for long weekends and hearing all about the Snipe hunt she’d tricked them into and about that time she dated a Vampire.

But addiction took that away long before it was anything more than a hope.  The last years that I was a part of her life were complicated and filled with anger and disappointment.  We didn’t fight directly.  Instead, we didn’t really talk at all, which was worse in a lot of ways.

When I needed her most as an adult, when I was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, she wasn’t capable of being there for me.  But looking back on all of it, I realize that she might have needed me first and I wasn’t there for her either.

Her addiction was a well kept secret that everyone knew, but no one talked about, except in whispered side conversations.  Instead of calling her out, we all tiptoed around her, hoping we’d just get through things; holidays, birthdays, funerals, weddings and other family gatherings.

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I would find out later that she wasn’t in denial about her addiction.  That she and my dad had many conversations and fights about it over the years.  That she made promises and then tried to hide things and then decided she didn’t have to hide anything and she would do whatever she wanted.

That cycle of acknowledgment, deception and defiance, repeated itself for years.

And then, the marriage imploded and she was gone from our lives.  I was angry with her for letting us go, but I didn’t reach out.  I kept waiting for her to come to me.  To snap out of her addiction.  To realize she’d messed everything up and want to make it right.

I never fantasied that she and my dad would rekindle their romance, but I thought she would want to rekindle a relationship with me.  I thought she would want to know my son and that we would figure out how to forge a new relationship in the wake of our broken family.

I wanted her to tell me she was sorry.

Then, I wanted to tell her about how I had always loved when she introduced me to people as her daughter, because it made me feel wanted and important in a way my own mother never made me feel.

I wanted to tell her that some of the best parts of me as a step-mother and a mother, I learned from her.

I wanted to tell her how grateful I was for the hundreds of wonderful things, both big and small, that she did to make our lives better.

When I became a step-mom, I wanted to tell her that I could now understand how difficult it had been for her at times, and I wanted to tell her thank-you for hanging in there.

I wanted to tell her I loved her.

Addiction doesn’t give you the things you want though and I didn’t understand that until it was too late.

I also didn’t understand Cindy’s kind of addiction. She wasn’t smoking crack, or shooting heroine.

She was taking pills that had been prescribed, at least in the beginning, by her doctor.  I didn’t understand that those pills could have the same hold on her as any other drug.

I thought she could just stop taking them if she wanted to.  Especially when other treatments she tried for her condition, were working and she no longer needed the pills. I thought she was choosing to be a junkie and I hated her for it.

In the end, I never said good-bye to her.  After the divorce, it never occurred to me that I should.  I always expected we would reconnect.

And when she died, I chose not to attend the Celebration of Life her family held.  In part, because my brother and I weren’t mentioned in her obituary and the rejection stung.

For so many years, more than half or lives, we’d been her kids.  She’d witnessed and participated in our milestones.  She’d helped to provide for us, financially and emotionally.  Now, she was gone and it all felt unfinished and permanently broken.

Life goes on though and over the past year, I’ve tried to make peace with all that happened.  And the thing is, I don’t want the final chapter of her story, of our story, to define the whole thing.

It wouldn’t be fair.  Not to her, or to me.  Instead, I’m going to celebrate and remember the woman she was, before addiction took her away.

Goodbye Cindy.  I hope you have found all the peace.
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Lay’d Off….

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.” ~White Snake

In November 2017, I was Lay’d off from my corporate job.  It was a moment I had been eagerly waiting for.  I know how that sounds, but allow me to explain.

Simply put, I was over it.

Over the grind, over the politics, over the mission statements and the core values and the pressure to “lean-in” and “have it all” and “explode through the glass ceiling” and blah, blah, blah.

I’d become disgruntled, dissatisfied, dis-enchanted, disengaged, dismayed….dis-everything.  And life is too short to be dis-everything.

It hadn’t always been that way though.  When I started my career, I had big goals for myself in corporate America and I sacrificed much of my twenties toward achieving them.

I regularly worked 80 hours a week and for the first five years of my career, I didn’t take a single vacation day, or sick day; time I wasn’t paid out for.  In other words, over a five year period, I worked an extra 15 weeks….for free.

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Of course, nobody made me do it, but I reasoned that corner offices and fancy titles don’t come cheap….and if I didn’t have both by the time I was in my thirties, well, life probably wasn’t worth living.

I had balls to bust and power suits to purchase and if it meant I had no social life, hobbies, or the time to eat more than twenty cups of coffee in the course of a day, so be it.  I’d have a life when I retired….assuming I didn’t stroke out first.

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But the universe had other plans for me and it would take a sucker punch to the gut before I realized it.

The lead up included meeting my husband, Clark Griswold, moving to a new state and taking a new job with Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor.

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Then Clark and I got married and I became a step-mom.

Right before our wedding, I took another new role at a Fortune 500 business captained by a female CEO ranked among the world’s most powerful women.

After a difficult upbringing, during which I’d been voted most likely to end up on an episode of Cops, I’d gotten a college degree (the first in my family), I was happily married with plans to add to our family and I was building a successful career.  What more could I want?

Then, in November, 2011, when I was twenty-two weeks pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with stage 2, primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma.  A rare and sneaky form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Cancer.

Everything changed.

But it didn’t change all at once.  Instead, it was like a slow burn of all the things I’d thought were important to me.

Then, I picked up the pieces of what was left and started to put my life back together.

I realized that when it came to my career, I had been sprinting toward something I had wanted….because I thought it was what I was supposed to want.

So instead, I leaned into my health, my marriage, my faith, my family, my friends and motherhood.  I found that when I was doing all of the things that were supposed to leave me feeling trapped, unappreciated and uninspired, I didn’t.

I started saying no when I was supposed to be saying yes.  I made time for books and nature and exercise and other abandoned hobbies.  I was still.

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I stepped off the corporate ladder and watched my peers pass me by.  I knew it meant my career was dying, but I also knew that I would never come to regret it.

Because when I was diagnosed, and the possibility that my child and I would not survive the disease was discussed, I didn’t cry for the career goals I might never achieve.  I cried for the extended hours I spent in the office when I could have been at home having dinner with my family, or enjoying an uninterrupted vacation.

I cried for the books I hadn’t had a chance to read, hikes I never got a chance to take, places I never got a chance to see.

I cried for the baby I might never get a chance to meet and the little boy and the man he might never get a chance to become.

And I cried for all of the little things I had taken for granted; the millions of simple moments I’d let slip by, always believing there would be more.  That someday I would stop and smell the roses.  Someday, someday, someday….

It was in the midst of that grief, which was so raw and so painful I thought I might actually break into pieces, that I felt my son move for the first time.  It was a tiny flutter of life followed by a feeling of peace and calm that abruptly stopped my sobs.

I knew we would be OK.  And I knew that I would never be the same.

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Shortly after I completed my cancer treatment, I read an article about a book the New York Times had published called, “Picture Your Life After Cancer.”  

The book was a compilation of photos and stories submitted by cancer survivors in response to the question, “How is your life different after cancer?”  

A number of inspirational quotes and insights were used in the article, but one in particular resonated most with me:

“Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.” – Allison A., Cairo, Egypt

So, very, true.

I don’t love every moment, but I try, every day, to say a prayer of gratitude for all of it.

I am keenly aware, always, of how fortunate I was to survive cancer and to come out the other side with a beautiful and healthy little boy.

I don’t have it all figured out though.  When the cloud lifted and there was nothing more to do than carry on, I knew only that I wanted my survival to matter.  That I wanted to do my best to live a life that felt good.  A life that, when it inevitably ends, I can look back on and say, “I made the most of this one wild and precious life.”  (nod to Mary Oliver)