Sunday, 18 February 2018

Ashley Simpson: Love and Loss on Family Day

Cindy and John Simpson celebrated their wedding anniversary this weekend, even though they were both down with the flu. They played some cards, ate some cake, and remembered the good times, and the very bad times.

Like most couples who've been married nearly three decades, they count the raising of their children into adulthood as their greatest success. Cindy and John have lots of them in their blended family, including a gaggle of grandkids. Most recently they welcomed their first grandchildren, the imp Cyris, who is killing everybody daily with his cuteness.

The kids keep John and Cindy going through the tough times. And their times have been tougher than most.

For the second Family Day in a row, the Simpsons will be missing a bit piece of their hearts. Their daughter Ashley still has not been found and John is hoping to take one more trip out to Salmon Arm to find her with the help of people in the local community who refuse to give up looking for Ashley and a number of other women and girls who have mysteriously gone missing.

"We miss her dearly," John wrote to me yesterday. "We strive to go on and do right by her. Having the community coming together to try and find these missing women makes my heart leap for joy."

Thanks to John's efforts, and the determination of local women, including the incomparable Jody Leon, there is now a MMIW Drone Service which is helping search and rescue, and law enforcement, comb the woods, streams and vast wooded acres around the area, providing eyes where humans cannot see.

John is hoping for a miracle, hoping the floods don't come this year, as they did last year, and stop the searchers in their tracks.

"Things are looking up," John told me. "I'm proud to have started the ball rolling."

In the meantime, John and Cindy try to keep heart and soul together. In a twist that wounded John's already mangled heart last year, his beloved Long House was felled by twisters. It was the one piece of work he could count on, in a place both he and Ashley loved.

How many things can be taken away from a family?

I've asked myself this question, and I've failed to hear a little voice saying "it's going to be okay." Like John, I know nothing will ever be the same. We just have to keep on keepin' on.

For the family.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Thank You for Being a Friend

Every story has an ending, and we've come to it.
The beautiful and bountiful sprays of flowers are now wilted, and will be going into the recycle today.
The letters have all been written, and the cheques have all be cashed.
Her carbon footprint, once larger than the woman herself, is now reduced to a small, cream coloured box filled with receipts, just in time for tax season.
On Thursday, Jennette Katherine Lovie was interred in a brief ceremony involving putty and blowtorches, the plot salesman, Squishy, Scott and me. 
Now it's time to say goodbye.
She and Roger can now rest together under the watchful eyes of John and Sadie Smuck, featured in the photo above. It always seemed great that they would have a couple of Smucks with whom they could spend eternity.
For me, it's time to move on. 
This morning, I died my hair red because I could.
This afternoon, we'll spend time with my eldest granddaughter, Skylar, eating bad food at Mickey D's. I will lecture my son, Nick, on his cadaver-like appearance, and will get the hand, as usual.
I won't make a big point about it.
People make their own choices.
I've learned that.

I just wanted to say goodbye to you, loyal readers and supporters.
I'm closing out the Cancer Diaries, hoping never to have to reopen them for someone else.
I have appreciated your prayers, and thoughts, and cards and letters.
But now I must go back to the land of the living.
It's been hard in this place, so close to death, in some ways.
But it's gratifying in other ways. I have never felt so alive.
I won't take things for granted, again.
Like my health, like the hours I spend with Scott, the kids, and the grandkids.
I will hug them all a little closer, and I will love my dogs all the more.
Thank you all for being friends to me, and Jennette.
We'll be fine, both of us.
No pain for her, a perch beside the crazy moustache.
More living for me.

Oh, before I go, one thing.
Stop. Smoking.
It's not just about you.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: The Love Monster

Over the years when I looked after Jennette, there were times I wanted to walk out of her life.

It was hard watching her self-destruct, difficult to walk into an apartment that was full of paper and ashes and soot. Her friend Lu couldn't believe it when I told her about the hoarding years, the decades Jennette made neat pathways to the bathroom and the bedroom in-between the untouched moving boxes, and the couches overflowing with her dead mother's clothes.

"The Jan I knew had an apartment that was neat as a pin," Lu told me. "I just can't believe she lived that way."

I knew Jennette for 25 years, and every place she rented looked the same. They were always full of clutter, neat in places, especially the bathroom. The rest of her apartment looked like a bombed out place in Aleppo.

The first time it was a problem was when the paramedics came to get Roger who had collapsed on the bed. It took them nearly an hour to get him out of the apartment because the pathways simply were not wide enough for a stretcher. Finally, they helped him shuffle out of the apartment on his own steam. He quickly took a deep dive into a coma, where he existed for nearly two months. His constant smoking bore a hole in his lung, and he had begun to aspirate food into the hole. His liver was badly cirrhotic, and undiagnosed diabetes had rendered his feet nearly useless.

Still, he survived.

While Roger lay in the hospital, Scott and I saw an opening. While Roger was in a coma, we would go into the apartment, clean up his bedroom, and get him a new bed so he could recover at home watching the Jays, and continue to kill himself, and his wife, with his second hand smoke.

Scott bravely entered the room like a firefighter, leaving nothing behind. When he came home, he had developed a horrible cough, and bled out of his nostrils. The soot was two inches thick on the unopened windows, television and computer. It still makes me cringe, when I think about it.

There was only so much we could do, so the rest of the apartment stayed the same, with its pathways, and mounds of newspapers, until the day Roger died. It was only then, after the police actually refused to enter the apartment, that we made a pact that we would start a process to save Jennette's life.

And so began our complicated dance, one step forward, one step back, as we pleaded with social workers and doctors to help her, only to discover that because she was not yet a senior, there was nothing they could do for her.

It was only after she received a large cheque from the government to settle a 30-year employment equity suit, that she had the money to hire professionals to move her. We did that, and our hope was that she would right her ship.

That's when she got cancer the first time.

In between, there were the falls, and the broken bones. Roger's death had taken its toll, and she also faced the ultimate demise of her beloved father. During this time, her mental state began to deteriorate. She was depending more and more on her nightly dose of vodka to ease her pain.

Then, ultimately, she began a relationship with the scammer Richard Birdsong, who took $25,000 out of her pocket.

I was so mad when I found out. I felt so betrayed that she thought so little of her own life while I was desperately trying to save her. The anger simmered in my stomach, and made my face blistering hot.
It was the same feeling I had yesterday when I found out the extent of her folly.

But I stood by a promise I made on my mother's death bed. I wasn't able to be around when she was dying. I had been too busy with my own life, and my perfect little family, that I could not be there when she needed me.

I swore on that day that I would do for one other person what I couldn't do for my mother.

And Jennette was that person. Lucky her, and lucky me.

She was grateful for the help in ways, but mostly she was secretive. Her mental illness hid in the shadows, while she presented a brave front to doctors. They shrugged off my pleas, and she shunned me when I tried to get her the real help she needed.

She finally fell off the precipice after her father died and after the cancer took hold in her right cheek. Instead of getting radiation, she sought out expensive dentists to build her a new smile on top of an absent gum line. She was hoping to find a man, that was her aim, that would solve everything, and the new choppers were key to fulfilling that goal, even though they didn't sit well, even when they pained her when she ate.

In her own fragile mental state, she was getting help she needed.

It was magical thinking of the first order.

Instead of seeking the radiation that could save her life, she sought treatment for loneliness and despair. Those of us who have sought that comfort know there's no pill for that.

The Love Monster consumed her, and left an opening for the cancer which ultimately won out.

Sitting here with my tea, surrounded by her things, I don't lay blame on this poor, sweet soul.

I have lived my entire life among people, my mother, my husbands, my children and now my grandchildren. I have a small life, but an important one. I'm loved, I'm wanted, I'm needed.

I can only imagine what it was like for her to be the good soldier left behind on the battle field, wandering around, in the land of the dead. After the men went away, she hoped for another, but the cancer took her hope and crushed it. Who would want a woman with half her face eaten by cancer, while her newly minted teeth sat beside her in a fancy case? Teeth she couldn't wear?

Every night, Jennette would sit around and talk to her ghosts. Ultimately, just months before she got sick the final time, she asked God to take her.

And in his own twisted way, God granted her that final wish.

I'm proud to say that I didn't walk away.

But it's cold comfort on days like this when I sit around talking to my own ghosts.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Facebook Folly

I was going through my late friend Jennette's paperwork today for her taxes, and I found a small folder which contained mail receipts.
They were all addressed to a man in Africa named George Prince Gaskin who apparently was a lawyer for a man with whom Jennette became involved over Facebook. It had all been a scam, of course, played upon a vulnerable and lonely widow.
She had fallen for an American soldier named Richard Birdsong whom she met on Messenger.
This Birdsong fellow had told her that he was stationed in Afganistan, and he had a teenage son. Unbeknownst to everyone but Jennette, they had fallen in love, and Jennette was waiting for him to move to Canada so the three of them could be together.
In another folder, I saw a passport application with a photo of Jennette. I suppose there had been plans for her to travel to the U.S. at some point, plans that were never fulfilled.
I knew she had been scammed before I found these receipts.
She called me one day to ask if I had a printer because she needed to send something to the U.K. to another lawyer who would confirm to a bank that she would be the recipient of a few million dollars on a life insurance policy for Richard Birdsong. I immediately confronted her, and she admitted that she had been sending money to him, through this lawyer.
Apparently, the young son had fallen into misadventure in Africa and he needed money asap.
She explained that she was just trying to help. And so she sent him money
She told me she sent $5,000 before I got involved.
After learning of her folly, I took over her Facebook account where I read months of disgusting correspondence between Birdsong and my little friend.
I learned so much about her. She was not the person whom I called a friend. And I am deeply sorry I got her onto Facebook, which fails to protect the vulnerable. This person Birdsong still has a profile on Facebook even after I contacted the company many times.
I blocked him on her Messenger, and I had hoped that was that.
Apparently not.
When we got J's computer, after her death, up popped Richard Birdsong.
He had been talking to her the whole time over her other devices.

Today, I totalled up the receipts sent to these scammers.
My heart was already breaking, when I tallied the receipts.
Jennette sent these douchebags a total of $24,136.96!
No wonder there was no money in her accounts.
I am beyond sick at this point.
Sure she was secretive. I knew that.
But I was not prepared for this.
I'm going to have to lay down. 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Soul Survivor

We held a memorial for Jennette yesterday, and by all accounts, it was a complete success.
Well, not quite.
Scott was in charge of the music, and he couldn't get it going. His tech skills appear to be rusty now that he's a retired CBC cameraman. Leonard Cohen was with us, sitting on the iPad, but the voices of his lovely singers couldn't seem to reach the speaker my husband held in his hand.
Like the good emcee I was, I tapped danced for a few minutes.
"Well, I guess we know why the CBC is in trouble," I quipped, giving my husband the stinkeye.
Fortunately, we didn't have to endure a Don Mclean nightmare, another day the music died.
Scott finally got it going, and we were saved.

Today, I'm suffering from a funeral hangover. The feeling is familiar.
I remember it from the myriad funerals I attended as a child who was blessed with lots of genetically compromised elderly relations whose arteries were altered by booze and cigarettes.
The Bloody Day After.
It's the day I sit around in the middle of a living room filled with over-sized flower arrangements in vases I will never use because no one could possibly afford to buy that amount of flowers.
Not even Oprah!

The fridge is full of too many pickles and day old sandwiches, bland cupcakes, and unrecognizable pieces of cheese. Wilted grapes. In a disturbing version of art imitating life, the colour is draining from the cantaloupe pieces that no one ever eats.
Beside the over-the-top flower arrangement sits what Scott refers to as the death case, that expensive looking funeral binder you get after you've spent half a year's salary on launching the dead one on her final journey. It's full of forms, and booklets, and advice for the newly bereaved about the technicalities of death.
It is true what they say.
The only two things a person can count on are death and taxes.
In addition to being Jennette's death assistant, I am also lucky enough to be her Executrix, which means I will be spending the next few months closing out her bank accounts, credit cards, tax account, etc., etc. Being the little overachiever I am, I have already done most of it. For the last three weeks, I've been schlepping J around in my backpack, which is full of death certificates, hers and Rogers, as well as form letters for all the thieves who come calling, literally on death's door.
She didn't have much, and the stuff she did have has already been dispersed to various friends in thanks for their efforts at keeping up her spirits whilst the cancer ripped through her throat.
I have what's left of her life now, in my office and living room. There are lots of pictures of people I don't know, and a box of receipts I will now comb through to see if I can get her an income tax refund for all the money she paid out over the last few months. Dying, I have learned, is a pretty expensive endeavour.

What's left of her estate comes to me as I am her sole survivor. I am somewhat elated to know that I will see little cheques come in, every now and again, for the rest of the year. I will give thanks for everyone of them.
I'm not rich and I haven't been able to work much over these last few months, so selling off Jennette's shit has become a necessity. Today, I scored a hundred bucks for her phone. The other day, another good friend took one of her tables. That paid for groceries.
Scott got the biggest gift, J's Chevy Cruze, which we traded in with our old car for a late model Subaru. He's over the moon, of course, because he used to sell Foresters and now he can finally afford one. The thing has Eyesight, apparently. And good snow tires, and a sunroof which he assures me offers UV protection. In my own defence, as a former sun worshipper and skin cancer-survivor, I will now wear a hat in the car. And there's a dog cage in the car to keep Finnigan from eating the seats and Sophie from soiling the off-white upholstery, so that's something, I guess.
I hope we get good use out of the dog barrier. But I'm wary, I think getting a dog barrier might be a bad idea, like all those times I got new business cards, only to discover I'd been sacked a few days later by one soulless boss or another.
We took Finnigan to the vet on Friday because he's started having seizures. We were told that he can no longer be around the grandkids because of his condition, which sometimes leaves him snarling in pools of foam. So Finnie will be in the basement everyday when Squishy comes to call. Otherwise, he'll be accompanying Jennette over the Rainbow Bridge.
He doesn't know the difference. He just wakes up from his trance and licks my hand.
As for me, I will be sleeping with my tennis racquet.

I'm feeling numb, to tell you the truth.
I feel like the last person left on a desert island who doesn't win a million dollars, but instead will eventually be eaten by pygmies.
Given my current state of pudginess, the whole tribe will be able to eat for a week.
I looked at some photos taken by a friend and realized that for every pound J lost, I gained two.
As I write this, there is a brand new rowing machine in the basement waiting for my lard ass to get aboard. Yet here I sit, spreading cheek all over the now incredibly uncomfortable faux letter chair.
I'll get to it, I will.
But for now, I'm content to play video games and drink weird concoctions from David's Teas. Sometimes, the tea is so bad I think it might come from funeral home leavings.

If I'm to be perfectly honest, I still feel Jennette with me. She's over there in the liquor cabinet, there, in that vodka bottle which literally has her name on it. It came home from the hospice undrunk along with the ones she kept hidden in her closet. I take a sip once in a while, but even then, that bottle will probably be with me til the summer.
I still have her mom's extensive collection of costume jewelry. I wore some yesterday. So did Marissa. And I gave the earrings I wore to Gessie. Eventually, most of it will be given away by me to deserving people. The rest, Squishy can wear during her dressup time.

The good news is that the rituals of death are finally coming to an end.
Yesterday, I proudly wrestled some money out of her brother's pocket to pay her final expenses.
On Thursday, we will be tossing her lovely humming bird urn in beside Roger, where they can once again solve the problems of the world late into the night.
Except without the smokes, or the cocktails.
Question: Are there cocktails in heaven?
I hope so.
Otherwise, when I die I'll be forced to become a Republican.

After the internment, I'm going to the doctor to get my blood pressure issues resolved. Then, I hope fall into my first good night's sleep in months and months.
Realistically, that is never going to happen.
Not now that I've got Cujo sleeping beside me.

And I continue to be haunted by that backpack.
It sits here, getting ready to grow teeth, like a Chucky doll waiting to eat me up and spit me out.
Maybe if I mutter some sort of mantra three times, the bloody thing will disappear.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Eulogy for a Friend

Welcome guests, friends, relatives, to this memorial for Jennette, or Jan, or Jen.
She went by many names over the years, and a lot of us knew her as a different Jennette or Jan or Jen. She was like a rainbow in many ways. We all saw different colours but we all felt the same way when we were with her. Warm and loved and cared for.
She lived her life as if she were in a Maya Angelou poem.
She tried to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.
Her mission in life was not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.
And as Gessie will tell you later, she embraced that style with gusto.
Jennette or Jan or Jen, didn’t talk much. She surrounded herself with extroverts who sucked up all the air in the room. Fun people, smart people. She once told me she was first attracted to Roger because he introduced her to so many interesting people, at the press club, in bars and bistros. That’s what she missed about him after he died, she told me, that and the fact he made her laugh and smile.
I knew only Jennette, though I did see Jan and Jen when she was around the friends from her younger days, like Lu and Nancy and Colleen. If you asked them, they would say she was a loyal friend, who would come over and stay the night, and babysit the kids.
It’s amazing in this day and age, that people are still friends with people they met in high school, and not just because of Facebook. Jan remained friends with her high school chums for more than 50 years, and got together with them for pizza, until everybody got too busy.
And let’s face it, most of us are far too busy. We often let people slip away in our lives as we grapple with our own challenges, our own illnesses, our own families.
So it’s understandable that most of you were surprised when you read on Facebook, or in the Citizen, that Jennette, or Jan or Jen passed away on January 9.
We didn’t even know she was sick.
I heard that a lot from people.
It’s not your fault, if you are one of those people. Jennette or Jan or Jen kept her illness between herself and the medical professionals. She didn’t even tell her brother until she got the terminal diagnosis.
The Jennette I knew was a private person, and she wanted to die on her own terms. That’s what she told me.
“I make my own decisions,” she said whenever I got close to smothering her.
How I got involved with her is a story for another time and another place. I am no hero. I was just around, really, with enough spare time to take her to her appointments with doctors, dentists, and the like. In exchange, she let me write about her in my blog, called the Cancer Diaries. She let me tell her story, warts and all, and that is why I am here today, to tell that story one last time, even though we all know how the story ended.
So here we go.
The cancer started as a small lozenge-sized tumour, which was nestled in the bottom of her mouth. I think she had had it awhile, and was misdiagnosed by her family doctor, whose medical philosophy was “there’s a pill for that.”
In her case, she was told to suck on hard candies, but eventually, it became clear that she wasn’t suffering from a canker or dry mouth but real life scary oral cancer.
The specialist took one look, and she jumped back. I’ve worked with many doctors over the years, and jump back means not good.
Within weeks, Jennette was scheduled for surgery. She asked me to take her, and we sat in the waiting room at the usual six a.m. witching hour, waiting for an eight-hour surgery in which, basically, the surgeon would take a backhoe to the bottom of her mouth. I waited for a few minutes, and I was about to go home when the nurse came charging toward me, and beckoned me down the hall.
There was Jennette, small and disoriented, lying on a gurney. She had gone to the bathroom, and fallen, hit her head, and the nurse thought she had had a concussion. So instead of getting her surgery, she spent the next eight hours in the ER, getting tested. They found she had very low levels of potassium and magnesium, hence the fall. She would later learn that all the pills her doctors had prescribed her had put her life in peril, depleting her of so many nutrients that she nearly had a heart attack.
In fact, as a side story let me tell you about the time she went to buy a computer at Staples, only to faint when the bill arrived. That time, she spent a week at the Montfort.
Jennette spent a lot of time in the hospital, mostly for broken bones. I remember a time when she fell and broke her hip, and lay on the floor for hours until Roger got up. In a terrific example of mindfulness, he picked her up and dropped her causing her to have not just a broken hip, but a broken femur.
Or the time she broke five bones on the top of her foot upon learning that her beloved Cockatiel, Digger, had died. We never did get a straight story about how that happened. The doctor had never seen anything like it.
Ah, it takes me back.
Anyway, the falls and the breaks and the fainting were no match for the cancer which ultimately took her life two years to the day she walked out of her first surgery. She thought she had beaten it. Unfortunately, the doctor’s pronouncement she was cancer-free turned out to be cruel, cruel joke.
The cancer was still there. It had simply burrowed inside her jaw in a place the doctors couldn’t see. This spring, it came back with a vengeance.
In typical Jennette or Jan or Jen fashion, she didn’t want to bother anybody. So she waited for a follow up appointment with a yet another doctor who had warmed his hands in her mouth, this time to cut back some of the debris left by the first doctor.
When the plastic surgeon opened her mouth, he jumped back. You see, there they go again.
“I didn’t do that,” he squirmed, which to me meant he damned well did. I’m not blaming him for the cancer coming back. But I often wondered if he’d left well enough alone, whether the cancer might have sat there dormant, even for a little while.
With cancer, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn’t it?
Jennette faced this setback with her usual stoicism, and a few tears, but I know she was terrified. I suggested that we go to the cottage for a week, before meeting with the oncologist again. She embraced the idea, and packed her little bag with all the essentials: a blender, Carnation Instant Breakfast and enough vodka to light up a Viking funeral.
Scott bought her a Vape for the trip and our landlady supplied some nice homegrown which helped with the pain. That, and the vodka, kept her on keel.
When we got back to town, the verdict was clear. Jennette had weeks to live. I took her out for coffee, which was about all I could do to calm her nerves.
“Okay,” I said. “What’s on your bucket list?”
“What bucket list?” she asked. And then she had a thought.
“I want to see Ron James,” she said.
“The comedian?”
And so I set off to find Ron James tickets. As luck would have it, Ron was playing a senior’s lifestyle show in town a week later.
So I bundled her up, with her walker, and beetled out to the convention centre. By this time, Jennette was wearing a bandage full time, because her jaw had started to bleed. She looked like something out of an episode of M*A*S*H*.
I got us seated right in front. I mean, who would resist giving a seat to a 4 foot nothing casualty of the cancer wars?
Ron was his usual Leprechaun self.
“I betcha there’s a few folks here who are happy about marijuana being legalized,” he twinkled.
With that, I pointed to Jennette, who then became Ron’s target for the next hour.
“Better watch yerself, darling,” said Ron, pointing to her walker. “Don’t be driving that thing under the influence.”
After the show, Jennette and I met up with Ron who began throwing DVDs at her. The two of them posed for the camera, and she was absolutely tickled. When we stopped at the bathroom on the way out, she looked in the mirror and realized she had laughed so hard, the blood had soaked through the bandage.
Later, when she was in the General for radiation, I suggested we put on a Ron James DVD to cheer her up.
She shook her head.
“No, I can’t watch them. I’m going to start to bleed again.”
Over the next few weeks, Jennette declined rapidly. She had to move into an assisted living facility. At first, she was depressed, but rallied. Soon she was hopping the Revera bus to go to Walmart or Billings for a shopping spree.
A lifelong packrat, Jennette began to clutter up her new space.
She bought herself a boat load of electronics, new clothes, about a hundred boxes of Kleenex, and buckets of Instant Breakfast and peach Jello.
“Why are you buying all this stuff?” I asked her one day. “The manor is supplying it.”
“They ran out of peach Jello,” she sniffed. “And it’s the only kind I like.”
It was absolutely heartbreaking watching people watch her motoring through the mall, but she seemed undeterred. People can be so nasty. I still can’t believe it.
But our J, she was undaunted. She kept busy by going to the daycare hospice program, and painting by the numbers, or Facetiming her brother in Mexico.
You had to admire her.
I realize now that Jennette wasn’t trying to die, she was trying to live.
She was still going strong until Christmas. In spite of a gaggle of friends bringing her presents, and decorations, she was down. Way down.
She couldn’t talk anymore, and could barely chug down the Ensure. She weighed less than ninety pounds, and her face was swollen up like a pumpkin. The cancer burst through her jaw, leaving a gaping hole.
But ultimately, it wasn’t the cancer that stopped her in her tracks.
It happened on wintry day, on one of her shopping sprees.
She tripped going up the stairs of the bus, with everyone staring at her. She was hot with embarrassment, and soon realized she had lost the strength in her legs.
It was only a week after when we wheeled her into the Bruyere.
She had finally given up. The thief in the night had taken her last bit of independence, and it was poised to strike her in one last deft blow.
By this time, it was as if she was wrapped in a cocoon of cancer, and we could only recognize the odd rainbow she shot out into the room. We could only see tiny glimpses of Jennette or Jan or Jen.
I rallied the troops to make sure she was surrounded by people she loved. We would take turns holding her tiny paws or dabbing her mouth with a sponge.
One day, Gessie called me and said the end was near.
Scott and I rushed to the hospital, and she was sitting there with a little grin on her face. Her eyes were glassy, and she kept reaching for the ceiling.
“I can see it,” she said. “I can’t see it.”
About an hour later, it seemed as if the rain had stopped, and the rainbow emerged from her tiny little body. She began chatting away, complaining that the clock wasn’t right.
Then she looked at me.
“Rose,” she said. “Come over here.”
“What can I do, Jennette?” I asked her, and took her tiny paw.
“Bring me my purse,” she said.
I reached in the cupboard and took out her over-stuffed purse and handed it to her. She dug through it and pulled out her wallet. She took out a few bills and handed them to me.
“Here’s money for parking,” she said.
That was our Jennette, or Jan or Jen.
Thinking about others before she thought about herself.
As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget about what you said, people will forget about what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
And no matter who you knew, Jennette or Jan, or Jen.
She always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.
I’m not sad she’s gone. I’m glad that the pain finally left the room.

I will miss her, as she said I would when we sat at Starbucks that fateful day over coffee.
But I won’t miss the cancer.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Half a Sandwich

Embed from Getty Images

Like many women my age, I'm part of the sandwich generation, an army of clear-eyed women who are caregivers at both ends. By day, I've been looking after little Squishy, my granddaughter who is nearly two. On nights and weekends, I've been caring for Jennette, the cancer patient.

Now that Jennette's gone, I'm feeling a little lighter, like an open-faced sandwich missing the top part of the bread. Of course, there is still much work to do in the short-term. I have a funeral to plan, music and pictures to archive, and as her executor, I have many letters to write and meetings to attend.

Still, I've got a lot more free time now that her place is cleared out, and Sundays and evenings aren't spent eating fast food and drinking wine to calm the heck down. Last night, I looked at my PVR and realized that it's nearly full. I must have two months worth of Colbert and old movies to watch. Nope, too much stress. Colbert is already old fake news. It's time to hit the erase button.

The Christmas presents have sat largely untouched. The rowing machine is still in its box. I'm going to have to re-learn all the moves in my Zelda game that Stef got me, and I have a Instant Pot that's sat on the counter since Christmas Eve.

The only Christmas present that got lots of use was the bottle of Dos Amigos that Jennette bought me. Last night, I decided, it's time to break up with George Clooney. Now that George's favorite tequila has been well drunk, I won't be buying any more.

Since Jennette got really sick, I've gained all the weight that she lost. I had struggled to lose 20 pounds in hopes of finally getting a breast reduction, and they're back, and they are everywhere. I have fat where I've never had fat before! I even have back fat.

My hair is in need of a bob. I cut it myself over these months and I'm starting to look like the little girl who was the victim of a granddad driveby barber operation. The color I chose is something that is now looking a bit like doggy diarrhea.

And don't get me started on my wardrobe which consists, now that I've gained the weight back, of exactly one pair of pants that aren't stretchy. My boobs are literally spilling out the sides of the cups, and I'm going to have to do the walk of shame over to Pennington's.

This week, I will have the opportunity to get back on the hamster wheel. Squishy has left the country, and is headed for a destination wedding in Cuba, so I am not even half a sandwich for seven days.

So it's time to get my shit together.

I have an appointment with the doctor on Thursday, another walk of shame, to check my vitals, and arrange for tests. This hasn't been easy for me, since the very last person I want to see is a doctor right now. I've had my fill, let me tell you.

I'm also arranging lunches with all my friends who don't drink. It's too easy to slip back into the two-hour lunch syndrome when you're in mourning, so I need my rehabbed friends to remind me why the breakup with George has to be at the very least semi-permanent.

I still haven't figured out what to do with J's four bottles of vodka. I'm not at all fond of vodka; it's like the pity date for a girl who is pining for George.

Today, I'm contemplating buying new bras and underwear, learning to cook a meal in the Instant Pot, and turning off CNN. The workout will have to wait.

Realistically, I'll probably just chill on the couch with Zelda.

Seriously, I want to thank all the arm-chair coaches who have helped me through this difficult time. I'm a tough broad; I been in worse spots.

So for those of you who are worried about me, don't.

I'm good.

I'm happy.

But just in case, I've squirreled away some left over Ativan I found in J's closet.

It was in the underwear drawer beside her vibrator.

Of course it was!