I know it’s not a healthy breakfast, but I don’t care. I want a croissant or pain au chocolat, with a strong cup of coffee.
I don’t need a giant Costco bag of apples, just one perfect crisp McIntosh will do.
I want to eat eggs from the happiest of chickens, the ones who run free on a family-run farm. Yes they are more expensive, but you can taste their joy.
My afternoon snack is a piece of cake with frosting covered in sprinkles. It’s a silly cake, the kind you might make for a six year old’s birthday, but it’s what I want and it makes me smile. Yes I will crash from the sugar high and need to nap like a toddler, but it’s worth it.
I want to cook dinner like my Aunt showed me, the one who lived in Paris. Cook anything in a cast iron pan with butter and white wine and it will be like dining on the Rue Mouffetard.
Speaking of wine, I want to drink mine from mis-matched vintage glasses, the ones that are etched with swirls and trimmed in gold. And I want to drink it every night.
Before sleeping I want to massage my face with a heavy rose-scented cream. Maybe it won’t take away my wrinkles, but they will enjoy the lovely rose scent and I will too.
I will read a fashion magazine in bed. Not a book about something important. Instead I will look at beautiful clothing designed by artists who paint our bodies with fabric instead of painting canvas. This is important to me and it will help me dream of magical adventures, where I laugh and twirl and love myself and throw glitter down on everyone sleeping, so that when they wake, they exclaim, “whatever happened last night? Why is there a rainbow of glitter in our bed?”
This is what I want. I don’t care if it seems fanciful or silly or not what I should be doing. For the only thing I should be doing is living as my truest self. The doctors said I would be dead by now, that my cancer would devour me, but somehow I am still here. A mystery to them. So while I’m still here, I want it all. And I want it covered in gold sparkles.
“I’m going to marry him,” I told my girlfriends. He smelled like home. When he hugged me I’d almost fainted from the sheer intensity of his scent. He smelled like the kind of love that inspires poets and songwriters. But God is a trickster. He created smell to mess with us. “She thinks she’s going to marry him because he smells like home!” God said laughing. “I’m just fucking with you, get it together girl, he’s not your future husband!” God tossed a handful of popcorn in his mouth and continued watching his reality show.
“You’ll feel like you were hit by a truck after the operation.”
“The surgery will take 9-12 hours, including administering hot chemo into your abdomen.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to save my reproductive system?”
“We’ll try, but it’s likely that it will all have to come out.”
“We will be giving you an ileostomy and it could end up being permanent. Be prepared for that.”
“Oh my God.”
“I know it’s a lot to digest. If you have any other questions please let me know. I’ll see you on the 18th.”
“Thank you Dr. Govindajan.”
I left the hospital in a daze, walking aimlessly for several blocks. A pub down the street caught my eye and I went in and grabbed a booth at the back. It was only 11:00 AM but I ordered a glass of wine. I also ordered a grilled cheese so I didn’t look like a sad alcoholic. I opened my notebook where I’d had written down everything my oncologist had just told me.
“Here’s your wine sweetie, tough morning?”
“Ya. I have cancer and I’m getting operated on in two weeks.”
“Oh I’m so sorry. My sister had cancer and she’s fine now. You’ll be okay too, don’t worry.”
“Thank you, that’s nice of you to say.”
Actually I’m probably not going to be okay because my cancer is very rare and there’s no cure and there’s not much research on it.
I started making a list of things I would need for the hospital: facial wipes, lip balm, reading glasses, secret stash of Xanax, cotton pillow case because the ones in hospitals are gross polyester, mirror, phone charger…
The grilled cheese arrived and looked delicious. I took a bite and then another. On my third bite I got that familiar feeling again, the one that had been plaguing me since I was first diagnosed with Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.
My throat is closing. I can’t breathe. I’m dying. Please someone help me.
I pushed the grilled cheese aside and grabbed my pills. As I tried to swallow one it felt like there was no room for it to go down.
Oh My God the cheese has coated my throat and now I’m choking.
Thankfully the Xanax kicked in quickly and I felt like I could breathe again, but I couldn’t eat another bite. I had already lost ten pounds and I wanted to gain weight before going into the hospital, but food had become my enemy.
After the pub I headed to a nearby department store. In the shoe department I chatted with a friendly salesperson about our favorite fall fashion trends. I bought three pairs: tall wedge booties and fringed mid-calf cowboy-ish boots, plus a cool pair of men’s style oxfords.
Where are you wearing these? You’ll be dead soon.
In the cab home I leaned back and shut my eyes. Wait, so I’m going to go through menopause all at once? Like – BAM! – I’m a crone now? Is that how it works? Why? Why is this happening?
Do I even want this operation? Like, what’s the point? With this disease I’m basically fucked, so why go through all of this? And why the hell can’t they save my female bits? Is it bececause I’m 46 and they figure I don’t need them anymore? I do need them and I want them God Damn it.
And, side note, why can’t I have a normal cancer like breast cancer? I mean Mesothelioma? Caused by exposure to asbestos as a child? What the actual fuck?
Having only been dating my boyfriend for one year I felt my diagnosis and everything it involved was just too much pressure on us. We should break up now before we became more attached. He didn’t sign up for menopause and an ileostomy bag and God knows what other complications, plus a high probability of me dying soon.
I wondered about the whole dying with dignity thing. Oregon had recently made it legal for individuals to choose to end their lives when they were sick and suffering and since I was an American Citizen I reasoned I could move there. But what if you wanted to end your life before you got to the sick and suffering part. Like kind of preemptively end your life? That should be allowed too.
I could go the straight suicide route. I had just filled my prescription for Xanax and it was surely enough to kill me. The problem is I would have to do it immediately before I had another panic attack. The more panic attacks I had the more Xanax I used up, which would not leave me with enough pills to end my life.
Back at home I continued thinking through my Xanax plan. One of the many issues with it was that knowing me I would have a panic attack while trying to swallow all the pills.
A panic attack while trying to kill myself. Ridiculous.
The other complication with my plan was that it would devastate my family, boyfriend and close friends. I didn’t want to hurt them, but I also didn’t want to be forced to live through this nightmare. Suddenly I felt resentful of them. Now, because of them, I was going to have to endure a horrendous surgery with some weird hot chemo poured into my stomach, making my abdomen a poisonous soup. Then I would wake up sweating from hot flashes with a stoma spewing waste into a bag attached to my tummy.
Not fucking fair!
Within minutes the rage I felt turned to sadness, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t scream or cry or do anything to get the emotions out. They were all trapped in my chest. I lay in bed for an hour not moving, my 100 pound dog Leroy lay with me, his giant head on my stomach.
I could not leave Leroy that’s for sure. I had dragged him with me all the way from Los Angeles to Toronto and he considered himself my husband. Though he tolerated my boyfriend, he would have preferred to have me all back to himself. During my marriage Leroy had saved me. Though I had rescued him, he had emotionally rescued me and I was forever grateful.
It was time for Leroy’s mid-day walk. I put on his fall sweater – blue hand knit with a giant red crab design – and we went out in the sunny, cool air. We ambled along and he scored half a croissant out of a bush. Having previously lived on the streets of LA, he was adept at sourcing food.
“Do you know how much I love you?” I asked him. I kissed his beautiful brindled head as he licked the last of the buttery croisssant off his lips.
Three women were walking towards us on the opposite sidewalk. They were dressed in black abayas, but the woman in the middle was wearing the most beautiful sparkly one – it looked like silver metallic sparkly stars. I waved to them and they waved back, the one wearing the sparkles flashing me the peace sign.
In that moment I realized that I would go through with the wretched operation and scary tummy chemo soup.
I didn’t want to, but I would.
I hated my lack of options, but I would.
I was mad as hell at God and the Universe, but I would.
I didn’t know if my relationship could survive it, but I would.
I had no idea how life could possibly go on after this all, but I would.
I would because there was a woman wearing a sparkly metallic abaya flashing me the peace sign and for some reason I took that as a sign. I would.
“Did you have a nice time with your father? I like your hair that way, you look pretty.”
“You’re not supposed to give me compliments about my looks, remember? That’s old-school parenting.”
For the love of God.
“Dad took me to that vintage store I’ve been wanting to check out and bought me some rad stuff. Then we went out to lunch with Marie, I like her, she’s cool.”
Who the fuck is Marie?
“Wash those clothes, you never know what could be on them.”
“You’re kidding, right? They’re already clean mom. Anyway, Marie is getting me a pair of jeans from the denim company she works for. Their jeans are made in a really nice, eco-friendly factory right here in LA, not like a sweatshop in Bangladesh.”
“I bet they are. I bet their workers have health insurance and paid sick days and proper lunch breaks and good air conditioning in their work rooms.”
“Mom, chill. Marie is cool. Be happy Dad is not dating a 21 year old actress hyphenate, because he totally could be. All my friends say he’s a silver fox.”
A silver fucking fox.
“We’re having vegetarian lasagna tonight. Does that meet your current eating standards?”
“I actually started eating meat again this weekend.”
“Marie said I don’t have the right blood type to be vegetarian. She said that to maximize my health and well-being I should be eating free range chicken, grass-fed beef and non-farmed salmon five times a week. But lasagna is fine too.”
“Okay then, well I’m going to maximize my health by drinking a glass of wine right now. Go do your homework.”
“I’m not ten. You don’t need to tell me to do my homework. And by the way, I’m getting like almost straight A’s, so maybe just take it down a notch Laurie.”
She did not just call me Laurie. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Jessie went to her bedroom, grabbing a bag of caramel popcorn off the kitchen counter on her way.
Laurie popped the lasagna in the oven then poured herself a glass of Chardonnay. In the livingroom she watched an old episode of Scandal for the tenth time. There was something soothing about watching the show over and over again. Olivia Pope wouldn’t be dealing with a ridiculous teenager and someone named Marie. Olivia Pope would “handle it,” and then go have sex with Jake, or the President, or both.
Maximize her health and well-being. Go fuck yourself Marie. How is it that Mike is introducing Jessie to the woman he’s dating? Does that mean he’s in a serious relationship?”
Laurie texted him: “Hi. Jessie had a nice time with you and Marie. R u two in a serious relationship? Pls keep me in the loop. Thx.”
Jessie came to dinner wearing a black Joy Division t-shirt.
“So that’s one of the vintage pieces your dad bought you? Do you know the lead singer committed suicide? There’s a documentary about the band if you’re interested. He suffered from horrible depression.”
“Good lasagna mom,” said Jessie, ignoring her mom’s comments.
“Thanks, I’m glad you approve.”
“Mom, I don’t want you to freak out or anything, but I got the feeling that dad and Marie are really a thing. Like really together. I’m just giving you a head’s up.”
“That’s sweet of you, but don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I want your father to be happy – I’m glad he’s met someone.”
Wow. That was fast Mike. We’ve been divorced for less than nine months and you’re already in a serious relationship.
Later that evening Mike texted back:
“Hi. Yes, Marie and I are together, we’ve been dating exclusively for five months, I was going to tell you. She wants us all to get together for dinner. Can you do Friday night? I’ll have my assistant book us a table. Thx.”
Five months? Dinner together?
After throwing in a load of laundry Laurie went out by the pool to smoke a cigarette from her secret stash.
“Sounds great. Looking forward to it!” she texted back to him.
“Why did you say sounds great and looking forward to it?! You cannot go to that dinner alone, we need to find you a date,” said her oldest friend Molly the next day.
“No, that would make it worse. It would make me seem desperate and sad and I’m not desperate and sad, I just wasn’t prepared for a ‘Marie’ yet” answered Laurie, checking on the non-farmed salmon.
“Gotta go. Jessie just got home and tonight she’s bringing a friend with her. This morning she actually told me what to wear and asked me to “act normal,” at dinner. Love you.”
“Oh Lordy. Love you too girl.”
Laurie had followed her daughter’s instructions and worn her high-waisted jeans with her hippie blouse tucked in and her large gold hoops. She had even put on mascara and lip gloss. Last time Jessie had a friend over she had been more than just a friend, so she was expecting the same this time.
“Hi mom, we’re home and I brought an extra guest!” yelled Jessie from the hallway.
“All good!” Laurie answered as she set another place and added more salad to the bowl.
As she put out an assortment of drinks for the kids to choose from, she poured herself a glass of wine.
“I’ll take one of those too if you don’t mind,” said a deep voice.
Who. The. Fuck. Is. That?
The most handsome, swoon-worthy man was standing in her kitchen doorway. What was her daughter up to? She wanted to strangle her, kind of.
“I’m Daniel, Emily’s father. Sorry the girls sprung this on you. They’re such operators.”
Laurie handed him a glass of wine, glad that she had put on mascara and lip gloss.
“Not a problem. I should have known something was up when Jessie told me what to wear for dinner,” she said laughing.”
“Can I do anything to help?” Daniel asked.
“Thanks but everything’s done. Let’s go outside for a few minutes and relax.”
From the cupboard Laurie grabbed a bag of Salt N’ Vinegar chips:
“These go really well with wine.”
“I like the unicorn pool floatie,” Daniel said.
“Me too. Jessie is mortified by it, but she’s mortified by most of what I do and say, so you know…” said Laurie crunching on a chip.
“God these chips are good,” said Daniel with salt stuck to his upper lip.
Those lips. Wow. Stop staring Laurie, you freak.
“Is it wrong to say I hate teenagers? I just want to fast forward to the college years or whatever this generation is going to do instead of college. I can’t take it.”
“I know, it’s brutal. Jessie has started referring to me as Laurie.”
Daniel laughed hard, almost spitting out his wine.
The laughter and chatter continued until the oven alarm went off and they went inside for dinner.
“So girls, how was school today?” asked Laurie.
“The usual,” answered Jessie.
“I love the usual,” said Daniel, digging into his salad.
Jessie took a selfie of Emily and her.
“No phones at the table,” Laurie said. “Also, are you two a couple?” She could feel Daniel hiding his smile.
“No. We’re trying to make Emily’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah, jealous” said Jessie.
“Got it. Well hope it works.”
“Are you guys ready for your science test tomorrow?”
“Of course we are Dad,” answered Emily, rolling her eyes.
“Just two more years,” whispered Laurie to Daniel. He tilted his head and smiled at her.
Laurie caught Jessie sneaking a photo of her and Daniel.
“What are you doing? I told you, no phones at the dinner table. Stop it already.”
After dinner Daniel and Laurie cleaned up and continued chatting:
“Thanks again for dinner, it was delicious. And sorry about the ambush…”
“It was my pleasure. I had a lovely time.”
“I would love to bring you out to dinner, no teenagers, just us. Are you free Saturday?”
I’m free right now. Kiss me. Please kiss me.
“I would love that.”
Later that evening as Laurie was finishing some editing work, Jessie stopped by her office. Leaning against her mother’s desk with a popsicle in her mouth, she said:
“Did you like Emily’s dad? Isn’t he cute? I thought he was your type.”
“You are quite the little trickster,” said Laurie, grabbing Jessie into a playful bear hug.
“I knew you would like him,” Jessie said, giggling like a little girl. “I just knew it!”
“You are an amazing young woman, you know that? Don’t ever forget it” said Laurie, kissing the top of her head.
Friday night, at Fia in Santa Monica, Laurie and Jessie met Mike and Marie for dinner. Marie had that effortlessly slouchy-chic look: a satin slip dress under a belter cardigan and vaguely western ankle-boots.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Marie said as she extended her hand.
“Likewise,” answered Laurie smiling.
“I ordered you a Chardonnay,” Mike said kissing her cheek.
A tray of drinks and appetizers arrived and they all raised their glasses.
“To getting to know each other,” Marie exclaimed.
They clinked glasses and Laurie took a long sip.
“Dad, I wanna show you something,” Jessie leaned into him so he could better see her phone screen.
“So, I hear you work for an eco-friendly denim company, that sounds really interesting.”
“It is. It kind of combines my two passions: fashion and the environment.”
“Who’s this?” Mike asked Laurie as he was looking at Jessie’s photos.
Laurie looked as Jessie flipped the screen to show her.
“Oh that’s Daniel, Emily’s father. They were over for dinner the other night.”
“Mom is going on a date with him tomorrow night,” said Jessie proudly.
“An ileostomy is a surgery that makes a temporary or permanent opening called a stoma. A stoma is a pathway from the lowest part of the small intestine, called the “ileum,” to the outside of your abdomen. This helps solid waste and gas exit the body without passing through the colon or the rectum.”
Does this description sound both gross and a little X-Files-ish to you?👽 It does to me too. It’s been five years since my cancer surgeries, (for Peritoneal Mesothelioma) and I still have a tough time accepting my stoma. I know today’s ethos is all about celebrating and loving your body the way it is, but I truly struggle to do that.
Yet, since there’s nothing I can do to change the situation, I gave my stoma a name: Ron. Ron is actually a beautiful shade of red. If Ron were a lipstick he would be Sephora’s Best Seller.💄 He lives two inches below my belly button and three inches to the right of it. He’s smooth and shiny and he’s shaped like a tiny mound.
Ron moves too – wtf? Sometimes he’s smaller and almost flush with my tummy, other times he enjoys showing off and gets bigger and longer. The first time he pulled that trick I was terrified and yelled out to my partner to bring me a measuring tape so I could measure Ron in the shower.🤣 Mostly though he’s about the size of a small tootsie pop – remember those?
Ron is Celebrity-style high-maintenance. He requires a special 3-piece outfit on him at all times, which includes a small beige bag 👜 to collect liquid-y waste. I empty the waste or, “output,” into the toilet, ten or more times per day.
Ron is extremely picky about food. I used to eat a mostly plant-based diet, but Ron let me know – in dramatic and painful ways – that eating vegan was not an option. Most fruits and vegetables give him trouble, particularly their skins.🍅 Nuts, seeds, legumes and beans are also difficult for him. There is literally almost nothing in a plant-based diet that he likes except green juice, smoothies and creamy vegetable soups.
What does Ron like to eat? Basically he loves hospital food. Give him a piece of plain chicken with mashed potatoes and a tiny cup of ice cream 🍨 and he’s the happiest little red intestine mound you’ve ever met. But if you dare try to fake Ron out with foods he doesn’t approve of he will make you suffer.
Once, in a moment of weakness and right before a Flaming Lips concert, I decided to eat half a grapefruit – one of my favorite fruits. I chewed it carefully, (with ileostomies you have to chew everything a million times), but I forgot that grapefruits are encased in those little linings/skins. Well, halfway through the concert Ron lost his fucking mind!🤯 He erupted with thick paste, resulting in his 3-piece outfit peeling off my skin, causing gross mayhem.💩
I must say though, if ever there were a perfect concert to have a stoma accident, it would be The Flaming Lips. Everyone was high and dancing, there were unicorns 🦄 and I think the singer was in a giant clear ball, so no one noticed me racing to the bathroom.
I always travel with supplies because you just never know. Luckily the bathroom had great speakers, so as I cleaned myself up and put on a fresh new outfit for Ron, I was still able to enjoy the concert. Though I can laugh about it now, accidents are stressful and they make me feel vulnerable. In all honesty, I am never fully relaxed when I’m out and that is emotionally exhausting.
Body Image & Fashion:
Most people I know have a favorite body part that they often highlight when they dress. Maybe they have legs for days, a long graceful neck, or defined yoga arms…I used to like my mid-section. I didn’t wear crop tops, but I liked high-waisted, 70’s style wide-leg jeans with a top that hit the waistband. I wore lots of other styles too, I enjoy using clothing as a form of creative self-expression. Now I’m no longer able to wear anything fitted.
My stomach is split in two sections, separated by a 12 inch scar (the scar doesn’t bother me). The left side of my tummy is its normal self, but due to surgery, my right side is now slightly rounded, as if it just binge-ate an entire baguette. 🥖 I hate it. While I don’t spend my days obsessing about it, I do sometimes feel sad. Also, I’m sick of wearing long, flow-y tops.🤦🏻♀️
Ultimately though I’m very grateful to Ron.🙏 Because Ron, along with my incredible surgeon & HIPEC & lots of luck, have allowed me the privilege of living much longer than anyone expected.
A final few ileostomy facts🤓 :
– There is no smell.👃🏽 No one will ever smell your stoma or bag.
– Ileostomy supplies are extremely expensive.💰
– You can swim and play any sports you want.🏄🏻♀️ There are accessories to help keep the bag secure.
– Partial bowel blockages are fairly common & scary. I’ve had 6 of them in the past 8 months, so my Dr. is investigating.🔍
So that’s what it’s like living with an ileostomy, for me. It’s Ron and I together for as long as I get to live.👫
Ron’s 3-piece outfit:
Stretchy “donut,” it goes around Ron/stoma to help protect the stomach’s skin from rashes.
The “flange” (redheaded Lady is standing in for Ron/stoma 🤣) This adhesive flange goes over the stoma & over the donut and sticks to your tummy. (You cut the centre to fit your stoma)
So maybe there were a few red flags. Like a tree’s worth of red flags. Like picture a cherry tree, but instead of beautiful blossoms there were 500 glittery red flags. But you know, our insecurities our powerful mutherfuckers and sometimes they run the show. So I got engaged.
At the time I was working for a fashion designer and she and the CEO toasted my engagement with champagne, the CEO said:
“Well obviously she’s going to design your dress.”
No. No. No. I had planned on finding and wearing a vintage dress. Plus, I was friends with the designer and I knew she was stressed, the last thing she needed was the pressure of making me a dress. But I said,
“That would be amazing, thank you!” because at thirty-six yrs old I still had trouble asserting myself – sad but true.
The fittings were difficult, sprinkled with moments of laughter. She was my friend and boss, which is a complex dynamic. From the beginning of the process I felt unable to speak my mind, hold my ground or say “no.” Though I found it hard to breathe in the dress, like really hard, she told me, “that’s how it’s supposed to fit” and I stayed silent. It was bound to end badly and it was all my fault.
Hop a plane with me now would you? As we fly from Los Angeles CA to Ottawa Ontario, Canada’s lovely capital city where I grew up and where the wedding dress debacle continues…
At the hotel I came face-to-face with what I knew before but could not admit: the dress was beautiful but I did not feel good in it. I did not feel confident in it. I felt exposed. Plus, you know, I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was wearing a beautiful nightgown, bias cut silk-satin gorgeousness. All the dress needed was a cocktail, a cigarette and a handsome lover. Walking down the aisle in it would feel like wearing haute couture lingerie. I had to buy a new dress and I had two days.
The hotel suggested a boutique where I found an antique-y vibe pouf dress. Was it what I imagined my wedding dress would look like? No. But then again I had never been the girl who dreamed of her wedding day and bridal gown. I had dreamed of getting a dog and and visiting Paris. But I felt confident in this dress, like I was wearing big pouf-y armour. And I could breathe. There was only one tiny problem, the dress was three sizes too big. It would have to be altered in 24 hrs. No pressure.
Meanwhile, in Red Flag Land, on the day of the epic alterations I found out my fiancee had lied about a major financial issue. I forget exactly what it was because I’ve worked hard to block it out, but it was something big enough that I clearly remember thinking:
“I could legitimately pull a Runaway Bride move here. Now is the time in the Rom-Com where the bride-to-be runs away with the help of her friends.” And my friends, who by the way are each pretty badass, would have 100% supported my decision. But I didn’t tell them. I was too busy worrying about all the relatives who had flown-in for the ceremony, for some it was their first time in Canada.
“I can’t cancel the wedding because it’s not fair to the guests,” is what I thought. Did I mention I was a chronic people pleaser? Emotionally it felt impossible to cancel the wedding, but had I possessed more self-love, more self-confidence, I would have apologized to the guests and walked away.
Wedding day involves a flurry of activity and frankly Xanax should be given out to everyone. Part of the flurry is getting hair and makeup done. Having not lived in Ottawa for a million years I didn’t know the scene, so when it came to choosing hair and makeup professionals mistakes were made. The result was a bridal look that aged me ten years, including heavy 80’s makeup and early 2000’s pin-straight Rachel from Friends hair.
On the balcony of the hotel my dad walked me down the aisle. He looked so handsome and somehow vulnerable too. What was he thinking? Had he seen all the red sparkly flags? After our vows and the breaking of the glass – “Mazal Tov!” – one of my favorite songs, The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love,” played. I wasn’t in love, but it was Friday and I was now married. Dear God what had I done?
Despite the wreckage that my insecurities and I caused, everything worked out in the end. My former boss and I became even closer friends. My ex-husband and I are still in touch and keep each other up to date on major life stuff, like: “Did you get your Covid vaccination? Is your family alright? How’s your dog doing?”
I still struggle with standing up for myself, speaking my truth and saying “no.” But my insecurities no longer run my life. They may ride alongside me as I live my life, like a trail of bugs, but I swat them away when they come too close.
Today I’m trying CBD tea for the first time. I’m hoping it will help my anxiety, which recently has taken possession of my stomach, making it difficult to eat (though I wouldn’t say “no” to a cookie right now). Now that I think of it, I think this little packet of CBD tea, (which I ordered from the Ontario Government), should come packaged with two shortbread cookies. Perhaps the cookies could be in the shape of pills – how fun would that be?!
Like most, (or perhaps all), CBD products, this tea has a tiny amount of THC, 1%. Now to most people I know, 1% of THC would be laughable, it wouldn’t even count. But I’m one of the those THC-sensitive types, it tends to make me paranoid instead of mellow. So let’s see how this experiment goes…I don’t want to end up in the ER again like the time I took too many bites of a pot cookie. 😬
photo from the website envisioningtheamericandream.com
It was my first time trying on skinny jeans and I was excited. My legs are stocky, inherited from my mom’s side of the family who were all strong Irish farmers. As a teenager I had yearned for my dad’s long, pole-style legs and had even asked my parents if I could get my legs stretched (I had read somewhere that a lengthening machine existed).
At forty-six years old I had long ago accepted by body, but when I slipped into a pair of size 24 skinny jeans and saw my legs looking strangely slim, suddenly my insecure teenage self reappeared and she was ecstatic. Yet the reason they looked slender was because I had lost weight due to cancer. I was newly diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare, incurable form of abdominal cancer and I was in denial. “I’ll take them,” I told the shopgirl. And though I’m ashamed to admit it, for the next few weeks I actually liked how I looked. How sick is that? Speaking of sick, during this same period I did not feel well: I had difficulty eating, major nausea and twice daily panic attacks where I felt like my throat was closing.
My cancer “de-bulking” surgery was eight hours long and included the removal of my reproductive organs, a section of my small intestine and my primary tumour which I had named Maude. It also included a treatment called HIPEC, which is essentially hot chemotherapy poured directly into the abdomen while the patient is still on the operating table, aka a chemo bath.
After several days in the ICU, I was moved to the step-down unit. It was there, ablaze with pain and high on narcotics, that I made a decision: I had suffered enough. I would run away from the hospital and fly to Oregon where I had read they had passed legislation that allowed patients to “die with dignity.” But such an escape would be impossible without my skinny jeans.
“I need my clothes,” I whispered in a raspy voice to my partner. Not wanting to upset me, but suspicious of my intentions, he retrieved my hospital bag and put it next to me on the bed. I pawed at it in a drugged-out frenzy, then passed out.
I awoke to a large tiger staring at me from across the room. And someone had brought their dog to work: “I can’t believe they let animals in the hospital!” I said to myself, horrified. My great escape would have to wait, the hospital needed me; I had to keep watch over the creatures infiltrating the building.
Also, I had a new friend whom I had become very attached to and I didn’t want to leave her. A nurse’s assistant had been placed in my room to guard me, since in my delusional state I had made several attempts to get out of bed (while attached to multiple tubes and monitors). Not understanding that she was there to keep an eye on my crazy self, I thought I had my own private nurse-friend and I adored her.
Due to a myriad of complications, I spent two months in two different hospitals. At the second one, a rehab hospital, the nurse weighed me: the scale read 94 pounds, I usually weigh 120. I had lost a great deal of muscle mass; my legs were emaciated, atrophied sticks and my bum was pancake-flat. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror, it was too upsetting. I begged God to help me gain back the weight, promising never to complain about my thick legs again.
In retrospect I think my early fixation on my legs was simply my way of avoiding the intense emotions that were surfacing. I was scared of dying, who wouldn’t be? But what really troubled me was the idea of hurting those I loved. I was blessed with a partner, family, friends and a one-eyed elderly street dog who all loved me. I didn’t want to cause them pain.
Now, two and a half years later, I am back up to 120 pounds and I’m as stocky as ever. I am extremely lucky to be alive, many people with Mesothelioma don’t live more than a year after diagnosis. And though I’m grateful, I’m also aware that I’m living on borrowed time. So now I wear skinny jeans as often as possible. It’s my way of giving cancer the middle finger.
This morning as I was tidying up, I briefly entered our laundry room/office which is our “crazy room.” I think most of us have one of these, or the equivalent – a crazy closet, drawer or cupboard. It’s the place where everything you don’t want to deal with goes to die. And I found myself thinking that the crazy room is very similar to that space in our psyche where we dump all of our emotional crap that we can’t deal with at the moment.
I keep telling my partner, “we need to deal with that room, it’s out of control.” And it’s true, it is out of control. For someone like me, who likes keeping the house clean and organized, the room makes me anxious. But the crazy room is actually more representative of my true emotional state than the rest of the tidy house. The crazy room has unopened boxes, piles of cords and computer stuff, unfolded clean sheets, my partner’s plaid shirts hanging from an IKEA shelf like little headless Grunge creatures, a dead plant, my ileostomy supplies (thank you cancer), a giant box of small catheter tubes (again, thank you cancer) and various other randomness.
And just like I side-step and avoid the issues that I don’t want to deal with, I also breeze right past the dead plant – sitting on the floor – to put in a load of laundry. Why not just pick up the plant and put it out in the green bin? That is what an emotionally healthy person would do, I think to myself as I breeze out of the room again. But somehow that damn dead plant and the rest of the crazy room has come to symbolize all the ways in which I am emotionally stuck, frozen, paralyzed.
I am extremely lucky in that I can afford to see a therapist, it’s a luxury many needy people don’t have. So in a sense I have an ’emotional cleaning lady’ who helps me clean up my personal crazy room twice a month. And yet, somehow, it seems no matter how hard I try, my crazy room never gets completely cleaned. Just as my cleaning lady and I finish cleaning one area of the room, another area beckons for attention. Its boxes need unpacking, its cords need untangling and its damn plant needs to be thrown out!