Drugstore Baby

The following is a true story.

I threw two pregnancy tests into my basket, along with a box of saltine crackers. Fearing being judged by the cashier, I added Lysol wipes, a lipstick and Vogue, as if they would magically hide the tests.

“Wow, you are too old to be buying a pregnancy test. Get your shit together,” said the check-out lady in my head.

At work I lay down in the back room on a disgusting old carpet. I felt like throwing up and my stomach looked four months pregnant. My co-worker agreed:

“Ya, you do look kinda pregnant.”

I googled “can you get pregnant with a vasectomy?” It turns out that yes you can, though rarely. It usually happens because couples have sex too soon, before the semen is sperm-free. OMG. That’s us. I’m 46 years old, my life is in shambles and I’ve only been with my partner for nine months.

Peeing on the sticks I quickly discovered that I was not pregnant – thank god – but still, I knew something was wrong. I had been having horrible panic attacks the last couple of months and something was telling me the panic was my body’s way of waving a giant red flag:

“Hellooooo! There is something fucked up with your health. Do not pass GO. Go directly to the doctor.”

Unfortunately at that time I had a horrible doctor. I knew it would be difficult to convince her that I needed an ultrasound; she always thought I was being neurotic.

An evening of googling, note-taking, and practicing my sales pitch, (including a couple of white lies that I felt were necessary to make my case), and I was ready to face her. I had found enough evidence to suggest that I might have ovarian cancer and therefore would need an ultrasound asap.

My sales pitch worked and my doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound. Yay! The ultrasound revealed a mass. Not so yay. Soon after a cat scan revealed a more detailed image, including “ascites,” – abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen causing swelling. That’s when my doctor gave me a few pamphlets and said:

“The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital will be taking over your care. Good luck.”

“Okay Byeeeeeeeeee.”

I met with a top gynaecological surgeon and she was fairly confident that whatever I had was not cancerous. Yay! She performed laparoscopic surgery but it didn’t go as expected. Not so yay. She discovered a freak show-looking cancer.

“This isn’t in my wheelhouse,” the gyno-surgeon said.

Okay, maybe she didn’t say that, but she definitely thought that.

A well-known gastrointestinal oncologist then took over my care. I felt like I was an appetizer being passed around that no one wanted to eat.

Canapé anyone?

By this point I was thinking:

“Can we go back to when I thought I was pregnant? I’d like that option please. Just give me the damn baby, I’ll be a great mother, I promise!”

My biopsy was not routine – shocker – and took a long time. A pathologist in Vancouver had to be consulted. The final diagnosis was:
Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.

What the hell is that?

Apparently it was a rare, incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Wait whaaaattt?

And thus began my cancer saga.

Cancer 101 Reminders:
– Trust Your Gut. If I hadn’t had that ultrasound when I did I would be dead.
– Be super pro-active. If it were
someone you loved who was sick you would move mountains to help them. So move mountains for yourself.

***If you’re a woman: if you experience a swollen-looking abdomen, along with a sense of “fullness” for more than a few days, speak with your doctor.
Women often assume these symptoms are “digestive issues,” when they are in fact symptoms of cancer, especially ovarian cancer.***

Chemo Soup

“You’ll feel like you were hit by a truck after the operation.”

“Jesus.”

“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.”

“Oh no.”

“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.

✌️

Fringed Purse (mini-fiction based on a real-life story)

“Where’s my fringed purse?  Don’t let anyone take my fringed purse.”

“I’ve got it, don’t worry.  I’m literally holding it.”

“Ok but be careful b/c if it’s not snapped shut then all my stuff will fall out.”

“It’s snapped shut and it’s secure.”

“Alright, but keep it with you.  You have no idea how many compliments I get on that purse, it’s a highly desirable accessory.  It’s from a British-Moroccan company, I forget the name.”

“Relax, everything is fine.”

“This place smells disgusting.  Like urine, vomit and desperation.  I’m so humiliated.”

“Don’t worry, no one is judging you.”

“Someone *literally* just stared at me like I was a sad low-life who had hit rock bottom.  Though at least my purse makes me look less pathetic.  I mean that’s the power of a good accessory, a great purse or a pair of stunning shoes can literally change your life.  I…”

“Sir if you could just move to the right, we’ll get her on the stretcher.  Are you riding with us?”

“Yes I am.”

“And he’s bringing my fringed purse with him.  Don’t let him forget it.  I’m feeling better anyways, maybe I don’t need the stretcher.  Plus, I kind of like it down here.  It smells gross but the cold tiles feel soothing.  Maybe I can just lie here a little longer?”

“Ma’am, we’re bringing you and your purse to the hospital on this stretcher.  Why don’t you just try and relax.”

“Okay, I’ll try, though relaxing is not my specialty.  I’m more of a go, go go person, you know?”

“Could you please stop talking and let them do their job?”

“Alright, Jesus.  I’m the one picking up god knows what diseases from the subway platform, you’d think you’d be nicer to me.”

“If you don’t stop talking I will leave your fringed purse here.’

“That’s cruel.”

“Mr. Paramedic Tom, you said your name was Tom right?  This is my first ambulance ride, it’s a little exciting, you know?  Like with the lights on and everything, swooshing through the streets…”

“Well, if you’re lucky, this will be your last ambulance ride.”

“Good point.  You are very nice.  Thank you for being very nice, I appreciate it.  I’m just going to close my eyes for a few minutes.’

“Good idea.” Tom said.

“Ma’am?  We’ve arrived at the hospital.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Paul, do you still have my fringed purse?”

“It’s right here, don’t worry.”

“Oh thank God.  I see a man over there, barfing and that other guy looks like he’s shooting up.  People do drugs right outside the hospital?  Oh God, those poor souls.  Tom, I think you and your partner need to help them, I’m fine.  They need you more than I do, I can walk into the hospital with Paul.”

“Ma’am, just let us finish our job, okay?  We can’t take you off the stretcher, we’re not allowed.”

“Oh, sorry.  Sorry to be a pain.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

“Paul, can I have my purse?  I just want to hold it.”

“Here, I’ll rest it next to you on the stretcher.”

“I feel like I’m passing out, even though I’m already lying down.  Why did I collapse like that?  I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Everything is going to be okay, it’s all going to be okay.”

Finding Urethra

“Let’s have you pee in a bed pan today!” My nurse exclaimed with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favorite band.

I had been in the hospital for almost four weeks, (to treat Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare cancer), peeing through a catheter the entire time. I was game to try going on my own, but I was weak and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to pull myself up on the bed. My nurse took out my catheter then helped me into an awkward position, crouched above a cardboard pan.

The pan looked like a larger version of those biodegradable herb pots, with my vulva like an alien spacecraft hovering above the brown pebbled earth.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” said my nurse, leaving the room.

I looked out the window at the falling snow. No urine was exiting my body. “I command you to pee!” I said in a theatrical voice to an empty room. Nada. Not a drop. I was sweating and wanted to lie down, the position required too much strength to hold.

The succulent-crystal gurus say, “Ask The Universe – with love and gratitude – for what you need. Then visualize having what you need – and poof! – you will manifest it.” So I asked the universe to help me pee, in what I hoped was a loving and grateful manner. Then I visualized a long river-like flow of urine exiting my body – swoosh! I paused, ears tilted, in full manifestation mode. Nothing. Maybe the universe was busy helping people with more serious problems, like those living in war torn countries. I couldn’t blame the universe, I’d do the same thing if I had magical powers & everyone was hounding me for help.

I was sure I was due for another blast of Hydromorphone. After two surgeries and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in the abdomen and swished around), I was ablaze with pain. I buzzed the nurse’s station:

“Hi. I can’t pee. Nothing is coming out. Also, I think I’m due for more painkillers.” My nurse responded, “be patient, keep trying, it’ll come. And no, you’re not due for more pain meds yet.”

I stared gloomily at my crotch. “I know you’re in there, come out come out wherever you are!” Still nothing. I tried reaching for my water cup and fell into the pan.

My nurse appeared, “don’t worry sweetie, your bladder is just waking up from a long sleep, we’ll try again tomorrow.”

She helped me lie down and inserted a new catheter and we chatted about her weekend plans. I loved my nurse, I loved all of my nurses – they were like athletic shoe-wearing angels tending to me with care and quiet confidence.

“I’ll see about your pain meds” she said, as she handed me a damp towel for my sweating brow.

After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to a Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength, gaining weight and learning to walk again. My left femoral nerve had conked out during surgery, (from being splayed out for so long on the operating table) and I had awoken to find that I couldn’t move my leg.

The nurses at the rehab hospital were hardcore, they were like the Marine Corp of Nurses. They immediately took out my catheter and started “bladder training.” They seemed confident that I would be peeing in no time.

I was instructed to try peeing on my own every two hours. I would slowly make my way over to the bathroom using my walker, trying my best to avoid looking at my emaciated body in the mirror. Sitting on the toilet with the sink water running, I would wait five minutes, then get up and do my haunted girl shuffle back to bed.

Bladder training required waiting six hours before being allowed to have a catheter inserted to void the urine. In between physiotherapy, sleeping and doing my laps around the floor, my bladder would fill up to the brim; it was horrible. At this point I was no longer on pain meds, but I would often sneak a Xanax from my private stash just so that I didn’t completely lose it.

The nurses were required to scan my bladder to see how much urine I was retaining before they were allowed to insert a catheter to drain me. A catheter, in this case a long rubbery one which looked like a hose, was lubed up then inserted into my urethra. The urine would then drain out into the brown organic pan – it was called doing an “in and out.”

Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped a bomb: “you’ll be going home very soon and your bladder nerves are still not working. So today I’m going to start teaching you how to do your own in and outs.” Dear God, have mercy on me please.

Thus began a brief chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptible slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. Maybe I’m in the minority or I missed a crucial health class back in high school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. So I used a mirror to watch the nurse and at night, under my blankets, I examined myself by the light of my cellphone.

I had an irrational fear of doing the procedure on my own. It’s like all my anxiety about having cancer was projected onto this one procedure and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever master the skill. I envisioned myself at home, swollen like a balloon with unreleased urine, until one day I just exploded, spraying pee everywhere.

But like anything in life, when your back is against the wall and you have no other options, you figure things out. One day, having finally located my elusive urethra, I successfully performed my own in and out! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling everyone on my floor my good news. I celebrated by eating an extra cup of ice cream (side note: the little hospital ice cream cups are, unlike all other hospital food, strangely delicious).

A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of tiny, clear catheters, lube, a giant splint on my leg, a walker, crutches and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. Then, one day, while sitting on the toilet, I suddenly heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine! The universe had finally granted me my wish.

Author’s Note:
My bladder nerves only partially woke up; I still have to self-catheterize twice a day. This is what the little catheters, aka, pee sticks, look like:

Skinny Jeans

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intimacy After Cancer Treatment

I wrote an essay about navigating romantic love after cancer treatment and it was published in The Globe & Mail Newspaper (Canadian Newspaper).  Here is the link:

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/navigating-intimacy-after-trauma-is-something-no-one-can-prepare-youfor/article36237918/?ref=https://www.theglobeandmail.com&

The Crazy Room

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!

 

Branding Queens

Is it just me, or does it feel like we are all starting to Brand Ourselves?  Through social media we each curate our lives and reveal in mostly filtered perfection, (or sometimes purposely non-filtered perfection), images and witty sound bites creating in essence our own brand.  The Brand of Me.  I am part of this trend too, I post regularly on Instagram: there is Mary Ellen the Pit Bull Advocate, Mary Ellen the Living with Cancer Through Humour Gal, Mary Ellen the Vintage Loving Stylehoader.  Is this a bad thing?  I don’t know, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable.

It used to be that creating a brand was done primarily by companies in order to sell a product.  To this day fashion retailers continue to be focused on creating a desirable brand in order to make money: “Understated elegance for the woman who knows true luxury.” “Affordable classics with a twist!” “The only watch for the man who works hard and plays hard.”  But now that we are all self-branding, are we in some strange way selling ourselves?  And to whom and for what reason?  Many successful fashion & lifestyle social media wizards are actually selling items, often through sponsored ads, so that makes sense.  But what the hell are the rest of us doing?  I realize I am probably just overthinking all of this, but it still kind of freaks me out.

The other issue with everyone becoming a Branding Queen (or King), is that – at least for me – it can lead to increased depression & anxiety.  If I see one more perfectly decorated home with that damn fury IKEA bear rug thrown casually but not casually over a mid-century chair I am going to stab my eye balls out!  Or another reclaimed wood dining-room table, sparkling with glitter and pastel food and champagne bubbling over in mis-matched but perfect vintage glasses with an incredible floral arrangement in a milk jug bought for just $2 at a garage sale!  I can’t take it!  This past weekend I actually suffered from a bout of “Insta-Madness:” I went to my favorite Leslieville bakery – Sweet Bliss – and bought myself three delicious treats (luckily for me my partner is Paleo, so I get all the sweets to myself!)  Upon arriving home and admiring my goodies in their low-key unadorned box, I found myself thinking that they would look much prettier “styled” on a vintage floral China plate.  OMG!  What has happened to me?!  Thankfully I am not THAT insane and I happily enjoyed my sweets on a regular, almost ugly plate.  And they were damn tasty!

I guess for now I will just cut back a little on social media so that I can remain sane-ish.  But then again, I did just buy my dog a new bandana, so I might have to Instagram that as part of my “I’m a Pit Bull Advocate” Brand.  #stopthemadness

Cake

Friday was my birthday, but I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.  Earlier in the week I’d had to put down my beloved dog Leroy.  I felt like my heart had been ripped out, stomped on and then thrown back in my body.

Being so emotionally exhausted, I had totally forgotten that I had a brain scan scheduled. My Neurologist, a handsome Euro-Chic man who wears the most gorgeous Italian loafers, told me six months ago that if my aneurysm grew at all he would have to perform a procedure called “coiling” to keep it from bursting.

The funny thing is that when you already have a terminal illness and you’ve endured difficult treatments, finding out that you have a brain aneurysm really isn’t so bad. LOL. As long as the Neurologist didn’t have to open up my head during the procedure – and with coiling you don’t have to – then I was fine with it all.

But by Friday afternoon it all started feeling like it was just too much. Cancer + euthanizing my dog + brain aneurysm = bullsh*t!  So to celebrate the fact that my life was completely ridiculous, I bought myself a giant chocolate cake.  My partner does not eat sweets – how is that even possible?! – which meant more cake for me, yay!  One of the wonderful things about my partner is that he allows me and encourages me to just be myself.  He understood that I had to grieve the loss of Leroy and that I was in no mood for a typical birthday celebration.  So he let me binge watch “Nurse Jackie,” while I pounded back white wine and stuffed my face, toddler-style, with cake.

Saturday morning I woke up with cake smeared on my nightgown and mascara on my face.  I took all of Leroy’s stuff and threw it in our office/laundry room – the one room in the house which always looks like it has just been bombed.  Then I started obsessively cleaning the couch, vacuuming up every last Leroy hair that I could find.  I aired out the pillows on the deck, smashing the pillows against each other to rid them of Leroy’s beautiful brindle hair.  Beating up on the pillows felt cathartic and the tears started flowing. I cried for the loss of Leroy, whom I had loved fiercely and who had been by my side every minute of my recovery.  I cried because there was a very real chance that I would die before my parents and I couldn’t handle breaking their hearts.  And I cried thinking about leaving my partner behind and how one day he would probably be with another woman.

Crying felt so damn good, why didn’t I do it more often?  Why did I always try to control my emotional reactions?  I cut myself another piece of cake and sat outside on the deck, in the cold, surrounded by couch pillows and Leroy’s remaining hairs.  Crying + cake = just the kind of birthday celebration that I needed.

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Leroy

Leroy, my precious street-dog, is on the decline & my heart feels like it is breaking into tiny little bits, like a crumbling cookie. People always say, “oh how wonderful that you rescued that dog!” But really, it’s how wonderful that he rescued me. When I found him wandering on the streets of Los Feliz, I lassoed him with my H & M shrug and brought him home. Because what else could I do? He saved me from an unhappy marriage. He brought joy into my life and into the life of my beloved Corgi, little Quinny. The two of them were inseparable rascals, always up to some backyard shenanigans. When Quinny became very sick and I had to put her down, Leroy and I mourned her death. We were partners in sadness.

For the last year as I’ve been recovering from cancer treatment Leroy has been by my side, but now it seems his days as my canine personal support worker are numbered. We are up every night with his “doggy dementia,” and I am well aware that those who love me are worried about my health. I am not sleeping because of his cognitive dysfunction and that leaves me with a weakened immune system. Not ideal for a cancer patient. And yet, he still loves his walks. He enjoys the rush of finding a pizza crust in a bush. At the dog park he is reserved, careful not to get in the way of the younger more agile dogs, but he still thrives on it. The other day he met a dog as big as a pony and that thrilled him to no end. He still has a little sparkle left in him, but less & less. My heart is starting to prepare itself for when the sparkle runs dry.

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