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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

H is for Helena

Helena moved quietly through life.  Disturbing no one. Being a model citizen.  Always towing the line.  Then one morning Helena woke up and thought, “I don’t want to be quiet anymore.”  She called in sick to work, something she had never done in her twenty years of working for the Brexam Accounting Firm.  Her boss was shocked and offered to send someone over with food and medicine.  “That won’t be necessary,” said Helena with a faux cough, “I had the drugstore deliver everything I need.”  Helena was struck by how much she enjoyed lying, the sensation was arousing.

Usually Helena began her day with ten minutes of stretching, followed by a luke-warm shower, a bowl of granola and yogurt and a cup of green tea.  But this morning she skipped the exercise and shower, got dressed and headed out to a swanky hotel restaurant for breakfast. She ordered a Mimosa and Belgian waffles.  The combination of maple syrup and the champagne’s bubbles were perhaps the best thing Helena had ever tasted.  Her waiter was extremely handsome and she flirted shamelessly with him.  As she left the cafe – after leaving him a 50% tip – she whispered in his ear, “you are just delicious.”

Helena grabbed a cab to her local upscale department store and headed straight to the Personal Shopping Department. A woman named Rika, with a severe black bob and thin red lips, asked Helena what she needed help with.  “I need to find the real me.  I seem to have lost her.  My budget is $3000.”  Rika nodded approvingly and motioned to a clothing rack filled with a multitude of styles, colors and fabrics. “Choose one piece that speaks to you, there is no right or wrong.  Just choose the piece that makes you feel alive.”  Without hesitating, Helena followed her instincts and quickly chose a silk, floral dress in shades of eggplant, fuchsia and black.  “Thank you,” said Rika.  “This dress will serve as the inspiration for your new wardrobe.  Also, you need a new hairstyle, you cannot find the real you with that hair.  That hair is heavy with regret, bad memories, a life half-lived.  Joseph at our Salon will cut it, Joseph knows.”

Helena left the store with two garment bags, four shopping bags and something called “a Lob,” which was a silly way of saying a long bob. At home, after carefully putting away all her new clothes and accessories, she poured herself a glass of red wine.  It was an expensive bottle, given to her last year by her boss for Christmas.  She filled a bowl full of pita chips and got in bed.  She turned on the television and watched one of those vacuous Home Hunting shows.  This one featured a woman about Helena’s age starting a new life in Paris.  Helena crunched away, taking in the beauty of the architecture in Paris.  “My God,” she thought, “such a beautiful city.”  She licked the salt off her fingers and took a long, slow sip of wine.  Then she grabbed her laptop off of her bedside table.  She started typing.  Air France. One way ticket, first class.  Date of departure – tomorrow.  A sudden wave of panic overcame her – “my passport!”  She frantically looked in her filing cabinet and there it was – updated and sitting in a pretty red leather case – in a file labelled “Identification Documents.”  Helena exhaled, took the passport and went back to her bed.  After typing in her passport number, credit card info and other information she pressed “Purchase.”  She was not being quiet anymore. She and her “Lob” were going to Paris.