I can’t play softball.
I have the skill set – I can catch, I can hit and I can yell “heybatta-batta-battta-sa-whing!batta!” with the best of them but I can’t play softball. I can’t play because when I run I start to laugh. I laugh and laugh. As soon as I ca-rack! the ball out into center field and take off like a fox with her tail on fire toward the lump of bag called “first” I start to lose it. I scream. Not in the “someone is trying to kill me” way but in the “I’m getting tickled and I can’t breathe” way. I don’t always laugh when I run. I don’t laugh when I’m on the treadmill – no …that’s not laughter coming from my lips. Not even close. And I don’t laugh when I’m on the track making myself dizzy. But when I play softball, and I have to run the bases, I laugh. And it’s not just for softball. It’s really any game where running is involved. Well, not so much running as chasing. I’m not sure why, and I don’t know when it started exactly but once I reached my adult years, I noticed I couldn’t take off knowing someone was behind me without giggling so hard I nearly fell down. So races are out. Soccer is a no-no. And thank goodness we don’t play Tag as adults. I can’t explain it. I’m tired of trying,. The bottom line – I can’t play softball – or any game where a chase is involved. Because I can’t run without laughing.
This is good for you to know because I want you to have a solid complete picture in your head of me when I tell you this next thing.
I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Pamplona, Spain to do the Run with the Bulls. You know, the run that takes place every day for a week in July during the Festival of San Fermin. If you've seen City Slickers or read Hemmingway you know what I'm talking about. If not, there are some fun little video clips here, here and here you can watch (Mom, do NOT watch these). They will bring you up to speed. It's a lifelong dream of mine. And it is time. In just about a week or so, I'll be running. Running from bulls.
I know! I’m already laughing just thinking about it. I mean if I can’t run the 60 feet between home and first base without nearly peeing my pants with laughter how in the world am I going to stay in front of a couple of tons of toro?
When I teach emotional intelligence, I explain that all decisions, at their very core, are emotional. Clearly this is true, for Running Due to the Bulls (as we like to call it around here) is not a logical choice I’m making. Some would say it is downright D-U-M-Bizzle. But that’s okay. Because those people will never be able to say when they were 39 (and exactly one year from the day of their first chemo treatment) they stood on a tight Spanish street dressed all in white with a rolled up paper in their clammy hand thrusting in the air and calling out for the release of snorting, snot-flinging, burly hunks of beef on 4 very fast legs. Those people won’t be able to tell the story over and over again. They won’t be able to say, That was me! every July when footage blinks onto CNN and ESPN.
But I will.
Watch for me. The second week of July switch on your TV. Scan the mass of scrambling humans in white. And when the camera zooms in on one particular person running like the wind with her head thrown back and tears squeezing from her eyes laughing louder than she’s ever laughed you’ll know I made it.
A blog is an online journal.
A post is an entry in an online journal.
If I write an entry, I’ve created a post, not a blog.
To relate it in SAT terms:
A blog is to a book,
What a post is to a page or chapter in that book.
If I write a single entry (or even two or three entries) about a topic, then I have posted about that topic, and when you reference that topic you can say, “Here is a blogger who has a post about XYZ.” It would not be accurate to say “Here is a blogger who has a blog about XYZ.” Just as it would not be accurate to pull the “C” encyclopedia off the shelf hand it to someone and say “Here is a book ... it's about Creamsicles.”
I say this because I care about you. And because it is good to be accurate and up to date when we reference current issues or trends. And hey, it took me some time to figure it out myself. You’re welcome.
If you’re not my mom, you can ignore this post.
This past weekend I went to my 20 year reunion. It was the first reunion I’ve attended. In most cases, I haven’t seen these people for … well, 20 years. I, like most everyone I suppose, wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to be on the “improved” list and not on the “yikes what happened to her?” list. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would wear, how I would fix my hair (as if I could), whether I was tan enough or thin enough or if my body was tight enough. I spent a lot of time wanting to highlight the good parts of my body and camouflage the … um, the not so good parts. Nothing like a reunion to bring out the insecure high-schooler in all of us.
It took a grand total of 3 minutes after arriving for me to forget all of that and go back to just being me and hating all that superficial crap I so easily get caught up in. Why is it so easy?
I am not my hair. Good hair day, bad hair day, no hair day … I am not the dead protein that hangs straight and oily without life or falls flat in the middle of the day or curls up like unruly Christmas ribbon zipped through the open scissors. I am not my hair.
I am not my nails – my nails that turned black or showed the signs of chemo in zebra like stripes on the beds of my fingers or lifted without pain one day from my big toes only to be replaced with bumpy topographical toenails – toenails a blind pedicurist would dream about. Toenails so thick and strange I’m wearing closed toed slippers. I am not these toenails – or the ones before them.
I am not my breasts – small, round and happy it took me years to learn to love them. Years of crying and begging and stuffing and years of buying push-ups and water bras and gel bras. Until one day I was convinced. They are good breasts. They don’t sag. In fact, they can’t sag. They are exactly the breasts I’m meant to have. I cherish them. And ache for any woman who has to give hers up to cancer or disease or age. But as much as I love them, I am not my breasts.
I am not my insides – my lungs and liver and spleen. They function as good as any other set of lungs, liver and spleen. Once a few years ago an enlarged spleen sent me for a round or two of tests. It was big. It got smaller. All was said to be okay. Was it early signs of my cancer diagnosis? Maybe. Did I spend quite a bit of time thinking about my spleen? Yes, certainly. Just as for 6 months during chemo I thought about my lungs with every burning breath. But I am not my lungs, or liver, or spleen or any other of the squishy masses residing in that dark space above my hips and below my necklace.
My ovaries and my uterus and the space between my legs are important are physiological indicators of my sex. But they don’t make me a woman. I picture them much larger than they really are. In my mind my uterus is about the size of a watermelon and my ovaries are twin baseballs. Once during an ultrasound of this area I asked, Is that life-sized? and the technician laughed. That’s when I realized we were looking at a 24 inch screen. I hope I get to keep my ovaries and my uterus and all the other obvious womanly things … but I am not these spaces, these areas.
I like my brain. It thinks funny thoughts. It keeps me company in the dark of night when the dogs and The Hub have created a rhythm of breath beside me. I like the images it supplies me during tedious meetings and the witty comebacks it flips into my mouth at just the right moment. I like the way it works the sudoku puzzle and is often challenged by the USA today crossword. I like my brain. Even now when it struggles to remember names it should know. Even now when the effects of chemo still linger on the edges and cause me to screw up my face and dig for the right phrase or word. Even now, I like my brain. But I am not my brain.
My face, my eyes, my hands and feet. My gait – the way I lope along. The big feet that get caught up under tables at restaurants, the wide-swinging arms that wave frantically when talking, the knees, the ankles, the too pointy elbows – I am not these things. They are not me.
All of these things I got without trying. They were the price of entry. They were the unwrapped presents handed to me when I slid wet and naked and (unsurprisingly) screaming into this world. Like those over the top gift bags given to celebrities at award shows – I did nothing to deserve such finery.
I am not defined by these possessions. For the most part I have the same equipment you do – give or take a few choice items. It’s a pretty standard package. These things do not make me special or unique.
But my scars … my scars are mine.
I was sliced open when I was 14 months old. An inch above my pubic bone lies a railroad track that has depots on both hip bones. It seems large now, on my adult frame, I cannot imagine the sight of it when I was pink and nearly new. When I was just beginning to string words together. When I was still in diapers. Diapers that had to be changed to expose a mess of tissue sewn together, red and raw, trying to heal in a most difficult place. I love that scar. It reminds me of the stories. The stories I heard all growing up about how sick I was and how devastated my mother was and how difficult it was for my father and how my sister at 4 nearly made herself sick with worry over me. I love that scar because it sealed me into my family. It is my proof that I was fought for, longed for, cared for and loved.
Just above my collarbone lies a 3 inch long whitish pink line. It is only a year old. It has healed so nicely – you wouldn’t notice it unless I pointed it out to you. And then you’d ask and I’d tell you it was a biopsy – a biopsy that was positive for cancer. And if you didn’t already know the story your face would fall. And you might gasp and you’d want to hear the story. I will, of course, tell it to you. You will forget the scar because you think the scar isn’t the story. But it is. It’s that scar that reminds me that no one knows my body better than I do. I fought for that scar. I made myself a nuisance for that scar because I knew. I knew something was wrong. That scar could be twice as long and half as concealed and I would still love it because that is so me. Push. Make them hear you. Don’t quiet down. Don’t take no for an answer. Push. I’m alive because of that scar. That’s a good scar.
When I was 14 I carried water in buckets from the house to the barn when the water pump froze. When I would open and close the fence, the water would slosh. It was winter. It was cold. It took all of 10 minutes for that water to freeze into a solid patch of ice. About the third trip I slipped and fell onto a ragged pipe jutting out of the ground. I probably should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. And that’s okay because the scar that is left is interesting. It’s on my right leg and is a strange slick patch of skin about the size and shape of a quarter. When I tell the story of the scar I explain the water and the ice and the jagged pipe, what I don’t say is I fell because I was trying to run. Why was I trying to run? No reason. Just because running is better than walking. And even though walking is safer, running is more fun. That scar reminds me that at my very core, I run. Given the choice, I don’t choose safe. That’s me.
If you look very closely at the tender underside of my left arm you might see the remnants of scars long faded. I never knew it had a name, not until I was an adult. But long ago, when I hurt so deeply and thought I would explode from the pain I took a single blade from a razor and made thin cuts into my skin. I took good care of those cuts afterwards, always cleaning them and taping them up if needed. Those scars remind me of that girl – that girl I was. They remind me that people hurt and need to be heard. They remind me to look a little closer at the quiet ones, listen a little longer to the angry ones and love a little deeper with everyone.
I have crazy scars on my left knee. After the skiing accident the surgery went fine but a month later a staph infection nearly took my leg. The infection caused my scars to widen and fatten up. They aren’t thin and lovely and that’s okay. Every time I look at them I’m reminded I’m not invincible. That risky things sometimes hurt. That I’m somewhat fragile and despite my every attempt to appear otherwise to most people, I’m delicate. There are times I need to be treated gently and there are times I need to do what I’m told.
My port scar is prominent. You can see it from across a good sized room. It is still quite red and much too bumpy. That skin was cut open twice – once to insert the valve that would deliver the poison and once to take it out. As much as I hated that port, I don’t mind the scar it left. Because it means I survived. I didn’t have to have it. It was my choice and I took it. It was like being hazed into some sick sorority. It is my brand, my burn mark, my purple heart. I see that scar every day in the mirror and I stare it down. I always win.
I have other little scars … a fall here, a peanut jar to the forehead there, a scar left from a chemo med test spot that will go away in about a week (said the doctor a year ago). I have a rope burn on my ring finger and a puncture wound near my palm and a dozen or so other little imperfections. And I have scars I chose … skin that is inked. Designs I drew and asked an artist to needle into my protective layer. I love them all.
I am not my body, but it holds a roadmap to my life and hints of who I am – not in its beautiful perfect parts, but in the ugly ones.
It’s the ugly that makes me real – just like it did 20 years ago.
For more than a month I’ve been thinking about this post. I’ve rolled words and phrases around in my head. I’ve tried out various analogies and stories and searched tirelessly for quotes and sayings to interject at perfect moments. I’ve tried this. I’ve pondered that. I worked and thought and contemplated. And every single thing I came up with … every thought, word combo, analogy was utter crap.
Actually it was worse than crap. It was nothing. Zilch. Goose egg. I sat here with a blinking cursor and an ocean of white. Just like Whitney – even before the cocaine took over – I’ve got nothing, nothing NOTHING! ….for this post.
Usually I don’t do that. Usually I don’t think about what I’m going to post. I just sit down and write. Most times, what I write ends up on the typepad screen and I click publish. Sometimes what I write sits in a draft folder until I come back to it and make sense of what I started. Rarely, if ever, do I sit down and write with an end in mind. I do it sometimes but not usually. And when I do, you know it. Because you remain silent.
It’s those lousy posts that get no comments.
But even though I don’t USUALLY write with an end in mind or for a purpose or specific reason, I thought FOR SURE today I would. I thought I’d have a TON to say. I thought I’d have SO MUCH to say in fact that I started weeks ago trying to say it. Why? Why did I think today would be so significant? Because one year ago today I awoke from having my neck sliced open and found out I had cancer.
I belong to a message board of fellow cancer fighters and survivors. There is a section of this board called “Life After Cancer.” Often people on this board talk about how difficult the anniversary of their diagnosis is. I totally get that. Anniversaries of any type are a time to think about what’s happened, what’s passed and what’s to come. This can be devastating for a cancer patient. Worse for a cancer survivor. It is so hard, in fact, that many cancer survivors are now being treated for post traumatic stress disorder that usually surfaces around the anniversary of their diagnosis or treatment. I’ve known this. I’ve understood it. And so I anticipated. I anticipated the depression and heavy that would come today. I waited. I waited for the ptsd to hit. For the gunky to come. For the darkness to roll up from my toes and slam into my heart this morning when I woke. I braced for it. I thought through who I could talk to. I made plans for lunch. Heck, I even scheduled my root canal for today so I would have something else to focus on.
And then I woke up.
I worked out.
I went to the dentist.
I had a nice lunch.
I did some work for a couple of clients.
I sat in the sun for 15 minutes.
I had dinner.
And the heavy never came.
There is a well-known saying that the opposite of love is not hate. And the opposite of hate is not love. The opposite of both is apathy.
It’s June 13. The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. And I don’t care.
Today I went to the dentist. I was not looking forward to it. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I knew there would be problems. You could say I knew because I’m psychic. Or you could say I knew because every time I chew on the right side of my mouth it feels like I’m eating angry fire ants and when I chew on the left side of my mouth it feels like the fire ants are wearing barbed-wire pants. And are still angry. Still very, very angry.
I wasn’t allowed to have my teeth worked on during chemo. The oncologist explained why. He said, You can’t have your teeth worked on while you are in chemo because blah blah blah…..and then he started speaking another language, one I’ve never cared to learn, a language called “Details”. So when the hygienist asked me today about my teeth I was able to give a very compelling argument to why I haven’t taken care of them. It was in fact the same argument I used all during high school when asked why I did or didn’t do something. The argument went like this - Because so-and-so said so. I was fully expecting her to say, If your oncologist told you to jump off a cliff would you? And I would have had to say, Of course. Without hesitation! Because he has the morphine. And I do whatever he says on the off chance some will fall out of his pocket.
Not having my teeth worked on, combined with a very broken down mouth during chemo, combined with a complete lack of flossing and an increase in teeth grinding (those ants take a lot of chewing) made for a downright upsetting visit.
1 crown and
the mother of all dental issues… a freakin root canal.
No work could be done today. I go for the freakin root canal tomorrow. Cavities next week and then the crown at the coronation ceremony when I start my reign as the Queen of Endodontistry.
When I was 16 we went on a vacation to Mackinac Island in Michigan. Cool place. It really is an island – it’s not just a cute name – and to get there, we had to take a boat. Uh… I guess that makes sense. What I’m saying is that there are no cars are on the island – you get there by boat and then you can only get around by horse, by bike or by whining until someone carries you piggyback. That’s just the way it is. It’s quaint. It’s neat. I liked it. I liked it very much. I vowed to go back to Mackinac again and again. That could be because every third store is a fudge shop.
At some point during the vacation, my sister and I decided to rent a couple of bikes for the day. This is pretty common on the island and we were excited to have some other mode of transportation other than our feets. After getting the bikes and peddling up and down main street a couple of times we decided to ride around the island – like completely around it. How far do you think it is? I asked. A couple of miles I think, she said. That’s all I knew. We took off.
You know how it is when you ride a bike or run a race or watch American Idol? How you start and you think it is going to wiz right by but it ends up lasting so much longer than you thought? Or is that just me? Anyway, that’s how this was. It seemed like a good idea at first but about 30 feet into the ride, I was wishing I was back at the fudge shop. Or the one next to it. Or the one next to that one. I’m not picky.
But I kept riding. Because that’s what you do when you’ve set off to ride around the island. You keep going.
I think it is more than a couple of miles, I huffed out at one point. Yah, my sister called back over her shoulder, it does seem to be taking a little longer than I thought.
And we peddled
And we peddled
Eventually we came across a sign. Restroom – 1 mile, it said. Jeepers! We said. Town is STILL a mile away! And we rode on. And rode on and on and on.
1 mile later, we came to a Port-a-Potty -not town – and a sad realization. We weren’t even halfway around the island.
Turns out that sucker is like 9 miles around. Not a lot, I know. But when you are expecting 2, it’s a big difference. The moment my sister and I realized we had miles and miles to go was painful. We stopped for a while. We talked to some other bikers whizzing by. We confirmed the size of the island and the length of our trip. We walked to the water and grumbled. We berated ourselves for not checking first. We skipped a couple of rocks. We rubbed our sore fannys and then we got back on the bikes. And we kept going. Because after a certain point, going back is senseless.
A friend of mine is starting chemo this week.
It will be longer than you think.
You may need to take a couple of breaks – skip some rocks, rub your fanny, grumble.
But you can do it.
Going back is senseless.
A few years ago, I had a friend that kept going back to the same guy over and over again. She’d do this despite the obvious unhappy consequences and despite the fact that he’d done her wrong about 90% of the time. When I asked her point blank why she kept going back when he’d PROVEN he was no good, she simply said, Once upon a time, he made me feel good.
Oh. Cue eye roll.
I didn’t think it was a very good reason. But I couldn’t argue with her. There was no convincing her. She was in a nasty feedback loop and nothing I did or said could break the spell. I can remember thinking how grateful I was that I was past that point in my life. I can remember thinking how glad I was I was mature enough to learn from my mistakes. How I would never do that – I would never let anyone fool me more than once … okay, maybe twice … but that’s it. I can remember thinking I would never let a single good thing a person did overshadow many other crappy things.
Today The Hub and I went for a walk. An eight miler round trip. We didn’t walk the whole thing in one go, we took a break at the halfway mark to watch a movie. We saw Mr. Brooks. And I just want to say, Darn you, Kevin Costner. Just because Dances With Wolves was like one of the best movies ever doesn’t mean you can just go around making rotten flicks and expect us to let you off. You got me with Waterworld and again with The Postman. It was then I vowed you’d never get me again but somehow I let my guard down. I let my guard down and shelled out 17.00 to watch you for 2 painful hours when I would have been just as pleased to have a rat chew out my eyeballs. Fool me once, Shumani Tutonka Ob Wachi, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time and we’re back to you again.
I just feel used. And dumb. Very very dumb.
He likes to run. I’ll never understand it. This year for Corporate Challenge (a month long city-wide contest between companies) The Hub is running in nearly every track event there is. He’s running the 400, the 800, the mile, something else, another thing, a couple of relays and a duathlon. I don’t even know what a duathlon is. I had to look up how to spell it.
And not JUST that. He’s also doing the bike race and I think he signed up for the long jump too. And maybe something else. I participated in Corporate Challenge a few years ago when I was employed by a corporation. I did the horseshoes.
We’re different, he and I. Yes, indeedy.
Even though I can’t fathom why anyone would run (unless they are being chased by something scary – like a raging bull … more on this later) I still want to be supportive. So I go to the events and watch. I sit on the torture devices called “bleachers” and cheer. I go, woo hoo! And, hooray! And, run run run run run! When The Hub goes flying by. I clap and shout. I keep a stopwatch and time him. I tell him how good he looked when he’s done. I don’t even make fun of his hair that is getting so long I wondered for a second last night why they let that GIRL run in the men’s mile. All of this cheering and such takes about, oh, 20 seconds. I’m there for that 20 seconds. That’s why I go.
However, the EVENT lasts much MUCH longer than 20 seconds. There are groups and groups and groups to run. Age groups and divisions and such. It takes HOURS to complete an event – most of this time is spent waiting – unless you’re The Hub, then it’s spent warming up and eating raisins and changing your sweaty shirt from the warm up and switching out socks and debating what shoes to wear and changing your shoes and eating a banana and going to the potty and coming back and warming up some more and changing shirts again.
I usually take a book to read. Or some work to do. I do this to keep busy and so that I won’t shout out, COME ON ALREADY!, when other people are competing. I sit quietly. I read or work. I do my thing keeping one ear open for the start of the 20 seconds of why I’m there. Most people there are there to compete and since it is a large scale event, there are a lot of people watching while other people run. It’s a supportive group always applauding at appropriate times. I ignore most of this. I read or work or sit quietly and text people on my phone. Occasionally, however, when I hear a large amount of applause, I’ll stop what I’m doing and pay attention. When the clapping swells and when people start cheering I look up. And I always see one of two things -
Someone burning up the track, blowing others away, flying without wings
Someone chugging and gasping, bringing up the rear – the REAR of the rear, barely making it, coming in last place … very very VERY last place.
Isn’t that something?
We humans rejoice when we see someone triumph. The racer who flat out freakin’ wins is honored because wow, that is something to see. Clearly this person has tried, has worked at it, has gotten up in the wee hours and pulled on cold running pants and hit the sidewalks and pavement when birds were still wiping the sleepies out of their eyes. They’ve worked at it. They’ve conquered. And that is awesome. Way to go, champ.
But it’s the other racer we adore. The other racer who is at the back of the pack, who lags farther with each lap, whose face turns beet red, and who has forgotten that breathing is an INvoluntary act. That racer is just as exciting to watch. The first runner has our respect. This runner has our heart. Because he’s not competing against the pack. No, his competition is much greater, much tougher, much meaner … he’s competing against himself, against not quitting, against The Voice. The Voice that says, you shouldn’t be here, you’ll make a fool of yourself, they are going to laugh at you, you’ll never make it, you can’t win, you shouldn’t try, hey, is that an ice cream truck over there? And I think we all know that voice. We all live at some level with The Voice.
It was The Voice that told me when I was 10 not to play softball because I didn’t have a glove.
It was The Voice when I was in high school that told me I was too skinny and then later too fat and that people would make fun of me if I tried to publish my poetry.
It was The Voice the kept me from going to open auditions at the Indiana Repertory Theater.
It was The Voice that berated me over and over again for decisions I made about my life and career.
It was The Voice – that damn Voice – that sidled up next to me every other week and said, Chemo is tomorrow, you’ll never make it. You’re not strong enough to do this. You’re weak. You can’t beat it. Don’t try. Give up. Give up. You should just give up.
The Voice is in all of us. I hate The Voice. So when we see someone out there, doing it, pulling it, pushing it, making it happen – IN SPITE OF THE VOICE – we cheer. Our heart swells. Our own pulse races and we get up on our feet and we scream. We lean forward and say things like, Don’t quit! Don’t you quit! And we slam our hands together harder, even though it stings and stings and we silently pray that they won’t stop, that they’ll keep going, that they’ll cross that line.
Because if that guy can do it … then maybe, just maybe there is hope for me.