"Daddy, when are you going to grow up and get a tattoo?"
There is a beautiful rose garden near my house. It has an amazing variety of roses. Some are huge. Some are dainty. Some smell heady and thick and others have only a hint of perfume. It is lovely and so very southern feeling when you walk lazily around the path in that garden. The garden is part of Loose Park. The park itself is beautiful. In addition to the rose garden, there is a fountain that rests in the middle of a small lake in a corner of the park. Around this lake is a path lined with benches perfect for sitting and pondering and watching the many varieties of ducks and geese that land on this little bit of ducky nirvana. There is a tiny island in the middle of the small lake and occasionally when walking quietly around the lake you can spot a turtle sunning himself on a rock or ledge out on this island. Every so often bubbles churn up from the bottom and you imagine fish finding their way in the water. Birds chirp wildly from the many trees that spot the rolling hills in Loose Park and on any given sunny day you can find dogs and their humans playing Frisbee and lovers laying on blankets and moms and kids eating peanut butter and jelly in the shade of trees that survived the Civil War battle fought here many years ago. It is a lovely park. Quiet. Quaint. A quintessential sanctuary … and every time I go there, I throw up.
Twice in the bushes. Once in a garbage can and another time – when I tried to convince myself I could control it and lost the bet - on the ground, much too close to the walkway.
Loose Park makes me sick.
To understand, you have to know it's really not Loose Park as much as it is what I associate with Loose Park. For me, Loose Park and Chemo are inseparable. When I was going through treatment The Hub would take me to Loose Park. Those were awful times. Those were fragile times. Those were moments of utter despair and desolation. We tried so hard to make goodness out of badness in those days. There wasn't a lot of brightness during those dark months so every now and then we would go to the park. We would walk around that little lake – never trying or even dreaming of trying to walk much more than to the first bench or two. We would take long pauses. I would rest leaning on the bridge, on the trees, on The Hub in the short distances between benches. Those benches seemed so far apart and the longer chemo went on, the longer I had to rest at each bench.
The Hub always remembered to bring some sort of bread and I would toss bits to deserving ducks. Occasionally I would work with a duck or two long enough that we would develop a trust. With each crumb he would inch closer. Sometimes I would get down and crawl on the ground toward the edge of the water … doing my part … going halfway. Every so often a trusting duck would eat out of my hand. And when that happened I would turn and look at The Hub and I would say … "give me the biggest piece you've got!" … risks like that need to be rewarded.
The problem is, I was very sick when we went there. And as tender and joyful those memories of those days in Loose Park are, my body has associated Loose Park with being sick and the association is so powerful now that when I go to Loose Park, I Loose it. "It" being whatever I last had for lunch. It's awful.
My oncologist warned me about association. He told me that five years from now I'll see him on the street and get ill. The nurses told me to be careful what I ate and drank during chemo because I wouldn't be able to eat it later on because of association. The message boards all held stories of people who survived cancer but still can't drive the route to chemo or use the pillow that comforted them during treatment. I listened to all of this. I believed their stories. But whatever! I'm not THAT sensitive, I thought. How could I be THAT prone to suggestion? I've always prided myself on the fact that I have control of what I feel and I don't hold grudges or make unreasonable connections. I have a friend who once got much too drunk on some really good scotch. To this day, she can't look at the stuff without saying, "Ugh!", in a quite powerful and convincing way. But I've never been like that. In fact, I've always thought I would be the girl who would survive a horrific plane crash and then hop a flight the next day to tell someone about it. I've always reasoned that even though I understand the whole mind/body connection I have control over my mind. I thought association issues wouldn't be issues – not for me anyway.
Cue a visit to Loose Park a few months after chemo and the uncomfortable moment of realization and release. Since then, I cannot go to Loose Park without throwing up. It's crazy. I know it is crazy. I know you are thinking, Jenne, how can you be fine one minute and then the next minute be feeling just like you were going through chemo and start throwing up when you really aren't sick anymore? And my answer to that is , I don't know. And also, Shut up … who died and made you the Puke Police?
It's a shame because I like that park. I really do. But every time we've gone there since chemo … well, we leave quite embarrassed and searching for gum or mints. It's no wonder I'm scared to go there at all.
When I was 20 I broke myself. I was skiing. It was late in the afternoon. The slopes were icing up a bit and I was tired. I've never been one to make stellar decisions in those moments and regardless of the icy conditions, my weariness, and my somewhat sketchy rented equipment, I decided to go slowly off a little jump. The little jump was fun. I did good. Since I did good on the little jump going slowly I thought I could probably do even better if I went faster. This, by the way, is the same flawed thinking that I've used with shots of tequila and shooting craps in Vegas. If a little was good then a lot will be better. (Sigh. I know. I frustrate myself too.) Anyway, I went again. I went faster. I did get more air. And it was awesome … Right up to when I fell and the back of my ski planted in the snow. And my boot didn't release. And well … something had to give and that something was my knee. I remember looking at my leg and thinking …I didn't realize I could twist like that. Turns out I was right. I can't.
Fast forward a few months later – surgery, recovery, infection, hospital, blah blah and I'm in therapy – physical therapy (this time) – and I'm trying to rehab this hunk of a knee into something I can actually use. Contrary to what you might think (I mean, who knows WHAT you think), therapy is not easy. There's the ice bath and the bending and the quad exercises and so much more. Because of my complications, I had some scar tissue build-up that had to be broken down and ye-ouch, that hurts. The favored technique to break up scar tissue in the knee is for the patient to lie on a low table on a mat on her belly while the sadistic therapist grabs the patient's ankle, bends the knee and pushes the ankle toward the butt. We were trying for a 45 degree angle. Which, for a normal knee, would be no problem but mine stopped somewhere right around 179 degrees. I could get nowhere close to the acute angle my therapist was trying to make out of my lower and upper leg.
So she would push.
And the scar tissue would rip.
And I would bite on a towel.
And she would say sweetly, "Breathe!"
And I would think, "Someday, somehow a long time from now, I am going to find you… and when I do you will regret the very day you decided to become a physical therapist when I put my boot (on the end of my obtuse angle of a leg) in your ass."
Ah. Good times.
It just so happened my therapy sessions coincided with another gal's sessions. This Gal was actually an in-patient. She did not break her knee while skiing, she broke her entire body in a car accident. I've never seen someone so incredibly beat up. She was bandaged and swollen and pale. Her legs were in braces and casts and God knows what else. Her face was covered in slashes and cuts. Most of her hair had been either burned or shaved off. She was raw in places – with skin pink and obviously tender, and in other places so wrapped up she seemed to be a cousin of the Michelin man. The first time I went to therapy and saw her, I was taken aback. I almost couldn't stomach looking at her. She seemed less a person and more a Thing. I asked my therapist about her. She readily told me about the accident, about the recovery, about the road ahead. And she told me about the progress this woman already had made. How when she got there she couldn't do anything. How they started with her tracking a finger with her eyes and have worked up from there. How she was getting stronger all the time. I could hear the pride and admiration in my therapist's voice and it was no wonder. I would watch the various therapists work with this young woman. I would see them trying to re-teach her how to put block shapes into holes. I would see her struggle with the smallest of tasks. Pick up a pencil. Roll your head. Speak. As I continued my therapy, she continued hers. I went three times a week for an hour. She was there daily for six hours. My therapy would last a few months … hers would last years. Sometimes, I have to be honest, I wondered if it was worth it for her. Sometimes I just thought it was nuts. Some days it seemed she wasn't making any progress at all and other days I swear she was moving backwards. Sometimes I wondered if she was crazy to go through this. It seemed almost futile -- this therapy of hers.
But she continued. In the face of sadness and setback, she continued.
One day, as I was laying there biting on my towel and trying to move past the 90 degree angle we had worked up to and seemed permanently stuck on, I saw the therapist working with The Gal wheel her to the end of the parallel bars. This was not all that new. I'd seen this before. They would wheel her there and with much effort they would help her stand. And then, one arm at a time, they would help her rest on the bars and slowly put weight on her legs. And she would do this. And she would stand. Sometimes for just seconds. Other times she would stand for minutes. On this day, the routine started the same with her being wheeled to the bars, hoisted up and shifted around until she held herself steady on those bars. I watched quietly as my ankle was being inched toward my bum. I gritted my teeth and reminded myself the pain I was in would be so short compared to hers. I breathed deeply and settled back into what I was doing and then I heard this statement, "What do you say, Super Star? Want to try to walk a step?"
My breath caught.
My therapist stopped pushing.
It seemed the whole room inhaled and held it.
Then, without a word or indication she'd heard, she leaned to the right, put all her weight on that one side and swung her left hip forward … once, twice … three … four times she pushed forward with her left hip until finally that leaden left leg jumped out in front … maybe an inch … two at most. Then she shifted her weight, leaned heavily to the left and repeated the motion with the right leg. Swinging it forward on the first try. Right foot met up with left foot. A step. A single solitary step. She steadied herself and shakily brought her head up to meet the eyes of her therapist who said, simply, "Super Star." His assistant brought the chair up behind her and without a word they eased her back into it. Once seated she looked up and said, one raspy, tight word at a time …
"I'm. Getting. There."
It was said without inflection. Without excitement. Each word was said in the same tone. It wasn't a statement to be cheered. It wasn't anything but a simple statement of fact. Her way of saying, "I'm not there yet. I have a long way to go. It's nearly killing me, this recovery, but by God, I'm not stopping now."
Today I went to Loose Park. Despite my fears of depositing my cookies in a bush, I went. I parked the car in the lot near the entrance. I got out, left my bag and locked the doors. Today I walked down past a hundred geese and tiptoed through their droppings to the sidewalk around the man-made lake. I watched a few ducks push their big orange feet through the water and shake their little duck butts when they hopped out of the basin. I walked to the edge of the water. I stayed there quietly. Then I walked back to my car and left. None of this seems remarkable, I know. It all sounds so run of the mill. It is almost boring, isn't it? But guess what?
I didn't throw up.
I didn't stay long today. Only walked to the edge and came back. Anyone who was watching would have wondered why I went there at all. Would have thought that girl must be crazy. Must have thought the trip was useless, meaningless, futile. It's a mile and a half around that park. Today I walked maybe 10 steps before going back. I have so far to go. But by God,
If I could thrust one gift onto all of mankind, it would be perspective.
I'm not running for Miss America, or president, but if you asked me what I want most for the world, it isn't peace, or to end world hunger. It's perspective. Because perspective makes all the difference in the world.
I'm sitting in the Boston Logan airport. Behind me a man is on the phone trying forcefully to explain to someone who works for him what a bad idea it is for him to go on vacation. "You leave and the work doesn't stop … the phones keep ringing … what are we supposed to do? Let management talk to customers??? That's the LAST thing we need."
I'm sure the person who works for him disagrees. On many, many levels.
It's a matter of perspective.
Sitting together on the other end of the gate area is a family. I've caught bits and pieces of their conversation. They were up early. The husband and wife are both very tired. The two kids, however, had a bowl of speed for breakfast. They aren't bad kids. They are very well behaved. But they are loud. They've forgotten the whole idea of an inside voice. And as the husband and wife sit leaning on their elbows and on each other trying to remember the reasons why procreating seemed like such a good idea and probably calculating the amount of hours left until they are either home and back in their routine or until the children are 18 and can legally be kicked out, one of their kids says sweetly and excitedly, "Hey! I've got an idea for you guys that would be really roooomantic! Since you're both so tired, why don't you lay down, together, on the floor here!!"
Um, that's one perspective.
This past weekend at the Boston Breast Cancer 3 Day it rained. Oh goodness did it rain. Like sky open up, buckets pour down, cats and dogs, deluge rain. And it didn't stop raining. Hours and hours this rain fell and while it fell 1,950 people walked and walked and walked. They covered themselves in raingear. They sloshed through puddles. They squeaked and smushed for 20 miles. And when they got to camp they learned that the forecast called for lightning which meant one thing … they couldn't sleep out in their tents, they had to be relocated. All 1,950 of them had to squeeze inside a middle school and sleep wherever they could. In the gym, in the hallways, between shelves of books in the library. Because of limited space, they couldn't bring their gear bags in with them. Those had to stay outside. So they had limited comforts. A few had flimsy blow up swimming pool air mattresses. Many didn't. Not exactly the experience they signed up or hoped for.
Saturday morning they left camp to walk yet another 20 miles. They left camp in wet sneakers. They left camp in soggy socks and musty damp ponchos stuffed in their packs. They left camp and hit the sidewalks. Step after step after step. As I walked and sat and talked with them, I said over and over again how sorry I was they had such a miserable night. I told them I knew it was less than ideal for them. I apologized for the weather - telling them after all their hard work in raising MILLIONS of dollars it was such a shame they had to be so very uncomfortable. A few here and there agreed. They were, indeed, miserable. A few let me know just how very disappointed they were. A few told me how things should have been done differently. However, for each person who told me something negative there were a hundred who said …
"It was great!"
"We had a blast last night!"
"Nothing is better than a good story to tell!"
And there was one man who said with righteous anger and tears in his eyes,
"Look, I watched my wife lose her breasts, her dignity, her health and finally her life … do you think I give a shit if I spend one uncomfortable night in a school? No way. Not if it will make a difference. I'll do it every day. EVERY DAY if it would keep just one family from going through what we've gone through."
The 1,950 walkers and 300 crew members of the Boston Breast Cancer 3 Day raised 5.1 million dollars. I hope, for the sake of all those soggy shoes and amazing attitudes that they were the ones who raised the dollar that will find the cure. It won't bring back that man's wife. It won't bring back my friend, Linda. It won't bring back the millions who have been lost. But it might save me, or The Kid, or the woman who was diagnosed in the 3 minutes it took you to read this post.
It might save her.
Somehow I stumbled across this article that talks about a study in which British scientists are tracking how bees hunt in hopes of figuring out how serial killers choose their victims.
Sometimes I just feel like someone is somewhere tokin' on a doobie and saying "Duuuude, I'm so wasted! We should so totally write a research proposal. Yeah!" It just seems so random. I mean the article starts about by saying,
"Just as bees forage some distance away from their hives, so murderers avoid killing near their homes, says the University of London team."
Uhhhh-kay .... Is this whole comparison the basis for the research? Because, if so, I'm sure I can get some British research dollars to figure out the link between dolphins and gang violence because,
Just as dolphins resist anything restrictive around their middles, so do gang members avoid wearing belts and pants around their natural waist.
It's not that I don't believe bees should be studied. In fact, I think bees are quite fascinating. Really! I've always thought that. I have a totally love/hateyourstinkin'guts relationship with bees. It's been this way since I was a child. I love the behavior of bees. I love their hierarchy and their drippy honeycombs. I love that I was told once that a bee shouldn't be able to fly (something about the weight to wing ratio) but since no one ever told the bee about his inability, he flies anyway. I love the fuzzy wuzzy bees and I love the honey bees. I love the hum they make and I love the shape of their hives. There are a lot of things to love about bees.
However, I do believe one of the worst things in the world that that can happen to you is to get stung by a bee.
I know. You are thinking I'm daft because who would possibly list that as one of the WORST things in the world? You may be thinking how I could put that above all the really horrible things that happen like cancer and broccoli, but let me say this...
All of the really horrible things that you are thinking about are things that are long lasting things. And that's completely different. I mean, if you take the amount of horribleness of, say, dying a slow painful death due to crocodiles, yes, volume-wise it may be more horrible than a stinger in your toe, but for intensity I think it falls short. Cancer too. And I feel justified in saying that because I know how awful how cancer can be but truth be told it isn't always awful ... for much of the time you have cancer, it's not so bad at all. There are many good things about it. Like ice cream whenever you want it and having a perfect excuse to not attend any more Pampered Chef parties. Bee stings, on the other hand ... or anywhere for that matter, are TERRIBLE for the ENTIRE time. From the moment of the sting until way after - it's horrible.
And if you just can't agree with me about bee stings being One of the Worst Things in the World That Can Happen to You, then just remember I said it was ONE OF the worst things that can happen, not THE worst thing that can happen, and whatever thing you think is worse than a bee sting just know that your thing was the thing I was referring to as being worse than bee stings.
(whew, that was close)
And...AND... in addition to everything else, bee stings have the added awful bonus of killing the bee.
Now come on. That just seems ridiculous. I have a hard time believing this is a good defense mechanism. It just feels so counterproductive. Sure, I stepped on you, Bee, but you didn't have to kill yourself just to get me to move. It's just all so dramatic. So drastic. It would be like me ripping my head off and throwing it at someone to get them off my porch. Effective? Maybe. Dire consequences for dinner that night? For sure.
Maybe another reason I hate bee stings is because I was always getting stung as a child. Constantly. I think my mom had a continual batch of baking soda paste made up and on hand ... just in case. And "in case" happened a LOT. I was recently talking to The Hub about this and telling him how often I got stung by a bee. "Didn't you get stung like a 1000 times when you were a kid?" I asked. "No." he said. "Well, but you got stung a lot right?" I said. "No." he said. What the hell? "Did you ever get stung by a bee as a kid?" I asked. "Not that I can recall." He said. And that's when I announced I wasn't talking to him for the rest of the afternoon.
Not that he minded.
Then I realized that maybe the reason I was always getting stung by bees is because I was always sticking my hands in places they didn't belong. Dark places. Mysterious places. Inside trees. Under benches. Between hay bales. Always digging, always searching. Not always searching for bees but always scrounging around trying to discover something new. So I guess I shouldn't be so critical of the bee researchers. I mean after all my years of messing around with bees, who I am to judge? Maybe they're onto something. Clearly, they have some brilliant insights. Just check out this quote:
"understanding how bees are recruited to flowers is much easier than understanding the complex thoughts of a serial murderer," Dr. Raine said.
Thanks, Doc. That's money well spent.
I know I try to be all “live in the moment” and in most cases I encourage others to not worry so dern much about tomorrow or the next day. At the same time, I think this is a classic example of short term thinking that has the potential to go very very badly.
I try to never nurse or suckle anything that will hunt me down and eat me later.
That’s just me.