Black Friday, 2017

First cancer diagnosis in July of 2012, so this is the sixth Thanksgiving I should not have seen.  And I have learned a few things:

  • Under no circumstances bring home a Jenny O “freezer to table” turkey breast, no matter how dire the need, and how empty the turkey coolers are in the grocery store.
  • It is impossible to cook a Thanksgiving dinner without getting grease on your clothes.  Dress accordingly.
  • Smart phone cameras are not smart enough to capture the exact moment canned whipped cream is being squirted into the mouth of a greyhound.
  • The Detroit Lions always find a way to make their opposition for this holiday game look like world-beaters.
  • No matter how much everyone around you at dinner is smiling, there are some – possibly many – who are pretending.  There is not enough tryptophan in the meal to overcome their sorrow and emptiness.
  • “Do we have to do Christmas again this year?” never goes away, no matter how grateful to be alive I am supposed to be.

There are other things I have learned, specific to this year:

  • Although she will be 7 in a few weeks, Sophie can still be conned about fairies and their wings.
  • Watching “The Great Wall” for the first time yesterday morning, I am saddened by how the Trump Era has forcibly expanded my definition of racism.
  • I continue to forget to look for Punkin’ Chunkin’ on the tube, on Thanksgiving evening.  (Did they have it this year?)
  • I made a public statement on FaceBook that I would not shop during this long holiday weekend, and am now wondering if my purchase of an audio book last night makes me a hypocrite.
  • Left over Jenny O turkey breast makes crummy sandwiches.

Next year……….Detroit-style coney dogs, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, and Sander’s Bumpy Cake.

Life lessons

I read this article this morning.  You can read it, or just read my commentary.  (Remember, I am new to this, and not a computer geek, so I have no idea how to make that little thingee that says “here” for this like, without actually showing the whole url……)

I read it because the title suggests the article contains life lessons.  And there are days when I believe I also have life lessons to share.  But then I guessed the author and I have different definitions of “life lessons”.

I was hoping for themes like: “Finding Light In the Darkness”…”Creating Motivation From Nothing”…”How To Really Know When It Is Time To Call a Halt To Treatment”.  Instead, she wrote about knowing family health history and how to negotiate with doctors and insurance companies.  Topics I could – and have – found in waiting room pamphlets.

And yet, I have learned a most valuable lesson from her.  I can’t share my preferred topics with you, either.

First of all, if you have never been seriously or terminally ill yourself, all the information in the Huffington Post article is important to you.  By all means, gather every detail you can about your family and ethnic health history.  It can save your life.  Also, pay close attention to the political and employer battles on health insurance when it is not an issue for you.  Because understanding this information and negotiating with corporations while in panic mode can never end well for you.

What you can’t prepare for, however, is the emotion that no one can possibly explain to you.  I cannot describe to you the knowledge that the greyhound at my feet right now will be my last dog… or how a certain combination of temperature and setting sun recalls for me memories when everything seemed possible…or how often I have to restrain myself from punching someone who calls me “strong” or “brave”, or tells me how “good” I look.

Unless you die instantaneously in a car accident, or we all die together in a nuclear holocaust, you are going to figure out that there is no way to communicate some of the life lessons we can only learn alone.  Usually in the middle of the night.  Always unexplainable.  And completely frustrating.

I confess…

…that I have far less tolerance for frustration than I did previously.  Is it age?  Cancer treatments?  Neurologic damage?  The general mood of the country?  Genetics?  I can’t say that I can nail it down to one specific thing or event.  All I know is, more people than previously feel my verbal wrath.

Today, for instance.  Several months ago, I ordered a small bracelet from a Buddhist monastery.  Picture the size of that package.  Being in a semi-rural area, our mail is delivered at the street, in groups of mailboxes.  I received a notice that it was delivered to our box.  No package.  Contacted the company.  They generously sent another.  Same message.  Still no package.  The local Post Office can show the vehicle delivering and scanning the tracking number at my box, with their GPS.  My conclusion is that the two packages have been stolen.  I posted a warning on the neighborhood Nextdoor discussion list.  Suddenly, I am the one at fault, say my neighbors, for not understanding the local postal rules.   What I understand is that the Post Office did its job.  And so did a thief.

I repeat and repeat and repeat to myself: Don’t feed the trolls.  If I were not the daughter of an alcoholic…amend that…falling-down drunk, I would actually act upon the “It must be 5 o’clock somewhere” saying.  But I am the daughter of a falling-down drunk.  So I skip the booze until there is an occasion when it would be entertaining, not tranquilizing.


Well-meaning family and friends tell me to not watch the news, because it upsets me so.  It’s difficult to explain our need for Social Security and Medicare to someone not in our situation.  Yet I must not feed the trolls.  This frustration/fear I must keep to myself, which only increases its vigor.

And these are the days that I wonder – to myself – why I would ever even consider treating another illness.

These few precious days?

How many Mickeys and Minnies?

Although I was city-born and raised, for the last fifteen years we have lived on an island in the Great Lakes.  Don’t be too impressed.  Access is by car ferry, but the trip across only takes two minutes.  From the tip of the island, the Detroit skyline is clearly visible.

I have what I consider a live-and-let-live attitude about the wildlife here.  When I am outside, I give them the space they seem to desire.  In return, I ask that they not invade my space.  We have coexisted this way for the entire fifteen years – except for the bat that lived inside for a few days.  But that became a successful catch-and-release.

Late in this summer, we had a cricket infestation.  I discovered what happens when the sole of a shoe is placed in the exact right place on a cricket exoskeleton.  It isn’t pretty.

This natural invasion of my space has moved up to a whole new level, however, with a mating pair of mice and their litter.  At first, I just saw one mouse.  Not being overly familiar with them in a house, I expected that one was it.  Ha!

We set some traps which we purchased at the grocery store.  Two traps.  It seemed enough.  Bait them in with peanut butter, and their hunt for water will lead them outside to die.

Yesterday was a mouse rodeo.  Mama and babies, scurrying willy nilly.

We have a greyhound.  Sheik.  Greyhounds are supposed to be from the canine category of “sight hounds”, meaning that they see something and then chase it.  I watched the dog stare down a baby, then walk away.  Totally disinterested.  No chase.  No help.


A bit later, while cooking dinner, I saw the mother mouse, either dead or dying.  With my compromised immune system, I decided to leave it for Bob to pick up.  A short while later, however, a baby came to the mama, and tried to nurse.

I was devastated by what I saw as a tragic scene.

And immediately became aware of my hypocrisy.  I’m not “live-and-let-live”.  I’m passive-aggressive.  Passive in their environment.  Murderous in mine.  Frankly, I still want them out of my house, and the only way to achieve that seems to be a rather ruthless death.

But I can’t get the picture of the baby trying to nurse from a dead mother out of my mind.

This morning while making the coffee, Bob found the daddy mouse, dead or nearly so.  He gave it our version of a Viking funeral.  All water, no fire.  The question now is, how long before any remaining babies begin an incestuous relationship with each other, and we start this process all over again?  How many more babies will I witness try to nurse from a dead mother.

When will I get over myself and overthinking?

Grandma, seeks reindeer

I suppose real bloggers post on a more regular schedule.  But I’m not a real blogger, am I?

Some periods of life just don’t result in material for a blog.  Sometimes, not even enough for a short Facebook post.  Either this is one of those times, or my chemo brain is worse right now than I thought.  If you are not aware, chemo brain is both real and sporadic.

This is the time of year I hate.  The period of November that is cold, grey, and rainy.  I would so much prefer snow.  These November days just feel like I do – blah.  And then it leads to December.

So much perkiness all around.  Really?  Is it real, or is everyone just better at pretending than I am?

I hate Christmas.

I have since I was a child.  With my alcoholic father, alternating between extreme depression because it would be his “last Christmas”…and then driving my mom and me while drunk, down icy streets.  My cousins all seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I don’t know if they really were.  I remained on the sidelines at my Babcia’s (Polish for grandmother) house, waiting for the whiskey to make my father totally obnoxious, and praying that some adult – any adult – would pull me aside and tell me everything would be okay.  (To this day, no one from my family will admit they had any idea my father was an alcoholic.  Yeah.  Right.)

So, if you like Christmas, please continue to do so.  At 68, I am pretty good at just gritting my teeth through December 26.  Then I self-medicate with hours and hours of college football.

I didn’t anticipate this topic when I started typing.  But.  Here we are.  I wish I could promise you future perkiness.  But as I wrote in the beginning, I don’t know how many – or few – precious days I have, and there are thoughts that need to be preserved.  Well.  Maybe they don’t really need to be.  I just want them to be, for whatever posterity there is.

And now I am going to seach for the recipe for Thompson turkey, to see if I think it could be adapted to a crock pot.  I can hope.

A funny thing happened on the way to healthy lymph nodes…

Twelve hours after my mother died, in April of 2013, my oncologist told me my remission had failed, and the only thing left was a stem cell transplant.  Getting from his diagnosis to the actual transplant was an arduous process.  Meetings.  Paperwork.  Dealings with health insurance companies.  Blood work.  Pulmonary tests.  “Salvage” chemo.  Harvesting my stem cells.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  The most important of which was whether or not I would actually go ahead with the transplant.  The transplant doctor – a man with an uptight personality so very, very different from the sweetness of my oncologist – was, nevertheless, honest with me when I asked the ultimate question: What are my chances?  Not very good.  Not good at all.

Hmmmm…What to do.`

Many discussions with family.  One email conversation with a priest.  In a casual conversation with Bob, he mentioned that the brother of our neighbor across the street had undergone a transplant with similar odds.  He chose to proceed for an amazing (to me) reason: to be a lab rat.  He knew he would not survive the transplant.  He was right.  But he did it for the knowledge that would be gained and useful to future patients.

Bingo!  Completely captured my heart and imagination.  My decision was made.

In mid-August of 2013, I entered the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit.  Eight days of “conditioning” with some of the strongest chemo known to humankind, then two days of transplantation.  Then all hell broke loose.  I have very little memory of those days.  I was that out of it.  I apparently had conversations with Bob.  I don’t know.

Here was the knowledge they had not had before.

Multiple times per day, a neurologist or neurological resident or intern came into my room to question me.  What day is this?  Do you know where you are?  What county?  Who’s the President?  They always, always ended with “Can you spell ‘world’ backwards?”

Well.  No, actually.  Not only could I not spell world backwards, but I couldn’t even put together the words to say that I couldn’t.

This went on for days.

Finally, one morning when Bob was visiting me, the entire Neurology department of Wayne State University walked into my room, along with my transplant doctor – Head of the Department of Haematology and Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplants.  About 15 people in all.  Again, with the questions.  I.  Was.  Pissed.  When we got to world-spelled-backwards, I could no longer contain my frustration.  I said “I’m tempted to say:              W O R L D   B A C K W A R D S”.  I caught the notoriously humorless Karmanos staff off guard.  Some needed to leave my room to have a laughing fit.  I was deemed on the mend.

But that wasn’t – and isn’t – true.

After about 5 weeks in Karmanos, I was allowed to go home.  But four+ years later, I continue to have random “bad world-spelled-backwards days”.  Sometimes it will be totally losing the words I need to express a simple thought.  Sometimes it is trying to make sense of something I have read.  Some days, I know driving my beloved Mustang convertible would be a bad idea.  Today, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to stitch binding to wind up with mitered corners on a quilt.

You cannot imagine how totally discouraging and frustrating that is for me.  And I’m not going to go into the TIA (mini stroke) I had last summer, which further exacerbated the whole situation.

Most of my family and friends know not to expect too much from me when I tell them I am having a bad world-spelled-backwards day.  But no one really knows what it is like.

This is part of my suck-y “new normal”.  And I know this sounds like whining.  When you can’t spell a five-letter word backwards, maybe you will understand.

I try


My house is loaded with quilts.  Some I made, some I purchased, some were made by friends, some were made by women far across the sea.  Some are on beds; some are draped across chairs or couches; some are used as table coverings; some are hanging in various ways, in various rooms.  A few are strictly for the use of Sheiky…the dog.  And then, there are numerous UFOs – the quilting term for those projects that made it to a certain point, and reside there, possibly forever – UnFinished Objects.

I am an enthusiastic quilter, as my fabric stash demonstrates.  I have made incredibly complex patterns, and turned simple patterns into something complex due to my fabric choices.

I’m good at choosing fabric and stitching the quilt tops.  At least, I was, prior to a brain problem during the stem cell transplant in 2013, and the TIA last summer.  What I am not good at is putting the top together with the batting and the backing – called the quilt sandwich, and then stitching it all together – called the quilting.

Truthfully, when it comes to the actual quilting………………I suck.

Once or twice, I have taken my quilt top and backing to a quilt shop, and had them quilt it for me, on a machine called a longarm.  And I foresee this happening more frequently, although it is a pricey option, because:

I still want to quilt.

I’m not good at one major part of the process.  But the parts that I can do make me happy, most of the time.  Notice that I said “most” of the time.  I have been working on a monthly sew-along.  The pattern is extremely complex, and sometimes my brain just can’t figure it out.  Then, quilting doesn’t make me happy.

Sometimes I need to take a break, and pick up a totally different craft.  Most of those I do with an amateurish outcome.

Nevertheless, she persisted.