Monday, October 28, 2013

Home Field Advantage in the Awareness Game

We just returned home after a week on the mainland. There was little time to stop and breathe and it was not because of glitter or the tumors growing in my lungs. Months ago, I made a tentative plan to see some very special ladies I met in an online support Group for Li Fraumeni Syndrome. The meeting place was to be Boston, tagged on to a conference for LFS. Then I found out my mom was moving from Colorado to Ohio. I thought it would be a good opportunity to stop and see her on the way east. Then I found out my cancer was back and angrily invading other organs. Everything became difficult to plan.  Then I found out my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In my mind this was so much more serious than what I was facing- it was a gut check.  Then 2 of my cousins started investigating symptoms of possible oncological significance. So at a time I should have been researching and making plans for my own treatment, I was helping one into the trenches and another out.  I often like to handle things myself because I appreciate that other people are busy. I'm not talking about your run of the mill work and play balance- I am talking about the fighting the cancer beast busy. I am not the type of person to wave my cancer flag to garner attention or sympathy- when you see me carrying that flag it is because I have to.

Colorado is home. It has been home since I was 11.  I met Phil there, went to school there, watched Bob and Dad die there, got married there, had Bella there and this trip meant saying goodbye to that. Feeling the enormity of the emotional waves was not an option- it would have crushed me. Going into it knowing I have metastatic breast cancer also changed my approach. My mom has an acquired brain injury as well as several other health conditions that have medically made it impossible for her to work. It is hard being across an ocean when you have a loved one who needs help- it is also hard knowing you are in no good place right now to be able to help anyone. I think we both feel that way and it's crushing. But fortunately, in the way of our world,  time is a luxury we are not afforded to float along the emotional waves of major life change.

After a month of tests and biopsies and appointments- I knew I needed to go home. I could not do it alone so Phil, knew he became a part of this whirlwind package.  We spent far less time than any parent with 4 kids, 2 with medical considerations should arranging their care for a week. I don't even have time to think about the favors I owe my neighbors and in laws. All I know is that I trust them and am eternally grateful to be able to rely on them. My gratitude turns to dismay as we enter the airport and find that there are pink ribbons and pink EVERYWHERE. The counter is slathered in ribbons- there are pink flowers in vases, the flight attendants are wearing some various splash or bucket of pink.  I opt for tea instead of the pink lemonade on the flight which is just high fructose corn syrup and red dye. I wonder how much was spent on this awareness campaign. I wonder if those funds could have been better spent. Hell, give away a few flights to women with breast cancer- better yet- fly out a family member or friend to help them through treatment. I have lots of useful things people could do instead of just being aware.

 As Phil and I landed in Colorado, we were surrounded by fall.  This is the time of year we fell in love. This is the time of year both Bob and dad's tumors were diagnosed. The falling leaves and the chill settle into my heart. Probably better than my lungs- those seem to be full at the moment.  As a mom, I know that my mom has been getting no rest- worrying about the unknowns. Worrying about what I am not telling her. The only way I can ease that a bit is by showing her I am Ok. We spend hours looking through photo albums and gently putting them in boxes. The symbolism and meaning are heavy. I know the emotions she is feeling. Colorado is home. And that is why home becomes where the heart is, you pack up the memories and carry them with you.  And sometimes those memories make your heart so full it breaks a little- but time heals those breaks- and that's how we become stronger.

We spend the next day helping move heavy furniture to the garage to either sell or give away. And by we I mean Phil and 2 of my dear girlfriends who merely stopped in for hugs and didn't realize hugs would be given while moving 200 pound bookcases down 2 flights of stairs. Friends who were are part of very different times in my life and yet it is so poetic for them to be there at this time. There were plenty of laughs as I went through boxes of old belongings. Memories filtering through the open garage with the sunlight.
As we do when the emotions become too hard to bear- we start to make inappropriate jokes and laugh our way through. Like when one finds what apprears to be a framed MRI from the early 90's. Most kids when forced to clean out their boxes of stuff- find locks of hair, teddy bears, maybe a letter jacket. Not in a mutant family- we find things like first brain MRIS and your mom says- Oh there they are- I wanted to send you those so Your doctors would have a baseline.  And that is just one little sparkly piece of awesome LFS memory lane.
We round out the work with other trips down different memory lanes- CU Boulder. I forget that Phil hasn't been here in years. Mom says it's been awhile for her too. The goal was to stop in and get a couple t shirts, but the second we parked- Phil started- oh I can see the stadium.  Look over through there you can see the stadium lights. I say nothing until he gives up the passive mentions and starts worrying that I am not hearing him. I'd really like to go see the stadium. I giggle and give him a squeeze- of course I will take you to the stadium- it's on the way back.  We find our shirts and continue on. CU was a safe place for Phil during his years at the academy- I would drive down and get him and find tickets for him to join us at the games.  One year a group of us saw an open gate and went and played on the field- running plays, building pyramids- it was what college memories are made of. I even arranged for his parachute team to jump into the stadium one year. The year Bella was born- a gate was again open and we snuck in for pictures.
As we get closer to the stadium, Phil is practically running. He starts at the first gate- clutching the bars, trying to get a peek. We have to pry him away to get pictures.

I turn around and he's off, checking each gate- he works his way around the building. I am standing there with mom- watching him try to squeeze his nugget through the bars to get just a little better view.  He smiles and looks over his shoulder- You are NOT going to believe this- Ralphies pink!  Oh god- even poor Ralphie at midfield is forced to don the color of breast cancer awareness. Mom gets a thoughtful smile- I'll be right back. She marches into one of the offices inside the stadium. Phil wants to know what she is doing. Who knows? Dad used to do this all the time and usually when he did- a magical story was being written.

A minute later mom reappears with a lady named Ann. Ann is my middle name, named in honor of my dad's oldest sister. She has always watched over us. She was the first sibling to die of cancer in my dad's family. In Ann's hand is a ring of keys. She walks us over to the big iron gate, unlocks it and lets us in. Phil is running down the stairs before mom and I even are through. This is happiness. Seeing the ones you love happy. I am in awe of my mom's magic. I can feel the angels wrapping their wings around us. We pose for pictures and thank Ann profusely. Turns out she is the women's golf coach. She hands us each a CU hat- which floors me- not only did she take her time to let us take pictures- she is leaving us with parting gifts. My faith in humanity is again restored.
As we walk back to the car, Phil is bouncing with happiness. I ask mom how she did it. Oh it was easy- I just told her that you went here years ago and you were just in town visiting before you started chemo on Monday for metastatic breast cancer and we just could not believe that Ralphie was pink and was there any way we could get a picture. 

I laughed and made a comment about being careful about burning our cancer card too soon. Phil turned to me and his grin was priceless- I'm pretty sure if that burned the cancer card- it was totally worth it! 

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)