Wendy Susan, Boomer Sister

“Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”
Alice Walker

My Boomer sister, and brainchild of this blog, Wendy Susan Hare, went to her happy hunting ground on January 7th, 2017.

She was not only my blogging partner–she was my sister. We shared the same chortle (as all my sisters) and the same bathtub as toddlers. We yelled, calling out: “Move to the back of the tub–the plug is out, and we’re all going down the drain!” There were three of us crammed into that tub–my brother Peter, too.

An independent spirit even as a baby–think of Sweet Pea from Popeye–she ventured out into the world through the milkbox, a household innovation of yesteryear.

Wendy was a living miracle after a near-tragedy during her early childhood. She was caught under a rolling vehicle at our former Muskoka cottage. My father had the foresight to kick her completely under the car so the wheel passed over her foot, and not her head. She used to show us how she couldn’t move her toes on that foot after that–they were a badge of honour.

In elementary school, she had tenacity. On Hallowe’en, I’d give up after an hour, but she wouldn’t come home until her pillow sack was full. You didn’t need your parents as chaperones back in the day.

When we lived in Montreal, I was having my Grade Three birthday party–she was wheeling around Oak Ridge School when she hit her elbow, taking a corner, and breaking her arm. Me, being a typical brat, blamed her: “How dare you put the kibosh on my birthday party?” It brings to mind the wooden sign in her laundry room: I Can’t Remember if I am the Good Sister or the Evil One. (Perhaps I am the second one?)

We moved a lot. I remember once how she felt wronged, and ran away to our Edmonton garage, set in the alley. She sent us notes to explain her departure as if she were in a faraway land.

In high school, we shared the same underwear basket–there was no such thing as having your own underpants in those days. You fought for them and prayed they’d stay up!

Wendy went one way as a young newlywed and mom, and I went another as a singleton, Separated by many kilometers, and provinces, we grew close again after decades. She had that ability to be your best friend. Not just yours but everyone’s. She gave you her full attention–and she really did care about your problems. She was a wise Mothership–her son Sam and daughter Bronwen were the luckiest to have her as a mom, but they shared her. She was everybody’s shoulder to cry on. We went to her for comfort when our relationships failed, when we grappled with our jobs or lost them, when we had to pick up sticks and move. When we lost hope.

Wendy was a creative soul. Quiet by nature, she loved to draw. How she treasured her pencil crayons! Every year I looked forward to her handcrafted Christmas cards. I never threw them out, so I’m trying to find them all and plan to frame my favourites in a grouping. So far I’ve only found five, but I have more boxes of cards to pore through. My favourite is an illustration of them in Wayne’s little blue Fit car, coming back from chopping down a Christmas tree, their dog, Penny looking out the window.

Wendy had a penchant for writing too–she wrote some humourous short stories–one was about blind date between two indecisive people. Wendy had a quirky sense of humour. Together we wrote a children’s fantasy novel. She’d write one chapter–I’d pound out the next–it was so much fun to see where we’d take the main character, Hollyhock, on her adventures. My favourite was an illustration called Valley of the Dachshunds. The novel was her baby–she illustrated it beautifully.

One November, we joined a novel writing marathon. Her daughter, Bronwen, joined too. You had to knock off 50,000 words in one month to win. I struggled to meet my daily word count–at the end of the month, I had 29K. Wendy reached 50K even though she was working full-time. Unlike me, she made goals and reached them. I admired her for that.

I was not ready for Wendy to die. There was so much more for her to do in life. We had plans for getting our novels published. She would have made an excellent great-grandma. But it was not to be. I am a lonely scribe now.

I knew she had Stage 4 breast cancer, and it was not curable. I told her, “I don’t think of you as Wendy with cancer. I think of you as just Wendy.” She said, “I don’t think of myself with cancer either.”

I was heartened by the fact that she had rallied after the summer–my mom told me Wendy was driving her car again. I saw a photograph of her swimming across the lake at our sister Anne’s cottage. I prayed for a miracle. But Wendy did say that she was a moving target to the cancer–and when it suddenly moved to her brain, it wasn’t long before her liver failed. When I heard Wendy was gone, I gulped for air. There was not enough oxygen on this earth to breathe. I’m still struggling to put one foot in front of the other. Every day I feel shock that she is gone.

My sister Jo said, “We have to learn to live our lives without Wendy.” I’m not sure If I can. But little things help. While filling the bathtub today, I noticed the label on my ginger bath oil. It read: Calgon Take me Away. I remember Wendy using that as a catchprase in one of her blogs. She was probably dreaming of escaping a dreary Ontario winter.

I had a dream about her recently–she’s youthful and healthy. Wayne and I are both slim. We three are going for coffee on a frigid day. We drive to an indoor mall so we don’t have to venture outside. While walking to the bistro, I look down at my feet. They’re bare. People are starng at me. Wendy gives me five loonies to buy socks. Yup, that’s Wendy. Ready to share of herself.

I think often of Wendy’s favourite things, and somehow they comfort me. How she loved the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. She loved going to the movies, and my sister Anne is now doing that in Wendy’s memory. Her favourite childhood book was Freddy Goes to Florida, a chapter book about a pig, a cow and a rooster who set out on holiday. Her favourite Blue Jay was Superman, Kevin Pillar. Her favourite dogs were pugs and Boston terriers. She and Wayne have a cross of the two breeds. Penny’s a Bug.

I have fond memories of staying with Wendy and Wayne in Cobourg. Of course there was the hot tub, but the best thing was the card games late at night, played with their kids. Something about a president and being demoted. I loved saying outrageous things just to hear Wendy laugh. Her laughter emitted in loud spurts, similar to the way our Dad laughed. Serious people breaking out of their serious shells.

A while ago, I asked Wendy Susan what we would do with the blog when she was gone. “End it–Sam will archive it,” she said. I said nothing. But just yesterday, my sister Jo said, “Let’s not end it. The sisters can keep it going.” So we’ll keep writing the blog in Wendy’s honour. Anne and Jo and Beth are artistic too, so they can also add their artwork. Guests will be welcome to chime in.

I’m so happy I have kept many of Wendy’s emails. Here is one I’ll share with you all. It was written in November, when we all thought Wendy had a few more years. Just a sisterly chat. This is how I’ll remember her.

Dear Jan,

I have finally finished a new blog. Trying to slowly start some writing. I also added some new header photos and changed colour of background and headings just to refresh it a bit. I also updated my profile as it was dated talking about retiring 5 years down the road at 60.

Sorry I haven’t been very communicative. Just seems I am still tired a lot of the time and when I have one activity like an appointment or a visit with a friend or some house work I need my rest.

Bill was very pleased with his presents, he wants me to give him original of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon I revised to have Pooh Bear.

We are having some sunny days and temperature is still 4-18 degrees, depending on the day. What’s the story on Edmonton. Do you still have snow?

The US election is making me crazy. I have decided not to watch anymore CNN. I can’t bear the thought of Donald being president.

Anyway, tomorrow Bronwen and I are going to Stratford to see a matinee play, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nice to have some time alone with her.

Wayne is off at Sam’s house doing some drywall. He made a beautiful white mantel for their kitchen fireplace. They have hired a contractor to do a complete kitchen makeover. It starts the end of November.

Say hey to Mike and dogs,
Love, Wendy

Lori here again. Since writing this post, (last night actually), I had a dream that Wendy read my entry on her. She made a comment on the blog. It read, “Nice!”

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go,
I’m standing here outside your door,
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.
But the dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn.
The taxi’s waiting, he’s blowin’ his horn.
Already I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Peter, Paul and Mary

 

Dead Woman Walking

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The cancer is back

Last fall I was cleared, my cancer therapy completed. I asked my then oncologist how I would know if the disease returned. She said I would be in terrible pain. Hmm. However, this is how it happened. I went to Hawaii in early March for a celebratory vacation that the treatments were over and my hair had grown back. Yahoo! But mid-holiday I started feeling queasiness, tired and by the time we flew to Maui for our final few days, I lost my appetite. The symptoms were more like discomfort than pain. What was going on? After flying the red eye back from the West Coast I could hardly drag myself from the airport gate through customs to the parking lot. We arrived home only to fall into bed. I woke up a few hours later and called the oncology department at our local hospital, but the next available appointment was two weeks out. I had never felt so lousy. I decided to drive to the ER and I left James snoring.

The triage nurse didn’t seem overly concerned. A technician took my blood and the doctor ordered an ultrasound. When the doctor returned with two nurses in tow, I knew something was very wrong. One held my hand as he informed me my cancer was back and had travelled to my liver. The ER doctor left a message with my new oncologist as mine had been promoted to administration. The next morning a nurse called to tell me to come into see the oncologist as soon as possible. Come in now. He told me the results showed the liver was extremely compromised and had only 10% function. If I had waited the two weeks for the appointment I may have died in the meantime. The only course of action was to immediately go on chemo. I started treatments the very next day.

No one really wants to listen to a person with an incurable illness. How many more chemo treatments do you have friend ask? I reply for the rest of my life. What? What? That can’t be right. I read the other day that people have little understanding of advanced cancer. And only 2% of the funds donated go to research on metastatic cancer.

People don’t know what to say except to lecture you to have a positive attitude, fight it, drink some special tea, eat blueberries, and maybe some yoga or meditation. Zip-bang-boom you will be fine. Or those testimonials from others: this woman I heard of had breast cancer; it went to her uterus, lung, and brain. She had several surgeries and fifteen years later she is rowing on a dragon boat team.

People stare at me and say – you look great, healthy. You haven’t lost much weight. So how can you be sick? They have no clue how much little energy I have. I have to pace myself. My sister tells me to budget your time to things you want to do, not worry about emptying the dishwasher.

At the moment I’m taking an oral medication called Xeloda, three horse pills morning and night and that is 50% dosage. The oncologist tried to up it to 60% but the side effects became worse. I’m improved from last spring when I could hardly get out of bed, ate little and visits with friends and family had to be short. The prognosis has improved to 2-3 years instead of a year.

The one thing that scares me is the prospect of a long, painful death where James has to take care of my every need. To live is to be independent. I understand my father wanting to let go, after he was in a hospital bed at home with caretakers around the clock feeding him. Mortality is for others, not me. I was going to stop working and travel. Now I’m retired but too drained to think of overseas travel and lengthy walks through museums.

I like my peace. My blue bedroom is my sanctuary. I do go out more often now, to visit my mother in Toronto or go to Ann’s cottage for a few days where her “West Wing” bedroom is my other refuge. But coming home and curling up on my bed with a good book gives me calm. I have a list of things I would like to do. No longer a world-tour bucket list, but I am working on a scrapbook, and trying to teach James the computer and the art of the budget.

Even though I try to be optimistic, from time to time I slide back in my mind to how my body has started a revolution, no longer an ally, an enemy set to destroy my microorganisms. Unseen, hidden, multiplying in the dark. Quietly. Let me complain a little, I don’t normally inundate others with my woes. Cancer really does suck.

Cancer is a string of losses and I will certainly never be calling it a gift. And just for the record, it didn’t make me a better person either.

Nancy Stordahl

Breaking Bad

Barbie

THE FIX IS IN–OR NOT. When you’re a child, you soon figure out what you’re good at–whether you have mechanical skills or you’re musical or athletic. Or none of the above like me. Back then, I assumed you could be good at anything you set out to be. I belted out The Owl and the Pussycat day after day, preparing to debut as a chantress with my Grade One class in a school concert. During a practice, the teacher put one hand to her ear, saying, “I hear a sour note!” She moved around the classroom, finally stopping at me. Oh no! I was asked to pass on singing in the school concert, and instead invited to stand by the piano and turn the pages. I was horrified. I couldn’t sing? Sometimes trying doesn’t make things better. I just mouthed singing in school after this. The shame of being a bad singer!

I was discovering things about myself, and they weren’t good. Gym class meant I rode the pine most days. And I was certainly not Ms. Fix-it. When I got the coveted Barbie doll for Christmas, I was thrilled. I had faux Barbies before–they were cheap replicas of Goddess Barbie. They were larger and made from cheap plastic and had matronly hairdos and flat feet. Real Barbie was at the top of my Christmas list. Babyboomers will remember vintage Barbie in her zebra bathing suit and high heels. (How does she walk barefooted in the sand with feet shaped like high heels?) My Barbie had the sleekest blonde hair, tied in a perky ponytail. “Well,” I thought to myself, “why does she always sport a ponytail? Why can’t she wear her hair long some days?” In short order, I figured out how to untie the knot, and horror of horrors, Barbie just had hair stitched around the edge of her scalp. She was totally bald in the middle–shades of Donald Trump.  I tried like mad to retie her hair into the beautiful knotted ponytail but to no avail. My beautiful Baywatch Barbie was now Freak Barbie, and it was still Christmas morning. I wrecked her within an hour. I asked my mom to buy me a new one, but no, there were no second chances at getting an authentic Barbie. I was learning things about myself. I’m good at breaking things.

Five decades later, I’m still breaking things. I’m expecially good at destroying things that are spanking brand new. This attribute doesn’t endear me to others. Within the past six months, I’ve broken two new appliances. Unlike King Midas, everything I touch doesn’t turn into gold.

We finally got stainless steel appliances after the crisper drawers disintegrated into shards in our lopsided fridge–one wheel had broken off and the fridge was gouging the hardwood floor. We decided to get a new stove as well. The stove confounded me. The dials have high and low in different places for the burners, not practical for a sixty-two-year-old who needs reading glasses to read stop signs.

While breaking in the new stove in the dead of winter, I decided to work on my novel and nodded off–I forgot I had chicken noodle soup simmering. (Did I tell you I have memory issues too?) Oh, nix the simmering. I had misread the dial and set the soup to the high setting. Soon the black smoke woke me up. ( I also have an olofactory issue!) I raced to the scene–the pot of soup had melted all over the stovetop and was on fire. How can you melt metal? Isn’t that about one thousand degrees? I forgot that we had a fire extinguisher, and grabbed the pothandle with an oven mitt and chucked it on the kitchen rug, wrapping it straightaway to douse the flames. I held my breath in the toxic smoke and herded the dogs outside. Still holding my breath, I raced to the window, and opened it, letting the cold winter air rush in. I noticed the cooktop on the stove had also melted–what on earth was it made of–I was wracking my brain for ways I could hide this mess from my husband when I heard this crackling noise. The outer oven window was breaking into thousands of pieces–chunks of glass were popping like popcorn onto the floor. Horrors. Was the cold air from outdoors meeting the hot window causing this? This was nothing I could hide from my husband. I met him at the garage. “I had a bad accident,” I said, “but the dogs are fine.” Let’s just say this–when he saw the state of the stove, the decibel level of his voice could have broken more windows.

The stove is finally fixed–after two visits from Whirlpool, one for the stovetop and one for the window. Christmas dinner was postponed, but the entire stove was fixed on warranty. Result.

Fast forward. Our dryer just died, so we sprung for a fancy-dancy washer/dryer set. Since we’re in the middle of a downstairs bathroom/laundry room reno, it made sense to upgrade. So while trying the washer out, I got the detergent compartments mixed up–the system is more complicated than my old one. After one wash, the powder hadn’t dissolved-it just sat there in a glob. I read the manual–if using dry detergent, remove the liquid detergent container. Oh! Complicated or what? I removed it, but the container with the globby detergent was still a mess after the next cycle. I’d have to remove the entire drawer to clean. Finally I found the button at the back of the unit to dislodge it. Feeling clever, I washed out the container, and replaced it in the drawer. Then I returned to the manual. Slide the drawer back in until you hear a click. I slid it into place–ooops–no click. I noticed the drawer was lopsided, off its track. I would just pull it out and insert it correctly. Oops, the whole drawer broke in half in my hand! Now the piece lodged in the washer couldn’t be budged at all. My new washer was already in pieces. Shades of Freak Barbie.

I tried to hide this fact from my husband, whispering my dilemma to a girlfriend on the phone. “John is still sleeping,” I said. “But he has good hearing so I have to talk low.” After the conversation ended, I tiptoed into our bedroom to retrieve something.”What did you do to the washing machine?” John demanded, his face alarmed. Oh no. Busted by Bat-Ears. “Why do you have to break every single new appliance we get?” Wait, I haven’t broken the fridge. Or the dryer–but that wasn’t hooked up yet. I assured him our contractor would know how to fix. And he did. Charlie’s a handy guy. Some pliers, bing, bang, bam. Done. Unlike Baywatch Barbie, the washer was fixable. I’m off the hook again.

But I need to know I’m good at a few things. #1.Maybe making fun of myself. (I did learn to be the class clown back in Grade One.) #2. I know how to write. #3. I am excellent at peeling potatoes.

Thanks to Dale of Kingston, Ontario for the photo of her retro Barbie, her first and only one. Dale and I were Grade Three students at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Baie D’Urfe, Quebec in 1962.

 

“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

Mark Zuckerberg

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Hell in a Handbasket

TrumpV2 AS A CANADIAN, I SHUDDER TO THINK OF LIFE ON EARTH WITH DONALD TRUMP IN OFFICE. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d get on a rant about American politics, but life takes weird turns. My husband John and I are addicted to watching how the presidential election will play out–it’s getting downright scary, seeing Donald Trump as a potential president, bedazzling thousands at rallies. What are these people thinking–that he’ll pass out highpaying jobs like ballcaps to the crowds once he’s elected? That he will take on ISIS like a John Wayne cowboy?

In the summer when he started running off at the mouth, we thought he’d be done like dinner by fall, so it was rather entertaining. Now it’s mid-February, and he just took New Hampshire by storm, and his tone is growing more rabid with every sound-bite.

Nobody wants to take on the bully. Or if they do, it’s a milquetoast slap and he comes back with what pundits call the counterpunch. (Maybe that’s where they get the term donnybrook.) My experience with bullies is such that you have to look them squarely in the eye with nerves of steel. (Think of Ralphie in the movie, A Christmas Story when he went berserk against the town bully.)

I had one such experience at Dixon Grove Public School in Etobicoke. There was a bully named Dennis West–he was taller and bigger than all the other boys–I think he failed a grade or two. You actually had to pass your subjects to move ahead back then. My older brother is a polio survivor–he walked with a slight limp, but no one took notice. He was, and is a total brianiac, and went to MIT at age 15, leaving the rest of us in his wake.

Back to Grade Eight. One day my older sibling and I were walking to school–Dennis came up behind us. I was carrying an umbrella–it threatened to rain. He started to mock my brother–picture Donald Trump and the differently abled reporter. I don’t know what overtook me, but it was my Ralphie moment. I took an en garde stance towards the bully. “You say one more word, and I’ll stick this umbrella right through your eye!”

Dennis backed down and left. I was unafraid–he could have easily wrenched it from my fist and impaled it through my own eye, but I didn’t care at that moment. I would have taken him on. I’ve never had problems with bullies after that. It was like I was vaccinated–they did try, but I was fearless. I thought, “What’s the worst they can do? Kill me?”

So, why doesn’t someone confront Donald Trump? I would. There are so many questions I’d ask him. When he goes into a tearjerker story about his alcoholic brother, the pilot who died as a result of his addiction, I’d ask, “Why didn’t your family post an obituary for Fred, or have a funeral service for him?” And then after Trump’s dad died, I’d confront him. “Why did you try to cut your brother’s kids and grandkids out of your father’s will–when one of your nephews has having cerebral palsy and needs medical care? What does this say about your character, Donald?”

My next line of questioning would take on bigotry. “How is it that you care about the black population of America, when you refused to rent to them in 1978 because you thought they were dirty and on welfare?”

I already know your answer. You’ll dodge the question and plug in your pat answer: I love blacks, I have many African-American friends. They are terrific. (Fill in the blanks with women, Mexicans, Muslims, LGBT…)

This guy is as slippery as an eel in a tub of Vaseline. Think snake-oil salesman.

Trump touts that life is all about the thrill of the chase for him. That when he was courting Marla Maples, it was all about winning her. He admitted he was bored watching her walk down the aisle and didn’t want to marry her after all. It was over, all the effort, all the adrenaline. Bring on the pre-nup.

What will he do once the courting of voters is finished? I can actually conceive him winning if he faces Sanders in a general election. Naturally, he’ll paint Bernie as a scary socialist. Then Trump will tout, “I’ve won–there’s nothing more to do–I beat the pants off my contenders. Now I’m bored. Washington? I can’t don’t have time to waste in DC. And cancel my trip to the Global Warming summit. I have to fly back to New York City, attend to my business, get some more deals done. Sleep in my own bed.”

This guy is scary-bad. The Emperor really does have no clothes. When is somebody going to point it out?

“Looking around at all of you, you hard-working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock ‘n’ rollers and holy rollers. All of you who work so hard, you full-time moms, you with the hands that rock the cradle. You all make the world go round. And now our cause is one.”

Sarah Palin

Mind and Body

Calgon

Getting in Sync

Lately I have experienced massage therapy and counselling. Both elixirs for the soul. I found a family therapist whom I really click with. I feel I can tell her anything.  And if you have never had a massage, you must try it. It is blissful. I let the spa music harmonies pull me into total relaxation. Sort of like Calgon – take me away. (Baby Boomers will remember that commercial for water softener.)

Again some Registered Massage Therapists are better than others. You don’t want one where they are kneading you to the point of pain; be free to tell them to lower the pressure if it’s not enjoyable. Whereas some people do not like their feet touched, I find that’s the best part. Next to a scalp massage.  Or maybe a neck massage. Hell, have an hour long full body work-up. All divine.

I went to a family therapist last year before my surgery and I found she just didn’t “get” me. This made me not be myself. But my new counsellor sets me at ease. She calls negative self-talk “stinking thinking” which made me laugh when she first said it and now, when I find myself sinking, I remember this expression and smile. Catching yourself is half the battle.

I used to be an all or nothing sort of gal. I’m trying to change. You slip up; you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on. Instead of just giving up totally. This applies to so many things, whether eating right, getting more exercise, or whatever goals I have set up for myself. Now I’m able to accept the blunders, and move on, giving myself permission to be okay to not be perfect. Why did it take me almost 60 years to see it as a journey, not as perfection vs not perfection? Black vs white. Good vs evil.

I also realize I can’t say yes to everything. And that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes, to take care of myself. Both James and I have had problems in the past with being everyone’s hero. Can you have a hero complex? This is where you try to solve everyone’s problems but your own. But you get so immersed in doing so; you can’t see what damage you’re doing to yourself.

I see 2016 as the year of me. To start with we are going away on two vacations. First, we go to BC to visit one of my younger sisters, Jo, who owns a weekend retreat on a cliff overlooking a bay on Galiano Island. We are even taking our dog with us. Penny is small enough to fit in a soft crate, enabling her to travel with us on the airplane. Secondly, in March, we fly to Hawaii where another sister, Ann, has rented a house five minutes from a beach on Kauai. James and I have never been to the Hawaiian Islands. Another checkmark on our bucket list. And for both trips I’m not taking my work computer. That stays at home.

I will be my own hero this year.

You have to change your thinking if you desire to have a future different from your present.
Germany Kent

Focusing on the Positive

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25 Things I am Grateful For:

  1. My grownup kids, who like to spend time with us. And for the past two years have taken me to the horse races for my birthday. The first year I won sixty dollars on a pony called Jaded Humour. This year I lost forty but I loved sitting on the patio, sipping a cold beer and enjoying the company of my family.
  2. My husband, who loves me even when I am grumpy. How is it possible we meet 43 years ago when we were only sixteen? And that we are still together after forty years of marriage. What are the odds?
  3. My mother for her generosity. Too much so, according to my father. And my father for teaching me to save for retirement, and be sensible with money.
  4. My siblings, four sisters and two brothers, all supportive in unique and splendid ways. Especially during my recent illness.
  5. My grandchildren who make me laugh and love to visit us.
  6. My daughter in-law and my son-in-law who fit in the family like gloves into our family.
  7. Good food. Like hot French Canadian pea soup and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, served with a big briny pickle.
  8. My dog, Penny, who is naturally non-judgemental and therefore a good friend. She listens and turns her head when I talk.
  9. Beefsteak tomatoes. Thick slices on cheese buns.
  10. Fall apples, crunchy and tart.
  11. Living in Canada.  We are so fortunate to be in a safe country, where you can vote and walk the streets of our cities and not feel insecure.
  12. Going out to restaurants, not buffets as I like to be served.
  13. My dog for sleeping at my feet when I work at the computer.
  14. Walking down a country road (with my dog).
  15. Massages. If you have never had one you are absolutely missing out.
  16. Going on road trips. The excitement of the open road and the unknown. A large takeout coffee, a map book and off we go.
  17. New friends we have encountered in our new locale. When finding new company later in life seems so much harder.
  18. My pencil crayons. Zoning out with China blue and pale vermillion. I must start another project soon.
  19. Reading.  The joy of escaping to some else’s life and problems. How sublime.
  20. Potato chips. I have to eat them only occasionally. I used to joke that if I ever remarried it would to a Lay’s potato chip truck driver.
  21. My comfy leather office chair. An indulgence I could not resist. But when you sit at a computer daily it becomes a necessity to have a good chair.
  22. My midnight blue Subaru. It allows me freedom and the ability to drive in a blizzard.
  23. My writing. I need to finish my second novel that I started one National Novel Writing Month.
  24. My new curly salt and pepper hair.
  25. Having two trips to look forward to this winter, one to British Columbia in February and the other to Hawaii in March. Both possible by help from my sisters. I will be overjoyed to fly away from the cold Ontario winter.

Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.

Gertrude Stein

 

Go, Blue Jays, Go!

IMG_1943The newly converted are the most devoted!

Hockey’s starting up in a few weeks. But who friggin’ cares? Connor McWho? I’m crushing on baseball. I’m a late bloomer Blue Jay fan.

Recently retired Oilers’ player, Ryan Smyth, flew in from Alberta to take in a game. The Blue Jays’ race for the pennant isn’t just for Torontonians. You see Newfoundland flags, signs from Saskatchewan. One from Sioux Lookout. Nova Scotia.

Confession. I found baseball boring for decades–curling is my favourite game to watch. I know my Dad follows baseball, and so did my late Uncle Jim–as well, my nephew, Susan’s son, played it in his teen years. And so did my Dad, who was a southpaw pitcher for the nickel mines when he worked in Sudbury as an engineering student. But moi? I played it a few times on a Montreal corner lot-shut my eyes when the ball came flying at me. Got whacked in the head once by Susan swinging the bat. End of career.

As for fandom, I went to a few major league games as a kid–The Montreal Expos at Jarry Park. I remember Mack Jones–singing “Along Came Jones!” I’m dating myself–as the Expos are now gone. Gosh, how time flies. But I never even noticed when Joe Carter and the Blue Jays won the world series in 1992. So now here I am in my sixties, and finally a Blue Jays fan. A rabid one too. If I could go to a game now, I’d be making one of those cool signs, like: The Price is Right!

I ordered my husband a David Price jersey–he was thrilled–I have a girlhood crush going on for both David Price and Canadian boy, Russell Martin–you can be any age in baseball. I’m a teenager again. And it’s on my bucket list to go to a Jay’s game one day. Hubby and I are perfect fans–we have no cell phones–we’ll be watching for the missiles heading our way, not taking selfies.

Being a Blue Jay fan is pure fun. John and I love the mascot in the Blue Jay expedia commercials. “Did you just fly in?” the ticket agent asks the mammoth blue jay. “Chicken for room service?! (The mascot kicks the cart across the room.)

The fans are having a blast. Loved the signs: We’re Goins to the Playoffs. Pillar’s Glovin’ it and We’re Lovin’ It. And the little kid with the painted-on black beard of Jose Bautista. Too cute. The people with the stuffed toy parrots, hoping that Edwin Encarnacion will hold out his parrot perch. It’s like everybody can be a kid again. The jokes that Munenori Kawasaki has for the Junior Jays. “What does the buffalo say to his kid on the way out the door to work?” Answer:”Bi-son!”

Confession. I know nothing about baseball. But I’ve learned a lot in the past month. Like how the bullpen works. A starter doesn’t come from the bullpen. Duh! I need to read the book, Baseball for Dummies. How lefty pitchers can stymie batters. What a ground rule double means. I still can’t quite figure out the various pitches. What’s a breaking ball? I haven’t a clue. Curve ball, slurve ball. But I’ll know by the post season. I’m a rookie fan. I didn’t even know Yogi Berra was a real person as a kid. I thought he was just a cartoon bear. But reading all the yogi-isms during this past week makes me lament. Why wasn’t I a baseball fan sooner?

I don’t want to jinx the Jays, but I do hope Kawasaki says in the near future: “Remember! We are Blue Jays! Bush party tonight!”

This blog’s for you, Dad!

Yogi Berra’s eldest son moved back in with his parents in the family home in Montclair after separating from his wife. “Dad would be like, ‘So, are we going to watch ‘Seinfeld’ tonight?'” he said. I ended up living there for 14 years. I remember telling my mother that I had to move out. She said, ‘Your father will be devastated. He’ll have no one to watch television with.’

I said, ‘Mom, I’m 56 years old!’

Peter Berra

 

 

Scammers are everywhere!

We’re on the Don’t Call telemarketer list, but still they find us!

I know that seniors are often victims of online scams, but I never thought we’d get hoodwinked by the cutest little scammer right on our doorstep.

The other day, I was in the middle of making supper on an Saturday evening when there was a knock at the door. I thought it was my friend Charlotte, but no, it was a young college-age woman holding a clipboard. Ah, the upcoming election I thought, and called my husband to the door to handle this.I went out to start the barbecue, and when I came back in, he had invited this young woman inside.

“What’s this about?” I said. I had a feeling something wasn’t kosher.
“I’m your energy server and we are just checking that you’re not overpaying,” she said.
My husband had given her our latest energy bill, and she pointed to our administrative charge.

You’re overpaying here,” she said, circling the amount of $14.
“That’s a credit,” I pointed out.
I was wondering how smart she was, but then figured she must work for our provider, Enmax. If she wanted to consolidate our fees, fine.

Oops, the burgers must be burning. I raced to rescue supper, and when I came back in, it looked like this woman was filling out a long contract.
“You’re not signing a contract, are you?” I asked my husband.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re going to save money. It’s a new contract with Enmax.”
“Whoa, stop right there,” I said. “Who are you?”
“I’m with Just Energy,” the woman said.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I thought you were with Enmax.”
“I’m wearing a name tag,” she said sarcastically, holding it up. I needed my reading glasses to read it.
“I don’t know your company, “I said. “You could be scamming us.”
She started to get angry, “Look, I showed you my name tag. I’m not a scammer.”
“Well, then I need to research your company online,” I insisted. “We need to check out your customer reviews.”
Then she got really annoyed. “I just spent a long time explaining this to you. I’m working hard to save you money and I work for a real company.” (Like: how dare you!)
“Then you won’t mind if I keep the contract and your information pamphlet, and we can look it over. We’ll call you if we want to sign with your company.”

I knew she was thinking I was a real bitch. She just about had John’s signature–she had just about won him over with her cute little act–while I was frantically trying to set the table, wrangle the dogs when basically we just wanted to get rid of her.
I knew the time factor was part of her scheme. Show up at 6:30 pm, get her foot in the door, and get us to believe her spiel of saving us money and get our signature on the contract while we really weren’t paying attention.
Supper would have to wait. “We’re not signing anything!” I said. “We’re seniors and we live on a fixed income.”
She said, “I can get you the fixed rate.”
I said, “Just leave the contract and pamphlet with us.”
She said, “I can’t give you the pamphlet.”
What kind of outfit was this?
She scribbled VOID across the contract in huge letters, her way of showing she was pissed.

After she left–we ate our overcooked burgers, and then examined the contract.
She had written the new price for gas and electricity in the little boxes. Both were exactly double the amount we are paying now! I wondered why she had circled the number $14 on our bill. I figured it out. When we saw the cost of energy she offered us, we would think, “Oh, that’s less than $14.” We were paying way less than that actually. Our actually gas and electricity rate were buried in this bill, not easily seen. But signing with Just Energy would have been a nightmare. Plus this was a 5-year contract with an exit fee of $400! So our bills would have doubled for five years. I know she just about hooked us, but phew, she didn’t!

I checked online. Global has down an investigative show on Just Energy. there are tons of warnings on this outfit. (The BBB, who issues a warning on this company, gives it an F!)  What they do is try to sign you to a new contract with them without your knowledge. It’s called slamming. I wonder how many seniors like us fall for this door-to-door scheme. Maybe in a few years time, when we have lost a few more of our marbles, we’ll fall for these tricksters. Scary!

“Between a fellow who is stupid and honest, and one who is smart and crooked, I will take the first. I won’t get much out of him, but with that other guy, I can’t keep what I’ve got.”

Lewis B. Hershey

The Big C for me Part 2

Becoming a Survivor

cancer cells visual v2

My inspiration for the next part of my CANCER journey and treatment are Bernie and Karen. To Bernie Siegel, a doctor who wrote a book called Love, Medicine and Miracles, introduced me to the exceptional patient idea. (Thanks to my sister, Beth, for sending me this gift.) And cheers to my good friend and workmate, Karen, for being an exceptional patient. She was diagnosed with both lung and brain cancer (11 tumours) just after I found out about my breast cancer. Despite the medical professionals patting her on the leg and telling her to sign up for palliative care, she proved love, laughter and a positive attitude can help win this battle. Though the doctors consider radiation and chemo are the heroes here, I also believe it was Karen and her optimistic attitude. She is not out of the woods completely but I know she’ll beat this and be there to see her daughter go off to university, walk her down the aisle, and have her grandchildren giggle with her uproarious remarks.

After a week of utter despair following my fourth chemo treatment and my first of the drug called ‘Docetaxel’, I decided enough was enough, determined to stop the chemotherapy. I could feel my heart protesting and for days I laid in bed in pain and misery: a metal taste in my mouth, unable to eat or sleep, agony in my hips and back, my scar from the surgery in constant spasm, and the pain medication causing heartburn. James was at his wit’s end, not knowing how to help me. Even though I couldn’t read or concentrate on much at all, I jotted down a few notes each day about what I ate or drank, meds taken and my temperature. Here is a pictorial excerpt:

When I was able, I made an appointment to see the oncologist, and the nurse on the phone asked me what was going on. When I told her she said, “It’s your body, you know it best.” A few days later I described to the oncologist my 2-1/2 weeks of despair and pain, and she suggested reducing the drug for the next two sessions. But when I insisted that I was NOT going to continue, she simply said four treatments were better than none. Then she wrote a script for the anti-estrogen hormone therapy which I have to ingest daily for at least 5 years, set up a follow-up appointment with her for the fall, and contacted the radiologist to move up the radiation treatment.

I asked her how I will know when I am a survivor if there is no MRI or other test after the radiation? She said you’re already a survivor. I then inquired, how will I know if the cancer returns? Will it show up in my other breast? She answered, no, more likely there will be pain as the cancer will have moved to your lungs, liver or other organs. Lovely.

I found out by watching a documentary on Netflix called Tig about a female comedian who had breast cancer, if this disease metastasizes in other parts of your body it is considered incurable. Double lovely.

Now I am driving to Oshawa for 25 radiation treatments, an hour and a half round trip, and 5 days a week for 5 weeks. I have 10 treatments under my belt. I have to lie perfectly still on the radiation bed, my left arm above my head in a stirrup. It takes 2 technicians 10 minutes to set me in the exact correct position, lining up the dots which are 4 freckle-like tattoos they inked on the initial visit.

The techies then leave where outside a sign flashes:

DO NOT ENTER

DOOR CLOSED

BEAM ON

Inside the room the massive head of the machine whirrs into action, moving to my left side. I stare at the label: LINAC1 which I refer to it as Big Linc. Invisible to the eye, I only hear the buzzing of the radiation, and I sing to myself: Sun, sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on, please shine down on me. I visualize little peanut-shaped cancer cells jumping out of my chest, holding tiny suitcases, leaping to the floor. I call out to them as I toss them miniature fedoras and baseball caps: “Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?” But those darn cells ignore me, running fast, streaming out of the room and down the hallway towards the hospital revolving doors. Exit stage left.

To date the side effects of radiation has been rawness in the left chest area where they shoot the beam. The nurse told me by next week it will be red like sunburn and fatigue will set in. Most people I have talked to who have gone through the process, say it is a cumulative thing, hitting you after many sessions. Some were tired for weeks, others for months. One of the technicians also informed me the fatigue is a result of your body trying to repair the damage to the healthy cells and tissue.

A few days ago I started the hormone therapy, this entails daily popping a pill called Letrozole. The list of side effects is daunting. Most probable are menopausal in nature: hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Then I read the warnings: Limit alcohol. Cancer doesn’t want you to have any fun.

But I keep going back to my Bernie book. Hope and having goals are keys to healing. How much the mind and body are linked. If you become depressed and focus on how you might die, you most likely will. But if you enjoy your life and reach out to your friends and family, and savour each day, you will live longer. And be at peace in the process. Some days are harder than others but I keep redirecting myself (what would Bernie do?) and plan holidays: Galliano Island, Paris, Hawaii, Chicago, Hilton Head, Quebec City, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Turkey Point…..

“…getting well isn’t the main objective. That can set you up for failure. If you set a physical goal, then you may fail, but if you make peace of mind your goal, you can achieve it. My message is peace of mind, not curing cancer, blindness, or paraplegia. In achieving peace of mind, cancer may be healed, sight may be restored, and paralysis may disappear. All of these things may occur through peace of mind, which creates a healing environment in the body.”  Bernie Siegel

 

 

The Big C for Me

Not Pretty in Pink

IMG_20150614_100015_editMy regular mammogram was booked when I noticed my left nipple had started to invert slightly. I thought maybe this is one of those things post-menopausal women don’t talk about. But after the mammogram, the nurse asked if I could stay longer as the ultrasound tech had time to fit me in. During this test, the technician was quiet, leaving the room to talk to the radiologist, while I lay on the table and counted the ceiling tiles and tried not to cry. I knew this was not normal procedure. He arrived with a release for me to sign and began a biopsy. One of the needles was so painful, I couldn’t help but squirm. Afterwards, the nurse told me to not expect the results for a week or more, but three days later my family doctor phoned and asked me to come in with my husband.

It was invasive lobular cancer. People say women with breast cancer are so strong. You can beat this, everyone cheers, like sisters of cancer are warrior Amazons, set to battle the Mygdonians. Well, hell. What else can we do? Like a drowning man, we’re going to kick and thrash and push to reach the surface.

After the modified radical mastectomy, I returned to see the surgeon–he handed me a nine page pathology report and a sentence of Stage IIIB breast cancer. The tumour was the most significant he’d ever removed and so intrusive the report stated multiple foci: unable to accurately count. It had taken over my breast like some sprawling amoeba. They also found cancer in 8 out of 15 lymph nodes, meaning if I had chosen the simpler surgery, a second surgery would have been necessary. The news that the cancer has spread from the breast into the lymphatic system means they need to be more aggressive with the chemo. The surgeon then passed me along to an oncologist who’d contact me after reviewing the pathology and devising a plan of action on what to mix in the cocktail. I stumbled out of the examine room in a fog.

Meanwhile, I tried the old sock in the bra trick. But without the weight my chest still appeared lop-sided. And two socks were no better. Would I ever feel normal again? Losing one breast, my chest slashed with a Frankenstein ruby scar, I felt mutilated and in limbo, terrified of the next phase. Just take it one step at a time. That’s what everyone, doctors, nurses, friends, and relatives keep saying. And you know why? Because that’s all your soul can take or you’d go unhinged.

Next, the oncologist gave me so much information, my head spun. Luckily, my sister took notes and further interrogated the doctor on the pathology report but the physician’s focus was wholly in terms of chemo. At the end of the appointment, my final question was: what if I chose to forgo chemo, what would be the result? Her statement: A fifty percent chance of recurrence. I replied: I guess I’m going to have chemo then.

Weeks later, I met with a radiation oncologist to discuss the third part of treatment. He recommended 25 sessions of radiation over five weeks, five days a week. Weekends off. This will begin about a month after the last chemo session, taking the current package of treatments from March to well past Thanksgiving. The side effects of radiation are sunburn-like skin on affected areas and general fatigue.

The fourth is hormone treatment–on top of everything else, I tested estrogen positive. After chemo, the oncologist will prescribe a drug to be taken for the next five to ten years, the side effects are hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats. Déjà vu. Just like menopause all over again.

But wait. That’s not all. The results of all the receptors have not yet been completed. The HER2 is a protein on the surface of breast cells. If my tumour cells have high amounts of this protein, it will be considered HER2 positive and means an added chemo drug to the mixture. The oncologist claims a low or only a twenty percent chance of this happening and not to worry, they’ll probably have the results in a few weeks.

In the chemo clinic, I slid into a big blue easy chair, and glanced around the room. There were several women, some wearing scarves, others like me pre-hair loss, some knitting or chatting with companions. One patient seemed to be enjoying a five-course meal that she nibbled at as she gabbed with a friend. When I saw the rocket-sized red Kool-Aid about to be put into my arm through a catheter, all I could think of was Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. Here are the substances to kill me, drip by drip.

For the first few days after chemo, I nibbled carefully and downed the recommended jugfuls of water. Then the wheels fell off. I became extremely queasy, unable to swallow a thing. My stomach churned endlessly. By the third night, I was a mess. I called the chemo clinic–the doctor ordered more anti-nausea pills and a saline IV for dehydration. Drowning in tears, I felt like I was on some giant bender that hung on for days. Not my idea of fun.

My hair started falling out at three weeks. Now I am at six weeks with three chemo treatments done. Back to nibbling crackers and having saline hydration. Apparently at the final and sixth session, I am allowed to ring a bell. Ding Dong, hopefully the cancer is dead.

Every woman needs to know the facts. And the fact is, when it comes to breast cancer, every woman is at risk.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz