Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wax off, Wax on

I got my surgery date today! It seems weird and absurd to be excited about getting a double mastectomy, but I am ready to get things moving. So April 27th is the day. My sisters are coming to Ann Arbor with little Maeve and are going to cook and hang out in my king-sized bed and talk and crack jokes and have good talks. They are the best sisters you could hope for. David and Nick will be awash in estrogen and a haze of pinkiness while Ava and I relish the girl time. It's going to be the best given the bad.

This morning marked the first morning back on the road to work in what feels like a very long while. I climbed into the Pod (my car, which looks like a little escape vehicle from the Death Star) and pulled out with 80 minutes of time to think with Paul Simon's album, The Rhythm of the Saints, offering something deep in the resonance of the percussion and the nuances of his lines.

This morning my mind traveled over the past week, in and out of doctor's appointments, beautiful moments with my children and friends, and the lovely morning sunshine before it rested on what seems to be a theme that I have been wrestling with as long as this whole health issue has been going on. In the plainest terms, I miss my mom. Coming back into a hospital environment has brought back so many memories of the year of my mom's own illness...the hours spent in waiting rooms, the conversations with people whose kindness is palpable, the conversations that are equally kind but incredibly awkward, the feel, look and smell of the hospital environment itself.

On Friday, Nick and I sat crammed in the pre-surgery waiting room with many others who were either in for a procedure themselves or who were helping a loved one. It felt like the airport lounge in a third world country, people sit for hours waiting to leave, shuffling and turning in uncomfortable seats, never knowing exactly when they will be called, full of emotion at goodbyes or hellos. Nick spied someone he knew across the way and as they talked, the man's wife and I bent our heads in that friendly-but-awkward conversation that people struggling with a similar-but-not-same illness have.

She was a lovely woman, full of insights about the path of chemo, ideas for meditation CDs and healing touch therapy. She had gorgeous blue eyes that sparkled and a vivacious smile that bloomed from her face and her closely cropped (grown in) hair. She was fighting a treatment-resistant form of cancer, still trying to be optimistic as options were running out. In 20 minutes she had made a lasting imprint on my mind and heart.

So I am driving I-94, listening to this soulful music and, like so many people that I met during Mom's treatment, I wonder what will happen to her. And in that moment, I am filled with this incredible sadness that I can't describe to anyone that hasn't been through the slow, sad, winding down of the life of someone they loved. Thinking of Mom, thinking of Julie who was taken from her family way too early, thinking of hope and loss and the incredible pain, yet incredible honor it is to be with someone in that space. I think I have a little PTSD about hospitals now. I think I have a lot of work to do letting go of my mom and coming to terms with the last year of her life. I know my sisters swim through this deep ocean too, and as they come and sit with me and hold my hand, I hope they will heal a little as I have just treading water in this space. It's one thing to miss Mom, which I do desperately. It's another to relive the intensity of that year of loving and caring for someone who was incredibly sick, all the while knowing that it was just a matter of time before they would be gone.

I don't know if anyone else that has "caught it early, I'll be fine" cancer feels this way, but at times I don't feel like I deserve to be in the same category as these people who are so valiantly fighting for their lives. There is a survivor guilt that is fresh in this space, a feeling that the attention you receive makes you almost a fraud compared to the fight that other people wage. I know I will get many emails admonishing me for this feeling, but it's true. I know what a steely adversary cancer is and I am minute-by-minute thankful for the status of my illness. Today I promised myself not to waste a good crisis with inaction. Tomorrow I go for energy work. This weekend I see friends and listen to drumming that will feed my soul. In two weeks, I will receive surgery that will take something away but will keep me whole upon the Earth.

I am grateful.

And I believe in the future
We shall suffer no more
Maybe not in my lifetime
But in yours I feel sure
Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
Lightning pushes the edges of a thunderstorm
And these streets
Quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to heaven, to heaven
For the mother's restless son
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run
Who says: hard times?
I'm used to them
The speeding planet burns?
I'm used to that
My life's so common it disappears
And sometimes even music
Cannot substitute for tears.

-The Cool, Cool River    Paul Simon


  1. I know the PTSD feeling around hospitals, Fran, even though it's been nearly a decade since my mom died. I can only Imagine what it's been like for you dealing with those fresh feelings on top of your own illness.

    It sounds like you have amazing support from your family and friends. Those relationships are what life is all about.

  2. Virtual hug from Sue Anne.

  3. hey fran--meta-comment--you write really well about a very difficult topic.--

  4. fran-i have always loved your writing so honest, raw and poetic all at once. i wanted to tell you this story...we meditate at our house every evening Griff and I and I have been setting intentions for you each night. Lighting a candle and remembering you as we breath. Tonight without any discussion about you...Griffin said "I' am thinking of your friend Fran... may she have a golden shield that protects her from Cancer and may this golden shield turn on her like the sun and surround her with her family's love"

  5. Fran, you and your family are in my thoughts! So much so that I want to do you have a captain for Team Fran? Who can coordinate friends and resources? Someone who can put out bulletin notices for dinners (and help avoid 20 lasagnas) to meeting the kids at the park or something?

    Also, I randomly found this site if it's of any help?

    - Linh