It’s “National Gummi Worm” Day

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. The worms play pinochle on your snout.

I know, gross. But so are gummi worms. Invented in 1981 (about 60 years later than the gummi bear) the gummi worm has enjoyed 30 years of creepy, slimy success with children the world over. These days you can get just about anything in gummi form but I think the worm wins for being the yuckiest. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t turn anything gummi away. I’ll eat that worm without issue.

I’m a very picky eater. When I was a youngster I would not eat any food that had touched its neighbor. I would carefully divide my food into its own zip code and there it must stay until it was consumed. I would eat all of one item first, then the next, and so on, until I was finished. It would take me hours to eat. And I liked minimal. My food choices consisted of tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes (with the exception of mashed… ewww) and spaghetti. I deeply disliked the texture of meat but would have the occasional hamburger (I didn’t have a cheeseburger until I was around nine years old) but most other meats were out of the question. We rarely had chicken at our house, so I didn’t actually eat chicken until I was in college. Sure, I’d had chicken soup before, but I ate around the chicken chunks.

I learned around the age of 25 that mustard wasn’t disgusting. That same year I learned that shrimp was quite tasty. Each year of my early adulthood I would try a few new things – not TOO adventurous, mind you – but I’d try to expand my horizons here and there.

There are still some foods that I will not touch. I hate fish. All fish. I cannot get past the smell. The simple sight of a can of tuna makes me gag. And sushi? Fuhgeddaboudit. I know, I’m high maintenance. The most adventurous I’ve ever been is having a coney dog at Phillips’ Coney Island near the scary part of Columbus. Scary food in a scary part of town makes for one great adventure! I’m just kidding. The food is delicious, but you do need a shock from the old defibrillator once you’re done eating there. Just walking into that place makes the arteries harden.

So, for the adventurous eaters out there, cheers. You can keep on with your sushi, Rocky Mountain Oysters, shrimp heads, sweetbreads, cow tongue, head cheese, goldfish, and whatever other disgusting foods you can come up with.

I’ll stick to gummi worms.

Another year…

My cousin, David, and I are twins. Kinda. His birthday is July 8, 1968 and mine is July 9, 1968. He was born close to midnight and I was born right after midnight. However, you might be surprised to learn that I am technically older than he is because I was born at 12:24 am in Fayetteville, NC and he was born at 11-something-ish pm somewhere in Montana. The two hour time difference between Eastern and Mountain time zones makes me a wee bit older than David. I’ve always been fascinated by this fact and have to admit it was something that we would often debate whenever we would get together. When we were kids our argument might have sounded something like this:

David: I’m older.
Sarah: No, I’m older.
David: But my birthday is a day earlier than yours.
Sarah: But I was actually born first.
And so the fight continued….
Now that I’m nearing my mid-40’s, I’m completely fine with David being older than me. I’ll be younger! No problem.

In addition to my cousin being born on July 8th, my grandfather and brother were also born on the same date. Different years, of course. I’m the odd man out with my birthday on the 9th but I don’t mind because I kinda like having the day all to myself. I don’t like to share. 😛 Call me spoiled.

Yes, the second week of July was always a cause for celebration.
However, two years ago, the date of July 8th took on a whole different meaning. It was no longer just a day of multiple celebrations. It became something much more sinister.

It brought news that shattered our world. We learned on July 8th, 2009, that my beautiful son had a suspicious mass growing behind his heart.

We were four years past Ben’s last chemotherapy. We were getting ready to celebrate Ben moving to annual scans. He was going to be eligible to be a part of the “Hope Clinic” within one more year. Being a part of the Hope Clinic meant that he had five years of being cancer-free under his belt. Cancer made sure he didn’t get that chance.

On July 9th, 2009 – my birthday – Ben had emergency surgery to biopsy the mass that had invaded his body. We learned on July 13 that it was, indeed, recurrent Neuroblastoma.

Dammit.

It feels like it was a million years ago but, then again, it feels just like yesterday. I don’t know where the time has gone. Here I am getting ready to celebrate yet another birthday and I’m just not quite sure when it was that I got to be middle aged. Just yesterday I was turning 10 and going to see “Grease” with my best girlfreinds. Now I have a 10-year-old of my own who has battled – and slayed – the dragon named Neuroblastoma. Twice.

I want this date to go back to being a reminder of birthdays. Of LIFE. And I love the idea of going back to a simpler time when I argued with David as to who was older. If only my “problems” could be as innocent now as they were then.

And, oh, how I wish Ben’s “problems” had the opportunity to be anything other than life-threatening. He’s been robbed of the opportunity to be caught up in the ridiculous joy of childhood. He doesn’t get to worry about the trivial. He’s challenged on a level that many people will never understand. A level that I don’t necessarily understand how to parent. But I’m trying.

Tomorrow, it’s a fact that I’ll be another year older. Wiser? Probably. Tired? Most definitely. In awe of my incredible son? Absolutely. Ready to continue helping Ben in his fight?

Without a doubt.

Annnnnnd… we’re back!

I’ve been on a very long “commercial break”. I just couldn’t bring myself to write over the last three months and the best excuse I can give is that I’ve been completely overwhelmed.

That, and I had myself a major nervous breakdown.

Yes, my friends, I cracked. Wide open. It was a culmination of many events – my mother dying, little cancer-kiddos dying, major heartbreak, Ben’s ongoing health issues and issues in his school life – the list goes on. And on. And on.

I guess I just didn’t have the heart to post anything on “Stronger Than I Look”, because, well, I looked and felt like H-E-double-hockey-sticks. I was not strong in any capacity. So, I checked myself into a mental facility due to having a strong desire to end it all.

I must let you know that I would NEVER take my own life. I would never abandon Ben and Madeline in that manner. I’ve experienced a suicide in my immediate family and I know first hand how the aftermath rips the survivors to shreds. I would never do that to my children. But I couldn’t stop the thoughts of wanting to die from entering my head.

So, off to the hospital I went. When celebrities crack and go to the hospital, they call it “exhaustion”. I guess that could aptly describe the emotional chaos I was feeling, but I imagine that my time in lock-up was a lot less glamorous than what the famous people get. Their time in the looney bin might consist of valium and massages. My day was filled with meds, a carbohydrate-laden breakfast, group therapy, more meds, a carbohydrate-laden lunch, more group therapy, individual therapy, lots of questions, more meds, quiet time (which I used to sleep off the meds), a carbohydrate-laden dinner and then lights out. I’m grateful for only spending two days in the joint because I can only imagine the potential for weight gain from the carbohydrate-laden food choices would further exacerbate my depression.

Oh yeah, that’s my formal diagnosis: Major depressive disorder. Duh.

So, after 48 hours of being inpatient, I was released. The condition of my release was that I would attend the hospital’s “Intensive Outpatient Program”, or what I’ve come to lovingly call “Crazy School”. I’m quite a fan of this program. I – along with a dozen or so other crazy people – sit each day through three hours of things like cognitive behavioral therapy and ways to be mindful when we’re having our crazy automatic thoughts. It’s been very eye opening and quite liberating. I think that instead of learning about ancient world history and calculus in high school, we should be given these basic – yet often overlooked – life skills. It takes some practice, but I’m on my way to eradicating my crazy tendencies. Don’t worry, nothing will ever take ALL of my crazy away… I do believe it’s part of my underlying charm. But getting rid of the overflow of crazy and learning to deal with my depression has been such a relief.

I’ve been going to Crazy School since the end of April. I went solidly for several weeks and then began to taper off over the last couple of weeks. I formally graduate this coming Monday. This is a big week for me, seeing how I turn 43 on Saturday and then graduate from Crazy School on Monday. I should have a party or something.

I actually feel better than I have in a long time. Years, really. While going to Crazy School wasn’t on my bucket list of things to do in my lifetime, I’m sure glad I got the opportunity to take a good look at myself and lovingly accept who I am, flaws and all.