It’s “Checkers Day” AKA: “Dogs in Politics Day”

Checkers Day isn’t as simple as it might sound. I was thinking this was an actual celebration of the GAME, you know,  more along the lines of “would you like to be the red or the black circles?”. But it’s not. Checkers Day revolves around Richard M. Nixon’s dog, Checkers, and a speech he gave that (so I’ve heard) probably saved his career (prior to Watergate, of course). Read on.

Origin of Checkers Day:

In 1952, Richard M. Nixon was a candidate for Vice-President of the United States, running with Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Media speculation centered around an $18,000 campaign contribution, and speculation that Nixon may have used some for his personal use.  In a brilliant political maneuver, Nixon took his case to the American people.

On September 23, 1952, Richard Nixon gave a speech that directly addressed and explained the issue. He assured the public that he did not use any of the funds for personal use. Towards the end of the speech, he stated that his daughters had received a dog, which they named “Checkers”, as a gift. He said they would keep the dog.

This speech quickly became known as the “Checkers” speech, and went on to be one of the better speeches in American political history.

So there you have it. Whoopedeedoo.

I like the idea of celebrating the board game instead although I’m not very good at that particular game. I’ve always wanted to master chess as well but if I can’t excel at checkers why do I think I would be able to handle something as complex as chess? I hear it’s, like, super tough. Cribbage was a good game, but I haven’t played cribbage since the “Great Blizzard of ’78”. Thinking about cribbage now always reminds me about the countless hours without power, huddled up with sleeping bags around the fireplace in our family room, and being so hungry that I was considering eating my little step-brother. Oh, okay, so we weren’t without power for THAT long, but I probably did fantasize about sticking little Matthew out in the frozen Ohio wasteland. I mean, c’mon. I was nine and he was seven. What do you expect? And we were STUCK INSIDE with nothing to do! I do remember, however, wondering what would happen if I passed a roll of toilet paper over the flame of the candle I was using to guide my way through the darkness. I found out. And haven’t been comfortable around fire ever since.

I buy board games but we rarely play them. For Ben, if it’s not Mario Brothers or Legos, well, just forget it. He’s all about the electronics. AND he makes fun of me because I like the “old school games” like Pac Man, Tetris, Dig Dug, Space Invaders, Frogger, Donkey Kong… you get the picture. He says “Mom, that’s so 8-bit”. I don’t get it.

He actually looked at my driver’s license photo recently and said “You look 8-bit”. I’m guessing it refers to some sort of pixellation. Or being shiny. Why is that? With all of today’s technology, wouldn’t you think the DMV could get some better camera equipment? I mean, it’s not as fuzzy as, say, Sam’s Club or Costco, but it’s still pretty distorted. I don’t know anyone who feels particularly good about their driver’s license photo. And we usually lie about our true weight and hair color so the whole driver’s license experience is certainly not a lesson in cultivating a positive self-image. Plus, the employees are bitter. I’m sure if we could read their minds, we’d appreciate why they’re bitter. They spend their days looking at people and thinking “ain’t no WAY you weight 115” and “yeah, right, you’re a natural blond – your roots are saying something else though” and externally saying “No, we DON’T have a mirror” while internally thinking “nothing you can do to make this picture more attractive anyway”. Oh, okay, they’re probably not THAT surly. But I think I would be if I worked there.

Maybe working the counter of the DMV should have been Nixon’s punishment for all the lies he spun over the course of his political career. He’d have to spend day after day saying, “Why, of course, you’re a natural blonde, Mrs. Smith! And you can’t seriously believe that you weight as much as 120, now! You just HAVE to weigh much less than that! Are you sure you want to donate your organs? They look so good on you.” And then as he leads Mrs. Smith over to the camera for her photo shoot he assures her that she’s never looked lovelier. Then he proceeds to smile his toothy grin at her as he snaps the shutter, ensuring a picture checkered with pixellation.

Happy Checkers Day. More later. 🙂

Elephant Appreciation Day

Today we must take time to appreciate our elephants. For me, I don’t have to go to the local zoo, I can “appreciate” the elephant that’s standing right in the middle of my room – house, really.

You might be thinking you know what our elephant is named. You’re saying “Oooh! Oooh! I know this one! It’s called CANCER.” Well, that animal is certainly around, invading our living space and our son’s body, but it’s not the animal I’m referring to. The elephant that has parked his gargantuan butt in the middle of my house is called “DEATH”.

You might not be able to see this elephant when you come into my house, but you probably think about him. He makes his presence known. You look at my son’s bald head and know that his hair is not a fashion statement. My son has cancer. Aaaargh! I got so used to saying “My son is a cancer survivor” and now I have to revert back to that ridiculous statement. Again. Wasn’t once enough? Didn’t we feed that elephant enough the first time it invaded our house and threatened to take my son? It had to come back for more? Seriously?

I’m afraid that this elephant won’t be satisfied until it takes a life this time. That’s why I’ve named him “DEATH”. And he stinks. He’s here for my son. He’s here in MY house and he’s after my child. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Really, I’m not being dramatic. I’m not being negative. I am being realistic. Honestly, I hate being realistic and certainly prefer to be silly or humorous or goofy or anything but facing the facts. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at taking the ridiculous trials of my life and turning them into something that can make others laugh. But this elephant is sitting on my chest and forcing me to think about him. I can’t breathe.

Ben’s prognosis is poor. It was the same for the following kiddos: Eden. Sophia. Allie. Nick. Stevie. Christi. Tyler. Jake. Alex. Alex B. Kathryn. Ian. Jackson. Sandra. Kyra. These are all kids that I’ve known – or know their families. All of these kids have died from childhood cancer. Most of these kids relapsed with neuroblastoma, just like Ben. And these are just the names off the top of my head. There are so many more. And I’m so scared that Ben is going to be one of them.

Please understand that I haven’t lost hope. I certainly hope my son survives. I hope he gets to grow up. I hope he has a family some day. I hope he dies peacefully in his sleep when he’s in his 90’s after living a life full of love and adventure. But Eden’s family had hope, too. And Sophia. And Allie. Nick. Stevie. Christi. Tyler. Jake. Alex. Alex B. Kathryn. Ian. Jackson. Sandra. Kyra. All their families had HOPE. And the elephant sat right on top of that hope and took these precious children. I hate this elephant.

I’m trying to keep up. I’m doing my best. But the poop this elephant leaves laying around my house is tremendous. It infiltrates everything. And just when I get one part cleaned up he makes a mess somewhere else. Damn elephant.

So, today, I’m going to try to appreciate that elephant. I’m going to be a good hostess and feed him only what I’ve prepared for him. He gets no more than that today. And I’ll kindly ask him to go outside to poop and to be a good house guest and leave when it’s time for the kids to go to bed. Today, and today only, I will try to appreciate him. He cannot take away the fact that my son is having a good day. He might rejoice when he hears Ben cry out in pain during the middle of the night, but I can guarantee that I’ll be riding his butt about leaving my son alone. Even on the day I am supposed to be appreciating him.

But really, he’s taken enough. I just can’t let him take any more. I’m going to keep fighting him despite the large, stinky poo-bombs he’s leaving all over our lives.

Man, this entry is a bummer. I guess I could have written about the GOP instead.

More later. 🙂

International Peace Day, World Gratitude Day, and Miniature Golf Day

Wow. I am so not qualified to speak on either International Peace nor World Gratitude Day. It’d be nice to have world peace AND have everyone be grateful for it, but I don’t believe we’ll ever see that in our lifetime. Besides, what would we complain about then? And I just can’t imagine the people of Denver allowing a peaceful merge of lanes amongst their fellow vehicular neighbors let alone having the rest of the world get along. Not even for one single, solitary day.

So let’s talk about miniature golf instead. After all, I am a professional putt-putter. Really. I’m not joking. Oh, okay. I am. But there’s a story behind it. I know you’re dying to hear it. 🙂

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was a beautiful princess living in an amazing castle… oh wait. Wrong story. Okay. Starting over. Once upon a time, I was a fair maiden living in a land of glistening powdery snow, high upon a mountaintop in an apartment with five other people. There were boys as far as the eye could see. Some good-looking. Some well-educated. Some, well, some were complete losers. Actually, many of them were. See, I was living in a place called “Summit County”, a mystical land that some only dream of visiting – let alone actually live there – and I was one of the fortunate ones.

This play land of outdoor recreation did hold about 10 boys to every one female, which could be quite appealing to those in possession of XX chromosomes. Let me warn you ladies – before you start packing to move out west and find the man of your dreams – there is also a well-known phrase about the boys of Summit County: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd”. Oh, it’s not a joke.

(I have to interrupt here with the following: Miguel, Bryan, Brian D, Anson… I love you guys. But seeing how I never dated any of you – wait, did I? No, I didn’t. I just wanted to make my devotion to you clear…)

I dated a few of these boys with less-than-satisfactory results. Oh, they were never mean to me, but it got tiring lending them $5, or giving him (and five of his buddies) a ride to the mountain with all of their ski gear in my Ford Escort. After about a year or so of dealing with deadbeats, I lowered my standards and declared “The next boy I date will have his very own car. That’s all I want. I want my next date to pick ME up for a change. If they happen to pay for dinner, I will consider marrying them.”

And that’s what happened. The next boy who asked me out not only had his own vehicle, but his own apartment (unheard of!), a decent (and consistent!) job, extremely good-looking, polite (he opened the car door for me!), and didn’t do drugs. He was the holy grail of Summit County. All the girls (all 15 of us) were sweet on him but he chose me. He picked me up in his car, took me out to dinner that HE PAID FOR, then ASKED if he could kiss me goodnight.

I married him.

It sounds like a happily ever after, but it wasn’t. I’m quite convinced that he married me just to get back at his family and have a disguise for his alternative lifestyle. He was from a very “fancy” family; well-off, politically connected, upstanding members of the community, all that jazz. They were simply fabulous. In one of my earlier meetings with them, they actually asked if my family had ever owned slaves. They were against it, you see, and just needed to know. I told them that while my family does have roots deep in the Southern territories that I was not aware if “my people” ever owned slaves. I’m thinking we were more along the lines of plain ol’ commoners and didn’t have the resources to care for any extra staff.

There are many stories I could tell you about what jerks these people were, but my personal favorites always revolve around explaining myself.  For instance, when introducing me to people, say, at a cocktail party loaded with the elite, they would encourage me to NOT tell others what I did for a living (I was a bank teller) or talk of my family background (I’m a hillbilly).

It was inevitable that I would be asked through clenched teeth and botoxed eyes what I did with myself when I wasn’t attending fabulous parties. So, I made stuff up. Once, I mentioned that I was a professional cheerleader. This caught the attention of what had to be a severely dirty old man. He said he loved professional sports and since he had access to every major stadium in the free world, he must have seen me cheer once or twice. He stared with his lecherous eyes, giving my body extra attention, perhaps even a bit of drool escaping his lips. When he asked which team I cheered for that’s when I explained that my high school – just a little ol’ place in central Ohio – lets me come back whenever I want. Since I’m no longer a student there, they’ve upgraded my status to “professional” so I’m not stepping on any students toes. Needless to say, I left him speechless.

And a new hobby was born. To date, I’ve been a jockey, a snake milker, Barbie dress designer, and, of course, a professional on the Putt-Putt golf circuit.

Fortunately, me and Mr. Fancy-Pants divorced after two years of marriage. He evaporated into the land of fabulous-ness and I was left with my made-up professions. I reflect back on them from time to time and let myself have a good chuckle.

I should have waited for the SECOND guy with a car.

More later 🙂

“Make a Hat” Day

“I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl.” – Johnny (from Airplane, one of my very favoritest movies ever!)

So. I have absolutely no plans to make an actual hat today. I gotta go to the bank, get some groceries, pick up the van from the shop, get ready for tomorrow’s surgery, and MAYBE go to the gym. I haven’t decided yet if a workout makes the list but I can pretty much guarantee that making a hat will not be a part of my day.

At Columbus Children’s Hospital (now known as Nationwide Chiildren’s) it was customary for children receiving services from the surgery department to get a felt hat as part of the check-in process. “Hey, we’re going to be slicing into your stomach and removing a tumor the size of Texas. There will be blood, and guts, and stitches. But you’ll be knocked out so you won’t feel a thing. And we’d like to give you this felt hat. See? Doesn’t that make it all better?” Ben received more than one hat during his tenure at Columbus/Nationwide Children’s. And he did love it. It kinda did make it all better for him. Then again, he was three.

IMG_0083_2Here he is… age three… holding a plastic sword and wearing his felt “surgery” hat. Slaying the beast. We still have at least two of these hats in our possession. See? It’s all better.

That’s actually the tag line for The Denver Children’s Hospital… “It’s all better”. I wonder who came up with that? And were they thinking about heart patients and transplant recipients and oncology kids? Or just kids with broken bones and tonsillectomies? Sometimes it doesn’t get “all better”. Or maybe they’re just referring to the new and improved facility? It is a multi-million dollar extravaganza of children’s art work and state of the art equipment. So, I guess a potential lawsuit over this tag line could be deflected by stating that “it’s all better” just means that the hospital is fancier than it used to be, not that we’ll make your kid “all better”.

So. Ben has surgery tomorrow in hopes that they’ll get the rest of that stinky tumor. It’s currently hanging out behind his heart, clinging to the pleura (the lining of the lung) and invading one of his ribs (Man! I wish I woulda paid more attention in biology!). From what I understand, partial removal of the rib will be necessary just to ensure that they get all of the affected area. I’m trying not to panic.

The receptionist at the surgical center is a ding-dong. First of all, she asked if we received the packet containing surgery info. I said no. She said she’d overnight it to me (this was last week) but I still haven’t received it. She then asked me if Ben had been to the hospital before. If he hadn’t and was scared about coming in he could attend a surgery tour. I explained that it wouldn’t be necessary because, according to the bills we’ve been receiving and trying to pay, I’m sure we’ve funded at least part of her reception area. Or at least the little rubber wrist guard at her computer, which fights off the evil carpal tunnel. I mean, really. I know she must talk to lots of people every day, but Ben is AN ONCOLOGY PATIENT. That must clue her in that he’s been to the hospital at least a couple of times.

I just got off the phone with our ding-dong “scheduler”. I hate calling the hospital because they have the WORST hold music. It’s not muzak. It’s not anything recognizable. It’s just this horrible noise. Finally, after about five minutes of listening to the “loop” I was connected with the main receptionist. I said, politely, “Surgical Center please.” Manners were not her forte, so she briskly stated “Hold” and shoved me back to the land of hideous noise. Then the next thing I heard was “Dental Department”. Seriously? The DENTAL DEPARTMENT??? That doesn’t even sound remotely like “Surgical Center”. The nice man in the Dental Department told me that they couldn’t help me but I begged them to PLEASE put me in touch with the correct person instead of transferring me back to the main receptionist. Clearly, she wasn’t interested in helping me since she was the very person who had just transferred me to the DENTAL DEPARTMENT. So, after listening to the hideous noise for a bit longer, the nice man did the job that wasn’t his and got me in touch with our ding-dong scheduler.

She acted truly surprised that I hadn’t received her overnight package that she forgot to send to me last week. So, with my monotone voice, I said, “please just verbally give me the information.” When I speak with this tone I’m just one step away from shooting-spree. Just so you know. She then informed me that this will be an outpatient procedure. We check in at 12:45. Surgery is scheduled for 2:45. It will take about three hours to resect the tumor. That puts us at 5:45. I would anticipate at least an hour in PACU (post anesthetic care unit). And then we’ll move to a step-down room for monitoring until they deem him ready to leave. And then they’ll kick us out. Just in time for bed! It would be nice to have something a little more concrete though, since I do have a second child to care for. Oh well. When I asked our nurse practitioner last week if this would truly be an outpatient procedure she told us to just plan to stay overnight.

At least we’ll get to watch cable.

So pray for our little Ben tomorrow. And pray that mom doesn’t have anymore incidents that push her closer to the edge of embarking on a shooting spree (it’s always bad when I start talking about myself in the third person).

Hopefully, they’ll give Ben a new hat. That would truly make it “all better”.

More tomorrow. 🙂 Or not.

It’s “Teddy Bear” Day

Today’s Teddy Bear Day is not a Nationally recognized holiday but one completely worthy of celebrating.

I love my teddy bear. His name is Roger. I got him as a birthday present from a school friend (Kristie Kohn) and named him after my first major crush (Holly Crawford’s dad). Whew. That Roger Crawford was a good-lookin’ man. I must end this fantasy train of thought immediately or I will never talk about Roger the Bear. Roger Crawford, however, is completely worthy of his own holiday. Maybe next time there’s nothing on the holiday schedule I’ll talk about him. 🙂

Roger (the bear) and I formed an immediate bond. I took him everywhere. Not only was he a constant companion throughout my primary school years, he also traveled with me to Ohio University. I’m sure he saw more than he wanted to throughout my five years of college, but if it bothered him, he wasn’t sayin’.

When I completed my degree I moved back to the Central Ohio area. My sister had an apartment in Grove City so I moved in with her. It was a strange transition time. I was looking for a job, dating a boy in Cincinnati who I traveled to visit every weekend, and doing a whole lot of cross-stitching. Roger was always somewhere close by.

My sister wasn’t a fan of Roger the Bear. She thought that a 23-year-old woman had some severe mental issues if she was spending so much time with an inanimate object. I was offended. Roger was real to me. After all, I always cried when I stuck him in the washing machine thinking he was going to get sick from all the spinning around, and if I ever had to put him in a plastic bag I always made a couple of holes for him to breathe through.

Okay, maybe I had a slightly unhealthy relationship with my stuffed animal. It was, however, never an inappropriate relationship even if there were some questionable boundary issues.

Anyway, one particular evening, my sister came home from work to find me snuggled up on the couch with Roger. I was cross-stitching a gigantic project for my mom and had stuff strewn all over the place. I think her anal retentiveness radar started screaming (she is a major neat-freak, I am not) and since she didn’t want to complain solely about the mess I had made, she started fussing about Roger. She said something revolving around the phrase “I can’t believe that you still have that stupid stuffed animal.” I picked up Roger and said something to the effect of “Did you hear that, Roger? Cassi thinks you’re stupid.” This really set her off. She then started picking on me for talking to a stuffed bear. That’s when I cupped my hand around Roger’s little teddy bear ear, looked directly at my sister, and started whispering to him. My sister’s eyes grew wide with the thought that I was sharing secrets with my bear about her. I think if she would have had access to a firearm, she would have shot me. She stalked out of the room and didn’t talk to me for hours. I almost shouted out to her “See! You think he’s real, too, or that wouldn’t have upset you!” I didn’t though. And I’m still alive today!

I’m 41 now and I still have my Roger. I don’t sleep with or snuggle up on the couch with him anymore. He hangs out in my closet. He has a prime spot on the top shelf where I can see him everyday. His current job is to guard the box that contains the cremains of my cat, Bob.

Oh, my Bob Cat. His is a story for another time. I had a similar attachment to Bob as I did with Roger. But at least with Bob I chose an actual living and breathing thing to obsess about.

If you still have your stuffed animal from your childhood, go find him/her and give it a big old hug. If not, then go buy a teddy bear and donate it to your local Children’s Hospital. There are lots of sick kids out there who need a friend like my Roger. He brings such joy to my life.

More tomorrow. 🙂

Pardon Day

I’m sorry I haven’t been consistent lately. My plan was to write every day this month about Childhood Cancer: the families we met, the little friends we lost, the experiences we had – but it was just too difficult. I started writing about our dear friend, Eden. She passed away last December from Neuroblastoma at the tender age of eight. I broke down while writing about her. I just couldn’t continue. Had we not recently received the news that Ben had relapsed, I might have been able to continue along that thread but I just couldn’t. So, I’m going to revert back to focusing on obscure holidays. And today is Pardon Day. So let’s get on with it.

Pardon Day came about on September 8, 1974, when President Gerald R. Ford pardoned former President Richard M. Nixon of any wrongdoing regarding the Watergate Scandal. Just a couple of hours ago, I heard Ben saying “I am not a crook.” I have no idea where he would have picked up this phrase or why he would make such a statement, but it was pretty funny. And timely. He played into my blogging beautifully.

Forgiveness is a difficult thing – to ask for or to do. I’d rather eat dirt than experience any conflict, so I tend to run away from anyone that I’ve done any serious damage to. I know, not nice. I eventually ask for forgiveness but prefer to wait for many years to bring it up. On the flip side, I do keep a “personal book of harms”. Yes, just like Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman”. All the hurts I’ve experienced are written in volume upon volume of diaries and journals. Some people have an entire book dedicated to the atrocities I believe they’ve committed against me. I am sincerely trying to forgive and forget what others have “done” to me. And I am diligently trying to learn how to forgive myself.

Being sorry seems to be a chronic state for me. I’m sorry for things I didn’t do. I’m sorry if someone is having a bad time at a party. I’m sorry if someone has a coupon for an item at the grocery store that is out of stock. Imagine my level of sorry when one of my friends loses their job. Or their home. Or their child. I have such inner turmoil for others.

And then I do the ridiculous, like blame myself for things that are most likely not my fault. For instance, my son, Ben, has cancer. I, myself, am a cancer survivor. I had surgery and radiation therapy in 1993. I was told that children would probably not be a possibility seeing how I’d have to be radioactive every six months for follow-up purposes. All of that ended in 1998 when I was declared to be “all clear”. My relationship with my first husband spanned from 1995-2000. We produced no children, so I figured I was barren. And I was fine with that. So BIG surprise when I found out that I was pregnant with Ben. Giving birth to a beautiful, healthy son was a life-changing event for me.  And then when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 2 1/2, of course I fell apart for the obvious reasons, but I also blamed myself. It was because I had gone through treatment. Thanks to the radiation therapy I had “fried eggs”. Despite doctors telling me that there was no way to link the two diseases I was convinced that it was my fault. On top of everything else I was going through I added one more layer of unnecessary guilt to my onion of a life.

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to spend some time up in the mountains while Matt stayed at home with the kids. I’m not completely selfish but I do so much better when I can sort through things without the normal distractions of everyday life… and it was quite cathartic. Taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains was comforting. The sensation of love was overflowing. I know there’s so much I need to just let go of. Forgive. Forget. Quit feeling guilty about all the things I can’t control. Yes, my son has cancer. And while I can logically understand that it’s not MY fault, emotionally I have such a hard time accepting this simple fact.

If I could just get a Presidential Pardon, I’d be all set.

More tomorrow 🙂

The First

We had never heard of neuroblastoma when Ben was first diagnosed in 2004. Of course we’d heard of kids getting  leukemia, which is horrifying enough, but children getting any other sort of cancer was a ridiculous concept to us.

The first opportunity I had to go home after Ben’s initial diagnosis I ran straight to the computer. I started researching. And what I found was horrifying. Neuroblastoma was rare. Neuroblastoma had a very low survival rate. Most children do not survive a stage 4 diagnosis, which is what our Ben had.

I had to meet a survivor. I had to meet someone who had beaten the disease. In my search to find someone, I had to start with who was currently in the hospital. There was one little girl who had relapsed and was back in treatment, and two little girls who were about a month ahead of Ben in their treatment protocol.

During my nights of wandering the halls I met up with Michelle. She looked very familiar to me but I just couldn’t place her. Through our chats I learned that she was approximately the same age as me and that her daughter, Sophia, had been in treatment for neuroblastoma for just a couple of months. Sophia was just a year old.

We were outpatient after a round of chemo when we ran into Michelle and Sophia at the clinic. Ben was probably getting a blood transfusion. Sophia was sitting in her stroller. One leg was hanging over the side and she was bouncing it up and down. A smile spread from one side of her face to the other as she looked at me. I could see her little tubies peeking out from under her shirt. She was so tiny. And this horrible beast had its hooks in her.

I watched her beautiful eyes as her mother described what was next in Sophia’s treatment plan. She was to have surgery in just a few days. We were due to come in the following week for Ben’s next round of chemo. I told Michelle that I would look them up when we were inpatient. We exchanged well-wishes and said our goodbyes.

We went inpatient on a Monday. It would take us about an hour to get settled each time we “checked in” to Children’s. As soon as we were settled a nurse came in to hook Ben up to his chemo. I asked his nurse if Sophia had made it on to the floor yet, since I knew she’d had surgery a few days before and was probably still under her surgeon’s care. The nurse looked me right in the eyes and I knew. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. And as the words came out of her mouth my ears tried to shut them out. No. No. No.

Sophia was gone. The beautiful little baby that had bounced her leg over the edge of her stroller had died.

I woke up to rain the day of Sophia’s funeral. Ben was still inpatient. My mom came to sit with him and Madeline (who was just a couple of months old) as I went to the funeral. When I walked into the service I recognized several people and realized that Michelle and I were related in a crazy, roundabout way. My father’s wife was previously married to a man who was Michelle’s uncle (trying to follow my family tree is a hopeless endeavor, I imagine that I will have my own documentary on the History Channel some day). Michelle and I finally made the connection at the same time – I was the scrawny freckle-faced girl she knew so many years ago. It might have been a fun discovery if it wasn’t under such horrific circumstances.

It was a Catholic service. I listened as the Father said things like “I’m not here to tell you why children suffer and die”, I very nearly raised my hand right in the middle of the service because I wanted to know the answer. I was not satisfied with statements like “there’s evil in the world and that’s why children die”. To me, that’s not an answer. That’s baloney.

At the end of the service they wheeled out Sophia’s tiny casket. Michelle walked behind it. Right as they were leaving the sanctuary, Michelle reached out and rubbed the top of the casket – right where Sophia’s head would have been. I don’t know if anyone else caught that since we were all getting up to follow behind. I guess I saw that last gesture as something a mother would do. A sign of affection.  A tousle of her child’s head.  A child that should be by her mother’s side instead of lying in a casket.

I traveled back to the hospital. Rain pelted my windshield. Thoughts of my son fighting for his life suddenly marred by the harsh reality that this disease has no problem whatsoever in taking his life. And there was not a damn thing I could do about that. Just sit by and watch it happen. Try to soothe whenever I could but ultimately knowing that I had absolutely no control.

Michelle called me later that week and told me what had happened. Sophia died right after surgery. She developed pancreatitis after a successful surgery and died in her mother’s arms. Michelle watched as the life left her baby and her little body grew cold. Michelle said it happened so quickly.

This event shattered my heart. Sophia’s death shook me to the core. And each little friend that we lost along the way over the next few years just hammered it home that cancer doesn’t care. It just doesn’t. It exists solely to rip us apart. To destroy us. And even though we kicked it out once, its back. And it just doesn’t care that I had plans for my son. For him to grow up. Grow old, even. Be healthy. Happy. A good big brother. A wonderful son.

Damn cancer.

It’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Wear a Gold Ribbon to support Ben. And Sophia. And all the other little kiddos who have fought for their lives.

It’s “Tooth Fairy Day”

Ben loves the Tooth Fairy. He might be getting to the age where he’ll stop believing in such make-believe things, but I’m planning to encourage him for as long as he wants to believe. He has enough reality in his life. Why shouldn’t he get excited over the Tooth Fairy leaving one of those gold Presidential dollar coins? We have a mint here in Denver so I get them fresh off the press. Clean and shiny. Something so little brings such a smile to his face.

We took a tour of the Denver Mint once when my parents were visiting. It happened to be the week of Ben’s semi-annual scans and since we were already downtown at the hospital we made plans to take a tour of the Mint, too. The security there is pretty tight. Everyone has to go through a metal detector before entering.

We were all standing in a single-file line waiting for our turn to walk through security. I was in front, the kids were in the middle, and Matt was at the back. When I walked through the alarm started screaming. I don’t have any metal plates in my head or tin-foil wrapped cucumbers hidden on my body so I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about. The guard pulled me aside and started asking me questions. He said that it wasn’t the alarm for metal, it was a radioactive material sensor. And I was making it scream. The gates closed behind us, we were trapped in this small area, answering lots of questions. Finally, the guard asked me if I had received any dental work recently. My face took on a look of question as I wondered why he would ask me such a thing, then I realized, It’s MY SON making the alarms go off! He’s radioactive from his scans! Poor kid, he wasn’t even through the detector yet and he’d made all the alarms go off. Questions were answered and we were able to go on our tour, dragging our radioactive kid along to admire all the shiny new coins.

I know this has nothing to do with the Tooth Fairy, but I just didn’t know when I would get the opportunity to share that story about the Mint. Sorry for the detour.

I’m not a fan of the dentist. I do okay now that I’m older but when I was about nine years old I had to have a tooth pulled to make way for an adult molar. I went to our family dentist for this procedure, Dr. Marcel Daneault, a very skilled dentist in Reynoldsburg, OH. He was from France. And he hated Jane Fonda. Don’t ask. But he seemed to always be talking about his disdain for her while he worked on my teeth. I would always think “I’m nine” when he’d start his tirade. No matter. I’d tune him out and stare at the poster he had on the ceiling – the one with the kitten dangling from a branch with the statement “Hang in there”. I always thought that was an odd choice for a dentist’s office.

Anyway, the tooth pulling experience. I’m not fond of needles to begin with, but even more so when they are placed anywhere near my mouth. He had to give me two shots – one in the roof of my mouth and one over the tooth in question. As he went in with that hideously scary metal syringe I closed my eyes. I felt the dreaded “pinch” and then a heavy French accent saying “Damn”. Damn? What? Come to find out he had broken the tip of the needle off in the roof of my mouth. As my brain swirled toward unconsciousness he reached in and pulled out the offending piece. I’m sure that it was a complete accident. That, or I reminded him of Jane Fonda at that particular moment and he wished to cause me intense pain. Either way, it was traumatic.

The same dentist took out my wisdom teeth several years later. He said that it would be no issue whatsoever for him to take out the one “normal” wisdom tooth and the three others that were impacted and growing towards my newly (finally braces-free) straight teeth. I should not see an oral surgeon, I should let him do it. So, I let him.

When I arrived he said “Oh, you are a baby when it comes to zee needles” (in his French accent). And I’m thinking, “Duh! Your fault, professor!” But I didn’t say it out loud. After all, he was the man with the needle.

He gave me some laughing gas that ended up making me entirely paranoid instead of relaxed and ready for the shot. He stuffed wads of cotton in my mouth, had it pried open so he could access the very back, and then started to come at me with the needle. I freaked out. And started hyperventilating. Since my mouth was stuffed full of cotton I couldn’t close it. So, the sound that came out of me was a very long and terribly loud snort. The snorts got worse as my embarrassment grew. And then I decided to throw in some “I’m sorry’s” since my embarrassment was out of control. “SNORT! – I’m sorry! – SNORRRRRT! – I’m sorry! – SNORRRT! – I’m sorry!” The man had cut out the three impacted teeth before I stopped snorting.

By the time I was able to walk out of his office the people in the waiting room erupted in applause. They’d heard my entire performance. I was completely mortified.

And that crazy Tooth Fairy, she brought me NOTHING.

More tomorrow. 🙂

It’s “National Senior Citizen’s Day”

Former President Ronald Reagan declared today, August 21, as National Senior Citizen’s Day.

In his Presidential Proclamation (August 19, 1988), President Ronald Reagan said “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older.”

I had a client back in my social worker days who was 85 years old. Since I was a member of the “Extended Care Treatment Team”, my clients were the ones who had been institutionalized for many years. This particular client was given the diagnosis of being a paranoid schizophrenic and had spent the last 65 years bouncing from hospital to hospital. One minute we’d be having a conversation about the weather and the next she’d sit silent – arms folded across her chest – insisting that I could read her thoughts thanks to the wire implants I had placed in her molars. According to her, she didn’t need to actually talk to me because I could record what her brain was thinking. She’d stare at me with a suspicious look, sometimes shaking her head with a knowing expression on her face, like I had no issue whatsoever in deciphering what she was thinking. Then she’d get up and walk away. I adored this lady.

Part of my job was rehabilitating these clients to where they could operate in the community. Schizophrenia usually strikes when a person is in their mid-twenties. It can strike earlier, and it can certainly strike later, but the average is somewhere in the twenties. Many of my clients had some sort of “training in a normal world”; understanding how to do laundry, ride a bus, care for their own belongings, go grocery shopping, etc. Some people knew how to do this before I got to them. Some just needed refreshers. But my 85-year-old client had no idea. She’d been in the institution for 65 years! There were cars! Television sets! Washing machines! The whole world had changed while she’d been inpatient.

But Ronald Reagan was making efforts to close down all the state-run mental health facilities. Everyone had to get out, despite their abilities to function in the community. When I first started my job we were able to take as long as we needed to rehabilitate a client. By the end of my tenure we were given a maximum of two weeks. Talk about a crash course. This poor woman didn’t stand a chance.

I was searching for a group home for her to live in, but none of them suited her. Too crowded (which was true), too dirty (often times this, too, was true), or she just didn’t like the smell. There was always a reason behind not accepting any of them as her new place to live. I believe that she was just terrified of leaving the place she had called home for so long, even if it wasn’t the best of living arrangements. She was feeling like there was nowhere for her to go, so she kept trying to run away. I’d get calls from the downtown Greyhound station telling me that she was there, trying to hop a bus to Utah, but with no means to do so. I’d go down to the station, pick her up, and take her back “home”. All the while, time was ticking down on her ability to stay at the hospital, the only “home” she’d known for years.

Then, one day during that second week of rehab, I went to the hospital to pick her up. She wasn’t in her room. The aid working the desk didn’t know where she was either. In fact, nobody had seen her since the day before. I drove down to the bus station. Nope, not there either. I decided to get on with my day and visit other clients. I figured that I’d get a call from the hospital saying she was back in her room or from the bus station saying that they’d pulled her off yet another bus heading for Utah.

I got a call, all right. From a mental health facility in Utah saying they had a sweet 85-year-old lady in their care. She had told them that she had ‘escaped’ from Ohio so they were just calling around until they hit on who had previously cared for her. I have no idea how she did it, but she was finally where she wanted to be. I sure hope she found a place to live that suited her.

I ‘escaped’ Ohio, too. Oh, it’s not such a bad place. There are things that I actually miss about Ohio: Skyline Chili, Clippers baseball, many friends… and my eligibility for a Golden Buckeye card. Ohio, being the Buckeye State (yes, Ohioans pay homage to a poisonous nut), offers a discount card to those who have reached the age of sixty. If you’re an Ohioan, you’ll be glad to know that sometime during the month of you turning 60, as long as you have a State ID or Driver’s License issued in the State of Ohio, you’ll automatically receive your Golden Buckeye card. This “golden ticket” will give you eligibility to a myriad of  “Senior Friendly” venues.

On National Senior Citizens Day, we should:

  • Spend some time with senior citizens
  • Show our appreciation for senior citizens
  • Do volunteer work in support of the elderly

I plan to chat with the senior who “mans the door” at our local WalMart. I just love him.

Otherwise, I’m kinda scared of seniors. I’m confident this stems from a mandated outing with my local Brownie troop to the Pine Kirk Nursing Home in Kirkersville, Ohio (circa 1975). Dude, this place smelled hideous. Out of all my senses, my olfactory system is by far the most developed. I can remember exactly how that place smelled. It was a not-so-special fusion of “hospital” mixed with “old”: old books, old clothes, old food… ugh! It still haunts my nasal cavities and creates flashbacks of frail people lining the hallways of the Pine Kirk Nursing Home moaning in despair. It’s a debilitating memory for me.

I think getting older is going to stink and not just in an olfactory sense. The aging of our bones. The stiffness that our lives will take on. The forgetfulness we experience as well as being forgotten by those we love. The sense of loss: our friends, our families, our youth.

Ain’t no way the eligibility for a Golden Buckeye card can make up for that.

More tomorrow. 🙂

It’s “National Thriftshop Day”

I’m not very thrifty. I enjoy clearing out stuff and donating to our local thrift store but I can’t say that I’ve ever shopped at a thrift store.

I take that back. A former boyfriend of mine hosted a Halloween party many years ago. Costumes were mandatory. I decided to go as “Carrie”, which required me to find a prom dress that I could get blood on. Seeing how I couldn’t locate my actual prom dress that probably DID have blood on it (high school was rough for me) I had to resort to stalking the local thrift stores. Unbelievably, I did find the perfect dress and after adding a little corn syrup laced with red food coloring, I made a pretty scary Carrie. It was really gross and sticky – much like the floor of a fraternity house after a party. Not that I know anything about that.

I recently heard that donations to thrift stores get sorted through by the employees and the “good stuff” is sold on eBay. This news aggravated me because I’ve been under the impression that my donated stuff is bringing happiness to those less fortunate – NOT going to the highest bidder. But since I’m too lazy to sell my stuff on eBay, I guess I get what’s coming to me. It still kind of makes me mad. Why should the stuff I’m donating be lining the pockets of the thrift store employees? Oh, who am I kidding? Why do I think my outdated clothes are going to fetch top dollar on eBay? I guess one never knows. I bet my re-donated Carrie dress would have garnered a few bids.

Whenever I look at pictures from my youth I immediately think “thrift store”. The clothes from the 70’s were just awful. I remember one photograph of my “blended” family – my sister, step-sister, step-brothers, me, and my mom, we were all standing close together, mugging for the photo. I suppose we were fairly attractive as far as people go, but the clothes! The worst! It looked like we were at some sort of street fair because there was a candy apple booth in the background, but it couldn’t have possibly been summer because we all had on winter coats. Mine dragged the ground, was a very blah brown, and had a matted fake-fur collar. My older step-brother had two gigantic wings protruding from under a sweatshirt that said something like “Keep on Truckin'”. The rest of us were dressed in like style. We looked like the Brady Bunch on welfare. Horrifying. I’m sure you could find these very clothes, or their close relatives, at your local thrift store. As soon as we’re released from the hospital today, I’m on a mission to find that picture. I know I am not doing it justice with my explanation. You have to see it to believe it.

Today’s hospital visit is nearly over. Day One of Round Two. Four more days to go. Ben’s feeling well, no nausea to speak of. He still has his racing stripes from his mohawk outlining his sweet little skull. The short hair on the sides just refuses to fall out. I think it’s pretty cute. I have to say that he has a perfect head. It’s nice and round, no serious flaws. A few freckles, but that’s to be expected with our genetic makeup.

I’d forgotten how people react to Ben’s condition. Everywhere we go I catch people staring at my kiddo. Some of them do that “pretend I’m not looking but turn around and stare once you go past”. I always bust those people. Sometimes I put on my “mom face” of “that’s not a very nice thing to do”. Sometimes I give them the stink-eye. It just depends on my mood.

Then there are the people who are visibly afraid, like Ben’s condition will rub off on them. They pull their kids close and hurry by, probably holding their breath in case Ben expells any cancer germs. I’m currently making Ben a shirt that states “I’m not contagious”. I’m planning to market it.

Then there are the people who look at Ben with a sweet smile and love in their eyes. Unfortunately, this is a very small group. These are the people that look at Ben and understand that he’s going through hell. I can almost hear them saying a prayer under their breath, a plea to let my Ben just be a normal little boy. The tears form as I hear their children say something like “Look at that kid. He doesn’t have any hair.” And then I hear their response “No, he doesn’t. But I think he’s beautiful.”

You are, Ben. You are beautiful.

More tomorrow. 🙂