Routines

This morning, Bob, one of the farmers who began working our family’s land once Dad retired, agreed to come over to install some safety features in the bathroom. Dad is home from the hospital, at least for now, but the house that my grandparents built clearly needed some updates to accommodate the situation. Although we don’t know for sure how much Dad’s life will change given his current diagnosis, Dad told me that he wants to stay at home if he can and feel as secure as possible going about his everyday routine.

As soon as Dad found out that Bob was headed our way, along with Bob’s brother-in-law/partner and the rep for crop insurance that they all work with, Dad began talking about needing help getting out of his pajamas and into his bib overalls and seed corn hat. The guys were coming to visit, and Dad wanted to look the part of, well, Jerry–a fourth-generation farmer whose standard attire has been the same for just about all of his 81 years.

As we sat waiting on Bob and the others, Dad and I started talking about a future with Congestive Heart Failure–the new “bland” sodium-reduced diet; morning rituals of recording and reporting vitals; an onslaught of visits from home health, home helpers, and friends and neighbors prepared to drive Dad to and from a host of appointments.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll last if I can’t get outside, walk out to the field, see the crops coming up,” he told me.

I reminded Dad that the purpose of cardiac physical therapy, which he’ll begin on Friday, is to help him restore as much strength as possible to his heart muscles and lungs. Over time, the goal is to move him closer to doing the very things that will make his life more like it’s always been.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the same, though,” he responded.

Dad’s eyes began to water as he told me that he isn’t confident that he can make so many changes at his age–and without my mom by his side.

I get it. I do. Dad’s being encouraged to accept a new normal that’s anything but. Especially for an Illinois farmer.

 

 

 

 

No, Cosmo, No!

Cosmopolitan magazine screwed up big time. The publication sent out a tweet on Monday touting cancer as a route to weight loss.

Here’s a response from The Washington Post, a rant that I’d far rather draw attention to than the misguided message in Cosmo: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/04/12/dear-cosmopolitan-magazine-cancer-is-not-a-diet-plan/?utm_term=.c4b2155779e2

As someone who’s experienced breast cancer twice in the last 24 years, I guarantee that enduring a grueling treatment regimen and looking one’s best don’t go hand in hand.

A special lunch

This morning, my 15-year-old daughter, Helena, and I headed to Grace Episcopal Church in the neighborhood of Woodlawn to serve lunch to people from the area. Woodlawn is one of the poorer parts of Birmingham, and the majority of people who walked through the door were either homeless or living in substandard conditions. Surrounding the church are dilapidated buildings, many like the houses in Edwina’s previous neighborhood. They are the kinds of homes and abandoned buildings that likely provide a bit of shelter at the same time they threaten the lives of those dwelling within. Many are standing in mid-crumble.

My cousin Tim, who grew up just a few miles from me and also lives in Birmingham, had invited Helena and me to join him and others for cooking and serving. His church had committed to help out and he wanted to make sure there were enough hands on deck to feed the 100+ people who showed up.

While I’ve volunteered many times with people in Birmingham who are homeless, the experience was a new one for Helena. During the past several years, Helena and Celia have gotten to know Edwina and have visited Church of the Reconciler where homeless folks from across the city come to worship, get warm (or cool, during the summer months), and fill their empty stomachs. But they’ve not interacted with people in quite the way we did today–greeting people, mostly men, when they walked into the church hall; seating them at tables and serving them restaurant-style; and most importantly, engaging in conversation.

Before the doors opened, Tim reminded all of us volunteering that our job was “not to make ourselves feel good about helping out the less fortunate,” but rather to “make our guests feel welcome and cared about.”

So often, those who live on the streets are made to feel invisible. Unseen. Uncared for. Unimportant. All of the “un’s” imaginable. Today was about making people know that they do matter. They are seen.

Helena benefited from the experience and thought that some of the people she talked with enjoyed themselves. She knows they liked the food. I hope she’ll want to go back again one of these days.

One hope I have for both of my girls is that they will seek out opportunities to see all people as they deserve to be seen.

 

 

 

An unfortunate delay

Early yesterday morning, I headed to Princeton Hospital to meet Edwina, who was scheduled to have surgery to remove the uterine fibroids that have been causing her great pain for more than a year. I’d been sitting alone in the waiting room for 20 minutes or so when Edwina and Tyrone wandered in, and we began the process of waiting for Edwina to be checked in and led back to the pre-op area.

I could tell as soon as Edwina sat down that she was anxious about having surgery. She hadn’t heard the results of a biopsy the doctor had done the week before, and she feared that the surgery would reveal that she is suffering from something more serious than benign tumors.

“What if I got cancer again, Miss Rayan?”

“Then we’d face it just like you did last time around,” I replied.

Edwina reminded me that she’s been dealing with a lot of pain “down there” for much too long, and she just wanted to “get it done” and not have to hurt all the time.

As we talked and caught up on family and recent challenges–for Edwina, a car in the shop and too many people wanting to crash on her couch–Tyrone stood up to head down to the lobby for a smoke. As he got ready to leave, he handed a Styrofoam cup filled with the coffee he’d just discovered in the corner of the waiting room to Edwina to hold.

Without skipping a beat, Edwina lifted the cup to her lips and took two quick sips.

“You can’t have anything to drink before surgery,” I quickly reminded her.

My comment came too late. The woman who had registered Edwina was standing next to her, in need of further information, and saw her drink from the cup. Within minutes, the message had been communicated to a nurse who marched out to the waiting room to tell Edwina that she wouldn’t be having surgery until Thursday since she’d sipped coffee with cream and sugar.

Edwina began to argue, loudly. She was angry “that woman [had] told on [her]” and insisted that she wouldn’t be coming back on Thursday. I knew that she’d be back; she just couldn’t process the idea of not getting through the procedure after dragging herself–body and soul–all the way to Princeton.

As Tyrone and Edwina’s sister, Clara, went in search of the car to take Edwina back home for the day, Edwina and I took the elevator down one floor and walked slowly towards the hospital entrance to wait.

“I’m just so tired,” she told me. “Them doctors just keep me waiting, this all’s been goin’ on for too long.”

“I know, and I know that you’re hurting,” I told Edwina, rubbing her back and drawing her close. “But you’re gonna get through this, I promise, and I’ll be right here beside you.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Edwina so emotional, so vulnerable to circumstances over which she has no control. We shared a long hug, and I walked towards the parking garage as Edwina climbed into her sister’s car.

I called Edwina earlier this evening. Her surgery has been rescheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. I told her that I’d meet her in the waiting room at 8.

“Ok,” she replied, her voice shaken by the unexpected delay and knowing that tomorrow she’ll have to make her way back to Princeton, back to the worry and waiting for an answer to her pain.

 

 

 

 

A Dutch Dilemma

The winter 2015-2016 issue of Cancer Today includes my article, “A Dutch Dilemma”: http://www.cancertodaymag.org/Winter2015/Pages/A-Dutch-Dilemma-smoking-netherlands.aspx?Page=0

This piece explores the decrease in–and ensuing confusion over–tobacco control regulation in the Netherlands in recent years. I was thrilled to receive an email from Dr. Wanda de Kanter today, a lung cancer specialist from the Netherlands Cancer Institute that I interviewed while researching the story. She sent along several comments from colleagues in the U.S., Australia, and Japan, all of whom are members of the International Association for Lung Cancer, praising the importance of the story and its lesson for other countries.

A reading

Edwina and me at the launch party for pms:poemmemoirstory

Edwina and me at the launch party for pms:poemmemoirstory

On Saturday, Edwina and I headed to Bottletree Café in Birmingham for the launch party celebrating issue 13 of pms:poemmemoirstory, a literary journal including works written by women. I read “Rough Edges,” an essay that recounts just some of the story of how Edwina and I became friends and how we view our lives leading up to that moment. It’s the first piece I’ve published that reflects my larger project: a memoir about this special, and oftentimes surprising, friendship.

The story touched on a number of events in Edwina’s life, especially, that she shared with me during a series of taped interviews. Her version of the “bad” person she used to be and the much-improved follower of God she’s become.

As I read my way through “Rough Edges,” peering out from the stage, I saw Edwina smiling and chuckling quietly to herself as I recounted some of the scenes in her own words. Her anger at her sister Wanda that caused Edwina to squeeze the freezer door shut on Wanda’s head. Her outburst at brother Joe-Joe, ending with a deep cut reaching from his wrist to his elbow.

Edwina and I talked about the reading on the way to Burger King afterwards and on the ride back to her house. She told me she loved hearing me tell her story and had a definite twinkle in her eye as she reflected on some of the early days. Before breast cancer. Before she was clean. Before we were “like sisters,” she said.