A new Mac mini and 2012 on rewind

Starting with today, but other than that in no particular order, some of what of 2012 brought my way:

Another Mac mini. (Apparently one Mac mini, plus an Apple TV, an iPad, and two MacBooks wasn’t quite enough to give us complete access to our entertainment options.)

Coffee, chocolate, ripe tomatoes, wine, cheese, spicy lamb stew. A little of everything, bitter and sour and sweet.

Arguments, hurt feelings.

Laughter, love, empathy, movies, books. Dancing, and muscles that hurt for an entire week afterwards, every time.

Awareness that the C-word crosses my brain at least once every hour.

Terror over an upcoming visit to the oncologist, and another cancer All-Clear celebration.

An exciting engagement dinner, and eventually, a cancelled engagement, broken dreams, grief. We our best to help her through.

A residency at Stanford for one of the kids; a graduation for the baby of the family.

A friend’s father takes his life. We don’t understand, and we do. But we can do nothing but watch her grief.

I’m happy to be alive. But unhappy with aspects of my new post-cancer life. I miss cellulite-free thighs, miss estrogen-soaked cells and hair that has a little shine to it, miss going to yoga or out dancing without having to suck Aspirin afterwards. But I’m happy to have hair again—it is, however meager, infinitely superior to having no hair.

I break down and acquire at least a few pieces of clothing a size bigger.

Vanity and whining, I know. Guilty. I weep for our niece, whose cancer is back. I weep for the innocent children who lost their lives to an out-of-control young man with a gun. I weep for their parents. For mothers who have no choice but to leave their children motherless because of a drunk driver, or because cancer cells gone crazy demand they do so. For parents who must live with the amputation the loss of a child is.

I decide we need to sell the six-bedroom family home and downsize. My husband has little choice but to come along for the ride. I’m rarely that assertive, but on this I was downright pushy. I decided, we put it on the market, sold in three weeks, and then had three weeks to find a replacement. I’m still tired, but we love the new smaller space and location. We can easily walk to the river valley now, and to any number of places that will make my coffee or supper for me.

Another cancer All-Clear.

A gorgeous wedding. And another.

Our grand-daughter comes for an extended visit, and we get to watch her perform in a short but lovely version of CATS.

Many, many bad hair and bad wardrobe days.

A baptism by music, on the hill in Edmonton, in the heat of August, under the spell of musicians like Bahamas.

Yet another magical wedding, this one family, in the most stunning west coast B.C. setting, and the first time since forever we have all the children together. I remind myself: we have children not to fulfill our dreams, but to encourage them to pursue theirs.

Many more bad hair and wardrobe days, another cancer All-Clear. Whining, terror, then ecstasy, again.

An extended visit from my parents. They’re amazing.

A new friend. Our bond: we’ve both met cancer.

Old friends. Lunches, coffees, dinners, arguments, agreements, laughter, tears.

Visits with the kids. So proud of all of them.

It’s all so ordinary, so painful and boring, and so amazingly wonderful. And I’m making plans for December 31, 2013 as I sit here, writing down what I want to see happen, who I want to become between now and then. Happy New Year to all of you.

Lighting Candles

It’s been too cold and too dark for too long now too. The other night, to mark the winter solstice, to remind us of longer days ahead, I lit all the candles I could.

Mom and Dad came. I hadn’t seen them since summer. Mom had made my favourite childhood sweets and brought them with her, along with the loveliest mineral bath salts. She also brought her gorgeous smile, and her enthusiasm for our happiness here, and I remembered that empathy and pure love are the best of gifts.

What would we, any of us, do without these?

Yesterday, after seeing my aunts—those still with us—at Mom’s birthday lunch, perhaps in part as a result of sensing the heaviness of the million crushing losses they have all born throughout the courses of their lives, I desperately needed a nap. I woke up hungry, and my husband offered to warm up some leftover lamb stew. Gratitude.

To my friends who have lost their mothers or fathers or a child or a partner, those whose loneliness hurts: I’m so sorry; I can only imagine the void. For you, for all of us, I light a lot of candles at this time of year. They remind me that though hope at times flickers, it will steady again to, and make us more conscious of the growing light.

The Academic Integrity Fund

At the Royal Free Hospital, London, in 1996 my gastroenterology colleagues and
I were reliably informed by our attending child psychiatrist, that acts of extreme
violence, such as the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School, were perpetrated
more commonly by those with Asperger’s syndrome (AS). Like so much that child
psychiatry has had to offer – then and since – this assertion is misleading.

In support of his statement, the Royal Free’s child psychiatrist, Dr. Berelowitz, cited
the example of Martin Bryant who had recently been imprisoned for committing
35 murders and causing 37 serious injuries in Tasmania in April 1996, in what
became known as the Port Arthur Massacre. Bryant, according to Dr. Berelowitz
and later, Wikipedia, had AS. Both sources turn out to be incorrect: the report of
Paul E. Mullen, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Monash University, Melbourne,
Australia, who examined Bryant in prison in May 1996…

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The Taboo Question in the wake of Newtown

In the wake of yesterday’s horror at Newtown, Connecticut, everybody’s buzzing about gun laws and evil and mental illness—and everything but the taboo question: did psychotropic medications play a role in this horror?

The Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons wrote a compassionate and thoughtful response to the tragedy, but she too, if the conversation on her Facebook page today is any indication, doesn’t seem to take seriously the possibility that medications may have played a role.

But it is a matter of fact that psychiatric medications can cause violent thoughts and behaviours, and it seems to me utterly irresponsible on behalf of the media not to be asking questions on this front. Should Adam Lanza have been on medication? Was he, and if he was, which one?

Yes, I know medications can save lives. But I also know they can take them. The question we need to have answered is one of where the greater risk lies.

And whose words do we give more weight? Scientists like David Healy, or the experts who tell us not to worry our pretty little heads? Do we bother to listen to the voices of the people? Those, like former Edmontonian Angela Bischoff, who lost her husband, Tooker Gomberg, to suicide that occurred five weeks after starting his antidepressant medication and a few short days after increasing the dose to its maximum level?

There are thousands of these stories, literally. And listening to the people is always a good place to start, in my mind. As is listening to those who have gone to the trouble to document what the corporate media doesn’t want to document.

No, we don’t need guns in the hands of thousands. And yes, medications can be useful in some cases. Still, the conversation must move beyond the line that has been drawn, way beyond it.

From Paraguay to Edmonton, Stars

People are so, so cool, bent toward courageously and determinedly creating great beauty and life and love and joy in the wake of much damage and loss.

Not all people are cool of course, there are plenty of small-minded, deceitful, egotistical and evil ones around too, I know. But still, so many of us are so cool, so inspiring.

In a desperate makeshift slum built on a landfill in Paraguay, a musical instrument is as valuable as a home. Here, children make beautiful music from violins and cellos made from trashed wood and oil cans and forks and other metal tools once used to make things like gnocchi. (Thanks to my sister for sharing this little video with me this morning.)

I will work harder to be less a princess, I promise myself.

The world, even this part of the world, is full of people demonstrating these same qualities of resilience and beauty. And at my husband’s company Christmas party last night, I came across a number of them.

The first was a woman whose daughter has been dealing with cancer at a time in her life when she might rightfully think she deserves to be occupied with more normal young-adult activities. She has lost things nobody her age should lose, and things no mother should have to watch her daughter lose. These two women are two of many, I know this, but still, up close, it’s impossible not to feel the impact of the familiar story. My heart ached for them, and I was, as I have so often been, filled with immense and unadulterated gratitude that it was me who got cancer instead of one of my own children.

Then there was a conversation with a fellow cancer survivor. This man’s treatment has exacted a high price, initially in the form of debilitating neck surgery, extreme illness leading to a hernia and a feeding tube, and I can’t remember what else except that it was a long, long, slow process of recovery, and that he’s still paying the tab in the form of neuralgic pain and hearing damage and more. But my experience with this stranger was that he is a generous and joyful person, despite the cost of being in his body.

Again, I promise myself to whine a little less.

And finally, inspiration and joy from a young man I just might be somewhat biased towards. He went out of his way to come say hello to me, something I don’t take for granted—he was there with his peers after all, and I am his mother. He introduced me to his colleagues on the dance floor, who unexpectedly offered hugs along with their smiles. He danced with abandon and joy. And every day, he injects insulin as often as the rest of us reach for a glass of water. He lives with blood sugar instabilities that are not only extremely frustrating at times, but very dangerous.

I know that most of us carry burdens or one sort or another, fears and heartbreak and things that are sometimes not visible, or are poorly understood by society, but that are acutely painful nonetheless. We’re lucky and unlucky in different ways, and to varying degrees.

And alongside that, I know this: Music and dance and beauty and creativity and generosity of spirit are in our blood, and I’ve been reminded that those truest and best parts of ourselves are the parts worth feeding.


A Hint of a Smile

No amount of bright paint or floral wall décor can make the place feel less frightening to me. None of the cheery smiling faces can really take the edge off of simply being there.

Sure, there are amazingly beautifully brave people all around—inspiring—as the staff who love working at the Cross Cancer Institute is quick to say. Still. All I could think about was those whose news today—or yesterday, or last week or last month—wasn’t good.

Cancer is a thief.

But you go through the motions, almost robotically, answering the faces behind the desks “how are you” with “fine”, even though you’re not. (I did append my “fine” once today with “that’s a lie,” which registered just a hint of a smile on the face of the clerk.)

But I am fine, now, and very, very thankful.

And I’ve forgiven myself for being short with my husband this morning, telling him that no, I’m not interested in what Chris Hedges is saying, not today, and yes, I know we’re normally on the same page, but I can’t think about political and corporate corruption, not today.

The tears came when I got home, within the safety of his hug. Then the joy: I can tell my family the good news. And the kids are coming for dinner.