“The more we write our stories, the more we find ourselves.”

I wrote these words today, these simple words, this quiet sentence. I’m posting them here because they’re the truest words I’ve ever written, words I feel down to the marrow in my bones, and I don’t want to forget them.


Deadpool. Survivor Spouse.


I made it through Deadpool!

We’re Marvel fans, but I don’t follow like I used to. I’m not turning in my geek card yet, though. I keep my comic store membership, thankyouverymuch. I would totally rock prom with Stan Lee.

The Deadpool plot involves cancer, and since cancer rearranged our lives and Troy’s innards, I’ve not been able to sit though any movie or show that springs cancer on me.

As a survivor spouse, it’s hard for me to know what could be coming onscreen. The hopelessness, the defeat, the brave fight of the co-star/spouse/sig-other. As a writer, however, cancer is perfect. It gives you time to make decisions, get scared, fall apart, get yourself together again, then hopefully get cured – or cured enough – to do whatever is next in the plot.

But it’s beginning to feel like a crutch that writers keep in the corner. Every time somebody needs to overcome something, here comes cancer. Every time somebody gets tired, wan, here comes cancer. Every time somebody needs a six-month montage, here comes cancer. Every time somebody needs a reason to stand and watch tow-headed kids playing around a Christmas tree, guess what. And yes, this is my fear, my bitterness, my own personal PTSD.

So – as a writer – I was mortified last week when I was working on a character, and “he has cancer” popped into my head. Maybe my character DOES have cancer. His friend has MS, and his cousin is an amputee. His mom is a convicted felon. His cat is missing an eye. Those are all real parts of real lives. My characters lead real lives.

But “he has cancer” was like a slap.

Anyway – Deadpool has cancer, and his desperation at having stage four cancer and getting the “don’t make any rash decisions” talk leads him to seek alternative meds. Fully understandable. He wanted to live. Especially understandable. DONE IT ALL. Thank GOD Troy wanted to live.

But after several years of fleeing theaters, yelling at the television, ripping friends for NOT warning me, today I sat in the theater and watched the character fight. I knew how his sig-other felt about loving him for him, despite the scars that treatment left on him. I watched him fight to live and love. I watched him be the same person he was before, only amplified. Just like the man I’m married to.

Yes, it’s the stupid movies.

But I sat through the movie today, a baby step for this survivor spouse. I think Troy was proud.

*Marvel fans: GO SEE DEADPOOL. STAY UNTIL THE VERY VERY END. Die-hard Marvel fans know what I’m taking about.

**Stan Lee, you wanna go to prom, hit me up.

A line, a verb, an unwanted roommate.

We had been referring to Troy’s cancer as “our roommate.” That roommate who did annoying things at first – didn’t close the fridge door, beat you to the newspaper crossword – but eventually used your razor, slept with your significant other, and his/her mother/father, stole your money, wrecked your car, drowned your cat, and pimp slapped you for simply existing.

But really, cancer is a line of demarcation. It’s before and after, then and now. We speak of many things with a cancer reference.

“We should take a road trip like we did that summer before Daddy got sick.”

“I liked the dress you wore that Christmas after Daddy got sick.”

“Remember that baked ziti we had while Daddy was in the hospital?”*

I can look back at my work and see when I stopped writing, when words would have helped but didn’t come, or hovered in a dream, floating beyond reach. It was during cancer. I can see, also, that I was trying to be careful, and was afraid.

All the years that my children were small and I was exhausted, too tired to write, work and be a good mom, I chose to be a good mom in the way I could be, and I put my words on slow growth. They wouldn’t go away, the words, and nagged me through horrible depression, the characters calling and insisting they would have my attention. I went back to school for writing. My words came back.

Then cancer.

Or maybe cancer isn’t a line but rather, a verb. “To cancer” is to live with chemo, death, radiation, acronyms, meals made by others, carpools run by others, missed tests, bathroom crying jags, Friday nights with insurance papers and fax machines, weeks without showers, breathing machines, frightening nights of a patient’s deep chill despite a smothering of quilts, heating pads, electric blankets, body warmth. Flakes of mustache falling into cereal. Bones protruding. It is to live with knowledge of dilaudid and propofol and epidurals that don’t work, the precision of the morphine timer, the need to have your “he has cancer we are in the hospital the girls are fine yes i will call if we need anything” speech written in a 2-minute press conference.

Or maybe it’s all three. The roommate never totally left, thanks to scars, scar tissue, rerouted and retooled guts and bladders, and our beloved chemo brain. We will never stop thinking in terms of before and after. It will always be before and after. We will never stop cancering. Gratitude and fear and worry and more gratitude put me into crying fits in yoga or at the sight of a bald scalp. We have three-month, then six-month, then yearly checkups. We all know what a person with reddish, peeling skin is doing at least once every three weeks.

I’m glad the words are back again. Maybe they’ll help me, or you, or someone you know.

And here’s hoping the line, the roommate and the verb are all far enough away that I can look for new ones.

*it was some ahhhh-mazing ziti, because Daddy was in the hospital 10 times, not counting chemo, and we STILL remember that ziti. We ate it straight from the pan, on the living room floor. The kids were 10th grade and 8th grade. They’re now a college freshman and a high school junior.

Cold meds: Convincing little suckers

What I’ve discovered after a weekend of intense cold/allergy/flu med therapy:

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you hungry. Like, five PJ&J sandwiches in a freaking row hungry. Like, I need pancakes and grits, too, hungry. Which reminds me, why is it so stupid hard to find APPLE JELLY in the grocery store? Grape is boring.

Cold/allergy/flu meds give you freaky dreams. I’m unpacking my bags now because no, my mama did NOT call to say we were going on a girls’ trip to Key West. And no, my favorite curly-haired friend did NOT cut his locs and dye his baby hair* blonde. And NO, nobody asked me to knit a burqa.

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you babble. Like, you’re talking and “bibbetyboppetyboo” and “untangently” pop quite logically into the conversation. Friends get off the phone FAST.

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you eat everything in sight (not to be confused with simply making you hungry). After the five sandwiches, pancakes and grits, you NEED a bowl of soup, a glass of juice, and a salad before you go out for sushi. Because feed a cold, baby.

Cold/allergy/flu meds are unifying. Our cats, who can’t enter the same room without growling, fighting, acting generally like cats, sniffed out the cold meds in me and collapsed on top of me at the same time. It had nothing to do with the burning fever radiating from the body. Maybe not even the cold meds. IT IS THE END TIMES.

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you tired, which makes you babble about being hungry, which makes you eat yet again before going to sleep. HASHTAG APPLEJELLYBABY.

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you grateful for how grandma took care of you when you were just a little sick and also very sick. Your grandma loved you, in all your whining, sniffling, overeating glory, even when you were being a snotty brat. Kiss her if you can.

Cold/allergy/flu meds make you think you’re funny. Maybe you shouldn’t mix the three. Maybe you should read the instructions. No, that would be silly.

*baby hair, for you folks who didn’t grow up in the 70s, is what people call the very edges of hair, usually around the front of the scalp. it’s fine and soft, like most babies’ hair is at birth. It usually falls out, but sometimes, some folks keep theirs in the front. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was popular to grease down the baby hair and keep it slicked toward the face because if you could do THAT, you were the SCHTUFF. true fact, y’all. true fact.


Just say it already

Hmm. Also found this in Lost Ark-ives. From August 2012, when our roommate, cancer, moved in.

My MIL won’t say the word. She has told her friends that Troy is ill, or that he is having some health issues. It has been a while since we have talked, but even then, after his surgery, his diagnosis, the collapse in the testing facility, when we knew something was way more wrong than we had suspected, not once would she say “cancer.”

I feel for her. I was the same way, and I’m usually clinical to the point of being cold. Our children have epilepsy. Bipolar and schizophrenia run on both sides of my family. I don’t hide it, cover it up, run from it, sugar-coat any of it.

But when we found out Troy was missing about two-thirds of his blood, he looked at me , and sighed. “It’s got to be a tumor,” he said. To-the-point. Matter-of-fact.

“We’re not thinking that way,” I replied.

“It’s a vampire tumor,”  he continued. “There’s no place else for my blood to be going. I’m not bleeding, I’m not bruising. It’s a tumor. And it’s probably a big one.

“The insurance papers are on my stack of bills. You can get the kids’ college paid for with it.”

I shook my head and drove on to our errands. Two days later, he collapsed in the outpatient testing center, his BP so low that he lost his hearing and developed tunnel vision. His hemoglobin had dropped another point; the nursing staff couldn’t get even a drop of blood from either hand or either arm. Half the staff started making phone calls to the doctor, the PA. The other half hovered over him, called his name over and over, and poked more needles into his drying veins.

Somebody called a Code Blue.

The vampire, which had existed happily on Troy’s blood for at least a few months, felt the crisis, became angry and fought for its own life. Troy doubled over in pain.

Two hours later, we hooked Troy and the vampire up to four units of Type O blood, and fed them both.


Blah blah blah mass. Blah blah blah growth.

“It’s. A. Tumor. Say it.”

I finally said it. Tumor and cancer are nasty words. “Growth” can have positive connotations, as can “mass.” I thought about my great-grandmom, who believed certain words were more appropriate for ladies to use, so in our world, women were “expecting,” and not pregnant, children “reared” and not “raised.” Raisin’ was for hogs and cows. And if you heard her talk, you’d think I was a tree, because I had limbs instead of arms and legs. She certainly would have used the word “mass.”

But I’m learning to say cancer with the abandon of the word “cookie.” It’s what he has and is what we are fighting, and it’s freaking ugly and harsh, but beating around the bush won’t cure him. We have more words, too. PET Scan. R-CHOP, which is the type of chemo he is having. It used to be called “The Red Devil,” certainly to the horror of some marketing expert.

Infusion. B cells. L cells. T cells.

Fast-growth and slow-growth cells. Port. Hot spots.

A list of medicines that only a Latin teacher can pronounce.

Saying these words doesn’t make the ugly go away. It gives us a little more power in the fight, a little Sun-Tzu of “know one’s enemy.”

We know it’s cancer. We say it freely.

The Ask Fast

I found this in my Lost Ark-esque archives of the unedited and unfinished…It’s from 2012? Geez. What else is in this here vat? Looking around to see. In the meantime, I’m grateful for words and that you’re reading mine.

My buddy Loris, a minister, is taking a new approach to praying.

It’s interesting being pals with a pastor. I catch myself thinking before dropping the f bomb. Not that I don’t drop it, I just think beforehand and let it rip. Or before ordering the shot of brown liquor.

Back in, oh, June or so, Loris started an “ask fast.” She stopped praying for what she wanted and needed, and decided to be thankful for what is.

Sometimes I question prayer. If the all-mighty knows my needs, why do I have to ask for them? If I am an imperfect, un-allknowing beast of a person, what makes me think I have the gall to tell the all-mighty “hey, do this.”

That’s audacity. I’m fairly audacious. But I’ll give it a whirl.

At the end of thirty days, you look at requests and gratitude in a different way.

So, ahead of my fast, I’m writing my short list of what makes me say “thanks.”

I am thankful for my new job. A year ago, I was working three jobs for a lot less pay. Three years ago, I was working one job for about the same money (before they started furloughs and pay reductions), more stress, and less flexibility. At my new place, the people have a mission to care for those around them, and that includes employees. I feel ridiculously humbled in the genuine concern everyone shows.

I am thankful for Miss Donna’s orange cake. The only thing she did wrong was cut the slices too small.

I am thankful that my debit card worked tonight at the Teeter.

I am thankful for my favorite Vietnam vet’s stories about being in the trenches, and thankful he is here to do the telling.

I am thankful that Grandma calls me and still sounds confrontational at 91.*

I am thankful for R-CHOP, the cruel scarlet-colored chemical mix that turned my husband’s face ruddy, stripped his cells, and saved his life.

I am thankful for two loud-mouthed, talk-back surprises, named Alex and Mackenzie.

I am thankful for words. They have saved my life.



“Cancer” pretty much says it all

My mom finally ran out of things to say.

Mother is never at a loss for words. She has a poem for every occasion, a book suggestion for each situation (think Higgins from Magnum), a note card half written before you can say “love you, bye” as you ring off the phone. You can’t miss Mother. She is bouncy and loud, a 62-year-old Chihuahua-toting Carolina girl to her bones, bubbly and energetic and always ready to bring a lace table cloth, a white Harris Teeter sheet cake and a case of Mich Lite to a party or ride shotgun for a shopping spree, I suspect, at times, with a case of Mich Lite along for the ride.

A few weeks ago, when I broke the news that my husband has cancer, specifically Stage 2 lymphoma, and would need a huge surgery and chemotherapy, Mother was out the gate with encouragement and support. How were we? What did Troy need? What did the girls need? God’s got this, there’s no need for worry on our part. God has it settled and solved already. It’s taken care of. What did we need her to do? How were we?

I forget, however, that she often takes her cues from me. If I’m happy, she’s happy. So if I’m quiet and blue, so is she. We’ve been through some things, and she is learning how I am in a crisis. A couple days ago, as she listened to my daily litany of test reports, doctor reports, scan diagnoses, as she listened to me slog through descriptions and acronyms – PET, RCHOP, MRI – she grew quieter. She asked fewer questions, offered less support.

Finally, I ended the list and fell silent. I couldn’t talk anymore. Just couldn’t keep it up without falling apart. And we sat holding on different ends of the phone line, Mother remained so quiet that I could hear her swallow the lump in her throat. She had run out of pep talks, inspirational messages, encouragement.

“I hate you all are going through this,” she finally said.

“Thanks, Mom.” It was so simple, but it was honest, and it made me feel better.


There’s no right, no wrong. What do you say? What can you say? “Cancer” and “chemo” pretty much say it all. It’s hard. So, say what you feel. Do what you feel.

A friend called me from a bar in the Hamptons or on Martha’s Vineyard or one of those places stocked by Insanely Beautiful People. She, who is beautiful on the outside but much more so on in the inside, was a few drinks into a night. She has fought off a rare cancer, had to move to NY for a while to be in the hospital, had to fight doctors in order to get seen, even. So she knows.

She calls me “D’art.”

“D’art,” she says, and I can almost hear ice clink against the Baccarat, “look. Cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. And this idea of being brave? You don’t have to be. This is your LSF. Of course you’re scared.”

We were quiet for a minute. I’d forgotten that she knew I sometimes refer to Troy as my LSF, my long-suffering husband. He has put up with my bad pool, Upstate temper and ill-delivered jokes for about 21.5 years longer than I thought he would.

Hearing my friend’s words made me feel better. It was good to have permission to break down.


We are adjusting to a “new normal,” which seems to be a stripped-down version of life, an adrenaline-fueled march through the necessary with sharp attention paid to the immediate and life-sustaining, then the next most immediate, and so on. I think in science this is called “fight or flight,” or “crisis mode.” Most necessary: Make sure the hubs and kids have what they need and are as comfortable as possible. Least necessary: The embarrassing five-foot-tall weeds that have grown in my flowerbeds, which puts me up for the wrath of the HOA (really, I WANT them to say something).

We had told Alex’s soccer coach that she might not make some practices, maybe would miss some games. On the first day of practice, we stopped by to explain in person and to make sure we knew our dates for snack supply.

Our kids have played for this league for seven years. They have known some of the players since they were toddlers. Slowly, word got around the soccer complex, and the gathering around our Pacifica grew.

Marie, a former neighbor and a dear friend, came loping across the parking lot. We have known her and her parter since 2000, when they had one kid and not four, when we weren’t aware that our daughters both have epilepsy, when we would toboggan down the street on snow days and laugh when we hit the mailboxes and garages.

Marie climbed into the back seat, reached over to the front, threw her arms around Troy, and hugged him like it would pass along life.

Over the weeks, we have received cards and text messages, Facebook PMs, phone calls, everything but telegrams, carrier pigeon and SOS code. A dear friend said he “needed” to know that we were OK. If I had said anything but “yes,” if I had hesitated in that “yes,” he or his wife would have been here mo rickey tick, as the Marines say. Another friend said she just needed to hear the word, and she was in her truck and on the way up to play Rock and Roll Trivial Pursuit with the girls. She is like my sister. I’m not sure she knows that.

My little sister skipped church to visit.

Somebody – we don’t know who – cut our grass one day.

Our fridge is stocked with really yummy food: lasagna, spinach soup, tortellini. Palatable, because I didn’t cook it.

Friends old and new have offered to care for our children. Carpool? Errands? Grocery? Beauty parlor trip? Say the word.

It makes me realize we aren’t alone. And as hard as this is, as scared as I am, as worried as I am about when the adrenaline wears off and when that poison starts going through LSF’s veins, I’m often in tears at the grace we’ve been shown.

And that, oddly, makes me feel better.