Unravel Cancer: Experiences with family battling cancer: June 2010
08 June 2010
23:43 Last Weekend
I spent last weekend in Denver, visiting my brother & his family. Coincidentally, my cousin was graduating from DU, and I was able to celebrate with him & my aunt's family also.
The weekend went from start to finish without a hitch, til the very end. The entire time was a miracle, absolutely a gift from a Supreme Being.
--spending the afternoon at the Botanic Gardens with my dad, laughing, smiling, contemplating, and simply enjoying each other's company
--my brother asking his kids to skedaddle outside so he could have time to talk with me & Dad
--my sister-in-law looking me in the eye, then hugging me
--playing in the community pool with my nephews & their cousins
--resting on a lounge chair for an entire hour! Although I couldn't nap because of the noise, it takes a lot for me to just do "nothing"
--seeing the sun poke through the clouds at sunset just long enough for me to shoot a photo of flowers & a cool statue at the gardens
--eating scrumptious high-end "chi-chi" dessert at a dessert bar with a good friend, sharing philosophies, laughter, and The Apprentice
But the creme de la creme, piece de resistance, and all those other fancy French phrases, was sitting in my brother's family room, with my oldest brother too (!), watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. For once in our lives, us siblings all had something to relate to, something allowing us to "get along".
Every time the Blackhawks scored, we all cheered. Every time there was a lousy penalty against our team, we booed. We played with the kids, my nieces & nephews, and watched them fake WWF wrestle in front of the TV. I got to hear my cousin, and my brother say "please" and "thank you" to the kids, through clenched teeth, as they told them to stop standing in front of the TV so we could watch the game.
If you didn't see the game, here's the recap:
The entire weekend was happy, joyous, & free, just like my 12-step program promises. Never in all my days did I think these things would happen. I had so much fear that my sister-in-law would block me out of her life, and prevent me from seeing my nephews, after my brother passed away. Certainly this is still a possibility, but now at least there's a good chance that won't happen.
I got to see all the best sides of my brother, all the sides I like the most. His generosity, his thoughtfulness, his silliness, his concern, his good intentions for others, and his vulnerability. Truly I have to thank my Higher Power, and myself, for all the effort I've put into the 12 steps, to help me accept reality, this situation, my feelings, and still be present, show up, and offer love & compassion as best I can. By helping me to see my self-centeredness, this program has relieved me of the need to make this horribly tragic situation all about me.
I'm so grateful to the Chicago Blackhawks organization for having an awesome team in the finals right now. The evening just simply wouldn't have been the same, without that bonding moment. The players have brought me so much joy (and mental relief), and also our family.
The hiccup at the end was interesting: due to horrible mileage program rules, I was forced to take a connecting flight through Pasco, Washington, population 55,000 on a good day, in Southeast Washington state. Hoo boy. As fate would have it, the first leg was delayed, and I was automatically rebooked to a non-stop flight later on. The gate lady asked me if there was any issue, since I wasn't going through Pasco.
"No, not at all!", was my passionate response. I explained letting go of the Pasco part of the journey, went with not even a wiff of regret; my final destination was SFO.
To my surprise, she was delighted! The flight to Pasco was triple booked, apparently, and she really needed that seat for someone else. I was happy to oblige.
Just in case, she booked me standby on an earlier flight, which would arrive around the same time as my bag. "You see", she explained, "it's too late to re-check your bag onto your flight now. It'll go through Pasco and arrive to SFO a few minutes after you land."
Although it was odd, I took the ticket and ran! Bags & stuff aren't nearly as important as me getting home at a reasonable hour on a non-stop flight, because already I'd have to schlep from SFO to Oakland. (only being allowed to fly to SFO was another mileage program snafu)
Not only did I get on the standby flight, I got an exit row seat! Woohoo! It was like winning the Mega lotto jackpot! I had enough room to cross one leg over the other! In fact, there was _so_ much room, I almost couldn't sleep because there was nothing for my body to brace against.
That's where my luck ran out. Sure enough, my bag never arrived. It still hasn't. I'm kinda bummed because there's about $250 of climbing gear in there, not to mention my phone chargers & stuff. But, my Blackhawks hat & jacket went with me on the plane, so the rest doesn't really matter.
Unsolicited advice: don't EVER book a domestic United flight with miles. Always save up for a long international journey with at least one connection. The restrictions on the domestic mileage flights are horrible; I've never felt more hosed by corporate bureaucracy in my life.
I've been following the Chicago Blackhawks season since January, when I was flat on my back with a whiplash. It's been a great distraction from all the emotional upheaval in my life. It rekindled my love for hockey, begun many years ago in college when our Tigers made the NCAA "Frozen Four" every year for what seemed eons.
Needless to say, I've had several crushes/fantasies, etc. on various Blackhawks players. But this one has truly stolen my heart. Anyone with the chutzpah to do this ad, is a "real catch" as my Grandma would say:
And when I meet the hunky, skillful puck-handler Brian Campbell, I will give him this as a "let's get to know one another" gift:
The good part about being with my mom in Mexico, was everybody rushed to our aid. They saw me & my aunt struggling to get Mom in & out of the car, and ran to help us. Mexican culture is all about family, and being respectful to elders.
Along the way, many wonderful people got to know us, because of the way we stuck together & helped Mom along the way. The sing-along salsa dance teacher at the spa, was greatly touched by watching me help mom in & out of her chair, and help serve her food to her, for the mealtimes. This lovely gal had such a sparkling personality!
She came to the spa to do some evening programs: a singalong (she can play the guitar), and salsa dance classes. I went to one of the salsa classes, and had such a blast! It was the first time I felt I could cut loose during the holiday. Sometimes when a person is with their family, it's hard to just "be yourself". My friends back home know me in a different way than my family. My family doesn't always get my sense of humor, or my twisted view on life.
The salsa lady really took to my mom, and showered her with love & support. It was truly amazing. I also got to see the subtly of Mexican culture. This gal only entered our space a little at a time. After I attended the salsa class, the next day she had more recourse to talk to us directly. That's when it all started.
The following week, when we were in Guadalajara, she took us to a great restaurant with old bull fighting memorabilia everywhere. We met her daughter, her granddaughter, and had a lovely time. At one point, she began to talk about her own life. She revealed that 8 years prior, she had a stroke, and her 17 year old daughter had to care for her. She was in a wheelchair, and doctors said she wouldn't walk again. It was the most devastating thing to a life-long dancer like her. She had practiced classical dance as a young girl, then moved into Argentine Tango, as a young lady. There was no way this dancer would accept that fate.
It took her more than a year to fully recover. She still has some loss of feeling in her right leg. So, she had to switch rhythms to salsa, in order to accommodate her limitation. Talk about determination! Her story awed all of us at the table. No wonder she was attracted Mom and I .
We had a wonderful bonding that night. A few days later, lovely the Guadalajaran lady, Mom and I went to brunch on our own. The restaurant was in an old part of GDL, behind the Teatro Degollado, called El Rincon del Diablo. It is the building on the right side of the alley. Our friend said the legend was the restaurant we were in was a family home. The couple living there lead a bohemian life, before their time, in the early 1800s. The father apparently "loaned" out his daughter to various nefarious dudes around town, to secure favors. One day, unknowing innocents were invited to one of the infamous parties the couple had in the home. There, they swore they saw the daughter dancing with the devil!
Despite the history, we had a beautiful conversation about strength, recovery, faith, and the power of love to heal. She too, recognized my mom's tendency to beat herself, be too hard on herself. Turning over one's situation to God came up several times in the conversation. My hope was that this chat would help Mom to be more in the moment, and less hyperfocussed on her body & the cancer.
But, later in the week, the lovely lady's daughter reminded me that I have no idea what it's like to go through a physical debilitation like her mom did, or my mom is now experiencing. It's true - I can haughtily think I know what's best for my mom, or what she should or shouldn't do emotionally, but truly I have no clue. Maybe my mom's self-flagellation is what is keeping her going. Maybe her pushing hard on herself is what's causing her not to give up.
Meanwhile, before Guadalajara, we met a lovely driver, who took us around almost all of Lake Chapala. We met him through the generosity of the son of the owner, who was minding the La Nueva Posada while papa was out on business.
The driver took great pleasure in carting us around, and in seeing us all together as a family. Mom sat in the front seat, because of her limited ability to get in & out of a mini-van, and chatted his ear off the whole time. She asked him all about the climate, the housing prices, the quality of life, the relationships between locals and ex-pats, etc. ad infinetum. It was really nice to see her enjoying the company of our driver, and getting out of her head enough to experience a new person.
The driver seemed genuinely happy to chat with Mom. He was superbly helpful getting her in & out of the car, and assisting her to the table for lunch, etc. As soon as Mom was tired, he immediately started heading back to the hotel.
Notable stops included the pier at Jocotepec, corn husk artisans in San Nicholas, a stunning sunset & dusk outside Poncitlan, and excellent food San Luis Soyatlan.
After dropping off Mom for her nap, we continued on to Chapala City, and beyond. The driver was so eager to take us around the entire lake. The last place we stopped was some hieroglyphs on some boulders on the side of the road, near the last town before the road ended, Poncitlan. It's a shame they weren't covered, because they were amazing! Swirls, figures, lines, oblong shapes - all sorts of stuff piled on around each other. Some of the carvings seemed newer than others, making it seem like several generations or incarnations of ancient peoples used the same sacred spot.
The part that hit home was, as we were driving back to the hotel, our driver said, "I don't mind driving you for extra time. Driving you ladies around is like driving my own family." What a complement!
The same driver drove us to Guadalajara, and truly became teary-eyed when Mom got out of the car & was ready to leave. He had told us of his own mother's suffering with a brain tumor, and how she passed s few years prior. It still amazes me how everywhere we go, we meet people touched by cancer.
Later that week, the last night in GDL, I went salsa dancing with our friend's daughter. We had such a blast! We shut the place down, of course. The club was called La Mutualista, and had live salsa bands on Thursday night, the international salsa dance night. Don't ask me why, but clubs I've been to all around the world, even in Asia, always have live salsa on Thursday nights. The clearly don't expect people to work on Fridays...
Anyhow, the place had a healthy mix of young & old, hot dancers and newbies, locals & ex-pats. I hit it off with one guy in particular, and we danced a lot together. We had great chemistry! Another guy was from Cuba with the band. We also hit it off, but as the night wore on, he was more aggressively "dirty dancing". At one point I glanced at him and his new victim..uh, er partner, and she was cringing as he was rubbing his business all over her ass. Having been there, done that, I was thankful to have stuck with the other dude, who was completely gentlemanly. Of course he kept begging me for my number, but I refused. I was leaving the next day & was just there to dance.
Oh! But before La Mutalista, my aunt & her friend and I went to the Instituto Cultural Cabanas museum. As fate would have it, in the central courtyard was a Tequila tasting festival/trade show. Before we could even get to the murals, the two old maids had drunk 4 shots apiece & downed to mini-margaritas. Needless to say, by the time I scored a guide to review the murals with us, they could barely sit still, and understand his thick accent. My aunt' friend was clearly itching to get back to the booze.
While they trotted off to get hammered, I discovered Orozco's galleries with drawings and prep sketches for his murals and large works. It was stunning. He was an amazing talent, not very well known outside Mexico it seems. I had had a few shots myself before our tour, so was trying to sober up in the galleries. I couldn't get through all of them before they closed, so I wandered back to the Tequila maddened courtyard, where the mariachi was in full swing. This was a less traditional mariachi, in that they did cover songs too, like the Beatles Lady Madonna & stuff. It was interesting.
Truly I wanted to just watch a few Mariachi songs & take off, but the gals were loaded and did everything in their power to get me to drink. It wasn't hard, when all the Tequila was local, fresh, and free. The variety of margaritas was stunning. They used some tropical fruits only found in Mexico that blew my taste buds off the map, like guanabana (do, do, do, do do), and nanche. Another good one was made with green tea, and served like a martini with no ice. (chilled though)
Needless to say, I was pretty ripped by the time I got to La Mutualist, despite eating splendid greasy tacos from across the street. My pal told me about an awesome drink they had there, made with sugar & some kind of crazy fruit. I asked for the first one sans-alcohol. It was so refreshing! The second one came later after being super pooped, and I forgot to tell the bartender no booze. Boy did I regret that the next morning. My friends can attest to my facebook posts upon me return: I was hurting.
But, it was all ok.
In summary, had my mom not been so debilitated physically, we never would have met such lovely local people in our travels. Additionally, the entire spa staff was generous with us, and we met several other cool guests during the activities and meals. Also, her neediness really forced me to relax in between activities or helping her. If it wasn't for Mom, I'd have been climbing, hiking, shopping, sight-seeing, etc, til my feet wore off. Her condition was a blessing in disguise in this way, as it forced all of us to have no agenda. In that way, I really _did_ relax.
So every situation has a silver lining, even with cancer.
I'm a 30-something professional woman who's mother & brother were both diagnosed with Grade 3 Astrocytoma tumors within about a week of each other. My mother's tumor is in her brain, and my brother's tumor is in his spinal cord, causing him to lose feeling in his arms & legs. These writings are about my experiences dealing with them, coping, loving them, loving myself, and living my life knowing that they are both dying. I hope you find inspiration and courage from my writings to help you get through whatever is going on in your life.