The Little Sister

Chapter One

The water felt cool and refreshing on my tan skin. I dove under and reached for the bottom of the pool’s surface, my fingers reaching out in front of me with unbridled anticipation.

Our pool rested under the shade of a depressed crab apple tree. If only you could behold this tree, you would have no choice but to agree with this description.

The gloomy tree and our scruffy tan dog, P.J., stepped in as my faithful audience for this under water showcase.  Yes, I was the one who proudly named him after a sandwich that was a staple in our historic Victorian home.  P.J. lay on the deck unamused, perhaps wondering if I knew when I proclaimed his name that “he” was in fact a female.

Lifting  my legs gracefully above me, the warm summer air greeted them.  I held my body as long as my seven year old lungs would allow.  The ballet dancer that I was becoming most notable in my long pointed feet.

I delighted in releasing air through my nose as I  flipped over under water onto my feet. A delicate bubble necklace trailed behind me.  If a girl could feel blissful, it was happening for me in the quiet sanctuary of my pool, as it had countless times before.

I emerged from the water like a dancer steadying herself from a turn, slightly off balance but beautiful nonetheless.  As my hands reached to wipe the remnants of water on my face, extending back over my long dark hair, my attention was unexpectedly drawn to something beyond me.

Chlorine stung my dark brown eyes and I squinted to make out a figure that was slowly walking down our private street.

A moment or two passed, P.J. shifted his position and the water stilled around me. Yes, there was a man walking down our street, but I struggled to make out his features. His face was not only obscured by chlorine and the bright afternoon sun, but by his nearly shoulder length hair and spotty beard.

Without fully processing my situation, I lept out of the pool dripping wet and hurriedly climbed down the wooden deck.  P.J. remained in his spot, only his eyes moving from my sudden and unanticipated exit.

Seconds later, I found myself dripping pool water onto my wooden bedroom floor.  I closed the door behind me and sat on the edge of my bed in disbelief.

Decades later, I could recognize this instinct to run for cover anytime my emotions overcame me as my all to common response to emotional pain.

I felt for the soft fur of my beloved cat, who was asleep beside me, and stroked it. My eyes were still fixed beyond on what seemed to be, in that moment, a mirage.

My heart pounded in my rib cage like a caged bird meant for flight.

It was only when I heard the front door open that guilt and shame overcame me.

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Not to Whine;

“So, in reviewing your risks factors it calculates a 40+% chance of reoccurrence.”  I sigh audibly as my new oncologist enters data, my data, into a computer keyboard. My mind is reluctant to register the exact number he uttered.

Each follow- up visit has come to be its own separate reality, a safe distance from the flow of my every day life. I am not certain who this Mary is that sits facing her handsome new doctor, straightening her shirt and crossing her ankles.  She is so composed and articulate.  Ah, yes, this is nurse Mary not Mary the mom, wife, friend and daughter.  This is the Mary that I spent years training to be as a nurse; logical, reasonable and purposeful.

It is as if I am working and we are discussing a patient’s record.  Yes, that is exactly how I cope with these potentially stressful visits.  I nod, lean in and watch his fingers continue to press the keyboard like a composer.

As my doctor thoroughly reviews my questionnaire, which includes lifestyle habits and past medical history, I cannot help but admire his perfectly combed hair or his designer outfit, especially the strategically angled bow tie.

He looks like a character out of a medical drama. ‘Is this man for real?’ His appearance does serve both as a pleasant distraction from this uncomfortable topic and as a reminder that I am not getting any younger.  ‘Is he a decade younger than me? He might be almost…wow.’

“So, I see you had no radiation.  Is that true?”  I sense disappointment. I nod, my last doctor was low key and I admired her for that.  This doctor, I could immediately sense, was on the other end of the continuum.  I have worked long enough in this field to know a type A, cross your t’s and dot your i’s physician and he was definitely one of them.

“It also states you have an allergy to Tamoxifen?” This comment surprises me.  I do not.  I had tried it and it stressed me out given the potential risk of taking it so I stopped.  My prior physician was unimpressed with the possible benefits it would give me.  ‘Did she document it as an allergy?’

“Is it necessary for me to make that decision right now?  It was caught so early and…” my eyes dart side to side as I repeat my go to mantra to ease my nerves when I feel the anxiety begin to nudge in.  I know the deal.  I know the gamble.  “Honestly, I feel like taking it is like a life insurance policy.  How valuable is it truly and at what cost to my well being?”

He has heard this all before, “Yes, that is exactly what it is.  You don’t have to decide this moment.  You do know the statistics….” muffled pronunciations ensue and I find comfort in appreciating the window behind him that allows the sunlight to beam into the examination room.  It illuminates the side of his face. I consider this more than the rehearsed dialogue he is repeating.

‘Soon, I will be out of here and be able to enjoy this beautiful day’, I counter in my mind.

‘Note to self: review the most current research findings as soon as possible.’ In the days ahead, when I find a quiet moment, I do just that.

“So, as far as lifestyle risks. Wine. How much do you typically drink?”

Ahhh, yes the generous pour of my favorite dry rose or pinot in my my chilled stemless glass after a long, stressful day.  Often enough I have found this as my go to stress reliever as well as a staple when socializing.  I drink responsibly but more often than not in these circumstances, wine is consumed.

I scrunch my face and look down at my fingers, “One to three nights a week and when I am out on the weekends.  A glass, generally one to three depending on…” I trail off.  I blush.

He proceeds to sternly warn me of this all to common habit, this socially acceptable and more often than not, reasonable habit.  How many pictures populate your social media stream of a much appreciated drink?  Countless.

He stares me straight in the eye, there is no chance I can avert my gaze to the window now, “The research is clear on this.  More than one or at most two glasses of alcohol a week could increase further your chance of reoccurrence by double digits.  I know it seems safe enough but the argument that wine is good for you does  NOT apply now.  Heart disease won’t be what gets you, breast cancer is…if you continue this habit.”

It seems harsh, but there is a small part of me that is grateful for his unabashed honesty. “There really is no compromise here,” he adds.

He allows a few moments of silence, when a voice comes from somewhere, deep within me, “I understand. O.K.”  And, this time I do and I know in that moment I am answering to both myself and him.

I leave his office grateful that he cared enough to scare sense into me.

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A lifestyle change can certainly bring with it unexpected obstacles and emotions.  In these few months since this visit, I have had more than I can count. I made a commitment to myself and to those that care for me, but it did not not come with instructions.  I have been navigating this lifestyle choice blindly, although to my core I know this is as it should be.

I am still awkward when ordering a plain iced tea while at a bar (more a question than a statement) or when I regard blankly the leftover wine bottle in my fridge that has not been moved since this visit. Should I just throw it out?  Save it for company? I am so awkward for valid reason. I am relearning how to socialize and decompress without my favorite glass of wine.

Just recently, I was casually scrolling my Facebook feed and I discovered a posting by “Sexy Sobriety”.  ‘Hmmm, you got my attention.’ I read the post and it resonated within me.  It included a reference for a book, “A Happier Hour,”  one woman’s recount of making the same lifestyle change for her own reasons. I quickly searched amazon and purchased the book.  It could not come fast enough.

I read her book in one day on a long ride to our family’s vacation destination.  I am still in awe that life brought this book into my life just when I needed it.  Her honestly, sincerity and vulnerability inspired me to remain steadfast in my journey.  While I continue to question more than answer at this stage, I discover myself less and less daunted by the nature of the questions and more and more encouraged by the answers.

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TBC….

Tales of Shopping Carts

Warm blood rushed to my chest, filling it uncomfortably; my eyes began to burn.  I was compelled to take a deep breath, or two or three.  Standing in line, watching my groceries pass before my eyes with the accompanying “beep”, I leaned against the small beige counter.  For some reason, it felt as though it was holding me up as I gulped and forcefully blinked the unexpected tears from my eyes. I had to wipe a persistent one away, reaching under my glasses as discreetly as possible.  “Beeeeppppp!”

The sweet baby could not be more than a year and a half.  She sat attentive in the seat of the shopping cart, the cold metal not able to diminish how simply adorable she was.  She wore a cute yellow romper and sandals with ankle socks.  She delighted in every move her weary mother made loading the groceries onto the conveyer belt.

“Yes, the nights are the longest!”

“Yes, EVERY 2 to 3 hours!”

“And then I have to go deal with all the people at work, absolutely exhausted!”

Her mother chatted with a sympathetic mother the next aisle over, seemingly relieved to have the opportunity to vent.  She was a beautiful woman, yet it was hard to miss the exhaustion she surely felt.  Her pale complexion, the dark circles and her monotone voice; the badge of  a new mom. Yet, I knew just by looking at the sheer joy of her child, she was an amazing mom.  Tired, yes , but still amazing. It was not that long ago, I would often repeat similar blanket statements (pardon the pun).

“The complete exhaustion is the hardest part.”

“You don’t realize how truly tired you were until normal sleeping patterns gloriously return.”

It was in that moment that a memory interrupted me so vividly, so all encompassing.  She sat so content and amused in the the shopping cart. I had carefully coordinated her outfit and ensured she had her sippy cup.  I had gently brushed her soft wisps of brown hair and carefully brushed her budding teeth. She looked like such a big girl sitting upright and engaged in her elevated perch.  Her bright, dark eyes relished in every move I made loading groceries in the cart. Her tiny feet playfully dangling and swinging, adding to her amusement. She giggled and smiled authentically.

When we where done, I could not help but snap a picture of her, my love for her causing me to stop ( this was before cellphone cameras).  I, too, was exhausted and most likely frazzled by my to do list.  I am so grateful that I captured this moment.

A part of me wanted to interrupt and share this memory with the mom that stood dutifully loading her groceries, totally oblivious to my bulging emotion. I stopped myself.  I just marveled at her little one, completely and utterly enjoying whatever time she got to spend with her mother.

My teen daughter recently commented with a playful smirk, “Mom, you just sit there so quiet and watch everything.”  It is true.  I discover myself simply marveling in my children all the time.  I am certain half the time they are rolling their eyes on the inside but that does not in the least deter me from appreciating the gifts I have been given.

I arrive now to this revelation, there was a time that I was their world, causing it to spin and rotate with every move I made and every consonant I uttered in their presence.  Now, it just so happens…they are and forever will be, mine.


 

 

 

Summer 2018 🌺

Steering around the corner with a car full of groceries, I caught a glimpse of her familiar frame. It was just one year ago, I admired her tending to her relatively spacious yard. Her aged, yet sturdy frame, logging in a day’s worth of physical labor. She always kept her yard pristine.


Today, she held a cane in one hand as she stood cautiously opening her mail box across the street from her home. She slowly turned and gingerly stepped over an incline. Her gait and her posture was much less steady than in years past. She was now in my rear view mirror and my heart raced for her safety. After all, this heat has been dangerous. 

I anxiously pulled my car into our driveway, one block away. I hurriedly requested the kids to unload the car as I turned to leave, “I need to check on a neighbor.” 

I approached her as she stood at her gate that she had just closed. She was very slow to proceed and her arm was resting over the metal bar. She was staring down at her swollen knee. 

“Hi, my name is Mary.” I gently introduced myself. “I want to be sure you are Ok in this heat. Do you need anything?” I touched her forearm to be certain she heard me. 

Her clear blue eyes met mine, “Oh!” She smiled kindly. “I have AC in there.”

“Thank goodness,” I responded relieved by this information. My mind scanned, “Do you need groceries?”

“My brother brings them to me tomorrow.”

I would learn a lot about my new friend, E, as I will refer to her now. She is 92 years young! She lives on her own, has never been married and is a resident of our town for over 80 years. She had five brothers who “watched out for her”, one of them to this day. She has not had the strength to care for her yard like she used to. I sensed her defeat in admitting that fact. “I need to get my son up here to help with that!” I offered. 

I left so fulfilled by our chance encounter. I shook my head that I had not introduced myself sooner. All those times I drove by and admired her work ethic, I could have paused to say, “Hello! Your yard is beautiful!”

In the end, life is what you make of it.  I am thankful to my friend, E, because she inspired me take a peaceful moment or two to write. It is here that my flowers come into full bloom.