Shaken Not Stirred: A Chemo Cocktail. A Comedy About My Tragedy. By Joules Evans. (hint: good news follows.)
Hi beloveds, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. There’s a lot going on here with us trying to get the new site launched (eek! Thanks Carla White) but…it is very important to me that I get this post up asap as my dear friend Joules Evans wrote it. I met Joules when she drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to attend my Kripalu retreat last February. (Yes, I am doing it again and it’s filling up fast!) Anyway, we have become buds, and, truth be told, I am obsessed with her and her book Shaken Not Stirred.. A Chemo Cocktail. The kindle version is FREE TODAY and tomorrow to celebrate 6 years aka 2190 fucking awesome days since hearing that damn word. each and every one a GIFT. even the hard ones.<< Joules words. That is the good news. To celebrate she made her book free for two days. Please get it and take the time to read what is below. Have your mind blown. Seriously guys, her book is moving and funny and divine. I love this woman to the end of the earth and back. This post is an excerpt of her book. Please get it. And get it for people. And spread the word. And fuck cancer!
Wait! One more thing. Her kids (whom she calls The Redheads made her this song when she was going through chemo called Cancer is a Bitch. Please buy it on iTunes if you can. ps, get tissues. Prepare to be moved and to fall in love with her the way I have. xo jen
Chapter 6. I Don’t Know Why.
Dr. Stahl called me just before dinner. It was, actually, five o’clock. And that’s truly not a cheap shot, or an attempt at being poetic even if my life is freaking poetic; it’s just how the day played out. And boy, did I need a drink.
Pinot grigio, anyone? Yes, I had a pinot grigio. Or two. OK, maybe three. This happened to be one of those moments.
And the next time the clock struck five, I penned the following on my blogintheshire, which unfortunately got cancer when I did and turned into my cancer blog, where we posted updates for our friends and family:
THURSDAY, AUGUST 21, 2008
I’m sorry it has taken until five a.m. to get to this blog update. I’m not going to lie—this is not the easiest blog to write. This has not been the easiest day. Parts of it have been lovely, though, so that’s where I let myself drop at the end of the day, and that is where I find myself right now, sitting here, so I will start right there, if you don’t mind, and then open the fortune cookie we got from the doctor today in proper form, after I’ve digested some of the day.
The Redheads and I hung tight and close to home all day, which is one of my favorite things. We all slept in for the first time since this whirlwind hit. The boys did not sleep the night before my surgery, and Amanda has been burning a candle at both ends with everything and her new job and beauty school. I think I may have just passed out from exhaustion. Or maybe it was the Vicodin. But the point is, sleeping in is also one of our favorite things, and a good way to start a day. Unless you have to be somewhere and you are late. Which occasionally happens in our home—but not today.
On days like today the things that matter most are crystal clear.
My mum and sister and nephew are here, so that’s also nice to wake up to. I actually woke up to the lovely little pitter-patter of my nephew Brody’s sweet feet, who apparently swept up with Olympic fervor, was in training for the hundred-yard dash around the race track that circles my dining room and kitchen. You really can’t start training too early these days and I have to admire his dedication at two years old.
We all had a lovely picnic out on my back deck. My Redheads did a mini concert for us, which was the icing on top of lovely.
After lunch we watched a movie (Russell Crowe’s A Good Year—uh, dramatic irony, anyone?) to pass the time before the phone call. We did not just sit around all day waiting for the phone call. We had a really good day, and then the phone call came.
Dave is out of town. I made him go ahead and go on his business trip because I didn’t want to act like we were going to get bad news. He will be back tomorrow (Thursday) night.
That is how we are woven together.
I (had Mikeyy) conference Dave in, and the kids were right by my side, on speakerphone. The doctor said the damn spots were cancer. Grade 3, which is apparently aggressive. And if I understood the doctor correctly, the size of the three spots together was 2.3 centimeters. The one I felt was very near the surface and she had to scrape to get what she could of it, but she couldn’t get it all without taking some of my breast, which she didn’t obviously, at that time. But that’s at least going to have to go. We have some big decisions to make this weekend before we meet with the doctor on Monday at five-thirty p.m. to discuss and jump into our game plan. We plan to be more aggressive than the cancer. I’m told I’m a wee bit competitive, so hopefully that’s a good thing. We also need to go back and get some lymph nodes. And I think she mentioned chemo. Other than that, it was a fairly fuzzy phone call for me. It hit my Redheads hard and fast. Please pray for them anytime you think of me. I am not sure it has sunk into me yet, unless it is the pit that I have felt like throwing up since before dinner. But haven’t. Yet.
This is me, shaken. To the core. In front of my kids. I don’t know why.
I ordered the Redheads some pizza and some of my tennis girlfriends came over and we sat out on the back deck, drinking pinot grigio. Yeah, my girlfriends got my back. They B.Y.O.B.’d it, after they heard me sing “How Dry I Am” in the hospital. That’s what girlfriends are for.
They also delivered P.F. Chang’s to the Evanshire the night before, following my surgery. My cookie had a fantastic and apropos fortune in it that we are going with: Good food brings health and longevity. Not to mention, the first lucky number mentioned is 42, which is my age. And I believe it is also a significant number for galaxy hitchhikers. Yes, I have the T-shirt; Mikeyy made me one for my forty-second birthday.
That’s. Love. That’s all I really know right now.
So that’s the scoop. Thanks for praying.
That’s where things were. And me, bookended there in the gift of the present.
We’d like to invite anyone who lives near to come over and pray with us Saturday night at seven as we’d like to bring out the big guns of prayer to begin this battle with and cast ourselves into our Father’s very capable hands. And we go from there.
Hold my hand—sorry if it is shaking a little. Sometimes the sand moves fast. But isn’t it so beautiful?
Posted by Joules Evans at 5:17 a.m.
Like I said, I had my three teenagers huddled around me when “the call” came. The doctor said the C word and it hit my kids hard. From my perspective it was as if that damn word had knocked my kids over. I don’t remember breathing while I watched my kids succumb to the gravity of the moment as they fell to the ground. Literally. In three, separate sobbing heaps. Oh. My. Heart. Times three. Precious, shattered pieces on the floor. It was one of the most gut-wrenching mommy moments I’ve ever experienced. I desperately needed three laps and six arms right then. That’s really all I was thinking about at that moment in time when it was standing still . . . like that.
That moment was the inciting incident in my life. It changed everything. Like September 11 changed everything. Like writing a.d. on the very first check after Jesus was born. Time had been counting down to that precise moment of PAX—the ground zero of history—then all of a sudden we’re counting up.
I realize my inciting incident didn’t have the same global implications. But that mommy moment became a hinge that held me fast, in the now. And I found some traction to do what I needed to do right then.
I stopped taking notes as soon as I wrote down the word that knocked my Redheads over and made them cry. I dropped the pencil that I’d drawn from behind my ear. I stopped listening to what Dr. Stahl was saying. I dropped the phone. There were no oxygen masks in the room anyway, and time had sort of stopped, so I dropped to the ground, gathered my precious babies, and rolled them up in my arms. That’s how I stop, drop, and roll.
I did not process the fact that my doctor had just said I had cancer. Dave was still on the other end of the line with Dr. Stahl, processing everything. If it sounds horrible that he was out-of-town on a business trip that day, it really wasn’t. He had cancelled the trip to stay home for “the call” but like I said, I told him it would be like expecting the worst if he stayed. So he went, for me. I made him go. I needed him to go. Now I needed him to stay on the phone with my doctor. When I stopped, dropped, and rolled, he picked up the ball. Thank God. There was no time for him to stop, drop, and roll. There were more words to listen to, more notes to take, questions to ask, appointments to schedule, research to be done, decisions to be made, tears to cry, groans to be uttered, prayers to be prayed, a plane to catch, a sickly wife and three grief-stricken kids to come home to, phone calls to make, a business to run, insurance forms to fill out, dinner to be picked at, insomnia to be had, pieces of our world to pick up, after of course he finished this phone call, knowing there was no time to go look in the mirror and see what he was made of. That’s just how he rolls, when I stop, drop, and roll.
And that’s how we roll.
I don’t know why Dr. Stahl had to say the C word. I do know that sometimes words do hurt, though. No matter what people say about sticks and stones. Or rock, paper, scissors for that matter. Words beat them all.
I don’t know how I got cancer. Damn spot.
I didn’t know where all this was going to lead. Were my days about to begin counting down?
All I knew was my children might lose their mother.
I don’t know why.
All I knew was I loved them.
And all I could think about was right now. Right here. So I held them fast, like I wouldn’t let go.
Meanwhile, my mom and Jennie were downstairs in the family room, flipping channels and magazine pages, fielding phone calls, folding my laundry, imagining doors opening, straining ears for footsteps, watching ice melt in their Diet Cokes while clocking Brody’s laps, wishing the clock would keep up with him, waiting for someone to come tell them what the doctor said. The glasses weren’t the only ones sweating.
Jennie summed it up like this:
Mom and I were sitting in the living room at my sister’s house, waiting desperately for someone to emerge from upstairs with news from the call. In a moment that seemed to stand still forever, Amanda quietly walked downstairs to where we were. My heart went to pieces as she looked at me and then just fell broken into my arms. It felt like all the oxygen left the room when I realized that my sister had breast cancer. Amanda and I fell into a sobbing heap, onto the loveseat. Mom began hyperventilating the second we heard the C word. I don’t know how she managed to make it across the room, but she fell onto the loveseat, becoming part of the heap with us. She and I sandwiched Amanda. We all felt like we were drowning, and all we could do was hold on to each other.
(The Redheads—In Their Own Words)
Before you slam the book shut…the following picture is not what you may think. My sweet children were not flipping me off nor did I choose this photo to flip you, dear reader, off. Rather, on the way to Racing for a Cure for their Mum, Amanda got that very finger slammed in Yukon’s door. We almost had to change route and race to the hospital. But once Amanda caught her breath and could wiggle and “flip” her finger, she decided it really said what she felt, both in that moment, and even more appropriately, about her Mum getting cancer. She asked me to take a picture, and the boys quickly stood proudly with their “little” sister: such sweet solidarity amongst siblings. This picture means more to me than you can imagine. And with that, I’d like to introduce my Redheads:
Amanda—17 years old
Legends and stories often have more to do with shaping a culture or person than the actuality behind those stories. I like this—I think it’s true. Please, don’t take the following as the word of God, but rather as the discombobulated memories of a girl. The facts here may have been entirely made up.
There is a tremor that runs through this memory—as an earthquake in my brainwaves. We all gathered in my brother Matt’s bedroom. My dad was on speakerphone—he was away somewhere. The doctor was on a different speaker. Gravity was unsure of what to do. The air felt unsteady and wobbled like a depressive drunk. I think it had grown thicker, too, possibly to catch me when I heard what it somehow already knew.
I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t even remember the doctor’s gender. The only distinct thing that I remember is the sound of an implosion—and then the feeling of being submerged. It felt as though my spinal cord had been snapped and my brain set afloat in the stormy sea of cerebrospinal fluid. I think of the execution of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar: a family lined up and murdered—shot. My brothers broke. My Mum instantly became mortal. My Dad, though . . . In my memory, there was an audible creaking—as though his spine was an ancient tree being straightened out. A groaning—as though he were a wooden ship being stressed from too much weight. A thump—as this new load, in sickness, dropped on him: the sound of a man becoming Atlas.
I walked away from the room, only able to stand because of the air’s thickness pillowing around me. Everything felt loosened and unconnected as I treaded downstairs to the couch. Be the adult, now—that’s what I was thinking.
I walked up to my Aunt Jennie. So far, so strong. But as I tried to force the word cancer out of my mouth, I found myself to be broken, too. Collapsed. Aunt Jennie’s arms gathered me up, and I remember resting against her breasts. I felt as though I were merely a page in a book and the epitome’s cover slammed heavily against me.
Matt—15 years old
The whole day was a really big blur. I remember it seemed like it moved so fast, but at the same time it was also one of the slowest days ever. Mikeyy and I had been in my room playing Portal on our Xbox 360 for the previous couple of days, like going through the portals in the game took us through a portal out of our lives for just a bit. It seemed like the best thing to do to keep our minds off of everything going on. Then I just remember all of us in my room, huddled around the phone. Trying to get the phone conference going seemed like it took hours. The doctor’s voice had no real emotion, which just made it all the scarier. Finally, we got everyone on the phone: Dad conferenced in with us and the doctor. I don’t think any of us breathed the whole time the doctor was talking. Nothing she said made any sense to me. My mum was healthy. Nothing was wrong with her. Everything was fine. But then I was sitting there and the doctor was saying she had cancer. Then it hit me. I remember thinking about how ever since I was little, whenever Dad would leave on business trips, he would tell me that while he was gone, I was the man of the house. It eventually just became second nature so that he didn’t even have to tell me. I didn’t think I should cry because Dad was gone, which made me the man of the house. I didn’t think the man of the house would cry—I cried anyway though. I remember sitting in the corner by my bedroom door holding Amanda and Mikeyy. None of us really knew what to do. What can you do in that kind of a situation? I went and sat in my closet. Something about the dark enclosed space of my closet always makes me feel safe.
Mum picked the phone back up and she, Dad and the doctor stayed on for a while longer. I just kind of sat there in shock. Our whole lives had been shaken and everything was different. Everything seemed dark and rainy and just downright sucky then but I never even thought about the silver lining that would come.
I don’t cry a lot. In fact, I only cried once throughout the whole cancer earthquake that shook our world. I didn’t even cry once throughout the entire film, The Notebook. If you were to bottle up all the tears I shed year-round to give water to people in Nigeria, you would not even provide one person with 1/24th of the water needed in a day. If my tears were Noah’s flood, Noah would only be the size of seven molecules bonded together. In fact, eighty percent of the time water drops from my eyes, it’s my body rushing to my aid whenever I engage in my staring contest addiction, or me staring till I fake cry, so that Mum’s sweet little heart wants to give me whatever I want. That, or I’m just tired.
A time without tears can actually be a sad time. I’ve found throughout my life that when sad instances come along, tears are a little inadequate when it comes to expressing how I feel.
This instance was no different.
I did not cry when we got the phone call. I did not cry when we all dropped to the floor. I did not cry when the realization sunk in that I might not have my Mum around much longer. I did not cry.
Like I said, crying did not seem adequate in a situation like this. Instead, I nothing-ed. Nothing-ing seemed a little more appropriate. It at least made sense. Nothing I said or did would change anything. Nothing I felt would fix this. Nothing leaving my eyes would help. So I felt nothing—nothing but despair.
Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif. over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.