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Guest Posts, suicide, Surviving

Depression is Still A Duplicitous Asshole

August 12, 2018

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Angela M Giles

This weekend marks the four year anniversary of Robin Willam’s suicide. I still cannot watch anything with him in it, it makes my heart hurt too much. I know this is irrational. But it is real. Perhaps it is my fear of seeing a flicker of darkness cross his face, or perhaps it is hearing him say something that hits too close to his end that prevents me. I know how his story finishes, I want to remember enjoying his work.

Suicide is a complicated act, its shroud is depression and it is often accompanied by something else, another disease that really gives ideation heft. In the case of Robin Williams it was Parkinson’s disease, in the case of my father it was alcoholism. In my case it was a combination of diagnosed issues, packed in trauma, tied up in emotional abuse, both at the hands of a lover. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

On Dying and Little Dogs

March 5, 2018
time

By Gail Mackenzie-Smith

“Chuck just called. It’s not good news,” my husband says.

I fear the worst of course. That’s how I roll these days. I fear Chuck has cancer. His wife and my best friend Holly died eighteen months ago and isn’t that what spouses do—follow their dead husbands or wives to the grave—usually within a year? My mom died ten months after my dad. Chuck has passed the year mark but what’s six months when faced with eternity?

“He has an inoperable tumor in his throat.”

I know something’s going to kill me. Now in my 60s, every little ache and pain comes with thoughts of death. What’s going to finally bring the old bitch down? What nasty little tumor or incurable disease do I have to look forward to?

*

My 97-year-old aunt shuffles around her tiny apartment grasping the arms of an aluminum walker. She can’t leave the house. She can’t drive or grocery shop. She’s almost deaf. I call her but our conversations are one way.

“What’s up, Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, last week.”

I don’t want to live forever and I don’t fear death. And I certainly don’t want to be a prisoner in a decaying body. Outliving my husband and daughter is not an option either.

I’ve lost my mom, dad, brother, 15 aunts and uncles, several cousins, and a few dear friends who went early—whose deaths had to be mistakes they were so young.

But now is different. Now is two years away from my mom’s death from breast cancer. Now is watching younger friends reach their time before me. I have eight dead friends on my Facebook page that I can’t delete. I jump at every late-night phone call expecting to hear that my mother-in-law has died. At 85 she’s out-lived her husband and most of her friends. A few years ago six close friends died one right after the other. Seemed like every couple of weeks she was going to a funeral. These were friends from school—friends she’s known for over 70 years. I can’t imagine.

“How does that feel, losing so many people so quickly?” I ask her.

She changes the subject and I never get my answer. It’s a stupid question anyway. How do you think it feels, Gail?

*

I’m tucked in a corner away from the noisy death party. What do you call the party after a funeral? It’s not a wake. Wakes happen before. A celebration? Too forced—like Madison Avenue shilling for death. I Google it and find out it’s called a reception. What a vague, crappy word. The rite deserves better.

The room is filled with family and friends drinking and laughing. My favorite uncle has died and the noise grates. I want to scream, “Shut the fuck up!” Instead I sob alone in my corner. My aunt joins me, a look of gentle confusion in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“Uncle Vinnie died?” I say.

She nods calmly—a sphinx—unwilling to share her secret.

*

The cancerous mole on my husband’s temple has grown in size from a grain of rice to a dime. He’s been trying to cure it himself with various herbal concoctions.

“Relax,” he says, “It’s basal cell, not melanoma.”

“It’s getting bigger and it’s too close to your eye.”

“I’m taking care of it,” he says.

“And your teeth. Those abscesses. What about that ultra sound for your kidney stones? Did you get the results?”

“You worry too much. I’ll be fine.”

But he’s wrong. There will come a time in all of our lives when it won’t be fine. And that’s all it takes—that one time.

*

It’s said that to truly embrace life you must also embrace death. I give it a try. I walk with death. During fights with my husband, I imagine him gone forever. During happy times with my husband, I imagine him gone forever. I apply this technique to my dying dog—enjoying every single second I have with him—good and bad—knowing one day soon he will disappear.

I learn gratitude. I learn to appreciate more fully and forgive more easily. But I’ve become obsessed. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of loss. Death stalks me—not in a dark ugly way—like a buzz kill. No matter how happy I am, it lurks in a corner and watches me, a smirk on its face.

*

My dog dies and it hurts like a motherfucker. A year later it still hurts like a motherfucker.

*

Chuck will die when his inoperable tumor gets so big he can’t breath. I pull this image into my body and feel his terror. What will they do for him when his breaths shorten? What can they do? Will they medicate him out of his senses until that final tiny slip of airway closes and his heart stops? And how long will that take? A week? Two weeks? Thirty seconds is a lifetime—a minute, eternity.

Chuck says he’s researched assisted suicide in Oregon.

“I saw what Holly went through,” he says.

Excited, we tell him he can die here in California now—the laws have changed. Then we remember what we’re talking about.

*

My husband and I sit in Adirondack chairs watching the sun setting over a glassy lake. I don’t know where we are but there’s a clapboard house, old trees, and a grassy lawn that runs down to the water. I sense that my daughter lives in this house with her husband, three children, a dog and a cat.

My husband takes my hand. We sit quietly for a few moments then turn to each other. It’s time. We rise out of our bodies—glowing balls of light—and merge with the sun.

*

As I write this, my little black and tan dog is draped over my arm—his body warm, his fur thick and soft. Outside my window, bright crimson flowers bloom—the air fragrant with an unknown scent. The sky above is steel blue and dotted with tiny clouds. I touch the glass of my window and it’s cold. My little dog licks my hand with a tongue thin as a satin ribbon and my heart opens.

Gail Mackenzie-Smith has her MFA in Screenwriting and Fiction from UCR Palm Desert and has been writing a lot for Purple Clover this year. Her writing can be found here.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Dear Life., Grief, Guest Posts

Dear Life: Friends Disappeared After My Wife Died

November 8, 2017

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.  Different writers offer their input on ways to navigate through life’s messiness. We are all about “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Kimberly Maier.

Please note: The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

~~~~~~

Dear Life,

On 4 October 2014 the lights went out, the house suddenly became cold and someone switched the volume down. It remains as such today. The change is as shocking as it was dramatic. Yes everyone who could came to the funeral and they all spoke kind words and promised to come a see me and Rhiannon and help us through this dark period.

A week after the funeral and no one appeared at the door and no one phoned or even text but I put it this down to people maybe just getting over the shock and thinking that we might somehow want to be alone for a little while. Another week passed and more of the same. The nights were getting longer, darker and colder and the silence in the house was deafening. Rhiannon spent most of the time in her room and I sat downstairs looking sadly at photos and video footage of our last 25 years together. I really needed a visit from a neighbor or a friend at this point as I was becoming very low. Rhiannon found solitude on her Facebook Account and chatted to her friends that way but none of then came round to break the silence in the house that a few weeks before had been alive with light and laughter.

When I ventured out to the local shops I hoped to see some friendly faces but to my amazement people I knew did all that they could to avoid me including crossing the road and ducking into different isles in the shops. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Writing & The Body

The Arctic Front

June 26, 2017
arctic

By Tiffany Lee Brown

We were reshaping language. Making it fit better. Breaking it into chunks, discrete pieces. That’s what acid does: it lets you see all the infinitesimal pieces of everything, the air’s live molecules, the shivering motion of protons, electrons, neutrons as they fly through their individual atoms. At the same time, it lets you see the big things: the stars, the way the molecules connect all living creatures together, the breathing of trees against darkness.

We were reshaping language not just because it made us laugh, but because it brought new meaning to things, new clarity. And so the fire was no longer the fire. It was the Bright Flickering Orange Thing, as in: I’m freezing, but I can’t move right now. Would one of you feed the Bright Flickering Orange Thing? And someone would put a log—the Severed Guts of a Tall Being With Bark For Skin—into the big wood-burning stove with its open front, our only source of heat in this borrowed house.

All around us, Cold White Stuff muffled the forest and Cold Hard Stuff confounded the roads. It was twelve degrees Fahrenheit outside, in a region accustomed to mild winter days of low clouds and eternal drizzle. Every so often cold air—Arctic air—would come down from Alaska and get socketed in somehow. That’s what we were experiencing: an Arctic front.

Lee observed the Small Furry Clawed Mammals of the house and pointed out their qualities to me and Will. This grey one here, he decided, this grey one is named Steve. Check Steve out. He rules the world! Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

Self-Care at the Hibachi on Hixson Pike, Because Sometimes You Just Can’t

June 2, 2017
text

By DeNeisha Stewart

“Girls night tonight! Me and A’Lauryn were thinking Hibachi at seven. That okay with you?” Kaylor asks. She stands at the changing table to take care of the second to last diaper of the day.

“That way we can get the rice to absorb some of the alcohol. I have to tell you about what happened with Brandon. She pulls Sophia off the table, making sure to keep on her glove to cover angry, red patches from the Hand, Foot, Mouth rash that Sophia has on her upper arms.

“Yes! Hibachi definitely works for me. Matter of fact, I’m gone get a Mai Tai to go with it after the week I’ve had. Between these summer classes and these kids and their diseases, I need a few drinks,” I say. I turn my head to look over at the seven kids watching ABC Elmo on the Ipad.

“Jacob, what did I tell you about hitting your friends? You use soft touches or you keep your hands to yourself.”

“Go find somewhere else to play,” I walk with his little fingers curling around mine to the library center. I plop him down dramatically in the child size blue chair and hand him Hands Are Not for Hitting.

“I definitely need a drink.” I say under my breath as I tilt my head back to rest next to Maxie, the green painted dragon, Kaylor drew on the wall. I lift up my left hand, roughly rubbing my forehead to dig into my eyebrow bone.

“Jesus Christ, Jacob, sit on you bottom in the chair. You know what, fall if you want. I don’t care.”

I hear my phone signaling a text message as I bend down to pull my black skater skirt up past my calf. After I finally get it up, tucking it firmly under my breasts, I see a notification from my granny, Dora, and then I notice the time, 7:00.

Shit, I’m already late and I really need tonight. Granny’ll have to wait.

I scramble to grab my black, low top Vans from under the desk chair; I sit down to slide them over my ashy feet as I stand to swipe the baby oil gel off my shelf. Squatting down, I quickly dab on some gel on the skin exposed to nosy eyes.

Picking up my keys, I look around, trying to remember something I’m forgetting. I grab for my purse on the foot of my bed and it falls, spilling stuff everywhere. Shit!

I slam stuff into my bag and toss is over my shoulder. I hear a PING as I rush through the living room and kitchen, running through the stench of my roommates’ leftover dead chickens and old breakfast tacos.

I really wish their mamas taught them how to take out the trash.

I notice the elevator closing, and I yell out for however was in it to hold it as I rush to get in. As the elevator, starts to sink towards the parking garage, before I open the text from Granny.

June 11th 7:10 pm
Text from Dora Hunter
He’s Dying. Dyson is dying.

“What?” I say to aloud, brows sitting low, nearly closing my eyes. What’s she talking about? I hear the rustling of fabric on jeans when the person in the elevator turns to be with a raised eyebrow.

“Nothing,” I say.

7:11
What’s wrong with the dog?

7:11
Text from Dominique Stewart
What happened?

I hop in the car, lip the ignition, and immediately put it in reverse. I plug in my IPhone to the auxiliary, cutting the bass up all the way, before I switch gears, I scroll to find the playlist I want before I look again at the text message, as I sit idle in the middle of the lane in the garage.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
What’s wrong with him, ma?

Looking at my mother’s text message,

Thank God Ma is handling it.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris Stewart
Ma?

I hit 40 in the 25 on Bailey Ave. merging left to hop on the highway to get to Ichiban: The Japanese Steakhouse in Hixson, TN.

7:14
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
MAMA? Text back or answer the phone. One.

On the highway, I hear another Ping. I reach down blindly; I pick up my phone hoping it is a text from my granny. Swerving close the street, I hear my tires bumping along as I cross over into the other lane by accident, jumping back over when I hear a car horn behind me.

“Shit!”

Thank you Jesus no one was there.

7:18
Text from Kaylor
Ok. Hurry up. A’Lauryn wants to know
about Brandon and I have to tell you guys at
the same time. Plus, they won’t seat us till you get here.

I look down at my phone quickly, sending out a text out a reply before I get to the turnpike. PING. Glancing down, phone in my hand I see another text from my grandmother. I wait to reply as I straighten the car, hitting 60 to try to merge as the car behind me speeds up to avoid letting me on.

You thought. Always want to speed up after the fact.

7:30
Granny? What’s wrong? Has he been sick?
Did a car hit him or something?

Finally at Ichiban, I hop out of the car to meet my co-workers.

I see Kaylor and A’Lauryn, sitting next to each other one, phones in hand. Probably Snapchatting.

Hey. She is going to seat us now. Come on! Snapchat can wait. Kaylor, you have to tell us about Brandon. What did he do this time?” I say.

I look over at A’Lauryn grey contacts under her false lashes, “How you been, Love? I haven’t seen you in a while. You still observing at the elementary school?” I ask.

“It’s good. I am working with 3rd graders at Brown right now. Still shadowing the teacher,” A’Lauryn replies.

“Do you like it?” I ask.

“Yea, its ok. I think I like high school better than elementary though. Yesterday, one of the little fuckers had the nerve to call me a bitch. And too my face, at that,” she says.

“Seriously, what did you do? ” I ask.

I hear her starting to respond as I sit down to the table for eight and hear another PING. I reply to the waiter, “Yes. Can I have water, please? With a lot of lemon?”

7:55
Text from Dora Hunter
I think it was cancer. He is has not been himself
the last couple of months. Not been eating.
He’s been sleeping a lot. That is just not my Dy-Dy.

“So, Kaylor what happened with Brandon?”

“Y’all my grandma’s dog is dying and she’s been texting me about it for almost an hour now,” I tell them.

“Really, what’s wrong with him?” A’Lauryn asks.

“She just texted me that she thinks it some type of cancer. Apparently he’s been sick a while. just never knew. He was fine when I saw him in March.”

“That’s so sad. I would be at home sobbing if Jim was dying of cancer,” Kaylor says. She looks over at me. “I bet your grandma is doing the same. How long has she had him?”

8:12
I’m sorry, Granny. Are you ok?

“He is about 8 years old. A Cocker Spaniel,” I tell her. “How long do they live on average, I wonder?”

“Google is your friend, my dear.” A’Lauryn says.

Typing Cocker Spaniel in my phone, I pull up the wiki page. “It says they live from 12 to 15 years. Well, shit.”

I look up to the waiter standing over me, before I give him my order, “Yes, can I have the steak and shrimp with fried rice? And can I get Broccoli and Mushrooms added to the other veggies? Thank you.”

I hear a PING.

8:23
Text from Dora Hunter
I am fine. Going to spend a little more time
with Dy.

“A’Lauryn, how is the boyfriend doing?”

This could not have happened at the worse time, I think to myself as Kaylor and A’Lauryn Snapchat the sashimi the waiter just dropped at the table.

I take my chopsticks and grab a piece of yellowtail and dip it into the soy sauce.

“So, Brandon?” I say, looking over at Kaylor, “What happened?”

“Hold on, I need to order a drink first,” she says. She raises her hand to get the waiter’s attention. “Can I get a Heineken and a lime, if you have it?”

“I want a Mai Tai.” “And, a vodka and water,” A’Lauryn and I say before the waiter can speak.

8:23
Ok, Granny. I’m out with friends, but
definitely let me know if you need me.

“I.Ds,” the waiter ask, hand out as we dig through out purses for wallets.

“So, basically, when I went home to Nashville, last weekend Brandon shows up on my mother’s front door step, high as a fucking kite on some molly trying to talk to me. We broke up like six months ago and ultimately, he end up busting the front window out of my mother’s boyfriend car when he tried to get him to leave. Anyways, the police showed up and he started crying a shit before the police could even ask us what happened. Then…”

8:36
Text from Dora Hunter
K.

“Sorry it’s my grandma again,” I let them know, rubbing the grease from my full face of make-up off my phone.

“So, what are you going to do about Brandon? Did you step-dad press charges?”

“Naw,” Kaylor says, “I told him not too.”

“Why, I would have had his ass arrested so fast. He disrespecting your mama’s house, that shows his lack of respect for you,” I tell her. “Don’t you think so A’Lauyren? That shit is mad disrespectful.”

8:38
Text from Latonia-Harris Stewart
Ma?

20 minutes later, the chef comes to the grill, steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops and veggies on the cart in front of him.

“Ok, people how do you want these steaks cooked?” he asks.

“Can I get that rare, please?”

“Rare?”

“Yes.”

“Ok,” He picks up a piece of raw meat from his cart and moves it towards my plate. “Here you go. It’s still mooing for you.”

8:52
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Do you need me to come over there
with you, ma? Is someone with you?

Laughing, I say, “Toss it on that grill for about a minute and I’ll take it.”

He replaces the steak and begins to spread some oil over the grill.

“Ready? Watch your eyebrows people,” he says.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me?

“Ok. People, I have sauces. Mustard Sauce?”

I shake my head, “No, thank you.”

“Hot Sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Ma?

“No thanks.”

“Ginger sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me? Alright?
I’m serious.

Looking at him, A’Lauryn and my head shift side to side, as Kaylor says, “Please.”

“Ok, Folks. I have that white sauce for you.”

We all nod our head yes. “Please,” I say. “Can I get both trays of white sauce?”

I hear another PING.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Dora Hunter? Are you ignoring me?

Damn, Grandma, respond already.

I pick up my glass and take a sip.

Well at least Mama is trying tot take care of her.

The waiter then serves the fried rice and veggies. “Ok. So you wanted that rare, right?

I nod my head, before I dip my mushroom into the white shrimp and mayonnaise sauce.

“Hmmmm… Yummy,” I shift in my sit doing my happy food dance; lips puckered, shoulders rocking up one side at a time. I take my chopsticks and grab another piece, mouth open wide.

Thank goodness, Mama has her. I hate for my grandma to be sad, but I need tonight to happen. 

 9:17
Ma, HAVE YOU SPOKE TO GRANNY?
She hasn’t replied to me.
She hasn’t said anything.

I hit send, then moan as I take my first bite into that rare steak covered in that white shrimp sauce; my happy dance continues.

Then, ten minutes later, I hear a PING.

9:25
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Yes. I am sitting over here with her now.

9:31
Multi-Media Message from Dora Hunter
“Goodbye, my friend. Dyson. I love you. Goodbye.”

I gag on a bite of steak as I realize what I am looking at. Oh My Shit, Grandma. I am looking at the photo she sent with her voice recording.

I see a picture of Dyson lying there. Head resting on a white towel, eyes blank and devoid of that teasing joy that he gets when he sees my granny’s face. White fur blending into the sandy brown coat. I can’t believe he is gone, but…but… wait! Why in the world am I looking at a picture of a dead dog?

“Hold on y’all. Remember about my granny’s dog? Look,” I say as I turn the phone around so they can see the picture and hear my grandmother’s words.

“Shit, Nesh. She is sounds so sad,” Kaylor says.

“Really? So looking at that ain’t weird at all for you?”

“No, her dog died. She’s upset. Its understandable,” Kaylor tells me.

“Fuck that, that was gross. I definitely need another drink. I can’t deal,” I murmur, as I look behind me to catch the waiter’s attention. “Can I please get another Mai Tai, extra rum?”

“DeNeisha, what’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you like this,” A’Lauryn ask.

“I have two papers due in three days and I haven’t started with either. Then those sick kids and their ‘I don’t see their sickness’ parents. It’s exhausting. So, all I want to do is get drunk and forget about all of that for a couple of hours, “ I say, “ And plus, I didn’t even like the dog that much anyways. He was always knocking the trash over to dig through it and scratching up the carpet when I closed him out of my room and guess who get in trouble for the carpet being fuck up? My ass. He was just annoying and needy and I wasn’t here for that, but my grandma loves him. He kept her company when granddaddy is gone over night driving for Old Dominion, so I can see why she is sad, just maybe not tonight, ok?” I pick up my drink, place the straw between my lips and sip until it’s gone.

“DeNeisha, you are so rude,” A’Lauryn sighs, “Be nice sometimes.”

“You should you know. Be nice, I mean.  But come on let’s hop to.. I got a bottle of vodka and Crown Royal in the freezer. We can find ourselves in those,” Kaylor says, “ I have to tell yall what else happened that weekend after Brandon left.”

Two o’clock, the next afternoon, I roll over to rub the crust out of my eyes, and I can taste the sour remnants of puke as I yawn and feel the familiar pulse of nausea in my belly. I grab my phone and notice twelve new text and my eyes focus in on the last one.

June 11th 10:28 p.m.
Text from Dora Hunter
We are going to bury Dyson in
the backyard at 12. We are suppose
to say a few words so, I hope you can be there.

Jeez, why is she so dramatic? Ok, DeNeisha. Apparently, you are being rude. Let’s stop! Hold on! Think… Take a breath! DeNeisha, we are going to play nice. Let’s call granny and see if she is ok.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Love. Sorry for calling so late. You alright?” I ask her, voice rusty from rounds of drunken karaoke.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry about Dyson,” I say as I yawn once more and wince from the smell, “I hate for you to be sad.”

DeNeisha is a senior the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying Language & Literature alongside Creative Writing. Growing up, she found herself exploring the fictional worlds of J.K Rowling and Nora Roberts as a way of escaping into a world that was more liberating than her own. While adulting, DeNeisha immerses herself in the hysteria of toddlerhood as a childcare teacher. When adulting is over, DeNeisha likes to devote herself to a delicious meal and the occasional adult beverage. This is her first publication.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

death, Guest Posts

Silent Witnesses: A Night at the Morgue

April 26, 2017
chair

By Nina B. Lichtenstein

There is a beautiful and ancient Jewish tradition of reciting Psalms while watching over a deceased person until burial. A few of us had decided to take turns sitting with our friend Philip’s body overnight. Philip was a handicapped man in our synagogue who was loved and admired by all. When Philip recently died, his death, as his life, brought some unexpected gifts for those close to him.

It was almost 12:30am and the air was thick with the humidity of balmy summer nights. After an eternity of banging on all the windows and doors of the seemingly empty funeral home, which also functioned as the Jewish morgue in town, I suddenly saw lights turn on inside. The door swung open and out stepped a bushy-bearded and bespectacled man with a sweatshirt hood covering his head. Not young, not old, wearing a pair of baggie, well worn, beige Dickies, he stood tall, like me, and cocked his head slightly to one side. Standing in the dim light, he said, “Yes? How can I help you?” gazing quizzically at me from under a knit hat, the kind fishermen wear. It was pulled down on his forehead, resting on a set of overgrown, gray eyebrows. He didn’t’ exactly look your clean cut funeral-home guy, but instead more like a version of the troubled poet John Berryman, or worse, Charles Manson. He was the night guard, or the shomer.  Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

This Is What Cancer Does.

March 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Nancy Conyers.

This is what cancer does: it makes your body unknown to you, an alient presence dragging 50lb weights on each ankle and around your neck. You are exhausted, so exhausted physically and mentally your brain can’t send proper signals to get your unresponsive limbs moving. One time, for three days, you couldn’t even wash your face because it was too much effort to lift your arms. When you couldn’t stand your own smell anymore you tried to take a shower. It wasn’t your own body odor you were smelling, it was the drugs you’d been infused with: TCHP, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, Perjeta. They were seeping through your skin, through every orifice and the metallic medicinal smell was making you as nauseous as the drugs were. You turned on the shower but the weight of the water pushed you against the shower wall and you struggled to turn the water off. You sat soaking wet on the side of the bathtub until your spouse came to check on you.

“Honey, are you ok?” you heard her ask from the bedroom. When you didn’t answer she rushed in to the bathroom, saw the puddles of water at your feet, grabbed a towel and started drying you off. “You scared me when you didn’t answer,” she told you as she was drying your back. You knew she meant she thought you were dead.

You now spend hours on the internet trying to get more information about cancer, how you could have gotten it, what your chances are, but once you start reading you close your laptop because you don’t really want to know that the survival rate is only 70% five years later for your late Stage 3A aggressive breast cancer. What about 10 years or 20 years you ask, but nobody has those statistics. You don’t want to think in terms of surviving only five years. You don’t want to think that there is a 30% chance you could be dead before the five years are up. You look around your house in Santa Fe, the one you and your spouse bought for retirement that you don’t live in full time yet and you know that in five years she may not be ready to stop working. You want time here together when she retires, time to build a roof deck so you can sit and watch the sun set on the Sangre de Christos every night.

You’ve read all the other statistics about who gets breast cancer, the two most likely being you’re a woman and you’re aging. 77% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50. Since when did age 50 mean you were aging, you wonder. Women who’ve never had children, who start their menses before age 12, who took oral contraceptives and who do hormone replacement therapy are at risk. Women who are overweight, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, who are physically inactive and exposed to environmental pollutants are at risk. You fit some of the categories but you never took hormone replacement therapy, you don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol and even though you are overweight you are physically active. Back when you thought you were straight, you took birth control pills for five years. You’ve never smoked. Ever. In your mind only people who smoke get cancer, people who won’t or can’t stop smoking and take drags on their cigarettes from a hole in their neck while they’re hooked up to oxygen.

Cancer. This cannot be your life. This is not your life. This will not be your life. You do not want to understand what these medical terms mean, do not want to become comfortable with spouting out breast cancer vocabulary and treatment options, do not want to know that once your treatments are over the cancer could come back. Once this is all over even if you’re told you are cancer free, it’s only for the moment, that place in time, that snapshot, not forever. You want forever. Continue Reading…

Birthday, Guest Posts, Self Love

Happy Birthday To Me

December 22, 2014

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By Ellyn Oaksmith

I don’t know why I picked 47. Maybe, just maybe, I am getting wiser. This was the year I made my birthday about love. All kinds of love: sisterly, romantic and that most important love, that shores up women approaching the rocky shoals of middle age: my friends. My sister kicked it off by quietly asking me if she could throw a mid-week gathering for me. Wine and cake, six o’clock to eight o’clock. At first my mind scrolled through a list of motherly duties: homework patrol, soccer, carpool, piano lessons, riding lessons… How could I carve out time on a weeknight to drink wine with my girlfriends?

It was as easy as saying “Yes.” Keeping the guest list small was easy: it would just be a small group of women with many connections: book group, volunteering at the school, our children, all living on the same suburban hill. My sister baked a cake and opened wine. There would be cheese and crackers for those who would miss dinner. She’d keep it simple. I was surprised at how excited I was. Little did I know the reserves of joy this gathering would unleash.

Each day I logged onto the Evite.com to see who had responded, my heart warming with each yes. By the weekend every single woman who had been invited was coming. I was Sally Fields at the Academy Awards. “You love me. You really love me.” My inner eleven year old, terrified that no one would come to her party, was silenced. Bring on the cupcakes.

My birthday was on a Sunday, the party, the Wednesday before. By Monday I was aglow, smiling at strangers, buying treats for my kids at the grocery store, paying attention to the things I love about my husband, enjoying dinner together instead of living for lights out. I was Gene Kelley in “Singing in the Rain,” spinning my umbrella over my shoulder, enjoying the slap of raindrops on my face. Did I mention that I live in Seattle?

Continue Reading…

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