As a follow-up to my post about Dara’s experience with chemo I thought it might also be helpful, and provide some background for other posts around my care taking lessons learned, to talk about the process of her diagnosis and the surgery prior to chemo for her breast cancer. This is also another information dump sort of post—it’ll be interesting for someone who might be going through this process or having someone they know going through it to read a detailed experience.
Last week I was shaving my newly adopted cat’s legs in an effort to mitigate his pee smell from peeing on his legs. “Shaving Day” was not a success and continues to be the official low point in our three week relationship. Lucky for me, it was a very consumptive process because I missed the texts from my mother when Grandmother went missing.
He’s so cute but the pee smell is so gross.
After I released Biscuit Reynolds to his 18 hours of post-shave sulking, I checked my phone. Mom’s series of texts were heart-wrenching, but I was already relieved to have read the most recent one. “I called Eisenhower and talked to Grandmother. She was in the hospital getting tests. She’s being released right now.” The first texts talked of asking me to join the hunt looking for Grandmother. She lives independently and doesn’t love her cell phone so we have to catch her at home in order to reach her. Mom hadn’t reached her in too long and got worried. On a whim she called Grandmother’s favorite hospital and asked for her room—and got her!
Me and Grandmother in May 2015 on a visit from NYC. Being closer to her geographically was a big reason I wanted to move to LA.
I’ve been kind of wrapped up in my grief around Amanda’s suicide, so I was glad for a happy and swift resolution. Then I recounted the story to my partner Dara and started weeping. A coping strategy I have from my traumatic childhood is to be able to stay separate from my Feelings during crisis. I’m a complete rock star in crisis, I can solve shit, I can organize, I can motivate—I know how to stay safe and I know how to keep other people safe. This is a great skill but not great for emotional health and the Feelings always come. The weeping while I was telling Dara gave me the warning bell that I wasn’t done having these Feelings about Grandmother going missing.
Later that day I walked into Target and then started melting down. Have you ever sobbed at Target? It’s not cute. Part of what has been hardest for me with Amanda isn’t just the loss of her, it’s how much I identify with her and it’s scary. If the world was too hard for Amanda, will it be too hard for me? This thought often propels me to make the phone call even though I feel awkward talking about my Feelings in Target. I know I need to not isolate and I need to ask for help. So I called Bridget (she’s been so amazing this past month).
Me and Grandmother at Sherman’s on Friday. When I asked the waitress for Shabbat candles for the table she was very confused.
I got through everything and then talked to Grandmother. Her test was a biopsy on a mass on her lung. She had gone to urgent care because she was coughing up blood and then they sent her right to the ER who admitted her to find the mass, do the biopsy. Grandmother didn’t call us because she doesn’t get a cell signal at the hospital and “didn’t know anyone’s numbers by heart.”
The fact that Grandmother might have cancer was a lot for me to take. Dara just celebrated two years out of cancer treatment in August. I, unfortunately, know a lot about cancer from supporting her through it. In spite of looming work deadlines, Dara offered to come with me to Grandmother’s the next morning to keep her company while she got the biopsy results from the doctor.
In May 2015 we did this photo shoot at the Cancer Survivor’s Park in Rancho Mirage, CA. We had NO idea Grandmother would have cancer–that’s the one thing that doesn’t really run in our family.
That night I was snuggling with Dara in “the nook.” My thoughts started floating to the grief places and I was crying. I realized I was soaking her shirt with my silent tears and I rolled over to my side. I felt like I was getting away with something. When you’re grieving sometimes you think your sadness, hurt, confusion, anger, depression is too much for your loved ones. Because often, it’s too much for you. Normally I spit in the face of anything that says I’m “too much” but I’m an independent Capricorn and sometimes I like to seem more together than I really am. Crying silently on my side of the bed felt like I could be more of a mess than Dara thought.
I instantly related to Grandmother. Like me and Dolly Parton, Grandmother is a Capricorn. So is my Great Grandmother and my Great Great Grandmother. An epic line of Capricorn women who in each past generation with deepened misogyny had to seem together and not lose it in front of anyone about grief and abuse and alcoholism and who knows what other trauma legacies are in there. Capricorns are the goat climbing the mountain. Persistent, ambitious, success-driven, not showing weakness. The cardinal Earth sign. The Keep It Together and Look Good Doing It sign.
I understood Grandmother’s reticence to ask for help when she got swept away to the hospital, to sit in a bed by herself and not call her kids or grandchildren. Just to do it on her own and not bother anyone. Getting away with not seeming like a mess or like she needed anything.
I felt glad to relate to her and understand her motivation to isolate. I understand it with love and not judgment. I was also glad to be forcing myself on her to support her through the diagnosis the next day. I was sure she didn’t need someone to be there. She is always so happy and grateful when I come to visit I knew it wasn’t an imposition.
Dara caught on to me crying eventually and got me tissues and was her rock star supportive self. She drove two hours with me into the desert to Grandmother’s house in Rancho Mirage. She sat at the table with me and Grandmother googling the diagnosis, a mass on her lung but possibly a type of adrenal cancer or maybe lung cancer I still don’t know. She showed Grandmother her chemo karaoke video from her cancer vlog “Cancer Can Be Cool” and talked Grandmother through her experience with cancer treatment and how Dara insisted on positivity from everyone in her life.
My idea was to go out to Sherman’s, our family’s favorite restaurant, a Jewish deli. (Better than most places I’ve been to in NYC—there I said it.) I wanted us to have a celebration for Grandmother’s cancer survival and success. I believe in the power of positive thinking more so than just about anything in my faith arsenal. If you’re going to go for a positive attitude might as well celebrate and have fun.
We’re in the day by day diagnosis phase right now, where we wait for the next test result, next doctor referral. It’s maddening to a Capricorn like me who wants to plan and know what’s happening. But that’s not how the world works and I have to keep using lots of tools to be cool with it. I’m on my second listen to the just-released audio book The Universe Has Your Back by Gabby Bernstein and it’s got a lot of tools for working with the flow of the Universe, womanifestating and for finding serenity.
I told Grandmother that part of my vision for being a rich lesbian is having a big ol’ compound where she would be able to live in her own space in our house, hold court with my friends (who all love her or will love her, she’s so charming) and she won’t have to deal with telling the gardeners they are not doing a good job she can just tell my house manager. But since I’m not yet a rich lesbian I need her to hold on a lot longer. We gotta beat this.
The Cancer Survivor Park in Rancho Mirage is really great. Worth a visit if you are in Palm Springs.
There’s a lot to worry about, both me and her. She’s older than she looks and that means she gets a lot of ageism when people look at her chart instead of her whole picture of human health. I can certainly relate to doctors looking at weight and not the whole picture of human health. She is always concerned that she won’t get to live independently anymore. I want to be able to be there a lot for her treatment but we just adopted this cat and he stressed out with us gone for one night that he started pooping blood. I just recommitted myself to finishing the memoir I shelved during Dara’s cancer treatment.
I get that worry is a misuse of imagination. I’d rather focus on how fun it will be to make art projects and adventures out of her cancer treatment. We almost convinced her to sing a Dolly song for an instagram video to help me promote Dollypalooza LA on October 29th! She’s got cute stories about being almost famous early in her life, about being constantly mistaken for a celebrity while living in Beverly Hills and now I think everyone thinks of her as an older celebrity while she’s tooling around Palm Springs. We are hopeful she’ll consent to being part of Dara’s cancer vlog. Grandmother is basically a gay icon waiting to happen.
Heart emoji. Literally every time I write a gratitude list Dara is at the top.
Before Amanda died, the phrase “You are stronger than you think” kept popping into my head. I didn’t realize it then but that was the Universe telling me I am ready and resilient, even as I don’t really feel either just yet.