Sunday, July 24, 2011

Crossing Bridges

My cousin got married yesterday.  He was married in the town where I grew up, although he and his lovely bride didn't grow up or live anywhere near there.

They chose the location for it's gorgeous views of mountains and the river valley.

My hometown is situated on the banks of the largest river in New York state, though you wouldn't know it growing up there.

Then, we didn't dare go down to the river. It was home to small industrial companies and old local bars.  We were told to stay away as it was considered the wrong side of town.

The river for us, was simply something we crossed to get anywhere east of our home and back again.

It had been many years since leaving this little town.  Once I moved away for college, I rarely lived there again.  In the ensuing years my mom would die in our house, in front of me, and after that I would visit my dad only when necessary and with an air of business, coming and going very quickly.  In and out, with blinders on.  When he moved out about seven years ago, I left childhood memories languishing in that little town by the river.

What is it they say about the healing powers of time?

Does a repeated action entrench itself in a person after decades of doing it? Because crossing my favorite small bridge yesterday on the way to the wedding, still felt like going home.

There was something physical about it.  It felt just as it did all those times growing up. Returning home after a day away, or when I was older driving home after a night out with my good friend who lived directly across the river.

Memories bubbled up wherever I looked.

My friend, Joan, lived up that road.  She used to work in that deli.  Amazing, it's still here.


We drove past my best friend's house.  I think her parents might still live there.


That street, Adams Drive?  My big, 8th grade crush lived there with his twin brother.


Where's the pharmacy building on Main Street?  Nothing left but an empty lot.


Our old dentist.  I can still picture his dark, tiny waiting room.  Doing the search puzzles in the outdated issues of Highlights magazine, trying to ignore the piercing sound of drills, while waiting with my mom and brothers after school.


We pass my old street, but continue on without stopping.

It seems melancholy now, writing about it, but it wasn't, really.  It was nice to be there, to remember that time in my life.  I was happy to recall those days.  I wonder if my children will look back on their childhood, these days, and feel the same.

For me, it seems very long ago and I know that it was.

Buildings are gone.  People are gone.

I'm here.  In the place responsible for my foundation.

The wedding was beautiful.  It was sweet watching the tender dance between mother and groom.  Her baby boy, now a married man.

My husband whispers, one day that will be me.  Slow dancing with one of our sons, taller than me by then.

He says it with such conviction, without a doubt.  He counts on it being a sure thing, but cancer seeps into my good mood, casting shadows on that future.  I brush the dark thoughts away, as I would a gnat hovering by my ear.  But, like the bug, thoughts of recurrence relentlessly buzz back.  I keep swatting, pushing them away, refusing to let them land.

I try to remember that a future isn't guaranteed for anyone in this room, cancer or not.  I am no different.

We all dream of a future.  Everyone, the bride and groom, their parents, their guests and me, the one who just drove through a small town, remembering what it was like to be young.

When the future was wide open.  When it wasn't something to fear, but something to be cherished.  When it was something to raise a glass for and toast, right along with the past that brought us to this moment.

And that's what I did.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our Biggest Fan


My mother was a huge Yankee fan.  She explained it simply by saying she was born and raised in the Bronx.  How could she not cheer for her hometown team?  Especially during the1940's and 50's when being a Yankee meant winning.  Everyone wanted to be a New York Yankee.

Even though we moved to a northern suburb when I was two, we never lost sight of our team.  My brothers lived and breathe Yankee baseball and I learned at a young age if I wanted to hang with them, I better like what they liked and they loved the Yankees.

By the time I was twelve I could spout fact after Yankee fact.  I inhaled every book I could find about the team's history.  I knew every year they won the World Series and who they beat to do it.  I could recite their managers in chronological order.  I remembered batting averages and earned run averages of all the players.  I poured over yearbooks, memorizing stats and interesting information about these guys.  I day dreamed of being the first ever bat girl.

We loved this team because they had pride in themselves and their history. Putting on pinstripes meant carrying on a tradition rich in glory, grace and perseverance.  Names like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and my personal favorite, Mickey Mantle.  They did their job every day without bullshit and blame, despite injury.  They showed up and came to win.

What does this have to do with breast cancer?  Nothing really, except it has everything to do with my mother.  She loved watching games with us.  She knew all the players.  She got just as excited or annoyed at wins and losses as we did.

As a mother myself now, I wonder if she watched as a way of bonding with us. Sharing something familiar just to be closer to her children.  I think that sounds good in parenthood theory, but I don't buy it.  She was a fan, pure and simple. As her father was, and they passed their passion on to us.

Yankee baseball was universally loved in our house.  It carried across generational lines and through our relatives.  Our cousins were great fans and when we were all older, we'd sometimes meet at Yankee Stadium to catch up with each other while taking in a game.

In the days before texting and email, we'd actually call each other to see if we were all watching an important game, making sure no one would miss a memorable moment.  The big hit, the great catch, the very best win or sometimes, the heartbreaking loss.

Our inner circle changed over the decades.  Our grandfather died leaving his beloved Yankee jacket, dark blue with interlocking NY.  My brother wore it to the final opening day game ever played in Yankee Stadium before it was torn down to make room for a new stadium.  One, my grandfather, mother and aunt would never see.

Breast cancer intrudes taking our aunt and our mother.  We grow up, get married, have children.  Some of us even move across the country and watch the Dodgers!

But, I think we remember where it all came from.  Last Saturday, most of my family gathered to celebrate my uncle's 75th birthday.  My California cousins came east for this milestone, putting an end to the years we hadn't seen each other.

My father stood for a photo with his two brothers-in-law.  My mother's brother and the birthday boy, her sister's husband.  Three men brought together more than 50 years ago by two women no longer here, surrounded by a house full of their legacy.

A few minutes later, all the cousins, including the new grandchildren watch the latest, greatest Yankee make history.  We erupt as Derek Jeter knocks out a home run to capture his 3000th hit.  A feat only 27 other players in the history of baseball have ever accomplished and the first Yankee to do so.  I picture my mother cheering right along with us, like she used to.  So happy this took place on the very day we could all be together.

How proud our mother and aunt would be, seeing how their six children became twenty and still growing.  How we still care about each other.  How we managed to forge ahead in spite of their conspicuous absence.

Perhaps it's due to the roots they tendered, setting us up for success.  Kind of like our Yankees.  We couldn't have this team, our family, without those that came before, cheering us on, teaching us how to hit it out of the park.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No Bravery Required

There's that question again.

Are we brave?

Only this time, there's a twist.  It's not whether we're brave dealing with the cancer we've been dealt, but whether or not it takes bravery to speak about it. To fess up to those that don't know or understand our situation.

Blogger, ChemoBabe recently posed the question on her facebook page and while some people agreed and some didn't, it was the mention of one word that struck a chord with me.

Vulnerability.

Sharing a cancer diagnosis leaves us open, exposed to whatever belief is held by the person in front of us and most likely, it differs from ours.

I used to think writing this blog for anonymous readers was the equivalent of talking about it.  But, that didn't take bravery.  Writing to cyberspace was easy. I could send all my thoughts out there, turn off the computer and face my daily life where only a select few knew the story.  It was there, in reality where it got hard.

Disclosing cancer for long distance friends, old time friends or new ones is downright scary.  Everyone wears a public face, but to unmask mine, by admitting this happened was out of my grasp and truthfully, it's a burden I continue to carry.  I even wrote a post not long ago stating I wouldn't tell old friends.  I'd greet them at some reunion, slyly omitting this life-changer, as if it never touched me.

Volunteer my diagnosis or not?  What's the answer? Why so fearful?  Nothing good comes from doing nothing, so why not be honest?  Something good may come of it.

Logic tells me I should no longer feel so raw, so susceptible to another's opinion...yet I do.  It lingers.  Even after blogging all these months, it's with me. My husband recently ran into an old neighbor and told him about our last two years.  As he filled me in, my heart dropped, "Oh...you told him?"

That's supposed to be just fine.  There's no secret here.  I'm as public as can be...in a private sort of way and there's the issue.

Am I in or am I out?

Last week, in a room filled with survivors (for lack of a better word) all dedicated to raising money for one of my favorite non-profit organizations, I still held back.  Not the cancer in this case, from the nature of the group that was a given, but the fact that I blog about it.

Amazing, really.  The exact audience I strive to reach all around me and still I hesitate.  Easy enough telling these strangers how I found the group or why their services are so valuable, but I kept quiet about the blog.  As if there were some other reason I was invited, knowing there wasn't.  I knew it was the blog that brought me there, but I couldn't say it.  Couldn't just say, "Hi, my name is Stacey and I blog about my experience with breast cancer."

Vulnerable with a capital V.  

What was my silence really protecting?  What's the worst that could happen?  I knew I couldn't continue to be half way out of the breast cancer closet and after a while, I summoned the courage to say it.  Lucky for me, the first person I told knew the blog and liked it.  She was lovely, her reaction, beyond kind and happy to meet me, this face behind the words.

It was my first time meeting a reader I didn't know. This lady helped reaffirm why I write and why owning up to my experience matters.  I just wish it were easier.

Breast cancer isn't a thing to be ashamed of.  We are not responsible for this horrible thing, no matter how we might blame ourselves.  It is simply something that happened to us and bravery shouldn't be required to share our stories.  I'm trying really hard to remember that.


Do you find yourself still holding back?