I have just had the most moving experience. From Tulsa, Oklahoma to what I am going to rename Gratitude Beach. But for the sake of geography and Google search for when you want to come here, I live in Destin, Florida.
(My new home.)
Destin used to be a fishing village. Today, when the million plus tourists aren’t flocking here between June and September, it has a modest population of just under 20,000 people. My county of Okaloosa has just over 200,000 people while the city of Tulsa, my home for most of 50 years boasts a headcount of 400,000.
I like the smallness here. The potential for greater intimacy. The intrigue of a possible Peyton Place Syndrome, where your business is everyone’s business. I am going to be on my best behavior with the hopes that I won’t be somebody’s “Did you hear about…” punch line. I do have a history rich with sentence completion that does not make me proud. But I am happy to report, that is way the hell back in the rear view mirror, somewhere around 1985.
This move has had many moving parts. I downsized from a three bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment. Could have been a daunting task, but the reward at the end of the journey being a zip code on the Emerald Coast was quite the incentive to be thorough and to only to keep those things that I needed or that continue to bring me joy.
In that process, I sold some antiques. And that was a fond farewell. I wrote about Beulah here, the dry sink that was a fixture for most of my life as my parents were big antique lovers in New England and New Jersey back in the 1950’s, both of whom are now deceased.
The last antique treasure to go that I still had affection for was the church pew. This piece of wood that has held together for well over a hundred years with not one nail was like a member of my family. It always lived where my mom was until she was no longer living, at which time, it came to live with me in my marital family home. And when that family was no more, the church pew, much like a good loyal dog that sees you through hard times, followed at my heel and moved twice with me.
Once I had custody, it went from empty and welcoming, to whimsical display of my fancy shoes and wind up toys, an ever changing display of the whimsy that I insist in surrounding myself with.
Well the universe is a generous kind place, filled with generous kind people and a friend here in Florida bought the church pew from me when I shared the Craigslist post on my Facebook while I was still in Tulsa, with the plan that I would deliver upon my arrival here. He even paid $25 over my asking price, which was welcome, as the move was not cheap and the funds were required. I was happy to know that I would know what loving home it went to. Much like my furniture art, I get attached to things that bring me joy, and this church pew has done that over time.
A week ago today, when that friend showed up to help two others unload my life as it is now, from the innards of a big yellow truck and up three flights into my tree house apartment in paradise, that same friend, after learning the story about the bench and what it meant to me, gifted it back to me as a house warming present. I gotta tell you, God Is Good, All The Time, if I am just paying attention.
(My new theme)
Now I move again. This time, forward. Into whatever and whoever God has in store for me. To know, to love, to be in relationship with, to serve. All the top priority of each and every day that I continue to be gifted with. Which is my truth. That every day IS a gift. Pandemic or no pandemic. Worldly calamity or World peace. NO MATTER WHAT. My life is a gift. Every day, when I wake up, I get to open a day like a present. And I get to spend my time, energy and money in ways that I hope are pleasing to the universe and the God that I intend to serve in whatever ways I can be useful.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always come from a place of gratitude. In fact, last night, was just the opposite. After a week of being driven to unpack everything I own and nest, I was exhausted. I had hung over a dozen pictures, unpacked and broke down at least that many boxes.
I was angry that ATT wanted me to pay them an additional $50 for my last month of TV and internet. Something about my “12 month special” rate expiring and leaving me with the final month at a higher rate. And I am not proud of the manner in which I spoke to the innocent woman on the other end of the phone. It was not her fault that I had not read the fine print, but, no. I wasn’t paying without a fit. And I had one. But at the time, because no one was watching, I justified my bitchy tone on the phone by telling myself, “My words were not unkind.” But if you were to rate my tone of indignation on a 1 to 10 scale, it would have easily hit 9.75. I was not nice. And I knew it and I felt it and I cleaned up my mess just as fast as I made it. “I realize this is not your fault. I know my tone is cranky and I am sorry.” But not before I got in another jab at ATT for, I don’t know, not teaching me to read the fine print first? “I just have always had trouble with ATT and their poor communication.” What an ego I have on me at times!
Her name is Elvira, by the way, my ego that is, if you are new to my stories here. You know, the one with the big boobs and big black bouffant to match. She really has a mouth on her. And much attitude, coupled with little to sometimes no patience. She is a justification queen. Suffice it to say, I finally decided that my serenity was worth $50 bucks. Besides, I owed it. I just didn’t like it. And more important, I was not in a good place when I made the call, or should I say, when Elvira insisted on picking up the phone to channel her frustration at the latter part of the afternoon. She and I both were quite tired and sore from unpacking and acclimating. To a third floor walk and a town where there are no mask mandates for the public, except for those local or national chains who won’t allow customers or employees to be present if a face mask is absent.
This has been a scary scene for me in that respect. Moving from Tulsa, where there was a mask mandate for all public anything to a state that has achieved ranks up there with the big apple for viral cases. Two weeks ago, a friend died from the virus and another here in Destin, who required hospitalization, thankfully, just recovered. And for me, social distancing and wearing a mask are mandatory because I don’t want to give or get a sickness that is a stealth by nature.
This, coupled with all that goes along with a major life change, be it positive or negative, I really just needed to vent. But to a friend, not passive aggressively getting it out to an innocent call center employee who, for all I know, is as done with pandemic life and being stuck at home for work, as I am sure are many people, when I dare to think of others above myself.
These are teachable moments to me. These ugly actors in my behavior. And I look to others who are of a similar mindset to be of service and do the right thing in their walk of life to tell me what they see. So when I was about to take a dive in the deep end of self pity last night, I reached out to a friend who is very uplifting and positive and just plain fun. Truth be told, I wanted a commiserator. Someone to wallow with me. Just for a minute. Instead, again, thanks to a generous Universe, what I got was an unexpected gift. Here is the text:
ME: “I got to tell you it’s almost cruel to be living in such a beautiful place and shut into my apartment. I’m having a little bit of pity here. I won’t stay there though cuz it’s going to take a minute before this s***’s over with.” (Start the violins and call me a wambulance.)
ME: “Hope you’re having a good Friday! Hate to end anything in a pouty tone. LOL.”
FRIEND: “I don’t expect you will sit there long. LOL. We are too blessed to sit in pity.”
Those words really hit me hard. In a good way. I was at a crossroads. About to choose how the rest of my gift of a day was going to go. And because of the suggestion of looking at blessings that I heard there, I took that as the Universe using this person to kindly remind me I have so much. So much. So much. To be grateful for.
I love the way God uses people if I only allow them in. In my ugly moments. In my times of sometimes repulsive to me neediness.
And I love the saying:
(Miramar Beach-Where I go every morning)
I just came back to this post to publish, after taking the afternoon to do my art, which I do with intent every Saturday afternoon. Just as I began to sit to do my art, I saw that sitting after writing for a time needed to be interrupted. So I went to the floor to stretch and I hurt my back. Bad enough that it scared me to think that I might need to go to the ER. But I just took a breath between the ones that the wincing was taking from me and I reached out to four people who walk the same spiritual path that I do. Two are doctors and two are not. All are a part of my family of choice. And every one of them offered their service, with one bringing my gimpy ass self the Tylenol, Motrin and heating pad that were recommended by someone who knows more than I do, loving me out loud and with action. Acts of service is a love language you know.
So tonight, I will order a pizza to be delivered to my third floor tree house apartment in paradise and bask in the love that the Universe has showered me with in just these last twenty four hour, never mind the last week.
I am indeed grateful. For everything. The pleasure of having eyes that can embrace the beauty of the beach as I go there every morning to see God and fill my cup as well as the times when I hurt with pains of change or pains of moving or pains of missing my daughter because those are the things that move me to grow in my spiritual life. Through those I know in human form who I like to call my God Squad. The ones who tell me the truth in kind and gentle ways. And I am grateful for all of the pain and difficulty that makes me need more than just me. And when I turn those needs to a power greater than what I have, I am consistently richly blessed in ways that you have to know are beautiful.
Well Tulsa, It’s about that time. I’m leaving you. This time, I think, for good.
I came to you with my mom from Connecticut after my dad died when I was 7. We were supposed to be moving to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but my mom made a permanent detour via Southern Illinois and then here when I was in the 8th grade.
I started school in one of your junior highs, where the boys in my 8th grade band class were not too kind in their words to me as I was “welcomed” to Tulsa and into the band. When the band instructor introduced this new barely pubescent 12 year old flutist from Illinois, the boys in percussion chimed in. “Is she pointed or flat?” Said the first. “She’s flat.” Replied his buddy. To which the band instructor said “ .“ That was my first wrongful attachment of pain to you Tulsa. To be fair, I already had a chip on my shoulder for my mom not taking me to the beach in Florida.
I went on to two of your private high schools and graduated. I went away to a short lived college career before I returned to you at 17. I worked in your restaurants. Drank in your bars.
I escaped you at 19 for a year of fun in the mountains. Skiing and drinking in Crested Butte, Colorado.
Then a summer in Lake Tahoe working at Caesar’s. Then a couple of years in Texas. Houston first where I got married and drunk alot. Then on to Austin, where I got unmarried and sober. Once.
After that Tulsa, my car brought me back to you. All in my early days of sobriety. When the advice is to not make a major change in the first year. I must have thought that being blonde and left handed made me exempt as I left my husband and Texas with all that I owned in my car bearing a sign in the window which read, “Tulsa or Bust,” to return to you at less than six months sober. I went to a lot of your meetings. Loved and was loved by a lot of your people.
I spent three and a half months in one of your halfway (insane) houses, then several apartments over five or six years until that second marriage of 24 years happened.
We lived on your outskirts in the sod country of Bixby, Oklahoma for 14 years, where we built a lovely home, complete with three hand prints, one for mom, one for dad and one for 4 year old Abby, dated 2002 on the floor in the corner of the garage.
We fled from you for our first year of marriage to the Dutch Country of Pennsylvania. I could not be with you. I did not like you. I thought you made me unhappy. And I was sure that leaving you was the answer.
After one year of experiencing that the natives of Lancaster, PA only like people who visit and loathe those who bring moving vans, we aimed for Austin, Texas, but you had the job that fit the mechanical engineer in my house, so back to you, Tulsa, we came.
While you welcomed us back,that marriage of 24 years eventually ended here. And so did the dream I had spent have of my life believing in here in Tulsa.
My creative work of painting began here as my marriage was coming to a close. I started to paint whimsical furniture for kids going into foster care. I also started my real spiritual work with you Tulsa. I pushed up out of the ashes of my former life, and you generously provided me great teachers of what God does and doesn’t look like to teach me the lessons of the day.
I completed my treatment of and survival from breast cancer here with you Tulsa 18 years ago. Some of your docs could use some work, in my experience, but there were enough good ones here to meet my needs. I mean, I’m still here. Right?
I have known much unhappiness while living with you. You get dark in the winter and you are cold to me too. I have spent much of my time living with you complaining about you. About the way you look. You don’t have an ocean. Or mountains. Your lakes feel like big mud puddles with sticks and snakes and God knows what else in them. I sound like a bitchy wife or ungrateful child here. Don’t I?
One thing I have learned and forgotten and relearned over and over again in my spiritual walk of 35 years is that nothing is perfect and focusing on what I see as negative just makes it more so. Conversely, focusing on what I do like makes it even more so. In other words, it’s all about perspective. And appreciation or as I like to call it, gratitude.
Tulsa, I want to ask your forgiveness. You did nothing to me. My unhappiness was not your fault. Your version of traffic is nothing compared to what I knew in Texas. Your people are, for the most part, friendly and those who I was in relationship with for support, were quite loving indeed.
I could live with you and find the good in you of which there is much. And I learned to do that quite well as I learned and experienced over the years that my happiness is an inside job. To be done wherever my body resides.
But Tulsa, the God of my understanding has directed my body and soul to the beach. I suffer pains in my body and spirit in the darker days and cold of your winters. Each season is harder on me than the one before as my body and mind advance in age. We just aren’t a good match, you and me. Not today. And because of that Tulsa, I am leaving you.
I am an artist and while you have a quite impressive art community here, one that I only began to truly discover in the last year or so, my bliss is in the colors of the Emerald Coast of Destin, Florida, where I pick up keys to live on August 1. Sapphire blues, emerald greens, periwinkles, tangerines, pinks, turquoises-all my favorite palette to surround myself, dress myself and work with, all on the ever changing canvas that God puts out for my eyes to feast on there at the beach in the water and the sky. It pulls me like a magnet. That’s how God is in my experience.
And so does the weather, particularly their version of winter. I spent all of February there basking in their version of cold, while my daughter sent me pictures of the snowman she had made in our back yard. While I love the smile you put on her face as she stood next to said snowman with the hot pink spray painted boobs, I was so relieved that I could hang up the phone and be with the door open where my body was in a relatively warmer place.
I have a calling to help young women who are marked with the F word of Felony. Women who have done their time for their crime, which in most cases was non violent and drug related, done at a time of sickness not badness, but can’t get a break or a decent job in our society. I want to teach them to paint and sell furniture. Something I began here with you Tulsa. And I have found a community of these women in Florida who I can help.
I do love you Tulsa. You do have your own unique beauty and style. Your Riverside Drive along the Arkansas River. Your Philbrook Museum, Woodward Park and Mapleridge neighborhood, just to name a few.
You have provided me with good friends, great loves, jobs, shelter, amazing doctors, wonderful homes, terrific neighbors, treasured memories, and you are the birthplace of my favorite co-creation, my daughter Abby.
Thanks for my Happy House. The one on Rockford Place. The one with the hot pink door. This has brought me great joy. My back yard full of bunnies doing what bunnies do best as they just keep making bunnies. For my sun porch where my art grew as my heart grew. And my living room filled with light all around and my ever changing pictures of my picture window. What a delightful revolving evolving art show that has been to see. With each passing moment, as I look out through the panes.
And my front porch that I took for granted until the pandemic hit. That porch became my window to my spiritual friends. Where I sat perched at 8 am, every day since March, armed with phone, coffee and gratitude and a need for connection, abundantly filled by people all over the country. In that tiny screen on my phone. Channeling God through channel Zoom.
About Abby, Tulsa. I have never lived more than 20 minutes from her 22 year old self. And she is staying here with you. So, please. Take good care of my little girl. The one who lives inside of that bright, funny, gifted beautiful young woman of whom I am so proud. Surround her with your best God squad to protect her and love her as I will only be able to do so at an 800 mile distance. Keep her safe in her home and on your streets and in your workplaces and with those she keeps company with.
Thank you Tulsa. For being my home all these years. And for letting me go.
“We don’t like your image. Come back tomorrow.” The words that I heard just before I hung up my phone. This wasn’t about public persona either. No, the image referred to was the mammogram that I had just had. Number 13 in a series of annual boob squishings.
I was 42 years old, a wife and the mother of a 4 year old daughter. We were getting ready to build our dream home and move to suburbia in Bixby, Oklahoma to raise Abby, plant flowers, walk dogs, go to basketball games and be happy.
My mother had breast cancer when I was 30. She was 67, lost a boob, took tamoxifen for five years and she was good. Hell, the day she got home from the hospital after over a week of festivities, she was out sunbathing on her deck while I passed out on her couch.
When I showed up the next day for this follow up appointment, I wanted to throw up. I lay on the table, surrounded by techs and in walked the doctor. Not just any doctor either. This guy was the head of radiology for Hillcrest Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I tried to crack jokes as I lay there outnumbered by people who had their clothes on and one ominous looking shadow about the size of a grape with a big red circle around it on the x ray screen.
I am quite sure I was funny, but this was a tough room. Not a peep. Until the doctor took over the stage. “You have a stage 1 breast tumor, 8 out of 9 for aggressive growth…blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah” was what I heard. In an instant, I had joined the ranks of a group I wanted nothing to do with. My mother was a member, her mother had a breast removed, (unclear if that was cancer), my Aunt Rosemary had succumbed to metastasis and we had just buried a member of our church who fought long and hard for 16 years from a stage three breast cancer. And I was about to get schooled in the science of cancer, whether I liked it or not. And I did not. In fact, a lot of the information bounced right off as I was in complete shock.
My case was more complicated than my mother’s. The start to finish of it all. My journey, while not as bad as some, I mean, I lived, but what I did experience in the process was from hell. There is no other way to put it. Not only was the cancer actually a 9 out of 9 for aggressive growth, meaning whatever was in me was growing at the highest speed, my ensuing treatment and recovery spanned two long, hard years.
Cancer Treatment Center is in Tulsa and was open at that time, offering a holistic approach, using conventional medicine, spiritual guidance as well as counseling and nutrition.
I chose just plain conventional medicine. I didn’t give much credence to spiritual anything or nutrition for that matter at that time because frankly, while I was sober and spirituality is the cure for me there today, at that time, I worshipped a God in the form of my intellect and the fact that I had it all, things outside of me- the kid and the van and plans to build the house, so I saw no merit in the added expense of that other God stuff. What’s funny is that it was The Cancer Treatment Center that ultimately made me whole again at the end of what was a two year walk down a hallway that had a few burned out light bulbs along the way.
The day I found out it was cancer, I was exhausted. It was an afternoon sometime in June and I was sprawled across my bed. My daughter Abby, age four, walked in and stuck something on me and left. When I looked down, what I saw was a red heart shaped sticker about an inch in size that she had gotten out of a February issue of a kid’s magazine. And when I looked at the spot where she had (not so) randomly placed it, it was right where the tumor was located. This was one in a series of many moments that drove home the undeniable fact that God was present in the midst of a very rough patch in my life.
In order of appearance, the treatment players were these:
July 18, 2002-Lumpectomy in Sunny California, where we were led by a long set of circumstances. These made Dr. John Phillips, a brilliant surgeon in Tulsa, Oklahoma who had taken care of my mom, and removed many breasts once belonging to old Tulsa oil money bless the trip.
Dr. Phillips is part of the reason I am still here because right after my mom’s surgery, he sat me down when I was just 30 (like the father I did not have after age 7) and said, “You, young lady, will have an annual mammogram from now on.” I did not do the recommended self exams because I had fiber cystic tissue, a.k.a. lumpy boobs and the “normal” bumps to the touch made me gag, so thanks Dr. Phillips. Those mammograms paid off.
Lumpectomy is where they just cut out the lump and the tumor, along with a prudent amount of lymph nodes from under the arm so that they could check them for cancerous cells. The good news for me was that it came back a negative, meaning that avenue for spreading was likely to be a dead end.
Lymph nodes are small, round or bean-shaped clusters of cells. Inside lymph nodes are a combination of different types of immune system cells. These specialized cells filter your lymphatic fluid as it travels through your body and protect you by destroying invaders.
They took 14 of these good guys away from me and I was left with the lifelong threat of a thing called lymph edema. That is when there is a swelling in the arm which can come on anytime post cancer and can be very painful. I attended a support group once with cancer survivors who had a long period of recovery and had been get hit with this painful condition out of nowhere. I take precautions with massage therapy, exercise and I wear a compression sleeve to travel.
We made the best of California. My ex -husband, who I refer to as my wusband, daughter and I sleeping together in a “Heavenly” California bed like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka’s time. We lived at the Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa, near the breast care center at Fountain Valley. We were there for a couple of weeks and while there, we enjoyed the beaches of Malibu, Laguna and Huntington.
The day after my lumpectomy, I left my wusband and Abby asleep, slipped off to La Provence, the fancy hotel coffee shop for a scrumptious celebratory bowl of oatmeal that had creme brulee on top. As I made my exit, I stopped at a round table of people who appeared to be having a business breakfast, uninvited. “Yesterday, I had cancer. Today, that tumor is in a ziplock in a dumpster somewhere in Orange County.” This was my boasting. It wasn’t much weight loss to be rid of that tumor, but the weight lifted was immense. The response was enthusiastic as they gave me a unanimous round of applause.
A day or so later, we got a doctor’s note for the short lines at Disneyland and went to the Magic Kingdom. I had never been and since my daughter was four, well, we just HAD to go. We had a great time, I bought out the gift shop and then it was time to return home to our “new normal” life living after cancer in Oklahoma.
Summer/fall 2002-Next up, chemotherapy. I could paste the definition of the word and the process, but my version will make the point. It’s liquid poison. Used to kill lots of things. Like cancer cells, healthy cells, happy cells, appetites, spirits and energy reserves, and any hair that you might be fond of and even some that you aren’t.
Abby was also quite cognitive of the fact that I was going to lose my hair because I was sick. “Mom, I wanna shave my head.” She sounded like a teenager, standing next to me in the bathroom at Lowe’s, until she followed that up immediately with a perky “Will it grow back in two weeks?” We compromised and she settled for a mohawk with blue glitter.
When I was pregnant just four years before this, I spent my first trimester in bed and in the hospital for nausea, but let me tell you, that was NOTHING like the nausea I had with the “A/C Cocktail,” as the kids in the clinic like to call it. That stands for Adriamycin/Cytoxin. Two toxic liquids that get shaken, not stirred, then placed in an IV and slowly, but surely, over a period of hours, with six trips over a couple of months to just drive that shit home, sent into the body through an IV and a port. Just to give you a clue, Cytoxin has a pet name of “Red Devil” as it is one of the most toxic of all. If it gets ON the skin, it can cause severe burns. And from my experience, (I won’t get into much detail,) it felt like gasoline coming up my throat when it left me through a different pathway from the nice little port it came in on under my chest skin.
The day before chemo was to start was a field day at the hospital. I was wheeled and rolled from place to place to get checked out for treatment. Bloodwork and installation of a chemo port, all part of the day. A port goes in the chest area so that there are less needle sticks in the skin so that when they plug in the IV, the access is already there.
Somewhere along the course of my day, I decided to have a party. That night. I called it my “Comfort Shower On Chemo Eve.” The idea was to have a party to distract from the fact that I was having chemo the next day. And it grew to include a cost for admission which was a tube of pink lipstick.
My anxious brain had a wild idea to start a foundation called The Great Pink Hope. I had worked in low income housing and when I found out I had cancer, I learned that the demographic of low income and minority women had a higher incidence of breast cancer. I thought that maybe these women, who typically did not have access to any reliable transportation if they did go for a mammogram, could be coaxed out of their apartments to be tested with some kind of mobile mammography service by giving them a free tube of pink lipstick for their trouble.
It was a slow news day in Tulsa, so all three local TV stations showed up to cover the happy event. One ran their story in a special that October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I confess, I invited them. I still knew the number to the KJRH newsroom, Tulsa’s NBC affiliate where my brother had been a reporter in the 1970’s and I felt like this was good news.
By the end of the night, a good time had been had by all 50 or 60 people who attended, some I knew, some I had only met that day in my travels through the hospital halls, and whose cars at one pointed wrapped the street next to my house down one side and filled the cul de sac on the other. It looked like that scene from Field of Dreams where all of the cars showed up at the baseball field. “If you invite, they will come.” And they did. Leaving me with a huge bowl of pink lipsticks ready for a good night’s sleep.
My posse and I arrived for day one. Me, my wusband and daughter, our pastor, my mom and my neighbor all crammed into the waiting area. Then they took me back first, and in a few minutes, my wusband followed. On his way, he was met by a woman wearing a white coat with her name embroidered on the pocket who claimed she had been to med school and who, violating HIPAA, spoke to him before speaking to me about her plans for my (mis) treatment.
“Your cancer is back. It’s in your breast, your liver, your uterus and your ovaries. While it is incurable, it is treatable. We can make you comfortable for two years, using the drug Taxotere.” I could only wish that this shock came from a toaster dropping into my tub, but no. Not only was I just pronounced soon to be dead, but the drug she named to “make me comfortable” was a word I had heard once before.
In the midst of all the jargon and staging and planning in California, the one thing that got through was the result of my assay, which is the process they use when they cut up the tumor and test various toxic cocktails to see who the best ones are for the job. And the one drug that my tumor essentially said “F*** no, I won’t go” to was called Taxotere.
I had California on speed dial and while I stood in line for stand by boarding, I prayed to God, “Please get me on this flight.” when my name was called and I boarded to seat 1 A.
Across the top of my chart, this oncologist in California, who actually went to class looked at me calmly, then looked down at my chart, and then popped his head up when he realized it was me. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be starting chemo in Oklahoma.”? Incredulous in his affect and tone, while trying to remain professional. “The doctor over read her chart.” His words to the diagnostic center (I think it’s code for “some doctor f**ked up here”) where I would spend the next four days, drinking barium smoothies, getting injected with contrast fluids, having my ears plugged to drown out the hammering of the MRI. Four days where my 9 out of 9 for aggressive cancer, if there were any crumbs left, was throwing a party at my expense.
On day five, I was cleared of all counts. And the death penalty was off the table. Now I had been given a prognosis with better odds, a first round of chemo and a plane ride back to Oklahoma to get back to my “new normal” life as a cancer patient.
And that woman in the white coat in Tulsa? That was in the (mal)practice of prescribing toxic drugs? I could not find her. And believe me, I looked. She was off the grid. I intended to file a complaint, with the hope that she wouldn’t (mal)practice on anyone else. And I said a prayer that whoever she did serve in her illustrious career might be someone across the counter at the food court, as she sported a tall, stupid hat, selling hot dogs on a stick.
During the early part of my treatment, Bob Losure was there for me. Former anchor at CNN, Bob had worked with my sister in television in Tulsa back in the 70’s. Bob was also a cancer survivor, so he knew what it was like. All throughout my treatment, Bob either called, emailed or visited me, inspiring me with his words of hope and encouragement. It didn’t hurt to hear them in that beautiful satiny broadcast voice. He interviewed me for a story he was doing about cancer and survivors.
Next was radiation. Another burning process. This time, burning tissue, leaving it hard in the aftermath. The recommendation for my flavor of tumor was 35 rounds, 5 days a week, over 7 weeks time.
By this time, it was winter, and I was bald, tired and very depressed, so after 6 rounds of laying on a sterile steel table, wearing nothing from the waist up but a creepy screen mold that was shaped like a torso set over me so that they could aim the xray guns at the small tattoes I now had dotting my upper body for precision of their sharpshooting.
It was a Friday afternoon and I had just come home from round number 6, when I sat on the floor of my brand new dining room, (we built the house against the advice of my primary care doc and friend Marilyn Culp because I thought I needed the distraction) and the phone rang. “Lucinda, it’s Jane.” My surgeon from California who had saved my life once already by cutting out that tumor and a second time when she told me on the phone that she did not “have confidence” in that cancer of an oncologist.
Her call was divinely timed, although I was a little mad at her, because when we first made the pilgrimage to Fountain Valley, California to the Women’s Breast Health Center that had been recommended, I had BIG plans to come home with BIGGER boobs than the ones I left home with. She was too good at her job, coming to tell me after surgery, “Good news! You are cured with breast conserving lumpectomy!” I was both relieved and disappointed. I think my first wusband’s message to me at the age of 23 that he thought I needed larger breasts had stuck with me all those years. I even had a Hooter’s T shirt that was autographed by the wait staff wishing me well on my trip and treatment.
“How are you?” Jane said. She let me call her Jane because California doctors like her, whose esteemed medical family have streets named after them in Long Beach can do whatever the hell they want.
I explained that my mood was not good. An underlying concern throughout as I showed up on her table with a significant history of major depressive illness. I also let on that laying there for that radiation was playing games with my head as I felt vulnerable being naked from the waist up and not free to move. “I don’t want to finish the radiation.” I told her, knowing in my heart of hearts that I could not take any more of that. “What do you want to do?” She asked, to which I did not miss a beat in my speedy reply. “I want to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.”
I could have stopped there. At lumpectomy and chemo. On paper, I was “cancer free” the day I left a tumor in a ziplock bag somewhere in a dumpster in Orange County. And the chemo most certainly did a number on SOMETHING. But the prudent measure was not to stop there.
I had done much reading and the consensus among women who, in some cases, were in the medical field, was to go ahead and have both breasts removed to reduce the chance of recurrence because statistics were higher for metastasis when the breasts were left behind. I later learned of two cases of women who, like me, were deemed “cured” with lumpectomy and chemo, but in both cases, the cancer returned and the women did not survive.
The reconstructive procedure that I chose, after the breasts were removed, is called a pedicle TRAM FLAP reconstruction. In a pedicle TRAM flap procedure, the surgeon cuts a section of skin, muscle, fat and blood vessels from your abdomen, tunnels the tissue underneath your skin to its new location, and uses it to form a new breast mound.
In my words, what happened to me was this. Over a period of six hours, four doctors would have a part in this. The general surgeon came in first, removed the breasts, leaving the surface skin. Then, enter the plastics guy. He is the artist. You don’t need a bedside manner with this one. You need someone who thinks they are God and performs to the best of their ability. And I got that in spades. What he did was make a big cut across my abdomen in the shape of an elipse, then take the tissue and muscle there, divide it up and going under my own skin with it, he moves it up from my abdomen and into place under the top skin that remains where the original breasts once were. And if you are cringing here, sorry. But this is my story. And it is quite amazing.
While the procedure was a technical success, the recovery was from hell. At six weeks post op at home, where I was sleeping in the recliner because I could not lay down yet, the pain was severe. And because of my mental health history being part of my record with the plastic doc’s office, he was all but too eager to say hasta manana to me when I hit their magic six week mark. “Our patients don’t have pain at six weeks.” The dismissive words on the phone from his office as I was left on my own to find a solution to some very real pain that resided in my back.
It took two years from that point to find my solution. Went down the pain management hallway, treating the symptom but never the problem with fentanyl patches for a large part of that time.
Nothing was working. And the reason I was hurting there was that I was literally stuck. To myself. Yes, you can laugh if you know me. I was stuck on myself. The pathway that my abdominal tissue and muscle had travelled along my mid section from my well earned tummy tuck to my abdo boobs, as I like to call them, was full of scar adhesion. And this made standing up straight and upright completely impossible. So my 5’10” frame was working against gravity for all of that time, until finally, somehow, because there is a God and I am not him, I was directed to the Cancer Treatment Center of America for what is called myofacial release. A most gentle and gradual process of a massage therapist gently coaxing my innards to let go of each other, where they were holding me down so that I could join my fellow upright apes.
I survived. And today, I thrive. 18 years. July 18. Cancer free.
If you are reading this and you are a woman, or if you have a mother or a sister or a daughter or someone you love who you don’t want to lose, ask them if they are taking proper care of their girls. Mammography has come a long way. I learned that some women know that they should go, but they fear the discomfort that might come along with that. My reply? DO IT ANYWAY. The pain of your absence in the lives of your loved ones if you are lost to this far too common form of cancer could be prevented.
There is much more to this story, which I am telling in my book. But for my purposes here, I want to list the gratitude that I take away from my experience of having had breast cancer.
I am grateful for the oncologist who taught me to trust my instinct over someone who is quite literally practicing at their craft. She did me a favor. I have no idea what went so terribly wrong with her interpretation of my medical records, but had that not happened, I would not have seen the need to be my own BEST advocate for health and medical care. Those who, even well intentioned, practice medicine, are just people. Who went to school and got training. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing the expertise of some doctors, but not ALL doctors are worth their salt. And they are ALL human. The lesson here? Trust your gut. If it says, “What this doctor is saying to me doesn’t sound right.” Listen to that still small voice. And run like hell for a second opinion.
The plastic surgeon also did me a favor. When he dismissed me and my care with the insinuation that my pain was “in my head”, it drove home for me that when a person has a mental health diagnosis on their chart, some doctors don’t want a thing to do with that. I didn’t go to med school, but I have noticed that the human head, where the mental health or sickness resides, is a part of the physical body. But hey, nobody asked me.
This was not the first time I had found myself being dismissed by a doctor with the coincidence of my chart including a mental health diagnosis and the blessing in that was the education to the fact that some doctors don’t care. Stigma is a powerful thing.
The first doctor who dropped the ball on my care over mental health issues was the man who delivered my daughter. I suffered with tremendous postpartum depression which required hospitalization after she was born, which rendered me virtually unable to take care of her. For that entire pregnancy, my resounding concern out loud with the OB/GYN doc was that I was ripe for the picking to have some kind of major depression after childbirth, based on my history and the research I had done on postpartum depression and psychosis. I had a reasonable expectation that he would support me in my care after her birth. And I was wrong, as he too, dismissed me at that magic six week mark. I guess that is a time frame that specialists get to use to decide when they can dump people who are too much work for them.
I am even grateful for the cancer. And while, at times since, I sometimes forget that I got another shot at life having survived it, it is proof in my book that God wants me here fore something. I lived through it, and since it is far too common today for people to get breast cancer, I know I did not suffer in vain because I can share my story in the hopes that it will enlighten others to see what they might expect and also what they do and don’t have to tolerate from the doctors along the way.
I am grateful for the scars that I have. My scars have made me feel unfinished all these years. They have been difficult to live with as I don’t look the same. Over the years, the scars have faded quite a bit, but I still have a long one across my abdomen and scars on both breasts which I intend to have tattoo art done on at some point as I, an artist, am my most precious canvas.
And when it comes to intimacy, it has been quite a vulnerable thing to have to prepare someone for the scars that contributed to the ending of the intimacy in my marriage of 24 years. That left a mark of its own. But it has all forced me to find a self love that goes beyond skin deep. In that respect, these scars are a thing of beauty because without them, I may not even be here.
If you find yourself with a diagnosis for breast cancer, remember that you are paying the doctors to provide you a service. Coming to an end are the days when the doctor is the authority and final say. You have always got a choice in how your care will go. Do your homework. Learn all that you can. About your diagnosis and your treatment options. If you don’t trust your doctor, find a new one. Your life may depend on it.
Find people who have been through the kind of cancer treatment that you may be facing. The American Cancer Society is a great resource for pairing people up with those who have been through that same type of cancer and the resulting treatments. I had two people matched to me as mentors for when I faced chemo and my double mastectomy. They were great comforts to me for the fact that they had survived what I was facing at a very scary time.
One of my doctor’s (I have one for every orifice at this point) said, as I look to find a replacement in my new home out of state, that a doctor/patient relationship is not a dictatorship. It is a collaboration. And should be a relationship based in a mutual respect. Especially in matters of life and death.
I don’t have a problem changing doctors as I age if I feel I am not both respected and well cared for. You wouldn’t take a Maserati to Joe’s Garage, and aren’t you worth the best you can find? I think so. Life is a precious gift. And so are you.
I decided this morning that I would start looking up again. Literally. Because when I do, I see things that I normally would miss. The heart shaped clouds after coming up from a shelter. Where we went to be safe while a tornado passed over.
And while grey days may seem, well, grey, this one is not. Because I looked up. I was sitting on my porch. In my rocker. Writing my three pages that I do each day. And as the pandemic crept into my mind and my words, I stopped. Got up and went outside to finish. Intentional actions to have nature and the outdoors serve as my backdrop.
When I go to the beach, I watch God turn on the lights in the morning. So while I am not there yet, the sun is here. And so is the morning. So, I looked for what was up. There in the sky. In the treetops. And I listened. For what I could hear. All of this centering me. Making me right-sized. And while there was no constant of waves crashing into the shore or seagulls and sandpipers running nervously to entertain me, or periwinkle blue with a soft moon hanging up there, there were plenty of things to see. To draw my attention up. Away from the arrogance of my weight of the world attitude.
As I began to write about the heaviness I have felt from sheltering in place for most of four months, I stopped. Because writing about it was making me FEEL heavy. Instead, I chose to look and to listen. And what a show it was.
In the top of a tree I guess to be 40 feet tall, I saw this vertical branch. Naked from leaves. But on top, there sat a bird. And I thought to myself, “I want to be that bird!” What a view I would have. And I could fly. How cool would THAT be! Just then, another bird hopped on the pole at the top of that tree. About a foot below the top bird, this one standing up sideways. That is amazing. That a bird can stand up with its feet on a tree branch that is straight up and down and that bird can be sideways. Like that is normal. Which for the bird it is. Well that bird was not happy with its place on the pole. And it hopped to the top. Again as if that was just normal. To let the top bird know that he was going to give up the throne at the top of the totem. Now it’s a video game. ANGRY BIRDS. They both fly away.
Directly below on the ground is a bunny rabbit. My yard and my neighborhood a Wonderland of bunnies. Like a habitat. My back yard hosts bunny hop parties on a regular basis. Pretending to be frogs as they literally hop over each other. Sometimes my back yard looks like a Jiffy Pop party of bunnies hopping all over!
As I listened, I could hear trucks and cars. Whirring and rushing on the highway nearby. Then the birds broke out in a chorus. Morning doves on bass. Squeekers and squawkers. In my yard the loudest but the next block birds sang back up. With the melody of the breeze blowing through the leaves of all of the trees.
With all of this entertainment, I pondered with a greater perspective this weight of the world that I choose to bear. Why is THIS so hard? The world has born the weight of disease and pandemic, of social injustice of anger and hate and fear for centuries now. So what is the difference? And then it dawned on me. The difference is that what I could numbley observe on the even news as the tragedies of wildfires flames filled the screen, or the wars in afghanistan were shown on the screen, I could just turn that all off. Why? Because I saw that as not MY world. And while it always was, I chose not to see that. THIS time I recognize that what is happening today-the pandemic, the political division, the civil unrest just happens to be in my backyard. Not the one with the bunny hop, but the one that I think about. Because it’s on my turf. In my city. In my country. And that is where the arrogance comes in. That now I can justify claiming that I feel a heaviness. Because it is happening around me and indirectly some of it to me.
So what is my point? Quite simply it is this. The one thing that is constant as I look up for what I can see, is the world keeps on turning. The birds keep on flying. The wind keeps on blowing. And the sun keeps coming up. So I have decided that I will relinquish my heaviness. To the thing or the being that made all of this. Whoever or what ever did and does this is WAY BETTER at managing the world than I could ever be. And while I can play a part in affecting change in this world, I cannot do so if I think for a minute that part of that task comes by carrying the burdens.
I heard it put this way. There is faith. And there is trust. When I go to the circus and I look up to the high wire, I see the man pushing the wheelbarrow. He has done it a hundred times. And I have faith he will get across. But when I think about getting in the wheelbarrow, it becomes about trust. So just for today, I will trust. And just enjoy the ride, looking up as I go. And I must say that this attitude as it is not even noon yet, hasd lightened my load. And the view from the wheelbarrow in the high wire is breathtaking.
The timer just stopped. But I am not going to. Because there is so much more. I am so glad that all I have to do is this moment. Right now. Until all of the moments add up to one day. This day. And this day is a beautiful one. Because I woke up. Still breathing. That’s a win.
It’s pandemic season. And I find it like living a marathon. I am choosing to be with me for the most part. Only seeing a few people in person and at that, with a distance between us of six feet, or, according to the screen saver at the Home Depot checkout counter, six pies.
I saw this yesterday when I went in to get packing supplies. On one side of the screen is a universal sign for “person.” Like on bathroom doors. On the other, the same image wearing the orange Home Depot apron. Between them a horizontal line with arrows on each end. Above that line, the words “six feet.” Below the line, “six pies.” I am wondering. Do people have to be 12 inch pie eaters to work at Home Depot?
Mine are more like 10 inch pies, so I will keep a seven pie distance from you. And then when you go, I will eat the pies. But I like cake right now. So how about a seven cake distance? Yes. Three yellow birthday cakes with chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting alternating with four simple chocolate cakes with cream cheese ganache frosting. The recipes from scratch coming from Bon Appetit and my kitchen.
I have learned to like cooking since March 2020. And over ninety plus days, I have added three food groups. Cookies, cake and Hello Fresh.
I choose to not go to restaurants. I think I have had less than a dozen delivery or pick up meals in all of these weeks. Instead, I have slowed the the pace and enjoyed dinner. At the table. With my daughter. What a gift. Delicious. And the food is good too. Hello Fresh. Delivering to our door every Tuesday. A box filled with Hall of Fame recipes. All of the ingredients. No waste. Exact amounts. And colorful simple recipe cards with simple instructions. Just wash the produce, cut or slice or zest or dice. Bake or boil no trouble or toil. My daughter and I have taken turns with preparing the meals and cleaning up after.
Prior to this pandemic, I was not a fan of cooking. I have had anorexia in my history. Buying groceries, keeping them in my house, planning a menu, getting the ingredients-all have been great stressors in my past. Exhausting mentally.
But now, thanks to the pandemic state in which I reside, I have upped my game. Not just assembling food groups like a chore. With the same chicken legs and rice and tuna and salad. I did the bare minimum to nourish before and while my body’s needs were met, I was missing out on so much in my soul.
The Zen of thinly slicing scallions. Separating the white from the green. Zesting bright yellow lemon. Patting dry chicken like a mom who dries her baby’s butt. There is a nurture in meal prep. And while this may not be news to you, for me it has been a daily headline. Of Color. And texture and flavor.
That has fed my body. My soul. And my spirit. Not just by preparing. Or cleaning up. Both of which have been gifts to be grateful for as doing the task forced being in the moment . Not just for the delicious tastes that met on a plate. Orange carrots roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper, topped off with the zest of a lemon and some of its juice. No wait. There’s more! Next to this vegetable was couscous. Who knew? I didn’t! This gooey, slippery bland on its own food that looks like tapioca in the pan could take on such flavor from garlic and butter and scallions and salt. But wait. There’s more! Next to that, what was once a sad saggy breast, naked with not even skin, transformed by salt, pepper, sour cream, pancho bread crumbs, fresh shredded parmesean and smoky paprika into a lightly crusted juicy delight.
Stuff Dreams Are Made Of is both a shop and a place to create. Just off the charming street of Main in Jenks, Oklahoma, home to antique malls and small town folks businesses is where you will find it. From the outside, it’s just a modest craftsman bungalow. Plain and simple. Bookend boxwoods under matching porch rails topped with identical pillars.
But don’t judge this book by its cover. Once you cross the threshold, you forget everything behind you. At least I did.
There is so much for the eye to see. Kind of a curiosity shoppe. Two big tables welcome 8 or 9 people with a space to create. Bins and bowls and tables filled with finds from generations past-old marbles, postcards, teacups, valentines, matchbooks, dolls, letters, buttons, dollhouse furniture, old tins, sequins, wooden boxes of every shape and size, vintage toys, shadow boxes, old keys, vintage jewelry, fabric, ribbon, yarn, paper, canvas, glue, paint- all in a miraculous sense of order throughout the three rooms and butler pantry downstairs, as well as the munchkin height room at the end of the stairs that run straight up the middle of the house.
The walls are covered too. Mostly mixed media masterpieces created during open hours, but also some previously created art work just begging for a repurposing.
And that, for me, is the draw. Mixed media art. To take an existing canvas. There are many to choose from. Some for $2, some donated for free. Then, breathe new life into it, using any material that floats your boat.
My favorite is this collage I made using Vogue Magazine images and other found objects. The original painting underneath I am sure has a story. It was a general with three stars on his uniform. I left that exposed because I am a giver of stars. That is a story for another time.
I started going to Stuff Dreams Are Made Of over a year ago. To create. I am religious about it. Because making art is healing. For my soul and brain. Every Thursday and sometimes on Saturday.
And I had company. Always Linda. She is the shopkeeper. And giver. And helper. And sharer. And listener. And knower. And seeker. And teacher. And (only by request) opinion giver. And creator extraordinaire. And my good friend. Anywhere from three to six people might come and go during open hours. Regulars. Emilie would show up with her quick wit and beautiful heart. Pamala with her unique talents and contributions. Heather with her smile from ear to ear. Lisa with her quiet wit. Mary with an entire craft room in tow. Janie with her brilliant mind. Ann with her ladybugs and great giggle. Lauree with the laugh of the century. Elaine with her sense of humor. Shawna with her impeccable spirit. Dwight with his quiet gifts. Paul with his attention to detail and great taste in flowers and women.
I was there every Thursday. All day. Nothing could keep me away. Not heartbreak, insomnia or even chronic pain. I was and am fully committed to the creative process. Every Thursday.
Lunchtime is a ritual of Happy Meals and “Your Holiness” prayers.
I have over a dozen toys proudly displayed around my home. And it’s true. They make me happy.
I continued into my second year until the doors closed temporarily due to pandemic. Even then, Linda could not be stopped. To encourage continued creating, there is a Giving Tree outside the shop. Offering goody bags with things to make art with every Thursday for curious passers by encouraged by the sign on top to “TAKE ONE.”
Linda would offer a suggestion for what people might do while there. Things like:
Dollmaking, Mixed Media Mandalas, 365 Days Of Thankfulness Jars,
Start with a: Rock, Dragonfly,Triangle, Heart, Scribble,Rock, Game Board
Making An Altar To Love.
I rarely did the theme of the day. I always had more than one idea of what I wanted to create. And Linda allowed it. No rules, except for the ones we learned in Kindergarten to clean up our messes. She tolerated me. I sprawled out over three people’s spaces the minute I walked in most days. Linda lovingly had me corral all my stuff.
I healed from a lot through creating in this house. With these women. And a couple of men. While the mood for the most part is light to honor the time for creating, (politics and religion are checked at the door) when someone around the table has a hardship, it is lessened around the tables of Stuff Dreams Are Made Of. It was just a by-product that beautiful art was created in the process as grief was shared and lessened and lessons were shared and learned.
I think I can understand how those women who gathered for quilting bees felt. What an incredible exchange can be made among people who are smack dab in the middle of creating. The brain goes to a relaxed place and healing happens. And art is the by product.
Also much laughter. There were times when a tiny plastic banana became a phone which was passed around for each willing party to have a chat with whoever was on the other end. When the phone was passed to me, the voice on the other end was hostile and uppity. With an Italian accent. I think it was a zucchini that called on the banana phone, but I will never know. There is no way to trace the call.
On Halloween, I got married to Frankenstein by a grieving woman.
I will say farewell to Stuff Dreams Are Made Of in the coming weeks. And I will miss the laughter. And the tears. And the celebrations. And the Happy Meals. And the incredible supply of objects to make into art. And the 10 cent trinkets in the old hard case suitcase in the front room. I had to elbow my way between Emilie and Pamala on several occasions to get in on the new additions before they got nabbed.
The one thing I won’t miss is Thursdays. Because wherever I am, Thursday will be there too. And I will continue my commitment. To make the world a brighter place, if only on my living room wall. By being fully committed. To the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.
Thank you Linda. For your vision. Your heart. Your generous spirit. You have taught me much more than just how to become a better artist. You have led by example and shown me how to become a better person. And a better friend. Thank you for that. I love you very much.
I write three pages every morning, 99% of the time. Along with that, I have a dedicated time for prayer and meditation from which I get up and go into my day. Lately, I have noticed that those are the best two hours of some of my days.
So I decided today in writing those three pages to try something different. Because lately, I have had some dis ease in my days after those two yummy spiritual and safe hours parked in the corner of my gray couch looking out my picture window.
This morning, I wrote to my God. Starting a conversation. I like to think talking to my God is a prayer. One that my God is always at the ready for. In fact, I am almost certain that for my entire life, my God has been waiting eagerly for me to engage. In a relationship.
So, if I apply the things I do in my human relationships, the ones that I nurture with time and conversation and listening, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I have an ongoing conversation with my God today, starting with these three morning pages?”
I strive to live my life in 24 hour increments. I believe that those things we call days were set up to have a beginning and an end with rest as a key part, in order to survive some of the events that take place in that 24 hour period in the world we live in. My God is clever that way. Setting up a finite timeframe in which to live my life.
I say “my” God, because I don’t want to suggest that there is only one God. I mean, there may be. Or maybe there is not. I do not know. But for me, I choose to say my God so as to not confuse my belief system with some that are associated with the word God where people have been harmed in that setting. I respect ALL beliefs of whatever a person chooses to pray to, worship, believe in, surrender to. Also, it really is not my business to judge anyone because I don’t know much.
“So God, what do you want from me today?” I opened it up right away. Requesting marching orders. Opening myself up for an assignment. Which I got. I went on. “Please show me as I go. I really want you there. I know that you have always been there. The times I did not feel your presence, were the times that I was shutting you out. I am sorry God. Forgive me. And thanks because I know that you do.
You are so kind and generous too. I have noticed this. I also see that you are not pushy. And man, are you ever patient. Sitting there. Open to my call. And if you are in a place called Heaven and there is a Phyllis Bunn there with you, the one who hosted me for 9 months before I launched into the world, I am quite sure you have sore ribs. From her elbow. Digging into them.” “Ok God, my kid is there and she is not looking to you. She is living in her head again. Maybe you could use that Facebook thingamajiggy and put one of those memories in her face. You know, the ones where she WAS talking to you and reading from books that made her mindful of you and then she shared them on the Facebooks!’” I am pretty sure that if there is a Heaven and a God that lives there, that God is taking naps because of my mom. Constantly nagging for her kids on earth to get in touch. Be cared for. Things that she failed at through most of her life as a mother.
In my conversation, I found myself expressing my gratitude. It just came out that way. It was not even my intent, yet. “God, thank you. I know that all those time when I was afraid, you really were there. When I had breast cancer, you saved me. Twice.
The first time when you spoke to my gut that while I had a garden variety breast tumor, I needed to seek treatment 1400 miles from home. In Costa Mesa, California. And that because of that, when I returned home to do the recommended chemotherapy and that doctor greeted me with the news that my cancer had returned, was incurable, that I could be made comfortable for two years. And you dropped the mic God when she went on to say that the chemotherapy medication she had planned to give me was the one mentioned in the only bit of scientific fact I remembered from the frightening journey through cancer that the drug she was recommending did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in those tests to kill those cancer cells.
So thanks, God, for saving me twice, as I listened to your inner nudging from my place in a ball on the floor of the lobby of St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa, OK. There on the phone, that doctor who took the tumor out an left it somewhere in a dumpster in Orange County said “I have no confidence in what that doctor is telling you, “ followed up by a whole week in California, scanning every inch of me, only to find that there was no cancer recurrence.
You saved me God from the malpractice that could have killed me.” I need to remember these things, even though writing them down brings some strong feelings of remembering the terror I felt at that time 17 years ago.
“So God, I have noticed that when I go into my days lately, that I feel less in touch with what you want for me. I strive to do what is my purpose, but the connection to you just gets so remote, like the farther away from my morning time, the farther away you become. And I see that it is me who allows that distance to come in. So I am happy for the anxious thoughts that have plagued me here lately. Over my future. Short term and long. Because it is a direct signal to me that I need to be in better contact with you. And talking to you via writing is a great way for me to do that. So thanks. For the gift of the awareness that when things become difficult, there are actions I can take to change that and that you are all over it. Whenever I simply reach out.” Just writing this is centering for me.
I am amused at the fact that the things I worry about are just my perspective. And that worry is a choice. But more than that, today I decided that worry is more than a choice. Worry is an insult to my God and all that has been done for me to date. It is dismissive of the many times I have lived when I should have died or killed someone else for my choices and actions. I drove drunk many times. More than I can remember because most of the time that I chose to drink, I would black out and do things that I did not remember until the horrible recounting of those who were with me at those times.
For that, I could have been a felon. Killing someone with a moving vehicle. Or killing myself.
If I look at my life from the perspective of how many times I could have died, I would be a cat to the infinity power. Way more than nine lives have been gifted to me. These are just four. In my book they each count for way more than one lifetime.
Sober from the disease of alcoholism
Recovered from the disease of Anorexia
Cured of the disease of breast cancer
Healed of the chronic desire to kill myself on multiple occasions over half of my life.
I have been accepted! Into the gifted program. Yup. Me!
Gifted with life. Repeatedly. When I was ready to throw it away. Gifted with a creativity that is a direct connection to my soul. Through writing, painting, making people laugh. Making people feel valued. Inspiring others to tell their truth by sharing mine.
Gifted with time.
Gifted with energy.
Gifted with a voice.
Gifted with money.
Gifts not to be squandered but to be spent wisely. So just for this day, I will do that. And with that, I am going to stop for now. Because I get to go outside in the beautiful sunshine. And breathe because I can. And walk because my legs work. And straighten my house. Because I have been gifted with shelter. And fold my laundry. Because I have been gifted with clothing. And cook my daughter dinner. Because I have been gifted with her and a kitchen that has electricity and appliances and food in it.
And tonight, I get to bake cookies. Because at my house, after 90 days of social distancing during a pandemic, cake and cookies are now a food group. And these cookies, I will get to share. With someone I love. Who does not live here, but who is alive and who I have a relationship with today that I never thought I would.
One last thing. I challenge you. As you read this. If you are feeling hopeless, look for one thing in your day. To be grateful for. Even if it is just that you can’t find something to be grateful for. Be grateful for that. Because I can promise you that if you just keep breathing and showing up, that can change. For the better. And that hope can be a part of your life.
The older I get, the less I know. And that works for me. Because that gives God something to work with. Teachable gray matter.
And I get some of my greatest lessons from young people. You know, the ones who get a bad rap. The millennials. I try to be mindful of the lesson teachers. Meaning, I never know who my messenger from God is. It might be the person with the foil lining their stocking cap. God uses everyone.
And last night, God used a 22 year old. Who was born at 40 on the wisdom scale, which makes her 62. While science says her brain won’t be fully cooked for three more years, her soul is intact since before her physical day one.
We talked about George Floyd. And the police. And the world. And our society. And I got schooled. Because I sit in my little box, judging from my one tiny perspective the big blue marble that we all live on. And that is one limited, finite view. If I thought there was a right and wrong to how to look at things, I would miss so much. And I have done that. Set in my ways at more than twice her age, I think I have wisdom. And while that may be true, I don’t corner the market on that.
The conversation started with enthusiasm. Excitement. Sharing of beliefs and ideas. Probing questions and answers exchanged between us. It was exhilarating for me. But the more we discussed what is happening in the world from two views, the more frustrated we each became from our seats. And what began as an energized exchange, was quickly drained of all power by the facts of the contents.
I make it a habit not to watch the news. My reason has been that the things that I see, like Charlottesville or the politics of our day leave me quite literally sick. So up until March, when there began a pandemic, I stayed happily ignorant. Justifying this by saying, “I just need to take cover when they sound the tornado sirens. I’m good.” And left it at that. But I’m not good. And I can’t leave it at anything. Anymore. Because me sitting here ignorant of the world around me is irresponsible.
While I spent my evening after our conversation writing, I found myself happening on a Facebook LIVE video. At first, I scoffed. “Just another talking head. Bleeding out loud about the world events.” Also, she was a person of color. And while I like to think I am not prejudiced, I was raised byu a racist from the depression era and while I am not proud to admit it, I have not completed the unlearning process of that white bread childhood.
Shame on me. I hadn’t even heard a word. I made that judgment just by looking at the face of the young woman who had over 200,000 views on this video and honestly, that was the reason I stayed. And listened. I thought if that many people were listening and watching what she had to say, it might be good to see what that draw was. I shared her video on Facebook because what she said disturbed me. Her caption read, “I’m scared. And you should be too.”
What I heard was a well articulated fear for the safety of her children and her own safety and the humiliation she had suffered while trying to take care of and make feel safe those who were sworn to keep her safe. She said it better. And she said something about Atlanta that told me she lived there.
What I did not realize, because remember, I don’t watch the news because it makes me sick was that there were riots going on in her back yard and that she was literally fearing for her life and the lives of her children.
So I got over my bullshit and I watched the news. And while I can sit back at a distance from my little box and see the whole world stage from the safety of my white bread living room, not everyone has that privilege. And more to the point, I cannot sit here worried what people will think of me if I express my true feelings about what I see in the world today and claim to be a person who gives their life daily to the service of my fellow human.
So here is what I see. A planet. With lots of water and land. And people. And on my neck of the woods, there is an echelon. Of people. With the ones at the top, looking down on the rest. Like the suites at a sporting venue or the racetrack. Protected, well fed, with fancy suites. While most of the rest of the people are in the cheap seats.
And these are the people who do the work so that the ones in the suites can have the money from the work of the backs of the people who do the work to afford the suites.
And the people in the suites like it when the people in the cheap seats. Fight. And suffer. Because then maybe none of them will look up to notice that the ones in the suites are having a party. And I would say the party was on the people who work’s dime. But it’s much more than that.
In our conversation, I was schooled to the fact that there are school teachers who do their noble work, only to have to go to work at Home Depot at night, missing their family to do so, in order to just survive. Just as I write this, I am getting the same frustration as I had when we talked last night. I need to keep my head out of the sand. And stay informed. And above all, I will ask God, what can I do to affect change? Truly. Because I have taken for granted the freedoms I have had. The ones my father fought for in World War II. The one I have that when I drive my car if I get pulled over, I can be free to get my wallet out of my purse without fearing that the officer might think that because of the color of my skin, I might be drawing a weapon and shoot me. The freedom to live in a country where those who were slaves and built so much of this country are still slaves. To fear. And that is wrong.
I listened to the other view last night. Two actually. The one in person I treasure. And am so grateful I stayed open. Before we talked, I was judging the riots I had heard about in Minnesota. “That’s not going to help. People are going to get hurt.” Really Lucinda? People are getting more than hurt. People are getting murdered. Wake the fuck up. What I heard from both of the young women was that maybe this is not a riot but a revolution. Perhaps it is necessary for the greater good.
I don’t know. And that works for me. Because there is a lesson going on here. And it is my duty as a human being to show up for class.