Friday, February 26, 2010

Playing a card

When is it okay to play a card? Not your trump card. Not the joker, not the ace of hearts. I'm thinking the two of spades. The card that says "please excuse me right now, I'm suffering and deserve to be treated differently. Normal rules are suspended because I'm (insert relevant disaster). "

On Tuesday morning P interupted my shower with a proclamation. "There's a man at the door and he needs a sign." Don't we all? I thought and hurriedly wrapped myself into a towel and padded down to meet the courier. I do love couriers. Bearers of presents and trademe purchases. Bringers of glad tidings of great joy.

He: "It's from your neighbour. Your next door neighbour."
Me: "Can't be good news then?"
He: "Probably not."

And sure enough, he was right. Our neighbour had gone to the expense and trouble of having a letter couriered from her house to ours. The details are boring, the claims against us pedestrian. But the sentence that really stuck in my throat was the one that suggested that we were taking advantage of her as a single mother. What does that mean?

In property disputes about whose water is flooding whose garden does being a single mother give you greater rights and less responsibilities than being married? Since when was being a single mother a bad thing? Is it a new category of social status that means the rules are changed? I've never thought that marital or parental status was a card that could be played. Am I wrong? Which of the many attributes, charateristics and events that shape us entitle us to expect sympathy? Being short? Being poor? Being prone to foot-in-mouth disease?

It's made me think about how often I've played the cancer card in the last 7 months. I withdrew from university and received a partial refund of fees. I was slow to respond to one of our landlords and blamed chemo. I've stopped wearing a seatbelt and have prepared a cancer burn excuse but am yet to try it on a real life officer. Perhaps I've played it so infrequently because I haven't needed to. My community has wrapped me in lovingkindness and support and has not asked me to pull my weight where it might otherwise be expected. And this is how it should be. We should care for each other enough that paid up members of card carrying societies don't have to pull out their two of spades to get the help they need.

I have been useless at this in the past, arrogantly considering myself more of a global helper than a local hands-on person. My cooked meals won't be appreciated but I'm sure that I can do more for those in need around me. The examples set by others in our community have shamed me into quiet reflection.

Where do we draw the line? What constitutes a disaster card and which mindsets lock people into victimhood? I know better than most what it feels like to have days where the world seems set against you. Yesterday I lost my car key, tripped off my scooter, burnt my mouth on hot coffee, ran low on gas, left my moneycard at home, looked like an old, grey, fat spinster, oozed more goo from a massive burn under my arm and finished my book and had nothing to read and absolutely nothing to wear, so take me now because I am done with Thursdays.

I also woke up in a gorgeous new home with my two healthy delightful children sleeping peacefully downstairs. My step-son is living his dream at college in the States. My husband had already left for work so he could start at 7.15am as he has done at least 5 days a week for the 10 years we have been together, to faithfully provide for our family. I had the choice of three different cereals for breakfast and 295 albums to listen to through my inbuilt surround sound stereo system. I am blessed with a body that functions so well that despite the assault of cancer treatment I was able to scooter with my daughter to kindy and play mixed doubles tennis with C in the evening. I have a nearly brand new car which I love and money in the bank to buy petrol. I am a cuddly, sexy grey-haired minx who now attracts the attention of both hetero- and homosexuals. My burn is healing and my bookshelves are full of generous gifts from friends that I'm yet to open. Every day above ground is a good day.

I still have nothing to wear.

If my neighbour could meet my eye I'd say this:

"Cards on the table. We all get dealt the occasional dud. Sometimes an entire hand of rubbish. Having cancer doesn't give me the right to flood your garden. Being a single mother doesn't give you the right to flood mine. Call off the couriers and won't you please accept my home-made lasagne cooked with love and instructions from the Kids Can Cook book."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ouch, ouch

I finished radiation therapy on Tuesday and was pretty damned pleased with myself. I'd just sent off a fantastic letter to the editor of the Christchurch Press lambasting the stupidity of men in general but particularly men who whine about wanting money for breast cancer awareness for men. In New Zealand 20 men each year are diagnosed compared to 2500 women. Bad luck to those chaps but I can't get excited about spending precious health funding dollars to alert men to fondle their breasts more often. It's hard enough getting them to the doctor to feel their balls and men are much more likely to have trouble 'down below' than in their man boobs.

I'd also got through radiation pretty much unscathed. Some redness, tightness of skin, a little tiredness, that's it. I told the girls I'd have radiation every day if it meant not ever having chemo again. And then they told me some cold hard truths. "The burning will get worse before it gets better, and the pain should peak in about seven days time. But then you'll start to heal."

By Wednesday I was starting to have the odd throbbing pain, a some stiffness under the arm but was buoyed by the triumph of my writing. My letter still hadn't been published and this could only mean one thing - it had been selected for the Letter of the Week. Surely now my days as a part-time blogger were over. This would be the start of something big. You've seen Julie and Julia? I know that Sacha and Kylie doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But think of the spin offs. Miniature one-boobed barbies would surely be the next Happy Meal toy, all the A-listers would shave their locks, and Alison Holst could take a break from having her Favourite Muffins at the top of our best seller lists.

Thursday wasn't such a good day. Armpit getting decidedly ugly. More skin left on sheets than on body and the only thing that's remotely comfy to wear is nothing. Oh, and I got an email from Bruce Rennie regretfully informing me that The Press can't publish all letters it receives and that some good letters get left out.

Good? What sort of messed up wishy-washy adjective is that? My previously trusted bridesmaid F once introduced me to her new boyfriend and after a dazzling display of verbal gymnastics which included hilarious commentary of the day's events, insightful remarks about local body politics and a very accurate piss-take of Ruth Dyson I left to go home and put the spuds on. F asked this new boyfriend what he thought of me. "Oh, she seems nice enough." Needless to say, but mentioned for those who thought Kylie Minogue really was a friend of mine, he didn't last long and I'm not sure Bruce Rennie should sleep easy in his job either. Fancy missing the obvious brilliance that is me in full flight. Okay, I was a little over the word limit. I was perhaps a little strident in the expression of my opinion. But still. You want to read some of the crap they do print.

In hindsight perhaps my emotions were ahead of my body. Now I look how my letter sounded. I am raw, oozy and suffering. If you want to see for yourself, find me on facebook. You have been warned.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Look good, feel better

That's the promise of the charity funded by the cosmetics and toiletries industry. Women with cancer are invited to a workshop to learn about make-up and hair care. The idea is great. Slap on some lippy and bingo! you look good and feel better for it.

I was reluctant to go. Why mess with perfection? But I met a fabulous cancer warrior at the local supermarket and she pushed all the right buttons. "You get hundreds of dollars worth of free stuff." I rang and booked as soon as I got home.

I don't do group anything very well so I gave myself a really serious talking to all the way up the Cancer Society stairs. "You're not running the show; these women are probably warm blooded and have feelings so shut up about what you really think; breathe; two ears, one mouth; focus on the free stuff."

It was awful in all the expected ways, "we won't go around and introduce ourselves, I know how nervous that makes you" and wonderful in unexpected ways that humbled me. So many volunteers giving up time to bless women in need. So many delicious freebies from my favourite cosmetic giants. There's the rub. Partly why having cancer is such a shitty disease is because as a society we are bombarded with misinformation about how a person's value should be measured. Images of 'beautiful' women are everywhere and they're not often bald, with eyebrows falling off. The whole concept of the make-up morning rubbed up against what I believe makes people beautiful. The confidence that comes from being certain of your place in the world, the joy of living a life you've chosen and created, the peace that passes all understanding and allows us to graciously accept that bad things happen to good people. I couldn't help but think that two hours of sharing and celebrating each other's triumphs through the trials of cancer treatment might have had a more permanent beneficial effect. But perhaps that's what the support groups the Cancer Society offers are for. We all certainly laughed and enjoyed the attention of the wonderful volunteers who could not be faulted. Their love and warmth was uplifting. And total surprise - colouring in my eyebrows was fun. "Lots of little strokes."

Truthfully, I left looking like a drag queen. Lots of eye-shadow, caked on foundation, and a pukey peach lipstick. Still, I had wonderful gifts of cleanser and makeup remover to rub it all off.

Back at work, the girls in the cafe underneath my office immediately commented on how nice I looked. Crap. C arrived at his desk. Did I know that my cheek was sparkling? And by the way honey, you look great. Shit. I hauled my spare 9 kilos up 79 steps to visit Frosty F, my chief bridesmaid. She, of all people, would respond appropriately and offer me a flannel and some soap.

"Oh my goodness Sach. Where have you been? You look a-m-a-z-i-n-g. That colour on your lips is gorgeous." Fuck.

I had to laugh. It took nearly two hours to get the goo on and where am I going to get that kind of time on a daily basis? The best advice I got from the workshop was to invest in a head wrap to wear at night to keep my head warm. The lovely expert slipped one onto my head to show the other girls how easy they are to pop on one's pate. It has the added benefit, I quipped, of being a contraceptive device.

So here for your viewing pleasure is me, the evening of the event. The light doesn't do the thickness of the goop justice or show just how dark grey my hair is. But hopefully, at the very least, the joy and peace I have about the lucky life I lead shows through.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Old dog, old tricks

And so it came to pass. On the seventh day, when all the other creatures were resting their weary bones, my Dad aged 67, was riding his new Honda Shadow motorbike from Christchurch to Auckland.

He bought it through TradeMe a few days ago and has spent the last 36 hours practising his slow turns and stopping on the relatively quiet streets of Sumner. So far he's lost his gloves off the roof of my car, lost his glasses off the roof of my car, found the glasses 10 minutes later unscathed in the middle of the road - 'it's a miracle', and made two trips into town to buy accessories that he forgot the first, and second time he went to the bike shop. Of course he looks cool. While he's riding. Watching him get off is pure comedy. Lacking the flexibility to lift his leg over the seat he leans forward and rolls off, just like the high jumpers at the Berlin Olympics. And just like the high jump bar, sometimes the bike comes down too. Another wee thing to practise.

It's my fault. If I hadn't reminded him of the Honda Goldwing he would never have remembered that riding a motorbike around the perimeter of New Zealand was on his bucket list. Up til then he was obsessing about a motorhome, his boat, and a bicycle built for two.

But there are worse things he could be doing. Gardening. Giving up. Acting his age. Genealogy. Bowls. Reunions. Better to burn out than to rust. Go Poppa Bear. If it all gets too hard and for the second time in 20 years he has to sell a motorbike within a couple of weeks of buying it, where's the harm?

I'm planning my own adventure now. Despite my daily sunbeds (when you're having radiation therapy every day is a Friday) which have burnt a red patch the size of a dinner plate onto my chest and halfway round to my back, I crave the sun and the warmth of a tropical breeze. After 6 more treatments I will be free. The only hospital visits between me and Christmas will be check-ups, 3-weekly Herceptin, and surgery to rebuild the twin towers. But even that can wait.

I was thinking about doing a road trip. Perhaps I could follow that old guy who keeps rolling off his bike at the road side cafes. Have you heard of him?