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A month of many moustaches

5 Nov

I’m torn. November used to just be the month of turkey, cranberries and raking leaves. Now, though, November seems to have developed a split personality and both of those personalities are calling me.

November is National Adoption Month.  My family was built through adoption; many of you know I’ve written about the idiotic things people say about adoption and adoptees. I promise I’ll write more about adoption this month, and not everything will be snide. Really. I can do it. You’ll just have to trust me.

November is also Movember, a month devoted to raising awareness of prostate cancer and male mental health issues. I have my own mental health issues to deal with, so I’ll stick to prostate cancer for this post.

I first heard of Movember through a magnificent™ Canadian blogger, Le Clown. “Movember” combines the words moustache and November, because participants raise awareness of prostate cancer by growing moustaches.

Because I learned of Movember through a Canadian, I assumed it was started by Canadians. Turns out Movember is an Australian brainchild. Now, though, Movember is a worldwide movement. While I don’t have a prostate, I do have a few men in my life, including my husband.

Like all cancers, prostate cancer is best treated in the early stages, but prostate cancer screening is controversial. My husband’s doctor uses PSA tests; your doctor might not. I asked my husband about his adventures in prostate cancer screening solely as an example.

Me: Why did you have to have that biopsy of your prostate?

Him: Because my PSA was high.

Me: That’s all?

Him: No, my prostate was enlarged . . .

Me:  He knew that from, you know, sticking his finger . . .

Him: Yes! God! Stop!

Me: Ok, so ewwwww. That’s all? He just put his finger in and knew?

Him: Will you stop!? No! I couldn’t pee.

Me: What do you mean you couldn’t pee? I hear you pee in the middle of the night all the time. Are you saying you sleep pee?

Him: No, but you might have noticed peeing takes about a week. Since drinking water is also recommended for my health, each glass of water extends my time in the bathroom by another day. (He does, indeed, take an inordinate amount of time peeing.)

Me: Ok. So you needed the biopsy. What was that like?

Him: It was like someone put a tiny AK47 in me and sprayed the inside of my ass with bullets.

Me: (hysterical laughing) Ok. Did you have to ask for the screening?

Him: No. It was just part of my yearly exam.

All with my husband’s end ended well but he and I have reached the age when humiliating exams need to be undertaken on a yearly basis. He gets a finger in his butt and I get a mammogram. I try to convince him that having your boobs squashed flat in three different positions on both sides is far more of a trial than having one itty bitty finger inserted in his down there. He’s not buying it.

There are many ways to make a statement this Movember:

•  grow a mustache and let everyone know why

•  donate to Movember or your favorite cancer foundation

and, if you have a prostate,

•  talk to your doctor about prostate cancer screening.

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Death Becomes Dad

19 Apr

It’s the middle of the night. My dad is up from his bed, again. He does this every night, getting out of the bed for any of a number of reasons. Sometimes he just needs to pee. Sometimes something about his bed is bothering him.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I’ll ask. “Nothing,” he says. “I just have to get away from that bad environment.” I have no idea what it is about his bed that makes it a bad environment. It adjusts to make him as comfortable as possible. He can sleep with his head elevated. He can sleep with his feet elevated. He can sleep with his head and feel elevated so much that he’s almost in a fetal position.

Tonight, though, is different. Tonight, he’s not getting away from something. Tonight, he’s getting ready to go somewhere. He walks into the bathroom and washes his face then carefully combs his hair, the things he does every morning. But it’s 2 a.m., about four hours before he usually does these things. So, I ask, “What’s going on, Dad?”

“I’m getting ready,” he says.

“What are you getting ready for, Dad?”

“A meeting. I’ve got a big meeting with an architect.”

“Where are you meeting an architect, Dad?”

“Downtown,” he says, clearly agitated. Of course, the meeting is downtown. He went downtown to his office everyday for years. I should know this, he seems to be saying as he glowers at me. In his world, I’m the delusional one.

“There’s a meeting tomorrow, Dad. But it’s with your doctor. It’s Sunday, Dad.”

“Okay,” he says in a tone that indicates what I’ve said is clearly not ok. He throws his hands up in frustration.

Fast-forward two months. Dad’s in a nursing home now. His cancer is in remission. The medical kick in the teeth, though, is that he’s dying. Somehow, the chemo, the radiation, the nights my sibs and I spent tending him weren’t enough. He has dementia, pneumonia, urinary retention, leaking heart valves. He might as well have the cancer back.

I know my dad is dying because someone told me. I couldn’t figure this out on my own. That makes me feel stupid. Dying is huge; how can I have missed this? But I am a rational human. When the palliative care professionals tell us that Dad is not likely to get better than he is right now, I believe them.  At least, I believe them enough to tell them I believe them. Then I go home and do what I always do: I google “dying.”

Of course, the Kubler Ross stuff came up, but that’s not what I needed to know. Anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. I know where the anger is going: straight to my husband who gets to deal with me railing against whatever I am railing against at the moment. It’s never that my dad is dying. People die. Getting mad about Dad dying seems ridiculous; getting mad because my son did something bone-headed and my husband let him get away with it makes perfect sense.

I’m down with the denial, too. Dad’s not dying; he’s got pneumonia and he’ll get better. He’s got dementia but at least he thinks I’m my cousin, who has a vague resemblance to me even with that New Jersey accent. His cancer is in remission. It’s a beautiful day. Nobody dies on beautiful spring days, never mind that Mom died on a beautiful summer day.

Bargaining? Does promising myself to call more often count? Does taking the kids out of school to visit Grandpa count?

Acceptance? Getting there . . . and part of getting there is getting to know what it is I’m accepting. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I would mysteriously become paralyzingly depressed. Then, just as mysteriously, I would feel better. A lot better. Then, out of the blue, I’d be blue. A diagnosis isn’t a cure, but at least I know what I’m dealing with now. I’m not making it up when I can’t get out of bed. I’m not a stress monkey when I can’t get to sleep. The cycles make sense and the medication makes it easier.

Getting to know death—at least what constitutes dying—has me ticking off the items on the Diagnosis: Death checklist.  Eating less. Check. Sleeping more. Check. Seeing friends and family who aren’t there. Check. Pneumonia. Check. Getting ready to go somewhere important. Check.

I’ve read that many dying people believe there is something very important they must do. Not like, “Oh, I have to apologize to the neighbor for calling him a son of a bitch for years.” Not that kind of thing. Here is how Ulla Mentzel, of A Good Dying, describes it:

A man who loves to sail might ask us to get the map. The all important map. Don’t you know? It’s in the drawer over there.

A soccer player might draw a playing field with an arrow pointing outside the field. Getting ready to leave the playing field.

A farmer might tell you that she has to take the cows into a different field. The one over the hill. It is very important to take them. Soon.

I’ve said more than once that I’d rather be shot in the head than live the way my father is now. “If I can’t walk, can’t remember who you are, drool, wet my pants, poop in my pants, forget to put on my pants,” I said, “put me out of my misery.”

I realize I am a coward and I should have known it. I call myself a Buddhist but I don’t meditate regularly and I am frequently not in the moment. Still, I know that dying is part of living. I place flowers on an altar every week or so. They bloom, they fragrance the house. I leave them in the vase. Their petals droop, then fall until there is nothing on the stem but a flower head. I leave them on the altar. Finally, when they are dry, I take them out of the vase. The cleaning lady admires them when they are fresh, then advocates their removal when they die. But I know, now, that they were dying all along.

Let’s Make Nice

22 Feb

I don’t really let what other people say about me bug me too much. Not that I don’t have my moments of monumental insecurity over some seemingly innocent remark, but I can usually recover and get back to a normal background level of neurosis quickly.

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing things said about me that have me questioning some fundamental self-truths I hold dear. People are saying I’m nice . . .and meaning it.

Now, I know many things about myself. I am smart. I am funny. I am a perfectionist. I like to argue. I’m demanding. I’m fair-minded. I expect the same of other people.

But I am not nice. Nice people are, well, nice. I can be generous. I’ve been known to be empathic. I can even be silly and frivolous. But nice?

The first person to accuse me of being nice also noted that I am cheerful and optimistic. I know! I know! Me! Cheerful! Optimistic! Obviously, this was someone who knew me not at all. And, indeed, she was a reader responding to my Hanukkah column on my son’s refusal to participate in our Hanukkah festivities.

The short story is this: I was able to get him to help me light the driveway menorah despite his insistence that he, as an atheist, would not be celebrating the holiday. I wrote that I hoped he would keep Hanukkah with his own children when the time came. One reader noted how difficult it is being Jewish in Naperville and how her sons love Hanukkah and celebrate it despite being marginalized by the surrounding society. Another reader jumped on the “life sucks as a Jew in Naperville” bandwagon, giving me a literary pat on the head for my cheerful, optimistic presentation of what is the drear reality of the west suburban diaspora.

Never having been accused of being either cheerful or optimistic, I laughed out loud. I called my husband; we laughed out loud together. I’m pretty sure I told my sister and she laughed out loud, too. First, though, she said, “You? Optimistic?” Or maybe that was my best friend. The whole “Janice as an optimist” thing was so disorienting it could have been the cat saying, “You? Optimistic?”

One person who doesn’t know me saying I was nice, cheerful and optimistic (I’m laughing while I type it! You’re laughing while you read it. I know you are. It’s ridiculous!), could easily be dismissed, but people who know me are saying it, too!

I’ll grant you that the sales clerk at the local music store is hardly a bosom buddy, but we’re on close enough terms for the man to make a fairly accurate assessment of my temperament. I swear I haven’t been on my best behavior when making my weekly—sometimes biweekly—appearances at the place. I have even been downright rude at times! And yet, just a few days ago, said clerk—we’ll call him “Bob”—said I was nice.

Now, he didn’t just say, “Hey! You’re nice!” He couched it in a very nice compliment about my appearance. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” said Bob. “You look younger!”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m not feeling younger. I feel pretty old and tired, actually.”

“It’s probably because you’re nice,” Bob explained.

According to Bob, another woman he hadn’t seen in a while came in looking considerably older than she ought.

“What does being nice have to do with looking young?” I asked.

“Oh, all that being mean makes you look older.”

I saw no point in arguing with Bob about genetics, cleaning living and exercise. I left him with his delusional opinion of me. He told me I looked younger!

I’m not sure why I don’t feel very nice about being called “nice.” The nicest woman I know is a good friend. I like her a lot. She’s smart and funny, like me. But I believe she’s also got an unshakable conviction that the world is a good, good place. My strongest evidence of that is her existence.

My dad even told me I was nice recently. I suppose that shouldn’t blow me away, but it does. I know my parents loved and respected me but they weren’t exactly the cheerleading type. They were as aware of my failings as my fabulousness.

We were sitting in the living room of his home at two in the morning. We’d been trying to get him to sleep for longer than ten minutes at a time since about nine the night before. He’d brushed his teeth, put on his jammies, had his warm milk and gotten tucked into bed. He had pillows and blankets and all the things he could need to get his chemo-wracked body to submit. It wouldn’t. He would drift off for a few minutes, then some demon—anything from needing to pee to feeling driven to escape—would force him from the bed.

After five hours and two Ambien, we gave up. We sat in the living room, dad and I and the feeding machine. It whirred. The clock ticked. And my father stared into the dark wondering what he’d done to deserve his lot. “Everyone is so nice,” he said. “You, Alan, the kids. You’re all so nice.” As if whatever he’d done to earn this punishment should deny him the right to human kindness as well. We sat a few minutes longer, listening to the pump push food into his body. “Dad,” I finally said, “I may be nice, but I’m also tired. Let’s try to go back to bed.”

He did go back to bed, but he didn’t sleep any better. Since then, we’ve found out he also has Parkinson’s disease. While my dad was pretty confused, I know he wasn’t demented or hallucinating that night. He thinks I’m nice. So does Bob. And so do some of my readers. There are probably whole bunches of people who think I’m nice. It wouldn’t be nice to argue, though, so I guess I’ll have to suck it up. Hell, it might be nice being nice.

What’s Funny Got To Do With It?

9 Jan

My inability to remember details is really starting to annoy me. Lately, I can’t remember lots of things that I really would like to remember. Like my New Year’s resolution. Completely escaped my mind. I may even have written a post about not being able to remember what my resolution was.

I refuse to call these senior moments. I’m busy; I’m distracted. It could even be my meds. I googled one of them. Apparently, lots of people blame it for their short-term memory loss. One woman wrote: “Yes, this medication causes memory loss with me. (laughing)” What could be funny about memory loss escapes me, but at least she’s got a sense of humor about it. This weekend, I forgot where I put the medication that might be causing my forgetfulness. I begged the pharmacist for enough to keep me sane while I looked for the mother supply. I couldn’t find it. I sent my daughter on the hunt, primarily because I know she will move things in her search, thinking that the lost item might be under something. My son will enter a room, look right, look left and declare, “It’s not in here.” My daughter found the drugs. They were in the medicine cabinet. I did not laugh.

So, I am not surprised that I can’t remember what event why siblings and I were discussing this weekend with my dad. The event was to occur in July, so maybe we were talking about Independence Day. My dad said, “I might not be around for that.” My sister and I froze for a beat.

“Dad,” I said. “You’ll be around. You’re going to fight like hell.”

He looked at me quizzically, clearly thinking I had lost my mind. I knew I was sane as my daughter had found my meds and I hadn’t forgotten to take them.

“I might be on a cruise,” he said, then gave me a “what were you thinking?” look.

I was thinking the same thing my sister was thinking. My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer. We weren’t thinking “not around” like in going on a cruise; we were thinking “not around” like, you know, not around.

I haven’t written about my dad’s diagnosis because it’s not my cancer. Well, and because I haven’t wanted to write about my dad’s cancer. I’ve struggled, too, with how much of my personal life really belongs in my blog. I usually write about funny things and I haven’t found a whole lot that’s funny about cancer. At least not my dad’s. At least not yet.

There are any number of things that have happened in my life that I haven’t written about. My friends, my family (especially my kids), deserve their privacy. I respect my kids wishes regarding which stories I can tell and which ones are theirs to tell or not. I would love to tell you about one involving my son. It’s a riot. It’s really not even just his story. But, I’m not going to write about it. My daughter, on the other hand, reads every post to make sure she’s been mentioned at least once.

I don’t write obscenities, either. If you know me, you know that I have a mouth like a sailor. I worked around sailors for a time, but I can’t blame them. I’ve had a foul mouth for years. Still, I won’t use the “F” word, the “S” word (unless necessary, like when I wrote about the four-year-old who said “Oh, shit” when she realized she’d forgotten to bring something to school), and a number of other “single capital letter” words.

My son would give permission for me to write about the funny things he does and says. Unfortunately, most of them fall under the no obscenities rule. My son is the funniest person I know and he is also the most foul. I’ve read that Bob Sagat (the Full House dad) is a truly dirty comic. He’s credited with telling the dirtiest joke ever written. However filthy that joke is my son has one that’s filthier. It even makes my husband, who generally hides his head in his hands when my son gets his comic mojo on, laugh with glee. Ok, maybe not glee, but he’s laughing, feeling guilty over it, but laughing.

Right now, we’re in the beginning phases of coping with my dad’s illness. My sibs and I each have our ways of handling the stress. My sister wants to get to work. She’s one of those constantly in motion people. I know she naps, but I’m pretty sure she does it so she can go back to being in motion refreshed or because she stayed up too late being in motion. Even a dynamo needs to rest now and then.

My brother deals with the pressure by smoking. While I think that’s a really lousy way of coping, I certainly appreciate it. I smoked for years and it was hard as hell to quit. Took me five serious tries. When they invent a cigarette that doesn’t kill you and/or make you smell terrible, I’ll be sorely tempted.

I cope by running. Unfortunately, I can’t run every day without incurring some injury that keeps me from running at all. My other coping mechanism is laughter. If I can find the humor in something—and I very often do—it isn’t quite as scary.

But, so far, my dad’s cancer isn’t very funny. I’m still running, taking it easy so I can keep it up. Maybe I’ll plan on running an American Cancer Society-sponsored race. I look pretty funny after a run and my kids assure me that I smell pretty funny, too. I might even find another pressure release outlet. I hear yoga is good for that. I tend to fall over when I do yoga so that can be pretty amusing. I’ll probably forget where I put my yoga mat, though.

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