After a year’s hiatus from blogging about my cancer journey, I’m baaaack!
Maybe I got too busy to keep writing. Maybe I ran out of things to write about. Maybe I just wanted to put it all behind me and move on.
Whatever the reason, I’ve got the writing bug again, so I decided to create a real blog – woo!
I entered my past blogs (from CaringBridge) backdated in their chronological order. Many people wrote beautiful and uplifting comments (and I’m a Words of Affirmation gal!) that I couldn’t carry over, so feel free to repost them! 🙂
One thing that I think motivated me to finally do this is that I experience a significant milestone yesterday – I was able to donate platelets once again. I had to wait for at least a year post-chemo to donate, and I was worried that my platelet count wouldn’t be high enough to donate, but I did it! My iron count was 13.4, and I gave a triple donation!!
They were so sweet at Bloodsource too – they brought me balloons that said “Welcome Back” and passed out Oreos to everyone to celebrate!
I used to give whole blood every couple months until my Father-in-Law, Clarence Gray, became dependent on platelets to ward off the effects of leukemia in his last years. Platelets (and God) were literally keeping him alive.
So I decided to try giving platelets instead of blood, and discovered it had many benefits:
I wasn’t as tired after donating
It felt like it was a tribute to Tina’s beloved dad
Turns out, I’m a platelet rock star, with an exceptionally high count and able to give triple donations!
My foray back into platelet donation was a big milestone for me and got me reflecting on my journey. So here I am back, wanting to share more.
I may not write about cancer all the time now, but I definitely draw inspiration from my journey, which affects just about everything I do in the aftermath.
Thanksgiving 2020. Public health experts say that the safest, most prudent approach to the holidays this year is to stay home. To be “all in this thing together” means we must stay apart. But this much separation from one another is hard. After nearly nine months, pandemic fatigue is real.
So…with this whole new Covid-19 surge, we decided it’s better to play it safe and not do anything for Thanksgiving this year. It isn’t worth the risk. But that wasn’t an easy choice. Although we’re opting to celebrate on our own and make the best of a strange situation, there is no denying that there are weird vibes in the air this year. Breaking tradition can feel really peculiar and isolating.
After a long stretch of pandemic-induced deprivation, it would have been so easy and wonderful to join our family Thanksgiving Day festivities, but we’ve made the impossibly hard decision to stay home and celebrate with just the two of us – maybe a small turkey, mac and cheese, a shared sweet potato, pumpkin pie, and a nice warm fire.
So off to the store for our purchases on Wednesday afternoon (because I don’t know about you but I don’t possess either the forethought or the space in my fridge to accommodate a frozen bird for nearly a week)! We made our way to the turkey section, but all that was left were very large, fresh, organic turkeys or frozen turkeys approximately the size of a 1978 Bronco. We bought the Bronco version. Because I like leftovers. And not spending $85 on poultry.
We thawed the turkey in the sink overnight – a complete no-no because of food poisoning and bacteria and stuff. So if I die a few days after posting this blog, you’ll know why. It was still frozen in the morning, probably because we turn our thermostat down to around 60 degrees at night, but by about noon, it felt pretty thawed. Good enough.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was different this year, but it still brought me so much joy as I watched in my jammies, by the fire, sipping my coffee. And when it ended, the dog show started, and – no joke – my cat immediately jumped up on the TV cabinet and glared at me. When I didn’t turn it off, she proceeded to bathe herself slowly and meticulously. Crazy cat.
So we watched TV (football for Tina, Killing Eve for me), fixed some food for 2, turkey for 18, and an entire pumpkin pie (because how do you make a half-pie?), read my book (The Bookish Life of Nina Hill), wrote a blog post, and bought some Christmas presents (online, of course). It was okay.
The poet Mary Oliver said, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” That seems just right for this holiday season. As darkness arrives and I start getting ready for bed, I know I will count my blessings tonight when my head hits my pillow; I’ll start with my pillow and go from there.
This Thanksgiving, I see staying home as the ultimate form of giving thanks and showing love to your family. Thank you to everyone who also made the super hard choice to stay home this Thanksgiving to protect our loved ones. We need this to be over, and it’s going to take sacrifices to make that happen.
In closing, let me share a little tune with you that’s most apropos:
Oh the weather outside is frightful But the fire is so delightful And since we’ve nowhere to go… Stay home and avoid the shit show (that is 2020).
I believe personhood begins before birth and continues throughout life, and I believe that personhood is worth protecting, whether inside a womb, fleeing Syria in search of a home*, under the knee of a policeman, or crossing the US border as a refugee. I believe all of life is valuable, no matter how small, marginalized or vulnerable.
Being pro-life but also pro-gay rights, pro-(reasonable) gun control, and pro-immigration, I’m sort of a political refugee, which is why I recently changed my party affiliation from Republican (I can no longer support the party platform or Donald Trump) to Independent. I wish the Democrats did more to protect life before birth and I wish the Republicans would do more to protect life after birth.
I have voted for both pro-life and pro-choice candidates for political office, including Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008, and George W. Bush in 2004 and 2000. I now refuse to be bullied into voting for garbage politicians just because they claim to be pro-life.
By focusing exclusively on the legal components of abortion while simultaneously opposing family-friendly social policies, the Republican Party has managed to hold pro-life voters hostage with the promise of outlawing abortion while actively working against the very policies that would lead to a significant reduction in unwanted pregnancies.
Most women who choose to have abortions do so because they feel they cannot manage the financial burden of carrying out the pregnancy and raising another child. Why, then, would we oppose the very programs that would assist them in raising these children? Why did conservatives ridicule the clearly pro-life diaper distribution to needy families when Obama was president, calling it an example of a “nanny state”? Why do conservatives oppose maternity leave, universal health care, WIC, childcare provisions, and raising the minimum wage? Why do conservatives oppose pro-family, pro-life assistance?
Whether you’re for defending unborn children, underage waitresses, or refugees, these are all issues of faith and compassion might band together in defense of vulnerable against the powerful. But there is no one political party that is consistent on these issues.
So even though I think abortion is morally wrong, and support more legal restrictions around it, I choose to vote for pro-choice candidates when I think their policies will do the most to address the health and economic concerns that drive women to get abortions in the first place. Because it works.
That said, what frustrates me about the pro-choice movement (and the Democratic Party) is the lengths to which advocates go to ignore any moral qualms about abortion, instead de-humanizing unborn children and sanitizing the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. That’s not what science tells us.
Efforts to encourage women to receive standard “informed consent” information (required for all other surgeries), including possible risks, which are not insignificant, prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. Why?
There is an NRA-esque obstinacy about abortion rights, maintaining that even rational limitations are a slippery slope and we need to have full abortion access up until birth (or full access to all guns for all people) with no incremental regulations, because of course those incremental steps are a means to banning. It’s ridiculous. Can we just be rational? Even post-abortion stress or grief counseling is downplayed and denied because it would imply there just might be something wrong with abortion, so the woman’s care is ignored to defend those all-important “rights” and the money that follows.
There’s been a growing push on the left to not only defend abortion as a necessary evil that should be “safe, legal, and rare” but to celebrate it as a positive good. Nope, I can’t go there. And Big Abortion is now in fourth place for the money they pump into political campaigns. The debate over abortion will continue and, contrary to some political arguments, even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, women will have access to abortions in almost every state. I am asking that we consider this issue seriously, leaving out the cheering and laughing and boasting and hashtagging (including “Shout Your Abortion” campaigns) about this profoundly important, serious and sad subject.
I believe the state should protect the weak, not the strong. I believe that a just and progressive society responds to the problem of abortion with pro-women policies: childcare, adoption funding (instead of cutting the adoption tax credit like the Trump admin did), and better maternal health care, especially for black women, who are facing a mortality crisis.
Bottom line: women deserve better than abortion. By seriously addressing the problem of income inequality in this country so that no woman has to choose between getting an abortion or raising her child in poverty, we can truly care for her. It means celebrating parenthood by making America the most generous country in the developed world when it comes to maternity and paternity leave, not the least generous, and it means working together on efforts to reduce the costs of food, diapers, childcare, pediatrician visits, college tuition, adoption, and resources for special needs children.
If today’s “innocent human life” is tomorrow’s “welfare queen,” you might want to consider whether your convictions are truly pro-life or simply pro-birth. Will your fight for life continue when those babies grow up and the lives we’re talking about are kids stuck in the foster care system or in failing schools, teenagers struggling with addiction, immigrants looking for work, or young black men worrying that a traffic stop might end their lives?
The pro-life movement’s political marriage to Donald Trump over the last four years has changed conservative American Christianity profoundly, and not for the better. A world mirroring Trump’s attitudes about women, Blacks, people with disabilities, and the least of these, in general, is not a world I would wish on my grandchildren or their grandchildren, and Christianity remade in Trump’s image is not a religion I could ever be part of.
“What good is it if we gain the whole Supreme Court (in the hopes of reversing Roe v Wade) but lose our souls?” Pro-life is pro-woman, pro-special needs, pro-refugee, pro-outcast, and pro-poor. In other words, Pro-WHOLE-life.
Generally, I think this is a good time for white folks to be quiet and turn the mic over to our black brothers and sisters, but the more I read, the more I learn, and I MUST write. It’s how I process, how I work things out in my head – a kind of therapy, if you will. So thanks for indulging me by reading my rants. I’m always up for conversation or even friendly debate if you agree or disagree.
I’m a member of Rotary, and I was asked in June to give the invocation. Because all of the emotions around George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter that were swirling around in my head, I took a risk (because I know some, and likely more that I don’t know, of my fellow Rotarians are overtly racist) and shared the following:
Personally, I’m a Jesus-follower, but I hope that whatever religion you might be, these invocation words ring true.
James Cone wrote, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, a landmark publication in the conversation about race and religion in America: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 10:39
The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community.
He writes: “White supremacy was and is an American reality. Whites lynched blacks in nearly every state, including New York, Minnesota, and California. Wherever blacks were present, the threat of being lynched was always real. Blacks had to ‘watch their step,’ no matter where they were in America. A black man could be walking down the road, minding his business, and his life could suddenly change by meeting a white man or a group of white men or boys who, on a whim decided to have some fun with him.” This feels like it could have been written about today. Lynchings continue in the United States of America.
As a white woman, I am aware that the color of my skin provides me with a protection that my siblings of color do not have. I was born into this privilege and did nothing to earn it. White women especially have used the violence of white men as our own kind of protection. As Charles Blow wrote in a NYT opinion piece, “We often like to make white supremacy a testosterone-fueled masculine expression, but it is just as likely to wear heels as a hood…Indeed, untold numbers of lynchings were executed because white women had claimed that a black man raped, assaulted, talked to or glanced at them.” And it’s still happening today…in Central Park and all over America.
I am a follower of a brown-skinned Messiah who calls us to love God and love our neighbors. Who is our neighbor? In answer to that question, Jesus shared the story of the Good Samaritan. If you’re not familiar, the story is about a wounded Jew on the side of the road that fellow Jews passed by, not wanting to get involved. The one who stopped was the one who looked different, acted different, believed different – the Samaritan, the person of a different race, the “enemy” of the Jew. That Samaritan invested his time and money to make sure the man was taken care of.
What must we do to be a neighbor to each other, across the racial and religious boundaries that often divide us? How should we invest our time and money to make sure the injured along the way are taken care of? What must I do with my white privilege to eradicate racism from the culture and institutions of our society, and to affirm my solidarity with my African American sisters and brothers?
We are called to examine our own racism – and we ALL have some because we were taught it by our parents and grandparents who were taught by their parents and grandparents back through the CivilRights movement all the way to slavery. Don’t be in denial. Do the work of anti-racism so that all of God’s children are seen and known as beloved and that none live in fear of one another. *
I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that, shortly thereafter, a Rotary member, who is also a pastor, gave his own invocation that included a prayer for law enforcement (without a reference to police brutality against Blacks) and a closing statement that “All Lives Matter.”
While I don’t disagree with either of these things per se, both are clearly inflammatory assertions intended to contradict the current revolution that is awakening our nation to the trauma Black people have been experiencing since slavery. It’s beyond tone deaf; it’s veiled racism. There are people getting fired for saying that! But nobody called him out.
At yesterday’s Rotary Club meeting, two African American men were the featured speakers, addressing the social unrest in our community and country. Unfortunately, a handful of racist comments and questions marred what could have been an encouraging statement of solidarity and support for our Black brothers, and it illustrated just how far we still have to go before achieving equality and respect for People of Color. I got so angry a couple times, I had to turn off my camera (the meeting was on Zoom, of course) and yell a few cuss words at the racists in our club; it was disheartening and maddening.
The irony is that these same folks who claim to be Christians or post a nice Martin Luther King Jr. quote on Facebook in January would never have actually followed the man Jesus when he walked the earth or participated in a Civil Rights protest in the 1960s. Both Jesus and MLK were outsiders – not in line with the religious leaders or the politicians of their day. They stood with the marginalized, not law enforcement. They stood with the outcasts, not the billionaire electeds.
Question: If you lived during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, would you have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery or would you have supported the State Troopers who used firehoses, dogs and whips to disband the marchers/ protestors? (Hint: do you support the police over the BLM protestors?)
Would you have supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (aimed to overcome legal barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote) or would you have opposed it like the Republicans who demanded literacy tests for African Americans before being able to vote? (Hint: do you support voting by mail, aimed at making it easier for vulnerable, young and poor voters, more likely to have mobility – transportation and/or frequent moving – issues?)
Fifteen years ago, I admit I would likely have been on the wrong side of history like the Karen in this photo. Growing up in a nearly-all-white small town (we had 3 African Americans I knew of in my four years of high school and none at my church), implicit bias was woven through our culture. Subconscious racial stereotypes thrived because we knew no different and didn’t care because it didn’t seem to matter.
As a young adult, I remember an African American boy (with a squirt gun) being shot by a Sheriff’s Deputy, and it was quietly swept under the rug – no firings, no arrests, and I thought nothing of it. Today, I’m appalled. And sad that I wasted so many years in denial about my own prejudice and racism. And brokenhearted for the mom who probably still grieves her son’s death with no justice.
Don’t be in denial. Don’t be on the wrong side of history. Don’t be a hypocrital Christian who would rather cling to the status quo than do the work of becoming anti-racist. Examine your beliefs closely and think about how similar issues have played out in the past. Do you really want to be one of the people who stood in the way of liberty and justice for all?
*Special thanks to my pastor, Linda Dew-Hiersoux for the inspiration for my Rotary Invocation!
Every fall, it’s time for my annual mammogram and blood tests, so in usual fashion, I procrastinated a couple months and finally made an appointment. This was my third mammogram since my cancer/chemo/ reconstruction/ reduction, so I really didn’t think much of it…at first.
I went in, did all the things (and I only have to do half a mammogram these days, so it’s only half-horrible now!) and went home – no problem. Then the call came. “We need you to come back in because there are some abnormalities we’re seeing and we need to take a second look.” Holy crap.
Now, I typically have to go back every single time I get a mammogram because I’ve had “dense tissue” in my breasts all my life, but this time the announcement rocked me to my core. I didn’t really talk about my fear to anybody because this was a normal thing for me – I was just going in for a second mammogram – same ol’ same ol’. But I had a hard time sleeping, I started crying spontaneously a couple times (this usually happens in the shower) and I had a hard time focusing. Clearly, I’m no longer very spiritually mature in the area of second mammograms!
I did the second mammogram – even tighter and squishier than the first – and went back to the waiting room while the technician (who was so sweet and made the process as easy as possible) spoke with the doctor. She came back a billion hours later to say they needed a couple more shots, so I endured a few more even-more-painful boob squishes and went back to the waiting room a third time with a cold sweat now breaking out, my anxiety on a bender. When she came back, she asked me to come into the room again and sit down (cue the shakes), where she told me…everything looked clear and I was free to go. Whaaaa? I just about melted into my chair.
Relieved, but still experiencing PTSD (or PTCD, as I’m terming it) symptoms – flashbacks, distress, fear, inability to focus, shaking, sweating, numbness – I drove home and collapsed into bed, crying like a baby.
Cancer is a horrible disease that ravages the body, but it’s also an insidious mind-fuck, which took me by surprise this time. So I’m working through my PTCD day by day, year by year. Will my mammograms bring flashbacks every year? I’m thinking maybe so…but I’ll be a little more prepared after this year’s experience.
The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage. -Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness
I’m bilingual. Yep, I speak Evangelical and English. I learned Christian talk as my first language, so I can be one of the biggest offenders sometimes, but Christianese absolutely drives me bonkers these days! Yes, I drank the Koolaid, but now I’m wondering: Why can’t Christians just talk normal? Evangelical talk is so cold, insular, and frankly obnoxious.
When you really think about some of the things Christians say, it’s goofball insider talk, and none of it sounds like Jesus at all. It is designed to impress, stay superior, judge with a clear conscience, and it is rotten. And lazy. It’s a foolproof way to say to a non-Christianese speaker, “Yes, you are an outsider, and you do not fit in here.”
I am being challenged and held accountable to keep from getting caught up in the rhetoric of dated language and religious expression. Maybe the Christian community needs to hire a marketing firm to come up with new messaging that will appeal to today’s normal people.
Every time I hear Christianese, I make it a point to remind myself that I will not talk it. But sometimes it still dribbles out of my mouth when I least expect it. At times, I revert back to that Sunday School first language without even realizing. And I think I probably make Jesus facepalm a lot.
But we need to be real with ourselves and with the rest of the world. When there is loss, don’t quote scripture, or say it is all in God’s hands. Let yourself FEEL with that person, cry, yell, cuss if you need to. And that allows the other person to have the freedom to do the same.
Bad things happen, and I don’t believe that it is always because God willed it. We live in a messed-up world, and when bad things happen, I believe God hurts too. Because…Jesus wept when Lazarus died.
“All things work together for good” was said to me more times than I can keep track of during my ex-husband’s affairs, getting breast cancer, going through chemo. I do love Jesus, but I‘ve never wanted to punch so many Christians in the face.
Think about it – Jesus didn’t go around spouting off clichés. He washed feet, he fed the hungry, he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors.
Here are some (not so) funny examples of what Christians often say and what non-churched folks hear or think:
“I’m saved.” / “Saved from what?”
“Are you a believer?” / “A believer in…climate change? UFOs?”
“We planted some seeds today” / “You started a garden?”
“Quiet Time” / “Is that like a time-out?”
“Lord, I lift Emily up to You” /
“Witness” and “Testimony” /
“Circumcise our hearts” Um…I don’t even know.
Or how about:
“I was backsliding so I nailed my sins to the cross and rededicated my life, and my faith was re-ignited and I was ushered into glory.” Bleh.
“Father God, we just bathe Julie in prayer and ask you to put a hedge of protection around her, so that the principalities of the air will not cause her to stumble. We pray she will humble herself and turn from her wicked ways so the Shekinah glory of God will fall and she will be edified by your anointing.” Lord help us!
And my personal stumbling block (oops, there’s one again): Overusing the word “just” when I pray. “Lord, we just come to you today…” “We just pray that…” and “We just ask…” WTF?
Why do we say:
“Fellowship” instead of “getting together”?
“Have a heart for” instead of “love”?
“You’ve been on my heart” instead of “I’ve been thinking about you”?
“Travel mercies” instead of “safe trip”?
“I covet your prayers” instead of “please pray for me”?
“Pouring into people” instead of “helping or loving people”?
“I have a check in my spirit with him” instead of “I can’t stand him”?
“A spirit of heaviness” instead of “depressed”?
“Are you in the Word?” instead of “Do you read the Bible?”?
“Of the flesh” instead of “Physical” (not spiritual)?
“Washed in the blood” instead of “forgiven by God”?
“Amen” instead of “yep”?
And Please Just Stop:
Talking about “God’s perfect plan” while ministering to someone about incurable brain cancer or a lost pregnancy? Hard pass.
Saying “Love the sinner, hate the sin” Just no. There’s no good alternative because it’s inherently flawed (and not in the Bible). This phrase is so short on love and long on judgment, I just (vomit face) when I hear it.
Just as Jesus warned the religious folks of his day to avoid vain repetitions in prayer, we need to stop using these vain repetitions in our speech. No more shallow, meaningless, tired words, please. All I hear now are clanging cymbals (oops, there’s another one escaping out of my mouth.) So whether you’re still speaking King James English from the 1600s or Televangelist phrases from the 1970s, let’s just all stop and talk normal.
I have a new job! It’s been seven long months since I was asked for my resignation at my last job. I had been well-paid while there, so we were living very comfortably – we bought things when we wanted them, we traveled, we were putting lots away for retirement.
We had built up a nice cushion in our savings account, but then our antenna blew off and tore a good chunk of our roof off, so we replaced it in June, eating up most of those savings. A month later, I was unemployed. Tina’s job plus unemployment was enough to pay all the bills, but then my ex-employer challenged my unemployment and I lost it.
My new full-time job was finding a job. I worked on it every day. I applied for at least one job per week. I went to interview after interview. I was offered a position and then it fell through. I was the top pick at another nonprofit, and then they decided to restructure. What was going on? I could not figure out why I was not getting hired.
We started having to take about $2000 a month out of savings and severely cut back our spending. No more eating out, no more cleaning lady, no more pedicures, no more Rotary Club. We canceled Hulu, Netflix, Sirius, and Evereve. We started shopping at the cheaper stores, and we even asked family for a raincheck on birthday and Christmas gifts. That was hard.
God, why? Why am I going through this? What do I need to learn? I’m starting to question Jeremiah 29:11…no plans to harm me huh? Surely this is the third horseman of the apocalypse!
Well, turns out I needed to learn empathy. And vulnerability. And humility. For the past 20 years, I didn’t have to worry about money. There was always enough. If there was extra, we could splurge on a trip, a Tiffany necklace or a pair of Christian Louboutins. We learned quickly how it felt to NOT have enough. We learned how to receive and not always be the ones giving (thank you, Natalie, Kelly, Stace and Tim for still inviting us out and then paying the bill), which was so difficult. Even humiliating.
I had asked God to open the right door for me, so all I could do was trust that the right job had not come along. But then our money completely ran out. We got to the point of having only $1 in savings (enough to keep the account open) and not enough in checking to cover the bills coming up. We could go into debt by using our credit cards to pay the bills, we could sell the cars or let them go back to the bank (turned out we were still upside-down, so selling was not an option), or we could ask my parents for a loan.
I’m 52 fricking years old. I did NOT want to ask my parents for a loan. More humiliation. So I procrastinated and charged the credit card at the grocery store and for the car payments. I sold things on Facebook and Poshmark for extra money. But I still needed to ask. Not before deciding however, a few times, that since I was in such a bad space, I might as well read a bunch of political articles and double down on all the bad feels. Sounds reasonable. And don’t try to tell me you haven’t done the same!
So I asked. And my parents, of course, loaned us enough to get out of debt and through for a while longer.
And then, I got two job offers in one week! Was that what it took? I’ll probably never know, but what I do know is that I want to be more generous. I can live on less, and now I know that. There are people living with scarcity all around me, and I can do something more.
I am now the Director of Development at Broadway Sacramento, and I’m so thankful! I will never take it for granted. I don’t want my time of unemployment to be wasted. I want to give more. I want to serve more. I want to help more. I want to be more vulnerable with people.
Today at church, after a week of work and a paycheck on the way, I broke down. I cried during every song. Of course, the songs contained lines like:
“All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow.
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me Jesus, take me now.
I surrender all.”
And “I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside.
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down.
But You have called me higher,
You have called me deeper,
And I’ll go where You will lead me Lord.”
And “Where are You now
When darkness seems to win?
Where are You now
When the world is crumbling?
Oh, I hear You say
Look up child
Where are You now
When all I feel is doubt?
Oh, where are You now
When I can’t figure it out?
Oh, I hear You say
Look up child”
Gah – I was a mess. And as I looked up through teary eyes at the light coming in through the stained glass windows in the church, I thought about how our hearts are like those stained glass windows. Those windows are made of broken glass which has been forged back together, and those windows are even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.
P.S. I didn’t intend for this post to be negative toward Goodwill. I still donate my stuff (that I can’t sell on Poshmark, haha) to them and believe in what they’re doing for the community. My former boss treated me incredibly through my breast cancer journey (as mentioned in previous posts here and here), so I still have great things to say about Goodwill. I just take issue with the way I was let go (via text) and challenging my unemployment benefits, which are there to help people while they’re looking for new employment.
I had a part in it – I used bad judgment and made a mistake, but I learned through that, and I have vowed that I will not treat another human being that way. I have fought former employees’ unemployment benefits in the past (one I still would because she embezzled money), but I don’t think I’ll do that ever again now that I’ve been on the other side.
Halloween is a holiday I feel like I’ve only been able to embrace since becoming middle-aged. Because we did NOT celebrate The Devil’s Holiday growing up – no, no.
The first time I remember going trick-or-treating was when I was maybe 10, and I talked my mom into letting me go with a neighbor friend, Sue Leach, because we were going to “Trick-or-Treat for Unicef” to raise money for third world countries. Of course, we took our candy bags “just in case.” We were dressed the same – as black cats (which was a little scary-ish but also…just an animal, so Mom allowed it), and it was sooooo fun (and a little frightening at the Fugates because I was convinced their mom was a witch!).
Our family celebrated Halloween in “Christian-approved” ways. We got to dress up every year for school, we played a game of finding candy around the house like Easter eggs, and of course we went to the Halloween Harvest Festivals (by the way, that’s fooling nobody) at the church. So there was SOME fun around Halloween, but nothing scary was allowed. I had to be a princess, doll, nurse or Biblical character – nothing satanic like a witch, ghost (not even the Holy Ghost) or superhero (unless it was Jesus).
So now, because I was so deprived as a child, I think I go overboard. I dress up every year, and I decorate for Halloween as much or maybe more than I do for Christmas. I have witches and ghosts and severed hands and all things “of the devil.” I even have a haunted basement, people! What is wrong with me??
Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
My recent costumes
And it’s not like I “learned from that experience” and made my parenting so much different. Nope, I did all that shiz too. Sorry kids! But my daughter, who should have followed in my footsteps of becoming obsessed with Halloween and dressing up? No, my grandson’s costume for two years in a row is a sheet with 2 eyeholes – how did I fail?
Our next door neighbor, Lucy, who’s 4, also loves everything Halloween, or everything “spooky” as she calls it. She frequently comes over and wants to see if I have put out anything new – “Do you have any new skelekens?” she asks, and while she’s scared of the basement, she still wants to go down there every time she visits. Yep, I can relate.
I love thriller and horror movies for the same reason. Not cheap horror movies where everyone gets killed for no reason at all, but the “Saw” series? Yes, please. American Horror Story, Psycho, and everything Stephen King – I can’t get enough! Mind-bending suspense and scariness that makes me clutch all my pearls.
But truly, the scariest part about Halloween? The candy! Snickers, Almond Joy and Butterfingers – get thee behind me, Satan!! The amounts of sugar we consume during the week of Halloween is truly frightening. That’s what Christians should be against, since I’m guessing there’s more in the Bible about gluttony than about Halloween-ish things, like: “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony” (Proverbs 23:2). And in Job, one of the characteristics of a person from whom God has withdrawn a blessing is that “his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh.” Holy Biblical Literalist Hypocrites, Batman – I bet you never had to memorize those verses in Sunday School!
If you’re not yet spiritually mature in the area of Halloween and all things scary, I’m not sure how I can help you, but I’ll pray that you can overcome your fears or hangups or whatever is causing you to reject God’s Shekinah Glory that is Halloween.
But seriously, for freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery that says Halloween and demonic things like trick-or-treating are devil-worshipping, Satan-channeling evil activities that will send us straight to hell. (I think that’s from The Message.)
A friend of mine told me that she used to tell her kids that they couldn’t trick-or-treat at the Christians’ and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ houses because they believe all the make-believe stuff is real. That makes me giggle, but I’m sorry, is that really what we want the rest of the world to think? Be IN the world but not of it.
Nothing is quite so remarkable as the change that takes place in the autumn. Where not so long ago we were surrounded by bushes and trees resplendent in their summer greens, we are now living in a world of jumbled hues of orange and gold and rust. Where just days ago the lawn around the house was a well-vacuumed carpet of grass, clipped and tidy, it is now virtually covered over with fallen dried leaves.
Autumn lingers like pleasant memories from a good friend’s visit, like the fresh-scrubbed oxygen that a thunderstorm leaves behind. It is a time of change, when every morning brings new colors, new smells, and an altered vista. It is a time when even as the pace of change quickens in the natural world, the pace of man slows. It is the season of meandering strolls through multihued glens, through the melancholy fluttering of leaves falling to the ground.
Autumn is a time of introspection, when the sniff of drying foliage and loam slow the mind to consider days past, the highs and lows of a life. Every season has its own beauty, but autumn, like spring, brings with it a mood. If spring exults in new life, autumn examines the old; if spring is the anticipation of tomorrow, autumn is a meditation on yesterday.
So much of life is process; so much of it is just paying attention. What good is our stumbling if we never look back to understand why we tripped? What good is a victory if it doesn’t leave us more humble? What good is life itself if tomorrow doesn’t find us better than we were the day before? In the magnificent untidiness of our life-walk, it is necessary to pause beneath the drifting, dying leaves of autumn and examine the grace just spent. I want to learn to pay better attention: to listen, to observe, to learn.
Nature never stands still; it is always moving, pressing into the next day. Today’s tree will be taller tomorrow—or it will be fallen, lying dead and rotting in last year’s leaves. Today’s grass, luxuriously pliant and green, will tomorrow be brittle and parched, brown and sharp to the touch. The fawn that accompanies his mother today will next year be taller and on his own—or he may become a hunter’s trophy.
Time never stops. Season passes into season, change inevitably comes. As I gaze out my window, into the trees of Land Park that each day put on new clothes, I feel a sense of urgency. What have I accomplished today? The days continue to tick by; what am I doing that will yield eternal results? The person I pass on the street today will tomorrow be older—or dead. What have I done today so that his tomorrow will be something more than just his being one day older?
Have I been kind to those around me, or have I been impatient and rude? Do I expect everyone to be perfect? Or do I allow for the imperfections everyone else permits me? Will the world be better—or larger—tomorrow, because of something I’ve done today? Have I filled up each day using the gifts God has graciously entrusted to me? Have I used them or have I squandered them?
Some young plants and trees still need to be watered in the autumn. They ask for deep-rooted sustenance to carry them through the dormancy of winter. As I fill the old galvanized bucket with water and carry it to the base of the small tree newly planted in the yard, I notice a few drops leaking from the bottom edge, trailing a glistening path of drips through the drying leaves that carpet the grass.
And I realize that when we are born, we are each given a bucketful of days. God fills our bucket to overflowing, pouring into it, as well, all God’s goodness and blessings, gifts and opportunities. As time passes, the days drip out, one by one, until, at our earthly end, the bucket is dry. Our days have run out. Our gifts and opportunities have reached their end. No more. Each of us begins with a bucketful of days. But only God knows how many days are in our bucket. Will we spend them well?
I’m a breast cancer survivor. I should be wearing pink head to toe, right? Especially in October – officially designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I kind of hate pink. First of all, It’s one of my least favorite colors, but secondly, I think it’s become so overused, mundane and even nauseating in relation to breast cancer.
It seems that “pink” and “breast cancer” (along with a lot of other great causes) have merely helped entrepreneurs to make a buck by appealing to our emotions. Take, for example, the popular Lokai bracelets.
Unlike the silicone bands (a la Livestrong) for $1, these strands of colored silicone beads are $18 per bracelet, one dollar going to the organization of your choice. Yes, they’re cool (I actually kind of want one, but not in pink), but why not just donate $18 to your charity of choice? If $1 of every $18 purchase goes to breast cancer orgs (your choice is Susan G. Komen or BCRF), then a full $17 goes to the company’s founder, Steven Izen, who is undoubtedly a billionaire by now!
But I’m even more disgusted by repulsive corporate partnerships that engage in “Pinkwashing” (or, as I like to call it – Breast Cancer prostituted for profit) which happens when a company or organization claims to care about breast cancer by promoting pink ribbon products, while at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease. Pinkwashing is when “cause marketing” loses sight of “the cause” and is more about the bottom line – profits.
Here are some examples that make my WTF-ometer go off:
Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign. For every pink bucket of fried chicken sold, KFC donated 50 cents to Susan G. Komen. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know that fast food, and especially fried food, are a well-known cause of many diseases, including cancer.
Komen partnered with the Coca-Cola Company promoting FUZE tea. With 31 grams of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (likely genetically modified), sucralose, and preservatives, all packaged in a BPA-rich plastic bottle. In fact, Komen receives generous donations from many companies who use BPA – linked to breast cancer tumor growth – in their products (Coca-Cola, General Mills, 3M).
Bobbi Brown Pinks with Purpose Lip Color Duo, which retails for $45, donates $17 of that to BRCF. The problem? According to EWG, this product’s ingredients causes the following: biochemical or cellular level changes, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, bioaccumulation, cancer, enhanced skin absorption, ecotoxicology allergies/immunotoxicity, and developmental/reproductive toxicity. So go ahead and buy it, with your $17 going to breast cancer research, but just hope it doesn’t contribute to your own cancer risk when you use it!
This Clinique lotion will donate $10 of every bottle sold to benefit breast cancer research, but it contains the artificial dyes Yellow 5, 6 and Red 33 (why?) which are known carcinogens with effects such as organ toxicity, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, asthma, migraines and more.
Though not technically pinkwashing, the following companies deserve runner-up status:
Dansko shoe company marketed clogs with pink ribbons on them and consumers logically assumed the purchase of clogs correlated to how much money would be donated to breast cancer research. But that was not the case. In fact, Dansko had a set donation of $25,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure no matter how many clogs they sold.
American Express ran a campaign that claimed “every dollar counts,” even though no matter how much customers spent they donated exactly one penny per transaction.
And…just for kicks:
Breast cancer kills thousands of women every year, and companies rake in profits during October by commercializing this disease.
It would be wonderful to think that these breast cancer organizations could point people toward organic, hormone-free food and products that don’t cause cancer, but unfortunately, there’s no big-money in that (although it feels like there should be since I’ll grant you that the “healthy” versions cost a thousand times more than the cancer-causing versions).
So let’s stop talking so much about breast cancer awareness. I’m pretty sure everyone knows about breast cancer already. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer in their lifetime. I’m also pretty sure that a football player wearing pink shoes brings nothing to the party, but only lines the pockets of Nike and the NFL (a 49ers Breast Cancer Awareness Hoodie, retails for $74.95, but only $6.01 goes toward breast cancer research.)
Let’s focus on prevention! Let’s talk more (and raise money for) education about junk food, chronic sunburn, cigarette smoking, artificial hormones, BPA in plastics, artificial dyes, flavors and fragrances that have all been linked to cancer.
Perhaps in the very beginning, the pink ribbon had good intentions. It was about still feeling beautiful and feminine after a devastating illness and having hope that a “cure” will one day be discovered.
However, it has become what many now recognize as nothing more than a greed-driven marketing campaign that, in many cases, does more to cause breast cancer than it does to prevent it.
Warning: this post contains explicit language. If you are reading this aloud to your young children – why? If you would like the bleeped-out version, too bad.
Fuck you, Cancer.
You stole so much from me, and then you took my friend Carrie. Carrie Lynne Ladd passed away from peritoneal cancer on April 8, 2018. Carrie was Tina’s best friend, co-worker of 27 years, and one-quarter of our foursome who, along with Carrie’s partner Natalie, we vacationed with, tried new restaurants with, hung out with.
Carrie called me “Little Sprout.” ‘How’s it going, Little Sprout?’ ‘What are you doing today, Little Sprout?’ These are the words I hear still, every time I think about her. What I wouldn’t give to hear that again. Fuck you, cancer.
I will soon have lived longer than my friend who was 21 months older than me. This doesn’t make any sense. The universe is off course. Fuck you, cancer.
She was burned up at 1800 degrees – I don’t know why I know that, but hearing it hit me hard. I don’t like picturing it, but I do. Seeing her ashes hit me hard too. How can all the essence of one’s life be reduced to the contents of a hot chocolate canister? It’s not, of course. I know it’s just the physical shell in there, but it still hits me hard. Fuck you, cancer.
Okay, so all the Fuck Yous, right? Cancer is such an asshole!
But my question is WHY? Why does cancer get to kill so haphazardly? Is it just a big cosmic game of whack-a-mole where some escape and some don’t? Why can’t cancer take all the shitty people in the world? The child molesters, rapists and murderers? Why Carrie? It almost seems beyond random – as if the Universe chose her for being such an amazing person. Fuck you, cancer.
#FuckCancer – it’s a great hashtag, T-shirt design, even a nonprofit committed to working for early detection and prevention of cancer. All that is good and fine, and how I personally feel most of the time.
But let me tell you how Carrie lived with cancer. While there’s no denying Carrie was a fighter, she also had a peace and acceptance about the disease that grew, shrunk and grew again in her body. I learned from her that there is something peaceful about accepting one’s circumstances – about accepting that you are probably going to die from cancer. Though Carrie’s decision to stop chemo was a jolt to us, it was a logical and timely decision for her – why continue to put toxins in your body if they are not doing their job? So she accepted it with grace.
And acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It just means she came to terms with her circumstances and recalculated … just as my GPS regularly does when I take a route other than the one initially intended. That decision brought Carrie some peace. It brought her new direction and focus. And that was the right choice for her. Because peace is less stressful and more sustainable than war, and love is more powerful than hate.
Every cancer patient has to find their own way through the labyrinth of emotions, medications, decisions, uncertainty, turmoil. Carrie and I took different paths – physically and emotionally. And I’m still angry at cancer. I still hate; I have not made peace.