Monday, September 20, 2010

barbara update

Here is the email I just sent out:

Dear Platinum Members of the Barbara Fan Club,

It's hard to believe that after everything that Barbara's been through this past 3 weeks, we're so ecstatic we could do the happy dance right now: Barbara's genetic test for BRCA (the breast cancer gene mutation) came back negative. NEGATIVE!!!

This is such wonderful news. No oophorectomy (really, that's a word–it means surgery to remove the ovaries–I would've called it an ovarectomy but nobody asked) and no bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts).

Thursday she gets the tube/balloon inserted (an in-office procedure) for the radiation therapy. Then, Monday through Friday of next week she has radiation treatments 2x/day.


She'll go every three months for a mammogram until the doctors feel she's safe to go every six months, then annually.

Is that the best news, ever? YES. Yes, it is.

Love and a tidal wave of relief,

Sunday, September 19, 2010


One of the comforts of atheism is that you never shake your fist at God when things go wrong. Likewise you can't be patting your righteous self on the back when Fate throws you a bone. It is comforting. The randomness is easier to believe. There is no guilt or pride. Just Fuck, I wish this hadn’t happened or Hooray! at finding a $20 bill.

My kind-hearted, funny, wonderful Barbara of the Lovely Mammaries has breast cancer. It’s been just over 2 weeks since the call came. 2 weeks since a routine mammogram turned into presence of calcification turned into a needle biopsy turned into a positive diagnosis for cancer turned into a partial mastectomy turned into genetic testing and radiation.

The intial news, as I once imagined and now know, is chock full of shock and pain and numbness. And what ifs and the deafening lyrics of songs:

“Beloved Wife”

by Natalie Merchant

You were the love
For certain of my life
You were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
How I’ll live my life
Now alone without my beloved wife
My beloved wife

I can’t believe
I’ve lost the very best of me

You were the love
For certain of my life
For fifty years simply my beloved wife
With another love I'll never lie again
It’s you I can’t deny
It's you I can’t defy
A depth so deep into my grief
Without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
As my right
Now alone without my beloved wife
My beloved wife
My beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
In hours of pain

My love is gone
Now my suffering begins

My love is gone
Would it be wrong if I should
Surrender all the joy in my life
Go with her tonight?

My love is gone she suffered long
In hours of pain

My love is gone
Would it be wrong if I should
Just turn my face away from the light
Go with her tonight?

(I have never liked the word “wife” as it represented something I felt I’d left behind. But for all intents and purposes, I have no stronger word for who she is to me after these short 24 years.)

When my meltdown and crying jags subsided that evening, all that was left was her buoyant optimism and the need to look this nightmare in the face and devise a plan. Most of the good news in the bad news was very good. Small, caught early* and contained.

*annual mammograms...just get them.

I can’t go into all the specifics now. It’s an education in oncology borne of controlled-panic-necessity and not my usual fact-absorbing-delight. She’s doing very well. Hopes are high and the partial mastectomy (remember the first “t”) was successful. No cancer cells detected in the “margins.”

In the chaos of remodeling and anxiety of fiscal bedlam and anticipation of my dear parents’ arrival and uproar at work, the lens focuses sharply on her sweet face and the rest is a blur. My gentle, strong, amazing guapa. She is the love, for certain, of my life...she is simply my beloved wife.

Fuck, I wish this hadn’t happened.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


The Guardian

by Joseph Mills

I don't think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they're using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
"You only need a little, Mom," he said,
"Not a handful." "I don't have any!"
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.

I tease my brother, "You always wanted
another kid." He doesn't laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn't
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he's doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love's blindness and love's
injustice. It's why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother's voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I'm astonished to hear only love.

From the Writer's Almanac, Monday, September 6, 2010