Adventures With Cancer, Part 4

PART 4

The Upper East Side office is on the ground floor of a brownstone. The brass handle is heavy in my hand as I push the door open and step into a room occupied by several women reading magazines.

A large glass bowl filled with Kingfisher daisies sits on a low glass table in the middle of the waiting area.

My soon to be husband is waiting for me, pats the seat next to him. A single slant of sun bisects the floor. He holds my hand and I cross my legs and swing one foot in and out of the light.

Through the small glass window of reception I can see a large bulletin board tacked with pictures of babies.

Twins.

Triplets in matching jumpsuits.

Chubby babies in the bath. Babies blowing bubbles. Babies with big wet gummy smiles.

Several blue petals lie on the floor under the glass table like small breathless fish.

I’m thinking about scans. An MRI in two days. A CAT scan the day after that. I wonder if cancer lights up a bone like shoots of bright spring flowers.

The intake form asks how long have you been trying to conceive and number of miscarriages.

I am thinking about chemotherapy. Nausea. My hair. The wedding.

The exam room is non-descript other than an ultrasound machine plugged into the wall. The gown I wear has small green diamonds across it, ties once around the neck, once around the waist.

There is a photograph of a small white boat and impossibly blue water.

My soon to be husband is on the doctor’s rolling stool, careening back and forth across the tiny room. He is trying to make me laugh.

For a moment I hate him.

For a moment I want to be very small and climb up his solid body to his broad shoulders and whisper go, go.

I will myself to leave. I feel unreasonable. I feel oddly reasonable. I imagine walking out the door in the green gown, climbing on the next bus, climbing into bed.

The doctor is tall and I am transfixed by the gray curls brushing the top of his coat. His shoes are impeccable. Italian. I hate him. I feel like a beggar. Please give me some embryos. 

I imagine how the doctor must sit on the edge of his bed early in the morning as his wife sleeps. How he must bend to tie his shoes so carefully as not to shake the bed.

He shakes my hand. Asks questions. I want to shake him. I want to yell, Don’t you know I might be dying? He explains the ultrasound. Inserts the wand. Says here is your uterus and here is your right ovary. 

I see moonscape. Sand. A terribly still ocean. A static field.

I feel my husband to be put his hand on my forehead and think of E.E. Cummings:

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Read PART 1

Read PART 2 

Read PART 3 

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

About The Fault In Our Stars

“You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing”–Augustus Waters, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

Thank you, John Green, for writing this incredible book that made me think and laugh and cry. So many things about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS resonated with me that my thoughts feel scattered into a far off, peculiar constellation.

Ten years out from having cancer, I realize that I have largely been stuck in a post-cancer head space.

Time moves apace, but a part of me is often in that chair watching chemicals drip down the tubing into my vein. It keeps me from the next poem, the next chapter, from loving as deeply as I should.

I, too, do not want to detonate.

Knowing that I might have died, not knowing that I might someday be again in the might die is paralyzing.

I can spread the peanut butter on one side of the bread, smooth the jelly on the other side and slap them together. I can take the wet clothes from the washer and put them in the dryer, but the might, the maybe, the percent and possibility is always there, just one beat behind me.

(Maybe that’s why I run from my car to the house on dark nights? It’s not a physical threat I feel, it’s the fear, as Hazel put it, of “the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible.”)

No doubt Hazel Grace could write this post with much more eloquence than I am mustering at this moment.

I am glad, ecstatic, guilt ridden that I survived. Scared, angry, hallelujah hell yes happy and nervous that I survived. When happy I see the shadow of the anvil. When sad I see the sun coming up in the terrible sky and am reminded that the tenacity of my foothold is a mere scratch in the dirt.

Adventures With Cancer, Part 3

PART 3

The fine linen tablecloth is cool and rough against my cheek. A glass filled with ice water has one small drop rolling down the side.

Things seem to be moving in stop motion. Forks ring against plates, a dark-haired woman at the next table stands, pushes her chair back. Her pants swish rhythmically as she passes by.

Bathroom. Yes, I think.

My mother’s almond eyes follow me as I pull my head up from the table and walk toward the back of the restaurant.

It is my soon to be husband’s birthday.

My parents have flown to New York. We know I have cancer but not what type. My prospective in-laws make small talk over many impossibly small plates of gravlax, pickled herring, sweet shrimp crudo.

The white pill my mom tucked into my hand earlier that evening has settled over me and I’m moving as if through liquid. I am not tranquil but rather a storm that has been blown slightly off trajectory, weakened.

It is several minutes before I realize I’ve been standing in the bathroom staring in the mirror as hot water runs over my hands. It is the rip of paper against a jagged edge that sets me in motion.

We go home. Sleep.

My parents are in the office the next morning awaiting our arrival. My mother is dressed up. I feel like she might take my picture. Give me a spray of flowers for my wrist. Compliment my cap and gown. I am commencing into an after.

We are taken back to a small, light filled office. The computer screen is dark. There are no sharp implements. No hand drawn pictures of stick figure children.

My father pulls a tiny plastic bottle of Scotch out of his jacket pocket. He has saved it from the airplane. We each take a sip and my father presents it to the oncologist as she walks in the office.

How the hell did you end up here? she asks.

I love her immediately and with a strange ferocity. I want to climb into her lap and smell her hair.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

My fingers and stomach are tingling. I want to take off running until my legs burn.

You have Ewing’s Sarcoma.

The thought occurs to me that I might be floating above the room.

It is an aggressive type of cancer that rarely occurs in adults.

I hear the tips of a tree’s branches scratching the windowpane.

Good news is it responds well to chemotherapy.

I hear seconds being snipped off by the second-hand of the wall clock.

When I’m through with you, you are going to feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.

Two taxis are laying on their horns. Someone on the street is yelling.

It is likely that you will be infertile after treatment.

The floor rushes up at me and I am suddenly grounded.

No.

I can’t. I won’t. We want children. We’re getting married next month.

The doctor looks at me then pulls forward a Rolodex, takes out a card and leaves the room.

My soon to be husband’s hand is cold. I look at him and we both shake our heads.

The door opens.

Call this number tomorrow. You have one month to do IVF and then you must start treatment immediately.

Our wedding is six weeks away.

Read PART 1 here
Read PART 2 here

Adventures With Cancer, Part 2

PART 2

I have cancer. I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the office today.

The receiver is heavy in my hand, lands with a dull thud in its metal cradle.

I consider staying in the phone booth. Consider opening the accordion door and sitting down on the hot sidewalk in front of Gray’s Papaya. Both seem viable choices to make at the moment. To just remain before.

Somehow I am in a car. My hand remembers the weight of the phone. I could still be in the muffled booth if I just close my eyes.

My not yet husband drives us uptown to an address that is embossed in black letters on a white business card balanced neatly on his knee.

We are making small talk. I speak in the voice of one who is carrying around a bomb protected by an eggshell.

The hallway is quiet, airless.

I am thinking about the group of people I saw the week before when I was running along Riverside Drive. How they were huddled together watching a man poised at the top of an apartment building’s ledge. The only sound was from one bird calling, calling. All those people dressed to go to work, in suits, pantyhose, heels. Just standing there, looking up, not saying anything.

With my index finger I draw and redraw the line on my palm that captures the meat of my thumb in a half-moon. My soon to be husband is speaking to a receptionist.

Soon I am sitting in a small white room, in a chair with a tiny table attached. It seems to be a school desk but has no place to store a pencil or small pink eraser.

What kind of cancer do I have?

The nurse has a thick rubber band around my arm.

Make a fist.

The jab of the needle is a relief.

I don’t know. The doctor isn’t here today.

She lines up vials of dark red blood each with a different colored stopper.

Come back on Monday. 

It is my soon to be husband’s birthday.

You can go.

It is six weeks before our wedding.

Read PART 3 here

Small Ways To Make A Huge Difference

In light of recent mind-boggling decision-making by Susan G. Komen for the Cure I thought I’d suggest a different approach to giving: Keep it local. Bring it back to your community.

When I had cancer it was the outpouring of support from coworkers, friends and family that carried me and my husband through the treatment. Each gesture, no matter how small, added up and made a huge impact.

We all know someone nearby who is dealing with adversity in one way or another. You get the phone call or email about a friend recently diagnosed with cancer, you see a parent at school wearing a hat over his or bald head, you hear through the social grapevine that someone is dealing with the loss of a job, a divorce, a death in the family.

How do we take care of those in our community who need help? If you feel like me, you might worry about being intrusive or knowing just the right thing to say.

Here are some suggestions for how you can redirect time, energy and resources back to your community.

1. Think small. Really. It makes a big difference to most people just to know that you are thinking about them. Send a handwritten note or a card. It doesn’t have to be a work of great literature. Just a simple: “You are in my thoughts. Sending you my best wishes” will suffice.

2. Think food. Make a simple meal. (Find out if there are food allergies or dietary restrictions.) Freeze it and label with a date and heating instructions. Send the meal in a container that does not need to be returned. If you don’t cook (like me), ask if you can deliver a pizza. Give a gift card to a local restaurant that delivers. Slice & bake cookies.

3. Think music. When I was going through chemo a dear friend made me a Kick Cancer’s Booty song mix. I listened to those tunes during chemo infusions and it really gave me a lift and was a great distraction. Give a friend a few CDs from your collection to listen to. Make a mix of comforting songs for a grieving friend.

4. Think companionship. Sometimes people just want to be alone. But often people need a buddy. Offer to drive to appointments, sit in the waiting room, share a meal, etc. You really don’t need to talk very much. Just listen and let the person guide the conversation.

5. Think daily needs. Offer to babysit, fold laundry, do groceries, pick up dry cleaning, drive carpool, empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn. Give a gift card for cleaning services, babysitting, a handyman, a dog walker, a pet sitter or a local grocery store.

6. Think family. Children are deeply impacted by an ill family memory, or death of a grandparent, divorce, financial strain, etc. Send a note or small gift to the child, take them to the movies, library or out for ice cream. Be a safe person for a child to lean on when things are difficult. Also, support the spouse. It’s just as stressful to be the spouse of someone going through an illness as it is to be the patient.

Think local. I promise it’ll make a huge difference in a real way.

What are your favorite ways to support a friend or neighbor who is facing adversity?

Hemorrhoids Are Good Luck Charms

I’ve always considered myself one who has variable luck. I’m not very lucky, but on the other hand I am very lucky.

I got to thinking about luck the other day when I won a contest on Mommy Shorts, which happens to be one of my favorite blogs. If you haven’t checked out Mommy Shorts, you should. It is packed full of humor and pathos.

Anyhow, I suggested a caption for this picture that included the word hemorrhoid in it. To my great delight, I won a gift card to the delicious Crumbs Bakeshop. This is highly fortuitous because I freaking love cupcakes. And I’m going to NYC in March. So I will not only be in my favorite city, but I will be stuffing myself with cupcakes!

Anyhow, all of this contest winning got me to thinking about luck, and about hemorrhoids. Why should one associate luck with hemorrhoids? After all, hemorrhoids are the trolls of the ass world.

Here’s why. For me, hemorrhoids have come to symbolize bad luck turning into good luck.

The first time I experienced a hemorrhoid was when I had cancer. Why should a person have to have hemorrhoids when they are bald, sickly and being pumped full of chemotherapy? Because. Just because.

Having cancer was unlucky. I had Ewings Sarcoma. Ewings is a childhood cancer. It most commonly strikes boys. Odd, and statistically odder, that a 30 year old woman about 30 days away from her wedding should get Ewings. Unlucky. Very unlucky.

The lucky part? I had the most kick-ass, funny, whip-smart oncologist ever, Dr. Anna Pavlick. The first time I met Dr. Pavlick, my parents had flown in from Florida to be with me and my then fiance (now husband).

We were all gathered in Dr. Pavlick’s little office and my dad opened up a tiny bottle of scotch he’d pilfered from the airplane. We passed around the bottle as the doc, or Pavy, as I came to call her, delivered the unlucky news.

What I loved about Pavy is that she gave it to me straight.

She said something like You have a shitty, aggressive cancer but it responds well to treatment so I’m going to hit you hard and you’re going to feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. For about a year. And you’ll probably be infertile by the end of treatment, so we need to get you to an infertility specialist right away.

But Pavy also had a soft side. When we went into the exam room and I was shaking from nerves, fear, anger, she put her hand on my leg and said softy Oh girl, how did you end up here?

I had an ally in Pavy. She didn’t see me as a diagnosis. And she didn’t gloss over my feelings.

Pavy was the best possible luck. She nicknamed me Chicken. She taught me everything I know about perseverance. And she cared about my hemorrhoids. Really. She did.

Pavy hooked me up with an excellent infertility specialist. In the month before chemo started and our wedding, my then fiance (now husband) shot me up with hella hormones, and we ended up with seven frozen embryos. Luck. Big time luck. We were parents before we were married.

Even luckier? After two surgeries, seven months of chemotherapy, a bald bride wedding, a deluxe honeymoon in the finest NYU hospital suite (compete with gold-plated bed pans, IV poles and generous helpings of anti-emetics) I was back on the road to health. And once I was healthy and had clear scans I was allowed to try to conceive naturally. And I did! Total luck in the form of three children, none of whom were ever frozen.

Which leads me back to hemorrhoids. Every time I’ve been pregnant I’ve had the most horrendous hemorrhoids. But being pregnant (under the right circumstances) is the best kind of luck. You see? Hemorrhoids + Pregnancy = Babies = Luck!

And let me tell you, hemorrhoids were the gold standard of my pregnancies. The size of my pregnancy hemorrhoids rivaled the size of a growing fetus.

At one point during one said pregnancy I had to go the E.R. to have a hemorrhoid lanced. Unlucky. And painful. But, I got the Hottest Intern Ever. Lucky. Or maybe not. At least I didn’t have to look at his gorgeous face when he was doing the, uh, lancing. But if it weren’t for that hemorrhoid I never would’ve met the Hottest Intern Ever. So there’s that.

I guess the fact is that when it comes to the big things, sometimes I am unlucky, but often the unluckyness turns to luck, which is awesome. And, more often than not, there is a hemorrhoid involved.

So, for me, when I won the cupcakes over at Mommy Shorts it was kind of momentous and amazing.

I have never, ever won anything in a contest or raffle before. And, now, I’ve actually won something without having huge hemorrhoids. (Though I did summon the word hemorrhoid for that contest, so clearly they are some sort of lucky charm for me.)

Some people have a lucky penny, I have a lucky hemorrhoid. And I’m okay with that. Especially when there are cupcakes involved.

You Were The Perfect Mother For Me

On the one year anniversary of my mother’s death I am sharing a letter I read to her shortly before she passed.

Dear Mom,

Did you know that I’ve saved all of the cards and notes you’ve written
to me over the last twenty years? Since I feared that cancer would
take you away from me one day I’ve kept all of your written words so I
could have them to comfort me.

You’ve always made me feel like a special person, like someone who has worth. You did such a great job of this that for a long, long time I didn’t feel like I could exist in this world without you to help me feel good about myself.

I thought of not having you and a stone would grow in my heart, weighing me down, filling me with dread and apprehension. You have always been like a
lighthouse that I could depend upon to steer me through rough seas.
You have been that reassuring light that meant: “You are safe, you are
steady, I am here.”

And boy, did I ever need that over and over. There were many years that I had to rely upon you and your light to get me through very hard times. Hard emotions, hard relationships, internal strife, money issues, self-esteem issues, etc.

You were always right there, on the other end of the phone line giving advice and reassurance, helping me see things from a different perspective and
offering the benefit of your own experiences.

I know that being my mother has not always been an easy task.
Sometimes I pushed you away because it was the only way I could figure
out where you started and I began. Sometimes we disagreed and said
hurtful things to each other. I know my decisions have not always been
ones you would have chosen for me. Despite all of that, you have
always stood by me and I’ve always known that you love me and are
proud of me.

Through you, I’ve learned to stand on my own two feet, and even figured out how to roast a chicken! You have given me the gift of a strong backbone, and the ability to laugh at my own foibles.

I have always been so impressed by how many people love and call you
their friend. You have dear friends who go back 40 plus years, people
who have traveled across the country to spend time with you and tell
you how much you have meant to them. Your friendship has truly been a
gift to so many. This is another attribute I aspire to.

You have taught me how to be a good listener, to empathize, to support and
appreciate all types of people. I will never be able to fill your
shoes, but I hope to keep in close contact with my aunts, uncles, and
cousins just as you have always done. I really believe you are the
glue that has kept our family so close.

Thank you for taking me and Marc on vacations and for tolerating us
when we were fighting and when we didn’t appreciate our good fortune.

Thank you for being so accepting of your siblings. Because of you I
have a wonderful relationship with Marc, and Dad, and I really think
it is because you taught me to be tolerant and forgiving. Please know
I will take good care of Dad not only because I know you’d like that
but because I really love him and enjoy him.

Thank you for my first very creamy and sugary drink of coffee, for my
first sip of wine, for all of the big family dinners, and for the
nightly 6:30 dinners when we would argue, yell, debate and laugh.

Thank you for instilling in me a love of Judaism, and for always being
a second mom to my girlfriends. Thank you for taking such good care of
Mom Mom because it really taught me to appreciate the next generation
and gave me a wealth of memories of her. Thank you for taking me to
Brazil as an adult, and for going on my first honeymoon with me.

Because of you I love to travel and explore new places. Thank you for
supporting me when I decided, out of the blue, to pack up and move to
New York City. I’ll never forget that rainy, rainy day when you and
Dad were there watching me graduate. Thank you for helping me get through having cancer.

And most of all , thank you for being there for the births of my children. Thank you for loving my children like they are your own. I’ll never forget the six weeks you spent with me and Ruby, and the countless hours you walked and rocked and adored all of your grandchildren. I have loved sharing stories about the kids, and laughing about them and being so proud with you.
Speaking of people who love you…what an amazing grandmother you have
been to Ruby, Lucas, and Theo! You have helped them build so many
memories that they will always have: making corncakes, having
sleepovers, trips to the beach and movies, drawing and painting,
laughing and playing.

I want you to know that though I will be lonely without you, though I
will grieve long and hard and will miss you every moment of every day,
I will be okay. I will look for you in the flowers, in the butterflies
and in rainbows. If there is a cat who comes through our backyard, I
will think of you and hope it is you peeking in my window and checking
in on me and my family.

Whenever I eat buttered sourdough toast or a good donut, make fried matzoh, or have a good, hot cup of coffee I will think of you.

Whenever I hear the giggles of my children or have a good cry I will think of you. Those times when I have a nice, long chat with a close friend, or talk to one of my favorite cousins on the phone, I will think of you.

When I walk through the mall, or eat something delicious in a restaurant, or travel somewhere new, I will think of you. When someone annoys me, I will want to tell you, and when something amazing happens I will think about sharing it with you.

Listen for me, because I will be talking to you and dreaming of you.
When the kids do something new and interesting, I will think of you,
and when I spend time with dad or Marc or Stacy, I will think of you.

When I plant poppies in the spring I will think of you, and imagine
you with Pop Pop. When I read a good book, or listen to waves of the
ocean rushing in and out, I will think of you.

Thank you for all of these gifts you have given me. You have been the perfect mother for me, and because of that I will go on, and so will you.

I pray that all of these memories we have built together will carry you gently off to your new life. I pray that you will watch us and laugh with us and
shake your head at our antics. Please know that you will always be
with us, in our hearts, and in our memories.

I will love you always.

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday.”

Mawage. I’ve been thinking a lot about mawage lately.

My husband and I just had our 10 year anniversary, and by God we made it there by the skin of our teeth. Lately it’s been pretty darn good, but it’s hard work every single day. I have to consciously work on being a good partner, on being a good friend to my husband, on being nice.

A few years ago my husband was ready to call it quits. We split up for exactly twenty-four hours, and it was the worst twenty-four hours of my life. He walked out because I was acting like a little asshole.

I had been acting like a little asshole for about five years.

It is true.

It always takes two to tango, of course, but I was really on my worst behavior for years, and it just wore my husband down. It was wearing me down, too, and in a way I think I needed him to walk out. It was like an anvil to the head: (Clank!) “Hey you, Little Asshole. Yes, you. You are married. You are married to that guy over there, the one who is packing his bags. Being in a marriage actually means you are a partner. It is not the Little Asshole Show. You have to participate. You have to be nice.”

“Just be nice.”

My husband would say that to me a lot when I was snarling at him after a long day with our kids, who are fourteen months apart. My version of being nice was gritting my teeth, trying to smile, but usually barking orders at him when he got home from work. There were diapers to be changed, baths to be given, mouths to feed, floors to be swept, puke to be wiped up, toys that were littering the living room like small pieces of shrapnel. (Have you ever stepped on a Lego piece in the middle of the night? Oh, sweet Jesus…) Why didn’t he just automatically know how to jump in and help me? My tone of voice had the sound of a hundred eyes rolling back in their respective heads. There was no “nice” in me. I wanted my husband to fix everything. And quickly.

Our relationship didn’t start out snarly. Or, rather, I did not start out the relationship as a little asshole.

Paul and I met on-line, we wrote to each other for a couple of weeks before going out for the first time. He was a great writer, sweet, funny, I couldn’t wait to meet him. Our first date was amazing. We had so much to talk about, we thumb-wrestled at dinner, held hands in the movies, kissed at the door of the taxi. (He tried to slip me the tongue but totally denies it.)

I loved him right away. He was a grown-up. He had a career, ambition, sexy eyes, a great smile. I was smitten. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, explored new restaurants, traveled to Turkey, hung out with friends, saw concerts. He proposed to me in the rain in front of the laundromat in Manhattan where we had our first real kiss. It was all very fairy tale. I was nice. He was nice. We were even nicer together.

The first snag happened a month before our wedding. I had been watching a small lump under my arm get bigger and bigger over the course of a year. After many visits to my doctor (it’s just a cyst, leave it alone, not to worry…) he finally sent me to a dermatologist to have it removed. Thank God I was vain. I didn’t want the lump to show in wedding pictures. Long story short, it was cancer, Ewings Sarcoma. One month before our wedding we were discussing chemotherapy, surgery, in-vitro fertilization, the possibility of infertility after treatment, and treatment that, as my oncologist described it, would leave me bald and feeling like I’d been hit by a truck.

So, before our wedding ceremony, Paul and I were parents to seven frozen embryos. I was a bald bride. It was a beautiful wedding at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The day after the wedding we were back in the hospital for a three-day infusion of high dose chemotherapy. And so it rolled on for the next  seven months. Chemo in the hospital for several days, back to our apartment for several days (hit by a truck), back to the hospital with zero white blood cell count and high fever, back to our apartment for several days (hit by a truck), back to the hospital for several days of chemo. It’s all an unpleasant blur. We postponed our honeymoon, we tried to laugh about what we were going through, Paul shaved his hair in solidarity. We got through it, but it sucked.

Fast forward several years, add two toddlers, a cross-country move, a new job for Paul, a new paradigm for me, and I found myself perpetually cranky. Disoriented.

How did I get here? Married? With children? I had cancer? What the hell? I wanted none of it. (Well, I did love the kids.) I didn’t know how to process what had happened to me. I didn’t know how to be a partner in a marriage. I barely knew how to be a mother. All of this led to the frequent: “Just be nice.” Just be nice. Just be nice? It sounded like this to me: Takið þið við krítarkortum.

So, eventually, after trying many different ways to get through to me, Paul left. And during those twenty-four hours everything crystallized in my mind. I was ruining something that had the potential to be really good. I did want to be married. I wanted a mawage.

I wanted to be better. I was tired of being a little asshole. It takes a lot of energy to be that pissed off all the time. Paul and I talked. A lot. We worked on things. There was counseling. He had a better understanding of what was going on with me internally. I finally understood that I did, indeed, need to be nice. So I practiced being nice. It was hard. Snarly had become my default. But with practice it felt better to be pleasant. Niceness begets niceness, so I’ve learned. Mawage began to become fun. I was no longer fighting it. I did want to be with this guy. I did want to build a life with him.

So, ten years on, and I think I am nice again. And when I’m not, it’s okay. Paul knows I’ll turn it around pretty quickly. And now he gets to be cranky when he needs to be cranky. It’s still work. Every day. But it’s good work. I’m down for another ten more years, at least.

A Thoughtful Meditation on Fluffiness

The other day a coworker said, “You look really good! I can tell you are losing weight.” I think most people would be tickled to receive such a compliment. I, on the other hand, bristled a bit.

It is true that I am losing weight. After having my third child and also taking care of my mom for the last two years as she lost her battle to breast cancer, the time finally came that I could focus on my health. The thing I find interesting is that the many times I saw this coworker in my formerly more fluffy state, she never commented on my appearance. Which I guess is good if she was thinking, “Jeez, what a fat ass, I can barely squeeze by her!” And it’s not that I would’ve wanted her to say something like, “I can really tell that you are grieving, what with the extra twenty pounds and all, but I want you to know you still look good.” I find this compulsion people have to comment on weight loss pretty fascinating.

Ten years ago, when I had my own battle with cancer, I lost weight. I lost weight, I lost hair. Chemotherapy will do that to you. No one ever said, “Damn, gurl, you look great with that bald head and svelte body.” Lucky for me I had awesome coworkers and friends who made me feel good about that sexy bald head (my husband and one of my dearest friends both shaved in solidarity).

My question is: How much more attractive am I really now that I’ve shed those twenty pounds? At this stage in my life I’ve lost the weight in order to take care of my heart and reduce the risk of having cancer again. Sure it feels good to be in sexier jeans, and shopping is a little more fun. But how much has my beauty quota truly gone up? And isn’t the deafening lack of commentary on my looks when I am fluffier a reflection on how screwed up we are about body type?

Tonight my husband asked me how much more weight I plan on losing. In the past I would’ve wanted to get down to a pre-pregnancy weight. But now that I’m in my forties, I’m pretty satisfied having a healthy body with a little fluff. What it takes to get down to what I maintained in my twenties would require largely giving up most of the foods I enjoy while adding an extra six hours of work outs a week. So, as long as my ticker is good, I can live with this body. I don’t mind if my kids have a little extra mom fluff to hug.