In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness month I’ve written three articles with more details on our family’s challenge and how our lives have forever changed. Plus, there are COLOR Bob the Squirrel strips:
Sometimes life is nuts… it’s good to have a squirrel around
Sometimes life is nuts… it’s good to have a squirrel around
Cartoonists have bad days. Rejection is an occupational reality.
Thursday, May 3, 2018 was a good day. 85 days before this pic was taken, we received the diagnosis I wouldn’t wish on anyone. To say that these weeks have been challenging is the understatement of understatements. Unless you’ve lived with it, you have no idea… I count myself as one of those who had no idea.
Not a cold.
Not a broken bone.
It’s f—ing cancer.
After the initial panic, depression, denial and anger, you realize that from diagnosis point on, you have a new roommate. They won’t chip in for the mortgage or groceries… they sure as hell won’t clean up after themselves. They’re there. They’re ALWAYS there. It becomes your full-time part-time job to get them the hell out of your body and life.
That job, for lack of a better description, sucks.
Appointments for tests
The order may have been a little different, but you get the idea. Any one of the last 85 days can fall into one of these bullet points. There was a space of about 7-10 days… in between the mapping and the first ration appointment where it felt like life felt more pre-diagnosis. As treatment number one came close, we remembered we still had that roommate to deal with. But we dealt with it. Lez, while feeling bent several times… never broke. She came close. I did too.
They don’t talk much about the bending or breaking part in any of those appointments. Everyone bends differently. Some break.
From beginning to end, the medical teams we’ve dealt with have been outstanding. Outstanding. Lez and I would like to extend a special thanks to the doctors, nurses, techs and staff at Radiation/Oncology of Upstate Cancer Center in Oneida. Especially Lisa and Rachel. They made the daily treatments bearable… for both me and Lez. All the state-of-the-art medical technology in the world at your fingertips is great… but no technology can do what a kind, genuine smile and feeling of safeness can. They’re damn good at what they do. Doctors and surgeons may get all the glory… and justifiably. But, they can only do what they do with help from outstanding nurses and outstanding support staff. Period.
I’m not just saying that because my mother has been a nurse for 40+ years. It’s just a fact.
So we start May 4 by taking a different type of breath. A good breath. A breath not attached by my counting the days since diagnosis or number of treatments remaining.
And by the way… Lauren? Whatever we did right with that kid I hope we keep doing. She’s been another rock for us. Whatever that kid ends up doing in life she’ll be unbelievably amazing at it.
My family, Lez’s family (especially Art and Roxanne) all of our friends and every single fan of Bob the Squirrel… thank you for your support and concern. Lez and I will be pricing storage facilities this weekend to have a place to keep all the good vibes, thoughts and prayers sent our way.
Lez will never be the same. Even though the roommate has been evicted, you never know if or when it’ll come knocking again. We can’t live our lives waiting for that knock.
Apologies on the lack of updates. Breast cancer treatment becomes a part-time job very quickly.
This week’s strip go into Lez’s daily radiation treatments. Lez started treatments on April 9. She is set to have 19 total. Five days a week. Like I said, part-time job. The first five were rough. Her skin was burning, not on fire, more like an uncomfortable sunburn. We were told that after the treatment, she’d feel fatigued. That was totally accurate. After treatment on the first day, I took her back to work. She wanted to see if she could do it. She couldn’t. She was home less than an hour later and slept for two.
But, we got into a groove… growing accustomed to the weekday cut up by treatment. Yesterday was treatment #13… the home stretch is within sight.
Lez let the Radiology office know that I was doing strips with them in the background this week. They loved it so much they printed them out and taped them to the patient welcome window. (See image)
As a cartoonist, anytime anyone loves your stuff enough to cut it out and tape, tack or staple it to a wall, window, refrigerator or bulletin board… it’s a good feeling. To me, it’s better than if my stuff were hanging in a museum. The people who see those day after day are the people I’m writing about. They’re going through what my family is going through. We’re them and they’re us. It’s them in the strip. How can that not be special?
What the nurses, doctors and staff at Upstate Cancer Center – Oneida do can not be understated. They save lives. Day in and day out. More importantly, they make us feel comfortable…despite the overall stress of the situation. There’s always a smile. They always help. We cannot thank them enough.
Lez called me from the doctor’s office. She called there earlier to maybe get the results over the phone. We hadn’t heard anything for a few days and were obviously concerned. The office told her to come in for a face-to-face… never a good sign.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma; moderately differentiated… Breast Cancer.
My first reaction: “F-ck!” My second reaction: “What are we going to do now?” My third reaction: “Why wasn’t I there with her when she got this news?”
Lez tells me what the doctor said and my head is spinning. I can only imagine what her head is doing.
The call ends. I go shovel the driveway… snow came down pretty heavy all day. The parade of questions and emotions continued in my head. What about Lauren? How are we going to do this? What if Lez is out of work for a long period of time? How much time can I take off if she needs me? Can I carry the household bills by myself?
The one question that NEVER entered my mind was: What if she dies?
Because …the FIRST thing the doctor said to her (after delivering the results) was: “You are not going to die.”
I finish the driveway and immediately do what the doctor told Lez NOT to do (at least not that day)… I researched her results. What Lez has is what 80% of diagnosed cases are. Caught early, elimination and recovery is extremely probable. Still, I’m not feeling at ease.
Lez comes home. I give her the biggest hug ever. I tell her we have 24 hours to feel like shit and wallow… then, it’s nothing but optimism. We’re going to beat this… I keep saying “we” . If I could I’d take on those cells myself and leave her out of it… but I can’t. I remind Lez that she’s descended from a long like of tough chicks… which manages to get a small laugh out of her. One of my main jobs from that day forward was/is to make sure she continued laughing.
Lauren was at Lez’s parents’ house. Lez went there and told them… with predictable reactions. I talked to Lauren shortly after that… telling her that the best thing we can do is treat Mom as we normally would. Lez is going to beat the hell of this… and before we know it, it will just be a story we tell at picnics and on holidays.
Later that night, I ask Lez if it’d be okay to put this in the strip. If she gave me “the look” or told me where to go and how to get there, the conversation would be over. She say’s no…it’s a no. She didn’t say no… but she didn’t want me jumping into it that night. There were people she wanted to tell first. No problem.
Her fight is our fight. Her challenge is our challenge. It’s our life…it would have been difficult NOT to include this in the strip.
That night I wrote this in my journal…
…referring not to the story… but to the word: cancer. I still can’t.
From this moment on:
Bob the Squirrelisn’t going to turn into the “Cancer Strip”. The thing I’ve learned so far is that there’s a LOT of life to live in-between the medical stuff. Life is just life… boring, exciting, challenging, normal, daily life. The next few months will be sprinkled with appointments, tests, procedures and treatments. We’ll have good days and bad days… laughs and tears… you know, life.
In some way I think… if I put this in the strip, I can control the story and make it a happy ending. Silly, but it keeps me strong.
Lez’s surgery is later this week. After a few weeks of healing, her course of (radiation) treatment will begin. Her mass is classified as Stage 1. It was caught early.
The ass of the mass will be thoroughly kicked.
Thanks for coming along on this journey with us.
Sometimes life is nuts… it’s good to have a squirrel around.