Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Of birthdays, bonfires and birthday suits

My dear friend Philippa’s birthday was on October 13. We made a huge deal of it last year because she had just received a breast cancer diagnosis, was staring down a double mastectomy, and was more conscious than ever of making the most of the life you’ve been given.

A dozen or so of us marked the occasion by holding a good ol’ fashioned bra burning.  The goal wasn’t to free ourselves of societal constraints but rather to show of solidarity for our friend who would no longer need the famously female undergarments. (Unlike standard-issue boobs, fake ones don’t need a restraining device to keep them from migrating south late in life like anatomical retirees.)

Philippa had never really cared for bras, so on the one hand she wasn’t sorry to set a bunch of them ablaze. On the other, whether she liked ‘em or not, those undies held up a part of her that undoubtedly formed part of her identity as a woman. I can’t imagine what it felt like to let go of them and what they represented, and not by choice.

When I try to think of a single word to describe this gathering that blended support, concern, love, determination, optimism and fear, the one that comes to mind is: reckoning. Being on the cusp of a long, difficult journey made Philippa take stock, and I think it had that effect on the rest of us, too.

A year later, Philippa’s physical recovery was complete. But I still broached the topic of birthday plans with care, recognizing that emotional recovery goes at its own pace. My friend said she was torn, and I could understand why. She survived an ordeal–clearly something to celebrate—but was forever altered. What type of gathering commemorates that?

After thinking about it for a few days, Philippa said, “Let’s have a beach bonfire.”

“Sounds great,” I said.  Of course, I would have forced myself to react with great enthusiasm to anything she suggested, including a quilting bee, but another big burn sounded like it could be therapeutic.

A slightly smaller group than last year’s trekked from DC to Dewey Beach on a beautiful Sunday morning and were rewarded with clear skies and temps in the 60s. We spent the afternoon on the beach and then came home, put on some music, and  started making dinner.  After a few minutes of cutting up vegetables, we decided to cut a rug instead. Yes, a dance party broke out right there in the living room in broad daylight. (I say this as if the dance party acted alone, but it had an accomplice: the apple cider/rye concoctions that had quenched the group’s thirst while out on the beach.)

There I was, dancing in the living room of a beach house with mainly middle-aged people, belting out Michael Jackson songs, when suddenly “All About That Bass” came on.  You might not have thought Meghan Trainor’s bubble gum ode to bubble butts would appeal to our demographic, but the whole room sang it loud and proud, especially Philippa. After a year that was all about her treble, I guess she was glad to focus on the bass for a change.

Because we’re all about that bass.

When the sun had sunk and with it the mercury, we bundled up and returned to the beach.  This bonfire was far less somber than the previous one.  But it did have some things in common with last year’s.  It, too, had a strong “letting go” theme.  And it also involved reckoning, as in Philippa and a few other people reckoned they should let go of their clothing. (I reckoned I would keep mine on, thank you very much.)

And off went a small and very merry Birthday Suit Brigade, dipping the skinny while the rest of us stayed on shore and chewed the fat, thrilling in watching our dear friend live large.



Long, Not-So-Lost, Friends

I found Mr. C.!

It took me less than two weeks to do it, proving that you can accomplish nearly anything if you’re willing to dedicate all of your resources to the task.

It wasn’t easy to come up with $0.95 to buy an address report, especially since I had to commit to a monthly service for $6.95 to get the $0.95 deal and then remember to cancel it the next day.  But when something’s important enough, you make these kinds of Herculean efforts.

Once I got Mr. C’s address, I started writing a letter, with an actual pen on actual paper.

I wanted to keep it chatty and light, a bit of a challenge given some of the events of the past few years.  I figured I’d go with something like: “Dear Mr. C, How are you? Not much new here in the past eight years, just the garden variety ‘get married, tear down your house, start building a new one, realize you’re in a disastrous marriage, make a hasty exit 10 months into it, wacky hijinks ensue’ sort of thing. Oh, and I’ve started wearing my hair curly. That about covers it.”  I filled three pages with my scrawl and then plopped the letter in the mail.

Mr. C responded in record time and via email, a route he chose either to save time or (more likely) as a polite way of saying, “Your handwriting is so bad that I deciphered only two words in your letter: ‘Mr.’ and ‘C.’  Do not ever pick up a pen again.”

He wasn’t bent out of shape about my eight-year disappearance, nor did he dwell on the story of my marriage (perhaps because he couldn’t read it).  Instead, he thanked me for finding him –he’d intentionally omitted his return address because he didn’t want me to feel pressured to respond – and he picked right up where we’d left off, as your great friends do.

Days after I got Mr. C’s note, I learned via a Facebook status update, complete with a photo that made the words of the update superfluous, that my friend “J” had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was in the middle of chemo.

J, her husband and I had become friends in law school some fifteen years earlier, bonded by the common adversity of working full-time and going to law school at night.  We were part of a close-knit group of 15 or so similarly situated students.

As sometimes happens in a group like that, a personal conflict whose origins I don’t remember arose in 2003 or so and splintered the group.  A nucleus remained that included me, but not J and her husband.  I never quite understood what happened or why—I thought it was better in some ways not to know – but I missed them.  From time to time I thought about contacting them but wasn’t sure if an overture would be welcome.

I rekindled my friendship with J very timidly about a year ago, after Facebook kept pointing out in its helpful way that perhaps I might know J and would want to be friends with her. Well duh, Facebook.

The fact that the update J posted last week came as a complete shock to me tells you that, other than using the passive channels of social networking, I’d done nothing to close the gap in our relationship.

Few things make a person regret inaction faster or more deeply than a cancer diagnosis.

Since I couldn’t do anything about the past, I acted on the now. I reached out to the law school group, they mobilized, and we came up with a care package for Team J.  Last Sunday I set out for their house, intending simply to leave the loot outside the front door.  The last thing J and her family needed was a lapsed friend bursting on to the scene, unannounced.

Sunday brought surprisingly balmy temps for early February, the kind that make you walk around without a coat, drive around with the windows down, or, in the case of J and her husband, leave your front door wide open.  I hadn’t counted on that.

If I executed my original plan, I might get busted in the act.  The only thing weirder than a derelict pal randomly showing up at your door is a derelict pal fleeing it, so I didn’t think I should risk it.

Instead, I summoned up a little courage, rang the doorbell, and braced myself for a reaction ranging from chilly politeness to “Honey, call an exterminator! FAST!”

What I didn’t expect was for J’s husband to give me an immediate, warm welcome, or for J herself to come rushing up, break into an exuberant grin, and envelop me in a hug so fierce that it left me wordless.  The tears that sprang to my eyes and appeared in hers closed the span of years in seconds.

These recent experiences with Mr. C, J and her husband remind me that the essence of friendship really is just showing up, and that, though I should have done it years ago, sometimes late is better than never.

A happy new year, indeed.

On Tuesday, my dear friend Philippa underwent an “implant exchange,” the last phase of her post-breast cancer reconstruction surgery.

We re-opened Camp Boob for two nights, like a bad South Pacific revival.

The joint had a different atmosphere this time around.  When we brought Philippa home after the first surgery, we celebrated the fact that she came through it well, but we couldn’t get too excited about anything because we had to wait a week for her pathology results (and also because she was out of her gourd on Vicodin).

Back in October, the post-op care regimen kept us busy, Philippa’s mom loaded us up with Green Juice, and Louie, Camp Boob’s Head Counselor, made sure we stayed on-task and upbeat.

Louie also performed landscaping services, keeping the floral flood under control by eating arrangements and/or tipping them over.  Still, no one felt truly at ease until Philippa got the “all clear.”

On Tuesday, we didn’t have pathology reports to worry about.  There was no six-hour surgery, no overnight hospital stay, no infernal drains, and no need for a spreadsheet to track the administration of various post-op meds.

We relaxed in the waiting room of the surgery center and felt elated when Philippa was finished.

I again embedded at Camp Boob for post-op help, but there was nothing for me to do other than babysit.

(This turned out to be an important function, as evidenced by the fact that, on the drive home from the surgery, the patient thought our little group should go out to lunch.

“Great idea!” I said. “Let’s get our hair and nails done while we’re at it!” And then I promptly marched her delusional butt home.)

On returning to Camp Boob, we missed our Head Counselor terribly, especially in the quiet of late night and early morning.  We paid him tribute by raising a glass of green juice in his memory and knocking over the occasional bouquet of flowers.

And we re-instituted the dinner parties that had made Camp Boob a surprisingly festive place.  This time, every guest expressed profound gratitude that our friend’s terrifying journey – a trip no one should have to make –had gone as well as possible.

With the final surgery behind her, Philippa can now let her mind relax and indulge in comparatively luxurious thoughts, like how great she’ll look in a bikini.

Though her fresh start, if we can call it that, missed the Gregorian New Year by a few weeks, she’s just in time for the Chinese Lunar New Year, which starts today.   Google claims it’s the Year of the Horse, but for Philippa, I think it’s the Year of the Moose.  She’s going into it with one heck of a rack.

This guy’s got nuthin’ on Philippa.

Line ‘Em Up

Your friend lineup –the list of non-family types you really count on – has to include people of the opposite gender, regardless of whether you’re male or female, gay or straight, single or married.  These people fill a vital perspective gap, at the very least, and they often do much more than that.

During my stay with Philippa, for example, I watched as her guy friends did things like drive her to the hospital, make her smoothies, keep her stocked up on flowers, and whip up a brilliant Bolognese.

The experience brought me fresh appreciation for my man-friends (“The Dudes”) and the realization that there are certain guy-friend types that I simply can’t live without.  Without further ado, I bring you my very own, personal Dude Roster:

The SubDude: Your “plus one” when you need a date, this purely platonic pal adheres to the Arm Charm Manifesto, keeps you entertained, and is socially savvy enough to know when to give you a little space.  Bonus points if he looks smokin’ in a tux. (It’s ideal to have more than one of these at any given moment.)

The Sidekick: This guy is equal parts fun, fearless and adventurous.  He’s the dude you want riding shotgun when you make a last-minute decision to roadtrip.  Or when you need a guest co-host for your radio show, hypothetically.

The Work Hubs:  This husband hasn’t seen you parade around the house wearing nose stickers, but you and he work so closely that he’s witnessed the office equivalent and he still likes you.  Most of the time.

The Flagman: Like the guy who halts traffic for roadwork, the Flagman points out hazards you might not be able to see and tries his best to get you to slow down or, in extreme cases, detour. A co-worker of mine, “Scott,” does this for me.  Scott earned this job as a result of some doodling he did on a white board one day while I was telling him about a date I’d gone on the night before. As I yammered on about how my date was basically nice except for his tendency to bring up exes who seemed unable to get over him, Scott was drawing this red triangular thing that sat atop what appeared to be a pole.

“Do you recognize this?” Scott said.

 “It looks like the pin for the 18th hole. Are you drawing a golf course?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just as I feared. I had a feeling you wouldn’t see it, Karen, because you have Red Flag Detection Disorder. Best-case scenario, this guy’s insecure and has an endless need to have women adore him, and to make sure you know it.  Worst-case scenario, he’s not over his ex.  Either way, do NOT go out with this man again.”

I did not heed Scott’s advice, mind you, but a second date proved that he was right.

The Broker:  This Dude traffics not in financial instruments but in honesty.  About everything.  It’s critical to have at least one of these on hand at all times, preferably two or three.  The Broker, for example, will tell you what he really thinks of your clothing choices.  If asked, he’s one person who won’t treat, “Does my butt look big in these pants?” as rhetorical.  I once posed a variant of this question and he said, “Hmmm…if butts were states, I can’t say yours looks the size of Rhode Island in those pants, but it’s not Texas, either.”  The Broker tends to own Kevlar.

What does your Friend Roster look like???


Brace Yourself

With the double mastectomy and pathology reports behind her, Philippa’s recovery is now focused on reconstruction.

It’s a phased process that begins with the placement of tissue expanders inside the chest.  Over the course of a series of appointments, fluid is injected into the space created by the expanders, creating a pocket that will ultimately accommodate a permanent implant.

As you might imagine, this process does not amuse the tissue or the muscles inside the chest.  They express their displeasure in the form of pain, tightness, and spasms.  The patient subdues them with the two Vs – Valium and Vicodin – which means that a designated driver is needed for these expansion appointments.

As Philippa and I were coordinating the most recent of these, she told me that someone described the expansion process, discomfort and pain-wise, as “like braces.”

My first reaction was: “Who said that, a man?”  Based on what I’d read about the procedure, I couldn’t imagine the comparison came from someone who actually has boobs.

“Nope, it was a woman,” Philippa said.

Though I have only watched the reconstruction process from the sidelines and haven’t lived through it,  I have had braces.  Twice.

As a result of that, and the fact that dentists have traveled my root canals so often I might as well set up a gondola service, I do know a thing or two about dental pain.  So I speak with some authority when I say that, as lousy as the braces experience is, I highly doubt it compares to the pain and discomfort of the tissue expansion process.  Allow me to explain.

My first orthodontic intervention came about when a visual inspection of my teeth revealed two major issues.  First, my upper teeth lived an entire time zone ahead of my lower teeth.  Second, because my mouth hadn’t bothered to pass any property laws, my teeth weren’t lined up nice and neat, like a string of townhomes.  The way they were all jumbled up and sandwiched together, it was more like a commune.

The orthodontist informed my parents that the quest to straighten my teeth would require time, creativity, and the deed to their home. They signed it over, the orthodontist did three years’ worth of prep work, and then, in the summer between 6th and 7th grade, he gave me braces.  Those things hurt, especially for the first three days, but it was the kind of physical pain you could manage with Tylenol.  In that regard, it’s got nuthin’ on breast reconstruction.

The psychological pain? Well, that’s a whole other story.

Concerned that braces alone might not max out my potential for pubescent awkwardness, my orthodontist kindly outfitted me with rubber bands and headgear, too.  Top and bottom.

The rubber bands attached from the upper teeth to the lower, sometimes straight up and down, and sometimes diagonally, but always in a visually arresting manner.  Not only did they look great, but every time I opened my mouth to speak, they’d shoot out like spit-soaked mini-missiles.

As if that weren’t enough to doom my social life, there was the headgear.  The upper one was held in place with straps that fanned out from the top, as they do on a catcher’s mask.  The straps were stapled together at the top to ensure that they stayed put and also that they ripped my hair out each time I removed the head gear, leaving me with a very attractive bald spot.

But I came out of it with straight teeth, by God. At least for a while.

When I was 35 or so (and single), my dentist observed that I had a cross-bite, meaning one or more of my bottom teeth were sitting outside of, rather than inside, my upper teeth. This type of “reverse articulation” can cause your jaw to shift, so I knew I couldn’t just let it go.

I was prepared to fix it until I learned what the fix was: more braces. But the dentist had good news for me: my malady could be treated with Invisalign, a technique that uses a series of custom-made clear, plastic aligners that gradually shift your teeth into their proper placement over the course of 6-18 months.

I decided to try it, based in large part on a claim Invisalign made about the aligners in its marketing materials: “Because they’re virtually invisible, most people won’t even notice you’re wearing them.”

An aligner in the wild. 

The company absolutely nailed it, as long as you define “most people” as “NASA astronauts orbiting Earth.”  Because correcting a cross-bite is hard and the aligners have to grip something more than just your teeth, the dentist has to stick white “buttons” on your teeth, and they’re pretty darned hard to miss.

I mentioned this to a co-worker, who said, “It’s really not bad, Karen. It just looks like you have a serious plaque problem.”

To add to the effect, if I spoke when I wore the aligners, I sounded like Daffy Duck.  In sum, my second braces experience had all of the awkwardness of the first and none of the youth.

Even after all of that, I still feel quite confident in saying that, compared to the pain and discomfort of having your chest stretched to the limit, an orthodontic journey is a trip down Easy Street.


A Hair Out of Place

I’m 42 years old.  When people who meet me hear this, they often say, “Wow, really?”

I never know quite how to take this.  Do they mean, “Gee, you look a lot younger than that,” or “Gosh, I’ve never seen skin mini-blinds on the forehead of anyone under 70”?

Look, I have no idea what 42 is “supposed” to look like.  I do, however, have a very clear idea of what I don’t want it to look like: grey and saggy.  Exercise is my main weapon in the war against sag, but it does nothing to combat the gray.

For those of you who haven’t experienced it yourself yet, gray hair comes in like clover on a pristine lawn.  The first sprout stands out, so it’s easy enough to pluck it.  But that’s just the beginning.  The stuff proliferates, because gray hair has ambition your standard-issue hair could only dream of.

Eventually, the proverbial clover grows to the point where it poses a very real threat to the grass and  the only way to kill it is through chemical weapons.  For me, that point came at age 33 or so.

Having never been one to spend all that much time on my appearance, I didn’t make the decision to wage a chemical assault lightly.  Primping bores me, I don’t care much about clothes, I shop only under duress, and I have a five-minute makeup regimen.  Against this backdrop, coloring my hair seemed frivolous and vain.  Then again, 33 seemed a tad early to look like a fit Bea Arthur. I decided to embrace a little vanity.

In the beginning, my stylist used her weapons sparingly, but now it’s a full-blown campaign that lasts two hours every time.  It’s the one time Miss Five Minute Face would rather be shopping.

The minute my butt lands in the chair, my stylist always asks what I want her to do.

I repeat what I’ve said for the past nine years: “Make it look natural.”

She then applies a purple chemical paste to my hair and seals it with strips of aluminum foil. As you do in the wild.

Totally natural, dude.

As common as this particular vanity is, especially among women, I still feel a bit ridiculous about it.

Or I did, that is, until Day 2 of my post-op stint with my dearest friend Philippa.  I sat on the edge of her bed, discussing the follow-up appointment we’d scheduled with the cancer surgeon for Tuesday the following week.

“It’s going to work out perfectly,” she said.  I assumed she was referring to the time of day — an afternoon appointment guaranteed that the surgeon would have the all-important pathology results—until she added, “My hair appointment’s the day before, so at least I’ll go into the follow-up with good hair.”

I did not share her view that good hair was vital to a positive pathology report.  I offered my thoughts diplomatically, as follows: “YOU ARE NOT F&^-ING GOING TO A F$%^-ING HAIR APPOINTMENT SIX DAYS AFTER A DOUBLE-F%^$-ING MASTECTOMY.”

Because we were talking about a life-or-death issue –the hair, I mean, not the cancer—she fought  me.

“Do you have any idea how long I waited to get that appointment?” she said.  And then, for emphasis, “My roots are showing!!”

Her roots had nothing on the glare I gave her.  Grudgingly, she called the salon and told them the truth.  They responded with warmth, compassion, and an appointment in February 2014.

I’m kidding, of course.  They moved her appointment out a week, because even they knew better than to split hairs.


Moved To Tears

When a trusted friend calls and says she needs you to do something, you offer before you know what the “it” is.

You hope something benign motivates the call—she’s going on a trip and needs a ride to the airport, she’s hosting a party and wants you to bring your signature mango salsa, or she’s getting married and needs you to juggle fire at the reception.

My friend, Philippa, placed the call a couple of months ago for a reason that was anything but benign.  She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed some post-op help. She’s one of the most independent people I’ve ever met, so I knew she hated to ask. I hated the reason that placed her in need but was more than happy to answer the call.

As we ironed out dates for appointments and such, I told her I was unavailable the weekend of November 9.

“Oh, what’s going on that weekend?” she asked.

“My whole family is doing the Moving Day walk on the tenth to fight Parkinsons Disease.”  Philippa knew my dad had been diagnosed with the disease in 2007 but didn’t know about the walk.  I explained that my three siblings, their spouses, their kids, and my aunts and uncles on both sides were mobilizing for the walk, which takes place at the stadium where the Nationals play, to support Dad and the millions who suffer with PD. I also told her that, since my brother and aunts and uncles had to travel for the walk, on the ninth, we were planning to have an early Thanksgiving or, as I call it, “Yanksgiving.”

During my post-op stint at Philippa’s place, on a day when her mom happened to be there, she mentioned the walk.

“What about it?” I asked.

“I’m gonna do it,” she said. She was horizontal when she said this.

I said, “That’s nice.”  Then I mentally dropped her comment in the bin marked “Vicodin Musings” and went off to feed Louie.

When I heard her mom say, “I’ll do it, too,” I wondered if Mom had been hitting the painkillers, too.  I asked her to repeat herself, just to make sure I’d heard correctly. “I’m doing it,” she said, somewhat defiantly. “You walked with my family, now I walk with yours.”

I knew better than to argue with her.  I was at a loss for words, anyway.  My dear friend, who was still going through her own ordeal, was already thinking well beyond herself, and so was her mom.  And I hadn’t even placed the call.

Philippa’s friends, her brother, her niece and her nephew followed her lead.  Within hours of Philippa announcing her walk decision on Facebook (where she also thanked me so publicly and profusely that my mother began to worry about being dislodged as the President of my fan club), their names began to appear on my list of donors and on the Team Yank roster.

As the date neared, I sent an email out to our team with logistical information and one important instruction.  “Wear purple,” I wrote.  “It’s Dad’s favorite color.”

Mother Nature was on her best game when we arrived at Nats Park this morning, delivering clear skies and balmy temps.

Dad and my brother had gotten there early.  Dad pretty much always gets to the ballpark early.  He can’t get enough of the game –aside from watching it, he still coaches an American Legion summer league team—  and he never misses batting practice if he can help it.

Today, he had an even better reason: Because our team had raised over $4,000, we were invited to have two of our team members come an hour early for a private tour of the Nats dugout.

We sent our two baseball junkies.  (My brother pitched at Georgia Tech and then professionally until injuries ended his baseball career.)  And boy did they make the most of it.  While my brother took pictures, Dad picked up the dugout phone and called the bullpen.  He stood there for a few seconds and then hung up the phone.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

“Nothing happened,” Dad said. “Just like the Nats.”

After the dugout tour ended, the fourteen-person Philippa branch of Team Yank joined our twenty-one person contingent.   Philippa was again in fine sartorial form.  This time she blamed it on Dad.Philippa, modeling the latest outfit from the Vicodin Line

After 97 hours of speeches, Team Yank was off and walking. Philippa and I are both very competitive people, but for once, we weren’t in a hurry.

We, and everyone else on Team Yank, just reveled in the beauty of the day and the people who had come together to fight PD.  Their walk reminds us to just keep moving forward, no matter how fast.

Louie, Louie

In my and Philippa’s writings about Camp Boob, we’ve given each other proper due (and improper due, too), but we’ve spilled very little ink on the Head Counselor: Louie the cat.

When I showed up at Camp Boob on October 28, I encountered a cat who knew Something Was Up.  In the way that animals always know, Louie sensed that his person hadn’t just run off on one of her fun trips to New York, and he was worried.  He’s a pretty social cat in general, but that night, he attached himself to my leg like a furry barnacle.

In the early days of Philippa’s recovery, Louie was a monument to feline devotion.  He gave up his usual chest-pouncing routine and instead just lay quietly near his person.

At regular intervals, he’d come into the living room to see how the help was doing, announcing his presence with a meow that sounded like Beaker from the Muppets. He’d hang out in my lap for a few minutes and then return to his post on the bed.

As the days passed and he got the sense that his person just might be okay (probably right about the time we put the bra on the husband), he began to relax.  He resumed his 2 and 4 a.m. sprint circuits, along with his other typical shenanigans, but he still checked on me and his person regularly.  For Louie seems to agree with a pal of mine who claims that 90% of friendship is presence.

Louie deserves to have his praises sung for all that he did to improve life at Camp Boob, so that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.

With profound apologies to the the Kingsmen, I bring you my very own version of “Louie, Louie.” (I had to google the lyrics because the only words I’d ever been able to make out besides “Louie”  were “oh,” “no,” and “go.”  Until today I had no idea one of the most popular rock tunes of all time has Caveman-speak lyrics. That means you get ’em in this version, too.)

Louie Louie, ooooooh, sayin I gotta go.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah I said
Louie Louie, oooooooh, baby
I gotta go.
A black little cat, he wait for me
He grab my leg while it roaming free
His nails, so sharp, I know they were honed
What’s wrong with this cat, he think I’m made of foam?
Louie Louie, ooooooh, sayin I gotta go.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah I said
Louie Louie, oooooooh, baby
I gotta go
Ten days and nights black cat laid down with me.
Wet nose on my face every time I go ZZZZZ
On the couch, I knew he was there.
I hear God-awful sound when he cough up some hair
Louie Louie, ooooooh, sayin I gotta go.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah I said
Louie Louie, oooooooh, baby
I gotta go

Best camp counselor ever.

Me see a box, way across the room
All sand, it’s no beach, and that clump ain’t no dune
Scooper in hand, hold my breath til I’m blue
Good lord, little cat, what is she feeding you?
Louie Louie, ooooooh, sayin I gotta go.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah I said
Louie Louie, oooooooh, baby
I gotta go

I will miss Camp Boob’s Head Counselor!

A Terrible Case of PPD

Like all good coups, the one at Camp Boob began when the oppressed citizens woke up one day and said, “Wait a minute, we don’t need this couch-surfing yutz anymore!”

 The patient’s surgical drains were removed on Wednesday, one day ahead of schedule.  Once those were gone, nothing remained for me to do except administer drugs so I knew I wouldn’t last long.  Time and again, history shows that nothing incites a people to rebel like the prospect of unfettered access to muscle relaxers and Vicodin.

So that’s how Philippa and the cat came to toss me out on my keister today.

(The truth is, they didn’t throw me out.  I self-exiled and went into hiding when Philippa posted this blog, complete with what I can only describe as a “payback photo.”)

As I left the No Dignity Zone of Camp Boob with only the clothes on my back (and also in my garbage bags), I felt mixed emotions.

The Hefty Collection, for Louis Vuitton. (Admired by Louie the cat.)

On the one hand, my departure meant that this friend whom I love so dearly is not just on the road to recovery but in the express lane.  She’s one of the lucky ones and I can’t celebrate that enthusiastically enough.

On the other, I will miss the convalescence that we turned into a writing retreat, the daily lunch and dinner parties courtesy of Philippa’s wonderful friends (who have claimed me as their own along the way), and most of all, the side-splitting laughter.

Make no mistake: Philippa and I don’t depend on adversity for laughter.  We know we have plenty of hilarity ahead of us, and we’ll be thrilled to find it beyond the dark corners of a battle against breast cancer.

But our laughter over the past ten days occupies a rare place in my heart.

To back up for a moment, when Philippa and I met nearly twenty years ago at a wedding where her then-husband and my then-fiance were singing, I never would have imagined that she’d end up with  breast cancer or that I’d be her main caregiver.  Either idea on its own would have been the height of absurdity.

Yet last Tuesday, we found ourselves thrust into the very absurdity our minds lacked the capacity to fathom.

As if by tacit agreement, we chose not to fight it and instead we just went with it.  And before we knew it, we were playing absurdity poker and rather enjoying ourselves.

I started the bidding by doing ridiculous things like taking bets on the surgical drains every time I went to empty them.

“Number 4’s been strong and steady, but two is looking awfully hungry today.  I’m gonna double down,” I’d say.

And when I was supposed to monitor drain output for changes in color, I offered my analysis by reference to popular beverages.

“You’ve gone from Hawaiian Punch to Tang,” I announced proudly Monday morning.

Not to be outdone, Philippa saw my ridiculous and raised it a wacky.  She instructed me to cloak the husband in one of her unused surgical bras. “Every husband likes lingerie,” she pointed out.  And then she insisted on choosing her own outfit while floating on a cloud of Vicodin. We all know how that turned out.

In sum, she and I both expected ten days of abject misery that would strain our relationship.  What we got instead were ten days spent enjoying each other’s company, laughing, worrying, healing, and looking forward together.  I can say without question that this time yielded the most terrifying, intimate, intense and beautiful –yes, beautiful– experiences I’ve ever had with someone I love.

Small wonder, then, that tonight finds me suffering from a terrible case of Post-Philippa Depression.  What a wonderful, perfect thing.

Philippa’s friend Sarah brought the patient pastries one morning and me this gluten-free orchid, also a wonderful, perfect thing.

The Great Unknown

Camp Boob got amazingly fantastically wonderful pathology news from the cancer surgeon this afternoon:  Philippa is all clear!

But the hours leading up to that 2:15 appointment? Pure, abject torture.

For openers, nobody at Camp Boob slept well last night, not even the cat.  In fact, I threw him off his game this morning in a big way by getting up and making coffee at 3:45.  As I left the bed where he’d been curled up next to me, he opened one eye halfway and fixed me with a glare that said, “Who do you think you are, banging around in the middle of the night? That’s my job, dammit!” (I fully expect him to resume his duties tonight.)

Philippa woke up before 6, too, because even Vicodin can’t conquer a whopping case of good old-fashioned anxiety.  Once the whole house was up, we set about passing the hours until the appointment by acting like it was any other day. We talked about boys, we drank the green juice whose health benefits vary inversely with its taste, and we laughed.  But it was a little uneasy.

Roughly 862 hours later,a physician’s assistant led our group of four into a tiny little examining room at the Ourisman Breast Health Center at Georgetown Hospital.

If you’ve ever gone through something like this before, you know these medical people are masters of suspense.  They are perfectly aware that you’re there for one piece of information and one piece of information only, so you’d think they’d give it to you in the first 30 seconds, right? Wrong!  First they have to weigh the patient, test her blood pressure, and check her vital signs. It heightens the dramatic tension.

I wanted to scream, “WHO CARES IF SHE LOST HALF A POUND! JUST TELL US IF SHE’S OKAY!!!!”  Instead, I bit my tongue and felt grateful they weren’t taking my blood pressure.

When the doctor –a renowned breast cancer surgeon who has the best bedside manor I’ve ever seen– came in and gave us the good news, we hardly knew what to do with ourselves.  Like actors who’d been nominated for an Oscar, we’d been hoping for the best, but we hadn’t dared go so far as to let ourselves prepare for it.

I might have broken into the Charlie Brown dance if I had the funds to replace the the medical equipment I’d have destroyed in the process.  I considered pumping my fists and screaming “WOOOO-HOOO!” until I realized it would probably go over better at a NASCAR race than a breast cancer unit.  In the end, I felt too weak to manage anything more exuberant than an ear-splitting grin.

We drove away from the hospital in a state of blissful shock and barely spoke.  When we got home, we toasted to Philippa’s good fortune with ice cream and—what else—green juice.  (As celebratory drinks go it ranks second only to Dom Perignon.)

We really crushed this vat of green juice.

And then, just as the clock was creeping up on 4:00 p.m., our little group got hit upside the head with the cast iron skillet of exhaustion and nearly passed out.

Meanwhile, the word of Philippa’s good news spread.  The legions who love her picked up where we left off and breathed a collective sigh of relief so huge it could’ve powered a wind turbine.

As I write this, Philippa is sleeping peacefully, finally claiming the rest she deserves.  And the rest of us will sleep far easier tonight, too, comforted by the knowledge that our girl is gonna be just fine.