Tag Archives: chemo

Getting Better (and Other Miscellanea)

Thank you for all the prayers.

My sister, who’s been undergoing chemo treatment for the past few months for breast cancer, had her surgery yesterday and everything seems well.  Please keep the prayers coming.

Last night was another dart-bonanza.  Just another Friday night hanging out with a friend.  He beat me again.  I’ll figure out a technique.  I’m sure there’s something more than just sip and toss but thus far that seems to be the most fun.  But it would be fun to beat him just once.

Also, my wife, sister-in-law, a cousin, and I are headed out tonight to see one of our favorite comedians.  Promises to be a good time.

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What Family Means to Me, Part I

El Greco's Holy Family Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

El Greco’s Holy Family
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

With today’s Feast of the Holy Family upon us, I feel compelled to take a moment to reflect on my own family and share my thoughts with you, my loyal and luscious readers.  But where to begin?…  I think the first place to start is by looking around and writing in the moment.

My In-Laws

Yesterday was a busy day.  I have already mentioned that I have the most wonderful mother-in-law a guy can have.  I mean that.  In absolute sincerity I cannot find a negative thing to say about her.  It’s not like I sit around trying to find bad things about the woman; but if I did I’d come up blank.  Regular readers will note that it has been a bumpy ride where Miss Wilma (MIL) is concerned.  Pardon the stream of consciousness but I didn’t sketch out an outline tonight.  I first met Wilma after my wife and I got engaged.  From the moment I encountered her I knew that this was a woman in whom could be found no guile.  We just clicked.  I could tell she knew how to enjoy a good meal with a good drink, good conversation, and good friends.  A few months later I traveled to Texas to visit the family.  My wife’s dad was out of town the whole time.  But when I walked into Wilma’s house, the work she had put into making me feel at once as welcome as the most honored of guests and just like one of her family, I truly felt at home with the woman.  I don’t know that I ever mentioned this to my wife but when I got home to New Jersey I sat down and wrote a letter to Wilma to thank her for her hospitality and to thank her for raising such a wonderful daughter.  I know so many couples who have in-law problems.  I am thankful not to be among them.  Wilma and I truly get along.  Over the past few years living in Texas I have experienced a lot of emotions I haven’t always liked.  But every time I have gotten down about not seeing the people I grew up with or over the lack of seasons, I always knew I could talk with Wilma and it was just like talking with my own Mom.

So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in September two things happened to me.  The first was a brief twinge of fear and pain that I might lose this wonderful woman.  The second was a recognition that God had programmed me with a gift of being able to take care of the sick.  I don’t know why but I’ve always found it natural to clean up after/run errands for/hold the hand of a sick person.  People tell me I’m calming during these situations.  I’m just happy to do it — especially for the one’s I love.  When her hair fell out I could think of no other option but to shave my own head.  And when she came down with the flu last weekend (and I was recovering from similar symptoms) I was happy to be able to take her to the emergency room on Sunday night.  Needless to say that this Christmas week has been busy.  Wonderfully full, but busy.

Did I mention that I can also count on Wilma to be my daily mass partner?  Even if she’s already been to mass, if I ever wanted someone to come with me, she’d happily go again.  And we’d find some way to laugh at the bad voices of the other congregants’ singing.  This morning, knowing she still wasn’t 100% back to normal, I drove over to pick her up for the 11:15 mass at the local priory.  When I got there she mentioned how sad it was going to be that Vicky wouldn’t get to visit us this year.  Vicky is another reason I’m so glad to be a part of this family.  She’s my wife’s cousin and she lives in North Carolina.  She always visits us at Christmas.  Except, this year, Vicky’s dad is also being treated for cancer and they couldn’t make the trip.  Vicky was flying out today and our Christmas visit just wasn’t going to happen.  …Until Wilma came up with an idea.  I pulled up to her house and she got in the car.  “It’s a shame,” she said, “I was just talking to Vicky on the phone.  Seems like we oughta be able to go get her for our visit and then take her to the airport ourselves, right?”  She didn’t have to say any more.  Before I knew it Wilma, my son, and I were driving an hour north to get Miss Vicky.  You see, she goes out of her way to bring her family together.  That’s just one of the many reasons we all love her.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part II!

You Got To Have Friends

Me and my friend, Zippy.

Me and my friend, Zippy.

The shaved head continues to go over well.  Only one person so far has expressed displeasure with it.  OK, she actually told me that I should “never ever never do this to my head again.”  I won’t mention her name but she blogs and she’s my sister.  I suppose she’s earned the right to be brutally honest with me.  It’s not as if we haven’t been best friends since 1980.  That being said, I still don’t think I would say something like that to her.  Oh well…  It’s moments like that, though, that make me wonder whether everyone else is just being overly kind in their support of what I’m doing or if she’s just really unhappy with what I’m doing.  Whatever…  I have been trying to force myself to say a little prayer each morning.  “Lord God, help me to remember that it’s not about me.”

The reason I am writing this evening is to express thanks for another friend.  At the end of last school year I volunteered to mentor a new teacher this year.  I was overjoyed to discover that the person I would be mentoring was not only  not quite a new teacher (and thus would require less work on my part) but was also… ready for this?…  a dude!  You don’t understand.  As a theology teacher in a Catholic high school I am almost always the only male teacher.  It was nice to come to work this year knowing I was not the lone representative of the Y chromosome in my department.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the women I work with, all the women I have worked with over the years at several different schools.  These are true Christian women who love the faith and love sharing it.  But being the only man in my field has at times contributed to isolating me in ways I almost hadn’t noticed.  Well, at the start of this year I was delighted to discover that, not only was I not the only man in my department, but that I had gained an instant friend.  He is my age, shares a lot of my background (ex-seminarians, large family), has been married for the same number of years.  Why he even has a five year-old son and a three year-old daughter just like me!

But having a lot in common doesn’t automatically mean that two people will become friends.  No, friendship comes from shared experience and a recognition of Christ in the other.  Let’s go back to that first friend I mentioned — my sister Bridget.  I have never not known her to live her life as a reflection of the Gospel, even when she is being brutally honest and telling me how goofy I look with a bald head.  Every day, in raising her family (soon to be eight children), living her faith, teaching, writing…  To live, for her, IS Christ, as St. Paul writes.  “Vivere Christus est!”  But beyond that, we share almost every important moment in life from our childhood getting intro trouble riding our tricycles on the roof of the family room because “it seemed like a good idea” to slipping off to Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon when I had my first high school job and could afford to buy us each a ticket to Damn Yankees!  We “get” each other and that combination equals friendship.

And as CS Lewis once said “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”  The first time I met my new colleague we sat down to lunch in the school cafeteria.  Another co-worker mentioned that it was the birthday of yet another colleague.  We sat around wondering how we could surprise her on such short notice.  After a few moments of silence, my new pal piped up “I could strip?”  I spit my drink out for laughter.  My sense of humor.  I could tell this was going to be a good friendship.  That being said, I sometimes fail to see when I am being pushy and I would hate to think that someone “befriended” me purely to placate me.  I am, after all, somewhat useful to this man as his mentor.  But any doubt I may have had was extinguished over the weekend.  I told him of my plan to shave my head for Wilma (my mother-in-law who’s going through chemo).  He asked if I’d mind if he also shaved his head.  “Why not?” I responded.  It turns out that his mom is a breast cancer survivor.  His dad hadn’t been so lucky and had succumbed to colon cancer years earlier.  That must have been tough.  Anyway, when he made the offer on Friday I didn’t expect him to go through with it.  Imagine my surprise this morning when I walked into his classroom to show off my shiny skull and was blinded by my reflection on his shiny skull!  “What!  You too?  I thought that no one but myself…”

You’re a good man, Zippy (had to give him a pseudonym since I try to avoid real names on these pages).  And as I’m watching The Golden Girls as I write this I want to leave this thought for all the Bridget’s and Zippy’s in the world.  Thank you for being a friend.  I maintain (in my masculine competitiveness) that my scalp looks better but you wear it well.  The neat thing is that we now have twice the opportunity to ask students to pray for Wilma and that’s well worth the lost hair.

Oh, and go say a prayer for Wilma.  Thanks!

Who Love Ya’, Baby?

I did it.

It just got real.

It is soooooo on.

That quote in the title is from the immortal Telly Savales, one of the world’s most famous bald heads.  What did I do, you ask?  Let’s talk for a bit.  You know that my dear mother-in-law, Wilma is going through chemo treatment for her breast cancer.  Stop.  Right now go and pray for her.  Do it.  I will wait.

Gettin' ready to get it done!

Gettin’ ready to get it done!

Now that that’s out of the way (and thank you for the prayers, by the way), let’s talk solidarity.  It’s no secret that chemo causes hair loss.  As my sister (another breast cancer survivor) said “It’s a sign that the chemo is working.”  About a week ago I went to Saturday morning mass with Wilma.  Her hair looked fine to me.  So I was surprised when she turned to me and casually mentioned “My hair started falling out.”  She had just completed her second round of chemo.  They come every two weeks.  I’m usually very perceptive.  That being said, you can imagine my shock when, on Friday afternoon, a mere six days later, she stood in my kitchen wearing a baseball cap.  I could see something was different.  Without me even asking, she spoke up and said “The last of it came out overnight.”  She then removed the cap and revealed a wonderfully perfect scalp.

She’s not a woman prone to fits of vanity.  I knew that losing her hair would not bother her.  But I could tell that the rapidity with which it fell out took even her by surprise.  It was time to put my plan into action.  I had already told her I was going to do this.  “Listen, I have to take Mrs. Harvey to the airport [going out of town for the weekend] but I’ll text you when I’m done.  It’s time…”  She nodded and we went our separate ways.

A short while later I sent that text.  “MEET ME AT SUPERCUTS?”  She had my daughter with her.  I knew this would be fun.  I was stepping up to have my head shaved.  I’ll leave the gory details of the shaving to your imagination.  It’s kind of a no-brainer.  I sat in a chair and the stylist did her job.  What was funny though was my daughter’s reaction.  She laughed the whole time.  I had been worried that she might be frightened or wouldn’t recognize me; but all was fine on that front.  In fact, I was quite please with how my bald scalp looked!  I had been a little nervous that my head my have some imperfections (bumps, etc.).  Had I been scared to do this, though?  Not at all.  Here’s why I wasn’t scared and why I did this.

Damn, I am one sexy man.  I almost couldn't write that without laughing.  OK, so I'm not the hottest property on the planet but my scalp isn't too shabby.

Damn, I am one sexy man. I almost couldn’t write that without laughing. OK, so I’m not the hottest property on the planet but my scalp isn’t too shabby.

There’s a notion of solidarity that I believe is at the heart of being a Christian.  I’m not talking about simply sticking up for someone who’s fallen on hard times. Rather, I think of the fact that Our Blessed Lord became one of us.  Fulton Sheen remarked once (and I don’t have the quote in front of me) that Christ’s death on the cross was, in effect, His way of saying “Look, you don’t have to be afraid of death because I’ve gone through it too.”  So I tend to think that those moments in life where we can actually become one with someone who is suffering in any small way are the greatest ways in which we can be like Christ.  I am so imperfect in the practice of my faith that I jump on those moments when I can — especially when they are things like this, things that I think are also kind of cool.  Cool to shave one’s head?  Yep.  I teach high school students.  Think of the awesome stories I’ll have from this!  But the real reason I did it was to show my love for Wilma.  She is one of the most beautiful human beings and I want her to know that she will not go through this alone.  In the past two days I have actually been a bit self-conscious, thought that people were staring at my scalp and wondering if I had cancer.  And I kept thinking “So that’s what that feels like.”  Getting back to the idea of suffering with others and solidarity…  I forgot to mention that the very idea of fasting from a Christian standpoint is all about this same concept.  Yes, there is a disciplining aspect to it.  But if we only fasted to discipline ourselves, wouldn’t it be rather selfish?  Instead, as Pope Benedict wrote in his Lenten message a few years ago (and again with the text in front of me, you’ll just have to trust me) “fasting is a way for us to actually enter into the life of the poor, the hungry, the suffering; to experience what they experience and live as they live so as to remind us of our obligation toward our brothers and sisters.”

If I could make her smile AND give her a laugh it was all worth it.

If I could make her smile AND give her a laugh it was all worth it.

I’m happy with how it looks.  I have noticed that my head is colder now.  I’ve also noticed that I look a whole lot more like my dad.  Anyway, I’ll keep posting.  You keep praying.  And if any one of you feel inspired to sheer your locks with us, go for it.  Just send me a picture so I can post it.  I’ve already had a colleague shave his head just today after seeing me last night and hearing my story.  I told him he didn’t have to.  “No,” he said, “I’ve only met Wilma twice but if anyone should have people show their support, it’s her.”  We love you, Wilma, and together we’re going to kick cancer’s a$$.

It’s About to Get Real

I’ve always appreciated my hair.  In saying this, what I mean is that it’s always done its job as far as I know.  I’m pretty sure it’s kept my scalp from burning and provided a little bit of insulation for my brain during the winter months.  When I was younger, I took a certain pride that only a young man growing up in New Jersey in the 1990’s could appreciate regarding the strands on top of my head.  Higher and bigger was the order of the day.  Then again, so were enormous lenses for those of us who hadn’t discovered contacts yet.  I swear this stuff looked good at the time.

But contrary to what some might think (my brother included) I have never been in love with my hair nor have  I held any grand designs that I would cheat the cruel hand of genetics and maintain my long flowing locks throughout my life.  And in fact over the past ten years my hairline has receded to the point where I believe I could make a decent second income selling ad space.  I understand that my forehead is visible from the Space Station.  And I am not one to ever try to mask the signs of aging.  At this point in my life I do not care that I’m getting old.  I have the most wonderful wife and children who love me regardless of my appearance.  If they aren’t enough, I am surrounded by literally hundreds of teenagers every day who think I’m the coolest guy they’ve ever met.  It is especially gratifying that all of my male students look up to me and try to copy my sense of style.  From the knot in my tie to my glasses, much smaller now and only occasionally worn since I did discover contacts; these guys delight in showing me when they’ve got one of my trademarked “looks” down pat.

This is why I think this next chapter is going to be pretty wild.  In just a few days what hair is left is coming off.  It will grow back, of this I am pretty certain.  Why am I doing this, you ask?  A very special lady, my mother-in-law Wilma, is going through chemo.  This is, quite simply, a sympathy shave.  But she needs no sympathy.  No, I’m doing this because I want to go through this with her.  I’ve been trying to prepare my kittens.  I hope it won’t be traumatic for them to see both Granny AND Daddy go Telly Savales on them at once; but I know they’ll adjust.  In the meantime, I’m going to say a prayer for her and for every patient enduring chemo around the world (especially little children who go through this shit) every morning when I look in the mirror and don’t see my blonde locks looking back at me.  Whatever, I always kept it short anyway (except the aforementioned 90’s).

And finally, just for laughs, let’s take a look back at Harvey’s Hair… and pray for Wilma (and me)!

Clockwise from top left: 1) Mardi Gras hair; 2) age 4 at Macy's with Santa hair; 3) short and standard cut hair; 4) Spirit Week red hair; 5) pumpkin patch autumn hair; 6) 90's black and white formal attire hair; 7) ME AND WILMA hair!; 8) winter dark hair; 9) grizzly, huge, 90's, Jerz hair.  Center: Wilma's hair/my flask

Clockwise from top left: 1) Mardi Gras hair; 2) age 4 at Macy’s with Santa hair; 3) short and standard cut hair; 4) Spirit Week red hair; 5) pumpkin patch autumn hair; 6) 90’s black and white formal attire hair; 7) ME AND WILMA hair!; 8) winter dark hair; 9) grizzly, huge, 90’s, Jerz hair. Center: Wilma’s hair/my flask

For a Chick with Cancer, She Sure Is Hard to Keep Up With!

You may recall that I spent last evening playing nurse to my dear mother-in-law Wilma.  “Playing” is about the size of it.  I have enormous respect for real nurses. Two of my sisters, a brother-in-law, and many friends of mine are RN’s.  They provide care and comfort to the thousands of patients they have treated over the years.  Truly, it is a noble calling and God will bless them all richly for their compassion.  That being said, there are moments in life when each of us is called by God to be His compassion to others in a special way.  God also blesses each of us with different gifts.  One might say that my gift is that I am not repulsed by sick people.  I inherited this bleeding heart thing from my mom, I think, and I seem to have the ability to sit with others and keep company, check on medicines, hold a hand when they are not able to do these things for themselves.  If you asked me, however, I would say that my gift is that I have been blessed to have Wilma to take care of.  Let me explain.

UPDATE:
It is now two weeks after I first sat down to write this.  Hey, I never said that when I returned to blogging that I would be punctual.  The bottom line here is that we had

UPDATE to the UPDATE:

OK, so it’s now a few nights after I attempted that first update.  I am watching a “Best of” one of my favorite train wrecks TV shows 19 Kids and Counting.  Actually I love the Duggar family.  I will say this about the Duggar’s.  Michelle and Jim Bob are a couple who, like my own parents, certainly have a love for the gift of children and I heartily applaud them for their openness to life.  Tonight’s episode is recapping the courtship and wedding of the eldest Duggar boy.  I say boy because he looks like he’s 12.  The most disturbing thing about this very special special is the scene wherein the patriarch, Jim Bob, takes his just-post-adolescent son aside on the day before his wedding to have a man-to-man talk about the facts of life.  Clearly the Duggar family retain some kind of creative control over the show’s production.  Dad hands his son a set of DVD’s (not what you’re thinking) and says “Just take a look at these, son, and you’ll figure out everything you need to know.”  The son then proceeds to read off the chapter selections from the back of the DVD.  “The mechanics of proper sexual intercourse?” he says half-laughing, half puzzled.  And you just knew that the words sexual and intercourse were both bleeped out.  Because human reproduction in cold, clinical terms is so dirty…

So, why am I updating this tonight?  Well, as you know, I hate leaving my drafts to languish.  Better to finish them, I say, even if they don’t make any sense when all is said and done.  But the other reason is because I am going to be providing a series of updates in the coming days regarding Wilma’s cancer treatment and I wanted it to make some sense.  Basically, she has now undergone two rounds of chemo.  Praise God!  She is handling this with almost no sign of illness.  I have been fortunate that, as I mentioned, God has blessed me to be a caretaker of sorts.  On every chemo day — that’s what we’re calling them — my wife takes her mom to the actual chemo infusion.  Then, I come home from work, get changed, kiss my kids, and head over to Wilma’s house to spend the night in case she needs anything.  It’s a nice bonding time.  We get tore up on cheap margaritas and, oh wait, that was another time.  She usually gets me a big bag of my favorite snack — Fritos Scoops — with a compliment of onion dip and we watch some TV together before she heads off to bed.

Please, please, please continue to offer many prayers for her.  Stop right now.  I will continue to wait.  In the meantime, let’s just say that, feeling her oats, the old girl is as active as most women half her age.  I admire her resolve.  This is something to deal with and while she’s dealing with it she’s not going to let it stop her from living.  Her attitude is truly joyful and one that I wish to emulate.  So then, continue to pray and I will continue to keep you posted.

Meanwhile I must return to these  19 kids.  I just can’t keep my eyes off of this.  And, ooh, look!  The Little People are returning for another season!  Life really couldn’t get any better.

Chemo-Schmeemo

So far, this cancer thing seems to have been a breeze for Wilma.

So far, she made it past the emotional roller coaster of the diagnosis and realized that she’s not dying anytime soon.

So far, she told me she hadn’t felt different from the moment before she got the news.

… And then today she started chemo.  Go say a prayer.  Go, right now.  I’ll wait.

The likeness is striking.

The likeness is striking.

My wife took her to the hospital this morning very early.  I went to work.  After I got home this afternoon I got the joy of taking my daughter to her ballet class.  This felt like a little bit of normalcy for both of us.  After we got home, I grabbed my toothbrush; a change of clothes; and my eyeglasses, contact case, and solution.  I then headed over to Wilma’s house.  For her part, Wilma had felt so good immediately after leaving the hospital that she and my wife went to a movie!  But on the drive home, the nausea set in.  OK, go say another prayer.  Thank you.  So my job tonight is to do my best Clara Maass impression and let a tsetse fly bite my ass.  Wait, no.  I suppose my job is not to imitate Nurse Maass that closely.  Besides, with all the tonic water I’ve consumed in my lifetime I’d bet malaria is not a malady I shall soon (or ever) suffer.  Nonetheless, I am here and I am “fixing to take care of my patient” as they say in Texas.

The evening, so far, has gone remarkably unremarkably.  Around 8:00 (CDT) I switched on a show on National Geographic.  It was something about what would happen if the world’s oceans were drained.  The graphics were cool but the narrator’s voice was so soothing that by 8:30 both Wilma and I were groggily waking up to realize that we had been knocked unconscious by it.  I quickly switched the channel and we watched the news for a bit.  All in all, she got some more quality sleep while I spent an hour looking up random things on Wikipedia. Did you know that the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh was rated the best urban view in America?  Neither did I.  I’ll be sure to remember that when I never visit.  At 10PM, the patient rose from her recliner to take a pill and retire to her bedroom for night prayers.  Yes, even as run down as she is, dear Wilma is in quiet solitude praying for you and for me.  What am I doing?  Writing a nonsensical story.  OK.  She wins.  Stay tuned.