Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Gratitude Always~

There are many people to thank and I haven't yet found the time to do it, but I don't want you to think I've forgotten all the kindness shown to us these past months. The flowers, cards, photos, texts and calls are all greatly appreciated and we really were touched to hear how much you cared. In fact, all of this has taught me how important it is to let people know how you feel about them. Which is why I want to write the thank you cards, but I also don't. Writing my gratitude down stirs up emotions that are hard to feel and hard to explain. But I'll get it done. I promise.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tips for Friends and Family of Cancer Patients

Cancer has barged into our lives again, I'm sad to say. Yet another family member has been diagnosed. Understandably, friends and family are concerned. They want to know what's going on and they want to help, but if you haven't been through it, it's hard to know what's helpful. Every person is different and so is every cancer patient. Some people are very private and others share every detail on social media with the world. Having been through cancer treatment myself and now facing chemotherapy with a loved one, there are a few things that come to mind that would be more helpful than others.

Stay Positive. First and foremost, and this is a hard one, try not to overreact. A cancer diagnosis is not an automatic death sentence these days. After the initial shock of my diagnosis, I realized that I didn't want to mope around like I was already dead and I didn't want others to treat me that way. People can live with cancer for a long time. Like all things in life, it's a marathon, not a sprint. The other thing I've realized is doctors don't know everything. I've heard far too many stories of doctors getting life expectancy terribly wrong. Again, every patient is different and nothing is certain. We just have to take it a day at a time and be the best patient we can be. Please stay positive and help your patient friend stay positive too. Humor is a great alternative to gloom and doom.

I also know you want to help with every suggestion you can think of, but these click-bait articles you find on the internet with miracle cures are not helpful. There is so much garbage about cancer out there you can't believe it! Just try to be supportive and let your patient friend decide what kind of care they want in consultation with their doctors. Unless, of course, you are a doctor yourself. Then feel free to pipe up.

Cooking. There's a tendency to want to cook for the patient and their family. At our house, the patient is not eating large, heavy meals right now and my kids aren't crazy about casseroles, so the only one to eat such things is me. I'm afraid, no matter how well intentioned, food will be wasted. What helps more than food itself is gift cards to buy the special foods that the patient can tolerate. When you're sick, you know how you eat, right? Right now we're eating small meals with high protein if possible. Nothing too spicy, sweet, or fatty. A chemo patient may lose their taste for something they've always enjoyed and their tastes can change from day to day. What sounds delicious one day may sound terrible on another day. You can imagine the grocery bill from trying to accomodate all the changes. Drinks like Boost or Ensure are great; be sure to get the highest protein/highest calorie ones you can find. But ask first if the patient even wants those and what flavors they like. Again, gift cards or money may be the best way to help with food.

Visiting. I think visiting a person when they are ill is a great way to support them, but there are several things to keep in mind. You shouldn't visit if you are sick. Chemotherapy patients have weakened immunity to germs of all kinds. Even if you just have a little cold, skip a visit and text instead. Call before you come and make sure the time you want to visit is OK. Call a day or two ahead to give the patient enough time to be ready for your visit. If you were laying around your house in your underwear, you wouldn't want to be surprised by visitors, right? And once you've set a time, try to be on time. You don't need to stay for a long time unless the patient asks you to. Visit length will all depend upon how long a patient feels comfortable and it's up to you to recognize maybe when it's time to go. Probably shorter is better than longer if they aren't up to talking much.

Helping. I've had lots of offers to help around the house and I truly appreciate those offers. At the moment, I don't need a whole lot of help, but it is reassuring to know that I only have to ask if I need help. And I probably will at some point. I'm lucky to have the flexibility in my job to take leave for all the medical appointments we've had and will be having. I can't imagine doing this with a job that didn't have that flexibility. If your friend or family member with cancer needs help with traveling to appointments, by all means, offer to do that if you can. Offer child care or pet care if they need that. If they have no way to clean their house, do laundry or dishes, offer that. More than anything, we want our lives to feel normal. If your household is falling apart around you, that's not a great way to feel normal.

To this day, I think of that movie scene in Oh God! with John Denver and George Burns as God. God has appeared in John Denver's bathroom to tell him he has a plan for him and John Denver is freaking out. God tells him to shave. "Sometimes when you don't feel normal, doing a normal  thing makes you feel normal," God says. Of course, God is right. We need to maintain an even keel and keep things as normal as we can to stay positive. Thinking too far ahead will drive you crazy.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who's reached out and visited and supported us. It makes this a little easier to bear. Our chemo journey is just starting. It will be hard, but we will get through it. If I forget to thank you for a card or a gift, please know that it is appreciated and I love you.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

#IWillMarch on March 24, 2018

Hey everybody,

Like many of you, I have two amazing kids I've been lucky enough to raise into pretty decent human beings, if I do say so myself. We've lived through thick and thin, good times and rough times, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. If you aren't a parent, it's difficult to describe the bond a mother has with her children. I know some parents aren't close to their kids, but I am. That's why, when I see mass shooting events at schools or other places where children are affected, I have a visceral reaction.

I feel very lucky our lives haven't been touched by gun violence, but every time I see children murdered in this country, I'm reminded that it's only luck that's gotten us by. If a child in suburban Florida or Texas or Nevada or Connecticut or Alabama can be shot at school, then it could happen anywhere. At any school. To any child. If I ever had to bury a child, my life would be over. I can't even imagine.

Many people in my community participate in subsistence hunting. They actually feed their families with game meat they catch. Those responsible hunters don't worry me. It's the irresponsible gun owners that do. The ones that don't lock their guns up. The ones that think guns are toys to play with. The ones that like to shoot exploding targets in the desert and leave the garbage behind when they leave. Guns are tools and weapons, but they are not toys. Too many Americans have forgotten that.

On March 24, I'm joining the Boise March For Our Lives to bring attention to the fact that we need common sense gun regulations in America. It's way past time. I'll try to post some pics on the blog from the March. I hope that wherever you are that day, you'll participate too. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain for the next generation. Let's make Never Again more than a hashtag.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Character Profiles ~ Desi

Desi is one of my favorite Crawdad characters. He's loosely based on a kid my daughter met at a Panic at the Disco concert. A little bit emo, but kind and generous with what little he has.  Desi is every kid who's ever been rejected by their parents for not being whatever it is their parents thought they should be. Desi has the misfortune of being born gay in a strict religious family. For every kid that comes out and finds acceptance, there are many more that don't. Many find themselves homeless or worse. It's an ugly truth.

~Meet Desi~

My head slammed into the door frame as I fell into my bedroom. The pain screamed in the back of my head and for a second I saw stars. I didn’t expect Louis to lash out as me and I hadn’t managed to dodge in time. Louis was my mother’s third husband. The one after she found God. Louis kept telling me to call him dad, but I never did. I could tell from the beginning he didn’t really mean it. Usually he yelled a lot, but the punch was new. I suppose he probably wanted to punch me all along. Me kissing Andrew was just the excuse he needed. Now, he stood over me quivering like a freaking psycho. He wasn’t a big guy, kinda bald. It was hard for him to get aggressive. Now that he was hyped up on adrenaline his nasty streak got real obvious.
“Are you gay, Desmond?” he shouted, his voice breathy. I hated him when he called me Desmond. I’m Desi. I have blue hair I dyed myself. I pierced my lip. I’m getting a tattoo as soon as I have the money. I am not a Desmond.
“What do you think?” I muttered as I rolled over, holding my head. I pulled myself up to my knees, but I couldn’t quite stand I was so woozy.
“Huh?” Louis demanded. “Cause if you are, you can take your shit and get out of this house. We don’t want no abomination here.”
“What?” My head was still fuzzy from that whack. It didn’t help that Louis always used the biggest words he could ‘cause he thought he was smart. At least, he wanted you to think he was.
“I said get out!” I didn’t think he could yell any louder, but he surprised me.
“You aren’t my mom.” 
“This is my house and I say you’re out. Get your shit and go!”
“What for?” I forced my head up and faced him, too angry for tears now.
“For being a faggot, that’s why.” Louis had his hands on his hips now, staring at me like he was God’s right hand man. You’d never know he’d missed church a month of Sundays. Righteous asshole.
My little sister Kitty bounced on the couch in the living room.
“Desi is a faggot…Desi is a faggot,” she teased, too young to even understand what she was saying. Mom walked in the door unnoticed by Louis, just back from work.
“Shut up!” I yelled at Kitty.
“No, you shut up!” barked Louis. “She lives here. You don’t.”
“What’s going on?” asked Mom, but the lines on her face said she was too tired to really care. Kitty climbed into her arms.
“Daddy says Desi’s a faggot,” she told Mom.
“No, he’s not,” Mom said to Kitty. “Don’t let me hear you talk like that again.”
“As a matter of fact, he is,” said Louis. “I told him to get out.”
Mom turned to me, her face a mixture of sadness and shock. I never wanted to tell my mom, but some part of me always thought she wouldn’t care, that she’d love me anyway. Your mom’s supposed to love you, no matter what, right? That’s not what my mom’s face said. Her expression said I’d crushed all her dreams to dust forever.

“Is it true, Desi?” she almost whispered, like it was too horrible to even imagine. I think my heart made a sound loud enough to hear when it cracked open just then. It’s always easier to rage so I cut loose.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Character Profiles - Jamil

On this Martin Luther King Day, I want to share the fictional story of Jamil  Ramos. I have always been inspired by the words of MLK, even though he died before I was born. His message was one of hope that the injustices of men would one day be replaced by equality and freedom from fear. Dr. King had a dream of a better life for those who have been oppressed just because of the way they look or where they were born. His dream is the American dream, that anyone, no matter how poor or disadvantaged, can become whatever it is they want to be. And this is the theme of Crawdad

Jamil, as well as all the other characters in Crawdad, have challenges in their lives, but they each do the best they can to overcome those challenges. Jamil dreams of being a professional trumpet player despite having no money and very little family support. He doesn't let it stop him.

~Meet Jamil~

I spent most of my math class, staring at my trumpet, thinking about what Mr. T said. I sat next to the window so I always put my trumpet on the window sill. It had a few dents in the horn. Mama said it was probably from too many late nights playing in the juke joints of New Orleans. She bought it in a pawn shop there before I was born. A few of those dents were from me though.
I grew up playing with it all the time, like it was some kind of weapon till I figured out you could make sounds with it. I made all kinds of awful racket with it. Mama said it sounded like dying rooster. Sometimes it got so bad, she’d take it away, but eventually I got the hang of it.
Mama would play her old vinyl records of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis till the record player broke and we had to throw it out. I’d play with those records over and over till I could make my trumpet sound the same. Lots of times I’d play by myself till Mama got home from work. My trumpet kept me company like a friend. When I played, I wasn’t lonely by myself.
By the time I was old enough to start band at school, I was hooked. I was also way past the other kids my age. I wasn’t too good at sheet music, but I could usually play what I heard. I thought everybody learned that way till I joined band.
I wanted to play trumpet for real, professionally. I always had, but now I wanted something even more. I wanted to meet my dad, Leon Ramos in Charleston. I wanted to ask him a million questions, like what he did to make Mama hate him so much. Or why did he never come around? What had he been doing all these years? The more I thought, the more questions popped into my head the way dish soap bubbles grow bigger and bigger until they fill the whole sink and spill over the side. I was filling up with questions I had no answers for and they were pushing my music out of the way.

If I was going to play well at audition, I’d have to clear out all the cobwebs out of my mind, but how? The only way I could think of was to find him.

You can find out more about Jamil and read Crawdad on AMAZON

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Character Profiles ~ Angel

Of all the characters in Crawdad, there's nobody quite as damaged as Angel, but she's probably one of the toughest too. She's made some bad choices in her short life. Choices that have left her with nothing. She ran away from home on a whim, misled by someone she thought she could trust.  Can she ever go back?

~Meet Angel~

Mikey glared at me like he might hit me again, his eyes so dilated they were like huge black holes in his head. I got up and went to the kitchen before he could do it again. There was nothing inside him. He’d burned it out a long time ago and now he wanted to burn out my soul too.
     I hovered in the kitchen by the sink overflowing with smelly, putrid dishes because no one ever washed them. I stared out the back window at the yard filled with weeds as high as your waist and remembered the smell of fresh cut grass when my dad mowed the lawn back home. The buyer came banging on the front door. When Mikey opened the door, I slipped out the back unnoticed. I sprinted across the overgrown lawn, glad I’d put my flip flops on this morning. They weren’t great for running, but at least the rocks didn’t hurt as much as barefoot. Once I hit the alley, I was out from under the shady trees in the shabby yards.
The sunlight blinded me at first until my eyes adjusted. It had been awhile since I’d been outside much. I could feel the sun burning my pale skin, but it felt good to me, like it was burning away the crust of filth that had grown over me like moss on a sick tree. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive, maybe even happy. Maybe I could go home? I could finish school. I was still young enough to go. They had to let me in, right?
Mikey’s voice nagged my brain. You can’t do that. You’re too stupid. They don’t want you. It had become. a constant in my life. Sometimes I believed it, but I never wanted to think those things about myself. I knew I wasn’t stupid. It’s just I wasn’t sure about the other two.
I shoved Mikey’s voice out of my mind and tried to put some distance between me and his house. All I had in my pockets was a dead cell phone somebody left at the house after a night of partying and a watermelon Jolly Rancher. My tummy grumbled so I unwrapped the candy, stuck it in my mouth, and kept walking.

I got a few blocks before I saw a cop car, its lights flashing, stopped in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a busy neighborhood so it wasn’t blocking a whole bunch of traffic, but there were a few gawkers across the street. Part of me knew I should turn the corner and avoid the mess, but curiosity got the better of me, so I kept walking the way I was going. Pretty soon I could see two officers hassling this big black kid. Some cops think they gotta interrogate every person they talk to, but I couldn’t see how the kid was doing anything wrong. I supposed he could a robbed a gas station, but he didn’t act guilty. Suddenly, one of the cops went for his Taser gun.