I have the memory from when I was a child. My father was a lifeguard at Smyrna Pool and every day I would ride up the steep hill on South Street to meet him while he worked.
I loved being there because there were few rules and even less enforcement of them.
Here are the rules we lived by at the pool:
Number one, don’t run! Not because we would get in trouble but because we would get ‘hot foot’. ‘Hot foot’ got its name because when you ran on whatever medieval wrap they put down around the pool, the skin on the bottom of you foot would start to peel off.
Number two, obviously, don’t pee in the pool. My Dad was a prankster and had found a chemical that he could put in the water so that when it mixed with urine, it would leave a purple trail! No one wanted to be caught with a purple trail behind them!
Number three, you weren’t allowed to dive off the diving board until you could swim across the length of the pool without taking a breath! (I later learned that my Father made up this rule specifically for me. )
The memory I have is from this one day when Dad, was sitting in his usual chair around the pool, and I was playing in the water surrounded by a group of boys. I was never one to shy away from good trouble, so I began dunking them as payment for them tormenting me.
Soon the group of four boys had completely overpowered me. One dunk, up for air, a look at my Dad…nothing! Two, same thing. Three…Dad, “a little help here” …four…and…Dad officially lost it!
He started grabbing the boys pushing their heads under the water and holding them there a tad bit longer then necessary. He was making the point: don’t mess with my daughter!’
That’s the image I had in my head January 10, 2018 as I received the news that they had found a cyst in my right breast. “Lord, a divorce, a son with Juvenille Diabetes, a daughter with a traumatic brain injury, a son with Down Syndrome….and now …this?
Breast cancer had never even crossed my mind. I was healthy and young and I had nursed my four babies for a total of eight years ( yes, I nursed each baby for two years!) plus we had no history of it in our family. How could this happen?
Through a series of genetic testing it was determined that I amJewish, Ashkenazi to be exact. There were rumors that my great grandfather Michael had come to America to escape persecution, for a better life. Yet it was murmurings, hidden.
I sat in the doctor’s office and was told that I carried the BRACHA gene. That it could lay dormant for generations and then suddenly appear within a ‘suspicious carrier’. Yes, my mom found a t-shirt.
When the doctor did the lumpectomy, they found a trace amount of cancer cells in one lymph node. Me being the more-is-more girl that I am, I decided that we would throw everything at the disease we could so I signed up for the ‘Red Devil’.
This specific drug got its name because of its color ( bright red) and it comes with harsh side effects including hair loss, severe nausea and vomiting. I also thought it was appropriate that the dose of the Red Devil should begin on my 50th birthday.
On the first day of treatment, also my 50th birthday, the nurses came out in Hazmat suits, while my youngest daughter, Mia looked on. At only 18 years old she had volunteered to do the driving and chemo rounds with me while Joe worked and Mom and Marley watched Noah.
After the first dose, as predicted, my hair started to fall out, and Stacey held my hand while Laura shaved my head. I don’t remember mourning the loss of my hair as much as I remember being so grateful to have someone I love to do it.
Week after week of treatment, I got thinner and thinner. My arms became stick-like. My eyes were huge in my face. Noah would cry if he saw my bald head but I hated wearing the wigs, so I began wearing the little crochet caps the ladies would bring to cancer center.
Finally on May 10th, the chemo was done and the radiation was set to begin. I thought that radiation would be the easier of the two.
Every day I drove to Christiana for the next six to receive my treatment, then back home.
The nerves in my arms were so damaged by the PIC line and treatment, that I could barely move them. Thankfully, God provided me a masseuse, who faithfully rubbed my arms three times a week so that I could at a minimum, function.
I watched the clock, as I lost my mind. When people say that, and you think it’s a superlative…that people don’t really lose their minds. But whatever it was at the time, I was holding on to my life, myself and my reality by my fingertips. I was underwater with too many hands holding me, but unable to gasp for breath.
Even though it was the summer, life was gray. I tried to smile. To laugh, to say, ‘fuck you cancer’ …as survivors do. But time passed, and the sky remained gray.
The time came to ring the bell that you’re supposed to ring after you had received the last of the radiation treatments. What is supposed to be a momentous occasion is in reality, eerily lonely.
The morning of my next to the last treatment, I called the radiologist and told him I could not do one more treatment…not one more. Then he asked if after the 39th treatment that morning, if I could wait six hours and do the 40th treatment that same day. I agreed.
That day after number 39, I waited in my car in the parking garage in the middle of July. Watching the clock tick down…the radiologist stayed late, it was a Friday in the middle of the summer. No one was happy to have to do this.
I dutifully climbed up and allowed my self to be burned once again.
Once the treatment was done, I got off the table, and went into the dressing room. The technicians were already discussing their big plans for the night.
I walked out of the room, and there on the wall was the gold bell. The gold bell that you’re supposed to ring when you complete treatment. The bell signifies the end….but, I walked by it without a second glance.
For weeks all I did was sleep.
All I wanted to do was sleep. There was never enough sleep.
My mom would graciously wake me only to find me asleep fifteen minutes later. It was decided that my family would they take me to my happy place, otherwise known as the beach.
As soon as we got to Cape Henlopen, I made a nest and curled up,zoned out. After a while, Joe woke me just to move my chair to the other side of the pier. As I was trying to move my chair, I ended up with my head on the bottom of the seat. I looked and acted like a inebriated sap.
That’s when I started seeing a psychiatrist who told me that I had situational depression. I learned that our brains have a ‘lever’ and the lever gets triggered when something happens and then pops back into position after the trauma. When cancer hit, mine pressed down and never resumed its rightful place. My take away from my time with her was, to make a move change a thought. She told me I was perseverating on thoughts. The thoughts would then spiral into out-of-control emotions. But if I moved, it would change the track my brain was on. So, move I did.
My poor mama walked more trails, beaches, and loops that summer than she ever expected! We went on endless hikes, and aimless wandering through marshes and farmlands. Me, deep in thought, and her faithfully by my side.
I eventually found ‘Even’ again. With the help of Joe, the kids, the outdoors, the Lord, and especially my sweet Mama we limped onward.
Fast forward five years, and I’m sitting at what I call my soul doctor’s office retelling her my childhood memory of that one summer being dunked at the Smyrna Pool by a group of boys, when I finally realize that my Heavenly Father has let many bullies pull me asunder but the final blow was unequivocally His! I ..am…still…standing! There is still more to be done!
Special thanks to Kira Jean-Simon for taking the time to edit this piece. My editor a.k.a Mom found it too painful. If you need any copywriting please reach out to her on Instagram at kirawrites_copywriting