Audition!

“You have an audition.  Check your Casting Networks Alerts for audition details.”

Woo hoo!  I love getting these texts.  I go right to my email to see what it’s for.  Could be anything!… A national network spot…?!  A Proctor and Gamble mom,  a funny shopper, a snarky office worker, a…

ROLE: CANCER SURVIVORCancer-Club-CommercialBlue

Oh.

Hmmm.  A “REAL cancer survivor -Female, 25 – 45.”

I bet my agents were psyched when they saw this – “hey, we’ve got one of those!  Brockett!”

The casting notice read, “We need someone who has a warm, inviting presence on the screen. Someone who can tell the story in a way that hits on the emotional parts but can also deliver it in a way that won’t leave the viewer depressed.  A positive outlook.”

As much as I’d love to quote the rest of the notice, it’s not really Kosher, but I have to tell you it said the actress should have “hair of some length,” but if it wasn’t long enough, “the illustrator can always draw it in.”   Then it says “REAL CANCER SURVIVORS ONLY” in ALL CAPS, which makes me think 2 things; #1, have they been having problems with FAKE cancer survivors?  And #2, the cancer has to be real, but the hair can be fake?  I’d really rather it be the other way around…

I can’t tell you what the product is, because again, not really Kosher, but it is national network and cable, if you are not familiar with the industry that means cha-ching in the thousands and thousands of dollars.

A note at the end says that casting director would like pictures with friends and family during treatment emailed to them directly.

The whole thing kind of bothers me, and I’m not sure why.  I mean I am a commercial actress – I will sell anything (okay not cigarettes.  Well, maybe in Asia.  No – I’m kidding, not even in Asia.  Thailand maybe…)    Seriously – it’s my job.  And I am a REAL CANCER SURVIVOR, and I have good hair.  In high school they called me Blair Hair.  You know, from Facts of Life, I spent a lot of time in hot rollers, but that ‘s really not the point.  The point is – I need to go book this job.images-1

When I get to the audition I see another actress sitting outside the room, waiting to go in.  A beautiful black woman who is completely bald.  As a cue ball.  No hair.  None.  Egg, black egg.  Anyway, I think maybe the illustrator can draw it in…  I also think, maybe I have an edge!

“Weird, right?”  I say to her like I know her.   Like we’re in the same club.  Club cancer.  And I hate that because, well, I don’t know, for the same reason I freak out at the thought of walking in one of those walks wearing a pink ribbon rhinestone emblazoned hoodie.

I look at the scripts posted on the wall.  Happy fluid drawings of a woman banking.  (Ok – it’s for a bank.)  Shots of her smiling, running, shopping…using the ATM…  There is a note explaining that the audition will be interview style, and we should consider answers to some of the following questions;  “What kind of cancer did you have?”  “Can you share experiences with friends and family during your cancer treatment?”  “What has the experience of cancer taught you?”

I head to the bathroom, “what has cancer taught me?”

“What has cancer taught me….”  A peek under the stall doors shows one of the two free, I enter and a moment later the whole thing shakes the sister door is slammed shut.  Then another door slam.  I come out to find another beautiful black woman, standing at the sink fixing her make up.  She has gorgeous hair.

“Well I guess that didn’t go well for her,” she says and eyes the door.

I put it together – she wasn’t the slammer.  “Oh, I guess I missed it.”

“Are you here for?…” And I’m doing it again, the club…ugh.

“Yeah.”

And I want to ask her ‘what kind?’  But I really hate that question.  She volunteers, “uterine, but I’m worried it was too long ago.”

“Well, you have great hair.” I tell her.

“You too!” she says.

I say, ”I wouldn’t worry, as long as you have good stories.”

Good stories.  Positive stories, while smiling into camera, “You know, cancer really taught me to value life.”  “My friends and family mean so much more to me.”  “I really know what matters now.”  Positive outlook stuff you’d find on coffee mugs or posters with kittens at the ends of branches.   Like it’s assumed that somehow surviving cancer is a good thing.  Not being dead comes with an added bonus of the key to meaning of life and knowing who to bank with!

The casting director calls me into the room. Surprisingly he is a very young man, and sweet.  We share a little laugh a little at the absurdity of the casting.

He starts to tape,  “So, when did you find out you had cancer?”

I smile right into that camera and say, “funny thing, it was right before my 39th birthday.”  (It wasn’t funny.  Well, it was kind of funny in an absurd waking up on your birthday with a piece of your boob cut out and having people over for strawberry cake anyway type way.)  “But I guess the timing for these things is never good.”

“Did you have chemo or radiation,” he asks.

“Actually, no – (crap, maybe they’re going to think that’s not bad enough) so I offer, “I had a bi-lateral mastectomy,” (oh, that was probably too graphic… too much information?  Positive, the positive…)

“I love my doctors, I was really blessed.  My doctor, Dr. Kristi Funk is actually Angelina Jolie’s doctor (why would I say that?  Am I actually cancer name dropping?)  “She’s great, she always saw me as a well person, not as my disease. I don’t know how I would would have made it through without her positive attitude from the start.”  (That’s all really true, and she’s funny and beautiful and when she took it personally that they couldn’t save my right areola I felt like the luckiest one nippled girl in the world.)  Breathe.

“What about your friends and family?”  he asks.

I look above the camera to the right, like I’m retrieving a meaningful memory, “Well, you really find out who your friends are.  The people who you are close to become much closer going through an experience like that.”  (And some people suck.  Some people are like, “shit cancer!” like it’s somehow contagious, and you don’t hear from or see them until you track them down at their place of employment because you happen to need a bottle of wine and know he works Thursdays and say, “what the fuck – I thought we were friends!”  And then feel horribly guilty because you know that when people react ‘badly’ it’s probably because of their own fears – that as soon as you say ‘cancer’ it goes right into that deep core of fear in the center of us that says – that if it happened to you it could happen to them, and taking it personally is pointless and lonely.

Aloud I say, “Yeah, you learn to really value those people,” and deliver a wise meaningful look worthy of a turban chemo scarf  wearing City of Hope poster woman right into that lens.

And then there it is – “What have you learned from having cancer?”

“What have I learned from having cancer?”  And I know what I am supposed to say – but I hesitate….

Awkward silence, he prompts me again as if perhaps I missed the question, or maybe really never thought about it.

“What have you learned from having cancer?”

(That it’s horrible you fuck nut!  That there’s no real way you can put it in a a pre packaged/bumper sticker/coffee mug/window decal/positive sound bite bank selling kind of way.

That it sucks!  That you think why me?  Am I going to die?  Is it somehow my fault?  Am I supposed to make meaning out of all this myself or am I – as I deep and dreadedly fear, someone who is supposed to make meaning for someone else – like am I freakin’ Barbara Hershey in Beaches when I want to be Bette  Middler or Randy Pausch from the Last Lecture or Susan Komen.  No!  It’s a deep dark place that late at night you can think it would be easier to die then fight with the hard grip of something that is bigger and more terrifying than you are. That it’s even worse because it has come from within you – your body has created it and the whole thought of whether you will win or lose the battle has to do with whether you believe you will or not.

Is that positive enough for you buddy?  Pal?  Can I open a new checking account?

But out of my mouth comes,

“What I learned from cancer… Is that cancer didn’t teach me anything.  The meaning of life doesn’t come pre packaged with any experience good or bad, it’s  a choice, a choice you can make every minute of every day, like Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  I wouldn’t recommend cancer to anyone as a way of learning that lesson, I am sure there are much easier ways.

So that’s what I say.  Smiling, looking directly into camera.

And I booked it.

No, I’m kidding, that was soooo mean.  Honestly, I didn’t even get a callback!

I’m not sure why.  (Did they want a more difficult cancer?  Maybe an amusing chemo story or two?)

All I know was that it definitely wasn’t because of my hair.

Busts Baps Torpedoes

I recently read that the whole thing about Eskimos having 400 different words for snow was “a linguistic hoax.”  I thought this was pretty disappointing until I got to the part of article that pointed to a study of  the Sami language of Norway, Sweden and Finland, that said the language has as many as 1000 different words for reindeer (never challenge these people to a game of Balderdash, right?)   It made me wonder, from all the thinking and writing I’ve been doing about that area inside the shirt – how many words are there?

Here are the 140 I could find.

I think my favorite is “chuberteens,” or maybe baps…no, definitely love apples…

What’s yours?

Bust, bosoms, assets, mammaries, bazookas, boobs, boobies, bouncers, boulders, bristols, cans, cantelopes, chesticles, chi chis, cones, fooblosity, fleshy milk cartons,

funbags, funbubbles, gazongas, girls, headlights, hooters, honkers, jugs, knockers, melons, milk duds, money makers, rack, saggy bags, sin cushins, snuggle pups,

sweater puppies, tatas, teats, tits, titties, twins, dirty pillows, udders, who whos, bahama mammas, balloons, bawagos, big brown eyes, blinkers, bobambas, bodacious tatas, bombs, bosom, bosooms, boulders, Bristols, brown suckies, bubatoes, yabbos, baps, bust, busts, Cadillac bumper bullets, casabas, chest, chuberteens, cones, gedoinkers, doorknobs, floppers, fried eggs, fugis, gams, gazangas,

jungle, golden bazoos, winnebagoes, mounds, mountains, marshmallows, Maguffies, grenadoes, hogans, honkers, itty-bitty-titties, jalobes, bazongoes,

bazookas, bazooms, bazoos, ninnies, nips, nupies, pair, nice pair, beamers, starter buttons, tads, handles, tatas, tittyboppers, bee stings, jiggers, jobes, rolling hills,

cup cakes, cushions, dairy section, highbeams, hinyackas, knobs, love apples, love monkeys, luscious scoops of flesh, twins, love warts, watermelons, wazoos, whoppers, winnebagos, yabos, mambas, mammas, mamms, massive mammaries, mazabas, melons, milk factories, Mcguffies, mosquito bites, perkies,

melons, milk factories, Mcguffies, mosquito bites, perkies, pillows, pimples, pink chewies, rack, set, smosabs, stacked, torpedoes, twin peaks.

But Ya’ Gotta Eat!

I have not had a diet coke since June 3, 2011.  I used to drink 3 or 4 a day.  What’s better than starting your day with a cold soda for breakfast, then one at lunch of course, and a sweet little treat waiting in the fridge at the end of  a long day?  I’d drink them with ice and lemon if I was feeling fancy, or just warm from the case I’d keep in the trunk of my car.

I knew it wasn’t great for me, but it was diet coke – not crack – whatever – George Burns smoked 10 – 15 cigars a day and he lived to be 100 years old.  My friend’s golden retrievers only ever drank water from her pool and they lived until they were 16 and 17, and that’s old for goldens.dietcokewithbacon_custom-1049e7370fb5f53e1a64499d969fa48626b6a324-s6-c30

If you asked me then I’m sure I couldn’t have thought of any way I could give up this guilty pleasure, how would I ever kick the soda habit…?

Then I got cancer and I thought – well, that would do it.

After the initial period of shock – a sunny May weekend which I ate my way through most of the Gus’s BBQ restaurant take out menu half of a Sweet Lady Jane’s Princess Cake, several plates of food at a gourmet picnic; including 3 kinds of meat, 2 types of pie, many cookies and wine, most of a cheese and chacuterie display at a wine tasting, a burger, fries and more wine, – things changed.

Because when Monday morning came – the world stopped spinning with a cold hard thud.  I thought – oh my God, I have cancer (breast, these boobs are new – I’ll be fine, but if you are anything like me then you will be wondering the whole time and I am trying to tell you a story.)  But at the time I didn’t know anything – what stage I was in – did it start somewhere else – was it creeoing around in my body?… So after that Bachanailian weekend of wine and denial I thought – I better make my body into a lean mean cancer fighting machine.

Right?  How does that happen?  I mean I’ve heard those stories about people who have cured their cancer through the power of juicing or garlic, or milk thistle or an all carrot diet, I thought it was all bunk  – but what if it wasn’t?  There are people that say eating anything with a face will give you cancer.  Like my landlord, who wrote a vegan cookbook – she was thrilled when she found out I had cancer – she said, “that means you are going to give up meat and dairy, right?” (but she’s not exactly a Ph.D., she stopped eating animals in the 60’s after she opened a refrigerator when she was tripping and all the meat spoke to her.)

What are the rules?  I stopped eating meat, dairy, wheat, sugar, anything processed and alcohol.  I was afraid to eat anything that wasn’t organic.  I emptied my cabinets and wondered what else was trying to kill me.  I threw out my Secret deodorant and stared suspiciously at my Crest toothpaste.  And my Britta filter, come on – you pour water through charcoal and that’s seriously supposed to remove anything toxic?

Sugar Feeds Cancer with WordsI was particularly afraid of the evil white sugar because of a very intense energy healer lady with big white hair who got all up into my face to say, “sugar feeds cancer!”  It was just like that scary moment in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – “tell ’em large Marge sent ya'”  Aghhh!!!

I went to a Chinese Wellness Center and paid a ton of money for a brown paper lunch bag of twigs and mushrooms and sticks that I could only brew in a ceramic kettle – so I found one at Sears, and made pots of tea that smelled and tasted like something that was scraped off the forest floor.

I taped the Tao’s food philosophy, a quote from Hippocrates, to my refrigerator door – “Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”

No fast food, chips or cookies, not one bite of steak or cheese, bacon, butter, pizza, diet soda or Lucky Charms.  Lucky Charms; the only sugar cereal I was allowed to eat as a special treat as a kid – and only on vacation – the heady pleasure of taking the time to eat an entire bowl, all the little oaty things out first, then each color marshmallow leaving only the pink hearts floating in a bowl of now warm purple grey colored milk sitting at my Grandmother’s breakfast table in the Florida morning sun.lucky-charms10

In my adulthood, I was not above buying a box to get that high and eating around marshmallows – with the grown up addition of pouring the sugary milk into my coffee.

So – never do that again?  Never, never?

Everything good was ruined – meatloaf was replaced by “neatloaf” a “meat textured bake made with oatmeal, organic catsup and barley.  Butter with palm fruit oil spread, mayonnaise with Vegenaise, ice cream made from nuts, “burgers” made from sprouts and nuts…

I barely survived Thanksgiving, – rescuing a few green beans before they were casseroled and funioned, watching everyone slather soft butter on white flour fluffy rolls and scooping up bourbon laced sweet potatoes topped with crispy browned white sugar marshmallows.  I missed out on dessert because newsflash – no matter what Vegan Girl says on her Vegan Yum Yum website – you really can’t make pumpkin pie that tastes “even better than the real thing everyone will rave” with tofu.  It doesn’t!  It’s like you said about the “delectable chocolate mousse” made with “a rich avocado base” – you know what that tastes like Vegan Girl?  Avocado with chocolate.  Chocolate guacamole!  And yes, it’s disgusting, – it tasted like burp!  The pie.  Not the mousse.  Come to think of it – the mousse too.

I would bake authentic white flour, white sugar, butter and vanilla chocolate chip cookies tor my favorite nurses and doctors, because several attempts at vegan cookie favorites like “grapefruit icebox cookies” and “magical nut chews” proved there was no replacement for the simple perfection of the original Toll House recipe.  And when I would get to my favorite part – that just mixed soft dough stage where it took Herculean effort not to stick my finger into the bowl, I resisted.

I did it.

And I felt strong – like I was doing something, you know -with every bite of blueberry pomegranate seeds and quinoia salad and sip of disgusting tea – I imagined that the superfoods were soldiers kicking ass in my system.

The mutant cells were being starved into oblivion without their hearty diet of acesulfame K, benzly isobutyrate, methyl benzonate and hydroxphenyl-2-butanone.

I ate my weight in broccoli.

My friend who is now the head of surgical oncology at a major hospital, but back when she was only a fellow at an internationally renowned cancer program, would just laugh at me.  Sitting at the bar Delancey’s eating fancy pizza one night, I ordered mine without cheese or sauce (yes, crust with mushrooms), and she said, “you know it really doesn’t matter.”

Of course it matters, if it doesn’t then there is nothing I can do – I have no control, I can’t stop it, the cancer from coming back, what if I eat all the crap again and I get cancer again later – what if it’s because some tiny little mutant cell behaving badly was just about to die a death of starvation – when along comes an ethyl methylphenylglycidate on a digesting marshmallow bit and it hitches a ride and grows an multiplies – only because I wasn’t strong enough to resist magically delicious breakfast cereal?

But I did cave.

It was Christmas cookies.  But I’m sure you could tell that was coming by the way I wanted to FF chocolate chip cookie dough…  Then it was Christmas dinner.

And then I caved and I caved – delicious bleu cheese, butter, pizza, and the meat from heaven – smokey crispy bacon and wine – lots of wine.

And everything was delicious.

Because what about twinkly eyed George Burns and those happy golden retrievers and every centurian on The Today Show who say it’s about “not sweating the small stuff,” and “having a sense of humor.”  Like Jeralean Kurtz – 114 years and 148 days who told Willard her favorite foods include potato salad, honey buns, and McDonald’s chicken nuggets!

They’re right, right?

I thought my control freak diet made me feel stronger – but now I think maybe I was just punishing myself.  Because I was angry.  At life.  No comfort in comfort food.

Does it matter what you put in your piehole if you are living your right life?

A woman named Anita Moorjani is the hot spiritual expert on cancer at the moment because get this – she was admitted to the hospital after 3 years of cancer and given only hours to live because her organs were shutting down, but get this – she didn’t die.  She had a near death experience, woke up completely healed – doctors can’t find a trace of cancer in her body and they can’t explain it.

In her book she says, “If I ever had to create a set of tenets for a spiritual path to healing, number one on my list would be to make sure to laugh as often as possible throughout every single day – and preferably laugh at myself.  This would be hands down over and above any form of prayer, meditation, chanting or diet reform.”

“The only universal solution I have is to love yourself unconditionally and be yourself fearlessly!  Add a box of good chocolates into the mix, and we’ve really got a winning formula!”

I still don’t eat fast food, rarely processed food, and to this day not one sweet sweet refreshing diet coke.  I have sitting in my cabinet a single package of Lucky Charms I was given as a gift.  One day I will feel safe enough to eat it.

 

Legend of the Lost Nipple

 

Old Timey NipplesI didn’t mean to steal the nipples.  I thought insurance was supposed to pay for them, so I just walked out of Intimate Images, the “all things cancerous lingerie shop” with a pair of $42 medium almond nipples, I didn’t really want them anyway but my plastic surgeon insisted I test drive them – to see where I wanted them because after my bilateral mastectomy I no longer had my own set.   (I’ll be fine, but as a result – “Frankentits”)

I really thought it was her job to know where they should go.

So when Linda calls me and tells me that I owe them $42 for something I didn’t want and was only going to need for a couple of weeks – I’m thinking I am not going to drive all the way back out to Santa Monica to Victoria’s Malignant Secret, – a store with walls of the ugliest cotton bras in white! or nude! hanging between wigs on styrofoam heads from the 70’s with creepy orange lipstick and Twiggy eyelashes.  Bras with features like a handy little detachable Velcro bags for your post surgical drains that are expensive!   Last time I was there I spent $88 on a bra –  $88 dollars – I told Linda for $88 dollars I expect something black, leather or crotchless.

I didn’t go back – instead – I became passive aggressive about them and just left them in the bag on my dining room table, where every time I passed them – the Tell Tale nipples would say to me, “ wear us!  Take us back – or…wear us!  You’re supposed to practice… You stole us…”

Until finally the Friday before my Monday surgery – I stick Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum where they look like they belong (with whatever latex magic stick technology they use in those kid’s toys you throw at walls) and the perfect little rubbery flesh colored discs look pretty great.  I dress in a little black J. Crew dress a cute  A line that falls straight out from the bust and why not capitalize on my new fake perky rack –  I decide to go braless.

Nipple Paper Doll for Blog

And I go about my errands for the day.

I go see my agent to drop off some money, a friend’s apartment, and the post office.

I get home, I take off my dress.  And I only have one nipple.

I have lost a nipple.

I don’t know where.

My agent’s office?  They all know about the cancer, so if there was a spare nipple around, clearly it would be Brockett’s.

Was my nipple at the post office?  Stuck to someone’s shoe?  Did it catch a ride on a priority box or an express mailbox on it’s way with someone’s Christmas packages?  Was it sitting on a curb somewhere with a tiny knapsack singing“all by myself!”

And oh shit –  my friend Anna has a miniature  pinscher who will eat anything – so I called her immediately, “Hey, it’s Catheryn – is my nipple there?  Well, look around on the carpet because I’m afraid Bruno will choke on it – and die. ”  Death by my nipple.

images-1

I’m panicked.  I take a flashlight and trace my steps back and forth to my car –- finding a lot of gum, a penny, a nickel, but no nipple.

I pray it is at the post office resign myself to the fact it is probably waiting to be discovered by my agent who will feel sorry for me – that woman with cancer who cannot manage to keep herself together.

By noon the following Monday I was out of the hospital and the surgery went great!  Ok – I’m lying – the right one ended twice as big as the left – huge – it looked like I could milk a calf –  this big round twisted Cinnabon looking thing held together with angry black stitches.  I’m not sure what I expected from a nipple made out of skin origami from my groin,  but they looked nothing like my tiny perfect plastic peach pancakes.

It took two minor surgeries to tame the nipple that ate Manhattan but – now, now that the “crisis” is over – the almost 2 years of cutting and pasting, is over I feel a desperate need to make some sort of sense or get the lesson out of all of this, the getting cancer, all the surgeries, the vanished time, the discomfort, the fear, the part of me that is lost and reconstructed into something that I wonder if will ever feel like my own.

There has to be some grand plan, – “everything happens for a reason.”

God isn’t careless and irresponsible, like some crappy foster Mom who lets the dishes pile up in the sink while smoking cigs, eating Doritoes and watching TMZ – I know this because I’ve seen some of his/her good work.  I’ve seen sunrises, oceans, babies, and Hugh Jackman.

Clearly there has to have been a reason.

Live life to the fullest every day…?  Live in the moment…?  Don’t become separate from your spirit…?  That causes dis ease.  Did I become separate from my spirit?  Should I return those cute patent leather pumps to Macy’s and wait to see if they go on clearance?

What’s the “take away?”

There is a wonderful Doctor, a pioneer in mind/body health who started the first cancer support group, – Rachel Naomi Remen, who has written extensively about the capacity of illness to be a gift.  She tells gorgeous stories of people who have found a deeper meaning in the experience of cancer, in one story she says:

“Sometimes it takes a wake-up call like cancer to bring us back to ourselves.  The crisis of illness may shake us free of the life we have created and allow us to begin to return to the life that is our own.  “One patient, a CEO with cancer, told me, “I always knew what mattered.  I just never felt entitled to live by it before.”

And now I feel worse because I feel completely gypped!  Where’s my shiny new back to myself life?  Because now I just feel like a human Mr. Potato head – but as my friend Matt pointed out – 2 years older with the same problems?

But sometimes, sometimes… I get a glimpse of something…  Like in December when I traveled home – back to the East Coast for the holidays, and it was less than 2 weeks after the surgery – and with all of these surgeries you have limitations – I couldn’t raise my arms above a tee, and I couldn’t lift anything over 5 lbs.  I got dropped off at the airport with no carry on – no purse.  (I was so not looking forward to 5 hours with just my iPhone and a Skymall magazine.)  And so I wouldn’t do anything, and could ask for help – I wore a fake sling on my arm.

I have to change planes in Denver – because it’s Southwest (the Greyhound of the sky) and I find out my flight to Baltimore is cancelled; fog.  Not delayed, not rerouted, cancelled.  And I’m just standing there at the counter in my stupid fake sling looking at the woman, who is explaining that I could fly standby to Dulles – an airport that is like 1 ½ hours from my parent’s house, but I would be number eight on the stand by list and I’m thinking – I don’t even have a toothbrush!  And even if I could get back to LA – I would have to get one of my friends to come out and get me and the luggage and then do the whole thing the next day.  The guy at the counter on my right is freaking out because he just found out he’d be number nine on the stand by list – which means now I’m up to number ten, and the ticketing agent motions to me to walk down to the other end of the counter.  Once I get there she hands me an actual ticket on the fully booked flight.  She says, “with everything you have going on – it looks like you should just get on that plane.”  I looked at her and said, “You know – this is just a disguise, there is nothing wrong with my arm – I’m going through reconstruction for breast cancer and I didn’t even know how I was going to manage to get home – you have no idea what this means to me.”

And she started to cry and said, “I’m a survivor – 3 years.”

And I started to cry.

To me – it was a deeply profound moment – an amazing moment of connection I wouldn’t have had without going through what I’ve been through, without her going through what she’s been through – and I think – well that’s a hell of a lesson to learn – I mean how dark does it have to get to see the light?

It’s about seeing beauty in the darkness.

Then I think – no that’s totally not it, –  it’s the fact that that moment wouldn’t have happened without us sharing it with each other,  – that’s what it is!  It’s about sharing our stories, that unites us and makes us feel not so alone…

And then I think – oh my god!! – fuck it!! – I have no idea – I think it just comes down to how you choose to see every moment of your day – a challenge, a choice, or a gift.

And feel entitled to live that.

And oh yeah, I found my nipple later that night – my nipple that I don’t need any more that I did get insurance to pay for – it was there in the hall by my door,– rolled up on itself like a Pirouline cookie or a tiny piece of salami waiting to be stuffed with cream cheese.

 

An Inconvenient Romance – Part II

When the weekend comes, with my mother gone and no immediate doctor’s appointments, I decide to drive north of the city and stare at pine trees until I can breathe again.

I get to the Old Bear Inn toting the disgusting herbal tea and a few self help books and check my email – and this from him, “Obviously both of us are going through a difficult time, which is why I think we need to hit the pause button for a while.  I’d like to move out of my place and file the paperwork, so I can at least feel like I’m officially single.  So maybe we give it a break for a few months and then see where it My reply is both genius and full of humor – I ask him how he can possibly dump a girl with cancer?  And propose, “let’s be friends.”  He replies “100% yes on the friends.  Dinner next week?”

But I’m ok becuase I’m thinking – it’s a romance – that’s what this is.  It’s a romance and every romance has its challenges, and it’s ok – and I’m ok.  This is the part of the movie where the lovers are separated due to war or bad parenting or the time flux continuum, or careening taxi cabs – like in An Affair to Remember and I’m Deborah Kerr on the couch, and eventually he’ll show up  – like Cary Grant full of grace and regret and apology.

We enjoy a summer of careful non dates.  Great restaurants, I wear heels and dresses and he opens doors.  He is lovely; fascinating, interesting, engaging.  He doesn’t talk about his divorce –  I don’t really talk about my cancer. Things are not really going as planned, tests and retests, another couple of minor surgeries.  Physically I’m feeling fine, and  the good news is I won’t be leaving town any time soon – I won’t need chemo or radiation, the bad news is the whole left breast needs to go.   It sucks, but I take one day at time, annoyed by the fact that the trivial phrase so annoyingly quoted to me by one of my doctors, “everyone’s cancer is different” has turned out to be true.

Then late one summer evening we duck out of the Hollywood Bowl early – because everyone knows how Westside story ends.  We walk down to Hollywood Blvd where I put my feet in Natalie Wood’s tiny footprints and my hands in her hands.  We walk along the sidewalk stars and he opens up about his soon to be ex wife.  He admits that up until maybe this very moment he didn’t believe it was really over.

In the cab on the way back to our cars he asks how things are going for me and I admit I’m getting a mastectomy – surprised myself how hard it is to say the word aloud.  He takes my hand and I squeeze back – missing that natural point where I should just let go then I have to keep squeezing until he has to get his wallet.

We let ourselves in through the gate at my friend’s house in the hills where we have both left our cars.  They are still at the Bowl watching the Jets and the Sharks rumble while we put our feet in her infinity pool.

He tells me he wants to visit me in the hospital after my surgery.  I decide that is a lovely idea because my best friend will be there, flying out to care for me for the week following my surgery, and the hospital is right near my favorite restaurant.  I make reservations for two at Rustic Canyon.  They have the most amazing faro fennel mint salad, and it’s not like I’ll be good company after 7 hours of surgery.

I’ve just been wheeled in from recovery when she rushes into the room with all my bags from the car, “I saw him in the parking lot – it had to be him, and he has a Bloomingdales Big Brown Bag.”

I’m mortified because I have awoken to discover that when you are on IV narcotics you have to wear something called a nasal cannula.  It is a sort of a flesh colored bumpy textured oval shaped piece attached to a breathing monitor tube stuck into your nose – basically it’s a plastic scrotum sack hanging on my lip.

I tell her to turn down the lights and attempt to remove ballsack long enough to try to look casual, but you can only have it out for 38 seconds before the alarms go off –  if you then blow directly into it you’ve got about another minute.

In the Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag is a cashmere throw.  A buttery tan cashmere throw.  Come on!  A guy doesn’t do things like that for friends.  He likes me.  I know he likes me – and he did say “a couple of months” and it’s been a couple of months!  I sink into a morphine induced good night’s sleep with visions of his blue eyes dancing in my head.

The next two weeks I don’t remember a lot.  Valium is a mind eraser.

I hear nothing from him.  That I do remember.

When I finally do get emails back he uses ellipses a lot and has mostly vague responses.

Then  “Hey… (dot dot dot)  I probably should be telling you this in person, but it is not an easy one.  I’ve started seeing someone, so that of course makes things complicated.  I hope you understand and can forgive the wimpy email.”

I wait a week and email him back.  I write that I understand, that if someone had walked into my life I wouldn’t have said, “I’m sorry, I can’t date you, I’m not dating a guy named D.”  I do call him a ‘Jackwagon’ for telling me he wasn’t ready to date and tell him I’m looking forward to hearing from him one day when he isn’t such a ‘hot mess.’

But I wonder – would he have been my hero if I had really asked him to be?

Recently I came across an article from the New York Times, okay – Oprah Magazine, where the cancer heroine’s advice was to; “Fully embrace the vulnerability of the situation.  I would never have gotten through it if I hadn’t allowed people in.”  The article goes on to report,  “that even included a new boyfriend, who became so intimately involved in her recovery that she allowed him access to her innermost self. The two became engaged in the I.C.U. and plan to marry next year.”

If I had been honest, if I had backed up that dump truck of fear and loneliness and neediness would the deep truths and tragedies in life been some sort of alchemy for real love like it was for Oprah chick?

What if – what if I had asked him to wait with me in the dark lobby of Cedars Hospital – eerie and empty, late on that Memorial Day Sunday night?  What if I had called him when I was waking up at 4 in the morning during those the weeks of testing from the dreams of doctor’s telling me they had found the cancer in my stomach and bones and brain and that there was nothing they could do and that I felt that somehow this was all my fault?  What if I had asked him to help me with the fertility injections, the weeks of sticking needles in my stomach, or what about that night we were wrapped together on his couch, – what if I asked him to feel the hard apricot pit in my breast as Luke Skywalker destroyed the Deathstar behind us?

Maybe, but I guess I’ll never know.

I do know two things: one, whether it was fear or prudence, I don’t regret my “you can’t handle the truth” executive decision.  If I had unloaded on him, and he had bugged out  – I would have fallen apart, into the abyss – into the darkness of what was happening in my life and that wouldn’t have been pretty.

And two: if that could happen once – if he, love could find me in that surreal and wildly imperfect state when I needed it the most – it could happen again.  I guess it’s hope.  It/he gave me hope – in the darkness – it’s that Saint Francis of Assisi saying, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

And how can I be resentful of that?  I can’t be mad.  This surprises nobody more than me.

An Inconvenient Romance – Part I


So all week I’m wondering – when’s the best time to tell your date you have cancer?  Definitely after you order – maybe during appetizers – do you let him finish his entrée? After cocktails.  Yes, definitely after some cocktails.

All I can think is that in a couple of years he’ll be sitting at a dinner party and someone will be telling a story about “the worst date ever” and he’ll be like – “no, no – I’ve got a story!”

I met him May 21st – the day after I found out I had ‘the big C’, at my friend Mike’s annual Opening Day of Polo Season Picnic.  Mike doesn’t play polo, we don’t know anyone who plays polo, but he’s a chef and he likes to theme his events.  It was also “The Day of the Rapture.”  The irony was not lost on me.

I had spent a sleepless night on my friend’s couch – surrounded by baby toys and fear.

Being around people helped – nothing they said did. That morning I got up and put on a white dress, pulled my hair in a pony tail and drove to Will Roger’s State Park because,  one – I had rsvp’d.  Two – Mike’s an excellent chef, and three – what the hell else was I gonna do?  I just found out I had breast cancer!  WTF?!  Nothing I could do wasn’t going to feel surreal – why not be eating grilled tenderloin and farmer’s market salads under giant eucalyptus trees while ponies played polo?  And – there would probably be pie.

So there I was pointing out to everyone at the linen covered picnic tables the fact that clearly, none of us had been raptured – and there he was – across the table, a couple seats up: adorable.  No ring.  And smiling.  At me.

So I ask him, “Why is it that Jesus didn’t want you?  What did you do?”  He looks for a second like he is considering answering me honestly – his blue eyes amused, then thoughtful… and I am confused or maybe stunned.  The last thing I expected to come across – on ‘picnic/rapture/just found out I had cancer’ day was an adorable, eligible single man.

After the polo match – I convince him to join us at a friend’s wine tasting that most of the group will be attending the next day.

I’m still in a little bit of a state of shock – and by the time he gets to there I’ve eaten my way through the cheese and charcuterie display and tasted all the wines.  Twice.  Maybe three times. He offers to drive me home we end up at Westside Tavern eating burgers, drinking wine and shutting the place down on a Sunday night.  He is smart, adorable, and easy to be with in a way I stopped thinking was possible after one too many bad match.com dates.

The next day he emails me with the offer, “Would love to take you out – more of a proper date.  One with a corsage, some sort boating or horse carriage ride and fondue.”

God he gives good email.  Even his punctuation is good.  I respond with equally witty replies.

There is no way my week couldn’t be going better – except for the cancer thing –and doing all the stuff you do when you find out you have cancer.  I call my agents and tell them I have to take “a cancercation.”  I go to the Tao of Wellness for acupuncture and start drinking copious amounts tea that looks and tastes like it was made from stuff scraped up off of a forest floor.  I realize that stuffing myself self with delicious food is a really poor choice for a body that needs to be fighting cancer and decide instead to freak out and eat nothing but organic, sugar free, gluten free dairy free, whole foods.   I get support from close friends – don’t tell anyone else, – it’s cancer and there’s no way to gracefully insert that into casual conversation.  I tell a few people inappropriately.  Because.

I’ve decided to move back to the East Coast for radiation and possibly chemo following my surgery which is scheduled for the following week so I’m busy giving everything away and packing everything else in my apartment into large plastic bins.  I don’t know when I’m leaving and I don’t know when I’ll be back – another reason I should probably tell my date.

That Friday night we are sitting in a tiny romantic Trattoria in a table too close to the restrooms and we’re almost done with our entrees by the time I tell him.

“I know,” he says.  He knows – how could he know?

“You told me last week.”

I told him last week?  Now – I remember having the thought that it wasn’t fair not to tell him – when we were safe in his shiny warm Lexus flying down the empty freeway late Sunday night – I also remember a burgers and cheese and wine.   A lot a lot of wine.

“You don’t joke about something like that.”  He says, “everyone’s got their stuff.   I’m in the middle of a divorce.”

He takes my hand and from the restaurant we walk around the block.

The sprinklers are going off all over the sweet Larchmont neighborhood and he’s careful to guide me around the sidewalk puddles and spray.

When he drops me off at my door he gives me the sweetest kiss.  I breathe him in and touch the back of his short hair.  I cannot believe my good fortune.

We both cancel our Saturday plans and have a next day date.

I bring sushi to the barren landscape of his apartment.  His ex has taken most of the furniture.  It’s empty and echoes.  On the couch we make out like teenagers and don’t watch Star Wars.

Then everything starts to happen in a cancer avalanche – my mother arrives, more doctor’s appointments, more packing.  Memorial day is Monday, the lumpectomy the next day, and then the day after that – my birthday.

But all that week – the sweetest, funniest, emails.  I don’t mention the “C” word, but he knows, I know.  And I know he knows – and he’s still there, and the fact he agrees to drive out clear on the other side of Los Angeles to celebrate Memorial Day in my friend’s tiny apartment with my mother their 9 month old twins is too good to believe in.  He helps me grill on the tiny porch – we are a team – responsible for perfectly cooked chicken.

He comes to my incredibly awkward impromptu birthday party and brings me a Kate Spade scarf – from the Kate Spade store, wearing whimsical purple polka dot socks under his expensive business suit.

I think I might be a little in love.

Part II – Next Week

 

 

“PLEASE ASK TOM”

If you missed it live last night at Comedy Central Stage – here it is.  Pretend I’m reading it to you.

I’ve booked a small part on a major medical drama and I’m in my car on Laurel Canyon when I get the call from wardrobe.  “I’d like to go over your sizes,” wardrobe guy says.  “Sure.”  And I answer him – height 5’2″, weight, about 123, shoe size 7, pants… I know the next question – it’s going to be “bust” so I attempt to just say it as if I’m simply giving him the answer to his next question, “and I’m going through a breast reconstruction, for cancer, so one of my boobs is a lot bigger than the other, so I’m not sure what my old size card says – probably 34B, but I’m sporting a C… well, a D, a C/D rack these days.  A ‘D’ I guess, for all intents and purposes… ”  I keep talking, like it’s going to help.  “Righty is still a B – but I had a gummy boob for the audition – so I’m sure it’s fine, but…”

I’m hoping really hard he is one of those very gay, very callous, couldn’t be less impressed with any variety of breasts, – ‘even if you covered it in Christmas glitter and shook it in my face,  – I’ve seen it all honey,’ –  kind of wardrobe guys.

And what am I supposed to say?  I didn’t get a manual when I got the lump.  Okay, I did get a stack of medical literature – I didn’t read it – how far in advance did I need to know that part of the reconstructive process would involve having to have the breast in question stretched to the enormous and surreal proportions of 600 cc’s – the size of a baby’s head – and I would have to wear this atrocity around town like a football in a skin bra for 2 ½ months.  That, along with the awkward reality that my other boob, at best an unenthusiastic B, which was fine before – that is why God invented Victoria’s Secret push up bras.  But now – now, next to her impossibly high and round sister, she looked dejected, pendulous.  I name them “Porn Boob and Sad Banana.”

Wardrobe guy says “ok, well, you’ll be wearing scrubs – so it probably won’t matter.”

Oh, crap – TMI – maybe I didn’t have to mention it.

When I show up for my fitting I see my info tacked up on the board – under “bust” it says 34 – then the B is crossed out, then it says C – slash – D, then it’s circled with an arrow pointing to a note in all caps “PLEASE ASK TOM.”

When I booked the part my mother said, “Is it a breast cancer segment?”

My mother doesn’t have a very good track record for being tactful.

Like when she came out to help with my initial surgery.  We were in the West Hollywood Target looking through DVD’s.  My goal was to find a selection of shows that were not too heavy with lots of seasons to keep me busy through my summer of cancer.  Back then the plan was 5 weeks of radiation, and the jury was still out on if I’d need chemo or not.  So – I’m thinking “where are the copies of Ace of Cakes and Psych.”

My Mom picked up Fried Green Tomatoes.

“Mom, really, – have you seen it?  She dies of cancer.”  Ugh, Mary Louise Parker wasting away in that creepy upstairs bedroom.

Then she held up “The John Wayne Collection.”

I said – “died of cancer too,” she said, “well, he smoked!”

Then she picked up Overboard with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn and said “what did they die of?”

But now it’s fall and even though I’m in the middle of my build a boob project I’m auditioning a lot.

This is ironic because for a brief and surreal window after my diagnosis – I feel like I have a giant cancer hall pass.

I remember walking out of my cancer surgeon’s office on this brilliant sunny California day and calling my agents to tell them I’ve come down with ‘a little case of the cancers’ and have to go on indefinite medical leave.

Then hanging up and feeling  – a sense of relief.

For the first time in the 8+ years that I’d lived in Los Angeles I didn’t have to worry that my phone would ring and that I would have to drop everything to show up across town dressed as a soccer Mom or a nosy shopper or the amused wife of an ‘unable to cook unless he’s grillin’ and ‘he’ll only clean if he gets to use the Swifter inept yet luvable overweight husband.’

And this was crazy – crazy – because I love working: I moved 3000 miles, left everything I ever knew and loved to do this – to be an actor.  And I was making a living – I would never leave acting – it was the love my life – …but I had just been fucked by life, so fuck my dream and what a fucking relief.  Maybe I’ll buy an Airstream – drive across the country, write a book, live in the Florida Keys, give kayak nature tours, move to France and live in my friend’s house with cold stone walls that are two feet thick.

Cut to a couple of months later when I realize I need to (quickly, before my next surgery, ideally…) make $6,933.00 to qualify for my Screen Actor’s Guild insurance.*

I tell my agents I will go out for anything, anything, – and shamelessly ask for favors that land my headshots in the audition stacks of some top television dramas.  I go into every one of them like I’m there trying to get a job for someone else.

It’s not about me and my dreams any more.  It’s about $6,933.00.

I book the first job I go out for – the major medical drama.  Then the next one – a certain crime scene investigation show, one set in a warmer clime, notorious for its plunging necklines.  Again, I’m debating full disclosure of my half Anna Nicole chest when the young assistant eyes me up and down holding the flimsy tropical halter she has pulled for my character.  “Was it elective?” she asks.

Was it elective?  Was it elective?  Yes – I decided a single super sized sweater puppy was exactly what I needed to catapult my career to the next level.

Commercially, there are a few casting directors in LA that I’ve worked with enough to consider friends and I want to personally explain my ‘on and off medical leave’ status.

I don’t want to be that girl with cancer, but I am that girl with cancer so I feel obliged to be that girl with cancer!

So I walk in to their offices, hoping I’ve balanced out Bert and Ernie in my bra and say my little line about “the case of the cancers.”

It’s empowering and mortifying.

After an audition for turkey cold cuts ‘so good you think it’s Thanksgiving,’ I have the talk with one of my favorite CDs.  She shuts the door to her office and pulls out her scarred and misshapen breast – she’s just been through the same thing – and I cry, snotty ugly, puffy crying.  in my place of business.

Astonishingly I book four of the six tv auditions.  I make my insurance, thank God because my medical bills – the ones covered by insurance would be over $293,000 and since I didn’t have a small house or a Cessna around to pawn I would have been screwed.

But I do them like I’m on autopilot.  I mean, I should be ‘in the moment,’ I should be happy –- these great jobs, Dude, I live for this I keep reminding myself.

And I try – I joke with the series regulars – trying to be casual and yet witty and memorable over fresh berry smoothies at craft.

But I’m not there, I’m not loving it and I don’t know if it’s because I’m self conscious – I’ve only ever had boobs this big on Halloween or at pimp and ho parties in college.  And then they weren’t all jerry rigged and constantly lopsided.

Or that somehow – I think – even though it’s not possible – everybody knows I have “The Big C,” and that’s how I got the jobs.

Maybe I’m being passive aggressive, maybe I’m still mad at life for jerking me around – the high – the promise of freedom that comes with death – the inevitable and unstoppable

return to the daily grind of work and bills –- the tiny grains of reality that slip in like sand filling life back up to look like what it was before – stifling, and close, with no Airstream trailers or French country sides.

But I don’t actually have to figure it out. Not now anyway.

I haven’t watched any of the shows.  I mean, I made the $6,933.00 – and if I really wanted to – I can just buy the DVDs.

 

*If you are a member of The Screen Actor’s Guild – now, One Union! with AFTRA, you have to make a certain amount of money to be able to pay them for insurance.  I mean I get it, it’s not like they can afford to insure every actor.  But come on – if you need insurance because you are sick, you are probably going to have a tough time working.  To pay for your insurance…

Mayday!

The doctor is 42 minutes late coming into the room.  I’ve been playing a game in my head, “well, if she’s late it must be good news, because she’s not worried about me having to wait so long.”  Followed by, “well, if she’s late it must be bad news, because she needs to finish up with the appointment before mine, so she can spend as much time as she needs to with me.”  The waiting for the doctor to deliver test results thing – always a bad scene.  It could be worse.  My friend D. has come with me.  She lived through 8 ½ years of fertility treatments before the twins, so she is an expert at the waiting for news thing – and is a veteran of it not always being good.  She points to the plastic covered spiral bound book hanging from the ultrasound machine, “I know everything in that book.  Want me to perform one on you?”  “No thanks,” I say, but flip through it anyway.

Everything is well done here at the Pink Lotus Breast Center.   Besides the ultrasound machine and the exam bed, it’s nice.  For a doctor’s exam room, it’s not a bad room.  Calm pink walls, a pretty abstract lithograph tasteful enough to hang in my apartment, an expensive flower arrangement that is definitely on its last day – it’s beginning to reek.  It’s Friday afternoon so that makes sense.

Thank God it’s not one of those hideous doctor’s office rooms with the giant pictures of viruses and disease warning signs – or stacks of old Redbooks, or the worst – my gyno’s office – where she has pictures of her patient’s kids scotch taped all over the cabinets.  Success stories I guess.

Feeling rebellious I get out of my chair and open the Levolors.  A parking lot.  The room doesn’t really brighten – it’s late.

D. makes us a cootie catcher – one of those little paper folding toys that you pick a number and a color and flip it open to find out your fortune.  It’s something she used to do with her husband while waiting to see if she could keep a baby. We try to be funny – “blue, 5.  B-l-u-e, 1-2-3-4-5 – Steal the fluffy exam robe”.  “Yellow, 7.   Y-e-l-l-o-w, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 – You don’t have cancer.”  Fucking worst word in the English language.  Cancer, it makes me think of how I won’t drive on Santa Monica Blvd between 14th and 20th so I don’t have to pass the John Wayne Cancer Center.  How I won’t watch the ending of Fried Green Tomatoes – Mary Louise Parker wasting away in that bed.  I think of being 15 and in my best friend’s pink bedroom late at night, her desk lamp on, her little radio playing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” while we are both pretending to sleep the night they carried her mother out – bundled up like a baby in a black and rainbow afghan and thrown over one shoulder.  I hadn’t even recognized her that afternoon. After months dying in a hospital bed in what used to be their dining room she looked too small – her mouth gaping open, her eyes vacant.  S’s bedroom, her Chessie Railroad System kitten poster thumbacked to her pink wall and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”

Dr. Funk bursts into the room. “It’s cancer.”  Red 6.  She just says it.  She drops  on to her wheely stool and looks dead at me.  She’s beautiful; blonde, great skin, blue eyes, a little Cindy Crawford mole above her lip.  She has a fun nasally way of talking and a cadence all her own.  She actually founded the Pink Lotus Breast Center, and I’m sure she’s the one who made sure the valet parking was free – which means a lot – the office is in Beverly Hills.

I appreciate her even more for skipping the whole  “how you doin’ shit – it’s pretty obvious how I’m doing.”  It’s a plunge into cold water, but I knew it was coming.

I knew it was coming the day before when I felt her sort of shift during the punch biopsy. It’s an in office biopsy procedure where she inserts a thin metal rod to clip a tiny piece of the mass in question.  It was just after she pulled the trigger – I felt a warmth, – fluid spill down the side of my breast.  The tech wiped it away quickly – but not quickly enough for it not to have happened.  I couldn’t see her, but I felt her, darken.  “You should bring someone with you tomorrow.”  I wonder if she thought she sounded at all like she did when she had said I had “probably nothing to really worry about” earlier.  She did not.

She tries to reassure me, her tone a little brighter, “I might have just clipped something.” But when she is standing at the door I press her for an answer.   She says, “70/30 cancer.”  And I had tried to will it into being the rest of the day and all that night – that 30%.  I’m not a “C” student.

So here we are.  She pulls out a printed piece of paper with the Pink Lotus letterhead – very classy.  “From here to cure: What are the best choices for me?”  After “name” it is filled in in black ink – Brockett, Catheryn. And after Date – 5/20/11.

“Can you hear me now?  We can do this on Monday,” she offers, genuinely, as if she has all the time in the world.  I think about how shitty the last 24 hours have been, how exhausting it was to will good news that wasn’t going to happen and stretch that out in my head over a weekend and say “no, I can to do this now.”  And I know why she was so late.  “You just had to do this didn’t you?  A diagnosis double header.  And it’s Friday afternoon.”

She answers with a deadpanned, “yeah, I guess I could have put you both in the same room and done it once, but that would be wrong,” she smiles, “and rude.”

Then with understanding, “we’ll get you through this – it’s just going to be a really bad summer”.

“A cancercation,” I reply with what I think is gangbusters wit given my current situation.  D. laughs and reaches for my hand.  I don’t really want to hold it but I do.

“I’ve scheduled you for surgery May 31st.”

I object, “but June first is my birthday!”  She gives me a half smile and says, “well, at least you’ll get to wake up on your birthday cancer free!”  I love her, I hate her. I guess I’ll have to cancel my flight to go back East for the birthday party my best friend and cousins have planned for me.

Now I’m glad I feel my hand in someone else’s.  I squeeze back.

She carefully goes over every step on the paper – filling in details with the same black ink.  Surgery options with recurrence rates, over all survival rates.  She explains the kind of cancer I have – (apparently the ‘better’ one – yay…) drawing a pert side view Barbie looking breast with lines through it.  She gets to number 5 “Other considerations” which is like the grab bag of terror for me.  (I’ve always been a worrier, and cancer is a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare and biggest wet dream.  But I never wanted to have to deal with this!)  I need a PET/CT bone and brain scan.  A BRCA test which determines if I have the crazy cancer gene, in which case women usually go straight for the double mastectomy – it takes about 2 weeks and they would be sending it out today.  And I should consider fertility preservation.  She writes the name and phone number of a Dr. that she would recommend.  I had actually been considering freezing my eggs – no dragging my feet now I guess.

She gets to number 6 “Build a team of physicians and support” and starts to talk about an oncologist and nutrition and Chinese Medicine but she also recommends I get set up with someone about my age who has been through this already.  It says “Funk Buddy” printed right there on the pink paper.  Next to it she writes “YES” in capital letters.  I think it’s funny but I’m not sure I want to have a sense of humor yet.

She probably knows she’s lost me by now, so she draws a little square in the bottom right hand of the paper and writes “Plan” with only 4 things to do.  Breast MRI, surgery on the 31st, make oncologist appointment 6/17/11, and a pre op physical.

I would forget to do several key things on the paper.  Mostly because I didn’t want to see it again – with it’s Barbie boobie drawing and recurrence rates and survival rates and scary words.  That pre op appointment I was supposed to have before Tuesday to get cleared for surgery, – forgot.  (Heartfelt begging got me in one morning before regular office hours.)

On the drive back to D.’s house I make the phone calls.  Fueled by momentum, not courage I make quick work of getting the news out to the people that were going to have to know.  We pick up BBQ and I gladly pay – nothing was going to make any of this better, but it could have been worse – I could have been there alone.  And no amount of brisket, baby back ribs, or sweet potato fries were ever going to be enough to thank her for that.

 

 

I’ll Take Mine Frozen Over Easy

We pass the fertility doctor’s office 3 times.  First going West on Olympic – then East, then West again.  It can’t possibly be the tiny brick hobbit hole between a nail salon fireplace store, – I mean this guy was recommended by my world class cancer surgeon – she said he was “the babymaker,” he was “the man!”

I’m a little frantic because it is a 5pm appointment and I’m afraid if I’m late he’ll leave, and it’s 5 and my Mom is with me which I’m not sure is the best idea in the world – she has a tendency to ask inappropriate questions and, well… be a little less than supportive.

8920, yup – this is the place.  Mom would later describe it as “back alley.”

Inside Frodo’s house the décor does not reassure me.  The 10×10 lobby is a model home living room set from the 1980’s – green, gold, mauve, textured wallpaper…  Stacks of parenting magazines piled up on the end tables wedged between the tapestry couches.  80’s music plays over speakers.  Loudly.

I wait at the little service window and for a pretty Latina woman in kiddy-cartoon covered scrubs to finish her phone call, but she just continues to chat as she smiles and hands me a clipboard. There’s a little boy behind her doing his homework.  Further inside the office two women in more bright scrubs are leaning on the back counter having a loud debating loudly over which male actor is the hottest and which movie they want to see that weekend.

When we are told to go ahead to a room, we head through the door and almost plow right into the doctor – he’s inexplicably standing right there in the tiny hall.  He looks like a cross between the poison iocane powder guy from the Princess Bride and Josh Malina – you know West Wing.  Short, older, Jewish, fish eyed, humorless.  He’s dressed in a dark blue waffle weave Henley, caramel colored khakis and brown half boots.  The same outfit he would wear every subsequent time I would see him.

His office has the same interior decorator as the lobby, except with more stacks of papers – everywhere.  He hasn’t smiled yet when he clasps his hands and says, “what can I do for you?”

He hasn’t opened my file.  This annoys me.

So I say – “well, I was diagnosed with breast cancer May 20th, I had a lumpectomy yesterday, today is my 39th birthday – Dr. Funk sent me here to see what you could do to preserve the chance me of ever being able to have a baby of my own.

Much to my disappointment he doesn’t react.  No apologies, no fumbling, no conciliatory words, nope – he simply, and without expression offers his plan.  “On the second day of your period, I put you on two weeks of birth control.  Then you follow 10 days of hormone therapy then we harvest eggs and freeze them.  I’ve done this for several of Kristi’s patients.”

“She’s 39,” my Mom offers.

“It is the second day of my period,” I say.  That’s really the only thing I know – I don’t know if I’m going to need chemo – there are some cells growing in a Petri dish in a lab in like Michigan for like 2 weeks – I don’t know what’s up with the lymph nodes yet – what stage I’m in – if they are going to find it anywhere else – I don’t sleep at night because when I close my eyes I’m in a scene from some hospital tv drama where I hear the surgeon say – “she’s riddled with it – we just sewed her back up.”

And Jesus – I am 39.  Today.  I’ve always wanted to have kids, at least one – I knew I was walking that infertility high wire as it was.  I had looked into maybe freezing some eggs so when I was in a relationship and more stable career wise I would still have options, but it all seemed so unnecessary – things would work out for me, I would go back on Match.com, I would stop working for my hideous boss, I would pick up some better acting gigs, you know – get a better handle on this business – I had time – and this was my – before the cancer.  Fuck, I have cancer. Freezing eggs and fertility and I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole a very strange 80’s tapestried “Come On Eileen” rabbit hole.

“Would you have to write me a prescription?”  I feel like I’m trying to swim back to a boat. It’s after 5… today is my birthday and I have an awkward impromptu “party” to get to… pharmacies, day two, it is day 2 of my period.

“I have them here, I’m a doctor.

Okay then.

For me it’s decided.  Sometimes its good to have no options.

He mentions that he will be going out of town for a couple of weeks, but that’s ok because there is nothing to do for the next fourteen days.  Except take the birth control pills.  He’s going to the East Coast, Philadelphia, I love Philly – he doesn’t – a bar mitzvah – not looking forward to it. I make a really good joke about bar mitzvahs – nothing.  I wonder if  “bedside manner” has ever entered his mind.  I decide to decide that he is just “too good” – to have to worry about it.  I will have to remind myself of this every subsequent visit.

Two weeks later I’m standing in the exam tiny room with “Tainted Love” blaring when the nurse pops in and says – “bottom in the chair” and pops out.  Bottom in the chair?  What exactly does that mean.  I look at the chair – it’s like a dentist chair but with stirrups that are sticking up at an awkward and seemingly impossible angle with fuzzy covers.  The covers look like they’ve seen better days – brown, furry, matted – like the microphone covers we use on set called ‘dead cats.’  They look like they might have been new – in the 90’s.  “Bottom in the chair?”  Okay, she probably meant for me to take off everything below the waist and get in the chair.  But what if she didn’t?  I hadn’t talked to the doctor since the birthday meeting with Mom, maybe we had things to discuss first.  So I leave my clothes on and sit in the chair with the paper robe folded in my lap.  Dr. F. enters and skids to a Road Runner stop when he realizes that I am indeed still fully clothed: like he’s embarrassed.  I start to fumble with the button on my jeans and he backs out quickly.  This seems odd to me seeings that he will soon be viewing me from the inside out with a R2D2 sized plastic wand  –– but I don’t know – maybe it’s a AMA thing.

Everything looks fine and he says to stop with the birth control pills and let him know the moment I get my period.  That’s when we’ll start with the super cocktail of hormone injections that will make my abdomen into a whacked out egg factory.

On my way out I need another blood draw, one of the Latina women proves to be an expert phlebotomist. (And believe me – over the past weeks of scanning and testing and MRIing every part of my body for more cancer – I’ve become an expert).  She wraps my arm in stretchy spongy tape  – bright pink – and I am tempted to ask her who they decided was the sexiest movie star, what movie they ended up seeing, but instead ask her if she’s got any big plans for the weekend.

Less than a week later it’s 4:17 on a sunny Thursday afternoon when I’m standing at my dining room table, my shirt pulled up and the waist of my pants tucked under.  I have already unpacked the $4,253.00 worth of drugs from the complimentary MDR Westwood Pharmacy cooler bag and start psyching myself up to stick the needle of the bright yellow “medipen” into my stomach.  By my calculations I have 13 minutes complete the entire goddamn science class worth of injections; – all I have to do is inject 375cc’s of Follistrum with the ‘Follistrum Medipen’ after replacing the .33×12.7mm needle tip and inserting cartridge, (silver side up), mix 1cc of Menopur with the 22G 1 2/2 inch needle, take off giant needle, mix with powder, use 27G ½ inch needle to withdraw and inject, use 28G x 1/2 inch needle to withdraw entire vial of Garilex – insert all at 45 degree angle “between belly button and bikini line” at exactly the same time every day.  Try not to pass out.  Good luck.

Early the next Saturday morning I visit Dr. F.  R2D2 sees 14 fat follicles.  The hormone super juice cocktail works!  Dude I am awesome I have a bumper crop!  See that – even with all the stress, and the cancer, it’s Easter in my pants!

He tells me to stop the injections Monday, only 6 days in – leaving $2,000 worth of fertility drugs in my fridge nestled between a carton of eggs and chocolate almond milk.  Still there by the way.

He leaves and I want to grab the giant ultrasound wand and sing along with Boy George, “Karma Chameleon” you come and go…

Maybe this will all work out – maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Maybe it is fate – the Hobbit back alley office, the second day of my period, the 5 o’clock appointment, I get cancer, freeze some eggs, get radiated and or chemo’ed – or whatever the fates may bring – then meet the man of my dreams who is psyched that I’ve got a tray of ovum stashed away with the Birdseye, who can’t wait to have an instant family because you know, the odds are with in vitro you end up with multiples – and we live happily ever after, my future and greatest love of my life husband, – a little girl with hair so fine that the tiny plastic barrette slips to the ends, or a little boy who brings me sticky fists of rocks and treasures.

The modern American family – the Hollywood Lifetime Channel version, but that’s okay – and more importantly, God doesn’t hate me – this is just some cosmic web of love and hardship that I’m just not meant to understand.

On Wednesday my friend picks me up at 7:00am for my 8:15 egg harvest surgery.  Her 3 year old is with us.  Covered in cheerios she is telling the cars in the fast lane to “slow down mister!”  Apparently her mother has told her I am sick and they need to drop me off at the doctor’s and go the Santa Monica farmer’s market where they buy me beets, apricots and fava beans.

The little surgery center is also far from glamorous.  Since running into Dr. F. in his office parking lot and watching him climb up into his $80,000 Land Rover – I realize his choice of venues is because he’s cheap.  And again, he is “too good” to have to worry about it…

Dr. F. shows up in scrubs – no Henley, I barely recognize him, and exhibits more charm than I have experienced from him in all the weeks prior.  He asks me how I am.  Did I deliver the final ultimate egg dropping injection into my rear exactly 72 hours before?  Yes.  He seems almost…excited?  He pops out and I hear him in the next partition asking the same questions – I am in a conveyor belt of egg-laden women.

He calls the next day – seven eggs successfully frozen.  They count on about 50% to survive thawing.  Only seven?  What happened to my 14 fat overachieving follicles?  That’s only like 1.5 good shots at having a baby.  Ever, if I need chemo.  It feels like failure.  Dr. F. offers to try another cycle in the window before my next surgery.  He offers me a discount – all I need is another $11,000, my tab thus far is $17,003.00

I don’t do it.  It’s not just the money that’s run out  – it’s the hope. The little blonde girl, her sweet baby brother…

I want to be angry, but I’m not.  I’m too tired, my abdomen a tiny minefield of purple and blue bruises.

They say you count my chickens before they hatch.  But I can, they are in a freezer in Santa Monica.

Porn Porn Porn Porn Porn – Sitnspin – Comedy Central Stage 2.9.12

It’s late on a Tuesday night and I’m in my apartment surfing for porn: more specifically – breasts.  At first I Googled “pretty breasts,” and mostly got pictures of Scarlett Johanson, girls in tank tops, and many many websites of Sarah Palin photoshopped topless.

I’m researching – because I’m getting an involuntary boob job – the big “C.”  I had a mastectomy because lefty was trying to kill me.

I’ll be fine.

My Doctor, who I love – her name is “Tiffany” – which I really feel is unfortunate name for a world class plastic surgeon.  Tiffany is a cheerleader/waitress/stripper name.  She is pretty, academic pretty – 40’s, no make up with, cornflower blue eyes, wire rimmed glasses and always always a great dress with heels and a stylishly tailored doctor’s coat.

So Tiff is reconstructing me.  It’s a bizarre process that involves tissue and muscle expanders that I am learning about as we go.

Here’s something I didn’t really digest from all the literature I didn’t read – part of the process of making a boob from no boob would involve getting my breast inflated (which isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds), on a weekly basis.  What happens is Tiffany taps into my temporary expanda-breast with a pile driver sized needle – and then squeezes in a hundred cc’s or so of blue solution with this thing that is like a cross between a syringe and a super soaker squirt gun – and my boob gets bigger – like filling a water balloon.  (Trippy – right?  And kind of cool – if it weren’t a body part.)

She can find the needleport because of a magnet in my breast – I found this out when Tiffany pulled out a little device which I totally recognized, “is that a studfinder?”  She said, “yup,” and turned around and ran the device along the wall until we found the best spot to hang a picture frame.

And here’s another thing I didn’t really get about my build a boob project; that in order to stretch everything out to accommodate a perfectly reasonable C sized implant, appliance boob would have to be inflated to an inconceivable 600cc’s – the size of a baby’s head, and I would have to sport this massive lone hooter, riding high and wide – complete with pokey edges and seams – like a football in a skin bra, – for 2 ½ months before she could cut out the Tupperware torture device and replace it with a regular, soft, squishy, implant.

Now, my breasts have always been unenthusiastic B’s – which is fine – that’s why God invented Victoria’s Secret push up bras – but now in the presence of her unnaturally high and incredibly round sister – righty – looked sort of dejected, pendulous – Porn Boob and Sad Banana.

So – if I ever wanted to have prayer of them looking like they could live in the same bra – implant in righty.

This is when she suggested I might pick out a pair.  “I just want them to look alike,” I said.  Apparently boobs are like snowflakes, all unique and special in their very own way.  Tiffany had a binder in the office I could look through, but suggested I might want to do a little researching on my own, bring her my preferences.  She says she puts them up on the OR wall and it makes her quite popular.

Okay, – I had promised my friend Sarah Zankou chicken lunch for driving me to my appointment that day.  Now we had a project – porn!  So we strategically triangulated our position – the Doctor’s office – newsstands likely to have porn, and chicken.  Figuring two breasts in hand were worth a stack in a stand we hit the Zankou on Sepulveda Blvd and headed over to Centerfold International Newstand on Fairfax.  I got a Hustler, 2 Playboy’s, and a Busty Beauties and Jugs because it came as a Big Boobs 3 pack for $8.99.  The bonus magazine sandwiched in the middle?  Over 40.  From December 2010.

The $42 magazines were a bust – no good just plain frontal nudity – the women were bent into all sorts of weird shapes with hot pink dildos or penises or other women’s faces in the shot.

So I, of course, had to resort to the net – and was frustrated in finding only the lame selection of Scarlett Johansons, girls in tank tops, and fake Sarah Palins.  Until I figured out – there is something called “Google Safe Search” – and you can take it off – then let me tell you – it’s a whole new world out there.  Now when I Google “pretty breasts” I get thousands of sites and blogs with options to view “big tits, firm tits, perky tits, smaller tits, teen tits, outdoor tits, secretary tits, pierced nipples, larger nipples, pointy nipples, puffy nipples, big light colored areolas; with dildos and paint guns, appliances, fruits, gourds, pasta, sports gear, automotive tools, and farm equipment.

Women, – naked in bedrooms, in dorm rooms, basements and attics, in houses, on rooftops, in foreign countries, – at the beach, on haystacks, by koi ponds, perched on rocks, in poppyfields, and wooded glens, and my favorite: in a clock shop; mostly looking angry, surprised, or Russian.

There is an entire website of  just “bent over schoolgirl uniforms”!  And lot’s of guys leave reviews and critiques – like one by fantassdick182 who said quote “of Kaylee’s ‘undercarriage,’ I mean the pussy and anus area, I haven’t seen anything that flawless since a butterball turkey, too cute to put into words.”  But at least you tried fantasdick182, at least you tried.

It’s “a whole new world” of tits that’s bizarre, gross, hilarious, disgusting and sometimes pretty hot.

I have this great new drinking buddy.  She’s a pretty blonde, black nerd glasses type chick who is completely coincidentally a surgical oncologist.  She friggin’ loves her job.  She prefers working on Gastroenterologic cancers – gut cancers – the more complicated, undefinable, and incurable, the better.  We were sitting at the bar at Delanceys eating fancy pizza and working our way through all the beers on tap, there are 23, when she tells me that before she was wrist deep in a spaghetti of small intestine she did a plastic surgery rotation and never wanted to do it again – it freaked her out that they would sometimes do 5-6 elective cosmetic boob jobs in a day, strapping woman after woman – their arms straight out in a tee shape, inserting implants then raising them upright – a crucifix in the OR and everyone would step back and cock their heads – then look from the breasts – to the pictures, to the breasts, then they would lay the woman back down and repeat the process until they felt they had achieved the desired results – great titsthese great porn quality tits – that I will soon have, even if I did have to get cancer to get them.

Cancer – fucking worst word in the English language.  It’s always unhinged me – even before my diagnosis, and made me do stupid OCD things, like: I never drive on Santa Monica Blvd between 14th and 20th so I don’t have to pass the John Wayne Cancer Center.  I don’t eat any yogurt if it has that stupid pink ribbon on the lid.  It makes me think of how I absolutely won’t watch Beaches or the ending of Fried Green Tomatoes – Mary Louise Parker wasting away in that bed leaving Mary Stuart Masterson to raise her one armed kid.

I think of being 15 up in my best friend’s pink bedroom late at night, her desk lamp on, her little radio playing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” while we are both pretending to sleep the night they carried her mother out, dead,  bundled up like a baby in a black and rainbow afghan.   After years of breast cancer and months in a hospital bed in what used to be their dining room – I hadn’t even recognized her that afternoon.  Her mouth gaping open, her eyes vacant.

Suzy’s bedroom, her Chessie Railroad System kitten poster thumb tacked on her pink wall and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

So – after a few cocktails and several dedicated hours of searching, by the wee hours of Wednesday morning – I had found and printed out pictures of 12 pairs of really “pretty breasts.”  My ideal pair are rounded up from the bottom – but not porn globey on top, well, maybe a little porny.

I trust Tiffany will be able to build them.  If you want to weigh in on my new sweater puppies I put the pictures up on my blog – CancerCation.  I’m also taking suggestions  – so let me know if you need some help undoing that Safesearch.

 

1 2