Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Truth, Lies, and Billboards

I don’t know anything about advertising except for what I’ve learned watching Mad Men. When I taught an economics course to high school seniors years ago (long before Mad Men), we spent a few days talking about advertising in a unit when my students designed their own business plans. Since I didn’t know what I was talking about then either, I chose not to talk much on the topic, and instead, late at night on Super Bowl Sunday, I sat at my VCR (remember those?) and video-taped the commercials off of my then-so-innovative DVR. It took forever to prepare that tape of Super Bowl ads and I would have given anything for something like YouTube, which came a few years later. It was worth my effort, however, because we all found it fascinating to analyze the biggest and best efforts from the nation’s top advertising agencies.

Within that context, I don’t claim that it’s easy to design a successful advertising campaign. In fact, it must be amazingly difficult to sell something, even to a small portion of the public, considering that even that small portion consists of individuals with a great diversity of perspectives.

Take, for example, a campaign to sell cancer services. One may think that a billboard for a cancer clinic would have a relatively homogeneous audience (cancer patients). A short minute of thought, however, would probably lead one to realize that cancer patients, even, for instance, breast cancer patients, come to the highway with a wide range of experiences and outlooks. Thanks to breakthroughs like Herceptin, some breast cancer patients have been told that their chances at a long life are quite good. But others face metastatic disease and they have been given time frames that they and their loved ones can barely comprehend. 

*   *   *

Today, thanks to a Facebook post, I saw a photo of a billboard that is on the side of the highway somewhere in Wisconsin. This is the photo, taken by a breast cancer survivor, Nancy Stordahl, who writes a blog that I may read if I ever get up my courage to.

http://nancyspoint.com/when-a-cancer-billboard-is-offensive/

You can see the image and read the print. A beautiful, young, happy, and healthy-looking woman, (with long hair, mind you) who "never gave up." "So her cancer did." 

Since this afternoon, my reactions to this billboard have been all over the map. At first, I just thought about how dumb and ridiculous it was. I wondered what group of clueless bozos thought this was a good idea. Then I got back to my work. 

As my mind drifted back to the sign, however, I couldn't help but connect it with some terrible news I heard yesterday from a dear friend. When my mind made the connection, an anger in me started to brew. 

Yesterday, I met up for coffee with a friend of mine who I haven't seen in far too long. Without going into details (my friend's privacy is important to her), my friend told me that her mother's breast cancer had returned and was in her bones. We both know the seriousness of this sort of a diagnosis so we sat in Starbucks and cried together intermittently for over an hour. We were completely oblivious to everything else going on around us, and we wiped our huge tears with brown paper napkins. 

Today, as my mind continued to dwell on that stupid billboard, I thought about my friend's mother, who I will call "Monica." I wondered how Monica would feel driving by that sign. I ultimately concluded that I have no idea. Perhaps she would feel inspired by it. Perhaps she would feel, "Yes, right, I will never give up!" Or perhaps she wouldn't even care what the Mayo Clinic had to say. I don't know Monica enough to know how she would feel about that sign and Monica, like every person, can speak for herself. Still, tonight I wanted to take the time explain what I think is wrong about that sign; why I would probably join Monica or my friend, or even my own mother, if they ever flipped the bird to a sign like that.  

One wrong thing about that sign is that it boils down a very complex experience into a misleadingly simple one. It's especially stupid because if we could beat cancer by sheer determination, the disease would have been erradicated decades ago. Obviously, however, we can't, and in her blog, Nancy explains much of that so nicely that I will not repeat it. 

I will, however, offer my own additional thoughts on the matter. 

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, catch phrases about beating cancer were like spinach to my hope muscles. Battle Mode. LiveStrong. Total recovery, Full stop, Checkmate, I win. These small words were wonderfully powerful to me. They helped me believe that I would live. That cancer would not kill me. They helped me believe that I could control my own destiny. That I could be strong and my doing so would make a difference in my future. 

At the time, I needed that sort of simplistic clarity, mostly because I couldn't process the complex grey area in which I lived. I couldn't process the future. I was in my own individual survival mode, and in that mode, I needed to believe one thing and one thing only -- that I could beat cancer. That I would beat cancer. 

Gradually, for better or for worse (I have no idea which), I evolved. I emerged, reluctantly, from my cancer cocoon and started to see the complexity in so much of this awful disease, or better yet, in the beautiful and tragic life and death that the disease can touch. "Total recovery" and "I win" came to mean something so much deeper to me than avoiding death-by-cancer. In fact, I'm still figuring out what they mean, but I know the answer is not something that can be summed up in a blog, and it definitely wouldn't fit on a bracelet or a billboard. 

The truth is that I struggle every day to walk a fine line. On one side of that line is acceptance of the reality of a deadly disease. On the other side is sheer defiance of that very same reality. Now that I think about it, I guess that means that the line itself is reality. It's that path that our bodies must physically walk as a million forces try to pull our spirit in equally as many different directions. 

One such force that tugs at me makes me want to write to the Mayo Clinic and tell them what a bunch of dopes they were to put up a billboard that could be so offensive to so many cancer patients, victims, and their loved ones. "Seriously, people, what were you thinking? Have you ever known anyone who died of cancer? Can you see how this billboard could suggest that those people 'gave up'? Hello in there? Anyone home?" 

I doubt that there was an ounce of malicious intent behind that billboard, however, which is why in the end, my anger about it was short-lived. I'd have to guess that someone simply dropped the ball in not running a draft of the billboard by a few cancer patients or caregivers. Because I'm confident that anyone who has touched the world of cancer, particularly, metastatic cancer, would have told them to find a new approach. Like ASAP.

Another force that tugs at me is one that tries to convince me to just find my own inner peace and ignore the hype around something like this billboard. Don't bother with it, the voice tells me. Just focus. Focus on today, on your family, on your book and on your work, on things you can do to really help, on things that make you happy. The billboard is just a stupid sign on the highway; a total fail by an advertising company that forgot to consider a large portion of their audience -- the portion for whom cancer is not curable no matter how much they hope or wish or pray. 

In the end, I realize that the stupid billboard did what almost all advertising does -- it painted an image that was not real. Anyone who has ever seen a McDonald's billboard and then ordered a Big Mac shouldn't be surprised. We all know about airbrushing, don't we? Yet we are surprised because we think that people who work in the cancer field should know better. Selling cancer services is not like selling soda or paper towels or age-defying face cream, and we're disappointed when the advertisers and those who hired them miss that point so badly. 

Disappointment. Yes. Disappointment. I guess that best sums up my feelings about the billboard. 

Disappointment. The concept also only barely sratches the surface of what I feel about Monica's recurrence, and Kristin's, and about every situation in which a person's body cannot physically overcome the ravaging effects of a brutal disease. I'm deeply, deeply disappointed. Because more than anything, I wish that the Mayo Clinic message were true. I'll take a soggy, flat hamburger and a papertowel that can't clean up a spill in one wipe. But I so truly wish that every cancer patient could beat the disease by simply not giving up. Unfortunately, the science just doesn't work that way, at least not yet, and no image or catchy slogan slapped up onto a billboard is going to change that. 

Finally, since I'm offering criticism, I feel it's only fair to be constructive about it. So, to the likely well-intentioned yet ill-advised Mayo Clinic, here's my two cents (or have I already reached $50.02?). Ditch the picture of the happy woman with long, thick, awesome hair. Ditch the catchy slogan. Ditch the airbrush and the vision of a promise that you can't yet fulfill. Instead, consider something like what I recently saw on a greeting card. Because this sort of honesty will probably make some cancer patients smile, and it may even give them a moment of peace. I've found that honesty has a tendency to do that. Even though it's not as pretty.  

Front of greeting card

Back of greeting card
(This card can be found at www.thatsallgreetings.com.) 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Three Minutes of What I Most Want to Teach My Children

I never thought that the most important lessons that I'd want to teach my children could be rolled up into one three minute video but I think it just may be. And yes, the video is a commercial for a Thai insurance company. But forgetting the insurance company part, this really is beyond precious. And of course, it came from my mom. 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"I do Crossf..."

Preface: Despite that I believe in the importance of healthy living, conversations about diet or exercise regimens can easily get under my skin. I realize that by writing this post, I risk being annoying in ways that I hate to be annoyed, but I really don’t mean it that way. I’m not pitching anything to anyone. Rather, I mean this piece as an explanation of my own behaviors and, on a totally different note, as a great big Thank You.

I’ve written before about how I have not always had a healthy relationship with exercise. In fact, in my freshman and sophomore years of college, me and exercise had a very abusive, love-hate (mostly hate) relationship. I abused exercise and it abused me right back. It wasn’t pretty, and in fact, I have discovered several parallels between my experience coping with what was likely an undiagnosed exercise disorder and my experience coping with cancer. But that’s a story for another day.

I’m proud to say that at this point in my life, I have the healthiest relationship with exercise that I have ever had. Since I mostly have one thing to thank for it, I thought that thing deserved a blog post.

* * *

Why I CrossFit


I saw this a while back and it made me laugh. In some circles, it's probably true. For me though, aside from this post and several unavoidable references in prior posts, I don’t talk about CrossFit very often. I don't even really like using the word "CrossFit" because I feel like people who don't do it immediately start to judge. For instance, my siblings constantly give me a hard time about my love for CrossFit. They joke that it’s a cult and that we have secret handshakes. They are wrong, but I go along with it. Plus, when my sister tried CrossFit, she loved it, and I know that my brother would love it, too, so I'll get the last laugh in the end.

From what I have seen from the inside, there’s nothing cultish about CrossFit. The people who are really good at it are wonderfully supportive of the newbies and of the regulars who will never be as good as them. There are countless people like me who go to a class a few times a week, who can’t lift the prescribed amount of weight in any workout, and who still believe that CrossFit is a significant part of their physical and mental health.

It's that belief that, for some reason, I feel like I need to further explain, perhaps simply to justify my own actions which to some may seem, well, stupid. Yes, I know that doing CrossFit while on chemo was not the best way to avoid germs (I did pause when I knew the neutropenia could hurt me most). And I know that continuing to do it while feeling pain near where my tumor had been also may seem silly. In my six-month follow up appointment last week, Dr. Bunnell asked me all sorts of questions about the persistent pain. “Does exercise aggravate it?”

“Yes, sometimes,” I explained.

“What sort of exercise?”

I wanted to hide, or lie, but I figured neither was a good idea since my oncologist was trying to help me. “Well, some things I do at CrossFit aggravate it.”

“You do CrossFit?” he inquired rhetorically.

“Yes, but I don’t want that to mean that you won’t take the pain seriously.”

Dr. Bunnell said he would most certainly take the pain seriously and he continued to ask me what I do at CrossFit that hurts it.

I shrunk in embarrassment. “Handstand pushups tend to hurt it,” I explained quietly, knowing how ridiculous that sounded.

He laughed, respectfully. Then he told my mom and I about an article he read recently that discussed the rates of injury to people who do CrossFit. I told him that yes, people can easily hurt thmselves, but that I am really careful. I was being completely honest. I know what physical pain can do to my mind so every time I’m at the gym (sorry, I will never be able to call it a “box”) I am constantly focused on not hurting myself.

In the end, Dr. Bunnell ordered the bone scan despite that he thought that the pain was musculoskeletal and/or due to nerve damage from my breast surgeries (or better yet, my no-breast surgeries). I didn’t say anything else about CrossFit in that appointment although in retrospect, I want to explain what that place means to me. So here’s a short list.

1. Strong Not Skinny

I spent far too much time in my life thinking about being skinny and far too little time in my life focused on being strong. I love that CrossFit encourages strength rather than a particular body image. Getting stronger, faster, more fit, those are the goals, even if they add weight to the scale or make your jeans hard to get over your legs (both of which it has done for me).

2. People there care

When I first started at my gym, I kept to myself. I didn’t go there to meet anyone, talk to anyone, or think about anyone else but me. I remember when the owner of the gym, Kevin, talked about how "athletes" will meet friends at the gym and that it was a “community.” I remember thinking, “That’s nice for all of you. But I’m just here to workout.”

Gradually, however, something happened. A crew of early birds formed, or perhaps I just started to become part of a group that had already been there at 5:30 in the morning. It was (and is) a group of hard working, kind, and humble people who get up before the sun rises so they can pull, push, squat, jump, and endure what is, no doubt, an awesome sort of pain. Over several months, those people became important to me. They encouraged me when I was the last one on the rower (I think rowing may rely on body parts that I'm not certain I still have) and they cheered for me when I finished a grueling workout. Even better, when I did the same for them, I felt good. I know very little about the lives of the other early birds at my gym. But I know that they will support me and I will support them as we try to squeak out one more round of an exercise that makes us want to puke. And I know that we all get into our cars at 6:30 feeling physically exhausted and yet, comfortably proud.

3. Short, intense workouts are good for me

In those first painful years of college, I couldn’t workout enough to feel any sort of satisfaction. I would run or swim or cross-country ski for hours and still feel empty inside. I did it all to burn calories, and I calculated everything in my head in a way that I know now was pretty sick. I did it for all the wrong reasons, and I cringe at how much valuable time I wasted.

CrossFit is particularly good for me because it has taught me that exercise is more about quality than about quantity. Today, for instance, the main part of the workout was just about eleven minutes long (for me, at least…for faster people it was shorter). Nineteen-year-old me would have scoffed at that. Just eleven minutes? What’s the point?

It only took one workout for me to learn that I was a fool to doubt the intensity that could be packed into not-so-many minutes. And perhaps more than anything when it came to exercise, I needed to be proven a fool in that way.

I know that I make way too many analogies between my cancer experience and other parts of my life, but here’s another one. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, particularly, an aggressive and ruthless kind, has considered the reality that they may not live to be 90. Maybe we only live to be 40. Maybe we only have eleven minutes to everyone else’s 200. Well, then, I better put all I’ve got into those eleven minutes. That’s a huge reason why I love CrossFit.

4. It reminds me of being an athlete

Despite that I’m 34 years old, I still have dreams (literally, not figuratively) about playing high school and college sports. I still miss it. I miss practices and games; I miss winning and even, yes, losing. Most of all, I miss being on a team and competing in a way that challenges me physically and mentally. In many ways, CrossFit helped fill that void for me.

For one example, I learned a few months ago about this thing called “The Open.” It’s basically a way for real CrossFit-ers to qualify for regional or national CrossFit competitions (I think). But it’s also "open" to regular people like me.

When Kevin started to encourage everyone at his gym to sign up, I ignored him. I thought to myself, That’s not for me. I’m just here to workout and release my mental stress. I don’t need to compete with anyone. I think subconsciously I also figured that anyone with a C-section pouch and stretch marks that will never go away wasn't really made for CrossFit competitions. But Kevin and the other coaches persisted. 

Finally, out of a feeling that I owed it to Kevin, I reluctantly signed up. For five weeks, CrossFit-ers across the country, and even, I think, across the world, did the same exact workout. No modifying weight or movements -- we were all stuck with the same torture, I mean, challenge. A few of the weeks, I couldn’t do more than 10 repetitions of the prescribed exercise and two weeks I totally forgot to even enter my pathetic score into the website. But a few of the other weeks, I shocked myself at what I was able to do. And in all of the five weeks, those workouts, perhaps more than any others, pushed me physically and mentally beyond what I thought I was capable of.

Every now and then, Annabel joins me at a weekend CrossFit class. She loves it, and copies most of the things we do in her own adorable way. On the drive to a class last Sunday morning, Annabel asked me, “Will we do the combination today?”

“The combination? Hum. What’s that baby girl?”

“The combination that you do at the gym!”

Finally I figured it out. “Oh, the competition! Yes! Actually, I finished it!” And despite that even in the world of has-been high school athletes, I’m pretty weak, I still loved how proud I was of myself when I said that.

5. And so on...

I could go on and on with this list. I could talk about how I love that there's a different workout every day so I never get bored, how I appreciate that the coaches push us to constantly improve, how I sleep better, play golf better, and just generally feel better. I could write about how Kevin has used his gym to do so much good for several different causes. All of those things are true. But in the end, my love of CrossFit may be rooted in this fundamental truth -- that at a time when I felt like my body had completely betrayed me, CrossFit, and particularly, the people there, helped me learn to believe in it like I have never believed in it before. 


Monday, March 31, 2014

F-ing Hard Work

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of a hearing a marvelous social worker and yoga instructor teach a workshop about techniques to help young adult cancer patients and their loved ones deal with stress and anxiety. I almost didn't go to the workshop, ironically, because I was anxious. I had just delivered my own portion of the program at Dana-Farber's annual Young Adults Conference, a talk I had spent months preparing for, and although I was pleased with how it had gone, I was still recalibrating. I doubted that I would be able to sit still for a whole hour with all that energy churning inside, but I'm so glad that I did. (Plus, we didn't end up having to sit still.) 

The instructor, Claire, said several things in the workshop that resonate with me even now, days later, when I've typically forgotten most of what was presented in a similar setting. I'm sure I can't convey Claire's messages with the eloquence or accuracy that she did, but nevertheless, I have an urge to write about my take on some of what she offered to the packed room of patients and caregivers tormented by a vicious disease. 

Claire explained that human beings are wired to focus on the negative. She gave a great example of a pre-work routine. She explained that if you get up, take a shower, make a cup of coffee, and arrive at work, you don't say, "Wow, what a great morning I've had!" However, if you wake up, your shower floods, your coffee machine breaks, and you get in a fender bender on the way to work, you most certainly will remark that it had been a terrible morning.  

Admittedly, Brian and I couldn't help but look at each other and laugh at this example of a morning routine since, with two young kids, it is hilariously unrealistic. (In fact, if all of those "bad" things happened and I still managed to make it to my office on time with my kids safely at school, I would probably think it was actually a great morning.) Nevertheless, for several reasons, I loved Claire's message. 

First, I think that part of me is relieved by it. "I do that!" I wanted to yell at Claire over the rows of people in front of me. "I dwell on bad news all the time and I hate that about myself!" But I didn't yell; I just sat there and enjoyed the thought that maybe I wasn't being a negative person when I did that, but rather, just a normal one. 

Since I was diagnosed, I feel like the topic of "positive thinking" is all around me. Friends have given me books about it and almost every single day, it comes up in conversation. I am flattered when people say that I'm a positive person, although I don't fully understand why they think that. Still, I want to be at least considered positive, so I take it as a compliment. 

On Saturday, Claire spoke about positive thinking. She explained that if we have a performance review at work and receive 25 compliments along with one piece of criticism, we dwell on the one piece of criticism. Um, yep, I definitely do that, too. 

Claire explained that we would all be better off to spend more time with positive thoughts. For instance, those 25 compliments -- how long do we really spend with those? Do we just glance over them in search of something bad? (Yes, I do.) Claire says that we shouldn't do that. She also explained that it takes five compliments to erase every criticism. Interesting, because my ratio is more like 30 to 1. 

Of course, when it comes to dealing with terminal illness, the analogy doesn't always work. For instance, had my bone scan last week turned up cancer in my ribs or my sternum (thank goodness, it did not), I'm certain that no amount of positive thinking could lead me to believe, "But they didn't find it in my toe! That's great news!" No freaking way. There's some news that just plain fucking shits and people who receive that shitty news deserve time to process it without anyone's expectation of them finding something that smells nice buried deep within.

At the same time, there are people like me who (for example) have been blessed with good news, yet still find themselves fighting negative forces. Often, these forces are so much less significant than ones directly related to the disease, but still, they are repercussions that I think it helps us all to discuss. 

I have found that I go from being thankful to being greedy very quickly. For instance, last week, as I emerged slowly from the bone scan machine, I wanted more than anything in the world to have that scan come back clean. I would have given up my house, my job, and probably several limbs for a good result. Little else mattered. 

A few minutes later, quite unexpectedly, the nurse who had kindly injected me with radioactive dye, told me that my scans looked clean. She had spoken to the doctor who had reviewed them on the spot to be sure that additional pictures weren't necessary. I couldn't believe the news or that I had received it then and there. I asked the nurse if I was dreaming. I just couldn't comprehend it because I knew for certain (or so I thought) that they were going to find cancer. The relief I felt was, once again, indescribable. 

On my way out, the nurse asked me if I had young children. I said that I did. "You can hug them but you shouldn't sit next to them for an extended period of time tonight. There are still traces of the radioactive material in you." 

"Um, OK. Is that really safe then?" I inquired, thinking back to the Cold-War-ish metal container from which she took the dye before she inserted it into my vein. She assured me it was a very small dose. That didn't make me feel better, but I mentally returned to the good test result as I exited the room. I was so excited to share my great news. 

That night, Annabel begged me to snuggle during the kids' before-bed TV show. I hugged her, but told her I couldn't snuggle that night. She was mad, and so was I. That's when I got greedy, too. A few hours prior, I'd have given up all future snuggling with my daughter to be able to sit in the same room as her for years to come. But now I was pissed. Why did all of this shit have to happen? I wondered for a minute or two.

The night after my bone scan, I hadn't yet participated in Claire's workshop although I think some of her techniques may have already lived in me. I let go of the frustration I felt for having to accept radioactive material into my veins and I absorbed the fact that that dye had lead me to the answer I had waited so long to hear -- that the pain I felt in my chest was most likely not cancer. But here's my main point -- that focusing on the positive does not come naturally to most of us. In fact, for the record, I believe that positive thinking is fucking hard fucking work. (I rarely swear, but I just need to tonight...yes, even twice in one sentence.)

On a slightly different note, in the last few weeks, I have missed a lot of work time dealing with all of my tests and medical appointments. As a lawyer, I bill by the hour, so there's no way to fake it when I don't work. I either have hours and a product to show for it, or I don't. And although I had a solid start to 2014, in March, I fell far behind my target hours.

On the spectrum of lawyers that I know, I probably worry about my hours less than most. But still, I'm not someone who enjoys missing a target that has been set before me. Especially not when my house and family kind of relies on it. Of course, when I was in the throes of the MRI, CT scan, and bone scan, I couldn't have cared less about my hours. I figured those would only matter if I was even able to keep my job and since I felt so certain my cancer had returned, I wondered if that would even be possible.

Once my scans came back clean, however, I got greedy in this sense, too. I started to feel guilty about my low hours. I became frustrated that I hadn't been strong enough to suck it up and get work done on the nights after my appointments. Instead, I usually wrote and went to bed. I got down on myself, dwelling on all of the things that I hadn't done, the hours I hadn't billed, the work I hadn't produced.

This is where Claire once again had a message that I swear, sang to me. Spend time with the good things rather than taking all of your energy from the bad. I could so easily apply this to myself. In the last few weeks, despite my pathetic number of billable hours, I had done lots of good things. And Claire was right, I spent almost no time feeling good about any of them.

Claire explained that we can change our outlook and our attitude if we spend time with the positive rather than dwelling on the negative. I believe her. Because from what I've seen, if we want to find something to complain, worry, or be sad about, we sure don't need to look very far. But, at the same time, if we want to find something to be proud of, to feel good about, or to make us smile, we probably don't need to look very far, either. Claire made me better understand something that I have been feeling for quite a while; something that people don't usually talk about  that being negative comes naturally to most of us. And that being positive takes a lot of no bullshit f-ing hard work, none of which will ever have a billable hour to show for it. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Privilege

March 26, 2014. I first heard that date back in October, on the day of my last infusion. I remember thinking that date sounded so far in the future that I couldn’t even comprehend it. I remember clicking forward five times on my phone to enter the appointment into the proper month. And I remember the ironic feeling that I know so well—the feeling of desperately wanting the future and also being so deeply scared of it.

I wasn’t nervous for today’s appointment because I figured I couldn’t possibly receive any bad news. Still, I knew I’d have to talk to Dr. Bunnell about the pain that persists in my chest, and I wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.

I hate talking about my pain for lots of reasons, one being that I can’t describe it well and that just frustrates me. It’s a deep pain, sometimes so deep that I can feel it behind my shoulder. Sometimes the pain is dull, but sometimes it’s sharp; sometimes it burns, and sometimes it aches. With all my breast tissue long gone and the nerves still not functioning, it can be a strange sensation to feel something beneath where I feel nothing.

In anticipation of this appointment, I tried to pay productive attention to the pain in for the last few days. I stayed away from CrossFit to see if it would improve with rest. It did, a little bit, but it’s definitely still there, and I’m more anxious than ever to return to the gym.

After my CT scan last week, I felt indescribable relief that cancer did not appear to be the culprit of the pain. Dr. Bunnell is confident that it is not. Still, after I answered his questions about my pain today, he ordered a bone scan. This is the last of the tests he will do to try to confirm that my pain is not caused by a recurrence. After that, he explained, we would have looked everywhere there is to look.

I had not requested a bone scan, had not anticipated placing it on tomorrow’s to do list, and dread it like I've dreaded all other tests that could turn up cancer. But Dr. Bunnell thinks it’s a good idea, if only to be absolutely sure the Intruder is not lurking inside. Fun times.

It turns out that three hours prior to the bone scan tomorrow, they need to inject me with some sort of fluid. “Three hours?” I asked the scheduling lady, surprised. “That’s a long time!” I exclaimed. Sometimes having a job can be tricky on the schedule and this week has certainly shaped up to be one of those times.

For a whole bunch of different reasons, tomorrow is not a convenient time for me to spend over four hours at Dana-Farber. With a job like my mom has, I’m 100% certain that it’s not convenient for her, either. But knowing that Brian wouldn’t be able to take me (he has his own medical appointments to handle tomorrow), my mom never hesitated.

“I can do this alone,” I assured her, trying to convince myself as I said it that it was true.

“Absolutely not!” she insisted. I could tell she wouldn’t budge so I didn’t even bother arguing any more. Plus, I really wanted her to be with me. I’m such a wimp.

Lately I joke with my mom about the craziest thing that she often says. She tells me that it’s a “privilege” for her that she can help me through all of this cancer stuff. I laugh at her whenever she says that. “A privilege that you get to help me though all this shit? Oh yes, you’re one lucky lady!”

“I mean it,” she explains, smiling at my sarcasm.

I don’t know that there are many caregivers out there who consider it a privilege to rearrange their schedule for their loved one’s third scan, to sit in waiting rooms for hours, and to be strong in countless stressful moments in between. I’m pretty sure that normal people would consider all of that to be quite a burden. But my mom’s not normal. She’s like a superhero; using all her strength to help rescue someone weaker; and believing all the while that she is actually fortunate to be able to do that.