My Grandma grew up during the Great Depression, and she never let you forget it (trust me, sometimes we tried to). Her hero was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and she pretty much credited him with all good in the world, even until her death at age 95. She was a staunch Democrat, marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even in her 80s picketed at Martha Stewart’s house in the Hamptons when Martha began to sell her brand name products at K-Mart, the same store that sold guns.
From my childhood through my college years, I would spend a few weeks if not most of the summer with her at her house on Long Island (and with my Grandpa until he died just before I left for college). As kids, our big troop of cousins would head to Atlantic Beach where we bodysurfed, boogey-boarded, and ate Chip-wichs and Bomb-pops from the Beach Hut. At night, we played “Aliens” in the basement, a game we invented that was basically just a combination of hide-and-seek and tag, and it always ended with a bloody stubbed toe or a broken object displaced to make room for a hiding place.
When I was old enough to work out there, I waitressed at a ridiculously over-priced family restaurant on the side of Montauk Highway -- I could wear shorts and sneakers, hand out $23 lobster rolls in minutes, and turn tables quickly. It was a great gig for a college student (and I still remember serving Brian his lobster roll when he came to visit). In my spare time, I kayaked by myself in the ocean at the foot of the cliff upon which my Grandparents’ house was perched. And I read. Sometimes I wrote, but mostly I just read anything and everything I could find, which was a lot, because my Grandparents were both avid readers and their bookshelves were full with books new and old.
My Grandma named her house and that spot on the cliff, “Cardinal Point,” and although I typically think people that name their property are in a class far above where I’d ever want to be, this was a different thing. My Grandma loved her birds, especially her cardinals, and Teddy is already trained to know this – when he sees a cardinal he always reminds me that my Grandma loves those birds.
It’s probably too early to teach Teddy about FDR, but I know my Grandma would be trying to if Teddy had the pleasure of seeing her today. And if my Grandma were here now, I know exactly, and I mean, exactly, what she would tell me. First, she’d swear. She always liked a good swear word when she was angry. Then, she’d try to blame a Republican (mostly as a joke), but she’d find that a stretch, and move on. (Actually, with this whole “legitimate rape” issue, she’d actually forget my cancer for a bit while she exploded on this point.) Finally, she’d get serious and she would tell me, There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
I’ve heard this quote a million times and I honestly never really understood it. I would think to myself, No, really, there are worse things to fear than just fear. How about not having enough food to feed your family? How about being killed by a drunk driver? How about getting cancer? Those actual occurrences all sounded a lot worse to me than just fearing them.
Only two weeks out from my diagnosis, I’d be a fool to think I’ve become a stronger person, improved in some way. I haven’t. So much of the time, I still just feel shocked, sad, confused, and angry. But most of all, I feel scared. I keep replaying the last few weeks in my head – the words the doctors have said to me, the look on their faces when they said them. Then I think of the weeks ahead – the surgery (or surgeries), the real news on how far this cancer has spread, or could soon spread; the game plan on how we’ll fight this thing. I have tried to isolate what has me most afraid. Even as I write, I still don’t have clarity on this question.
Of course, my biggest fear is that the treatment won’t work. But I mean it when I say that in the last few days, I have come
to start to believe, I mean really
believe, not just write so that I believe, that it will. In our last conversation, Dr. Bunnell said he
expects the surgery will reveal a Stage 2 cancer, and it’s taken me a while to
digest that. But whatever the stage, I
believe in the team around me, from my doctors to my family, to you. And I believe in myself that I can do this
(OK, that’s still a little writing to convince myself it’s true, but so
what? I’ll get there.) So from here on in, failure is not an option,
which means that it’s not on my list of fears.
And that’s when FDR’s words hit me square in the face, like Teddy’s new bounce-on-water ball that he and Sean kept throwing at my head yesterday while we played in the pool. What I am most afraid of is that awful, terrible, indescribable feeling of being scared out of my mind. I am not so afraid of the number of lymph nodes the surgeon will tell me she had to remove, but rather of what my mind will think of that number. I am not so afraid of the ultimate Stage of my cancer, but rather that if it’s a big number, that I won’t be able to handle the news. I’m not afraid of being under anesthesia for several hours, but rather, the fear that my family will have to live with during that time.
A year from now, I’m sure I’ll be able to write an awesome conclusion to this entry. Something about conquering fear, believing in myself, “Living Strong.” But now I sit here, rushed as usual because my kids are kids and I’m still their Mom (Annabel just shoved a jelly munchkin in my mouth, yum). And I try to think of what has helped me when I have been most afraid. First and foremost, as I’ve said before, it has been the countless survivor stories that you and others have sent to me. Just last night, my cousin Kenyon sent me one that had me in tears – good tears, hopeful ones. These stories are my Popeye spinach, and my hope muscles grow with each and every one.
Second, something else keeps popping in my head. It’s the slogan on a t-shirt (I think one of those Lance Armstrong ones, focused on beating cancer) that Brianne said she’d find in her closet and bring to me. She told me that the t-shirt says, “Battle Mode.” There’s something about that slogan that helps me. I know, it’s random, and weird, and proof that every individual’s fight with cancer is a unique one. But those two words – Battle Mode – take some of my fear away. They make me think that I have power, I have strength, I have a spirit, and a body that this cancer’s going to have to face now that it’s been discovered. And somehow, that confidence turns a bit of my fear into fuel. And since I’ve got a shitload of fear, that must mean, I’ve got a shitload of will-be-fuel. So this one’s for you Grandma, you’re right, a good swearword, and a good FDR quote can go a long way, in the Great Depression or in a fight against cancer.