Thursday, November 13, 2014


About a month ago, Brian reminded me that the lease on his pick-up truck was up. We had no idea what to do about it, but we both agreed on two things—we wanted a safe and reliable car, and we did not have a lot of money to spend.

In my experience, buying a car is painfully painful and no amount of Herb Chambers quotes on the expressway is ever going to change that. So I knew this wasn’t going to be fun. I just never anticipated the hardest part about it.

When Teddy got wind that we would be trading in “daddy’s twuck,” he immediately began to bawl his eyes out. “I don’t want to give away daddy’s twuck!” he wailed. My heart kind of hurt inside.

I asked him why he was so sad about the truck.

“Because I don’t wike when fings change,” he cried.

I was completely taken aback. Mostly by the fact that my son could articulate such a profound thought. It took me years to figure out that change was the source of so much of my angst. I had a bittersweet tinge of pride (and guilt) that my six-year-old had already discovered this.

I tried to calm him down by telling him that things change all the time and that change can be fun. He insisted that he didn’t like change. That he wanted daddy to keep his twuck. I repeated to him (and to myself) that it was only a car.

Last night, Brian and the kids traded in his truck for a used Toyota Camry. I was not with them for the final change-up, but Brian said it was a bit of scene—Teddy weeping pathetically (and Annabel copying), “Bye bye daddy’s caw.” They can be so dramatic sometimes.

Personally, I love the Camry. My grandma had a Camry (not a great selling point for my 34 year old husband, I do realize). But Camrys are solid, safe cars and I like the way they drive.

In fact, Brian ended up calming Teddy down at bedtime a few nights ago with the crazy realization that if we take good care of the Camry, it may be Teddy’s first car one day. Teddy liked the thought of driving in ten years, although I was completely overwhelmed by it. Not because time flies or because my kids seem to be growing up so fast. But rather, because sometimes, thinking any further beyond today can seem like far more than I am able to handle.


* * *

Yesterday at my lunch-time appointment with my oncologist's PA, Danielle suggested that I check the lump in my neck just once a day. That seemed like a brilliant idea and I decided that I would feel my neck one time every day—when I get off the train after work. For many reasons, I decided that would be the easiest time to face the nightmare.

As I climbed over the catwalk at the train station tonight, I felt my neck. For some reason, however, I chose not to press down enough to get a really good read on it. 

Still, I'm pretty sure it was there. 

I kept climbing.

I tried to push out the darkness. Tragic stories of diagnosis and death. The pain endured by good people I know or had heard about—healthy-looking cancer patients—with the fucking disease in their blood or lungs, brain or pelvis, liver or bones. The sheer terror of metastatic disease. The injustice of it all.

Handle with care. 
*   *   *

While on the way to pick up the new car last night, Brian and the kids called me. Teddy was upset and Brian was telling him about how it was only a car and how mommy and daddy weren’t going anywhere. 

For a split second, I wished he hadn’t said that.

* * *

When I arrived at Dana-Farber yesterday at 12:28 for my 12:30 appointment, I found a large crowd of people waiting in the elevator bank. One elevator was broken and I had never seen that space so busy. 

As I waited, surrounded by people in masks and wheelchairs, I became agitated. Where were the f-ing elevators? It was as if only one of the six was working and when it came by, there were so many people who looked sicker than me that I obviously let them go ahead. But as the minutes ticked away, I got more and more frustrated. I was late for my appointment. I debated walking up nine flights of stairs. Finally, over ten minutes later, I made it up to the breast oncology floor. Fragile and flustered. 

By the time the nurse took my vitals, I was shaking.  

My blood pressure was normal but when my temperature registered at 95.9 degrees, I had a rush of panic. The nurse asked me if I had had a cold drink. I hadn't. This is it, I thought to myself. My body is failing me. 

The nurse never said anything else about the low temperature and I was too terrified to ask any questions. So I took my seat back in the waiting room and did the only thing I could do to feel better. 

I wrote. Fragile. Handle with care. Part One.

*   *   *

Now it's Part Two, and time that I make an actual point. 

I know that telephone systems go down and that elevators break and that nurses know way more than I do about when it is necessary to panic. I know all of that when I'm being rational. When I'm not cracked and on the verge of breaking. 

But when I'm fragile, everything changes. A missed call is disasterous. A downed telephone system is utter abandonment. A ten-minute elevator back up feels like five torturous hours. A temperature just a few degrees off is the beginning of the end. 

I realize, if only in part, how hard it must be for people to work with those of us who turn up in such a fragile state. I realize the energy it must take to say the right thing, to handle us so that that we don't break even though we may feel broken. It can't be easy. Indeed, empathy can be hard work. 

*   *   *

At first, I did not understand why Teddy cared about the truck. "It's just a truck," I told Brian carelessly. 

"It's more than that to him," Brian explained. "It's how he knows I'm home. It's what makes him feel comfortable." Well shit. Good point. 

So I'm trying to be better—more understanding. 

It's just a truck. A short delay in a phone call. A back up at the elevator. A few unexplained degrees. 

Something that, if handled with care, could be absorbed.

Or something that, if handled roughly, could make all the fragile little pieces fall apart. 


  1. Once a student of yours, I had learned many things from you. But in times, life can be the best teacher for you.

  2. Tara I started reading your blog yesterday, from the beginning, and I found myself thinking I know just what she's talking about so many times. The honesty, strength, and raw emotion that you have shared has been truly inspiring. Hoping for continued good health for you.