The Final Insult

I’m certain Bernie never imagined that one day he’d be shaving my head. There’s just no limit to the things this man will do for love. I look like Britney in her go-crazy-and-attack-cars phase, but have decided that hair loss means the chemo must be working: a good thing. My ego isn’t buying that yet, so I’ll be spending today experimenting with all of these scarves and hats. That scratchy ****, Tatum, is still in the box.

Shaving my head was empowering because pulling out fistfuls of hair was as horrifying as that sounds. And now I can stop worrying about when it’s going to happen (and stop praying that it won’t). Like everything else, it’s also just not as awful as anticipated. Aside from a dull headache and unrelenting reflux, I feel tops. Hair won’t keep me from Teddy’s public speaking this week or maybe a well-earned trip to Bloomingdale’s. But my social worker, Hester, warned me to be prepared for the stares and sad clucking of nice people who suspect I’m not just artsy, or a pirate. She told me that Tatum will fool people from afar, and that those sad stares could be more annoying than an itchy head of fake hair.

A lovely woman recently shared her story of a difficult time… how friends and family rallied and then sort of fell away as time passed, even though the trauma hadn’t. Just yesterday I directed a friend to this site to witness the incredible spirit of Redeemer parishioners (locally) and humankind (all of you). After two months (!), there you are. There hasn’t been a single day, NOT ONE, that I haven’t received a card or call, message or muffins, wish bracelet or watermelon, prayer, package, or papaya. And this week as my spirits went down the drain with my hair, you cannot know how grateful I am for your unflagging support.

So even though this final insult is reversible, it’s a bit traumatic. Pulling Tatum out of the box is an admission that I can’t do this without ridiculous props. I don’t have a funny little upbeat outlook on it. But I do have oodles of brag-worthy blessings. I have a husband who will shave my head and still look at me like I’m the prettiest girl in the world. And I have hope and reassurance from really smart people that my hair will return, but the cancer will not. I also have all of you with your funny and different perspectives on faith and prayer and hair… like this from Brodie: “If you lose your eyelashes you’re really lucky. You get all of those wishes!”


Sort of how I look and feel.


Bernie is shaving the boys’ heads. There’s a basement to clean up, furniture to move, taxes to assemble, grocery shopping to be done, but now, Bernie is giving our usually handsome boys homemade haircuts. The new clippers were purchased for the day that I want to go from pixie to cue ball in the privacy of our own bathroom. But because I haven’t required them yet, and this is yet an untested gadget, little (and not so little) boys must play with new toys.

I suppose we’re all a bit bored. I’m certainly bored with my rather constant state of less-than-me. I am well enough to do really mundane mommy tasks, but too queasy to cook anything substantial. I’m trying to stave off grumpiness about my sandpaper mouth that turns the taste of nearly everything to the inside of an old can. And the few things that are still palatable don’t necessarily agree with my sour stomach. So there it is for those of you who are so kind and lovely to ask. The State Of Britt: yes hair, no appetite, uncharacteristically irritable, and soon… calling for two appointments at Supercuts. (Bernie searching for his facelift scissors does not bode well.)

What I really want to do is leave the house. If I didn’t have to worry about catching the evil humors that lurk outside, I would have whisked the boys off for their usual local trim and lollipops, sparing us inevitable crooked bangs and clogged drains. I’m usually a pretty happy homebody, and it has only been 9 days of germ-avoiding lockdown, but this forced isolation makes me focus more on the mess of shearing little boys, rather than the fun of it. It also allows too much time for morbid ruminating. I read the scary sections of the pink books with their fuzzy, reassuring fonts. And now I’ve tossed them aside in favor of stories with better endings, or geez, stories that are just better stories.

Turns out, The Big Cancer Fight is boring. The everyday work of it is tedious, uncomfortable, and lacks any flavor. Over the next few months, I’ll be looking to the two things that comfort me the most: marking off days on the calendar (which can’t be stopped) and Him (ditto). But now, here are my little boys: shorn and happy and thinking they look just a little bit more like Jeremy Lin. Bernie, of course, did a fantastic job. The furniture still needs to be moved, taxes acknowledged, groceries bought, and now the bathroom is a hairy disaster. But these fun boys are doing their messy best to make it less boring. A-Ma is here, too. And she wants to discuss what kinds of bras I should be wearing…


Dapper boys straight from the Hair by Daddy Salon

Report Cards

Brodie and Teddy’s report cards came home in the backpacks recently. Their school is stingy with high marks and grandiose praises, but my boys still had stellar reports. They weren’t surprised. Self-confidence seems to be a Stockton trait that is inherited in dominant fashion. (Grandma Mid was funny, kind, and awesome, and we all believe we carry a bit of her around.) However, even at the young ages of 7 and 8, the boys have already learned to focus on and lament those few areas where the “grades” weren’t perfect: a skill they’ll take into their adult lives just like the rest of us.

I freely brag about the many, unimportant things I do well (container gardening, holding a handstand, buying gifts). I also readily admit to those things lacking from my skill set (finer taste in television programming, saving money, various un-learnable computer mysteries). But this Cancer thing I need to approach like the over-achieving straight A student I once was. And so far, I’m doing a bang up job in spite of my occasional dips into shameless vanity.

After getting the “good” news regarding my lessened chemo load, I tried on wigs. This was no fun. They’re scratchy, and the best of the lot makes me look like an odd anchorwoman version of Britt. I don’t want to focus so much on the hair, which is just so very reversible. But everyone is urging me to focus on the hair so that I’ll be “prepared.” I thought the devastating Cancer diagnosis, body-disfiguring surgery, and forced consumption of poison could be the hard part. Maybe unavoidable hair loss is just a final insult that comes too late to do further damage to my ego? Probably not. But after five days of squirming discomfort and sleeplessness, I’m more concerned with getting through chemo without scaring my children than if I’m properly preparing myself for something I cannot control.

Now that I’ve been to the oncology floor a few times, I’m quite aware of how other people react when I push the 9th floor button. I’m too young and healthy for the 9th floor button. Although I know the day will come when fellow passengers on the elevator take one look at me in my scarves and hats and press “9” on my behalf, I’ll do my damndest to fool them for as long as possible. I realize my Cancer report card lists “needs improvement” in selfish conceit and wig aversion, but it’s still passable. I might even have earned a B in round one of chemo. It’s just really unfair that even the best of us who soldier through it with A plusses, still have to do it wearing “The Tatum” in Saucy Beige.


My really rather awesome container gardening… only outdone by my handstand-holding, which hasn’t been captured on film, since there was, um, film.


For those of you too scared to ask, I’m not puking or pulling out remaining threads of hair. In fact, Bernie thinks I look “too good.” He’s anxiously awaiting the real side effects that will transform this breast cancer blip in our lives into a harrowing hell. I’m much more optimistic. Plus there’s too much good chocolate around to get all maudlin.

Truth is, I feel crappy. But who cares? It’s a save-your-life-to-see-the-kids-get-married crappy. And I have all of this help here. It doesn’t really matter if I can’t sleep because every single muscle in my body feels like it went to spinning class. Or that I can’t taste anything. I don’t have to cook, or brave the 18 degree bus stop, or get out of bed. I’m a spoiled, spoiled girl.

I’ve already approached a gigantic box of romantic chocolates from darling Bernie with absolute abandon, gleefully plowing through it with half bites to get to the good ones the boys hadn’t already pilfered. Cherry? I have no time for you. I have Cancer. But I also have no appetite with which to enjoy my cache of sweets.

Because I feel so yukky, I am considering absolutely anything that would make this better. So far McDonald’s fries and Thai drunken noodles top the list. I could probably force down a warm Krispy Kreme. Unfortunately, there’s not enough antacid in the world to make that a worthwhile gastronomic splurge, and I really don’t want to make this more uncomfortable. Back to my veggie soups, pomegranates, flax seed filled smoothies, and the rather huge consolation that I only have to do this three more times.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends. Indulge for me.


Me neither, sweet boy.


Yesterday was a blur. With Ativan and enough Benadryl to knock out a large animal, I slept through the entire length of the poison infusion. (The staff doesn’t endorse that description, I’ve learned.) My lovely husband watched over me for four hours in an uncomfortable chair. Because we had expected to be a mix of anxious and bored, we brought an arsenal of make-time-fly things that never made it out of the bag. Bernie refused my apologies for being the most uninteresting cancer patient ever saying, “complaining of ‘boredom’ during your wife’s chemo treatment pretty much makes you the worst person on the planet.’” I’m certain that all of your thoughts and prayers also helped me snooze through the whole thing.

What would I do without all of your help? I’m in a full steroid rage right now. This will keep me from puking up my quinoa, but also could easily have me up and scrubbing floors or ordering lots of on-line items we don’t need. I’ve warned Bernie that I might seem a bit nutso… apparently he’s noticed. This mind-scrambling drug also makes it impossible to pray for peace. But I can feel all of you filling in for me, with all of your different and beautiful expressions of love.

A-Ma and A-Gong return tomorrow and will be bringing the entire produce inventory from Flushing and the syllabus for post-chemo energy work. My kitchen and Xi are going to be working hard. They’ve been warned that the steroids might tax my patience or loosen my tongue. But I’ll do my best to endure their treatments in the intent they are offered, and save all of the good commentary for here. Stay tuned.

Good News

Today I met with my oncologist who gave me the best possible news for someone who only ever has bad news to share. Because my tumor was tiny, estrogen responsive, and most likely nowhere else in my body, I’m getting chemo-lite. Instead of 8 cycles, I only have 4. Instead of 16 weeks of treatment, only 12. I’ll be bald, but probably not as pukey. I’ll be tired and weak, but only for four cycles, with plenty of normal, mommy-is-doing-laundry-and-yelling-at-us time in between. I was examined, poked, weighed, measured, and cleared for treatment… starting Friday. (Yikes.)

There’s really no point delaying the poison infusion, or what funny man Steve Safran calls induction into the World’s Worst Sorority. I want to start the clock and get to the other side where survivors wear pink ribbons with pride and perhaps a bit of nostalgia for a hard won battle. Without any pesky immunosuppressive snafus, I could be switching to my favorite poison (champagne) by April.

It will be an especially long Lent, and no one will shout Hallelujah louder than I do at its close. In the meantime, this forum is my dinner out, Starbucks after drop-off, and cocktails before the show. I won’t be going anywhere (other than the hospital) or allowing many visitors during the next 12 weeks. I don’t want to risk infection or do anything that might prolong the course of treatment. To be super careful, we’re (sadly) tossing all of the cut flowers. I’m going to miss the boys’ Public Speaking events, sports visits, Spring Break, the birth of dear Emily’s little boy, my math students, and so much more. But because taking the poison means improving my disease free survival from 83% to 94%, there will be NO guilt in missing these things. I will be far too busy doing the work of staying alive. I think I’ve transitioned into warrior mode. Bald, bruised, and bedridden? Bring it on.

At Bible study last week, Dorsey kindly revealed a beautiful truth about prayer. When faced with dire circumstances, or when feeling spiritually overwhelmed, “go for it… ask for the World.” I love this. There is no judgment in those quiet moments with Him. There’s no rule against for asking for miracles: few and manageable side effects, happy little boys, a positive attitude and strength that convinces everyone I’m fine, and survival. So I’m asking. And so far, all I’m getting is good news.


Bernie’s parents are pathologic bargain shoppers. They’ll happily part with a sizable stack of cash on nearly anything if it’s 50% off with an extra coupon and hold the tax and this-day-only and free delivery. The only difference between their avid collecting and intervention-worthy hoarding is that their purchases have a “story,” are worth quite a bit of money, and are often quite beautiful. But because my in-laws have a smallish NY apartment and cannot resist new things that have the whiff of bargain about them, my house is a bit of a satellite museum for Lee family treasures.

Shopping for things we don’t need goes against my natural tendency to throw stuff away. The running joke among my in-laws is that when something goes missing, mostly likely I tossed it when they weren’t looking. This is entirely unfair and only true about 62% of the time. I just love to clean up, simplify, put away, recycle, and generally unload so much of the physical stuff that comes into our home. Especially the dried squid snacks. Also, I do think that “things” can clutter your mind and soul.

It won’t be shocking that A-Ma believes exactly the opposite. She has things for good luck, things for Chinese New Year, things to symbolize our zodiac animal signs, things for cough, things for cooking, and many many bags of things from Flushing that you can’t get here. After 10 years of less than gracious acceptance of Chinese tschotskes, I have grown more tolerant of these things, because I love A-Ma and A-Gong, and it makes them so happy to shop. Earlier this week, my in-laws happened upon a Chinese antique store going out of business. I fielded their excited call from Sam Ho’s secret storage area and knew that this would be our most expensive trip to the Natick Collection. And those men working Nordstom’s shoe department know me by name.

Bernie and I reluctantly met A-Ma and A-Gong at a really tacky store that displayed Tibetan chests alongside Hello Kitty tweezers and a sad assortment of ceramic kitties waving hello. But for some reason this antiquing adventure was fun. Bernie and I just sat back (on some really adorable garden stools) and trusted these lovely, smart people to do what they do so well. And after an hour of bargaining (in Mandarin), and parting with our own sizable stack of cash, we now have a truck full of armoires, sideboards, tables, and a really really really old pot. I didn’t fret over the right location for a completely unnecessary, 400 pound iron vessel, or the cost, or the fact my receipt was on a torn sheet of paper in Chinese characters. I just enjoyed their enjoyment of this acquisition of things, trusting their perception of “the deal,” and feeling uniquely lucky to have these people in my life.

Anyone reading these silly musings of mine know how badly I need to something to giggle about right now. Bernie’s parents, with grace and love and complete acceptance of me and my odd habits, provide giggles and so much more. Indulging them in a bit of antiquing was a way for me to thank them for all they do. Of course, my own father was a bit perplexed as to why we went to Natick to buy old furniture “for” my in-laws that we don’t necessarily want or need. He suspects it’s endowed with “energy” that comes along at no extra cost.


The Beckoning Cat… pretty much the only item we didn’t buy from Sam Ho