How was your Thanksgiving, everyone? Mine was splendid. My little sister Alicia prepared the entire Thanksgiving meal because she is made of magic and not the sea monkeys, beet juice, and cow patties I’d always thought she was made of when I was ten. At some point, pleasantly bloated, post-feast, we all sat down, and the words that should not be spoken fled en masse from my mouth. All of them.
I should back up a little. Earlier Thanksgiving morning, my mom phoned to verify the time she and my dad were to be at my house the next day so I could have the port surgery done. More on that later, but here’s when my mom half-whispered into the phone, “Just tell me now, and we won’t speak of this again so we can have a nice Thanksgiving.” I’m sure, knowing my sweet mom, whom we’ve always called June Cleaver, that she’d meant it for my sake. But it must have been for hers too, because while I was sitting in my sister’s living room after our meal, excitedly talking about shaving off my hair before chemo could claim it, even having a “head shaving” party at my longtime salon with Joe shaving off his in solidarity, my mom melted across the sofa in a puddle of tears.
“You’d do that in public?” she managed through her fingers. “Where everyone could see it?”
She shrugged in response while someone brought her a tissue.
She was even less comforted when I told her I was going to have them leave it in a Mohawk long enough for me to take a photo for my students who’d dared me.
“It’ll be fine. It’s just hair. Hair!” I rumpled my own short hair. “It grows. That’s what hair does.”
“I don’t care,” she crossed her arms, sniffling.
There’s a story way back in my family of my Great Grandma Elsie with the vibrant red hair she’d wanted to lop off. Her husband removed the tires from their Model T so she couldn’t sneak away to the salon while he was at work, mining. This is Great Grandma, the one on the far right who is dressed decidedly different than the other women:
And after Great Grandpa left, she hiked her skirts and wrenched each tire back on. Which was kind of what I felt like I needed to do right then. Bolt by bolt.
On the car ride home, Joe said, “Give them time. They aren’t where we are yet, but they will be.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of my cancer diagnosis has been the extent to which I’ve had to comfort others. Students and colleagues and family alike. And I really don’t mind. I just need my mom to be okay.
So, mom and dad arrive at five this morning to babysit the sleeping kids while Joe drives me about twenty-miles north to pre-op. This is the first surgery I’ve ever had. Aside from giving birth to my children, I’ve required zero hospital stays. Never had a major illness. And then boom! I’m getting a medi-port surgically inserted for the chemo which will be the five point palm exploding death punch to cancer’s chest.
Here’s the port:
Which looks like a mini Star Wars recon droid. It stays under the skin, making me a cyborg. I’m telling the surgical team this, and then I’m telling them how Black Friday’s a sham. “They manufacture low-end electronics they mark up and sell as ‘bargains,’” and that’s all I remember saying, because surgery is wonderful. You’re out cold and then you’re awake and then you’re done. If I’d ever lifted weights on at least one arm, I’d say the inserted port feels like I’d lifted too many in a world-record lift-three-times-your-weight-on-one-arm pulse-a-thon. When I’m home, Hannah makes me a hot cocoa with marshmallows. The firecracker has one as well. Out of solidarity. And then my mom takes my picture because she’s decided to do some kind of macabre before and after montage that isn’t Thanksgiving break-down worthy at all.