Ah, summer in Texas. It's been unbearably hot. I think I have seasonal depression.
Julia had a birthday pool party on the last day of school, so I picked up her and her friends from school in my mom's seven-seater. I rolled up in the pickup line, windows down, blasting “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper. "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom." Then I pretended not to listen while they shared their most embarrassing stories on the drive home.
I resisted the temptation to interject: “Oh, come on, girls, is that the best you can do? Anyone want to hear about the time I went on a business trip and shattered a stack of framed paintings in the CEO's office? Everyone turned around to stare at the new female commodities consultant standing in a pile of broken glass. I should've said, 'Sorry, just breaking a few glass ceilings,' but instead I hid in the bathroom for ten minutes and tried not to cry. Take my advice, girls. When those embarrassing moments strike, don't cry in the bathroom! Stand your ground. When you lose your bikini top on the homemade water slide at the Sigma Chi frat party, you walk right over and pick it up and get back in line. Because one day, you might get breast cancer (statistically speaking, one of you will), and then you'll be nostalgic about that once-mortifying moment."
Don't worry, I didn't say all that. Julia's ten now, so my job is to keep quiet and play a carefully curated playlist of upbeat party songs.
Summertime also means a check-in with my oncologist, preceded by bloodwork and a CT scan. I scheduled my CT scan on the day before we flew to Hawaii for vacation, because there’s no better place to wait for that phone call than on a white sand beach under the kamani trees with a buzz from my lunchtime Mai Tai. I imagined getting the "all clear" and frolicking in the waves like all those famous movie scenes. And if it ended up being bad news, I could volunteer to jump in the volcano like Tom Hanks after he found out about his “brain cloud.”
But on the morning of my scheduled CT, I got a phone call about a power outage at the oncology center, and could I please hold tight until the power was restored? "Um, sure, I guess I'll just keep fasting until I hear from you." I never heard back, so I went ahead and stuffed my face and left for vacation, and then they called me every day of my Hawaii trip to try to reschedule. "God dammit, I'm on vacation! I'll get to it when I come back to reality!"
And I did.
The decorative ceiling panel above the CT scanner had been changed from cherry blossoms to palm trees, so I got to fantasize that I was still in Hawaii while they pumped my veins full of iodine contrast and took pictures of my lungs.
The next day, I was at brunch with friends when I got the phone call. I heard the words, "Hi, this is so-and-so from Texas Oncology regarding the results of your scan..." and for a terrifying second, I imagined excusing myself and crying around the corner while Julia stole all the good bites off my plate. But the sentence ended with, "and everything looks stable," so I hung up and fended Julia off and ate my hash-browns.
Later that week, I had a video call with my oncologist. In the last six months, medical professionals keep casually referring to my "lung nodule." Did I block that out in the beginning? I don't remember anyone ever telling me about that. Apparently it hasn't changed in 3+ years, so it's not cancer. I asked her what else could have caused it, and she said, "Possibly a bad childhood infection or a canine parasite." Outraged, I said, "But my parents never let me have a dog!" Oh, the irony.
She also asked me if I'd been exercising, and for the first time in years, I knew the answer was "no, not really." Varicose vein treatment has been a legitimate excuse in the past, but it's not anymore. It's hard to lie to your doctor on a video call because you can see your own face. I saw my shifty-eyed expression and knew I was busted before I even answered. She reminded me that my hormone-suppressing medication is turning my bones into dust and that exercise is the only thing that can save me. So I finished out the video call in plank position. My form must've been excellent, because she said I don't have to see her again for six months. "Hell yeah! See you next year."
I actually saw my oncologist in person at this year's Art Bra Gala in May. I'd applied to be a model and was rejected – apparently, the new organizer wasn't aware of my fundraising capabilities – so I signed up to volunteer at the event instead. They put me on the setup shift, assembling signs and filing three sets of bidder numbers. Not as exciting as walking the runway, but I tried to be happy for the new crop of models and not make it about me. Okay, so I occasionally dropped, "Well, when I was a runway model..." to anyone who would listen. I also tried mingling with the models once or twice, but they didn't understand why someone from custodial services kept trying to give them runway pointers.
I worked the evening shift as well, so I could wear a cocktail dress and interact with guests and feel important.
My assigned role was to fetch bidder paddles during checkin and registration. I'd locate the guest's bidding number and run over with their paddle, only to hear them say they weren't planning to bid. "Oh, come on! I need to feel useful. Just take it and buy your mom a $50 pair of Kendra Scott earrings!" I was also in charge of fetching the person-in-charge when a problem arose at registration. At one point, there was an elderly couple trying to enter the ballroom without tickets, and the person-in-charge was nowhere to be found, so they became my problem. We'd been instructed not to let anyone inside the gala without tickets, so I cornered them behind the registration table and wouldn't let them out of my sight. "Okay, Walter, I see you playing it up with that cane, but I know you're just here for the free Tito's signature drinks. You didn't even want your bidder paddle. You're not fooling anyone!" Walter wasn't feeling the security vibe, so I eventually relented. "Okay, fine, go ahead and have a seat in the ballroom, but I'm watching you."
When the person-in-charge returned, she informed me that the "shady elderly couple" were the parents of my oncologist, a huge sponsor of the event. I had to go into the ballroom and apologize. “If you had just told me your daughter was the person keeping me alive, I would’ve escorted you to the VIP area and told the bartender to keep ‘em coming! Your daughter's a big deal! You gotta throw that name around!”
After registration wrapped up, they let the volunteers watch the event on a TV screen in the green room. I may have snuck into the ballroom once to grab a signature drink from the bar while Walter gave me the side-eye. But the important thing is that the event was a success and raised about $700,000 for BCRC.
Let's see, what else?
Of course, there's a whole bunch of crazy stuff going on in the world, but it's too much to comment on here. This is a purely self-indulgent blog.
While I was in Hawaii, a friend texted to congratulate me on being three years out from finishing chemo. June 6th! I'd completely forgotten. I abandoned my monthly hair regrowth pictures after I hit the two-year mark. But when I got my friend's text, I happened to be alone on a beautiful beach, watching the sunset, so I guess my subconscious knew what day it was.
And finally, how’s my writing going, you ask? [Shifty eyes darting back and forth]
Um, does 2,000+ words of vacation research count?
I finished my screenplay months ago, sent if off, got a swift rejection letter from my "safety" contest, and gave up on the whole thing. I even unsubscribed from all the screenwriting websites... again.
On the plus side, my essay about my oldest friend was finally published, after a year-long wait.
So now what? I guess I'll stick to writing personal essays? So many good embarrassing stories to preserve for posterity! Better to write them down than share them with Julia's friends.
Keep your head up, everyone!