Author: melanie

Is “A Bargain for Frances” the best book ever written about childhood friendships?

Oonagh brought this book home as part of her home-reading program last week and it isn’t that I had forgotten how good it is, it’s just that we don’t own a copy so I’m not constantly reminded how good it is. The only Frances book we own is A Baby Sister for Frances and it’s also hilarious. In fact all of the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban are brilliant but A Bargain for Frances is my favourite.

Frances, in case you don’t know, is a Badger who deals with a lot of life’s problems by making up pithy songs about them. The dialogue in the books is brilliant and the Hobans had four children (Russell Hoban went on to have three more after their divorce) which means they were probably surrounded by hilarious toddler/child-speak for many years – I know I was. (Still am.)

A Bargain for Frances is special in the sense that it is about dealing with a friend who isn’t really a friend. These days we would call Thelma a frenemy. Or: a manipulative little b***h, who Frances keeps playing with anyway because this is who she has to play with in the neighbourhood.

This was written in the 60’s so there isn’t any parental hand-holding in the book. When Frances tells her mom that she is going to play with Thelma her mom reminds her of all the crap things Thelma has done to her the last couple times they have played together. It is obvious that playing with Thelma isn’t a good idea but the mom doesn’t keep her home or arrange a “playdate” (I’m starting to really hate that term) with someone else. She just gives Frances a warning. And when the inevitable happens Frances has to use her creativity to get back at Thelma.

When Frances gets Thelma back for manipulating her out of her money (and once again Frances little sister Gloria points out things succinctly) Thelma realizes that she has to be careful around Frances now. But being careful is more work than being friends which, of course, is how the story ends – and with Frances making up a song about it. There is no parental interference about how you have to be nice to everyone – just creative problem solving which is essentially the backbone of all the Frances books.

On Monday’s We Talk About Cancer: Why I don’t use the phrase “F**k Cancer”

This morning.

I’m sitting on my bed right now unattractively hunched over – because that is the most comfortable position sometimes when my back is in pain – trying to get through a long to-do list. So far today I have made phone calls, spent 20 minutes cleaning up the downstairs office (more later I hope), got something I posted to the local Buy Nothing board out of my house (this included a puppy and friend visit), scrubbed down my kitchen counters (seriously gross), made lunch for my girls, drank countless cups of tea, and done who knows what else (because I’ve already forgotten).

Can you tell I’ve had a break from chemo?

Chemo breaks are great but not as good as no chemo. It’s hard to be thankful for something that makes you feel awful even if it is also saving your life. Another three weeks of chemo starts this Friday and I know I will sick with nerves by Friday, worried about having another awful allergic reaction. But I am grateful. Beyond grateful to still be here and get another chance at keeping this disease at bay.

I know as someone with cancer I’m supposed to talk about how this disease changed my life and made me grateful for every little thing but I think I was pretty damn grateful before. I’m still annoyed at it for making every day an uphill climb. The whole point of chemo is to kill off all the cells – cancer and otherwise – with the hope that the non-cancer cells will have a fighting chance. It also kills off your brain cells and makes you stupid and forgetful and generally foggy. I’ve had to stop knitting because I keep messing up everything I try to do and it is frustrating and disheartening.

In spite of all this I avoid using the popular phrase: “F**k Cancer!” I mean, it isn’t as though I never think it but this disease is now as much a part of me as having curly hair. I’ve had to learn to live with and manage curly hair all my life and now I have to live with and manage a body riddled with cancer. Obviously my curly hair isn’t trying to kill me but it is always best not to fight against your nature, and unfortunately part of my nature is now cancer. It is better to work with it and keep it under control (much like curly hair) than to try to be something I am not. I guess in a way it seems like tempting fate by being so negative. I don’t want to piss off the cancer. If I have to live with it I want to live for as long as possible.

(I miss it.)

(Also I wrote this post really fast because I am working through Kerry Clare‘s Blog School course and am trying not to over think everything I do because I never get anything done that way. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too disjointed or crazy.)

And so it begins: Pinktober

My family at the 2016 Calgary CIBC Run for the Cure

Pinktober has started in earnest. This is the month that breast cancer; and talk about breast cancer; and pink stuff being sold to supposedly support breast cancer awareness; is all up in everybody’s faces. Having breast cancer and knowing how little funding goes into research for metastatic breast cancer, and how it mostly goes into overhead and pink trinkets, has made me want to hate October.

Almost.

Until I remember it is fall and Halloween is at the end of the month and the line between this world and the next is getting thinner for everyone – not just those of us straddling it with a terminal illness. So I refuse to hate October because it is one of my favourite months and no stupid marketing scheme is going to take that away from me. I’m thinking with my bald(ish) head it would be a good year to go as a skeleton for Halloween but I’m hoping that won’t be too creepy for my children. Or in bad taste? Or maybe as Jack Skellington because how awesome would that be?

During my first post-diagnosis October (2016) I participated in the CIBC Run for the Cure – even though I suspected it was going to be a loud pink mess.

It was.

Radio stations were set up and were loud and screamy. People were yelling and holding up signs like “You Got This!” and “F**K Cancer!” and talking about being survivors and warriors and throwing bras around. It was really rather garish to be honest. However, I was happy to be there with my family and friends who wanted to support me (a whole crew of elementary/junior high school friends and who can lay claim to that?) Happy(ish) to put a face to Metastatic Breast Cancer where there are no survivors, just people trying to survive. But also sad about that last part.

During the walk I saw a woman with her husband and two small children. She was being pushed in a wheel chair and wrapped in a blanket and I thought: that could be me someday. That someday is today. I walk with a cane and need the use of a wheelchair for an outing longer than the length of our block. (Truth: I haven’t actually be around the block in a really long time.) I don’t know who that woman was, or if she is still alive, but I hope she is. I hope if she is participating for the Run for the Cure this year she will be able to walk it on her own. I hope, like me, she is still around to enjoy her children being three years older.

This year instead of walking I’m doing a read-a-thon called Turning the Page on Cancer. The idea is to sponsor me to sit around all day on the 20th of October and read books. So basically you are paying me to do what I do daily but all funds goes directly to metastatic research through the Canadian Cancer Society. (This fabulous idea is the brain child of Samantha Price a young woman also living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. There are a LOT of us out there.) So many people have reached out and have offered monetary support for which I will be forever grateful – and thankful that you don’t feel the need to have a pink physical commodity of your generosity for which you should be thankful too because that means one less lecture for me on consumerism. (At least for this blog post.)

Feel free to join in on the 20th of October. Either sign up to read for the day and raise funds yourself, share this post to encourage others to join in, or just spend the day reading. The link I provided takes you to the main Turning the Page on Cancer fundraising page. I am linked there but it isn’t a competition, you can support anyone.

On Mondays we talk about cancer: back on chemotherapy.

Foothills Hospital ugly tile bathroom selfie.

On Monday’s we talk about cancer. Which of course, is already a lie because it is Tuesday and I talk about cancer every day. I wish I could not talk about cancer but it is always there reminding me that my body is failing me right now. Of course there are many parts about living with cancer that I don’t talk about because they are too hard so no matter what I say/write it is never the full picture.

Anyway. I have been brainstorming – or as I like to call it, blogstorming , things I would like to write about thanks to Kerry Clare’s Blog School that launched yesterday and which she invited me to participate in. I thought Mondays would be a good day to talk about cancer and get it off my chest for the rest of the week leaving me open to write about other things. Like books. Or sustainable fashion. Or how much I love soup. Currently Friday is chemo day – so by Monday I am somewhat able to put a coherent sentence together. This past Friday was chemo #4 so I have two more treatments before a break and then three more after that. Hopefully that will be the end. Hopefully that will mean that my bones are trying to knit themselves back together and every moment of the day won’t be filled with pain and opioids.

For now my days are heavily on the pain and opioids side. I can’t walk without taking pain medication and even that “walking” is tricky at best. Around four months ago I was limping and uncomfortable but still out there doing things. Now I am relying heavily on my cane. Yesterday my mum and I went out and rented me a wheelchair. I’m of two minds about the wheelchair. On the one hand it will mean maybe I can go out more and not aggravate my hip. On the other hand it means my body is still deteriorating and I am even more reliant on other people to go out and do basic things. Each step away from independence seems to be a dagger in my children’s hearts (and my own). First they were worried about the cane. Now they are upset about the wheelchair. Last night after Moira went to bed she came into my room with tears and asked me if my getting a wheelchair means that I will have to be moved to a nursing home soon. I said no. Of course I said no. I also said I don’t really want to think about that. But what if I’m lying?

I did five sessions of radiation to my hips on my last break from chemo to encourage bone growth. This is what we are holding on to – that the chemo and radiation together will save me again. There is talk of hip surgery later if things don’t improve but I try not to think about that too. I can only think about things so much without spiraling into a depression. But that doesn’t mean I am incapable of holding on to hope and making plans for the future and dreaming dreams. I always hear about people who were calm and peaceful when “their time had come.” I’m so far from calm and peaceful I can only hope that means I am not near the end, right?

Thank you for the music

I have this theory that everything we want is already out there. I don’t know when I developed this theory but it was a long time ago. It may have been developed out of broke-student necessity (all of my couches are still second hand) but I believe it was definitely honed in the pre-parenting days of feathering our nest. One thing that can always be relied on is that there will always be people having babies – and therefore there will be people out there happily willing to get rid of the baby things they no longer need. People used to ask me what the theme to Moira’s “nursery” was and my response was always, “hand me down chic.” Knowing that there were hundreds of cribs out there waiting for new homes made it less stressful to have a baby when we had zero money coming in (at least materially). And, in spite of my parents safety fears, we managed to navigate the roads of those early baby years in an almost 20-year old Chevy Sprint that I bought second hand a decade earlier.

Older, and with more money (thanks to husband-with-good-job), we have a nice house and drive a purchased-new-but-with-a-large-hail-damage-discount Honda Odyssey. I find with all these middle-age trappings it is even more important to remember that everything we want is already out there and we don’t need to rush to the store every time something strikes our fancy. For example: Moira and I watched Mamma Mia last week and Mamma Mia Here I Go Again this week (personally both quite awful but the music is fun) and she really wanted some of the songs for her iPod.

More context: earlier this summer we gave each of the girls an iPod: one was the Mister’s old one, one was an old one of mine, and one we asked around to see if anyone had one they weren’t using (to which we got quite a few responses). But we don’t have a music service like so many other people (all those monthly services add up!) – we still listen to CDs, which the Mister rips, puts up on the house “music server” and we copy to the girls iPods. Sometimes if there is only one song that we want we will get the CD out of the library (I have been waiting months for the soundtrack to A Star is Born to come in so that I can continue to torment my daughters with me singing Shallow in the car but I really don’t want any other song on the disc.)

So, knowing that ABBA Gold came out decades ago and millions of people bought it I started asking around if anyone had a copy they weren’t using.

First stop was family: my brother, who got rid of his copy with all his CDs after he ripped them, said he could get it for $17 off of Amazon and have it here next day because he is a Prime member. Kind of him, but not what I was going for.

Second stop was the local Buy Nothing Facebook page for my community. My neighbour behind me dropped off her copy this morning on her way to work. It had been sitting there collecting dust.

It was only a two step process. Sometimes it take many more steps and that’s okay too.

When the girls saw me looking up canes to purchase off Kijiji (which is an online classified ads website across Canada), Moira called grandma to see if she had any. She had two – neither of which she needed. That was a one step process.

Sometimes this doesn’t work and we have to go further afield to find what we need/want or, *gulp* buy new, but we always try to refer to Sarah Lazarovic’s print of the Buyerarchy of Needs that we have in kitchen to remind us daily of what is important. There is something deeply satisfying in knowing that for a brief moment in time we are able to avoid the whole consumerist machine.

My mum says (tongue-in-cheek, but always with sadness) that I shouldn’t worry about these things so much because my footprint is already going to be small because I’m dying young. However, I’ve always been this way, and what kind of person would I be if I didn’t care what I was leaving behind? (Also I drive a van and can now barely walk so my footprint is probably huge). Teaching my girls to pause before rushing head first into consumerism is just as important a life skill as teaching them to cook and how to clean a bathroom. These are all boring legacy things I’m working on but all equally important.

Full disclosure: I also impulse purchased some wash-out hair colouring wax this morning so don’t be too impressed. I’m probably going to be losing my hair again soon so I thought I would have some fun with it while I can. (Plus Halloween is coming. Only two months to get those costumes ready.)