I've been feeling well. I have bountiful energy during the day, however, I usually fall asleep at 8pm when I'm putting my youngest to bed. It's been a busy spring. My 50th birthday came and went with many small celebrations. Florida spring break in Fort Meyer's beach was glorious, sunny and restful. We went to a friend (and former teacher of my son's) funeral--she died from breast cancer, was diagnosed just before me and didn't make it a year. Easter Sunday--celebrate LIFE! I said goodbye to my family home on Lake Phalen. My very dear friend, who has been a lifeline this past year was recently diagnosed with breast cancer as well. She had her double mastectomy last week, now faces probable chemo and radiation (prayers for M, and her daughters, please.) Svea's latest telling remark is, "Daddy, I must be having a hot flash!" We have been consumed by baseball (Jonah playing Varsity, JV and 9th grade games), chickens, birthdays, music, homework, fundraisers, bikeathon, finished my midwifery certificate maintenance education (I've been working on this since last summer with great difficulty), school plays, back to work, and Esther's eighth grade project.
My daughter Esther's school, City of Lakes Waldorf School is a Pre-K-8th school which focuses on beauty, art, music and imagination. They have a low tech/hands on approach, incorporating "the whole" of every process for holistic learning. For example, the third graders do a block in farming where they plant and harvest; they shear the sheep, clean the wool, card the wool, spin the wool, then knit with wool, and wear it. You have seen some of my husband's lovely chalkboard drawings which are part of the rich story telling culture of school. In eighth grade, the kids all find a mentor and spend months working on a project of their own interest. They present their projects in the spring. Esther chose writing. She worked with a gifted mentor, Jeannine Ouellette, who is a freelance author and organizer of writing retreats for young writers and adults (www.elephantrockretreats.com). They developed a plan for Esther to explore a few different genres of writing and then present her portfolio. Esther wrote a short story, a personal essay, some poems and a song (although she was too shy to share her song yet). She also found a woman at MN Book Arts downtown Minneapolis to help her print a seven line poem on a vintage printing press (9 hours), complete with hand set lead type and handmade paper. She wouldn't let me read much of her work until the last week. Much of the content was about our last year and my cancer. It was heart breaking and breathtakingly beautiful for me to read. On the night of the presentations, she reminded us, "I've been afraid of this moment since second grade. I almost did my project on Stage Fright, then I would have demonstrated this by not showing up." In front of 200 people, dressed in a sleek black dress, she delivered her speech with ease and grace. Not rushing. Grounded. I am a proud mama. Here are a few excerpts from her project. (With permission.)
Guest Blogger Esther Frantzich 14 years old.
By: Esther Frantzich
The truth is this: life is not fair. People often trick themselves into thinking it is, but it never has been and it never will be. I have learned this through personal experience. When I was younger, I would look around and find others’ flaws that were so obvious it hurt to see them. As pity pooled in the pit of my stomach, I would think to myself, “Thank goodness my life will never be as dented as theirs.” Boy oh boy was I wrong.
My mom getting breast cancer came as a shock to us all. Only my pillow knew of the suffering I went through every night—for those first few summer weeks it did well to catch and conceal my tears. The possibilities that traveled my mind were as terrifying as anything. Sometimes it was just hard to admit that getting used to the comfort of repetition was no longer safe. With a single phone call, my past was uprooted, my present time tossed into chaos, and my future glazed over with uncharted emotions.
Learning the News
I was at my friend Marina’s house when the news came, and I’ll just say we weren’t the calmest we had ever been. We had just finished breakfast and were giggling about our most recent inside joke when the phone rang. Of course, I thought nothing of it. Mrs. Cousins came into the dining room, her usual smile wide.
“Esther, pack your things, your dad is almost here.” She didn’t know the reason for the early pick up any more then I did. I looked at the clock: 10:56 am. Confused and annoyed, I pulled together my scattered things and shoved them into the animal bag I always used for sleepovers.
With my dad at the door, I gave Marina a hug (or ten) and we said our goodbyes. The clock read 11:13 am. As I went out the door I looked back and mouthed “pachew” at Marina, something only we would know the meaning of. She smiled and laughed. The white door closed.
In the car my dad and I stayed quiet. Now I understand why he wasn’t talking. I turned on the music. He turned it off. I rolled down the window. He rolled it up. I wondered when he would tell me why I was in trouble. The scraping of tires was barely noticeable in the back of my mind when he spoke.
“The doctors were wrong. Mom has cancer.”
My mom’s hair had always been a big part of my life. Every morning I would watch her comb it out with the leave in Humectress conditioner and put it in a braid, long and elegant down the center of her back. I would ask her why she always wore it like that.
“It’s easiest for my work day” she would answer as she pulled on her dulled blue nurse scrubs. I didn’t know how much I would miss seeing that braid until it was resting in my palm, freshly cut from my mothers head. My mom had always said NO to short hair on herself. But seeing her in front of me on our wooden side porch with a short cut bob of dark hair blowing softly in the wind, I thought the hairstyle suited her. The things we learn for a bad reason... It took a while for the Chemo Therapy treatments to really set in, so she was able to rock her new style for a few weeks before her hair was truly gone.
First Kind of Chemo
My memory about this phase is fuzzy because there were no extreme changes. Yes, my mom’s hair was gone, but I was getting used to the look. She dropped some weight and her temper was as easily lost as a needle in a haystack, but all in all, the 14 weeks were a lot easier on us then we had anticipated. My mom even claimed to have “never felt better in years.” Our daily routine was mostly unchanged. Only the morning, Humectress-laden braid was truly missing.
Second Kind of Chemo
November 1: the first infusion. After that, downhill. My mom became paler, more frail. Her eyes contained a sunken, haunted look. For hours at a time she would sleep behind her wooden door, the “shmookie resting” sign pinned up. I had helped to make that sign. I hadn’t known at the time how much it would be used.
She was given this new kind of chemo for eight weeks, four infusions total. By the end of the treatments she could barely lift her phone to her head, take a pan from the oven, or drag herself from her king-sized flowery resting nest. I have never seen her dread anything more then the trips to the Infusion Clinic. You could see it in her eyes, the way they darkened with fear and worry.
During this time she was a shell of herself. It seemed as if her spirit was damaged and hiding in the frame of her body. She was existing, but not in the present. It was hard to be an onlooker, to be the one who noticed every change. Sometimes I would catch the “pity pool” forming in my stomach, and I would force it away. She was my mother and I would give her my support, whichever path she traveled.
We headed down to Mayo Clinic, nervous but committed. Not knowing what to expect we checked into our hotel room and got settled. My mom and dad would awake at 4:30 the next morning to prepare for the surgery.
With nothing to do, my little sister Svea and I explored the hotel, pretending to be spies and sneaking up and down the hallways. It was a good way to keep her quiet. On the tenth floor we found a stairway...and excited by our find, we tip-toed up the cream colored cement stairs, grinning at each other and trying not to laugh. Tired but bright eyed, we reached the top of the stairs and went through a yellow door. The pool stretched out in front of us, sparkling from the rays of sun stretched across the surface. Just my luck, I hadn’t brought a swimsuit.
That night we ate a restaurant just down the street. My aunt joined us halfway through the meal. The walk back was freezing—the wind was icy and blowing hard. I hadn’t dressed for the weather. My brother wrapped his scarf around my face as a joke and told me it looked wonderful... I accepted it and left it how it was for the rest of the way back to the hotel. Anything that helped to keep me warm, no matter how crazy, was greatly appreciated.
My mom woke me up at five that next morning to say goodbye. I wished her luck. After that everything was a blur. The surgery went just fine, as predicted. The only thing I remember well was sitting in the hospital room, Jimmy Johns on its way, with my mom asking me quietly to get her some crushed ice to eat.
I am still unsure of what the future holds. As are we all. It is fact that life has a mind of its own. Mine does, anyway. But now I can say that my pillow is no longer seasoned with tears and terrifying thoughts aren’t roaming my mind freely. I am more settled, at peace with myself knowing that unexpected things do happen whether life changes or not. I will stick to what I said, that life is not fair. But I believe that with every bad thing comes a good. Some people need a wake up call to jolt them back into reality...I think my family’s experience this past year has knit us together and sewn up our tattered edges. We aren’t perfect, but we have learned how to be there for one another.
We have learned how to hope.
For my brave mother going through chemotherapy.
Her head held high and shaking
Damaged pride unshown
Hushed whispers cage what once was.
She never knew
The strength of the storm
In a droplet of fire.
It was light brown, very beautiful
Not much bigger than a dime
A feathery little head and clear black eyes
Flitting about the kitchen
A small movement in an otherwise still room
I didn’t want to kill it
The word DON’T scratched
itself into the lining of my stomach
But I had promised I would
The last thing it probably saw was itself
In the underside of my sterling silver ring
I haven’t thought of it since
I want to know how others view the world
How to make Swedish pancakes like my mom
Who in the world Jon likes
What it would be like to be blind
What caused Ria’s break down
How many spiders exist
Why people keep time
I miss so many things, not all sweet
Like the hole in my wall
from when I freaked out in the rocking chair
The Florida house and family vacations
Chubby chub and a non-judgmental view of strangers
Easy friendships between guys and girls
The middle of my parents’ bed
I am a hint of rainbow on a plain white wall
I am a typewriter catching sunlight and shadows
I am a crooked line of nail holes
Tonight I will dream of a hand resting alone
upon the blue green carpet of a classroom floor,
a band of lighter skin, indented marks
where a ring once was
I am unsure of many things, but this I know:
No matter how well I hide, if I can see you, you can see me.