Voted Most Optimistic

I was voted most optimistic by my senior class in high school.  None of you who have come to know me in my adult form would even bat an eye at the nomination.  In fact, most would say that it was a given.  Once the glass is half full, it’s always half full.  Right?  But truth is a far stranger tale than fiction.  Not only did my 17-year-old self see the glass half empty, I saw that glass precariously balanced on some slick surface seconds away from crashing to the floor, shattering into razor-sharp bits and pieces with its half empty contents running away from its protective vessel.  If I ever did see it as half full, I was convinced that it was poison.  I was the queen of emo before emo’s existed.  I was the harbinger of ill tidings with a dash of poor me. Chicken Little and Eeyore all rolled into one cubby, ocular challenged, morose square peg.  Always looking for a passive-aggressive fight, I was notorious for deciding it was down when someone said it was up.  It didn’t even sway me when they presented the flow chart confirming the facts and statistical analysis in support of “up”.

So how on earth did I manage to win the vote?  Ah – you see – I fixed the election.  I stuffed the ballot box.  Lacking in optimism never stopped me from being opportunistic.  Now that’s a trait I’ve had my whole life.  From early on, I’ve been very capable of using charm and wit and a big chubby cheeked smile to go after the things I want.  Sometimes with a dash of “be careful what you wish for” – like the time this little toddler poured on the Shirley Temple charm on a train till I was given a Halloween’s worth of treats and an equally painful little belly ache.

In my teen geek-phase, curls and chubby smiles gave way to the power of debate and persuasion.  And so it was the day the ballots were handed out.  It was during my College Prep English class and seated with me were another 20 or so of my fellow classmates, mostly seniors.  I wanted to be voted for something, anything really.  I knew I was way out of the running for most beautiful, smart, athletic, school spirit, cutest couple, likely to succeed . . . as I read down the list I started to see that half empty glass until I heard the whispers.  Those around me saying “Most Optimistic?  Whats that on there for?  Who’s optimistic? That’s silly.  Why bother.  They shouldn’t have that one on there.”  Bingo!  I had my “in”.  I piped up to the whispering masses with my best smile “I’m optimistic.”  There was almost a collective sigh around the room.  As if I were volunteering to be this year’s harvest festival sacrifice.  Yes! they all agreed.  Cherish will save us all from the one title that was not already preordained. I watched as they scribbled my name in the blank, not caring one lick that I was about to carry a title unworthy of popularity advancement.  All I cared about was being voted as Most Something or Most Anything.

So the votes were tallied and all the most beautiful, smart, athletic, school spirit, cutest couple, likely to succeed, and most optimistic seniors were gathered together in front of the school.  It was one of the few moments of my high school life where I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the most popular kids in our class. Each Most, one girl and one boy, were photographed in front of the brick wall under the awning leading into our great halls of learning.  There I was, standing next to our class president who towered over me.  As the camera was raised, he put his arm on my head and I threw two thumbs up in the air with my best cheesy smile.  The kind of smile that charms chocolate out of the pockets of fellow passengers on a train.  In the click of a shutter, for one split second, I was most optimistic, and then I returned to my natural half empty existence.

Somewhere, somehow, over the years I evolved and the glass became half full.  Not only half full, but half full with the promise of being filled to the brim.  When Keith got sick, that never changed.  When Keith died, it never changed.  When Dad was sick, it didn’t waiver.  When I lost my job, not a drop was spilled from that glass.  Sure, I’ve had my stress, my fears, my doubts, my worries.  Who wouldn’t?  But my resolve to remain optimistic never wavered.  And now I have before me my latest truth stranger than fiction.  The breast biopsy results have returned – I have invasive ductal carcinoma – breast cancer. This blog, originally named “Keith’s Updates”, was started to keep everyone we loved informed on Keith’s progress.  So it follows that I have added a new category – “Cherish’s Updates” – and this is the first one.  All I can say right now is to check back again soon.  All the information I have is the diagnosis.  What I can update you on is this – that glass will never be half empty again.  I’ve earned every drop in there.  Struggled and strained to keep it half full, more than half full for three years now.  I can do it till my last breath, if need be.

Sometimes, a camera captures in a split second what’s inside of us all along. Those two thumbs up and that candy smile that sits in my yearbook? Maybe my teen self knew I’d need to see them now.  Maybe, just maybe, she knew something beyond her young age. Maybe she took advantage of her foolish youth to expel all the darkness and negativity from her soul back when that ugly behavior could be chalked up to teen angst. Maybe she knew that if she could add just one drop of opportunity to that glass, tip it over to half full, she would be giving her future self all the strength necessary to move gracefully from one challenge to the next.  That by fixing the vote to snatch up a worthless title in high school, she gave herself the most important one that can be bestowed upon her as an adult.



“Now is the Winter of Our Discontent” . . .

. . . to quote Shakespeare, the master of  words that often define our modern day human experiences.  A pretty impressive feat considering he hasn’t written a thing in over 400 years.  Its fitting that I would have this particular quote in my gray matter since our first snow blanketed cold snap almost two months ago.  It seems to have taken up permanent residence in my mind while watching the mercury fall and the electric bill rise.  I have gone into mental hibernation in the spirit of those smart woodland creatures who know that if you truly want to survive the cold, sleep through it.  Even my creative writing juices seem to have been iced over in the north wind.  At each moment of feeling inspired, seeing that poetic phrase just within reach, it would melt away like window pane frost under the hot breath of a child straining to see out into the bright winter night.

It was 3 years ago this month when Keith’s body started to betray him and it seemed so much warmer than today.  The start of a battle against the enemy within.  His own cells mutating and altering and shifting into violent soldiers, hell bent to take him down at the cost of their own existance.  All I could do was patch up his spirits and send him back to the front.  And yet, he found ways to laugh at it all.  After his colonoscopy, he drove the nurses crazy because he kept putting his oxygen reader on his nose.  He looked over at me as they rolled him into recover and told me that they had to go back in because the doctor left his watch in there.  We looked forward to the day that he could have the port removed so he could go shooting again.  He’d sit in the chemo chair, blaring Led Zepplin, toes tapping on the foot rest, chatting it up with his neighbors in their chairs as they were getting their treatments, a wee bit loud over Robert Plant belting out lyrics about squeezing lemons.  But no matter how loud you crank the Zepplin, some battles are destined to be lost.

This winter, my son was hit with an emotional blizzard.  My steadfast and stoic child was snowed into his own mind, overwelmed with stress, grief, regrets, and unable to sleep.  I tried desparately to blow on the window pane, to be able to glimps past the frost, to see him in the bright winter night, happy again.  Maybe even more so, to see him at peace.  Again, another fight against the enemy within.  This one hiding right behind the eyes, in the thin delicate eletrical connections that guide our senses and sensibilities.  I spent the evening with ageless friends Saturday night and Zach was with me.  I could almost connect to him again.  He’s always been poker faced and I’ll never truly know what cards he’s holding.  But I can see under the disguise enough to know that his demons are starting to waive the white flag.  Maybe because they know that Spring is right around the corner and you can never win the fight with daffodils blooming through the snow.

It was 29 years ago that I first encountered my enemy within.  It was in the summer so receiving the news that I had questionable pap test results was never upsetting.  As a recently minted driver, I was able to drive myself to the doctor to have my cervix frozen in an effort to remove the questionable cells.  All I could think of was how cool is that I can drive to the doctor’s?  I paid no mind to the possible seriousness of any of it.  As I started college, my breast started to develop those pesky cysts.  On the advice of my doctor, I cut back the caffeine and lightened up on the deodorant, much to the dismay of my roommates.  No one likes to bunk with a grumpy stinky person with lumpy breast.  Shortly after Zach was born, there were more questionable pap test results and I had a biopsy done on my cervix, which came back negative. While breast feeding him, only the right side worked.  Desparate to be a good mom, I reached out to Leleich and spent a fortune on these fancy plastic cones to help express the milk.  The only success I had with them was a Madonna (the singer, not the saint) appearance to my bust line.  Zach decided that he’d let me off the hook by letting his teeth come in at the tender age of 3 months.

As I got into my 30’s those pesky cyst came back with a vengance, so I cut out the caffiene and we were right as rain again.  I proudly and painfully squished the girls for my first mammogram in 2010 and was told they were dense but otherwise normal.  Figures that my chest would mimic my occasional lapses in intelligence.  Then in the winter of 2011, I could feel a lump in the one breast that never failed to provide nurishment to my growing baby.  In the mist of Keith’s treatments, I got the girls squished again and followed up with a sonogram on Ms. Right.  The doctor reported back that they were harmless little ol’ cysts.  The following year, from down below, another questionable pap test rolled in the door and another biopsy was done and the results again came back negative.  At least the breasts were unchanged although still lumpy.

And now we reach the Winter of my discontent.  As you can imagine, with all my girlie parts in a constant state of flux, I’ve gotten really good at sensing changes.  Or maybe I’m really sensitive to changes.  Ms. Right has been complaining the loudest in this cold weather.  I’ve been perfectly happy hibernating on the couch, curled up under a blanket after munching on hot fat comfort food, watching TV with Gary’s feet in my lap.  In fact, I’ve been enjoying it.  But I couldn’t ignore what she was saying any more.  So, a visit to the doctor and pit stop at the mammory mushing machine, followed up by a little sonagramming has lead to the very first biopsy above my waist line.

The nurse and doctor and sonagram technician had me feeling like I was hanging out with the girls at the most unusual luncheon.  The Mad Hatter in me could almost see the tea cups set on the table. For those of you who don’t have the need to wear a bra or who have never undergone a breast biopsy, I’ll fill you in.  You’re awake, they cover you in orange antiseptic and then they numb your breast.  Then you’re asked to shuffle over that way, turn this way, and put your arm over your head like this, all without disturbing the drape and staring at your bright orange breast peaking out.  While the technician leans over your head with the wand, the doctor pokes away asking “Can you feel this?  Can you feel that?”.  Then a few samples are taken, one of the bigger cysts is drained, and then the nurse gives you a little styrophoam cup full of diet Pepsi, those little ice cubes I’ve only seen in hospitals, and my favorite part – a bendy straw.  The whole process was akin to being at the dentist except I didn’t have to wrap my mouth around that sucky tool and I got to watch them drain the cyst on the sonagram.  The upside to a biopsy is the swelling makes you look really chesty afterwards so to go with my Madonna left, I have a Dolly Parton right.

So now I wait.  As I have waited three times before.  As I have been waiting for 29 years.  My enemy within has been hiding away in the recesses of my molecules, sneaking around and attacking once in a while like terrorist.  They sit back and build little cell shoe bombs and microscopic back pack bombs and wake up their sleeper cells to call them to active duty whenever it seems my body has dropped the red alert.  All I can do is stand guard and push back.  Proactively fight the fight.  I’ll have the results on Tuesday.  And in the spirit of that 16 year old girl who drove herself to the doctors, I’m maybe not as worried about any of this as I should be.  

Because sooner or later, its going to hit.  I know its shocking to hear little Miss Sunshine say that.  It seems so fatalistic somehow but I’ve had too many abnormal test to deny what my possible medical future may be.  If my micro-terrorist have chosen to go malignant, then I fight back.  If they choose to remain benign, I continue to stand guard.  Its what I’ve been doing for almost 30 years.  I imagine that I will be doing it for 30 more.  Getting through this brutal winter, seeing my son step back from the edge of his sorrowful cliff, carving out a happy space for Gary and I to live in, reaching out to those that love me so that I can love them back – these are my joys and challenges for today.  And tomorrow. And after the results get back.  In the meantime, let me listen to some Led Zepplin, wear the oxygen reader on my nose and press my breath againt the window pane.  It sure to melt the frost.