From Breast Cancer

MASK

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This is a #fbf to a superpower freaky Friday I had two weeks ago, in which I did a superkaPOWer scary thing and go up ON A STAGE at a storytelling event in Cincinnati. The event was produced by my friends at Rebel Storytellers. These BESPOKEN events are seriously one of the funnest night’s out in #Cincy. (Save the date: the next BESPOKEN event is January 15, 2016!) The storytellers (and the band) (also there is improv) all riff on a 4-letter word. Previous words have been: KISS last Valentines Day, HERO this past summer, and MASK was the one we just did the week before Halloween. None of the storytellers know what any of the other storytellers are riffing about. It’s pretty magical how it all fits together and unfolds.

Here’s a selfie I took from the stage to remember that time I channeled my inner #littlebravetoaster and did a superkaPOWer scary thing. (As you can see some of those scary peeps are obvi zombies getting ready to jump the stage…or break out the thriller dance;)

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Here’s a video the hubcap made of my MASK story:

Click HERE to read my MASK story. So superpower STOKED to have it up on my friend Jen Pastiloff’s most uber fab Manifest-Station!

To sum up: doing scary things ROCKS!

My next BIG scary thing is the #Route66 marathon/world’s shortest ultra in Tulsa later this month. I signed up before I got sidelined during August and September, when I had to have Operation #outdamngolfball #golfballectomy #hysterectomy #oopherectomy #wholeshebangectomy surgery. I feel like I’m back at least 75%—which is way better than when I wondered if I would ever be able to run again without my insides falling out! I ran the #cincinnati #queenbee #halfmarathon a few weeks ago to gauge where I was in the #comeback process, and whether or not I thought I could/should go for the full at Tulsa’s epic #route66marathon. My conclusion is: #ithinkican #tulsaorbust #okiedokie. It may not be the fastest or prettiest marathon in the world, but the finish line and obvi the BLING will still taste superpower yummy! I will run, walk, CRAWL to it if I have to! #turtlepower #slowandsteadyeatsthebling #cowabunga! And also obvi, I’ll be instagramming it UP! So make sure you follow me there @joulesevans if you wanna get some kicks on Route 66 by taking a virtual run on #themotherroad with me!

What’s a scary thing you’ve done recently and what’s the next scary thing on tap for you? Post below. #ithinkyoucantoo!

Mikeyy Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts

(Part III)

by Mikeyy Evans.

Then.  [14-year-old Mikeyy. Junior in high school.]

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I don’t cry a lot. In fact, I only cried once throughout the whole cancer earthquake that shook our world. I didn’t even cry once throughout the entire film, The Notebook. If you were to bottle up all the tears I shed year-round to give water to people in Nigeria, you would not even provide one person with 1/24th of the water needed in a day. If my tears were Noah’s flood, Noah would only be the size of seven molecules bonded together. In fact, eighty percent of the time water drops from my eyes, it’s my body rushing to my aid whenever I engage in my staring contest addiction, or me staring till I fake cry, so that Mum’s sweet little heart wants to give me whatever I want. That, or I’m just tired.

A time without tears can actually be a sad time. I’ve found throughout my life that when sad instances come along, tears are a little inadequate when it comes to expressing how I feel.

This instance was no different.

I did not cry when we got the phone call. I did not cry when we all dropped to the floor. I did not cry when the realization sunk in that I might not have my Mum around much longer. I did not cry.

Like I said, crying did not seem adequate in a situation like this. Instead, I nothing-ed. Nothing-ing seemed a little more appropriate. It at least made sense. Nothing I said or did would change anything. Nothing I felt would fix this. Nothing leaving my eyes would help. So I felt nothing—nothing but despair.

Now. [21-year-old Mikeyy. Just graduated from CCM at University of Cincinnati with a degree in Electronic Media. The short film UNDER that he wrote and edited for his senior capstone project was just featured in the 2015 Cincinnati Film Fest last night!]

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I never got to be an adolescent. Or, if you go by fiction book standards, I never got to be a “young adult”, recommended for ages 14-21. That’s not to say I didn’t read my fair share of young adult fiction during that time. But I was never quite able to relate. Cancer took that away from me when it attacked my mum. Instead, I was just a young “adult”.

Growing up is hard enough on it’s own, but when cancer comes knocking, you end up having to skip a few pages. I never got to have a rebellious phase or do anything notably “wrong” or “bad”, because I was too busy taking care of a mom who was getting beaten up by round after round of chemo. I never got in a serious relationship because everybody around me was much younger than I felt. I never got in a fight, or ran away from home, or snuck around to try drugs or get drunk or smoke cigarettes because it didn’t really seem to have a point. Why do life-harming things when I had a life being harmed right in front of me? Cancer not only attacked my mom, but in some ways it feels like it attacked my youth.

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But it also gave me a lot.

I didn’t have a lot of heartbreak during my adolescence, because I’d already dealt with some, and didn’t take the steps that led to more. I matured a lot really fast, because I had to mature if I was gonna be taking care of an adult human being. I got a really tight knit family out of it, one that knew it could withstand whatever hardships were thrown it’s way, and loved each other in spite of all our flaws. I got a more precious outlook on life and it’s importance, and a passionate mum who recognizes that too and let’s me be a kid when I need to be. And more than anything, I got new perspectives on God, every day, that have shaped my view and relationship with an all powerful, good God.

I’m just now twenty-one, and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m my own age. There’s a lot of things I missed because of cancer, a lot of normal experiences that probably would have shaped me in plenty of different ways. But when I think back to that night when we got the phone call, if it had been my future self on the line instead, I think I would’ve said something like this: “Hold on tight, ace. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, and even though those tears aren’t coming now, they will; but just wait ’til you see the other side. There’s hope, even in the little things, so keep those eyes wide open. Don’t miss this for the world.”

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Matt Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts

(Part II)

by Matt Evans.

Then.  [15-year-old Matt. Junior in high school.]

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The whole day was a really big blur. I remember it seemed like it moved so fast, but at the same time it was also one of the slowest days ever. Mikeyy and I had been in my room playing Portal on our Xbox 360 for the previous couple of days, like going through the portals in the game took us through a portal out of our lives for just a bit. It seemed like the best thing to do to keep our minds off of everything going on. Then I just remember all of us in my room, huddled around the phone. Trying to get the phone conference going seemed like it took hours. The doctor’s voice had no real emotion, which just made it all the scarier. Finally, we got everyone on the phone: Dad conferenced in with us and the doctor. I don’t think any of us breathed the whole time the doctor was talking. Nothing she said made any sense to me. My mum was healthy. Nothing was wrong with her. Everything was fine. But then I was sitting there and the doctor was saying she had cancer. Then it hit me. I remember thinking about how ever since I was little, whenever Dad would leave on business trips, he would tell me that while he was gone, I was the man of the house. It eventually just became second nature so that he didn’t even have to tell me. I didn’t think I should cry because Dad was gone, which made me the man of the house. I didn’t think the man of the house would cry—I cried anyway though. I remember sitting in the corner by my bedroom door holding Amanda and Mikeyy. None of us really knew what to do. What can you do in that kind of a situation? I went and sat in my closet. Something about the dark enclosed space of my closet always makes me feel safe.

Mum picked the phone back up and she, Dad and the doctor stayed on for a while longer. I just kind of sat there in shock. Our whole lives had been shaken and everything was different. Everything seemed dark and rainy and just downright sucky then but I never even thought about the silver lining that would come.

Now. [23-year-old Matt. Graduated from University of Cincinnati with a degree in Journalism. Now working at University of Cincinnati with Navigators student ministries.]

Photo credit: Isis Charise @isisimages

I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t read my part of the book since I first wrote it. I don’t particularly enjoy reading it or even thinking about it. It felt a weird reading it again and putting myself in that mindset. Reliving those moments. The weirdest part is that I really don’t feel very different at all, even after 7 years. Yeah, I’ve gained a bit of weight, finished college, moved out of my parents’ house; all those kinds of things. But I still have that “man of the house” sense of responsibility. I still sometimes sit in small enclosed spaces to feel safe. I still hate doing conference phone calls.

That silver lining was true though. There was no way I could know how much good God was going to bring through all this cancer crap, but He totally did it. And that definitely changed me, and changed us as a family.

He brought our family together. He made my mum into a borderline celebrity. He brought out so much amazing character in her and grew her into someone who takes care of and love on so many people going through the same stuff that she went through. He taught me how to really trust in Him for the first time.

Never has the saying “hindsight is 20/20” been more true than with our family’s journey through cancer. A couple years ago, I wrote a blog on my own site talking about this same topic. Click HERE to check it out. It made me think of that quote from The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers where Boromir says to Faramir, his little brother, “Remember today, little brother. Today, life is good.” He says that even through the buzzkill, sad, frustrating things that are going on around them.

He knew what mattered. He knew that although there was pain in the moment, that things would somehow be okay. Because they were a family. And they would stick together. And because of that, they would win.

I guess there is one thing (at least) that has changed about me. I now know that if I were in a situation where we were all crying in a closet together, I think I might know what to do. It might be hard, but I would do what Boromir did. “Remember today, little brother. Remember today, little sister. Today, life is good.”

Not because the situation is fun or anything. God, no. But because we are together. We are a family. We will stick together. And because of that, we will win. Cancer’s got nothing on that.

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Amanda Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts 

(Part I)

by Amanda Benton

Then. [17 year-old Amanda Michele freaking Evans. Freshman at University of Cincinnati. Journalism student. While simultaneously going to nail tech school. And working part time as a Noodle Ambassador at Noodles & Co. This pic was taken when she and I took a little holiday away from cancer and college to go to Chicago so she could try out for American Idol.] This is what she wrote for my book:

Legends and stories often have more to do with shaping a culture or person than the actuality behind those stories. I like this—I think it’s true. Please, don’t take the following as the word of God, but rather as the discombobulated memories of a girl. The facts here may have been entirely made up.

There is a tremor that runs through this memory—as an earthquake in my brainwaves. We all gathered in my brother Matt’s bedroom. My dad was on speakerphone—he was away somewhere. The doctor was on a different speaker. Gravity was unsure of what to do. The air felt unsteady and wobbled like a depressive drunk. I think it had grown thicker, too, possibly to catch me when I heard what it somehow already knew.

I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t even remember the doctor’s gender. The only distinct thing that I remember is the sound of an implosion—and then the feeling of being submerged. It felt as though my spinal cord had been snapped and my brain set afloat in the stormy sea of cerebrospinal fluid. I think of the execution of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar: a family lined up and murdered—shot. My brothers broke. My Mum instantly became mortal. My Dad, though . . . In my memory, there was an audible creaking—as though his spine was an ancient tree being straightened out. A groaning—as though he were a wooden ship being stressed from too much weight. A thump—as this new load, in sickness, dropped on him: the sound of a man becoming Atlas.

I walked away from the room, only able to stand because of the air’s thickness pillowing around me. Everything felt loosened and unconnected as I treaded downstairs to the couch. Be the adult, now—that’s what I was thinking.

I walked up to my Aunt Jennie. So far, so strong. But as I tried to force the word cancer out of my mouth, I found myself to be broken, too. Collapsed. Aunt Jennie’s arms gathered me up, and I remember resting against her breasts. I felt as though I were merely a page in a book and the epitome’s cover slammed heavily against me.

We wept.

Now. [24-year-old Mrs. Amanda Michele BENTON. Graduated from UC with a degree in Journalism and Creative Writing on June 9, 2012. Got married THE NEXT DAY. Spent their first year of marriage abroad with her new hubby working as missionaries in Wales and Malawi. Now they live in Denver. Amanda is a copywriter and social media manager for two non-profits run by financial guru Billy Epperhart; Gary is studying at Denver Seminary to become an Air Force chaplain. They have two bunnies: Carl Bernard Benton the ginger bunny, and Pichu Bombchu Benton. This pic of me and my baby girl was taken at their fairy tale wedding.] This is what she wrote for my #lucky7 year cancerversary.

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It’s so interesting how our bodies can rebel against their own rules. I try to think about the why and the how. We try to think about chemicals, diet, stress, fate, inactivity, hyperactivity, hatred, passion, society, greed. The reality is that cancer is either random or so buried in the backbone of the world today: something in the air, something in our lifestyle, something in our hearts.

It doesn’t help. Because it really just seems to be the roll of a dice. The question is, who rolled?

I tend to prefer shutting difficult emotions away rather than facing them. This is why I spent the year that my mom spent fighting cancer filling my mind with distractions. Maybe if I tackle a relationship, two different schools and my first job all in one, then I’ll be able to escape from my uncomfortable reality.

I don’t think I cried much that year. I am the undying optimist at times, but that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. Yes, I know this cancer word floating over us has a reputation for death. No, I don’t want to think about it. Maybe, we’ll beat the odds. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. What if?

I remember breaking down once. I remember a stick shift rendered impossible by a port embedded in her skin. I remember selling the car, and realizing that the woman who once carried me in her body, fed me through her own blood, and destroyed parts of herself in giving me life, this woman was weak. She was small. Human. Sick. Maybe dying.

I realized that something deep was charging like the Rohirrim up the mountains of my throat and I silently shut myself into the laundry room to hurl understanding after understanding out of my body. I didn’t want to understand, but releasing that growth out in the open helped me see how we all were changing. I felt the dice roll and the casino thugs fling me out on the street. Time to figure things out.

But, things got better. Our rapid, strong response saved the day. Or maybe the dice rolled that way, although they didn’t for a lot of other people.

For me, I have some deep convictions about what really went on. And Who was rolling the dice. And why it all worked out in the end for us.

I see a family that’s a closer, stronger. But I see a family that lives in PTSD. I see fear behind our eyes.

I see health, but I see the ghost of chance hovering over us making us doubt our paths and our futures.

I hate this haunting and wondering. There are doors in my house that I have shut and will not open. I keep them locked and let the dust settle. I explore new hallways and new rooms.

I hate being followed by that which is dead. So I reject it at every chance and choose hope. And so I channel everything into courage for a better future. And still, I am optimism.

happily ever after
And they lived happily ever after…

Bookends

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Me at the Ford Warriors in Pink booth at Cincy’s Race for the Cure a couple weeks ago. Super freaking humbled and honored that they’ve included SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL on their list of recommend reads! Click HERE to check it out!

Today I’m 5 weeks out from my golfballectomy/hysterectomy/oopherectomy basically the wholefreakingshebangectomy. Thought I’d give a little update. First of all, I have been humbled and lifted up by all the small and big kindnesses to me while I’ve been temporarily sidelined (but on the edge of my seat here on the bench) during my #recovery. Thank you, thank you, a hundred million thank yous! As if I didn’t already feel like the #luckiestduck that I get to…

  • still. be. here.
  • and STILL be celebrating my #lucky7 year cancerversary. I’m not done being happy about it.
  • be working on my #comeback after my oncological gynecologist’s uber fab golf game in re: “Operation out Damn Golf Ball” #FORE!
  • be giving the highest high-five that there’s 5 weeks in the rear-view mirror since surgery, and only T-7 more daze till I can #runhappy #runfree again! #handsintheair
  • be packing up for another adventure…with the Grace project…another #graceprojectontheroad-trip! Connecticut (my birthplace), Philly, Richmond, VA, Coastal NC, Raleigh, NC, Atlanta, GA, Charleston, SC…ready or not, here we come! Click HERE for more info.
  • turn the Big 5-0 in T-W-E-N-T-Y daze and then zoom zoom she’s offfffff…on another road-trip around the sun! #cowabunga
  • be working on my next project, which I’m so uber ridiculous freaking STOKED about and can’t. freaking. WAIT! to tell you guys more about!

besides all that THERE’S YOU CRAZY BEAUTIFUL PEEPS! In my life. My tribe. I mean, sinceriously, you guys are icing on the cake. Thank you for that. #nomnom

Tomorrow, I have a special gift for you guys on the blog. I threw down a little 7-year retrospective #spokenword #becausetheworldneedsmorepoetry in my open letter to #fuckcancer last week. Here’s a pic of them flipping off cancer 7 years ago that I put in my book in the chapter they wrote for me.

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7 years ago, this month, this week, at the Cincy Race for the Cure 2008. Two weeks after my mastectomy. Amanda had just slammed her middle finger in the car on the way to the race. That’s why she was flying that bird in the first place. Then we all decided that was exactly how we were feeling about cancer right then right there. So M&M joined the party. My sweet Redheads. My 3 reasons.

They went through cancer as much as I went through cancer. And in some ways, that seems so much more unfair to me, what they had to go through, watching their mum suffer like that. Having the roles reversed in their supposed to be wonder years and becoming their mother’s keepers/caretakers. Still bursts my heart wide open. Humbles me. Makes me proud at the amazing human beings those 3 sweethearts of my heart they are to me.

I get lots of sweet messages from peeps who are so freaking touched by the chapter my kids wrote for my book, asking how they are doing these days? So I asked the Redheads for a little something special for me, to share with y’all, for my lucky 7 year cancerversary present. So they’ve each thrown down their own 7 year retrospective, which I will be featuring on the blog over the next 3 days.

Meanwhile…I already threw down some words slamming cancer with my poetry, but since they say a picture is sometimes worth more than a 1000 words, here’s a couple of me, then and now, to wrap this post UP. 

Then. September 12, 2008 The hubcap & me crushing the finish line. 2 weeks post mastectomy. It took me so long to finish, they had already deflated the finish line by the time I crossed it. So I did, literally, crush it! My first race...my first bling! It's where I got bit with the bug!
Then.
September 12, 2008
The hubcap & me crushing the finish line. 2 weeks post mastectomy. It took me so long to finish, they had already deflated the finish line by the time I crossed it. So I did, literally, crush it! My first race…my first bling! It’s where I got bit with the bug!
Now. August 28, 2015 #lucky7 years later another tasty finish #morebling! Ford Warrior in Pink.
Now.
August 28, 2015
#lucky7 years later
Another tasty finish. Yay for #morebling!
Underneath the finish line, but still crushing it! #nomnom 

Dear Cancer (A Spoken Word Retrospective Upon The Occasion Of My #Lucky7-Year Cancerversary)

[An Open Vein I Mean Letter To #fuckcancer]

Dear Cancer,

I am still here.

#lucky7 years out from that day

(the mother of bad daze)

when my doctor called and said that damn c-word

(the mother of curse words)

to me

(the mother of my sweet Redheads)

My. 3. Reasons.

Who fell into 3 separate heaps on the floor

At the sound of that word.

Sticks and stones…

—My ass.

Words don’t hurt…

—Bullshit.

I call bullshit on that.

That one word hurt like hell.

It shook the ground beneath us.

I stood my ground though

A little #shakennotstirred

—but only because I am mommy hear me fucking ROAR if you hurt my kids

And that damn word

Knocked all 3 of my babies—

Amanda 17.

Matt 15.

Mikeyy 13.

—it knocked all 3 of them

Down

To the ground

In one fell swoop.

3 separate, sobbing heaps.

3 puddles.

And there I was

One very sick and mortal, broken mama

2 heaving, soon-to-be-leaving, breasts

3 broken hearts to hold

But only 2 arms

And 1 lap.

THE hardest mommy moment EVER.

But something kicked into gear for me—

Some superpower mommy gear I didn’t even know I had

Somehow I managed to gather them up

With these two hands.

We held on tight.

Literally, for dear life.

My life.

It’s been 2,565 tomorrows

That I didn’t know I would get to see

Since that damn day.

2,565 gifts

I’ve gotten to open.

2,565 days I’ve gotten to seize

Days I’ve wrung both the sunshine

And the daylight out of

—before the sun set on me.

2,565 chances to make sure my 3 reasons knew

Out loud and clear and proud

That my one thing

Was to cash in all my chips on loving them

And playing my cards in such a way

That they would miss the crap out of me—

If, by chance, the odds were not in my favor

(But, they were. Thank God. And may they ever be.)

2,565 days to spend myself making sure they remember me loving them HARD.

P.S. I think they do.

So take THAT cancer.

Or should I say, CANTcer?

Anyway, 7 years in a nutshell?

It’s been the ride of my life.

And what.

A ride.

It’s been.

Even the hard parts

Cuz even they meant I’m still here

And my hands are in the air:

Yes…and…

NOW.

Cuz it’s where I’m at.

And what a gift the present IS.

Raise your hand if you’re present…

*raises hand

HERE!

(I don’t see your hand CANTcer.)

Now, in case you’re wondering

This is NOT where I say thank you, cancer

And bust out singing how you made me into this fighter.

Hell no.

The truth is—

My 3 Reasons,

And loving THEM. (Not fighting you.)

That’s what made me stronger.

I thank THEM.

I thank my sweet Amanda.

I thank my sweet Matteo.

I thank my sweet Mikeyy.

But you?

No thank YOU. Very much.

Then why am I even bothering to tell you all this?

You’d think I’d be over you by now.

You’d think I’d have gotten everything “off my chest”

#breastcancerhumor

But I haven’t.

You may be done with me

And God-willing, this is my case

Closed.

Period.

End of THAT story.

But, it’s not your will.

It’s God’s

And I’m cool with that

Come what may.

And may his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

And in me, too.

Amen.

But…

Regardless of all that

You oughta know [cue: Alanis Morissette]

I’m not done with you yet, damn cancer

Not as long as this ticker

—That you tried to seek and destroy

With the Red Devil

And the mustard gas

And even the good Herceptinis

Aka my chemo cocktail.

Not as long as this ticker keeps ticking.

Not as long as you keep picking on my friends

—Especially, when you go picking on kids.

That’s the lowest blow of them all, you motherfucker.

So, let me repeat…

Not as long as this ticker keeps going and going…

Like that pink bunny

—I don’t know what keeps him going.

Or my heart, for that matter

Except this is what I do know:

It beats for my friends

And especially, the kids.

And you, cancer, have ticked. ME. Off.

 

 

Good Ol’ Perseus

[So this happened 7 years ago tonight…the beginning of my accidental memoir SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL…the night Bitch wine saved my life…the night I found a damn spot in my left breast…before I knew it was cancer…the last night in my memory of life before cancer…a sweet and perfect moment with my sweet Mikeyy…the night we watched Perseus’s meteor showers and I learned to count my lucky stars before they hatch. “That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.” I think that moment was the diving board into all the lovely 3681641.4 minutes I have been lucky enough to experience since. Each and every one of those precious moments has been one helluva ride. I wouldn’t change a thing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thanking God and my lucky stars this recent golf ball scare was not another cancer trip. I most def don’t ever wanna do that again. Hell no. But, I wouldn’t trade getting to sit here watching Perseus do his thing again from where I’m at now, #lucky7 years later. Anyway, so here’s where that once upon a time began…]

Chapter 2


When the Stars Go Blue
(Cue: Tim McGraw *I don’t know if you know it, but each of my chapters has a soundtrack to it. The songs are from my own chemo cocktail mix that I listened to during cancer, chemo, recovery, and writing Shaken Not Stirred.)

On August 11, 2008 there were meteor showers over Cincinnati. My world was rocked that night, but it had nothing to do with the meteors that my teenage son Mikeyy and I watched in the wee hours of that sleepless in Cincinnati kind of night.

Previous to Perseus’s fireworks display, somewhere in between the lines of August 11 and 12, I’d awakened particularly parched from the end-of-season cocktail party I’d thrown that evening at the Evanshire, aka my home sweet home.

Being somewhat of a newbie tennis freak, I’d played on three tennis teams that summer. My neighborhood team had just won the division championship. My United States Tennis Association (USTA) team had just played in the district championship tournament. We actually won the districts, but.

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And the big but (yeah, they say everybody’s got one) was that the win pushed one of our player’s ratings into a higher bracket, which.

And the “rhymes-with-a-witch” was that “the win?” officially disqualified all her matches and our team from the victory, not to mention a road trip to regionals. The trophy didn’t have a chance to slip through our fingers; we never even got to touch it before the ruling came raining down on our parade.

For the cocktail party, I’d grabbed several bottles of a certain Grenache that had caught my eye from across the wine store where I was searching for just the right red and/or white to go with our blues. It had a hot pink label with elegant cursive lettering that read Bitch.

Cancer is a bitch wine

My tennis girlfriends cracked up when I presented the wine. Then we all sighed, and said, “Yeah, it sure was.” We uncorked the wine. It was the best of times and we were making the best of the worst of times. We ate and drank and made merry. I went to bed thirsty.

I knew I would wake up in the middle of the night dying-of-thirst thirsty.

What I didn’t know was that dying of thirst would end up saving my life.

It was five o’clock somewhere—for me it was somewhere in the middle of the night when I woke up from a dream in which I was practically dying of thirst and trying desperately, though unsuccessfully, to quench it.

“Need . . . H . . . 2 . . . Ohhhh,” I sputtered out in a dry whisper like I was some kind of a tumbleweed, searching for an oasis.

“So. [click] Very. [click] Thirsty.”

I couldn’t even peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth.

I’d dealt with similar middle-of-the-night dehydration before, so I had the drill down, practically in my sleep. I tumbled out of bed, crawled across the bedroom floor, slithered down the stairs more like a Slinky than a snake, and somehow found myself standing in front of the kitchen sink. I guzzled a glass of water, diluting the dehydration and dousing the dream.

Then I poured another, and headed to the study to sip on the second one while checking Facebook. And I played a little Scramble, to try and unscramble the fog in my brain.

That’s when I bumped up against my desk—Ouch. I felt—and heard—an unexpected thud.

Something had gone bump in the night— and the bump was on me: my left breast, to be more specific.

My jaw fell to the floor and my eyebrows formed a question mark as I held my breath, brought my hand to my breast, and felt the lump.

I cannot explain the shock and awe I felt. It was like a meteor to my chest, literally. I remember the lump felt like a shooter marble right beneath the “milky way.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before. My hubby, Dave didn’t mention anything about marbles later that night. I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but I don’t see how we could’ve missed a meteor like that.

I don’t know how long I sat there trying to imagine what in the world the marble could be. I found myself checking and rechecking to see if it was really there. Then I kept checking and rechecking to see if it was still there. Part of me thought I was imagining things. But, no, it was still there. Part of me started imagining things. I felt the meteor again, and then stared out the window.

My fourteen-year-old son Mikeyy was lying out on the driveway, gazing up at the meteor showers in the sky. I let go of my own gravity and let myself get pulled into his world for a little while— snuggling up next to him and watching the sky fall, like it was a movie.

That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.

When the meteor show was over, I had a hard time keeping my thoughts from spiraling out of control. A sensible part of me, that I had to dig way down deep for, took all the other parts of me, and put them to bed.

Not wanting to wake Dave, I lay there, deciding to wait out the night. I waited for him to wake. I waited to see if it would just go away. I waited. And prayed.

Since my thoughts like to play connect the dots, this would be where my inner Lady Macbeth spoke up, as “Out, damn’d spot” were the words that came out. This seemed like a reasonable prayer, so I went with it.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to say to Dave when he awoke. The truth is, I generally obsess over just about anything I even think of, processing it at from every angle before it gets “on deck,” on the tip of my tongue. Just to make sure I say what I mean to say, and that I articulate it the way I mean it. Extroverting is not my strong suit. I can do it, but I don’t think I do it very well. And it wears me out. I had nothing by the time he woke up. I was worn out, wound up, and ended up just winging it.

Some words tumbled out into the air and then seemed to settle in a cloud over Dave. He groaned one of those “groanings which cannot be uttered,”9 (like he already knew, too) and fearfully, mechanically, reached over toward the spot.

Dave said that waking up to that morning was like waking up on the worst possible side of the bed ever.

I was still pretty groggy when Joules asked me about a lump she had found on her breast. She’s pretty random and often catches me off guard, but in twenty years of marriage, she had never asked anything quite like this. As soon as I felt the obvious lump, the fog instantly cleared and I was wide awake. My heart and mind started racing, but I tried not to let her see my fear. Outside I was saying, “Hmm, that’s strange,” but inside I was frantically praying, “Please, God, no! Please, God, no! Please, God, no!” Ever since we had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, I held a secret fear that it might strike Joules one day. This fear only intensified when our friend lost her seven-year battle. Before that, cancer was something other people got. Old people. People with unhealthy lifestyles. People I didn’t know. But our friend was young, healthy (fit, even), a wife and mom, a good and godly woman. And she was one of Joules’s closest friends. Suddenly breast cancer was very real to me, and very scary.

I won’t ever forget that groan. Dave’s middle name, Wayne, means wagon, and I could just feel him bearing the weight that was to come.

He felt the spot; I had not imagined it.

He got out of bed and made a pot of coffee. Dave makes coffee for me every morning. Even brings a cup up to our bedroom and sets it on my nightstand to help me wake up, smell the coffee, rise and shine, seize the day. Yes, I am spoiled. I admit it.

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Then he headed to the study with his computer, and began researching what “not bad” things it could be. At first we were hoping it might be a cyst, or hormones. Or even a boil—at which point, I channeled my inner Job. Then he began adding big words that started with fibro– and pap– and ended in –oma, and my brain went all foggy again.

I poured another cup of coffee and called my sister, Jennie, who lives in Charleston, to tell her about the damn spot. She’s my baby sister, but also my best friend. She’s also a little ADHD. I happen to love her rabbit trails, so I figured I could thumb a ride on her distraction.

Jennie later described the rabbit hole she fell in when I told her about the lump.

The day Joules called me and told me about the damn spot she found, I asked her if she thought it might just be a pimple or something weird like that. I tried to be reassuring for her and myself. The thing is, Joules has always been the strong one, and almost like a mother to me, all my life. And to me, nothing bad could or would ever happen to her. But when we hung up the phone, the knot that seemed to have tied in my throat came undone, and my tears broke free. My glass is not always as full as my sister’s, and it sort of felt like it had just tipped over.

Dave made an appointment with my gynecologist for three o’clock that afternoon. I had chosen her because I was not really into doctors at the time. She was a naturopath, but also an MD. Basically, she was into alternative/non-traditional—with leanings toward Eastern—medicine. I liked that she was not a traditional medical evangelist, but had that training as well, in the palette of her doctor’s bag. I did not worry that she would jump to any radical medical conclusions because that was not her holistic style. I felt we were sort of on the same page and that everything could be OK, because she was the most likely doctor to find alternative explanations for the spot, and alternative ways of spot removal.

Meanwhile, Dave told me I should go ahead and go to a tennis clinic I’d already signed up and paid for, to try to keep my mind off that damn spot until three.

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—So that’s the end of the chapter, but obvs… there’s more chapters, and way more to the story besides just me standing there waiting for the tennis ball to cross the net so I can CRUSH it! *Spoiler alert: I CRUSH IT! But if you feel like turning the page to see for yourself, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL is avail on Amazon and Kindle. Click HERE. The Kindle version is avail for $2.99 with the purchase of the paperback, which is $9.99. On August 20, in commemoration of the day I heard the C-word, the Kindle version will be FREE.

And stay tuned…cuz while I’m sitting here on the sidelines, recovering from my recent surgery…I’m wrapping up recording the audio book version of #shakennotstirred.

P.S. Here’s the iTunes Link to the theme song to my book, the “Cancer is a Bitch” Song by the Kicked-in Fence aka my Redheads<3 To download the Cancer is a Bitch song, click HERE. It’s only 99 cents.

See Her Again

It was a long day, the day I sat with my girl Char’s son David during her breast amputation from her war with cancer. I know the pink, fluffy, more euphemistic term is mastectomy but when your friends keep dying from this bitch of a disease, or if you’re like me, flat as a walking billboard for breast cancer…well, euphemisms just don’t…”cut it”.

It is what it is, and I just feel like calling it like I see it when I look in the mirror and honor my own battle scars. Or when I try to buy a bathing suit. I mean, I’m a glass half full kinda girl, but even all my optimism isn’t gonna fill two empty cups, if ya know what I mean;) But I digress. It’s been a long day, trying to get myself to sit down and write this post about the celebration of life services for my friend Char, which will be on Saturday, July 11, from 2pm-3ish, at Cincinnati Vineyard’s chapel.

I was introduced to Char at my old church, and entered her story at that holy inciting moment right after her diagnosis, right before the amputation. This is how I meet more people than you can imagine. Unless you’ve had breast cancer too. Which I hope you haven’t and never will. #iamthe1in8 #youbeoneoftheother7

Anyway, Char and I were fast friends. #chemoisthickerthanwaterandblood So obvi, I connected her to the rest of our “cancer club” at church aka The Fellowship of the Bread, Wine, and Chemo, and to The Pink Ribbon Girls, the local breast cancer support group whose mission/motto is: No one travels this road alone, and to my oncologist, and to the Grace project, a  photographic project dealing with body image after breast cancer, which was pretty much ended up being Char’s last word to cancer.

Her battle against breast cancer was a long damn day. But it was also too damn short.

I miss her.

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She loved me fierce and I will miss her something fierce. I imagine my girl Char tackled Jesus with a big fat sloppy wet kiss just like this, cuz O how she loves. She is the true BIG C; cancer ‘aint got nothing on my girl CHAR! But it sure makes my shoes feel so freaking heavy on my soggy feet.

I was on my way to visit her in the hospital when her daughter Ashley called me from Char’s side. The doctors had just told her that Char’s body was shutting down and the ventilator was the only thing keeping her here. Char was in unbearable, unspeakable pain. She was ready to go home, and definitely deserved the rest she had fought so hard to win.

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Talk about “Just do it.” Char did. She kept the faith. She finished the fight. AND SHE WON NOT LOST. She is finished with cancer. #peaceout Char. I’m doing a victory dance for ya, sister…but I’m not gonna lie, there are tears.

Like I said, I was on my way to the hospital when Ashely called me. I was on my way out of town, to go run an all-night-long 10-hour endurance run, when when Char was admitted to the hospital a few days before, with what they thought was probs pneumonia cuz she had just done the #hungerwalk in Cincinnati a few days before. Only 3 days after chemo. And in the rain. I didn’t go visit her before the race, on my way out of town, because I was on an antibiotic and I was afraid to bring my germs with me. The hubcap went in my stead, and told her I was off to run a race, that I needed her to be on the job praying for me while she was resting in that chemo, and that I’d come visit her as soon as I got back. I also asked him rub her adorbs bald head for me, for good luck, which he did. And he and a friend from our “cancer club” prayed over her. On race day, another friend of ours, from The Pink Ribbon Girls, also checked in with her for me (Thank you, Kim) and reiterated my “charge” to Char, and also petted her sweet head for me.

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This selfie was taken at Char‘s Grace project photo shoot a few weeks before Char’s passing. Char’s shoot was in the midst of a weekend of events that I was producing so I couldn’t be at Char’s shoot…which freaking split me in two…but Char knew that and so she asked for one more pic…of everybody rubbing her cute bald head for me since i couldn’t be there. #thatsamore

I’d written Char’s name by my heart on my race shirt, and was so freaking excited to show her that, and my medal, and to give her the pink sock monkey I’d run with in a backpack on my back, to give to her. When I left the house that morning to come visit her, all anybody knew was that they were going to take her out of the coma. So I packed a bottle of my famous “Cancer is a” Bitch wine to come break bread with her in #fuckcancer style. And of course my medal to show off! It had been a long day, without my friend. And I was so. looking. forward. to telling her all about it when I saw her again.

I came. I saw my friend Char take her last breath. I was conquered.

This is the last I saw of Char. One week before she passed. This pic our “cancer club” brother Arch Cunningham posted from the Hunger Walk just a week before Char passed. This is the Char I knew and loved. The Char who loved me FIERCE.

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This was my crazy cancer ass kicking sister Char Scott.

This was her doing the #HungerWalk in #Cincy last week (Memorial Day).

This was 3 daze after chemo, which as everybody who has been there done that knows…is NOT one of the good daze.

This was one week before she was to shed that gorgeous shell, kicking cancer’s ass once and for all.

This was/is/will always will be her victory lap and this her victory cry that will always make me smile.

Even if today it makes me cry a little cuz I will miss her as fiercely as she loved me.

This was my friend who loved me fierce,

out-loud, proud

like somebody who would walk/run/crawl 5K

in the rain

3 daze after chemo

to fight hunger in her world.

This was my friend Char.

She did love.

And she did it fierce and with reckless abandon.

And that is how I will remember her.

And this is how Char wanted to be remembered. Shortly before her passing, Char was so super freaking excited to participate in The Grace Project. Grace is a series of portraits of women who have battled breast cancer and suffered amputation in the waging of that brutal war. It’s a beautiful, powerful exhibit dealing with body image after breast cancer. Grace photographer Isis Charise finds inspiration for the project in Greek Sculpture #keepcalmandlovegreece so she frames the women in the context of Greek goddesses. Isis is in process of photographing 800 women across the country. The eventual Grace exhibit will demonstrate a day in the life of breast cancer. 800 women are diagnosed every day in our country. This has to stop. This is how Char wanted to be remembered. Beautiful. Empowered. Having kicked cancer’s ass. It was her last word.

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Immortal. The lovely Char‘s stunning gorgeous IMMORTAL Grace project portrait, taken by Grace photographer Isis Charise. Char was so. freaking. excited! and proud out loud to do her photo shoot, to become a Grace goddess, and especially, to be part of something so beautiful and meaningful and superpowerful for good. Grace is a series of portraits of women kicking cancer in the balls, and #shaken up the conversation on what is beauty? by empowering women who have suffered breast cancer and #amputation #MastectomyisaEuphemism of the parts society erroneously and cruelly deems as the critical lady parts…to battle through that shit as well, and embrace their body image and their own undeniable breathtaking beauty. #transcendencemuch? (Cuz what woman in America DOESN”T deal with body image issues?) This beautiful portrait of beautiful Char, taken on April 11, THE DAY AFTER CHEMO and 6 weeks before she shed that gorgeous shell, will hang with 800 others in an eventual complete exhibit…a beautiful breathtaking demonstration of ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF BREAST CANCER IN AMERICA. (Yep, that’s what those 1/8 numbers mean. And that’s why we have to find a cure ALL THE CURES for cancer ALL THE CANCERS. #fuckcancer)

I Walk (Hop/Skip) The (Dashed/Dotted) Line

WalkTheLine1956

So I’ve never done this before, but sometimes I get a note from somebody who’s reading SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, and today I got one that just started my day off with the biggest and best kinda bang like kaPOW! and I thought I’d share…

“I’m reading the page in your book with the Boob Lube and had to stop to tell you how hella-fabulous it is. I mean, seriously…a dashed line for me to dog ear the page? You, my friend, are a literary genius. Yep. Right up there with ole Bill S. himself.” ~Kim.

First of all, thank you, Kim. For this kind note, your kind words…but also, let me not neglect to say, for your service. _/_ YOU. so. very. much. made. my. day. today. Before my day had even started! Your note was the first thing I read this morning. Before I’d even had a sip of my coffee. But boy did it make my coffee taste like the best. cup. ever!

I remember cracking myself up about that dashed line. I had to ask my youngest son, Mikeyy, to help me put it in the book since I am so. very. NOT. tech savvy. Also I’m basically not good with straight lines (even dashed ones) (even when I haven’t been “cheers”ing;).

Anyway, most of the notes I get about SHAKEN are from peeps downing their own damn chemo cocktails…and they all humble me down to the ground, which I figure is a pretty damn good praying position, so that’s how I usually roll with it. It means more than words, to be able to walk with someone through their own journey, as they walk through mine, via SHAKEN.

And this note I received this morning…from a badass military veteran/breast cancer warrior sister/friend of mine reading my book and sharing my joy over that dashed line…walking the line with me, if you will…also makes me hit the dirt, heavily laden with gratitude. So I thought I’d lighten the load a little and share;)

And while I’m in this uber fab/fun sharing mood, I thought, why not also share this link about Boob Lube, which I remember making me LMFAO a little when I found out about it when I was writing SHAKEN. I thought/think it was SUCH a superpower freaking clever product to encourage breast health awareness. Still do.

And while we’re on the topic of breast health awareness…this would be a mighty fine time to go check yourself. In fact, I’ll end this post now so you can go do that.

Paper Peonies and Dandelions

Dear V,

One. Year. Ago…

V's Wave

It’s true time flies.
(I threw a clock out the window once
and proved it.)
But Salvador Dali had the right idea
With those weeping clocks…
On days like today
I don’t believe time heals.
And why should it?
Why
Would I ever want to
“Get over”
YOU
?

You left a beauty mark on my soul.
Your mantra is etched in me
The ink is dry
Except for teardrops…
Which keeps dotting the i’s
In Live Sincerely.

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I miss you.

Meanwhile here I am
Spending time
This day
In the Big Apple.
Isn’t it ironic?
Maybe a little too ironic
—or maybe it’s poetry?
Because this is where we met
On that serendipitous day in October
when I saw you standing
(beside yourself)
aka
Next to
Your breathtaking SCAR Portrait
Hanging in Soho
At the very first SCAR Project Exhibit
In 2010.

V exhibit

S.C.A.R.
[Surviving Cancer.] [Absolute Reality.]
You and me both.
And both of us from Cincinnati.
Get.
Out.
Of.
Town.
Funny how
That’s how we met.

That time when time
Put the pedal to the metal
While we were working our asses off
on The S.C.A.R. Cincy Exhibit—
When the absolute fucking reality of surviving cancer
Was thrown in our faces
In the form of a headache you had
that wouldn’t clock out…
2 weeks before opening night.

How?

For YOU
because you said “the show must go on.”
Especially now.
There was no try
Just do
We did it for you.

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It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life
But not as hard as saying goodbye
365 days ago
when
you
punched
out
…and flew away with time…

I miss you.

This V-shaped hole is most def the hardest thing.
‪#‎fuckcancer‬
I hear the echo of your voice
That I can’t remember anymore,
“The show must go on.”
And I still sometimes wonder how?

I was wondering that the other day while I was driving here.
I saw a flock of birds
in a V-formation:
a Peace sign in the Sky.

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Every time I see one I think of you.
And every day
For me (and for V) I am…

Living sincerely,
Joules
xx