Friday, February 21, 2014

Old Cow

As I mentioned in my last post, Tender, Loving, Care, I was once referred to as an OLD COW. This is that story...

My father was a long-distance runner, completing over 100 marathons. He ran well into his 70's and when he could no longer run pain-free he opted for a hip replacement. Shortly after his surgery, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Although his Parkinson's was emotionally and physically challenging, his slow decline gave us time to nurture our relationship.

As a self-made businessman, he had a fierce, independent spirit and was always on the go. And, because my parents divorced when I was two years old and my mother raised me, we missed sharing many of life's simple pleasures.

One of them was going to the movies.

When I asked what type of movie he would like to see he replied,"a Western would be nice - something with John Wayne."  So I took him to see the epic, science fiction action film, Avatar.

We went to a 3D matinee showing in a neighboring city. My husband took my spacious, four-door sedan on a weekend excursion and I was left with his Mini-Cooper clown car. I knew getting Dad in and out of the Mini, and into the theater, was going to be challenging so we arrived early.

The parking lot was located in the heart of the business district and serviced the theater and a large gym. A handicap sticker would have given us several options but despite his hunched back and wobbly gait, Dad was convinced his condition didn't warrant one.

After circling the lot several times, I saw a space close to the main entrance of the theater.

When I noticed a car heading towards the same spot, from the opposite direction, I stepped on the gas. Thanks to the compact size of the Mini, I quickly jockeyed my way into the narrow space.

"How about that!" I said to Dad, feeling quite proud of myself.

As I carefully assisted my father out of the car, a girl in her early twenty's approached us. I recognized her as the driver of the car that I outmaneuvered for the parking space.

She was dressed in a fresh, neon green Nike shirt, matching shorts and electric white sneakers. Her long dark hair was pulled into a tight, stiff, ponytail at the crown of her head and her lacquered nails matched her candy-apple red lipstick.

"What the FUCK!" she yelled within an inch of my face.

Anticipating the need to physically defend myself, I released the two-handed grip I had on my father and, in slow motion, he rolled backwards into the car.

His eyes widened with fear as he stammered, "D, D, don't hit her Shannon!"

As a young man my father was scrappy and mischievous, and as a parent he was astutely aware that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

He was right of course, I was angry, but with my father as my witness my plan was to assault her with wit and charm.

"You're fit and young," I told her, "You don't need this parking space. Besides, the further you park from the gym the better workout you'll get."

"Shut up you old cow!" she yelled and stomped away.

I didn't see it coming. I expected "bitch" or "asshole" but not Old Cow.

Her comment hit a major artery—embarrassment and rage oozed from my veins.

I did my best to compose myself while we wearily made our way into the theater.

Old Cow echoed in my head as I eased my father into his seat before heading to the concession stand to get him a large buttered popcorn, a super-sized pack of Twizzlers and Milk Duds. Food, especially candy, had become a major source of joy to Dad and it was a bargaining chip in our movie excursion.

"Oh boy!" he said when I approached him with my arms full of treats.

Just as the movie was about to start, I handed him a pair of beefy, black plastic, 3D glasses.

"What are these?" he asked.
"They're glasses that make the images on the screen POP," I explained.
"Can I keep them?" he asked.
"No," I said.

As the theater lights darkened and the sound erupted, Dad leaned towards me and whispered, "Will you steal them for me?"

"No Dad, I will not. We run a security company. How bad would it look if we were busted for stealing?” I scolded him.

"Well then," he proclaimed, "I’ll steal them."

He looked adorable in his glasses and I was pleasantly surprised to see how focused he was on the movie.

In contrast, I was consumed with worry.
What if Miss Fit is seeking revenge? What if she scratches the car or slashes our tires? Can't believe she called me an old cow. My father's the old cow, not me.

We waited until the crowd dispersed before making our way past the well placed, overflowing bin of returned glasses. Dad "hid" his tightly in his right hand and held onto me loosely with his left.

"We did it," he said as we exited the theater. "We pulled a fast one!"

When we arrived at the car, I was relieved to discover that it was unharmed.

As we pulled out of the parking lot Dad put his 3D glasses back on and flashed me a Cheshire cat grin.

He had a lot to say on our ride home. It was as if his 3D glasses gave him superhuman powers. "Slow down Shannon, you're driving too fast. That's an unmarked police car following us. Look out for that cat!" 

I knew I was driving well under the speed limit. I knew that the 1997 Buick "tailing us" was NOT a police car. And I knew that a clown crossing the road was more probable than a cat. But most important, I knew not to argue with Dad when he needed to be right.

"Did you like the movie?" I asked.
"It was okay," he answered.
"Weren't the visual effects fabulous?"
"Sure," he said.
"What an adventure,”
"Yep," he replied non-enthusiastically.
"They say it cost over 230 million to make," I declared.
"Ridiculous," stated Dad.

When my kids were young, in an effort to get them to elaborate about their day, I would ask them to tell me their favorite part.

"So Dad, what was your favorite part?" I asked.

Without missing a beat, he smiled wide and chuckled, "When that girl called you an Old Cow."

What a memory Dad gave me. I laugh every time I think of it. I laugh at the sight of cows. Sometimes I laugh as I pour milk into my morning coffee.

xo, MonkeyME


Monday, February 10, 2014

Tender, Loving, Care

Love Tree Google image

I am in the middle of my sixth round of chemo. For my particular cancer a round is defined as one infusion of a chemotherapy drug called oxaliplatin (formerly known as "the fairy infusion" and now referred to as "the devil") immediately followed by two weeks of another drug called xeloda. This is useless information unless you have colorectal cancer. If you're lucky, you will label this as useless information and discard it from your memory.

I have two more rounds to go. It is pure hell. I am miserable.

My body is mad at me. Every minor ailment I had prior to cancer is now magnified. My gums are receding and my teeth feel like they're falling out. My hair is thinning and my face is broken out. I am nauseous and have a constant metallic taste in my mouth. I have random shocks of pain throughout my body so intense that it causes me to scream. My fingers and toes are numb and pained by the slightest degree of cold. My eyes hurt. The inside of my nose hurts and bleeds. I am exhausted. My muscles ache. Like I said, I am miserable.

This coupled with the end of my marriage, the end of my breasts, and the addition of a colostomy bag, is a lot to digest.

At times, it is difficult to grasp the severity of my illness because, despite five cancer diagnoses (two melanoma's, breast cancer in both breasts, and now colorectal cancer), I have not experienced any symptoms directly related to the cancer - to the cure (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) yes, but not to the cause. There has been nothing to feel or see. No lumps, no pains, no warning signs, no history of illness of any kind.

It is also difficult to accept that my treatment is so toxic, so debilitating, that the long term side effects will severely diminish my quality of life.

Being declared "cancer free" after radiation and surgery does not mean cancer is behind me. It means there is no evidence of disease, or NED as it is referred to. It's not a matter of if my cancer will return, but when. How long of a reprieve will I have? That's where the odds are stacked against me.  My diagnosis of a T3, low level, rectal tumor simply means it was advanced and in a bad spot. It's hard to find things that are in my favor. This is not a defeatist attitude. This is my truth.

Yes, there are holistic approaches, alternative medicines that I have incorporated into my healing, but the blueprint of my medical evaluation remains.

This is the vortex I am stuck in. It's hard to read this and not feel pity for me yet that is the last thing I need or want.

Despite the gloom, there are good days and on those days I rebound with gratitude and glee. I had one of those days last week when Monkey Gurl, my daughter Ling, pal Christopher (aka Man-Child) and I, attended a Lauryn Hill concert at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York.

Image by Scott Harris

It was a magical night. Lauryn was supercharged and sassy and her band was synchronized and mesmerized by her command. Afterwards she brought her children on stage, including her first born, Zion.

How beautiful if nothing more
Than to wait at Zion's door
I've never been in love like this before
Now let me pray to keep you from
The perils that will surely come
See life for you my Prince has just begun
And I thank you for choosing me
To come through unto life to be
A beautiful reflection of His grace 
See I know that a gift so great 
Is only one God could create
And I'm reminded every time I see your face

The joy of my world is in Zion.

Kerry, my first born, loved Lauryn Hill and the Fugees. His birthday is Sunday, February 16th. As much as I try to celebrate his birth, it is a painful reminder of what we, those who love him with every ounce of our existence, lost.

But Kerry was with us that night at Capitol Theater when Lauryn played to a sold out crowd. And I could feel his joy as he witnessed Ling and I together - swaying to Lauryn's soulful, sustainable groove.

I love how music brings us togethers. I love that my daughter devours music - not just from her contemporaries, but from artist of different eras and different genres. It makes me think I raised her right.

After the show, outside the Capitol Theater, I am slapped out of my trance when an arrogant, twenty-something FLEA, wearing a wrinkled, Brooks Brothers shirt, rudely interrupts a conversation I am having with a lovely, Latin, Lauryn Hill fan by stepping directly between us and offering to give her a ride, "anywhere she wants" via his "car service." And then, as a sign of intent, he pulls out his old school flip-phone and asks her if she is ready for a "sweet ride."

His crudeness is awkwardly dismissed by the Latin Miss but not by Monkey Me. Because I have no filter, or perhaps because I enjoy dismantling what I surmise is the silver spooned spawn of an elitist, I ask, "Is it true that the size of a man's phone corresponds to the size of his penis?"

(I've publicly poked fun at a man's penis before and it didn't go well, so you think I would have learned my lesson)

She laughs.
I laugh.
He shouts,"You know what you are?"

When I don't answer he steps closer and repeats, this time with conviction,
"Do... You... Know... What... You ARE!!!"

All I could think was...
Please don't call me an old cow, please don't call me an old cow, please, please, PLEASE don't call me an old cow...

(Yes, this has happened before)

"You... are a SCRUB!" he barks.

A scrub? Really? I'm a scrub?

"But a scrub can't get no love," I say.

"Do you know what a scrub is?" he asks, ignoring my clever retort.

At this point, I have no choice but to get all TLC on him.

A scrub is a guy that thinks he's fly.
And is also know as a bust-er.
Always talkin' about what he wants 
and just sits on his broke ass.

"Pretend I'm Left Eye," I say and then break into a pitiful robot dance while singing,

NO, I don't want your number 
NO, I don't wanna give you mine and 
NO, I don't wanna meet you nowhere
NO, I don't want none of your time...

True, I am off-key and my robot looks more like a rag doll, but I am having fun at his expense.

There are a few blurry parts after that. I might have mentioned that I was a "Kennedy." Typically, I only use this line prior to major surgery when I beg the OR staff not to let another Kennedy die.

Blushed crimson with rage he shouts, "At least no one from my family got shot in the face," and then he follows that up with, "My family's been here since 1642, my family's been here since 1642..." or something that sounded very Mayflowerish.

At this point I realize that he is unstable so I move one step closer and shout..."LOVE!!!"

Not just once, but over and over and over again.

I add a peace sign, which I think in all honestly started off as a two fingered, evil eye hand sign (something my mother is famous for) and then I soften it into a sign of solidarity.

Luckily, my daughter has a cluster of handsome men surrounding her and when they realize Ling's Mom is in trouble (causing trouble) they bravely back up my LOVE chant.

With a chorus of LOVE in full force, Monkey Gurl pulls me out of the crowd and away we sway.

Clearly my Shannonigan's will not earn me the mother of the year award but it will give my daughter something to hold onto long after I'm gone.

The gift in my cancer is being astutely aware that my time here is limited. As I continue to search for my life's true purpose, I call upon the wisdom of artists - musicians, poets and visionaries - to lead me towards the positive. Steadily I weave moments into memories.

xo, MonkeyME

“There were a number of different reasons I left... But partly, the support system that I needed was not in place. There were things about myself, personal-growth things, that I had to go through in order to feel like it was worth it.” Lauryn Hill when asked why walked away from fame.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison