*to be drunk when you have time in your pocket
**based on a true story...loosely
It wasn't the cancer that stopped Jody in midair, making her hover in the space above the then and the tomorrow. It was the idea of eating cardboard for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was the vision of her sitting on the velour couch, by herself, the lights of the t.v. reflecting in her glazed eyes. She was stranded not by the words Papillary Thyroid Cancer, written out for her by the endocrinologist, but by these ideas- the 'after the cancer came' ideas. It wasn't at the intersection of left or right, die or live, that left her baffled about which way to turn. The road, dirty as it was going to be, was what kept her awake at night.
She worked with kindergardeners by day, picking up their toys, pulling on their mittens, zipping their zippers. She taught the elderly at night, in a pool, how to keep their feet moving, their arms going, their blood pumping. She fought tirelessly at home for a clean house, laundering her two young children's and her husband's dirty clothes, wiping down surfaces continuously. Her family did little to help, and they couldn't afford outside help, so Jody did it all. She was constantly moving, organizing, packing lunches, unpacking backpacks, drying bathing suits, picking out books to read to her students. She slept well before the doctors wrote the words down for her.
They guessed she had Follicular Papillary Thyroid Cancer (with a capital C) and they sat around the oval table and one of the doctors, the only one willing to look Jody in the eye, described this kind of cancer as being like an arm of an umbrella. And the wind in her mind started to rise up and her umbrella started to blow backwards against itself and then it was bent. Her husband, in his silent but strong way, saw that Jody was starting to implode and he reached under the table and touched her hand which brought her back to the oval table in time for her to hear the words, 'most treatable form'.
And then the planning began. The who will come when, who will bring what, who will take them and where and how will this all work out? She worked at keeping life moving despite wondering if this umbrella was ever going to keep the rain off her head ever again. And so the sleepless nights commenced. There was many a night that she just had to pull herself over the side of the bed and look out at the street lights. Never before had she seen so much of the inside of the darkness, but there she sat hours upon hours thinking about her daughter and all her sass and her son and how his little feet were just finding his path. And she would climb back into bed with her silent but strong husband and finally let sleep cover her wondering.
Jody knew that it was going to take some broken nails and sweaty brows to beat this thing but it was the searching for the gumption that she didn't realize would knock her down. Surgery to take out her thyroid was planned for 12:50 p.m. Jody left that morning to drop the kids off at daycare and her fear snuck up behind her by the cubbies, where she held on too tightly to her daughter, "Momma, you're hurting me." "Sweet girl, I'm sorry. I'm just sad I won't be able to see you for a few days. You know Momma loves you right?" And her daughter nodded in agreement but wiggled out of her grip to go play at the sand table. And Jody watched longer than she normally does and wiggled herself, too, of the fears that were starting to seep into the cracks in her face that were normally stretched tight with bravery.
The surgery took four hours and Jody walked out of the hospital the next day without her thyroid or the racquetball-sized tumor attached to it. The scar on her neck was smaller than she imagined, but the drain in her incision made her realize how close her insides were to the outside, as she watched oozing liquids escape through this route. She imagined that if there was any cancer left in her that it was seeping through these waterways and down the drain in the shower. Never to be seen again.
Jody slept and barely ate. She wasn't allowed to pick up the kids and so they would sit with her, quietly on the velour couch, not sure what they were able to touch and what they shouldn't. She complimented them on how gentle they were being around her and she kissed them as often as they would let her. She was alone during the day while everybody was gone. She rested and watched t.v.- something she never had time to do. She read magazines, books, wrote in her journal. She was more determined than ever to practice her mindfulness, something she had been meaning to work on.
The lying around part was difficult, but Jody knew it was only going to get harder. The pathology report came back undetermined. The pathologists in her small local hospital couldn't identify the exact nature of the tumor and so they sent it to the Mayo clinic for further examination. And so news, via layers of dense bloody tissue, was printed again on a piece of white paper: Papillary Thyroid Cancer. Again, in capital letters.
And the treatment- radioactive iodine treatment- rolled off her friendly doctor's tongue like a lyrical song. But there was nothing beautiful about it. No musical notes sprang over Jody's head as she sat across from her friend, who slobbered her face in gravy fries, as Jody choked down homemade bread and hummus, and plain unsalted corn chips- all a part of the low iodine diet, preparation for the "treatment". There was no sweet song in the background as Jody got to eat this morning's newspaper as the rest of her family ate what the neighbor's left on the doorstep...homemade macaroni and cheese, pasta with red sauce and meatballs, pork roast. Jody chose to eat the classifieds by herself on the velour couch.
The Thyrogen, the medicine Mr. Happyface prescribed for Jody to make her hypothyroid, was on order. It took a week and a half. And in this waiting zone, Jody dove deeper into her spaces, places she had never really looked into, scanned, dusted, folded, organized. She decided to do some reorganizing, refolding, redesigning. She dusted off the treadmill and started walking. And she found boxes of fabric samples that she garnered from furniture stores. She had a plan for them a long time ago, before Sassy girl and a little boy who was just learning how to walk and before an umbrella whipped backwards and busted up in her face. She opened these books of fabric and started cutting and combining colors, patterns, shapes. She laid the fabric pieces in piles on the floor in the living room. And asked the kids not to touch them. And then when the Thyrogen came in she went to the hospital. And in a special padded room, Jody sat on a padded table. Her robe draped over her iodine free body and she was cold. A Radiation Safety Officer walked into the room carrying a lead container. She couldn't tell if the officer was a man or a woman; he/she had a full body suit covering his/her body, except for the eyes. Jody tried to make a joke about the suit, hoping it had no holes in it, but she couldn't make out if he/she smiled so she just watched as the Officer poured out her radioactive pill into a cup and handed it to Jody. She took the cup and swallowed the little pill and then drank the water. And that was it.
Except now she needed to be in isolation for 6 days. 6 more days with her self. With her spaces and crevices. She was able to eat normally again, although her stomach wasn't up for it. And so the withering began, except she wasn't willing to let that happen. She fought. With milkshakes. Somehow the outside world found out that the milkshakes were what she could eat and everyday there was a new flavor waiting for her on the front stoop and she would look periodically outside the big picture window right above the velour couch to see if a new one had arrived. And in between the slurping she maneuvered her way to the sewing room and started to piece together the spaces and crevices and patches and pieces of the furniture samples. The hum of the sewing machine could be heard by dog walkers and night walkers and the friends who dropped the milkshakes. And sometimes Jody would look out the big picture window, but mostly she sat at her sewing desk and hummed away.
Her little boy was sick with the stomach bug and all Jody could do was commiserate with her mother (Mammie) because the kids were at her house, so Jody walked on the treadmill for a little bit to shed the weight of the guilt, and when the hum of the sewing machine would echo in her head she would turn on the t.v. again. But always when the sun poked through her blinds in the morning she would pop up to grind away at the sewing machine. And on the 6th day when the children blew open the door and Sassy girl was carrying a chocolate cake she made for Momma and dinner was brought by Nina and everyone got to sleep in their own beds, Jody got to watch everyone move sweetly throughout the house once again.
The next morning it was snowing. A heavy deep snow, an all day snow. The walk was unshoveled, cars buried. The excitement of a reunion was wearing away. The kids were exploring their own space and Sassy girl made her way into the sewing room. "Momma!" Jody heard from where she sat with her silent and strong husband in the kitchen. "Yes, darlin." "Momma!" Jody could hear Sassy girl walking from the sewing room. "Yes, dear." She did not get up from her seat at the table and Sassy girl came around the corner with eight hand bags over her shoulders. It was hard to see her tiny body behind all the colorful patterns and fabric squares, all sewed together to form perfect designer bags. Jody laughed out loud. "Momma? What are these?" "Sweet girl, those are for the children." "The children? Momma, they're too big for children." "No sweetie girl, the money...the money they're gonna raise. It's going to the children who have dreams, but they get cancer, and then they fight their cancer and live and then when they can, the money will go to the children to help them finish those dreams." And then Sassy girl said, as she laboriously turned to walk back to the sewing room, dragging the bags behind her, "Momma, they're heavy with dreams." And Jody smiled, "Yeah, sweet girl," looking at Sassy girl's wake, "we're all full of heavy dreams."