Category Archives: Families and Change

Searching for Normal

Days start, some in the wee hours and some at what, in my before-cancer-life, was what I considered a normal time. My run to the bathroom my first clue of how the day is going to unfold. Two things happen in the bathroom that reminds me that my life has fundamentally changed: the quick glance in the mirror that shows either a bald head or, if its been a cold night, a yellow hat knitted lovingly by my friend, Sharon or a colorful bandana supplied by my friend, Pam that I put on at some point during the night. Then there is the pause to remind myself to disinfect the toilet seat and cover before and after flushing. After these relatively quick occurrences, I monitor the time I choose to spend in front of the mirror preparing for what happens next.

(Just a side note about the bathroom. [Warning: Might be TMI] Due to the type of chemo I’m receiving, my bodily fluids are considered toxic waste. So no spitting, sneezing, tissue sharing, sex, or toilet flushing without hazardous waste precautions. In the bathroom that means a toilet wipe down with a anti-bacterial wipe after every use. Never has our toilet sparkled as it does these days.)

Tuesday is a no choice day. Get ready for a trip to the Marshfield Cancer Center for my weekly Chemo Treatment. Feels almost regular. What am I going to wear? What time is my appointment? Who’s going with me? What do I need to bring? Is it a meet with the Doctor week so get your questions ready or just blood work and chemo, so bring a good book or charged iPad? I can almost convince myself that it’s like getting ready to go give a speech as long as I don’t think too hard.

Saturday is also pretty easy. Miriam is going to pick me up at 7:00 am for our normal Weight Watchers routine: weigh in, meeting at 8:00 am, run to the Farmer’s Market for eggs and a great Mother/Daughter discussion over coffee and breakfast at Patina’s. Back home for a nap.

It’s the other days of the week that can be tricky. Those are days I have to make a decision. Am I chemo tired and need to just be lazy, depression tired and need to give into to feeling sorry for myself for a while, or am I attitude tired and need to give myself one of those motivational, change is good presentations I’ve preached to others and just get on with it? Why, I think on these days, can’t things go back to normal? When days were filled with possibilities and activities destined to bring an unfolding future.

It’s not that I’m giving up or that I’m unwilling to fight and do everything possible to have a long and productive future; it’s just that right now with the information I have and the short-term options available, the futures not looking so promising.

Actually if you’ve read this far, please know that this is a good day. As speakers were taught not to share emotional stories with our audience until we’ve thoroughly processed those emotions for ourselves. As a writer, especially in a forum like this, I guess we get a little more leeway. I certainly haven’t finished processing this experience. Guess it will take the rest of my life to get it figured out! For those of you who know me as an upbeat, positive, change-has-a-silver-lining kind of a person, I’m certain this is difficult to read. However, writing this truthfully is helpful for me.

Collateral Damage

I grew up with a storybook mother, not perfect, but close to it.

• Day long birthday celebrations started with mom delivering a breakfast muffin with a lit candle while singing happy birthday.
• Expressions of love including hugs and kisses were given in abundance.
• Sunday dinner was at the dining room table with china, crystal, linen tablecloth and napkins, and gentle etiquette lessons.
• Curiosity was encouraged and rewarded with both praise and tokens.
• When I was sick, she was the world’s most attentive nurse.

All my life, my friends expressed their desire to have her for a mother, a request she usually accommodated. She was my cheerleader, my confident, and my problem sounding board.

Now she is 94, residing in an assisted living facility, has Alzheimers, and I have cancer.

Visiting her means figuring out strategies to hide both my baldness and my diagnosis. Explaining what’s actually happening would require a complete explanation each visit – a task beyond my emotional strength. Answering her questions about my new affinity for wearing hats as a part of my wardrobe is taxing even my fiction spinning ability. Deflecting her attention on me runs counter to my lifetime basking in being the center of her attention. The entire family has, by necessity, become partners in this minor conspiracy of deception.

I just want my mommy!

A New Journey Begins

I’m writing this as a story so I can pretend we’re sitting together over a good cup of coffee or a great glass of wine and laughing and crying together. It would have been my preference to share this news with you that way because I know the conversation would be filled with hugs and encouragement.
Early in my speaking career I heard the maxim, “We teach what we most need to learn.” I speak on Change.

On Tuesday, January 10th I went in for my annual mammogram thinking I’d be in the clinic for an hour or so, Four hours later, after a second mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, and a consultation with a radiologist, I headed home driving in a snowstorm (In fiction that would be called foreshadowing.) In typical speaker style, my phone rang while I was checking into a hotel before a speech that Friday night. It was the Radiologist with the biopsy report. “It’s cancer, Chris,” she said as gently as possible. “We’ve got you scheduled with our top oncologist as well as my favorite surgeon next week.” I guess this is what they call off and running.

More tests, lessons in nuclear medicine, forms and insurance approval led to the following Monday’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement throughout my body. Good news is my brain, lungs, and liver are clear. We have an aggressive plan of Chemotherapy that started this Tuesday.

As you can imagine Frank and I and the kids are working to figure this new chapter in our lives together. It’s pretty raw and comes with a steep learning curve. (Gary Rifkin would explain that my input strength is working in overdrive!)

At this point I’m adjusting to my body’s reaction to the chemo and figuring out what my new normal is going to be so I’m not really up for phone calls. I would be eternally grateful for notes (P.O. Box 37, Wausau, WI 54402-0037) and emails ( Since I don’t have a clear picture of how the treatments are going to play out, flexibility is our current action plan.
That speech on Change Friday night after I got the news—well, I nailed it. The audience and I laughed and learned together and my client was thrilled. When I got up to my room, I filled the oversized bathtub with a hot bubble bath, got in and cried because of a change I didn’t choose or want. Then I dried off and reviewed the slides I had just used and the messages I had shared with my audience and applied them to myself.

I close all of my programs with my favorite Seneca quote. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” This one is difficult and with your help, I’m going to dare.

Chris who feels blessed with your friendship

On The Ice

Note: Quinn is now nine years old and still plays hockey and spends most of his time upright because he's become a pretty good skater.

Change in the Hockey Rink

Originally posted Saturday, November 26, 2005

My five year old grandson,
Quinn, has started playing hockey. Saturday morning at 11:00 is practice. His
call came at 9:15.

"Grandpa, are you coming to

Yes, Quinn I'll be there."

"Is Ahma? And if she says
no, tell her she has to come."

His first 3 practices found me
out-of-town – an excuse that carries little weight when you're five – so this
was the you-could-get-toppled-from-the-top-of-the-grandparents-list session. I
knew my job: be there and smile a lot. (Smiling not laughing, just to be
clear.) It occurred to me as I watched that five-year olds do change pretty
well. Think of what hockey does to your world.

Skating not walking.

Coaches not parents.

Ice not grass.

Rules for everything.

Oh, by the way, this is all at once! The minute you venture out on the ice
everything is different and the only way you can change back is to leave the
rink – with everybody else watching you give up.

So, you fall down a lot! The adults in the stands think it's cute and comment
on the luck of a lower center of gravity. You just think it's hard – falling on
ice – what's a center of gravity any way? You look around and watch all the
other kids and do what they do – get up every time you fall. That's right,
every time you fall you get back up and skate a little further the next time.

Practice is only 45 minutes. When you're done you go into the locker room,
change out of your gear with your Dad's help, towel off the sweat, and come out
to hear your mom, your Grandpa, and your Ahma tell you you did a great job. But
still you'd really like a nap. And because you're 5 that's exactly what you do!
No apologies cause no matter what age, change can be hard and naps are a good
Quinn's Hockey Nap




What Do You Rule?

I spent yesterday with my middle grandson, Elroy, who was wearing a yellow crown he made at a local art event. When asked why he had a crown on, he replied matter-of-factly, "I'm the King of Pretending."Elroy_thomas

Wow! What confidence in that statement. At 5, most of us believed that we could do anything. If we were fortunate, we were surrounded by people who reinforced that belief.

Aging affects more than memory, strength, and health. It can, if we don't pay attention, undermine our self-confidence. When was the last time you announce yourself the King or Queen of anything. Out loud. In public. With a crown on you head.

This lessening of belief in your ability is a change you don't have to accept! You just have to practice claiming your unique talents and abilities. Out loud. In public.

By the way, a crown helps!

What Happened to 40 years?

My son, Paul will turn 40 this fall. Now, unless I can convince people that it is common for a child of 10 to give birth, this is as big a deal for me as it is for him. Part of me clings to the wonderful boy who presented me with a box full of snakes -"They’re so little mom, can’t I keep them in my bedroom?" – who told me it was okay if I stood up in front of church and talked "as long as you’re not going to be bad at it" and who never backed away when I asked for a kiss. But he is not a boy any more, he is a man. A tall, handsome, smart, compassionate, 40 year old man who presented me with my first grandchild, Quinn.

Quinn is now 7 and so much like his father it makes my heart ache in the most lovely way. Quinn adores and participates in sports – hockey, soccer, and flag football so far. He loves when we show up for games, asks me to tell one more story about his dad when he was little, and, like his father, never backs away when I ask for a kiss.

Today is Mother’s Day and Quinn walked into the restaurant carrying a card and, with a telling grin on his face, handed it to me back side up. The picture below graced the back of the envelope.


Now, just in case you can’t interpret 7 year old art, his story reads Quinn plus Josie (his sister – you can tell by the long hair) plus Elroy (his cousin, son of my daughter Miriam and son-in-law John) equals Ahma (more long hair) and love.

Okay, I’m will to give up the illusion of being a young mother with an adorable son for the reality of being an Ahma with 3 precious grandchildren. That’s love all right and a change I can live with!