Ew. I don’t even like that song (although Gloria Estefan is one of those people I think I’d like if I knew her—not as much as I think I’d like Dolly Parton, but still). But for some reason, I can’t start typing until I’ve come up with a title. So let’s let this one be a working title, and see if I land on something else by the time I’m done (in which case I’ll have to delete this paragraph . . . but I digress).
YOU GUYS. I am getting SO CLOSE to being done with treatment. In 2023 alone, I have leapt through a bunch of flaming hoops:
- Chemo infusions — DONE in January.
- Mastectomy — DONE in February.
- Radiation — DONE (THANK GAWWWWWD) in May.
- Immunotherapy — DONE in August.
- Chemo pills — ONE WEEK LEFT, BABY.
OK, technically, each “cycle” of the oral chemo involves two weeks of daily pill popping, and one week of popping nothing, so if you want to get official, my last cycle will be done in TWO weeks, but the last group of pills will take their plunge down my esophagus in about a week.
In addition, now that I’m largely healed from the horrors of radiation, I’ve been meeting regularly with my plastic surgeon, who’s been slowly refilling the expander in my right boob (which he’d UNfilled prior to radiation, to get it out of the way of the hell beams), so I’m mostly symmetrical now! He says he may do one more fill in November during my consult for my December 12 reconstruction surgery, but otherwise, I won’t see him again for a couple of months.
As for Dr. Cool and Calm (the oncologist), he’s kind of cooling our relationship, too. I had a three-week follow-up with him after my immunotherapy ended, and now he doesn’t want to see me again for a whole MONTH (after which he’s talking maybe THREE months before we meet again).
In different circumstances, I would feel unloved, but in THESE circumstances, I can’t say I mind being ghosted a little.
I HAVE rekindled the flame with my favorite occupational therapist, because following the radiation, I was starting to experience diminished range of motion AND a bit of lymphedema on my left side (not in my arm, but in my torso just below my armpit, which resulted in the consistent sensation of smuggling a hamster under there. So I’m working weekly with her on increasing range of motion and lymphatic flow, which hurts a little, but there are no needles involved, so SCORE.
Really, my only complaint at this point is joint pain (in both knees, and in one elbow—it’s the elbow pain that’s kicking my ass) which can be a side effect of the chemo pills I’m on. So my hope is that it will dissipate once I’m done with the pills, because I’ve just rejoined the Y, and am trying to start running again (which has been . . . damn unpretty and kind of unpleasant, but I haven’t given up).
(My elder son is trying to get me into weightlifting, too, and I’m proud to announce that I can bench . . .
. . . wait for it . . .
FIFTY POUNDS, Baby. Awwww, yehhhhh. Next stop: Hillbilly Havoc.)
And in other good news: at some point, I should be getting my port removed! Not gonna lie; I’ve been a little nervous that once the immunotherapy infusions were over, Dr. Cool and Calm was going to recommend leaving the port in for awhile, on a “just in case” basis. I’ve already heard plenty of stories about people keeping their ports in for months or even YEARS following chemo, and I just kind of figured that since I scored a pretty aggressive form of cancer, I’d be walking around with a circular bump in my chest kind of indefinitely. Which would be fine, I mean it doesn’t HURT or anything—but it would also be a little deflating as well, y’know?
So when the time came to meet with Dr. CaC last week, I was prepared to negotiate: if he thought I had a 70% chance or better of making it at least 2 years without a recurrence, I wanted the port out. If not, I’d leave it in (and go home and cry a lot and eat a shit ton of candy corn)—but then if I DID make it the two years, and there was no sign of recurrence at that point, I wanted it out ASAP. However, when it finally came up at our last visit, the conversation went something like this:
Dr. C: So yeah, it looks like you’re almost done with everything [in terms of treatment].
Dr. C: And your reconstruction is in December?
Dr. C: And your port? Is that coming out?
Me [girding my loins for the negotiations to come]: Well, I was going to ask YOU about that. Do you have a recommendation?
Dr. C: I mean . . . yeah, you’re done with it, so let’s get it out.
Me: [Ungirding loins and suppressing a slightly teary urge to make out with him] OK.
Unfortunately, the plastic surgeon isn’t going to remove it (I was hoping it could just be yoinked during the reconstruction—like a two (or three, since there will be two new boobies?) for one special), so Dr. CaC is going to put in an order with the oncology surgeon who installed the port, and the surgeon’s office should be calling me to schedule a date for port removal, sometime after I’m done with the chemo pills. Although it might be pushing it, I’d really like to get THAT done before the end of 2023 as well, because free surgery is DA BOMB.
S0, anyway. Wow. The end of this tunnel is in sight, man. A year ago, I was bald, browless, occasionally nauseated, and making jokes about being Powder for Halloween, and now, here I am, rocking my Mrs. Roper vibe (which would make for an EXCELLENT Halloween costume, but my stubborn littler dude, WHO IS SEVEN, has already decided he does NOT want to Trick or Treat this year, because he’s getting too old for it . . . WHO EVEN IS HE??? It’s like he was born 67 years old. Buuuuuut I digress).
Be it ever so humble . . .
And what will have changed (other than my hairdo) when I pop out into the light? Still figuring that out. In the meantime, I look for clues—which, so far, seem to be leading me in the direction of my hometown past.
Several weeks ago, I ran across a post in a Topeka History Facebook group; the poster uploaded a series of old photographs of Black Topekans in the 1920s and 30s, and asked the group if anyone could help identify the people therein. Although I no longer even try to pretend I’m a spring chicken, the photos were a little before my time. So I figured I’d ask my mother, because she an even older-ass chicken than I am, and—having grown up in an era when Topeka was pretty damn segregated—tends to be familiar with most of the OG Black Topeka families.
(This used to drive me NUTS as a teenager; for one thing, my parents literally had hundreds of eyes on me most of the time, so I couldn’t get away with ANYTHING. Case in point: once, when I was learning to drive, I talked my brother (13 years my senior), who was visiting from St. Louis, into taking me out to practice after school . . . and before we even got back home, someone had reported to my parents that they’d seen me driving a car with a BOY in it (why that someone had recognized ME but not MY BROTHER, I dunno, but even WORSE was the fact that my parents didn’t even think about the possibility that my brother might be the “boy” in the car, so they were loaded for bear when we got home). So I just grew up assuming that any Black Topekan my parents’ age or older was part of their intricate spy network. When I became an adult, it became kind of charming to have a total stranger look at me and exclaim, “You’re Teeny’s daughter!” or “You look JUST LIKE your mother!” but during that precious, pimply time in life when you spend half your waking hours wanting the earth to suck you right down into a hole where you can bathe in all your solitary emo, that shit can be unsettling AF. But I digress.)
Being me, I got distracted by all the things, and forgot to show my mom the photos for a couple of weeks. But then, during our weekly Sunday breakfast a few weeks ago, I finally remembered to fire up my iPad and pull them up for her. As she scrolled through them, she said that some of the faces looked familiar, but no names were coming to mind.
Suddenly, she stopped on a photo of two men in bellhop uniforms.
“That’s LaVae!” she said.
She’d found her (maternal) uncle. She continued to scroll, and found a second photo of him by himself, which delighted the hell out of her.
(And I must say that although I’d already looked through the photos a couple of times myself, it wasn’t until my mom identified her mother’s brother in two of them that I looked at those particular photos and found it incredible that his face hadn’t looked familiar to me. He looks basically like a man version of my maternal grandmother (whom I’ve never met, as she passed away a decade and a half before I came along, but my mom has always kept a couple of pictures of her prominently displayed). But I digress. Again. Surprise.)
I went into the comments on the Facebook post to offer up identification of my great uncle, and saw that the original poster had added an additional comment, to say that the whole collection of photos is owned by the Denver Art Museum.
As luck would have it, I was boarding a plane to Denver THE VERY NEXT DAY, to attend the annual two-day “IRL” conference my (Denver-based) company floofs up every year, to corral us all from our remote locations and bring us into each other’s faces.
So now, in addition to gaining insights and inspiration from C-suite executive keynotes and getting up close and personal with the chin hairs and nose pores of people I’d previously only seen through a Zoom filter, I had a mission: visit the Denver Art Museum in search of my ancestor.
I did some Google searching, and found a web page dedicated to the photos . . . but I was unable to determine, from that information, whether the photos were actually on display in the museum. I did, however, learn that the photos had been purchased by the museum at an auction in New York City, and that apparently nobody AT the museum had any idea who any of the people in the photos were. So I figured if I was going to go to the museum in search of the photos, I should try to talk to someone there, to ID my great uncle (and to let them know there’s an old lady in Kansas who could tell them more of his story).
I’ll skip to the end of that story: I ditched lunch on the last day of the conference to hoof it over to the museum, but I did not get to lay eyes on the collection, or knowledge on the collection curator; however, the person with whom I spoke was very kind and helpful, and I walked away with contact information for both the curator and the Denver Art Museum photography department (and also with about $75 worth of overpriced art museum gift shop trinkets to take home to my family), so the trip wasn’t an entire bust.
And there’s MORE.
On the final night of the conference, all thousand or so of us were bussed to a fancy event venue for a party featuring roughly a million food stations (heavy hors-d’oeuvres, basically, but you know your girl managed to get miserably full on itty bitty tacos and mozzarella balls), an open bar, and a live band.
In other words, a bit of overstimulation for Yours Truly, who’s REALLY been leaning into the perqs of remote work.
So by about 9 p.m., after what felt like 172 conversations with 172 amazing people, I was ready to call it. I saw that the busses that had brung us were parked outside the venue and waiting to shuttle people back to the hotel (at 20-minute intervals, the sign said), so I boarded the first one in line (a different one from the one I’d ridden TO the party), and sank gratefully into the seat right behind the driver.
A couple of other people had already boarded, so as we waited for takeoff, I struck up a (173rd) conversation with the man across the aisle from me.
It didn’t take long for the topic to turn to tried and true, “Where are you from?” Typically, when this question comes up, I always answer, “Kansas City,” because I figure people from other parts of the country will be far more familiar with that than they will be with the suburb half an hour south of Kansas City where I ACTUALLY live.
However, when I said, “Kansas City,” the man seated BEHIND the man I was talking to piped up and said he lives in the suburb where I live!
So naturally, he became part of the conversation: I learned what part of town he lives in, where his kids go to school (plus what sports the younger one plays, and what the college-aged one is studying) . . . and then I started to feel like I was sounding kind of stalker-ish with my line of questioning, so I pulled back a little and asked him how long he’d lived in our little town.
“Thirteen years,” he answered, and then asked, “How about you? Is that where you grew up, or . . . ?”
“Oh, NO,” I responded. “I grew up in TOPEKA.” And I was just about to launch into my schpiel about how I’d left Topeka at age 18 for college in Atlanta, and was determined NEVER TO GO BACK TO KANSAS—until a dozen years later, when I went back to Kansas . . .
. . . but I didn’t get a chance to, because at that point, the BUS DRIVER (who by then had started the engine and had us en route back to the hotel) piped up and said, “Excuse me—I hate to interrupt, but did you say Topeka? I have family from Topeka!”
Long story (involving more stalker-ish conversation) short, turns out one of my mom’s closest friends (who’s lived in Seattle since before I was born, but I’ve known her my whole life, as she makes frequent visits “back home”; she’s met Love Tank and my kids, and once sent my elder kid $20 because she was impressed with his eight-year-old grasp of politics (hint: he was eight years old in 2016) . . . but I digress) IS THIS GUY’S GREAT AUNT.
I got his name and contact information to pass along to her, all while the jaw of the dude I’d ORIGINALLY started talking to dropped closer and closer to the floor of the bus.
That guy may very well think I’m some sort of sorceress now.
And the truth is, it was all kind of magical . . . but at that point, I was too exhausted to fully process it. But one thing that occurred to me as I drifted off to sleep that night was that the “Serendipity” theme of that day’s C-suite keynote speech had been spot-on.
And as if all this weren’t enough, my Topeka past continued to nudge me in the days following my return from the conference.
One thing many of you know about me is that I look at real estate listings for fun and relaxation. I regularly “window shop” for vacation homes in Bella Vista, AR (because I think Northwest Arkansas is really pretty, but mostly because my ideal vacation home would be a relatively short drive from where I live, which would allow for impromptu Friday-night decisions to head there for the weekend—and there aren’t many other pretty places that are easily driveable from here . . . but LAWD, the digression), as well as for houses in Colorado, New England, and all along the California coast (you know, in case I ever become rich enough to afford a private jet), and in my own metro area (it’s no secret that I dream of extra bedrooms, a finished basement, and a pool)—and if you tell me you’re house hunting somewhere, by golly, I will (virtually) join you in the search and send you links.
I keep a running tally of houses I like that are currently up for sale, so that if I suddenly come into a lot of money, I’ll be ready to jump.
I LOVE this shit.
So much, in fact, that when I’m desperate for new inventory to check out, I’ll even occasionally check out the listings in Topeka (the fun there is to see the homes I could afford in Topeka, as opposed to what I can afford in the Kansas City metro; I could be MUCH BOUGIER in Topeka) . . .
. . . which is what I was doing one day, when I saw a house in the “NEW” listings (I always sort by “Newest listings”) that I recognized as the childhood home of someone I knew in high school. I checked it out on the map, and sure enough, it was her house! At that point, I thought little of it (I mean, her parents probably haven’t lived there for years), and kept on scrolling . . . but then three houses down the list was ANOTHER house that used to belong to (the parents of) someone ELSE I knew in high school!
Both in the same neighborhood, both brand new on the market.
What THAT means, I have no clue, but I’m sure as hell feeling in touch with my Topeka roots these days!
Big thoughts, big dreams, and a big brown Mercedes sedan . . .
What I’m trying to get a clearer handle on these days, though, is my future; I would love to get some serendipitous glimpses of THAT now that I’m popping my whole head above the cancer treatment waters in which I’ve been eyebrow deep for the past year and a half.
So far, the crystal ball is murky, but one decision I have recently made is that my future MUST include a little old man who drives a Mercedes (and I think Love Tank will be willing to go along with this vision, because a couple of years ago, when he was desperately seeking a new car (his car engine having burst into flames on the highway), he DID check out some Mercedes models, unable as he was to find ANY new inventory for more practical, family-oriented vehicles; he eventually found and bought a hybrid Honda Accord, but there is definitely an Old Mercedes Man brewing in his soul).
Here’s what happened:
Fall-ish weather is upon us now, and after the insanely torturous late-summer temps we’ve been suffering, an 80-degree day holds a bit of a thrill. So Love Tank, who was working from home yesterday, popped into my office and invited me to go out and grab some lunch.
And although I am all kindsa behind on all kindsa projects, I figured why not? Working at home, I don’t get out much, so a quick dash out into the sunshine might do me some good.
So we headed to a cute little Mediterranean chain about 25 minutes away (if you’re in the area (or near Wichita), check out Meddy’s; huge servings of gloriously salty grub at a reasonable price) in search of lamb and hummus.
As we headed back, we noticed a (BEAUTIFUL) vintage convertible Mercedes stuck at a left-turn light, with flashers on. We pulled up alongside and asked the driver (also vintage) if he’d like a push. He said that he lived just around the corner (to the left) and about four houses down the block, and it sure would be nice to be able to call the tow truck from his own driveway. So we parked in a nearby lot and headed back over to shove him on home.
As we cautiously crossed a couple of lanes of busy midday traffic on foot, Love Tank suddenly cursed and sprinted ahead, just as another car started frantically honking. I assumed we were about to be mown down, so I started running, too, without a clear understanding of what was going on—but once my wits and my powers of observation caught up with me, I saw that the Mercedes was rolling BACKWARDS toward the car stopped behind it (the one that was honking), and that Love Tank had darted between the two cars to brace himself against the back of the Mercedes (cursing the low-tread loafers he’d chosen to wear that day) and avert a tragedy.
I feebly reached for the back right corner of the Mercedes to try to help—but in reality, it was Love Tank who saved the day (not to mention his own THIGHS, which would have suffered a greater tragedy than anyone’s bumper, had he not been able to stop the car from rolling).
Once traffic had cleared around us (and we’d assured multiple drivers-by that we were fine and didn’t need help . . . people really are lovely for the most part), we began (both behind the bumper this time) to push. (One man pulled up behind us at this point, and volunteered to push the Mercedes with his car, to relieve us of our duties, but we politely refused, fearing the damage it might cause to one or both cars—and while the other car was nothing to write home about, this Mercedes was too pretty to take that risk. But I digress.)
As we pushed, I started to think, “OK, old man, TURN! Turn the wheel! Start turning! Go LEFT!” and wondering why he wasn’t obeying my mind commands—but then he called out that the steering wheel had called it quits, and was locked up. So now there was no other choice but to stay put and call the tow truck from there.
The man stepped over to a shaded patch of grass on the other side of the street, and began trying to contact a tow truck, while Love Tank and I stayed standing behind the car, figuring that two people standing in the middle of the street would be a more obvious signal to folks that something was up and they should steer around the Mercedes.
As we stood guard (grateful once again for the glorious weather), ANOTHER old man, driving a newer model Mercedes, pulled up alongside the older Mercedes (into the diagonal-stripey area that separated the left turn lane from the straight-bound lanes) to ask if we needed help. We explained the situation, made some small talk, and he chose to stick around as well.
Y’all, I cannot tell you how quickly I fell completely in love with these two old Mercedes men. They were incredibly funny, sweet, and kind. As we chatted, Mercedes Man 1 good-naturedly told us that RIIIIIIIGHT before his car went kaput, he’d driven past a lady who’d called out, “Beautiful car!” and he’d responded, “Thanks! It’s 50 years old, and still runs great!”
10 seconds later, that car made a liar out of him.
(As we stood by the car talking, multiple other people drove by and complimented the car; I (jokingly) advised Mercedes man to STOP RESPONDING, lest he jinx himself even more.)
Eventually, Love Tank and I decided it would be OK to head off, since Mercedes Man 1 now had a buddy to wait with him for the tow truck—but as we drove away, I snagged a pic of my two new boyfs (whom I’ll likely never see again, but we’ll always have the Left Turn Lane of Love):
. . . and who knows? If I’m lucky, then maybe 30 or so years from now, I’ll have my own Old Mercedes Man to love. Fingers crossed!
Pull up to my bumper, baby . . .
From there, Love Tank and I headed toward home, secure in the knowledge that we’d been and met good humans, and that life rewards kindness accordingly.
WE WUZ WRONG.
As we passed a nursery on our way home, Love Tank asked if I had enough time (what with those work projects pressing) to stop by and check out the mums, knowing I’ve been wanting to get some. (EVERY DAMN FALL, I tell myself I’m going to plant mums in front of our house, and every damn fall goes right by mum-less; however, this fall, we’ve procured one of those signs announcing that an occupant of our house attends a particular high school and participates in extracurricular activities at said school—and wouldn’t THAT look cute surrounded by a bed of gorgeous red mums?) I figured why not? An extra 15 minutes or so away from my desk wasn’t going to make a huge difference in what I’d be able to accomplish for the day, right?
We walked around a bit, and I found plenty of mums, but I hadn’t measured the flower bed where I want to put them, and so wasn’t sure exactly what size I needed. Meanwhile, Love Tank started scoping out shrubs to plant beneath the pull-down projector screen on the back of our house, but didn’t find anything he loved. We then remembered yet ANOTHER nursery we’d visited this past spring and liked, and thought maybe we’d give up for the time being, and visit that one after work, to check out THEIR shrub/mum offerings. We headed to the parking lot, and as we sat in our car, looking up the other place on Love Tank’s phone to try to remember what it was called, we were jolted by a big THUMP! and looked to see that another car in the lot had backed into us.
Love Tank turned off the car and opened the door, preparing to get out and talk to the driver of the bumper car, survey the damage, etc.—but Ms. Bump-up-the-jam had OTHER plans, and kept right on driving toward the parking lot exit. Thinking (naively) that maybe she didn’t realize she’d hit us (which even in that moment seemed unlikely, given the force of the THUMP), I began frantically honking the horn, thinking that would cause her to look around and notice Love Tank, who by this time had begun chasing after her on foot.
(Later, when our cooler heads kicked in, Love Tank wondered why he hadn’t just started the car and gone after her on wheels, and I wondered why, instead of continuing to honk even after it was obvious she was deliberately running the hell away, I didn’t grab my phone and take a photo of her license plate. But alas, we all learn hard truths about how we handle a crisis when we’re IN a crisis . . . )
As Love Tank continued to sprint after Hit-and-run Hattie, who was now hightailing it down the street and away from the scene (he said another driver who’d seen what happened even pulled up alongside her on the street, rolled down their window, and called out that she’d hit another car back in the nursery parking lot, but she kept right on rolling, made a right turn away from that car, and hit the gas), and I stepped out of our car to survey the damage, a kind man in a black truck rolled up to me and offered to go after her, but I’d been so focused my honk-tastic efforts, I’d failed to even take note of what kind of car she was driving, so I had very little info that could identify her.
Finally, Love Tank came back, and we discussed what to do. On the one hand, the damage to our car was not HORRIBLE (we may have even let it go, had she stopped), and it would eat up a significant chunk of our time to file a police report and all . . . but on the other, she fuckin’ RAN. She KNEW she’d hit us, and she RAN. Fuck her in the damn eye.
So we called the police (during his sprint, Love Tank HAD made note of the make of the car and the license plate), and then drove to the police station to file the report. The cops could not have been nicer, and we’re pretty sure they thought we were kind of silly for reporting what basically amounted to a few scratches (noticeable scratches, but not “now my bumper is headed for the scrap yard” scratches), but again: that bitch fuckin’ RAN. And I’m petty enough to want her to pay for that shit, even if it’s just a ticket (that she can afford—she drives a Beemer).
Anyway, after that, we headed home, sweaty and annoyed, and I did get back to work in time to catch my last meeting of the day: a happy hour to wrap up my employer’s HBCU week. (I did not make myself a DRANK for the occasion, thirsty as I was from the salty Mediterranean food and an afternoon spent mostly standing around in the sun for one reason or another—but it was still a nice way to decompress.) As for all the work I didn’t get done, I shoved it all off to Monday, which is going to make Monday suck ass, but by the time we got home on Friday, I was in no mood to try and crank out work.
I guess the bright side to this “No good deed goes unpunished” tale can be found by imagining how much angrier we’d have been if Love Tank already owned that Mercedes (and in the fact that Love Tank got like a whole week’s workout taken care of in just one afternoon).
Stop, drop, and roll
But the hits keep coming! Today (Saturday), feelin’ accomplished, because before lunchtime even rolled around, I’d (a) almost completed a blog post, (b) planned the menu and made the grocery list for this week’s dinners, AND (c) planned the elder dude’s lunches for the week (as I’m given to understand MANY young fellows this age do, he has become protein obsessed, and he expressed a desire to take chicken and rice meals for his lunch, so each week I figure out a couple of different recipes, and cook up a mess o’ chicken and rice at the beginning of the week, for him to parcel out into the meal prep containers I bought for the occasion—y’all know how I LOVE containers . . . but I am so digressy-pants), I hopped astride my motorcycle at around 1:30, and rode alongside Love Tank to that other nursery we never did make it to last night.
At one point in our journey, we had to make a u-turn, and as I gritted my teeth and looped around (I love riding my motorcycle, but leaning into curves still make me nervous), I glanced toward my left handlebar, where my phone holder is attached . . .
. . . JUUUUUUUUUUST in time to see that my phone was dangling precariously half-out of its case (the phone holder was still gripping the case just fine—but the case was giving up its hold on the phone). In the 1.7 seconds it took me to gasp and reach for it, it gave all the way up and dove on out of the case to the ground.
As Love Tank sped ahead, I cursed a bunch, zipped into the first parking lot I saw, parked my bike, and ran back to try to retrieve my phone from the street before someone ran over it.
I was too late.
Sucker looks like the Trouble Man movie poster on steroids.
By the time I had the phone in hand, Love Tank had realized I was no longer behind him, parked his own bike in the NEXT parking lot, and walked back to find out what was going on. The sight of both my phone and my face told him everything he needed to know.
From there, we stopped off at a Thai place for a late lunch that didn’t taste very good (what it lacked in salt, it made up for in excessive spiciness), and then home, where I am still cussing to myself about that damn phone.
So now I have heartburn, no phone, a scratched car, and perhaps (who knows?) a pitted OTHER car, because I just drove through a hailstorm to drop my elder child to meet a friend for dinner and a movie.
And the weekend is only half over! At the rate I’m going, Suck-ass Monday may come as a stark relief.
Anyway, as usual, if you’re still reading, I love you. If you’re not, I probably love you too, just for trying.
Wish me luck getting through Sunday!