Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Is Normal Neighbor Doing?

I had lunch with Normal Neighbor today. Several of you blog friends have asked me how she is doing since her colon cancer diagnosis. Thank you for thinking of her. She's had two cycles of chemotherapy now, and this week she's well enough to play tennis. She was at practice this morning and is playing a match tomorrow, despite being so ill last week that she had to go get IV fluids two days in a row. And her doctor had told her that "this wouldn't be the kind of chemo that makes you really sick." It just goes to show, there is no telling how a person will react to treatment. I am worried about her, because she has to have ten more cycles of this stuff. I'm hoping they will get better at managing her side effects.

I was hoping to play doubles with her this week, but the captain didn't put me in the lineup.  I think because I am the worst tennis player in the world, and nobody wants to be my partner. Pouty lip. Or sure, maybe it's because not everybody can play every week, whatever.

Also, today I hit my practice partner in the back of the head with my serve.  Thwack. Smacked her square on the head.  She was fine and of course I apologized profusely, but in my defense, she is tall!  And she needs to scooch over! That ball was going in until it ran into her head.

So it was an awesome tennis morning.

But then it got better 'cause I got to catch up with Normal Neighbor. We talk regularly, of course, but she hasn't really been up to doing too much. And it was nice to have a chat with no child hangers-on. It is truly amazing the way our neighborhood has turned out in support of her family.  I mean, when I had my surgery and treatment last year, we were well taken care of, but nothing like this.  There are probably fifty people on the meal roster; their family has had meals since January. At first every weeknight, now a few times a week.  The K(C)athies and I got her a massage.  And there's a fund everyone is pitching into to pay for her house to be cleaned twice a month.  NN has lived here a long time and everybody loves her.  It is really something. This coming Monday is my day to bring her lunch during her chemo infusion, sit with her, and drive her home. I had to throw some elbows in the neighborhood to get that gig. I might have pissed off the tennis captain, and I don't think Laura will ever be welcome in Girl Scouts, but I'm in.

It's funny though, Normal Neighbor was telling me about how a woman she has known a long time--not a close friend but a neighborhood acquaintance--won't see her since her diagnosis. She's cooked two meals for NN's family, but delivers them to the house of a mutual friend, and NN has to go get them.  NN thinks she is simply uncomfortable and doesn't know what to say. She said, "I think she expects me to be on my deathbed."

I agreed that it's surprising how some people just get weird in the face of illness.  I told her how, last year, there were a couple of people who avoided me all summer.  People I'd been friendly with, whose children Laura had played with, just suddenly had this strange blindness to my existence.

This one chick would see me across the pool, studiously avoid me (and I was fine with that because she's the world's most tedious bore), and then later would tell Pretty Neighbor, "I saw Becky today but I didn't get to talk to her."  Oh, because there was that river of radioactive slime between us, of course you couldn't come over to say hi. And I was at the freaking pool. So it wasn't going to be some awkward hospital bedside conversation. It's me, reading Us Weekly.  I'm fine, really.

Not to make this all about me.

So we had a nice lunch and a chat and then we went to TJ Maxx, where I bought a workout top and Normal Neighbor bought her dog a new set of food and water bowls, fretting that they weren't exactly the right shade of pink. Not the right shade of pink. For a dog to eat out of.  Because getting the pink just right is who she is.  I tried to reassure her that any dog would be lucky to put its snout in those peachy/coral pink bowls, and we called it a successful outing.

I hope y'all are well. Weather is gorgeous here. So gorgeous. It's hard not to feel like everything is going to be a-okay.


Pamela said...

It's awesome NN is surrounded by such a wonderfully caring community, (even if there are a few duds).

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I do hope and pray that everything is going to be A-Ok. I'm so sorry to hear that NN has been feeling awful side effects. I wonder if she's tried acupuncture to help manage her nausea and/or well-being. I have heard such good things about it being used for cancer patients. I am so moved to hear of your 'hood's response to her illness -- and of course your commentary made me laugh in general.

Star said...

Thank you, as usual, for your helpful post.
I don't usually share personal things online, but I'll pull the veil back enough to share something I hope will be helpful from a roughly parallel experience.
The psychologist in the palliative care ward responded to my bitter disappointment at the complete absence (not even a phone call, let alone a visit) of people whom I had considered friends with this: "Some people just can't handle such a vivid reminder of their own mortality." That helped.
Something else helped and helps a lot, too: read, read, read, read and read, again, "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, who wanted to be a philosopher, but was forced for dynastic reasons to be the most powerful man in the world at the time, an ancient Roman emperor, and was none too happy about it, either. He jotted brief, but not preachy, notes to himself: reminders, encouragement, advice and a bit of self-hand slapping. Because it wasn't intended as a book, if you can't stand the thought of reading it cover to cover (as I do, over and over and over), because they are snippets, you can open at will. Something you read, today, may make you say "eh" to yourself, but that same thing may be just the right salve for your soul, tomorrow.
Please forgive the length of this comment, but I hope that these two experiences will help others, and thank you, again, for your posts, which have done and do me a world of good.

Jenni said...

It's so great to hear about NN and I'm so glad she's being so supported.

We've been enjoying some nice weather but it's on the down turn again. Spring, spring!

Jenni said...

It's going to be nice for your visit though. In the 50/60s. I swear

Elle said...

It's nice to read about such civility & community right where you are, people knowing how to act gracefully.

Joie said...

I think I am one of those people that suddenly gets freaked out when someone gets cancer. I don't know what to say and I put my foot in my mouth enough as it is already. I am so worried I am going to say something really awful. Or cry. It's an awful feeling to know that I haven't been there for a few people that I should have been there for. Any suggestions on what to say would be very helpful!!

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

Hey Joie! I know, it is hard. I am sure that I was guilty of this before I had my consciousness raised to the whole issue, you know? Here's the thing: I think sometimes we think that by mentioning the person's illness, we are going to bum her out or somehow remind her of it. But it is never out of her mind. Mentioning it will be a relief because it will give her a chance to bring her inner dialogue out into the open.

And I would keep it simple: "I'm sorry that you are having to deal with this. How are you feeling?" And then that's it, you can just listen. You don't have to say anything to make it better.

Or okay, what not to say: My cleaning lady told me, "Yes, I cleaned for a woman who got breast cancer. She died and left three small children. She was only 32."

Don't go there!

Any suggestions/experience anyone has with this issue, please do share.

KathyS said...

Much love to NN, and (like many other commenters) I am so happy to hear how fundamentally *good* your community is!

When I talk to someone undergoing devastating treatment (like chemo or radiation) or with a debilitating disease (like MS), I usually just ask "How are you doing?" in the same way that I would ask any other friend. It seems to let folks say as much -- or as little -- about the illness as they like. And it seems like letting the person with the sitch set the conversational tone is preferable.

Messy Mom said...

Glad to hear she is dong well. Your advice to Joie is very helpful, I will remember that next time I am unsure of what to say.

Keely said...

I get awkward over those things too. But not to the point of completely ignoring someone. Usually I just stick with "How are you feeling?". There's sometimes social awkwardness with acquaintances, because you've heard it through the grapevine but you have no idea if that person wants to talk about it or what. Does it come across as pandering or condescending, though? Maybe I should stop saying that.

I do hope NN gets better side-effect management so she can get through 10 (!) more treatments.

Rebekah said...

I want to come play tennis too! I was just thinking about trying to get back into it and it's been soooo long. I'm glad your neighbor is feeling the casserole love through the awfulness of cancer.

Jen said...

I blogged a guest post of sorts about this last October...and saying almost anything (even just randomly gossiping about unimportant stuff) is fine. The only thing that gets me is when my stepmother pushes me to talk to people who have had the "exact same experience*" as I have. However, that irks me b/c she is the type that has to be right 100% of the time...doesn't bother me when other people offer help.

I know you guys have set up NN with cleaning (awesome!), but I think she may also be eligible for free cleanings (from Cleaning for a Reason). Not sure if it's worth it, especially if she is happy with current person/company, but they do offer free house cleaning (a set number) via local companies to those who are undergoing treatments.

*And the experiences are really vastly different

Veronica said...

Glad to hear that the 'hood is rallying behind NN.

I share the "I don't always know what to say" sentiment. I also have that when someone dies; I always send a note but I always struggle with what to say. I always hope that just saying "How are you feeling?" to someone sick or "I'm so sorry for your loss" to someone grieving is better than saying nothing at all, though I always do feel like what I say is not enough.

Amy said...

Thanks for the update--I've been meaning to ask how she is. It's wonderful that they have so much support.

You never told me that story about the lady at the pool. People's reactions to these kind of things are really interesting. I always feel a bit awkward, but it's better to say something, I think.

Star said...

Wishing NN all the best.
I don't usually share personal stuff online, but, in response to my anger at being abandoned by people I thought were our friends, the psychologist (Cosmos bless her) in the palliative care ward said that some people just can't handle such a vivid reminder of their own mortality.

heybabe20 said...

This is my advice on being helpful,even when it's difficult to know "what to do, or what to say":
I have cared for my mother & aunt when they were diagnosed with very late stage breast cancer (and died), and have several close relatives and friends battle cancer.

What you say almost doesn't matter. It's being there, talking about what they want to talk about is where it's at. It's about them.

Don't make it about You. It doesn't matter if you are uneasy, scared or inconvenienced. Just put yourself out there and don't let it be about you.
People in these situations are living moment by moment. Take their cues on what kind of practical help they may need and go for it. You know you want to.

chnault said...

Well heybabe20 is not my google account. I always have a hard time signing in to comment here Becky, so I usually don't.

My blog is,

sorry for any confusion.