Heartbreaking News…

Earlier this week, Jimmie and I attended Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It’s the first time we’ve been to the theatre together since we went to see Punk Rock at SDA almost a month ago. In all truth, we hadn’t been planning on attending the theatre again together not because we loathe the theatre or spending time together, but because the Circumstantial ROI of our theatre outings has become negligible for Jimmie. You can read here about our last Broadway Adventure.

The schlepp to the theatre is fine. We enjoy each other’s company and it’s nice to get out and see our adopted city’s sights traffic periodically. Assembling and disassembling Jimmie’s magical scooter is fairly automatic – no waving of the wand (that would be welcome technology, please), but it’s manageable. The logistics are surmountable. But when you can’t hear the play, what’s the point of surmounting the logistics?

Once we get to the theatre, sure, I have a moment of terror when Jimmie heads into the men’s room and I lurk by the door, craning to hear a thump and to ensure that no one takes his scooter for a joy ride. Other onlookers frequently are kind and offer an arm to walk him in and out of the men’s room. But I still look like some kind of perv, which is awkward.

Last night as I lurked before heading into see the show, I got a text from one of my friends from the spin gym where I have been a member for about four years. I had missed the email from the founder of the gym, which was entitled “Heartbreaking News…” In the brief email, she spelled out her reasons for the upcoming abrupt closure of the gym – on November 22nd. My phone lit up with other messages from friends I’ve met and gotten to know at the gym. I was completely distracted throughout the time leading up to the show, and immediately afterwards, restored my phone to see more communal wailing about the closure.

Heartbreaking News…

The power of words.

Since I wrote the last two posts, I’ve discovered people’s hunger to discuss and share the issue of giving care to our loved ones. A half dozen people have approached me to share their own stories, proving that we humans have a lot going on in our lives that isn’t necessarily visible in our daily comings and goings. Many people are shouldering their responsibilities at work while also carrying untold pounds of personal grief or struggle at home. And we don’t talk about it in any kind of direct way. We hide it as though it’s something to be ashamed of when it’s not. It’s just completely a part of our lives. We carry it because we want to, or in some cases, we need to or have to.

Tuesday, Jimmie and I visited the doctor after he experienced drainage difficulties in the morning, which I was able to help him solve with some of the medical equipment I had left over from over a year before. Note to self. However much you relish the idea of a personal bonfire to eliminate the traces of your medical mishigas, you should resist. By saving two boxes of single use catheters, I saved us a trip to the ER and missing a lecture. And yes, I know you were all asking yourselves,

What was she a girl scout or something?

Just as you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself in medical equipment armament, don’t Konmari yourselves into an ER visit as your situation changes.

Our visit to the doctor was late in the day. When we came in, he was in a hurry, and unfortunately hurry isn’t in our repertoire anymore. Jimmie inadvertently scooted into the wrong room requiring me to use my air traffic controller batons to steer him into the correct one, where the doctor did a quick ultrasound. As Jimmie stood to get dressed again, his back was facing the doctor when I asked him about the biopsy results.

The doctor, lowering his voice, quietly said,

Oh, They didn’t tell you? There’s aggressive cancer in the prostate.

I looked at him, incredulous. Did who tell us? This was his surgeon speaking. Also, I couldn’t believe that he was trying to tell me this without including Jimmie, who is extremely hard of hearing and facing the window while he pulled up his pants. My bossy sister emerged.

Oh, no. You need to tell him this directly.

And in my loud, most comely voice, said to Jimmie.

Jimmie, you need to turn around. The doctor has something important to tell you.

Jimmie turned and the doctor delivered the news. Again, he was still in a hurry, not that he was being unkind or elusive, but this was his last appointment before heading over to the adjacent hospital, and the details were brief.

Aggressive prostate cancer. Hormone therapy.

The power of words. When Jimmie stood up from the table, he caught his leg on something sharp, and as I hurried to help him with his pants, the doctor and I both watched as two small blooms of blood developed on the back of his khakis. He quickly applied gauze and tape, and then Jimmie and I executed the extraction of the scooter from the office.  Everything else about the exit from the office is fuzzy. I can’t speak for Jimmie, but I was in an emotional blackout.

The next twenty-four hours moved in a blur. We decided to go to Spamilton to take our minds off the unknown.

The follow up appointment with his GP two days later calmed us down. He confirmed that the entire tumor board of the hospital had reviewed Jimmie’s case and were unanimous in the treatment plan. Somehow hearing that was a comfort. Prostate cancer is slow moving.

Heartbreaking news…Aggressive Prostate Cancer. These word combinations are tough to read but it is our reactions that are our own to manage.

In the case of the closure of my gym, the truly heartbreaking news was that I had already paid for my 2018 membership and have yet to hear back from the management about a refund. If I am honest with myself, I had been thinking that I needed to change up my workout plan. Spinning, as good as it is for cardio, is boring. I’d been thinking I’d like to try pilates, or something else. So barring legal issues getting my membership fee back, while the news is heartbreaking for all the spin instructors at the gym and for the convenience of having my gym within 400 paces of my front door, these words can be managed.

In the case of Jimmie’s cancer, we will move forward with treatment, and take it a day at a time. Lord knows we are practiced in that. And we even have more theatre outings in our future. Last night we attended, heard and enjoyed Circle Mirror Transformation to see the MFA Y2 Actors in the Scene Dock Theatre. Tonight Eurydice is on the ticket.

This morning I got a text with some photos from Chris.

A bear broke into my truck last night

Now that’s heartbreaking. Especially given how much the truck has meant to Chris.  But that’s why we have insurance.

I’m grateful to be blessed with all the things we have. Good enough health to be able to attend a gym on a regular basis. Good enough medical care to help us through this crisis that Jimmie is experiencing. Lots of loving support from family and friends as we go through this ordeal. Good enough auto insurance to repair Chris’ truck. All of it is surmountable. As Chris texted me this morning, “This too shall pass.”

Heartbreaking News…Aggressive Prostate Cancer…Bear in the Truck. The power of words do not render us powerless.

And in the meantime, it seems fitting that Thanksgiving is right around the corner.


Iceland Revisited

This morning, I woke to find that I’d missed a call from Chris.  It came in at 8:00AM, at a time when under any normal conditions on a Saturday in the fall, I would have been up, and well on my way to work.  I called him back, but the phone rang through to his non-message. The fact that young people with smart phones eschew the voice mail message option on their phones shouldn’t surprise me – after all, they don’t use their phones to talk  much. This much I know from first hand experience.

But when the phone rang about 2 hours later, Chris was panting. “You will never guess what happened!”

There are a lot of things that go through my head when my son begins a phone conversation this way; sadly, about 95% of them are not good. Here’s what ran through my head in the 2 seconds before he spilled his real news:

1. I just ran my car off the road into a ditch because a black bear crossed the path of the vehicle with no warning.  I am trapped inside the car and he’s getting pretty mad out there and just pawed the side view mirror off the car.

2. We can see the flames from the apartment of the fire burning near Lake Tahoe. We are being evacuated now.

3. I was running in the woods and got bitten by a rattler. Just a little nip. I’m waiting for the paramedics to arrive and thought I’d give you a call.

4. I dropped my phone into the water at the beach. No, Els, he’s calling me on said phone.

5.  I was just standing there in the bar when a fight broke out and someone smashed a stool over my head and I’m in the ER getting stitches. Good news, Mom,  no concussion, but the police are coming to take me into custody.

But now he’s talking again and he’s very happy sounding, so all of those possibilities dissolve as I hear him say, “I just finished playing hockey and was on my way out of the rink when the owner of the rink approached me to ask me where I’d played. He said they have just hired a new GM and  there might be things for me to do there.”

This is really good news. The resurrection of hockey in Chris’ life as an adult signals nothing but good news. Chris played hockey from age 5 to age 18.  I took him to the ice rink in Van Nuys for a diversion one afternoon, and he peered over the high wall of the rink to watch about ten 5-year-olds in full hockey regalia fling themselves onto their bellies and then scramble back up on their skates and resume skating. Turning his shining eyes up to me, he said, “Mom, I want to do that!

And I, having been schooled in New England with a staunch appreciation for Ice Hockey, marched right into that crappy little pro shop and asked them for information about their hockey program;  within the week, Chris wore his mini mite uniform and was out there flinging himself down on the ice with abandon.

IcelandExterior2Iceland at that time, was pretty low-rent. It consisted of just the rink and about 300 square feet of pro shop, with a small enclosed café area with windows facing out on the ice. There, parents would cup their hands around the steaming styrofoam cups of bad cocoa, glancing up to watch the drills of the little mites skaters. And we would chat as we watched the Zamboni clear the expansive ice. We learned the progression of our skaters – Mini Mite, Mite, Squirt, Peewee, Bantam, Midget, Junior, etc.Iceland zamboni

And so began our family’s love affair with hockey. We got there  at 5:00 AM, carrying our sons’ hockey bags and lacing up their skates in the metal shipping container locker rooms adjacent to the ice rink.  The chilled morning air was filled with the squeals and giggles and wadded up tape balls whizzing by our heads as we knelt at the feet of our little princes, wrestling their tiny feet into the even tinier skates.  My husband and I took turns getting up early to ferry Chris to his practices. Later, we attended all the games, cheering from the sidelines, bundled up in our scarves and gloves. They were adorable. We were completely invested in the vision of our sons growing up and becoming LA Kings players. Along the way, they were learning about hustle, and the need to hone their skills, teamwork, and a little bit of Russian.

The Iceland coaches were all Russian.  I can barely remember their names, now, but I remember the drive and the skills building that they instilled in Chris. How Slava would smack them on their thick pants with his hockey stick to get them to go faster, harder, straighter.

Jimmie told Chris in those early days that to be a hockey player, he would need to learn how to skate backwards. Chris then dedicated himself to learning just that and so many more things.Their coaches championed them from level to level, later providing personal instruction in private lessons, an added cost, but with unquestionable effect on their growth.IMG_1086 

So now, as I cupped my tea in my hand from the comfort of my couch, I listened and heard the eager pride in his voice. “It’s weird, Mom, how just this morning, I was thinking about how I could see myself coaching. I was thinking about how Ryan trained me and thinking about how I could do the same for kids. Today a little five-year old came up to me after the session and said, I don’t know the name of my street, but I can give you my number!”

All those years of hockey which had seemed lost in the mists of the past came flooding back, and I followed Chris’ vision in my mind, seeing him out there on the ice with those five-year-old Mini-Mites, or perhaps the Pee Wees. Bursting with pride today for my son, the future hockey coach.IMG_1131



Alaska – Day 6 Beartrack Cove and Bartlett Cove


Saturday, July 12, 2014

I parted the curtains this morning at 7:00, revealing torrential rain coming down in Beartrack Cove. They call it Alaskan liquid sunshine on the ship. Sounds a lot better than miserable, soul-sucking rain. The change from last night’s “dessert glacier” and the retreat from the glacier is striking.

IMG_3796Gone are the icy chunks, or growlers, and in their place, wide sandy gravel beaches, with small sedge grass meadows meeting the Sitka pine forest. The tide is out, and as our un-cruise interpreters like to say, “The table is set.”

I scratched my name off the sign up list for the 9:30 small boat tour this morning, opting instead to stay in the lounge in the dry warm comfort of my husband’s company for another half hour. Departure at 10:00AM.

I figured out that over the seven days of this trip, Jimmie will have done almost 1400 steps as in stairs, on the ship.

14 down from 300 level deck to Lounge x 4 daily x 7 days.

14 down from lounge to dining room x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from dining room level x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from lounge level x 4 daily x 7 days.

Total 1,372 steps. Not bad for 87 with no knees left.

At 87 (note to self) more attention needs to be paid to the construction of the ship and the conveyance from floor to floor for someone with limited mobility. It is Saturday, and Jimmie has slowed, but intrepidly climbs the stairs with his cane. We had them stow the walker when we boarded the Safari Endeavor because the cabins are small and there was nowhere to store it. He has been getting around with his cane and the use of the banisters on the ship.

Today is our second day in Glacier Bay, and our last day for “ops”, i.e. options, operations, and due to the rain we will go out in the small boat at 10:00. It will presumably be our last chance to see a bear or a moose, I figure, though  the weather doesn’t seem very hospitable for either. I don’t know – do bears like the rain? Does it keep them cool while they are fishing on the side of the banks?

So, at 9:45AM, Dad and Sally and I donned our life jackets and got into the zodiac, with Ken as our guide. We pulled away from the ship and went slowly and quietly- no talking!

Some very bedraggled bald eagles
Some very bedraggled bald eagles

We passed a few more bedraggled looking bald eagles- I am happy that even by today, the last day if the trip, I have not reached Alaska Judy’s anticipated “ho hum” phase of seeing too many bald eagles. They are thrilling each and every time I see one, either sitting, or winging along- truly majestic. What a good choice for a national symbol.

And to recap the day, here is the poem I wrote and read at the last dinner aboard the Safari Endeavor. What a wonderful week it was and I am so grateful to my Dad and his generosity in organizing this trip!

A Bear Tale

I warn you gentle listeners that we hail from

LA where imagineers often come.

But as I narrate this, my heart pounds still-

Today’s the day we had our fill

Of Alaska’s wildness felt firsthand

A tale we all can share again on land.

The rain was thick upon the bay,

And wispy fog trails crept up the piney slopes,

The tide was out, the table set,

And we were all so darned wet.

Our pontoon boat was filled with merriment,

Because we knew the bears were imminent.

Captain Shana pulled the cord,

And our boat glided slowly along the shore.

What’s that beside us? An Eagle or two,

And there a harbor seal and some loons.

Merganser ducks skip across the water

And we raise our binocs so that we can see farther.

The shoreline was still, no grasses bended,

Our arms grew tired as to the shore we wended.

Quite a distance we went, the rain still drenching,

Anticipation of the bears caused our teeth to be clenching.

To Beardsley islands we will go,

Spoke Ken in tones revered and low,

The motor revved, and off we sped

Liquid sunshine hitting us hard in the head.

We glided to a stop in a bay by a beach

The grasses near us almost within reach.

We cowered quaking in our boat,

Visions of bears crossing this little moat.

And then we waited

And waited some more

Keeping our eyes peeled on the shore.

Alas, it seems no bears appeared at all,

Intrepid Ken, giving an owl’s call.

No bushes parted as we waited there.

Fear began to wane as our gazes stared.

Disappointed, we turned to go in,

Shana giving the motor a spin.

But what was happening?

No motor was spinning.

And as we sat, the clouds suddenly cleared

And up on the beach, a sow and two cubs appeared.

And wait, behind them, the angry male

Standing to his full fearsome height, was wagging his tail?

Shana calmly radioed back to our captain,

That the boat was dead and we needed a tow.

Meanwhile on the shore, came a moose from the back

A pileated woodpecker sat up on his rack.

A rainbow emerged o’er the game-filled shore,

And everyone on the boat was so stunned that before

They could raise up their cameras to capture the thrill,

Shana started the boat and we puttered back through the krill.

It isn’t every day that the terrors are real

That expectations are high

And you see more than a seal.

But every once in a while on the Safari Endeavor

The game is so thick that in spite of the weather

You share something extraordinary with all your new friends

Often just as the voyage comes to an end.

Els Collins 7/12/14

The following clip is what didn’t happen to us and I think I’m feeling pretty happy about that!