Varmin, vacuuming and vexations (Or, the week I did five thousand loads of laundry.)

My blood just ran cold for a moment. The bag. I forgot to change the bag. Ooooh. All the dread.

It all began when I noticed my youngest doing a similar dance to that of a flea-infested dog who’s just eaten chocolate. While my inner dialogue was finding god and begging whoever was listening to please, please, please not let me find what I thought I was going to find, my outer mama was doing the STOP EVERYTHING thing. Get a flashlight. And Come. Here.

Ah, shit. With the same urgency one would employ whilst dealing with the impending apocalypse, my focus narrowed. A couple of phone calls, texts and one very manic trip to the drug store later, both of my boys were shorn and very much free of the unspeakable bugs I spent far too much time studiously combing out of eldest’s head. Divide and conquer was the only way to deal with this particular crisis. One at Dad’s, one at Mom’s. The big boy wasn’t super cool with having his head shorn. And so, although I am fairly confident I could have lived out the rest of my days without it, I now have a deep and profound understanding of the expressions ‘nitpick’ and ‘Go through it with a fine-toothed comb’. Oh yes. That little clicking sound the comb made every time it encountered one of these little passengers is imprinted in my memory now, I’ll have you know. Right up there with the desperate statement made by my eldest during said nit-picking session: ‘Umm…Mom? I think there’s one on my face. ….Yep.’

Inner voice: ‘$%$##$ hell. ohmygodohchristhelpmeplease.’

Calm, outer mama-voice: You know what honey? I really think it would be best for you just to shave it. Really. Okay? Okay.

Itchy yet? Yep. I get it.

Both kids shorn. Then there’s time to really freak out. Then it’s time to head down to the local laundromat, where I must say there really is a hugely disproportionate amount of ass-crack compared to pretty much everywhere else I’ve ever been (and not the pretty kind), and utter something utterly foreign to me: ‘I’d like 40 dollars in change please.’


I have never cleaned with such gusto in my life. I thought of keeping a running list of how many times I washed-the-bedding-cleaned-the-pillows-vacuumed-the-mattresses-stripped-the-beds-laundered-clothing-sanitized-towels-clorox-wiped-every-surface, but I was too busy checking my own scalp in the mirror. It’s been two weeks, and I’m still carefully combing through my own hair with that magic purple comb at least once a day. Today when I spied a piece of lint on the box-spring while I was vacuuming it (yep, still doing it) I actually let the mattress fall on me while I pounced on it with WHAT ARE YOU???? screaming inside my very fragile brain. A friend of mine likes to scratch his head while he story-tells. That’s been banned. Any head-scratching performed in my presence from this day forward will result in a thorough going-over by me, seasoned nit-picker. You’ve been warned.

So that was enough crazy for one week, right? Nah. Not even a week later, Child #1 is spied head-down, listless and very much not hungry during the lunch hour by the supervisor. One mama-hand to the forehead sends a chill down my spine. He’s hot. Like drop-everything hot. Sick. One day later, I’m down. The next, little man is feeling pretty crappy as well. There is a curse upon our house.

Pull out all the stops. No. More. Bugs.

Pull out all the stops. No. More. Bugs.

So, half a bottle of Adult extra-strength Tylenol, one box of Emergen-C, two boxes of tea, half a jar of honey, several good doses of Nyquil, one bag of Epsom salts, 21 loads of laundry, one humiliating visit to the medical clinic (because we had to wear masks, not because of Isaac’s delirious fever-induced hallucinations of people racing all around him), …

Nobody wants to be this guy in the waiting room.

Nobody wants to be this guy in the waiting room.

Oh well. We owned it.

Oh well. We owned it.

countless coughing jags – two of which ended with us laying on the floor, daily vitamins, and 12 combined lost pounds, I think we are finally coming out of it. Little one back to school yesterday, only to just about put me over the edge by jumping, screaming, out of his seat at dinner last night looking hysterical – I couldn’t tell whether he was laughing or crying.


Him: I BIT MY FINGER!!! (Crying)

Him: I THOUGHT IT WAS MEAT!!! (Hysterical laughter mixed with tears)

Me: I give up. Well. At least you’re eating. I’ll get a bandaid.

So, half of my sick days for the year are gone, and it’s still September. But hey – it’s not cancer, right? Could be worse!


Pencils, passports and paranoia (Or, I bought a heavy-duty pencil sharpener the other day.)

The catalyst.

The catalyst.

I bought a heavy-duty pencil sharpener the other day. This may seem like an act that should be ranked right up there with I grabbed a newspaper, or I watered the plants, but for me it was far from trivial. There were four to choose from, ranking from the very-cheap-may-last-the-year version to the mediocre battery-operated type, and then there were two heavy-duty sharpeners, with bigger price tags but which came equipped with heavy cords and big promises. Mine promises to last beyond my far-off retirement, in high-traffic areas such as classrooms or large offices. I considered it an investment. And a huge leap of faith.

Some of you are no doubt scratching your heads at my chatter about pencil sharpeners, and others, who have been forced to see life in a way that forces them to hesitate to plan for their futures, may be getting it.

I haven’t renewed my license for more than one year at a time since I got sick. When I renewed my passport, I went for the five year renewal rather than the ten, because, well – that part’s probably pretty obvious. When someone tells you you have cancer, and when that delicious luxury of being able to blissfully utter phrases like ‘when I retire’, or ‘in ten years or so’ is removed, you stop making assumptions about longevity. And, if you’re like me, you stop daring to look forward to things that are really far off. You say things like ‘if I get to get old’ instead of ‘when I’m older’. And, if you’re like me, when you go to your oncology appointments and they tell you everything looks good and your blood work is great and they’ll see you in three months, there is still a small, slightly irrational red-faced Tanya inside your head shaking the lovely pink-shirt-sporting doctor and yelling I DON’T BELIEVE YOU. Because you’ve had the bad appointment too. You want proof.

On my last appointment, which very nearly coincided with my two years past-chemo anniversary, I brought in a little sticky paper that my lymphedema specialist (so yeah. That’s happening.) had written on. Four possible causes for my very sore, slightly swollen arm. This is kind of a synopsis of how that appointment went.


The physiotherapist announced that she was just going to jot a few things down for me to show my oncologist at my appointment.

  1. Cellulitis: Bad sunburn, Very high anxiety/stress, lots of massage in left armpit.
  2. Blood clot: Venous doppler?
  3. “It could be your cancer coming back. But I’m not going to write that down.”
  4. *Lymphedema: add sleeve.

Wait – what??

So I hyperventilated my way through the two hours leading up to my oncology appointment with a couple of friends and presented that lovely little sticky to my oncologist, who lifted my arm up, showed me how the veins in my hand flattened when it was held above my head and filled when I put my arm back down again, assuring me that I wasn’t going to drop dead of a blood clot letting loose and filling my lungs in the next ten seconds. Whew. Well then what about this cancer thing?? (If I could somehow make the words build into a panic-filled-hysterical crescendo for you, I would.)

Poke. Prod. poke-prod. Inhale. Exhale. WELL???

“I don’t feel anything going on in there. You’re fine. There’s nothing happening. Go have fun.”

So this is when I peer into his eyes to see if he’s trying to trick me. I make him double-check my blood work. It’s when I get a hug from my friend who’s just seen me through this appointment, and my whole body exhales, my shoulders come down about two inches, and I desperately want a burger. (That’s traditionally how these appointments go. I panic and have no appetite leading up to them, and then generally by the time I open the exit door to the parking lot of the hospital, I am ravenous and want a burger.)

Post-appointment relief.

Post-appointment relief.

So back to the pencil sharpener. Believing that I’m going to be around long enough to really get my money’s worth out of this pencil sharpener is a leap of faith. It’s not, to be clear, about the sharpener. I mean it’s pretty and everything, but it’s not that that excites me. It’s the hope. The tentative belief. It’s something I’ve decided to do more often. When I renew my licence plates again, which I am usually very bad at, it will be for two years, not one. And when I renew my passport, I am going to take the ten year option, dammit.

Because it’s nice to have something to look forward to.