Breaking News on Facebook

              “You have cancer,” the doctor says.

             For a moment, the only sound you hear is your heartbeat thrumming much too loudly in your ears.

             “How bad is it?”

            The doctor’s sincere stare unnerves you.

            “Randy, it’s bad.”

 

This is the exact conversation held last week in the physician’s office between my husband and his doctor. Nothing can prepare you to hear those words. Within seconds, your life has changed.

Minutes later, you’re holding a handful of papers: pamphlets, orders, biopsy results, a CD with photos of the cancer, even the doctor’s personal cell-phone number. It’s pressing toward 5:00 pm, so you’re rushed to the clinic to pick up contrast liquid for tomorrow morning’s CT scan. Drink this. Don’t eat that. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the radiologist. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the surgeon.

Somewhere in there, you remember that you haven’t eaten since breakfast.

*

It’s an understatement to say that my husband and I were caught up in an immediate whirlwind—perhaps tornado is a better metaphor—within minutes of his diagnosis. We cried for a few minutes, but there were simply too many deadlines to meet to cope with the flood of emotions, questions, and next steps for tears just then.

And we needed to tell our son.

How do you break such news to an eighteen-year-old who is a day away from final exams? How do you risk discoloring what should be the happiest time of his life—his high-school graduation—which is only a week away?

When we arrived home that evening, our son was at work, so our decision to wait until after he’d completed his exams the next day was made easier. But in the meantime, we began receiving phone calls from concerned relatives who knew we were to receive the biopsy results—which we’d been convinced were going to be benign—that day.

We broke the news to immediate relatives who called, adding the admonition, “Please don’t say anything to anyone yet, as we can’t tell our son until tomorrow afternoon.” Besides, we’d have the result of the CT scan by then, so we’d know exactly what to tell him.

Relaying this news once is painful. Two or three times is agonizing, but having to say “aggressive cancer” five or six times is excruciating.

Bad news travels fast, and in a small town, it spreads like . . . malignancy.

By the time we received the results of the CT scan the next afternoon, our phones were blowing up. We shared the news with our son and discussed our next options and plan of attack. One day at a time. We will kick this!

As our home and cell phones kept ringing, we realized we had to get ahead of this, and we certainly had to free up the phone lines, as we were expecting calls from doctors and hospitals. Though we’d first said we’d never put such news on social media, we realized we had no other option—if not, someone would likely do it for us and perhaps not with the kind of message we wanted to convey.

That evening, we requested on Facebook the support, prayers, and love of our friends and family as we fight the battles before us in order to win this war. We anticipated dozens of responses, but we were truly humbled by the hundreds we received. The outpouring of love touches out hearts and does much to strengthen our faith and hope.

And then came the other comments: the scoldings via IM or text or phone. “Why didn’t you call me right away?” “Why did I have to read this on Facebook?” “So-and-so told me. You should have called me yourself!”

Hear me when I say this: it’s not about you.

It’s about the patient. And more remotely, it’s about his children and his wife and his parents and his siblings.

We’ll be the first to agree that Facebook isn’t the best place to break such news, but in order to maintain some semblance of sanity during an insane period of our lives, it seemed the logical option; the quickest and least-painful way to say those words once instead of dozens more times.

Worse than the scoldings, however, was the IM from an old friend who related the same diagnosis in her church member, and how the cancer had metastasized and invaded other parts of the body, and how he would soon surely die. I stopped her short between messages: “No negativity, please. We are surrounding ourselves with positive vibes, positive thoughts, prayers, and positive people. Faith, hope, and love.” It startled and appalled me several minutes later when she returned an I-wasn’t-finished-yet-here’s-where-else-he-had-tumors message. A few days later, I listened (briefly, before walking away), as someone else tried to tell me a horror story of another person with a similar diagnosis and rotten outcome.

Listen carefully: when you’ve learned that a friend or family member has cancer, if you can’t offer supportive, kind, uplifting, encouraging, loving, or compassionate words, then Shut. The fuck. Up.

Yes, I said that; and yes, I meant it.

I’m grateful to say that these kinds of comments have been few among the deluge of caring and encouraging, love-filled messages we’ve received. The sensitivity and compassion of our family and friends who have rallied around us have helped strengthen our resolve to face each morning and each long, sometimes-scary night with steadfast hope and faith.

Understand that, in the days that follow a cancer diagnosis, a person’s day-to-day life and that of his family is turned upside down and shaken. It’s easy to momentarily forget to call even the dearest of friends. Don’t be offended if, in the great confusion of the days following such news, you feel forgotten, and please don’t be offended if you (aren’t an immediate family member and you) learn such news through social media. Know that your friend still needs you—now more than ever before.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to send an “I care” note to a friend who’s dealing with a devastating diagnosis; you simply have to be kind. Your friend needs you to remind him or her that there is hope in each new day. Put yourself in that person’s mindset for a moment, and think of what positive things you’d like to hear. Send warm thoughts and well wishes. Light a candle, and say a prayer (or twelve).

And if you have a spare moment, please say another for us.

faith hope love

 ” . . . but the greatest of these is love.” –I Cor. 13:13 (ESV)

Sharing Homemade Bread

Today is bread day.

A few weeks ago, I succumbed to an urge that had been rising within me for a few months, and that was to make bread. Not just any bread, not bread from a boxed mix, and nothing that could be whipped up in a few minutes’ time, dumped into a bread machine, and popped out in a squarish loaf resembling an Amazon.com cardboard package. I wanted to make homemade sourdough bread; the kind that takes at least a week to prepare, the kind that must be fed and nurtured and allowed to rest, the kind created from—and by—living, breathing beings.

I should tell you that I killed my first starter.

There are certain, unbreakable, scientific laws that come with making homemade sourdough bread, and as ominous as that sounds, they’re actually quite simple to follow. That is, as long as you remember one of the most important rules, that being that you must stir your starter with a wooden spoon. Any contact with metal spoons (nickel, silver, aluminum, etc.) can introduce molecules that will kill the living microorganisms of yeasty sourdough starter. When feeding my sourdough starter the first time, you guessed it; I grabbed a metal spoon. Two days later, instead of the sweetly sour fragrance given off by healthy sourdough starter, mine reeked of rotting garbage, and the bubbles that occasionally rose to the surface had ceased. My starter had stopped breathing and died.

Bread mixing 1

I’ve taken more care since then, and today as I stirred sugar, salt, oil, and flour into my starter and began kneading the dough, I thought of stories and of writing. Why is it that one creative act feeds another? I may never know the answer, but I’m always grateful for the inspirational nourishment.

As I worked the dough, I recalled scripture from the King James Version of the Holy Bible: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). I then thought of even older writings, one from the ancient Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf, in which the bakers charge a share of grain to make and bake bread for the entire community in communal ovens. I was further inspired to look up a couple of quotes that I remembered from other poems and stories, wondering why these snippets have stuck with me for so long, choosing today to bubble to the surface:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” –The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 5th Ed.

And from more recent works:

“They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.” –Raymond Carver, from “A Small, Good Thing”

“The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.” –Suzanne Collins, from The Hunger Games

You probably recall many other examples of bread used symbolically in literature. Why is it that writers often mention bread in their stories—aside from the obvious, that their characters must eat? Bread does more than simply feed the hungry protagonist; it serves as metaphor for deeper issues and hidden secrets in a story. Bread is sometimes used to represent life and health, or the lack thereof (as in stale bread, or moldy bread); it is used to represent plenty, as in the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes; it’s sometimes symbolic of comfort, family, and unity, as in To Kill a Mockingbird; and, in Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs are used to mark the way back home. It’s this last metaphor that I chose to use in my current novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Romie & Jasper’s Big Empty:

“I stand on the back deck of the house, overlooking the acres and acres of grapevines, and I feel small, as if I’ve shrunk. I wonder if it’s true, if I have become smaller each time I’ve moved, if I left behind a broken-off piece of myself, like a trail of breadcrumbs, so I can someday find my way back to whatever place might be home.”

As I kneaded my bread this morning, it occurred to me how much making homemade sourdough bread is akin to writing. We put in the basic ingredients—our nouns and verbs and punctuation—and we let them rest. Days later, we return to the mixture, feed it with fresh words, stir them around, and let them breathe. After more respite, we keep a carefully measured portion, toss out what isn’t needed, and we add something sweet, something salty, and we work out the lumps and bubbles, ensuring that when we are done, it will rise and nourish all who taste it.

My sourdough recipe makes three loaves: one for today, one for later in the week, and one to share with friends. Sharing homemade bread—and memories and stories—with friends is my favorite part of the artistic process: it is the giving of one’s creativity, of one’s effort, of oneself, however noble or humble that gift may be.

“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 (KJV)

Six Things You Need to Know about Your Writer

writer girl

So your friend—or, God help you, your spouse—is a writer. Chances are, the more you get to know your writer, the more confused you’ll feel. Writers are odd ducks. We’re fun. We’re irritating. We’re enigmas and amoebas. How are you supposed to make sense of someone who flip-flops more than cheap rubber shower thongs? It’ll help you to know a few things about us that might make us a little easier to understand. Or not. No one says we are easy.

1. We are extroverted introverts. Writers realize the importance of socialization; in fact, we’re often pushed to network, self-promote, and mingle in order to make the necessary connections to publish our work, or sell it once it is published, so that we can publish again. We can juggle Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, all while texting and providing riotous dinner-party banter. Sometimes we are wildly gregarious, prone to spontaneous road trips or bar-hopping. We can be the life of the party, cracking witty jokes you can’t wait to tell your friends at the water cooler, and boogying to every song the band plays. Don’t count on our amusing behavior to last, however, because . . .

2. We are introverted extroverts.  You know that party we looked forward to all week? The one we chattered about incessantly, the one for which we bought a sparkly dress and fabulous shoes? We might arrive and sit quietly in a corner. Yes, last weekend we sang karaoke at midnight and break-danced as an encore, but this weekend we’re happy to play the wallflower, soaking up all that energy we expended the last time we were out. We’re having fun—don’t think we aren’t, even if we’re not smiling—because we’re watching, we’re processing, and we’re thinking. And it’s likely that something we see, hear, smell, feel, or taste will show up later in the story we’re writing.

3. We are usually right. Writers are sometimes perceived as know-it-alls. It isn’t that we believe we know everything, though we surely wish we did. We’re avid researchers, constant readers, and we’re always questioning how this works and why that doesn’t. We study the ingredients on cereal boxes. Our dictionaries actually wear out from overuse. Our Google search history could easily get us arrested. We’re smart, because we thirst for knowledge like a sponge in the Sahara Desert, and we’ll track down an expert for answers as doggedly as if he were the Aquafina man. When we offer unsolicited advice, consider it a gift (this is one we hope you’ll return!), because we give it in the spirit of helpfulness, not haughtiness.

4. But we are often wrong. And it breaks our hearts. It embarrasses us. Mortifies us. Many times, we know the answer, but our always-in-overdrive brains sometimes can’t shift gears quickly enough to turn a tight corner. So when you ask us the difference between a simile and a metaphor, and we answer incorrectly—though we’ve known the answer at a cellular level since third grade—it isn’t because we’re dumb. It’s because our minds are absorbing new information, or we are creating a new character in our minds, or writing a scene for a work in progress—or all of this is happening simultaneously in our heads while we’re attempting to answer your question. Besides, if we truly don’t know the answer, you can bet we’ll look it up.

5. We are not ignoring you. Yes, you’ve said our name three times, and when we finally respond, we ask you to repeat yourself twice. It’s sometimes difficult for us to come back to this planet when we are in a world of our own making. We are often visiting universes that we’ve created inside of our heads. We have to go there. Have you ever read a story and envisioned the scene as if it were playing out in front of you? That’s because a writer became so intensely involved in the creation of that setting that she pictured it in vivid detail—scents, sounds, surfaces, and more—so much so that she temporarily blocked out this world in order to create that one. It’s a necessary part of the job, and it’s what makes us good at what we do. It’s hard to hear you when we’re intently listening to the monologue or dialogue inside of our heads. Be patient. Repeat yourself. We’ll catch up to you.

6. Except when we’re ignoring you. Writing is a solitary profession driven by creativity that requires deep internal thought. The busyness and business of everyday life must be shut out both mentally and physically for us to work at peak capacity and get in touch with our highest creative selves. We’re okay with shutting the door—and locking it. We’re fine going all week without television, and we may equally be fine letting it play all day on the same unwatched channel. We don’t feel guilty letting your call go to voice mail. (In fact, when we’re writing, a ringing phone can be the equivalent of a pipe bomb exploding in our laps.) We can exist for days on coffee and candy corn or wine and Doritos. Don’t worry. We’ll come around soon enough, and we’ll again be ready to jabber until your ears wear out or spin you around the dance floor until your legs grow numb.

We know we’re different. We’re okay with that. And we hope with every breath that you’re okay with it, because we need you. When we come back to this earth, this country, this room, we want to find you there. After all, it’s you we’re writing for.

Tip for Writers:  Be sure to email the link to this article to your your friend or significant other, or print it out and strategically place it where they will see it. Then get back to writing!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

Suzanne Heagy

Small lives, awkward moments, immense relief.

My Blog

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

The View from Goose Hill

A Second Look at What I Thought I Knew about Life

The Backwords Writer

Author Rosa Sophia

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Lucy Mitchell

Romance author & book blogger

Hawaii Pacific Review

Literary Journal of Hawaii Pacific University

Sliver of Stone Magazine

ISSUE 17: NOVEMBER 2018

#amnoveling

Cathy Day's course on novel-writing at Ball State University

10,000 Tons of Black Ink

Featuring quality literary or experimental fiction and creative non-fiction.

Sorry Television

Reading a book a week

%d bloggers like this: