Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Bald and the Beautiful

I have a deep and intimate relationship with cancer.  I wish I was admitting to having a deep and intimate relationship with Robert Downey, Jr., but that isn't the hand life dealt me.  Unfortunately, my parents were both ravaged by this ugly disease.  I was given a front row ticket to be a witness as my mom and dad bravely faced this monster in a battle to the death.  Neither of them stood a chance.  By the time each discovered their cancer, it had already riddled their bodies beyond repair, beyond any hope of recovery.  My father lived six months after his melanoma was found.  My mother, a victim of renal cell carcinoma, lived only two and half painful, agonizing months. 

When you watch a loved one suffer and die, it changes who you are.  I will forever feel like cancer took away a chunk of me as I watched them lower my mama into the ground.  It left a raw, open, vulnerable wound that won't ever heal.  It also made me fearful.  Every twinge, every sore throat, every unexplained symptom is cancer.  I live daily in terror that it will get me, too.  I've seen what it can do, and I wonder if I'm strong enough to kick it if it ever finds me.

Even though I quietly donate money regularly directly to the hospice house that took care of my mother and restored her right to die with dignity, I'm not a champion of charities.  There are a handful that are meaningful to me, and I do my best to support them.  It's not my style to be a cheerleader.  I'm more the Booster Club member who donates money so the marching band can get new hats.  There is one organization that has become special to me, though, and I am stepping out of my comfort zone to scream and jump around with pom poms over what they're doing this weekend.

I spent the entire month of September 2011 smiling, weeping and dreading what was to come as I read the story of a precious little girl named Donna.  You see, it's heartbreaking enough when an adult is faced with fighting cancer, but it's unthinkable that a child should ever have to look into the eyes of this demon.  I can't remember how I came across Donna's story, but her mother put their fight into words that touched me deeply.  I couldn't get her out of my mind, this little girl whom I would never meet.  I took those feelings that were still brewing over the loss of my own parents and imagined what it would be like if it were my daughter instead.

Donna's parents set up a charity in her name, Donna's Good Things. (I dare you to click on the link and not smile when you see her beautiful face.)  This weekend in Chicago, Donna's charity and the St. Baldrick's Foundation are hosting an event to raise money for cancer research.  So, what makes this so different?  The participants have not only signed up to raise money for the cause, but they are also SHAVING THEIR HEADS.  That's right.  Folks who have never even met Donna or her family have pledged not only their time and dollars but also their hair. Would you go bald to honor the memory of a child you have never met?  I am in awe of their commitment.

I'm proud to say that three of my blogger friends created a team and are shaving their heads for Donna's Good Things. Deb from The Monster in Your Closet, Chris over at From the Bungalow, and Karin from Pinwheels and Poppies are doing the deed this weekend.  Oh, and as a bonus, my favorite fellow spaz, Katy, from I Want A Dumpster Baby will be there to keep everyone smiling as their locks are falling to the floor.  It's not too late to donate if you are so inclined. I did, and it was completely painless.

I know that no amount of money raised or research conducted will bring back my parents or anyone else who lost the fight with cancer, but if one child is saved, it's worth it to me.  For that reason alone, I choose hope.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Rose

I grew up in a tiny, white house that sat nearly in the middle of a small, Southern town.  Both of my parents worked in the textile mill, and that provided enough money to cover our basic needs (mostly) but not much for extras.  Don't get me wrong.  I had toys and a nice Christmas and food on the table, but even from a very young age, I understood that life wasn't easy for my mother and father.  They sweated the bills.  Checks bounced and many prayers went from my mom's mouth to God's ear that we would somehow make it to the next payday with enough gas in the car and dinner on the table for our large family every night.

I learned that it was in my best interest to stay out of my parents' way. While my dad parked himself in front of the television with an Old Milwaukee watching "Wild Kingdom" and my mom sat at the sewing machine moonlighting as a seamstress for extra money, I disappeared into my fantasy life, a life that was full of songs, and I was the shining star.

I have always loved music. I come from a very musical family whose members are a singing and instrument-playing bunch.  We may have had a dirt driveway and a ripped screen door on the front of the house, but we also had a piano.  It was crammed into a little corner of our crowded den, and I spent untold hours banging out tunes from my little red beginner's piano workbook. "Up a row, to and fro, to a birthday par-ty".  I remember it so well.

I spent most of my time in our backyard putting on a show for my adoring, imaginary audience.  I would sing as loud as my eight-year-old voice would carry, unaware if the neighbors were cringing and honestly not caring if they were.  I had quite a large repertoire of songs that were not exactly in the same genre as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" that my peers were perfecting.  This tune by Three Dog Night was one of my favorites:

Even though I sang in the church choir and truly believed that I was the second coming of Judy Garland, it wasn't until I was in the sixth grade that I had a chance to prove how I had the pipes to be a star.  It was the end of the school year and the end of our elementary career.  A Field Day was planned, and the finale of the event was to be a talent show.  Finally!  I couldn't wait to show my friends what I had known all along - that I had the talent to be on Broadway one day.
I signed up to sing, and the choice of song was a no-brainer for me.  It was a song that I sang until my throat was dry.  I carefully played it on the piano until my parents sent me out of the room.  It was a hit that year, 1979.  It was..."The Rose" by Better Midler from the movie of the same name.
I was too young to see the film or even understand fully what the lyrics meant to her or anyone else for that matter.  I just loved the plinking piano keys and the almost painful way she sang it.  When I was listening to this song, I became Bette.  I became a star.
The night before the talent show, my older sister carefully wove my damp hair into dozens of tiny braids for me to sleep on, and when I awoke the next morning and removed them, I saw a pint-sized, kinky-haired Bette, ready to set the world on fire.
At the end of the day, the sixth graders all piled into one classroom for the show.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the talent of any other kid that day.  I guess my mind was on the song.  When my turn came, I walked up to the front of the class.  Nervous, with the room so quiet that I could hear my heart pounding, I took a deep breath and began an a capella performance of "The Rose".
"It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It's the one who won't be taken, who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dyin' that never learns to live."
Decades have passed since that warm May afternoon, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  I never left that small town.  My dream of making a living with my voice was just that - a dream.  I was too afraid to leave my family behind for the big city and lacked the confidence to even try.  So, that was my moment, my moment in the spotlight.  It wasn't Broadway but brick school house instead.  Yes, I do understand the irony of lyrics that beg you to take a chance and the fear that held me back.
I didn't give up singing, though.  If you're lucky, you might catch my next gig...coming from my car at a stoplight near you...