Another widower friend becomes attached

Another one of my unattached widower friends has joined the world of the attached. He met her at church shortly before COVID-19, and everything seems to be going well with these two Catholics.

She has a couple twenty-something children and he has three grown boys. Although there is not much they can do to pass the time together during COVID (or so he says), they keep each other company. The relationship has eased their loneliness, and he is finding comfort with this new partner.

He and I were always just friends starting during the end of his wife’s illness. After she died, he reached out to me to further our friendship. With my serious illness, it was clear this would never be more than a casual friendship.

Matt, we will call him, is a good guy although extremely politically conservative. We share values though and raised our children similarly. I liked his wife; I’m not sure how he felt about my husband. His wife died three years ago; my husband has been gone eight and a half years. Both our spouses died of different kinds of brain cancer.

He invited me over for a swim in his pool and made me lunch one summer weekday. It was pleasant. He said, “Remember when I told you I would tell you if I started dating someone? Well, I’m dating someone.”

He went on to say this relationship would not impact our friendship. Our bond as widows and friends is important to him. He said to call him soon for a bike ride.

I said I would, but I haven’t. I’m not sure our friendship will stay the same. We used to go to lunch and drive around the city looking for new spots to check out. We walked and rode bikes. We would have beers. He spent many hours at my house making repairs. I made him meals of thankfulness.

But now I’m getting sicker. My cancer has leapt from a multitude of bones to small mounds of soft tissue in the liver and lungs. Overall, I don’t feel great. I long for how I used to feel. But better days could be on the docket. I am hopeful as a new treatment is about to start. As for Matt with his partner, he is smiling more frequently.

I’m happy for him.

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Finding Love After Loss

We did it, we completed our book, “Finding Love After Loss.”

The process has been a long road, just about as long as I have had metastatic breast cancer. The book will be published this fall.

I’m taking comfort in having accomplished the completion of the book as I hope it will help others in the future as they try to make their way through the dating landscape.

It’s a handbook for dating after widowhood, told from my perspective and the perspective of Mary A. Dempsey, my coauthor who had a longtime relationship with a widower. This blog was the inspiration for the book.

We still can’t believe our good luck in finding a publisher after a random search that paid off. Many writers pursue publishers and nothing ever happens but we’re the exception to the rule.

My severe health problems have become more grave and that has taken some of the joy from the whole process. I am trying to hold on to the positive aspects of our good fortune.

It has been a challenge to deal with such severe cancer without Tom, my dear partner of 28 years but my children have been my rock in coping with some of this nightmare. As this horrible disease becomes more treacherous, I am aware that my time is running out.

I’m not sure how many more entries I will have in this blog but it heartens me that my thoughts and work on the subject will live on with “Finding Love After Loss: A Relationship Roadmap for Widows.”

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Pass the anti-depressants, please

How did it come to this? I’m a tough nut, but in recent months, I seriously considered trying a beginner’s dose of anti-depressants. When I told friends I was contemplating this, I was surprised at how many were already downing what they call their “happy pills.”

I also thought about trying therapy, now called tele-therapy, since it is done over the phone. I figured it might help me feel like I counted for something. Yeah, I found out several of those friends also had therapists.

Statistics show that recently, during the coronavirus lock down, one in six Americans have turned to anti-depressants, and there was a 10 to 15 percent rise in antidepressant prescriptions distributed during the pandemic, according to a May article on Britain’s news web site The Telegraph.

About three weeks ago, I started both — antidepressants and tele-therapy. Talking to a psychologist on Zoom makes sense. You really don’t need to talk in person. I haven’t put much stock in therapy in the past, but now — with COVID and all — I wanted an outlet whereby I could complain about how lousy my life is.

The anti-depressants are working. I had no appetite and felt nauseous most of the time. I was randomly vomiting after eating. I lost 12 pounds. It was miserable. My cancer docs thought I had brain cancer with these symptoms. So I had an emergency brain MRI at a hospital in the middle of lock down. I was happy to learn that I had no cancer in my noggin. Amazing, all of these symptoms were caused by anxiety.

Now, I feel a little better about life. COVID-19 continues but the summer months seem to have vaporized some of the evil. I still have that hollow feeling whereby there is not much to look forward to, but I’m coming to accept that. It means no vacations and no joyous occasions such as my nephew’s wedding shower or even his wedding in August. I’m facing the possible cancellation of my own daughter’s wedding reception in September. I still need to hold my month-old granddaughter sporting gloves and a mask. The downside of this: I cannot smell her sweet infant smell.

The COVID lock down had negative effects on many, but those of us living alone who were super social before were painfully impacted. All the activities that held me together vanished. I was able to handle my severe health problems and loneliness through a string of regular monthly activities and volunteer work. Now I have been been relegated to a Zoom book club, and no movie club, and a Zoom book-to-movie club. Just recently, we met on people’s patios for some of these events. Our 17-year-old movie club congregated at one of our city parks. We sat on soccer chairs and sipped our beverages while we visited. It was pleasant, and I see more of that this summer, but it doesn’t compare to having dinner and watching a movie followed by dessert at my friends’ houses.

The book-to-movie club is dissolving. A couple members are opting out for the summer. Deep in my heart, I feel like it won’t be like it was before.

I know there are many much worse off than me. Thousands are dead, and those who suffered and recovered from COVID-19 in hospitals and nursing homes are left with the morbid memories of fighting the virus. Still, those of us dealing with severe illness alone, getting regular blood draws and scans and worried we might end up in the ER, not from the corona virus but from cancer progression, worked our way through roughly seven weeks feeling at times like we wouldn’t survive.

But we did as we faithfully popped those anti-depressants in all shapes and sizes and strengths. We waited for the pills to kick in. Often it takes two to four weeks, we were told. And we talked to our therapists who were snug in their kitchens or offices, safe in their quarantine bubbles with their spouses and children. Oh, how I wish I was lucky enough to have had a quarantine bubble with someone I love. Oh, how I have missed Tom.

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Trains, planes and (not) FAST buses

In February, I took the Amtrak train from Dearborn to Chicago to visit my daughter for a few days. The Midwest weather was surprisingly mild for this time of year. We took short walks, ate at a couple trendy restaurants and relaxed in her comfy, high-rise apartment on the edge of Chicago’s tony Gold Coast neighborhood.

All was well, and then I did something stupid. Instead of the train, I took a plane home to Detroit. I carefully planned how I would get back to my car at the train station in Dearborn. I had no qualms about the efficient process I had set up.

After I got off the plane, I hopped on the airport tram to get to baggage claim more quickly. But I failed to get off the tram in time and went about 40 gates too far. Hungry and tired and mad at myself for this stupid mistake, I walked (and used the moving sidewalks) to go 40 gates back to baggage claim to pick up my suitcase.

My plan was still intact. With luggage in hand, I went outside to ground transportation to find the dark green FAST bus that would seamlessly take me to my car at the train station.

Well, I was dreaming. Finding the FAST bus or anyone who had ever heard of it proved to be impossible. I knew it existed. I had read about it in the paper, and, in fact, carried a glossy FAST bus brochure, which I waved in front of a variety of people in my search for it. But no dice.

Why did I think it was a good idea taking the train to Chicago and the plane back. It cost me roughly $160, about the same if I had taken the plane round trip.

Standing outside in the cold, I knew right then I should have called an UBER or my son who was at a friend’s house that night watching the Super Bowl. But, by now, I was on a mission. I stood there watching one wrong bus after another stop in front of me and leave. Finally, I spotted a woman bus driver sitting in a Hertz-branded bus with the door open. I asked her about FAST. To my delight, she knew of it and got out to walk me over to another bus (not FAST), which took me and others swiftly to a bus station in the north terminal of the airport. I felt turned around and famished. I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and there was nothing edible in this part of the airport.

Exiting the bus, looking lost and waving the now-crinkled FAST brochure, a friendly airlines worker asked if I needed help. I told him my situation. He responded, “I’m an environmentalist, too. I understand you wanting to use the bus.” I’m not sure what environmentalism had to do with my situation at that point, but he pointed to a sign that said FAST. It even had its own glass, enclosed bus stop. One young man was waiting there. He told me his app showed the bus was due in about an hour. By now, the Super Bowl was over.

Despite the whole mess, I knew all I had to do now was wait. A couple other airport workers joined us and kept me updated on the arrival time. I almost started crying with relief when the shiny, clean FAST bus arrived. I walked up to the door feeling like a child who just got rescued after being lost in the woods. A smiling driver said she had a bathroom break and would be back in 15 minutes. I went back to the enclosed bus stop to wait another 20 minutes or so.

To its credit, the FAST bus charged just 50 cents (for seniors 65 and over). Once in motion, it made its way efficiently to several west side stops — Inkster, River Rouge, Dearborn Heights and, eventually, the train station. Not a soul was there, but my car was. I literally felt like hugging it. I got in the car, blasted the heat and gunned it out of the desolate parking lot to the freeway that would take me home.

Lesson learned: I will take the same form of transportation — both ways.

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Wisconsin spa soothes cancer woes

This past fall, I was the beneficiary of a four-day trip to an upscale spa in the Wisconsin Dells, just north of Madison. So were 11 other women from my Detroit area Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) support group. Everything was paid for — even the ride to and from the airport. A deceased woman in our group left behind an astoundingly thoughtful and generous husband who set up a foundation to fund these luxury spa trips.

When I was contacted by our support group leader via email that my name was pulled from a hat, it made my day. Our Detroit support group has 20 members, but there were only 12 spots. So not everyone got to go.

I understood from the first six who went that it would be wonderful, but they could not disclose details. I imagined it as four days of pure bliss — gourmet food, light exercise, spa services, more spa services, making new friends with cancer, etc. I looked forward to it for months.

My expectations were slightly askew. It was not a carefree vacation at a spa in the bucolic forests of northern Wisconsin. Rather it was a cancer retreat with a daily agenda that started early and with activities carefully crafted and operated by the Wisconsin-based non-profit Breast Cancer Recovery. A program director and volunteers ran it. This team of women had different stages of MBC, which was comforting to the attendees from Michigan. We also were joined with MBC attendees from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While we were treated to a deluxe private room and an over-the-top breakfast each morning, it had to be consumed by 8:30 a.m. in the restaurant or brought to the circle to eat. Yes, the circle. We spent long stretches of time sitting there on stiff folding chairs, an especially painful undertaking for me with nerve damage in my spine and thigh. This routine required setting my alarm for 6:30 a.m. so I could shower and do my morning rituals before circle time. Keep in mind I never get up that early.

In fact, circle time, which happened intermittently through the morning, afternoon and evening, became a ritual I was not always happy to join. There were all sorts of unleashing of feelings such as fear, anger, frustration, and sentiment regarding life before and after the dreadful MBC took hold. Luckily, the leader had a three-minute timer that kept each participants’ story to a minimum. I provided a bit of levity playing the bad ass of the group. I’m decent at being self deprecating and sarcastic, and it sometimes makes people laugh. But, honestly, it serves as a way for me to hide my emotions.

I am also aware in these kinds of groups that I’m the only widow, and I feel sorry for myself and jealous of others.

Enough negatives. The spa was as lavish as a luxury hotel with hallways and rooms that smelled like lavender and lemon. The staff was kind and patient. There were hot and cool water pools and showers everywhere and hot tub motifs that copied the rugged nature of the Dells.

A highlight for me was finding a large, empty meditation room with panoramic windows that looked out to the woods brimming with prowling deer. I hung out there by myself because most women didn’t stray far from the circle-time room. In fact, if I had one criticism of this retreat it was too sedentary. We should have got up from our seats regularly to stretch or stroll around the indoor and outdoor grounds of the spa. During a break one day, I made the bold move of going outside for a walk in the woods. There wasn’t a soul outside except for the doorman.

They fed us well; we even had our own chef, a tall, good-looking, young charmer. We were privy to three rich meals a day with an afternoon smoothie thrown in.

Most of the women were friendly, open about their lives and brave. A few were surprisingly young — way too young for this kind of cancer. One had a child under five. The U.S. MBC population is about 150,000 and growing. I’m trying to educate people about it because almost no one understands it. Until my diagnosis, I didn’t have a clue.

It is the kind of breast cancer that kills because the cancer tumors in the breast, sometimes undetected as in my case, take a quiet, one-way trip from the breast to the bones, liver, lungs or brain. This is called metastasis. Most of the other kinds of breast cancer can be cured via a lumpectomy or mastectomy followed by chemo and/or radiation.  MBC can be treated, but never cured. Once it metastasizes, there is no remission. You are never cancer free. Still, there are drugs that force it to lie dormant for periods of time. And, for that, I am thankful.

Would I attend another Breast Cancer Recovery event? Certainly. I learned a few things, enjoyed making new pals and ate well. I now have a block of new Facebook friends from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and I am again reassured I am not alone with this miserable disease.

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Welcoming a second wedding

Well, it was just a matter of time that my daughter and her 5-year -plus boyfriend would become engaged. It happened a few months ago — a wonderfully happy occasion. The wedding is planned for early next fall.

My first child, a son, married a couple years ago. So I gained a second daughter and, with this next wedding, I will gain another son. The symmetry is perfect. I have always felt lucky to have a boy and a girl — “a pigeon pair.”

My children have chosen their life partners well. I like to think it is because Tom and I raised them commendably and showed them what a good relationship looks like. And it doesn’t hurt that long marriages are in the family genes. Most members on both sides have had decades-long marriages.

So the downside to all of the happy excitement around another wedding: It drives home with a vengeance Tom’s absence again. I get that raw, aching feeling that comes with missing a loved one, even several years after their death. It is a miserable feeling that I know will continue until my life’s end.

The fact that I don’t have a significant other now doesn’t help. While many widows and widowers find new, long-term mates, I haven’t. I’ve had a handful of screwy, laughable, semi-relationships, but none were even close to right. It has been good fodder for my blog. And our book, “Death Did Us Part” (with co-author Mary Dempsey), illustrates bits and pieces of the dating and boyfriend tomfoolery.

But, in short, I’m working to enjoy the planning and execution of this happy, significant event. My daughter has started bouncing wedding ideas off me. She is so happy as is my future son in law. But they will tell you planning a wedding can be stressful, especially if you are trying to keep costs down while orchestrating a beautiful event. In their (mostly my daughter’s) case, it is a white tent on the grass with a lake backdrop. I’m not sure how it will all shake out, but there is plenty of time, and we have nailed down a stunning venue that meets all the criteria. Surprising by today’s standards, it also will be a church wedding — a novelty among Millennials.

As any of you who have hosted a wedding know, paying $10,000 or less means a wedding at a VFW or Knights of Columbus hall, maybe somebody’s backyard or even city hall. So I’m on a mission to help them hold down costs by skipping things that are easy to do without — fancy, abundant flowers, lavish church decorations, a photo booth, and sweet treats to take home. I’ll be adding to this list.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep Tom in a good place in my brain, believing that he will be overlooking the wedding planning and, of course, have a front row seat at the nuptials.

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What Kind of Weed Will Ease the Pain

In November 2018, Michigan voters approved recreational weed. It became available Dec. 1 to anyone 21 or older with proper ID. Medicinal weed has been legal since 2008 and has been bought, smoked and ingested quietly and with several caveats. (I still can’t believe state voters gave a hearty nod to what used to be an illegal, illicit drug that was used clandestinely and sometimes landed people in jail.)

With that background, I’m not looking for weed to get high. I did that when I was a young party girl. Now I need it to curb cancer pain — nasty relentless aching in my tail bone and upper leg.

The breast cancer radiation treatments (45 to be exact) I endured three years ago left me with serious neurological pain and numbness in my back, leg and feet. I’ve controlled that pain with small doses of opiates  — until recently the pills stopped working.  An MRI showed my tail bone was fractured, ratcheting up the pain level. A few physical and medical steps by my pain doctor failed, leaving me with wanting to go to Plan B, medical marijuana.

Sounds easy enough. But it’s not.

My pain doc filled out the appropriate paperwork as did I. I sent it into the state’s licensing office about a month ago. My medical marijuana card recently arrived in the mail.

The trouble now is which dispensary do I use?  Will bud masters and other dispensary employees know what to give a metastatic breast cancer patient for pain? How much? What strain? Is it possible to get pain relief and not get high?

A member of my cancer support group had been miserable with relentless pain, but is much improved using some semblance of weed pills and oils. She has a pot guru with a strange name who lives miles away from me. But I’ve scheduled a consult via email with this person. Now that I have my card,  I plan to head out to the small Michigan town hoping to learn what might work for my kind of cancer. After that, I will buy it at a medical marijuana dispensary of my choice.

Not sure how this will shake out. I have CBD (hemp) oil, which I’ve ingested and applied to painful areas. It has done nothing during the two years I’ve tried it on and off. I recently had a CBD oil massage at an tony spa in Wisconsin. It was supposed to help curb pain, but it didn’t. Now I anticipate a (free) consult with a mysterious expert who doesn’t answer my emails. Clearly, we haven’t taken the secrecy out of pot use.









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Cruising…not for the faint hearted

I finally went on a cruise — a Royal Caribbean excursion recommended by my travel agent to be a good starter experience. It was good and bad.

My dear friend from college and I flew to Fort Lauderdale, an effortless three-hour trip from the Midwest. We spent the night there to relax and made the intricate journey through customs to the ship the next day. We surprisingly had a junior suite with a lovely balcony. The time I spent out there was a highlight. I logged extensive time staring at the wide-open ocean, which was a beautiful, deep blue color I can’t justly describe. Every time I moved the drapes and saw it, I was struck by its beauty. The first morning I got up and saw the water ten floors down, I gasped. So this is why people go on cruises.

But I was wrong. People go on cruises for the booze and the endless food served at all hours of the day and night. They go for the opportunity to stand in a hot tub or pool for hours at a time typically with a frosty drink in hand delivered by an obliging waiter.

At first, I felt good. We checked out the ship’s offerings and realized as junior suite members we ate in the upscale dining room with two very attentive waiters.  We saw that we must have been bumped up on this ship because our original itinerary changed from visiting Cuba to going to (yawn) Costa Maya. The price for the trip also dropped, likely to compensate for our President changing the law last June — no cruise ships to Cuba.

I enjoyed the dinner served the first night. We enthusiastically signed up to share our table with people, but when the seats next to us stayed empty, we were told we had no table mates. We were disappointed as the folks around us had table mates they seemed to be bonding with.

The second day at sea I felt a little green, but I ate all of a tasty dinner — beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and carrot cake. It was the biggest dinner I’ve eaten in months. After that, I was cooked. I felt nauseous, and the food was pressing on my rib cage. I was dizzy and had to hold onto the ship’s walls to keep from falling on my way back to our room. I went to bed. An anti-nausea drug and Dramamine helped a bit, but I could only lay there and try to fall asleep. I felt wretched and had no clue how I was going to survive on this ship for three more days.

But I did. Luckily I brought prescription sea sickness patches and applied one of those the next day when we were off the ship exploring Cozumel. It’s a poor island with its only attribute being the beautiful reefs that surround it. People come from all over to snorkel and scuba dive in those waters.

We paid in advance for an excursion to ride a Jeep around the island, have lunch and go snorkeling.  But I felt lousy as we walked for a half hour to meet our tour guide (the walk was supposed to be five minutes). Our tour guide, Ivan, pulled up in a 30-plus-year-old rust bucket Jeep.

It was hideous — dirty, no side mirrors, no rear view mirror, broken seat belts. And its height from the ground — a good three feet — made it difficult to get in and out, especially for a person with mobility issues. We recommended Ivan give us his cooler to use as a step stool. That did the trick to get us into the gross vehicle. For the rest of the day, we used a broken concrete brick to get in and out of the vehicle. Each time it was an accomplishment.

Ivan was somewhat redeemed for the nasty Jeep by tailoring the excursion to meet my needs. He was a 27-year-old kind, soft-spoken small man who clued us in on many things about the island and what it is like to grow up and live there. He took us to a beautiful Catholic church, a special Mayan grave, the island’s military base where he served two years, his high school, his friend’s authentic restaurant for lunch, and a beach, where we splashed around up to our knees. We opted not to snorkel. My wonderful friend made sacrifices every day, giving up things we paid for without ever complaining.

Back on the ship that night, I was feeling normal again. We partook of guessing music trivia, chatting with random people and watching a song and dance show. The next day we opted out of the paid excursion (a trip to Mayan ruins), but spent a good amount of time shopping for silver jewelry, hanging out near the saltwater pool and walking around Costa Maya, which is a prefabricated town designed to entice cruise ship shoppers. Later I got beat in Scrabble — again. I also got to judge the sexiest man on the ship competition. Small accomplishments. Dinner was pizza and snacks from the deli. We lost interest in the rich meals in the posh dining room.

Will I do this again? No, not this. But I would go on a cruise to say Alaska or maybe a European river cruise. Now I know all I need is a tiny patch behind my ear and a balcony with a perfect view of the sea.





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Maximizing each summer day

Summer…ahhh…the best season in the Midwest. Summer started in July this year.  It was a long wait, but finally I was able to replace my winter clothes with my summer ones, and wear shorts, capris and sandals every day.

A few weeks ago I learned — after a major scan and blood work — that my metastatic breast cancer (or MBC as it is now called) is stable, meaning no progression. And, to add to that good news, some of my existing cancer has dissipated — translation: melted away. This is a huge accomplishment for this miserable disease. It means the chemo pill I’ve been taking for six months is working.

So combine stable cancer with summer and I’m maximizing every day. Friends invite me to lunch, dinner, bike rides, walks, movies, vacations, and I’m there. I can’t ride my bike as far as I used to, but I’m good for five miles and occasionally up to ten.

I’m still missing Tom and have these moments where it hurts to live without him. I sheepishly admit I sometimes feel angry so many of my peers still have their husbands. But I try not to dwell on it.

Besides being widowed of late seems to have gained a bit of panache.  There are more TV shows (both network and streaming) featuring plots around widows and widowers. Memoirs about widowhood by high-profile business women and famous writers are more common. A friend and I were delighted earlier this year to procure an agent to find a publisher for our book that explores dating after widowhood. So it’s sort of safe to say widowhood is a thing. Of course, it always has been, just more under the radar.

Back to my third or, actually, fourth summer with cancer, I am happy to indulge myself at every turn. I’m not drinking much and often have little appetite, but when I do I go for it. I spoil myself with ice cream and sweets and eat excessive amounts of summer fruit — watermelon, cherries, blueberries, peaches, plums, and melon.

I spend time on my peaceful backyard patio that feels like a private forest with roughly a dozen full-grown trees, rampant black squirrels, robins, cardinals, and blue jays. I work out there and read and have long phone conversations with friends and my darling daughter who lives in another state.

The only problem with the long days of summer is they end and turn into shorter, cooler days. Oh, how I hate that transition.

But for now, it is summer, and I have an outdoor dinner to attend.  I plan to enjoy every minute of it.























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Amid chaotic plot, Netflix show just glimpses widows’ world

“Watch the new Netflix show Dead to Me and write about it,” my friend said recently. “It’s about a widow.” So on a dull, spring day, I booted it up on my computer and watched the pilot of the series.

The main character — an attractive widow named Jen (Christina Applegate) — is an appealing character dealing with grief and trying to be a good mother to her young boys — until someone or something sets her off into fits of anger. This happens  a lot, and causes her to spew expletives. Clearly, this widow needs anger management help.

She is often pensive and apologetic after these bouts of anger all the while building a new friendship with a woman she met at a grief group. This woman (spoiler alert) was in the car that killed Jen’s husband in the hit and run. The woman, Judy (Linda Cardellini), is likeable for many reasons. But when you find out she is hiding a terrible secret, and so is her ex-fiancee who also was in the car, you realize these are likable but terribly flawed people.

So the plot thickens as every episode presents watchers with surprising plot twists. The widowhood angle takes a back seat to all the craziness that the show’s characters display. And here I thought it was going to be about the challenges of widowhood.

Still, it is one of those train wrecks you can’t help but keep watching. The escapades of Jen and Judy are hard to resist. The show’s fans are eagerly waiting for season two. I hope it touches on a few, realistic widowhood issues.









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