Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


He was found in the engine of a car.  That is as far back as I know his story.

Our lives became intertwined the day I went to visit Julie, a friend from high school, a cat lover, and the founder of Outcast Cat Help.  My desire was only to visit my old friend, as through thick and thin Alaskans like to stick together, even when we have ventured some 3,000 miles away from home.  I only had a short time to stop and say hello, exchange hugs and a few laughs, and admire Julie’s work with abandoned cats.  She was running her weekly adoption fair at the Danville Pet Food Express, and I was an innocent bystander. Really, I was.  I had no intention of holding a cat, much less signing adoption papers some two hours later, but Julie has a way of making people fall in love when they are least expecting it.  All she had to say was “Here, why don’t you hold this cat for a minute” and not long after I said “I do.” 

Here was the dilemma -- I didn’t need a cat, and my dogs certainly wouldn't want a cat.  I have two Beagles….but Richard, my better half, well he needed a cat, even if he didn’t know it at the time.  He did.  My advice is and has always been to never, ever, not ever surprise anyone with an animal; that is just a recipe for disaster. But Julie--did I mention she has a way of making you fall in love?  She knows well how to break through all rules, inhibitions, logic, and common sense, and she knows a good match when she sees one.  I was not forewarned.  On that particular day, at that particular time, I was weak, maybe I didn’t have enough sleep the night before, maybe I hadn’t eaten breakfast, but regardless, I walked out with Benni.  Ben Ben. Benjamin.  Or as I often exclaim to him in a high pitched voice when I want his attention “Beeeeennnnnnnn.”

I didn’t exactly pick Benni for Richard, Julie did.  She suggested that Benni would be perfect.  She knows Richard well, that he is an introvert, kind, quiet, loving and alone a lot.  So was Benni.  If Richard was reincarnated as a cat, I have no doubt, he would in fact come back as Benni’s double.  And so, though I don’t know the beginning of Benni’s story, I know the beginning of our story.

“Richard, let’s sleep in the trailer tonight” I exclaimed over the telephone.

“Why?” He asked, puzzled.

“Because it’s a nice night to sleep in the trailer and it would be fun for the three of us” (knowing that Benni would have less anxiety starting out in a small space).

"The three of us?” 

“You, me, and Benni!” 

“Who’s Benni?????” 

And that's how it all began.  As most happy pet stories go, Richard and Benni are now part of the same family.  Benni eats the best food and poops in the most expensive kitty litter.  Unlike me with my Beagles, Richard knows exactly how many calories, and I mean down to the calorie that Benni is supposed to consume each day.  He has also become expert in making cat meows, in an almost creepy kind of “babe, seriously you're freaking me out" kind of way.  In turn, when Richard isn’t with me, he has a loving companion to sleep on his head at night, and when Richard has to go out of town, Benni gets to sleep on my head at night, to the annoyance of my jealous dogs Bailey and Lilly.  For this reason, we did not mention to the dogs that Benni’s  adorable face hangs proudly on the wall, on an over-sized supermodel pet billboard at the Danville Pet Food Express, thanks to an anonymous donor, the proceeds of which were donated to Julie’s organization, Outcast Cat Help.

The good news IS Benni has a loving home, Richard is happy, I am happy, and Julie….well if you ever run into her and she starts to place a cat in your lap, you have had sufficient warning.  She will make you fall in love.  I know we have.

Sweet Dreams And Always GOOD Dreams,
(Bennie watching cat videos)

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Today is a very sad day.  I was driving my daily commute to my radiation treatment this morning and heard the breaking news alert that Donna Summer had died. “Please don’t let it be breast cancer, please don’t let it be breast cancer….” That’s what my brain was thinking, over and over and over.  I changed the station.  “Donna Summer has died of breast cancer at the age of 63.”  For a moment, I drove solemnly, unable to process both that my teenage disco queen…the one whose music I had spent countless hours to, in the living room of my house, while choreographing dance moves for my P.E. class had not only died, but died of the same disease I was driving the long commute to treat.  The bastard breast cancer.

I drove west on the 580, bumper-to-bumper in morning traffic, sobbing uncontrollably.  It wasn’t purely unselfish, it was for the loss of a part of my past, an era, that Donna Summer represented, and for my own fear of dying.  I texted a friend, breaking one of my cardinal rules of no-texting while driving.  “Are you okay?” He asked.  “No. I don’t want to die” was all I could reply.  “Well then stop texting and driving" he responded, bringing a small smile to my face as I wiped off the tears.

The reality of my own mortality was again staring at me, screaming loudly, “If Donna Summer can die of breast cancer, then so can you!”  Didn't she have all the money that anyone could possibly have for the best treatments and her own personal researchers to fight this disease? So how was it that cancer could take her?  My thought process was indeed selfish.  My loss, my pain, my grief, my fears.

Sometimes I see people looking at me with that same thought process, fearing that my disease could one day be their reality.  It is human nature.  How did you get it?” I’ve been asked, knowing they are seeking reassurance that it couldn't happen to them...that, phew, they haven't followed the same recipe for disaster in their own lives, and have managed to circumvent any possibility of being diagnosed with cancer.  I too panicked, and immediately wanted to find out what made Donna Summer's breast cancer different than mine, to separate myself from her disease, to reassure myself that I won't die, like she did.  Did she drink too much Coke? Eat too many processed foods?  "The second I get home from radiation I will Google her and find out where she went wrong, and I will continue to eat my vegetables, I promise."  Bargaining is part of grief.  Unfortunately, there is no full-proof recipe.  Life is a crap shoot.  It doesn't matter who you are. 

But there I was, playing Russian Roulette upon hearing the news, texting while driving on the freeways, looking for reassurance that I would not die and just then a long yellow school bus drove next to my car, with the innocent looks of young children whose faces were smashed up against the windows smiling.  I could see myself in their faces...innocently seeing the world through the eyes of a child.  “I want to live like that again!” I thought.

Driving home I realized how self-centered my thought process had been.  “I don’t want to die.”  That’s the truth of the matter, I don’t.  Donna’s death had reminded me of the inevitability of life, and yet, the adult version of myself was ashamed that I allowed her loss to be about me.  As a compromise I decided that I would not allow her loss to be in vein.  When I think of her, or sing at the top of my lungs in the car like the Disco Queen that I always thought I was in the 70’s, thanks to Donna's egging me on with her high notes and gut wrenching emotion, I will remember to live.  That is how best any of us can honor her now that she is gone.  Live for the moment, like an innocent child smiling through the school bus window, excited to greet the day.  And in that thought I remembered a quote I heard not too long ago.

“When you are afraid to die, it is because you have a life worth living.”

Rest in peace Donna.  You brought greatness to music.  You made a difference.  You are part of an era we will never forget.

Sweet Dreams And Always GOOD Dreams,


Friday, May 11, 2012


Just in case you haven’t gotten the memo yet, just as 40 is the new 30, and green is the new black, bald is the new beautiful! This is my shout out to all women who have lost their hair to cancer.

On November 8, 2011 when I listened to my primary physician’s message after he received the pathology report from my biopsy, ”I need to see you in my office right away so we can make some arrangements,” my first thought after “Oh my God I have cancer and I’m going to die!” was “Oh my God I’m going to lose my hair!  Death. Hair loss.  Death.  Hair loss.  Death. Hair loss.  If that isn’t a messed up thought process, then I don’t know what is.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been a little stuck on the hair thing lately, but there’s a good reason. Women aren’t allowed to be bald, not according to the unspoken world of glamour, unless of course they are a super model, which most of us are not. In fact, I haven’t seen a bald chick on the cover of a magazine since Britney was mocked on The National Enquirer and Demi Moore shaved her head for G.I. Jane in 1997.  Hence, the average priced wig runs anywhere from $200 - $700.  Why? Because we are made to feel ugly without our hair.  Consequently, there is a growing market for wigs amongst female cancer patients. I do think a lot of wigs are downright hot and sassy, but unfortunately, there are also a lot and I mean a lot of women losing their hair to cancer because cancer is a disconcerting epidemic in this Country and the last thing we should have to worry about during a crisis is the stigma of being bald when we are thrust into the shocking face-to-face reality of our own mortality.  Seriously people, it’s time to say “enough.”  So here I am leading a one woman charge to make our baldness a statement of courage, strength, a badge of honor….a fashion statement if you will because “I’ve had enough and I’m not going to take it anymore!” I think that’s a quote from a movie by the way but my memory cells have been depleted so don’t ask me which movie.

Anyway, fast forward to this bald epiphany, which I first experienced last week while I was taking my walk because exercise is good.  Exercise is good.  Exercise is good (if I repeat it enough times, I might believe it), and suddenly without warning, a chemo induced menopausal hot flash took over just as multiple cars were driving by me in a hurry to get home from work, or somewhere.  Reluctantly, I did almost the equivalent of what I did yesterday on the side of the freeway on my commute to my radiation treatment when I could no longer hold my bladder and there were only bushes in site; I pulled off my hat.  Yes, I did.  Hoping for a reprieve from the hot flash, exposing my bald head to the many of my traffic hour victims, I commited the worst of all fashion faux pas.  I'm not sure which act was worse, what I did on the side of the freeway, or exposing my bald head, but it was truly liberating to just not care!  Then, (there's more!) I pulled off my t-shirt exposing my black tank top (aka beater) and you are never going to believe what happened, not in a million years. Nothing.  Nothing at all happened.  No one cared. No sirens went off, the fashion police didn’t stop me, and with the exception of one man who maybe sort of gave me a look of “shaved head hoodlums in black beaters moving into the neighborhood” – IT DIDN’T MATTER! 

The next day, I confidently ran errands sans hair, or wig, hat, or scarf, with the exception of my new growth of porcupine sprouts, some black, some gray, closely beginning to resemble a Chia pet.  People were actually smiling at me, and it wasn’t that look of pity that I get when I wear a cancer scarf, it was that “You GO Sister!” look of admiration from others that I was shouting out to the world that Bald is Beautiful and we don’t have to wear no stinkin’ scarf to cover our God given heads if we don’t want to.  No ladies, repeat after me… BALD IS BEAUTIFUL.”  Helllloooo Glamour Magazine, are you listening????

Recently, I was having a profound conversation with my cousin about life and cancer, which she gets because she has experienced both...and she touched on something really profound.  Something about designer clothes, handbags, high heels, manicures, oh they are pretty alright, but they don’t make us real. Being stripped of everything material and still being okay with ourselves….that’s what makes us real.  Which reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite children’s stories…

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.” Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real

Thank you for making me real.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Its hard to believe that just three weeks ago I was hooked up to two IV's, simultaneously being pumped with someone else's blood (thank you blood donors) and antibiotics while severely ill in the hospital, and yet today I spent two hours singing and getting my cardio on while mowing my lawn.  Can you say push lawnmower?

Okay, the fact that I only finished half the lawn and my lawn is not that big has nothing to do with my physical health....that's more of an OCD lawn issue I am working on which perhaps I will one day share.  As for now, I am much more comfortable sharing pictures of my bald head then telling you about my personal hangups. 

So while I was mowing the lawn (which is very therapeutic fyi) I had a lot of time to think how one moment, that moment when we feel we will never make it through to see the light at the end of the tunnel, when it all seems so overwhelming that we actually consider the weight of the burden to be more than we can bear, suddenly turns into another moment...that moment when we are laughing again.  Yes laughing again, and everything is right with the world.  Only three weeks ago I was close to ready to give up, and today I am back and ready to conquer.  Funny how life is.

Pain, grief, disbelief, illness, fear, it's there and it's real and it serves to remind me of how vulnerable I really am, even when I fantasize that I'm Wonder Woman.  I am not.  I will be honest with you.  Prior to going to emergency after my third round of chemo, I tried to negotiate in the middle of the night with the on-call physician, while burning up with a neutropenic fever.  I begged him to let me stay home, hoping I would feel better in the morning, knowing I could have died during the night.  Not my proudest moment, but that's how much I didn't want to go to the hospital yet again and have blood taken and IV's in my arm, and six inch Qtips stuck up my nose for whatever samples they were going to take.  I even did the unthinkable.  I took Tylenol with Codeine and a few Ibuprofin to try to drop the fever so I could convince myself that I was fine, but a dropped fever doesn't elevate the white blood cell count, it only tricks your body into thinking you are fine.  I wasn't.  Finally, I came to my senses knowing my options were less than none, but then again on the way to the emergency room I cried like a two year old having a tantrum while Richard stayed stoic driving as quickly yet as safely as he could get me there.  I bellowed "I don't waaaaaannnnnnttttt to go!!!! I caannnn't do this!" as he drove silently and patiently holding my hand, allowing me my breakdown.  When we got to emergency, it was worse then I thought, and yes, I had visions of just leaving -- walking out of the hospital because I couldn't take one more needle, and to top it off I was dry heaving.  I was so ill, they admitted me (I begged them not to) to the cancer ward of the hospital on EASTER WEEKEND, quarantined me like a rabid dog and stuck a big hot pink sign on the door of my room to warn anyone that entered not to bring in germs. 

I am not sharing this to tell you how miserable I was (but if you want to feel sorry for me ever, this would be the time), but to share with you the amazing thing about changes.  It ebbs and it flows and just when we think we can't take another minute of suffering, the sun comes out again...and again....and again....Sometimes, just knowing that, is enough to keep me going. 

My prayer to God and the Universe is that during your darkest moments you will hold on to that thought because one of the greatest beauties of life is that it changes.  It shakes us to the core and then, maybe not today, or tomorrow, or as quickly as we'd like, but just as sure as the flowers will bloom again and the baby birds will sing, eventually the clouds will pass and we will breathe again. Yes, we will.

I have proof of that, if only in my half-mowed lawn...

Keep the faith, always.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,