5. The Heart of the Season: Hats for Grail Mama and Friends Beyond Family

~~By Grail Guardian

We all know that 2008 has been a very trying year for all of us; the devastating election season, rampant misogyny and racism, the trampling of the Constitution, the endless betrayals of Congress and the President, the collapse of the world economy, the horrific tragedy of Bettyjean Kling and her family, the list seems to go on and on. For me there has been an added trial. This summer, my mother came down with what she described as a stomach bug. She was tired, weak, and couldn’t hold down solid food. After 2 weeks of applesauce and Jell-O we dragged her kicking and screaming to the doctor, and an ultrasound scan revealed she had gall stones. Or so we thought. After what was supposed to be simple laproscopic surgery, she emerged from the operating room with a ten inch abdominal incision and a diagnosis of aggressive gall gladder cancer.

What made this diagnosis especially awful is that about 40 years ago, she had developed Hodgkins Disease (cancer of the lymph nodes). At the time of her diagnosis, medical science was still a bit backward (although I’m personally not convinced we’ve come that far) and she underwent some of the first chemo and radiation therapy used to fight cancer. The ordeal she went through was indescribably awful; the primitive nitrogen-mustard chemo left her unable to life her own head and the radiation left her with disrupted balance and co-ordination, scar tissue, and brittle bones for the rest of her life. But she defied the medical community and lived. Though confined to a wheelchair and unable to do simple things like drive or put a holiday turkey in the oven, she eventually went on to go horseback riding, bowling, scuba diving, and even skiing!

Her life had been transformed, but she lived as normally as she could until she started to slow down again this summer. The surgeon was able to remove most of the cancerous mass, but there was a small bit in her liver that was inoperable. Although I know she was terrified by the memory of her first experience, after the oncologist assured her that they used much gentler stuff these days she summoned her strength and agreed to try chemo and radiation again. The doc was truthful – it was less obnoxious, producing some nausea and extreme weakness and tiredness, but nothing like the first time. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, we discovered it also hadn’t worked.

The day the doc delivered the news, I was (needless to say) a bit overwhelmed. Winter in upstate NY is not for the faint of heart or body, and even the short trek to the cancer center left her cold and tired. She and Dad drove home (Dad said she had slept a bit on the drive over, but I seriously doubt she did on the way back). I finished out the work day in a stupor and headed for home totally disheartened. As my mind raced with thoughts of what we could do next (the doc wasn’t optimistic about alternate forms of chemo, and she told us the side effects would be much worse), I climbed the stairs and found a box sitting outside my door. It was my own little holiday miracle in the making.

In the flurry of medical activity of the week, I had forgotten that our very own Kenosha Marge had e-mailed me a few days earlier to tell me she was sending me a Christmas gift. I opened the box to find a delightful custom-made InsightAnalytical shopping bag and an absolutely wonderful warm and fuzzy fleece IA hat. My first thought was my mother. I knew the hat would be perfect for her! She absolutely loved it, and when we met for a family breakfast a few days later she showed it off to everyone, being sure they noticed the InsightAnalytical embroidered on the brim. She’s never been to the site, and I’m quite sure she didn’t know what IA was, but she pointed it out and made all her friends read it. She kept it on through breakfast and fought with Dad every time he tried to adjust it or get her to take it off.

I sent Marge an e-mail to thank her for her wonderful gifts, and told her I hoped she didn’t mind that I planned on lending the hat to my mother. Well, not only didn’t Marge mind, she immediately responded that she had a Christmas hat that was much prettier that she was sending. (In Marge’s words:” Most of us gals feel a little better knowing that we look better.”) Within a day or so, she e-mailed me again to let me know that not only was the Christmas hat on the way, but 2 others as well! It seems Marge has made hats previously for others with cancer and she had some extras. My mother was quite grateful and delighted! She hasn’t had the chance to wear them all out yet (we got a couple feet of snow here yesterday, so the parents are staying housebound for a bit), but I wanted to do something special to thank Marge for her generosity, talent, and friendship. So now IA readers can get an exclusive view of Marge’s Hatbatty Hats, modeled by Grail Mama:


Christmas Hat

In case you’re wondering, we’ve decided to try an herbal remedy called Graviola, and in January hope to see specialist Dana Flavin König (highly recommended by my cousin Christina).

So again, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Kenosha Marge and to GRL (who has also been very supportive to me personally) for doing their share to make the season bright! And I don’t want to forget American Lassie and Leslie, who also have been great friends in our IA community!

Whatever holiday(s) you may celebrate (if any at all), I want to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!

14 Responses

  1. […] 5. The Heart of the Season: Hats for Grail Mama and Friends Beyond Family […]

  2. I hope all will excuse any typos because I admit that I am writing this teary eyed.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for letting me see Grail Mama wearing one of the hats I made. It warms my heart and you have given me the best Christmas Gift I will ever receive.

    Blessings on you and your wonderful and resilient Mama.

    I hope she feels good, cause she certainly looks beautiful!

  3. Grail…..here is hoping for a miracle for your mama….whatta cutie!!

    And KM, thanks for being about what the true meaning of Christmas is…..sharing and bringing joy to others. Here’s hoping that it rubs off on the masses that don’t “get it”.

    Happy Holidays to you all!!

  4. Grail, your story moved me so much, as at this time of year, I miss my mom the most. Take care of her, and enjoy every single moment of every single day, and she does look beautiful in the hat.
    KMarge, what a wonderful gesture.
    No wonder I lurk here all the time, with so many wonderful, inspiring stories by wonderful writers.
    I’m off to my friend of 45 years for our annual Christmas Eve gettogether and nosh, so ,Have a wonderful Christmas.

  5. Enjoy your celebration, HT!!!

  6. How wonderful to write this story for all to read! Thank you, and blessings to your mother, to you, and to all your family.

  7. Grail,

    I have been depressed for the past week for a number of reasons, but this afternoon something told me to go to IA and see if there was anything new. I could hardly believe my eyes when I began reading your post. It was deja vu.

    Just before Christmas in 2002, I received the news from the oncologist that the tests had confirmed that I had breast cancer, and I needed to have the surgery right away. I didn’t want the family to know before Christmas so as not to spoil their holiday, so we postponed surgery for two weeks. Then I came down with the flu and had to postpone again. The radical mastectomy was performed on January 23, 2003. After extensive chemo infusions and oral chemo for a year the annual MRI showed that the cancer had spread to my lungs., so that meant more chemo both infusions and oral. My hair had just started to grow to a decent length and now here I was bald again. I wore hats, scarfs and wigs galore because I was pretty active and needed to look presentable. It didn’t bother me as much as it did other people. My next MRI showed that there was a tumor on my spine, and I must have radiation. Well, this little treatment just about did me in. I was supposed ato have 14 radiation treatments, but after no.8, I said – NO MORE. The treatments were affecting my legs and they became so leaden that I could hardly turn over in bed. I kept on my feet though, because I was determined not to give in.

    Well, fate sneaked up and kicked me in the rear, because one Sunday morning when I went into the bathroom to get ready for church, I fell. Kersplat !! And I couldn’t get up. Nor could my son get me up. He had to call the Dr. who ordered an ambulance and off I went. Not to church, but to the hospital. All I could think of was that TV commercial about the woman who had fallen and couldn’t get up. I felt like the world’s worst fool.

    After two weeks in the hospital – no broken bones – but complete loss of all four of my limbs, I had six months in a wheel chair, and physical therapy (and I do mean physical) that allowed me to inch along with a walker. I can do a lot more than inch along now, and I keep practicing all the time. I will not give up.

    That is where I am now, but the morning they took me to the hospital the Dr. told my family to prepare for the worst. (He thought I was on my way out but I fooled him.) At my last visit to his office he said he couldn’t believe the progress I have made. He remarked “the grim reaper doesn’t want you”. (Facetiously, I hope)

    So you see, I can relate to your mother, and will remember her in my prayers. That chemo is nasty stuff and I was told it would affect my bones, but I’m convinced that the most damage was done by the radiation. Tell your mother to keep the faith, and I’ll be thinking of her each night in my prayers.

    Part of the reason for my depression at this time of the year is wondering what the prognosis will be this time. In January I go for my annual round of tests and overall I have a good feeling that everything is OK, but part of the Celtic nature is to try to second guess the experts.

    Thank you so much for giving me a reason to get this off my chest. Now that my self-pity is out of the way maybe I can get up on Christmas morning with a lighter heart.

    Best wishes to all of you at IA. You have made these last few months very interesting for me.

  8. Puma In Seattle,

    This time of year, we all need to know that there are good people in this country that still care for other human beings. I am so very proud to be associated with so many of them here at IA, and across the PUMAsphere!

    Here’s hoping the season brings you all juch love and joy!

  9. Lee,

    I am so sorry to hear about your medical issues – I had no idea. I am glad you were able to get things off your chest – it is important to let it out. I have found a great catharsis on these pages over the past few days thanks to my second family.

    I will add you to my prayers, and I hope you are able to enjoy Christmas and your family to the fullest this year. It’s important to make the most of the time we have and the people we are “loaned” in this life. May whatever higher power you pray to give you the strength to endure and the health you so deserve.

    Merry Christmas!

  10. Lee, we all love you here at IA!!!!

  11. Dear Lee,
    I have seen your name before, on comments. I am so sorry for what you have had to endure. Thank you for telling us.
    18 years ago I had a mastectomy and chemo. Like you, I discovered it right at the holidays. I remember I had to wait until after the holidays to do anything about it. Anyway, after all that I told myself I would never go through it again. Not sure what I think now. Fortunately I have been well.
    My heart is with you. And, my heart is with Grail and her Mom. I do know about hats!

  12. I will remember this day and this page every time I get all misty-eyed about the “good old days”. In the good old days we would not have found each other. In the good old days we would not have new and wonderful people who share their pain, their hope, and their courage with the rest of us. In the good old days many of us would be sitting silently alone at home with our pain and fear.

    The Internet means different things to different people. To me it means freedom to travel and meet people I would never have a chance to meet otherwise. It widens my horizons enormously.

    It means making friends whose faces I have never seen. It means reading stories of hope and faith and courage from people I will probably never meet. It means worrying and carrying about people who’s real names I don’t even know.

    Ornery old curmudgeon that I am, I will take this time and this day to say thank you. Thank you to all the wonderful, courageous, spunky, joyful and compassionate people I have met here and on other blogs. When the world seems dark and gray, you have all been light shining through the darkness. You are a reminder that decency and kindness still exist. You renew my faith in the basic decency of humanity. At least momentarily. And I will take what I can get for that moment.

    Thank you, and have whatever the hell kind of day you wanna have. The day does belong to you after all doesn’t it?

    • Aw, Marge…is that you? Lovely sentiments sneaking out there!!! I DO know how you feel. Well said!!!

      Sigh, we will all be grumpy again soon, but at least we had a few days of our heartstrings being tugged at…exercise for the soul!

  13. Your mom looks good in the beautiful hat.
    Seems to me that the maker of these hats could use a marketer for them. They’d go like hotcakes.

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