Category Archives: Mom and cancer

Pam Peterson. 1943-2011

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” — Truman Capote

My mom, Pam Peterson, died yesterday morning at 8:16 AM.  She was 68 years old.

It was, ultimately, a quiet and peaceful death. It didn’t start that way — there was some real panic in her eyes that morning around 5:00 AM, when she just couldn’t catch her breath, and the meditation exercises we’d practiced several times (I’d look in her eyes and smile, hold her face and hands, put her feet on my thighs if I was kneeling at her bed, and lead her in rhythmic breathing until she calmed enough to gain her breath) weren’t working.  She was sweaty from cancer fevers and couldn’t get comfortable; she’d sit up and lay down, sit up and lay down, and finally got up a couple of times to go to the bathroom (I’m thankful, and I think so was she, that her dignity remained intact; she wouldn’t let me help her except to pull up her sweats when she was done).  By the second time, she had lost all her strength and nearly all mobility in her body, and Joe and I had to carry her to her bed and lay her there, adjusting the duvet and her pillows to make her as comfortable as we could.

I continued to look her in the eyes to try and calm her, and to try to breathe with her and get her through. We gave her an Ativan to lessen the anxiety, which had always helped in the past, but this time was different. When she ushered us out of the room for privacy and asked for the lights to be turned off, I knew that she knew. Mere days before, she told me she didn’t think she had long to live, and on the same day, a little later, she told her doctor she didn’t think she’d make it through January.

I didn’t leave, however.  I sat with her on the bed and held her hand (I’d gone through a lot with her, and I selfishly wanted to go through this, too) and ultimately pulled Joe back in the room so he could do the same.  Before he returned, I whispered to my mom, “you don’t have to work so hard anymore,” which seemed to make her frown. I didn’t want to tell her to “let go,”  in case it wasn’t time (and I certainly didn’t want to scare her or piss her off),  but I also wanted to let her know that it was okay if that’s what she wanted to do.  Her little body was “slowly breaking down” as the lyric goes, and I just wanted her to know that she didn’t have to suffer anymore.

We sat and watched her for the next hour as her body struggled for breath.  Joe sat on her left side. I sat on her right. She had a slight look of consternation on her face as her breathing turned to what sounded like a lion’s growl; this, of course, was the death rattle, the sound of fluids collecting in the airways. I really can’t tell you how long we sat there, just holding her hands. But Joe would kiss her on the forehead and cheek, and then so would I.  I’d tell her I loved her and whisper in her ear, like I had every night for weeks, that she was the best mom ever.  As the hour went on,  and her frail little body started to shut down, her eyes dilated and she continued to gasp for air. At some point, I noticed her eyes were open but she’d stopped blinking.  Her grip lessened. Her skin got cold.  Finally, her body stopped working altogether.  Her heart, which had been beating so fast mere hours before, stopped beating at all.  There were a few last gasps. Joe kissed her one last time, and then so did I. Quietly lying in bed, Mom passed away around 8:16 AM.

We never let go of her hands.

The rest of the day was an odd blur. Calls were made. First to Anette, my mother’s home aide, who’d developed a particular affection for mom on their very first day together (“Your mom hugged me with love the first day we met,” Anette told me. “I don’t get that from all my clients.”).  I called my mother’s doctor’s nurse, Patty, who had been a godsend, and had felt particular affection for mom the bittersweet day we all met and was there for every call or concern or hospital visit (“I’ve been doing this a long time — and I don’t usually get too close to patients, because I wouldn’t have a husband or life if I did,” she said.  “But your mom was special. I could tell — she had a lot of dignity and class.”).  My mother’s sister-in law, my aunt Karen, immediately hopped on a plane and flew out from Denver. My best friend for 20 years, Trevor James, who was like a second son to Mom, came up to sit with is for a couple of hours with me and Joe and say goodbye.  Barbara, the home hospice nurse, came to declare her deceased but couldn’t arrive until almost 11:45 AM, and we had a terrific conversation about family, death, and forgiveness. We called a local funeral home (although initially I had no idea how to do this — I mean, do you just “Yelp” funeral homes? But Joe’s idea was to keep it in the neighborhood and we lucked out and Googled a very reputable one barely five blocks away) and some very sweet undertakers were able to pick mom’s body up soon after, a little after 12:30 PM or so.

It was just the right amount of time to be with her. I didn’t want the undertakers to cart Mom’s body away immediately; I knew this was the last time I’d ever be able to touch her or hold her hands or kiss her forehead or stroke my fingers on her always soft cheek, and I knew how important it would be to have that bit of extra time to imprint those sensations on my memory.

(As a quick aside — just a few days before, in the early afternoon, I was with Mom in her room while she lay there dozing, weak and uncomfortable.  I would often sneak into the room just to kiss her or tell her I loved her, usually waking her as I did.  Sometimes I irritated her, but that afternoon, she smiled her big grin smile and asked if I would like to crawl into bed with her.  I tentatively said yes (I was really quite afraid of hurting her) and she pulled the blankets back. And I got to curl up with her behind her, and lay my head on her right shoulder and wrapped my arm around her now-tiny little torso — and I napped like a little kid for about half an hour.  The best nap ever, I’d say.)

Before Barbara arrived, Joe suggested I take a minute to clean up and take a shower. I’m glad he did.  The minute the water started, I cried. Wailed. Released. It was the kind of crying that’s actually very frightening emotionally; the kind of crying that comes from a well of sorrow so deep that it makes you think, “if I truly give into this, I’ll never, ever be able to stop.”

I cried like that a couple of times yesterday.

Joe cried, too.  It’s always a little hard seeing Joe cry, because he’s such a jovial, good-natured man, a natural comedian and prankster, and laughter is always his default. So when he cries — truly cries, like he did yesterday — I know that it, too comes from a place deep and powerful and heartfelt.  He was an angel to Mom, and I’m so, so glad he was there, and that he, too, was holding Mom’s hand when she died.

More phone calls to friends and loved ones were made, including one to my grandmother — whose husband of nearly 50 years died of emphysma six months before (it was probably lung cancer, too, and Mom had, in a twisted bit of irony, been one of her step-father’s primary caregivers).  Famished after the exhausting morning, Joe and I finally had lunch. Paperwork was signed (albeit by a very sweet but nervous young lady at the funeral home, who misspelled almost everything she wrote down). Arrangements were made for cremation. By 4:00 PM, we were headed back downtown from Inwood to meet up with Karen. Not long after that, Joe, Karen, and I were joined by some of our closest friends at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame — people who knew Mom and loved her, and whom she loved in return — for an impromptu tribute to the woman we all affectionately called Pam! (yes, with the exclamation point). Much margarita drinking ensued. Poor Joe has suffered much of today because of it.

My mother was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska in October 1943, at the height of World War II, to an 18 year old girl whose husband ultimately left her for another woman and another family.  For much of my mother’s life she was rejected and abandoned by people that were supposed to care for her and she was shuttled around from home to home to be raised by various relatives while my grandmother sought out a husband that would last (third time was the charm) and her own happiness.  My mother and grandmother (and step-grandfather) moved to southern California in the early 1960’s (mother had started smoking by then — her first puff was age 11), and Mom’s unhappy childhood, full of rebellion and unrequited yearning for acceptance, approval, and love, continued under the blazing heat of the CA sun.  When she had me (and I believe she and her parents were not speaking when I was born), she worked every day from then on — as a single mother, mind you — to make sure that I did not experience the kind of childhood she did. She had so much love in her heart, and she gave everything she could to me — every bit of it — every day of my life.

She certainly wasn’t perfect (no human being is), and we had our fights (some of ’em big), but she made sure I grew up housed, fed, clothed, educated — and more importantly, she made sure to nurture my talents (she wanted to be an artist, but was discouraged from such pursuits by her parents and boyfriends), and she made sure I knew I was loved every day and every night.  Everything good that has happened to me — everything I’ve accomplished — I blame on her. And in many ways, these accomplishments were about honoring her — they were about saying that her love and time and respect and care meant something.  That I didn’t take it for granted. That her son succeeded in NYC and worked in comic books and on movies, and was on TV, and won awards, and had lunch at the White House at an event hosted by Michelle Obama, for God’s sakes — because she made it possible for me to do so. She gave me the love and confidence she never had as a kid. I was going to make sure she knew that she changed lives because of her efforts.  That her love mattered.

When several years ago, after a bitter divorce, I encouraged Mom to move to NYC and she did, I secretly decided it would be my duty to make sure that her time here was magical. With the help of Joe and Trevor and so many others, it was the absolute best time of her life. Here, in NYC, she was enveloped in the love, kindness, and devotion of a dozen “children” — all of them her kids, even though many had mothers of their own. She was graced with new friends her own age —  peers, who sweetly loved her in a way I’d never seen my adult life; women who Mom could socialize and travel with, women who thought mom was an absolute breath of fresh air. I’ve always said that NYC made me who I am, but now, I can say that it made Mom who she became, and I love this city even more because her essence now permeates it. She loved it here, and she was loved here, and I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful for a woman who longed for that kind of compassion and unequivocal acceptance almost her entire life to finally receive it, and from so many, so genuinely.

I had a wonderful dream last night. It was quite vivid, and  in the “third person” — the dream was not through  my eyes, because I could see myself in it.  Not long before my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she was supposed to go on a three week-long cruise through the Mediterranean. She planned this trip for two years and saved for just as long; this would have been her dream voyage finally come to life. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene hit NYC the day she was supposed to leave and Mom was trapped in town and never got to go on her trip of a lifetime.   It was a huge letdown for her, although her travel agent quickly rescheduled her for the next cruise in the spring (she kept this cruise as the “carrot” to work for when she first got diagnosed; only in the past week or two did she realize that she wasn’t going to make it).

So anyway, this dream: It started in Mom’s bedroom as she died. I sat next to her, as did Joe. In my dream, my mom’s spirit quickly rose from her body.  It didn’t have legs; it was more like a genie, with a wonderful tail of ether swooshing beneath her (she’d lost those clumsy legs of hers, finally). There was no maudlin lingering for Mom’s spirit in the room (she had things to do, after all), and she quickly kissed me and Joe goodbye before zipping over Inwood — her NYC neighborhood — darting between tree  branches with her arms stretched wide,  flying fast and free into the blue sky while the golden sun drenched her face.

When she emerged from the clouds (again, this is the way I dream — it’s all very cinematic), Mom’s spirit was above the waters of the Mediterranean and above her cruise ship.  She zoomed down and boarded the boat and essentially joined the crew; she was going to be the friendly ghost on this boat, making sure hapless travelers found their lost luggage and their misplaced jewelry; ensuring  potential lovers “stumbled onto” each other in the moonlight on the Promenade deck; secretly encouraging young kids to draw, or take pictures, or create with confidence; and, of course, zipping off at each port to take in the wonders of southern Europe on her own each time the ship docked.

I have no idea if that’s what actually happened to her soul; if this my mind processing her death through my dreams, or if it was Mom ‘s spirit  letting me know that she was all right and where she’d be going. But I love the idea of this wonderful, sweet, guileless, and maybe even slightly klutzy ghost of a girl  — who made her way from Scottsbluff, NE all the way to Inwood, NYC — taking care of all those passengers, and sightseeing the world for eternity. And when I think of her now, even sitting here typing all this, I grin, because that would make her so happy.

I have so much to say and nothing else to say.  In the end, my mom was amazing. I couldn’t get enough of her kisses and her hugs. I will miss them every day. And I will miss holding her hand terribly, because it was the most wonderful, comforting feeling in the world to me. When she smiled it made everything in my life better. She was funny and kooky and a goof and she had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.  She was compassionate and sensitive and hopeful, and everything that’s wonderful in my life I owe to her —  because she worked so hard to give me everything. Because she worked so hard to be so good.

She was my Mom.

She was love.

Pam Peterson ( October 17, 1943- December 30, 2011)

There are some great people in the comic book industry…

As mom gets sicker, and Christmas gets closer, I realize I haven’t had much of a chance to blog properly lately (which, considering the sheer number of blogs out there in the universe, may in and of itself be a kind of secret blessing).

While I have started an epic series of posts about Wonder Woman, Mom, queens, and comics (it’s a multi-chapter blog with photos and videos that should probably be an online book, it covers so much Wonder- and pop psych-related territory), the effort has reminded me that one of the great support systems I have in my life remains something that’s been integral to it for close to 30 years: the comic book industry.

And as an adult, I don’t necessarily mean the comic books themselves, especially some of the mainstream ones being published now, which, with a few exceptions, “speak” to me less and less to me as I get older (for a variety of reasons), although I still love love love great comic book art.

But as a whole, the industry has been fantastic to me and an extraordinary place to grow up (I started working at DC Comics when I was 21, back in 1991).  Historically, its presidents, publishers, editorial staff, administration, and many of my fellow freelancers have, for the past two decades, taken incredible care of me — personally, creatively, and financially, although I like to think I’ve probably given them a little something back in return for their efforts (and let’s face it — how many people out there get to write and draw the adventures of their favorite character of all time? How many industries actually give you the opportunity to do that? Very few, I’d assume).

For most of that time, members of the administrations of both mainstream super-hero publishers (Marvel and DC) have worked incredibly hard to find projects that suit my talents, skills, and frustratingly uneven creative temperament (I’m an arteest, dammit).  I find that the people in the “big” companies — and in a few  of the other smaller one — have generally been very gracious, very supportive, and very kind to me.  I’ve made friends that have lasted 20 years, some of whom  have risen with me in the ranks and “fought” with me in the deadline-laden trenches.  The NYC-based  staff  of DC Comics were there for me when my first boyfriend died (he was an employee at DC) when I was just 23, and during the horrific events of 9-11 (days I still remember so crystal clearly, because I spent much of  time following the event on the 6th floor there).  My editors are Marvel Comics saw me through some really tough times when I returned there a couple of years ago, and I owe at least two of them more than just a night on the town for suffering through with me and protecting me as best they could from their own bosses and the realities of our business.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I moved in with her, my work-life altered dramatically. I had just starting my second issue of Fairest, the Fables spin-off and was working on developing a couple of creator-owned projects into other media, and was launching what I thought might be a wonderful “kickstart” to Phase Two (Three –?) of my career.  My last time at Marvel was not what I hoped it would be, even though many there struggled to make it so, and my brief stint on Adventure Comics upon my return to DC Comics ended not with a bang but a whimper.  I felt like I had a lot of making up to do for fans, for my bosses, and for myself.

Mom’s Stage-4 lung cancer diagnosed totally put the kibosh on that particular strategy. And how.

But you know one of the things that’s been really amazing about this whole experience? This whole, horrible process?  How immediately my bosses, Shelly Bond and Greg Lockard, found ways not only to accomodate my schedule but have done everything they can to make sure my heart and soul are taken care of, as well as my checkbook (and their publishing schedule!).  They light up nearly every day with sweet emails, gift baskets, and funny stories — because they’re beautiful, loving, giving people as well as amazing editors. Former editor Frank Pittarese lept forward with words of solace and advice from similar events in his life.  Jack Mahan, one of the VPs in administration, and a man I feel I owe the world to, has done everything in his power to make sure I’ve had the very best I’m able for 15 years, and has taken extra special care to let mom know how much she’s loved, too.

Over at Marvel, Steve Wacker and Tom Brennan have been fantastic about checking in with me when they can (it was Steve who once told me that, in comics, I was the perfect model for Peter Parker, and my mom was the ideal model for a more modern Aunt May.  Once he said that, it allll clicked. He was right). Ben Morse, who’s so awesome I can’t stand it, offered his hand, advice, and lots of wonderful exchanges on Twitter, all of which made me feel a thousand times better.  The far too awesome Chris Ryall at IDW sent me some extraordinarily sweet messages and also helped ease my workload (those Legion/Star Trek covers) Freelancers like  the infinitely kind Joe Kelly and Trish Mulvihill were right there, checking in with sweet words of support and extensions of help if I ever needed it.  My inker Andy Lanning, who has stuck with me thru thick and thin, continues to be one of the most generous men in this business, and to no one more than me.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chuck Kim, my former editor and roommate, who texts hilarious words of wisdom to me almost daily about such important luminaries as RuPaul and Raven of the New Teen Titans.

On a recent visit to the DCEast halls, numerous people, from group editors to folks in production to 7th floor receptionist, asked about  my mom, asked about me, and laughed with me about work, cancer, and the hilarious Christmas decorations adorning the halls there.  Good, kind people — some of whom I’ve know a very long time — who took just a little bit of extra time to extend a handshake or hug, to ask how I was doing.  I’m forgetting lots of people by name, I’m sure (I’m writing kind of fast here).  But the numbers of people in my biz that have offered support and kindness are extraordinary, especially here on the East Coast, which will always feel like “home” to big comics publishing, even as the publishing biz slowly evaporates and its remnants move west to Hollywood (ka-ching!).

I think it’s rare for most people in the world to get the opportunity to work anywhere for more than 20 years consistently, and with good people, and make a decent living doing it.  The comics industry  has given me that. Admittedly, in recent years, it’s felt less like “home” and  far more like a place of business — new people in power;  bleaker tone of material; greater  (obvious) emphasis on fourth quarter profits; new staff faces in the halls; the devastating-to-some restructuring that tore DC literally into two — and walking its halls doesn’t have quite the same sense of warmth and familiarity it used to, at least to me (but that’s okay — it has been 20 years, after all, and a place like that has to grow and evolve and change in order to survive).

But I certainly hope that for the younger generation, for the new folks coming into our industry, that they find in it a home and a place of belonging, too.   A place of safety, security, and stability. A place of creative enrichment. A place of lucrative royalties if you work on the right crossover. A place like I have — a safe place to come out and feel infinitely accepted, to make life-long friends, to be a nerd/geek/whathave you. I fear that, as in all businesses, ego, economics, and geography are conspiring to prevent the building of such special, unique relationships in our rarified trade except among a privileged few.  But I certainly hope I’m wrong.  And I hope they get to know well that, in this bizarre industry of ours, filled with all sorts of strange and damaged people, the good ones are golden, and will follow you to the ends of the Earth and back if they can, cape and cowl or no.

I’m  so very lucky to have literally grown up in the comic book industry. I’m  extremely lucky to be a part of it now. And my mom’s sure lucky I’m a part of it, and that I fell in love with Wonder Woman, all those years ago. If I didn’t, I’m not sure where either of us would be right now! But I doubt it would feel this much like home.

Love Each Day

Love each day.

Give love or receive it. To or from a family member, a spouse, a best friend, an acquaintance. Someone you know, someone you don’t.  Show it, tell it. Don’t fear its intimacy.

Love knowing that your love might be rejected, but that your spirit will be so much better for it; for feeling it as deeply as you can.  Love knowing that when its not, when you love someone and they love you back, and you feel it and they feel it, and it feels true, it’s the most transcendent feeling there is.  It’s something divine.

Love the opportunity each day gives you, even when it seems like the days bring you nothing at all (they, do, trust me). And when the days do bring you something good, take it into your heart and cherish it.

Love knowing that you’ll fuck up sometimes, and that’s okay.  That’s why we have “I’m sorry.”  That’s why we have second (and sometimes third) chances, and love enough to give them.

Love each day and know that for every day you don’t, there’s someone out there who would trade spirit and soul with you for the opportunity, to feel alive and love with everything they have in them.

Love each day because love is affection and warmth and tenderness and enthusiasm and infatuation and desire and well wishes and charity and benevolence and friendship and empathy and a thousand other words you, too, can find in your trusty thesaurus. 🙂  Love each day because the alternative is not loving — it’s the opposite of all those things listed above — and how grim and horrible a prospect is that?

Love each day, in whatever way you can, in whatever way you know how.

Because love is the best of us.  Because love is the best.

Love each day.

“And how are *you* doing?”

Of course, I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately.

We’re told, as caregivers, that we have to take care of ourselves:  eat right and sleep well; exercise and take care of our own medical needs; go out occasionally, take breaks, enjoy the occasional night out on the town.   This is not entirely for ourselves, of course.  The better shape we’re in, the better off we’ll be — the more strength we’ll have — to do our part in taking care of our sick loved one.

I also think that question is, often, an invitation to “dump” and tell war stories, pulled straight from the trenches of our battle against whatever ailment we’re helping our loved ones fight (edited for time and context, of course; other people have lives too, y’know!).  It lets people be helpful simply by listening; lending a genuine, sympathetic ear for five minutes can do wonders for someone; indeed, it can be life changing (I kid you not) for not only the caregiver but the one open enough to listen.

When I do “dump,” (and God, that sounds nastier than I intended), I try to keep it brief-ish (a nearly impossible task for me, as anyone who’s read this blog knows), but as I go about giving health updates, commiserating with friends and their now all-too familiar personal stories, and answering the question so often asked. I keep coming back to the same answer:

I’m fine. My life has been disrupted, and I’m not going to the gym, and working has been next to impossible, and I’m months late to a dentist appointment, etc, etc.

That shit’s all fixable. I’ll get my life back; I’ll figure out work; I’ll get my crown.  Might be tough, but it’s all eminently  doable. I’m lucky enough to have access to friends and coworkers who are willing to help me, and the drive to set that stuff right anyway.

What’s really sucks about all this — the truly horrible part of it all — is watching my mother suffer so.

It’s really not about her dying, and potentially dying very soon.  Intellectually, at least, I’m prepared for this.  This is  what happens to human beings.  They live for a certain period of time and then they die.  People, after all, are  biological organisms with inception and end dates; like every other living thing on the planet.

(this discounts that ancient clan of immortals who have been manipulating world affairs from their stygian lair beneath the Vatican for the past 3,000 years, but that almost goes without saying.  Almost).

What’s truly, truly  hard is watching her suffer. What’s overwhelmingly painful is seeing how quickly her life turned from something golden and wonderful to something wretched and filled with disease.  What really hurts is seeing the confusion in her face as she tries to figure out ways to get comfortable, or as she spends half an hour violently throwing up phlegm and the two tablespoons of ice cream she had for dinner, because it’s all her system could stomach, or be roused from her already troubled sleep because she’s not sure where she should have her body cremated and she can’t get it off her mind.

My mother moved to NYC at 62 years old and changed her life in ways I would never believed she was capable of when I myself moved to NYC over 20 years ago.  62 years old! Can you imagine? Would you be brave enough to do that now?! And lo and behold, not only did she move, but  she became a physical and social whirlwind!  She made wonderful friends; started going to art museums and the theater and eating international foods; she traveled to Europe and spent Christmas in Paris and started taking French lessons and cooking lessons; she went to roller derby in Brooklyn and began working on 5th Avenue and became a surrogate mother for any number of NYC “orphans,” who could talk to her in ways they could never talk to their own mothers.  She became one of my closest, dearest friends (and we were pretty tight to begin with), a woman whom I genuinely enjoyed spending copious amounts of time with, all after decades of forsaking everything for everyone but herself.  She came into her own when she moved here, the woman I always believed she could be.

And now, because of one bad habit and some genetic bad luck, she got hit with not just lung cancer but about half a dozen others that are rotting her body from the inside out.  She’s suffering every day, and it’s very likely it’s not gonna get any better.  She’s talking about her funeral (she doesn’t want one), and where she wants her ashes spread, and starting to realize that she might never get to go back to Europe and that it might be impossible for her to see the Christmas windows at Bergdorf-Goodman one last time.  She’s getting depressed and frustrated and there’s nothing I can do for her except make sure she takes her meds, rub her back while she dry heaves, and tuck her in every night and make sure she knows that I love her with all my heart, and that many, many other people do, too.

I’m not selfless enough to trade places with many people suffering physically, but if I could trade place with my mom right now, I would in a heartbeat. I’d take on the needle jabs, the pills, the nausea, the hospital stays, the fear — every last bit of it — if I knew she’d get another few years to enjoy all that she couldn’t for so long before she moved here.  If I knew it would spare her this terrible pain, and suffering, and fear.  In a single fucking heartbeat.

So me?  I’m fine.  I’ll always be fine.  My mom, though?  She could use a miracle right now.

Anyone have one to spare?

Role Reversal (or, man, do I miss my dinosaur bubblebath set from Avon!)

Like many people who are debilitated by pain and/or disease, mom is at a place with her cancer and chemo that she can’t really shower or bathe herself: she’s simply too nauseous and too exhausted to even sit on her special chair in the shower and  just let water run over her (tragically, we’re still not sure if that’s the cancer in her lung or the toxic chemicals coursing through her body to prevent its growth).

So, knowing how just “feeling clean” can be so important to a sick person — especially someone whose insides are so corroded with disease — I helped my mom with her sponge bath tonight.  Not only did it make her feel better physically, especially after days and days of nightsweats, fevers, and spitting-up and vomiting (boy, can that woman fill a kidney-shaped spittoon, even when she’s not trying), it certainly helped her psychologically.  She might “feel” sick, but at least she doesn’t  still “smell” like it.

And, for those that care about such details,  mom’s still a modest woman — despite her bawdy sense of humor — so she washed all her girly bits herself.

Thank God.


Anyway, what struck me so so vividly tonight as I tried to gently wash down her now-mottled and bruised skin and massage her scalp as I washed her hair was how honored I was to be able to be able to do something like this for her at all.

As mom sat there and I washed her arms and cleaned her hands, trying sooo hard not to get sick as I did —

— and as I washed her back down with her favorite soft washcloth, and took real note of her spine and her shoulder blades,  which never used to protrude like they do now —

— the only things I could really think about were the hundreds of times my mother bathed me,  when I was a baby and I was so little and so young I couldn’t do it myself.   If I was happy or sad; sick or wanted to play in the tub or would only play in the tub if it was filled with bubblebath from my  very special tyrannosaurus-shaped bottle (mom used to be an Avon lady), she would bathe me and feed me and make sure I went to bed clean.

This can’t have been an easy thing to do night after night, and I’m sure she skipped a few bathtimes here and there to make life easier on everybody (even the best kids can be fussy, and you have to pick and choose your battles, yeah?).  But what really struck me was how this woman, who could barely hold her arm up long enough for me to scrub her elbows, did this for me because it was the honorable thing to do.  Because my mother was that kind of woman, and she did what she thought was right and good by me, because she loved me.

(And it might seem obvious that this is what parent should do for their children, but many thousands go without these kinds of basic kindnesses; the world is not always a generous place.)

In Turkey, ritual bathes are and have been an important part of the culture; there are elaborate traditions and processes and ways to go about the baths, which begin for most in infancy and extend well into old age.  There’s something very beautiful to me about cleansing rituals, (perhaps I’m just feeling sentimental tonight), and something wonderful about the intimacy they invite between human beings.

I looked at mom tonight while I washed her skin:  seemingly aged 10 years in just two months ago, and tried to take in the lines of her face and the wrinkles around her mouth, and look really deeply into her eyes when they were open and I could catch them,  ’cause they’re still so pretty and her eyelashes are so long —

— and I tried to take in the marks of age and the bruises of needles and the spots from too much sunshine, and the length of her fingers and curve of her smile and the color of her skin, and and I tried really, really hard to remember just what this woman gave up for me, and how she worked so hard to keep me fed and clean and healthy and safe, and how she used to bathe me when I couldn’t even stand or eat or do anything on my own yet —

— and I tried not to stress out about missed work opportunities, or the comic book smash I’m not relaunching, or the TV show I haven’t quite gotten off the ground, or  the con I can’t attend or the the movie I’ve not seen or booze I’m not downing at some trendy bar —

— and I thought to myself, how fucking lucky I am to have this opportunity to give back to my mother, now so little and frail?  To make her clean on a day she’s felt so terrible, Avon bubblebath or no?  To honor her, at this time, now that she’s really sick, now that she’s dying, and to help make her time left here just a little bit easier for her.  To take in her thinning body  and her beautiful face and her wonderful, long eyelashes one more time and remember that it’s very likely I’m not going to be able to do that, or help her in this way, much longer.

And I thought to myself, as I dried off her arms and face, and massaged lotion into her hands and over her terribly bruised arms, and across her quiet, still rosy cheeks, that I will do my damndest to make sure she knows she’s loved and adored and protected.  And that she knows I appreciate every bit of love and kindness and care she’s given to me, and want to make sure now, when she needs it most —

— I will happily, happily give it all back.

Real circle of life shit, you know?

“Me and Mom.”

Me. Mom. Ferry to Ikea. NYC, Spring, 2011.

“Cancer? That’s hiLARious!” Part Three

One of the things you learn really fast when you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer is how many other people out there have cancer, or know someone (or, more tragically, a few someones) who does.

There are lots of ’em.  Like, shitloads.

Literally, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone – all ages, races, genders, and types – who are suffering and fighting and succumbing together against this disease (hell, any number of diseases).  And if they all have this thing

— like, if they’re all packed aboard this ginormous boat that’s been hit by some giant cancerous iceberg, and the ship is going down faster for some than others, but everyone is hoping chemo or radiation or some clinical trial or even reiki and herbs can at least slow the proverbial  sinking the Titanic, if not melt the evil iceberg completely —

— then there are hundreds of thousands of other people who desperately love them (or, hopefully, at least like them) who will end up taking care of them and be ravaged in all sorts of profound ways of their own.

Hundreds and hundreds of thousands people, we’re talking about. Millions of human beings across the planet.  The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 8 million people in the United States alone have had the disease. (on a website that could use some help, by the way, but here:

As of the 2009 census, there are roughly 8, 392,000 people living in the five boroughs of New York City .   As a visualization trick,  the next time you’re walking the streets of any borough in NYC, as a resident or a visitor, imagine that each and every person you see has cancer of one kind or another, and will directly affect the lives of someone (or, often, many someones around them) as they fight their cancer.  It’s then that it starts to hit you how vast an epidemic this really is.

The entire population of New York City.

That’s.  Fucked.  Up.

Seriously!   Not only is it crazy tragic, it’s so fucking wrong.

I’ve had close friends who have had cancer. Family. Peers.  Some who have lived with it,  some who have conquered it, and some who have died from it.  I have friends who have lost parents, children, mates, and close friends of theirs a to the disease, and whose lives are now permanently transformed by the entire experience.  And yet, somehow, it never really struck me how pervasive it was, until mom’s diagnosis.

When I first started taking mom to Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a research hospital devoted entirely to cancer care and study, and its outpatient chemotherapy center, I could not get over just how many people on too many floors were fighting some variation of the disease, alone or surrounded by visitors full of well-meaning gifts and words of hope (or doom, depending on who you spoke too). Nor could I get over the number of doctors, nurses, clinicians, and support staff it took to take care of all of us, and the millions of dollars of real estate we were collectively filling. All that energy, intellect, love, and  brick and mortar devoted to one devastating word and all it entails. Madness.

Within minutes of posting my first blog entry, I got two dozen replies across various media platforms and nearly all of them had a similar story to share: someone they knew and loved (and for too many, several someones) have or had cancer.

I blather on like this, over and over, hitting the same beats on the head simply to point out: when it comes to contracting and managing cancer, or helping someone who has, I’m not special. Or unique. Neither is mom.

As a matter of fact, our plight is tragically common. Everyday.  Normal, even. She’s just one more woman with lung cancer. I’m one more man suddenly thrust into the roll of caretaker.. This happens all the time, every day of the week.

And that’s horrible on just about every level I can think of.

That just shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be “normal” or “common” (unless biology has determined that it should be, and I’m not so convinced that it’s just biology driving these numbers).  And if it is normal, and every day, and cancer is just an accepted part of day to day living in the modern world, and if we’re so generally immune to its affects until it touches us not just personally but really personally – then I’d argue something is terribly wrong with us as a people (and even a species).

I mean, I know I’m narcissistic and self-involved — I just started a blog, for chrissakes — but to think that I’ve been so dismissive of something so huge for so long even when it’s touched me tangentially suggests I really have to rethink my priorities and channel my energies differently, in a more meaningful and humane way.

I’m sure I’ll tackle the ins-and-outs of universal health care and environment and smoking and the impact of industry and  media and marketing and lifestyle and what-have-you on our health in other posts, but more than anything, what I really hope any who are reading this now do is just think about the numbers above and contemplate what they mean for all of us, as a society, and a collection of communities connected to each other by geography, if nothing else (and that’s doesn’t even begin to tackle the numbers of folks with other diseases, like diabetes or AIDS).

Because when  you hear doctors tell your mother that she’s got lung cancer, and that it’s bad — that it’s spread throughout her torso into her gland, and skeleton, and breast — and you really let that sink in –

— and then you watch your mother, who’s taken care of you and  loved you your whole life, more than you imagined anyone ever could — hear the diagnosis, barely processing the words that have just hit her like a freight train before breaking down in the wheelchair she’s been confined to for weeks because she can’t breathe– well, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the truth of the matter.

Certainly I couldn’t, anyway.

(Thank god I’m good with an iPhone notepad. Kept me busy and focused during the diagnosis, and the strong, efficient hand mom needed right then and there.  I’m good in a crisis that way).

“Cancer? That’s hiLARious!” Part Two

So, lung cancer.

Lung cancer is awful.  It’s painful and aggressive and moves through the body like lightning. Left unchecked, it can metastasize into other tissues and other parts of the body (like, say, the adrenal glands, the skeleton, and the breast – or worst of all, the brain).    Late stage cancer can’t be cured, although it can be treated with operations, chemotherapy, and radiation — although not always. Over 1.3 million people die each year from lung cancer, and those deaths are often painful, undignified, and tragically fast: the average prognosis for life span from diagnosis to death of a Stage 4 lung cancer patient is 8 months.

Lung cancer sucks.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more women die of lung cancer than of any other type of cancer, including breast or uteran cancer.  In the United States alone, over 93,000 women a year are diagnosed with lung cancer. That’s roughly 254 women a day, or 21 an hour.

I was trying to figure out how to frame that in a way that would make sense to anyone, especially  me (I am an avowed narcissist, and it’s my blog, after all!).  Something that would provide a visual in my head for quick/easy comparison, especially since math has never been my strong suit (as my poor accountant knows this all too well).

On average, I have about 18 students per semester per course in the classes I teach at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.  Applying the above statistics to my enrollment numbers, that means that once class of students an hour could be diagnosed with lung cancer and I’d still come up a couple short to meet the national average.

That is some sick shit.

Smoking cigarettes remains the number one (let’s say that again, but loudly – THE NUMBER ONE) cause of lung cancer, although non-smokers have contracted it and died from it.  It’s the carcinogens in cigarettes and the nicotine, which suppresses the immune system, that triggers the cancer in those that get it.

Once more, with feeling: lung cancer SUCKS.

To be continued.

“Cancer? That’s hiLARious!” Part One

“So wait — let me make sure I understand this.  The cancer’s in her lung, her lymph node, her adrenal gland, skeleton, her left breast — and her skin?”

I’m not sure that’s exactly what I asked but it was definitely something like that –a string of words naming bits and pieces of human anatomy spoken in clear, moderated tones, enunciated crisply to make sure I got it all down correctly and I that had, indeed, understood precisely what they said  (and, probably, with some underlying desire to impress the two oncologists mom and I had met, probably ten minutes before, with what, exactly, I’m not sure – except maybe my unexceptional ability to type notes on necrosis and rigid bronchoscopies at great speed on an iPhone).

But it is surreal, and grim, and almost indescribably horrible, to hear those words, no matter what Jerri Blank says (I’ll explain later), especially when they’re unexpected (and they’re probably almost always unexpected, right?).

And when they’re spoken to your mom, about your mom, in front of you. (who, by the way, is the undisputed winner of the “Best Goddamn Mom” award 41 consecutive years in a row).

And when your kind, well-meaning physicians realize your mom is hearing the news for the first time, even though she should have been given the diagnosis by other physicians a week earlier, but hadn’t – so they get to witness the shock and emotional breakdown of the poor woman, now wheelchair-bound and barely able to express her grief with more than a few tears because she’s literally breathless thanks to her collapsed lung.

And then to have kind, well-meaning, physicians stare at you and say, “do you have any questions?” when, of course, your mind has just gone all fuzzy, like bad TV reception in the 70’s, or like when you’re lying in a fetal position on the bathroom floor an hour after you’ve pounded four large margaritas (with extra shots), because the cold white tile against your cheek is waaaay more soothing than your queen size bed and the only question you can seem to muster is…

Nuthin. Nada. Zip. ‘cause all that’s going through your mind is “ohpleaseGodmakeit stopspinningohpleaseGodpleaseIswearIwon’tdoitagain.Just this once.  Please God. Please,” as you do everything in your power to keep your face pressed to that cold tile floor ‘til tomorrow morning.

Or that the words the doctor just reiterated to you so you could diligently record them down in your iPhone notepad couldn’t possibly be true.


She used to be, um… *who,* exactly?

For the past several years I’ve received  inquiries from numerous fans in the comic book industry about a blog, and requests for all sorts of content on any blog I might start.  But, as anyone who follows my Facebook or Twitter feeds knows, many of my tweets/posts  are not about comic books or the industry I’ve live and breathed for 20 years  (although when “Wonder Woman” ends up as trending as a topic, I can lose whole days to that glorious debate).

I’m interested in so much — and find so much interesting in the world — that it’s been nearly impossible for me to narrow the scope of my Tweeting and Facebook and social media-ing to merely “the job.”  Indeed,  there are so many in the business with really excellent Twitter feeds and blogs (and far more nuanced writing skills) tackling the likes of Batman or The Young Avengers  that I figured my “angle” online would simply be to chat about anything I found interesting on that day.   Invariably, that’s a lot.

I’ve covered a lot of bases in my few thousand tweets, from art, politics, and religion to plenty of  humorous stuff, too (and yes, on comic books and super-heroes  — just enough to get me in trouble, at least!).   But I’ve never really posted much cancer.  Not  comprehensively, anyway.

Until now.

My mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in October of this year, just a few days after her 68th birthday.  The diagnosis was devastating for multiple reasons: Stage 4 lung cancer is inoperable and terminal;  the cancer, now spreading to multiple organs and tissues throughout her body, causes my mother incredible, debilitating pain;  a vibrant woman, someone I happen to like a lot, was quickly stripped of nearly everything she’d fought so hard in the past five years to obtain (most notably her independence); and maybe, most selfishly, because I dig my mom, and, I adore the woman she’s become in the past five years. I just adore her.

Now, I don’t think my mother would object to me telling untold zillions in the blogosphere that she wasn’t always this woman (although there’s plenty that she might object too, if she knew I was telling the world).  Indeed, she was a very different woman when I was growing up, and an even different woman before than, from the tales people tale.  She used to be someone else entirely. And, thanks to the lung cancer, she’s going to become someone else before she dies, far too soon.

So that’s really when it struck me, how I might focus this blog, this “thing” I’ve been concocting for years now.  While I’d like it to be about a lot of things — ’cause I love a lot of things, and the world fascinates me no end, I’m going to star by focusing on my mom. Who she was. Who she became.  And what her story’s meant to her, and to me (and how her stories have shaped my approach to stories, and what I like to say with them).

So that means some family history, and some American history.  Lots of stuff on gender and its politics through the decades.  Personal observations about my mom and her tumultuous, often far too difficult personal history, and how that shaped her approach to raising me (and raising me well, I might add).  And then, of course, cancer, caretaking, and life and death.

Pretty standard blog territory, right?

(I’ll try to throw in polls, too, ’cause folks *love* answering polls!)

Obviously, I’ll  tackle other stuff, too, since forums like this tends to grow organically (and there are a bazillion blogs on cancer, and I want this to be more than just that).  And I’ll try to blog regularly, but please be patient if I disappear now and then.  Taking care of my little spitfire of a mother is a full time job, even moreso than drawing comic pages (especially those hospital visits!).

Now, I’m not sure I’ll use enough “key words” to make me a Google top 10 hit, or if I’ll include enough tips about cancer caretaking to make it a “must-read” for Sloan Kettering docs or their patients.  My guess is that hardcore Cyclops and Wolverine fans won’t necessarily give a shit either, unless I’m actually talking about Cyclops and/or Wolverine — although I’m told my “voice” is so distinct that anyone reading my stuff knows it’s me instantly, so that might intrigue some comic fans to stick with it for a little while, at least (I’m sure my left-0f-center observations on the industry will bring some back, too — and drive others far, far way).

But ultimately, my hope is that enough people will come back to this I’m making, while I take care of my dying mom, to keep interesting, interactive, educational, informative, touching, and meaningful.  If nothing else, my mom (her name is Pam!, by the way — I’ll explain the exclamation point later) will have her story — what I can get of it — recorded for posterity, if not eternity.  It’s really quite an extraordinary story, and worth knowing, I think.

(And, just ’cause  it’s gnawing at me, like a wounded animal (no, I don’t mean mom!) — does that “Until now” up there seem false, and irritatingly over dramatic? (could you hear the “dum dum DUM” as you read it?).  I mean, I love a cliche as much as the next guy that loves a cliche, and I thought it worked quite well there, but…well, let me know if it was too much or not, and I’ll adjust appropriately as we head toward the future together.  Maybe. 😉

P.S. You’ll find I love a good non sequitur, too!)