My mom has cancer

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

There's no need for a build up in this story. My mom has cancer.

My mom has had cancer for about a year and a half, but we didn't know she had cancer until May 20, 2018.

Brad and I were arguing in our kitchen. I don't even remember why. I have zero recollection of what the argument involved, but it was our nastiest fight yet. He grabbed his keys and left. I stood alone in our 1,000 square foot box on the beach with sweaty palms and furrowed brows, preparing my speech for when he would come home and I could to prove I wasn't wrong and that he was unequivocally very wrong always and it was all definitely his fault when my phone buzzed with a text message.

"Hi honey. Mom is in the hospital." It was from my dad.

I called him immediately to ask what was going on. He'd taken her to the ER when she was having difficulty breathing. For a few months, her stomach had been bloating and had only gotten worse since I'd last seen her. It was now so bloated that she couldn't breathe. "Is she okay? Should I come out and see her?" I asked.

His voice cracked. "I don't know."

My mom got on the phone and said she was experiencing the same symptoms her grandmother had back in the 60s, that she hadn't had any tests run but she was pretty sure it was ovarian cancer, that she had suspected it for a while, and we'd need to make decisions quickly. She started crying.

I don't remember how the conversation ended, or how long it lasted. I remember calling Brad immediately. He answered right away. I told him what I knew and he said he'd be home in a minute. I called my father in law and scream cried about not knowing what to do - my parents are a 5 hour drive from me and I didn't know if flying would be faster. I could hear my mother in law and my nephew in the background, unaware of what was going on yet.

Brad came home and packed my bag. I don't remember this but I know that he got me in a car and we started driving. We drove straight to my parents' house where my dad was crying. We all went to the ER and I watched the words "it sounds like cancer" fall out of the red haired doctor's mouth. He wasn't wearing a white coat. He was wearing black scrubs and converse with a stethoscope around his neck. He mentioned referring her to an oncologist.

I remember my mom having no color in her face. She looked like a ghost. She was crying and the hospital bed looked like it was eating her. She stayed for a couple of days so they could drain the fluid in her stomach and wait for next steps.


The next thing I remember is going to the Greek restaurant and sobbing into a glass of red wine. Ovarian cancer survival rates are dismal. I was going to be a Person Without a Mother.


Mom was released from the hospital a few days later and it was a mad dash to her PCP and OBGYN for testing. Her OBGYN was shocked, said her scans were clean a year ago, referred her to the Women's Cancer Center to set up an appointment with the best gynecologic oncologist in the nation. This woman would ultimately save my mom's life.

I spent a week in Nevada with my family. I didn't want to go home because I weirdly believed if I left, the energy dynamic would shift and things would fall apart. I am a control freak. I flew home only to fly back two weeks later for her debulking surgery. The dog threw up all over the kitchen the night before. I was glad he did because someone needed to.

The game plan was simple: the surgeon would go in laparoscopically, take a look around, see what the options were. If it looked bad, she'd just stitch her back up and we'd attempt radiation and chemotherapy first. If it looked manageable, she'd open her up and keep going. "I'll either see you in about 45 minutes or I'll see you in about 4 hours."

Those 45 minutes were excruciating. And actually lasted for about 90 minutes, because we weren't totally sure when the clock started. The waiting room had the TV monitor with patients' codes so their families could check on their status. After an hour, I asked the nurse how often it was updated. "Every half hour or so." Fuck.

I must have checked that screen every 2 minutes for about 3 hours before my nerves were finally quelled long enough to realize her surgeon probably felt confident in removing her tumors.

She did.

She removed every single visible piece of disease.

And her spleen. And parts of her colon and bladder and intestine. It hadn't spread to any vital organs. She needed two blood transfusions during the five and a half hours. My dad and I collapsed in the waiting room when she told us. We cried and hugged her. We went home... or maybe we went to the Greek restaurant again. I cried all night with relief.

Mom was in the ICU for six days and "regular" recovery for another week before coming home. She immediately vomited in the hallway bathroom from taking pain meds on an empty stomach, with tubes coming out of her and her brand new ostomy bag named Donald. She cried from the pain. I have never felt so powerless in my life.

48 railroad stitches up her entire torso. A bag connected to her small intestine, filling up with liquid shit. Donald.

Gross things happened. We all yelled and got frustrated with each other in trying to make things easier for her. We all barely slept. The dog puked a few more times. Home care nurses were in and out for several weeks.

Chemo started in July. She was bald by my birthday in September. Her bones hurt.

Chemo ended in mid-November. Her eyelashes are coming back and she has a very faint sheen of hair sprouting. She was supposed to get rid of Donald but we were confronted with a few complications during Christmas week. She'll be okay because she has to be.

Other things happened last year. I turned in my leased car early so I could buy a car so I could drive to Nevada every other weekend to help out. I was given a promotion at work. Brad finished his degree after 13 years. The fires came back the day after my community faced the Borderline tragedy. I had 2 stressful job interviews that week, and another one the next week. I know there was more, but I don't remember much else.

Brad and I haven't fought since that day. Or if we have, I don't remember.

big wave

Monday, November 27, 2017

Saturday was the 14th anniversary of that car accident that kinda ruined me.

I've been feeling kind of low, but that's not unusual for this time of year (or any time of year?). I once had a therapist explain to me the annual cycles our brains go through. Trauma is especially hard to get out of your head, but it stays there, sometimes unmoving, paying no rent, eating you up entirely. Our brains go through the same seasons and our moods can fluctuate based on former stresses, even from high school, even from childhood, even from infancy.

There are things I didn't understand when I was 17. Things I understand now, whether because the grown ups in my life told me or I just figured them out myself.

I remember seeing your heads in the windshield, dripping blood on me. I remember thinking you were both dead.

The mental anguish is shapeshifting. I don't know that I'll ever live without that piece of terror lodged somewhere inside of me. I often wonder who I would have gotten to be if I hadn't been dragged down by the anxiety for practically half of my life now. Would it have been something else? Would it have been worse? Should I be grateful for the horror show in my head?

I'm angry that I feel like I need to keep apologizing. Year after year. It's never even. We're never done. It's never fair. "This is Karin, she's the girl who almost killed my son," your mom said to the woman in the kitchen. "Oh!" She already heard the stories, had her opinion of me, intended to not speak to me again.

It comes in waves. Like the tide, it's unending.

Important update

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Back to my life's purpose. Begging Hanson for attention.

So by the way, I got married last month.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

At a work convention the other week, I was introduced to a panel of higher education professionals as Karin Aukerman, which is not my name. When it was my turn to speak, I clarified that my name did not change and was interrupted by the questions "Didn't you just get married? Why didn't you take his last name?"

"Because I already have one."

Over the last 6 weeks, I've grown accustomed to these types of questions, and they are generally followed by a terrible attempt to feign open-mindedness about it and about 10 other questions regarding a bunch of bullshit that's none of their business to begin with ("but what will you name your children?" or “how does he feel about that?” or "isn't that confusing for people?")

Listen, I could list off a million reasons why choosing to keep my name means more to me than dealing with the administrative headache of changing it, and I do wish I had the energy to make this an opportunity to unleash some pent up feminist energy on the matter, but the truth is: Because it was just easier that way. Sometimes practical beats principle.

I felt really uncomfortable correcting an authority figure in front of colleagues, and I felt embarrassed by having the focus shift away from the task at hand and onto something that was petty and none of their business.

But please don’t get me wrong - a name change can be a powerful move if you're renaming yourself in a way that gives you more agency - maybe you want to change your gender presentation, maybe you hate the name your parents chose for you back when you had no say in the matter, maybe your birth name means nothing to you, or maybe you just want to honor the tradition. I think those are all cool reasons. But please keep in mind that a person's decision is none of your business and you make everyone involved look like a major dingus by assuming one way or the other.

And yes, I do realize that they're all men's names. Whether you have your husband's name or your father's name, our naming system is fundamentally patriarchal. (However, does this argument seem weird to anyone else? How can men own their names, but not women? If my father got his name from my grandfather, does it belong to him? If so, then why doesn't my name belong to me? How can our husbands own their names if they just got them from their fathers like we did? What if I got my last name from my mother, who got it from her father? Does that render the whole thing invalid, because the name came from a man somewhere down the line?)

This is why I stopped eating meat.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I wrote for about 15 minutes today, so I rewarded myself with 30 minutes of staring at my new pet fish and realizing that I’ve been so involved with anxiety these past few months that I feel, for the first time in those months, completely unanxious. My mind has temporarily given up. I’ve given all I could give to worries and wants. I think the breaking point was the nightmare I had last night: I was running late for my wedding. I didn't remember to book a caterer and didn't have a white dress. No one could believe it, but I still showed up. Then I ran off for reasons I forget. The wedding happened without me. The second breaking point was, after coming back to my office after enjoying a fresh fish taco lunch, I couldn't look my new pet fish in its eyes. I felt so bad. I felt so bad that I couldn't feel anymore.

On this day 4 years ago, right about this time, I was dropping Brad off at the Nashville airport. We'd just had a long discussion on my couch about the state of our union. I invited him out to Nashville on a whim and he agreed on a whim, and within two days he was there, and in a flash he was back on a plane again. That was a terrifying time in my life and I'm glad we've been through what we went through. He still is the hottest person I've ever seen in my life. He's also funnier than I am, by a lot.

This is the honorable Ruth Betta Finsburg. She's the fish I can't make eye contact with anymore.

Now that I’ve thought about it, I realized that my life goal is to someday hold eye contact with a fish and not constantly divert my gaze down and away from theirs because that’s what abused pit bull puppies do, not female human beings.

I will not sell you weight loss tea

Monday, February 13, 2017

It's been a while. A lot has happened... and a lot hasn't.

At some point last year (and I truly cannot bore myself with trying to remember when specifically) I was approached by one of those online weight loss tea companies, asking me to shill their product to my Instagram followers. This wasn't a new concept to me, as I've partnered with brands in the past that I genuinely liked, but only when they'd approach me first. I'm proud that even in selling out I stayed true to myself.

Something about the fact that it was weight loss tea and the fine print of the agreement stating I had to take a selfie with the product (something I seriously never do, and a product I'd never use) and the whole thing forced me to take a big step back out of this Internet spotlight and reassess what the hell kind of situation I'd gotten into.

I've promoted 3 or 4 brands that I either already liked, or was willing to try based on the price (for me, that means free). I've turned down companies -- even when they sold something I could feasibly get into -- simply based on the fact that I don't need more shit piling up in my 1,000 square foot apartment.

The magnitude that social media has grown is impressive and exciting and disappointing. But that's life. Whether we like it or not, things change.

Last night I was thinking about blogging, because of course I was. For years, I wouldn't leave home without my laptop so that I could stay connected to the people who made me feel sane when I was actually going crazy. In hindsight, I'm not sure I had that many real friends and that's kind of scary.

I wonder if blogging is so popular now because it’s where we can dump our thoughts we don’t think our real friends would care about, but mostly I guess it’s a circle jerk for our words and art. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

Sometimes it feels fun and sometimes it feels really gross and self-serving, so it’s also like a circle jerk in that way as well, I’d imagine.

This started out as a lighthearted piece about what it means when you sell out just to continue to allow people to read your inner dialogue, even if that inner dialogue is 35% thoughts about dogs, but I just feel so gross about blogging about blogging.

I'd planned a relaunch of Deer Diary. Life got in the way. Today was supposed to be the day. I was going to have a new layout and new features and updated content. I was excited to use my new DSLR camera to show you an easier way to make crab ravioli and show you around my beige apartment. I got sick. I mean like, a head cold, but I also went off mood-stabilizing birth control for six months and got really sick. That's the best way I can describe it. At one point, I researched rehabilitation facilities because I found myself hoping to get hit by speeding cars on the freeway. I felt like if I could just find a way to get myself killed, I'd be relieving so many people of all the anguish I cause them. That sounds dark because it is. I was in a dark place and I'm back on my birth control and am able to see some light. I don't say this for sympathy or head pats. I guess I feel like, in some way, I owe it to those of you who still check in on me.

I'm prepping two other major projects for this year that are coming together one way or another, but I'd really wanted to check back in with blogging. I miss it, and I also don't. Something has to change.

Anyway, I know y'all aren't here for the weight loss tea and neither am I.

Izzy Turner is feeling herself in this low key Kardashian reference. Proud!

garbage orchids.

I was given an orchid plant on my first day of work back in 2014. It was one of those grocery store orchids -- already in bloom, full bodied and bright fuchsia. The thought behind it was rooted in business etiquette; I was starting a new career after abandoning the listless brand of being a 20-something boomerang child.

Knowing nothing about orchids, I perched its beauty on my windowsill and forgot about it. It was always there, every morning. I'd glance up after lunch, I'd watch its petals glow from the sun shining behind it in the evening. Until it died. Or, I thought it died.

Devastated at the petals scattered around my new office, and with no time to care for it, I clipped the flower buds off but retained its original stem, hoping that with regular (yet scarce) watering, it would bloom again.

I waited 18 months, and found no signs of those blooms coming back. It kept turning out new leaves, new roots, and appeared to otherwise be alive. So I clipped its stem right off. One swift action with my office scissors, and it was gone.

A few months later, a new spike emerged. It grew quickly and I was hopeful for the blooms. I'd forgotten what the fuchsia looked like. For 18 months, I had nurtured a few leaves with a dead spike for the sake of it coming back one day, and it was starting to pay off. The new spike, the promise of new blooms.

One day in August, I came into my office to see three flower buds. Cognizant to its needs, I watered weekly and protected it from any triggering sensitivities. Indirect light, temperature control, even a little fertilizer marketed to helpless plant idiots like myself.

It bloomed while I was at a meeting. Two more blooms followed that week. It took a year and a half, but I no longer was holding onto a stick with leaves.

I came back from Las Vegas this weekend to an unbearable coastal heat wave. My apartment, situated less than a mile from the shore, was experiencing temperatures near 93 degrees. The heat will subside in the next day or two, but the misery is palpable and seems neverending.

My orchid wilted over the weekend. Two of the three flowers are drooping, browning, being the most dramatic motherfuckers. Unaware of the effort I'd previously put in to saving them from the bowels of my office trash can. The promise of another bloom, the desire to not fail at one measly task that comes so easily to others. This fucking orchid.

I quickly put several ice cubes on its soil and moved it away from where the temperatures must have scalded it over the weekend. It's situated in a cooler, shadier corner, away from the abuse to which I'd unknowingly exposed it. It was happy and I thought things were fine.

I keep glancing back at it. Looking over my shoulder, hoping that its new environment is doing it some good. Hoping the damage isn't permanent. Hoping that I won't have to wait another 18 months of excessive effort and care for this damn orchid to come back to life. I am slowly realizing that the work required to maintain something that only blooms for a few weeks every couple of years might not be a priority I am willing to take on anymore. I'm sad and embarrassed and defeated. It's just a plant. There are dozens more at the grocery store, with better leaves and more blooms and less hang ups. Why does my orchid have to be so temperamental? Why am I feeling sentimental about something that takes and takes and takes, and offers me absolutely nothing in return?

Who Asked

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On today's episode of Who Asked, one of my bosses tells me I "look like Halloween."

"Oh..." she starts. "It's a panda on your sweater. I thought it was that gross thing from Nightmare Before Christmas."

That gross thing. From Nightmare Before Christmas. That GROSS thing.

This will be a new segment that I document online. All of the unnecessary and rude things my superiors vocalize regarding the way I look.

Someone needs to enjoy this, since I clearly don't.
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

Louis De Bernieres