Author Archives: James McCleary

An Unexpected Journey (Part 3)

Full Circle (1/10/20)

After several emotional and unsettling days, I became somewhat uncomfortably comfortable in the “not knowing.” In my mind that was better than receiving any possible new news. New news could be bad. New news could be very disheartening. New news could mean my lovely wife might have to endure much more than the anticipated lumpectomy. Yes, I was now okay immersed in my ignorance. I had finally settled in to a place of contentment in my life, once again.

However, midway through our Christmas vacation in Iowa, while chatting with my side of the family one afternoon, Rhonda’s phone rang. By the serious look on her beautiful face, and her quick exit to an isolated place in my parents’ house (the landing to be exact), I knew it was the surgeon – presumably with new news. I escaped to the bathroom, as to not to overhear my wife’s end of the conversation. Why? Because I was minutes, maybe seconds, away from probable new news that could very well disrupt my newfound place of ignorant contentedness.

I found myself having an out of body experience, if you will. I was there, yet I did not seem to be. I was aware, yet I did not possess all my faculties. Eventually, I came to. I looked in the mirror, blew my runny nose, and surveyed my surroundings. (Hey, I didn’t know the decor of my parents’ bathroom featured so many seashells.) I gathered my composure, as best I could, and then went searching for my wife – accompanied by a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. (Evidence, I think, that the mind and body are intertwined.)

I did not have to look too far to find the missus because she was right outside the bathroom door. Rhonda shared the good – no, the great – new news. The roller-coaster ride we’d been on the past several weeks came to a sudden halt, as we now knew where things stood instead of just guesses and assumptions. Nothing more to deal with! We seem to have come full circle. Rhonda will indeed undergo a lumpectomy. Who would’ve thought that would be cause for celebration? Praise be to God in EVERY circumstance!

An Unexpected Journey (Part 2)

Confusion (1/10/20)

Well, It’s been a month since my first writing concerning my lovely wife’s cancer diagnosis. The missus is still handling her situation (her journey – as she puts it) like a brave trooper. We met with Rhonda’s chosen doctor back in December, to learn the specifics of her condition and to form a game plan going forward. Rhonda’s initial prognosis was, in my opinion, pretty encouraging (after the shock wore off) considering what it could have been in the cancer world. There was no mention of “stage four,” “lymph nodes,” or any “has spread to…” speak. Rhonda will have to undergo a lumpectomy though. There is a cancerous area (not an actual lump) in her left breast that needs removed. Sounds harmless enough.

However, this is where confusion entered the picture. We were given so much information in so little time. Rhonda heard stuff. I heard stuff. But it was not necessarily the same stuff, or even interpreted the same way when entering our ears. I do know we both heard the word radiation. I’m also sure the both of us were trying to decipher in our minds what the technical terms, next to a hastily sketched picture of a boob – created by the doctor, actually meant. Both of us certainly heard the command for Rhonda to ditch her birth control pills immediately – and forever. I guess those tiny pills feed cancer! (Plans for a vasectomy are in the works.)

Next, we were ushered down the hallway to meet with my wife’s referred surgeon, and she confirmed a lumpectomy was in order. The surgeon then ordered an MRI and a genetics test (since Rhonda’s paternal grandmother had breast cancer in her lifetime, and her maternal grandfather died from pancreatic cancer). I suppose my wife’s surgeon was just being thorough, but I felt like she was poking a sleeping bear. The surgeon then informed us that depending on those two results we may be having a different conversation. It’s definitely been a whirlwind of emotions since Rhonda’s original diagnosis.

In an instant, I went from being somewhat assured of a positive prognosis to being drastically distraught. The only consolation prize that day was when the surgeon told us Rhonda’s cancer was a monthly/yearly spreading disease and not a daily/weekly growth. We were then told to enjoy our Christmas in Iowa, and to try not to worry about the future results of the tests. Yeah, right. The now not knowing and the “what ifs” destroyed any chance at normalcy, at least for me, for the next couple of weeks.

An Unexpected Journey (Part 1)

The Diagnosis (12/10/19)

Helplessness. Utter sadness. Regret. That’s how I’m feeling exactly one week after hearing my wife has breast cancer. I’m also somewhat shocked because I truly thought that further testing would give Rhonda a clean bill of health – not a cancer diagnosis. But this is where we are. And I do not want this to be about me! But I’m having great difficulty keeping myself out of the equation. My feelings and insecurities do not and should not matter at this time. This particular season in our journey is about my lovely wife – and her only! That being said, I’m hoping that by writing down my current thoughts I’ll somehow feel better.

First of all, I do not want this to be happening. I realize no one deserves cancer. But Rhonda does not deserve this! She is the most thoughtful, caring, and generous person I know. Now add brave to that list. My feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. What can I do? What am I supposed to do? Prayer, of course. I did that Sunday morning. I prayed fervently – and aloud (well, kind of). After hearing my shaky voice say the word cancer to my God, I could barely speak thereafter. It was more of a broken whisper from that point on. My prayer was one gigantic sob-fest. Adding insult to injury, Rhonda was at Urgent Care coping with a horrific cough during this time. I had never felt so bad, so helpless, so sad for my wife than on that day.

I wish I could say I’m much happier now, but I can’t. I feel an emptiness. A void within my soul that I know cannot be filled until I’m told Rhonda is cancer-free. In the meantime, I long to be with my wife 24/7. I know I’m smothering her, but I don’t know what else to do. In this case, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Instead, it breaks my heart to be apart – even for a minute. Boy, I am one sad sack.

Regrets. I guess a side effect of learning of a wife’s cancer diagnosis, at least for me, is the urge to question, examine, dissect, and reflect on the past with genuine scrutiny. Rationally, I know the missus and I have had a great marriage. A marriage some people envy. We’ve also had our ups and downs which supposedly is normal. Normal, maybe. But I regret any and every time I was responsible for Rhonda’s hurts, tears, and for if ever making her (or her thoughts and opinions) feel “less than.” Any moment my lovely wife has not felt special these past 36 plus years is on me. I’m extremely sorry for that. I vow to do better. To be better. That is what Rhonda deserves.

New Territory

My lovely wife was recently diagnosed with having breast cancer. I’ve been journaling about this unexpected, new experience since then. Originally, I had no intention of sharing my private writings with the public. But after much contemplation, and receiving unhesitant permission from the missus, I have decided to share my innermost thoughts during this particular time in our journey together. This certainly is new territory for me in two ways: confronting cancer and journaling. I reckon many writers journal, but not me. At least not until now. My goal is to give an honest portrayal of what I, as the husband of a cancer patient, am experiencing – with no holds barred. Hopefully with a skosh of my trademarked wit included as well.

This will be my story, yet I would not have this story without my wife’s story. (She also has been journaling. New territory for her, too.) In the past, I have gone out of my way to not use my wife’s name in any of my blogs. I suppose I chose the path of referring to my better half as only “my wife” or “the missus” to protect her identity (as if people didn’t already know) and to add a bit of mystery to my works. I think every writer has their signature thang. And omitting my wife’s name has sort of been my thang these past six years. But this time it’s going to be different. It would be nearly impossible, and rather reader-unfriendly, if I were to refrain from using my wife’s proper name in a series that is mostly about her. Therefore, my lovely wife’s name is Rhonda, and you can read our story An Unexpected Journey…COMING SOON!

Paper Or Plastic

Remember the good old days when supermarket cashiers used to ask whether we wanted paper or plastic bags? I always preferred paper, for whatever reason. If memory serves, I think it was because the paper bag was sturdier and better insulated for transporting home our frozen goods. Eventually, I guess “the man” decided paper would no longer be an option. I think it was due to us “killing too many trees” or something. I learned to accept plastic as my only choice, even pondering that if paper bags ever made a comeback I’d probably not switch back, but now there’s a full-fledged assault on not only plastic bags but all plastics in general. The man is at it again, and I’m not too happy.

California, New York, and Hawaii have already banned single-use plastic bags, and New Jersey and Maine are proposing to follow suit. California has also placed limits on the use of plastic straws, and Oregon is now following The Golden State’s lead. Oregon is also considering ridding the state of those evil plastic bags along with banning Styrofoam takeout containers. I can’t help but find it more than just a bit ironic, and even a tad disturbingly humorous, that those most vocal about banning plastics tend to be the same ones demanding options regarding abortion. They’re more concerned with our ocean and beaches than that of the unborn child. Please don’t get me wrong; I’m almost as environmentally friendly as the next guy.

When my lovely wife and I moved to Peoria, Arizona a dozen years ago, there was no recycling pickup program in place. The missus immediately contacted our city government inquiring as to what to do with our recyclables and suggesting Peoria should implement a recycling collection program. Week after week we inconveniently loaded up our car with our recyclables, hauling them to a drop-off site, until the city finally enacted a comprehensive recycling program a few years later. My wife even took charge of recycling at her place of employment after learning everything discarded there was treated as trash. She’s endearingly known as the recycling Nazi at the salon. And I recently informed the city when I noticed a neighbor had moved out and had incorrectly placed several bags of trash into his recycling receptacle. (We’ve been told, and then confirmed by a city official, that one piece of trash mixed in with recyclables contaminates the entire load.)

The point is this: I care about our planet, and I’m trying to do my best, but I think plastics are getting a bad rap. It’s not just parts of the United States opposed to plastics though. The European Union has joined the war on plastics, and as was reported in The New York Times (6/11/19) Canada is shunning the plastics industry and their supporters as well. Canadian retailers are allowed to charge customers, those opting not to bring in reusable bags, a fee for plastic bags and shaming them in the process. In central Vancouver, people who choose to purchase a plastic bag will receive it, but the bag will be decorated with a (presumably fictional) business name or logo intended to evoke embarrassment. A phrase such as “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” or “The Colon Care Co-Op” will adorn the sides of the taboo bag as it leaves the establishment with the “conscientiously lacking” patron.

I can appreciate states, countries, and even businesses desiring to lead the way in sustaining our planet, but many of them are less than disingenuous I’m afraid. I suspect it’s more about politics and profits than anything else. Regardless, they’re all misguided by focusing on the wrong thing. I think the results of actual litter collected during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup in 2017, paints a truer picture. The agency’s reported statistics listed in The Wall Street Journal (5/21/19) found cigarette butts to be the main culprit out at sea and washing up on our beaches. Next was food wrappers and then thirdly numerous plastics followed by foam takeout containers. By the way, plastic straws only account for approximately 0.025% of the annual waste flowing into the ocean (The Wall Street Journal 5/28/19).

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said, “As parents we’re at a point when we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles. That’s a problem, one that we have to do something about” (The New York Times 6/11/19). I sincerely agree with Trudeau’s words, but scapegoating the plastics industry is not the answer. The solution is conquering the obvious global littering epidemic. Instead of banning plastic products, maybe the answer is to have much harsher penalties for litterers. The death penalty may be a bit too severe, but I’d certainly lobby for an enormous fine and mandatory jail time – even for first time offenders.

Really, how difficult is it not to litter? I don’t think I’ve ever done that my entire life. The missus and I faithfully return our used plastic bags to the grocery store each week. We responsible plastic bag users should not be the ones being spurned in society – it should be the litterbugs of the world. I proudly surmise Peoria has figured that out since my city has just implemented a new program to curb littering. Residents are encouraged to file a “litter report” with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) when they spy a litterbug in action. The witness must present the offender’s license plate number to the transportation agency and they’ll do the rest. ADOT will send the vehicle’s owner a letter informing the person that someone caught them in the act, along with a small trash bag to keep in their car. Ouch! Now that’s justified shaming. So, paper or plastic? Plastic, please.

Bad Ideas

When was the last time you heard a good idea? Probably not too recent unless Shark Tank is part of your Must See TV. It seems there are plenty of bad ideas floating around out there especially politically. Dismantling the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and the Green New Deal (as proposed) are bad ideas. I think President Trump’s U.S. Space Force is a bad idea. The additional military service branch is not needed and undoubtedly will be very costly. Any consideration of paying slavery reparations is also a bad idea (I’m looking at you Kamala, Cory, Elizabeth, and Julian).

There are numerous non-political ideas that have come, or are coming, to fruition in which many people are pleased with, but I still think they are bad ideas. A great deal of those are in regards to technological advances. I am opposed to self-ordering kiosks in restaurants, supermarkets offering scan & go, digital downloads in lieu of coupons, and self-driving vehicles. I’m not going to do so well with all this artificial intelligence (AI) I keep hearing about either. I’m not even a fan of online banking.

I’m well aware online banking now appears to be the norm, but to me that’s simply one more avenue toward possible identity theft or worse. I also believe banking via the internet can convey a distorted sense of the reality of one’s actual finances, with the tangibles (billing statements and cash) being out of sight and therefore out of mind. I just think online banking can more easily lead to fraudulent activity and irresponsible spending habits. I certainly know I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m in no hurry whatsoever to live in a paperless society.

I profusely pray that I am not in the minority when it comes to dismissing a new trend taking shape concerning working parents raising their children. “Busy” parents are being offered ways to outsource the basic tasks of parenthood to others deemed as pros. Bad idea. Yes, there’s no need to waste your time potty-training your own flesh and blood when someone else is willing to do it for a substantial fee. You just can’t make this stuff up. The story was in USA TODAY (5/13/19). The mother of a former toilet-illiterate girl said, “I love working with an expert, and I didn’t have the time. My husband and I both work. I’m an expert in basically what I’m paid to do, which is my profession. Why wouldn’t I go to someone who understands?”

Another mother lets a subscription clothing service choose the outfits for her two children, ages 3 and 18 months, to wear. She said, “I’ve got more life demands. I don’t have the time, and I want my kids to look good. It takes the work out of it for me.” Hey ladies. Here’a a little friendly advice: If you don’t have the time or the energy for the fundamentals of child-rearing then maybe DO NOT have children. I’ve intentionally withheld the names of these two women, whom I find to be selfish and maternally-challenged, for their own protection. I’ve come to my conclusions about them based on their own words.

I think we should all know by now that coming to a conclusion prematurely is a bad idea. If we haven’t learned this by now, after the whole Jussie Smollett debacle and the fiasco involving the Native American “versus” students donning “Make America Great Again” gear, then we most-likely never will. I warned of a New York Times journalist possibly coming to conclusions prematurely, just last month in my piece titled “Just The Facts, Ma’am”. The writer decided for us that President Trump’s newly enacted tax breaks were a bust. Well, the facts are in. “Americans were left with more money in their paychecks this year, ” and “more people got refunds, with the IRS issuing 95.7 million, up from 95.4 million a year ago” as was recently reported by USA TODAY (4/29/19) after this year’s income tax filing deadline.

I think it is an extremely bad idea for 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls to continuously mention President Trump’s August 15th, 2017 statement regarding the skirmish between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia (I’m looking at you Joe). Among a plethora of other things voiced during his August speech, Trump said, “but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” To me, that popular but tiresome soundbite absolutely rings true. I think (know) an individual can be an overall good person regardless of his or her sorely misguided view on race superiority, although the media and numerous Democrats would have us believe otherwise. In the same manner, I believe an individual can be an overall bad person even though he or she is not a racist.

Can an alcoholic or drug addict be a good person? An abortion-rights activist? What about an atheist? Isn’t it possible for a racially ignorant human being to be a loving family man, a loyal employee, good friend, or a philanthropist? Or does a significant flaw in one’s life constitute an individuals entire identity? I think it’s quite possible there were very fine people indeed on both sides of the Charlottesville clash.

Even more shameful than promoting the aforementioned soundbite as racism is the insinuation by some of the 2020 hopefuls that those who are not disgusted with Trump’s statement must be racist as well. Harping on this issue is a very bad idea for the Dems – unless of course their aim is to alienate Independent voters and help steer President Trump to a second term as our commander in chief. (As of now, I think it will take a miracle of sorts anyway, for Trump not to be re-elected.) For the sanity of our great nation, making everything political is a bad idea.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

“Just the facts, ma’am” is a familiar catchphrase from the 50’s television series Dragnet. The police crime drama was a little before my time (I was raised on Charlie’s Angels, Happy Days, and The Six Million Dollar Man) but the old Joe Friday saying has endured for several generations. Unfortunately, in these times it seems actual facts are only sporadically found on our screens, in our newspapers, and even in our hearts. We tend to choose our tribe and then blindly believe everything we see and hear that reinforces our biased perceptions while also ignoring or completely dismissing anything that may disturb our preconceived notions even though it may be true. Ultimately, we can only blame ourselves if we succumb to our naivety, gullibility, and partisan blindness regardless of how much the media attempts to direct us toward that destructive way of thinking.

For example, a while back I was struck by what I considered to be a bold headline when perusing an edition of The New York Times (2/13/19). The front-page headline read “Pledged Relief, Early Tax Filers Find Only Pain.” I instantly found two things a bit peculiar about that statement. I had to wonder why the journalist, Tara Siegel Bernard, was already coming to conclusions, presumably in regards to President Trump’s newly enacted tax breaks, when the majority of taxpayers had yet to file their tax returns, and how could it be they found only pain? My curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to read the entire story.

I suspected the article was going to take a negative view of Trump’s income tax overhaul – and how, once again, our commander in chief failed America – and I was right. To be fair, the writer did tweak the aforementioned heading later on in the story with, “some filers find only pain,” but that key word was buried deep within the issue (not on the front-page). And the damage was surely already done if one chose only to scan the original headline. I know this may just be a case of semantics, but the words used in print, whether chosen carefully or haphazardly, can definitely make all the difference in the world. I have no time, nor the patience, for careless, manipulative, or biased journalism. Please, just the facts, ma’am.

I was indifferent to Trump’s proposed tax cuts from the start. Those who are concerned about our country’s national debt, or who believe all corporations are pure evil, will probably never be on board with the government issuing tax breaks. I, for one, am not really concerned about a balanced budget (it’s way too late for that), and I’m not too worried about “big, bad” corporations. I can only attest to my own experiences. And this is the first year, in well over a dozen years, my lovely wife and I will be receiving a refund at tax time. Coincidence? I’ve done the math (it’s not rocket science…or even algebra) and with all things being equal the fact is the missus and I will have an additional $762 in our pockets this year, for no other reason than that of Trump’s newly enacted tax breaks. Thank you, Mr. President. I am certainly not about to complain about something that’s undeniably beneficial to my family. Those are just the facts, ma’am.