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The Vine: November 18, 2009

Submitted by on November 18, 2009 – 1:58 PM67 Comments

What's the proper construction for the possessive form of a noun phrase such as "commander-in-chief"? I know the plural is "commanders-in-chief," but is the plural possessive then "commanders'-in-chief"? "Or commanders-in-chief's"? That doesn't look right…

This question comes from a friend, and I've already recommended he just stay away from the apostrophe-S construction and go with a prepositional phrase instead ("belonging to the commanders-in-chief" or something to that effect). But now the plural possessive construction question is annoying me.

Thanks much!


Dear LJB,

"Commanders in chief's" looks wrong to me too, but the documentation I could find online says that's the correct construction.

It's less inelegant than the alternatives, I guess.


I have a roommate problem I'm hoping you can help me resolve. Two months ago, I moved into a house where a married couple and a young man were already living. We all get along really well; they give me space, we chat when we run into each other.

The problem: the man-half of the couple (let's call him P) doesn't seem to grasp the concept of lifting the seat. I share a bathroom with the couple, and the other guy (D) lives in the attic apartment and has his own bathroom. Soon after moving in, the wife of the couple warned me that D sometimes uses our bathroom, and "makes a mess," so if I see him coming out could I please remind him to use his own bathroom instead. As a result of this conversation, for weeks when I had to wipe the seat down before I used it I was mentally blaming D, though I only saw him come out of our bathroom once.

At some point I realized that it must be P who is to blame because it happens all the time when P and I are the only ones home. Once, P also implicated D as the culprit when he saw me come out of the bathroom looking disgusted.

I've been quietly dealing with this, seething inside while I wipe the seat, but it's gotten to the point that when I'm out in public I'll look for a bathroom to use before I go home. I'm a bit of a germophobe, so that's a big deal for me. Plus, I'm the one who buys the toilet paper and, having to clean up after P, I go through at least three times as much as I should. The other day there was urine ON THE HANDLE. I don't even know how that would happen, and now I'm paranoid about touching anything in the bathroom with my bare hands.

Having learned from past Vine responses, normally I would just address a roommate problem head-on and talk to the culprit. There are a few factors that have prevented me from doing that this time. There is a significant language barrier between me and P that makes even mundane conversations pretty awkward and unclear. I have to ask him to repeat himself several times, and usually walk away unsure if I understood the conversation at all.

I'm also nervous that I'd overstep cultural boundaries stricter than those I'm used to. For example, he's told me in the past that in his country of origin, men and women never touch each other unless they're married. I'm worried about offending him and making the living situation difficult.

I don't want to leave; I really like these people, the rent is ridiculously cheap, and I don't think I can deal with the process of moving again so soon.

I'm hoping there's some solution I just don't see. Would it be completely out of line to try to talk to P's wife? I can't understand how the pee isn't a problem for her as well, unless she continues to think it's all D's fault. Is there a way to bring up the topic with P without accusing him of being the culprit? I know it's wrong to continue to blame D for this, but I was thinking of saying something like, "Hey, P, have you noticed D using our bathroom a lot lately? Because there's pretty much always a mess in there." I'm trying to find a subtle but not passive-aggressive way to address this delicate situation.

Hope you can help,


Dear Pee(ved),

Take P (…hee) aside and tell him that you have a house matter to discuss with him involving the bathroom.You apologize if this makes him uncomfortable, and you don't wish to accuse him of anything, but the problem is one that usually attends male urination, not female, which is why you have addressed this with him — and will address it with D.

Explain as directly and briefly as you can that not all the urine is going where it belongs.Add that you worry about hygiene and germs, and don't wish to clean up the excretions of others.You can't imagine that it's on purpose, of course, but now that he's aware, you really need him to leave the bathroom in the same condition in which he found it.

The reason for the long and formal lead-up is so that you can read his body language or any other reactions, and if it seems to you as though he's either not understanding what you mean, or has become deeply uncomfortable with the topic, you can interrupt yourself and ask if you should address the problem at a house meeting instead.My feeling is that, if it's culturally permissible for him to share a bathroom and other living space with a woman not his wife, then it's also doable for him to have a five-minute conversation about basic bathroom courtesy without fainting.

Do address it with D as well, but P is a big boy and can handle the conversation, and so can you.Keep an even tone, thank him for his time, and if things don't improve, mention it to his wife — but she's not responsible, probably, so for now, leave her out of it.

Hi Sars,

My mother was recently diagnosed with a particularly awful form of cancer. On the bright side, the doctors caught it very early, and my mother was otherwise healthy, and so they were feeling pretty good about her prognosis. She had surgery shortly after the diagnosis, and in follow-up visits, her surgeon said that her recovery was remarkable (that if he had not performed the operation himself, he wouldn't have known that she just underwent a major procedure). In short, it was very, very scary, but there was a lot of hope.

But now she is consulting with her chemotherapy doctors, and they aren't as optimistic as the surgeon. I've never known anyone else with cancer before, so I don't have any comparisons to the treatment of other, less-deadly forms of cancer. She is looking at six months of chemotherapy (which seems like a lot to me, but again, I don't know), followed up with some radiation.

Originally, the doctors indicated that she wouldn't lose her hair, due to the type of cancer she has and the advancements in chemotherapy over the past few years. I think my family held onto that info as proof that she would be okay, as long as she doesn't lose her hair.

Today we found out that she would, and even though hair is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, I am just devastated over the news. I am scared to see my mom go through this as it is, but I guess I felt like if she looked like herself, she couldn't be that sick.

When we first got her diagnosis, I couldn't stop shaking for days (teeth chattering and all) and now I've spent all day on the verge of tears. I feel so helpless. I think the only thing that will make me feel better right now is an action plan of some sort, which brings me to my question.

What can I do to help her?

Background information — my family is extremely close, but my parents also do the withholding-information-to-protect-the-kids thing, despite the fact that we are all in our twenties. I live just 15 minutes away from my mom, and my sister lives about 30 minutes away, so we spend a lot of time together as a family (I'm going to amend my "extremely close" to "freakishly close" — we all talk nearly every day).

My mom is the uber-homemaker, the caretaker, so you can image the role of the "taken care of" doesn't sit well with her. When she was in the hospital with her surgery, she didn't really want us visiting her — she didn't like us seeing her sick, and didn't want us feeling like we had to spend the evening at the hospital with her after working all day (this is the kind of woman I'm dealing with here — downplaying an extended stay in the hospital so everyone could continue their lives uninterrupted. I never realized how WASPy my family was until now!).

So I am just at a loss for how to make her feel better, or as best as one can feel when one is having poison pumped into them regularly. How can we take care of the person who usually takes care of everyone else, and who doesn't like to show weakness?

Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated — activities, books, mantras, ANYTHING to help my family get through this.

Trying To Be The Best Daughter I Can Be

Dear Best,

I'm so sorry for your troubles.

The day after I had a melanoma removed, to the tune of 55 stitches in my back, I worked.I'd had to sleep sitting up and slung over at a weird angle, and I couldn't really sit in a chair properly, but I worked, because if I could work, then I was fine.

And I was fine, as it turned out, but even if I hadn't been, I would still have worked that day, and every day after that for as long as I could; this is how some people are.The prospect of your mother's hair loss will probably force her, as it's likely forcing everyone else, to confront Not Fine, but if her normal routine is to take care of everyone and not need help…I mean, it kind of doesn't matter what exactly her normal routine is, as much as that she can still do parts of it, and feel like her life isn't an occupied city.Denial on that point is not always a bad thing, mentally.

Yes, she needs to take care of herself, but for her, that's what taking care of herself looks like.Physically, sure, she needs to go a little easier and not push too hard, but emotionally, if she wants to get up and handle some shit, that's good — for her.

So what you can do to take care of her specifically is to listen, respect what she's telling you, respect what she's not telling you, and just be there.Offer your help, but if it's not accepted, drop it.Make a casserole or clean the house here and there, but if you sense it's annoying her, stop.She doesn't want you to mother her; she doesn't want that to be necessary.Nobody does.Just spend time with her and support her.

I've seen the other side of it too — my father and I spent the day of my mother's surgery obsessing over insignificant scheduling and projects so that we would have something to do that we could control.And let me tell you: OBSESSING.We spent, no kidding, 20 minutes discussing where to go for lunch in town, when to leave, how to walk there, wouldn't it be better to walk this other way, would it take longer coming back since it's all uphill, how much longer — I mean, ridonk.Then we rearranged the furniture in her room like six times, "because then if she wants to swing the table over to the" OH MY GOD NO ONE CARES.But we could control exactly nothing in the situation except that little crap, so we controlled the shit out of it.

My point in telling you this is to suggest that, when you're asking me and the readers for things to do for your mother, what you're doing at the same time is asking for things to do, period, that give you a sense of purpose and usefulness in the situation.I say this without disrespect or judgment, as someone who moved a very heavy hospital Barcalounger twice in order to delay dealing with certain realities like chest tubes; this is normal and appropriate, to feel that if you do enough small things, you will get credit on the big thing.

But you have to acknowledge this, that some of it is about your own fears and feelings (and that's okay), and at some point, you should just tell your mother, "I feel very powerless over this situation, and I would appreciate it if I could feel helpful in a small way.Please find some busywork that we can do in front of the TV together."And, you know, she knows it's weird for you too.Part of me thinks my mother told me and Dad separately to be in charge of each other because she knew we needed to be in charge of something.No way did she need those flowers moved around ten times for real.

It's hard, what your family is going through.It's hard for everyone individually, and in trying to get each other through it, too.You may feel guilty for freaking out when it's not you who has the cancer, but you shouldn't; it's normal, and if you let your mother be who she is, but also tell her how it is for who you are, it'll be fine.

Good health to you both.

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  • HLM says:

    @Trying the Best: Oh honey. I'm sorry. Watching your parents get sick is horrible, in part because at some level we all believe that that means the world isn't working right.

    My mother was diagnosed with cancer about 15 years after I was, and I won't sugarcoat how hard it is for most women to lose hair. It can help to try on wigs before her hair goes, or at the very least to go wig-shopping with a few photos of your mom where she thinks her hair looks good, because it'll help her judge how well the wig fits her original look. Wig stores are used chemo patients, but call around if you're not sure. If your mom's got a stylist she trusts, that person's advice can help too, and many salons have someone who will work on wigs to make them suit clients better. Even if your mom doesn't think she'll want a wig, she may change her mind later; just follow her lead.

    There is a lot of stuff that wants saying, but to keep this from turning into an essay (if you want one of those, give a shout and I'll see about e-mail), here are the two big things. First: having an emotional reaction to this situation–crying, overplanning lunch with your dad, shotgunning the Pringles, whatever–doesn't mean you're not handling it. You're human and under stress; you may do irrational or out-of-character things, but you'll come back and you'll come through. Second: there are a lot of people who've been through this, and there is no stigma in searching them out. Ask them for advice, vent all over them, swap shoptalk about how to deal with a parent who's on steroids and going through steaks like a piranha (hi, Mom!). Nobody knows exactly how you feel, but by God does it help to talk with people who've Been There.

    Okay, I lied, here's a third thing. It gets better. I swear.

  • tixie says:

    @ Best: I said a little prayer for your family. I know what it's like to feel hopeless – I'm Italian – I make food… you can just see the old Italian woman in me come out when there is a crisis… even just my fiance being sick… it's terrible – but it's true, you have to do SOMETHING. And I find food makes not just those that are sick happy, but the rest of the family too. The night my great-uncle died, I brought coffee cake – my grandfather walked in to the kitchen and said "Oh! Who brought cake?"… Best of luck to you…

  • Noelie says:

    Best – I don't have much advice, but having been treated for leukemia, which is 18 months of chemo (6 IV, 12 in pill form), I can tell you (and your mom) that six months is not proof of dire straits; different cancers respond to different agents and sometimes it's just safer to administer over a longer period.
    And I thought losing my hair would crush me; for a lot of my life it was the most attractive thing about me, so I realy didn't want it to happen. And then it did, and I was like – huh. Okay. It helped that my friends were determined to make it fun for me, planning wig shopping trips and providing various hats and scarves – maybe your mom would be open to having some fun with it once the shock of the change has passed.

  • Elyse says:

    My mom passed away from a rare form of breast cancer a year ago, nine months after her diagnosis. That nine months feels like a real blur to me.
    My mom seemed to like spending time with people the most, just sitting and talking. The thing she really didn't like was people asking her lots of questions about her treatment (how often? why? what's plan B?). It was understandable for us to want to know as much as possible about her treatment, but when everyone is asking you all the time, it can feel like hounding. So that's the best advice for what to do for her; just sitting and talking about stuff like books and movies, or stories from your childhood, or whatever, is better than trying to analyze the shit out of what exactly is happening with treatment.
    My advice to you, even though you didn't really ask for it, is to have faith in yourself to be really strong. I remember so many people saying "I don't think I would be able to go through something like that", and me feeling that way the first few months where I was coming to terms with my mom possibly not making it. It turns out you do go through it, and you come out of it with amazing strength, no matter what the outcome.
    I wish you and your mom the best. And don't kick yourself for feeling the way you do about the hair loss; that was a major one for us too. I got my mom a nice soft (fake) fur lined hat that she really loved to wear in the winter time, since wigs can be itchy and sweaty.
    My thoughts are with you both! If you need any support or just want to talk to someone else who has been through something similar, you can email me at elysem at me dot com.

  • Alyson says:

    For example, he's told me in the past that in his country of origin, men and women never touch each other unless they're married.

    However, he does not live in his country of origin anymore. He is now a resident of a culture where such taboos do not apply, and if he has not yet figured out that things are done differently in America (I'm assuming you live in the U.S., do correct me if this is not so), then it will not maim him to get the memo at this time.

    If you went to live in another country, you would be told that the host culture is what it is, and it will not change to suit your needs, so you will need to work on the culture's terms. The same thing applies to him. By all means, try to broach the subject as diplomatically as possible, but don't let the fact of cultural differences keep you silent. The language barrier is a real concern, and I feel your pain there, but "they do things differently in his country" shouldn't hold you back.

    I mean: urine on the handle. Ew.

  • Alison says:

    As someone whose title is "chief of staff," I can comment on the first: "commander in chief" is the title — "in chief" isn't just a modifier here, it's a full part of the title. So the "'s" has to come at the end. Otherwise, it's like sticking it halfway through a word.

    And as someone whose dad died of cancer, I can comment on the second letter too. This sucks. I'm sorry. It is scary and awful and no one chooses it. But also, every person we love is going to die at some point. Truly accepting this can be an enormous gift — by changing your relationship so that you appreciate the person more, are more present in the time you have with them, etc.

    Cancer is ugly. But its silver lining is that it lets you know to prepare. If my dad had been hit by a car one day and died without warning, I can't imagine how I would have dealt with that. Cancer lets you very consciously be with the person, and say things, and make sure you have no regrets. It is also an ugly asshole — but it does give us that one gift. Use it.

  • Busy, I feel you, and I've been there more often than not. In the past year and a half my son's spent more time in the hospital than out of it. And there wasn't a single thing I could control and it drove me batty. My suggestions are: a) have a go to friend when the powerlessness and your anxiety and your need to control something in your life hits the fan. Just have someone outside of your family who will let you put all of that emotion and energy somewhere. B) have busy work handy. If you're feeling helpless and you want to help your mom, maybe think of doing busy work like knitting or quilting, beading, whatever it is. And if it is knitting or quilting, think about donating those things to an organization that helps cancer patients (my suggestion would be George Mark House, they are the only pedicatric palliative care house in the nation and the services they provide to kids with cancer as well as any kid with quality of life or end of life issues, is invaluable). That way, at least that energy is going somewhere. Something to think about at least….

  • Elyse says:

    What Allison said "Cancer lets you very consciously be with the person, and say things, and make sure you have no regrets. It is also an ugly asshole — but it does give us that one gift. Use it."


    I wrote my mom a thank you card that she absolutely loved. I spent hours in bed or on the couch with her, talking.
    I taperecorded a conversation we had, per the advice of a dear friend whos mom died of pancreatic cancer. I am so happy to have that tape. I can't listen to it now, but maybe someday I will. I just pressed record and we sat around and BS'd, no Important Topic or anything.

  • @Pee – this is gonna seem rather gross on its own, but urine is sterile. There is no need to be concerned about germs from it. Now, if there's poo on the toilet, then Lysol the crap (ha!) out of it, but urine, while gross, is completely sterile.

    @Best – the hair thing is completely dependent upon a) the type of chemo (which is completely dependent upon the type of cancer) and b) the person and how they're reacting to the chemo. So really, it's no more an indicator of sickness than the constipation she's probably going to get from the chemo is. It is, however, a HUGE deal mentally, both for you (plural) and for her. When I was awaiting biopsy results from a (thankfully benign) breast lump, the thought of losing my hair was scarier/tougher than anything else. It's REALLY hard to get past that, especially since it used to be that EVERY chemo caused hair loss. It also used to be that EVERY cancer was a relatively immediate death sentence. That's not the case anymore. So it's gonna be a tough mental hurdle, but it's a good one to go ahead and force yourself to get past early on. No hair in no way means a bad prognosis, it just means that the chemo is working in her body and helping her to fight. And Sars can tell you that bald can be beautiful!

    She sounds like she's gonna fight this to her last ounce of strength and good for her! Just remind her that, especially during the chemo, her body needs the rest. If she does too much, the chemo won't be as effective. You're in this together for the long-term and you want her to be able to take care of everyone again, so she therefore needs to let others take care of her for a while so that she can heal.

    If you can, prior to the chemo, have her check out various housecleaning services when she can supervise and judge for herself that it's all being done "right." Spend time with her pre-chemo cooking together and putting stuff in the freezer for when she can't cook. Then she's "taking care of herself" while still resting during the important times. And during the chemo, let her pick ONE household chore that she can keep up with on her own (NOT scrubbing the toilet – too many germs for the immuno-compromised), making sure that she succeeds at that one thing during that time period.

    Best wishes for all of you!

  • Pam says:

    @Best: Such a scary time for you… my thoughts go out to you and your family. Sars' advice is, of course, spot on…

    My parents sound a lot like yours. My mom passed away two years ago from cancer after beating it the first time around (which is not to say that will be your mom's fate at all). It is a dreadful disease that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. During one of her rounds of chemo (6 mos is not abnormal), she lost her hair (she shaved it off once it started falling out, which was easier for her to take then being confronted with a sink full of hair), had awful canker sores (why she got very, very thin) and moments of such extreme nausea, she was afraid to leave the house. My mom ranged from feeling great to barely being able to lie down. I am not by any means trying to scare you, and cancer and its treatments affect everyone differently, but that was our reality for a bit.

    One thing I got her (and my dad) were full season DVDs (at the time, I got them every existing season of 24). They both told me many times that this helped them through some very rough nights. The 'serial-ness' gave them something to look forward to and they could watch as many or as few as they wanted, whenever they wanted. So, that is just one suggestion from someone who has been in your shoes. Hang in there!

  • Annie says:

    My mom also tried to take care of everyone else when she was diagnosed, and didn't want anyone's time "wasted" by sitting through her chemo sessions–it obviously made her more anxious and frustrated to feel like we were sitting around with nothinhg to do.

    So instead, before her first session, I picked up a fun oversized handbag from Target with lots of pockets and loaded it up with things to keep her occupied while she was in treatment–magazines and books, a notepad and pens in case she was struck with inspiration (or just wanted to write a grocery list), a CD player and headset, water bottles in case the nurses were occupied, etc. She loved that bag and took it to every session, and it gave me the opportunity to do something as well as a feeling of "being there," even when I wasn't.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Pee(ved) – Would D share his bathroom with you? Or trade living spaces so you can have your own bathroom? (What I REALLY want to tell you is to set up a spycam, because yeah, how does one get urine on the HANDLE, fer chrissakes? Is he dancing in there? Does he have so many piercings he's a lawn sprinkler? )

    Best, Sars gave great advice. Follow your Mom's lead, but be conscious of her illness too. Keep a sneaky close eye on her, if she looks tired, take over whatever she's doing with a "let me help you this time." If you include verbage that implies "this is temporary" you'll ALL feel better about it. My mom died at 59 of heart disease, and what eases my heart the most is that months before she died, my sisters & I were able to tell Mom how special she made our childhoods and everything we loved best in her. We were all in tears that afternoon. I'm so glad we got to say those things, so…say those things.

  • Jen S says:

    Busy, I feel your on the whole stiff upper lip angle. My dad's a doctor, and were he torn in half by a Kodiak grizzly, he would be lying in the hospital bed waiting for the bionics to graft constantly chanting "Honey, it's OKAY, it is NOT a big deal." It's just his default setting, and there's no getting around it. He's having knee surgery later next year and my sister and I are already plotting our plane trips in secret so we can present it as a done deal so he might as well do his PT and let us change the sheets and do the laundry.

    You have a close family (yay!) so there's support there, but don't forget the importance of having away from family time–online, at the movies, buying shoes, mainlining cheesecake, talking to friends–so you don't get that "Our Family in the Cancer Bunker" mentality where your whole group feels swallowed up by the disease and you feel guilty talking about Dancing With The Stars for five minutes.

    I had one idea from various Ask The Readers vines–find some of your mom's favorite YA books. They can be like old buddies hanging out with her when she's tired or not feeling well, and the good memories will definitely help lift her spirits. And if you both groove on Anne of Green Gables or Girl with the Silver Eyes, there's a light topic you can enjoy together, right there.

  • Michele says:

    Best, I don't have much to add but the housecleaner suggestion reminded me of something that was in my FB news feed today: They aren't accepting applications until 12/7, however.

    (That struck a nerve with me. My house being dirty and not being able to clean it stresses me out. Beyond belief. Issues, I know.)

  • Jen M. says:

    @Best: I would add one thing to everyone else's (great) advice about dealing with your mom's cancer: get some therapy. It helped me tremendously in dealing with my mother's 2.5 years of various cancer treatments (she passed away 7 years ago). I could go to therapy and scream and cry and be scared, and then go be strong and positive for my mom.

  • attica says:

    Peeved: Urine on the handle is most likely a result of splashback, which is most likely a result of, um, bad aim. If you think you can do it breezily (and if he understands basketball slang), you may suggest what my mom suggested to one of my brothers in our youth: Bank it, boy!

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    @Best: We're in the middle of a similarly scary situation, minus the evil spectre of cancer. My father-in-law had a lung transplant almost a month ago, and he has been in critical condition (and deliberately unconscious) since, due to an ever-increasing number of complications. While I absolutely second all of the advice people have given so far (and wish I'd thought of some of these things earlier…), I just wanted to especially underscore the importance of having a good friend or three "on the outside" who can support YOU while you're trying to support your mom. It would have lost my mind two weeks ago if not for those people, who send me funny Facebook links and bring me food and offer to come over to watch something frivolous. Best wishes!

  • Driver B says:

    @Best – Cancer is a damn bitch. We lost my dear mother-in-law to it earlier this year. She was also of the 'just keep going' mentality, staying at her job and really keeping up with her routines up to almost the last minute. She found comfort in that because it was what she could control.

    In this vein, I would say to keep doing the things that you love doing together. You'll need to watch out for when she gets too tired and things like that, but be careful of assuming that she's too fragile. My MIL loved to go to the movies, and was an expert shopper. We needed to take more coffee breaks sometimes, but spending the time together was what she loved.

  • Wehaf says:

    @Princess Leia – urine is only sterile if (1) the person peeing does not have a UTI and (2) the urine does not pick up stuff from the tip of the penis (or from the vulva) on the way out. (This is why when you give urine you have to use an antibacterial wipe first, so the urine sample is not contaminated.) Given P's difficulties with aiming, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't meet these conditions.

    Also, EW!

  • Jennifer says:

    Somehow I am picturing P's penis as a firehose, crazily spraying around before he can catch it. That's the only explanation I can think of for ON THE HANDLE.

    As for the last letter, this response is freaking brilliant.

  • Morgan says:

    For my dad it was the beard. He has had – no, he had – a beard since 1972, a decade before I was born, until this summer. Watching the beard fall out and my father morph in to this walking skeleton with no facial hair was hard. It was hard for him to be without it – it's a huge part of his identity, and it was hard for us because, well, this man no longer looked like dad, you know? (Also, the lack of beard made clear how 135 pounds is not the ideal weight for a 6' man.) I am ashamed to admit it was hard to look at him for months, but it's true. There is something about the physical sign of the illness that made it worse. I mean, lung and brain cancer got him straight to palliative care – there is no cure. And the physical signs made it clearer.

    Now that the chemo and several rounds of radiation are done, his beard and hair have started to grow back in, and he looks like dad again.

    I don't know where I'm going with this – maybe just that I empathize with how much this sucks.

    Also, my dad's chemo went really well – he was never really nauseous or had any of the other terrible side effects. You never know how things will go.

    My family, on the whole, chooses not to talk about The Cancer, except in passing diagnosis updates. That's the way my parents have decided to deal with it (Upper-Canada WASP much?) and so that's what we do. Let your mom set the boundaries and go with it. I also totally agree with others about needing an outlet outside of this. Whatever/whoever it is, it's important for you. Margaret's approach of acting as though it was a temporary problem? Has totally got us through the first seven months of this small hell. The attitude may not last forever, but it works for now, and that's all you can ask for, some days.

  • NZErin says:

    My mum was diagnosed with an agressive form of breast cancer at the end of 2006 and after a radical mastectomy she had a similar chemo/radiation schedule as your mom's proposed treatment. Before I continue, she's still with us now, though truth be told, we didn't expect that back in early 2007.

    My family is similarly waspy, with a whole lot of eccentric thrown in (repressed AND crazy!), and as it turned out, there was no one way of helping Mum through the disease because her attitude changed constantly and we as individuals responded to it differently. Not just good days and bad days, but a whole shift in ideology.

    Mum has dealt with serious illness a few times in her life and won't stand for being on death's door or not coping, but as her treatment progressed, the "battle" analogies and "well, soon you'll be able to go back to normal" comments really began to piss her off. In fact, the whole cancer survivor rhetoric does not sit with her experience. At first she wanted to continue teaching and get better and not have people treat her like she was sick, but now, she's very happy to discuss the ongoing experience and be open about how difficult it was and still is. Oh yeah, and after six months off school, she went back and retired shortly thereafter. Mmm, y'know what, I really don't need to teach teenagers…

    There was actually someone talking about something similar on the Daily Show recently, who openly declared that cancer didn't make her stronger or a better person, it made her more angry. For my mother, this has manifested itself in trying to make mastectomy bras cheaper and more accessible for women, because society focusses on things like breast reconstruction (actually, only 10% or so of women get reconstruction); we don't want to admit that people get better but are irrevocably changed. As Mum often says, you can't go back to normal, because every morning you step out of the shower and see your scars in all their reality.

    Sorry, for the long post, but whatever happens to you mom, you may find that the waspy stoicism shifts and there may be moments of utter despair, but she may also start to talk about it. Though not necessarily in the "hallmark moments" way a lot of people expect.

    As a daughter, you just have to go with it, but also be brave to discuss the worst, if that's what she needs; albeit in a terribly pragmatic way as befits the waspiness. That could mean planning a funeral that will not happen for many years yet, but will reassure your mother that everyone knows what she wants; or providing her with the practical help at home that will allow her to continue going to work as long as she can, and sleep in the evenings.

    Copies of her favourite books and movies are a great idea, as is organising the wigs before her hair falls out. Also, a really good idea is to talk to her hairdresser and let your mom decide when the hair gets shaved off. For some women this is a way of controlling the situation and means they don't have to watch it fall out in clumps, but rather get a head massage and have the lovely ladies at the salon do it for her.

    Of course, every situation is different, but right now at least, your mom gets to decide how she will cope with it. However, she can't control how you cope with it, so allow yourself some time to figure out the situation. That may have to be done away from your mom, but you are going through a terrible experience also and never deny that. If you need to hole yourself up in bed one day with Anne of Green Gables (though in this situation, I'd suggest reading Anne's House of Dreams – if you know the books, you'll know why) or whatever is your equivalent, then do it.

    All the best.

  • ... says:

    …could be an apocryphal (sp?) story, but in college, I heard of an RA who had to have a hall meeting for EVERYone on 'How to use the toilet' because they could not single out the foreign students on the hall.
    Surely by the time you have a house and a wife in this country, this HAS been explained to you…right?
    I believe the issue was standing over the hole (standing on the toilet) so that would create distance and more splash potential…

  • AHT says:

    Sars, I'm just going to put that advice to Best in my pocket for any possible future use- beautifully done.

  • NZErin says:

    I forgot the obvious – Online support networks!

    As well we know, sometimes it's easier to type what you feel (or attempt cover your feelings through well-edited text) with like-minded souls.

    Mum met some amazing women through a breast cancer website. They sent silly gifts to each other, skyped, messaged, and shared treatment stories. A couple have become dear friends now, and my parents are going to the States next year (from New Zealand) to meet them.

  • Stephie says:

    @The Best – I spent a little time in therapy when my dad had a triple bypass, and eventually two leg amputations (diabetes). I felt immediately better after the first visit. In fact, the first thing I blurted out was, "I feel so guilty!" – an emotion I wasn't aware of until that moment. You and I can't fix what our parents are going through… but therapy helps you identify things you can work on within yourself. I was feeling helpless and guilty because I couldn't do anything but watch.

    Over the past month, to help my mom with bills and channel my own feelings about the amputations, I got friends together to throw a benefit concert/raffle for my parents. Putting all my energy towards that really helped me, both by feeling productive and having something else to do besides worry. Surprising her with the check was the best feeling I've ever had, it was nice to have something so good come out of this.

    It's normal to feel helpless. Sars is right on. Find some busy work, somewhere. It will help her but more importantly, it will help you deal with your feelings about her.

    AND – as someone who has cleaned her dad's toeless foot, and now sees him with no legs at all – her hair loss will be scary at first but I PROMISE you'll get used to it. If she acts the same and talks the same, you'll feel at ease no matter what she looks like. She'll get through this, and so will you.

  • Tisha_ says:

    @ Trying: I've been through the cancer thing with a LOT of family members. It's really REALLY hard, but we all get through it. Just don't push yourself to be OK with it or anything too soon. You need time to grieve, even now, really. It's ok to grieve right now.

    The one piece of advice I can offer (and if someone already has, I'm sorry, but I didn't have time to read all the replies yet, and I wanted to post this before I forget) is this…… Take your mom wig shopping now. If she thinks she'll want to wear one. Have a bit of fun with it, and maybe she'll try on all kinds. We took my grandma before she started losing her hair, and we ended up getting her a wig that looked EXACTLY like her real hair. Some people never evne knew she was losing her hair. She was always very particular about her hair (went to the "beauty shop" every week) so that helped her and us a LOT!

  • KPP says:

    @Peeved Could you just sort of walk by and say, "Oh, hey, I don't know if you know, but it works better if the toilet seat is up, then its less messy. That's the way they're designed here in private homes. Otherwise you have to clean up a lot more. I left a spay bottle for cleaning up. You know, the cleaner next to the toilet" and then wander off. If absolutely not, I was also wandering if D could share–or is the attic apartment totally separate? Like you'd need a key? Or is it merely walking up to the second floor after a hey, could we share bathrooms if I clean up the long hairs and don't leave bras out? Maybe this is a passive aggressive solution…unless you are all coy about the change.

    @ Best I'm so sorry you're going through this. I don't know if this is helpful for you or not, maybe it depends on your personality, but when my dad had cancer, it seemed like we went through a progression of finding out continual bad news that the doctors didn't prepare us for and I didn't realize that I should ask have extra questions (apparently). Similar to your situation. There was surgery, then surprise chemo, then additional "surprises." I don't expect doctors to be psychics, however, I would personally have rather been prepared for some "bad case" situations or the additional tests that would happen after each step. My dad was in a bad state mentally and had no interest in asking and I couldn't be there all the time…so there it was. (sorry if this was a depressing paragraph…move along quickly)

    Anyway, so my advice is that if possible (and if this wouldn't make her/you anxious), ask what the followup tests will be and what they test for, what could likely arise from them (assure them that you're not looking for doomsday scenarios), just common less optimal things happen because you'd rather not be surprised.

    As far as taking care of things, when I've had difficult times while trying to do it all myself, I think the most useful help is when someone has offered something specific. When they've said, "I'd like to bring you and your dad lunch or dinner, when should I come and what should I bring?" versus, "I'm here to help, just let me know." Its nice to have general help, but somehow when you're trying to keep a stiff upper lip, its hard to accept help by telling people what sort of help you need and easier to say yes or no to specific offers. So…in summary, I guess I'd say try to help your mom in specific ways (without being overbearing, of course, don't rearrange her kitchen) that she doesn't have to think very hard about.

  • JR says:

    Not that it is terribly relevant, but urine is only sterile while it is inside you. It picks up bacteria on its way out, as it passes the skin on your definitely-not-sterile genitals. Based on the differences in anatomical, uh, set-up, a woman's pee will be germier than a man's, but a man's pee is not be sterile. It will be especially germy if it landed in the bowl and then splashed out again (as opposed to having landed directly on the rim).

    Also, I definitely agree with the other posters that suggested that if your Mom does lose her hair, depending on her mood and her personality, it may be possible to make a fun outing out of it, where you accompany her trying on wigs. A lot of our patients try to find wigs that closely approximate their own natural hair, but many of them say "Eh, screw it," and choose a style that is dramaticaly different from her own hair. So if your Mom has always wanted red, curly hair, maybe now is the time! Even if she ultimately chooses a natural look, it may be fun to shop for wigs with her, as she tries on all the different styles, and of course you could try on some as well! (In my head, I am picturing this in montage form, set to something like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun). The process of buyng a wig can be so loaded, and having that kind of attitude towards it may make it easier on her.

    Also, prepare her for the fact that when it grows back, it may look nothing like what her hair looks like now. You wouldn't believe how many patients I have whose previously-grey hair grew back in colored, or whose thick blonde hair came back thin and auburn. It is completely arbitrary and nobody has any idea why it happens.

  • Stephanie says:

    Best – I'm so sorry your family is going through this. And the conflicting results from the different doctors – ugh.

    If your mom doesn't want to go the wig route (and I don't blame her as I *hated* the one I had when I had to have my head shaved for surgery) there are alternatives out there. Like such – . Which is MUCH better than the granny hats that my mom sewed for me to wear when I needed them. We're talking white and poofy with lace trim. But… I was 5. And even less fashion aware than I am now.

  • NZErin says:

    @KPP – you're so right about asking all the questions, however silly sounding.

    So Best, free information: if your mom is going to lose her hair, you may not realise that this will probably mean all her hair. Yes all of it.

    If you mom isn't a dab hand with the eyebrow pencil and eyeliner already and will be worried about losing her eyebrows & eyelashes, then maybe shout her a beauty treatment that will give her some practical make up suggestions.

    I don't think my mum had ever had a facial before she had cancer, but boy did she come to love the YSL counter at a rather posh department store. Rocking a groovy wig (having had red, very curly/frizzy hair all her life, she loved having a wig with controllable locks and her hairdresser would colour and style the wigs for her too), and feeling like her make up was natural, but well done, helped her immensely.

    And you know what, hardly anyone ever noticed that it was a wig; all they noticed was that she looked so great.

  • Cyntada says:

    Best – I'm so sorry about the chaos in your family right now. Cancer is never simple.

    Stephie's suggestion is awesome… my cousin's daughter was killed by a drunk driver almost a year ago. She had been really involved in the local music scene, and her friends' memorial/celebration was a multi-band benefit concert to beef up her surviving little girl's college fund. That really touched our family a lot.

    If your mom's attitude would be all "… and I do NOT need you people wasting all that time fussing about ME!!" maybe you could frame it like "pick a charity, Mom, because we want to raise some cash for them to celebrate YOU." The ensuing excitement (and a role she could handle?) might give her something to look forward to, and would certainly provide you some busy work to keep your mind from going nuts.

    If she's into something specific that lends itself to benefit events (golf, fashion show, chili cook-off, art auction?) then so much the better.

  • Chrissy says:

    I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 21. Hair matters more than you think. I read a book that put it into perspective: all of the other symptoms of cancer or side effects of chemo (tired, fever, upset stomach, etc.) are no different than the flu, but losing your hair is the one thing that separates you from being "regular" sick and "cancer" sick. When my hair started falling out, it was very gradual, not the big-clumps-on-my-pillow experience that others have had- it's different for everyone. When I finally had my mom just cut the remaining hair off, it felt so much better and there was such less stress about trying to cover up my patchy scalp. I didn't wear a wig or anything like that, but to each their own. I found them very heavy and itchy and didn't look"real" enough, so I figured, what's the point? And there can be fun to be had- after my mom cut off my remaining hair, I took a shower and washed my scalp and the five hairs I had left. Afterwards, those hairs were standing straight up, so I was trying to wet down a comb and brush them down and to the side Trump-style. My mom walked in and started laughing hysterically- it was just so silly to try and comb these hairs into submission! After that, we were able to have a sense of humor about it.

    Best, just do your best. Everyone that hears "you have cancer" has a different reaction and has different needs. I wouldn't worry too much about doing something specific like cleaning, grocery shopping, work, etc., although those things are awesome and super-helpful. She may still like doing those things- having NOTHING to do might be worse, because then you spend all of your time sitting there dwelling on the negative. I bet your mom would just love to have you around and hang out, talk, watch TV, play board games. You will never regret being there. My mom and I had some of our best conversations during this time that I will never forget.

    BTW- again, everyone is different, but my cancer was so advanced and I was feeling so crappy and tired, that the chemo actually made me feel BETTER! Plus, these days they give you anti-nausea drugs directly into your chemo to help avoid that, plus pills afterwards (at least I got them, I am sure it depends on the diagnosis and type of chemo). You may have good days and bad days, unfortunately it's a complete crap shoot.

    I will be thinking of you and your family! I've read most of these posts and everyone here has great ideas and with all of our good thoughts, your mom and your family will get through this, I know it! Good luck!!!

  • Stormy says:

    Best: One thing you may be able to help your mother with is to distract the rest of your family before they make her crazy. I remember when a good friend's grandmother died I went to stay with her. Half of what I did was standing between her desperate desire to take care of and be there for her daddy and his desire to be alone and meditate on his mother's passing. By being there for your other family members as well as your mom you take care of each other and give her the space and time she sometimes craves.

  • Meredith says:

    Best: I'm soooo sorry to hear what you're going through. My dad is in the middle of his chemo for a cancer reoccurence, and it is no fun! You can expect that, on some days, the cure will seem worse than the disease, but you just have to keep pushing through! My dad's hair did fall out, as well as the mustache he's had since high school (my mom's never seen him without it!). I had dreaded this for months, but after a moment of shock it was ok. He's still my dad, you know?

    My dad is definitely the "I'm fine! Everything's great!" kind of guy, and he insists he doesn't need me to accompany him. I do anyway when I can. For when I can't, I filled his iPod with things I thought he'd like. Another concrete thing you can do is to buy or make your mom a blanket. Chemo rooms are coooooold! My mom made my dad a blanket, and he treasures it. It's become a bit of a "wooby," if you catch my drift. You can also make sure your mom gets her favorite foods on demand. She may not want to eat, so be willing to go out if your way to make/get her comfort foods when she's hungry. Being the pharmacy gofer is also good. (Sorry — I'm a "what can I do??" kind of girl, and this was what my dad let me do to help.)

    I also love the ideas of a thank you note. I might steal that idea!

  • EmilyGrace says:

    Peeved – if talking to him doesn't work, you and the wife could start leaving the seat up. Putting it down when you have to go might be less annoying than cleaning up after him.

  • autiger23 says:

    'Putting it down when you have to go might be less annoying than cleaning up after him.'

    Ha! That's such a good idea! The whole time I was very confused as to why he wasn't putting it up when he went, but this could solve the problem if she just gets the wife on board. Also, having lived with a married couple, it can kind of suck to have to bring things up because you feel like it's two against one (or could become two against one rather quickly).

  • Bev says:

    @ PEEVED
    Shockingly, I have met more than one adult male who was either raised to never touch or so ashamed about his penis that he did not touch it to hold it in place during urination. This would explain the extent of the problem you describe, even the handle. I don't think this knowledge helps you (I hear lots of Sars fans saying "oh, ICK!) but sometimes having an idea of the cause helps you pick the path for the discussion. Good luck.

  • Natalie says:

    Just want to chime in that six months is not abnormal. I had leukemia as a child and I was on chemo for nearly three years.

    My mom had breast cancer, and we were extremely close, as it seems you are with your mother. My mom died two years ago about two years after her diagnosis, which I'm writing not because I want to scare you or upset you, but because I pretty much lived the "worst-case scenario" and while there are a lot of things I'd change about stuff in the universe, I don't have any regrets about the way I behaved at the time, and I'm sure that part of your worry is that something could go very wrong and you want to make this time count.

    I spent a LOT of time with my mother, but I didn't really do anything that changed the nature of our relationship. Like… my mother and I always talked about books, so we talked about books. I always enjoyed cooking, so I'd cook for her. We drank tea and sat in the garden. It was good time together, diverting, and it didn't feel contrived or awkward. I'm sure your mom wants to feel normal, and unfortunately chemo takes away some of your ability to entertain yourself(hard to concentrate on reading, tv can be nauseating, exhaustion, etc.), so just help make sure she's not lonely by being with her.

  • Lisa says:

    Best daughter: Sending good calm vibes your way! There are some amazing suggestions above; I loved reading those. The thing that came to my mind, which may be kind of lame, but I wondered if you could take this opportunity (while your mom's doing the chemo) to do something that you've been wanting to do together, but haven't yet made the time for. Like a mother-daughter mini book club maybe? Since she's going to have a bit more down time, if you had the ability to take an afternoon off of work periodically, you could do some lovely shopping trips, foreign films, book discussion (whatever), and turn this thing (or these treatments) into something good and nice for both of you.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @Bev – You're right about men who've been condition to not touch and who simply let fly. If the leaving-the-lid-up doesn't work for Peeved and her group, there may be another suggestion that might help: Guys don't actually have to stand up to urinate. They CAN, and it's handy for them when they're out in the woods on a picnic, but they can also sit on the toilet to urinate, and that might solve the aim-and-containment problem. Perhaps you can suggest that P park his posterior on the pot… politely, but persuasively.

  • Charla says:

    Best: when a dear aunt was diagnosed with cancer, I made this for her:

    She totally loved it and it made for some lighthearted moments – we could just move our head toward the frame ever-so-slightly and then we'd laugh. Not sure how your mom handles expletives, but for some situations, I find that the F-word is le mot juste. Cancer would be one of those situations.

  • John says:

    Peeved – before you confront anyone, you need to check something. Years ago in a roommate situation, I was accused of not-ever-lifting-the-seat, when I knew for a fact that I always did. The situation was resolved when my roomie and I went into the bathroom together and flushed the (unused) toilet. Sure enough, the agitation of the flushing process itself was tossing up little droplets of water which landed on the seat, on the handle, etc. Tiny droplets of water are indistinguishable from tiny droplets of urine. Apologies were passed all around, and we started keeping something on the toilet to wipe it down with. This may not be your situation, of course, but better to be sure.

    Since that time, I've noticed this splashing happening a lot, especially in high-powered toilets in public places. Ick.

  • Vanessa H says:

    @Best & all the commenters — this letter was very timely for me — my step dad recently was diagnosed with lung cancer. I read through your letter and all the replies thinking of how what I've learned could help you. I started to write and realized how much you all have helped me!

    My dad died in an accident when I was ten and the thought of losing my step dad is something to be avoided. We all clung to the good parts of what he was told (early detection, successful surgery, etc.) and avoided anything negative (difficult surgery due to his age, other health issues). When his recovery started taking a lot longer than we thought it would, we all freaked out.

    I don't think I would have been able to put this in perspective without this Vine, so thanks. We'll all be together this next week and I think I'll be able to handle all the drama my siblings generate much better now. Thank you all for the timely help!

  • Faith says:

    @… "I believe the issue was standing over the hole (standing on the toilet) so that would create distance and more splash potential…"

    Oh holy…they were standing ON the toilet? Well, that would explain why the toilet seat is getting left down, eh? But it would also open up a whole new can of worms as to what is being tracked out of the bathroom on P's feet when he's done going! AUGH!

    Peeved, if that's the issue you're dealing with, then may I never, ever again bring up my husband's occassional tendency to allow piss to drip down the front of the toilet. Wow.

  • sharon says:

    @ Best – I had a relatively treatable form of cancer at 15 and I just felt I should add a couple of things from my experience. I had 6 months of chemo and radiation (and some surgeries, and other issues) and really the thing that absolutely got me was losing my hair. Until that moment, I thought that I was going to be in the small percentage of people who didn’t lose it. When I did, I also had to face the fact that I might also be in the percentage of people who didn’t respond to the treatment. It was a pretty big deal and didn’t have much to do with the whole ‘bald’ or ‘aesthetic’ thing. Once I acknowledged that, though, I had some fun with some wigs and did what I could to make it positive. (Hey! No more time washing/fixing my hair! Or shaving my legs!) And slowly, the positive came back around to the rest of the side effects. I honestly think that a main reason for my recovery was the support of my family and my positive attitude.

    Having said that, I didn’t like my friends and family to see me when I was sick. It felt like I was responsible for making their lives harder. I really tried to not make it a big deal. Sometimes I just wanted to be left alone so I could deal without burdening them… but the absolute best thing they did was not always honor that request. I mean, if I wanted to be “alone”, they came to the hospital and sat in the corner to read a book without talking. Just knowing they were there was the best thing for me. When I woke up, I could talk if I wanted to – but didn’t have to. Either way, they were there.

    I could go on for a while, but those are my experiences. It is a hard thing. There is no getting around that. But you and your family will get through.

  • CheekyMomma says:

    Best – Happy thoughts to you and your Momma. My mom has her last chemo next Wed – this is her second bout. She didn't lose her hair the first time, but this time she was, and so she sure enough got herself a mohawk. Not a faux-hawk. She shaved her head good. It was a riot. So look for the humor in the situations that may not seem so humorous. Lisa is right – some mother/daughter time will be good, too – take her to get a pedicure or go wig shopping together. Something else I came across just today – not sure if it's available in your area, but it's worth looking into: Hang in there, Sister.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    John: Echoing your experience of splashback-in-public-places – I've absolutely encountered toilets where water went all over the place.

    And so the guys don't feel singled out: I have also been in bathrooms that were rendered unuseable by the female patrons who wouldn't put their bottoms on the toilet seat, because it was "unsanitary" – but who had no trouble just kind of … HOPING … they were going to hit the right area by standing over it and letting fly. And they left the seat down, too, instead of lifting it up to at least increase their chances of hitting the toilet itself. And no, those women who were so concerned about sitting on "unsanitary" toilet seats, they did NOT wipe up after themselves.

  • Jeanne says:

    Best- My dad does the witholding-information-to-protect-the-kids-and-the-wife thing. He once had to get stitches in his hand due to an accident at work, and my mom didn't find out about it until weeks later when the hospital bill arrived at the house. Mom was not pleased. But that's just how he is, I think because of all the messed-up things that happened in his life as a child and a young man. Compared to everything that happened to him before he met my mom, nothing else is a big deal. The rest of us just vent to each other about how frustrating dad is and move on. We haven't had to deal with cancer thank goodness, but I suspect it'd be similar to your situation. I don't think I can give any better advice than others have already given, except to reiterate that it's important you have some outside support of your own. Best of luck to you and your family.

    On a lighter note, not that it's important but this- "We spent, no kidding, 20 minutes discussing where to go for lunch in town, when to leave, how to walk there, wouldn't it be better to walk this other way, would it take longer coming back since it's all uphill, how much longer — I mean, ridonk." is standard operating procedure in my family. My mother and I take forever to decide on anything, much to the frustration of whatever poor souls are with us at the time. We are totally ridonk.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jeanne: We ordinarily make decisions pretty, um, decisively; we just then discuss them to death…while doing them? If that makes sense. And then the whole family sometimes tacitly chooses to eat a meal that shows every sign of being crappy, so that we can all make fun of it later…we're weird.

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