Denise Day Spencer

January 21, 2010

Me, mySelf and I

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 7:25 pm

Are you one of those people who reads magazines in a doctor’s office? When I say “reads” I’m using the term loosely. I generally just thumb through, mostly looking at the pictures, and that’s only if I’ve forgotten to take a book to read.

Michael’s radiation appointments go so quickly that I don’t bother with a book. But the other day I had a few more minutes than usual so I picked up the nearest publication. It was one I don’t think I’d ever looked at before, though the cover boasted it was 30 years old —  Self magazine. In my few available moments I learned that plaid is apparently in. That’s good news for my old flannel shirts. The beauty writers told me how to choose an eyeshadow shade based on my eye color, and how to pluck my eyebrows according to the shape of my face. (What shape is my face, anyhow?) I even read how to slim down by Saturday. Hmmm…I wonder if that promise would stick if I didn’t read the article until Friday?

I know Self is the type of magazine you typically find in a doctor’s office, but it seemed out of kilter somehow in a place where people are getting their bodies radiated to kill a dreaded disease. I expect most of them have bigger things on their minds than the latest beauty tips. Though I wasn’t the one being radiated, the chipper advice had a hollow ring to it for me as well. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best; it’s just not where I am right now.

Actually, that’s probably an understatement. I gave up lipstick over a year ago. I was too cheap to buy the expensive brands that keep your lips moist, and I finally decided Chapstick was better than having “Mulberry Mauve” peeling from my cracked lips. Ever since we got Michael’s cancer diagnosis I’ve lost all motivation to wear any kind of eye makeup. I never know when I might have the urge to cry. Anyway, it feels so good to be able to rub my eyes whenever I want without smearing “Pearly Gray” all over my face. When Michael was in the hospital I slept in my clothes and didn’t even comb my hair. (Yes, I did shower every day, so don’t go calling me names!) The other day I noticed all sorts of new wrinkles and sagging spots under my eyes — and they weren’t “laugh lines.” I merely shrugged; I suppose it goes with the territory.

You see, I’m trying not to think too much about myself these days. For one thing, I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks with people who are fighting for their lives. Elderly men. Middle-aged women. A teenage girl. Twenty-something guys. An eight-year-old child. Cancer does not discriminate. And compared to what they’re all going through, mascara seems irrelevant. I especially admire the lovely ladies who boldly show up for breakfast in all their bald-headed glory. It’s cool; at the Hope Lodge nobody bats an eye.

For another thing, I’ve been trying to focus on Michael’s needs above all else. Things have calmed down now, but there was a time when time was anything but mine. I needed to get dressed but Michael was throwing up again and I tried to put on my makeup but the phone was ringing and I wanted to wash the dishes but Michael needed to eat and I tried to put in some laundry but someone was at the door and I was hungry but Michael was throwing up again. I’m so grateful for the respite I have now, but those days taught me an important lesson: Michael is sick; I’m not. Therefore, I’m the caregiver and his needs are paramount.

I’m finding more and more solace in Mary. We think of her almost exclusively as the Mother of Jesus, and that’s certainly her claim to fame. But she was a wife, too. Most scholars believe Joseph died before Jesus did, though we cannot know for sure. But these days I like to picture Mary with Joseph. Mary, whose heart would someday break at the loss of her Child, gently dabbing Joseph’s fevered brow with a cool cloth. Kneeling beside him to offer him a drink of water. Holding his hand until he fell into a fitful sleep. Being there to smile at him when he awoke in the morning.

St. Bernard wrote, “Do not be surprised that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. According to Paul, one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was lack of love. This was far from the heart of Mary. Let it be far from her servants as well.”

So kindly overlook my lusterless lips and my sagging skin. But pray that I may have wisdom in setting priorities and a heart set on love.



  1. “I finally decided Chapstick was better than having ‘Mulberry Mauve’ peeling from my cracked lips.” Funny, and good decision, Denise!

    I clicked on the Hope House link. I am glad that is available to you and Michael. My stepson and his wife were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald house when their infant was having surgery. It’s wonderful that these places exist.

    I will pray that you have wisom in setting priorities and a heart set on love, but I have to say, I think you are doing fine in those areas. The rest of us could likely use YOUR prayers. I will also pray for you that you get all the rest you need. And I will pray that financially things will work out for you and Michael as you go through all this. Let Michael know that the commenters over at internetmonk miss him, although Chaplain Mike is doing an excellent job with his posts and keeping folks active.

    Comment by JoanieD — January 21, 2010 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  2. You take care of yourself, as well as you can, ok?

    Peace to you.

    Comment by Julana — January 21, 2010 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  3. My Dear Friend. I understand the undoing and uncaring about appearance. There are so many more things that are important. From the sick person point of view I feel a little differently. I usually shower every day but find it “difficult” now. I was not skipping just the lipstick but letting everything go. I decided to change that. I feel sick! There came a point this week when my wonderful husband/caregiver who likes lipstick on me came home to find me showered, dressed and makeup on. Wow did I get a response. I had to admit it made me feel better to take care of my appearance. So there’s the flip side. Shower Mike he’ll feel better! LOL P.S I wear water proof mascara.
    Love you!

    Comment by Judy P — January 23, 2010 @ 7:01 am | Reply

  4. Dear Denise,

    I was glad to find this post on your site. I’ve been checking several times a week to see how things are going with you and IM since the end of December.

    I’ve never had your situation, so I can only imagine what you’re going through. But I am an old woman and I’ve had some cares of my own, so let me take the liberty of saying: Caregivers need help too. I hope you will take advantage of any “Caregivers Group” the hospital knows about. Your needs are important now too, and running your own well dry (which is very easy to do in such stressful situations) is not going to help Michael or any other cancer sufferer. Don’t burn out; get yourself into a bunch of people who understand. At least that worked for me, when nothing else did.

    My very best to Michael. He has my continued prayers, and those of a great cloud of internet witnesses.

    Comment by Heather Lee — January 23, 2010 @ 11:40 am | Reply

  5. Thanks so much for your wonderful post, Denise. Is is so kind of you to take time to share your thoughts with us, even as Michael needs so much of your emotional strength. Thanks for reminding us how much we are taking for granted everyday. God bless both of you. Please be strong.

    Comment by feliznavidad — January 27, 2010 @ 11:44 pm | Reply

  6. I am so glad to find your blog through IM… I’ve been praying for your family, too. We have a family member now going through chemo & radiation and so, I can empathize with how your daily life has changed – May God continue to bless you & restore your husband’s health. I second those wise words above, from Heather Lee.

    Comment by Amy — February 2, 2010 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

  7. Please share this with Michael sometime: A man went up to a movie box office. He said “I’d like two tickets, one for myself and one for my pet chicken.” The person in the box office screamed, “You can’t bring a chicken in here! It would break about a dozen health laws!” So the man went around the corner and stuffed his pet chicken into his pants. He got back in line and bought a single ticket, and went into the dark theater.

    As he watched the movie, his pet chicken began to get hot and restless. So he unzipped his pants to let the chicken have some air.

    Two women were watching the movie next to him. The nearest one said to her companion, “The man next to me just unzipped his pants.”

    Her companion sighed, “Pay no attention. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”

    The first woman said, “Yes, but this one is eating my popcorn.”

    Comment by Tom Meacham — February 25, 2010 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  8. What an amazing post. If the way Christ radiates through your writing is any indicator, I’m sure that you are more beautiful now, even sans makeup, than you ever have been before.

    I too have only relatively recently “discovered” Mary, and I’ve never experienced anything like the closeness to Christ I feel when I seek to emulate her.

    God bless you and your husband. You continue to be in my prayers.

    Comment by Jennifer (Conversion Diary) — March 9, 2010 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

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