Hey, cancer – read this

You better sit down. This could get dirty.

“Ted,” I ask my husband. “Did you curse when you were a kid?”

This is the kind of stimulating morning conversation we have between reading Dear Abby aloud and traipsing over to examine the dishwasher to see if one of us remembered to turn it on the night before.

“No. Definitely not,” he says, eyeing the partially filled sink from afar.

“How about your mom? Did she curse?” I ask.


“Your dad?”

“Negatory,” he says, getting up. “Do you think the dishes are clean?”

I can’t leave this alone – even though the Great Dish Mystery is yet unsolved.

“When did you learn to curse?” I ask.

“Later. In school, like everyone else,” he says, examining bowls to check for debris.

Growing up, we kids didn’t curse, either. Sometimes Dad did. But Mom? Almost never. There was the occasional “Damn!” (missed hair appointment) or “Damn, damn, double-damn” (more disastrous: a fallen souffle?, dinner guests waiting.)

Anything cruder would be met with horror.

Once, as a young teen, I blurted out an expletive and my stunned dad actually looked up from his beloved 6 o’clock news.

“Don’t say that,” he said. He wasn’t yelling. More like trying not to weep. I didn’t even understand what the word meant. But something told me it would be good to categorize it for later use.

My indelicate vocabulary flourished in college. (Kids, this is one of your benefits of higher education.) When I turned 18 (the legal drinking age in New York then), my dorm friends took me out. Exactly two beers later on my barely-117 pound frame (oh, those really were the good old days), I had my first official case of room-spins. The muse of prose found the right words for me.

“Oh, sh–”, I announced, just prior to passing out.

“Oh, sh–”, I whispered – oh, so quietly – from my desert-parched lips, the next headachy morning.

Backbreaking exams and papers, the humiliation of arriving at mixers by the busload, and scrounging for quarters to buy late-night Ring Dings from the basement vending machine – all fueled my expanding, um, communication skills.

I curbed the profanity once I started having children. Bad enough I considered ice cream a healthy start to their day.

Then, lo and behold, my youngest won the fourth-grade spelling bee. His prize? A beautiful, inscribed dictionary. He was thrilled. He’d found a word that refers to 1., a maternal state of being, combined with 2., the act that leads to same – all in one glorious compound noun. I couldn’t argue with his budding creativity and curiosity about the English language. I know what you’re thinking. Fourth grade?! Genius, right?

Times were changing. I resumed selective swearing at home, or with friends, and when stuck in traffic. And while putting up Christmas lights (apologies to my neighbors).

Even my mom loosened up somewhat, although she still seemed anxious when whispering the most harmless of slang.

“Mom,” I’d say, “that isn’t even a curse. It means donkey.”

She disguised a harsher word, in telling an old family joke, with a throat-clear (“ahem.”) We knew what she was trying to say. Or not say. Possibly, perhaps, I may have heard her drop the “ahem”-bomb. Once. Maybe.

But there are times when words should flow freely, when issues are far more serious than the state of our unwashed dishes. Nothing has made me curse so much as the whole cancer thing, prompting me to send forth choice words forbidden so many years ago, a veritable celebration of my First Amendment rights.

I curse every time my nice doctor tells me it’s time for a mammogram, or the dreaded colonoscopy. Or when a friend finds out her cancer has spread to some new place in her blessed body. When my lovely husband Ted got his cancer news a couple of years ago, my sailor mouth emerged in full force, along with profuse tears – definitely a %?@&! moment.

I hate cancer. Everyone does.

On July 21, a big crowd will gather in South Portland for Tri for a Cure, to raise money for cancer research, patient programs, and education. We’ll be there – not to race, but to donate and cheer as we watch our friends swim, bike and jog with all they’ve got. I will get tears in my eyes as I remember my mom, aunts, and others who had cancer and ultimately lost their battle. My heart will be full as I think of so many loved ones who are fighting for their lives right now. I’ll hold my husband’s arm all the tighter as we navigate the crowd and watch the runners cross the finish line. I’ll check with him, for the bazillionth time, to see if he needs to sit and rest. And I’ll hold my usual “You, Go, Fabulous Women!” sign.

But this year? This year, I think I’ll hold two signs. There will be the usual cheery one. But the other?

This year, the second sign is going to say, simply:

“F— you, cancer!”

I think even my mom would be OK with that.

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