Dear Cancer: Get Lost and Stay Lost. Sincerely, Her Daughter.

Today, my Mom sets off on a journey new to her, familiar to many: chemo. We spent the weekend with her and Dad in California, and despite the circumstances, we all had a wonderful time.

Our family has been consumed with the development of her cancer since the last week of October, two weeks before we moved back to Arizona. Since then, in the midst of boxes and unpacking and getting our residential affairs in order and job-searching and holidays, time has speedily hustled us up to this moment, because that is what time does. It moves us forward.

This is actually Mom’s second go-round with cancer, but she didn’t have chemo the first time. What’s happening now was not supposed to happen. The daily Tamoxifen therapy she’d diligently followed after her first surgery proved ineffective… the cancer came back, and this time, it’s different. It’s HER2+. Aggressive cancers need aggressive treatment, so we’re looking at a year of all-out war, all told.

I haven’t talked about this here yet (and I wasn’t sure that I would) because the audaciousness of it simply defies words. The whole thing has been rather bewildering. It’s devastating and scary when it happens to friends and relatives, but to someone in my immediate family? That’s when it exits the realm of thinkability, leaves us looking at it, agape and aghast, from another dimension. This thing, this cancer, it’s like an obnoxious, uninvited dinner guest who just kind of showed up and sat down at the table, elbowing itself forcibly between all of us at once, making space where there wasn’t any to be had. It’s installed itself there like a fifth member of the family, and it’s demanding to be fed. Its hunger is voracious, and it’s rapidly grabbing for whatever it can get its filthy, greedy hands on.

Sure. We’ll feed you. Enjoy your chemo cocktail. And Herceptin. And radiation. AND SO ON. WE WILL NOT STOP FEEDING YOU UNTIL YOU COME APART AND CEASE TO EXIST. AND THEN WE WILL FEED YOU SOME MORE.

We’ll feed it, alright.

Today, the doctors will start slipping poison to the intruder.

Unfortunately, the poison will affect Mom as well as the intruder. I preemptively wrapped her up in a fuzzy warm robe and socks and slippers and a hat, because the Bay Area’s winter chill will increase as her treatment progresses, and she’s tiny. Her armor. Soft armor for a strong woman. She’s still good-naturedly running around accomplishing twenty things at once with her characteristic efficiency; she’s as indefatigable as ever. Callaghan and I couldn’t get her to just sit while we did things. That’s where Dad comes in… Dad is another weapon in her arsenal, maybe the most important one.

She’s well-armed, and that’s reassuring. An abundance of love and lots of prayers from family and friends. A lively sense of humor, a great attitude and a great deal of fortitude. The way I see it, the intruder has no chance. It’s outnumbered.

 

Flying home to Phoenix over southern California

Flying home to Phoenix over southern California

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll”

On Saturday night, we went to see Black Sabbath, as in, the British hard rock band that was formed in 1968, the year I was born. As in, yeah, these guys are a bit older now, so can you believe that I actually got to see them perform?

Last month, they released 13, their first studio album in 33 years, and the album took off. After its first week, it sold 155,000 copies and inexplicably ripped its way around the Billboard obstacle course, spiraling up to hit Number One on the charts in the UK, USA and seven other countries. With this accomplishment, Sabbath secured the Number One spot for the first time in history and escorted hard rock/metal done the old-fashioned way back onto the scene. At the concert, we saw many people our age and older, but we picked out all age groups in the massive crowd. The teenagers in the seats in front of us were probably no older than fifteen.

I was beside myself with excitement over this show. It really meant a lot to me.

I’m passionate about many different types of music, including classical, EBM/industrial, (some) rap and (some) country and a smattering of other genres, but since I’m talking about Black Sabbath here, I present the following brief chronology of my history just as a hard rock/metal fan:

(First, let me just say that it’s my parents who rock. They survived the years I skulked around in a Black Sabbath t-shirt and chains while they observed other people’s daughters looking cute and preppy in pink Izod shirts [and who went off to college immediately after high school. I was the only daughter they knew who joined the Army and went to war and did the whole college/grad school thing later. But that’s another story]).

–Sixth grade: I bought Back in Black, AC/DC’s new album. I was 12, and Back in Black was the first album I ever purchased myself, which established hard rock as my first love of all the genres of music. I was taking piano lessons, so I was listening to Chopin waltzes, too, among other things, but I didn’t blast Chopin waltzes. I blasted AC/DC, loudly and frequently. My parents started to wonder what was happening.

–Grades seven and eight: my friends and I fixated on Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman. We shed real tears the tragic day Randy Rhodes, Ozzy’s phenomenal guitarist, died in a plane crash. The gloom that blanketed the world of music that day fell heavily upon the halls of Steinbeck Junior High in San Jose, California. Rhodes was a legend, but we felt like we’d lost our brother. I don’t know. We were 13 years old. We were like, “Randy Rhodes is dead? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW?” It was inconceivable.

–Grades nine-twelve: High school. I listened to ALL the metal out there – and it was a lot, remember… this was the 80’s hair-band era – but AC/DC, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Ozzy were my favorites in the genre. Also, I spent many a Saturday afternoon listening to Iron Maiden with the guy who worked the bar at Shakey’s Pizza. (David. Funny that I still remember his name!) It was cute. Though we really liked each other, nothing “happened” when we were hanging out – he was a lot older than me – but he got me hooked on Maiden with Killers, and that was it. To this day, Killers is still my favorite Iron Maiden album, and Maiden is still one of my favorite metal bands.

–During and after the Army, Queensrÿche, D.A.D., Faith No More, Vixen, Warlock, Savatage, Megadeath, Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica were some of the bands that joined the crew in my metal music collection. I also really enjoyed guitarist Joe Satriani, and my love for Alice Cooper’s Trash album bordered on obsession.

–Flash forward to 2003, when I discovered Disturbed’s The Sickness while training in Muay Thai at an MMA gym in Arizona. My trainer kept it cranked, and I loved it so much that I had to own it. I bought it and wore it out in my little truck. The significance of this is that The Sickness was the last metal album that I actually purchased until Sabbath released 13 last month. (This is not to say that there weren’t other bands in the interim, because there were. I just didn’t go out and buy any metal CDs between Disturbed in 2003 and Black Sabbath last month.)

What can I say about Saturday’s show?

It was definitely An Experience. The guys did a fantastic job overall. We had a solid good time, and I will never forget it.

It was an incredible feeling just to be there.

 

Waiting for the show to start. We got there early.

Waiting for the show to start. We got there early.

 

What I really took away from the show was a reinforced crush (maybe not a “crush” so much as some sort of hero-worship thing) on lead guitarist Tony Iommi, who is a God.

Iommi lost two of his fingertips in a factory accident when he was a teenager, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he knew he was born to do. He fashioned some “thimble-like devices” out of a “squeezy bottle” and stuck them on the ends of his amputated digits to extend them, then went on to play guitar for Jethro Tull before co-founding Black Sabbath with Ozzy, Geezer and Bill. They were a bluesy kind of hard rock band at first. From there, they evolved into their signature sound and ultimately grandfathered heavy metal and all of its derivatives. Yes… one of history’s greatest hard rock lead guitar legends has amputated fingertips.

 

Tony Iommi, lead guitarist and co-founder of Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi, lead guitarist and co-founder of Black Sabbath

 

Quoting from wiki: “Iommi is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential rock guitarists of all time. A prolific riff-maker, he was ranked number 25 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’.”

Fake fingertips, okay? And I mean, not costly, sophisticated works of custom-made, medically engineereed craftsmanship, either. We’re talking homemade fake fingertips that he stores in what appears to be an old Altoids tin:

 

 

The man is tireless, in possession of a relentless drive, an admirable work ethic. He’s constantly busy. The solo album he released in 2000, called, simply, Iommi, is a veritable piece of musical collaborative genius and one of my all-time favorite metal CDs. (I introduced it to Callaghan, and it’s now one of his favorites, too.)

Yet young at 64, Iommi’s now working to beat down lymphoma. Blood cancer. Where was he on Saturday night? Here in Austin, on stage, rocking his ass off. His performance was spectacular. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, listening to his solos in the dark with people around us screaming, and thought, Wow. That’s Tony Iommi on that stage down there!! I never thought I’d get to hear him play live.

You know, Ronnie James Dio, who took over Sabbath’s lead vox after Ozzy’s departure in 1979, died of cancer in 2010. (Why yes, we did name our kitty Ronnie James after him!)

 

Ronnie James with my headphones on the left. Ronnie James Dio with his mic on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James with my headphones on the left. Ronnie James Dio with his mic on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

“It’s only now, since his passing, that people are coming out saying how great he was,” Iommi says of Dio in a “good-bye message” he videotaped in 2011.

 

(video cuts off at 1:48)

 

Iommi received his own cancer diagnosis within a year of this interview, in early 2012.

News for you, Iommi: YOU are great. YOU ARE THE MAN. You’re looking good and performing like it’s no one’s business, and thank you so much. Thank you for inspiring us with your passion and dedication! Here’s to many more years of showing them all how it’s done!!

Here’s my favorite Black Sabbath song, “Megalomania” (Sabotage, 1975):

 

 

And here are a few pics we took before, during and after the concert…

 

Callaghan, mid-stride

Callaghan, mid-stride

 

Me, pausing for a snapshot outside of Consuela on Congress

Me, pausing for a snapshot outside of Consuela on Congress

 

 

From left: Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (guitar), Ozzy Osbourne

From left: Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (guitar), Ozzy Osbourne

 

OZZY

OZZY

 

The Texas State Capitol, a gorgeous building. We walked through the grounds to get to the concert and back to our bus on Congress.

The Texas State Capitol, a gorgeous building. We walked through the grounds to get to the concert and back to our bus on Congress.

 

Me with Ronnie James as I was writing this. Ronnie James loves him some headphones!

Me with Ronnie James as I was writing this. Ronnie James loves him some headphones!