A Dressing for the Occasion

My good friend Corbin is assaulting her breast cancer with a kitchen sink. Those are the oncologist’s words. Corbin had asked me to accompany her to her first oncologist’s consultation, since she said she could count on me not to fall apart. I’m a good note taker and a clear thinker in times of crisis (having lots of experience, being married for a quarter-century to a chaos-maker who likes to set large objects on fire in a crowd of people during statewide burn bans). I wasn’t entirely sure what an oncologist was. I could make a pretty good guess, given the circumstances, but instead I asked the Man I Married, because he’s handier than locating the dictionary.

“Isn’t that a woman’s doctor?” he answered. Clearly, he was picturing stirrups.

Corbin post-surgery
Corbin post-surgery

The fact that we couldn’t whip off a definition, out of context, means that we are blessed. MIM’s odometer just turned over to 0050 and mine will click over in a year, yet our family and friends have remained remarkably healthy. His dad beat bladder cancer, but that was in Ohio, where multi-syllable words other than “anti-abortion” are discouraged, so my in-laws only made vague references to “doctors,” not “oncologists.”

The oncologist, who had a plastic, Stepford Wives aura with her intensely sincere sympathy, sculpted hair, and pearls, said that they’d be throwing the kitchen sink treatment at Corbin. Personally, I would have trouble accepting sympathy, or the heaving of anything, at me from someone who, we had been accurately warned by the nurse or the assistant or whatever they are called, always runs 1.5 hours late. Why not just schedule the appointment an hour and a half later? Although the view from the waiting room was nice and the expensive artwork lovely, there are other places I’d rather be waiting around for 1.5 hours, preferably facing a tattooed bartender with my butt hanging off a stool.

Corbin thankfully managed to switch to a Ballard oncologist who is a big believer in medical marijuana and functions somewhere in the realm of punctuality. With a Ballard doctor, she also doesn’t have to put up with my creative methods of driving around Seattle while avoiding stopping on hills.

One of the main things Corbin needed help with during her long treatment was the provision of dinner for her and her children. The slots for providing dinner on Corbin’s online support calendar filled up instantly with the names of numerous women. Corbin was well-fed as she recovered from surgery. “These stay-at-home moms rock!” Corbin told me. “Homemade salad dressing!”

You’ve got to be kidding me. Homemade salad dressing? If I were a good friend, I would sign up for a dinner slot, but the specter of homemade salad dressing represented to me everything that was wrong with the current state of feminism and stay-at-home moms and leaning in and the PTA mom competitiveness I felt, even if it was all in my own head.

“Listen,” I suggested to Corbin instead. “Sign me up for all the chemo appointments. I’ll take you and stay with you.” Corbin would be trapped in a hospital chair all day every other week for 12 weeks while various toxins were dripped into her body. But to me accompanying her to chemo seemed easy in comparison to the inner struggle I felt over homemade salad dressing. Women could be out running the world if we didn’t care about making homemade salad dressing. And yet, what better gift was there to a young mother facing cancer?

Courtney Putnam's journals (a portion of proceeds went to Corbin and breast cancer research)
Courtney Putnam’s journals (a portion of proceeds went to Corbin and breast cancer research)

The irony is if I weren’t currently a freelance editor and writer, which on many days looks exactly like being a stay-at-home mom, and if I’d had an office job as I had for almost all of my adult life, I wouldn’t have had the time for Corbin’s chemo. This is how women run the world…we lean in to each other—to make homemade salad dressing, or make art for fundraisers, or make a community out of strangers, or to simply make dirty jokes to help make the time pass while addressing life’s messy kitchen sink.

4 thoughts on “A Dressing for the Occasion

  1. What an amazing way to support your friend Jenny! Don’t beat yourself up over the homemade salad dressing… People are looking for any and all ways to help in a situation where everyone is so powerless. The healing power of foods, particularly with cancer, is one way people feel like they can contribute. You better believe if we lived in Seattle and you needed a meal service you’d have homemade dressing and much more delivered to the skinny from Chef Dave:)

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