One of the most important features of a support group is just that – support. When life gets tough, you might need help in unconventional ways. Bariatric surgery support groups are most common in person, usually offered through hospitals and surgeons’ offices. With my hectic schedule and so much of my time spent online, I prefer to participate in an online support group. I found the Bariatric Bad Girls Club around the time my surgery was approved, and I’ve come to depend on those friendships daily.
One of the dearest friends I’ve made through BBGC is Carla (AKA CC-BBGC). We’ve spent time together several times over the last 2 years, and she has given me encouragement and love when I’ve struggled through tough times. In August, we had plans to room together at the Obesity Action Coalition’s Your Weight Matters conference in Phoenix. On the flight between Norfolk and Atlanta, her husband Mike had a grand mal seizure on the airplane. After days of diagnosis and treatment, Mike was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Their last 4 months have been spent in chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and various other treatments. Despite Carla’s infectious happiness and positivity, the stress she has been under to support her husband through the last few months has worn on her. I’ve sent messages of love and friendship, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
When my husband was scheduled for a trip over Christmas, Rosie and I had originally planned to spend those days kicking back in pajamas and watching Christmas movies. But on the 23rd, after noticing that Carla’s posts on Facebook were particularly grinchy, I knew I had to do more. After a few travel arrangements, I decided to plan a quick 24 hour trip to Virginia. Rosie and I flew out to Norfolk on the morning of Christmas Eve to bring some Christmas cheer. We came decked out in matching Christmas jammies and silly hats. The smile on Carla’s face was priceless when we came out of security and each gave her a giant hug.
Carla was wearing a Christmas sweater at the airport in an attempt to be merry, but said that she had to go home and get into her Christmas gear. She dressed up as “Carla Claus,” brought Mike along, and we had some fun at Virginia Beach. We walked the oceanfront in our silly hats and outfits, talked, laughed, and got some exercise. When Mike was too tired to continue, he waited for us to walk further along the oceanfront. It was fun to see other people smile and comment on our “gay apparel,” and watch Carla briefly forget about the stress that cancer has brought into her life.
With all the stress that Mike and Carla have been under recently, it felt so good to help them laugh, smile, and divert their worries away from cancer for a while. We posed for funny pictures in Virginia Beach, particularly by the “anti-profanity” signs (Because in a Navy town, it’s common for everyone to “swear like sailors”).
After VB, Rosie said that she wanted to drive to the North Carolina border because she’d never been to NC before. So we hopped on the highway and headed to the border. We stopped at Border Station, which is a convenience store where half is in Virginia, half is in North Carolina, with a huge dividing line through the middle of the store.
For dinner, we drove to the marina where Mike and Carla keep their boat. There’s a lovely dockside restaurant called The Lagoon where we enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner. Our mutual friend Vivian, who is also in BBGC, met us at the restaurant to have dinner with us. We laughed, we ate, and had a dinner that was a little unconventional for Christmas. We joked around with the restaurant staff, sang along to the Christmas songs playing over the speakers, and enjoyed the view of the marina as the sun set.
When we got back to Carla’s house, we snuggled up on the couch and watched the ridiculously awful B-movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” It’s one of those movies that’s so bad, it’s good. We laughed so hard we cried. Carla packed up a suitcase full of sugar-free Torani syrups (our favorite) to send back on the plane to Michigan (totally worth checking a bag).
Christmas morning was different than any I’d had before. We didn’t sit around a tree and open presents. We just enjoyed each other’s company as we ate breakfast and watched the parade on tv. Rosie and I had to be back at the airport fairly early to fly back to Detroit, so we said our reluctant goodbyes before 8 am. When Rosie and I got off the plane in Detroit, Taylor was waiting for us at the gate in between his flight legs. We snapped a quick family photo, gave each other a kiss, and he was off on his way.
Christmas 2013 felt merry this year, and it didn’t require a Christmas tree with a load of presents to open. It was about love, friendship, and celebrating the small joys in life. My greatest hope for Mike and Carla this year is that treatments will be effective and his cancer will go into remission. I hope to visit again later this year, celebrating the successful conclusion to chemo. Until then, I’ll be supporting Carla however I can online. 🙂