FOMO= The Fear of Missing Out.
For three years, the pair of tickets laid on our family desk collecting dust. They’d been there since late 2019 when we bought lawn seats with good friends to immerse ourselves in the ballads of Jimmy Buffett and the world of the Parrotheads, again. It had become a bit of a tradition; we’d gone several times. Now, it was April 2022, the pandemic was waning and all we had to do was present our faded old school printed tickets at the gate.
Except, the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t convinced I wanted to go, or how to start the conversation with my husband, Jeff. About a month before the concert, after a particularly difficult chemo that left me running for the bathroom and begging for more energy, I began thinking about my favorite way to spend a weekend now that I’m back in active treatment and it’s not standing on a hill, vying for space amongst 20,000 people while straining to see an artist on stage hundreds of feet away to where I end up watching most of it on the big screens. Sure, I love singing along to “Pencil Thin Moustache” while popping the beach ball as it surfs through the crowd, but it takes a lot of strength to sustain that all night long.
Yet, that’s the discussion I finally had with Jeff a few weeks before the big night. “I only have so much energy and I don’t think I want to spend it at Buffett,” I admitted to him as we grabbed a cheeseburger at our favorite local bar. He was stunned. Honestly, I was surprised I brought it up. I still wasn’t sure exactly where I stood. I wanted to be with my family hanging out on the grass lawn, sucking down margaritas, peeing in the woods and dancing on the hill, but I knew that my stamina would wane, I’d panic over potential covid exposure and I’d be begging to come home early and on Sunday, I’d be wiped out as I tried to recover the energy I expended at the concert.
“I think you should go but maybe you should start thinking about taking a friend. Call Tim or Rob. They love Buffett,” I coached. He studied the foam bubbles floating at the edge of his beer, avoiding eye contact. We’ve seen Buffett together many times, it’s been our thing, except in 2009.
That year, in 2009, I’d had chemo that very day. And I was high on pain and anti-nausea medicine that barely curbed the urge to vomit. Jeff went to Buffett that year with a big group of friends and ever since they’ve regaled stories about the nurses from WV that were showing off their “boob jobs” as they tailgated. It was like they were pouring vinegar directly into my open wound as I thought about them admiring these women and their perky, flawless chests while I dozed at home praying my breasts didn’t kill me. My lumpectomy was scheduled for a few months later. It was painful to hear them relive their wild night. And, they did … still do … frequently.
As we finished our burgers, the initial shock wore off and we talked about people he could ask but I could tell that I caught him off-guard and my confession that I didn’t have the energy or stamina to go was more than just this concert. Living with metastatic breast cancer casts a shadow on all my decisions, and he knows it.
Within a few days our 18-year-old daughters heard us talking about the extra ticket and volunteered to go in my place (and secure an extra ticket from a scalper). I had some trepidation, but Jeff assured me they’d be fine. After I lectured them about all the potential creeps at the show and how crowded it could be and cautioned them to stay together at all times, we agreed to let them go. They literally danced around the living room, belting out lyrics from their favorite songs – “He Went to Paris, Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Wasting Away in Margaritaville”. For more than a decade, Rose slept in a now faded and ripped blue tie-dyed Jimmy Buffett t-shirt that Jeff brought me from that 2009 concert. While it initially fit her like a dress, now it hangs limply at her waist stretched from years of wear and tear and the parrot has faded away. Rose was ready to pick out a new shirt for herself. Meanwhile, upon realizing she was about to go to her first “adult” concert, Grace created a Spotify playlist based on the concert Buffett performed earlier in the week so she could compare his performances. They couldn’t quit grinning as they planned a tailgate. They were thrilled.
That Saturday afternoon in late April, the trio walked out the door singing. I waved goodbye and turned my back to them since I was attending a virtual breast cancer conference at my desk. Both girls had on distressed blue jean shorts, tank tops and messy buns with curls piled on top of their head. Meanwhile Jeff wore a loud blue Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap to keep his head from burning in the afternoon sun. The Honda was packed
with a tiny grill, bratwurst, pasta salad, pre-made margaritas, lawn chairs and inflatable flamingos they found in the attic. They were a rolling party. It looked like so much fun.
I wasn’t without things to do. I was locked into speaking on the final keynote panel for the day at the virtual Living Beyond Breast Cancer conference for women living with metastatic disease. It’s advocacy that I enjoy doing and can participate from the comfort of our house, no lines for the bathroom. But even as I talked about how I’ve managed to carve out a good life living with this terminal disease, and I have, I sat in front of my computer feeling sorry for myself. For a time, I was buoyed by all the hope and inspiration radiating from the other women and panelists. I was fueled with energy that was short lived. I thought briefly about taking an Uber to meet the family at the concert especially when they started sending me pictures from the tailgating. I wanted to be with the girls when they experienced their first concert. I wanted to be Jeff’s “Brown Eyed Girl” … but I knew I would regret it.
After my conference ended for the night and the screen went black, I sulked around the kitchen as I loaded the dishwasher, flipped through the mail, and ultimately called my best friend to grab dinner at a local café. I had the energy to drive to a restaurant, eat mashed potatoes for dinner, and wash them down with a glass of Conundrum white wine. I tried to explain my sadness to her, but she didn’t really understand it – that part of me is afraid that I won’t have another chance to see a concert with the girls, that I wanted to be there singing along beside them. I reminded her that I don’t like to miss out on a good time and it’s a constant battle to decide where to put my energy, but I still don’t think she understood how I felt I was missing out on something special.
So, I recapped the highlights of the conference for her. We had meaningful discussions about college decisions, the allure of the empty nest and upcoming vacations. I dropped
her off early and shortly after dark, I crawled into bed with my journal. First, I spewed out how much I hated to be left behind while the family went out and partied and then I refocused on future aspirations I have for summer festivals, long weekends at the beach and quiet hikes in the wood – ways that I can use my energy wisely while bonding with the people that mean the most to me. I considered priorities and balance. Before I turned out the light, the family texted me that Buffett was still crooning out tunes about living in the tropics.
No part of me felt left out when the family stumbled in, filthy and exhausted, well past midnight.
The next morning at breakfast, there was lots of giggling and sharing as the girls described the night, the sway of the crowd, the elaborate tailgating set-ups, outlandish outfits, and the long lines for the bathrooms. Rose showed me her new t-shirt and Grace went through the night’s set list. They scrubbed the grill and cleaned out the cooler as I sat in the kitchen listening and smiling, accepting that I’d made the right decision to stay home. This time.
Next time? Only time will tell.
In the next few weeks, there will be graduation ceremonies and parties, college orientations and family reunions. I’ll carefully plan my treatments and responsibilities and pace myself to bring my best, high-energy cancer laden self to the activities that mean the most to me. And, then I can savor every moment.
Ann Camden uses her 25 years of experience as a public relations executive to help raise her voice and those of others for the metastatic breast cancer community through blogging, speaking and publishing her work on various platforms. Ann is on the Patient Advocacy Board of the Lobular Breast Cancer Association, co-hosts a Hope at Home MBC room for Inheritance of Hope and helps managed the NC Casting for Recovery fishing retreats. She was diagnosed in 2009 with ductal cancer and in 2016 with a second primary metastatic lobular cancer diagnosis. She has been in active treatment ever since and is currently fighting leptomeningeal disease as well. She publishes her blog down-not-out.com on a monthly basis. Married to a fellow Boilermaker, Ann and her husband, Jeff, have twin 18-year-old daughters that are seniors in high school and keep her both inspired and exasperated. They live in Raleigh, NC.