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The Worth of My Advice

Being an extreme extrovert, I preferred to be on the couch while feeling so sick from the side effects of chemo. For some reason I refused to stay in bed, maybe because I read too many Victorian novels where the heroine “took to the bed” in a very dramatic way. I preferred to “take to the couch” in a very dramatic way. My sister, Melanie, would get so upset with me because her logic dictated that if you are sick, you should be in bed. I think she even mentioned if I was so sick that I needed to be in bed, she could also get away with staying in bed all day while she was here, which just sounded fabulous to her. But someone needed to watch the kids and unless they were all in the bed with me, then I would be alone.

I hated to be alone.

I was blessed to have a steady stream of friends and family come to stay with us to help out with the cooking, cleaning and child care, but the main job was to keep me company and entertain me. I think the latter was the hardest part. I have since learned the fine art of introspection, as well as meditation and prayer, but 13 years ago I preferred The Real Housewives for distraction. My sister, Melissa, was entirely irritated by any of the versions. She pointed out that they weren’t real and they weren’t housewives, so why are we watching this? It was because that’s what I wanted to do. My oldest sister, Mary Lee, who worked for a financial planning company, was distracted by The Real Housewives of New York not being rich enough for her to consider them elite New Yorkers. It was actually my mother in law who understood what we were doing by watching this. At that point in time, she had been living in this country for 30 years and might not have understood all of the English spoken with New York accents, but she knew how to choose a side in an argument. During the fight that led to the now famous demise of Jill and Bethany’s friendship, my mother in law had strong opinions on who was to blame. In my painkiller induced haze, I could not have agreed more. I think I would have agreed with her even if I wasn’t on Loritab. Pure escapism.

After the reality shows were over and I was worn out from the drama, the conversations would get real. Really real. My eyes would be heavy as I laid on the couch, and the truth would just pour out of whoever’s turn it was to be my companion. I would hear all the secrets. I had newer friends tell me stories of what felt like an entirely different life before I had met them. My old high school friends filled in the gaps of years that we lost touch with each other with painful memories. My mother in law told me about her childhood during the war, and her sister told me about marrying a man that she didn’t know and didn’t share a common language. So many friends had stories of loss and grief; all stories that they wouldn’t normally share with someone who had a long life ahead of them. Whether it was on that couch or while next to me in the chemo chair, there were confessions and admission of temptations. Like in the above clip of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, they would ask for my thoughts, opinions and advice.

They would ask me questions about my hopes, dreams, and disappointments as well. That was the year that “live like you are dying” seemed to be the catchphrase and even people I didn’t know very well wanted to know all about my bucket list (which seemed to get stranger as time went on). I’ve always lived and loved in a big way, but suddenly everyone wanted to know all about it and I was asked all sorts of questions about my marriage, child rearing, and relationships. I felt like I was the wise sage perched on the chemo chair. I found myself giving advice on what color to paint their kitchen, whose job it should be to take out the trash and what number quantifies too many dogs. (Big questions for a guru on Loritab)

When I switched from chemo to radiation I was feeling much better, and I was off the couch and back in public. Numerous times I was introduced as “Maura with stage IV cancer”, and I would tell them that was too formal, my friends just call me Maura. Somehow, my opinion in the book club was sought out first, I was asked to lead the prayer in bible study, and I seemed more interesting to guests at cocktail parties. It is so ridiculous. I’m always quick to give my opinion, but I know it pulls no more weight than if my cancer was any other stage. In this final clip of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, season 11, episode 3, the humor is in how much the staging influences the perceived wisdom.

While I am still here, I will continue to give my opinion like I know what is going on, and pretend I have a handle on this thing called life. However long that is.


Maura Bivens, originally from the Boston area, lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband of 26 years, daughter 22 years old, and sons 19 and 16. Diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2007 at stage IIB, the aggressive treatment only prevented it from coming back for a year. In 2009, it metastasized to her lungs. After the standard chemotherapy protocol, the Cyber Knife radiation has brought her to No Evidence of Disease status since 2011.

Maura is passionate about animals, people, and God. She shares her house with a retired greyhound racer, an adopted English Bulldog, 3 shelter cats, a bearded dragon and a boa snake. She facilitates bible studies and a marriage class with her husband. She hung up her third degree blackblet in TaeKwonDo and is now obsessed with the Peloton. Although she doesn't like to admit it, she is a hockey mom.

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