TD, (Tom, Tommy) Mischke. used to host a late-night local talk radio program. he wasn't political- his programming would be about anything and everything: interviews with people from authors and musicians to baseball players, occasional improvised manic beat-boxing raps, stories about "big time Minneapolis" and "good old St.Paul." he had a cast of regulars who'd call in almost nightly: greatgreatgreatgreat grandma, calling from her nursing home. undertaker fred, who'd want to sing an old-time song with him. a catholic priest who was raising money for an orphanage. jim the cabbie, who seemed to be more than a few sheets to the wind and who every couple of sentences would say "hey mitch!"...never actually knew what mischke's name was, and somehow never quite believed anyone was listening. i'd tune in on the way home from work, and got used to hearing his voice most late nights. i somehow always imagined tommy in a darkened studio with only a single light burning, talking about his home town. he was family. he'd tell stories, we'd listen and nod, and it was good. hanging out with mischke was like talking to an old friend- you'd meet only seldom, but when you did, you'd be Yourselves again in no time and not question it.https://youtu.be/bBux_DMBvxE
once (twice?) he left the air for months- no explanation. when he came back, he talked about his depression. it surprised me- someone so inventive, so sharp? now we're smarter- we experienced the shock of robin williams' death. and we know inner life and outer life diverge.
but tommy came back. KSTP changed its format altogether (i think they're running a sports station now) and Tom went to work across the river at WCCO. it was on at a different time, i was working, so i lost track of him. after awhile, he left that broadcast, saying he was just radioed-out.. didn't know where his future lie, but he didn't think it was in nightly talk radio any more. here's his farewell:https://youtu.be/80uXvn2NOIE
so. fast foward a few years. my sister karen texts me: "nan! there was something from mischke on my FB friends feed today- he's got a podcast and he's asking people who have had a terminal cancer diagnosis and survived to write to him! do it!!!"
so i did. feigned casual, told him i was 10 yrs cancer-free from stage IV ovarian cancer, where i'd found out there was a 15% chance of me making it alive 5 years.
he wrote back.
i suggested coffee, figuring he'd want to know if my story was what he was looking for. "nah, too noisy for a recorded interview. can you come to my place, or can i come to yours?"
i said i'd go there- my cat freaks out with strangers who come to the house, and i didn't want him (cat, not mischke) latching on to my leg with teeth bared as i tried to talk about Serious Stuff. so i drove to his house in Good Ol' St Paul. comfortable house. comfortable man. we sat at his dining room table, set with a glass of water on each side and a recorder in a flowerpot in the middle.
i talked, high-speed and close to non-stop. he'd ask a question and i'd be on to another part of the story. he was easy to be around, and i've had almost 10 years to think about my story.
there were two questions he asked that stopped me short: (interestingly, neither made it into the edited broadcast) 1) you were sick for such a long time...that makes me wonder, didn't you care about your life? 2) you don't mention having much of a support network throughout all of this...
i don't remember the answers i gave. they should've been simple: 1) fear trumps everything in my life. i was terrified and felt i might lose everything from my life on down to the dishware. once this got started- and trust me, i KNEW i was sick- there'd be no retreat. 2) i felt totally abandoned by the people i loved most, and whom i thought loved me. parents? scared. sisters? absent- also scared. my biggest supporters were people i hardly knew, who in a way had the least to lose- my nurse friend patti in kentucky. bob, who i'd met online years ago and who i'd get together with to watch movies. then, there was the time factor. by the time i got out of the hospital and started my chemo, people were DONE with me. i went through that alone. nobody ever offered to bring a meal or clean my house.
the next morning, i wrote mischke a long email: (lightly edited for continuity)
warning: brain dump ahead...
i've been thinking over yesterday's talk with you. part of me wishes i could do it again- part of me wishes i could've responded more thoughtfully and been more profound, since that's probably what you were looking for from someone who'd been to the moon and back...but so it goes.
a few things, tho, because you asked me 2 questions (when i let you get a word in edgewise...(nervous much? radio celeb, recording...aiee!) that threw me a bit, and that's what i wanted to address tonight.
first, you remarked that when i said i'd been sick so long ("woman" problems, lack of energy, depression) that it almost seemed like i didn't care. not true at all- i'm the only one that keeps my life going, and i'm all i have. part of it was that lonnnnnng and minuscule down-swing..there was no drama, just "issues"...and i'd been taught not to complain, because i wasn't Interesting if i did, and who else was going to pay the rent? i've built up a sweet little world here- business, piano, cat...but it's all hinging on me to keep it going. nobody else can teach my students- pay my bills- take photos with my eye and camera, make the music i've made. so it seemed reasonable that my greatest fear was losing my life. i'm a suburban girl. i wouldn't do well being homeless. sometimes i'd get on the road and just drive and drive- as long as i was in my car, i'd feel enclosed and safe from that scary "what if."
so i cared. i cared a lot. i was just plain terrified.
the 2nd Q was when you said you hadn't heard me mention a support network too much. you're right- i felt like i was in this totally alone. which, to me, i was. people like to do safe, colorful things to "support" people- banners on FB, 5-K runs to raise funds. happy, productive stuff. they don't want to visit people who haven't taken a shower in awhile because they're too weak to stand up, and nobody knows what's wrong, and they can't be "hopeful" because there aren't any more platitudes to offer. when someone WOULD get in to see me, i'd see their sad faces...omg, she looks AWFUL! well yeah, i did. i'd been in bed for 6 weeks and in the hospital for a month. good to see you, could you help me to the bathroom? thanks for the candy, but i really can't eat it, and what i NEED to do is get to the bathroom. i couldn't subject my friends to that.
i also found that people want to hear about you....twice. the first time, it's shock, info-gathering, and suggestions- special foods, books, treatments, clinics. oh...and stories. who in their lives got better because of, got worse in spite of. after that, when nothing has changed? silence. i would've liked someone to come and not talk, bring a book or something and watch bad tv with me. nobody got it. you want company, not talk, and for GOD'S sake not advice.
scuze me, dammit, i'm crying now. there was still and always an expectation that someone i was going to "beat this" to "figure it out" to buck up, little buckaroo, listen nan, when my MOM was sick once, she...
i couldn't do it. before surgery, i was too sick. afterwords, i needed to come back to my Self and my writing and my music. staying at the nursing home for three months helped that happen. i don't know how it was determined that i could stay there that long, but i did, with one last complication from surgery, a huge pelvic abcess/infection, which landed me in the hospital for another 7 days over halloween, with 21 days of IV antibiotics and tests after that. grim.
but finally before christmas i was home. nobody really volunteered to sit w/me through chemo- later, i made plans for a celebration at the end of my 8 months chemo- then at my last appointment, dr boente said, as long as this is going so well, let's really kill this thing- and go for another year.
in january i went back to work, scheduled chemo on tues and thurs, and taught piano lessons after that. buck up, little buckaroo!
damn. i'm bawling like a baby. yesterday's chat w/you was a weird deal- almost like a job interview or coffee date where you put your best foot forward and don't want someone to think you are still obsessing about something that happened ten (TEN!) yrs ago. "but aren't you SO GRATEFUL to BE ALIVE????" someone might ask. well shit yes. but they can't know how scary it is. how sad you are, how you can't let yourself think about how hopeless this seems, how..hell..you should've cleaned your house better, you didn't KNOW you were gonna be gone for 6 months! it was 7 years before i even got a kitty- i was afraid to take responsibility for another little life when i couldn't be sure of my own.
so mostly, i don't talk about what's inside. it wouldn't make any difference if i did or didn't. i don't know what i'd do if cancer did re-appear- boente said, "if we get it all, and your numbers are low, then we might talk about a cure. if it comes back, then you're out of chances."
so i don't know if my life is "changed" or not. people seem to expect that it has. it makes them relieved when i say yes, when what they're really thinking is "wow, i don't think *I* could go through all that." we all go though "that" in one way or another. sometimes we make it, sometimes we don't. one wednesday, you have an ice cream cone. the next weds, someone aces your car and you're a quadriplegic. it's all one cosmic crap-shoot. i'm thankful for my life- i'll never take any sweet moment, any sunset, any ice cream cone in august, for granted again.
but then, mischke, i've always been that way.
thanks for letting me babble. don't worry, i won't bug you regularly. but i thank you sincerely for the serendipity of asking me questions, and i hope the surface responses to your questions didn't bug you too much.
best to you,
Td Mischke responded:
I am happy you wrote. It's something I too would have done after such an interview. Don't apologize. I think you're going to very much like the show in its edited form. In fact, I'm sure of it. All that time with you gets edited down to the real essence of it all, which is about 15 minutes. Same with the other two people i interviewed. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the presentation, I believe.
i wrote back:
Thanks, Tommy. That all brought up some stuff I really hadn't processed before, which surprised me...I wrote through 12 journals in about 2.5 years after I got back home..and really thought I was "done"...guess I wasn't. Thank you so much. (btw, won't be really "done" til I'm in the ground, and even then, there are people who deserve haunting) (as she puts the grown-up, civil mask back on and prepares to teach little fingers how to play.) Someday maybe I can play Brahms for you.