Optimism, Take 2

I wake up to a buzzing phone. It’s Gam. And it’s 6:30 a.m.


“Jenny? It’s Gammy! And I’m just calling you to tell you that today is going to be a GOOD day, with the help of the Lord.”

“Oh yeah?” I roll over and squint at the clock. Yep. It’s 6:30.

“Chess! Because you’re going to pray it so, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Ok. And we’re OFF! Talk to you tomorrow!”


The cancer (never referred to as such . . . Gam always says “this thing” or “this disease,” or, my favorite, “this silly thing that they say I’ve got” . . . ) is a little unpredictable. It gives her good days where she feels like dancing and going on dates; and bad days where she can’t stay awake for more than a few moments at a time and wonders if “this is it.”  I hate those days.

But the Optimism keeps her going. Maybe it keeps me going, too. It’s her extra Ninja Trait, and by far my favorite.

If were a silly thing like cancer, I wouldn’t want to mess with Gam today. It’s going to be a good one.



The 11 Traits of a Ninja

According to ancient legend and the interwebs, there are 10 key traits all ninjas possess.

1. Loyalty

2. Bravery

3. Strategic Knowledge

4. Diligence

5. Trustworthiness

6. Good Health

7. Responsibility

8. Ingenuity

9. Knowledge of the Teachings of Buddha & Confucius

10. Gifted Speech

And for my Black Belt Gam, there’s an 11th: Optimism.

Along with being a martial arts master, she is skilled in the ancient battle techniques of Glass-half-full. Especially when the good days aren’t so much.

Last week, hospice brought in a wheel chair so Gam can get around. Gam loves her independence, and losing it–along with the freedom to walk herself down to the nurses’ station, dance down the aisles at church and go on hot root beer dates with charming gentlemen has been a little difficult. So I called a little tentatively to ask how she’s doing with the whole “wheelchair thing.”

She didn’t give me the chance to open my mouth.

“JENNY! I’ve got WHEELS!”


“Oh you should see this thing, Jenny. It’s like a rocket launcher! It’s got silver–no, chrome wheels–and buttons, and FOOT RESTS and oh boy–you should see me and Claire Comalli take off down the hallway!! WHOOSH! VROOM! It’s like being in a rocketship. Or a Cadillac! Let me tell you there’s not a person in the place who isn’t jealous of my pretty chair.”

Truth is, she absolutely hates her new chair–but the world will never know. And I love that.

Tomorrow, trait #3: Strategic Knowledge


Gam’s meeting with her oncologist tomorrow.

“What’s he going to say?” she asks my dad. “I’m not taking any treatments.”

(She’s not. There’s nothing they can do for her.)

“Maybe he’s offering prizes.”

“Prizes?” She perks up. Gam’s real competitive.

“Maybe he has a contest for the patients with the best attitude.”

“Shit! I’ll win that hands down.”