Visiting today is Rebecca Durkin and her latest release
Chemo On The Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure
Please enjoy the introduction to her book and an excerpt!
Chemo on the Rocks is a shoreside seat on Rebecca (Becky) Durkin’s great Alaskan misadventure. It highlights the hilarity and heartache of a young girl who finds herself marooned in Ketchikan—fondly known as “The Rock”—where she remains on her self-imposed Alaskatraz for almost thirty years.
Chemo on the Rocks is witty, inspirational, satirical, and sometimes terrifying. It is a mix of pain and laughter as Becky walks the IV gauntlet, trailing behind the unfettered back end peeking through the drab hospital gown of the man shuffling before her. Chemo on the Rocks is a hard-fought battle in the fallopian trenches where Becky wages war on ovarian cancer—the ultimate wedding crasher—as it invites an entire medical team into her honeymoon suite. She slays the cancer dragon and has two children in defiance of the beast, but just when it seems life has returned to normalcy, she prematurely crashes onto Mount Hysteria and wanders aimlessly through the Hormone War Zone in the Land of the Ovary Snatchers.
Everything about having chemo on the rock was made more difficult by Becky’s fears of boating and flying—the only escape from the island—which became more terrifying with each trip to Seattle for surgery or testing. Chemo on the Rocks showcases the many parallels between sea adventures and cancer adventures, such as doldrums while awaiting diagnosis, the skull and cross bones of chemo, the bitter end of a failed marriage, tying the knot of another, listing dangerously, and perhaps a return to navigable waters.
Short toddler legs and sharp driftwood slivers slowed me down as I tried to keep up with my older brother Mike as he hopped from log to log in front of our Whidbey Island home. Snow-capped Mount Baker loomed high in the distance, completing the backdrop of our postcard existence. Lazy summer days sipping lemonade with neighbors, playing with cousins and friends, and a friendly black lab named Sam proved the American dream.
Dad’s store, Bill’s Jiffy Mart, was just a few miles away in downtown Oak Harbor. Clad in his green apron, he spent hours arranging perfect rows of canned vegetables and fruit. He always had a pencil tucked behind his ear, a feather duster in his hand, and a pen in the pocket protector of his crisp white shirt. There was nothing better than leaning into the freezer and pulling a crystalized Fudgesicle on a sunny day or trying to decide which box of Cracker Jacks had the best prize. I loved the store and all the promotional gimmicks Dad brought home, like my life-sized green Squirt soda balloon with fuzzy hair, and the greatest prize of all, my bright red two-seated tricycle.
Bill’s Jiffy Mart had a small home in the back parking lot. When I was about three we left the beach to live closer to the store, substituting convenient downtown living for fresh salty air. We moved from picture-perfect postcard to a postage stamp lot. A public beach was not far from our home but repeated pestering didn’t sway Mom to drive me there any sooner.
Impatient to play in the water, I planned our beach escape for days. “Hurry up, Sam,” I lisped, as we furiously dug a hole under the fence. We belly-crawled under the fence and I loaded Sam into my powder blue get-away wagon. I tugged at my swimsuit trying to loosen the itchy dirt, as my canine conspirator and I began our trek. Sam’s pink tongue dripped with excitement as I pulled him across the parking lot. I had plans to show Sam Oak Harbor’s Flintstone-mobile and for a dip in City Beach Lagoon, which would wash away all evidence of our escape. We made it all the way to the end of the parking lot and hung a left towards the beach.
“Becky! Sam!” Mom’s voice, shrill above the busy traffic, brought everything to an abrupt halt. Sam abandoned me on the side of the road and went skulking back to Mom as she bustled across the parking lot. The whole town heard my wails as she spanked me in front of the busy intersection, loaded my downtrodden dog and me into the wagon, and pulled us back to my backyard prison. My tears stained the brown floor tiles inside Bill’s Jiffy Mart as Mom reported my crime to Dad. After careful consideration, he gave me a Canada Dry Ginger Ale, his feather duster, and put me to work in the canned goods section
A year or so later we’d outgrown our humble abode behind the store and moved to a larger home with a neighborhood filled with friends for Mike and me. Mike had a tree house high up in a backyard tree, with a strategically absent rung to keep his sister from infiltrating the fort. Sam had free run on the grassy lawn, and I spent hours playing hide and seek in the forest just beyond our property line. My all-time favorite activity was pushing my two-seater trike to the top of the hill for the exhilarating ride back down, stopping only by the skin of my shoes. I got in big trouble from a friend’s mother when her daughter hopped on behind me and set her barefoot brakes—Fred Flintstone style.
As our house size grew, so did our family, and Mom’s tummy expanded by the minute. A tiny baby was getting ready to join the Holman clan, and I had plans for my new sister. I would dress her up in fluffy dresses and push her around the neighborhood in my doll stroller. I was anxious to have a real live doll and after what seemed like forever the big day finally arrived. Dad drove Mom across Deception Pass Bridge to the hospital in Anacortes, while Mike and I stayed home with Grandma Chesley.
It seemed Mom had been gone for days. When the phone jangled, I pounced at the first ring.
“We have a new baby.”
“What’s her name?”
It took a minute before the meaning behind the name dawned on me. How could Mom ruin my months of planning in one phone call? There was nothing more to say, so I hung up on her and tried to figure out what I’d do with a baby brother.
Curt grew from a robust baby to a darling brown-eyed imp whose summertime tans set off his shaggy blond hair, and even though he shunned pink dresses, he was a fun playmate. In contrast, Mom says I was puny. I had straight brown helmet hair, deep blue eyes, colorless lips, a crooked smile, freckles, knobby knees, and a lisp. I wanted long pigtails with ribbons, but Mom had no desire to fight my fine locks. Every few months she drove her stringy-haired daughter to downtown Oak Harbor for a visit to the beauty parlor where purple-tinged, pin-curled Betty and Evelyn waited for their next victim. Permanent wave solution and cigarette smoke burned my nose as I turned page after page of glossy picture books and smiled back at the little girls sporting beautiful curls. The pink-smocked gals gently set the impossible styles aside, pulled out a black padded bench, laid it over the salon chair, and pumped it up to haircut height. Betty attempted to hold me while Evelyn wielded scissors dangerously close to my ears, promising me a lollipop if I held still. I jumped out of the chair as a Peter Pan pixie. I loved the pink ladies. I hated the haircuts.
Afterwards Mom tried to make amends for my hair loss with a trip to the shoe store next door. Mousy locks for Mary Janes. My hair looked ridiculous but my feet were always well-clad.
I endured stupid haircuts well into grade school, but my pixie looks were not a problem when Clover Valley Elementary School cast me to deliver the leading line in the Spring Concert. Our first grade class had been practicing silly barnyard songs for weeks. On the evening of the big event, Mom pinned a giant blue bow to my slippery locks, completely dwarfing my head. The tiny singers passed the microphone around as the bevy of children bellowed a barnyard bleat, moo or quack, much to the delight of their proud parents. At the end of each animal utterance, I stood tall at the center microphone and belted out And the Cat Goeth Fiddle I Fee. I was confused when the entire audience roared each time I sang my part. Whether because they thought I was adorable in my oversized bow and pronounced lisp, or hilarious, I’ll never know, but my blue bow sunk lower behind the students after each Fiddle I Fee.
Rebecca Durkin, author of Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure, and her short story, Behind the Smile, is known for her candor and sense of humor.
Rebecca is a featured speaker/creative trainer for an annual women’s retreat in California, where she shares her experiences and provides writing ideas. She is also a volunteer for the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women's Lives ® program for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. The program brings ovarian cancer survivors into the classroom where they present their unique stories along with facts about the disease to future physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and physicians assistants.
Rebecca spent the majority of her life living on the edge of the shore, first on Whidbey Island, Washington and then in rainy Ketchikan, Alaska where she lived a waterlogged existence for almost thirty years. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys road trips with her husband, hanging with her adult children, playing with her three Bichons, and finding the humor in everyday life.
Thank you Rebecca!
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