Blonde Bomber

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May 252011

The Blonde Bomber. I fancy a resemblance between us.

Every single girl who plays roller derby has heard it. “Oh, I used to watch that on TV in the 70′s”.  Perhaps some of you skaters even remember the glory days of disco era derby yourselves (I don’t). My dad grew up in Oakland and talked from time to time about the Bay City Bombers and Joan Weston. In fact, every single person I know who knew anything about derby in the 70′s reminisces on Joanie Weston “The Blonde Bomber”, “The Golden Girl”, “The Roller Derby Queen”.

Several months ago when my home team The Cog Blockers played Death Rattle Rollers I had an awesome run of jams, scoring a hell of a lot more points than I have ever scored before (103). I have to give a huge shout out to my pivots and blockers, because I am not as good they made me look. Even though I know I had a world of help from my teammates, and our opponent was a little less skilled, it felt really damn good to look at the stat sheet and see that number by my name. So I sent a text to my dad exclaiming how awesome I looked on paper. He responded with “Wow. Joan Weston never scored that many points”. Weather or not that is true I don’t know. I’ve tried looking up her stats on multiple websites and archives but haven’t really found anything. While digging around for a statistic history she really piqued my interest. One hell of a broad, I must say.

The most fascinating and inspiring tidbit I found is that she was the highest paid female athlete of the 60′s and 70′s. I know “back then” there weren’t many avenues for women to pursue a professional sports career, but still. She ruled two decades! A natural athlete, she excelled at college softball and pretty much every physical feat she attempted. The surfer in me is pretty jazzed that she was great at that too (and was known to paddle out sans wet suit – my hero). She started skating for the Los Angeles Braves but didn’t really make a name for herself until becoming captain of the Bay City Bombers in ’65. During her career she skated for 19 different all star teams and maintains a reputation as one of the most beloved ladies to ever lace up. The 1972 flick Kansas City Bomber was said to be inspired by (not based on) Joan Weston. This piqued my interest even further.

Kansas City Bomber. I’ve never heard of it. I’m surprised that in my two years of skating I missed a derby movie. So I rented it. Raquel Welch plays K.C. Carr, a skater with a pretty face fighting her way to the top despite constantly being traded! Holy crap, people. I realize I’m way behind the curve here, but if you haven’t seen this go get it now. I’m accustomed to seeing Raquel Welch as a big haired, doe eyed, busty damsel in distress type. In Kansas City Bomber she is a divorced mother of two who unloads her kids on her disapproving mother to make a name for herself in the great wide world of derby. I hear a lot of girls say that they found their “voice” through roller derby, felt empowered, or even in control for the first time. Derby has not done any of those things for me (because I’ve always been the sassy pain in the ass I am today), but in her character I can really see what everyone means by that. She has a rough go of it, but as a talented skater she gets the fulfillment she is looking for and finds the strength to follow her heart. Cat Scrap Fever gives it two thumbs up! Or, is that two elbows to the face?

Kansas City Bomber is a far cry from the game we play today. And Joan Weston passed away in 1997. Roller derby captivated millions of Americans in the past – and its revival is alive and kicking. Looking back makes me so excited for the future! Weston said “All I want out of the Derby, is to make good money, get out in one piece and, years from now, when I say I was in the Roller Derby, I want people still to know what it is.  I want that.”  She certainly succeeded, I imagine, beyond her hopes. We all work very hard to sustain our sport. Who hasn’t wished we had a professional circuit to actually make some cash in? I find it comforting to know that for twenty years, the lady sports hero with the biggest paycheck was earning her keep playing roller derby.

Apr 132011

Taking my victory lap with the Old Bay Bombers!

Since my diagnosis I have written and told my “cancer story” countless times, but I’m excited to be able to share it with fellow roller derby players who will be able to appreciate how much it has affected my derby life. I should clarify, as the president of my league, a coach, and an ever-improving jammer, my entire life is derby. I don’t attempt to, or desire to keep roller derby separate from other aspects of my life. It is my life calling and passion. What I really meant was that I am excited to be able to share my story with people who understand that. The hardest part about Chemo is that I’m not able to play.

“I skate every practice and coach, but can’t do contact.” I have to tell people that all the time. They seem to think that it’s no big deal, but you can imagine and appreciate the difficulty of watching my team from the sidelines.

I was diagnosed with primary mediastinal b-cell lymphoma on December 20. On December 11 I ran a 5k in the morning and really sprinted my ass off, got my best time actually. That night I went to sleep feeling fine and then I woke up around 3AM with shortness of breath. It’s hard to explain what that felt like, mostly just like I couldn’t get a deep breath, like something was in my chest. I had my boyfriend take me to the ER. They did a chest x-ray and a CT scan, but I was starting to feel fine.

My boyfriend, Bryan, and my mom were with me and I told them that I was embarrassed for coming to the hospital with (what we thought was) muscular soreness from the run. I was getting ready to pack up my stuff and head out, when the doctor came in and told us that there was a fleshy tumor in my chest. We called my dad and my sisters who were headed to the hospital. We all knew immediately that there were two options: malignant or benign. While we were waiting to find out the next step, we made jokes to pass the time. I wasn’t scared because at that point I still didn’t know what to be scared of.

They sent me home and I immediately began doing research. I ordered books, articles, googled everything. When I came back to the hospital on the 14th to meet with the thoracic surgeons, I already knew that it was probably lymphoma. My doctors were amazingly upfront with me. We scheduled my biopsy and I felt 100% confident about the surgery. My doctor told me that my prognosis was the same whether it was benign and we had to do extensive surgery, or it was malignant and we had to do Chemo.

I went in for the biopsy two days later and was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma on December 20. The most important thing I did for myself at that point was not skip a beat. I would’ve started treatment that day if they had let me. But by the time that we got the second opinion, ran more tests, got my infusaport in and healed up- it was January 20th.

I’ve had 5 treatments now and I only have one more to go!  I thought that I would be done in time for our bout on May 21, but I’m going to have to wait until June. My last treatment is going to be April 27th and I have to wait for my blood count to come back up, get another PET scan, get the port out- which is a minor outpatient procedure, and then heal from surgery.

Of course I’m bummed that I won’t be able to bout until June, but there is no point in being upset. When I come back I know I’ll be stronger than ever. I’ve been training for a half-ironman triathlon, skating, working out, eating well, and learning a lot by watching. I’m going to be blood thirsty when I can finally play, I miss it every day.

The way I see it is that you choose to be happy. You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose how you react to them. Anything can be positive if you want it to be. I know that seems easier said than done, but I really do think it can be that simple.
Cancer can be an excuse to be miserable, or a great opportunity. I have been able to demonstrate to people the power of having a good attitude, learned a lot about myself, and made a lot of irreverent jokes. If you aren’t having fun, then what’s the point? I’m not saying this has been easy, but I make every day a good day- no matter what.