After cancer diagnosis, a family pulls together and L.A. shows its 'ginormous heart'

Amid the emotional chaos, there are signs of normality. The little guy got mint toothpaste in his eye the other morning, which seems to defy all the usual rules of dental hygiene.

“Wait, what?” I asked. “You were actually brushing your teeth?”

His face in half-scrunch, the eighth-grader explained something about the mint toothpaste splashing him like battery acid. Go figure.

And the dogs, knowing we’re a little stressed, have been on their very worst behavior. The 300-pound beagle announced his retirement the other day so that he could “spend more time with Mom.”

Again, this defies logic, for he always spent all his time with Mom. Now he senses her illness and will roll up next to her ankles in support, especially if she happens to be eating a little something.

The other day, not long after Posh was diagnosed with Stage 4 endometrial cancer, the little guy got what appeared to be the flu in the middle of the night. Turns out he’d eaten seven Krispy Kreme doughnuts at his buddy’s Super Bowl bash, an American record. But flu or doughnuts, the immediate results were the same.

As the little guy curled up in misery, the 300-pound beagle snuggled in tight against his upset belly like a warm blanket that wheezes a lot. You can’t buy that at any pharmacy. Nor would you.

As we all know, life can kick you when you’re down. The roof still leaks and I fear the septic system may collapse any day now. Yesterday, the garden hose split. Frap!

So if you think the next few months of chemo -- and whatever miracles these docs have up their over-starched sleeves -- are going to be all sadness and suffering, forget it. There will be those things, yet also the silly challenges of family life that can only make you laugh.

After surgery, Posh is now home in her castle in the hills. Technically, it’s too tiny to qualify as an actual castle; heck, it’s barely even a house. But after 10 days in the hospital, it feels like Shangri-La.

We have braced ourselves for what’s ahead with Girl Scout cookies and other signs that spring is near. Best of all, we have friends on top of friends. I could fill this entire paper with a list of their thoughtful gestures, including a spectacular collection of Asian pears, in Styrofoam bonnets. It looked like someone left a box of newborns on our porch.

Also extraordinary is the outpouring of prayers, good wishes and tales of cancer survival from people we’ve never met. I’ve just got to say that L.A., known for drama and big dreams, also has a ginormous heart. The emails of prayers and pep talks have been a balm.

Among them:

“If the Cubbies can win it all, so can Posh,” said one.

“I thought it was you who was sick,” teased another.

Every e-mail is worthy of individual reply, yet I won’t promise that. Turns out the chain of command at the house goes like this: Posh, me, Al Haig, the lovely and patient older daughter, the 300-pound beagle.

For now, that leaves me to run the place. Here’s the thing about a house: Every time you turn around, there’s a shortage of paper towels.

The kids have stepped up. Our younger daughter, the Cincinnati Kid, is back from Ohio for a few weeks or months. Actually, we’re not sure of her timeline, except that she is working from our kitchen. It is like watching her do her homework again. Flashing back, I keep offering to help her with her algebra.

The lovely and patient older daughter has added organization to the chaos, and a tireless ability to be there for meetings, procedures and second opinions.

If there is any force more powerful than a loving daughter, please let me know.

Boys will be boys, which means our sons keep their mother laughing. On occasion, I can find a witty line as well, but Posh confessed the other day -- in the truth-filled zone of her hospital bed -- that she never found me particularly funny.

Wish she had told me sooner. Fortunately, her boys are here to fill the place with laughter. Comedy is tragedy plus sons.

“I’ll go through chemo too, Mom,” the older boy offered the other day. And he would.

Meanwhile, we have enlisted a stud oncologist affiliated with USC, which is all kinds of ironic, because Posh is more of a UCLA girl. It’s also ironic, because the doctor is from New York, and I hate New Yorkers – except for Posh herself and the character Cher played in “Moonstruck,” which happens to be Posh’s favorite flick.

But Posh and the brassy Super Doc seemed to bond in their passion to kick cancer’s ass. So “Fight on!”

Last week, I asked “why?” Why did this awful disease pick her, of all people, the most decent I know?

There are no answers. Like life and lousy luck, cancer is beyond our comprehension. As reader Betsy Potts noted, it also seems to have a “penchant for picking saints over sinners.”

What we’re finding is that it also brings out the height of our humanity, our better spirits, and summons, even in dolts like me, hidden reserves of courage.

Cancer rearranges not just your life, but your soul. It gives us great strength to know we are not alone. From that there is comfort … a communal soup.

Thank you.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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