Thursday, June 9, 2016


Dear blog followers,

Gina's spouse, Toba, here.  I know that Gina last posted in January; sadly, the fucking cancer got the upper hand, and Gina passed away on March 6.  Gina was an amazing person, as I am sure even those of you who did not know her were able to glean from her blog.  Her funeral, presided over by our friend Rabbi Barbara Penzner, was a moving, powerful testament to her life (attended by over 600 people).  If you are interested, you can read Rabbi Penzner's remarks, and the eulogies by former students, colleagues, our kids and me, at

Writing this blog, and knowing that many people all over the world were reading it, gave Gina an enormous amount of satisfaction as she dealt with this nasty disease.  I know the blog was a gift to many, and the fact that her words touched others was a gift to Gina.  May her words, and her memory, continue to be a blessing.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gina, I need to tell you something...

A wonderful reader asked the following:

"Gina, how do those of us who have loved your words get to let you know we are still thinking of you? Should we keep writing new comments on old posts?"

So, dear and wonderful readers, please feel free to leave and thoughts, questions, ideas, etc. as a comment to this post.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Goodbye (I think)

"Any blog thoughts?" my spouse asked me while we were out walking on a bizarrely warm January evening.


And that seems to be it. I'm not sure when I thought this blog would end. Maybe after 100 posts. Maybe when I died.  Maybe when I had a grandchild. None of those has happened, yet here I am, nonetheless, with not a word to say.

One thing that I'm proud of is that I never shared a post when I had nothing to say. I certainly don't plan on changing that rule now.

I wish you all some light in the dark times, and pure jubilation in the light times.



Friday, January 1, 2016

A little thought about 2016

Happy 2016!

I must admit that I'm feeling pretty hopeful for the coming year. When my daughter was younger she had a birthday party and I bought a numerology book for fun. Each of her guests would tell me her birthday, and I would tell them about themselves based on the numerological analysis of the date. I put about as much stock in that as I do in astrology, but I still think about it sometimes. This morning, for example, I was wondering if 2016 would be the year that I die. "Well," I thought, "2+0+1+6=9. Nine just doesn't feel like the number for me." It makes no sense at all, but I took some comfort in the idea that 2016 didn't feel like the year of my death.

So there's that.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


I am trying to make peace with night.

I wonder if night is generally one of the most dreaded or disliked things in the human experience. Likely. Yet for each one of us night-dreaders it is a completely personal battle. For me (at least most recently) the battle started over a month ago when breathing was particularly challenging. I had to sleep sitting up. Strike One. I took cough syrup with codeine, which left me awake (and hence miserable) several hours later, yet still several hours before dawn. Strike Two. And let's just give Strike Three to nighttime's general nightiness - no one else in the world is awake; something is wrong with you because you're awake; etc., etc.

Eventually my breathing got better. I went down from four pillows to three, from a 90-degree angle to 45. These days, in fact, I can sleep pretty much flat with one pillow, and I can turn onto my side without feeling that I'm crushing one of my lungs. Pretty great.

But, for the most part, the dread has remained. Enter Ambien. Ambien says, "Don't worry, Gina. Dread or no dread, you will fall asleep and you will probably sleep until what is considered a normal wake-up time for most of your fellow humans." A pretty good deal overall.

A few nights ago, though, something shifted. I was entering my usual dread-mode at the thought of going to bed, when a voice emerged. "Yes, Gina," it said. "Those were really awful nights of sitting up and codeine cough medicine and general nightiness, but that's over. Now you sleep lying down, and most nights you sleep until the morning."

Wow. The voice was right. I went to bed that night, trying to embrace the much-improved truth of my new reality - albeit still with Ambien.

Three nights ago, another shift. Here's the thing, when I take Ambien, I pretty much sleep through the night. When I don't take it, I often wake up at about 2:30 or 3:30 and I end up downstairs reading, maybe with a bit of dozing, but basically the night is shot. The shift: Who cares? Who cares if I'm tired the next morning or if I'm awake when other people are sleeping? I have this great opportunity to swallow one less pill!

So here we are, heading into Ambien-Free Night Number 4. Waking up several times per night. Sometimes going back to sleep; sometimes not. I certainly don't jump up and down with glee when the sun sets, but I'm trying hard not to flee continually west in an attempt to avoid the inevitable darkness.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Still a teacher

Today I found out that a number of my students have been reading my blog. That makes me enormously happy for a couple of reasons:

1. I love when people read my blog. I don't know if it's pure ego, or if it's my belief that I actually have something to contribute to the human race and it's being received. Anyway, read on, Readers!

2. I love the idea of students witnessing the power of writing - as a healing force, as a means of exploring your feelings, as a way of reaching out. I want them to remember this power the next time they feel like asking, "How long does this paper need to be?"

When I think about my students from this year, I feel sad and -- what is the word? When you've let someone down. When you had a holy task at hand and you were simply unable to complete it. I'm not ashamed -- if anything, I showed them that sometimes one priority simply trumps another, even if both are precious. Similarly, it's not guilt that I feel, exactly. I guess it's just this feeling that I wish things were different. I wish that I were there with them in the classroom when they stumble across a truth that will stay with them forever, or when they forge a sentence that shows them what all this revision stuff was for, anyway.

For now, though, all that we can do is go along. They will do their student thing, often asking how long a paper has to be, but also occasionally encountering deep truths; and I will do my teacher-qua-cancer-patient thing, writing and posting and wondering what they're thinking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Last night I went to bed on the early side. It had been my first day of feeling relatively normal after a solid week of hell. One lovely thing that had emerged from the past week, however, was that my spouse would read to me from the newspaper or the New Yorker, as I lay back with my eyes closed, breathing steadily, trying not to throw up my anti-nausea medication.

It was quite a treat, then - for both of us, I imagine - for me to be able to go to bed, meds taken, feeling worn out but not horrible. So there I was, with my book - a Chanukah present from my son - about the making of The Princess Bride. And as my spouse prepared to head downstairs to take care of some leftover work email, I said, "You know, usually you read to me before I go to sleep."


"Yeah. That's what you usually do." As I took my book and placed it expectantly on her side of the bed, I felt like a child, disguising my request as a previously agreed-upon contract. And I didn't care - childlike or not, I needed her. She settled in, picked up the book, and began. "Should I read the foreword?"

"The one by Rob Reiner? Yeah."

Her voice carried me into a world without cancer, treatments, or side effects. The words told me about the making of a movie, and at the same time they told me that this incredible woman will be by my side until I take my last breath.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thank you

A book of poetry landed on my doorstep today. Every single day I get a card - or several. Many days I get a package - a book, flowers, magazines, ice cream (well, in gift card form), pictures by children whom I love.

It's crazy. And it's hard to describe how happy it makes me. A present! A card! I feel like every day is my birthday. And it kind of is, because every single day someone, or multiple people, share with me their happiness that I am in the world.

And that makes me awfully happy to be in the world as well.

Love to you all,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good news...

If you've been reading this blog, then maybe you've already discovered what I am only now beginning to understand. Namely, that my personal "Fuck you" to cancer comes from my refusal to make this a my-cancer-update blog. No offense to anyone who reads or writes those, but personally I can't think of anything I want to write about less than the ins and outs, ups and downs, of the various treatments, symptoms, and side effects that come with cancer.

That all being said, today I had some encouraging news.  Looking back, I honestly can't remember the last time that I had good cancer-related news - possibly over a year ago when I was on my first trial. Anyway, today my liver function levels were all either normal (What???) or still high but less than half of what they were three weeks ago.

The response? There are several. The Gina who is sorting through papers, labeling photographs, and reviewing her will is still definitely in the house.  I worked way too hard to get her in here to just kick her out because of a little glimmer of hope.  But there's also the Gina who can almost imagine looking back at this fall and thinking, "Wow. I really thought that was the end." This Gina is more like a houseguest than a full-on resident. I take her with a hearty tablespoon of salt. And there's the Gina who is simply afraid - afraid to die, afraid to trust a good result, afraid to make her children sad, afraid to eat a piece of pumpkin pie.

And so we stumble forward - we three Ginas - from moment to moment and truth to truth. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Apropos of nothing

Before November 8 of this year, I had never watched an entire football game. That, plus the fact that I've never actually been to a football game, has pretty much left me out of contention for the coveted America's Greatest Football Fan title.

What was different about November 8 was that I had bought tickets for my spouse (a childhood Red Skins fan) and my son (a true-blue Bostonian Pats fan) to watch their two teams play at Gillette Stadium. For some reason, I felt that I needed to share the experience with them by watching the game at home on TV.

Now, my family was raised on baseball. We could see Wrigley Field from our house. My mother was a childhood Cubs fan, and so were we. My favorite sports-related factoid about myself is that, as a Cubs fan, I never knew that there was a Post Season. I thought that baseball just ended in early September. And the World Series? That was just some additional contest between two random teams, neither of which ever seemed to be the Cubs.

Anyway, I'm writing about football because, much to my suprise, I have found it to be a rather perfectly-paced game.  Baseball is graceful, filled with metaphors, and a statistician's dream. We don't play when it rains, and the game revolves around what has been acknowledged as the hardest feat in all of sports - hitting a 90+ mph flying object with a stick.

But it's slow. On TV, baseball is a napper's dream. You lie on the couch, you watch for a bit, you doze off, and, with the exception of the occasional amazing play, you can wake up and find that you haven't missed all that much.

Basketball is the opposite. It's fun, but it's too damn fast. You can't even look down to get your salsa properly placed on your chip without running the risk of missing a basket or two.

Football allows you to follow what's happening (especially with those very helpful magical black and yellow stripes on the field), but you can also check your email or take another dunk into the seven-layer dip if you need to.  And, overtime notwithstanding, there will never be a 33-inning football game.

But don't worry, Cubbies, I'm not abandoning you. But I have found a way to stay entertained during these cold, dark winter months.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Let's Make a Deal

Here's a dramatization of a thought that's been going through my mind:

Scene: Lexington, MA 1999

Gina: Who are you?

Cancer: I'm cancer.

Gina: What are you doing here?

Cancer: I'm here to end your life.

Gina: Well, I'm afraid that's not possible.

Cancer: What do you mean?

Gina: I mean that's just not going to work.

Cancer: Why not?

Gina: I have two little kids. They're five and eight. There's just no way that I'm going to have their mother die at that age.

Cancer: Right, but...

Gina: No "but." That just isn't going to work for me. At all.

Cancer: What if I come back in five years?

Gina: Ten and thirteen? Not much better, wouldn't you say?

Cancer: Ten years? That's fifteen and eighteen - pretty grown up, I'd say.

Gina: I wouldn't. They'll be teenagers. High schoolers. Not acceptable.

Cancer: Alright, Gina. I want to make this work. I don't even know why I'm saying this. I've ended the lives of countless mothers and fathers, and children even.

Gina: Your point?

Cancer: I'm going to give you fifteen years.

Gina: Fifteen years?

Cancer: Fifteen years, cancer free. Just raise your kids, enjoy every second, and don't worry about me. And then I'll come back for real. That's the best I can offer.

Gina: Thank you.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Last week I got a portable oxygen tank that allows me to walk much farther than I could otherwise. When I breathe in, it gives me an extra little puff of oxygen, which makes me sound a bit like a cyborg, but you get used to it.  Before that I could only walk as far as my lungs would allow on any given day - sometimes just around the block, sometimes a big farther.

On Wednesday I took her with me to the grocery store. (I know, she needs a name.) I'm reminded of the first time that I took my son out for a stroll after he was born. It was like stepping over the threshold of our apartment into a new identity. As if there were a huge neon sign floating above me with an arrow pointing down that said, MOTHER. It was terrifying.

This wasn't quite so dramatic. I am, after all, twenty-four years older. Still, it was odd. I knocked a few boxes down in my quest for oversize Ziplocs in which to brine my turkey, and some random woman came over to pick them up. "That's really OK," I started to say. "You don't have to..." Then I just stopped and let her pick up the boxes. When I checked out, the cashier asked me if I needed help getting my groceries to the car, which I didn't. "Did anyone ever ask you that before?" a friend asked. Nope. So, overall it was fine. I was just this generally healthy-looking person with an oxygen tube in her nose.

Later that day I was walking down the street, and I waved at a little toddler as I usually do, but this time I was a friendly person waving with an oxygen tube in her nose. The toddler smiled and waved back, as did his mother, so there's that.

Then yesterday at the movies, I was standing up facing the row behind me as I took off my coat, and the woman who sat facing me just stared full-on with an entirely unpleasant look on her face. I'm thinking - hoping - that she didn't mean to have that look. I'm guessing that she was thinking, "Hey, what's this young, healthy-looking person doing here with an oxygen tube in her nose?" I looked straight back at her, and in our silent conversation I responded, "Yes, I am young and healthy-looking, and I do have an oxygen tube in my nose. Now why don't you work on making some sense of that before the movie starts?"

Anyway, that's where I feel I am now, a walking reminder that people are going through all kinds of stuff - some visible, some invisible. If you're going through stuff, you are not alone, and you don't need to be invisible about it. And if you're not going through stuff, be humble and grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sorry, Californians!

I have been taking lots of long, hot showers lately. They just make me feel better. For most people who, like me, have basically as much water as we want, there's that critical point in the shower when you've washed, you've rinsed, and now it's time to get out. And yet you're still standing there under the hot, wonderful stream. For some people, the problem will be solved because the hot water will simply run out, and why ruin a great shower with a lukewarm finish? But for me, the only thing to get me out is either the clock - if I'm showering because I have somewhere to go - or my conscience. Don't waste water! Think of that ad with the fish who can't breathe out of water! (Oh, wait, I think that one's for asthma consciousness.) Think of what a big, bad, wasteful country you live in!  Usually that one gets me out.

Lately though, I've said "Fuck it." I figure that in a year I probably won't be showering at all. And no matter how long I live, in the end I'll use way less water than I ever thought I would. So, with apologies for my blatant overuse of the Earth's resources, I shall go on enjoying my too-too-long showers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Trigger Warning: Throw Up

This morning I woke up early and decided to use the quiet dawn hours to label some old pictures. Pictures that my kids will probably go through one day and not know who some of the old folks are - people whom they never met, like my grandparents - or places that they may not recognize, like the home that I grew up in.

Then I stopped because I had to throw up.  (Well, actually, I seem to be one of those people who can't throw up - but that doesn't stop me from trying.)

This is odd, I thought to myself while kneeling on the bathroom floor. My last chemo treatment was a week and a half ago, and I haven't felt nauseous from it for nearly a week.  Maybe it's the Thai greenbeans that I ate just before bed last night.  Yes. I did.  Even people with cancer have their moments of weakness.

Then I thought, Well, Hell! I just spent an hour preparing to not exist. If that isn't enough to make a person want to throw up, then what is?

I liked that thought a lot. I'm all into embracing what is, and all, but sometimes the truth that I'm living with just makes me want to throw up.

In the end, though, it was probably the greenbeans.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Multiple Choice

Reasons why a person may go for a solid month without posting on her blog:

A. She forgot the url.

B. She forgot how to type.

C. She has recently come to accept the fact that she is going to die much sooner rather than much later, and now she is wondering whether everything that she wrote before was total bullshit.

D. Her dog ate her computer.

I'll let you ponder these possibilities, while I ponder whether or not I have the courage to keep writing.