Saturday, December 26, 2015

Nighttime

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

Reading

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."

"Usually?"

"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,
Gina

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

Oxygen

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.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Laughing Buddha

I'm wondering about attitude as choice.

The other day I was standing in the kitchen, thinking about how miserable I am.  Miserable is perhaps an overstatement, but I'm definitely not as symptom-free as I once was. Actually, I'm not even sure if it's fair to categorize my various ailments as symptoms of cancer. I seem to have acid reflux, which means that I walk around feeling anywhere from vaguely to extremely indigested much of the time. Then there's my left vocal cord, which isn't working for who-knows-what reason. So I definitely have my share of symptoms, but symptoms of what I'm not exactly sure.

Anyway, back to the kitchen. On this particular day, I happened to look up from my usual grimace, and my gaze fell upon a magnet on our fridge. It's a picture of Laughing Buddha.

Image result for laughing buddha

Our Buddha doesn't look exactly like this, but you get the idea. I've seen that magnet hundreds of times, but this time it spoke to me, and said, "You know, Gina, you could just as easily be laughing." I could be laughing. I began to wonder if my mopey attitude was a matter of choice. Was this the attitude that I thought I should have? The attitude of the cancer patient? Of the acid reflux sufferer? Of the person with a malfunctioning vocal cord?

It is possible. I could be laughing. And, to be fair to the Buddha and to myself, I often am. But there's something scary about letting go of the mope factor - about laughing while suffering. I'm not sure what that's about. If I'm fine with how I am, am I no longer striving to get better? Of course I am. Will others no longer care for me or about me? Of course they will. 

Last week I was trying to explain to my students how meditation is not thought, and that we try to let go of thinking when we meditate. A student raised his hand, and with a concerned look on his face asked, "But what will happen to my thoughts?"  I assured him that he would not lose his thoughts, at least not the ones that matter. Perhaps that's my fear of embracing the Laughing Buddha - but what about my cancer? My acid reflux? My vocal cord?  Of course I know the answer. They will all still be here, at least for the time being. So now let's see if I can laugh in their presence.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Voice

One of my vocal cords isn't working. It refuses to move. This condition can be caused by many different things - a virus, trauma to the area. The bottom line is that at this point I don't know why it's being so obstinate, and I am hopeful that it will soon see fit to resume its duties.

Anyway, the upshot is that my voice is odd. Sometimes scratchy, sometimes warbly, and in general higher than it normally is. I can't stand it. You know how sometimes you hear a recording of yourself and you're like, "Ugh! That's what I sound like?!" But I literally cannot stand the sound of my own voice as I speak. I stand in front of my classroom, and as my mouth is saying things like, "So, is it still possible to feel sorry for Macbeth at this point?" My mind is saying, "God! How can they be listening to you? That voice! It's so grating! Are they just pretending that it doesn't bother them?"

So there's that. It's humbling, actually. The fact that my students - and colleagues, friends, family - seem just as happy to listen to what I have to say, even though it sounds like it's coming from an old woman in a Scooby Doo episode.

And speaking of what I have to say, I find that I'm a bit more selective now that the sound of my own voice pontificating is not as pleasurable as it used to be.  Sometimes I'm sitting with a group of people, and, even though a thought may come into my head, I often decide that it's not really worth the trouble of sharing it, and instead I just listen.

People say really interesting things when you stop and listen to them.

Oh yeah, and perhaps the hardest part is that I can't yell.  And by "yell" I mean speak in a normal-for-my-family tone. We speak loudly. That's just how we are. So I've had to ask my students to actually listen to me when I'm speaking, because I can no longer speak over the din of their inattention. And the other day, a friend actually leaned forward to hear what I was saying, because we were in a noisy restaurant.

Several lessons, then, from this annoying voice of mine. Can't wait to get it back.


Monday, October 12, 2015

The D word

Why are we so tolerant of death in some instances - flowers and leaves, the occasional goldfish - but so intolerant of it when it comes to ourselves? We are constantly surrounded by conditions that remind us that everything that comes into being will also cease to be. We finish books. We eat a delicious piece of pie. Sure, we can have another piece, but eventually the pie will be gone. Our moods come and go. It rains and then it is sunny. Sounds - whether the annoying roar of the neighbor's lawnmower (didn't he just mow his lawn two days ago?) or the melodic call of a songbird - arise and fade away. We have a precious possession, and then it is broken or stolen or worn out or willingly passed on.

But my life? That is mine! Sure, I know that I was not always here. There was, I am told, a pre-Gina world into which I arrived, and logic and nature tell me that there will also be a post-Gina world from which I will have departed.

Maybe our clinging and refusal to accept this absolute truth has something to do with size.  When a plant dies, I may be sad. A tree, though? That's way more tragic. A car hits a squirrel. Yuck. A car hits a deer. What kind of heartless asshole would hit a deer?!

Or maybe it's about time. The longer something - or someone - has been on my path, the more likely I am to forget that it is not an essential and permanent fixture on that path.

Anyway, I'm sure that none of this is news to any of you.  Nor is it news to me.  Perhaps that's why I find it so confounding.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Move over

Sometimes in a quiet moment I check to see whether I have some cancer thoughts worth sharing. And sometimes, if I find none, I actively dig around, like, "I know there must be something here that we can serve the guests."

Anyway, here's something that's rumbling around in my head as my daughter applies for post-college jobs and my son gets ready to embark on a three-month backpacking trip as the next step in his culinary journey.  They are finding their respective places in the world. And as they begin to take up more space on the human map, I begin to take up less of it.

Yes, I have lost a little weight recently, but of course that's not what I mean. Rather, I've been watching younger colleagues take up the mantle when it comes to the essential work of confronting bias and fostering an atmosphere of true love and respect for one's fellow.  One friend and colleague was incredibly passionate and successful in this area teaching a Contemporary World Issues history course last year.  This year, she was not assigned to the course, but you'd never know it from watching her plan her lessons. "You've discovered the secret!" I said to her the other day. "For you, every history course that you teach, whatever it's called, is actually Contemporary World Issues."  I was reminded of when I realized that every course that I taught - whether American Literature, English 10, or Modern Literature - could more accurately be labeled, "Anti-Bias Awareness and Training."

I also gave up leadership of my beloved Diversity Committee. (Come to think of it, they haven't held a meeting since that happened. Maybe I should call someone.) But they will regain their bearings and continue to make our district a safe and supportive atmosphere for all who work there. (If they don't, I'll have to kick some ass. In the meantime, I'm going to give them a chance to do that on their own.)

And I've stopped making stuff.  I used to love making things out of Sculpey, or repurposing things like jar lids.  Here's a sample:



Now, though, I'm not really drawn to putting more stuff in the world. Not that I begrudge others the joy of creation. It's just that I think I've taken up enough space in that particular way, and I'm happy to stop.

Then again, who knows what tomorrow's mood may bring.  You may find yourself reading a post about my new crafting passion or how I gave up giving up the Diversity Committee. As Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg reminds us, "Every day Creation is renewed." And that certainly includes us.



Monday, October 5, 2015

A few more

And here are a couple of thanks on a quiet evening after a sunny day with no back pain...

1. No back pain. Day Three of not a single capsule of Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, etc. My research oncologist will say that the trial drug is already working. My other oncologist will say that the Prilosec took care of the acid reflux. I don't give a shit which one of them is right. Let them both celebrate. I have no pain.

2. I'm alive. A friend has recently stopped treatment and gone into hospice care. In spite of, or perhaps with this all, she is brave and fabulous and remains entirely herself. There is a saying in old Jewish culture that you can know a person, "b'kaso, b'kiso, u'v'koso." I wrote the Hebrew words so that you can appreciate the alliteration.  In English, in his anger, in his pocket, and in his cup. Meaning that we show our true character when we're angry, when it comes to how we use our money, and when we're drinking. Some wisdom there, sure.  I would add, "b'cancero" (in his cancer) which is a total butchering of both English and Hebrew but I can't resist the alliteration. The depth of my friend's character comes out in the fact that she has not changed at all. She is not bitter; she is not angry; she is not afraid.

3. There's a Psalm (27:4) that we sing during the High Holydays, and it's been sticking in my mind. Here is a translation that I really like from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. She has changed references to Adonai (often translated as "God) to "You": 

One thing I ask, I ask of You (Adonai), I earnestly pray for 
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
Knowng the beauty, the beauty of You, and to dwell in Your holy place! 

Here's the Hebrew:

אחת שאלתי מאת ה'
אותה אבקש,
שבתי בבית ה'
כל ימי חיי,
לחזות בנועם ה'
ולבקר בהיכלו.

I was struck by these words when we sang them this year, because a) I love the beauty and simplicity of distilling all of our yearnings into one thing - to recognize and dwell in holiness, and b) For me that yearning is fulfilled. I don't mean that I dwell in holiness because I'm super holy - whatever that means! I dwell in holiness because most of the time I can see it.  I can see how incredibly precious this crazy, painful, mixed-up world of ours is.  And it is truly wonderous. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thanks

Cloudy day with aching back - seems like a good time to think about what I'm thankful for.

1. My sturdy body. Specifically the fact that I fell down a flight of stairs the other night and didn't break anything. Yes, full-on slide on my back down a flight of wooden stairs. And nothin' but some bruises.

2. The incredible luck that I have to work in a place where I can say, "I feel crappy," and the response is, "Go home."

3. The fact that yesterday I spent a total of about half-an-hour talking to my kids on the phone.

4. And not because anything was wrong.

5. My spouse loves to cook.

6. We have money to eat out when she's sick of cooking.

7. My friends don't take it personally when I don't answer the phone.

8. And when I don't call them back for a few days, they just call again.

9. I'm happier when I'm working than when I'm not working. (Not counting vacations and weekends, of course!)

10. Bernie Sanders could conceivably be our next president.




Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Olive Oil and Teaching

I have survived three work days in a row. Three. Tres. Trois.

I love my students. I love being with them in the classroom. There is a vibrancy and an organic nature to everything that happens there. That's why I will never get bored with teaching. What teacher can know what fate and chemistry will bring in the fall - the personalities and life experiences of twenty teens, combined with the personality and life experiences of my own self. It's like saying - I'm going to put together four ingredients...try to guess what the result will taste like. My life as an episode of "Chopped."

I know the room number, the book titles, my hopes for their growth and discovery - that's about it. The rest unfolds day by day.

To be honest, there is one ingredient that I always bring. Kind of like, whatever I make for dinner, I know that I will use olive oil. My olive oil is my deep conviction that every privileged person in this country must do what she or he can to make this a true place of opportunity for everyone. If you don't believe that, or if you're not willing to open your heart to that possibility - well, I guess it's kind of like coming to my house for dinner and being allergic to olive oil. I'll do my best to feed you, but it's gonna be a struggle.

So that's about it.  Hello and Salaam to the person who logged on from Saudi Arabia. You made my day. And Finland - a new and faithful reader.  I hope that's not creepy - I don't know who you are or anything. I just get a list of countries, like this:


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Blessings!

This morning a friend came over to do an acupuncture treatment while my regular acupuncturist is in China.

Then, this afternoon, as I headed out to get the mail, I was greeted by this:



Yup! Flowers! (I guess they didn't fit in the mailbox.) And no, your eyes are not deceiving you. Those orange ones do precisely match the ones that my squirrel friend has been happily and sadistically devouring.

But wait, that's not all. Something that did fit in the mailbox was a package for me with Cranberry Goat Milk lotion! (And if you're wondering, yes, the temptation to taste it is great, but so far, I'm restraining.)

Yeah, so that's what my life is like.  Filled with blessings (including a pot of Esther's Chicken Soup that arrived on my porch earlier this week).  Hope yours is, too.

p.s. Here are my new lovelies in their new home:


Friday, September 25, 2015

Bed #2

I'm afraid to get out of bed.

Yesterday was one of the worst days in recent memory - 11 hours at MGH, and an aching back more or less throughout.

Today, however and miraculously, I have woken up after a sound and uninterrupted sleep feeling perfectly fine. Finer, in fact, than I have in the past month. So I'm lying here thinking about going for a swim after a brief MGH visit, doing some school work with a settled mind, maybe I'll even cook something!

And that, my friends, is why I'm afraid to get out of bed. What if I don't feel so great after I stand up? Take a few steps? Actually do some of those marvelous things?

The irony actually makes me laugh. What a great story - the woman who felt so good that she was afraid to do anything for fear of screwing it up.  There's also probably a profound metaphor in there somewhere, but I'll leave that to you to ponder.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Take Four

Starting my new trial tomorrow.  Trying to be hopeful. Today during the closing service of Yom Kippur I had a glimpse of pure optimism. I saw myself well and free of worry. Thriving.

That was a great thirty seconds.

The truth is, I do have many reasons to expect that this trial will be successful. Too much medical vocabulary to explain precisely why that is, but it has to do with addressing the genetic mutation that emerged, making my first trial go from "major response" to basically no response after about 6 months.

So a long day ahead, filled with many knowns and fewer - but significant - unknowns.  I know my peeps. I know where the snacks are. I know what my lunch choices will be.  I don't know how I will feel after taking my first dose, nor do I know how it will be to spend a ten-hour day at the hospital.  I got really good at it last year, but it's been awhile.  And I'm in a kind of emotionally rocky state. Do I want company or not? I have no idea. In the meantime I'm bringing with me every possible pastime in my posession. Will I want to read? Watch movies? Grade papers? Plan classes? And can I trust my laptop and kindle to stick it out for the whole day, or do I need to bring chargers?

And was it a stupid idea to tell my spouse that I'll take myself to the hospital, and she can come later? Perhaps.

So many questions without answers, all of them covering up the big ones that I daren't even type.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Shit

Here's something new -- a post from deep in the shit.

I usually try to avoid these, whether to protect someone who I don't want to be worried about me, or because I just don't feel like writing.  But given that I'm just here in that two-hour window between CT and Bone scan, I might as well take on a new challenge.

Happy news: I'm starting a new trial this week.  At least I think I am.

Sad news: I'm going to be missing a lot of school and I'm not sure how to deal with that.  Being in the classroom - all set.  Creating online lessons that replicate the vibe and demands of my regular classroom - all set.  Letting someone else teach my kiddies...not so much.

Other sad news: Three times over the past two weeks I have woken up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. LIke wild, thrashing, wait-is-this-actually-happening-cause-it-feels-like-some-weird-movie type of pain.  No idea what's causing it.  Could be swollen lymph nodes pressing on my lungs.  Could be not that.  Maybe scans will tell.

Happy news: I'm heading in the MGH today to get a Percocet prescription.

So no redeeming words of hope here.  Apologies.  Hopefully whereever you are, you are in the presence of something for which you feel grateful - a glimpse of sky, a loved one, warmth.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Flowers #2

Yesterday I came home to this:


Not such a big deal, unless you keep in mind (as those of you who read my "Flowers" post from July already know), that I have been engaged in a summer-long battle with a squirrel over this plant, and then yesterday, this.

Somehow, a flower had sprouted.  And my squirrel had suspended its game of chew-the-petals-off-the flowers.

I stared and stared.  I went inside and then came back out again.  Each time it was still there. Finally I said goodbye to my beautiful friend, and closed the door for the night.  I'll admit that the next morning I was almost looking forward to seeing the petals on the ground.  Go for it, squirrel, I thought. I had enjoyed a whole afternoon with this flower, soaking it up, relishing its orange brilliance. I even got pictures!  But what I woke up to today was this:




To be honest, I don't know what to say.  I love my flowers. I don't know how long they'll last, but I'm thrilled that they're here.  And I'm a bit concerned about my squirrel.




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Second Day of Rosh Hashana

There's a question that's hanging over me, after about two weeks of not feeling great:

Am I infirm or just lazy?

Take this morning for instance.  It's the second day of Rosh Hashana. A day of no school.  A chance to soak up the vibes of the New Year with my community, but not so dressed up, not crowded, and a shared feeling of luxury among those of us lucky enough to be able to take the day off of work.

Then over breakfast my spouse asks, "Are you coming to services today, or just relaxing at home?" Ooooo! Something I hadn't considered...cancer patient stays home to rest instead of going to services. But that's silly, I thought to myself. I really love the second day of Rosh Hashana service.  Of course I'm going.  Late.

So off goes my rabbi spouse and my mother-in-law, and I am left to ponder when I should show up. But then the question arises, Am I OK? Should I be home relaxing cancer-style to shore up my energies?  Or does all of this lying around breed more and more inertia?

Am I infirm or just lazy?

Clearly I need to think about this some more. Step one: Take a short nap on the couch.  Definitely the right move, because I emerged from my nap with a plan: I would test my state of being by riding my bike to services.  It's not that far - about two-and-a-half miles.  It is, however, almost totally - albeit steadily - uphill.

And I made it! I enjoyed the (last third of) services, I shmoozed, I meditated, I graciously accepted compliments for saving the planet by riding my bike.  Then I ate two pieces of my favorite Rosh Hashanah cake and joyously coasted downhill for most of the way home.

Still, the question remains unanswered.  The truth is, I do have a lazy streak in me.  I simply love to relax.  And the truth is also that I am not feeling my fullest, well, and energized self.  What's a person to do?  How do people who take medical leaves know that they should?  I mean, do I want to go to school tomorrow? No.  But, frankly, who does?  Yet do I know that I will be my most alive and happy self during the hours when I am in my classroom? No doubt.  For now, then, I'll have to take each moment as it comes, and let the question rest.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trigger Warning: Sad

Just to clarify - the title is a joke.  I hate trigger warnings.  I hate the culture from which they have spawned.  "Watch out, fragile person! Shit lies ahead!" No duh! Yes, shit lies ahead for all of us in varying degrees of shittiness, and then other shit lies ahead that will remind us of our past shit and all we can do is try our best to keep going and to leave the world a little less shitty than we found her.

Glad I got that off my chest.

The reason for this rant, I suppose, is the fact that I'm just not feeling great. Now, there are many possible reasons for this -- I had two procedures at MGH this week, a port implant and a bronchoscopy; I'm taking anti-biotics; my body is ajusting to not being on the chemo that I was taking for most of the summer.  But then a crazy and terrifying and, yes, sad thought occured to me last night - Maybe I'm not feeling great because I have cancer.

FUCK!

I mean, this whole past year I've dealt with the pain-in-the-assness of it all, the trials, the meds, the confronting of my mortality, blah, blah, blah...But I always felt fine.  Such pride.  And in the meantime, cancer is doing its best to multiply and thrive and really could not care less about my positive attitude or my blog or, it seems, my treatments.

So there it is.  The saddest post in the life of my blog (I think - I did not go back an reread before making this claim).  Nothing to do but move forward.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dear Blog

Hi, Blog. I'm Gina - your writer.  Sorry for having abandoned you for so long.  I'm not even going to look at the date of my last post.  That would be too sad.

Anyway, I had a terrific summer.  How was yours?  (By the way, doesn't "yours" seem like a word that should have a posessive apostrophe in it?)  Probably not as rich as mine since I abandoned you. You can hear the guilt, right? Let's discuss why I wasn't writing...

Well, first, I was busy living.  We had tons of house guests with tons of children and I loved them all. Making breakfasts that I would never make for myself, playing with my kids' old toys, laughing, eating, going on adventures. Plus a little traveling with my spouse and then with my children and soaking up boundless love. Would you want to take a time out to write about living with cancer? Well, you probably would, given that you're a blog about living with cancer.

Then there was that little treatment glitch - meaning that the latest chemo wasn't working. Isn't chemo supposed to kill everything? Apparently not. Or not always. So in fifteen months we've been through two trials and one chemo. Not exactly the way I pictured this journey.

And I know what you're thinking - Why didn't you tell me? Isn't that what I'm here for? Yes. Apologies.  But as much as I love you, Blog, my family comes first and I hadn't shared my update with my kiddies. Anyway, now I have, and so we march forward.

Next step, back to my beloved Termeer, my beloved Dr. Dejan, my beloved peeps there, and a new trial - a triplet.  I'm excited about it.  And I'm excited to be back to you, dear Blog.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stuff I think about when I'm not thinking about cancer

Not feeling super cancery these days.  So that's awesome.  But bad for my blog.  Lots of other stuff I could write about, I suppose:

Like, how badly it sucks to be a black person in this country.  A friend and I were talking about it today - thinking about all of the ways that we kill black people: We shoot them; we under-diagnose and under-treat them; we arrest them without cause so that they kill themselves; we under-educate them. Anyway, you get the point.

Or I could write about the weather - LOVE IT!  I love summer. Everything about it.  Heat. Humidity. Bring it.

Or Donald Trump. God bless the man for the great humor and joy that he brings to my life every time he opens his mouth.

Or Israel and Palestine. Sigh. Easier to write about cancer.

Or my many many house guests who give me the chance to make things like pancakes and waffles and train-shaped birthday cakes.

Or gender categories that are constantly changing and expanding, so that the language is finally trying to keep up with the fluidity and complexity of gender itself.  Today, for example, I heard the term "gender flux." Cool.

So that's what's going on.  Off to take my Xeloda.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The purse

Yesterday I visited the infusion unit for my regular dose of Zometa.  I sat down in my Lazy Boy chair and looked at the two men who sat in their own Lazy Boy chairs across from me.  There are curtains in the infusion unit, but most folks don't use them.  Among us non-curtain users there's a vibe of, "Yes, I have cancer, but basically I'm fine.  Just stoppin' by for a little dose of sumpin' sumpin'."  This  non-curtain use also means that we can't help staring at each other from time to time.  Sometimes there are short conversations, but often not.  Just an unspoken shared understanding.  Kind of like, "Sucks, huh?"  "You know it."  "Could be worse, though."  "No doubt!"  "Alright, I'm gonna try to read my book now." "Enjoy."

Anyway, one of my two men from yesterday was sitting with his wife; the other was alone.  There was a regular chair next to his Lazy Boy.  It had a purse on it and some other stuff.  I thought, "That's weird.  There's a chair for his wife's stuff, but where does she sit? And where is she?"  I had to figure this out.  Who cares about Middlemarch or email when there's a mystery at hand in the infusion unit?!  I concluded that the wife had gone off to do some errand and had left her stuff on her chair in the meanwhile.  Still, that was a lot of stuff that she would have to hold in her lap when she returned.  Then I decided that she must have just dropped off her stuff (on the chair) when they arrived, gone on her errand, and would surely get another chair for herself when she returned.  Good work, Gina.

But wait.  About 10 minutes after I had solved the mystery and returned to Middlemarch, the man picked up the purse and started looking for something.  Comfortably, I mean.  As if it were his own purse.  I had to rethrink.  Continuing my observations, it became clear to me that the purse was indeed his own.

"Well, why not?" I mused.  "Why can't a man have a purse that clearly was designed as a woman's purse?"  So there is no wife on an errand.  That chair is holding the man's stuff, which includes a woman's purse, which a man has the right to own.

Mystery solved.  I felt righteous. Liberty and Justice and Women's purses for all!

About twenty minutes later, I was pulled from the pages of Middlemarch by the sounds of the conversation that was happening across the room from where I sat.  Two nurses were chatting with my man, disconnecting his IV, and helping him get ready to leave.  And then I heard his voice.  Oh.  My man is a woman.  A woman without hair.  A fabulous woman who has put gold temporary jewelry tatoos on her bald head.  A woman with a purse.

Wow. So much for me as enlightened gender educator.  Purse=wife.  Bald=man.  Except when they don't.

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 30th

Well, it's almost my birthday.

For the past couple of decades I've felt a bit of dread watching the number that represents my age grow.  Of course, I act like I don't care, and in many ways I don't.  But still, the fact that my forties are something that I look back on is somewhat dreadful to me if I'm being completely honest with myself.

Now that has changed.  I want the numbers to come, to keep coming, to keep adding up.  53 -- great! Let's see if we can get to 54, or 60, or 70!  I want to grow old.  I want to be old.  I want to have my obituary say, "Gina Fried died at the age of 100 after a 64-year dance with cancer."

Ken y'hi ratzon.  May my wishes be reflected in the loving and positive orientation of the universe.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Flowers

There's a message for me in our flowerbox.

Last summer our squirrels dug up/ate/destroyed our flowers.  They were red, and I thought that the color had something to do with the attraction.  So this year when my spouse did "our" (her) spring planning, I said, "Get purple flowers. Maybe they'll leave those alone."

The squirrels and I battled for the life of the purple flowers for a few weeks.  They'd dig them up, I'd replant them.  I squirted apple cider vinegar and sprinkled hot chili peppers.

The squirrels won.

I was ready to give up, but not my spouse.  She came home with beautiful flowers with bright orange heads.  By the next morning, the heads were gone.  Spite.  The plants were still alive, but their petals lay among them - remnants and reminders of their erstwhile splendor.  They were the embodiment of defeat and humiliation.

But nature was not done.  We left the headless plants in the flower box, and a few weeks later, they had new petals!  There they stood, bright and proud and erect.  Triumph.  They had risen! Each morning we were greeted by their glorious and joyful oranginess.

Had the squirrels learned their lesson?  Had we really won?  By Day 3, we were convinced that we had.

And then they were gone.  On the morning of Day 4, the plants stood headless in the morning sunshine.

So much depends upon those orange flowers.  Sometimes they get to present their full magnificence.  Sometimes not.  And they don't seem to mind either way.  Not to project too much, but the plants themselves seem perfectly happy.  And then there are the squirrels. Actually, in my mind there's just one squirrel who is engaged with me in a very personal battle like Good and Evil over the soul of Everyman. But of course that's not true.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The squirrel is just doing its squirrely thing.  And so am I - another part of nature that happens to have a bigger brain, and hence stronger opinions about how flowers should look.



Monday, July 20, 2015

Rien

I'm thinking about Louis XVI's journal entry on the day that his fed up peasants stormed Versaille. He wrote simply, "Rien." Nothing.

Nothing of any note had happened on that day.  He probably was depressed because he had gone hunting and hadn't killed anything.  Perhaps that's what "Rien" was referring to.  But the bottom line is that he had nothing to say - or write.

Sometimes I open a new blog post even though I don't have anything particular to say.  I'm just curious to see whether some thought or feeling will come out of its hiding place and make itself known on the page.  I feel like I want to reach out to some reader who needs a blog-induced smile or a new perspective on something, and so I hope that I'll have something to share.

Sometimes "Rien" is a choice not to say anything.  Not to analyze or reflect or share.  Just to live in the midst of what is true.  I have cancer, I have a job, I have a spouse, I have grown children. There's war and racism and sexism and way too much poverty.  And I'm just here in the midst of it - getting up in the morning, making coffee, trying to be a good spouse and friend and mother and colleague, and hoping at the end of the day that I've done something to make the world a tiny bit better.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grandchildren

When I was re-diagnosed last spring, I picked up the phone and called my spouse.  "Well, I guess I'm not gonna meet my grandchildren," I said.

I think that I spent most of my younger life waiting to be a mom, and a good chunk of the 2010s waiting to be a grandmother.  The same way that little kids have their imagined kids' names all picked out, I spend time wondering what I will be called - Grandma? Savta? G-Dukes?  I imagine the games that we will play, the nicknames that I will give them, the pudgy knees and tummies that I will tickle, the countless silly jokes and songs that we will share.

Since that phone call last year, I've moved beyond the worry that I only have an outrageously short time to live.  And, in fact, outrageously short could, for some, be pretty damn long to others, and vice versa.

But still, this morning I found myself once again considering the possibility that I won't be here when that next generation arrives.  And it dawned on me that that will be OK.  I have loved my children fiercely.  And they are perfectly well-equiped to play and tickle and joke and sing.  And their children will be adored as fiercely and completely as I would have adored them myself.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

For the people who read "A brief word on feeling awesome"

I've been thinking about that post, because I want to be sure that it's true.

So I'm measuring it against a few current conditions, like:
* I wake up at least twice every night;
* I have weird dreams;
* I have "hand-foot syndrome" (thankfully only the foot part right now), which means that the bottoms of my feet are crazy sensitive and hurt basically all the time.

That's why I've been thinking about that post.  If I'm not being true, I need to stop writing.  The funny thing is, though, that I do feel awesome.  I am strong and clear-headed (though you may disagree after reading this) and energetic.

OK then.  Time to hobble off and get this day started.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A brief word on feeling awesome

I found out today that a friend is ill.  Not only that, she's suffering - both from the illness and the medication.

That really stinks.  I, on the other hand, feel great.  Actually as good as I've ever felt.  Strong, clear-minded, pretty energetic. Not much alcohol; not much sugar. No pants that are shoved to the back of the closet because they're too tight.

The times that I actually suffer from cancer are when I flash back or flash forward.  Back to memories of devastating conversations: "The results are very bad." (Yeah, she did say that.)  Or, "I don't like it" (while reviewing some scans). Or forward to a future that doesn't exist: Imagining drugs not working, running out of options, hospitalizations.

Actually, none of that exists.  The past conversations happened and are over.  The future conversations or events... That phrase actually makes no sense.  It sounds like they're out there in the future, waiting to happen.  But they're not.  There is no future today.

So, in case you were wondering, in this moment I am extremely well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cornichons

I have a new appreciation for cornichons.  

There are cucumbers on our vines. (I say "our" only because I'm married to the person whose vines these really belong to - the one who plants, waters, weeds, and harvests.)  But while my spouse is away, it's my job to go out every morning and look for the hidden green treasures.  

What this task has revealed to me is that cucumbers don't spring fully formed from the vine. There are dozens of tiny cuke babies, not ready to be picked by my standards. But what about cornichons? A cornichon says, "I don't have to be big to be fabulous. I am perfect and enough." This flies in the face of human nature - and American culture. Bigger is better.  

So today I stood at the vines and contemplated.  There were three cucumbers that were perfectly lovely.  But they weren't that big - sort of smallish dill pickle size.  And I knew that if I left them on the vine, they'd get BIGGER, which means MORE cucumber for me!  I stood there, stuck.  I handled each one - to pick or not to pick?  I went inside, got the compost, took the compost outside, went back to the vine. Considered.  I harvested some lettuce from a barrel, took it inside, came back out. 

In the end, I realized that there is no right choice - or wrong choice.  I did make sure to pluck today's one red cherry tomato before I went inside to have my breakfast.   

Monday, July 6, 2015

Coming out

Yesterday I told a room full of people about my cancer.  Not that big of a deal given that:
A. I love talking about myself.
B. I love talking to large groups of people.
C. I've had a year of telling people about my cancer.
Still, it felt like a big moment.  I made a choice to "out" myself in a particular way, and I knew that people would have strong reactions.

We were having a "story share" about teaching.  I decided to share my experience on the first day of school last year when I told a room full of my colleagues about my recent diagnosis.  It was terrifying.  My cancer reality was fairly new, and I was literally shaking.  But I knew what kind of community I wanted - and needed - to have around me, and I knew that this was the way to make that community happen.  The results were remarkable.  Lots of love coming at me from all directions, but, more importantly, lots of people in pain who were able to see that it is possible to put your shit out there and to get what you need.  Yes, even from a work community.  Maybe these people aren't your closest friends, but for most of us they're the people with whom we spend the majority of our waking and productive hours.  And that connection needs to be recognized.  And nurtured.  And directed.

And, of course, in telling my cancer-coming-out story, I was coming out anew, and nurturing my new community with whom I will be working for the next month.

Here's another thing about sharing your shit - it's hard to function professionally and to carry whatever it is you're carrying.  I mean, each one of us probably has a reason to stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads.  But for the most part, we don't.  We get up, we get dressed, and we walk out the door to do our work in the world.  And that's laudable.  And when people know that you're not just doing your work, but you're also doing it while dealing with your own stuff, they look at you with admiration and appreciation.  And you deserve every bit of it.

So let people celebrate you for being awesome.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Blessings

Yesterday a friend gave me a book that had come to him in the mail, "Blessings for Women With Cancer" - or something like that.  He asked me if I wanted it.  "Sure," I said.  Always happy to think about more blessings.

I'm not a very "religiousy" person - whatever that means - but I do make efforts to connect myself with the creative power of the universe.  So, for example, before I take my meds every day I say, "Blessed are you Adonai, Healing all beings and Maker of miracles."  It's quick and quiet and it keeps me aligned with the holiness of the journey.

The prayers that I found in the book were super long.  In fact, I would hesitate to call them "blessings" rather than meditations.  "Well," I thought, "who has time for this?"

Then I looked at the table of contents.  There was a section for every stage of the usual cancer journey - Diagnosis; Before Treatment; During Treatment; After Treatment.

Ugh.  Immediate shut down.  Fuck you, book, and your blessings.  For me, there will be no After Treatment. Treatment is life.  Treatment will continue for as long as I live, which, thanks to Treatment, will hopefully be so long that everyone will finally be tired of having me around, including me.

After I calmed down and realized that I really shouldn't be mad at the book, I realized that what I was doing from the moment that I opened the cover was looking for affirmation of what I already do. And  I saw quite clearly that right now, I'm really not searching for anything more. So for that, book, I thank you.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Friends #2

There are some things that I don't "do" (read: like or tolerate):
* Science fiction or fantasy books
* Science fiction or fantasy movies
* Animated movies
* Scary or violent movies.

Anyway, today I finished a book that snuck into my hands because of its title: Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore.  I say "snuck" because it ended up being kind of fantasy-ish, but by the time it revealed itself to me as such, I was already into the plot, characters, and writing style enough that I had to finish.

Spoiler Alert (because it is a decent read, so just in case you care about the element of surprise that comes with the ending): The message at the end of the book is that friendship is more important than anything.  So the hero of the story goes through all of these adventures, calling up old friends and collecting new ones along the way, only to discover that there was no real big finish.  His friends are the happy ending.

And this, my friends, is why I don't "do" fantasy.  You go to all that trouble, trying to understand stuff that isn't even real, only to have an old guy tear off his mask at the end - Scooby Doo style - and yell, "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you darn kids!"  What is lasting and true and rich is the relationship between Scooby and his friends.  So, while some of you may enjoy the adventures, I'd be perfectly happy to have Scooby and friends just stay at home and talk about their thoughts and feelings, and leave the nail biting aside.  Jane Austen really understood my needs.

On to the next title.  And don't forget to hug your friends.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

For you

A post about my best friend:

I called her to tell her that I had cancer - not only because I wanted to tell her, but also so that I could practice telling my brothers.

When I had cancer the first time, she came to visit me - and she brought me earrings.

We used to walk to Hebrew School together - three times a week.

We used to ask Mrs. Bernstein if we could practice reading Hebrew in the hall because, "it's really hard to concentrate in here."

Mrs. Bernstein either didn't speak very good English, or just wanted to get rid of us.

I took Ballroom Dancing as a mini-course, but she didn't, so I taught her how to swing dance in the hall when we were supposed to be practicing our Hebrew.

Mrs. Bernstein caught us.

We had our bat mitzvahs on the same weekend.

We played with her mom's make-up.  (My mom only used boring foundation and lipstick.  Her mom's bathroom was the cosmetics counter at Marshall Field's.)

She was the first person I called when my dad died.

Once we spent an entire day on her couch watching The Real Housewives of Washington D.C.  Her husband went to the deli to buy us provisions.

While binge watching RHOWDC we also scoured the internet until we found an article about our favorite Chicago bus driver from thirty years ago, who drove us to school every day (if we caught the right bus), and who was honored after years of service.

Our fathers both worked on LaSalle Street.

During sleepovers, my dad used to come into my room when we were gabbing late at night and ask us, "How is there so much to talk about?!"

We still talk nonstop.

She is still and always my best friend.






Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More than Manet

NB: Forgive me if I'm taking this little motif too far - but this is from the heart.

Dear Three French People -

I'm picturing you inside, reading this blog - but you're in FRANCE!  Go out!  Eat some croissants! Eat cheese! Drink wine! (unless you're on antibiotics for ten days and can't drink, as I am, and it's only Day 9 but who's counting PLUS they say don't drink for three days afterwards AND on the bottle it says, "We mean it, Gina.")

Anyway, it's kind of funny what France represents to a lot of us Americans - namely, living fully and deliciously, but with portion sizes that wouldn't feed a small country; surrounded by deep history and beauty, and the ghosts of writers and painters and musicians who felt that, too.

So the fact that you're reading this blog makes me realize that you're not just a person wearing a fabulous hat (or wearing nothing at all) inside some Manet painting. You're an actual person with challenges and disappointments and frustrations. So read on, but remember to enjoy every bite of whatever delicacy is on that plate next to you.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer!

First day of summer vacation.  Hard to describe the pure joy of not knowing what day it is. Actually, not that hard - it's heavenly, blissful, freeing. All day yesterday I thought it was Friday. That's because now I'm in the eternal Saturday of the next two months.

Last summer at this time I was reeling from and dealing with the fact that I had cancer.  I'm sure that there will be much reeling and dealing ahead, but right now it is simply my normal.

The other day, my spouse said to me, "We're lucky!"  And I agreed, but then added, "Just a touch of cancer."  We laughed, but I regretted that I had said that. We are incredibly lucky in countless ways, and cancer does not diminish any of those gifts.

That's all I got.  Enjoy the gifts of the day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Places I won't get to

Dear Seven Australian People who looked at my blog this week.

What can I say? I'm flattered. I mean, you're so far away - or I am - and yet that didn't deter you from checking out what I had to say.

The thing is, as much as I'd like to return the gesture by visiting your country (and, by the way, my very best friend from my college years lives there), I don't think that I ever will.  This isn't really a cancer thing - I don't think.  It's not like, (read in raspy dying voice) "I have so little time left, I can't spend 24 hours on a plane!"  Even if I knew for certain that I would live to some acceptable age of death - what is that? 85? 90? anyway - there are some places (like Australia) that I simply think I won't get to.  Others include:

Hawaii - I know that sounds outrageous.  It's supposedly gorgeous.  It's one of the fifty states. My president was born there.  My spouse wants to bowl there.  But it's fucking far!  First of all, California is far if you live in Boston, and then once you get there you basically have to do the same thing again to get to Hawaii.

India - It's far too, but I have a different reason for not visiting.  I love Indian authors.  I've read many books set in India.  The best ones (White Tiger is at the top of the list) have convinced me that I never want to visit that country.  How could I go and face all of that poverty?  And I'm afraid of trekking. And how do you find all of those cool Buddhist monasteries anyway?  I would get lost for sure.

Poland - Now, I say this with some hesitation, because I did have two readers from Poland just today, but why would I go to Poland? (And, to be fair, if you readers in Poland, feel the same way about the U.S., I totally respect that. And, if you want to comment and give me an idea of what is waiting for me in Poland, I'm open.)





Thank you!

Lately I've noticed that people are doing things for me and I'm not necessarily reciprocating.  In fact, forget the "necessarily."  I'm not reciprocating at all.

Here are some examples:

* A friend bought me a big travel cup for water WITH an infuser basket inside.
* A friend brought me breakfast at work.
* A friend brought me lunch at work.

This was all the same person, by the way.  She just happens to be that amazing.  But I do have other examples:

* A friend made me chicken soup - like an entire pot!
* A friend came over and helped me prepare my orientation sessions for the summer educators whom I'll be supervising at Brandeis.

(Both the same person here, too.  What can I say?  I have great friends.)  More:

* A friend schlepped to Waltham from Cambridge (not as easy as it sounds) on multiple Saturdays just to hang out with me.
* A friend's son (who is also my friend) says prayers for me as he does his Japanese calligraphy practice.

* A friend brought me a beautiful carnation plant.

* A friend's grandmother prays for me.  (She's Catholic, so I've got that base covered, too.)

So, as I was saying, I haven't done much of anything lately for any of these folks.  And I find myself being fine with that.  And they all seem super happy just giving.  Unless, of course, they've formed a secret society to talk about my lack of reciprocation. But I doubt it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The dog

There's a dog that lives around the corner from us.

I hate that dog.  It yips at night when it's owner is out - which is pretty often.

Last summer I went over to the owner's house a few times.  Once was to talk to her about her yippy dog; once was to drop off a letter informing her that her yippy dog was still yipping and disturbing our (well, my - but "our" sounded stronger) sleep; and once to slightly unscrew her porch light so that it would go off.  I thought that maybe it was keeping Yippy awake.  It wasn't.

Anyway, I sort of forgot about Yippy during the winter, with windows closed and all, but then last night, there he was.

As I was feeling the return of my wrath, I remembered a moment from last summer.  My spouse and I lay in bed listening to Yippy yip, and she said, "I feel so sorry for that dog."

Mind blown.  Really?  I just hate the dog.  It never occurred to me to consider its poor little agitated soul barking out its angst for hours on end to deaf ears and darkness (after I unscrewed the porch light, that is).

Life lesson: Marry someone more compassionate than you if you possibly can.  Otherwise you might just end up a lonely and grumpy dog hater.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

I know what you're thinking - She hasn't called.  She hasn't written.  And that pitiful little post about someone in Ukraine...  What the hell's happened to her?!

Well, I'm writing to say that I haven't forgotten you.  The truth is that I haven't been feeling great, and I find that fact enormously unappealing - certainly not something that I want to write about.  I know you're thinking, Fuck that!  What about me?  What about my needs?  So, OK.

It's interesting walking around not feeling great because of something that is saving your life.  Should I be sad?  Poor me!  My stomach hurts!  Should I be happy?  Lucky me!  I live in a time when there are drugs that can save my life with minimal - truly minimal - side effects.  I go to work.  I look the same.  I do everything that I want to do.

But my stomach hurts!  Well, not all the time.  But sometimes.  And when it hurts it reminds me that I have fucking cancer and I have to take these fucking pills.  And what if they keep working and I live to be 100 and I'll have a stomach ache a couple of times a day for the next 48 years?!?!?

Maybe I'll cheat and stop taking them when I'm 90.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ukraine

Someone in Ukraine looked at my blog today.

That made me think about the fact that "Fuck Cancer" was such an easy choice for my blog title, because the rest of the stuff in my life is so outrageously awesome.

But what if you lived in Ukraine and you had countless choices of things to attach the word Fuck to, like:

Fuck Putin

Fuck the Economy

Fuck Violence

Fuck Corruption

Fuck the EU

and you've got cancer?  All I can say is, if you're reading this post, person in Ukraine, I'm sending you prayers for wellness and peace, and wishing that I could do a whole lot more.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Friends

Several years ago a little girl in our congregation was diagnosed with cancer.  The treatment was incredibly difficult and lasted for years.  Two years ago on our retreat she was quiet and clung to her parents.  She had cancer and I didn't - at least not that I knew of at the time.

Last week at our congregational retreat things had changed.  This time, I had cancer and she didn't. Her energy was boundless.  She ran when the rest of us walked; she jumped when we stood.  She chatted ceaselessly about everything. On the way to a campfire she listed for me all of the words that she didn't know back when she was two.

I'm not sure why she decided to be my friend, but I felt like the luckiest person on the retreat.  Nor am I sure what any of this has to do with cancer.  When I'm with her I think about cancer being a part of our lives that we share, although she's not aware of that.  And I think about the fact that only one of us has cancer, and I'm glad.

Monday, June 1, 2015

One

If you're Jewish, you probably know the words of the "Shma."  The central tenet of faith in Judaism says, "Hear (or Listen up!), Israel - Adonai is our God; Adonai is one."  I always understood this to be a statement of monotheism: We People of Israel have only one God, and that God - which is our God - is one God or Concept or Force or Direction, not many.

This past Shabbat I got something different: Adonai is our God.  First we commit to that; that's the easy part.  Now the harder part: Our God is One. As in, the Oneness of everything.  No exceptions. The Force, the Being, the Evolving of everything must include everything.  So the God that is Healing is also the God that is Illness. I can't say, for example, my brilliant doctors are a part of the divine Oneness of the Universe, but my cancer is a mistake that shouldn't be in this Oneness and that somehow slipped in nevertheless.

God is cells doing what we want them to do, and what we don't want them to do.



Sunday, May 31, 2015

On not reading my blog

There are two people I know who won't read my blog. So the good thing is that I can share this musing without fear of embarrassing either of them.

Last month my son turned to me and said, "Ma, I can't read your blog. I tried, but I just can't do it."  There was no need for him to explain; I understood exactly why.  It wasn't, Oh my mom has cancer and reading about it makes me too sad.  I could have been blogging about baking cakes, he'd still feel the same way. It's the voice.  He can't stand the artifice that is a component of any writing. No matter how true or real the expression, the written voice is crafted.  Nor does it matter how many people may say to me, "I really appreciate how honest you are on your blog!" For him, any presentation of me, no matter how genuine, ceases to be truly me because it is an expression.

The other person who can't read my blog is a close friend and colleague. Although he tried to explain to me his reasons, what it comes down to - I think - is, My good friend has cancer and reading about it makes me too sad.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Feeling

Yesterday I asked my sister, "How do you think I should be feeling?"

That's a pretty odd question.  In fact, I don't think that I've ever asked it before.  Why would I?  The answer that I would give to myself before I would even allow myself to ask it would be, "Who cares?"  Who cares how I should be feeling?  And, even more, who cares how anyone thinks I should be feeling?  Even an adored sibling.

But the thing is, yesterday I really wanted to know.  I had just had a meeting with my oncologist; we talked through the results of my latest scans and reviewed the directions for the latest step in my cancer journey.  I felt kind of numb.  Not sad.  Not especially excited to begin.  Not pessimistic.  Not not optimistic.  But not overly optimistic, at least nothing more than my pretty consistent expectation that cancer and I still have many (perhaps many, many) years ahead of us.

So there I was, eating dinner, digging for some feeling or another.  One thing that I recognized is that I'm a bit nervous about starting this drug, because you never know precisely what the side effects will be like.  Then I realized this: I'm going to start taking a drug, and I'm nervous about its side effects. Period.  It's a feeling, and a pretty normal one.  And it doesn't need to carry with it the prefix: I-have-cancer-and-I'm-gonna-die.  

So we ate a fabulous dinner and then we went to a fabulous show and I went home and went to bed. Just like a normal person who happens to have cancer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stuff

Shutterfly has offered to send me 101 pictures for free.  I do love pictures. And these are free. The question, of course, is what would I do with them?

I could make collages.

I could put them in frames.

I could shove them in the drawers that are already stuffed with pictures - ones that were taken before all of our pictures were online.

And so now I've spent quite a few minutes trying to decide what I'm going to do with something that I don't own, but that I could own; that I don't need, but that I might want.

Why does Shutterfly want to send me stuff?  And what's wrong with me if I don't want free stuff? My kids are much better at this than I.  For years I have kept their childhood tchochkes (knick-knacks, trinkets), and every so often I try to convince them to take them.  The truth is that they don't want them.  Well, actually, my daughter is happy knowing that her tchochkes are safely tucked away in boxes in our basement, but my son really has no interest in any of them.  (I still have some of his - maybe he'll change.)

Sometimes I have this same struggle when I think about making something - a quilt or a sculpey figurine (the perfect example of a tchochke). There's a responsibility that comes with making things. Something isn't in the world, and then you make it, and it is in the world.

Cancer connection?  I have to be sure to tell my kids that I am not my stuff.  That when I die, they shouldn't worry about not wanting to keep things that I have made or things that I have treasured. The parts of our relationship that they choose to carry forward in their own lives will be totally up to them.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Misnomer

I'm having some regrets about the name of this blog.  Not because if you Google "fuck cancer" you will see how utterly unoriginal it is.  And not because it's awkward to share the name in polite conversation.  But simply because that's often not the way that I feel.

Here are some other names that could have been contenders:

Sigh, Cancer: Often cancer is just an annoying life companion, like a little cousin who insists on following you everywhere.

Oh, right. Cancer: Sometimes I don't really think about having cancer at all, like when I'm teaching, especially.  Then something will come up that reminds me.

Wow, Cancer: Not a big happy "Wow!" like when you get served the most beautiful plate of food at a restaurant (#twfood). But still an awareness that this disease does bring its own gifts (#ilovemyblog).

You Goddam Shitface Fucking Asshole Cancer: That one kind of speaks for itself.



Friday, May 22, 2015

The big C's

Having a cold and cancer simultaneously is practically too much to even write about, but I'm gonna try.

First, there's the alliteration.  Pure poetic cruelty. One of these ailments should have been renamed.

Then there's the way that they're each other's opposite.  It's truly remarkable.  Consider:

Cold: Nobody cares. Honestly. Even the people who act like they care don't really care.
Cancer: Everybody cares. People whom you've never met will hear about you and care.

Cold: Countless over-the-counter remedies, plus some pretty solid ways of avoiding getting one in the first place.
Cancer: Not so much.

Cold: You feel like your dying, but you'll be fine.
Cancer: You may feel great, but you're fucking dying.

Hence the utter rottenness of having both. You feel like you're dying, and you are fucking dying. There are remedies available, but not the ones that you truly want and need.  People care about you, but they shouldn't, really, because it's only a cold for chrissakes.

All of that being said, the cold will pass, leaving you with empty Nyquil bottles and tissue boxes. And the cancer will stay, and continue to teach you how to live, if you let it.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Goodbye Termeer

And indeed, it has proven to be just a day - not overly big or small.  

I realize that I don't write that much about my cancer per se.  I just don't find it that interesting. Perhaps if I were a scientist I would be more likely to share the ins and outs of what my cells are up to.  Today, for example, I heard a woman in the next room over speaking with her doctor or nurse, and referring to CDG415 (or something like that).  "Hey!" I thought, "That's my letter/number combination, too!" The major difference was that she sounded like she knew what she was talking about, whereas I don't know whether that's the name of the gene or the drug.  All I know is that it came up in my conversation with Dr. Juric.  The other major difference is that if that is, indeed, the name of the drug, it will not be mine. Which brings us to the topic of today's post...

My trials have ended - at least for now.  We're going back to some good ol' tried and true chemotherapy.  Not the crazy throw-up-lose-your-hair-and-mind kind.  No, this is the new(ish) swallow-a-pill-and-keep-your-hands-and-feet-moisturized kind.

But forgive this post, because even as I write it, I'm already bored.  This trial or that, this chemo or that, etc.  Tomorrow, it's back to philosophizing.


Here's more information on my beloved Termeer Center, which definitely deserves its own post - coming soon, perhaps.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Big Day

Tomorrow will be a day.  Yes, that's certainly true, and hardly worth mentioning.  But I mention it here, because previously I would have said, "Tomorrow will be a big day."  Tomorrow I will meet with my adored Dr. Juric and he will share with me the results of my scans from yesterday.

The thing is, I'm not expecting great results.  Hence, the "big" in "big day."  "Big day" implies that the course of my life will be determined on that day.  "Big day" is like a mini Yom Kippur back when I used to believe that I had to say the name of every single person whom I loved, or else they would not be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.  "Big day" means that I will leave the hospital in either hope or despair.  But as I sit here, I realize that tomorrow doesn't have to have any more power over me than any other day.

Like most of my very blessed days, tomorrow I will most likely wake up in a house with a person whom I love.  I will have food to eat, clothes to wear, a car to drive, and sick-days to use so that I still get paid even when I'm not working.  I will go to the hospital and find out what my cancer cells are up to.  We will discuss plans for foiling them, as we have been doing all along.  Then I will go home - and possibly get into my bed to recharge, or possibly not.  And so on.

Tomorrow will, in fact, just be a day.  I will have more information than I have today.  I will likely have feelings about that information.  But the me-ness at the center, and the blessings, remain.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A song that sums it up

Thanks, Woody Guthrie, for writing my post for today.
(and you can treat yourself to a listen here while you read the lyrics)

Gonna Get Through This World
Words by Woody Guthrie, 1945, Music by Lisa Gutkin (The Klezmatics), 2003

Well I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can, if I can
And I’m gonna get through this world
And I think I can.

Well I'm gonna work in this world
The best I can, if I can
And I’m gonna work in this world
And I think I can

I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can, if I can
I'm gonna work in this world
The best I can, if I can
I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can.

Well I’m gonna walk in this world
The best I can, if I can
And I’m gonna walk in this world
And I think I can.
I am gonna talk in this world
The best I can, if I can
And I’m gonna talk in this world
And I think I can. And I think I can.

I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can, if I can
I'm gonna work in this world
The best I can, if I can
I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can.

Well, I’m gonna clean up this world
The best I can, if I can
And I’m gonna clean up this world
And I think I can.
I'm gonna leave this world behind
The best I can, if I can
I'm gonna leave this world behind
And I think I can. And I think I can.

I’m gonna clean up this world
The best I can, if I can
I'm gonna leave this world behind
The best I can, if I can
I’m gonna get through this world
The best I can.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The bottom line


I am obsessed with this picture.

It's my daughter, walking on the beach in the Canary Islands.  I love the power of her stride.  I love that she seems to have everything that she needs in that bag.  I love that I don't know where she is walking from, or where she is walking to.  And I love that she clearly knows - even if it's nowhere in particular.  She knows why she is on the earth.  And most of all, I love that she is healthy and strong.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, my daughter was not yet five years old.  She didn't really know what to make of my cancer.  None of us really did.  She's very relational though - making sense of things by reaching out to people.  Once we were in line at the supermarket and when it was our turn to check out she turned to me and asked, "Mom, can I tell her?"  "Sure," I said.  She looked at the cashier and said, "My mom has cancer."  She has always known what she needs to do to help herself.

Anyway, the point of this flashback is that at that time, with two young children, I found myself searching for my bottom line.  The condition under which this cancer would really not be acceptable at all.  I assumed that the bottom line was death.  I mean, clearly, that would not work.  I had a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, and I had much more mothering to do.  Plus, their dad and I weren't together anymore, so how could I possibly leave them in the hands of my ex-husband and his wife?

And then I realized that I could.  Of course I could.  It would suck in the hugest way possible.  It would be traumatic.  They would be unbearably sad and confused.  But ultimately they would be fine.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Marriage and Cancer

I'm realizing that I have no idea what it's like to be married to someone with cancer.  I find myself genuinely interested in this question.  I guess I could simply ask my spouse. "Honey, what's it like being married to someone with cancer?" But I don't. To ask would seem either voyeuristic or egotistical. Like, "I assume that you spend every waking moment thinking about MOI and my cancer. So what's that like for you?"

But even if she doesn't spend every waking moment thinking about me, it's still gotta suck pretty badly.  Think about it. When you're married to someone with cancer:

1. Chances are, you're gonna go second. Not fun. Sure, you're alive, but the half-empty bed, setting the table for one when you really just want to eat out of the fridge, all of your couply friends inviting you out. Blech.

2. You have to field all the questions, all the heads tilted in sympathy, all the tsks and sighs and stuff that I don't have to deal with because it might remind me that I have cancer.

3. You have to put up with someone (me) whether she's silent or venting, crying or laughing, not to mention catering to my every whim. "I can't go out for dinner tonight like we planned. Let's just eat the half container of hummus that's in the fridge and watch TV."

4. You're probably just as flummoxed as I am by this fine mess we're in, and I know that, and I'm sorry.




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why (not) me?

Seven reasons why if someone is going to have cancer, it might as well be me:

1. I have access to the best doctors. (Shout out, Dr. Dejan!)

2. I have access to the best nurses. (Shout out, Luis and Ed!)

3. I have access to - and money to pay for - complementary therapies. (Shout out, Elisa and Huang Yu!)

4. I'm surrounded by people who love me.

5. I have a job that allows me to put my wellness first.

6. I have pretty much done what I want to do with my life.  Am I allowed to say that?  Anyway, it's true.  I have touched lives, brought marvelous humans into the world, loved fully, and set things in motion that hopefully will continue after I'm gone.

7. I have a blog.

There are probably lots of other reasons that aren't coming to mind right now.  But think about it - better me than some lonely person with no resources, no support, and who hasn't yet done what she's on this earth to do.