Thursday, April 30, 2015


It's weird that facebook is a category in my life.


...and fb friends.  People with whom I would have no connection if it weren't for that tantalizing tab on my computer.

Of course, many (if not most) of my actual friends and family members, along with many of my school and congregation connections are also my fb friends.  But a very clear line has emerged that separates the actual from the virtual -- my exclusively cyber friends do not know that I have cancer.  Most don't know that I ever had cancer, let alone the fact that it has returned.  And I'm not sure what any of this means.

A different way to think about the question of why I don't tell my fb circle, is to ask myself why I tell the people whom I do tell.

Work - That's the easiest.  I miss a lot of school days.  People would think that I'm really lazy if I missed this much school without any outward signs of an illness or major life issue.

Congregation - That's pretty easy, too, since this is my spouse's work place, so see "Work" above.

Family and Friends -

1. We're journeying through life together, and that means sharing the experience as fully as we can. "What's new?" doesn't mean, "What new restaurant have you been to?" or "What project are you working on?"  Well, it could, but ultimately what is most interesting in those stories are the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the tangents, the parenthetical comments that come with the telling. The telling is what connects me to the people I love far beyond the supplying of information.

Similarly, the cancer itself - I imagine - is not as important to them as the impact that it has on my world view, my emotions, my spirit.

2. I need them.  They give me love and wisdom and companionship.  They take me out of myself and help me go more deeply into myself.  Their love is my truest sustenance.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Random thoughts

Cancer is kind of like the Christmas season.  Think about how cool it would be if we treated everyone like they had cancer.

Skipped a dose for the first time yesterday.  Just totally forgot.  Had a bit of a moral struggle over it. When I realized that I had missed the dose it was 2:00 - two hours past the two hour window allowed for the sake of the study.  The instructions clearly say do NOT take the dose if you miss the window.  But there I was thinking, "How does it make sense for me not to take the dose?  How is skipping a dose better for the study than taking a dose late?  And anyway, who would know? No, Gina.  No dose for you."

I wonder what would happen if I blogged about something that has nothing to do with cancer? Would my blog automatically crash?  Would my readers rebel?

I love my blog.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Back home after a week during which I only stopped to think about cancer when I had to take my meds, or occasionally to notice how little I was thinking about cancer.

It's strange to be so healthy and so not healthy at the same time.

Monday I'll be back at the hospital - the patient who loves everyone, bearing Spanish candies, laughing in spite of the cancer that has taken up residence in her lungs, liver, and bones.

Yuck. I have to say that in this moment I'm feeling no patience for that person, and certainly no desire to be her. I'd much rather be on the streets of Madrid, walking for miles and eating and drinking and seeing stuff that's way more interesting than cancer.

But, of course, I am both of these. Healthy and not healthy. Thinking about cancer and not thinking about it.  Whole and broken, as we all are.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On not thinking about cancer

Yesterday I had a full day of not thinking about cancer. The irony, of course, is that you can't appreciate the fact that you're not thinking about it while you're actually not thinking about it, because if you did, you'd be thinking about it.

So I just went along having my perfectly normal middle-aged-woman day, wandering the streets of Toledo, looking at churches that once were mosques that once were visigoth churches.

So perhaps I can stop standing guard like a cancer sentinal.  Not sure what that accomplishes anyway. As if my cancer cells notice that I'm not paying attention and start multiplying faster than they would otherwise. "Hey, Guys! She's not looking. Go! Go! Go!"

I would say that the principal reason that I avoid not thinking about cancer is to avoid the pain of being reminded.  All of that being said, I may eventually have to change the name of this blog to "Normal Middle-Aged Woman Has Thoughts."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Not me

My daughter was crying today. I was trying to comfort her, and it took her a while to say what was making her so sad.  I had an idea, of course.  I mean, what else could it be? Seeing me after so many months, wondering when I'm going to die, wondering how her life will be without me...

Um, nope. Wasn't that at all.  Felt like dancing.  So grateful for all of the other shit in the world that makes people cry.

Friday, April 17, 2015


"Ushpizin" is a great Israeli film about an ultra-orthodox Israeli couple who are really down on their luck.  At one point the wife says to her husband, "Why don't you go and pray?"  That's odd, I thought. I mean, this guy prays all the time.  He just came back from praying, in fact.  But what she means is, why don't you go and really pray.  Pray for what you want.

That got me thinking.  I don't believe in God-qua-person, but I definitely do believe in the creative force of the universe and that that force is supremely and ultimately good.  Plus, I do walk around with a very positive attitude - most of the time, that is - and I believe that my attitude has a direct impact on my wellness.

But this scene in the movie made me realize that I haven't really prayed for my own healing.  As in really pray.  Full on supplication.  PLEASE.  PLEASE.  Heal me.  Let me be healed.  Let there be a full and miraculous - or scientific - departure from my body of these cancer cells.  Even though I say that I'm perfectly happy to share the rest of my life with them, what I truly and fully want is for them to disappear.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Books and Trials

Somebody asked me yesterday about my prognosis.

Say what???

I've been thinking about little else since then, even though my answer was that I don't really think in those terms.  I mean, clearly if I did nothing in terms of treatment, my prognosis would not be great. But the question just doesn't seem to fit.  A perfect analogy escapes me, but maybe it's like someone asking you, "How many books are you going to read this summer?"  How could I possibly know?  I'll read one book, and either I'll get to the end or I'll decide that I don't need to get to the end, and based on my mood or how much I liked or didn't like that book, I'll choose another.  And so it goes.

This is my plan with trials.  I was on one trial.  I thought that it was going to be like Roots or The Thornbirds, books that I loved as an adolescent because they seemed to go on forever, and there was nothing that I liked less than starting a new book.  Instead, my first trial turned out to be more like Catcher in the Rye, a book that I read in a single afternoon on a rainy day in South Carolina.

I'm hoping that yesterday was page one of Ulysees, or even The Good Earth.  Something meaty, if you please.  But even if it's a one-day read, I'll be certain to be moving on to the next title as soon as I'm finished with this one.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Checking in on my homework to make everything a meditation, I'd say that so far this week I've been meditative about 2% of the time.  Which I'm pretty happy with, actually.  Twice I've ridden the stationary bike at the gym without any music.  Highly boring, but also interesting in its own way. Kind of like meditation in general.

Just to be clear - being meditative doesn't mean closing your eyes and zoning out.  Quite the opposite. It means bringing full awareness and attention to the present moment.

This doesn't always make for a pretty picture.  Sometimes when I'm driving, I become aware of my actions just as I'm doing something rather asshole-ish.  Like, "Ugh. I really don't want to be behind that car that's in the lane next to me for the rest of my drive.  If I speed up, I can get ahead of it before the road shifts from two lanes to one."  Wow.  Great for me.  Luckily, before I can berate myself too severely, the mind has already moved on the next distraction.

One thing that I've noticed in these little glimpses of clarity - although many of them last for only a number of seconds - is a type of compassion for whatever is present.  An attitude of allowing, or forgiving, whether I am noticing my own foibles, or some circumstance over which I have no control.

Nothing gets cured or solved, but there's a peace in the simple is-ness of it all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


My acupuncturist was in New York last week (note to self - save for first line of novel, short story, or stand-up comedy routine).  I saw her yesterday, and she told me that during the week she saw one of her beloved teachers who had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Sound of needle scratching across record.

That is NOT supposed to happen to you wise acupuncture folks!  I mean, how do you get cancer when your chi is flowing properly???

Then she told me that the cancer had metastasized to his bones and he was in a lot of pain.  She said that she treated him and he felt a lot better afterwards.  She added, "I don't know how my treatment could make him feel so much better, but he opened up."

Again, the needle.

Wait, you're surprised that your treatment helped him?  Are you sure that I'm the one with whom you should be sharing this information?

When I put my fear aside, however, there is a lot to be learned from this story.

1) All sorts of stuff happens.  When I first met Huang Yu, I told her that I really liked ginger.  She said, "Maybe you were Asian in an earlier life."  No smile, no joke.  Just a perfectly reasonable thought.  She told me about her teacher's cancer in the same way.  We're on the planet.  Great stuff happens, shitty stuff happens, but it's all just the path.

2) Huang Yu gave me homework this week - treat everything like a meditation.  She said, "The universe has what you need.  Just be open to it, and what you don't need will fall away."  People like her who are vessels probably do often look at the results of their work with a kind of wonder.  Yes, she found the right spots and put the needles in, but only to make room for what needed to be present.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chocolate and Vanilla

Chocolate versus vanilla is a false binary.  They are not opposites at all.  I imagine that they are quite fond of each other, in fact.  When we leave them alone in the freezer, for example, they laugh at us and at all of the battles that have been waged trying to determine which is a superior ice cream flavor. The opposite of either of them would have to be something devoid of all character and flavor - like mud or sand.  The lesson here is that binaries are dangerous.  They exist, but looking for them where they do not exist leads to unnecessary suffering.

Sometimes I feel hopeful.  Other times I do not.  Then I find myself searching for a label - do I feel hopeless? I don't think so.  Am I facing "reality"?  Not any more than the times when I feel hopeful. If I insist on labeling the absence of a particular feeling as the binary opposite of that feeling, I'll be in big trouble - when in fact, I'm not in trouble at all.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Battle versus the Dance

I often skim the obituaries.  Nearly everyone who dies from cancer is reported as dying after an "X-years-long battle with cancer."  Recently I said to my spouse, when I die, please don't say that I died after a battle with cancer.  She said, "OK, how about after a dance with cancer?"  Much better.

I just don't like the idea of battling with something that is a part of my body.  I am perfectly happy to share my body with some cancer cells, as long as they don't get in my way.  To me, that's a dance not a battle.

I'm afraid of cancer - the challenge that it poses to my other cells to hold their ground and maintain a balanced environment of healthy growth within my body.  But I'm not at war with it.  Yes, there are sanctions that come in the form of targeted therapies that are designed to keep cancer cells in their place.  But we're living together.

Maybe a good analogy is parts of my personality that I'm not particularly in love with - for example, my inability to lose an argument or a board game gracefully.  When it happens, I have two choices: I can berate myself, hate that part of myself that is so ridiculously fragile, or I can laugh at myself and resume my determination not to act like such an idiot the next time I lose.

So let the dance continue.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Passover's coming, and many prayers for "liberation" have been floating my way.  We Jews like to use the mythical liberation from slavery in Egypt as an opportunity to reflect on the ways that we may need to be liberated in our own lives - the bondage of materialism, of fear, of self-doubt or self-loathing, of over-reliance on things that numb us.  Sort of like a mid-year Rosh Hashanah.

I appreciate the wishes, of course, but I gotta say, cancer is pretty damn liberating.  When I was first diagnosed in 1999, I developed what I called "cancer eyes."  No fog of bullshit or delusion.  It's like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time - the world becomes crystal clear.

I'm not saying that I'm enlightened or anything, or that I don't fall into any of the traps of bondage that I listed above.  But there is a clarity that we cancer-dwelling folks get as a sort of prize for what we're going through.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Things about my life that would be true even if I didn't have cancer

I don't know how long I will be alive.

Some days I feel a tender appreciation for nature.

Some days I say, "Fuck Nature. I'm staying in bed."

The work of the world will not be completed by the time I die.

I'm going to do as much of that work as I can by the time I die.

I talk to strangers. (By the way, isn't "strangers" the worst word ever???)

I think a lot.

I love people.