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


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


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


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


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


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.