Saturday, December 26, 2015


I am trying to make peace with night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Still a teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


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

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


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

"The one by Rob Reiner? Yeah."

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thank you

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

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

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

Love to you all,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good news...

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

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

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

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