Friday, August 26, 2011


This one's fun. Hope you enjoy.
More of my videos here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tamoxifen Noob

Two weeks down, four years, fifty weeks to go.

So far: Mild headaches when I run. Hot flashes, also relatively mild. Moody. But maybe that's me.

More of my videos here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On the Other Side

Swimming at Bigelow Hollow. That's me on the right, C on the left, K behind us taking the picture. Thanks dear friends for one of the best memories of my summer.

There's something about emerging from cancer treatment into the life I was struggling with (at times) ten months ago. I don't feel much different. A little stiff and itchy in the area where there once was a breast. A little surprised by the short gray curls in the mirror where my hair was once long and brown. Other than that, it's the same old pile of unfinished projects which are both my albatross and refuge, the same deep-down angst. I want more collaborative work, more engagement with the world and its joys and sorrows. And I want less clutter. And less time in front of this damned computer screen.

It comes down to this: I'm not confident, as I once was, that there is a long road ahead of me. Therefore, the things that weren't working in my life before, the dissatisfaction I couldn't untangle without stepping outside my comfort zone or waiting years for circumstances to change (a boy off to college, a man free to reconfigure work and home) are feeling, not urgent exactly, but ripe.

I am ripe for change.

Yesterday I asked Jim to look over his work schedule, see if he can take a couple of days in September so that we can get away for a long weekend. We need a few long walks, leisurely talks, space to dream and think and maybe even plan. We need time to celebrate that we're on the other side of something hard and the landscape, though familiar, is fundamentally changed.

The story of my life is not over yet. I'm ready to write the next chapter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dalai Lama Drama

Not his drama, exactly, but ours. Check out this quote, snatched from a friend's Facebook status:

Someone asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him the most. This was his response.

"Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never fully lived."
While I'm waxing wise, here's the latest vlog. Maybe a little wisdom in here too...

More of my videos here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rosie the Attack Cat

Last radiation treatment! More of my videos here.

Aftermath: Mastectomy, Radiation, Poodle

Still catching up on video backlog. More here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Video...

Now that radiation is over, I have time to catch up on videos...

More of my videos here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Am

If you're wondering what happens when you get radiation for breast cancer, here's the inside story.

I am:
  • Two days into Tamoxifen with naught but a few hot flashes to show for it. 
  • Officially invited to be a Youtube partner (which means advertising will be placed with my videos and I might make a few pennies for my efforts).
  • Done with radiation! Yahoo!
  • Still sore and occasionally tired. But not terribly so.
  • Enamored with my seven-year-old niece's amazing alter ego character. You'll be meeting Macho in video soon.
  • Beginning a new painting today.
  • Playing tennis with my brother tomorrow, if it ever stops raining.
  • Taking a friend who just found out she has breast cancer to the doctor on Wednesday.
  • Behind on my blogging. (Sorry!)
  • Still trying to catch up on a backlog of videos. These are the latest.

I'm proud of this one, a real, full-spectrum make-you-laugh make-you-cry experience here. More of my videos here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Good Side of Disaster

I while back I wrote an essay for the NPR series "This I Believe." My essay was recorded by WRNI in Rhode Island and broadcast several times there. (It used to be available online, but I can't find it now). Anyway, the producer emailed in 2009 to tell me that mine was one of the most popular and would I please submit another. 

It took me two years, but today I felt inspired and wrote my second essay. Who knows if it will every see airwaves, but you, dear readers, get a sneak peek. Hope you like.

There are moments in life when, out of the blue, all the clues line up. The pretty veils of illusion part, and suddenly you can see all the way to the very bottom of the deep dark truth. Your stomach drops to your knees. Your heart leaps into your throat. And there it is. You know it. You’re about to lose your job. Your best friend has been lying to you. Someone you love is dead, which means — not as obviously as you might think — they’re never coming back. Your husband is having an affair. You don’t have to wait for the doctor to tell you. You already know. It’s cancer.

I have had many such moments. All of the above, in fact, and more. Sometimes I fell apart. Sometimes I talked myself out of it, trying valiantly to think positive, to not jump to conclusions, to trust.

Ultimately, there’s no way around the truth. And avoiding it is exhausting, if not life-threatening.

So I believe in falling apart.

I believe in the fabulous life-expanding power of falling all the way to the bottom of the well. I believe in tears and the teeth-chattering knee-knocking nervous sweat of facing your worst fears made manifest. If I can manage it, I play the sympathy card, gather all the support around me that I can, and just plain face it.

As awful as it feels in the moment, I love it when the map I’ve plotted for my life gets ripped out from under me. It’s like waking up from a dream, a dream where I’ve limited my life’s possibilities to those that don’t scare me.

If I can face an unimaginable surprise divorce and find pleasure in being alone, even for five minutes, then I can also experience the wild joy of a new relationship, a much better relationship than I ever thought possible. If I can face a cancer diagnosis and the — cancer or not —inevitability of death, then I can risk a slew of personal and professional rejections, and maybe a few heretofore unimagined successes.

I think of circus fleas, confined to a test-tube laid on its side. After banging into the low, invisible ceiling of the tube, these natural high-jumpers give up jumping altogether. Even when freed they don’t dare jump. They’ve been conditioned to accept a limited life.

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are not taking place in a test tube. Disaster can come along at any moment and smack you right in the face. If it does, please accept my sincere condolences. And my advice:

Let yourself feel it. You are not safe, nor are you limited.

Radiation Reality

In this video: Getting through radiation; Tamoxifen looms large on the horizon. More of my videos here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Triathlon #2

More of my videos here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

3-2-1 Blast Off

One more to go!

Tomorrow is my last radiation treatment.

It's disconcerting.

It feels as if the last ten months have taken place on a battlefield. I won't escape for another month or so — my body must acclimate to Tamoxifen and recover from radiation — but I'm beginning to stumble away from the scene of so much suffering and hardship. Though my knees aren't shaking as I imagine they would in that scenario, emotionally there is an equivalent response. I feel vulnerable. I feel relief. I feel exhausted. A long, terrible nightmare is almost over and yet it will never truly end. I will not escape the possibility that I might have to revisit this war zone, that next time I might not escape with my life.

Lately I want treats, treats, and more treats. Almond molasses cookies seemed a good place to start.

Everything I struggled with before, the mundane and every-day challenges of my life pre-cancer, wait in the wings. Angst with work, questions about my contribution in the world, the quality and depth of my relationships, my concerns for the environment, for the oppressed and victimized among us, my desire to make a difference, my perpetual sense of overwhelm that I am not enough, not doing enough, not quickly enough, not thoughtfully enough, not worthy of all the blessings in my life - all that typical stuff we all, let's face it, carry around with us every day. Yours might not sound like mine. The wording and the messages are individualized, but I'd wager we all get to that same place on a regular basis - feeling bad about ourselves.

I'd like to refuse to go there anymore. I'd like to think cancer wiped the slate clean. That I can rewrite my life story from here on out, fearlessly. Unerringly.

View near my house.

But I don't think it's going to work out like that. It'll be be life as usual, with all its unglamorous ups and downs. Occasionally, there will be roll-on-the-floor laughter, heart-swelling tear-jerking milestones of growth and love, and precious moments of transcendental beauty and peace. In between, I'll feel too fat, too slow, too selfish. I'll get bored, frustrated, angry, and sad.

It will be this way for as long as it lasts. Which I hope will be a very long time.

Yesterday's garden harvest.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Updates Galore

1. Word came back, finally, from my medical oncologist: She's okay with me waiting until I'm done with radiation before I start the dreaded Tamoxifen.

2. I don't dread it quite so much as I did a few days ago. And I'm hugely relieved to know I'm not drastically and foolishly risking my life by insisting on waiting a few more days before beginning the five-year ritual of daily pills.

3. My radiation oncologist told me today that it takes a week or so to feel the effects of a radiation treatment. His point? Though I'll be finished in just two more days, I shouldn't expect to feel better right away. In fact, it might still continue to get worse for a little while.

4. Did I mention that just two more radiation treatments remain? Just two more radiation treatments remain! I'll be done on Wednesday.

5. I'm tired.

6. On Thursday I plan to attempt one more triathlon.

7. I've been working on catching up with my backlog of videos. Here are the latest:

More of my videos here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Triathlon Triumph and Tamoxifen Dread

Still dreading it, still nauseous at the thought, still waiting to hear back from the doctor about my desire to wait on the Tamoxifen until I finish radiation.

In this video: A trip to radiation, Millie goes to the vet, and I decide to attempt a triathlon that very day.

My understanding is that most doctors wait, that there is no evidence that it's better to overlap treatments. A long time ago I asked my doctor why she didn't want to wait in my case, expecting some evidence-based response, something about how studies suggest it's better, or at least a scientific explanation of the mechanism of the two approaches, how, theoretically at least, I would benefit from the aggressive approach. Instead I got the usual bug-eyed emphatic frustrated-sounding answer about my age, how big and aggressive my tumor was, about my lymph node involvement. The answer didn't satisfy but it succeeded in shaming me into silence. I wrestled with the question privately, ultimately deciding to go ahead and start the pills without any further protest or push back or struggle for answers.

I tried not to think about it.

Not a good approach.

How did the triathlon go? Watch this video to find out! More of my videos here.

And then I read about the side effects, all the women who quit the drug despite its efficacy because they just can't bear to live with the side effects another day. Statistics show that Tamoxifen is more effective at preventing breast cancer recurrence than chemotherapy. But whether they suffered headaches, sleeplessness, muscle and joint aches, blurred vision, mood swings, bloating, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, constant tiredness, or uterine pressure akin to menstrual cramps, many women just can't bear that daily pill. I read about people counting down the days that make up the five years, and so many testimonials from non-complainers who have put in their time, summing up their experience in exactly the same way: It was a long five years.

I have five more radiation treatments ahead of me. Just five. My doctor returns from her vacation tomorrow. Unless she gives me real, concrete reasons based on science rather than fear, the day after I finish radiation, I plan to do one more triathlon. I will start the clock on my five years of pills after that.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Radiation Begins

In real time, I've got eight more treatments to go but I'm still catching up on a backlog of video. I was supposed to start Tamoxifen today but couldn't bring myself to do it. Just thinking about it makes me queasy. I called my doctor this morning and left a message saying that unless she makes a compelling case that I shouldn't, I'm going to wait until I finish radiation next Wednesday. And, if I'm up for it, complete one more triathlon on Thursday. And recover for three days after that.

I just got a call back - my doctor is on vacation for two more days and my regular oncology nurse is out of the office. The pill bottle is beside me at my desk, glaring at me.

Oops, time to go to radiation! Bye for now.

More of my videos here.