Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taming the Beast

Earlier this summer. More of my videos here.

From yesterday's walk.
Back in May, when I started writing what I hope will someday be a book, the memoir of my Babies or Not journey, I thrilled at the mounting page count like an excited child tallying her age in quarter-year increments. But now, as the total creeps up toward four hundred pages on a first draft manuscript I thought would be finished a hundred pages ago, I'm facing demons bigger than the number of candles on my middle-aged birthday cake.

The bottom line is, I feel like I'm blathering on and on, and the story isn't over yet.

Believe it or not, I've never been good at telling my story from start to finish without worrying that my audience, real or imagined, isn't getting bored and fed up.

No wonder I have files full of half-finished books.

But I'm pushing forward with this one and I'll keep at it until I find the tail of this beast.

And then I'll tame it.

Or maybe I'll ride it, wild, into the sunset.

Or maybe I'll simply edit out all the silly metaphors.

In the meantime, I'm way behind on the videos, and even more behind posting them to the blog. There's another after this on the youtube channel. I'll post it here soon...er or later.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Beach Report

Medical drama and family fun in this one. More videos here.

Last Friday, on a whim, I packed up and took myself for a day at the Rhode Island shore. It was just what I needed, both a reminder that my beloved ocean isn't so terribly far from home, and an affirmation that there is pleasure in my own company (how nice to not have to hurry from the car to the beach, for instance, because taking my time gathering my things was holding someone up).

I'm a bit behind on posting videos, but cranking along with writing. My manuscript is now over three hundred pages. I feel the weight of all those words. It's harder to write lately, perhaps because I'm just coming to the crux of the story.

It is my hope that I'll be able to get to the end of this draft by the end of the first week of September. And then I'll return to the beach for a couple of days, this time with Jim. Because I like his company too.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Spoiler Alert

(From this spring. Uploaded the sequel to this one today. More of my videos here.)

I'm closing in on page three hundred of the first draft of what I hope one day will be the Babies or Not book. Once I'm finished—I figure I've got fifty or so more pages to write—I'll print the whole thing out and sit with it some place comfortable. In the warm sun I hope, maybe in a meadow or perhaps on a beach if I can finagle that, or else on the couch or sitting up in bed. In any case, I'll have a good red pen and some snacks and a notepad at my side.

I imagine I'll have some new writing to incorporate into the second draft, and a lot of older writing to strip away or wrangle into something more tightly honed. Eventually, I'll have a completed manuscript, the story of my journey through the reproductive years, which turned out very differently than I ever expected it would.

Early on in writing this, I began to imagine pitching the book to an agent or an editor, saying, "It's the story of an infertile abortion counselor's urgent but ambivalent desire to have children."

This imaginary conversation spawned a worry. What would I say if the editor or agent asks, "How does it end?" At first I drew a blank. So I asked myself, How does it end?

The answer came without a moment's hesitation. It's not exactly a fairy tale, but it's close enough for me:

"She gets cancer and lives happily ever after."

I hope the world wants this book, but if not, I'll be okay. I'll live my way into the next story.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taking it On

More of my videos here.

With all the digestive difficulties I had before I understood that by staying away from gluten and dairy products all would be fine—I have been dreading colonoscopies for a long time. Sorry to be so blunt here but there's little that feels quite so scary and vulnerable as turning over control of what comes out of and goes into that particular orifice.

Thanks to my history of breast cancer, I'm told I'm at increased risk for colon cancer. My oncologist told me to get a colonoscopy now. Don't wait, like most people, until I'm fifty. I put it off for an entire year. But now, forgive the pun, my first colonoscopy is behind me. I did it without anesthesia. And for me anyway, it was no big deal. One less thing to be afraid of in life. Actually, make that two. I don't have colon cancer.

I did this video a while back, but have been busy working on my book (I'm about 185 pages into the first draft now) so it took a while to put together its sequel. That one is uploading today. You will be able to see it here soon.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Full Disclosure

I'm in the process of loading my latest video to YouTube, number #150!
But I haven't yet shared with you #149!
So here it is!
More of my videos here.

I haven't spoken up about this yet, here or otherwise. I wanted you to be the first to know: I'm finally writing the book, the Babies or Not memoir which this blog was originally intended to foster, all about working as an abortion counselor while struggling with infertility and the story that brought me to that place in my life and then beyond that place. It's about how "Babies or not?" the question became "Babies or not..." the resolution to live a full, brave, brazen life, regardless of cancer and marital upheaval and how parenting fits (or doesn't fit) into the picture.

I write every day, have been for a month or two now. I'm about seventy pages in and going strong. (I'm aiming for around 250 pages for the finished manuscript), and it feels like the most important, right work I've done. I look forward to sharing more with you about this - but for now - back to work!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Trust and Dr Z

The latest vlog: Prosthetic Breast Show & Tell, Cancer Q & A. More of my videos here.

Every six months Dr. Z, the specialist who did my mastectomy, examines my remaining breast and the chest wall on the other side. It's not uncommon for breast cancer to grow back in the scar or just underneath it, but so far, thankfully, this has not happened to me.

Last week was my fifth follow-up with her to date, and I'm struck by how much less I worry. The rocky road of breast cancer has become much less rocky these days — knock wood.

It was Dr. Z who sat with Jim and I for two and a half hours explaining my diagnosis. She was a stranger to me then, a stranger who had the daunting task of impressing upon me that I required some major, life-altering and risky treatment, despite the fact that I felt just fine. Despite the fact that I didn't automatically believe she had all the answers.

I remember the tension in the room in that long first visit, and the suspicion I felt that the tension was not Jim's and mine alone, though she responded candidly, patiently, and respectfully to my ten thousand questions, reassuring me that she would give me all the time I needed.

It struck me then that this job can't be made any easier by the fact that she has to do it regularly. Perhaps there was an emotional burden for her. So I asked about this too, my ten-thousand-and-first question.

Too often, she admitted, a scared woman diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and a good prognosis will simply walk away. In these cases, Dr. Z can only hope that the patient will go on to find quality care elsewhere. But sometimes she'll return at a later date, having risked it all on some unproven alternative therapy, or having done nothing but curl up inside herself in fear. Now the cancer has grown, sometimes right through her skin. She's stage four. What could have been a bump in the road has become the end of the road. "It's heartbreaking."

Last week, after completing the exam, my doctor confessed that she had worried, in the beginning, that I might join the ranks of these women. "But you trusted me," she said, her voice breaking just a little, her eyes moist. "You were very brave. And I want you to know, it really means a lot to me."

I like this doctor a lot. Jim likes her. My brother David, who came along to one of my appointments in the early days, likes her so much he named his cat after her. Dr. Z thinks this is a cute thing my brother did, that it has everything to do with how much he loves me and not much to do with how impressed he'd been by her.

That's what she does, this doctor of mine. She deflects compliments. But on my blog, I get the last word and I intend to use it. Because if it wasn't for the trust she extended to me, in all her patience and openness and devotion, my rocky road of breast cancer could have been a whole lot rockier.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Inner Doubt Machine

After two years of procrastination, I finally get fitted for a prosthetic breast. More of my videos here.
I started this blog in hopes that someday I'd wrangle a book out of all my experiences around the question of pregnancy (at the time I was working as an abortion counselor, facing my own infertility.) 

Since before I could properly hold a pencil, I knew I wanted to grow up to become a writer and an an artist, that I wanted to make books. I've made swipes at it for years. I have several more-finished-than-not manuscripts and book proposals tucked away. And the few times I've put myself out there, I have had some encouraging small successes. 

This is not the first time I've bent myself to the task of being a writer, but this time, I can tell, it's different. I'm not sure I can put my finger on what has shifted. Maybe it's because of the cancer, which doesn't let me forget that life is a precious and fleeting thing. Maybe it's because I have reached critical mass to counteract the inner doubt machine - finally enough people in my life who consistently express interest in what I have to say. (How do you work through the hard parts of expressing yourself when you don't believe anyone will ever be interested in your vision?)

So if I'm not writing on the blog so much as I once did, and not making so many videos either, I hope you'll understand. I'm busy taking it to the next level.

And I plan to take you with me. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Latest Mistakes

More of my videos here.
Aside from the blunders depicted in this video, there is the delay posting this video to the blog. I've got another vid going up today, which I will probably delay posting also, but you can go directly to my Youtube Channel and see what's up in the meantime if you like.

I'm sure there are many more mistakes I could list but luckily none come to mind at the moment.

On a more serious note: Jim had hoped to run the Boston Marathon but a knee injury sidelined him this year. All our friends who were there (and there were many) are okay. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Snow Ball Effect

#144, My latest on Youtube:
Two Years of Procrastination
Ends NOW
Of the mountain of mundane "To Do" tasks I've been up to my neck in lately (physical therapy, taxes, laundry, client work, and even one item that's been floating at the bottom of the list for years – see the video link above for more on that) at this point I've cleared away enough to report to my husband that I'm Finally and Triumphantly... cleared out to the waist.

It's a good feeling. 

Once you get started on a rampage like the one I'm on these days, the more freed up you get, and in turn, the more inspired you get. To harp on the analogy, I imagine a pile of paper and envelopes, with me pinned in the center of it all. First I was up to my neck, handling thing with my teeth. And now I have two hands free! It's a snow-ball effect, in the very best sense of the term. 

I am focused and determined in a way I haven't been in a long long time, maybe ever. And along with that focus comes clarity, a clarity that allows me the occasional moment when I can feel confident that nothing will fall apart if I take a break. Not long enough for a full day's reprieve, but I'm closing in on that.

I actually picked up my guitar last night. And dug out my old music binder. 

You may not know this about me, but back in the day, I wrote maybe a hundred songs. I've got all the lyrics preserved on various scraps of paper, but some of the melodies are long forgotten. Some are semi-forgotten, some etched upon my synapses perhaps forever. Last night I dredged up a couple of the oldest ones. These may be the strangest, overly-wordy, most embarrassingly sentimental ditties of all time. But I played them anyway, with gusto, in celebration of the strange, overly-wordy, embarrassingly sentimental kid I used to be. 

And then I went to bed early.

Sometimes that's all it takes to enjoy life.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Big Decisions

#142, My latest on Youtube:
Poodle Knows Best
There's an energy in this week's work that reminds me of spring cleaning. Except the only thing I'm cleaning up is the clutter in my mind, on my To Do list, and on my desk. I've posted a new video diary, a new Salad Diary, and now a new post here. I just wrapped up a website update project for a client, a logo design for another. I'm doing my taxes. I'm paying my bills. I'm working through my inboxes, both paper and email.

My goal is to pull myself up out of the deluge of rote tasks to a point where I can press pause with confidence, knowing there is nothing crucial hanging out in the wind. And then I'm going to take a day for myself. I'll go for a swim. I'll go for a long walk in the woods. Millie will come along for that, romping through patches of wet snow, sniffing clumps of rotting leaves, tugging at my pant leg and nosing at my coat pocket for treats and tennis balls. Eventually she'll run off after a sound or a scent, and I will be free to breathe, to think, to notice that I am alive and not inextricably tied to a keyboard and a screen.

And then I'll take myself out to lunch, some place comfortable, some place with excellent herbal tea, where I'll sit for a long while with a journal and a pen.

And then I'm going to make some big decisions about what comes next.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Catching Up, Letting Go, Getting Clear

#142, My latest on Youtube:
The Grand Canyon, Lymphedema, and Marathon Men
Have you ever had a moment in your life when you see your path as if from above, recognizing the patterns repeating, the contours of the landscape you've traveled over and over in recursive circles? Off in the distance, you can make out the little one you once were and how alone in the world you felt way back then, how powerless. You can see the choices you made based on the assumption that you would be on your own, in a certain way, forever. But you feel in your bones how things are different now, how you can put down the recursive circling, the coping mechanisms, the masks, the chalkline limits you once accepted as absolutes. But now you have power. You can ask for help. You can rescue yourself. You can slow down.

For several years now I've had pain in my lower back and hips that I have been trying, alternately, to manage and to ignore. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid hassel and disappointment, I've been reluctant to seek help. But recently I have been taking it on. This recent x-ray of me, presumably standing perfectly straight, shows how misaligned my hips are, which at least partially explains why I'm in pain.
You can slow down.

This is happening to me lately, and it is intense, emotional, and deeply good.

If you haven't had a moment like this, know that it is possible. You must dig in and you must move toward it with purpose. But it is a gentle purposefulness.

Like an anthropologist, you excavate. Like an investigator, one by one, you connect the dots.  Like climbing a mountain, you put one foot in front of the other until the vista opens up before you.

You do it in therapy, you do it in conversation, you do it on your bicycle, on the yoga mat, in your journal, on the canvas. You do it by sitting still. You do it by refusing to rush. You do it by resisting abandoning yourself when you are uncomfortable, even if for only a single minute longer than you thought you could before. You do it by breathing. You do it by taking radically good care of yourself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Escape to NYC


More of my videos here.

Monday, February 11, 2013


The bright side. More of my videos here.

I haven't been much of a blogger lately. I haven't been writing. I haven't been posting news of my latest videos, at least not promptly. And lately, I'm not even making as many videos.

So what's going on?

Simply put, my energy is shifting.

I plan to fill you in, but in the meantime, I plan to catch you up. We'll start with this video - hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Holiday Cheese Eating

Forgive me. I'm a little behind in letting you know this video is live.
I plead the flu. More of my videos here.

Friday, January 11, 2013


I received an email yesterday inviting me to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live with Suzanne Somers regarding her new book, Bombshell. I was eager to accept, but unfortunately, didn't receive the email in time and missed my chance.

In case you don't know about her, Somers' books live on the controversial fringe of medicine. She touts a mixture of medical truths and dangerous myths, suggesting that if we just eat right, take the right supplements, and use the right cleaning products in our homes, cancer, and indeed aging itself, can be overcome or better yet, completely avoided. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, friends confessed to me that they were scared not only because they cared for and worried about me, but also because they regarded me as a model of healthy living. Nobody wants to think that you could do everything "right" and still get cancer. It is by far more preferable, indeed downright seductive, to believe that we have some control when it comes to avoiding the spectre of disease. 

Rationally, it does make sense to treat our bodies well. It puts us in the best possible position to bounce back if disaster strikes. But the flip side of the reassurance of the illusion of control is the cruelty of blame. The truth is, disaster can strike anyone, at any time. Even if you're very very good. And sometimes bouncing back is not possible.  Even if you fight very hard.

I'm suspicious of pills. I cure my headaches with a good cry, or a big glass of water and a nap. And if that fails, I suffer and complain and annoy everyone around me unti the pain subsides. As I'm sure you can imagine, chemotherapy terrified me. I regarded cancer drugs as crude poisons, a carpet bombing approach with my body as a battlefield. I wanted to nurture my body's natural immunities. I wanted a friendlier, more nuanced approach, and I plowed into research. I was excited by what I read about the power of every day foods and spices. Green tea. Curcumin. Black pepper. Mustard greens. I found Somers' message to be very hopeful and attractive. But the deeper I dug the more disappointed I became.

There may be something in green tea and black pepper and curcumin that can cure cancer, but the research simply isn't there. Nor is it there for many of the "designer supplements" Suzanne Somers espouses, let alone the miracle cures you'll happen upon on Googling alternative therapies. I read one about melting tumors in a single day by alternating seven-minute hot and cold showers directed on the tumor site) and crazy diets (one that sticks in my memory involved a lot of cottage cheese). It isn't to say that all that is "alternative" is bad, or that the science is always absent. It's just that rigorous study is expensive, and drug companies don't put money into something that can't one day turn a profit. You can't patent "eat more vegetables." And besides all that, you can't ethically withhold a drug that has proven results in favor of experimentally trying something that does not.

Here's where it gets dangerous. Somers had breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and radiation but refused chemotherapy, and she claims that chemotherapy "rarely works." Perhaps that is true for her particular cancer. For many women with cancer confined to the breast, chemotherapy isn't even recommended in the first place, the benefit is marginal at best. I don't know the details of her diagnosis but I do know that mine was more advanced. It was in my lymph nodes. It was all over my right breast. It was the most aggressive of its type. Chemotherapy was emphatically recommended. But even so, if a hundred women with my same profile and exact diagnosis refused chemo, a few would have survived without recurrence. Why? I'm sure every one of them would have an answer. Prayer. Meditation. Broccoli. Luck. And every one of them would be convinced of their cure. But it would be dangerous to evangelize to others about their approach. Without peer-reviewed, double-blind, rigorous study, it's downright irresponsible.

Pushing for research, and a health care system not driven by profit, however, is another story entirely. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Falling Behind

Been sick the last couple weeks (nothing serious, just that darn chest cold thing that's going around). Holiday updates are on the way, but in the meantime, there's this... More of my videos here.