Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Improvise Miso Soup

Didn't intend to make a cooking video, but it happened. More of my videos here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Cape Cod, gearing up for a half marathon (fail), and dogs, dogs, dogs. And yes, I do say those exact words in this video title and it is entirely appropriate. More of my videos here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Obstacle Course

Easy soup: chick peas and pinto beans, mushrooms, onions, celery, carrot, and broccoli. Plus miso, cracked pepper, and dulse flakes at the table.

I add the broccoli separately, each time I reheat the soup, so that it stays green and fresh.

Chop, chop, chop...

Yesterday, after a long two weeks of overwork in which I somehow managed to stock my refrigerator with vegetables but couldn't be bothered to prepare anything but cereal and nuts and dried fruit and power bars, I hit the wall. There comes a point when feeling less than healthy is just not good enough. I needed to eat better and I needed to make it easy to do so.

In spite of looming deadlines and a stack of dirty dishes in the sink, I wiped down my kitchen counters and went to work. Every vegetable got its turn on the cutting board, some added to a salad, a slaw, a soup, some simply stored for future steaming or stir frying. While I chopped, I listened to Amy Purdy at TedxOrangeCoast tell her amazing survival story, reminding me eloquently that obstacles on our paths can do two things: stop us in our tracks, or force us to get creative.

Sometimes, I might add, the creativity need not involve reinventing the wheel.

Cabbage is my go to green when it comes to food prep in advance. Try it sometime: shred some cabbage and some carrots together. Dress with lemon juice or vinegar, salt, a little agave and olive oil perhaps, some raisins, and whole caraway, cumin, or dill seeds if you're feeling fancy. The wonder of this healthy slaw is that it gets tastier over time, hitting its peak about four days after preparation. The salt draws the moisture out of the vegetables, enriching the dressing and leaving the normally firm veggies limp, chewy, and succulent. The raisins get plump and soft, and the seeds add a unique and addictive flavor accent.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Life After Cancer

After breast cancer? Vacation! More of my videos here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sleeping Again

That's Teeccino in my mug, I love that stuff (caffeine-free herbal coffee). And yes, I actually do use this typewriter.

I am sleeping again, occasionally waking up feeling – can you believe it – rested. Which means some wound up thing inside of me has unwound. I am not constantly thinking of outrunning cancer, of the potential shortness of my life, of how I want to cram each day full of fun and closeness and accomplishment.

That said, I must admit, deep down, I fully expect the cancer will come back. It's an expectation that defies logic. I happen upon another woman's story – diagnosed at 40, mastectomy, nine years later, diagnosed again, another mastectomy – and though I know this scenario is not the norm, I am immediately thinking: this will be my story. I'm all but marking my calendar for nine years out.

I'm swimming (three days a week) and running (three days a week) and biking (once or twice a week - on the spin bike or outside on the weekend when weather permits.) And I'm working, setting ambitious deadlines for myself, exploring lots of new work. (You can see some of what I've been up to here.) And of course I'm walking my dear dog every day as well.

So I guess the point is, I'm sleeping. But not enough yet to make up for how much I wasn't sleeping before.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

You are a Gift

My thank you card. More of my cards, and how to purchase them, here.

This Thanksgiving, Jim and I cooked together, improvising a simple, traditional meal of organic turkey baked in a bed of onion and sweet potato, cornbread and mushroom stuffing with sage and leeks from the garden, apple-cider gravy, string beans, salad, and cranberry-orange relish. And for dessert, apple pie, homemade vanilla ice cream, and toasted walnuts. We used no recipes, had no guests, and, sorry folks, took no pictures. It was a no-stress holiday meal followed by a long sprawl on the couch watching movies.

But perhaps the best part of the holiday was reflecting on all the incredible people who got us through this very challenging year. So many reached out to us with everything from words of encouragement, cards, and gifts, to help around the house, casseroles, and yard work. I made a painting specifically to express my gratitude and designed a greeting card from it so we could get our appreciations out in style.

Over the weekend, Jim and I staged a marathon card-writing session. We wrote a lot of thank yous, but I would not feel complete if I didn't send a thank you to all of you who read my blog and watch my videos. It helps that so many are interested in my story. Thank you for your attention, for your caring, and for reaching out to me through the inter-webs. It means more to me than you know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Every Three Months

Speaking of routine: my husband's Sunday morning pancake extravaganza. This week: buckwheat-cornmeal cakes with almond butter, plain yogurt, bananas, and strawberries. Oh yeah, and maple syrup. This is the plate he made up for himself. He kindly paused mid-meal for the photo shoot. Speaking of pancakes, check this out.

Today's the day. My second of who knows how many years worth of every-three-month check-ins with my oncologist for a thorough once-over and a blood test. Three months goes by fast. I get the feeling I'm going to be hating this ritual before long.

My back has been sore lately. I'm trying to shake that irrational fear that it means cancer in my bones. I say irrational because all the evidence stacks up against that being the case. If it was cancer, I don't think it would have started to hurt so suddenly after running a half-marathon, my second in two weeks. Or rather, after running and then sitting in an extreme slouch, feet on the dash, in the car for half an hour. If it was cancer, I don't think it would have improved gradually over the past few weeks. I don't think I would leave the chiropractor feeling better each time.

But panic is what panic is - oblivious to rational persuasion. Once you've been scared for your life out of the blue, it's easy to revisit that feeling.

Yesterday I admitted to a friend that I'm scared and she talked about Buddhism. About being in the present. Good advice. However, I did not receive it well. Deep down, for me, it is embarrassing to admit that I have this fear. Advice, no matter how well-meaning, makes me wish I hadn't mentioned it. It makes me feel alone. Advice is tricky like that. And I can be a prickly bastard. Ah, well, we're all human. Right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On the Radio

I am opposed to clutter, and also attracted to it. That's why, when I picked up this wire basket at a thrift store I chastised myself. Just like when I kept refusing to throw out a random package of old flash bulbs. Every time I pick up a stone and bring it home, I ask myself why.

The light in my studio, on this particular afternoon, is my answer.

Sometimes you just have to go with it.

Me, that is. On the radio today. On Rhode Island's NPR station. You can hear me if you want, reading a short essay (just 400 words) on why I believe in falling apart.

Like that? I wrote it at the request of the show's producer, because he got a big response from my last "This I Believe" essay (written in 2006 though produced years later). You can hear that one too if you like!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life is Good

I've been neglecting this blog, I'll admit it, but working hard on so many fronts. I'm behind on video editing too, but here's the latest, including an eleven-mile run, Millie meeting a sheep, and good old-fashioned family time. More of my videos here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Blast From the Past

The latest vlog, and below that, a bonus - this was me pre-blog, pre-miscarriage, pre-marriage, and of course, pre-cancer. Even though I was 34, I look at this now and think, wow was I young.

A bike ride, a co-op order, a cute poodle, a

From art school, 2004. More of my videos here.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Quick and easy: steamed kale, cannelini and black beans, dulse flakes, toasted walnut oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Soup for breakfast: buckwheat soba (gluten-free!), red onion, carrot, spinach, pinto beans, ginger, dandelion-leek miso.

Now that cancer treatment is behind me, I feel like I'm famished - not for food (though I couldn't title a blog post this way and not show you some good food), but for life. There is so much I want to do, so much on my mind that eating and sleeping feel like chores, though I do both daily, in a sort of fever. By no schedule except the insistence of my stomach, I prepare the simplest, healthy foods I can throw together, clean my plate, then back at it. I put myself to bed only when my eyes are heavy with the need for oblivion, and I'm awake early, mind racing in the dark.

I am pigging out on LIFE, working, running with the dog, swimming with my mermaid buddies, dreaming and scheming and feeling excitement for each day like possibly never before, thanks to new found courage, focus, and clarity. To what do I credit this surge of zestfulness? Fear of death, of course!

I am scared that one of these days my scans (ultrasound in six months, and then another, plus mammogram, six months later) or blood tests (four weeks from now and every three months after) will derail me. My only defense is to LIVE like this moment MATTERS. Because it does.


Celebrating the end of cancer treatment. More of my videos here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Suspense is Killing Me

More of my videos here.

Here's the email I sent out to supporters yesterday:

Hello everyone,

In ten minutes I need to be out the door to go for my first mammogram and ultrasound followed by a visit with my breast specialist/surgeon since I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. The appointment was scheduled a long time ago for next week, postponed until November because of scheduling conflicts by the doctor, then moved up to today as I’ve been noticing some thickening/swelling near my surgical scar. It might be scar tissue, it might be recurrence, and of course I’m scared out of my mind. Hopefully this is just the first out of what is sure to be many scares. Hopefully it is the first out of many that turns out to be nothing.

I’m writing to you all so that I can imagine you all crowded into the room with me as Jim and I get whatever news there is to get. It helps to think of you there.

Also, for those that don’t know, I ran the Hartford half marathon for my first time last year, just days before my diagnosis. I ran it again this past weekend after a year of cancer treatment which you all helped me get through. Somehow I managed to run it the second time almost twelve minutes faster than the first.

Whatever happens next, hopefully I’ll be back at it next year, improving my time yet again.

Whoever talks to me first tonight will post the update from today’s appointment, probably my Mom. More updates on the blog...

Thanks to everyone who saw me through this crazy horrible year. To all who said it was probably nothing, just the normal changes post-radiation, you were right! And my remaining breast checks out fine too. Hallelujah! Now, back to living...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Can Wild Mushrooms Cure Cancer?

I hope so!
More of my videos here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Very Nervous

Somehow I skipped sharing this one: Millie's Birthday, among other things. More of my videos here.

I'm worried. Not so much for the half-marathon this weekend. Whatever happens with that, I know I'll be fine.

Mostly I'm nervous because just like last year, I will be getting checked for breast cancer a few days later. In this case, I'm much less certain that I will be fine.

In the last week I've noticed a thickening under the skin near my mastectomy scar. Not a lump exactly, and hopefully nothing of real concern. I showed it to Jim and he concurs. "Definitely puffier," he said, but he's also hopeful that it's nothing serious.

I called my doctor just in case and she moved my one-year-later follow-up appointment forward by two weeks.

I go in on Tuesday, October 18th.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Go For It

Today I'm changing my blog's profile picture to reflect my new attitude.

The most valuable lesson cancer taught me is that life is short and it is now. If you want to live with excitement and zest you just can't aim for comfortable, you have to aim well outside the limits you've always set for yourself in the past. For me that means being my authentic self, flaws and all, vibrantly and ridiculously and without apology. It means making mistakes and celebrating the glory of well-intentioned failure. It means going after people I admire and inviting them into my life. And going after the people who are already in my life and inviting them closer. It means giving all my gifts, planting all my seeds.

I want to live large during the day, sleep deep at night.

And vice versa, on occasion.

I want to wake up brimming with feeling for the day to come.

I want collaborations galore.

What do you want?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


The evidence of the transition from feeling good to not so good is a little bit evident in this one.
Plus lots of Millie cuteness. More of my videos here.

Last year I celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Month by running my first half-marathon, all the while thinking about the lump in my breast and bracing myself for a biopsy scheduled for the following week.

For the next ten months I continued to brace myself as I moved through each new phase of treatment. Somewhere along the line I started wondering if I might feel well enough in time to run the Hartford Half again this year, scheduled for October 15th. I resisted thinking about it for a long time, didn't want to make a commitment, didn't want to push myself too hard or feel disappointed if I fell short of a goal.

As time passed and I began to feel better, running the half this year has begun to look like a golden redemption, a chance to prove to myself that I am fine, that cancer is behind me, that there will be no lasting side effects from the chemical and surgical assault of the past year.

That race is now less than two weeks away and I am registered. Two weekends ago I ran eleven miles. I've been feeling great. But a strange thing has begun to happen.

I don't feel quite so great as I once thought. My feet hurt. My calves are knotted. I've had some neuropathy in my fingers again. I've woken some mornings lately feeling hungover and hobbled. In fact, the other day I found myself feeling so miserable five miles into a planned twelve-miler that I stopped in my tracks and burst into tears. And since that day, every time I exert myself, in the pool or on the road, the same groundswell of emotion rises in me.

I'm realizing that I can't push my way through everything that feels hard. I can't outrun the toll cancer has taken on my life. Sometimes I'm simply going to have to slow down, to feel things, to nurture and nourish myself, and to breathe.

I'm still planning on turning up at the starting line on October 15th. I am no longer going to look for a finishing time to beat last year's. I'm done with trying to prove the impossible. I'll run when it feels good, I'll walk if I want to. And life, hallelujah from the bottom of my heart, will go on.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Goodnight Irene

More of my videos here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mucho Mocho

More of my videos here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mastectomy and Beyond

Some wisdom in here (I hope) about apologizing, chocolate in the evening, and harboring refugees. More of my videos here.

I spent some time on the phone recently talking to a friend of a friend about her upcoming mastectomy. She was struggling with whether or not to have reconstruction. I was struggling to be a supportive listener rather than an evangelist for my one-boob life. But the truth is, if you're faced with this horrendous choice, I highly recommend skipping the reconstruction.

Yes, I am often hyper-vigilant to the reactions of strangers, and yes, sometimes it gets to be too much and I have to cry it out before I can resume my carefree unselfconscious day. And, to be fair, my life does not include board meetings or students or clients I meet with face-to-face, not right now anyway. And I have a supportive husband who thinks a missing breast does not impede my sexiness.

But I am so glad there is no foreign thing under my skin. I am pleased that I haven't gotten around to purchasing a prosthetic or any special bras to hold one. I am surprised and also pleased that there are moments where I find myself, like a tear-streaked child with a big bandage on a wounded knee, feeling proud of my scar. I'm proud of my ability to keep living and loving as fiercely as ever, that I can be an example that cancer and mastectomy and other life disasters don't take away the ability to find humor and pleasure in life. And I am relieved to look back over this paragraph recalling that, at the outset, I did not know it would be this way.

Yesterday while out walking Millie, I ran into a man I know who went through a grueling chemotherapy for throat cancer three years ago, only to begin competing in the arguably equally grueling sport of cyclocross during his subsequent radiation. During my own chemo, I wanted to speak to him, to be reassured that I would one day feel alive again, but I was too tired and too shy to make it happen. Yesterday he told me he had heard I wanted to talk with him and had dropped by my house one day during that period, but apparently no one was home. I was touched to hear this, to be reminded that we don't always know all the good moves people are making in our direction.

"I see they took your breast," he said to me yesterday, or something close to that. It's rare for someone to initiate a frank and direct conversation with me about my mastectomy outside of a doctor's office or a counseling session, especially someone of the male persuasion, so this caught me off guard, though in a good, bracing way, like a gust of November wind after hours in front of the fire. I shrugged and smiled and so did he. "Whaddaya gonna do?" I said, and we both laughed. When we said goodbye he hugged me, hard, without hesitation. And I walked away smiling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vlogging at NPR

To my surprise and delight, my new "This I Believe" essay was picked up by WRNI in Rhode Island. I had to trim 50 words, which was a challenge, but in a good way. They will broadcast it in November and I'll give you the link to listen online as soon as I have it.
More of my videos here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


More of my videos here.

One Big Giant Pumpkin

I came across a Chinese Proverb the other day that got me thinking.

"One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other."

I have too many pumpkins right now.

I'm thinking it's time to bring both my blogs (there's an art vlog too, if you didn't know), my vlog (the youtube videos that have taken over this blog lately), and the rest of my professional life (including my woefully out-of-date portfolio website) under the same roof. Like one big giant pumpkin.

What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tamoxification and Crazy Hair

Second to the latest vlog.
The latest vlog. More of my videos here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Opportunity in Disguise

Before the storm I made a batch of hummus and a big coleslaw, lightly dressed with cider vinegar, agave, salt, and pepper. The salt draws the moisture out of the vegetables which soften and take on the flavor of the dressing, more so the second day, even more the third. And because cabbage and carrots keep so well, it seemed far more appropriate to fall back on this hearty salad than some wilting soggy lettuce or spinach thing if we didn't have refrigeration to keep things crisp.
Sorry I've been incognito lately. I could blame it on Irene, the hurricane/tropical storm that had us scurrying around filling bathtubs and digging out candles. Irene ripped leaves and limbs and in many cases, entire trees from the ground, draping them over power lines all over our neighborhood. Many around us were without electricity for over a week and my stepson's first day of school was delayed for almost as long. But at our house we only lost power for three hours sunny Monday afternoon. And I was out of the house at the time, walking the dog and running errands.

I could blame it on distraction. The storm brought my father and his girlfriend to our door from New York, refugees from lower Manhattan's mandatory evacuation. We had a pleasant overnight visit. And my neighbor, S~ came by a few days later with the contents of her refrigerator and chest freezer - including a hundred pounds of frozen berries and sliced peaches she had harvested and cleaned and bagged herself over the course of the summer, which I helped her load into our old fridge in the basement.

I could blame it on my computer crash - which happened during the last-minute flurry of filling water bottles and tackling Laundry Mountain last Saturday - no time to troubleshoot. But actually I was glad. I was prepared for the possibility of being without my computer for a few days if we lost power. Now it was guaranteed.

The truth is, I needed a break - a break from my desk, a break from my ten million computer-driven projects and addictions - and when the opportunity for one came along, I grabbed it.

Now that the storm has passed, my computer is restored, my laundry is folded and put away, and my friend's produce and mayonnaise are back in her own care, I'm feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to proceed.

Okay, life, bring it on!

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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Run Bike Swim Eat

Cancer Diary #64, between chemo and radiation. More of my videos here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hair and Other Post Traumatic Traumas

This morning.

The time of baldness is a blur now, a long, sustained surreal blur in which I became ultra-focused on hats, scarves, and bandanas, and lost the habit of reaching for shampoo in the shower. I still forget to wash my new hair on a regular basis.

I suppose I'm in denial about this new hair.

When it first started coming in, so white, I was amused. It felt like I was wearing the remnant of a daring Halloween costume, hard core biker punk-rock roller derby chick, or Susan Powter in the height of her "Stop the Insanity!" kick. I liked it. (psst - don't know that reference? Feast your eyes here.) But then, as more and more hair came in, darker but still absolutely gray, I saw a pixie-faced prematurely old woman in the mirror. It felt like someone had stolen years of my life, not to mention my eyebrows.

People, especially gray-haired women, though not prematurely so, could not stop laughing with delight over how much they liked my new hair. Of course I appreciated their compliments, but I had a harder and harder time listening to them, thanking them, answering their questions about whether I would keep it short like this or grow it back (they hoped I'd keep it short). I wasn't exactly sure why these conversations were so hard on me until it all came out during a counseling session in a spew of angry tears. Having spent the winter sick and miserable and scared and fighting for my life, I felt like I was betraying my own self, dishonoring the truth of my full experience by passing the spring and now summer in such superficial conversation.

To be fair, it could be that every one of those women who commented on my cancer-makeover first inquired as to how I was doing. Many times I recall saying, "Right now? I'm doing okay," which I assume sounded to them like "I don't want to talk about the past." The almost inevitable response came back, "Well you look great." to which I, of course, said, "Thank you." And then, if we both stood there another second, they reiterated, or rephrased ("You really do look great" or "I really do like your hair like that. Are you going to keep it that way?") and we were off to the races.

All this would be fine if only I could figure out how to not give off that I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it vibe so that once in a while, I could feel supported rather than drained by these well-meaning interactions. The trick is that sometimes these conversations take place in the grocery store aisle when I've got just twenty minutes to fill the cart and get to my next appointment, or in moment when actually, I don't want to think about cancer. But also, I've learned from experience that many people don't want to or are not capable of listening to the hard core reality, won't know what to do or say if I tell them, "Well, the truth is, I feel like I have post-traumatic stress. I feel like I just came off the battlefield. And, by the way, I'm still in treatment every day and I'm still scared out of my mind when I think about it, and yesterday my beloved neighbor told me she just found out she has breast cancer too, and suddenly I can't stop eating." In fact, I imagine some of these innocent inquirers would shuffle nervously and respond like this: "Well you look great."

But maybe one or two would say nothing and just hug me while I weep.

Here's a hint: If you want to be a friend to someone going through cancer or even pregnancy or any other body-changing mortality-awareness-inducing life-altering physical experience, sure you can tell them they look great. But don't leave it at that. Assume that the reticence you may perceive as lack of interest in talking about the hard stuff is probably more of a self-protective knee-jerk expectation that you really don't want to hear. Figure out a way to acknowledge or inquire about the depth of experience beyond the surface. Whether or not your friend has the grace and presence to acknowledge it in the moment, whether or not he or she walks through that open door, they will appreciate your efforts. I promise you.

Can I get a witness?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hump Day

Thirteen down, twelve to go.

Does anyone know what this plant is? The butterflies and I agree, it smells delicious.

This one I know: echinacea, a.k.a. purple cone flower. I planted it three years ago, got my first blooms last year - just three. This year, more well over a dozen.

The lavender in my garden attracts a lot of buzzing friends.

Speaking of friends in the garden, my good neighbor Jane came by today for dill and left a jar of pickles in the fridge. I told you she was a good neighbor! Check out her blog.

Today I received my thirteenth of twenty-five radiation treatments, which means there are more behind me than in front of me. I'd like to think it's all down hill from here - down hill in a good way, meaning that things get easier, but I fear it's not that simple. From what I hear the inflammation and fatigue, which so far have been relatively minor, will worsen. Plus, next week I'm due to start Tamoxifen, a pill I'm supposed to ingest daily for the next five years. For some, the side effects are minimal. For others, well, let's just say it's a very long five years of hot flashes, fatigue, weight gain, bloating...

In spite of all that's daunting on the path ahead, I'm still pleased to be where I am now. The quickest way out of a difficult situation is to keep on moving straight through it. And I'm marching right along.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vlogs are back! Breast cancer and beyond.

Finally catching up with video editing. This is the first since chemo ended - retail therapy, an amazing dog trick, two parties, bra issues, and a whole lot o' cuteness. Check it out.

Next in line: rearranging furniture, a very rude deer, garden harvest, and, of course, more beautiful Millie. More of my videos here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Nothing about this video is routine - my first days post-chemo. More of my videos here.

I received my ninth radiation treatment today. Every time I go in I see the same two radiation techs. Each time we tell each other one thing about ourselves. This was my idea and they go along with it kindly. Already old friends, the challenge for them is to come up with something they don't already know about each other. For me, it's easy, they know little about me beyond the margins of my disease.

I've told them that I have three brothers, that I took figure skating lessons a few years ago, that I spent a year living in a van traveling the country, that I grabbed the opportunity of a misplaced iPod to break my addiction to wireless internet. It's been almost two weeks now that I haven't wasted nocturnal hours next to my sleeping husband checking email and surfing YouTube. And they've told me about their high school days, their creative endeavors, their home towns, their freakishly long arms, and near misses with junk food cravings threatening to disrupt a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. I wish I had more than five minutes with them each day. I like these people.

I also wish I didn't have to lie on that table pretending, unintentionally mind you - I guess that's called denial - that radiation is entirely make believe, hocus-pocus, that I am fine, that I am not actually engaged in a dark and dangerous fight for my life. But the pretending only goes so far. I know the secret handshake now. I'm a full-fledged member of the cancer club, which means other members in need of an understanding ear slip me the inside scoop on their recent scans, the cancer now in their bones. Don't tell anybody.

I keep coming back to this: live now. Live now. Live Now. Then turn the page, accept all changes to the landscape, and live now.

Speaking of which, last Thursday, after my sixth radiation treatment, I did a triathlon. It was a short triathlon, just 600 yards of swimming, 12 miles on the bike, and a 5K run. I made no particular training effort for this, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision and just my second ever tri. The first was two years before, at the same place, and a good eight minutes slower. I was so nervous then. This time it felt easy.

Go figure.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


After a short hiatus, I'm back on track with the vlogging. The latest installment takes place around my final chemo treatment. More to come! And more of my videos here.
I collected these stones years ago on a beach in Santa Cruz. Now they are my counting stones. On the day I began radiation I put twenty-eight of them in the bowl on the left. When I got home, I moved one to the bowl on the right.

The next day I went to the cancer center only to find that the building had lost electricity.

Every day I receive treatment I move another stone.

  On the third day I went back again and received my second treatment. I also met with the doctor (I only see him once weekly).

He told me they had recalculated - rather than twenty-eight, I will receive just twenty-five slightly stronger doses. When I got home, I took three stones out and set them aside.

When the bowl on the left is empty, with the exception of a daily pill, I will be done with cancer treatment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Getting through radiation one day at a time: one down, twenty-seven to go.

Less on my plate. That is what I'm aiming for these days. It's particularly challenging now that I have a radiation each week day: an hour and a half of driving plus two costume changes (in and out of a hospital gown), ten or fifteen minutes lying on the table with two friendly young technicians lining me up just so. When they leave it's just the machine whirring and buzzing and beeping as it zaps me from all the critical angles, and me with my arms up over my head trying not to hold my breath.

Correction, it's not just me and the machine. There's also the light show on the vaulted ceiling -blue then green then blue then green again, with little lights blinking like stars and painted clouds and jazzy Muzak in the background. I find this more disconcerting than pleasant. It's as if radiation was something invented by Disney, which seems very wrong.

But I appreciate the effort.

I've had technical issues with the vlog - my video editing software keeps crashing. Thanks to Google I have that sorted out now though I haven't had time to put the episode in order yet. Bills keep coming and laundry keeps piling up and now our two-year-old refrigerator has gone on its annual summer strike, melting and sweating while the freezer chokes up with frost. Luckily there is produce in the garden and an only half-broken refrigerator in the basement.

And poor Millie, my sweet dog. She has a wounded leg, a deep gash and another welt, who knows what she bashed into but I think I saw it happen, when she leaped back in the tall grass, abandoning her ball chase. I've been back and forth to the vet two days in a row now for her, getting antibiotics and antiseptic and salve and a second look, since the swelling got worse for a while there and I can't keep her from licking at it.

The point is, I'm busy. Just one-fifth of the way into radiation, I'm already getting tired. Yesterday I took what I expected would be a twenty-minute nap and woke up groggy and shaky to a ringing telephone, two hours later. This morning, in what has become my thrice-weekly swim across the lake at Bigelow Hollow, I felt weighted and slow.

I'm still working diligently on my book, my proposal for a cookbook all about preparing food creatively, eating healthy without recipes. On a good day, I get three straight hours to focus on it. The closer I get to done, the more I realize the challenge I've set out for myself is not as easy as I thought.

But I'm determined.

And trying to accept a slower pace.

And drinking a cup of fennel-peppermint-nettle tea before bed.

In service of the cookbook (and my belly) I made my favorite Thai soup, Tom Yum Goong.

Another cookbook test batch: spicy black bean stew.

A treat: fresh figs with cashew cream (cashew butter, hemp milk, agave, cinnamon, nutmeg)


Salad today. Thank you, garden.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Sometimes summer is about color and light and movement and scent. Words? Not so much. So for now, I'll offer only these: It is seven in the morning, a Tuesday. My dog is sleeping on the couch with her paws in the air. Friends with a guest from Japan prepared a Japanese feast for us last Friday. (I photographed my plate.) Tomorrow I begin radiation. Before I go I'll swim across a half-mile lake, and back. Twice. I'll be ready.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


In order to line up the radiation the same way day after day, set up for it involves acquiring marks on the skin. Though you can opt for Sharpie marker dots covered with tape (which, with all my swimming and sweating, I doubt would hold up), the method of choice is tattoo.

In case you haven't noticed, I don't gravitate toward pain, not for fun or fashion. I am not a tattoo gal.

And now I have three of them.

Albeit miniscule — just three dots, one at dead center of my chest and one on each side, below my armpits — receiving these was emotional for me. This may seem melodramatic, but considering that I was raised on stories of the holocaust, with recurring nightmares and true belief that the Nazis might show up at any minute to drag me away, I suppose it isn't a surprise. I found myself thinking of the tattoos given to concentration camp prisoners. Of course this wasn't the same thing, but there was a disturbing echo in the utilitarian and permanent nature of the beast.

Luckily the technician was patient with me while I came to terms with what was about to transpire. She showed me her tattooing device, a little plastic contraption with a sharp metal tip that reminded me of a protractor or some such measuring tool from high school math class,. She cheerfully offered to demonstrate on herself, showing off the little dots she had already made on her own forearm in past demonstrations. "It doesn't hurt," she assured me.

To my utter astonishment, she was right. It really didn't hurt at all. And the dots truly are tiny.

One more hurdle in the obstacle course of cancer treatment behind me, which means one less in front of me. Hallelujah.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Poodles Make Life Better

More of my videos here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Playing Hookie

Pureed tomato soup: sauteed onion, garlic, carrot, and diced tomato, white beans and raw avocado add creamy texture, salt and pepper and fresh basil, cilantro, and oregano add yum.

Miso soup for breakfast.

Nori rolls with black rice, carrot, red pepper, tofu, and cilantro, plus tamari and wasabi gravy, and pickled ginger.

Yesterday's salad: spinach and lettuce from the garden, bell pepper, grapefruit, Spanish onion, heirloom beans, avocado, and sprouted lentils.

I'm playing hookie from cancer for two more weeks before radiation begins, using the time to wrap up client projects, organize my office, weed the garden, exercise, play with my dog, and cook. I've also instituted a new, earlier bedtime, which is serving me well.

The key to happiness, I'm convinced — for me anyway — is to do less of a million things and more of just a few. Less multitasking, less rushing (as I've said), and more work on the things that matter most to me. More lounging around reading too. It's a new discipline, but so far so good.

I have a goal to finish a book proposal (I'm working on a cookbook, have I told you?) by the time I start radiation. I may or may not make that deadline. In a way, it doesn't matter, as long as I'm making progress. What matters most is balance. But I do think I might make that deadline!

I'm determined to open a new chapter of my life in which the work I want to do is at center stage (writing, art) and in which there is at least a moment if not long hours of aimless pleasure each day.

Cancer reminds me that each day is precious and irretrievable. I can worry about not getting as many days as I thought, or I can savor what I've got.

I choose the latter.

More of my videos here.