Cancer, the Sequel….and a Non-Romantic’s Attempt at a Love Letter to the Healthcare Community….

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
~John F. Kennedy

This past October, I had my annual follow-up with my Oncologist.  “Everything looks great!”  He proclaimed after checking my vitals and lab work.  “Is there anything I should know about?  You feeling good?  No shortness of breath, any unexplained pain?  Any issues moving your bowels?”  He asked.

“Nope.”  I said with confidence, “I feel great!” and it was true, physically….mentally, I’m a shit show, but that’s to be expected.   It’s also true that I would probably die before I would ever talk about my pooping habits with him.

“Excellent!”  He said.  So, it’s time now that we add in a dermatologist for annual skin checks at your radiation site.  We have a doctor from Derm who works on our service.  I’m going to reach out to him.  His office will call you to schedule the appointment.”

“Sounds good” I said.

“It’s also time for a mammogram (joy) and we’re going to check your thyroid this year too. I’ll reach out to my colleagues and we’ll start working on getting those appointments scheduled as well,”  he said.

Me:  Has it ever occurred to you that I’m kind of like a body that has been donated to science, only I’m still alive so you get to work on a breathing corpse?

Dr. Most Amazing:  It hadn’t….

Me:  Well, you are welcome.

Less than a week later, I got a phone call from Dermatology to schedule my appointment and they were able to get me in within the month.  Before arriving for my exam, I made sure to thoroughly moisturize my radiation field, which extends from about the base of my collarbone down through my sternum.  (I could be making that up, because I’m not 100% sure where my sternum is, but I’m guessing I’m close).

Anyway, personally, I think that some maintenance/grooming effort is necessary whenever you see a doctor.  For example, before I see my gynecologist every year, I make sure I’ve shaved and moisturized my legs and armpits.  I give the old honey pot a good trim and I try not to poop before the appointment….just in case I miss a spot….could you imagine?

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Also, I ALWAYS wear socks.  Being barefoot is just too naked for me.

Before I go to the dentist, I dig out the floss I got from my last appointment, blow off the dust, do my best, and then hope that rinsing with mouth numbing/burning Listerine takes care of the rest.  Then, I tell the dentist….“Yes, of course.  I totally floss every day.  What kind of barbarian do you take me for?”  With a truthfull’ish face.

Turns out, I was NOT prepared for the dermatologist.  I hadn’t bargained on a full body examination.  Had I known I would be asked to strip down to my underwear, I would have for sure gotten a pedicure, thoroughly moisturized, shaved and most definitely, I would have worn different underwear and not the novelty joke pair that say, “Not Tonight” in big, red, block letters across the ass, that I used to think were HYSTERICAL when I assumed only my husband would ever see them.

So, as the doctor checked my scalp and in-between my toes and I tried not to die of embarrassment, I figured I would go ahead and ask about a dry patch of skin that had developed along my hairline on my left temple.  It was about the size of a dime and had been there at least a year.  At first, it was just a semi-flaky little spot that occasionally itched, but otherwise caused no real discomfort.

Then, this past summer, it began to get irritated.  The spot became itchier and then scabbed over.  Since I can’t ever resist picking a good scab, I struggled to leave it alone, which obviously made it angrier.

When I managed to resist temptation and put some effort into wound care, I would often end up accidentally brushing over it, causing the scab to break open and thus leading me to believe that I might as well just pick the rest of it off and let the scab start over.  I know, I’m gross.

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After the summer though, I resolved to really focus on healing it.  I began to properly clean and treat it.  I left it alone.  I kept anything other antibacterial ointments away from it.

After working out, I immediately cleaned it and I did my best to keep my hair pulled back and away from it.  But it wouldn’t go away.  It would sometimes take on the appearance of healing, but it never did.  It also never fully scabbed over.  Parts of it would, but other parts looked more oozy and crust-like.  Still, I wasn’t worried, not really.  There had never been a suspicious looking mole, or freckle in that area.

After everything I had been through as a cancer survivor, you’d think I would be jumping at the chance to point the spot out to a brilliant, highly sought after physician at one of the nations best hospitals and yet, even on the day of the appointment, I was on the fence about mentioning it.  I felt silly saying, “I have a scab that won’t go away, because I can’t stop picking at it.”  

Of course, it’s possible/probable that it was about more than that too.  There will always be a part of me that lives with the fear that cancer might come back and claim me.  That I’m living on borrowed time.  That the universe will eventually say, “Oh, crap, you’re still here.  We have to do something about that.”    

Sometimes, I think it’s made me crazy.  I over-exaggerate things I can reasonably explain (a minor headache must surely be a brain tumor) and over-simplify the things I can’t (that’s just dry skin).  It seems as though it’s my brains way of allowing me to run, while also caving into the underlying fear and anxiety that comes with being a cancer survivor.

But once I realized he was going to be investigating literally every square inch of my body, and I was already red-faced and ashamed at my scaly legs and chipped toenail polish and underwear choice, I figured I might as well go ahead and just speak up.

“Is there anything on your skin you’re concerned about?”  the doctor asked me politely.

(Besides the stubby beginnings of leg and armpit hair? I thought).  “Well, I’m not really concerned about it, more annoyed.  I just have this dry patch of skin I can’t seem to get to heal, even though I absolutely leave it alone (now) and have done my best to treat it with over the counter ointments (recently).”  I told him.

While the doctor took a look,  I was preparing myself for the fact that he would likely tell me it was psoriasis, or eczema.  That he would prescribe a cream and tell me to stop lying and LEAVE IT ALONE.  I was not expecting him to say, “Hmmmm….I think what we’re looking at is a basal cell carcinoma.”

Me:  I’m sorry….a what the fuck?

OK, so I didn’t really say that, but my face did.

Dr. Equally Awesome:  It’s no big deal, truly.  This is not something I want you to be worrying about.  It is the most common type of skin cancer.  Millions of people are diagnosed annually.

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Dr. Equally Awesome:  Really, you can stop scaling that wall.  Don’t worry!  This type of skin cancer doesn’t metastasize.  We’ll do a biopsy to confirm it’s a basal,, and assuming I’m right, which I’m pretty confident I am, we’ll get you in with Derm surgery and they’ll remove it and you’ll be done.

Me:
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Dr. Equally Awesome:  It’s ok, you can climb down from the top of that credenza now.   You’re going to be fine.  I wouldn’t tell you that if I wasn’t certain of it.

Here’s the thing though….to a cancer survivor, the words, CANCER and METASTASIZE and BIOPSY and mother-f’ing CARCINOMA are essentially synonymous with whatever word this would be:

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As he spoke they are the only words I heard….

So I took a deep breath and a hit of Cal–Stat and then I said.  “I hear you.  But to someone who has had the kind of cancer that can kill you, hearing that I have it, again, in any capacity, is just really, really scary.”

Dr. Equally Awesome:  I get it.  We’re going to take care of you though.

Me:  So….once it’s gone, can I call myself a two time champ?  (Because humor….always humor….)

Dr. Equally Awesome:  Hell yeah!

My streak of seeing wonderful physicians continued.  The surgeon who performed the procedure to cut out the cancer was incredible.  It took two passes to remove the spot that went from being the size of a dime, to almost the size of a silver dollar, before she was able to obtain “clear margins” (no more cancer).

Before she started to close the wound, she handed me a mirror so I could see it and when I saw how deep it was, my first reaction was to ask, “Is that my brain?”  It wasn’t, in case you’re wondering.

Then, before starting to suture, she stood there for a moment, studying the spot and pondering the exact right method for closing.  She was determined to close the wound in a way that would leave the least amount of visible scaring.

She was treating my face as though it were some kind of prized artwork she’d been commissioned to restore, instead of the face of a forty-year old who had spent her twenties shirking sun screen and, on some level, was getting what was coming to her.  It was clear I meant more to her than just another patient in a long one of patients.  Not because I was special, but because that’s the way she treats all who come to see her.

These folks who have taken care of me for the last nine years are my hero’s.  And since the Coronavirus outbreak, I’ve thought of them constantly; for all physicians and healthcare workers, really.  I am so thankful for them.

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In support of their efforts these past many weeks, I’ve been doing my best to listen to them and to hear them and to see them.  I feel like I owe it to them to read and watch everything they are doing for us right now.

I’ve seen the pictures of health care workers crouched, exhausted and grief stricken, in hospital hallways.

I’ve read news articles about healthcare workers isolating themselves away from their children and significant others; working long and emotionally draining hours and then going “home” to hotel rooms.  Alone.

And I’ve seen the photos of what many look like after a long shift.  Bruised, with deep marks from masks and face shields imbedded into their skin.

I’ve seen photos and read stories about healthcare workers holding tablets and smart phones in hospital rooms, so that loved one’s can be in touch with sick family members and in some cases, say final goodbyes.

They have no motivation beyond helping people and they are, in some cases, literally killing themselves to do it.

And to put it bluntly, I’m really fucking disgusted by the scum of humanity who are screaming in their faces at protest rallies.  Shame on you.

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You aren’t a patriot, or whatever is you’re claiming to be, no matter how many clothing items made out of an American flag you show up wearing.

This isn’t your moment to rise up against a tyrannical government because the Demolition Derby at your county fair was canceled this year.  So please, go back to making moonshine and squirrel hunting, or whatever it is you do, and let the real Americans do their jobs.

And guess what, we “snow-flakes” don’t want the economy to collapse either.  I certainly don’t want anyone to suffer financially, emotionally, physically, or mentally.

But at the same time, and I’m no genius, the inconveniences and the state of the economy  right now, are the bi-products of a global pandemic, not the result of sub-prime mortgages, or a crash in the stock market, or some other economic screw-up we need the Warren Buffets of the world to help us dig out of, at least not at the forefront leading the charge.

So while I recognize the need to reopen the economy for many important reasons, shouldn’t it be done in a way that fully aligns with the recommendations of medical experts?

And by medical experts, I don’t mean some random podiatrist from Boca Raton whose pissed his practice has taken a hit, since his elderly patients are staying home instead of having their corns removed.  Just because you took a semester of immuno-biology, or whatever, doesn’t make you an expert, so stay in your lane.

I am a privileged person.  I can stay home.  We can manage work from here and we have the resources and tools and skills (debatable) necessary to manage homeschooling.

Mentally, I’m, well, complicated, but I’m not suicidal, or depressed, or alone.  I’m not an alcoholic and no one in my home needs to be afraid of anyone else in my home.

I believe all that means I have the responsibility to not be a dick.  I can stay home and so I will.  Even if it’s annoying, or *gasp* boring.

I’m going to do it, so that those who don’t have my same privileges can go to their jobs, or seek out the help they might need, without having to worry about whether or not my ass picked up COVID-19 at a neighborhood Pampered Chef party and my sneeze isn’t just a regular sneeze.

We need to allow the time and space for our next level essential workers and their employers to develop strategies for returning to their jobs safely.

Most importantly though, we need to give our healthcare workers the time and space to breath and recoup.  Shouldn’t we be letting our scientists focus on, you know, science’ing our way out of this if possible and if not all the way out, at least into a more controlled new “normal?”

But hey, if you think it’s in your best interest to rally at what amounts to nothing more than a glorified Guns & Ammo Expo on the front steps of some government building, I guess that’s your right.

I personally think the medical community should have the right to tell you and yours to F-off should you come dragging ass through the doors of your local emergency room though.  That should be the price you pay for assuming that, just because you know how to load an assault rifle and fashion a tube top out of a confederate flag, you’re also an expert on infectious disease….but they won’t, because they are good people, the best of us.

I just hope that if nothing else, you manage to at least choke out a thank-you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it just me, or is it starting to feel a little Hunger Games/Children of the Corn Out There?

Dr. Burt Stanton: I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with C.
Vicky Baxter: Corn.
~Children of the Corn

Not too long ago, like, last week, but I can’t be certain because time has ceased to be a tangible thing in my household….I was confusedly reading headlines that declared Trump wanted the country reopened and “raring to go” by Easter.

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I smell collusion….

Anyway, he seemed fixated on getting people back to work and church pews packed for Easter Sunday services, virus be damned, as he compared the Coronavirus to the seasonal flu and car accidents; “We lose thousands and thousands of people to the flu.”  He said.  “We don’t turn the country off.  We lose much more than that to automobile accidents.”

Of course, later, came the damage control.  “The President knew it was more wishful thinking than a realistic goal.”

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But the fact of the matter is that his words sends too confusing a message as we all struggle to make sense of what’s happening, what it all means for our families, our finances, our economy and how long it will last and even, how serious it is.

I’ll admit, we get tiny moments of what feels like real leadership from the man, but those moments are quickly followed by immature Tweets applauding his television ratings as though Covid-19, 2020 is the hot new show.

Would anyone like to bet that when this is over, he either Tweets, or says at a press conference: “Coronavirus.  You’re fired!”

Meanwhile, almost everyone else….medical experts, my state government, many other state governments and the leaders of other countries….are simultaneously directing people to PLEASE continue to stay home for the foreseeable future.  They are announcing extended school and non-essential business closures and stricter shelter in place/keep your ass at home, or so help me God, orders, etc.

Most everyone, that is, except for Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, who more or less said that grandparents, himself included, would totally be willing to die to save the economy.

Specifically, he was quoted as saying:  “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in. My message is that let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living.  Let’s be smart about it and those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

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I asked my in-laws who are self- quarantined in Florida who, pre-Coronavirus, were loving life as retirees after having worked and scrimped and saved their entire adult lives in order to be able to comfortably enjoy their golden years, if they were ready to be rounded up and dropped into a volcano or something….so that I can go back to experiencing Target the way God intended and not this, curbside pick-up, but only essentials, (none of which are fun) crap….to which they replied, more or less, “Fuck that.”  (I’m paraphrasing….they never say the F-word).

Personally, while I appreciate Dan Patrick’s willingness to take one for the team….I really do….I feel like he’s perhaps not thought this sacrifice all the way through.  By “take care of our ourselves” is he suggesting that all those who are elderly are planning to just go ahead and, like, die at home should they become ill?  Maybe, slink off like cats to die somewhere discreet and out of the way?

Because, I’m not sure it helps anyone for our elderly to take up that shitty death march if they are also going to want medical treatment as they go about the process of dying.  I mean, isn’t that one of the key points of social distancing at the moment?  To try and control/slow the spread of this disease so as not to completely topple our already overwhelmed healthcare system?  They need time to better understand this new disease, to create treatment protocols and, hopefully, a vaccine.

But as it stands, there isn’t enough PPE to go around, physicians and nurses and support staff are getting sick, some are also dying….and that’s with current social distancing guidelines in place and sort of being adhered to.  Imagine the crisis if we all just said, “Eh, I’m over this now.  Let’s go back to work!” 

And what about the millions who are not 70+, but who are undergoing cancer treatments, or people with underlying medical conditions, like my 8yo niece who has cystic fibrosis?  Are we saying, let’s go ahead and let nature takes its course?

I’m no economist, but a survival of the fittest, Hunger Games style approach to moving on doesn’t exactly seem like the best way to instill confidence among consumers.  Especially since it potentially means eliminating millions of them. Unless, our economy will now focus entirely on the production of Hazmat suits and face masks and THAT will be our new normal.

Instead of Lilly Pullitzer for Target shift dresses this summer, it’ll be Lily Pulitzer for Target full body bio suits and for the rich, Louis Vuitton face masks.

I feel like Kanye West already has a leg up on that idea with his Yeezy line, no?  Maybe he is some sort of profit after all?

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Fortunately though, it appears that our fearless, orange leader has walked back his Easter goal. His most recent statements and his recommendations regarding the extension of social distancing guidelines suggest he’s no longer got the date of the Biblical resurrection in mind for America’s economic resurrection.

I’ve read it’s because his advisors told him his statements weren’t doing him any favors toward re-election, but I bet it was really because someone thought about it for a second and said, “Oh shit Mr. President, you do realize that the majority of our political leaders, THE PATRIARCHY, are all old, white guys, right?  If we start to go, all that remains are surviving minorities and women and those damn, ambitious millennials.”

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 (Yes, millennials, all this rhetoric about them being the one’s hosting Coronavirus parties and drinking from communal beer bongs on Spring Break is misplaced….it’s Gen Z you want).

Maybe it’s not such a bad way to drain the swamp, actually….do a little reset?  Seems that Gen Z would be all in.

While the Boomers are busy yelling at the Millennials to stay home….and the Millennials are like, “Shut it Boomer, I’ve got four kids and a mountain of student loan debt and I’m always at home because I have no money and it’s all your fault,”….and the Gen-Xers, like myself, the OG latch-key kids, are currently reliving our childhoods; home, bored and forgotten….Gen Z are like the Children of the Corn, or maybe, Quarn….

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A large percentage don’t seem to give a crap about the rest of us, as they flaunt their possibly super-powered immune systems at Coronavirus themed parties with DJ’s and bartenders, while the rest of us are opening our mail with tweezers and sanitizing our groceries with black market Purell and trying to figure out how to build decontamination chambers in our garages.

They just shrug and say, “I’m not giving up a $10.50 flight to Toledo….gotta Spring Break somewhere!” 

It seems no matter how we implore them to please, for the sake of nana, STAY HOME.  They seem to be saying, “Screw nana, what’s she done for me, except destroy the planet?”  

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I’m afraid that if we don’t figure this out soon, our first female president may end up being Kylie Jenner and most of us won’t get to vote, because we don’t know how to use Snapchat.

I’m sure the parents of these little Isaacs and Malachis are doing their best. Quite frankly, it’s unfair that these “kids” are too old to ground, but not old enough to be kicked off parental provided health insurance, but I don’t know what the answer is.

However, I did read an article yesterday, an April Fools’ Day prank, but still….that suggested a possible solution.

The gist of the joke was that in Greece, the PM had turned over the power of enforcing quarantines and issuing permits for approved outings to the women of Greece….in response to the announcement, a “Petros Kakavas” from Peristeri, Athens was quoted as saying, “I don’t know if I will ever see the light of day.”

Because, ladies like this, mean business….

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I have a friend who is Italian.  His nonna is about the closest I’ve ever come to knowing a mob boss.  She isn’t literally a mob boss, but she seems to instill the same amount of fear.  One DOES NOT disobey nonna.

Perhaps this is what we need?  All those culturally stereotypically mean moms and grandma’s out there, slapping these little bastards around.  It could work…something has to give, right?

Stay sane and stay home, folks….or, at least, stay home.

 

Social Distancing for Dummies & Selfish People….

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King

Every couple of days, I have been reaching out to family and friends just to check-in, say hello, send something funny, make sure they haven’t resorted to eating a family member,  the usual.

Yesterday, I called a friend.

Side note:  I avoid talking on the phone like it’s COVID-19.  My introverted self could probably spend the rest of my life never talking to another living soul beyond those I live with.  So calling, means that I am trying, REALLY, REALLY, hard to show up for those I love.

Anyway, I called, because this particular friend doesn’t love to text.  She is the social butterfly to my hermit.  While I naturally flock to the darkest corner of the room, where I might blend in with the furnishings, carpet, wallpaper….she heads straight to the center and holds court.  People fill her up.  She possesses every social grace, says all the right things and never once has she held someone hostage talking about dry wall  (Me: 2003 at a company function while chatting with the Chief Operations Officer at my then company).

Side note:  I don’t even know that much about dry wall, but I apparently knew enough to fill sixty-minutes of conversation….only, I don’t think you can call it “conversation” if you are the only one doing the talking.  I think you’d call that, maybe, word assault.

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When my friend answered, I could tell right away that she was fuming about something, or maybe chewing on a femur.

“Hey, what’s going on?”  I asked.  “You know that cannibalism is still frowned upon, right?” 

She ignored me, like the true conversation artist that she is, and redirected our chat to saner waters.

“I’m watching my idiot neighbors have a block party,” she said.

“Wait, what?”  I responded.  “Are you serious?”

“Yep, they’ve got music going, red solo cups in hand, their kids are all wrestling and running around together….pretty sure someone is sparking up a grill.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I didn’t realize you moved to a place without televisions, or computers, or newspapers, or Facebook, or….humans….did you relocate to a new planet?” 

“Nope, I’m still here, in the burbs, wishing I had the materials to board up my house, because if Zombies are next, these people are for sure going to be among the first and I’m surrounded.”

“Well, I hope they’re the slow zombies, at least.”  I said.  “Like the one’s from Walking Dead.  Not like the one’s in Zombieland.  Those bastards are fast.”

“Hang on a second,” she said.  Then I could hear her yell, presumably out of a window, “You should Google social distancing!  You are all doing it wrong!”

“They are totally going to eat you first.”  I said.

Apparently, social distancing is a hard concept for people to grasp.  Nearly every day someone posts a photo to my community Facebook page of a packed local basketball court, playground playdates in progress (despite the fact that our town has made it clear, with public notices and signage that these spaces are closed) and a few days ago, a photo of dozens of people congregating and socializing in the parking lot and at the picnic tables of an ice cream stand that just recently reopened for the season.

I don’t blame the ice cream stand though.  They are a local, small business and I’m sure, like many, they are trying to stay afloat.  But with no ability to manage crowd control and customers who apparently refuse to police themselves, they have now been forced to close since our Governor, and rightfully so, has issued a shelter in place order, effectively closing all businesses that aren’t providing an essential service.

Way to go people!  You just tanked a beloved, local, small business.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

And it’s not just my town, or my friends neighborhood.   I’ve read that beaches are still packed with people.  Spring breakers are partying hard, people are forging ahead with vacation travel plans to popular tourist destinations and in Kentucky, several people apparently attended a Coronavirus themed party.

People.  PEOPLE, people.  

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I don’t know if the issue here is that some just aren’t taking this seriously enough….and/or they assume it’s not enough of a concern to bother with altering daily routines….or they just don’t care….or they truly don’t understand what it means to distance yourself socially and/or to shelter in place.

I would like to assume it’s a simple knowledge gap and not a sign that too many people could give a shit about their fellow humans.

Today, on our community page, an irate townsperson pissed about the expanding closures throughout the state said “So, what….I can’t go for a walk now?”

Yes!  You can go for a walk.  You can hike and ride your bike, go for a run, take a scenic car ride, but your only choice in company at the moment is yourself, or those you currently live with.   And I get it, those people are starting to get on your nerves.  But for now, you can’t escape them to be with your “Quads of Fury” walking club.

Socially distancing, means you don’t stop to shoot the shit with your neighbor about the tragedy that is the closing of Dunks and the loss of Touchdown Tommy to the Buccaneers.  (Life is wicked hard here in New England right now).

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You can go to the grocery store, but you should only go if you really need to.  Ideally, you should take advantage of online ordering with curbside pick-up, or home delivery.  But if you must go into a store, forego man-handling all the produce.  You’ll survive if you don’t get the perfect avocado, or you end up with an apple with a soft spot.

And I know that you might really, really, really want to escape your children, your spouse, your parents, your roommate…and go wander the aisles of a Target, or if you’re like me, a Target and then a Home Depot, or whatever remains open in your area just to catch a break and enjoy a change of scenery.  Trust me, I get it.  My kid has said, “Mommy” no less than eleventy-billion times today and it’s not even noon 1:00 2:00 3:00…. I have been trying to write this post for two days now, because I can only get about two-minutes of “free time” at a time.

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We are all bored and anxious and annoyed and going a bit stir-crazy.  We’re trying to manage jobs, or the loss of a job, while also home schooling and stressing over finances and whether or not we have enough stuff and if it’s time to start rationing TP one square at a time and who the hell we are supposed to be listening to at the moment….world renowned doctors, or the guy who keeps saying, “Fuck it, we’ll be back up and running by Easter.”  

I think many are just desperate to find something normal to cling to.  But folks, we exited normal a few weeks ago.  Life, as we knew it, is a thing of the past, at least for now.  We can still see and even have a little bit of the good old days, but we can’t have it all.  The longer we fight what we’re being asked to do, the longer it will take to “flatten” the curve and the more we stand to lose.

Come on, people….we can do hard things.

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Flashback Friday – That Time I Wore A Hair Piece….

Earlier this week, while trying to keep myself occupied….and my anxiety at bay….until an upcoming doctors appointment, I decided to clean out and reorganize a closet that has essentially served as a dumping ground for things that otherwise have no sensible place, or purpose.

The task was long overdue and a good distraction.  As I pulled out things like a taxidermy bull frog wearing a sombrero and playing a vihuela and a small jar containing a couple of baby teeth, my hand brushed across something hairy resting in the back of the closet on one of the shelves.

Instinctively, I jerked my hand back and bent to gaze, squinting into the dark recesses of the closet, trying to figure out what might be living back there.

Did we end up getting that cat?  I briefly wondered.  Oh man, when was the last time I saw the dog?  

Then it dawned on me.  My wig.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I of course wanted to know if I was going to lose my hair.

“Yes.”  My doctor said.  “And when it falls out, it will fall out in chunks, which can be very distressing.  I always suggest that my patients just go ahead and shave it off.  Just get it over with all at once.”

At first, I thought the loss of my hair would be no big deal for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having hair, but I’ve never been one of those people who is deeply attached to it.

I’ve never cried after a bad haircut and over the years I’ve never been afraid to experiment with different lengths….including a super short pixie cut I sported throughout much of the late 90’s.

But, as the time grew nearer to when my doctor predicted it would begin to fall out, I found I couldn’t do it.  It seemed an outwardly visible symbol that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to see it.

So, my doctor’s advice to go all GI Jane was the only time throughout the entire ordeal that I did not do exactly as he advised.  It was a decision I regretted when it began coming out in large pieces and precisely when he said it would.

It was horrifying to find that by pulling, ever so slightly at my scalp, the hair strands would pull free as though they had never been attached at the roots.  I was surprised to find myself equally, if not more distressed, at the prospect of shaving my head as I’d been by the news of my diagnosis.

I delayed the inevitable for a few more days, but after a shower left me with sporadic, patchy bald spots….that made me look like I was on the verge of becoming that creepy doll from Toy Story….I gave in and headed off to have it shaved….a baseball hat clutched in my hand and my husband in tow.

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When the hairdresser asked, “What are we doing today?”  I told her it all had to go.

“Are you thinking a choppy bob or something even shorter?”  She asked, running her hands through my spotty hair that left strands between her fingers, with a somewhat confused expression.

“I have to shave it off.”  I said.  “I lost a bet with my husband and he’s being really mean about the whole thing.”

“OH!”  Was her shocked reply.  “Really!?”         

“No.”  I told her.  “I have cancer.  So, one way or the other, it’s gotta go!”

This was the way I preferred to tell everyone I had cancer.  When I was initially diagnosed, I  sent an email to family and friends that asked,“Hey!  Anyone know where I can get one of those yellow LiveStrong bracelets?”

As the responses came in, I responded with varying degrees of “Thanks, I have cancer now, so I figure, why not get the accessories!”

During the initial discussion about my impending hair loss with my doctor, he provided me with several resources for securing a respectable wig.  They were references his patients over the years had shared and he was happy to pass along the leads.

I wasn’t sure if I was a wig person, a scarf person, or a hat person, but I knew I wasn’t a bald is beautiful person.  My head looked lumpy, with strange lines that made me wonder if I might have been abducted and experimented on by aliens at some point in my life and I reasoned a wig might at least give me the appearance of a normal person.

I settled on a shop in New Hampshire that catered specifically to women undergoing cancer treatments.  I made an appointment for a wig fitting and my best friend flew in to be with me for the event.

When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a very sweet woman who introduced herself as my personal stylist for the day.  She escorted us to a private room where I was free to try on as many wigs as I wanted in the comforts of my own space, while she bustled about pulling different styles and color options for me to try and offering styling tips and tricks along the way.

I shared with her that I was concerned it would look exactly like I was wearing a wig.  That everyone would know, and I would just end up looking….well, sad.

Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something scalped from the head of a Barbie doll.

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“All those women in Hollywood….they are all wearing some kind of hair piece.  No one has hair that glossy or full or perfect.”  She told me.  “We sell the best here and trust me, no one is going to know the difference.”   

For the next many hours, my friend and I laughed so hard I thought I might go into labor as I tried on everything from pin straight platinum blonde wigs with fringe bangs, to dark black curly wigs that looked like eighties Cher.

I tried on mullets, the Farrah Fawcett shag, the “Rachel,” the 90’s era style haircut made famous by Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends.

I tried sleek bobs and spiral curls and every hair style ever seen on the Golden Girls.  It was hysterically funny and the laughter felt so refreshing that it alone was worth the trip.

Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham.  My stylist gave me instructions on keeping it clean and preserving its shape and style.

She also cautioned me against wearing it close to open flames or bursts of heat….like those from an opened oven, or boiling water….which caused a whole new hysterical burst of giggles as my friend and I imagined various scenarios where I might find myself wearing it when it caught fire.

I left wearing the Posh, but it didn’t stay on my head for long.  It was itchy against my scalp and though it looked as real as it possibly could, I was terribly self-conscious about it.

Eventually, the wig made its way into its cardboard travel case, and was replaced with a pink stocking cap that said, “Cancer Sucks” in white embroidered letters across the front.

I told myself I just needed to get used to it….that I would practice wearing it at home first and then maybe test it out on short errands.  I could never shake the anxiety that having it on caused though.

What if I sneezed and the hairline of the wig ended up at my eyebrows?

What if a strong wind blew through, yanking it from my head and I had to chase after it while it rolled like a tumbleweed through the Whole Foods parking lot?

What if I had an itch and people could see the entire piece shift as I scratched?

What if it shifted throughout the day without my knowing it and it ended up sideways?

In the end, the only time I wore it for a prolonged period of time, was for a holiday party thrown by a college friend of my husbands.  The guest list for the party was long and included a wide range of close friends and acquaintances my husband had known for many years.

I didn’t feel like answering the myriad of questions that always came with seeing a bald, pregnant lady.  I just wanted to enjoy the food at the party and the rare evening out as a normal person, so I put the wig on for the night.

All evening, I made frequent trips to the bathroom to pull it off, scratch furiously at my scalp and replace it.  Or, to just double check that it hadn’t shifted in too noticeable a way.

As soon as we were back in the car, I pulled it off and hung my head out of the car window like a Xoloitzcuintle, enjoying the cool air on my scalp and deciding once and for all, I was just going to be a hat person.

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I kept the wig, but instead of wearing it, I used it as a tool to harass my family, our cleaning service and anyone else who might come through our house.

When it wasn’t perched on its metal rack on my bathroom sink in a variety of styles and with random hair accessories stuck to it, it was posed on a teddy bear in one of my step-children’s bedrooms waiting for them at bedtime.

Sometimes, I would leave it lying on a pillow in bed with socks stuffed into the cap to give it the look of someone sleeping under the covers.

Once, I affixed it over a remote control car and drove it through our living room scaring the piss out of the dog….literally.

After a while though, I ran out of ideas.  So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the closet deciding I would eventually donate it.

Yesterday, as I held it in my hands, running my fingers through the smooth synthetic hair, I knew it was time to find it a new home….preferably with someone who could really use it.

But first….and then I made my way to my sons bedroom, retrieved his remote control car, and went in search for the dog.

I Love the Smell of Cal-Stat….& Other Long Term Side-Effects of Cancer

“The best thing we can do is go on with our normal routine.”
~Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Recently, I celebrated one of my cancerversaries….a pretty big one too; five years, disease free.

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Back when I was going through the cancer, my family and friends would check-in on me all the time.  “How are you doing?  How are you feeling?  Is there I anything I can do for you, anything you need?”  they would ask.

So many people were worried about me and for me.  I was added to prayer lists across multiple denominations all over the country.  People mediated for me and gave me small tokens of faith meant to bring healing.  They sent me inspirational quotes and cards and handwritten letters and books about faith and grace.

I both loved and hated the attention.

I loved it, because it made me feel important and wanted and loved.  It made me feel tethered to life at at time when I was terrified I wouldn’t survive.

I hated it, because I prefer to spend most of my time trying to just blend in.  I’m not comfortable being the center of attention, ever.  I’m not comfortable with attention period.  I prefer to go unnoticed.  At all times.  Like an awkward ninja.

But being pregnant with cancer was the sick persons equivalent of being famous.  There was no blending.  Everyone noticed me.

At the hospital, walking into the infusion center with my big, pregnant belly, the nurses, other patients, volunteers, even the janitorial staff would remark with compassion about my plight.

When my hair started to fall out and I had to shave my head, seemingly every person on the planet began to notice me.  It was like I was walking around with a neon, blinking sign that said, “I am pregnant.  AND I have cancer.  Feel bad for me.”

And please don’t take this the wrong way.  I really did appreciate the support, even from total strangers, but it was overwhelming at a time when I could barely manage the broad spectrum of my emotions on a day to day basis.

Some days, I was the person who would respond with uncontrollable tears and fear.

Other days, I was the person who would say things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, really.  I’m going to be fine and so will my baby.  At worst, he’ll glow in the dark for six months or so, but they’ve assured me it won’t last.”  (Lies)

But now, it’s been nearly eight years since my diagnosis and I’m five years disease free, which means for all intents and purposes, I am cured.  Every night and every day, I say a silent prayer of thanks for this life I’m so blessed to be living.

Now, it’s only on the cancerversaries that people ask how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and I always say, “Great!  I’m doing great.  I feel great!”  and that’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.

When you look at me, you can’t see the cancer anymore.  The chemo glow is gone from my face (think less glow, more wild animal trapped in a cage).  My hair has grown back and I don’t have any physical scars, save for the four small radiation markers that were tattooed on my chest.  I don’t have any physical limitations, at least none I’m aware of.

If we were to meet as strangers, you would never know I was a survivor….unless you got close enough to smell my favorite perfume and then you might ask why I smell like the exam room at your doctor’s office.  (I’ll explain in a second).

The whole truth is this, I am cured, but I’m also not.  I don’t physically have cancer any more, but it’s side effects still linger.

I’m not the exact same person I was before the disease.  In some ways, I’m a better version of the person I was before and in other ways, maybe not so much.

I have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.  Cancer reset me in a way I think I needed, though I won’t go so far as to say I am grateful for it.

On the flip side, I am also far less tolerant and patient with people I think are ignorant.  I’m talking to you Trump supporters and the state of Alabama.

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So what I really want to say when someone asks me how I’m doing is this:

“I’m great, I feel great and also….”


1. I love the smell of Cal-Stat

Literally.

If you are one of those people who loves diffusing a specific essential oil, or burning aromatherapy candles because it helps to alleviate your stress, or anxiety, or just generally makes you feel good….well, that’s what Cal-Stat does for me.

BTW, in case you don’t know, Cal-Stat is a hospital grade hand-sanitizer.

And since you can buy it on Amazon, I am free to wear it like it’s perfume.  And I do.

The smell reminds me of my doctors and being at the hospital for my treatments, which some might think would have the opposite effect, but not for me.

I LOVE going to the hospital.

I feel safe there, surrounded by machines that beep and all the sterilized equipment.  I like when they take my blood and check my vitals.

If I could persuade my doctor to scan me every week, I would.  But apparently, that’s a ton more radiation than would be good for my already radiated body, so he very patiently tells me no every time I ask for a quick zap through the machine.

He likes to tell me it’s a good thing I no longer need to see him more than once a year and of course, that’s true, but my doctor and the hospital are my comfort items.

And since they won’t let me move in, and I can’t just fit my doctor into my pocket….and he refuses to come and live at my house, Cal Stat is the next best thing.


2.  Speaking of Anxiety…

Me:  I feel really great!

Anxiety:  (while I’m minding my own business watching a Southern Charm marathon)  No you don’t.  Remember that headache you had a month ago?  That was a brain tumor and now it’s too late.  You are riddled with tumors.  RIDDLED.  Really.  You should Google it.

So, that’s been fun.


3.   Bucket lists are kind of my jam

Actually, lists in general are my jam.  I love the small pleasure of making a list and crossing things off.  But my version of a “bucket list” doesn’t only include big adventures, or once in a lifetime vacations.

It’s an ever changing, running To-Do list of all the things I’ve said I want to do over the years, but haven’t followed through on.

Every new year, in lieu of a resolution, I review my list.  I mark off the things I’ve done, I add new things and I carry over the stuff I didn’t accomplish.

It includes books I want to read, recipes I’d like to test out, DIY projects I want to complete and activities I want to do with my family.

I feel the pressures of time and the shortness of life in a way I never did before.  My list is a way of keeping me accountable to the actual living of life.

For me, that means all the small things; baking Christmas cookies with my son, teaching him to ski, taking him camping, teaching him how to fish, carving out time just for my marriage and carving out time just for me.


4.  But I also have a Fuck-It-Bucket:

I will never be the exact right amount of enough for everyone.  And quite frankly, I don’t care to try.

I’m no longer available for things, or people that make me feel like shit.

Also, I’m going to eat the cake and all the taco’s and none of the kale.

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5.  Everything hurts and I’m dying…

I had no reason to believe I had cancer, before I was told I had cancer.  I was in my early 30’s and seemingly, perfectly healthy.  I was 22 weeks pregnant and my child was developing without a single complication or concern.  Life was good.  REALLY good.

When I was diagnosed, my doctors theorized that the cancer had been developing for 6-9 months before it ever said a word.  It was terrifying to me that I’d been living with cancer for that long and had no idea.

In the years that have since passed, I have become obsessed with trying to remember how I was feeling during those months I was sick, but didn’t know it.

Were there any clues I missed?  Symptoms I didn’t recognize?  Something, anything I can watch out for now, so that if it comes back, I’ll know before it gets another head start?

The answer is mostly no, which is scary AF.  So as a result, I pretty much think everything is cancer.

Muscle aches = bone cancer

Those occasional post child-birth hemorrhoids = colon cancer

New freckle (age spot, fine) = skin cancer

Headache = brain cancer

Cough = lung cancer

Stomach ache = cancer in all the organs

Normal?  What’s that?


In the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some gradual, physical changes that have sent me reeling.  My Google search history currently reads like I might be preparing for a gynecological board exam.

And of course, the more I read, the more aware I become of my body.

I have to pee.  When was the last time I went?  Am I urinating more frequently than I was before?

I think I look a little bloated.  Am I?  Wait, do I feel pain in my abdomen, my pelvis?  Where is my pelvis?    

I feel tired.  Am I more tired than usual?  What exactly is fatigue and when is it just fatigue and when is it, you know, FATIGUE?

My back hurts.  But I think it just feels stiff, or is that what “pressure” feels like?  Oh God, how can I tell the difference?  Why doesn’t Google have a definitive answer?

I just ate.  Did I eat as much as I normally eat?  Do I feel sick now?

I’m crying.  I’m crying a lot.  I’m terrified and anxious and if I stop moving, I’m going to have to sit with this.  And if I have to sit with it, the “what if’s” are going to start running through my brain like a freight train.

What if I have cancer again?

What if this time I can’t survive it?

What if I don’t get to watch my son grow-up?

What if he forgets about me?

What if….what if….what if….

And then today a casual friend says, “Hey, how are you?”

“Great!  I say.  “Just great….”

I’m Melting….

“Let’s open a store called FOREVER 39.  We can sell wine and yoga pants.”

As often as possible, I attend a yoga class.  Though I never thought of myself as the type of person who could ever achieve a zen-like state….I’m pretty wound….all the time….I have to admit that yoga does wonders for me.

When I really focus in on the practice, I can feel the stress and frustrations of the day, or week, melt away….and I get my best night’s sleep post class.  At least I did until yesterday, when I discovered that my face is falling off my head.

If you’ve ever been to a gym before, you might have noticed that the regulars tend to have a favored spot, or bike, or other piece of equipment they gravitate toward.

My gym is no different, but no one is a bitch about it.  So, when I arrived for yoga last night and found a new person in my typical spot, I just chose another, settled into Lotus pose and waited for class to begin.

My usual spot is near a half wall, that’s kind of like a long, narrow shelf.  I like it there, because I can use the wall to cheat during some of the balance poses.

My new location was directly beside a wall of mirrors that runs the entire length of one side of the gym.  I didn’t think much of it until I found myself in Prasarita Padottansana, which is a wide-legged forward bend.

We can pretend this is me….she’s OK….I guess.

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Typically, I keep my eyes closed during my practice, unless otherwise instructed to open them.  It helps me to block out the activity around me so that I can fully concentrate.

For some reason though, I decided to open them while bent over with the mirror at my back.  The first thing I noticed was that the position made my ass look like a billboard and I wondered for a moment if it would be possible to write supercalifragilisticexpialidocious across my rear.

The second thing I noticed was that my cheeks (face cheeks) appeared to be on my forehead.  It was legit frightening and after I gasped in horror, I did what women have been doing for centuries….I took a look around the room and compared myself to the other women.

This was only moderately helpful, since I was flanked by two, fresh faced twenty-somethings.  But, I did notice that a few other ladies had pools of skin dangling from their hairlines as well, so I was at least relieved to know that the only thing dying was my youth.

Yes, I am aware that things change as we age, it’s just that I would prefer to defy nature….because I like to set goals that are high and largely unattainable.

Having lost all ability to focus on the original intention of my practice that evening, I settled on a new one.  Trying to force my skin back into its original location by making a series of faces.  This did not work.

Then, I was reminded of the Golden Girls and that episode where Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia are discussing how long each woman waited to have sex with someone new, after their husbands were no longer in the picture.

Dorothy says, “You know, when you’re twenty, everything stays where it’s supposed to.  Now, when you lean over, it looks like somebody’s let the air out of your face.”  

#TRUTH

Dorothy then challenges an incredulous Blanche to look over a mirror and see the effect for herself, which she does with comical results.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do about this.  I’ve seen too many seasons of The Real Housewives of (insert any city) and the evolution of Kim Kardashian’s face, to go anywhere near Botox.

So, is there some kind of fruit, or plant, or cream I can use that will magically turn back time?   I’m looking for a relatively inexpensive, quick fix.  I’ll even accept a potion brewed by the devil, whatever is going to work.

But if there is nothing that can be done that does not involve a scalpel, or a needle….if I am to accept that this is just the natural order of things….then I guess I’ll have to accept it.

But you can bet your ass I’ll bitch slap the new girl at yoga for my spot back.

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Flashback Friday – The Fiestada….

“I followed my heart and it led me to the Fiestada” ~ Me

Does anyone else out there remember the Fiestada?

If you were a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’m talking to you.

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The Fiestada was an octagon shaped, little slice of pizza-like heaven.

It had a thin, cardboard crust and was topped with tomato paste? and tiny pieces of hamburger? and yellow cheese? that kind of all melted/congealed/slightly burned together to form a  crispy, but mushy, kind of special goodness.

Had my subsidized school lunch program allowed it, I would have stockpiled my ration all week and blown it all on Fiestada day.

I day-dreamed about how I might score a second helping.  I wished the school would announce a contest for which the grand prize would be a lifetime supply of Fiestada’s.

In the lunch room, I scarfed mine down and then circled the cafeteria like a vulture, hoping a classmate might be willing to share.

Are you going to eat that?  Are you going to eat the whole thing?  What!?  How do you not like Fiestada’s!?  Could typically be heard coming from my salivating, Fiestada juice stained, grubby little mouth.

I loved them so much, that I once asked the lunch lady for the recipe….and she pointed to a long, white, nondescript box with plain black lettering that said, “Fiestada” and then I just assumed they had been made in Mexico, because they were far too exotic to be American fare.

“I’ll go there someday.  I’ll go there and eat my weight in Fiestada’s”  I told myself, because I was not a kid without goals.

Some people have cherished memories of home cooked meals, served round a table full of happy family members in a warmly lit dining room….a fire crackling in the background.

I have cherished memories of linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting and the heart burn inducing, probably ADD causing, artery clogging, early on-set heart disease producing, special little octagonal round of awesome that was….the Fiestada.

To this day, I am so obsessed with recapturing that precious moment, that I have scoured the internet in the hopes of tracking down my beloved.

I’ve found recipes on Pinterest that claim to be an exact replica of the original, but there was nothing “homemade” about what I ate in those days.

I want the original.

The one that sat in the industrial sized freezer of an elementary school cafeteria, safely wrapped in BPA leaden plastic.

But I don’t think it’s meant to be.  The best I could find was this thing….made with Whole Grains.

And I literally can’t even….

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The Gazelle….

“Running is fun!” ~Psychopaths

About three years ago, I joined a women’s only fitness studio and truly, it changed my life.  I have always enjoyed physical activity, but in the past, I had a habit of joining big gyms, for like five minutes.

Then, I would get super bored, because I didn’t know what I was doing, and then I would quit….four years later….because canceling a gym membership is the tenth circle of hell.

But after I had my son and completed my cancer treatments, my body felt like it had been run over by a truck.  In addition, my anxiety, which had been a minor issue for me all of my life, suddenly started to attack more often and more viciously than it ever had before.

quote-anxietyI talked about it with my doctors and also a therapist I had been seeing for a while.  It was normal and typical for cancer survivors to experience symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.  Medication was an option, but I didn’t feel like it was a good option for me.

I just needed some way to release that energy from my body.  I began to recognize its build up.  I could feel that it was trapped, but I didn’t know how to go about getting it out and it made me feel manic.

On the advice of my Oncologist and my Cardiologist, I decided to start working out again.  Their suggestion was based more on the physical benefits I would get from regular exercise, but I thought maybe it might be a good way to exorcise some crazy while I was at it.

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At first, I bought the book, Fitness for Dummies, thinking it would help me understand how to properly use the equipment at the gym and create a worthwhile routine for myself.  And yes, I could have just asked someone, but no I could not.  (See post, I’m Known as the Death of the Party).

Anyway, I quickly realized that I was just on my way to falling into the same old failed routine I had gotten myself into so many times before.  So, instead, I turned to my community Facebook page for local moms….because if you want to know anything from where to get a good bikini wax, to what that noise was over on Main Street at 4:37am, that’s where you go….and I posted something like the following:

“Hey ladies.  I’m looking to join a new gym.  Somewhere with maybe small group classes and trainers who tell me what to do.  And if they are mean, even better.  I need someone to shout my ass back into shape.  Thanks!”

Within minutes, I began to receive a flood of responses. Eventually, I chose a new, women’s only fitness studio that had been open for just a few months.  I chose them, because I loved their body positive message.

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After my first class, I knew this time would be different.  Exercise has been a game changer for me, both physically and mentally and it’s a literal lifeline I can’t do without. And it was thanks to joining my gym, that I came to know my friend Gazelle.  (I call her this, because she has the body of Gisele, minus the height, and she runs like some kind of prancing, dainty, woodland creature).

Gazelle doesn’t teach at my studio. I know her through a game of six degrees of separation that includes both a personal and exercise related connection.  It was through that combination that I came to attend a cardio-kickboxing class she was hosting to raise money for charity.

The class kicked my ass.  In a good way.   So I began following her around to other gyms, where I take her class as a drop-in whenever possible.  She’s amazing.

Fitness is her full time job.  She has a degree in Exercise Physiology, but instead of working in a clinical setting, she likes to teach.  She gets up most mornings around 4:00am to begin her day, which includes a variety of classes taught at several different gyms.  I’ve seen here around noon-time when she’s already five classes into her day and you’d never know it.

In addition to her workload, she’s an avid runner and she’s constantly trying to get me to take it up.

“Hey, want to go for a run today?  It’s going to be so nice out!”  she texts.

“No.  Running is dangerous.”  I say.

“Running isn’t dangerous! What are you talking about?” 

“Um, have you never seen Dateline?  Or 48 Hours Investigates? There’s like a 90% chance I’ll be murdered.”  I tell her.

“We’ll be together though.”  She says.

“No, we won’t. I’ll quit after three minutes and tell you I’ll catch up. And by the time I’m attacked, you’ll be too far away for me to trip you as a sacrifice to save myself.”  


“Want to go for a run?  The foliage is beautiful!”  She tries again.

“Imagine how much better I’ll be able to see it while walking.”  I say.


“Let’s go for a run today!  Just a short one!”  She begs.

“I’d love to but I can’t.  Oh wait.  No, I wouldn’t love to.”


“Ok, I know you’ll probably say no, but how about you give running a chance today?”

“No.”


“Run?”

“I can’t, I hate it.”  

“Have you ever tried it?  Like REALLY tried it?”  

“Yes, that’s how I know that with every stride, a part of my soul dies.”

“You are so dramatic.”

“I know.”  


“Hey friend, great day for a run!”

“Evolution.”

“What?”

“If God wanted us to run, he would not have killed off the Dinosaurs.”

“That makes zero sense.”

“It makes perfect sense.  Think about it while you’re running today.  Alone.”


I’m just not a runner.

There have been many times I’ve gone out and invested in expensive, top of the line running shoes, devised a training plan and envisioned myself crossing the finish line of the Boston marathon.  But then, I just end up gardening in my expensive, top of the line running shoes and watching the marathon from a bar on Beacon Street.

And I can always tell who the real runners are vs. the people like me who go out thinking, I’m going to pound out some miles and then end up walking three minutes in, because running is stupid.

Real runners seem to glide, their strides steady and light, their facial expressions stoic, their breathing, steady.

When I run, I look like a sack full of rocks being dragged across a bumpy road as I desperately suck wind.  My facial expression says, “This sucks, I’m bored, I hate every minute of this and it’s only been half a block.”

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I will hike for dozens/hundreds of miles carrying a 20 pound backpack up and down mountains for days and I won’t complain, even once.  I will bike ride for hours.  I will Spin and Barre and Booty Build and Muscle Pump and Namaste every day of the week….but I cannot bring myself to jog a lap, let alone a mile.

So I will keep on telling my friend no.  And she will continue to ask.

I will offer to drive alongside her in my car, while she runs.  Promising to shout out inspirational quotes, throw paper cups of water at her and play Eye of the Tiger at the highest volume setting for as long as her little legs will go.

And she will attempt to trick me into running by using words like “fun run” and promising a “yummy lunch” afterward.  And I will tell her that her idea of “yummy” includes a plate of twigs and crab grass and my idea of “yummy” includes cheesecake.

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Though it probably doesn’t sound like it, I do appreciate her persistence.  I know that it comes from a good place.  She’s rooting me on, because she thinks I can do it.  She has faith in me and my abilities.  Running is a passion of hers and she wants to share it with me.  Motivation is part of her job and she is really good at it.

It’s just that in my case, there is no will to find the way.  But her constant nagging has encouraged me.  I work out harder, because of her.  I push myself every workout and when I think I’m at my max, I push just a little bit more.

But if you ever see me running, you should probably start running too….because chances are, a zombie, or a serial killer is gaining on me.
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Flashback Friday….That Time I Tried Atkins

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” ~ Kate Moss

Personally, I think her bony ass is full of shit….but, it took me awhile to figure that out.

Throughout my twenties, I did my fair share of fad dieting.  The South Beach Diet, the Cleveland Clinic Diet, Slim Fast and the Hydroxycut and Coffee diet I invented myself.  Which was kind of my take on the Super Model diet (champagne and cocaine), but since I couldn’t afford cocaine, or champagne, I doubled down on the uppers and I’ll be honest, how I didn’t die of a massive heart attack, I’ll never know.

If I could go back in time, I’d just smack the post closing time Taco Bell, taco supreme out of my hand and suggest fewer buttery nipple shooters, in lieu of torturing myself during day time hours.  But, wisdom comes with age, or so they say.

I began my journey of unsustainable dieting after gaining a few pounds at my first office job post college.  I didn’t make a lot of money and so my food options were pretty limited.

Most of the time, I lived off Ramen Noodles, or Spaghetti noodles with butter.  When I had a little extra cash, I bought a few Banquet TV dinners and ninety-nine cent frozen pizza’s.  I ate whatever was cheapest, which meant I mostly ate crap.

The office was relatively small and the owner of the business liked to take us out for lunch a few times a week.  I quickly learned that if I ordered intelligently, I could squeeze several meals out of the leftovers.

This meant, I almost always ordered a hearty pasta dish, since the servings are typically larger compared to that of a salad or sandwich.  I also learned I could steal other people’s leftovers.

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Every Friday, the office supplied bagels from a fancy bagel shop, along with a selection of gourmet cream cheeses.  I took my morning bagel and then casually returned to the kitchenette to snatch up the extra’s for home; hiding them behind piles of paper I had clutched to my chest and in my purse while trying to make it look like I was just on my way to/from the bathroom.

Once, I pulled a container of cream cheese, with approximately one tablespoon of Pumpkin Spice remaining in it, out of the trash….because that’s wasteful and I had no shame.

And then there were the birthday celebrations and the grocery store sheet cakes that came along with them.

After the “party,” I liked to volunteer to clean-up the break room, not because I liked to be helpful, but because I could wrap up the rest of the sheet cake and take it home with me.

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So yeah, it didn’t take long before the one pair of Jaclyn Smith black work pants I owned, started crying at the seams.

One of my co-workers, Ned, a middle aged guy with horribly bad breath, suggested I give Atkins a try.  The fact that a middle-aged man I worked with commented on my expanding waistline, is a whole other thing.

Anyway, he’d been an Atkins devotee for most of his adult life….long before the diet peaked in popularity.

I was immediately lured in by the idea that I could go to McDonald’s, order a whole bunch of cheeseburgers, and all I would have to sacrifice would be the bun.

So….what you’re saying is that I can fry up a package of discount hamburger from Aldi’s, smother it in cheese and eat the whole thing in one sitting?  

I could eat an ENTIRE carton of eggs?

ALL the bacon?

It sounded so easy and I was all about easy.

I never made it to ketosis.

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Shortly after I started the induction phase, Ned was hospitalized with a serious illness that had something to do with his butt-hole falling out.  Apparently, he wasn’t properly supplementing his fiber intake all those years on Atkins and the result was, Butt-Hole Fall-Outis.

I’m sure there was an actual medical term for whatever was happening and I’m sure there was more to the story, but all I heard was “Its like his butt-hole is falling out.”

Even though I didn’t really give much thought to my own butt-hole on a regular basis, it seemed the kind of body part a person would like to keep and so that was enough for me to hop off the Atkins bandwagon….immediately.

On my way home from work, I stopped in at the grocery store for a family sized can of  Beefaroni and a bunch of banana’s, that I began to devour the second I got into my car,  while clenching my butt cheeks together.

But still, it took years of fad dieting and failure, before I discovered that weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight did not have to include suffering and/or the elimination of food groups.

Eventually, I discovered simple calorie counting and for me, it’s made all the difference.  Setting a reasonable and HEALTHY, per day caloric intake….along with exercise….has been key in helping me to maintain a healthy weight.  It’s also significantly improved my overall energy level.

Knowing  that I can essentially eat whatever I want….so long as I stick to my daily goal….helps me make better choices throughout the day (most of the time) and it allows me some slack when I want to indulge….all without sabotaging my efforts and throwing my bodily functions off track.

I’ve also learned a lot about food in recent years….the differences between calories, carbohydrates and cholesterol….and the best way to give my body the fuel it needs to properly function.

But let me be clear….ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, I have written here should be considered, or taken as advice.  I don’t know anything.

I’m a cancer survivor and one of the benefits of that, includes a team of doctors and nutritionists who have given me new insights and instructions regarding my overall health these last six years.  I do what they tell me, because cancer sucked.  And whatever I have to do to prevent getting it again, I’ll do.

But, if you are on the look-out for great recipes that are healthy and don’t taste like cardboard, I am a huge fan of this lady:  Skinnytaste.

I don’t personally know the author at Skinnytaste.  No funds, or food, or favors of any kind have been exchanged for my referencing here here….I just really love her recipes and when I get compliments on her meals, I take all the credit, which is easier to do when you don’t actually know the other person.

Bon apetit!

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A Eulogy for my Step-Mom….

“You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family.” ~My Step-Mom

A year ago, my step-mom, Cindy, passed away.  She was found on her front porch by her mailman.  She was 58 years old.

I like to imagine she was found in death, like I remember her best in life.  Dressed to the nine’s.  Hair and makeup, perfect.  A Kool Mild cigarette in one well manicured hand and a Cosmopolitan in the other.  Almost like she’d just stepped out of an episode of Mad Men.

In reality, I think it likely looked far more tragic.  And for a woman who prided herself on optics, it seems an exceptionally cruel way for death to have come knocking.

Although she had been my step-mom for nearly 30 years, I learned of her death via Facebook; one cryptic post.

To be fair, I suppose she wasn’t technically my step-mom any more.  She and my dad had divorced a few years prior and in the wake of their divorce, she made it clear that she was divorcing my brother and me as well.

So perhaps, I didn’t deserve to be counted among those who got a phone call with a gentle breaking of the news.  I wasn’t family anymore.

Cindy was a beautiful, funny, vivacious, silly, complicated woman, who was also a drug addict.

It began in the late-90’s, when she was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition in the aftermath of a work related injury to her left arm.  It wasn’t a serious injury, but it required minor, outpatient surgery.  In the months that followed, the pain never lessened.  Instead, it became increasingly more severe.

Once, while at their home for the weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night and found Cindy in the bathroom, sweating profusely.  She looked like she wanted to crawl out of her own body for the pain and she couldn’t stop vomiting.  Her left arm, from her elbow to her hand, was swollen and waxy looking.

When I talked to my dad about it the next day, he said it had been going on for months and no one was able to explain it.  She’d been to doctor after doctor, most of whom suggested it was all in her head.

Eventually, she was properly diagnosed, but not before she began to lose some of the strength and coordination in her left hand, along with her spirit and her interest in life.

After the diagnosis, her treatment included things like nerve blocks, physical therapy, and narcotics; specifically, Oxycodone.  There were other treatment options as well, but over time, she abandoned those for the quick fix of the drug.

Then, there were more drugs; many, more drugs.  Drugs for insomnia, anxiety, depression, different drugs for the pain, etc., etc., etc.

By the time I was an adult, she seemed to have connections in pharmaceuticals….and not the legal kind.  But, she always maintained that her doctors knew what she was taking and she didn’t seem as though she felt she needed to hide anything.  The pills were always in prescription bottles with her name on them, but had I looked closer, I would have noticed the expiration dates had long since passed.

Eventually, she started mixing her meds and washing them down with alcohol.  Then, my brother found a small baggie in their house that contained a white powdery substance.  At first, he thought it was cocaine, but later learned, at a family gathering when Cindy became inebriated, that she’d been grinding up her medications and snorting them.

“My doctor told me to,” she said, “because it helps the medication get into my system faster and then I don’t have to take as many pills.  It’s better for my liver.”

We didn’t believe her, but we didn’t question her either.  There were no staged interventions, or heart-felt discussions about our concerns for her well-being.  We didn’t call a hotline, or the authorities.  We didn’t talk to our dad about it.  We didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t do anything at all.

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Looking back on those days, it was so obvious that she was losing herself and that we were losing her.  Her personality began to subtly and then drastically change. Sometimes, she would wander around in a fuzzy bathrobe and a pair of Ugg slippers, looking disheveled and vacant.  Sometimes, she was mean; very clearly angry with everyone and everything and looking for a fight.

But then, she would sort of snap out of it and she’d be almost back to her old self and we could still see glimpses of the person she’d used to be; impeccably groomed, upbeat and silly.  Maybe she was fine after all, we’d think.

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Cindy had never been able to have children of her own, save for two twin boys she had miscarried late in the pregnancy.  They weren’t my fathers children, they had been conceived when she was married to her first husband.

A few years after the miscarriage, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.  A few years after that, she’d had to have an emergency hysterectomy.

As a kid, I couldn’t understand all that loss.  I just saw her as the kind of aunt and step-mom who never missed an opportunity to shower the kids in her life with fun.

She always came home from the store with an assortment of quirky things.  Like wind up toys in the shapes of animals wearing formal wear, small tubes of slime, glow in the dark Yo-Yo’s and other treasures she’d discovered in some check-out aisle, or when wandering through a Five and Dime shop.

She brought home weird candy that came in tins shaped like coffins, or a toilet.  There were sour elixirs in test tubes and lollipops with real bugs like centipedes and grasshoppers in their centers.

She also always stocked up on the latest National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News and Sun magazines.  We would all take turns reading, while laughing and seriously debating the truthfulness of the articles.

She introduced us to movies like Hairspray, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Tommy and many other off-beat flicks we watched on repeat until we had them memorized.

She loved cartoons and on Saturday mornings, we’d lounge around in the living room watching old episodes of the Flintstones, the Jetsons and the Smurfs.

When I was an early teen, she got a job at a factory that made car parts for the now defunct, Saturn automobiles.  She worked a second shift, so that during our extended summer visits with our dad, someone would always be home with my brother and me.

Every morning, we would watch The People’s Court and all the daytime talk shows; Sally Jesse Raphael, Donahue, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, etc, followed by repeats of Designing Women and the Golden Girls.  

In the evenings, my brother and I would wait for her to come home and while she ate her dinner, we would watch old sitcoms on Nick at Nite, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dick Van Dyke, Rhoda and Laverne and Shirley.

Cindy loved Elvis and Rod Stewart, who she called, “Rod the Bod” and occasionally, she would break out into one of their songs, while doing a little dance and trying to entice our dad, who didn’t dance, to join her, while she giggled and swayed.

She regaled us with tales from her 20’s, that often included stories about dancing her nights away in Disco clubs.

Like the story about the man who approached her one night wearing a silk shirt, with the top most buttons undone, so as to show off his ample chest hair (sexy), and wearing a necklace in the shape of a working stop-light.  She said he walked up to her and switched the light on his necklace from green to red and said, “I saw you from the across the room baby and my heart stopped.”

My brother and I would erupt into shrieks of laughter at how corny and gross it all sounded and she would say, “What!?  That was cool!”

At one point, she had raced American muscle cars at a local drag strip.  She would tell us that when she pulled up to the starting line, wearing a sparkly pink helmet and a rhinestone jumpsuit, the men would laugh.  And then….she’d leave them in her dust.

Cindy loved a good scary story, the quirkier and more paranormal, the better.  Her favorite authors were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  But as much as she loved to read scary stories, she loved to tell them more.

In the summer, we’d gather around an enormous bon-fire in their yard, surrounded by thick woods, and she would tell us an elaborate story that always had local origins. Inevitably, she would manage to scare us into screams, tears, wet pants….and afterwards, she would laugh until she cried, while recounting how scared we’d been.

She loved the water and for a number of years, she and my dad lived on a lake and we’d spend our weekends on their boat from sun up to sun down.  We’d water ski and tube and read and swim and float.

She knew a million recipes that almost always included a can of some type of Campbell’s soup and my brother and I thought she was the best cook around.

I loved to watch her work in the kitchen and though I was a tom-boy with no interest in cooking, or anything domestic, I would sit on a stool at the counter and we’d chat about anything and everything, while she cooked.

She was high maintenance and a total girly girl, who took a Caboodle case full of makeup and hair products along on our annual, weeklong camping trips and I don’t recall ever seeing her without a glossy red manicure on her perfect fingernails.   “A girl’s always gotta look her best” she would say.

Her hair was naturally curly and she wore it the exact same way, until she discovered Chi flat irons in early 2,000.

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Her personal life and backstory were fascinating to me and she never held back the details.  I could ask her anything and she didn’t hesitate to tell me.

But the questions I should have been asking later in life, I never did.

Her addiction seemed to draw to the surface old, buried wounds from her childhood and her first marriage and the loss of her babies and her inability to have biological children of her own.

And it was addiction that kept her from coping with these things in a healthy way. Instead, she began to dwell and stew in resentment and it wreaked havoc on her mental health and her relationships.

I had always imagined that Cindy would be a funny and quirky grandma for my kids.  I looked forward to sending them to her house for long weekends and hearing all about the Snipe hunt she’d tricked them into and about that time she dated a Vampire.

But addiction took that away long before it was anything more than a hope.  The last years that I was a part of her life were complicated and filled with anger and disappointment.  We didn’t fight directly.  Instead, we didn’t really talk at all, which was worse in a lot of ways.

When I needed her most as an adult, when I was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, she wasn’t capable of being there for me.  But looking back on all of it, I realize that she might have needed me first and I wasn’t there for her either.

Her addiction was a well kept secret that everyone knew, but no one talked about, except in whispered side conversations.  Instead of calling her out, we all tiptoed around her, hoping we’d just get through things; holidays, birthdays, funerals, weddings and other family gatherings.

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I would find out later that she wasn’t in denial about her addiction.  That she and my dad had many conversations and fights about it over the years.  That she made promises and then tried to hide things and then decided she didn’t have to hide anything and she would do whatever she wanted.

That cycle of acknowledgment, deception and defiance, repeated itself for years.

And then, the marriage imploded and she was gone from our lives.  I was angry with her for letting us go, but I didn’t reach out.  I kept waiting for her to come to me.  To snap out of her addiction.  To realize she’d messed everything up and want to make it right.

I never fantasied that she and my dad would rekindle their romance, but I thought she would want to rekindle a relationship with me.  I thought she would want to know my son and that we would figure out how to forge a new relationship in the wake of our broken family.

I wanted her to tell me she was sorry.

Then, I wanted to tell her about how I had always loved when she introduced me to people as her daughter, because it made me feel wanted and important in a way my own mother never made me feel.

I wanted to tell her that some of the best parts of me as a step-mother and a mother, I learned from her.

I wanted to tell her how grateful I was for the hundreds of wonderful things, both big and small, that she did to make our lives better.

When I became a step-mom, I wanted to tell her that I could now understand how difficult it had been for her at times, and I wanted to tell her thank-you for hanging in there.

I wanted to tell her I loved her.

Addiction doesn’t give you the things you want though and I didn’t understand that until it was too late.

I also didn’t understand Cindy’s kind of addiction. She wasn’t smoking crack, or shooting heroine.

She was taking pills that had been prescribed, at least in the beginning, by her doctor.  I didn’t understand that those pills could have the same hold on her as any other drug.

I thought she could just stop taking them if she wanted to.  Especially when other treatments she tried for her condition, were working and she no longer needed the pills. I thought she was choosing to be a junkie and I hated her for it.

In the end, I never said good-bye to her.  After the divorce, it never occurred to me that I should.  I always expected we would reconnect.

And when she died, I chose not to attend the Celebration of Life her family held.  In part, because my brother and I weren’t mentioned in her obituary and the rejection stung.

For so many years, more than half or lives, we’d been her kids.  She’d witnessed and participated in our milestones.  She’d helped to provide for us, financially and emotionally.  Now, she was gone and it all felt unfinished and permanently broken.

Life goes on though and over the past year, I’ve tried to make peace with all that happened.  And the thing is, I don’t want the final chapter of her story, of our story, to define the whole thing.

It wouldn’t be fair.  Not to her, or to me.  Instead, I’m going to celebrate and remember the woman she was, before addiction took her away.

Goodbye Cindy.  I hope you have found all the peace.
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