Thursday, November 24, 2011

New York, New York

I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in NYC this past weekend, surrounded and spoiled rotten by wonderful people. We ate genuine, card-carrying New York pizza at a friend's house in Brooklyn on Friday, which almost made the trip worth it by itself, that's how good this pizza was. Another friend treated me to a cozy place to stay and a yoga class on Saturday morning. And fall in New York? Heavenly, obviously. Cool, crisp air, changing leaves, boots and scarves and holiday window displays. I love it all and wish I'd had more than two days to relish the season with my amazing friends.

A couple of these friends organize a pub crawl every year to raise money for charity. This year, they directed their efforts toward the Susan G. Komen Foundation with an aptly titled "Crawl for the Cure - Hooray for Boobies Edition." I flew out to New York as the unofficial mascot. Thirty or forty of us spent Saturday afternoon pub crawling around the East Village wearing ridiculously perfect hot pink t-shirts designed for the event by another couple of friends.
Waitresses and even a bar owner on our crawl were eager to share their own friends' stories of triumph over cancer. I only cried a couple of times. All told, the pub crawl raised nearly $2,500 for breast cancer research. But even more dear to my heart than the money raised was the love I felt from everyone who participated on Saturday, and even those who didn't raise a pint glass (or three) with us but who donated their money, time and energy to the effort.

Have I mentioned lately how incredible my friends are?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Have you met my crazy?

You wouldn't know it by looking at my car (I don't remember the last time it was clean, and then it was probably Chris who took it through the car wash) or the state of my personal files, but I may have a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder. By the way, I'm self-diagnosing here, so if it's actually some other disorder I've got, no need to point it out.

In middle school, I went through a period where I ate baked potatoes almost exclusively and drank lemonade by the gallon. Around the same time, I went through my mom's cookbooks and calculated the calorie counts on almost every recipe, whether or not we were ever going to try the dish. I think the normal kids were at the playground. And I don't think I had an eating disorder, but I did pay very close attention to what I ate. This is ironic, considering most of my clothes in the early 90s were so baggy that it wouldn't have mattered what my body looked like underneath. I finally let go of this behavior around my junior year of high school, when we moved to Seattle and I had more important things to occupy my attention, like how to properly order a double tall nonfat latte.

That wackadoodle part of my brain is probably also to blame for my running. I've always been active, but I was never coordinated enough to be what you'd call an athlete. This is why I ran; I could usually put one foot in front of the other without falling on my face. In college, I ran obsessively. I ran whether there was snow on the ground or I was hungover or I had an organic chemistry test to study for. When my parents separated my junior year, I ran three miles to a cathedral, kneeled in the back row of pews, and cried. This was the same year I was on the cross-country team - which meant daily team practices and racing a 5K every weekend. It is a blessing that I worked at a bagel shop and had free and unlimited access to carbs during that period.

These days, limited free time only means that my looniness rears its head in other ways, and it usually strikes as soon as my head hits the pillow at night. I wish I had time to run 18 miles a week. I'd use the time to do something else now, like SLEEP IN ON WEEKENDS or organize those files of mine or catch up on laundry. When the house is quiet at the end of the day, my mind buzzes - roars, really - with anxiety about the fact that I have cancer. My panicked internal dialogue sounds something like this:

What is that pain in my rib? Why is my hair growing in? How do I have stage FOUR cancer? Why didn't I catch it sooner? I don't want to die.

Chris has perfected the art of calming me down, but I broke down this week and asked my doctor for a crutch in pill form. The moments of panic were happening more often than I was comfortable with, not to mention they were interfering with my sleep. And panic is not nearly as cute as our Bug, so my patience for sleep-deprivation because of it had run thin. Xanax won't make the cancer go away; I know that. But if it means I can cope with it a little better (and sleep a little more), I just might make it through this without ending up in the loony bin.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have a confession to make that should surprise exactly nobody who reads this and knows me at all: I am not the most technologically adept person out there. I had to ask Chris to help me set up this blog, and it basically requires a password and an ability to type. I was proud of myself when I figured out how to imbed clicking on the icon of a photo.

Which brings me back to my ineptitude. I read and appreciate every single comment you guys make, but I haven't yet figured out how to post replies to them so that you know I'm in a conversation with you. It's my goal for this week's treatment session: figure out how to comment on my own blog (well, that and kill cancer). In theory, it should be simple, and I welcome any tips from out there in the Internets.

To address a few outstanding questions in the meantime: Chris was a nutty professor for Halloween (oh, wait). We never did have to resort to the Irish teething cure, and are thisclose to Bug sleeping through the night uninterrupted. Hallelujah. Also, I've decided on a double mastectomy; as I get closer to the end of chemo, I just want this disease never to be a part of my life again. They can take my spleen, appendix, gall bladder and ovaries, too, if it means I get to be done with the Big C. And, yes, yoga is a godsend.

Thank you all for following along this crazy journey of ours - for the virtual hugs, high-fives, fist-bumps and cheers from the sidelines. I am running the ultimate marathon, and you are my pace car, water station and cheering section all in one. Down the road, if anyone ever wonders how we got through this period (because we will get through it, will finish this race), I know it'll be because we had this incredible network of support. You guys - and some phenomenal doctors - will have saved my life, and I can't thank you enough.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Opposite of Doubt

In class last week, my yoga instructor said to set an intention for ourselves.

"Breathe in your intention. Hold on to it and make it your focus throughout this class. As you exhale, let go of something that's no longer serving you."

I inhale deeply: healing, lightness, faith.

I exhale slowly: doubt, darkness, disease.

I move through the familiar postures, try to ignore the tightness in my hips (where I'm told we hold emotional stress). Releasing into seated forward fold near the end of the hour, my nose rests on my shins. As I grab my feet, I notice how much my soles are peeling -- a consequence of the chemo. I am relaxed here, folded into myself, breathing deeply and repeating my mantra over and over in my head: Get out, get out, getoutgetoutgetout.

This cancer is not me, not welcome here. It is an anomaly: I'm not obese, not a smoker, and cancer does not run in my family. I'm not obsessive about it but I try to eat healthily. I don't have much of a sweet tooth (save for dark chocolate), and I rarely eat red meat. I practiced yoga until I was 7.5 months pregnant and the poses became too awkward to be useful. I've run two marathons and raced on the cross-country team in college. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy just 8 months ago. My body is strong.

Of the major risk factors for developing breast cancer listed on The American Cancer Society's website, I meet the criteria for three: I am a woman, I started menstruation before age 12, and my first pregnancy was after the age of 30. I look for answers as to how else this could have happened. I definitely drank more than three drinks a week in my twenties. But so did everyone else I knew. I wonder if my makeup or deodorant contains parabens, which have been linked to cancer. I should be checking labels more closely. How much plastic have I been exposed to in my life, before everything was BPA-free? My head spins with the possible ways I could have made myself sick. Chris reminds me that if they knew what caused cancer they'd have a cure. He tells me this is a random mutation. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.

I have never doubted that I will beat this, but I still have moments when I'm scared out of my mind. I don't know how the two emotions coexist, but some days the fear is palpable -- fear about having to be vigilant in monitoring for recurrence for the rest of my life, fear about the statistics for advanced cancer, confident that I will watch my boy grow up. I feel that fiercely, almost violently. I am not leaving him.

The other night, I read a story about a woman who didn't beat breast cancer. She had two young children. I am sure she wanted to live; any mother would. I don't know what makes me certain my story is different than hers, but I'm holding onto it and making it my intention.