breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

connection, Encouragement, Friends, Uncategorized

Mean Girls

I met my son for lunch yesterday. He’s now a fulltime worker with a direct deposit and a lunch hour, and we agreed tacos on the westside would taste good. It’s both strange and wonderful to see him midday in khakis and wearing the new J.Crew golf shirt I bought him. He’s starting to show a little fatigue from the grind, but thankfully is challenged and using his brain far more than he would hanging around the house. And a paycheck sure feels good.

Afterward I decided to pop into Serena & Lily, an overpriced home furnishings store which sends me their catalog I’ve occasionally flipped through. Its expensive beachy vibe and pillows with playful pom-poms both attract me and put me off – much like the Williams-Sonoma catalog does with similarly overt overpricing. Having never seen a store in person, I was curious. I’ve tried before but there was an “appointment only” sign on the door – in italic tasteful script of course – and so I left. This time, that tasteful off-putting sign was still there, but I thought I’m already here and besides, I don’t see any customers inside. A woman on the sidewalk nearby beamed at me, surprised at my gall; she’d wanted to browse too but admitted she didn’t dare bother with such an unfriendly, exclusive vibe.

Through the door as I was peering inside, I saw three women, one wearing that anxious look you get right before a party you’re hosting is to begin. We locked eyes and I stood at the door and waited it out. She walked toward me, a head shaking no look on her face, as if I were a rat scratching to get in, and she’d once again need to remind me the answer is still, “No you can’t come in here.” My persistence paid off however and she unlocked the almighty door, poked her head out feigning ignorance as to what I might possibly want. There was a rushed exchange: HER: “We are appointment only.” ME: “I just wanted to browse quickly.” HER: grudgingly looking at her watch, “I have a 3 o’clock appointment.” Seeing as I wasn’t going away, and it was barely 2:00pm, and disgruntled by the few choices left her, she let me slink in past her and promptly locked the door behind us. 

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

One friendly looking woman was fluffing pillows and positioning an expensive throw diagonally over the sofa’s arm.  As I looped through the store leaning in to turn over price tags – ouch! – the main woman was back at her post at the large white desk in the center of the space. She was the queen bee and it was clear behind her tortoise shell low sitting readers that she called the shots. I made my way to fabrics – one of the reasons I wanted in in the first place – but the grey windowpane Sunbrella swatch advertised online wasn’t instore. The woman working fabrics offered me a sample of a different brand performance fabric – perhaps my consolation prize if I would just leave already ?- and encouraged me to go home and dirty it up, even pull out a Sharpie, because this linen-like square was indestructible, and could even tolerate a Clorox soak if it came to that. It was beautiful but unfortunately my cats would shred it to pieces.

Looping back around to the queen’s desk, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to discuss our unfortunate greeting at her door. I asked if this appointment-only situation was due to Covid, and she nodded yes before I could even finish my sentence, happy I gave her a response to offer me before she’d have to rustle one up, using up precious energy reserved for her 3 o’clock. I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door. All I got next was, “We’re California-based” – as if that helps explain the unfriendly vibe? – and smiling, enthusiastically adding, “… actually, we’ve done really well.” (with the implied: … by being picky about just who we let in). Pleased with her rapid recovery from and command of our exchange, she went back to the desk and her busy downward glance mode, eyes ever watching but with readers now slid lower.

I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door.

I finished my two-minute sweep through the store returning to the fluffing pillows woman who seemed flustered when I asked her a product question. She revealed it was her first day and I warmly congratulated her. What I really wanted to tell her was to run now, because I can’t imagine the queen would tolerate such product illiteracy or ease her career path in any way. I considered sitting on the couch because it was gorgeous and I sort of wanted to fall in love with it, but with the puffed perfect pillows in place and three sets of side-eying eyes, I thought better of it. The price for the soft linen sofa, like most things in there, was ridiculous, untouchable and untestable, so I cut my losses and headed for the door. The queen rushed behind me as if unsure I might change my mind and stay or if I could work the lock. I surprised her with my lock turning skills and she seemed newly energized with the prospect of my leaving. I left, heard the lock turn and never looked back.

Sorry folks – I’m sure this is a great store and if you shop there and can afford the cute pillows and such and the ladies take you in and manage to find smiles for their faces, then good for you. I, however, don’t fall in that group and this experience reminded me why I don’t want to. There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that, and it’s mostly with women I’ve found. You know the sinking feeling. Like after you’ve gotten a haircut you’re unsure about and an acquaintance (or good friend even) will do the long stare, cock her head and with a knowing naivete inquire, “Did you get your haircut?” which is usually followed by a smirk, another stare taking in the atrocities and then silence. And there you are, naked AND with a questionable haircut. 

There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that.

There was that time I hosted a dinner party for good friends and another couple they’re close with joined in. We know this couple, but haven’t hung out with them socially, but because our friends made the suggestion, we happily included them. As I do with most gatherings I host, I busted my ass marinating beautiful meats and seafood for grilling, making delicious sides and getting the house picked up and (mostly) cleaned up for the event. The guests brought wine and the wife of this other couple, a salad. It was delightful yet simple, and there was something about it that drew me in, but I wasn’t sure what. When the time was right, I complimented her and then asked what was in it. Gatekeeper of salad secrets, she looked my way, smiled and offered up a paltry, “a little this, a little that.” I’ll stop here and admit there was a time I wasn’t as generous with giving out my recipes, and there are still a few for cookies and cakes I occasionally sell that I won’t give out. But mostly, if you liked what I made you, I’m thrilled because c’mon, folks, isn’t that the point? And if you bother to put yourself out there and ask me for the recipe, I will gladly give it to you. Thinking perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, later in the evening as we’d all further loosened up with more wine, I asked directly, “Your salad is great. I’d love to make it some time. Could you share your recipe?” And then the smile returned to her face and then… nothing. Again, I’m standing there naked before her and she won’t even throw me a towel. 

Be warned: Mr. Longlegs loves swings

Flashback to Trinity School, 6th grade and I’m eleven and enjoying time on the playground in that relaxed dappled autumn sun September brings. I noticed a Daddy Longlegs at the base of the slide and shrieked, quickly moving toward the swings. My friends noticed and snickered, but now on the swings, I was safe. After several minutes pumping my legs and climbing high into the sky, I felt something. There it was, another one climbing up the chain of my swing. Heart racing, I slowed down and jumped off, unable to silence my shriek or this terror, running inside to the bathroom where I’d stay until recess was over. Sitting on the toilet in my stall, I gradually calmed down and let the horrific events fade, when all of a sudden, the bathroom door opened, and a few giggly girls came bounding in. I stayed quiet but I knew they knew I was in there, and then they flung handfuls of Daddy Longlegs over the stall door. It was then that I endured a slow-motion horror flick, Daddy Longlegs raining down onto my head, their bent quivering legs scurrying around my scalp and neck. Of course, I had to run my hand through my hair to get them off and, thanks to the adrenaline kicking in, I stayed at it until it seemed they were literally out of my hair. 

We’re all vulnerable but often try not to look the part. Each time, the hurt that seeps in when you share your heart or fears with a friend and instantly regret it because you’re now exposed or when you ask for help when you’re feeling awkward or ashamed revealing your weaknesses, feels awful and trains you to retract back into your shell. Those times when you let your guard down and complain about a relationship you’re struggling with, suddenly you aren’t interesting any more. Your mystique has melted and faced with the real you – or the real you on that particular day – some people don’t want to look anymore, don’t want their image of you to become too real, too human, because maybe it makes them all too real as well, and feel less special, especially now hanging out with you. They need things fluffed up and crisp, like the Serena & Lily showroom promises and delivers.

Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people. – Fred Rogers

If we’re being honest, I suspect we’d each agree that it’s our weak spots that make us interesting and real, make us special, and help us grow. If only we could stop judging each other and ourselves, maybe we’d learn more about one other and really see each other just as we are. I’d like to think that there are far more women out there who are supportive, loyal, and unconditionally generous, and thankfully I know many who are. 

Maybe we could be a little less picky about who we let in, give everyone a chance, and put bullying, elitism and shaming aside, or even better, away for good. Women can be a source of great support, information and joy for one another. We can lift each other up, share our delicious secrets and do away with making the other girl undress while we quizzically stare at her. We’re all naked and imperfect and just doing our best, so please girls, let’s give each other a break and a chance to grow and learn and let go; let’s give each other some love. Ourselves too.

Nothing’s perfect, not even this gorgeous magnolia.
2021, Covid-19, Encouragement, hope, loss, Racism, Sadness, Sunshine, uncertainty

Half Staff or Half Full ?

I’m baking cookies, fulfilling two orders I just picked up. My Spotify’s Quiet Songs playlist is rumbling in the background with Paul Simon’s April Come She Will, Dawes’ Nothing is Wrong, and more ahead. 

Sitting at the table between batches and a CNN alert hit my phone with the headlines: Two Officers Wounded at US Capitol Attack, and a little later, Gunman Killed at US Capitol Attack, and now, 1 Officer Killed, 1 Wounded, Attacker Dead at US Capitol. Three mass shootings in less than a month, and now this, another Capitol attack. 

Earlier today I learned my old neighbor’s sweet daughter, all of 21 years, passed away. My kids grew up with her right across the street from our house, swimming in her pool (she was an expert swimmer from early on) and hanging out while the parents drank wine and talked of future neighborhood fun for the kids — pumpkin carving parties, pool parties, parties for no reason at all. A heart attack and two strokes slipped her into a coma and then a few days ago into an untimely death.

It’s a sunny day here, a nice break from all the rain of late, and I’ve been thinking of all the tears shed already this month, already this year, last year and the one before, wondering if you collected them all in a big bucket what a shiny reflection today’s sun would cast. My mind is stuck on the enormous swath of people left behind wrestling with it all, trying to sort it out, slipping into the past remembering, and fast forwarding through the pain of the present in an attempt to carve out some semblance of a future, now with a gaping hole at its center. Wives, parents, sisters and friends, all left behind in this bizarre Covid-spiked world to keep going. But there is hope. There is always hope. We have vaccines way ahead of schedule and I like to imagine grandparents hugging their kids and grandchildren after this long year of isolation. What a pure delight that costs nothing. We all crave these kind of things but some of us don’t seem to find them.

I feel like I am supposed to be learning important nuggets from this set of years. I am supposed to come out the other side that much stronger, wiser, grateful for what I have, but instead I feel sad for it all. The Asian community and the hate they’ve experienced, the families of gun violence who get to relive their pain after yet another mass shooting, and the ongoing trial over George Floyd’s death. I watched witnesses walk up to the stand and after just a few questions, break into full on sobs, flooded back to that moment, the moment when you desperately want to help but you are pushed aside, forced to feel the avoidable horrific struggle spiral beyond control. 2021 was supposed to bring with it an enormous relief.

I am appalled and ashamed of these people behaving badly and disheartened that we still haven’t seemed to learn anything. Where are the gun laws that will protect these innocent people and spare their families so much pain? I don’t see the progress I need to see. Instead I see people laughing at our First Lady who didn’t pronounce “Si se puede” right. I see bullies and social media flexing its muscle for all the wrong reasons. 

The cookies are cooling now, and there is India Arie’s I Am Light swirling through the kitchen. 

I am not the mistakes that I have made, I am not the pieces of the dream I left behind, I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside, I am not my age, I am not my race

My soul inside

I am a star, a piece of it all

I am light

And next, Ruth B’s Slow Fade offers up its own wisdom: 

The light has disappeared the dust has settled here. Was it always like this, cause now it’s always like this?

I’m not sure what the rest of this year has in store, but I am thinking we all have to find some light, harness it, be it.

Be well, find some sun, and if you’re vaccinated, go hug someone who could use it.

Love,

S

Atlanta, breast cancer, connection, Empty nester, Encouragement, hope, loss, Uncategorized

Scar Tissue

I started physical therapy to restore range of motion in my shoulder and arm, left tight and knotty from a recent lumpectomy and radiation. Being able to reach behind and scratch my back easily and pain-free is a new goal, as is securing a bra clasp. Over a year since surgery and nearly that long since treatment, you’d think by now the healing would be all done, but seems the tightness has only increased. The tissue under my arm feels like fabric sewn with too tight stitches and all we need is a seam ripper to break through and pull the threads loose. 

You’d think by now the healing would be all done.

Like you do when telling an infant’s age, I used to talk in months – I’m three months post chemo, six months since radiation, etc. – but thankfully now I can talk in years since all this started up in late 2019. My surgery and treatments have graduated out of their infant stage and into a toddler stage, with tantrums arising as this little blocked lymphatic circulation mess I must now clean up.

The physical therapy office is close by, convenient and calm — nothing like my last PT experience several years ago where the incongruously L O U D radio was routinely tuned to the unholiest of trinities – The BeeGees / Gerry Rafferty / Air Supply – and my physical therapist’s brash order-me-around style certainly didn’t fit my idea of a first-string player you’d pick for your healing team. Last week at my initial session, I was assigned an Emory student, a no-nonsense tucked-in clean-shaven guy who, after moving me through several stations working my arm and shoulder, moved into a deep tissue shoulder massage miraculously landing on all the tight unyielding spots which, albeit stubbornly, gave way. I left with a sheet of homework exercises, most of which I completed except the one involving a Theraband. Surely I own a Theraband, but, alas, where is it? Still haven’t brought myself to enter a Target or Walmart since the pandemic began, so opted against purchasing. I know, Amazon.

At today’s session I worked with a petite young lovely woman who moved me through various stretching and strengthening stations. The therapists toggle between several patients, like busy chefs minding multiple burners, careful to tenderly sauté and not let a rolling boil erupt or a pan sit unattended and burn. They move between patients rolling their laptops around on wheeled lectern style desks.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

I might have blurted out to my therapist that the roving desk setup she maneuvers reminded me of the SNL skit with Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer rolling her podium on the streets of New York. She humored me with an amused/mortified smile, probably not so happy she got assigned the clown who wants to inject humor into all of it, breaking up the calm focused room she and her colleagues have cultivated. I joked now she won’t be able to shake this visual and she smiled again realizing the truth of that unfortunate circumstance.

Canele

This weekend we went for a Sunday drive, winding through various parts of Atlanta — Edgewood, Inman Park, Poncey-Highlands. Other than looking at house paint colors for inspiration, my primary goal was to score a canelé, a small striated cylindrical French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and dark caramelized crust, which I found at Ponce City Market’s Saint-Germain bakery. I’m working on not consuming much sugar, but occasionally the urge is real, and I’m increasing trying to locate something exceptionally good vs the first filler sugar I can get my hands on. By the looks of things in the Food Hall, but for the masks covering most people’s faces, you’d never know we’re in a pandemic. Throngs of loud-talking particle-spreading people filled the hall, the din of noise so visual and loud I nearly abandoned the much-anticipated sugar errand. I got myself a canelé and Joe a palmier, his favorite, plus a coffee éclair and raspberry and passion fruit mousse little round cake for later. We nibbled on the canelé and palmier and meandered through neighborhoods studying houses’ paint colors from our car for our some-day repaint.

Driving through Edgewood, I noticed a ramshackle of a church with a sign out front and the message, “Your Grief is Valid.” We live in a world full of dichotomy – help is on the way with stimulus checks about to drop into accounts and Covid vaccines increasingly common, yet still there are long lines for those waiting for a bag of food to feed their family and scores of people pre- and post-Covid cloaked in a stuck-on heaviness they can’t shake. Last week, the TV networks broadcast highlights looking back on the full year since Covid was proclaimed a global pandemic. How do you bundle so much loss into a news segment? It was admittedly well done, but so sad, too. Smiling faces now gone leaving behind families who don’t know where to begin to climb out of their despair. Exhausted doctors and nurses, their virtues extolled, in search of a reset or second wind or both.

Your grief is valid.

Blue skies always return

We each heal in our own time. And time, for the most part, heals all things. But for those of us stuck in the middle between our hurt and our healing, and with a pandemic thrown in the mix, every morning can feel like Groundhog Day, a familiar rotation without much hopeful change in sight. Circling back to the church sign, your grief IS valid, despite however fresh or old, and the way you move through it is your choice. But until you feel well on your way, please don’t stoically go it alone or hide until your best self magically shows up. Because we all know things don’t quite work out that way. Instead, walk with someone, grab a coffee or a canelé and take some time together, comparing notes, taking notes, or soaking in the simple and reliable beauty outside. One day when you aren’t looking, you will feel it, a little less heavy and moving forward with a slight change that happened, when things starting looking brighter, sharper and you saw a shiny glint of hope in the distance. Try and break up the days, infuse them with connection. Sure, physical therapy can mechanically do it, but being together also melts scar tissue, and is what opens up space for all kinds of goodness.

Make A Wish