Begin Again

“If ever you feel discouraged, and you will at times, step away, take a deep breath, and begin again.” These are some of the words I wrote on my son’s graduation card. I don’t know if he’ll hang on to it or them, but I wanted to tell him anyway, maybe because I also needed this reminder? George Floyd can no longer take a deep breath and begin again, despite asking, begging, over and over, to reclaim his breath. And for those of us still here, simply breathing, something we take for granted, has gotten complicated on every level.

I’ve been listening to the news, watching social media and reading perspectives from well-known people and others too. The common takeaway is horrific and none of us can un-see what we saw in that video. And why should we? Haunting and deeply disturbing, that video and George Floyd’s precious life has sharpened our vision, caused us to look more closely at everything, our relationships with each other and the deep-seated labels, consciously and unconsciously, we assign to each other every single day.

Wear the Damn Mask / While grocery shopping, I noticed a sweet little boy, barely even three, wearing a mask like his parents. His had a cartoon pattern and tiny elastic bands which curved around his ears. With sobering headlines these days the likes of “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” I realized mask wearing will likely become normalized for him, something he grows up with in his daily wardrobe, as commonplace for his preventive health as an annual well check. I wonder, will his family reunion photos depict everyone in masks, with separate picnic blankets and distancing? I keep wanting to look back on this time, have it in our rearview mirror and in many ways return to how things were, but then I remember things will never be how they were and maybe they shouldn’t. Perhaps instead of fighting it, let’s work with it, highlight the best parts and lose the rest.

Change Your Behavior / In an interesting interview on NPR, science writer Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic and the more recent, The Next Great Migration, talks about the pandemic today. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/02/867691497/migration-isnt-crisis-it-s-the-solution-science-writer-says She says what we take out of this will depend on the stories we tell ourselves, which largely fall under the basic narrative that we have been invaded by something outside of us, and we have a sense of us being the passive victims. She observed the reaction to the pandemic for many has been that Covid has befallen us, as if we are objective observers and this plague raging in front of our noses simply happened to us, robbed us of control, and we are now left with the inconvenience of having to react. Yet its deep roots started to take hold long ago. Similarly, the response to systemic racism can be a passive or active one. We can either deny its very existence or change our behavior. It’s proven that social distancing works, and if you follow its guidelines, you will indeed flatten the curve. If a society wants to rid itself of systemic racism, it also must change its behavior. So simple, it seems. Shall we?

Food Is Love / I walked my dog downtown the other day, late in the afternoon when the sun is gentler and the dinner hour looms. Instead of the hum of bustling shops and restaurants, there was only a hot summer stillness under a gorgeous pandemic blue sky. I noticed the same men I often see, sitting on benches in front of the library, their belongings rolled up in tidy heaps near them and against the building. There was another man sitting alone in front of the Rec Center and our eyes locked. I always tighten the leash when I see people, because my German Shepherd/ Husky is big and for some, menacing, and the last thing I want to incite walking by is fear. On this 80-something-degree day, a lady dressed in a parka sat at a bus stop across from the Presbyterian church busy on a phone call, and several other men, one with his head down, dotted the lawn.

I couldn’t shake any of it once I got home and so I did what my instincts told me to do, what I’ve done several times before. The mini Kroger’s parking lot wasn’t too full and a nice smiling lady inside gave me one of the cleaned carts which I filled with deli turkey, ham, provolone cheese, soft wheat bread, fruit cups, bananas and baked chips. I bought paper lunch sacks and waters, too, and scored napkins and even a pack of toilet paper for our own cupboard. I sat in the car and assembled little meals. I brought a stick of butter, knife and cutting board from home and the butter softened in the car while I shopped. I buttered the bread, made the sandwiches and filled the bags full, with a napkin tucked inside each.

I returned and walked toward the two men and offered them a drink and snacks and we started talking. The older gentleman said what he’d really like is some ice cream, and we joked that I came up short. I asked him what kind and he said Haagen-Dazs cherry vanilla and coconut caramel. Then he rattled off more flavors and I said, laughing, “Stop!” We both knew neither of us was going to score a scoop no matter how many flavors we recited, but we laughed anyway at the futility of it all.

Next, I walked to the side of the church by the lawn. The man with his head down had gone, two others were still there. I gave them each a bag and we both told each other “God Bless You.” I never say that, but them saying it to me felt good, and so I said it back. Across the street on the square under the gazebo were two other young men. They were friendly and seemed glad to see snacks and water. They also said “God Bless You” and again I said it back. We agreed God should bless all of us. Around the corner propped up against the old courthouse was an older man, his belongings strewn against him and the building. He wrote things in a tiny spiral notepad and said he’d like some pocket change. I never carry money so instead brought him a water and a banana.

He asked me my name. I told him and got his. Kevin wanted to know my date of birth too and I simply told him “I’m an August baby” and he scrawled that information into his notebook. I asked him his birthday and he told me it’s June 8. Excited, I told him that’s also my sister’s birthday. He smiled showing his few teeth remaining and I said goodbye leaving him to jot in his notebook, the water and banana by his side.

Driving home I noticed an older man walking down Ponce de Leon who I had seen earlier near the library. It was hot and he looked hungry and tired and so I pulled over. Walking toward him I asked if he’d like something to drink. I never know how to broach the I’d like to give you some food and water topic. I don’t want to sound condescending or give someone something they don’t need or might be too proud to accept, so I typically just ask if they could use something to drink, knowing if they can, then I have the green light to hand over a bag full of other good things. He gladly took it and we wished each other well and I drove off.

For me, food is love. It would be childish and naive of me to presume I’ve solved anything. It doesn’t fix the deep seeded racist problems in our country and likely inside all of us, myself included. But it’s a way I’ve found of showing love and receiving it too. Each exchange with these people left me more hopeful, happier, and I can’t help but believe they felt the same way. We are all in this together and hungry for so much more than we now have.

Stop Judging Others; Start With Yourself / In Atlanta’s mayor’s moving speech the other day, among other things that resonated with me, she said, “You’re not going to out-concern me and out-care me.” https://www.fox5atlanta.com/video/689455 This reference to one upmanship gave me pause. In the wake of recent events, on social media I’ve noticed the rising need to outdo each other, as if to assuage our guilt from not doing enough? You’re doing nothing? You’re quiet? You’re probably a racist. You didn’t post a black box to social media on Tuesday, the horrors! Honestly I don’t know how. Yes, really. It was all I could do to add a City Schools of Decatur frame around my profile picture.

I wish I had some answers. So many wish the same. On a recent Instagram post, Ellen Degeneres, near tears, admitted she didn’t know what to say. (https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/sad-and-angry-ellen-posts-emotional-video-message/news-story/1f6a2c4e2ac226e03a03f42af3f3c5fe)

What can we say or do now, should have said yesterday or could do tomorrow? I know I don’t have the solution to rid society of systemic racism, but we need things to happen. It’s a two-way street and while there is still far too much focus on our differences, at the end of the day, we are all the same. Isn’t that something to celebrate?

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe


So Rad

Walking changes your brain. It shifts it into neutral, turning revolutions and jostling about freely like a pinball that can’t settle on a direction. It puts information on hold – mask-making techniques, shows to stream, the latest Covid-19 numbers, stores stocking hand sanitizer – and propels you forward out of a shelter-in-place and into a new normal.

IMG_7570-1As my husband works from our living room couch and my boys learn remotely sprawled on their beds, I have my own project this month, and as odd as that might seem, I’m actually glad. Every weekday at 8am, I leave my driveway, backpack on my back, coffee in one hand, water in the other, and head out solo or with a friend ( 6 feet apart) or family walking to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center for my 9:15am radiation therapy appointment.

It’s still crisp and cool outside, and I’ve got a good time slot vs. a midday the-air-is-now-thick-and-it’s-hot-outside experience on my hands. The regimen is 21 treatments, and after today’s, just 17 remain, until the final one on April 29. There is a freedom about leaving my house on foot as the day is waking up. I get first dibs on it all, dialed up bright green and fresh.

The treatments are simple, all of ten minutes. There’s no pain and it’s surprisingly relaxing to lie on a table, topless, left arm overhead, carefree, languishing on my sterile stainless-steel spell couch. A machine hovers over my left breast, lining up with the sharpie lines covered in tape, which the techs initially drew on me to guide the beams to the exact place. As the equipment moves to treat from different angles, I must hold my breath five or so times, the longest lasting maybe 30 seconds, and a little box placed on my belly monitors my breathing. If I can’t hold my breath, the machine automatically stops, so I avoid any damage to my heart. So far, I’m a good breath holder.

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something. -Fred Rogers

When I’m all done, the automatic door opens and the techs return, and I get up and dressed so the next patient can come in. It’s a well-oiled machine here, with minimal waits and prompt treatments, yet we all feel the pandemic, with masks covering our faces, tape marking where we must wait, and the substantial distance between us. Still, it’s quiet here and respectful, and we each go about our business, getting our treatment done, and then getting on with things outside.

IMG_7573The way home is different. Usually it’s the same route, but now the sun is higher in the sky, so my sweater is balled up in my backpack and my water bottle nearly empty. The houses and flowers and ivy beds and mailboxes I pass are each full of detail, and I notice every bit. Walking along, I think about plans for my own yard and house and future as I soak up these present moments. It’s so different from being at home inside the usual walls and with a predictable routine. I suspect each of these 21 walks and treatments will be distinctly different, with varying paces and conversations and traffic and weather.

IMG_7567When I look back, I will treasure these walks as much as the healing treatments I know I’m extremely lucky to get during this frightening time for our world, our hospitals in particular. I will remember the chatty conversations with girlfriends, and the sounds of my boys’ voices as they talk to one another along the walk, breaking up little twigs they find into small pieces and throwing them or dropping them like breadcrumbs along their path, as boys do. I will savor the houses we voted the prettiest, the waves across the street to occasional passersby, and these spring mornings it seems we alone got to taste.

This apocalyptic landscape, no longer dotted with many cars or people and with closed storefronts, is still full of squirrels and dogwoods and blue skies and pollen. So much is the same, yet it’s all changed. We’re still here, though, putting one leg in front of the other. These times, these talks, every breath is a gift.

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.


connection, Encouragement, Grace, Nature, Uncategorized

The Show Must Go On

The birds don’t know. They’re singing as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Spring is continuing with its plans as various shrubs come out of hiding for Fashion Week, sporting pink and white and red buds.

The news outlets are encouraging us to call our grandparents – if only! – to find out what they used to do in their day, how they filled their free time at home, inside with family and outside, playing with their imaginations. Board games can be dusted off, families can reconnect and we can return to togetherness, the new separate variety.

What do you do if your family doesn’t like board games, won’t sit with you and play Scrabble (asking for a friend :)? Do you force family fun time or let teenagers default to video games and group chats? The prospect of being home together indefinitely looms and I suppose as with most things, you strike a balance, engage and disengage. There is food in the fridge and dry goods to tide us over, though I wasn’t early on amassing TP so we’ve got all of 14 rolls in the cupboard. I remind myself, stores will restock and besides, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s toilet paper supply.

That I even stopped to count tells me I’ve been watching too much news. My husband toggles between CNN and MSNBC, and the numbers of doctors and experts they interview and re-interview is staggering. Yet the news is largely the same: wash your hands the right way (I’ll spare you another set of instructions), stay home, practice social distancing. It will get worse before it gets better. What else can we do as we wait?

Italians are choosing to open their shutters and sing, tap tambourines and wave to one another across piazzas. The Whos down in Whoville had the same idea as they awoke to nothing yet realized they already had everything. It’s morning and those birds are still at it, and a light breeze ushers in their concert through my kitchen window. The sun streaks across the breakfast table as the house sleeps. The TV off dials up the sounds, the refrigerator rattling, the dog sleeping and cats moving through rooms sizing up the day.

The natural world is calling. While we can’t touch our eyes, nose and mouth, we can see and smell and taste the season, and let it touch us. We’ve all got tickets to our very own Broadway show outside ready to fill up our insides. Be well and enjoy the show.





breast cancer, Health, Uncategorized

It’s Just Hair

IMG_6707I’m in the thick of it. No, not suddenly showered with the thick tresses I’ve wanted my whole life, but rather I’m in the thick of chemo. The twitching eyes, the mouth threatening to develop a sore if I don’t swish with mouthwash thrice daily, and then there’s the hair, which now resembles a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. With each step around my house, its needles fall, and it seems the tree’s trunk has weakened and bent over.

Just this morning I submitted my third patient support ticket to the Dignicap folks inquring what I can expect as I’ve been diligently wearing their cold cap during treatments. Certain they’re sick of me, sick of all the questions, like a child incessantly asking, “Are we there yet?” But I need answers and their experience to settle me down. Seems I’ve lost at least 50% of my hair at this point, with most of the shedding occurring last weekend. Even though their literature warns this will happen, with only half of my treatments behind me, if the shedding continues at this clip, I can’t imagine I’ll have a head of hair left by my final chemo blast February 28. It’s uniform at least and has thinned out symmetrically, though I find myself stepping lightly so as not to loosen any more strands. Shhh, don’t wake the hair! Crazy how obsessed I’ve become. My doctor thinks since I still have hair at this point that it will remain, and despite his words, I’m not completely sure.

Shhh, don’t wake the hair!

baby hairWhy does our hair have to be such a thing? I was born bald and by all accounts a plenty cute and happy baby. Yet as my hair grew in as full sheets of cornsilk and as I grew, like many girls, I don’t think I appreciated what I had. My hair was whisper thin, though to its credit a bright natural blond, and over the years I grew to love it, especially since I didn’t need to color it, but for the two times I did foils just for fun. All my life, my hair’s sleek softness, shine and spirit has wrapped my head and shoulders in health and bounce and in some ways, I suppose I took that for granted, assumed it would always be there, a pretty veil covering the nape of my neck.

I don’t think I appreciated what I had

These days, I pull my hands around my hair and realize the scant covering I now have, an oily few strands deep extending over my scalp which plays peek-a-boo when a little wind or head tilt reveal the sparsity. I know this is temporary and I know these drugs are doing what they’re supposed to do. They attack fast dividing cells, which are both the malignant ones and the ones affecting your hair, and digestion, too. It all makes such sense on an intellectual level, but I feel self-conscious even going to the grocery store at this point, though thankful that the weather is cold and I can wear a hat indoors. I bought a second bucket hat, camel corduroy, another option for ducking in and out of stores, hopefully unnoticed.

susieI feel a tad guilty about this vanity realizing I am lucky I’m even alive since my jarring discovery just three months ago. Still, I can’t wait until these drugs are done doing their thing and my hair and body can return to doing theirs, return to how they were, but that much stronger and better. Good hair days sure can carry you, help out a shabby wardrobe, dulling makeup, a bad mood. But good health, like a tall towering tree trunk, has the power to lift you like nothing else.



breast cancer, Uncategorized

Winter into Spring

I woke today and the room had that winter white cast that only December brings, the kind that feels new and especially pretty when a blue sky or red Christmas bow cut through it, when its shadows criss cross the bed over sleeping cats. It’s December 21, the shortest day of the year and the longest night, the most darkness and the least light. There is much about this day that suggests one should bundle up and go on a brisk winter walk, look around, take stock and breathe in the day with every sense. Or this day might call for a lazy nap, a pot of chili simmering on the stove, a pile of books by your side.

For me, this day was neither. It was just a day. I’m beginning to see how normal and ok regular ‘ol days are. I had a few plans but otherwise didn’t feel its magic. Didn’t step out into it in any real way to experience any shift, any movement out of darkness and into light away from this mood that has been lurking in the shadows for weeks.

I didn’t want to write another blog about my health or my worries, and instead hoped I’d find inspiration elsewhere. But this darkness culminating in this darkest of days has mirrored my days of late. I hope tomorrow’s light will cut through it shredding it into bits that erode into nothing. I didn’t mindfully breath deep today. I just breathed.

In the flurry of recent appointments, today I forgot and then I remembered. I forgot about the big picture as I stayed busy these last 7 weeks moving through milestones and biopsies, scars and scans. Today I remembered the treatments I’ll start December 27th and then the break I’ll get in April, then the other treatments after that and the medication beyond. I remembered the happy that took hold when I learned about things like negative nodes and margins and how I thought surgery marked the end and the beginning, the end of worry and the start of healing. I rejected the journey and instead made it a timeline. It was behind me and everything was ahead.

You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how you’ll fare tomorrow in Atlanta traffic or if a bus will run over you. You don’t know if you’ll have success with the last items on your Christmas list or if time will run out, the store will close and you’ll come up short, having to change your plans and instead of little gifts you’ll find yourself at an ATM out of ideas withdrawing cash. You don’t know if after these treatments, this invader and his growing list of friends who felt welcome to burrough inside you will return. As if you were robbed and you fortified your locks, installed an alarm, hid your jewelry and now you can either roll on, knowing you’ve done all you need to do or stand still and wonder, frozen by what ifs.

For the last two weekends I travelled, first to Chapel Hill and then to Ann Arbor, two great college towns hosting holiday parties for my husband’s company that I each gifted with a pink pen I’d picked up at my appointments. I couldn’t carry those pens, carry all that pink ink. Those pens needed to leave my possession, my state even, and reside elsewhere. I made my husband leave them at hotel reception or the restaurant where we had lunch. Someone else can pick up those pens and have that hot potato in their hands. Someone else probably won’t view those pens as I do. They will find use with those pens, use them as the tools they are.

Today I felt it, the heavy road I’m on, a dread I’m feeling in advance of the nausea, a dry run of the dry heaves, a dress rehearsal for treatment. It felt large, it felt useless, it felt endless. I’ve got to return to my timeline and instead check off days, treatments, milestones. I can’t look ahead because five years out and then ten can’t come soon enough. I want to be cured and have all this in my rear view mirror, but the road is still in front, long and winding, unknown and unseen. 

Tomorrow a friend will help me begin to learn how to meditate, a key tool in the toolbox I will need for now and for later, a tool we all need if we’re going to navigate choppy water and have it not feel so rough, or paddle in still glassy waters and be able to fully experience that velvety calm. And then I will see a friend and we’ll share a meal. And after that, who knows what. Like a child on a trip, I keep asking am I there yet, and the answer never comes. But the lack of an answer is an answer. I’m not there yet, none of us are. We are moving forward, together, and with ourselves. 

Today has now shifted into tomorrow which begins the start of longer days. I’m reminded to keep moving, and as I drive out these cells, I must walk out of my own cell, and be free. Breath deep. Begin where you are. You are enough. The sunshine is ahead even though you can’t see it. Spring is coming.