Ringing another one in

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Forgotten HDR 180°, by Wendelin Jacober on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Are we prepared for a steep climb or a descent? The answer is Yes.

Thanks to all of you for being here in calendar year 2016. It was a year with fewer chills, spills and thrills in terms of my health, for which I’m grateful.

It was, for me, a year to grow into the Big Girl Pants of longer-term grappling with the thing called Survivorship. Learning its contours and its limitations. Learning what my diagnosis does — and does not — excuse. Learning that the giant sword has definitively come to rest above my head, and I can choose to spend my time staring at it and fearing its final blow, or… not. I will keep choosing not.

If you are a fellow cancer traveler, I wish you good, speedy health, and treatment side effects people have actually heard of before.

If you love someone with cancer, keep showing them — and yourself — abundant love.

If cancer has never touched your life, I hope your luck continues infinitely. I know I’ve made it sound like a lot of fun, but it actually isn’t. But thanks for reading a cancer blog all the same.

To the memory of the beautiful — and sometimes far too young — people we lost this year: I will never forget you.

Happy new year!

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Light in winter

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Elevated Subway Station @ Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY (MTA – BMT Brighton Line), by Axel Taferner on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

It is Young J’s tenth birthday today. This means I’ve been at this mothering thing for ten years. I realized yesterday that this means Young J is my employer of longest standing. I spent nearly a decade at my last job, but I left two months shy of the actual anniversary. That I have managed to hang on to the Mom role this long is primarily owing to the fact that children don’t give performance reviews in the way traditional employers do. And unlike certain reality TV show stars, they don’t point toward the door growling, YOU’RE FIRED!

I went fishing on Flickr for today’s image, and as always I started with a keyword search. I’ll reveal my hand and say that today’s word was “beam.” I was thinking of a beam of light, which is how I see Young J — he shines when the world around is so very dark and cold. And instead, I got many pictures of buildings and structures made of beams. Of course I did. Because something that motivates Young J, at his very core, is seeing how things are made. How things are built, propelled, controlled, sped up, slowed down. He loves structure(s), and sometimes I feel like we let him down, because we aren’t the most structured parents in the world, J and I. We’re trying, though. Young J is the first to appreciate the home improvement efforts we make, even if they are a long time coming. I have a feeling his home as an adult will be quite different than ours. That’s because for years now, in every building medium available and also on paper with pens, he has created plans for his dream home. All of the comforts of home are there, but the key difference is, there are many more screens and devices available to him in his fantasy home than he is allowed to have in his actual home. (He will surely have many nice discussions with his therapist about this in adulthood.)

I can’t wait to have dinner at Young J’s first home. Maybe he’ll make us chicken cutlets (he’s pretty close to knowing how to manage it on his own).

 

45 (and a Seven Year Plan)

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If you’re seeing this, I’m still alive. (If you’re seeing this eighty years in the future: cool, but no, I am not still alive.)

I’m still alive, by the graces of medical science, health insurance, luck, and impeccable timing. I’m alive because people care for and about me. (See above, Exhibit A)

Timing is everything. I first became aware of that suspicious spot on my back while doing a backbend over an exercise ball at the gym. Every time I’d do one, it would hurt in the same spot, the sore spot that might have been my undoing.

I’m lobbying hard for J to go for more regular checkups. What we sure don’t need in our family are any more unwelcome surprises.

I was up early today, around 5. Maybe it was the memory of being on steroids a year ago, or maybe it was childlike excitement. I mouthed my new age to myself in a whisper, as I have done on my birthday for my entire life, and was surprised that it is pretty hard to say. It requires you to force a lot of air through your mouth.

45 is a milestone for me, as any age past diagnosis is for a cancer patient. But today begins something else for me, too. A couple of years ago I noticed a few women in my orbit doing things I admired a great deal — casting aside great adversity to pursue projects long in the making, recommitting themselves to their art after a long absence, or forging a completely new path for themselves, in the middle of an established career.

All of these women were between age 50 and 52. So 52 is now my aspirational year: In the most obvious sense, because I’m hoping to still be around. In the less obvious sense, because I’m yearning to experience a similar triumph over odds and age and everything else, and accomplish certain things by the time I’m 52. The quest begins today. It’s not a checklist per se, it has certain benchmarks that are easily attainable, and others that may not be (but why the hell not just include them?).

The main goal is to accomplish without beating myself up for the things that don’t work out. I realize the universe doesn’t expect much from me beyond day to day survival. This plan is my way of saying, You know what? MAYBE JUST SURVIVAL ISN’T ENOUGH FOR ME.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Back to the future

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It’s so tempting to take refuge in old movies, isn’t it? To view the world in grayscale. Back, far back, to a time when fossil fuels still seemed like a good idea. Going backwards often seems like my default, my reflex, my first choice. I have a huge, teetering stack of new books to read, and I want to reread the old ones first.

But going through what I have been going through presents a distinct challenge to this way of being. Were I alive back then, the challenges to my existence might have come from any number of directions. And if I’d gotten sick then — or even in as recent a past as the George W. Bush administration — I would not be here today.

I wonder what Doctor Coley, dead some eighty years now, would think if he could see that his initial thoughts about immunotherapy have borne fruit. What he proposed seemed like flying car territory back then. But it wasn’t far off.

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The boys and J and I were talking about flying cars the other day, when the (street legal, apparently) vehicle above was briefly parked around the corner from our house. To speak of the future still means to speak of flying cars. And yet, no one ever asks the birds how they’d feel about that.

Hello again, insomnia

I suppose it was going to come around sooner or later. The old toss-and-turn. The “how long until daybreak”? The sinking feeling I’ll still be awake when the dryer stops.

Happily, this bout of insomnia is not steroid-induced. It was spousally inflicted. This afternoon, J was working from home, and I was working too. (Did I mention I’m a translator now? So I was translating.) I asked him if he’d make us some coffee, with the tacit agreement that it would be decaf. I took my little slug of decaf espresso from a sweet hand-painted demitasse from Portugal. And I got back to work! I really plowed through this thing! I was motivated. I was brilliant. And, as it turned out, when J sheepishly confessed his mistake later on… I was caffeinated.

He’s sweetly asleep next to me, now, and I’m as far from sleep as possible, and now I can hear a neighbor snoring. What better time to pay my blog a visit than the present?

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Corinne Marchand in "Cléo de 5 à 7," directed by Agnès Varda

Tonight we watched a movie I had not seen in a long time: Cléo from 5 to 7, directed by Agnès Varda. It captures two hours in the life of a singer who is waiting to hear results of a biopsy. (That it captures two hours in a mere 90 minute runtime is something that had eluded me until this viewing. Varda is very cheeky. It is one of my favorite things about her.) Each few minutes is its own chapter, starring either Cléo on her own, or with others.

She is simply stunning, strutting down the streets of 1961 Paris as though she owns the sidewalks, leaving scores of men literally stammering in her wake. She is anxious and weepy at first, and then utterly self-absorbed (“As long as I am beautiful, I’m alive”) and she’s trying on what seems like every single hat in a hat shop, before settling on the first one she’d put on — a black fur hat in the middle of summer. She goes into a café, puts one of her own songs on the jukebox, and is dismayed when the only reaction to the music she hears is one of annoyance. Eventually she meets a soldier on leave from the Algerian war who finally gets her to put things in perspective. She gets the test results from her doctor, who says with two months of chemo she will be just fine. (To me, that sounds ominous. Two months of chemo in the early Sixties doesn’t sound as promising as it might today.) She is serene and even happy after hearing the news.

It makes you think. It makes me think, anyhow. How self-absorption can envelop, protect, shock-proof us. But it can also take an external force to help us put things in perspective. I definitely feel that way, especially these days. These days of bigger fish to fry. Fish so big the pan hasn’t been invented yet to fry them. The frying pan. The fire. I’m going to run the dryer again. And then, hopefully, sleep.