A ledger

Teach us to number our days, by Harley Pebley on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I have the world’s most ridiculous part-time job. It’s four hours a week, I do it from home on my laptop, and the perks associated with the job are as considerable as they are random: I receive a discount on my monthly wireless phone bill. A free flu shot annually. 

This semester, I have hit the jackpot: three counseling sessions with a graduate student in nutrition. I tried signing up for this last year, and the response was overwhelming and they ran out of spaces. This time around, I made sure to respond as quickly as I do when I get the email saying it is time to sign up for parent teacher conference time slots (that is, I drop everything else I’m doing and call J and we sign up for them on the spot, as though lives hung in the balance). And I got through!

I will meet my nutrition counselor, X, three times over the semester. I met her yesterday and filled her in on my recent life. Luckily I have plenty of experience encapsulating what has happened to me, so I can do this in about fifteen minutes, if I leave out granular details and just focus on the major events and the timeline. (I feel like the ultimate luxury, for me, would be to live long enough that I eventually get to the point where I no longer remember what month and year specific key events of my cancer occurred, without a little notecard tucked in my wallet.)

I happen to know a lot about eating. I know this from my upbringing, and from observing those around me, and from having dieted both successfully and less successfully. Plus, anyone with half an eye open is aware of the myriad diets and “cleanses” and “reboots” on today’s horizon.

I also know a lot about my body, and the various changes it has undergone and is undergoing since turning forty, and since becoming dependent on certain medications in order to live — medications which are very well understood when it comes to how they stop tumor growth, but far less well understood in terms of their effects on other systems of the body. My recurrent medication-induced iritis is just one example. Amenorrhea may be another. And this weight gain I’ve experienced, since recovering from the blow of immunotherapy-induced colitis? Do we pin that on the steroids, the cancer meds, my typical stress response, pre-menopause… or a combo platter of all of these? There are other issues, too, which even I, oversharer that I am, don’t want to go into.

In order to figure out what I might be doing right or wrong, X asked me whether I’d be able to keep a food journal. The main reason I have not gone back to Weight Watchers, which I’ve found success with in the past, is because I can’t stand the thought of logging my meals. I tried the free My Fitness Pal app for a bit, but I still couldn’t bring myself to write everything down. When you’re setting up a system like this, it can take some time to input all the amounts and the foods you usually eat. Time I apparently don’t have to spare. 

I decided to try to keep a journal for X, just for a week. And I’m doing it in an old composition notebook, with a pen. I’m on Day Two, and I find that the implied scrutiny is both good and bad for me. Having to count the number of cashews I eat seems punitive. But limiting the number of them that I eat makes each one taste better. That I am keeping the journal freehand — that is, independent of a system which tells me whether I’ve made a “good” or “bad” choice — is also interesting, because it forces me to make my best guess as to what is a sensible meal. 

Because I have had friends with eating disorders, sadly, I am all too aware of how powerful a simple notebook can get. It’s a mute participant in this exercise of trying to exert control over my impulses, but it is hard not to think of the page as silently judging.

Today I suspect I have undereaten, underhydrated, and overexercised. I’m going to take a nap and see if that helps reset me. When I wake up, herbal tea. 

What am I waiting for, a freaking halo to show up above my head?! Maybe it will show up. But if it does, it will have to share space with the sword that is permanently there.

Days pass, years pass

Do the seasons have to be so obvious in their passing? At this point, at my age, it almost feels like a cliché. Except, of course, that this year the season seems to change and also not change. We switched the furnace on a couple of weeks ago. This did not bring an end to our need for the air conditioner. We are forced to inhabit this duality now.

Last weekend, I was exhausted from more than my usual share of childcare — the kids had a three-day school week because of Jewish holidays, and the same is happening this week. J took them out for most of the day, and I took myself to the botanic garden. I was on the lookout for migrating monarch butterflies, because a friend told me her backyard milkweed plant had hosted hundreds of them during the week. Not in those numbers, but I did find them.


I also saw these autumn crocuses, which seemed like such a good metaphor for my mental state.

“It is exhausting to be beautiful.”

And I spent a long time reading a book recommended by a friend. It is a memoir written by a woman who decides to undertake the daily study of a page of Talmud known as daf yomi. It surprised me that I would even think of reading such a book, and I will admit that spending my time reading about someone reading seemed a strange use of my limited attention span. I have been enjoying it, though, because it juxtaposes her daily study with the events of her life. It has made me curious about the Talmud, which I never considered something that a person as un-learned as myself might ever get around to.

Also, reading about her daily practice dovetails with a need for daily rigor I’ve been trying to impose on myself. I’ve been mostly off sugar for about a month now, not eating sweets and not adding sugar to coffee and also (although not obsessively) avoiding foods with added sugar. Fruit tastes almost unbearably sweet, sometimes. One thing I have yet to kick, however, is this:

Fingernails ARE NOT FOOD.

Nail biting was lifelong habit until I was 25 years old, when I suddenly stopped between one day and the next with no rhyme or reason to it. I probably took it up again recreationally when I got cancer. Now it seems to be back as a daily affliction, especially with all the suspenseful episodes of the original Twin Peaks series that J and I have been watching (so that we can watch the new ones).

I’ve also been concerned for a while about my use of social media and my phone. And it appears that I’m not the only one who is concerned about the pervasiveness and the addictive nature of social media and smartphones. This article sheds light on the very people who created this state of affairs now avoiding their own creations. Food for thought.

I’ve been putting this post off for a while, but I finally had to post today. Because it is the third wedding anniversary of our dear friends, Jeff and Holly. And their wedding, three years ago, was beautiful and fun and stylish and in every way a singular night. This would have been the case even had I not just started immunotherapy treatment for my lung metastases. But I had. I was euphoric about it, because I wasn’t feeling sick to my stomach, and every indication was I would be fine. And as it turns out, I am, in a manner of speaking, fine. Recalling this day three years ago means returning in my mind to a different state of being — when I didn’t know that treatment would make me ill, and that it would be suspended… but then would turn out to have worked, anyway, leaving my lungs NED since April 2015. I didn’t know that melanoma would be coming after my brain next. I could fill a ballroom with the things I didn’t know. Instead, I’ll raise a glass to Jeff and Holly and spend a little while looking at this photo of J and I from the photo booth at their wedding. A goofy one, to be sure, but I love its [mock] ferocity.

Don’t blink.

Finally: My dear friend Tehilah is running the New York City Marathon in a few weeks, and is doing a little fundraising, because she has a loved one dealing with cancer. I’d love it if you could add a contribution to her campaign.