What not to do

The Forgotten Memories Theatre, by Ulisse Albiati on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

The clock is running down rapidly before Yom Kippur, the solemn day that we atone for our wrongdoing and are either allowed to continue living, or… not. High stakes.

Three years ago on Yom Kippur, I skipped the holiday completely. I couldn’t face it. I had been recently diagnosed with the lung metastases, and begun treatment, and I opted out of the whole day. I had never done that before. It was restorative. And it was productive — that was the day I conceived of this blog, which has sustained me through some very dark times.

This afternoon the kids were being difficult. When we got home, I decided to try to have an umpteenth talk with them about their behavior. What I found myself talking about, instead, was my illness. I suddenly needed them to know that while I am feeling fine right now, I can’t count on it being that way forever. Young J’s tears slid silently down his face, mirroring mine. Young A was quiet, and fetched us tissues.

At the end of my speech, I had no idea what the point of it had been. Did I mean to upset them? I really don’t know. Did I mean to pull the rug out from under them? Why would I do that? I did underscore the fact that I’ve been lucky. That medicines are working. That there is hope. But that there is also uncertainty.

There is a lot of parenting knowledge to be picked up from your family, from your community, from television. Some of these are skills which will help you do right by your kids. Some are shining examples of what not to do. 

I don’t have many parenting role models with cancer. I was supposed to meet up with someone who might have become one, a friend of a friend… but she died before we got a chance to meet.

So I get to be my own cautionary tale. It must be scary enough to be the child of a parent with a serious disease that you can’t really tell she has, a disease that she insists you too might catch, if you’re not more careful with the sun. So maybe… don’t remind them about the death thing again so soon.

It is the custom before Yom Kippur to ask for forgiveness from people you know. And so I did, tonight at bedtime, in the dark, before I sang to them. I asked their forgiveness. In general. I got it, and I was grateful. I will be more careful from now on.


Speeding away

Public domain photo by Marsel Minga on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Public domain photo by Marsel Minga on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I just finished my latest translation job. It had to do with cars, fancy performance cars, produced in a bleeding-edge state of the art factory in Italy that anchors the economy of an entire region. The interviews I translated were conducted on a noisy factory floor. It took me over fifteen hours to complete the job. I had to crank the volume up very high to be able to hear well, so I feel as though I have spent weeks on the factory floor, myself.

But my mom is visiting, and we went out for coffee this morning because it’s an off day for my meds, and I realized that right about now, three years ago, is when the whole metastatic melanoma mess began for me. Three years tomorrow since the lung biopsy that confirmed it was indeed melanoma, and three years ago the day after tomorrow that I realized my lung had collapsed as a result of the biopsy, and I wound up spending a day and a half in the ER, contemplating all that would come next.

This means that I have been trying to write an essay about that day and a half in the ER for three years now. It has been through more drafts than I care to remember. Now that I’ve finished my latest job, I’m of two minds — hoping some more work drops into my lap very soon, but also craving some down time, to get back to the writing. If I’m lucky, maybe both things will happen. 

If I’m lucky? Actually, I know I am. Because it has been three years since my cancer went deep… and here I am sharing that anniversary with you.


Sometimes it takes a constraint — I need to go to sleep soon, early wakeup for apple picking tomorrow — to get me writing again. It has been an eventful few weeks of wrapping up camp (Young A), packing up the car for a week at the beach, unpacking the car after a week at the beach, the week at the beach punctuated by the need for medication that was for once not mine (Young J had to bring a nebulizer on the trip). And then a visit with my parents, and then, at last, coming down like a long-awaited blessing from heaven, the start of the school year.

Here’s some proof it wasn’t (all) aggravating!

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Once the kids were back in school, meaning about an hour after they were back in school, I was back at my computer to work on my latest translation job. This time, television work, so I’m spending my days listening to and subtitling interviews conducted on a noisy factory floor. I still stop at certain moments and marvel that I have really done it, I have changed jobs, I have work I can do now. It is reassuring. This week, we bought a new dishwasher and had it installed. Knowing that the work I did over the summer paid for it felt so good.

Over the Labor Day weekend, we took the kids to see the 40th anniversary release of Close.Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a film I remembered fondly from my childhood, which I don’t think I had ever watched again. Seeing it forty years later, I was surprised at how much resonance it had for me. I wondered whether in fact the film had planted a seed in five year old me which would not germinate for nearly forty years. The film shares my very strong preoccupation with the importance of communication, the need to find ways to communicate with others by any means necessary. 

Translation is important in this movie, from the very first moment. 
The fact that music turns out to be the chief mode of communication is also not lost on me.

Nor was it lost on Young A, our resident budding pianist, who latched onto the alien’s riff and has been playing it incessantly. As I must have done after seeing the movie.
I have more I want to say about this film, but it may turn into an essay. I’ll save the rest, for now.

Taking my cancer medication every other day has been a joy. I hope I can continue this way indefinitely. Knowing I get a break every other day makes the fasting on the “on” days more manageable.


One way to fall

I have my latest scan results now. All is well. All is stable. And in a vote of confidence, Dr P is letting me skip my six-week checkup and go three months, until my next scans, before I see her again.

But I’m also getting a little medication reprieve: I will now take meds every other day, rather than every day. This is pretty huge. To be able to count on having regular breaks from the tyranny of a twice-daily three hour fast is very liberating. Dr P also said I’d probably start feeling better. There’s nothing to make you feel worse than hearing you could be feeling better. Right? The fact is, there is a baseline exhaustion I have been living with, a generalized sluggishness which I would love to pin on my meds. I hope that is the case.

As the gap between my crisis years of 2014-2015 and the present widen, so will the anxiety. I know that. Advertisements like to warn us, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” 

Also, just as I started to think about writing this post, a word in Italian popped into my head. It’s a fun word, one you learn in class because it is very, very long and fun to say. And it forms part of a handy proverb:

Chi troppo in alto sale, cade sovente


Which basically means: the higher you climb, the faster you’ll fall. I’ve seen this happen. I can only hope it won’t happen to me.

There are many ways of falling, but not all are bad ways. For the next three months, I’ll be trying my best to keep that in mind.


Something is revolting, Mr. Jefferson. (Thomas Jefferson, by K. G. Hawes on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.)

If the mistakes of the past cannot save us from their repetition,

And the words of the Founding Fathers cannot save us,

And the National Guard can’t protect us,

And our “president” doesn’t know right from wrong…

I’m not exactly sure where we turn.

Jefferson is turning, alright. Over and over. Under that engraved stone.

All abuzz

Listening to the bumblebees

It’s been quiet. Quiet enough that when I stop talking, as I did for many hours this week while plowing through to the end of a translation job, I started tuning in to other sounds. In this case, sitting out on the balcony with my laptop, I kept hearing loud buzzing at very close range. It wasn’t some far-off saw, part of the symphony of never-ending construction in this neighborhood. This was much closer. It wasn’t the thin whine of a mosquito, either. After waving my hand past my ear a couple of times, I stopped working to look, and I realized it was bumblebees. A lot of them. All dive-bombing the red impatiens I planted a couple months ago, which have gone wild in the rainy summer we’ve had. And me with my red hair, which bees often do mistake for flowers, right there nearby!

I had an intense childhood fear of bees, and even remember going back inside the house to change to long sleeves and long pants on a hot, sunny day when I saw bees buzzing around the roof of the porch. I saw my brother get attacked by a nest of yellow jacket wasps when I was a little older, something that nearly killed him because he hadn’t known he was allergic. Even though it took me decades to get stung for the first time, myself, I was always wary.

Having kids can make you reassess the things you’re afraid of, though. I don’t want my kids to grow up in fear of the insect world — after all, when it comes to insects, humans are outnumbered by far. While I think I am right to caution them about yellow jacket wasps in September, which is when they go a little nuts just before dying, I would like them to be able to admire a bumblebee going about its work.

And so it was that I spent the latter part of this week, crunched into the small space my balcony allows for a stool and a table just large enough for my laptop, typing furiously as I turned Italian into English, aided by the busy, buzzy industry of my new friends. The fact that I have never been much of a gardener, yet somehow managed to produce a bumper crop of whatever these guys want, this year, was also satisfying. I feel the bees perhaps brought me luck — because I completed the project I’d been working on for months, and then another one quickly showed up. 

And the bees did something else, too. They helped pull me out of some deep sadness, which began when I learned, earlier in the week that a writer had lost her life to cancer. A mutual friend of ours had introduced us, and we were supposed to meet for coffee one day last April, but that day she canceled because she wasn’t feeling well. We never managed to find the time again. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her. I’m glad I at least had the chance to know about her. And, we have her words.

I’m heading into a weekend before my next scans on Monday, with results that day and the next. I’m hoping I’ll find good distractions this weekend. Tomorrow they’re calling for rain. Not good for the bumblebees, but maybe good to keep us busy indoors (and hopefully not going stir crazy in the hive).

This hit me right here

Facebook serves up memories on a daily basis. Every day I get a complete rundown of what I was thinking, or what the kids did or said. Every post takes on the weight of history — deserved, or not.

Yesterday, this photo showed up. Young A is sitting on a bench on a rainy day. He’s two and a half years old. I remember that day. Young J was at day camp, it was raining, and we needed to find something — anything — to do. We went for a walk in the rain, and when we got to the corner, we came upon some workers from the city drilling holes in the sidewalk to install a brand new bench.

We stood under the awning of the dry cleaners and watched them work. It didn’t take long, and suddenly, there was a bench where there had not been one before. Young A was invited to be the first to sit on it, and one of the guys wiped the rain off for him. From that day, we call it “Young A’s bench.”

I thought about this photo all day yesterday, and eventually realized why it was haunting me. That photo was taken when I was just a civilian. A mom with a toddler to entertain in the rain. My concerns were any mother’s concerns. 

Eight months later, when Young A was three, I’d be diagnosed with melanoma, and I’d never again get to be the person I was when I took this photo. Although I’m much (older and fatter and slower and) wiser now, I miss that person.