count into the middle (and then count back out again); or how to get through most anything

September 28, 2009


i am almost 4 years out from my initial diagnosis of breast cancer.  i have several ‘anniversaries’ where that is concerned:  the day i was diagnosed (and i’m so competitive that i was diagnosed during ‘breast cancer awareness month’…i became very aware!); the day i finished treatment; if truth be told, the day earlier that summer when i have very very faint memories of perhaps feeling something odd but chalking it up to the usual little bumps that any 47 year old woman feels; and the amorphous date that i wonder was the conception of this particularly nasty lump.  in the past year, a few people that i know as friends or colleagues have been diagnosed and have looked to me for some advice and support.  on a good day, i’m flattered.  on a paranoid-i-still-feel-in-the-midst-of-this day, i feel emotionally fragile.  i often remind myself that someone else’s illness is not a predictor of the future of my health.  am I odd that way?  do other people find themselves feeling that way? 

for the past year, i’ve worked very hard at pulling myself out of the emotional and physical hole i was in.  i’m not a joiner of groups (though i do like to join virtual groups …oy, let’s not go there!) so i worked out changing my eating habits and exercise habits – well, not solely by myself but not by sitting in meetings.  i needed to step up to those goals on my own.  i have grown through trying to open up to some friends and immediate family about my efforts so that i’m not too shut off.  but it’s me i need to reckon with and it doesn’t help me if i stretch myself too thin talking about goals rather than doing them.   Sometimes i wonder if i’m shortchanging myself by not joining but this is the way it is at the moment…the way it has to be.

surgery; chemo; radiation; stabilizing on tamoxifen; starting my exercise routines with baby steps and working on building that to routine; 24 hours each day of making choices for food; 30 minutes on my elliptical every other day even when, on that particular day, 30 minutes stretches in front of me like a prison sentence….all these things i have found that i work through with the same method.  it took me a while to figure it out. i was able to make it take shape when i was called upon to talk a few friends through the beginnings of their journeys of diagnosis, treatment and moving forward with life.  try not to see the whole thing stretching in front of you like an endless line.  take it in pieces.  count into the middle.  Look, you’re there!  then count out to the end.  look!  you’re at the end! then to the next.  turns out it works little and big.  what will i eat today and not destroy my efforts becomes count into the middle of the day with good choices and don’t worry about dinner.  get through lunch ok?  great.  count out to the end of the day and enjoy the well-earned fudge pop.  radiation for 5 long weeks?  too long a stretch.  count into the middle of all those weeks – you’re halfway done!  then count out again and you’re really done.  still too much?  Subdivide  whatever it takes to get through.  but here’s the real answer .. and it’s taken me almost 4 years to find it:  you can get through. 


calling all commentarians!

September 22, 2009


it’s evolving.  and shaping.  more than a few people know it’s me!  me!  and a whole lotta you just know me from these mini-essays.  which i happen to like.  i like to let something ruminate for a while and then i sit down and it just comes easily out.  sometimes the topic…not so easy.  but usually the writing is.  who knew i’d be the queen of the 4-paragraph-essay-format?!  (in this particular entry, just 2 short paragraphs).  a little new suede boots; a little cancer; a little obsession with all things braised. 
since i started this blog, someone – many or a few with a nervous compulsion to repeatedly view singular pages – well, there have been 1,341 hits to this site to date.  certainly more than i anticipated.  and a few dear friends cheerily throw a few commentary-bones my way when it looks particularly quiet.  but i’d love to hear from those i don’t know…and may never know.  here’s your invite.  come on out.  talk. kibbutz.  vent.  i’m interested in what you have to say…unless you’re one of the 94 spam hits that were hoping to let everyone know about levitra and pepcid ac.  ironically, i do use the pepcid.  C’MON IN…



where to now?

September 15, 2009


i heard my lovely teenage daughter telling a friend how i called her at camp to discuss where to go for ‘mom’s next big trip.’   it’s true.  and it’s not.  and today, on our way home from school and work, i took a moment to talk to her about it.  i wanted to find a way to tell her that we weren’t going once a year to some wonderful foreign destination because i needed a big vacation, but because one of the lessons of cancer – indeed – one of the lessons of any major personal trial – is that we need to have our lives NOW…who knows about later.  as i climbed out of the pea-soup fog of all my treatments, i found a glimmer of ‘oh yes i will and you can’t stop me’.  and then a little more.  it wasn’t a steady growth of determination or resolve but each day brought a little more.

i turned 50 right before my 2 year diagnosis anniversary (yes, it’s so lovely to get diagnosed right near your birthday – NOT).  i was asked what i wanted to do to celebrate and, without a single moment of hesitation, said that i wanted us to go to paris.  no party, no dinner.  just paris.  i had never been to paris and i was going.  and we did!  the city was so spectacular that i could ignore or at least put aside giving in to feeling tired.  on a bell clear late-novermber night i stood directly across the water from the eiffel tower as it came alive just exploding and dancing with lights – daughter and husband by my side.   sometimes you get something and you have it but you already want something else.  i remember standing there thinking that i was utterly satisfied.  i was where i wanted to be.

 since then, i’ve insisted on a big trip a year,  it’s easy to make excuses and find reasons to not go, not spend the money, not make the time.  but i feel an urgency that i try very hard to not make feel like a fear.  i feel an immediacy.  i want to see the world with my beautiful daughter before she’s gone off to college and other obligations.  i want to have those memories with her and, if i’m being really truthful here, i want her to have those memories of me and of us as a family.  our little family.  i traveled the world many times when i was singing but this is so different.  she sees through my eyes and my husband’s eyes and we see the world now through hers.   


Paris: Thanksgiving 2007

Paris: Thanksgiving 2007


pretend you don’t know me

September 9, 2009



i have always worked best with an anonymous audience.  i thought this only applied to my (past) career as a professional vocalist but it turns out, it applies to many aspects of my life!  in the old gig-laden days, i loved the gigs that took me out of town because no one knew me at those gigs and i could be anything i wanted to be:  funny, acerbic, serious, over-the-top, under-the-piano…whatever.  and having that leeway allowed me to reach and explore and to actually *be* funnier or that much more acerbic – more focused when i was stretching toward something that was just forming that much beyond my reach.  my worst shows were when the audience was peppered with those people who knew me: moms and dads and aunties and cousins and neighbors.  i felt boxed in.  and they knew all my jokes.  i couldn’t riff.

two days ago on facebook, i friended and was friended by a guy that i used to date in highschool.  although i’m not even sure it was legitimate dating – but i remember a little kissing and a visit to his university our freshman year out (said visit simply reinforcing that we were at the end of any possibilities).  last night, i couldn’t sleep.  i was totally weirded out by my long-ago trapped-in-the-past past invading the possibilities of my unexplored future. 

i think that most people – ok, many people – want to get their lives very established and then have emotional and professional and artistic (if we can agree that all people have artistic reach in their lives even if they don’t see it in that way) flux only in a limited way.  and i can’t blame them…and i am that way in some things.  the wild roller coaster ride of emotional upheaval has lost some of it’s charm as i get older. 

but i hold out for the possibility.  i hold out with the hope and the secret knowledge that, under the right cirumstances, a big loud new riff is just there at my fingertips.

peripheral land mines

September 3, 2009

my story isn’t singular. barely unusual.  but i find myself caught with some surprise when i feel that i have worked hard to have some control over my life (yes, i know..a laughable concept) and then get a little landmine that comes out of my side vision.  in fact, i bet that my experience is the norm…that all of us duck and weave through our lives and there are more little land mines than massive ones. 

i have been putting off getting my driver’s license renewed.  it’s simply that i hate dealing with administrative issues and i have been trying to be determined to start something and finish it completely – no matter how small the task.  so i decided that i could go to the dmv before my lunch date with my dear friend in manhattan and decided that i would go to the dmv at herald square (34th Street) before zipping up to the theater district.  i dutifully looked up the address and, in an end-of-summer-triumph, i rousted myself out of bed early and poured a hot cup of coffee down and threw myself on the ever-wonderful Q train.  plunkety-plunkety-plunk…like a well-honed-new yorker, i zigged and zagged and was up at the dmv quickly and efficiently.  except the website doesn’t tell you that if you are looking for a license renewal, you’d better schlep 3 blocks west (3 big east-to-west blocks) to the ‘license express’ office.  could i make the lunch date?  what if i haul my bum over there and find another very long line in which to wait.  but no, ‘finish every task’ felt fresh and new and important so off i went…long strides.  my town. 

surprisingly, the express license renewal office was exactly that.  i hesitate to talk about a city administrative office like this but it was easy and fast!  automated in the best sections and at every desk i walked up to, a nice smiling person to talk to. 

did the eye test and then came the little landmine.  did i want a new photo on my license?  i looked down at my soon-to-expire license.  a bad photo over 10 years old.  when i looked at it, i felt like it was a lifetime ago.  i used to look really hot and this photo must have been taken on one of my really bad miasma days.  then i thought up.  in a literal sense…to the top of my head. 

wow, this is a lot of writing and it seems like i’m avoiding the point.  i am.  it’s hard.  for all my general anxiety, i have a bull-dog attitude when i come up against things – tho i usually have to be right up against them … the runway to them has major anxiety and then at the last moment i’m very ‘get out of my way’.  so i slogged through chemo.  i read the breast cancer boards.  i asked lots of questions and visualized what was ahead.  i had a friend come with me when the nice wig lady shaved my head.  no stubble for me.  take it off.  – the struggle about wig vs. no wig isn’t something i can quite discuss yet, but i can say that it was no peripheral landmine that day…it was a straight hit.  i was unprepared to be bald.  i missed my hair with everything i had. i sobbed.  and then i dried my eyes. but, worse, in between chemo-induced menopause, estrogen-depriving tamoxifen and previously fine straight hair in my past, what came back was patchy and slow to grow.   i am grateful to minoxidyl and my doctor’s agreement to letting me use it (the other stuff is out because of my estrogen-based cancer).  3 and a half years later – no, not that storybook ‘a year later with a great perky short thick style’ – i have some semblance of my hair back.  3 and a half years.  jeez.   it’s as good as it’s going to get.  it’s fine but mostly covering.  i try not to stare at the very front where i used to have great bangs but now have straggly bangs and hope that other people don’t notice either.  i get it colored – first darker, then lighter, then streaked, then not.  i use goop…one small pea size of liquid goop and my hair -with some blowdrying – is passable.  one medium pea size of liquid goop and my hair looks like i have lanky clumps. 

yesterday, thankfully, was a ‘good’ hair day.  i used a little conditioner and it was soft and had easy movement and i glanced in the mirror at the dmv and thought: ‘yes, this is what i look like now.’  anxiety on the runway; get it done when i came up against it.   i have to let the old picture, the old me, go.  i am the new me.  get out of my way.

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