Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Penn Station, Rise Up

I rose up out of the bowels of
New York City's Penn Station
searching for a Nathan's Hot Dog stand.
Despite being able to buy them at my local grocery store,
I was convinced a Nathan's hot dog would taste better in New York City.

I heard the angry, grumble shout of the man around the corner as I ordered from the Penn Station stand. The louder he became the more I repeated in my panicky head,

 "Welcome to New York!
  Welcome to New York!"

The grumbling man was intense.  He was clearly upset.

I ate my hot dog, which somehow WAS better than I could have made at home.
Yet, the grumbling man became more enraged.
The police officers arrived.  Three of them.
The tiny janitor bravely pointed his finger.
The grumbling man was scary.
He announced to the crowd
what awful things he
was gonna do.

But then, the hot dog counter lady declared her attitude.
She leaned over the counter and put her hand on her hip.
She shook her finger and bobbed her head left and right.
She lectured, with authority, to the grumbling man,
"Oh no you ain't!  You ain't gonna do none of that.
You are gonna grab your back pack
and get outta here right now
and move on your way.
Do you HEAR me?"

The grumbling man leered, leaned in toward her,
where she had perched herself,

 ...halfway over the counter.

He paused a second too long.

She had won.

She repeated, louder,

"Do you hear me....HUN....EEEE???? 


He wanted to stay, the grumbling man.
He wanted to cause trouble.
He was unhappy with the janitor.
He was annoyed by the 3 police officers.
But he was more frightened of the hot dog lady,
perched on the counter,
ready to take him out.

And so,
he left.

I rose up out of the bowels
of New York City's Penn Station
2.8 years after I was diagnosed with
aggressive triple negative breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancer doesn't like to behave.
Triple negative breast cancer likes to cause problems.

It likes to kill you.

After you think it's gone, it likes to come back.
On average, at 2.8 years after...
or maybe it's 2.6 years or 2.3....
For 1/3 of  the people?  Maybe less?  Maybe more?
or maybe we don't know......

But nevertheless, I rose up out of Penn Station that day.
And I rose up out of the shock of the words,

"You have cancer."

I rose up out of anxiety and fear and despair.
I rose up out of surgery and chemotherapy and radiation
I rose up out of cutting and poisoning and burning.
I rose up out of scar tissue and rare lingering side effects and seemingly endless aches and pains.
I rose up out of the grumbling man that is cancer, the one who wants to cause trouble.
And I arrived as the hot dog lady with attitude.

I rose up thinking there was a time that I didn't know if I'd be alive to see Penn Station or the grumbling man or the hot dog lady with attitude.

But 2.8 years later, I did see Penn Station.
I did see New York.
I saw it all and it was fantastic. 
And I was grateful for every single minute of it.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Good Doctor

I told my doctor that I worried.  Mostly at night, right around 3 am, after I had woken up to pee.

I told her I worry about my family and friends and the hardships they are going through.  I worry there is nothing I can do to fix any of it.

I told her I worry about breast cancer and the treatment that I had for it.   I worry about what it has done to me--physically and mentally.  I worry when I get out of the shower and see the scars in the mirror.  I worry when the radiation burns stare back at me. I worry when my body can't seem to run a 5k as fast as I think I should be able to.  I worry when I am always tired and can't lose weight. I worry I have passed my peak. I worry when I worry.

I told her I mostly worry about the ticking time bomb limbo I'm in-the aggressive cancer that likes to come back. The dream of living 5 years without it knocking on the door of my liver, my lungs, my bones or my brain. I worry about this when my back aches for 3 days in a row or my "shin splints" won't go away or that shooting pain comes, again, across the side of my head.  I worry about the unknown.

I just finished a book by Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, a two time cancer survivor, entitled, "Everybody's Got Something".  She's right.  I'm not special with my cancer or my worries.  Every person out there could tell a similar story of hardship, a similar story of worry.  Unlike the outgoing Robin Roberts, I'm a little bit shy, 75%  introverted, and frequently appalled at my public self expression.

I really don't want you to know my business.

Yet, sometimes I blog
Sometimes, I throw myself out there.
And then, probably, I worry about that.

This is my problem.

I had my yearly physical the other day with my regular family doctor whom I've been seeing for years.  We talked about lots of things that didn't have anything to do with cancer.   But, as it does, cancer forced it's way into our conversation. I told her about the 42 things I worry about.  She told me that almost 2 years out from treatment isn't very far out in the breast cancer world.  She told me worry at this point was normal. She said anxiety was normal.

And then she said,

"When I had my breast cancer............." 

She told me her story.
She didn't question my feelings.
She said things that made a difference to me.

She also said a bunch of super smart doctor stuff.

 But the most important thing she said was,

"I've been there."

She knew. 
She knew that sometimes cancer isn't all physical.
She knew that sometimes cancer doesn't end when treatment ends.

But she also told me that cancer wasn't the last sentence in her paragraph.
She told me that cancer wasn't even the last paragraph in her essay.
She told me that her essay might even



                                                   free      form


She told me she knew.
She was a good doctor.


And so I write this blog. 
And tonight, the little bit shy, 75% introverted parts of me will probably worry about it.  
But tomorrow, I will be grateful that this wasn't my last paragraph.
Tomorrow, the essay evolves.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Scrumptious, Fee

My dad's pet name for my mom was, "Fee".  I remember it being used most affectionately at the end of dinner.  My dad would  push back his chair when he was done eating the meal my mom had made for him.  He would stand up, look over toward her and announce his approval and appreciation.

"Scrumptious, Fee!" he'd call out.

She would nod and grin.

40 years later I dip my spoon into the hot, bubbly stroganoff gravy. The cats at my feet stare, focused intently on me while I blow on the liquid, willing me to drop some on the floor. When it's cool enough, I taste it.  It is fantastic.  I drop the spoon in the sink, look over toward the cats and announce my approval and appreciation for my own cooking. I announce my appreciation for my mother.  I announce for that hidden, empty spot inside me.

 "Scrumptious, Fee!" I call out.

The words echo in my head, perhaps even in the room.
I wonder if she hears me.
I wonder if, somewhere, she nods and grins.

10 years ago tomorrow my mom died.

I've written several blogs about my mom and none of them were easy to write, this one included.  After 10 years of her being gone, she deserves to finally be honored with an uplifting story, a happy memory or an amusing anecdote representative of all the good that she had in her.

I'm surprised though, that I'm having a hard time writing that positive blog, surprised at how close to the surface the tears are.

I'm surprised that occasionally, still, I will think that I should give her a call. An awful lot has happened in the last 10 years. We would have over analyzed all of it for hours and hours, I'm sure.

I miss talking to her.

We used to speak every day, you know.


I just finished my cup of tea.  It was fantastic.
I announce my appreciation for the tea.
I announce my appreciation for my mother.
I announce for that hidden, empty spot inside me.

"Scrumptious, Fee!" I call out.

I wonder if she hears me.

 My daughter is a fan of the fantastic tea and was the one who recommended I try it.
 I should message her and tell her I liked it. 

We message every day, you know.

Granny and granddaughter

Thursday, August 17, 2017

30 Years

I saw Nancy in the produce section of the grocery store.

At the time, we had graduated from high school together, 25 years earlier and 90 miles away from that store.

We compared our fruit.  The last cantaloupe I bought was terrible.  Her watermelon was fantastic.
We spoke of the children. Hers had grown. Mine had too.
I asked about her brother, my one time TOLO date.
She talked about her

I nodded sympathetically and hugged her awkwardly. 
I'm sure I said the wrong thing.  

I left that store thanking God it wasn't me.

Except then it was.
It was


I recently went to my 30th high school reunion.  Many years ago I crossed paths with these people in the hometown I was born and raised in. From the Madison Elementary School playground to the drama of La Venture Middle School to the science classes in the Mt. Vernon High School S-buildings (RIP S-buildings), I experienced many of life's formative experiences with these people.  During my reunion I spoke with many classmates who were old friends.  Some, however, I spoke with for the very first time. We reminisced on the small part of life that we all had in common years ago and shared stories about the 30 years of life that had passed since graduation.

Partway through the evening I found myself standing in a corner having a lovely conversation with two other classmates who had also been diagnosed with cancer.   We were laughing at Dave's funny radiation story when I saw Nancy's face again.  The slide show playing in the background included photos of her and other classmates who had died much too young.

I suddenly felt very grateful to be there in that room.

One minute the inside of my head was screaming at me, "Can you believe you are
standing in the
CANCER corner?"

The next minute I was yelling back, "Yeah, can you believe I am



At my 30th reunion,
In the cancer survivors corner.

Reunions are hard for me.
I never know the right thing to say.

I wish Nancy could have been at our reunion.  I wonder if I had known that produce section conversation would be the last time I would ever speak to her, would I have made more of an effort to listen to and understand her? Would I have known the right thing to say?   I looked around the room at my classmates who came to the reunion that night. I did enjoy talking with them.  I was glad they came to the reunion.  I looked up again at the slideshow of those classmates we had lost.

I wondered


I've had this blog in process for weeks now, since the day after my 30th class reunion.   I haven't posted it because it wanders a bit and I didn't know what I was trying to say.  I didn't know what story I was trying to tell.  And I could NOT bring myself to write that last sentence.

"I wondered how many of us would be alive for the next reunion."

I didn't want to write it because it is terrible, depressing and not at all helpful.  It's something I worry about a lot.  It hits a bit close to home.  But then today, I received word that another classmate had died. I remembered his face and how he made me laugh.   I pictured the next reunion slideshow and it was terrible and depressing.


I saw my classmates at my recent class reunion.

We  graduated from high school together, 30 years earlier and 5 miles away from that restaurant.

We spoke about our lives.  
We laughed at the past.
We hoped for the future.

Reunions are hard for me.
I never know the right thing to say.   

Nancy's Obituary

Thursday, July 20, 2017

We Ain't Old

The grocery store checker asked me if I had anything fun planned for the weekend.

“I’m going to my high school reunion.”

I told her it was hard to believe that 30 years had passed since I graduated from high school.

“Oh yeah, 30 is a big one!” she said.   “I remember I walked into my 30th and thought I was in the wrong place.  I walked out of the room and had to check the sign outside to make sure I was in the right place.”

“Why did you think you were in the wrong place?”

“Cuz the room was filled with a bunch of old people I didn’t recognize!  Turns out, they were my classmates!”

I’ve never looked forward to attending any of my class reunions.   I didn’t even go to the last one.  I’m sure I had a really good reason such as I had failed to lose 10 pounds or I was too shy to talk to anyone or that no one would remember me anyway.  I even told the husband I wasn’t going to attend this year’s reunion either.   I spouted out absurd reasons that included cancer and the farmer’s tan on my arms and Shakey’s pizza being closed and how my former classmates would only be interested in what my post chemo hair looked like. 

He sighed and gave me a good eyeball roll.

As he should have.

The morning after I told the husband I wasn’t going to my reunion I received a notification from the Facebook reunion group that someone I was friends with in high school had committed to attend.   The next day it was someone I only casually knew in high school but we were now good Facebook friends.   The following day it was someone I didn’t have anything in common with in high school but I knew I sure did now. I could probably talk to these people, I thought.

I found myself kind of, sort of, actually wanting to go.  I reminded myself that despite my apprehensions, I have always been glad I went to the reunions that I did go to.  Those extra pounds never really mattered.  The outgoing people made an effort to talk to the shy people like me.  And some people actually DID remember me. 

I always enjoyed myself. 

I told the grocery store checker that I was still a little bit nervous but also, finally, a little bit excited for my reunion. She said that she had a great time at her reunion once they brought out the name tags.  "You know, there ain't no spring chickens at a 30th high school reunion.  It helped to put a name to all the old looking faces."

I smiled and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about old people for, though.   The people I graduated with aren’t old!  We are all young and fabulous and still look great!”

Even those of us with post chemo hair.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


He nodded toward the magazine headlines in the grocery store checkout line and voiced his opinion with confidence.

“Can you believe this sh*t?  This Obamacare?  Affordable my *ss!  
Trump will fix this. He said he would.  Mark my words.
Trump said he’s gonna get rid of all of it!”

The man said these things to me a few days before the election.

My mouth opened and an opinion came out. “Well, I’ve had cancer and have had some insurance changes, so I hope he doesn’t get rid of the pre-existing conditions clause.  I’m hoping my family won’t have to deal with bankruptcy fears... or worse...if my cancer comes back and I can’t afford treatment.”

The anxiety kicked in immediately.  
My heart pounded in regret.
I wished I had kept quiet.  

“You see, it’s people like you I really


he said, firmly, finger jabbing toward me.

“I have to pay for people like you to get your chemo and stuff that you pretend will let you live a little longer. MY family and MY finances are worse off because of you. It kinda p*sses me off.”

I managed to mutter-stutter a response, “Well, I’m sorry it’s been so hard for you.  I hope you don’t ever get cancer or another disease so you have to worry about the other side of getting sick.”

He was done paying for his groceries. He grabbed his two bags and turned to me, “Oh, you can bet I would never be so stupid as to get something like cancer.  Cancer is just God’s way of getting rid of people who are expendable.  I’m pretty sure I’m good.”

It was true. I was stupid enough to get cancer.
And now I am someone many people don’t want to help.
I am a burden to society and the health care system.
Sick people like me make your medical insurance more expensive.
I am alive, telling my story today because you paid a few extra dollars in premiums.

That man in the grocery store hated me for all of that.

Do people like me bother you?

Could you come to my house,
drink tea with me at my dining room table,
and then tell me I am too much of a burden?
As you finished your tea, could you tell me you hate me?
As you stood up, ready to leave,
could you look at my face
and tell me I am

I am afraid of your answer.

What about next year when you are stupid enough to get sick?  
In a year and a half I have been billed over $400,000.
Can  you afford that?

Is it different when it’s you?

Perhaps you are expendable too.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Manifold

I tripped over an intake manifold when I walked into my bedroom that day. The husband was sitting on the side of the bed putting on his sock.  I was focused on the hole in his sock and missed seeing the manifold.

I should have known the manifold was there.
It had been in the bedroom for 2 ½ months.  

The husband and the challenges and consequences of his automobile obsession have been a part of my life for over 3 decades.  We survived an unattractive paint job on an old Plymouth, an all night clutch repair on a mid 70’s Pinto and a race against a federal security helicopter at 140 miles per hour. We can now laugh at the engine fire in Cleveland, the air conditioning failure in a 105 degree Idaho desert and a ‘69 Camaro runaway hubcap rolling down the toll road south of Chicago.  And someday, I am sure I will look back fondly on the mountainside dirt road, flat tire ordeal.

I was used to piles of car junk, I mean, important treasures, in the garage. I was used to mysterious charges from Jegs on my credit card, gallons of orange hand cleaner under the sink and the occasional carburetor on the kitchen counter. This latest automotive challenge seemed to cross the line, though.  There was an intake manifold for a 1969 Camaro in my bedroom and it was in my way.  I said to the husband, toe throbbing, not hiding my disapproval, “You know, normal people do not keep car parts in their bedroom!”

I saw the husband’s honest reaction in slow motion.  A perplexed look of hurt and confusion passed across his face. A look of shock settled in his eyes that stared back at me. Without any doubt in his mind, he innocently said,  “Oh, I really don’t think it’s that uncommon.  I think you’d be surprised.”

I told myself the husband was nuts. This manifold clashed with my bedroom decor and cluttered up the room. It needed to go.

I knew I’d have to resign myself to the hardships that come with being the wife of a car guy. I walked out of the bedroom that day, leaving the husband to put on his other sock. I walked past my piles of scrapbook material, my stacks of family photos and the sweatshirts and shorts I had thrown on the ground.   As I left the room I looked back at the 13 library books, an assortment of  magazines, 3 different kinds of lotion, 5 ibuprofen pills and numerous headbands that lived near my side of the bed. I picked up the mail and the phone, a bottle of water, a thermometer, two earrings and a candy wrapper and headed out of the room.

And as I reached the door I turned to the husband  and reiterated my point, “Normal people do not have manifolds cluttering up their bedrooms.”