Blog: A Mild Case of Meh.

My 52nd Birthday

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 Tomorrow is my 52nd birthday. As I write this, I am outside on our newly-redecorated patio, surrounded by our newly-installed fence, admiring the newly-acquired planters, their profusion of blooms cascading in multi-colored waterfalls. Watching the dogs enjoy their semi-freedom, chasing cicadas and butterflies. Lovely and idyllic. 

I’ve lived a little over half a century. How will I celebrate? With more new stuff. No, not jewelry or other shiny, pretty things. Nothing so nice as that. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate my birthday with chemo for a new cancer. My third this year.

I’ve thought a lot about whether I wanted to share this latest chapter in my life, and if so, how. Even now, as I type the words, I struggle to fully comprehend the sorrow and gifts 2021 has bestowed upon me, only six months in. And I really struggle to find the humor in it, though I know it’s there. Those knee-slapping stories will come later, when I give myself leave to laugh at my plight. This tale is simpler; distilling complex, life-threatening issues to the essentials: the good and bad, the curse and the blessing.

On the surface, my life completely and utterly sucks right now. If life is a coin toss, and one day it’s a happy side of the coin and the next day you get the sad side, then it would appear, on the surface, I’m decidedly stuck on the sad side of the coin. 

In December of 2020, after wrapping up seven long months of recovery from a concussion, I ended the year with genetics testing and a newly-detected lump in my left breast. 2021 came in with a vengeance for me.

In January, a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy confirmed not one tumor, but two. One in each breast, because I’m an over-achiever that way. Not one type of breast cancer but two. Because I’m extra.

In March my breasts were removed, amputated, cut down in their prime. I really, really loved those girls. So that sucked.

The surgery and ongoing adventure with tissue expanders (placeholders for my new fake boobs, if you will) sucked big time and continue to do so. So much pain, not nearly enough drugs. Drains, tubes, scars, blech! Fourteen scars so far and counting. Some days it was all too much. Not being able to look at myself in the mirror was devastating. Please don’t ever tell a breast cancer survivor that at least she got perky new boobs. Just don’t.  

Reconstruction began the morning the real girls left me, and in their place were the terrible, horrible tissue expanders, painful and misshapen reminders of what used to be that would stay locked in my chest for at least three months. Eventually they’d be swapped out for the implants. How I looked forward to that day! But then, OOF! Chemo. The implants would have to wait and I’d spend at least four more months with these expanders. That damn coin was still very much stuck on the sad side.

One round of chemo took my hair and caused such severe abdominal pain that I ended up in the ER. And there, instead of finding a blockage or other non-threatening, hardly scary reason for my pain, the CT scan unfortunately showed a mass on my pancreas. Super bummed.

Lab work for cancer markers, biopsy, PET scan, and a couple of doctors’ visits later confirmed the third cancer – pancreatic. A tumor in my pancreas and, party bonus, one in a lymph node in a whole other area of my body. Why? No one knows. It’s just there for the ride. Now, that sucks more than I can say.

I switched my cancer care from my local oncologists and hospital to Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, going between their Center City and Radnor offices. Now I’m too complicated for just any oncologist or surgeon. Now I require specialists, and not your run-of-the-mill specialists, I need the best of the best. Well, shit. This is all terribly inconvenient and scary as hell.

The breast cancer chemo has to end so I can commit my body and current tumors to the brightest and best of medical science. And tomorrow, on my birthday, I will begin a different chemo cocktail in an attempt to destroy the pancreatic tumors prior to surgery. And after surgery? More chemo. Does this all suck or what? Seriously.

But let me tell you what doesn’t suck. Because, yes, there is actually a silver lining to all this. There always is.

The lump that kick-started this cancer shit show in December 2020 was discovered in the most off-hand manner, almost a fluke; a “let’s-just-check-your-breasts” afterthought during my appointment for genetic testing. I wasn’t expecting a breast exam during a genetics appointment. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this was reportable behavior or not, but I went along with it. Turns out, that appointment was the start of all manner of terrible things. I’m BRCA-2 positive. Damn. And two malignant tumors were found. What?!? As upsetting as it was to hear I carried a gene mutation that put me at high risk for some pretty serious cancers, and learning that both tumors were cancerous, the moral of this part of the tale is that those lumps were found, and early enough that neither breast cancer spread. What a relief and a blessing. That did not suck.

And it doesn’t end there, this silver lining. Between the onslaught of horrible, devastating things was everyday beauty, which I saw with new eyes. And love. So much love. 

My family’s support, my mother’s care and coaching, as she is, rather unfortunately, the Cancer Maven of our family. 

My children wordlessly tuning in to my moods and anticipating my needs. John, my best friend, my partner, my solid foundation walking every step with me, holding my hand. 

My friends and their unconditional support and unwavering devotion to me and my family. 

Meals and visits and a flood of cards, gifts, and flowers from dear friends and people I don’t even know. It was overwhelming in the best possible way. I saw and felt how deeply I am loved and how abundantly blessed.

The chemo. Who could ever claim chemo as a blessing? I can, because had I not needed chemo, and had it not sent me to the ER, I wouldn’t know about the pancreatic cancer until it was too late. As in end-of-life too late. I’m forever grateful for that chemo and that CT scan. Just like the breast cancer, finding this cancer early means it’s operable and treatable. The negative becomes the positive.

Being BRCA-2 positive. How can the genes engineered to kill me be a good thing? Well, oddly, it turns out that BRCA-2 positive pancreatic cancer patients repond better to chemo than non-BRCA-2 patients. So the genes that want to kill me can actually help the chemo kill the cancer. I don’t pretend to understand it, but that’s the truth of it. In the end, those offending genes will help me. The coin flips again.

Because I’m so extra, I’m getting the best care available in our area. Yes, it’s a hike to Center City, but my oncologist is a leading researcher in BRCA-2 positive patients with pancreatic cancer. She’s the author of the latest articles on pancreatic cancer treatment. I’m one of her few patients to have both pancreatic and breast cancer at the same time, a dubious distinction to be sure, but I’m lucky she’s so tuned in to my unique needs. And my surgeons are all the leading pancreatic surgeons. I couldn’t have assembled a better care team if I’d tried. I’m in a place where all eyes are on me and my treatment. I’m not happy I’m such an important patient, but if this is the way it has to be, I’m exactly where I need to be.

But wait, what about the breast cancer, you ask. Don’t you have to resume chemo for that? Ah, here’s the beauty of this new chemo. One of the drugs in my particular cocktail is useful against breast cancer, as well. So no need to resume breast cancer chemo after recovering from pancreatic chemo/surgery/chemo. That is a huge blessing!

But wait, you ask. Aren’t you upset? Aren’t you angry?  Yes, and sad and scared and freaked out. Occasionally I need lots of cake and ice cream and more than a few wee drams of Irish whiskey to drown my sorrows. Xanax is high on my list of must-haves, too. But on my 52nd birthday, I’ll be gifted with life-saving treatment that will give me a third chance at life, and will allow me to continue loving my family and friends. I will continue adoring John and my children, and I will have many more years to sit outside in the sunshine, soaking up all the goodness of life. And that, my friends, is the biggest coin flip of all. Happy birthday to me!

The comfort of snickerdoodles

The delightful snickerdoodle.

It’s the first day of school today. Both children are finally at the same school, since Jamie is now a freshman. I say “finally” with some celebration, but really, it makes me a bit melancholy. They’re simply growing up way too fast, and I find it hard to believe the tradition of baking snickerdoodles on the first day of school, which began when Oakley started kindergarten, has continued as she begins her senior year. Every first and last day of school, I bake snickerdoodles to welcome the kids home. But senior year and freshman year? Just last week they were in elementary school. What happened?

Networking for Introverts, in 28 Easy Steps

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  1. Admit the need to network. Accept there is no shame in this.
  2. Make a list of potential networking opportunities. Feel good about this positive first step.
  3. Re-sharpen your pencil.
  4. Switch to pen and better paper, with lines. Because this is important.
  5. Stare at the list, thinking deep thoughts about a better, more polished, you. Picture yourself easily talking with strangers about your many unique skills.
  6. Start a second list, detailing your many unique skills. Realize it is seriously lacking.
  7. Curl up into a fetal position and weep bitter tears at the indignity of it all, for no less than 20 minutes.
  8. Grab a glass and a bottle of spirits. You can do this.
  9. Sip and scroll through Facebook and LinkedIn for inspiration from people you admire.
  10. Refill your glass and acknowledge you are not a LinkedIn sort of person. Watch cat videos on Facebook for half an hour.
  11. Switch over to Twitter. After five minutes, mourn your inability to be as witty as everyone else on Twitter. Moisten your cheeks with a few dramatic tears. Wipe them away even more dramatically. Refill glass.
  12. Look up “writer” on Pinterest for pretty, soothing images. Attempt to pile hair in “messy bun.” Pinterest fail. Closely examine pores and make mental note to try new charcoal face mask. Take a hefty swig to get over hideously large pores suitable for housing a Fiat.
  13. Back to LinkedIn to read a few “professional advice” articles. Must embrace the platform used by so many professionals. Refill glass.
  14. After two articles, conclude you could have written better, even though you are hardly professional or in any position to give advice. Snort and proclaim it all bollocks. Bottoms up. Ransack kitchen for sugary snacks.
  15. Search Indeed for “writer” and “editor” positions. Realize you are qualified for none of the good ones. If you were, you wouldn’t have to do this.
  16. Hate yourself and lack of credentials. Refill glass, down in one.
  17. Expand Indeed search to include remote positions. Seriously consider retraining to teach English as a Second Language from the comfort of your own home! Or becoming a hair stylist. Add Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch to your chocolate ice cream. Maybe open a restaurant.
  18. Set up an Indeed alert for any new positions with the word “communications” in them.
  19. Instantly receive and scroll through 30 new emails from Indeed, for Secretary-cum-Chief Marketing Officer-cum-Editorial Rock Star. Delete your Indeed profile and resume. Lick ice cream bowl.
  20. Back to fetal position for full-on hissy fit. Fall asleep in awkward position on sofa.
  21. Wake up and find Dobie Gillis on Amazon Prime. Ditch glass and drink directly from the bottle wishing for simpler times.
  22. Call up best friend and yell angrily about the lack of benefactors these days. WHO CAN AFFORD TO BE AN ARTIST?? NO ONE!!
  23. Apologize profusely for accidentally ringing your ex and go back to Dobie Gillis. Empty the bottle.
  24. Slump to bed and hide under covers until nightmare thoughts of networking go away. Remember you are lactose intolerant. Spend time crying in bathroom due to dairy-induced trauma.
  25. Crawl back into bed, fall into fitful, drunken sleep.
  26. Wake at noon, immediately feel guilty. Really, must get act together and put self out there! Make a green detox smoothie, extra kale. New day, new you!!!
  27. Sharpen pencil. Make a list of potential networking opportunities.
  28. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Dreaming of Demi


In honor of Valentine’s Day, a made up holiday I hate, I invite you to partake in another example of a normal relationship, to counter the Hallmark-induced stupor in which you possibly find yourself as we near the dreaded day of ridiculous heart-shaped everything. You may remember I wrote this post about actual conversations between partners in committed relationships, as compared to those scripted, saccharine-sweet exchanges forced upon you in sappy, overly-romantic movies. I’m just here to help, people. I hope you find this new post equally useful. And remember, love means never having to … Nope. I got nothing.

The New F Words: Fun, Family, Festive.


Cutting down our Christmas tree became a family tradition after I divorced my husband. On my own with two little ones, I was desperately searching for a new holiday “normal.” Though I’d never so much as trimmed a hedge before, I had the brilliant notion that I could chop down a tree. We’d never had a live tree, though I’d always wanted one, and I was finally in charge of the decision. It seemed like a perfect new Christmas activity for the three of us. What could go wrong?

Marriage Conversations


I’m writing a series of essays, collectively called “Marriage Conversations,” around the real-life conversations John and I have on any given day; conversations about anything and nothing. These snippets of dialog are common to people in long-term relationships. I felt compelled to do this to combat the ridiculousness of the Hallmark Channel. As much as John and I love each other, we don’t gaze into each other’s eyes and deliver beautifully-phrased platitudes like “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

First of all, that sentence – that’s complete bullshit right there.