Wednesday, April 29, 2009

the end

So chemo is over. Twelve infusions and 28 weeks later, I can safely say I have arrived. Still intact. A bit more fragile. A bit stronger.

I had my first experience of running into someone I hadn't seen for awhile, and giving the abridged version when she asked me how chemo went. Yeah, I was hospitalized with a neutropenic fever over Christmas break, had severe neuropathy, shingles, and lymph cording... it was hell, but I made it.

It was strange, looking back on it like that. The day was sunny, I was strolling rather happily around the neighborhood taking in the tulips, and the fuzz on my head was as downy as a newborn chick. All of the sudden, it seemed as if I had awoken from a really bad dream, the details a bit hazy.

And now to the most Frequently Asked Question That I Am Getting Tired Of Answering. It comes in various forms.

Is it all gone now?
Did they get it all?
So, there's no more cancer?

I know what they mean. They want to know if I'm going to live. And for how long. Cancer is all about "how to talk around death". I appreciate most the people who have understood that to be diagnosed with cancer is to look mortality in the face and have a serious come-to-Jesus talk.

Anyway, here's the answer, as well as I can explain it:
First, the data, from a handy computer program that takes into account your age, general health, size and grade of tumor, and number of lymph nodes affected: With no treatment except surgery, I would have had a 62% chance of being alive with no recurrence in ten years. With chemo, it brought it up to 82%. If I choose to take Tamoxifen, it will bring that up to an 88% chance of seeing the year 2019. Chemotherapy doesn't "get it all". It gets about 99.9% of any cancer cells that might have leaked out of the tumor into my lymph system. It only takes one rogue cell, traveling around and deciding to lodge itself in my bones or lungs or liver X number of years in the future, for the cancer to return. There are no guarantees. It will never be "all gone".

I am an idealist at heart, yes. I see the bright side of just about every godddamn problem there is. I believe the best about everyone. Pollyanna should have been my middle name. If I had to, I could find something positive to say about cat poop!

But that doesn't take away the fact that there's a 12% chance that I won't see my youngest son off to college. You see, this is where cancer takes your mind in the darkness. It's not to be dwelt upon, but it is also not to be ignored.

When one is in the middle of treatment, there is focus, purpose, a singular task. Now that I have been released from chemo and have more decisions to make (more on that later), I find myself in a strange tormented limbo once again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

barb spencer

difficult problems
in full bloom
through seasons of sweat and chill
a breakthrough may only be a small step away
all in good time
you can count
the power
ease the
day be day,
you win.

1997-1998.....In my second year of teaching sixth grade at Carmel Middle School, I was working with an amazing team of teachers. There were three of us. We all taught a Reading/Language Arts Block, and then the kids rotated through for Social Studies (me), Math (Lisa), and Science (Barb). In February of that year, Barb informed us that her breast cancer had returned, and she would be undergoing intense treatment for the rest of the school year. She would be taking the rest of the year off. For two young teachers, the news was hard; for our kids, it was devastating. Somehow, we made it through to the end of the school year, having lost a teacher the kids loved, and having to make due with a substitute they could barely tolerate.

Over Spring Break that year, I made Barb a journal. For the cover, I cut out various pictures and phrases from magazines, and arranged them together with some homemade paper I had left over from the days when I made homemade paper. She told me that it would be her gratitude journal.

In September of this year, after my breast cancer diagnosis, Barb returned that journal cover to me. She had somehow cut if off of hers, and glued it onto the cover of another. I take it with me to every doctor appointment, jotting down notes, unfamiliar words, statistics, observations of waiting rooms, phone numbers, and occasionally, things for which I am grateful.

Today, I am grateful for a found poem.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

moving day

it was the
shrink-wrapped tubs
of tiny treasures
that finally did me in
that, and the multi-colored
metallic dragon
unnecessary as a hundred
and eleven friends
but still
you wouldn't want to unfriend
a dragon
sometimes there's no need for
small boxes to
pack, check, x, stack
volume is fascinating
with its emptiness and
and imsorryifilostitness
patience I mean
with those too young to understand
friendship is never easy
and full of ums

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WWYS - What Would Yoda Say?

Cancer makes impossible-to-ignore demands-
rearrange your priorities
be content to be who you are
let go of the illusion of control

Cancer shines a light on what really matters

I try not to think trite thoughts
(Do or do not; there is no try)
but I can't get
Pachelbel's Canon in D or
Klimt's Kiss or
That which doesn't kill us....
out of my head

I could even
a party now
with the
theme of "pink"
throwing up

Neitzsche was wrong-
I don't feel any stronger
At least not yet

Even the cliched could sound sagacious
if conveyed from the mouth of Yoda:

"Your priorities, rearrange you must."

"Be who you are, if content you wish to be."

"Illusion of control, let go of you must."

"On what really matters, a light cancer shines."

Beings are wise, not because they can
comprehend the complicated, but
because they can
simplify it
for the rest of us

"Makes us stronger, hmm?, that which kills us not."

Monday, April 20, 2009

number 12

Today, 4/20/09, at 4:20 PM, the IV machine beep-beeped for the last time. I thought I would cry, but I didn't. The boys were all there, I had had a good two-hour nap in the chair, and I just wanted the hell out at that point. I told the nurses no offense, but I never wanted to see them again. (I'm sure they've never heard THAT one before!)

When John and I arrived this morning at 9:15 AM, I was weepy without end. Brownie, 92-year-old Brownie, who volunteers in oncology, who brings me warm blankets and hot lunch and cold applesauce, and, when asked the secret to a long life doesn't hesitate when she answers: "I guess I just don't worry very much"....... anyway, Brownie was the first to say good morning, and unfortunately she got the brunt of my didn't-get-enough-sleep-last-night tears.

Gunda took my weight and blood pressure, and Susan drew my blood. That hour and a half wait for the lab reports was one of the longest of my life. Luckily, all was well, and my twelfth chemo infusion was under way. After some IV Pepcid, steroid, and Benadryl, the last bag of Taxol was hung. At that point, I knew that freedom from having my port poked was a mere three hours away. I slept through most of it, thanks to the Benadryl.

I became particularly close to one nurse, Anne. She was the witness to several of my breakdowns, as well as the one who broke the news to me that Matt, a 20-something young man I sat next to on occasion, had died. When she hugged me on the way out today, I did shed a few tears, and told her that I couldn't have done it without her.

That evening, Grant, Bennett, John, and I ate sopapillas from La Casita and drank Ibarra Mexican Hot Chocolate around the fire pit, each making a little celebratory, ceremonial toast. Then Grant and Bennett light sabered around the backyard. How I love watching them become Jedi in their minds and bodies and souls. It was after 9 PM before we finally came in; if you know me, letting my kids stay up that late on a school night is virtually unheard of! But I've learned a lot, and one of the things I've learned is that special events allow us all to break the rules. I've also learned how easy it is to take a sick day (thanks Klayton and Suzanne!), and that I should do it more often.

So I've come to end of this chapter, and am going to close the book for awhile. There will be more..... radiation, hormone therapy, lab tests for ever and ever, but I'm letting all that go for now. At least for the couple three weeks until radiation begins.

For now, here's a toast to 82%! According the stats, I have an 82% chance of living 10 years with no relapse. I'm going to make sure and take Brownie's advice, and not worry about the other 18%!

At about 9:15 PM, 12 hours after arriving in oncology this morning, we popped the final balloon:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

arundhati roy

Author of one of my favorite novels, The God of Small Things, and now there's this:

and this:


When she is upstairs, she is petrified
That if she goes down, she will get
Distracted by the too-many-things
When she is downstairs, she worries
That if she goes up, she will miss
Hearing the doorbell's opportunities

Where the hell is the Mezzanine, she
wonders, when you really need it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cancer Snuck In

In her black overcoat
nudging open the door
like a stealth robber
and she has been here ever since.

she changes everything
crowds the bookshelves with unwanted binders
her hand hovers over the jewelry box;
she will steal now, she says;
just like she stole your mother’s

Tonight, she climbs
into the shower and taunts, “Truth or Dare?”
before daring me to
look down at the truth
later, she crawls under the covers
between us
stripping sexy from the lexicon
and whispering whatifs
in my ear

Even as I sit here,
she lurks behind me
threatening to
invade every conversation
and bends over my naked dome
and quietly demands,
From now on,
you write about me.

[using the poem “Death Barges In” by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno as a template]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

number 5

Mothers' Day
in Mexico
is always on May 10th
like mothers should be
but frequently are not

Monday, April 13, 2009

light of day

through sleep-shifted eyes, the room appears
picassoesque, water color effects-
highways and high seas wandering beyond...

into spaces perhaps they oughtn't

words (too thin) fly through air (too thick) and
like dust on the dresser
of duties left undone

[suggestions for titles welcome]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

eurich's steampunk dragon

ferrus interruptus 10

he remembers the winter
when patches appeared on his too-short trousers
and his mother often found
food on their porch-
origin known or unknown, they ate

the dinner table talk was harder to
hold onto that year, but still he listened,
for he discovered he could hear
even behind tone
and gesture

that year, he became Harry Potter for the third time,
Anakin for the fourth,
and a Dragonborn Paladin for the first.

that year, his mother left for mysterious places;
he missed her more than he was able to show,
and sometimes more than she was able to see

that year, he put metal in the microwave,
never returned the lid to the litter box,
and mismatched the socks.

that year, magic was real,
and there was still-
real maple syrup
clean clothes
the symphony
a wedding
solo flight

Saturday, April 11, 2009

the morning

it began with
a peeling open of the eyelids
to see a clementine on fire


it was a suffusion of
gray and unwinding dreams

either way
it was

Friday, April 10, 2009

for deposit only

just for today, i will
grow skin as thick as
century-old cedars, guard
my heart from
cupid's arrow and
my breast from
cancer's lust. i will not
cry for unknown loss nor
weep for the unblossomed

[written on the back of a deposit slip in the car while waiting for the boys to get out of school]

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Being that it's poetry month and all, I have decided to challenge myself to write a poem a day. I will post it here. Even if it's bad. Which it probably will be. But I need some sort of external motivation, you know? Something to make me get up off the couch and grab a pen when the first (or usually, the last) line pops into my head. I have missed so many. We'll see.....

So for today, just to get me started, I'll post an old one:

hwy 101 with dad

It takes time, yes, for
liquid lies to solidify into stories
of Alaskan icebergs-
impervious to the truth of our
emotions, hidden somewhere in
the mist of Oregon’s
simplified seventies psychobabble
poured out as
rationalization for falling
in love and out of love and in love

"you’ve changed", she said
it takes time, yes, but
we all change-
the world changes
not even global warming can melt these
lies turned into truths by the telling
over and over and over

tell me something about the nature of
the human heart
that doesn’t fit into a box-
but rather
an endless curving road
miles stretching ahead and behind
we drive forwards, you know, to get
to where we’re going
and rarely ever look back

Sunday, April 5, 2009

stephen colbert on motherhood

Being a mom is no picnic. Raising the kids is the mother's responsibility. It's a thankless, solitary job, like sheriff or Pope.

On the plus side, they do get to wear cool hats.

just when you think it can't get any more absurd....

it does!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

too much

The day started out rough enough.... an argument with my oldest over his science project (whoever invented "Science Fair" anyway?!) Truce drawn, we managed to get out the door with all four potted radishes, grown under different light conditions, only to find out there was a two-hour delay. Part of the reason for the argument was that my son has had two miserable nights of sleep in a row. Seems that they were telling scary stories in class day before yesterday, in preparation for a "Fourth Grade Camp-in" while the fifth graders are away at Outdoor School. Being the sweet sensitive soul that he is, with a thin fantasy/reality line, he has had a hard time getting to sleep the past two nights. Last night, he woke up screaming at 3 AM, and I had to camp out in his room for about two hours until he finally managed to relax and drift off to dreamland. The worst part is that he felt sorry for ME, and his brother, for keeping us up.

Later that day, while my students were working in the computer lab on their blogs, I took some time to read some blogs of friends I hadn't visited for awhile. Turns out another one of my blog friends was recently diagnosed with DCIS, and had surgery. That's number three! Three blog friends who have had cancer after me! I feel fucking contagious or something! If you don't want breast cancer, don't read my blog!

After class, one of my students, one of my favorite students, stayed after class to tell me that her 14-year-old daughter, who she had been struggling with, is pregnant. (Don't think all teachers do is teach!) The girl has no choice but to have the baby. My student is a single mother of FOUR teenagers, who has always tried her best to keep them involved in school, give them a good life, etc.., and now she feels as if she has failed. Having no tissues in my room, I had to watch her wipe her eyes repeatedly with the sleeve of her red sweater. The cuff of my sleeve holds evidence of my tears as well.

To top off the morning, on the drive home, I kept thinking about Timber, who I didn't know but many of my friends did. Suicide. Having to read others' outpourings of love and regret and loss is incredibly difficult.

I just wish there were something to take away the pain. Not my own.
Everybody else's.