A year ago, right around this time, I wrote a post entitled “Ten years out.” I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer on January 15, 2008, and the idea was to do a series of posts throughout the year contrasting my cancer year a decade ago with my life now. My hope – and oh, how I cringe to think of it now! – was that these “then and now” posts would, with pluck and insight and humor and all that good stuff, offer encouragement to other women facing cancer diagnosis and treatment.
I made it through two posts before life reminded me that even when it goes on, it doesn’t always go on smoothly. My father died. I broke my arm and got depressed. I dropped the series – not consciously, but through a series of small omissions and delays and posts begun but never finished that eventually led to a big “fuck this, just forget about it.”
But I couldn’t, quite. I’ve never liked to leave things hanging: hence this post. Continue reading
Two days after running the Brooklyn Half, I was on my way to Jamaica Bay to look at migrating shorebirds when I tripped and fell on an uneven patch of sidewalk in Broad Channel, Queens, and shattered my left elbow. It was my second fracture in 12 months.
At the beginning of the year, I had a plan. It had been 10 years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Why not use this blog to look back, while also celebrating survival? Yes, it was tough, I’d acknowledge, but it was doable, even funny at times, and look at me now: running half marathons, tromping through salt marshes in search of new birds, seeking out the best Uzbek food in South Brooklyn.
If that concept veered perilously close to what my sister survivor and political-intellectual heroine Barbara Ehrenreich has called “bright-siding,” well, I’d rely on self-deprecating humor and relentless honesty to keep it real.
Instead, I find myself in direct confrontation with breast cancer’s lasting impact on my body and mind. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shame that accompanies physical frailty.
Today was a banner day for me in Prospect Park: six hours spent outside, six miles run, and 67 (count ’em!) species of birds seen. That total includes a gorgeous bay-breasted warbler (which should really be called the “red velvet bird,” because that’s what its head and throat appear to be fashioned from), rare cerulean and Kentucky warblers, a roosting nighthawk, and a cutie-pie Lincoln’s sparrow.
Ten years ago, in contrast, I was wondering when my hair would start falling out. Continue reading
Donald James Ewing, Jr. – January 7, 1931 – March 9, 2018
My father slipped away two weeks ago today, while I held one of his hands and my mother held the other. I detest euphemisms generally, and I especially detest those that pretend to soften death’s bluntness. But in this case, “slipped away” seems about right. One moment he was breathing – a bit of a rattle in his throat, nothing loud or harsh – and then he wasn’t.
How do you recognize the last of something: winter’s last snowfall, summer’s last swallow, your father’s last breath? Lasts don’t trumpet their significance, the way firsts do. They can only be known after the fact, negatively, through the slow accretion of absence.
In other words: they slip away. Continue reading
This is a continuation of my walk down cancer’s memory lane. Ten years ago today, I was sitting in a meeting to plan another meeting when my phone vibrated with a call from my breast surgeon’s office.
An observation: trying to follow the discussion in a work meeting when your phone holds an unopened voicemail from your surgeon is a great focusing exercise that I pretty much failed.
I’m not sure where I listened to the message – did I duck into the bathroom? a stairwell? I very much doubt I waited until I was back in my office – and I don’t remember the exact words, only the gist.
MRI results. Suspicious. More tests. Continue reading
Having allowed this blog to lie fallow for an embarrassingly long time, I was struggling with bloggers’ block; each day that passed simultaneously raised the stakes and worsened my paralysis. Surely I owed readers an explanation, or at least an especially insightful post. Something, you know, about the passage of time, good-bye-and-good-riddance-2017/you’d-better-be-better-2018 – why else had I staged that photo with a glittery “Happy New Year” tiara in a pile of dirty snow? – but it couldn’t be lame and trite, it called for a light touch and wry humor and blah blah blah.
And so a week went by. And another. And another.
Then, on January 15, an extremely kind and thoughtful reader sent me an email message congratulating me on my 10-year “cancerversary.” She had read my 2015 post on the topic of cancer anniversaries, and remembered both the date and that this marked a decade for me.
I had forgotten. Continue reading
(Just in case there was any doubt where I stand.)
The bill that the Congressional Budget Office has already estimated would uninsure 24 million Americans over the next ten years got even worse today, when the Fake President agreed to allow insurance companies to sell fake insurance.
This was one of the key demands of the House “Freedom Caucus,” for whom uninsuring 24 million Americans in order to give a tax break to individuals earning more than $200,000 a year is not enough. They also want to give insurance companies the freedom to sell insurance that covers, basically, nothing. This morning, ace negotiator Donald Trump acceded to that demand.
For cancer survivors like me – and for anyone else with significant medical needs, or a significant likelihood of developing significant medical needs – this is a disaster.
Eliminating the requirement that all insurance policies cover essential health benefits would allow insurance companies to drop such frivolous benefits as maternity care or chemotherapy. The stated rationale: individuals shouldn’t be forced to pay for coverage they don’t want.
Let’s pause here for a second to let that sink in.
(Pause.) Continue reading