Category Archives: life

Just What The Doctor (didn’t) Ordered

It’s official. Chemo is OVER! And I must admit, it was very anti-climactic. While something as momentous as this period in my life feels like it should be heralded as a rebirth, a moment to exhale, to celebrate the spirit of the fight, it was just another day in the chair hooked up to the whir of the IV poison going in my port. Oh well. That’s why I planned this huge family trip to Tuscany. I needed something to look forward to the past 5 months of feeling like crap. I need to hear that trumpet in my own heart, if not that of my family. So against the wishes of my oncologist, and after having to push it back a week to allow of my unexpected expander replacement and lavage, we were off!

I’m normally the kind of traveler that can’t sit still. I don’t really care for the beach, and the idea of vacation where you sit on the beach all day sounds like a form of torture to me. But this vacation I planned with a somewhat-out-of-the-way historic farmhouse in the somewhat-out-of-the-way historic Garfagnana region on Tuscany. Surrounded by panoramic views of the foothills of the Alps with an infinity pool and a home that dates back to the 18th century (but foundation much older), we didn’t leave the property for the first 3 days. I cooked. We picked and ate cherries straight off the tree. It was glorious. And peaceful. And calm…. And for the first time since November 15, 2013, after hearing the words “we found a mass, and it’s going to be cancer”, I remember who I used to be.

This is what relaxation looks like.

This is what relaxation looks like.

Staying shady

Great trips start with London


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Filed under breast cancer, Cancer Blogs, chemo, life, travel

Introducing: Killerboob, Chapter II

Hi! It’s been awhile, I know. Killerboob hasn’t been quiet for over a year, but something has happened, and I think this is a great place to share it.

Unfortunately, that thing is my sister getting her own breast cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, she’s willing to share her story, too. For all the purposes Killerboob ever served, it’s about to up and do it again, with a new driver at the wheel! This time I’m on the outside looking in at a loved one who’s sick and the cancer journey is coming from a different angle.

It’s almost eight years later, a different kind of cancer, a different life situation (a husband and two young, crazy kiddos!) and a very different personality. Introducing: Killerboob, Chapter II


Filed under breast cancer, life

The Tourist’s Veil

There is one more story from Madagascar that I haven’t had a chance to tell. To set the ambiance for this event, you should know that the issue of walking at night was an ongoing debate amongst us three. I had read consistently that in Tana it was a no-no. However, our hotel was mere minutes from the places we tended to eat, around Boulevard de L’Independence, and Adam and Wendy are more the “Oh…it’ll be fine” type. I admit it was tempting. You feel silly and wussy and a little xenophobic to hesitate walking such a short distance, even when the locals tell you not to. Usually we settled the debate by asking a disinterested party: our waitress, the handyman at our hotel, etc. Always they said “Take a cab”. One time, after a skeptical look from us, our advisor said “Remember: when you’re white, not at night.”

The west coast fishing village of Mangily was one place I’d been told we could venture after dark. We discovered that it is one thing to feel tempted to walk a short way along the familiarity of busy city streets, knowing the locals will absolve you by insisting you should not. It’s another to have been told you’re perfectly safe to walk alone down a quiet dirt path into the black, black night of Nowhere.

We had just finished our second dinner in a row at the fantastic Chez Freddie and embarked on the 15 minute walk back to our beach bungalow. Our only light was the moon above, and some bleed from the few structures with electricity along the beginning of the route. The sandy road ran behind the line of beachfront accommodations to our left; to our right was total darkness, and some trails that disappeared into it. It already felt like a demarcation between Mangily-for-tourists and the villages that burrowed inland, like our only way home was the alley behind a restaurant. Then came the crying.

It was a woman, somewhere at the end of those night-eaten paths. She was wailing, somewhere in the distance. We travelers locked eyes, but at first we kept walking. It was faint, and clearly none of our business. What were we going to do, jot off blindly into midnight fields of goodness-know-what? The normal person in me felt cowardly; the Anthropologist in me chided “arrogance” at the idea that we’d be the only ones to save her. My mind filled with images of ways it could go wrong: fighting our way through clutching, waist-high vegetation to find someone with a limb cut off in an accident (and we would help how?) or perhaps a girl being attacked by men wielding scythes; stumbling into a village ceremony of some sort, the unwelcoming whites of eyes all trained on us; fumbling into the darkness, never to find a thing – including our way back. No images arose of us actually being helpful.

But we could not ignore someone so clearly in distress. We stopped in our tracks when it became clear it wasn’t a fleeting lament, twitchy and struggling with our conscience vs. our logic. But Wendy is an innate Protector of Women; she had that look in her eye and I knew she was considering plunging into the darkness after the voice. She would do it, too.

“It doesn’t sound like she’s hurt, or being attacked,” I noted. “I mean, it’s going on and on and on. That’s not fear or injury. She sounds…sad.” The other two nodded. “That’s grief,” we determined. Snatches of calm male voices floated to us from around the bodiless keen, as if trying to comfort her. In some sense, we felt better. “But what if it’s not grief?” Wendy had to ask.

Just then a woman rushed out of a stick house on the ocean side, hastily wrapped in a lamba (Malagasy sarong). She tore across the road, crossing just feet from us, and dashed confidently inland into the darkness.

“Look, she’s got support,” Adam pointed out. “Wendy, we simply can’t help,” I concluded. And with that, we continued to our temporary home, heavy-hearted and uncomfortable.

The next day a local boy sat talking to me on the beach. Surprisingly, he had nothing to sell; he seemed to just want to chat with the vazaha. Maybe he was practicing his French. I asked him about life in the area and, eventually, if he knew everyone in the surrounding villages. When he said yes, I mentioned the night’s events. “I didn’t hear anything from the villages last night, but it is the anniversary of a tragedy from three years ago…a woman left her house and shut the door, with her 7-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl sleeping inside, and a candle burning.” He did not have to describe how fiercely a house made of dried sticks would blaze. “The smoke was very black and thick, and the boy could not find the door.” My new friend mimicked the boy’s search with outstretched hands. “And they never got out?” I asked, without thinking. But sadder yet, he nodded. “Yes. They did, but it was too late. It was…very awful.”

Suddenly the sounds this woman was making made all too much sense and the images stung my eyes. It is difficult to describe the feeling it gave me. The story had little do with the loud things that divided me from this woman: the poverty, the local importance of skin color, our basic standard of living. Even where tourists are from, children die in house fires, parents make terrible mistakes. But at the same time, those elements felt relevant. Maybe it’s because when children are literally all a person has, losing them so cruelly reminds me just how little Luck cares about balance.

Whatever the reason, I also felt intrusive to have overheard her pain. Like I’d peeked behind a veil of privacy that separates all tourists from the life of locals. A veil which obscures the fact that, behind everything we see, there are people living, breathing, celebrating, suffering. It is both something we should not forget and none of our business. That night’s mystery symbolized the veil that had been there all along, as we passed through town after town in our car: people were working hard, but they looked okay. They all appeared fed; children laughed in the streets. But the truth lay at the end of dark roads that are too terrifying for us to go down and we are ill-equipped to even try.

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Filed under life, travel

Long Time No See

Why, hello there….[*clears throat*]…..

um…[*shuffles feet*]…hi.


As I told a new internet friend, I have been meaning to come back here. It’s just, it seems that my news gets communicated on FB statuses (the only thing about FB I really like, although I am strangely anti-twitter, considering it’s not far off the same thing). And once you fall out of the habit of writing it out regularly, and the further you go from where you left off…well. It’s hard to jump back in there and know what to say, cause there’s lots I haven’t kept up with here. But I promised to try, so here I am. Nice to see you.

I guess I’ll start by following up on a few bits-and-bobs that I was talking about when we last met. In case you didn’t catch it by the “bits-and-bobs” thing, I’m well settled in London and I really love it here. What a great city. In fact, comparing it to my old city of NYC, I must say the latter looks less and less impressive. But then again I’m still new here. Ask me again in two years and I might be just as judgmental about London. (Don’t think so, but maybe.)

In fact, I’m so well settled in that we’re moving house already. Yes, that is a bummer. We were hoping to have bought a place by now, but that hasn’t yet worked out. And then our landlord decided to move back to London. We lucked out in scoring an apartment in the very same building (Whuuut? Yeay!), but then when all the bureaucratic necessities were done, there was a 19 day gap between apartment availability dates (Get out! Boooo!). We were sure the landlord would let us stay for that period – as were her mutual apartment owners here – but no. So, short version: we’re now moving out into a storage space, going to be “homeless for a few weeks”, then have to move back in. To the same damn building. (I mean, I like it here, just…a lot of trouble for a double move!) And a fresh rental contract means probably another year renting. So there’s that.

On the cancer front, I am well, though have had another round of tests due to weird, lasting neck pains. I’m (currently) feeling pretty confident on that front, but learning to navigate the NHS – yet another medical system – carries its own sort of pains in the neck.

In other related news, we have lost another dear lady to breast cancer. That makes two awesome women off my blog role that are sadly no longer with us. (Punk Rock Mommy and Sprucehill, you are missed.) It always takes me by surprise. I’m always sure they’re going to be fine. I had been lightly, but regularly commenting with her on FB. Suddenly there was a note from her family about her death. Aside from the sadness and feelings of injustice, it just brings all the fear rushing back, I must admit. I also lost a high school friend to melanoma in January. She had turned 36 not a week before, and I was just gathering detailed information on her situation (as I hadn’t wanted to pry earlier). I got the confirmation of her cancer from am mutual friend, and went to leave her a fresh note on FB, only to see lots of “RIP” comments. It was such a physical blow. I mean, I find it “wrong” enough that, at my age, myself and several friends have already dealt with cancer. But for one of us not to have made it…I am speechless.

In better news, my friend “P” (read below) has moved home back across the world. Even has a stellar new job. Her mom is hanging in there and they see each other often. For that much I am grateful.

And I guess that seems like enough for today. Next on the editorial calendar – more cheerful updates! How about travel and writing? Yeah. Those sound like good topics.

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Filed under breast cancer, cancer news, life, London

Pyar sirf ek bar hota hai aur shaadi bhi ekhi baar hota hai

I lead you with this famous Bollywood quote, as it seems appropriate for a post about attending my first Indian wedding. It means, “Love happens only once, so does marriage.” Also, the only other dialogue I know from Indian movies is “Jai ho” and “Aja, aja”, but Amen; come on! come on! doesn’t make for very a good title. Or anything else for that matter. They are, however, still fun to say.

It all started Thursday, the day after the “sleepover” with Adam I mentioned in the above post. A mutual friend from our Belgium days, Aga, flew in from the US just in time for the bride’s Henna (Mehndi) Party. Aga and I thought this would be 20 girls sitting around on cushions while Dimple (the bride’s name) got “henna’ed”…clue #1 that we were clueless about Indian weddings!

Dimple’s family lives among two houses side by side. The combined backyard had been completely transformed by a colorful fabric tent, turning the whole thing into a cheerful oasis. Oh, and there were at least 100 people there. Aga and I were also the only people not in a sari or other Indian-wear. Correction: the only females not in Indian attire. The men were mostly dressed in Western styles, but all had matching scarves (a party treat from the bride). I snagged one for Del but he does not seem inclined to wear it.

Dimple was secluded in a room, her hands almost done. Aga and I sort of pushed our way back there, not understanding that the bride was supposed to be secluded at this point, due to the high risk of smudging her henna if distracted. And we immediately understood this; her henna job was gorgeous and delicate, ultimately taking 5 hours –  just for the hands! She said that we were, however, special guests, so we visited for 10 minutes ooh-ing and ahh-ing, also over the fact that neither of us had seen her in at least a year. She has not only lost a substantial amount of weight, but also gone from girl to woman, in a sense. Our sweet, casual friend Dimple now sat before us like genie from a bottle. With a low braid languishing over her shoulder and reaching towards her stomach, movie-star make-up, a mega-watt smile and a joyfully embroidered, almost neon-orange dress, she was absolutely jaw-to-the-floor stunning. I’m sure the beaming happiness helped.

After causing her to giggle (and thus, smudge), Aga and I excused ourselves and joined the rest of the guests in the tent, where several women were offering henna. We’d been advised there would be “an Indian queue”, which meant we had to throw some elbows to get in line. But we managed. It was such a new world for us, being the minority for a change. We got many stares but all was cheerful and friendly and welcoming. We’re not very good at henna though, as ideally one sits still for 2 hours afterwards as not to ruin it. We did not have the luxury of being secluded, however, and crowds do not make for good mehndi.

Meanwhile, dinner was served. Surprise – it was spicy! (Over the course of this wedding we were fed 4 times. I’ve never been so generously fed and so starving in all my life…) Dimple made her entrance, led to a stage/lounging-throne at the front of the room, where she could be more social while her feet mehndi got done. During the henna process her relatives and friends serve her, feed her, everything-her as not to ruin the drying art. Given the effort required to preserve the design, it was not hard for me to imagine the ancient beginnings of this ritual – what a statement of rank and wealth an elaborate henna job was. (There goes Anthropology-me again…)

As for Aga and I, we both got fairly smudged; plus, it is body heat which determines the final color. This means that we both have beautiful light brown lacy designs on our arms, followed by smudgy dirty-orange hands. Any illusion of cool reserve is shattered for amateures like us, who don’t know well enough to ask for it on the (less heat-prone) back of the hand instead.

Four days later it has faded some, but still looks like this:

Oh dear. Work is not going to be happy…


Filed under humor, life, London, wedding stuff

I Got Mail!

I had a very nice surprise tonight…Apparently, someone out there with some very good connections likes me a lot, and they decided to tell me so via one of those tiny lingering bastions of communal human hope – the mail box.

I mean really, is there any better icon of simple mundane pleasures than the unchecked mailbox? You know how some people check it religiously, like there’s going to be something in there besides flyers and other unrequested junk advertising? Or bills, there are those too. My husband is one of those; I am not. I do not care about checking the mail because I am just so sure there will be nothing in there that I’m really interested in, and on the rare occasion there is, it can wait. But not him. He checks it on the way out to dinner, as if we’re going to carry an armload of supermarket circulars to the Macaroni Grill with us. He often prefers to leave his keys at home and depend on mine instead, so there’s a frequent, annoying tussle when we’re leaving the house for me to not have to dig my keys out of the depths of my purse (where I just dumped them after dutifully locking the door behind him) for this pointless mailbox checking as we’re on our way to any number of appointments.

Tonight I refused to indulge him as we left the house. But as we returned to our building he was scratching that little metal door like a puppy wanting in. And lo and behold, that common little fantasy of getting a nice surprise in the mail actually came true. Just not for my husband.

There, amongst the expected postal rubbish, was a UPS envelope for me from somewhere in Texas. At first I thought, Am I in rouble? This looks like something important from corporate headquarters. But inside were – get this – two tickets to a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Seriously! What the…?

I didn’t even know this concert existed. But it looks like I’m going. And I can’t wait to find out who with!
Anyone want to fess up?

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Filed under breast cancer, in praise of true friends, life

Highs and lows

When I turned 20 I was living in France for my study abroad. It was already then concluded to be the best year of my life. It’s hard to describe why, other than feeling like the world was made up of fellow 20-year-olds, situated on the beach of Southern France, inhabited by people that I thought were the coolest ever, and they seemed to feel the same. Everyone was interesting, smart, attractive, fun, interested in the same subjects, learning the same things together. It was like living with all of your best friends ever in one place, one without worries.

How depressing that was. My 20 year-old-self thought, “How can I live a happy life, knowing the best year is over!? Now I have to live 60 years (should I be so lucky) trying to not to look wistfully back.” Eventually I came to terms with that (I mean, after all, isn’t that the very definition of being 20? Thinking in dramatic terms that life could never be so good.)

Well, I am pleased to announce to my 20-year-old-self that my year in France has met its match in the wedding. Surrounded by people that I think are just the best, all of whom have gone through a lot of trouble to show up and demonstrate that they feel the same, all meeting each other at long last to make the connections I’ve long wished could be made – it’s the same as study abroad was. Sadly we couldn’t invite everyone we’d have liked, and it only lasted for days. But hey – at least we dragged it out that long! That’s the place that I wish Del and I could move to (you know, the place where all of our loved ones live. All together.)

Similarly, it seems cruel that we are now at home and – aside from the mess of suitcases and some boxes just waiting to be opened – it’s almost like we never left.

Everyone tells you that your wedding will go by in a blur. To take it easy, take a breath, soak it all in. Well, guess what? It’s nice advice, but it doesn’t help at all. Time is the trickiest of forces. You can pay close attention all you like, but he won’t be slowed or sped. He’ll bring everything you’ve waiting for, but he also promises to take it away. What a thorny friend.

My sweet sisters and best friend all seemed to have the post-wedding blues for me. I’m hoping they have taken the bullet in my place and that I can avoid the sadness that comes when most of the people you love most in the world have come together and thrown a big love-fest for you and then gone home. Like before, they’re now spread again to the 4 corners of the globe. I just can’t wait for the next wedding. Sister – you’re next up!

P.S. No wedding photos yet. We’re waiting, waiting…

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Filed under if I'd known than what I know now, life, this time THIS year, wedding stuff