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photos: 
1) i liked the stacks of gowns and their blue hues
2) i became very skilled at fashioning my ill-fitting, all-exposing gown into a fitted, modest tunic wrap…thing
3) the bell you’re supposed to ring when you finish your radiation. after my 6 weeks of treatment, i instead chose to quietly slip out. i was never there. 

I got my own tattoos in January: just three small barely detectable dots to help line me up for radiation treatment. In November I was diagnosed with DCIS: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ—cancer light, stage zero cancer, pre-cancer. If you are going to get a breast cancer diagnosis, this is the one you want.

Such a strange time of life. At the same time I was diagnosed, my neighbor was diagnosed with throat cancer. I ran into a colleague at the Cancer Center one day: she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Whoa. So many people affected by cancer.

So grateful for my diagnosis, knowing how much worse it could have been. Throughout my treatment I saw so many women and men with no hair, met women with young children and people who had to travel so far for their radiation treatment. I met people who had been diagnosed years ago and people who thought they were done with treatment, but then more cancer was found.

The treatment for DCIS didn’t interrupt my life too much. I did not have to have big surgeries or chemotherapy. I took 10 days off from exercising after each of my small surgeries, but exercised throughout my radiation treatment and presented at a conference 3 days after my first surgery. (Probably not a good idea.) Working on campus near the hospital, I was able to walk 10 minutes to and from my radiation treatments. I liked the walk and getting out of the office mid –morning, except for the last couple of weeks when I was just tired and done.

Some things I learned along the way:

• One of the first questions people ask when you have a diagnosis is, how did you get it? That is the $500 billion dollar question isn’t it?It wasn’t smoking, obesity or alcohol abuse—all linked to cancer. It wasn’t having the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 in my genetic make-up (I now know after getting my genetic tests back).

But was it the millions of gallons of diet coke I have consumed? The secondhand smoke I was exposed to the first half decade of life before my parents stopped smoking? The fire retardants in carpeting, upholstery and pajamas? The processed foods I eat? My genetic make-up (researchers are still working to identify additional cancer genes)?

Or, as my scientist daughter puts it, was it the combination of environmental and genetic factors, entropy and random chance that one of my 37.2 trillion cells would become abnormal and acquire a large number of mutations necessary to forego all of the division checkpoint and cellular suicide mechanisms to be able to divide uncontrollably? No one knows.

• That’s something else I learned– our cells have many, many, many division checkpoints that check and fix errors and they have cellular suicide mechanisms to keep our cells from dividing uncontrollably! So amazing! Of course with 37.2 trillion cells, you can’t catch every error.

• I learned that I am not ready to give up my mammograms. There have been many articles in the past several years questioning the value of regular mammograms. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/health/study-adds-new-doubts-about-value-of-mammograms.html?_r=0 ) The argument is that many of these cancers grow very slowly and we can wait to see if a pre-cancer, like mine, turns into something cancerous or not. Only when a palpable lump is felt would do they do something. I am someone who believes in scientific research, and the research in the article linked above says outcomes are the same. But I want more research. I think waiting to deal with something when I’m older and likely less active would just make recovery more difficult.

Some women with DCIS opt for full double mastectomies. This was shocking news to me when I was told this by my surgeon’s nurse practitioner. It really scared me and seemed like such overkill. I did not choose this option. I chose what my surgeon recommended, which was small and barely noticeable incision for both of my surgeries. However, the more I read, the more I understand why women choose full mastectomies. First, reconstructive surgery, as Angelina Jolie has confirmed, is quite advanced and the results are very good. Second, radiation can affect your heart and lungs. If you have a mastectomy, you don’t have to have radiation. My tumors were, fortunately, in my right side, not my heart side, so I did not have to worry about radiation affecting my heart. But I have no idea if my lungs were damaged by the radiation. (I just coughed. Is that a cold or radiation damage?) Third, you don’t have to do chemotherapy. Fourth, you don’t have to do a needle localization. If you don’t know what that is, I won’t tell you. It’s doable, but not for sissies. Fifth, once you get rid of all of the tissue, you don’t have to wonder about additional cancer cells that left in your body, too small to detect YET. Sixth, you don’t have to take Tamoxifen— an estrogen modulator for hormone receptive tumors. Sometimes I wonder if I should have gone this route…probably not.

Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book is a great resource for anyone with a breast cancer diagnosis. My boss gave me a copy. So helpful! If you know of anyone who gets a breast cancer diagnosis, give her this book if she doesn’t already have it.

Radiation is not a one or two time thing. Mine was 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The treatment included lying on a table and having a radiation beamed aimed at my breast for 15 seconds from one angle and then 15 seconds from another. I didn’t feel anything. Afterward, I changed out of my gown and walked back to work.

Life goes on. DCIS is a little weird because it’s not like capital letters CANCER. You’re not donning the boxing gloves to kick cancer’s ass. It’s more like, a month ago I was going to radiation, today I’m filing the paperwork one files when they find out someone else is using their social security number. (True.) There is something that seems similar between the two undertakings– just go through the prescribed steps until you’re on the other side. But you know you will get to the other side, without any ass-kicking.

Moving forward and grateful for this life. Time to get back to figuring out my life as an empty nester!

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photos:
1) my beamish boy, 8 years ago when we were good friends
2) spot the tattoo
3) no mas!

Last night as I pulled in the driveway I felt a pang in my heart when I noticed the white Christmas lights on in my son’s upstairs bedroom window. I turned the lights on when he went back to school so his room didn’t look so cold and empty. I really miss him. And I don’t. We are both happy, doing good work where we are; me in Ann Arbor and he in Chicago. But still there is a pull on my heart.

My son started his freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. He lives on the Lincoln Park campus but takes the El to take classes downtown (13 floors above the Barnes and Noble on the Loop) a couple of days per week. On those days he says he eats breakfast overlooking Chicago as the sun rises. It makes him happy.

The summer before he left was neither fun nor pretty for us. So many fights. Go ahead, join the other hundreds of friends who told me not to take it personally, that he’s just separating, that he will come back. I know all of this. But it still hurt. Deeply.

And when he turned 18 at the end of July he announced he was going to get a skull tattooed on his bicep.

I said, not a skull.
I said, not yet.
I said, wait until you’re 26 and your frontal lobe is fully developed.
I said, wait until you’ve made friends at college.
I said, a skull on your bicep says, f-you! I’m a tough guy and I want to fight you!
I said, okay, get a tattoo but not something that is so negative and scary and visible.

He said, yes a skull, yes on my bicep.

I said, NO.

He said, you have no say, I’m eighteen and can do what I want.

I said, I’m paying for you to go to college so I think I do get a say.

My husband said, don’t tell him we’re not going to pay for him to go to college.

I said, that’s not what I said.

My son got his badass tattoo the week before he left for college.

I didn’t speak to him until two days before he left when he came up to me and hugged me and said, I love you mom.

I said, I love you too, dummy.

He said, whose the dummy who wouldn’t talk to her son the week before he leaves for college?

I said, whose the dummy who got a skull tattoo the week before he left for college?

He said, my skull tattoo is amazing.

So he got a tattoo. No one died. But as a friend noted, after having had the same experience with his daughter, something shifted. Something broke.

Looking back, I think it’s okay. I likely did something that broke my childhood relationship with my own mother at some point. Like when I would blare Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” when she intruded on my teenage life. Or any of the millions of other transgressions I made against her.

Now, I have a wonderful adult relationship with my mom. I hope I will be able to have a similar relationship with my son one day. In the meantime, I am getting better at not taking his transgressions so personally.

His first week of college my skull-tattooed son had a Discover Chicago immersion class where they visited different neighborhoods, learned about their histories, ethnicities, etc. He texted me one day and said, three of my four professors have tattoos, I don’t feel so special.

When he was home for break he was talking about getting another tattoo. I said, well I would be okay with that one, pointing to our refrigerator where I had posted a paper heart with a banner baring the word “MOM”. My daughter had made as a label for a gift for me.

He said, that’s actually one I was thinking of getting.

Oh my beamish boy. I hope no more tattoos, but I’m keeping my mouth shut this time.

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photos:
1) our new dog, vincent
2) my son turned 17 in july and is now about five weeks away from graduating
3) i would spend all summer at lake michigan if i could
4) the lego movie on the score boards of the michigan stadium last august, everything is awesome
5) september birthday dinner for my husband at zingermans
6) easter island head, one of the many snow sculptures i encountered on my walks with vincent this winter
7) i sat down to breakfast and encountered this one morning. these are the mundane moments i don’t want to forget

I was listening to a Selected Shorts podcast yesterday and the host said something like, “life is made up of a series of moments.”

That resonated with me as, in an effort to come up with something to post about, I had just forced myself to sit down and compile a list of things that have happened in my life since I last posted, over six months ago.

It feels like it was just a few weeks ago. Like nothing of note has happened, between then and now: Same day over and over again.

But, using my phone camera roll and my calendar for prompts, I easily came up with a list of more than 20 “moments” that included the seemingly mundane, like dying my own hair for the first time, to the transformative (and heartbreaking), my mother-in-law dying.

It was a reminder to stop now and then and reflect on my moments, whose sum equals my life.

I wonder what moments make up your life. A new recipe? A new love? A loss? I wish I knew.

I hope the positive moments always out number all others.

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photos:
1) loving my chocolate milk
2) surfer, pacific ocean, golden gate park near sutro bathes
3) yellow mushrooms, noe valley farmer’s market
4) gold fish and yellow boots, japanese tea garden in golden gate park
5) my new skirt

We have had some hard weeks this month. We are still missing our puppy. My mother-in-law is in her final days. And we are dealing with some hard, worldly, issues with one of our children. It is a situation that has grown from a place of goodness and caring, but has put our child in a potentially dangerous and situation. It is a situation that makes me long for normal teenage issues like drinking, sex or breaking curfew. We have been up late many nights lately having long and intense family talks. But at least we are talking. (My advice to you as a parent is to not raise caring and sensitive kids who want to save the world.)

When I am tired at the beginning of a swim workout and have a wave of dread wash over me thinking about how many more hundreds of yards I have left to swim, I tell myself to focus on the 50 yards I am currently on: to concentrate on form; to concentrate on the pleasure of moving through the water; and to just take one lap at a time. It always gets me through the workout.

I am trying to apply the same focus to each day of this hard time: focus on what I can do today; try to set a goal and try to break the problem down to get to that goal; focus on efficiency rather than wasting so much energy on anxiety and worry; and make sure I exercise and laugh, because endorphins always help. As I tell my children, we will get through this. All will be well.

I cannot say that I am happy this week, but there have been things that have lifted my spirits. The top three have to do with chocolate…for its medicinal qualities?

1. Almond Joy ice-cream. Coconut ice-cream infused with almonds and big chunks of chocolate, now available and our neighborhood Washtenaw Dairy ice cream store, an all too convenient 10 minute walk from my house. I’m not a huge ice cream fan, but I find myself with a specific craving this ice cream. No, I’m not pregnant.

2. Small, portable cartons of chocolate milk. They don’t require refrigeration, though they are best cold. I love them after exercising…and with my lunch…and as a late night snack and…No, I’m not pregnant.

3. Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. I have a Ghiradelli bar right next to me as I type. I have never liked dark chocolate, though I know it’s much better for me than milk chocolate. It turns out if you add a heavy does of salt and almonds to dark chocolate, it’s not only palatable, it’s wonderful. (I also like the dark chocolate and sea salt Kind bars.) No, I’m still not pregnant.

4. My kitchen floor is almost done and looking great. My husband has been working his *** off sanding, staining and finishing this ancient pine floor. The project started last November when we bought a new dishwasher that would not fit under the counter, even though it was the same dimensions as the old one. We ended up ripping up the flooring, which needed replacing anyway, and found 3 layers of linoleum on subfloor. Then there was black paper and goo that had to be scraped off of the floor. We discovered not so bad pine flooring that we thought we might paint. Once my husband had it sanded we decided to stain and polyurethane. Now about that harvest gold counter top…

5. Being outside always makes me feel better. My daughter and I took a long bike ride together this week, I swam outdoors at least once, I walked to and from work on some days. This Atlantic article on brain function and exercise, and being outside says being outside and exercising (and the big O for ladies) also increases brain function:
Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords and Mozart

6. My first trip ever to San Francisco was great. We packed a lot in in the few days we were there. Including my friend’s participation in the Escape from the Rock duathlon. The food, the shops, the nature, the culture, the easy transportation…I can’t wait to return.

7. The Google Maps App and the Uber Cars App. Both Apps made getting around San Francisco easy and stress free. Uber cars are controversial in some cities because they compete with cab drivers who say Uber drivers are unqualified. Uber drivers have to pass some driving and written tests, so I’m not sure if the cabbies’ claims are founded. I like Uber cars because I don’t feel like I’m getting overcharged because I’m a tourist. You can get a fare quote ahead of time, they let you know ahead of time if it is a high traffic time when fares are sometimes increased, and by how much they are increased. There is no tipping (tip is included), the cars arrive quickly, it is automatically charged to your credit card and they have lots of special offers—first ride was free for us.
Google Maps gives great and specific information for using public transportation and walking.

8. Boden’s printed cotton skirt in Papaya Geo that arrived this week (see above)

9. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
, by Daniel James Brown

I’m almost finished with this book, but don’t want it to end! There is a movie being made of this. It’s being touted as the Chariots of Fire of rowing. Here is a book trailer I found (have never heard of a book trailer before).

10. My husband showed me THIS amazing kickstarter invention. I made a small donation to the campaign so I can receive 100 of these next July. Just in time for my son’s 18th birthday.

Hope you have a good week: 50 yards at a time my friends.

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photos:
1) my disfiguring goggles– a redundancy
2) athletes parade at dawn to the ferry that will take them to alcatraz
3) alcatraz, the sign says: warning persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution and imprisonment
4) they’re off, golden gate bridge in the background
5) that about sums it up!

Last November, as a big birthday loomed ahead of me in 2014, I thought it time to pick up the exercise routine and set a goal. I thought about the Y-tri at the gym: 15 minutes of swim, 15 minutes of bike (studio bike) and 15 minutes of run (on a treadmill).

I signed up for a seven-week Y-tri training class, but would not yet commit to the Y-tri. I was worried about the swim. I hadn’t done swim workouts in years— no, DECADES. And I hate getting in to a pool. I hate being on the deck when I’m wet. I hate being cold. And what I hate most of all? Putting on a swimsuit. Gah! It all made me feel a little ill to think about.

I remember our first swim class the instructor told us to swim a 200 yard warm-up ( eight lengths). Most of us in the class were struggling to finish 50 yards.

But I finished the tri class. And another one after that. And then the Y tri. And then a sprint length tri in June. This summer I have enjoyed many lake swims on sunny weekend mornings with a group of great women; lunchtime swims in the outdoor 50 meter public pool; and more workouts, including this morning, with new friends at the Y. Somewhere in there, I turned 50!

Last Sunday I was on a ferry at Alcatraz, watching my friend Ingrid jump into a 62 degree San Francisco bay with 400 other wet-suit clad athletes and about 25 without wet suits. She was participating in the Escape from the Rock duathlon, swimming 1.5 miles from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park, San Francisco and then running 7 miles. I was her support crew.

Months ago, when she first talked about doing this, it seemed to me like an impossible event and not one I would ever considering signing up for. But Ingrid made it look possible, and it’s something that I am now considering for next year.

It seemed serendipitous when we were poking around in a San Francisco bookstore after the race Ingrid found a book titled, “It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done.”

For her, finishing that grueling event, it was an incredibly appropriate sentiment. But for me, it was appropriate too.

everywhere and nowhere

July 16, 2014

gggg

n-2

yyyy

vv

aaa

photos:
1) our finnegan, november 11, 2001 – july 8, 2014
2) she decided in kindergarten that she wanted a pug and she wanted to name him finny. i’m not sure her dad and i knew what a pug was. took her two years to convince her dad.
3) one of five million photos of finny and his girl
4) puppy brothers: small and young
5) puppy brothers: one still young, but big, the other still small, but old

Last week we lost our faithful companion of twelve and a half years. It was heartbreaking and we are still heartbroken.

We loved that little dog. Every time my daughter saw Finny, she would say, “Finny is so cute. SO cute.” Every time my son saw Finny he said, “Mom, look at how cute Finny is!” and I would say, “Yes, he is cute,” while I continued to make dinner, or check my email. “No, mom you have to LOOK. Mom look! Look at how cute Finny is!” He would persist until I would finally turn and look and affirm. This happened always, forever, multiple times a day, whenever they would see their “puppy brother.”

My husband, who didn’t want a dog, was the one who stayed up with Finny his first night in our house, when he was so, so tiny. And he was the one who, last week, woke me up at 2am to say he was taking Finny to the emergency vet. The kids went with him. I came later when he called me to tell me that we had run out of options.

Finny always wanted to be right by my side, probably because I was the one who fed and walked him. He cried if I went to bed, or the bathroom, or upstairs, or downstairs without him. I went to sleep with him at my feet and woke up with his head next to mine on my pillow, his fishy breath blowing in my face. Gross, I know.

Now when I get up in the morning as I head to the bathroom I hear him whine for me to come back and lift him off the bed, as he often does. In less than a second I realize the whine can’t be from him because he is no longer here: it’s a squeaky door, or the air conditioner or my husband’s snore.

We see him out of the corner of our eyes, and then instantly recognize that it’s not him, but his tan cushion, or a bag, or something else of similar color or size. He is everywhere, and nowhere.

My son came home the other day with his usual bounce in his step and cheerfully told me about his day and then headed down the hall and stopped. “Oh,” he said, startled. “I was going to find Finny.”

My daughter wants to keep his toys, cushion, even his hair around the house, as is, at least for now. She explained a theory, that if the sun explodes, we on earth will have 8 minutes before everything is gone. She feels this way about Finny: that she only has a limited amount of time before so much of him, our memory of him, his presence, all of him, is gone.

I know it will get better; maybe sooner than we are ready for.

what's making me happy this week 03.23.14: kumail, adam and peter

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photos:
1) i love the glass doorknobs in our house and won't let my husband replace them, even though some work poorly
2) the ceiling of the lobby of the university of michigan's museum of natural history where we had an after hours event
3) a late lunch of jap che and bi him bap with my daughter at bell's diner. you can see us in the mirror and a sign of spring hanging above. i have one just like it at home.
4) i love my pug's shadow. i wish i could get it without the sidewalk cracks so you can really see his curly tail
5) my daughter was in my office and arranged my fruit to let me know how she felt about her organic chemistry exam
6) my daughter came downstairs to excitedly explain an organic chemistry eureka moment to me using her whiteboard, which really just confused me and lulled me to sleep. you can see my pug is alarmed that she is invading our space
7) old iron fence shadows
8) lunch at the lunchroom in kerrytown, loved our bahn mi sandwiches

Walking back from lunch this week I overheard someone say to another person, “We’re lucky it’s so warm out today!” Moments later someone else smiled at me and said, “Nice day!” The same day my outdoor running buddy, whom I have not run with since October, texted me, “Want to run tomorrow morning?”

So by now you have deduced the weather here in Michigan has changed. It’s sunny and…30 degrees outside! No NOT Celsius. That’s good old American 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may think we are a sad and uncivilized lot here in the mid western United States. Uncivilized? Yes. Sad? No. We are HAPPY. It’s balmy! The snow is melting! We are on the other side!

Also making me happy this week:
1. The Detroit Tiger’s Baseball home opener is March 31, a week from tomorrow. Ernie Harwell announcing Tiger’s games on WJR radio was the background to my childhood summers. And even though Ernie Harwell is no longer announcing, listening to a Tiger’s game on the radio while making dinner is better than a glass of wine (and even better WITH a glass of wine). Winter is over friends: the boys of summer are back.

2. Kumail Nanjiani. I was thinking of this episode of Portlandia when I was looking into our cell phone plan this week…Anyone who has a cell phone plan will be able to relate, but may not find it funny.

3. I loved, LOVED, Adam Savage’s (of MythBusters fame) story on the Moth podcast about talking to his kids about online pornography. I was a little worried at first…but he nailed it. No pun intended. (Naughty!)

4. What made me happy about these rejection letters to famous people published by Mental Floss (by the way, greatest magazine, a subscription is a great gift for any nerdy person) is that in fact I found most of them to be very kind. May we all be so kind in our rejections.

5. Finally saw the movie, The Desendants. I loved it, despite the fact that I watched it with my mother who made a disapproving noise whenever anyone dropped an f-bomb, and there were about 3,456 f-bombs dropped throughout the film.
I love movies and books that begin with characters you really don’t like at all, and then slowly their humanity and vulnerability are revealed as you watch them evolve into better people.

6. It makes me happy that I finally finished Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch. Emphasis on FINISHED. Powered through nearly 800 pages waiting for someone in this book to redeem him or herself. Waited to care about someone. Still waiting.

Yes, I know. I read Stephen’s King’s review in the New York Times where he states, “The Goldfinch” is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.”

And yes, I also heard NPR’s Maureen Corrigan’s review. “The Goldfinch far exceeds the expectations of those of us who’ve been waiting on Tartt to do something extraordinary again, ever since her debut novel, The Secret History, came out in 1992. Hell, I feel like I’ve been waiting for a novel like this to appear not only since I read The Secret History, but also since I first read David Copperfield.”

Wish I would have read Brit Peter Kemp’s review in the Sunday Times before being seduced by Corrigan and King. “Outdoing even The Little Friend, famously a decade in the writing, The Goldfinch has taken 11 years to appear. These epic gestations are attributed by awed Tartt admirers and devotees of websites such as Donna Tartt Shrine to uncompromising perfectionism. “It’s because of perfectionism that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good,” she has stressed. But it’s hard to spot much of it in this ineptly put-together book….Melodrama and sentimentality abound (Pippa, “like a fairy” in a gauzy green dress, is a particularly fey fabrication). Similar-seeming formulations recur. One character is “like an elegant weasel”, another like “an elegant…polar bear”, a third has an “elegant black-clad body like a python”.

For me, alarms went off early on when Tartt uses the phrase, “tugged on his sleeve”. Any respectable high school English teacher would justifiably CHOKE a student who used that cliché in her writing.

7. Feeling happy that I got my irritation with The Goldfinch off my chest. Thank you. And consider yourself warned.

Happy, happy week to you!

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