I was out with some girlfriends, having lunch & getting our nails done, and, quite by accident, I caught my reflection in the restaurant window, I was so surprised by what I saw that I did a double-take. The person I was looking at had dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, a real, full, actual ponytail, like a completely normal person. Not a spindly, sad little Steven Seagal ponytail, no Donald Trump/Homer Simpson comb-over. Just a regular, boring, perfect ponytail. "Look!" I giggled, pointing at myself in the glass, "look at that." I felt like Pinocchio when he realizes he's no longer made pf wood. I'm a real girl, I thought. My friends laughed with me and we drank a celebratory toast. I was as happy as I can remember being in a long time.

This morning, when I woke up & realized that it was a dream, my heart broke.

I should have known it was a dream, the getting our nails done part should have tipped me off. My fingernails are still thin & soft and tear if you look at them wrong and my toenails, forget it, they are still coming off. That freaked me out as much this time as it did right after chemo, why in the hell would it be happening now. Like any citizen of the 21st century, I immediately consulted the almighty Google for answers. Google steered me to several breast cancer forums where I learned that this problem isn't super uncommon. Great news, in the alternate universe of Cancerworld. Can I scream? Is that allowed? The last time I saw my oncologist, he said that persistent hair loss after chemotherapy affects 1% of patients and that I am one of that lucky few. Super. At least it was acknowledgement of the situation, I appreciated that. The three dermatologists I've seen for the problem have been 87% useless. Industrial strength Rogaine and a prescription for something usually given to men for their prostate have been the only answers. Oh, wait, there was that other medication that "shows great results", but, "unfortunately, seems linked to an increase in hormonally based cancers. That's not the kind you had, is it?" Um, yeah it is, thanks though. That was the same doctor who assured me that "It really looks like normal pattern baldness." Okay, fair enough. Is that way I still have no eyebrows and only the merest hint of eyelashes? Why my fingernails fold backwards if I push against something? Why my toenails fall off? All part of that same pattern? That makes sense, thanks for your help.

And on a less superficial note, the 1% business makes me wonder if I'm also in that small percentage of patients who don't respond to the Tamoxifen. I know I shouldn't think like that and I'm generally not a negative person, but yeesh, where else is your mind going to go?


at a loss

As a writer, one hopes never to be at a loss for words but I find myself in a place where words fail me. My mother died four weeks ago. For four weeks I have tried to make sense of the world without her, tried not to imagine the years ahead that she will not share with us, tried to stop myself from calling her phone, just to hear her voice one more time. Mostly, I've struggled to articulate the pain of losing someone I cherished so much.

Most mothers and daughters struggle at some point in their relationship - go through a period of friction, distance, angst. We were no different, there was a weekend when I was in junior high that we hardly spoke. More recently, I spent a weekend with her and we hardly spoke, this time because we didn't need to - we sat together, holding hands, happy to be together. It was at once nothing like the times we spent laughing and having adventures with each other and exactly like all those times because we were together, which was all that ever mattered. I held her hand in mine and sat beside her and it was perfect, it was love. That was the first weekend in October, by the last weekend she was gone. The universe makes no fucking sense to me.

...i carry it in my heart

My mother is dying. I would do anything to make that not true, but I cannot. If we are very lucky we will lose her later rather than sooner, but I only want that if she can be somewhat herself and have some dignity. I am not so selfish that I want her to linger because I can't bear to let her go. Don't get me wrong, I can't bear it. When I was twenty, my father died and, in my grief, I thought that we all let it happen because when the doctors said he was dead, we believed them. I thought that if we had all simply refused to accept something so utterly unacceptable, we could make it not be so. It was a foolish thought, I realize, but I wished for it with all my heart. If I still  believed that wishes come true, I would wish for my mother to be well & happy. In fact, knowing full well that it is not likely to happen, I wish for it anyway.

The cancer she was told she'd beaten returned. It returned just weeks after she was given the "five year all clear", the milestone all breast cancer survivors hope to reach, the holy grail of restored good health. She has tumors in her breast, spine and brain. In the last year, she has broken both hips and her right wrist. She has congestive heart failure, cognitive impairment and has recently had shingles. She is eighty-one and frail. She is the person I love best in all the world.

rollercoaster ride

Everything looks great.

These are the three magic words I've been waiting to hear. My radiologist smiles when he says them. I want to kiss him, I've met this man twice in my life and I want to throw my arms around him. I think I might faint, the good news has made my knees go weak. I don't fall over and I don't behave inappropriately with the doctor, I smile and say thank you and stagger back to the changing room where I let the relief wash over me. Maybe tonight, I'll sleep.  The letter reminding me that it was time for my mammogram came two weeks ago and I haven't slept past 3:30 since.

the better I get, the worse I feel

Irony, no? That's one of the many jacked up things about cancer and its aftermath. Here I am, basically healthy and I don't feel good about it. That's not precisely accurate, I feel great and I feel great about that on some levels, but in other ways it makes everything harder. Am I just a whiny cry-baby? Maybe so. It's still the truth that every day I feel stronger and healthier and more like my old self and that only makes me realize how far from normal I have been. Partly it's the speed of both my illness and recovery. In less than 2 years I have gone from perfectly fine to finding a lump to full blown cancer patient to whatever I am now. It has been both an eternity and the blink of an eye. And now that the worst is over, as far as I know, it's hard to believe it happened at all. But then I look in the mirror and, yeah, it for sure happened. Plus, however good I feel now, is not the same as before. You can't un-know certain things, they become a part of you. I'm different than I was. That's not necessarily a bad thing, some of the changes are positive ones, but none the less, they are still changes that were forced on me - not ones I consciously made.

math is hard

It occurs to me that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my high school math teachers, Jim Manheim & Burton Tingle. Despite my oft stated belief that math is not my thing and that I want no part of it, I realize that my chosen career is almost entirely about creating balance, order and symmetry with physical objects and within certain parameters. In other words, geometry. And I'm quite good at it so I have to believe that I actually did learn something from these gentlemen. Nice work.

a sad, ugly business

I am very sad about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Generally, I don't much care for or about the lives of celebrities, but this was a man with a monumental talent. And, apparently, a hole in his heart that he tried to fill with heroin. How does it happen, that a person with so many gifts feels so empty inside? This, by the way, will not be a rant against the evils of drug use. I know people who died of drug overdoses and, frankly, if it hadn't been drugs, it would have been something else. Sad as it is to face, the truth is that they were not going to live very long. 

results, resolve and resolutions

Personally, I'm not much for New Year's Resolutions. It's certainly a tempting idea to start anew and make changes at the dawn of a year. The problem is it's too easy to get off track and then it becomes a promise to start again tomorrow, no Monday, that's the start of the new week and if I can't start from day 1 of the year, at least I can begin the week on the right foot. Wait, does the week start on Sunday or Monday? Calendar week or work week? What if I just start on Sunday? No, that won't work because we have dinner with friends on Sunday evening and I won't have time to workout/don't want to be weird and high maintenance at the restaurant ordering everything plain with lemon on the side/will want to have a cocktail or a smoke or desert...heroin...what-have-you...insert vice of choice here. And the next thing you know it's May and you've gotten nowhere with whatever it was you resolved to do or not do starting January 1st.