Archive | January, 2012

How Having Cancer is like Being Old

30 Jan

You and your grandmother both:

  • share a wheelchair
  • share a temporary handicapped parking placard (yes, that’s illegal, but it’s dumb to carry two separate placards around in the same car)
  • spend most of your time in bed
  • have no social life
  • wear Depends
  • have short-term memory problems
  • have boobs that could break a big toe without the support of a bra
  • have osteoporosis
  • take the same diuretic and heart medicine, and
  • have a mix of grey and brown hair (granted, hers is more salt-and-pepper and mine is more ferret-like).

Am I too young to die this old or too old to die this young?


People with whom I Empathize now that I Have Cancer

29 Jan

Other people with cancer (obviously)

People with:

  • overactive bladder
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • anemia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • asthma
  • heartburn
  • acid reflux disease

People who:

  • take Bean-O
  • wear Depends
  • are pregnant and struggling with morning sickness
  • are old
  • are too fat to put on their shoes and tie their laces

Julie Andrews


Stacy and Clinton, Eat Your Hearts Out

23 Jan


I haven’t always been a fashion diva.  Sure, when I was little my mom stuffed me into the cutest dresses she could find and spent countless agonizing hours torturing me by blow-drying, ironing, and curling my hair to make me pretty.  I don’t think I wore pants until I went to middle school – partly because my mom always bought me dresses and partly because I didn’t like the way pants felt on my legs.  Some of that was probably due to the fact that my dad was the one who bought me my first pair of jeans, and he didn’t know exactly what size I was.  But having material rub all over me just bothered me to no end.

I didn’t really become interested in fashion until I graduated from Middlebury, started watching “What Not to Wear” and went to work at JC Penney as a sales representative in order to earn enough money to move to Switzerland and earn a Master’s in Translation at the University of Geneva.  I got rid of all my worn-out long underwear, flannel jeans, and oversized sweaters from Vermont and bought cute, knee-length skirts with coordinating tops and jackets, with 3-inch heels to complete the look.  I also had a great variety of work and casual pants and a nice, young, feminine work suit.

My favorite piece of all was a skirt I picked up at Promod in Geneva when I travelled there to take the entrance exams for the translation program.  It was white with sky blue cording around the waist and the hem, with an enormous embroidered flower on the front featuring every color in the rainbow.  I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t seen anything like it since.  It was one of those signature pieces that I just couldn’t pass up having in my wardrobe.

Cancer totally changed the fashion game for me.  Because of all the medications, my weight underwent extreme fluctuations.  Fluctuations as in over 100 pounds in the course of a year.  And when you wake up one day and realize that you are so large that you hate the way you look in the mirror, you know you have to go out and find an attractive, affordable wardrobe (at your very temporary size, since you’re constantly gaining or losing weight depending on which medications you’re taking).

I managed to compile a winter wardrobe without breaking the bank.  My secret: figure out which is your favorite department store.  Open a credit card account with them.  They will send you TONS of extra promotions in the mail that are not available to the general public, and it makes for some mega savings.  If you don’t want to worry about a credit card bill, stores will allow you to pay off your bill right at the register with either cash or a check.  But with the economy in poor shape, stores are desperate to attract customers and are giving out a lot more perks to their loyal shoppers than they used to.

I get almost all of my clothing at JC Penney.  Since I used to work there, I am very familiar with the brands and styles of clothing that they have available.  I’m also very familiar with their sale and clearance patterns, so I know when a sale ad on TV is the real deal or just hype.  A lot of my clothing comes off the 70% off clearance rack, and I use additional coupons on top of that.

So, my bargain basement winter wardrobe in a nutshell:

  • 1 pair trouser jeans
  • 1 pair brown twill pants
  • 2 grey skirts
  • 1 pair black shoes
  • 1 pair burgundy shoes
  • 3 new sweaters (red, blue and teal)
  • 3 old sweaters from the previous year that I lost enough weight to fit back into (pink, teal and striped)
  • 6 shells/tees for layering (various colors and patterns)
  • 3 or 4 assorted pullovers (not the most fashion-forward, but they work for going to the grocery store)
  • 1 khaki jacket
  • 1 black jacket
  • 1 brown jacket
  • 1 maroon trench coat from the previous year that I lost enough weight to fit back into
  • 1 grey pea coat from the previous year that I lost enough weight to fit back into
  • 1 pair silver earrings
  • 1 pair golden earrings

Now, why do I say “Stacy and Clinton, eat your hearts out”?  Because they would absolutely go nuts over the look, and I didn’t go to New York or come anywhere near to spending $5000 on it.  In fact, it was all 50% to 90% off.  It’s a bright, colorful wardrobe that can handle anything that the San Antonio weather throws at us all winter long — warm weather, cool weather, the occasional cold snap — and it does not scream “I am a fat slob”.  It says, “I care about how I dress, even if I’m unhappy with my current size.  I’m pretty and feminine and confident.” And it is of the utmost importance to feel confident about your appearance when you are sick.

It’s a Contest

22 Jan


I have always been competitive by nature.  (My favorite quote comes from the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons – “Win or die.”)  It can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it.  Once, when I was seven or eight, my best friend Andrea (who was also very competitive) and I were playing a game out in the backyard, and I got so angry when she won that I bit her on the chest through her swimsuit.  (We weren’t allowed to play together for a while after that.)  On the other hand, when I skipped the 7th grade, the school administrators told me I had to maintain a solid B average in order to stay in the 8th grade.  I fought my way to the top of the class and stayed there, tutoring some of my fellow students in algebra and science.

Now that I’m sick, I’m interested in a different kind of competition.  I think that I may be officially the one person amongst everyone I know who has been admitted to the doctor or hospital in the greatest number of places in the world.  Let’s count:

  • Dallas, TX
  • Garland, TX
  • Kerrville, TX
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Tulsa, OK
  • Shreveport, LA
  • Middlebury, VT
  • Salamanca, Spain
  • Poitiers, France
  • Geneva, Switzerland

I win!


21 Jan


I have a lot of cancerversaries to celebrate each year.  The anniversary of the day I found my lump, the day I had my kidney removed, the day I had emergency brain surgery, the day I last had a seizure, the last day I spent the night in the hospital… they just never seem to end.

I like celebrating these cancerversaries – they’re a reminder that I’m still alive and enjoying life despite the odds stacked against me.  Celebrating life is wonderful – it’s just like celebrating a birthday.  After all, when I had my brain surgery, my mom was told not to expect me to wake up, and she brought the hymnal that her church had given her for her services as their pianist while she was in high school so that she could sing to me while I died.    When she arrived, I was conscious and talking, and demanded to read the Diana Gabaldon book she’d brought along, since I’d been, well… dying to read it for the previous two years.  I think it’s great to be able to commemorate pulling through an experience like that.

Not everyone has the same opinion, though.  My mom was rather put off with the idea of celebrating – the thought made her sad.  My doctor wasn’t a huge help, either – I wanted to design a cake in the shape of a renal cell carcinoma cell (sort of reminiscent of the collection of stuffed plush toys in the shape of STD cells that I once ran across), but when I asked him what the cells looked like, he simply replied, “clear”.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how to design a clear cake.

I also found a great song for my cancerversary celebrations with the help of a sleepless night in Geneva during which I resorted to watching MTV.  It was called “Kick the Bucket” by the Charlie Winston Band, and it proclaimed, We all kick the bucket in the end, the end while cheerful, animated skeletons danced around on the screen.  It made me laugh, although others found the humor a bit morbid.

Having anniversaries to look forward to helps, actually – for example, the anniversary of my first year free of overnight hospital stays was due to fall during my longest friend’s wedding in Pittsburgh.  I was determined to spend that anniversary with them (she and her husband did, after all, honor me by giving me a Scripture reading during the ceremony and by donating to a kidney cancer research foundation in my name) and not languishing in the hospital again.

So, my philosophy is when a cancerversary comes along, dive into it and then continue full speed ahead until the next one!


20 Jan


When I was a little girl, I used to be anxious about being able to find a nice boy to marry.  So anxious that I told my dad (who was, at that point, already divorced from my mom) that he had to let me marry him when I grew up.  So anxious that my mom had to tell me that G-d makes a special match for everyone.  He doesn’t always make it obvious who we should choose — it’s like a treasure hunt in the sandbox — but there is definitely someone for everyone.

Never mind that I already had a boyfriend in preschool.  Eric and I always set our sleeping mats next to each other at nap time, and at the end of each school day, he would tell his mother what a pretty dress and what pretty bows I wore.  We even kissed each other once or twice.  I had a boyfriend in sixth grade, too — or, at least, Ryan would have become a boyfriend if I hadn’t had to move away at the end of the year.  He and I were both taking classes in the honors program, and he was the only sixth grade violinist in the advanced orchestra, but some of the kids made fun of him because he was slightly overweight and cried once in front of the class.  We never kissed, but we did exchange white roses as part of the school Valentine’s Day fundraiser.  (I found a picture of him on Facebook a few years ago, and let me tell you — he turned into a very handsome man.  I’m a little sad that fish got away.)

Anyway, I moved around as a kid.  A lot.  I attended eight different schools from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, and that certainly didn’t help with any budding romances.  Neither did the fact that there weren’t any guys worth dating at my first high school, anyway — or that the two eligible guys at my second high school were already taken.  And no surprise — Ryan (a different Ryan) was the leading man in all the school drama productions, and quite tall and handsome — taller than me, in fact, which was no small feat, given that I am 6’1″.  I was often cast as his leading lady, and he was very kind to me backstage — once, during a performance of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, I was in pain and drugged up and crying backstage, and he cheered me up by dancing a silly dwarf fairy dance in his 19th-century pajama gown costume complete with long, pointy nightcap.  But, as I said, he was already taken.  As was Jack, another fellow performer who was an accomplished pianist and who gave divine massages to all his castmates.

Then came college, where I had a few crushes, but let’s face it — at The College On The Hill, there really isn’t all that much time to date if you care about graduating with Highest Honors and being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.  (I managed both.)  Switzerland also failed to yield a boyfriend, as my crush was an athiest and a movie fanatic and I was religious and not much a fan of cinema.  We did have fun teaching each other naughty, classroom-unfriendly expressions in our respective native languages, though.

“But it’s okay,” everyone would tell me when I complained.  “Right now you should just focus on your education.  You have plenty of time to date later, when you’re finished with your degree and you know what you want to do and where you want to live.  That’s the time to settle down.”

Except that wasn’t the time to settle down — that was the time to start fighting cancer.  And not just any run-of-the-mill, it’ll-go-into-remission cancer — this was we’ll-keep-you-alive-as-long-as-possible cancer.  So as all my friends began to marry, I was in and out of the hospital, trying desperately to keep my health together.  I missed Rosie’s wedding in Spain, Tessa’s wedding in Geneva, Shalhevet’s wedding in Israel…

Once I moved back to the States, though, there were some closer-to-home weddings that were more feasible from a travel perspective.  But if they were feasible distance-wise, were they feasible health-wise?  A wedding is, after all, the bride’s day.  All eyes should be on her.  You don’t want to become the center of attention just because this may be the last time your friends see you before you die.  You don’t want to have a seizure during Here Comes the Bride (even if there are plenty of doctors and nurses in the house) or pass out on your way down from giving the Scripture reading.  Thankfully, neither of these happened during my “longest friend”‘s wedding.  (She’s not actually my “longest friend” — my college roommate Devon has her beat by just a little bit — but she’s close.)  I did, however, end up having to wear my stepfather’s athletic shoes to my friend Sarah’s wedding because my feet were too swollen to fit in any other shoes.  The choice to attend a wedding while sick with cancer is sure not an easy one.

Bucket List

19 Jan

I suppose we all have one, but mine’s a little more urgent than most people’s.  I’ve knocked two (minor) items off mine — ordering sushi in a restaurant and going to a 3D movie.  The seaweed around the sushi was a bit strong (so I ate the sushi unwrapped) and the movie made me a little queasy, but hey — I tried it.

I’d like to go fishing again and go see the rodeo.  One of my biggest regrets is, oddly enough, that I never did go down with all the other kids to chase the calf with the ribbon on its tail when I was a little girl.

I’ve pretty much had to get rid of my international travel to-do list, but at least I’ve already seen more of the world than most people.  I’d still like to do a lot of domestic travel, though – I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, the redwood forests, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, New York City, the Civil War battlefields, or historic Williamsburg.  I’d also like to go back to Washington, D.C. to visit Arlington Cemetery, the National Archives, the National Cathedral, the Supreme Court and the inside of the White House.  (I busted my ankle against the corner of a column in the Supreme Court during a mad dash for the bathroom the last time I was there, but I didn’t get to take a tour.)

The biggest item on my bucket list, though, is to appear on Wheel of Fortune.  I have watched the show faithfully for as long as I can remember, although at first I only watched to see what dress Vanna was going to wear each night.  I didn’t really start participating and solving puzzles until I was six or so, which was when I learned a new word – ampersand.  Pat Sajak announced that it was the first time that an ampersand had been used in a puzzle.  I also remember when Vanna switched from turning letters on a manual letter board to touching letters on a digital one.  I’ve got a favorite mis-solve, too – “A band of pill-pushers” instead of “A band of well-wishers”.  And who could forget Pat stripping off his shirt in order to play the washboard in New Orleans?

I even watched the French version of the show while I lived in Switzerland.  It’s hosted by television personality Christophe Dechavanne and his cute little dog, with international supermodel Victoria Silvstedt turning the letters.  The dollar amounts offered as prizes may not equal what’s offered in the States, but it was fun to solve puzzles in French before the contestants were able to sort them out.

That pretty much sums up my bucket list.  I’m working on mine – now you start working on yours.  You don’t know how much time you have left in this life, and you should live the fullest life possible.