Sunday, March 27, 2011

Birdy



I love my daughter.

Last night we went to Cheesecake Factory in Palo Alto and sat at usual table by the window. We ordered our usual stuff and did our usual thing: which is to make each other laugh.

Katie downloaded the "Fatbooth" App to my iPhone and took a picture of herself that she then "fatified." Then she texted it to my fiance, Kevin, who was down in Anaheim with his son. "Look who's excited to be at Cheesecake Factory!" she wrote underneath her morbidly obese photo.

I laughed until I cried.

I have always loved Katie. I loved her when she was little: From the second she opened her newborn blue eyes and excitedly took in the world around her, to watching her drive her Smurf car--naked--in a continual loop around the kitchen and family room, to pedaling her in a Burley at Sun River Oregon, to holding her in a backpack at Costco while she whacked my head, to watching her wrap her "abba" or blanket around her neck at Tahoe to stay warm.

And I love her now that she's a teenager. I love her wicked sense of humor, the way she sucks in her bottom lip when she's tired, the way she reinvented herself from middle school to high school, the fact that she has a whole range of emotions--shy/outgoing, unsure/brave, doubting/self-confident, moody/stable, indifferent/completely engaged.

And I love that she sometimes likes to drive around in the car, listening to music, looking in at the warm lights of other people's houses, talking about life, and laughing.

At the end of my life, which I hope is many years from now, I will count as one of my greatest joys having a daughter that I not only loved fiercely, but liked as a friend.

I love you Bird.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

JoAnn



"It is my o-pinion..."

I heard those words hundreds of times in the 18 years I knew JoAnn Costello, my therapist. And I was always grateful to hear them, because they usually preceeded some general truth about life, some specific advice based on her own personal experience, or some intuition (which was always right).

JoAnn died of cancer on Dec. 30, 2011.

I will miss her spirit, her spunk, her smile, her intelligence, her humor, her turquoise eyes (as described by a friend at her memorial today), and her hip Italian shoes, but mostly I will miss JoAnn's influence in my life.

When I first went to JoAnn in 1993, I felt paper-thin. I was sensitive, supremely self-conscious, and doubted my own thinking and abilities. Every nerve felt raw and exposed to the world. JoAnn heard my story and said, "Of course you feel that way. It makes total sense to me."

As healing as those words were, JoAnn was not one to simply shine you on. She was not warm & fuzzy. But you knew that she saw something that you didn't see in yourself; something good and strong and original. And it was your job, with her help, to find out what it was.

At her memorial today at the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, I heard things about JoAnn that I didn't know. That she was adopted. That she'd had a difficult childhood. That she went to UC Berkeley and graduated with a 4.0. That she liked tequila. That she often sent back food. That she treated her son Jesse like a prince, which was not encouraged in her parenting circle. I was not surprised, however, at the depth of love and admiration that was expressed in that intimate, little, candlelit church.

Afterward, while standing out on the church courtyard lawn while Randy, JoAnn's husband, and her friends danced to the Bourbon Kings Brass Band, two of us "group" members were marveling at our amazing good fortune at having found this woman--out of the thousands of therapists in San Francisco (many of them fantastic)--to give us her o-pinion on life and how to live it.

I will miss you, JoAnn. But I will forever thank my lucky stars for leading me to your little cottage in the Castro and later up the steep stairs of your house in Glen Park. And I'll forever thank you.

With deepest love and gratitude.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It Can Happen to You
















My dog Sophie sat under the kitchen table for years, with great, unflagging optimism. I would marvel at her evergreen hopefulness, as she would lie belly-down on the hardwood floor, looking up with patient brown eyes at the underside of the table on which that night's dinner lay. Years of evidence to the contrary, she would wait perfectly still for that magical moment when the pork chops would levitate from the table, hang in the air for a few seconds, then drop to the floor with a juicy thud. Sophie's eyes said it all: "It could happen."

Then one day, it did happen.

My mom had come to San Francisco and wanted to go shopping at Union Square. She put a pot roast in the oven, turned the heat to low, and said it would be fine for a couple hours. Long story short, we spent more time than planned downtown. When we got back to my flat on Cesar Chavez street, I ran up the stairs to try on my new shoes while Mom ran up to check on her pot roast, which by now had been roasting for six hours.

"I think it'll be ok," she said, placing her smoking, ruined dinner on the table. Sophie took her position underneath and waited.

As Mom muscled through the hard crust of what now looked like a hockey puck, the entire "roast" flew off the serving platter. Sophie sprang. In what seemed like a slow motion slam dunk, she caught the "roast" in her jaws before it even hit the floor.

Victory comes to dogs who wait. Not often, but it is a possibility.

Which, finally, leads me to a point. And that point is that you can go through a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction and still find love. I know because it happened to me.

I had a very supportive boyfriend through it all. He waited for two years for the glorious outcome of my reconstruction. But unlike Sophie's prize pot roast, the outcome wasn't so good, so he split. "What a dog," my friends exclaimed. Not so. I got a lot out of that relationship, and it slowly and painfully led me to my current one.

I won't detail all the bad Match.com dates that came between the two. That's for another post. What I will detail is that during that time I waited with great hope and optimism for that one man who would see beyond my physical and emotional scars and see something else. Fear, sometimes. Resilience, maybe. Unflagging optimism, for sure.

That relentless optimism and a wholesome faith in my God, led me to my man. A list of adjectives cannot begin to describe his goodness, but I can't resist: Bighearted, honest, compassionate, generous, patient, understanding, forgiving, funny, uncomplicated, complicated, deep, basic, true. We got engaged in Kauai on January 12. He just wags my tail.

For all you girls out there wondering how you're gonna find love after cancer, remember this: It does happen. And it can happen to you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Party Dress




Phone call with my friend Sharon last Friday at work:

Sharon: "What are you doing this weekend?"

Me: "Um. Let's see...Tonight I have a Christmas Party. My neighbor and her "original founder of Yahoo" boyfriend are throwing a big holiday event in Cupertino. I'm going to go home and shoehorn myself into my outlet center sparkly party dress that makes my ass look like a bag of hammers, drive down to Cupertino in my 2000 Toyota Sienna, then load up on baked brie en croute while making small talk with 48-year-old women who look like Victoria's Secret models. What are you doing?

Sharon: "Nothing that fun..."

While driving home from work, I prayed. "Help me to be less jealous. More grateful. Less fearful. More accepting. Less judgemental. More loving."

I angsted about that party all week. Perseverated, really. I had vividly imagined two hours of feeling undereducated, underyoga-ed and underdressed in my On Fifth frock. Instead? I had a lovely night. The invitees and the host/hostess were interesting, interested, gracious, kind.

The next day, Saturday, I was at a church (listening to the SF Boys Choir), and pulled the hymnal from the pew pocket to see if I remembered any hymns from my youth. Being the true adolescent I am, I asked God to give me a message. Then I randomly cracked open the book. Landed on Psalm 51.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.

Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.

I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.

Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.


Not sure what hyssop is, but the rest really resonates. In the five years since my mastectomy and resulting hysterectomy, I've gained 25 pounds. This fact has filled me with self-pity, anger, jealousy and, ok, hatred.

But a simple prayer twice released me, if only momentarily, from these unattractive character traits. The goal? It no longer is to get thinner, prettier, fitter, smarter, wittier, although I would not turn those things down if given. The goal is gratitude and acceptance in the face of imperfection.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Obon for Mrs. Edwards




I'm sitting here in my cubicle, watching the cars drive by; watching our IT manager brave the rain in a noble attempt to get some winter exercise.

And I marvel at the ordinariness of their driving and walking. I wonder how, knowing that Elizabeth Edwards died from breast cancer yesterday and that millions of women will die from the same disease, they can drive and walk with what seems like pure oblivion.

I wondered the same thing, when as a mom who had just returned to full-time work two months prior, I listened on the phone at work to my radiologist gently tell me that my ultrasound/biopsy revealed the fact that I had 10 lumps in my right breast. "Infiltrating lobular cancer," she said. Not, "Infiltrating lobular carcinoma." I listened as I stood in the corner of the stairwell by the elevator. I listened as I watched someone drop a pat of butter on the carpeted floor as they walked back to their cubicle with their lunch. I listened as I watched the receptionist answer the phone and route calls. I listened as I heard my own terrified voice ask Dr. Borofsky questions.

When I walked back to my desk, I wondered how everyone else could go on with their lives with this devastating news hanging in the air.

Two months later, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by chemo and radiation.

It is now almost five years since my surgery.

What I've discovered in that time is that there are people feeling with the same depth of concern, compassion and sadness that I am feeling. The world may look normal, even oblivious, but there is a community of women who have experienced what I have experienced; who know what it feels like to have had and to live with cancer; who understand that terror management and practicality and faith is what keeps us looking normal while we learn a new job in a swingy brunette wig with a chest as flat as a prairie under our prosthetic breasts; who understand that every new milestone of our children's lives (the braces coming off, the first day of college) fills us with inexplicable joy and gratitude.

As I drove in the rain to work today, I listened to the radio with a heavy heart as Elizabeth Edwards voice filled my 2000 Toyota Sienna. It was an interview in which she talked about the lasting impression of seeing an Obon ritual in Japan where little boats with lighted candles in them float down a river, symbolizing the souls of the dead finding their way to "the other side of the river." It was a stunningly beautiful image. Tears welled in my eyes. And no one in the cars around me noticed. I wiped my eyes and smiled. Because I knew there were people on I-280 south who were listening to the same radio interview, who had a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife or a friend who had had breast cancer. Who themselves had or have breast cancer. And I knew, as they drove looking straight ahead, that they were feeling what I was feeling.

Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt.

What, then, is all?--Hosshin, 13th Century

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mothers and Daughters (and oil and water, and Israel and Palestine, and...)



One day while driving home from work, I called my friend Kyle in tears.

"My daughter hates me."

"If it makes you feel any better," she said, "I have two daughters. Double the hate. In fact, I made [honey] kosher chicken noodle soup last weekend and she gave me shit about it."

"?"

"We're Jewish, but [honey] is orthodox. She only eats kosher. And she has to have her kosher food made in separate pots and pans and served on separate dinnerware. I make [honey] kosher chicken noodle soup every Friday night to make sure she'll have something kosher to eat for the weekend."

"Wow. That's really nice of you."

"Except for the fact that I was chopping the carrots and celery with my bare hands, which made [honey] wretch and gag and proclaim me disgusting."

"You asshole!"

"I know! I feel horrible!"

A couple of days later, I was telling my boyfriend about an incident with my daughter. "You know," I said, "this sounds like hyperbole, but going through cancer was easier than living with a teenage girl who absolutely hates me. No matter what I do, it's wrong. And not only is it wrong, I am wrong. Everything about me is disgusting, including my voice, my appearance, my beliefs, my approach to life, my relationships, my job, everthing. When I was in treatment, I may have been scared to death and tired, but my own sense of self-worth actually increased."

"When you had cancer, you probably thought, there's an end to this," he said. "With daughters, it can feel interminable. You lose them for about four years, and it's an agonizing four years."

I don't know when this tumultous mother/daughter relationship will resolve itself, and sometimes in the moment it feels impossible to repair. But the one thing I do know is that all I have is this day, this moment in time when I have the absolute luxury and honor of angsting about my relationship with my daughter instead of worrying about my post-op drain. Or my sore post-chemo arm. Or my post-radiation narcolepsy. But this morning as I sit at my kitchen table wearing embarrassingly old pajamas with unhighlighted hair and unmanicured nails, drinking coffee out of the mug my daughter gave me "just because" when she was nine, I am beyond grateful.

ps: feet belong to another, hipper, mom and her daughter

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Matters

I know. I take off an entire year, now I just can't stop writing. So much to document. The Walk. The Man. The Kids. Of course, people used to read this blog. Now, it's just me. No worries. I have reached that point in my life where I understand what's truly important. Who'd have ever thought that an angst-ridden, self-conscious chick like me would get to the point where other people's opinions don't matter? Or, truth be told, matter less?

True story: My brother, his wife, me and my kids were in my brother's Honda Pilot last Christmas, going to Stanford to return Christmas presents. My brother and I share a love of Alison Krauss and Shawn Colvin. But lately, my brother's taste in music has devolved, as evidenced by the Glee soundtrack streaming from the Pilot's speakers that day.

Mike: "Uncle Dennis, your music sucks ass."

Uncle Dennis: "You know what's great about being middle-aged, Mike? You don't give a shit what other people think. And you're going to love the Michael Buble CD I got coming up next."

I turned 50 in May. I no longer care that I can't fit into a size 8. I no longer care that I don't fit into your group. I no longer care that there are tumbleweeds of dog hair drifting around my unpolished hardwood floors. I no longer care that I drive a 2000 Toyota Sienna mini-van that needs bodywork and smells like wet dog. I no longer care that I have a radically altered body. Why? It took me 50 years, but I have finally realized what matters in life. Here's what matters: