Competing in Cancerland

Posted on: April 20th, 2017 by

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

— Abraham Lincoln

We who’ve been hit with the cancer bomb are now part of a community we never wanted to be part of in the first place. We should be unified. But we are not always unified. We should find comfort from each other. But often we do not.

Take the breast cancer community, for example. Sometimes rifts occur between each other — for instance, early stagers vs. those with metastatic disease, those who support pink-related celebrations vs. those who do not, and those who have reconstruction vs. those who choose not to, and so on. Life is too short, painfully too short, for us to be divided.


And let’s not forget those people who question others’ treatment protocols. I will never forget how my breast cancer “support group” constantly interrogated me about my supposedly wrong treatment protocol by the wrong doctor and in the wrong hospital.

Truth is, as most of us know, breast cancer is neither black nor white, but a great shade of murky.

It’s not just the breast cancer community that feels conflict within itself. Too many cancer comparisons exist for my liking. The well-known division a few years ago between Pancreatic Cancer Action and the breast cancer community because of the former’s faux pas: Pancreatic Cancer Action put out a sort of videomercial implying breast cancer is better than pancreatic cancer.

Instead of cancer unity, feelings were hurt on both sides of the cancer spectrum. My response at that time can be found here.

But I want to point out a lesser-emphasized conflict: between those who work through cancer treatment and those who do not.

In fact, the next part of this post was conceived way before I even knew what a blog was and while I was in treatment for breast cancer. I was in New York City visiting family a few days after my latest chemotherapy treatment. I used vacation days, as I was still working full-time and juggled a part-time job throughout treatments.

My aunt and I hung out with her very good friend, L., a generally wonderful person who was being treated for ovarian cancer. Over lunch that I could not eat, L. casually said to me, “You know, it’s people like you [who work during treatment] that make it tough for the rest of us who can’t work. Employers see people like you working and believe everyone can work through treatment.”

That judgmental remark knocked the wind out of me.

I immediately felt shame and guilt.

Yes, I was one of the lucky ones, the one who could work during treatment. Nevermind, that this was no easy feat. I chose to work during cancer treatment because I had no choice: my husband and I were precariously close to homelessness and starving if I didn’t keep my employment.

(And as a side note, I did happen to want to work a little just to quench my miserable life with a sense of normalcy, the kind of normalcy a work routine would provide me.)

L. never made that remark again, and we spent lots of fun times over the years. Sadly L. eventually died from ovarian cancer. I’ve never harbored ill feelings toward her for that remark and, to some extent, I understood where it came from.

But I never forgot it.

Yes, I worked during cancer treatment, inadvertently becoming the cancer warrior archetype I never wanted to be. I was unaware of it at the time, but people perceived me as the stoic woman who could do it all — work two jobs, have chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously, and pay the mortgage. And, I hate to admit it, but I started believing that I could do it all.

Stupid pride. Stupid necessity.

I remained highly competent at my jobs, but working took a toll on my health. How could it not?

Working through treatment didn’t do my psyche any favors either.

And I must fess up: during treatment I was also guilty of being judgmental — against those who didn’t work. “It must be nice,” I jealously thought when talking with people who stopped working during treatment. “I wish I had that option.” I used to envy those who were retired or not working and being taken care of by a loved one. I’m ashamed to admit I had such divisive thoughts.


I guess wanting what someone else has is human. So is jealousy. So is pointing fingers.

Maybe the path to understanding each other isn’t as straight as we’d like it to be. It dips and curves. But we can still get to a destination of mutual respect and understanding.

Did you work during treatment? Why or why not?

Have you ever felt judged regarding illness?

Radiation Fallout

Posted on: April 6th, 2017 by

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The train eases into the early morning fog. Other commuters are lulled to sleep on their way to work. I slothily lean my head against the window and look out, exhausted. But I cannot sleep. Outside, blurred lights blink past me.

All I think is, “What the hell just happened?”

The train’s route is clear, but I’m lost.

This is my first “normal” commute to work after completing radiation to help treat breast cancer.

Thirty-three workdays prior to this commute, I found myself face-to-face with the radiation machine for the first time and facing a major disruption to my work schedule. Being the sole provider of my family, I had no choice but to work full-time while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy simultaneously. When radiation would eventually end, chemotherapy would continue for awhile.

I had a coveted 8:10 a.m. radiation slot, which meant — with my altered commute route — I got to work at 10 a.m. and stayed to 6 p.m.

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I was preoccupied during those days —

I had to comply with medical orders and show up faithfully by 8 a.m. every workday for my radiation treatment, as well as deal with an increasingly resentful boss who demanded I log in my adjusted hours to prove I was putting in the same number of hours as everyone else. In addition, my marriage was failing. My family was geographically far from me. While my brother and aunt were highly supportive, my parents were in denial about cancer. They pressured me to be happy and keep my disease a secret. A couple of friends distanced themselves from me.

I needed a hearty dose of local love.

And I got such love — from a most unexpected source: my radiation oncologist and her staff. Dr. K would always greet me with smiles and laughter — and frequent hugs. She cared about my physical and emotional welfare, and she cared about what was going on in my life. I remember showing up to radiation sick as hell, and Dr. K immediately ended her conversation with a fellow physician and tended to me. When her staff adjusted me on the radiation machine, they did so with warmth. They spoke to me as if I were a member of their family. When I broke down sobbing in front of a nurse, she held and rocked me like a baby and wiped the tears from my face and cleaned my eye glasses.

Once Dr. K said, “Oh Beth, I love you!” as she hugged me. Dr. K’s staff gave me hugs throughout my entire radiation treatment. I know this sounds strange, but as much as radiation sucked, it was also my safety net. And, as difficult as it was to cope with cancer and juggle treatment and work, I looked forward to radiation each day because I was cared for, nurtured, and treated so well. Even while my body rebelled with radiation burnout and despite the Chernobyl going on in my right breast, I emotionally thrived in a weird way.

Then, after 33 days, I got my certificate for being finished with radiation and was shown the door (in a nice, loving way). It was “see ya” and “you’re done, rah rah.” B’bye safety net. Just when I thought I was on the safe side of the tightrope of dealing with cancer treatment, I found myself dangling high in the night air with no net beneath me.

And after a weekend of emotional disbelief, numbness, grief, and shock, I found myself on a train, confused, on a regular morning commute.

To this day, I wonder if it would’ve been better to have impersonal care and not get too attached to Dr. K and her staff, or whether the care I received — albeit for a finite period of time — was what helped me through cancer treatment. I choose to believe the latter. With my personal life gone awry, I needed the radiation staff as an anchor, even if it was only temporary.

What has been your relationship with doctors and their staff?

Have your relationships with medical personnel helped you through treatment?

Afraid, Acted Anyway

Posted on: March 31st, 2017 by

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True to my word, after I pressed the Publish button on my post on March 3, I picked up the phone and made an appointment for my brain MRI.

Prior to that date, I had been stalling. At several points I had frantically told myself and friends and my psychotherapist and anyone who would listen that it was well within my rights as a patient to refuse this medical procedure.

Everyone agreed that I could refuse the brain MRI.

My fear-besotted mind agreed. MRI machines were the enemy. Case closed.

It was at the height of my fear that I was teaching the powerful memoir called I am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. (If you haven’t yet read it, it is an amazing book.) Here was a young Pakistani teenager who advocated for the education of girls — even with the Taliban running rampant in her area of Pakistan — and risked her life to get her message across: that girls needed to get an education. Given the book’s title, the following is not a spoiler alert: the Taliban shot her in the head, but she lived. (Post-memoir, Malala continues to advocate for education for children worldwide.)

Re-reading this book got me re-thinking about courage. Not the kind of courage that has its usual mass appeal: the brave, stoic warrior who is superhero-personified. But the kind of courage that is real to me — being afraid, being petrified, being terrified. And acting anyway. Despite the fear. Despite the horror.

That’s what Malala did. She was scared that the Taliban would throw acid in her face as she walked to school. She was terrified that she and her family might be killed. But she acted anyway.

So I thought about Malala’s courage, and I about-faced. I knew I had a post to write and publish, as well as an MRI to schedule. After all, if Malala could face the likes of the Taliban, I could endure a stinkin’ MRI.

So after I hit the Publish button, I found myself on the phone with the scheduling department. As luck would have it, an appointment was available a week later, at 7:30 p.m. I didn’t like the idea of being at the hospital’s Center for Advanced Care at night because many of my ICU memories are of struggling at night at the adjacent hospital. For me, nighttime at the hospital is eerie.

On MRI day, a good friend picked up my daughter for a sleepover, and another good friend drove me to and from the MRI. I had unsure traction, like someone navigating the slippery road ahead during a snowstorm.

I was petrified. I was lost in the haze of fear. But there I was, getting the brain MRI to the tunes of the Rolling Stones, thinking that I ought to have my head examined, and smiling with the irony of it all. Xanax helped conjure up courage. But truth was, despite the Xanax, the technician’s soothing voice, the warm blanket, and hearing the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” (the irony was not lost on me here either), this I know:

I was still afraid.

I tried to stay as still as possible amid the whirring and banging sounds of the MRI machine, staving off claustrophobia and feelings of suffocation.

Despite my terror, I was courageous. I was afraid, yet I acted anyway.

I couldn’t stare down fear, but I stared at it. And that was enough.


Do you get scanxiety?

Are you able to alleviate scanxiety? If so, what techniques do you use?

‘I Bet You’re Proud You Beat Cancer’

Posted on: March 3rd, 2017 by

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These are the words I recently heard from a medical assistant at a neurologist’s office. After providing my extensive paperwork that listed all the medications I was taking, as well as my medical history, this girl was irritating the hell out of me. She kept asking for information that I clearly stated on the medical history form — a form that I was not-so-politely told by the receptionist when making my appointment that I had to bring to the appointment.

In regurgitating my medical story in the five minutes or so she spent with me, I had to relive my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as tell her about my PTSD medications. Then she looked at me with amazement and said with glowing admiration, “I bet you’re proud you beat cancer.”

I thought I heard it all, but apparently I haven’t. I wish I could’ve told her that I didn’t beat cancer, that cancer had beaten me up pretty badly, and no, I’m not proud of myself. Survivorship thus far is great, but it’s not as easy as some people think.

And no, I’m not okay.

Instead I said nothing and awkwardly looked down at the floor. I was too afraid to think about educating this woman, who probably meant well but missed the mark anyway. My anxiety was understandable — I was seeing a neurologist for the first time.


I’ve been having issues with balance for years now, but it’s lately been getting worse. I first noticed balance problems after chemotherapy, and I realize they could have been made worse by psychotropic medications, which started shortly after cancer treatment began. It’s really difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing me to have balance problems. I can take long walks, no problem, but it’s easy for me to lose my balance. Stairs are scary to navigate because I’m afraid I will fall one day. And with osteopenia, I’m afraid I will break a hip prematurely.

I’m too young for that shit.

So here I was — after talking to the well-meaning-but-clueless girl — talking to the neurologist, who was generally nice. She said that the medications could very well be causing all the problems, but just to make sure I’m okay (did I mention, I’m not okay?), she ordered several blood tests and a (gulp) brain MRI. She kept asking me if my cancer had metastasized and I kept saying “Not that I know of.”

Now I was really afraid.

But I still felt comfortable enough to confide in her. I told her I have never been the same since cancer treatment. And that since treatment, I have felt I’ve aged a lot and am fatigued. And while my problems with balance could be caused by other factors, cancer treatment took a toll on my body and psyche. I saw from her glazed expression that she was skeptical. I was bitterly disappointed, for I realized that many in the medical establishment are in denial over the damage cancer treatment causes.

While the neurologist examined me, she made no effort to realize that she was evaluating a person, not just a medical problem. So I left the office without emotional validation, just an order for blood tests and the brain MRI. I went to the blood lab that day, but I still haven’t yet set up an appointment for the brain MRI.

I’ve balked about the MRI because, frankly, I’m scared shitless. In addition to having anxiety during this test, I’m afraid the MRI will find one or more of the following problems:

* Cancer mets to the brain
* A benign tumor
* Early onset dementia
* Alzheimers
* Multiple Sclerosis
* Brain damage from chemotherapy (which will be denied, of course)

I’m sure there are more possibilities, but I refuse to ask Dr. Google. Talk about a virtual mind-fuck. No second helping of paranoia please.

I will be setting up an MRI appointment as soon as I post this. In the meantime, I will be doing some core-strengthening exercises that a Twitter friend recommended and some mind-strengthening exercises with my psychotherapist.

I realize that one can be afraid and still act anyway. That’s true courage. That’s what I preach in my book, Calling the Shots in Your Medical Care. I need to take a page from that book — OK all the pages of that book — and embrace the flames of courage.

I once again must I practice what I preach.


Have you ever felt unheard or dismissed by a doctor or other medical professional? I would love to hear your stories.

I would appreciate any words of solace or encouragement.

Heart Is Where the Home Is

Posted on: February 17th, 2017 by

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I’ve been off the grid lately, but not because of writing gridlock. It’s because of exciting news: on February 4, my daughter and I moved into a larger house, one with more than one bathroom (finally, yay!).

So instead of writing for the past couple of months, I’ve been packing with the help of my eight-year-old sidekick. Life has gotten busy for us — between school, play dates, and Ari’s other activities, and now the move consuming our attention. And, as anyone who has moved anywhere can attest, moving is a major hassle. All the back-breaking movements and maneuvering over boxes make me break out the Salonpas.

But moving is also an activity of the spirit. While sorting through the many long-forgotten items that bring up long-forgotten memories, I came across the past: the traditional Chinese dress and tiny shoes I dressed Ari in as a 13-month-old in China, as well as the pink, embroidered outfit she wore on “Gotcha Day,” when she was first put into my arms. The nametag that had been attached to Ari’s outfit on “Gotcha Day.” And I found another nametag, one I wore to a teaching conference where I received a national teaching award. A vase the Chinese government official gave me on the day I adopted Ari in China. As I continued packing, I uncovered more gems. Ari’s dance costumes. Her first pair of shoes. And the high-heel shoes I can no longer wear, but she can, so they now belong to her. And the first place medal I won at a 5K.

(Before you get too impressed, I am the slowest runner on Earth, and when I received the medal in the mail, I called the race organizers to tell them it was a mistake and that I needed to send the medal back. They said I won the race in my age group and therefore I won the medal fair and square. This leads me to believe I was the only one in my age group running in that race.)

Then there are the other mementos. My school diplomas. The tassel from my college graduation. Sketches and paintings long etched from my memory.

Then there are other items re-newly discovered: the Mickey Mouse bank my aunt gave me when I was five, a ceramic letter holder from my parents, books given to me as gifts, meaningful vases and so on. Some more random paintings. As much as I treasure these items, I decided to let them go — I gave them to a local charity. I found myself making difficult decisions about what to give up and what to keep, and I ultimately decided to give up, rather than keep, most of the items.

The impetus behind my becoming a minimalist and give away mementos was a rather simple one: while we were moving to a larger house, the home is by no means large. To avoid cluttering the place, I needed to let items go. And, through necessity, I adopted a minimalist philosophy that I’m hoping to carry from this day forth: Only keep what you need.

So on February 4, we took only what we needed to the new home and left some of the past behind. Ari and I took the most important essence of home — each other and our cat Hemi — and after an exhausting day-long move, we settled uncomfortably into the new house.

Uncomfortably because the greatest memento of all was our former house itself. After all, this was the home Ari first knew in the United States. We treasured our large memories in our small hearth. And so it was with a teary goodbye and lots of pictures that we left the only home we knew together as a family.

Our new home

Our new home

So today, nearly two weeks after the move, boxes gradually being emptied and Arielle adapting to yet another new school, here we are.

We rang in the New Year with a new house and the promise of new memories.

Because what separates the past from the future is not just the present.

It is us.

Have you ever found any long-forgotten precious mementos? If so, did you keep them or give them away? Feel free to share.


Posted on: December 1st, 2016 by


I’ve been away from the blogosphere for awhile now. What kept me away was a perfect storm of being super busy, the horrific U.S. election and its even more horrific results — and the failing health and recent death of my beloved cat Cosette.

It’s fitting I write about Cosette today, as it’s the 10th anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction.

The two don’t seem related, but they are.

As mentioned in a previous post, I got Cosette almost 16 years ago, the day after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were both very sick and were even hospitalized at the same time. And one doctor told me I wouldn’t live, and one veterinarian told me Cosette wouldn’t live much longer.

To use a phrase from the movie Forrest Gump, she and I went together like “peas and carrots.” It was a perfect match. She helped me get through chemo and radiation, and I helped her recover from her nasty upper respiratory infection. She helped me get through the divorce and was there when I rebuilt my life. And when I was recovering from my DIEP a decade ago — an intensely long recovery process — she constantly stayed by my side.

Cosette was a loyal, empathetic, giving cat.

A little over a week ago, my 17-and-a-half-year-old cat was diagnosed with cancer. And I immediately decided to have her euthanized the day after Thanksgiving. Her health had been declining, but she wasn’t suffering yet. I didn’t want her to suffer from the ravages of cancer, so on Friday, I let her go. The veterinarian and her tech made Cosette’s transition peaceful, merciful, and beautiful, making me wonder why people are made to suffer merciless deaths.

Before I left my deceased furry creature, I planted a long kiss on the top of her head and silently thanked her for being there through the light and dark times. A friend was watching Arielle, who cried when I first told her the news about Cosette being sick and needing to be put to sleep.

Believe it or not, the decision to have her put to sleep was an easy one. Cancer is a fucker.

Letting her go, on the hand, has been difficult. I am drowning in grief and sorrow. I’m lost without her. I am lucky to have another cat Hemi, who’s a charming, wonderful cat. But the wounds of grief for my Cosette keep tearing open. Yet, I must remember how blessed she and I were that she lived as long as she did and that we experienced more than nine lives together.

I want to share some things about Cosette that I haven’t shared before, for she led an interesting life.

* She was a Calendar Girl. She and I were featured as one of the pictures on a calendar for PetsNPatients, an organization dedicated to providing care and help for animals of ill people. The pictures were accompanied by a short blurb of how the animal helped the human during the trying times of illness. Accomplished photographer Christine Jaksy came to my house to take the pictures, which was quite a challenge. Trying to keep the energetic Cosette still long enough for a shot was difficult, but we got a few nice shots of us together.

* Cosette had more physical endurance than many cats. Sure she slept a good portion of the day, but she was the kind of cat who needed a lot of physical exercise; otherwise, she’d bite my ankles. So I threw a ball with a bell inside, and she chased it over and over again. Even two months ago, I saw her running around the house with no signs of exhaustion.

* She would lay on her back, and I’d roll a ball to her, and she’d roll it back to me — over and over again. Even though she was looking at me upside down, she rolled the ball back to me accurately almost every time. Once I was telling a group of colleagues about my cat doing this, and they were skeptical — until I showed them a video of Cosette and me playing this game. We quickly became the talk of the social hour. “You gotta see the video of this cat,” said one colleague to another.

* She loved being around people, especially me. Whatever room I was in, she could be found there. When I had company, she was always in the center of things.

* She was a brave, gutsy cat. Whenever a repairman would come over to fix something, she wouldn’t hide, but would saunter up to the repairman, curious as to what he was doing.

* She was spoiled. When it came to food, she was a grazer and, to keep Hemi from eating all her food and to get her to eat more, I spoonfed her. That’s right! The cat ate from a spoon for much of her adult life.

I was also spoiled. After all, Cosette was our beloved pet. She’d purr me to sleep most nights and stay on my bed for most of the night.

I have no regrets at all. My life is better for having known her. It’s difficult to go on without her, but she is forever carved in my heart.


Do you have any stories about a pet you or someone you knew had? I would love to hear them.

Have you lost a pet? Feel free to tell me about your beloved pet.

Bully For Me

Posted on: November 3rd, 2016 by

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Last week was my daughter’s school’s annual anti-bullying rally. Children, their parents/relatives, and school employees all wore blue to show our solidarity with each other against bullying. Our children each carried a blue sign that said, “I take a stand against bullying.” Like many schools, Ari’s elementary school has a “no tolerance for bullying” policy. I’m grateful for schools and individuals who take bullying seriously.

As we formed a large crowd of unity at the back of the school, with the playground in sight, I couldn’t help but think about the bullies I encountered in my young life. I winced as I thought of my monster bully. I was a teenager when the incidents happened.

The bully? An adult. My mom’s best friend. My best friend’s mom. Let’s call her M.

M’s daughter, B, and I had so much in common, it was no wonder we quickly became the best of friends growing up just down the block from each other in New York. Even better, our parents were close friends.

Kind of.

For the first few years of B’s and my friendship, everything was fine. Then when I became a teenager, the bullying started.

B’s mom was jealous of me. I was mature and driven academically, unlike B and her brother. I also started volunteering at a local animal hospital at 16 to get veterinary experience to prepare myself for veterinary school someday. B and M didn’t like the possibility that I might become a veterinarian and “out-do” them. (Becoming a veterinarian was my dream at the time.)

M and her daughter were seething with envy that I might accomplish more than they did. Whenever I was at B’s house, her mom would crush my spirit, telling me I wasn’t smart enough to accomplish my vocational dreams. Eventually B followed suit and picked on me, as well. Each time I had a counterpoint for why I could realize my dreams, the dynamic duo continued trashing me.

I would come home crying regularly after being at their home where the emotional abuse took place. My parents would try to comfort me, but mistakenly still encouraged my friendship with B, as they were still friends with B’s parents and were unwilling to relinquish the friendship. With my emotions so raw and teenage insecurities running so high, I continued being friends with B throughout college. After I switched my major to English, B and her mom gloated that their prediction was right: To them, I couldn’t accomplish that dream of becoming a veterinarian. My career aspirations were no longer a threat to them.

In addition, through high school and college, the venomous pair would made fun of my art, claiming I wasn’t a true artist. Every talent I had that B didn’t, her mother went on a toxic rampage against me. Once I graduated college, I got my head together and pressed the Delete button on my friendship with B without telling her or her mom why. Unfortunately, my parents continued to be friends with M and her husband, who actually was the nice one of the bunch.

Then, a fortunate turn of events. B’s parents retired early and moved to Florida. Finally, I wouldn’t have to hear about B and M anymore or worry about M stopping by when I was in town. There are many miles between New York and Florida, I gratefully surmised.

Until my parents retired and moved to the same area in Florida as B’s parents moved to. They are now minutes away from each other.

And like any parasite, M is trying to worm herself into my and my daughter’s life. M has thankfully never met my daughter, but M wants desperately to meet her so, I suspect, she can compare Ari to her own grandchildren and continue her legacy of bullying to the next generation. And M wants to rekindle B’s and my friendship, so we can pick up where we left off.

M is delusional. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

I’m all for letting the past remain in the past.

But what happens when the past invades your present?

Individual kids giving anti-bullying pledges into the microphone stirred me from my thoughts. And my daughter’s hand clutching mine gave me even more hearty resolve to make good on my promise to the universe that I would do my best to keep her safe.

As a mother, I will do my best to protect Ari’s emotional and physical well-being. And I know how sacred a child’s dreams are. Ari has a right to dream, and nobody has the right to take that from her.


Have you ever been bullied or know of someone who has?

If I ever meet M, which could happen despite the unlikelihood, what would you recommend I say?

Embracing Autumn

Posted on: October 21st, 2016 by

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As trees shed their leaves in my part of the US, I have shed my resentment toward a month set aside for pink merchandising and ribbons.

In other words, October is no longer “Pinktober” to me.

Truth is, October is not to blame for being dubbed Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October is innocent, and that is the way I’ve chosen to view this month this year forward. For some reason, I’ve been able to put my blinders on and avoid being bothered by the external pink hoopla.

To me, it seems the pinkwashing has diminished somewhat a little more each year. This year, I am getting fewer solicits to promote pink products on my blog. Ah, the power of the Delete button.

I always manage to pause to take notice of the gorgeous month we are in and how lucky I am to witness and marvel at the beautiful bursts of color of a changing landscape. In fact, fall is a great season here up north. So, putting a positive spin on October and autumn in general, here are 10 reasons I love fall. These are not listed in any order of importance.

1. Apples! My very favorites are Honeycrisp apples. If you haven’t tried them, you ought to. The juice drips down your chin every time you bite into this delectable apple. Last week we went apple picking, which Ari loves! We went to an apple orchard in Woodstock, IL, which is, incidentally, the town where Groundhog Day was filmed. We picked Golden Delicious and Jonagold apples. No Honeycrisps there. Sniff. But we loved the taste of these juicy orbs, so all was good.

Picking apples

Picking apples

2. Hot apple cider. Put a little cinnamon in it, and you are good to go.

3. Fall colors are simply amazing. Every fall, the shock of colors amazes me. Like most people, I love color, and the leaves on and off the trees paint the landscape magnificently.

4. Feeling the crunch of leaves under my feet, much as I love the sound and feel of snow under my feet.

5. The cool, crisp air that smells of fallen, crispy leaves.


6. Hayrides. Being from the Bronx, I was never exposed to hayrides, so I had no idea what they were. I learned in college. I did enjoy the experience, although it took place at night. I do remember a branch or something grabbing my hat, so that item of clothing was soon gone.

7. Halloween, the mild kind. I wasn’t sure whether to include this one on my list because I detest the morbidity and bad behavior that Halloween brings out in people. For example, when I was growing up, some strangers would doctor up candy and such so it was harmful for children. I cannot understand that mentality. Another thing I cannot stand about Halloween is its glorification of gore and death. The holiday is really not my thing, but it made the list because the mild kind is just fine. My daughter dresses up as a ballerina, and we have fun handing out candy to the neighborhood kids. Mild, not wild, is my motto.


8. Pumpkin decorating. I’ll bet you noticed I didn’t say “carving” because I really suck at this. I prefer to draw faces on pumpkins. One year, Ari and I carved two pumpkins in earnest, roasted pumpkin seeds, and put a candle in the pumpkins. We had a blast. I bought Ari a pumpkin recently, but she lost it in her messy room. How can you lose a pumpkin in a house, you may wonder. Well, we did. Now we’d better find it before it rots.

9. Pumpkin pie. No, I’ve never made it from scratch from an actual pumpkin. I get the pumpkin a la can.

10. Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday in the entire universe. With commercialism dominating some of the other holidays, Thanksgiving has remained untouched by commercialism. No politics of gift-giving involved (sorry to sound like Scrooge — and yes I do give and receive gifts), but Thanksgiving is just about being grateful and spending time with loved ones. When I was an out-of-state college student, I started a tradition of cooking a Thanksgiving meal for all my out-of-town friends who couldn’t get home for this holiday. I’ve always loved cooking a Thanksgiving meal. This tradition has continued until the last year or so. I cooked for my out-of-town friends who, like me, didn’t have family around. Now we all have other plans, and I usually go over to a friend’s family’s home for a Thanksgiving meal. It’s so difficult for me to relinquish cooking, that I make a Thanksgiving meal the next day.

Well, there you have it. The 10 things I love about autumn. This list is not all-inclusive.


Do any items on this list resonate with you? Any other things about fall you like?

If you are from another region of the country or from another country with a different climate, are you happy with your climate? What do you love about your climate in fall?

Much Ado About Something

Posted on: October 13th, 2016 by

Ari and me (left), my brother and sister-in-law and nephew

Ari and me (left), my brother and sister-in-law and nephew

What a summer and fall it’s been thus far!

It’s been a busiest-busy time for me with the launch of my new book, Calling the Shots in Your Medical Care. The book was released July 5, 2016, and reviewed here, here, and here. To those who have reviewed my book and/or who have spoken highly of it, thank you so much. I appreciate all your kind words and literary love.

In July, I threw a book launch party at Bespeak Studios in the heart of Chicago.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The party was fun and exciting — with a couple of firsts:

I never threw myself a party before.

Ari had never before attended a book launch party, and she discovered the significance of celebrating a book’s launch. Of course, for Ari, a party is as good a reason as any to get dressed up. So there she was, in her dress, enjoying being my reading pal.

I’ve since started participating in a round of student readings at the college where I work, Robert Morris University Illinois.

Ari and Momma during the book launch reading

Ari and Momma during the book launch reading

At a reading at school this week

At a reading at school this week

Cancer and the Imagination

Posted on: September 30th, 2016 by

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When I was a teenager, I wished my active imagination would always stay vivid.

Unfortunately, that wish came true.


Being diagnosed and treated for cancer unleashes a maelstrom of emotions. But lately I have been wondering if a cancer experience heightens our imagination. We imagine our deaths. We imagine our physical pain and suffering even before we endure these. Our post-cancer-diagnosis minds go places that our pre-cancer minds did not.

One would think that, 15 years after diagnosis and treatment, I rest easier with each passing year. That time and distance heal. But truth is, each year presents me with more mental obstacles. Each year I struggle to manage my PTSD.

My imagination center, which I was once grateful for, is now a Pandora’s box of horrible scenarios. The active imagination that once led to fun stories and wonderful daydreams is now filled with nightmares. I don’t rest easy nowadays, although I try my best to do so and to live in the present.

But every so often, something jars my imagination.


For example, this week my best friend, let’s call her K, had an outpatient surgical procedure. I drove her to and from the surgery and stayed with her in pre-op. While the nurses were hooking her up to an IV, I heard the beeping and sounds of the machine that measured her vital signs. I glanced over at the monitor and suddenly I was triggered: I perceived the monitor lights as turning black and white and flashing in my head. The smell of latex made me sick. I felt numbness around my mouth. I was having a full-blown panic attack and PTSD flashbacks, but I kept it under wraps for the emotional well-being of K.

With each medical visitor who came by to visit K and explain the medical procedure, and with the beeping of others’ monitors as well, I experienced a hurly-burly of emotions. I wanted to crumple into a ball and cry continuously. My mind went back to when I was going through cancer treatment. My mind went back to the time I lost Faun. To the time I lost Virginia.

I cannot lose K.

Then I was in the waiting room, where unruly panic seized me. I tried to reassure myself when I saw doctors coming out to speak optimistically to loved ones about their loved ones’ procedures. I kept hearing, “All went well. She’s resting comfortably” and “He did great; we found nothing major.” Then it was my turn to find out how K was. And to my shock and fear, a Day Surgery staff member told me, “The doctor wants to see you in the consultation room.”

My imagination spiraled out of control at 1,000 miles of panic per hour. I wondered, why do I need to be seen in the consultation room when every doctor has been coming into the waiting room to see family and friends? My PTSD spawned catastrophic, irrational thoughts: “I’m sure the doctor wants to see me privately because my friend has cancer” and “Why am I being ushered in the consultation room if it’s not serious?” and “Is my friend alive?” The walls of panic kept closing in on me, and breathing became difficult. On shaky legs, with numbness spreading to the rest of my body, I walked into the consultation room.

Thankfully, the doctor showed up shortly after. The waiting game simply isn’t my cup of tea.

The physician seemed calm, relaxed, and smiled, explaining the procedure and showing me pictures of the surgery, which kept me in my heightened state. She took a biopsy and is sending it to pathology to see if there’s cancer or a pre-cancerous situation. K would know the results early next week. All I had to hear was the word “cancer,” and my mind wandered the dark crevices of imagination. Desperate to get the doctor to say, “It’s not cancer,” my numb mouth said, “But it could be benign, right?” The doctor was unreassuringly reassuring: “It absolutely could be benign,” she smiled. “We just have to see what pathology says.”

My rabid mind went through repetitive loops, replaying the most horrible scenarios. Thanks, cancer, for fucking with my imagination.

I thanked her, returned to the waiting room for an hour while my friend was in recovery. And all I kept thinking was how it probably was cancer and how my PTSD was heightened and how I wish I had brought Xanax with me. Oh and how I needed to pencil in an appointment with my shrink.

When I was permitted to see my friend, I relayed to her what the doctor said, all the while keeping my paranoia at bay to reassure her. We are still waiting for results, and every minute seems like a lifetime with no lifeline. My wise friend said, “I won’t worry until there’s something to worry about.” I’m trying to embrace this perspective.

According to the insightful novella Typhoon by Joseph Conrad, having too much imagination can be a negative quality. The story centers around a new seaman who feels superior to a boring steamship captain because the captain has “just enough imagination to carry him through each successive day, and no more.” Yet, when a massive typhoon hits the ship at sea, it is the unimaginative captain who is able to safely guide the boat. The new seaman, who has a vivid imagination, cowers and crumples under the weight of disastrous what-if scenarios.

I now find myself longing to be the steamship captain. I want minimal imagination these days, just enough to get me through each moment. So whenever a storm comes, perhaps I’ll finally know what to do.

Do you feel cancer has played with your imagination? Either way, I would really like to hear about your experience(s).