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cancer, Family, Guest Posts

A Walk in the Park

November 20, 2019
bother

By K.C. Pedersen

Six months after my ex-husband died, his brother left a message on my voicemail. He was going to blow my fucking head off, Luke said. While Tim was alive, Luke often showed up unannounced at our remote rural property. He was also apt to appear at the local café/bar and seat himself at my table as I visited with friends. Yet despite Luke’s history of violence, felony convictions, and easy access to guns, I was not particularly panicked. As a counselor, educator, and deputy sheriff, I considered myself skilled at soothing agitated men. I choreographed elaborate scenarios for how I’d rescue my students should a gunman appear in my classroom.

Besides, I’d known Luke since his birth; it was difficult to fear someone you’d first seen in diapers.

“Tim’s bothering me,” Luke’s message said. “If he doesn’t stop, I’m going to blow his fucking head off.”

I called Luke back. “I know about Tim bothering you. He bothers me too. But I thought I should point out that Tim is dead.”

So Luke threatened to blow my head off instead.

“Does he have a gun?” the 911 operator asked. After Tim and I separated, and he took to showing up outside my window in the middle of the night, they asked the same question.

“I have no idea,” I said then. “Should I go out and ask?”

Tim often told me, “There are things about me you’ll never know,” and despite our fourteen years together, I had no idea whether he had guns. Prior to our marriage, he’d been a Buddhist monk, so firearms seemed unlikely, at least to someone as much in denial as I was.

I found out the guns were real the day before Tim’s death. His young daughter told me he visited the shooting range daily to perfect his aim. When he tried to force her to hold one of the guns, she called me, sobbing

“I don’t know if Luke’s armed,” I told the dispatcher. She took my name, and an officer called me back.

“Did you record the message?” he said. “If so, we have a crime.”

“I did,” I said. But when I tried to retrieve Luke’s message, it had disappeared. “I must have messed up somehow,” I said. The officer started the recitation: “no crime has been committed, no witnesses, no blood, get a restraining order.”

“I am a deputy sheriff,” I said. “At your office. Look it up.” For eighteen months, I’d coordinated a drug and alcohol program. “I’m quite familiar with the danger of having one’s head blown off, whether I recorded the call or not. I’d like you to do something now.”

Within the hour, Luke was arrested. The following day, someone called from the prosecutor’s office. Would I be willing to drop the charges? “It’s a lot of paperwork for us,” she said. I requested they proceed. From working in law enforcement over the years, I knew that if charges aren’t brought, the crime never happened. You need a paper trail.

I was glad I insisted, because a few days before Luke threatened me, he’d stopped taking his antipsychotics. When his case went to court, he was let off for thirty days served, with instructions to take his meds. I’m presuming Tim stopped bothering him, although my own nightmares continued for years.

Tim was one of the first American males ordained as a Chinese Buddhist Monk. When I met him, though, he was in an alcohol rehab center. As was I. We were married almost a decade before I knew he’d written a book. He probably realized that if I read it, I would have horrified at how he treated his assistant, because it was the same way he treated me.

Though many Buddhist teachings are about preparing for death, when Tim was diagnosed with cancer early in our marriage, he refused to acknowledge he was going to die. Although his oncologist explained that there was no known cure, he insisted he was going to beat this thing. However, she added, it was a “good cancer.”

“What’s a good cancer?” I asked.

“The average life expectancy is seven years,” she explained.

About six years in, Tim’s symptoms flared, and he volunteered for an experimental protocol, “the McDonalds of bone marrow transplants,” he said.

“What does that mean?”

“A walk in the park.” He handed me the document that authorized the treatment. I was chilled to the bone.

“Nobody’s survived this,” I said. “Not even the beagles they tested it on. The longest even a dog lasted was eleven months. If you do nothing, who knows how long you might live?”

One seeks to understand unhappiness or grief in various ways. Tim’s parents found sanctuary in the Mother Church, as Tim called the Catholic faith in which he was raised. For ten years, monk’s robes provided sanctuary for Tim. But his alcoholism lurked just outside the monastery gates. One afternoon, he stopped into a tavern and ended up roaring drunk. Ashamed, he left the monastery and found work as an orderly at a managed care facility. On what was intended to be a one-night stand with the night nurse, he conceived a child.

That’s what he told me, anyway. When I met him, he was still in inpatient rehab and still married to that nurse. After he died, I found passionate love poems he and the child’s mother exchanged early on. Whatever flame they had, though, did not last. As co-dependent partners do, I devoted myself to analyzing my husband. Through the Enneagram, for example: Tim was a One. Per the Enneagram, he could be a great leader. Or he could be a despot. My delusion was such that when his oncologist told us his cancer was incurable, I wrote in my journal that I would find a way to save him.

Tim’s parents lived an hour’s drive down Hood Canal from us, and in the early years, his young daughter and I accompanied him to holiday gatherings there. Each time, halfway there, Tim would go into a rage. “You don’t really want to go,” he might accuse us. Or he might scold his daughter because she didn’t finish her homework. Eventually, in the death throes of our marriage, I refused to go. Tim went alone, and on the way back, just as when he fled the monastery, he stopped in at one tavern, and then the next. When he finally arrived home, he apologized for his relapse and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. But of course it did, and eventually I asked him to leave.

Tim’s ex-wife told me that the teaching brother Tim most trusted had molested him, but he never shared that with me. Instead, he repeatedly hinted that the teaching nuns and monks in the Catholic schools he attended from kindergarten until he was kicked out, had “done things.” He described inappropriate contact, but said it happened to a friend. He recounted physical abuse and beatings, but these anecdotes always implied he deserved it. The only part he did say, telling the same story again and again, was that he managed to get himself kicked out by hiding a bomb in the nuns’ car. And then he always laughed hysterically.

I listened to his stories until I stopped listening, and that is my loss. As reports of priestly abuse proliferated in the press, including at the schools he attended, I felt guilty. Surely, if I had pried forth Tim’s secrets, I could have healed him. Placing smoke bombs in the nuns’ car was his only cry for help, and in its way, it worked.

But to me, Tim’s descriptions of his father throwing shoes as his young son as he stood against a wall or dressing in a bear costume to scare him for leaving his bedroom at night seemed worse. I had little doubt that if young Tim had tried to say anything, his parents would have suggested he burn in hell. Even as he lay dying, helpless at last, they had him, a Buddhist, anointed with last rites.

During Tim’s final weeks of life, his daughter seized my hand. “No more blonde,” she said. I glanced at her. That week, her hair was the color of eggplant.

“What are you talking about, no more blonde? This is my natural color.”

“Not anymore it’s not.” She narrowed her eyes. The child I’d met at four, scared and mousy, had transformed into a striking beauty. “Brown, I think. Dark brown.”

After Tim and I separated, I dated a younger man, although we too soon split up. “Our love-making makes me insane,” he texted me. “I can’t do this without a traditional committed relationship. I feel empty and lost.” When I called to tell him Tim was dead, he wept. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “Not for him,” the young man said. “For you. For how much he destroyed you.”

“You don’t ever have to be afraid again,” my friend Carla said. Still, I sobbed and screamed.

“You abandoned a dying man,” my father said.

Eleven months after the McDonalds of bone marrow transplants, Tim died. Two weeks later, I landed flat in the New Year, widowed yet not widowed, with dark brown hair. I inhaled the scent of seaweed and salt from the bay outside what had been our dream home. I exhaled in cries like the call of the loons that gathered just offshore. The first day one pair arrived. The next day five pairs paddled in a loose cluster. By the end of the week, dozens of the arched spotted backs trolled up and down, up and down, on their quest for the Pacific herring that spawn here.

And startlingly, Tim’s walk in the park had killed him, and I was free. I walked with my dog in Northwest fog and rain, and to keep from shaking to pieces, I filled the bathtub with as much hot water as I could bear—a lot—and sat for hours. Water embraced me. Water was my solace. I descended into the tunnel of winter, days that rarely saw light, only changed from one kind of darkness to another. What about death, I wondered. What about suicide? Maybe I should just commit suicide slowly, one breath at a time. From the time of Tim’s diagnosis, I felt he wanted me to throw myself upon his funeral pyre. “When people grow ill,” his ex-wife said, “They become more of what they are. Nice people become nicer. Mean people get meaner.” M.F.K. Fisher says as we age, we revert to whatever we were like at birth and as toddlers. The final day of his life, in the ICU, Tim’s body bloated, and his skin stretched as far as skin can stretch, and it seemed he were drowning in his own fluids. Blood oozed from every pore.

My hands and arms went numb. Pens, notebooks, cups and forks dropped from my hands and crashed to the floor. “Definitely MS,” his ex-wife told me. “No doubt about it. You’ll be immobilized by the end of the year.” She seemed pretty excited by the idea. The symptoms worsened. I’d hold a cup of coffee to my lips, and then the cup would fall and shatter, the coffee scalding my chest. At other times, my hands balled up into tight fists, and I had to manually unlock them.

Just as I lacked a handbook for navigating Tim’s cancer, when I became a stepparent at thirty, I was equally clueless. Before Tim’s cancer was diagnosed and he was pronounced infertile, I pored through books on every stage of pregnancy, birth, and the developmental phases of a child’s life. When I became a stepparent, the pickings were sparse. Several books asserted never to allow the child to call me “Mom.” This would confuse everyone. My stepdaughter concocted elaborate stories about how I was actually her real mom. “Are you sure you were never pregnant?” she once asked. “Maybe when you were in rehab?” When I said I was sure, she said, “Maybe your mother had another baby she forgot about?”

As for cancer, the patient fought the courageous battle. And he never died. He passed.

After Tim died, his daughter asked repeatedly, “What are we to each other now?” She told me that everyone asked why she bothered to speak with me at all. As when she was little and asked to call me Mom, I remained obtuse.

“I am here for you no matter what,” I said. But I wasn’t. We were both on our own, stumbling through the forest without light or path, gauging where we were by the space between the trees.

K.C. Pedersen holds an M.A. in fiction writing and literature, studying with Annie Dillard as thesis chair. Stories and essays appear in numerous journals and have been nominated for Pushcarts, Best American Essays, and other awards. “Getting a Life-Coming of Age with Killers” was selected as notable by Hilton Als and Robert Atwan for Best American Essays 2018. Pedersen lives above a saltwater fjord in Washington State.

Upcoming events with Jen

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cancer, Guest Posts, The Hard Stuff

An Irreverent Cancer Primer—Help Can Be a Four-Letter Word

January 10, 2019
cancer

By Mara Buck

“Nothing succeeds like excess.” Oscar Wilde
“Less is more.” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
“Nobody survives like a smart-ass.” Mara Buck

Life is a combination of infinite causes and incalculable effects, each effect becoming the compilation and accumulation of its own unique history, yet stubbornly we continue to seek out the potential “easy-way-out-one-size-fits-all” solution. Unfortunately this seldom works—or works for long. We humans are tribal, invariably depending on the collective wisdom of the tribe to care for us, but no single answer proves the best answer for everyone.

There are no easy answers for dealing with cancer either—no rules. Cancer is as individualistic as the person whose cells are multiplying out of control, as distinctive as a smile across a luncheon table, as personal as a phone call in the night, as alienating as a closing door. Continue Reading…

beauty, cancer, Guest Posts

Accessorizing

July 11, 2018
chemo

By Annarose F. Steinke

At first the jewelry takes me by surprise: chandelier earrings, layered necklaces, sequined infinity scarves that have no business in a room where store-brand cans of pineapple and orange juice are the only drinks served. A big show is made of giving these things ample space on tiny end tables alongside Dixie cups of Tylenol. Companions are ordered to remember these silver hooks and spirals once the session ends, and in the meantime, to keep an eye on the table should the items’ owners need to use the toilet. Simply standing up while making sure to lift the arm so that the wrist retains the IV and the IV stays attached to the machine that must be wheeled into the bathroom while managing the door lock with the free hand, all while the first dizzy spell begins (no, thank you, I can manage) is such an all-consuming task that asking after your Alex and Ani bangles set in that moment is out of the question.

I used to wonder why they won’t leave these things at home, but now I know why all of it must be worn, even if only in the lobby. I recognize the sigh from the woman two seats down as she uncoils ropes of translucent orange beads from her neck: it matches my tone when telling the scheduling coordinator to hold as I shake out receipts and crumbs and broken pens from three different purses when I could just as easily store the Medical Record Number card in my wallet with my driver’s license and the other items anchoring my everyday. Now I understand that “fighting cancer” does not mean doing certain tasks with gusto but refusing to grant others the time and care they’re supposed to deserve.

As for me, I wear my great-grandmother’s rose gold chain, its sharp rectangles falling just below my collarbone and exactly where a chest port would be if I needed one. My grandmother’s accompanying note reads “I want you to wear her things. NOW!” and I honor her demand. Wearing this chain, I grasp the concept of a “statement” necklace: this piece states that I’m not here long enough for a chest port, this searing jab to my wrist is truly a perk of this good-kind lymphoma, and the nurse is visibly annoyed at the extra work so my demeanor had better be accomodating since my small veins are not. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Humane Treatment

December 11, 2017
humane

By Kimberly Maier

It’s either a cruel or humane twist of fate that I would end up with a sexy oncologist, I can’t decide which. He’s a fancy big-shot internist from the Mayo Clinic who moved to Oregon because he likes the outdoors or something. He has this absurdly charming strip of silver in the part of his hair. His voice is square, clinical. His mind seems to wander off while he’s talking, probably because he repeats the same boring death script to his patients every day. “The Oxaliplatin does tend to cause nausea, but I’ll prescribe something to alleviate that.” There’s a slight accent that I can’t place. He employs a strange downward intonation at the end of his questions.

He half-sits behind me, causing the sheet on the exam table to crinkle before tearing a v-shape in the paper between us. When I feel his breath on my neck my thoughts instantly liquify, spinning around the way soapy water in a coffee pot does when you rinse it. I clear my throat then open my bathrobe. At 26 years of age I am by far the youngest patient in the clinic and the only one who wears a robe, slippers and pajamas to each treatment. I can’t tell if everyone stares at me because of what I’m wearing or because I’m younger than the other patients by about 40 years.

The sexy oncologist puts his fingers in my armpits to see if my lymph nodes are swollen. They’re not. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Marked

February 24, 2017
tattoo

By Jude Walsh

I was nine when I saw my first tattoo. It was July in northeastern Pennsylvania and the first week of Saint Aloysius’ annual two-week church summer bazar. I was with my dad in the beer garden, a lattice work section decorated with swags of plastic greenery and potted plastic plants, located just a few steps away from the food tent. It was sheltered by a large tarp and had long counters set much higher than normal booths because their sole purpose was a place to rest your elbows while you stood while having a beer or two or three or ten.  This section was for drinkers but in the early 1960’s there was no problem with a little girl being there with her dad.

The art I spied was on a man who in my memory had big arms, what I now might call bulging biceps but then just thought of as big arms. It was deep blue and in the shape of an anchor. I could not stop looking at it.  Dad noticed me staring and said, “That’s a navy anchor.” I knew it was an anchor and now I knew it was a navy anchor. What I did not know was how it got on his skin.

“Who drew it there?”

My dad laughed out loud, “It’s not drawn on his arm, that’s a tattoo.” Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Uterus Of My Discontent

July 10, 2016
cancer

By Lillian McTernan

The first night in a new apartment is almost always weird for me: leftover adrenaline, my fanatical desire to get unpacked, and the disorientation of being in an unfamiliar environment usually join forces to give me serious insomnia. Given this long-standing trend, my first night in the apartment I moved into in 2010 with my then-boyfriend — the man who quickly became my fiancé and is now my husband — stands out as a huge anomaly.

That night, I quickly fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed that I was walking into the kitchen of our new apartment to get some water, only to run into a little boy. Startled, I asked who he was. “I’m your son!” He said happily.

“Oh,” I replied in bewilderment. “What’s your name?” (I felt like a jerk for not recognizing my own kid, but I also wondered where, exactly, he came from.) Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

The Shape of Legs and Love

March 30, 2016
cancer

By Isabel Abbott

This is what we do now. It is late, and I am in bed, and the lights have long been flicked off along with the day’s clothes which pile in the chair or a trail from front door to white sheets. I am in bed, and I am listening to the sounds outside, locating each one and giving it a name.  (Feral cat, two cars passing, a back screen door banging, a low hum of talking while a cigarette is smoked.)

I am listening and I am naming.
I am wanting to sleep.
I am hurting.

There is the slight adjustment, the shift from one side to the next, my left hip a glaring road sign pointing toward the placement of origin for pain. And so this is what we, me and my legs, do now. We lay here, in bed, and at night, unable to sleep, I begin to envision the bones inside, the lock and socket, the strong and soft, the words I imagine are engraved on them, transcribed from all the years I’ve spent walking through the world and street and unmarked alley. All the skin and muscle and bone, the extension and the wrapping around her, the running and running through the woods and the cuts into skin that bled out poison and suffering, the tethering to this earth and the curve of calf when feet slip inside shoes that take me home. Continue Reading…

cancer, Compassion, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Sailing the Waves of Cancer: Living with a Disease That Won’t Let Go

December 4, 2015

By Betsy Hnath

It’s been four years since my diagnosis with stage II breast cancer: One and a half of them I spent in treatment, the other two and a half I spent dealing with the aftermath.

As time passes, and my emotional ship sails in relative equilibrium for longer stretches, I try to spend more time on the deck, taking in my surroundings, living in the moment. Then cancer sends up a flare in the distance and my attention is shifted: A random pain, tightness in my chest, or some extra fatigue. These bright, red burning lights remind me it is always there, hovering, perhaps waiting to attack again.

Sometimes cancer is a cannon, launching its missile close enough to graze my bow, as it has recently. When I hear that close friends, young friends, healthy friends have been diagnosed, I begin to sway. I know they will soon begin building their own ship and join the growing fleet that surrounds me of loving, faithful, undeserving patients. I mourn for their loss of the “old normal.” I know what it does to you.

I have to sit back and powerlessly watch during the excruciating 2-3 weeks it takes to learn everything they can about their enemy through scans and tests, and formulate their plan of attack. Nothing can be done to slow down or speed up that time.

I can tell them what I know from experience: that this is the worst of it, this first part. Shifting uncomfortably in scratchy, paper gowns as you wait in sterile, silent exam rooms; the inability to get the smell of hand sanitizer out of your nose; shaking hands with one doctor after another as he or she flips through your life, which has been neatly assembled onto a clipboard. How you can go from feeling normal to completely despondent, sometimes within the same ten-minute span. That ache, burning in your chest, as you inhale yesterday’s Suave when you bend down and kiss your children’s heads as they sleep, wondering how many more nights you’ll get to do it. I can prepare them and reassure them, but in the end they will sail through it on their own just as we all do. Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Fear, Guest Posts, Surviving

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING BREAST CANCER: THE STAGES OF MOURNING A DIAGNOSIS

November 19, 2015

By Judith Basya

DENIAL

Though Denial may present gradually depending on how and when you discover your lump, it begins in earnest when the radiologist reading your mammogram looks at you funny. Nah, it’s nothing, I’m fine, you think while waiting three-to-five business days for the biopsy results. Your aunt, two great-aunts and three cousins have all had breast cancer, but they’re not immediate family. The lump must be Cheerios that went down your bra the wrong way or something—the kids really need to start pouring their own cereal.

SHOCK

Denial is aided by distraction: Your phone dies—I mean breaks, sorry—a bird poops on your arm (when you can’t shower for forty more hours after the biopsy), your daughter gets bitten by a dog, and you get a ticket for that illegal left turn you’ve been making daily. You’ve practically forgotten about the lump when you scramble to your follow-up and the word malignant hits your eardrum, followed by other scary words such as invasive, surgery and chemotherapy—honestly, though, why are you surprised? Because tomorrow’s your birthday?

BEWILDERMENT

While the news tries to sink in, you’re busy making appointments for tests and with specialists, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The surgeon won’t see you until you’ve had an MRI, but you can’t schedule an MRI until your insurance company OK’s it. Though nobody doubts they will OK it, that’s how these places work and offering to pay upfront won’t help. It’s byzantine. It’s insulting. Welcome to cancer.

RAGE

Seriously? Four hours and thirteen phone calls to schedule one goddamn MRI? And the earliest available slot is in three weeks? You want to know if the cancer has spread beyond your breast, and it’s like they’re waiting for it to spread so they can be certain. If in the midst of all this your partner isn’t responding pitch-perfectly to your ranting texts, remember s/he isn’t to blame for our abysmal medical system.

FREAKOUT

If you’re lucky—statistics are on your side, at least—when you know more about your particular cancer this low point will pass. But for now you have to live with it—live with the idea of death, ha, ha, the human condition. This isn’t the everyday version. Think Thelma and Louise going over the cliff, except it’s dark, raining and the cliff is indeterminate.

WHY ME?

Why you? Because you should have eaten better. Because you should have taken more vitamin D. Because you enjoy a glass of wine. Because you smoked in college. Because you were one of those Moms who pulled her shirt down from the top when breastfeeding in public, shame on you. Because you don’t always buy organic. Because after a religious upbringing you became an atheist. Because you are riddled with guilt. Continue Reading…

cancer, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Heroes

Masks

October 31, 2015

By Joules Evans

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. This is a tale of two masks, this mane and this zebra pencil. It’s a comedy about a tragedy. One of my own doing.

But first, a tale of two sons.

Act 1: Matt. Matt has always liked (and still likes) to dress up as his heroes and supmatt3erheroes. Davy Crockett. Indiana Jones. Andy (from Toy Story). Mario. Siracha hot sauce. Spidermat, I mean, Spiderman. The thing about masks is they hide our true identity. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask HE IS SPIDERMAN. Matt is underneath, but hidden. It’s a pretty epic mystery. Like how nobody spies Superman underneath Clark Kent’s glasses. But the other thing about masks is they can also reveal. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask he is revealing something about himself.  Inside, he is a superhero. In his own way, he is and has always been out to save the day, save the girl, save the world. In a sense, in essence, HE IS SPIDERMAN. Even without a mask. And he has been all his life. Once when he was 5 or 6, we were at his little brother’s baseball game and it started raining. My little superhero took off his mask, in this case the shirt off his back (but to me it was a superhero’s cape) and put it on the bleachers for me to sit on so I could stay dry.

Act 2: Mikeyy. Not surprisingly Mikeyy followed in his big brother’s steps as far as dressing up as mikey1superheroes. Superman. Michael Jordan. Michaelangelo. Daniel Boone to Matt’s Davy Crockett. Buzz Lightyear to Matt’s Andy. Luigi to Matt’s Mario. Batman to Matt’s Spiderman. One thing that was revealed early about Mikeyy was that he is and always has been a peacemaker. And later, when he sometimes ended up dressing up as the bad guys because all the good guys were all, already taken by everybody else, it revealed something else about him. Like when he dressed up as Voldemort for the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. Mikeyy shaved his head AND HIS EYEBROWS. What it revealed about Mikeyy is commitment to the nines. He was Voldemort that night. Not only did he win best costume, but everybody in the theatre wanted their picture with him. What it hid was this mama’s utter shock at seeing my baby boy bald all the way down to his eyebrows, since I’d just grown mine back from fighting cancer. It was like looking in a mirror. Like I was seeing my own reflection, back in time.

Act 3: It’s just hair. That’s what I tried to tell myself when I found out I had breast cancer and that the chemo was going to be an ultimate wardrobe malfunction and make my hair fall out. #tbt to August 20, 2008. THE superpowerinciting incident of all inciting incidents in my life, in which this mask was lifted. My cancer… (yes, mine. I own it; it does NOT own me. Or define me. But it is part of my story. My story. Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

My Love Letter To My Yoga Teachers

October 30, 2015

By Alexa Shore

At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never ever thought I would get it twice.  I never thought my yoga practice would save my life.

I knew something was wrong. I felt nauseous, had food cravings, felt as if my hair was falling out— was I pregnant? I went to the doctor to get a blood test and physical examination. I was handed a slip for a mammogram the following week.  That weekend, I went for a hike. I felt a lump. I went back to the doctor.

My oncologist said I was “lucky” after being diagnosed with “early detection” aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Lucky?  That I have cancer? The second time I got breast cancer, I heard the words again. I finally got it. Both times, yoga had taught me to be so aware of my body, that I knew something was wrong. The second time around, I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer, twice, before it could metastasize to my brain, bones, liver and lungs.

I was healthy and I practiced yoga. I was not immune to cancer. People asked me questions about diet, environment, and personal habits to try to understand why I got cancer, and then, why it came back. I wanted to understand too.  I was told by one doctor “cancer creates change” I began to think …

I am a single mom, love my children, my family, my friends, my work, yoga, sunsets, and dancing. Change what? My body was strong; my mind positive and optimistic. So I sat and thought. How is Alexa? Did I truly have balance? Did I make time for me while juggling everything I did for everyone else?  Was I stressed? Did I feel resentment that I did not have time for myself? I bought gifts for myself and traveled to amazing places, but what about me? My spirit? Is this why I got sick? Could I have actually enabled cancer to grow? Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, writing

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015

By Jennifer McGuiggan

I’ve been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I’ve been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time.

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time.

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn’t. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer.
She had treatment.
It didn’t work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I’d had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn’t a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

On Fighting Cancer The Second Time Around

June 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Shauna Zamarripa

In 2007, things were going really well for me. I had just gotten my residential real estate license and was killing it despite the fact that the market was in the crapper. Back then, I had learned quickly that foreclosures and short sales was where the money was at, so I speedily obtained my CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) designation and was off to the races. And man, oh man, was I winning. I was the preferred listing agent for several banks and acquisition companies. And business?

Well….business was GOOD.

It was also right around this time that I had begun blogging for major websites like Yahoo, CNN Money, MSN Money and even found myself smack dab on the front page of Realtor.com.

And that made business even better.

I had begun developing my own model on how to use blogging for lead generation and business building. And it was going GREAT….until the other shoe dropped.

I got sick. Really sick. I had gone in for my annual OBGYN exam. A few days later they called to tell me the results were abnormal. When I went back in for more tests…that was when I found out I had cervical cancer. Stage 3.

I was 29 years old.

I was devastated.

Upon hearing the news, I went home and didn’t get out of bed for two days. I didn’t say anything to anyone, and many people even close to me didn’t know what I was dealing with. I refused to ask for help. I refused to let anyone know how hard it hit me.

I went to my next appointment alone (which I was fine with), as they begun freezing the cells. It hurt like HELL. But I powered through. Then? That’s when they started the chemo. And while I didn’t think anything could have been worse than what I had already endured, that was. Far worse.

There were days I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. I never told anyone. I totaled three cars in a year, thanks to my stubbornness, but didn’t lose my life. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Some….because I didn’t want to, others because I just couldn’t. I was too tired. I was nauseated and exhausted. I could barely function. I was fuzzy and lost.

It was at this point that I had to give up my real estate career and focused on blogging full time. I was too sick to do much of anything else at the time.

But, as I got better, the more I wanted to blog and the less I wanted to do real estate. By 2010, I was healthy again. I felt like myself again. The steroids and the depression medication, however, caused me to gain a LOT of weight over the past couple of years. But I fought that back off as well. I worked out, ate right and lost it all. By 2011, I was looking a LOT better.

Then, 2012….tore my world apart. Secrets, lies and devastation took me down a rabbit hole that I would wish upon no one. Ever. And, even though I was cancer free, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore. Yet, as I looked into my all three of my daughters eyes, I realized that wasn’t an option. They still needed me. So? I stayed. All the while never telling the people I should have told about much of my struggle. Because it just wasn’t their business. But, moreso because, when you go through hell, you just don’t want to talk about it anymore. Because you’ve felt it, you’ve dealt with it, and it became this part of you that you would rather forget than remember.

And that’s okay. You’re allowed to do that.

2012 saw a final separation of myself and my husband of 17 years. 2013 had me falling in love again. It also saw me through a house fire that nearly claimed my life….and something that created a lot of change. I remodeled my house and moved the (now 19-year-old) twins out and moved myself and the 13 year old in with the man, the love of my life, a man who, in 2014 I married – despite my saying repeatedly I would never get married again. And 2015 brought back an old friend…my cancer.

Except this time, things were different.

When they told me I needed more tests, something in me knew that this time was going to be worse than the last one. And even though everyone said “I would be FINE,” I knew (somehow) that this time wasn’t going to be as easy.

Fuck.

I hate when I’m right. Continue Reading…

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