Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish...

Long before the Virgin Islands, before sailing, before cancer... there was the school trip to Hawaii. Sanctioned and paid for by NYU. (Bet you'd like to know how we swung that...)

That's me on the right, my friend Cinder on the left (I think). We snorkeled in, I swear, couldn't have been more than two and a half feet of water. I still have the hazy snapshots of tropical fish from the disposable underwater camera.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One More Thing (Hair, Part 3)

I know I said the blog was finished, but I had to post this photo of my inspiring friend Lauren... who just donated her beautiful long hair to a wig program in my honor.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From Gills to Gossamer (AKA The Year That Wasn't)

“We lived to die another day.”
--Jack Nicholson in
The Bucket List

It has been almost a year since a doctor in the Caribbean told me I might have an infected gill. It was funny at the time, this idea that after so much time on the water, I might be turning into a fish, or a mermaid, so funny, in fact, that we were still joking about it even when it turned out to be cancer. Hilarious.

Looking back over the past 12 months, I am quite sure that had I stopped laughing, I would not have survived. I am also convinced that had I not documented it, I would not believe any of it happened. The truth is so awful and unbelievable, the story, post-by-post, such a fragile web of surreal detail, it could disappear in a gust of wind, or a quick swipe of the hand. Poof. Gone. A year that never existed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

The calendar says today is the Winter Solstice but I am sure the longest night of my year happened some months ago. I could probably go back through all the missives here and pinpoint a more exact time and date, but why bother? This cancer blog is getting boring which is, after all, the goal. No news really is good news. I think this will be the penultimate post.

My November test results all came back clean. “Beautiful” was the word Dr. R used, which is as good as it gets in a world where people are loathe to use the word “cured.” There was much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Mom and I celebrated with turkey and cosmos.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Princess and the PET Scan

Once upon a time, a high-spirited woman went to St. Maarten for a holiday and got herself in a bit of trouble. The nature of the trouble was never mentioned, but suffice it to say she was in sorry need of a knight in any kind of armor.

The hero arrived not on horseback, but by boat. A sailor named Mark hailing from the U.K. but residing most recently in the hamlet of Coral Bay on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands witnessed the spectacle and bailed the lady out. "She started to go strange and we straightened her out," the modest Mark said with a shrug.

The good Mark's deeds did not go unnoticed. The damsel in distress turned out to be related to a certain Lord Gray (think Earl Gray tea) and Mark was richly rewarded with a title of his own. Thusly, Mark the Sailor became Lord Mark, Lord of Hillborough, Duke of Beltinge. The investiture ceremony was held at Coral Bay's unofficial town hall, the venerable Skinny Legs bar and grill. Most of the locals and a healthy number of donkeys were in attendance.

This story has absolutely nothing to do with me, except that I had the honor of having my picture taken with Mark just days before the Lordship Ceremony, when he was still a commoner, and it's a pretty good shot of what my hair looks like right now. (You didn't forget that it's all about hair, did you?) In addition, I like any story that illustrates the wackiness of St. John. Nobility in Coral Bay! Go figure.

The Tale of Lord Mark is also, I believe, more entertaining than the current reality, which is that I'm back at Jefferson's Imaging Center, getting pumped full of radioactive whatever and drinking the barium sulfate (Creamy Vanilla Smoothie Flavor!) in preparation for yet another PET scan. Three months have passed since treatment ended; now it's time for a week of follow-up tests. Anyone want to ride to the rescue?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Latitude 18˚(The Other Radiation Therapy)

Team Skinny Legs and C4th at the Budget Marine Women's Caribbean One Design Keelboat Championships, November 1-2 in St. Maarten.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Call Me Ishmael

Ishmael knew it was time to hightail it back to sea when it was damp, drizzly November in his soul. For me, it was when I realized that I knew, without checking the Comcast guide, that the Lifetime network was channel 48 on my cable system, and also that I was highly anticipating the next episode of Army Wives. I’m no Melville, but I know a sign when I see one.

Thus, I am now writing from some of my favorite literary outposts: first a window seat on a US-Air flight bound for St. Thomas, and now, Captain Celia’s home in Cruz Bay on St. John.

This weekend, I’ll be sailing in the St. Maarten’s International Women’s Keelboat Regatta with Team Skinny Legs. In a few hours, I’ll head over to Coral Bay to meet up with the rest of the girls on the team who will, it’s a good bet, not quietly take to the ship. Sorry, Herman.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

One Resident, Two Resident, Three Resident, Four...

If you’re being treated at a teaching hospital, time spent in the hilarious world of cancer can be measured in residents. I’m up to five. One for Dr. R, one for the oncologist I decided not to go with (primarily because I spent more time with the resident than with the doctor) and three for Dr. X, who has a steady stream of what appear to be brainy teenagers dressing up as doctors for Halloween.

There was the kind, pretty woman, who got me in my clueless stage last winter, and gently broke the fertility news. There was the earnest, geeky kid who hovered around all during radiation treatment, my freaked-out period, and did his best to answer all my technical questions. Then there was the guy who had the misfortune to be in the office last Tuesday. I am rapidly recovering to my pissed-off, greatly inconvenienced stage, and am back to being annoyed by strangers feeling around my neck and chest, especially ones who not only think they know more about this cancer thing than I do, but also look like jailbait.

Friday, October 10, 2008

P.R. for Pirates

This is for those of you who insist on asking, "What's next?" Who knew this was a job?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Salt Water

“The cure for anything is salt water: Sweat. Tears. Or the sea.”
Isak Dinesen

I thought my slate had been wiped clean back in May when, halfway through chemo and just after my last scheduled freelance job wrapped up, the second of two rejections for summer writers’ conferences came in the mail. “That’s it,” I whined to Dr. Lisa. “2008 is officially a bust. Every plan or hope I had on my calendar for the year is now either finished or scuttled.” But there was one more shoe to drop.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I woke up this morning to find my underwear on the kitchen table, right next to the bottle of tequila.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

But Seriously, Folks...

Here’s something you don’t want to hear while waiting for your daily dose of radiation:

There’s something wrong with the machine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Whirrr! Click! Zap! Holy Radiation, Batman!

"What fresh hell is this?"
--Dorothy Parker

The entrance to Jefferson’s cancer center is on the street level, on the southwest corner of the hospital, at 11th and Sansom Streets. To get to the place where they do radiation, you get into the elevator and push B. According to the elevator buttons, there is only one level between S(treet) and B(asement)—a staff floor, full of offices and off-limits to patients—but it takes forever to get to The Basement. This is, I imagine, because there are several other levels of (unmarked) hell between the street and my destination at the final, bottom rung.

The first time I was ever in this place, Dr. X tried to tell me that the reason all the scary radiation equipment was located well below sea level is that it is all extremely heavy, but I am smarter than this. Did he think I didn’t notice all the warning signs, and the no-children-beyond-this-point message, not to mention the ghostly appearances of all the patients walking out of the restricted areas. Surely the fact that these machines spit out toxic amounts of radiation daily has something to do with their location.

When you get to The Basement, hereafter referred to as Hell, the first thing you do is scan in at reception. The technicians who made the mold for your head and the plastic mask that fits over your face and chest two weeks ago also snapped the most hideous digital photo of you imaginable. This will be used to identify you every time you visit Hell, which will be daily, Monday to Friday, for the next three weeks. As this is shorter than the average stay in Hell, you are reminded to count your blessings.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bitch Advocate (Formerly Known as the Squeaky Wheel)

My friend Ellen has threatened to stop reading my blog if I don’t start mentioning her again. “From now on, I’m not going to read any stories or articles that aren’t about me,” she informed me one day. “I just don’t have that kind of time.”

I was about to tell her that she should be more supportive because, you know, I have cancer, when I remembered that she has been the person most often reminding me that I have cancer. “You have CANCER!” she would console me, when I worried about slacking off at work. “YOU have CANCER!” she would repeat, when I was upset about another sick friend.

You hear a lot about how you need to be your own advocate in our modern health care “system.” What you really need is someone who follows you around like a faithful, bomb-sniffing dog, constantly prowling for little threats to your health and safety, ready to pounce when necessary: SHE HAS CANCER! LEAVE HER ALONE! ANSWER HER QUESTION! GET HER WHAT SHE NEEDS! STAT! GRRRR!!

A sailing buddy who recently spent six weeks in the hospital after “routine” surgery has another term for this: The Bitch Advocate. In his case, it’s his wife. Respected surgeons apparently run for cover when they see her coming down the hall. Clearly, I need a wife.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Know Thyself

Here is a philosophical question: If one goes to see the Dalai Lama speak at a sold-out Kimmel Center appearance, but scams her way in by asking old co-workers to spot her a ticket, does that cancel out the spiritual value of the pilgrimage? Does playing the cancer card give a person bad karma? Do Buddhists even believe in karma?

Karma seems more up the alley of the yogi whose meditation class last Monday night was attended by a woman who had never been there before. The intense but welcoming Yogi Shanti wanted to know what the woman was looking for, which was a very good question indeed, even if somewhat horrifying when asked in front of everybody else in the room. The seeker didn’t have a good answer, but she had ponied up the $18 fee for this one and wasn’t about to wimp out so she mumbled something about “stress relief.” This appeared to be the wrong answer.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is That All There Is?

Dr. R thinks it’s time we start seeing other people. In stereotypical bad break-up timing, he delivered this news on a Friday, just before the weekend, after making me wait an hour to see him.

No, he informed me, he didn’t want to keep that PET scan date we had been planning for a month, and he thought it best to cancel our weekly blood test rendezvous. Better just to finish up the chemotherapy and then go our separate ways for awhile.

Except for this not entirely unexpected development, the last day of chemo—June 27—was utterly uneventful. After an anxious build-up, the 8th and final treatment went so smoothly, it barely registered. I had expected to write through most of it, raging about headaches and chemo farts and the creepy way my veins feel, like they’re just going to burst and send blood spurting all over. I thought I would detail every last minute, but once I was in the chair, it was too much effort to open my laptop. Maybe I’m suffering from chemo brain after all.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Circling the Wagons

I have a sneaking suspicion that people are being nice to me because they’re afraid I’m going to die soon.

People are cooking me meals, and sending me gifts, and offering to buy me plane tickets to fly all kinds of good places. My best friend from college, on her way to a family reunion last weekend, made a brief overnight stop in Philly, her three year old and all their gear in tow, allegedly to visit, but I’m convinced she just wanted to make sure I’m still breathing. She is suspicious of this whole Internet thing and probably thinks some poser is ghost writing my blog.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Don't Cry For Me

June 10, 2008

Fun Kim has just gotten off the phone with the mayor’s office in Pamplona. Her friend and assistant to the mayor, Ana, wants to know if las rubias americanas will be returning this July for San Fermin, the weeklong bacchanal immortalized in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and best known for the daily running of the bulls. In a conservative city populated by dark-haired Spaniards, two American blondes were quasi-celebrities at last summer’s event.

Fun Kim, who spent a year in Pamplona studying Spanish and teaching English to the mayor’s little boy, can’t go. The youngest of my single girlfriends, she is back home in Oregon, wisely working on the master’s degree that will let her live and teach anywhere in the world when she is finished. Me, I can’t go either, for less impressive reasons, but passionate Spain in the sultry summer sure looks good from where I’m sitting, which right now happens to be the Little Infusion Room on the 13th Floor.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sex and the City

"Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair."
Steel Magnolias
“Look at yourself right now and tell me you don’t feel sexy.” The order came from Captain Celia.

I turned around to face the mirror in the entryway of the hotel suite. Almost ready for bed, I had shed my dress and bra, but was still wearing heels, black and purple lace panties, and my wig. Long, dark tresses spilled halfway down my back and curled over my naked chest, covering just enough to keep the shot PG-rated. So far.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moment of Weakness

I am awake but my eyes are still closed, sunlight angling to invade my throbbing head. My stomach is churning like the Mediterranean in a mistral. The bottle of Zofran is on the table, six feet away, but that's five feet too far. Anticipating the wave of seasickness that will wash over me the second I stand up, I choose to lie still where maybe I'll drown in my misery. I feel sick and tired and, irrationally, utterly defeated that I had to start taking the anti-nausea medication after this last round of chemo. Now I can't even reach the drugs. Humiliating.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Flashing Insight Into Infinity

Although there are oceans we must cross
And mountains that we must climb
I know every gain must have a loss
So pray that our loss is nothing but time

--The Mills Brothers “Till Then”
Anyone who knows me knows it was only a matter of time before my weekly Wednesday posts started showing up on Thursdays.  Chronically late, I am the quintessential procrastinator, the reporter who never missed a deadline but always made the editor sweat, still writing, tweaking, making changes up until the last possible second.

Everything I read tells me I’m supposed to take it easy, not work too hard, don’t do anything I don’t want to do, but if I didn’t have a self-imposed deadline, I wouldn’t write at all. My original plan was to post on Wednesdays and Sundays, like my favorite New York Times columnist, but I accomplished that exactly zero times. It may not seem like much, but writing twice a week is a tough schedule, especially without the incentive of the Times paycheck.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Big Casino

The morning of my 43rd birthday I woke up with a hangover. Sadly, there had been no party the night before.
Most days these days I wake up feeling hungover.

“I don’t get it,” I whined to a friend over the phone on one especially brutal morning. “I ate a healthy dinner, I didn’t drink, I got a good night’s sleep. Why do I feel like shit?”

“Maybe because they’re poisoning your body.”

Oh, right, I keep forgetting. Fucking chemo.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Voice of a Sailor

The great thing about editors is, when they're not busy chopping up your latest example of genius, they can be pretty good for the ego. Sometimes they even have good timing.

Since I am still not feeling well (not feverish--98.2 at last check--just not well), I was happy to discover that I don't have to write about me this week because my editor at Sail magazine did it for me.  He's not a bad writer, either...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


April 29, 2008

Dr. R, I suspect, is not pleased. Since the day we started chemo, seven weeks ago, he has impressed upon me that I need to call him immediately if I have any signs of fever. Today I let slip that I don’t own a thermometer.

I have a theory that only three groups of people own thermometers:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Ghost in the Room

A few weeks after my surgery, when I was busy shopping for an oncologist, is about the time I started making regular, unannounced appearances in an old lover’s living room. This would not necessarily be unusual except that we had not spoken for a very long time. Also, I was shopping in Philadelphia and he lives in the Midwest.

He does not believe in the supernatural but knows I do and so he, somewhat haltingly, told me the story, perhaps not quite believing all the details himself, of how one day, there I was in his house out there on the prairie. “A presence” is how he described it. I wasn’t an apparition, and I didn’t speak, I was simply, on more than one occasion, there.

“I must have been waiting for you to call me,” I said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dispatch from the Infusion Room

It is Tuesday, April 15, and I am stressing, not because it is chemo day (it is), or because of the tax deadline (got that wrapped up right on schedule early this morning), but because I’ve been obsessing for two days now that I don’t have anything interesting to write about this week. Half a dozen blog posts and I’m plumb out of ideas. And then it hits me: Of all the creepy aspects of this whole surreal cancer thing, the creepiest just may be that the creepy stuff is all starting to feel normal.

Doesn’t everybody go to chemo on Tuesdays?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day 17 & $200 Martinis (Hair, Part 2)

For my second wig-shopping extravaganza, I chose a second TV reporter friend. Not having seen each other in a few years, we both gave a pre-rendezvous heads-up:

“After three years of island and boat life, I don’t exactly have TV hair anymore.”

“Well, I’m blonde now. About as blonde as a black woman ought to be.”

My journalist friend—let’s call her Beyoncé—arranged for us to meet with someone from the American Cancer Society’s free wig program. Having seen some of the ACS publications, with all their photos of (gasp!) CANCER PATIENTS wearing (ugh…) horribly outdated 80’s-styles, I was snobbishly skeptical about this. I was not one of those people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Chemo Versus Sex Ratio

“So... how often do you get it?” asked a friend in an e-mail.

"More often than sex? You better not have to get chemo more often than sex. (Now, remember, I’m middle-aged and married… so “more often than sex” to me means you can have chemo once a week—but NO MORE!)”

Here is her question posed as a word problem:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wigwam (Hair, Part 1)

Quitting my job as a TV news anchor and reporter was the perfect opportunity to test my belief that life is not all about hair. Novice steps at first, of course—a few minutes less with the blow dryer each morning, a couple of months without highlights—but by the time I was living on boats full time, I was indoctrinated, hair spray and salons supplanted by salt water and sailors. For over a year, nobody cut my hair except the captains I crewed for. I was a master, completely liberated from hair cares just in time to discover… really is all about hair after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have just one last question before we get started:  “Are you SURE I have this?” I ask the doctor.

Because I still don’t feel sick. And I don’t look sick. And the drugs they are about to push through my veins for the rest of this godforsaken afternoon are going to make me sick. And because this is the moment.

After two months of health care hell—the countless doctor visits, seven needle biopsies, two CAT scans, two mammograms, two Pap smears, heart tests, lung tests, blood tests, a skin check, consults with two medical oncologists, a radiation oncologist, and a fertility specialist, not to mention the PET scan that left me temporarily radioactive (“Don’t go near any babies or pregnant women tonight!”)—this is the one moment I can’t seem to handle. Every time I have tried to visualize the instant when they will stick a needle in me and start pumping poison through my body, I break down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fish Gotta Swim...

February 29, 2008

Between lunchtime and happy hour, the situation went from daunting to dire.

Over quiche and salad at the Caribou Café, I had been joking that I needed to find a boyfriend before my hair falls out. Now, apparently, I may have to secure a sperm donor by noon on Tuesday.

Maybe I should back up.

Things started going to hell six weeks ago, when a doctor in the U.S. Virgin Islands told me I was turning into a fish.