A Prayer for a Friend

For the first time in my life, I’m struck with how “not okay” cancer can be.  Not okay cancer is cloaked in a dark robe of inoperability.  Inoperable and metastatic. Inoperable, metastatic, and stage IV. Inoperable, metastatic, and stage IV at 32 with a bleak prognosis.

Please pray for my friend as he starts chemo next week.  Two days ago he was blissfully ignorant of the journey in which he’s about to embark.  I hope the reason I’ve had my path is to be a source of strength and honesty in times like these.

Cancer does not play fair and seems to prey on the brightest lights of all.

I Run Because I Can

One does arguably stupid things when recovering from surgery. Namely, I do stupid things when recovering from surgery. After my first I partied my ass off, and after my most recent I made another idiotic, albeit vastly different decision: I signed up for a marathon.

When people ask if it will be my first I tell them, “Yes. First and only.” “Oh, is it a bucketlist type thing?” they question. “No, not really,” I respond. I then proceed to tell the tale of how I got myself into this little six-month, bone-pounding, tendon-tearing predicament. It goes a little something like this. Four days after surgery I was beyond bored, tired of an endless blur of daytime TV, coloring books (yes, coloring books), and Lonely Planet Costa Rica, which I never did manage to finish but made it there and back having an amazing time. I turned to my dear old friend facebook to pass the time. Glancing at the endless feed of friend content a post grabbed my attention: “I just registered for the Nike Women’s Marathon.” Huh, how about that? I guess we can blame our friend word-of-mouth marketing for the outcome of this story.

As I sat at my mom’s computer I quickly ran a pro/con analysis through my head. Pro: I’m bored as hell and this will be something badass to do. Con: It’s in San Francisco, those hills will murder me. Pro: the race is in October, that gives me a sun-filled summer with long days to train. Con: I hate running. I decide to click on the link to find out it’s a raffle. I don’t even have to commit to running this race to make myself feel better – glorious. I won’t get selected and I’ll at least feel great about myself for attempting to run. Hmm, half or full? F*&% it, no one is impressed witha  half marathon, let’s go big. Full it is. I’m playing running roulette even though I hate gambling.

I enter my registration information and credit card payment. Apparently Nike wants to ensure you’re committed before the raffle. Bastards. I continue with the registration. “In one word finish this sentence….I run to be_______.Dominating.  Badass.  Because I survived. (darn that’s three words), carefree. Seemed appropriate at the time but in retrospect I should have put “Alive.”  I’m running because I can. I’m running 26.2 miles because for the sixth time in seven years I’ve survived cancer. I run to prove to myself that I can do something extraordinary. I run because my desires and aspirations have no bounds. I run because I put marathon on my mini-bucket list this year. I run because I’m young, my body can handle it, and if not now, when? I run to be alive. Also, the Tiffany’s necklace at the finish line isn’t a bad incentive either. 😉

Needless to say, my name got pulled and I committed to training for the past five months.  There marathon is this weekend. See you on Sunday morning, 26.2.

Wear Your Diamonds Today

In a word, my grandmother was fabulous.  She and I were woven from the same hilariously inappropriate, sparkly-thing-loving cloth. Upon her passing last spring, I took time to reflect upon the incredible memories we shared together.  Amidst the memories, a handful of lessons – which until recently didn’t realize we’re truisms sewing together the patchwork of things I hold dear. The most vivid of values inherited is entwined with my sixteenth birthday gift – a beautiful opal and diamond ring passed down that she had received from my great-grandmother on her own sixteenth birthday.  A few months after giving it to me, she asked if I had worn it. I indicated I hadn’t yet had an occasion to do so.  “You don’t need an occasion. Wear your diamonds today,” she said.  And she did. She wore her diamonds everyday.

Live in the moment, be present, this year I will…there seems to be recurring themes in what I’m posting these days.  Once more feel like I’m jumping to the lessons I’ve learned before unraveling the whole story (also – good Lord, I didn’t realize how many metaphors I attach to my pieces of jewelry).  Yet, if I wanted to leave readers of this blog one lesson it would be this – tomorrow is not promised and live today as fabulously as if it were your last.

I was wine tasting this weekend and had a conversation with a PhD student in our group.   We were talking wine collecting (which I don’t do), and mentioned she had received a nice bottle as a gift.  She didn’t know what constituted a special occasion to drink it.  I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother, and shared that to me a “special” day would look something like a Thursday evening and home-cooked meal with someone I care about.  If we are too faint-hearted and save special things for something or someday exceptional, we may let the wine spoil, our diamonds get tucked away, or our love lost.

My grandmother was an inspiration. She raised three children after my grandfather passed in his 40’s (both pictured above at the Walker Cup in St. Andrews),  overcame alcoholism, and enjoyed her life with more exuberance than anyone I’ve known. In her memory, I say go ahead and enjoy that expensive wine, wear your diamonds, and say the words or sentiments you save for special occasions today. Every day is extraordinary, after all.

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This week marks the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. As such I thought there was no better time to share her pearls of wisdom…or diamonds, as it were.

This Year I Will…

“Your past is important, but it is not nearly as important to your present as the way you see your future”

                                                                                                                               – Tony Campolo

I’m a planner – guilty, party-of-one. I make lists, I check things off the lists, add more things to said lists, and so continue the vicious, virtuous cycles.  Life often becomes a “to-do.” I’m envious of European countries, which take time to enjoy, abating daily demands, or letting strive toward achievements dictate the manner in which one runs the hours in their day. Italians call this “dolce fa niente” – the sweetness in doing nothing.

There is a healthy tension between living in each moment and setting sights on experiences to achieve.  Being a Libra, my daily struggle is maintaining balance around what makes me feel complete.  The irony of juxtaposition in my desire to live in each moment contrasted with my planning nature is not lost upon me.  As such, when my cousin gifted me a simple Kate Spade bracelet before my latest surgery I found a way to maintain balance. Inscribed on the inside of the bracelet a phrase, “This year I will…” Written on the outside are a handful of commitments. Perfection – a tiny bucket list that will help me live moments with purpose for a defined amount of time.

Her gift began turning the cogs in my mind. What would I want to write on the outside of my bracelet if I could? I created a short list of what makes me happy or something I’ve always wanted to achieve.  This year I will…

  • Run a marathon (Nike Women’s Marathon in SF, October 16th)
  • Travel somewhere requiring a passport (Costa Rica)
  • Visit two places in the US I’ve never been to (The Hamptons and Chicago)
  • Fall asleep staring at the stars
  • Set aside time for photographic excursions
  • Sing in the shower
  • Continue to share my story and discoveries with whoever wants to listen
  • Contemplate the heavens
  • Make people feel special
  • Contribute time toward a cause that moves me
  • Say “I love you” everyday

Bucket lists are often created in a last ditched effort to squeeze the joy and magic out of life when running on borrowed time.  When faced with our own morality priorities become lucid– you hear stories of people making amends with estranged loved ones, quitting jobs to spend time with family, or taking audacious worldly excursions.  We no longer live cautiously, plan for a retirement that may never come, or give a damn about how people perceive our actions. We throw caution to the wind and sprint toward the end of life’s finish line in an attempt to make those last few days, months, or years feel like we’ve truly lived the life we were intended to live.  My favorite organization, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, has built a nonprofit around this very concept – giving terminal children one final wish before their short lives are stripped from them.

Yet, I challenge, why don’t we live everyday like we don’t give a damn? As if every day is truly a gift?  We all have our bucket list – places we hope to travel, accomplishments we aspire to achieve, memories to experience, milestones to meet – with the hope we will get to check these things off “someday.”  But what happens when someday never comes?

Life is a never-ending to-do list. If we don’t take the time to do what makes us happy, we’ll end up never truly living.  Perche la vita e bella.  Because life is beautiful. So live it.

Batting .750

From a young age, I’ve had a biased toward overachieving. In third grade, I’d set my sights to attend Stanford, in sixth I was beyond thrilled to attend GATE (Gifted And Talented Education), and in subsequent years medaled twice at the Volleyball Junior Olympics. That is not to say I believe I’m exceptional – I’m not –rather, to illustrate that I set high expectations of myself. [In fact, I failed to get into Stanford and was cut from my Junior High Volleyball team]. Everything has always been a competition with my number one competitor: myself.

Last week, when my Endocrine surgeon told me two of the eight suspicious lymph nodes removed on March 31st were cancerous, I quickly sized-up myself. Two for eight equated to one-quarter cancer. Seventy-five of what was taken from me wasn’t infested with the malignancy pervading both my body and spirit. Seventy-five percent translates to a solid C. In other words: average. Not passing. Not failing. Just there.

As I enter into year six with disease, I can’t help but think this will be a recurring theme: not disease-free, nor cancer-ridden, simply present. It is a black mold -unseen and barely detectable, but omnipresent – chipping at the edges of my rose-colored world. It’s my duty create an exceptional personal outlook in a less-than-exceptional situation. At least by doing so I can control the status of my mental malignancy – a term I created referring to the degradation of your positive attitude while dealing with cancer. If I can maintain my mental malignancy tracking at and 90%, even though my body is telling me we’re at 75%, I’m confident I’ll be able to rid myself of this bastard eventually – but maybe that’s just my Santa-Cruz, Secret-loving, “if-you-believe-it-it-will-happen” side coming out.

On the whole, the surgery was my most pain-free yet. Is it sad that I can now am able to compare surgeries to each other? The consultant in me wants to create a cancer scorecard and regression analysis, but maybe I’ve just been working too much the past week. One solitary night in the hospital, five days at home, four bouquets, three-dozen cards, three new pieces of jewelry, two snuggly presents, one new drug allergy, one gardenia tree, and one giant box of titillating games probably sped up the recovery – well, aside from the drug allergy. Thanks to everyone for your support, kind words, emails, texts, phone calls, facebook updates, visits, and gifts.

Here’s to hoping the next round of tests is an A. Truthfully, I’m sick of being average.

Surgery Week – Volume III

After a month and a half of waiting, surgery week is finally here. Thursday around noon I’ll get my throat slit for the third time in six years.  Unlike the first go-round under then knife, I opted for putting this one off a bit.  After all, that cancer bastard (yes, this is how I now refer to that little fucker…yes, it is a fucker too) has interrupted my life more times than I care to count.  This time I wanted to finish up some vacations and travel I had planned.  The last month has been a whirlwind, with traveling to Seattle, Austin, and two ski trips to Tahoe.  I am lucky enough that my surgeon accommodated my scheduled and didn’t let this little malignant bastard ruin my fun! But alas, nerd spring break, the Rainy City, and infinite runs down Gold Coast have come to an end and it’s time to face the realities of dealing with the pest once more.

One thing I’ve learned from previous surgeries is this – recovering is boring as all get out.  Visitors come and go, but most of the time its drugs, sleep, repeat.  I only pray that I’m not allergic to the drugs this time around, it does mix things up a bit but not in a good way.  Being the planner I am here’s what I’ve got in my hospital bag so far:

  • Coloring book & crayons – you won’t be laughing when you have a spectacular picture I’ve colored you while high on Percocet
  • Lonely Planet Costa Rica – I’ll attempt to at least highlight this for an upcoming vacation
  • InStyle – because being in a hospital gown makes me want to dress fabulously when I reappear into society
  • Made to Stick – A business book I doubt I’ll crack
  • Silicon scar therapy patches – I’m determined to diminish the scars because I’d prefer to not look like I was attacked by Edward Scissorhands.

Countless hours of TV and movie marathons are on the horizon. I’ll be at the UCSF Mount Zion hospital at least overnight, then back recovering at my family’s house for the following two weeks. Here’s to hoping they get that bastard out once and for all and for a smooth recovery! Visitors welcome.

Surgery Date Set

March 31st chapter 6 unfolds. This is how I feel about that…

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

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