From Breast Cancer


[Here’s my Rx for #WorldCancerDay: Keep Calm and Eat a Cookie. And this. An uber special guest post by my fab friend/survivor sister/Gracegoddess/CaliforniaGirl/FITtastic/greenthumb/rockStar cookie-baker Starling Wickes.]

   foundTHeCure, LLC

Guest Post by Starling Wickes

Since it’s World Cancer Day, I thought I would share the Reason I’m still here.

We moved from Indiana to California in 2008 with Two 2 year olds and $700 in our pockets. I knew before leaving Indiana that I had a lump. I had been to my OBGYN, but we were trying to move. So, I decided to wait. After three months of being in California, I went to see my primary physician on my 34th birthday.

He immediately sent me for biopsies. After several attempts, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Breast Cancer with 2 lymph nodes positive. I chose to have a double mastectomy, even though the Cancer was only on my right side. I also chose to do chemotherapy and radiation, because in my mind it was giving me a chance to “start over”, and rebuild my body the healthy way.

It wasn’t until I started chemo that I really understood how my use of cannabis, for the past few years, was really making a difference. I’ve always heard about how it helps, of course, but to actually live it, has been an incredible journey.

It was one day in Clinic C (Ha! How appropriate, right?), I was several weeks into chemo, after my third dose of A/C, (For those of you who don’t know, It’s Fucking nasty!) anyway, I was in to see my oncologist for follow up after treatment, when I realized, I was the only one eating a burger and chips, jamming to my music, and giving up my seat to a much (much) older woman who could barely keep her eyes open, when this lovely blonde lady approached me with tears in her eyes, begging me for my secret. To her, this was the nightmare she dreaded, being an actress in L.A.

However, by seeing one person who is living, instead of dying, was that little glimmer of Hope she needed.

I was taken aback at first because I saw the horror in her eyes. The scared Bambi look. I reassured her that it’s ok to be scared. We all are. But when i mentioned I was a Cannabis user, she said, “Tell me how! I want to be just like you.”

Photo courtesy of RL Designs.

And so it began. I became an Advocate. An educator. A provider. A healer. A business.
I have documented in my files that “Alcohol hangovers have treated me worse than Chemo ever did!”
I’ve had several surgeries and very few problems healing.

My family have gone through many trials after moving, like being car jacked the week before chemo, being robbed and homelessness, but it hasn’t stopped us from living. I dedicate my life to my family, healthy eating and living, and advocating cannabis to other cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and we are all destined for greatness, whether today, or for future generations.

I was featured in the Ripped Goddess Calendar in 2014, as the RG for October, bringing awareness to a healthy, fit community.

I’m also part of a group called The Grace Project, a powerful photographic project by Isis Charise. The Grace Project’s mission is to empower breast cancer survivors to embrace their body image and basically to “wear their scars like stardust.” (Shout out to Amy Ferris for that gorgeous quote.)

Grace Photographer Isis Charise & Starling at a Grace Photo Shoot in Palm Desert, California
Grace Photographer Isis Charise & Starling     Star’s Grace Photo Shoot in Palm Desert, Cali            Photo by Joules Evans

Working with Isis was an experience beyond words. Isis makes you feel calm among a storm.

We now run our own business, called foundTHeCure, LLC. providing affordable and easy access medicine.

I started a healthy living page on Facebook, called Let’s Get Physical Cancer Sisters and Brothers!, helping to motivate other survivors, pre-vivors, & caregivers. Hoping to inspire them to get and stay cancer free, offering exercise, recipes and healthy information, keeping us accountable for our health!!

This is my mantra: “I believe things happen for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually start to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart, so better things can fall together.”~Marilyn Monroe

#GetEducated #cannabis #cannabiscuredmycancer #weed #pot #potmom #farmerlife #breastcancersurvivor #curedofcancer #cannabissavedmylife #thc #cbd #fuckyeah #FuckCancer #foundTHeCureInc

Birthday Presence

I have a little tradition I started when I was thirty-something that, when I can remember not to forget, I write a sonnet for my birthday. A poetry selfie, if you will. So my birthday was Saturday and I turned lucky seven to the (super)Power of Two! And here’s the sonnet. It’s called Sonnet #49 because that’s the super secret code name I came up with when I did the math.


Sonnet #49


Yes, of course I’d like to know if you will

Still love me when I’m Sixty-four and my

Hair is blue. But. It knows that song well

Already, and you have not said goodbye—


#thingsthatmakemesaywhew . . . because

Who knows what color it will be next week?

It’s only hair. And ‘tis what it is, ‘twas

What it was, ‘twill be well, not mild, yet meek.


Not like a mouse. I mean, I like cheese, but—

Now is not the time for shrinking back. Not

At my age. Alice sure knew what was what

When she ate that cake: Took a bite and shot


For the moon. ‘Twas her one shot which is all

We all get. So let us eat the cake y’all!


Besides the birthday sonnet, I also uploaded “The Birthday VLOG” to my Year of Living Sincerely series on YouTube. Kinda a talkie selfie, if you think about it a little. Anyway, so here’s the video. And since it’s a talkie, I’ll let it introduce itselfie.


Drunkard’s Prayer

I know it’s throw back Thursday, not throw UP Thursday, but I just got a phone call from my oncologist’s office, letting me know that it’s time for my quarterly check-up…and I almost tossed my cookies (or in this case, nachos). Happens every time. That first chemo cocktail I downed six years ago yesterday, waking up with my first chemo hangover six years ago TODAY… has. left. it’s. mark. on. me. Besides the port scar. Which I had a big c (namaste _/_ Laura Linney) tattooed on—copyright that cancer.

Photo Cred goes to my friend Isis Charise, photographer of The Grace Project

Anyway, so this past weekend I went to a Jen Pastiloff Manifestation retreat in Ojai, California. It was a gift from the hubcap aka Mr. Joules, for my 6 year cancerversary, which I just celebrated August 20th. Now, this is a thing that drives my Redheads bOnKeRs (because they keep their “letters to Santa” constantly updated on Google docs) but I don’t have a list. Mostly because I already feel so lucky that I can’t even imagine what else in the world I could possibly ask for. But I asked for this because I felt I could use a little inspiration boost(er) before my 6-year check up this coming Monday.

One of the exercises she had us do at the retreat is the inspiration for today’s #tbt pic/post. This is where I feel like it’s only fair to give you a #CheeseAlert—so you might want to go pour a glass of wine to go with the cheese I’m about to throw down not up for throw back Thursday.

The exercise I’m referring to, was a writing prompt. The writing prompt flowed from a series of yoga poses. Somewhere in the ebb and flow of the yoga poses and the writing prompts, a beautiful breakdown occurs in places that were a little stuck. All the “I would/could/should/did/didn’t/have to/can’t excuses we all make. Something in the way she makes us do all those hi-YAH! kicks, makes us feel like we’re knocking down walls. (And we did.) Also, all those planks rendered our arms incapable of being raised, even an inch, to point out even one of those lame ass excuses that we all make for not manifesting aka “making shit happen” (the good kind) in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have a boatload of excuses in my head. So many voices in my head. And way too freaking often, I hear them calling, “All aboard!” Next thing I know, I’m sailing away on a yacht called Hotel California where “you can check out anytime but you can never leave”.

Which is why it’s always a good idea to keep the voices in our head in check. Or, check-mate, as it so happened, for me during this particular exercise.  The writing prompt was to write a letter to ourself in the voice of someone who loves us.

“If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again.”~Wayne Dyer

This is one of Jen’s themes. It’s also one of the magical things that happens at her workshops and retreats, when you look around the room at the beautiful souls who walked beside you through the weekend, and beyond.

I wrote my letter, to myself, in the voice of my husband. And here’s where the cheese enters. But not, as you might suppose, just because I’m the one stringing together said cheese. The truth of the matter is: Dave is just as cheesy as me. I was only channeling him, or I guess you could say, being the grater. Here’s a little slice (and no, I didn’t cut it) of the cheese:

Dear Joules, my jewel, wife of my youth and, I hope—NO. I know. Yes, darling, I know you have trouble seeing that far ahead, into the future, but I know. I know like I know Jesus loves me, and you, that we will be old together one day, like the couple in UP—but we won’t wait to chase our dreams. We are not waiting. The chase is on! And what. a. ride… Go ahead and put your hands up in the air. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t shave. I’m over here right next to you. I got you. Like I vowed when we were 22. And I believe you’ll still love me when I’m 64. And beyond. Even if you can’t see that far. I can see. This I know. I know enough for the both of us.

I forgot to sign it but I think I nailed it, and I have proof. I’ve been celebrating my 6 year cancerversary with this six part series of a half a dozen chapters from my book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, and there just so happens to be a chapter that Dave wrote for me. Kinda like a letter in the voice of someone who loves me…

#tbt to the day after Christmas 2008 aka our 21st anniversary


Chapter 13
Drunkard’s Prayer

[Cue my fave band Over the Rhine. Click HERE to hear the song that is the soundtrack to this chapter.]

And by drunkard, I mean to give the microphone here to Dave (while I take a little break to pour another glass of wine) because he’s the one who got stuck with a handful of “in sickness” and “for worse” chips. If I were to write a six-word memoir, it would be Sorry I Cashed “In Sickness” Chips. And the sequel would be, I Hope It’s “For Better” Now. Anyway, without further ado . . . Dave.

Joules (or as I call her, Joule, for short, which I prefer to spell Jewel, if you don’t mind) is a sucker for Shakespeare. I am a sucker for my Jewel. A + B = C. It’s simple math, really. I believe even she could figure that one out and with one hand tied behind her back. Even if it’s the one with that little finger she’s got me wrapped around.

All that to say, I like Shakespeare too. Once I stood up on a bench in the middle of Borders and recited Sonnet 116 to her—it’s one of our favorites of his sonnets. And it goes, something like this… ahem: 

Sonnet 116

By Will

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Shakespeare wrote, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Surely he had not considered “the remover” to be a breast surgeon, nor “Time’s sickle” to be a scalpel, nor the compass of Time’s sickle to encompass his love’s breasts.

We’re not talking wrinkles, gray hair, and a little extra weight here. This is serious alteration. But when it came down to them or her, clearly they had to go.

I admit, initially I told myself that this will be a good thing. There will be reconstruction. My wife will be perky in her old age. But looking into the details, it quickly became obvious that this was not an option either of us wanted. But I have found, in true love, that there is a breastliness that transcends the physical and is more tangible than the flesh.

The only real difference this alteration has brought is that when we embrace, our hearts are that much closer together.

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” As I gaze on her even now, I hear my heart say, “Well then, Will, this must be love.”

Six of One, Half Dozen of Another (at least _/_Please, God?)

Today is my 6-year cancerversary. Hellya, I celebrate it. I celebrate every tiny little beautiful thing I can. (Sometimes if I can’t think of something, I make shit up;) An no, I don’t think cancer is beautiful. It’s a bitch. But, whoa. 6 YEARS, baby! That’s 2192 freaking amaze ball days since I heard that damn C-word aka #shakennotstirred day. That’s basically, two THOUSAND one hundred and ninety-two GIFTS. Every damn one of those days, a present that I’ve tried to unwrap the hell out of. Even the hard ones.

So, in my continuing series of blog posts sharing chapters from my book: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, here’s a couple chapters about what went down at the Evanshire when my breast surgeon called and told me I had cancer. Chapter 6 is from my perspective and chapter 7 is in my Redheads’s own words.

By the way the Kindle version of my book is FREE today AND TOMO. So download away and please feel free to flip off cancer today with me as you do. Click HERE for the link.

Also, if you’d like to further “stick it to cancer” and also put a few pennies in my Redheads’s pockets, their “Cancer is a Bitch” song (which they wrote for me for my last chemo) is available on iTunes. I have no idea why this song hasn’t gone viral. I’m not even kidding or being a biased mama (even though I am absolutely biased about my Redheads, and even though I do kid around a lot.) For realz. They really are crazy good and this song freaking rocks. Click HERE for the link.

Chapter 6
I Don’t Know Why

(Cue Amy Grant, because that is the song I had on loop when I wrote this chapter.)

Dr. Stahl called me just before dinner. It was, actually, five o’clock. And that’s truly not a cheap shot, or an attempt at being poetic even if my life is freaking poetic; it’s just how the day played out. And boy, did I need a drink.

Pinot grigio, anyone? Yes, I had a pinot grigio. Or two. OK, maybe three. This happened to be one of those moments.

And the next time the clock struck five, I penned the following on my blogintheshire, which unfortunately got cancer when I did and turned into my cancer blog, where we posted updates for our friends and family:


The Scoop

I’m sorry it has taken until five a.m. to get to this blog update. I’m not going to lie—this is not the easiest blog to write. This has not been the easiest day. Parts of it have been lovely, though, so that’s where I let myself drop at the end of the day, and that is where I find myself right now, sitting here, so I will start right there, if you don’t mind, and then open the fortune cookie we got from the doctor today in proper form, after I’ve digested some of the day.

The Redheads and I hung tight and close to home all day, which is one of my favorite things. We all slept in for the first time since this whirlwind hit. The boys did not sleep the night before my surgery, and Amanda has been burning a candle at both ends with everything and her new job and beauty school. I think I may have just passed out from exhaustion. Or maybe it was the Vicodin. But the point is, sleeping in is also one of our favorite things, and a good way to start a day. Unless you have to be somewhere and you are late. Which occasionally happens in our home—but not today.

On days like today the things that matter most are crystal clear.

My mum and sister and nephew are here, so that’s also nice to wake up to. I actually woke up to the lovely little pitter-patter of my nephew Brody’s sweet feet, who apparently swept up with Olympic fervor, was in training for the hundred-yard dash around the race track that circles my dining room and kitchen. You really can’t start training too early these days and I have to admire his dedication at two years old.

We all had a lovely picnic out on my back deck. My Redheads did a mini concert for us, which was the icing on top of lovely.

After lunch we watched a movie (Russell Crowe’s A Good Year—uh, dramatic irony, anyone?) to pass the time before the phone call. We did not just sit around all day waiting for the phone call. We had a really good day, and then the phone call came.

Dave is out of town. I made him go ahead and go on his business trip because I didn’t want to act like we were going to get bad news. He will be back tomorrow (Thursday) night.

That is how we are woven together.

I (had Mikeyy) conference Dave in, and the kids were right by my side, on speakerphone. The doctor said the damn spots were cancer. Grade 3, which is apparently aggressive. And if I understood the doctor correctly, the size of the three spots together was 2.3 centimeters. The one I felt was very near the surface and she had to scrape to get what she could of it, but she couldn’t get it all without taking some of my breast, which she didn’t obviously, at that time. But that’s at least going to have to go. We have some big decisions to make this weekend before we meet with the doctor on Monday at five-thirty p.m. to discuss and jump into our game plan. We plan to be more aggressive than the cancer. I’m told I’m a wee bit competitive, so hopefully that’s a good thing. We also need to go back and get some lymph nodes. And I think she mentioned chemo. Other than that, it was a fairly fuzzy phone call for me. It hit my Redheads hard and fast. Please pray for them anytime you think of me. I am not sure it has sunk into me yet, unless it is the pit that I have felt like throwing up since before dinner. But haven’t. Yet.

This is me, shaken. To the core. In front of my kids. I don’t know why.

I ordered the Redheads some pizza and some of my tennis girlfriends came over and we sat out on the back deck, drinking pinot grigio. Yeah, my girlfriends got my back. They B.Y.O.B.’d it, after they heard me sing “How Dry I Am” in the hospital. That’s what girlfriends are for.

They also delivered P.F. Chang’s to the Evanshire the night before, following my surgery. My cookie had a fantastic and apropos fortune in it that we are going with: Good food brings health and longevity. Not to mention, the first lucky number mentioned is 42, which is my age. And I believe it is also a significant number for galaxy hitchhikers. Yes, I have the T-shirt; Mikeyy made me one for my forty-second birthday.

That’s. Love. That’s all I really know right now.

So that’s the scoop. Thanks for praying.

That’s where things were. And me, bookended there in the gift of the present.

We’d like to invite anyone who lives near to come over and pray with us Saturday night at seven as we’d like to bring out the big guns of prayer to begin this battle with and cast ourselves into our Father’s very capable hands. And we go from there.

Hold my hand—sorry if it is shaking a little. Sometimes the sand moves fast. But isn’t it so beautiful?

Posted by Joules Evans at 5:17 a.m.

Like I said, I had my three teenagers huddled around me when “the call” came. The doctor said the C word and it hit my kids hard. From my perspective it was as if that damn word had knocked my kids over. I don’t remember breathing while I watched my kids succumb to the gravity of the moment as they fell to the ground. Literally. In three, separate sobbing heaps. Oh. My. Heart. Times three. Precious, shattered pieces on the floor. It was one of the most gut-wrenching mommy moments I’ve ever experienced. I desperately needed three laps and six arms right then. That’s really all I was thinking about at that moment in time when it was standing still . . . like that.

That moment was the inciting incident in my life. It changed everything. Like September 11 changed everything. Like writing a.d. on the very first check after Jesus was born. Time had been counting down to that precise moment of PAX—the ground zero of history—then all of a sudden we’re counting up.

I realize my inciting incident didn’t have the same global implications. But that mommy moment became a hinge that held me fast, in the now. And I found some traction to do what I needed to do right then.

I stopped taking notes as soon as I wrote down the word that knocked my Redheads over and made them cry. I dropped the pencil that I’d drawn from behind my ear. I stopped listening to what Dr. Stahl was saying. I dropped the phone. There were no oxygen masks in the room anyway, and time had sort of stopped, so I dropped to the ground, gathered my precious babies, and rolled them up in my arms. That’s how I stop, drop, and roll.

I did not process the fact that my doctor had just said I had cancer. Dave was still on the other end of the line with Dr. Stahl, processing everything. If it sounds horrible that he was out-of-town on a business trip that day, it really wasn’t. He had cancelled the trip to stay home for “the call” but like I said, I told him it would be like expecting the worst if he stayed. So he went, for me. I made him go. I needed him to go. Now I needed him to stay on the phone with my doctor. When I stopped, dropped, and rolled, he picked up the ball. Thank God. There was no time for him to stop, drop, and roll. There were more words to listen to, more notes to take, questions to ask, appointments to schedule, research to be done, decisions to be made, tears to cry, groans to be uttered, prayers to be prayed, a plane to catch, a sickly wife and three grief-stricken kids to come home to, phone calls to make, a business to run, insurance forms to fill out, dinner to be picked at, insomnia to be had, pieces of our world to pick up, after of course he finished this phone call, knowing there was no time to go look in the mirror and see what he was made of. That’s just how he rolls, when I stop, drop, and roll.

And that’s how we roll.

I don’t know why Dr. Stahl had to say the C word. I do know that sometimes words do hurt, though. No matter what people say about sticks and stones. Or rock, paper, scissors for that matter. Words beat them all.

I don’t know how I got cancer. Damn spot.

I didn’t know where all this was going to lead. Were my days about to begin counting down?

All I knew was my children might lose their mother.

I don’t know why.

All I knew was I loved them.

And all I could think about was right now. Right here. So I held them fast, like I wouldn’t let go.

Meanwhile, my mom and my sister, Jennie, were downstairs in the family room, flipping channels and magazine pages, fielding phone calls, folding my laundry, imagining doors opening, straining ears for footsteps, watching ice melt in their Diet Cokes while clocking Brody’s laps, wishing the clock would keep up with him, waiting for someone to come tell them what the doctor said. The glasses weren’t the only ones sweating.

Jennie summed it up like this:

Mom and I were sitting in the living room at my sister’s house, waiting desperately for someone to emerge from upstairs with news from the call. In a moment that seemed to stand still forever, Amanda quietly walked downstairs to where we were. My heart went to pieces as she looked at me and then just fell broken into my arms. It felt like all the oxygen left the room when I realized that my sister had breast cancer. Amanda and I fell into a sobbing heap, onto the loveseat. Mom began hyperventilating the second we heard the C word. I don’t know how she managed to make it across the room, but she fell onto the loveseat, becoming part of the heap with us. She and I sandwiched Amanda. We all felt like we were drowning, and all we could do was hold on to each other.


Chapter 7
Mother and Child Reunion

(Cue Paul Simon, because that is the soundtrack to this chapter)


The Redheads—In Their Own Words)

Before you slam the book shut…the following picture is not what you may think. My sweet children were not flipping me off nor did I choose this photo to flip you, dear reader, off. Rather, on the way to Racing for a Cure for their Mum, Amanda got that very finger slammed in Yukon’s door. We almost had to change route and race to the hospital. But once Amanda caught her breath and could wiggle and “flip” her finger, she decided it really said what she felt, both in that moment, and even more appropriately, about her Mum getting cancer. She asked me to take a picture, and the boys quickly stood proudly with their “little” sister: such sweet solidarity amongst siblings. This picture means more to me than you can imagine. And with that, I’d like to introduce my Redheads:


Amanda—17 years old

Legends and stories often have more to do with shaping a culture or person than the actuality behind those stories. I like this—I think it’s true. Please, don’t take the following as the word of God, but rather as the discombobulated memories of a girl. The facts here may have been entirely made up.

There is a tremor that runs through this memory—as an earthquake in my brainwaves. We all gathered in my brother Matt’s bedroom. My dad was on speakerphone—he was away somewhere. The doctor was on a different speaker. Gravity was unsure of what to do. The air felt unsteady and wobbled like a depressive drunk. I think it had grown thicker, too, possibly to catch me when I heard what it somehow already knew.

I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t even remember the doctor’s gender. The only distinct thing that I remember is the sound of an implosion—and then the feeling of being submerged. It felt as though my spinal cord had been snapped and my brain set afloat in the stormy sea of cerebrospinal fluid. I think of the execution of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar: a family lined up and murdered—shot. My brothers broke. My Mum instantly became mortal. My Dad, though . . . In my memory, there was an audible creaking—as though his spine was an ancient tree being straightened out. A groaning—as though he were a wooden ship being stressed from too much weight. A thump—as this new load, in sickness, dropped on him: the sound of a man becoming Atlas.

I walked away from the room, only able to stand because of the air’s thickness pillowing around me. Everything felt loosened and unconnected as I treaded downstairs to the couch. Be the adult, now—that’s what I was thinking.

I walked up to my Aunt Jennie. So far, so strong. But as I tried to force the word cancer out of my mouth, I found myself to be broken, too. Collapsed. Aunt Jennie’s arms gathered me up, and I remember resting against her breasts. I felt as though I were merely a page in a book and the epitome’s cover slammed heavily against me.

We wept.


Matt—15 years old

The whole day was a really big blur. I remember it seemed like it moved so fast, but at the same time it was also one of the slowest days ever. Mikeyy and I had been in my room playing Portal on our Xbox 360 for the previous couple of days, like going through the portals in the game took us through a portal out of our lives for just a bit. It seemed like the best thing to do to keep our minds off of everything going on. Then I just remember all of us in my room, huddled around the phone. Trying to get the phone conference going seemed like it took hours. The doctor’s voice had no real emotion, which just made it all the scarier. Finally, we got everyone on the phone: Dad conferenced in with us and the doctor. I don’t think any of us breathed the whole time the doctor was talking. Nothing she said made any sense to me. My mum was healthy. Nothing was wrong with her. Everything was fine. But then I was sitting there and the doctor was saying she had cancer. Then it hit me. I remember thinking about how ever since I was little, whenever Dad would leave on business trips, he would tell me that while he was gone, I was the man of the house. It eventually just became second nature so that he didn’t even have to tell me. I didn’t think I should cry because Dad was gone, which made me the man of the house. I didn’t think the man of the house would cry—I cried anyway though. I remember sitting in the corner by my bedroom door holding Amanda and Mikeyy. None of us really knew what to do. What can you do in that kind of a situation? I went and sat in my closet. Something about the dark enclosed space of my closet always makes me feel safe.

Mum picked the phone back up and she, Dad and the doctor stayed on for a while longer. I just kind of sat there in shock. Our whole lives had been shaken and everything was different. Everything seemed dark and rainy and just downright sucky then but I never even thought about the silver lining that would come.


Mikeyy—14 years old

I don’t cry a lot. In fact, I only cried once throughout the whole cancer earthquake that shook our world. I didn’t even cry once throughout the entire film, The Notebook. If you were to bottle up all the tears I shed year-round to give water to people in Nigeria, you would not even provide one person with 1/24th of the water needed in a day. If my tears were Noah’s flood, Noah would only be the size of seven molecules bonded together. In fact, eighty percent of the time water drops from my eyes, it’s my body rushing to my aid whenever I engage in my staring contest addiction, or me staring till I fake cry, so that Mum’s sweet little heart wants to give me whatever I want. That, or I’m just tired.

A time without tears can actually be a sad time. I’ve found throughout my life that when sad instances come along, tears are a little inadequate when it comes to expressing how I feel.

This instance was no different.

I did not cry when we got the phone call. I did not cry when we all dropped to the floor. I did not cry when the realization sunk in that I might not have my Mum around much longer. I did not cry.

Like I said, crying did not seem adequate in a situation like this. Instead, I nothing-ed. Nothing-ing seemed a little more appropriate. It at least made sense. Nothing I said or did would change anything. Nothing I felt would fix this. Nothing leaving my eyes would help. So I felt nothing—nothing but despair.

What’s “Ouch” Got To Do With It?

[This is part two in a series to commemorate my 6-year cancerversary, coming up on August 20, in which I am posting a free sneak peek of 6 chapters from my book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, as the numbers on the calendar remind me: Whoa. That hap’d. Six years ago. Today.

August 11, 2008 was the night I found the damn spot that turned out to be cancer. I posted that part of the story yesterday in part one. Click HERE to read that post with Chapter 2: “When The Stars Go Blue”.

Six years ago today, August 13, 2008, I had my first—and last—mammogram. By last, I don’t mean to brag about not having to have my boobs squashed between mammography plates anymore—#breastcancerperk #NOT. I just thought I’d point it out, because it might not be obvious that the reason for no further mammograms, is because, well…there ‘aint no more mamms to gram. Case in point: I still get a postcard in the mail every damn year reminding me it’s time for my yearly mammogram…FROM THE HOSPITAL WHERE I HAD MY MASTECTOMY. Cracks. Me. Up. Every. Damn. Time. I get one of these postcards in the mail. You’d think if anybody knew I don’t need a freaking mammogram anymore, it would be THE HOSPITAL THAT REMOVED MY BREASTS. So that’s why I was being all “Captain Obvious” about it. Anyway, the postcards don’t bother me; I can always use a good laugh. And, they do actually remind me…to remind my tribe to #getemsquashed. This chapter is about that  mammogram. It’s kinda my postcard to you, from the other side of breast cancer: “Been there. Done that. Had to buy a new t-shirt. Don’t wish you were here. So too those in the tribe who should have, but haven’t YET scheduled their mammograms, please go do that now, for you, and for me, k? And if you do schedule one after reading this, drop me an email letting me know, and I’ll send you one of my famous typo-fied “SKAKEN NOT STIRRED” bracelets for being so awesome in the self care dept.]

Chapter 3

Help Me Out God

I’d never had a mammogram before. Please . . . do not put it off until you’re forty-two years old and find a lump in your breast, like I did.

Dr. Allen couldn’t find the spot at first. One would think that would be a good sign. At least, we tried to take it as one. I’m a small-framed person and, to put it frankly, there is not a lot of room for a spot to hide. Maybe my simple prayer had been answered? Maybe I worked the spot out while I played tennis? Or maybe I had imagined it, after all.

That would’ve been awesome. That would’ve been the end of this story. And there is part of me that would’ve been OK with that. But that’s not how it happened. She eventually found the proverbial X.

Damn spot. It had been elusive due to rather awkward placement, right beneath the “milky way.” It figures, that even my cells would be undercover—all cloak and dagger, and spies like me.

I could tell that Dr. Allen didn’t seem to like what she’d found. She said she thought we should do a mammogram and an ultrasound to “cover second base.” That was not what I expected her to say, at all. Then she picked up the phone and scheduled the tests for the very next day.

I wasn’t scared yet. I had some adrenaline pumping, but not from jumping to conclusions. The things I’d heard about mammograms, particularly the squashing involved, made me cringe. I’d always experienced a sympathetic twinge of pain whenever I was with a group of women and the conversation uncomfortably shifted to mammogram stories, which usually followed everyone’s birth stories.

If you saw Casino Royale, you might remember a certain scene in which the most recent James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, took a few torturous knocks to the groin area. I had to close my eyes because I don’t like seeing people tortured. Or naked, really. And, especially, not being tortured while naked. The collective gasp from the men in the theater during that scene, told me it was one of those need-to-know scenes that I didn’t need to know. They obviously felt his pain.

Stories about mammograms and the squashing involved had a similar effect on me. And my overactive imagination did not help things when it came to considering my own impending mammogram. If mammograms were a Facebook page I would not have been a fan. If there were such a thing as a dislike button, I would have pressed it. Yet I needed to know what that damn spot was, so I didn’t have the mammogram invite removed from my events.

On Wednesday, my hubby and I went to what is now the Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care at Bethesda North Hospital, in Cincinnati, to have the scheduled tests.

I couldn’t believe what a big deal my mammogram wasn’t. In retrospect, it was probably harder on my hubby than it was on me. I mean it. I found myself a tad distracted when the technician took out a Sharpie and drew an X right on the spot. Then she remarked that it was at six o’clock on my breast. I have to admit that I did appreciate the poetry of the whole X marking the spot. I had a lol moment, though, when she told me the placement in terms of a clock face. The spot was actually somewhere between 5:27 and 5:28, but I also round up. For some reason, this thought got a hold of my funny bone and wouldn’t let go, despite the gravity that kept trying to suck me in. And my funny bone is connected to my coping bone. This is where my head was while I placed my breasts between the mammography plates that squished but did not squash me.

Dave had no distractions and was not finding himself lost in the poetry of the Sharpie’s X. He was impatiently watching the clock and anxiously pacing off the waiting room like he was Quick Draw McGraw. Apparently, the nurses got worried about him and asked me to check on him as soon as they finished squishing my breasts between the mammography plates and right before they gelled them up for the ultrasound.

Dave was wound so tight that he had pitted out his shirt. Earlier we’d started a crossword puzzle together, but he couldn’t concentrate on it. We decided that it would’ve been a good thing to stock the waiting room with Scotch—right next to the coffee pot. Dave didn’t really need any caffeine. It was only three in the afternoon but we’d already established that it was already almost half-past five o’clock on my breast. Dave could’ve used a Scotch, maybe a double, and on the double.

The ultrasound was lengthy, due in part to the aforementioned savvy of the spot. But the technician also happened to find two more damn spots, while searching for the X that marked the first.

Also, the technician had a bit of a sneezing fit during the process. It was awkward sitting there with freezing cold gel on my hot boobs while the poor girl sneezed her head off. I said “bless you” a few times. The I threw in a “gesundheit.” After that I didn’t know what to say. So I asked her if she thought she might possibly be allergic to me.

After the tests I remember standing in a very small room while a couple of men in scrubs briefed Dave and me. They said the original spot was about a centimeter, the second was 0.7, and the third was 0.6. They said they all appeared to be solid masses—which didn’t sound good. But they tried to reassure us that it was not necessarily bad news. They recommended that we biopsy them all, but stressed I should not go home thinking I have cancer. There were “not bad” solid masses those damn spots could be. We were not there yet. And I honestly didn’t go there yet. Things were spinning so fast I really didn’t have time to look down. To me this was the hand of God walking me through the vertigo of it all, helping me out. I don’t have any other way of explaining it. Someone much wiser once wrote about “a peace that passes understanding,” which is about as close as I can come to describing it.

The next day Dr. Allen processed through the findings with Dave and me. She also wanted to do one more diagnostic test, prior to the suggested invasive procedures. It’s considered “alternative” and a bit controversial, but my experience with breast thermography was that it was a rather spot-on (pardon the pun) diagnostic weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Basically, it’s the use of infrared digital photography to capture the heat and blood flow in the breast. Apparently, cancer cells don’t cool off like normal cells do. Climate control is key, therefore, in breast thermography*.

Dr. Allen was meticulous in establishing the proper climate in the examination room, and in acclimating me to the climate of my discontent. It actually took most of Thursday to find just the right balance between the AC and the chill in my bones. Take one didn’t quite work out. Although they’d winterized the room all morning, my low body temperature called for arctic measures. It took four more hours to put a proper chill in the air.

First, I had to take off my shirt and stand there, holding my hands above my head (to keep my arms from trying to trap some heat in my pits) while the technician took pictures. This was uncomfortable on many levels. But it got worse.

Next, I had to stick my hands in ice water and keep them submerged for what seemed like forever. I was so painfully cold that I almost started crying. I thought about the Titanic. Which didn’t help. Because then I imagined my tears turning into icicles, dangling like stalactites from my cheek and chin. I decided I’d spell them eye-cicles if they did. That, actually, did help a teeny t-eye-ny bit.

Finally, Dr. Allen told me I could draw the ice cubes that used to be my hands out of the water. Then she told me to “put your hands up”—and busted is exactly how I felt, as I stepped back in front of the camera for mug shots of my breasts.

The digital images didn’t bode well. There was no evidence of cooling. My fingers were still blue; my breasts looked red on the screen. In other words, my boobs were hot. I’m really not trying to brag. Just stating the facts.



August Rush


It’s most likely a superpower; though, I know some might dismiss it as a mere a side-effect. Whatever. Semantics. All I know is that ever since I got cancer it’s like I have some kinda Spidey-like-sense, or something, to where I actually feel August coming. And once I stick my toe in it, things just amp up. And multiply, the further out I swim. You could call it an August rush, I suppose. The best way to describe what it feels like, is the theme song to Jaws: Na-na. Na-na. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na. Na-na… Which, on one hand, is oh so apropos, because of ShArKwEeK; and in the other hand is my poetic license because of my own private #pinknado—aka my cancerversary.

Sunday night we celebrated both at the Evanshire. We tuned the “boob tube” to Shark Week…we ate swedish fish, goldfish crackers and other light-“bites”, drank “cancer is a Bitch wine” and “not-a-chemo-cocktails”, and were merry… we caught a sneak preview of the soon to be released “Cancer is a Bitch” music video (by my Redheads’s band, the Kicked-in Fence)… we impaled a shark piñata with a sword aka Excalibur, that my son grabbed from the umbrella stand… we read the #LiveSincerely pledge… and then we launched helium balloons with bucket list items on them into the night sky. It. Was. Magic. One of those nights to remember… to live every damn day like it’s shark week.

The very next damn day, the funniest man alive killed himself. The genie is free. But we’re all left standing on top of our desks, crying, “O captain my captain.” :( O for a na-na na-na… instead of one. final. nanu nanu. RIP, Robin. I hope you fly. And if you see a bunch of balloons up there, I hope it makes you happy to see what dreams may come, from a pretty damn good seat for the show. I was so super freaking tempted to plant myself on the couch tonight and do a Robin Williams marathon…

But six years ago tonight, in these same wee hours that I sit here plucking away at this piece, I found a damn spot in my left breast that turned out to be cancer. And yet, here am I, six years later—alive. It’s a lot to wrap the old bean around. Especially when I’ve lost so. many. too. many. people I love to this bitch of a disease. Yes, I feel like I get a little more lost, every time somebody I love finishes their battle with cancer. And yet, here. I am. Still. Alive, and kicking (cancer’s ass), healthy, fit, happy, lucky. It doesn’t seem fair, if I’m being honest. And why wouldn’t I speak that truth? #mytruth: This is something that tears me up inside every damn day that one of my friends gets diagnosed, or has a recurrence. It’s something I spend myself into the ground over, trying (as if?) I could make it worth it that I keep getting this precious gift that so many, too many of my friends, don’t. It’s something that makes me feel the way time flies uber acutely, like there’s not a second to waste if I want to leave some kind of a beauty mark that I was here. It’s something I talk to my shrink about.

So I’m a writer. This is who I am. It’s what I do. So of course I wrote a book about my cancer journey. It’s called SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL. It’s a comedy about my tragedy. It’s not that I think cancer is funny or anything. Cancer sucks. But I believe laughter is good medicine. So did Patch Adams. If my book were a “literal” chemo cocktail, it would be one part hope, a dash of bitter, a splash of sweet, with a twist of humor, and served on the rocks. And, of course, shaken, not stirred.

To celebrate my SIX YEAR CaNcErVeRsArY, this August month, I thought I’d serve up half a dozen chapters in this space, in real time, as we keep turning pages on my #pinknado of a calendar. It seemed like the least I could do, to offer up some of the gratitude splashing out of my very full cup. I don’t want to waste a drop.

Here’s what I wrote about this night, six years ago, when I found the damn spot…

Chapter 2

When the Stars Go Blue
(Cue: Tim McGraw)

On August 11, 2008 there were meteor showers over Cincinnati. My world was rocked that night, but it had nothing to do with the meteors that my teenage son Mikeyy and I watched in the wee hours of that sleepless in Cincinnati kind of night.

Previous to Perseus’ fireworks display, somewhere in between the lines of August 11 and 12, I’d awakened particularly parched from the end-of-season cocktail party I’d thrown that evening at the Evanshire, aka my home sweet home.

Being somewhat of a newbie tennis freak, I’d played on three tennis teams that summer. My neighborhood team had just won the division championship. My United States Tennis Association (USTA) team had just played in the district championship tournament. We actually won the districts, but.

And the big but (yeah, they say everybody’s got one) was that the win pushed one of our player’s ratings into a higher bracket, which.

And the “rhymes-with-a-witch” was that “the win?” officially disqualified all her matches and our team from the victory, not to mention a road trip to regionals. The trophy didn’t have a chance to slip through our fingers; we never even got to touch it before the ruling came raining down on our parade.

For the cocktail party, I’d grabbed several bottles of a certain Grenache that had caught my eye from across the wine store where I was searching for just the right red and/or white to go with our blues. It had a hot pink label with elegant cursive lettering that read Bitch.

Cancer is a bitch wine

My tennis girlfriends cracked up when I presented the wine. Then we all sighed, and said, “Yeah, it sure was.” We uncorked the wine. It was the best of times and we were making the best of the worst of times. We ate and drank and made merry. I went to bed thirsty.

I knew I would wake up in the middle of the night dying-of-thirst thirsty.

What I didn’t know was that dying of thirst would end up saving my life.

It was five o’clock somewhere—for me it was somewhere in the middle of the night when I woke up from a dream in which I was practically dying of thirst and trying desperately, though unsuccessfully, to quench it.

“Need . . . H . . . 2 . . . Ohhhh,” I sputtered out in a dry whisper like I was some kind of a tumbleweed, searching for an oasis.

“So. [click] Very. [click] Thirsty.”

I couldn’t even peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth.

I’d dealt with similar middle-of-the-night dehydration before, so I had the drill down, practically in my sleep. I tumbled out of bed, crawled across the bedroom floor, slithered down the stairs more like a Slinky than a snake, and somehow found myself standing in front of the kitchen sink. I guzzled a glass of water, diluting the dehydration and dousing the dream.

Then I poured another, and headed to the study to sip on the second one while checking Facebook. And I played a little Scramble, to try and unscramble the fog in my brain.

That’s when I bumped up against my desk—Ouch. I felt—and heard—an unexpected thud.

Something had gone bump in the night— and the bump was on me: my left breast, to be more specific.

My jaw fell to the floor and my eyebrows formed a question mark as I held my breath, brought my hand to my breast, and felt the lump.

I cannot explain the shock and awe I felt. It was like a meteor to my chest, literally. I remember the lump felt like a shooter marble right beneath the “milky way.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before. My hubby, Dave didn’t mention anything about marbles later that night. I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but I don’t see how we could’ve missed a meteor like that.

I don’t know how long I sat there trying to imagine what in the world the marble could be. I found myself checking and rechecking to see if it was really there. Then I kept checking and rechecking to see if it was still there. Part of me thought I was imagining things. But, no, it was still there. Part of me started imagining things. I felt the meteor again, and then stared out the window.

My fourteen-year-old son Mikeyy was lying out on the driveway, gazing up at the meteor showers in the sky. I let go of my own gravity and let myself get pulled into his world for a little while— snuggling up next to him and watching the sky fall, like it was a movie.

That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.

When the meteor show was over, I had a hard time keeping my thoughts from spiraling out of control. A sensible part of me, that I had to dig way down deep for, took all the other parts of me, and put them to bed.

Not wanting to wake Dave, I lay there, deciding to wait out the night. I waited for him to wake. I waited to see if it would just go away. I waited. And prayed.

Since my thoughts like to play connect the dots, this would be where my inner Lady Macbeth spoke up, as “Out, damn’d spot” were the words that came out. This seemed like a reasonable prayer, so I went with it.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to say to Dave when he awoke. The truth is, I generally obsess over just about anything I even think of, processing it at from every angle before it gets “on deck,” on the tip of my tongue. Just to make sure I say what I mean to say, and that I articulate it the way I mean it. Extroverting is not my strong suit. I can do it, but I don’t think I do it very well. And it wears me out. I had nothing by the time he woke up. I was worn out, wound up, and ended up just winging it.

Some words tumbled out into the air and then seemed to settle in a cloud over Dave. He groaned one of those “groanings which cannot be uttered,”9 (like he already knew, too) and fearfully, mechanically, reached over toward the spot.

Dave said that waking up to that morning was like waking up on the worst possible side of the bed ever.

I was still pretty groggy when Joules asked me about a lump she had found on her breast. She’s pretty random and often catches me off guard, but in twenty years of marriage, she had never asked anything quite like this. As soon as I felt the obvious lump, the fog instantly cleared and I was wide awake. My heart and mind started racing, but I tried not to let her see my fear. Outside I was saying, “Hmm, that’s strange,” but inside I was frantically praying, “Please, God, no! Please, God, no! Please, God, no!” Ever since we had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, I held a secret fear that it might strike Joules one day. This fear only intensified when our friend lost her seven-year battle. Before that, cancer was something other people got. Old people. People with unhealthy lifestyles. People I didn’t know. But our friend was young, healthy (fit, even), a wife and mom, a good and godly woman. And she was one of Joules’s closest friends. Suddenly breast cancer was very real to me, and very scary.

I won’t ever forget that groan. Dave’s middle name, Wayne, means wagon, and I could just feel him bearing the weight that was to come.

He felt the spot; I had not imagined it.

He got out of bed and made a pot of coffee. Dave makes coffee for me every morning. Even brings a cup up to our bedroom and sets it on my nightstand to help me wake up, smell the coffee, rise and shine, seize the day. Yes, I am spoiled. I admit it.


Then he headed to the study with his computer, and began researching what “not bad” things it could be. At first we were hoping it might be a cyst, or hormones. Or even a boil—at which point, I channeled my inner Job. Then he began adding big words that started with fibro– and pap– and ended in –oma, and my brain went all foggy again.

I poured another cup of coffee and called my sister, Jennie, who lives in Charleston, to tell her about the damn spot. She’s my baby sister, but also my best friend. She’s also a little ADHD. I happen to love her rabbit trails, so I figured I could thumb a ride on her distraction.

Jennie later described the rabbit hole she fell in when I told her about the lump.

The day Joules called me and told me about the damn spot she found, I asked her if she thought it might just be a pimple or something weird like that. I tried to be reassuring for her and myself. The thing is, Joules has always been the strong one, and almost like a mother to me, all my life. And to me, nothing bad could or would ever happen to her. But when we hung up the phone, the knot that seemed to have tied in my throat came undone, and my tears broke free. My glass is not always as full as my sister’s, and it sort of felt like it had just tipped over.

Dave made an appointment with my gynecologist for three o’clock that afternoon. I had chosen her because I was not really into doctors at the time. She was a naturopath, but also an MD. Basically, she was into alternative/non-traditional—with leanings toward Eastern—medicine. I liked that she was not a traditional medical evangelist, but had that training as well, in the palette of her doctor’s bag. I did not worry that she would jump to any radical medical conclusions because that was not her holistic style. I felt we were sort of on the same page and that everything could be OK, because she was the most likely doctor to find alternative explanations for the spot, and alternative ways of spot removal.

Meanwhile, Dave told me I should go ahead and go to a tennis clinic I’d already signed up and paid for, to try to keep my mind off that damn spot until three.


—So that’s the end of the chapter, but obvs… there’s more chapters, and way more to the story besides just me standing there waiting for the tennis ball to cross the net so I can CRUSH it! So feel free to stay tuned to see what haps next. Or if you are impatient as hell like me, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL is avail on Amazon and Kindle. Click HERE. The Kindle version is avail for $2.99 with the purchase of the paperback, which is $9.99. On August 20, in commemoration of the day I heard the C-word, the Kindle version will be FREE.

P.S. Here’s the iTunes Link to the “Cancer is a Bitch” Song by the Kicked-in Fence aka my Redheads<3 To download the Cancer is a Bitch song, click HERE. It’s only 99 cents, but you should see what starving artist college kids can eat for 99 cents these days!

I’ll post the music video as soon as we’ve put the final editing touches on it.

Dear cancer, (an FU haiku)

Dear Cancer

Cancer is stupid;

Port scars: a badge of honor.

But cancer cards…ROCK.

#tbt to that time my goofy mug made it up on the Stupid Cancer FB page! Also to that time my beautiful friend Isis Charisse of The Grace Project took a photo of my port scar tattoo. It’s a copyright symbol because 1) I’m a writer (Check out my first book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, my cancer memoir. It’s avail on Amazon and Kindle. And stay tuned for my second book, HOMESCHOOL HAPPY HOUR…IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE, KIDS! It’s in my chemo brain still, but I’m working on it.) And 2) It’s my badge of honor aka my big damn c (with nods and namaste to Laura Linney and The Big C)

#stupidcancer #cancerisabitch #fuckcancer #leavemyfriendsalone #BigLoveToMySCARand GraceGirls …Especially my SCAR girls@marathonBarbie and @leahwrenstead36 who are both dealing with stupid recurrence.

Click HERE for a link to the Cancer is a Bitch song playing in the background of the slideshow on iTunes. It’s by my Redheads’s band called the Kicked-in Fence. They wrote it for me for my last chemo. It’s the theme song for #ShakenNotStirred.



I’ve needed that word a lot this weekend. It’s true that I have it tattooed on my hand, but sometimes I forget to look at it. Friday was one of those days, when my breath was taken away, or more accurately, the wind was knocked the hell outta me, and I forgot. Not just to breathe, but it was as if the concept of “breathe” was written in Chinese, like my tattoo. And I don’t actually read Chinese.

The hubs and I were driving through the desert on our way to the Grand Canyon to run a half marathon together on Saturday. I’d signed us up in December, to celebrate our 26th anniversary—two halves make a whole, if you know what I mean. I’d chosen the destination because seeing the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list (or F*ck It List, as my friend Kathleen has so eloquently NAILED it) way too damn long. It. was. Time. Dammit! …to see the big damn ditch.

But that’s not what took my breath away. Though it felt so very absolutely apropos to be driving through a desert on the way to the Grand Canyon when we got the hard news that our dear friend Kristi had finished her battle with the bitch that is breast cancer and was resting in peace in the arms of Jesus.

I wrote about Kristi in my breast cancer memoir: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED… A CHEMO COCKTAIL. Kristi was a year ahead of me in diagnosis and treatment, my first survivor sister friend, my postcard from hope when I began my battle, and a pioneer in fighting the particular bitch we fight of Her2 positive breast cancer.

Kristi was also a young mother with young children… and can I just get a FUCK CANCER from anybody out there reading this, cuz I could sure use an Amen right about now while I’m sitting here in the middle of the desert.

Kristi did not lose her battle; she kicked cancer’s ass, like nobody’s business. That’s why she has earned her rest. And yet here I am.

I’m the one feeling lost right now.

So the desert, the Grand freaking Canyon, seems like a good place to be…to catch my breath (from this Air hunger, as my friend Angela so eloquently puts it), to find myself, lost, as I am, in the midst of one of the most breathtaking vistas in the whole world.

In trying to compose myself, not to mention, a proper tribute in Kristi’s memory, I found myself revisiting the chapter where our stories intersected, rereading the chapter I wrote about her…and I thought I’d share it in this sacred empty space.

Kristi and me
Kristi and me the day we met .

Round 6


I didn’t exactly skip into the chemo cocktail lounge for my second round of Tax-ALL, which is how I decided to spell it, since its bite was so bad I needed to amp up my bark. Plus trash-talking my chemo like that cracked me up, and everyone knows laughter is good medicine. I even have a Save the TATAS t-shirt that says laughter heals. Which is both funny, if you think about it for a second, and a pretty convincing PSA.

I totally knew it was passive aggressive thing for me to do. I know chemo doesn’t care if I spell it right or not. That’s not the point. I care. Before chemo, spelling used to be one of my lesser known superpowers. I don’t mean to brag but I did win my class spelling bee twice in my elementary school days. Unfortunately, both times I cracked under the pressure of the big lights in the auditorium during the all school spelling bee. If you were sitting in the audience on those fateful days you might have thought I had a tick or something, the way I got nervous and tacked an -e onto carbon one year, and devout another. Even though I totally knew how to spell them.

This time I meant to spell it wrong. It had nothing to do with nerves. And everything to do with control. I’m sure Adam got as much of a kick out of naming the animals as I did when I re-named my newest antagonist: Tax-ALL.

I was also fully aware that I was displaying misplaced aggression by doing so. I know that chemo is a pro- not anti- agonist, cancer’s sworn enemy, not my enemy, but agony is agony. And I’ve got to be honest since this is a memoir, and by its very nature, non-fiction. Most of the time it sure felt like cancer and chemo were ganging up, together, against me. So yeah, I blamed the chemo. Can you really blame me?

When something kicks your ass like Tax-ALL kicked mine, once you’ve coped through the first round, you have to somehow find the courage to walk into the chemo cocktail lounge for three more rounds. And not think of them as three strikes.

Well, it isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible, either.

Especially if you have a Santa Claus hat and/or some peppermint sticks dipped in dark chocolate at your disposal. Lucky for me, I had both. It was December, so I thought it was time the chemo cocktail lounge began to look like Christmas.

What I didn’t want for Christmas was chemo. But I did feel like staying alive a bit longer, so skipping chemo wasn’t an option.

I did weigh all the options going in, after my first Tax-ALL hangover.

The way I saw it, the pros were: 1) I had no choice. 2) Once I downed this one, I’d be half-way through the bumpy Tax-ALL flight. 3) The bartender was finally adding the much anticipated Herceptin to this chemo cocktail. And Harry Connick Jr. had just starred in a movie about Herceptin, so it was like hanging out with Harry. Or Harry Handsome Connick, as I sometimes call him, when Dave is feeling super secure, since I don’t really feel like hurting his feelings. 4) I would have three weeks to shake this round off, and Merry Christmas, no chemo hangover on Christmas.

The cons were: 1) Saying the word “Uncle”. 2) Giving any remaining cancer cells any chance of getting all comfy cozy to the point they feel like staging another take-over. 2) I wasn’t in the mood for my own funeral if I could help it. 4) I was kind of getting into the groove of not having to shave.

The pros won out. Except for antics, antidotes, antioxidants (read: dark chocolate) and antipasto, I’m not a very anti- kind of a girl. In fact, I prefer calling myself pro-antics and so forth, because I like to keep things positive. For instance, even though I’m not a fan of cold temps, I wouldn’t classify myself as anti-freeze. Just think what that would do to the ice cream industry. I, for one, don’t feel like being a hater. (Proof: I don’t understand why so many people are against Monopoly, for one thing. One of my fondest childhood memories is of Monopoly marathons with my Uncle Bill, so all those anti-monopolists kind of rain on my parade down memory lane. But not so much that I feel like being all anti-them. I’m think returning evil for evil is a waste of time. And I don’t feel like wasting time.)

I’ve already covered my general distaste for antagonists, but I also have a general impatience for anticipation. I’m not just talking ketchup. Waiting, in general, bores me. Anticlimaxes have the same effect on me. I won’t go into antis such as anti-theft and antiviral because I never really feel like preaching to the choir because it is so anticlimactic.

A little known fact about me is that I don’t do antiperspirants. Although, it is quite possible that it has become slightly more public knowledge of late, as I have recently developed body odor. I totally blame it on the chemo buzz I’m still trying to walk off because I don’t remember stinking before chemo. At least it’s in keeping with my lack of style, NOT anti- fashion, btw. It’s not that I’m pro-perspirant, but neither am I anti-anti-perspirant. And not for anit-social reasons either, because as you might have guessed, I am not anti-social. Just ridiculously painfully shy. For one thing, I’m no math genius, but I do know that two negatives make a postitive, so it really seems to split hairs. And if you’ll remember, at this point in my story, I didn’t have any, so it’s a rather moot point.

Anyway, the reason I don’t wear antiperspirant is because when my friend Sue first got breast cancer the first two things she did were eliminate antiperspirant and stop eating chicken breast that had been enhanced with growth hormones. Both of these steps made sense to me. Now, honestly, they want to lead.

One thing all the weighing of pros and cons led to me thinking was how chemo and Jesus both bring me to my knees. That’s the only similarity I can come up with, but it’s significant to me. I know I have no choice but to take the chemo. All I have to do is look at my three kids and there is no question in my mind about that. But give me Jesus, please. I’m not trying to be all religious or anything because I don’t really get into religion. Or feel like beating anybody over the head with it. But the truth is, people always ask me about the hope I have, that doesn’t seem to make sense in the middle of cancer and chemo. My answer is that except for Jesus, I don’t know, and it seems legit, even called for, to sign my name on the dotted line. The truth is, CANCER is the enemy here, and Jesus has been more than a friend to me.

Besides that, all I know about finding courage, is to put one foot in front of the other. Life does go on during chemo. Dave’s gall bladder But the truth was, we had to find a place on the calendar, somewhere in between my chemo cocktails, where Dave could have the troublesome gall bladder removed. Amanda was wrapping up her first quarter of college, not to mention, beauty school, for Christmas. And her driver’s license wasn’t going to be underneath the tree, but she was getting that back, finally. Matt was dealing with a double ear infection, and Mikey had an ear infection and strep. Both probably worn down from being the most amazing caretakers/ companions in chemo history EVER. While simultaneously being my own personal germaphobe-busters. You can’t even imagine the amount of Clorox Wipes and Purell my boys went through, trying to get my white blood cells’ backs. My hunch is that they crossed the streams from the Lysol cans because I didn’t even catch a sniffle. Which was good, because I didn’t have any nose hairs to catch a drippy nose.

I’m not saying that it was all fun and games in the Evanshire. We were definitely feeling like turnip pulp that had gone through my old juicer. Not exactly what you’d expect to throw in the shaker for a stiff bracer the weekend before the Tax(ALL)man cometh.

That Saturday was my tennis club’s annual Ballers Against Cancer fundraising event. We were partnering with The Tiffany Foundation, an organization founded by the family of Tiffany Floth Romero, in her honor. Tiffany was a fellow tennis lover who fought a long hard battle against inflammatory breast cancer. She was on chemo the last 4-5 years of her life. Without a break. But she fought with honor, on her own terms, and lived and loved to the last.

A bunch of my friends were going, and of course I was signed up, too. But inside I was a kind of a wreck about going because I was a wreck about Tax(ALL)day. Also, I was nervous about sticking out at a breast cancer event with my bald head. I told Dave that I hoped there would be other “bald” people there so I wouldn’t stick out and distract from the fundraising purpose of the evening. Then I told the kids I thought they should stay home. They were waiting on some friends to come over and were going to follow us over to the club. But one of them had a hard time driving and I changed my mind because I was going to be worse of a wreck if my kids were out driving on a night like that. I also think that part of me was worried they were having to deal with too much cancer and thought they could use a break.

When Dave and I walked in the doors at Five Seasons, the first person we ran into, coincidentally, was Tiffany’s dad, who told me I reminded him of his Tiffany. I was amazed that I got to meet him right off the bat, and also shocked that he knew my name. From there I was surrounded by friends. Then I met a girl named Kristi, who used to be bald like me. In fact, she had been traveling down a very similar road as the one I was on. Except she was only 28 years old, newly married, and pregnant, when she was diagnosed, a year before I was diagnosed. Kristi had done the Adriamycin/Cytoxin cocktail, while pregnant. She had a healthy baby girl, quite appropriately, on Thanksgiving day, during her break before beginning the Taxol/Herceptin cocktail. The precious miracle baby Addison Grace was now one. And Kristi was about to down her last Herceptin cocktail just before Christmas. What a road she had traveled. I was humbled, to say the least, at her youth and the incredible circumstances she had overcome, which made my own pale in comparison. And it was obviously encouraging to see someone who had traveled the same road I was on, to the other side of breast cancer and chemo. She had been there and done that already. Meeting Kristi was like getting a postcard from HOPE.

When Kristi got up and shared her story, I was not shocked that The Tiffany Foundation had honored her with a vacation away from cancer. I was stunned, however, and rendered speechless, when she awarded me a family membership to Five Seasons, and free tennis lessons for me, to help me get back out on the courts! I don’t know if it was the chemo, but I had didn’t have the slightest clue the evening was headed there. So much for being inconspicuous.


What an unexpected boost. And what timing. And it’s crazy times like that, when I find grace at the bottom of my cup, and the next thing I know I’ve downed another chemo cocktail, am wearing a lampshade, or rather a Santa Claus hat, on my head, and I’m singing my heart out.

Chemo Santa Baby

I had an awful lot to sing about. I had one round of Herceptin under my belt. I was halfway through the Tax-ALL. And I had three whole weeks before the next round. It might’ve been the Santa hat, either that, or I got tipsy on Tax-ALL, but something put me in the holiday spirit and found myself remixing a few holiday tunes. Not to mention, cracking myself up.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of my favorite ones anyway, but especially when every day your true love gets you ANYTHING BUT CHEMO!

“I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas” was not so bad when the nuttin’ meant NO CHEMO!

And the famous, “Jingle Bells, CHEMO SMELLS!” Well, that one just feels good to sing out loud.

Speaking of feeling good. Well, that was a another crazy twist in my plot. I’d called Dr. Stahl’s nurse, Rita, to talk to her about Port Rapha, which felt like a Hummer trying to fit into a compact car only parking space. She told me to call her friend Sharon, a massage therapist who is also a two-time survivor, and now specializes with women who’ve had breast surgery. So during my extra good week in between rounds, I completely freaked my body out by having a massage. It was not expecting that. At all. For a moment it wondered if it was having an out of body experience. What’s this? No poison and pain today? Then it remembered pleasure, and at first it was a shock but then it was just “ahhhhhhhhh…”

At which point I realized that I probably hadn’t relaxed a single muscle nor taken a deep breathe since I found the damn spot. Sharon told me I was in guard mode, and that it was normal considering all I’d been through. Her compassion was as therapeutic to me as her skill. It wasn’t obviously a deep tissue massage. It was more like a touch of mercy. She kept reminding me to breathe. Honestly, I was holding my breathe to keep my eyes from leaking. It was the strangest sensation. I wasn’t sobbing or anything, like Mira Sorvino does in the movie At First Sight. Although, I think of that scene when my eyes were leaking everywhere like that, every time she said breathe now.


The SCAR Project Toronto Exhibition—PRESS RELEASE

[Reposting this from The SCAR Project Blog, which I manage for The SCAR Project.]


SCAR ImageMarch 3, 2014—The SCAR Project, the groundbreaking photographic exhibition created by fashion photographer David Jay is set to premiere March 28 at Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St West, Toronto Ontario.

The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors. On the surface an awareness raising campaign for young women, The SCAR Project’s deeper message is one of humanity. Ultimately, The SCAR Project is not about breast cancer, but the human condition itself; the images transcend the disease, illuminating the scars that unite us all.

Sponsored by Rethink Breast Cancer, the world-renowned exhibition will open this year’s Breast Fest on March 28, 2014. This marks the first time the exhibition will be shown to Canadian audiences. The gallery will be open for public viewing March 28-April 6 (closed Sunday and Monday). Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sunday by appointment. Admission is free.

A screening of the EMMY Award winning documentary about The SCAR Project: Baring It All will be shown at the Bloor Hotdocs Cinema at 3:30pm on Sunday, March 30. Tickets are $10. A Q&A session with David Jay will follow the

For more information please contact :

Jennifer Rashwan, Touchwood PR  416.593.0777 x 205,

Alma Parvizian, Touchwood PR     416.593.0777 x 202,

For more information on The SCAR Project visit the and Follow @thescarproject on Twitter and Facebook.

For more information on Rethink Breast Cancer