From Shaken Not Stirred… a Chemo Cocktail

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.

*

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christiane-northrup/the-best-breast-test-the-_b_752503.html

August Rush

#LiveEveryDamnDayLikeItsSharkWeek

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.

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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.

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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.

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—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.

Breathe

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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

Breathe

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.

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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.

 

What Are You Manifesting?

I couldn’t help but smile, which helped me relax a little, when she started handing out post-it notes. I love post-it notes. I’m forever putting those sticky reminders all over the Evanshire to try and help me remember shit. Lists. Prayer requests. Blog fodder. Vlog ideas. Quotes. Addresses. Dr. appts. Songs I want to download. People I need to thank. Writing ideas….

Post-its

But I’d never even thought of using them as an icebreaker before. BAM! Already got my first takeaway from Jen Pastiloff’s Manifestation Retreat that I was on, and we had barely taken our seats, cross-legged, on the floor, side by side, forming a large circle. Like a tribe. At which point Jen handed out smiley face colored post-it notes, each pregnant with possibility, all of them glowing like a blank pages do. Expectant. Waiting to be written.

“What are you manifesting?”

The way Jen threw down those 4 little words was a lot like Bobby Flay throwing down one of his challenges, with some Heisenberg mixed in: Wanna cook? Just. to. shake. things. up. But shaken, not stirred.

I’d driven for 2 days to come to Jen’s yoga/writing retreat in the Berkshires, to kickstart the writing process for a couple projects I was was ready to dive into. I was manifesting a prequel, of sorts, to my cancer memoir, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAILAnd also a sequel, of sorts.

Jen told us to write down what we were manifesting that weekend on the Post-it notes, and then to get up and go stick them in the middle of the circle of the tribe of beautiful souls we hadn’t met yet, but would walk beside, that weekend during Jen’s Manifestation Workshop.

We’d all come to Manifest a certain goal or dream aka to make that shit happen, the way Jen breaks down the word Manifest so there were 40 Post-it notes in the middle of our pow WOW. We’d made it rain Post-it notes. And they were written.

Mine said, HOMESCHOOL HAPPY HOUR…IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE, KIDS! And, BOTTOMS UP…”GETTING OVER” CANCER. 

I’d post a picture of it, but I don’t have it. After all the Post-its were out there, sitting there like yellow badges of courage, Jen told us each to get up and grab a Post-it that wasn’t our own. To keep. To remember. To hold what they are manifesting UP. I purposely chose the last yellow badge of courage left on the floor. I do fortune cookies this way too. I could explain, but then we’d end up falling down some rabbit hole. And also I’d probably get hungry thinking about that cookie too much. And squirrel! Like that, this post would be history. So thankfully this post is about Post-its, which are sticky reminders. So hopefully I’ll remember to stay on task. Like I’m remembering the yellow badge of courage I brought home with me, and the beautiful soul behind the badge. It is hanging on a wall in my office, where I keep Post-its of prayer requests and peeps I pray for.

And one of those beautiful souls has mine. But I believe they are all cheering me on, as I am them, as we all are each other. Like a tribe.

“If you knew who walked beside you at all times on this path which you have chosen, you would never experience fear or doubt.”

In honor of that, and in light of that which I was/am manifesting, I thought I’d throw down a possible prologue, of sorts, for the project on the front burner, my homeschool/parenting memoir: HOMESCHOOL HAPPY HOUR… IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE, KIDS!

Prologue

Skyfall

The first time I saw my first book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED… A CHEMO COCKTAIL had finally hatched on Amazon after 18 months of blogging my way through breast cancer, 8 months of writing, and 11 months of editing, it was as if the heavens opened up and I felt so way up high that I thought I really could see somewhere over that rainbow where dreams really do come true… and then I read the fine print. Or rather, the fine misprint in the form of a parenthetical aside to the title: (Volume I). That’s when the sky fell. I was definitely not in the mood for a volume II, to my breast cancer memoir, if you know what I mean.

I got the kink worked out with Amazon, but I guess it’s a fairly reasonable thing that people, whether or not they saw the Amazon typo, started asking me, “When does the sequel come out?” Or, “Is this one going to be STIRRED NOT SHAKEN? Um, no. That wouldn’t be very James Bond of me, now, would it? The truth is, the mere thought of another volume, another chemo cocktail, is where I channel my inner Chicken Little and can picture the sky fall.

Which I can totally imagine being the theme song (and a Bond song to boot) if I were to write that sequel. Which, this is not, thank God, and God willing, may I never have the unfortunate occasion to have that sequel to write.

The last time I saw the sky fall and I found myself smack dab in the middle of my hopefully one and only breast cancer memoir, it fell on top of me and nearly took me out. Literally. It almost killed me.

Like I wrote in the prologue of that hopefully one and only breast cancer memoir, I’ve always been a writer and I have always dreamed of writing books ever since I cracked the code and learned to read. I just never ever would’ve could’ve imagined the story I’d have to, quite literally, “get off my chest” and that would become the subject, not to mention, the antagonist, of my first book. Which, in an ironic twist of fate thanks to the genre gods, landed it in the disease section of Barnes & Noble. This is not the end either, though. Let the books fall where they may. It’s still a dream come true. Not to mention…the last page was not the end of my story. Spoiler alert: the hero of the story is somewhere once upon a time in a not-a-chemo-cocktail kind of a sequel, hopefully a series.

But this is not the end…of that story. Even I’m still wondering what happens next. I mean, c’mon. It’s a memoir not a novel. I don’t write the plot. I just try and go with the flow, enjoying the ride, sharing moments and making memories with the people I love, collecting new friends along the way, keeping a decent travel journal, taking lots of pictures, and sending plenty of postcards.

This is what came before that story. B.C. or before cancer, the prequel to SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, which chronicles my “cancer era” or C.E., or my life A.D., after diagnosis, if you will.

Before I became radioactive with a chance of superpowers, using them to fight cancer and also to write, I had some big ass glasses like Clark Kent or Fearless Fly and was holding down a pretty cozy job with ridiculous crazy hours as an accidental homeschool mom.

Back then I taught writing more than I wrote; although I wrote whenever I could, read about writing in all the great books on writing not to mention the classics I assigned my Redheads to read, thought about writing while grading papers, and dreamt about writing one day when we all graduated and I retired.

This is the book I thought I would write first. Kinda my “Confessions of a Homeschool Mom.” After they were all successfully situated in college and I was pretty sure they had all survived homeschool safe and relatively sound.

I was so enchanted with that story and the development of my three main characters that the plot twist when the sky fell and I almost didn’t survive homeshooling not to mention, my life, caught this supporting character by surprise. There’d been no forshadowing. But the sky fell anyway, and when it did there was nothing we could do but let it. So we let it. But on our knees. And together. Before cancer was the unfortunate subject of my book, it was the most unfortunate subject in our homeschool. But it wasn’t the only subject in our homeschool; although in a sense, it tested everything that had gone before the sky fell. Before cancer. So BC is where the confessions of this homeschool mom begins. And might as well start at the very beginning, before BC, to the A. Which comes first in the alphabet. Which is one of the very first things kids learn in school.

Chapter 1 (Cue Jackson 5)

ABC 

Easy as 1-2-3. This was not the first thought that crossed my mind the first time my husband, Dave, brought up the idea of homeschooling our children to me when I was pregnant with our first child. First of all, I hadn’t actually even heard of homeschooling back in 1990 when I was knee deep in What To Expect When You’re Expecting despite the fact that I couldn’t even see my knees for the belly. My first thought was more like, “What the F is homeschool? Then Do-Re-Who-Me?” Then I pretty much summed things up when I hyperventilated, which was a perfect time to practice my Lamaze breathing techniques he he he hahahahahahahaha.

It seems appropriate to end on that note since I only intended to give a little teaser to chapter one.

So this is me, taking the next step and throwing down a shitty first draft of a possible beginning to my next book. BAM! That’s what I’m manifesting. That’s the shit I’m trying to make happen. That’s me, trying to do what I was created to do, what love compels me do. Like Jen says,

“At the end of your life, when you say one final ‘What have I done?’ let your answer be, I have done love.”

I have done love

What about you? What are you manifesting? Please share in the comments, or send me an email, or If you want to write it on a Post-it note and snail mail it to me, I will stick it on my wall.

 

12 Gifts of Christmas [unwRAP Mix]

Happy 11th day of Christmas everybody! So, the traditional gift for today, would be 11 pipers piping—which makes me lmao a little because of the interesting twist that song could take here in Colorado these days. Anyway, just sitting here at the coziest little coffee shop in my daughter Amanda’s new hood, sipping not on a pipe, but a Cortado, and watching all the fluffy snowflakes make a white canvas of Denver for my baby girl to begin writing the next chapter of her story on.

Storybrook?

And it’s just as enchanting to begin a happy new year here, with her, in this storybrook-like setting, which is where I find myself looking forward to 2014 and the 12 gifts (otherwise known as New Year’s resolutions) that I am giving myself. In no particular order. They are a mixture of personal goals, bucket list items, birthday candle wishes, and pie in the sky dreams.

  1. Last year I ran 5 half marathons to celebrate my 5 year cancerversary. This year I’m upping the ante to 1/2 a dozen 1/2s (Choices, choices! …Charleston, SC/Heart Mini/Flying Pig/Grand Canyon/Little Miami/Air Force/Cleveland/Cincinnati) and crossing my fingers for a full.
  2. Dave and I have already signed up for the Grand Canyon 1/2 marathon in May, which allows me to open one big fat bucket list item of seeing the Grand Canyon with a side of Circ De Soleil Beatles.
  3. Schedule my writing as a priority into my days to whip my WIPs (Homeschool Happy Hour…it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, kids and Bottoms Up…”Getting Over” Cancer) into books.
  4. Finish recording the audio book version of Shaken Not Stirred…a Chemo Cocktail.
  5. Develop my own yoga practice outside of my classes. Consider taking yoga teacher training so I could help other cancer survivors learn yoga.
  6. Learn to make origami cranes. So I can make a 1000. Praying for my survivor peeps as I make each one. Then give them away one by one.
  7. Take the stairs whenever possible. The first time I went to Paris we took the elevator up the Eiffel Tower. It has driven me crazy ever since. When my sweet Mikeyy and got a second chance to go back to Paris with high hopes of finally climbing the stairs, they were closed.
  8. Drink 1/2 my weight (in ounces) of water per day. Between the aftermath of chemo, my difficulty in sitting still, and my beverages of choice (black coffee/red wine) I struggle with staying properly hydrated. Need to focus on this, and always be sipping on the H2O’s. I used to give up wine for Lent every year before I got cancer. But then the year I got cancer my sweet Amanda was sad about me giving up anything for Lent, since she felt like I already had so much taken away, so I didn’t give it or anything up that year. I miss the spiritual discipline and look forward to resuming the practice. It’s always been a pie in the sky goal to one day give up coffee (for Lent) since that seems the hardest thing, as I cannot not drink coffee every day, without giving myself a headache. Bread and wine are the next hardest, and elements of my diet that I will offer up this Lent. I love to cook and especially enjoy pairing wine with my meals; beyond that, I am basically a carbohydratarian at heart. So this is a biggie for me. But I’m taking back something cancer tried to take from me: the practice of this spiritual discipline.
  9. Now that the Redheads have all flown the Evanshire, it’s time for simplifying, de-cluttering, streamlining, organizing this hobbit hole for 2. In order to help me wrap this gift so I can have the pleasure of opening it, I have hired a part-time personal assistant to kick my ass into gear and keep me on track. This will also free me up to write.
  10. Make memory book photo albums for the Redheads. I bought the albums after my sweet Amanda’s sweet 16th birthday when she gave me the idea. But somewhere between the last time I developed an actual role of film, and the proliferation of digital cameras in the Evanshire not to mention copious amounts of digital pictures, and a couple of computer crashes to boot, it became an overwhelming puzzle to sort all these snapshots of our life. My hope is to give each of my Redheads their memory book photo album for Valentines Day this year. With a little help from my friend and personal assistant.
  11. Write poetry, Blog and Vlog once a week. They are all good for my writing. Poetry + Prose = Beauty. Blogging is a good way to connect with my tribe of peeps, to test drive stuff I’m working on with them, and to get valuable feedback from them. Vlogging yanks me out of my comfort zone, which is behind the screen, not on it. For me it’s boot camp to tame the shy.
  12. Recently I googled: Cancer, Writing, Yoga, Retreat, thinking I needed some kind of kick-starter to this next chapter in my life (after cancer, empty nest, book 2).  I found what I was looking for on the very first try. I signed up and later this month I am roadtripping to Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires and I can’t wait to unwrap that gift to myself.

So that’s my 12 gifts. If you haven’t already shared your 12 gifts or New Year’s resolutions, whatever you want to call them, please feel fee to do so in the comment section. Also please link your blog if you have one. We can cheer each other on!

Tomorrow is the 12th day of Christmas, and I will be writing about my word for the year. Have you already chosen on? Or has a word chosen you? I’d love to hear and be inspired. Please also share that in the comment section.

Cheers, love, and happy unwrapping!

Down The Rabbit Hole

I’m not sure if it’s because my daughter Amanda and I have been chasing a certain white rabbit’s tale in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, while, simultaneously binge-watching Once Upon A Time, to try and cram in ALL the happy endings we can, before she and her hubby pack up for their next adventure aka Once Upon a Time in Denver aka the trail of this mama’s tears… but my vertigo has been a wather wascally rabbit of late. Two weeks ago today, it, literally, threw me down the rabbit hole. I had just awakened and almost made it across the room to the bathroom, when everything went all swirly, and somebody pulled the floor out from underneath me. I banged my shoulder on the wall, which broke my fall, and in retrospect, probably saved my poor bean from yet another head injury. Whew. But it scared the crap out of Dave. Poor guy was busy trying to finish sawing all the logs when I came crashing down and startled him awake from such sweet slumber.

DAVE: Wh…what was that?! Did you hear that? What just hap’d? What in the world are you doing on the floor?

Me: Um…falling.

where's alice

We know for certain that this falling out of bed incident had nothing to do with me “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. I’ve been sleeping on the right side for years, just as a precaution. But clearly, one lesson I think we all learned, was that I should never attempt getting out of bed without being properly caffeinated. Dave usually wakes up before me and brings me coffee in bed every morning, so this has not been an issue before. However, on this fateful morning, and, I don’t want to point any fingers here (unless it stirs the coffee pot;) but… either he slept in, or I accidentally woke up first. Like I said, no sense in pointing any fingers. Neither are very likely to happen again. Mostly because I like tootsie roll pops better than worms. But also because Dave is still too scared to go back to sleep.

Anyway, thanks to the my ENT, Emmy, my physical therapist at the Balance Center, and the Epley Maneuver, we managed to stop the spinning. But I have yet to fully regain my land legs. Which is not really even the Vertigo’s fault, but chronic inflammation in my ears, that makes me feel kinda like I’m on a boat most of the time.

I’ve been dealing with inner ear issues ever since the “Vespa Incident” in which I pretty much did a Wiley Coyote splat into a stone wall, pretty much breaking my face (nose, cheek, eye orbit, nasopharynx) while on holiday in Rome during a chemo break in the spring of 2009. (I wrote more about my Roman holiday and “Vespa Incident” in Shaken Not Stirred…a Chemo Cocktail, in Part II, Round 13 “That’s Amore”. (Btw, the Kindle version of my book comes bundled FREE with purchase of the paperback version on Amazon till the end of the year:)

I didn’t even know what a nasopharynx was, let alone properly appreciate mine, before I broke it. But I’ve missed the crap out of it every day since. My ENT told me the nasopharynx is, or in my case, was, the space behind my nose; its job was kinda like a traffic cop, to direct air and mucus flow, and help out with respiratory functions and drainage. Except for my air traffic controller quit when I broke it. So basically, I have these rather annoying Gollumesque episodes whenever I have a mucus traffic jam.

That’s one reason I am freakishly afraid of getting a cold or being around peeps who should be home in bed taking NyQuil. (Also I don’t want to ever accidentally carry mine or anybody else’s cold to any of my peeps who are already getting their asses and immune systems kicked by chemo. Cuz that’s. just. cruel. And that was me on my soapbox. But I’ll get down now cuz the altitude makes me dizzy.)

These Gollumesque episodes are also one reason I started doing yoga. A few of my doctors including my ENT actually suggested it as being helpful in dealing with some of the post traumatic stress of cancer and treatment and life after cancer and treatment. I don’t really feel like stressed-out is one of my descriptors, but obviously we all deal with our own stressors in life, and apparently, my stress collects in and emanates from my neck (My massage therapist says my neck is the Taj Mahal of stress) and gravitates to my jaw. This manifests in me often clenching my jaw, which exasperates the traffic jam, even if I’m not mentally or emotionally registering stress. Stress is stress, whether it’s good stress or bad stress. And like everybody else I have my share of both. It’s just that without my nasopharynx I have to be my own freaking traffic cop now or channel Gollum.

The monkey wrench in all this dizzy biz has been the overlap of chemo fog that hovers over my head like an empty thought bubble. Which kinda looks like a cloud, if you think about it. Which reminds me of Joe Versus The VolcanoExcept chemo brain is basically like a for real brain cloud. Anyway, it’s sometimes hard to discern where the fog ends and the dizzy begins, which makes it difficult to navigate sometimes.

I don’t mean to put this out there as me being all whiney (winey, maybe;) but as a prayer request, as we are getting ready to drive 1/2 way across the country, not to mention, to another altitude, on Friday. Then we fly home 7 January. My poor eardrums are understandably gun-shy on both counts, having just gone through 2 months of antibiotics, anti-inflams, steroids, sudafed, mucinex, and etc., oh my, as I’ve been trying to get on top of an ear infection I got after the Indy 1/2 marathon Dave and I ran on 2 November. I haven’t actually run since then, which has driven me a little bit bat shit stir crazy, not gonna lie. But I have been trying to chill and cut myself some slack and let my body focus on healing my eardrum so this dizzy blonde can get back to marching to my own beat again stat.

Cyber freaking Decembertini

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have both come and gone this year and I hope you got some really sweet deals. However, if you’re like me, then “Ya snoozed; ya losed”—which isn’t the worst thing in the world, if you ask me, because I consider naps #winning.

And since today is Giving Tuesday, it seemed like a good day to smell the coffee, wake up, and give with the program. Or something like that.  I may not do the Black Friday dance, but I can get down and BOGO a little.

Now, I don’t know if you know it or not, but my book, Shaken Not Stirred…a Chemo Cocktail turned 2 recently! And since I slept through Cyber Monday, I thought why, not SHAKEN (get it?) things up a bit, throw down my own sweet deal for the month and call it a Cyber freaking Decembertini. #CoiningIt

So here’s the deal: Through the end of the year, the Kindle version of my book will be bundled FREE with every purchase of the paperback version ordered on Amazon.

Click HERE to order your  copy on Amazon...
Click HERE to put one on your  Amazon tab…
And get the Kindle version FREE!
Then make it a double…on the house!

Besides being my own twist on Cyber Monday, remixed with a splash of Giving Tuesday, not to mention, a bracer for my book hitting the terrible twos, think of it as my attempt at peace on earth during this holiday season as far as the Book vs. Kindle debate goes.

Cheers and bottoms up December!

Sequentially Yours

I don’t know if you felt it or not, but Tuesday aka sequential day the planets AND all my ducks were lined up in tic-tac-toe formation, which made me Ooo…CD so happy. It started off with a bang, or rather an alarm, alerting me that it was 8:09:10 11/12/13. Which is way too early for me. So I hit the snooze for an hour to catch a few more Zzz’s to try and be awake enough to properly enjoy 9:10 11/12/13. One thing I especially enjoy about sequential day, is saying 11/12/13 every single chance I can drop it—BAM!—like Emeril drops seasoning—into conversation. Which was maybe a little crazy since I was home alone most of the day. Anyway, when the clock struck 8,9,10,11,12,13 once again that evening, it was like a crescendo to one of the most epic sequential day moments ever: I got to be smack dab in the front row listening to my writing sensei, Anne Lamott, wax on. And then I got to give her a copy of my book. Wax off, baby. Living Sincerely, yo!

front row anne lamott

When I get caught up in moments like that, it feels as if the world is spinning around me, even though I know better. Which is to say, when I find myself in the eye of one of those moments, it always reminds me that the One who has his eye on the sparrows, has his eye on me.

I need to remember that all the time. So I always keep my eyes peeled and ready to dive into one of those moments when I see them coming. Sometimes it’s because I need to remember the world is not spinning out of control, or off its axis. Because sometimes it kinda feels that way. Like when typhoons happen and the whole world is weeping. That’s when it’s hard to remember. Remember what?

And then I get caught up in a beautiful moment like tonight? I’m here. Now. I remember. But How? How can such a beautiful moment coexist among so many tears, without ruining its mascara? This is a struggle for me. How (through tears shed for others) to embrace a gift (for oneself) with wonder and delight (while others weep)? I don’t know. In HELP, THANKS, WOW Anne suggested 3 pretty damn good prayers, as a good place to start. I know to weep with those who weep, but I can also pray help. I know to say thank you when I receive a gift. I can’t help but say wow, when it’s a token of love. To help me remember. It could be an anchor if I let it be. To the gift of the present. If I can just be. Here. In this moment. Breathing it all in. Beholding, then letting go.

There won’t be another sequential date until next year: 12/13/14. The one after that is not until the next century: 1/2/3. God’s mercies, on the other hand, are new every day. So there’s at least that. No shortages on the horizon. And I think I can see the Philippines rising from there.

Anne reading

But there are also wildflowers and bulbs, as Anne wrote in her new book: Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair.

“Wildflowers bloom again.

That’s it? you ask. That’s all you got?

No. I’ve also got bulbs. Well. They’re both such surprises. Wildflowers stop you in your hiking tracks. You want to savor the colors and scents, let them breathe you in, let yourself be amazed. And bulbs that grow in the cold rocky dirt remind us that no one is lost.

Speaking of, here’s a picture I had taken 5 years ago, when I got to meet Anne for the very first time, during her book tour for GRACE EVENTUALLY.

Anne Lamott & Me

Tuesday night I gave her a copy of the picture and told her it was from back in the days when there used to be Borders, and when I use to have long hair and curves. I told her how lucky I felt to be. here. now.

When that picture was taken, I didn’t know I had cancer. It’s one of the last pictures I have of me before I knew I had cancer.

My favorite thing about that picture, besides the obvious of me existing inside and outside that picture, was giving the bunny ears to my writing guru in it. Irreverently reverent, or reverently irreverent… seems proper homage to a hero who has been described in those terms. Her book TRAVELING MERCIES rocked my world. It was the first relevant spiritual memoir I’d ever read, and is pretty much the standard for those, like yours truly, who try and channel some of that shiz. Her book BIRD BY BIRD is my very most favoritist book on writing in the history of the whole wide world and was pretty much my road map when I sat down to write my first book.

Anne signing books

I wrote SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL bird by bird. Just like she taught me. One of these days I’m going to go back through all my FB statuses and print out all the pretty little birdie statuses. Like that picture of Anne and me, it’s a snapshot of another time I was having the time of my life. It’s pretty much a travelogue of my dream of writing a book coming true.

In BIRD BY BIRD, Anne told a story about her friend Pammy who was dying of breast cancer. She went to the library looking for a “funny book about cancer” to help them cope a bit. They didn’t have any.

All the writing advice I’ve taken away from this book that I’ve read, over and over again, down to its bones…and one of the first things that came to mind when I started writing, was the story about Pammy. I didn’t have a clue it would end up feeling like foreshadowing and that I would end up writing a “funny book about cancer”. But that’s kinda how it went down. And despite the getting cancer plot twist I had to deal with to get there, chemo by chemo, then bird by bird, I finished and the sequel is a work in process. Which in my book, is a happily ever after.

Anne freaking Lamott

High 5 Years, FORE!(tee)-Love, 3 Damn Spots, Chapter 2, & 1 PSA

Five years ago today I was 42 (Technically, 42-and-11/12ths, but I hate getting all technical, so I called it 40-love—not because I mind getting older, but I’d just fallen head over heels in love with tennis that year—and I liked the score) and like any good hitchhiker in the galaxy, I carried a towel with me everywhere. Mostly, because everywhere that summer, was the tennis court.

Haven’t thrown in that towel yet.

Five years ago today I hosted an end-of-season tennis party at the Evanshire. Afterward, my sweet Mikeyy and I stayed up most of the night watching the Perseid Meteor Shower.  As I headed outside to count shooting stars and make wishes—I found myself most definitely in need of a wish or two—I accidentally chest bumped into something and ended up finding the damn spot that turned out to be 3 damn spots that turned out to be cancer.

It wasn’t cancer yet. I sure as hell wasn’t going to go there if I didn’t have to. So I went outside, cuddled up next to Mikeyy under that big beautiful sky, looking up. Hoping. Praying.

But it was the last night I remember not having cancer. That time with Mikeyy will always be one of those things this mama treasures way deep in her heart. I wrote about that night in chapter 2 of SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL: A comedy about my tragedy. 

It's available on Amazon and Barnes
It’s available on Amazon
And Kindle!
And Kindle

You can look inside the book on Amazon and read chapter 2 for yourself for free if you want to check it out. If you end up liking the main character, at all, you could give me the coolest high five EVER if you’d do me the deeply felt honor of writing a review on Amazon. And if you do, please email me your mailing address and I’d like to send you a small token of my great gratitude.

And as I am pretty much a walking billboard for breast cancer awareness, this is  part of the post where I get to play my cancer card and charge you to pretty please with a cherry on top, go check yourself. Rethink Breast Cancer has a super cool reminder app with a simple demo of how to check and what to look for. Click HERE to see the video.

Also if you’re behind on getting  your mammogram, this is your telegram for that too. I wrote about what a big freaking deal my first and only mammogram wasn’t  in chapter 3 of my book. And Geralyn Lucas has the coolest YouTube video about stuff chicks do that are way freaking worse than having your boobs squished a little bit. Click HERE to see that video.

Once you’ve checked yourself and/or made a mammogram appointment, let me know if you feel like making my day or if you feel like getting the most awesome virtual high five from me!

Cheers (to your health) and love y’all,

Joules

p.s. Yesterday was perfect metaphor for these past 5 years. I Vlogged about it on  A Year Of Living Sincerely.