Saturday, December 30, 2006


High on the list of things that were pushing me right up to the edge of a nervous breakdown last week were the tandem thoughts that a) I have dozens of receipts for unreimbursed medical expenses incurred this year and b) there was no possible way I could see myself getting them all submitted and postmarked by, well, yesterday (otherwise known as the last business day of 2006).

I have not yet added up the receipts, but I'm pretty sure that their combined value is a four-digit figure—and that doesn't even include the sure-to-be-rejected IVF expenses. Those babies (excuse the pun) amount to a five-digit figure all by themselves.

Back when I was working and doing a lot of business travel, I always made sure to do my expense reports the very first day back in the office after a trip. I always wanted the reimbursement check in the bank before the credit-card bill showed up with thousands of dollars in hotel and restaurant charges.

I generally did the same thing with medical expenses back then, but it was just a lot easier to fill out the forms when I worked in an office with several photocopiers on every floor. Now I have to go to a copy shop with a sheaf of papers and little credit-card receipts that have a nasty habit of fluttering out in the midst of the whole operation.

And for some reason, the reimbursement forms I have now are much more involved than the ones I had with my old insurance company. Back then, I filled out one form and made dozens of copies. Then all I had to do was sign and date each one as needed, then staple it to the receipt and stick it in the mail.

Now I have to fill out a whole questionnaire for each expense I submit. And I have to submit everything twice. First I send the questionnaire and receipt to the primary insurance company, and then I submit the remaining balance (and there is always a remaining balance) to the secondary insurance company. I realize that it is a blessing to have insurance coverage at all, let alone two different kinds, but it is, at the very least, a bureaucratic blessing.

So I was incredibly relieved to learn that I have 15 whole months from the date of service (aka the date I saw a doctor or had a test or treatment or procedure) to file a claim with either insurance company.

I was so stressed about the whole thing that I couldn't even bring myself to call the insurance companies to find out what the deadline was—I had to have Zach do it.

My very first doctor's visit (and test and procedure) for Breast Cancer—The Sequel was December 5, 2005, which means I have until March 5, 2007, to get those claims in (and, of course, even more time for the later ones). I don't plan to wait that long, but it's a huge relief to know that if I absolutely had to, I could.

Friday, December 29, 2006


While the aforementioned defragging has not yet taken place, yesterday brought about some much-needed de-shagging.

Zach's brother (happy belated birthday, Cyrus!) saw me a couple of days ago and thought I bore a striking resemblance to David Hasselhoff.

I maintain that the look was more A Man Named Brady.

You be the judge.

Either way, I am now fro-free and much, much happier (although not remotely photogenic).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Error Message

I have a severe distaste for corporate-speak.

Back when I was gainfully employed, I used to entertain Zach with terms I encountered at work—colorless words and phrases that I assume had trickled down from the latest business bestseller through the executive ranks before landing squarely in middle management.

I hated hearing about leveraging resources and managing expectations.

I did not want to know about slippage in timetables or about new initiatives gaining traction.

I cringed at the mention of anyone adding value.

And I most certainly loathed any discussion of bandwith. As in, "I'd love to help you out, Jody, but my team just doesn't have the bandwith right now."

I understood the reference, and I know the analogy was apt. I just found the term to be dehumanizing and the use of it to be pretentious.

So it truly galls me to admit that it is the best term I can come up with right now to describe how overwhelmed I am feeling in these waning days of 2006.

I just don't have the bandwith—either physical or emotional—to deal with it all.

I am a high-speed internet line reduced to dial-up.

My cache is full.

My browser is sluggish.

My images don't load.

My software is long overdue for an upgrade.

And my hard drive desperately needs to be defragged. (For the uninitiated, that is not a sexual reference.)

I have called tech support (aka Zach), and we are working to prevent a system crash.

I am sure there will be a scheduled network outage.

In the meantime, I am trying to download a patch.

Thank you for your patience.

Monday, December 25, 2006


A year and a half ago, Zach walked into a house in upstate New York and took a good look around.

He didn't see the dark, musty commercial carpet, worn in spots and scented with wet dog.

He didn't see the white hexagonal tile that covered the floor, countertops, and backsplash in the kitchen, causing vertigo when viewed from the loft above.

He didn't see the garish blue fixtures and the painfully floral wallpaper in the teeny-tiny bathroom on the first floor.

Instead, he saw light and space and possibilities.

He saw a place for family and friends, for leisurely weekends, for quiet evenings and roaring fires.

He saw a house that could become a home.

It's taken longer than we planned.

It's cost more than we expected.

It's been harder than we hoped.

But it is very, very close to done.

Now, when you look around, it's not hard to imagine the finishing touches actually being finished. It's easy to envision the holiday gatherings, the impromptu weekends away, the meals that will be cooked, and the books that will be read.

I couldn't see all that 18 months ago.

But Zach could.

He saw it, and he made it happen.

And here we are.

Tired and broke and very, very happy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That Was Fast

In this vortex that we like to call our lives, it can be hard to keep any true sense of the passage of time. Sometimes it stretches out like taffy, then folds back on itself, then whooshes past again.

My markers for the past year have mostly been medical: the days are segmented not by weeks or months but by surgery dates—mine and my dad's—or treatment schedules. Or they are measured by whether I've had hair, or joint pain, or this loathsome port.

I am a creature of order who has lived in a near-constant state of disorder these past 12 months.

Perhaps I should call it unplanned disorder, because for several months before that I lived in a mess of my own making. I chose to leave my steady, secure job for the vagaries of graduate school and a profession that is if not less stable than acting, then at least a close second.

But planned disorder is one thing. I am a planner above all else, and I even know how to plan for uncertainty. I factor it in, and then I forge ahead.

This, this is something else entirely.

This is having the rug pulled out from under you and then rolled up and used to beat you senseless.

This is the scene in the movie that goes too far, for which it is no longer possible to suspend your disbelief—the scene at which you involuntarily roll your eyes and audibly rebuke the screen.

"Oh, come on."

And this has been going on a long time.

And while there have been very few constants as this vortex has continued from one day to the next, there has been, on most days, this chronicle, this outlet, this connection, this inelegantly named instrument we call a blog.

It is a year old today.

This is how it began.

Friday, December 22, 2006


After six weeks in intensive care, my dad was discharged to a rehab hospital last night.

And after six whole days of not seeing him, I got to visit today.

And then my orange panties and I hightailed it to the cancer center for what turned out to be my third-to-last Herceptin treatment.

Which means my %$&@#*!-ing port will be coming out sometime before the dawn of spring.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

For Zach

He is a near-omnivore. I am . . . more discerning.

I am highly organized. He is . . . less so.

He wrote his undergraduate thesis on condoms.

I wrote An Analysis of the Financial Stability of Social Security in the Context of Changing Demographics. (No, you cannot read it.)

Even our Zodiac signs are diametrically opposed.

But somehow, despite every obvious difference in our beings, we have been devoted to each other almost from the beginning.

Early on, we recognized ourselves in each other, way down deep, beneath outward appearances, where values and philosophies dwell, where the essence of a person is formed. Somehow, we saw those subterranean parts of each other almost at first glance.

It was only afterward that we got acquainted in the traditional way.

It was only afterward that our many differences made themselves known, erecting obstacles in our path and daring us to navigate our way over, around, or through them.

I cursed those differences then, but I treasure them now. They taught me one of life's most important, albeit painful lessons: that love, plentiful though it may be, is not enough.

Without work, without struggle, it is not nearly enough.

And we have worked and struggled for nearly 17 years.

But mostly we have loved.

On a wintry weekend 15 years ago today, we were hibernating in our room at a lovely mountain inn. Zach had whisked me away from the city, in the wake of my third semester of law-school exams, and had planned to take me high over the snow-covered countryside in a hot-air balloon. He had a ring in his pocket, and had planned every detail of the surprise.

That's when things started to go awry.

At check-in, I very nearly saw the highlighted note next to Zach's name in the reservation book, the one that made sure all of the inn staff new he'd be proposing that weekend. At dinner the first night, the waiters paid us special attention and gave Zach knowing looks all evening. They must have thought he'd drop to one knee at any moment. They didn't know about the balloon ride planned for the next day.

When the weather didn't cooperate, making it unsafe to fly, Zach cast around for a back-up plan. He wanted to take me someplace high up, with a breathtaking view of the mountains and the snow. That's how we ended up driving down a barely paved road, with him surreptitiously counting telephone poles and looking for well hidden markers on trees. And that's why, on the cold, cold day of the winter solstice, we trekked what seemed like miles into the forest, abandoning our car at the side of the road and crunching our way through the snow past a gate that was clearly intended to deter us.

And why I kept asking where in the world we were going, and to what purpose.

But Zach told me to trust him, and I did. And do.

Eventually, we reached a clearing with a tall, spindly metal structure at its center. It was probably five stories high, and it was swaying in the icy wind. It had no walls or floors or ceilings, just a series of open-air stairways housed in a rickety skeletal tower.

Zach asked me to climb to the top.

At first I thought he was kidding.

I hoped he was kidding.

He wasn't kidding.

Eventually, I walked over, grabbed what served as a handrail, and started to climb. Very, very slowly. I think I made it almost to the second landing when a gust of wind shook the whole structure. I clutched the handrail and forgot to breathe. When the danger had passed, I turned back to Zach, just a few steps behind me, and made it clear that I would—could—go no further.

What happened in the next few moments confounded me completely. Somehow, on that open-air staircase in the middle of the woods, he managed to perch on one knee. And then he looked up at me and said many poetic things, none of which penetrated my frostbitten, fear-paralyzed brain.

After a minute or so, I confessed my sheer perplexity. The romanticism of the moment completely escaped me.

What I think I said was, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

Undeterred by my absolute incomprehension (and all that it might have portended for our future), he pressed on, this time with a visual aid. Petrified that his frozen fingers might fumble the ring after he'd carefully worked it out of the box in his pocket, he gingerly presented it to me.

Once again, I forgot to breathe. I also temporarily lost the power of speech, so complete was my shock. And I burst into soon-to-be-icicles. I think I was somehow channeling Miss America the split second after the runner-up is announced.

Eventually, my lungs and larynx began to function again. And, of course, I accepted.

The next day, we even got to take the hot-air balloon ride.

Ten years later, I took Zach back to that same mountain inn, and we retraced the path to our fire tower. Somewhere, there are pictures of it. But this one is still my favorite.

You have to imagine the snow that was there back in 1991. And you have to trust that the fire tower is there in the distance.

But you can see the road we traveled, and just one of the many, many obstacles we've overcome.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


This week in particular I feel like I am living in some kind of parallel universe.

Most people I know are racing around, buying last-minute presents or wrapping things up at work so they can enjoy a week off here or a couple of three-day weekends there.

Or they're remembering how labor-intensive latkes are, having not made them in a year.

Or they're making pilgrimages around the city to see the Nutcracker or the Rockettes or one of the more newfangled holiday shows.

Or they're taking their kids skating at Rockefeller Center.

Or they're standing in line at the post office with shopping bags full of gifts to be shipped.

Or they're hurriedly addressing envelopes for this year's holiday cards.

Or they're decorating a tree and hanging twinkly lights.

And even though we have been going through some of the holiday motions ourselves, even though I hear Christmas music every time I step into a store, even though the lobby of every public building seems to have sprouted a beard of fake evergreen, even though our balmy autumn has finally turned to chilly winter, it just doesn't feel like the holiday season.

The rhythms are all wrong.

Instead of winding down, I feel like I am gearing up.

After a year "off" from work and school, if not from illness, this holiday season is nothing like the breather I used to know. Even last year, in the midst of a fresh diagnosis, two surgeries, and many tests, I had the weight of a semester behind me, and its conclusion lifted a burden I'd been carrying for months. It was impossible not to feel some sense of relief and release—or change, at least—even as a new burden took its place.

This year—of interminable limbo, of doggedly facing the world a day at a time, of never knowing with any certainty what the next week or month might bring—shows no signs of letting up. The calendar feels like nothing more than an arbitrary construct, and I expect that turning the page to 2007 will not yield the sense of renewal to which I always look forward.

For the third time now in six long weeks, it looks like my dad is poised to leave the ICU for a rehab hospital, a most welcome development but also the beginning of another extended phase of the protracted healing process.

Meanwhile, Zach and I (but mostly Zach) are working furiously to finish the house upstate, buying furniture and housewares in a frenzy, against a deadline, while relentless holiday shoppers are systematically depleting inventories all around us. There is so much assembly required, so many tradespeople due to come through, that only two people whose sense of the possible is as distorted as ours would ever attempt the feat. If a camera crew could capture the next two weeks in time-lapse video, I have no doubt it would play as a farce.

And then there is my return to J-school, where classes officially start four weeks from tomorrow, a veritable lifetime away but for the fact that by then I will need to have read six books, done dozens of hours of reporting, and produced the first draft of my 4,000- to 6,000-word master's project. There's a reason the faculty call this the "alleged" winter break.

I'm reminded of a friend who started, but did not finish, his college career at Cornell, where he said the motto was, "School work, social life, sleep. Choose two." That so neatly encapsulates the painful truth that time is a zero-sum game, that everything is a calculated trade-off, that the cutting-room floor of life is littered with dearly held hopes and plans that were sacrificed to the everyday business of living.

Our friends John and Jo (hi, John and Jo!) sent us a holiday card calling this "[t]he time of year when some celebrate, some contemplate, some cope."

I long for things to celebrate.

I crave the time to contemplate.

But at the end of this very, very long year, I will be more than content—grateful, really—if all I can do is cope.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stage Two

I'm just letting this thing run its course with very minimal intervention. I cannot abide another dose of antihistamines.

Make that a half-dose, which is all I took in the first place.

I'm now at the point where I feel a good bit better but sound a whole lot worse. I'm sneezing, and my voice has that oh-so-attractive donkey quality. I'm pretty sure the next step will be full-on laryngitis.

This is all very frustrating because I am not well enough to go to the ICU, where "well enough" = in absolute perfect health, but I am well enough to do almost everything else, because the normal definition of "well enough" = if I still had a job, there's no doubt I'd be at work today.

It would be different, and far easier, if there were telephones in the ICU—if I could just call my dad every couple of hours to check in, tell him a joke, and send my love.

There are televisions in each room, but no phones.

Which means that even though he can't spend the afternoon with his daughter today, at least he will have the company of Judge Judy and Dr. Phil.

I feel so much better.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I think the best thing I can say for myself is that I don't have a fever.

This matters little.

First of all, I feel like I have a fever.

And not a little one, either.

Something closer to 102.5 degrees, more like.

That's more than four degrees higher than anything my thermometer has registered.

Stupid thermometer.

Also, my head is just waiting for ground control to issue the official countdown.

It's pretty much ready to blast off.

You know, contents under pressure and all that.

I don't know which is worse: the intense congestion that seems to have added immeasurable tonnage to the weight of my head or that parched, scorched-earth feeling that follows the ingestion of any type of antihistamine, as if someone had held me down, thrust special attachments over my mouth, ears, and nose, and then turned the vacuum-cleaner setting to "industrial strength" and waited for me to lose consciousness as every atom of moisture was systematically sucked from my being.

This morning I felt so dry that I was sure a scratch or cut would yield crystallized blood.

Or that watching a tearjerker might transform me into a human salt shaker.

Needless to say, I have gone nowhere near the ICU.

Not since Saturday afternoon.

And that is much worse than the congestion and the desiccation combined.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I didn't get to see my dad today.

Instead, I spent the day in Boston, taking advantage of an amazing opportunity to do some reporting for the master's project I've been working on in anticipation of returning to J-school next month.

It was an incredibly worthwhile trip, reporting-wise. And life-wise, because last night I got to enjoy the company, and hospitality, of my friend Teresa (hi, Teresa!), whom I don't get to see often enough.

I had my dad's blessing to go, and he's doing well enough that I felt comfortable asking for it in the first place, but it was still tough to miss a day with him.

So much so that when I finished earlier than expected, I raced to the airport and boarded an earlier flight, one that would have gotten me back to New York in time to get to the hospital for the tail end of visiting hours. I was all geared up to make a surprise appearance.

I made it to the plane on time and even got a seat in the front row, the better to speed my exit. I was all settled in for the 50-minute flight—hateful compression sleeve on my arm, airport-sourced meal on my lap, newspaper at my side—when the last passenger boarded the plane and the cabin door was closed.

Just then the friendly voice of the jetBlue pilot came over the P.A. system to announce a full ground stop at JFK.

It was another hour and 45 minutes before we finally took off.

And then, of course, there was no gate for us at JFK. We were stuck behind two other planes, not going anywhere. The only means of escape was to be towed to another part of the airport, which we were.

And by then visiting hours were over.

He's fine, and I will see him tomorrow, but still.

I miss him.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Think of the Fruit Flies

Today is my dad's 35th day in intensive care.

For the Drosophila melanogaster, that's enough time to spawn as many as five generations—if they really put their minds to it.


Do they have minds??

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An Open Letter to the Phlebotomists of the World

If you can draw blood from a tiny vein that is doing its best to retreat deep within my arm, I salute you.

If you do not know a "hard stick" when you see one, I do not.

If you have a soft, soothing voice and a sure but gentle touch, I salute you.

If you ask me to clench and unclench my fist so many times that rigor mortis nearly sets in, I do not.

If you know enough to use a tiny needle for a tiny vein, I salute you.

If you don't know enough to call a pro after the second unsuccessful stick, I do not.

If your aim is so true that your work never yields a bruise, I salute you.

If you dream of being an archeologist and make do by excavating my flesh, I do not.

If you can draw my blood in less time than it takes to recite my name and date of birth, I salute you.

If a new geological era dawns and I still have a tourniquet on my arm, I do not.

If I leave your company with nothing more than a tiny Band-Aid, I salute you.

If I walk out with an arm covered in gauze and six strips of tape, I do not.

If you were born to be a phlebotomist, I salute you.

If you should have been a lobotomist, I do not.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Matched Set

My dad got a pacemaker today.

Now I'm not the only one in the family with a foreign object implanted under my skin and attached to my heart.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Catch and Release

I am not a jock.

I do, however, know how to throw a ball.

I even know how to throw a football. Spiral and everything.

My dad taught me a long, long time ago.

Freshman year in college, I played on a co-ed intramural team. The rules required co-ed teams to field female quarterbacks, so I took my fair share of snaps. I had a blast.

My favorite memory is throwing a touchdown pass into the end zone, where it was caught in mid-air by my pal Neil (hi, Neil!).

My least favorite memory is the same exact play, because a split second after he caught the pass, Neil collided with two defenders, becoming the filling in a mid-air sandwich. He held onto the ball, and we scored, but I'm pretty sure he also cracked at least one rib. (Sorry, Neil!!)

A few years later, Zach and I started a co-ed touch-football game in Central Park. About a dozen of us played at 10AM on Sunday mornings and then went out for pizza. We even moved the game to Brooklyn when we decamped there a couple of years later. It was great fun, and I would play again in a heartbeat.

There were no huts, no hikes, no spirals, and no pigskins in the ICU today, but my dad and I did get to play catch.

For a couple of weeks now, he's been having trouble with his right arm. It's been swollen, off and on, to varying degrees. And one day he suddenly lost motor control of his hand and wrist. There are several theories as to why this may be, but no one has been overly concerned about it. The expectation is that everything should return to normal in due course.

Meanwhile, of course, it's been a major issue. My dad is right-handed, so writing has been out. And spelling out words by pointing to individual letters has been no mean feat. For this he's mostly had to use his left hand—until now his "bad" hand, weakened and stiffened by Parkinson's.

At one doctor's suggestion, I had bought my dad a couple of stress balls to help rehabilitate his right arm and build up the strength in his left one. He's supposed to squeeze them as often as possible throughout the day as a way to keep up the momentum between his infrequent physical-therapy sessions.

Unfortunately (albeit understandably), my dad hates rote physical exercise. Maybe it stems from basic training back in his Navy days. Maybe he had to do endless calisthenics in his high-school gym class. Whatever the reason, repetitive exercise is just not his thing.

And so the stress balls have been sitting around, except when I use them to relieve my stress.

Until today.

I tried to get my dad to toss one of them back and forth between his two hands in the hope of restoring some of the dexterity in his right hand, but he wouldn't go for it. Instead he tossed the ball to me, mainly as a joke.

But I tossed it right back. Gently, of course. I did not want to get thrown out of the ICU for roughhousing.

And just like that, we were playing a game of catch, bad left hand and all.

It didn't last long, but it was the first interlude of fun that I can recall having in that room in 31 long days.

Next time, we will have to get my mom in on the act.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One More Anniversary

As of today, my dad has been in the ICU for a full month.

Except for a few trips to other floors for things like CT scans and, um, procedures (better known as surgery), he has been in the same room 24 hours a day for 30 straight days.

And my mom and I have been traveling to that same room every day for 30 straight days.

We are all bloody well sick of it.

We know virtually every nurse, every attending, every fellow, every resident, every respiratory therapist, every physical therapist, every clerk, every food-delivery person, and every custodian.

We know where the social worker lives and how many siblings she has.

We know what time the cookies and coffee get refreshed in the waiting room.

We know which corner of which hallway gets the best cell phone reception.

We know there are no wi-fi hotspots to be found.

We know when the cafeteria is open and who carries the newspaper and what's available in the vending machines.

We know where to go for the nearest Indian food, the tastiest soups, and the best sandwiches.

We know which restaurants deliver and which to avoid.

We know whether the bathrooms have run out of toilet paper, and we know the location of every Purell dispenser in a 100-yard radius.

We know how to get to the lounge with the communal computer, and we know whether or not it's working on a given day.

We know which family members in the waiting room go with which patients in the ICU. We know who's had what surgery with which surgeon and how it went. We know who's been moved to the step-down unit, who's been discharged, and who's had a complication.

We know which channels show movies on the hospital's television system, and we know how many times the remotes have been stolen from the waiting room.

We know there are extra sheets above the sink and extra cups out by the refrigerator.

We know that flowers and cookies make the ICU staff very happy.

We know what every piece of equipment does and what every vital sign should read.

We just don't know when my father is coming home.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Just Wondering

Is it possible to have a hangover from life??

I came home early last night, skipped the holiday party I was supposed to attend, have not had a single alcoholic beverage in weeks, and just slept eight-plus hours, but I feel like one of those scourge-of-the-earth Hummers just rolled over my head.

And no, I am not sick.

I even look hung over.

The Con Ed meter reader just rang the bell, propelling me out of bed, and the visage I passed in the mirror was definitely of the hey-pal-not-so-loud-not-so-early-I-just-tied-one-on-last-night-ow-that-smarts variety.

My hair even looks hung over.

And no, I do not have a photo to share.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


In the alternate universe in which I have breast cancer only once in my lifetime, today is a big day.

It's the five-year anniversary of the end of my treatment—the milestone that matters most in the world of cancer stats.

If I'd racked up five disease-free years, I'd be able to wear the shiny "CURED!" label right on my forehead for all the world to see.

I'd be a success story instead of a cautionary tale.

But the clock started running again 367 days ago.

And the five-year countdown won't even begin until I finish my Herceptin treatments, which is at least a couple of months off, and maybe longer.

Still, I wanted to mark the day.

Because it's been a long road from diagnosis number one.

And lots of wonderful things have happened these past five years.

And some of those wonderful things even happened in the past 367 days.

Even if I did fall off the cancer wagon.

Or was pushed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not a Small Thing

Good news arrived in the mail today.

It came in an envelope from the Screen Actors Guild.

It was not a residual check, although one of those did come yesterday. (Happiness is an unexpected residual check. Ecstasy is a large, unexpected residual check.)

It was health insurance cards—medical and dental—for both of us for 2007. Zach qualified based on his earnings as a performer for the past 12 months.

This is a big deal.

It's a career milestone for Zach—the second consecutive year that he's qualified for insurance, and the first that he's earned enough to qualify for the enhanced plan (the one that includes dental and vision coverage).

In this profession, where progress comes in fits and starts, where the trajectory is rarely a steady upward line, news like this is special cause for celebration.

It's also a tremendous relief to have comprehensive and affordable coverage for the next year. I'm still covered through school until the end of July, but having secondary coverage is a welcome safety net—especially since I just used up the prescription-drug benefit from my primary plan. Plus those five extra months at the end of the year will alleviate some of the job-hunting anxiety that will come along with my diploma.

And the extra good news?

The eligibility period for 2008 coverage started just over a month ago, and Zach is already almost halfway to the earnings threshold.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


A year ago, I was days away from completing the first semester of J-school. I had one exam to take, but my main focus was the final assignment for Reporting & Writing I, the core class of the fall semester.

That assignment, which our professor called "The Convergence of Two Lives," required each of us to write a story about two people whose lives intersected in the instant in which one died at the hands of the other. It was an inordinately difficult assignment, both reportorially and emotionally. We had to first find a recent murder case that fit the parameters and then reconstruct what happened from both the killer's and victim's points of view.

My case involved two residents of the same housing project in a crime-ridden part of Brooklyn. While one was involved in a shootout with rivals in the courtyard of the housing complex, the other was in her bedroom, watching the Giants-Eagles game with family members. After a call had gone against the Giants, she turned from the TV in disgust, just in time for a stray bullet to crash through the bedroom window and pierce her skull.

I spent an evening interviewing the victim's family members in the same housing project, in the same apartment, in which she'd been killed. I spoke to her mother, two of her sisters, her fiancé, and her son, and I was amazed at the grace with which they invited me into their home, recounted the story of the murder, and answered my many questions.

I don't know how one makes sense of the stray bullet that ends the life of a 28-year-old, especially when she is your mother, daughter, sister, or bride-to-be. I don't know how a family can live through that horror—perpetrated in their own home—and find any kind of peace. But this family did.

The day after I met them—exactly a year ago—I found out that I had breast cancer for the second time.

I could not make sense of it. I did not exhibit grace. Mostly I just fell apart.

But I did finish my convergence story, even though my professor told me to forget about it. And I finished it on deadline. I owed it to that woman, to her family, and to myself. Writing that story in the midst of my re-diagnosis gave me perspective I could not otherwise have found during those difficult days.

Breast cancer is a stray bullet of its own, and I've been hit twice.

Each time, I've been wounded—deeply. But in some sense, I've only been grazed.

I've been able to get up.

I've been able to go on.

And I've been able to tell my own story.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An Apt Metaphor?

On my way home from the grocery store this morning, just steps from my front door, I felt that unmistakable squish—the one that can mean just one thing.

I had just stepped in dog you-know-what.

And it was, you know, fresh you-know-what, because it hadn't been there when I headed out to the grocery store 20 minutes earlier.

And it wasn't exactly a petite pile. This was definitely not the work of a chihuahua or one of those teacup poodles. In fact, I think the pile may have been bigger than one of those teacup poodles.

(Not big enough for me to see it with my hands full of groceries and my head under the hood of a sweatshirt, but big.)

Now people in this neighborhood tend to be quite conscientious about picking up after their pooches—unlike in, say, Amsterdam, where you pretty much have to walk with your eyes fixed on your shoes if you want to have any hope of reaching your destination unscathed—so I was pretty surprised by the whole thing. Surprised and really, really ticked off.

It's a good thing that no one caught the next few minutes on video, or YouTube viewers around the world could right this very moment be watching me a) swear LOUDLY, b) stomp and scrape my foot on the mound of leaves outside our door, to minimal avail, and c) hop into our building on one clogged foot while carrying the groceries in one hand and the offending article of footwear in the other.

Then I spent no less than 30 minutes in full-on shoe-salvage mode, employing Q-tips, toothpicks, water, paper towels, and two different spray cleaners.

Because the clogs I was wearing do not have flat-construction soles.

Of course they don't.

They have lots and lots of nooks and crannies.

Into which dog you-know-what is easily wedged when the clog-wearer goes straight to the stomping and scraping step and bypasses the thinking process altogether.

And I could not help but feel, as I diligently picked actual crap from the sole of my shoe, that the universe was trying to speak to me, to send me some sort of message or teach me some kind of lesson.

Like that I may have gone through—be going through—a lot of crap this year, but that with a little effort and a lot of patience, I'll emerge without any lasting damage.

Or maybe that I should just watch where I'm going and keep the foot-stomping to a minimum.

That works, too.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How I Made My Dad Laugh Today

When my dad asked how much all this (his 24-day-and-counting stay in the ICU) was going to cost, my mom immediately reassured him by saying that Medicare would cover it.

I put it in slightly different terms.

I told him there was no need to worry about it because George W. Bush was picking up the tab.

I loved seeing him laugh—for the first time in days, if not weeks—but the accompanying I'm-getting-one-over-on-the-president expression was pretty great, too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Had Zach and I gone through the traditional version of in vitro fertilization—the kind in which the resulting embryos are transferred to the biological mother's womb rather than to cold storage—and had that version been a success, our due date would have been exactly a month ago.

After all we've been through this year, it's hard to imagine an alternate reality in which 2006 revolved around pregnancy and first-time parenthood instead of illness and treatment and recovery. So, so much would have been so, so different.

In that alternate reality, I'd have finished school—and my first trimester—last May. And we'd have woken up this morning not only in the same bed in the same city, but as the proud parents of a month-old baby (or two!).

We'd have gone through our first pregnancy while Zach's brother and his wife went through their third, and the new cousins would have met for the first time a little over a week ago at Thanksgiving.

We'd have spent months figuring out how to retrofit our apartment and our lives so that we'd be ready—or think we'd be ready—to share both.

We'd have embarked on a seemingly endless quest for the absolute perfect baby names.

We'd have read all the books and taken the classes and talked to everyone we knew and still wondered how we would ever figure it all out.

We'd have finished the house and gone up to Phoenicia for one last "just us" weekend away.

We'd have cherished every moment of every day.

And we'd have kept a baby blog and shared it with all of you.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Reality Check

I did not fall asleep for even one minute during my treatment today, Benadryl be damned.

I read the entire New York Times cover to cover before lunch.

I walked out of my house this morning—the first day of December—in a T-shirt and no jacket.

If my hair were half an inch longer, it would be a perfect homage to the follicle stylings of Robert Reed in the last season of The Brady Bunch.*

In the immortal words of Phoebe Buffay, what is up with the universe??

*If by the time you read this post it includes an illustrative photo of Robert Reed as Mike Brady, it's because Zach had better luck finding a good one than I did.

**Ask, and ye shall receive....-Zach