Tuning forks

Dear Suzanne in Fort Lauderdale,

Welcome to the village.

I was so touched by your letter and the gift, I wanted to write you here. (Plus, I didn’t get a return address so I kinda had to write you here.

For other village members, Suzanne is a friend of a friend who has been reading my blog for a while. We have never met, but I always know a quality person when I read what they have written. )

Suzanne, I have always said that we all have different experiences, but I believe we all have the same feelings. We know loss, and joy, and shock and hope, although the trappings are different.

I’ve heard that in a room full of tuning forks, if one fork starts vibrating, others that create harmony with that tuning fork will start vibrating, too.

I’m glad the notes I hit every day have resonated with you. That means everything to me.

Thank you….


PS. To make it even better, I received your note on what would have been my 22nd wedding anniversary. There are no accidents..:-)


Dr. Awesome steps in again

When I’m really scared, I focus and mobilize.

So Tuesday I was on the phone with a gynecological surgeon, trying to set up an appointment. I figured I’d get the fibroids taken care of first, then get radiation. How long would it take me to get over the surgery? How soon could I get it taken care of ? When can I get back to work? When can I get back to my routine?

I was getting some exercise at Curves today and snapped the owner’s head off.

She asked where I’d been and I told her. I didn’t feel like making up a story. That’s when she uttered a phrase I’ve heard many, many times:  “You know, so-and-so had breast cancer. You should talk to her.”

“I don’t want to talk to anybody about this. I want this taking as little of my time as possible. I want to get through this and get on with my life.”

I bit off every word. Later I apologized. She was trying to help. I was being pissy.

I’m tired and stressed going from one doctor’s appointment or test to another, and trying to figure out how to handle this new diagnosis of the stupid fibroids .

I was scrambling around trying to schedule various traumas to my body when I got a call from Dr. Awesome.

I had postponed the radiation treatments so I could get the hysterectomy over with. He had heard about it and called me.

“Hey, I know you’re overwhelmed I understand,” he said .”But I don’t think you should put off the radiation. You really need the cancer treatment and it’s a good idea to do it four to six weeks after surgery, not months later.”

The hysterectomy can wait, he said. I can’t put my body through this much all at once, just so I can get it over with. It won’t be rushed any more than my grieving for Dennis could be rushed.

I had to learn a lesson all over again. The tempo of the healing heart beats the same rhythm as the healing body. I can’t control this any more than I can control the pull of the moon.

Dr. Awesome let me know what I could control.

He knows I’m seeing my mom this weekend to celebrate her 83rd birthday. We’re going to shop and relax and go hot-tubbing and eat a lot of things we shouldn’t. Dr. Awesome was down with that.

“Here’s what I want you do,” he said. “I want you to have a great time this weekend. I want you to relax.That’s the only thing I want you to do. Don’t stress anymore. We’re going to take care of you.”

I’ve got a long, difficult road ahead of me. I’m glad Dr. Awesome will be driving the bus.

Dr. Awesome

Saturday morning, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. There was no message so I hit “redial” and a male voice answered. It was my radiologist. On his day off.

“Hi, I just wanted to call and ease your mind a bit,” said the guy we’ll now refer to as Dr. Awesome so as not to embarrass him.

He was troubled by how worried I was Friday when I got the news of a mysterious abdominal mass, so this physician, on his day off, contacted a pathologist friend of his and asked him to take a look at my PET scan. I’m sure it was also the pathologist’s day off.

“He feels pretty confident that it’s a fibroid on your uterus,” Dr. Awesome said. “You can leave it there, or get it removed. But it’s not serious. We’ll know more after the scan on Monday, but I thought this might ease your mind some.”

I was still struck that this busy doctor would care enough to go to that kind of trouble for one patient. This is the same radiologist who put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed after giving me the bad news. The doctor whose wife had cervical cancer.

“Thank you so much,” I said into my phone. “How very, very nice of you to call. I do feel better. Much better. Now I’m looking forward to the two gallons of barium.”

I thought I heard a smile on the other end.

“I’ll also rush the results through so you don’t have to wait,” said this doctor who had already done so much for me.

I won’t name him because I detected humility in his demeanor. I also detected dedication and compassion. I feel grateful to have one more quality human being in a village already rich with quality human beings.

The death ray guy

I met the guy I will be seeing a lot of for seven weeks: my radiation oncologist.

I like him. He’s one month older than I am (which means he’s old enough to know his stuff) and after I called my boob a boob, he abandoned the whole “breast” protocol and started calling it a boob, too. He gets me.

He told me a great story about an exotic dancer with breast cancer who had a mastectomy and was so pleased with the reconstruction, she invited the entire office to one of her shows.

“We all knew enough not to go,” he said.

Anything I can do…

Because people are wonderful, I hear this a lot. People want to help me, and I’m so grateful.

When people are suffering, I ask the same thing: Anything I can do, please, just ask.

The problem is, I can never think of anything. This journey can be solitary and unpredictable.

Because it looks like I’m going to get a double-dip shitstorm and people truly want to help–and I love you all for it—I’m going to really give this some thought.

I’m going to start with what doesn’t help: The funerial stare.

I am plagiarizing from my high school friend Katy Hadduck, who is also battling breast cancer. I used the words “piteous stare” but I like her word better.

Nothing says “You are a mess and I feel sorry for you” quite like the funerial stare.

Have confidence in me. Even when I sink to a dark place, let me thrash. I’m mad and scared but I’ll survive. Don’t pity me. Please.

I love you all and I love knowing you’re joining hands and forming a ring around me, but sometimes I have to be alone.

Losing Dennis and now having breast cancer means I have almost no energy to give. I can’t always interact because  it takes energy. It just does. SometimesI just have to sit and stare and something stupid on TV. Just let me be by myself. I’m O.K. I need to retreat.

Now for the stuff I simply loved.

My women friends totally get it. I have received certificates to get facials and massages and I LOVE those. LOVE those. It calms me, dials down my stress.

My friend Colleen has a nose better than Jackie’s and has given me perfume throughout the ordeal of being a new widow. She knows exactly what will smell fabulous on me. I dab it on in the morning, at night, at work. I love it. It helps me sleep. It helps me feel human.

My friend and pod-mate Lisa shares a  bag of community-supported agriculture with me every week. I never knew vegetables were such a laugh riot.

Darrin, my Zumba instructor and an editor at the Star gave me 10 lessons as an early birthday present. I had no money and she knew I needed them long before my birthday arrived.

Those are the from-the-heart material things I loved. Now for the other stuff.

I treasure the people who keep me grounded in the present. Please, keep it up.

Tell me about YOUR life.

Tell me a funny story. Give me some good gossip. Share a saga about a woman who had breast cancer 20 years ago and is fine. Let me know what you thought of the last contestant who was kicked off “Project Runway.”

For now, I’m allergic to question marks.

When you ask “How ARE you?” it makes me have to visit my fear and dread when I may not have the energy to do that. Trust me. When I want to talk about it, I’ll corner you and yak your ear off.

I am not feeling safe enough to visit this new terror too often yet. If I have to answer “How are you?” too much, I start to feel worn out and depressed. I have to come up with an answer.

I also don’t want to give much data yet, either, because that, too, requires energy.

“When’s your next appointment? How did you find it? What kind of cancer is it? Do you have to do chemotherapy? Does it run in your family?”

Anything with a question mark requires energy.

Right now, I’m going to do everything I can to replenish mine. I’m going to baby myself. I’m going to get massages, get my nails done, eat some stuff I’m not supposed to, exercise regularly, watch absorbing television shows and movies.

I am going to suit up and show up to every appointment. I will endure every needle stick, every test result. I must keep my eyes on the horizon. I can’t look down yet.

Cheer me on from the other side of the chasm. I’ll get there.

We all live in Downton Abbey

I love human stories so much.

I don’t even care if they’re true stories, because a good story, fiction or non-fiction, has happened to all of us. Not the exact circumstances, but the underlying theme. The feelings. The moment we touch that shared human experience of joy, humor, surprise, intrigue, love and yes, even loss, there is a story.

I have just devoured the first season of Downton Abbey and was reminded once again of the deep sense of human connection I get from a wonderful story. Dialogue that grips me or makes me laugh out loud.

“No Englishman would ever DREAM of dying in someone else’s home!”

Damn, I love the Dowager Grantham.

The Downton Abbey tale begins with a death on the Titanic which throws the succession line of Downton Abbey into disarray. Oh the horror, the intrigue, the scheming.

We love it.

I love journalism and fiction because I am hungry, hungry, hungry for stories. I think it is born in us, and I’m still figuring out why. I just know that from the first night I lost Dennis that I had to share this story, no matter how wrenching, no matter where it led. It’s a salve for me and help, I hope, for others who have had a loss.

As a noisy extrovert. I respect but have never understood people who say they are “very private people.”

I guess I get such delight or am so powerfully moved by other people’s stories, I feel as if part of our mission here on earth is to share. To know that we are not alone in our despair, or in our celebration. No one lives in this unrehearsed, unscripted, human drama without sliding up and down the entire spectrum of human experience—young, old, disabled, poor or as privileged as the folks scurrying up and down the polished stairs of Downton Abbey.


You know you need to drop the lard when…

I’m doing better.

Nothing like nearly sinking a boat to lift your spirits.

Sunday I had dinner in Westlake Village with my dad and Carolyn as well as my stepbrother Chris and his partner, Robert.

We all met at the home of Chickie Alter, who lives on Westlake Lake in one of those houses with the electric boats parked at the dock in back.

The boats have names like “On your marks,” “Meditation,” “Knot working,” and the one we rode in, “After Hours.”

After watching the sun lower on the lake over glasses of wine, the six of us piled into the electric boat and purred over to a restaurant where several other electric boats were docked.

After a fine evening of more wine, stimulating conversation and a plate full of pasta, we returned to the boat to motor back to Chickie’s house.

My dad, Carolyn and I huddled together in front, draping a blanket-sized shawl around us to keep us warm against the bracing wind.

Robert was untying the ropes when he noticed something.

“We’re taking on water,” he said, watching the water sheeting over the flat front of the boat, threatening to rise to our ankles.

“Let’s move you three to the back of the boat,” Chris said, no doubt realizing this was no time for tact.

The three of us, who probably weigh a quarter ton between us, lifted our collective bulk and moved our butts to the back of the boat, probably forcing the prow out of the water. I’m sure it was quite a show for the other diners watching us through the picture window.

Chickie was laughing so hard she could hardly steer.

And now I have my very first “Before” tale for when I become a Weight Watchers lecturer.

My village of valentines

Not to worry, St. Valentine. My village is all around me.

Mary, whose birthday was today, Feb. 1, asked me if I had something to do on Valentine’s Day and invited me to come over .

As usual, Mary is thinking about someone else when it’s her birthday.

I told her I will be fine, and busy. I’ll be packing to go to Mexico to see my very first valentine. The one who sang “Catch a Falling Star” to me when I was little–even though he still can’t carry a note in a bucket.

He’s the one who wore the size 11 pink slippers with rubber toes on them that i got him for Father’s Day.

He’s the one who tucked me in at night and made sure every single stuffed animal was placed on the bed and under the covers right next to me. Then, he would turn on my 45-rpm record player and the vinyl discs would fall, one by one, playing the songs that would lull me to sleep. The Yogi Bear song sung by Cindy Bear. And Scarlet Ribbons.

Then, he would quietly open the door an hour later, when I was fast asleep, and the needle was scratch, scratch, scratching against the end of the last record. He would turn it off, and probably kiss me goodnight.

I lost my last Valentine. Thank God I still have my very first.

The milling machine’s new home

Once again, I’m reminded not to limit my village to friends and family, but to remember the importance of strangers.

The man who showed up with his wife to look at the milling machine I listed on Craig’s List was a machinist. His name was Ron and his wife was Laurie.

When they showed up, I think they could tell I had been crying. I apologized and explained that letting go of this machine, if they wanted it, was emotional for me because Dennis loved it.

I trusted them instinctively, and after this many years as a journalist, I trust my instincts.

I told Ron and Laurie that I couldn’t identify most of what was in the garage. Ron said he understood because most of it was very specific to those in specialized mechanical fields and woodworking.

Ron then spent almost two hours going through every single item in the garage and telling me what it was. I wrote each thing down.

“He loves going through other people’s garages and finding treasures,” Laurie said. “He’s having a ball.”

Finally, Ron dusted off his hands and said he would take the milling machine.

We talked a little longer and came to realize Laurie had worked with Dennis in the early 90s, when he was at Power One in Camarillo.

“Did he have brown hair?” she asked. “And really funny?”

That was him.

Ron and I shook hands. Laurie hugged me.

And Dennis’ milling machine is going to live with people who are not strangers after all.