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Cedars and Staples

Hey my people,

So glad we text with our thumbs, because here I am, with my fingers in a splint. Seems I am capable of impaling my hand with a staple gun. This was no big deal when I did it, except, wow, it's strange to look at your palm and see a staple there. Very solid, too. I had to pull to get it out.
And why the emergency room? Because the finger nearest the tiny puncture wounds started to swell. With a little nagging, I agreed to go to the emergency room, where they plugged me into a Very Serious antibiotic drip.
So at least I wasn't twice-dumb.
And I sure wasn't scared of the hospital. After three bouts of cancer, I feel quite at home at Cedars.
Plus they're classy. Not one person said, A staple gun. Really? You fool.


Rocking the Cactus Castle

Hey, my people,

Here's a bird with vision. See her up there? Staring down the wind, daring anybody to mess with her. I thought she just liked riding this massive cactus in the breeze. Who wouldn't? I'm getting the image of a pirate on a quarterdeck. "Faster, damn me eyes! Put every scrap of canvas on her!" Etc.

Leave it to my pragmatic partner to point out the obvious. "The bird's got a nest in there and she's protecting it." Okay. Still. It's got to be fantastic up in that penthouse of a plant. Those baby birds are going to be hard to please later in life.

We won't be here forever. Not the bird, not her babies. Not me. But just for today, what a view!


Going for the Vinnies

Hey my people. I'm crazy about Caitlin Kiernan. Glad she got her Vinnies! Watch, weep, wonder, go forward! Love from Anne and all the rest of us Well Again's out there.


Grout Me Out

Hey my people,

Opinions please: Does a cancer diagnosis bring on DIY fever? That's how it's been for me. My temperature registers in the lower end of the spectrum, I admit: When I get a grand idea, like making a little covered hut out in the yard to house all that exercise equipment we never use, It takes all my energy to buy the list of materials. Every label has to be read and, half the time, deciphered with the help of YouTube or Wikipedia. Is it water- or oil-based? Toxic to children and animals? Long-lasting? Quick-drying? Does it require molly bolts? (I am not interested in molly bolts. The term sounds like a Revolutionary-era sexually transmitted disease.)

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time whipsawed between that cancer-survivor urge to take control of your environment and the chemo-brained reality that you are willing to exert yourself only in short bursts and then only on ideas you've already had.

I do get tired of the half-assedness that plagues all my projects. Also, it's new year's resolution time. So when my nephew-in-law, a professional tile guy, explained how to regrout the kitchen counter, I decided to Do It All the Way.

I was at it for three days, digging out all the nasty-greasy old grout in preparation for the fresh batch. Then came the rubber gloves, the cool water--not too much!--the bucket, the stirring, and, in about two minutes, the frenzied race to the finish. The instructions said to ply the tile float at a nice even pace, just ease that grout on into the crevices. Yeah, well. Not the way this stuff was drying. I wound up tearing around the counter at a dead run, raking big globs of black muck out of the bucket and stuffing it into every hole I could see.

It was like finger painting. It was fantastic.

There was collateral damage, it's true. Talk about the fog of war: There is now a thin layer of gray-black grout all over me, the floor, the dog, and the cat.

But I did it. No pile of unused supplies taking up permanent residence in a corner until I forget what they were for. No big swath of countertop left undone, with the promise to resume "next weekend," meaning "never in this lifetime."

No, for once I followed all the way through. That's what I told my nephew.

There was a brief silence on the phone. Then he asked, "You regrouted the whole kitchen?"



Hey my people,

As we unwrap this gift of a new year, I find myself thinking of friends who have crossed over into some territory that I think must make this one look very poor indeed.

You can tell me there's nothing after this life. I don't believe it. I know there's more, because this segment is so nonsensical, it could only be a puzzle piece.

What do my friends know that I don't? What can they see that I can't? Don't get me wrong, I'm not itching to find out right this minute. But when the time comes, I think it's going to be like...skydiving. Hanging onto the plane, clutching grabbing shrieking and then.... OH WOW.

That's what Steve Jobs said as he crossed the threshold, according to his sister, novelist Mona Simpson. Three times: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."

My years on the cancer quad haven't given me the power to understand death, but I have come this far: I bet it's the best party ever. For one thing, so many of my friends are there already. Daisy. Ben. Shannon. Allison. Sandy. Steve. Sam. Nancy. Savannah. Brit. They've moved on, but they continue to enrich my world just as surely as if we were having lunch tomorrow. They've taught me that you can be in two places at once--two times infinity, for all I know.

So: blessings to all of us this year. Wherever we are in the great continuum, there's more to come. The altitude is perfect, the moment is right. Open your eyes. Jump.


Lady Lymphedema's Birthday Blog

(ED NOTE: Not my legs. Believe me.)

Hey my people,

Here we are at my birthday, December 22. This is a big one. Actually, as the astute blogger Lisa Bonchek Adams points out, they're all big ones once cancer has entered your life. But this is a flip-the-decade birthday, y'all. This is me getting to say I've somehow lived thirteen years since I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I've had all that time to grow, change, rant, cry, love and learn.

I haven't wanted to complain on this blog, because considering how much life I've saved up, how rich I am in memories, complaining is just bad manners. But just this once, since it's my birthday, please indulge me. 

So I dropped a heavy box on my foot in September. It hurt like hell, but I figured that's what I get for cleaning out the storeroom when it's 95 degrees. Couple days later, I look down and holy crap, my foot and ankle are all swollen. Mrhuuhhh?  

X-rays, orthopedic boots, hot packs; nothing broken, says the podiatrist. Once we've eliminated hairline fractures, he looks at my chart, sees that December 22 birthday approaching, and goes, ah, wink wink, at this age we don't heal as fast as we used to. This was inarguable but also, it turns out, irrelevant.

I found out I had lymphedema only after I started an exercise program at my alma mater, Cedars-Sinai. Unlike the podiatrist, the cancer folks knew what to look for when they saw my by-now-mild swelling. Thanks to their sharp eyes, I'm lucky enough to have caught my problem early.

It still sucks. I'd gone 13 years without pelvic lymph nodes, no problem. Then some idiot, probably me, packed the storeroom and neglected to post avalanche warnings. All it took was one injury, and there's cancer, up in my face yet again, delivering another of those little insults that make it such a pal even after it's in remission.

Now my leg is swathed in bandages out to here, and will remain so for the next several weeks. Then I get fitted for my new style statement, a compression garment. Excuse me, what? Yeah. A compression garment. Like Spanx for your foot, for life. 

On the other hand, behold the power of words. Spanx for your foot. Doesn't sound bad when you write it, does it? Sounds like something you might buy at Macy's to complement your tankini. Maybe my compression garment will make me look svelte. Ten pounds lighter. No cankles here!

Or maybe lymphedema just sucks. Regardless, even if a compression garment is the last birthday present I'd want, it is my birthday. I made it to 60, and I'm celebrating.



Can you whip cancer in 130 minutes?

Today I finally asked the rude question about exercise and cancer. Like, WHY?
I hate exercise, so, keeping in mind that cancer is a gigantic imposition on my life, why should I have to exercise too?

My friend Dr. Asher at Cedars-Sinai patiently explained, and for what felt like the first time, I listened.

Statistics show that for many people, just 130 minutes of exercise per week can decrease the risk of recurrence by 30%.

Let me repeat that in case you just went into shock. Just 130 minutes of exercise, repeated every week, could give you a 30% better shot at thumbing your nose at cancer from now on.

130 minutes. It takes me that long to catch up on Grey's Anatomy. I can get through 130 minutes of anything. If this is even a little bit true, I might -- MIGHT -- be willing to change my ways.


Inspiration and estrogen

Hey my people,
I'm just resurfacing from Rise 2013, a four-day conference with the unbelievably dynamic motivator/ businesswoman/ guru Ellie Drake, along with guest speakers like Jamie Lee Curtis and Valerie Harper and Marianne Williamson -- and about 1200 increasingly enchanted women, including me.
Driving to the LAX Marriott for the closing day, I was so jazzed that I dictated my whole Well Again philosophy into my phone. I practically wept, it was so brilliant. Unfortunately, I discovered today, the phone didn't save it. It was like one of those dreams where you wake up just before the galactic emissary tells you how to achieve world peace.
Tough blow, I have to say. But this much remains clear to me.
In 2014, we'll have Well Again meetups in California. I'll be speaking as well as writing, and I'll be reaching out to contact all of you -- everyone who's living on beyond cancer and wondering when they'll find their posse of people who understand and -- hear this -- who would be friend material anyway, because that's how cool they are.
More fun, less fear. That's how we get Well Again.


The Courage to Be Seen, Part 2

Hey my people,

Here's the second unbelievably cool cancer-fighting viral video I told you about:  "Molly's P.INK Tattoo," which came to me from upworthy.com. Click to meet Molly Ortwein, founder of P.INK.org, (P.INK as in "Personal Ink"). After her double mastectomy, Molly elected to adorn her reconstructed breasts with tattoos. Colby Butler, of Unfamous Tattoo in Miami, did the inking on two gorgeous representations of Brazilian pernambuco blossoms, reflecting Molly's love of all things Brazil.  

This story so far is lovely but not groundbreaking, right? Okay, here's the groundbreaking part. Molly has gone on to found P.INK.org -- a nexus that pairs women who want to answer cancer with tattoos with tattoo artists willing to offer their time and talent to help. I hope you'll check out the P.INK Pinterest page. Maybe recommend this idea to somebody you love. 

Brave women like Molly Ortwein and (previous post) Deborah Cohen are confirming what we all instinctively know: This is a momentous time in the wide world of cancer. The big C is losing its power to make us hide and talk in whispers. We're fighting cancer, and we're willing to be seen fighting cancer.

There's a fierceness cancer gives us, and although I bleeping hate the cancer, I love the fierceness. 

Molly is a perfect example. She may cry here and there during this video, but she's not remotely embarrassed about that. She's planning to work those tattoos, honey.  Talking about plans for her next trip to Brazil, she says with a grin: "I am so looking forward to marching my ass around the beach with no top on."



The Courage to Be Seen, Part 1

Hey my people,

You know what? We are fighting back against the soul-killing after-effects of cancer, and we are being seen fighting back. I'm thinking about two viral videos I saw today. Both make me cry, not with sorrow, but with joy.

First came the most delightful, not to mention funky, homemade dance video, staged in the OR to Beyonce's "Get Me Bodied" by an awesome woman named Deborah Cohen and the medical team about to perform her double mastectomy. She termed it a Flash Mob and invited funky souls everywhere to join in. Here's how it went down.


Just five days after her surgery, Deborah's video has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube.  Nearly 200,000 people have visited her CaringBridge page, and many have responded to her request to film their own "Get Me Bodied" videos and email them to her. "I picture a healing montage," she writes. "Are you with me?"

You damn betcha!