So we all have our bucket lists. Mine is heavy on parties I want to go to. Not red carpet parties. I've been to those. No, parties like THESE, with people shaking their asses just because they can. For maximum therapeutic value, dance with this video every morning, then tell cancer to frack off. Don't forget your warty nose!
YouTube is all about Gene Wilder today, with his "best of" clips wreathed in loving comments. Lots of cancer-community people, including me, are picturing an uproarious reunion between Wilder and his wife, the great comedian Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 of ovarian cancer. I know, because thus far I've outlived that same cancer, that Gene and Gilda were loved by a generation of fans who are now seeing our own third acts right around the corner. Probably there are many people who don't know that, after Gilda's death, Gene took part in establishing Gilda's Clubs, still thriving and still providing a warm gathering place for folks on the cancer ride, along with their families. Another thing even Gene's fans may not remember: He was never funnier than when he was dancing. Take a look.
Hey my people.
So, juicing. Antioxidants. Natural goodness. So easy when the Vitamix demonstrator guy does it. All that cancer-fighting nutrition, and no matter what you throw in, it comes out tasting like bananas.
Today I decided to juice my way to Well Again. I dumped in some ice cubes and a tub of raw spinach and jammed on the power. The noise was awesome; the blending, not so much. Just a grayish band of ice and a swirling green mulch. Still leafy. Where was the whirlpool of ice-creamy goodness climbing the sides of the pitcher?
I shoved the plunger down to speed things up.
THWACK ACK ACK ACK ACK! Instant, terrible uproar, like fighter planes strafing my kitchen. I lunged, hit the Off button, lifted the dripping plunger. A chunk of the tip was gone. A green rivulet oozed down where the pitcher met the base. I had cracked the plastic in a long slash starting all the way up at the old spinach-mulch line.
I cleaned the thing out and made a new blend, which probably contained bits of real blender. On the plus side, it did taste like bananas.
Why is a hiphop-musical composer in a blog about survivorship? Because artistry like this makes me want to live. If you love musicals, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. If you think musicals bite, Lin-Manuel Miranda is still a genius. In "Hamilton," Miranda sets the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to hiphop. Just opened on Broadway. Sold out through the Second Coming. Not saying I'd kill for a ticket but I'd rough you up pretty good.
Here's the man, previewing it at the White House back in 2009.
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!
(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.
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!
Hey my people, meet Ananda Shankar Jayant. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she called on her mastery of Indian classical dance to mobilize the goddess Durga to conquer her cancer. Since Durga kills demons, the analogy could not be better. Here, Ananda tells -- no, shows -- her audience at TED how she becomes Durga, riding the tiger into battle and emerging victorious.
Watching Ananda's dance unfold, I asked myself: Who is my all-powerful cancer-conquering deity? I know I manifest someone because I feel myself breathing in courage in the parking lot of the cancer center. I can feel myself putting on armor as I step inside. Where's that armor coming from?
That's my question for all of you, my friends who've walked into a diagnosis or a date for chemo: Who's your all-powerful cancer-conquering deity? Who do you become when you walk off the elevator and into the cancer center? Tell us and show someone else how it's done!
"The first time I sniffed her it was the tail end of another afternoon in the City of Angels. The day was fading like a car you could chase but never catch. Stepping along the far curb, she was something special all right. The kind of pooch you'd look for in a starlet's purse. So what was she doing in this end of town? And who was that palooka on the other end of her leash?"
[Ed. Seamus Friday offers free-form musings about one dog and the joycatching opps he brings to one cancer veteran. Seamus welcomes posts from other survivordogs -- or cats or snakes or whoever.]
"What's the funniest thing that happened to you this week?"
That same friend accidentally maced himself while driving a borrowed car. He thought the innocuous little can on the passenger seat was breath spray. (Ha, Ha, giggle, snort.)
American journalist Norman Cousins came down with a fatal illness and was given one month to live. He checked out of the hospital and into a hotel where he treated himself with megadoses of Vitamin C, chased with hours of laughter induced by old Marx Brothers films.
Be forewarned, laughter is highly contagious and may add years to your life. I guess that makes my friends and me about 125 by now.
Emily Jones is a retired journalist and ovarian cancer survivor who edits The Deluded Diva, a blog for bouncing baby boomers racing retirement. She invites you to stop by www.deludeddiva.com.
Hey, my people, Seamus thought you might get a kick out of looking down on L.A. from the Griffith Park Observatory. He does.
Of course Seamus gets a kick out of everything. This time, I was the one who needed to get out and above. My six-month checkup was days away. I needed to remember that the world is bigger than Cancerville.
Proportions change up here. The Hollywood Sign is twice the size it's supposed to be; the hikers march along like ants in sun hats. California's brown hills can seem desolate in photographs. Don't believe it. They're full of life.
As it happens, the checkup went fine. Seamus and I get another six months to ramble. Who knows where we might climb?
My friend Jessica Jahnke is one of the baddest cancer heroes ever. Here's how a longtime friend describes her:
"I met Jessica in 1979, we worked together in a disco, 'cause we’re that old. Still being here to be ‘that old’ is a blessing. We are both cancer survivors.
"Jessica was one of the most interesting people I had met back in 1979. She was born in Silverlake, CA, and her mom moved her to Barcelona, Spain, when she was 6, going on 7. Jessica has lived in Spain, Egypt, England, New York State, California, Vermont and Washington. What an incredible resume… Jess is a fun and adventurous woman, with a great sense of humor and zest for life! Sometimes I feel like she doesn’t fully understand how remarkable her life is, she is an amazing woman. She feels things deeply, so when you are loved by her, you are loved. I am honored to call her family. I love her bunches!! Always and forever."
Pictured above at the Oregon Country Fair with her beloved Nissan truck and her Burro camper, Jessica has been telling Stage IV where to get off. Despite constant pain, she made the drive from Seattle to volunteer at the Fair, just as she has for the past 20 summers. Further complications prevented Jessica from driving coast to coast. But not before she sent us pictures of this field of flowers or these sociable geese. And just because she's stopped driving, doesn't mean she's stopped moving. Next on Jessica's list is a flight to Barcelona, her childhood home. From there, if she can, she'll join the amazing walking pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Who's going with her?
Hey my people, when I came down with cancer, I had a powerful weapon on my side: I already believed that even life's smallest moments were worth fighting for. This song is one of the things that gave me that idea: "Make Your Garden Grow," from the musical Candide.
Who's Candide? He's one of the dumbest, numbest, most gullible characters in the history of storytelling—basically, an 18th-century Forrest Gump. Candide maintains his blind optimism throughout a fantastic series of disasters that include war, shipwreck, the Inquisition, and prostitution (endured by his girlfriend Cunegonde, who gets quite a kick out of it—but that's a different song).
When Candide finally wakes up and sees what a fool he's been, he sings "Make Our Garden Grow." It's the climax of the show, and it's hair-raising. The lyrics are about doing a simple day's chores—baking bread and chopping wood. But wait for the third verse, where those homely tasks are elevated in a rush of music that would flood a cathedral: "We're neither pure nor wise nor good/ We'll do the best we know/ We'll build our house and chop our wood/ And make our garden grow."
In two weeks I hit the cancer center for my six-month checkup. I take the blood test and wait for the result. I don't like it and I don't have to.
But today I grouted tile, fed my handsome dog, and listened to "Make Our Garden Grow." I'll take this day with me when I go.
Hey my people, I don't want to cough up a lot of bromides about the fact that Talia Castellano is dead. I do want to say this: For me, Talia didn't lose her battle with cancer. Even in death, she won. To you that idea may sound clueless, not to mention tasteless. Death at 13 is an obscenity no matter what the circumstance. But this Florida tween with the million-watt smile was more than a YouTube phenom. She had the mettle of a real star. Talia took on the adventure of her own life. She kicked cancer all the way up and down the block before she left us.
This young woman spent her time abundantly well. She played every card she had, and did it with gusto. She charmed Ellen DeGeneres on TV and displayed her flair for makeup in an ad for Cover Girl. Talia got up from chemo and still had the psychic wherewithal to describe the sight of rain coming at you across a Florida field (see the 2012 interview excerpted here).
Talia said she wanted to be remembered as "that bubbly girl who wanted to do something about childhood cancer." I'll remember you, Talia. No problem there.
After undergoing chemotherapy for six months and facing five more months of same, I found myself having a hard time talking myself into exercising, which is important to my continued recovery. Sometimes it feels like there are two people living in my body and they are completely different personalities, each fighting for control. I don’t even think they like each other.
Richard Powers, a dance professor at Stanford University, explains that freestyle dance actually requires more brainpower than choreographed routines. You make rapid decisions about how you move, rather than following a predetermined set of steps. Supposedly this helps reduces the risk of dementia more than any other physical activity.
Hey my people,
It's not easy to clear off a desk here at Chez Well Again.
And when you do, you're apt to find a big yellow dog snoozing on top.
Hey my people,
Roger Ebert is my hero not just because he was so mighty in the face of cancer. I loved him because as a writer he ENGAGED with what came his way--love, art, death, and everything between. As a critic, Ebert was just what I hope to be, exacting but generous too. If he hated a film, he said so; but he also wished the filmmaker better luck next time. When it came to cancer, Ebert was the finest joycatcher I ever saw. Cancer took his voice; he re-created it. Cancer took his jaw. He kept his smile.
Hey Roger. Thanks for everything. Let's dance.