Handling Treatment

Welcome to Humility Beach

You know what I used to hate during chemo? Those perky social worker types who would materialize next to my IV stand and try to cheer me up. Their spiel was excruciatingly predictable. Duration: ten minutes, no more. Content: a helpful hint, a sincere smile, an upbeat exit. The helpful hint was always something like, "Did you know ginger tea can help with nausea?" My answer was always something like, "Did you know not having cancer can prevent nausea altogether?" I never said that of course. I just thought it, every single time. 

I never wanted to be a check mark on anybody's clipboard. If all it takes to fix me is a cup of ginger tea, how boring am I? All those meditation apps, mind-body-spirit workshops, soothing sound tracks—all that stuff—I was like, Deliver me from cheesy consolations!

Well, cancer eventually offers a path to humility. I don't mean humiliation. I mean one day you look up and you're not so eager to judge. Ginger tea doesn't seem so trivial. What's more, cancer doesn't seem so monumental. Humiliation makes the path narrower, but humility opens our way to an endless beach where there's room for all of us and nobody's footprints are forever.

I don't know how that beach sounds for you. But courtesy of this clip from YouTube, here's how it sounded for someone else. Is it cheesy to close your eyes and enjoy these waves, knowing that they're advertising some product called Hawaii Ocean Waves White Noise? I'll let you decide. 

As for me, cancer got me to Humility Beach and, to my surprise, I like it here. I'm not judging winners and losers anymore. I'm amazed at all the living creatures I meet, including myself. Come on by. I'll make us a cup of ginger tea.

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.


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!


Social Media for Cancer Voyagers

Hey my people, Having a great exchange with Lynn, a new friend on our Well Again page on Facebook. She wants to send pix of her crocuses but she's not sure how to post. Anybody relate???? While the digital world was taking quantum leaps forward, a lot of us  were having cancer treatments that temporarily took up all our mental storage. So now here we are, and it feels like the world is just galloping ahead and how will we catch up? 

What if it's a matter of openness and generosity? We already know that isolation is one of the most painful things about cancer. We already know that the online world is an awesome tool to bring us together. Doesn't it seem like we could figure out a way to help each other master the online basics, so we could reach out and connect?

Anybody care to post on my Well Again wall and tell Lynn in three steps how to post a picture of her crocuses?  


Can I afford to come out about cancer?

Hey my people, Check out The Sickness Closet, a brilliant column in Salon today by my awesome fellow cancer vet Mary Elizabeth Williams.  The subject is: do we let people know we're dealing with the C, or do we keep it secret? 

I mean, keeping it all a secret just can't be good. I get this picture of my trillions of cells trying to fend off the cancer while also pouring out energy to explain my oddly long lunch hours and my blood-test band-aids, and, who knows, whether my wig is on straight. Talk about your strength-sappers!

On the other hand…  Next to the shock power of the C word itself, the second-most-awful C word comes from your insurance company: CANCELLED.  So the closet starts to look pretty good. Except that hiding encourages people to think cancer is worse than it is.  If we're sick one day, we'll be better the next.  We're not dead.

We're alive, thank you very much!

Most of us who come down with cancer go right on living.  For every curve the illness throws at us, we discover new strength and new purpose. The folks who count us out… and those who want us to keep cancer a deep, dark secret… I'm guessing they're really scared of cancer themselves.  Not that I blame them.

But here's the thing. If I'm hiding my cancer journey, how can I help with yours?