Joycatcher Moments

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!

At Home With Wegman's Weimaraners

Hey my people, you've met William Wegman's famously photogenic Weimaraner dogs, right?  The New York Times visited Wegman at his home in NYC's Chelsea neighborhood, where he cohabits with his human family and his muses, Bobbin, Candy, Flo, and Topper.  Here's the story:

And don't forget the slideshow:



The glory of the everyday: "Make Our Garden Grow"

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.

My Cancer Quest for Meaning

I would never have presumed to compare my suffering as a cancer patient with that of a prisoner in Auschwitz. It took the thoughtful and compassionate Dr. Arash Asher, director of survivorship and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai, to show me the connecting thread.

I had asked Dr. Asher to help me understand how experts view the challenges of longterm cancer survivorship. He discussed physical and mental issues. "Then," he said, "there's the existential."

Ah. Among the zillions of words I've written about cancer, existential had never come up. It instantly clicked into place as that perfect expressioin that had been on the tip of my tongue the whole time.

"Have you read Man's Search for Meaning?" Dr. Asher asked.

I'm reading it now. Dr. Viktor Frankl's mighty work, rooted in his experience in three Nazi concentration camps, reveals that physical strength alone is no guarantee of survival. In Auschwitz, those most likely to survive were those who had the mental will to find meaning in their lives -- in life itself.

Frankl writes that his own life was saved more than once by his power to imagine himself elsewhere. He describes how, being whipped, cursed, and marched in the freezing wind to a work detail, he escaped into a vision of a loving conversation with his wife. "I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out…; but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved."

Again, I don't presume to compare the circumstances. Yet during chemo I had similar experiences; my imagination came to my rescue. I supposed I ought to be facing reality. Throughout my childhood, I'd gotten in trouble for daydreaming. Yet when the adversary was cancer, I was sure that my dreams were saving my life.

The whole point behind Well Again is that cancer changes nothing less than our existence. Life beyond cancer can never be the same. So we get a chance to make it better.  We deserve to reimagine and rebuild our lives based on happiness, adventure, education—whatever 'Well Again' means for us.



Sheep dreams, Seamus...

Hey my people,
Seamus and I duet on his sheep toy. He gets it in his jaws and shoves it against my knee till it squeaks. Then I answer--reach in on either side of his jaws, squeak the toy, draw back, and don't get chomped. Then he squeaks, then I squeak, and so on.
Might sound dull, but what with the teeth, it gets pretty lively.
Not till this week did I realize that Seamus was also using his sheep as a pillow. Does this count as multitasking?

Dancing for Roger Ebert

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.

Cancer, the Mystery. We, the initiates.

Hey my people,

When you run into friends after you've been to Cancerville, they smile and hug you, but there's a certain holding back. Right? A certain awkward silence that was never there before. You can read their minds, although you don't want to. They're thinking: Now that you're back from the dead, who are you?

In a world where cancer is rarely a death trip, that seems really unfair. Like, I've just been through hell and now I have to comfort YOU?

Well, yeah. You do. Cancer is a Mystery, the ancient kind, with a capital M. It's an initiation into a certain kind of priesthood. People fear you afterward, or put you on a pedestal, or get antsy and say dumb things and spill coffee in your lap. That's just how it is. We're different.

After cancer, we'll cook dinner and watch TV and walk the dog. But we'll never be the same.

The first time I had cancer, I wanted to forget it ever happened. The second time, I was so angry, I wanted to rip the world in two. The third time, though, I opened my eyes and saw that I'm in the world's best company. We've been tested, you and I. We've seen the Mystery, and if we can't talk about it to those who stayed behind, is that really so surprising?

Hey my people: That's how I start my posts because that's how I feel about you. If that seems presumptuous—like, if you'd rather be anywhere but in this club—I understand. But I want to be here if you pass this way again. You can't go BACK home after cancer. But you can live to build a new home up ahead. I'm here to help you find it.

My Dinner with Fran Drescher and Friends

Hey my people,
Talk about your holiday cheer! This week I dined under the stars with the one and only Fran Drescher and her close-knit creative family at TV Land's "Happily Divorced."
How'd I get invited? The famed comedienne from Queens is also a committed cancer activist who graciously gave me a listen about Well Again. Fran answered her own cancer diagnosis with her bestselling book "Cancer, Schmancer." After that, she created the Cancer, Schmancer Foundation, which continues to advocate for better healthcare, stronger awareness of environmental carcinogens, and above all, early detection. (Check it out at

Fran stands out among cancer heroes because she can share serious information with a laugh--in her case, a laugh that deserves its own star on the walk of fame.

In person, the laugh and the lady are for real. Like Lucille Ball before her, Fran Drescher is a pro's pro who not only stars in "Happily Divorced" but also writes and executive produces it. "TV's very fast," Fran pointed out. "If you're not playing pretty close to yourself, you're sunk."

After our conversation came dinner, hosted by Fran's ex-husband and forever creative partner, Peter Marc Jacobson. The long table on his outdoor terrace glittered with glassware and candles. Healthy veggie dishes kept coming. Short ribs too. And chocolate. I faced Peter's blue-lit pool; behind me were the lights of Hollywood far below.

The conversation was even more fun than the view. I sat next to cast members Robert Walden, a straight-ahead nice guy who plays Fran's dad; and Tichina Arnold, Fran's onscreen best friend, who enlightened me about her own cause: the fight against lupus, which affects three out of five African-American women. Faced with Tichina, I'd say lupus hasn't got a chance.

And then there was Rita Moreno. One of my personal goddesses -- if you haven't seen her in "West Side Story," don't speak to me until you have -- Rita plays Fran's mom on "Happily Divorced." At 65, Rita is more beautiful than ever.  At least that's what I was thinking until Fran announced that tonight was Rita's birthday. Her 81st birthday

I had to laugh at life's endless unpredictability. When I was first diagnosed and the doctors were giving me 50/50 odds, did they imagine that 11 years later I'd be eating coconut cake with Rita Moreno?  Not a chance.  So if you're reading this, hold tight to life. Because even if it kicks you today, tomorrow it will throw you all the joy you can catch. 

Joycatcher Moment: Reggie Watts rocks your molecules

Hey my people, here's my joycatcher moment for today. Musician-poet Reggie Watts is OFF THE CHAIN at TED Talks. It's not just his mad musical skills: At one point, he gestures to his body and observes in wonder, "You have the power to move this mass of molecules AT WILL." So true, Reggie. Why do we worry there are no miracles out there for us? We're miracles already.

What are your joycatcher moments? We want to know!

Warmest regards, Anne