This weekend…

I turned a half century.


I did NOT get my birthday wish, despite being completely unsubtle about what I wanted…I figured SURELY turning 50 and surviving cancer would mean my husband would get me a puppy.


He did not. But that’s ok, because now I know exactly what I’m getting him for Christmas!

I got to celebrate a huge win for my daughter’s team and did not drop dead of a heart attack despite all the stress. (Being the mother of a goalie is no joke).

And I got to spend precious time with my family, including my oldest son who was home from New York for a long weekend…


Phew! I’ve managed to survive my first half century!



2019 is kicking my ass, but I’m still standing

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Cor. 4

The last time I visited this space I was posting a video my sister and I made to make our sister Annabelle laugh. Let me explain…It was January, and we were road-tripping to New Jersey to take her to her 6th and last round of chemo. Annabelle had handled chemo, like she handles everything in life, like a Boss. We were giddy with the thought that our sister was almost through her ordeal. We deliberately made my already messy car even messier, chortling as we imagined Annabelle’s reaction when she watched the video. (I have to admit though, I really did happen to have a rubber horse mask and a can of green beans in the car, because, I mean…doesn’t everyone travel with those essentials)?

That week my sister crammed the fridge and freezer with food so Annabelle’s family wouldn’t have to worry about meals until the End Times. I got the easy gig. I drove Annabelle to her appointment to keep her company during her day-long chemo infusion. We talked, we laughed, we napped. I’m pretty sure it was the longest time I got to spend one-on-one with my sister ever. The circumstances were lousy, but I will always remember that day with Annabelle as a gift.

On Saturday, my sister and I drove back to Virginia in a celebratory mood. Annabelle was done with chemo! The next morning when my sister called to tell me that Annabelle was at that very moment lying in an ambulance being stabilized after having a stroke, I could hear the words she was saying, but could not process them. By the end of the day, I was back in New Jersey with my sisters and my parents. My brother flew in the next morning. My sister and I stayed in New Jersey, keeping vigil over Annabelle, who would be in the ICU for more than a month. Bleak, dark winter days bled into dark nights and weeks. Later, doctors, nurses, and social workers would tell us that they hadn’t expected our sister to survive. That thought never once occurred to my sister and me. In May, just in time for Mother’s Day, Annabelle finally made it back to her own house, where she continues to fight like the badass she has been since the day she was born.

Life hasn’t been the same since. I’ve been driving up to New Jersey as often as possible to take my parents up to see Annabelle on weekends. In March we lost a dear family friend to cancer. At the end of that same month we came to the bitter realization that it was time to put our sweet dog Tallis to sleep. IMG_6985Another friend was diagnosed with cancer shortly before I too was diagnosed with…you guessed it: cancer. By that time I was so numb, I wasn’t even surprised. I tried to avoid telling my poor, beleaguered parents for as long as I could, but finally had to break the news when I drove up to Arlington to take them to visit my sister with an ice pack tucked under my arm after the lymph node biopsy I’d had the day before. The jig was up. Having to tell them I have cancer was far worse than getting the diagnosis, and, (hopefully), worse than the double mastectomy I’m having next week.

During those terrible weeks when my sister and I sat in the hospital with Annabelle I was tortured by the question of suffering. Why? What was the point of this all? Why should people be born into this world to suffer? One earnest student chaplain trotted out a trite answer…something along the lines of, “If we didn’t have bad times in our life, would we truly be able to appreciate the good times?” I abruptly ended our conversation by telling him that I could truthfully say that I have never in my life needed to suffer in order to appreciate good times. My husband, a professional philosopher, gave me a couple alternative justifications from the academic canon that left me cold. When I turned to Annabelle’s pastor, who visited her faithfully every single day she was in the hospital and at rehab, he looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t have a good reason why people suffer. I’ve never understood why they should have to myself.” For some reason, that honest, painful answer was what I needed to hear.

Life has been so pointlessly cruel lately, but to my surprise, I find that I am not drowning in a quagmire of despair. I can’t begin to understand the point of suffering, but what I know with blinding clarity is that human kindness is a force stronger than illness, or even death itself. My family and I have been sustained through this year by the thousand acts of kindness shown to us by family, friends, and perfect strangers who have become friends.

My sisters and I could not have survived the harrowing weeks in the hospital without each other. There were so many others who helped us get through each day. Debbie, who worked in the hospital cafeteria and was caring for her own very sick mother, would bring my sister and me trays of food whenever she noticed we hadn’t been able to leave Annabelle to eat. One day, she came in on her day off just to check in on us. A friend whose own husband was in the hospital in his final days kept emailing me to see how I was doing. Once I got back home to Charlottesville, friends came with me to my own medical appointments when my husband was out of the country. We have been awash in a steady stream of texts, cards, flowers, casseroles: the currency of kindness. Lately life has been heartbreaking, but people, people have been amazing…proof that there is love and goodness and beauty in the world still,


Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8:6




Genetic Garbage

This winter I started wearing a brand new, never before worn coat that’s been hanging in my closet for…the last decade. I know this is extreme. I blame it on what my husband likes to call “genetic garbage.” It makes me who I am, and marks me as a member of my own little tribe of weirdos.

A couple years ago, I was at an event with my two sisters. Two of us couldn’t stop cooing over the dress our sister was wearing.

“You look so chic!”

“How come we’ve never seen you wear that before? Is it new?”

Our sister sheepishly confessed that it wasn’t new, but she had never worn it before. It had been hanging in her closet for a while.

“I have this thing about wearing new clothes…I’m too embarrassed to wear things right away when I buy them. So then when I eventually do wear something and someone asks me if it’s new, I can honestly say: No, I’ve had it for a while.”

“I DO THAT TOO!!!” I shrieked.

“SO DO I!!!” our other sister said.

We’ve made other discoveries like this over the years. Once my sister told us that she would hate it when people sang Happy Birthday to her, because it always made her tear up from embarrassment. Until then, I thought I was the only who had that weird reaction.

A few years ago that same sister and I realized we share yet another genetic garbage trait. For years I suffered from the feeling that my legs were burning hot. One day I texted my sisters to ask, “Does anyone else feel like their thighs are as hot as curling irons?” To my surprise, my sister immediately texted back “YES!” She went on to explain that her natural instinct to research the problem was hampered by her fear of googling “hot thighs.” She eventually diagnosed our issue as a kind of neuropathy, for which there is nothing to be done but to commiserate with one’s sister and fellow sufferer!

The classic example of genetic garbage on my husband ‘s side of the family is “concentration tongue.” Whenever my father-in-law, husband, son, or daughter are performing a task that requires focus, their tongues slide out of their mouths. If the task is really demanding, the tongue starts to waggle back and forth. The harder the task, the faster the waggle:


Ping-pong induced concentration tongue: barely detectable, but present.

concentration tongue

Impossible to miss concentration tongue


“I think I almost have it…”




It’s like the swoosh…


…concentration tongue makes you run faster.

Anybody else share “genetic garbage” traits with their family members?

Happy Weekend! It looks like we’re going to get walloped with snow in our corner of the world. Good thing I have a coat to wear! ; )







Shut me down


I was driving my daughter home from a birthday party this weekend when she heaved a heavy sigh and groaned, “When will this shutdown end?!

I chuckled and asked my 13-year-old, “How, in any way, are you being affected by the government shutdown?”

Because I’m a human being with compassion for other people I’ve read about in the news, who can’t buy the insulin they need to survive, for example, because they’re not getting paid…Because I feel terrible for people who desperately need their paychecks for things like food, or to pay their rent or mortgage…”

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne


img_7351Yesterday I had my scheduled “Be Well” visit, one of the many annoying assaults to my dignity that I must endure, like a pigeon pecking a button for a pellet, to earn a lousy (taxable) $600.

A slim, bright-eyed doctor strode into the room. He looked all of twelve years old.

“So! Let’s talk about your Be Well goals for the year!”

I was taken aback. “Oh! I actually have been thinking about those all week, but I’m still working on them. I promise I’ll have them by my next phone appointment with my Be Well Advocate though.”

“Mmmhmmm,” he said with his fingers poised over the keyboard, “But I have to put them into the system, so let’s go ahead and work on those now.”

“NOW?!” I said in a mild panic, “Well, OK. I will…ummm…try to exercise four days a week.”

“Good one!” he said with an encouraging smile, “One more.”

“I’m blanking. Do you have any suggestions for me?” I asked.

“How about…I will meditate three times a week for five minutes. That seems easy enough, right?”

“Yes, but…shouldn’t it be something that I would realistically do?”

I continued to muse out loud, “I know I should lose some weight, but I also feel like the goal should be something that would actually be achievable…”

“Drink less?” he proposed.

“I don’t drink.”

“Eat less sweets at work?”

“I don’t eat a lot of sweets.”

“Eat a greater proportion of vegetables at meals?”

“I don’t eat meat.”

“Well! You’re just perfect.”

Exasperating medical health professionals is one of my special talents.

Until this year, it used to be the case that instead of going to a doctor, the Be Well program would require you to move through stations set up around a large conference room. At one station you would get weighed and measured. At another station you would get your blood drawn. At the final station, a nurse would interpret your results and give you recommendations to improve your health.

One year, a well-meaning nurse tried to get to the bottom of my high cholesterol numbers.

“Do you eat a lot of sugar?”

“No, I really don’t.”

“Do you eat a lot of fried foods?”


He started to look at me with suspicion.

“Red meat?”

“I don’t eat meat, just fish occasionally.”

His eyes narrowed and he asked, “Fatty foods?”

“Not really, although…I do eat cheese,” I conceded.

The nurse pounced: “You MUST. EAT. LESS. CHEESE.”

Now, under pressure to come up with something, anything, I blurted out to the doctor: “OK, I have my second goal!” Forgetting all my scruples about setting a goal that was both realistic and achievable I announced: “I will eat less cheese.” I cringed as the words spilled from my lips, fully confident that no stupider-sounding goal had ever been set in the history of the universe.

Doogie Howser exacted his revenge on me.

“Hah! That’s the exact opposite of MY goal. My goal is to eat MORE cheese. I fantasize about quitting medicine and becoming a cheesemaker! But my wife says I have to pay off all my med school loans first.”

Well, I suppose we all have our crosses to bear.

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