Warrior Princess

August 16, 2016

The New, New Normal

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Fitness, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 4:01 pm

wolf crossing river“I have traversed many kinds of health, and keep traversing them… and as for sickness: are we not almost tempted to ask whether we could get along without it? Only great pain is the liberator of the spirit.”~ Oliver Sacks, The  Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales

I’m what’s known as a Breast Cancer Survivor.  It’s now in remission.  I really hate it when people give me a perky smile and tell me that’s great.  They believe it’s gone now, but breast cancer is incurable.  My little friend is always with me, waiting to pop up and say hi. I have a blog in which I described my cancer journey.  It’s here if you’d like to follow along.

Given my general unwillingness to deny that presence, I’ve become highly motivated to find the gift.  They are many.  One of them is a need to always be as physically fit as I can for a woman of my age.

To that end I’ve retained a personal trainer.  All of the people I know who have one are a little snotty about it, so I’m a bit nervous about how this is going to affect my usual self-effacing manner.  Our first meeting was on Monday and my good man, Duy, pushed hard.

I love that.  Do not waste my time with exercises that are geared for old people.  There is spiritual redemption to be found in physical movement, I think.  When it’s time to leave, I find a clarity and openness to other people.  I am profoundly immersed in each moment as it passes.  I’m happy even though my little friend has taken up residence.

So now I have a personal trainer, a guide to a new vision of the world.  Time to also avoid snotty, if I can.

November 5, 2014


“We like lists because we don’t want to die.”  ~ Umberto Eco

I keep lists.  They’re not formal and they’re not written down, but they’re available any time I need them.  I only need them when I’ve another list item to add.  My current lists include


Books I’ve read or should read.

New and exciting interests I should pursue.

People who’ve committed suicide.

People who have family and friends who’ve committed suicide.

Good ways to die.

These days the Good Ways To Die list has been getting the most attention.  Whenever I learn of someone who’s died without advance warning or suffering, I pencil it into the list in my brain.  Dying in my sleep (like one of Hubby’s friends).  Losing consciousness in an airplane which has lost cabin pressure. These are the latest, but there are definitely more.

As far back as my twenties, I recognized list-making is frequently a form of magical thinking.  I had a friend who shared with me the types of wrinkles she found tolerable and those she didn’t want.  It was almost as if, by giving voice to these preferences, they became incantations. If we say it, then it must be under our control.  Of course her incantation was futile.  Time wins.

No need to address my first two; they’re fun lists I may feel some guilt about not making greater progress with, but they evoke far less emotion than the others.  Lately the Good Ways To Die schedule has seen a lot of action.  No need to enumerate them here.

I don’t actually not want to die. I’d just prefer to control the how of it.  I’m certain Death is highly amused.  that’s okay.  I’m keeping the list anyway.


March 10, 2014

No Matter What

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Suicide — ggirl @ 3:07 pm

wolf footprintToday there is no quote because I can’t categorize the day or my thoughts.  I don’t know why, but that seems to be a scary scenario.

I’m (allegedly and sporadically) reading two books at the moment:   Pierro’s Light, a nonfiction book about art/religion/science and a Mark Helprin novel, A Soldier of the Great War.  I have the day off from my volunteer job and, instead of making progress on one of those literary fronts, I’ve spent the whole morning reading long articles on the web.  Los Angeles Review of Books and Longreads.  My inbox is filled with Salon and Daily Beast, among the hundreds of political, knitting, cooking and employment emails.  I dealt with the immediate political action requests and put the rest off until I’m feeling more Salon-ish or Beast-y.  I immediately trashed all employment emails.

One of my sidetrips was an essay about Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  On my way to the grocery store to pick up some chicken for dinner, I mulled over my own fear of heroin when I was younger. It seemed like a drug that might call my name a little too insistently; I carried both a lot of pain and a compelling need to unload some of it for a little while.  I knew any unloading was merely temporary.  Pain had been a close and dangerous friend my entire young life.  Dangerous because of the suicide solution or, maybe, the heroin solution.  Many of my favorite and most esteemed writers had discovered the heroin solution, making it an almost romantic choice.

My musings today, to the soundtrack of Chris Whitley’s “Din of Ecstasy” (Whitley’s musical ode to heroin addiction was such an apt selection) reminded me of why heroin and I could never be bosom buddies.  When I had my reconstruction surgery (and the other surgeries that preceded it) I was provided with morphine to dull the pain.  Turns out the pain never left me.  My head resided in Houston and the body was in some other state.  I was aware of both…they were just a little disconnected.  I don’t need to disconnect a little from the pain of my inner life.  I need for it to be a permanent solution.  So heroin doesn’t call my name anymore.

This is what I believe:  Pain is inescapable.  Make friends with it, watch a movie with it, invite it to come to work with you.  It won’t ever leave you.  Not with morphine.  Not with heroin.  Nothing we can physically lay our hands on can provide a buffer.

I don’t just believe, but know as my own absolute truth that

I do not give up

I do not give in

No matter what

Here’s the quote:  “All the suffering, stress and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for,” –Jon Kabat-Zinn

February 5, 2014

The Late Afternoon of my Life

gray wolf yawning“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  –Robert  Frost

I turned 60 several months ago.  I’m not one of those upbeat, chirpy kind of seniors, nor am I desperate to hold onto youth.  I’n not depressed.  (Well, okay, I might be depressed but I’ve always been depressed.  You might even say it’s my metier.)  It’s simply a corner I’ve turned, both personally and culturally.

It’s a realignment of sorts:  who am I now?  how shall I move forward from here?  Though death  walks beside us at all times, I can now estimate the days I have left. It’s a fact, neither good nor bad.  When I think of it, I  hope I don’t die before my mother.  For quite a while I’ve been selecting music I’d like to have played at my memorial (assuming I have one).  I suppose now is the time to begin work on the things I hope will be said of me and my life.  It’s a pretty tall order, so I’d better get to work on that asap.

In the meantime, though, I’m taking an inventory of things that are now completely out of my reach, those that may be possible, those that are unlikely and those that are lost to me forever.  That list is for another day.  Right now, I’m contemplating a persona.  I’ve worn them my entire life. (We all do; I’m just very aware of mine.)   Sometimes I choose one that helps me communicate better with a group of people.  For quite a long time, I’ve worn  the face of someone who lived a normal life.

Right now, I see a couple of options.  I can be one of those hip elderly women you see sometimes who are dressed in a low-key avant garde fashion.  There are also those who continue to get up every day and put on make up and slightly sexy (though certainly appropriate) clothing.  Of course, rounding a psychological corner is far more than whether I wear jeans or a pencil skirt.

I always think my way through major life shifts.  I became a new person when I had Stage 3 breast cancer.  I arose into a new self when my father killed himself.  Generally, it’s trauma and tragedy that have reshaped me into radically different people.  Maybe I should just wait for the next tragedy or trauma to get up and greet me one day.

I talk to Hubby and my mom about this dilemma from time to time.  My mother suggested that I just be myself.  The question is, which “myself” would that be?


January 13, 2014

The Truth May Not Set Others Free


“Adversity is the first path to truth.” – Lord Byron

“My father committed suicide.”

“I have breast cancer.”

“I was a victim of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse.”

“I have a mental illness.  I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” (see above)

When I was a young woman, I kept the secrets of my real life to myself.  Exactly like every other young person, I deeply longed to find acceptance by fitting in.  I studied long and hard to determine just what it would take for me to blend into the crowd.  I became a consummate chameleon.

I now tell the truth.when it’s appropriate.  The truth about my life’s difficulties isn’t something I share immediately, unless the topic arises in conversation.  If people wish to hear  a statement of fact, I provide them with as much truth as I believe they can handle.  Not everyone is capable of hearing everything. Some people have refused to shake my hand after I’ve told them about my breast cancer.

Some people change the subject quickly when the topics of abuse, mental illness and suicide come up.  Some people believe they know how I feel.  Others would like to hear the gory details about my life because they find it titillating. All of these responses have become predictable.

I don’t like to experience unpleasant reactions, but I believe that every time I tell the truth about these things, I chip away at stigma and intolerance.  I’m willing to face the consequences. I’m not trying to get a pat on the back nor is this a call for more people to take the leap of truth.  I just hope that I’m doing a tiny bit to create a future in which all that is profoundly difficult in life can be voiced without fear.  I hope that I’m standing in solidarity with all of the people who have, and continue to, suffer in silence.

May the truth liberate us all someday.

January 10, 2014

Death as a Touchstone

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Faith and Spirituality — Tags: , , — ggirl @ 5:57 pm

Image“A soon as we notice that certain types of events “like” to cluster together at certain times, we begin to understand the attitude of the Chinese, whose theories of medicine, philosophy, and even building are based on a “science” of meaningful coincidences. The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what “likes” to occur with what.” M.L. Franz

I’m not certain that death is actually a touchstone for me.  I only know that it has continually reasserted itself in my life for weeks.  It finds me in books I read, songs I happen to hear, articles I happen across. I don’t take this as a premonition, nor do I experience it as an invitation.  I’m not quite certain of the meaning of this recent pattern.  Indeed, I try not to analyze or ferret out some meaning intellectually.  I’m waiting for my inner voice or intuition or pure connection to the universe to reveal itself to me.

I know that death  is our constant companion and that the date and time when it will touch our shoulder is a mystery.   I know that no one plans to be in a deadly automobile accident on the way to work, and yet every day it happens to someone or many someones. On occasion, I point out to  people that everyone in the World Trade Center fully expected to go home on September 11. Though generally people think my reminder is morbid.

On the contrary, it’s an invitation to live fully–or as fully as one can.  It’s a reminder to make sure that the people you love know that they are loved.  Every day.  I’m not always grounded in each moment as it passes and sometimes  I forget to say I love you every time I leave someone I love.  Cancer and suicide have been great teachers for me and for that I am grateful.

There’s a Buddhist saying that everyone you meet is a Buddha sent to teach you something.  I believe that to be true of patterns which assert themselves in one’s life, too.  What is this Buddha trying to teach me?

August 7, 2013

The Magical Mystery of Calcification

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 5:16 pm

gray wolf sleeping in snow“A late diagnosis can result in more serious, long-term consequences.” — Olympia Snowe

Time for my annual pilgrimage to Houston to see my beloved Dr. Ross, the man who saved my life.  I won’t be seeing the beloved Dr. Kronowitz, although I wish I were.  I learned about a month ago that he lost his wife to breast cancer this year.  They have a young daughter and a tiny daughter, born a couple of years ago.  Every time i think of it, I’m heartsick.

On my last trip, the breast made of my stomach tissue was fine.  The other breast, though healthy, had changed since my last visit.  Just some minor calcification.  That word has become terrifying to me.  On Friday, I’m having a cardiolite test.  A couple of weeks ago, my cardiologist ordered a CT scan of my heart.  Because they found calcification, I will now have yet another test.  This time, they’re inject radio isotopes into my veins and watch it travel into my heart to determine whether I’m getting enough blood there.  Excellent.  More radiation.  Any day now, I’ll no doubt find that I’m growing another arm out of my butt or some other equally inconvenient place.  Of course, there’s also the old glowing in the dark joke.

I’m not afraid of my heart.  I’m terrified about my breast.  My position remains that I won’t endure another round of chemo.  I can’t.  So what does that leave me with if something goes wrong?  I wonder which would be more painful–the chemo or dying.  I know chemo and I know what horrors lay in store for me.  Dying?  Not afraid.  I’d just rather not leave my loved ones alone.  But chemo…I don’t see it.

Given all of this, I’m stuck once again (just as I am every year) enduring small bouts of terror.  Next week is a long time to venture small forays into panic.  But there you have it.  Excuse me now, while I have a flashback.


March 5, 2010

I’m Back–Even if Temporarily (and hello Tommy)

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 1:26 pm

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.  What I want and whate I fear.”–Joan Didion

Thanks to my old friend, Tom Turner, I decided to try to post during my lunch hour at my new, improved (if wildly less amusing) job.  I’ve missed posting to my blogs and missed comments from my old friends.  When I don’t have time to write, I lose that sense of myself as an individual, separate from family, friends and work.  So here I am.

The latest drama is that we found a spot in my brain, second mri showed the spot had gotten bigger and brighter.  The day I was supposed to start radiation, we did yet another mir, that didn’t show anything.  Everyone asks if I’m thrilled.  Oddly, I’m not.  My mom believes–and I suspect she’s correct–that I don’t quite believe that I’m out of the woods.  Seems right, anyway.  The fourth mri is scheduled for April.

I contine to develop my close personal relationship with large, intimidating machines.  Encounters with my personal mri machines fill me with dread.  It’s not a question of pain.  It’s the sheer aloneness of the experience.  No one is in the room with me.  Ever.  It’s just me and the machine.  Maybe this is a feeling that no one who hasn’t had lots of experience with medical machines can understand.

I’m never been so much frightened by the prospect of dying as the prospect of another round of aggressive chemotherapy.  I’ve told all my loved ones repeatedly that I don’t think I’m up for any more, no matter the consequences.  When that prospect arose, I had mixed feelings.  Which would be worse, the suffering before dying if I chose not to treat or the suffering of treatment?  Then there’s the issue of putting my family and friends through the pain of watching the suffering of dying and, of course, my eventual absence from their lives.  To whom do I owe the greater responsibility?  Perhaps it’s a question I won’t have to answer just yet.

So there we are, for now.  More about the new job, how the old job ended and whatever else crosses my mind–all coming soon. 

Again, thanks, Tom Turner, for checking in on me.  You’re the best!

December 4, 2008

I’m Not Home Yet

I threw away my prosthesis Monday night and moved my wigs off of my dresser.  I don’t know why it’s taken so long, nor do I know why there are still things I can’t look at and can’t get rid of.

I have several tote bags in my bedroom that I’ve used in the 3 years I’ve shuttled back and forth between here and M.D. Anderson.  They’re filled with insurance forms, bills, magazines, puzzle books…the stuff that accumulates while you wait.  Waiting is an art in which I’ve become well versed.

I can’t make myself go through it.  I try now and then, but that chemo nausea returns like a ghost to remind me of how bad it’s been.

I also carry a small notebook with me that includes, among other things, several pages detailing the physical reactions I had to chemotherapy.  I agreed to participate in a study that required I keep track.  I can’t tear those pages out.

I remind myself that I’ve been through a lot.  I got rid of the prosthesis, I moved my wigs.  It’s a journey of reconciliation.  I’m not home yet.

November 6, 2008

Wading Through High Waters

It took a while to slog through my dad’s anniversary.  Actually, I think I’m still wading through some sadness.

Hubby and I are on speaking terms again.  He’s been more helpful than usual, so I’m thinking that, at least for the time being, we’re on almost the same page.  Being on the same page is a bit much to ask, but having him on a quarter of the page I’m on is a huge improvement.

Crazy Land has been chewing up all of my discretionary, write in my blog time.  While IT Boy was on his honeymoon, I was the only recourse for Loathsome when his email went berserk.  He stalked into my office and asked me if I had a computer.  That is so Loathsome.  I made him cut to the chase and tell me what was happening.  You can’t imagine what a huge task it was to just get the basic facts out of him.  I was exhausted before I began.

I spent two days working on his computer, then I abandoned all hope.  I set his email up on another computer so Loathsome could function while we waited for the return of IT Boy.  A week into using that computer, it stopped running the accounting software.  Of course, everybody blamed Loathsome for the troubles.

IT Boy got back this past Monday and devoted three days to Loathsome’s email.  I understand that, as of yesterday afternoon, virtual memory has been restored and it’s stopped shutting itself down or freezing up.  I had correctly pinpointed the problem and I take some pride in the fact that IT Boy wasn’t able to waltz in and fix the problem immediately.

Yesterday I invited my Crazy Land cohorts to join me for a belated birthday celebration/thank you party.  Two days after issuing the invitation, I suddenly remembered that I’ve had several birthday parties when no one showed up.  Yes, it was a sad, sad childhood.  Nothing like setting yourself up to be hurt and disappointed…again.

Everyone but Golf Pro showed up, though,  and I was able to thank everyone for helping me get through three years of breast cancer hell.  It was actually better that Golf Pro was MIA.  Everyone is even more furious at him than usual.

I’m so happy to have 15 minutes to keep track of what’s going on, even if it’s on a very minimal basis.  I have to try to find a way to work this into my days, which continue to be far too busy.  I’m inventive.  I’ll just put me on my daily schedule.

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