Monday, December 31, 2012

Busting Out of 2012

When Rachel and I were little, we hated Sunday nights. We would always try to negotiate staying up to watch football with my Dad as long as we could, but eventually, it was time to go to bed. We called that terrible sad feeling we had on those nights, Sunday night feeling, although it didn't just hit on Sundays. Rachel and I, and later, Sean, agreed that Sunday night feeling hit when any really fun time was over and it was time to get back to our normal schedules. Family vacation, summer camp, weddings, graduations, Christmas -- when any of these great times were through, we totally had the blues.  

Like it was yesterday, I remember our summer vacation a few years ago. Teddy was off on an adventure with my parents and Annabel was taking a nap. I had a very (very) rare quiet moment and I was swimming in the pool at the house we rented. It was a Wednesday and I remember being so sad about that. Wednesday. Only half of the vacation week remained. I didn't want that vacation to ever end, and I remember wondering how I could slow down time as I swam laps underwater (also still pretending I was a mermaid -- I'm still waiting to grow out of that phase).

Until now, I've never really sat down and thought about Sunday night feeling. Now that I do, I realize that it may largely be a separation issue. I love the time I get with my family and when that time is over and I need to go out into the world by myself, it's kind of sad, even for a 32 year old. I really am a hopeless homebody. 

The crazy thing is that since I was diagnosed, I have never had Sunday night feeling. It's probably because the I-want-to-barf-I'm-so-scared-by-life-and-death feeling trumps any other emotion, but even as that feeling has gradually subsided, Sunday night feeling has not emerged in its place. 

Still, this New Year's is one of great transition for me and it got me thinking about Sunday night feeling. Although my official medical leave doesn't end for a month, I will go to work at least a few days a week in January to spend time on Wendy's case. My family keeps reminding me of the terrible flu season and that I need to protect myself through one more potential bout of neutropenia. My hand sanitizer is stocked and despite that I can't wait to get back to CrossFit, I'll wait for my counts to rise before I venture there. Surprisingly, I am excited for all of this, and I don't even feel the blues. 

On January 16, I have an echo-cardiogram scheduled at the Brigham so that my doctors can check to see if the Herceptin has caused any damage to my heart. I'm guessing that the test will be a lot more comfortable four and a half months post-surgery than it was 10 days after my chest was dissected and reconstructed. With those results, I will meet with my oncology team and then receive my Herceptin, not to be followed by any chemotherapy. That will be a big step, and one I am sure I will feel very proud to have reached. In the meantime, I will write (Maggie and I are teaming up for a Beauty Blog so stay tuned!). 

As for New Year's, I haven't been awake to see the ball drop in the last few years. This year, we're resigning our nerdy ways (just temporarily) and going to a wedding tonight. We can't wait. Rachel bought me a new dress for Christmas and she and Matt are watching the kids. Have I mentioned before that they are the best? Still, it's impossible to put my true nerdy self aside and I'll totally be wondering about everyone's New Year's resolutions tonight and tomorrow. I always find those so interesting.

The last few years I have made the same New Year's resolution -- to enjoy the present. No joke -- that's been it since Teddy was born and I felt like time moved too quickly. I figured (until now) that it would be my resolution this year, too. What better resolution for someone who was diagnosed with cancer, right?!?

But then I realize that for the very first time in my life, I actually achieved a resolution (Wow!). Yep, even today is proof. This morning Teddy left with Brian for his hockey game, and Annabel and I -- both tired and disheveled -- stayed behind. We had lunch together and we dropped red and yellow chips into the Connect Four contraption. It was awesome. So, for the first time in years, I need another resolution. 

Lots of thinking ... Water machine buzzing ... Floor boards clanging ... More thinking ...

Before I started chemotherapy, I was absolutely terrified. In one of my posts about that fear, I wrote about how I needed to dive into the wave and if I did, I would come out the other side. Well, I dove in, and the wave kind of leveled me; you know -- the kind of lift you up, drop you down, and leave you with a bloody nose and a bathing suit full of sand kind of hit. Yet, I somehow came out of the other side. My new years resolution kind of has to do with that. 

I have spent a lot of time in my cancer cocoon. I have tried to hide from death and any story about it. I have spent time in great despair that good times were over -- dwelled in the world of a strange cousin of Sunday night feeling -- Sunday-night-feeling-on-steroids (chemo steroids), if you will. And I don't want to do that any more. 

Six days after my surgery, the A Word A Day quote was this: 

If, every day, I dare to remember that I am here on loan, that this house, this hillside, these minutes are all leased to me, not given, I will never despair. Despair is for those who expect to live forever. I no longer do. 
-- Erica Jong, writer

I remember reading this quote and hating it, wanting to be sick. I think that was also the day that I literally was sick, but nonetheless, you get my point. The thought of a loan, a lease, of life as temporary, terrified me. Sometimes, it still does. But not right now. 

So, like I always do, I copied the quote and Googled Erica Jong. She's not exactly Maya Angelou, but that's OK. (I do find it funny that Ms. Jong's first novel is called "Fear of Flying" and that, according to Wikipedia, it has "many sexual elements." Yikes. Anyways...) Right now, I'll make my little 2013 resolution based on this kind-of-totally-random writer's quote (fitting, I guess, since I, myself, am a kind-of-totally-random writer). 

This year, I will dare to remember that I am here on loan, that this house, this hillside, are leased to me. This year, I will not expect to live forever and I'll try to feel less despair in the fact that I won't. I'll try to remember that my minutes are only temporary so I better put them to good use. Yep, 2013 is the time to bust out of the cancer cocoon. I'm curious to see what sort of butterflies have been growing inside ...

P.S. I also need to eat less sugar. Urgh. 

*  *  *

Happy New Year!
The Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston (or "Gatey" as Brian calls it).
Stunning for a wedding at Christmas time. 
Brian and I at Andrea and Steve's New Year's Eve wedding. What a great time we had! This photo makes me laugh because my head looks just like the lanterns in the background.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Short and Sleepy Confession

I can't remember a time in my life when I was more tired than I was in the last few days. I hate being tired because I can always think of things I'd rather be doing than resting, but in the last few days, I couldn't help but spend a lot of time lying around half-sleeping, half trying to convince myself that I could get up. This morning, I finally feel rested, and with a beautiful snow on the ground and coating all the trees, it feels good.

I love New England!
The nausea stinks but that's all old news. Being done with my last chemo treatment is new news, but I'm not in the mood for a reflection on all of that. Instead, I thought I'd recount a quick story that makes my family laugh every single time we recall it. I can't believe after all of these years, I am finally going to come clean on this, but it's time. And at the very least, my Mom will get a good kick out of it (again). 

When I was teaching and in law school, I tutored high school students to help them prepare for the SATs or just to help them in their regular school subjects. I worked with great kids, many of whom I still see around town and many of whom still call me "Ms. Talbot," which makes me smile every time. 

Pat is one of my former students and he still calls me Ms. Talbot even though I have tried to tell him he can call me Tara now. Pat is Pat's real name, and Pat has a great sense of humor. This confession is long overdue, and if he ever sees it, I think he'll get a kick out of it. 

I remember sitting in Pat's basement tutoring him in the SATs. This had to have been about seven or eight years ago. One afternoon, as we worked through practice problems, I remember thinking, Crap, I am so going to fall asleep sitting on this couch. The gum that I kept in my tutoring bag was the one technique that usually helped keep me awake when I was so sleep-deprived that I thought I wouldn't be able to keep my eyes open. But that afternoon, the gum didn't help. 

That afternoon, I asked Pat a question -- I can't remember if it was verbal or math -- and then I fell asleep. Yep, right then and there. Fast asleep. I have no idea how long I was out for, although I still pray it was only a few minutes, but I was out. Poor Pat. I wonder what he did when he saw me sleeping and until now, I have always been too horrified to bring it up even though he must think of it every time he sees me. If I know Pat, I bet he just sat there and laughed to himself. Eventually, he got up and flicked the lights on and off. I woke up. 

Despite that I believe that honesty is the best policy, I was so embarrassed that I had fallen asleep that I couldn't even acknowledge that it had happened. I just woke up and moved on. I cringe, and laugh, even now as I write about it. When the hour was over, I debated whether or not I should take the money for the hour of "work." I knew I really shouldn't, but if I didn't take it, Pat's lovely mother would wonder why. So I took it. To this day, I still think I owe the family $40. Or maybe I should have just made up a SAT math problem based on my horrifying mistake -- If your SAT tutor falls asleep for 1/8 of the hour that she was paid to tutor you, and she charges $40 an hour, how much money does she owe your mother for the time she was not awake? 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Final Round: Mission Accomplished

We are home after a 12 hour day at Dana-Farber and we are exhausted. I will write more tomorrow about this huge milestone in my recovery, but for now, several photos will suffice.

I should explain where some of these goofy photos come from ... Kirsten surprised me with a huge Container Store bag of endless goodies. We enjoyed them all day long...


Brian and did a Word Search competition and learned that we have completely different strategies. A good team, I guess! 
Brian and my Mom were terrified by these plastic teeth. So I kept wearing them. 
We enjoyed some good old school Mad Libs.

4 down. 0 to go. 
Off to bed, still Powered by Optimism...

Refining Hope

Tomorrow morning I have my first appointment of the day at 6:45am on the second floor of the Dana-Farber Yawkey building. Given the winter storm that seemed, at least until a few hours ago, to be a bit of a wild card, we decided not to take any chances. At the last minute, we booked a room at the Best Western that is connected to Dana-Farber by a series of foot bridges (except for a few outdoor steps between the Jimmy Fund wing and the Longwood Galleria, unless we missed another bridge).

Brian and I tried to get the kids to sleep in time to grab a late dinner on the way into Boston, but of course Teddy would have none of that. Before my Mom, Brian, and I had finished our bread at Joe's, Teddy had broken Auntie Rachel down with hysterical tears and he had escaped from his bed for a seat next to Rachel where he could munch on Goldfish and watch TV. Rachel texted me, worrying that she was weak and we would be mad. I assured her that Teddy could break anyone. He did it to us before he even weighed ten pounds.

Rachel was also worried that we were stressed out because Teddy was so upset. I'll be honest; we weren't. We enjoyed our meal out together, knowing full well that Rachel can handle it and that at some point, even if it's four hours later, Teddy will fold (goodness, that sounds like me!). Plus, I think it's helpful for people that don't yet have kids to spend some quality time with them. Best to go into that adventure with eyes wide open, or at least as open as glimpses of parenthood will allow.

The Best Western's Inn at Longwood Medical is about as exciting as it sounds. The guy behind the front desk told us that it had been so quiet there that he was surprised to see us. I always knew how to find the hot spots in Boston. We laughed when we finally reached our room that was, no joke, as far away from the lobby as we could possibly get despite that we felt like the only guests around. We entered the room to a wall of heat. It had to have been 90 degrees in there and Brian immediately went to work on cooling it down.

Never a help in those situations, I headed for the snacks my Mom had packed (pumpkin bars) and a pack of cookies Kirsten had mailed to me (Tate's chocolate chips). Dee-licious, and totally earned since I sacrificed the Charles River Pie at Joe's for them. I know I've said it before, but the chemo steroids are unreal. Brian and my Mom are fast asleep (alternating snores) but I'm guessing that I have at least four hours of steroid-induced energy left in me. In fact, I'll probably be looking for more snacks again in an hour. I'll have to hide in the bathroom so the plastic wrapper of the cookie bag doesn't wake them up. How pathetic. Anyways, the drugs really do make me ravenously hungry. That hunger was part of why I backed off on my cancer-conscious diet during chemo. I plan to return to it, at least in some form, after the side effects of this last round subside, and I will do so relieved that the cheating has helped me return to my pre-diagnosis weight. Unfortunately, I won't be back to my handy cancer-fighting nutrition chart in a New-Year's-resolution type of way, but rather, in a I-really-want-to-be-here-to-make-other-resolutions kind of way. Don't worry, I'll still enjoy pumpkin bars and Tate's cookies. Just a lot less of them. Again, I have drifted. Or maybe I haven't even begun on my point. Either way, I move on.

I hadn't planned on writing a blog tonight since I know that these entries are usually ridiculously long stream-of-conscious blabberings (e.g., Halloween morning) or rants (e.g., about smokers). Nonetheless, I pulled out my laptop to surf the internet a bit. In order to get a wireless connection, I found the little piece of paper that the guy at the front desk gave us. Here it is:

Totally awesome. I wondered about who chose this password. A Best Western IT employee? The hotel's general manager? The front desk guy? Did he or she have any idea what that little word means to people like me? To those of us who check into this hotel because it's connected to the place that is saving our lives? Perhaps it was chosen by someone who visited Dana-Farber, the Brigham, or Beth Israel with a family member of his own, or for his own treatment. Or perhaps the IT gal chose that password with a purely empathetic heart. Maybe the word is one of many that have been dictated by a larger corporate policy. Yesterday's word could have been Christmas for all I know. But any way, it's a fabulous choice for me tonight.  

If all goes as planned, tomorrow will be my last and final chemo treatment. Two weeks later, I will feel good again, just like I do now. Then I will continue with the Herceptin infusions while I move on with my life. What's so unnerving to me is that I know now that life doesn't always go as planned. 

I've written before about how my fear of flying subsides when the pilot announces that we have begun our descent into our destination. I guess in a way, I should feel that sense of relief now because I am so close to being done with the drugs that will kill my cancer. But in all honesty, I don't feel any new feelings of great relief. In a way, it's a good thing, because over the last month or two, I have felt less and less anxiety and fear and more and more certainty that I will beat this. It didn't happen instantaneously, but it happened nonetheless. 

But the end of chemo is a whole new phase of this journey. After chemo, two of my main Allies will declare their job complete, their mission accomplished. Several people have asked me questions about when I will know if I am cancer-free and here's my honest answer -- I don't really know and I'm too scared to ask any more questions to find out. 

When I think about that question and that answer, I also recall two key conversations I had with Dr. Bunnell. The first was the awful one back in August when he told me that my cancer was HER-2+. I remember cutting him off when he tried to explain to me what the HER-2 protein can do. I couldn't bear to hear it. 

I also remember an appointment with Dr. Bunnell a while later when he explained more about the evil protein. I can't remember if I've written about this before and I'm too lazy to check right now, but Dr. Bunnell's drawing was one of a cell. He drew the HER-2 protein as a little barbell-looking thing that attached to the outside of the cell (the cell wall? no wait, I think I am remembering from high school biology that only plant cells have cell walls? anyways...). If I'm getting this right (always a big "if") once locked on, the protein converts the healthy cell into a cancerous one. I assume a tumor grows from there, but Dr. Bunnell didn't go that far with that dreadful line of the explanation. Perhaps being kindly aware of my request for solution-focused conversations, Dr. Bunnell explained that Herceptin's goal is to unlock the barbells and block the protein from attaching to the cells. To me, that is nothing short of a miracle, and just like I can't understand how a plane carrying hundreds of people can take to the skies, I can't understand how a medicine can unlock microscopic barbells and save me from cancer. So I have to return to the proof that planes do fly and Herceptin does work. Somehow. 

To be more specific on the Herceptin works point, in a recent (still unpublished) study to which Dr. Bunnell cited involving approximately 400 HER-2+ women with similarly sized tumors and treatment regimens, after a few years (I can't remember the precise number), cancer had returned in around five women. On one hand, I know those odds are remarkable, and I am grateful for that every day. I know of people who have faced odds far, far worse than mine and still kicked cancer's a$&. Those people are inspirations to me. On the other hand, however, I look forward to a day when a cure is a sure bet. Because I can't begin to imagine the pain suffered by those five or so women and their families. Actually, I sometimes do begin to imagine it, and I want to throw up. 

Dr. Bunnell has also explained to us that if my cancer returns, it will have metastasized elsewhere in my body, likely in my brain or on my chest wall (I hate that "M" word). It will still be breast cancer (which I don't really get), but at that point, I will be looking at palliative treatment, not treatment with "curable intent" as my chemo protocol notes now read. Of course, receiving that news is one of my darkest fears. Perhaps that fear will lessen over the next few years. But I have to say, I can barely breathe at the thought that after all this, my Allies could fail me. It is a suffocatingly awful thought that tomorrow's chemo may not be my last one. And that's why I'm thankful for the Inn at Longwood Medical's wireless password. Because in a few weeks, after my last chemotherapy drugs have made their way through my body, Hope will need to fill the void left by the absence of Taxotere and Cytoxan. In August, it will also fill the void left by the end of my Herceptin infusions. And five years after that, it will rise up the top of the Ally chain, because at that time, the Tamoxifen course will be complete and my body will be fighting the return of cancer without any other medications. 

Perhaps tomorrow in one of the visits by a member of my oncology team I will learn about what the next few years hold aside from the treatments I just referenced. Annual MRIs? If so, of what? My implants? My chest wall? My brain? Can't wait for those. I better save a few Ativan.  

So to answer the many questions I have gotten about how I will know if I am cancer-free, I will give you the answer Dr. Bunnell gave me when I asked the same question -- When, at 96, I die of something besides cancer. We all laughed at this response. Partly out of nervousness, partly because we appreciate Dr. Bunnell's unwavering frankness. Dr. Bunnell doesn't sugarcoat his answers, despite that frosting is my favorite part of any cake, cookie, or donut.

I can already imagine the demons that I will battle as my clinical Allies are replaced by less tangible ones. Will every headache I get be a tumor growing in my brain? Will every ache be the beginning of the end? I know this will be the long fight I face ahead. I just hope it's the biggest one. 

I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world because, at least at this moment, I have that hope for a cure; the hope that I will see my kids grow up and have their own kids (if, of course, they so choose and aren't scared off by babysitting adventures like Rachel's tonight). I am blessed with the hope for more Christmases, anniversaries, fireworks, apple-picking, football and hockey games. The hope for an adopted child. The hope for more weekend mornings with absolutely nothing planned (then again, I've already learned that if hockey is in the cards for my kids, those types of mornings -- at least in the winter -- are not).  

My little book of quotes aptly entitled, Hope, and of course purchased at the Brigham gift shop, has a dog-eared little page that reads:

Through the centuries, we faced down death by daring to hope. 
-- Maya Angelou

You can probably tell by now how much I love Maya Angelou. She always has a way of saying so much with so few words (better yet, she is profound yet succinct, and if I was better about reading my A Word a Days, I'd surely have better vocabulary here). Nevertheless, "Through the centuries" reminds me that millions, if not billions of people before me have felt the way I do now. I am not alone. "We faced down death" tells me that hope is often found, or perhaps created, on the cusp of thoughts and experiences as frightening and dark as those I have spoken about above. And "daring to hope" teaches me that hope is a choice that I must make. That choice won't always be an easy one and likely, I'll fail sometimes. Hope will require that everyday and awesome kind of courage that I have also written about before. Because if I want hope, I'll have to dare to find it and then hold onto it. Luckily, even on nights like tonight when I'm the only one around still awake, and I'm scared, there are signs of hope everywhere. Even on little pieces of paper with passwords for a hotel room's wireless internet.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Good Words

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year." 

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our Children Will Play

A few weeks ago my friend Amy introduced me to a song that I fell in love with. Here's the YouTube version:

"One Day"
By: Matisyahu

From my ever-broadening cancer cocoon, I immediately connected with the lyrics:

Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I'm breathing
Then I pray
Don't take me soon
Cause I'm here for a reason
Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around
All my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
For the people to say
That we dont wanna fight no more
They'll be no more wars
And our children will play

Then the Newtown tragedy struck. In some ways, the lyrics helped me grapple with some of my emotions. In other ways, they didn't fit at all. Still, something about this song had gripped me.

I was stuck on the concept of waiting for, praying for, our children to play. I thought about it in terms of Newtown -- the victims, and the survivors. I thought about the children I worked with years ago in a South African township. I thought about kids in Syria and Israel. About kids in Boston, and in Canton. I thought about my own kids. The image of children being able to play without war or violence is a pretty powerful image and I know I'm one of millions who waits for it and prays for it every day.

I have always tried to keep a healthy perspective on youth sports, and it always helps me to think of kids I met in South Africa whose idea of organized sports was a ball on a dirt field. No coaches, no uniform, maybe even no shoes. Still, when they got the chance to play, they were happy. It was a joy to watch.

*  *  *

My childhood was as good as they come. I was so blessed because I got to play. Even though my parents introduced me to all different things from theater to dance to karate, it was sports that I came to love. I played sports constantly and loved every minute of it.

In high school, I swam and played basketball all four years. I also had shorter stints on the tennis and softball teams, where I watched teammates who were much more talented than me shine. All the while, I did gymnastics at a private gym. Gymnastics shared the same high school season with basketball and since, in the end, basketball was my true love, I never competed on the CHS gymnastics team although I always wished I could have done both.

I remember so vividly the smells, the sounds, and the feelings that came with high school basketball. I remember Rachel trying to distract Brianne during drills and Brianne, despite her undying competitive edge, eventually giving in to a good laugh. In the last several years, I have rarely reflected on these years, but now, I find myself coming back to them and smiling in front of my computer.

One of my favorite high school basketball memories came in my junior year. We headed down to North Attleboro to play an undefeated team led by a 6'3'' center who had already scored almost 1200 points in her high school career and was headed to play at Boston College in the following fall. It was North Attleboro's last game of the regular season and the night when they would honor all of the seniors on the team. Rumor was that a big cake waited in the back room that read, Congratulations on your undefeated season. We found that interesting, though not surprising, because compared to North Attleboro, we were a small school and an even smaller team (both in numbers and in height).

I always wondered if the cake in the back really said that or if perhaps Mr. Carta had made it up to motivate us. Either way, it worked, because somehow, we beat them. If the cake really did reference an undefeated season, I wonder what they did with it. Wipe the frosting off perhaps? That would have been unfortunate, since the frosting is the best part. Lesson learned, I suppose.

Anyways, that season we beat a couple of other great teams and in my basement, in a box labeled "Old Scrapbooks" (wink), I have a Boston Globe article that named our team the "Giant Killers." I loved that name then, and I love it even more now. In a way, it's fun being the underdog.

And with all of that, I come back to last night's Pink Out the Rink game. (You thought I had forgotten?!?) CHS boys hockey is not usually the underdog. They have been far too successful in the past few decades to play that card very often. In fact, I remember leaving the state tournament game last year with the kids -- Canton had just lost to North Quincy in a shoot out and the North Quincy fans were going nuts. In the parking lot, a group of high school boys were screaming, "We slayed the lion!" It was pretty chaotic and Teddy, terrified, asked me where the lions were. After assuring him that lions were only in zoos or in other countries, I told him about what the kids meant -- that Daddy's team was really good and teams got really excited to beat them. I wanted to tell him that I didn't think the kids' grammar was correct (wasn't it just "slay the lion") but I didn't go there. He doesn't need to be as nerdy as I am.

Anyways, I don't know what it's like to play for a team with the expectations that Brian's team has. Even considering all of the perspective that I mentioned above, I figure that it has to be hard on them sometimes. I especially worried that they had some seriously weird pressure on them last night. I mean, who wants to lose a game dedicated to their coaches' cancer-ridden wives?!? Never mind that it felt like half the town was there watching, hoping desperately for a W.

This is just why I love my Bulldog heritage. Because last night, those kids kicked some serious a#*. OK, I admit I didn't get to watch too much of the game -- Annabel and the bleachers are not a good match and we spent some quality time near the snack bar area eating M&Ms. But after the game Brian told me. They played so well, he said, eyebrows raised, shaking his head, and smiling. So proud. And that was that.

(This feels like the place for a huge shout out to this year's CHS football team who, as brave underdogs, defeated Stoughton on Thanksgiving. I never wrote about what that win meant to me, but I have to say, at a time when I need to believe that anything is possible, they showed me that it is. I was so proud.)

Since my eyelashes have almost all fallen out, I decided to try some fake ones from CVS for last night's big night out on the town. As I fumbled with the glue and the lashes before the game, I wondered if they would fall off if I cried. I tried to prepare myself for a flood of emotion because no one wants to see my ugly cry or my lashes dripping off my eye lids.

The preparation helped, and I was able to thoroughly enjoy the Canton kids taking the ice in their pink jerseys and socks without a flood of tears. But then came the Mansfield team. They all had pink laces on their skates and pink tape around their shin pads. I remembered back to a far-less-than-gentlemanly tiff that Brian had with the Mansfield coaches last season. These weren't exactly the friendliest of teams. But that didn't matter. Of course, I started to cry, forgetting all about the fake lashes (which, in case you're curious, managed to survive the tears). Brian visited the Mansfield locker room after the game to thank them for their support and I caught them getting on the bus to do the same. I told them how much it meant to me, that I couldn't even explain it. By the look in their eyes, they understood, and they thanked me for letting them be part of the night. It wasn't me, I replied.

After the game, Kristin and I were honored by a hall-full of wonderful people who had gathered to help beat cancer, talk hockey, and enjoy each other's company. It was a night I will never forget, especially since we walked away with raffle prizes of a ride to school in a police car and a ride to school in a fire truck. My family always puts all of their raffle tickets in those baskets and I'm sorry to say that it's likely no one else had a chance.

Seriously, though, I will never forget the generosity and the support that I witnessed last night -- the pink rink, our friends who sat with us, the "Shuman Alumn" #5 jerseys, the cheer of the crowd when Canton scored and made several huge saves for the shut out. I will never forget the joy of watching kids play. Kristin and I have each been blessed with a husband, a son, and a daughter. Families of four. And I will forever smile when I remember last night. Canton. Four. Cancer. Zero.

*  *  *

These great photos of the game were provided courtesy of a wonderful guy in Canton who works so hard behind the scenes and deserves all of our thanks for making these moments last forever. Thank you, Mike Barucci. 

The Pink Bulldogs huddle up before the game
Senior JC Marcone fires a shot towards the net

Freshman Seamus Pecararo
Junior Ben Lodge takes a faceoff

Senior Captain Pat Ward collects the puck 
Senior Captain Mike Denehy 
Junior Brian Brooks (and Teddy's best friend)

Senior Rich Nee in a shutout effort

Pat Ward

Senior Justin Rudy skates up ice

Pinking Out the Rink

Freshman John Femia

Senior Kurt Leavitt

Bulldog goal

Senior Captain Steve Mullaney breaks out the puck

Another Canton goal
Below is a link to the article from our local newspaper about the game: 

Game Results

Canton 4. Mansfield 0.

Unbelievable night ... more to come later ...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pink Bulldogs

My whole family knows that I am terrible at surprises. I get so excited about a potential surprise that I always want to spoil the big secret. For instance, around this time of year, I beg to know my Christmas gifts and I am always giving others the opportunity for me to tell them their's. I've only been truly surprised or truly surprised someone else a handful of times in my life (I can't wait to write about Brianne and Seamus's surprise engagement party -- talk about shock). Months ago I wrote about my complete surprise at the binders that Rachel remade for me a few Christmases ago. Last night, Brian gave me a gift that sent me into a similar shocked, joyful, speechlessly grateful burst of ugly crying. He gave me a pink shirt.

I desperately wanted to write this post last night, but I couldn't. I had to wait until today so that I wouldn't spoil any surprises, which was so hard. So I wrote about basements instead, and that was fun too. But today, after 3pm, finally, I can post about my early Christmas gift.

I have been told that when I was first diagnosed in August, Brian's hockey captains called a meeting to talk about what they could do for Kristin and I. That news must have been pretty crazy to them -- two of their coaches' wives had breast cancer. Apparently they brainstormed ideas on something they could do to help and came up with the idea to "Pink Out the Rink." They chose Saturday December 22nd as the day that they would try to encourage the whole Canton crowd to wear pink. For months the JV and varsity players have been selling these t-shirts for fans to wear to the game (they have towels too).

Annabel at the yoga event.

Brian and I at the yoga event.

With the help of Scott Connolly, Brian's other assistant coach and one of our most generous friends, and the Gallahue/Rooney family and their We Beat Cancer foundation, the kids have been busy preparing for tomorrow night's game both in the rink and outside of it. 

A few months ago, the kids also decided that they wanted to play their game wearing pink jerseys instead of their regular white ones. Brianne's uncle has been amazing in printing the t-shirts and he said he could make pink jerseys for the players. All they needed was their coach's approval. 

I remember the night that Brianne asked Brian what he thought about the idea. He was hesitant. He thought it could be too much attention on pink; too much of a distraction. I wasn't sure if it was himself, Corey, or the kids he was worried about; maybe it was all of them. He didn't say much but it was clear that he didn't like the idea. I called him a breast cancer scrooge and we left it at that. Knowing that the kids would be disappointed, I tried to soften him up a few more times but he wouldn't budge. He didn't want pink jerseys. As a former head coach, Brianne told me she understood Brian's stance. I didn't get it, but I trusted them and let it go. 

Earlier this week Brian and I decided we would try to grab dinner together on Thursday night. Brianne and Seamus watched the kids and we headed out to one of our favorite local restaurants -- One Bistro. An hour or so before we left, Brian told me he was going to give me an early Christmas gift at dinner. I knew something was up because Brian never allows me to open anything early -- not even on Christmas Eve. I was totally stumped. I saw him go out to the garage with a piece of wrapping paper and since my Bluetooth thing in my car had been acting up, I figured maybe he fixed it or something. But it wasn't that. 

When we got to the restaurant, he grabbed a package from the trunk. It looked like Teddy wrapped it, which I loved, because I knew Brian had done it. I begged him to let me open it then and there but he made me wait until we were seated in the booth. Finally, he let me rip the paper off my early Christmas gift. 

It was a pink hockey jersey. Not a t-shirt, but the kind a player would wear in a game. I figured he got one for me and of course, I started to cry. Then he told me that they got them all for the kids, too. Then I started to bawl my eyes out. I was speechless. Shocked. And totally in love. People around us must have thought we were nuts, but I didn't care. 

It turns out that breast cancer scrooge only stuck around for a day or two. Then he decided that of course he wanted the kids to wear pink jerseys if they wanted to. So he, Scott, Brianne, and a few select people from the We Beat Cancer crew plotted against all of us. They arranged to buy the whole team the jerseys but they wanted to surprise them. From 2:30 to 3:00 today, Brian and his coaches (and Teddy) are watching game film in a room upstairs at the rink. While they do, Scott and Jeff Gallahue from We Beat Cancer are planning to hang the kids' jerseys in their lockers. When they come down to their 3:30 practice, their jerseys will be waiting for them. I doubt any of them will cry like babies like I did, but I'm guessing it will be a special moment for them. They deserve it. 

Tomorrow night, the kids will suit up in their pink jerseys to play a strong Mansfield team in front of a home crowd. Given that rinks are probably not the most sanitary of places, I have stayed away from them for the last two weeks but tomorrow night, I can't wait to return. 

In my Octobers post (linked HERE), I talked about what it meant to me to see athletes wear pink in honor of breast cancer awareness month. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it means the world to me. Because money raised for cancer research will, literally, save my life, Kristin's life, and the lives of millions of other women. That research led to the drugs that are killing my cancer, those that are unlocking the HER-2 protein to make sure my cancer never returns, and those that have created extra white blood cells so that I can attend tomorrow night's game with my kids.

Tomorrow night's pink t-shirts and game jerseys are something a little different though. Those pink t-shirts are saving lives in a whole other way, because modern medicine can only do so much. I believe that much of the battle against cancer, at least for me, is about mental strength, hope, and faith. Those t-shirts give people like me and Kristin the strength, hope, and faith that we need to fight. They tell us that we're not alone in that battle. They remind us that there's no way cancer is going to win. Because in order to win, cancer is going to have to beat a whole rink full of players and fans that have lined up to fight against it. And that's not going to happen. There's no way cancer can beat a rink full of Bulldogs. Especially when they're all wearing pink. 

*  *  *

The boys after practice today.

Clean Basements

Two weeks ago tomorrow, Brian gave me a shot in the stomach of a drug called Neulasta. From what the doctors explained to me, I understand that Neulasta makes my body produce lots of white blood cells so that while the chemo drugs work on killing rapidly producing cells -- like cancer cells, hair cells, and white blood cells -- they aren't able to kill all of the cells that I need to fight off infections. My white blood cell counts are their lowest seven to 14 days after the chemo infusion. Tomorrow is day 15.

I have been especially nervous the last seven days because I really don't want to be in the hospital over Christmas. It would stink to be waiting to hear my absolute neutrophil count while everyone else is waiting for the Christmas turkey to be served. Yes, there would likely be great sales in the gift shop, but still, it wouldn't be worth it.

So, I have used more hand-sanitizer in the last week than I have used in my whole life. I've opened doors with my feet and I've even scrubbed my cell phone with wet wipes. Brian's had a cold so he's insisted on sleeping in the empty twin bed next to Annabel's crib so he doesn't get me sick. That's yet another example of cancer flipping life on its head -- before cancer, when he went to sleep in another room or on the living room couch, it was because of a fight, not because he was trying to save my Christmas. Anyways, whether it was the $3,000 Neulasta, the $3.00 Purell, or the avoidance of my husband at bedtime, I'm happy to have come out of the white blood cell dip safe and sound (knock on wood).

Typically I don't finish my Christmas shopping until around December 23 and I usually do the bulk of my wrapping on Christmas Eve. This year, I have my neutropenic tendencies to thank for my early Christmas preparations. I knew how frustrated I would be to be stuck in the hospital for days without all of my Christmas gifts purchased and wrapped, so I had everything done last week. Now that I appear to have successfully avoided a hospitalization, I'm ready early and I'm loving it.

What, then, have I been doing to stay occupied while trying to avoid germy public places? I've cleaned, of course. I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I was a mad woman today and went on a complete cleaning rampage in our basement, despite that I had other things I should have been doing (like those holiday/thank you cards that I am still yet to finish). Yep, today I purged our house like never before, filling my car from top to bottom with donations to the Salvation Army.

I get my love of cleaning my basement from my Mom and she got it from her father, my Grandpa. OK, perhaps my Mom and my Grandpa are different than me because they may have cleaned for the love of the outcome rather than the love of the process. I, on the other hand, am the freakish kind who shamelessly loves the process itself.

That love is partly why on Wednesday I volunteered to spend the bulk of the day in my Mom and Dad's basement. Last week, Sean, Lauren, and I were brainstorming Christmas gifts for my Mom when we realized that what she'd like most would be for us to help her clean her basement (it was kind of a wreck due to house projects having pushed lots of stuff down there). So for five straight hours, the three of us scurried around in our sweats to the tunes of a Pandora Christmas station. We Fantastic-ed spiders off shelves and emptied boxes full of such random things as Pez dispensers and stamps that my Grandma cut off of envelopes. My Mom and I were the chief executive organizers while Sean was the muscle. He carted boxes from one place to another, lugged trash upstairs, and moved heavy furniture. At noon, we all enjoyed our favorite cleaning-the-basement lunch -- Papa Gino's, delivered. A few hours later, we had moved that basement from an "F" to a "B". A few more hours of work, and we'll attain the "A" that has been elusive for a few years now.

Apparently I was on a roll because despite that I never intended to do the same thing at my house, today I found myself making piles and labeling things in my own basement. When I was younger, I was so embarrassed about my neat-freakish ways, but not anymore. I remember in middle school when I was most insecure about myself, I was jealous of other kids who had messy lockers and torn book covers; I thought they were so cool. Then there was me. At home, I had my pens and pencils facing the same direction and organized into separate containers. My books stood in flush lines on my shelves. But at school, I pretended like I was messy. I crumpled up blank pieces of paper so my locker would look like other kids' lockers. I hated those pieces of paper and I desperately wanted to keep my books stacked in some methodical way. Ah, the pains of my suburban middle school years.

Now, I'm shameless and blatant about my nerdy neat ways. For instance, I label everything, and living things aren't even safe if I have my labeler in hand.

Today, I realized how pathetic I must have looked singing to myself in my sweatpants and labeling every box in my basement. But I didn't care. Those middle school days are long, long gone. 

Not to be dark or anything, but cleaning up today also made me think about how I never want to burden my family with lots of junk that I will one day leave behind. That's another reason why I love this blog. Because it fits nicely in the binders that my friend Lynne so graciously makes for me. And Lynne knows me well because those binders are labeled, too. 

I think in another life I was (or will be) a professional organizer. Seriously, I would love to help people organize their stuff. Without even watching the home makeover shows on HGTV or TLC, I know just the piles I would help them make, the containers I would encourage them to buy, and the feeling they would have when all of their stuff was perfectly in place. In fact, in one of my dark Ropes days, I even checked out the availability of for a side business I thought I could start. It was taken. Plus, I'd probably have to clean about 1,000 junk drawers to pay one week's worth of my kids' pre-school so best that I not quit my day job.   

I have cleaned and organized more in the last few months than I have in the last few years. A psychiatrist could probably give me a good reason for that -- perhaps something about needing control!?! True, when I feel like I've lost control of something in my life, cleaning helps me feel like I'm gaining back some power. Maybe that makes me crazy. But even if I am, I've got a really clean basement to show for it. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today's Pink Envelope

Sometimes a good chuckle is a priceless gift. Today's pink envelope gave me a good chuckle, so I wanted to share. This image was printed onto a single piece of paper:

I find it so awesome that with all of the recent talk about random acts of kindness, my pink envelope angels have been doing random acts of kindness for over a month now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rough Draft: Chapter Two

Chapter Two


United States
July 1993

When William traveled, Valerie drank. About fifteen years ago, that meant that Valerie drank only a few nights every month, but lately, she drank for weeks at a time. Since William had become lead outside counsel to Orion Capital Management, the private equity firm lead by his college roommate and Harvard football co-captain, James Dempsey, III, he spent every other week in Manhattan. William's business trips left Valerie alone in their six-bedroom home in Chestnut Hill, or at her desk outside her husband's office. Valerie could never decide which place she hated more. Probably whichever one she was in at the time.

William always boarded the earliest shuttle available on Monday morning from Logan Airport to LaGuardia. Valerie booked the flights for him. William returned on the last available flight Friday night. The return flights put William back home around two in the morning, which was usually about an hour or so after Valerie had passed out in their king-size mahogany bed with QVC blaring in the background.

It was ten o'clock on Monday morning when Valerie arrived at the office. She tucked her pocketbook away in her bottom desk drawer and looked over at the new computer that the firm had just purchased for her and two other secretaries. As she leaned underneath her desk and switched her [type?] flats for her tall black [type?] heals, she decided that she wouldn't need to turn her computer on that day.

Valerie opened William's hard cover calendar and glanced at the clock. 10:08. William was probably just wrapping up his first meeting of the week with James over breakfast at [the St. Regis Hotel]. Valerie loved the St. Regis, although it had been years since her last stay. She always wished William would take her along on his trips to New York City or Los Angeles, but William insisted that she be treated like everyone else.

Valerie, on the other hand, refused to think of herself as just another secretary at Ford, Crowl, & Bernstein LLP. Being the wife of the managing partner should at least get her some special treatment, she believed, and so when that special treatment wasn't given to her, she took it. That meant that for the two weeks every month that William traveled, Valerie never came in before ten and she always left before three. Most of all, it meant that Valerie felt perfectly comfortable entering William's corner office, closing the door, and gulping vodka, or sometimes gin, from the flask that she hid on the far bookshelf. On those mornings, Valerie turned one of William's big leather chairs around to face Boston Harbor. She watched the boats and the planes and she drank until her pain subsided.

Today, Valerie drank until she missed Abigail less. As she watched the planes float in and out of Logan, she thought back to the day a year and a half earlier when Abigail's flight took off to Cape Town. Abigail didn't cry, or show any emotion really, when she hugged Valerie goodbye so Valerie clenched back her tears, which sharpened her already sharp jawline. But when Abigail hugged William and started to weep, smiling and scared, Valerie recognized the familiar feel of heartbreak.

Since Abigail left, Valerie had spoken with her daughter once every other week when Abigail called her father's office. Their conversations were always short and shallow until Abigail perked up and asked if her Daddy was there. Valerie always transferred the call into William's office secretly hoping that it was somehow disconnected along the way. Valerie hated when William got up from behind his desk and closed his office door before he picked up the phone to speak with "his Abby." "What's so secret that you need to close your door?" Valerie asked William one afternoon. William dismissed her, insisting that he simply didn't want to bother other lawyers in his hallway. But Valerie felt excluded. She hated that Abigail told William everything, and not her. Even worse, Valerie hated that she wouldn't know what to say even if Abigail had tried.

Valerie filled the flask again from the [Grey Goose] bottle that she had stashed in the file cabinet on the other side of the office. She sat back down, stiffly upright in the chair as if to fool herself that she wasn't already feeling the soothing effects of the alcohol. She massaged the leather cover of the flask in one hand and the silver cap in the other, and muttered her side of the conversation she hoped to have when Abigail called next week. That's excellent, Abigail. The African people must be very happy to have you there helping them. But Valerie knew she sounded painfully fake. What she really wanted to do was scream across the Atlantic, You total fool of a young woman! What in God's name are you doing there? Why South Africa? Why now? What did I ever do to drive you away? Of course Abigail knew that was just what her mother really wanted to say, which is why she couldn't wait for Valerie to transfer each call to her father's office.

An hour, and a full flask and a half of vodka later, Valerie fell asleep leaning over the tall arm rest of the oversized chair. Six voicemails had collected on William's line but Valerie hadn't heard them and wouldn't have cared even if she had. She sat up, grabbed the cap that had fallen on the floor and twisted  it back on the flask that she had tucked between her thin legs. With one heel on and one off, she stumbled over to the bookshelf to put the flask back in its hiding spot. She shimmied her other shoe back on and walked slowly back to her desk.

When Valerie saw the red voicemail light lit, she picked up the phone and attempted to enter William's password. It took her three tries before her fingers hit the right buttons. The first five calls were the usual -- ornery clients looking to speak with William about some deal that they thought was more important than life itself. Valerie jotted down their names, uncaring. But the last message was different;  different accent, different tone. Valerie dropped her pen at the sound of both. It was the [Cape Town City Police], "calling for Mr. or Mrs. William Ford." The [Chief of Police] had very important news about Ms. Abigail S. Ford and asked for a return call as soon as possible. The Chief stressed again the importance of the call. Valerie scribbled the number down, without hyphens, and frantically searched for the instructions Abigail had explained to her about how to place an international call. She got through to the police on her first try and was immediately transferred to the Chief. A minute later, she vomited all over her new computer. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rough Draft: Chapter One

This morning after I dropped the kids off at school, the weight of the Newtown shooting tragedy hit me. Like everyone else, it had obviously upset me since Friday, but nothing like this. I tried to shake awful thoughts out of my head all day, feeling guilty that I couldn't bear to keep them in my mind and do something with them.

Obviously I am in awe of the people of Newtown, as I can't imagine the strength it is taking for anyone there to simply get out of bed and get dressed. I am also in awe of all of the educators who gracefully faced students today, and of all of the students who bravely sat in a place that, at least for now, has so much terror attached to it. 

But truthfully, I really can't process it all right now. It is all beyond words. So, uncourageously and hopefully not disrespectfully, I thought I'd hide in a fictional world tonight. I'm going to take a crack at a very rough draft of Chapter One of the book I have been dreaming I'll write. Somehow a pretend world seems much safer to me than the real world right now. 

*  *  * 

Chapter One


South Africa 
July 1993

Elsie hated the mornings when her mother woke up too sick to work, but a part of her loved them, too. When she heard the coughing, the spitting, the blood hit the bucket, she knew what it meant. 

This was one of those mornings. After Elsie fetched the water for her brothers, they noisily wrestled their way out of the room and gave her a minute alone inside. As she did every morning, Elsie rolled up their four dusty mats and folded their wool blankets. As she did on the mornings with the spit and the blood, she put on her finest dress. Elsie always thought it so ridiculous to wear that beautiful dress to Mrs. Vuuren's house. But that's how her mother wanted it, so that's how it went. 

In the taxi on the way out to Wynberg, Nyami sat in the front passenger seat. Most of the taxi drivers in Langa knew Nyami's condition and, respectfully, they would silently motion for her to sit up next to them, in the most comfortable of all of the uncomfortable seats. From the row behind, Elsie watched beads of sweat collect on her mother's lip. Every minute or so, when the taxi hit a bump in the dirt road, a drop of sweat dangled, then fell. The sweat made Elsie anxious, so instead, she watched her mother's eye, the right one, the only one she could see from where she was sitting. When Nyami blinked, Elsie's stomach ached even more, because Nyami's eye stayed closed for just long enough to tell even a perfect stranger that the woman was not well. 

Eventually, Elsie looked away. She knew her mother was getting worse and she didn't want to see it anymore. And so she looked ahead, out the cracked windshield to the route she knew by heart -- the narrow exit of the township, the crowded freeway, the ramp to Wynberg. With every sharp turn, Elsie fought to keep her slight frame in place. But with nothing to keep her steady, she always found herself leaning into the strong, sweaty side of a hefty woman sitting on either side of her. 

After the taxi dropped them and three other maids off about one mile from the Vuuren's estate, Nyami hobbled along, her frame three times the size of Elsie's, ranting about almost every person whose path had crossed her's in the last few days. Elsie walked gracefully next to her. Nyami's rants weren't directed at her only daughter, thank goodness, but rather, at the wider world of whoever, real or imagined, cared to listen. Elsie listened for half a mile, nodding slightly in deferential agreement. 

By the time the two turned down Plaas Boulevard and separated from the other maids, Elsie was focused more on her mother's heavy breathing than on her persistant rants. Elsie wished her mother would save all that energy for the long day ahead. But Elsie never spoke back to her mother. Very few people did. 

Once they reached the outer gate of the Vuuren estate, Nyami shooed Elsie away. As Elsie scurried into the [type?] bushes, Nyami wiped her brow, tried to flatten the front of her dress (despite that her figure was nowhere flat), and pressed the buzzer to alert the guard that she was there. By that time, Elsie was already too far away to hear the guard's response, or the gate screech open. As Nyami made her way down the long driveway, Elsie ducked around the brush, boosted herself up over the rod iron fence, and trekked through the eastern side of the estate towards the Vuuren's massive colonial. 

While Elsie hid and waited for her mother's signal, she memorized the colors, textures, and shapes of ten different species of flowers she had never seen before. She sniffed them and tried to commit each smell to memory, too.

About twenty minutes later, Nyami appeared on the patio off the east side sunroom. She looked frustrated as she waved Elsie into the house. With that, Elsie lifted her dress and sprinted across the lush green lawn, head down, shoulders hunched over as if it were raining. When she reached the french doors where her mother stood fidgeting, she gulped, partly because she was out of breath, but mostly because no matter how many times she had been there, she could never believe the sight of the Vuuren's east side sun room. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Much of the time I sit down to type in this space, I don't think about who will read it. If I did, I wonder if I'd even be able to write. Other times, especially lately, I think of these posts as primarily a memoir for my progeny -- a place to share thoughts that I hope, one day, will somehow help my kids and their kids as they find their path and their purpose in this world.

Yesterday morning, Annabel's teacher emailed me a photo of her and despite that I had plans to do other things, I was overcome by the need to write. So I went into my little bubble and I wrote. When I was done, I published the blog on Facebook like I usually do (post linked here). After that, I peeked through my News Feed, and when I did, I saw that something very terrible had happened. It was then that I learned about the shooting in Newtown.

All of the sudden, my post, followed by, "Have a great weekend," felt terribly wrong. At first I added a comment to that effect, but then I pulled it down altogether. I felt embarrassed that I had been typing away in my own little world without knowing the tragic reality unfolding elsewhere. When I visited various online news sites, I read what I can only describe as bits and pieces of one of my worst nightmares. I was speechless; partly crushed, partly numb.

In all honesty, I have not yet watched TV coverage on this tragedy. Despite how self-centered it sounds, I really don't think I could handle seeing what I might see there. This morning I checked online for something -- an update, a reason -- but there wasn't much more than there had been yesterday. This afternoon, there was more -- a photo, tiny bits of a young man's life -- but still, no answers.

Now that I sit back down here, I am, for the first time, so keenly aware of who may read this. And all of the sudden I realize that what I would say to different audiences in the wake of such tragedy would be significantly different. Parents, teachers, school administrators, law enforcement, legislators, gun owners, the President, my friends, my family -- each conversation would be completely different. If I tried to mesh them all together, I would fail miserably.

Brian and I talked about the Newtown shooting but never in the context of What should we tell the kids? I'm certain that's because we both agree that Teddy (and obviously, Annabel) is too young to need to know anything about this. Not that I judge anyone who makes a different decision, but that's ours, at least for now.

Nonetheless, today, as I sit down to use this space both as a source of therapy and also as an important piece of my memoir, I decided to write this post to my kids. Of course, I mean this to be read when they are much older, but they are my only intended audience. I'll share my words, because, well, that's what I've come to do, but please know that each word has been chosen carefully for them. I barely feel equipped to talk to my own kids about this right now, never mind anyone else.

*  *  *

One of the most important questions you can ask in your life is, Why? I hope that you ask it often and I hope that you listen thoughtfully to the answers you get. For instance, if someone asks you to do something that doesn't feel right, stop a second and ask Why? Maybe that question gives you an answer that helps you to make a decision. Or maybe it just gives you a minute to process why you don't feel right inside. Sometimes it's just time you need.

I hope that it helps you to ask this very short and important question of Why? But the truth is, there will be times in your life when this question won't help you at all. Because sometimes, there will be no right answer to the question of Why? 

I am someone who needs answers. It pains me to not understand the Whens and the Whys and the Hows. It's not that the answers are always comforting because oftentimes, they can in fact cause more discomfort. For instance, after September 11, 2001, I often found myself asking, Why? Sometimes I found reasons. Those reasons had to do with world history, politics, economics, religion. But they weren't real answers. Because there weren't any of those. I hope my generation leaves you a world without mass tragedies like September 11th. But I am so fearful that we won't.

Even if we, by some miracle, could hand you a world without the complex international conflicts like those that led to September 11th, I know that you still won't find a world free of tragedy altogether. Because even within the borders of a small town, there will be great sorrow.

I'm sure by now you know all about Scott Herr from the things your Dad and I have told you about him and his family. Much of what I say here is likely what your Dad would say, but I won't speak for him, especially because he had a much different relationship with Scott than I did.

I didn't even know Scott very well. I knew him like I know most of your Daddy's hockey players, which is to say that I knew his name, his face, his hockey number, and all the good stuff Brian had told me about him. I enjoyed talking with him and his family at a team dinner, game, or function in our town, but that was about it. I tell you this because when Scott died almost three years ago, it wasn't as if I had lost someone central to my daily life. And so when I felt like I had, I wasn't exactly sure why.

All I knew was that I was absolutely devastated. The emotional pain hurt so much that I felt it physically. I remember thinking, I know where the term "heartache" comes from. Because I felt pain in my heart. A heavy ache. A darkness. No matter what time of day or what I was doing, it never went away.

For many months, nothing helped. I cried every day, mostly in the bathroom at work or on the train. I cried the moment that I thought about Scott, his brother, his father, and, especially, his mother. It all just felt so unreal, so unjust. So unjust. There was absolutely no answer to the question of Why? 

I tell you all of this for several reasons, today, the main one being that Scott's death was the first time that I truly comprehended that some questions have no answers. That realization is not an easy one. In fact, it is indescribably difficult. Maybe you don't end up needing answers like I do, and part of me really hopes that's the case. Either way, at some point in your life you will likely feel emotional pain so heavy that it physically hurts. I wish that weren't true, but, especially if you are blessed with a long life, I think that it is.

I'm writing to you today in the wake of a horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. It's one that likely will be a defining moment in your generation. You won't remember it but it will change the world around you. For many, it may bring that moment of realization that sometimes there are no answers.

I don't know how old you will be when you realize that sometimes asking Why isn't going to get you anywhere. I don't know what event -- perhaps good, but likely, tragic -- will lead you to that understanding. I just know that when it happens, you will hurt, and I'm so sorry for that.

When that hurt comes, know that you're not alone, even though you will feel like you are. Others have felt your pain and if it helps you, find those people, talk to them, learn from them. Or maybe talking about it is too hard, and, at least for some time, that's fine too. Instead, write, or read, or listen to music. Walk or run or hit golf balls really hard. Talk to someone, about something, or find a quiet place that brings you peace. At first, none of this will help ease the pain. But it will help you keep breathing when you feel like you can't.

I don't know what or who you will find that will comfort you in a time of great loss and there's very little that I could write here that will help. Nonetheless, I want to share with you a poem that has provided me some solace in times of loss.

When Great Trees Fall
By: Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

*  *  *  

Every word, every line, every idea and emotion in this poem means something to me. I know, as do millions of others, what it feels like to be "eroded by fear," to "breathe, briefly," to "see with a hurtful clarity." Indeed, at some point, your mind may "fall away," you may be "reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves." I hope I am here, if nothing else, to sit with you in those caves. If I am not, or if you'd prefer someone else, then I hope that that person is there for you. Because even though the cave will still be dark and cold, it will be ever-so-slightly warmer and lighter if someone you love is in there with you. 

Maya Angelou tells us that "after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly." She doesn't tell us how long that period may be, or how much peace will bloom. Perhaps only time can tell those answers. 

I cherish this poem most because Ms. Angelou seems to understand, and vividly describe, the impact of great loss. And yet she finds hope in the most desperate, the most hopeless, of situations. She tells us that at some point, "We can be. Be and be better. For they existed." I don't know why, but I believe her.