Friday, August 31, 2012

Gut Check

I make my life decisions based almost entirely on my instincts (although until I sat down to write this, I don’t think I ever realized that, which makes sense, I guess).  I don’t do a lot of research, ask a lot of questions, or thoughtfully eliminate all of my other options.  I just go with my gut.  (Brian's the opposite, so before you think I'm reckless, know that I at least had the smarts (and instinct) to marry a man who got estimates from eight different paving companies before he chose the one to pave our drive way.)

So far my instincts haven't lead me astray.  For instance, when Brianne moved from Hyde Park to Canton our freshman year of high school, I immediately declared her my new friend (my new best friend in my own mind), even though she was a better basketball player than I was (and I hated that).  When I stepped foot on the Bowdoin campus, I knew it was my first choice (thank goodness they let me in off that wait list!).  When Brian and I first walked into our house in Canton, I was ready to sign papers.  And I remember years before that, trying to give a toast about Brian at our rehearsal dinner – I couldn’t find the words, because I just knew that we were supposed to be together.

I have to admit that I’ve struggled with this entry.  While Annabel napped today and Teddy attended “sports camp” with two of Brian’s hockey players in our back yard, I tried to write about something fresh, and one day, I’ll probably come back to that draft.  But it wasn’t clicking for me, because my mind was stuck on something stale.  As I always do when I get stuck writing (although before now, it’s always been at work), I go back to basics, which for me has become that quote from Mark’s “Good Words,” you know, “…write to express…”  So at the risk of becoming repetitive, I return to a previously-discussed topic -- breast reconstruction -- since it's the one on which my mind still dwells.

The moment I knew I had breast cancer, I wanted both of my breasts removed.  Immediately.  My gut all but screamed it to me – Cut those suckers loose!  I know that I will never look back on that decision, partly because I feel that it will help save my life.

But for some reason, when it came to reconstruction, my gut was empty.  That emptiness left me in an unfamiliar place.  How do people make big decisions when their instincts aren’t telling them what to do one way or another?  My mind had many thoughts -- What if the plastic surgery somehow made my fight against the cancer more difficult?  Would I be risking my life for some stupid boobs?  Then again, if I didn't do it, would I feel like a hollowed out woman every time I looked in the mirror?  Would I cry at the sight of a dissected new me?  So I just waited, hoping I would find some clarity.  Gradually, I did.  Here and there I picked up enough information that reconstruction wasn’t all that painful and that it wouldn’t interfere with my cancer treatment (except that if I do end up needing radiation, that radiation could distort the implants and additional surgery would be necessary).  Most of all, I became convinced that once I am cancer-free, I would be happy that I did it, and that if I didn't do it now, I would dread going back in for it later.

Teddy gave me another perspective too.  When we were at the supermarket a few nights ago, we walked down the shampoo aisle and I started joking with him that I’m sick of buying shampoo and having hair.  I told him I was thinking of shaving my head and being a carefree bald lady.  I made some silly girly motion of flicking my hair back over my shoulder, even though it's already far too short for that.  He chuckled, cautiously, and asked, “But if you have no hair, how will people know you’re a girl?”  Awesome question, my little lad, ’cause I was stumped. Thank goodness for my lawyer training; I turned the question back on him.  “Great point, buddy, how do you think people would still know I’m a girl?”  No pause from him – “Because you wear dresses.”  “Exactly!” I replied, looking down at my mesh Nike shorts, sports bra, and tattered t-shirt.   I better get myself some more dresses, I told myself, and we turned down the aisle to grab some yogurt.  But Teddy had me thinking – maybe I really did want to keep, or rather, replace, this part of my femininity even though it doesn't define me or my gender.  The next day, Rebecca gave me the gift of a positive perspective – reconstruction could be something I look forward to and feel good about, a badge of honor for which I am proud.  My mind was made up, and totally at peace.  But still, my gut felt empty.  Until yesterday afternoon.

I’m far past worrying that you think I’m nuts (if you did, I’d just agree with you, plus, my worry cells are saturated), and I’m never too proud to share with you the honest truth, so here goes.   Yesterday, I saw a fake boob on a real woman.  No, I didn't replay the 2004 Superbowl halftime show.  Instead, I had a moment with a kind, spirited, honest woman named Amy, and that moment that changed my life.  Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer over 20 years ago, when she was exactly my age, with two young girls.  She has been so good to me, so honest with me, ever since she heard my news.  She immediately reached out and told me, There is so much life after breast cancer.  At the time, I basically had myself dead and buried, and she joined the team of angels who picked me up out of my grave and made me believe that this would not be my end.

Yesterday, Amy and her daughter, Lauren (via speaker phone), sat down with Brian and me in Amy's beautiful sunny living room.  We talked about all sorts of things, many that made us laugh and some that made me cry.  At age 25, Lauren learned that she carried the BRCA2 gene.  She immediately opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction.  I found such comfort in talking to women that were so honest and so open about their experiences, and I hope I have the strength to provide that comfort for someone else one day.  

When we hung up with Lauren, Amy asked me if I wanted to see her implant.  (Brian immediately “had a phone call to make” and we all laughed.  Oh the torment this blog will cause my poor husband one day when he doesn’t have the my-wife-has-cancer-shield to protect him.)  But of course I wanted to see her implant!  In the last few early mornings, when my mind runs its most crazy course of the day, I have lied awake wondering what I will look like a few weeks from now.  Somehow I always end up at a vision of my chest looking like the end of a “pin the boob on the sick lady” game played by a group of drunken bachelors (not that I've ever seen such a game, thank goodness) and I was expecting to see something of the sort as Amy casually unbuttoned her work blouse.  She was so confident, so calm, so caring, and I pretended not to be nervous.  But before I even had to tell myself to take a deep breath, there it was, just a regular, in fact, far-better-than-regular breast.  (Don’t worry, Amy and Lauren agreed to my sharing this experience with you.)  Sure there was a faint horizontal scar across the middle of it (and I vaguely remember Dr. Chun explaining that I will have the same type of scar across mine) but otherwise it was nothing but a regular, nice-looking breast.  Of course, I started to cry.  Poor Amy must have thought, Holy shit, what have I done?  But every time I glanced at it, I cried more.

Finally, I collected myself enough to reassure her that I was crying out of appreciation and sheer relief.  Relief that I wouldn’t look like Teddy’s Mrs. Potato Head when he sticks the eyes into the nose hole.  Relief that there would be life after breast cancer.  Relief that in a few months from now (except for my bald head), I’ll just look like me (or maybe even a better version of me!?!).  But most of all, I cried because that emptiness I had in my gut since this decision was placed in my lap was gone.  Reconstruction is the right decision for me and while my mind was there a few days ago, it took a brave woman to drop her blouse on a Wednesday afternoon for my gut instinct to take its stand.  So bring on the boobs, Doc.  Small perky ones, please.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Baby up coming later today!

And thank you all for your wonderful comments on yesterday's post.  If you haven't read all of them, you should...they are fabulous!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rocking and Rolling

Two weeks from today, on a good ole pre-surgery empty stomach, I will head into the Faulkner Breast Centre in Boston for my long awaited double mastectomy with reconstruction.  Since my last post on the topic ("Two boobs or not two boobs; that is the question"), I have decided on the former.  I still find it insane that I am writing about my boobs to the blogosphere, but once you get breast cancer, it's a tough topic to avoid.  

Despite that the genetics people are 95% sure that I do not carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that would increase my risk of breast cancer in the other breast (the results of that other 5% to come today or tomorrow), I have decided on a "prophylactic mastectomy" for the healthy one.  My health insurance covers it (not out of the goodness of their own heart, I'm sure, but rather because it will be a lot cheaper than treating any future cancer) and several people with whom I have spoken tell me it's the way to go.  I am very at peace with the decision to remove both.  I know my own mind and I know that I would lie awake at night and wake up every morning worrying that I'd have to go through this experience all over again.  That, and I'd probably find myself feeling for lumps every two minutes.  Not sure it'd be good for my image to be that woman who is constantly feeling her own boob.  So, double down doc, we're going for it.  

Yesterday, I also decided to go forward with reconstruction.  My firm decision came after I spoke with the mother of one of my fabulous colleagues.  Rebecca went through this journey about 30 years ago when she was just a bit older than I am, also married with a little boy and a little girl.  I gather that she was somewhat of a pioneer when it came to reconstruction, and it's always such an honor to speak with women who paved a path now open to me and other women.  Rebecca was awesome.  She not only gave me hope, but she spoke with the conviction that I will do this.  Rebecca acknowledged my fears with sincere respect and understanding, but she didn't let our conversation dwell there.  Instead, she cheerfully powered on to tell me about a few books on positive psychology that she used to get through her tough times.  Rebecca explained one theme -- the power of one's mind to affect his or her physical well-being.  Given what I have seen my own mind do in the last few weeks (both for good and for bad), I'm already a believer.  I immediately ordered the books on Amazon and I look forward to sharing more of what I learn from them.  

Rebecca also told me something that for some reason, made me cry for the first time on the phone call.  She told me that she would listen to her own music over earphones when she rolled into her surgeries.  So now I'm crying again, and I've got to figure out why.  I think it's mostly because the next big event that brings me the most fear is rolling into surgery two weeks from today.  I'd imagine I will have to leave Brian and my family behind at some point, and that's not a goodbye I look forward to.  Because then it's just me -- alone -- with my own brain that can take me to some crazy places.  

I have had only three other surgeries in my life (not counting wisdom teeth since I stayed awake for that one).  I had an emergency C-section with Teddy (scary as hell), a planned C-section with Annabel (scary, but otherwise smooth and largely wonderful), and a small surgery on my hand (not fun, but I was only under for about 30 minutes).  Obviously each surgery was a very different experience, but I gathered from all of them that I'm terrified of the operating room.  My reasons are seemingly countless, but mainly it's because that place is so unfamiliar to me, I have to cede all control (one of my biggest weaknesses), and the stakes seem just so darn high.    

I think that's why I cry when I think of rolling into the OR.  Nonetheless, this idea of playing music got me thinking.  I'm not sure I'll do it (I don't even know if it's allowed), but I'm looking into it, and if nothing else, it's a fun distraction for now.  

Last night, Sean and Lauren were over and I told them about this idea of playing music as I enter the OR.  We started brainstorming songs and had a lot of laughs over what would be just the right one.  And, as I always do when I hang out with my brother, I learned that I am so behind in the world of technology.  Did you know that you can basically YouTube any song?  I had no idea.  So we sat around YouTube-ing great songs and laughing at the image of me rolling into the OR to "Live Like a Warrior."  After that, my Aunt Helen and cousin Kirsten arrived from New Jersey -- a long road trip to give me and my family lots of hugs -- and we enjoyed each other's company until we couldn't stay awake any longer.  

This morning when I woke up, I had no idea what I was going to write about (which is usually the case).  But somehow I've arrived at this -- your first homework assignment if you should so accept.  (It's Brian's first day of school today so I had to build school in somehow!)


Enough about me ... I would love to hear more from you.  I barely even know who's reading these posts anymore, and while I don't need to know your name, I'd love to hear what song you think would be a great "rolling into the OR" tune.  I believe Sean has adjusted the settings so that anyone can easily post a comment on this blog (it'd be so neat to have them all in one place rather than some on Facebook where not everyone can see) and anonymous postings are just as valuable as any.  Feel free to just post the title and the artist, and, for extra credit, why you chose the song.  Like any great homework assignment on the first day of school, this one will give me fascinating insight into you, and since this has become way too much about me, I think we need the change up.  Plus, it could end up as the perfect resource to others who face the daunting rolling into surgery experience!

No pressure, but I'm really looking forward to what the blogosphere yields on this one.  And in the meantime, even though Sean and Lauren declare that this is not their "final answer," I'll leave you with "Live Like a Warrior," because if nothing else, it's a really great song.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quiet Voices

I don’t know how it happened, but my little blog here has taken on a life of its own.  When I started it, my only real purpose was to keep my friends and extended family up to date on my condition and my treatment so that Brian and my Mom didn’t have that added responsibility.  I quickly realized that writing was my therapy so the entries grew longer and more elaborate; when my world felt like it was crumbling around me, I could at least string some thoughts into some sentences and try to believe in them.

Then a crazy thing happened -- people actually started reading what I was writing. The local newspaper in my town published my second entry, and someone told someone who told someone else about it.  Obviously we’re not talking “going viral” here, but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that something I wrote would make its way onto so many monitors and smart phones (now even including a few in China, France, and Egypt, although I still think those could be mistakes on my Blogger stats map).  Beyond that, I never dreamt that my writing could help other people, yet so many of you have told me that it has done just that.  I can't fathom that my most desperate of times have produced something salutary. (Did I just use that word right? Probably not, but close enough.)  

I’d love to sit and revel in the compliments I’ve received, but I feel that there is a major piece of this puzzle that I must add before I am even close to being worthy of a fraction of them. Since you know me by now, you won’t be surprised that I’ll explain this puzzle piece through a story.

In my fourth year of teaching, I had a student, let’s call this student a "him" and let’s call him "John Watson" to keep this person anonymous (Brian is watching Sherlock Holmes as I write this – talk about battling back, you go Robert Downey, Jr.!).  John was a quiet kid, a really quiet kid, and his class was full of other students with much more outgoing personalities.  The louder bunch was not a bad bunch by any means, in fact, they were fabulous, but they were just those kinds of kids that were vocal enough and funny enough to get a lot of attention in a class room.

As a teacher, I always relied on my students’ body language to judge whether they were paying attention and grasping a concept or whether their mind was on another planet.  But John gave me little to work with.  He just sat in his seat, with a faint, kind smile, and barely moved a muscle or said a word unless instructed to do so.   I am so ashamed to admit this, but I even remember one day when John came into class and quietly told me he had been absent the day before and needed a worksheet.  I was horrified when I realized that I hadn’t even noticed his absence.

When parent teacher conferences rolled around, John’s mother came to see me.  Since I felt like I barely knew her son, I was curious if we would have enough to talk about to fill the time slot (and it was only 5 minutes long).  I will never forget those five minutes.  This student’s mother told me that almost every day, John would come home telling her about something he had learned in class that day.  One day, he came home and told her that I had paid him a huge compliment on one of his assignments and he was thrilled about it (I pretended to remember this, but I didn’t…again, I felt shame).  This family changed a part of me, and recently, I found myself thinking about them.

I feel like I’ve become a member of that vocal classroom pack.  People know I have cancer and they know I keep writing about it.  Crazily, when I don’t write, people even notice (and trust me, I feel humbled and honored that that is the case).  But I also want to remember the John Watsons out there, because there are millions of them.

In the last few weeks, I have learned countless stories from all of you of family members and friends who have battled back from cancer, even some of the most dreadful of cancers.  I have seen the commercials for the upcoming Jimmy Fund Walk (it’s the Sunday before my surgery).  I have walked through the halls at Dana Farber and Faulkner and the Brigham and seen patients fighting for their lives.  And I’d imagine that most of those people are fighting their fight quietly.  No blogs, no newspaper articles, no public attention.  Maybe it took me too long, but I finally realized that while I write, there’s a single mother out there working a second shift through her chemo to provide for her family.  While I write, there’s a man out there who doesn’t feel the freedom to express his pain or his terror.  While I write, there’s a kid out there who just wants to start school next week.

As I walked through the supermarket last night I wondered about every person that passed our big blue police car shopping cart (Teddy and Annabel were at the wheel, already poor drivers distracted by their American cheese).  Was that woman, or her loved one, battling a serious illness?  Was that guy sad, or scared, or confused, and putting groceries in his cart just like I was?

Despite that this blog is about me (I sometimes cringe at how many times I write, “I,” in a single entry), I hope it’s also about all of those people who are fighting their own battles privately.  I hope that we all stop to think that for every one of my entries, there are thousands of men, women, and children battling cancer and other overwhelming challenges without an audience, and worse yet, some even without a support network.  Quietly, patiently, courageously, they travel and have traveled these roads upon which I now embark.  Every word that someone says to them means something and every compliment gives them strength.  They go home at night reflecting on the people that crossed their path that day -- their doctors, nurses, co-workers, bosses, teachers, hairdressers.  Their voices are strong and brave and powerful, even if you never hear them.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Good Words

I have only worked with my colleague, Mark, since I joined Verrill Dana this past January.  Just before my diagnosis, the firm officially assigned him to be my mentor, although he has played that role out of the goodness of his heart since my first day on the job.  Mark is someone special, and since the day I interviewed with him, I knew I wanted to work in an office near his.  I won't embarass him with a full entry on how much I respect and admire him (until I get his permission to do so) but for now, I will explain one of the most valuable gifts he has given me, and he may not even know it (yet).

Mark is the best writer I have ever met.  He can take a memo I have drafted and with the utmost modesty, "work his magic."  Imagine the document going into a machine as a C+ and coming out as a shiny golden "A."   Mark's brain is that machine.  Even as I have typed these posts, I have thought back to the lessons he taught me about writing, and I am so thankful.

Mark's vocabulary is incredible (for instance, he would find the perfect word to replace "incredible" in this sentence).  When he told me that he improves his vocabulary by reading "Word a Day" emails by Anu Garg (see if interested), I immediately signed up hoping I could one day achieve a fraction of his genius.  Since then, I have tried my best to read the email each day, although I admit, I'm weeks behind.

I think Mr. Garg's emails are fabulous -- they include the origin of the word, an example of its usage, and a pronunciation button where you can hear the word (I have never been able to figure out how to pronunciate a word from those little codes with emphasis signals, etc.).  The emails are also fabulous for their quotes -- high quality quotes, not the cheesy kind (although I usually like those too).

A few months ago, I read a quote I loved and I mentioned it to Mark.  I remember the exact quote (from a writer Thornton Wilder) -- "If you write to impress it will always be bad, but if you write to express it will be good."  Mark laughed and turned to his computer to retrieve a file.  He brought up a Word document, over 30 pages long, full of quotes (or "Good Words" as he calls them) that he has gathered over the years.  He showed me that he had already added this exact quote to his list of others.

After this exchange, I got to thinking of what a valuable gift a compilation like this would be for my kids.  So I started my own blank document.  I ended up calling it, "My Life. For You."  For the last few months, I found myself thinking about this project often during the day, usually when I found something I was so excited to share.  At night, I would add my random thoughts, photos, quotes, song lyrics, or funny observations (like that when Brian mows the lawn with his headphones on, he sings really loud and Teddy, Annabel, and I laugh at him behind his back).  If I learned something new that day or had some little piece of advice that I'd one day want my kids to read, I wrote it down.  (It's not like I'm a fool enough to think we would actually sit at a dinner table while I recounted these things.  My kids barely listen when I tell them to take their dirty feet off the table.)  I had so much fun with this little project.  Until I found out I had cancer.

For some reason, adding to it now feels wrong, like I'm preparing for my own absence, and that was never my intent.  But today was somewhat of a turning point for me.  I don't know why, or when, or how it happened, but today I became convinced, absolutely convinced, that I will beat this.  There's a good chance that tomorrow I will feel less confident, since even as a rookie, I know the highs and lows that accompany this disease.  Yet even if I do regress, I can at least read this entry and know that today I felt certain that this cancer is curable.  Even though I'm not ready to add more to my collection just yet, I did open the document tonight and read where I left off.  And I know that document has lots more coming to it.

As you can see, this post doesn't have just one theme.  I hope it expresses my deepest appreciation for Mark, my mentor, teacher, colleague, and friend.  Maybe it makes one of you itch to jot down some thoughts that you want to be sure you pass along some day.  Maybe you sign up for those Anu Garg emails that I enjoy so much, or maybe you end up thinking I am the biggest nerd you've ever known.  At the very least, you'll have another small window into another human being's life journey.

I have turned to Mark's "Good Words" several times in the past few weeks.  I actually stole my earlier quote about courage from there.  Today I found another great one, and like Mr. Garg's emails do, I'll leave you with this "Thought for Today":

"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." (Joseph Addison, writer, 1672-1719)

There's no doubt in my mind that I've got happiness covered.  From the bottom of my heart, I hope you do too.


P.S.  I woke up this Monday morning (the morning after I originally posted this entry, to my Word a Day -- salutary, meaning beneficial, useful, remedial; healthful.  I especially like that one.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Holding Pattern

I really hate to fly.  I hate everything about it from the twisty-pathetic-excuse-for-an-overhead-fan to the fact that every time I step on a plane, I am convinced it’s headed straight for the side of a mountain.  The problem is that I really do love to see new places (not that I do it very often these days), which is the only reason that I still step foot on those death traps you regular people call planes. 

I know the major flaws in my logic, for instance, that I’m more likely to be killed in a car accident.  But all that that statistic does is make me more nervous to get in my car; it does nothing for my fear of flying.  Sleeping pills don’t help either (I flew all the way to South Africa without benefiting a wink from a sleeping pill).  And I don’t even tire myself out, despite that it is seriously exhausting for me to fly, not only because of the always impending or recently completed panic attack, but mostly because I need to spend every bit of my energy and attention keeping the plane in the air.  If I look away from the window, or heaven forbid, go the bathroom, it could mean disaster for everyone on board. 

However, it turns out there is one thing that did actually make me a better flyer – having my kids on board with me.  Last October when we all flew down to Brian’s cousin, Ryan’s, wedding in Virginia Beach (an incredible weekend I will never forget), I amazed myself at my ability to fake that I actually enjoyed flying.  I deserved an Oscar.  

The crazy thing about me is that while I am a complete wreck during taxing, take-off, and mid-flight, once the captain comes over the intercom and announces that we have begun our descent, I am a veritable world-traveler without a care or a worry.  At that point, I don’t mind if the plane rocks and rolls, because I know I’m almost there.  I’ve been wondering if there’s any analogy between this and my cancer journey, and I guess only time will tell.  Maybe when I see that I’m almost at the end of my treatment, I’ll calm down (although I’m sure hoping that happens more “mid-flight”). 

But there is definitely one analogy I have already discovered.  I’ve never been in this scenario (thank goodness), but I’ve heard about it on the local news, and seen it on a funny 30 Rock episode.  You know, it’s the stuck-on-the-runway-for-hours scene, where, for some reason, the plane can’t take off but it can’t taxi back to the gate either.  I can feel my claustrophobic, aviophobic self (that’s a real word, Brian just told me) getting more anxious as I think about it.  And that is exactly how I already feel right now, more than two weeks away from the treatment that will start to fight something deadly inside me. 

I feel like I am completely trapped and defenseless – can’t move forward and can’t go back.  I’m just stuck in a holding pattern, waiting to sit through a process I will never understand (nor want to understand).  Those around me are calm, though I wonder if inside they are freaking out just like I am.  The co-captains appear to have control, and I trust them, but I don’t really know them, and they have my life in their hands.  I want to scream, flail around like a total fool, swear, punch things, and try with all my might to pry the door open and go running across the tarmac back to safety.  But for many reasons, I can’t.  I have to just sit there, pretending to be composed, pretending that I am stronger than I feel I am.  It’s awful, and if there were someone or something to blame, I’d blame him or her or it.  Today, when I had a minor (mostly internal) mental meltdown in the Container Store, my holyland, of all places, I would have even punched that blame-worthy being, or kicked him where it hurts most.  And this is coming from someone who catches moths in a paper towel and brings them back outside because I can’t bring myself to kill them.  Yep, today this holding pattern hit me and I was pissed.  At the risk of sounding like a screaming brat in the seat behind you, I don’t want to wait until September 12th while something lurks inside me.  I want to fight back, and I want to fight now. 

On the ride home from Brookline, my Mom and Sean talked me away from the cabin door, so to speak.  And when I got home and dropped my bags of organizational items that I know I don’t need (a special hook for the tennis racquets?!? More ultra thin hangers?!?) the Container Store’s slogan caught my eye.  Contain Yourself.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Betrayed by the store I love most!  Contain myself?  How about, Let yourself throw the biggest fucking fit of your life?  (Still dropping those swearwords for you Grandma and Heather.) 

But I guess that’s what I have to do.  Contain myself.  Contain myself while remembering that I am blessed with a trip ahead of me that far too many others won’t get to have – the miraculous treatment to fight this disease and the opportunity to land safely at my destination.  Contain myself while remembering that my plane is full of the best of the best co-passengers and the most skilled co-pilots.  Contain myself knowing that if I sit tight, I’ll get there. 

Yesterday, Brian and I vowed to take the kids on a vacation once I beat cancer.  I know Teddy has his eye on Disney World.  So I’ll power through unexpected low points like today’s shopping trip trying to remind myself to stay seated, and keep my seat belt fastened.  Because if I’m patient, I know soon enough the pilot will come over the intercom and tell me that we have begun our descent into Orlando.  And hopefully, all of this fear will ease.  Or at the very least, as happened on the only other flight we’ve ever taken with our kids, upon descent Annabel will spill my ice water on Teddy’s lap (and my iPad) and he will scream that his “pee-pee is fweezing coooooold!!!”  Either way, I’ll have a huge smile on my face.  And, like every other parent who has fought cancer, or any hardship, I’ll deserve an Oscar.  

The Golf Bug

This morning marks the end of our family vacation in Falmouth. When everyone wakes up, we’ll do that mad dash of cleaning out the fridge, divvying up the sunglasses and cell phones that have gathered in a pile on the kitchen counter, and stripping the sheets from the sandy beds.  And so I find myself reflecting on the week, again trying to distract myself from those fears that creep up every morning when I remind myself that I have cancer.

In a week of simple, treasured pleasures, there is much upon which I could reflect.  But I want to write about Thursday, the day that we played a round of golf.  We had two groups out at Ballymeade – Brianne, Seamus, Brian, and I in one and my Dad, Sean, and Teddy in the other. Despite the less-than-two-foursomes, my Dad and Sean declared this round the first annual “Tara Beats Cancer” golf tournament and I believe Sean already has his eye on some oversized trophy.

Anyways, my Dad and my brother always dream big when it comes to family traditions, and for this one, I did what I always do – I smiled and let their spirits run wild.  And I deemed Mom and Lauren our “team sponsors,” since they made our round possible by agreeing to watch Annabel for the day, a task that requires much more energy than the golf itself.

I love golf, although I can count on one hand (maybe even that Handy Manny hand) the number of times I have played a round since Teddy was born. I learned to play golf the summer before my senior year at Bowdoin when I heard that the college was starting a women’s golf team in the fall.  Almost every Sunday that summer, my Dad, Brian, Sean, and I would play, usually down in Pembroke.  I loved those early mornings we all spent together on the course, and I officially had the golf bug.

Now, 10 years and two kids later, getting in a full 18 holes with my family and our best friends was a huge treat, and I wanted to savor it.  So I was especially frustrated with myself when I woke up that morning afraid to golf.  As dumb as it sounds, I honestly didn’t know if I could play a whole round. I’m sick right? It was then that I realized one of the strangest things about my cancer – it was working its evil without me even feeling it (aside from the lump, of course, and a few other ailments that may or may not be related to my cancer).  But the mind’s a powerful thing (especially one like mine that is somewhat prone to hypochondria) and since my diagnosis, I have basically convinced myself, largely subconsciously, that I actually feel sick.  OK, I’ll cut myself some slack and attribute my recent nausea to worry, and some of my pain may even be cancer-related, but since my diagnosis, I know I have invented a lot of physical pain.  And if I ever Googled “lymph nodes” (which I won’t do) I’m certain I would immediately feel pain in the parts of my body highlighted by whatever photo of the human body I landed upon.

Now that you know a bit of how my crazy mind works, you won’t be surprised that Thursday morning, I woke up thinking ridiculous thoughts like, What if I swing my club and a lymph node pops some cancer cells into my blood stream? Would that spread my cancer?  Anyone who knows the first thing about cancer (or the human body) is probably cringing at my ignorance, and I (mostly) know how much of a nutcase I am.  Sometimes I even make myself laugh at the ridiculous thoughts I conjure up, but my laugh distracts me more than it actually solves my issue.  (Maybe I should email this entry to the psychiatrist at Dana Farber that I am seeing next week. Good luck to that poor man.)

Enough background on my madness…back to golf.  I admit, I started the round with a bit of a cloud over my head. It’s that fine line I talked about earlier – loving something or someone so much that it can cause pain, and I was feeling that pain as we all teed off.  Around the third hole, I checked my phone to see if I had any emergent texts from our sponsors.  There were none, but there was a message from one of Brian’s former hockey player’s (and my former student’s) mom, a lovely woman whose Italian warmth could comfort you at any moment.  Donna had written me a note about her brother who had battled back from Stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma.  Like I always do when I read these incredible survivor stories, I cried, and my hope muscle grew.

The dark cloud over my head moved away, and something awesome happened – I played golf like I’d have played if I was cancer-free, or better yet, like I will play when I am cancer free (and silicone-filled).  I had some great shots and some really crappy ones. I was bored putting like I always am (mainly because it drives Brian crazy), and I craved a sandwich by the 10th hole.  I didn’t pay enough attention to where my ball flew, another of my tendencies to which Brian has adjusted (although by the way, I still don’t understand his technique of “picking a tree” near where my ball went because once we drive the cart up, the trees always look different).  Our group smiled watching Teddy scramble around ahead of us, and we laughed at how small he looked out there with his goofy little visor.  We made fun of Brianne’s enormous putter from Building 19 and we cheered when “the Mallet” helped her sink a few 20-footers.

It was the most precious and at the same time the most regular round of golf I have ever played.  When we finished, I choked up at bit, mainly because I realized that there will many more of these rounds in my future.  And I will look forward to, and cherish, every single one of them.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fear to Fuel

My Grandma grew up during the Great Depression, and she never let you forget it (trust me, sometimes we tried to).  Her hero was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and she pretty much credited him with all good in the world, even until her death at age 95.  She was a staunch Democrat, marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even in her 80s picketed at Martha Stewart’s house in the Hamptons when Martha began to sell her brand name products at K-Mart, the same store that sold guns. 

From my childhood through my college years, I would spend a few weeks if not most of the summer with her at her house on Long Island (and with my Grandpa until he died just before I left for college).  As kids, our big troop of cousins would head to Atlantic Beach where we bodysurfed, boogey-boarded, and ate Chip-wichs and Bomb-pops from the Beach Hut.  At night, we played “Aliens” in the basement, a game we invented that was basically just a combination of hide-and-seek and tag, and it always ended with a bloody stubbed toe or a broken object displaced to make room for a hiding place.

When I was old enough to work out there, I waitressed at a ridiculously over-priced family restaurant on the side of Montauk Highway -- I could wear shorts and sneakers, hand out $23 lobster rolls in minutes, and turn tables quickly.  It was a great gig for a college student (and I still remember serving Brian his lobster roll when he came to visit).  In my spare time, I kayaked by myself in the ocean at the foot of the cliff upon which my Grandparents’ house was perched.  And I read.  Sometimes I wrote, but mostly I just read anything and everything I could find, which was a lot, because my Grandparents were both avid readers and their bookshelves were full with books new and old. 

My Grandma named her house and that spot on the cliff, “Cardinal Point,” and although I typically think people that name their property are in a class far above where I’d ever want to be, this was a different thing.  My Grandma loved her birds, especially her cardinals, and Teddy is already trained to know this – when he sees a cardinal he always reminds me that my Grandma loves those birds. 

It’s probably too early to teach Teddy about FDR, but I know my Grandma would be trying to if Teddy had the pleasure of seeing her today.  And if my Grandma were here now, I know exactly, and I mean, exactly, what she would tell me.  First, she’d swear.  She always liked a good swear word when she was angry.  Then, she’d try to blame a Republican (mostly as a joke), but she’d find that a stretch, and move on.  (Actually, with this whole “legitimate rape” issue, she’d actually forget my cancer for a bit while she exploded on this point.)  Finally, she’d get serious and she would tell me, There is nothing to fear but fear itself. 

I’ve heard this quote a million times and I honestly never really understood it.  I would think to myself, No, really, there are worse things to fear than just fear.  How about not having enough food to feed your family?  How about being killed by a drunk driver?  How about getting cancer?  Those actual occurrences all sounded a lot worse to me than just fearing them. 

Only two weeks out from my diagnosis, I’d be a fool to think I’ve become a stronger person, improved in some way.  I haven’t.  So much of the time, I still just feel shocked, sad, confused, and angry.  But most of all, I feel scared.  I keep replaying the last few weeks in my head – the words the doctors have said to me, the look on their faces when they said them.  Then I think of the weeks ahead – the surgery (or surgeries), the real news on how far this cancer has spread, or could soon spread; the game plan on how we’ll fight this thing.  I have tried to isolate what has me most afraid.  Even as I write, I still don’t have clarity on this question. 

Of course, my biggest fear is that the treatment won’t work.  But I mean it when I say that in the last few days, I have come to start to believe, I mean really believe, not just write so that I believe, that it will.  In our last conversation, Dr. Bunnell said he expects the surgery will reveal a Stage 2 cancer, and it’s taken me a while to digest that.  But whatever the stage, I believe in the team around me, from my doctors to my family, to you.  And I believe in myself that I can do this (OK, that’s still a little writing to convince myself it’s true, but so what?  I’ll get there.)  So from here on in, failure is not an option, which means that it’s not on my list of fears. 

And that’s when FDR’s words hit me square in the face, like Teddy’s new bounce-on-water ball that he and Sean kept throwing at my head yesterday while we played in the pool.  What I am most afraid of is that awful, terrible, indescribable feeling of being scared out of my mind.  I am not so afraid of the number of lymph nodes the surgeon will tell me she had to remove, but rather of what my mind will think of that number.  I am not so afraid of the ultimate Stage of my cancer, but rather that if it’s a big number, that I won’t be able to handle the news.  I’m not afraid of being under anesthesia for several hours, but rather, the fear that my family will have to live with during that time. 

A year from now, I’m sure I’ll be able to write an awesome conclusion to this entry.  Something about conquering fear, believing in myself, “Living Strong.”  But now I sit here, rushed as usual because my kids are kids and I’m still their Mom (Annabel just shoved a jelly munchkin in my mouth, yum).  And I try to think of what has helped me when I have been most afraid.  First and foremost, as I’ve said before, it has been the countless survivor stories that you and others have sent to me.  Just last night, my cousin Kenyon sent me one that had me in tears – good tears, hopeful ones.  These stories are my Popeye spinach, and my hope muscles grow with each and every one. 

Second, something else keeps popping in my head.  It’s the slogan on a t-shirt (I think one of those Lance Armstrong ones, focused on beating cancer) that Brianne said she’d find in her closet and bring to me.  She told me that the t-shirt says, “Battle Mode.”  There’s something about that slogan that helps me.  I know, it’s random, and weird, and proof that every individual’s fight with cancer is a unique one.  But those two words – Battle Mode – take some of my fear away.  They make me think that I have power, I have strength, I have a spirit, and a body that this cancer’s going to have to face now that it’s been discovered.  And somehow, that confidence turns a bit of my fear into fuel.  And since I’ve got a shitload of fear, that must mean, I’ve got a shitload of will-be-fuel.  So this one’s for you Grandma, you’re right, a good swearword, and a good FDR quote can go a long way, in the Great Depression or in a fight against cancer.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Noisy Genes

I have the following quote hanging on the wall in my office:

Peace.  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 

Now, let me be clear, this is one of those concepts to which I aspire, and I am far, far away from becoming a master of it.  In fact, I need think back only to yesterday morning to realize my distance from this Zen-like state – Annabel had taken a tumble down a few steps on the back porch and, not hurt but still shocked, was hysterical.  Cue Teddy, who decided it was just the right time to have a mental breakdown about the tiny soccer ball that was still missing from his new Soccer Guys set (we eventually found it under our bed).  There was lots of noise, and trust me, no calm in my heart. 

Anyways, I think I was originally drawn to this quote because I am one of those quintessential first-child, type-A, far-too-serious-about-everything personalities (even if I have you fooled), so I’ve always had to do a bit of calming myself down over small issues.  And when I first found the sign, I was in the middle of a project at my old job that had me working long hours, while very pregnant with Annabel, with a broken rib.  

But now, like so many things, this quote has taken on a whole new meaning, and I was reminded of it yesterday when the genetics counselor from Dana Farber called me back with the results to the genetic test they had taken for two main breast cancer genes. 

For a bit of context, one of the many meetings we had on my first day at Dana Farber over one week ago was with a genetics counselor.  She asked me all sorts of questions about my family history (even drew one of those little family trees – males were squares and females were circles) and then gave us lots, and I mean, lots, of information about genetic tests, their costs, their implications.  To be honest, it was one of our last appointments of the day and I felt pretty dazed at that point.  I wasn’t following much of what she said and I just wanted to go home. 

One thing I did understand from the meeting was that I needed a blood sample taken so that the one lab in the world with a patent on this process (Myriad Genetics out in Utah) could test to see if I carried the “BRCA1” or “BRCA2” gene.  Again, I try to stay as far away as I can from the clinical part of this journey (although that’s going to be harder and harder in the upcoming weeks) so I don’t have much to say about this test or these genes, except that I understand that if I tested positive for either one of the genes, it would mean I was at increased risk for cancer in my other breast and other types of cancer (especially ovarian cancer) in my future.  Even worse, it would mean women related to me could also carry the gene, and that was a can of worms I sure didn’t want to have to open. 

As has become the norm when I am returning a doctor’s call these days, my hands shook and my legs felt weak as my Mom and I headed outside to the driveway of the vacation house to return the genetic lady’s call. 

Negative, Negative, she told me.  I don’t carry either gene.  But as I have learned, it’s never that simple anymore.  The test that my insurance company would cover could tell us with 95% certainty that I didn’t carry either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.  To be 100% sure, Myriad would need to run additional tests (called the “BART” test, again, spelling questionable) and that would cost $700.  My insurance company had already explained to me (in a 45 minute call that I have not yet recounted to you) that it would not cover this additional testing (but they will cover a $500 wig!).  I would have hemmed and hawed but my Mom wanted to be 100% sure so she gave a few important women in her life an early Christmas gift – $700 to be sure that the cancer-risk gene was not lurking in that remaining 5%.   

You’d think it’d be simple from there, right?  Unfortunately, it isn’t.  I’m still 32 with breast cancer and no family history, so the genetics lady told me about other tests that we could run to see if I carry any other gene that could lead to my condition.  By now, Brian had joined the party ’round the speaker phone.  Again, I found myself lost in abbreviations and percentages.  And that kicked-in-the-gut nauseous feeling returned when the genetics counselor repeated what she had said in our last meeting (but I think I chose to block from my memory) which was that if I carry certain of these other genes, it could mean that our children are at increased risks of cancer, even childhood ones.  That is a thought Brian and I honestly cannot bear at this stage so we decided that I would get well first then we would talk again about further genetics testing.  Noise, trouble, hard work.  And no calm in my heart

After the call, we went back inside to prepare lunch.  Brian’s parents had come down to Falmouth for the day and it was such a pleasure to sit outside under the umbrella on one of the most beautiful days of the summer and enjoy some hot dogs and hamburgers.  I calmed, and I think Brian did too.  Thank goodness for family. 

Well, I began this entry when everyone was asleep, but now Annabel has finished her bottle, lost interest in Sesame Street, and is dancing around me, trying to grab my lap top and climb on the back of the couch.  We have a great day planned so I’ll wrap this up. 

I have realized in the last couple days that I have made strides, albeit very small ones, towards the goal in the quote.  I have come closer to accepting that in the next year, or two, or twenty, this cancer is going to bring with it lots of noise, and trouble, and hard work.  But I’ve also started to believe that in the midst of all of that, I will find calm and I will feel peace.  I’ll still enjoy lunches outside with my family even after confusing calls with genetics counselors.  And I’ll still have my little girl grabbing at my computer as I try to make sense of my life.  In the end, that’s just the kind of calm I need.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Mom

I cry at almost every montage.  Actually, I cry, then Brian laughs at me for crying, then I cry some more trying to convince him why he should be crying too.  The scene usually ends with me pinching him, and letting him believe that he wouldn't have become teary if I hadn't distracted him with my ugly cry.  

It really doesn't matter what the montage is about -- I'll at the very least get choked up.  The introduction pieces to major golf tournaments, any part of "Planet Earth," the recent Children's Hospital commercials, or the old Gatorade ads with injured athletes persevering to "Love Hurts" -- you set it to music and I'll cry.  Given this starting place, you can imagine what I'm like during the Olympics.  Never mind the actual event recaps, I'm already a mess at the Visa commercials.  I mean seriously, am I expected to stay composed with a combination of Morgan Freeman's voice, Natalie Comaneci's perfect 10 routines, and the message, "Go World."?  I know I look foolish, but I don't care.  It feels good to cry and laugh and pinch my husband for picking on me.  

But this entry isn't about montages.  It's about my mom (and she's a sucker, though a more modest one, of montages too).  Anyone who knows me knows that I could never, ever, sum up what I think of my mother in anything short of a 60 volume series of writings, each series at least 500 pages thick.  Actually, even that wouldn't capture it, so a little blog post sure won't do the trick.  That means, I'm left with metaphors, some symbolic way that I could express a tiny slice of the universe of love, respect, and admiration that I have for my mom.  

Enter, the montage, the ugly cry, and the Olympics.  I know, I know, I probably need to lighten up on the emotion that is likely generated in conference rooms of ad executives likely mocking the vulnerable audience of people like me.  But in all seriousness, the video I have posted below is something special.  And it will do a tiny bit of justice to what I think of my mother.  

I was only 12 when Derek Redmond ran the semi-final 400 meter race in the Summer Games in Barcelona.  I remember seeing this footage back then, and I know that my younger, but just as ugly ugly cry was in full gear.  Most of you will probably recall the race when you see it again.  If you think it's just a bit too much set to Cold Play, cut the volume, because the video is real, and worth a look.       

OK, so obviously I'm no Olympian, and my Mom is definitely no Mrs. Raisman (she admits that she spent most of her time at my swim meets and basketball games reading her book, or at least wanting to).  But this video, now more than ever, reminds me of my mom.

Without any intention of sounding conceited, I feel like a few weeks ago, my life was going along like the first half of Derek Redmond's race -- I was cruising, blessed with everything I could ever ask for.  My mom was in the stands, so to speak, cheering me on.

Then came the hamspring tear, or in my case, the cancer.  I broke, or rather, it was revealed that I could be breaking.  Like Derek Redmond, I fell to my knees, and limped along for a bit, trying to pretend I could deal with it all.  Then my mom rushed out, and while the tears streamed down my face, she stayed strong.

I'm sure that Derek Redmond's father wanted to curl up in a ball and cry the moment that he saw his son's dreams crushed in Barcelona, and my mother probably wanted to do the same when I told her that I likely I had cancer.  But my mom ran out to me, not caring about rules or recognition, and carried me.  She answered the phone when the doctor called to confirm the biopsy results that we already knew, because I didn't want to have those words in my memory.  She lined up all of the doctors appointments that I was too devastated to admit even needed to be made.  She called the best doctors she knew and made sure that I would be in the most capable, and kind, hands.  She babysat our kids so I could nap, she figured out the Partners Healthcare portal so she could send questions to my doctors electronically, and she made a calendar of all of my upcoming appointments.  She came with Brian and I to all of my appointments, and comforted him when I couldn't.  But most importantly, a few nights ago, when I completely broke down at the dinner table, she let me cry on her shoulder, telling me I deserve that time to be upset, angry, and scared.

At the risk of overkilling the montage metaphor, my mom has always been the brightest light to guide me home.  And I know that she will fix me now, because she always has in the past.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Work Refraction

We just tucked Annabel in her crib, snuggled next to "Coo-Coo" (her Cookie Monster from her Uncle Seamus) and Teddy is playing quietly with his brand new little figurine "Soccer Guys" (today's addition to the toy chest, rounding out the collection of Hockey Guys, Football Guys, and Baseball Guys).  The peace won't last long, but I'll get in a bit of writing before dinner.  

My first day of vacation with the family brought both great relaxation and much-appreciated fun where many times, I almost forgot that I had cancer for company.  Unfortunately, vacation also brought some of my most difficult, hard-to-catch-my-breath moments.  It's incredible how the overwhelming feeling of love can instantaneously turn to the overwhelming feeling of fear and pain, and I staggered along that line all day, fighting to stay on the former side but all too often falling helplessly onto the latter.  For my own sanity, I thought this entry should be a bit of a reflection and a distraction -- a "refraction" if you will.

I got to thinking, what might you be curious about at this stage?  I realized that if I were you, I'd be wondering, "What's the deal with your job through all this?"  It's a great question, and it got me to thinking about my work.  And so I refract...

For five years after I graduated from college in 2002, I taught in the Social Studies Department at Canton High School.  I think back to this time in my life very fondly, and very often.  It makes my day every time I bump into former students, especially when I hear that they have chosen a path in life that brings them happiness (and even more especially when I hear that they are studying to be a teacher!).  I chuckle when my former students call me, "Ms. Talbot," but I understand, because I'd never be able to call Mr. Badoian, Mr. Carta, Mr. Healy, or Mr. Sweeney anything but that.

When I see them, my students still remind me of some of my less-conventional lessons, like during our World History unit on India when I told them we had a guest speaker that was waiting in the teacher's lounge.  I went outside of the classroom to "retrieve the guest," then quickly transformed myself into Gandhi, and returned (ace bandage wrapped around my head to achieve baldness).  I let my students interview "me," and with my hunched back and walking stick (a ski pole) I answered their questions as if I were this most impressive of historical figures.  (I never mastered the Indian accent.  Any time I tried, I defaulted to the British accent I knew from growing up with English nannies.)  As you can imagine, my high school kids had a blast trying to stump me with questions (in a good-hearted way, I think), but I had read two books and watched several videos on the Mahatma, so I was well-equipped to answer even the most random of their questions.  I still play along that Gandhi really visited that day.  Needless to say, they probably think that I'm nuts.  

After two years of teaching, I was itching to become a student again myself.  I never intended on switching careers, but I wanted to study something fresh, and be able to do it at night.  When I was accepted into Suffolk Law School's evening program, I was elated.  I could keep the job I loved, and study topics like Constitutional Law that I knew I'd eat up.  

I began the four-year program in 2004, commuting into Boston three nights a week for classes that typically ran from 6-10PM.  My family jokes that I have a revisionist memory, because now I think back to law school with some amount of nostalgia.  I admit, however, that it was a grind.  I remember being on lunch duty at CHS studying for finals, reviewing Contracts flash cards while scolding senior boys for piling up their dirty lunch trays under their table (my revisionist memory also forgets which boys those were, so you're off the hook if it was you!).  But that "best of the best" group I keep mentioning includes so many people that I met in law school, so in the end, those four years were a true gift.  

After two years of law school, I had done pretty well, and someone asked me if I would be interviewing with "the big firms" when they came on campus in August.  I hadn't heard of these interviews so I had no such plans.  Plus, I never thought I would leave teaching any time soon.  Eventually I decided to toss my hat in for an interview, and when I actually got one, I assumed everyone had.  I did some background reading before my first interview and it was then that I learned the starting salaries of first-year associates at big Boston law firms.  I remember showing Brian the number one night at our condo in Stoughton.  He laughed in disbelief, and we wondered for a second if it was a misprint.  At the time, I supplemented my teaching salary by tutoring at least 12 hours per week, and the thought of having just one job that could pay exponentially more than I brought home with two was tempting.  

The first interview I had scheduled was with Ropes & Gray, a firm I had heard of, but only barely.  Our paths really had no reason to cross until now.  Somehow, I got an offer for an in-office call-back interview, but it was scheduled for the third day of the school year, which I hated.  Reluctant to leave my new classes so early, I nonetheless trekked into Boston wearing the same suit I wore the week prior (I only owned one at the time).  As I waited outside a partner's office for an interview, I asked the recruiter who was with me if everyone on the floor was on vacation.  It was so darn quiet there.  She looked at me like I was an idiot.  Looking back, I realize that the only workplace I knew, a high school, was never quiet, so the law firm halls felt almost silent.  Even now, I miss the hustle and bustle of a school.  The next day, I got an offer to join Ropes as a "summer associate," which I learned was the position that most often lead into a first-year associate position.  I was flattered by the opportunity, but joining as a summer associate would mean that I would have to end my teaching year early, and then maybe permanently, so I was hesitant to say the least.  

Ultimately, and in all candor, I couldn't resist the enormous jump in salary, and my family's encouragement that this would be a good thing for me.  Still to this day, I'm not proud to say that money was such a factor in my decision, but it's the truth.  Despite that I was busting my butt to pay thousands of dollars to Suffolk per semester, I was still going to graduate with over $80,000 in loans.  I thought I'd never be able to pay that back on a teacher's salary.  My plan was to try out this gig and if it was a bust, I would beg for another teaching job (maybe even grovel at Canton High), having at least paid back some of my loans.  

I remember my last day at Canton High School as though it were yesterday.  I saw the best magic show of my life (thanks to Ian and Ben), I received a gorgeous leather work bag for my new job (thanks to Jane and Heather and all the other teachers who were far too good to me), and I cried my eyes out pretty much from start to finish.  CHS is a very special place to me and I wasn't ready to leave.  Now, in the context of my diagnosis, I recall another vivid memory of that day -- I remember walking away from school thinking to myself, If I died today, I would feel that my life was fulfilled.  I don't remember ever having that thought before, and I honestly remember that it surprised me.  In the five years since, I have been blessed with new chapters of my life, and now I understand the hole that my death would leave in the life of others.  In fact, I wish I could rewind time and take back that thought I had five years ago.  I wish I could scream to the hills, That's not true anymore!  Please give me more time!  And since Dr. Bunnell has recently informed me that my cancer has been in my body for years, I hope it wasn't listening that day.     

I started the summer program at Ropes & Gray a week late so I could stay with my students almost up to their final exams, and I came back a few weeks later to review with them and correct their tests.  My 10 weeks in the summer program at Ropes and Gray may have well been a trip to a different country -- everything was so foreign to me, from the 9AM start time (not 7:10AM) to the office in which I sat alone (where were the 28 teenagers with whom I used to share my "office"?).  Along with the army of over 100 other summer associates in Boston, all with the most impressive of credentials, I attended almost daily training seminars on corporate law topics, and through the top-notch schedule of social events, I got to know some awesome people with whom I would work if I returned as a full-time associate.  It was a fascinating experience and at the end of the summer, I accepted my offer to join the firm when I graduated from law school.  I knew then that I was totally out of my element at a big corporate law firm, but I thought it may be good to try a new life adventure.  

In my last year of law school, we had our son Teddy, and I took the bar when he was about 5 months old.  When I began at Ropes as a full-time associate, he was 7 months old.  That was when Brian learned to cook, and, well, do pretty much everything else around the house.    

I worked as a full-time associate at Ropes & Gray in their corporate health care group for almost three and a half years.  I worked hard, as did all of my colleagues, and I learned more about myself in those years than I ever had before.  Most of all, I learned that while it would be fun to have tons of money, I wasn't willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get there.  I wanted to come home every night to see my family, and I didn't want to stay up until two in the morning to make up for it.  I knew a long-term career at a big law firm would mean travel, and the thought of consistently missing my kids' events, even just a baseball game or a gymnastics practice, made me sick to my stomach.  I was so thankful to have learned this about myself, and even more thankful that those years brought me some of my most cherished friendships.  It's amazing how fast you can bond over shared sheer exhaustion.  

In January of this year, I accepted an incredible offer to join the health care group at a mid-size firm, Verrill Dana LLP.  Verrill Dana (sometimes painfully abbreviated to VD so we can all have a childish chuckle) is based in Portland, Maine, and it was expanding its Boston office.  I knew it was the right fit for me from the day of my first interviews.  I could tell immediately that these people were not only incredible lawyers, but fabulous people -- smart, kind, hard-working, family-focused, and fun.  My seven months with them have confirmed my first impression and more -- we really are talking best of the best.  I can't wait to get back to my office, open my shades that overlook Boston Harbor, and get back to work.  

I never thought I'd say this, but I miss my daily commute into Boston (even the short portion of it on the Orange Line).  Once I beat this thing, maybe I'll have a new appreciation for things I never even enjoyed before.  Or maybe, as a dear friend has told me from his own experience, I will just go back to the way I was before -- being annoyed with my commute and the craziness I often witness on the Orange Line.  Either way would be a gift.  

In the end, I know I will group my employer and my colleagues in the cavalry of people who helped saved my life.  From the day I told them I had cancer, they stood behind me both emotionally and financially, and they gave me both the space and support to get better.  I feel so blessed for this, because I know that a serious illness of a working parent can set a family into a downward financial spiral.  I am so thankful that my colleagues and my family wouldn't ever let that happen to me.  

In the meantime, where I used to sit at my desk researching and writing memos for some of the best health care providers in the country, now I will visit them for surgeries, infusions, and life saving treatment.  I guess it's good to see life from all different perspectives, huh?