Saturday, December 28, 2013


Yesterday, December 27th, was my third cancerversary.  It marked 3 years since the end of my treatment (chemo and radiation).  The most spectacular thing about reaching this milestone is that I forgot entirely about it until I was falling asleep last night.

This is to say to all of those people right now struggling to get to recovery, it is possible to get to a place where you are not only NOT thinking about cancer every day, but you can even forget about it completely.

Granted, I suffer from a poor memory (is that a side effect of chemo? or getting older?), and we happen to be on vacation at the moment and I am happily immersed in feeling as far away from my normal self as I can.  We have no routine, simply reading, eating everything in sight, and playing in the sun.  It is, shall we say, not bad.

I am grateful today for the brain's ability to heal in a way I did not think it could.

vitamin D

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Well Wishes

December again.  Time moves on, I suppose quite predictably, and my life continues to travel away from cancer.  Score 1 for me.  In less than 2 weeks, it will be precisely 3 years since I finished first line treatment for my Non-Hodgkins.  Quite hard to believe.

This past year has been a year of new normal (ick I hate that term).  Getting into another full year of my teacher coaching, new friends, a first grader in the house, adding to our family this past Spring with the arrival of Alex the goldfish, Dan and I continuing to march on in our quest to have another kid, and so on.

I've been cleaning and clearing out unnecessaries, now that winter is practically here.  A few days ago, I came across this box full of most of the cards I received when I was sick.

Friday afternoon, in my traditional end-of-week cleanup, I began to go through the cards.  I'm thinking it's time to ditch the box and just hang on to a few reminders of the love that was sent to me and Dan during our little crisis.

I was seriously in tears (not that anyone's surprised) reading each one.  Since then, I had definitely pushed these memories to the farthest, tucked away corner, refusing to recall the need for such words of support.  But this was a treat - feeling so loved all over again.  I am in awe that people knew me so well; some of the cards were created with me in mind.

I began to make piles of the cards:  Keep (in a smaller, cigar box), Use for art projects/making Get Well Soon cards for others, and Recycle.  It was not easy to make such decisions, decisions I obviously didn't want to make 3 years ago, either.  And as I looked at each one, I was amazed at how my Hancock family (the school where I used to teach) sent me so so many tokens of love (Roe - I finally destroyed the evidence!).  My friends (and Dan's coworkers and my parents' friends!) sent spirit lifters, cookies, soup, dinners, wigs, fun stuff from my wish list, paper hugs and plenty of them - personalized and handpicked.  Students and their parents sent encouraging words.  And of course, letters from my family underscored how supported I was from every corner of the world.

Remember the white M&M Kung-Fu fighting?
Maybe you can never know what sending a card can do for someone who is sick.  Unless of course, you've been there.  And maybe these cards meant more to me than to others in similar circumstances.  But I am here to say they helped.  They made me feel surrounded, lifted even.  

BLITSTEIN:  The Musical (by Will M., former student)
And of course I have more wishes for the future.  The superstitious piece of me feels like spitting (tfu-tfu) after writing that, but it is true.  Hopes and dreams.  And so much gratitude for those who helped me survive and walked with me into recovery.

the bulldog is fuzzy

Saturday, November 23, 2013

big decision

wig hair

wiggity hair

no hair (mine grew back, his did not)
barely there hair
Been thinking about this post for a while now.  I've got a pretty poor sense of time, so it could have been weeks, or months, for all I know.  Either way, I went for a haircut last weekend.  As usual, I collected haircut ideas on my Pinterest board for a few days before my appointment.  And as I perused the celebrity style images online, I fought back the urge to cut it all off.

Can you believe this?  I actually want to cut my hair.  Like, really short.  Again.

The strange thing is that I also want long hair.  There's a back and forth I have with myself about this decision.  Long hair is nice to have.  It is soft and silky and impossible to have if you are receiving chemo (at least my kinda chemo).  Thus, my brain equates long hair to being the anti-cancer.

the pixie cut I never thought I'd have
Buuut.  Long hair requires a great deal of attention to keep it looking so lovely.  There are products, brushes, heat stylers, etc.  And time.  You must set aside large chunks of time for drying, brushing, washing, not-clogging-shower drains, straightening, you get the idea.  Do I want to spend all of my free time on my hair?  While I discovered a few years ago, ahem, that I can actually keep my hair supershort and it looks cuter than I ever would've suspected.  Short hair is SO freaking easy to care for.  It does require more frequent trimming, but that's about it.  Wash, slather product, wear.  The End.

Who would ever think hair holds this much value?  (Samson not included.)  It almost always grows back.

Well, for now, the verdict is to continue to grow it.  Sticking with long until at least next summer. Then -for hair and other life decisions- we will reassess.

All the survivors in the house:  I'm curious, how did you handle post-chemo hair?

hairy head

my best boy getting his hairs cut
ps. you can see why the newest addition to the oxford english dictionary is selfie.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ode to Potato Chips

My name is Mia and I like potato chips.  I mean, to be honest, it's more than like.  I LOVE potato chips.

When I was 4 and 1/2 and I had just started kindergarten, I tasted them for the first time.  A child raised on dried green beans and dehydrated apple rings for snacks, I had no name for these crunchy bits of goodness.  But I told my mom about them.  Someone had them in their lunch and shared with me (this was before the days of peanut allergies, I guess).  And could you please get them for my lunch?  They were salty, kind of yellowish, round and crunchy?  Know what I'm talking about?
not my chips :(
No idea, my mom shrugged her shoulders.  Don't know what you're talking about.

Oh, she knew.  She knew exactly what I was describing, and perhaps how damned addictive they are.  Well, there was no stopping me.  Salt, no salt, ridges, ruffles, thick cut, kettle cooked, olive oil, they are so tasty.  I am pro-potato, anti-fake chips (read: Pringles, o'lean products) or ick! baked chips.  I believe there are times in our lives when the combination of oil, salt, and ever-so-thinly-sliced potato crisps can heal what ails us.  Heck, even my nutritionist, back in the day of chemotherapy, told me that while they are not the most nutrient-rich food on earth (big shocker), if that's all I had an appetite for to go to town on those bad boys.

You can have your ice cream.  You can have your Belgian chocolates (except that last one in the pantry), you can have your cheesecake.

Leave me the chips.*

*Will accept french fries, frites, shoe strings or fresh tater tots as acceptable substitutions.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Some weeks feel like they take a month to pass, say for example, when you are sick, or waiting for results.  But occasionally, time passes in real time. And it moves fast.

working on his own version of Van Gogh's Sunflowers

modeling his newly imported "football" jersey from Paris

celebrating his half birthday with a buttermilk cake with fresh berries

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

True Story

There I am, minding my own business, when WHAM - nasty germ 0157 comes strolling into my gut.  Of course, we had no idea what it was until about a week after the symptoms began, but we knew enough to head the ER.  Twice.

Rough timeline:
Sunday: Woke in the wee hours of the morning with some belly cramps.  Could not fall back to sleep.
Monday: Belly hurt all day long, doctors think it is viral, or possibly a side effect from a medication.  Tell me to carry on.
Tuesday: Bad belly business (I am leaving out the details for your own stomach's sake).
Wednesday: Finally call the dr, she brings me in around 1 pm.  Promptly sends me to the emergency room, possible appendicitis?  IV fluids and a few hours later, I go home.  I feel hungry so I eat a banana, some diluted apple juice, and a few tiny pretzel sticks.  WRONG. WRONG. BAD MOVE. WRONG WRONG WRONG.  The night is long and the tummy is sad.
Thursday: Judah goes to school and I return to the ER, where they admit me to the observation floor.  We wait for lab results.  Possibly infectious colitis?  Dilaudid gives me a few precious hours of sleep.
Friday: The pain begins to subside (thank heavens) and I get moved (thank heavens) up to the 6th floor, where the bed is comfy and the halls are quiet.  I sleep 6 hours (only woken once by the dang IV machine).  Aaah.
Saturday:  IV fluids are disconnected.  I tell my doctor I must leave soon because I had been planning an anniversary party for my parents that is scheduled for the next day.  They begin to give me starches in addition to the clear liquids to ensure I can handle solid food.  3 pm surprise! Discharge papers have been handed to me.  Go home.  SHOWER!  Aaaah.
Sunday: Attend party.  All goes well (though I was a bit clammy), though I'm sure I overdid it.  Late that night I discover a voicemail from my doctor.  She calls me at 11 pm to tell me the last cultures came back E. Coli 0157.  Ew.

In between all of those bits and pieces, of course there was Judah.  He was definitely thrown by my need to stay in the hospital.  One afternoon he confided in me that he had woken up at 3:30 am, crying because he dreamed I was home but I wasn't.  Oy.

All I kept thinking was how grateful I am that he was so much younger when I had chemo.  He barely remembers and while he showed signs of separation anxiety, he had no clue quite how serious the situation was.  Still, kind of a traumatizing week for us.  Quite glad to be home and slowly recovering.

I have decided to hire some professional cleaners with their professional cleaning supplies (bleach approved!).  E. Coli is nothing to mess around with.  I want nary a speck, not a microbe left in my house, lest any of my loved ones travel down last week's path.

Be happy to send my trash wrapped in a ribbon to those tea party politicians down on Capitol Hill.


Monday, October 7, 2013

for the win

Typically you know that I love to support LLS, mainly through their annual Light the Night campaign.  In the past 3 years, we have walked proudly with our team and our balloons.  This year, due to some scheduling issues, we cannot participate.

I still feel the need to give back to the cancer community at large and volunteer doing something helpful.  When LLS contacted me about being an honorary captain (again) at the HEADstrong Foundation's Nick Colleluori Classic (Lacrosse Tournament), I was game.  HEADstrong is a foundation started by Nick Colleluori, a lacrosse player at Hofstra, who passed away in 2006 from Non-Hodgkins.  His passion was lacrosse and he came up with the idea to help raise blood cancer awareness and to aid families affected by the disease.  To date, HEADstrong has raised over $4 million towards their mission and their events continue to grow in success each year.

Where do I come in?  The job is to meet the team, tell your story, and help them put a face to blood cancer.  This year, Dan and Judah came along with me to cheer the team I was matched with, VMI. (Those of you who know me are aware I am not the athletic type.  So this is pretty much as close as I'm ever gonna get.)

1 2 3 GO VMI

The guys were great - we sat on the bench to watch the game, got to hear them cheer for each other (perfect for Judah as he works through issues of sportsmanship playing soccer), and see them WIN!

But the most special part for me was discovering that prior to playing their second game, every player on the team had registered on our National Bone Marrow Registry.  They were the only team to make such a commitment that day and I can only hope that the other teams followed their lead.
guess who wants a lacrosse stick for hanukkah?

After the game, the team invited us back to their tent, where plenty of parents were waiting to congratulate and feed them (the love and pride was obvious).  The coaches and captains presented us with a jersey signed by the team, hats just like the ones the coaches wore, and a special commemorative coin given out to the lacrosse players who go on to serve in one of the 4 divisions of the military.

the team

coaches and captains (and us)
All in all, a very valuable and memorable experience.  Cancer has definitely taken us to places we never thought we'd go.  Some days have been very dark, but this was a bright spot for sure.

Thank you VMI Lacrosse Team!  Wishing you a great season.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Breaking Up With Barium

tip: never show up empty handed to an onc appt.
No more scans.  According to my main man, Dr. Henry, I have been overscanned already.  And especially now that there has been deliberate discussion (June 2013 ASCO Conference, Chicago) on the topic of post-treatment surveillance, the oncs across the land have determined that past the first year, the likelihood of finding a relapse thru xrays is unlikely.  They have found that more relapses are discovered through reporting of symptoms and/or bloodwork.

Will I never see my onc again?  Nah, not bloody likely.  I still have a few more years before using the "c" word.  Even writing about my chances of a relapse makes me feel like I'm tempting fate, so I won't get into the numbers game.  I will continue to go for checkups every 6 months.  These visits include running labs (the oncology vampires are consistently diurnal) and reporting symptoms.

But no more scans.  No more scanxiety, no barium, no waiting for results.  Hopefully forever, but I'll be happy if we can just say for a very long time.  This is big.  It's strange, it feels even better than my first clean scan.  Of course those results were a big relief and that was a joyful day.  But, I am close to 3 years out of treatment.  I am ready to be DONE.

From where I stand today (okay, let's be honest, I'm sitting on the couch), it's often hard to believe it happened.  If it weren't for the scars, the tattoos, the infertility, the shortness of breath, the dizziness, and the fatigue...  Okay, my life is definitely different.  But my hair has grown out, my brows and lashes have returned, and most importantly my adult acne continues to plague me (what? chemo = clear skin).  It appears to me that I once had cancer, but do not anymore.

To celebrate the fantastic news, my appointment-partner-in-crime (mom) and I went to HipCityVeg for a quick lunch, and now I am waiting for my challah dough to rise.  I'm ignoring the fact that the car needed $1000 of new brake pads and the dishwasher will cost more than $200 to replace the panel.  This is part of life.  And I am living it.

no sitter on a saturday night but that's ok
On a side note, I seriously feel the need to extend my deep deep gratitude to so many of you who have supported and encouraged me through the past 3 years, even if only by reading my blog anonymously.  It has not been easy and I'm not the most flexible girl in the world (especially for those who live with me).  To imagine having survived this crisis without the team is impossible, and I hope that when you need me, that I can be a member of your team as well.  I am quite grateful that when I reached out, so many reached back.

Wishing all of my TMM members a very happy and *healthy* 5774 (OR a prosperous 2013-2014 school year).

Much love,

Friday, August 30, 2013

Just Peachy

what's left of the yellow haul
A tidbit of insight for you on this fine, Friday morning:

Whatever the problem is, coffee is the solution.

And now, onto the next order of business.
Bragging.  Cause seriously, how many of you can say you walked into your doctor's office - no appointment - and he called you back and reviewed your scan disk with you and your 6 year old on the spot?  Anyone?  It was practically drive thru service.  This is a good man.  I love him.  I can't help it.
from the farm share

Still, the official report is not yet in - I have a call into my main onc - but my #1 phone-call-returner aka Dr. Drive Thru says he did not see anything too worrisome.  There is some thickening near my aorta.  I'm too afraid to google what that could mean as far as permanent damage from radiation, so for now I'm going to pretend I never heard him say that, and just relax with a cup of coffee.

Plan for the day as we wait out the return phone call with the official word?  Use up our superfluous peach supply, fresh from Tuesday's picking, now ripe and ready to be used in peach cobbler, roasted peach and coconut popsicles, stewed peaches (to be eaten over yogurt), and this almond crisped peach deal from smitten kitchen.

Must keep busy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bad Blogger

happy camper
Imagine I'm getting a slap on the wrist for going almost 2 months without writing.  Summer was both busy and relaxing.  Judah loved day camp, and I had some time to myself.  I worked on moving a little bit here and there (my cardiologist wants to get me off of my meds), though I'm not sure I'm ready to wean just yet.  A friend and I started meeting regularly for Writing Club, where I set a goal to work on my book (or rather, turning my first blog into one).  But, as you can imagine, we had too much fun together and ended up doing more talking than writing.

We had day trips to the beach, lots of work done on our house (we were past due on a new front walk, having the chimney pointed and capped, driveway re-finished...), an emergency fridge replacement, visited with family both at home and in Brooklyn,  and even a few lovely walks through Valley Green.


rainbow loom obsession

what we did with the one day strawberry sale at WF

just a sample of the work done on our property...

Most recently, the past two weeks our family took a monster road trip from Maryland, to DC, Virginia, West Virginia, back to PA.  We visited with family, met up with friends, camped out, cooked over a campfire (2 really successful meals!), saw the sights, hiked, photographed, explored caverns, tubed down a mountain, fed buffalo and elk, pet a million rabbits/goats/sheep, went down water slides and rode the rides at Hershey Park, and on and on...  Dan planned it all and we loved spending x-treme family time together.  No, really, it was truly fun.

we were delirious from the freezing cold temps of shenandoah nights

evidence of at least one campfire success

stunning sunset in Pittsburgh

This lovely elk took a cracker from his mouth
I MADE (edible) FOOD! 
And we are now in the beginning of the end.  Dan started his teacher in-service today, Judah will begin 1st grade in a week (AH!) and soon after that, I will go back to work to find out where I'll be working this year (since the school I was assigned to last year was closed by the district).

I'm kinda grumpy as I have a scan coming up in 2 days and I have a new feeling about it.  I'm not anxious as much as annoyed.  I don't WANT to have a scan.  I don't want to HAVE to have a scan.  I am finally (almost 3 years later) ready to put this cancer business behind me.  Hopefully, if all goes well, this will be my last scan for a very long time (I still can't think in terms of forever).

Not complaining, really, after yesterday Judah finally got me to plug in his "iPod touch" (actually just my old phone) and add new music for him.  Ever since, he has been listening to (aka singing at the top of his lungs) all of our songs with headphones on (think Citizen Cope meets The Lorax soundtrack).  At this very moment, he is belting out a little Indigo Girls, "I went to the mountain, I went to the mountain...", so how can I possibly be grumpy?

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Not Having Cancer

Any day you don't have cancer would seem like a reason to celebrate.  I'm not sure everyone knows about this little secret, but it's true.  We get so wrapped up in all of life's other sufferings - big and small - we tend to overlook the simple fact that if there is a day when you don't have to fight for your life, we should call it a good one.

As you may have guessed, that thing on my right ovary is not currently cancerous.  I still don't know exactly what it is (since I haven't directly conversed with the doctor yet), but I at least know what it isn't.  And right now, that's good enough for me.

gratuitous photo of potato gnocchi I made (from scratch!) this week for dinner

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No Fun

happy cat picture source
Being a grownup is not nearly as fun as it was supposed to be.  What happened to the all-you-can-eat-dessert-as-dinner?  Staying up late?  Talking endlessly to your friends on the phone (with no one to tell you it's time to hang up and give some one else a turn)?  Taking pleasure in going out for a slurpee?

You guys, adulthood is a bitch and then some.

Today, I am waiting for results.  One of my many doctors caught a growing, dense cyst on my right ovary a few weeks ago.  Yes, I am well aware that cysts are common and women get them all the time.  And this one could be benign.  But in the matter of a few days, this thing grew and changed shape, so it warranted further investigation.

"Do you have any history of Cancer to yourself?"
Who writes these surveys??
and ps. I love the next 3 questions - by themselves and together.

I just got back from the spa (and by spa, I mean hospital) where I had my "wrap" this morning (and by wrap I mean pelvic mri).  It was truly obnoxious, being papoosed to the plank, grill velcro'ed to your abdomen, breathing belt buckled across your belly.  I've had an MRI before, but I'm definitely more experienced in the CT/PET department.  In the MRI, you get to choose your music, but you have to tolerate that incessant pounding, and the girl interrupting G. Love every other minute to tell you to stop breathing so they can get a still image of your lady bits.

Then comes the contrast.  Different from the CT contrast (dye), the MRI contrast spreads a tingle through your entire body, one area at a time.  You get to even taste it.  Like an appetizer, but calorie-free.  I know, I have a knack for finding the best full body treatments out there.

Finally, I was done.

And now, we wait.  Worst case scenario is (obv) cancer.  Again.  Other possibilities  dermoid or endometrioma, which may or may not require surgery (probably laparoscopic - been there done that already) to be removed.  I don't mean to be a complainer, I'm just wondering when the black cloud will be clearing for good and I do not feel like being grateful today.  I can handle the rainy English spring, it's this frickin monsoon that is bringing me down.

ps. If you're not already reading David Sedaris' newest book, you should be.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The past few months have been busy busy, and while there have been many days I've needed to write out/sort out some roller coaster emotions, I haven't had anything particularly profound to share.  Today I don't plan on offering wisdom or advice, but had an excellent day with my kid and wanted an excuse to show off some beautiful photos.

We've really continued to struggle with our fertility situation (which is to say there is none) and we are still in a limbo place, not quite ready to pursue any of the few options that are left.  If we were to be asked about our relationship status with Fertility in general, no doubt we'd choose 'it's complicated'.  It's been a challenge to watch our neighbors and friends (not to mention acquaintances and strangers) continue to move forward in their own family building and feel left behind.

At the crossroads of the third anniversary of my diagnosis of cancer, and the end of Judah's kindergarten year, we are faced with decisions that need to be made at some point if we do want to grow our family.  I'm torn.  Struggling to decipher between listening to my intuitive voice(s) and pushing away fears.  Are they simply fears of the unknown?  Or is it my intuition screaming at me to not make a giant mistake?

Who the hell knows?

I guess at some point, I'll read an article or hear a story or come to some sort of realization that will push me one way or another.

I'm sure there are many of you wondering what in the world I'm really talking about, but I don't feel quite as comfortable publicly sharing all of the intimate details of our IF journey.  Perhaps it is the stigma, the shame, guilt, yadda yadda, that go along with our circumstance (though, of course rationally, I can agree that it has nothing to do with me as a person whatsoever).  I'm not quite certain what makes this wound so tender that I must keep it covered and private.  It's quite the opposite of how I felt about sharing my story 3 years ago.

And then we've got this amazing kid.

I woke up this morning and saw that the sun was seeping through the blinds, trying to touch every corner of the house, and I realized that today was the day for playing hooky with the kid.  Zero humidity, zero clouds - your basic California sunshiny day.  In Philadelphia, we don't get too many completely perfect days in a year.  And life is just too damn short to not pull your son out of school to go strawberry picking on such a perfect day as today.  Too damn short.

Let me say, there are plenty of times he doesn't listen, he plays instead of aiming properly, dawdles, cries for no reason, makes enormous messes, leaves his toys EVERYWHERE, stains his clothes/upholstery, sings in my ear, jabs me with his pointy elbows, accidentally breaks lovely household goods... But not today.  All cooperation, smiles, listening to directions, all the goods.

He was thrilled when I presented the idea to him, and gladly joined me on a road trip to the countryside strawberry farm.  We chatted as we picked, compared strawberries - shades of red, sizes, shapes - and accumulated quite a pile in our box.

Upon leaving the field, I caught a whiff of some fragrant honeysuckle, and promptly taught him how to gently nibble the bottom of the flower to taste the tiny droplets of sweetness inside.  He was hooked.

We moved on to lunch.  Picked out whatever friggin sandwiches we wanted from side-by-side bbq and gourmet lunch spots and brought them over to the Fonthill Museum grounds (which happen to be where Dan and I were married).  Laid our food out on the grass and stuffed our faces (and ate even more strawberries), sampled more honeysuckle, and walked in the woods a bit.  I showed him the inside of the Fonthill castle (that is now a museum) and the tile factory across the property.  He was impressed, but probably just because he wanted to buy something.  After all, what fun is it if you go home without a souvenir?

On our way home, we stopped off at a market where I grabbed a few locally grown eggplants (for tomorrow night's dinner) and surprised him with a scoop of vanilla fudge brownie ice cream.  Total indulgence.

The day was blissful.  We took turns picking songs from my iPod on the way home and then he sang all of the songs he's been learning for his end of kindergarten performance (sniff, sniff).  I sang with the windows down and Indigo Girls blasting (for every other song, at least).

Best decision I've made in a very long time.