Tales from the Cancer Wing

IMG_7618So here’s a word of advice. If you go for a mammogram and, next thing you know, a nurse whisks you into that “consultation room” — the one with the fancy curtains and the cushiony love seat and the autobiography of Robin Roberts on the coffee table –you might seriously consider RUNNING. This is not a good sign.

I know, because after my last mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor saw something shadowy she didn’t like, something that wasn’t there the year before. So I got whisked into that room and left there to wait…just me and Robin and all her cancer-ass-kicking inspiration that I never imagined I’d need and was definitely NOT in the mood for.

While Robin looked on, they told me that they wanted to do a biopsy–just to rule things out, just to make doubly sure. The doctor looked at me with these compassionate searching eyes, leaning into me with such gentleness that I figured this was the part where people lose it and try to throw themselves out the window. I pushed down that impulse, mentally categorized this whole thing as “due diligence,” and tried not to overthink it. (When time came for the biopsy, whatever they did sounded an awful lot like a chainsaw laying into a pine tree, which I also tried not to overthink.)

A week later one morning at work came another not-so-good sign: a message on my phone from my actual doctor. It wasn’t the office nurse with the traditional “tra-la-la, everything came back negative” spiel. It was a voice mail from my kindly dear OB/GYN himself, saying the words: “I have the results of your biopsy. Please call me.”

That’s when I went numb all over. The only things moving were my eyes, which flew back and forth in a weird panic. The rest of me just froze.

I shuffled out to a picnic table outside my office and mustered all the strength I had in my dialing finder to hit “Call back.” That’s when these words flashed in my head and kept pulsating in my brain:

God is good…even when the news isn’t.

God is good…even when the news isn’t.

And it wasn’t good news.

When he first said the words, “abnormal cells,” I thought, Okay, well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Then he said, “It’s cancer.”


It seems I’d defied the odds. I’d become the first woman without visibly detectable boobs to get breast cancer. I am a miracle of modern science. (Seriously, you have to laugh.)

Then he started talking a lot–using words like SURGERY. And RADIATION. And how we don’t know yet about CHEMO. The words DOUBLE MASTECTOMY also went swirling into the air as a possibility.

The bench beneath me did its own weird sort of spinning. I guess that’s how it feels when the tectonic plates of life as you know it start shifting.

He offered some nice attempts at comfort, left me his personal cell number. Then I hung up and sat there, swirling, spinning, yet completely still.

My brain was going a million miles an hour: What in the world just happened? Was that a wrong number?? How was I ever gonna tell my husband and kids this? Worst of all, how was I going to pick myself up from that bench and sit down at a desk and work like everything was just the same? It wasn’t.

I will cut to the chase in this weepy Lifetime movie — just so you don’t feel too dreadful for me.

When my husband and I met with the surgeon two weeks later, his first words were “If you have to have cancer, this is the best kind to have.” Supposedly, it’s not the maniacally aggressive kind. It’s kind of lazy and latent, like me. It had to come out, but everything was pretty much going to be okay. Or should be.


I found this rock on the nerve-wracking day I’d be getting results from my first surgery.  Look up.

Since then, I’ve had a lumpectomy (NOT a double mastectomy, for heaven’s sake). Then earlier this week they had to go back in again because there was still some stuff “on the margins” they didn’t like. (I liken it to unzipping a zip-loc bag and rooting around in there for more.) So yeah, I’m sore. I’m tired. But hey, I’ve finally gotten caught up on The Crown, which I’ve been meaning to watch forever, soooo…silver lining.

There will be radiation shortly down the road, but with no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes, hopefully, no chemo. That’s the best news I could hope for and am still hoping for.

Everyone’s cancer story is different — some are an absolute horror show. Depending on what happens with me and chemo, so far mine seems like vaguely troubling after-school special.

But no matter what version my story shakes out to be, my go-to prayer all along (besides the one that sounds a little like, “I DON’T WANNA DIE”) is this: that God would give me the measure of health He wants me to have. That He’ll use any bad news in my life somehow, some way, for good.

I always feel weepy and a shade guilty when I hear that amazing old hymn, It is Well With My Soul. Because sometimes it just isn’t well with my soul. Not even a little bit. But at the same time, I very much want it to be. That’s the place of wrestling where I am right now. A place where it is slowly, prayerfully, step by shaky step becoming well with my soul. Becoming okay. Becoming more than okay. Becoming more the version of me He wants me to be.

I try not to openly weep when we sing this song at church these days, the one based on Romans 8:15 that goes:

“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God.”

No matter what happens, I will ever be a child of God. A flat-chested (potentially even flatter chested) child of God, but whatever. It still counts.

It’s all good.



Evicting the 13-Year-Old Inside (and Other Life Goals)

A coworker grabbed me walking into work the other day, all aflutter, and announced,  “Hey! There’s a picture in the paper today of a woman who looks JUST LIKE YOU!”

In a flash, he was gone to retrieve it, leaving me to wonder…what great beauty could this be?? Julia Roberts perhaps? Jennifer Lawrence? That county clerk in Kentucky?

Ah, but THIS is the picture he plunks down before me.


Courtesy of Universal Pictures

THIS IS A MAN, y’all.

This is what I’m trying to explain to him — in a distressed voice much too loud for an office setting. This is Eddie Redmayne. A MALE ACTOR. Playing a TRANSGENDER. You’re saying I look like a MAN.

He didn’t believe me ’til he read the caption, so I honestly don’t think he was trying to kill my soul.

But still. If you’re going to make a big hairy deal about how I look just like someone, could you at least cheer me up and make it a FEMALE?

The next day I had a mammogram, which is THE WORST. While I waited in the office, I looked at this.


Sitting in a flimsy robe, waiting to get naked in front of strangers, I’ma tell ya: this did nothing for my self-esteem.

Sofia Vergara must have to block out HOURS for her mammogram, there’s so much ground to cover. I’m pretty sure that cute little technician took one look at me sans gown and thought, “WOW, this’ll be a quickie…nothing here to scan.”

Body image is a bitch. And as much as I’ve grown up and into myself in some lovely healthy ways, those old insecurities of the stoop-shouldered 13-year-old inside never really die.

I mean, I’m not consumed with Seventeen magazine like I once was, analyzing Jennifer Connelly from the top of her scrunchie to the soles of her high-top Reeboks. By the ripe old age of 44, I’ve accumulated too many other things to worry about, which is just as it should be.

But the 13-year-old inside still wants to stuff this bra with tube socks.

The 13-year-old inside still sucks in her gut all day — or hides her muffin top under billowing folds of fabric like Stevie Nicks.

The 13-year-old inside still conceals her unpedicured toes (and their neighbors, the calloused heels) in a stinky pair of fake Toms.

Like everybody else, I’m bothered more than I should be about what people think of me and my veins and my unruly hair with the greys sticking out and my frumpy wardrobe and my pores and my paunch. (I don’t care enough to actually do sit-ups…let’s not get carried away…but still I fret.)

Still that 13-year-old is there.

She especially likes to pop out whenever my little girl takes my picture. (Lucy’s low to the ground so she never fails to get me at the worst possible angles.)


I am ITCHING to delete this picture. I look like I just walked off the set of The Walking Dead. But I am trying really hard to be transparent here…like my skin tone in this picture.

“Oh, delete that! I look a fright!” I always bellow, which is exactly what you should never say to a child following her mother’s lead on the path to a healthy self-esteem.

Of course, she always says something sweet back like, “Why do you always say that?? You’re beautiful!”

It’s true.

Not beauty perhaps as the world sees beauty, not like a starlet cinching her boobs together, getting ready for her close-up.

But to my daughter, I’m beautiful. And I feel exactly the same way about her.

When I look at my baby girl, I am overcome. She’s perfect to me. I could eat every bit of her up.


And my Maker feels the same way about me — yet in infinitely deeper and wider and more unfathomable ways. My physical imperfections are meaningless to Him, except those lines and scars that made me who I am. Those he loves. (He showed off His own hard-earned scars as beauty marks, so I know.)

I’m invaluable and beautiful and precious in His sight. He says so.

Even when the robe is off and my every flaw is exposed, I must cling to that. It’s really all that matters.

And even when the other 5th graders at the party are taking selfies of their “six-packs,” (yeah, that happened), I pray that Lucy will cling to what’s true. That she’ll tell me about it later while grabbing her belly and exclaiming, “I love my chub!” (That happened, too.) That she will see beauty as something more, something deeper, something the mean girls can’t dig their claws into, something eternal.

I want richer, sweeter, wiser, cooler, lovelier things for the both of us.

Because let’s face it. I may never be fully rid of you, but I’m kind of over you, 13-year-old self.

You’re so 1984.

The Serenity Prayer: Not-So-Extreme Makeover-Home Edition

It’s official. We’re homeowners! Congratulations?


We signed all six inches worth of legal documentation yesterday, which means we are ALL IN.

After fourteen years of responsibility-free renting, our family unit is all excited…and all freaked out by mile-long to-do lists and sky-high price tags. We also share a collective splitting headache and a growing obsession with where to get good boxes.

I have warned my husband to be on guard. My female nesting instinct has been suppressed all these long years, I’ve watched decades worth of HGTV, and now it’s ON. “The Precious” is in my hot little hands at last. Smeagol and Gollum have been unleashed in my head, and they are going at it.

I like the Smeagol side, which is contentedly twitterpated over a new family home to dress up and make our own and turn into a loving space for family and friends. I don’t see that side nearly as often as I’d like.

The Gollum-ish side is my default mode, all twitchy and nervous and covetous over everything I see on Joss & Main. It’s the side that will not sleep until Precious perfection is mine.

Gollum skulks around with all this seething insecurity, convinced that our new house (as cute as it is already) will end up looking less like a magazine and more like a circular for Bob’s Furniture Warehouse (scratch and dent section).

Clearly, I need an intervention. I’m fretting entirely too much over rugs.

So here’s a prayer I wrote…or actually, revised…for lunatic new homebuyers out there like me who need balance restored to the Force. Who need to be happy with what they have and all the wonderful opportunities that await in their new home. Who need to take a very large Chill Pill.

It will be okay. It will be pretty. And in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t even matter.

Jesus had a rock for a pillow. Ease up.


So this prayer is for me. And for you, if any of this crazy sounds familiar.

The Serenity Prayer: Not-So-Extreme Makeover (Home Edition)

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change (like this problematic lack of closet space and that ’80s-era skylight);

The courage to change the things I can (like the shower stall that looks like it could teleport through time);

And wisdom to know the difference. (The handicapped ramp definitely goes.)

Living one newly packed box at a time;

Enjoying one freshly painted wall at a time;

Accepting hardships like a kitchen reno as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful bathroom

As it is, not as I would have it (with handmade ceramic tiles and a clawfoot tub);

Trusting that He will make all oaken toilet seats right

If I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this house

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next. (I hear there are mansions…)



(I don’t have to await God’s voice to know this toilet seat has to go, right?)

The Time Traveler’s Mom

My daughter may not look it, but she’s a genius. She invented a time machine.


(This Patriots helmet protects her oversized brains.)

She has singlehandedly transformed a cardboard box crammed with pillows and stuffed animals into an intergalactic time traveler, capable of transporting her to other realms and bygone eras (and occasionally Disney World).


In this box, she can go back in time to witness the dinosaurs in mid-death scene (which she tells me she’s already done) or she can just fly wherever she feels like spending the afternoon. She tells me the flying part’s not as exciting since planes already do that, but it’s a nice side benefit.


These photos represent her travels thus far — including the Triassic Era, colonial America, and wherever the penguins live (the Arctic or is it Antarctica? Who can keep it straight?). Now that’s a bucket list.

She has wisely equipped her time machine with a handy carrying case for gum, pencils, and whatnot, fashioned from a discarded box of Klondike bars. You never know what the Dark Ages may lack in the way of snacks.


Don’t be confused by the “No Sugar Added” label. These were purchased for Bill’s diabetic dad. Normally we welcome any and all sugars here.

I wish I had one of these babies. I would be logging some serious Frequent Flier miles right about now.

Because there are just times in this mind-bender of a life when we would give anything to go back in time, even for just one teeny-tiny moment. To change the order of things, to take those words out of the air, to do that thing that never got done, to undo that thing that changed everything, to avoid that unfortunate haircut before it’s too late.

But no matter what my kid and her cardboard box can do, we mere mortals can’t go back. There is no reverse. Only forward.

Personally, I like reverse so much better. I can see those land mines so clearly back there. I can recognize a flaming turd of a mistake before I step in it.

But I have to keep telling myself that our mistakes (how we recover from them, how we keep from making them again, how we try to put distance between us and them) are all paving stones in the crazy, zig-zaggy, imperfect, improbable road that leads us where we’re meant to go.

That road isn’t glittery and shiny and easy to follow like bright yellow brick. (Dorothy had it so easy — except for that wicked witch part).

There will be wrong turns. And there will be no time machine for undoing them.

But on those days when I think I’ve somehow taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque, I have to trust in Someone bigger than me — like my own personal GPS in the sky, standing by with alternate routes and traffic alerts.

It’s not like He didn’t see this coming. He’ll get me there — in spite of my best efforts to screw it all up.

I can just hear that refined British accent emanating from heaven right now.