Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dumb Mistakes I Vow Not to Make Again

1. Perming my hair
2. Serving salt in the sugar bowl at a tea party
3. Neglecting to wash my hands thoroughly after using self-tanner
4. Leaving myself only one hour to make a 30-minute drive to the airport (without traffic) AND to return a rental car
5. Putting rolls wrapped in tinfoil in the microwave
6. Going on vacation without backup contact lenses or glasses
7. Storing melatonin pills in a Tylenol bottle and then leaving them in my medicine cabinet and forgetting about it (Matt to me while staying at our apartment: "I don't understand why I can't stay awake today!")
8. Hitting "Reply All" without checking really, really carefully who the "All" includes
9. Running out of diapers at 11:57 p.m.

I'm just back from a short jog to rectify number 9, fueled by the adrenaline produced when I realized that not only had I used the last of the stack that we keep beside Alex's changing table, but also I had neglected to replenish the stash in my diaper bag following a particularly, ahem, productive afternoon out. Thank goodness for the kind gentleman at Pricewise on 82nd and Broadway, who kept the store open a few minutes past closing for me when I called tonight in a panic.

And as for the 9 instead of 10 above, I may not have proven myself to be the sharpest tool in the box tonight, but I am smart enough to know that plenty of other dumb mistakes are lurking out there, just waiting to be made.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ladies' Man

The last thing I want to do is start screwing Alex up in his third month by projecting all kinds of ideas and expectations on him, but it's really hard to avoid completely, especially around the holidays when the grandparents are there to play along (Look at the long fingers - he'll play piano! Listen to him make noises while we sing - obviously a musician! Can you believe all the kicking? It must mean he'll be a great soccer player!)

Even more obnoxious is referring to other babies as his future girlfriends, so I won't, but I can't resist posting two pictures from our trip to London (yes, Alex has a passport. It's the same size as a grownup passport, but somehow I doubt he will still resemble his photo in 5 years, when it expires).


Caroline (first photo, in the navy and white) is the daughter of two friends we introduced to each other and is just a few weeks younger than Alex. Emily is a week older and is the daughter of Michael's oldest friend. One day I'll have to remember to delete this entry and hide these photos so he can't accuse me of being manipulative, or worse, decide he doesn't want to be friends with our friend's children at all. But for now, I can't help but think how cute they are (although I must say that from the looks of the photo of him with Emily, with Alex asleep high in his stroller throne, it looks like chivalry is dead in the baby world...)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Inevitable Question

My oncologist’s nurse gave me the pin at my first appointment – a small pink ribbon, about an inch long. I did my best to avoid cringing, stuffed in into my purse and forgot about it. What was I supposed to do, wear it on my coat? In the middle of October, when the whole world was painted pink, I was already plenty aware, thanks very much. Wasn’t the fact that I would be bald in six weeks enough of a sign of my status? Did she really think I wanted to advertise it to the rest of the world?

Although I still don’t wear a Livestrong band on my wrist and the only pink items in my wardrobe are the free t-shirts from Race for the Cure, my visceral response to such things mellowed over time, as I got used to my diagnosis, progressed through treatment, and ultimately started being able to see that I might get through this alive. I also grew to understand the value of the awareness raising campaigns on a broad as well as a personal level, as even my hairstylist told me the other day that I inspired her to make an appointment for a mammogram. Nevertheless, the pink ribbon pin sat collecting dust in a tray on my dresser until a few weeks ago, when I decided to put it to use as an amulet.

There are many social activities for new mothers – lunches, lectures, playgroups – that one somehow becomes immediately aware of moments after the baby arrives. At any of these gatherings, talk tends to focus on sleeping and eating patterns. Just as college freshmen ask “what’s your major?” in their getting-to-know-you conversations, the new mother shibboleth is “are you breastfeeding?”

Enough of my friends had been through this initiation ritual that I knew what to expect, and dreaded it. I feared the judgment that I imagined I would see in people’s eyes when I bought formula, the comments strangers might make as I fed my baby a bottle in the park. Since there is nothing I could do about it, I avoided reading the over-the-top scare stories about how formula-fed babies are destined to be shorter, dumber, uglier and more ill-behaved than their breast-fed brethren, but I knew that once he arrived, I would have to face the music and confess to the self-righteous La Leche leaguers that I was a bad mother from the moment my baby arrived.

Short of tattooing “my mom is a breast cancer survivor” on Alex’s face, I couldn’t think of a way to preempt the comments. Until I remembered the pin. One night while drifting off to sleep, I decided that was the best way to stave off judgment and criticism and vowed to pin it on my diaper bag the next day.

Which I did, and which of course was completely misguided. Not because the pin is a little small to be noticed in a sea of stroller toys and diaper cloths (which it is), and not because everyone is too busy cooing at my baby to notice my diaper bag (which they are). Instead, it’s because I underestimated the tact of the people I would be meeting. Over the past few weeks, I have found the best response to the inevitable question to be a simple “No, I can’t.” Nobody has pressed for reasons why yet, but if they do, I am more than happy to tell them – not in the defensive “I can show you my mastectomy scars” way I rehearsed in my darkest imaginings, but in a way that I hope might be educational, or is at least polite.

Meanwhile, the pin remains, and with every smile Alex gives me, I am reminded that he is much more than what he eats.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Thousand Words

Or in this case, 39,000.

There is lots I want to write, about the delights of life with Alex, the anxiety that breast cancer awareness month spurs in me each October, the relief of passing my two year milestone this week. But there is only so much you can type one handed while holding a baby with the other. For now, photos will have to suffice:

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Whole New C

There were several times last fall that the topic of having a baby came up: the fertility clinic we had used unsuccessfully to try to harvest and freeze my eggs prior to chemo needed us to update our records, a friend suggested subscribing to the “Adoption After Cancer” mailing list to start researching that long and complicated process, and Michael checked with our health plan to see if egg donation was covered using a flexible spending account. We resolved that 2008 would be the year that we would start making the decisions we needed to make in order to grow our family and to move into the future without dwelling on the past. In mid-December, I ordered an ovulation prediction kit online, figuring that a good place to start would be to get some handle on what my body’s rhythms were now that I was through my chemically-induced menopause.

It turns out that my body was already way ahead of me. Just days after writing my last blog entry in late January, I found out I was pregnant. With no fancy science experiments but pure calendar-driven guesswork, timing suggests that this was the best Christmas present ever, well worth the 41 weeks of pregnancy, 24 hours of labor, 90 minutes of pushing and ultimately the 20 minute caesarean section it took to finally get him here. Alexander Hagen Wilson was born at 12:21 a.m. on Wednesday, September 24, weighing 7 pounds, 3 ounces, and measuring 20 inches.

Over the past nine months, I have made and broken many vows to update this blog with the news. We dutifully documented my growing belly in photos and I composed many entries in my head that attempted to do justice to the overwhelming joy and relief we felt at getting to this point less than two years after my diagnosis.

But I couldn’t bring myself to post anything. It wasn’t just the blog. I also completely stopped logging in to check on the Young Survival Coalition message boards that had been my lifeline during treatment, even though I knew that just writing a brief update about my own happy story – pregnant just 9 months after finishing chemotherapy – would offer hope to many newly diagnosed women.

Looking back, I recognize that a number of reasons kept me away. I do most of my writing late at night, and pregnancy had an amazing way of eliminating my 4 a.m. insomnia bouts. (Confession: if you go back and check posting times for previous blog entries, my nocturnal tendencies may not be so obvious. More than once, I manually altered the time of a post to a more socially acceptable 11:43 p.m. or 12:38 a.m. to prevent family and friends from worrying about my sanity and wellbeing.) I also found myself focusing intensely on my work, trying to achieve a year’s worth of results in the nine months I knew I had in the office before spending the remainder of the year on maternity leave. When I wasn’t sleeping or working, I was studying for what will be a never-ending graduate course in child care, one that will come with no degree but hopefully will result in a happy, healthy and well-adjusted boy. Also, I wanted to make sure that friends, family and colleagues heard the news from me rather than from my blog, and tradition and paranoia kept me from spilling the beans widely before April.

But most importantly, I knew I needed to stay positive, and I was afraid that updating the blog might pull me back into a world of worry about recurrence, blood tests and five-year survival rates. And while dwelling in those dark places is still something I need to avoid, I am so awash in joy, love and relief that the time finally felt right to come back to this, just a few weeks shy of nine months after my last update, to write about what I believe is not a happy ending but a wonderful new beginning. (And, truth be told, I have found a comfortable position with the baby on a pillow on my desk, my arms around him and chest holding him in place, that still allows my hands to reach the keyboard. Since I am quickly becoming reacquainted with the late night shift, this lets me help him through the post-feeding “gas fussies” without losing my mind.)

So welcome to a new era of The C(ourtney) Word, where the most important C of all is the child whose eyelids are fluttering back to sleep as I finish typing and prepare to do the same myself.

Friday, January 25, 2008

First Fears

In the third column on Page 60 of the February edition of Marie Claire magazine, in an article on hair thinning and hair loss, the author writes the following:

"I spoke to 34-year-old breast cancer survivor Courtney Hagen, who revealed that when she heard her diagnosis, her first fears were for her golden locks."

Far be it from me to stomp on anyone's artistic license. I understand the power of a pithy soundbite. But I do feel that I have to defend myself at least a little from being perceived as a moronic airhead nincompoop, and also to share a bit of the less glamorous, less kicky, less "Marie Claire" parts of this disease.

My first fears? I am going to die, much sooner than I thought. I am never going to have children. My wonderful husband will grow old without me. My parents will suffer the horrifying fate of burying their child. There are places I have always wanted to see that I never will. I will die without having truly added anything to the world, without having made a difference, without contributing to something larger than myself.

The worst part of this disease is that even now, after treatments that did not make me sick, after surgery from which I bounced back in just a few weeks, after enjoying the benefit of being able to go braless for the first time since I was 11 years old, those fears never entirely disappear. Because even though my prognosis is excellent and chances are outstanding that I will live to see and do and achieve many more things, I am not "cured."

A friend recently shared the sad news that her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. In a natural reaction, especially for someone as bright and analytical as she is, she had been in a research fog for three days straight, soaking up all the information she could about the disease. "Only now do I truly realize the long term emotional impact of this for you," she said, as I imparted what little wisdom and experience I could over the phone. "The fear never goes away, because once you have had this disease, it's always there."

Like my scars, the fear fades with time, as every week takes me farther away from the diagnosis and closer to the magical "five years out" mark, as my hair grows back and my chest muscles grow more flexible, as I allow myself to believe in the statistics a little bit more every day. But the fears have not disappeared entirely, nor do I expect they ever will. But I firmly believe that there is more to be gained from looking into the future than from lingering in the past.

Which is why I just rolled my eyes when I saw the sentence, distilled from a 35 minute conversation the author and I had on the phone in late summer. Although my self-righteous, "I'm no airhead" defense holds a little less water upon reading the rest of the paragraph, a direct quote my friends will immediately recognize as accurate: "I had a double mastectomy, but I was more traumatized about losing my hair." A statement even my doctors will vouch for.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Project Runway, the least annoying reality show on television, already had me as an unashamed member of its fan club even before last week's episode. The ironing board was set up in front of the TV and I was happily, compulsively multi-tasking when the delightfully starchy Tim Gunn announced that the designers' challenge was to create a garment using only materials available at the Hershey store in Manhattan. They had 5 minutes to load up anything they could carry, from Kisses to window decorations, in a mad "Supermarket Sweep"-style dash through the store. The chocolate icing on the peanut butter cake? Hershey will donate all proceeds from the auction of the fashions to the Young Survival Coalition and the Tour de Pink.

I'll take a competition that hinges on talent and creativity over one that relies on deceitful antics and the fickle fingers of teenaged text messengers any day. And the fact that this one involves fashions judged by snarky-cum-constructive designers, editors and models? All the better.

And some of the fashions were indeed delicious. Irritatingly smug and dramatic though Christian can be, his Reese's peanut butter cup wrapper dress was chic and fun (although I can do without the off-center beanie). I loved Chris's sophisticated, graphic strapless dress that is both familiar and yet could also be a fun dinner party game if you did not immediately recognize the materials. Rami's ultimate winner is the kind of bold, high-fashion dramatic piece I dream of wearing to a party, if only I had the balls (oh, and the size 0 figure).

Here's to their successful auction once this season of Runway is over, and to raising lots of (chocolate chip cookie?) dough for the YSC. It would be great to hear that some of the dresses even managed to get worn out in real life once or twice.

Despite the January date, it's just about warm enough for these to pass muster as seasonally appropriate in my current location - Chicago, where I am briefly in town for a business trip, is a balmy 64 degrees at midnight. Hence the plural title of the post, which was mostly written while I waited out Hour 3 of what was ultimately a 4 hour delay, parked on a plane that had just pushed back from the gate at the airport due to the bizarre midwestern tropical storm. Thank heavens for portable WiFi. American Airlines, I'm sorry, but as Heidi would say, you are Auf.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bring on 2008

This new year is much less about resolutions than it is about new beginnings. After the 2007 we have had, with 6 chemo sessions, two surgeries (mine and Mom's) and a long recovery, I am confident that 2008 can only be an improvement.

So you can bet that we will be toasting to life, love and the future this New Year's Eve. Although I am not sure the catharsis (or the hairstyles) will be as dramatic as in the event from which we drew the photo that graces our holiday card this year, I can assure you the spirit of celebration will be even stronger. Happy new year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

C for Christmas Cards

Ever since 40 of my most fabulous friends got together to help me celebrate the end of chemo over karaoke and way too many drinks, I have been threatening to use one of the more damning photos from the night as a tongue-in-cheek Christmas card. I deliberated over whether it's self-indulgent to send a photo card when you are married, in your thirties and don't have kids - I worry that even without the dreaded "long list of amazing things we have accomplished this year" letter accompanying, it smacks of self indulgence: "Here we are having a fabulous time on the slopes in Utah!" "Check out the beautiful place we ate lunch in Provence!"

Nevertheless, I love the photo cards from friends that start landing in our mailbox this time of year, giving us an annual window into their lives, or at least keeping us relatively current on how big their children are getting. So I ordered a small number of custom-printed cards to send to the friends who had been a part of the evening, or who I thought would get the biggest kick out of the joke, even plumping for the pre-printed envelopes (it you're going to do something, why go for half measures?)

Of course, being an amateur in this area compared to the mothers out there, I did not get it together in sufficient time to make the overseas mailing deadline, so our more far-flung friends and family will receive the standard card with a more conservative photo tucked inside. But now that all of the cards have been sent, I am starting to regret my decision to limit the distribution list. So I will post the photo that made the final cut once I am fairly sure the cards have made their way to their recipients, but for now, here is one of the rejects. Who needs matching Santa hats when you have mardi gras beads, wigs and bunny ears?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Déjà vu

It was the same startlingly small, 40-room hospital I stayed for two nights in April. The same green jello on the dinner tray, the same blue and white gown soft from many washings, the same red-haired nurse capably bustling around taking vitals before the same two doctors started the same surgical procedure to remove two breasts and replace them with smaller, perkier, and far less threatening silicone models.

And yet it is very different when your mother is the one in the bed. When she seemed to need reassurance, I told her how quickly the anaesthesia put me to sleep and how I was not in pain when I woke up. When she needed distraction, I talked about the places we could shop for clothes afterwards, once her new body was feeling up to it. But once they wheeled her to the elevator, pushed by the doctor himself (in what was either VIP treatment or an expression of the hospital’s limited personnel), all I could do was wait.

It took longer than my surgery did, because Mom opted for prophylactic ovarian removal at the same time. “One stop shopping,” said the doctors. Dad and I ordered breakfast from the coffee shop, and I got to experience first-hand the glacially slow, albeit extraordinarily friendly, service from the octogenarian volunteers that staff the place that Michael and Mom had laughed about during my stay in April. Twenty minutes and a lukewarm bagel later, we idly scanned the newspaper, talked about Christmas plans, and waited for news.

There is nothing as reassuring as a smiling doctor. The gynecologist came out first – the salpingo-oopherectomy (removal of ovaries and tubes) was finished, they had been able to complete it laproscopically (making recovery easier), and everything looked normal. This being the part that was most unknown since I had not been through it myself, we enjoyed a few moments’ relief before settling in to wait for the next report.

The hospital is so small that the “waiting room” is a collection of three couches and two chairs inside the front doors. I sat there with my laptop open, fully intending to catch up on blogging since it had been so long and since many of our friends and family knew that was Mom’s surgery date, and I wanted to let them know the good news. When I found that I could not concentrate enough to formulate coherent sentences, I switched to online Christmas shopping.

Dad had his brave face on, but his agitation showed in his inability to be out of sight of the operating room’s exit – rather than joining me in the seating area, he chose to stand in the hallway, leaning against a wall, ready to spring to some sort of action when the doctors emerged.

Which they did, smiling. Everything had gone smoothly, no complications, and they would be wheeling Mom upstairs within the hour, once the anaesthesia had started to wear off. Truly relieved, we beat the coffee shop’s 2 p.m. closing time by 5 minutes, celebrating with painstakingly constructed tuna melt sandwiches before joining Mom in her room.

“Whose idea was this anyway?” she muttered, stirring as we approached her bedside. I had been tasked with making sure the doctors obeyed her wishes to be smaller – they assured me that the implants they put in were a third the volume of what they had removed. “You’re going to be able to wear whatever tops you want!” I said encouragingly. “I’m going to be able to stand flat up against a wall,” she groaned, trying to find a comfortable position in spite of the drains, wires and circulation socks restricting her motion.

Dad and I alternated turns spending the night in the room’s spare bed, there to help her out of bed to the bathroom and to ensure she had all the ice chips, water and graham crackers she needed. I remembered the monotony and waiting to feel better being almost worse than the physical discomfort itself, and it was no different for Mom. The boredom was lifted by a very unexpected visitor - our dear family friend Joseph surprised us all by jumping on a plane, braving the Newark airport rental car parking lot, and navigating his way to Dobbs Ferry in an incredibly generous and appreciated act of friendship.

After three nights, we’d all had enough of hospital beds, and fortunately Mom felt well enough to negotiate her way down the hall, out the door and into the car under her own steam. For the past week, she has been recovering here in our apartment, slowly getting to the point that she can get out of bed on her own, gradually feeling good enough to brave the trek across Broadway to Barnes & Noble for coffee and a quick scan of the magazines before returning home for a nap.

“When did you start feeling better?” she’ll ask, and I try to remember. It took a few days before I could concentrate on more than television, a week before I had any desire to leave the house. It felt like weeks before my drains came out, months before I could sleep on my side again, ages before I felt human. In reality, recovery happened much faster than that - my credit card statement will prove I was out shopping by day 10, and I was back to work in a month.

People ask if watching Mom go through this is hard on me. It is, but not because it brings back bad memories of my own surgery and recovery, which was equally as smooth. Rather, it’s hard to see Mom in pain, unfamiliar to be in the role of her caretaker, bizarre to help fit her into a new bra. All things she did for me when I was growing up.

Many people move from being taken care of to being the caretaker for one’s parents as time passes. The thought used to scare me, but now I see it as an honor. Although my surgery was a necessity since I had cancer, hers was a choice to avoid the disease down the road, a measure to help extend her life, and in many ways an unforgettable and overwhelmingly generous gift to me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back in Blonde

Now that I have had 4, count 'em, 4, haircuts since losing it all in December, I decided it was time to play with the color a little. I have always wondered what it would be like to do something radically different than the golden highlights I started doing in college and always feared stopping ("So much grey!" Milla would tsk tsk as she applied the foils, from around the time of my 27th birthday). After being talked out of red by Michael (anti-Ginger bias seems to be not only common but socially acceptable among the English), I decided for something more dramatic than the blonde highlights I had been sporting in my mousy brown base color since late August.

Being released from jury duty a few hours earlier than expected gave me the perfect window - knowing that Milla would probably not support the decision, I decided to cheat on her. Never a true monogamist when it comes to grooming, I headed back to a salon in my neighborhood I had not visited in a year or two.

After talking me out of truly light ("If you go platinum, you'll be in my chair every two weeks," Megan warned), I ended up bleaching it all to a "warm blonde" shade with buttery highlights. A week later, it reads a little too orange to me - I am heading back in to lighten it up again next week. Because why not? It's not like the threat of "what if it all falls out" holds a lot of influence. But I'll turn to my virtual beauty consultants out there in the ether for your thoughts and suggestions..

Monday, October 15, 2007


In the past 12 months, I have...
  • Leaned where to buy the most beautiful bouquets of flowers in New York
  • Lived through two "Breast Cancer Awareness" Octobers without letting the color pink nauseate me
  • Gone from shoulder length hair to a short crop without the use of scissors
  • Had my skin pierced with dozens of small needles to stave off hot flashes
  • Rediscovered what my ribcage looks like
  • Undergone the first and second surgeries of my life
  • Gone through menopause and come back out the other side
  • Discovered I carry a gene that will influence most of my future health decisions
  • Managed to average just over one blog entry per week
  • Gained back all 7 pounds I lost during the chemo-induced period during which I lost interest in sugar and alcohol, plus a few more (I blame all the celebrating since April's successful surgery)
  • Lost and then regrown my eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as almost all their other hair on my body
  • Grown accustomed to seeing myself without nipples
  • Bought several fabulous hats and scarves that look even better with a little real hair underneath them
  • Confirmed that I have the most caring, loving and generous friends and family that anyone could wish for
  • Successfully obliterated a 2.5 cm tumor growing in my breast
  • Become comfortable using the word "survivor" to describe myself at last

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tour de Pink in Pictures

As predicted, it's been a busy week - getting back into the swing of things at work and home after a few days away is never easy. But my legs are recovering, my bike short tan lines are fading, and I am determined to post up more photos before it gets too late. The leftover adrenaline must be clouding my judgment, given that I am already thinking about doing another ride this weekend - I don't anticipate the seat will be any more comfortable than it was riding home through Central Park on Monday morning, but right now it sounds like a plausible idea.

Apologies if I massacre your name in the captions or just plain don't know it - feel free to drop me a note, or just remind me next year!

Tour de Pink Days 1 and 2

Tour de Pink Day 3

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tour de Pink Finale

In what was possibly the hairiest quarter-mile stretch of our entire 220 mile ride, the Tour de Pink battled its way through Manhattan commuter traffic to our grand finale outside the Fox studios this morning. A balloon arch, free massages and friends and family were there to greet us. As this is television, things weren't necessarily as spontaneous as they had been on the ride ("Group 2, we're gonna need you to ride around the block one more time...and again...") but they were possibly more photogenic, as many of the female riders realized that we weren't working up enough of a sweat to ruin our makeup, so it was a brighter-eyed crew than you might have expected for 7:30 on a Monday morning after a long three day ride (seen here: Jennifer and Jason, both looking rosy, although I'm certainly implying that either had cosmetic assistance!).

The enthusiasm of the crowds and the volunteers also helped add to the festive mood - as did the Au Bon Pain coffee and pink Panera bagels (which were actually really good!) The Fox anchors came out to greet us before the interview, and one even hopped on the chair for a quick pre-interview massage, nuch to the dismay of her makeup woman, no doubt. Although I have not been able to get the video link to work on the Fox & Friends site, Tour de Pink and YSC co-founder Lisa Frank's interview is available there to anyone who is more tech savvy than I am.

After much cheering for the cameras, riding of bicycles around the block and through the balloon arch and taking of official and unofficial photographs, we grabbed our bikes and headed back to the hotel. Having narrowly escaped a few close scrapes with cabs and delivery trucks on our way to the studio, most of us chose to walk our bikes the 5 blocks up Sixth Avenue back to the Hilton for brunch.
Tour de Pink Finale
I promised a lot of people a lot of photos, and I am gradually getting them loaded up. But although some of my fellow riders were witness to my obsessive-compulsive Blackberry checking from the rest stops, I still have a mountain of emails and voicemails waiting for me back at the office that feels only slightly less intimidating than the Grade 3 Eagle's Nest from Day 1 of the Tour. Therefore I am hoping the link to my online album from today will work - check back later this week for more photos from the rest of the ride, and to see if I ever get around to sharing more stories from the road!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tour de Pink, Day 3, Part 1

Yes, I know I still owe Part 2 from Day 2, but given that it is now the end of Day 3, and that tonight's blog is being written from bed instead of the bar, I need to make this one quick and hope my readers will forgive some stories coming out of order.

You know you've put in some hard days when the thought of a 53 mile ride sounds comparatively easy. After a rousing send-off from Trenton's town officials (who have promised us 50 people riding with us out of town and cheering if we come back next year!) we enjoyed a police escort through town and out into New Jersey. The ride leader encouraged us to stay together ("think of the last day of the Tour de France - they all ride in a group, enjoying the experience") which mollified the speed demons to an extent, and made for quite a sight as the 100-strong pink peloton made its way through a bright, crisp morning to Rest Stop 1 20 miles down the road.

Here things split up a bit more, as some riders stopped for a quick water-bottle reload and were off again, and others took advantage of the services of the masseuse and Dr. Mark the chirpractor for an adjustment. Leaving this stop, a group of us fell in with "Team 7," aka Joe's Harem, as "The Major" led a group of 6 female riders 20 miles through headwinds and past traffic to deliver us safely to the lunch stop. This was our last time to be checked in by Charlie, our youngest volunteer and top-notch checker-inner, whose calls of "Can y'all plee-uz sahn ee-un?" will be fondly remembered.

As Team 7 finished lunch ("We're leaving as soon as I hit the latrines," ordered the Major) and prepared to leave, we joined up with another group to ride the last 15 miles to Atlantic Highlands, our last stop before Manhattan. Ignoring a few flipped birds from New Jersey's impatient drivers (Pennsylvania definitely wins the congeniality award!), we rode as a group of 25 or so, led to the finish by the fabulous Sarah (recent survivor and #1 fundraiser - although I think Mitchell will continue to give her a run for her money from now til the end of December) and her wonderfully supportive sister Chris.

From there we boarded buses for Manhattan, where we checked in to the Hilton before heading off to various local bars and restaurants for dinner, and in my case at least, home to sleep in my own bed. Tomorrow morning we start bright and early for our triumphant ride to the Fox studios on 7th Avenue between 48th and 49th Street - look for us on your Fox affiliate between 8 and 9, or come on down between 7:30 and 9 tomorrow to cheer us on if you're in the area!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tour de Pink, Day 2, Part 1

Part 1, because I am blogging from the bar after another gorgeous, hilly day, and I keep getting distracted. By the fabulous survivors around me doing vodka shots, by the riders talking about tomorrow's course and by the general sense of camaraderie and achievement we are all celebrating as we go into Day 3.

We are at the Marriott in Trenton, a town whose bruised-pride civic motto - "Trenton Makes, The World Takes" - is right up there with New Hampshire's faintly threatening "Live Free or Die" for overall awesomeness. We had a beautiful ride along the Delaware River, past picturesque Bucks County towns (if anyone is looking for a lovely little atelier for artistic inspiration, I highly recommend Lumberville, PA - lots of great real estate available now!) My husband will be relieved and my mother shocked to hear that I managed to make it through New Hope without buying a single thing - although I must admit I was tempted to stop at the little antique stores along the way, as I am my mother's daughter after all.

Tonight's moving, funny and inspirational dinner and awards ceremony deserves its own entry, and I will add more about it tomorrow. But for now, suffice to say that, thanks to a little help from my friends, I was the #3 "survivor fundraiser" with over $9000, for which Giant for Women generously awarded me a $750 gift certificate. Those lines are still open - donations gratefully accepted through the end of the year!

I'm off to enjoy the evening with my fellow riders and survivors, so for now, I am including a couple photos from the road - one of the "Fantastic Five" (Brian, Karen, Chris, me and Lina) who rode most of the day together, and one from the kickoff this morning with Karen and Lina (and Greg from Hershey hamming it up in the background).

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tour de Pink, Day 1

This is the most energizing, exciting, exhausting and inspirational day I can remember. We started at Hershey's Chocolate World (where we also had dinner last night - you should have seen the dessert table!) with a ceremony and presentation of a check for $300,000 from Hershey to the Young Survival Coalition. We were also asked to take part in a few photo ops - one of Hershey's PR people approached a few of us before the ceremony to ask if it would be violating any rules of bicycling fitness to partake of a pink-wrapped and -centered York Peppermint Pattie for the cameras before the ride - as it is indeed one of my favorite candies (apparently also the leading candy for women ages 18-34 - I'm so predictable!), I was happy to comply.

After a send-off from hundreds of employees and supporters, all dressed in pink, lining the starting line and cheering us on, we hit the road. Last night's rain burned off into a partly cloudy morning that turned into a stunning sunny afternoon. We pedaled through picture-perfect rolling Pennsylvania countryside, past farms and homes, through several small towns, and past several Mennonite churches and schools, where the kids waved and cheered for us.

This is an incredibly well-supported ride - we had police escorts through towns, motorcycles blocking traffic at many intersections, and three rest stops with peanut butter sandwiches and all the Lara Bars we could pack into our jerseys along the way (and, of course, more chocolate).

We also had hills, and lots of them. Last night, they had warned us about the two-mile hill at mile 33. I was riding with two women, one from Hershey and one fellow survivor from New York. We saw the ridge ahead and I had a sinking feeling that this was what we were going to be tackling - I mentioned it and they scoffed. But indeed, that was our hill - I was in my easiest gear for at least a mile of it, and kept promising myself I could stop and walk...once I made it to that soon as I got to that telephone post...when I passed from the sun into the shady spot. But I didn't have to - although I can't say it did anything good for my average speed, I am incredibly proud to have made it to the top, on the bike the whole way. (You can't tell how steep it was from this photo, but believe me, it was steep! I'm pictured here with Karen, who is such a rockstar that she made it all the way to the top, and indeed all 73 miles today, on a fat-tire mountain bike.)

There are 27 Hershey employees who have joined us for the ride, several of whom I credit for getting me through the toughest parts of the day. Bruce and Jim scooped me up when I had fallen behind (although not actually OFF the bike, luckily!) the girls I was riding with due to a little mechanical issue, and led me along at their blistering 20 mph pace for 8 miles or so til I caught up again. Brian came up behind me on another tough, steep section, motivated me to the top, then made the next 6 miles go a lot faster as he asked me about my story. And Lina was a fantastic pace setter and rode with me almost all day, and was certainly the reason that I made it back to the hotel before 4!

I will share more stories tomorrow, but first there are a few people at home who deserve a shout-out - Matt for getting me the awesome bike I am riding, Liz for her secret fundraising initiative today that pushed me up over $9000, Kyle at Equinox for putting me through jump squats and lunges the past 3 months in our weekly training sessions, Annelise and Andrew for being my "big ride" lunch destination earlier this month, and Michael for not minding losing me for a few hours every weekend to ride. And probably most importantly, I'd like to thank the state of Connecticut for being such an incredibly hilly place to train - Pennsylvania has nothing on you!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tour de Pink, Day 0

Thunder and lightening is raging outside the window of my hotel room near Hershey World as we prepare to take off tomorrow for Day 1 of the 3 day Tour de Pink. Fifty riders left on a bus from New York this morning, stopping to pick up some New Jersey riders along the way, and arrived this afternoon, where we are meeting with the rest of the group - I believe there are about 150 of us in total.

Lots of inspiring stories here - many women who are years out of treatment as well as some who have finished even more recently than I have. Fathers who are riding for their daughters. Brothers riding with their sisters. One woman who have never been on a bicycle until she heard about this ride and started training earlier this year. I suspect I may not be able to keep from crying as the sea of pink jerseys streams off tomorrow morning.

Work has been too hectic to allow me to get in as much training as I would have liked this summer, plus I am battling a cold this week. And oh yeah, I just had surgery 5 months ago, so maybe I should give myself a break and just accept the fact that I will hardly be setting any records this weekend - for me, success will be finishing. But as another young survivor pointed out on the bus this morning, this experience is about far more than the ride. It's about about celebrating our health and strength, raising awareness, learning to trust our bodies again, and helping other young women fight this disease.

And on that front, so far, we have raised over $300,000, with Hershey still to kick in a check for another $300,000. Donations are still gratefully accepted! (In fact, I think the site will be open for donations through the end of the year) I have nearly doubled my original goal of $4000 thanks to everyone's support and generosity, but now you can help nurture my competitive streak - I am in danger of falling out of the Top 10 fundraisers at the moment, and I think hitting $10,000 would secure my place there for sure! So if you have not yet had a chance, please visit my fundraising page.

I will know more after our briefing tonight, but it sounds like Monday's TV appearance has changed - we are now scheduled to be on Fox & Friends between 8 and 9 ET, so please tune in! Also, for any New Yorkers who happen to be working in that area, come cheer us on (and enjoy the pink bagels they will be handing out - I'm sure they can't be as gross as they sound) on 7th Avenue between 48th and 49th. And check back for more details from the road!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

C for the Cure

Exactly one year ago last weekend, Michael and I were finishing a Sunday morning run in Central Park and noticed that Central Park West was eerily quiet. We looked down the block and realized the road had been closed off because Race for the Cure was about to start. We stood at the corner of 81st Street and watched as hordes of men and women in Ann Taylor, American Express and countless banking team t-shirts ran the first segment of the 5K run. We watched for at least half an hour as thousands of people started the race, the ones toward the back walking, carrying handbags, and even talking on cell phones.

Many wore "In Memory Of" placards on the back of their shirts in addition to the numbers on the front. I remember wondering why there were some women at the start of the pack who had five minutes' lead on those following - I knew there were some "elite runners" at the front, but some of the women I saw were doing a 12 minute mile at best. It took me a few minutes to realize that they were being honored as survivors.

This year I joined them. It was not about the money donated (since my primary fundraising efforts are for the bike ride for Young Survival Coalition, although I did raise a couple hundred dollars for Komen). Nor was it about the physical challenge (although Michael and I are both very proud to have finished the 5K in around 27 minutes, about the times we achieved in a couple of races last year).

Rather, it felt important to be a part of it to help raise awareness - after all, it was thirty minutes after watching the start of last year's race, back at home in the shower, that I first felt the lump in my breast and decided to take it seriously. So although when the Cure itself comes along it may be a little late for me personally, I will always be grateful to the Komen organization for giving me the Curiosity to look for and question what I found, and the Confidence to push my doctors not to brush it off.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Shameless Fundraising

It's been 10 months since my breast cancer diagnosis. I'd like to think that throughout, I maintained a brave face. As promised in The King and I, the results of the deception have had the desired effect - the "happiness in the tune" I've been whistling have (mostly) convinced me that I was not afraid.

Many of my colleagues and acquaintances had no idea that I was undergoing chemotherapy from December to March - not totally surprising, given that a good wig, makeup and attitude meant that this is the version of me they saw every (seen here with Mom on Mother's Day, just two weeks after my surgery and two months after my last chemo treatment).

But now is the time in the telethon broadcast when Sally Struthers comes on and the tone turns serious. As many of you know, I am doing a major fundraising bike ride for the Young Survival Coalition at the end of September. The YSC provides research, community and information to women under 40 with breast cancer, and has been an invaluable resource to me in my education and my fight this year. All the funds I raise for the 200 mile, 3.5 day ride go toward the programs offered by the YSC.

Although women under 40 account for a small percentage of overall breast cancer diagnoses, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women age 15-54. While being "young and healthy" when I was diagnosed might possibly have contibuted to making it easier for me to handle some of the nastier side effects of chemo, it also meant that my cancer was more aggressive and further along than it likely would have been if I had been in my 50s. Fortunately my doctors did not blow it off when I mentioned the lump, but a lot of women I have met through the YSC were not so lucky - it's shocking how many of them were dismissed as being "too young to worry about this" when they raised concerns with their doctors, and were sent away. A year or two later with a larger lump, they would finally be sent for a mammogram, at which point the cancer was more advanced than it would have been if they had been taken seriously in the first place.

The YSC works to raise awareness of young women's breast cancer in doctors and the public, and also provides research on related topics that are most relevant for this population, such as risks to fertility as a result of treatment, genetic predisposition to the disease, and long-term survivorship issues.

Many of you are aware of the event and have contributed generously, and I am grateful for your support. I am plugging the ride again in this post because I anticipate a few new visitors to the blog, as I am sending out a broader fundraising email this week. And since I know a few people may be surprised to hear that I was sick at all, this is the "seriously, I was really sick, even though you may not have been able to see it on the surface" photographic evidence taken the day after my surgery (and the day before what little remained of my brows and lashes finally gave up the fight).

They are back, as am I, strong as ever. The support I got from YSC made a big difference to my mental health, and now that my physical health is back, I want to return the favor. If you would like to contribute, please click here.

Assuming that I a) make it in before dark each day and b) am not too exhausted from riding up hill and down dale just 5 months after my surgery, I am planning to blog from the road. Our first day of riding from Hershey, PA is Friday, September 28. On Monday, October 1, we do a ceremonial ride from Central Park to the CBS Early Show plaza for a special appearance around 8 a.m. ET. I will keep you posted on the details in case anyone wants to join live to cheer us on, or to tune in to the show.

And now we return to our normal scheduled include current updates, photos and a travel report just as soon as I can get through my usual 100-item-long to-do list, which now prominently features a few last minute training rides!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bearded Woman

"Turn your face a bit more to the left. That's tilt your chin up so your face catches the light," Michael instructed. A photo shoot? No, nothing so glamorous, I fear.

"Okay, now stick your tongue in your cheek like this so it stands out," he requested, pantomiming his own morning ablutions. As he brought the razor closer I had to control a guffaw - I've had plenty of self-conscious moments the past six months, but needing my husband to shave my face had to top the list of humiliations. Especially since he was the one who (very gently) pointed out that the white-blonde, downy hairs on my cheeks were starting to rival my head hairs in length.

"So it's not just the head hair that falls out - it's everything?" a colleague asked recently. "I mean, arm hairs too, for instance," he rushed to clarify as I arched an eyebrow in response.

Everything. From the convenient (leg hair) to the less convenient (head hair), the obvious (eyebrows) to the hidden (those little hairs inside the nose). And it all grows back at different rates. I spent 5 months in a wig but barely remember being without brows and lashes - less than a week after everything fell out, I started seeing stubble, which took only days to turn into respectable-looking features.

The appearance of facial hair was not greeted with such open arms. Apparently this is very common in women who go through chemo - you don't even notice the loss of the hair on the face, but it grows back in with a vengeance. All it takes to bring it in line is a light once-over with a razor for the do-it-yourselfers, or a wax for the anal retentive, but you still have to overcome the shock that results when you look in the mirror one day and see yourself sporting Wolverine's sideburns.

"There - beautiful as ever," Michael comforted me, putting the razor down and giving me a reassuring kiss on my (now hairless) cheek. Just one more way my wonderful family and friends have helped keep cancer from making me feel like a circus freak.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


It started like a thunderclap but then it didn't stop. Our offices, with their million-dollar views down Park Avenue South, provided a frighteningly good view of the roiling smoke clouds billowing over the skyscrapers from what turned out to be a steam pipe explosion, but we did not know that at 6 pm last night. After a few frozen moments gaping at the skyline, my colleague and I agreed it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Evacuations are flustering. Do I turn off my computer first? Should I put on my running shoes? Do I have my house keys? No, no and yes. Saying a quick prayer of gratitude to the fashion gods for decreeing that ballet flats are in for 2007, I hightailed it down 23 flights of emergency stairs to the street.

Controlled chaos. One woman was crying, but most people were heading away from midtown, trying to get their cellphones to go through, asking police officers for updates. A woman I passed was broadcasting her phone conversation with her mother in New Jersey to all within hearing distance: "The news says it's a transistor explosion or something. It's not terrorism. A building did not collapse."

I was due to meet Michael way down at the South Street Seaport for a show an hour and a half later. Having no idea at that point whether the subways were running or if this would bring all of New York to a halt for a few hours, and not wanting him to be waiting there for me with no idea of when and whether I would turn up, I called his office to track him down ("In a bar, naturally," I chided teasingly. "For work drinks with the new recruits!" he defended himself.)

The show did indeed go on - we took the west side subway lines downtown and made it in time to catch Absinthe at the Spiegeltent. (Think avant garde cabaret meets low budget Cirque de Soleil, with a healthy dose of Las Vegas by way of Williamsburg.)

Which provided a good couple hours of distraction from the internal reflection the event seems to have caused for me. After everything else that has happened this year, you'd think that fleeing from a building wouldn't throw me for a loop. But it did cause a "little wobble" (Michael's words) that made me realize that perhaps I am skipping a few steps of healthy self-reflection in the rush to get back to a "normal" life. I don't expect to come up with the answers in the space of a few hours, or even months, but I am committing to myself to dedicate more time thinking about the questions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Measuring Up

Weeks since last chemo: 18
Weeks I have been feeling "back to my old self" after surgery: 9
Number of airplanes I have been on since surgery: 6
Number of nights last week I made it home from work before 9:30: 1
Number of countries I am traveling to on vacation next week: 3
Number of doctors' appointments I am having this week: 5
Days until my big 200 mile bike ride: 72
Number of (outdoor) miles I have ridden since surgery: 42
Number of people I have told "I keep meaning to post photos but haven't had a chance to get around to it yet!": 34 and counting

So here is one in the meantime, a more current hair photo, taken with Michael at the "Taste of Litchfield Hills" festival in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago. For those playing along at home, after 2 haircuts I am right around 1.75 inches. They say hair grows about half an inch per month, so considering the cuts (mostly to keep back and sides neat, but also adding some texture on the top) I am right on target.

As for the other you can see, I don't need to worry about being called "Ironing Board" anytime soon. I am giving myself the summer off surgeries (all the aforementioned appointments are followups, plus a "normal" trip to the optometrist and the dentist), so for now I am happy to live with the .25 inches I am lower on one side than the other.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fake ID

As a student at a women’s college in a dry town, a fake ID was crucial to having a social life. Mine was more for the getting into bars than for the drinking once I was there, given that I waited until my sophomore year to have a single sip of alcohol (even after fighting cancer, I can’t imagine surviving the crushing guilt I would have felt if I had started drinking in high school, whether or not my parents caught me at it).

But at Wellesley, we generally had to go where the boys were – Fort Lauderdale being a little too far for the average Saturday night, we settled for the Crimson Grill, the Boathouse, the Spaghetti Club. On a good night, we’d hit the clubs on Landsdowne Street or on small backstreets near Chinatown, assuming I could convince my friends to pay the cover charge and spend the night dancing instead of standing around a bar, pretending to find electrical engineering fascinating so some 5’8” guy with a complex (his real ID claimed 5’11”) would buy our drinks.

Not one to tamper with state or federal documentation, I chose to break the law the old-fashioned way – by pretending to be someone I was not. Susan Gregory (names have been changed to protect my unwitting accomplice) had kindly passed on her old ID before she graduated, and it had ventured into Boston in the purses of several other minors before making its way to me. She had two inches and four years on me, but she was blonde with green eyes, and most bouncers only expected a half-hearted stab at accuracy (same gender would suffice at the Grill.) Always the overachiever, I nevertheless memorized her birth year (1969) and sign (Capricorn) as well as her street address in Georgia. I was even confident that I could produce a reasonable facsimile of her signature, should anyone ask.

It’s rare to get carded in New York, at least as long as you avoid the bars around NYU. But tonight, dropping by Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side to check out live Rock’n’Roll Karaoke (a subculture that merits its own blog entry some other time) with some girlfriends, the bouncer stopped us and asked to see ID. “You look like a whole different person,” he said, holding the picture up while squinting at my face.

“Oh, the hair,” I said. “Yeah, it’s a pretty big change. What do you think?”

“Looks good. But has Momma seen it yet?”

“She likes it better this way,” I assured him, as we laughed and walked inside to the strains of Aaron from New Jersey wailing “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Sometimes I forget that this is what I look like now. The reflection in the mirror no longer takes me by surprise, but when I look at group photos, I still look for the girl with the shoulder-length blonde hair. At a recent global conference for work, I had to reintroduce myself to several people with whom I talk on the phone regularly, but who had not seen me in person for a few months.

At least the height, eye color and face shape on my ID was convincing enough to get me past the doors tonight, and I think I can probably manage my zodiac sign (which is what, you ask? Cancer. Of course.) But I may start practicing my signature again, just to be safe.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back in the Saddle

During chemo, I vowed to maintain some semblance of a workout routine. I didn’t have as much energy as normal and I was trying to compensate for the days I missed at work by working extra-hard when I was there, so it wasn’t easy. Add self-consciousness about my bald head to the mix, and I think I managed to get to the gym about six times between Christmas and my last session in mid-March.

But at that point, I started worrying. I knew I faced at least a few weeks of inactivity once I had surgery in April. I had made it this far without the dreaded “chemo bloat” that many women experience as a result of taking the steroids that help you tolerate the other drugs. As you can tell from my obsessive posting about my eyebrows and hair, I am more than a little concerned with the physical effects of all this, and weight was the one thing over which I felt I had a smidgen of control.

So I went back to spinning classes. My first time back at the gym, I wore my “Warrior” pink ribbon t-shirt to help me appear braver than I felt. Aware that I looked a bit like a sixth grader trying to hide her new bra, I got undressed while starting intently into my locker, leaving wig removal to the last possible moment. Wanda looked a bit forlorn on the hook as I tied on my bandanna and closed the door.

As I entered the spinning room the routine came back naturally. Water bottle in the cage, towel across the handlebars. Lower the seat and adjust it forward slightly. Step onto the bike, tighten the pedals, and start circling my legs. Pick up my pace as I start to feel my muscles warm up. Find the rhythm of the music and time my pedal strokes and breathing to the beat.

Given that my surgery was only a few weeks after this, I didn’t have time to get into fabulous shape or to see major results, but it did remind me that exercise is something I enjoy when I make time for it, and it gave me the confidence to get back to the gym several weeks ago once I got the all-clear from my plastic surgeon.

Which was good timing, because I need every workout session I can squeeze in between now and September 27, when I will be riding the “Tour de Pink” to benefit the Young Survival Coalition. This four-day, 200-mile bicycle ride goes from Hershey, Pennsylvania to the Hershey store in Manhattan (any guesses who is sponsoring?) The ride raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, an organization that advocates on and raises awareness of issues surrounding breast cancer in women age 40 and under.

It is impossible for me to put a value on the support network and information this organization has provided throughout my diagnosis, treatment and ongoing life as a young breast cancer survivor. In addition to knowing that a defined fitness goal is the best motivation to get to the gym, I want to support this organization and the women who benefit from its work by raising at least $4000. One hundred percent of the money I raise as a rider will go to the YSC.

To donate, please visit my newly-created fundraising page; for more information on the ride, check here. Thanks for your support, and be sure to wave when you see me doing laps around Central Park!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

C for Crewcut

Years ago, when I lived in London, there was a very chic salon around the corner from our flat in Shad Thames. One day, on a whim, I stopped in for a haircut. The stylist, hip in her black clothes and asymmetrical haircut, asked me "What would you like?" In the mood for a change, I said, "Just do what you think would look best." Mind you, I had never met this girl before. She knew nothing about me, my life, my style, my hair. To this day, I don't know what possessed me to give her carte blanche with my tresses.

Midway through the cut, she took a phone call. I reached around and touched the back of my head and burst into tears. My cute, boring bob had been shorn completely - I had about 3 inches of razor cut hair left in the back.

I managed to keep the crying in check until I got home, where Michael claimed that he liked it and Jacob also showed support, but couldn't help pointing out that I should have expected such a result, given that the salon's name was "Man and Boy."

Currently, my "style" is even shorter, but is already starting to look a little scraggly around the ears. On Tuesday, I stopped by to give my old stylist in Murray Hill a look under the wig. She is convinced that, with her coloring help, I will be confident enough to go wig-free once the mercury hits the mid-90s in New York.

Meanwhile, the photo is the progress as of last week - note the grey "highlights" and seriously full brows. I am trying not to romanticize my six months off from maintenance appointments and be grateful that everything came back as it was before, but I can't help but wish that at least the Brazilian had been permanent.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Travel Advisory

Would you let this woman through customs?

Me neither.

Although the drains are out, the elastic band and sports bra combo is still on, making dressing for work in 90 degree weather a bit of a challenge. Add the wig on top of that, and it's one sweaty commute.

But what a difference a month makes - since these photos were taken, the brows are back, and the hair is thick enough that I won't even have to put sunblock on my scalp when we are hanging around outdoors celebrating the start of summer in Connecticut this weekend (no airports required!) My brother Matt, however, may want to keep the SPF3o handy:

Have a great long weekend!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Arch Enemies

At Wellesley, you could tell how stressed out I was by the thickness of my eyebrows. It wasn't that I neglected my grooming as my workload increased; on the contrary, plucking was a stress reliever. Tackling a paper on how Vaclav Havel's politics were foreshadowed in his plays seemed to go much more smoothly after a good session in front of the mirror with the Tweezerman.

My eyebrows disappeared completely just days after my surgery, only to sprout back again, seemingly overnight. I spent the last two weeks recovering in the country with nobody but Michael, Mom and the wild turkeys in the yard to see the regrowth process. Toward the end of last week, preparing to return to the city and to head back to work this week, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and wondered what those caterpillars were doing onto my forehead, which was the catalyst for me to go see somebody about this - although they are not back to their old length, they are coming in at full force thickness.

As a possessor of brows that are more Frida Kahlo than Marlene Dietrich, waxing, tweezing and threading have long been part of my grooming routine. Depending on how much time I have, my level of hirsute urgency and my budget, for the past 8 years I have visited various hair removal sites in the city - Shobha, Bliss, and the $10 quick threading place across the street from my apartment - for my brow maintenance. So I am used to working with different people, but this time, when the woman at the local day spa in Litchfield asked me what I wanted, I did not know what to say. I'd done this a thousand times, but never before with brows that were only just starting to grow back in. What if she is too rough and takes too much? What if the stubble is still too short for her to get a purchase on it? In the end, I opted for a "clean up, but not too thin."

Better, but in the bright bathroom lights back at home I realized they were still on the thick side. As I stood before the mirror, carefully plucking one hair at a time, checking for symmetry every few minutes, I found a familiar but different kind of comfort in the sharp pull of the tweezers. Like mascara wearing, shampoo buying, and bra fitting, eyebrow tweezing is yet one more mundane activity that brings me closer to normal, and I welcome it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Defying Gravity

They're a little bruised and sleeping in a bra is no fun at all, but there are a lot of good things to be said for the new rack. They don't fall into my armpits when I lie on my back. I can no longer see the stretch marks earned from triathlon training two years ago and many years of less strenuous but equally scarring physical activity. Cleavage is possible without a bra. No one but me has to know if I am cold. And, of course, they are 100% cancer-free.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Positive Visualization

Back in October, when I was originally diagnosed, my mom and her group of wonderfully warm and supportive girlfriends got together for lunch. At the end of the lunch, Mary, a seven-year breast cancer survivor, mentioned that she had found visualization exercises to be helpful in getting through her surgery and treatments, and suggested that the women at the table all join hands and hold a positive image about me in their minds for several minutes.

First, Mom had to determine which image they should all focus on. She closed her eyes and thought for a minute or two. “What image do you see?” they asked when she opened them.

“I see Courtney coming out of the hospital carrying a piece of paper that says ‘Clean Bill of Health.’ She hands me the baby they were able to have…and I’m thin!”

It’s still too early to tell on visions 2 and 3, but we know at least the first part worked: my doctor called with my pathology report. I showed 100% response to the chemotherapy. There was no sign of the tumor when they dissected the breast tissue, and no evidence of cancer anywhere else in my breasts.

This means that even if any rogue cells escaped from the tumor at some point in the last few years (which itself is unlikely since there was no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes, and no sign of cancer on the whole-body PET/CT scan), chances are excellent that the course of treatment I just went through took care of them. I will continue to be monitored carefully, but it is safe to assume that chances of a recurrence are minuscule.

It’s wonderful to say I no longer have cancer. And although the blog name will remain The Courtney Word, it will be easier every day to think of it without parentheses.