Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Let's just get this out of the way first thing, shall we?

Benign, such a pretty word, a word reminiscent of the word 'beignet,' which treat I have tasted and declared delicious.


When I heard the good news this morning, I felt, of course, overjoyed, but also - all of a sudden - profoundly tired. It was as if I had been holding my breath for three weeks and finally remembered to exhale.

Do you know that feeling, the one you experience after you are issued a speeding ticket? Oh, c'mon, don't tell me that you've never gotten a speeding ticket! Huh. Well, I have, and I've noticed that for a month or two afterward, I am overly conscious of my driving. I don't speed (if anything I drive too slowly!), and I am scrupulous about following all the rules of the road (e.g., signaling turns early, or coming to a full and lengthy stop at a stop sign). But after some time has passed, my driving slides back into the realm of the automatic. It retreats to the background.

Today I have a new lease on life. I have been stamped healthy. I am a lucky one. So for the next few weeks or months I will walk around with a dopey grin. I will notice the leaves turning colors and marvel at the spectacle, even more than I usually do.

And then I will forget, and go back to living my life, and being frustrated by long lines at the supermarket, or telemarketers, or my children's inability to get their dirty laundry into the baskets provided for same. Human nature it is, and yet I wish I could bottle today's joy for future use.

But maybe it's tiring to live such an examined life, and that's why the lessons we learn - from speeding tickets, from the possibility of having cancer - don't keep informing our every move.

I don't know. Nothing to take from this, perhaps, except delight. Pure delight.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Roosevelts and Us

"You'll see," she muttered, frowning as she cleaned her glasses with characteristic ferocity, "It all goes to hell in a handbasket. Your eyes, your teeth..." Here she trailed off, waiting for me to take up her thread and carry it forward, a stitch or two, maybe three.

Instead I parried. "It doesn't have to be like that. You can recast your lot. Be grateful for what you do have, the love of family, your ability to walk on your own two feet, your wisdom, however hard-won."

She snorted, unconvinced, as I had known she would be. Later she died, still uncompromising in her belief that life had failed her, never considering that she might have failed it.


And now here I am, cleaning my own reading glasses, running my tongue over ever more fragile teeth. Older now I think than when she instructed me on how awful it is, this growing old business.

Facing my own mortality as she faced hers. But no, not at all as she faced hers. My poor mother.


History is wasted on the young, they say, although not on my sixteen-year-old son, who inhales it as he does the promise of food. But that is another story.

At night my husband and I clasp hands and watch The Roosevelts on PBS. It is not anything close to a fast-paced show, but we are riveted, more by the photos than by the commentary. All those frank faces, unsoftened by color, staring out at the unknown, at us.

Yes, he and I clasp hands and wonder about the biopsy results that are forthcoming and in what ways our narrative will be directed by those results. What will our history show, the black and white of us? What will my cellular history show, the black and white of me?

I try to memorize Eleanor Roosevelt's gaze, her strength and candor all bound up in her eyes, and the way she holds her neck, proud and defiant and strong. If I mimic her posture and her direct, even challenging, look, perhaps I can too feel proud, defiant, strong.

Because I am certain of this: I want to be Eleanor, shaping history instead of letting it shape me.

My bloodline be damned. Eleanor can be my guide. Under her tutelage I will take nothing for granted, disparage nothing, neither my aging teeth nor my aging eyes nor any damn part of this beautiful life. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I've never felt as vulnerable as I do right now. Awaiting a diagnosis will do that to a person, I suppose, and yet what I am discovering is that this fragile period is opening me up in ways I hadn't anticipated. I walk around with one of my breasts chronically tingling, as if ready to let down at any moment, and I find that the feeling itself makes me more generous with others.

An example: I have never felt such maternal affection for the children in our classroom as I do right now. These nineteen children are dear. Others concur; we do have a wonderful group this year. But it's more than that, for me as I am right now. I am wide open, exposed to each and every one of their tender young hearts. And open to adults, too: I am seeing so much that is good in everyone with whom I interact.

I would not have expected this gift - of seeing beauty wherever I cast my eyes - to blossom from a bed of fear and worry. But it makes some sense. These pinprick reminders of mortality heighten empathy, for we all - no matter how different from one another we may seem - will spend an equally fleeting time with feet placed perpendicular to earth.

Today I find myself close to tears, of gratitude for you and you and you, and gratitude for all of this. All of it. I walk around the house as I open windows wide to the treat of cool, dry air. I pass a mirror and notice that I am beaming. I hadn't known that my smile was as broad as it appears reflected back at me, but neither am I surprised to find it so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Partial Update

The problem with disclosing this situation, as I have chosen to do, is that people will expect an update. And that's only fair. I do not regret sharing my story - perhaps someone will benefit from it, if only by thinking, "Huh. I haven't had a mammogram for too long." That's to the good.

But today was disappointing. I guess I half-expected to walk in and have the doctor say, "It's all been a mistake. You're good to go."

She didn't. She said, "We take this very seriously." So I had an EKG and bloodwork. I will have further diagnostic testing done next week, and surgery on the 17th.

I asked the surgeon about my odds, you know I did. She replied, "With this condition, we use the 2/3 rule. 2/3 benign, 1/3 not."

The duct will be removed on the 17th and then sent for biopsy. Biopsy results will be in on the 24th. That's three weeks more of waiting and worrying about the Big C.

If there is cancer, well then a second, more invasive surgery will have to follow the first.

I can't really believe this is happening. It hasn't sunk in yet. I keep wondering whether this is my new reality or just a blip.

1/3, 2/3.

(Oh, and the surgeon is adorable - she looks like Mindy Kaling of The Mindy Project - only even prettier than Mindy. She could be my daughter, she is that young. And well dressed. So there's that.)