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Peace

I am delighted at having met this group of women writers who make me laugh and think and feel. I feel blessed and honored to be in their company. Thank you, Sherry, Katie, Jen, Bella, Jena, Hedgie, Deena, Jacqueline, Dee, Rachel, Church and anyone else who's crossed my literary path these past four months.

I'd like to end the year with an email written by my Community Breast Health Project writing group leader, Karen Jandorf, to a group of her friends, which--luckily--included me. Like Karen, this message is full of love, meaning and grace. And as I read it, I felt an upwelling of joy that I simply had to express before the year ended, at having met Karen and having met you.

Abundant peace and love,

Jill





Dear Friends,



For a number of reasons which interest me, friendships seem to be harder to sustain, connection harder to maintain. I suspect that all human contact is suffering from the stresses of our times. “Catching up” seems almost impossible. Accumulated experiences seem impo…

Roots: Part III

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you." ~Kendall Hailey, The Day I Became an Autodidact

(Confession: I found this quote this morning on Quote Garden. I had to Google Kendall Hailey. And I had no idea what the word autodidact meant until I located it on dictionary.com.)

I met Ocho on Match.com. Many of you probably have never had a Match date, so let me describe for you a few that I experienced:

Tom smelled myseriously of Clorox bleach and wore a fanny pack. I might have been able to handle the fumes (hey, it's a turn-on that a guy can clean his house, right?), but the strain of imagining what was in the fanny pack (Handi-wipes? Anti-bacterial gel? Latex gloves?) was more than I could bear.

Bob, who was as tall as a 4th grader, over the course of two hours and a plate of fettucine alfredo asked me 20 times if I was bothered by the fact that he was so short. Answer: No…

I Love Me (Day Three)

I’ve just completed Day Three of abstaining from self-derogatory comments. How’s it going for me? Let me just say that it’s the self-esteem equivalent of Everest without oxygen. (And I say that with a lot of self love, as usual.)

The 31-day plan came about one night at the end of November while driving home from work. As usual, I called Sam. We kvetched about the usual stuff—including the guys in our lives—during which time I told Sam about a conversation I’d recently had with Ocho:

[Scene: Ocho and I are walking my border collie, Marge, back from the beach.]

Me: “I am one more day closer to being super cute.”

Ocho: “?”

Me: “With each new day, I am 24 hours closer to being skinnier and having longer hair.”

Ocho: “Hm,”

Me: “And then you’ll tell me I’m pretty again.”

Ocho: [making eye contact] “I tell you you’re pretty all the time.”

Me: “No you don’t.”

Ocho: “Yes, I do. You’re just too fucking stupid to remember it (big smile).”


“That’s a great line,” said Sam, quickly adding that I absolutely h…

Got Goat?

What gets my goat? My hair. But since you all are sick to death of self-absorbed stories about my hair, I have decided to move on. Besides, this morning I cracked the code on styling exceptionally frizzy hair and transformed my Don King fro into a cute Hillary Clinton bob. Typically, looking like Hill is not a good thing, but it is a radical improvement over looking like Don. Even better news: Knowing how to do my hair is going to free me up--emotionally, spiritually, physically--and allow me to explore exciting new topics.

Old topic: my hair. New topic: my boobs, whoo hoo! I know, it sounds like a tired, old topic, even when packaged so smartly, but continue reading because you’ll see that I’ve got a whole new groove. A whole new boob groove. Honest.

Quick boob update: I had my reconstruction in July of this year. It was deeply disappointing and threw me into a total funk for about four months. Until today. This morning, I made an appointment to see Dr. Loren Eskenazi, the San Francis…

Thank You Notes

My new sister-in-law, like my mom, is big on thank you notes. When I was in Florence three years ago, I bought her some hand-made thank you notes at a quaint, little stationery store called Il Papiro. (After receiving them, she immediately wrote me a thank you note for the thank you notes.)

My mom is also big on thank you notes. In fact, she’s huge on thank you notes. When I was a teenager, I used to tease her: “If they made you’re welcome cards, I’m sure you’d send those, too. She’s been scouring stationery shops for a box of those ever since.

After my mastectomy and during chemo, I kept a detailed journal of the kind and generous things people did for me. I wanted to remember who had cooked us lasagne, who had sent us gerber daisies, who had brought me a bag of Kiehl’s bath products, who had simply called or stopped in front of my driveway to say I’m thinking about you .

I also kept the journal to make sure that I knew who had sent what so I could send thank you notes. I know of three…

It's Not About the Bike

It's not about the bike...it's about the hair. But you already know that, as I go on endlessly (and some would say annoyingly) about it. In the event that you live farther than 75 miles of my house--and therefore cannot hear me every morning at 6:30a.m., sobbing and spewing profanities in front of the mirror as I wield a giant round brush, a 2000-horse power blow dryer, a pricy flat iron and four different hair potions in a harried rush to get my chemo curls (only kind of) under control before racing out the door to work--here’s a hair update: It absolutely defies the laws of gravity.

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them my hair grew back in a fro. Ergo, the faux-finish fro foto. I’m not quite ready to debut the fro without the help of Apple’s Photo Booth effects. And Ocho was kind enough to join in the foto fun.

I don’t have a good transition for this, as it has nothing to do with my hair, but I rode my mountain bike up Mount Montara with Ocho today. The bike trail is…

Rebel, Rebel, You've Torn Your Dress...

I don’t do two posts in a weekend—NaBloPoMo, or no. I simply don’t have the time. But as a pot of lentil soup, one of chicken vegetable and another of butternut squash (ask me for the recipe from “The Savory Way,” by Greens chef Deborah Madison) simmers on the stove, I’ve been thinking about a quote I read on Jacqueline Skagg’s Rebel 1 in 8 blog:

"I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect...for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence."—Audre Lorde, "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action"

Along those lines, I read an article in Newsweek three, four months ago. It was by a guy who had cancer. The cover was white, and on it floated an image of a giant Lance Armstrong yellow rubber bracelet. The story, like the cover photo, was powerful in its clarity and …

Tsunami

A few weeks after my diagnosis, I found an achingly beautiful, black and white photograph of a woman the night before her mastectomy. There are only three elements in the photo: the woman, a camera on a tripod, and a mirror. Its composition and minimalism is stunning. And like a brilliant short story, it said so much (and no more) with so little.

In the photo, the woman is nude and sitting in front of the mirror. She has short hair and a long neck. The camera on the tripod is right beside her, like a friend who has just heard the news and is being a silent witness. The woman is looking down instead of making eye contact with herself or with the viewer. Oddly, it’s not necessary to see the woman’s eyes to feel the weight and power and pressure of the tsunami that is building momentum behind her.

(Has anyone else ever seen this photo? I stumbled upon it once on the internet, and haven’t been able to find it since…)

I lay alone in bed the night before my mastectomy. Ocho and I had broken up…

Mum's the Word

I am hypersensitive. And I sometimes have a little trouble letting things go.

This is not a headliner to those who know me. And it’s old news to Ocho, who weekend before last made the mistake of asking me why I’d chosen grape-colored mums to stick in the ground next to the Japanese maples in my front yard.

Back in the day, I spent whole weekends in my yard. I maintained my own hedges and trees. I cleaned my own gutters. I demossed my own deck. I built my own swingsets. And I squeegeed my own windows.

But in February 2006, I went back to work full time. Under normal circumstances, working my way back into a corporate environment after freelancing for 15 years would have been a difficult and stressful transition. But the circumstances became a little harder at the end of May 2006, when I was diagnosed with infiltrating lobular carcinoma. New job. New cancer. New loads of adrenaline being pumped into the system.

For a while, I was able to maintain a sense of control. I woke up at 6:00 a.m.…

When I'm 64

Last night, as I drove down my street on the way to Ocho's in Half Moon Bay, I saw Mrs. Cunningham watching TV from her chair by the window. I've always had great respect for Mrs. Cunningham--Margaret, as she's
known to her peers.

But there aren't that many of Mrs. Cunningham's peers left on my street. When I first moved to my street 10 years ago, there was this lovely mix of age groups on the three or four blocks around my little red house, including lots of people with kids and lots of older folks who had already raised their kids. The older folks included Leo, a retired aircraft mechanic; Frank and Sylvia, who were incredibly tiny and frail but drove a giant pale yellow Cadillac with fins; George and Josephine Cocconi, who were from Italy (or as Mrs. Cocconi pronounced it, It-lee); Frank, who had a thick German accent, and his shy, sweet wife Judy; Ingrid Poore, a 90-year-old old woman who would pad up to the stop sign in front of my house in her nightgown, swea…

Tag

So, I was recently tagged by Sherry, whose blog abreast in the world posts the latest research and news in breast cancer, along with deep observations, bold opinions and absolutely gorgeous graphics. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express, Sherry! (Being a newbie, I’m not sure if I’m doing this right, but I think I am supposed to supply six factoids about myself then tag someone else…)

1. Disclosure: Anything funny in this blog originated from my friend Sam. It’s a good thing I had breast cancer and she didn't because if she decides to write a blog, she’ll have to find another community of writers and readers--and that means my witticisms and wry observations will remain “my own.”

2. I got caught shoplifting when I was 9. I had stuffed a bottle of bubbles and a box of Red Hots in the front of my shorts (stealthy, I am not). The manager of the Ben Franklin Five and Dime, a very big woman in a sleeveless summer dress, asked me what I had taken. “Nothing” not being an optio…

I Don't Want to Look Cute

“You look adorable,” said my friend Judie, when I tried on a wig that reminded me of Mia Farrow’s haircut in Rosemary’s Baby. The woman who’d just put the wig liner and wig on my head nodded in agreement. Clearly, neither she, nor Judie, was lucid. Mia looked adorable in that haircut because she weighed 98 pounds and looked like a sexy pixie with her cute freckles and startling bone structure. Me? 145 pounds. A smattering of age spots. Woodland creature cheeks.

It was June 2006, and I knew I was going to lose my hair in mid-August after getting the first of six Adriamyacin/Cytoxan chemo-tinis, straight up. To get used to having less hair, I did what a lot of pre-chemo women do: I cut my hair in increments. When I went to the Wig Palace with Judie, I had recently cut my long hair into a smart little shoulder-length bob. It was kind of fun and swingy, but I lived in mortal fear of humidity or rain, either of which transformed my angular bob into a fuzzy pyramid.

“I don’t want to look cute…

NorCal Rednecks

To put myself through college, I waited tables at Longhorn Steaks in Marietta, Georgia. It had a jukebox full of Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson records; a vintage, white Frigidaire full of long-necked Budweisers and Lone Stars; and red vinyl booths full of 10-percent-tipping rednecks.

When I moved to San Francisco, I noticed it, too, was full of icons: politically correct boomers, bargain taquerias, overpriced real estate, high-test coffee, dot.com intellectuals, aging hippies, and a conspicuous absence of rednecks.

And while it's been 20 years since I've lived in the South, I still can ID a redneck in 20 seconds flat. So I was certain--absolutely--that the guys in the pick-up next to me at the Bank of America last summer were beer-guzzlin', chick-hatin', finger-lickin'...rednecks.

I had just had chemo #2 and was working at home instead of the office. I took a break to go get a sandwich at the deli and to deposit a check at the bank. It was 120 degrees in my un-…

Texas Hold 'Em

Here’s what I remember from those first post-mastectomy moments: Waking up to see my primary care physician, Dr. J, in the recovery room (even though there was no medical reason for him to be there). Being comforted by my family and friends. Watching my Mom futz with the daisies and delphiniums. Sipping 7-Up. Smiling, even though the pink-flowered elastic tube top they had put on me felt like it was lined with burlap and foxtails. Testing the efficiency of my morphine PCA drip. Feeling gratitude. Worrying what my hair looked like. Drifting in and out of sleep.

I also clearly remember this:

My “suite” had the usual hospital stuff, but one half of it had the look and feel of the Brady’ Bunch’s den. It had a low-slung sofa, a curvy coffee table, an entertainment center and TV, and a big round table with chairs, over which hung a Gunsmoke--looking light fixture.

After sleeping a bit, I woke to the sound of voices, so I turned in their direction. Surrounding the big round table were my ex, …

Totally Mod

Like most couples, Ocho and I recycle arguments. In fact, we've totally flattened the cans on a few topics. So I was delighted when we recently got into it about something brand new.

Ocho was at his house in his bed watching a movie on his Macbook. I was at my house making an Excel spreadsheet of my expenses. I called Ocho, looking for a distraction. "Who's in the movie?" I asked. "It's the guy who was in The Mod Squad," he said. "He also was in The Matrix."

"Dude," I said. "You are so not the man when it comes to '70s pop culture. Lawrence Fishburne was in The Matrix, but it was a totally different guy in The Mod Squad."

"Same guy," Ocho insisted.

With that challenge, I opened another browser window and googled a photo of Lawrence Fishburne. Then I googled The Mod Squad. This is one of the photos I found:



All of a sudden, it didn't matter whether the actor in Ocho's movie was Lawrence Fishburne or Clarenc…

Namaste

There’s a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn called Wherever You Go, There You Are. It’s all about mindfulness, being in the moment, focusing.

The idea is that if you focus completely on whatever it is you’re doing—chopping wood, carrying water, washing dishes, folding clothes, listening to someone squeegee the very last eighth of a teaspoon of yogurt out of their little plastic Yoplait container—you will become clearer, calmer, centered.

Ocho and I recently spent a Saturday at Spirit Rock meditation center in Woodacre. It offers the uncentered masses classes with names like “Transforming Our Rage Inheritance,” “Whole Body Breathing,” and “Essential Dharma.” I signed us up for something a bit more suburban-sounding: “The Art of Acceptance.” I figured there was plenty I needed to accept.

The Art of Acceptance involved free green tea, hours of meditation and a 40-minute talk on the Art of Acceptance. During the first of what easily were hour-long sitting meditations, I would hyper-focus on Ocho’s bre…

Cancer Hat

It was the hottest summer on record, and I was at Longs with the kids buying back-to-school supplies. While looking for thin black Sharpie markers, 1½ inch sturdy binders and other insanely specific items, I started to schvitz in my purple/black polar fleece ski hat.

I wore that ski hat because I was bald and because it was the only hat that I’d ever found that didn’t emphasize the fact that I have a very small head and very broad shoulders. I also have very muscular calves, for the record, which annoys my brother no end.

“Each family is given 100 percent of a certain trait or quality,” he hypothesizes, “and the members have to divvy up that percentage. I got the math and the fantasy football skills; you got the English and the calves.”

And the small head. Which wants to drift from the main point of this story…

Last August, a few weeks after I’d lost my hair, I found the ski hat in the back of my closet. I’d gotten it in Tahoe in 1995, during an impromptu weekend trip to the snow with …

Do Your Thing

Last week, I sent an impersonal generic email to my family, and another to my friends, announcing my new blog. “There,” I thought after hitting the send button. “Nothing like self-expression to infuse some creativity into my life and re-energize my spirit!”

Still, I worried.

Blogging is weird. Many people (including myself until recently) have never read a blog. Ocho and I, after he got his new MacBook Pro, were talking about the blogging phenomenon. We went online and found an article by Technorati, an internet search engine and indexer of more than 11 million weblogs. It reported that in July of last year there were 50 million blogs and counting. More than 175,000 blogs are created each day—that’s two for every second of each day—with an average of 1.6 million posts. “Why would anyone want to spend time reading drivel about another person’s life?” Ocho asked. I agreed.

Still, I wondered…

I puzzled over why someone would post personal, even intimate, info in a public space. My friend J. …

Surf Lessons

I've been on a surfboard. I haven't actually surfed, if you want to get technical, but I've come close.

While down in Southern California for my brother's wedding, Ocho took me out for a surf lesson. I don't go surfing with him in Half Moon Bay. The water on that length of coast averages 40 degrees, which, for a delicate Southern girl like me, is just too frickin' cold. To surf in water that cold, you have to wear a wetsuit.

Now I've been in every surf shop from here to Santa Cruz, and I've taken notice of the posters they hang inside: dudes in board shorts, chicks in tiny swimsuits. But, not once have I seen a poster of a menopausal woman with a little gut and a big 'fro in an O'Neill wetsuit hanging on a wall. I'm guessing there is a good reason for that.

In SoCal, however, you don't have to wear a wetsuit, as the water is deliciously warm. On the day of my lesson with Ocho, I wore a swimsuit and a pair of his board shorts. (Now I know …

Ocho II

Little did I know when I looked at Ocho’s 8 fingers for the first time that afternoon at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company that they would make him particularly sensitive to other people’s bodily trauma.

Ocho was in the room when my plastic surgeon carefully unveiled the new girls. They didn’t look like boobs, actually, but they did look like the cupcakes I’d recently made for my brother’s bachelor party. I think I mentioned I was my brother D.’s best man.

Pumped-up pecs, poor sense of direction and propensity for foul language aside, I’d angsted for months about the bachelor party, which—in addition to the obligatory college buddies—was also going to include my 15-year-old son and my ex. That didn’t sound too awkward. Pause. Not. (No more awkward than seeing Borat with my son and my parents…)

Brilliantly, I decided instead to hire a professional poker dealer and have a poker party for D. and his friends on the coast at Ocho’s. “I feel bad,” I told Ocho. “I feel like I’m denying D. the …

Lucky Stars

I called Sam yesterday afternoon. That's what I do when I hate the world. Sam and I live on opposite coasts. We believe in opposite things (she believes in Jesus; I believe in good therapy). And we use opposite brain hemispheres (she teaches math; I manage a magazine and a company intranet). But the one thing we do share is the ability to laugh at the absurdities in our lives. And there have been a few...

I met Sam at Coco's in Sandy Springs, Georgia. We both had the late shift one night, and I was cleaning the soup well while she was "marrying" bottles of Heinz ketchup. "Are you happy with yourself?" she asked me. Surprised by her question, I lied (of course) and told her that I was ridiculously happy with my agonizingly self-conscious 18-year-old self. She wasn't buying it, but instead of challenging me, she admitted to having deep feelings of unhappiness herself. A difficult statement to believe. Sam had the charisma of a Kennedy, stratospheric intel…

Ocho

My brother, upon hearing that my new boyfriend has only eight fingers, nicknamed him Ocho in eight seconds flat. And the moniker kinda stuck. By kinda, I mean that Ocho—like Dubya—at first balked at his new tag. But, 18 months later, he now signs his emails with the name.

I met Ocho in March 2006. I’d seen his photo on Match.com and bullied him into emailing me. We met a few weeks later for coffee and ahi. It was supposed to be coffee and a hike, but I wanted to impress, so I wore surgically pointy black boots and a cute necklace that I’d bought that morning from a sidewalk vendor for good dating Feng Shui. My hair was down to the middle of my back.

The boots must have done the trick. After coffee, Ocho invited me over to the Brewing Company for a glass of wine, down to the Jetty to get some fresh ahi, and up to his house to grill it.

Our second date was at Sushi Sams. It was packed (as usual), so we sat at the counter. Ocho was pouring sweat from the wad of wasabi that frosted the unagi…

Tits Are for Kids

Being a girl who loves a project, I got kind of excited when I found out I had breast cancer. Wow, I thought to myself, I’ll be able to conduct some kick-ass research, consider weighty options, make life-altering decisions, and bask in the afterglow of my ability to handle adversity with grace and intelligence. I also thought I’d be hanging with a couple nice-sized “girls.”

Having breast-fed two children until they both got incisors left me with a couple girls that I could sometimes tuck into a “nearly-A” bra-lette from the junior department. The only problem was most juniors are small elsewhere, too, which made it difficult to find a 36 nearly-A with cups that were located at least two inches apart and straps that suspended the cups lower than the clavicle. Other than swimsuit shopping, nothing could send me into a complete and total funk like scouring the mall for a well-fitting bra. (Note the lack of a plural; I was happy to find one bra every five years and buy 10 of the same style…