Saturday, February 12, 2011

JoAnn



"It is my o-pinion..."

I heard those words hundreds of times in the 18 years I knew JoAnn Costello, my therapist. And I was always grateful to hear them, because they usually preceeded some general truth about life, some specific advice based on her own personal experience, or some intuition (which was always right).

JoAnn died of cancer on Dec. 30, 2011.

I will miss her spirit, her spunk, her smile, her intelligence, her humor, her turquoise eyes (as described by a friend at her memorial today), and her hip Italian shoes, but mostly I will miss JoAnn's influence in my life.

When I first went to JoAnn in 1993, I felt paper-thin. I was sensitive, supremely self-conscious, and doubted my own thinking and abilities. Every nerve felt raw and exposed to the world. JoAnn heard my story and said, "Of course you feel that way. It makes total sense to me."

As healing as those words were, JoAnn was not one to simply shine you on. She was not warm & fuzzy. But you knew that she saw something that you didn't see in yourself; something good and strong and original. And it was your job, with her help, to find out what it was.

At her memorial today at the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, I heard things about JoAnn that I didn't know. That she was adopted. That she'd had a difficult childhood. That she went to UC Berkeley and graduated with a 4.0. That she liked tequila. That she often sent back food. That she treated her son Jesse like a prince, which was not encouraged in her parenting circle. I was not surprised, however, at the depth of love and admiration that was expressed in that intimate, little, candlelit church.

Afterward, while standing out on the church courtyard lawn while Randy, JoAnn's husband, and her friends danced to the Bourbon Kings Brass Band, two of us "group" members were marveling at our amazing good fortune at having found this woman--out of the thousands of therapists in San Francisco (many of them fantastic)--to give us her o-pinion on life and how to live it.

I will miss you, JoAnn. But I will forever thank my lucky stars for leading me to your little cottage in the Castro and later up the steep stairs of your house in Glen Park. And I'll forever thank you.

With deepest love and gratitude.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It Can Happen to You
















My dog Sophie sat under the kitchen table for years, with great, unflagging optimism. I would marvel at her evergreen hopefulness, as she would lie belly-down on the hardwood floor, looking up with patient brown eyes at the underside of the table on which that night's dinner lay. Years of evidence to the contrary, she would wait perfectly still for that magical moment when the pork chops would levitate from the table, hang in the air for a few seconds, then drop to the floor with a juicy thud. Sophie's eyes said it all: "It could happen."

Then one day, it did happen.

My mom had come to San Francisco and wanted to go shopping at Union Square. She put a pot roast in the oven, turned the heat to low, and said it would be fine for a couple hours. Long story short, we spent more time than planned downtown. When we got back to my flat on Cesar Chavez street, I ran up the stairs to try on my new shoes while Mom ran up to check on her pot roast, which by now had been roasting for six hours.

"I think it'll be ok," she said, placing her smoking, ruined dinner on the table. Sophie took her position underneath and waited.

As Mom muscled through the hard crust of what now looked like a hockey puck, the entire "roast" flew off the serving platter. Sophie sprang. In what seemed like a slow motion slam dunk, she caught the "roast" in her jaws before it even hit the floor.

Victory comes to dogs who wait. Not often, but it is a possibility.

Which, finally, leads me to a point. And that point is that you can go through a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction and still find love. I know because it happened to me.

I had a very supportive boyfriend through it all. He waited for two years for the glorious outcome of my reconstruction. But unlike Sophie's prize pot roast, the outcome wasn't so good, so he split. "What a dog," my friends exclaimed. Not so. I got a lot out of that relationship, and it slowly and painfully led me to my current one.

I won't detail all the bad Match.com dates that came between the two. That's for another post. What I will detail is that during that time I waited with great hope and optimism for that one man who would see beyond my physical and emotional scars and see something else. Fear, sometimes. Resilience, maybe. Unflagging optimism, for sure.

That relentless optimism and a wholesome faith in my God, led me to my man. A list of adjectives cannot begin to describe his goodness, but I can't resist: Bighearted, honest, compassionate, generous, patient, understanding, forgiving, funny, uncomplicated, complicated, deep, basic, true. We got engaged in Kauai on January 12. He just wags my tail.

For all you girls out there wondering how you're gonna find love after cancer, remember this: It does happen. And it can happen to you.