Category Archives: Cancer

Round 2

Warning: big announcement ahead.

We’re waiting for a baby. We’re waiting an indeterminate period of time, gestating without any delivery date, expecting without guarantee. It’s hard to know what to call this period in the adoption process when you’re in line but have no idea when the baby will come. I usually say we’re expecting. Actually, we’ve been officially expecting for a month now, I just haven’t had the time to tell anyone.

It tends to be something I casually drop into sentences, thinking that I’ve told the other person. Then: sorry, what the what?

The whole thing is a bit hard for me to believe. If I were pregnant, I could say something casual like, we were thinking about it and it just happened, all of the sudden. But it’s hard to say we fell into our 2nd child, casually, maybe even accidentally, when we spent hours and hours writing the 20 pages of our autobiographies, and pondering our childhoods and our parenting philosophy in an effort to portray ourselves in the most positive light possible – pick us, pick us!

It all just seems so much more carefree and cavalier than last time. By the time we adopted Josie, we’d been waiting for a baby for 3 years, since before I was diagnosed, then through a year of treatment in which we let go of our hope of biological children, came to terms with the possibility of my short childless life, then started the adoption process. I was kind of a wreck by the time we finished the paperwork. Wait, I was kind of a wreck even before we started the paperwork. Then we got a dud of a social worker for the placement part of the process. Then we started working with a facilitator who yelled at me. I was officially broken by the time we got the call about Josie.

Fortunately it worked out. We met our girl a few days later. I realize now that in some deep hidden part of my brain, I believed the gift of a child was permission to live. It was a grant, a concession from the universe, a permission slip to go ahead and resume “life as normal.” Carry on.

Of course, my rational brain knew this wasn’t how the world worked but that didn’t stop me from feeling it. The adoption of a child was a sigh of relief, a celebration of not just her life but the resumption of ours. I see that now and I understand the entirety of what was at stake.

This time, I know it will happen. The baby will come. No lives hinge on the delivery. I hope to relax and enjoy the process, even the wait, to enjoy the imaginary, indeterminate gestation. I have dreams of a wait time filled with preparation, nesting, house projects, photo books, and buying a few cute little baby things that I was afraid would jinx the process last time.

That’s a nice dream but in reality, my imaginary, indeterminate gestation is filled with a tireless three-year-old, endless book edits, a job, and a blog, but this is it, this is what normal life looks like. This is us as we carry on. This is us, busily waiting to greet our new baby.


As soon as I heard Who in This Room would be published I started hotflashing and eyelid twitching about what the cover would look like. Handing over control has never been easy for me.

Fortunately, the lovely and utterly-reasonable people at Calyx agreed to let me pursue a few design ideas and I immediately called my friend, Judy. You may remember Judy of the super-cool tattoo from this post. As soon as we spoke I knew she was the perfect person to create the cover for so many reasons – here are the top ten.

1.       She’s so much cooler than I am. Do you need to look at that tattoo again?

2.       She’s had breast cancer.

3.       She uses the word ‘hoopty.’

4.       She’d never pick up a book about cancer (unless it was written by a friend who wanted her to design the cover).

5.       We both love the television show What Not to Wear.

6.       She’s a talented graphic designer. Oh yeah, there’s that.

7.       She has a whole cabinet of Japanese anime dolls. At least I think that’s what they are.

8.       She designed the logo and image for our friend’s business. I love that logo. BTW – Great cancer/health related blog on her site.

9.       She happened to be between projects. How lucky for me!

10.   She works FAST. Thank goodness.

I’m in love with the end result. Eyelid twitches be gone! Thank you, Judy!

Calcium and Vitamin D

Oh, hey, hi there. How’s everyone doing?

It’s February, that dreaded, dark, gray, rainy month where not a whole lot good happens in Seattle. The light is starting to come back, we’re past the winter solstice but it’s still really dismal. Are you taking your vitamins? Are your kids taking their vitamins? There’s a lot of chatter out there in the world about how much Vitamin D we all should be taking. This new chart came out in late November and I think it’s a great guide. You can read the whole article that went with it here.

Food at the Center

As Americans, we think of food as something that should fill our belly and please our mouth. Sure, food should do both these things, but it seems like we underestimate the importance of nutrition. Food should also provide vitamins and nutrients – nourishment.

Do you like how I use we here – my seemingly passive aggressive way of saying other people? But, I don’t really mean other people, by we I mean me, the me I was in my 20s. I spent the first 25 years of my life with a vague recollection that broccoli was good for me. Clearly this post is all about the new me lecturing the old me. Good, now that we’ve got that out of the way…

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my gastro intestinal problems were so bad I was hardly eating. I was starving, malnourished. None of my doctors ever mentioned nutrition. The cancer video they showed in the chemo room only encouraged us to “treat” ourselves to our favorite sugary, fatty foods.

Research increasingly points to the link between nutritional deficiency and illness. A new study shows the lack of nutritional education at medical schools. Most schools don’t provide the recommended 25 hour minimum.

If doctors don’t talk to their patients about nutrition aren’t they leaving out an important part of healing? But where does nutrition fit in the already long and complex medical training?

Combine that lack of knowledge and information with the dismal state of hospital food and it seems like the medical system needs a Jamie Oliver-style cafeteria overhaul. Dr. Preston Maring might be the perfect candidate. He’s a gynecologist and obstetrician with three decades as a surgeon, who is well known as a former physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. He’s established an organic farmer’s market outside the doors of the hospital

He believes that “… in the health professions, the kitchen must become as crucial as the clinic.” He believes that “Food is at the center of health and illness and so doctors must make all aspects of food — growing, buying, cooking, eating — a mainstay of their medical educations, their personal lives and their practices.” I think I love him.

He tries to make sure local fresh food is served at the hospital. He has a blog that offers advice and recipes. He even has a culinary road show he takes to health care institutions around the country. He’s got big plans, starting with getting doctors to eat healthier themselves.

I was lucky enough of find a nutritionist who revolutionized my eating habits and helped transform old me into the new, vegetable-pushing, overbearing blogger I’ve become today (so proud!). I’m grateful for her and I hope that other people fighting serious illnesses find someone, whether it’s a nutritionist, Dr Maring or another like-minded medical professional to help them find what they need.

In the Name of Cancer

On a Saturday morning in early October Josie and I were headed to a birthday party when we arrived to find the main road into the park blocked by a stage, tables and an abundance of balloons. There was no easy way to get to the playground, dog park, soccer fields or the Gymboree where the party was being held. I took a few turns trying to figure out how to get there and so did everyone else who wanted to use the park that fine Saturday morning.

Finally I found the right building. I was trying to park when a woman came running, waving her arms with fire in her eyes – clearly caught up in the adrenalin of a live event. This road is closed, she yelled, this road is closed!

I rolled down my window, pointed at the building and said I was parking for a birthday party over there. She told me I wasn’t allowed to be there and she was so adamant that I turned around. As I drove away she screamed – It’s a walk to benefit breast cancer!


I didn’t know what to think at first. Did I feel a little guilty because, after all, I’m alive and cancer-free? Sure, I’ve lost a few body parts and a few friends but not my mother or my sister. I wondered if I should feel bad because I had been frustrated with the woman. Then I remembered that I wasn’t the one who was frustrated. I wasn’t the one who raised my voice. I was just looking for parking. I was just trying to get my 3 year-old to a birthday party.

Eventually we made it to the party. We had a lovely time. As we drove out I saw the woman. I didn’t say anything to her but I wish I had. I wish I had stopped and gotten out of my car. I wish I had said that I wasn’t mad or upset or threatening her in any way. I wish I had re-iterated that I was just trying to get my daughter to a birthday party, and that I had, in fact, been parking in the right place. I wish I had told her that I was sorry for her loss, that I was sorry for her grief.

I wish I’d told her that I’d had cancer once. I wish she’d told me her experience. I wish we’d really listened to each other. Then without giving her a hug or sharing any tears or secret handshakes, but simply as one compassionate adult to another, I wish I had said goodbye and been on my way. Most of all, I wish we’d both really heard each other. Maybe if all of us did more of that, then maybe someone would stumble upon a cure for our sadness.

The Rules of the Pink

I like October, fall, Halloween and the month of Josie’s birth, but I’m not fond of breast cancer awareness month. It started with the first October after diagnosis when I picked up a local magazine that had a story about my new label, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. There was a picture of a teenager with her pompoms. She had symptoms and a diagnosis similar to mine; she died after six months. I read that it wasn’t a question of if it returned but when. I know that I’ve said this before but I have to repeat it, to mimic the track that runs over and over in my head, it said I had a 10% chance of living 5 years.

Then there was the tv news. I was fast forwarding through commercials one night when I saw the flash of a photo of a red, irritated breast, the mark of inflammatory breast cancer. Against my better judgment, I stopped to hear what they had to say. It was a teaser for the late-night news. The reporter said something sensational like: Are your breasts trying to kill you? That night I dreamt that I was filled with green spiders that were killing me from the inside and spilling out of my mouth and down my arms. It took months to get that image and those words out of my head and my dreams.

And then there’s all the pinking. Sure, when I was first diagnosed I found comfort in the pink. It was nice to know I was part of something bigger, that there were people living through this every day. But as I passed through treatment I began to feel like this was a club I didn’t really want to belong to. I’m not much of a joiner. I don’t really like pink. Inspirational symbols make me queasy.

I went to a cancer walk once when I was bald. I met a woman who was handing out pens with the website URL for an inflammatory breast cancer educational site. She started telling us about it. It was the deadliest form. I said I knew, that I had it. She gave me a sad look as if I was already dying.

I think she was the one who sent over the news crew that morning. When the reporter asked what brought me out for the walk I wanted to tell him the truth, that my mom dragged me. I wanted to tell him I was worried about my upcoming mastectomy, that I wouldn’t have enough skin to cover the hole where my breasts used to be. I wanted to tell him about the lesser known side-effects of treatment – Let’s talk about vaginal atrophy, shall we?

But I knew he wanted me to say something like: No one should have to face cancer alone or Together we’re going to beat this damn cancer, or some other rah-rah bullshit. But I could tell that he didn’t really see me. He didn’t care that I wasn’t a joiner or that I never liked pink. He saw the inspirational story he wanted me to be.

That day, I hadn’t had the fight in me or the presence of thought to articulate my desire for independence. Instead I just told him I wasn’t interested in being on television.

This time of year, when breasts invade the news, when even the milk cartons are dressed in pink, when giant pink ribbons are stretched across a football fields, I do my best to remember my early days accurately. I hold my unique fear and unique experience tightly in an effort to keep it from being repackaged and rebranded, and to keep myself from being engulfed in this homogeneous sea of pink.


When I was in chemo I tried nearly every holistic and western medical treatment. Yoga? Of course. Poison? You bet. Steroids? If you think so. Massage? Oh twist my arm. Vitamins? Definitely. Chi gong? Sure, sure. I was live experimentation at its best. When I started chemo I went to an acupuncturist and my sessions seemed fine, restful enough, and pleasant but I didn’t know if they were helping because I had nothing to compare them too. I’d never had chemo without acupuncture. Then my practitioner moved away.

I didn’t feel much worse for the next few weeks. Then I started seeing Darin at Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center. He was highly recommended and specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. I entered his office in the midst of weeks of terrible insomnia. When I left I was hardly able to drive home I was so sleepy (I’m just gonna rest myzzzzzzzsnort). At home, I crawled into bed and slept for hours. And that wasn’t the only change. My nausea wasn’t gone but it felt lighter, less crushing. I felt… Better. I have been a believer in acupuncture and a loyal follower ever since.

Since then several studies have come out testing acupuncture and nausea. This one was released around 2000 and found that “Seven of the 8 patients responded to the addition of acupuncture to control nausea and vomiting. These patients generally were able to tolerate additional courses of chemotherapy.” 

This year Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit ran a test on women with hormone positive breast cancer that compared acupuncture to the drug Effexor, an anti-depressant that has been shown to reduce hot flashes. Acupuncture worked as well as Effexor at reducing hot flashes, but with fewer side effects. Women receiving the acupuncture treatments reported more energy and a better sex drive than women taking the drug.

I still see Darin every few months to help me with ongoing problems like hot flashes and anemia. This year Darin was featured in Seattle Metropolitan’s Top Docs issue in the field of acupuncture. I couldn’t be more proud.  When we see each other we still need a good 20 minutes to chatter and get all caught up before the session starts. He has to see pictures of Josie and I have to hear stories about his dog – a great dane named after the Easter bunny who has her own facebook page and says things like I can touch my eyeball with my tongue. Maybe it’s the dog stories, maybe it’s the needles, or maybe it’s both these things, all I know is that when I leave his office I always feel better.

HMN Elsewhere

Yesterday The Next Family put up a guest post I wrote in response to this prompt: It would be great to have you write your story — being a cancer survivor and a mom (an adoptive mom), how it was for you, where you are now, how it’s changed for you…

It’s funny how framing a situation differently, asking a slightly different question, can elicit a totally new and different response. You can read the post here.

And check out The Next Family while you’re there – they’ve got interesting content from urbanite families, adoptive families, in vitro parents, interracial families, same sex parents, and single parents.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to do a little more shameless promotion. Hysterical Mommy Network has been nominated for the Parenting Blog section of the Best of Western Washington contest. I’m just so tickled about the whole thing. It makes me giggle. If you’d be so kind… If you haven’t already… Would you vote here, please? That color you’re wearing looks so nice on you. It matches your eyes and, my goodness, those lashes… You look particularly lovely today.

Love you all! XOXO

Old News

I read this article a few weeks ago about Avastin, which was at one time thought to be the great white hope for breast cancer. The article said the trial was abandoned because the tumors weren’t responding.

The article, of course, was factual, clinical as it should have been. It was in the New York Times after all. But I still felt duped and a little cheated that it didn’t say a word about Dena or Kelli or Emily or that it had been Emily’s last chance. It didn’t say anything about Emily’s last trip to Hawaii before the tumor in her abdomen officially took her life. It didn’t say anything about the pineapple upside down cake she served at her 30th birthday party, or her unintended last meal of peanut butter and jelly. It didn’t mention that she had begged to receive the drug even though it hadn’t been approved or proven. It didn’t say a thing about how excited she was to get it or how unresponsive her tumor was. It didn’t say anything about Emily, nothing at all.

Good News for Friday

No, it's not a cow, but it is a farm animal.

We need some good news around here (rain! more rain!), and guess what? I found some. The Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility reports that:

“Use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to induce more milk production in dairy cows reportedly has declined over the past few years. …the number of U.S. dairies using rBGH is now about 9 to 12 percent, down from 15.2 percent in 2007. The number of cows injected is 10 to 14 percent, down from 17.2 percent.”

We don’t want it, we don’t buy it, they stop using it, or they use less of it. Isn’t that wonderfully simple?