The Bank

Paige asked me today if any part of me is enjoying my convalescence. Now that I’m free of icky drains and off all narcotics, it would be a good idea to savor this freedom from mundane mommy tasks. But I’m not. There are still three concerned grandparents in the house, my energy status is a frequent topic of conversation, and unavoidable chemotherapy is scaring the crap out of me. As ungrateful as it sounds, there’s just no amount of help and support that makes this not suck. I didn’t really know how sneaky this depression was until I sprung out of here alone and ended up at the bank.

Today I went against all doctor’s orders and common sense and drove the car. By myself. It was way too soon, hurt like hell, and was kind of scary considering I needed to maneuver back home using only slight turns (which is impossible in my rotary rich neighborhood). Also, you’d think for my big, breakout alone, I would have had a much sexier destination. But there were checks to deposit, and not a single teller wondering if I’m getting enough protein.

Bernie’s parents are going home tomorrow. They might have some small notion that I want them to go, because I ask them every day when they are leaving. To assuage my guilt, and to prevent further badgering which would delay longer my indulgence in really bad television, I consented to some late night energy work. A-Gong’s cursory energy audit revealed that I’m running on empty. He and A-Ma proceeded to gift me some of theirs. Now I can’t sleep. But my fingers are really warm. He also taught me some exercises to generate my own energy. This involves holding a pose that makes me look prepared to return a mean volleyball serve. This was so funny to me, it kind of knocked me right out of my funk.

In all honesty, I felt all tingly warm after the energy infusion. The fact that I cannot shake these chills no matter how many sweaters I wear probably means A-Gong is right. So after they leave tomorrow, I will try harder to enjoy this forced downtime in the only, truly guilt-free way: letting my own mommy take charge. And although she cannot remember which road leads to CVS and once approached the rotary clockwise, I’m not risking another solo drive just yet. Especially not to the bank. No lollipops.


I got a gift watermelon. Where one finds a watermelon in New England in January, I don’t know, but it arrived with juicy loving intent and no knowledge that Teddy has a very real, but ridiculous watermelon allergy. It’s a funny gift: watermelon. It demands a large knife, a big crowd, lots of napkins, and an entire shelf of the refrigerator. It’s also kind of a celebratory fruit. “Who wants WATERMELON?!?” draws kids out of the pool to grab cold, pink triangles oozing onto a gigantic platter. No kid ever quit the fun to peel an orange. But the gift watermelon sat there for days and no one would throw the **** thing away. There’s too much promise of a better afternoon in a watermelon.

We’re clearing out the ‘fridge. We’ve nearly eaten up all of the meals that were scheduled to arrive, and the ones that came as a yummy surprise, and the ones that A-Ma cannot help but cook to reverse Bernie’s pneumonia (pears brined in Chinese medicine are totally working) and fatten up Teddy (2 lbs!). The regular delivery of food is such a blessing when there are this many mouths to feed. In addition to the nuclear Lees, A-Ma and A-Gong, Grandma and Pop Pop, and now our niece Alice is here. My in-laws would like to have even MORE people visiting in order to “fill up the house with energy… not get sick… good for kids!” Yikes. Now that I’m feeling better, I need less of everything: fewer people, less food, no watermelon.

Bernie’s parents told me early on that many of my Western notions and instincts are entirely opposite to the Chinese way. Dessert? Cold soup. Cake? Rice, fish, or bean. Wear red to a wedding, white to a funeral. Sandwich for breakfast, but never for lunch. The list is quite funny. But right now we need a thinning of the relatives and I don’t always know how to form a counter-argument to an “energy” debate that is both loving, and prevents people from showing up with more bean curd meals and energy.

The great news is that I feel fantastic enough not to need six adults on BrittWatch. My dad is the first proverbial watermelon to be tossed. He’s leaving this weekend, and may not like being compared to a gigantic fruit, loved less for its timing. But my funny dad (who gives up this very food for Lent, quite successfully every year, and will use that joke forever) knows it’s time to go. Because there will be a time to return. And last night, quite loyally, he announced his plans: “I’m leaving on Saturday, and I’m taking my energy with me!”

My dad, the watermelon

Cancer, bagged and tagged

The pathology report arrived yesterday. The essential translation from medical jargon is as follows:

“That’s cancer. On the left. Teeny. Only 7mm! Smaller than a pencil eraser, or one of those weeny one dot legos. Invasive and dividing like crazy, but hasn’t gotten anywhere important yet. No cancer on the right. Nice set.”

(The last part is obviously fabricated. Doctors say “specimen.”) This is all fantastic news… except for the invasive cancer part. But I’m two haircuts beyond that now. Today I met with Adam and Maria, my beauticians, and I’m one drain lighter with one of those “let’s see” doctor promises to be free of external plastic appliances by the weekend. I look and feel so normal it would have been ridiculous not go to Bloomingdale’s.

My husband won’t admit it, but he is really very good at shopping: spotting the deal, knowing quality fabrics, and willing to buy just about anything that looks pretty on me. And today, he did all of this while holding my purse. Honestly, going to the mall was Bernie’s idea. It’s Chinese New Year. In addition to giving small children red envelopes of cash, everyone is supposed to get new clothes. Brodie, my little dandy, was thrilled with his take from Brooks Brothers… Teddy, my more typical child, was not so jazzed about cords as a “gift.” Happy Year of the Dragon, my friends.

This was a better day all around. However, in spite of your assurances that I needn’t feel any guilt, and as useless as it is, this emotion is more insidious than water in a New England basement. If I’m well enough to shop, then I should get home in time to pick up my kids from the bus! I don’t know who this voice belongs to, but I’m working on shutting it up. I did, in fact, feel well enough to spend lots of time with the boys tonight. Things were SO normal around here, they nearly drove me to exchange my green tea for something, anything better than &@#*$ green tea. Sensing mom was OK, both of of the boys tried to see if the usual rules still apply. They do. Tears followed. It was annoying, irritating, and beautifully normal.

Guilt and Nausea

I spent the better part of the day in bed feeling nauseated. This had nothing to do with nail-biting football or new concoctions from A-Ma. For whatever reason I could not titrate a nice balance between pain free and queasy and so took to my bed like that bitchy boy in A Secret Garden. And then felt guilty about it. All day.

This is not a feeling I normally indulge. I have an enviable life. Even with cancer, deforming surgery, poisons, and whatnot, life with Bernie and these boys is good. I have a life without homework, lots of snow days, extra recess, and the fun substitute teacher. My payback for all these blessings is the really enjoyable work of being part of this family. And right now I can’t do it. Of course no one expects me to make beds and pick up nerf darts right now, but this cancer battle stuff is going to last much longer than most people like to visit. I’m already worried that Mommy Has Taken to Her Chamber is growing tiresome. And feel like a big faker with all of this hair (for now) and quick healing wounds and lack of consumption (which Bernie is approximating quite well).

Also, I’m usually really really good at my job. I take pride in my folded fitted sheets, spotless car, gift wrapping skills, Teddy’s spelling, Brodie’s math, and successful overwintering of my tuberous begonias. I traded the challenging, busy life of a surgeon for that of Mom and applied the same fervor and a considerable more amount of enthusiasm for the job. I can recommend the best roofer, make royal icing, refinance the house, and drill math, while I do laundry and drink wine and enjoy the savory smells from the slow cooker meal, ready at 6 (depending on how early the wine was opened). I’m Tiger Mom, but with fun, and champagne, and social skills, and a husband I actually like.

Bernie’s parents (well, their “friends”) call me “most expensive wife.” I bought eight years of post-graduate education and fail to bring a single dime into our pretty, stucco life. A-Ma used to joke that I should hang my diplomas in the kitchen. But at least I had the smug satisfaction of running this joint well. Now I can’t stomach the smell of cereal, lift the teakettle, or even hug the boys properly. I don’t know how long I’m going to be unemployed, and what’s worse, will need to let go of that smug satisfaction that no one can do this better than I can.

Perched here on my pillows, I am especially grateful to you who are doing the job for me: the grandmas who are making sure the boys are brushed and fed and clean, the Church ladies who brought delicious, warm Chinese-medicine-free food, my husband who is picking up the slack in spite of a lingering pneumonia, and the grandpas who are entertaining small boys with unending questions, requests to reach this or find that, and reasons not to go to bed. But the guilt is making me sick.


Has it been three days without Cancer? I’m in a drug-addled haze surrounded by the most beautiful flowers and smorgasbord of delicious foods. I have a very overqualified and devilishly handsome private duty nurse. The children have been whisked away to a basketball game to stay up way past their bedtime and the fallout tomorrow won’t be my problem. But because I enjoy remembering the names of these children we normally look after, I tried to wean down the pain medication. Too soon. I’m going to be loopy for a little while longer.

I want to write to all of you and tell you how delicious the salmon was, and that the lentil soup is gone, and that Dad ate ALL of Mary’s cookies, and the Chinese take-out passed Asian standards with flying colors, but I fear I’m not making a lot of sense right now.

But what I do have is Peace.

This warm, postoperative calm I owe to friends who have organized my meals, my support network, (and while I was in surgery, my PLAYROOM!) and to Paige who can make you feel like you don’t need to cut your own meat, or the gift of these grandparents who are the only people who will watch over and love these boys as much as I do. But Peace remains while April nurses her own husband back to health after his shoulder surgery, and Nicole plans her 12 year old’s birthday party, and Paige has returned to her own family that needs her, and the grandparents try to figure out if it’s too soon for visitors, or energy work, or cocktail hour. (Yes, yes, and no for those keeping score.) And this warm feeling isn’t the work of the Vicodin.

When Paige became super Churchy over a decade ago she explained that the proper order of one’s relationships is as follows: God, spouse, children, others. She sagely warned how easy it is to mix this up after having kids (especially ones like mine that are little clones of the man I married). But as long as the order is respected, Peace prevails. I look back to your shared prayers (500 of them!) and see how you kept me on course. Thank you for keeping me in your kind thoughts. You’ve been in mine… and featured in a bizarre and hilarious assortment of dreams only He can interpret.

Peace and Love…


I’m safely enthroned on my comfy bed surrounded by love, doting relatives, and a ridiculous number of pillows. Brodie had many gentle hugs for me, and Teddy just wanted to know if “they did that boob thing already?” I had been dreading this day most of all, and yet the overwhelming feeling this morning was relief. I woke up to Grace. It can only be through all of your support and prayer that I was able to see the truth: the cancer was removed, I’m still ME, and artfully mussed short hair bedhead can be kind of cute.

There is still a long road ahead of healing and chemotherapy that I’d like to tackle without entirely relinquishing my favorite jobs as Wife and Mom. But right now I’m going to enjoy being utterly lazy. Frankly, you don’t want to mess with Paige’s system once she’s gotten it into place. In less than one week, Zealot Sister has my boys clearing their own dishes and consistently saying bedtime prayers. I might even get a “yes ma’am” out of them before she leaves (sadly, in two days).

Many of you have asked, and my honest answer is that I’m not ready for visitors. My only job right now is to heal, take drugs, and have not so cute bedhead. But I did want to type it because it is true: I’M OK! I heard this message in prayer many times, but didn’t really believe it until I was out of the operating room last night. Even this morning, as a team of residents barged in to stare at my (improved!) body in an unflattering gown and harsh light, that feeling remained. And now I can see it reflected in the eyes of my family, these little boys, and my handsome-prince-charmy husband. I asked for love and prayer, and all of you delivered. I asked for courage, and I have it in spades. I mentioned flowers, and have half of Winston’s inventory. Never has my house been so full of love and blooms.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Good night, friends.

Last Supper

I only have two more hours to eat something fabulous. I should have planned this better: the meal itself, and having any sort of appetite. Nancy’s cosmic message of the day has worked. “Pretend it isn’t happening.” April and Nicole took the children, and Paige and I went for pedicures like carefree bridesmaids. But now that the little boys are clean and tucked in, the bag is packed, and the evening hours of waiting loom ahead, I cannot continue the denial.

Tomorrow will be a great and successful day. It is, in fact, Adam’s (my plastic surgeon) birthday. I spent a good part of the weekend trying to purchase something truly spectacular and very expensive for him. As it turns out, salespeople in those kinds of stores are just dreadful and never guess that I do not browse. So although Adam is coming in on his week off, and his birthday to boot, I’ve got nothing but a thank you note for the worst day of my life.

Tomorrow is super awesome because it is the day that I get rid of breast cancer! Hooray! Yay! Yeah. Yup. It’s the only way I can wrap my head around it, and it still sucks. SUCKS. But it beats dying. And I will happily, gratefully endure anything to stay with this man I married and these two very cute creatures we created.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my body. And have many thank yous for it. It’s gotten me out of a few speeding tickets, and into any number of clubs and fantastic dresses. These loyal body parts have earned me discounts, ogling, dates, cat calls, the bartender’s attention, and I’ll finally admit it… that A in high school physics. I’m sad about it. I didn’t answer messages today because I’m unable to make light of it. And those of you who had to hear my voice (Dad) might have suffered the more for it.

Cancer Free Britt promises to be more cheery. In the meantime, the sea of prayers arrives in waves that tell me everything will be fine, better than fine, actually kind of miraculous. I never feel alone. What a blessing to able to type that and for it to be true! I am in His hands and your prayers and trust both entirely.

Chocolate. Red wine. Ativan. I have until midnight


A-Ma is trying to get me to meditate. She found the sweet spot for energy in the house, smack in the middle of the kitchen. She instructed me to perch there, on the edge of a dining chair, and focus all of my energy on one finger. And when that finger gets warmer, apparently I’m on to something. You cannot know how routine such a discussion is here at the Lee’s. Bernie and I have always shied away from his parent’s insistence that we practice meditation. Maybe it’s a great and good thing… but I’ve got legos to assemble and laundry to sort.

Partly because I’m amused and partly to understand this (nonsense) better, I asked A-Ma what is the difference between meditation and prayer. This was ill advised. After 25 minutes on the history of biofeedback and its relationship to XiGong, the answer was simple: “if you feel the warm connection from God, then you don’t need all of this.” I realized then that A-Ma and A-Gong are worried about our connection to Him, and think it’s their duty to make certain, especially now, that it is established.

I became an Asian child when I married into this great family. I get unconditional love, unchecked and unending financial support, endless babysitting services, fantastic food, disgusting food, and lots and lots and lots of unsolicited advice. The latter comes in the form of many “You need to…” statements that have me at times giggling behind my chopsticks, and other times praying for patience. In this family, I will always be the child deferring to my elders. It would be so easy to throw down the cancer card, remind them I have multiple degrees in science, or drink heavily. But instead, Bernie and I retreat to our bedroom at night and have giggle fits… and then admit that, yes, some of that batshit crazy stuff is true.

My wonderful in-laws have helped me raise little boys who will eat almost anything (early introduction of fried rice), sleep peacefully (energy beads), and know God (without an advanced degree in meditation). There are so many things I have done correctly because of them. However, right now the “you should…” statements are more irritating than giggle-worthy. I don’t need to do anything right now except pray and protect my boys—Bernie included. But it’s the Asian parent way… to “you should” the child onto the right path. But they can’t discipline me out of this diagnosis. And I don’t need the magical portal amongst the appliances to connect to God. I have all of you.

At a very low point today, I got a text from Al… how could he know I was about to pull over to the side of the road and lose my mind? And Nancy sent me a message that nothing I could do or say could “jinx” anything (a big fear of mine). When I get too exhausted to pray, I know Bob is offering up a song for me, and David a rephuah schlema (google it), or this from Drew: “We will love you most on January 17th. Until January 18th, when we will love you more.” Your prayers feel like extra credit assignments I get to turn in as my own. And I want A-Ma and A-Gong to understand that we’ve got this covered. But I might have to sit in the kitchen pretending my finger’s getting really hot to convince them.


My beautiful mother in law, A-Ma!