Back in the mid-90s, Nicole and I were roommates and fellow Immunology graduate students. A few times a week, we would quit our mouse murdering, gel loading, and cell spinning to put in a few pre-pasta hours at The Lady Gym. These were the days when fat was bad, carbs were good, merlot was popular, and yoga was for smelly weirdos who couldn’t run six minute miles while watching Friends. Bored with the Stairmaster, Nicole took the smelly weirdo class one day and was hooked. She urged me to join her, extolling the virtues of stretching en masse; and because Nicole wasn’t wrong about sushi or The Gipsy Kings, I reluctantly agreed to try a class. I marched my Rachel haircut and former-gymnast bravado into the studio and spent the next 45 minutes trying hard not to laugh at, well, pretty much everything.

Do NOT do this if you’re menstruating. Eww. Why?

This pose cleanses the adrenals. MASSAGE your adrenal glands! That’s not where your adrenal glands are, and even if you could, massaging them would spell disaster.

BREATHE into your SPINE. Huh?

Namaste. Jesus.

Because I couldn’t stop giggling at the (perfectly pretty and absolutely annoying) instructor, I left early and spent the next fifteen years making fun of yoga… and anyone in flared pants that claimed intimacy with her adrenals. I went back to my Gravitron, elliptical, and treadmill to dispassionately count the minutes until I could dismount these instruments of torture, resigned to exercise as a form of punishment for diminishing hotness. And paid $75 per month for the displeasure of it.

I know plenty of women who adore working out, who love to run more than I love to sit, who train for marathons and triathlons and other vomit-inducing feats of endurance. But you’ll never find me wrapped in a foil blanket. Compelled by postpartum body distortion, I pay a lot (A LOT) of money to have a professional force me to squat and lift and pull and repeat repeat repeat because left to my own devices, I’d always choose less strenuous undertakings for a child-free morning in stretchy pants. I’m just happier when my heart rate (and everything else) is resting, and I continue to approach exercise like flossing, Costco shopping, or other unavoidable, irksome chores. I certainly never expected to revisit The Land of the Adrenally Aware… but that all changed when I went to Nordstrom’s with April.

So many little deaths occur in fitting rooms. All of us occasionally loathe that girl in the mirror and hurl bullying remarks at her bulges and zipper defiance. It was one of those days shimmying in and out of one-size-too-small when I was struck with total appendage envy. April has great guns. Every dress looked fabulous with her sculpted triceps accessories. Forget the teeny Missoni… I wanted April Arms. Was she swimming? Lifting? Starving?

Ugh, seriously?

Fifteen years of yoga ridicule halted by pure vanity. Now, if my no-nonsense, scientist-turned-mommy friend could stifle sniggers to ohm-for-arms, then certainly I could give it another chance?

I could, and I did, and I didn’t laugh once being rather preoccupied with gasping for humidified air. And now, I habitually join a group-sweat-and-stretch with a room full of people sharing a collective yogi-crush on a man named Maasaki. I sign up early to get a spot with Jacqui whose beauty and wisdom transcend her ridiculously townie accent. And though I’m hooked on these absurd poses, addicted to the heat of the room, psyched for the opportunity to do splits and handstands… to be perfectly honest, I’m doing it for the sake of my jiggle-y bits. I fake the chants, and my inner Catholic finds all of the third eye pressured bowing to be goofily blasphemous. The mini catnap at the end will always be my favorite part. But these instructors make it tolerable by not taking it all so seriously (or referencing their adrenals). And it’s one of the few places I never feel cold, or weak. Having spent so many months bald, tired, and shivering, yoga gets a big Namaste shout out for that.

I now realize that my first yoga class with Nicole sucked. Taught properly, even this mocking mommy can suspend downward dog derision for one hot hour of chatarangas. But I always find myself high-tailing it out of that sweltering room, feeling like an interloper in a cult. Though I’m a regular at Hot Vinyasa Flow, I haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or bought anything at lululemon. I’m still a skeptic, and this keeping-it-at-(toned) arms-length has a judge-y, un-Christian feeling to it… even though it’s just yoga. And to be fair, I have learned a thing or two on that sticky mat. Jacqui often says, “If your eyes aren’t closed, and you’re comparing yourself to everyone else, you might look fancy… but that’s not what it’s all about.” And she totally has a point. So I’ll keep going back. (Until my arms look like April’s.)

The Millers

After all of that depressing rumination on death and disseminated disease, it’s time for some Harold and Maida. Ahhh, The Millers… whenever I think about my ancient neighbors, it makes me smile, or giggle, (and hope they’re not on the floor unable to get up). It was Halloween the first time I met Dr. Miller. He was a spry 92 years when he shuffled across the street to give my boys some early treat-or-treating candy, “we’re too old to have people ringing the bell all night.” He welcomed us to the neighborhood, and reported a happy half-century in his (now crumbling, but still pretty) center brick Colonial. Harold was thrilled we were a family of doctors, and he rattled off his curriculum vitae culminating in his Reagan era retirement from surgery. As he hobbled back home, I just had to follow him to meet his bride, Maida, who was balancing on her tennis-balled walker, sporting wrap-around glaucoma glasses, compression stockings, and boatloads of chutzpah.

From that day, I kind of adopted the Millers (and they, me). I’m fascinated by their sustained marriage, their ability to endure unassisted, their quick minds inside of their failing bodies, their never-ending stream of flattery, and the ever funny predicaments that befall my ridiculously elderly friends.

“Oh, Britta…” (Maida’s pet name for me), “it’s just so nice to have someone pretty to look at over here.”
“Deep down, you really are a good, Jewish girl.”
“Harold had three cocktails…. we spent most of the flight thinking he was dead.”
“Please don’t worry about us, Britta. We’re decrepit, but we can still find the remote.”

Over the years, I’ve spent dozens of mornings at their Formica kitchen set to share my pumpkin bread and little boy news. If the kids request a quick visit on the way home from the bus stop, the Millers can be found having drinks in the living room at 4. They still take the car out for lunching (yikes), and Maida still makes the pot roast on Sunday. If I offer to do a bit of grocery shopping for them, they mostly refuse… or only need vodka. But now (at ages 96 and 89), Harold (but not Maida) has decided it’s time to sell the house.

Maida’s very suspicious of the real estate agent that knocked on their door this summer and offered them a million dollars for a house bought for little more than what we’ve spent on Legos. She’s doesn’t trust this “shyster” who is trying to dupe her out of her home, despite the completely generous offer (and the fact that Maida keeps falling down the stairs). “And you know what, Britta? I think she is going to rip everything out!” I look around at this 1962 time capsule with its sagging ceilings, duct-taped carpets, peeling linoleum, and black-mold encrusted windows… and I see a too-big house that could kill them in a half a hundred ways.

But this is the home of a successful surgeon and his family. Their son was married in the back yard. Maida remains furious that the neighbor’s gardener ruined her grapevines and apple trees—a dispute with the Jacobs that is 30 years strong. And she’s still proud of her living room, draped in cloths in anticipation of some future, uncover-worthy guests. A-Ma has suggested that the house is imbued with a superpower Chi, that it must be a Feng Shui nirvana for these two to keep plodding along like there are so many tomorrows. She has even snooped around the yard a few times attempting to grasp the energy of the Miller Stronghold, and finding it in spades, recommended that we buy this Magic House across the street. But I think Harold and Maida have found the secret to longevity by assuming that there will always be more time; because for them (for nearly a century!) there always has been. It’s hard to ignore the power of this kind of willful naiveté:

“Oh, if Jerry gets that job in Shanghai, we might go live over there for a couple of years…”

Although they spend half of the year living in a more assisted way in California, the Millers still fly back to the house where they began their married life, and spend the warmer months getting never-filled quotes for a Stannah Stairlift, gleefully yelling at political callers that they’re sworn to Obama, and sharing muffins with their butt-inski blonde neighbor who doesn’t bother knocking anymore. I’ve been coaching Maida to say, “yes” to everything: “Sell the house? Yes! Throw things away? Yes! Move to California? Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Oh, Britta, this is a youthful way to think.”

I now have little doubt that Maida will botch the purchase and sale and hold on to her home until her final pot roast. I think the Millers will probably be our neighbors for another handful of Halloweens during which I will continue to worry about them coexisting with a stove and stairs. But I will butt-owski out of their decision to sell because, well, (in addition to it being none of my business) having them around just makes our life a bit brighter, funnier, fuller. While I’ve been morbidly fixated on “life is short,” the Millers are enduring proof that (maybe?) it’s not. For them, the house is likely a symbol that they still have time. And Maida’s not giving up one second. Not for a million dollars.

Amazing Maida, my funny wonderful friend

Amazing Maida, my funny wonderful friend


God’s Plan

Recently one of Bernie’s (favorite) patients was diagnosed with recurrent, metastatic breast cancer. He’s been at this job for nearly a decade but this news is always a punch in the stomach. And now, we can’t possibly distance ourselves with a we’ll-keep-her-in-our-prayers-and-now-there’s-laundry-to-fold way. Nancy described it like this:

“It must be surreal for the two of you to be pressed so close to the glass between what man can do and God’s plan.”

I keep returning to Hester Hill Schnipper’s* mantra for those diagnosed with disseminated Cancer: “it’s not curable, but it’s treatable.” While I focus on the hope of that statement—that medicines (poisons) can keep this vibrant, beautiful mom around for a long, long time—Bernie reviews the entire case for reassurances that The Team didn’t fail her. Did the surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists have the best plan? Is her cancer unusual, receptor negative, aggressive, (or in all ways unlike mine)? But the real nagging question is, “Why didn’t anyone cc God on the plan? Why isn’t God on the damn Team?” Zealot Sister may have answers for this… but I don’t.

I met her in Costco. Only days after the pathology report sentenced me to months of surgeries and baldness, Bernie and I took our prepare-for-the-Armageddon shopping list to the superstore. Bulk buying has never failed to improve the mood of my husband, and grocery preparedness seemed like a better plan for the day than putting on the brave face for the kids. As our carts met mid-aisle at the canned corn, Bernie’s former patient recognized her doctor, and after introductions I was given the usual spiel of Bernie-gratitude that I never tire of hearing. But she could sense something was wrong. So right there, under the eyes of a hundred Jolly Green Giants, I told this complete (to me) stranger, that I was about to be a patient in the same office that treated her. More hugs, tears, and assurances that life would eventually return to normal. She had long, gorgeous hair. She pointed to her over-sized cart that was brimming with all of the provisions for a teenage sleepover at her house. She was Survival in Skinny Jeans, proof of a fun-filled life down the road. And now for this lively, pretty lady who was so quick to share this-is-scary tears with me at Costco… all of that surgery and chemo didn’t keep her Cancer away.

I think all of us here in Pink Ribbonville try (and often fail) to keep tears at bay when someone new is diagnosed. It’s part of our Welcome Wagon package. The news dredges up all of the terror, pain, cold, and loss I don’t want anyone else to experience. Now as a new Cancer Veteran, I occasionally entertain the notion that a cosmic card has already been punched. At the very least I have a two-year Jury Duty served kind of exclusion? But the real possibility of recurrence, or (in Hester’s case) a second primary tumor, or the death sentence of metastatic disease looms for all of us. Recently, as this crappy news cast a large shadow over Bernie and me, and Maria, and the rest of the Team of Doctors who are caring for this lovely lady, I need to believe that God is on the Team. Of course he’s in on the plan: He scripts The Plan. And maybe Zealot Sister has answers for the then why? Why? WHY?… but I don’t.


About Me

Nancy says the site needs an About Me section. Really? I think you know all about me at this point. The mere notion brings to mind that famous college essay published in some literary rag and passed around in the early 90s (via photocopies as there was no email or internet, youngsters). Do you remember it? The applicant eschewed all formality and just told a whole bunch of whoppers. It was endearing and entertaining; unfortunately Ivy wannabes have been plagiarizing it for years so it has lost its spark. But whenever I’m asked to pen a blurb about myself, the most ridiculous things come to mind.

My crowning achievement in 10th grade was winning an award at the Regional Typing Championship (ahem, First Place, Region 9). As the quickest typist in school, I was sent to some remote locale to represent Unionville High amongst the other, future Girl Fridays with this silly talent (I recall no boys stationed at any of the IBM Selectrics). The contest was on the weekend, and I remember mom dragging her feet to drive me to the outskirtiest township for the dubious honor of being asked to type competitively. I can’t remember how well I did against the rest of the state, but it was enough for a loudspeaker shout out by the Principal during the Morning Announcements. I was kind of proud. I mean, seriously, 60 wpm without errors? Yeah, beat that.

Lisa, my best friend, came barreling down the hall after homeroom and I prepared myself for congratulations and accolades.

“YOU DORK! Oh my GOD! I can’t believe they announced that. Are you SO embarrassed?”

Um, now I am.

So I am reluctant to write the About Me section because even though writing little essays might be something I can do quickly (and with some style… or at least my style), maybe this “talent” is a touch embarrassing in my willingness to over-share it.

As I grappled with blog design and cutting and pasting (ooh, and putting fun pictures into the posts!) last week, I got a phone call from good old Lisa Taylor (Pfeufer). She recently passed her 5-year cancer free anniversary and wanted to let me know that she was still keeping up with my story over here. She assured me that although there are thousands of breast cancer blogs out there, I need to keep writing—that this aftermath-y time is unique, that these feelings pass, and that it’s important to document them in the moment. And also, that I’m not a total DORK for having a blog.

This still won’t suffice as an About Me section (will it Nancy?). Hmmm, I also do a spot on seagull imitation, can still recite all of the prepositions in alphabetical order, and as mentioned before, I fold a mean fitted sheet. Seriously, you’d never know if it was flat or fitted from my dexterously folded stack. It’s a gift. Multiple publications in scientific journals (one in Aquatic Botany!), two graduate degrees, oodles of honor societies, Master Gardener, wife, mom, and fried-rice slinging breast cancer survivor is probably what Nancy had in mind. But isn’t the Typing Champ story more fun?


Holding on to this trophy all of these years probably says more about me than any About Me section ever could.

Blogging (ewww)

After months of over-sharing on the CarePages, I think that a startling number of you have become familiar with All Things Lee. But maybe a new site warrants a one-time explanation of how someone who kind of loathes the whole idea of blogging ended up doing just that? When Nancy urged me to write a synopsis for the faraway editor, I was able to sum up the experience with my usual, AP English, five paragraph style (Mrs. Byrne would be so proud of me).


With a devoted husband, adorable children, steadfast friends, and prayer circling Episcopalians, I don’t know anyone who marinates more happily in Love than this formerly blonde girl. How boring: mom with Cancer has fantastically supportive network. But my story is more than mooning over my near perfect children and prince charmy husband. This blog is also about my Taiwanese in-laws, deep love of champagne, shameless vanity, and blossoming Faith. As a former physician and immunologist, I’ve confronted the scientific, technical, and emotional aspects of mastectomy and breast reconstruction from both sides of the operating table and found that in the end, no matter what you know, it’s all about prayer and hair.

I was a forty-year-old stay-at-home-despite-a-bunch-of-diplomas mom when I responsibly scheduled that first (and last) screening mammogram and came home with Cancer: the invasive, drastic surgery, go bald kind. In my past life as a surgical resident, I’d looked at oodles of mammograms and assisted an attending physician on many lumpectomies, lymph node biopsies, and mastectomies. Coincidentally, my darling husband, Bernie, is a plastic surgeon, and his practice focuses almost exclusively on reconstructive breast surgery. Bernie does exactly this for a living, and has treated over a thousand women like me. Bernie is not only a surgically skilled perfectionist, he is also widely published in this field, associate editor of a major plastic surgery journal, co-founder of the largest DIEP flap center in New England, and currently the Acting Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at his hospital. For the pair of us, this was very familiar territory; and we largely ignored the made-for-the-movies irony of a premier breast cancer surgeon’s wife getting breast cancer. But even a well-connected, unusually well informed couple can be quite pedestrian in the scared shitless department. However, we had the warm blanket of knowledge, and complete trust in the people who are caring for me. Nearly all of the experts in this field are Bernie’s colleagues, they are our friends. Unfortunately this not only robbed me a healthy bit of denial, but also meant I had to stand naked and scared in front of people I’ve known for years.

In the teary panic that followed my diagnosis, and the following days awaiting results from scans and biopsies, Bernie sanctioned and my friends established the CarePages ( This was intended to keep well-wishers in the loop, and away from the phone and my front door. It was such a good idea… and I wanted no part of it. I insisted it should be left wide open to anyone who wanted to join it because, ewww, email INVITES to ask otherwise happy people to share in my current terror? Blech. Also, I’d never post anything, you know, PERSONAL. But what began as a simple site to announce test results and casserole preferences to a handful of mommies and cousins evolved into a real blogging (ewww) sort of thing. Very quickly it became vital for me to compose these little essays to assuage the fear of my family and friends, and to make some sense of the “why me?” of it all. Also, there was another story that kept leaking into those 3am postings: my life as a dutiful daughter-in-law in my husband’s Taiwanese family. Their wacky superstitions, foods, advice, and energy audits were even more magical, ridiculous, helpful, and hilarious once Cancer entered the picture. I also kept writing because aside from the pink books that told me I wouldn’t die, I couldn’t stand what I was reading.

As I organize these essays into some sort of readable story, I realize that I’m a bit of a Jesus girl. Although I was a relative newcomer to our Church, I found myself on a handful of committees and had just wrapped up co-chairing our annual fundraising event when I got the bad news. These faithful people, some who I had only ever met briefly, mobilized an army of parishioners whose prayers I swear I could feel. The support of my Church community has been my crutch. Even better than VIP status at the hospital as Mrs. Dr. Bernie Lee was the knowledge that my fellow parishioners were out there, sending me cosmic healing messages of Love.  The God I’ve come to know is an ever-present, ever-loving gift. My prayers still smack of kid-who-wants-a-pony, but at least now, as a result of this ordeal, I feel like there’s a deeper conversation happening.

East Meets Breast: wife of Taiwanese plastic surgeon gets breast cancer, hilarity ensues, God appears. Ultimately, though, it’s a love story… a love story between two people who just happen to know a good deal about breast cancer and its treatment. And though I have chronicled the fallout of this diagnosis on my family and small children, I hope that I did that with love and a greater deal of humor than the dry and terrifying cancer blogs I cruised to find survival stories. If they are like me, women struggling with the terror of breast cancer are eating these up like salted caramels. All of us are looking for stories with better endings. Or barring that, just stories that are better stories.


The Family Lee at our silly best… (photo credit:


I still haven’t decided if all of the CarePages entries should be shuttled over to provide the background for East Meets Breast. I’ll probably leave them behind and sally forth with stories of The Aftermath: short hair styling, strapless dress fears, meditation with A-Gong, and very soon, A Road Trip With Steve Safran!

Spreading the News

December 2011. The mammogram was suspicious, the biopsy was conclusive. Reeling from the news that I was now the one in the 1-in-8, that I would lose my hair and maybe die anyway, it was necessary to tell the girls. Ever since the days of bang-curling and boy-calling, sleepover-snubs and friendship pins, we gals need each other in the know. For those I find to be kindred spirits (all of you dear readers), I’m a fast friend and you’re IN. I’m a sharer. And now a blogger (ew). But it all started here with this email to my oldest girlfriends, my favorite mommies, the Churchy-do-gooders who also smoke and swear, and the fierce Stockton cousins.

Hi pretty ladies, my dearest friends, the ones who know all of my secrets…

I’ve been incompletely texting/emailing some of you during this stressful week, but here’s the news: I have breast cancer. The high grade already invasive kind. We just told the boys and chemo’s got to be easier than that. I’m a mess. No amount of waterproof mascara can help. But Ativan is getting me through this day so far. I have an amazing husband who is one of the world experts in this exact area, and is still the love of my life. I have local friends who will take my kids at a moment’s notice. I already have casseroles on the doorstep. And the twin grandmas arrive today to be a flurry of cute activity. We’ve prepared the boys for lots of tears.

I plan to be positive, upbeat, witty, and not dead. But I may be texting you at odd hours so I can hear, “it’s OK” again.  And I don’t plan to keep this hush hush… especially when I could be spending Spring Break fashionably bald. So I’d appreciate if you could tell the people I haven’t. So I don’t have to explain why I’m drinking all of this green tea instead of my usual bubbles.

I will call all of you eventually… but right now, doing that makes me cry and I don’t want to terrify the children any more today.



My willingness to go public was the inspiration for the CarePages which netted me a prayer circle of 200 faithful followers and over a thousand heartfelt and hilarious messages about God and Love, Beauty and Strength, Boobs and Hair. But now that the wigs and hats have been shoved into the back of the closet it makes sense to move my little musings over to a site that doesn’t really insist that you Care in a casserole-cooking, care-package crafting kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still take those prayers in my steadfastly superstitious need to ward off the evil eye of recurrent cancer. But this site is primarily for fun. And because it’s not edited for content (or filth) it’s open to all sorts of literary shenanigans.

Welcome to East Meets Breast.

Leisure Boy

A-Ma is an artist. She picked up some pastels and began dabbling about seven years ago, but now has moved on to winning awards for her oil paintings. That A-Ma would be so gifted is no surprise to me. If Emily Lee is passionate about something, that shit gets done. And for my in-laws, this could never be a doodle-y amateurish pastime. Nope, they establish interest groups, create invitational exhibitions, solicit prizes, and make it all official sounding with names like International Taiwanese Artists Teacher’s Society. (Which totally exists.) Around the same time A-Ma started churning out fruit-on-table and beach scenes, A-Gong developed a love of photography. This aligned temporally with his love of Ebay and acquisition of many, many, many cameras. Again, my in-laws are not content to tool around collecting snapshots for the family albums. Nope, they arrange expensive tours to take sunrise and sunset pictures all over the planet, and then host elaborate photo exhibitions like a 21st century version of vacation slideshows our parent’s generation used to bore their neighbors with in the 70s. Only theirs has an awards ceremony. But no cheese cubes.

Both of my in-laws are really quite talented. Not that I have an artistic eye at all, but the portraits undoubtedly resemble the family members A-Ma is rendering, and A-Gong has captured some incredible rice paddy panoramas, birds-in-flight, fireworks, flowers, icicles, leaves, rocks, sky (as his hoarding tendencies spill over into photo editing). Occasionally I think we live in the Lee & Lee auxiliary gallery, but I love having these framed, beautiful paintings and photos on the walls. Sometimes I’ll find the art show tag on the corner, with teeny tiny Chinese figures I assume is a description or price. But if I’m really lucky, someone has translated the title into English.

I don’t know they are attempting some sort of poetry, but the titles are just fantastic. A picture of my toy-sharing toddlers is entitled, “Friendlines, Respectfulness.” And the latest addition to our walls is a really rather large painting of Teddy squatting atop a jungle gym. It’s A-Ma’s latest oil masterpiece and its submission to a Cape Cod art exhibition required her to choose a name and price for an almost-life-size rendering of my little boy. I still wonder if the judges giggled as much as Bernie and I have about “Leisure Boy, $5000.”

I figure displaying their artwork all over my houses gives me leave to poke all sorts of fun at them. But after three paragraphs of doing just that I realize there is a lesson to learn from the wacky and wonderful industry of my in-laws. They’d never wait for a faraway editor to find something worth publishing from a CarePage. Nope, they’d form their own International Society of Taiwanese Web Writers, invite guest authors, solicit prizes, and organize more cheese cube-less forums. The confidence, bravery, and commitment A-Ma and A-Gong bring to their artwork elevates it far beyond “hobby.” I kind of love that. Alternatively, it’s just another Asian thing:  why bother slapping paint on canvas unless there are prizes and someone wins?

Although writing these silly essays continues to be fun and therapeutic, the attempt at chronicling my life into a book feels vain (even for me) and forced and blah blah blah boring. But as I watched A-Gong design his own Chinese blog about Energy Work last weekend, I wondered if it’s time for me to get this show on the road. I still giggle over what Steve Safran wrote when I first announced the existence of these CarePages:

“Here are several problems I have with this.
1. It being “Care Pages” makes me feel I need to be sincere. As you know, this is a character defect of mine.
2. There will be caring, loving statements on this page.
3. While I care and love, I express those emotions in somewhat different ways. As in through a total lack of caring and loving.
4. Those who care and love are bound to see my statements and feel I am wishing terrible things upon you.
5. I am not. I am wishing terrible things upon most non-Jews, but not you, a TOTAL shiksa goddess.”

And now that I’m feeling so great, maybe my little ditties are ready for an audience that isn’t expressly asked and required to Care, at a site that doesn’t sensor my use-for-emphasis potty mouth, and isn’t so buggy with the logging in. As I toyed with blog design late last night I got stuck at the very first step: I need a title. (Which totally exists. And it’s me. Thanks, Steve.) Leisure Boy 5000? East Meets Breast? That every title embodying the scariest, faith-testing time in my life is somehow silly and funny says oodles about how much having an audience has helped me through it. Wherever these musings land, I hope you’ll find me there.

Leisure Boy, $5000

Leisure Boy, $5000

Off the List

Autumn at the Lees: cords that go weenk-weenk, carrying the one, Way to Go! stickers on spelling tests, pumpkin muffins, and boys (all three) piled on the couch to watch football and grind potato chip crumbs into the cushions. The kids weren’t interested in fall soccer (hooray!) so weekends can be spent mum-planting, apple-picking, and nothing-doing. I adore this stretch of time from the first yellow bus sighting leading up to the decking of halls. It’s an optimistic time of year that feels very hug-your-neighbor to me. I feel so strong and hopeful that I took my biggest leap of Faith to date: I told Laine to remove my name from the Redeemer prayer list.

Of course this felt all sorts of jinx-y to me, not to mention ungrateful. What’s the etiquette here? Britt Lee heartily thanks those who have been chatting up God on her behalf. I owe all of you a dinner out, a scented candle, a pretty card, a bottle of wine, free Botox. Your prayers are responsible for my Peace. I know that I’ll still have a steady stream from Zealot Sister and family and other do-gooders, but coming off the list was another page turned in my Book of Cancer as I write my way to the end of it.

The penultimate chapter happened last month when April invited the boys and me for an afternoon on the boat. I love the fact that April has a boat, an actually kind of big boat that supports deep-sea fishing and sleeping-of-four and peeing. I love even more the fact that I had no idea April owned a gigantic boat until I’d known her for two years, and even then didn’t know it could cocktail cruise us to Martha’s Vineyard in 20 minutes time. All of you know the myriad reasons April and I are buddies, but I’ve got to say… everyone should really get herself one of these boat-owning friends. (She’s absolutely cringing at this.)

It was a day I’ll never forget because it was a turning point for me alongside my brave little boys. The Ridiculously Athletic Anderson Family tradition is to anchor really quite far from the beach, swim to shore, and then voluntarily jump off of a really quite high bridge made famous for cinematic shark attacks. There was a little part of me that wondered why I did all of that surgery and chemo if I was going to die in the open ocean trying to keep up with the aquatic shenanigans of this towheaded team of Andersons. But I did it. I strapped a boogie board to my wrist and swam my boys to shore. I helped Brodie hurl himself into (shark-free) waters from the No Jumping Allowed Bridge. My boys saw me swimming strongly, sanctioning risks, and having fun with a glass of Sancerre in my hand and the wind in my short hair. I’ve come a long way from the trappings of Sick Mommy.

But the boys haven’t put this on the out-of-reach shelf yet. Just a few days after the boating excitement, the boys witnessed me arguing with CVS staff about tamoxifen refills. Then, because it was a rainy, chilly day at the Cape, my stolen afternoon reading time morphed into zzz’s under the covers. Teddy found me snoozing in the afternoon and asked, quite devastatingly, “Mommy, did you have chemo again today?” Ugh. Guilt. A thousand reassurances about what tamoxifen does and does not do. I may never nap again.

So although I am fine and well and fully encourage the return to regularly scheduled prayer programs, maybe you’ll keep Brodie and Teddy in mind for a little longer. Although bridge jumping kinds of days assure them that I’m better, I cannot know how large their catalog of bad memories looms. But just when I needed it, I was given a little hint of angels in their midst. Teddy returned from his first day of school and described his 2nd grade teacher: “She’s nice. And she’s REALLY good at keeping secrets.” Every grown up should strive to inspire that summary from a child. As Teddy continues to make sense of that nutty time when mommy slept through afternoons, I know he’ll keep us posted with heartbreaking and hilarious journal entries to his trusted teacher. Certainly his self-confidence hasn’t been tested by any of this. When I asked him what kinds of secrets she’s so good at keeping he was quick to tell me, “… she’d never tell the other kids how good I am at math.”


First Day of School