Cancer, Facebook, and Harley Quinn’s Ass

Dear Facebook Love Your Spouse Challenge,

It’s not you; it’s me. Typically happy to over-share and post flattering photos of my beloved and me holding cocktails on decks and beaches, I’m not going to do this competitively. Like many, I am exhausted of arguments that we can’t do anything if it alienates, triggers, ignores, belittles, or otherwise doesn’t include everyone on the planet. But your recent “challenge” made me mindful of how my newly widowed, freshly divorced, or not perennially-euphoric-about-her-spouse friend might dry heave at seven separate updates of Bernie and me being, well, Bernie and Me. Also, if you’ve ever read EMB (now B&B), the early years are more a tribute to my husband than Suicide Squad is a 2-hour homage to Margot Robbie’s ass.

I realize I just compared Bernie to a perfect posterior. And though he’ll appreciate that, it’s probably not what your Challenges intend us to do. Seven days of Prove You Love Your Spouse means posting pictures holding Solo cups in dorm rooms, cutting the wedding cake, blissfully unflattering moments with the first baby, and then finally the whole family at the beach/on the boat/in front of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t have any of these (where I look fantastic). So forgive me if I don’t play.

Truth be told, I avoid anything that smacks of audience participation. I ignored the Ice Bucket Challenge. I have zero interest in riding a bike from P-town to kingdom come– even in the name of Cancer. I won’t come up on stage or whoo hoo. I will raise one limp arm for The Wave. When asked to high five my neighbor in spin class, I’ll give an enthusiastic slap… but secretly I’m irritated to be pulled into her endorphin moment and peer pressured to touch her gross, sweaty hand.

It’s not you. It’s me. I’m outwardly sunny, inwardly a little bit awful. Recently, a beautiful friend who I honestly enjoy introduced me as “the nicest mean person I know.” And I started wondering when that happened. Thing is, Facebook, Cancer made me kind of a jerk. Touched with scary disease at a young-ish age, I was launched prematurely into that personality given to older, barely-tolerating-you characters (Dowager Countess, Emily Gilmore, most of the cast of Steel Magnolias). Breast cancer knows no “remission” and so there is a might-be-dead-next-year slogan stamped in the darkest parts of my psyche no matter how favorable my five-year statistics. So I do not pretend to like or join in or ride or run or care if I don’t.

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A sweet neighbor keeps offering up inventive ideas for Family Fun. My consistent answer: “That sounds tiring.” Others might promise to visit that lighthouse, take that cooking class, or brave that water park teeming with Pseudomonas, even if they never would. But like the Dowager, I won’t feign enthusiasm for their exhausting activities for entertainment and betterment. The Olympics are on! And someone needs to hold down this couch.

And so, Facebook, when you playfully challenge me to Prove My Love for My Husband, my answer is, “Nope.” I wonder if other Cancer victims have adopted this gave-at-the-office sort of approach to peer pressured pursuits, no matter how silly or innocuous or feel-good they might be. And I honestly adore seeing Kodak moments of the people I love as they post seven days of lovey doviness. But my inner Cancer bitch (is this a thing?) prefers me on the sidelines, even if a teeny part of me knows that if I enter any Love Your Spouse Challenge… I. WILL. WIN. Because it’s Bernie, a husband lovelier than Margot Robbie’s butt.

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They’re probably asking her if she does SoulCycle…

 

 

Lees on the Road

We’ve been gone for 10 days. Two consecutive plastic surgery meetings required four flights and long hours wasted in airport security lines. In Phoenix, the retractable barriers separating switchback lines of shuffling travelers boasted “The Friendliest Airport in America!” which was contradicted by exasperated staff barking at us to empty our pockets and remove clothing that might beep. As we padded through the fucking garbage hateful scanner, I fumed at the futility of this pre-boarding nonsense. “Not one of us is a terrorist!” I didn’t scream, because then everyone would think I was a terrorist. I blushed at uniformed strangers getting a glimpse at my implants in the name of national security. “Hey, these contain MORE than four ounces!” I didn’t joke because the security line doesn’t like jokesters. Finally aboard the plane—fondled, humiliated, and bathed in the breath of strangers—it was two to four hours of restless, foodless discomfort. Hats off to those of you who travel frequently and don’t offer a constant stream of more-annoyed-than-thou tweets about the experience.

I might be a grumpy traveler, but I’m a darling meeting attendee. Honestly, I’m so darned impressed with anyone who stands up in front of a huge audience of peers to talk about what they do. Especially when what they do is restore women to pre-cancerous normalcy, even beauty. Also, there are always new people to meet and I love love love new people to meet. Isn’t everyone amazing and smart and delightful? I think so– especially when meeting them happens during cocktail hour.

I also “met” a broader tweeting community, as Bernie and I launched the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery into the social media sphere. I’ve been playing with Twitter for years: following the funny people, writing little nothings, and getting to know @JustinGuarini all over again. (He’s delightful. Go see.) With a handful of new plastic surgeons following, my feed is full of facelift facts and why you might want your implants to be textured. This community has only a small toehold in the virtual world of opinion-shouters, but it’s growing thanks to charmers like @OlivierBranford and @danielzliu. And now that I have two more #SoMe sites to monitor, I’m more attached to my phone than an Instagrammer with an Etsy, new kitten, and a kitchen remodel project.

Monitoring social media is more of a time suck than deciding what to watch on Netflix, and I have stuff to do. Or, maybe I don’t. Between these two meetings I was asked 163 times if I’m ever going to be a surgeon again. Some are genuinely wondering if that is a thwarted dream on temporary hold. Other inquiries gently imply that my days are spent waiting for repairmen and searching for delicious crockpot recipes. Which is ridiculous. I hardly use the slow cooker at all during the summer.

Once again, I found myself defending my days, recounting hours spent on “pathological volunteerism” and reminding them that submissions to the Journal are read and vetted by me first. So there, you little misspellers and Oxford comma omitters… I’m judging you!

At long last the meetings had ended and it was time to race back through airport security to attempt a standby flight to see our little boys even one hour sooner. I wanted to be home instantly. Ten days is forever. I was sure they were taller and better at math. There were missing teeth to appreciate, stories to hear, snuggles to give. We were miraculously awarded the last two seats on the plane. Squished into middles… in separate aisles… bathed in the breath of strangers. Couldn’t have been happier.

It’s nice to be home. HVAC guy should be here any minute.

Leesontheroad

Bow tied Bernie and me. Lees on tour, now happily home.

 

 

 

Lisa’s Birthday

December 16th is Lisa’s birthday. Lisa is my forever friend from age 14. We talked every single day from 1986 when I moved to her school until our graduation day in 1989… and many after that. An early winter birthday meant Lisa was a full half-year older, which was huge in the teenage timeline. When we met on my first day at the new school, I knew she had the skinny on all sorts of things from bangs to boys– possibly even banging boys. Lisa knew stuff.

“No no no, don’t sit next to those guys… come over here,” she waved with a smile and a laugh, and absolutely no concern for “those guys.”

And I knew we’d be close right from the get go. We had both erased “Yaz” into our canvas-covered binders and matched our Mia ballet flats to our sweaters. Her expertly applied Maybelline played up her clear blue eyes that complemented her perfectly permed and scrunched brown locks. Lisa was sexy. (Still is.) Every teenage girl should have a Lisa, unless she is a Lisa, in which case she might need a Britt. Lisa pulled me out of my middle child good girl persona to experiment with rules, limits, beer (blech), boys, and hair products.

One boring day in high school, Lisa convinced Scott (a senior!) to lend us his Jeep and me (with a study hall and easy-to-evade science teacher) to skip. The fact that Scott let two unlicensed girls drive his very cool Jeep off campus during a school day is testament to what boys will risk for the slimmest possibility of nookie. After spritzing ourselves with perfume at the mall and pretending to be college kids at the McDriveThru, I started wondering if we should head back to school. Lisa reminded me that I was a straight A student, would never get caught, that I’d never get into trouble anyway because I was so blonde and smart and good, and then drove directly to the curb at my house and started honking the horn.

See? Your mom isn’t even going to come out of the house. And even if she did, she’d never think it was you in the car. Because you are AT SCHOOL. Can’t be you. Relax.

And so I did. Pulling myself out from under the dashboard and pulling away from my driveway, we opened all of the windows and let out primal screams of joy and youth and freedom. And then we returned Scott’s Jeep, took our respective buses home, and immediately called each other on the phone to re-live the day and discuss how Scott was cute but, like, eww, not like that. Poor Scott.

As I watch my dearest friends’ daughters grow tall and gorgeous, I wonder if they’re a Britt or a Lisa or one of “those guys.” Can I even hope that they have the confidence of Lisa as a high school freshman? Never giving a shit about “those guys” and always completely certain she could sweet talk a boy out of his car, or anything else? This is how I want these girls to sashay through the halls of high school. But who knows this at such a young age? How do we infuse our daughters with an unshakable sense of their worth and power?

Maybe we should share our Lisa stories—the ones that reveal we didn’t always make the best choices, but that they were our own. The scariest and most fragile moments of youth can happen at the whim of thoughtless others when girls do not realize they have superpowers. Friends like Lisa would never let them doubt or forget their smarts and beauty and youth and abilities. Friends like Lisa make sure our co-conspirators for any bit of afternoon naughtiness are the ones who know us best and love us most.

Today is also the dreaded Cancer-versary, but this year I remembered it was Lisa’s Birthday first. It’s a Lisa-versary! Instead of succumbing to the seasonal blues associated with this calendar date, I’m taking a moment to remember how Lisa has always made me feel pretty, powerful, and fun. Years later she also showed me that breast cancer couldn’t take that away, either. Through her own treatment, recovery, and aftermath Lisa still approached life with a joyful passion like few others. With one in eight of us in the Shittiest Sorority, the odds weren’t entirely unlikely that we’d grow up to be cancer-ed in exactly the same way. Fitting somehow that my older, wiser buddy would get the skinny on it first. I was the physician, but Lisa knew stuff. She sent me a box of hats, socks, chocolates, and notes that were a perfect balm to the terror of the time.

Happy Birthday to my kind, crazy, sexy, wise, and hilarious friend. May all of your daughters be blessed with a Lisa—unless she is a Lisa—in which case… lucky you.

Lisa and Britt

Lisa and me… with all of our original parts… prom 1989

 

 

 

Probiotics!

At the beginning of the summer, new research revealed what all of us in the Shitty Sorority already knew: Cancer makes you fat. It was a relief to read it in peer-reviewed writing instead of hearing my oncologist tell me that I’m just “menopausal” or “can never, ever eat bread again” or I should “exercise more.” Doctors and CrossFitters and SoulCyclers will also go on and on and on about this “exercise” fad, but I’ve found most everything that elevates my resting heart rate is unpleasant and sweaty. And I’m a lady. Sadly, my go-to weight management plan that included an evening bottle of Prosecco and magical thinking wasn’t working. But I maintained great faith that persistent fatness could certainly be fixed by doing something from the couch.

All of us have at least one Facebook friend posting before-and-after midriff miracle work, and attributing it to the probiotics they are peddling. These earnest salespeople promise the shedding of pounds as their power pills button up leaky intestines and soothe fat-inspiring inflammation. During graduate school, I spent four years dissecting Peyer’s Patches from mouse guts and have a fundamental understanding of microbiology. So, I stopped mocking the pseudo-medical speak long enough to wonder if maybe all of those poisons and steroids I took during treatment repopulated my innards with an eviler blend of bacteria that never want me to wear skinny jeans. I went to the Organic Market to ask Chad which probiotic would allow me to squeeze back into my size 2s the quickest.

Chad was very helpful and steered me to the packets of pills that don’t require refrigeration or put a significant dent in my fancy shoe budget. There are as many probiotic formulations as there are vague symptoms to thwart. I decided on a daily dose to promote “digestive balance,” but it was nice of Chad to steer me away from the geriatric blends and to inquire about my vaginal health. Right there. Next to the frozen edamame and organic EVOO. I washed my first capsule down with a cold-pressed kale juice and Chinese character tattoos appeared at all of my pulse points. I’m your life coach now. Namaste.

With a profound sense of self worth and calm gratitude, I twirled out of the Organic Market and embarked on an entire month of poo improvement. I was sure I already felt amazing, and immediately began shopping for a toe ring. With a swig of cold water each morning, I came closer and closer to complete insufferability and the real chance of posting an ab selfie.

But it must be cold water, friends.

Attempting to swallow the vegan capsule with hot coffee leaves you with a mouth full of sticky pus and a sudden awareness of how sad and deluded one is to voluntarily purchase and ingest shit’s main ingredient in the pursuit of Chloe’s Revenge Body. And after my 30-day trial, I can tell you this: I’ve gained 5 pounds. I’ve also endured some rather alarming moments that a lady would never put in writing. Respectable cancer research reports an extra 11 pounds is my reward for three months of chemotherapy, but no suggestions about how to get rid of them. An extra 50 billion bacteria a day doesn’t seem to work for this girl, so it’s time for a different approach that can be initiated from the couch.

Sober September. Results to follow.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds, and also might be worth it.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds… and also might be worth it.

Making Memories

My iPod is kaput. It’s (supposed to be) waterproof. I need it while swimming laps, so instead of being BORED OUT OF MY MIND, I can just tell myself I am freestyling for seven songs. I could endure any number of unpleasant activities for seven songs. Probably. If three of them were Rhianna. Oh na na… what’s my name. Or if even one was Justin Timberlake. Mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But today I pushed off from the wall in the lap lane without a single top 40 accompaniment to lessen the obvious torture of exercise. And 30 minutes of nothing but your own thoughts and breathing is an eternity, so I stop a bit short of that. And dammit if Barb and Arnie, my elderly swim noodle bobbing exercise pals don’t notice.

“Cut it a little short today!”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, cancer-surviving Barb and Arnie, with your plastic visors, million grandchildren, lovely personalities, and sweet inquiries about my boys. BUT I CANNOT SWIM WITHOUT BEYONCE! So it’s only twenty minutes of back and forth and back and forth until I quit the pool to sit on the decking and swap Chinese restaurant recommendations with Barb and Arnie. Octagenarian Jews who snowbird in Florida know every dumpling dive like there is some Old Testament footnote that thou wilst be cashew chicken connoisseurs.

And this is how mornings go here in the summer… and the occasional evening, too. I find myself chatting up the oldest person in the pool, bar, or grocery aisle. The cancer-ed part of me is charmed by longevity and experiences, because I occasionally and morbidly wonder if I might not get to see that later version in the mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But mostly it’s because we can trade gardening tips and cluck disapprovingly at the maxi dress espadrille moms ignoring their bratty kids who encroach on the lap lane. Cluck cluck.

I do have some lovely summer mommy friends, though. I might have written that I like children about as much as exercise, so it’s rare for me to share a Chardonnay with someone whose spawn I can stomach. Also, I might be a terrible person. But my boys play tennis with a gaggle of tweens that off the courts are like a pile of ever-hungry puppies that remember to say please and thank you. Our house looks like this. Every day.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

We are in the sweet spot of parenting here and know it. In a few years, these boys will never choose to spend an entire night playing board games and video games and those made up games with the complicated scoring and occasional broken window… certainly not with moms upstairs. They’ll want to troll for cuties at the movie theater. In five years time, they’ll all be driving and dating and sneaky and smelly. The very idea that these kiddos once let us Twist and Shout with them during an impromptu dance party will be a remotely fond memory. We’ll miss them begging for brownies, sleepovers, and just five more minutes after spending untold hours together. But if we have Barb and Arnie luck, we’ll share these memories over our swim noodle bobbing routines in the lap lane.

Happy summer, friends. May all the bikes stop at your door.

I get it.

Most of my social media feeds are full of kindness. Really, y’all are a sweet bunch of voting, do-gooding, funny, and freethinking protectors of the planet and champions of the less privileged. Some get gussied up for countless events requiring large donations to noble causes; others give your time to help an elderly neighbor, staff the local food pantry, create art, and redesign all of our public spaces to be accessible and fun for everyone. A disturbing number of you have a near pathological savior complex for condemned animals and strays. And my how progressive we’ve all become! Two years ago I attended my first gay wedding with a boatload of Republicans shedding happy tears of love and support. Locally, my affluent town has voted to pay higher taxes to fund programs to bolster our vulnerable citizens. And 97% of you didn’t balk–even cheered– when our most iconic Olympic athlete transformed from the man we grew up with into the woman she was all along.

Most of you.

Some of you “will still call him Bruce,” or feel squeamish, or will compare him to a delusional white girl whose tangled web of lies included an impressive, unearned portrayal of a black woman. Indeed, there are few medical, scientific experts who study and treat these exceptional people who are at odds with the gender of their bodies. And unless you are a member of a thriving gay community, or live in New York or LA, or are Anne, you probably don’t have a single transgendered friend in your social media feeds. But armed with only un-peer-reviewed studies, a Wikipedia base of knowledge, and with no first hand experience, I think the only dissenting opinion anyone should launch onto social media regarding Caitlyn is this:

“I don’t get it.”

Of course, mainstream media wants you on board. The liberal masses don’t want your bystander nonchalance; they want full-throttle endorsement! And I suppose those who “will still call him Bruce” cannot stomach the cheers and accolades and awards for this flagrant display against God’s creation or nature or decency. The world has gone loony tunes! It’s OK. Take a beat. Remember our own parents’ opinions about homosexuals in a pre Will and Grace world? Well, regarding the transgendered, we’re still a few must-see-TV moments away. And no one will fault you for not understanding this brave new future of women-becoming-men and vice versa. But fabricating arguments in denial of something scary and true for thousands is unkind. Tying those opinions to religion makes Jesus facepalm.

Because I spent a regrettable amount of time murdering rats with a guillotine in order to study their still fresh brains, I have a small and gruesome credibility to dissuade you from comparing Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal. Though it pains my heart to read these articles, my arguments derive quite literally from the noggin. Some of you might be able to dredge up this long forgotten fact about human development: we’re all designed to be girls. The human default setting is Lady. If people had a browser that popped up automatically, it would be called Chyx. Without the effects of boy hormones (androgens) on our brains and bodies at key moments, we’re all going to need training bras and develop a complicated relationship with our bangs.

Testicular feminization syndrome is a remarkable example of the strength of our ontologic destiny– where chromosomally male fetuses whose receptors cannot respond to dude hormones can develop into completely physical girls. Luckily for some of them, their teeny growing brains are bathing in the same girly milieu, and so develop into women, too. They are able to lead less complicated lives as their brains and bodies respond to hormones in harmony. But for others, this:

Another case is instructive. An [XY] individual who is now living as a woman had been assigned as a girl at birth but was switched by a physician to live as a boy at the age of 3 months when testes were discovered. At the age of 13, her physician recommended that “he” have a mastectomy for his breast development. The surgery was performed and this individual continued to live as a boy although she had felt from early childhood that she would be more comfortable living as a girl. At the age of 22, she felt that she could not continue to live as a man and switched to living as a woman when she learned that she could obtain breast implants to regain what had been removed.1

For the transgendered, this sort of mismatch happens. Somehow the endocrine soup around the brain doesn’t gel with how the body is shaping up. It’s not a choice or a delusion; it’s biology. It’s also devastating, confusing, scary, and rare. For those who want more scientific proof than my watered-down biology lecture, I can point you to any number of rat labs with guillotines. There are also peer-reviewed research studies revealing structural differences in the transgendered human brain.

But despite more credible, kinder arguments, some of you will “still call him Bruce.” Otherwise thoughtful, smart people will keep citing the one doctor who doesn’t approve of gender reassignment surgery, or will make false comparisons to body dysmorphic syndrome, or worse, liken Caitlyn to a white girl using an enviable twist-out to be something she can never be. Caitlyn is a woman because her brain was always female. Rachel was never black because, well… she was never black.

I have another, more personal reaction to those who champion a fierce attachment to The Body the Lord Gave Us. Mine is no longer whole, but I am no less womanly for having amputated my breasts. Also, I’m alive. Like Caitlyn, I removed the parts that were endangering me, forcing me to be something I didn’t choose at all: a person with cancer. When your queasy disapproval of corrective surgery fetishizes a holy beauty of our native bodies, elevating the importance of our God-given bits and pieces over everything, how do you suppose your breast-cancered sisters feel? Well, this one stands with Caitlyn.

I get it.

Hello, Caitlyn

Hello, Caitlyn

1. Gottlieb B, Pinsky L, Beitel LK, Trifiro M. Androgen insensitivity. Am J Med Genet 1999; 89(4):210-7

Superheroes

Anyone rather personally touched by Cancer is forever changed. It’s left me scarred, occasionally scared, frequently sanctimonious, and quite blabby. Everyone approaches it differently. More elegant victims suffer it without blogs or incessant status updating. Me, I’m share-y. But every cancered parent I have met has at some moment uttered this mantra (prayer?) of thanksgiving: if Cancer must happen, then let it be me. No matter how terrifying those early moments during diagnosis, at least this was mine to bear. The children were safe.

But for thousands of parents each year, cancer isn’t theirs to endure, but instead—impossibly– to witness in the suffering of their children. Christopher’s Haven exists for them.

You might have followed a famous sports bet between adorable celebrities who promised to dress up as their superhero alter egos to benefit sick kids in the losing team’s town. But when the Patriots won, so did everyone; and Star-Lord and Captain America made appearances that did quite a bit more than lift the spirits of children with cancer. They brought attention to organizations like the Christopher’s Haven, blowing up their website in mere minutes with donations. These are things superheroes do.

Yesterday, a lovely lunch was held rather quietly in the lower level of the Loews Hotel. Co-hosted by elegant Sue Farrell and eloquent Diana Knightly, and emceed by the charming and even-prettier-up-close Shonda Shilling, this gathering honored Chris Pratt for his social media endorsement and real life contribution to Christopher’s Haven. There was an enchanting pediatric fashion show featuring current residents and alums of the Haven alongside local kids and a handful of adorable toddlers with famous last names from Fenway. And then… and then… a parent.

I’m not sure how you can speak to strangers about your little boy and his devastating brain tumor without sobbing or reverting to stock cancer tropes or feigned optimism. But this is exactly what one mom did: she stood in front of a room full of well dressed ladies and famous ball players and do-gooding Bostonians and told the truth. Daily life seemed impossible in the face of cancer treatment for their son. How would they commute two hours to the only hospital offering the only hope? Would it be possible to afford two homes or maintain some sort of family routine for the care of their other children? Adrift, terrified, and googling, this mom found Christopher’s Haven.

Within minutes this family had options. Even more, they felt immediately like they had a support network of other parents and children who could minister to their fears and hopes, share their tears and prayers, engage in actual fun, and create those forever kind of friendships. For only $30 a day, Christopher’s Haven provided them a home away from home and an opportunity for their son to have the kind of treatment that offers cautious optimism, but aims for a cure.

Cancer is around every corner for me lately. Two close friends with new diagnoses of invasive cancer and another who learned hers is metastatic disease followed the still very fresh loss of Lisa Bonchek Adams. The quiet in the wake of Lisa’s death is a daily reminder to many of us that it’s never really over. I cry whenever I learn someone must endure the drastic-surgery-and-go-bald kind of treatment. The scientist in me knows this is an impersonal effect of cells gone rogue, but the Churchy Jesus Girl falls to her knees to pray for miracles. Yesterday, the angry skeptic appeared and wanted someone to make sense of a world where children die because we cannot reliably control tumor growth.

The ultimate salve for these emotions is love. There was great love in that room of lunching benefactors yesterday. With a bit of time and money, places like Christopher’s Haven combat sadness with comfort, replace loneliness with friendship, and attack fear with community.

There is also great love surrounding my friends who in upcoming weeks will face a blur of appointments, mutilating surgeries, and terrifying, 3am googling of side effects and survival rates. For them, there may that tiny bit of relief that this is theirs to bear. But while they endure the Let It Be Me, the rest of us will rally to be their superheroes.

In the meantime, everyone in the Cancer world will appreciate these. If you don’t know what to say to your newly diagnosed friend, well, this gal will say it for you. And if you wanted to join in and help families who are enduring the worst cancers—those affecting their children—then please click on over here and be Captain America fabulous.

Love and prayers, friends.

LEMONS

For Lisa…

Do you know? Do you feel this swell of hope, love, and sorrow? Is there time to tell you, again—so you hear us, this is so important—that you are our champion? None of us is a stranger because we know you. We Love You, Lisa. You remind us, every Monday, to be more responsible, less scared… smarter. You encourage us, every day, to find beauty, share it… persevere. You showed us the Stage IV monster under the bed and how to live with it. Never shying away, never tying it up with a pink ribbon, never excusing the ravaging rogue cells who take away too much, too soon, unfairly and cruelly. This is no gift. This is no blessing.

Does it help? Can knowing you have the awesome, angry, prayerful, solemn, witty, fierce, and unrelenting support of thousands be of service? Here’s what we can do. This is what we will do. In lieu of a thousand casseroles and get-well-soons, we will plant thousands of flowers. We will donate thousands of dollars to Sloan Kettering. We will make doctor appointments on Mondays and take our Christmas lights down promptly. We will make you proud.

Lisa Bonchek Adams, you educated a nation about metastatic breast cancer while simultaneously creating a supportive community that shares information and love, blooms and corgis. Your name is an emblem of fearless writing, intelligent advice, compassionate nagging, and Beauty. We are grateful, angry, sad, beholden, and helpless. If we can have no miracles, then we wish you peace and comfort.

We Love You, Lisa.

 

Quinoa Shampoo

My shampoo lists quinoa as a vital ingredient. Quinoa. In the shampoo. Seriously. Add kale and goji berries to my daily lather and these curls would probably auto-twist into a protected enclave for honeybees. But my hair is awesome– all thick and that good sort of wavy and blonde (with assistance). I won’t demur with false modesty if you have the thoughtful notion to compliment me on my swingy locks. Ancient whole grains are not responsible for its fabulousness: this hair is still new(ish). Most of you have children and iPhones older than my ponytail. And because this mane is my badge of verve, spunk, and survival, I’m going to be as smugly proud of it as a Prius-driving, composting, “I Voted,” recycler.

A hair post on The Cancerversary is predictable for this gabby gal. Three years ago today, in April’s living room, I learned that my hair would be included, but would be the least of my losses. Breast cancer does not tolerate a reasonable, disease-free interval after which a celebratory remission is announced. And so the previously bald and anatomically reorganized veterans are left waiting, waiting, waiting. After the first year, I was just so happy and relieved to be finished with treatment. Year two found me grateful for everyone and everything and especially the ability to hold aloft a barrette. But year three? Hope feels jinxy, but the alternative is that every ache and pain is cause for worry and restless nights… or worse, biopsies and scans. So girls like me choose prayer and yield to the que sera sera quality of life colored by cancer.

Anniversaries are too powerful to be ignored. Unfortunately, this holiday season will always recall a scary time for me. Naturally, I approach this with the brand of humor only the cancered would find funny in a holiday enclosure:

“Another year… totally not dead! Merry Christmas from the Lees!”

Cancerversaries also make a sleepless night or two sort of inevitable and a drink or two sort of necessary. So I stumbled into a late night bloggy Internet discussion that I assumed was about kindness, but that was actually about race, and I was accused of microaggression (yikes) and white privilege (admittedly). As a white girl who shampoos with quinoa, I cannot imagine what I thought I could add to the discussion. And although distracting, this wasn’t the best antidote for my annual freak out. But I’m as tired of anger as I am of looming cancer. I want feel-good, Christmassy stories, people! Distract me with mirth!

It is an unfair luxury to be exasperated by angry people. No one is trying to kill my kids or treating them like criminals. I cannot know that anger. I believe we can all just assume the best of each other because no one has ever, ever assumed anything else of me. I won’t apologize for my bubble, but it is ridiculous and unkind to rest inside of it and demand that justified fury should be kept at a lower simmer using prettier words.

For someone who enjoys baser language, I am a sucker for the pretty words. I want everything tied up with a bow; I want examples in the universe where we act like One People, and proof that the world isn’t a shitstorm of racism, fear, and cancer. Even if it is. It’s Christmas, friends. Let’s share the good stories. Here’s mine. It’s short:

Year three. You were there in ways big and small, loud and quiet, prayerful and even angry. And it helped. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My hair isn't just awesome, it's gluten free.

My hair isn’t just awesome, it’s gluten free.

The Gym: Part II

Hey Britt

I’m emailing you because I was expecting to see you at 10am this morning. Everything ok?

Sure, David. Everything’s A-Ok. It’s been one full week since our little face-to-face fitness assessment wherein I repeated, in person and right away, how much I loathe exercise. You handled it well when I made fun of your blood pressure equipment and other pseudo-medical toys that are supposed to lend some weight your clipboard-requiring fact-finding. And I held my tongue when you told me you were an entrepreneur-ing sort of something, or maybe you already wrote a book, or you’re planning to scale mountains, or whatever crap you youngsters do that sound exhaustingly noble or potentially lucrative and certainly like something I immediately want to poke fun at. We’d probably work well together, you and I. You, you’re wonderful. But, me? I’m sort of a terrible person. Also, lazy.

Oh, sweet dimpled barely-voting-age David, you didn’t flinch at all when I told you I wouldn’t do exercises that test the limits of my bionic parts (using helpful hand gestures to indicate the location of my fake bits). And you didn’t balk at my coffee intake or potato chip addiction, or repetition that I planned to– like never– do any sort of personal training. It was all fine and good to fill out forms and tell you what I eat (chips) and that I swim (but not far) or take barre classes (but not often) and wear a step counting bracelet (that would log more activity strapped to my patio furniture). It was adorable that you believed I only have four drinks a week. And then I showed you how flexy/balancy I am with years and years of gymnastics muscle memory on board, but that I cannot run even close to a mile without lots of gasping complaints and begging to stop.

Would I like to be stronger? Meh, I have a husband to lift the heavies. Increase my endurance? No small animals or children to chase.

Lose weight?

Duh. Everyone does. Everyone on the planet wants to lose weight. But this isn’t why I’m here. The Gym will have zero effect on the scale; losing weight is all on me and what I stuff into or deny my greedy maw. Plus, I don’t really need to lose weight. Well, I’ve almost never thought so… until I met you.

Though I wouldn’t let you assess my vital signs– as you aren’t a medical professional and I don’t like being touched by strangers and maybe, like, 47 other reasons– I relented to standing on the wretched, lying scale and having the bee boopy doo dads calculate the sum total of my fatness. What better way to launch a gym membership than to have Equinox’s Watson tell me I’m sixteen pounds overweight! It was kind that you noted it wasn’t always accurate. And though I did want to, rather immediately, throw up my entire quinoa breakfast, I’m sure that’s not the way you want new members to get skinnier.

Now David, nearly all Americans could stand to lose five pounds. Me? I’ve always assumed I’d be almost unfairly appealing if I lost five pounds. Ten pounds down, and I’m a teenager. Fifteen pounds lighter and people will wonder if my cancer has returned. Probably a very good use of my time would be to station myself in the room with Watson and tell women that the machine is a jackass. I wear a size 4 (most of the time) and the deli guy flirts with me (unfailingly). I can still shimmy into my prom dress and do splits and hold a handstand. The bee boopy doo dad machine can go suck a shoe.

Possibly the worst way to inspire a gal to exercise is to deliver a lethal blow to her self-esteem. Because the only thing that girl wants to do is to submit to a couch-bound, maw-stuffing spree. Instead, I agreed to meet with you again—to show up and see what ridiculous exercises you planned for this girl who can balance and stretch, but not run or spin or jump or lift with any sort of enthusiasm or compliance. Ten o’clock on Friday. Yup. I’ll totally come. What the hell, let’s exercise!

And then I forgot all about it. Forgot about you. Forgot I had sixteen pounds to deny this body that I have always assumed is serviceable, healthy (temporarily), lively, and cute, dammit. So I’m sorry if I messed up your schedule. Though I was actually at the gym this morning, I would have been useless after spinning class torture with Potty Mouth Boy who is certain we could all be going faster (and yet nowhere). I will continue to swim (not far), and spin (occasionally, because it is so incredibly hard and awful it deserves it’s own set of paragraphs), and plié, and do what is necessary to keep this body active and healthy. But I’m not losing sixteen pounds, nor hanging out with anyone who thinks I might need to.

xoxo,

Britt

The only scale I ever trust...

The only scale I ever trust…