Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Walk In The Woods

Live in the moment. That was the advice I was given by my co-worker, another breast cancer survivor, after I was first diagnosed. At the time I wasn’t sure what she meant because I thought that was exactly how I lived my life. For today.
It’s more than that. For a while I could not make plans into the future. When my husband booked a luxury cruise four months in advance to celebrate the (challenging) year being over, I made him buy trip insurance. Eventually I was able to make plans but I could not anticipate them. I seemed focused on the here and now; what was on this week’s horizon. Now I make plans, and even look forward to them, but I am cautious and hold in the back of my mind that things could change and I’ll have to cancel.
I am slightly OCD. I like lists. I want a schedule. I want to know what is expected and when. This drives my husband crazy. His professional life is so full of demands that come the weekend he just wants to “go with the flow.” I’ve eased up on him a bit over the years. And he has gotten better with communication and planning (when it is necessary).
Living in the moment is about not being so rigid. It is about not overly anticipating that next big event or trip. It is learning that plans can be changed. Appointments can be rescheduled. This past week my friends invited me to visit for the day. I said yes. We took a walk in the woods. That wasn’t the Tuesday I had planned. It wasn’t on my calendar. But it was the best Tuesday I’ve had in a while. And it was well worth it.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

There is a Season

When I was 14 I fell in love for the first time. Like every good childhood romance, it ended. I saved everything he had ever given me. I put his cards, letters and small gifts in a box. As I packed for college, I placed the box on a shelf in the closet of my bedroom in the hopes that one day I would see him again. Time passed. I grew up, fell in love and married the man who is my soul mate and has been my husband for more than 25 years. There were times over the years that I thought about that young man; wondered where he was and how his life had turned out.

When I was 43 I was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma. I had breast cancer. My treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and finally radiation. From the time of my diagnosis, throughout my treatment and even after, I received cards and notes of encouragement from friends and family. My friend Annie kept track of my treatments and mailed me a card so that it arrived in my mailbox every Thursday after a Wednesday chemotherapy session. My friend Ray bought me baseball caps. (I had chosen hats over a wig). My friend Joanna kissed the top of my head every time we met. These are only a few of the angels who took care of me in my time of need. Every card I received I placed in a basket that sat on a window sill in my living room.

One day, after my treatments were over, I decided to gather up all the cards, notes and gifts I had been given. My first thought was to throw them away. But something deep inside me said, “No. Save these. Share them with Kiley when she is 25.” (Kiley is the baby girl born to my niece eight days before my last radiation treatment). So I found a box that was big enough to hold my day timer, the cards, letters, pink ribbons and chemo. diary I had kept. I put the box in the furthest back corner of my bedroom closet because all I wanted to do was throw its contents onto a bonfire.
In 2009 I reconnected with my childhood friend. And my husband and I moved. As part of our move I decided I would go through each box that was in the closets and under the bed in our home. I wanted to revisit what was in them; throw out anything that was unnecessary. The fun part of going through these archives is reminiscing. I had a friend in high school that drew me cartoons. I found pictures from summer camp. In one box I found three letters and two cards from Scott. I got a little teary as I read them for the first time in almost 30 years. Mostly I smiled, remembering the friendship that we had shared.
I was struck with a sense of affirmation that saving those cards of encouragement from my cancer treatment days is the right thing. So I dug out my “cancer box” from the dark recesses of my closet and it traveled with me to our new home. It sits on a shelf in a closet marked November 29, 2032. I hate that box. I despise what its contents represent. It takes effort to keep from throwing it onto the fire. But I know that box is filled with love and friendship. It is that love and friendship that I want to remember.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I believe in connections. I mean deep, hard core connections. You know the type; that friend who has always been there. Then there is the friend that I met and within 20 minutes we had known each other forever. I have a friend that in the short time that we worked together we had known each other a lifetime. And I have several friends (you know who you are) that we go months, even years without seeing each other but then pick up where we left off.
I have many stories of “connectedness.” My favorite story is about Shelle. Shelle had moved to the west coast and was back visiting friends in Boston. I remember wishing I could see her but realized it just wouldn’t happen. Well, Shelle decided to visit a friend of hers at his place of work; he was my boss. Coincidence? No. God had answered my prayer; either for me or for Shelle. It doesn’t really matter. Some believe that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. I believe that coincidence is God’s way of shouting, “I am real.”
But what about the friend who goes away and then shows up years, even decades later? Like Shelle, God had answered a prayer I didn’t even know I had said. I guess some connections were made to last.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A lawyer walks into a bar . . .

Sounds like the start of a good joke. Actually, it’s the title to an independent film that I just watched on Netflix. It brought back memories of my own experience with law school and the California Bar Exam.

My story started while I was in law school. I attended Concord Law School (one of my inspirations). It has a wholly on-line delivery system and is not like any other law school I’ve ever heard about. We created on-line Yahoo Groups in which to “chat” and share ideas. We developed study groups and were able to study together on-line through audio chat rooms that were available at the time. There is a Student Bar Association. We worked together to succeed rather than compete with each other for class ranking. And I developed life-long friendships.

Six weeks before the end of my coursework I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I told no one. My husband knew because he was there. With less than a month to go, a major paper due for my internship course and a capstone class to complete I had surgery. I spent the majority of November at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. I attended my classes and handed in my assignments but felt as if I were going through the motions. I just had to get through law school and finish my classes.

My coursework was done by mid-December. I had undergone surgery and was facing chemotherapy. I was also facing the February 2008 bar exam and a March 1, 2008 graduation ceremony. At this point a small circle of my friends, including some of my classmates, knew what was happening in my life. I was flooded with an outpouring of love and support from all directions.

Before undergoing my first chemotherapy treatment I discussed taking the exam with my doctors. I had decided to study for the exam and take it. After all, I had already registered and it was past the deadline for a refund. As I discovered, studying also gave me a focus and purpose beyond the cancer diagnosis. (In October, before the doctor’s appointment that started it all I had been told that my job contract would not be renewed at the end of December). In many ways I had lost everything; my job, law school had ended, and it appeared that I had lost my health. But I am stubborn and did not believe that this was the end. Rather, I knew that God has a purpose for all of this. This was just the beginning.

After losing my hair to the chemotherapy I realized that I would be showing up to graduation bald. I had chosen not to wear a wig during treatment. Instead, I wore hats. I have a wonderful collection now and occasionally take one out to wear again. I knew that my appearance would shock my classmates and professors if I didn’t let them know what was going on in my life. So I sent out more emails.

What happened next was an outpouring of incredible magnitude. I emailed one of my Capstone professors who is actively involved in bar preparation as well as a pivotal member of the graduation ceremony. She lives in California. I live in Massachusetts. I sent my email around 9 a.m. one morning. Within minutes my phone rang and it was her! At 6 a.m. she was reaching out to me with kindness, compassion and encouragement. She did not try to talk me out of taking the bar exam. Rather, she was supportive of my decision and was genuinely glad I had decided to make the trip for graduation.

Yes, I took the bar exam that February. I was not successful at that administration of the exam. I “missed” by 17 points.* But God had blessed me with love, kindness, support and determination. I was bald at graduation but would not have changed anything for the world.

*I went on to take and pass the July 2008 California Bar Exam.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Psalm 46:10

When I was 43 years old I went for my annual physical. Like any good patient and woman over 40 I figured I’d get a clean bill of health and an appointment for my annual mammogram. Rather, my doctor told me she felt something in my right breast that she wanted examined with an ultrasound. I delayed the appointment by ten days because I was going on vacation. Plus I thought it was just my routine mammogram; she was being overly cautious because I am always called back for a second mammogram due to cysts.

Twenty days after that initial appointment I sat with my husband in an examining room at a local breast clinic hearing the words “you have cancer” for the first time. When the surgeon uttered those words my first words to her were, “No I don’t.” I explained my mammogram experiences and my family history. There was no breast cancer in my family. My mother had a benign tumor removed when she was about my age. What she suspected from my records was just that.
This doctor (the first of many I would see over the next month) gently, yet firmly explained that she was certain what she was seeing on the ultrasound was cancer but she would need to confirm with a mammogram and biopsy. So I stayed and had a mammogram. After the mammogram she once again sat with us and used the word cancer. She told me to make an appointment for a biopsy as I checked out of the clinic.
Nothing about what she said made any sense to me. It was not possible. As we checked out of the clinic the surgeon approached me and said she had a cancelation if I would like to stay and have the biopsy that afternoon. In retrospect I’m pretty sure she was lying. But she must have seen something in my eyes; a deep fear of doubt that might keep me from coming back. Or maybe the full medical picture she was reviewing made her realize I needed immediate treatment. (I was ultimately diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer; a rare and aggressive form of the disease).
We stayed. As I lay on the bed in the procedure room I had a radiology technician, a nurse and a medical assistant at my side. They spoke calmly, settling me into the position that was needed. They explained the procedure, how things would feel and what they were doing. I also signed the required forms and tried to appear positive. The medical assistant stood next to the bed, holding my hand and asking me about mutual people we might know from my place of work. She stayed by my side, holding my hand through the whole wait as well as the procedure, assuring me that it was alright to squeeze her hand if I felt any pain.
It was during that quiet moment between setup and meeting the radiologist; somewhere during that time when I lay with my eyes closed holding the hand of a stranger that deep inside I felt these words from Psalms 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. And so my story began.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


August 1, 2012 was Chick-Fil-A Day here in the United States. We were asked to take sides and either eat at the fast food restaurant or boycott the establishment. My friends on FaceBook are passionate about their position on the issue. What is the issue? Gay marriage. Or so it is purported.
Personally, I try not to post anything political or controversial on FaceBook. I have an opinion about a variety of issues. I am passionate about some things. I post about breast cancer awareness. I am a survivor. My friends know that. On August 1, my FaceBook status read “I am not going to eat any chicken today,” because I choose to remain neutral. This, of course, prompted several of my friends to ask why.
The truth is that I’m not neutral. Even the Christian Church is divided. I heard a sermon that addressed the issue of same-sex marriage. That was only one part of the sermon, but it is the one that I remember. It prompted me to go home and read the first three chapters of the Bible; Genesis 1 – 3. It was there that I learned that God established marriage between a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned.
I finished law school in December 2007. One of the required courses was Constitutional Law. The U.S. Constitution has a number of amendments, one of which requires equal protection under the law. (Amendment 14). This amendment is known as one of the “slave amendments” but it has been applied to other classes of people, like women. This amendment has not been repealed.
So how do I reconcile what appears to be two disparate positions? Consider this: In 29 states here in the U.S. you can be fired from your job for being gay; no questions asked. In 75 countries around the world being gay is illegal. In nine countries the crime is punishable by death. Now if I were to substitute the word “Christian” for the word “gay” what would you think? How would you react? The issue is not about marriage. It is about equal protection under the law. More importantly, it is about equal protection under our universal moral code.