Friday, April 27, 2007



I was in a cab this morning to Logan Airport and my loquacious driver queried my plans to the point where I found myself explaining to this perfect stranger that I was going to France to get my cancer cured.

And, to my shock, it appears that is indeed what I am doing.

Life’s pace, daily priorities, distractions distractions—and I just haven’t given this journey its due psychological, spiritual, or emotional prep. Funny how in speaking plainly to a taxi driver I finally heard where I was going.

To the uninitiated, here are the embarrassingly skeletal details I currently know of the legend of Lourdes. Once upon a time, Prometheus stole some fire and Joseph Smith found some magic rocks and there was a pre-adolescent named Bernadette. Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to her telling her to build a church at the site of her appearance. After overcoming much disbelief from her community and local priests, Bernadette succeeded in having that church built in honor of Mary. From that day forward, mysterious waters without a known source have flowed. Today, this town in the Pyrennes is an important pilgrimage for believers, particularly for the sick. You see, there have apparently been thousands of unexplained healings in Lourdes over the years and malades journey from all over to bathe in the sacred waters.

Shortly after my diagnosis, an acquaintance of my Mom’s insisted that we plan to go to Lourdes. This friend’s daughter had also been afflicted with acute lymphocytic leukemia, about fifteen years ago. Prospects were not good for her recovery and I’m assuming desperation brought the two women to Bernadette’s mysterious healing font. Anyway, Charlotte and her daughter (who is now in her thirties, married, with kids of her own!) now pilgrimage to Lourdes every year and will be with us in France later this week.

A Catholic organization called the Order of Malta funds malades and a companion to go on planned trips to Lourdes and so it was, with a “nothing to lose” shrug, that I applied many months ago to go on this May’s pilgrimage. Perhaps because of this lengthy timeline and the casual way I submitted an application, I have not digested this impending experience.

Also, there’s probably that little problem about not buying the story. As much as I’d love to possess the gentle comfort of religion, the compass of organized morality, it just doesn’t stick. My only real faith is in skepticism and I am only truly devout to the gods of questioning and being a pain in the ass to religious people. Arguably, twelve years of Catholic schooling will make anyone a pagan.

There may be a confluence of energies in Lourdes, a repository of so many prayers and hopes that there actually is magic there. And if so, do you have to subscribe to the Church dogma to get your share? I want to be open to whatever this opportunity affords. I seek to be absorbent to goodness and beauty and health. Et les baguettes et le fromage et le francais. Il y a longtemps depuis j’habitais a Paris! And spending loads of quality time with my mama.

Alas, so here I go to France, where Mary will see straight through my heart and know that I can’t pass GO, cannot collect a miracle. She’ll know that I don’t think the most effective way to help her children here on earth is to have some random girl in the mountains build a building. She’ll know that I find it unfair that there should be healing waters in one place—let’s fix all the dirty water sources in which people wash and drink every day all over the world.

Can I get an amen?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

and none the wiser

unbelievable. i don't mean to toot my own horn, but i can handle some tough shit. right now, i feel that fun "just got thrown into a sack and punched repeatedly" feeling where all my muscles hurt, even ones you don't realize you have like on the sides of your cheeks, the front of your neck, and under your armpits. it's one of my favorite chemo joys, referred to and explained away as "coming off your steroids". this sucks, but it pales with what i'm about to tell you.

i actually have something different to complain about, something more sinister and long-lasting. something that crept up on me and has assaulted my sense of who i am and where i am in this lifetime.

i just found the whitest of white hair on my head.

now, your first thought is probably- damn, the girl should be grateful she HAS hair on her head at this point. and, yes, you are surely right. but i have to admit i feel a bit jarred by this discovery. looking back, i think i noticed a gray-ish strand a few months ago. a few flicks of my mascara wand, however...

now, this mother that i just saw while brushing mes dents was thick and mean. it said, come near me with that black eyelash crap and i'll make you rue the day! so, i must respect it. perhaps if i don't pluck, if i don't dye, if i just gently caress it and even, heck, love it a little, it won't... you know... multiply.

the pain, the fatigue, the despair- cancer sucks. but finding your first gray hair, now that's trauma.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ever wanted to read Jaci's diary?

Tomorrow is wear marroon and orange day nationwide.

Per my request, particularly because I think she has an intersting comparison btw Bush's quick reaction to international conflict but not to domestic disaster, Jaci's letting us read her journal from yesterday. Interestingly, today, at work, she had to phone two area superintendents for suggestions on how to update her school's lock down policy.

"Wednesday, April 18, 2007 Boston, MA

I find myself glued to the news... 2 days ago, a student on the Virginia Tech campus killed 33 people, including himself. He bought two hand guns and ammo and had a massacre in class... my heart aches for everyone, including the gunman, and my mind can't find reason for this. i just can't process why, how, WHY a boy thinks this is an option... apparantly, he was referred to counseling, to the police. how did he slip through the cracks? aren't these organizations set up to protect kids before he gets to this place? i know i should be angry with him for killing 32 people (students & teachers) but maybe because he killed himself too, it is just too tragic to point fingers. the anger he felt went unaddressed...

as a counselor, will i be able to help a child like him or am i even strong enough? would i feel guilt and remorse if i couldn't reach him? at what point does a person take responsibility for their own life and say, "yea, i've had a shitty life. unfair things have happened and no one protected me." then shouldn't one move on and heal? was this his healing method? oh the parents... the families of the dead grieve. the families of the survivors are so thankful. and the rest of us are only shocked.

i really don't understand. our nation grasps for answers to make sense of such a tragedy and President G.W. Bush only scolds anyone for asking. he says we need to heal first but we need solutions now. he should take as swift movement in our own nation as he did in the Middle East. after 9/11 we were a nation empowered by his leadershipto unite... why does it happen for a foreign enemy and not a domestic one? gun laws are lax. repubs on the news say, "if other students were armed maybe more lives would be saved." are they stupid?? the solution to gun violence is more guns? in the hands of kids only18-years-old... a firefight in the lunchroom... God help us. what other species is blessed with a conscience and soul? and it is our very being to kill ourselves. why?

i am working at the newton montessori school for kids 3 months to12-years-old. what would i do if a child brought in a weapon? who would believe kids are capable of such things...?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Norris Hall

the despicable murders yesterday at Virginia Tech seem to have left our whole country in a deep state of shock and grief. i feel devastated and angry. the fury I feel is directed at Cho, but i am also appalled at reports that some in the international media are shrugging their shoulders and simply cluck-clucking their simple admonition- oh it's just america and her violent gun culture at it again. well fuck that- kids DIED yesterday. analysis is good and necessary and I'll be the last to defend the 2nd amendment, but have a little respect. and a little perspective- four years ago, eighteen people died in a school shooting in Germany (a country with strict gun control laws) and in 1996, a deranged gunman killed 16 children, a teacher and himself in Scotland. this is not america's problem; it's a human trend and a human tragedy. i am so sorry to all of the families of the victims.

not only is the connection ripened by the Schmitt's connection to the school (our close family friends, jon anita nic bonnie ric, whose two sons went there, one of them as the Hokie football team's star kicker last year), i'm sure oxy folk haven't missed the frequent reference to Norris Hall, where the majority of the murders took place. this VT academic building shares a name with a building where many of us lived for part of our time at Occidental. just that little coincidence is enough to drive this massacre home with even more strength. when you hear "norris hall", how can we not imagine a crazed gunman systematically moving from norris yellow to norris blue to norris green to norris orange; how can I not consider myself blessed to still have as lifelong friends the people i lived with there- uma, anna, bess, jamie, marie, jonathan, mike, ted. what grace to have never had such devastation to bear.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two Requests

#1. See the movie Iron Jawed Angels. It's inspirational! And, if you watch it while thinking of those held in Guantanamo prisons without charges TODAY, it's galvanizing.

#2. Do you live in the Boston area? Are you free this Wednesday afternoon? Are you able to handle a big needle going into your friend's spine? If you answered yes to all of these questions, have I got a job for you! Ok, in all seriousness, I am wondering if anyone would like to come with me to the hospital this week. Jaci's new job precludes her ability to come to this spinal tap/lumbar puncture. I know, I sound like a big baby and I can definitely do this by myself, but a hand to hold and someone to distract me would be an immense help!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Recipe for Galiano

Recipe for Galiano Island

1. Start with a small lush hunk of land in the Gulf Islands west of Vancouver, British Columbia.

2. Toss in a small population of natives who have fished and hunted there for generations.

3 Add a dash or two of hippies, artists, builders, retirees, and gay people. Do not pre-wash.

4. Season well with ample amounts of cannabis.

5. As the community marinates, throw in ample populations of birds (I like to use bald eagles), whales, frogs, butterflies, and sockeye salmon.

6. The trick is not to overworry the dough. Things are so beautiful and natural in this recipe, complaining and envy sort-of separate out of the mixture like oil and water.

7. Sprinkle generously with rainwater, put it in the oven at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and presto. You’ll have a Galiano Island for you and your family to enjoy!

I just came back from a short visit to my sister, Linda’s, house in Canada.

The view from her and Derrick's house.

Linda and her beloved pup, Sara.

The golf course that we had all to ourselves one afternoon. Well, almost all to ourselves.

In a totally odd coincidence, I found out while in Canada that some friends of mine from Sascatchewan (that I taught with in Japan) were taking an impromptu roadtrip to Boston. So, I definitely got my dose of canadian chicks who rule recently. Great seeing you, Michelle!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007


In recent weeks, I think I’ve entered into a new and rather scary corner of the dark woods of Cancerdom. It’s like the Thieves' Forest of the Princess Bride. Here, instead of Rodents of Unusual Size, I have Anxiety of Relapse of Unusual Size. Instead of quicksand, I have colds (like the one I’ve enjoyed this week) where you sink into a 103 fever and a hacking cough before you know it. When you’re traveling through the deep woods of Cancerdom, the Fire Swamp’s methane bursts are the little aches and pains that explode into extreme fears and assumptions- a headache, a stressful week, a sore back, a runny nose—what is god’s name could it be besides pneumonia??

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I’m the cucumber’s envy. So cool, in fact, that some confuse my defense mechanisms for strength or courage. (suckers!) And I think that’s why things are hitting me differently lately- I’ve borne a young person’s classic immortality complex, more or less. Denial is not something you “get over” all at once, in my opinion. It cushions your way throughout a process, buffering here, backing off there. Facing the trauma of how much chemotherapy sucks was one major de-denialing for me. Now, I think I’m facing another: I really could die from this stupid disease.

Ahhh, so that’s what all the fuss was about. This is serious business. My eyes fill up with tears as I type because I’m finally (I think) really FEELING this, really getting pressed down under the weight of what’s happened and what could happen. On one hand, I am embarrassed to discuss this because you might wonder how the hell it could be “hitting me” now. Of course, it’s “hit me” many times before, staining my awareness and outlook in various ways over the last fourteen months, but I have definitely noticed something heavier entering my consciousness lately, almost a respect, a respect which causes a chest-heaving sadness to well up, a tidal wave of powerful acknowledgement.

Why now? I have no idea. I finally realized that I should ask my doc what were my chances. You know, a common patient complaint I’ve read about is the insensitivity of oncologists doling out death sentence statistics. [Uma had quite the stoic doc in NYC who’d parcel out his grim predictions as if offering any compassion would mar his ability to function as an ICU neurologist. Perhaps it would.] Anyway, my med team has been just the opposite. So as not to frighten me, a "gays in the military policy" has been employed: don’t ask, don’t tell. So, it was only when my uncle Bobby asked me a month ago what the doctors were saying about my post-treatment recurrence likelihood that I realized I had no idea.

40% chance of relapse.

Yup, 60% chance of no more cancer. 40% chance of having to go through it all and MORE. If I got it again, apparently, I’d definitely get a bone marrow transplant. There is still no match for me, so they’d use umbilical cord blood, attempting to match as closely as possible to avoid all that fun rejection host-versus-graft disease stuff. 40%.

Look at me, obsessing over a statistic, just like I know not to. I promised Dr. Sirulnik that I understood that statistics were just rough guidelines, that I am younger and healthier than many of the patients that drag those statistics down, that I mathematically comprehend the concept of a median average. But shit- 40%.

Around a week later, Artineh called me crying. A nine-year-old boy she knows who had ALL too, of whom we had chatted over lunch in L.A. a week previous, had just died. His leukemia had been in remission but when he relapsed, his poor little body just couldn’t take it the second time around. Sweet Art was calling to tell me to take care of myself and in gratitude that I’m doing so much better. I felt confidant and strong as I assured her that I was fine and was going to stay fine, that my heart goes out to this child and his family, but she has nothing to worry about with me—look at me, I did hot yoga the other day! But, you know, it’s never fun to hear about the ones who don’t make it and people with ALL seem to be everywhere you turn- when you’re looking.

Then, this week’s Newsweek cover story highlights one reporter’s struggle with cancer. The giant Lance Armstrong bracelet on the glossy shell filled me with scorn- who is this journalist and why in the world does Newsweek think his story or perspective can represent the trillions of cancer experiences and perspectives out there? Then I read it and immediately soaked the damn mag in tears at just how common the experience is. I had to find a pen to start underlining because I found so many of his words mirror my own struggles and my own journey. The article is covered in red underlining, stars, and circles:

“A friend compares his semiannual scans to visiting a parole officer. When the scans are clean, it’s worth another six months of freedom, though with no guarantee of extra time for good behavior.”

“American culture rewards cheerful stoicism, a quality that cancer patients usually display in public but find difficult to sustain in private… I… retreated into a fog of unshakable misery.”

“an excruciating bone-marrow biopsy, which felt as if I were on a medieval rack.”

“Many patients place full trust in their physician and never second-guess them. I was constitutionally incapable of that, so I hit him with a barrage of questions. Why this chemo protocol and not another used by a different hospital?... why couldn’t he tell me more?”

“But a little knowledge can be a dangerous and depressing thing.”

“My sister set up an account… Instead of having to repeat my story endlessly on the phone or in individual e-mails, I could offer periodic updates, then watch in amazement and gratitude as the good wishes, parodies and embarrassing stories about me from fourth grade rolled in. The site kept practically everyone in my universe informed while easing their sense of helplessness- and mine..”

“I can’t even conceive how people without close family… friends and co-workers can survive the ordeal.”

“The experience changes your relationship with friends, as some who were once mere acquaintances step up magnificently and other who were closer fade away.”

“Others just wanted to know whether I had ‘beaten’ it so they could check me off as one less person to worry about. Even now, it’s just inaccurate to say that I have.”

Monday, April 02, 2007


Sorry to be so cruel and thank you to all who anxiously called yesterday. The only part of my previous post that was true was the four-month "oops" on the bc shot. Congrats to the few of you who remembered the date, but to the rest of you-- APRIL FOOLS! There are no tiny Murrays on the way just yet.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

**be careful what you wish for**

There's no easy way to say this.

I'm pregnant.

Apparently, my medical team and I forgot to check the Lupron (birth control shot that controls ovulation) schedule and basically it was administered over one month late. This is not that unusual apparently for someone my age, however it forecasts some difficulties with my ongoing cancer treatment.

This is an awkward forum to announce such a serious situation, but I do not have the energy or presence of mind to call the many of you whom I want to know. I'll write more asap.