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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear 2013

What a difference a day makes? You should see the nuclear wasteland a few years make...2013 has me very conflicted. It's the year my oldest daughter will turn 18 and begin her senior year in school, my baby boy who would still nurse if I let him is making his pioneer voyage into kindergarten...Ava turns 13, Livvy is reading and speaking spanish...and then...of course, there is Joseph and me. Stronger, wiser, faster...and yet cautious and frankly - pretty fucking tired. I'm down a few boobs, he's down a gall bladder but we filled up a huge vault of humour to carry us onward. He still makes me laugh...and blush...and flutter my eyes. I still make him crazy and wear his socks and choke down my cooking. Every year I make resolutions that I never keep. Every year I have mountains of zeal and excitement about what the new year holds and what my next big decision will be. This year - I am counting on a little less zeal and a little more warm banana bread. We ended the year with 20 1st grade children being shot to death - can I possibly ask for a single thing? Can I bemoan about the extra 20lbs when mothers are burying their children? Can I wrap my arms around my own 1st grader and not feel a dull ache for the missing 20 who will never again be held by arms that are now broken? I'm not a buzz kill...I hope for good things, I want peace and I want to lose the 20lbs but I also want something less. Just some quiet...maybe a nap, a few more movies, a few more trips to the gym, a lot less chaos and a few glasses of wine. I want more of less...I really do. If I conduct my own version of my Year in Review, I feel like gagging. It's like when you order a pizza but Chinese shows don't not like Chinese, you were just ready for pizza. So this year I wasn't ready for you but in the end, my children are under my roof that is currently being paid for, my husband is employed and there is enough food in my fridge to feed a small county... If Cancer gave me anything its the ability to be a little more selfish with my time and my energy. To avoid the people...who well, let's face it...suck the life right out of me. The energy vampires who need my life line to survive... Dear 2013 - you didn't ask but pass me a huge heaping platter of peace and hold the drama. And Cancer, if you show up here again, know in advance, I am packing.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I'm quite used to it by know...the stares. The ones that can't figure me out. First it was that I had one boob and another with poor driving skills that would roam all over my chest. Then it was the chemo, where my head covering had people thinking I was either a Nazi skinhead or a Muslim...though Maddie called me Biker bad ass chic. Then it was radiation where I would often and unwittingly pull my shirt from my chest and blow on my torched chest - often caught in a grocery store or post office with stares for days. Now it's my no nonsense approach to no prosthetics, no boobs...not even an A cup...sort of a negative A. I'm wrapped up in bandages because I am sporting three hot looking drains but beyond that, I am as flat as a Texas prairie. At the town Halloween festival this weekend, enjoying glorious weather with my girls and playing with my sister wife Tina I saw it...a man staring at me with a look of disgust on his face I hadn't seen before. Now was his disgust at me? Likely not but did I feel like it was? Yeah - and it knocked me on my ass. It brought me back to total self consciousness, total deformity, totally "that girl". He continued to stare at me - first my chest, then my body, then my face...sort of trying to figure it out and I wrapped my arms across my chest, hiding the division between me and the normal girls. It was then I realized that I am still ashamed of what I have become physically. It's not a bad thing - it's a real thing. I'm embracing all of it but hey - reality bites man. My preschool moms always make me feel beautiful - Robyn reminding me that without my boobs, she can see how pretty my eyes are. Same girl who told me when I had my head covering that I didn't have to tell people I was undergoing chemo, I can just say I'm a pirate. When I told Susanne about possible surgery moving stomach fat up to make new boobs she offered hers as well as mine. Gd I love them all. Joseph who feels the pain of every step with me and wraps my bandages every night, still looking at me like he did the day we were married and yet here I am...covering my chest from a man who means absolutely nothing. But there it is - a reality check for me - I'm still not okay, I'm slowly healing and I still fucking hate cancer and what is has done to me but it's a day at a time. A friend once asked me why I don't look at my chest like a warrior in battle. I don't know...I feel nothing but pain when I see it. It's like a surgical rape - cancer stripped from me much of what made me feel like a woman and we can all say all day long that breasts don't define us, and that's true to some's still a part of who I am and how I carried myself and fed my children and wore a cocktail dress. So I enter the holidays grateful for what I have and who I have...there is no cancer survivor on the planet with a better back up team than I have and am yet I'm painfully aware the stares still sting. And I hope they don't sting forever. I wish I could magically erase the last two years and yet the clarity cancer has given me about myself and what matters may never have found me. I don't really know yet. I just know the stares sting.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The monster never sleeps...

Y'know in those horror films where toward the end the monster has been killed or maimed or sent back into the bowels of hell and the young college girl walks back into her house...and you just know it's not dead? Welcome to my pathology results. Today heading back into my not-yet-final-but-getting there visit to check the surgical site and hear results from the mastectomy, I was told that cancer was there. Not there/there, but there. It's called DCIS...ductal carcinoma in situ. It means there is cancer in the duct - non invasive, stage 0 but answers to the name cancer so it gets a seat. There are no changes in treatment, no course I would have been offered that would be better than cutting it off, literally, at the foundation...nothing really but it was a greeting card of huge proportions from the one I loathe the most. For some reason I can't seem to shut the door flush enough to lock it. I can sleep but not deep enough...I can adore moments with my kids but never long enough to not worry I may not always have them. I can't just be left alone. It's the monster at the end of the movie letting us all know - even subliminally, that there is a sequel in the works. Please hear me - or maybe I just need to hear me - nothing changes. I burned it, poisoned it and cut it off...there is nothing left to do but because no one knows, or will know, which came first, no one knows or will know what to think. Was it always there? Is it new? Does it matter? Will it change my life? If it's mesthatic, there is no cure - is it? No way to tell. So does it matter? I guess not. Joseph said he felt punched in the stomach. I felt that too. Are we both jointly devastated? Yes. The ayes have it. There's a family at my daughter's school right now who is preparing to bury their recently and tragically mortally wounded son. Hard to feel sorry for myself now and really even later but the truth is - after two years of fighting this, I am just tired. I'm tired of outrunning this thing that keeps gaining on me. I'm tired of slamming the door only to see its fingers creeping under the door. I'm tired of being a banner for survival and a cautionary tale. Spare me the pink ribbons but do hand me a life is on record now. Memories, never more precious. Life, never more colorful. Pain, never more intense. Moments, never more meaningful. Y'know me - I go in stages...acceptance, anger, fight, flight and muffin. So I'm in. I'm never out but I am angry...pissed actually. I really thought I was taking the breast preemptively only to find out cancer had already set up shop. I would have taken it anyway - I just wanted to be first. And I wanted to rest. I wanted some peace. I will have it - just not today.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Looking back over...

Tradition is a significant thing in our family...critical to our history as Jews, important to our children, commununal and safe to our existance as parents but like any memorable moment, we try to leave things a little better than we found it. Sort of like - we Smith-er a bit. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year is the start of the holiday season for us and is full of memories for me as well. We go back over our year, look at what we may change, some self reflection, some evaluations, a few nods in the direction of repetance and like we Jews love to say - we fought, we won, let's eat. Though we hardly ever won...why do we say that anyway? As tired as I am and as anxious as I am about surgery coming up, I am excited about the traditions before me...brisket, family, round challah, apple's tradition disguised as normal and normal, we could use a big, healthy serving of so tomorrow, anxiety be damned because I need room for my meal prep. I also realize two years ago next week, I underwent a mastectomy staring Cancer down and completely unsure if I would live. So to Dawn of two years ago, it's okay. You will be fine, you will lean on your sisters (Robyn, Anna, Amy and kids are in your hand and my family will eat like royalty), you will lay in bed with Joseph and cry with a fervor that will blow your mind, you will go through baby books, you will grieve and become numb from fear, you will shave your head, you will lose your will even laugh and your family will eat better than they ever have. Your kids will like the meal deliveries just a bit too much and ask for Alaina's chicken pot pie. You will have Robin bringing you ice cream and love you enough to know your favorite flavors. Lynn will clean your house and shop for you - every day she will call. Susan will bring you flowers. You will have Robyn sending you cards about your cancer that will make you laugh - then cry - then laugh again and she knows your treatment schedule. You will even have an old friend from middle school send you the biggest fruit arrangement you have ever seen and your kids will squeal like inmates in a riot scene. Your great aunt will selflessly give up two weeks to wait on your entire family so Joseph can have some help and you can sleep. You will enter each chemo treatment with terror and strength and never without Joseph who will never leave your side and tell you he's never wanted to say before but he's into bald chicks. Kind of a Star Trek will have people you hardly see and those you see often, take care of you, call you, take your children out and bring you meals. You will even have a few old teachers/friends make your kid star for a day. Dawn, you will be fine. You will make it and you will make it on the backs of people who love you. I promise. So for Rosh Hashana - may we all be sealed for another year and may it be THE year of healing, grace and health. That's leaving things better than we found it for sure. Well THAT and my brisket that gets better every year. Shana Tovah.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My first set of A's...

Well, I googled. Yep...googled. Googled pictures of what my new boobs would look like and as much as I love the idea of being factor new again, the lumpy, bumpy, asymmetrical mess that would be my rack is now history. I can still see the look on my plastic surgeon's face as he tried to help me realize Playboy has mislead us all...there are new boobs and there are new boobs. I like football as much as the next girl but it's a few pages over from melons which is the look I was going for so in the end, I am ordering nothing. It's not easy - how do your mourn your breasts? How do you say good bye? I used them alluringly in my 20s, fed my kids with them in my 30s and fought with and against them valiantly in my 40s. They have served me well but in the end, died in battle. The entire point of reconstruction is to make me feel more normal again. I can lose the prosthesis and stop staring in its tracks. I can wear sexy bras, I can wear cocktails dresses and I can grab whatever femininity is left after losing your hair and nearly your life. Really, I just wasn't ready to be out of the game. At almost 44, I was still hangin' in. My dad says, Man Plans and Gd Laughs. So there ya go...I planned. Glad I'm good on my feet. I am done. White flags flying...for now. I am going with the mastectomy but no reconstruction for now until the 100 plus billion dollars being pumped into breast cancer research comes up with a better model than what I was offered. Frankly, bumpy, lumpy and mismatched I can do on my own. So welcome A cups. Am I happy about this? No. Having two prosthesis will be my emergency set for when I break down or just need a moment of normal, but I will do my very best to embrace my new reality. I admit, clinging to a new set of boobs took me through some very dark moments. I hung in thinking on some level I MIGHT be a bit better off later - gave up two years and two breasts in exchange for a new set. It's like taking an old favorite pair of shoes in for a new pair - except you had to cut off your feet in the process. When I go back over it in my mind, I edit that part out. New's all I hung on to. It wasn't denial - it was my feeble attempt to find the silver lining in a pile of dung but I kept digging. I'm willing to accept now that it just sucks. It's unfair and it doesn't always have to end well. I don't have to find the positive. I don't have to make everyone okay with it and I don't have to force myself into thinking A cups on a D cup body is perfectly fine. I don't have to tell myself saying goodbye to the body I once knew and the breasts I once had is easy and I won't publish myself saying this is nothing. It's everything. But it's my reality right now and I am done. There is some peace in that part. Being done feels a bit like a resting place. No more surgeries, no more idealizing, no more breast talk...yeah...It's been almost exactly two years since I said goodbye to one and now the other follows and I can move back home, back into my life and back into living and rocking forward. The stares be the hell out of prosthetic travelling. No more fishing my breast up off the floor, the treadmill and the nightstand. It's. Just. Over. Grief stricken? You bet. Surrounded by amazing women, a superhero of a husband and four children who never looked at me as broken? Not once? Yes. And I now need them more than ever. I need them to remind me this will be okay. This will be over soon and I am still a victor. This is a clouded survival story - no happy ending but one I can live with and I am living. with. it. Living.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I have heard it said the longest nine months of any woman's life is the pregnancy after a miscarriage...the same can be true for routine medical exams. Last week my breast surgeon found a lump in my lymph nodes. The normal answer is it must be infection - the post cancer reaction is MRI and biopsy. And the waiting...I spent five days in this hell with a husband in Korea fluctuating back and forth between it's nothing to writing my will. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. If this lump was from my breast cancer, I am offered anywhere from 3-5 years to live. No cure. It rings in my head often...used to be daily but maybe I'm more numb to it now. So I give in to the weekend. A blessed sore throat hit me on Saturday bringing a bit of calm...maybe THAT'S the lump??? An infection? Never prayed for strep before but I was on it. Then Monday came and after a series of scans, I am lump. And the discussion begins about moving forward with my next surgery, now scheduled for Sept 24. Barely enough time to recover from the almost bad news, I learn a few things. The radiation burns were so bad they cannot recover the skin. The good news is I can still reconstruct, the bad news is no guarantee they will match in size or cosmetics. Frankenboobs I suppose. They have to remove lat muscle from my back to rebuild what will be a taut, firm breast on one side - almost shaped like a football and the other, a normal looking breast. Um...seriously these are my options? A FOOTBALL?? I share this news with Joseph who always knows what to say - he loves football...and he's sorry. He's sorry because he knows at 44 I have a lot of life left to live and shouldn't have to do it with elephant manish physique. Quite crudely, I think after two years of cancer treatment, I deserve a nice rack. The answer is always the least you cut the cancer out. least. And in this draconian method of poison, burns and cutting I should find the silver lining, and I will. I am happy to be alive, happy to be without cancer and happy to be almost done but deep inside I am still a girl who gave up her breasts to survive. No one can say I didn't give it everything, right?

Monday, July 2, 2012

With Ava's bat mitzvah over and the blurr of planning and preparing is resting, I can sum up the entire day in a word...juxtapositioning. An interesting way to remember it but it's true. Ava was amazing...well, Ava IS amazing but on this particular day she truly was. She was poised, graceful and chanted Torah like a rabbi but in very typical Ava fashion, she beamed like a beacon and in that light sat me, her mother, like a puffer fish. Pride doesn't even cut it. But with all the hoopla and craziness that goes into the party AFTER the light, I noticed some interesting things - sort of a memo from the Reality Express. As we were walking into the sanctuary after all had been seated and Ava was positioned beautifully on the bimah, my friend Susanne shared with me some tragic news that she knew would be mentioned in the rabbi's sermon and wanted me to be prepared...a soldier friend of ours was killed in Afghanistan. I felt as if I was kicked in the stomach...yeah can I make his death about me for five more seconds? It was a combination of great sadness, great pain and great irony. Here we were celebrating the culmination of study and life in our daughter and one of our own was taken on the lines. I cried, I felt torn in this celebration and it was overwhelming...preparing to walk into the sanctuary smiling when in my heart I knew that not far from me, two children were greiving the loss of their dad and one woman is without the love of her life. It wasn't long ago that I stayed up late at night watching CNN hoping to Gd the Khost province of Afghanistan remained calm. I remember hearing my brother and my husband missed each other by hours at the same base in husband and my brother. Long days indeed. Susanne reminds me of the circle...within the cirle are layers - layers that matter. The immediate circle now was Ava. I had to keep her in that circle and protect it from anything else - for this moment. So I composed myself and with Joseph - grieving as well, walked in together to join Ava in the light. We celebrated, cried, laughed and shared with Ava and at the closing, honored Paul who was taken far too soon. The party was exciting and fun...a very appropriate beach themed night with slushies, games, dancing and Ava's favorite...a build your own nacho bar (thank you Amy Gold - best. idea. ever.) Without my sister wives, it could not be done. Pam and Susan swooped in to take over - set up, decorations, army formed on Ava's behalf and even Joseph said when in Pam's presence he felt scared to be standing around taking a break. Catering arrived, DJ set up, balloon lady arrived (who can remember her name? Balloon lady works, cake, slushie truck...yeah it was a party alright) - all in Ava's honor and I could not have been more thrilled. As the night moved (and so did we), it was wonderful to watch Ava so happy and dancing with her friends. Adriana and Elana wrote a poem for her, Adriana sang a song, we made a video, toasts and dancing and of course, the Hora...the Jewish hustle, all in celebration. Paul wasn't far away in our minds but we did what we came to do - celebrate Ava. As the night ended and clean up began, I found myself overwhelmed with what to do with all the food. Much was left over, it's now about midnight and I knew there was no room in my fridge to store or even use it all. I was mulling over what to keep and what to throw away when one of the helpers approached me saying she had no food at home and could she please take the left over beans..."so good to keep the kids going during the day"...words I can't imagine saying when referring to how to make a meal last for several hours for children I can't always feed. For the second time in one night, juxtapostioning. Suddenly the overwhelming task of how to clean this all up became a mission of rightousness. Susan and I boxed up every single crumb of food and drink and gave it to her. Gluttony meet mercy. I can still see her waiting for the car to be pulled up because she had five boxes of food that needed to be loaded in her car - I wondered if the kids would be excited, I wondered how much peace this might give her, I wondered what not knowing how to feed your kids must be really like...and I knew it didn't fix the problem. I knew those kids would be hungry again in a few days, but for now... As we drove home - exhausted and elated I saw the coorelations unfold. As we celebrated Ava's life, Pauls' was taken. A combination of great pain and great pride -crashing into each other at the same time. And then...60 kids left a party without ever knowing some of their own will eat tonight because of what they left behind. No music, no fanfare - leftovers on a party platter. But y'know what? I don't feel guilty for what we have and I don't teach my children to either. I have been without enough times to still feel it and even though our kids' can't relate to poverty, they get it and by sharing with Ava what we did do for those kids, it brought us back to what a bat mitzvah really is...responsibility and awareness of what your role is in life. When we shared with Ava what her party brought to those kids she smiled and said, "can we invite them to dinner?" - sure Ava...bringing anyone struggling into the fold is how Ava rolls...and the focus moves back to her and how she wants to help. And the puffer fish is back.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Felt up

So today involved the grocery store, laundry and then I got felt up by a middle aged woman with a soft many of you can say that? Today was the day I was putting off for a while. I generally loathe all things breast cancer. I hate my treatment, I hate my appts, I hate the pink ribbon - I really do. But...I needed a new "mastectomy prosthesis" or for common folk, a new boob and a few bras with pockets forever ending Jack's job of scooping up the flying tits at the grocery store when I bend over to grab something. I really do hate this. The pomp and circumstance of it all. The store is out in Waldorf, about an hour away and it's run by a woman named Fran - store is aptly named, "Fran's Nu You"...really? Nu? ME??? Same me, minus a boob - let's just call it like it is, shall we? She speaks in hushed tones, the walls are pink and the door sign reads "Mastectomy Salon" if calling it a salon will somehow soften the blow that I am there to buy a boob so people don't stare. Fran begins asking me about my family, how old are my children (my...four must be busy). Get on with it is all I am thinking. Maybe she thinks familiarizing herself with me and my family will make it more acceptable when she gropes me to determine size. And I mean GROPED. No warning, no wine - just straight in. She even has a framed certification on the wall..."Certified Mastectomy Fitter"...really? REALLY? As she leaves to select a few bras and boobs, I find myself in the company of mannequin heads wearing wigs...lots of wigs. I never did wigs. Not my style. I went for the biker chic look of a bandanna or head covering - I considered it my own personal bad ass facade...I could be anyone I wanted and for those who weren't sure what they thought, screw them, I had cancer. Who cares. She returns smiling with these bras that look like they could fit the front end of a trans am. Straps and pockets - a virtual elastic and polyester contraption that can double as birth control because I am NOT getting laid in this thing. I try it on, wiggle it around, pretend I am looking at myself in the mirror when really I am wondering how I will EVER feel comfortable again. Fran does a few more gropes...checking symmetry, lining up the rack, telling me how great the prosthesis looks (Day one of Certified Mastectomy Fitter class - make the patient feel beautiful) and offering me a plethora of options: fake lace, semi silk, black... essentially nothing is making the cover of the Victoria Secret catalog and yet I resign myself to the contraption, smile and thank her. Fran makes a few more trips to the "back" and I am staring down the nipple shelf, more wigs, the pink ribbons, the empowerment posters and the pepto walls and realize I don't have to be a cheer leader for this. I don't have to be pink and proud because I'm not. You won't see me walking up to survivors to hug them and you won't see me embracing my "nu" image. I cut cancer out and have the scars to prove it but proud? Are you serious? Proud of what exactly? That I survived? Well grateful yes, but proud? No. Not by a long shot. I did what I had to do to survive, to keep my kids' mother in tact and to keep Joseph from dating again - so basically, I did it for selfish reasons. See - it's totally about me. :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Am I WHAT enough?

Every time I am at the grocery store I find myself face to face with Time Magazine asking me if I am "mom enough". I am chasing Jack and Olivia through the candy check out, praying for a non trainee with a master register technique and yet I am confronted with the thought - well am I? Why because I don't sleep with them? Well I do but that's because they crawl into my bed like ninjas and I can't always feel them until I am riding the edge of the mattress with no blankets. Because I don't nurse them until their braces interfere with the latch on? Because I don't wear them until they start 3rd grade? Are you serious? THAT'S what makes me mom enough? Do I need this? Do my sister moms need the stress of being asked if we are mom enough? The ones juggling to put food on the table and still have the energy to read If You Give a Pig a Pancake for the 10th time? The ones who power through a Gymboree class and smile a lot because wine night is coming? Swim lessons? Pediatricians? Wegmans on a SUNDAY? Do I need another reason to feel insecure about my mothering? No, I don't. And especially from some 20 something in skinny jeans exploiting the very child she claims to pioneer the parenting trails for. After nearly 17 years at this I refuse to allow myself to be manipulated into thinking if I chew their food and wear them, they will feel more embraced. Embraced by what? What about confidence? What about personal development? What about a sense of appropriate DEtachment? What about me getting a fucking break in my bed? I have never missed a swim meet, a game, a choral concert or a flu; never a moment I didn't pride myself on being there for me and for them. I stay at home by choice and yeah, it kicks my ass at times - I trade in brain cells for chuck e cheese tokens but I remain without regret until now...Time Magazine begs the question - am I mom enough because my children are not (still) dangling from my breast. Well y'know what? I am BUSY. I am busy raising adults. I am being training and negotiating, rewarding and molding, yelling (okay well yeah there's that) and planning and what I don't need is another reason to feel like a failure. What I LOVE about the women I have in my life is that they are ALL busting their ass, loving their kids and supporting each other and none of us ask each other if we are mom enough because we are. So to the Time Cover Girl. Shut up and pray Google takes a dump before your kid enters middle school and those images are there to "embrace" him. That is all.

Friday, May 11, 2012


It's not a secret to anyone who knows me well that I was raised by a woman who probably shouldn't have been a mother. I was more or less raised by my best friends' mother who I still remember causing me to tremble when I disappointed her but always, always hugging me. I can still smell her sometimes. This Sunday will be my 17th Mothers' Day and if I can offer anything to myself or to my friends, it's hold on...that's it, just hold on. Hold onto the first moments, the belly laughs, the sand castles, the soccer games, the cupcakes, the exploration, the playground...Having children ranging from 16 to 4 offers me a chance to parent two starter children and my raised by a less neurotic ones. The older girls had organic foods, early bedtimes, a hundred books a day, prayers, museums, poetry, long carefully worded discussions and home grown vegetables, no sugar, no pesticides, no red dye 341. The second two - Mc Donalds drive thru, video in the car, noise, fish, late to Hebrew school because I'm tired, a few "because I said so's" and salt water taffy before dinner because who cares...and y'know, both will be just fine. I am holding on. Holding on sometimes with my teeth because when it really matters, I am holding on even tighter - to them, from crisis to unsavory boyfriends to bad grades, to rained out beach vacations to slamming doors. It's almost unbearable at times to watch them tap dance on a minefield and yet, I do...okay sometimes I fire a "you really should..." but then I know, they will do what they will do and it's part of the process. I think if they aren't trying to push boundaries, I haven't done it right and yet in the darkness of the night, I know they will be okay. I know because the value system we set up, that they take down brick by brick will be reconstructed in their honor, by them and truth be told, it will appear shockingly like ours. I feel sometimes like I am pulling them out of quick sand but I will never stop...I will never give up, I will never back off because being a mother, to me, is my greatest life work and since the second I laid eyes on Maddie, it became so. I make a hell of a lot of mistakes, I place judgement, I second guess myself and I talk too much but when each one goes to bed, they know I would get up early to let the sun out for them and perhaps my mother's greatest gift to me was to give me the need to parent with wild abandon, passion and commitment. I hold their memories, their hands and their hearts and I will never stop...holding. So to my 19 year old mother who held herself hostage with a newborn, you are free to go and to my four children, forgive me for meddling, prying and helicopter parenting but know how deeply you are loved. Being loved and desired is the greatest of all gifts we can give our children...I love how they roll their eyes when I joke about never letting them leave home...but I know they do it because they don't know another feeling so for that, I have done my job. Happy Mothers' Day to me...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My own exodus

The similarities are interesting; the Jews of ancient Egypt and me. We both got knocked down by a primary evil, we both endured illness, fatigue, torture, faith testing, plagues (with boils making a cameo in both stories) but in the end, we stood up to the evil and we walked out. Moses took 40 years to get it together, I took 40 treatments but both of us crossed over beaten down, a bit more wounded, slightly less idealistic but triumphant and victorious...and after the exodus across the sea and mine, across the hospital, neither of us could eat bread. :)

It was a 19 month war. I don't have the prolific words that so many of my surviving sisters have. I am not grateful. I don't pray and I don't give thanks to Gd for recovery because then I would have to blame him for cancer...and I don't. I got cancer because I got cancer. To over think it means to give it more energy than it deserves. I remember the day I learned I had it. Susan came over with a pad while I sat stunned over a laptop trying to figure out the best way to get my husband, then fighting his own war in Afghanistan home safely. She and I tried our best to map out a solution but we had none. She sat with me and I sat in a numbed state. Lynn came over that night...I can still see her sweeping my living room in her business suit at 9pm while I remained on the couch rehearsing my speech to the kids. She could only clean, it's how she coped. I could only see their eyes. I knew she was suffering. I wasn't there yet. I was uncomfortably numb. I went to bed alone. Faked a flu to the kids until I had the right words...the ones that said "Mommy has cancer" and prepared answers for when they ask if I am going to die. For Maddie, she suffers quietly, I had to make sure I could reach her even in her silence. Ava deflects. I had to give her just enough information but not a drop more than she can take. Olivia will want to hug me. She won't know. Jack will just want his dad home. I can do this.

I get the call into Afghanistan - to the colonel who is getting Joseph. I have the Red Cross on the other line. I am planning. It's what I do best. Joseph knows it's bad but he also knows I rely heavily on his tone. We are going to do this, he says. We. He's never said anything but since. It's always been We. I head to preschool to pick up Jack and Olivia. I see Robyn and Susanne in the parking lot. I tell them stoically. I don't want questions, I don't want anything...they just know. Robyn hugs me. Susanne tells me she's sorry. So am I. I start to cry. It's as though I give them permission to feel something or maybe I just felt safe...they begin to cry too and the three of us, knowing what I am facing realize, maybe for the first time, I may actually die. As my knees buckle out from under me, I pick up my children and head to the car. I arrive home as Maddie is sitting with Patrick, her best friend. I pull them all outside...good news/bad news. Ava wants the good news first. Daddy is coming home. Joy, hugs...oh my gd why did I do good news first. With a hint of knowing Maddie wants to know why. I take a deep breath, pluck some grass, bite down on my lip and I tell them, in small, edible portions...I have cancer. But we have a plan, I am going to cut it out and the doctor believes I will be fine. It will be a long, tough road but we will win. Maddie folds in Patrick's arms as he holds her, Ava cries into my lap. They all sleep with me that night. I don't sleep at all. I text Ronni all evening...she knows. She's been there. She relives her own battle through me. Cancer has its way with her and shes now back in the trenches with me.

Red Cross calls - Joseph is airborne...five flights, 47 hours...he will be in my arms in less than two days.

And it begins...Susanne, Robyn, Anna and Amy coordinate meals, child care plan, Gail and Beth offer extra days at the preschool so I can rest, doctors visits, phone calls, surgery scheduled, getting Joseph home...the floodgates opened and there we were, on the edge, overlooking a canyon with only a broken down mule. When my chemo began I told Joseph I wanted us to decide when I would lose my hair. Cancer has done enough controlling. My turn. Joseph shaves his head and my son wants in - matching buzz cuts. Then me. He lovingly cuts my hair and then begins the razor as I cry and catch my fallen locks. Collateral damage I suppose. As my scalp is exposed I can't look in the mirror just yet. Joseph's tears are evident...he says I'm beautiful...that I look like a warrior. As Olivia enters the room she sees me and then sees all our hair piled up on the floor together. Look Mommy, she said, it's in the shape of a heart. I look down and there it was...a perfect heart of brown, blonde and red hair. Crestfallen but empowered I begin...

And here I am, victory is mine. But I was never alone...not once except in my mind, when I struggled the deepest with cancer. My worst battles are at night when I am tormented about my children losing a mother. My hideous showdowns are waged in my weakest state...sick, tired, strapped to a radiation table, handing over my hair and my breast. I read the Vikings used to cut off their breast to align themselves with the bow and arrow they used in protection...maybe that was my sacrifice as well.

I am tired, aged, burned, battle fatigued and perhaps a lot more cynical but my children saw the warrior - my gift to them. That deep within me, in the darkest of winter, they saw and experienced and invincible summer.

That will be my legacy...well that an my penchant for the f-bomb.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Burn and blow...

So my fourth week of radiation has gotten very interesting. Bright red burns and sores now cover the area that used to be just my scar, that used to be just my breast and it has made me a fairly miserable bitch all the time. I have all kinds of tricks...aloe, refrigerated aloe, prescription creams, Vitamin E, oatmeal baths, blah, blah blah. The only mild relief I can get really is pulling my shirt and prosthetic boob off and lay slathered in aloe under a ceiling fan. Like very, very, very low rent porn. But with four kids and a busy life, that's not feasible so I move to Phase B. Very unconscious pulling and tugging at my boob when the burn becomes fierce to relieve the pressure on the sores. The problem is, I am doing it so unconsciously, I am unaware of my surroundings when I do it. Exhibit A - I am at the grocery store talking to the check out person about stamps, I am writing my check, she is telling me how she wishes stores would leave that to the postal folks and without thinking, I reach in, pull forward my boob and blow on my chest. Recognizing the awkward moment between us I can go two ways...I can use the shocked look in her eyes as a way of permanently forcing my oblivious self into reality and pretend it was a rubber band snapping at my neck or I can just laugh it off. So I ignore it and hope she thinks...well I don't know what she thinks but I just keep writing. Jack begging for candy helped - a very fine distraction indeed. So I bend over to immerse myself in whatever M&M bag he is vying for when my dislodged boob drops to the floor. I am halfway back up when it makes its launch but I am faster and all would not have been lost had it not been for my sweet son proudly holding the gel blob and yelling "MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! Here's your boobie!!!!!!!!!"

Aww Hello Humiliation, my old friend...just when I thought I had seen the last of you at Hot Yoga. So now I realize, burn and leave it, burn and leave not pull boob and blow. I can assure you these are things I have never had to train myself to do so you can forgive me for the new world order of things.

And my valiant son who probably thinks all moms prop their boobs on the nightstand before going to bed got his M&Ms which to tell you truth, I could have really used.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Warning - High Radiation, enter with caution...

reads the sign on the door as I kidding. Enter with caution. Enter with fear. Enter with awareness. Enter with strength. And despite the overwhelming urge, do not run...especially in that gd awful gown.

It's what I battle every single day. For some radiation is completely tolerable. For me, it's a torture chamber full of exposure, humiliation and anguish. It's an active battle between me and cancer - it's loud, it's bright, it's destabilizing.

After I settle on the table, I begin to count. I know now it takes 150 seconds to get in position. 81 seconds for the first machine to begin. 24 seconds until the alarm sounds...and this is where it begins. Radiation techs scrambling to get the hell out of a room that will soon shoot radioactive poison into the air and there I am. The only thing in between the radiation and the cancer is me and I am defenseless on the table. 22, 23, 24,'s almost there. There are three shots in every session and one is nearly over. Pause. I am deep breathing, I am willing the fear away, I am on the beach with my kids. Alarm. Machines move into place again. Laser beams light up...again...1, 2, 3...I am with Joseph at our favorite restaurant, I am wondering if I have paid my mortgage, 9, 10, 11, 12, I am planning Ava's bat mitzvah, I am losing 10lbs, 22, 23, 24. Done. Last one. Machines shift, alarm sounds, I remain still...again, I am mixing margaritas in my head, I am playing frisbee with my son...14, 15, 16, I am thinking about my day, wondering if I can get everything done, Ava needs a lacrosse stick, 21, 22, 23...almost there. I am counting the seconds until I can be done with this and hoping the weekend is kind. 25, 26, 27...running over a few. I am aware. Alarm sounds. Done. I want to ask why it ran over three seconds but maybe I missed counted, maybe I got three for the road. I don't care - don't talk...slows down the exodus I plan every day out of there.

I am up, off the table and fully dressed in less than 5 minutes. I am out of the clinic and nearly in the parking lot in 3. I am in the car, radio on and heading to the grocery store...trying to be normal. Trying not to feel like a victim. Trying to feel powerful. Trying to ignore that cancer has me yet again exposed, on my back, after taking my breast and 14 months of my life, it takes my peace, my sense of normalcy, my fight. I will keep going...this is never in question but there are days when I am tired of fighting. I am tired of going toe to toe with a disease that taunts me with my future, my children and my peace of mind.

I curl up with Joseph at night and pretend I am not scared to death he will brave this family and world without me and yet I also fear I will win but be so scarred and battle fatigued, I am permanently changed. Damaged somehow. Like an athlete who has lost her legs.

But I do know the longer I stay aware of this and of my battle fatigue, the faster I gain footing back into the ring. You see what cancer can't take from me is really...well me. I get it...I know what I am about and I am strong enough to admit when I am beat down. Radiation will fuck with my head everyday for the next five weeks and I hate every second of it. But y'know what? My children will see my legacy. That in the face of total adversity, I fought and scrapped and made cancer my bitch even when I couldn't look it in the eye.

Joseph and my children are who I see in all my moments of fight, of weakness, of victory...they aren't just my reasons for living, they are all my reasons. Joseph has always said "we"...I love the "we" means are in this together but late at night, I know it's me. It's me who lives and it's me who dies but the we keeps me going...especially when the me is just too tired.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 1 - Mapping...

If I come back in another life, it will be as an oncologist and I will invent a way to treat the breast that doesn't rival a mechanic pulling a carborator out of a pick up. Okay so I'm hardly a prude and really very fine with the body in general. Boobs, tits, melons, sweater puppies...I don't care, no agenda and I have them...boy do I have them...well one anyway. I was a champion nurser. I could do it anywhere and I didn't care. I could wear a lacy bra and I could wear a sports bra and never really worried about much except maybe a little TOO much cleavage (four kids...remember?)...not for show baby, these were working breasts.

So today is Day One of radiation. Prep really. Mapping my entire chest. Holding still and strong, topless on a cold machine with a mold so my arm can nestle without moving and I am told to freeze (like a Popsicle I think...thanks to my son). Then it begins. Barbarians dressed in camouflage and white lab coats take to my chest with a sharpie. Mapping beams, pawing at my neck and stomach, scooting my remaining breast out of the way, talking about me in terms I don't understand with numbers of beam angles I can't figure. I start counting...thank you Ronni. I count backwards from 100. I count in Spanish. I count in Hebrew (but could only get up to 9, sorry Rabbi). I am doing anything I can think of to remove my head from where I am and where I am is under a light and several loud machines with people over me like I am not there and really I am not. I am back...back to a older me. One where I could wear that lacy bra with a bit of seduction; one where I can work out on the treadmill and not worry about my prosthetic boob falling on the belt and flinging into the face of the guy behind me, one where I can look at myself in a mirror without blocking my own line of vision to my chest, hacked and scarred, battle where I am not walking fast, outrunning a disease that threatens to take me from my husband and children; one where I can walk into a doctor's office with ease for a routine visit, one where I don't look at pink ribbons and am reminded that I am one suspicious mammogram away from doing this all over where I am just normal.

Loud orders to stay still bring me come when they say don't move it's at that exact moment every follicle on your entire body begins to twitch?

They walk me back to the dressing area where permanent ink marks on my chest pave the way for a seven week radiation bath. I get dressed, pack on that smile and walk back into the lobby where my husband and son are playing games on his phone. It's why I am here and it's why I keep's why I will win.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reunion Tour...

My cancer team was shifted from civilian back to military which since my chemo ended and my rebuilding is about to begin, I was okay with until my new surgeon asked me to be reevaluated from radiation.  It was ruled out before so why this again?  It seems new information since 2010 (thank you Komen/Avon for the funds by the way) indicated my type of cancer, my grade of tumor, my age, my location of tumors, my shoe size, my hairstyle all point to a strong need for radiation to reduce my risk of local how much I ask?  Well - no way to really tell.  What they can tell me is I run a 22% increased risk of reoccurance without it...well okay, where do I sign?

I came in yesterday to be 'fitted' and despite the absolutely humiliating experience of being strapped to a table with not one, not three but five men and women in uniform poking, prodding and shifting my boob around (Im sure in some circles this could be considered worth the price of admission but not yesterday) and now I am sporting some smokin' tattoos.  Yes, tattoos.  Markers if you will to direct the beams of radiation to pulverize the cancer cells and chest cavity.  Once it begins, I am back on the cancer fighting wagon.  It's my reunion tour.  Me and fight - together again.  5 times a week for 7 weeks (6 for chest and one extra for fun).

I can't really think of anything I will need -'s not chemo which means it's all uphill from there but it's a reminder to me that cancer is still around and not willing to let me sit comfortably for even a little bit in my recovery.  Yes, it's aggressive, yes, it's critical, yes, it's necessary, yes, women do it all the time and yes, I am still fighting and still winning but sometimes I am just done and today is one of those days.

Score remains Dawn 1, Cancer 0 but game went way into overtime.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Every now and then I realize this chaos is fleeting; that one day our very loud and very busy home will be silenced and we will call our grandchildren begging for visits but in the meantime, I am allowed to wonder what the hell is going on here.  I see so many social network posts about the adorable, how smart, how precious these long days are but can we have a day of honesty here once too?  Is it too much to ask that moms especially tell it like it is?  Some days we are fucking tired.  Tired.  Overwhelmed.  Our house is a mess.  Our bills are late and our car looks like a family of hamsters set up shop in there.  That no, I don't want to see Chipwrecked and no, I don't want to steam organic mung beans into a frothy shake that is "so good for them!".  I don't care if it's an hour past bedtime and the non hemp cotton, non flame retardant pajamas don't match.  Chicken nuggets and a go-gurts for dinner won't kill them.  Gasp...

Do I love my kids?  Passionately and unabashedly.  Do I love being a mom every second of my life?  Do you love what you do every second of your life?  Well then, why should I?  Gasp with a hand cup over mouth...

Okay let's so be honest here.  If we all just told it like it is, we'd be so much kinder to each other.  It IS hard, it IS life sucking and it IS overwhelming and if it's not for you, then you are doing it wrong.  I embrace my kids, adore them and live for everything that comes out of their mouth.  I quote them, photograph them, hug them constantly and attempt to make things matter but at night, sometimes I crawl into bed and wonder what the fuck I am doing.  My closest friends are the ones who deep in the night, over a bottle of wine admit this wasn't in the brochure.  That if this is all there is, they may not make it. But they will.  They will and I will because we get it.  We aren't bad moms because we don't embrace sleepless nights because it's fleeting.  We aren't negligent because Disney is more entertaining than a book about the environment and we aren't ignorant because our kids' list of sight words starts with Target and ends with McDonalds.  There I said it.

So here I am at 5am not embracing the "beautiful day Gd created" but cuddling a cup of coffee and hope today is easy but if it's not, it's not and I will survive.  And pizza for dinner with no side of vegetables and cut up apples is fine.  It comes with a chaser of "you will be fine" and I prefer that to vegetables.  It actually does make them stronger.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Four years ago today...

I was watching my children meet Jack for the second time.  Wondering how they will feel about having a brother, wondering how I am going to parent a boy, wondering how I was going to manage four children.  Nursing at midnight, rocking by daylight, dinner, toys, baths, was such frenetic energy with no time to sit and really wonder about anything at all.

And I guess what I got from that now is you really do just put one foot in front of the other and pray there is no oncoming bus.  Could it really be that simple?  You do what's in front of you, feed them, read to them, nag them to wear a coat...I dunno.  I tried so hard for so long to parent with wild abandon.  To be involved in every square inch of their create a world for them that is factory new.  Organic broccoli, steamed to perfection with three other nutritionally balanced choices, each of every appropriate color.  Cultural arts, dance, sports... And now I just wonder if more nights of just cereal for dinner, a warm blanket to hang under and no rushing to ballet or swim team might be more the way to go.  I'm not ready to lead the next Slacker Mom revolution because I am entirely too Type A for that but it's nice to think about.

Did my long days of riding bikes after school with no helmet, drinking from the hose in the summer and eating white rice and mechanically processed meats create the frightening prospects we are reading about?  I'm thinking our kids now are more neurotic and anxious than I ever was and yet they are more cared for, watched over and fussed with...I am not a statistician...hell I failed it twice in college but I just musing...

And let's just say while I don't have my pulse on this parenting shit...I can see it from here

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My faith was strong...

Maybe there’s a Gd above, but all I’ve ever learned from love, was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.  It’s not a cry you can hear at night, it’s not somebody who has seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Maybe this is what I taught my children.  To find within themselves the answers and when they can't, they fail.  I was never one to reach up to a higher self or higher gd because to me, years of praying never brought me what I had been praying for.  Sounds selfish for one with four beautiful children but it's true.  I was never one for blind faith.  Ever.  If I thank Gd for my children, I have to blame him for my losses.  If I thank him for my health, I have to blame him for my cancer.  I could never resolve a place so I decided the strength within my self was enough.  Through the pain of my children who can't find the peace I realize I have failed them.  They can't look beyond themselves...why should they?  I never did.

I see so much of myself in them.  My broken inability to recognize my own weaknesses. 

I said I could never be broken.  I could never give up.  I never would.  Stillborns, chemotherapy, divorce...and yet, the cold and broken cry at night is finally me.

Weakened and broken by circumstance.  Out of the shadows it comes...

It's not a victory's a cold and broken hallelujah.  

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah