National Poetry Month

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I’m taking part in a National Poetry Month (#NaPoMo on Twitter) challenge set up by the Found Poetry Review. What does this have to do with breast cancer? Nothing much, except that after a too-long absence I started writing poetry again after I was diagnosed with DCIS seven years ago.

As part of the challenge I need to try to upload a poem a day throughout the month of April to the PoMoSco (Poetry Month Scout) site, using a variety of prompts. So far I’ve written a poem using only words found on a menu, created haiku from a site that scrambles the original haiku you load into it, and created a poem using only questions found in a source text. I can’t share any of the poems here; all 213 “scouts” (poets) taking part from around the world are posting their poems on the site. I urge you to check it out because some of the work people are creating is nothing short of amazing. It’s on Twitter as #PoMoSco if you want to follow along there–they post new poems every day. It’s a lot of work and I probably won’t earn all 30 badges, but it’s a lot of fun.

I’m telling you this for two reasons. First, you may have noticed I don’t blog much any more. I’ve been trying to decide whether to take this blog in a new direction while keeping the original name, or shuttering it and coming up with something new.

But more importantly, if there’s something creative you love and have gotten away from, or something creative you’ve never tried but wanted to, why not try it now? You might be surprised at what you come up with. Even if you decide all you want to do is write down your thoughts about your journey in cancer or in life, it can be a very healing experience.

Feel free to share your thoughts (and poems!) here.

Happy Poetry Month!

In Memorium: Lisa Bonchek Adams

Jackie Fox:

Sharing Marie’s wonderful tribute to Lisa Bonchek Adams. Her poignant Twitter bio summed up metastatic breast disease better than any medical journal could: “Doing as much as I can for as long as I can.” Condolences to her family.

Originally posted on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer:

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It is with deep sadness that I learned of the death of Lisa Adams on Friday, 6 March 2015.  While we never want to speak of winning or losing with cancer; the words of her family ring so true.

The thousands upon thousands who knew and loved Lisa Bonchek Adams; whether in person or via Facebook, Twitter, or her website and blog read around the world; whether up close or from afar; will find it hard to believe that her steely will and indomitable spirit were finally overcome by the disease she had lived with for so many years.

Lisa was a strong, fearless, passionate voice online – as Renn observed “she was a beacon of honesty. The transparency in her blogging was unsurpassed”; so it is up to us all to honor her legacy and keep her voice alive. Lisa specifically asked that anyone who wishes to honor her memory do so with a contribution to her fund for…

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Book Giveaway

Today is World Book Day, and to celebrate I’m going to give away two copies of my book From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned and You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer. Simply reply to this post or comment on the book’s Facebook page and I will select two winners at random and announce them on the FB page tomorrow.

While some treatment recommendations for DCIS have changed since I wrote it (not as much as we would like), the emotional terrain remains the same so I hope it can still be helpful for women dealing with this confusing diagnosis.

What Survives of Us

Pam and me at my book launch party, September 2010

(Editor’s note: Watching “Being Mortal” on PBS last night inspired me to repost this June 2012 post about my friend Pam. She controlled the end of her story.)

“What will survive of us is love.” -Philip Larkin

Pam broke the news on December 9th, over dinner at our house for an early Christmas celebration. She had stopped all her cancer treatment because her oncologist, who cried breaking the news, told Pam there was nothing more they could do for her. She was calm when she told us how she could feel her body shutting down. My brother-in-law Jeff, his partner Eddie and I cried. Bruce, my husband, did not, but he got a huge lump in his throat.

And then Pam did something I will never forget. She talked about how grateful she was for the life she had and for everything she had been able to do in 40 years. She talked about what a wonderful vacation we had together in Napa in October and about how much fun we were going to have that weekend.

And we did have fun. We went to the Old Market the next day and watched the Dickens carolers. We had lunch in our favorite French bistro. We sipped chocolate martinis in our favorite bar. We toasted being there, in that moment. Our standard toast two years earlier was “Here’s to getting to.” We had started counting toasts in Napa with ridiculous numbers; toast 4,205 or 5,622. We kept that going now.

In the breast cancer Twitter community we talk about being fearless friends. I am so far from fearless. I was scared for Pam all the time, and so was Bruce. We were afraid of what might go wrong when we were traveling together or she was visiting. Jeff was driving her somewhere one day toward the end and she suddenly went “Oh! Oh!” and scared the daylights out of him, but she had seen some fast food drive through she wanted to stop at for iced tea or a shake or something. What allowed us to be there for her was her incredible strength and steadfast refusal to let that thief cancer rob her of her joy in life. If she was tough enough to handle it, so were we.

She never stopped being interested in life. She wanted to know everything about our lives. She wanted to hear about school and work and food and wine. Bruce and I spent the weekend with her in her Kansas City home in early March, a month before she died. She said if you want to come, you should probably come sooner than later.

She took us shopping and to lunches, to a speakeasy and dinner with her parents. We got pedicures and she brought champagne in her tote bag. She cooked. She drove–like a bat out of hell. She hugged me so hard when we left it was like being hugged by my cowgirl cousin, who throws hay bales. I could feel her spine. When we called to let her know we got back to Omaha, she was at her son’s baseball scrimmage, in spite of pain that had kept her on the couch. None of us will ever know what all that effort cost her. When the hospice nurse started coming to her house, she told Pam she wasn’t taking enough pain medication, but Pam had to do this her way. She put off the shrinking of her world as long as she could.

After she went to hospice, she was talking to my sister-in-law Anita about something Anita had made for dinner and said, “I want that recipe.” She knew she was never leaving the hospice; she was tough enough to make the choice to go there. You need to know this isn’t denial. This is insistence on being alive.

One of my favorite stories about Pam was from the night of my book launch two years ago. She bought a carrot cake at the restaurant where we had dinner because I mentioned I liked it. (She was like that. If you liked something, she remembered it and you ended up getting it as a gift.) We brought it home after the party and she set it on the kitchen counter. Jeff and Bruce and Eddie and I were all dithering–too late, too many calories, blah blah blah. Pam didn’t say a word. She pulled five forks out of the silverware drawer, came back to the cake and stabbed all the forks into it. We mauled that cake.

That was how Pam lived her life, and how she faced death. Straight on, no dithering, no excuses. If I can be half the woman she was when my time comes, it will be because she taught me how to live with joy and light and love, and how to face death with grace.

Here’s to you, Pam. Toast 10,373 and counting. I’ll raise my glass to you for as long as I live.

Watching Cranes by Jackie Fox (Where I Live Poetry & Photography Series)

Jackie Fox:

Yes, I’m posting on this long-dormant blog. What does this have to do with breast cancer? Absolutely nothing. I’m trying to decide whether to repost old stuff, change the nature of this blog while keeping the title, or create a different poetry-themed one. Any and all thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

Originally posted on Silver Birch Press:

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WATCHING CRANES
by Jackie Fox

Like heaven’s beating heart
they arrive by the thousands,
until the swirling sky glides
to a stop.

They leap for sheer joy,
curtsy on black twig legs,
heads touched by God’s
thumbprint.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem after my husband and I spent the night in a private blind on the Platte River watching sandhill cranes a couple hours west of Omaha, Nebraska, where we live. (It’s a real bucket list experience!) Every spring about half a million sandhill cranes spend a few weeks where the Platte River runs through south central Nebraska to rest up before heading north. The cranes spend the days in nearby cornfields eating, and they roost in the shallow river sandbars at night. They talk all night; it’s like a noisy cocktail party. When they stop talking it’s because a predator is nearby. People come from all over the world to see them, and now…

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525,600 Minutes

(Napa toastEditor’s note: Today is the second anniversary of my friend Pam’s death from metastatic breast cancer. This post originally ran in April 2013.)

This picture is from October, 2011, when my husband Bruce, his brother Jeff, and our friend Pam went to Napa. Pam’s hand is in the lower right in the picture. You can see how swollen it is in spite of the lymphedema sleeve peeking out from the bottom of the frame.

It was Pam’s idea to take the picture of our hands raised in one of our many toasts. She knew we were making memories to last the rest of our lives, in her case, six months. She gave framed copies to all of us for Christmas.

It’s been a year since she left us, a year filled with memories and disbelief that she’s actually gone. We started letting go of some things and hung to others as long as we could. Bruce still has a picture of Pam as his cell phone wallpaper. I swapped mine out a few months ago, but like him, saved her texts. When we went on our second pilgrimage to sleep with the sandhill cranes in March, we planned to laugh over the text messages she sent on our previous trip. We were both shocked to see her text messages had disappeared. It felt like she was being erased.

The song “Seasons of Love” from Rent asks how you measure a year, or 525,600 minutes. “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights’–then asks “How about love?” and urges us to “Celebrate” and “Remember a year in the life of friends, Remember the love!”

525,600 minutes later it still hurts like hell, but we remember the love.

My other posts about Pam:

The Other “F” Word

I went to see my oncologist for my six-month checkup yesterday. All was routine, other than my blood pressure being 131 over something when it’s usually in the 115 range, even when I see my family doctor. No anxiety there.

When he asked what had changed in the last six months, I told him about the endoscopy I had in December, which turned out to be normal. But what prompted it is something anyone whose had cancer faces whether you want to admit it or not (and I usually don’t)–fear. I was having stomach discomfort that went beyond what over the counter drugs could handle. I finally got worried enough to get in touch with my family doctor. Her practice has a secure portal, so I was able to email her and spew out all my fears.

Ten years ago I wouldn’t have shared my fears at all, so that’s a kind of progress. But 10 years ago, I didn’t appreciate how your body can turn on you. Thanks to early-stage breast cancer I do, and it’s hard for my mind not to immediately go to the worst-case scenario. I shared every cancer scenario that kept me awake at 2 a.m. and scheduled an appointment. 

When I came in for the appointment, she was wonderful. I did a brief recap of why I was there. She listened, then said, “Let’s put all that stuff you’re worried about over here,” waving her hand, “and focus on the symptoms.” Based on my situation and history she prescribed a stomach acid drug and endoscopy. I want to stress that she didn’t order the test because I was scared, and I wouldn’t want her to. She ordered it because it was medically indicated. I’m not a big hugger but I asked for a hug after that because her rational but respectful approach was just what I needed. I feel blessed to have her as my doctor.  

I feel blessed to have my oncologist too. When I told him about sharing a wheelbarrow full of fears with my family doctor, he nodded and said, “That’s what happens when you have cancer.” Then he paused and smiled and said, “It doesn’t help to be a cancer doctor either.” I said no kidding.

It reminded me of the “No Fear’ brand of clothing that came into vogue because of motocross. A few years back I spotted a young guy wearing a shirt that said, “Some Fear.” I laughed then, but it’s even funnier now.

The #BCSM (breast cancer social media) community has discussed this residual fear on their great Monday night tweetchat. If you feel like you could use (or lend) some support and you’re comfortable with Twitter, it’s a great chat. You can also visit their website. And they’re not snobs; some things, like fear, are universal, and people with other kinds of cancer have been made welcome there.