Sunday, February 23, 2014

Just the Right Proportion of Salt & Pepper

I wish you could see me! All dressed every day, loving my new body, going for short outings, welcoming a visitor or two.  I am getting stronger and back to myself step by step for which I am deeply grateful. Last night for a blissful hour and likely against doctor's orders,  Paul & I went to our dance place and I had a handful of dances, modified with the arms barely moving----oooh it felt divine! 

Of course just as I hit my stride, I will begin chemotherapy- right in time for my March 14th, 54th birthday chemo-cake! Some of you have asked why, if I removed both breasts, had negative nodes and clean margins on the tumor, will I use chemotherapy. It's a good question. The idea with chemo is if any wayward cancer cells did manage to slip by the stalwart lymphatic guards of my underarm area, and are trying to set up shop elsewhere, this will find them and stop them in their tracks. In most everything drug related, we look at benefit vs. risk. Because I am otherwise in tip-top shape, young and without other health concerns, the benefit/risk ratio of having chemotherapy leans much more to the benefit side of things. 

Chemo also stops lots of healthy cells from growing too, and works because it is toxic, hence some of the unpleasant short term side effects. I am not too worried about these. First of all, it's not that long and if I set my mind to it,  I seem to be able to get through discomfort. Luckily, I have lots of good naturopathic approaches to use to help make me more comfortable. I will also work that angle to help prevent some of the more concerning long term side effects from chemo, all of which are dose-dependent. So the less is more theory works well here in my case, too, as the plan is for 4 sessions of chemo, once every three weeks. It's a sure bet I will lose my pretty hair. Darn! I have worked so hard to achieve just the right proportion of salt and pepper! I am going to do try a few progressively shorter cuts over the next few weeks. Why not!? And I think I'll look for a shortie wig in a few months; can't quite rock the babushka look.

I should finish up right around Father's Day, which will be a right nice gift for Paul I would think. This man is too much: sweet, funny, present, supportive and, just like when I was pregnant, will hop out of a cozy, warm bed at any hour of the night to make me a perfect piece of plain toast if that's what I feel like. Think: husband award ceremony. 

Oh, one last thing. I know some of you, for weeks on end, were meditating and praying and sending into the universe something to the tune of "Let Amy have negative nodes & smooth-sailing." Thank you for that (and look how well it worked!) If you'd like some new verbiage, here's what I'd ask for: "Let Amy handle her treatments well and let all the cancer be gone." Thank you for thinking of me from time to time and for all your positive thoughts and sweet cards and emails, it continues to keep my, what some might define as pathologically good spirits, high.

Hope you are all well, that you are enjoying life and appreciating all your blessings, large & small.

Love & light,

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Note to Our Students

It is the wee hours of the morning over here and I am up about rooting around for some protein and taking some gentle laps around my house. Healing from a bilateral mastectomy takes focus and intention and it’s not all that predictable what I might want or need at any given moment! That said, all the basic ingredients: food, water, rest, deep sleep, quiet hours, healthy food, a handful of the right supplements are all going far. The secret ingredient of course is love, which I seem to have in spades. Pouring in from around the world in the form of emails, cards, little gifts, flowers, soup, backrubs, prayers, reiki, you name it really,  I could not be more bathed in the love and affection of people whose lives I have apparently touched- including yours. Thank you for your lovely poster, your get-well cards and your Valentines, all brightening up my kitchen, an entire room that has been transformed into a kind of a giant love letter to me. My spirits are lifted and my heart is full; should my mood try to flag, it simply cannot.

What can I tell you about this part of my story? As students of homeopathy, naturopathic medicine or simply life, I want you to hear this at the very deepest level. Everything you know, everything you do, every way in which you touch the lives of other people- your family, your friends, those in your community, your patients….. matters and it matters that you give of yourself in ways that are authentic to you, but don’t hold back, don’t be stingy! Couch your work in this kind of posture, find ways to contribute and to give back, remember always that a generosity of spirit will fill your life with gladness, you will never regret giving of yourself. And remember in the clinic, that all the knowledge and information and ability to apply it correctly is essential but that it should always be offered with a loving and caring heart.

I also want to thank you for holding Paul in your thoughts and for being present to him during the NESH weekend. Of course it was not easy for him to leave my side during these times, but I pushed him to do it. First of all it gave members of my extensive local support team a chance to step up and well, we hate to disappoint our students! We both hope you learned a bunch and Paul will look forward to seeing you next time. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day 2014

In further good news we learned yesterday that my breast tumor had clean margins, meaning it did not try to branch out whatsoever. While I generally consider branching out to be an essential element of a life well-lived, with cancer, everyone wants clean margins!
The pathologist also took a more detailed look/see at my soldier sentinel nodes and pronounced they were as clean as whistle. if that metaphor even works. SO, only good news from the pathology report, which will positively impact my further steps of treatment, to be fully delineated next week at a team meeting with all the relevant docs at Mass General.

No more health stuff now, but how ‘bout this poem I wrote for you know who. This Valentine’s Day we’re sending a boatload of love your way; may all our lives be imbued with love of all kinds and all the other good stuff, too!
Love & light,

Valentine’s Day for Paul

When we happened upon the
black sand beach while circumnavigating Iceland
I could not predict that 20 years later
I would sit by your side
On a cozy afternoon
After an epic snow storm

Me sorting a colossal pile of nails and screws
Which quite possibly would never be used:
Flat topped nails with smooth legs
Skinny tacks with no manners at all
Stunt little crossed-topped screws
that would drive me mad
when the Phillip’s head went missing,
screws sitting bored in plastic sheaths
waiting to spread wide ,
and alive, behind drywall
these nuts & bolts of our life held together

But like the good husband you are,
You did not begrudge me my useless chore
A sorter’s delight,
Well, how could you?

An unfortunate plate
holding your obsidian Islandic sand,
--that shining rarity you somehow coveted
and carried home like a sack of rare gems--
had shattered,
spraying the shiny blackness
in an spectacular arc on the cellar floor ….
where it languished for weeks
mingling mindlessly
with lesser elements
while life whirled around upstairs.
The clean-up presented a challenge
But you took it on, same furrowed brow
The intensively pensive look you sport:
First gathering the spill
with a feather-light broom
Then arriving at the table,
your coddled load diminished,
you skillfully pour out the mixture,
delicately pushing black sand to one side
lowly dirt and dust to the other,
You had some difficult-to-follow
scientific explanation
for how the division
must take place

While I sat satisfied, sorting my fasteners,
--thrilled to find a missing drill bit!
you worked your magic on that sand
until a pure unpolluted blackness was all that was left

And right there
I knew the perfect contentment
as the slant of the winter sun
illuminated the fact that
people in love can do anything at all & be happy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I am coming to my one-week mark over here and my doctor has chastised me for trying to do too much. She says that the less I do these first TWO weeks the better. Paul says if I don't come lie down next to him this minute, he'll get out the taser! It’s hard for me to stop my creative, intellectual, social, expressive urges, what can I say?! I am leaning heavy on the strong muscle of the mind to keep myself in check, but first a few thoughts:
I made & froze various versions of my luscious chicken soup before my operation. It seems that’s all I really want to eat these days. I personally have always equated soup with love, yet during this recuperative phase, all I want is my own. I guess it’s true: all love begins with self-love! Thank you, our local peeps, for lovingly making and bringing us soup; trust me that Paul is enjoying it all. Soup related, though a bit tangentially, if you missed probably the nicest gift I ever gave to anyone, and you have a few minutes to waste online, check this out:
And on a totally separate note, Sophie, my dazzling daughter, arrives home in a week, lucky that I am. To be delivered February 1st, Sophie sent me a spectacular gift: a refurbished cereal box filled with notes, affirmations, and perfectly appropriate gifts, one for each day of February she would not be snuggled in by my side. 

Okay, it’s true, the apple did not fall very far from this tree, but today’s piece I loved in particular. It was her wondrous list of why February is the very best month for healing. The handwritten line that enthusiastically jumped off the page and grabbed me was: The word February is from the Latin word Februum, meaning purification. I cherish my idea that surgery with all its technicalities and clacking instrumentation was, at its essence, purifying. My experience of the ensuing pain, discomfort, intermittent bizarre sensations and the ways in which I cannot or should not do basic kinds of things for myself yet (the worst!!) are lessening, it’s true, but even from the moment I opened my anesthetized eyes and saw my loving son, Misha, and Paul at the foot of my bed, smiling and with two thumbs up (read: secret code for negative nodes,) this breast subtraction act was all contextualized for me into a clear crescendo of purification.
In the coming weeks, once I’m cleared for a bath (which by the way, a hot bath before bed has long been my centering and peace-giving sacrament; I crave one of those like a junkie looking for a fix,) I will visit a Jewish ritual bath, called a mikvah, and put word and custom to this overwhelming feeling. I am a big believer that it’s good to articulate and mark all the significant events of our lives, even the challenging ones, don’t you think?

And now it’s back to bed with me; should you find yourself walking outside on this yet another stellar day (at least here in the northeast,) take in some deep lung-fulls for me; Paul really does not want me to walk outside or even over exert in any way you would define it (so, I surreptitiously do laps within my lovely home, I am sure I look like a real nut, up the stairs, across the top floor, saunter into Jonah's shrine of a room for a peek, down the stairs, along the hall, dips into the bathroom, check in on the basement, rinse, repeat.)  I think Paul fears I'll fall (even with my superior balance!) and wreck this whole operation!

Love & light,

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Our Grateful, Peaceful, Healing Home

I woke up today without my beautiful breasts. 
Swapped 'em out for cancer, pretty good deal for me, I'd say! Instead, now my mind is clear, my heart is strong and I can feel it, my body will come back better than ever. Add to that: I get to sit at my lovely kitchen table, a rainbow of roses open wide in a very pretty blue vase, and admire Mt. Norwottock dressed in her morning snow, send a loving email to my kids, eat a really good bowl of oatmeal I made myself and well.....pick up the thread of my life with passion and purpose and a whole lot less worry. 

This whole negative node thing is like winning the lottery- YEAH!!!

Your love, prayers, ++++vibes, humor and general presence to this process with me has lifted me in every way and I know I will need it going forward. I am an optimistic person and upbeat in all regards but I know you will there when my energy flags or I feel bummed I can't do a waltz yet or get my hair just so. Keep putting in the orders for blue skies, too, it sure helps! 

All I can say is, if you ever face this same prospect, which I sincerely hope none of you will, work your ABS beforehand, it's a HUGE asset getting up and down and moving-- so many muscles tie in with the pecs. 

I am going ahead with a bit of breast reconstruction so Im won't be as flat as a 2x4. I have too many dresses that look good on me & require a bit of boob. In a moment of kookie humor I build my reconstructed breast, veggie style, from some winter root veggies:

Whaddya think!?

Sending love and light from our grateful, peaceful, healing home to yours.
xoxo AMY

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Notes from the Hospital Waiting Room

This is Amy's husband, Paul, writing from the hospital. 

A quick note that Amy had asked me to send you to say that the main surgery is behind us, that the surgeries went without complications, and went as planned. I think the current plan is for us to stay here until Thursday afternoon, avoid the storm, and then get released.

Some specific fantastic medical news, though more later. The sentinel nodes were negative, looking at 2 on the right side and 1 on the left side. The skin under the breast looked good and the chest wall looked pristine, so the likelihood of local spread may be negligible. We will know more on that in 2 weeks. Surgeon said that Amy is in really good physical shape so they were able to move fast and efficiently. So from what we could tell now, this is as good news as we could get. I was sobbing too much to write this little bit. I wrote the below before that news. Ok. Back to sobbing.

Since Amy is in reconstruction, knocked out, sleeping, recuperating, this is the one time when I get a chance to say more than she does, holding up our side of the conversation, (so Rena, Jacob, this time I will skip the troglodyte role.) So this is what I have been thinking about, and sorry for the typos.
I have been sitting here in the waiting area for a few hours. I think about the surgeons and whole team at work. We met them previously and they all seem at the top of their game. (Thank you so much Josh.) Which fills me with comfort, as I let go of the things that I have no control over. Looking at the space though, I think how Al-Razi would have changed the surroundings that these skilled folks are working in. And how that nice Islamic gent with a lot of great medical foresight including starting good hospitals, led, a thousand years later to a nice Jewish boy in Denver working on the aspects of medicine that helped Amy through this month, and that will help her heal when the surgeons are done with their part. (Thank you so much Jacob, and while I am at it, Michael for feeding the body and William for feeding the soul or I guess you would say soles.) What I am going to skip though is a string of historical facts, thoughts, dates, in the history of medicine, all interesting, but really those thoughts at this time were only there to provide me a sort of refuge to hide in, during some moments of terrifying, petrifying, anguish. So what I want to tell you is what stopped that anguish.

Just a few highlights from a string of thoughts:

Driving in today, the sun was bright, shining beautifully on the snow covered trees. Amy was listening to Dylan, and Dixie Chicks, and Paul Simon, and KD Lang, and Aoife O’donovan. Eyes closed she is singing along. She seems strong, sound, resolute. I am crying, sighing, singing. Your basic hysterical mess. Whenever she opens her eyes to talk, I am looking away, I don’t want to worry her. As we get closer to Boston, I answer her question by sighing, laughing and big tears just popping out of my eyes. We both laugh then. Which is a sort of theme that comes to mind here.

Way back in the day, Amy got pregnant. We flew back from Nebraska to Portland to have the birth, since Nebraska at that time did not allow home births. Anyway, we flew back, and a few days later with Ed Hofmann Smith as the primary attendant, Amy’s contractions began. The whole birth experience took place in Amy’s sister Nancy’s apartment bedroom. A few hours of labor and Sophie was born. (I have to say, I was exhausted. Rubbing Amy’s back through the contractions nonstop breathing coaching, it’s hard on a guy.) Oh, I should say looking at her, Amy was full of life, screaming for joy, beaming, laughing, crying, hugging, kissing. She looked great. Anyway, Ed tells Amy to lie down and rest. Pretty soon he leaves and it is just Amy, Sophie, Nancy and me in the bedroom. Sophie is lying on my chest, skin to skin, her arms hugging me, as Amy is collecting herself. Now, all three girls are lying down on the bed, as I am telling them a shaggy dog story, playacting it, grabbing a towel and using it as a cape in the story, jumping on the bed, on the chair, on the bed again. Sophie, on Amy’s chest, falls asleep before the punch line, but then again her she didn’t get my sense of humor at that time. Amy and Nancy however, are guffawing, laughing hysterically, then crying and then laughing and laughing so hard they begin to cry again. Randomly, after nine months of pristine diet, the doorbell rings, as someone had ordered Chinese takeout. I cracked my fortune cookie and read, “Wisdom is the principal thing”, And since Sophia is the sort of goddess of wisdom it seemed to fit the moment. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to say here.

The next day we decided to go out for a short walk, which was episodically broken up by lots of rests. The one I remember most had me sitting on a park bench, Sophie, wrapped up, lying on my chest (working out what my story meant from the night before), and Amy lying on the rest of the bench, head resting on my lap, as we gaze at the frolicking Mallard ducks swimming in the pond at Laurelhurst Park. I am looking sort of calm on the outside, as usual, but inside my mind is racing. Freaking out, sort of, on the inside. I mean this stork came and dropped off a perfectly good-looking kid, but without any operating instructions. I mean we were kids ourselves, and didn’t really know what was going to happen next. What is day two like? Day three?

The only operating instructions came in one sentence from the Chinese restaurant in the line from the fortune cookie. As the panic began to swell, (still pretty stoic on the outside) I looked at my benchmates. Sophie, nuzzled in and asleep. Amy resting, and then slipping off into naptime. And well, I kind of knew everything was going to be fine. We just went through this intense thing, and she looked so peaceful, calm, content. I kind of felt like, well, we are in for some kind of ride, this lifetime. It is going to be a blast, so I better hold on and she better hold on.

Misha came along soon after that. Now we are living in Amherst, still young, but had a little handle of the parent game. Another home birth. This one in February. There are, I don’t know, maybe a dozen people in the house, sort of mingling around, having a good time I guess. I am in the bedroom with Amy, and the midwifes. Contractions intense, back rubs, massages, breathing exercises. Everything seems to be going as it should, and then it becomes sort of obvious when Amy hits transition. There is a fellow in the living room who found Amy’s conga drum and begins to beat out a rhythm. It’s sort of sweet and then becomes sort of monotonous, and then sort of irritating, and Amy screams out some sort of expletive and yells out to get him to stop that noise. She then closes her eyes. At which point we all look at each other and laugh silently, as the scene was just ludicrous. Still in transition, a very short time later, I reach over to show her a moment of affection, and she screams, “ I don’t need kisses I need oxygen,” and closes her eyes again, as we all crack up again. A little while later Misha is born. There are pictures of all of this. You can see Misha sleeping, Amy beaming, laughing, overjoyed. (In the same picture I look so beat up I look like I have suffered from malaria for 4 decades.) Amy jumps out of bed, and goes to her clothes and puts on her pre-pregnancy jeans and says, not bad right?! At which point we all really crack up, laugh, laugh so hard we’re crying. As the midwife, is looking at Amy with pride, at Misha with professional eye, and at me with some heightened level of concern, I am thinking OK, no surprises here. Amy is who she is. We are who we are. I am back on that park bench thinking about the future and knowing it will be OK.

A very short time later, its Jonah’s turn. Baby #3 in like 4 years. Our next homebirth, in the same room in Amherst. OK. We’ve done this before. This time in the Springtime, in the nice weather. Contractions, on and off through the day, beginning to escalate in the evening and night. To hurry them along, Amy and I are walking up and down Middle Street. Walking slowly. Slowing down during a contraction. After a while it gets more comfortable to lean on the mailboxes during a contraction, with me supporting, massaging her from the side or back. OK, labor begins, out comes Jonah. Yes, it was longer but the part I want to get to is the next day. It was a beautiful sunny day. Amy and I were sitting on the front stoop, taking in the sun. Amy in a chair holding Jonah in her lap, I am sitting on the step. Amy seems in bliss, as if she just ran a 5K and is thinking about the swim next. I look calm and relaxed. (Actually, at the time, the vision running through my mind was any cowboy movie, with me in the movie on all fours, lost in the desert, dry dusty wind parching me, buzzards above, and me whispering I need water, I need to rest, I need chocolate, I need a bed, my body hurts.)

Anyway, we look up as we see a distant neighbor walk up our driveway, getting close and saying, ‘Er…excuse me, but wasn’t that baby that size last year?” Amy and I look at each other. Straight-faced Amy says, that was his brother Misha, this is Jonah, “he was born yesterday, in a room in the back of the house!!” At which point the neighbor mumbles something and runs away, not knowing how to process that bit of news. We watch, and look at each other our eyes glistening with mirth. After a while we laugh so much tears pop out of our eyes. She closes her eyes and continues to take in the sun. And again I am left with that same feeling, that same image. Same park bench in Portland. We are going to be fine.

And that is sort of how it has gone, this little trip of ours. I have always felt that we have been blessed with more luck than we deserved, have had ups and down, but mostly, over these decades, the tears have been tears of joy, though sadly this is not one of those times. We have been mostly healthy, despite my sleeping and chocolate habits. But we have never taken health for granted. We know it is a luxury, built upon a lot of luck and some work, and that even when some work hard, the luck is not with them. Amy has tried, in all the ways you know, to pay back for the luck that we have had, to help where she can. She is primarily a very positive person, and that positivity has been a sort of godsend through this month.

However, this past month has been an incredible experience for both Amy and me. I have always thoughts of invisible strands connecting each person to each other person, some thinner some thicker, but still all somehow connected to each other. At various times in our lives these connections manifest, becoming visible and tangible. Your letters, telephone calls, emails, texts have been that, and have been so moving. You have really given her such a great support. Every one of you. Every one of you. Each one. To a great extent, Amy got through this month staying positive with your help. I will love you all for that gift you gave us.

So here I am on this bench in Mass General, sitting here holding Amy in my heart. With my thoughts and my memories. She is out of surgery. Double mastectomy behind. Reconstruction soon behind. Anesthesia is leaving slowly. I don’t know what the future will bring us regarding this. We won’t know the actual findings for a couple of weeks. When she wakes up, and when we leave this hospital, I expect her to be, well…be herself, Amy. Ups and downs for sure, but still Amy. She has never looked as beautiful to me as she does right now. Have a good night to all of you.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Drenched in the Power of Love

Last night Paul & I went ballroom dancing for hours. I think I sat out only one dance
(ladies room called!) I have never felt better. Here’s a three minute slice of our world: a Night Club Two Step we danced yesterday during the day, while putting in some practice time, the sun streaming into the studio and both of us feeling drenched in the power of love.

Love & light,

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Good Nervous

As my day of surgery gets closer, I feel calm, focused, happy and clear. I look forward to this cancer being taken away from me for good and to being able to let go of it with a kind of joy. It’s like something I never wanted that somehow found a place to settle in  my body and now I have the chance to let it go. YEAH!!

But if you knew me well, you’d see small signs of nervous. In the sports psychology world where I live (think: raised three amazing athletes,) we know at a certain point, the physical ability matters but mental game is way more essential. One aspect has to do with what’s called good nervous.  You can imagine not nervous enough, where you don’t care and basically don’t show up. And everyone knows too nervous : scattered, hyperventilating, poor focus, not a helpful state.

Here’s what good nervous is for me: it’s about really caring about both the process and the outcome. It’s about doing everything possible to get what I want.  It’s about feeling a little nervous and excited as part of my determination; it’s empowering and motivating and builds on itself. So, that’s where I am now. I’ve had a life of opportunities to be on the spot and practice getting to good nervous-- lecturing to 100s of students or colleagues, testifying at the State House, playing competitive volleyball, working with challenging patients, juggling the ridiculous needs of three teenagers- perhaps that was my best training ever-and now going after this breast cancer. I have practiced over and again how to have clear channels to this sea of calm and the land of good nervous. It s like anything you practice often, it becomes second nature. So I know why it comes easy to me because I have worked this muscle-- but I tell you what, I’m damn happy for it today. There is nothing I cannot get through.

Of course feeling all your love and concern makes it better, too and in a funny way, more social-- which also works for me!

And for those of you who want to know how you’d KNOW I was working my good nervous muscle, here are a few tells:

1. Happy time spent in my art room. One project was a number of little signs for my anesthesia nurse who has promised to convey positive thoughts about and to me during surgery.

2. All my hand-embroidered handkerchiefs ironed & stacked up pretty in a basket. If you come to visit and would like, feel free to take one home. I have lots.

3. A whole bunch of fresh rolled change, I find this most relaxing. If I owe you money (which I probably don’t….) happy to pay in coin!

Still not looking for any medical advice or any cancer stories, save those for someone else! But happy to have all your love & prayers, good thoughts, short jokes, you tube have-tos and any other little ditties you think I might enjoy. Right now I am more open to funny than inspirational or informational, humor vs. contemplative!

Love & light,