My walks through the streets of Center City Philadelphia each day have turned into a relentless reel of damaged and discarded souls, the life literally drained out of them. The homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted. Their suffering feels heightened, an assault on my soul. I blame this man. Worse, I sorrow for this country. For all of us, for the nightmarish turn the American dream has taken, though we should have seen it coming. Now, it feels like it has been inevitable for so long, like Obama was really just a hiccup of hope along a pre-determined trajectory of hate. – Me, August 16, 2017

I wrote the words above at the dawn of the Trump Era.  I sat down to write today, and looked back at these words from three years ago, which now ring with an eerie sense of foretelling.  I can’t even remember what the world looked like in August of 2017 (though clearly it was bad.)  But I read those words now, and they feel a million times more true, more damning, than when I wrote them.

It is Election Day in Philadelphia, where I work, where I lived for fifteen years, where my heart is.  It is June 2, 2020, and the city is on fire.  The country is burning.  So many lives have been lost since I last struggled to express myself here; it is beyond comprehension.  The psychologist whose musings on Trump’s “malignant narcissism” I referenced in my last post, predicted that this President would cause millions of people to die.  We are well on our way.  Looking back, this all feels so inevitable.  Are those of us who have been paying attention at all surprised that our country has imploded so violently?  We are enraged, we are in despair, but we are certainly not surprised.

I will admit to a very-long standing sense of cynical outrage about our so-called democracy.  It has never felt like a perfect union; it has felt like a stolen dream, built on the suffering and exploitation of the many, benefiting the few.  And it has always, always felt fraudulent, with hate and racism baked in to its very foundation.  I am certainly not alone in this view, and there is no sense of “I told you so” satisfaction in watching the events of the past week unfold.  The simmering injustices of our centuries of history were destined to boil over, and perhaps, hopefully, today’s inferno will ultimately lead us to a better place.  But today, it is almost impossible to see what that might look like, or how we could ever get there and remain intact as a country.

I am a child of white privilege.  I grew up in upper middle class ease in the leafy comfort of Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs.  I chafed against that privilege from an early age, and as soon as I was old enough, looked for a different path.  A college internship on the West Side of Chicago.  A gap year in New Orleans.  Law school in North Philly.  A career in public interest law. But for all of the ways in which I have interfaced with lives and challenges that look nothing like my own, these challenges will never be mine.  I cannot claim to understand what it feels like to be black or brown in this landscape.  But the rage and sadness I hold for enormous swaths of our country feels as real today as any emotion that has ever rocked me.   

For the last few nights, I have heard what sounds like muffled fireworks in the distance.  What I am actually hearing, I am quite sure, is the sound of the city I love, just a few miles away across the Delaware River, turning on itself.  I hear those sounds, I see the images I allow myself to absorb (in small, controlled doses), and I feel a weight on my chest, like something is crushing me.  Like I can’t breathe.

This is not a moment that will pass.  Because it is not just a moment.  It is everything, all of our history, everything we have inherited.  We can no longer hide from who we are, what we have all allowed to happen.

Hope feels illusory right now.  But I will continue to search for it.  This morning, as I walked through my quiet New Jersey suburb, right next door to Camden, I saw remnants of last night’s peaceful protest outside the township municipal building.  “THESE LIVES MATTER” surrounded by countless names etched in chalk; a humorous sign  – “NOV. 3rd  – FLUSH THE TURD!” – denouncing our Monster-in-Chief, touched my heart and did give me faint hope.  I’ve watched our neighborhood change and diversify over the last ten years, and it warmed me to see that those around me are feeling the rage, too, and looking for a way to express it.  Even those of us who are more insulated from the injustices that define the lives of so many still feel their impact, and are searching for the path to change.  Hold on to that.  There is hope in that.  This fight belongs to all of us.    

Posted in America, Black Lives Matter, Philadelphia, Racism | Tagged | 2 Comments


It’s harder than I thought it would be to write about gifts and gratitude, in the face of this creeping darkness, this foul energy that seems to have tainted everything. Today, I am celebrating the day of my birth – and the continued, awesome fact of still being alive – with, among other things, abstaining from news consumption. I need this shit out of my head for Just One Day. But still, here I sit, and I can’t. I am trying to write about what is beautiful, and it just feels like an exercise in shutting out all that is hideous and borne of hate.

For the past few days, I have been haunted by an interview I heard on Monday morning. The interviewee was John Gartner, a psychologist who has taken up the cause of diagnosing Trump with “malignant narcissism,” and crusading to have him removed from office because of his unfitness to serve due to his mental illness. Gartner stated, with 100% certainty, that Trump will end up killing millions of people as a result of his psychiatric disorder. If only, Gartner screams from the mountain top, the mental health professionals who saw this coming had been permitted to speak up during the election. He and his allies could have saved the world from the certain destruction that is approaching.  As if the people who support this madman would have heeded the warning.  As if undiluted, unshakable hate isn’t at the heart of this revolution.

Here’s to nuclear annihilation on the Monday morning of my birthday week.

Almost more than the substance of what he way saying, Gartner’s tone and delivery horrified me. His interviewer and co-interviewee were both women, and he spoke to them with such a mansplaining, enraged condescension that he sounded not that different from Trump himself. What, I cried to myself, has this wretched, hateful man done to all of us?

My walks through the streets of Center City Philadelphia each day have turned into a relentless reel of damaged and discarded souls, the life literally drained out of them. The homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted. Their suffering feels heightened, an assault on my soul. I blame this man. Worse, I sorrow for this country. For all of us, for the nightmarish turn the American dream has taken, though we should have seen it coming. Now, it feels like it has been inevitable for so long, like Obama was really just a hiccup of hope along a pre-determined trajectory of hate.

Even my ability to be swept up in the magic and electricity of two magnificent U2 shows earlier this summer was tainted. The band’s rhetoric of inclusion felt false, polluted. And the turmoil we are living through actually made me angry at my beloved heroes, Bono, especially, who’s musings on the “America is an idea, not a country,” now just feel hollow and wrong. I’m angry at him for thinking he can Dr. Feelgood us out of this abyss. They, as “guests in this country,” can turn and run home to their Emerald Isle. We, their American audience, are trapped in the torment of a today that feels endless.

So, for all of these reasons and more, today, MY day, I have tuned out (except, perhaps, for the purging happening here.) I practiced yoga with my most beloved teacher, who, with the power of his words alone, guided me up into my first-ever unsupported handstand. I breathed oceans of breath, with the sweat pouring off of me, and allowed myself the time and space to remember the miracle of still being in this body. Forty-five years in, and I am still changing, growing stronger and more determined. There is fight and focus in me that knows no limit. Being upside down in that moment, I remembered all of those essential things.

Maybe upside down is the answer

Maybe upside down is the answer

Is that the way out? Is that the way we fight what is happening all around us? We cannot find ourselves in a sodden heap at the end of each day, mystified and mortified, shame-filled before the rest of the world. This cannot stand.

Resist. We have been told to resist, over and over again. BUT HOW? It feels impossible.

But it can’t be. I won’t let my son experience the world this way. I want to him experience it upside down, jubilant and joyful. I have taken this day for myself, to look inside, to remember the wonder that lives there. With my hands pressing hard against the studio floor, and my feet flying over my head, I think I found it. Next, I will turn it around, and give it back to the world. Please join me. Maybe together, we can make the world we see in our hearts a reality.

Posted in Life After Cancer, Philadelphia, yoga | 1 Comment


My state of mind coming to Denver to speak as part of a young adult cancer conference was primarily one of perplexed amusement. When did I become a “leading expert” on adopting after cancer? I am simply one person with a story, no more or less remarkable than anyone else. I’m not even a “young adult” anymore. I am squarely ensconced in mid life. It all felt a bit absurd.

Selfishly, I approached the weekend as a chance for some “me time:” to sleep uninterrupted, to momentarily escape the demands of family, home life, routine. To drink wine and eat truffle fries in bed in a hotel room, undisturbed. To be on a plane without having to manage a squirming five year old. To let my mind relax.

But what I realized after 48 hours away from that routine, those demands, is that they ground me. They are my present. Everything I have is such a gift. I have gotten lazy, it seems, about truly, madly, deeply appreciating the miracle of my every day existence, the fact that I still exist at all.

Ten years. It’s been nearly ten years since it all began, since the world titled, knocked me sideways. A decade. That feels like a huge slice of time.

I surely can’t remember the person I was before cancer. I can scarcely remember who I was at the dawn of my recovery.

My sweet young survivor friend, a full 14 years younger than me, asked last night, after hours of eating and drinking and reflecting, “How many lives do we live?” It seems plain that for us, as survivors, there are so many, countless. We are continually reborn.

But while our rebirths are happening, there are people still living this fight. That will never change. While I have been granted the gift of moving on, of aging, the next generation keeps coming. They are young people who have been cut down. They are weakened, bald, trembling as they hold tongs trying to pluck sandwiches from the umpteenth buffet table in an airless conference hall. They are in wheelchairs, they wear masks to protect themselves from infection. They lug oxygen with them. They want to have families; they don’t know what their future holds. Some of them will die, perhaps soon, before they have the chance to realize any of their foggy visions of what might lie ahead. All of them deserve better.

At the beginning of the weekend, there was a kind of neutrality, a distance. I arrived, checked in, grabbed my badge and goodie bag, and holed up with room service and MSNBC. I wasn’t even really thinking about cancer. My story was written so long ago. All of the emotion and struggle, it’s been replaced with the every day of work, my son, chores, commuting, running with my dog, laughing with my husband at the end of another day, another day that I often unwittingly take for granted.

But then I woke, and dressed, and entered the fray, and started seeing the faces, and everything began to feel different. My heart rate quickened, ever so slightly, as I moved through the halls. What, exactly, was I doing here?

There was a certain beauty in not preparing, in simply waiting to read the room, listening to the other voices who were addressing those who were interested in this issue, this question of how to build a family after cancer. I needed help remembering what it felt like, to be raw and wondering, full of that hope tinged with uncertainty.

To share my experience, to reach back and remember, to feel the struggle of searching for my son all over again, it was huge, and unexpected. But gratifying, to look out, and see heads nodding, and eyes glistening with tears, couples holding hands. My only, limited goal, I told myself, was to deliver hope, to even one soul. Did I succeed? The heartfelt smiles, some sorrowful, the handshakes, suggested “yes.” Mission accomplished, then.

But afterwards, lingering through the conference crowds, riding the elevators, sharing meals in the cavernous ballroom, some unease returned. Slowly, unconsciously, I was absorbing it all, the prickling, anxious energy, the levity laced with deep anger and pain. It wasn’t long before I began to feel the urge to flee.

What a blessing, then, to be rescued, swept up in hugs and conversation, laughter and reflection, with long-lost friends from the most central period of my own recovery. To see us all now, seven, eights years on from our first meeting, strong and vibrant, beautiful, continuing to search and strive. Embracing these women, who, like me, in the past, seemed so wrecked from cancer, now, in the pulsating present, was this profound reminder of just how far we have all come.



It wasn’t comfortable, or easy, to come back to this place, to turn the psychic corner, after having come so far, and run smack into the old sadness, to see that sadness etched in an unending parade of young faces. But as my friend said, this is why we come back: “It’s what survivors in that same raw, whacked state need to know and see: that it gets better. It gets so much better, and it can be okay.”

Despite ending the weekend quietly rattled, hung over, eager to flee into the first bright Colorado sunlight I’d seen since touching down on Friday evening, despite the tears that ultimately came, inexplicably, as I sat on my king-sized hotel bed one last time, staring out over the capitol building, and the mountains that had finally revealed themselves, I knew, without a doubt, that I would do it again, that I will continue to try, in whatever small way, to be the light for someone fighting through this darkness, to let them know it just might be okay.

Posted in adoption, fellow fighters, First Descents, Infertility, Life After Cancer | Leave a comment

a survivor’s note on the unthinkable

Twelve years ago, the morning after the 2004 election, I sat at my desk at my old job, crying as I sent a long-winded email to all of my like-minded friends and family, telling them to keep heart after John Kerry lost to George W. Bush.  In that moment, the anger and sadness felt so enormous.  How, HOW, I wondered, was our county going to endure another four years of Bush?

Oh, George.  How I miss you now.

This morning feels cataclysmic.  It feels like 9/11. Yesterday’s brilliant warm sun has given way to thick, low clouds and a steady rain.  It may just have been my own state of mind, but every person I passed on my commute to work seemed lost and sad, or at least hollowed out.  This election has suck the collective life out of all of us.  It is hard to imagine that there are people experiencing joy anywhere on earth right now.

I should walk back my 9/11 comparison.  That event came literally out of the clear blue sky.  This atrocity has been brewing since the day our first African-American President was elected.  We had eight years to stop this from happening.  And we failed.  We are not innocent victims; we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In 2000, I worked for an old hippie lawyer.  I was devastated after the hanging chads and Bush v. Gore.  I was a kid, and didn’t have much perspective.

“Don’t worry,” he told me.  “There is a pendulum, and it always swings back.  Our democracy is built to be self-correcting.  Things will swing back.  Just wait.”

That sentiment has given me comfort over the years.  But this morning, the words ring hollow.

This morning, I am at another desk, at another job, writing furiously again, because this is the only way I know how to soothe myself.

But I am typing in 36 point font, because I am partially blind from the cataract in my right eye, which apparently developed as a result of the steroids I took during cancer treatment eight years ago.  Eight years ago, when Barack Obama was elected President.

So there is cancer, once again, still taking its toll on me, after all this time.  But I’m here, right?  Being here and half blind is better than the alternative, isn’t it?  In times of excruciating   challenge, I always check myself, and think of what I have endured to able to enjoy the gift of Still Being Here.


My friends and colleagues are reeling this morning; each time a new face peered in my doorway, my eyes would well anew.  But as gutted as I feel, listening to their heartbreak, I found this faint, tickling hope stirring inside of me.  I listened to the fear in their voices, then tried to dig deep for some kind of light.  Maybe it is the survivor in me.  But in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity, my instinct is to fight.

The stakes here are global, universal.  This isn’t about one lone warrior fighting for her life. But the lessons from that lonely struggle reverberate here.

A survivor friend texted me, “This isn’t cancer.  It’s a test, though.”

The test for me, in this sleep-deprived stupor, is trying to unpack and manage the raw hatred that so many people in this country harbor, and how to explain its prevalence to my brown-skinned son.

When I find some perspective on this national tragedy, I know this test will become not only manageable, but valuable.  Our job as adults, as parents, as caregivers, has always, ALWAYS been to show children how to love, be open, to show all other human beings kindness and respect.  What we will be charged with for the next four years is re-enforcing that essential truth ALL THE TIME, at every turn, in response to every hateful, destructive act that President Trump and his cowardly Congressional allies attempt.  We will wrap the truth of love in a powerful,  simplified civics lesson.  And our children will be so much stronger, smarter and more compassionate because of it.  The pendulum will swing back. It must.  Our collective humanity depends on it.

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balance regained: an annual event

The unconscious weight that bears down before a visit to the oncologist is never fully felt until after it dissipates, and the lightness of relief sets in.

Recent weeks have been a time of intense, measured breathing, of looking for space and patience, and seeking new directions for myself, and our family. The joint challenges of life with a four-year old and an ailing parent are pressing hard on all sides, and maintaining balance has been a full-time job. Trying to set out on a new career path in the midst of these challenges has in some unexpected way helped me clear the space I need for myself, making the hard parts of parenting infinitesimally easier. Overall, it’s been a rich stew of newness, and I’ve felt a burgeoning internal strength.

There wasn’t much mental space to perseverate on my annual visit to the oncologist this morning, just the continued breathing and mindfulness that my steady diet of yoga and running has afforded. Eight years exactly now since I finished treatment; cancer is in so many ways a distant memory. Or so I sometimes think, until that moment when I walk into the exam room.

I was treated at Penn, but now see my oncologist at Fox Chase, where she moved several years ago, and I only see her once a year. The familiar faces who monitored me all through the first stages of my recovery are absent; the campus is massive, and every time I go, I get turned around, looking for the right parking lot, the right corridor to my doctor’s office. It is wholly disorienting.

Enter the fluctuations of the mind. By the time I sat down in the exam room with the medical assistant, the balance I pride myself on had evaporated. My blood-pressure reading confirmed it: “Your pressure is a little high,” the assistant noted, sweetly, with just a touch of concern. “Do you get anxious when you come in?”

“A little,” I offered sheepishly, feeling exposed.

She tried the other arm; a bit lower, but still high. She offered some other suggestions: a salty dinner last night? Coffee this morning? (Oh, goddamn you, coffee.) But it wasn’t anything external, just my body betraying those innermost thoughts and fears, buried so deep in a daily routine and a search for purpose and direction that is all-consuming. Until this annual moment creeps up on me.

While the assistant ran through information on the computer screen, verifying medications and supplements, I felt my eyes begin to well, as they often do when someone outside my own head acknowledges the storms within it. I wiped my eyes and breathed deeply. After the assistant provided me with a gown and drape sheet, she left the room, leaving me to regain my balance while I waited for my doctor.



Gowned and draped, I sat on the exam table with my eyes closed, rested my hands on my knees, joining my thumb and index finger. I matched the length of my inhales and exhales. Stillness set it.

After a few moments, the familiar knock came. She appeared from behind the curtain, like the magician she is. We shook hands, and, rather than jumping right into the exam while making brief small talk, she pulled up a chair and sat down, smiling, and started asking me about my son. The lightness grew, the weight simultaneously lifting. We talked and smiled, chatted about the differences between boys and girls, running, how I am feeling. Her kindness and presence felt like an embrace. She finally ran through the usual series of questions, then called for the nurse to begin the exam.

I lay back, looking up at the ceiling, as I have a thousand times before, and felt with a powerful sense of relief how completely okay it is for me to still carry these emotions, no matter how deeply buried they may be. This essential, unforgettable thing happened to my body and my soul, and the repercussions are endless, though faint.

I sat up as my doctor washed her hands and rattled off a few final details about follow-up. Breath filled my body. “You look fabulous,” she said, and came in for a hug. A real hug, filled with feeling. I squeezed her back, just a little. “It’s always so good to see you,” I said.

In spite of it all, it truly is.

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The last few weeks have been a veritable flurry of activity on the “what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life” front. Something has clicked over in me recently, as I’ve realized that it is time to start looking for change, to shake up the routines of the last four years. My boy is growing a feverish rate; I must, also. Stagnation? Forget it. Let’s shake things up.

I am quite determined to find work that I will feel good about. I’m reaching out to people, looking for opportunities that speak to me, that won’t just be about “getting out of the house.” Who knows where it will lead, but I’ve gotten more aggressive about it, which is an important step. I’ve embraced the idea that my rambunctious son is ready for some more outside influences in his life; the “all-mommy, all the time” formula is beginning to outlive its usefulness. When he was first born, it was the only way, the right way. But time has passed. So much has changed. Change: that’s the thing.

As part of my flurry, I got in touch with an old law school friend, who has been continuously doing incredible work ever since we graduated (18 years ago? How is this possible?) – including having a son of her own. She has been the head of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations for the past seven years: needless to say, she’s a bad-ass. I sent her a quick note, advised that I am plowing into a job search, looking to get back into the public interest groove. She replied promptly, with these words: “What great and courageous news.” It seemed a rather grandiose sentiment at first: “courageous?” Courage is something I generally associate with people doing things like, oh, starting bus boycotts or fighting fires.

maybe that's the thing

maybe that’s the thing


But then I thought, she’s right. This is a hard thing to do, and I am trying. And it does take a certain measure of courage to start putting myself out there again, after all this time. And it dawned on me very early this morning, after I read her words, that maybe, just maybe, there could be a Second Act for me, one that has the potential to be more focused, productive and meaningful than the first.

I inevitably think about my life in two discreet parts: Before Cancer, After Cancer. The Before part is largely a blur, at least the moments leading up to my diagnosis. It does, in many ways, feel like Someone Else’s Life. The After part, which has been going on for almost eight years, is also made of up little sub-journeys: the long road out and away from illness, to a place of some kind of strength and grounding; the path to our son; and the life we have led since he arrived.

Maybe, then, what is about to happen, is more of a Third Act: the unfolding that occurs now that I have breathed in every conceivable moment of Being Mom, of Constantly Doing for my boy – who fills my heart, who is the most delicious and amazing creature I have ever known – and I have realized that it is not only possible but perhaps essential that I start giving more back to the work of tending to my own self, and to the world I inhabit. This was always my driving impulse. This is the one thing that hasn’t changed, through illness, through profound physical and psychic transformation. Serve this troubled world; do the most good you can.

There is something to be said, I suppose, for having this framework, however complicated and painful, for understanding the narrative of my own life. My illness provided meaning that I might not otherwise have unearthed. When it comes to understanding what matters, there is no substitute for facing your own mortality.

When my son arrived, the vibrations were loud and clear: give him everything you have. Your heart needs it; he needs it. This is the moment you have waited and fought for. It was time to let go of a decade of professional frustration and devote myself to nurturing my own, miraculous child.

But now, four years later, the legacy of my cancer is telling me something else: you only live once, and you have to live for yourself, not just for your son. It is still possible, even necessary, to work and fight in the context of the world outside the walls of our home. The energy, the desire, that has always burned, to help, to serve, to fight – it is still there. And since I was lucky enough to survive, to still be here, don’t I owe it to myself to keep fighting?

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January: a benign but vaguely retched stew of prolonged family viruses, cabin fever, rescheduled birthday parties and post-holiday malaise. It is no wonder, then, that I decided to sit down for a job interview. You know, just to see what happens, to shake things up. My “baby” has somehow turned four years old. So maybe, just maybe, it is time to dust off my brain and see what I can do with it. Maybe it is time to begin the next chapter.

After some hemming and hawing – “I don’t want to work full time;” “I don’t want to go back to child welfare law;” “The pay stinks” (what public interest job doesn’t?) – I took the leap. Then, a few weeks ago, I sat down for a job interview, to return, ostensibly, to the same work I did for a decade. Let’s give it a try, I told myself, just to see how it feels. I walked through the frigid wind-swept streets of the city, from the train to the office, and felt just how long it’s been since I did this dance, every single day. The interview, pleasant enough, passed easily. My experience being exactly what they needed, I knew that they would call me for a second interview. There was nothing to be nervous about. For the first time, I knew that the job I was interviewing for was quite likely mine, if I wanted it.

Did I want it? The answer didn’t become clear until, as I rode the train home, I felt my anxiety rising. Stepping off the platform at my stop, the tears started rolling down my cheeks, my eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “I can’t do this,” ran on repeat through my rattled brain. But why did it feel so unbelievably wrong?

It wasn’t just the idea of moving backwards instead of forwards; it wasn’t just the idea of returning to this brutal work that stole so much of my spirit for all those years. In the end, it was the prospect of going back to the world that I inhabited when I was diagnosed; to seeing the same faces who watched me walk back into court, bald, pale and emaciated, after I finished treatment.; to the place where I scratched and clawed my way back into some kind of recovery, the place where I struggled and cried so many days as I waited for my son to come. There is such a legacy of pain there, so many dark moments. The thought of returning to that same environment was more than my heart could bear, for it felt so much like going back to a crippling space, the contours of which were completely defined by cancer.

Soon after the interview, I went out for drinks with a new friend who is also struggling to raise her kids while finding a new path for herself. We had never talked directly about my illness, but she was aware of it from reading my words here. After a few sips of strong whiskey, she offered, in a sweet and stumbling way, that it was on her mind. She wanted me to know that she was concerned about my well-being, if something came up…

There are always unfinished sentences when we try to talk about cancer. I told her what is true, that I am always happy to talk about my illness, and that while life has moved on in so many ways, there will always be the sense that It is right there, just over my shoulder, hovering, casting a shadow, however dim.

Returning to this part of my past is not an acceptable option. It is too fraught, too full of painful memories that literally seem to exist in three dimensions, like I could close my eyes and be right back there again, like it could all become real once more, if I made one false move. It does feel like a nightmare.

yup, i do

yup, i do


The good news is that I have the option to make a different choice, to wake up to another reality. I do not have to go back. Rationally, I know that I can’t actually Go Back. I cannot literally relive my illness. My diseased organs are long gone. My body is forever transformed, not just my heart and mind. But after all this time – eight years, it’s almost impossible to believe – there are still moments when rational thought eludes me completely, and something even so potent as panic can seep back in.

What I felt that day when I stepped off the train, back into the present for which I fought so hard, for so long, was this desperate clinging to the NOW, and to the possible. The shapeless unknown is terrifying in its own way; the limitlessness of “possibility” can bring its own kind of paralysis. But while I fear not ever finding my way, of lingering forever in this extended limbo of “full-time parenting” (will someone please come up with a better way to describe the work of a parent who isn’t employed outside the home?), it can never be quite so unnerving as the prospect of returning to my own personal Ground Zero, to the place where everything I thought I’d known was obliterated, left in ruins.

I am not naïve enough to think I can ever escape that hovering shadow that I described to my friend.  But I do know that, by choosing a path that goes forward, and takes me in unknown directions, I can at the very least help modulate the menace that it can often feel like.  When the call came, offering me the second interview, I gracefully declined, of course leaving out any mention of the real, muddled rationale for my decision.  It felt strange, and somewhat dishonest, but also inevitable.  For as cancer survivors, it seems, we can’t quite ever adequately explain the reality we inhabit, or the reasons for what we do.

Maybe this is why I write, over and over, about my illness and what it did to me, what it is still doing to me. Here, in this space, I can control the memories, I can safely unpack the moments which, when I am actually living them, feel like bundles of psychic destruction just waiting to detonate.

Forward, then. Never back.

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inhale; exhale

“They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.” – Bob Dylan

Mornings, moments, scrambling toward something, have marked the recent days. Waiting for a switch to flip, for clarity to emerge, literally, from darkness. But it wasn’t until I stepped onto my mat, on the precipice of the Winter Solstice, that the light finally came.

It came, of course, at just the right moment, after a sudden and unexpected dip into gloom and uncertainty. A toe in the water of foreboding, of feeling like maybe things won’t be okay after all. But then: inhale what you need, exhale what you want to give to those around you. Oh yes. It really is that simple.

inhale_exhale_black_sanskrit_style_postcard-r12de6b18885f4940ae9f126740ae838e_vgbaq_8byvr_512The greediness of self-care is essential, most especially in the grander context of raising another human being safely, gently, with love. It just takes SO MUCH to create the best possible world for the little people in our lives. With this one boy – joyful, passionate, curious, sometimes wild – I can feel drained, steamrolled, sucked dry, even, when the storm is perfect and the outlets for self-expression and care are scarce. It’s been a confusing road to come to the place of understanding that this family, shaped like this, this one boy, parked squarely in the center of our hearts, our whole life, is just the way it should be, that any other way would be entirely too much. I might break. And a broken mother is not what this boy needs.

So I have breathed that in, over and over- every time I see him playing and chasing among friends and schoolmates, almost all of who share their little worlds with brothers and sisters. It’s a wonder to me. I marvel at parents who can make this work. Sometimes, I feel judged, or out of step with something that I am supposed to understand. The world wants me to do this differently. But then I breathe in what I need.

What else, besides this close, small family, perfect with my curly-headed boys? An ocean of words, swirling around me, all the time. My own, those of others. Right now, I am inhaling Kate Atkinson’s magic so deeply. Like the Incredible Book Eating Boy, I wish I could sit down with a knife and fork and literally feast on “A God in Ruins.” Instead, I’m breathing in her language and story as fully as I can, just so thankful to know what it means to me, how it nurtures the part of me that feels like Teddy, her protagonist who is struggling to make meaning of his Life After War. His struggle feels in some essential way like my own, trying to live and make meaning after illness. What do we do with a future that we thought we might never have?

Also, running, literally inhaling the freedom it brings.  Starting to share it for the first time with friends, and share it again with loved ones, feels like a gift to those around me. Each stride has provided strength, focus, a certain elation that I can access even in the darkest moments.

And then, what to release back into the world? Days, weeks have gone by, mired in the clenched-up combativeness of parenting, when I’ve literally lost sight of who I am, where nothing seemed possible, where my heart felt frozen in disgruntled rage. That is not what I want to give to the world. That is not the kind of parent I want to be. What I want is to share something lighter, sweeter and more joyful.



For reasons perhaps too numerous to identify, I’ve had to let go of certain ancient notions of how I might improve the world in some small way, of where I might “end up.” The civil rights litigator I imagined being at the dawn of law school; the author whose words reach into people’s hearts and shed some kind of meaningful light. These expressions of self may never come to be. But in a sweaty steam bath of inhales and exhales, of 108 salutes to the sun on the darkest day, the clarity came: that being the best version of who I am need not shake the earth in some grand, seismic way. Vibrations of simple goodness just may be enough.

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the only safe place in the world

There will come a time when my son isn’t waking up each night, stumbling towards mommy or daddy, and whimpering that we climb in bed with him to get him back to sleep. Invariably, one of us ends up spending most of the night with him. Last night, it was my turn.

I slipped under the covers at around 10:30; thanks to the magic of valerian root in my evening tea, I’d actually fallen asleep in my own bed about an hour earlier. I stumbled into his room. He hooked himself onto my shoulder, and off we drifted. I’ve given up trying to escape from his tiny clutches, and have begun surrendering to the particular loveliness of sleeping beside my child, – even when I wake up intermittently with half my body spilling off the bed, even when his long legs kick me or his slender arm flings across my face in a half-conscious twitch. These are moments that I know I will long for one day very soon. Rather than fighting them, I am learning to drink them up.

When we rest together, there is peace and comfort and this ineffable magic of mother and child, entwined in so many ways. Our waking hours are too often rife with battles, raised voices, tears, inevitable at this stage. But in our resting state, we silently breathe together, the rhythm of our love rising and falling in sync. In the harsh, unending daylight, I sometimes fear that the dark side of our complicated relationship will overwhelm the light we create. In the dark, in silence, I can simply run my hand through the soft dark curls on his perfect head, and transmit the power of my love for him, wordlessly.

The struggle of growing up makes everything a constant lesson; commit this infraction, learn this. Engage in that act of defiance, suffer this consequence. You must learn. Over and over. It exhausts me; I can only imagine how it must tax his spongy brain, ever-absorbing, ever wondering. I try to hold his gaze as my voice rises; I aim my finger at him to stress my point. “Do you understand?” A hundred, a thousand times a day those words escape my lips. He is trying, all the time, even though he often doesn’t show it.

“Yes,” he will spit out, in exasperation, turning his head away from me, and I hear a silent, “Geeze, moooooom,” following.


“Get away from me!” “”Go away!” These words fall around me in a never-ending cascade, a waterfall of his disdain. I know he is testing, pushing me, finding limits, and that five minutes later, when he bumps his head and the tears come, he will fall into my arms as if they are the only safe place in the world. Still, they sting. Maybe it is the added anxiety of the adoptive parent; as he grows, his love will diminish. When his story is revealed to him, he will pull away, and seek his true self.

All you can do is love them; the rest will sort itself out. A wise friend, also an adoptive mom, shared these words with me at the dawn of the infamous toddler phase. When the anxiety creeps in, the fears of what might come next, I come back to them, and burrow deep inside their meaning. It is the only safe place in the world.

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until the end of the world

From the universal and far-reaching, to the personal, the claustrophobic; such was the journey of the past seven days. One week ago, I sat down to release thoughts that I didn’t even know had been gathering; I shared them with the world, and to a greater extent than usually happens, the world answered back (at least my smaller corner of it) with warmth and compassion and connection. Virtual hugs and “amens” and other cries of common understanding spilled forth, and I felt buoyed, like writing has some meaning, and can serve a larger purpose. It’s a truth I know, which rests at the center of who I am, but which often gets lost in the shuffle, or shadowed in doubt. Cries of self-indulgence and vainglory. But one week ago, the power of words surged through me. I felt like my best possible self.

The next day, the world collapsed in on itself. In the grander scheme of things, the challenges were minor, seemingly not worth mentioning. My son was diagnosed with a mild case of hand, foot and mouth virus; I came down with a head cold. Contagious but not really feeling sick, my rampaging almost four year old was consigned to spend one of his usual school days at home – with me, of course, as congestion clogged my mind, a cough rattled my throat and a low fever simmered – just enough to make me feel depleted, not up to the usual tasks of parenting my wild boy.

The minutes passed like years; the days like eons of unspeakable tedium and exhaustion. The horrible wonders of climate change allowed us a fair amount of time outside, raking leaves, walking the dog, going to the playground. But our routine had been capsized, close social contact was prohibited, and by the end of our third straight day together without reprieve, I found myself a weeping mess over a maudlin dinner of Trader Joe’s chicken pot pie, as my son angrily demanded that I read him “Anansi Goes Fishing” for the hundredth time that day. I was defeated.

“I can’t,” I blubbered, tears falling onto my dinner plate as he waved the book in my face. I meant it in some larger existential way than my highly-attuned four year old could understand. I literally could not do anything in that moment. All of my efforts as a parent, all the love I have poured into my child – none of it was enough. He and I were adrift, lost in isolation while his virus ran its course, without so much as a nap in the middle of the day to spell some kind of relief.

A few days confined with a contagious four year old, while I battled my own mild ailments, cannot compare to the seventh months I spent isolated in my home during cancer treatment. But the flavor is similar enough, the feeling of disconnection reminiscent of those endless bleak days, such that on top of the other battles I was fighting – with my son, with my own absurd head cold – I was left to once again fight off the fear that I will never completely be free of that cage that surrounded me, long years ago that still feel like yesterday.

In the midst of the dark week that was, I also learned that I was not to be hired for a part-time legal writing job that I found myself interviewing for completely out of the blue, the week prior. On a Wednesday morning when I would normally roll out of bed and pull on my yoga clothes before heading to class after dropping Earl at school, I instead pulled on stockings and a dress and hopped on the train. I walked into the beautiful office of one the city’s most successful plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys, and had a very congenial – almost enjoyable – conversation with him and one of his associates, and talked about their needs, my skills, and the time I had available to help with their massive overflow of legal writing. It’s work I’ve not done before, but I’d been feeling the urge to engage my mind a bit more fully, to perhaps even use some of my dormant legal skills, so when I learned of the opportunity, I decided to give it a shot. My husband cheered me on, and I approached the meeting without the usual nerves and insecurity that marked almost every other job interview I’d ever been on.

I left the meeting feeling excited but scared – wondering how I would manage my time if they actually hired me, worrying that I would struggle to navigate an unfamiliar practice area. But more than anything, I was proud of myself for taking this first plunge back into the possibility of the work world. I told myself that either outcome would be perfectly acceptable. I had nothing to lose.

A week passed, and I didn’t hear from the office. I began to consider the possibility that they might not contact me at all; I became quite certain that either way, they were not going to offer me the job. So when the email came last Thursday – after almost three grueling days with my son – I was unsurprised. But in the irrational trap of my isolation, it smarted anyway. The explanation given was that the firm had hired a full-time attorney; they were concerned that the time I had available wouldn’t be sufficient for their needs. Fair enough.

My son returned to school, mercifully, on that Friday. Despite the tears and rage, we both survived, and once free that morning, I laced up, despite my lingering cold, and pounded out six miles that felt completely essential. Along those miles, I was free to consider, for the first time, in what felt like an eternity, this notion of my time. The time that I do have, for myself, for my son, for the world I want to make better, for the people with whom I want to connect.

At the end of my run, I came across my neighbor around the corner – a new friend, the mother of two boys , one just about Earl’s age, and it turns out (not by coincidence, because I no longer believe there is such a thing), also a writer. We are slowly getting to know each other, in that unique way one does when building a friendship as a full-blown “adult.” While our boys play (and fight) we have found small spaces in which to connect.

We talked at the sidewalk’s edge, her boys packed into their coach, bundled up despite the unsettling December warmth (she, like me, finds these temperatures frightful and disturbing), and laughed at our shared frustrations with our boys. I told her of the week that was; her sympathy was such a comfort. As we parted, I told her that I’d read her recent post about recommitting to her writing. She has committed to finding space to write 150 words a day; her commitment has shined a bright light on what matters to me. She is inspiring me.

One night last week, in the midst of the struggle, I dreamed about participating in a spelling bee of sorts (inspired, no doubt, by endless readings of Jon Muth’s gorgeous children’s book, “Zen Ties.”) Like so many dreams, it was more about a feeling than actual events – in this instance, the fact of the spelling bee seemed simply a vehicle for this euphoric relationship with WORDS. There was no actual spelling in the dream (how well would I do, anyway?) There was just this ecstatic sense that I am about words.

Connecting with other people who are also about words, who are committed to the arduous and inward work of writing, has given me a kind of permission that I’ve heretofore felt I was lacking. My sweet friend in California, bought back into my orbit thanks to the wonder that was our high school reunion, shines another light on what matters to me. Her words are constantly flying through space, across miles, burrowing right into my heart. Her passion to find meaning through words has reignited my desire to do the same.

But: time. It is finite, in more ways than one. Have I lurched into middle age without even realizing it? Have I wasted endless hours and days with errands, laundry, household nonsense, hours that I could have devoted to discipline, to words?

I went to bed last night with a commitment to start anew, to seek focus, to try on some of the discipline that my two friends – one very near, one a continent away – are inspiring in me. Last week is gone; we have come out on the other side. It’s time to begin again. I will not waste the time I have been given – in the moments right before me, or in the days and weeks and years that may stretch ahead.



So today I woke in darkness, to run, to allow myself time later in the day – the few precious hours I have while my son is at school – to take refuge in words. This December morning, thick with fog, air heavy with humidity, felt peculiar, almost apocalyptic, but also right. Shorts and short sleeves with my running shoes; Christmas lights shrouded in mist. Everything seeming upside and confused, except my purpose. Run. Find space. Make time.

When we find ourselves in full-on battle mode with our boy – when his irrationality soars off the charts and he seems utterly out of reach – my husband talks about “losing the will to live.” He says it half-jokingly, but there is an essential truth to it, the feeling that the struggle is simply too much. Last week was like that, for days on end.

But in the fog this morning, something beautiful threatened to emerge out of the obscurity. It’s possible to pass through these challenges, these weeks filled with tears – or those long-ago months, trapped in a house, warding off disease, clinging to life. With support and inspiration, life can be reshaped, re-imagined. We do not have to be swallowed whole by any one thing that happens to us, by any one part of our identity. The will to live is more powerful than we know.

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