But, can you catch it?

A little over two years ago, on March 1, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer. It had spread from my cervix, to my vagina and vulva, and even into the lymph node in my groin. It’s funny, because I felt none of this. It wasn’t painful or visible, and it baffled me that it was silently killing me. I felt like I didn’t know how my body worked, that my assumptions about my body were wrong.

I had been seeing someone at the time, a difficult relationship. He was still married, trying to file for divorce from his wife of many years. We worked at the same company, and my employee was in love with him. It was fraught with scandal and unethical decisions. I was intrigued by him, but I always knew he was a bad decision. When I told him my diagnosis, I never heard from him again. He went AWOL. 

Then, I started treatment, feeling deflated, exhausted, overwhelmed, and I didn’t pursue dating. What would I tell someone on a first date? How would I break the news about my treatment? About not being able to be intimate? It was too much to think about. My friends already looked at me with pitying eyes, I couldn’t date someone looking at me like that too.

Somewhere nearing the end of treatment, I reunited with a high school classmate, who surprised me with his romantic feelings for me. I had never thought of him in that way. At that time, I was sickly and pale, 40 pounds lighter, and my groin was being attacked by toxins. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. But he scooped me up and cared for me, telling me I’m beautiful. I was about to have surgery that would make me unable to be intimate for months. But he had a way about him, helping me feel like none of that mattered. After we’d already undressed, after steamy kisses, he paused, putting some space between our bodies. 

Looking down at me, he whispered, “I want to do this but, because your cancer is down there, I have to ask: can you catch it?”

“Catch what?”

“Your cancer. I know, I should know the answer to this question.”

I hated that my cancer seemed to others like I had the plague, like they should back away. Like I was somehow contagious. Kind of like when my husband and I got divorced and I stopped being invited to weddings. I hated how people told me I was strong and that I would kick cancer’s ass, like I’d win. All I felt, week by week, as my dermatitis started and my hair fell out, as I couldn’t get off the couch anymore because my legs would go numb, was that I was being stomped. Between the cancer and the drugs and radiation waging war on one another, the battlefield that was my body became fallow, trampled to death. Some days I’ve wondered if living was worth it.

They call you a fighter, a warrior. They call you a survivor. But more often, I find myself being a tired partner following a dance with death. I find myself all too often still that fallow field, struggling to come back to life. Someday I know there will be stronger, more beautiful flowers, fertilized because of the experience. Carrying the hearts of those who will always remain fallow fields.

Reality Hurts… Sometimes

A few months ago, I wrote an email into a podcast I listen to quite regularly. It was a desperate plea to know if I should wait for the man I thought was once the love of my life. I have exhaustive, expansive love for said man–so much that I’m still finding new poems to write, recalling more memories I loved, reflecting on the ways he improved my character. It has been several years, more years than we were together, and I’m still unpacking the bursting adoration and exhilaration (and adjectives!) coarsing through my veins. 

I received the answer today in their most recent podcast. If I’m honest with myself, I knew the answer while I was writing the email in the first place. He didn’t want to be with me or he would have stayed. It was about me. And no matter how long he goes on searching for what’s missing, it’s unlikely he’ll turn around and once again grab my hand. He’s moved on, with or without a new partner, and somewhere along the way, I just stopped to wait for something that isn’t going to come. 

To add insult to injury, or just an additional dose of reality, I turned on the television this afternoon to see He’s Just Not That Into You, one of my favorite movies because it’s so blunt. Girlfriends always seem to say the exception to a rule–that there was that one time a couple broke up and then got back together years later. But that rarely happens. People change, people sometimes don’t have a good reason for breaking up except that it just doesn’t feel right anymore. Sometimes people change and don’t realize it until later. 

It hurts, it does. It hurts because I still have this deep chasm of love overflowing for the person who put me onto the path I am today. For the person who was able to show me what I’m truly capable of. For the person I want to share it all with now that I’m here.

I want to flow all of that love into a container, opening that deep chasm wide for a new person with current possibilities. For someone who chooses me every day. Good, bad, happy, sad. Someone who wants to figure out their life in parallel to mine and doesn’t run from the possibility. 

Too often we talk about flowing out negative feelings, channeling grief or anger or sorrow into music and poetry. Journaling difficult emotions. Exercising out our anger. Scream therapy. Facing our fears. But what happens when the feelings we have appear positive but still get in the way? Loving someone to exhaustion can also block the heart to new options. Remembering the good times too often can hurt our necks as we crane to keep the past in our sights. 

Reality can hurt sometimes, but it can also open us to new and soul-stretching possibilities. So, what’s in it for you?

Recovery.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved…The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” –Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart


End of February 2015 I shot a commercial for Vonage telephone service, a service I used and loved for many years because it gave me precious time with my brother who lived in London. The photo on the left is a shot of me after the day wrapped. Little did I know that my life would fall apart only a week later and that I’d cancel my Vonage service and delete my relationship with my brother only months later, the day the photo on the right was taken (September 2015). 

Things fell apart. A week after my fun on set, at the top of my career, in love with my life as it was, I was diagnosed with cancer. This distanced me from my family, my friends, myself, my job, everything. I lost 40 pounds (photo on left: 143 pounds, right: 103) and my hair. I lost my job, my boyfriend, some friends, and my sense of stability. 

And during that time, people complimented my appearance. It devastated me, and I broke. I hurt everywhere, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. That photo on the right was an unhealthy version of me. I remember being cold all the time, walking through a cognitive fog, suffering from spontaneous incontinence, and really exploiting that small amount of hair that stayed attached to my scalp (the rest I had to shave because of the bald patches). I cried every single day. From pain, from loneliness, and mostly from fear. 


Photo on the left: 6/5/15. Two years ago. I’d completed a complete cycle of chemotherapy (7 doses over 7 weeks), 8.5 weeks of radiation, so many scans and biopsies and blood tests, 1 surgery, and all the misery I could have imagined. I had just been discharged from the hospital after my first surgery, the surgery that would remove the rest of my cancer. I couldn’t move from the pain, I had a catheter in still, and I was vomiting everywhere. My hair had just started to fall out, in chunks. I had an open wound where my labia used to be. And this was the day I wanted to die, when I couldn’t take anything any longer. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than that moment. 

But that wasn’t rock bottom. Over the next 6-8 months, the bottom fell out from under me and I experienced the depths. My body changed and healed, but I completely lost my footing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially. I was broken. Literally everything in my life changed. I experienced so many endings that it shook my cobwebs loose. 

And that’s when the healing started. I met my therapist in the city where I moved, and she gave me the room, the capacity, to experience everything in a messy, ugly, angry, irrational, emotional way. I began to learn what self-love feels like–being ok with all the emotions I’d been bottling up for so long. 

Those cobwebs that shook loose allowed room for things I could not previously accept: joy, self-respect, humor, silliness, childlike behavior, spontaneity, forgiveness, and love. I discovered what God means to me, and where I can find, accept, and celebrate spirituality. I am continuing to discover these depths inside of me, knowing now what Pema has tried to teach me for years: the things that shake you to your core remind you what inside of us is indestructible. 

“To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

Today is my cancer survival day. Happy birthday, new body. Thank you for bringing me to my knees so that I could learn how to pray.

Lost Time

I caught myself realizing today that it’s been almost a year since I’ve been in a committed relationship. I sat there, trying desperately to remember him. What did I like about him? Did we have fun? Or did I just play into his life? Clearly I did because I only remember the day we officially broke up and I was… happy, for the first time in a very long time. 

And then, I realize there are people in my past whom I still adore, still remember even the smallest, quietest moments. Those moments where we just breathed. Those moments I saw him coming on his bike. Those moments chopping peppers. Those moments playing pool, playing bocce, playing house. Just ordinary moments. 

“I don’t mean no harm, I just need you on my arm, wedding bells were just alarms, caution tape around my heart… You ever wonder what we could’ve been? You said you wouldn’t then you fucking did, lied to me, lied with me, got your fucking fix. Now all my drinks and all my feelings are fucking mixed. I’m missing people I know I shouldn’t be missing, you gotta burn some bridges just to create some distance. I know that I control my thoughts and should stop reminiscing but I learned from my dad that it’s good to have feelings. When love and trust are gone, I guess this is moving on…” -Gnash, I hate that I love you

What makes some people so forgettable to us? People we were convinced that, with them, we could spend our lives? What makes the feeling of being dumped so intense that you convince yourself you actually need or want someone who you never really enjoyed? 

What makes people so memorable, after years or even decades apart? What makes me hold onto the vivid memories of my best friend, swinging on swings, brushing her hair from her face, nearly 20 years after her life faded? What makes memories so sticky?

Some friends, some people I called my BEST friends for years, I can barely remember them. Others, whom I only met once or twice, are etched into my neural pathways. Why is that? I dated people for years and remember little; some for a couple months and my heart still aches for the kisses, like candy, I can still taste on my lips. 

How do we lose whole people, whole years of people? How do I sometimes forget one of my sisters altogether? Is there logic to this? Am I repressing things or do I process them away? 

There are entire years of my marriage I hardly remember and then years where I recall every day. Is that how life is? If so, I am starting to think our bodies and minds are more resilient than we give them credit.  What does it say about the memories that stick out the most? Are they our mind’s bread crumbs, leading us into something we need to continue? To lessons we still must learn? 

Thanks, mind, for forgetting him for me. And for leaving all the better ones for me to dream about, write poetry about, and look for in the next ones. 

Momena jaan

My dear, sweet love

We met so close to the pain

You became my refuge

A refugee from my life

You, my safe harbor.
You taught me the love

The effortless, unfettered love

Of humanity

That only an other

Could bring to an other.
Spice Girls, dancing

Secrets, makeup

Dress up, history books

Best friendship.

Innocence. Adolescence.
My sweet Muslim woman

You taught me its beauty

I will preserve your heart

Your past, your future

Defend your honor.
I swelled with the five pillars,

Was embraced by divine love,

Grew from your nuances,

Benefited from your acceptance,

Bowed to Allah.
Never have I ever

Felt more Christian

Until I spent considerable time

With my Muslim family.
I stand for you, your family.

I pray, I cry, I beg for your safety.

Persecuted there, now here.

And yet your love abounds.

If only eyes were open to your humanity.
We are all brothers of Abraham,

Sprung from the same loins,

Pray to the same God,

Vow to uphold the same truths.
Now, we must band in brotherhood

Against all jihadists,

Muslim or Christian alike,

Banded in militant love,

Protecting the divine.

WTF, Portland?

I love my transplant hometown. I mean, for me, there’s no better place to be, or no place I have found to feel most like a “home”. But since Portlandia has taken off, I constantly wonder why Portland has decided to start making a complete mockery of ITSELF.

Disclaimer: I am a total hipster hippie. I ride my bicycle, I drink craft coffee and local liquor, I go to beerfests, I am gluten-free, I am Paleo. I am a yogi. I have dabbled in crossfit. I like strange games like bocce. I don’t use an umbrella when it rains. I’ve even started rolling up my pant legs and keeping them like that. I engage in philosophical discussions on the MAX. I wear Nike. I am part of the slow food movement and know my farmers. I get grumpy when New Seasons changes ranchers or egg carriers on me. I only shop local. And I am a snob about that.

But, Portland, you are going too far even for me. This morning, I was in New Seasons to buy my 1.5 lbs of bacon for the week. (Sidenote: this experience got me really peeved because I usually buy Carlton Farms regular pork bacon which is so good at rendering fat from, and I just absolutely love their little piggies…today, they switched bacon carriers on me, and I was actually upset enough to comment on it. Don’t fuck with my bacon!)

So I was wandering through the store, looking for a card for a friend, when I found these:

  1. Seriously? This just reminds me of people who try to milk their hamsters….Image
  2. Next to the book above, there was a SHELF of bicycle stuff. Hey, everything you need to worship your two-wheeler! Who reads “I love my bike?” Weird.                                                                                                    Image
  3. Ok, I don’t know which of these actually disturbs me more. The beard thing has been going on for a few years, I know, but it has ALWAYS annoyed the shit out of me. WHy is this a thing? Why do women want to wear/try on lame beards? Why do men want to wear plastic beards? This is not cool, or cute, or funny. It is lame. STOP IT. But THEN…what the fuck is the trend in Star Wars origami about? Who does this? Who pays $20 to make a freaking yoda origami set? WHO DOES THIS?Image

Tony Bourdain, maybe you’re right to not visit Portland. I could just see you cringing.

All for now…

Blonde