Happy(?) World Cancer Day!

Wow, it’s been a while since I updated this thing! Remember me, guys? Guys…?

I’m posting today for a couple of reasons. First, I never told you guys how my exchange surgery went. (Spoiler alert: Easiest thing ever.) And second, it’s World Cancer Day.

First: The surgery. What an absolute breeze.  By now I’m something of an expert at surgery if I do say so myself, and does it make me a drug addict if I admit that I was a little – JUST A LITTLE – psyched because I knew I was gonna get Versed? Whatever. Versed forever.

I opted for round silicone implants, 360ccs. I know that because I got a sweet boobie ID card that I now have to keep in my wallet, I guess in case I get into some kind of accident and a sexy firefighter needs to give me chest compressions or something. To be honest, having fake boobs is not as weird as I thought it’d be. It’s a bit awkward explaining it to new doctors or putting “breast implants” on my medical forms, but overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with my new pair. In fact, I recently went to the gynecologist, and when she looked at my chest she literally exclaimed, “Wow! Who did this? This looks amazing.” I KNOW, RIGHT? Better than the old set. Not even kidding.

Anyway, the surgery itself was no big thang. And I’m not just saying that from the perspective of a person who has a surgery or two. This was Surgery 101: Intro to Being Slightly Uncomfortable for a Couple of Hours. This was seriously beginner surgery. The green circle bunny slope of surgery. It was really a pretty minor thing, and truthfully, I felt so immediately better having the hard, unnatural tissue expanders out of my body that I barely registered any kind of pain over the relief I felt. Unlike when I hung out in the hospital being barfy and disoriented and extravasating extremely painful medication into my veins for three days after my mastectomy, this time I chilled in the bed for about an hour before I was up and about, chugging cranberry juice and on my way home.

So, cons of the surgery: Mild discomfort, weird surgical bra, no running for six weeks.

Versus pros of the surgery: VERSED, amazing boobs, cranberry juice. Also Versed. And Versed.

Side note, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at the end of six weeks I had not lost significant running ability. I mean, I’m slower, and I doubt I could pound out 13.1 without a walking respite or two, but I can still crush a 5k without a problem. I logged five miles last weekend in the cold and snow and loved every second of it.

Getting the exchange surgery was a major milestone in my treatment, because it was the last major and frightening ordeal I had to face. Now, on the other side of it, I’m looking at a long time – hopefully years and years and years – without having to go under general anesthesia or get sliced up by anyone.

Most of the emotions I feel regarding this are what you’d expect: elation, namely. But there’s also an undercurrent of fear. Because soon, I’m going to be on my own. A check-up every six months, more or less like the rest of the world. No more constant monitoring. No more reassurance from drug treatments and examinations that at least I’m doing something, anything, to keep this monster at bay. Just me, alone, trying to go back to living my life like I didn’t almost accidentally kill myself by unleashing a colony of mutant cells into my body – a colony that could mutiny again without warning at any second.

I suppose that segues pretty nicely into the second part of this post, which has to do with World Cancer Day. You may have seen the Chevy ad celebrating the “road to recovery” during the Super Bowl, which, by the way, I called about two seconds into it. As soon as I saw a sad, tragic-looking chick with short hair, I blurted out, “GUYS, GUYS, THIS IS GONNA BE ABOUT CANCER.” And everyone was like, Michelle, this is clearly a truck ad. And then it was BOTH. Guys, I know my cancer tropes now. You gotta trust me on this stuff. I can see that tearjerker jam coming from a mile away. I guess that’s the only superpower I got from all the insane chemotherapy drugs – a sixth sense for emotional cancer ploys.

As I mentioned when I wrote about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all of these cancer-centric ribbons and days and campaigns and whatnot always leave me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love that they get people talking, debunking myths, remembering that even after chemo, after our hair grows back, a lot of us are still dealing with fallout. (I even helped to create a campaign of my own back in October, called Mamming, to talk about breast cancer in a new way – and the experience was very helpful for me in reaching out to a younger audience about what it’s like to go through procedures, like mammograms, that put you face-to-face with the fragility of your life.) But – unfairly – they also inspire in me a deep, hot, uncontrollable rage, which I recognize is actually just leftover rage at the entire situation. I don’t spend much time thinking about cancer (because when I do, I need to take like eight Ativan), so getting it shoved in my face catapults me back to a time when my anger at the world, at my body, at myself, at everything was so supernova white-hot that it spills out of the past and drowns the future in a sea of fury and fear.

Actually, there’s a scene in the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars film – based on the popular book by John Greene, about two teenage cancer survivors who fall in love – where one character asks the other, “Are you angry?” And she replies, “So angry.” I haven’t read this book (it’s been recommended to me a number of times, but I wasn’t in an emotional place where I felt ready to face young adult cancerhood that head-on yet), but watching that scene made me want to pick it up. When we about cancer, we talk about sadness, we talk about fear, but we don’t talk a lot about anger. And I was angry.

(Skip to 1:53 for the anger, but the whole trailer is gold.)

Personally, I didn’t deal with cancer by being sad. I’m not trying to imply that I didn’t cry. You guys, I cried. I cried a river. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything but cry for the first week after I was diagnosed, and it was the kind of crying that makes the neighbors call the police – wailing, screaming, uncontrollable sobbing. But the woman in the Chevy ad shedding a single tear while staring morosely out the window? Not my experience. I shaved my head to a 2 Chainz song. Then I did shots.

I’m glad, though, that World Cancer Day inspires a narrative around cancer. I hope it inspires whatever kind of narrative you need to cope with cancer, whatever that may be – sadness, anger, fear, fury, humor, or all of the above. (I think it’s usually all of the above; it was for me.) It’s a scary thing. It’s a mysterious thing. It happens to people with no warning, and survival is, basically, a crapshoot. And it’s lonely.

It’s so strange, because every time I went in for treatment, I was surrounded by a dozen other people going through the same experience. And yet, the gulf that separated me from them was so enormous, so insurmountable that it felt absolutely unbreachable. Despite the factual knowledge that what I was going through is actually dismayingly common, having cancer was the most intensely lonely experience of my life. And, perhaps paradoxically given what I’ve written above, there’s a part of me that is so grateful to the deluge of campaigns and races and t-shirts and other cancer awareness bric-a-brac because it reminds you that, however alone you feel, you aren’t. You aren’t the first. You won’t be the last. There are so many others who understand, who can connect, who can help.

In writing this blog, I’ve hoped to demystify the experience of cancer, to take away some of the awe and fear and confusion I see in people when I talk about my experience. It was unpleasant, but unpleasant things happen to us all, and I don’t want to be defined as a cancer victim. That is only one small part of my story. I plan to write – figuratively and literally – so much more.

Race Day/Halloween/Surgery Redux

Last weekend, I took the train down to Richmond, Virginia, to run the American Family Fitness Half Marathon just like I did in 2012. That time, I was almost exactly one month away from the diagnosis that would launch this blog. I carried that little tumor with me for 13.1 of the fastest miles I’d ever ran in my life, completely oblivious to the fact that it was making itself at home in my bosom. How obnoxious of it, that little tumor hitchhiker.

It was the exact same race in 2013: the same course, the same energy, the same swag (although kudos to whoever art directed the new shirts – very nice). But I was different. No hair in my face nor any need for a headband, for one thing. Weird fake boobies for another. Bizarre chest hardware in the form of tissue expanders and my futuristic port which is STILL my favorite conversation-starter at all parties all the time, by the way (story about that in a few paragraphs).

Being back on Broad Street was a strange and happy feeling, even though it was absolutely freezing and I was literally wearing a garbage bag because it was raining. Whatever, it’s not a fashion contest, OKAY. Bouncing from foot to foot at the starting line in the pouring rain, shaking water from my eyelashes (which I have again, y’all, REJOICE), forcing Katie Bo to take grumpy selfies with me, I was trying to amp myself up with some of the filthiest, most disgusting pop and hip hop songs I know – for some reason I love to listen to completely inappropriate, degrading and sexual music when I run – and mentally envisioning the course when a girl next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, are you the girl from the blog?”

What. WHAT.

The ancient Greeks used to chant, “Kill yourself!” whenever an actor would give an amazingly good performance on stage, because it implied he was so incredible that his life had reached its absolute pinnacle and it was all downhill from there. Guys, this was my kill-myself moment. A complete stranger – someone I’d never seen in my life – recognized me from this blog, and was excited enough about seeing me to chat with me at the starting line. I kind of felt like a much uglier, badly-coiffed Olivia Wilde, who, by the way, I made leave a West Village coffee shop by accidentally blurting out, “Oh my God, it’s Olivia Wilde!” as soon as she walked in. Like, literally, she turned on her heel and left sooner than I could clap a hand over my mouth in embarrassment. Someday, I will buy her a scone and a latte to make up for it. Come back, Olivia! Wait, where was I? How do I end up on these digressions?

Anyway, this girl and her friend told me that they were big fans of the blog and that they recognized me from my pictures. AHHHH! I asked their names so that I could give them a shout-out here, and I already forgot because I’m a horrible person, BUT I do remember that their race bibs said (I think) Abbs and Tars. I hope that’s right. Thanks for reading and recognizing me and saying hi, Abbs and Tars (please let that be your names). You made my day! After that, completing the race was just gravy.

I couldn’t believe how quickly the 13.1 miles of the course went by. Maybe it was because I already knew the route – I find that running the same paths often makes them feel shorter each time I head out – but I felt like I’d barely started running even by the time I hit the 10K mark. The cool rain actually felt good coming down on my technical gear (I’d long since cast the irritating garbage bag asunder – a good idea in theory but decidedly less so in practice), and for once, I was glad not to have a long, heavy ponytail to get soaked in it. I started out trying to keep pace with the 2:00 hour team, but I had left them behind by mile 4, and soon I realized that I actually had a shot at coming close to my PR.

I rounded the corner at mile 12, coasting on pure adrenalin, and saw the friendly faces of many of my old buddies from X-Team, the workout group/boot camp I used to do when I lived in Richmond. Knowing I was only a couple of minutes off my PR, I didn’t want to slow down, but I did manage to gasp out a “Hey, guys!” and one of my old running buddies, Mike, jogged next to me in his blue jeans with his camera around his neck for a quarter of a mile or so. So good to see you all, X-Team. I miss you all the time. So do my abs. Remember when I had abs? Dammit, chemo/laziness/bagels.

The Richmond course finishes on a downhill lasting about half a mile, which is wonderful. Katie Bo and I hit the downhill together and sprinted to the finish line, crossing at exactly the same moment. I actually can’t believe that happened – our race times are exactly the same, down to the second, even though we barely saw each other on the course. I’m glad, because I admit that I was feeling a bit competitive about it, when I know I shouldn’t have been. I’m so happy just to have been able to be out there.

So in the end, I was three minutes shy of a PR, but a good six minutes under my goal time. I was wet, tired, sore and hungry, but I couldn’t have been happier.

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Afterwards, I took the best hot shower of my life at Katie Bo’s parents’ house. I swear to you, Heaven itself is just me sitting in that hot shower for all eternity. The amount of self control it took to get out of that shower before I used up all the hot water on planet Earth made me appreciate what it must be like to quit smoking. Once I finally, FINALLY managed to surgically separate myself from the stream of life-giving heat and cleanliness, I ate all of the junk food I could get my hands on and passed out on the couch in front of She’s All That and then woke up in the middle of Never Been Kissed, and let me just say, AMAZING CHOICES, CABLE. My parents also sent an incredible bouquet of beautiful flowers to congratulate us on finishing, which was so sweet and also it kind of weirdly moves me that they were so sure we’d finish and not, you know, drop dead in the middle of it. Love you, mom and dad.

The next day I woke up with all of my muscles screaming. Katie and I walked around the farm to loosen up, and she snapped this incredible shot of me and her old mare, Shelby, which I think captures the mood and the spirit of the whole cool, overcast, late fall weekend.

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Ugh, UGH, my hair makes me look like such a bozo. Anyway, after lunch, we headed down to the train station loaded up with tons of goodies from Katie’s mom, who is the most amazing cook, and cruised back to NYC.

Now, about that story re: the port I promised in the first couple of paragraphs. On Halloween weekend I was out with friends at a party in Murray Hill, hanging out with a group of guys dressed as various hot sauces. I noticed that Frank’s Red Hot had a shaved head and pretty pale eyebrows, but I didn’t think much of it. We were all having a good time, drinking some oddly black concoction out of little plastic cauldrons and explaining my costume to everyone (I bubble-wrapped a gold American Apparel dress and made a headband out of corks and went as champagne), when someone pulled me aside and said that Frank’s Red Hot and I had something in common: he was a cancer survivor.

This was weird. I had never met another young adult cancer survivor in the wild. I mean, obviously, I’d met plenty of people in waiting rooms and hospital lobbies, but just seeing another stranger who’d been through what I’d been through? I knew I had to talk to him. I lurked around him creepily for like thirty minutes until he was alone and then I pretty much pounced on him and said, “I heard a rumor that you and I have something in common.”

He laughed, pointed at my port and said, “I think we do. What’d you have? I have Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I actually had chemotherapy yesterday. This is water.” He tipped his red solo cup down so I could see that he was abstaining from alcohol.

I told him about my diagnosis and treatment, and that was a few months out from the whole thing. We talked for what was probably an hour, but felt like ten minutes. We were both involuntary members of this weird, crappy club that people go their whole lives hoping to avoid, the world’s worst fraternity with the most insane hazing ritual of all time. (Also we were both dressed as delicious liquids.) I never knew it was possible to feel so close, so intimate with a stranger, and not in a romantic and/or drunk capacity, either. I never went to a support group, but I think that interaction made me realize how valuable one could be, if I ever feel the need. It made me want to volunteer. To write letters to all the cancerous young adults of the world. I love you all. Cancerous or not.

Speaking of cancer, I’m home in California at the moment for two reasons: a) Thanksgiving, and b) implant exchange surgery! Tomorrow morning at 5:30am PST, I will be checking in to USC Keck Hospital to have these horrible chest-rocks replaced by cushy, soft, amazing implants. I’m super excited. Is it weird to be excited for surgery? I DON’T CARE I’M PSYCHED UP. NEW BOOBS, HERE I COME!

I’m 26 and My Boobs Failed to Kill Me, Despite Their Best Effort

A really long time ago I wrote a post where I lamented in an aside that no one had ever thrown me a surprise party. Specifically, I said:

I remember when I was in junior high school and a big, awkward loser (or more accurately, a tiny, awkward loser – I think I weighed about 75 pounds), a girl who was more popular than I was had a surprise party thrown for her. I was jealous, because nobody had ever thrown me a surprise party, and it seemed so fun.

Well, I can’t whine about that anymore! Because I got the BEST SURPRISE PARTY IN THE WORLD (!!!) for my 26th birthday!

On my birthday – which happened to fall on a Friday – my best friend Katie Bo told me she had planned a fun evening for us. So I met up with her on the Lower East Side, thinking we were going to go out to dinner. I kept guessing what she had planned, but despite her hints, I couldn’t seem to figure it out.

“Will people be talking?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Me: “Will there be speeches?”

KB: “There might be some speeches.”

Me: “Is it a wedding?”

KB: “No! Whose wedding would it be?”

Me: “Will I have to give a speech?”

KB: “Umm…probably not….but I’m not sure.”

Me: “Oh my God, Katie, IS IT AN INTERVENTION? Do you all think I need an intervention?!?!”

KB: “NO! There will be so much booze there. You will be pleased with the quantity and price of the booze, I promise.”

Me: “Is it an improv show?”

KB: “Okay, stop guessing, it’s time to go.”

Me: “WHAT THE F–K COULD THIS BE???”

She led me down the street and into a restaurant, and when we climbed some stairs up to a balcony, I suddenly saw twenty of my coolest friends all seated around a table. “Surprise!” they yelled as I immediately burst into embarrassing tears.

BUT THEN! IT GOT BETTER! As I was standing there, unable to believe that all of these people had come out just to celebrate my birthday, my PARENTS AND MY BROTHER stood up. They had flown 3,000 miles to be there with me. They had planned the entire thing, using my friends in New York to make it come together. My friend Tyler gestured down the length of the table and said, as I cried, “Look how many people love you.” Double-cue the waterworks, y’all.

The best thing about my birthday slash I-Beat-Cancer party was that it gave all of my different friend groups in New York City a chance to interact. My friends from study abroad, my friends my college, my friends from graduate school, my work friends, my roommate, friends of friends – all sitting around one table getting to know each other. I pretty wanted to tear up with joy as I sat there thinking about awesome every single one of those people is, and there’s nothing better than introducing awesome people to other awesome people.

Then the food started. Not only was there an OPEN BAR (Lord help me), but there was a SIX COURSE MEAL that ended with DONUTS THAT YOU DIP IN NUTELLA. So basically I died while eating the pierogi but then came back to life to eat French onion soup dumplings (?!) but then I died again sixty times every time I ate an ahi taco, some wasabi salmon, a kobe beef slider, I can’t even remember what else because I think I had a food blackout. In between stuffing my face with all of this I also had like 1,000 cocktails. The fancy kind with silly names and muddled fruit in ‘em. I actually would’ve had more to drink, but I ordered this habanero margarita because YOLO only it was more like OHNO because it took seven hours to drink due to the spice factor. Like trying to drink molten lava. Like swallowing the red hot center of the earth, you guys.

After dinner we all left to go to a dive bar around the corner that’s taxidermy-themed and plays weird dance hits from the 50s and 60s because New York. It was an awesome time, especially when my dad bought a round of Patron shots for everyone. EVERYONE. Then even more of my friends who couldn’t make it to the dinner started trickling in, and I was happier than a bird with a French fry.

Here’s a super-blurry picture of me and my amazing family tearin’ it up on the dance floor because we are so all about that life, enjoy:

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That’s the only picture I took all night, and I’m kind of proud of it. I was so surrounded by so many people I love that I just wanted to live it, not document it. Also, I was mildly intoxicated. Although I admit that now I’m mad I don’t have more pictures for this post. Anyway.

Back when I was in the thick of my sickness, really mired down in the mud and sludge of it, there were so many times when I felt like I’d gotten such an unfair shake. I was filled with hate and fury and anger and sadness. But it’s true, what they say –  that cancer isn’t the worst disease in the world. Princess Diana once said, “The worst disease in the world is the lack of love.” And I certainly have no lack of that – no lack of receiving it from my amazing family and friends, and no lack in returning it, either. So just in case I didn’t make it clear: I LOVE YOU, MOM AND DAD, I LOVE YOU, RYAN, I LOVE YOU FRIENDS, I LOVE ALL OF YOU GUYS. All of you who came to my party. Who wanted to come but couldn’t. Who are strangers who just happened to be in that restaurant at the same time. Who are strangers who just happened to be at that bar at the same time. You, reading this. You’re all amazing people!

So now, I’m 26 years old. And my boobs didn’t kill me. I’m alive. And that’s amazing, because every single day I think about how close I came to not being alive anymore. And I just feel happy.

PS. I’m officially running the Richmond Half-Marathon – again – on November 16! Suck it, cancer!

Musings on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, etc.

It’s October, which means it’s breast cancer awareness month! YAY and BOO, simultaneously.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about this strange little tradition and its deluge of awareness and action programs – one of which I’m actually actively working on at my job, and which will go live shortly! I think you’ll all really like it. I’ve never been one to be overly serious about cancer, so this isn’t serious, either. Natch. I think it’s much cooler than a pink ribbon on a salsa jar. So check back soon to hear all about it.

I kind of forgot that breast cancer awareness month was a thing until I was back home in Los Angeles the other weekend for a film shoot for my job. Since I don’t drive in NYC, I never listen to the radio (thanks for the Spotify Premium subscription, Brandcenter friends! It’s all I listen to!) – but sitting in traffic in LA, fiddling through the stations, I was bombarded with commercials touting every company’s breast cancer initiative in honor of October. And then I was sitting there on the 110, staring at some palm trees, and wait…am I crying? WTF?

A representative from Phillips Healthcare contacted me recently and asked if they could sponsor a post of mine in honor of their breast cancer awareness programs. I keep it super-real on this blog, so let me be real for a minute: Honestly, I was skeptical at first. I once saw a truck drive by advertising a WATER brand that was dedicated entirely to breast cancer research, which makes zero sense. I don’t need to be reminded of cancer every god damn time I buy yogurt and hair products, okay? I’m not trying to get ambushed by emotions every time I’m in the grocery store. Do you want me to cry in the dairy aisle, D’Agostino? IS THAT GOOD FOR BUSINESS? I mean, I just flew back from Los Angeles and had to stare at all of the flight attendants’ pink buttons and ties for six hours, and while half of me was like, “Yay, solidarity and support!”, the other half of me was like, “STOP REMINDING ME,” and those two sides of me duked it out all the way to LaGuardia at 30,000 feet up in the sky.

The Phillips rep was kind enough to send me some materials about what their company accomplishes each October, and I was impressed. They’re not paying me to talk about this, and let me be clear that I wouldn’t do it if I thought what Phillips was doing was BS. But along with a lot of other products you probably use every day, Phillips makes mammogram machines that use MicroDose Technology, and they sponsor a Mammography Truck – and mammograms are probably the most important tool we have in the fight against breast cancer right now. Because here’s the thing: When you catch breast cancer early, you can cure it. Yes, I said cure. As in forever and ever cure it, and go on living your life. And that is amazing.

I’m fully and completely supportive of any and all initiatives that work to make sure women have access to early detection. There is simply nothing more important. And while mammograms won’t help girls like me because we’re weird medical anomalies, the message is the same: Be diligent about your health. Whether that means getting your boobs squeezed between some plates, checking yourself in the shower or going to the gynecologist regularly. And if something doesn’t seem right, for God’s sake, follow up on it. It’s funny to think about how many times in my life I knew something was off, but put off doing something about it – not just healthwise, but in my relationships and my decisions and so on. When I really reflect on it, my gut feeling has been right probably upwards of 90% of the time. I’m not saying I always did what my gut told me to do. I probably almost never do what my gut tells me to do, because it’s usually the harder thing. But dammit, that stupid gut knows what’s up.

So yeah, breast cancer awareness month is a time of great internal conflict and strife for me. On the one hand, when you’ve got a disease that 1 out of 8 women is going to be diagnosed with in her lifetime, is there any such thing as too much activism? With numbers like that, virtually every one of us will know someone who will be affected by this disease. It’s awesome that companies like Phillips are so dedicated to improving the technology we use to keep women healthy, and working to provide resources for women whose lives are impacted by breast cancer. The community of support around breast cancer is truly humbling, even if I sometimes feel like a bit of an outsider in it because I’m 25, unmarried and a drunk degenerate and not 50, married and a mom.

Also, let me take a moment to say that I know that hatin’ on pink ribbons is a pretty popular activity these days. I’m not trying to do that. Because I know that women deal with this in all kinds of ways – and while I laugh-cry at pinktivism and 5Ks and inspirational Pinterest quotes, a lot of women find it truly empowering, and I am completely in favor of that. And I am all about people doing whatever they can to help other people. There’s no one way of dealing with a deadly disease that’s any better or more valid than any other. Rock on. I’ll just be over here writing random stuff all up in this blog.

On the other hand, I had no idea that hearing the words “breast cancer” and seeing pink ribbons all over the place would be this emotional for me. And I kind of resent a lot of companies for putting me through that when they have no logical reason to. Are you listening, D’Agostino? Please let me grocery shop with relative emotional stability. Please.

One other, totally unrelated thing: It’s almost my birthday! Which means I’m going to be 26. Do you think I need to change the title of this blog? What’s a gal to do? Time marches on.

THE HAIR POST YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR!

Wow, has it really been over a month since I last posted?

I guess it just goes to show what a footnote cancer has become in my life these days. As the last reminders of it fade, I increasingly file it away in some faraway coda, separate and distinct from my daily life. I don’t spend much time thinking about it – I’m too busy enjoying the company of my friends, the challenges of my job and everything that New York has to offer (which is, mostly, falafel. I could eat falafel for every meal).

But I write today, dear readers, to share some really, really exciting news: the wigs have been officially retired.

I’ve always been pretty average. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way; I’ve got my own charm and quirks and I’m happy with the way I look most of the time. But physically, I’ve always blended in – a very petite girl, nothing too remarkable, long brown hair, brown eyes, a wardrobe consisting mainly of jeans and cardigans. I’ve never stood out physically, or sought to. I’m not the type of gal who’d be interested in a facial tattoo a la Mike Tyson or nipple piercings or some such – although perhaps I should consider the nip piercings, seeing as I’ve got no feeling there these days. That’s cheating, right? I feel like part of the point of intense body piercings is the outward sign that you braved the pain of having your whatsits and doodads pierced and lived to tell the tale.

The point is, I am used to being fairly anonymous and unremarkable, to conforming to Western standards of beauty and femininity. And suddenly…I don’t anymore.

Before I go any further in my musings, let’s have a look at my progress, shall we?

While I was waiting, quite impatiently, for my hair to grow back, I absolutely scoured the internet for play-by-plays of the process and came up disconcertingly short. So I hope that this post can help those of you who may be waiting for your own locks to return. Without further ado, I present to you: the prodigal coif, coming home at last.

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The pictures are about two weeks apart. As you can see, once the hair started coming in, it came in fast and thick. Here’s a shot of me from last weekend, rockin’ the buzz out and about for the first time (not including the times I rocked it while running, which doesn’t count, because I was actively running away from anyone who could possibly comment on it):

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It’s awesome to have my head hair back, but it’s decidedly less awesome to have my body hair back. I mean, what kind of miserable force is biology when it takes three months to grow enough hair on my head to be able to step out in public without shame, yet if I shave my legs in the morning I look like a Sasquatch by dinnertime? Five o’clock leg shadow is LAME, you guys. I forgot how unbelievably unawesome it is to have to shave my armpits and get my eyebrows threaded. I mean, I’ll do it if it’s the price I have to pay to have my tresses back, but I won’t be happy about it.

Okay, okay, I’m being ungrateful. I guess I kind of masochistically missed the sting of eyebrow threading. Actually – serious time – I do kind of love getting my eyebrows threaded, because it’s like this little secret club of women taking care of our women-business, taking part in this ritual that we’ve owned and perfected for generations. I mean, not me personally. I have no idea how to thread anything. But still: No boyz allowed. Reminds me of a book I loved in high school, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Warning: It’s (tangentially) about periods and (directly) about the Bible. But it’s amazing, and you should read it.

Having a buzz cut is pretty cool. Like, literally. As in, it keeps me from overheating. The last couple of days have been quite the heat wave here in NYC, and not having anything on the back of my neck is awesome when it comes to regulating my temperature. It’s also amazing to take short showers, something I never did before my cancerventure. I’m like a dude: I can hop in the shower at 8am, and be dry, dressed, made-up and ready to go at 8:15. I can, but that doesn’t mean I do. ‘Cause I admit that there’s nothing quite like standing under the hot steam of the shower and letting the stress wash away. Until it’s time to shave my legs and armpits. Then it’s like, DAMMIT.

So back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this post: I stand out now. The buzz cut is quite the attention-grabber. I mean, I like to be the center of attention, but on my own terms – like when I’m being totally hilarious at the bar and everyone’s like, wow, that girl is so cool! (Note: This never happens except in my delusional fantasies.) Most of the time people are positive. Here’s a list of some of what I hear on a daily basis, roughly in order from most affirming to most WTF-y:

“Wow, I love your hair!”

“Your haircut is so bold.”

“Your hair is very ‘Great Gatsby.’”

“I love girls with short hair.”

“I wish I could pull off hair like yours.”

“Do you work in fashion?”

And my favorite:

“I just wanted to let you know that I think you’d be really pretty with long hair.”

That last one is actual quote from some random guy in a coffee shop. I was sitting there, minding my own business, with my headphones in – the universal signal for “DON’T TALK TO ME, I AM WORKING AND I DO NOT WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND” – when this guy came up to me and uttered that bizarre semi-compliment…thing.

I stared at him for what felt like an eternity, trying to come up with something witty to say. C’mon, brain!

Finally I just blurted out, “Yeah, cool, but I had cancer and all my hair fell out and this is what I’m working with now, so…bye.”

I honestly wish I could’ve captured the look on his face, because it clearly did not occur to him that this haircut might be a result of something beyond my control. Which is kind of cool, really, because it means my hair has come so far as to no longer be even vaguely reminiscent of Cancer Patient, but is still lame because who cares what this douche thinks?

He mumbled out some weird apology and something about herbal teas curing cancer (I wasn’t listening to him anymore), and then he walked away and I was overcome with l’esprit de l’escalier, as the French say – when you suddenly come up with all the perfect stuff to say as soon as the moment to say it has passed you by.

I wish I would have said, I don’t care if you think I’m pretty or not.

I wish I would have said, I have more important things to contribute to society than fitting into your narrow, culturally-mandated view of what is and isn’t attractive on a woman.

I wish I would have said, I just wanted to let you know that I think you would be really handsome if you had an entirely different face and a personality that didn’t suck.

To be honest, though, that moment in the coffee shop was one of the most freeing of my life. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be attractive to the opposite sex. Buying the right clothes, wearing the right makeup, denying myself that second (or fifth) cupcake, burning myself on curling irons, wasting hours of my life in front of the mirror. In facing down this coffee shop douchenozzle, I suddenly realized that beauty has no power over me. I’m ugly now – at least to some random guy in a coffee shop, who I couldn’t care less about – and it’s awesome.

Little victories

Sometimes, it really is the little things that keep us going. In the midst of an unseasonably cool, rainy week, my continual pledgeship in Broke Fi Broke (they haze hard), and hot flashes so intense they wake me up at night, I thought I’d take a minute to think of all the things that have gone my way in the last little while. Here’s a quick list:

1. They took the scaffolding down off my apartment building! Yes, this really is the first thing I’m excited about. I’m so excited about it, in fact, that when I came home after work one day and saw that it had been removed, I actually did a DANCE in my living room/kitchen (this is NYC, apartments are small and rooms are combined) and said “YAY!!!” out loud. It may seem like a small thing, but IT’S HUGE, YOU GUYS. The amount of light I get nearly doubled, and there are no more strange men stomping around outside my window at 7am.

2. I ran a 5K (3.1 miles) in 28 minutes! My personal record is somewhere around 24 minutes, but after six months off, I think that’s pretty good for less than a month’s progress! I also ran a mile in 7:54. (PR is 7:15.) I’ll take it. I’m planning to run a 10K  - like an actual, sponsored 10K with a bib and course and everything – on September 22. Since I’m up to 4 miles at less than a 10-minute-mile pace now, I think 6.2 will be very doable. My 10K spilt when I ran the half was 51 minutes, so I doubt I’ll beat that, but stranger things have happened. I’ll be happy just to finish.

Also, I think sometimes people maybe heckle me/shout to me when I run bald, but I don’t know, because I run with loud music and I generally just give a thumbs-up to anyone who stares at me because I am full of endorphins and good cheer out there, so YAY EVERYONE! EVEN HECKLERS! The other day, I was running in my Virginia Track and Field shirt and I passed a guy who was ALSO running in a Virginia Track and Field shirt and I was like HEY COOL SHIRT and he was like (this is my interpretation of his facial expression) HEY THAT CHICK IS BALD! No one notices your fashion when you have no hair, alas.

3. I didn’t blast my budget to pieces in July! July was my first full month in NYC, and living here and not being a gajillionaire can be a challenge. I managed to slip by under my budget with a couple hundred bucks to spare. So now I know that I can afford those extra couple of trips to the falafel place down the street. MMMM FALAFEL.

4. Gordie and I are going on vacation tomorrow! I can’t wait to unwind at the beach for the weekend. The forecast looks lovely, and our destination (I’m keeping it a secret, in case you’re stalking me) is supposed to be quite romantic. Gordie: “I don’t care what you say, we’re getting ice cream sundaes. Don’t try to fight it.”  Me: “Like I would fight an ice cream sundae.”

Small semi-non sequitur: The other day I wanted some fro-yo, and I was home alone, and it was like 10:30 PM. But I had this craving for fro-yo that just would NOT go away. So I left my apartment and walked a couple of blocks to the fro-yo place and filled up a cup with cake batter softserve and topped it with a bunch of cookie dough and brownie bits and Reese’s Pieces, and if you’re one of those people that gets plain yogurt and tops it with kiwi and granola then just DO NOT EVEN TALK TO ME RIGHT NOW, because the crushed up Butterfingers are MY LIFE. Anyway, after I came out of my fro-yo trance (which is what I call that state when I am SO INTENT on getting fro-yo that I’m not paying attention to anything, people could be giving away free puppies and having a live Luke Bryan concert in the fro-yo place but I’d just be like WHERE IS MY CAKE BATTER BEFORE I HAVE TO SHANK SOMEONE), I realized that everyone else there was with a friend. But I was alone. So I texted Hailee and was like, “Is it not socially acceptable to get fro-yo by yourself?” And she replied, “Girl, if that is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.” So I will continue solo fro-yo-ing because YOLO.

5. MY HAIR IS GROWING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t use a lot of emoticons on this blog but this calls for a :). And another :). :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) I’m planning an entire post about this, but I want to get a little further along in my hair-growth progress before I unleash it on y’all, dear readers.

6. I pet a bodega cat yesterday. He was so FLUFFY! Doesn’t he just look so OVER everything? He’s like, “Ugh, this bodega doesn’t even have air conditioning, yet you’re going to buy those Hostess products that have been on the shelf since before Y2K. Enjoy your food poisoning, you basic betch.” Whatever, bodega cat.

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7. The internet broke in my apartment! I’m actually including this in the “little victories” section because I’ve been finding a lot of ways to amuse myself without it, and since I sometimes feel like I spend too much time staring at screens, I actually think it’s nice to be forced to disconnect for a bit. In the four days I’ve been living without at-home internet, I’ve done a lot of running, exploring the greenway, seeing old friends, catching up over happy hour, listening to buskers in the park, riding my bike, and reading my AMAZING book. I’m reading the Lord of the Rings because, despite being an English major and a very voracious reader, I’d somehow never included it in my canon, and when I told Gordie that he told me it was unacceptable so I immediately got it on my Kindle and dove into it. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know the plot – I’ve seen the movies – but I think virtually all modern high fantasy is derivative of Tolkien and it’s easy to see why. The book is incredibly engrossing, and I think even if Time Warner got their ish together and FINALLY fixed my internet, I’d ignore its siren song to finish Frodo’s journey to Mordor.

8. I made fajitas! That’s all. I made them from scratch, and they were DELICIOUS. It’s always nice to find an easy, tasty new weeknight recipe.

So what are your little victories, readers? Bodega cat wants to know. Look at that face. You better tell him. You wouldn’t like bodega cat when he’s angry.

On Running

I’m running again!

Something that’s quite wonderful about technology (specifically, RunKeeper) is that it saves all of my data from all of my runs from times past, so I can go back to when I started training for my first half marathon and see how bad I sucked then and how quickly I improved, so that I don’t get discouraged when I have a bad run this time ’round.

In a weird bit of cosmic poetry, I started that training for that race – which I ran in 1 hour and 51 minutes, on November 10, 2012 – on July 1, 2012. I was finally feeling well enough to get back to running on July 8, 2013. Now, I’m back up to 3 miles in 30 minutes. That puts me on track to run another half marathon before Thanksgiving, although I probably won’t be able to on account on my exchange surgery, which is scheduled for that same time frame. I did find a halfie that runs around Central Park in January; I’m supposed to take six weeks off running after my surgery, but…we’ll see.

I forgot how nice it is to have a hobby where you can actually watch yourself improve day-by-day. In the other creative aspects of my life – my job, my writing, my relationships, my attempts to be a not-totally-sucky person, my ability to drink a vodka tonic or two without immediately making everyone in the bar my best friend – improvement is very subjective, virtually impossible to measure. But when I run, I can see progress every single day. I can go from running 2.5 miles in 30 minutes, to 2.75, to 2.9, to 3.0 and, as of this morning, 3.1. I know, I know, it’s slow – my high school cross-country self would probably be ashamed to even record times this slow – but WHATEVER. I basically nuked my body, boiled the hemoglobin right out of my blood and poisoned myself to the brink of death, so the fact that I can do anything besides shuffle/crawl on all fours is fantastic.

Running gives me a lot of gifts. It makes me proud of my body again. It’s the first step (ha!) in rebuilding my relationship with my physical self, a relationship that’s been a bit contentious ever since my physical self went rogue and tried to off itself. It gives me endorphins, which, if you don’t exercise, are VERY real and you should totally exercise because it’s good for you and it feels good, seriously. And it’s also given me the confidence to walk around bald.

I never took my bald head anywhere without a wig or beanie on top of it for the duration of my illness. I couldn’t even bring myself to hang out in the living room hatless; the image of the sickly, hairless Gollum I saw in the mirror just didn’t jibe with the conception I had of myself with big, bouncing brown curls and thick, natural eyebrows, and I didn’t want people – even my parents – to get an image of bald-me into their heads that they couldn’t get out.

So for a while, I tried to run with a beanie. I even have a nice UnderArmour hat for just this purpose. But if you have been following the weather reports here in New York, then you know that it has been HOT. So hot that every day at 12:30 this disembodied voice would come on the loudspeaker at work and almost make me crap my pants by playing an emergency siren before announcing that we were shutting down half the elevators in order to prevent a city-wide blackout from the stress on the power grid. And even though I go running in the mornings, before the sun has had time to heat the tarmac to the temperature of a sautee pan on the stove, I would find myself sweating, uncomfortable and dizzy, in the heat.

And, you guys, if I ever write a movie about my life, this scene will be in it: The scene where I realized, F–k it, it’s just too hot, I cannot wear this beanie anymore! Beanie, you are maybe made out of wool (I dunno, I didn’t look at your label) and just because I no longer conform to traditional feminine beauty standards and look like G.I. Jane slash Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta if I’m being super super generous about my looks, I shouldn’t have to hide myself from everyone! BEANIE, YOU ARE HOLDING ME BACK! And I stuffed it in my sports bra, bald head on display, and continued on my way.

I had this whole speech prepared for if anybody heckled me about it, too. The gist of it was pretty much, What, you’ve never seen a buzzed head before? Who are you, THE HAIR POLICE? And then depending on endorphin level, possibly a middle finger. I never said I was role model, y’all.

But no one – NO ONE – heckled me. I learned a lesson here, too, and that is that even though we’re all the hero of our own stories, no one else gives a shit. Generally, people are too busy with their own thoughts to give much thought to whatever trait about yourself make you self-conscious. And if there IS anyone out there concerned enough to give you a hard time about having a big nose or being too tall or whatever it is that makes you embarrassed, then I feel sorry for someone who has so little going on in his own life that he has to butt into yours. Sure, some people stared a bit, but mostly I just look like a really aggressive lesbian, and in New York (and specifically Greenwich Village, where I live), that’s anything but a rare sight.

I was actually so emboldened by running around bald that I started ditching the beanie entirely, not taking it with me on my runs at all. On one such run, I was jogging down the greenway when a man caught up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Can I take your picture?” he asked.

He was probably about 50 or so, completely bald himself, and was out jogging as well. At this point I was enjoying a pretty good endorphin high, but I was still a bit skeptical, so I asked, “What for?”

“My wife is bald,” he said. “She’s so beautiful, but she’ll never go anywhere without her wigs. She doesn’t feel beautiful. But she is. She’s so gorgeous. Look.”

His pride was obvious. He took out his phone and flipped through some pictures so that I could see how beautiful she was (and he was right, she was gorgeous).

“Don’t tell her I showed you this,” he added in a mock whisper, and swiped to one of her without her wig. She still looked beautiful, just like he’d said.

“I want her to know that it’s okay to go out without hair, that there are beautiful girls out there who look amazing with no hair, like you. I want to show her your picture.”

DUDE. DUDE. OF COURSE YOU CAN TAKE MY PICTURE. Let me just stop CRYING over this incredibly EMOTIONAL THING YOU JUST SHARED WITH ME. I gave him a wide smile and let him snap a shot.

“Do you mind if I ask,” he added, “do you just choose to shave it, or did something happen?”

“Eh, I got a little bit of cancer,” I shrugged.

He offered his condolences, then asked, “Are you in remission?”

“Yes.”

“How long?”

“Six weeks.”

“Amazing. That’s amazing.” He high-fived me. “Good luck to you, and I hope you live a long, happy, cancer-free life!”

Then he jogged away and I stood there on the greenway, hairless, sweaty, looking at the downtown skyline and thinking about his wife and whatever demons she faced as a bald woman, too. That guy probably thinks I gave his wife something great by posing for that picture, but he gave me something much greater by asking for it. Confidence, purpose, a sense that some good can come from how gross I look when I work out.

Like I said, running gives me a lot of gifts.

I <3 NY

I

The space.

There is none.

Before I moved here, while I was just visiting for interviews, I met my friend Hailee for Thai food in Brooklyn. The restaurant had about eight seats and a B rating, which Hailee assured me was not due to their cleanliness but rather the fact that the storage closet that housed the place could not POSSIBLY be up to fire code.

“You’ll get used to this here,” she said. “Nobody has any space – not the businesses, not the restaurants, not the shops, not the apartments.” (Nobody, apparently, but Memorial Sloan Kettering, whose kingly chemotherapy suites I get to visit again on Monday.)

It’s true that space is basically impossible to come by here. Coffee shops and restaurants seat about six to twenty people, max, although forty or more are often crammed into them (again, does NO ONE care about the fire code?!). The subway stations and cars are packed to overflowing during rush hours, but I walk to work unless it’s hotter than the surface of the sun like it is today, and at least they don’t hire people to literally stuff you into the trains with giant poles like they do in Tokyo, so there’s that.

Speaking of Tokyo, somebody recently asked me if I had heard about the 250 square-foot apartments in Japan that are apparently all the rage there these days, and then I thought about it for a second, and I realized I think my apartment is probably about 250 square feet. I mean, my roommate and I each have our own rooms, which are about the same size – 10×7, or 70 square feet – so that’s 140 square feet there. The living room, which is also the kitchen because one wall of it has a fridge, a range and a couple of cabinets (and by a couple of cabinets I literally mean a couple, as in two, TWO CABINETS, for all of our food, dishes, etc.), isn’t much larger – it couldn’t be more than 10×10, and I doubt it’s even that big. And then there’s the bathroom, which isn’t even large enough for a bathtub (we have one of those tiny showers you can barely turn around in, and I bet it’s really hard to shave your legs in it, but I wouldn’t know since I’m STILL hairless), and I think we’re somewhere between 250 and 275 square feet when all is said and done.

Don’t mistake this for complaining, though. I actually love my apartment. The small space is cozy, even if I did have to sell my flatscreen because I literally couldn’t fit it anywhere, and even if the oven sets off the whole building’s fire alarm every time I turn it on (seems safe, right? But I mean, this is NYC, so who the f uses an oven anyway?). My bedroom fits everything I need and has AIR CONDITIONING so next to that I’d sacrifice basically anything else.

A couple of weekends ago I was in Boston visiting Gordie, and we attended a charity party his company was throwing at a local bar. The place seemed ENORMOUS. I was like, What is this cavernous nonsense? The people aren’t crammed wall-to-wall elbowing each other for alcohol dominance like a weird Discovery Channel documentary where they all fight to the death to see who can stay in the bar longest. WHAT IS THIS TOMFOOLERY? Like a housecat who finds itself in the backyard accidentally for the first time, I was honestly confused by the sheer amount of space and freedom.

II

The travel.

I don’t ride the subway a lot because I walk to work, but when I do take it, it is invariably weird. There’s something I love, though, about being surrounded by people who express themselves without regard for what other people might think. Cheers to the girl I saw with bright green hair, the guys and gals covered in tattoos, the women with buzzed haircuts (ESPECIALLY women with buzzed haircuts, y’all are an inspiration), the people of ambiguous gender, the guys wearing women’s clothing – everyone of you awesome people, KEEP ON KEEPING ON. I wish I were as brave as you, and could walk around with my weird, bald scalp on display instead of sweating to death under this itchy wig. Some day, perhaps.

By the way, taxis – both the mere idea of them (on-demand personal drivers!) and the actual implementation of them in this city (literally 10+ of them in view at any second) – are amazing. Gordie came for a weekend and needed to get to the bus station at 6 in the morning. “Should I call a cab for an hour that weird?” he asked.

“Um, call one? Duh, no,” I scoffed, like an authority even though I’d literally been here 11 days at that point. “Just walk outside and hail one. Doesn’t matter if it’s 4am or 4pm, you won’t have any trouble.” And I was right, he hailed one literally immediately, which is good for me or I would have looked pretty dumb.

So far, three – THREE! – people have stopped me in the subway and asked me for directions. HOLY CRAP, YOU GUYS! Not only did those people think I was a NEW YORKER, they thought that out of EVERYONE in that subway station, I looked LEAST LIKELY to be a murderer. I wish they had a plaque for that sort of thing. I’d hang it on my wall. If I had the space.

III

The food.

Sometimes I get legitimately depressed because I can’t possibly eat at every single restaurant, diner, deli, take-out counter, coffee shop and bar in New York City.

But damned if I’m not trying to.

It is my mission to eat a different place every single time I go out for food. So far, I’m doing pretty well. Okay, there’s this one falafel place I really like and there’s an awesome sandwich place near my office and WHY FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKE YOU GUYS so I’ve been there a few times, but overall I keep on seeking out new culinary adventures every chance I get.

The best thing about New York is how weird/niche the food gets. I passed a place the other day that advertised “Mexican sushi and Japanese tacos.” There’s a bar-ish establishment near my apartment called Murray’s Cheese Bar and it’s a BAR THAT SERVES ARTISANAL CHEESES so I think I’m going to just live in it because what else does a person need?

I love the variety of food experiences here, too. Yeah, you can find vegan eateries with the pathetic calorie count listed next to their soy cheese and lettuce wrap, but walk out the door and you’ll see a dirty-water hog dog stand staffed by a woman in a burqa asking if you want a 1,000-calorie pretzel. So by turns I indulge myself with the most disgusting pizza slices and cream cheese-loaded bagels and then atone for it by ordering a quinoa salad at a place whose sign advertises their commitment to the locavore movement.

IV

The culture.

Nothing makes me sound more touristy than talking about all the “culture” in NYC, but whatever. I guess what I mean by “culture” is a certain amount of authenticity – a variety of places and experiences that are wholly and totally unique to New York, from street performers to Central Park to jogging on the Brooklyn bridge to shops and stores that have only ONE location, and it’s here, in New York City.

One of the things I like the most about life here is how well the mom-and-pop shop is doing. Things in our society are becoming increasingly homogenous and commoditized; a Walmart in Kansas is about the same as a Walmart in Vermont is about the same as a Walmart in Shanghai, China. And in some ways that can be nice, because the experience is consistent, and I know what I’m gonna get when I walk into Walmart, even if I’m 2,000 miles from home. But NYC is the only place where I can go to the only existing location of a place called Garrett’s Hardware and have a hasidic Jew with payots show me where the nails are.

V

The future.

So am I going to stay in New York? For a little while, at least. I mean, it’ll be three years before my 401k is fully vested so I guess I’ll try to tough it out at least that long. But in spite of the hot garbage smell and the air conditioner rain and the crowds, there’s something I just love about life here. I guess what I’m saying is, I can think of worse fates that living life post-cancer in what is rightly termed the greatest city in the world.

A Wyoming Weekend

Over the fourth of July, I traveled to Wyoming to see my beautiful friend, sorority sister and one-and-only “Gyps” Caroline get married to the man of her dreams. The last time Caroline and her amazing fiance (husband!) Joey were mentioned on this blog, she texted me to let me know that Joey was excited about his shout-out on “the blog of the year.” They always know how to make a gal feel special, and my weekend away was no exception.

First of all, can you get any further away from New York City than Wyoming? Much like on my road trip, I was struck by the sheer amount of space that still exists. And while I love NYC (and there will be a post on that coming soon), there will always be a strange little conflicted part of me that wants to move to rural Montana and live in a cabin on a ranch with horses and buffalo and do nothing all day but stare up at the blue sky and marvel at the miracle of existence. I know that this is in direct conflict with my current status as a resident of a dark, cramped New York apartment, but whatever. I am vast, I contain multitudes.

One thing that often strikes me about New York is how immediate things are here. Do you want some obscure, bizarre ethnic cuisine from a tiny country you can’t even point to on a map? You’re probably a 10 minute subway ride away from a restaurant that specializes in it. The other day I was doing a little Googling to see if I could find some live music to enjoy, expecting just to come upon a bar with an open mic where I might perchance stumble onto some unknown who happens to play covers of some songs I like, when I accidentally discovered that I could actually go see a band I’ve liked since I was 18, The Old ’97s, for $15, that very night, 20 minutes from my apartment.

Of course, when you can’t swing a dead cat (or, more likely here, rat) without hitting some insane one-of-a-kind cultural phenomenon, it tends to breed impatience. In Wyoming, however, patience is everything. Serenity is a way of life there; in NYC, serenity is nonexistent. Check out the background of this picture of my friends and I at Caroline’s rehearsal dinner and try to imagine feeling frustrated or angry or cramped or impatient or irritated when you’re looking at that view.

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I’ve always been amazed at Caroline’s loyalty, her calm, level-headed demeanor, her incredible kindness and empathy. I’ve always felt so lucky to have her in my life. Now that I’ve seen where she comes from – a place where people are just nice, probably at least in part because you’re guaranteed to see everyone again so you can’t be a piece of shit and just expect to get away with it, but mostly because they’re just nice - I think I understand a little bit better how she came to be such a great person. I mean, can anyone be a giant jerk when they wake up every morning and see sprawling plains and blooming wildflowers and grazing livestock and my absolute most favorite thing ever, trains? Plus, her family is incredible – my dance with her dad was one of my favorite moments of the whole weekend, and her cousins and relatives were all wonderful to meet. I, by contrast, was raised in a place that values vanity, greed, anorexia, plastic surgery and the absolute worst in people (LOL, Los Angeles), so no wonder I suck so much comparatively.

(That’s a joke, Angelinos, and Mom and Dad – thanks for raising me in the sunniest place in America. My only complaint is that I have no idea how to scrape ice off a car windshield, which was a problem in Virginia.)

Oh, and then I got back to New York and was chillin’ at the taxi stand at LaGuardia and the guy running it was just screaming profanity at all the taxi drivers, banging on their hoods and generally being an insufferable douche. So I guess there’s really no hope for me.

Anyway, I don’t know how comfortable Caroline and Joey would be with me posting their weddings photos on this blog – and in any case, they are not mine to post – so just close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful and loving couple you’ve ever seen. Then imagine one 1,000x more beautiful and loving than that, and you’ll have them.

In lieu of a pic of the newlyweds, enjoy an image of these buffalo I got to pet and feed! While riding on a TRAIN. I was in heaven, you guys. Slightly smelly but vast, beautiful, breezy, green heaven.

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My favorite thing about weddings is everything. I love all of the care and thought that goes into creating all the small details, like choosing a signature drink and picking out bouquets and buying little colored chevron straws. I was mocked endlessly in graduate school (and by my boyfriend) for checking wedding blogs all the time, but I JUST LIKE LOVE AND HAPPINESS AND NICE PHOTOGRAPHY, OKAY? I love the exchange of vows, especially when the groom cries. I even kind of like being in church, because I feel like it absolves me of the responsibility of going to church again for at least several months, so I can sleep in on Sundays.

But the best, best, best thing about weddings is seeing all my friends again.

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It may seem odd to say, since a fair amount of bad luck has come my way in the past year (cancer at 25?), but it’s hard not to feel like the luckiest girl in the world when I’m surrounded by the most amazing people I know, in one of the most beautiful states I’ve had the good fortunate to visit, waving a sparkler around on the Fourth of July and still fitting into that cobalt blue dress I bought when I was running 15 miles a day.

Life is good, and every day I’m glad to still be living it.

I’m literally radioactive

Three weeks ago today, I had a chemotherapy infusion. That means that right now, right this moment, I should be getting hooked up to a bunch of bags filled with drugs whose names I can barely pronounce, preparing myself for another week spent in bed.

But I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m living my life, like any other 25-year-old. I’m building the new headboard I ordered for my bed, crying inside while I write my July rent check, going out for drinks at cool dive bars in the East Village with my friends, meeting with my boss to discuss all of my projects at work, trying falafel from that little place around the corner where the menu is all in Arabic, exploring my new neighborhood, and checking my head obsessively to see if any new hair is sprouting (not yet, but Hair Watch 2013 continues).

I try not to lose sight of how incredibly lucky I am to be where I am now. For many cancer patients, the chemo journey is much longer. Or it never ends. For me, it was just what my doctor promised: six shitty months.

Six shitty months that are behind me.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that my journey with cancer is over. Aside from lingering hot flashes and of course my ongoing alopecia problem, there’s still the matter of my Herceptin infusions, my Tamoxifen prescription and all manner of scans and tests and appointments designed to keep me cancer-free, hopefully FOREVER.

I had my first Herceptin infusion at Memorial Sloan Kettering last week, and let me tell you guys, it was pretty ridic. I really don’t have any complaints about USC’s infusion suite – the chairs were comfy, there was always room for my family, my nurses were great, I got free food, the TVs worked, so whatever, I was a happy camper – but MSKCC just takes chemotherapy to another level. If USC was Regal Entertainment Group, MSKCC is like the Arclight Cinemas of infusion centers in that it’s so luxurious it almost feels absurd, like Who could possibly need this level of comfort/pampering just to watch 6 Fast 6 Furious??? absurd. At MSKCC, everyone gets their own private, individual room complete with giant flatscreen TV, plus free food and drinks in a little kitchen area to snack on at any time. Honestly, I don’t need my own infusion room, but am I gonna complain? Hell no, y’all. Honestly, I was bummed out that my Herceptin infusion only lasted 30 minutes because I wanted to spend more time just relaxing alone in my little private area. In NYC, that’s as private as anything gets, ever. My little infusion room was larger than my bedroom. I wish I was kidding.

After my infusion, it was time for my cardiac scan. Herceptin, while it doesn’t cause hair loss or vomiting or bone pain or any of the other awful side effects that I got from the rest of my drug cocktail, does have a slightly alarming tendency to cause premature heart failure. Since my heart is kind of important to, you know, my continued survival, it needs to be monitored for any signs of damage or toxicity. A few months ago I had this done with an echocardiogram, but I found that procedure to be thoroughly unpleasant, so this time I went with a MUGA scan – a procedure that involves injecting a radioactive tracer into the bloodstream to assess the performance of the cardiac muscle.

Getting the MUGA scan was kind of like time travelling back to 1953. All of the medication required for it – which is by definition radioactive – has to be kept in extremely thick, heavy iron boxes, which are all sort of rusted and dingy and smattered with yellow “RADIOACTIVE” symbols, like how I imagine old, abandoned nuclear equipment in Chernobyl might look. The syringe used to inject the radioactive tracer is also covered in iron, leaving nothing visible but the needle itself and this dark, ominous-looking barometer used to measure the amount of liquid inside. It weighs a good five pounds or so and has to be first mixed with your blood (ick) and then agitated for ten minutes before it can be injected, which is done by strapping it to your arm with this device that honestly looks like it belongs in a medieval torture museum (but, I should add, is actually totally painless except for the muscle fatigue you get from having to flap your arm around like an idiot for ten minutes).

The whole time I was looking at this contraption/set-up like, Awesome, whatever’s in this syringe is so dangerous that it can’t even be stored in a closet without being incased in impregnable iron, but we’re going to inject it directly into my heart. Sounds safe.

Truthfully, though, once the deadly radioactive nuclear waste completely harmless solution was reinjected back into my bloodstream, the whole thing was easier and simpler than I’d anticipated. All I had to do was lie in a giant, clunky machine for half an hour while it whirred around me and imaged my ventricles and arteries. Seriously, though, the machine was so comfortable and the whole thing so stress-free that I actually fell asleep during the scan and only woke up with the thing beeped to alert me that the procedure was over. Score.

Afterwards, I got this awesome card:

Image

So basically, I expect to become one of the XMen at any moment.

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