Monthly Archives: July 2013

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:

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