Moving Day

“This is totally the big important scene in the theoretical movie of your life – little girl off to the big city,” joked my (now former) roommate Kristen as she dropped me off at the train station this morning in Richmond to await my ride to New York City.

The big day is finally here – I’m moving!

In fact, I’m writing this from my cozy Amtrak seat, as trees and dirt roads and sun-soaked waterways whip by in the window. I hate the whole strip-search-followed-by-cramming-humans-into-a-sardine-tin-then-launching-its-twenty-ton-metal-body-30,000-feet-into-the-air ordeal of flying, so when I can, I always prefer to take the train. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I have a weird fascination with trains, like the kind of fascination that’s probably more appropriate for a four-year-old boy. Whenever I spot one (a train, not a four-year-old boy), I can’t stop myself from blurting out, “TRAIN!” Richmond actually has the world’s only triple-level train trestle, where three tracks cross each other like a steel braid, and my friends make a lot of fun of me for caring at all about that little fact and, one time, going so far as to drag them to go look at it in Shockoe Slip. Whatever though, trains are amazing.

If you don’t know a lot about Richmond, let me tell you, it ranks highly on a lot of lists. Some of them are stuff like “Most Murders,” but still. Moving is always bittersweet, and Richmond is a cool town, even though people from New York clearly think it’s the lamest place on Earth. When the movers – two dudes about my age – came down from Brooklyn to pack up my room, one of them asked me in a bewildered voice, “So…what do you do here for fun?” Like we literally didn’t even have bars or restaurants. I was tempted to throw on my thickest Southern accent and say, “Well, if the weather ain’t right for catfish noodling, we’ll head on down to the barn for a hootenany!” (Which, let’s be real, doesn’t sound that bad. I could go for a hootenany.)

It’s weird to see your whole life reduced to boxes, to see your room stripped of all the things that made it yours – the pictures, the polka dotted sheets, the Ikea mirror, the Absolut bottle filled with fake hydrangeas. It’s easy to forget that at their core, most rooms are just white boxes, waiting to be personalized. Of course, my white box in Richmond was 18×15′, and my white box in New York is 7×10′, but that’s neither here nor there.

Even though I took a six-month hiatus in Los Angeles, I’ll miss a lot of things about Richmond – like its slow, deliberate, drawling pace, its spacious coffee shops, its pastel-colored row homes, its inability to remember/acknowledge that the Civil War ended 150 years ago, its warm river banks, its cobblestoned avenues. I’ll miss the people, too – my second family, Katie Bo’s family, and their beautiful farmhouse; all the tattoo’d hipsters and their fixie bikes; my professors; and not least of all my friends, of whom I am so proud as they all begin their careers around the country.

But while I’ve got a healthy dose of missing my family and my friends and the familiar in my old haunts, I’m mostly excited. I impulse-bought a headboard and a new duvet cover, because I’m An Adult now and An Adult should have things like headboards and use words like “duvet.” I’m planning to paint an accent wall in my new 7×10′ white box. (To be clear, the 7×10′ white box is just my room. The whole apartment is larger. Slightly.) I found a color called June Day, a dusty yellow that’s perfect in so many ways – the same color as my childhood bedroom, and with a name that reminds me of the day I finished chemotherapy. I’m going to buy a tea kettle too. Because I’m An Adult. And An Adult should not make tea in a saucepan.

I’m also going to need a window air conditioning unit, because hot flashes are intense, you guys. I used to be like, “Ha ha, hot flashes! Old ladies are so hilarious when they stand in the fridge or roll down all the car windows in December!” But I’m not laughing anymore, because chemical menopause is the WORST and hot flashes can SUCK IT. I’ll just be chillin’ out, doing my thing, and then all of the sudden it’s hotter than the surface of the sun and I’m soaked in sweat and looking around for frozen things to put on my face and then, five minutes later, I’m freezing and I need a sweater.

So here I am, 25 years young, enjoying chemically induced menopause and wielding moderately-sized fake boobies and being nerdily excited about trains like a little boy and on my way to New York City. Life!

Chemotherapy #6: The Doppler Effect

It’s taken me a few days to get this post up, and I apologize for that. There are a few reasons:

First, I’ve just felt like complete and utter crap, which of course is par for the chemotherapy course but doesn’t make it any less miserable.

Second, I’ve been sorting through a lot of emotions and coming to terms with what being done with chemotherapy means for me, both good and bad.

Third, I saw 6 Fast 6 Furious which is the first movie I’ve seen in theatres in FOREVERRRRR and it’s totally insane, so yeah, that’s been taking up a lot of mental real estate. Do you know how weird it is to get in a car and drive along at a totally normal speed slash not go up into any cargo airplanes or drift around anything or flip your vehicle over a bridge after you leave a Fast and Furious movie? Super weird, guys. Super weird.

But back to the first and second points, which are probably more salient to this blog. (Maybe? Would you guys object if I turned this into a 6 Fast 6 Furious fan page?)

The thing I keep coming back to is time. It just…passed. And events happened. And now I’m here. I know, I know, time heals all wounds – how many times did I roll my eyes over that phrase when my middle school boyfriend broke up with me and my mom tried to comfort me? But now it’s the thought I can’t get out of my head, because for so long I thought this day would never come and that I’d be stuck in the chemo vortex forever and ever, and now here I am, on the other side of it. Healed. Sort of.

I remember back in December when I was first diagnosed, and in January when I went for my first set of scans and IV pokes and other medical BS, and how the doctors kept reminding me that it was going to be a shitty six months, but that was all – six months, and I’d be able to start getting back to normal. Six months felt impossibly long to me then. I mean, to be honest with you, I’m not an especially patient person – if a date is further away than the release of the last movie trailer I saw, it’s probably too far away for me to be even vaguely aware of its existence or anything I need to do to prepare for it. But now I feel like those six months have gone by in the blink of an eye. Is it June already? How?!

It reminds me of all the other important things in my life that blew by before I had time to register they were even approaching, like college graduation and my entire adolescence (why was I never cool like today’s tweens? They make it look so awesome and trendy but I ruined it by being a big nerd the whole time!). There’s actually a term for it, or rather, a term that due to my faulty knowledge of physics and English-major propensity for metaphor I’m going to appropriate for it – the doppler effect – the way a car’s engine gets louder and louder as it approaches and then zooms by in one moment of fantastic sound and fury and then fades into the distance while you’re left on the side of the road like, WTF was that thing? Basically, my whole life – and not least of all this cancer experience – has been the doppler effect.

I can’t believe that I’m finished with chemotherapy. In one week I’ll move to New York. In ten days I’ll start my new job. On July 6 I’ll watch my beautiful friend Caroline marry the love of her life. In early August Gordie and I will go for a summer beach vacation. I see all of these things coming, like the doppler effect car engine, but I know that no matter how hard I try to stretch out all of these moments they’ll blast by me fast enough to give me whiplash.

Let me clarify, though, that although I’ve finished with the whole pump-your-veins-full-of-poison thing, I’m not done with cancer treatment. Cancer cells can go haywire in a variety of patterns, and I was fortunate that mine decided to go berserk in as many ways as possible – meaning we can throw the kitchen sink at me and keep on treatin’ me for years to come. I’ll have twelve months of Herceptin infusions, which are given intravenously and require me to sit in a hospital but don’t cause hair loss, sickness or any of the other chemo nastiness. (So whatever, sign me up – a couple of hours every three weeks dedicated to reading Us Magazine in what’s basically a budget pedicure chair? I’m there.) After that, I have five years of Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker that’ll keep me in the early menopause I’ve been enjoying so thoroughly these past few months.

Knowing that I’ll be actively “fighting” cancer for at least five more years saves me, I think, from a bit of the emotional distress that typically accompanies the end of chemotherapy treatment. I don’t feel unprotected – rather, I feel as though I have an army of some of the world’s best doctors and drugs at my back. And don’t fret, readers! I still have so much to say about life post-chemo, post-boobs and post-hair (and I guess pre-hair, now, since I expect to get it back eventually), this blog ain’t going anywhere.

If there is anyone out there reading this blog who is just starting their own awkward and crappy journey with cancer, I hope I’ve made it clear that my main point about chemotherapy is this: WAIT, IT’S OVER ALREADY? I THOUGHT WE JUST STARTED??

If that doesn’t give you some hope about getting through treatment, then you need to buy some Ben & Jerry’s stat. ‘Cause Ben & Jerry’s is always my plan B.

I’m going to have to work on that patience thing, though, because there are so many other things to wait for now. Like my hair, which won’t start growing back for another month or two, and won’t be acceptable to take out in public until sometime around my birthday in October. And my boobs, which will be officially replaced with gummy bear implants near Christmastime. (MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ME, AM I RIGHT?) Not to mention 7 Fast 7 Furious. Hurry up, 2014!

Ten Things I Learned Between Richmond and Los Angeles

You guys.

YOU GUYS.

I knew road trips were cool and American and sort of a rite of passage for adventurous, creative types like myself, or at least like I imagine myself to be. But I had no idea they were SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

First of all, America is amazing so I’m going to include some tunage here to get you in the right mood to read this post. As a general rule I keep this blog pretty PG in terms of language but I simply cannot pass up this opportunity. Press play (make sure no kids and/or people who don’t like swearing are around) and come with me on a magical journey. U-S-A, U-S-A!!!!!!!!

I wanted to tell you all about my experience on the road, but there’s simply too much – and too much that’s just inexpressible – to relate in a linear, chronological way. So instead, I made a list of what I learned during the last seven days on the road.

A few disclaimers about the post: It’s going to be long. It has absolutely nothing to do with cancer, perhaps because (happily!) cancer is playing less and less of a role in my life these days. And if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen most of these pictures before – but I hope you’ll enjoy them again!

Ten Things I Learned Between Richmond and Los Angeles

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Our weird Freaky Friday outfit switch was not intentional.

1. Only road trip with someone you love and who loves you, no matter what. Y’all, things are going to get weird. Think you’re normal? Not after 8 nonstop hours of driving, you’re not. You will be losing your mind. Not in a bad way, either – you’ll just be laughing your head off at the stupidest things, shifting around in your seat like you have hemorrhoids and letting your freak flag fly.

Driving into Nashville, Katie’s phone GPS started scolding us for pulling off the interstate into a gas station and she cradled it like a baby while stroking it and whispering, “Shhh, shhh.” The next morning I absolutely insisted on eating a Bojangles biscuit and self-soothed by murmuring to myself, “We’ll get biscuits…we’ll get biscuits…” (We did; it was our only fast food stop, and the woman looked at us like we were insane when all we ordered was two biscuits. She was like, “And…?” And we were like, “NO JUST BISCUITS. BISCUITS FOREVER!!!”) Pulling into Albuquerque, after nearly 11 hours of driving, we rolled down the windows and just yelled at nothing like the goats in those “Goats Screaming Like People” videos.

You’ll be sleep-deprived, hungry and you’ll have to pee for long stretches at a time but when you pull over to pee on the road you’ll step on some grass and a million grasshoppers will leap out of it and you won’t be able to do it and you’ll have to hold it forever and ever and just when you think you’re going to die a magical rest stop will appear but wait is it a mirage no it’s a real rest stop OHMYGOD and then you’ll FINALLY be able to pee. You’ll argue occasionally, but more often than that you’ll laugh and talk about how lucky and happy you are to be doing this amazing thing together.

If you’re not road-tripping with someone you’re actively in a relationship with, it will feel like you are by the end of it. Katie Bo and I started telling stories as “we” the way a well-established couple does – “We were talking about that today!” “Do you want to come to dinner with us?” “We were just laughing about that silly thing Katie does.” She also has short hair, because she cut it for me when mine started to fall out, which does not make us look any less like a loving and functional lesbian couple, not that we care.

At one point we shared the road with some bikers and Katie Bo mentioned that she’d like to get a motorcycle one day, to which I replied that I had no desire to own a motorcycle but that I’d totally ride on the back of hers.

“Okay, no, that’s where I draw the line,” she said. “That is just TOO lesbian.”

2. The only liquid more important than gasoline is coffee. I probably spent $500+ on gasoline for the trip, which is about the same amount we spent on coffee. If you didn’t know this about me, I’m a caffeine junkie – the front page of my professional portfolio website is a shot of the neon sign in front of Champ’s in Brooklyn that says “Death Before Decaf” with my face reflected in the glass below it. Here is our daily coffee schedule:

7am-9am, depending on the length of the day’s drive: Stop for coffee before hitting the road. Probably order a red-eye. Or a JFK, so named because it has three shots in it. Tasteless, yet clever. My favorite.

11am: Have finished the first coffee. Stop for second coffee. Probably iced because now it’s 10,000 degrees outside and I’m getting a shorts tan/sunburn from sitting in the car with the sun streaming in through the window.

1pm: Need more coffee. Perhaps too jittery for another espresso, might switch to iced tea.

3pm: Chug a giant smartwater.

5pm: One more coffee to power through the end of the drive. You might think we’d switch to decaf by now, but you’d be wrong. NEVER.

I discovered my new favorite thing at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, part of the original marketplace in the French quarter – chicory coffee. Chicory is a root that is sometimes added to coffee to cut the bitterness, and while I like my coffee absolutely midnight black with no cream or sugar, I have to admit that the chicory root makes it substantially more delicious, almost like a dessert. I’m hooked, and now I’m screwed because it can be tough to find it outside of NOLA. Fortunately, you can order it online – although I’m not sure if I’m happy that I can sustain my addiction despite being 2,000 miles from Lousiana or sad that the internet has made this regional treat something I no longer have to earn by driving 16 hours to the bayou.

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Seriously, though, gasoline is more important than coffee. Do not run out of gas. There were some very long and desolate stretches on our trip, especially through what is essentially still the Wild West in western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where we didn’t see a single town, let alone a gas station or a bar of cell phone service. Sometimes we’d get so caught up in singing along with our favorite songs or listening to a Louis C.K. set while I practiced my bad stand-up in preparation for the act I may or may not do in NYC hoping to be discovered by someone from Saturday Night Live that we’d forget to check the gas gauge and find ourselves genuinely distressed that we might run out and be stranded and die in the desert and our bones would be discovered clutching each other helplessly by anthropologists in 2513 or something.

Basically, what I’m saying is, if you go on a road trip, keep your priorities straight. Gasoline first, then coffee. Then somewhere way down the list, water, I guess. Whatever.

3. Couch surf; beds are overrated. We were fortunate to be able to stay with friends in every city we visited, except for the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We visited friends on small stopovers in between cities, too – like my friend Julia in Knoxville, Tennessee, or Katie Bo’s cousin Crisman in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In Nashville, we met up with a friend and fellow UVA alumna named Carly at a local bar where we watched three boys with guitars and cowboy boots sit on stools and play covers of our favorite country tunes. We bought them a round of longnecks and they played my favorite song, Take It Easy by the Eagles, and came over to do a Fireball shot with us after the set was over.

In New Orleans, we stayed with Ann Marshall, also a fellow Virginia alum who now literally works for the New Orleans tourism board. She was incredible, taking us on a tour of the city that included an authentic dinner of gumbo and alligator sausage (described on the menu with nothing but the tagline, “It is what it is!!!”), a ride down the mardi gras parade route on the streetcar (where we could see multicolored beads hanging from the tree branches and power lines) and a walk down both Bourbon Street, the strangest collection of debauchery and nudity I have ever seen which is somehow still bizarrely appealing (perhaps it’s the alcohol served from to-go windows?), and Frenchman street, where we watched street musicians play creole jazz on tubas and trombones.

In Dallas, we stayed with our amazing friend Rebecca – not a Wahoo, but a semi-Charlottesvillian at least; good thing we went to college or we wouldn’t be nearly so well-connected – who took us out to a lake by her newly-purchased home (adulthood!!!!!!) before we all went out in her massive truck for agave margaritas and brisket tacos at a cute tex mex place where we dined on the patio in the warm summer air.

In Albuquerque, our friend Leslie and her boyfriend Matt took us on a walk to a ridge by their apartment overlooking the entire city, where we watched the sun set bright pink and light up the Sandia Mountains (so named because they glow rosy like watermelons in the dusk) before night fell and the whole city glistened below us, a sparkly oasis in the vast desert. We had elk burgers on Route 66 and huevoes rancheros in the morning to bid adieu to an old town made of old pueblos and signs in Spanish.

In Las Vegas, we met up with my brother, his friend Pat (who shaved my head!), my friend Hayley and her boyfriend Peter, where general Vegas debauchery was had – but not as much as in my younger days, since, as Hayley put it, “Most of the time I’d rather be home with a sandwich.” Amen, sistah.

The places you’ll see on a road trip are great, but the people are just as good.

4. “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)” is a quote from an e. e. cummings poem oft-quoted in Facebook profiles. To me, the line is about the power of memory: that it can take something ethereal and fleeting by nature, like love, and make it permanent in the mausoleum of one’s own heart.

In the Petrified Forest in Arizona, there are signs all over the park reminding visitors not to take pieces of petrified wood with them when they leave, as thoughtless souvenir hunters doing this in the days before the site was designated a National Park resulted in the loss of many of these irreplaceable treasures. Naturally, however, when I found a little shard of petrified wood glistening on the path in front of me…well, that’s different. I can just slip it into my pocket and take it home, right? It’s different, right? It’s only a tiny sliver; no one will know.

I honestly considered sneaking my little piece or memorabilia out of the park, but ultimately thought better of it. I don’t need the wood because I carry it in my heart. I saw it, and I’ll have that forever. It’s better, I think, if I can’t show you the wood. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself, so you can carry it in your heart, too.

I carry the whole trip in my heart, and I always will, now. There are some things that a souvenir can’t replicate, that a photograph just can’t capture – things you can only carry with you.

5. Eat everything. Back in our college days, Katie Bo and I used to go to iHop for some inexplicable reason (gross, I know) and we’d joke that calories didn’t count there, despite the fact that they obviously did and that’s probably why I literally gained a zillion pounds as a first year. Anyway, I didn’t learn anything and CALORIES TOTALLY DON’T COUNT ON ROAD TRIPS. We ate gumbo, beignets and “voodoo” flavored potato chips in New Orleans, margaritas, brisket tacos and roadside pit barbecue in Texas, Mexican food smothered in green chiles in Albuquerque, and $80 worth of sushi and cocktails in Las Vegas and it was worth every love handle and extra chin I’m gonna pay for it with.

In fact, we originally conceived of this road trip as a gastronomic tour of the United States, and we were amazed at every stop at the local flavor (pun intended, deal with it) that we encountered. The differences between say, New Orleans and Albuquerque, culinarily, were so stunning as to feel like they belonged in entirely separate countries.

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Oh, I forgot that I also ate an enormous chocolate Butterfinger brownie in New Orleans. YOLO.

6. Accept that the car will become a disgusting hovel of slovenliness and gluttony. My car needs a good detailing. Not only is it freckled with the carcasses of a trillion unlucky/stupid insects, its interior is dotted with potato chip crumbs, Triscuit fragments, trail mix pieces and all other matter of snackery.

In order to avoid stopping at fast food joints, which would have ruined our desire to see (and eat) the authentic soul of everywhere we traveled, we packed a styrofoam cooler full of semi-healthy items like string cheese, carrot sticks, apples, delicious chicken salad made by Katie Bo’s mom and plenty of water bottles to trot out whenever we got a bit peckish on the road. Sadly, the ice inside said cooler eventually melted and then somehow leaked all over the backseat of my car which now smells like a mildewy towel. Despite this, we preserved in refilling the cooler with ice whenever it got low and eating just about everything it without once stopping for chain restaurant food with the exception, mentioned above, of pulling through a Bojangles in Athens, Alabama to order nothing but two biscuits.

I am sort of weirdly proud to admit that I bought this car in mid-2011 and have never once washed it, but now I’m going to have to break that streak. It’s probably for the best.

7. Pack whatever you think you’ll want/need, then immediately unpack three-fourths of it. I pretty much wore 5 items of clothing on this entire road trip despite the fact that I packed the largest suitcase in the world full of every single garment I own that I like. (Which, don’t be fooled, is actually only like half of them.) In reality, all I needed were a few comfy, breezy tank tops, a light jacket (for the Grand Canyon, where it’s cold at night) and a pair of shorts. Done. You’ll sleep in underwear and the tank top, trust me. You will be too lazy to wear that cute pajama set. Just leave it at home.

8. Nerd out, you’ll learn cool stuff. Katie Bo and I whipped out Wikipedia at every opportunity and learned some truly amazing things about the cities we visited.

Even though we planned out an itinerary that included stops in some of the most amazing and unique cities in America, like Nashville and New Orleans and Las Vegas, some of the most incredible stuff we saw was in between the big destinations.

It was the zeppelin mooring – the last zeppelin mooring in the entire world – at the top of the decrepit and forgotten Leer Tower in Birmingham, Alabama, where stopped for (what else?) coffee. It was the St. Louis cemetery just outside of New Orleans, where brownish residue on the sides of above-ground mausoleums housing jazz legends, writers and voodoo priestesses marks the height flood waters rose to during Hurricane Katrina. It was the state building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, visible as we crossed the mighty Mississippi, that Huey Long insisted on building before he was assassinated in it. It was the ghost town of Cerbat, located some three miles from highway 93 in western Arizona down a dirt road marked only with faded, bullet-riddled signage and “No Trespassing” signs that we ignored, where an old mine built in the 1800s still stands, weathered but defiant, under the fierce sun of the desert.

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9. There is still space. Leslie’s boyfriend Matt mentioned that he had road tripped across the country in the past, and that the thing he was most surprised to discover was that there was still space. “I thought there was no space left,” he said. I guess I kind of thought that too, but I was wrong. Most of what we drove through was space.

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We drove for miles through open fields in Alabama and Texas, where cattle and horses grazed and tall, yellow stalks swayed in the wind; high, flat buttes in New Mexico dotted with cacti through which endless trains weaved their mechanical entrails; dense forests full of flowering and fragrant magnolia trees in Mississippi; swampy, algae-covered bayous that lined the three-digit state highway we took in Louisiana. We drove past poverty, too – rusting trailers located a million miles from anything, sweltering in the summer heat.

The whole thing was a powerful reminder that America, developed as it is, is in many ways still a wilderness to be explored by anyone willing to sit in a car for 50 hours.

10. I am a tiny and insignificant speck of dust floating through the universe for what amounts to the blink of an Almighty Being’s eye.

Out of everything we saw and did on a trip, which was more (and more incredible) than I could ever accurately describe here, nothing was more moving than the Grand Canyon. Cliche as it is, this 227 mile long gash is as stunning as everyone says it is. First of all, who knew there was such amazing forest in Arizona? The kind of forest that elk roam through, where pine trees scent the air and you need a campfire at night?

The Grand Canyon is indeed grand. It’s breathtaking to behold. I got vertigo just walking up the edge of it. What amazed me most about it, perhaps, is that whether I die in 5 years or 50, I’ll never see the thing change. For millions of years, long before there was ever a human eye to look at it and feel dizzy at its sheer magnitude, the canyon has been forming – and it’ll keep forming long after I’m gone. My time here is so short as to be wholly insignificant to the Grand Canyon. All I can do is marvel at it and remember how amazingly spectacular and powerful and slow and deliberate nature is in its beauty.

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Pulling up to my parents’ house at the end of a 3,500 mile journey, we were both relieved to have completed the whole trip without a single accident, speeding ticket or mental breakdown. But we were sad, too – sad that the trip was over, and that we can’t keep living it – we can only carry it in our hearts.

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In cancer news, MY FINAL CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT (hopefully ever) IS TOMORROW! Stay tuned to hear how it goes.

The hostesses with the mostesses go coast to coastesses

Truthfully, at my core, I am an intensely active person. I need constant stimulation, like a border collie puppy: THROW MORE FRISBEES OR I’LL EAT THIS COUCH CUSHION.

If you’ve been reading this blog from the start, then you know that as a general rule, I like to have anywhere between two and two million plates in the air at any time. Running a half marathon, training for a full marathon, participating in an outdoor fitness class that meets rain, shine or snow at 6am in a dark field somewhere, balancing a full graduate course load, freelance writing on the side and still finding time to get drunk on patios with my friends might make me sound pretty Type A, but it’s all a trick of inertia. Once you start an activity, it’s easy enough to continue, especially if you find that activity enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Take away those activities – put me in a hospital bed for a week or my living room’s chaise lounge for a month while I convalesce and fall in love all over again with Elliot Stabler (and Olivia Benson, whatever, we’re all a little gay) – and all of the sudden it’s like I’m one of those tamagotchis you reset by sticking a bobby pin into a button on the back. I forgot virtually all the tasks I used to be so adept at, like running or doing my own dishes or being any kind of functional human being at all. I morphed into a vaguely person-shaped conglomerate of blankets, TV remotes and bowls full of macaroni and cheese. The radioactive kind you make in the microwave. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Some primal laziness mode was activated in me. I was literally inventing new ways to be lazy. For example, sometimes I want/need to wash my face, but then I look at the sink and I’m all like, “Aw man, I gotta wait for this thing to heat up, and then I gotta bend down and get my face all in there, and rub soap in my eyes, and splash water all over my clothes inevitably, and it’s just gonna be SUCH A HASSLE.” And then I’m like, “Screw this, I’m just gonna shower.”

Because, you guys! When you’re bald, a shower and washing your face honestly take about the same amount of time. I’m going to get undressed to put my jammies on anyway, so whatever. The shower heats up instantaneously, while the sink must wait for the ancient hearths to strike the heated irons or some other archaic nonsense that takes, like, 5 whole minutes. So boom – hop in the shower, wash my face, towel off, put on jammies. DONE.

So in a way, my laziness is actually the mother of progress, because I’m so lazy that I’ll go out of my way to come up with new ways of doing things just to be able to do them in a way that more conforms to my laziness ideals. I have no proof of this, like not even a shred, but I bet Thomas Edison invented the light bulb because that sonbitch was sick of striking matches and buying (making? I have a poor grasp of historical commerce) candles.

But, like the border collie puppy, I can only be lazy for so long before I need to go run aimlessly in circles in the backyard for two hours while barking at the decibel level of a regional jet until the neighbors start asking themselves why they didn’t get little Jimmy that BB gun for Christmas last year after all.

And that is why, dear readers, against all common sense and possibly some medical advice (?), I am driving from Richmond, Virginia to Los Angeles, California over the next seven days.

A lot of people have asked me about my travel, and whether or not I feel up to all of the stuff I’ve been doing over the last couple months of my treatment. Truthfully, I feel like absolute ass for the week following my infusion, so during that time I usually do hibernate with Netflix and string cheese, ignoring all calls and snapping at my parents. But for the two weeks after that, I’m good to go! Aside from some lingering fatigue and a passing moment of nausea here and there, I feel up to all the things I’m doing, and it’s been paying off.

I got a job (!) in New York (!!) and it starts in less than four weeks (!!!). I’m immensely thrilled about this and I just realized that even though it happened officially a couple of weeks ago, I neglected to mention it here. So anyway, as happy as I am about my job (and I genuinely am excited to get started in a creative career), there are some things I want to get out of my system before it’s back to the 9-to-5, and the road trip is one of them. Chemo be damned.

The reasons I am doing this trip are sixfold:

1.  Pragmatically, I have a car in Richmond, Virginia that needs to be in Los Angeles, California. I could ship it, I guess, if I wanted to pay $3,000 for a stranger to put it on the world’s most unsafe-looking truck-device with 10 other cards headed for the junkyard or something. I could do that, but…no. That’s how the car got out to Richmond in the first place, and it arrived so caked in bug guts that I think it has PTSD flashbacks to mass insect murder on I-40.

2. I want to drive across the country. We live in a nation so vast, so diverse in culture, weather, geography, climate, cuisine and history that to spend one’s life only flying over it while listening to Pit Bull on one’s iPhone even after the flight attendants said “Please turn off your electronic devices” is to cheat oneself of a spectacular adventure.

3. Cancer stole six months of my 20s. That’s 1/20 of, arguably, the best decade of my life. Whether out of a true sense of wanderlust or just pure spite, I will now try to cram six months’ worth of joy, discovery and fun into a single week.

4. One time, my mom made some Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for Thanksgiving dinner.  This is relevant; bear with me. She made, like, 25 of them, because our relatives were over, and put them in a nice basket. Enter Michelle, age 12 and hungry. I ate every single croissant, felt sick to my stomach for hours, and to this day I will not touch a Pillsbury Crescent Roll. Since I’m a gal who occasionally likes a Sunday drive and I’m moving to New York City, where such drives will be a thing of the past, I hope that by the end of this roadtrip, sitting behind the wheel of a car will be my new stomach-turning Pillsbury Crescent Roll.

5. The timing is just right. My grad school career is over, but my new job hasn’t started yet. My best friend, partner in crime, platonic soulmate, the Turk to my J.D., the girl behind the old copy of Gone With the Wind with “burdens are for shoulders strong enough to bear them” underlined and at least partially responsible for the Sequin Soldiers photoshoot, who mailed me socks with owls of them, who I listed as an emergency contact somewhere recently, is also available and is coming with me: Katie Bo.

6. Not that I’m going to kick the bucket – no plans to do so just yet – but the American summer cross country road trip is a HUGE bucket list item for me. I’m checking it off now, just in case. I’m relatively confident that this cancer will take the asswhooping my doctors are handing it as a sign never to return, but you never know, something else completely random could get me at any minute. I once heard a terminally ill cancer patient joke, “I mean…I still wear my bike helmet.” You never know, y’all. Now is always the right time when it comes to bucket list items.

If you want to see the sights with me and Katie Bo, follow me on Instagram

See you on the road!

Angelina Jolie

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of people have been asking me my opinion on the op-ed that Angelina Jolie wrote about her preventative double mastectomy. First of all, it’s awesome that any of you care about my opinion, so thank you! Second, I think she’s a God damn rockstar and the op-ed ruled.

Let me start by pointing out what I think is its single flaw: She really glossed over the whole mastectomy part of it. I don’t want to scare those of you who may one day need this procedure – it’s saved millions of lives and obviously I am doing fine these days (and looking pretty damn good if I do say so myself, tried on a bikini the other day and my new boobs are rockin’) – but seriously, she covered the whole thing in one sentence, like it was a cavity filling. Maybe my experience was more extreme than others, but I literally couldn’t sit up for nearly a week after my mastectomy. I didn’t shower for like nine days because I couldn’t stand up long enough, and I wasn’t allowed to take a bath. I wore the same pair of pajamas for a fortnight.

And don’t even get me started on the drains. THE DRAINS. They’re like a medieval torture device designed to be as painful and inconvenient as possible, all while also being unbearably disgusting. While I had my drains in, I was on Skype with my friend Danielle and her roommate Megan, and I lifted up my pajama top to show them where the drain went into my skin, and MEGAN FAINTED AND HAD TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. True story. That’s how disgusting these drains are.

I hope Angie had an easier time with her procedure than I did, but assuming she had an experience even remotely similar to mine which included a lot of pain, vomiting and Law & Order, I think she’d do us all a favor by just admitting that it really sucked balls there for a few weeks. It’s all fine now and I don’t regret my choice even for one second, but I don’t want to lie to you all. It was miserable for a little while. But 100% worth it.

I also want to take this opportunity to clear up a little confusion about what a mastectomy is these days. When people hear the word – and certainly when I first did – they imagine a scarred, pitted crater where a breast used to be. But Angie and I actually had the same procedure (twinsies! BFFs!), which is a skin-sparing and nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate implant-based reconstruction. With this option, my new breasts look natural. And awesome. The only thing indicating that they’ve been tampered with is a thin, light scar that runs from the outer side of my nipple to just before my armpit. So when you picture Angie and I as mastectomy survivors, think less sad cancer coffee table book portrait and more Pamela Anderson.

My favorite thing about Angelina Jolie’s op-ed, though, was this line:

I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

It’s hard to struggle with a cancer that messes with your sexuality, especially when you’re in your sexual prime (me) or the sexiest woman in the world (also me. Just kidding. Obviously that’s Angelina). And it’s weird to think about my future as a woman when I’m missing one of the defining parts of being a woman, even if no one knows I’m missing it but me. I think Angelina Jolie very eloquently captured the idea that those of us who make this choice do so because we are strong, empowered and determined – qualities that are far more important than breasts when it comes to defining fierce, beautiful, inspiring women.

By the way, my second favorite thing about the op-ed is when she just casually mentions that Brad Pitt is her partner, like we didn’t know. DUH BRANGELINA WE KNOW YOU GUYS ARE ADORABLE.

Chemotherapy #5: The Musical Slash Educational Film from 1954

I’m back in California as of yesterday around 8pm, but I’m still on East Coast time. As a result, I woke up stupid early this morning and made a playlist for today’s chemotherapy session. I wish I could embed it, but Spotify won’t let me. If you’d like to listen, click here:

CHEMOTHERAPY: THE MUSICAL

It’s a weird, chill, eclectic collection of tunes including Rihanna and Of Monsters and Men and Lymbyc System and tons of other stuff. I’m usually on a ton of drugs during chemotherapy, so…it kind of sounds like music you’d listen to while you’re on drugs.

I cannot believe this is my second-to-last chemotherapy. Someone told me very early on in my treatment that actually, the hardest day for a cancer patient is the final day of chemotherapy, and I’m finally starting to understand what he meant. I mean, this is what people talking about when they talk about “fighting” cancer – sitting in this chair and getting up to pee every fifteen seconds from the constant saline drip, talking to my mom, dickin’ around on the instanetz. But the fight ends, and although the bell will ring, cancer will lie down and the referee will declare me the victor, I’ll leave the ring alone, unprotected and vulnerable. At least I’ve got one more treatment before I have to really start considering that.

After I left New York last Thursday, I hopped on a train to Boston to visit Gordie for the weekend.

By the way, this has nothing to do with anything, but I love trains. Every time one comes by, I have to stop and stare for several minutes, mesmerized by the rhythmic thumping of the wheels over the track’s joints and the blur of ridged containers flying by at a speed that seems impossible for the train’s lumbering weight. It’s like watching an elephant win the 100-meter dash. It’s like a steam-age fractal, a repeating series of shapes and colors, a weird, quaint piece of moving art that harkens back to a time I never knew. I want to grab a hitch and bindle and leap up on one of the ladders and ride away on track ballast, wood and steel to the 1840s. But if I did, I’d be dead, because I think chemotherapy/mastectomies were pretty primitive back then. They probably would have covered me with leeches and called it a day.

Gordie and I had a fantastic time – walking along the esplanade, visiting an outdoor beer garden, meeting up with some of my grad school friends who are interviewing at agencies in Boston, strolling through the public gardens, watching movies, grilling burgers and just enjoying young adult life (something I was isolated from for so long that I cherish it now more than ever before).

Gordie plays in an adult soccer league, so I went with him on Saturday morning to see them compete. While they were warming up, I left to grab an iced coffee before the match started and found myself walking through the middle of one of those Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure things. It was so weird – all these women in pink shirts and matching fanny-packs, with pithy signs about boobs and womanhood, and me, the very person they’re walking for, wandering through their midst while they march on unaware. It just goes to show that Plato was right: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. And if their wig is realistic enough, you may never know what it is.

Back to chemo. I find that people often want to ask questions about my condition and my treatment, but they worry that it’ll somehow be offensive. I totally get that concern, but also, I absolutely love answering questions and it’s not offensive to me in the least. It makes me feel useful, like God was like, “Hmmm, I need someone to explain cancer to a smallish group of twentysometimes scattered across California and various mid-size cities on the east coast. I’m gonna use this petite brunette girl! She can tell everyone what it’s like! Michelle, your mission, should you chose to accept it (LOL I’m God just kidding you don’t get a choice), is to become Grand Cancer Ambassador.”

So let me answer a few of the Frequently Asked Questions I get about chemotherapy, in the form of a script for a 1950s educational film.

“CANCER AND YOU (AND ME, WAIT, WHO’S NARRATING THIS AGAIN?): WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW BUT MIGHT BE AFRAID TO ASK”

ME: Hello, I’m Michelle, and you may recognize me from such blogs as I’m 25 and My Boobs are Trying to Kill Me, the Tumblr that I occasionally binge-update and a Livejournal from 2001. Today, we’re here to talk about chemotherapy!

TIMMY, our pupil: What’s chemotherapy?

ME: Well, Timmy, it’s the worst thing on Earth. It’s basically like the devil pissed into an old Mountain Dew bottle on a long car ride when one of those signs that says “NEXT REST STATION 55 MILES” popped up and he couldn’t hold it any longer, and then he forgot about the bottle for like two months while the car was parked in a very hot parking lot (this is Hell, after all), and then eventually he was like, hey I can sell this!, and he gave it to some doctors, and then they stab you with a needle and inject the months-old satanic urine in your bloodstream.

TIMMY: Is that true?

ME: Yes. That’s exactly how chemo drugs are made.

TIMMY: Why does your hair fall out?

ME: The thing that makes cancer so dangerous is that cancer cells aren’t very different from other cells in your body, they just grow more quickly. The trick to “curing” cancer is to find a drug that targets cancer cells while doing minimal damage to normal, healthy cells (damaging your regular cells would, of course, paradoxically give you MORE cancer and/or kill you). So far, most chemotherapy drugs just target cells that are growing fast, like cancer cells. Other cells grow fast, too, though – like hair. Which is why hair falls out. Nails can also become discolored, raised or fall off, your reproductive system shuts down, your immune system is highly suppressed and you can get sores in your mouth and throat – other places where cells grow quickly.

TIMMY: That sounds like it sucks a big one!

ME: It does, Timmy, it does.

TIMMY: But are you able to do normal stuff?

ME: Mostly, yeah, but that’s because my oncologist is awesome and I absolutely refuse to lie down and take it from some dumb drugs. I feel like I got run over by a steamroller carrying the e. coli virus for the first ten days, and for the second ten days I feel mostly normal, except that I get winded halfway up the stairs. I generally try to cram everything fun and cool into those last ten days between treatments, which leads to some very action-packed weeks punctuated by weeks where I literally go days without changing out of my pajamas. The same pajamas. Yeah, I’m disgusting, whatever, I know it, and I have cancer.

TIMMY: Gee golly whillikers, that sure is gross!

ME: Haters gonna hate, Tim.

TIMMY: Are you allowed to travel?

ME: Yeah. I just got back from a three-city tour of the East Coast. And I’m in the midst planning a cross-country road trip. More on that in an upcoming post.

TIMMY: Are you allowed to drink?

ME: This is a 1950s educational film, you’re in like the fourth grade.

TIMMY: Yeah, but you’re writing this script, so the drinking age can be anything you want.

ME: I don’t think I want it to be 9.

TIMMY: Anyway, just answer the question. Are you allowed to go out for a brewski?

ME: Totally. I’m not supposed to get, like, freshman year hammered, but I can totally have a beer or two at the bar. Or, during one of my Pajamas Weeks, you’re totally welcome to come over with wine. We’ll drink it in front of Law & Order: SVU while I try not to barf into a metal bowl. And that actually sounds strangely reminiscent of the aftermath of a night of being freshman year hammered.

FIN.

Feel free to ask more questions in the comments, if you have some. Nothing’s off limits and I’ll answer as honestly as I can.

Graduation and New York City

What a whirlwind this week has been!

Despite saying for months that I didn’t really mind one way or the other if I got to go to my graduation, I decided to sack up on the Wednesday before the Saturday ceremony and buy a ticket to Richmond. I was already planning on a trip to New York City for some job interviews, so what’s a little stopover in RVA?

I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of graduation. These things tend to be 90% pomp and circumstance and only a small portion actual sentiment/appreciation, and besides, I’d already attended my high school graduation (throughout the duration of which I had to pee SO BADLY that I kind of blacked out and remember virtually nothing of the ceremony) and my college graduation (which was actually two ceremonies – one giant gathering for the whole 3,000 member graduating class, during which I cried inexplicably [hint: this is foreshadowing], and one smaller ceremony for the English grads), so I didn’t feel any burning desire to add another strut to my Walking Across A Stage in A Silly Outfit repertoire.

I completely mischaracterized this ceremony, however. Because my master’s program is (was!) so intimate, specialized and small, the graduation was not only interesting, it was downright moving.

First, the director of our program, who made it possible for me to graduate and to whom I will be forever indebted for her willingness to work around my INSANE medical journey, gave a talk. She actually gave a shout-out to this blog, so HOLLER, Y’ALL! Everyone cheered, and I got a little misty-eyed, to be honest.

Then came our graduation speaker, Fallon CCO Jeff Kling. If you have 20 minutes and even a passing interest in advertising, creativity, media, design or writing, please take the time to watch this video of his speech. You will not regret it.

After the ceremony, they called our names and we each walked across the stage to shake hands with our professors and receive our master’s degrees. I was completely calm and collected when my name was called, but then I looked out at the crowd and saw that they were giving me a standing ovation for some reason, and I burst into hysterical tears. I truly do not think I am deserving of any special recognition. I only did what anyone else in my position would do. Honestly, if anything, my desire to continue and complete my graduate studies in the midst of a cancer diagnosis was really kind of selfish. I was basically like, “WHATEVER, BODY, I’M THE BOSS OF THESE ORGANS AND NO MATTER HOW SICK THEY FEEL, I’M GOING TO MAKE THEM KEEP DOING WHAT I WANT TO DO.”

Anyway, I sobbed uncontrollably all the way across the stage. I hugged everyone. I hugged Jeff Kling, who has literally never met me or heard of me. I hugged my notoriously crusty, gruff professor who put out a hand for me to shake, which I ignored while embracing him fully and crying/snotting all over his button-up.

My friend Corey captured my emotional walk on camera:

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I was right about one thing, at least: We did have to wear silly outfits. But I’m not even going to lie to you, internet. I kind of like the beret and I think I look pretty fly in it. (I’m in the middle!)

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After graduation, my dad and I boarded a plane to New York City so that I could go to a bunch of job interviews. It was only my third or fourth trip to the Big Apple, and my second one since I turned 21. The last one was summer of 2012, when I visited my friend Hailee in Brooklyn and had a completely awesome adventure that involved touristy things like Times Sqaure, but also Viking halls, naked people passed out in cars, preventing a DUI by a total stranger and my favorite thing ever, late night sandwiches.

This time around, Hailee made me a walking map of some of NYC’s neighborhoods so that I could explore the Lower East Side, the East Village, the West Village, Chelsea and the High Line. In between interviews, I followed her route to check out the Chelsea Market, eat delicious Italian food and enjoy amazing views of the skyline. We met up for dinner and drinks and explored some more neighborhoods in Brooklyn. My dad and I also met up with my cousin, Danielle, who’s been living in Manhattan for more than a year now. I got a chance to chat with some alumni from my grad program, too.

At one point, I found myself downtown, standing in the shadow of One World Trade Center. An imposing structure stretching a symbolic 1776 feet high and seemingly made out of mirrors and magic because I don’t know how anything so majestic, shiny and moving can be constructed out of earthly materials, the building has been under construction for the better part of a decade. Most of New York is under construction, it seems. Despite being noisy and confusing to navigate, there’s something I like about the constant self-improvement happening in NYC. It seems hopeful. It feels indicative of progress, change, a willingness to adapt.

On a whim, I decided to head toward the building and found myself at the 9/11 Memorial, two pools emblazoned with the names of the people who perished in the attacks. The experience was considerably more emotional than I was expecting. Since my diagnosis, I’ve come to have a real and deep appreciation for how fragile and beautiful life is, and how terrible it is for anyone’s to end before its time. Prepare yourselves, cliché incoming: Life is awesome. I’m so glad to have mine, every bit of it, the good and bad.

In between all the socialization, walking ‘til I felt like collapsing and eating (YOU GUYS, THE EATING!!! There are restaurants serving the cuisine of nations I’ve never even heard of!), I started to gain a real appreciation for what it means to live in New York. Some people say New York is too much, but on the contrary, I think it’s not enough. Not enough space, not enough time, not enough money to do all the incredible things there are to do.

Until we meet again, New York. So long, and thanks for all the pastrami.

Over the hill: Chemo #4

I’m now 4/6 (that’s 2/3, for you math whizzes out there) of the way done with chemotherapy!

Y’all know the drill by now, so instead of blathering on about my uncontrollable drooling, nausea and food aversions (why do all of these have to do with my mouth?), I’m going to talk about something a little more fun: the upsides!

It may seem odd to say, but there are certainly some upsides to the whole chemotherapy process. I already documented all the perks of going bald in an earlier post, but there are even more things I can find to be thankful for when I really search for them, not just the ability to take a shower 5 minutes before I need to leave the house. (But let’s not lie, that ish the JAM. I can’t believe men have been getting away with that forever.)

For example, I have never had better skin in my life. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact reason for this, but it seems to be a well-documented side effect amongst young cancer survivors – acne is banished FOREVER. Normally I’d hate to admit this anywhere, but we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, internet slash blog followers, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I used to have some pretty intense zit biz going on up in this face. Back in middle school, I not only had braces, frizzy hair (R.I.P., hair) and absolutely no sense of style behind oversized summer camp t-shirts, I also had a nice smattering of red pimples across my forehead and cheeks. Since then, the whole deal has calmed down, but like most other twentysomethings I would still find myself with a blemish here and there, and usually only at the most inopportune times. But no more, my friends!

Thanks to chemotherapy, I now have the complexion of a marble bust. If this were the 19th century, crows would alight upon my bald, ivory scalp and quoth, “Nevermore!” I get compliments on my glowing skin virtually every day, so now my secret is out. I wasn’t born with it, it’s carboplatin, taxotere and herceptin. I wouldn’t really recommend that regimen for any but the most severe cases of lingering adult acne, however.

My parents are gonna straight up die of happiness when they read this since I’m generally being super grumpy at them most of the time, but another perk of cancer is the ability to spend more time with my family. My mom, dad and brother all live out here in Los Angeles and I’ve spent the last seven years on the East Coast gettin’ schooled and/or paid, so it has been nice to come home for a bit – even if it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Just chillin’ with my mom and dad in the chemo ward for like six or seven hours at a time is the kind of personalized one-on-one time you don’t even realize you miss when you’re all grown up and away. I bet I haven’t had this much attention since my little brother was born.

Honestly, my parents and I have had our fair share of squabbles since I was forced to move back home – and I think that’d be pretty standard for any 25-year-old ripped from a life of independence and thrust into a world of needles, drugs, fear and confusion, all while having her parents burst into her room every ten seconds to check on her like it’s ninth grade again – but I’m still incredibly thankful that they’re here for me. I can’t imagine doing this without having my mom and dad handy to shove water in my face three times an hour even when I’m not thirsty, or listen to me bitch about everything, or not rip my head off when I’m a super-rude chemo brat. Love you, mom and dad (and Ryan!). Can someone check and make sure my mom didn’t pass out from joy?

I also completely forgot to mention two other Important Moments in Hairlessness that occurred while I was in Richmond, but that deserve some time in the spotlight on this blog.

IMiH #1: The career fair at school was understandably stressful for all of us, so some of the recruiters and school officials were kind enough to get a few masseuses to come out and give us backrubs to help us calm down. I literally thought I had died and gone to heaven – you can ask Gordie; backrubs are my absolute favorite thing on earth. So without a moment’s hesitation I leapt up onto this lady’s chair, so, so, so ready to get my rub down. And then she started with neck. And then I remembered I was wearing a wig.

At first I was all blissed out on the idea of a backrub so like, whatever. This can’t be the weirdest thing this lady has ever seen, right? But then I start feeling her fingers going sort of under the wig and touching all of my bald, stubbly bits, and I can feel the hesitation in her hands, you know? It’s like her hands are saying, “WTF IS GOING ON HERE? THIS GIRL HAS NO HAIR?”

And I’m sitting there panicking like, Do I tell her it’s a wig? It’s too late now. She’s just going to wonder. Obviously it’s a wig. I can’t explain why I’m wearing a wig without playing the cancer card, and I don’t even KNOW this woman, so like, why should I give her my medical history? But is this weird? IT’S SO WEIRD I’VE WAITED TOO LONG OH GOD SHE THINKS I’M A FREAK!

I almost ruined my whole massage by panicking like that, but thankfully it’s a massage, so it literally can’t be ruined because it’s the best thing in the world.

IMiH #2: One of the recruiters who came to the career fair was wearing a hat with some fake hair attached to it, which was pretty cool since it’s always fun to see anyone – student, recruiter, professor, whoever – let loose a little bit. I had seen him walking around a bit and didn’t realize the hair was fake since I hadn’t looked closely, but then he walked right by me and sort of tipped his hat to me and of course THE HAIR CAME WITH IT and it was hilarious.

So then I’m feeling disarmed and sharing a chuckle with this guy over his shaved head so I’m like, “Hey, me too!” And then I LIFTED UP MY WIG SO HE COULD SEE THAT I WAS BALD UNDERNEATH.

Instantly his expression changed to one of total confusion. And who can blame him? I’m sure he was like, “WTF IS GOING ON HERE? THIS GIRL HAS NO HAIR?” He probably had to get a drink with the masseuse later to talk it out and figure out what was going on. I’m sorry, dude. If you’re reading this, you actually handled it super well, and I’m sorry I gave you absolutely zero explanation as to my hairlessness. Your fake hair rocked, and I’m pretty sure you gave me a thumbs up once you processed the fact that I was actually lifting up a wig, so that makes you a totally awesome guy.

All in all, each go ’round of this chemo business gets easier. I find that with every treatment, my drugs get adjusted more perfectly, I recover more quickly and I experience fewer side effects, so if you’re on this blog because you’re going through or are going to go through chemotherapy, I really hope that give you some hope and make it easier for you. I feel like I just got started, and OH SNAP! I’m 4/6 of the way done.

In case you forgot, that’s 2/3 for all you math whizzes out there.

My trip to Richmond, measured in Important Moments in Hairlessness

It’s been about a month and a half since my hair fell out, and in that time I have really only left my house to do three things: 1) run, 2) get coffee, and 3) eat food. Recently I added 4) fly to Richmond, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

When partaking in activity #1, running, I generally just wear a beanie. I’m listening to music with earbuds in, the universal sign for “leave me alone,” and generally moving fast enough that no one will bother me, so I don’t care what I look like. Also, I usually look horrible when running, bald or not. I’m like a sweaty mess flinging her arms and legs all around all weirdly. So basically the beanie is probably the last thing someone would comment on when I’m out jogging, a distant third to “Are you normally this jiggly?” and “Is it healthy for someone’s face to be so red?”

When performing activties #2 and #3, getting and consuming coffee and/or food, I’ll put my wig on. Mostly I do this because I don’t want anyone to remark on my appearance in any way, but sometimes they do anyway. For example, I’ve recently become a frequent patron of a stupidly expensive and trendy but somehow really addictive coffee joint out here in LA, and the guy behind the counter is always super chatty with me and I can’t help but wonder if he is noticing the fact that my hair is not attached to my head.

Actually, one time, as I was leaving this coffee shop, one of those Greenpeace people with the clipboards stopped me and said, “You have the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen!” In my head I was like, thanks, but I bought it in a store. No one can grow hair this nice. It was made in a factory, which accounts for its shine and straightness. My real hair was a rat’s nest compared to the perfection of my wig. Out loud I was like, “Ahhh I love whales and stuff but I’m really poor please don’t ask me for money!”

Recently, I took a huge step by boarding a plane and traveling to Richmond, Virginia, where I was a graduate student before the Boob Mutiny. (Muttitties? No, I’m reaching.) I flew first class because I had enough miles to do it for free and frankly, I really owe myself one, and it was CRAZY, y’all. I don’t know if it was just a super cheerful morning at LAX or if it was because I fly so damn often I got a free flight, but the TSA people were insanely nice to me. The guy drew a heart on my boarding pass! And lest you think he was flirting with me, let me assure you that I cannot possibly overstate how bad I looked. I barely dress myself when flying. Sweat pants? Check. Ripped, smelly stuffed animal I’ve had since I was 3 peeking creepily out of my bag? Absolutely. Zero makeup? Duh. Beanie? Yes.

I actually really debated about whether to sport my beanie or my wig on the plane. Sometimes you get those chatty seat partners who will ask you really invasive questions and there’s literally nowhere for you to go to get away from them, so throw one point up on the board for the wig, because it ensures no one will ask about my cancer. On the other hand, the wig can get itchy, and what if I fall asleep in one of those awkward positions planes force you to adopt and then it falls off or gets crooked and that’s even WEIRDER than just wearing a beanie in the first place? Also, if I commit to the wig and then it’s uncomfortable, it’s not like I can just take it off in front of everyone and switch to the beanie. That’d be the WEIRDEST.

In the end, I went with the beanie. Mostly because I’m normally a somewhat lazy person but when waking up at 5am for a cross-country plane ride I am extra lazy.

So now that you have a mental picture of my abject hideousness at the start of this plane ride, just imagine how ugly I was when it concluded, many hours and one long, boring layover later. It was while basking in this complete and utter lack of hygiene or fashion that I was surprised at the airport but some of my best friends and my very bestest friend’s mom, who is like my second mom. She came in the most breathtaking floor-length sequined gown to show her support for Glamoury Mammaries, while my friends held up whiteboard signs, balloons and flowers. I immediately burst into tears, all while my friend Tyler – a former professional photographer – snapped extremely high-definition pictures of me crying, snotting and drooling all over everyone. After we left the airport, we all stopped by a bar for a quick drink and a catch-up. (I still looked hideous but I didn’t care.) Thank you all so much; for a little while there, I felt like a normal 25-year-old, and that’s really the best gift I can ask for. I love you guys.

My first few days back at grad school, I still opted for the beanie over the wig. I’m a student in a small, close-knit program, so everyone already knew about my cancer. I got so used to wearing the beanie that I actually forgot it was out of the ordinary until I was attending a guest lecture, raised my hand to ask a question and the lecturer was like (and this is verbatim), “Yes, young man with the weird hair. Wait, that’s a girl. And that’s a wig. Wait, it’s a hat. A weird hat.”

In his defense I was seated pretty far back in the auditorium. People around me started whispering, “Tell him you have cancer!”, but what’s the point? It’d just make him feel so bad/awkward. A few nights before this debacle Gordie and I went to see a stand-up comedian at a local open mic, and he was interacting with a young person in the crowd of rather ambiguous hairstyle and dress and asked, “Wait, are you a sir or a ma’am?” This totally badass androgynous person replied, “Whichever,” with the most genuinely casual shrug I’ve ever seen. S/he is my new role model when it comes to beanie snafus.

The reason I was back in Richmond in the first place was actually to attend a job fair, and for that I did bother to actually put on my wig. Since I was meeting with a lot of potential employers, I wanted the first point of conversation to be my work, not my illness. My cancer is a matter of public record, however, since this blog and other cancer-related projects are part of my portfolio, so some recruiters did ask me about it. Amazingly, I actually met three other women who are breast cancer survivors. It was one of those odd moments of cognitive dissonance when I find myself being sort of strangely thankful for my cancer – not that I got it, because screw that, but because I’m now part of this weird breast cancer sorority of amazing women who are constantly showing me it’s possible to beat this thing and come back better, stronger and more beautiful than ever. Delta Delta Titties. Phi Mammaries. Boob Alpha Theta.

Being back in Richmond was amazing. For ten days I returned to my forgotten life as a grad student – spending too much money on sushi, getting berated by my professors, drinking on Abbey’s porch, and perhaps most excitingly, looking forward to the future while interviewing with potential employers. Nothing lifts my mood like a reminder that soon this will be behind me, and my nascent career stretches out before me, a winding path of infinite possibilities.

Private marathons

This post is going to be a bit of a jumble since it’s been a while since I last updated (sorry, was busy violently hating every food except macaroni and cheese and cold sugary breakfast cereal and therefore gaining 1,000 pounds), so try to bear my weight. With me. I mean, bear with me. Oh my God, I need to start running again.

I want to take a second to talk about the Boston Marathon.

You might think that doesn’t have a lot to do with a cancer blog, and ostensibly, I think you’d be right. Except that while I’m also a cancer whatever (still searching for appropriate surrogate term for survivor), I’m also a former Bostonian. And a temporarily displaced marathoner.

Those who know me personally know that I lived in Boston during the “gap year” I took between undergrad and graduate school. I moved there on a whim because my awesome friend Hailee, who was finishing up at BU, needed someone to sublet an empty room in her apartment, and I mean, why the hell not? It’s not like I had a job. I majored in French, Literature, French Literature, who remembers now – the point is, I was not a STEM major banging down the doors of consulting firms in New York and DC.

In an unbelievable stroke of luck, I landed a job almost immediately after getting to Boston, and that’s where I met Gordie.

I also met Jenny – on Craigslist. After Hailee’s lease expired I needed somewhere new to go, and since Hailee was already locked into a new apartment, I turned to Craigslist, preferred victim source of internet murderers since 1998. Having only stalked one another on Facebook and had maybe one brief phone conversation, Jenny and I decided to go for it and rent an adorable apartment together in Brookline.

You guys, I loved that apartment. I look back on it with a special kind of nostalgia, the kind that you need like a full five minute pause to appreciate. The daydreams I have about our time in that apartment literally disrupt my productivity. It was a fully certified POS with literally no counter space in the kitchen and a heating system that either worked so poorly we had to sleep in Everest-rated sleeping bags or so well that our candles melted and we had to open the windows during a blizzard and I woke up with a snowbank on my bed, but I LOVED IT, DAMMIT. It was my POS, and I loved it. It has the biggest, brightest windows and a TV Jenny and I DVR’d all our favorite shows onto to watch together later, snacking on popcorn and Indian food from the place down the street. It had a courtyard where we roasted marshmallows over a Weber grill and drank Bud Lights with our neighbors. It had a roof deck from which we watched the marathon in 2011, sipping mimosas.

Far from being an internet rapist, Jenny turned out to be one of the most awesome people I know and will undoubtedly remain a friend for life. So thanks for getting that one right, Craigslist.

Beyond all that, even, I used to spend my summers in the Boston area. Some of my fondest memories are trips up to my Bostonian grandparents’ beautiful lake house on the shores of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. We learned to waterski there and stared in awe as my dad, the hero, waterskied on one leg, or on no skis, or showcased his prowess on the raft that we drug behind the boat at what seemed to our tiny minds to be lightspeed warp 5 max speed, or whatever the fastest sci-fi speed is, I don’t know, FAST AS HELL, y’all, that’s what I’m getting at here. My dad and uncle were supermen at Sunapee. The sun always shone and the waters were warm and calm. Even now, even as a Californian, I admit that I prefer the serenity, the peace, the seclusion of a small New England lake to the vastness and chaos of the ocean. (If you disagree, you should read my cousin Devon’s beautiful blog, where she shares all the reasons you can imagine to appreciate the sea. She’s almost made a convert out of me, but I’m gonna stick to lakes so she has more room in the waves.)

All of that is a long-winded and probably self-indulgent way of saying: I love Boston, and it has a piece of my heart now and always.

It gave me these things:

• 1 (one) addiction to Mike’s Pastry

• 1 (one) amazing boyfriend

• 1 (one) malfunctioning, 100-year-old apartment that I love with the ferocity of a mother bear protecting a retarded, barely functioning cub

• A jillion (approximate measurement) new friends

• Innumerable afternoons spent strolling through the Common and the Public Gardens

• A breath-taking bike commute to work along the esplanade that was worth every near-death experience I had passing a car on Comm Ave later

• My first peek into true adult independence

I’m also a runner. I feel like an imposter saying that; I never ran my first marathon because I was still recovering from my surgery when the starting gun went off, sadly. I have run many 5ks, some 8ks, a 10k and a half-marathon. But runners are an inclusive group, and the title doesn’t discriminate between ultramarathoners and beginners – one of my favorite things about runners as a whole is their dedication to the idea that anyone who can put one foot (or prosthetic device) in front of the other can be a runner. Running is a celebration of the human spirit and the human body’s ability to endure. I don’t know what these terrorists had in mind, but if they were trying to tear that down, to eliminate optimism and tarnish hope and frighten people, I’m just gonna put this out there: the group of people who push their bodies to the limit for fun to run 26.2 miles and are smiling at the triumph of their spirit at the end of it are probably not the right group of people to target here.

Because, really, could there be any more appropriate symbol in the world for the unflagging optimism of humanity than the marathon?

I often think about my running when I think about my cancer. I marvel at what I achieved, and the feats I watched my body perform. I look back, astonished, on how easily I knocked out a 10-mile training run back in November, and how difficult it is for me now to run a 5k without collapsing, and how determined I am – more now than ever – to finally run that damn marathon one day, to run it to prove that nothing, not disease, not terror, can diminish the astonishing power and grace of the human body and the human spirit.

People like the Boston Marathon bombers are the cancers of society. At the very least, they bear similarities. We don’t know what causes them – faulty genes? A deficiency somewhere? Something gone haywire in the potential for growth? Trying to eradicate them is a messy effort with a lot of collateral damage (like my poor hair, RIP Brunette Michelle; or your freedom to go to a baseball game unmolested by security personnel). But one thing I know is that I am going to prevail over my cancer, and society will prevail over its.

Because if there’s one thing a marathoner – or, in my case, an almost-marathoner – knows, it’s that the game is a mental one. Attitude is everything. Crossing that finish line smiling while you bleed from the nipples and hobble off on blisters the size of silver dollars is a show of human fortitude no attack can ever steal. In whatever private marathons we run – against disease, against grief, against sadness, against depression, against hatred – the finish line will always, always, always be a place where you catch your breath, marvel at the runner’s high and swell with pride at what’s possible when people believe in themselves and in others.