A fight with Josh, my bald-head, and being in love

Josh and I had one of our rare “fights” a couple of weeks ago. “Fights” in quotes because I’m not sure we can really call it a fight. Our “fights” tend to be more of a brief turning away from the other: someone snaps, the other person snaps back or storms off, and usually within the hour, there’s an apology, an explanation of what was really going on beneath the snap, a hug, a commitment to be more this or less that with one another, a mutual acknowledgement of how much we love each other and of how very lucky we are to have what we have—including a relationship that is filled with passion but not much turbulence.

When we got married 10 years ago, we each wrote a letter to the other which we shared for the first time during our ceremony. In my letter to Josh, I included part of a journal entry that I had written nearly four years prior, on February 1, 2000: I have been deeply affected by someone today, and it is almost unfamiliar, the intensity of it. I am deeply aware of how other-worldly this thing feels. “I could go places with you,” I said. And I feel that so completely, it is startling. My eyes have been opened to something. I have seen what is possible.

 For fifteen years now, Josh and I have been nurturing “what is possible,” and perhaps that is why, where we once slammed doors and screamed at the tops of our lungs and stomped around in anger and in hurt for hours (days?) on end, we now move in and out of our shared and individual space with much more compassion and forgiveness and grace.

Which doesn’t keep us from hurting one another now and again, sometimes intentionally, sometimes because of a temporary lack of awareness, of which we were both guilty during this most recent fight.

We were getting ready to go out to a party. A real-life, actual party, which is the opposite of what I’ve been interested in doing these days; despite the fact that I have always loved a good party, lately, the thought of big crowds and small talk has been at the bottom of my wish list. So I wasn’t going to go. But Josh would be playing music (guitar, singing), and I didn’t want to miss it. And as the party came up in conversation with this dear friend and that dear friend, I found myself getting excited for something like this for the first time since my breast cancer diagnosis.

So here I was getting ready for my first big party in months, and I didn’t know what to do about my hair—or lack thereof. At first I planned to wear the wig I bought months ago only because it was covered by my insurance. The wig that I have only donned once since losing my hair in the beginning of December because it makes me feel like an imposter, like I am trying to be someone else, someone without cancer. (Which, let me be clear, I think is absolutely, positively, 1000% appropriate and understandable: that someone with cancer and without hair would want to sport a wig and move through the world as NOT a sick person. But for whatever reason I have yet to fully understand, wearing a wig—unless it’s an obviously-not-real-hair-bright-purple-wig—has not been for me.)

I didn’t want to wear the wig. I wanted to wear nothing (on my head, that is). But I was terrified to wear nothing. It’s been below freezing for months now. I cover my head everywhere I go, inside or out, with either a winter cap or what I refer to as a “cancer hat,” so that now I feel utterly naked with my head exposed. And yet, it has started to feel important to expose my head. Soon it won’t be freezing; and already, there have been times when I have been hot but have hesitated to remove my hat. I don’t want to be hot because I am afraid to remove my hat. I don’t want to do or not do anything because I am afraid. (As I write this, I am compelled to share the fact that twenty or so years ago, I shaved my head by choice… though “shaving” really meant the closest of buzz cuts. I tried unsuccessfully to pull up a photo. Picture me with chubby cheeks and black stubble across my scalp…. which now compels me to to share that today, my slowly-growing-back-hair is almost entirely white.)

So as I stood in front of the mirror a few Saturdays ago, putting my wig on, pulling it off, putting it on, pulling it off, I was trying to figure out whether I had the courage to “own” my bald head. And when I turned to Josh, asking him what he thought about me going to the party bald, he hesitated and gave a mild, “Whatever you want to do, honey.” That’s it: a little hesitation and a mild response, that was all it took for me to shut down. I went silent and cold (but still bald! I’m proud of that!), and we kissed our kids and my mom and left the house knowing we were in one of our fights.

As planned, we stopped for a drink, just the two of us, and this is what transpired: Josh, my love, my love, explained what was behind his cool response. That every time he sees me with my “cancer hat,” he sees his mom, who wore a similar hat before she died of ovarian cancer nearly seven years ago, at the age of 63. That of course he thinks I should go bald if I want to go bald, that he thinks I’m beautiful and courageous and strong. But that sometimes, he wants to forget that I have cancer. Sometimes, he can’t believe that cancer is pressing up against his life again. Sometimes, like in that moment when I asked about going to the party bald, he wished he could cover it all up and make it all go away.

Listening to Josh, I immediately softened, and just as quickly as our “fight” happened, our fight was over, and we were squeezing each other’s hands across the table, and I was telling him how grateful I am that he responded the way he did to my bald head, because it led to this conversation, and that I was so sorry he’d been seeing his mom in me all these months that I’ve worn that damn cancer hat, and that I want him to talk with me more about the thoughts and feelings I know he tries to protect me from, like his fear of me dying like his mom died, and that I was so sorry I haven’t checked in with him more these last weeks, and that I love him, I love him, I love him.

Image 5And then Josh and my bald-head and I went to the party. And while I can’t say that my breast cancer went away for either one of us that night, we both had the kind of fun we used to have before this crazy cancer-journey started.

My Day In Gratitude

I woke up this morning feeling a bit blue and a bit sorry for myself. I think I was emotionally hung over from yesterday’s no-big-deal appointment with the surgeon that nonetheless left me teary. Surgery has always been the scariest part of my treatment plan—me lying unconscious in a room full of strangers, none of “my people” there to fight for me, to keep on eye on me, to keep an eye on them. And here it is, right around the corner. Real.

So this morning, after I pulled myself out of bed and pulled back the curtains to a gray, rainy day, I decided I would practice gratitude. (For a quick and beautiful and moving dose of gratitude, I highly recommend this video, brought to me by my children via their to-be-grateful-for elementary school music teacher.) Gratitude has proven itself to ease my woes, buoy my spirit, shift my perspective. As I walked through my day, I compiled a mental list:

I was grateful for Harrison, who always, including today, kisses me and hugs me and waves, “Bye!” before running off to his classroom and his independent life.

I was grateful that I got to hold Sophie’s hand as I walked her to her classroom.

Grateful that I got to leave her with Ms. Brown, teacher extraordinaire.

Grateful that I ran into a woman I adore but rarely see, and that we got to chat in the parking lot about gratitude.

I was grateful for the warm rain.

Grateful for the mysterious mist that reminds me of my hometown, San Francisco.

Grateful for a morning spent with my friend Nunia, meditating, sharing our intentions for the week, writing side-by-side.

Grateful that I as I yawned and yawned and yawned with fatigue, I was sitting on my couch, a blanket spread across my lap and nowhere I had to be and no one I had to take care of for hours.

Grateful for the Cancer Connection and for Mary Ann and her tender, healing touch during my reflexology session.

Grateful that I had a car to drive me home.

Grateful that I had a home to return to.

Grateful that when my children came home from school, the three of us laughed together in the living room while they bounced their boundless energy on the couch and I listened, really listened, to them share about their days, and for 12 whole minutes, I refrained from nagging them about putting their lunch boxes away and washing their hands.

Grateful that after they washed their hands and put their lunch boxes away, we all gathered in the same room again, where Harrison played with his Legos and Sophie played piano and I read the paper on the couch, the three of us together.

Grateful for my view of the branches through the window whenever I looked up from the paper.

Grateful for the article about giant salamander bones I got to share with Harrison and for the kids’ maze and crossword page I got to share with Sophie.

Grateful for the sound of the rain.

Grateful for my writing and my writing groups and my writing friends.

Grateful for my colleague, Julia, who always comes through for me.

Grateful for my cousin Cathy (Josh’s really, but I’m officially claiming her as my own) for giving my heart new reason to grow.

Grateful for my arms and my legs and for managing to eek out a few sit-ups and push-ups.

Grateful for the delicious quiche that Shawn delivered on my doorstep and for the time spent with my family of four—Josh, Harrison, Sophie and me eating together at the dining room table.

Grateful for my doorstep and my dining room table.

Grateful for the sound of Sophie’s snoring and the feel of Harrison’s skin as I rubbed his back.

Grateful to have this life and this day.IMG_0389

What are YOU grateful for? I would love to know. (Maybe you’ll share your own list in a comment?)

Letting the Wind Carry Me

In one of my meditations last week, an eagle soared into my view. But as it aimed for the sky, something held its leg. The eagle shook and squirmed, flapped frantic wings. And then suddenly, the “something” let go. First, the eagle soared free, up and up; and then, she simply floated, surrendered, the wind carrying her in all her power and luster.

The message was clear and beautiful and welcome. This is my time to let life carry me. (Where will it take me?) All I need to do is surrender. To let go of the grasping thoughts, the free-floating anxieties, the list of shoulds, the fear of what might happen if—so that I am no longer caught like that eagle’s leg. So that the wind can guide me wherever it is that I am meant to go.

Tomorrow, my mom leaves after living in my home and in my life for three (wonderful) months. Today, and in and out of a restless sleep throughout the night, I felt myself flapping frantic. Grasping to all of the things I don’t want to end (our morning mediations; watching West Wing in the middle of an afternoon). Rolling around in all of the things we could have and should have and oh how I wish we’d done these last months (taken more photos, that Friday evening yoga class). Fearing the long list of things to fear (my first morning alone; the too-quiet daytime hours; solo-parenting with chemo-fatigue strapped to my shoulders).

I could havImage 6e spent all day with my leg, my spirit, caught. And then I remembered my eagle. Let go. Let go. And so this is what I got today: An arm-in-arm walk on the bike path. My first sun in what feels like seasons. Lunch downtown on a Thursday afternoon. A hug in the kitchen. The wind carried me into all these gifts with my mom. In the words of a friend surviving metastatic breast cancer, “It was a good day.”