15 Random Facts About Me

Blogger Nancy Stordahl shared 15 Random Facts about herself on her breast cancer blog, and encouraged her readers to do the same. I love a good list—so satisfying to write one up, plus it’s been great to read what others have to share about themselves: the non-breast-cancer things that show that each of us is so much more than a breast cancer patient.

So here’s my list, 15 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I’m an only child and have always hated it, which is why I knew I’d have at Image 2least two kids when I grew up (with or without a partner because that’s how much I wanted kids, but I lucked out and got a great partner along with two great kids). Also, when each of my kids were born, I was so overjoyed that I forgot to check whether they were a boy or a girl. (I also lucked out there, since I wanted—and got—at least one of each.)
  1. I’m politically left of center. Way left. A socialist at heart who would give up my white middle class privilege if it would even the playing field. I come by it naturally: my parents gave me my middle name, Binh, after Madame Binh—a Vietcong leader in the war.
  1. When I was six, my mom gave me the closet in her office. I carried in pillows, a lamp, a small bookshelf, and I went there to write. I’ve been writing ever since, and I’m pretty certain writing is what saved me from my teens and twenties. In fact, I’m pretty sure writing is still saving me today.
  1. I’ve had dark circles under my eyes since I was a very little kid. As a teenager, I was somewhat convinced that if I could just get rid of those dark circles, I would be happier, more confident, more loved. Along with the dark circles, I’ve always thought I had fat knees and so (until very recently when a friend convinced me to embrace my legs, imperfections and all—thanks, Cory), I’ve avoided showing my legs. (Fat knees?! Ridiculous, I know, but there you have it.) As a mother, I am careful to never let my children (especially my daughter) hear such things come out of my mouth (except for the part about it being ridiculous that so many women decide we don’t like this or that about our physical appearances).
  1. I don’t wear earrings and a necklace at the same time; nor do I wear earrings or a necklace when I wear my glasses. Though it doesn’t bother me on other people, on me, it makes me feel like way too much is going on. (How’s that for a random fact?! I’m thinking it will make a great trait for one of the fictitious characters I hope to create someday in the young adult chapter book I hope to write someday.)
  1. When I was 19, I flew to Kenya for 3 months of solo travel in Africa and Europe. According to my mom, I said I had to go because I was afraid of being alone. I don’t remember this, but I like the way it sounds. I like thinking that at 19, I was that committed to taking on my fears. (Not surprisingly, my mom didn’t want me to go, tried to talk me out of going, and yet, didn’t stop me from going, even though she probably could have by refusing to help pay for the plane ticket—kuddos to you, mom. I hope I’ll be equally brave when Sophie wants to do something ridiculous like travel through Africa by herself at 19.)
  1. I hoard food in my freezer (often until it goes bad) and rarely leave home without a snack tucked into a pocket. Also, when I travel by car or plane, I bring enough food for a small army to subsist for days. One can never be too safe.
  1. I’ve always felt like an imposter. Straight A student, prestigious colleges, successful career, published author (though not the type of books I’d really love to write), and yet, I’ve spent my life anxiously waiting for people to realize my real strength is fooling the system.
  1. I love to read, but I’m not particularly well read (which adds to my feeling of being an imposter). Really, I love to read contemporary fiction. When it comes to the classics, pop culture, history, politics, I am more ignorant than I like to admit. (Okay, I have no problem admitting my ignorance about pop culture, but the rest is toward the top my list of shortcomings, way above the dark circles under my eyes and the “fat” knees.)
  1. I am totally overwhelmed by and somewhat terrified by social media. Overwhelmed by the endless rabbit holes of possibility; terrified about the whole Big Brother thing. (I mean, can you see me right now through the camera hole in my computer?? How about through the hole in my bedroom ceiling?) Plus, the bottom line is, I much prefer face-to-face contact or even a phone call in real time with a real voice and real person on the other end of the line. I wish I could be in the same room with the many awesome breast cancer bloggers I’ve stumbled across these past months, because I can’t seem to keep up on line but sure would love to sit around a room chatting with many of them.
  1. Despite my fear and overwhelm, I am starting a Twitter account! Today! Let’s see how I fare… Please be patient with me, since I have very little idea how it all works. (Will you follow me? And also share any tips you might have for managing this new, overwhelming, terrifying endeavor?) Maybe I’ll join Facebook next, but woa! One thing at a time here, people.
  1. I grew up in San Francisco in the Mission long before it was cool to live in the Mission; long before it became a hub for all those Google Silicon Valley folks who drove up the rents so that most people I grew up with can’t really afford to live in the Mission anymore.
  1. I spent my twenties in New York City (Manhattan then Brooklyn) where I partied hard and loved hard; where I worked as a cocktail waitress and a regular-ole food waitress before going back to school to study education and teach in public schools; where I met the love of my life and birthed my first child and carried my second until, at 7 months of pregnancy, I moved, joyfully, to my first small-town (with husband, son, in-utero baby, a truck load of stuff and big dreams for a calmer lifestyle in tow).
  1. I love to dance and am proud that I am often among the last ones standing IMG_1111come 3 a.m. (Dance party or not.) I actually was a dancer until I was 18, but now any opportunity to shake it on the dance floor, preferably to hip hop, gets me going. (And no, I don’t usually wear a wonder woman costume, but this was the only picture I could find of me on a dance floor. It must be 3 a.m. since I seem to be one of the only ones around.)
  1. Image 3Nothing brings me more joy than connecting (for real connecting) with another human being. That, and having a great time with my kids. And, top-of-the-joy-list #3, which really is also about connecting: knowing that something I’ve written has made a difference in someone’s day, life, head, heart. (Thank you, Sophie—my 7 year old love bug—for the attached artwork that, in my mind, pretty much sums up the most important stuff in my book.)

My first surgery: I now have a port

I felt quite fragile today. Weepy at times like I haven’t been/felt since that first week of diagnosis-haze. The day started with me keeping my cool but with Harrison’s continued negativity and contrarian attitude weighing on me. I’m trying to be compassionate, trying to giving him the benefit of the doubt, though I do wonder whether he’d be acting this way regardless of the circumstances—is this what a 3rd grader looks like? It was a heavy walk to school, with him several feet ahead and “very upset” with me once again, this time because I said I wanted him to notice how much he’s been focusing on and talking about “the bad stuff” lately and rarely “the good.”

I felt my first watery eyes in weeks after dropping him and Sophie at school and walking back in the beautiful, gray drizzle.

“Maybe it’s just because of Harrison, wanting things to be easier with him,” I thought. But then insurance battles and more teary eyes, and the chemo information session during which, among other things, I registered for the first time that I would also be losiImageng my eyebrows and eyelashes. And then Annie, my godmother, drove me to the place where I was getting the port put in, and sitting in the waiting room, all I wanted to do was cry. But instead, I kept holding it together, holding it together, not wanting to let my guard down so completely.

I didn’t feel anything during the procedure. I came out groggy, exhausted, feeling fragile and embracing my fragility more publically. Moving slowly. Quietly. Gently.

I’m quite sore. And quite vulnerable. And quite wonderfully safe-feeling in my bed now, where I’ve spent most of the late afternoon and evening, except for going downstairs to eat. We had a lovely “Chanukah” dinner, for which I am very grateful (Chanukah in quotes because it is weeks before Chanukah, but we always celebrate it when Annie comes to visit this time of year).

I’m also grateful for the time spent reading to Sophie in my bed, and especially grateful for the time spent with Harrison, when he crawled into my bed a bit before 9pm and I didn’t turn him away. We snuggled and talked and I let him fall asleep next to me. A gift a gift a gift that makes everything feel better.

Here we go. Tomorrow: Chemo.

Moving forward: Finally starting treatment!

Today I finally got all the necessary appointments in place to start chemo on Tuesday. I feel such relief at FINALLY having a plan and finally moving forward with it.

I also got the call today that I am BRCA negative. Sigh of relief—for me and for my children.

With the frenzy of doctor’s appointments over the past few several weeks, and the uncertainty about my test results and treatment plan and schedule, I have been literally unable to see or plan past a couple of days out. My friend Nuni wisely said that perhaps it was a good opportunity to live in the present. True. And yet, the uncertainty has caused a level of anxiety that I hope settles now that I will (hopefully) have a more predictable schedule and routine (never mind that the schedule and routine will include chemotherapy and sickness). Striking how much I crave predictability, as it turns out.

IMG_4914With the frenzy of the last weeks, I have also been frenzied with Harrison and Sophie. Today I made a commitment to myself to focus on the positive with them. To take a breath before I let my own stress come out on them with nagging criticism. To instead name the plethora of WONDERFULS about each of them. ESPECIALLY now, that’s what I want them to have from their Mama.

How My 9-Year-Old Is Dealing with My Breast Cancer

I was really looking forward to snuggling with Harrison tonight. Was hopeful that he might open up to me during that quiet alone time as he sometimes does at night. But when I told him it was time to put his reading away, he turned angry and rude. Perhaps he would have anyway, but these days, it’s hard not to think that any emotional outburst is because my babies are carrying around the fact that their mother has breast cancer.

After we both cooled off, I went back into his room and told him that sometimes feelings about my breast cancer might come out in other ways. I asked if there was anything he wanted to say or ask. When he said no, I said I would be checking in with him on occasion and he said with frustration, “I don’t want you to keep bringing it up, that’s too much pressure!” I wanted to shout and to hold him close, all at the same time. Instead, I simply said that I wouldn’t bring it up a lot, but it was important that he didn’t keep everything inside, and so I would be checking in with him now and again.

Harrison’s (also wonderful) teacher approached him at school on Tuesday, just to tell him that she knew, and that she was thinking about him and his family, and that he could talk with her anytime if he wanted.

Then on Saturday, Maggie and Barry (our closest of friends and Harrison’s godparents) took him out for their annual birthday lunch tradition, and when they brought up the topic, he said, “Everyone keeps bringing it up, my mom, Ms. Gerould, Amma!” But when Maggie shared that as a kid, she wrote things on a slip of paper and put it under her mom’s pillow, Harrison said that sounded like a good idea. (When Barry said they could get him a notebook, he said, “But I could just use paper, we have a lot of that around.” Smile. How very practical of him.)

What a slippery line, trying to give my son space without giving him too much; trying to acknowledge his feelings without projecting my own onto him.

What a strange reality, having to deal with any of this at all.

How My 6-Year-Old Is Dealing with My Breast Cancer

Sophie has continued to bring up my breast cancer herself, asking questions and sharing feelings. She and I had alone time on Tuesday and without prompting, she shared that she got to sit next to Ms. Brown on the school bus on the way home from their field trip, and that she asked Ms. Brown whether she got my note about (and here she whispered) my breast cancer.

In the same conversation, she asked, “But why don’t people know how people get breast cancer?” (Amma said that at breakfast, she asked how people get cancer.) Also, “Do kids get breast cancer?” and “How do men get it if they don’t have breasts?”

Then a few nights later, after Sophie asked me to sit with her in the bathroom, she asked if she could tell her friends that her mom has breast cancer. I told her she could tell anyone she wanted. (Later that night, I worried that it might not be appropriate for her to announce this news to other 1st graders, but I spoke with her (wonderful) teacher who said Sophie could say whatever she needed to say.)

Still in the bathroom, Sophie then said, “I’m worrying but I don’t know why.”

I didn’t want to make assumptions so I asked, “What are you worrying about?“

“I’m worried about the breast cancer, but I don’t know why.”

Of course you’re worried, Love. But I really do plan to be fine,” I said, hugging her close, squeezing her hands, stroking her cheeks, kissing her forehead, wanting to make all of this go away for her, for Harrison.

(Here are more tips for talking with kids about cancer.)