Hello loyal readers! (Or, people who Google searched “cupcake recipe” and accidentally ended up here.)
I haven’t been updating the blog too frequently, but this is not because I have nothing going on, but rather the opposite. I often sit down to write and then quickly get side-tracked doing something else and lose my focus. I could blame it on lingering chemo brain, which I do believe I occasionally suffer from, but it mostly comes down to just being busy. Which is a good thing. Here are the things that have been occupying my time and my mindspace (which apparently isn’t a real word, but it should be).
TELEVISION! I realize watching TV might not be seen as the most fruitful of activities, but there is so much good stuff on right now that I am giddy about. I can talk about TV for hours, so if anyone ever wants to do that with me, feel free. My newest obsession is How To Get Away With Murder which is the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on television in awhile. I also recently watched both seasons of Rectify, which is on Netflix, and deserves way more attention than it’s been getting for its unbelievable performances and gorgeous cinematography. And of course there are all my old standbys: Mindy Project, Parenthood, Scandal, etc. And there is still so much I want to check out (The Affair, The Leftovers, Transparent) but haven’t had time to yet. I LOVE TV SO MUCH AND I CAN’T STOP.
ELLE! If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve started writing my monthly column for Elle Canada magazine called #LIFEREBOOT about discovering life after cancer. So I’ve been busy exploring and writing and doing many fun things, like going on mindfulness retreats and leaning off very tall towers. Every month that I see the new issue in my mailbox, I still get giddy when I turn to my page and see my name and photos and words. It’s been a fun challenge, and I am learning a lot. For February’s issue, I’ll be writing about something that’s been keeping me busy for the past couple months and that I’ve enjoyed immensely but I don’t want to spoil it, so you’ll have to wait and buy the magazine.
ANXIETY! This is nothing new but is simply now a common theme in my life that likely will never completely go away, and that I must learn to live with. I don’t mention this stuff for pity, or for advice, but merely to help non-cancer people understand that us cancer-people live a very complicated existence, often filled with various bouts of fear and anxiety. Sometimes I think I’m in the clear and over “that phase” and then all of a sudden, something new pops up — a new pain, a new ache, a new symptom — and I question my health and my future. I worry about not being alive in 5 years, I worry about my body betraying me in an awful and grotesque way, I think about what my funeral might be like, and who might show up. Again, this is NOT a cry for help. For 90% of my days, I’m living and loving my life and having a ball. But the other 10% is still kind of crappy and that’s just the hand I’ve been dealt, as have many others. And we’ll get through it, because that’s all we can do.
MEXICO! A perfect cure for all life’s problems… vacation! We just got back from celebrating our third wedding anniversary in Mexico on the most beautiful beach, where we ate fabulous food, swam in the ocean and read books by the pool. It was divine. I’ve said this before, but since having cancer I am incredibly grateful for any chance I get to just relax and be spoiled. Life is short, and I want to spend as much of it as I can sitting by the ocean and feeling the sun on my face. There is nothing better, in my opinion. Here are some photos if you like that kind of thing.
NEW JOB! Some of you may have heard of an awesome charity called Rethink Breast Cancer and if you haven’t, well now you’re gonna. They support a cause very near and dear to my heart: helping young women with breast cancer and those affected by breast cancer. They provide cutting edge resources, such as their new digital content, including a video by yours truly.
For this video, I came up with my own idea/script/tips. Nothing was spoon-fed to me. This is because the people at Rethink are cool and smart and believe in allowing young women with breast cancer to share their unique voices. My involvement with Rethink will now be turning into my day job, as I begin a new contract position with them entailing the coordination of various online initiatives. My advocacy and concern for issues affecting young adults with cancer has become a huge part of my life, and I’m excited to work somewhere that will foster that passion.
So, there you have it. Lots going on. Lots of changes. Lots of new beginnings. Lots of good stuff. Lots of hoping and crossing fingers for more good stuff. Let the good times roll.
To celebrate my quickly approaching 30th birthday, the Hubs and I recently took a little trip to New York City, which is easily one of our very favourite cities in the whole world. There really ain’t nothing else like the Big Apple. Anyone who has ever been to NYC will always tell you the “things to see” and the “places to eat” and all the many sights you absolutely cannot miss, and the list varies greatly depending on the person and what he or she likes to do. That’s the great thing about New York — no matter what type of person or traveler you are, there truly is something for everyone. If you can’t find something you like in NYC, then I’m pretty sure you won’t be satisfied anywhere, ever.
For me, the city is all about food and culture. Those are the things that get me excited. Our first evening, we planned to see a Broadway show, so our food options were limited since many Broadway-area restaurants are tourist traps with terrible food. We headed over to Cafe Edison, a place that we have gone every single New York trip we’ve taken together. Cafe Edison is really nothing out of the ordinary, and I’m not sure it’s a place that would excite or appeal to the average diner. But for me, it is pure comfort, serving up Eastern European Jewish cuisine, at extremely reasonable prices, considering you’re in a neighbourhood that is known for its exorbitant markups on average food. I always make sure to order the matzah ball soup when I am at Cafe Edison.
The matzah balls are huuuuge and the noodles are plentiful and it is like being wrapped up in a warm hug. The soup also did double duty on this particular visit, as I was fighting off a nasty cold, and what better cure is there for sickness than homemade matzah ball soup in the heart of New York City? I can think of none.
After stuffing ourselves (I also had a chicken salad platter, consisting of a huge mound of chicken salad, egg salad, coleslaw, egg, and veggies), we then made our way down the street to our Broadway performance. I don’t think I’ve ever been to New York without seeing a Broadway show and for me, it is one of the most “oh, right, I’m in New York City” experiences I can have. I become like a child when I see all the glimmering lights from the marquees, with stars in my eyes as I walk along the sidewalks and watch all the crowds spill into the theatres. It’s truly magical.
This time around, we got tickets to see the new musical “If/Then” starring Idina Menzel. If you don’t know who Idina is, you’re probably living under a rock, especially after that whole Adele Dazeem fiasco. I have been a huge fan of hers for a loooong time, since she first starred in the original cast of the musical “RENT” when I was a little pre-teen, obsessed with all things musical-related. This was my second time seeing her on Broadway and I was once again blown away by her incredible talent and sheer force. Her voice is truly unparalleled. If I could sing like that, I wouldn’t even bother ever talking. I would just sing, every word, all the time. If only.
After the show, I thought, hey, why don’t we go to the stage door and say, “What’s up Idina!” It seemed like a quaint thought. But apparently half of the city had the exact same brilliant idea, as a huge mob crowded the stage door, waiting for Queen Idina to emerge and jump into her SUV. We stood around for awhile, thinking maybe at least I could catch a glimpse, but she took her sweet time and we decided to bail. After all I am almost 30, which is probably a bit too old for such foolishness. Ah well.
The next day, we took a food tour of Nolita (North of Little Italy). If you’re asking yourself, What the heck is a food tour?, well, it is a tour where you eat food the entire time, i.e. THE BEST IDEA IN THE HISTORY OF ALL IDEAS. This was my third tour through Foods of NY and I have loved every one. The guides are always amazing, you get a great history of the area you’re exploring, and you get to discover all sorts of hidden New York gems. Our guide this time was a lovely woman named Annie, and I would have taken her home with me if that sort of thing was offered/acceptable. She told me to give a big hug to all of Canada, so to all my fellow Canucks out there – you have been hugged.
After the food tour, we walked a bit around Soho and then headed back to our hotel for some downtime, because that much walking and eating deserves a nap. It was during this time that I learned we had been selected to receive two tickets to that night’s Shakespeare in the Park, via the online lottery I had entered that morning. Woohoo! Shakespeare in the Park is a quintessential NYC summer experience, where brilliant actors perform a Shakespeare play in an outdoor theatre in Central Park. Best of all, the tickets were FREE and we didn’t have to wait in line for them because I entered (and won) the lottery. So while all those other suckers were standing in line for hours that morning, we were galavanting around Nolita, stuffing our faces full of cheese and gelato. I was extremely happy at how that all worked out.
We hopped in a cab and headed up to the upper west side of Central Park to retrieve our tickets. We then made our way over to Shake Shack, which is always a necessary stop for any trip to NYC. I always get the exact same items: Shakeburger, cheesy fries, and a lemonade. And as always, this meal did not disappoint. Oh boy, was I happy.
Then back over to the park to see the show. The performance currently running is King Lear, starring the unbelievable John Lithgow. I am a huge fan of Mr. Lithgow’s and was extremely excited to see his take on Lear, as well as the fabulous Annette Bening in the role of Goneril. The cast were all amazing, and it was really fun to get to experience Shakespeare in the Park. We were actually in quite good company, as comedian Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow were in the audience as well.
We did run in to some rough moments during the performance, as the weather was extremely hot and sticky which can be a bit of a struggle when one still has to deal with cancer-related hot flashes. It also started to pour during the final act, sending some of the wusses in the audience running. But we persevered, and I actually enjoyed the pathetic fallacy of the rain with the dramatic finale taking place on stage (oh man, my high school English teacher would probably be so proud right now).
The next day, we kicked off the day by… EATING MORE FOOD. Duh. We made our way down to the Lower East Side for Clinton Street Baking Co.’s famous pancakes. The wait was an hour, and oh boy, was it worth it. I’m not even such a big pancake person, and never order them for breakfast, because a plate of just pancakes can be really disappointing. However, these pancakes are on a whole other level.
Moist and fluffy and perfectly cooked, with the most delicious side of maple butter to truly put them over the top. I ordered the chocolate chunk (obviously), and the Hubs ordered the Maine blueberry. We both talked about the pancakes the whole time we ate them – the true mark of a good meal. And of course we had to add a side of the famous sugar cured bacon. This combo was essentially my dream. If sugar is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.
Then it was time to resume walking, in order to stave off the looming threat of obesity, due to our over-consumption. On our stroll, we popped into Economy Candy, a candy store from the 1930’s that literally has any and every type of candy you could ever imagine. I actually didn’t buy a single thing, not yet ready to think about candy after my pancake binge.
Then we continued on, and stumbled across Streit’s, the matzah factory. This was a fun unexpected stop and a really nice little piece of Jewish history that I didn’t even know existed. The kind man working the counter humoured my questions (“Do people seriously like eating matzah all year round?” Answer: “Yes.”) and even gave us some piping hot matzah, fresh out of the oven. I don’t really like matzah all that much, but I didn’t tell the matzah man because I didn’t want to let him down.
Next, we found ourselves in front of a little shop called The Pickle Guys, run by a really nice guy named Alan Kaufman. We bought a single sour pickle from Alan since we couldn’t really stomach much more than one. But that one pickle was absolutely delicious and delightful, and now I really wish I had an entire jar. Mmm pickles.
Then, because clearly this trip hadn’t been Jewish-themed enough, we went to the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark that offers tours where you can learn about the history of the synagogue and its struggles and restoration.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but the story behind this place was so interesting to learn about and a really fascinating chapter of Jewish life in NYC. We were so lucky to have a great guide by the name of Mel, for just the two of us. Mel shared many amazing stories with us and gave us a real glimpse into the past of NYC and the area and the building. He kept making jokes and trying to trick us in that wonderful funny Jewish grandpa kind of way. We loved him. Mel also told us that he grew up just about a mile away from where we were, which was really neat. This guy was a true New Yorker, through and through.
Oh, did I mention that this synagogue was absolutely beeeeeeautiful? It was breathtaking. If you’re in the area, you should stop by and see it, because it really is something special.
When we got back to our hotel, I went out on my own to try to do a bit of shopping, but I failed miserably, since I was completely exhausted from walking around in the heat all day. The only thing I ended up buying was a 99 cent slice of pizza. So, really, not such a failure after all.
After a bit of a rest, we made our way to the Jazz Standard in Gramercy.
Monday nights at the Jazz Standard feature their famous “Mingus Big Band” celebrating the music of Charles Mingus. This band was craaaaazy and a lot of fun to watch. I was bopping my head and tapping my knee like some sort of spastic nut. The Jazz Standard also serves BBQ from their restaurant upstairs, so we got to listen to music while dining on fried chicken and brisket. BBQ + frantic jazz = a winning combo. Big time.
The next morning, before we had to leave for our flight, we hustled over to Ess-A-Bagel, maker of delicious, chewy, perfect New York-style bagels. I ordered a salt bagel with cream cheese and nova lox and IT WAS HEAVENLY. I was getting really concerned about not having had a bagel the entire trip, so I’m really glad I managed to squeeze one in. I ate the entire thing and spent the rest of the day guzzling water to try to counteract the massive sodium intake. Worth it, though. So worth it.
Then we moseyed on over to the airport to catch our plane back home, with our stomachs and hearts happy, and already discussing when we’d be able to return.
I’m back from sunny, hot Jamaica, and I’d love to say I’m glad to be home, but that would be a bit of a lie. Spending a week where I was pampered and taken care of and did not have to worry about a single thing was quite luxurious. And honestly, I could have used another week. Or year.
This was the first week in nearly a year that I didn’t have to talk about cancer, or how I was feeling. No one there knew about the cancer. I was incognito, blending in with all the other happy sunburned people (sans sunburn, of course – hello, I’ve already had one kind of cancer, I’m no dummy). I got several compliments on my “beautiful hairstyle”, with no one assuming I had lost my hair, but rather that I had just been bold and cut it all off. One of the staff members, an aspiring model, even said it made her want to chop hers all off too. No one had a clue why I was there, or why my hair is so darn short, and I liked it that way. It truly was a break from reality and my life. No doctor’s appointments, no hospitals, no cancer.
Of course, cancer wasn’t completely absent from my mind, because I am no where near at that point yet in my mental recovery. I still had some pains that made me wonder if my cancer has spread. And I still felt a smidge of sadness over the thought of my life being cut short, and missing out on moments like swimming in the ocean or watching a beautiful sunset. So many of my happy moments now seem to have this slight shadow of darkness attached to them, and I never realize it’s happening until it sneaks up on me. I hope eventually it doesn’t have to be that way, but I think it will take awhile still. Patience is something I must learn as I navigate this very confusing post-cancer existence.
Something I also noticed from this trip was that as much as I have changed from my illness, I am still fundamentally the same person. I had wondered if perhaps my life-long fear of flying might have disappeared, now that I have truly been through something extremely scary and feel I have a new perspective on fear and how to face it. But even as I told myself, You’ve been through cancer, a bit of turbulence can’t scare you, I still panicked with every bump and squeezed my husband’s hand until it turned red and wondered how any rational human being could ever think it’s a good idea to be trapped with a bunch of strangers in a tight space, forty thousand feet above the ground. My fear of flight has most definitely not been cured as a result of cancer. Alas, I am still me, same as always.
For my birthday, on the last night of our trip, my husband bought a wishing lantern for me. You’re supposed to light the lantern with fire, make a wish, and send it out into the sky, over the water. I’ve seen them before and always thought they were so pretty and magical, as they faded into the night sky. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a wish. Whether it worked or not, I need all the help I can get, so there wasn’t much to lose. At the very least, I got to see something beautiful, and at the very most, my wish will come true. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
Leaving the beautiful scenery and no-stress vibe of vacation land was very difficult. I began to feel like myself again for the first time in a long time. I even felt a bit pretty, instead of like an awkward looking boy. This week, it’s back to reality. Tomorrow I will be returning to work after a 10-month leave (which I initially thought would only be about one month. I think I underestimated what the year had in store for me. Oops). I will be on a part-time schedule at first and then build up more hours and days each week until I’m back full-time, so as to not shock my system and completely exhaust myself. I definitely have some mixed emotions about returning to work, but I am excited to get back to having a normal routine, and for the welcome distraction. I also have another treatment on Friday morning; unfortunately, not the massage kind, but the cancer kind. So the holiday has come to an end and it’s time to face the challenges of life once more. I am so grateful for the time I had away, to remember how beautiful the world is and how amazing it is to be alive to see it. I will dream of the next vacation, where instead of escaping from cancer life, I can just escape from regular life, like your average stressed-out, tired, burnt out human being, in need of a break. I can’t wait.
During chemo, all I dreamed about was going on a tropical vacation. Somewhere quiet, with sand and a beach. I was filled with envy, while everyone seemed to be hopping on planes and jetting off somewhere, as I sat in a ball on my couch trying to find the physical strength just to get up and make it to the bathroom.
And now, it’s my turn. And you all have my permission to be jealous.
I often refrain from writing anything during chemo weeks because I am miserable and have poison running through my veins and I am worried about what I might say that I then might regret later. But I am also feeling so antsy and bored and restless in my own skin and worried that if I don’t write, my brain will just turn to complete mush from spending my days lying flat in the bathtub while watching Real Housewives.
A lot of cancer patients experience a sort of brain fog throughout their treatment, and sometimes long after. This is a very real fear of mine. My brain is pretty important to me. I’ve worked hard on making it a useful one and it has served me quite well. I don’t like the idea of becoming distracted, forgetful, unfocused. Unable to complete a task as quickly as I once could have before. I want to keep my brain sharp. I don’t want to let it down. Unfortunately, I don’t have much choice over the matter. I am exhausted and my thoughts are cloudy, at best. The idea of reading a book or even watching an intelligent movie just seems impossible at this time. Even writing a coherent email is getting to be a bit difficult, as I’m sure a couple friends can attest to who received one over the past few days. Is it the steroids? The chemo? The sleep deprivation? The fact that I sit alone most of the day with nothing to entertain me except my weird, usually morbid thoughts? I guess it’s all enough to make anyone go a little crazy. I just really hope none of this is permanent.
The feeling of wasted time has really started to weigh heavily on me. I wish that I could be using this time to do something productive, something great and meaningful. But that’s not how this works. Cancer treatment isn’t a fun vacation. At least mine isn’t. Lately I’ve started torturing myself by looking at vacation destinations online. Warm places with beaches where people are happy and not bald and not pale and not peeling and not bleeding. Last night, after a terrible few hours of being sick and weak and crying so hard I started hyperventilating and nearly fainted on my toilet, I even resorted to watching youtube videos of rides at Disney World, trying to remember the feeling of being a happy kid who just wanted to meet Mickey Mouse and didn’t even know about the word cancer. The Dumbo ride was my favourite ride when I was a wee one. All it does is go round and round and that’s about it. Do you know how badly I want to be sitting in one of those stupid elephants, flying through the air right now? You have no idea.
A couple days ago, I was looking through all the comments from this blog. A lot of times, people add comments long after I’ve made a post, so I imagine most people who just read my current posts never see these comments. But I see them all. And reading through them made me quite happy, especially all the people who don’t know me but seem to be my biggest fans, or the people who tell me I am helping them through their own illness. So I guess I have been doing something sort of productive, even though it is hard to feel that way sometimes. So thank you for giving me that and for reading and supporting.
I got some great packages in the mail yesterday including beautiful handmade cards from a bunch of kind strangers, pins, magnets, a blanket, a book. Last week I got a lovely robe from a friend of a friend that she sewed just for me and I have worn it every day since. I love these things so much. I know I keep expressing it over and over, but I want people to know that it is all so appreciated, even when I am just a big sad sack of moodiness and gloom like I am right now. Although I managed to muster up the energy to go to my mail box today and all that was there was junk mail and disability-related papers, so that was a bit of a letdown. Hopefully this means I will get double presents tomorrow. I have become super greedy with my expectations of receiving tokens in the mail. I have no shame admitting it. I have no shame admitting anything right now. Like the fact that moments ago, I attempted to sneak a candy bar from the top shelf of my cupboard by almost climbing on a chair, and then realized I would likely stumble off the chair and smash my head on the table, and the idea of dying that way after everything I have been through just seemed a bit ridiculous, so I abandoned the plan altogether.
Hey, look at that, my brain still works.
UPDATE: My mom just sent me an actual video of me on the Dumbo ride from many moons ago. I am very impressed that my parents figured out how to make a movie file from our old Beta footage. Thanks guys!