Friday, October 31, 2008
The sound of my typing is being drowned out by yelling and the relentless cacophony of sirens on the street below, despite the fact that I am on one of the top floors of what was reportedly Philadelphia's first skyscraper.
I am having a weird day.
My departure for Philadelphia this morning was a bit fraught, the usual clutter and chaos being compounded by last minute additions to the Hallowe'en costumes (D. is going as Wolverine and S. went to school as a hippie and will be dressing up as Sarah Palin - not my idea - this evening. Last night, he was hobbling around the house with one hand on his hip, chirping "You betcha!"). I spent a good twenty minutes looking for the theatrical makeup (for Wolverine's facial hair and a peace symbol for the hippie), only to find it in the very first place I had looked, buried under a pile of rubble.
I managed to get out the door only slightly later than planned and, after 15 minutes of desperate waving, finally snagged a cab.
I sailed through airport check-in (did you know that there is a charge for every piece of luggage now?) and security and got into the line for US Immigration. I always get really nervous when I have to go through Customs or Immigration (doesn't matter which direction), even though I never try to smuggle or hide anything. When the only female worker waved me over for my turn, I was pleased, convinced that she would be more likely to be sympathetic to the purpose of my trip.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Agent: "What is the purpose of your trip to Philadelphia?"
Me: "I'm going to a conference."
Agent: "What kind of conference?"
Me: "Breast cancer..."
Agent: "What's your job?"
Me: "I am a researcher with a union."
Agent: "Then why are you going to this conference?"
Me: "I'm a survivor."
That's when it started to fall apart. I babbled (I do this when I am nervous) something about it being organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer and that it was called, "News You Can Use."
And then I told her that I was on disability (I am quite sure that I meant to say something else).
Agent: "How long have you been on disability?"
Me: "Ummm...since I was diagnosed...April 2006." (this is inaccurate but I was really flailing at this point).
Then I pulled myself together and said, clearly and forcefully: "But I have a good job to go back to and my insurance company pays x percent of my wage."
Wow. I don't know if I've managed to convey her hostility but she really was very hostile.
I was shaking a little bit afterwards.
On the flight, I sat beside M., a very nice engineer from Alabama. We talked the whole way about Canadian winters (he had spent a winter in Ontario and enjoyed it), kids, blended families, the book I'm reading (Guantanamo's Child by Michelle Shephard) and life in general. I even took a stab at explaining what it means to live in a Constitutional Monarchy and the Canadian and provinicial electoral systems.
M., an employee of the US military, expressed his frustration that, in his opinion, dissent has come to be equated with a lack of patriotism in his country (he also said that the only part of the constitution with which he didn't agree was the right to bear arms).
He also said that he's hopeful that Obama will be elected and that he will bring about real and positive change ("these things don't happen overnight"), if he can build bridges and start work on some concrete projects (he used "energy independence" as an example).
I don't usually chat on planes but M. was a very cool seat mate and the 90 minute trip passed quickly (despite the fact that we weren't offered so much as a glass of water).
At the Philadelphi airport, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the taxi stand. When I announced my destination, the driver said, "I don't know if I can get you all the way there because of the parade."
The World Series parade! In the middle of the day! On Hallowe'en!
It wasn't long before we came apon the diverse (in every way imaginable), festive and very boisterous crowds.
We drove until we literally could go no further. I relinquished my cab to an incredibly happy young couple.
"Do you have to work today?" I was asked sympathetically.
I replied, "I just got here, I'm from Canada!"
I wish sports could make me that happy.
I watched people dancing and singing, cheering and drinking. I saw strangers hug each other as they passed on the street and I saw a couple of gratuitous acts of vandalism.
Walking agains the flow of human traffic, I bravely made my way to the hotel (there were four large security guys standing outside, each with their eyes as wide as dinner plates) and checked in. I immediately went out again for wine and food. I secured the wine but quickly deduced that the only way I was going to eat was if I ordered room service (every restaurant within miles was packed or closed).
And now I find myself, a few hours later (I interrupted this post for a nap and a shower), typing in my pajamas, with a glass of wine by my side. I am starting to feel hungry again but don't really feel like venturing out again.
I don't feel like facing the last of the revelers. Or the sirens.
And I really don't feel like getting dressed.
Maybe I still have some trail mix in my bag.
You'll be hearing a lot from me this month. NaBloPoMo starts tomorrow (which is why my laptop is with me and the reason I am paying $10.95/day for internet. It's not because I'm addicted. Really).
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I like books that are well written and that entertain without offending me and that use characters to move a story forward without resorting to stereotype.
And I like suspense novels that surprise me without stretching the bounds of credulity to their absolute limit (there is only so much disbelief I am capable of suspending).
On all of these fronts, Hell Bent, by William G. Taply delivers.
"Boston attorney Brady Coyne finds his own past coming back to haunt his professional life when his ex-girlfriend Alex Sinclair wants him to represent her brother. Augustine Sinclair was a notable photo-journalist, happily married with two small children - until he returned from a stint in Iraq, missing a hand and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now he's lost his career, his peace of mind and his family. Brady is hired to see him through the divorce but before they get very far, the photographer is found dead in his rented apartment, an apparent suicide.
But something isn't right and Brady starts to think the suicide is staged. With very little to go on and everyone around him wanting to close the books on the case, Brady soon finds himself in the midst of one of the most dangerous situations of his entire life, facing people who will do anything to avoid being exposed."As a mystery novel, Hell Bent was highly entertaining, a real page turner that kept my interest. It's well written, with interesting characters and unexpected plot twists.
As a central character, though, Brady Coyne is just too perfect. He prefers to represent underdogs, is pining faithfully for the long-term girlfriend who left him four months earlier (despite the fact that she won't let him call her and leaves him messages telling him to move on) and has a stated weakness for strong, smart women:
"I liked feisty, independent, competent, autonomous, self-contained women. I liked women who knew what they wanted and went after it. I liked women who thought they were at least as important and capable and valuable as men."Women all seem to be vulnerable to his charms (every woman in the book is described in considerable physical detail and they almost all seem to be beautiful) and men want to be his friend.
He is also modest, self-deprecating and fairly self-critical.
And he is very loyal and attached to his dog, Henry.
Brady Coyne is just too good to be true.
I like flawed characters. I like protagonists who screw up but are essentially well-meaning and good hearted.
This is especially true for mysteries which have an inherent element of good versus evil. When good is too good, it can get just a touch, well, boring.
But really, that's just a quibble (and this one that is leagues better than the mystery novels with a hard boiled detective and the inevitable blond, bosomy bimbo who is the secretary/victim/murderess).
I liked Hell Bent. And if you like well-written, fast-paced mysteries, with progressive politics and interesting characters, you will too.
*This is a review of a book that was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
"Last night came thoughts about how dying of cancer is in some ways a kinder way to leave those you love behind. It gives those we love time to come to terms with our demise well before it happens. I have even had my Mum remark that she feels she has been grieving whilst I am still alive. One of my close friends has said the same thing, in a sense. She says she has grieved already, she knows it will continue in fits and starts and she is sure that when I do finally pass she will grieve again but I have noticed how people seem to come to terms with their loss whilst the person with the illness is still alive and with them. I believe this is because they can think about it, as horrid as it is to think about the world without that particular person in it, they can think about it while safely knowing that the person is within touching distance or a phone call away. Then it came to me how children may not get this option of slowly grieving whilst the person they love is still alive. I think because we tend to protect them and want to shelter them from anything painful but I believe in cases like this, we are making it harder on them when the person does actually pass."Jen needs to have a talk with her sons, one that I have often thought about. She is brave and strong and thoughtful and loves her boys passionately.
There was a time, not that long ago that I thought a similar conversation with my own boys was imminent. Jen's honesty is inspiring and I will think of her when my time comes.
But I grieve for her tonight.
Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
1. It was lovely enough to sit outside for a while today. The air was crisp and the birds were very, very loud. I had to come in for a phone appointment and meant to go out again but got swept up in other things.
2. We have a couple of good friends staying with us for a few days. We sat around at the dining room table this morning and I realized that the last time we had done that was when I had my head shaved in March 2006. Doesn't feel that long ago.
3. I am listening to an audio book and really enjoying it. It's The Ethical Assassin by David Liss. I am thinking of becoming his groupie.
4. The puppy (I need to take more photos of her, she is much bigger and hairier now) was spayed yesterday. She is feeling a little low, poor thing but I admit that I have enjoyed the quiet.
5. A few friends and I have formed a writing group. We are meeting one evening every month and I am very excited about it.
6. I have not had a major project on the go since finishing the book and I need one.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I don't go out of my way to trash someone else's hard work.
Most of the time, if I write about it, I like it.
However, Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino is an exception.
This novel, a thriller, is about Hudson Catalina, a 38 year old mother to three kids with breast cancer, is badly written, heavy handed and manipulative from beginning to end.
Hudson Catalina has given up. Having lost both breasts to cancer, she is emotionally and physically exhausted, no longer willing to endure the nausea and crushing weakness that chemotherapy causes. Until the wrecked-by-life young Buddy Baker arrives, bent on murder. Linda Merlino’s harrowing, touching story of despair, abuse, murder and survival takes you on a journey through the darkest places of the human mind and spirit, and in the end leads you back out of “the belly of the whale” enriched by the experience.
The cover art is garish and features a bald woman, cringing, as a tear rolls down her cheek. ( Also she has stubble. Honestly, if they couldn't find a woman who had really lost her hair to cancer, instead of a model with her head shaved, then they really shouldn't have bothered). I know that you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover but in this case, the cover told me almost everything about the book that I needed to know.
As a novel, this book is not just bad but jaw-droppingly bad. I had a list of examples of terrible writing and factual inaccuracies (I have post-its with exclamation marks on every other page) but I will spare you the lengthy list. The narrative is overwrought and repetitive. The dialogue is terrible and the characters speak in stereotypes.
Several of the women who write for Mothers With Cancer were asked to read and review this book as part breast cancer awareness month. I don't think very many of us liked it. And I don't think this book does anything to raise awareness about the real experience of breast cancer.
I agreed to review it because I was told that the author is a breast cancer survivor (although it doesn't say this anywhere on her web site, in the book or on its jacket) and because I do like to do book reviews. And there have been many, many books with breast cancer as a central theme that I have liked (The Middle Place is a good example).
I was worried that I was being to hard on the book because I live with breast cancer and I could not identify with this character (despite the similarity in our ages).
But bad writing is bad writing.
And exploitation is exploitation.
Do not read this book if you, or someone you love, is going through treatment.
Do not read this book if you like good writing.
And I for one, plan to think twice before I crack the spine of another book from Kunati Press.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I have been dreaming about houses again (you can read previous posts on this subject here and here).
In this latest dream, I am in the middle of moving. It's not my choice to move and I didn't choose the new house. I like my old house and my old neighbourhood and I feel quite sad to leave them behind.
The new house is not filthy or scary or rundown, just unfamiliar and not what I have chosen for myself.
In the dream, I am trying to make the best of it, figure out how to set up this new home so that I feel safe, comfortable and happy.
I think I'm feeling a bit at loose ends this days.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss is a big book and yet I practically read it in one sitting, allowing only the responsibilities of parenting to intervene.
Set in the late 1700s, the book is a piece of meticulously researched historical fiction (at times perhaps a little too meticulously, in terms of detail, but that is my only criticism and it's nit-picking, really). I learned a lot about American history leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion (and the presidency of Thomas Jefferson). I also found myself devouring the details of the early US banking system (truly!).
But it was the plot and characters of the book (along with beautiful writing) that hooked me from the very first page.
The story moves back and forth between two principal (and fictional) characters, Ethan Saunders (a disgraced soldier) and Joan Maycott (a woman who sets out with her husband to settle on the Pennsylvania frontier and becomes a whiskey maker). Both characters are flawed yet intensely compelling. And I fell in love with each of them, as the story moves them towards conflict with each other.
The narrative moves smoothly between perspectives and the author speaks convincingly in the voice of each character It's not easy to write in the voice of someone who is very different from ourselves, yet even Joan Maycott is a believable character whose behaviour and dialogue rings true.
I had never read anything by David Liss before the Whiskey Rebels, but I have since ordered every other book he has written from the library.
Absolutely one of my favourites this year.
*This is a review of a book that was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I've been tagged.
By Mom2Amara, who I tagged for this same meme last year.
Here are the rules:
- Post the rules on your blog.
- Write 7 random things about yourself.
- Tag 7 people at the end of your post.
- Pass on the tag.
1. I love the way my dogs smell. I stick my face in their fur sometimes and inhale.
2. I am afraid of heights.
3. My greatest insecurity is that the people I love will stop loving me.
4. Laughter is very important to me. I credit my mom for my goofy sense of humour.
5. I have been to every Canadian province and territory except Saskatchewan and Nunavut.
6. My first two bikes were red. I loved them very much. Both were surprises from my parents, although I got to choose the second one. The first one had a banana seat. The second was my first bike with gears and hand brakes.
7. In December, it will be three years since I found the lump that turned out to be cancer. Some days, this fact still surprises me.
I tag Lene, the Maven, Rebecca, Dee, Babz, nonlineargirl and deb (who I am not linking to because I am not sure how public she wants her blog to be but I want her to do the seven things anyway).
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The weather here has been absolutely gorgeous and unseasonably warm for the last couple of weeks.
And I am convinced that, in the fall, I live in the most beautiful place in the world. This past week end at the cottage, the fall colours were an unbelievable riot of reds and oranges and yellows. There was a carpet on the ground and yet the trees were still brilliant.
The nights were cool (great for sleeping) but it was warm enough in the day that some of us wore shorts and none of us wore jackets.
And the food...Oh my, did we feast.
As we drove away, I looked at the spectacular view and thought, "It's so gorgeous, it looks like a badly done oil painting."
And it occurred to me that we had not taken a single photo all week end.
At least we have the memories.
It took us seven hours to get home. But it was worth it.
The suitcase still sits unpacked by the back door. I had chemo the day after we got home (and Tim has had his hands full with the boys).
I'll deal with it on Saturday.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Want to imagine what it will be like?
Put together these people
and these people
Make them a whole lot grubbier, add three dogs (two of them long-haired sibling wild puppies).
Put them in a three bedroom cottage in the woods, on a lake.
It will be chaos but it will be fun.
I have chemo the day after I get back, so my next post won't be until next Wednesday, at the earliest.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
And then last night I had a panicky dream that I was lost in a hotel (hotels and houses seem to be key themes for me). First, I could not find my friends' room and then I could not return to my own. I could not remember my room number. Halls led to nowhere or to places that were completely illogical (like an ice rink). Calls on hotel phones went unanswered, were connected to people far away from the hotel, or produced directions that made no sense (or that I could not remember. These are key fears of mine as a chemo patient - forgetting things or not being able to understand them).
At one point, I was trying to open a door and it turned into a folding wall. For a few moments, I was trapped.
The last thing I remember, was finding the front desk. A woman was giving me directions when my younger son woke me up. Perhaps my dream was about to resolve itself.
I have not been able to fight the lingering feeling of anxiety this morning.
I did have an appointment with the doctor who works with my oncologist yesterday. It was a reassuring appointment, though, as she repeated again that my CT results showed no change from the previous five.
Perhaps I am feeling a little lost now that the book is finished.
The first two weeks after I was done, I felt relief and a sense of freedom.
And taking a break from MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com is definitely the right thing for me right now.
But I think I might be suffering from a case of "what's next?"
I am someone who once really defined herself by work and I have really struggled with the shift in identity that came with being a cancer patient (I feel great most of the time but I am in bed for the days after treatment. My oncologist does not want me to work and I am fortunate to have disability insurance).
One of my goals for myself for this year was to begin to think of myself as a "Writer." In order to do that, I need to keep writing.
I am excited at that prospect.
But I think I am
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
In my opinion, there are three components to every good book – great writing, an interesting plot and good, strong characters. While a bit unbalanced in this regard, The Lemur (by Benjamin Black) does deliver in all three areas.
The story captured my attention with the opening line ("The researcher was a very tall, very thin young man with a head too small for his frame and an Adam's apple the size of a golf ball.") and held it, to the last page of this short (132 pages) novel.
The researcher mentioned above has been hired by John Glass, the book's narrator and protagonist. Glass, a former journalist, has been commissioned to write a biography of "communications magnate and former CIA agent, Bill Mulholland. The task would be a daunting one for any writer but it is particularly fraught. Glass is married to Mulholland's daughter. And the book has been commissioned by Mulholland himself.
Shortly after that initial meeting, the researcher (the titular "Lemur", so nicknamed by Glass for his resemblance to the primates from Madagascar) is murdered. Glass suspects that this death is linked to the research for the book, in which case there are a whole host of suspects (Mulholland, the CIA, Glass's own wife and even Glass himself).
The murderer reveals her/himself in due course but what really kept me reading was the quality of the writing.
Glass describing his wife:
"Her gaze was as blank as the face of her son's expensive watch, with a myriad unseen, infinitely intricate movements going on behind it."
To me that says heaps about the strained relationship between husband and wife (and is expressed in a way that is much more elegant that I seem to be capable of at the moment).
And on being questioned by the police after the murder:
"It seemed to him that everything in the headachey, noise-assaulted, vertiginous six months he had lived in New York had been leading to just this moment, when he would be sitting here in this policeman's office, dry mouthed and faintly nauseous, with a tingle in his backbone and his veins fizzing. What was happening was at once ordinary and outlandish, inevitable and contingent, as in a dream."
The numerous characters are all vividly described but none has any depth. That they all seem like caricatures is my one small criticism. I am not sure if this was intentional on the part of the author, or a necessary characteristic of such a short book.
Regardless, I did enjoy The Lemur and I would recommend as a quick, entertaining read for those who like mysteries and for people who just enjoy good writing.
Benjamin Black is a pseudonym for writer John Banville and the book was first serialized in the New York Times Magazine, which may explain its brevity.
*This is a review of a book that was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Life as a parent is full of Big Questions. Here are some of the ones I have been pondering lately:
Why is it so quiet? What are they up to?
Why is he being so polite? What does he want?
Is he cuddling or is he wiping his nose on my shirt?
Sunday, October 05, 2008
I ran the Run for the Cure for the first time today.
Given that its a fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation I had some trepidations (check out all the pink crap on their site).
But I have been running with my10 year old son for a few months now and we were ready for our first 5km run.
And I liked that this event was non-competitive.
And CBCN did provide a significant chunk of the funding for the National Conference for Young Women Living With Breast Cancer that I attended last year.
So I signed up (but I didn't raise funds. I prefer to donate directly to my local cancer centre or to groups like Breast Cancer Action).
And I loved it.
It was a beautiful day. The atmosphere was one of tremendous goodwill. I felt good.
And I have to admit, that I got a lump in my throat when I went to the "Survivor's Tent" to collect my pink t-shirt, the one that would mark me as someone who had fought a battle with breast cancer and lived to run with my kid.
I was very touched when I was running along and a group of women yelled, "Go Pink!" as I passed them.
I loved hanging out with my son as we waited to start. I loved singing silly songs as we jumped around to warm up. And I loved holding his hand as we crossed the finish line.
I had planned on running for twenty minutes (the most we have done in our training) and then seeing how my body responded. I had hoped to run a little more than that, walk the rest and finish in under an hour.
We ran the whole thing (almost. We followed the Running Room program of - 10 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking - lather, rinse and repeat). A total of thirty-nine minutes from start to finish.
I finished with a huge grin on my face that lasted the whole day.
I am as proud of this run as I was of my half-marathon in 2000 (and I was as sore, tired and hungry afterwards. Bacon and eggs for lunch, pizza for dinner and lots of snacking in between).
Among the crowds waiting to start, there were many people with the names of loved ones on their shirts and the words "I'm running for..."
My son turned to me and said, "Mama, I'm running for you."
I'm so proud of both of us.
Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The full title of the DVD is "Visions for Cancer Recovery: A Guided Visualization and Health Meditation." It's 20 minutes long and divided into four sections: "Introduction", "Begin Body Relaxation", "Stress Release/Deeper Relaxation" and "Healing On A Deeper Level: Cancer Cell Elimination."
The DVD uses "scientifically rendered scientific imagery." I also learned a new word, "apoptosis." It's the scientific term for "cancer cell elimination." Cool, no?
What I liked about it:
- The music chosen as an introduction was appropriate and set a relaxing tone from the beginning.
- There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the DVD cautioning that the program is to be used in conjunction with, not instead of, more conventional cancer treatment. I very much appreciated this.
- The voice-over (by Mary Hallman) was very relaxing and reassuring.
- As I watched, I was taken from very familiar (and soothing) scenes of nature, all the way into space. We then returned from space, to think about the cells working within our bodies. I liked placing myself in context this way and enjoyed that imagery.
- I enjoyed imagining imagining any cancer cells in my body being absorbed and eradicated by the healthier ones.
- The messages repeated at the end were ones that really did speak to me and that I could see myself repeating throughout the day: "Cancer cells are not surviving...Only healthy cells survive....the body does what it needs to do."
- I couldn't get into watching a guided meditation on my television or computer screen. When I relax, I like to close my eyes. Just as I would find myself getting into the program, the voice would remind me to "keep your eyes on the screen." It just didn't work for me.
- I didn't find the visual imagery used to be very effective. The nature images were pretty but I would have enjoyed imagining my own relaxing locations much better. The other images didn't work for me at all (and there was an image of a coil that I actually found weirded me out).
Or my own imagination.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had here at MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com to further extend my reach, to share my stories and reassure so many women that a diagnosis of metastasis is not without hope. For so many of us, metastatic breast cancer is treated like a chronic illness, one that must be managed but through which we can live active, healthy lives.
However, as I have written before, when metastatic breast cancer is well managed, the stories one tells can start to be repetitive and even boring (Another clean scan! No new signs of cancer! Today, I felt like a normal person!). And while I vigorously embrace the lack of drama in this part of my life, I also find myself lacking in inspiration.
As I have said often to friends in the last few weeks, blogging about my life with metastasis means to be constantly tapping the same vein. I am feeling a bit drained (I also just finished the final edits on my book, “I’m Not Done Yet,” which is being published by Women’s Press and due out in the spring of 2009, and that has no doubt contributed to my ‘cancer fatigue’).
It’s time to spend more time writing about other parts of my life (my blog is called Not Just About Cancer for a reason) and even to play at making stuff up, along with other creative pursuits. I have a puppy that needs training. And I need to spend more time on the activities that nurture my body, as well as my mind.
After I wrote this post, I had my spouse proof read it (he proofs almost everything I write before it goes online). He said that it was fine. Except that I mention the puppy and not my spouse or kids.
He said (while laughing at me), "It's like saying, 'I'm retiring to spend more time with my dog.'
I chose not to change that line. In my defense, I have have not been neglecting the needs of my family to write for MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com. I did, however, have to remove the puppy from the dining room table, as I wrote yesterday's post. I clearly need to invest more time in training.
You can read the rest of my "goodbye for now" post here.
An example of the 'other creative pursuits' in which I wish to engage. Taken at the a family Bar Mitzvah this past week end (photo: A. Wayne).
Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.
You won't find any pink ribbons here.
Instead, I give you links to my previous posts on this subject:
not in my name (October 2007)
not enough to think pink (October 2006)
And, if you want to read more, please check out Parade of Pink: Why BCA Is Concerned By Cause-Marketing For Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer Action also includes a list of "six critical questions" to ask before buying pink ribbon products so that you "support the cause, not cause-marketers."
(I stole these links from an excellent post by sprucehillfarm, over at Mothers With Cancer.)
So as, I said, you won't find any pink ribbons here. Red boas, on the other hand, are perfectly acceptable.
(photo credit: A. Wayne).