My StudyWelcome to the Wider World of Nancy Conyers!  Yes, I’m taking the plunge and dipping into the ponds I’ve crossed and the ponds I’ve lived in and I’m going to start blogging.  I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be posting, but I do know I’ll be musing on the difference between traveling somewhere versus living there, and posting about things that have deep meaning to me after living in twelve cities on three continents in my adult life.  I’ll also be talking about the craft and process of writing, and the concept of being a writer/calling yourself a writer before you’ve been published.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

This Land Is My Land. This Man Is Not My President.

15032110_10155106706946111_554809913575093574_n

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_3Chqt887E

One of my favorite movies of all time is Working Girl. I’ve probably watched it over 20 times and I bet I’ve watched this opening scene close to 100 times. When the melodic strains of Carly Simon’s “Let The River Run” begin with the camera close to Lady Liberty’s face and then the camera begins to pan out as Carly starts singing the lyrics I always tear up and feel a surge of love for my home country, a surge of homesickness for New York City, a surge of sadness for the Twin Towers. I just watched this again and I didn’t tear up, I sobbed, and felt not a surge of homesickness but a surge of sickness and disgust. I am shattered. Lady Liberty is shattered. My country is shattered.

A Commander in Chief was not elected–an Exploiter in Chief was. This man will stop at nothing, will say anything and do anything to keep the cameras on himself. He riled up a base of base people, a base of white crackers he doesn’t care one iota for, a base of base people who don’t care who or what he really is. They only care that he gave them permission to be vile and ugly and angry and foul-mouthed and blame the ‘other’ for their problems. He gave them permission to make Muslims, Gays, Latinos, African Americans, Jews and Women the scapegoats for what’s not right in their tiny xenophobic worlds.

This base of base people want to take their country back with their muskets. Guess what? This is my land, this is my country too and I want to take it back also. This man is not my president and he never will be. Ever. The President of the United States of America is someone we are supposed to look up to, someone the world is supposed to look up to. There is nothing about about this man to respect or look up to. I will never look up to him. There is nothing he can do that would make me change the revulsion and disgust I feel whenever I see him or hear him. When I heard Brian Williams call him the President-Elect for the first time I literally wanted to throw up. I don’t know how President Obama was able to greet him and sit with him and talk to him yesterday after all he’s done to smear and malign Obama’s stellar character. President Obama is presidential, though, unlike the Exploiter in Chief.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but after all we’ve heard about Russian and Putin’s interference in the election, after all we’ve heard about his ex-campaign manager’s ties to Russian business and oligarchs, after all we don’t know about his business ties and taxes, I would not be surprised at all if we find out that he got in too deep with loans from the Russian Mafia and the Russian government, was starting to default on those loans and was told if he got elected they would absolve him of the debts. I know that sounds crazy, but how many crazy things have we heard or seen during this election cycle?

Here are the lyrics to “Let The River Run”

We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of desire
through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
the sky is the color of blue
you’ve never even seen
in the eyes of your lover.

Oh, my heart is aching.
We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.
We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

I’m hearing this song with new ears now. Yes, my heart is aching. We are on the edge. Let all the dreamers wake the nation.

He is not me or us, does not represent me or us. I want my country back. The wide world wants our country back. Let’s do this.

 

Food Is Medicine And People Are Too

Food Is Medicine

I never, ever, thought I’d say this, but yesterday I was glad to have chemo.  I was supposed to have it last Monday but my platelet levels were low, at 85 and the threshold is 100. My doctor said I had to wait a week to build them back up otherwise I’d be at risk for bleeding.  They’ll build up naturally in this next week, she told me.

I wasn’t happy that my timetable got pushed back a week, another week out of my life and another week I can’t get back to my life with Libby, but I have to say I was thrilled to have another week of feeling good, feeling like myself and not suffering from the after effects of chemo.

When I got home I obsessively googled how to build up platelet levels and it all came down to the good old common sensical advice: more Omega 3 oils, more kale and other leafy green veggies with high amounts of Vitamin K, more cold pressed olive oil, no processed or sugary foods, eat organic, and exercise. Even though my doctor said the platelet levels would build up naturally, I was leaving nothing to chance. A girl can always use an assist.

I ate more salmon, kale, drank green drinks, and used more of the olive oil I brought from Italy.  I worked out more with my wonderful trainer, Ramleen, www.indesignfitnessandyoga.com, who did copious amounts of research on exercising after axillary dissections and lumpectomies, who knows just how far to push me to give me the best workout without pushing me over the brink.

Last week was heaven. I was myself for the first time in this whole process.

When I got to my appointment yesterday, my blood pressure was up. I was stressed that I wouldn’t be able to do the chemo. Unbelievably to me, I actually wanted it. When my lab work came back, my platelet levels were 309! In one week, I’d taken my platelet levels from 85 to 309. The doctor was astounded, impressed and wanted to know how I did it.  The levels were higher than they’d ever been. When I revealed my “secret” the doc said, “This proves that food is medicine.” Yes, yes it does.

People are medicine too. I had so many texts, emails and calls yesterday from friends and family wanting to know how everything was. It helped me so much to see all the incoming while I was hooked up to the infusions and to answer everyone and feel the love. My sister, Judy, came from PA to be with me since Libby is stuck in Russia, which is helping too.

Today, I’m pumped up on steroids, feeling like I can hit any ball out of the park, but if history is a guide, I’ll crash tomorrow, so I wanted to write this and say thanks to all of you, too, who are reading and responding and making this girl feel like she’s being heard.

Live Your Dreams

Live Your Dreams

As I head into the second half of my chemo regime on Monday, I’m thinking about things people have said or written to me since I was first diagnosed. Many people, well meaning I suppose, have said that I will learn lessons from having cancer.  Cancer is a teacher, cancer has many lessons, cancer can be a guide, cancer gives perspective, cancer makes you think about your life, and on and on. Someone even said maybe I needed to get cancer for a reason. I have to say that I am very clear about this:  I did not need to get cancer. Nobody needs to get cancer.

I’m 62 years old and if I haven’t learned a ton of lessons by now, shame on me. I’ve spent my whole adult life figuring out not only what I want, but what I need as well. I spent years in therapy with a gifted therapist who helped me dig deep inside myself, helped me be completely honest with myself and helped me so that my gut, my insides, were as strong and solid as my outer core appeared to be. I’ve craved learning, honesty, and making sense of my world and I’ve surrounded myself with wonderful people who crave the same things.

The only plus from having cancer is that I’ve dropped about 20 pounds, but I’m well aware that there are better, more healthy ways to lose 20 pounds and I didn’t need to get cancer to lose the weight. I could have, and should have, been losing it before this all happened.

Cancer does make you think about your life, but for me, it’s no different than the way I thought about my life before. Yes, it has made me more aware of my mortality, but as far as thinking about my life, I have continuously done that as far back as I can remember.

I’ve spent my life wanting to live my dreams and to a large degree, I’ve done that.  For sure, there are still more dreams to make a reality and when the treatments are finished I will get back to doing that with a vengeance. There is no greater feeling than making a dream become your reality. I’ve encouraged my niece and nephew their whole lives to live their dreams, to not take the practical route and settle for surviving. Know who you are, what you want and need, and find a way to make that happen.  I’ve also encouraged all my students to do the same thing. Seeing passion in a young person and watching them take that passion and make it happen is a thrilling reward.

So I’m on the downward slope of chemo and can’t wait until it’s over. Then it’s on to radiation and more surgery. Afterward, back to my own life, my life with Libby, and to living more dreams. Hope you’re living your dreams too.

Thanks for reading.

Hanging In and Hanging On

Hang in There

I’m in new territory here. The only thing I’m doing these days is giving myself permission to just hang in there, hang on, and get through this cancer mess. For the first time in my life, I’m not accomplishing anything, I’m not pushing, and I’m not moving forward. It feels weird and strange and quite unlike myself, as if the chemo weren’t doing that already.

When I was nine years old, I distinctly remember vowing that I would not live my life the way my parents were living their life. It was moving day again and my family was piling into yet another rental I was wondering if we’d be able to afford because we’d been evicted from the previous one since my parents couldn’t pay the rent. This was the seventh place we’d lived in in my short nine years and I’d had it with the evictions.

I was standing outside with my father while he took a cigarette break and I asked him, “Daddy, can we stay here? I like this place.”

“We’ll see,” he said as he flicked his cig on the ground and stubbed it out with his foot, “We’ll see.”

I remember thinking to myself, why can’t he be definite about this? I’m not going to live like this.

Since that time I’ve pushed full steam ahead to live the life I wanted to create, not the life someone else destined me to live.  I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed–myself, Libby and everyone else around me to be as good as we can be, to go further, dig deeper and make the life of our dreams become a reality. Some people get it, some people don’t. It’s who I am and what I do, or rather, what I did.

Out with the olds and in with the news, though.  It’s a whole new world I’m adjusting to, new terrain I’m adapting to, and a new set of standards for my days. It hasn’t been easy to accept that hanging in there is the new bar that I can’t raise any higher right now, but it’s necessary.  Just let me hang in there and hang on so I can get back to the life I’ve always lived.

Thanks for reading.  As always, it helps.

 

 

Round Two

Boxing Gloves

As I get ready to head off to my second round of chemo today, I’m reflecting on how I’ve been a different version of myself lately, especially in the last three weeks since my first chemo. I’m weepy and quiet and have much less tolerance than I usually do for willful ignorance, stupidity, idle gossip, and people who aren’t open and honest. Heck, I even started feeling bad for the Red Sox and their ten game losing streak, but that stopped yesterday when Big Papi got his groove back and my good juju helped them win. Damn!

I am considerably more weepy and sentimental and would love to chalk it up to chemo brain, but that would be the easy explanation. What is really going on is that I have come right up to the precipice of my mortality. I am standing as close to the edge as I’ve ever come. I know I just turned 62 last week, but in my mind, I am 19. I visualize numbers in my head as a series of connecting lines, a continuum, where at number 10, the line takes a right turn, then at number 20, another right turn.  I am permanently fixed at the corner between 19 and 20, where all things are possible and endless, life is in front of me to make of it what I will, and the gold ring is out there for me to figure out plans (and contingency plans if the first plan didn’t work) as a way to grab it.

When I met the first time with Dr. Annette Fontaine, my oncologist at the New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque where I am getting chemo, she told me, “If you had come to us this time next year, you would have been in very bad shape.”

“Like, what kind of bad shape are you talking about?” I asked her. “Would you have been able to save me?”

“I don’t know,” she told me and held my gaze. “What you have is very aggressive and life threatening and we need to start your treatment now.”

When I asked her if she could save me now, she said, “Yes.”

I’ve been hanging on that “Yes,” but it’s the thought that I could possibly have only had one year left that is causing me to reflect, re-examine, and think about moving my mind’s eye further up that number continuum in my head.

I’ve dug deep my whole life.  I couldn’t have done what I’ve done or become the person I am today without spending my adult life digging deep, getting help, and being as honest with myself as possible. Knowing, though, that this could have been the last year of my life has pushed me into new territory, into an unknown frontier that I didn’t plan on going to.

Since this whole mess started, I’ve been told more than once that I’m lucky. I certainly don’t feel lucky having cancer or feel lucky being branded with a Scarlett BH (bald head), and I don’t believe in that 8th grade concept of being lucky just because you are. For years I had a quote from Jack Nicholson hanging over my computer that said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

If I’m lucky it’s because I’ve worked hard to make my luck. I have wonderful doctors who have been referred to me by wonderful friends, friendships I’ve worked to grow and maintain with loving, caring, incredible people whose relationships are important to me. I’m hanging on to their love and support.

I’m also hanging on to everyone who is thinking of me and all of you who are taking the time look at my blog.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Hair, The Final Frontier Of Coming Out

Hair

 

 

Henna

As I was styling my hair this morning, fistfuls started appearing in my hands.  And so it begins, i thought, now everyone will know.  Hair loss is the final frontier of coming out with Cancer, with having to let other people know you’re going through Chemo. As long as you can do your ‘do, no one needs to know. But as soon as you lose your hair, everyone knows.

When you come out, you don’t just do it once then it’s over.  You do it over and over and over again to everyone you meet.  Whether you’re coming out as gay, as someone who actually likes Spam, or as someone with Cancer, unless you choose to remain totally silent, you have to tell the same story over and over and over.

Cancer sucks, but Chemo is the real bitch slap. The nausea. The bathroom. The fatigue. The heartburn. The rashes. The dehydration. The fucking annoyance of it all. How it takes over your life. How everything is different. Your whole conception of yourself.

Nobody wants to talk about the reality of Cancer and Chemo.  Everybody wants to tell you it will pass, you’ll get through it, it’s a blessing in disguise, you’ll come out stronger.  They want to tell you what to do and give you unsolicited advice.

When I talk about Cancer I want to hear the truth and I want to speak the truth. I say what I say because I want a record of what’s happening to me at this moment in time, not because I want pity or sympathy or because i’m Whining. (yes, i capitalized Whining on purpose:>)

If anyone doesn’t recognize the first picture above, I’m sorry for you.

The second picture was put on my Facebook page by Sandra Garcia Rivera, a fine poet, and a  friend and classmate from Antioch. That look is going to save my bald head and psyche.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

The Game I’ve Got Right Now

1173634_10100157692570227_341943746_n

I’m getting ready to head out to my first chemotherapy session this morning and I’m petrified.  It makes me sick to my stomach thinking of all the toxic substances that are going to go into my body.  I know I’m not the first person who’s ever done chemo and I know I won’t be the last, but this is the only time (hopefully) I will go through chemo. I don’t use drugs and have never relied on drugs to get me through anything.  What I’ve relied on is the massive amount of energy I inherited from my mother to get me through everything I’ve ever done. I feel my energy waning now, even before chemo starts, and I’m told it will wane even more during chemo.

My energy has always been my calling card and I won’t have that to hand out for a long while.  It’s taken massive amounts of energy to push myself over the years to go where I’ve gone, do what I’ve done, become who I’ve wanted to become, to give myself permission to plan for my future instead of the way I grew up, frantically  scrabbling to survive. I have willingly given my energy to my family and friends over the years, to my students, and, most importantly, to Libby. I don’t have it right now and it’s changing my whole concept of who I am in the world.

I know I will get through this, know when the game ends I will be a winner, but it’s the game I’m going to have to play that is blowing my mind right now. I didn’t choose the game, the game chose me.  I’ve chosen the players (my incredible doctors) but this is not a game I ever thought I would play and it’s definitely not a game I will enjoy. It’s the only game I’ve got, though, a game that has taken over my life right now whether I like it or not.

Thanks for reading.

PS. The picture is of my niece and nephew, the people I love most in the world besides Libby.  They’re clowning around in NYC the day after our wonderful wedding. That picture, minus the clowning around, is exactly how I feel!

They Blinded Me with Science, and Heart

Doctor'sOffice

I never understood why anyone was interested in becoming a doctor, dealing with other people’s bodily functions all day, poking and prodding their patients privates day in and day out. When I was much younger, I just assumed that the only reason anyone would be a doctor was because of money, because they’d get stinking rich. Even though I wanted to have financial security, something I never had growing up, it didn’t occur to me to go to medical school, but  I’m grateful it occurred to other people. My whole view of doctors has changed since I’ve been dealing with this whole cancer mess.

When I was getting nowhere  in Italy,  having seen eight doctors in seven weeks, none of whom could give me a definitive diagnosis, I was frantic. I came home from yet another fruitless appointment and called my friend, Lisa, who’s retired from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. I had no shame and begged for her help.  Please, please, I cried to her, can you help me find a doctor at Cedars who can help me? Within two hours she got back to me and I had two appointments for two weeks later with top notch docs. When I was describing how little progress was made in the past seven weeks just trying to diagnose me, let alone treat me, Lisa told me that when you’re dealing with something life threatening, you want to go to a hospital where it’s almost a factory, where the doctors have seen everything and done everything and have perfected procedures through their vast experience.  She told me not to take it personally if the docs didn’t have the best bedside manner, because they had the best minds and experience, and they would be committed to diagnosing and treating me as quickly and correctly as possible.

My body was in a massive fail and all the things that are important to me–compassion, understanding, relationships–fell away because I just needed to know what was wrong and how to fix it. When I was whining to my friend Emily that all my lady parts were failing me, Emily said, “Hey, all the over-achievers want to work at Cedars so that’s where you want your lady parts to be!” So I went to Cedars prepared to be put on the assembly line, to be moved along the conveyer belt, robotically taken apart and, hopefully, put back together properly by the best over-achievers in the business.

What I got instead at Cedars are doctors who not only are at the top of their game, and who run the best factories, but have been compassionate, understanding, who’ve formed relationships with me, who’ve spent inordinate amounts of time with me, who’ve answered Libby and my questions patiently, thoroughly, and clearly so our laywomen’s minds understand completely. I have been moved by their compassion and humanity and grateful beyond belief for their incredible minds and open hearts.

My doctors have made a horrible situation a bearable process, so much so that  I’m now hoping some of my  brightest students go into medicine.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

Ode To Being Alive

Crisco

When I read Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn the first time in 8th grade English, the first thing I thought after finishing it was puhleez, I could write this. Thinking back, that’s probably  the first time I knew I wanted to be a writer.  Those moments when my students say that same thing after reading something is when I know they are writers.

The assignment in my 8th grade English class was to write one to two pages analyzing Keats’ poem. There’s nothing worse than having to analyze a poem essentially beating it to death, and me being one who loves to create my own rules, I decided instead to write my own ode which I titled Ode to a Can of Crisco.   I got a can of Crisco out of the hutch in the kitchen and I remember sitting on my canopy bed and feeling so alive as the words just spilled out of me. I started writing and I couldn’t stop, couldn’t put my pen down. When I turned my ode in the next day I didn’t care if I flunked the assignment because the process of writing Ode to a Can of Crisco was so thrilling it was worth the risk of getting an F.  When the teacher returned my paper, an A- was in a circle on the top of the page.

I love the word ode, love the way it sounds, love how it rolls off my tongue.  Merriam-Webster defines ode as “a poem in which a person expresses a strong feeling of love or respect for someone or something.”  I’ve been thinking about that word, ode, a lot lately. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything that is happening to me, feeling stressed about having to start chemo/radiation/IV infusions of Herceptin/having to take estrogen blockers for the rest of my life, when I have to be careful to not cut my right arm or hand, when I have to stop myself from lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk, I take a breath and say to myself, “It’s ok, I’m alive.  It’s ok, I’m alive.” I remember how much I love being alive, how much I love life. I’ve started writing something I’m calling An Ode to Being Alive, a line here, a line there, which is keeping me grounded.

I am alive and I want to stay alive, so I have to do what I have to do to get through this next year. There are risks involved in my treatment but I’ve accepted them because I want to be here for a while. The risks of my treatment aren’t going to feel anywhere near as wonderful as writing Ode to a Can of Crisco felt, but I think they’ll be worth it. When I’m in the thick of everything, I’ll remember to tell myself, “It’s ok, I’m alive,” and I”ll add another line to An Ode to Being Alive. Maybe I’ll post it here when I get to the other side of this next year.

Thanks for reading, it helps. A lot.

 

Pre-Op Musings

 

DSC01545

So many thoughts and emotions are swimming through my head and my heart as I prepare for surgery on April 2nd, the least of which is that i just wrote “as I prepare for surgery.” Aiyuh, as my Chinese friends say, aizheng hen mafan! I’ve accepted the mafan of all this, though it’s throwing me for a loop.

I’ve been keeping list-upon-list of things I need to do to prepare myself, things I need to buy for my post-surgery life, things I won’t be able to do after the surgery, things I’m scared about, and, most importantly, things I’m grateful for.  The lists help me focus  and gives me some modicum of control over something I completely have no control over.

My top ten list looks something like this–today, anyway:

1. What if Libby hadn’t insisted we do those scans?

2. I am a person who is sick, who is carrying cancer in her body that has gone undetected for a long time. It is blowing my mind to put myself in the category of someone who is sick with Cancer/Áizhèng 癌症/Cancro. If I say cancer in Chinese or Italian it sounds so much better.

3. Hmmm, maybe instead of the lumpectomy I’ve chosen, I should go for the bilateral mastectomy. They’ll reconstruct my breasts by using my belly fat and I’ll get a twofer–perky breasts at age 61 and no belly fat! Hmmm, tempting…

4. How am I going to write?  I’m having an axillary dissection in my right armpit which will limit my mobility for a while, and be painful.  I’m right-handed. I won’t be able to sit at the computer and pound away.  Anybody have a recommendation for some really good voice recognition software? I’m serious, if you know of a great one, please let me know.

5. I actually had to go buy bras that fasten in the front, that specifically are post-surgery sleep bras  because my surgeon said I won’t be able to put anything over my head and I have to sleep in a bra for a while. Yuck.

6. Everything is different now.  I see  and hear things I would never have paid attention to before. While I was buying a bra, a large TV screen on the wall was playing an ad for Wacoal, the lingerie company.  As I was browsing I heard the words breast cancer so I immediately turned my attention to the ad (something I never would have done before) just in time to hear the woman on the screen say, “Every 12 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US.” Every 12 minutes.

7. I am beyond grateful for my friends.  I have wonderful people in my life who have already helped me through this and who will continue to be there for me. I’m usually the one giving the help, not asking for it, but I am finding it easy to ask for help right now because of the amazing people I have in my life. When I gave my graduate reading at Antioch, I said in my thank you’s before I read my novel excerpt, that if it takes a village to raise a kid, it takes a community to raise a writer. Now I’m constantly thinking: what does it take to get someone through breast cancer? I don’t have one word right now, but the words sisterhood (and brotherhood), circle, clan, pack, world, fellowship and tribe come to mind. You know who you are, and I can’t do this without you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart/feichang de feichang de xie xie ni/grazie di cuore.

8. Maya Angelou’s incredible quote “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them,” has always rung true, always made me wake up, but never more than now.  Through this whole process, I’ve gained clarity and I realize I’ve allowed some people in my life to only take and not give, allowed them to unconditionally get the best of my heart without being there for me. I’ve sadly had to jettison them from my world because I need people I can count on now as much as the people in my life have always counted on me.

9. Cancer/Áizhèng 癌症/Cancro can be quite convenient!  When I don’t feel like doing something, don’t feel like going somewhere, or don’t feel like being with anyone, I just whine and say, “I can’t, I have cancer,” in a pathetic little voice:>).  Fyi, it works the first time, but after that it loses its effectiveness.

10. What if Libby hadn’t insisted we do those scans?  I begin and end every day with this mantra.

Thanks so much for reading.  It’s helping me to write about this.

Love,

Nancy

Archive