A week in the life

At the start of my most recent chemo week, I looked ahead at the schedule. On Monday, my husband would be leaving for a four-day conference on the other side of the country. On Tuesday, I would start chemo.

This meant that my husband would be gone from Monday through late Thursday, and I would be home but physically and emotionally unavailable to the kids from Tuesday through Thursday or Friday (depending on how the week went).

Fortunately, we have a fabulous au pair, but my kids are at an age where they simply cannot go for 3-4 days without at least one parent on board, especially when one is sick. Their emotional bank risked being drained.

Alarm bells ringing in my head, I alerted the school and tutors. While they are all fabulous, none are or should expected to be a parent figure, but I knew they would do what they could.

So, on Monday, off goes my husband to his conference. On Tuesday, off I go to chemo.

As chemo weeks go, my treatment proceeded smoothly. Well, other than one glitch: I showed up at Dana Farber only to learn that I wasn’t actually scheduled for chemo. Part of me wanted to say “Great!” and run home, but I stayed put and they managed to find a slot for me.

Then I went home with my little “to go” bag of chemo pumping itself into my port, and I planted myself in my bed for the next few days.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday seemed to go fine. Everyone got to their scheduled classes, homework was completed and outside activities were attended.

However, on Thursday, one of the boys got into “trouble” at school. He works hard to appropriately manage his energy during the school day, but on that Thursday, he had few inner resources remaining to control his giggles. His behavior disrupted the class and needed to be addressed. We were grateful that the school handled it well, but, especially because he works hard on this, he felt horrible about himself and his life on many levels. He felt like he failed. Although I tried (pathetically, from my bed and hooked to a tube) to tell him it was okay, this was a tough week and at least it was the giggles and not something really bad, he accepted no excuses for his behavior.

Shortly after that, our other son tearfully told me that he still hopes that I will be healed but he now feels like this is it, this is how life will be: Treatments where I am in bed, days where I lounge around recovering, and then some good days, only to be followed by treatments again. On the plus side, his comments opened the door for us to talk about many aspects of his feelings. For example, he wondered aloud, might it be easier if I just died, because then all our suffering would be done and maybe we could all move on? (I have felt that way many times.) He asked about God and why he would let this happen. He didn’t know how he could continue to handle the stress of living with all this. I get it.

While I am glad that he was able to access and articulate his thoughts and feelings, this was one of the most difficult conversations I have had in my life. I wanted to be fully present for him at the same time that I just wanted to be anywhere else. But he was in a deep hole and it was awful for him and I needed to be there for him in any way that I could, no matter how crappy and inept I felt.

So, there we were. The kids were unraveling in their own ways, and I was not feeling like myself (to say the least) and unable to support them.

My husband arrived home late Thursday night, and we all started to rebuild the pieces of our lives. Slowly, one step at a time. By then, I was finally unhooked from chemo and had a long shower. We were back together as a family. We could move forward.

Luckily, my physical recovery was faster than usual and we were able to have friends visit on Saturday and Sunday. The normalcy of their presence halted our spiraling, provided healing, and brought us back to day-to-day life.

One step at a time, we regained our footing and our daily dynamic returned to what it was, slightly shifting in ways only visible (I think) to ourselves. I hope this experience helps the boys to be resilient in some way, but we are in the middle of the journey, so it is hard to know exactly where this will lead.

We are grateful to be doing this together and to have family and friends who are in this with us, who keep us heading down the path of light and joy and grounding and love. Thank you.


Icon with myrrh streaming

Myrrh-streaming icon

Myrrh-streaming icon

A friend told me about an icon with myrrh streaming* to be shared at a local Greek Orthodox church at 8 a.m on Saturday. She explained that they first have a religious service, then share the oil.

I didn’t hesitate to put it in my calendar.

Never having been to a Greek Orthodox service, or even heard of “myrrh-streaming,” I did not know what to expect, how to act or dress or anything. But I walked through the door and the kind demeanor of the nice young man selling candles in the entry hall immediately made me comfortable.

I entered the church and took stock. Most people were standing. The pews were arranged two deep around the perimeter of the room. Each one accommodated 5-6 adults and there were maybe 20 of them in total. Not a lot of seating so I’d better grab one now. I sat at the end of a pew in the back nearest the door.

The main sound was the harmony of three men beautifully singing praises. I tried to lose myself in their music, but I felt restless inside and couldn’t seem to ground myself. So I decided to look around and learn.

Compared to the churches and synagogues I am used to, this church was small. It had a high ceiling with wooden beams, icons on the wall and on stands, and tall narrow windows, feeling a bit like a modern European church. In the front of the room stood an ornate wall with a door in the center, through which priests would periodically walk. When I caught a peek through it, I could see movement and action behind the wall as if they were performing the religious rituals of the service, but I guess it wasn’t meant for the congregation to overtly witness.

Down the center of the room formed a line of people, delineated on either side with red velvet ropes. In front of the line was an icon on a stand, though I didn’t know if it was “the” icon that we had come to see. When people reached the front of the line, they would bow (some would kneel or throw themselves on the floor), and then, after a moment or two, stand close to the icon and appear to kiss it. (I later learned they generally were not kissing the icon but smelling the scent of the oil.)

I noticed that whenever the name of Jesus or the Holy Spirit was mentioned, everyone made the Sign of the Cross, and that it was “backwards” from the way I was taught. Also, when they did it, they held their fingers in a particular pointed way. To be respectful, I tried to imitate their form and practice, though I didn’t keep up with all the crossing.

Over time, the room slowly filled, and about 45 minutes after I arrived, a grandmother (age 82), her daughter (around my age) and her teenage granddaughter caught my eye. It looked like the daughter was searching for a seat for her mother. I motioned to the daughter that they could sit with me, and they did.

After awhile I started talking with daughter, who asked me lots of questions like, “What is the line for?” and “Do you know what is going on here?” I learned that they were Catholic, her mother was recently diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, and they drove for two hours to come here. I learned that they were Italian and her mother is from Italy, not far from where my mother is from.

I shared that I also was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and because I was having a really great-feeling day and I had lots of energy, she looked shocked. (That is always gratifying, that I can still pull off looking normal!) We talked about Dana Farber and treatments and faith.

“My mother’s faith is rock solid.” We looked over at her mother, deep in prayer. She poked at her mom.

“Don’t bother her!” I said.

“She prays all the time. If I want to talk with her, I have to interrupt her.”

We laughed and she continued to talk to me.

“Since she was diagnosed, I have to say that I grew away from my faith,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel like there is anything for me there.”

I can relate to that. I’ve been in that place. I knew that she would find her own way out, and we talked a little about it. My position (which I shared with her) is that it doesn’t matter if you can feel it – God and all kinds of spirit beings are around you and ready to support you the moment you ask for it.

“I know they are there, even if you aren’t feeling it,” I told her. “Whatever you do is okay.”

She stopped and looked at me. “I think that you are why I was meant to come here.”

We chatted off and on during the service (which was over three hours long!). We learned that the line was to see and touch “the” icon, so we eventually joined the line. She shared that she had high anxiety about what to do when she got to the icon (not unusual), so I told her to follow me and just do what I do. (I’ve been in enough of these situations, and have been observing behaviors in this room for almost three hours, so I felt comfortable.) Once I reached the icon, I found myself praying for her mother and had to remind myself to pray for me too! I did get to see and smell the oil.

At the end of the service, we joined the line for the final blessing from the priest. As we waited for our turn, the grandmother said to her daughter, “Go light a candle for me.”

“I don’t know how to do that!” her daughter shot back. “Why don’t you do it?”

“I’m busy,” said the grandmother.

I had to laugh out loud. At 4’10” and just under 70 pounds, she was still a force.

We finally reached the head of the line, where the priest rubbed the oil on our forehead and palms. Blessed, we parted ways.

May your day be filled with blessings and love, and a lingering, beautiful scent,

*For a description of myrrh streaming, you can check out this article. The icon we visited was the one from St. George’s in Tyler, PA – if you want, just skim down to the point in the article to learn more about it. They describe the service as 40 minutes – I don’t know why ours was so long.


Connections in Various Forms

Although I like to picture myself the way I have always been, sometimes I get shocking glimpses of my body that I cannot ignore. For example, I walked by a mirror and wondered “Who is that woman with the super skinny arms?” (Yes, one can be too thin.) Or one of the kids recently asked me to go bike riding with him, and when I said yes, my husband noted that I had not been able to move from the same spot for almost three hours – was biking a realistic possibility?

I don’t want to see myself like that; it just feels too limiting. Inside, I feel like the same person and I don’t like to think that my body has changed at all.

In the meantime, I again experienced a series of morning sneezes. They started a few weeks ago – two or three sneezes just after waking. Usually, sneezing really hurts my abdomen but these did not. Still, they came one after another every single morning before I got out of bed. Over the weeks, they became four, then five. The other day, I counted six sneezes in a row.

At sneeze number six, I finally remembered that my grandfather used to do the same thing, so I laughed and asked if this was him.

The sneezing stopped. I smiled, thinking that meant he got his message across, letting me know that he was with me.

A few hours later, standing in the driveway of a friend’s house, I remembered that morning and the sneezing. I laughed at myself and decided I was making too much of a coincidence.

Was it really you? I asked him in my mind as I looked from the driveway to the street.

As if in answer, a landscaping truck drove by. In large letters on the side of the truck was the name of the company, which was the same as my grandfather’s last name.

Okay. I can be skeptical but honestly, this stuff is such a kick! I’m glad that we remain connected to those we love, regardless of the form we each take.

We all grow and change form, in one way or another. We gain and lose weight. We build muscle and lose it. We change our perspectives and beliefs. We wear fancy clothes and sweatpants. Our hair changes length, color and volume. We age. My own physical form may be changing but, like my grandfather who is no longer here in physical form, we can still connect in the ways that we are able. And it can be so much fun.

Regardless of your form today – whether this is a fabulous day or you have areas where you would like to be “better” – I hope you have fun connecting with someone or something you love.

Blessings and joy always,

Windows of Opportunity

About two years ago, at Shira’s suggestion, I worked with Dale Swan. Her fabulous work with Tibetan bowls physically changed my energetic vibration in a positive way.

Shortly after we started working together, she was diagnosed with a cancer recurrence. This time around, the diagnosis shook her at her core, and she stopped work to focus on healing.

We connected very occasionally, and each time, I witnessed her struggling more and more. I heard it in our brief phone conversations, could feel it in her emails messages and once, when I ran into her, I saw that she did not have the strength of life force and the confidence that one has when you are feeling well and grounded. To me, she felt smaller and scared, and it scared me.

After that, she sent an email to me saying that writing would help her, but she was unable to get any words out. Could I work with her on that? For a million reasons, I never did get back to her, and we didn’t communicate again.

In recent months, I have been thinking of her and feeling her presence in the way that I feel when people have died. I was afraid to check and kept pushing the feelings away. But recently, I woke in the middle of the night, again with her presence so strong around me. I couldn’t get back to sleep until I googled her name.

And yes, she had died.

I read her obituary. I checked out her website, and I re-read our old email correspondence.

I got to learn all these other dimensions of Dale, like her work with the Indigenous Grandmothers and as an ordained minister, and I was sorry that I didn’t get to explore those with her when she was alive. I was sad that I didn’t step into the opportunity to help her write again.

She did indeed drop into an abyss, but as I read more, I learned that she rose out of it to write again. A few months after she wrote to me, she had a breakthrough and her writing started to flow. She got to record her story for her children and her grandchildren in a way that was powerful for her and, I hope, for them.

I read as her voice grew stronger and she regained her grounding. Learning this made me feel a little less guilty about not stepping up.

Bigger than that, though, I paused in wonder at how, if we are supposed to be doing something, God will somehow provide that window and the support. We may need to be patient, but the opening will appear and we can choose what to do.

For whatever it is that would help you to grow into who you would like to be, I pray that the right openings present themselves and that you are able to see them and step into them. And I am grateful for the openings that I have been given, and for my strength in stepping into the ones that I have. It always changes my life.


The reverberation of my time with John of God

Thank you for all your prayers and support. I am fully convinced that there are greater powers at work, and I appreciate that you tap into that to help me. Thank you.

I took last week off chemo to go see John of God at Omega in Rhinebeck, NY. Because I took a week off early in September, I was a little nervous about taking this week off as well. But I also know that when I see John of God and the entities who work with him, I experience positive and unexpected changes.

So off I went.

I arrived at Omega with specific intentions in mind so that I could be clear during the many hours of meditation and prayer.

Rather than describe the experience, I’ll share some of the outcomes.

But first, I will share a little background. The first time I went to see John of God (in Brazil), my primary intention was to be healed of tumors. (My summary of that trip is here. If you want to read more about it, I have more details starting on July 30 in that same blog.)  When I returned home, friends asked if I was upset that I wasn’t “healed.” But I felt great. Compared to a few weeks before, I was softer, happier, less judgmental. I felt like layers of yucky feelings had been removed from me. Maybe I still had the tumors, but I also had my life back. That was worth even more.

Because of that experience, I bring my own intentions but trust that the best things will happen.

And yes, one of my intentions was to remove the tumors, and specifically, the tumor in my belly button.

Here is what I experienced:

  • On Tuesday afternoon, I had the start of a bowel obstruction. I could barely move. By now, I know the gig for these: I’m up all night, in pain and vomiting, until everything frees itself. But this time, I lay in bed (still feeling intense waves of pain) and FELL ASLEEP. That has NEVER happened before. When I woke in the morning, the pain was gone and the obstruction was freed. Immense gratitude!
  • On Wednesday, I felt the belly button tumor. Doing that gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I need to know if there is any change. It wasn’t there. In place of that small, hard ball was soft mushy skin. Hmm. I checked again on Thursday. And Friday, and Saturday. I’m still not sure what to make of that.
  • The opening in my belly button is barely noticeable.
  • When I skip a week of chemo, I am usually in more pain that second week and my energy level is low. But right now, I’m actually in less pain that I have been in years. I can lift grocery bags and move the dryer. I had the energy to attend a religious service, go to the grocery store, and cook two full meals, all in a good mood!

Plus, one more fun event that happened after I arrived home, totally unrelated to health.

I bought these Birkenstocks, wore them once, and left them in the car.



Recently, I noticed there was only one on the floor of my car. I looked through the car and the house. I asked my husband and kids. No sign of it anywhere. I hate losing things, especially brand new things.

The shoe was missing long enough that I considered throwing away its mate, but I didn’t.

On Saturday, I drove one of our sons to his friend’s house. My husband usually does this, but I was feeling great and wanted to go. I had never been to the house and was driving slowly to find it when our son said, “His house is right there, the one with the fence that has your shoe on it.”

He was very matter-of-fact, like this happens every day. Ha ha, I thought, funny.

When we walked to the house, I examined the shoe. It was the same style and color, the right size, and even the right foot. Hmm, maybe I’ll keep it, I thought. I can use it. It was even brand new. It felt just like mine.

Once in the house, I asked my friend about the shoe. She had found it on the sidewalk in front of her house. They considered throwing it away, but it was brand new, so thought they would put it on the fence. Maybe whoever lost it would come looking for it. It had been on that fence long enough that they again considered throwing it away. But they didn’t.

I was just thrilled.

But I had never been to the house. How did it get there? We figured that my husband drove my car there, and it somehow fell onto the sideway. Possible.

I’m just giddy that all the pieces fell into place and I have my pair of shoes together again! (Now I just need the warm weather to return.)

On another note (literally), I attended a beautiful Humanistic Judaism service at Kahal B’raira. I wanted to share this song with you, especially the words in bold, because I so appreciate the way you share the source of strength deep within you.

Song: Makom hako’ach

            Makom hako’ach b’tocheinu,
            M’korot ha-b’racha m’chevroteinu.

           May the source of strength
           That dwells so deep within us,
           Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
           And let us say: shalom.

            Makom hako’ah b’tocheinu,
            M’korot ha-b’rakha m’chevroteinu.

           Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leima
           The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
           And let us say: shalom.

Debbie Friedman
Adapted by J. Falick, M. Jerris , and A. Chalom

Blessings and love,

A Walk Down Memory Lane

On September 18, 2015, Carnegie Mellon University posted (on Facebook) that 8 years ago, Randy Pausch delivered his famous Last Lecture.

My memory does not reliably record dates. I have a little rhyme to help me remember the birthdates of our sons; I definitely don’t remember any dates connected with any of my cancer news.

But my initial diagnosis is forever linked to Randy’s talk.

That September, our four-year-old had just started pre-K at a new school. We were about to move into a new home. And, on a Monday or Tuesday sometime during that month, I had a colonoscopy. The doctor found something that looked like cancer but we would have to wait for pathology to confirm. He assured me that they got a clear margin, though it was thin. “Clear margin” was encouraging. I had had brushes with cancer in the past, but we always caught it early (funny moles, DCIS), so I wasn’t particularly anxious as we waited for the results.

On Thursday of that week, my friend Julie called to tell me that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a talk given by Randy Pausch. She recalled that Randy and I knew each other from our days at CMU. We were no longer in contact, though I did hear through the grapevine about his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

I read the WSJ article, mentally noting that it was written by Jeff Zaslow, one of my favorite WSJ reporters (who coincidentally also graduated from Carnegie Mellon). The next day, Friday, in the very late afternoon, I decided to watch Randy’s hour-long lecture online. I figured that I would watch for 15 minutes and if I wasn’t drawn in, I would stop.

Of course, I was drawn in. I watched and watched and watched. I recognized so many aspects of the Randy I knew 20 years before – the way he laughed, how he moved his mouth when he made a joke, his style of jokes. I admired how he had grown into an incredible lecturer and how his values, still the same, became even stronger and more clear.

When I finished watching, I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. Still sitting there a few moments later, basking in the after-effects of the lecture, our home phone rang.

It was the doctor calling to confirm that I had colorectal cancer.

“Thank you,” was my first response. He thought I didn’t understand him, so he repeated himself.

“I understand,” I assured him. “Thank you for calling to tell me, especially on a Friday night.”

“I’ve never had someone thank me for a cancer diagnosis. Are you okay?”

I tried to explain that I just watched this lecture but I didn’t say much about that before I started feeling silly, so I switched to, “I’m just glad you caught it.”

We talked a bit more – he recommended surgery because the margin was thin but we could discuss particulars next week – and then we hung up.

Shortly after that, the phone rang again. It was my primary care doctor.

“Dr. C told me that he talked with you. He is worried that you are in shock, because you kept thanking him. I wanted to check in.”

“I’m fine. I just watched this lecture….” I again started to explain and then I trailed off. It was Friday night and quite generous of these doctors to spend that time with me. I didn’t need to ramble on about something irrelevant to them.

“I’m fine. I’ll be okay. Thank you for calling.”

(She wrapped up by giving me her cell number and telling me that she was available all weekend if I wanted to talk. I totally love my PCP.)

Not only was Randy’s talk fabulous, but also, I happened to watch it at the perfect time for me. The way he handled his diagnosis and his life both sobered and inspired me. His Last Lecture created a mindset and space that provided a buffer where I could receive the news of my own diagnosis, which didn’t feel nearly as dire. In fact, I felt like I was in a state of grace.

Carnegie Mellon’s Facebook post reminded me that it has been eight years since this all occurred. I am grateful for and awed by the gift of that time.

At the many points when this path felt impossible, I would often think of Julie’s prompting, Randy’s talk and the phone call that immediately followed. These serendipitous events marked the beginning of feeling like I was being cared for and carried. They helped me to trust that the support I needed would come. Sometimes from surprising and unexpected places, but it would come. When I remember the connection between the events of that week in September, I am reminded that I can trust that.

I know that many of us have been handed enormous burdens. I hope that you can feel tangible ways in which you are being cared for and carried, that serendipitous events make your burden more bearable, and that you feel the love all around and through you.

Blessings and light,

Climbing the mountain – one gratitude, miracle, connection at a time

“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

-Tom Hiddleston

The other week, Tom connected me with a woman I will call Jae, a mother with young children whose cancer has recently recurred, and she was told that it is inoperable.

She and I live on opposite coasts but were able to have a phone conversation, where we covered the tip of the iceberg of things we have in common. When we discussed anxiety, I remembered an assignment I received from an energy healer:

When you get up in the morning, take one full minute and list OUT LOUD the things for which you are grateful. You can list anything from a close relationship to the sunshine or the ability to breathe. When you are ready, do it for two minutes, and continue increasing until you get to five minutes. Do it even longer if you like!

One minute. Ha! I thought that I could easily go for five minutes, right out of the gate. Once I started, though, one minute suddenly felt like an eternity, and I felt a bit like a crazy person saying all these gratitudes OUT LOUD while my husband (not exactly into “cheery early mornings”) did his best to tolerate my latest exercise.

However, I persevered and it really made a difference for me, so I shared the advice with her.

Shortly after our conversation, I received this video, out of the blue, from a friend:


Essentially, the little girl in the video lists a long list of things she loves in a very upbeat fashion. I enjoyed the video but quickly realized – this link was cosmically meant for Jae!

I am grateful that I got to connect with Jae and maybe even be of help. I am grateful that my friend sent that link along to me, at exactly the right time for it to mean something to someone who could use it at that very moment.

I am grateful for my connection with you, and I am grateful for the ways in which we are all so interconnected, even when we don’t try to be.

Your actions make a difference in the lives of those you touch, then they ripple through and touch even more lives.

Each action, no matter how small, helps us all to put one foot in front of the other and climb our mountain. Thank you for your positive impact.

With love and joyful gratitude,