When Life Gets in the Way

Oh, how I’ve missed you.  You’ve not been far from my thoughts.  But, somehow, life got in the way.

My last post was my first day back at work.  The pink balloons and flowers, the t-shirts, tears and hugs; somehow it singled both an end and a beginning.  I was quite simply blown away with the emotion of that day…and the next day…and the next…

I had so much work to catch up on and after awhile, I just wanted to put it all behind me.  I didn’t want to be hailed as a “cancer survivor” anymore. I didn’t want to discuss procedures and lab results.  I wanted to have mundane conversations about grading papers, doing laundry, and how the kids were doing.

Already, some of the tender souls I had met during my stay at Hope Lodge had lost their battles. Others, like me, wanted no more reminders about their brush with mortality and so communication slowed…and then stopped.  It was time to move on.

So, I immersed myself in “living” and put reflection on the back burner for awhile.   Blogging became one of those things that I would get to “when I had time.”  And time being an elusive stag in the mist, kept flitting and darting farther ahead, leaving me to mindlessly march in my straight line, hoping our paths would intersect again at some point.

Now, here I am. Hoping you’ll take me back.  Fervently praying I have something worthwhile to say.  And that you will still want to listen.

My purpose, at the very beginning of this blogging journey, was to document my transition from small town teacher to big city career aspirant. But, cancer somehow stole the show.

Now, I am literally two months from my retirement date.  My weekends are full of filling out job applications and tweaking my LinkedIn Profile. I’ve got my heart set on a sweet little apartment in the charming town of New Hope, PA and I compulsively check to see whether it’s been snapped up by someone else yet.  So, far, it remains empty — teasing me with its 14 pictures of granite counter tops, patio and deck, wood burning fireplace and glistening pool.

I already see myself standing on the patio in the morning, hands wrapped around a mug of hot coffee, planning my trek into town for groceries.  Visions of family dinners, feasting and laughing  with my son and daughter gathered around our dining room table in the new “desirable open floor plan,” haunt me daily.  Moving south will mean being closer to both my children. I miss them dearly.

Perhaps it is a good thing that “life” absorbed me for awhile and kept me from you. Surely, you would have tired of my daydreams and the inevitable “counting of days” would have worn on your nerves.

So, here I stand. Well, not exactly stand...I’m fidgeting and edgy. More like bouncing on my toes.


A day spent in New Hope…what a great name for our next home.

I can’t wait to get going on the next leg of this journey.  I’m reaching out to you and wondering…will you join me?

Because I’d sure love your company along the way.

The Writer’s Life & The Intricacies of the Creative Process

Some fascinating books for your perusal…thank you, Book People!


echo springs

Last year, I read a book that has continued to haunt me. I find myself thinking about it, puzzling over its structure, its twists and turns and endless fascinating layers. It was an unsuspecting novel by Kristopher Jansma, his first, that I picked up one day on a whim and couldn’t put down: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. In it, we follow an unnamed writer through the twists and turns of his own life, down the winding alleyways of his mind while he uses his own experiences as fodder for the fictional worlds he creates. Each time he reinvents his own life on the page, the line between reality and fiction further blurs until we are no longer thoroughly certain of anything. Each chapter is a fiction in and of itself, pulling us in and then slipping away to reveal itself to have been a story within a…

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Estrogen-positive breast cancer and alcohol are like fire and gasoline:

Food for thought…that relaxing cocktail may not be the answer to your bad day!

Kim Chaffee- My breast cancer story

Estrogen-positive breast cancer and alcohol are like fire and gasoline:

At my last medical appointment my primary MD, informed me that drinking alcohol and having a history of cancer is asking for problems. So when I went home, I researched this topic. I was stunned to discover how high the odds are ( 90% ) increase of remission when drinking any type of alcohol.

So here is a bit of a summary of Dr. Kathleen T Ruddy’s article:

Alcohol and Estrogen Compete:

Alcohol and estrogen are both metabolized in the liver using similar biochemical pathways. So if the liver is busy clearing alcohol from the bloodstream, estrogen levels will rise as they wait their turn through the liver. Therefore, women who drink regularly, like every day, will have chronically elevated levels of estrogen circulating in their bloodstream. And since estrogen is the equivalent of light, sweet crude for the breast cancer engine, it’s easy to see why regular alcohol consumption…

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New Study: Ultrasound and Breast Cancer

Next time you visit your doctor, ask about an ultrasound in addition to your mammogram. Stay vigilant! ❤

MammographyKC.com – breast health, breast imaging, breast knowledge.

Philips Ultrasound EPIQ - Breast by Philips Communications (via Flickr) Copyright Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Philips Ultrasound EPIQ – Breast by Philips Communications (via Flickr) Copyright Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a new study reported in February’s Radiology, the importance of breast ultrasound as an addition to mammography was again highlighted. Ultrasound was shown to find breast cancers in women not seen on mammography.

We know that in the case of dense breast tissue, ultrasound is a valuable imaging technique. While mammography is one of the best screening tools for breast cancer in our arsenal (along with self exams and CBEs), one problem is dense breast tissue which can hinder the detection of breast cancer. Sensitivity of mammography in detecting cancer in patients with dense breasts is less than in women with fatty breasts – an unfortunate reality researchers are working hard to address.

This is where ultrasound comes in with great strength. As an addition to mammography…

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Coming Home

photo(13)I walk down the long empty hallway of the school; it’s early… and eerily quiet.  I can’t help but feel nervous…I’ve got doubts, fears, questions.   I’m back at work after three months of living someone else’s life.  Am I up to it? Will I be too tired? The other day I stopped at Stewarts’ to grab some chips and stood in the middle of the store not knowing where to start — it was all different.  Feeling like Rip Van Winkle has become familiar…have I really been gone that long?  Will I feel as out of step here at work as well?

The hallway seems the same…after all, this school has been standing since 1959.  I graduated in its cramped gym on a stifling airless Friday night back in June of  ’79…started teaching here in as a single mom in 1988.  There’s been a few additions over the years and the individual room boundaries have been re-drawn a few times since then; the last major renovation saw the institutionalization of the rooms.  Their unique personalities and footprints erased in an attempt at sameness — real wood cabinets and bookshelves replaced by chipboard blue and green.  The same in every room.

Yet… amidst all this uniformity there is still room for magic and surprise.

I open my door.  Sunlight streaming through the bank of windows that overlook the front yard of the high school highlights pink balloons that magically hang from the white drop ceiling tiles.  A festoon of pink and white crepe paper frame the top of the windows and in oversize pink letters, “Welcome Back.”   In between the windows, two very large and very pink construction-paper ribbons.


“No man is a failure who has friends.”

Now, in honesty, I had seen this part of my surprise the day before, when I had gone in to get some copies made and get reacquainted with my room.  On Sunday, I had stood in the doorway with my bags gathered around my feet — amazed and overwhelmed with tears running down my cheeks.  In the Monday morning sun, its sheer joy and cheeriness still took my breath away.

To my left, the bobbing of pink and silver star and heart helium balloons catch my eye.  They are gaily tied to the arm of my rickety chair arm.  This was new…this had definitely not been here yesterday.  An involuntary laugh bubbles out; I feel like a seven-year old at Disney World.

And just when I think my heart could not be more full, students start appearing at my door…hugging me, showing off their pink sweatshirts and sweaters — some have drawn pink ribbons on their fresh cheeks.  They are proud…they want me to know they did this for me.  At first its just a trickle as they get off their buses and make their way to their lockers…and then more…and more…pink t-shirts, pink shirts, pink skirts…and finally, I realize, that nearly everyone is wearing something pink this morning.  What I thought at first must be coincidence sinks in as being planned…

My colleague sports a pink silk tie, I even see someone with a sign with the word “pink” written on it.  The student makes a point of apologizing to me.  Seems they didn’t have anything pink to wear and they wanted me to know they were still supporting me.  I am speechless.

And then…at my door appears a group of girls I am proud to have known, taught and coached — one I’ve known since she was a spindly elementary student in white go-go boots tagging after her big sisters.  They are a special group of girls — strong, beautiful young women who have known sorrow, yet they light up the room whenever they enter.  This morning they hand me bouquets of flowers — in beautiful shades of pink and rose — and they are sporting shirts that they had designed for this very day.  These are my magic-makers; those who had stealthily decorated my room and arranged for this homecoming.


These are my magic makers…

There are hugs and tears and then more arrive, until my girls are joined by the boys’ varsity soccer team…and there are pictures in their t-shirts.  We pose; I can’t hide the surprise and pride that fill every fiber of my being.


The Girls and Boys Varsity Soccer Teams…and a couple swimmers, too…

The bells ring…and off they go their separate ways…

I sit at my desk and I think to myself…how strange and awesome life is.  Last week at this time I would have been making my way to the hospital for radiation, returning to my quiet room, maybe taking a solitary walk downtown.  Now, here I am…almost as if I never left… like I had been beamed out of my life and then beamed back in…hardly missing a beat.

But it is different.  I am different.

Yet, the scent of bright flowers, the rustle of balloons, the steady stream of hugs and smiling faces — are like healing balm to the scars of the past few months.  My fears all seem silly at this point.

One of my favorite movies of all time is  It’s A Wonderful Life.   One of my favorite lines is when Clarence turns to George who finally realizes how lucky he really was…”Strange isn’t it?  Each man’s life touches so many other lives.  When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s been one heck of a journey, but now I am home…among friends….and it’s going to be alright.

To borrow another tidbit of wisdom from George and Clarence, indeed I know, “It’s a wonderful life.”

 “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” - Harriet Beecher Stowe

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

International Women’s Day 2014: Inspiring Change

Perhaps too many of us are unaware of the day…I know I was. A little reminder as we support one another on our journeys to celebrate our “sisters…”

Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

I met recently with a group of women in South Australia who are inspiring change. Pictured with members of Cancer Voices SA. I met recently with a group of women in South Australia who are inspiring change. Pictured with members of Cancer Voices SA.

Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme, encouraging advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way.

The history of this day goes back to  1910 when an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion…

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