Archive for December, 2011

In a (non-elitist) spirit of Boxing Day, I’m gathering things to start my life list goal of giving away 100 personal possessions. (But in the process, my family is donating a bunch too!)  I’m starting by donating to the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter because this is my fourth year volunteering there.

Personal items:

1. Winter coat

2-4. 3 pairs of sweatpants

5-6. 2 scarves



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Merry (almost) Christmas!

After watching Dear Jack, I found out that Andrew McMahon wrote and recorded this song in the first 100 days after his stem-cell transplant… gives it a whole new meaning.

Amidst all of my fretting and recurrence paranoia this holiday season, I’m trying to really take up this message.


Update: Download it FREE from Amazon! [Posted 12/26/11]

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Sometimes I stop and think: “Did that really just happen?”

Sometimes I can’t even understand how I walked around for 6 months with cancer coursing through my veins (literally). How my muscles were so tense they gave out, how I couldn’t talk and couldn’t breathe, how each night was a sinister respite, with each awakening drenched with the sweat of fear and bodily meltdown. How I looked sooo rough, but kept a good self-esteem. How I got overloaded with radiation and toxicity yet never really felt so bad. How millions of cancer cells vanished, without a trace. Really, every last one?

That’s the part that gets me. Besides the part that I truly lived the life of a cancer patient, which seems so familiar yet is just so mind-boggling still. The part that really gets me is that it worked. The administration of the drugs was painless, the cleansing and the killing were imperceptible, yet it happened. It worked. I got over the hump. I got back to normal.

Sometimes I think that I needed my illness as a wake-up call, and when I start to feel selfish or self-absorbed or stressed, I wonder if life is going to give me another jolt.

I think I write this post to convince someone (God? the world? myself?) that I’ve had enough, that I really did wake up from that jolt, thank you very much, and I’ll appreciate my healthy life to its fullest. I think it all seems too good to last right now. 2011 was so incredibly good to me that 2012 might disappoint.

So in my own doubting way, I’m entering 2012 with a resolve and a readiness. I’ve got to prepare for the worst, but do my best. If I can make 2012 even better, I live quite the indulgent life.

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I pined for cheese when procarbazine put me on a limit diet, free of tyromine-laden aged foods. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a cheese-related count: in the last week as Schneider of the Harvard Band, I followed the tradition of chronicling my idiosyncratic tendencies by tallying the number of times I talked about cheese (it was the first month I could eat cheese again, so it was oft-discussed). It seems only appropriate that I have high cheese aspirations.

On my life list, I set the goal for 200 cheese varieties. It doesn’t even sound like that much, but I expect after 100 I’ll have trouble adding to the list.

Varieties of Cheese, starting 12PM on 12/22/11:
1. Mozzarella wrapped with Prosciutto
2. Cheese curds from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, NYC
3. Ricotta
4. Gorgonzola
5. Parmesan


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Part of my life list is to travel to the 50 best restaurants in Boston. I’ve been to five of them as of 12/22/11, and they’ve been the five most memorable dining experiences… I look forward to more!

I’ve indented the restaurants I’ve been to, with a blurb and the date of my first visit.

Update: On March 7, 2013, my mother and I attended a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute benefit in downtown Boston, a food festival of sorts, with bite-sized offerings from many of the lauded local restaurants.  Below, I’ve starred the places who participated in the evening, and put a separate “DFCI” review. (more…)

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Life List

I’m starting a life list, with some inspiration and advice from other blogs and life lists floating on the interwebz. I think I should commit myself to at least 5 goals a year.

Check the links for progress/stories on a particular goal.

1. Road trip across America. (South going out, North coming back)
1a. Learn to drive confidently on all highways.
1ai. Basically just learn how to merge/change lanes well. [February 2014: NH and Springfield trips]
2. Obtain literary recognition for something I wrote.
3. See an aurora.
4. Eat 200 varieties of cheese.
5. Go to culinary school or take (multiple) culinary classes.
6. Swim regularly. (Must work on my breathing!)
7. Have a house with multiple-story windows and/or a vaulted ceiling… yet somehow make it feel warm and cosy. A house with window seats and a legitimate library, built-in bookshelves. A house that looks beautiful with candles in the windows at Christmastime.  A house with lots of eaves. Harvard artwork, Caspar David Friedrich prints.
8. Throw a classy dinner party where I make all the food, drinks, etc. Not only did I throw a housewarming (with car help from my mom) for 30+ people, but I’ve had people over for fancy pasta, galettes, pesto chicken.  It’s homey but enough prep that I can claim to be a real hostess. Plus, when people stay for tea and hot chocolate, you know it’s legit. [2/22/13]
9. Go to the 50 Best Restaurants in Boston.
10. Watch a sunrise from the Weeks Footbridge (or Anderson Bridge, if Weeks is perpetually under construction).  [5/24/12] – Completed Commencement morning, on the Weeks
11. Run a 5K. (I realize that this might not be attainable with my diminished lung capacity.) [July 2013]
12. Have a picnic on the Charles. [3/12/12]
13. Write a book.
14. Climb a mountain (done before, but want to accomplish again).
15. Go on a Buddhist/meditative retreat.
16. Write Christmas cards one season.
17. *Goal suggested to me by someone else*
18. See the stars, away from city/suburban lights. [1/18/12, Wilmington, VT] – I’m thinking of editing this goal, because it’s something I could do infinitely.
19. Go to a drive-in movie theater.
20. Go to the Ice Hotel in Quebec. (Not sure if I’d actually want to stay there.)
21. Have a job in public service: either as an elected official, governmental employee, or lobbyist. I’m not big on the fame, just on the impact I could have.
22. Grow a garden (flowers and vegetables).
23. Work at a food establishment, or own one if I have a bright idea.
24. Start a charity.
25. Stay in a hotel… just because.
26. Participate in the PanMass Challenge.
27. Get rid of 100 material items.
28. Mail a secret to PostSecret.
29. Meet a new person every day for a month.
30. Work as a life coach.
31. Own and decorate my own apartment. [1/15/13] – I’ll consider this done even though I rent; my intent of the original goal was to have a space to call my own, and that’s certainly been fulfilled. I ❤ 3 Chauncy Street #4.
32. Become a Harvard interviewer.
33. Go vegetarian for two weeks.
34. Eat at one of the famous Catalonian restaurants featured in my Science and Cooking class. [4/1-2/13] – I count this even though I went to DC for Jaleo and Minibar by Jose Andres; I hadn’t known that any of the chefs featured in the class owned stateside restaurants.  Maybe one day, I’ll travel to Catalonia, but for now I have the culinary curiosity satisfied on home turf.
35. Donate to Harvard and the Harvard Band [6/13]

35a.(I’ve always thought of endowing a vacation for a student, harking back to the “rustication” of the 1600s).
36. Join a volleyball league.
37. Donate my hair.
38. Live in England again.
39. Learn how to give massages.
40. Help someone get out of homelessness (not in the temporary, shelter sort of way that I do now, but really get them on their feet again).
41. Attend midnight mass on Christmas. [12/25/11] – and I’d definitely go again!
42. Release a book on bookcrossing.com.
43. Dance with Ellen.
44. Record with HarvardStories.
45. Participate in Light the Night with the Jack’s Mannequin team.

46. Get a sculling membership to row along the Charles.

47. Own a crape myrtle tree.

48. …

I will continue to add to the list, particularly with goals that seem more mundane but are equally meaningful. In the short-term, restaurants and cheese will rule my goals.

Some things I’ve done that others haven’t: seen a lightning storm at sea, seen an Amish community, sold Girl Scout cookies, tried escargot, given a life-changing speech to at least 300 people.

One thing that would have been on the list, had I not just completed it: running naked at Harvard’s Primal Scream. More on that later, although it’s probably best left unsaid.

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I just watched Dear Jack, the documentary chronicling Andrew McMahon (of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin) and his leukemia journey. It was so surreal to find out how his first Jack’s Mannequin album, replete with references to illness, was written in the months before he was diagnosed. All of his songs have new meaning to me, and his story makes me believe even more in the power of the subconscious self to notice bodily irregularities and the power of passion in recovery.

I’ve also started reading Emperor of All Maladies, a nationwide bestseller by Siddhartha Mukherjee that chronicles the progress of cancer research and treatment in America. I’ve labored through the gruesome, and gotten to the first chemotherapeutic cure, which wasn’t actually that long ago! I was blessed to live in 2010, but it makes me wonder if I’ll look back in years to come and find my treatment barbaric and stupid.

It’s always hard to revisit the memories of being sick… was I ever that weak? how did I live day to day without being wracked by fear 24/7? was everyone around me secretly fearing my demise? McMahon’s documentary deals with all of these fears, thoughts, anxieties, revelations that come with being a cancer patient and survivor… and brought them all back to me. Mukherjee’s book highlights the uncertainty, the brink of death, the potential for relapse that have been filed away in the back of my mind. But now, away from all of the stresses of school, and in the solitude of my own mind, I confront these worries. I know the potential for pain, yet I confront. There must be some solace, some redemption, some self-knowledge that accrues from this act of remembrance. Otherwise, I’m just a sadist.

But really, I think both of these works are crucial learning experiences for any person. To appreciate. To be appreciative. To get a reality check. To motivate. To refocus. I can’t really put into words how these works can and should change a person – I presume each person will learn something different – but there’s something so human in being about to reflect on higher-order issues and emote for unknown fellow beings. It’s adaptive, it’s unifying, it’s cathartic.

Go to your library and get Mukherjee’s book.
But right now, watch Dear Jack on Hulu. It costs nothing but an hour of your time.
You won’t regret it.

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