Archive for July, 2013

I have an ovarian cyst.

Not a tumor, a cyst, as I have confirmed with the doctors many times already.

I worked for four hours before getting my ultrasound, and I had about one hour of peaceful productivity before cycling through waves of panic and persistence for the rest. Then, I waited for the impending doom.  I left work–the last time I would leave work before the news.  I got on the bus–last time I would be in Cambridge before I’d be deemed cancerous.  I got off the bus–the last time I would ride the bus as someone who was not just about to die.  I sat down in the ultrasound waiting room, the same ultrasound waiting room where I waited for eight mornings in March, healthy and hopeful to harvest eggs to preserve my fertility.  I got called into the ultrasound room, the one that they used to draw blood on each of those eight mornings.  I laid down and waited to see what the ultrasound would find, just like I did three years ago on the day I was rush-admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

And then, really, it all worked out as they told me it would.  They confirmed that I had a cyst, a common, non-worrisome cyst, and they are following up tomorrow with details, instructions, follow-up appointments.  For the next twenty minutes, I sat in the hospital lobby, catching my breath and trying, desperately, to un-tense my muscles, as someone played therapeutic harp music.  I willed my body to let the music in.

For the past six months, I’ve let the stress pile on.  And I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve felt I can’t handle it anymore.  Not in an “end of my rope” mental health way, but in my physical response.  Yesterday and today, I had wicked headaches, I couldn’t digest food, I stress-ate, I couldn’t take the heat, I nearly collapsed mid-day.

Two weeks since Montana, and already the calm has unraveled.  It’s easy to say I can build myself back up quickly (yoga, tea, deep breaths, going outside) but quite another when my health and happiness comes under fire.  Thankfully, I’ve been more self-compassionate when it comes to dropping everything to take care of myself.  But I think it’s going to take a lot more than some cups of tea to build up my stamina.  Not to mention that the all-knowing Internet claims that ovarian cysts take 8 to 12 weeks to resolve themselves.

I’m not sure I’m saying anything new, but maybe I’m just letting all the music in that I need to hear.  Give it a week, and maybe I’ll have figured out how to fit ovarian cysts into my get-well-soon plan.


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Today I had to drop everything and deal with what life dealt me. I took a day off of work to see the doctor because I had a pain in my right side (which is, supposedly, either an ovarian cyst, a kidney stone, or appendicitis).

Today I walked to the doctor’s office from the bus stop and it started to rain.  I rummaged through my bag for my rain jacket, and realized that I had left it in my other bag, but had earlier removed an umbrella to make room for said jacket.  I kept walking in the drizzle, and as the rain grew stronger I stopped to think. The doctor’s office was a quarter mile down the road, with nothing but hospitals and hospices in between.  What should I do? I thought.  I shrugged off the thought and kept walking.  But it came back.  I instinctually looked into my bag, surveyed my surroundings.  What should I do?

The question was idiotic.  What I should do was deal with it.  There was nothing to do, no way to obtain an umbrella.  I had to walk to the doctor’s office, and I had to walk in the rain.  I might get drenched (but I didn’t).

It’s incredible, how I so rarely stop to take care of myself, but when I do there’s nothing to be done.  I was looking for an out, but the only way out was through.

I should have known this already, from that moment on the river when I asked Skywalker what to do when I was headed full-force into a rock during our supposed-to-be-fun flotilla. His answer: nothing but “brace yourself.”  There was no way out, so we had to deal with the consequences.  It meant flipping over, holding my breath, and being saved.  It was a disaster.  It was a triumph.

I’m trying to head into this newest medical issue with the same determination.  My mind drifts to ovarian cancer, since I recently finished a fertility treatment, but I’m trying not to blow this situation out of proportion.  I had a crazy day–the doctor’s appointments, possible heat exhaustion, stubbing my toe (to the point that I wonder if I broke it)–but I let myself enjoy the company of a good friend and stop to get a good haircut.  I let myself realize that my life isn’t over, even if I don’t feel 100%. (er, knock on wood?)

Another thing I realized: my cycle of being absurdly busy and then crashing into a lethargic stupor is, to some extent, a distraction from the boldest task at hand: to publish an essay or write a book.  I fall back on writing casual blogs or dull academic pieces, when the real challenge for me is to tell a good story.  I haven’t thrown myself passionately into work life, yet I haven’t sat down at my desk and grappled with my words.  I don’t even own a desk.

I am letting this month of August approaching be a transition to the writing life.  I haven’t searched for a full-time job, with the intention of writing and writing often.  I had promised myself to become more well-read, but now I hide in the safety of an already-written book.

I’m going to hang on my wall the title of my future book.  And one day, maybe I’ll stop finding outs and see it through.

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Today I felt the least calm since coming back from Montana.  I was tired from staying out too late, I didn’t want to head into the humidity for my summer band concert, I was ravenously hungry and approaching crankiness, I felt directionless in the day, as if there were something I should be doing and wasn’t. To top it off, I have a pain in my side that I’ll have to call the doctor about, and my mind always spirals to the malignant, the deadly, the untreatable.*

As I sit in my apartment and try not to panic until I finally get a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been thinking about my agency in the situations I faced today.  I can spend the rest of the evening reading medical information on the Internet, or I can read a book.  I can get some sleep.  I can make fewer plans, and I can leave plans I make if I’m unhappy.  I can eat better and less if I’m having stomach trouble.

My heart’s also been racing a bit recently.  The fact that drinking water, calming down, relaxing are not the top priorities for me is just distressing to realize.  I think I conflate self-compassion with selfishness or sloth, especially when I see friends moving forward in their lives and I’m not sure where I’m going.  I think I need to start seeing this emotional growth as steps forward, far more valuable than a raise or a big break.

Yoga time.




*I had a clean scan last month, so that’s reassuring.


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Anything I hope to achieve in my writing, Taylor Swift has already done.

She often gets criticized for shaky vocals and juvenile songs, but I respect her as a young writer.  She has it all: clarity, wide-reaching emotional resonance, courage to share her thoughts, poise without brash overconfidence. She knows the value of starting at the beginning.  She knows that the only way out is through. She knows how to tell a story.

I saw her in concert yesterday, along with 55,000 other female New Englanders. She was just a tiny speck from the grandstands of Gillette Stadium, but when her voice shook, when she danced and it looked slightly overdramatic, when she smiled on the Jumbotron, she was a real person. Her full name was in lights, bedecked with pyrotechnics, but she was a girl named Taylor dancing and explaining what life was like for an average girl that got famous and never went to college.  Her life is for others to know.  The tabloids suggest that she may be high-strung or angry or foolish or maudlin or petulant at times, but so might we.

She sang “All Too Well,” a song about not being able to get past bad memories. She just barely cried, and stopped mid-song to look at the audience in distress.  I imagine the stop-and-look was planned, and maybe, I’ll even accept that the tears could be staged, but I guarantee that those tears came from somewhere once.  There’s no way you could write that song without crying, and there are some moments that will never get better with time. The Red album was the unofficial soundtrack to my last semester of college. I hear it when I picture myself relishing the blustery, wistful fall, warding off the winter chill in my dorm room, dreaming and wondering what my future would hold and what parts of college I would hold onto.  And it seemed like every song came true somehow.  Recently, it had been hard to listen to Taylor Swift songs  without getting upset or falling back into unpleasant memories.  I can’t revel in the head-over-heels songs; I stamped out that spark, or maybe it was stamped out for me, but it’s almost better this way.  I’ve reached the point, since returning from Montana, that I can meet a minor key with calm, and really hang out in that uncomfortable emotional place without panicking.  It’s almost like the calm of being underwater after your kayak flips over: if you can hang out there, you might eventually get saved.

So I’m standing there listening next to three girls with light-up gloves, flashing their jazz hands and screaming with delight as Taylor pauses and cries.  I’m at least ten years their senior, trying to hide how much I am crying too. It’s incredible how different my life is from theirs, how much they have yet to experience and how much they have no clue what is actually going on in these songs.  But at the same time, in a slightly pathetic way, I realize I’m at this concert for the same reason they are: she’s a role model.

I might get less respect for admitting I like her music, but I don’t think it undercuts my maturity or sophistication. I think it just shows the level of early-twenties maturity I am, because she says things I wish I could say. She is becoming less abashed about the emotional person she is, and I’m getting there too.

On this I meditate.

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I’m dissatisfied with the last three posts.  The cardinal rule of writing is to write often, after which at some point, one writes well.  But I’m convinced I need to write smarter.  For the past three days, I’ve churned out a brief word on this website, to count my days of FD Challenge, but I haven’t enjoyed the process.  I’ve been burning both ends of the candle, and when I sit down to write my nightcap post, I can’t give 100%.  Or even 50%.  This has been my perpetual problem: the plan sounds good in theory, but fails in practice. Montana taught me how unnecessary plans can be, and now it’s up to me to realize what’s not working back in the Real World.

I may transition to writing notes each day, for more thoughtful, intermittent posts. I’ll hopefully continue yoga and tea every morning, and training for the 10K.  But I’d much rather finish my days with a warm shower and a good book, like I did in Montana, than staring at an artificially lit square monitor and in that void trying to unearth my soul.

I spent the weekend with my mother.  We ate well, cleaned and grocery shopped, bought a bookcase, taste-tested some new recipes.  We made this apartment a home. After she left, I made basil gnudi with summer squash for dinner.  The melting butter browning sauteed onions reminded me of the decadent “cheese things” that accompanied every family gathering when I was a kid.  The aromatic puff of air that billowed after the addition of white wine reminded me of the fondue broths that marked every summer in Virginia Beach.  The pasta water’s still steaming, and the kitchen is in shambles. I’ve been looking for happiness for a few months now, but it turns out I always knew what worked.

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In Montana, you find out who the important people in your life are.  Who you miss, who you call first when you have limited cell reception or charge on your phone, who is waiting for you to come home.

I spent the day unwinding and hanging out with my mom and my good friend Andrew. Someone once told me that you’ll never wish you worked more, but you’ll never have enough time with the people you love.  I know I wished I could live in Montana forever, but there’s a reason the East feels like home.

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6:30 am wakeup. Yoga, tea, and off to Dana Farber for two routine appointments.  It wasn’t enough sleep.  Then, an hour at the farmer’s market, 99 degrees outside.  Then, skipping lunch.  Then, staying out with friends.  I fell back into pushing limits, far past the pace of life I enjoyed in Montana, and the results weren’t great.  I was hungry and exhausted and dehydrated and displeased. And so now, I will stop writing, because I have reached my limits.

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