Gratitude, Uncategorized

Good bones

I love this picture. It’s a photo of my youngest son and my husband, around eleven years ago.

One of the first things that comes to mind is my husband’s ability to sleep on demand. I’m not a napper. So I’m a little jealous.

Another thing that comes to mind is my mom. If it weren’t for her, I’d never have met this man at all.

I had just joined a dating site on a whim, and she happened to be walking by my computer. Don’s photo was on the screen,  and she pointed to it and said,

“I like that one. He’s got good bones.”

Like a horse at the fair! Or a lobster in a tank!  Oh man, that still makes me laugh.

So we met for coffee.

Thanks, mom.





I was reminded yesterday of how hurt I was that some people disappeared on me during my cancer treatment. (It couldn’t be me – I’m fun, trust me!) Honestly, many people don’t know what to say or how to act. They’re so afraid of doing the wrong thing, they end up doing the wrong thing.

My next door neighbor is one of those people. Right after my mastectomies, I was in desperate need of comfort. As we were both going out to our cars, she looked over the hedge and said, “Hello, how are you?” So I told her.

“I have breast cancer.” I said, and pointed to my chest for emphasis. She looked like a deer in the headlights, and I was instantly sorry.

“Oh, we’ll chat, OK?” she replied, and she practically jumped in her car. We never chatted, needless to say.

In all fairness, we aren’t friends. We’re neighbors. She is not obligated in any way to listen to me moan about anything. I told her on a whim, and I misjudged her.

On the flip side, I was with my then nine-year-old son at the store  after most of the surgeries were done. We ran into the grandmother of one of his friends who knows us fairly well. She came up to us and gave us big hugs.

“Oh my God, I heard you have cancer really bad. I’m soooo sorry! Are you OK?” she said and then she  started to sob. Right there in Home Depot in front of my kid. I ended up comforting her.

I saw my neighbor yesterday, out with her husband walking their dog. She asked, “How are you?” with a questioning look. (18 months later…)


I responded, but I wasn’t super friendly. I’m still a little hurt and embarrassed.

My brother-in-law (who managed elder-care facilities) summed it up like this:

“There’s the types that are there for the daily care (for their parents) – the wiping, the diapering, and all the messiness of life. But they absolutely cannot do death. There’s also the reverse: the people who cannot do the day-to-day mess, but are wonderful at the end. Don’t expect both from people.”

It’s great advice. I’ll try to remember it. I just wish there was an indicator on people – like a light or a mole or something to indicate which type you are so I can know in advance.

So, which one are you?






Cancer type, Pink-Washing, Uncategorized

The Color of Cancer

My middle son is running in a Sacramento fundraiser for ovarian cancer this morning. As I pinned his number to his back, I asked him if the “color” for ovarian cancer is black, since that’s the color of the shirt they gave him when he registered. He didn’t know.

So I googled it and it’s teal. Their slogan is “Never Give Up”.  A website called  allows you to “Shop By Cancer Color or Cancer Type” . This got me thinking about the competition between the cancer fundraisers, which in turn got me to thinking about the competition between people who have cancer.

There’s a tumor competition, a stage competition, a radiation competition, a lymph node competition, a mastectomy vs. lumpectomy, a chemo competition, and ultimately, a death competition. Ovarian cancer only has a death rate of  14, 240 (US) women per year, whereas breast cancer has a death rate of about 40, 000 per year.

People with cancer never actually acknowledge this unspoken competition (that would be too crass), but it exists. I met a woman the other day in my guitar class who is a survivor of breast cancer like me.  The first couple of questions are always about stage and treatment. She won.

My neighbor’s son had brain cancer when he was only 2-years-old. After extensive treatment he is finally clear. One day I asked this boy’s older brother about the camp he goes to every year for siblings or children of a family member with cancer, and he said,

“I don’t think Mason can go because you were only Stage 1”.

What the hell? Who told him that? I assume his mother did, so he wouldn’t worry about my cancer ?

The problem with all this competition is you can’t measure suffering. The winner is the person who suffers the most and does not die. What kind of competition from hell did I enter?

This is why I did not question my son for running for ovarian cancer.

He’s running, and the color does not matter.

Photo credit to:




SCAN0050I was real brave and shared my blog with my dad. This was a huge step for me. My dad taught English and I’ve always looked up to him in regard to all things written. When I was little I would gaze at his vast collection of books and think that I would someday read all of those books so that he would think I was smart. For some reason I didn’t think I was very smart.

It could have been the messages I was receiving from Mrs. Powell, my first grade teacher, or my own parents, but according to my first grade report card in 1969, I was below grade level in everything. Mrs. Powell writes, “Kathleen tries hard” She states that I was immature and quiet and shy. Conversely, under “Citizenship” it states “Shouts Out”. How can you be quiet and shy and shout out at the same time?

I remember Mrs. Powell chastising me in front of the whole class. I had drawn a person without any arms, and she must have thought it would make a great teaching moment by having the whole class have a chuckle. She actually held it up for the whole class to see.  I remember feeling so humiliated. I felt like I would never be good enough.

Somehow I muddled through, because under the spring report, it states, “Kathleen has shown great improvement and should be able to go to a slow second. Has improved in math the most. Sheer determination has helped her.”

The most damning statement was, “Her biggest problem is remembering directions for more than 2 minutes.” Oh my, I have laughed at that many times! I was a goldfish!

By second grade I was reading at a 4th grade level, and I adored Miss Smith. I was winning penmanship contests, and my self-esteem was awesome. So what happened between the summer of 1970 and fall of 1970? Did I just finally mature when I turned seven? Was it the change of teachers?

Maybe I wasn’t developmentally ready for first grade (In my parent’s defense, they tried to get me in a “Junior First” class, but it was full of other immature kids). Perhaps being born prematurely made me a slow learner? I think the most revealing answer came from Mrs. Powell herself when she said, “Sheer determination has helped her.”

Forty-six years later, and I still stink at math (algebra in particular). I do not read carefully. I’m not quiet and shy, and I don’t usually shout out inappropriately anymore.  My dad liked my blog, which is nice, but not at all necessary for me to keep on with writing.

I’m grateful that Mrs. Powell called me “determined”. It’s a great thing to be.







This sweet thing was in my cat’s mouth the other morning. I took my dishtowel and shooed the cat and gently wrapped the bird.  I frantically searched the neighborhood for a red flower.

I felt like a fool, sticking this bird’s beak in flowers, but I really wanted her to live. It was my cat that did the damage to her.

Eventually, she stuck her tongue in the air and I thought she might make it.

I raised her up above my head and off she went.

Not a bad beginning to the day, after all.

reconstruction after breast cancer, Uncategorized

Fill ‘er Up, Joe


Every week I visit my plastic surgeon’s office and get my expanders filled. I’ve been there about 10 times now. In about 6 weeks I will have the final surgery to place my implants and that will be it, except for the 3D nipple tattoos.

What has made this bearable is Joe, the medical assistant to the plastic surgeon. He’s been there quite a while, and he knows the ropes. He’s very kind and gentle, and I’ve never once felt like just another patient.

Joe is the only male that has seen me without a top on since I got cancer (other than some surgeons).  I don’t know what I expected – it’s his job, after all. Maybe I thought he’d grimace or something, but he just walked in and talked to me and did his job.

I honestly have felt like a very fat, 11-year-old version of myself. I have felt like one of the Who’s in Whoville, or a giant Teletubby – no boobs at all, and sexless. Not pretty, that’s for sure.

Joe calls me “Ms. McGagin” and treats me with respect and like the woman that I am.  He has been supportive in my journey towards feeling whole again. But he did it from the inside.

Slowly, I am returning to my former self. With each visit, my chest is looking better and better.

So, fill ‘er up, Joe, and thanks.