Archive for June, 2009

10 June, 2009

Hooray! “Only” Radiation!!

This is a follow up to the post I wrote aboutsrilanka08-1199 what has been going on with me in the past several weeks. Is it possible to be delighted by the prospect of undergoing radiation therapy for every day for 6-7 weeks? Take it from me, it is. I spent the morning dealing with the complications of formatting 26 poems (one for each letter of the alphabet) written by second graders at the wonderful Merion Elementary Schoool – think ‘K’ for Kaput, R for Rap Song for a Rabbi and ‘T’ for Trickle, and you get the idea.

So, good news: no more tumor! I don’t have the report with me and I wouldn’t know how to decipher it if I did, so I’m relying on the euphoria in my surgeon’s words: “it’s the best news possible!” All clear margins, no tumor hiding beneath. In other words, no more surgery for now. I won’t need reconstruction work on my body – i.e. my body will continue to look just as it did before. No uuber-chest, but I couldn’t be more delighted with the way I’ve always looked than I do right now. I feel perfect just as I am.

I got off the phone and set up my next series of appointments (one each on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) at Lankenau Hospital one with my surgeon, with the medical oncologist whom I’ve yet to meet, and one with the radiation oncologist, Marissa Weiss, a lovely and interesting woman who co-authored a book on breast health with her daughter last year. She wrote it while she held down her full time job at Lankenau and her daughter worked full time on the Obama campaign, barely making it for her book tour – the inauguration just wouldn’t take a back seat! Here’s Dr. Weiss’ bio:

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president and guiding force behind, the world’s most trafficked online resource for medically-reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 8 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

Part of that empowerment was her book, (Random House, 2008), Taking Care of Your Girls: A Breast Health Guide for Teens, Tweens & In-Betweens which is a resource for girls and their mothers. I am buying it and, judging by the people recommending it to me, I’d encourage any other women reading this blog to check it out.

There is something empowering about being able to field and make these telephone calls, getting provider numbers, setting up appointments, making decisions that are within my control. Timetables, for instance, just the mere luxury of saying to myself, “well, that does/does not work for me.” The sheer bliss of being able to plan anything at all. Even to say, do I have time to update all the friends who have come forth to say I love you, before I have to get back in the car and run another errand? It is a treat to entertain the idea of anything being that easy again. I see things a little differently these days; I see that it is a blessing, not a right, to have friends, plans, places to be, things to do, trips to take, chores to leave undone. These days I’m inclined to stay with the little pleasures, like this one, for the letter ‘F’ written by two girls in Mrs. Casey’s class, 2-C. Hooray for little girls everywhere!

We have faith in God
Faith is a belief that no one can take away from you
Faith is what you believe, but cannot see.
Learning faith is hard.
Faith is a woman’s name.

1 June, 2009

Bread Loaf Writers

bread-loaf-097I check email religiously throughout the day, but my most fervorful check of all is the first of the morning. Early. And today, instead of the usual culling of pieces of information and shards of news that cut like unswept glass underfoot, I came across the brilliance of three friends, all of whom I’d met over a couple of spirit drenched summers in Ripton, Vermont, at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

I’ve never been enrolled in a writing program so unlike many of my friends, I had no automatic community of writers to support me or to look up to other than those whom I found in hardcover. And while I would not undermine the value of those, more silent and more solitary companions, I have to say that discovering the “real live” at Bread Loaf was the antidote to my writerly misery. bread-loaf-087It has been an unmitigated pleasure therefore to see the people who donned an apron and metamorphosed into waiters in the dining halls each morning, noon and night, or helped lug giant trays of baked brie across the lawns at Treman, or even hang up mirrored balls and tap beer, reap the accolades that are reserved for the most honest writers, the ones who dig deep, spare nothing and give us the stories that carry us all forward along the path to distilling human experience into something worth keeping.

Among them – and thank you, gmail, thank you Facebook – I ran into Justin Torres, bread-loaf-140writing about truth and fiction and family, that eternal triumvirate of powers at whose feet we writers supplicate hourly hurling word after word in prayer and curse. Here’s an excerpt:

My parents never lied to us, but damn if they didn’t bullshit us, damn if they didn’t create fiction. My mother mainly relied on guilt, my father used threats, but beyond the guilt, beyond the threats, implicit in all the stories they told us about our betrayals and about the dangerous consequences that awaited us were we not careful—implicit, was the possibility of redemption. My parents were expert at telling two stories simultaneously, one to scare or shame us into subservience, but another was instructive—we listened to find out how we could be saved from our past transgressions, or our punitive futures. In my opinion, good fiction accomplishes this as well, tells the story of our human suffering, and teaches how to do so with charm and grace.

And then, even as I sat there marveling at the way in which Justin had captured not just his life but mine, not simply his brothers and his parents but my brothers and my parents, and both our muses, even as I wanted to linger there, but felt inspired to return to my own writing – but not before I shared his reflection with my father and brothers! – I recognized a second name: Josh Weil. Here is Josh, writing about the trajectory he took to make peace with the tussle between brevity and length, between choking and breathing:

We’ve all been there: a moment when something of such import happens that the space life allows for it seems too small. For me, the time my father told me he had leukemia was like that. The time I came home to an empty apartment and knew my marriage was over was like that. But so were the few seconds—at the end of ten years, of three attempts at novels, of a whole adulthood of trying—when my agent told me that I had finally sold my first book.

I went in search of these friends, to thank them for their work, to share their intelligence with others. And between pauses to write on their walls and tell the world what was “on my mind,” I had the good fortune to stumble upon Reginald Dwayne Betts. The last time I saw Dwayne, he was dancing in the venerable and curiously transformative barn at Bread Loaf. bread-loaf-180It was the end of weeks during which we had worked together, discussed writing, life – including life in prison – relationships, futures. This is an excerpt from Dwayne talking on NPR.

For the first four to six years, no matter where I went, I was the youngest person in the block. If I marked an adolescent shift, it was when somebody younger than me asked me for some advice. That’s when I realized that I was basically growing up in a jail cell. I have all of these memories that have replaced the adolescent markers: I was in a cell below someone who beat a man to death. And I remember guards carrying the dead prisoner on a gurney, the nurses pushing him down the walkway, banging on his chest, trying to revive him. The thing is, what are you gonna do with all the memories you have once you get home? That’s the question posed to all the young people who get sent to prison. Because you will accumulate these memories, and a lot of them won’t be good.

Somewhere in each others’ words, there is resolution for each of them and for me. I realize that I could have read what they have written, or heard them speak, and be adequately moved by their wisdom, even if I had never met them. But to know them as people who find themselves unable to resist the call of the written word, and to have witnessed the camaraderie that comes from experiencing their particular embodiment of that desire at Bread Loaf, this makes all the difference.

I cannot wait to see what beauty this summer will bring.


The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.

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