Cancer and Fishnet Stockings

As I continue working on my own memoir-in-essays, I find myself reading more memoirs. Partly because I’m curious about other people’s lives. But also because I’m curious to see how other writers did it. How did they structure their memoirs? What does their table of contents look like? Does their book include photos?

I discovered Cancer and Fishnet Stockings: How Humor Helped Me Survive a Life-Threatening Disease, the Loss of My Favorite Nail Polish… and Other Calamities by Maryann Grau when our family spent a few days in Cambria (one of our most favorite places, along California’s Central Coast). The book was for sale in one of the shops in town, and when the cashier told me it was written by a local author, I knew I had to buy it.

While reading the book, it’s impossible to miss Ms. Grau’s positive outlook and spunk. 

Here are a few gems:

A few of the patients aimed weak smiles in my direction. My heart ached for them and their predicament, as though I wasn’t facing initiation into the same club. The question Why me? flashed through my mind followed immediately with the obvious answer …Why not me?” 

Thinking back on the past hour of excruciating pain, I was reminded of an Ayn Rand quote I had read many years ago in her novel Atlas Shrugged. In discussing emotions, Rand begins with the premise that ‘joy is not the absence of pain.’ I understood and accepted the concept immediately, but never was it more self-evident to me until now. To not feel pain, physical or emotional, is a good thing, but it is a neutral feeling at best. Joy comes when you awake to find yourself wrapped in the arms of someone you love.”

Just a little more than a year after the operation, and I sometimes think, my cancer may be back. The thought hits me hard. Not the cancer itself – the revelation that I used the word my. The acceptance of it, the familiarity with it, the ownership of that dreaded disease by referring to it as ‘my cancer.’
Don’t we hold things that belong to us as good, desirable, worthy, or even cherished? Does the word ‘my’ presuppose that the things that belong to us are good for us; things like my home, my career, my garden, my child, my love? Shouldn’t cancer belong in the category used to describe words that distance themselves from us, like ‘that thief, that scoundrel, that crummy movie, that poison, that killer disease’?

And from her last chapter, where she offers “words of wisdom”:

“Every one of us will face death…eventually. But why help it along by standing still? Instead, learn something new to keep your mind active, to grow intellectually.

Keep moving! Especially outdoors. That’s where most of life happens.”

“Let others help you. If you’re stubbornly independent like I am, get over it!

“Indulge in your favorite things.”

5 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Don’t Forget Everything They Learned in School While On Winter Break

It’s mid-November. Which means there are weeks, mere weeks, until kids will be home on winter break (for weeks!). For many families, it can be an uphill battle to get the kids to do anything academic, anything that even hints at school.

Which means you need to get creative and disguise it as fun!

I’m pleased to share that Moms Don’t Have Time to Write has recently published my article 5 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Don’t Forget Everything They Learned in School While On Winter Break.

To read it, and maybe become inspired to try multiplication volleyball, click here.

How’s My Health?

(I may be in pain, but it’s fall, and a star-shaped leaf in my yard makes me smile)

The other day my next door neighbor asked, “How are you? How’s your health?”

I really wasn’t sure how to answer her. The short answer, and what I told her, is “Okay,” because I am okay-enough. I’m getting things done on my to-do list, keeping up with all my obligations, meeting all my writing deadlines, making dinner each night. 

But the truth is it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

And sometimes I’m not so sure I really am “okay.”

The pain has been pretty intense. The other night when my mom and I were chatting on the phone, she asked me if I had done something that might have contributed to the bad pain day I was having. (I think she meant something like take a long walk or gardened for an extended period of time.)

I told her the truth. “I woke up.” 

I woke up with bad pain. It stayed all day. Totally out of my control.

I’m also awaiting test results which is never an easy situation to be in. On the one hand, I never want doctors to find something new – which in my head means something scary, something bad. But on the other hand, if something did show up, maybe it would alter my treatment plan which would then maybe lessen my pain. Maybe it would give doctors an answer, so I wouldn’t have to hear, “We don’t know why…”

I received my booster for the covid vaccine. Which leaves me feeling oh-so-grateful to the researchers and scientists and medical professionals who made that possible. (And I feel badly, because I forgot to bring the nurse a snack. Each time our family has gone in for  a covid vaccination shot, we’ve given the nurse a snack – a granola bar or bag of chocolate-covered almonds. It was a small way of saying “thank you,” and “we appreciate you.” But I forgot the snack at home on that Friday morning for the kind nurse who gave me my booster and chatted with me about books.) 

And I almost fell. Twice in one week. Both times at night. Both times in my son’s bedroom – once before we read and once after we had read. I kind of flopped onto my son’s bed the first time and grabbed onto my husband’s arm the second time. But the incidents left me feeling shaken and scared.

So how am I? How’s my health? 

It could be worse. 

But it certainly could be better. 

Vital Voices

After reading Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower, I was left with two distinct thoughts:

1.  Our future is in good hands. Capable, creative, competent, compassionate, female hands. Women who acknowledge problems and situations that need to be changed, fixed, resolved. Women who don’t just talk about making change; they actively make the change.

2. I have a lot to learn. While the book did include some familiar names (including Malala Yousafzai, Geena Davis, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Amanda Gorman, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to name just a few), most of the women featured in this beautiful book were unknown to me.

The book highlights 100 women from around the world; women who are working in the fields of education, the environment, politics, healthcare, and more. 

All of these women deserve to be highlighted, so how to choose who to write about for a blog post? In a very unscientific way, I made my decision by flipping through the book and randomly selecting these four women:

Kakenya Ntaiya of Kenya. “Founder and president  of the Kakenya Center for Excellence, an organization committed to ensuring that every girl in her community has the opportunity for a different future, armed with education and free from violence.”

Michelle Bachelet of Chile. “Dedicated her life to achieving equality and human rights for all as a public servant, at the United Nations and as Chile’s first female president.”

Priti Patkar of India. “Co-founder and director of Prerana, an organization committed to ending the cycle of intergenerational sex abuse and human trafficking in the red-light district of Mumbai, India.” 

Christelle Kwizera of Rwanda. “Founder of Water Access Rwanda, an award-winning innovative social enterprise offering tailor-made solutions for the collection, distribution and purification of water.”