Once More Unto The Breach
Tales of my second go-round with breast cancer before the age of 40, and everything since.
We’ve started swimming in the mornings. Hooray!
This means I need to buy more bathing suits. (The only thing worse than buying bras is buying bathing suits.) Boo!
Lands’ End is having a huge sale on bathing suits. And shipping is free. Hooray!
The post office held the package instead of delivering it. Boo!
Most of the suits I ordered only cost about $15. Hooray!
Of the 13 I ordered, I have to send 10 back. Boo!
Last year March I sent a message to a bunch of friends and family members that began:
It starts like this:
Last night I saw someone do something very brave. My friend, Theresa Rebeck, a very successful playwright, TV writer and novelist, got up in front of a group of theatre people and talked about gender. She talked about how her career has been hampered because she is a woman. She talked about how she became toxic after a bad NY Times review. She talked about the abysmal number of plays produced by women. She talked about the missing women’s plays.
It’s long but very worthwhile. I have wanted to write a play for a REALLY long time, and now I feel like I have no choice.
* * *
Well, it took me more than a year, but two weeks ago I started a playwriting class, and last week I wrote the first part of the first scene of the first act of my first play.
The next night I got to hear it read aloud and then discussed by my classmates.
I don’t know where it’s going, if anywhere, but I am just so happy to be at work on something that is challenging and important to me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Oh, and by the way, so far all of the characters are women. And most of them are not young. Might as well try to tackle a couple of other imbalances while I’m at it. . . .
On a lark, tonight I went to a reading and music series called Tongue and Groove. I’ve been on their mailing list for a while but had yet to make it to one of the monthly shows.
And this particular month, in addition to the scheduled lineup of three writers and a musician, they had a few open-mic slots.
I was intrigued, and I went.
I wrote my name on a piece of paper, dropped it into the paper bag that stood in for a hat, and sat down with Zach in the dark and overly air-conditioned bar, wondering if my name would be called.
Our host, Conrad Romo, took to the stage and introduced the musical guest, Maria Orieta, who played a beautiful song, Between Us, on the guitar.
One of the main performers was stuck in traffic, and this seemed to upend the schedule a bit. Romo decided to pull the first name from the “hat,” and before he read it aloud I could see that it was mine.
Somehow I thought I’d have more time to get used to the idea.
I walked up to the stage and was immediately blinded by the lights, not one of which sufficiently illuminated the paper from which I would be reading. I don’t understand how it is possible to be simultaneously squinting from dimness and brightness, but that is the state in which I found myself. Perhaps this was a good thing—distraction dampens nerves, as I discovered.
By turning slightly to the left, I was able to capture enough wattage to see the words on the page. I confessed to the audience that this was my first foray into reading my work in public, and, after supportive applause from the dozen or so in the crowd, I began.
At Zach’s suggestion, I’d chosen to read a slightly revised version of an old essay, Words Failed Me, which promised to stay within the five-minute limit.
So I stood on that stage and looked awkwardly to my left, balancing the pages between the encroaching shadows as I read my own words to strangers. I gazed every so often toward the dark fog before me, hoping my blind eyes might make convincing contact with whichever sentient beings had graciously laughed in a couple of the right places.
The minutes passed neither slowly nor swiftly, and I finished the piece with no more than a hitch or two in my speech. The applause was brief yet hearty, though whether for the work or the willpower I wasn’t sure.
Having declared myself a writer before these witnesses, and having given an offering of my work, I returned to my seat, initiation complete.
I am finally facing up to the fact that foot-high (or higher) stacks of The New York Times are a symptom of my perpetual lack of time to do one of the things I love: read.
I’m conceding that I can no longer rationalize the waste: of the newsprint I am not reading, and of the money I am most definitely spending to support a habit I have involuntarily, regrettably, and long ago broken.
Yesterday, I forced myself to read the entire Sunday paper online. And lived to tell the tale.
This morning I read the entire Monday paper online. (It look much less time.)
I can’t remember the last time I read the entire Sunday paper.
I also can’t remember the last time I read the paper two days in a row. On the days they were actually published, that is.
I am not giving up the hope that I will be able to return to reading the printed paper at some point.
I am just finally admitting that I have no idea when that point will come, and that it is irresponsible and wasteful and guilt-inducing to delude myself into thinking that it will come tomorrow. Over and over and over again.
Instead, tomorrow will be the day that I cut back to Sunday-only delivery, which will be enough to preserve my online access while still providing a weekly fix of fingertip-staining ink.
And to help me through what I expect will be a painful withdrawal, I will slowly make my way through the last remaining stack of papers in my living room.
As it disappears, so too, I hope, will my guilt.
Today would have—should have—been my dad’s 85th birthday.
If he were here, he would have wanted to celebrate very simply: by having his annual guilt-free birthday eggs for breakfast, maybe seeing an old friend for lunch, enjoying a slew of birthday calls, and, most importantly, spending time with his family.
He was a master of appreciating the little things that are really the big things. I hope I never forget his example.
Let me start by saying that I have health insurance, and that I’m grateful for it.
Let me continue by expressing further gratitude for the fact that in addition to my own (primary) insurance, I currently have (secondary) coverage, courtesy of Zach and the Screen Actors Guild.
Because I have higher health-care expenses than most people, I’m also grateful to have a flexible spending account (FSA) through my employer, which allows me to set aside pre-tax income to cover out-of-pocket medical costs.
That gratitude extends to the 74-day grace period provided by my employer, which means that I had until March 15th, rather than December 31st, to exhaust the funds in my FSA so as not to forfeit them.
Being a planner, and wanting to show my gratitude for all of the above by taking full advantage of the benefits of my (double!) insurance coverage and my (extra-flexible!) flexible spending account, I set aside funds last year to cover the gum surgery I expected to have, in addition to the funds I typically set aside for my very many co-pay and co-insurance charges, unreimbursed expenses, and amounts beyond those deemed “reasonable and customary” by one or the other insurance carrier.
The gum surgery was supposed to happen in October but was postponed until January by a combination of bronchitis and lots of travel.
Had the surgery happened in October, I would have found out far earlier that instead of having to cover a large chunk of the cost myself, I would actually owe nothing. Contrary to reasonable and customary expectations, my two insurance carriers actually covered the entire cost of the surgery.
Not only that, but when I broke a tooth and unexpectedly needed a crown in December, the two carriers covered the entire cost of that as well.
Instead I found this out on March 14th, the day before the grace period expired.
Suddenly I had very little time and hundreds of dollars to spend.
And, as of January 1, expenses eligible for FSA reimbursement had been significantly restricted—no more over-the-counter drugs, for example, unless I had a prescription.
I scoured the list of eligible expenses and came up with two things I could buy within the deadline: first-aid kits or reading glasses.
And while first-aid kits are always useful, I would have had to buy a dozen or two to exhaust the money remaining in my account, and that seemed ridiculous. It also seemed likely that we’d have to visit several drug stores to find that many in stock.
So, on the eve of the deadline, off Zach and I went to the nearest eyewear shop that was still open when I got home from work.
And after trying on five or ten different frames, we settled on the only one that looked halfway decent on my face.
Originally I thought I’d be able to buy two or three pairs of reading glasses—one for home, one for work, and maybe a back-up pair for travel.
Well, this was a somewhat fancy store, and it carried nothing but designer frames.
As soon as I saw the price tag of the frames I’d selected, I realized that I was getting just one pair—and that that pair, once the lenses and the all-important anti-glare coating were factored in—would not only exhaust my 2010 FSA but dip into my 2011 account.
Did I mention that I already had a pair of reading glasses? One that I bought a year and a half ago at CVS or Walgreens, at the suggestion of my ophthalmologist? A pair I’d worn a grand total of three times?
So I am now the sheepish owner of what I will forever refer to as the world’s most expensive pair of reading glasses, ones that I now look for excuses to use in the hopes of amortizing their cost over the rest of my natural life.
But hey, at least I emptied my FSA before the deadline.
I’d hate to have wasted all that money.
Our friend Doug recently invited us to a fancy launch party for Absolut’s new Wild Tea vodka, which was held on the rooftop of an equally fancy LA hotel. One feature of the party was a cool photo booth that projected the pictures onto the wall of the hotel. Here’s a photo of us that was larger-than-life-size for at least a split-second.
Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of my first diagnosis.
I could repeat that sentence all day and not get tired of it.
Thank you to every person whose love, support, and friendship carried me through the past decade and catapulted me into the one that started today. Your caring and kindness sustained me. Your generosity amazed me. Your example inspires me.
That’s the name of the charming procedure I had on Monday morning and from which I am continuing to (slowly) recover.
What, you ask, is a free gingival flap?
It’s a dental procedure in which tissue from the roof of your mouth is removed and grafted onto your gumline.
**END OF SQUEAM**
Why in the world did I have a free gingival flap?
Because, my friends, I
have had an unusually high frenum.
Everyone has a frenum. Actually, everyone has several frenums (or frena, depending on your preference).
There’s one that attaches your tongue to the bottom of your mouth (the labial frenum).
There’s one that attaches your upper lip to your upper gums (the upper lingual frenum).
And there’s one that attaches your lower lip to your lower gums (the lower lingual frenum). In my case, that was the troublemaker. For whatever reason, my lower lingual frenum—or, as I prefer to think of it, frenumy—was somewhat supersized and, over time, began to pull the gums away from my lower front teeth.
This, as you might have guessed, is BAD.
And it’s why parts of my mouth had to be surgically rearranged.
And why my little frenumy had to be forcibly removed.
And why I have been eating a very limited diet of mainly soft, cold foods for the past week.
And wearing putty on my lower front teeth to protect my newly reinforced gums.
And sporting a clear plastic guard that covers my upper teeth and protects the roof of my mouth (and—bonus!—makes me slur my words as if I were soused, which, sadly, I’m not).
And why I’ve been a tad cranky for the past few weeks (sorry, Zach). In case you are doing the math and wondering why I said “weeks” instead of “days,” it’s because I’ve had anticipatory crankiness, a well known symptom of impending gum surgery. (I’ve now moved on to post-gum-surgery crankiness, its more severe cousin.)
I rationalized that at least I’d be able to have large quantities of ice cream and gelato—aka my favorite foods—during my recovery. (Cold? Check. Soft? Check. Effective anti-crankiness agent? Check.) But it’s amazing how much one can miss hot liquids.
Or solid foods, for that matter.
Or being able to brush and floss with impunity (versus dodging obstacles all over one’s mouth).
Oh, and one other thing about the free gingival flap . . .
It wasn’t remotely free.
I am feeling particularly grateful for the love of my life today.
It’s the 18th anniversary of our marriage, which amazes and humbles me.
What’s even more humbling is that our parents were each married for more than 40 years, and that my mom’s parents celebrated 72(!) wedding anniversaries together. How wonderful to think that we might be only a quarter of the way through our marriage—what joys and adventures (and, yes, what trials and tragedies) must await us!
For you, dearest, an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to your mom in April 2001, not long after diagnosis number one:
You should know that your son is the most magnificent creature on this earth and that I thank the stars for putting him in my path eleven years ago. I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to be worthy of him.
I could have written those words today, as they are even truer now.
Happy, happy anniversary, my love, and, as my people say—so fittingly in this particular case—l’chaim!