Choices, ovarian cancer, Suzanne Wedel, Suzanne Wedel XOXOUT

My body, My friend.

Some people might place flowers to honor a friend’s death. I will lie my body down.

Three hundred and sixty five days ago my friend Dr. Suzanne Wedel died from ovarian cancer. Her daughter called to tell me while I was standing on an empty beach, watching the gulls hover over iced waves. I was willing time to stand still. Three hundred and sixty five days later, I honor Suzanne with a surgery date, making good on a promise I made to her. Doing all I can so history does not repeat itself.

My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was twenty-one years old and she was forty-seven. We coped. We fought. We learned. We lost. That has always been the nature of ovarian cancer, no different in 1982 or 2017 — once diagnosed, a woman’s risk of dying is exponentially higher than any other female cancer. It hides, divides and grows unseen. Once ovarian cancer is diagnosed, you are past the easy stage. Period.

I trusted medical advances and advice for the last thirty years: yearly CA125 blood test, trans-vaginal ultrasounds, twice-yearly pelvics. Until Suzanne. Amazing physician, mother and friend with no familial history of ovarian cancer. Then — a pain in her shoulder. Tight waistband. After three years of every cutting edge surgery and treatment, she was gone.

Her illness highlighted that there is no magic wand no matter who you are: ovarian cancer, without an early detection test, is deadly. Her genetics were negative, but there I was sitting next to her on her couch with personal family history of this cancer. The gig was up. She made me promise; promise to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes, SOON. She very plainly noted, as Suzanne could do so well, that I was foolish to play roulette with my body and my history.

What you should know: Today, oncologists advise if there is any family history, regardless of genetics, fallopian tubes and ovaries should be removed after bearing the last child. That they now believe ovarian cancer originates in the fallopian tubes.  That waiting, until one is fifty-eight years old with a family history, no matter how informed you think you are, is stupid.

I have been given a clean bill of health and await my genetic map. Regardless, on April 20, 2017 I will go spend the day with an incredible surgeon, AK Goodman, at Mass General Hospital. I will have mourned my fertility, my hormones and my skin appropriately. I will have loose pretty pajamas and friends waiting for me at home. I will honor my friend and her family and what we know so far. And if we are supremely fortunate, the Suzanne XOXOUT Fund will expedite an early detection test so my children and their children can grow old with less risk.

Better than flowers. I can now stand on the beach and tell her she made a difference. In so many ways, but especially to me. But she knows that.

XOX back at you, Suzanne.


March 30, 2017 Bainbridge Island Ferry, sunrise


And so we go on.


The mother-of-the-bride status has been interesting. Sort of like being visibly pregnant and strangers feeling free to rub their hands on my belly. With the engagement of my oldest daughter, suddenly the subject matter of every conversation is weddings past and present. And dresses. And money. And the best way to do things is…

But here’s what keeps me up at night.

I regret many decisions or lack of decisions back thirty years ago when I got married. So I cannot help imposing my “what-if’s” on their “maybe’s.” Today the issues are not that different: While the costs are so much more significant, getting a wedding planned still makes it hard to remember that love drives us to these conversations about flowers, and dresses, and invitations. I keep a running mantra in my head, thanks to a friend — what will make this wedding feel wonderful to you? I repeat myself often to everyone’s frustration.

I have an Aunt who now has known five generations of women in my family. One of my favorite conversations with her over a cup of tea sitting in front of her bay windows wreathed in rangy red geraniums is listing them off and commingling our memories. My Aunt was a young adult when I was five years old yet our memories of Anma, my great-grandmother, her grandmother, are not dissimilar. As the eaglets fly outside the picture window and the sea lions dive for fish in Puget Sound just beyond our chairs, I never cease to be amazed how our ages evaporate as we laugh over these women, how pulling the thread of family and time tighter between us makes me so incredibly happy.

How do I pull the thread tight as our family marches towards the next phase, a new man at the table, new holiday traditions? My son watches us as we role model as sisters, mothers, daughters, women. I want all of them to be able to pull that thread tight in the years to come — with or without me — to laugh at the memories, to remember shopping for the wedding dresses, the successes or disasters of our first holidays as a new family. Our favorite colors. How we stayed in touch.

In the middle of the night I am filled with a fierceness that keeps me awake until the birds begin to sing. How do I make this feel right for all of us?

I want them to remember all the quirks and failures and fabulousness like my Aunt and I share together. I want to rub their bellies and swat the hands of strangers away. I want to welcome my son’s partner into our quirky house and applaud her for jumping into this family of strong women that will soon go back six generations in my memory when babies arrive. I want to rub her belly when the time comes and tell stories about a great-great-grandmother that embroidered the footrest for her swollen feet.

And so we go on. I just have to keep the faith I am a thread that will not break, despite any and all changes. That I cannot control much of anything.

But I will keep saying,

“What do you want to feel so this is the most wonderful day of your life?”

And ignore the eye rolling.



Me and the girls. Canton, NY May 2016