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.

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March 30, 2017 Bainbridge Island Ferry, sunrise

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Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

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Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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Community, Friendship

Moving on.

The dog threw up at five this morning. Then again at seven. She won’t have a name until the three loads of laundry are finished. And I swear she can’t reach the Halloween candy.

My Seattle pied-à-terre entrance is in back of a house and up thirty five steps. I have had all of three trick-or-treater’s in the last three years. But for 364 days of the year I store a purple plastic pumpkin, bloody hand decal and illuminated spider web for just this one night.

Why? I continue to claim this is my least favorite holiday. But consider the one or two faces that struggle up the steps clutching wands, gowns, masks, bags of candy, oversized pants, dogs. Then the rifling hands. Then the “Thank you!” and thundering feet descending back down the stairs, dashing off to the next house, fast, as my back yard might be a little bit SCARY.

All Hallow’s Eve is heartwarming. And brings back memories of Disney princesses, Robin Hoods and Ninja Turtles of days gone past, of borrowing bits of costume from across the street, contriving swords out of boxes, spraying glitter on a line-up of star wands, of trailing the neighborhood pack of kids with other parents, keeping a respectable distance sometimes with warming libations tucked in our pockets. It’s good memory of friendship, taking care of one another, of October leaves and the harvest moon.

This afternoon in the pouring rain I will carve a pumpkin, light it with a Glassybaby (of course) and wait. Even for one smiling princess. And remember Robin Hood in his green tights filched from his sister’s dresser. Of Princess Jasmine. And remember community is the backbone of who we are, regardless of political party or race or sexual identification. We are the people who will make tomorrow happen, together, raucously, maybe with a wand, hopefully with a ballot. We will move on and make it work. We always have.

Then Olive and I will turn off all the lights, the universal signal that this eve is over and go to bed at eight due to our early day, full of good thoughts and hopefully a memory of that knock, knock, knock at the door and a chance to meet a new neighbor.

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Olive, Halloween 2015. She wants to be Newt Gingrich this year. I suggested we reuse the same costume.

 

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Uncategorized

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.

 

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Me and the girls. Canton, NY May 2016

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Blessings.

This morning at six I sipped tea and checked my phone, gearing up for the last seven hour trip up to St. Lawrence University to celebrate our family’s last college graduate. This was the poem of the day on The Writer’s Almanac. My cup runneth over. Enough said.

 

Blessings
by Ronald Wallace

 

occur.
Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows’ ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There’s a business
like show business.
There’s something new
under the sun.

Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There’s rest for the weary.
There’s turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
I can
take it with me.

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Uncategorized

Here it comes.

 

Twenty-nine years ago and nine months after my mother had died from ovarian cancer I closed my eyes, gave a final push and became a mother. An hour later, her Dad out making phone calls, the little pink bundle tucked into the crook of my arm, I listened to the joyful racket outside my hospital door — new grandparents, nurses, flower deliveries, baby deliveries, laughter. My room was silent and my heart broke into a million pieces.

I cried hard that day, dropping tears all over this newborn; messy, snotty salty tears of loss and love and blessing and disbelief. My mother was not going to walk though that door, swooping up my baby, crying tears of happiness. She never would. But there I was, given a new life in my arms to cherish. I was so overwhelmed by the roiling emotions inside me, by the incredible magic of lost and found.

And so, one of the loneliest days of my life was the day I was never lonely again.

Here it comes, another Mother’s Day. On Sunday I will brace myself for the rapid-fire emotions — remembering who is not here, feeling that familiar little break in my chest, but smiling, thinking how amazing that my eldest carries her name, how my son has her blue eyes, and how my youngest laughs just like her. These days, with all of us far flung, I will lie back, drink tea, and think about the phone calls and the updates I will get over the phone. I might spend the day in my gardens, filled with decades of Mother’s Day peonies and roses, trimming and fertilizing and staking them up for the impending growing season. I will embrace the sadness and dig deep for the future as I do every year. And this year, I will be thinking about that little pink bundle and her wedding. I will probably cry a little bit and take a beach walk. I will say a prayer.

There is no question I am a little moody, a little tender on the second Sunday in May every year, spending time alone to contemplate.  But I am so full of grateful, too: mothering brought me life and love and peace. And so, with every bitter comes sweet. That is just what life is all about.

We never lose our mothers, they swim in our veins and camp in our hearts and are always there to talk to. Trust me. Mine can visit in the linen closet. We are full of them, every single day, every single minute. Missing them, loving them, wanting them and seeing them run by in little footed pajamas. They never really leave us, they just leave the room.

Look what I got, Mom. Aren’t they just beautiful?

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Alexandra Dane and Alexandra Hammer 1960. Milford, Connecticut

 

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Uncategorized

Tasting Memory: A Night of Paella.

 

Paella night

By the grill, Bainbridge Island, Washington, April 2016

Last weekend I poured a blood colored Spanish into my glass and watched the seals slip through the borage blue water. Behind me, the cast iron pans slid onto the grill suspended over smoldering hardwood coals as a pair of eagles flew screaming into the evergreens above. The familiar hiss and cackle of arborio rice and garlic stirred hard into the hot oil drew our crowd of family and friends, dressed in a kaleidoscope of Seattle April attire — white linen, puffy vests, scarves, caps — away from the sunset on Mt. Rainier to watch the chef. I can map my fifty-seven years by paella: so many paellas in Connecticut, all the paellas in Boston, one amazing paella in Madrid and tonight, a Pacific Northwest paella on Bainbridge Island, overlooking Puget Sound. A dish of summer. A dish of layers. Tonight, a simmering pan of memories.

My mother’s best friend always made my childhood paellas, gathering her ingredients from the Boston fish market on the edge of the Quincy market. She would arrive at our door in Connecticut arms laden with paper-taped bundles of shellfish, flat fish, fish with eyes, peppers with stems, chicken with pin feathers not quite plucked. We would dance around the grill ducking flakes of ash while she layered the ingredients into the expanding rice, fragrant steam rising, the pan nestled into a homemade grill of rock and coals outside the kitchen door. As the eyes of the small smelt laid last on top began to bulge and bubble, we would shriek and run, fast on bare feet, into the darkening light.

1973 in Madrid: Visiting family that hosted my mother decades before, garlic and saffron and smoked paprika as intense as the language flying around me, the fish chopped apart next to the grill, the heads tossed to the cats milling under the tables. Course chorizo flecked with fat sizzled and jumped. I leaned over the pan, trying to be the sophisticated teenager and inhaled smoke straight up my nose. Feigning a deep drink of the unfamiliar sangria, I flicked the tears away with my sleeve, the night soon a blur for too much fruity wine. That week, I hand-carried a cast iron paella pan home to the States, a gift from this family that loved my mother, wrapped in brown paper and tied with butcher twine.

Then in Boston, married, small children, little fingers tossing the chicken, the peas, holding the youngest over the pan so she could place the red peppers in her pattern of choice. Small dresses danced on the lawn and gin and tonic rattled in glasses. Over the next thirty years we adopted some of the old ways, added some of our own. We used more saffron.The oysters and clams were farmed by a cousin from Vineyard sound. There were allergies, and vegetarians, and paellas in the rain.

And last summer: My son bent over the grill, the flat wide spoon that stirred a hundred paella before in his hand. I watched him measure and stir the rice, the garlic, the saffron,  carefully laying the fish, the chicken, the blue mussels, the redolent chorizo, each ingredient nestled into the deeply oiled pan, this pan older than he is, the hardest grains first, the tenderest flesh last. His father standing nearby, passing on each step learned from this deep history of paella, places and hands; the steps learned from the one who has died, who had learned from a Spanish beauty, who had cooked for the one who now sits on our patio, our guest of honor, my mother’s friend who stirred the rice on the rocks while fireflies danced so long ago. She pulls a sweater close, drinks a small sherry and smiles. Memories laid down one by one into the pan, hands reaching back in time.

And here, on Bainbridge Island: New friends and old family. Fresh Halibut and mussels from the Sound. A child who waves a whisk and runs to watch for Orcas. A mountain as old and as stately as the first peasant paella, thrown together from leftovers. We carry the traditions, we change the traditions, we taste our past and adjust the flavors for our future.

Such is cooking. Such is life.

I dig the spoon deep into the chicken fattened rice and remember.

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