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


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?


Alexandra Dane and Alexandra Hammer 1960. Milford, Connecticut



Filled to the Brim.


Yesterday I worked in the gardens for six hours, sinking my hands into the dirt, chatting with the cardinals, whisking compost off Olive’s beard, planting tightly-closed plants and tipping my face up to the warmth.  The sun, the birdsong and the simple tasks disconnected me from my head. I needed this.

In brief, a lot has happened in the last twenty-eight days, most of it unimaginable:  I kissed a friend good-bye for the last time. I received a call from a young man asking to marry my oldest daughter. I prepare to graduate my youngest from college. I attended my very last family lacrosse game after twenty years on the sidelines. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t catch my breath.

Have I taken this all in stride? On one hand, there is a hole in my heart the size of Kansas, the loss of my friend from ovarian cancer inconceivable. On the other hand, the love pouring into me from her family, friends and mere acquaintances has filled me to the brim. And while the sadness running out of me has left me wrung out, proposals and wedding plans smack me on the side of the head, reminding me that our lifelines go on, and on, and on, and I am full of joy and happiness AND sadness — a nest of words and emotions exploding in my head and heart.

So there I was, pruning roses and teary, illogically wishing I could call my mother, dead thirty years ago, to tell her all the amazing news and this popped up on my phone screen from a friend:


And I realized, as the sparrows squabbled overhead and the earthworms wriggled below, that there is truly always more room in my heart, that hearts are made to expand —  to have and to hold, to hug and to cherish, to grieve and remember, to love and to lose.

How lucky am I to have all these memories and all this emotion. I am filled to the brim. And yet? There is room for more.

Bring it on.