so many images

Even after a week that was mostly wet, a week when I would have guessed that there was nothing on my phone, photo-wise, to share with you, well.  There was.  There is.  Here’s just some of what I saw, coming and going, this past week:

IMG-20130521-00899Here’s an example of why I can never be sad about the swift passage of time.  If you find yourself mourning the end of apple blossoms or dogwoods, well then, wait a second, and look for what comes next.  Lupine!  This from the part of my reservoir walk that I call my cul-de-sac to New Hampshire.  There’s some yellow warblers nesting just a few yards from this sight.  And orioles.  Oh, how I love those orioles, and their sock-like woven nests!

File under, if you missed something out there in nature, wait a minute, and look around again.

IMG-20130524-00917It’s graduation season, all around Boston.  This is a scene of the preparations going on just down the street from where I live. Seriously, you can set your clock to the hanging of the flags and the delivery of the chairs, every third week in May.  This photo shows the crest of the house where my younger son lives.  We’ve found the same crest on Josiah Quincy’s family gravestone, out in my beloved cemetery.  Those folding chairs number in the thousands, and take days and days to get all set up.  Here they’ve just been delivered and are stacked in piles held tight by canvas straps.  There’s always a strong wiff of body odor when these get delivered.  I suspect it’s just mildew that grows on the wet canvas straps.  Whatever it is, it smells like commencement to me.

IMG-20130518-00880Ah, there’s that crest again, over the door.  I took this photo on move-out day.  I was never so glad to see the cops and security guards, there to hold my parking space in the middle of the Square.  Shortest commute ever.  I dropped the big plastic bins off, then went home, then came back a half hour later for the actual move.  There are benefits to having your child go to school right down the street from Home Sweet Home.

IMG-20130520-00885There’ s a store not far from my house where they sell nothing but LPs.  Remember LPs?  They have so many, from such a wide variety of sources and decades, that they can come up with endless window displays, always with an entertaining theme.  This one looks to be limited to LP covers with Hawaiian leis and hula dancers.  Nailed it!

IMG-20130524-00928I went to a reading by E.O. Wilson the other night.  He has a new book out, titled Letters to a Young Scientist. Right on cue, before his talk began, a certifiable young scientist came up to him with a specimen from his back yard, a tiny inchworm.  Of course, E.O. Wilson had the Latin name right at the tip of his tongue.  The man has been teaching since 1955.  I had him for Biology 1, back in my freshman fall semester.  I wish I’d been as prepared as this little guy will clearly be.  “Keep up the good work!” were E.O.’s parting words to this eight year old biologist.  A lovely moment.

IMG-20130514-00873Another one of those springtime events worth waiting for.  The flowering of the horse chestnut trees.  All over town, these beauties are decked out, like giant candelabras.  Love, love, love them.

IMG-20130511-00852Another excellent example of my tax dollars at work in my home town.  This is on the walking path around the reservoir.

IMG-20130511-00855Seriously, how great is this?

IMG-20130524-00920All the rain has done good things for my garden.  That, and after 30+ years, I’ve finally gotten a handle on what is willing to grow on the north side of our brick townhouse.  Things that love shade, which, it turns out, come in all sizes and shapes.

the Angelina effect

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File under, I won’t have what she’s having.

For all you worrywarts out there, rest easy.  I’ve taken those genetic exams—the ones that shall forevermore be known as the Angelina Jolie Tests—and I got negative results on all fronts. Which is oddly comforting, given that I’ve also already had the mammogram result no one wants, and I’ve already fielded that unpleasant follow-up visit, the requisite biopsy, the whole how-to-treat/second-opinion shebang.  My good news is that, whatever iteration of screwed up cell growth I’m dealing with here, it’s not the truly frightening kind that Ms. Jolie tested positive for.  Her mom had cancer and died at age 56; my mom had cancer at 54 and lived three more decades with no recurrences, no scary follow-ups.

What it all comes down to is this: as unpleasant as all this is when you find yourself swimming in the cancer pool, it’s a huge relief when you figure out that your presence seems to be restricted to the shallow end.  By which I mean the end where you find the cancers that aren’t so likely to pop back up down the road, or get all mean and nasty and attention deficit disordered, looking for other parts of one’s anatomy to wreak havoc upon.  I imagine my little carcinoma bobbing about in the baby pool, probably wearing water wings, lazily floating about, without the slightest notion of ducking under the rope to play with the scary high-school tumors, the ones who smoke and wear too much makeup.  I foresee no getting in over my head here, no malignancies going rogue.

None of which explains why my mother and I and two of my three sisters have all been visited by the pink peril.  Whatever it is that has sent us all down this path—a non-BRCA gene, not yet tested for, an over-indulgence of Tab and Diet Pepsi back in the day, or the steady exposure to pesticides sprayed on those roadside blueberries that we kept munching away on, anyhow—well, whatever my sisters and mom and I have in common, breast-cancer-wise, they don’t have an app for that yet.   Those currently available tests provide just one little sliver of something approaching certainty for one specific genetic mutation.  Who knows how many others are out there?  The iterations that modern science can test for are a small little window into our whole genetic makeup, and even then, it’s imperfect information—sort of like how these days, when I go looking for migrating warblers and orioles and tanagers, I start by looking in the places I’ve seen them in years past.  Doesn’t mean they don’t hang out in other trees, in other parts of town, but hey, you know what they say: go with what you know.

What I know so far is this: I’m getting close to the finish line on the really crappy part of dealing with my little medical drama.  And “little” is the operative word. My tidy scars are healing nicely, my days of schlepping back and forth for treatments are numbered in the single digits.  Oh, so very soon, this piece of my life will all be a memory, just a phase, like colic or diaper rash was to parenting.  I’ll be taking pills, I’ll have lots of checkups, but really, I’m almost done.  I truly am so very lucky.  This really could be SO much worse.

I was just this past week thinking that it feels like time to take that phrase out of the sub-header on this blog.  My writing here has meandered to so many other subjects, all randomly connected to my current situation, but really, “Here’s What I Know So Far” feels so much more like words I can write to for the long run.  As an outlook on life, the “It Could Be SO Much Worse” tag feels a little limited to this moment in my life, this little bump in the road.  Which is all it was ever meant to describe.

Just yesterday, my beloved and I found ourselves in an email circle that exploded with sad and scary news, another story that begins with a test that produced the result no one wants.  Once again, we’re part of a cohort who has been visited by the cancer boogeyman, and we’re all circling the wagons, sending love and holding good thoughts.  And yes, sadly, this new story is one of a battle to be faced, one that will be so very, very much more difficult than the one I’ve been dealing with.  Mine is easy.  Mine is the one they’ve got a handle on.  Hers will be more like a hungry wolf than a lapdog.  What our friend and her family are facing makes me want to cry.

So, I wrote the same platitudes we all write. Boy, this sucks.  Thinking of you.  Let us know if there’s anything we can do.  I did add one particularly concrete offer, sort of a variation on that six word Hemingway story: Yours if you want it: one wig, real hair, never worn.

That’s a story for another day.

a thing of beauty is a joy forever

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

 John Keats was onto something.

 My morning excursions take me through some of the loveliest byways that any urban thoroughfare could possibly offer.  And yes, even me, the un-lover of spring, has been finding these April and May weeks intoxicating.  Petals, blooms, glorious aromas, and bursts of color, at every turn.  The warm sun on my skin.  The trills of new birds passing through, migrants whose tunes I don’t remember from spring to spring, beyond that I know their songs are not the usual ones.  Days that start early, and stay lighter, longer.  I am feeling more awake, more attentive, more alive, and I have spring to thank for it.  Well, spring, plus an end to chemo, and the relatively passive healing that comes with radiation.

I mentioned my zig-zag journey from home to treatment in my last post.  I didn’t think of it until now, how my love of my meandering path is a complete contradiction to my desire to find the shortcut, the diagonal, the zippiest path from point A to point B.  I’m both people, simultaneously—the one who is impatiently looking forward to what comes next and getting there, lickety split, and the one who is forever just plain looking—not forward or back, but here and there, fixated only on finding the good parts in the details that others pass by, unaware.  I’m the one who walked home from my high school with my head down, spotting four leaf clovers with alarming frequency.  I was also the downhill ski racer.  I guess I’ve been at this for longer than I know.

Anyhow, these days, and particularly on my walks back home from treatments, I find myself more and more willing to slow down and pay close attention.  I love that I can drink it all in, then pull out my phone and snap a photo, to share my little wonders with those near and dear to me.

Here you go.

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This is an homage to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I love that he’s from both my homes–the one I’ve lived in for my entire adult life, as well as the state of Maine, where I was born and raised.  The yellow house with the chimney in the background was his home for many years.  This artful commemorative comes part way between the Longfellow homestead and the  Charles River–a remarkable expanse of green that is, in fact, the only  open space that stretches from Brattle Street to the riverbank.  I love that this parkway was preserved. I’m guessing that when it was carved out as public space, it didn’t seem so extraordinary.  It surely is today.

IMG-20130507-00808Tough light in the mornings, but you get the idea.  I like the glint off Henry’s nose.  That’s The Village Smithy behind and to the left, and The Spanish Student to the right.  The light being lousy, I couldn’t get a good shot of the whole of his poetic subjects rendered in bas relief.  Daniel Chester French designed and created this memorial–he of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, and also he of the Concord Minuteman at the Old North Bridge, the one with his hand on his plow.  The man was talented.

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 Tough light indeed, but you get the picture.  Ahem.  That’s Evangeline and Hiawatha.  Love his foxy belt.

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From the Wadsworth memorial, I do some zigging and zagging until I get to the end of this little dead end.  Which, lucky for me, connects to a secret passageway.  Long ago, this portal transported me from midterms and dorm life and dining hall food, to the home of a friend who had cats and a cozy sofa and a kitchen for baking spice cookies.  Oh, and a typewriter.  Remember typewriters? That, and an endless supply of white-out.

Bless you, Stephanie, for letting me share your world with you, back in the day.

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I love that there’s a lamppost along the way.  No idea who pays that electric bill.

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I only recently discovered that one secret path connects to another.  This one gets me around the far edge of the American Repertory Theater, on the lobby side, where people hang out at intermission.  Again, I’m not sure what entity maintains this little shade garden, but I surely am glad that someone does.

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Back to regular streets.  This honor system tabletop bookshop is a sunny day bonus.  Five bucks gets you any hardcover book you like. Paperbacks go for considerably less.   I love that the payment box also gives instructions for donating books.  Just leave ’em under the table, of course!  It’s like my tiny sidewalk library, with slightly higher fees.

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Almost home.  This is the foliage of my beloved Dawn Redwood, off the end of Memorial Church.  It’s a tree covered with tiny little ferns.  So unexpectedly delicate.

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One last pathway.  This winds around my back door neighbors’ house.  When my boys were little guys, they had great adventures along this red brick road.  These tulips are an annual treat for all of us who live on our little dead end, or park off it, as I do.  Thank you, John and Sue, for this yearly riot of loveliness.

Back to John Keats.  Here’s how that poem ends:

“And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.”

back to our regularly scheduled programming…

So, on we go.  After the black hole that was Patriots Day and the endless week that followed, including that Monday holiday and the Friday shelter-in-place stay-cation that wasn’t, it’s a relief to be back to my five-day-a-week radiation drill.

Truth be told, it all feels a bit like “Groundhog Day,” and I’m Bill Murray, keenly aware that I’m living the same day, over and over again.  The mornings, anyhow.  I get myself to my treatments via a pleasant little zig-zaggy route (same way, every day), which includes one of my favorite side streets and some of my favorite gardens; you can expect a photo post on that subject before too long.  I zip in the hospital’s ground floor, bypassing the annoyingly slow revolving door, opting for the entrance labeled “Handicapped Only.”   Or, in my case, not handicapped, just impatient.  Get me in, get me out, let me get on with my day, okay?  It’s my little expression of rebellion.  That, and I do love my shortcuts, I truly do.

And honestly, my impatience is utterly misdirected, since it takes all of ten minutes to get through a round of radiation.  I spend more time changing in and out of my clothes and getting properly located on the table than I do getting the actual treatment.  I feel badly that I haven’t gotten to know the radiology technicians who make it happen, but our interactions are so brief, and they’re so efficient, there’s barely a moment to chat.   They start by shifting me around, getting me lined up and registered beneath the projected red laser grid.  Did I mention that I’ve been tattooed for registration purposes?  Which sounds so (fill in your adjective of choice here; mine might be “disfiguring”), but for the record, it’s just six tiny dots, which I suspect I won’t be able to even find a year from now.  Anyhow, they wiggle me left and right, shift me up and down, get me exactly where they want me, which is centered at some pre-determined distance from the radiation source. I get all my nose-itch-scratching and shoulder stretching done, then offer myself up, as still as possible, hands grasped over my head.  Right about then, one of the tech gals says, “Perfect,” which always makes me smile.  What a relief—something’s perfect in my day, five days a week.  And then they retreat to the screens and dials behind the curtain, Oz-like, while I close my eyes and wait for it to be over.

Back to the Groundhog Day part.  Every morning, once I’m in the door, it’s the exact the same thing—same woman at the front help desk looks up and knows not to ask me if I need any help.  Next nice lady checks me in to radiology, where the same magazines are stacked in the waiting area, same pile of johnnies to change into, same locker for my belongings (I’m fond of locker #5, don’t ask me why), same walk to the room where the radiation business takes place.  Same forgetfulness, when I am about to hop up to the table and then remember that I still have my reading glasses on my head.  Not the same music, thankfully: I’ve been radiated to the tunes of Bruce Springsteen, Doobie Brothers and Led Zepplin and The Police, but no Sonny and Cher, not yet anyhow.

A dozen treatments into this drill, I’m starting to get a sense of the little details of the process.  Which, basically, is a lot like getting x-rays of various durations, from various angles.  I know now that the first one is defined by a long beeeeeeep, a count of 20 or so.  The next one, not quite so long, maybe 15.  Then the gizmos circle around, then there’s two rapid-fire beeps, which ends the first round tango: s l o w, pause,         s l o w, pause, quick-quick.  After that opening phrase, the techs re-enter my zone, squiggle me around a bit, retreat once more, and there’s more machinery rotating about (imagine the sounds WALL-E makes, I hear a lot of that), more jiggly movement, more predictable beeps of various lengths.  Then I think it’s ended, but I wait to hear a confirming, “Okay, we’re done,” at which point I get to release my arms from up over my head with certainty.  Aaaah.   Then down comes the table, and as soon as I can reach the floor, I jump off, tell them thanks so much, and I’m on my merry way to the lockers, where I retrieve my belongings, change back into my top-half clothes, waltz past the command post with a cheery “See you tomorrow,” and get on with my day.

Here’s what I specifically try not to do while I’m being radiated: I try not to think about being radiated.  Which is a high-level meditation trick, given that it’s tough not to find my mind wandering over to the subject of how hard, exactly, we’re slamming the barn door here, long after the horses got out, horses being the malignant tumors in this metaphor.  How much more of this is enough?  Again, I float back to the realization that there is no perfect answer to that question.  Even if there were, it would keep shape-shifting with new information, with further study, with more research.  But there will probably be no breakthroughs while I’m in treatment, so that’s where the meditation-not-fixation exercise kicks in.  No sense driving myself bonkers, when by all accounts I’m getting the best possible care known to oncology-kind, as of this day, this month, this year, and my specific scenario.

Oh—and yes, if you’re wondering, I did see the Sunday New York Times story, about the so-called “Feel-Good” war on breast cancer.  I specifically read it in the paper version, because I was pretty sure I’d get sucked down into another black hole of comments if I read it online.  (aha, just checked, comments closed at over 600.  Nope, not going there.)   All I know is that what seemed like a simple little ductal carcinoma in situ wasn’t just a risk factor in my case, it was something that had already jumped ship into my nodes.  So, in the department of feeling just fine about my current course of action, check plus.   But in the department of wishing, wishing, wishing they’d get closer to figuring out which crappy little D.C.I.S’s are the lazy little lapdogs we all hope for, the kind that behave and stay put, and which ones turn into angry growly pit bulls, well, they can’t get to that part too soon.  I don’t know about you, but I think we’re all aware that breast cancer is out there.  A few more dollars towards research, a few fewer pink baseball bats, that’d be fine by me.

Meanwhile, here’s the best news: it’s May.  And when this month is over with, I’ll be done with my Groundhog Day mornings.   Praise be!