Lees on the Road

We’ve been gone for 10 days. Two consecutive plastic surgery meetings required four flights and long hours wasted in airport security lines. In Phoenix, the retractable barriers separating switchback lines of shuffling travelers boasted “The Friendliest Airport in America!” which was contradicted by exasperated staff barking at us to empty our pockets and remove clothing that might beep. As we padded through the fucking garbage hateful scanner, I fumed at the futility of this pre-boarding nonsense. “Not one of us is a terrorist!” I didn’t scream, because then everyone would think I was a terrorist. I blushed at uniformed strangers getting a glimpse at my implants in the name of national security. “Hey, these contain MORE than four ounces!” I didn’t joke because the security line doesn’t like jokesters. Finally aboard the plane—fondled, humiliated, and bathed in the breath of strangers—it was two to four hours of restless, foodless discomfort. Hats off to those of you who travel frequently and don’t offer a constant stream of more-annoyed-than-thou tweets about the experience.

I might be a grumpy traveler, but I’m a darling meeting attendee. Honestly, I’m so darned impressed with anyone who stands up in front of a huge audience of peers to talk about what they do. Especially when what they do is restore women to pre-cancerous normalcy, even beauty. Also, there are always new people to meet and I love love love new people to meet. Isn’t everyone amazing and smart and delightful? I think so– especially when meeting them happens during cocktail hour.

I also “met” a broader tweeting community, as Bernie and I launched the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery into the social media sphere. I’ve been playing with Twitter for years: following the funny people, writing little nothings, and getting to know @JustinGuarini all over again. (He’s delightful. Go see.) With a handful of new plastic surgeons following, my feed is full of facelift facts and why you might want your implants to be textured. This community has only a small toehold in the virtual world of opinion-shouters, but it’s growing thanks to charmers like @OlivierBranford and @danielzliu. And now that I have two more #SoMe sites to monitor, I’m more attached to my phone than an Instagrammer with an Etsy, new kitten, and a kitchen remodel project.

Monitoring social media is more of a time suck than deciding what to watch on Netflix, and I have stuff to do. Or, maybe I don’t. Between these two meetings I was asked 163 times if I’m ever going to be a surgeon again. Some are genuinely wondering if that is a thwarted dream on temporary hold. Other inquiries gently imply that my days are spent waiting for repairmen and searching for delicious crockpot recipes. Which is ridiculous. I hardly use the slow cooker at all during the summer.

Once again, I found myself defending my days, recounting hours spent on “pathological volunteerism” and reminding them that submissions to the Journal are read and vetted by me first. So there, you little misspellers and Oxford comma omitters… I’m judging you!

At long last the meetings had ended and it was time to race back through airport security to attempt a standby flight to see our little boys even one hour sooner. I wanted to be home instantly. Ten days is forever. I was sure they were taller and better at math. There were missing teeth to appreciate, stories to hear, snuggles to give. We were miraculously awarded the last two seats on the plane. Squished into middles… in separate aisles… bathed in the breath of strangers. Couldn’t have been happier.

It’s nice to be home. HVAC guy should be here any minute.

Leesontheroad

Bow tied Bernie and me. Lees on tour, now happily home.

 

 

 

Food

Last night I made a completely mediocre dinner. Everything was organic and gorgeous and roasted and sautéed in approved oils and should have been delicious. But it wasn’t. Also, those Whole Food-vegan-pig sausages are too reminiscent of phalli to be consumed by the 11 year old without protestations and sniggering. So in lieu of yummy noises (which is the norm at the dinner table), there were lots of giggles (because of the penis dinner), and everyone was going to be hungry again in an hour.

This week, Tom and Gisele’s cook was interviewed in the Boston Globe. Their gifted chef would never serve mediocre food. Or maybe he could. According to my interpretation of the interview, Tom and Gisele don’t really like food. Their kids eat vegetarian sushi with brown rice. For lunch. Every day. “Comfort food” is wilted kale over quinoa. Sugar is so verboten Tom will hardly tolerate a banana, or understandably, the homemade fruit roll ups the chef makes with pond scum. Yes, America’s healthiest beautiful people eat pond scum. After spending $1200 and umpteen on-line hours learning about nutrition from noted specialists, this Chef to the Loveliest touted Spirulina (a blue green alga) a “super fruit” and mixes it in to all sorts of dishes to keep America’s sweethearts heart-healthy.

Now, I might be a bit more schooled in the subject of phycology than Allen Campbell. After all, I’m published in Aquatic Botany. But most multicellular sentient beings recognize that algae aren’t fruit. And though you could make a reasonable salad with kelp stems and spring Ulva, why would you bother when we have stores containing shelves upon shelves of… food?

Immediately and irrepressibly I was poking fun at Chef Campbell for admitting he doesn’t begin any work day until 11am, and for his zeal for sober, raw, gluten-free, mostly meatless (possibly joyless), decaffeinated meals that MUST BE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY. With my medical degree and usual smugness, I wondered if sprinkling an Advil over a bowl of fettuccine could have the same effect. But Allen Campbell, with his impressive log of one (1) on-line course in nutrition, informs Globe readers that tomatoes, eggplants, flour, sugar, mushrooms, milk, and fruit will be the death of you. Also, scrap your shaker of Morton’s. The beautiful people only salt with the Himalayan pink crystals (which are, in fact, 98% good old NaCl).

Maybe he’s right. I mean look at Gisele and Tom– so genetically gifted they are perched on the high dive of the gene pool, hardly dipping a toe in the deep with the rest of the sugar-eaters. But if the secret to youth, beauty, vibrancy, likability, wealth, success, and Super Bowl victories hides in their mostly empty kitchen cabinets, it’s worth attempting one Brady-Bundchen meal à la Campbell. So I did. And it wasn’t gross, it was just… meh. Maybe Spirulina was the secret ingredient missing from my bowls of savory, organic stew. More likely it was the shit ton of garlic and delectable saucy flavors only a talented chef could invent to mask the fact that super healthy food is often super blah.

Allen Campbell isn’t the first celebrity chef to affect medical wisdom when he has none, but his lack of self-effacing perspective really made the interview dry heave-y. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these people could giggle a bit about food? The carefully curated diet, hired specialist, and ever-growing list of Must Never Eat foods is so so so so so boring to me. It’s Kardashian level boring. Certainly nutrition is essential, but it would be nearly impossible for most mortals to plan affordable and entirely organic and vegetarian pond scum flecked meals that taste wonderful. I would have eaten up an article by Campbell confessing how fucking hard it is to whip all of these plants into something as satisfying as a burrito from Anna’s Taqueria. Or how little Benny and Vivi snigger at and refuse to eat a penis-shaped or otherwise repellent-because-so-healthy meal. So sometimes he sneaks them cereal an hour later. Just like the Lees.

Algae

Kids! Dinner’s ready!

 

 

2015 Was a Year… by Steve Safran

 

Steve writes the only year-end summary you will need.

2015 was, without a doubt, a year. It lasted a remarkable 365 1/4 days, during which the sun rose and set an average of once a day. For me, personally, each day had 24 hours. Many people felt the same, and others did not.

With every day, there seemed to be news. Much of that news occurred. Some of it was unexpected, and pundits called it “unpredictable.” Other events happened that people saw coming. Still other things happened that some people foresaw but others did not.

Controversial things happened in 2015. Less controversial things were reported on the local news. There was a variety of weather.

Also, in 2015 there were sporting events. A scrappy, underdog team overcame tremendous odds to win. An overwhelming favorite made its fans cheer with great excitement as they, too won. There was tremendous heartbreak as some teams lost. Most people agree that 2015 had sports. There are those who do not.

It was a year during which there were events that were beyond our control. People had differences of opinion. It seemed, at times, we’d never agree. Yet, we came together on some matters. Many of those matters involved ribbons.

In 2015 many famous people died. Others died as well, but they weren’t famous.

Popular culture made us laugh, cheer and dance. There were new movies, music, plays and forms of rhythmic movement involving the posterior. Adults were shocked by many of these things and took to social media to express their outrage. There were public apologies by many people and companies. Other people and companies did not apologize.

We found, at the end of 2015, a full year had passed since the end of 2014. There are experts who believe the same will happen in 2016, but there is controversy on the topic. “Year-Truthers” believe the 365 1/4 number is a lie forced on us by the government. News networks devote equal time to both sides.

As 2015 passes into history, we can look back and see that there were four seasons. And that, in this reporter’s opinion, happened.

2016

Lisa’s Birthday

December 16th is Lisa’s birthday. Lisa is my forever friend from age 14. We talked every single day from 1986 when I moved to her school until our graduation day in 1989… and many after that. An early winter birthday meant Lisa was a full half-year older, which was huge in the teenage timeline. When we met on my first day at the new school, I knew she had the skinny on all sorts of things from bangs to boys– possibly even banging boys. Lisa knew stuff.

No no no, don’t sit next to those guys… come over here, she waved with a smile and a laugh, and absolutely no concern for “those guys.”

And I knew we’d be close right from the get go. We had both erased “Yaz” into our canvas-covered binders and matched our Mia ballet flats to our sweaters. Her expertly applied Maybelline played up her clear blue eyes that complemented her perfectly permed and scrunched brown locks. Lisa was sexy. (Still is.) Every teenage girl should have a Lisa, unless she is a Lisa, in which case she might need a Britt. Lisa pulled me out of my middle child good girl persona to experiment with rules, limits, beer (blech), boys, and hair products.

One boring day in high school, Lisa convinced Scott (a senior!) to lend us his Jeep and me (with a study hall and easy-to-evade science teacher) to skip. The fact that Scott let two unlicensed girls drive his very cool Jeep off campus during a school day is testament to what boys will risk for the slimmest possibility of nookie. After spritzing ourselves with perfume at the mall and pretending to be college kids at the McDriveThru, I started wondering if we should head back to school. Lisa reminded me that I was a straight A student, would never get caught, that I’d never get into trouble anyway because I was so blonde and smart and good, and then drove directly to the curb at my house and started honking the horn.

See? Your mom isn’t even going to come out of the house. And even if she did, she’d never think it was you in the car. Because you are AT SCHOOL. Can’t be you. Relax.

And so I did. Pulling myself out from under the dashboard and pulling away from my driveway, we opened all of the windows and let out primal screams of joy and youth and freedom. And then we returned Scott’s Jeep, took our respective buses home, and immediately called each other on the phone to relive the day and discuss how Scott was cute but, like, eww, not like that. Poor Scott.

As I watch my dearest friends’ daughters grow tall and gorgeous, I wonder if they’re a Britt or a Lisa or one of “those guys.” Can I even hope that they have the confidence of Lisa as a high school freshman? Never giving a shit about “those guys” and always completely certain she could sweet talk a boy out of his car (or anything else)? This is how I want these girls to sashay through the halls of high school. But who knows this at such a young age? How do we infuse our daughters with an unshakable sense of their worth and power?

Maybe we should share our Lisa stories—the ones that reveal we didn’t always make the best choices, but that the memories endure with great fondness because those choices were our own. The scariest and most fragile moments of youth can happen at the whim of thoughtless others when girls do not realize they have superpowers. Friends like Lisa would never let them doubt or forget their smarts and beauty and youth and abilities. Friends like Lisa make sure our co-conspirators for any bit of afternoon naughtiness are the ones who know us best and love us most.

Today is also the dreaded Cancer-versary, but this year I remembered it was Lisa’s Birthday first. It’s a Lisa-versary! Instead of succumbing to the seasonal blues associated with this calendar date, I’m taking a moment to remember how Lisa has always made me feel pretty, powerful, and fun. Years later she also showed me that breast cancer couldn’t take that away, either. Through her own treatment, recovery, and aftermath Lisa still approached life with a joyful passion like few others. With one in eight of us in the Shittiest Sorority, the odds weren’t entirely unlikely that we’d grow up to be cancer-ed in exactly the same way. Fitting somehow that my older, wiser buddy would get the skinny on it first. I was the physician, but Lisa knew stuff. She sent me a box of hats, socks, chocolates, and notes that were a perfect balm to the terror of the time.

Happy Birthday to my kind, crazy, sexy, wise, and hilarious friend. May all of your daughters be blessed with a Lisa—unless she is a Lisa—in which case… lucky you.

Lisa and Britt

Lisa and me… with all of our original parts… prom 1989

 

 

 

My (Mostly) Final Word on Cancer… By Steve Safran

I don’t want to be known for the rest of my life as “The Cancer Survivor.” I don’t even want to be known by that label for the rest of the year. So this is my final post– more or less– on the topic. It’s not that I’m going to ignore cancer. It’s just that it’s time to get back to the regularly scheduled programming in this space.

Cancer can make you that person on social media. You know that person:

“The One with Four Thousand Pet Pictures”

“The One with ALL the Opinions about Obama/Trump/Vaccines/Guns”

“The One Who Posts Photo Memes” (so many photo memes)

“The One Who Should be Flogged with a Selfie Stick”

Admittedly, since I was diagnosed in May, my essays have been narrowly focused on reacting to that. But moving on, I don’t want to be “The One Who Only Posts About Cancer (but Didn’t He Used to Have a Sense of Humor)?”

For someone who didn’t immediately disclose his diagnosis on line, I guess I’ve come full circle wanting to give my timelines a break from cancer. For someone who has been paid to advise people to tweet and share and like and network, I wasn’t sure this felt right back in May. So I asked a friend, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, how they decided to update everyone via social media.

I can boil down his advice as follows: People are going to find out anyway, so they may as well hear it from you. And once you decide to share, you owe it to your friends to update them on your progress. In the absence of information, they’ll assume things are getting worse. And vague updates are a really quick way to anger, worry, and annoy your “followers” even when you don’t have cancer.

So, I wrote. I shared the stories about the diagnosis, the weird hospital experiences, the humiliation and, yes, the very dark humor there is to be found in cancer treatment. My friends, supportive blog readers, and my growing circle of cancer survivor allies kept responding positively, so I kept writing. It was the only aspect of The Cancer I had any control over.

This past month, I’ve been raising money through a very silly cancer fundraiser called The Movember Foundation. I’ve grown a mustache, and friends have donated money—many have ignored their razors in hairy solidarity, too. The generosity has been remarkable: My friends have donated $3,200 to charities that concern themselves with testicular and prostate cancer, as well as other men’s health issues. I am honored, humbled, and grateful.

I’m cured now. “Movember” ends tomorrow. It’s time to get back to life without chemo and end the run of cancer-centric posting. I need to write about the new experiences, humiliations, and dark humor that 2016 will bring. I need to find a job. I need to post stupid jokes, mock Britt’s gardening obsession, poke fun at Debby’s height and Jason’s bald head (now that my hair’s back) and, possibly, be a little nicer too.

I want to be known as a lot of things: a friend, a dad, a colleague, a wiseass, a writer, an off-key singer, and a Sox fan. I’d like people to know I’m one of the world’s most average ukulele players. I want to be known as trustworthy, sincere but a little too sarcastic, open to new ideas and yet still set in my ways. I even like being known as “The One Hit by the Bat at Fenway.”

As for now, I’m finished being “The One Who Had Cancer.”

Steve Movember

‘Stash-tastic Stevie

$100

$100.

That’s a lot of money, right? Or maybe it’s not that much. It’s too expensive for a t-shirt, but pretty reasonable for a wine-fueled lunch for four. $100 pays the babysitter when we’re out too late, or the airport garage when we’re too lazy to bus in from the remote lot. Those red envelopes always have a Benjamin or two inside. Sometimes I find them at the bottom of whatever purse was seasonal during Chinese New Year and it’s a fun little $100 surprise. And then I’ll just use those crisp bills to pay for play date pizzas, or Halloween candy, or another stockpile of phone chargers.

$100. Is it a lot of money? Sometimes. Could it change a day, a week, a life… a Church? Maybe. Maybe it could.

Recently I had a rare and delicious afternoon alone with Zealot Sister. We’re hardly ever together, and never alone. But we were visiting Aunt Billie for her 80th birthday bash weekend and the two of us stole away for a bit of shopping. Midwestern Law dictates that if a quorum of female cousins assembles, a trip to Kohl’s is mandatory. So we did that. But first, it was just Paige and me in the fancy shopping district of Columbus, Ohio buying unnecessary and unnecessarily expensive stuff.

As I fed the meter with stray, bottom-of-the-purse quarters, a young woman approached.

“Can I bother you for some change? I’m so hungry.”

Who has cash, though… am I right? I was already digging for meter money, so she could obviously see how currently cash-free I was. But then I remembered my secret stash—the bill I squirreled away after the $10 fiasco. So I gave it to her.

$100.

I didn’t know her or her story. And like most people, I’m leery of strangers in general and especially street-dwellers violating my personal space. I hardly have a habit of giving away money in such an unplanned, impulsive manner. And I’m sure even as I was handing over the money, I wanted the whole exchange to end quickly because I’m a horrible person and loathe any reminder of ugliness or pain in the world.

“I have no idea why I did that.” I said to Zealot Sister as she looked at me all beatifically and quoted Scripture from memory because Zealot Sister isn’t called Zealot Sister just because it’s fun to call her Zealot Sister.

“Britt, she said she was hungry.”

Yup.

It wasn’t the last request we received on the mean streets of Columbus. And even though I truly had no cash left to give, I wouldn’t have anyway. First of all, I am a horrible person. Also, no one else was hungry.

Is $100 a lot of money? For some, it is always a lot of money. For fewer people, it might not be. For a lucky handful of us, maybe it would be easy to give $100 away all of the time. Not every single day–though wouldn’t that be super fun? But what about once a week, or at least those weeks when you’re in the pews praying for a safer world and protection of the hungry people who have no home or country or shoes or hope. How about sending $100 along with those thoughts and prayers. Not every day; some days there’s only change in the bottom of the purse. But maybe today is the day to give away the emergency bill—because someone else has a greater emergency.

Is $100 too much? For me, it’s not. For me, $100 is the happiest check I write each week. I put $100 in the Church plate to travel along with my prayers for a broken world, hurting friends, and to accompany one thousand thank yous for the life I have. $100 sounds cheap for that sort of thing. To me, anyway.

There are 175 of us who pledge regularly at Church. I assume most people who send in that yearly Stewardship check sit in the pews at least 20 of the 52 weeks of the liturgical year, even with summers off and unavoidable skiing. I wonder… what if all of us dropped $100 into the plate each week along with our prayers for hope and healing? Is it too much? Is it enough to be considered tithing? Is it too little and we’re already sending a yearly pledge so purse change is sufficient for any given Sunday?

The math tells us it could change everything. $100 from some of us, some of the weeks could add up to $350,000 a year, or just exactly the shortfall between what we collect and what we need to keep our Church growing, current, music-filled, and just the way we love it. Is that a coincidence? Not to me.

$100. Is that a lot of money? Is it too much to give a hungry girl on the street, a faraway stranger with no home, programs helping kids living in public housing or those with no homes at all, initiatives to make all of our public spaces inclusivefunds for cancer research, the local food pantry, or to drop into the offertory plate? That’s for you to decide. Giving Tuesday is December 1st. Where is your $100 (or $10 or $100,000) going to go?

Share your $100 stories… the ones that remind us we are One Community responsible for feeding all who ask.

Benjamin

Please add links in the comments to your favorite causes and tell us why you would happily part with your emergency Benjamin to further its mission.

 

Eye-rolling past the memes…

Some mornings, our social media sites are less “hey, look at my kid/cat/foliage/punk art show” and more a shout-y tangle of would be televangelists attempting to grow their ministries. The goal isn’t really for discussion and sharing, but for agreement and accolades. Another evening of Republicans on must-see-TV will cause another flurry of what Steve Safran called “shouting into the echo chamber.” If the end game of that anti-Obama rant, your Stand with Planned Parenthood celebrity re-posts, or your War on Christmas battle cry is conversion of readers, well, you’re going to need better memes. Alternatively, you could scrap those and just post a quickie recipe or puppy-scared-of the-Roomba. Those are always good.

Though I’m beholden and flattered that any of you read this drivel, I am embarrassed by my own contribution to a Look At Me/Think Like Me society. Admittedly, barring rants against the Pinking of October, these blurbs are really nothing more than navel-gazing. And I’ve written it before: I’m politically purple and cannot muster the level of disgust and indignation apparently necessary for launching opinions into the ether. My most controversial belief is that colored Christmas lights are an abomination. Really, quit it with those.

I am quite public about being Church-y, though, and this might be the most provocative thing about me. At a recent meeting with civic-minded volunteers for a fabulous program helping kids in public housing, I “joked” that we should open with prayer. This was received with good-natured, mock horror. And I loved that. Strong opinions shared without humility, humor, balance, or thoughtfulness sadden and worry me. And kindness is sorely lacking in those tweets and updates belittling Belief or angrily supporting a specific worldview. Is there room in your sphere for those who don’t always recycle, for those who love Church or wouldn’t darken its doors, or for someone who thinks meat is murder or that life begins at conception? Is it really so important to try to convert your social media followers? And when did we become so groupthink-y and sensitive?

When strong beliefs are assumed to be commonly held and are shouted angrily into the interspaces, I react like an eye-rolling and embarrassed-for-you teenager, “I’m so sure you, like, care enough to post that. Dork.”

Divisiveness is as unproductive as it is un-loving. None of us has a firm hold on absolute truths. No one is persuasive enough to convince you that Bernie Sanders is our savior or that Matt Walsh has a point. We have ridiculously strong opinions about the Christmassyness of our coffee cups. OUR COFFEE CUPS. So maybe let’s share more of the things that unite us and do our darndest to quiet the earnestly and easily irritated folk who would pit us against each other… by ignoring them. (Dorks.)

I love John Atkinson

I love John Atkinson…

Humiliation Hall of Fame

Does everyone spend a portion of the night awake in bed replaying all embarrassing moments? It can’t be just me. Anyone else have a Humiliation Hall of Fame that plays as a closed loop of highly edited memories when the room goes dark? Here are some gems from my highlight reel:

My crush and his ex-girlfriend rekindling their romance right after I delivered that flirty note.

Referring to my research project as “sexy” to the unamused Harvard interviewer.

Ignoring all signs that the elderly man was more randy than charming and awkwardly escaping his open-mouthed, grabby advances with backpedaling apologies for being married.

Debuting my spot on seagull imitation to partygoers who were more accustomed to girls with cherry stem tongue knot or leg-behind-ear talents. (Never was invited back to that frat house.)

These memories flood many a pre-REM moment. Sometimes the recollection of past blunders is so vivid that I actually recoil and conk Bernie in the head or loose a shiver of mortified regret that makes him fear there’s a spider in the bed. I hope we were all too drunk to remember me nicknaming that surgeon Asshole Khaki Pants. Maybe it wasn’t that awful when my charming repartee prompted, “I have a girlfriend.” Are all of you occasionally (if not as frequently) ridiculous as I am?

I hope so. Sharing the errant gaffe is the good stuff of late night cocktail parties. And those with consistently impeccable manners and good judgment are laudable, but rarely the ones to whisper with you in dark corners. And I’m a whisper in dark corners kind of girl.

Recently I learned there’s an extra level to the heights of humiliation I can reach because my husband is a plastic surgeon. Just as interior designers have gorgeous furnishings and computer scientists wield the latest iThings, plastic surgeons have injectables. And plastic surgeons like Bernie have a prop patient for poisons and lasers. I promised to love, cherish, and submit to wrinkle-zapping and fat-freezing till death do us part. Apparently.

Having your own, personal (and lovely, talented, and generally awesome) aesthetic guru shouldn’t be anything short of delightful. But I can make even simple forehead smoothing ridiculous. Here’s some handy advice: don’t go swimming after Botox. At the very least, maybe don’t squeeze goggles around your toxin-filled eye sockets and expect fantastic results. Luckily, only one lid drooped… and only for a week or so… and I’m sure no one thought my travel mug was brimming with vodka or anything. I may have appeared concussive, but I looked young, dammit.

Recently, I killed at Garden Club, winning first prize for my dahlias for the third year running. And I don’t even lift my tubers. This should have been a totally not embarrassing day. I arrived early to help other garden clubbers match genera and species to their cuttings. I chatted up other flower fanatics over buttery baked goods and coffee. I wore the girliest of dresses and it was all lovely lovely lovely. Skipping around in my cashmere ruana oohing and ahhing over foliage and photos and fall arrangements, I had completely forgotten that Bernie had attacked my lower lids with the handheld laser the night before.

To be clear, Bernie doesn’t zap me because I’m not already stunning (duh), but because the new laser is a fun new gadget. And boys must test fun new gadgets! There’s something about being a Mom that makes one forget to look really closely in the mirror. With just a smidgen of attention and a bit of concealer, I could have avoided attending Garden Club looking like an Athletic Warrior for the Cure wearing pink-hued eye-black. Until Bernie suggested I don sunglasses, I had spent an entire morning twirling around town Ridiculously Unaware. (The garden clubbers were too polite to inquire about my crosshatched half moons of sunburn.) Friends who are as vain as I am swear they would love to have live-in staff willing to zap away the years. Maybe they’d be smart enough to forgo the goggles or attack crow’s feet on the weekends.

I’m not.

The best beauty treatment probably isn’t found in a syringe or de-wrinkling light saber, at all– but in a long and restful night of sleep. And I plan to implement this regimen. Real quick. Right after I relive decades of ill-timed waterfowl impressions and other embarrassments. Sleep well, my pretties.

The quality of my impression was entirely wasted on the brothers....

The quality of my squawking was entirely wasted on the brothers….

A Guide for Post-Cancer Patients and their Caregivers, by Steve Safran

First, a thank you. I am overwhelmed by the reception I received for my article “After the cure, the cry.” Britt tells me 1,000 people read it. Many people—friends and strangers– have contacted me and shared their personal stories with cancer, recounting their own illness or remembering a family member who went through it.

Grappling with my own, complicated emotions in the post-treatment period, I found a great many resources out there for people suffering through “Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress.” The important message in all of these is this: You are not alone. These words from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) ring true.

“Symptoms of post-traumatic stress usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, but sometimes they do not appear for months or even years afterwards.”

(Mine began about three days after learning I was in remission.)

I kept asking myself, “I’m in remission. So why do I feel so miserable?” The NCI list of key triggers for PTSD made me wonder how anyone escapes this. As a cancer patient, you’re hit with a series of terrifying events, any one of which would be stressful. Combine them, and they make a mighty cocktail of traumatic triggers:

– Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

– Receiving treatment

– Waiting for test results

– Learning the cancer has recurred

To that, I would add that only doctors on TV ever say, “You’re cured!” so we live with “Learning the cancer may recur.”

Side bar from Britt: Still reeling from these events, you can imagine how odd and occasionally irritating all of these Stay Strong Be Positive Awareness campaigns can be. With everyone gleefully praising the bravery and strength of cancer patients, while walking their own healthy bodies all over town for a happy cure, we might feel a bit of guilt or anger that we’re unable to pretend it’s all over. We might have (temporarily) beat cancer into some undetectable submission, but it is an albatross to our peace.

Cancer patients aren’t the only ones subject to PTSD. Caregivers are susceptible, too.

“PTSD can also affect caregivers. Learning that a loved one has cancer, seeing a loved one in pain, and experiencing a medical emergency are traumatic events that may contribute to the development of PTSD symptoms during treatment or years after the person has survived the cancer.”

So families and caregivers need support, too. For me, cancer was a full participation, family event. My parents, my sister, and of course, my kids weren’t shielded from the times I was in pain or scared. We’ll need to keep “checking in” to gauge the fallout of this on each one of us. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how my disease would influence their feelings in the future. Now I will.

What should we do about this? Is there a way to proactively safeguard our loved ones in the aftermath? Actually, yes. There are a few recommended steps. The first is everyone should have an opportunity to talk to a psychiatrist. Having a trained professional define the trauma and help identify its effects on your worldview can be enormously helpful. Also a doctor can and will, if necessary, prescribe medication. It’s been my experience, so far, that making sense of things with a psychiatrist is as much a part of healing as growing new hair. Holding in feelings of any sort is not healthy. Exorcizing those thoughts with a trained professional– not just your friends– is the way to metabolize them. This is just as important for caregivers and loved ones to consider as well. While your best friend or loyal sister is a great listener, a third party relieves her of trying to comfort and be comforted: You can’t be the patient and the therapist.

Another way to heal? Mindfulness. I’ve only just started to learn about this, so forgive me for being new to the effectiveness of this practice. Mindfulness, to be reductive, is yoga and meditation without all the New Age, crystal-waving, stand-on-one-leg, astrology-reading bits. And there is scientific proof that it works:

“A controlled study published in 2000 looked at 90 cancer patients who did mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation for 7 weeks. They found that people who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than people who did not meditate.”

I love controlled studies. They beat the heck out of well-meaning friends who say, “I have a cousin who only eats pomegranates and he’s been in remission for 30 years.” I went so far as to switch to a specialist trained in mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness isn’t faith-based, and doesn’t actually require that you post inspirational quotes over blurry skies on Facebook. A good friend observed: “So those cultures that have been doing this for thousands of years probably knew something after all?” Go figure.

If you are in cancer recovery or in caregiver remission, please pay attention to signs of PTSD, take advantage of the many resources available to you, and never forget that you are not alone. I’m overstating the point, but as I’ve said before: “You think the treatment is bad? Wait until you’re cured!”

Britt cannot resist science puns...

Britt cannot resist science puns…

After the Cure, the Cry… by Steve Safran

I broke down crying in Target today. Just started blubbering. People must have thought I was really upset they were out of the $9.99 sale sweatshirts.

This will be heavy. This is not the usual, lighthearted stuff I want to write. But this blog has always been weirdly honest, even when Britt and I have been at our jokiest. I like to think we’ve put stuff out there that’s tough to discuss, and more uncomfortable to admit. And right now, things are difficult for me.

I didn’t cry much during treatment for testicular cancer. Not when I was diagnosed. Not when I was in pain. Not when I spent endless hours in the hospital, frustrated at the lack of attention, information, or prompt pain management. Hardly a tear. Now that I’m in remission and feeling well enough to shop for sweatshirts at Target?

I can’t stop crying.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, as Londoners were faced with being obliterated by the Luftwaffe, the incidence of mental illness dropped. Fewer people visited psychiatrists. Even as the Germans tried to kill them, Britons actually experienced less stress and need for psychiatric care. You can chalk that up to the famous British stiff upper lip, but it’s likely something more universal: when you’re under attack, you don’t have time to worry.

This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Soldiers don’t get depressed in the field. But for years after– even for the rest of their lives— they can be haunted by the trauma they saw and endured. It’s only after the battle is done that your mind takes a beat: “Hey. Wait. What just happened?”

Thus, me, cancer… and the crying.

Right up to the moment they were rolling me into the operating room, I felt absolutely fearless. I was even indignant that the surgeon was running late. I was pretty drugged up, but I know, I absolutely know, I didn’t feel scared at that moment. I said, “Let’s do this” with all the bravado of a warrior. Let’s go in and smoke out the enemy. The camo was on, the war paint was smeared, and I had readied myself for battle, albeit wearing a backless nightie in a sterile room with polite nurses and soft rock.

Of course, I had an initial cry of relief. The release. It felt good. Someone with CT scan results and authority said, “remission,” that no more treatment was needed, and boy was that cry-worthy. But within just a couple of days, I switched into a very different gear. And things got dark. And I started to think…

My body tried to kill me. Twice.

First it betrayed me with cancer, and then a week later it attacked me with a pulmonary embolism. I’m having a hard time forgiving my body for that. To be struck by an enemy soldier is one thing; to be attacked from within? My body tried to kill me and when it wasn’t successful the first time, it tried again.

Bastard.

Now my body has scars. They embarrass me and they will never go away. I have had far more difficult emotional days since being cured than I did while undergoing chemo. I have hospital flashbacks, picturing needles and bags full of chemicals and it’s all horrible like some sort of far-off, war-torn jungle. Also, now I get a lot of eye boogers. Apparently chemo messes with your tear ducts. Not enough to stop the crying, apparently, but another daily reminder that I needed tear duct-poisoning medicines to ensure my survival.

I’m getting help. I talk with a psychiatrist who says he’s a “big fan of crying.” I see what he means. It metabolizes the pain. Crying is the most human response to all of the loss: losing parts of my body and, at least for now, any sort of confidence that it won’t betray me again.

There is appreciative crying, too. These tears spring from a different place. I think back on all the people who helped me–  all of the people who volunteered their time or simply gave a thumbs up to a posting. Cancer can remind you that you’re actually very loved, and the overwhelming gratitude in the aftermath makes it occasionally hard to speak without choking up.

It has been about four weeks since I learned the chemo worked. And I’ve gone from crying all the time to maybe once a day. So maybe there’s something to this business after all. It’s not manly, at least not in the traditional “suck it up and be a man” sense. But I think I get a little leeway on the “manly” front after getting the kind of cancer that requires the removal of an intimate chunk of physical manliness. The chunk, by the way, that was trying to kill me.

How do I forgive my body for attempted suicide? How do I come to terms with forever being branded a “cancer survivor,” or letting go a carefree notion that serious illness is something that happens to old people that aren’t me? How the hell do I get over this?

I don’t know. For now, I cry.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news. Also, another example of how nurses are awesome.