HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO STEVIE… by Britt

When Kim suggested we fete Stevie for an unexpected 49th birthday surprise, I was ALL IN. I bet most of us are double booked for any Saturday during the holi-daze, but this is one of the few things I actually wanted to do. Can’t think of many better things than joining a gaggle of Lovers of Steve to raise a glass in his honor.

That event prompted me to go back—way back—through hundreds of Facebook messages where Stevie and I became buddies. Reading these silly essays over the past five (FIVE!) years, one might assume Stevie and I have been besties since the ‘80s. But we weren’t. Back in college, I was only loosely connected to Steve. He was the popular older boy, wickedly smart and funny, a writer for Trinity Tripod, and “in” with all of the pretty, talented people. I’m sure I hardly registered on his radar in the ‘90s. I was a younger, dorky Biology major with Sally Jesse Raphael frames and no fake ID. I would never be game show cool.

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Remember Remote Control? Stevie was on it, and won.

But by 2008, I was a stay at home Brookline mommy with 3- and 4-year old boys. One day my gorgeous, Swedish babysitter set up a Facebook account to message her for gigs. Email was for, like, old people, Ingrid said. Within months, the Facebook algorithm matched Stevie with me, and once we learned we sort of knew each other, lived only a few miles apart, and had similarly inappropriate things to say to each other on line, it was instant friendship.

Three years later our text messaging and occasional in person catch-ups became something deeper. I got breast cancer. Stevie was divorcing and then… dating. There was much to discuss. Reading through those old Facebook exchanges I can feel the comedic relief Steve was sending me through the interspaces. Surrounded by stifling, helpful, baffling, wonderful, and hilarious Asian relatives, I maintained sanity trading short messages with Steve that still make me giggle. I swear he suffered through at least one date with a crazy woman merely to provide stories for my amusement. Bald, poisoned, mutilated, and badgered by relatives insisting I eat papaya soup, I retreated to my bedroom and laptop to laugh with Stevie. This little exchange was about a woman we nicknamed “Chinatown.” That thread is too racy for even this crowd… but here’s a sample.

SS:  Black leather jacket or peacoat?











BL:  It’s fucking cold and leather is trying too hard.











SS: Agreed











BL:  And you don’t want her to think you’re one of those guys that is always hot and sweating. Wear a jaunty scarf. We like those, too.




 We, meaning me. And it’s optional.











SS:  I don’t like this online thing– I’d much rather a reference from you: “He’s a little hairy and out of shape, but worth it.”









 I don’t do jaunty scarfs. Do I need to get one? What color/style?

BL:  Forget the scarf. I’ll get it for you.




 She is welcome to message me any time on Friday. I have no biopsies planned. And I will totally vouch for your worthiness.




 And who wouldn’t take to heart the words of a hot, dying girl?










 SS: “My friend and shiksa goddess Britt has cancer, but is more focused on me. As it should be.”











 BL: Too much? I’m not dying. Really. But you can use it to get into Chinatown.











 
SS:  I can work up a tear. You would have wanted it that way.











BL:  But if my Komen fight can get you laid, then you’re coming to Church with me on Sunday.











SS:  If I can get laid after LUNCH, I am accepting Jesus as my Lord, Savior and King.

We didn’t realize this was the start of our back and forth blogging at the time, but I quickly recognized Steve’s appearances in my comments were just as popular as my on line posts. So did he. This message preceded one of our first shared writing ventures that was featured by WordPress and continues to be circulated.

SS:  The blog keeps getting better. I think you should invite guest bloggers. I think I should be one. Because I always try to make things about me. And I’m pretty fucking funny.

I agreed heartily. Still do.

Last year, in a devastating show of solidarity and commitment to the blog and our friendship, Stevie got cancer. The mutilating surgery, go bald kind. Seriously, Stevie… this was above and beyond. As a veteran, I had an arsenal of right things to say. I had experience, expertise, and empathy. But I was angry and sad and scared and terrified. Fuck cancer and the rogue cells and fates that choose its victims. To date Steve has written funny and poignant essays about love, loss, life, death… and, you know, marshmallow fluff.

And now our friendship is the stuff of books and movies and really something that we are too lazy to actually capitalize on. We’ll tackle that in 2017. But tonight, celebrating the eve of his 50th year on the planet, knowing he is marinating in love and friendship, I want to tell the world (or at least our limited readership) that I love him dearly and think somehow ours is the most special friendship. And I’ll bet many of us feel exactly like this—that we have a particularly funny and fantastic friendship with Steve that is unmatched. Thank you for making me feel special by inviting me to be a part of your weird and wonderful world.

Happy Birthday, Stevie.

xoxo

Berlin Can Take It… by Steve Safran

This week in horrible news has Stevie remembering Berlin. His thoughts remind me of how all of us are Boston Strong. Hate never wins. Our hearts are in Berlin (and so many places where horror happens), but Berlin can take it.

It was in Berlin where I apparently ordered a “Coffee with ice from the road, please.”

It was in Berlin where I smoked my first and last e-cigarette. The nicotine still hasn’t come off my face.

It was in Berlin that I leaned casually against a wall where, just a few decades earlier, I would have been shot.

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It was in May 2012, that I visited a friend who was working in Berlin. I’d always wanted to see this legendary city so I finally had an excuse. Newly separated, I traveled alone. It was my first real trip as a single guy. It felt… odd. Berlin. Legendary. Land of spies. Ground Zero of the Cold War. Home base for the Holocaust.

And so, so many places to get beer.

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Berlin is not generally a beautiful city. It can be as ugly as it is fascinating. Certainly, the part that was West Berlin is better looking than the former East Berlin. It’s sort of the difference between Brooklyn and Queens, if Queens had been flattened and been rebuilt out of bad concrete.

There are parts that are beautiful. The Grunewald is Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park, but ten times larger– plus a lake. Wannsee sits on the water here, a beautiful beach and home to the eponymous 1942 conference where the Nazis decided on “The Final Solution to The Jewish Question.” There are contradictions and cognitive dissonances everywhere.

At the Brandenberg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” tourists mingled with street performers dressed, tastelessly, as American and East German soldiers, Darth Vader, Yoda and Mickey Mouse Gone Bad. This is now banned. However, you can still find costumed Fake Soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.

I danced on Hitler’s grave in Berlin. Really. It’s not marked, but where Hitler was burned on a pyre outside his bunker in April 1945, now sits a small parking lot capable of holding, maybe, 10 cars. Germany didn’t want lots of Neo-Nazis hanging about the place, so they literally paved over history. (OK, almost literally.) My friend and I pulled in. I got out of the car, danced a small jig, and got back in. Good enough.

Berlin is no stranger to horrors, and this week’s is a mere scratch compared to what it’s been through. Still, how awful. How unfair. How absurd and shameful. An attack on Christmas shoppers. It’s beyond the pale. We all agree on that. And we stand, of course, with Berlin. Ich Bin Ein and all that.

But those who are claiming responsibility have nothing to claim. They haven’t accomplished a thing. They murdered people, yes. But they are a mere footnote to a great city’s long and complicated history. They stand for nothing. They may cost Angela Merkel her job, but another chancellor will come along. Berlin and Germany will go on, being a complex, industrious powerhouse.

You want to hurt Berlin?

Try harder. You’ve got nothing on history.

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Committees

Sitting at a cute café in Brookline this morning, sipping my chai latte and waiting for the rest of the committee to arrive, I thought, “In the New Year, I resolve to be on fewer committees.” A minute later my phone reminded me that today is the 19th, and our committee meeting is on the 20th. So although I have an extra shopping day (yay!), I still have another committee meeting tomorrow morning (boo).

For someone who doesn’t “work,” I have seven different committee meetings on the calendar just in December. If I count all of the Boards and focus groups and nominating and discerning and development committees, there are 11 different tables I’m scheduled to appear, drink the coffee, offer my input, take the minutes, and probably plan something. And I’m definitely forgetting a few. Why am I on umpteen committees? I’m going to figure it out in the New Year.

There are upsides to being a Committee Girl, and the first is that most of these groups include people I adore, lots of giggling happens, often there are baked goods, and Important Things are accomplished. If you know me even the teeniest bit, you know I’m a cheerleader for Steps to Success which supports and champions kids who live in public housing in Brookline. Most people think Brookline is flush with millionaires, and they’re not wrong. Tom and Gisele live here. But 13% of our neighbors are living in poverty, and until that number is zero, I’m going to keep talking about Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Get your checks in the mail.

I’ve also urged the local lot of you to Shop for Jesus, also known as the Christmas Market at the Church of the Redeemer. Since 2008, we’ve raised and given away a half million dollars to Boston’s “unhoused,” food pantries, St. Stephens Church, and oodles of other worthy organizations. So if you came and bought a sweater or some chocolates or commissioned Pete to draw your house or dog, you “gave,” too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Though the work is rewarding and the people are wonderful, when staring at a calendar riddled with meetings, even the most chipper committee girl begins to wonder if someone else could take her place at some of these tables. Recently, I met one. Though we’d been friends-of-friends on Facebook, in person this was a seriously gorgeous gal. I mean, she is totally television pretty having been, you know, on television. She was all cute and tiny after giving birth, like, a minute ago. And with her handsome doctor doting husband sitting by her side, she admitted she wasn’t returning to work in the media, but was looking for a meaningful volunteer job once the kid got a little bigger.

This girl is low hanging fruit, thought Chipper Committee Girl. I braced myself to assail this unsuspecting beauty with poverty factoids and inspire her to devote her time and checkbook to my causes. Already I fantasized tapping into her media savvy and got excited about the possibility of having someone without an AARP card on my development committee.

I want to do something with animals. Pretty soon we’re getting a pig.

A snort might have actually been expected from me, because I am a terrible person. But after watching her delight talking about animals and her husband’s bemused acquiescence to the certainty of imminent pig ownership, Chipper Committee Girl crumpled up her pitch and vowed to stop trying to recruit everyone. Certainly the animals need their champions, too. And although cats make me sneezy, doggie poop bags make me dry heave, and anything in a tank doesn’t belong indoors, even I have to admit those teacup pigs are irresistible. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing them on Facebook already.

The second upside to being Crazy Committee Girl is, occasionally, a welcome distraction. A creepy and actually not so very nice elementary school teacher often said, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Ten year old me would picture a tiny horned dude in a red suit engaged in odd carpentry inside my lazy, lazy head. And if I go back to posts from five years ago, I can read the dark thoughts of an idle mind trapped indoors and awash with cancer fighting poisons. This year, I was too busy with meetings to wallow in Cancer-versary memories. But it’s been five years, y’all. I should probably plan a party. Who wants to be on Britt’s Party Planning Committee? We’ll only meet once. And there will be cocktails.

Merry Christmas, friends! And may the New Year find you only on committees whose work blows your hair back… or makes you more excited than a kid on Christmas morning (who just got a teacup pig). Snort snort.

teacup_pigs

What is cuter than a teacup pig? TWO TEACUP PIGS.

Tell Me More…tips for holiday harmony by Steve and Britt

 

‘Tis the season to travel great distances, to break bread with our loving families and friends, and to argue with them. It’s a time when we resume our childhood roles, and the oldest brother is suddenly in charge again, even if his little sister is 42. Cousin Larry, the successful businessman with the beautiful family, cannot escape the painful reminder from Aunt Linda that he used to be “so chubby.” Ben’s always late, grandpa drinks too much, that skirt isn’t doing her any favors, oh look at the baby! And inevitably this season, someone is going to bring up…

Politics.

Whoo, boy. Are we in for it or what? I’ve heard, anecdotally, that there are families who have made alternate holiday plans because of the Trump/Hillary divide. Millenials, in particular, don’t want to face Dad and his friends in the aftermath. How can it have gotten this far? When we argue and avoid or fracture our families, we are giving the politicians what they want. Despite what they say, politicians (yes– even yours) need a divided republic. Why? It’s good for business. A unified electorate would kill off one of the parties. That’s bad for both sides.

Why? Well, obviously the losing party still needs support. But the winning party needs an enemy. If it has total support, it doesn’t have a strong opponent to blame when it doesn’t get stuff done. And, be assured, politicians don’t want to get too much done. That hurts their chances of re-election. Whatever they say and do can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

When the subject of politics comes up at the Thanksgiving table (and it will), know this to be true: You cannot convince anyone of anything. You cannot win the argument. Blame “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias,” my nominees for TIME magazine’s Things of The Year 2016.

People hate being told they are wrong—on line for sure, but especially face-to-face. I know I do. Even if your debater has the absolute best of intentions, being corrected makes you feel smaller. Being told you are wrong sucks, doesn’t it? Trust me when I tell you no one at the Thanksgiving dinner table is going to say “Oh, thank you for disabusing me of that notion.” Nope, they will resent you, and steal the last marshmallow-covered yam.

Try this, instead: listen.

Listen to what your friends and family have to say, whether it’s gun-toting Uncle Pete or your NPR-quoting neighbor. Draw them out. “Tell me more” are the three best words to use in a conversation. They make the person feel important and valued. They should feel valued! And when you cannot handle any more of the tell-me-more, trot this one out: “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” This might be harder to swallow than Grandma Marge’s green bean casserole, but give it a whirl for Thanksgiving’s sake.

“But I hate their candidate and everything that person stands for!” you say (or think really loudly with eye rolling). “Racist! Criminal! Chauvinist! Hypocrite!” OK. What are you trying to accomplish here? This is Thanksgiving, friends. It’s a time to pull a hammie tossing around a football, to fry a turkey in the driveway, to wonder how early is too early for cocktails, and to appreciate the people you love.

Still, you’re entitled to speak your mind. Here, it’s all about framing. I find the best way to get my point across is to acknowledge the other person’s point first. Then build upon it indirectly. Here’s an example:

AUNT IDA: I voted for Donald Trump. I just like him. He speaks his mind and he isn’t just another politician. That Hillary. She was stiff and I never trusted her. That email thing. The Clinton’s are so slippery and dishonest. I like that Trump is going to bring back jobs, so your Cousin Sarah can work again.

YOU: I hear you. Cousin Sarah has had a hard time finding work. But you know, these past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about the marches for women’s rights in the ‘70s. Growing up, you talked about the ERA and it made me realize women weren’t always considered equal to men. I learned that from you, Aunt Ida. I’m worried about how Donald Trump talks about women and the off-hand, demeaning remarks. That kind of talk–how did you handle that when you heard it in the office when you were working?

Aunt Ida is going to give you an earful about how she got pinched on the butt and called “sweetheart”– that’s how it was in her day. She may admit she didn’t like it, in which case you have an opening to talk a little more about the topic. But you have to keep the discussion about her (or Cousin Sarah). You’re not going to change her mind about those emails. But you might be able to personalize the discussion. And she may think a little more about it going forward.

This is how we can disagree without being hostile. This is how we can attempt to respect each other, and get through 8 hours of food prep for 23 minutes of eating without hurt feelings. Half of the voting electorate is not crazy. Sorry. We’re not all “loony liberals” or “crazy Republicans.” We’re not in separate baskets; we’re in this together. We need to give thanks for understanding. We need to reassure each other we still love our family and friends, no matter how they voted, no matter who holds the office. Your ballot choices shouldn’t spell the end of your relationship. Let it be the start of a conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Approach this one gently.

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Whether you are hiding in the Target parking lot, dampening opinions with scotch, or pretending to watch football, find some solace with like minded sunny-side-uppers trying to find #ThingsWeAllAgreeOn

 

 

What Will You Do?

Bernie and I never discuss our personal political views with our kids (or anyone, really). Both boys have pestered us on and off as to how we were voting. But since that first Republican debate in the summer of 2015, we’ve been turning that question around.

What would you do?

Of course, that was after the first of hundreds of devastating questions like, “what’s abortion?” Ooof. No matter how firmly I stand in defense of women between her bits and the government, a 10 year old asking with incredulous horror, “…so they kill the baby?” cannot (and should not) be dissuaded from a staunchly pro-life world view. Ten year olds aren’t ready for the complicated ugliness of partisan politics (are any of us?), and so Bernie and I only allowed them to watch from the sidelines, trying to answer their questions impartially about why everyone seemed so angry all of the time.

Kids have the best bullshit meters and it was refreshing to hear their untainted opinions. Bernie Sanders seems like a good guy. All of that stuff about Hillary can’t be true… but some of it probably is. The way Trump says, “China” is hilarious, but even the first graders at their school are better public speakers. They also would have appreciated being spared many dinnertime discussions about how to talk about and treat girls. They stayed up past school night bedtimes to watch adults shout into their echo chambers and not always tell the truth. As parents, our job was to explain, offer perspective, and to make sure they felt safe—to remind them that our American system has checks and balances. That no matter what, it was all going to be okay. We didn’t want them out in the world adding to the vitriol with parroted ideas from their parents. We tell them that expressing strong political opinions in public is impolite as it frequently devolves into more personal criticisms that are unkind. Kids understand unkindness better than we do.

On Tuesday morning, my thoughtful kid who has watched many hours of partisan news from both sides (when we let him) wondered aloud if we were even planning to vote this year.

I don’t think I’d vote for either of them, mom.

I think a lot of grown ups feel that way, too, kiddo.

So many months of nightly he-said-that, she-did-this news was impossible to shield from our fledgling teens. Even if we had turned off the TV and la la la clasped hands over our ears, they would have heard it all at school, or seen it on their phones. Their friends are old enough now to order their own red trucker hats on line or change their Instagram avis to H-arrows. Their teachers were sensitive to the fact that these small-ish, non-voting citizens might have feelings to share on Wednesday. Brodie’s history teacher devoted time to field their questions about the whys and hows of the electoral college. I was happy to hear that none of the kids was a gloating asshole, and devastated that some of these 13-year-old boys were fighting back tears.

That morning, after asking us for the umpteenth time how we voted and if we were happy or sad or angry, we told them the truth: we’re exhausted.

But mom, are you sad that a woman wasn’t elected?

And that was sweet. I’m the only girl in this house of leave-socks-everywhere boys. And I answered honestly. Yeah, a bit. But I’m also looking forward to a less complicated, future female candidate that lifts us up, unites us in spirit, and wears Chanel. (I’m not wearing a pantsuit for anyone. Ever.) We told them that there would be some sadness at school that day—that many of their teachers and 60% of voters in their home state were devastated by the election results. I drove them in, reminding them to be extra kind and gentle with everyone.

The cutest post in my feeds was the reaction of an adorable 6th grader whose response to surprising results was this:

Since Hillary didn’t win, I could still be the first woman president… couldn’t I?

You betcha, cutie. I hope it happens sooner than that, though. Also, let’s be honest, even a 12 year old might have some problematic images in her Instagram feed that would preclude future presidential electability– yet another reminder that what we are posting in the interspaces is written with a Sharpie.

Aside: I think people should be fined one hour of community service or $25 dollars to a non-profit for every negative meme they post. Really, quit it with those. If Michael Moore is right (and I think he is), this sort of cut and paste righteous anger is only reaching your bubble-mates who already agree with you.

I hope most of you have experienced what I have in the past few days: people hugging each other and saying hello and sharing morning after stories with kindness and hope. There’s a kind of steel-your-girders attitude in my little circles: take a deep breath, and dive back into the work of making the world a little prettier, safer, more fair. Steve has offered to help Julie get press for her incredible nonprofit to offer an inspirational biology course to kids from low performing schools. Kyra wants to know if we can swap stories about our do-gooding efforts to see where they overlap—maybe we can do more, give more? Jenny, the director of the Brookline Community Foundation, wanted to know how my kids were processing all of this (lots of you have asked that), and had seven great ideas on how to raise more awareness that 13% of our affluent town is living in poverty… and how to better assist those kids living in public housing. Al made five strangers laugh in the supermarket.

Though it is entirely American (thanks, Veterans!) to peaceably protest right now, I do hope we’ll pop our bubbles and go make each other laugh in the supermarket no matter what bumper stickers adorn our minivans. If you cannot shake the feeling that dark times are ahead, but you knew there were so many outlets for change that need all of us, I return to the question I posed to my boys back in 2015:

What would you do?

What will you do? Here’s what Kyra wrote:

Between the blog, Facebook, church coffee hours, the various fundraisers that both of us attend, not to mention the intimate moments that we have with our friends over wine, I’m hoping that we can make a network of nourishment and light for the local causes that will desperately need us right now. Would you be willing to work with me on this? 

You betcha, cutie.

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Aiming to be another in a long line of future females leaders of the free world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memes are a Cancer on Cancer… by Britt Lee and Steve Safran

Hey. Hiya. Britt and Steve here. She had breast cancer. He had testicular cancer. And we’d just like to say: STOP THIS:

“Every person has 1000 wishes. A cancer patient only has one wish, to get better. I know that 97% of Facebookers won’t post this as their status, but 3% will. In honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer – post this for at least one hour….”

Steve:

Seriously. What are you doing? Facebook is where you’re going to take your Stand Against Cancer? And you’re going to do it by posting this trite, ineffective and simplistic post– for one hour?

This is another doozy:

“I deleted a lot of people recently and continue to do so based upon behavior and content! Now I’m watching the one who will have the time to read this post until the end. This is a little test, just to see who reads and who shares without reading! If you have read everything, select “like” and then copy and paste this text on your profile. I know that 97% of you won’t share this, but my friends will be the 3% that do. In honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer or even had cancer, copy and paste. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!”

So, you’re deleting friends if they don’t live up to your reposting challenge? Facebook doesn’t work that way. Not everyone sees everything you’ve posted. It has an algorithm that determines… oh, fuck it. YOU’RE KILLING OFF YOUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS IN THE NAME OF CANCER AND YOU DON’T SEE THE IRONY.

 

Britt:

When I read these posts I want to comment, “I have 1000 wishes, and 999 of them are that you’d stop re-posting this” or “If you truly cared about cancer, you’d employ a colon properly and stop misusing exclamation points.” But I don’t. Once I typed, “This just made my cancer just come back” but immediately deleted it, fearing certain backlash, or scaring my parents. BUT IT WOULD BE SO FUN TO TYPE THAT.

Nearly four years ago I poked fun at one of these copy-and-paste Facebook Calls to Care on my cousin’s page. Because he is probably the nicest boy on the planet, and we don’t share oodles of social media contacts, it seemed a safe place to have a small conversation about it. He admitted that 1. He does, actually, care about cancer, 2. He had no idea these sorts of things were already clogging the interspaces, and 3. He felt a little pressure to repost, frankly. Still, I felt kind of shitty about not just letting it go.

Which is crazy! Why should I, a person who actually had cancer, feel guilty about mocking memes that not only trivialize that experience, but also trigger its memory?

 

Steve:

“Guys, we’re just trying to raise awareness.” Good. But you’ve got to know that Britt and I are at Maximum Awareness. We’re at 11. Wanna help? Raise money. Raise a whole lot of money. Give it to programs that treat people with cancer, or better yet, give an unrestricted donation to a hospital that treats all crap diseases. Cancer gets enough PR without your one-hour post, but there’s a lot of other shit that can kill us and it needs research.

Look, I get it. Cancer makes everyone feel helpless. Maybe there is something you can do. So you pray. You go on a walk to raise money. You share your cancer-ed friend’s blog (thanks, guys). These are helpful, kind and loving ways to respond. But, as your formerly cancer-ed Facebook friends, we have to tell you: these memes are mean.

Delete old acquaintances. Thin the herd, by all means. We’re there with you. Why did we agree to “friend” that person we met that one time at… where was it? Crap. Chemo brain. Anyway, delete away. Just don’t do it IN THE NAME OF CANCER.

 

Britt:

Last weekend another re-posted meme splashed across my feeds in honor of Cancer Survivor Day. You know when Cancer Survivor Day is? It’s in fucking June. But since no one knows that, it is assumed that TODAY is Cancer Survivor Day and then every day becomes Cancer Survivor Day. And the irony is that every day for us is Cancer Survivor Day. But thanks for the re-post reminding me you feel exactly one teary emoticon and heart about it.

IT WAS SO FUN TO TYPE THAT.

 

Steve:

Here’s the big problem with these memes: they’re demeaning. The “lost their battle with cancer” language makes us victims. No one is losing a battle. Does a stabbing victim lose a battle with a knife? No. People die of cancer. And we didn’t “win.” We’re in remission (for now). We were treated in a room full of people, and many of them died. The language of “battles” suggests if we won, they lost. Don’t do that to us.

Also: I felt nothing “heroic” about being an adult and having cancer or getting chemo, surgery and radiation. I was not “brave.” I was scared. The heroes are the doctors and nurses and researchers. They dedicate their lives to saving others. They work in the middle of the night, trading time with their own families to clean up our puke. We sit in a chair and get poisons slowly pushed into our blood, because there is no choice. They come to work every day knowing they will meet lots of great, kind and caring people who will die. That’s brave and heroic.

 

Britt:

It wasn’t “heroic” of you to submit to testicular cancer treatment, Stevie. But your writing about it—well, there’s bravery and mask-and-cape stuff in that. And I agree with you about our caregivers. I can’t gush about Maria enough.

Is this too mean, though? I feel like we’re being a bit nasty. And then Darla from accounting posts, “My boobs got me out of a speeding ticket” and I want to rip out all of my new hair.

 

Steve:

What’s with the sexualization of breast cancer? “Save the Ta-Tas!” “Save a Life, Grope your Wife!” Yeah. It’s not funny; it’s sexist. My disease involved a tumor in an actual reproductive organ. But nobody sexualizes testicular cancer. Too bad, really. The jokes about my balls were damn funny.

 

Britt:

You know I’m going to need to wrap this up with a pretty bow, right? How do we land on a we-know-you-care note?

 

Steve:

Do we sound angry? Well, we are. We are angry that this despicable disease upended our lives. We are angry that it required amputating deeply intimate parts of our bodies. We are angry that our kids had to live through it and ask, “Are you going to die?”

And we are angry that all of that gets reduced to a CTRL-C, CTRL-V on Facebook.

But we’re not angry at you. We love you. You want to do the right thing. Perhaps someone you love has or died from cancer. Maybe you’re also a little irritated that a circulating status update is suggesting you don’t care because you won’t surrender your page for an hour of poorly constructed drivel. You don’t have to. You can donate to a charity, volunteer at the chemo ward… or just ask, “Is there anything I can do?”

That’s what helps people with cancer.

 

Britt:

Good advice. Loving. Pithy. True. I once compiled 10 awesome “posts” uttered in real life or typed in messages. They still mean the world to me. And honestly I feel better for having exorcized those feelings– maybe enough to delete my Cancer meme-trolling fake Facebook account. (No, I totally don’t have one of those. No, that would be mean. Nope.)

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If you’ve read this far and aren’t still totally insulted by him, Steve is doing his second annual Movember Foundation fundraiser. He grows a mustache, you donate to help men with testicular and prostate cancer, as well as depression. Donate here!

Schrödinger Box of Cancer

Spoiler alert: I’m totally fine. And only a few days of “awareness” to go…

The left side is bigger than the right. There’s definitely a lumpish sort of thing. It’s not huge, but it’s different. And it wasn’t there yesterday. Or was it? Was it there yesterday? Is it new? Is this it? Or am I being insane? I’m insane. This is nothing. Or maybe it isn’t. I’m fine. I’m dying. I’m scared. I’m praying.

“Strength. Guidance. Love.” He said.

So, I’m fine? Fuck, why do I need strength? Where is the guidance coming from? I’m emailing the oncologist.

“Hi there. After four years, are patients allowed one freebie freak out? I have a lump on my rib. It was probably there all along and I’m being crazy. Except here I am emailing. Can I come see you? Or tell me to call the office and make an appointment like a sane person.”

“I’ll see you today. Noon. You’re not crazy.”

My breast surgeon called that night. I’ll see you tomorrow, she said. Even though we could wait and no one is worried, I’ll see you tomorrow, she said.

And so I went. This seems normal, probably there all along, she said. But let’s do an MRI because it’s time to do an MRI, she said. And maybe I should see you more often, she said. Your cancer was high grade and you are still young, she said.

Risk. Probability. Recurrence. Tamoxifen for 7 more years. Maybe forever. More tests were ordered.

And I waited, feeling the weight of both possibilities… my body a Schrödinger Box of Cancer.

* * *

He injects me with nucleotide and says to return in three hours. I get back in the car to return to two pajammied boys glued to their monitors. It’s an unexpected snow day, and I hadn’t told them I’d need to be in and out of the hospital. Brodie is suspicious. Teddy wants pretzels. It’s time to go back. Humming “Radioactive” I brave the slippery roads back to the hospital. The huge machine scans me for hot spots that mean I’m dying. Bernie texts me a few hours later: it’s negative. I might be a little nutty, but I’m not dying. Not right now, anyway.

A week later, I’m back in the scanner. This time, a MRI of my chest. The lovely staff reminds me it will be identical to the test four years prior. I took too many milligrams of Ativan before all tests four years ago, so I have no recollection of the previous MRI. They’re nice about this. You have two boys? I have two boys! Weather! Crazy. Spring Break? Oh, we love it there. Sure, I’ll dangle my implants into those freezing slots. Bernie texts me a few hours later: it’s negative. I can stop feeling crazy because I’m not dying. Not right now, anyway.

* * *

This is the occasional paranoia of your formerly, maybe currently, but-always-checking, cancer-ed friend. Remission isn’t a word breast cancer allows. Why the Year Four Freak Out? Maybe I was thinking about Lisa Bonchek Adams, or Tricia, or Susan, or Tara, or Kathy… or maybe any palpable lump will always herald the beginning of the end. Go ahead and queue a could-get-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow argument. We’ll listen politely. But anyone who has watched a loved one die from cancer might prefer the bus.

I’m sure I was distracted, forgetful, lazy, and uncharacteristically impatient during the Schrödinger moments of those two weeks. Not wanting to unnecessarily scare my loved ones, I kept it close to my lumpy chest.

“Strength. Guidance. Love.” He said.

Check. Check. Check. Not a single person—most importantly, my beloved Bernie—accused me of being paranoid or silly. Instead, they rallied with strong support, quick tests, and grateful “phew!” messages.

I opened the box and killed the cat that was never Cancer… but fear. For now, anyway.

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Because a stranger called me a prostitute

Occasionally, an odd message will come through the blog or even directly to my personal email. They don’t comment on the topic at hand (trivializing breast cancer, embarrassing myself, hating exercise). Instead, they want to use my small platform to peddle their own ideas or products. Probably most cancer bloggers have had at least one herbal-happy loon suggest we attack our tumors with green tea and meditation because chemotherapy is an evil scheme. I’ve only had to block a few weirdoes, which is saying something in this increasingly say-anything-at-all world.

One reader suggested that my willingness to stand naked before anyone but my husband and undergo life-saving surgery was a profound disobedience to God. We in the Shittiest Sorority should submit to His plan regarding our cancers, and die (or not) according divine whim instead of disrobing for surgeons. BLOCK. But it disturbed me enough that I still remember it three years later.

Today I received a bizarre email from a man trying to strike up a jokey relationship based on the conceit that I am being held in this marriage against my will as an “American Comfort Girl.” An actually creepy, deeply racist stranger found a picture of my family on line and wanted to ridicule the outlandish idea that I had married an Asian and birthed these two bastard half-breeds. He wanted to help me “escape.” I couldn’t delete and change all of my passwords to everything fast enough.

This screen-polluting email made me even angrier that there wasn’t a true apology for this. (I won’t link directly to the disgusting clip.) When something that ugly is laughed off as lighthearted fun, it can lead to other jokey offences, actual on-the-street, go-back-to-China shouting, and possibly prompt a message from a stranger suggesting I am a prostitute to the husband I adore.

Our current political climate has reminded us that we’ve only been putting makeup over our hate-filled pustules of racism and sexism. We’ve looked good enough for the school pictures, but it’s time to lance these boils. Maybe someday we’ll actually credit the billionaire bully for exposing what has obviously been simmering and spreading below the surface for too long: fear and misunderstanding of different skin, beliefs, and women in general. And you know, it’s not helpful to simply wag a judge-y Facebook finger at the orange ego-maniac who has been caught on tape, or the white man who made an actual video demeaning an entire town of Asians. We’re going to need to do more than that.

Only one generation ago, it was against the law for Bernie and me to be married in many states. Some of our parents, just 20-30 years ago, warned us not to date other races “because it would be difficult for your children.” And those were the thoughtful, modern parents who weren’t overtly racist. And you know what? They weren’t wrong. Last week, I had to explain to my boys why an entire “comedy” segment on a popular news program made fun of people that look like them… and why no one said, “sorry.”

Have you honestly never been complicit and quiet in the presence of downright rape-y language about women’s bits? Do you publicly chastise the jerk (maybe even a family member) who makes the offhand Asians-with-cameras or black-neighborhoods-where-you’ll-get-shot comments? No. No you don’t. Not every time. And you definitely didn’t ten or twenty years ago.

And that’s ok. Not sure you’re changing minds doing that, anyway. But I bet you make damn sure that the kids within earshot get schooled. Dinnertime discussion at the Lee home has been nothing but race relations (complicated and problematic) and rules for talking about girls (only ever say nice things). Exhausted, exasperated, and frankly kind of grossed out with the topic (God, aren’t we all?), Teddy pushed back from table exclaiming, “I’m still PRE-pubescent! My voice hasn’t even changed yet! Do we still have to keep talking about this weird stuff?” Well, Teddy, yes we do. But last night, this picture went viral, and gave me a glimmer of hope that future locker rooms will be filled with actual feminists.

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Young men at Centennial High School, showing us how to combat the overwhelming ickiness on the news.

Unlike other angry outbursts catalyzed by news reports of truly gross behavior, mine is not political. I don’t care about the election (this year). Vote, don’t vote. Whatever, dude. But I do care profoundly about how you and I treat each other, how we talk about and to each other, and how we raise our boys to be champions for women. It’s time to get our multi-colored asses into pews or temples or mosques or yoga studios or Soul Cycle. Where do you go to tap into your sincerest, We Are the World feelings? I need them. And so do our kids.

 

Things I Think While Wearing Lycra

Let’s talk about horrible gym group classes. Are you itching to read another set of paragraphs listing things I think while wearing Lycra? Likely, no. But this little ditty has nothing to do with politics, or even how the minds of (some) boys are filthy, violent sex fantasy containers that can be punctured by narcissism and ooze misogynistic slime. Nah, this is about competitive spin class.

By the end of summer, I had become a bit of a regular at the Dracula Studio of Cycling Nowhere. My ass was tighter. My arms were ropier. I mean, I still hated it and refused to whoo hoo, or turn the knob very far, but I couldn’t argue with its effects. Then September happened. How do you have time to exercise in September? In addition to all of the back-to-school nonsense, Bernie and I needed to binge watch Stranger Things. I chose The Upside Down over Equinox. Here’s why.

Equinox sucks. And it’s not Equinox, exactly. Equinox is pretty and clean and all the right stuff is there. But the problem is… well… there are other people there. And they might be delightful. But at Equinox they seem so fit, or they are exercising so earnestly just watching them makes me feel like an alien on Planet Cardio. Group exercise, I suppose, is meant to motivate us to a higher level. Not for me. I’m not “pushing past the pain” for sweaty strangers. I’m truly not stronger than I think. What is the opposite of endorphins? I get those.

But last week I put a brisket in the oven, settled my boys into homework, squeezed into Lycra, and went to spin class. I arrived early, adjusted my bike, put my hair in a ponytail, and waited for the chipper instructor to solve her IT issues. I wasn’t sure why spin class needed a PowerPoint presentation, but a big white screen was soon replaced with spinning orbs corresponding to our numbered bikes and listing our very names beneath. Britt L. Bike 4. My orb wasn’t nearly as glow-y as the other orbs. You can probably write the rest of this post.

Five “challenges” pitted us against each other or assigned us to fake teams that I helped lose. Exercise is already awful, so to heap real time shame onto the experience was a new low as far as Equinox experiences go. Which is saying something: the first time I went, they told me I was fat. Probably the most annoying aspect of the class was that there was so much “down time” in between these stupid competitions that I didn’t leave with the sweat-soaked certainty that it was worth the trouble.

I really should have hauled ass out of there the minute I realized the instructor was going to make us interact. My only other experience with this was an ill-fated afternoon of yoga. A few years ago, I dropped into a noon class on a whim. I normally took the early power hour with the cute Asian guy, and had never been to this class with this instructor. There were only four of us: two moms trading my-shitty-teenager stories, shirtless Hairy Dad, and me. The skinny yogi arrived, clasped her always grateful for everything on earth hands, and told us what a wonderful opportunity a class of four would be to do Couples Yoga!!!! (Exclamation points represent her puppy dog enthusiasm for this wildly great idea.) Moms with crap kids immediately paired up, leaving me with the bare breasted bro. I will always and forever regret that I let myself be peer pressured into couples hot yoga. And aren’t yogis supposed to be intuitive and able to feel the energy in the room and other ridiculous things associated with their beatific smiles? Well, this skinny bitch was clueless.

The class began with stretching. We sat, straddled, feet touching, and were instructed to clasp hands and pull our partner over the chaste diamond of space between us. Hairy Dad wasn’t very flexible. Pulling with all my might, he hardly entered my personal space. But when it was my turn for assisted stretching, I felt the full power of a man who attends regular yoga classes. Dude was strong. The trouble though, my friends, is that I’m still-do-splits flexible. His forceful yank on my outstretched hands pulled my pelvis into the diamond and my head right into his junk.

“Oh my God oh my God oh my God, sorry sorry sorry,” we both said to each other.

I called Bernie afterwards to report my infidelity. I still recoil physically when I recall that moment I unwittingly dove into a stranger’s crotch—an experience I actually paid for.

Time to find another class. Stories and complaints to follow.

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I got cancer… and fat! By Steve Safran

 

Picture the fictitious cancer patient. Skinny. Gaunt. Wasted muscle clinging to pencil thin bones. Weak. They have lost a ton of weight from the combination of no appetite coupled with vomiting up what they have managed to get down. It’s the World’s Worst Diet. Everyone loses weight on it.

This wasn’t me.

I finished chemotherapy a year ago weighing one pound more than when I started. Today, I weigh 25 pounds more.

What the fuck?

So here’s the nasty trick chemo played on me. The treatment and never-ending recovery has added a lot of weight, and it continues. And, mind you, I take ownership for much of this. I did not go into treatment nice and svelte. Britt has called me “…a teddy bear… a grumpy Jewish teddy bear,” and you don’t get that moniker weighing 145 lbs.

The oncologists suggested eating 2000-3000 calories a day during the course of my chemotherapy regimen. They didn’t tell me how to pack in a 4th or 5th meal a day, but insisted I needed extra calories to fight cancer and stave off nausea. When they didn’t specify any specific source for these calories I thought, “Awesome! Ice cream at every meal!”

Except, I found out, eating was a horror. You know how you feel at 3pm if you’ve skipped lunch? Imagine that but with a sour stomach, achy bones, bitter fatigue, and a sandpaper tongue. I had nightmares where I actually screamed, “I can’t eat again!”

So there I was, lying in bed, immobile, eating 3,000 calories a day. It’s amazing I only put on one pound. Chemotherapy treatment ended. Eating habits returned to normal. Bald and exhausted, it was now time to start an exercise regimen. But my body had other plans…

Neuropathy.

For the uninitiated, neuropathy is extreme nerve pain. Imagine “pins and needles,” except the pins are on fire and the needles are sticking you a thousand times a second, all over, from the inside. Neuropathy is a common, though under-discussed side effect of chemo. About one in three of us get it. For me, it is exacerbated by heat. I keep my apartment at a temperature approaching the crisper drawer.

So here I am, post-treatment with one no-advancement-of-disease scan under my over-stretched belt, actually wanting to move. I want to return to some sort of daily routine that involves logging steps outside the apartment. But doing so activates my neuropathy. The pain is awful in a way that awful is just not nearly strong enough a word. I’ve tried meds. I’ve been to acupuncture. (A funny irony. The cure for Hell’s “pins and needles” is more pins.) These treatments stave off an attack temporarily, but a short sprint to catch the cab or extra flight of stairs is enough to warm my body for another attack.

All of which means I’m terribly out of shape, gaining weight, and damn near immobile at times. Helplessness settles in: if I can’t lose weight getting cancer, what chance does Weight Watchers stand?

I can eat less, or better, I suppose. Who couldn’t? I’m determined to fight through the pain. I’m starting physical therapy with people who specialize in neuropathy. I take cold showers after exercising (which helps) and text Britt that this sucks (also helpful).

I’ve written before about how when cancer treatment ends, you’re really only smack in the middle of it. “If you think cancer’s bad, wait until you’re cured,” I’ve noted. The PTSD. The side-effects. The constant follow-up appointments. The time spent in giant scanning tubes and machines that make loud noises. The four days after each scan wondering “Has it come back?” The cancer goes away, but the “cancer patient” remains.

Recovery for me still includes lasting effects. It also, unfortunately, includes an occasional jokey barb about my increasing teddy bearish-ness. Prior to cancer, those comments might not have weighed as heavily on me as these extra pounds. But I got cancer and got fat. Beat the first. Working on the second. Stay tuned.

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Editor’s note:

I will continue to remind Steve that a recent study of breast cancer patients found an average 11-pound weight gain for women who had chemo versus those who did not. The toll these poisons take on our metabolism is still undefined, but certainly reported anecdotally and with great humor and frustration in thousands of breast cancer blogs. Hang with us, Stevie. We think you’re doing great.