Happy New Year?

This new year felt awfully late to me. Do you feel like this past year’s already a long time in the past? We hope that every new year, albeit a construct of human needs to mark time of another revolution ‘round the sun, the axis tilted and the earth on its eclipses as far from warmth as we can get having just changed seasons on the winter solstice, we sought to find joy in the chilly night air.

Looking forward we engage in a toast, some with promises to themselves of improvements, some with a toast of bubbly in a champagne glass – “tink” – fireworks, a ball dropping to no one physically in Times Square this year. Perhaps a hug if we were lucky enough to be with another human being at one second after midnight on the cusp of another 12 months. All sorts of celebrations feel long overdue – without a potential date in sight to partake in person in wedding receptions, dinner parties, funerals, religious gatherings, or spiritual circles. Yet our lungs filled with the fresh air of hope, January 1st at 12:01 different come midnight. That’s if we weren’t intubated in some lonely ICU, or without a partner, or a close friend to sit and hear the world sigh. The world didn’t hang a new air freshener on the rear view mirror and the pandemic didn’t change for the better. Unlike Cinderella’s carriage, it instead turned into giant rotting pumpkin filled with rats.

Those carriages pulled up to the castle and out teemed armed vermin in a violent riotous crowd. The rats invaded the castle with their small minds filled with hatred spurred on by misaligned jingoistic propaganda and ugly rhetoric. They left a dead stinking red herring to lay bleeding on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now the whole world smells slightly fishy. Somethings not right, is it?

A big can of Hope – the virtual disinfectant

Yet there’s hope. Hope never dies but like energy changes form. It shifts. Shift happens. I hope the world shifts slightly to allow an immense healing to take place the likes of which no ones ever seen – I can’t imagine another time ever like this one – and I hope it’s an opportunity to rethink our approach to sustainability of every kind: physical, emotional, environmental. And we should not forget. It’s so easy to forget and fall back into old habits. Like resolutions unkept. We have to remember and recall what’s important and as close to reality as we can get.

Two million dead is a hard number to forget isn’t it?

Terminal Cancer, the other pandemic disease

Metastatic cancer doesn’t allow me to forget it’s hiding out in my bones. It jars me awake into the present should I ever forget that my health comes first and that the body I call my own is temporary: a rental in a non rent controlled apartment. At some point it won’t be feasible to live here any longer. It will become a slum. There will be no renovations, no more past due extensions. And my body won’t live up to code standards. I will shift my hope to move on to the next place away from the here and now…

Love and the good grace of the people who support me yet I’ve never met in person are all on my heart this year. Some have died and three women in particular are with me in spirit as I sit in bed with my cat son Simon wishing for sleep to come my way. One friend died out of the blue – she was a vibrant advocate and writer and was giving me some guidance in both areas.

So alas, may 2020 become hindsight and remain in our rear view mirrors as the wheels spin out from the dirt roads onto the pavement. Back in the sunlight and out of the shadows of lies and deceit. Indelibly connected to one another like the sun and truth. The truth be our guide. The sun open our blooms to open to full blossom.

The Disasters

I heard words I knew once were forbidden -
My fortune wasted on life’s misgivings.
Forcing down eight courses, poisonous drink
How the blunt force of words causes us to think
Drowning in the fuel, the entire bottle.
Get in the car lock the doors, choke the throttle.
Drive our team of shining horses farther and faster -
Each whip snap stinging their backs with disaster.
Delete my pages, these ugly words.
Tossing them like breadcrumbs to the birds.
Release from their cages hungry beasts,
Entice them out with bloody raw meat.
Into my neck a needles plunged -
My voice so hoarse, the cat’s got my tongue.
Cook the bones until they’ve boiled.
Stained by trash, our clothing’s soiled.
Lay down gently, close your eyes,
Focus on the breath now say goodbye.
Softly lay your head down and hear the whispers,
'From every woman: born my sisters.'

Meditation

Please allow me to share a current meditation with you.

In quiet moments, I sit relaxed listening to the fireplace: the sizzle of the wood and the clicking of the cast iron as it expands with the rising temperature, the energy coaxing a well timed 1:4 beat in the background for my chant. Sometimes I may whisper the words to myself and other times spoken only to myself in my mind.

Sometimes I’m still or others I rock or sway gently side to side or front to back. All the while it’s important to push my thoughts out from my mind – I use an imaginary hand to shoo them away like flies on a picnic blanket. No violence, just a helpful movement of the pests so concentration on the words of the meditation can rise like the sun enlightening my mind…

All things in time, all for the reasons on which my life tumbles and turns to the songs of the spheres. Remind me as I am a human being, the universe tells me when I need to know: all is well. All is well.

Riding Cancer Trains and Cancer Buses (but without BRCA and Triple Negative Breast Cancer)

It’s ironic that another metastatic breast cancer thriver and I share a very similar blog title: The Cancer Train by Warrior Megsie. Underscored by assumptions on how we look and how we may die someday, hopefully far out in the future rather than statistically closer to today. We know too well emotional collateral damage of both cancer and of discrimination far better than we do. This awareness is highlighted in no small part due to the assumptions people make about the brands of cancer we both have. She’s not triple negative because she’s African American and I’m not BRCA because I’m an Ashkenazic Jew.

Parallel Tracks

My blood boiled as I read Megsie’s recent post reflecting on breast cancer and Black History Month; I relate to her emotionally and on some very deeply personal levels. Being a Jewish woman I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to check the stupid box on every cancer-related doctor’s office, charitable organization, research report, or other form denoting that I am of Ashkenazic Jewish dissent. I don’t have cancer caused by the BRCA gene men I’m not a carrier either according to my recent genetic testing.

Yet time and time again I am asked, and time and time again that box gets checked on those countless of forms. My descent actually has nothing to do with my cancer, which was probably environmental in origination like approximately 95% of all cancers including breast cancer. I was diagnosed de novo stage four and given the look upon the surgical oncologist’s face, when he delivered my diagnosis after I’d checking that box, “yes” I may as well have checked a box named, “because you’re a Jewish woman, you should’ve known better.”

But my possible cause doesn’t show per se on the outside or in the color of my skin. I’m not assumed unintelligent enough to understand, as Megsie has been made to feel, that because she’s black, she’s triple negative. Megsie’s neither ignorant like I’m presumed to be nor is she triple negative as it turns out either, as I’m not a carrier of the BRCA gene.

Not in This House

As a child of an activist father, I was brought to understand that there was no difference in people for the color of their skin. It was what made them beautiful and to him, I was beautiful for my difference, and that difference was what made the world a better, more interesting place. There were never racial slurs used in my home and I would walk away from it or fight against it when those jokes or words were used. I was brought up on non-violence and taught that racism and sexism were forms of violence.

Thankfully my dad didn’t live to see “cancerism” – My father was in social work and was the director of the Haitian refugee center on 54th street in little Haiti, in Miami, Florida in the 1980’s. There I would visit him and couldn’t understand why those refugees who were clearly seeking asylum from a politically motivated dictatorship at that time under Baby Doc – as Papa Doc had died by then – and denied so it seemed for racially motivated reasons. Cubans were allowed in without much fanfare or being shoved into an INS holding pen to languish for months at a time. He and three attorneys helped thousands to find relief and safe harbor.

Not in My Country

Yet I never understood why the color of their skin made a difference to the country that invited:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Colossus, the Statue of Liberty to whom my great grandparents came when fleeing certain death for being Russian Jews under a Stalinist regime should have welcomed upon our shores those that were persecuted and killed for reasons of difference of ideology. Or for no reason but the act of physical violence allowed by a military dictatorship not 70 years later.

In fact, just a few weeks ago my religion, though not apparent from the outside, went up against the antisemitic words of an ignorant white woman with regards to where I lived and “thank god I wasn’t trapped with the Jews inside” a gated community here where apparently all the Jews in the area are kept. But through all the antisemitism I’ve faced in my life, and there’s been many occasions that I’d rather forget, I have not had the color of my skin give away my difference. And that’s something I don’t know I can even imagine what that may feel like.

Except the “anticancerism” of looking at a few points in my journey as a cancer patient should. The long stares at my very thin body attached to a hat covered head with my port sticking out of my shirt, dark circles under my sleep lacking eyes. My pallor was almost the green of a healing bruise. People would back away from me in elevators and at a store thinking maybe cancer is contagious. As far as science based evidence shows, it’s not.

As I have been told I don’t look like I have stage 4 cancer I’ve been told I don’t look like a Jew. What do I look like then? I was told when I was first diagnosed “we don’t operate on people like you.” Like who? Since the Nurse Practionier who made this snotty statement could not have understood why I wanted my lumpectomy, which I eventually found a surgeon to perform, I can only just begin to understand how it must feel to be judged and felt to be made foolish, since my appearance doesn’t I’m immediately give me away.

Not in this body.

But my life long experience with anti-Semitism and now with people not believing I have cancer because of how I look (and those who want to blame it on my Jewish descent) give me a slight sense of the lifelong ugliness Megsie has been subjected to: adding metastatic cancer to life-long indiscriminate, heartless discrimination.

My heart is with her heart, as we struggle to regain the dignity of being a woman from the grips of cancer, from which both of us will eventually die. This never-normal again life weighs upon us enough without ignorant, racist and antisemetic commentary and assumptions about the origins and the genetic manifestations of our disease. Without a doubt, above all else we know that in the end, the enemy doesn’t just live within us, but it speaks to us from beyond who we see in the mirror each day.

Not in my wildest imagination!

May our paths continue to cross, and I only hope, become one when we can walk together for a long and beautiful life without fear of discrimination of any kind.

John Lennon’s Imagine sums up my sensibilities in this matter as well as anything I can think of:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today (ah ah ah)
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one