Category Archives: Cancer

Remembering Farrah, and Her Role of Many Lifetimes


As it was five years ago, the news is all about the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death today. Farrah Fawcett also deserves to be remembered, too. Here, then, is an encore of my tribute blog post from June 26, 2009.

With the passing of Farrah Fawcett yesterday, it’s easy to remember her for the 70s icon that she undoubtedly was. But it is her later work, first the play “Extremities” about a woman who fights back against a rapist and the 1984 groundbreaking (and controversial) movie “The Burning Bed” that I believe to be her most significant.

Her portrayals of women affected by violence and domestic abuse allowed others to become educated and aware of the signs of domestic violence. This was in a time when domestic violence was talked about in a whisper, if at all. “The Burning Bed” was a controversial movie for the heavy issues contained within.

It was a role that many other actresses might not have felt brave enough to take on, but which Farrah did. And by making a contribution to erase the stigma of rape and domestic abuse, she became a champion for women whose voices were silent. Finally, they were beginning to be heard.

They were heard on the hotlines, and “The Burning Bed” was reportedly the first such movie to include a toll-free domestic violence hotline at the closing credits, that of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which continues to be available for people in crisis at 800-799-SAFE. Anyone can call them and be referred to a shelter nearby. Farrah later became a board member of NDVH, and identified with the issue of domestic abuse.

There’s no way to measure how many women Farrah touched by her portrayal of a battered wife. But if she saved only one life, or inspired only one woman to seek help and find her way out, then Farrah becomes more iconic in a way that deserves our remembrance, honor and gratitude.

The Sunday Salon: Summer Lovin’ (of Reading, of The Fault in Our Stars, of Young Love, of Sharing Books with My Girl)

The Sunday Salon

Just stopping into the Salon for a quick post today, as I have to work this afternoon. We’re kicking off the library’s Summer Reading Program today and quite the party is planned. For now, I’m enjoying some time on the deck reading the paper and blog posts.

The Girl and I have big plans for our own summer reading.  We saw “The Fault in Our Stars” last night and we both loved it. I could have done without the screams and swoons from the other tween/teenage girls in the theater, but that’s a small price to pay for what was a great movie. I thought it was so incredibly true to John Green’s novel, which The Girl brought with her to the movie (because, why not?) and is re-reading for the second time. She’s indicated that a third reading might not be out of the question.

Some people have expressed incredulity that a) I would want to see such a movie (clearly, they don’t know me as well as they think) and b) that I would take/allow my 12 year old to read/see this because it’s so sad. It’s about kids who have cancer.  Well, yes, this is true. Hazel’s cancer also happens to be thyroid cancer, the same kind that The Husband had. (You know, “the good cancer.”) Said with all the sarcasm I can muster.

It’s sad, yes, but as I wrote in my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve cried over more superficial crap, like America’s Dancing With Real Housewives Who Have No Talent, amiright? I certainly have. This book – and now I can add, this movie – earns and is worthy of your tears.

It’s also an incredible example of young love done right. Yeah, there’s a love scene, but compared to other portrayals of teens and sexuality, this one handles it appropriately and with integrity. Some with more conservative views might (and will) disagree, but that’s my .02 on sale.

I have to admit, I love sharing this love of a particular book (and author, because she is now a major fangirl of John Green) with my daughter. Her summer reading plans include reading all of John Green’s novels and finishing the Harry Potter series.

As for my own summer reading, there’s a vacation in our future, so that means my vacation reading planning is in full swing. I have specific criteria for this, as I’ve written about previously. My full list isn’t complete, but two books that will be coming along are The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (on my Kindle) and The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, both of which fit nicely with The Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue from Book by Book.  I’ll have a separate post about that, perhaps later this week.

Till then, gotta run. Enjoy your Sunday!





The Sunday Salon: A Week of Author Meetings

The Sunday Salon


Dork DiariesI’m taking my daughter and one of her BFFs to meet Dork Diaries author Rachel Renee Russell this afternoon, and their enthusiasm is absolutely palpable. They’ve been talking about this for weeks, ever since I mentioned it to my girl, who then told her entire lunch table, and her friend reportedly started “almost crying and jumping up and down.”

So, yeah, they’re a little excited.

I get it. Oh, you know I absolutely get it.

Today’s event follows on the heels of the lecture I attended Monday evening with Colum McCann, which was everything I thought it would be and then some. And then some more. I was – and still am – in complete awe. He’s just as amazing a speaker as he is a writer – and so genuine, personable, and funny as hell. I haven’t had a chance to recap the event here, but I wrote a post here that I’m rather proud of and that I think captures the event.  (“One Book One Community: Colum McCann’s Gift to Pittsburgh and the World.“)

(Oh, OK. Because I can’t resist.)

Melissa and Colum McCann

Me and Colum McCann!

(You have no idea how many times I’ve looked at this photo to make myself believe that I really did meet and talk with Colum McCann.) 

In the Body of the World

It was a good week book-wise, too. I listened to Eve Ensler’s memoir In the Body of the World on CD and … my God. First of all, it’s a miracle that Eve is alive at all to tell this story – her experience with cancer and the god-awful aftermath. Eve Ensler does not sugar-coat her cancer story in the least, and if you’re familiar with her work, nor would you expect her to. Still, this memoir is raw, searing, gritty, honest, and downright real. It can be difficult to read or listen to in parts, but at the same time, it is absolutely riveting to hear her talk about how her cancer is part of her work with the women in the Congo and her past history of abuse.

Time is short. Must run to the next author event. Such a fun week this has been.

Last Year’s Leftovers

Minestrone - Low Iodine

This is a picture of a minestrone soup that I made last January.

Taken almost to the day, actually.

While I don’t expect anyone to remember what my family was eating a year ago, we’re kind of in a time warp here because … well, even though it’s a brand spankin’ new year, we’ve got last year’s leftovers cookin’.

Literally and figuratively. I made this same soup (with some modifications) tonight.

Astute readers may recall that during this time last year (January 2) The Husband was beginning the end of his thyroid cancer treatments. This meant that he was on what is known as the Low-Iodine Diet. As I wrote last year in this post (Life on the LID (Low Iodine Diet):

The timing with the beginning of the New Year is somewhat ironic; while most people go on diets at the start of the New Year, this one isn’t exactly voluntary. After patients with thyroid cancer have surgery (as The Husband did in November [2012] to remove his thyroid, which had two cancerous tumors), they receive radioactive iodine to destroy any potentially remaining cancer cells. But, to prepare for this, they need to deplete their body of iodine … hence, the Low-Iodine Diet.

(I swear, in the last few weeks I have learned more about iodine and iodide and salt than I ever wanted to know. And here I thought chemistry would be totally useless after high school.)

What they don’t tell you about this process  – or, what they neglected to tell us – is that it takes a fucking year for the radioactive iodine to do its work. (That shit takes it’s good old time, let me tell ya.)

I didn’t realize that when we went for last year’s scan. So there I was in the doctor’s office with The Husband – and this doctor (who we never met before; the regular doctor wasn’t available) tells us that “we’ll see in a year if there’s any cancer.”

Which is when I about lost my mind and gave the doctor a piece of it. Because nobody said anything about this taking A YEAR.

But yeah, apparently, that’s how these things go. Think of it like Pac-Man, you’re told. A slow Pac-Man.

So in the meantime, we were to just go about our lives for all of 2013. You know ….Feed the cat. Get the oil changed. Pick up the kids. Rotate the tires. Shovel the driveway. File the income taxes. Change the batteries. Renew the pool membership. Go to church. Watch another season of baseball. Pay the lawn guy. Shovel the driveway. Feed the cat. 

(“you pay the grocer, fix the toaster, kiss the host goodbye, then you break a window, burn the souffle, scream a lullaby …”)

And then it’s another auld lang syne and Dan Fogelberg is still running into his old lover in the grocery store and you’re wondering if the radioactive iodine that The Husband received in January 2013 has been actually doing its job for the past 12 months or if it’s been like Congress.

So. As 2014 dawns, we’re back where we were at the beginning … of 2013. Back on the low iodine diet in preparation for a radioactive iodine pill, which is in preparation for the yearly full body scan … which is to see if the radioactive iodine really has been eating up all the bad cancerous shit and hopefully, when he goes for the full body scan in 9 days, he gets the label cancer-free. 

It’s a surreal place to be. On one hand, there’s the definite feeling of having been down this road before. We’re old pros, we’ve got this. I break out the thyroid cancer diet cookbook again, I shop for the same ingredients, I look up my blog posts and Facebook status to figure out what I cooked when.

And we dust off the fuzzy cobwebs of our memories of a time we’d rather not think about – the uncertainty in so many ways, the fear of the unknown.

We know that we are in a better place, yet there is the feeling of being on the precipice.


It is a hell of a way to begin a year for the second year in a row.

And this (papilliary thyroid cancer) is the good cancer.

(Sure it is. Right, Roger Ebert?)

Let me be clear. When it comes to cancer treatments, this is far, far better than what we could be dealing with. It’s even better than what we were dealing with exactly a year ago, when as part of his treatment, The Husband had to remain completely isolated in our bedroom for almost two weeks. Thankfully, that isn’t part of the protocol this time around. Apparently, the dose of radiation that he’ll be getting will be low enough that he won’t need to be sequestered from us, like last time.

It is a seesaw, a balance of ups and downs.

It is what makes this life what it is.


reminders of the hope of future days, one year after the storm


I believe
And I believe cause I can see
Our future days
Days of you and me…

“Future Days” ~ Pearl Jam

Marking of one’s days and dates is the stuff that life is made of, either consciously or not.  For The Husband and me, moreso than most, there’s more than the casual interest in the chronology and passage of time. We look for patterns, correlations, coincidences. We remember and recall dates, the mundane and the momentous. It is one of the characteristics that has always made our relationship tick, so to speak.

A year in the life of a cancer patient – a cancer family – is an odd thing, at least it is from this perspective. There are parts that, from The Husband’s viewpoint as The Patient, are complete blurs and that’s for the better. From this vantage point as The Caregiver, most of it seems like a missing year; like we weren’t quite here.

In a very real sense, we weren’t.

If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself
Everything I have found dear
I’ve not found by myself
Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me
All my stolen missing parts
I’ve no need for anymore…

“Future Days” ~ Pearl Jam

Red Swing Corner 2Today is the one year anniversary since The Husband’s cancer surgery and as events in our lives tend to go, it coincided with the devastation that Hurricane Sandy incurred on our beloved New Jersey shore. The reminders of the storm – the meteorological one – are all over the news this week with the re-opening of Ellis Island and as my friends post photos of the way things were, with water up to porches and windows and stop signs, and how many people are still – one year later – living very much in the shadows of the storm.

As I wrote in a November 21, 2012 column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As Hurricane Sandy pounded and decimated the Jersey Shore, my brother sent me a photo of my aunt’s Strathmere street. There, the Atlantic Ocean and driving rains had submerged mailboxes, crashed into front doors, swept entire decks into the bay, crept more than halfway up the street signs.

“Not even high tide yet. Things don’t look good,” my brother texted me.

I sat helplessly a world away here in Pittsburgh, where my husband had just had surgery. I simultaneously watched the ICU monitors and the storm aftermath on the news. The feeling of loss was too familiar, the surging tide knocking me asunder. I braced for the possibility that we had just spent our last family vacation in Strathmere.

Two days later, as I again sat in my husband’s hospital room, my phone buzzed. Another photo from my brother. “Our” house. Still standing.

Porch stop signThere were times when I wondered. How. What if. Why.

“When hurricanes and cyclones raged
When winds turned dirt to dust
When floods they came or tides they raised
Ever closer became us
All the promises at sundown
I’ve meant them like the rest
All the demons used to come round
I’m grateful now they’ve left
So persistent in my ways
Hey Angel I am here to stay
No resistance, no alarms
Please, this is just too good to be gone …”

“Future Days” ~ Pearl Jam

In June we saw the house for ourselves, the aftermath of the destruction, the water lines and the commemorative signs on the wall of our my favorite restaurant. Our own emotional house was still shaky, still under reconstruction with no end date in sight.

As the song says, I’m grateful now that the demons have left, that they’re at bay. And as much as I might wish the coverage away and banished from my world as a reminder, I think  it takes seeing the rebuilding to remind oneself of what is, was, and always will be possible.

“I believe
And I believe cause I can see
Our future days
Days of you and me
You and me
You and me.” 

“Future Days” ~ Pearl Jam

Row of pink flowers on porch

photos taken by me

Strathmere, NJ

June 2013

Readin’at: Now Filming in the ‘Burgh: The Fault in Our Stars

Since moving to Pittsburgh in 2011, one of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover is just how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring them to life. We’re quite the literary town and my blog feature “Readin’at” celebrates all things bookish as relating to the ‘Burgh. 

I admit, I wasn’t too crazy when I heard they were making a movie of The Fault in Our Stars, the incredibly moving novel by John Green.To begin with, I confess I’m not much of a movie person. That’s a recent development; I never used to be this way. And I have a particular apathy for movies made of books I really, really love – likeThe Fault in Our Stars. 

Because this book is special. It just is.

But oh, now that the movie is filming here in Pittsburgh, as reported by the Post-Gazette, that’s a different story.

I’d definitely recommend reading this before seeing the movie. Here’s part of my review:

“Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” (pg. 33)

You (as in, all you bloggers) have said that this is such a book.
Here’s what you need to know about The Fault in Our Stars: It’s the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, teenagers who meet in a most unlikely place – a cancer support group. Hazel has accepted that she is likely to die; Augustus is in remission. The bond between the two … well, it sounds cliche to say that they are star-crossed lovers, a cancer-filled Romeo and Juliet, but it makes sense in the meaning and context of this novel.
And that’s all I’m going to say. Because, as sad and as heartbreaking as the premise may sound, this is an absolute must-read. For teens, for adults, for EVERYONE. It’s a tearjerker, yes. You will cry. But you know what? You’ve cried over more trivial crap, like those who’ve been kicked off America’s Dancing with Survivors and Top Models Who Have No Talent.  Am I right?

The Fault in Our Stars 
is a story about love and risk and the unfairness of life and it is simply brilliant in every way.
It earns and is more than worthy of your tears.

the good cancer, the husband, and roger ebert

Cactus, taken by me August 2011
at the Phipps, Pittsburgh, PA 

Even the doctors called it the best kind of cancer you could get.

That’s the common perception about papillary thyroid cancer, the kind that The Husband had.

Has, as we were reminded today, with the news of the death of beloved movie critic Roger Ebert. Because it doesn’t really leave you, you know. That goddamn radiation is still within, even now, still eating away at the thyroid tissue.

We hope.

As we came to believe during the months of MRIs and biopsies and body scans and low iodine diets and radioactive isolation, the words best and cancer had no place being in the same sentence.

Sure, the treatment protocol for The Husband wasn’t the same as that of other cancers. There wasn’t any chemotherapy, no hair loss. The radiation was different. But that didn’t mean it didn’t have its own emotional toll on the patient and the family (no one should ever, ever have to tell their child that their parent has cancer) or side effects – or significant risks.

Although thyroid cancer has a 99% cure rate, even I can do enough math to figure out there was that other 1%. There was, always in the midst, the 1% chance of eventually dying from this. Very slim, of course. Extremely rare.

I spent a lot of time during The Husband’s cancer treatment thinking about the people in the 1%.

Today we learned that Roger Ebert was among them, that he lost his battle against what started as papillary thyroid cancer, the same kind that has taken up residence in our house over the past few months.

The Husband’s Facebook status tonight:

“As Roger Ebert’s case demonstrates, just because “you got the good cancer”, papillary thyroid cancer can still kill – even after treatment. Besides loving him and thinking he was brilliant and sad over his loss, his death is a firm reminder that I haven’t beaten this “good cancer” yet. RIP Roger.”

Rest in peace, Roger.

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