" I implore you, my child; observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of nothing (ex nihilo), and that mankind comes into being in the same way..." 2 Maccabees 7:28

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Thing I Learned...

Masayo and Rico informed us that they have seen a disturbing trend; a tattoo in Japanese characters which they (the tattooed) claim mean "samurai". This is the ancient meaning of that word, however the current usage of that word is not so romantic. Apparently there are Americans proudly wearing body art that translates to "I can't pass the college entrance exam and so have to keep taking the test over and over again each year."

The ancient meaning of that word is not so great either, as it actually means a samurai without a master. To our American culture which above all prizes independence, this may sound positive; but that masterless samurais were in a state of disgrace, usually because they had broken the law and killed somebody.

So let this be a lesson to you- don't get any permanent body art in a language other than your own.
Masayo, Rico, is this the correct picture of the tattoo?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gifts From The Heart...

Oh, barf, that sounds SOOO Hallmark. Oh, well, I am open to suggestions for a better title, anyone?
I have received some truly beautiful gifts in the last year. All the friends and family who accompanied me to each chemo treatment, Br Robert shaving his head so that I would not be alone in my baldness, Harris offering me his hair for a wig, a hidden treasure in the wall at Czestochowa from Wojtek...
One of the most unusual I received from Rico and Masayo on their December trip to see us. It's called "A Thousand Paper Cranes", it is a traditional gift you give to the sick, a wish for good fortune. For the last two months, RIco Masayo, Rico's husband and Masayo's parents folded one thousand origami paper cranes by hand, then strung them together into rows and carried them to me through a grueling 19 hour flight from Japan to the US where they had to protect them from being crushed in flight. I was so blown away that I got choked up when I opened it- with my usual stoicism I couldn't read the description that came with the gift. Mom yelled "come here quick, Charity, it's Trinka's wedding all over again (a reference to my being assigned a reading at Trinx's wedding that I snffled and cried my whole way through- I was told later that no one could even understand what I was saying.) But as Charity was crying herself, I felt better about the whole thing.
It was very humbling- and to tell you the truth, I felt God's presence in the gift. At a time when I was tempted to be discouraged about what my future holds and what happens next, God sends me a gift through true friends that reminds me of his extravagance, his beauty, his generosity and his attention to even the tiniest details. And also reminds me to be patient- that the most beautiful things take time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Surgery today...

I have surgery today- it shouldn't be any big deal. But it bugs me that I have to be in the hospital when Baby Q (Michael) and his mom are in a different hospital. It would've been fun to be roomies again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Yesterday during circle, one of my students could not stay in his seat- he kept trying to get up and reach for me, I assumed because he wanted the remote control out of my hand. We try to get him to use language instead of grabbing, so I asked him "M. what do you want? Use your words..." I was expecting his usual response, "I want music" or "I want play". Instead he looked at me intently and worked to get every word out just right- "I ... want ... Faif" and he threw his chubby little arms around my neck. It was so cute, I had to keep myself from crying.
Anyway, it's those kinds of things that make me remember why I like my job.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monica Update

The spot on Monica's spine was not cancer- it was benign! There is no evidence of bone cancer!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ruth's Musings...

Ruth, whose blog is on my list of blogs at left. passed away on the 20th after a long battle with breast cancer. We had been writing back and forth for some time now, and praying for each other. I did send her a green scapular that she was keeping in her prayer book as a bookmark. I never met her in person.
My blog is in desperate need of a facelift...
I have been very non-communicative lately. There is so much happening, but let it suffice to say that God is the great loofah- scraping off that which is dead to reveal what lives, breathes, bleeds underneath. I'm not quite sure what will be left at the end, but I am happy to feel the sun on my face.
Am I speaking in riddles? I'm sorry.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monica Update

Please increase your prayers for Monica, who's website is listed here, "Sol and Monica". The chemo doesn't seem to be working; the tumors are larger and there are some new growths in her bones. PLease pray for clarity, for peace of mind and of course, for healing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good Advice

You know you are receiving good advice when it stings as it penetrates. Fr Chad said to me, "you know, it's not our health or our job or any of those things that is ultimately the hardest thing to let go of, but our own plans. And often one of the greatest gifts God can give us is to free us from those. There are no dead ends; when you hit a wall and can no longer move forward, just look to the left and the right and keep moving wherever you see an opening."

Monday, November 3, 2008


i spent this weekend with 100 high school students on a confirmation retreat. It was a great group of kids and very encouraging to see their positive responses to this experience of their faith. At the end of the retreat there was open mike time; the students were asked to share what was their favorite part of the experience, and about 1/3 said that the best part of the experience was going to confession. Can you believe it? Several students said their favorite part was Eucharistic adoration. Some shared tearful testimonies about feeling that after confession they had laid down burdens that they'd been carrying for years, or how for the first time they had really felt that God was there with them, that they were not alone in this world anymore.

It was an honor to be a part of it, even just as a spectator.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My apologies...

Oh, my friends, I have been such a faithless blogger these last few months. On again, aff again. Oh, for the constancy of WIndshield Rosary, who blogs so faithfully every day. BUt not me. Life is settling into it's new normalcy, and I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have a job that means so much to me. The kids are wonderful, and I feel like the adult aides I work with were picked by God, thy are such warm, loving people. The get paid so little, but do it because they love the kids.

I am still struggling with all my usual things; like frustration at not knowing where my life is going, fear that I'm not doing enough, doubt about my cloudy future. BUt you can all understand all those things, right? I'm certainly not alone in that. I read a book "Thy WIl Be Done" and one of the letters was written just for me..."eagerness then, is a fault in you. THere is something in you which is constantly not satisfied, this is your struggle with resignation. You resign yourself well, but it's with a "but", for you would very much like to have this or that, and you agitate yourself to get it". Yup, that's me.

I trust all of you are well.
Love, Faith

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I went to confession this weekend while on retreat. I gave my usual order of the same old sins, fears and anxieties. And he gave me his usual advice- "Faith, keep it simple." And then he repeated it again- "Simple".
Simplicity does not come easy to a neurotic like me, I suspect.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I just came back from a 3 day silent retreat. Well, not really 3 days, because it started Friday evening and ended Sunday at noon. And not really silent, because I was choking back the giggles the whole weekend, for no apparent reason; I didn't even have any friends with me; it's probably just as well as I would've dragged them down with me to the pit of levity I was wallowing in. Oh, what's to be done with me? And I LIKE silent retreats! Do you think it's all the medication? Is irrational laughter a side- effect of Tamoxifen?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Man's Best Friend...

A former client of my mom's (who was an in- home nurse for the elderly) died and left $200,000 to each of his four huge German Shepherd dogs.
"I wish I'd been nicer to those dogs..." sighed my mom.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Show Biz

The fashion show went well, which in my frame of reference means I didn't slip and fall on my arse from wearing high heels that were twice the height I'm accustomed to. My runway partner, who is still one spunky lady in my book, chickened out and had them alter her neckline from plunging to merely suggestive. There is something very bonding about working together with 30 other women who have all had breast cancer; we spent our free time trading plastic surgeons names and showing each other our surgical scars. It's fun to be a woman, only women can bond like this.

I'm not sure how many were in the audience, but I thought someone said 500. That doesn't seem possible from the size of the room and the number of tables, I would've guessed more around 250 or 300.

I currently don't have any pictures of the fashion show, so I will give you a picture of me bald with my good friend Br. Robert (of Ad Saeculum fame) who shaved his head when I shaved mine. The photo was taken by Harris at one of the last chemo sessions. What would I do without the friends and family who stood by me so faithfully?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Career Change...

For the last few weekends I have been driving down to Marin every Friday evening for rehearsals. I am taking part in a breast cancer fundraiser fashion show that uses as models women who are survivors of breast cancer; all ages, all body types, all stages of treatment. Some of us are bald, some are stubbly, some are years out of treatment and have a full growth of hair.

I am in 3 scenes, one of which is the leather scene. Now this is not as bad as it sounds, were just talking jackets, boots, skirts, etc. My runway partner is a very spunky lady in her 60's or so. She was musing to herself "I wonder if I'll be wearing a spiked collar..." I told her no, these were just conservative, contemporary leather clothes. I asked her would she really have signed up if she thought she's be modeling a spiked collar to which her answer was an emphatic "yes! When else am I gonna get the chance?"
We had our fittings this week and by the time I got there for my appointment, she was already gone so I didn't get to see the outfit that had put together for her. When I asked about it, they said she had helped compose her ensemble and was very happy with it, calling it "equestrian slut". So as it stands we will be walking down the runway together on Saturday, the slut and the vamp.

Pictures to come after performance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


From the adoration chapel I could hear the music from the Syro Malabar rite mass happening in the church. The language sounded so foreign to my ears; not just foreign words but even the individual sounds and the cadence that made up the words were totally different than our language. I just listened, an unseen and uncomprehending spectator and let thought slip away as it did me no good. Then I picked out one word from the music- Hosanna.

Over and over, Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna.

That's what's so mysterious about the mass- we don't have to understand to participate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monica Update

For those of you praying for Monica but not keeping tabs on her website (link on the right- Sol and Monica) she just got wonderful news from her latest CT scan! She has a very rare and serious type of cancer that did not respond well to the first round of chemo, when they checked her 3 months after chemo they found growths in her lungs and I think a few other places. BUt they started her on a new chemo for the last few months, and her latest results say the large tumors have shrunk to about 1/2 the size, and the small ones aren't even showing up anymore! So she will continue this chemo for awhile. THANK YOU for your continued prayers for her and her family.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What To Do...

What should I do about that bothersome photo of me on here? I don't look at all like that anymore. I think I keep it there because I feel better when I look at it, but it's also depressing and keeps me from moving on and accepting that that girl with the long hair is gone for awhile. I miss having long hair, I didn't properly appreciate it then. And now I still have a hard time relating to that stranger in the mirror with her ultra modern haircut and pale eyebrows. Who is she? Did she mean to cut her hair that short, or did she just sit up too tall in the barber chair? And although everyone tells me it is growing back fast, it seems so SLOW.

Shouldn't a brush with death have cured me of all this vanity? Apparently not.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Bit Of A Long Shot

It's great to have friends that believe in you, Isn't it?
Trisha is always on the lookout for people to set me up with, but sometimes she outdoes herself.

"Okay, Faith, who do you like better, Matt Maher or Eduardo Verastegui?" questioned Trish.

"What? How are you going to set me up with them? I mean really, Eduardo's got bodyguards!" I sputtered in reply.

"No, we could do it, we have friends with connections. I know someone who knows Matt's publicist, and someone else who is friends with Eduardo's former roomate. So you just have to decide who you like better, you can have your pick of the three."

"Three? Who's the third?"

"You could also have the roommate."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fantasy vs. Reality

I had such a beautiful time in the chapel tonight and had such a beautiful response to prayer that I almost didn't want to share it; it could so easily be misinterpreted, mocked.. Will I seem desperate? A fool? Perhaps. Maybe even arrogant? But I decided to risk it and plaster my silly little heart across the world wide web.

I was praying, not for the first time about how much it sometimes hurts that I have not found someone who loves me for who I am, wants me unconditionally, even the faults... About how anxious I am at facing the fears of a future alone, the grief of loving someone that cannot return that love. " What can the future possibly hold for me?

But this time I felt a stirring in my heart that made me so ashamed; I felt HIs sorrow, his hopes . " How I LONG to be loved by you that way! How I THIRST to be loved, it is a burning inside me! To be loved not for my power or resources or for what I can give but for myself... You think your desire hurts you? Your capacity for desire is nothing- what have I not done to earn your heart? What have I not given? Scorn, ridicule, rejection- i have borne it all for love! I desire it so deeply that I would become the FOOD YOU EAT just to be one with you! I AM that love that you seek! Seek me!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

First Week Back

Well, the first week back to school was predictably crazy, but all in all it went fine. The student mentioned in previous posts who would kiss my picture while I was gone and ask for me? He's been having a bit of difficulty adjusting to the "new Faith". He still holds my picture and kisses it, but then will stand off to the side scrutinizing first the photograph, then me, then the photograph, then me... I believe he thinks I'm an impostor, and he's the only one who knows it. He pulls my headscarf off about 6 times a day, looks at my head with understated horror, then desperately tries to jam the headscarf back on my head again.

My energy seems to be okay this far. At the end of a day spent in a special education classroom, everyone is always tired, chemo or no. But I have noticed when I'm really tired that I do feel a weakness and unsteadiness in my limbs. But that doesn't hit until the very end of the school day when the kids are on their way out anyway. And my whole outlook feels very different this year, but that's another post in itself.
Love, Faith

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Different Beautiful

I was at a gallery in San Francisco the other day- a photographer had taken a series of photos at an indian reservation in Arizona. Arizona is known for beauty, but yet it's not a place I would've thought to go for a vacation, at least not before I saw these photos. Canyons and caverns and shafts of light in dark places and reflections on water- it was all very mysterious.

It struck me there that my life is something like this- strangely beautiful in a different kind of way. It is not the life I dreamed I would be living ten years ago, but there is something exciting about having a clear palatte to paint upon as well. At times I still feel the need to grieve that the plan for my life is looking so different than the lives of my friends around me, but that can be a thrill as well. Uncharted territory, you know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back To Work

So I'm back to work- inservices and meetings this week, but students start tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing the kids again. I have been informed by the aides that in my absence, the substitute teacher had to hide my photo because one of the students would take it off the wall and kiss it, and refuse to work with her. "No new teacher" he'd say, "circle time with Miss Faith". And the behaviorist said that in one observation session (about 1 1/2 hours) this student asked 19 times for "Miss Faith".

The aides handled everything beautifully during my 4 months away. The classroom is in order and the kids made good progress on their goals; so there's no doubt that I'm not indispensable. But it's still nice to be missed.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I told a priest in confession that I feel like a fraud sometimes because everyone assumes I suffered so horribly during chemotherapy. But the reality is I had very few side effects and did pretty well. So all these kind glances and deference from strangers feel sort of undeserved.

His response? He said to accept all their compassion because to feel true compassion for another person is good for their soul. And then he finished it off with "besides, you don't really know why they're feeling sorry for you... maybe they just feel bad for you because you have no eyelashes or eyebrows, did you ever think of that?"

Good point.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I have a very predictable morning routine. On Thursday everything was as usual; I went to mass at 9 am and said my usual prayer to St Joseph asking him to look after me as he did for his wife Mary. By 10 am I was on the road heading back to San Jose after spending a few days at my parents house. For the whole trip home down busy, 8 lane highway 280, the battery light was on very faintly, so faintly that when I was wearing sunglasses I couldn't see it. Other than that, the trip was uneventful.

Finally I arrived in San Jose and on Camden my car died. Not just stalled, it died completely- even the hazard lights wouldn't work. And it was stuck in park so I couldn't even put it into neutral (much to the irritation of the kindly, tattooed homeless man who offered to push my car to the side of the road; when I told him it was impossible, he went back to the intersection and, with much gesticulation and flailing of arms had a very heated exchange with his shopping cart, presumably about bad women drivers.)

The tow truck came and loaded my poor, dirty little pro- life car onto its back and carried her gently off to the repair shop. In the car on the way over the driver said that was a horrible spot to stall. But I knew there was a much worse place, highway 280 where I had been less than an hour previously. There I would've been stuck inside the car (instead of being able to escape and wait on the side of the road) in danger of being rear- ended by another car going 70 miles an hour.

Thank you, Saint Joseph. You're my hero.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Please Remember...

Debra, wife of blogger Anamchara (see link on the right) passed away on Saturday after 11 years of a brain tumor. Please remember her soul in your prayers, and also for Anamchara himself as he begins this new phase in his life.

Eternal rest grant unto them oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May her soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sacred Heart

When I was little I thought that the images of the Sacred Heart were strange, even a little creepy. You know the images I'm referring to- there are many forms, but always they depict Jesus with his heart exposed. Sometimes he's holding it in his hands, sometimes he's pulling back his robes to show the heart in his chest... the heart always has flames coming from the top and often is surrounded by a crown of thorns.

As an adult the significance was explained to me, and ever since then it has been one of the images that is able to move me to tears. At the time that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, images, even crucifixes, often portrayed Jesus as a triumphant king in regal robes rather than as the suffering servant. This indicated the greater deficiency; that we did not understand the true nature of his love. When he appeared to St Margaret, he came to tell us that he loves us with a HUMAN heart; a heart like ours. And in his human heart he feels the grief of our rejection, the pain of being separated from those he loves, he feels our indifference and our ingratitude. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is, simply put, devotion to the love of God.

His love is so raw, so visceral, so vulnerable that a piece of himself, offered in deepest silence, is more to the point.

Friday, August 1, 2008

2 Disconnected Thoughts

Okay, okay; no more Poland posts. Thank you for reminiscing with me. If you want to read the rest, email me or post a comment.
1. Funny thing about my new medicine- it comes with a warning to take first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and to not go upside- down for 30 minutes. "This will present a serious cramping of my morning routine", I told her. Seriously, I don't think I've been upside- down in 8 years or so, and I threw up that time.

2. Just saw the movie Penelope (which was cute) which opened with a trailer for a new vampire movie. Why do they always portray vampires as so anemic looking? Don't they have a diet extraordinarily high in iron? Realistically they would have a healthy, robust complexion and good energy levels (none of this listless mooning about) but they would be slightly constipated.

Well. the American frat boy I mentioned in my last letter was NOT my roommate, thank goodness. My roommates are a guy from Quebec and 2 guys from Oxford, all of them appear to be in their mid- 20's and pretty nice. Don't worry, dad. I am not their type. The American with the baggy t shirts and pale legs isn't even a blip on their radar. Women here (as in all big cities in Europe) dress low- cut, skin- tight and high heels, all the time. Even for just a trip to the grocery store. I saw a woman carrying 1 baby and pushing another in a stroller wearing an extremely mini skirt and spike heels. Sheesh- if having 2 young children doesn't earn you the right to wear comfortable shoes, what does? I am really looking forward to the actual walk, hoping to meet some people with whom I would have more in common.

Just this morning I got into a debate with the guy who works at the hostel, a Polish guy in his mid- 20's who considers himself a Buddhist, atheist and a communist (and no, he doesn't acknowledge the impossibility of these things to co-exist logically). He says people who take care of other people do more damage than good because they upset the natural order. If we feed all the starving children in Africa, we will eventually all starve because there will not be enough food to go around. "Enough for everyone, or just enough for you?" I wanted to ask but didn't because, as he was overweight he might have taken it in the wrong way. But anyway the whole conversation was frustrating and irrational. I guess sometimes you've just gotta throw up your hands and blow these things off, but that is not my strong suit.

By the way, in regards to my last post Kasia pointed out that in Poland people are catechized not to receive communion unless they just went to confession.

I miss you guys- I wish I had some friends out here. I feel like an anomaly in this big city known for cheap vodka. The gatorade is good, though.

More later.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A typical youth hostel.

Email sent Aug. 2 2005

HI ,everyone!

Still doing well and have not yet collapsed from electrolyte imbalance thanks to mass intake of Polish gatorade.

Sorry, Dad- I have not asked your average man on the streets his opinion on the current administration in America for 2 reasons- first, normal people don't begin conversations that way, even outside the US and second, because the average man- on- the streets speaks only Polish and I can't pantomime "how do you REALLY feel about the Bush administration? When you come to Poland you can give it a try.

I have been very interested in the way the Polish relate to Catholicism and it is clear, after a few days here that it is a bit more complex than I originally thought. They do seem to have deep ties to their faith, but it doesn't always look the way I would've thought. When POland was split up into various pieces and parcelled off to neighboring countries, a common faith was really all that it had to remind itself of who it was and that it still existed, despite all the turmoil. However, I was very surprised at Sunday mass to notice that out of a full church (maybe 150 people) only about 20 or so received communion- an extremely small percentage. In fact, it was over so quickly that I missed it. People don't come out and line up to receive as we are accustomed to doing, rather they just sort of move towards the end of the pew and the priest gives communion to the few interested, mainly the elderly. In fact, the priest doesn't even come into the second half of the church at all. It seems to be understood that if you are going to receive communion you would sit towards the front. I was sitting behind a whole family- mother, father and three young kids, and none of them made any effort to receive communion.

Well, the hostel is filling up now and I have a bunch of male roomates. Right now in the next room the guys are talking about where the best strip clubs are and how "hot Polish women are, despite the fact that they don't photograph well". What a bunch of pigs. The one doing all the talking is American, too. If he's my roomate, I'm gonna urinate on his bunk.

Well, I was gonna write a long e-mail but these dorks in the next room are breaking my concentration. I'll write later.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2 of 4

Today I'm in Krakow. It is a beautiful city- full of things to do. I really don't know what to take pictures of, as I don't really enjoy looking at pictures of other peoples vacation spots. I grudgingly take a picture of Wawel castle solely because I feel I have to, but I take 3 of some chubby little baby trying to feed the pigeons. I think I was kind of creeping her parents out.

At Wawel castle, which is also the cathedral where JP II lived while he was bishop of Krakow, there is a spot that is supposed to be one of the seven "chakra" spots in the world. So there are these hippie types who stand in this particularily "charged" corner of the courtyard and there are smudges on the wall where pepole try to hug it ( I hope that's what they're trying to do). I did get a picture of a goofy guy standing funny. I wonder if these people know that this area was once Nazi headquarters in Poland? Wouldn't that have a damaging effect on the chakra? Apparently not.

Today, instead of taking the "pope train" to the JP II sites I pulled a yuppie maeuver and just got a cab driver to take me to them (the train schedule was too kooky and I would be stuck in each place for too long). I fell for the oldest trick in the book, though; the old "oh, I said I'd take you there but you have to pay again if you want me to take you back..." Sheesh. I would have called him some choice words in Polish if I knew any, but it is so much more dramatic to speak words in righteous indignation than it is to rifle through a dictionary and end up settling for the one Polish word "sneak" only to find out later that it really has the connotation of "to smuggle". Oh, well. Better travellers than me have fallen for that trick, so at least I'm in good company. I settled for slamming his cab door. He didn't seem to pick up on my anger as he offered to drive me to Czestochowa the next day. Funny thing- I hear that there was a time when all the Polish old ladies had their hair dyed the same magenta color because it was the only dye available in the stores. It was either go magenta, or go gray. I saw a bunch of old women at a bus stop all with magenta hair- I guess some really grew to like it.

Here in Krakow I am staying in a hostel. It really is pretty nice for the price (about $15 a night). Krakow also has the reputation of being something of a party town though and most of my fellow residents stay up until the wee hours drinking and then don't arise until 10 am. The problem with hanging out with serious drinkers when one is not a serious drinker is that the same point where the non- drinker starts to think that these people are beginning to act ridiculous is the same point when the drinkers start thinking that things are REALLY getting fun. Luckily this works out okay for me, as I am first to get to bed and first in the shower in the morning. Since the bathrooms are co -ed, this really is a necessity rather than a luxury. They probably all think I'm an aspiring nun or something. The rooms are co- ed as well, but as there are not many people in the hostel right now, I have my own room . I hope I don't get a snorer.

Speaking of snorers... dad, how much is the PLN worth compared to the US dollar? I keep getting different answers.

Today I went out to Wadowice and saw the popes chldhood home which has now turned into a museum. I saw, among, other things, a pair of his socks, a can of wax that he used on his skis, and those brown plastic overlays you clip on to the front of your regular glasses to make them sunglasses. There were other things, like his report cards and various vestments, but those were the things I found most amusing.

Okay, Steve, so maybe Polish food isn't exactly good when you compare it to, say, Italian food, but when you compare it to itself it is not bad. Meaning that the odds are any given dish is slightly more likely to be good than bad, therefore Polish food is good.

It is raining outside very hard (the first since I've been here) so it is a nice break from the heat. I am in an internet cafe- don't worry about the KGB reading my e-mails, Jim. I figure I'm not telling them anything they didn't already know anyway.

Trisha, you would like it here in Krakow- lots of cheap clothing stores. Fortunately I have NO room in my backpack for acquiring anything new. Besides, shopping by yourself is boring. Maybe next year...

I also went today to the Shrine of Divine Mercy and the sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebredosca (or something like that) which is a whole village designed to be a miniature Holy Land. In the 1600's the owner realized that his land looked a lot like Jerusalem and set about making the transformation. Now it is. of course, a shrine for pilgrims and was the pope's favorite childhood shrine. Of course, everything out here was the pope's favorite something or other. It sells better that way. IN fact, when I leave here I am going to find a bakery that sells this cream cake said to be his favorite boyhood dessert.

God bless you all,


Friday, July 25, 2008

Poland #1

First of all, there are 2 new people to pray for;
Jackie- 29 years old with a brain tumor. This Monday at 7:30 am she goes in for surgery on her right frontal lobe, it will be removed.

Also Debbie, wife of blogger Anamchara (see new link on the right) whose wife also has a brain tumor.

A few years back I had a really difficult year, probably the hardest of my life, including this one. Anyway, in June I had this certainty that I needed to go to Poland. Rather a homebody by nature, I didn't want to go alone and searched for a friend to travel with. When none turned up, I assumed it wouldn't work out and the desire to go began to fade. Then one day I just overheard someone say the word "Poland" in another context, and out of nowhere the desire to go returned one hundred fold. So I made plans to go by myself- I would participate in a walking pilgrimage starting in Warsaw and finishing in Czestochowa on the Feast of the Assumption. We walked 150 miles in the rain and sun, slept in barns, etc. But before that I travelled by myself around Poland, visiting many shrines and sites related to John Paul II. But I was so profoundly lonely! Before the start of the pilgrimage, God and John Paul II were my only companions. Anyway, now that we are nearing that time of year again, I am revisiting the emails I sent during that time. It's a long post, sorry. You can stop reading now and there will be no hard feelings.

Made it here with no problems or glitches and have had an easy time getting around as well. I am in Warsaw now, but will leave for Krakow tomorrow morning. Everyone I have spoken to has said it is best to go to Warsaw first, because if you see Krakow first, then Warsaw is sort of disappointing. I foolowed Kasia's advice about people who are younger being more helpful and friendly than the older ones who worked under the communist regime. So far I have had only good experiences with all the various workers, although the guidebook referred to the train station agents as "monolingual grouches". Of course, I use my Polish dictionary and write down everything in Polish, so that helps as long as they don't ask me any questions.
The part of the city where my hotel is is big and ugly and very busy. My room overlooks a 5 way intersection and you cross the street by way of a circular underground tunnel with stairs back up to the street level every so often. I get really disoriented underground and can't tell where I am so I poke my head up every opening, get my bearings, then head back underground. I must look like one of those moles in that video game we used to play at the pizza parlor ("Whack- A- Mole, I think it's called) where the moles stick their heads up and you try to bang them with a mallet before they disappear.
Just 2 blocks away is the nice part of the city- Nowy Swiat I think it's called. Lots of upscale (for Poland) shops and colorful buildings leading to the city center which really starts to look European. It's all fairly close so I can get everywhere on foot.
The food is good and pretty inexpensive. They have these things called "milk bars", a relic from communism where the workers were supposed to be able to take their family out for a break. The food is simple and VERY inexpensive (bowl of soup for about .40 USD) but they have plain brown walls and no adornments at all. It is a bit dreary inside, really. Human beings need beauty. Some of the typical Polish food is a bit heavy- lots of sausage and pierogi. It sometimes feels a bit heavy for my liking, but that might be because of the heat as well. When it is really hot, you don't want heavy food. Lots of berries, though.
Mom, I have been drinking lots of Polish Gatorade. It keeps me from getting "mud-WOOSH-che, (Hope can translate). They even have a flavor here that Trish and I loved but disappeared from the shelves, remember that, Trish? It tasted a bit like Grapefruit. Here it is called Poweraid (I think they have that brand in the US as well). The weather has been in the high 80's and pretty humid. Only the most high end establishments have air conditioning, and as I frequent the lower end establishments I have gotten used to being hot and sticky. You don't even notice it after a while. Or not so much, at least...
The drivers here are similar to Roman drivers, yet they really do defer to the pedestrians (unlike in Italy) They will always slow down for a walker, and even seem to do it gladly, yet they are going at such high speeds they couldn't possibly spot them all in time. It doesn't surprise me that John Paul II was hit by car in his youth- I would think it was so common as to become a rite of passage for young Poles.
No aggressive men yet, Charity, so I'm glad I did not take your proferred bull horn or mace. There are some weird panhandlers who dress up like executioners and put on a sort of funny show where they drag a tourist over to a "guillotine" and say they will liberate his head from his body unless they give them some pocket change. I guess it is a creative idea for making money if you have few marketable skills and little drive or ambition. I hear that they actually speak English but I didn't talk to them. I mean. what would I say, really?
Then there are the people who walk around in the city center with a picture of a baby. I'm not sure what the storyline is but as they speak no English I can get away pretty easily. Cute baby, though.
Found a local church that has mass almost every hour all the way up to 8 pm. Haven't really met any other travellers though as I am currently staying at a hotel. When I get to Krakow I will be at a youth hostel and I am sure to meet lots of people. Travelling solo is a mixed blessing- it is nice to be able to set one's own pace and schedule, yet it would also be nice to have someone to share the funny things with. Such as the ice cream cone with a scoop of ice cream so small it was barely visible over the top of the cone (I can't really complain as it only cost about .30). .Or the tallest building in Warsaw, given to them as a "gift" ,not that they had any say in the matter one way or the other. In honor of the donor it is affectionately referred to as "Stalin's Penis". Anything reminding the Polish people of their repressed past, especially communism, is the butt of many such jokes. There are other buildings in Poland with nicknames relative to the genitalia of various communist leaders.
Well, that's all for the present. I'm thinking of you all and praying for you. Hope you are doing well.
Love, Faith

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Down Side Of Antioxidants

After reading one of my previous posts mentioning dropping $$ for blueberries, my aunt began saving up her blueberries from her backyard to bring to me. We finally met up last weekend, and she gave me bags and bags of frozen blueberries; the kind that really TASTE like blueberries. Much better than the ones you buy in stores. The next day I made blueberry pancakes for the family. So good!

Tuesday evening at our womens group E. made blueberry cobbler for us. We ate it first and then did scripture reflections; for me it was a little hard to talk theology when the whole group looked like we were suffering from lack of oxygen. I wish I had gotten a picture of this group of adult women with blue lips, teeth and tongues talkin' bible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gross Post

Now I have no problems being direct about medical details, but I know it makes some people uncomfortable. In fact, my brother in law said he stopped reading my blog when I mentioned menopause. Poor fellow, his loss. And my favorite quote from my good friend Justin "you use words that I wouldn't even write!" Oh boys, really.

But if you find such details too much, you'd better stop now. Really. I mean it, go no further. Are you still reading? Okay it's your own fault.

Tomorrow I need to stick close to home, because I have to take a 24 hour urine sample. That's right-24 hours worth; part of the test kit it a big red jug that is supposed to be kept refrigerated. Now THAT is even too gross for me, and I'm not easily grossed out. So I think I'm just going to keep a cooler in the bathtub with some ice in it; surely that will suffice. I just can't bear to see my big red jug smiling at me from the refrigerator shelf it shares with the iced tea.

By the way, I received the results from the genetic testing, they were negative (as I had been told was most likely the case). SO that's good news, because it means there is no reason to believe I am at an increased risk of ovarian cancer (or no higher than anyone else who has had breast cancer).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Quickly Things Change...

On Saturday afternoon we met up with my cousin Carrie, her husband Ed and their new baby. We went to a smorgasborg style restaurant, ate more than was healthy for us and considered touring the local Budweiser factory.

On Sunday morning we were notified by email that Ed's brother, sister- in- law and nephew had died in a plane crash on Saturday afternoon, leaving behind two teenagers. It was a horrible shock to hear, so I can only imagine what the family is going through right now. Please say a prayer for comfort for the family and especially the children.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to the future...

As of Monday, I am finished with chemotherapy. I should be elated and there is a part of me that is, but there is also much anxiety. Now I have to face the future again with all its pitfalls and unknowns. As difficult as the last 4 months have been, there was a very sweet, comforting knowledge that I was exactly where God wanted me, doing what he wanted me to do... Nothing to discern or question. I'm glad to be going back to the world, but I think that I will look back on this time and miss it, strange as that may sound.

In 2 weeks I'll meet with the oncologist to discuss the next plan of action. I will be on Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, as well as a new clinical trial drug that I will receive by infusion every 6 months for 4 years. And for awhile I will have scans every 3 months, then every 6... I've been crying a lot the last few days as a side effect of the hormone deficiency, but it's also the relief of having chemo over and not having to be so strong anymore, fear of the future, gratitude... You name it, I'm feeling it. So many thoughts going around in my head, I guess why I've used so many ellipses in this post, it's easier than finishing off a sentence. OKay, enough for now...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Please Say a Prayer...

Please, even if you're not a praying person or don't even know what you believe, please say a prayer for Monica Rodriguez. She finished chemo 3 months ago for a very rare form of cancer and her first 3 month scan showed that the cancer had already come back in her liver and lungs. Even if the best you can do is "God, if you exist, please heal Monica" that is still a valuable prayer!! She is 32 years old and has a 2 year old son. It looks like she will be going back into chemo and surgery.

For those interested, Trisha and I are starting a novena to St Peregrine today (June 15) to St Peregrine for Monica and all those we know who have cancer or incurable diseases. (For those unfamiliar with novenas, it is just a prayer you say for 9 days for a specific intention, in this case the healing of Monica from angiosarcoma). If you want to join us, please do. Here is the link to the novena; please cut and paste.

Thank you!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Does Love LOOK Like?

"Jesus Loves You". I have heard this phrase many times; haven't we all, religious or not? I may even have said it. And I've certainly thought it, and believe it, though I may find it incomprehensible at times. Not just incomprehensible because I'm feeling unloveable, but because I have no idea what that would look like. What does God's love look like? I start to feel like an agnostic when I think too much on some of these questions. But I think there are plenty of metaphors that give us a good place to start

There is an image that has always been very real to me; in fact it has become such a popular image of Christ's love that it is sometimes put on tabernacles in Catholic churches, the place where the Eucharist is stored. It is the image of a stork- legend has it that, in times of famine a mother stork will actually rip open her own chest and feed her children her heart so that they may live.

"When I'm running, I don't feel disabled." This is what Rick Hoyt said to his father, a pudgy, self- proclaimed couch potato. But love was inspired, and this father got off the couch and began training so that his son could experience the joy of the race. They have competed in the Boston marathon 3 times, as well as numerous triathlons. I love the images in the video of his son, riding in his wheelchair with joy on his face, while dad is running behind, hair plastered to his skin with sweat. Or pulling Rick in an inflatable canoe while dad swims. But enough of the spoilers. I will let the video, and the father, speak for themselves.

Dick Hoyt is just an ordinary man who loves his family. If a mere human being can love his child with this kind of wholehearted passion, intensity and self- sacrifice, what kind of love must God the Father be capable of?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Intravenous Encouragement

Every time I go in for a chemo infusion, my oncologist comes in and checks my heartbeat, takes my pulse, etc. She also checks my lips and mouth to check for excessive dryness (a side effect of chemo). It's not uncommon for her to say "you look a little dry. WHy don't I just order an extra bag of saline in your drip"? THat extra bag of saline really does the trick. Even my skin looks better when I leave from that extra hydration.

SOmetimes I wish someone could come in and check my vitals and say "hmm... you're looking a bit discouraged and tired. Why don't I just hook you up to this extra bag of hope and feed it directly into your veins? You'll feel better in no time!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hopeful Dreams

As I write this, it is 5:37 on Tuesday morning. I just had a dream that was so hopeful and brought up so many excited thoughts that now I have to write it down before I will be able to sleep again. I've never been much for journaling, I've realized of late it's because I have to write TO someone. Somehow things don't feel real until I can give it away and have it received.

But first some background on the pictures in the dream-I know that some of the images came from real life. There is a new cookie store that just opened at the local mall, and I really like their cookies. On weekends they sometimes have a girl walking around giving free samples,and my sisters and I had just been there. I ventured off to try to find her (the cookie chick), and when I rejoined my sisters they were eating samples and said I had just missed her. So off I went again on a hunt around the mall for those elusive little nuggets. Also, every day after mass I've been trying to say a quick prayer at the feet of the statue of Mary and Joseph- asking them to be both spouse and parent to me in this time.

Now the dream. In my dream, I was feeling so sorry for myself. Woe is me; I had to bake 5 dozen cookies! Although I liked doing it, the solitude was making it a drudgery. And there was just so much DOUGH everywhere; bowls and bowls of the stuff! To top it all off, my parents (I knew it was my parents, though I never saw their faces) came home from having gone out to dinner with MY friends and were being very evasive about where they'd been. That just made me feel even sorrier for myself- here baking cookies while my parents and friends were out enjoying themselves without me. I asked them where they'd been and saw them giving each other looks, like "don't tell her yet" or "she's not ready to know". Well, that just really sent me over the edge and I started pouting for all I was worth. But I couldn't dampen their good spirits, and the more I groused the more they smiled. Finally they decided to reveal the truth. My friends were having a baby, and they wanted my parents to raise it! They said they had chosen my parents because they knew that a child raised by my parents would be smothered in love by a whole family. I was ashamed at myself for my own childish behavior, but my shame was drowned by my joy- we were going to have a baby! It's all rather strange when I put it out into words like this- I know nothing can convey the excitement I felt.

But even as I awoke, the message in the dream was clear: in the end when all is revealed, it is only the lack of trust that you will regret.

(Psalm 127:2 In vain are your earlier risings, your going later to bed, eating the bread of anxiety; for he pours out blessings on his beloved while thry sleep...)

This whole dream was even more significant as a few days ago a friend sent me an excited letter; she had a dream that filled her with so much hope that she felt it had to be from God. I won't go into the details of her dream, but she was sure her dream meant that we were entering a beautiful new place in our lives, despite our present doubts and fears. Her own life situation, though differing in plot from mine is still very parallel; we are both worried about what the future holds and struggle with anxiety that we may have somehow been "forgotten".

So now I can click post, and send my hope out into the void...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Super Powers

If watching the TV show "Alias" made me conscious of my lack of abilities, watching "Heroes" makes me feel positively irrelevant. On that show, they have all sorts of super powers; flying, bending time and space, spontaneous healing, predicting the future...

Super powers do run in my family, though. My sister Hope says her super power is her ability to digest rotten food. Charity is a menstrual mimic- she steals other peoples menstrual cycles.

Together they will save the world.

Good news and bad news...

The good news is that I am definitely getting the fuzz of a peach all over my head ( it sounds like I translated that from Italian or something), which is the first stage of re-growth.

The bad news is that I am down to my last six eyelashes. I had seven yesterday when I went to sleep, and then first thing this morning I noticed that Jerome was missing. I should never have named them; you get too attached that way.

Also the lack of eyelashes makes my eyes water even more and contributes to my random acts of spontaneous and inappropriate weeping.

Also, on the recommendation of the Eastern medicine specialist I had a test taken to measure my VItamin D levels. VIt D, as mentioned in previous posts, is now known to be a tumor suppressor, as well as helping your body to absorb calcium. It is extremely rare for someone my age to have a deficiency as my oncologist pointed out, however as statistics have already failed me once I was still inclined to take the test. Optimum level of Vit D is 50, below 30 they will put you on prescription strength supplements. My level was 19, so I guess that means I have a severe deficiency. I know, I know , it's not exactly good news if what you mean by good news is something that makes you happy and makes the future look rosy and bright, but it is at least treatable and may give a hint as to why my body couldn't fight off cancer. Of course, it also indicates a number of other likely problems, such as poor bone density and other mineral deficiencies. But hey, the suns out and I'm feeling lucky to be alive, so it feels like good news to me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Maybe Too Early To Tell

Well, this might be a preemptive post, but just in case... I MIGHT have a little bit of hair growing on my head! Not sure, though. As I never completely lost all the stubble on my scalp after shaving my head, it is hard to be sure whether the fuzz I thought I saw is new growth, or just fuzz from my sleeping cap. But hair or no hair, the future still looks bright as Monday was chemo #7- ONE MORE TO GO! And not a moment too soon, as I have been having what I think might be minor hot flashes (a side- effect of chemo) and they are making it difficult to sleep well at night.

I wake up, bald and sweaty and kick off all my covers, then wake up again 45 minutes later and have to turn on the electric blanket to warm up. Repeat as necessary. Wake exhausted. I might just have too many blankets on my bed, though. That's another possibility.

There is a breast cancer fundraising dinner coming up in September here in Marin. They want breast cancer patients of every age and in every stage of treatment to model clothes donated by local companies. It might be kind of fun to take part in, and when else would I ever get a chance to model anything? Last year they had their first male breast cancer patient take part (breast cancer in men is very rare, but not unheard of.) I'm sure he was the hit of the party!

An excerpt from an email my dad sent out:
Alice, the world's Greatest Dog was honored with the grand title after accomplishing an unexpected feat. She successfully climbed the apricot tree, no, she wasn't picking fruit, but searching for the bird that had been teasing. Alice ventured out on the limb, but stalled when reaching the outspreading branches. Alice turned around and headed down when the bird took flight.

Her return to ground was uneventful except when in a moment of unbalance she had to spread from limb to limb. The sight was so exciting that a lady passing with her dog cautioned the pooch, a common dog: "Don't you try that at home."

Love Faith

Friday, June 27, 2008

Faith, Hope and Charity

"Hate comes naturally to us, but love is a lesson that must be learned and learned, again and again..."

Anyone who has parents, or been married or had children or siblings or friends or even had a damn dog knows that love does not come naturally, you have to work at it. It is less a feeling than an act of the will, or so they tell me. Of course, there are those times when it just wells up in you and you are so filled with love that you can do whatever love requires without barely counting the cost to yourself... but let's face it. Those times are rare and beyond our control to bring about.

So why should it come as such a surprise to me that faith and hope, like love, require some effort on my part? Rarely do they well up and flow as easily as tears, from the deepest, best part of myself (not even my tears come from there. As a matter of fact, there is very little produced in those mythical nether regions of best self...) Why should it surprise or disappoint me that at times it is very hard to have hope that the future still holds beautiful things for me, or to have faith that he hears me even through this dark time of waiting and uncertainty? Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to maintain faith and hope, but really, that's probably just the nature of the stuff, like love. I think that probably the best thing to do, when I feel that downward pull into depression or despair, is to make an act of hope. With what is left of my tattered, frayed, threadbare little will, to CHOOSE hope, to CHOOSE faith (the operative word being choose).

I believe You hear me and love me. And whether that looks the way I imagine it or otherwise, there will still be beauty and meaning in the plan You have written for my life.

So I guess I just need to roll up my sleeves and get back to work.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The check is in the mail

Well, yesterday I received my economic stimulus check, and I already know where it's going... mushrooms. Yes, you did read that right, mushrooms. And parent essential oils. And a couple other things that I doubt the president was expecting. You see, last week I went and saw a cancer specialist who specializes in Eastern medicine alternatives; I was very eager to see him because he had come highly (if slightly grudgingly) recommended even by the nurses and doctors at Kaiser.

It was not easy to get in- I had to first turn in all my surgical and biopsy reports, blood work and list of medications before I could even get an appointment. But on the day I finally received all the paperwork from Kaiser and turned it in to his secretary, there just happened to be a cancellation for the following day so I didn't have to wait the usual month to see him. Nice!

After seeing the waiting room with it's heavy Eastern decoration and that twangy kind of music that you hear in Asian restaurants (you know, the stuff that sounds like two people tuning their guitars- bong BONG bing BING and then some reverberations) I wasn't sure what to expect. A whole wall full of jars full of curiously lumpy things that I couldn't identify (I swear there was one with wasps nest in it) and a heavy, pleasant odor of earthy herbs thick in the room. I had been told that his reputation was going to his head, however when I finally met him I thought his head to be very well proportioned to the rest of him, and did not get the impression of any swelling. It was a head that was no more Asian than my own, however, which surprised me. I had noticed that his last name sounded more European than Asian so had assumed his mother must have been the Asian one. When I finally met him face to face, he was as Caucasian as I was (although no on is really as pale as me) although he did take all his notes in Chinese.

In talking, it felt like he was really in between both Eastern and Western medicine- he was certainly very respectful of and knowledgeable about all the cancer treatments I had already received, and didn't seem to find one type of medicine superior to the other, but complimentary. I actually had to swallow my disappointment, though I appreciated his directness on the topic of Tamoxifen (which I've mentioned a few times in previous posts); I had hoped he could recommend some alternatives but he was very clear that although I could go the "natural"route on this one, Tamoxifen, even with all its undesirable side effects, was my best chance for keeping cancer in remission. He also drew up a plan of herbs and supplements to take for the rest of chemo to boost immunity and make recovery faster once I finish (hence the mushrooms).

He did mention some very interesting factors that have come to the front in cancer research; many have easy and practical applications. I'll share a few of them here, so if you're not into this stuff, you can stop reading now (but remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...). Or you can google them yourself.

1. Iodine- can't remember what this does in relation to cancer, but it is an essential nutrient. It has been added to salt, but our culture is moving away from eating home- cooked meals towards more pre-prepared foods and restaurants. Sea salt is not iodized. Restaurants do not use iodized salt because it changes the flavor of food, I don't know if canned foods use iodized salt or not. Regular old Morton's iodized salt is easy to get. There is also a simple and fairly inexpensive test you can take to check your iodine levels; some places offer it free to cancer patients for compiling research. You take 50 mg of iodine and then collect your urine for the next 24 hours in a big jar (sorry to those reading this while they are eating). Then you send the whole 24 hours worth of wiss- wiss to some big lab somewhere and they tell you how much your body retained; if your levels are normal you would pass about 90% of it back out in your urine. This is called the iodine load test, done through FFP labs if you're interested.

2. Melatonin: a hormone that regulates sleep patterns, now known to also be a tumor suppressor. It is produced in darkness, the more complete the darkness the more melatonin produced. Studies done on people who are completely blind show that they have an almost non-existent rate of breast cancer due to the fact that their bodies are producing melatonin 24 hours a day. Best to sleep in pitch blackness or wear a mask and not turn on lights when getting up for bathroom breaks if possible (my dad says it's not) to avoid interrupting the production of melatonin. Many people who have difficulty getting or staying asleep have low melatonin; we also live in a culture where people stay up until late at night and then sleep in late the following morning when the sun is out. Streets are also lit 24 hours for safety which makes it hard to get into a truly dark environment. I found online that there is a saliva test kit available to check melatonin levels (more bodily fluids in a jar), but the specialist didn't mention this to me so it I'm not sure how reliable the results are. I'll ask him when I see him in a few weeks.

3. Vitamin D- This was a biggie, another tumor suppressor. Although some comes from food, we get the bulk of our Vit. D from exposure to sun. In fact , people who get skin cancers have a lower risk of other types of cancer, presumably because their Vit. D levels are higher. Sunblocks also block out Vitamin D absorption, but this is NOT to say throw out your sunblocks. Limited amounts of sun exposure a day (I 've read about 15 minutes) can give you sufficient vitamin D. Milk now comes fortified with vitamins A& D but many individuals or ethnic groups don't drink milk. Your regular doctor can test you for deficiency (blood test) and supplements are available over the counter.

So that's it. The whole thing was a positive and enriching experience, really; not the first time that It's dawned on me how these unexpected life changes open our horizons to so many new things. I'm even considering, in a few months, going to a special retreat house where you stay for a week and bond with other former chemo patients while juicing wheatgrass and doing yoga. Heck, maybe I'll even do a colonic cleansing someday! Well, maybe not. But it would be a great blog post, wouldn't it?

See ya.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Humble, Heroic Liver!

Chemo # 6 down! 2 to go! John took so many pictures that felt like Angelina Jolie without the lips (but my tongue felt pretty thick from the drugs). And Christina didn't get woozy at all! And since Charity is not working this week, she got to come too. We all talked the whole four hours, they made chemotherapy fun, despite the fact that I forgot my Pente game and a deck of cards. When this is all done, it will be so nice to look back on all the pictures and remember this whole amazing experience. John, Christina and Charity can even make chemotherapy fun!

Through all this, I have really learned a new respect for the body. Fr. Walter Ciszek points out that the body often gets a bad rap among Christians; being blamed for every sort of vice, as if the will and the reason held no blame! I remember feeling a real compassion for my body after the first biopsy. As anyone who has had a needle core biopsy knows, they don't just take one or two tissue samples, it's more like twenty! And since I'm so flat chested, they really had to work hard to get those. You are lying face- down on a table with a hole in it, and they pull your breast tissue through the hole and put you in a mammogram machine, squeezing that poor little unassuming orb for all it's worth. Then they take the samples with a hollow needle. It certainly wasn't fun, but it was not horrifying either.

The next day I was standing in front of the mirror- my poor right breast was bruised purple and yellow, so full of needle holes so close together that it looked like an incision. Who would've though that that breast, previously so unnoticed would now be so horribly manhandled and subject to the most rigorous scrutiny? Our bodies- working so hard to protect us with so little recognition or gratitude! "If it offends thee, cut it off!" says the bible; I had been so eager to get on with the surgery and remove the source of those silent, deadly tumors but in this moment I felt a strange grief to know that in a short time, I would be removing that breast which had been with me for so long. And replacing with a ziplock bag filled with saline.

Then today my recent blood work came back; the nurse said they were still a bit concerned about the liver. Working so hard to filter out all these toxins I've been pumping into it (I THINK that's what livers do, maybe a biology wonk can correct me if that's wrong...) that there is a possibility of needing to lower the dosage, change drugs or postpone chemo at some point. But it's not highly likely, considering those numbers have been fluctuating during this whole time. Pobrecito, little liver! Thank you for all your hard work!

This post is all over the place. But, hey, blame the chemo brain; or better yet, blame the chemo drugs. My brain is just doing it's best to cope.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oh. My. Goodness.

Now I'm all for modesty, don't get me wrong, but even a virtue can be taken to an extreme. Chesterton, in his book "Orthodoxy" explains that an isolted virtue separated from the influence of all the other virtues can cause more damage than a vice, and be harder to recognize; for instance patience needs to be tempered by justice or it could morph into passivity; prudence needs generosity or it risks becoming miserly; courage needs wisdom... you get the picture.

I guess it's easy in a culture such as ours to be hyper- vigilant. Here is a website my sister sent me; it reminded me of Chesterton. Here, in my opinion, is an example of modesty functioning in isolation.

www.wholesomewear.com (you'll have to cut and paste, can't figure out how to make these &*$#@ links active!)

It's kind of sad. We're here to transform the world we live in, not remain so totally apart from it that we can't engage our culture. These swimsuits give more coverage than you would need to attend church on Sunday! I'm not trying to poke fun, it just seems so extreme.

Speaking of the idea of virtue- I remember a nun explaining to me that we all have a natural bent toward certain virtues by way of our personalities; some of us are naturally patient or naturally brave. However she said not to mistake these inborne qualities for real virtue- they need to be perfected and elevated by developing the opposite virtueto be authentic. Real virtue has to be learned. So someone who, by nature is quiet and patient is practicing real virtue when they speak up and stand for truth even when it means acting against their own placid personality. And conversely, someone who is naturally brave and outspoken is truly growing when they can remain silent in the face of something that sparks their ire. This is an encouraging thought to me, because it means that we can never judge by the exterior, or compare ourselves to others. So while I may need to work on courage and speaking up for the truth even if it may mean being disliked, some of those brave souls whom I admire so much may be trying to master the art of keeping better guard over their temper.

Chemo on Monday. Don't know how long it will be before I am back online. Will post as soon as I can, as I know there is nothing more frustrating than intermittent postings. What excuse will I use once chemo is over? I guess I'll have to figure that one out later.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

BroRo, Harris and I at a chemo session. As mentioned in earlier posts, Harris (dark hair) offered me his hair for a wig. I considered it, but in the end couldn't bear to think of separating it from the beard. They are such a matched set.

Elephants have always been my favorite wild animal. They say they are very social creatures; they travel with their sick and their young in the center of the herd for protection. As for the dying members of their pack, they do not leave them behind in order that the herd may move faster, rather they have actually been known to have two strong elephants prop up a sick elephant on either side and walk along with them lending their strength and support.

This is the best analogy I can think of to describe how my own loved ones responded when I received my diagnosis. They didn't grieve, they mobilized. I was protected, encircled, propped up... I had always seen myself in the giver role, and never imagined that I would be the one on the receiving end of such care. But there it was and I couldn't have gotten by without it.

Like Christina said; when asking God why these things happen she felt the answer "so that we can love each other". For all the love that I have received from these people closest to me, one thing that always moves me is the love I have received from strangers.

Yesterday I was trying to make a phone call to someone I had not ever met but knew her husband socially. I had heard that she had recently received the same diagnosis and I wanted to talk to her. I accidentally dialed a wrong number, however, but of course did not realize it. When the phone was answered, I told her who I was, that I was going through chemotherapy like her. She seemed confused; I reminded her that I had sent her an email and that I knew her husband. She then asked, "oh, really? how is he?" Well, at this point is was obvious that I had a wrong number. But she then didn't want to let me off the phone! I could hear the genuine concern in her voice as she asked me how I was feeling and said she was sorry I had cancer. She wished me the best of luck and told me she would be thinking of me. All this care from a total stranger.

Today I was in a bookstore and a stranger walked up to me and asked me how I was doing. We talked for twenty minutes and she hugged me when she left.

And a few weeks ago I was sitting in a cafe killing time and one of the employees came up to me and asked me if he could get me anything. I said no, he proceeded to ask how I was feeling and if he could help with anything. He said "I used to wear a scarf too, but I was going through... chemotherapy?" He phrased it as a question as this was the time when I still looked, in Eileen's words. like a "chemotherapy wannabe" ( I still had my eyebrows and eyelashes and my skin tone looked relatively normal). It ended up him and his mother were both diagnosed with cancer at the same time -they went through chemo together.

And then there are all the little things- people running to get doors for me, going out of their way to give me the sign of peace at mass, sending me cards or small gifts in the mail, smiling at me in line in the grocer store in a way that goes beyond the disinterested friendliness that we reserve for strangers in our culture. People don't always say the right thing and sometimes their efforts are clumsy in their earnest desire to be of comfort. But I'm sure that heaven is not blind to these small gestures of compassion; nothing is lost or wasted or forgotten.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my trip to Medjugorje and the priest there that heard my confession on Dec. 31 2007, the day before the beginning of what was to be the most terrifying and amazing year of my life this far. I told him about this growing desire in my heart to love God more, not for his gifts but just for himself and my frustration at my inability to do so. He responded simply "the desire to love more comes from the desire to be loved more. God is preparing your heart to show you how much HE loves YOU."

How prophetic that has turned out to be.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another Inadequate Metaphor

"The tongue is a small organ with great pretensions..."

This is from the bible, but I don't know where. I'm Catholic. And I'm too bloody lazy to look it up in an online concordance or anything equally sensible.

Cancer hasn't really changed me much, or at least not in the ways I would've hoped. One of my most vexing faults is my pretentious tongue. It makes itself known in a variety of ways; sarcasm, telling embarrassing stories about other people for the sake of a laugh (poor Trish, she bears the brunt of this one... but she gives me such great material!) I could go on and on, but this isn't a confessional. My point is this- you'd think that after having faced the possibility of my own death, I would be sufficiently humbled to start to overcome these habits. You'd be wrong. I'm still sarcastic as ever. I tried to give up sarcasm for Lent but didn't even make it through Ash Wednesday.

People sometimes ask me if this experience with cancer has changed me, and I'm sure it has- any significant life experience is bound to do so, or else it wouldn't really be significant, would it? But the change I notice in myself is mainly that I feel more dependent on God than ever before, more disabused of the notion that I can do it all myself. Good health, financial stability; these are all gifts from God but they are not Himself.

I'm trying to come up with a visual metaphor and the best I can do is still rather hackneyed, but... Try this one on. A boater, out on a lake in dark, inscrutable waters feels his boat sinking. so he makes for the safety of the life raft. In the life raft he's dry and safe and secure, but only for awhile as he hears the hissing that indicates he's sprung a leak. So, still exhausted from the trauma of the boat accident, he has to shore up what's left of his fortitude and swim out to the buoy, facing all the unknown dangers of the water again. He finally makes it to the buoy, only to find that it's rotten and won't hold his weight for long...so out into the waters again to find the next resting place.

In other words, I used to think that there were SO MANY lessons to be learned. Now I think there are really very few; only Love and Trust. And just when you think you've learned them, God ups the ante and you begin again.

So. Back to dog paddling, I guess.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Little Fighter

This is me and my dog-niece Alice, wearing a sympathy scarf. It has nothing to do with my post. Actually it has nothing to do with sympathy either, as the scarf was forced upon her and she was held in my lap under duress for the photo shoot.

Sorry, dear readers, for my infrequent posts. This last session had been particularly tiring, although I don't have the brain fog that I did in sessions past, which is nice. In fact, I read a whole book yesterday- 400 pages in one sitting. So I feel a little more like myself- nerdy.

Today I went to a chiropractor for the first time ever. A really nice couple that I had known for awhile from church told me recently that they are both chiropractors and offered me free sessions to help cope with the effects of chemotherapy. I did not know much about it, but know other people who have had very good experiences with it. And the whole chemotherapy song- and- dance can really make you feel like you are out of control of your whole healing process, that you are dependent on these nasty chemicals that they put into you for your survival. So to try something different felt very...well, empowering. (For some reason, I don't like using that word... it sounds so Gem and the Holograms, you know? "Showtime, synergy... " yech!).

Anyway, although they have an office in the city, she was at home with her kids today and I met her there. When I got there, she was putting her baby to sleep and I was talking to her very precocious 3 year old, D, in a pink leotard with a tie- on ballet skirt. We read some books and she showed me some of the gifts that Santa brought her. She would lose her train of thought and break off in the middle of her own sentence with something unrelated, like "see how tall I am now" standing up and showing me. I confirmed that she was, indeed, humongous and she nodded solemnly and we went back to the story.

When it was time for mommy to work, grandpa came to take D for an outing. But she didn't want to go; told them she was going to stay and help mommy with her work. Grandpa tried his best to tempt her, even insinuating that there was a trip to Jamba Juice in the deal. She hesitated at this one, then told grandpa decidedly to" bring me back a strawberry shake, I'm going to work on Faith". She was so determined! Mom even suggested that she wait and work on mommy later, but this suggestion was not cutting the mustard as she responded "but you don't need any help! I want to work on the ones who don't feel good!"

So when I was lying on the table, her mom told her to help by praying for me as mommy worked. This was a fulfilling enough assignment for a time, but she soon said in her little kid stage whisper 'Mommy, I want to help more". She pulled her little chair up at the head of the table so I could just see her feet from my position lying down. Then she started circling around me, lifting up my feet as her mom told her to do. When this assignment grew boring, she started doing some of her own renegade work, growing increasingly more confident in her skills . I would feel a friendly little poke in my spine, then an earnest jab in my ribs and then an authoritative yank on my foot. Since I couldn't see her, I never knew where she'd be next. When mommy was done, she got her own time helping with "hands on healing"- putting her hands on my head (I think she wanted to take my headscarf off but a quick word from mom and she moved on) and my back, my legs and feet and praying for me silently.

It reminded me of a story I heard about World War I. Pope Benedict XV was one of the few players working towards a peaceful resolution, he was largely ignored by the political players, even considered destructive as his efforts for peace were considered to weaken the spirit of the fighters. He tried to organize the famous Christmas truce, but that failed as well. Whn it seemed like all hope for peace was gone and there was nothing left but to pray for mercy, he called together 10,000 children making their first communion to Saint Peters Square. He begged them to pray for the intercession of Our Lady to end the fighting before even more lives were lost. He died shortly thereafter, never being able to see the fruits of his labor on earth to end the conflict, most likely thinking he died a failure. But in May of 1917, Our Lady made her first appearance at Fatima. To children.

So it would be a grave mistake indeed to discount the prayers of children. I count myself lucky to have had my own little warrior in a pink tutu fighting for me.
Love, Faith

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Another boring technical post...

Ok, here's the details of my meeting with the genetics counselor...

First of all, my reason for deciding to go the genetic testing route was mainly to glean a bit more information before making decisions about future treatments, namely Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is a drug that they would put me on after the finish of chemotherapy for 5 years to prevent recurrence of (mainly) the breast cancer, but also to prevent recurrence of any other estrogen receptor cancer in my body. It has serious side effects, though as it works by blocking your bodies ability to absorb estrogen, effectively putting your body into menopause. It also increases your risk of ovarian cancer, which is where the genetic testing comes in.

If I tested positive for one of the 2 known breast cancer mutations, both of those also come with a greatly increased risk of ovarian cancer, about 60% (as well as a slightly increased risk of colon and pancreatic cancer, but those are much lower). At this point, I am planning on having the preventative mastectomy and decreasing my chances of recurrence that way rather than taking the Tamoxifen. I don't fancy the idea of anything that messes so severely with my hormones; also I still want to maintain fertility for as long as possible. And who needs hot flashes at age 33? Sheesh.

According to the genetics counselor, my chances of having the genetic mutation based on my medical background and family history is very low, about 6% that I would test positive. In fact, they were debating whether or not I was even a candidate for the test. In the end, they decided to go ahead with it as I am so young, and also because there have been very few females in the more recent generations on my father side (he comes from a family of 3 boys and his brother had 3 boys and one daughter).

The meeting was fine, although some of the mandatory questions they ask made me want to roll my eyes sometimes. For instance "If you test positive, that will mean it came from one of your parents (duh!)- how will this effect your relationship with that parent? Oh, come on- they gave me my premature gray hair, I think I can cope. But I guess they have to ask these things...

One piece of information that I found interesting was this. They are not testing for a breast cancer gene, as I previously thought. They have located 2 genes which are tumor suppressors; within those genes they have located certain mutations which impair the genes ability to do their job in suppressing tumor growth. Cancer is a two hit process- having the BRCA gene is not in itself enough to cause cancer; there needs to be something that spurs the cells to begin growing rapidly and then you develop cancer when your body can't control the growth. So when someone young comes in with cancer, they immediately suspect a genetic cause- that you already started the game with one hit against you, namely the genetic predisposition.

So the test results can come out negative (I do not have BRCA 1 or 2) positive (I do have one of them) or indeterminate (they found an abnormality on the genes that they do not know the cause of, or whether it means an increased risk of cancer. Not all abnormailities on the genes are bad).

Okay, this concludes another boring technical post.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Simple Post

I had chemo #5 today- yay! The beginning of Taxol, and only 3 treatments left! Trisha came down with me, and my mom and dad were there. We prayed the rosary before the Benadryl kicked in (you really do see stars, by the way, but you don't hear birdies chirping like they do in the cartoons.)

Have much I could tell you about my meeting with the genetic counselor, my new obsession with BBC period movies (not really new, just forgotten and picked up again now that Alias is over) etc. But for now, I'm rather tired so I will tell you briefly about our family trip to the horse races.

I spent $11 total and lost only $7, which made me the big winner in our family. Horse racing was great fun, much more than I would've expected. My standard line- "what's the minimum bet?" Okay, then put me down for $2 for "Daddy's Joy" to place". There were whole picnicking families there, lines of kids at the fence screaming their "picks" on, (even if you don't bet money, it's still fun). Then there were the souls who ostensibly make their living betting on horses- weathered old men with tense looks on their faces, young men with clouded futures before them sitting by themselves and putting their heads in their hands after a disappointing race... it's a mixed bag.

We tried to get my mom to put $2 on a horse of her own choosing, telling her it's good to try new things. Her inarguable response, "I've never spent $5.50 on a beer before, That's enough of a first for today".

Anyway, when I am feeling better maybe I will organize another horse race day. Every Sunday is $1 Family Sunday- $1 to park, $1 admission, and $1 minimum bet. My kind of day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


My sister Charity has a friend who told her this story about a strange experience he had. He's a nice Italian boy who tries to get to mass every Sunday and when for some reason he can't, he tries to make a visit to church. So this story takes place on such a Sunday- he had missed mass due to having to work, but he stopped into a church to say hello. When he went into the church, it was empty except for one little old lady sitting in one of the front most pews. He spent some time in silence at the altar rail, and then as he turned to leave his attention was again focused on this little old lady. He thought he would say hello as he walked out. She was wearing what appeared to be a veil over her head, so he assumed she was a nun who worked at the parish.

"Hello, do you work here?"
"Oh, no; I work for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I just do whatever she asks me to do. Sometimes she just asks me to pray on my knees for hours at a time and I tell her how much it hurts and how badly I want to stop, but she just asks me to keep praying, so I do it."

At this point our friend noticed that the veil was not actually a veil but a piece of kleenex opened up and placed strategically on top of her head, and that the pew around her was strewn with all sorts of papers and notebooks. He smiled inwardly, realizing now that he was dealing with someone who was "a couple beads shy of a decade", if you catch my meaning. He smiled at her and said his goodbyes, and her last words were "may the Immaculate Heart of Mary protect you on your travels". He walked down the aisle a bit, and thinking to himself "that was weird" turned to see her one last time. But, of course, the woman was gone. And when he scrambled back to check her pew, all the papers were gone as well. He spent the next half hour scouring the church for her, looking under pews and behind furniture, even checking the confessionals. And then he finally said to himself "well, I believe in God... why is is so difficult to think that something unexplainable happened to me today?"

I think of this because a little old lady came up to me in church this morning when I was particularly anxious. Her lipstick was not quite in line with her lips, and she handed me a holy card that she had clearly made herself. The ink was smudged and the edges were not cut in line with the picture. But she asked me if she could pray for me and of course I said yes. So she put her hands on my shoulders and prayed silently for a few minutes, then walked away. That's all. Nothing miraculous. No disappearing, no cryptic words. I don't think she was an angel in the typical sense, but it was comforting to have this stranger offer to pray for me at a time when I was feeling more than a little fearful. So I think she was working for the Immaculate Heart of Mary too. There's lots of em out there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Brief Explanation of the genetic testing thing...

So here is a simple, layman's explanation of genetic testing for breast cancer.
They (those science guys) have located 2 breast cancer genes (really mutations on the gene) and have named them BRCA 1 and 2 (for breast cancer 1 and 2). These are 2 particularly dangerous mutations, because they are also linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer which is harder to detect in its earliest stages. They don't automatically test everyone for the genes; only those whose profiles would suggest that their cancer is hereditary rather than environmental. In my case, although there is some cancer in my family, my young age at diagnosis is enough of a red flag to indicate the possibility of a genetic cause, although it is not absolute. So I will go in on Friday for the blood test, and it will take a minimum of 4 weeks to get any results back.

There are lots of problems with genetic testing, though. One of the biggest issues is that, although they know there are many more breast cancer genes, they have only located 2. So a negative test just means that you do not have one of the 2 known mutations, and does not necessarily mean that your cancer is not genetic. In this sense, a negative result on the gene test is not very helpful.

Not that a positive on the test is great news, either. If you test positive, statistics say you have an 85% chance of contracting breast cancer in your lifetime, and a much higher likelihood of recurrence. You are also then at greater risk of contracting other types of cancer as well. For me, this would mean having to very seriously consider the option of an uverectomy (removal of the ovaries) within the next 10 years or sooner, as well as even making it more imperative to go ahead with the second mastectomy. Even after a mastectomy you are not in the clear (especially in my case since they did not get the clear margins on removal of the tumor) but it does greatly decrease your risk of recurrence.

Another downside to genetic testing is that it doesn't really indicate anything as far as treatment goes. There isn't any preventative treatment for cancer, if you test positive for the gene you do the same as anyone else- keep getting regular screenings so that if you get it, you catch it in the earliest stages. If I test positive, my sisters will then be qualified to take the genetic test as well, if they choose. Some people just feel it increases fear without giving a person any more options than they had before, which is a conclusion I certainly can respect and understand. For me, I am leaning towards foregoing some treatment options that I will be encouraged to take, specifically a drug called Tamoxifen that decreases your chance of recurrence (though not totally) by blocking your bodies ability to absorb estrogen and putting you into menopause. Fertility is something I want to conserve for as long as possible, and I don't fancy the idea of anything that messes with the hormones. Especially since Tamoxifen increases your chances of ovarian cancer (bizarre, aint it?) I'd rather reduce my chances of recurrence by a second mastectomy than by Tamoxifen, as in the big picture a mastectomy has no untoward side effects. Taking the genetic test is just another step in deciding if this is a feasible option for my situation. The reality is that statistics are not very helpful (and really, they have already failed me once). So I just have to make the best informed decision I can and be at peace with it.

Am I boring you? I could go on and on about all that comes next... But for now it's enough to start the process of testing and see what happens. I'm at peace with that, and I'll figure everything else out later.

Monday, May 26, 2008


There is a young bird couple living in our apricot tree in the front yard. I don't know what type of bird they are, but I have developed a great respect for them. They are average sized birds, not ornate in their plumage; the female is all gray and the male is slightly larger with gray and white tail feathers. As I sit on the living room couch with only enough energy to watch the wind blow the trees, I just marvel at that bird father. There is a gang of crows that is always hanging out; sometimes 3 or 4 at a time. The crows, with their massive black feet and their threateningly arched beaks are clearly more than capable of taking on the little Gray couple. But Mr. Gray is ever watchful- although the crows outnumber him he is so vigilant in protecting his nest! Every time a crow goes up he chases it down. This will go on for sometimes an hour at a time, with various crows moving in menacingly and Mr Gray swooping up to chase them off- the crows work in shifts but Mr Gray has to fight them off all on his own. But he never complains and puts his little heart into the fight! I wish I could help him somehow, as sentimental and unscientific as that may seem...I know , it's the circle of life. If I saved all the baby birds then it would throw off the food chain, birds would not have enough food, and eventually all the stars would fall from the sky, all because Faith didn't understand the way nature works. But I don't want to help them all, just Mr Gray and his family. After all, he's my neighbor; unfriendly though he may be at times (he sometimes swoops at me if I venture too near his tree). I mean, you gotta admire him- would you have the courage to swoop a human if you were his size?

It's especially on my mind as I have just been approved for genetic testing. I can go into the details of that in another post, but it seems so strange to have to make these decisions that effect my future family without the input of the one to whom it is the most important- the father of my children. It feels a heavy burden at times, although I know I'm not walking it alone.