A quick stop in Savannah

We had planned this vacation time perfectly when we got out our calendars months ago.  We just didn’t know it back then.  My Surgeon was happy to let me keep my plans and felt that it was a great idea to have some downtime with my boys before my lumpectomy on July 7th.  When Nelson suddenly and tragically passed away 2 weeks ago, Kerry got caught up in a whirlwind of activity and hadn’t had a minute to even think since then.  So, on Saturday night we both, in our respective houses, threw a bunch of clothes in a suitcase and along with JV, loaded up the car and hit I-95 early on Sunday morning.  With Bart heading to Portland to be with his family, we were ready and able to keep our plans.  While leaving town doesn’t change a diagnosis or relieve the burden of grief, it does somehow allow a small respite.  As we headed south, we slowly but surely started to decompress.  As my boys were just finishing up a week with Steve in South Carolina, we had agreed to meet just north of Charleston to pick them up.  At about hour 3, I suggested to Kerry that we play a CD after we had talked non stop, rehashing the events of the last few weeks.  I reached to press “play” and she said, “did you bring Adele?”  It was exactly what I was about to play.  I think it took two songs before Kerry started to sob.  A much needed release of emotion that lasted for the entire CD.  I think we actually listened to it twice.

After about 5 hours of driving, we met up with Steve, Rory and Ben and they regaled us with stories of their travels over the last few days….a night at South of the Border, Columbia, Congaree and Charleston.  We ate lunch at McDonalds and then hit the road again, driving into torrential rain.  Not exactly the way you want to approach the beautiful city of Savannah but oh well…. we had booked our hotel just an hour beforehand, something that is most unlike me!  Kerry jokes about trying to make me a more spontaneous traveler, and she succeeds a lot of the time!  We ended up getting a great rate at The Embassy Suites, a favorite chain of the boys and I as it’s ridiculously good value.  The fact that all 5 of us could stay comfortably in a two-room suite with a free cocktail hour and full breakfast, is awesome!  It’s a relatively new hotel and located right on the edge of the historic district but still walkable.

Naturally the boys would have been perfectly content to stay in the room the entire time, well at least JV and Ben anyway.  However being the horrible Mothers that we are, we forced them out of their comfort zones and on to a trolley that would give us a 90 minute tour of Savannah.  These two photos sum up perfectly how they felt about it:

As this was Kerry’s first trip to Savannah and we were here just overnight, it gave her a great, quick overview of this lovely city.  I have to say, Rory did enjoy the tour too.  Our two thirteen year olds?  Not so much…..until half a dozen drunk girls in their twenties boarded our trolley and thanks to seating themselves right by the boys, provided them with quite the education which was in no way historical, and pure entertainment.  Wow.

By the time the tour had ended, it was raining again and we were exhausted!  While it seems criminal not to go out during our one night here, we were happy to let the boys scurry back to the room while we enjoyed the free Manager’s Reception where we sipped on a couple of Vodka and Tonics and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the hotel bar.

We were happy that the hotel restaurant which was a French-style bistro, provided the room service.  We ordered up a Duck Confit Sandwich, a Chicken Caesar Salad and 3 cheeseburgers for the boys.  We have brought a plentiful supply of wine with us.  It seemed like the most lovely luxury to eat in our pajamas then finally crash for the night.

We slept soundly and slept in.  But we did make it for the big breakfast buffet.  After breakfast, as the rain had finally stopped and the sun was out, Kerry and I headed out to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Having been raised in the Catholic faith, I’m always drawn to Catholic Cathedrals and this one was no exception.  Kerry also grew up in a Catholic family.

We gasped as we entered the Cathedral and wandered around soaking up all the beautiful details in the architecture, art and artifacts.  It’s simply stunning.

Kerry was so moved by being here that the tears flowed again and she lit a candle for Nelson.

We took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, wandering through some of the lovely Squares and enjoying the architecture and lush vegetation and gardens.  It was sticky and humid which somehow felt appropriate for a truly Southern experience.  One of my favorite things to do when visiting a city, is to wander around taking pictures and so I did.

We both regretted that we couldn’t stay longer in this gorgeous place but we are determined to return!  We headed back to the hotel, loaded the car with luggage and teenagers and hit the road for Florida!


When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  – Fred Rogers

I have wanted to write about the last two weeks for a few days now and have struggled with how to approach it.  I love the above quote from Mr. Rogers and think it’s enormously helpful.  It is totally in line with the notion of practicing gratitude even in the midst of tough times and tragedy.

I have been humbled by the love, concern, prayers, cards and messages that have been showered upon me since being diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  My prognosis is great and it’s amazing how after the initial shock of hearing the big C word, you quickly realize that this is totally beatable.  My heart is so full of gratitude for all the kindness that has been shown to me through words and actions.  Freshly baked scones on my porch on a Monday morning, offers of fast tracking me to appointments at prestigious Cancer hospitals, the gift of a special bracelet from someone I have never met who reads my blog, the offers of rides to my appointments, offers to help with my boys, lovely cards, sweet texts, phone calls, reassurance from women who have been there and done that.  The list is endless.  Even if I wanted to be alone, I wouldn’t be allowed to be!

June 14th, 2017 is a date that  Kerry and I now refer to as the “Longest Day”.  She had kindly offered to take me to my MRI at 7:30 that morning which would determine if my tumor had company and potentially alter my current diagnosis which my son Rory refers to as “hitting the jackpot of breast cancer”.  This makes me smile as I know it brings him comfort.  As Kerry and I sat together in the waiting room, we remarked on how lovely it was that there was a volunteer coming around with coffee and tea.  It was nice and soothing to enjoy a cup of tea before my procedure and Kerry and I chatted away until my name was called.  We had been so immersed in conversation that I had neglected to read the flyer about the procedure….oops!  So in I go to lie face down on the bed, boobs hanging through two holes and preparing to be moved into a narrow tube.  The lovely technician lamented about how surely a man had invented this machine as she produced various towels to pad certain areas to make me feel more comfortable.  I think the feel of the towels and the position she put me in with my arms stretched over my head made me feel like I was lying on the beach enjoying the sun, so that’s where I took my mind.  I hadn’t realized it would take 40 minutes so as the buzzing, clicking and beeping continued (thankfully muffled by the ear plugs they provided), I started to wonder if they were finding more tumors.  This is where yoga breathing kicked in and I got through the rest of it with no problem.  Despite being a little disoriented at the end, I gave myself a chance to feel a bit better then Kerry and I hit the now go-to spot of Wegmans as our post-appointment treat.  Food paradise, and supplier of my new and far healthier diet.  Nothing like a cancer diagnosis to make you think about how you fuel and treat your body.  More on that another day…. I should add that I have since discovered that my MRI was clean.  Great news.

After Kerry and I both returned to work in the afternoon, it was time for the usual Ladies Night on my porch.  A surprise delivery of a chilled bottle of bubbly from Judith (yet another act of kindness) added a festive atmosphere to the evening and camaraderie, warmth and support was in bountiful supply.  I even posted a photo on Facebook commenting on how it was such a delightful end to the day.


But this is where the tragedy starts for it was not the end of the day.  Just as I was clearing up the last remnants of our lovely evening, a car raced up to the porch and out jumped Derek who was in a complete panic trying to locate Kerry.  “Bart’s brother is dead” he exclaimed, “I have to find Kerry”.  Bart is her longtime boyfriend.  I told him that she had just gone home and he could find her there.  After a couple of phone calls that confirmed that Bart’s brother, Nelson, had tragically died by suicide, I found myself driving over to the house in Colonial Heights to be with Bart, Kerry, Bart’s sister Teresa and her husband as well as some of Nelson’s Library coworkers and neighbors.  I won’t go into a lot of detail, but, after sitting in the warm glow of the porch, now standing in the street in darkness, weighed down by damp air in mostly silence that was occasionally punctuated by cries of despair, sobbing and whispers, while we all watched the police officers from a distance complete their work, was something I will never forget.  I witnessed raw grief, emotion, love and loss firsthand.  I hope the hugs I dispensed were helpful, I know I’m grateful for the opportunity to be there and I do remember saying to Bart the exact same thing that he has said to me just 4 days before, “I love you and I’m here to support you in any way that I can”.

The next morning I think we all woke up thinking we had endured a horrific nightmare but alas, it was all a reality.  I did not have the pleasure of knowing Nelson well, I had seen him from afar but knew how close he was to Bart.  I’m grateful to live in such a close community because it’s amazing how quickly folks rally around those who are hurting.  We all found ourselves at Ammo that evening, Terry and Ann fully aware of the circumstances and about 40 people showing up, not to crowd Bart but to simply be there.  It was a lovely evening.  Many of us sat outside enjoying the craft beers, wine and delicious food while supporting not only Bart, but each other.  Nelson worked at the Petersburg Library and one of the most poignant moments of the evening was watching half a dozen of his coworkers say goodbye to each other.  No superficial hugs or air kissing, only hearty, I-really-mean- it embraces.  If Nelson’s passing had inspired this, then let’s be grateful.

Nelson suffered from depression and had done so for many years.  I’m no stranger to this as I’ve known people close to me who have suffered both the situational and the clinical types.  I’ve employed people who endure it, I’m related to some and I’ve been a friend and neighbor to others.   Indeed, three years ago, I actually remember feeling such searing emotional pain that whilst driving down I-95 one day, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a huge tractor trailer truck barreling towards me in the next lane and for just a second I thought, if I just swerved into that lane right now, I wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore.  I didn’t, of course.  I possess an internal switch that prevented this and the feeling was so temporary and so situational.  I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be consumed with thoughts like this all the time, to live your life in a constant battle with mental illness, to have to deal and manage it every day.

The days that followed produced more acts of kindness. Kerry’s brother Tom came home from his family vacation to support Bart and Kerry.  Our Ladies Night group produced food and wine when the family was finally all together after some had to fly in from the West Coast.  We delivered Chicken Divan, Pasta Bolognese, salads, cheeses and fruit, cookies and and then a gorgeous Apple Tart made by Alain.   Friends appeared from all over and everyone was available whenever needed.  Photos and old video footage were produced and Nelson’s music was played and remembered.  Kerry and I have talked a lot since then about how lovely it is to have a house full of people gathered together and how sad it is that we all tend to feel most bonded at times like these.  Why don’t we all get together more?  We get too immersed and busy in our everyday lives…something to think about.

The last time I attended a Memorial Service for someone who died by suicide, it was for another lovely sweet soul who lived locally, Whit Blake.  I’ve thought a lot of him over the last few days as Nelson’s Service reminded me of his.  At Whit’s, friends recalled him as one of the kindest people they had ever known.  We were all urged to honor his memory by committing a random act of kindness.  I took that to heart and a couple of weeks later, committed mine.  While bearing the immense burden of their grief, his parents asked for his legacy to be kindness.  Amazing.

Just one month ago I spent an evening up in Wintergreen with a couple of people including a widower who had lost his wife 5 years ago.  Our conversation had started with the subject of midlife dating and I had asked if he was divorced and he replied that no, his wife had died by suicide 5 years ago and that she had left not only him, but their two children who I believe were middle school age at the time.  We went on to talk for hours about what it had been like for him.  I believe his wife genuinely thought her children would be better off.  She too had fought depression her entire life.  It was fascinating and of course, completely heartbreaking to hear his story and I was grateful for his honesty and the insight he provided.

At Nelson’s service on Friday, all three of his siblings spoke.  They spoke with such love, candor and raw emotion that you just wanted to reach out and hug them.  My mother and I had one square of toilet paper each to mop our tears and it was entirely inadequate.  We left dearly wishing we had known him as we now felt we did.  He was a brilliant musician, an amazing employee, he looked out for his elderly neighbors, he loved his friends, he made people feel important and worthy, he was always helping people.  He apparently made the best Paprika Chicken and was the kind of person who didn’t just look forward to having dessert, he savored it when the time came.  He was an utterly devoted and beloved Uncle.  Witnessing the depth of their loss and love for their brother and seeing his 8 year old nephew who is named after him, made you beg for an explanation as to why he could possibly have done this.  But such is the vice-grip-like and paralyzingly malignant nature of depression.  As one person after another talked of Nelson’s kindness, Kerry summed it up when she finished her tribute by saying “he really was perhaps too kind for this world”.

After the service, the large crowd moved to Saucy’s where Tom, Liz, Eric and Christina and the crew had worked hard to put on a huge spread.  It was an act of love and caring and there is nothing like great food and drink to bring people together whether in happy or sad times.   Saucy’s was Nelson’s favorite place to eat and he would often play his guitar there.

I would like to think we all came away from all of this with the inspiration to live life more simply and certainly, more kindly.  I know I got a healthy dose of perspective along with the heaps of kindness that had preceded this.  Rest In Peace Nelson, we’ll do our best to honor your legacy and take care of your loved ones.






A Hiccup in my Journey

I have great, big boobs.  But I just discovered on Tuesday that lurking inside of my left one, is a malignant tumor.

It seems like it was no mistake that my biopsy results appointment was on the anniversary of D-Day.  As I distracted myself beforehand by posting a tribute on Facebook to my grandfather Hugh, I couldn’t help feeling buoyed by his spirit.  As my eyes stung with tears, I found myself thinking, “if he could survive landing on the beaches on D-Day, surely I can survive whatever is thrown at me today?”

I’m pretty good at coping with big news but walking into a room and being told by a Radiologist,  “Sorry, wish I had better news for you, but it’s cancer” was quite something.  To punish these words, I told him how much the biopsy had hurt, because it really had.  I had to wait 5 whole days for the results of last Thursday’s procedure, which had felt like 5 weeks.  The Nurse Navigator who was also in the room was lovely and had all of the information ready for me and an appointment lined up to see a Breast Surgeon the very next day.  Not sure how much of what she had to say actually registered….I hadn’t taken anyone with me as I wanted to be alone for the result.  She promised they would take good care of me and get me back to normal life as soon as possible.  Armed with Your Guide to Breast Cancer and an envelope of information for the Surgeon I headed back to my car, pretty stunned.

I went and parked under a tree and texted my sister-in-law Heather, whom I had promised would be the first to know.  She has just gone through breast cancer herself and I remember clearly her text when she was diagnosed, “F$&k, it’s Cancer”, and it was my turn to text the same to her.  She was still at the school she teaches at out in Oregon and promised to call me in 15.  I took that time to call Kerry and (friend) Heather who were driving back from the beach.  I think this was the only time I really cried.  Sitting in the parking lot of Johnston Willis Hospital wondering what on earth had just happened.  By the time I got around to talking to the other Heather, I was in better shape.  She talked to me for over an hour including getting me through the drive back home and got me ready to tell my boys and Steve who were waiting at the house.  I was strong and firm in my delivery but the looks on their faces made me want to fold.  I didn’t though and told them that I had no intention of dying, that I didn’t know what stage it was and that I wasn’t sure if I’d lose my hair.  The only big positive thing I could tell them was that it was a slow moving type.  They had highlighted the type in my big book and I couldn’t get past the word “invasive”.  I’m usually a researcher but decided that I would wait.

Instead, I grabbed a glass of wine and called my mother.  Not an easy conversation especially as she’s out West now traveling with my mother-in-law.  “It should be me”, she said in despair.  Then, before I knew it, texts came in from friends with talk of the imminent arrival on the porch of more wine and food, and boy did it flow….until very late that night.  Heather had picked up Saucy’s sandwiches for the boys and then a bunch of the yummy Bowls from Local Vibe Cafe here in Old Towne.  So, so good!  Cindy had arrived too and having just lost her father on Sunday, we both sat on the porch, happy to be served food and wine by the others.  It was a great evening, we have the best damn group of friends you could ask for.


I managed some more texts and emails before calling it a night.  Both boys were late for school the next day and I still struggled to look at the information that had been given to me.  I was supposed to be at The Siegel Center that morning to witness my half-sister Charlie’s High School graduation.  I had been looking forward to celebrating her special day.  My Dad texted me to tell me where they were seated and they had a seat saved.  He then tried to call too but I had to ignore them.  I didn’t want Charlie’s big day ruined by my news, but knew also that they were all wondering why I just wouldn’t show up.  I had a date with the Surgeon.

My friend Heather had offered to take me to my appointment and came to pick me up armed with a notebook, cold bottled water and a cheery smile.  We kept the drive up to the hospital light for the most part but I remember saying at one point, “I have two boys, I haven’t been to Morroco yet and what will all the Ladies do without my porch?  I haven’t got time for cancer”.  We laughed when we arrived early….something unheard of for both of us!

We both instantly liked my Surgeon.  The first thing she addressed was my Factor V Leiden issue and the fact that I take Coumadin, a big deal when having surgery.  She has dealt with it before.  Phew.  Then she declared that she had great news for me and unleashed a series of lovely sounding words…..”well behaved lazy tumor”, “it’s growth rate is 5% so it’s really slow moving”, then the really magic words “stage 1” and “this is just a hiccup in your journey and it won’t kill you”.  We took a deep exhale.  Best possible news.  Right now, with the information we have, I’m looking at a lumpectomy and 33 days of radiation.  The MRI results next week along with genetic testing that I’ll undergo could possibly change this course, but for now I’ll take this.  Our love for this Surgeon was confirmed when she said “You guys should go and have a nice late lunch now with a big glass of wine”.

Under Doctor’s orders at this point, we obliged with a delightful lunch on the patio of Tazza.  Wine, an appetizer of delicious bread with warm marinara and goat cheese followed by quiche and tacos was a perfect celebration.  We were quite giddy and had fun texting friends and family with the good news!   Being able to call my boys and tell them was the best because I knew that they had been at school worrying all day.

It was Wednesday so it was Ladies Night anyway, so I found myself on the porch with some of the usual suspects….a much lighter mood this time!  Marie produced yummy homemade barbecue and we enjoyed the cooler evening.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my friends?!

For the record:  this was caught on my first ever mammogram.  Yes, I was so busy concentrating on my emotional health over the last couple of years that I neglected my physical health to a certain degree.  I kept meaning to have my first mammogram from the age of 40 but it took me four years….not exactly smart given the result.  I would not have found this through self examination either.  It’s ironic that over the years I have helped raise a ton of money for the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, firstly attending, then hosting, their annual fundraising dinners.  I have worn a pink ribbon more times than I can count and I even own a scarf and sparkly t-shirt with that symbol.

My forties have proven to be extremely challenging.  Selling the business, the demise of my marriage and now this??!!!  But one thing I’ve learned over the past couple of years is to practice gratitude on a daily basis.  I’m not alone, I’ve joined a club (or two) that I really didn’t want to join, but I am so very lucky in so many ways.  It could have been a worse diagnosis, I could feel lonely, I could not have access to good healthcare…..the list goes on.  Why me?  Why not…. why should I wish this in someone else?  I’ll tell you something, the last 48 hours have shown me how much I am loved and that’s a beautiful and precious thing.

I’m tough.  I’ve got this.  Just a hiccup in my journey.