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February 2 2010, 5:01 PM

Something strange is happening to me.  Me, the communicator, the social creature, the compiler and checker-offer of to-do lists… I suddenly have a back-log of unreplied-to e-mails in my in-box and have become one of those people who only checks her voicemail once or twice a week.  I cancel, reschedule, or otherwise bail out on social plans almost as quickly as I used to make them.  My to-do lists — usually a source of great satisfaction — are sources of torment, the growing number of glaringly un-checked, undone items reminding me of my lack of productivity.  I look at the calendar full of social commitments for the month, and I shudder at the thought of keeping them all.

In short, I’m overwhelmed.

This can partly be blamed on the weather.  February in Canada is no joke: it’s cold, it’s dark, and it sucks. Its only redeeming quality is that it’s usually just 28 days long.  Every year the cold weather encroaches like an enormous, sweating, mouth-breathing seat mate on a trans-Atlantic flight:  you are stuck with it, and even though it makes a relatively short time feel unendurable and shrinks your universe to a claustrophobic little space – it has to be tolerated until it eventually gets up and lumbers off into the sunset.

It’s only February 2nd so it will be a long time before I get to see the lumbering backside of this month.  And my anxiety about e-mails piling up and voicemails cramming my phones is already spiking.  I want to erase a good 50% of the scribbles on my calendar, I want to cross off a whole bunch of to-dos and just let them be not-dones.

So you know what?  That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to hibernate. I’m going to just hunker down, stop feeling guilty about not replying to messages, stockpile the comfort food and wait out this miserable month. 

Then I can re-emerge feeling fully recharged, perhaps a little plumper, and ready to actually enjoy all the stuff that keeps me busy. The stuff that usually makes me feel happy, not anxious; the stuff that used to feed my energy, not drain it.

I won’t cut myself off from the world completely (please, let’s be realistic — I’ve got dinner plans tonight!) but I’ll opt to be more socially spontaneous and less constantly committed.  I think the rest will do me good.  

So, if you’re trying to reach me and I don’t get back to you right away, don’t take it personally – it’s not you.  It’s February.

DECEMBER 18 2009, 5:59 PM

Yesterday was a long but totally bearable day at the hospital, thanks to my amazing oncology nurses, Marion and Roz (I’ve really missed them, even though we all agree we would love to not have to see each other at all, except perhaps socially!) And of course the time always passes more positively and peacefully when in good company, so I was happy to have my wündermummy there, and grateful for visits from familiar faces, especially a fellow mets-warrior, The Lovely Patricia.

So then.  Here we are: I’ve started the new chemo combo and although I felt completely wiped out last night and my bones began to ache, this morning I felt better.  The regimen of anti-nausea pills and steroids will help me through these first few days, and the steroids will no doubt result in my having the appetite and energy of a teenage boy, and possibly the temperament of a pro-wrestler (wait, is there any difference?)  Just for a few days, then hopefully I’ll completely lose interest in arm-wrestling and pizza pops.  Then I go back in again next Wednesday for another hit of gemcitabine, followed by a week off before the cycle begins again all over again in January.

It feels like a new start, although not one that I would have wished for. I’m still up and down emotionally about it; usually okay, except when I have to really think or talk about it.

The tears at this point are about on par with the laughter, and actually I think that’s a totally acceptable place to be — at all times, really, not just when you have a cancer crisis.*

Anyway, enough already about me (uh, says the person who blogs about herself all the time?)  I wanted to add a quick update on George & Deborah Warkus’ battle to get coverage for the drugs Deborah needs to fight HER-2 mets. I blogged about them recently, and below is an article in today’s globe about their continued struggle:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/fighting-cancer-in-a-bureaucratic-catch-22/article1404843/

*Having said that, the comments that you’ve posted and the e-mails from friends and family are helping me like crazy, so pleeeeease keep ’em coming!

DECEMBER 16 2009, 1:07 PM

Apologies about that mysterious reference to “developments in development” – I was waiting to speak to my doctor, and now that I know what is going on and have shared it with family, I can finally blog about it.  Basically, the nodules in my lungs have turned out to be metastasized breast cancer.

This means that somehow, in spite of the lymph nodes shrinking and stabilizing, the spots in my lungs managed to multiply and grow larger.  Those very same spots I saw on the CT scan in the solar system of my lungs – those tiny little flecks indistinguishable from all the other tiny little “normal” flecks – are in fact gigantically evil.

We were devastated and enraged when we heard the news, especially after having felt so buoyed by the stabilization and shrinkage of my lymph nodes.  I did a lot of crying, and a lot of raging this past weekend; a lot of fantasizing about smashing things (windows, pieces of furniture, cancer cells…) and a lot of asking the universe if it couldn’t have just cut me a little slack for once?  Really, how much hope-bashing is allowed?  How many bounce-backs do I have to make?

But, after having to gone to some very dark and scary places, I was surprised to find that I could come back from them again.  I resurfaced.  Once again, the will to live my life and beat this thing has prevailed over the fear that it will beat me and take my life. Or prevailed for now; it’s a bumpy ride, I’m bound to fall off the hope wagon from time to time.

What helped enormously was having a long talk with my oncologist yesterday.  Apparently it is unusual that some areas would respond to treatment while others do not (of course I have to be special.)  However, it is not at all unusual that the cancer would affect multiple organs.  It is also not unusual for people live years and years and years just firing at the moving target of metastasis.  Years and years and years.  So, looks like I should continue to look both ways when I cross the street and keep wearing my bike helmet.

My oncologist’s recommendation is that we change course of treatment immediately to something that might be more effective in hitting ALL areas of activity, because she is especially concerned that I don’t become too symptomatic in the lungs, since it’s not fun to be gasping for breath and this cough is already super-annoying.

So my new treatment is a combination of drugs called gemcitabine and cisplatin, administered through IV in the chemo clinic, starting tomorrow. Off the pills and back into the veins! Actually, I’m kind of ready to abandon my current side effects and try out some new ones.  I’ve been told to expect nausea and tingling hands, but with any luck my bad dream about losing my hair won’t come true — my oncologist says there could be “some mild hair thinning or loss.” Sounds a bit patchy to me, but we’ll see.

In the mean time, onward.

On Friday my friend Chris wrote me an e-mail and in it he said “The universe loves you.”  I really need to believe he’s right.  I just wish it wasn’t such tough love.

DECEMBER 15 2009, 1:20 PM

Sorry I have been a delinquent blogger, but there have been some developments, ah, developing, and since they’re not yet fully developed I thought it better to wait before I blogged about them.

How’s that for crypto-babble?

Anyway, in the mean time, allow me to exorcise this demon dream I had last night about losing my hair again.  I went through each step – the knowledge that it was going to fall out, the buzz cut, waking up to a pillow full of hair, and finally, rubbing out the last vestiges of it and turning to face the mirror, seeing myself bald again. It was so real and so devastating that I woke up choking back tears.

Sometimes people say “it’s only hair!” and that losing it is a small price to pay for saving your life.  I think they should perhaps shave their heads and their eyebrows and pluck out their eyelashes and acquire a life-threatening disease before they say that.

Because when you’re sick and fighting it, looking in the mirror and seeing cancer staring back at you is a hard thing to face, day after day.

That vision of a you that isn’t really you — the hairlessness that is cancer, not choice — can be a devastating and powerful psychological force.  And yet somehow we face it, millions of us.  It’s not the worst thing in the world, I admit, but it’s a horror all the same.

February 8 2010, 5:34 PM

My daughter Georgia has lately morphed into a holy terror. I don’t just mean your ordinary, run-of-the-mill-tantrum-having holy terror (she mastered that shtick long ago) I mean Holy Terror.  Caps and italics.

Because I am her mother and will therefore always, always, give her the benefit of the doubt (“Well, Officer, there are any number of ways that smoking gun could have gotten into her hands…”) I attribute this recent transformation to her feeling out of sorts due to a nasty cold she picked up at daycare, and not to the emergence of a sociopathic personality.

Daycare is just another word for petri dish.  It’s inevitable that she will pick something up every once in a while and bring it on home to mama, which is not exactly ideal when I’ve got low white blood cell counts, but what can you do?  She’s not well, she feels miserable, and she needs to stay home till she stops oozing her little germs all over the place.

Luckily, I’m not afraid of a few germs.  No, what scares me is the pint-sized screaming banshee of a shape-shifting Holy Terror in my house, all smiles and cuddles one minute, all Evil Personified the next.  We don’t even need to put the alarm on at night – if someone were foolish enough to break in, we could just unleash the vicious little wolf-child on them.  We could tell her they were after her dolls or something and I promise you the burglars would run screaming from this place, never ever to return.

But because I am made of more resilient stuff than the average burglar, I refuse to be terrorized. Or, if I am to be terrorized, I refuse to bend to her will or cow before her wrath.  Yes, we go through daily cycles of distraction, negotiation (she usually reneges), reconciliation and several varieties of Mexican Stand-Off.  The tantrums flare up continuously, with little warning, and no sooner has peace been restored than another geyser blows.  It’s totally exhausting. Still, there are bright moments in the day, none brighter that when it eventually ends and we can both retire, somehow still full of love for each other, to our separate no-fire zones.

I gripe on and on about this for a reason:

a serious layer of guilt was attached to watching my little girl transform into a murderous beast over the past few days, and it stemmed from a fear that she might be manifesting insecurities caused by my illness.

I know that when kids feel sick they become miserable and/or crazy beings.  I know this, and I’ve lived through it 50 times over with Georgia… But I still wondered if her behavior was some kind of “acting out” related to my cancer. Could it be that she has been picking up on vibes of fear and anger and insecurity from us?  Is it possible that her behavior is a result of the stress put upon her by my illness?  In other words, I asked the question that mothers have been asking since the dawn of motherhood:

Is this my fault???

It doesn’t help that people around me (childless people, cancerless people) nod their heads sagely and say things like, “She’s probably picking up on what’s going on…” Meaning “She’s probably picking up that you have cancer and it’s totally messing her up.”

It also doesn’t help that for some reason with this cold, Georgia has flatly refused to take any medicine.  And when I say flatly refused I mean blood-curdling screams, gigantic tear-drops, and kicking like a shotgun.  (Two adults working in perfect tandem toward the same end purpose are still no match for a Holy Terror in a rage.)

So, I began to wonder about this new medicine-phobia too:

was she refusing to take medicine because of some kind of association with my treatment?

The thing is, she’s never seen me take medicine of any kind.  Well she has, obviously, but she always referred to my oral chemo tablets as my “bite-amins,” and we never corrected her. (She continues to happily take her own vitamins.  Apparently she only finds conventional medicines repellent.)  She has never accompanied me to an appointment in the hospital, never witnessed me hooked up to an IV or even a blood pressure cuff, and never seen me actually sick “because of” treatment.

“Oh, but kids just know…” some will say, nodding sagely. Really?  Because if she has no experience of medicine as it relates to my cancer treatment, how can she be internalizing it?

Other mothers and grandmothers, both those in treatment and those who are cancer-free, assure me that it’s pretty common for kids to go through stages of refusing medicine. Some kids are fine with taking medicine, and some freak out completely.  And of course most little kids morph into grumpy little miseries when they’re feeling sick. (Heck, most grown men do too.)

So this time I have decided I will unburden myself of the guilt. If, when this cold passes, the Holy Terror doesn’t morph back into normal run-of-the-mill-tantrum-having Georgia, I’ll try to figure out if there’s a link. If the refusal to take medicine continues to be a problem, I’ll get to the bottom of it. But for now, I’m going to write it all off to Georgia just being a three-and-a-half-year-old with a cold.

It’s still confusing for me, figuring out what’s normal and what’s related to the cancer, especially where Georgia is concerned. I have a hard time knowing where to draw the line between respecting that children have powerful instincts and intuition, and accepting the too-easy default of blaming things on cancer. I think that cancer just feels so big, so monumentally scary to most adults, that they just can’t imagine it wouldn’t be to blame.  But to me that somehow smacks of letting cancer win, giving it too much credit.  And if I assume cancer is to blame, when do I start taking responsibility for my problems?

Inevitably cancer is going to cause us some headaches quite outside of its menace to my health. And if (when) it turns out sometimes that things are amiss with Georgia as a result of me having cancer, I realize it doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about it.  

But I probably will – isn’t that just what mothers do?

December 7 2009, 9:47 PM

I’m happy to report that I survived the bronchoscopy & the lavage – and I don’t think I’ll actually need years of therapy to move on from the experience!  The psyche-out proved to be worse than the reality. And while the experience was not pleasant, neither was it the traumatizing torture I had anticipated.

This is in no small part attributable to Dr. Lungs’ incredible capacity to communicate with patients in a manner that is calming, informative, human and respectful all at once.  The guy has a gift, I’m telling you. Imagine explaining to a patient that you are going to make them gargle something that tastes like crazy glue, fasten a muzzle-like contraption around their mouth, stick tubes down their throat, poke around in the lungs a bit and then wash them out with “about half a pop can’s worth” of saline – and instead of having the woman run screaming from the room, she becomes more confident, calmer, less anxious. Seriously.  Even throughout my cross-examination he remained personable, and cool as a cucumber:

 

“Am I going to feel like I’m drowning?”

“No.”

“But aren’t my lungs sort of designed to reject water?”

“Yes; you might cough a little, but you probably won’t feel it.”

“Am I going to gag on the tube thingy?”

“No, the freezing and the sedative will take care of that.”

“Can I please be heavily sedated?”

“We’ll make sure you are comfortable.”

“Can you make sure I’m a vegetable?”

“Don’t worry, we we’ll make sure you don’t feel any discomfort or anxiety during the procedure.”

“Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

 

Between him, the lovely nurses and the fabulous drug cocktail with which I was sedated (“We’re going to give you your martini now,” said the nice nurse), it was completely bearable.  Because I was completely stoned.

I already had a cold and a cough going into it, and was told that might make the recovery slightly worse, but apart from post-procedure coughing I feel fine.  I mean, I was doped up to the nines and had to sign a waiver saying I wouldn’t make any legal or financial decisions today (wait… is signing a waiver a legal decision?) so of course I slept deeply and magnificently all afternoon, and now I feel fine.  Cough-cough-coughy and tired but fine.

And now that it’s all just a slightly blurry memory, we have nothing to do but wait to see what the good doctor was able to discover with his lung-spelunking activities.  He assured me that it isn’t emphysema, and I’m still hanging on to his previous “99.9%” assurance that it isn’t lung cancer, so I can at least stop obsessing about those two horrors and focus on hoping for good news.

January 20 2010, 5:10 PM

So there’s a strange thing that happens when you have cancer: people stop feeling they have the right to complain around you.

Friends will sheepishly and abruptly cut themselves off in the middle of soliloquies about whatever’s not going so well in their lives, usually with an apology of the well-of-course-its-nothing-compared-to-what-you’re-dealing-with variety. It’s a bit weird; people get a kind of self-conscious, momentarily horrified expression just as they were really about to let ‘er rip about what’s eating them, and then like a health care reform bill in congress, the subject is suddenly dropped, or changed, or otherwise disposed of.

I don’t mean to imply that this only happens when someone’s complaining to a person with cancer.  Who among us (including those of us with cancer) feels that its acceptable to whine and grumble with abandon these days when a cursory glance at the news will tell you how much very worse things could be (whether in Haiti or about 500 other hotspots across the globe.) But the truth is that even in the absence of news-making tragedies, this self-consciousness arises whenever people start to complain around a person with cancer — and I’m of two minds about it.

On the one hand, everybody has problems, and while I think we can all agree that some are “bigger” than others, each of us feels the weight of our own troubles. 

True, we sometimes get wrapped up in them to the extent that we think things are worse than they actually are. It’s easy to focus on things that aren’t going right.  As my Amazing Cancer Shrink likes to point out, the brain is actually designed to focus on the unpleasant stuff (something about survival or whatnot…) It’s natural and legitimate to want to share whatever is weighing on your mind.  Also, as my mom’s best friend used to say, “Once you put it out there it’s not bigger than you.” Sometimes just talking about it makes it feel a little lighter, a little less unwieldy.

On the other hand, let’s face it, some people seem to perversely enjoy getting all hyped up in the drama of their troubles, and talking about it becomes kind of a theatrical exercise. In these situations you’re not a listener or an advisor – you’re an audience. 

This, I confess, I have very little time for.  This is when you might catch me rolling my eyes, or puffing out my cheeks – or possibly both, simultaneously, for maximum “I’m barfing on the inside” effect.  Hard to say exactly if it’s the performance or the performer that triggers my response, but whenever I’m in this situation something happens to my theory that everyone has the right to feel the weight of their own problems: it flies out the window, along with my patience and tolerance. I feel… insulted?  Maybe not insulted.  Definitely annoyed.  Definitely of the very strong opinion that such people should immediately get over themselves.  Which is of course the very same judgment that I believe most people fear when talking to someone with cancer — and which prompts most complainers to cut themselves off mid-soliloquy in the first place.

The thing is, this isn’t just the cancer talking; I’ve always felt this way.  Ask my parents, both of whom have gone through a phase or two when they were perhaps ever so slightly guilty of a little too much drama for my liking.  Ask my friends, most of whom will tell you my love can be sometimes be of the tough (and eye-rolling) variety.  Ask Georgia, who at three-and-a-half has already had several occasions to shout at me that her name is not “Hollywood!”

So, am I saying that the paranoia about having the “right” to complain that some people feel around a person with cancer is justified?  Am I in fact intolerant if I get irritated by a person’s self-pity?  Is it, moreover, a sign of my own self-absorption that I don’t make time for the friend who can’t stop carping on about his nasty boss or the woman who’s every conversation returns to the subject of her inability to find the right guy?

Actually, no. I think I just have a short fuse with drama queens (of either gender.) Always have.  My policy is Ice Queens, Drag Queens, Dairy Queens – ok.  Drama Queens, no.

Because everyone has problems, and I truly don’t mind hearing about them – within reason.  My impatience with the drama doesn’t stem from having cancer, honest.  It’s not because I think I have it worse — if anything it’s just the opposite. I really believe my life is better than most. Yes, better.  In spite of cancer, I genuinely believe my life is a happy one – or happier than the average at any rate, judging from the deafening howl of misery out there.  I feel very much aware of my own good fortune: my happiness in my marriage, friendships, and family relationships alone is a more or less constant reminder of how good I’ve got it.  Let’s not paint too rosy a picture — I am also acutely aware of my own misfortunes — but in the big picture, being surrounded by love and support and amazing, inspiring people, (not to mention being madly in love with your husband) is a pretty good place to net out, day after day.  So, since I’m managing to mostly hold it together over here all I’m saying is, I don’t really want anyone killing my buzz with a song and dance, especially if a talk or a hug can accomplish more.

As for the Drama Queens, you just go ahead and cry yourself a river if you’ve got the blues.  Life is full of troubles and we all have our reasons to be less than just perfectly content every once in a while.

Believe me, I’m not advocating any kind of Stepfordian complacency or stoic WASPy forbearance. When you feel the weight of your worries, better to share it than to let it crush you. I’m just saying: if you’re going to hit the stage let me exit the auditorium first, please. You don’t want me in the audience anyway – I’ll just be throwing you off your show with all my huffing and puffing & eye-rolling, and making of moon-eyes at my husband.

January 15 2010, 12:51 PM

It was a long, long day at the hospital yesterday and I am totally knackered.  I came home and rested a bit and then my husband and Georgia stormed the premises, but thank god Georgia’s godmother came over too, to help wrangle the Whirlwind.  The Whirlwind was actually in quite the difficult mood – she was certainly not going to be nominated for any behavioural awards last night – and that’s enough to wear you out on any day, let alone one that involved seven hours at the hospital. In fact, we’re pretty sure last night put the godmother’s child-bearing plans back by at least six months…

Nonetheless we managed; we made it through dinner and bedtime without too much additional drama. Very shortly after Georgia was tucked in for the night, I too said good night and headed up to bed.  As I was climbing the stairs I had one of those thoughts – the kind that have the power to bring you right down and leave you smack in the middle of darkness and devastation if you let them:

“When did this become my life?  How did I get here — to this life full of cancer and exhaustion and sickness and stress — from that charmed, beautiful life full of privilege and blessings…?”

This is known as a Pity Party. Or as the start of one. It can spiral right out of control, leading to tears and trauma. Orrrr, you can snuff it out like an offensively over-scented votive candle.

It’s not that it’s not all true: I did lead an extraordinarily happy and blessed life — not one totally devoid of challenges and pain, but pretty darn good all around, pretty much right up until I got hit with the cancer stick. Yet despite appearances, I kind of think my life continues to be incredibly good. I may not be the luckiest person alive, but I have a really good life. And it turns out that some rather previously-unimaginable blessings have come from this experience of having cancer.  (For more on this, you can refer to earlier posts questioning the idea of cancer as a “gift.”  I’ll save you the suspense: I don’t believe for a second that cancer in itself is a gift, but it does bring with it some undeniable silver linings.)

Anyway, I had just reached the top of the stairs when another voice interrupted the Pity Party Planner’s escalating lament, “When did my beautiful life turn into this constant, unending battle…blah blah blah…” with a firm

“Well, it may not look as rose-coloured as once it did, but it is still your life.  And it’s actually not a bad one.  Have you seen Haiti lately?  How’d you like to pull your child out of the rubble?  Get a grip. You’ve got cancer and you have to live with it.  Live being the operative word.”

It can be such a ball-buster, that other voice of mine.  But it certainly did the trick. Snapped me right out of my downward-spiraling, woe-is-me mood. By the time I was brushing my teeth, I was thinking back at our warm, familial evening and the love and laughter that flowed so easily in and around the eddies and crests of Georgia’s hooliganism; at our delicious dinner of take-out Japanese food in our great house, and the conversations and connections on a million levels between we three old friends; even at Georgia’s absolute certainty of her rightful place at the centre of the universe.  Just before switching off the bathroom light I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I had a half-smile on my face — I knew it was true:

my life is still blessed. A bit chaotic, battle-scarred, and full of dramatic ups and downs, but definitely still blessed, at least by my measure.

Pity Party postponed.  That other party, the celebration? Definitely still on.

January 10 2010, 5:45 PM

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured a preview of the upcoming trends for 2001 in its Style section.  Generally – not being of the mind that style and trendiness are synonymous – I could give two flying hoots about the latest trends. In fact, as I read about the “…cheeky bras over t-shirts…” gracing the runways, all I could think was, Will you please give me a break? Do I want to look like I have underwear dyslexia?

But I was reading the Style page for a reason: because when I picked up the paper, something caught my eye.  Or my eyebrow, I should say.  The banner on the front page encouraged me to check out the Style section to “get set for the year of the invisi-brow.”  Yes, the invisi-brow. As in, no eyebrows.  Models, apparently, are bleaching or otherwise disappearing the fuzzy little caterpillars that reside above each eye in what is giddily billed as “surely the edgiest make-up trend of the season.”  Yeah, okay… or, Surely the most inane, pointless and desperate trend of the season.  (Followed closely by those cheeky bras over t-shirts.)

What to expect next from these daring denizens of the fashion world? The year of the plucked-out eyelashes? Perhaps a celebration of the bikini-ready chemo-zillian, just in time for beach season? (Actually I confess: that one I did count as a cancer perk…saved so much money on waxing!)

I feel like writing to the Style reporters to inform them that, avante garde trend-setter that I clearly am, last year was my own personal “year of the invisi-brow” and frankly, it completely sucked.

Or, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong; maybe I’m just bitter because last year when I was bald and blinking dust out of my lash-less, brow-less eyes, nobody thought it was particularly chic. Perhaps I should cut this little clip out of the paper and pass it around the chemo ward on Thursday for all my browless chemo compadres and see what they think. After all, having the fashion world declare a common chemo side effect edgy and desirable might make people feel better about hair loss, if only in that one localized area.

And anyway, I should be looking for silver linings: it’s entirely possible I’ll be joining the hairless ranks once again – I’m shedding like a husky in July.

Though I cringe and get a little teary-eyed at the mere prospect of losing my hair and having that bald cancer-face stare back at me from the mirror again (telling me every day how sick I am) if it must be, so be it.  Time will tell. 

If I go bald, at least I know I’ll endure it.  Hell, I may even figure out a way to own it this time – anything to avoid it owning me again.

Encouragingly, my oncologist says it’s unlikely I’ll lose my hair completely, but she’s not cleaning my hairbrush every day, or seeing my pillow every morning… Mind you, I’ve got lots of it, so I count myself lucky; with what I’ve lost so far, some people would already be dealing with rather barren cranial terrain.

At least I’ve still got my thick, sumptuous, decidedly visible eyebrows – and trendy or not, I want them to stay exactly where they are.

November 30 2009, 1:06 PM

I was reading a book last night in which the narrator said something like, “Each day is someone’s first and someone’s last, but all those in between become just another day.” To which I thought: “What complete B.S. — surely it’s all the ones in between that count?”

Then, since my birthday is this week, I lay there in bed thinking about first days and last days. My first day was 38 years ago… When will my last day be? And that’s when the thought popped into my mind: “Wow, we should really celebrate my birthday this year because I may not have very many birthdays left.”

Um, whoa there. I just got fantastic results on my latest CT scans. Where did this party-crashing thought come from? From whence did this completely uninvited and so out of step with my little tango with cancer, icky thought emerge? This really, totally depressing, totally miserable little thought.

I mean — sick or not, old or young — of course it’s natural for people to entertain thoughts of their own demise from time to time. I myself have made a lifelong game of selecting my own funeral music. (‘She’s Gone’, by Hall & Oates, is the current frontrunner.) But this thought of having only a few birthdays left was just so… Melodramatic? Woeful? And yet so powerful.

At that moment my husband came in to the room, saw my face and immediately took me in his arms and asked me what was wrong. Through the tears that ensued, I managed to mumble the may-not-have-many-left thing into his shoulder. “Mais non!” He said, squeezing the bejeezus out of me (did I mention he’s French? and absolutely dashing, not that it’s relevant?) “What could make you think such a thing? You know that you will have as many birthdays as I know I will have — nobody can say how many they have left! Non! Those stupid spots are shrinking and that’s that!”

And, actually, a few sniffles later, that was that, because he has a way of comforting me and making me laugh with his stubborn refusal to let anything scare me so long as he can help it. He has a conviction that is deep and strong and it says “you are going to live” — and I hear it every time. He also has a whole sort of talk-to-the-hand thing that he does with the dark thoughts and it works like magic to quell my fears. At least it did this time. And probably will again next time, and the time after that.

So, I’ll be celebrating this birthday – of course I will, I love birthdays, mine or anyone else’s (when I remember them!)

First days, last days… they matter too. But it’s all the ones in between that shape a life.

And yes, maybe they’re numbered, but they’re numbered for everyone. All the more reason to enjoy them. Yesterday was just another in-between day, and look what happened: I read a book, got freaked out, and then wound up falling in love with my husband all over again. Or remembering why I fell in the first place.

So let’s hear it for in-between days, however many or few of them there may be, and for those we spend them with.