November 2010

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My check-engine light came on recently. One of the things I love about being in remission, about being clear of disease, is watching myself freak out about something like the check-engine light coming on.

“Sh*&t! This Jetta. It’s time for a new car. When am I going to get the time to take it in to be checked? And the cost? It’s bad timing. Totally inconvenient. Can’t believe it.”

And then the laughing, the laughing that ensues when I find myself literally freaking out over the check-engine light.

So I arrive at Leigh’s yesterday morning. She offers to drive given that MY CHECK ENGINE LIGHT IS ON. And it’s just as well. The Jetta is a might too small to hold Little J’s energy, let alone Lil’ Salty’s and his sister Snabby’s. Off we go to Muir Woods to watch the boys stomp, sing, splash, and chat up passers-by, basically add to the beauty of the park while we girls talk.

Then this morning, I’m dropping off Little J and heading to a first-grade classroom to do a little volunteering. My phone rings and it’s the coordinator of the maintenance trial I’m starting this week. Oh boy, excitement.

“We found something on your October 7th CT scan that the other radiologists wah, wah, wah.” Her voice becomes round and full of sounds that aren’t words.

“Come again? You found what?”

“You need to have  Pet Ct. We’re not sure you can start the trial…concern of new disease…wah, wah, wah.”

The next thing I know, the blood is drained out of my hands, but I’m somehow passing out flashcards to a small group of smiling six-year-olds.

“The long A sound, that’s right,” I hear someone say. It sounds like me. It is me.

“No, it’s wait, not wail,” I say to someone with ponytails and to myself.

“Miss Jennifer, help me find which word is wrong.”

On my way home, I call the nice lady back, the one who had passed on the news, and I ask her if we can have a do-over on our conversation. Yes, it appears I’d heard her correctly. Something one group of radiologists did not find, but another group did. I’ve heard of this happening before, and it turns out to be nothing. Nothing. I check for my gut reaction. Definitely, it’s nothing. I know it. We will have proof soon and the trial will be back on.

After Muir Woods yesterday, Little J and I got back in the Jetta to head back home from Leigh’s house and guess what? The check-engine light was off.



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The lights flickered on and off just before the thunder and lightning came. Then the six-foot ladder blew right off the back deck while Heather and I were hunched over the couscous and cucumber salads, chopping away. Just when I thought the foul weather might be a bad omen for the party, Dennis entered and announced, “It always storms on my birthday. This is great.”

And so it was.

You should have seem him out there in his storm jacket, grilling sausages in the downpour. With a flashlight. He and Tom had spent most of the day rigging a tarp over the pergola in case there was the slightest chance that people would want to go outside. There wasn’t.

But indoors it was gorgeous and candle-lit and cozy. Friends and family had driven across bridges and through the rain to celebrate with us. Everyone was smiles and happy-to-see-you’s and dressed adorably.

One of my favorite moments was when Shelley (gorgeously preggers with twins!) had the brilliant idea of re-staging an old photo of Dennis with some of his best friends.

This was taken in August of 1988:

Ryan, Dennis, Paul, and Seth

November, 2010:

Oh my gosh, we are all so old. But the guys just get better with age, don’t they?

The party is over, but the happy energy still lingers. We cozy up to the fire these last cold nights, with our tea and books and puzzles. In spite of the dark, stormy outside, the sweet energy from the birthday fete lingers, and we hope Little J still believes us when we assure him he didn’t miss a thing!



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I’ve been so wrapped up in party planning, present hiding, cake frosting, sign making and other shenanigans, that I forgot to update you on how the MRI went.

Fantastically well.

For one thing, there was no banging. Those of you who’ve had an MRI know what I’m talking about. I think of my high school friend Matt who went on to be a Navy SEAL. He told us about POW training. I mean, no he didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Anyway, if he had, he would have said something about being in a small box and people banging on it with metal tools and such. That’s what MRIs sometimes sound like. But this time, as I said, no such banging.

However, after I was slid into a long (skinny!) tube, I heard blaring alarm-like sounds. You know the sound you hear when the “regular programming is interrupted to test the emergency broadcast system?” Like that, but right in my ear. For an hour.

So, I took Jodi’s advice not to open my eyes (no matter what) and pretended that, with each loud sound, one of my chakras was being tuned. I’m not kidding. I imagined I was enjoying a new, super high-tech chakra-alignment process. One hour later, I emerged from the tube refreshed, restored, and perfectly aligned.

I should also mention that I had on my lucky socks: black and grey striped knee-highs,  pink halloween bats with rhinestones eyes. That helped, too.

After the appointment, I met up with a group of ladies (OC survivors group) for lunch here in Sugartown. Get this. Out of fourteen of them, HALF are ten to twenty-year survivors. And all but one of them has had more than one recurrence. The other seven women were, like me, about two-ish years since Dx. What a group of strong women! I left there inspired and very, very hopeful.

Back to birthday talk. Last night we celebrated D’s 40th at a local family-style pizza restaurant. Little J, Princess T, and I had decorated a chocolate cake and taken it to the restaurant where the wait-staff hid it. I think Dennis was genuinely surprised when our waitress brought it out after dinner. Even though Little J had been yelling, “Where’s the cake?” Okay, thanks Dennis, for pretending to be surprised.

More little surprises and lots of celebrating around the corner, D.

Hugs and happy Friday, all.


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Every day I count my lucky stars.

Because it’s going to take at least a lifetime to get through all of them.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

From Little J, too!

We love you!


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Traveling Mouse by Maggie Rudy

Tomorrow I start my journey as Mouse Number 8 in the ovarian cancer maintenance trial known as GOG 255.

The first step is for me to get an MRI of my chest at 8:00 am. I’ve never done this before. They say I’ll be slid into a long tube and hear loud banging. I’m praying for calm and zero claustrophobia.

Next week, I have an MRI of my abdomen and pelvis, then some blood work.

The following week, I get my first injection of the mystery substance. We know for sure I’ll get an immuno-boosting substance made from a tree bark. And perhaps I will also get the vaccine that will keep the OC away. Fingers crossed.

Dennis and I are feeling good about the trial. The fact that the substances are non-toxic, immuno-supportive, and helpful, rather than harmful, gives us relief and hope.

In the mean time, as Dennis’s 40th nears, I’m thinking of chocolate cakes and little surprises. I’m thinking of guests, of family and friends, of clinking glasses and celebration, of presents and smooches and the like.

Tomorrow is two years since the cancer part of our story began, a day before his birthday. This year, we’ll let the healing and the cheering blur out that memory, let the sun burst through that cloud that hangs over the day before, let the anticipation of celebration mark the day instead.

Chocolate frosting smooches and hugs,


*more adorable meeses at

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Have you ever seen the film, The Double Life of Veronique? It’s by Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who’s probably best known for his amazing trilogy, Three Colors: Red, White, and Blue.

Veronique tells a fantastical story of two women: Veronique, who lives in Paris, and Weronika, who lives in Poland. Physically identical, the two women live parallel lives but haven’t met. It’s a great film that uses magical realism in a way that pushes an uncanny story through a sieve of supernatural believability. Supernatural believability? Wha?

Get this.

I have a friend whose name sounds like Maria. We are close in age and live in parallel cities. We aren’t identical, but if you fused our features, we’d look a little like Irene Jacob above (mostly because of Maria’s Eastern European beauty).

Dennis and I walked into my gynecologist’s (let’s call him “The Prince”) office on November 17, 2008. We left in tears over the news that I had a late-stage version of ovarian cancer and needed surgery and chemo asap. Four days later, Maria and her husband walked into the same office. The Prince gave them the same news.

On November 24th, a cracker-jack surgeon from UCSF and The Prince spent five hours removing the cancer and many parts from my body. Two days later, the same two doctors did the same for Maria. She was put in the hospital room two doors down from mine. I remember walking past her room with Dennis and his brother Mike when I was just barely ambulatory. I heard Maria’s husband talking in a hushed tone on the phone while Maria slept.  “It is at least stage III,” he said in a Russian accent. “They said they usually never catch it earlier than that.” I knew what he was talking about.

Two weeks later, I went to see The Prince. I told him that malignant fluid had moved into my lungs and that my cancer was now Stage IV. But I wasn’t worried. The chemo was going to work. I knew even then. He gasped  in amazement. The Prince said the exact same thing had just happened to Maria. Fluid had gone into her lungs, too.

Six months later, I finished my treatment, and as many of you know, enjoyed a year-long remission, cancer free. In May of 2010, I was back at the Cancer Center, getting chemo for my recurrence, through my fancy port. The woman next to me was looking at me like she knew me.

“Are you Jennifer?” she asked.

“Are you Maria?” I answered.

Her cancer had returned around the same time mine had.

We stayed in touch and became friends during our synchronized treatment cycles. Halfway through treatment, I called her and said, “Listen, my hair got too thin from the Gemzar, so I shaved it off on Friday. I wanted you to know before I see you at chemo on Thursday.”

“I did, too,” she said.”On Friday.”

Of course.

We both responded very well to the chemo, a combination of Gemzar and platinum, our disease retreating as quickly as it came. We are both feeling stronger day by day in our second remission. And we are both starting another parallel journey together, a vaccine maintenance  trial at UCSF.

Here’s how the trial will work. Fifty percent of all patients will get a general immune-stimulating agent made from some kind of Chilean tree bark. Fifty percent of patients will get the bark agent plus a vaccine designed to keep ovarian cancer from returning.

“I had to take my cat to the vet,” Maria said to me recently.

“I did, too! Last week!”

“Of course.”

“I hope we both get the vaccine.”

“Me, too!”

Hugs, and Go Giants!!


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Over the week that we returned from Kauai, the spirit of island lingered in that way that it does. We found it hard to get up on time, we smelled the floral scent in the air, and I felt urged to walk around in a sarong and flip-flops forever.

But holy Kamehameha, nothing says, “You are now back in Sugartown” like getting ready for Halloween on our All-Hallows devoted street. There was Heather’s annual pumpkin carving party.

There was scaring up the place with ghoulish decorations.

And there was the Power Ranger who could just barely wait to don his power suit and hit the streets.

And as they tend to do around this paganish holiday, and this time of year in general, the sacred and the profane crossed paths.

Now, you know I like to keep my secrets when it comes to the sacred. I throw my pennies in the wishing well and don’t say a word. But let’s just say that a certain extraordinary healershamanfriend came to visit and filled our house with her light and presence. And though I’ve never met a being quite like her, I feel I’ve known her my entire life. A more generous soul, I’ve yet to meet. And her husband, I cannot begin. That is for another day.

Halloween weekend for us was about Welcome home to Sugartown, and aren’t we blessed by the people in our lives, and aren’t we always *this* close to the sacred with our holiday and everyday rituals?



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