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Persephone and Hades, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

I got an email from a dear friend this morning. I haven’t seen him or his sweet husband, one of my most cherished friends, in a long time, and I learned that he is so worried about me that he feels scared to even contact me to ask how I’m doing. Sweet dear. I had no idea people worried about me. Are you? Please don’t. If you are, this post is for you.

Dear, sweet friend writes:

We have been thinking a lot about you lately. How are you doing? What are the docs saying about this round? Honestly, he is often so worried that he can not even come straight out and just ask how you are. It really upsets him. But, I know he really wants to know…It’s just terrible that the disease has come back. I hope you can keep it in remission longer this time if not forever. What do the docs say about that?

I write:

Dearest Sweet Pea, I hope I can, too. What do the docs say about that? I don’t ask. I have lots of reasons to believe it won’t come back. They are my secrets, and I hold them close.

Terrible is one way to look at it. But I don’t really give it that much power. It is something that happened to my family and me. And then it came back. It’s what ovarian cancer does.

The truth is, I’ve taken more goodness and beauty from this disease than it has taken from me.

My experience of life is richer and more peaceful than ever, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Of course I wish I were healed and believe that I am, on some level. And of course there are moments when I break down and mourn over the possibility that I could die from this disease. But these are brief moments of suffering. And then they pass.

I believe that the majority of people suffer more than I do on a day-to-day basis. Because they’re sick of their jobs or their spouses.  Because they feel like they haven’t come far enough in life yet. Because they don’t like their bodies. Because they don’t see how beautiful every moment of this life is or how precious the people in their lives are. Because they don’t feel the love that flows to them from those people. Because they focus on what is wrong.

But that is not where I dwell, so I’m not suffering, or worried, or sick. So please don’t worry.

I love you two tons. Let’s see each other soon. And when my treatment is done, go dancing.



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The early courting days (a.k.a. the Chet Baker Days)

Last night, I lay in bed, exhausted after a long day in the chemo chair. I listened to Dennis sweetly singing Little J to sleep in the next room. Softly and gently, he croons, “Look for the Silver Lining,” a Chet Baker favorite that father and son sing together every night. It was the first song Dennis played for me in his house in Oakland when we started dating. I remember that, at the time, the moment made me think of a line from one of my favorite Bossa Nova songs. Like a message from above it sang, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”

And I did. Dennis follows his dreams and defends the silver lining against all odds to this day.

After Little J fell asleep, Dennis came into our room where Virgil rested with me. I had a little cry, then tried to pull myself together. Dennis just pet Virgil’s belly, gently pulling out hairballs and brambles from the garden, and said, “No go ahead and cry. You deserve it. Get it out.” So I indulged in a few more tears about why-can’t-PARP inhibitors-be -ready-for-me-now-so-we-don’t-ever-have-to-go-through-this-again. And then quiet cuddling. And moments later, Dennis suggests a plan of action (always about the solution, this guy). People we could write to, ways we could advocate for me and the thousands of women in my position right now.

The tears were good. The hope and promise, even better.

Look for the silver lining,


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Blossom Umbrella, Erte' (1892-1990)

Alright. I’ll admit it. Sometimes it’s hard, even when overall, things are going really, really well.

Last time I was in treatment, Little J was three. He couldn’t express how he felt about what was happening to me, so when he was scared, he would hit me or refuse to leave my side. This time, he can verbalize his fear, and it comes out as anger.

“Mommy, get OUT of bed and come to the fair! Mommy, I am mad that you are sick. It is YOUR fault.”

Heartbreaking as it is, this is actually a good thing. The fact that he knows he is mad and why, and isn’t afraid to say it, means that he is processing his emotions, not stuffing them down somewhere. In these moments of fury, he’s a little storm that has been brewing and, when it finally hits, leaves you feeling relieved,  if drenched and little sad.

After his outbursts, I pull him on my lap and hug him and kiss him until his tiny fists unclench. I tell him that it’s okay he’s mad at me, that I’m sorry I’m sick, and that I WILL get better.  He presses his cheek on my forehead and hugs me, then brings me his favorite stuffed dog, ruff-ruff.

He and Dennis had an action-packed fourth-of-July weekend. They went to the Sugartown parade, the Company picnic, the fair, swimming, the neighborhood cook-out, an outdoor movie-night, even bowling. Dennis sent me pictures of  Little J having a blast: on the Finn’s float, riding a horse, on  a carnival ride, watching fireworks, and we texted constantly,  saying how much we missed each other.

I made it to the parade and the cook-out, but missed the other events. This last round of chemo, my red blood cell count was really low, so I have weakness, fatigue, and heart palpitations. I think this might be adding to my sense of vulnerability. I was going to avoid posting until it passed. But taking a lesson from Little J, I figure it’s good to get it out, to share.

Thanks for being here.



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I have a friend whose name sounds like Mandy. She is a warrior. She’s a couple decades my senior, but you would never know it looking at her, or walking with her. Several months ago, when I was in remission and she was nearing the one year mark of chemo to treat a particularly stubborn recurrence of ovarian cancer, we went for a walk. She lives south of Sugartown, in a beautiful neighborhood by the water.

Halfway through the walk, I was getting pooped.

“We can sit down and rest if you like,” she offered, pointing to a bench.

“I’d better not,” I answered, “if I sit down, I won’t want to get back up.”

Mandy is still getting chemo for her recurrence, and it’s been over a year. She’s doing better. The treatment is working, and she has the upper-hand.

We talk often. She’s one of my greatest inspirations. She’s so strong, positive, and is lucky enough to have a pain threshold the likes of which I can’t even imagine. During my treatments in 2009, some of you might remember I had intrapertioneal chemo, which goes straight into your abdominal cavity and sits there, bathing the organs and tissues. I barely made it through two treatments. Mandy did six treatments with no pain, and very few side effects.

“Everyone is different,” she offered me kindly when I was making the difficult decision to stop the IP chemo and to go back to IV infusions.

“Yes, you are superhuman, Mandy, a warrior.”

Recently Mandy called me to check in on how I was doing with my treatments.

“They’re going well,” I told her. “My numbers are dropping and the chemo itself is not as hard to bear as I thought it would be. “But there’s the pain, always the pain. It seems like I can feel each cancer cell dying.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Pain has been your thing with these treatments.”

“Yes, that’s for sure. And how about you? How are you doing?” I ask her.

“Me? I’m slowing down. Instead of walking three miles a day, I’m only walking two.”

That’s right. Over one year of chemo treatments, and walking two miles a day, or nearly every day. I don’t know about you, but I find that inspiring.

At the BBQ the other night at Heather’s, I was telling Bob and Debbie this story. Debbie was as impressed as I was. Bob was impressed, too. But when I said, “I couldn’t do that,” he answered, “It’s all in your head.” Then he told the story of running the New York Marathon at age 60, nine months after running the LA marathon at 59.

I was inspired by this to walk Little J to Preschool the next day. It’s about a mile total, there and back, and I was exhausted. Baby steps. Baby steps. And don’t you worry, mom and Ms. Miller, I will be taking it slowly, a little bit each day, remembering the strength of the Bobs and Mandies out there who are ignoring obstacles every day.



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Our neighbor, whose name sounds like Darren, is an artist, a musician, a man who is connected to nature, and a master builder. He builds things for his work and also from his heart.

Last spring, when I was finishing up with chemo, he offered to build us a redwood pergola off of the back of our house. He didn’t like the idea of  us going through another Sugartown summer without a little more shelter from the sun. So he and Dennis discussed the design, and Darren got the wood, cut it, and got to work. He and Dennis built it together in a day. The pretty structure has changed our lives. We live outdoors once the heat comes to town.

As you can see, the structure’s  got  good legs for the luscious and showy passionflower vines to climb on with wild abandon.

Yesterday was  a typical Sugartown afternoon. The kids were playing outside, and the adults were milling around, catching up, asking me about my chemo treatment (which was fine, by the way). Darren pulled up and announced he’d seen a baby crow that had fallen from its nest. He walked back to where the bird was, cupped it gently with his hands, and showed the kids how to hold a bird that was hurt. His working hands, toughened by the years of his art, calmed and soothed the bird instantly. The little thing held its mouth open, so Darren fed it some water, using his fingertips while J and Princess T looked on.

The kids’ hearts were all a-flutter. So was mine.

Then Darren went into his house and got little bites of food for the bird to eat. The kids tried to feed it turkey bits and raspberries. Meanwhile, the adult crows (its parents?) circled madly overhead, squawking. So Darren found a safe, quiet place to set the bird so it could try to eat in peace, and where the concerned birds overhead could see it and know their baby was safe.

The kids and D went to another neighbor’s house to celebrate a birthday. Pizza, cupcakes, laughter and chatter filled the house. At one point, Little J pulled his daddy aside and asked him to please take him outside to make sure that little baby crow was ok. Dennis obliged. But when they got out there, the bird was gone, as were the adult birds who’d been circling before.

Dennis said, “It looks like the baby bird is back with its mommy and daddy.”

“No, Daddy,” Little J laughed. “Those birds couldn’t carry that bird and fly away.”

Daddy replied, “You’d be surprised. Parents can do just about anything for their little ones when they need to. Anything.”

The little ones give you the strength. And the neighbors, with their open hearts, the shelter.

Happy weekend.

Love, Jennifer

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Heather in Mary's hands

It’s not even noon and today is about thanking so many people for just making today so good.

Thank you Mari for your company and buckets of pho.

Thank you Sandra for being one text away, always.

Thank you Christina and her Mama for authentic Austrian bone marrow soup for Monday.

Thank you Amy for your delish bone soup today.

Thank you Lori for being there at the ready, all the time.

Thank you mom and cousin Esther for your prayers, and everyone else.

Thank you Debbie for taking our little J today who’s got a day off from preschool.

And thank you Monica for sending this picture along to show that the day is already off to such a good start.

We are all three feeling so cradled and cared for by everyone. It’s a good day.



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