When I was young and single, my roommate made some sourdough starter. When I got married and moved out, I took some of her starter with me. I had it for a couple of years but then we moved from Washington, DC to New York.
I lost the starter in the move.
No fear, though, because my brother had some, and he gave it to me. It had been given to him by a friend who turned out to be headline-worthy batshit crazy*, and that’s a long story unto itself, and one that I can’t talk about but hopefully he will put it in the comments somewhere.
When we moved to New Hampshire, I lost the starter in the move. That’s probably a good thing, because I’d always feel a little off about using sourdough starter that once belonged to a headline-worthy, made-for-tv-movie-worthy convicted murderer.
No fear, though, because in New Hampshire, a friend gave me some sourdough starter.
Then we moved to Japan and I could not take it with me.
In Tokyo, a couple of friends who were bakers gave me a start of sourdough. I did not lose it in the move, but in the pregnancy, when I could not even think about looking at it.
I’ve lived in Dallas for over a decade. I’ve tried to start my own sourdough several times, but instead of a bubbly sponge, I get a putrid mess, and flies, or just a whole lot of nothing.
This morning, a new friend stopped by with a jar of her sourdough starter.
This is a huge deal to me.
*Not in the legitimate mental illness way but in the criminal way.
I took my older kid to see Deadpool today. She’s not seventeen, but a couple of good friends whose judgement I trust saw it and said she would love it as long as I made her cover her eyes for the sexy bits.
Per our agreement, during the sexy scenes, she covered her eyes and then we had to talk about it — the settings, actions, and morals thereof which is more embarrassing for me than it is for her. Turns out, her friends had also seen the movie and she had some specific questions, which I answered honestly: “OMG no, no and no.”
This article from today’s New York Times about dreams of the dying, as well other pieces both in the Times and other media outlets, seems to be signaling the beginning of a discussion we all need to have with each other, and with ourselves, about dying.
It’s not something to be afraid of. Or, rather, it should not be.
I took a quick trip back East last week, to visit one of my brothers. My visit was longer than anticipated because of a massive storm that blanketed the entire Eastern seaboard. On my eventual flight home, I wound up sitting next to a woman in a face mask. No, not the Mexican wrestler kind (although that would have been fun) and not a religious face covering either. Just the kind you get at the drugstore, to keep you from breathing in germs.
My doctor had suggested that I wear one, and I bought some, when I was going through everything, because cancer treatment annihilates your body’s ability to fight off germs — your bone marrow, which creates among other things, white blood cells and other antibodies, is composed of rapidly dividing cells, the kind that are targeted by chemotherapy, so colds and things are a bigger deal for us. I vaguely remember wearing a mask but I was not as diligent about it as the woman next to me. It made me feel bad about the way I looked, which, in retrospect, is a funny point of view from someone with no hair and no eyelashes or eyebrows and flesh the color of death.
My seat mate had all of her hair. She looked normal except for that certain unholy pallor that I recognized all too well. You would never guess that she had cancer, unless you had been there. Because I have learned, over the years, not to be a complete jerk, I didn’t pipe up with, “Tell me about your cancer,” but instead I smiled and we talked about the weather, and of course she told me all about her cancer.
There’s cancer, and then there’s cancer, and this woman had a rare blood disease that wasn’t easily treatable. She’s been following her doctor around the country for a decade, first at NIH, now at Sloan-Kettering while he does one experimental treatment after another on her, funded by research grant money, keeping her alive and using what he has learned from her to figure out how to keep other patients alive.
“That’s wonderful,” I said. “You know, these studies make a huge difference.” I told her about the study that I was recruited for, but wound up being ineligible for since my cancer was too advanced. My doctor told me that they’d had to discontinue it because the experimental treatment was making patients too sick. I told her about the study, finished just a few months before my diagnosis, in which my own doctor figured out how to cure cancer like mine that, until his research, had been considered terminal. Evidence-based medical research is why cancer survival rates within the past decade have skyrocketed, and why we’re starting to talk about cancer as a chronic illness rather than a mortal one.
Then she pulled out her dinner, with profuse apology. She had picked up Chinese food at the counter by the gate, and brought it with her. She knew, as well as I do, how people feel about food with strong flavors on an airplane.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve got to eat, and if that is what works for you, then go for it.” I said it, and what’s more, I meant it.
Mostly, I was curious to see how she would eat with a mask on, but she took the mask off to eat and then replaced it. I guess after a decade, she knows how to handle it.
Over the years, I’ve heard and read many people say things like, “Cancer doesn’t define my life,” and “I’m just a regular person, but with an illness that happens to be cancer.”
When I was going through treatment and recovery, I couldn’t do or be that, or even think or say it. I still can’t.
Everyone is different.
This woman was really lovely. I don’t think her illness affected it one way or another. If I hadn’t been down my own road, I would not have even known about hers, and I might have silently judged her for the Chinese food.
Everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.
You know when you make the tech start crying and run from the room in tears that your cancer is bad.
That’s how I knew it at any rate. The radiology tech was running an ultrasound wand over my collarbone and neck and she gasped.
Up until then, she and I had been chatting, about our children (adorable), about Texas, (hot, but friendly), about whether MD Anderson would be able to cure my cancer (absolutely!) when she saw something.
She tried to cover it, but she couldn’t, and I pretended that I didn’t know. She finished her scan without saying a word and ran out of the exam room, almost hiding from me that she was about to burst into tears.
It’s gotta be rough, that job. The young woman obviously liked me. We had a lot in common. It’s not often that I meet an insta-friend, but this woman was certainly on that exclusive list, and then she found something that she knew, even though she was a technician and not a radiologist, was very, very bad.
As it turns out, the story has a happy ending. The radiologist who came in to explain to me that my cancer had spread to the fixed lymph nodes above my collarbone told me that I would be okay, that they could treat it with radiation at MD Anderson, but not necessarily anywhere else, and he was right.
Eight years later, I want to go back to that woman, meet up with her for a sandwich, and tell her that I’m okay, but I bet she checked up my medical file. I bet she was one of the many, many people who added their prayers to the miracle that is me. I bet she knows.
The fact that she was wearing a hijab is in no way relevant.
Guys, this isn’t the post I intended to write this week.
Last week, I had a quick errand. It was to the Container Store, to buy a belt-hanger for my closet if you must know. And yes, I went in, bought the one thing, and got out of there.
That’s not the point.
The point is that the errand was quick. I didn’t want it to fill my day, or even my morning.
I drove there, parked my car in the parking lot, locked the car, and started walking toward the store. I was in the middle of fumbling with my purse to put my car keys in my purse — it’s one of those purses with fiddly toggle-closure pockets on the outside for my phone and lipstick. I was walking, fiddling with the key pocket, when I stopped.
No. Not like that.
I thought about what I was doing, looked at the keys in my hand, looked at my purse, undid the toggle, put my keys in my purse, and redid the toggle. It took five seconds.
I went into the store, went straight to what I was looking for, bought it, walked out, went straight to my car without having to search the parking lot for it, and unlocked it without searching for my keys in my purse.
30 minutes, there and back, including drive time. Not the whole morning.
I made space to do what I really meant to do, which was to clean up the shelf in my closet where all the purses I have ever owned were cram-jammed on top of each other, clean the trash out of each and every purse that I do use, get rid of the ones I never use, and make it so that I can change from one purse to another depending on my mood and what shoes I’m wearing.
I’m not the lady with 100 purses; I have seven or eight that I really like including a few fun bags a friend gave me a while ago when she knew I was in desperate need of a pick-me-up. Being able to swap them out easily is a small thing, but it’s also a big thing.
I also found out what happened to all my lipsticks.