And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Riches! I can’t choose which one to write about (there are four), so I’m going to write about all of them. One drenched me with hope and warmth; the other three made me laugh.

So the laughing ones first.

Around two this morning, before we went to bed, Michael called up the stairs to me, “What do you get if you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic?”

“What?” I called back.

“Someone who stays up all night, wondering if there’s a dog.”

I love jokes like that.

This afternoon, Grandbaby Maya Mae was over again for a visit and she filled me in on fashion. We were watching Frozen (ick) and she said, “Gamma Kaffee, Elsa doesn’t wear pants. Her doesn’t wear pants because her’s frozen. You can’t wear pants if you’re frozen.”

Good to know.

And then at dinner tonight, Olivia suddenly announced, “I think I’m gonna be a cool old lady. I want to be a hippie old lady. I want to wear hippie clothes and have blue hair.”

When she is old, she shall wear purple.

And then the hope.

I sat and talked with a friend this afternoon. There were tears. He told me that while I am a strong woman, while I am a brave woman, I don’t have to be right now. I can be sad. I can feel weak. I can be terrified out of my mind.

I am all of those things.

And then he told me about the hiking trip he took recently, just a couple weeks ago, along the coast of Washington state. One night, as the tide was coming in, he watched it pushing all of this stuff with it. Broken shells. Rocks. And bits of sand dollars. He thought of me, and of my story of the sand dollar and how I could never find a whole one (if you don’t know this story, go to the May 18 blog – I wrote about it there).  As he thought about me and about this, he looked down. And there was a whole sand dollar.

He brought it home to me.

A reminder that I’m on the right path.

And a reminder that just because I’m on the right path doesn’t mean that it will be easy or that there won’t be bumps.

I treasure this.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The sand dollar.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It was sort of a family day today.

I have this week and half of next off, as I always give myself a break after teaching at the AllWriters’ Retreat. I wasn’t expecting to spend my time off learning about breast cancer. I wasn’t expecting to spend my time off trying to add the word cancer to my daily schedule, my life, my self-definition. I was expecting my time off to be easy, relaxing and fun.

Yeah, well. Best laid plans, you know.

Today, my older daughter Katie suggested I come down to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where she is earning her PhD in math, and we’d go out to Starbucks. By the time I left home, I’d added my younger daughter Olivia to the car and my younger son, Andy.

We sat and talked in Starbucks for a couple hours. I was told I once yelled at them for using words such as “dumb butt” and “fart”. I insisted, they said, that they use “bottom” and “passing gas”.

I have absolutely no recall of this. As my fourth child’s first word was “dumbass,” I think my older children are hallucinating.

Or…it could be that I’m just a completely different person now.

I am.

Later, my oldest boy dropped off my granddaughter on his way to work. Unfortunately, I was on the phone when he arrived, so all I experienced of him was a “Hi, Mom!” and “Love you!” and then he was gone. But Grandbaby Maya Mae was here, all four years and long-haired big-eyed adorableness of her.

At one point, Maya ran up to me and said, “Gamma Kaffee, wisten.”

So I wistened. And she sang. She sang the way all four-year olds sing. Gobbledy-gook and nonexistent melody, incomprehensible words and open-faced expression. Full heart.  Full passion.

Absolutely beautiful.

“See it?” she asked at the end. “Gamma Kaffee, did you see the song?”

I looked around my living room and kitchen. At my boy cooking spaghetti, my girl, using one hand to hug a stuffed pony and the other to tap secret messages to her boyfriend. At my grandgirl, eyes that put saucers to shame, wide abeam and arms flung open in “See it?” I thought of my older boy, on his way steadfastly to work. Of my older girl, working on her dissertation of something called firing squad synchronicity, something I will never understand, but I’m oh so proud that she knows.

“I see it,” I said to Maya Mae. “I wisten.”


And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Maya Mae was three years old here. But you get the picture.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

One week ago today, I started my Moment with this sentence: “How do I come up with a moment of happiness on a day where mammogram results go the wrong way?

And today, I’m starting it with this:

How do I come up with a moment of happiness on a day when I’m given a diagnosis of breast cancer?

It’s amazing how everything can change in the course of a week. A day. A moment. One minute, I was in the shower, taking care around the incision from yesterday’s biopsy, and picturing how I would announce “benign!” on Facebook, and the next, I was standing naked in the bathroom, dripping on the floor, phone in my hand, with my doctor’s voice saying to me, “The biopsy came out positive.”

For a moment, I let myself think that positive meant good news. You know, positive. But only for a moment.

And so the world spun away for a bit.

Never in my life have I considered that I would be a container for cancer. The closest I thought I would come to cancer is my brother’s astrological sign (he’s a Cancer). I spoke with him today, and as far as we know, only one person in our family, covering both sides, has had breast cancer.

Well, now I’m number two.

I am suddenly more aware of my breasts than I ever have been – with the possible exception of when they “sprouted” and I was in thrall, watching them pop out of my little girl chest like rising loaves of bread. Mostly, they’ve just been something that’s there, that’s a part of me, like my arms or legs. But in the last week, I’ve been very conscious of how they sit on my chest, where they are at which times when I’m in different positions, their weight, their shape, their history and personality.

I’ve even been talking to them. The left has been a bit smug. The right, apologetic and sad. I’ve told her I don’t blame her – this isn’t something she’s doing to me. She’s under attack, and because we’re attached, so am I. I guess I didn’t defend her very well, didn’t protect her very well.

It’s been a surreal week. This is what happens when writers get breast cancer. The breasts become characters. But baby, it’s not surreal anymore. This shit just got real.

So back to my original question: How do I come up with a moment of happiness on a day when I’m given a diagnosis of breast cancer?

Well, since I posted the diagnosis on Facebook and also called/texted some specific people, my landline and cell phone have been raucous. My cell phone chimes every time someone reacts or comments on either of my Facebook pages, and for a while, I had to silence it because the chime was continuous and cathedral-worthy. I was also inundated with texts and Facebook private messages. My landline erupted with phone calls. It was a little overwhelming, but also wonderful. Because of the support and encouragement and love, of course. But also because…


And they’ve been worthy of that discussion, lemme tell you, since they were little tiny bread loaves.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me, please. I’m going to get through this.



And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I went in for the needle biopsy today, a result of a mammogram gone south last week. I was scared going in; the image of “needle biopsy” that flared in my head involved a syringe that probably would have been more appropriate for drilling into concrete. But the procedure was painless, thank goodness. I was worried about the numbing agent, since I’m immune to novocaine. But what they use, while it’s similar to what dentists use, is a shade different, and that shade made the difference. I didn’t feel a thing.

It’s a very strange thing, having a numb breast.

The sound of the needle collecting samples was exactly like the sound of an ear-piercing gun. That surprised me too, and while I lay there, staring at a ceiling that was supposed to look like the Milky Way, my arm over my head, I idly wondered about that. Was it a sign? Should I have pierced my nipples years ago, instead of piercing my ears three times in one, four times in the other? Then none of this would be happening?

I also caught the irony of staring at the Milky Way in a room that is for breasts. God help me, I giggled on the table.

Writers are like that. We think in metaphor, simile, symbol. So we look for things. It keeps us busy.

When I got home, I found a card in the mail from one of my students. In it, it said, “So here you are on this journey of facing fears – all these opportunities to dump fears and increase resilience.”

So I sat with that for a while. It’s true, I have had to face a lot of fears lately.

*fear of pretty much everything for a while – a result of last November’s assault;

*fear of standing up for myself and for who I am by leaving my original publisher – would I ever be published again? (new novel is coming out September 7);

*fear of the dentist;

*fear of being in a plane – not of flying, but of being sealed inside without an escape;

*fear of losing everything when my husband suddenly lost his job;

*fear that my daughter would be forever changed when she went through a life-changing experience;

*and now this. A fear of cancer.

And then, while I was thinking about this, I began to laugh. Because I have one more. Not a fear, but a sign or a symbol. Are you ready for this?

Among all the students I have writing novels, I have one I’ve been working with in coaching who just finished his book. His title is – really truly  – “Face Your Fears”.


I get the message.

And I have no intention of piercing my nipples.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I didn’t think I should post a photo of boobs, so I went with something pretty from the Fox River


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

On the way home today from the AllWriters’ Annual Retreat, my sixteen-year old daughter texted me. Don’t worry – my husband fielded the texts for me since I was driving. I do not text and drive. And the irony of the resulting interchange did not go under my radar.

Olivia texted, asking if she could go out to a park or something as she was in the house ALL weekend and it was so LOOOOOOOONG and she was STUUUUUUUCK and BOOOOOORED. I said sure, but to make sure she locked up and let us know where she was going.

A short while later, she texted the following:

“At I am at the cool new park by Frame”




This little incoherent exchange puzzled and alarmed me. Did she start to text me when she was dragged away by someone? Was she hurt? I knew the park she was referring to and it had a lot of bizarre new age playground equipment. In true mother fashion, and especially in true-mother-fashion-when-said-mother-is-totally-exhausted-from-teaching-at-a-retreat-for-the-last-four-days-not-to-mention-worrying-about-breast-cancer, I freaked out and yelled for Michael to CALL THE CHILD RIGHT NOW AND MAKE SURE SHE’S OKAY!!!!

And then the next text came in:

Note to self don’t text while swinging lol”

Well then. Therein lies an important lesson for us all.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia took a picture at the river after she got off the offending swing.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I don’t know how many times this weekend I’ve been called a strong woman. A brave woman. A “tough bitch who doesn’t take shit from anything or anybody.”

Well, jiminey.

I don’t always feel so strong or tough.

And I’ve been told you can’t be brave without being scared.

In which case, I’m pretty damn brave.

I know that we’re taught that our sense of ourselves has to come directly from ourselves, from our own beliefs, from our own feelings. But I’ve always listened hard to those around me. And I’ve always tried hard to be who they believe me to be. To live up to their expectations.

I had a student tell me today, “I just never want to disappoint you.”

Oh, trust me. The feeling is very, very mutual.

I had another student email me from the other side of the world, telling me that, in all capitals, I WILL BE FINE BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ANY OTHER OPTION.

Well, okay then.

I am trying to find the vein of happiness here. There’s a vein of fear running parallel.

I just never want to disappoint.

I’m working so hard on the attitude here. Really.

And it means so much to be buoyed by the beliefs of others. The faith of others. The love from others.

There’s another vein too. It’s filled with gratitude.

And there’s the happy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me. Believe in me.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am at my happiest when I am teaching at the AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. This is the weekend, a solid four days, when my life passions completely collide and blend together. I am both writer and teacher here. I see my dreams and aspirations coming true here. And I see the AllWriters’ community, something that I have built, in a way that is concrete and metaphor, all at the same time.

This year, it’s a little surreal. I am astonishingly happy here. And, with the mammogram gone south last week, I am also at my most terrified.

In the language of the test results, the radiologist wrote that this is to be considered cancer until proven otherwise. And I’ve been told by one of my students that this is language used when they’re pretty damn sure it’s cancer.

I feel like I’ve been declared guilty in a court of law without ever being brought to trial.

So bit by bit, I am seeing my hope for an “it’s nothing!” outcome on Tuesday shrink and fall away.

There have been many moments during this weekend thus far, when I am immersed in writing and immersed in teaching and thinking, ohmygod, I love this, that the thought, the wonder, the worry that I might not be here next year to do this sneaks in. The worry that I might look different. The worry that I might become someone different.

But I am here now. I am seeing students light up. I am seeing them come together. I see the passion that burns in me burning in them. And I am so happy to be here.

To say I am scared out of my mind is an understatement. To say that I’m happy out of my mind is an understatement.

What a weird place to be in.

My moment of happiness today? All of it. Spending time with each student individually in private consultations. Sharing meals. Leading a workshop that is as fun as it is informative and affirming.

I know Monday is coming. I know Tuesday is coming.

But I am here now.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.


And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today marked the start of the 12th AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, my studio, is going to be 13 years old in January. And today…oh, the retreat.

20 writers from 10 different states. 22 writers if you count Michael and me, which of course, I do. All under one roof, all for four days, all to write and to celebrate writing.

Kid in a candy store? Oh, that’s me, during these four days.

I love writers. I love writing. I love teaching. And these four days always create a concrete embodiment of what I do. I get to see the faces of writers who I typically only hear as voices over the phone or streamed discussion in a chatroom. And I get to see the writers I work with face to face for more than an hour at a time.

I get to be with family.

It’s difficult for me to tell you, to describe, what this means to me. And how it means even more now, since I know that on Monday, I will be having the needle biopsy.

All I know is this:

I am at my happiest when I am immersed in writers, in writing, in teaching, in the love of the written word, in the shared passion, in my very greatest joy.

There are so many words I could use. I am fulfilled. I am satisfied. I am ecstatic. I am empowered. I am proud.

But it all comes down, I suppose, to one thought:

I am so happy to be here. “Here” in every different level and depth you want to give it.  Here, at the retreat. Here, alive. Here, despite everything. Here.



And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.



And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Being told you could possibly have breast cancer is not a good thing. That’s sort of stating the obvious, isn’t it. Yet today, that led to a series of good things that added up to just one big warm mushy mess of happiness.

First and foremost, I have received so many messages of encouragement, support and hope. Face to face messages, emailed messages, instant electronic messages, posts on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Offers for prayer, offers for good energy, offers of love. One student put out a call for prayer on her Facebook page, looking for at least one prayer from every possible religion. Holy cow (maybe literally). If there is a God, there’s no way he can avoid not hearing this.

In my AllWriters’ Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop, I received the best hugs. The hugs released tears I’ve been holding back, and they also allowed the fear to surface and for me to voice that fear – which brought relief.

I said yesterday that I knew I wouldn’t be alone. Not only am I not alone, I am SURROUNDED. I feel a solid circle of support and protection.

Then came late this afternoon. I was in between my two final clients of the day. I decided to meditate. When I do guided meditations, my favorite artist to listen to is Glenn Harrold. Since hearing the news yesterday as I worked my way through mammogram, ultrasound, and scheduling the needle biopsy, I’ve been feeling the pull to listen to Harrold’s guided meditation for spiritual healing. I wasn’t looking for spiritual healing, I was looking for physical-healing-if-it’s-necessary, but I still felt pulled toward it. It’s a 41 minute meditation. I got out my heated throw, crawled under it in my recliner, stuck my head in my headphones and listened.

Harrold’s voice is an amazing thing. In my own mind, every time he said “spiritual”, my voice followed his and added, “and physical”. Partway through, I found my own hands resting on the – well, geez, I nearly said offending. Not offending. It’s the possible victim. So I found my own hands resting on the possibly afflicted breast. My hands were warmer than the heated throw.

I felt myself sink. I stopped listening. And essentially, I disappeared. It might have been sleep. But it was a relaxation so complete, I stopped hearing, I didn’t dream, I had no sense of time. The only thing I felt was the warmth from my own hands.

When I reopened my eyes, it was with the most incredible sense of well-being. I hadn’t heard the end of the recording. I hadn’t heard the chime I’d set up to wake me if I fell asleep. But I was instantly alert, and I also just…felt fine. I moved my hands to my face and felt the warmth dissipate.

I believe I’m fine.

Am I in a state of denial? Maybe. If I am, I can accept that. The mind can do wondrous things in stressful situations. But I don’t think so.

I believe I’m fine.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.



And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, this is going to be a hard one.

How do I come up with a moment of happiness on a day where mammogram results go the wrong way?

I went in today for a routine mammogram. I expected to be in and out. Instead, the radiologist saw something in my right breast on the pictures and he asked for an ultrasound. Then he saw something there too. On Monday, there will be a needle biopsy. On Tuesday, I will know what I’m facing or if I’m facing nothing at all.

And to think I was scared of the dentist.

New fear now. New what-ifs.

But a friend said today, “Don’t get your head too far out over your skis now.” So I got off the skis entirely. And I will wait the long wait until Tuesday.

So what’s the moment of happiness?

Just this. I know if I’m facing something, I won’t be facing it alone. And I know if I’m not facing anything at all, there will be many celebrating with me.

Not skiing, but standing.

And not alone.

I’m grateful.

And yes, this helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me. Believe in me.