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

It seems that when large numbers of people get all het up over watching something, I’m usually on the outside. I never watched Downton Abbey, and in fact, for the longest time, I thought it was Downtown Abbey. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. I haven’t watched Handmaid’s Tale, although I love Margaret Atwood. Cat’s Eye is my favorite. Usually, if the television is on, it’s set to HGTV. I also guiltily enjoy Say Yes To The Dress, as my daughter is engaged and I am so looking forward to dress-shopping with her. Michael and I, right now, are watching an episode of Grace & Frankie and then an episode of the old Bob Newhart Show every night before bed.

But now there’s watching in real life and I’m watching people getting ready to watch and I’m not planning on joining in.

The solar eclipse.

People are buying special glasses to view the eclipse on Monday. They’re traveling to special places where the view is supposed to be better. Bonnie Tyler is singing “Total Eclipse Of the Heart”. I did a little research and found that the next total eclipse visible from the United States will be in 2024, over parts of Texas and Mexico. The entire eclipse this time is supposed to last for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. And it is supposed to be the worst travel day of the year as people try to drive into places where you can better see it.

Okay. My plan? I’ll glance outside every now and then to see if it’s gotten darker.

I don’t know why I’m not more excited. I should probably remove the “more” from that sentence. I’m not excited at all.

Today, while I was out driving in the convertible, I basked in the sun. I am a sun-lover. There are no window treatments in my home – I don’t want to block the light.

I thought back to the last total eclipse that I can remember. Through research again, it must have been the one on March 7, 1970. I was nine years old, not to turn ten until July. In Minnesota, it was all they talked about in school. And it came fraught with warnings. “If you look up, you’ll go blind! You can’t look up all day, if you do, even for one second, you’ll never see again!” We were taught how to poke a hole in a piece of typing paper and hold it over another piece of typing paper while standing out in the snow with the darkened sun back over our shoulders, and that was supposed to project a safe image for us to watch. This was a Saturday, and on Friday, we were sent home with our dire warnings, two pieces of typing paper, one pin-pricked, and some weird box thing that we made that was also supposed to make viewing safe. I threw my weird box thing away on the way home. My mother wanted the typing paper.

I was totally freaked out. I didn’t want to go blind. I didn’t want the world to go dark in the middle of the day. I didn’t like the dark. What if it stayed dark forever?

The dark. I didn’t like it then. I don’t like it now.

Which is why, on that winter day in 1970, my mother went out in the snow to see if my typing paper worked, and I went down in the basement and stayed there until it was all over. A few names were tossed down the stairs at me, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see the sun disappear.

Now, I suppose I can’t say I totally dislike the dark. But the best dark for me is when the moon is bright. My bedroom window allows the light of the moon to fall in, and when it does and adds a silver blanket to my bed, I get my best sleep.

Today, in my car, stopped in line at Starbucks, I closed my eyes and tilted my head back against the seat. The sun turned my eyelids rosy; even my closed eyes didn’t bring the dark. The sun kept it away. The warmth draped over my face and down my neck and chest into my lap. My arms were warmed. And I realized that I don’t have to watch what others are watching. I can sit quietly and wait for the light to return. And this time, I know it will. When it does, I will go out in the convertible, find a sunny place to park, tilt my head up, and bask. Welcome bask, Sun.

I don’t have to hide in a basement to be myself anymore, do I.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

An Oregon sunset. The sun and the ocean…Heaven.


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

On an evening, oh, on a lovely evening when you hold an event and you never can predict how such events will turn out, but when you hold an event and the room is full and the voices are full and the spirits are full and then, on top of it all, you witness the following:

*a student gets up and reads her poetry with such heart, with such strength, with such confidence and poise and power,

*another student gets up and reads something she never thought she could think, and she never thought she could write, and she never thought she could read aloud, and she never ever thought she could be the person she is today, but there she is for everyone to see and she’s glorious,

*a third student gets up and reads from a book that he sweat blood and bullets and brain cells to write and to write  and to write again and to write well and when he reads, he hears the audience’s reaction and you just know that he knows it’s so damn good, and it was all worth it,

*and then a new friend gets up and he reads his work and his words twist your heart and your mind fifty thousand different ways and you just want to open all of his books all at once on a table and move around reading them, turning page after page after page (hell, you’d like to roll in them too, but who is gonna admit that?),

*and then you get up and you read and as you read, you hear it, that moment, the moment when they stop hearing you and they stop seeing you and they only exist in the story and that story has vacuumed them in with the suction that only words have, that only imagination has, that only creativity and lyricism and, gosh, the everything that it has, it has all that you wanted to say and you are the one who wrote it, and, well, hallelujah…

…when that happens, you just feel soaked through with right. Not righteousness, and not right, as in I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong, but right as in all is right with your world.

In this moment, right here, right now, I am happy and content and full and satisfied and convinced that my choices were the choices I needed to make.

Oh, baby. Amen.

And thank you.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.



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

Today was the day I was “mapped” for my radiation treatments. This meant I went in to the cancer center, turned down a new hallway, and after changing into a stylin’ robe, I was ushered into the radiation machine room.

I met the machine for the first time. I named him Xappa, pronounced Zappa. “Hello, Xappa. I’m Kathie. Looks like we’re going to have an intimate relationship.”

After getting on the table, I had to lay back on this thing that looked like a beanbag chair. I put my hands over my head (assume the position) and the nurse began to scrunch the beanbag all around me, and pushing a button that took air out of it as she went. But the time she was done, this thing was molded to me, and to me alone. From this point on, the beanbag me will be waiting on the table for each treatment and I will always be in the exact same position when Xappa does his stuff.

Then the doctor and the nurse worked together to draw all over me with a purple sharpie. Xappa was used to find certain points, though no radiation was used on me today. And then the nurse tattooed me in five different spots. Four on my right breast, and one on my left side. She explained that the tattooes will be used to further line me up correctly in Xappa. Only one tattoo hurt enough to make me gasp; it was directly in my sternum.

You know, I would find all of this so interesting, if it wasn’t happening to me. I wish it was a documentary. I wish I wasn’t the documentary.

Where I made my mistake was after it was all over and I went back to the changing room. I slipped the robe off and then, instead of just dressing, I turned toward the mirror. And there I was, all marked up with purple lines and dashes and dots, and the five new tattoos. And of course, the incisions were there too.

You know those diagrams of beef cows, where they draw dotted lines to show where the different cuts of meat are? That’s what I looked like.

Earlier today, a student told me she admired how I was handling all of this. She said, “I think I’d be sitting in a dark corner for days.”

Oh, I’ve had dark corner days, believe me. But as time has gone on, the days have dwindled and I have infrequent dark corner moments now. This was one of those moments. A dark corner beef cow moment.

I got dressed and stepped out of the dressing room. But the dark corner moment was draped over me, heavy as a lead cape, and I knew I couldn’t walk through the door to the waiting room and then the exit. Not yet. So I sat down on a chair by the lockers. I just sat and spun the spinner ring given to me by a student who has dealt with cancer. The ring helps with anxiety. And she had it engraved with, “Keep passing the open windows.”

In this dark corner moment, I was stuck in front of the open window. All I could think of was, What is happening to me?

The nurse came back in. She sat down beside me and put her hand over mine.  “It’s all good, Kathie,” she said. “You’re doing great. You are great. And we’re all making sure that you are through all of this by the time your book comes out. When you drive off on your tour, you can look over your shoulder and see it disappear behind you.”

She saw me. Not the beef cow. She squeezed my hand.

And the lead cape dark moment slipped off and fell away.

Being treated as a person. Being treated as an individual. Being treated with respect. That’s all it took. I walked past the window.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Best care ever.


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

(Remember that old television show, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father? Remember the theme song? “People, let me tell ya ‘bout my best friend…” Yeah, that one. Cue that.)

This morning, during a Skype session with a client, my cat Muse jumped onto my desk and into the camera shot. This isn’t the first time – she always seems sincerely interested in what’s being said. My client said that Muse looked “wise.”

I swear that cat’s head swiveled and she leveled me with a look that said, “See? Did you hear? Did you hear what she said?”

I’ve been surrounded by animals for my entire life. There was a dog, Cindy, in my house when I was born. I helped to put myself through college by working at the local humane society – my old boss is still there and he waves at me every time he drives by in the shelter’s van. I’ve owned fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets, cats and dogs, and when I was at the humane society, I handled pretty much every animal known to man. Including a kangaroo, that escaped from a local traveling circus. Currently, there are two beagles and two cats under my roof. I love them all, but Muse, my Muse, is definitely a writer’s cat.

So what’s a writer’s cat? A cat that keeps the writer company.

Before Muse, there was Einstein. When he was a kitten, he sat on my shoulder while I worked. He started curled up on my left shoulder, then as he grew, he draped from shoulder to shoulder like a stole. As age set in, he settled for sleeping in a bed directly behind my desk. He listened to every word, every key clack, every sigh of frustration and fist-pumped “Yes!” of success.

Muse came along before Einstein passed away. She was born in an RV, traveling from California to the east coast. Her family was visiting one of my students when I complained in class one night about having too much testosterone among the pets in my house – at the time, I had two male cats and a male dog. The next week, in came my student with this family and a box full of kittens – one of whom was female. She and I locked eyes and that was all she wrote.

Well, not me, I kept writing, and Muse took over as the writer’s cat. She’s a tiny girl, weighing in at six pounds. She fits nicely next to my computer, a purring, warm paperweight. And like Einstein, she listens to every word.

But she’s become more than that too. She sleeps with me at night. Since the onset of fibromyalgia, she has the uncanny ability to know where the pain is and she often settles herself down on that exact spot, and her light pressure and warmth eases it away. She gets up in the morning when I do, follows me wherever I go. She meditates with me, in the afternoon and again at night, before I go to sleep. When I shower, she sits on the floor beside the tub, or on the back of the toilet. She joins me for breakfast and supper, usually at my computer, and she’s always nearby at lunch, which I try to take at the kitchen island, giving myself a moment to read for enjoyment.

The day I came home from the lumpectomy, she was on my lap as soon as I was settled. She stayed with me that whole day, only leaving to get her dinner when it was served, and then she was back again. She bathed my arm over and over. If she could have checked my pulse, she would have. But she couldn’t, so she provided comfort.

As she has throughout this current ordeal, and any that have come before.

Muse is fourteen years old now. When my client called her wise, it made me laugh. But I’ve looked at her with different eyes throughout this day. This little cat knows what I need when I need it.

Yes, she’s wise.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Muse sleeping on my hand while I’m at the computer.
Writing…with a cat.
Loving the fireplace.
The look I get when I say I want to take a break.


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

Today, a woman stopped by the studio to pick up some copies of Rise From The River. Her book club is reading the book for their October meeting. I’ll be visiting with them and joining the discussion. I love that in the middle of new book hooha, I will get to talk about an “old” book.

I stepped outside with her as she was leaving and I looked sadly at the weed-choked flowers in my little narrow strip of garden. It’s supposed to have lilies and hostas in it. Now it had lilies, hostas, and weeds, weeds, weeds. This woman reads Today’s Moment and she knew about the breast cancer and so I told her I haven’t been able to weed.

“First, the use of my right arm was limited because of the biopsy,” I said. “And now, it’s been limited because of the surgery. For a month, I’m not supposed to do anything more than lift a half-gallon of milk. And no repetitive movements.” I took a moment to be grateful that tapping away on the keyboard isn’t considered repetitive movement. “So I can’t weed,” I continued. “My left hand is basically useless – I’m a righty – and these weeds typically need two hands to yank anyway.”

Damned if this woman didn’t just hand me the books she was carrying and then she hunkered down and weeded the whole little garden. Right then, right there.  In a dress. No garden gloves. Newly coiffed hair.

I swear the hostas and the lilies stood up straighter, took a deep breath, and saluted.

“It’s way more fun to do it for someone else than for yourself,” the woman said as she weeded.

And then it was done. The little space is neat and tidy again, a fitting garden for beneath the AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop sign. A lovely greeting for my students. And, in this case, my readers.

I gave her back the books, took the weeds to throw in the dumpster, and watched her drive away. Then I stood for a few, the sun on my shoulders, the air warm the way I like it, and I admired my now happily uncluttered and growing plants. I admired the sky and the clouds reflected in the windows. I admired the classroom on the other side of the glass. I’ve always said the plants in the classroom and the ones outside grow well because of the environment of creativity and community.

The weeds grew well too, but all it took was one compassionate well-meaning woman to clear away the bad and let the good grow, grow, grow.

I thought about that too.

What a nice thing to do.

And then I reached in to my mailbox to collect today’s mail and I found a Starbucks card, left there by an appreciative student.

The kindness of people continues to astound me. The simplest things can just mean so much.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

From a previous summer – this is how the little narrow garden is supposed to look!


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

I spent part of my morning on the phone with a new AllWriters’ student. Cora registered for an online class, but instantly became disoriented and felt like she would do better with a face to face class. Listening to her on the phone, hearing about her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, learning of her discomfort with email and with her cell phone, I began to agree.

Then Cora told me that she’d heard about me from another woman. She said, “I’ve been told you can teach me. I took another class someplace else and I just ended up confused. But you…you can teach me.” When I told her that my on-site classes were all filled, she said, “But I want to be in class with you. I want to see you, hear you, feel you. I can feel you over the phone!”

Well, wow.

We talked for a while longer and I suggested she take the on-site Monday Night Workshop, taught by my husband. “Really,” I said, “he’s just as good as I am.”

“I doubt it.”

She made me laugh, but I went on to explain that Michael had been a student and now, as a teacher, he knows how I liked things done, and that while he adds his own flavor to his classes, he is faithful to what I feel is important.

Cora agreed to come. We spent another little bit on figuring out how to get her here – she lives north of Milwaukee. GPS, like email and her cell phone, were confounding. We went through painstaking directions. She wrote them down. And with every direction of mine she repeated, I heard her resolve grow. When I hung up, I didn’t wonder if she would make it here. I knew she would.

I love students like this. Her lack of fear, her willingness to venture out into unknown territory, without a GPS, without email, without a phone – well, she had a phone, she just didn’t know how to use it – is amazing. Most of us, if we don’t know how to do something, look to our technology. Cora looked to her wits. And her determination. She felt me over the phone. And I felt her: What Cora wants, Cora gets.

She wants to write a story. She will write a story. I envy Michael his new student.

I promised Cora I would stop in the classroom and see her before class began. She arrived at the studio forty-five minutes early…but she found it. Olivia let her in to the classroom as I was on the phone with a client.

Cora thought Olivia was me. I was delighted. Olivia was horrified. “Do I look like a 57-year old woman?” Olivia sputtered to me.

“No, but I guess I must sound like a very young woman on the phone,” I said.

When I went downstairs to meet Cora, she greeted me with a hug as if we’d known each other for years. And somehow, I feel that we have. As I spoke with other students in the class, who asked me about how I was feeling, I had to explain to Cora about the breast cancer.

She was quiet for a bit. But before I left the room, she looked up at me and beamed. “You’re going to be fine,” she said. “I got the goosebumps. I know. I feel you. You’re going to be fine.”

You know, I think I believe her even more than I believe my doctors. Cora just KNOWS. No technology needed. And what Cora wants, Cora gets.

She found her way. She will write a story. And I’m going to be fine.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop on-site classroom.



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

I started this blog originally as a response to feeling overwhelmed after the ugliness of our last election, and over the ugliness of the man who is now in the White House. So it’s impossible to keep yesterday’s horrific event in Charlottesville out of this blog.

I’ve been to Charlottesville. I went there after visiting the real Walton’s Mountain, Schuyler, Virginia. Charlottesville was featured often in the television show, The Waltons. John Boy attended a fictional Boatright University, which was, essentially, the University of Virginia. Thinking back to my visit there, over twenty years ago, I couldn’t ever have imagined that yesterday’s event would happen in such a gentle place.

It would be easy to get discouraged, depressed, and defeated after an event like that. But something I read in a student’s manuscript caused me to lift my face away from all that and look around.

In this manuscript, one character is comforting another when both are upset over Asshat’s winning the election. The comforter says that we need to remember that the election was very close. That Clinton won the popular vote. “Half of the country is still full of people who said no to the lies and the abuse,” this character said. “It’s not everybody.”

On days when it feels like everybody, we need to look around and see that it’s not.

So I looked around.

On Facebook, everywhere, people were changing their profile pictures so that they were framed with a phrase that said, “We will not let hate win.” On Facebook and Twitter both, people were declaring their horror and their anger at what happened, and at Asshat’s lack-of-response response to it. News articles protested. Editorials and blogs protested.

And then my own daughter spoke up on her Facebook page.

“What happened in Charlottesville should have been taken more seriously by our ‘leader’,” she said, “yet all he had to say was it was ‘sad’. Which is extremely apathetic considering the fear to those that tried to fight back against the hatred. It’s devastating, sick, terrifying, nerve-wracking, disgusting, disturbing, and horrific. I could come up with more adjectives to describe what happened to Charlottesville yesterday than our ‘leader’.”

My daughter is sixteen. She is fully aware. And she is not alone.

Not everybody walked down the streets of gentle Charlottesville with their hands raised in a Nazi-esque salute, chanting hateful and racist statements. Not everybody applauded their efforts.

They were protested against and fought against every step of the way.

Not everybody is responding by speaking, but not really saying anything, like the Asshat.

Not everybody is blind to the connection between the white supremacist marchers and the Asshat who said nothing while he was speaking.

And there are so very many raising their voices now, in whatever way they can. There are so many not-everybodies.

Hate hasn’t won. Even when it’s encouraged and championed and embodied by That Man In The White House.

I am proud of my daughter. And I’m proud to be a part of not-everybody.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

We won’t let hate discourage us.


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

Well, the day started out difficult.

I did not have a mastectomy, and I am profoundly grateful that I didn’t. But the lumpectomy comes with issues of its own. I have two good-sized incisions: one crawling across the upper right side of my right breast, and one cut in a diagonal a bit below my armpit. As I said in a previous Moment, a bra is necessary right now, because of heaviness in the affected breast. But I have yet to find a comfortable bra. The side of the bra, where it glides down from the cup to the waistband, cuts directly on top of the incision below my armpit. It rubs and it hurts. I was told to try a sports bra, but that still cut across, AND it compressed too much. Around the house, I’ve returned to my pre-breast days and I go braless, using my hand for support. But even then, the issue is that any material, whether it’s a shirt or a bra, that touches this incision irritates it. I had a new t-shirt to wear today and after about an hour, I had to yank it off because the material, despite my washing and drying it yesterday, was just too rough.

Today, I took an old bra and cut out the material that would touch the incision. But then the rest of the bra crumpled and rolled and irritated the incision on the breast.

I am tired of hurting. And I am tired of the hurt constantly reminding me of what’s going on. I am tired of not being able to just roll over at night, but having to gingerly set myself down so that I don’t rub the incision.  I am tired of having to put the shoulder harness of my seatbelt over my head and behind my back because it hits the incision. Everything, everything hits the incision.

I am tired.

While I was attacking the bra, a commercial came on television. It was for women with the type of breast cancer I’m dealing with. It was for an aromatase inhibitor, which is the medication I’m on.

This was my first time ever seeing myself, connecting myself, to a medical-based television commercial.

And then they called the medication “a life-extender.”

It was about then I had to leave the house for a while.

No one, not the three doctors, not the nurses, not the mentors, no one has referred to this medication in this way to me.

I had to cry for a while.

Later, we headed out to the mall. I was walking by a rack when I saw something tucked toward the back. It was this blue. It was that blue. It was lovely. I took it out and held it up.

I have a book launch coming up. My shopping trips for what to wear at a launch have become legendary. I usually end up with at least three, sometimes more, outfits that I can’t choose between and so I get them all and then don’t choose until the night of. The launch for In Grace’s Time is a month away and I hadn’t even given thought to what I would wear. I was too busy fighting all the cloth that was attacking my body. But I looked at this wisp of material, this shade of blue here, that shade of blue here, and I felt its softness.

I held it against me as I wandered the rest of the store and put together an entire outfit around it. Then I went to the dressing room and tried it all on. I turned to the mirror.

And there I was. That was me. That was how I look. That was how I wanted to look on September 26.

Everything in me that was hurting straightened up. Everything in me that was sad and frustrated straightened up. My shoulders went back. I stood as tall as five foot two can stand.

A student told me once that when I walk into a room, I own it.

In that dressing room, I owned myself. And I do not take a life-extender. Because my life has not been threatened. The threat was caught early. I have steps to get through, but I’m taking them. The incisions will heal. So will I.

There won’t be multiple outfits for this launch. This is it.

Though I did buy two pairs of shoes.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Coming soon! (And wait’ll you see the outfit!)


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

A long, long time ago in a land far away (probably 1970 and northernmost reaches of Minnesota), I was sequestered in the last stall of the girls’ restroom in Winterquist Elementary School. I was on one side of the toilet, by the flusher, and on the other side was a girl named Dawn Vaineo. A couple other girls stood at the toilet’s narrow nose. We listened as Dawn told us, in the most secret sacred whisper, how babies were made.

I was horrified.

I think we all were. Except for Dawn. Her face was composed as she told us the facts. She stated them flatly, without fanfare, without fantasy. No scientific terms to confuse us. No pornographic details to confound us. I can still see her round face, serious, surrounded by what we then called a pageboy haircut. We went to a school that allowed girls to wear pants on only Tuesdays and Thursdays, and only “dress” pants, not jeans or corduroys, even in the deepest Minnesota winter. This wasn’t a Tuesday or Thursday, as I remember we were all wearing turtlenecks and jumpers over thick hairy tights. My jumper was navy blue, with  white trim in scallops around my knees. I wore penny loafers without pennies.

It’s like this postcard in my memory. A picture postcard. Of a Norman Rockwell moment about sex, and there’s a toilet there too. Norman Rockwell meets Norman Lear.

I went home that day, disbelieving, and told my mother what I heard. When I asked her if it was true, my mother just stared at me. And then she said in this sarcastic voice I can still hear, “How do you think you got here?”

Overall, I much preferred Dawn’s way of telling me.

I haven’t seen Dawn since I was twelve years old and moved away from Minnesota. I’ve thought of her often, and I’ve told the tale of how I found out about sex often too. It might even appear in a book or a story. Unlike many memories, it is just as sharp and in full technicolor as the day it happened. I see our jumpers. I hear her voice. I feel my horror and disbelief.

Yesterday, one of my friends who stood with me around that toilet told me that she found out that Dawn passed away. She was 57 years old. My age. I haven’t seen her in 45 years. Yet my feet were just yanked out from under me.

So where am I going with this?

All day today, I’ve replayed that memory. That earnest face, that somber whisper, telling me the facts of life. Flat-out, simple, straightforward, not prettied-up, not dirtied-down. In a way that didn’t make me feel stupid, and in a way that I could understand.

She told me what I needed to know.

The next day, I went back to school and I told her she was right. I apologized for not believing her. And I very clearly remember saying to her, in my own more-serious-than-I-should-have-been ten-year old whisper, “Thank you.”

Each time that memory played to its end today, I smiled. I felt warm. And each time, I said, “Thank you.”

Some people step into your life for a very short time and leave a memory that doesn’t fade. The memories aren’t always cinema-pretty. Sometimes they offer up toilets and hairy tights and facts that seem impossible to believe. But then you find they’re true and you have to believe them and they prepare you for what’s ahead in your future. And sometimes those people don’t ever know the impact they had.

Thank you, Dawn.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Me. And freezing cold northern Minnesota.



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

It was an odd sort of day. While still elated over being told I will not need chemo, I spent the early part of my day being reminded that all has not returned to normal.

I had to go to Walgreens to pick up my new prescription, something I will be on for the next five to ten years. It will suppress the estrogen my body naturally makes. It will shut down the female hormone factory. This particular cancer feeds off of estrogen, and so the thought behind this is to not give the cancer beast anything to eat.

This still just twists my head all sorts of sideways.

Then I had to call and make my appointment for next week’s “mapping”. Mapping is done in preparation for radiation treatment. A form will be made of my body in the exact position required to have the radiation reach only the affected area. My arm will be up over my head. The radiation oncologist will determine what position is exactly right and then the form will ensure that is the position I will in for four weeks, Monday through Friday, for ten minutes a day. The area will also be marked with four tattoos, which will look like freckles on my skin. Yes, tattoos. Made with a needle and ink. And permanent.

After I hung up the phone, I shoved the bottle with the medication out of my line of sight. I sat for a bit and stared out my window.

Everything just feels so foreign. I am not used to knowing these things. I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary. I am not used to applying these new terms to myself. But they are now my norm. For the next several weeks. For the next five to ten years. And the tattoos are permanent.

Then this afternoon, I lost myself in writing the new book. In writing. My Normal. My Everyday. My Familiar. At one point, on the page, one of my main characters stood at a kitchen window and looked out, just to see the familiar landscape. Just to see that the world still looked the same. The snow was white, with spring’s yellowed grass just piercing the surface. The sky was blue. His birdfeeders were there. His life had been odd lately and he just needed that moment of grounding, more than a moment, a few moments, to convince himself that he wasn’t living in a whole new world.

I glanced down then at my own desk. I was surrounded with books on reptile care, one open to a detailed description on how to bathe an iguana, Gloria Steinem’s My Life On The Road, a statue of an iguana, a Victoria’s Secret catalog, one window on my computer open to a website on the style and design of farmhouse sinks, another window open to Amazon, showing a photograph of a t-shirt which read A Woman Needs A Man Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle, and to my right, a grande iced cinnamon dolce latte with only two pumps of syrup.

On my left, something new. A painted stone, painted for me by my sister, sent to me for my birthday last week. It has the breast cancer pink ribbon in it, and the words Never Give Up. On the back: You’ve Got This!!

And I do.

I looked at everything around me and thought, You know, your Normal isn’t all that normal either, woman.

I marked down the mapping appointment on my calendar and then moved the medication bottle to where I will remember to take the pill tonight and every night. For the next five to ten years. I need to buy a pill-a-day reminder box.

And then I sat back down and got back to work.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My Never Give Up rock from my sister.