Cancer log 185: Back in three

I had a routine mammogram on Monday, which is not the most fun way to start spring break.  Exacerbated by the fact that they had trouble pulling up my records again (which has happened each of the three times I’ve gone in, some problem with my MRIs crashing their computer), so it took much longer than it should have to get a result.

Then they pulled me into a room and did an ultrasound, which is not normal procedure and was anxiety-making, and then once it was done, the tech went off to get the doctor to read the results.  That was a scary stretch, I have to say; I was semi-convinced that they had, in fact, found cancer again, and I was silently talking myself down from getting completely stressed out.  I was imagining telling the kids about it, now that they’re two  years older and would understand more, and wondering if UIC would be able to give me as much financial support as they did last time, and I wasn’t really worried that they wouldn’t be able to treat it, but I did start dreading the prospect of going through another year like 2015.

I can do it again, if I have to, and of course I’m grateful that the docs have gotten so good at treating my particular kind of cancer when caught early, but god, that was no fun.

Finally the doc came in, an endless time later (probably less than five minutes).  The result is probably fine, but there were two issues — a small darkness near where the port went in and came out (on the right side, which is not the cancer side from before), which they’re almost positive is just a seroma (fluid left over from surgery).  Also, they can’t see one of the clips on that side, which seemed to really confuse the doctor; he said it had probably just shifted far enough back that it didn’t show up on the scan, but still, better to be safe.  So instead of having me back in six months, they’re having me back in three, and I suppose it’s good that they’re so extra careful with me, but sigh.

And now I’m in Florida at a conference, and I have been trying to relax a little, but I admit, I have had some trouble with feeling an intense urgency to do ALL THE THINGS, and feeling super-frustrated that I can’t do them all simultaneously.  Which might be a teeny tiny bit connected to my exacerbated sense of my own mortality.  Maybe.  A little.

I tried to take an hour to watch a tv show, and I just found myself getting tense again.  So far, I’ve felt best when I was a) writing or b) swimming (and thinking about writing), so I guess I’ll keep focusing on doing those things.  Although it’s also fun talking with all these lovely, brilliant people.  I’m guessing that after another day, I’ll be able to relax a little more.

I am grateful that I am not normally subject to anxiety, because I have to say, it’s very unpleasant.


So far at ICFA: Came in, ran into Jaymee, went off to buy shoes together. Successful! Came back, went for a swim, which I’m hoping to do daily. Changed (including new shoes), had some boom-boom shrimp (my favorite dish at the hotel), and went to the opening reception, in the process talking to many old friends, hearing about their new books, etc. Resolution: check out some of Caroline Yoachim’s writing (she’s up for a Nebula for a short story). Came back to room and crashed.

Today, got up just in time to host reading featuring Jennifer Stevenson, Molly Tanzer, and K. Tempest Bradford. I’m familiar with Jennifer and Tempest’s work — really enjoyed Molly’s, so another new writer to look up! Took laptop out to write by the lake, which was very beautiful but a little chilly. Chatted with various lovely people, then came back to the room and wrote a new scene, also reorganizing first chapter; I have a relatively solid 5000 words to it now, though am worried that it is too info-dump-ish still. We’ll see.

Feeling stiff now — think I’m going to take a walk around, maybe grab a drink by the pool and chat with people. Maybe another swim. And then I’d like to write some more before dinner, which I may do alone in my room. (Lunch was a big bag of popcorn that I had here. I may need to plan my meals a bit better.) I do have a backlog of e-mail that I have to work through, but if I can write, that takes priority today, I think. It’s been too long. Campaigning takes a lot of time!


Oh, I’m honored. Someone sent around a neighborhood note with their picks for the local election, and they not only endorsed my run, but said this: “We actually wish she were running for an office with more policy impact so we could support her there.)”
I hope they don’t mind my quoting it — it’s just very heartening as I consider the future. I’m at ICFA, so a ton of people have been asking how my run is going, and what my long-term plans are. I do think the library board is right for me right now; I feel I still have a lot to learn before I’d be comfortable running for something like village trustee (or even, perhaps, state legislature?).
But ask me again in four years! (Or, I guess, somewhat sooner, depending on when campaign season starts….)


Thanks again to all the folks who came out for our OPAL (Oak Park Arts League) meet-and-greet + rapid-fire reading; a really fun event! Thanks again to OPAL and director Julie Carpenter for the use of their beautiful space!
It’s been interesting trying to figure out what’s the best way to spend campaign funds — flyers, yard signs, etc. I think some TJ’s $5 wine and affordable cheese is not the worst way to go.
Especially when supplemented with Kat‘s handmade gourmet treats! We had chai spice marshmallows, orange-wattleseed marshmallows (which I am addicted to), and Meyer lemon rice krispies — normally rice krispies are too sweet for me, but the lemon cut that beautifully. Kat’s getting set up to take orders (and she ships!), so head on over to her page for more info.
It was just a really fun event, and I am looking forward to more open mics (not campaign-related) in the future. The next one (“What’s Next?”) will be April 22, 7-9 p.m., at L!ve Cafe. Save the date — we’ll have an event page up very shortly!
(Apologies for the quality of the photos — my phone camera really dislikes gallery lighting, it seems!)
OPAL Program
M.G. Bertulfo has written for television and children’s education in such venues as CBS, Pearson Education Asia, and Schlessinger; her fiction has appeared in Growing Up Filipino II, Our Own Voice, and The Oak Parker.
Victor Yipp writes mainly short fiction and is keen on character development. His writing has appeared in Chicago and local newspapers.
Allison Baxter teaches English as a Second Language in West Chicago and lives in Oak Park. She’s finishing her second novel, a mystery set in the Chicago neighborhood of Logan Square.
Amanda Daly writes science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult audiences.
Carleen Tibbetts works in the writing center at Truman college. Her recent poems can be found in DREGINALD, TAGVVERK, The Offending Adam, jubilat, and other publications.
Karen Su is part of UIC’s Global Asian Studies Program. She’s working on picture book biographies of Asian American women and women of color artists.
russell jaffe teaches at Loyola and College of DuPage and is the author of 4 poetry books , most recently LA CROIX WATER (damask press) and Civil Coping Mechanisms (civil coping mechanisms, forthcoming ’17). He is the founder and editor of TL;DR magazine
Kat Tanaka Okopnik writes about social justice, parenting, food, and science fiction while dreaming up new flavors for handmade marshmallows. Find her on FB or at
I read this poem of mine at the end, reposting it here because someone asked if it was available online:
We knew it would rain today, but
driving to the first chemo appointment,
the radio upgrades the warnings _
thunderstorms, yes, the drops hammer
against the windshield. But hail too,
strong winds, the chance of a tornado.
The garden is waking slowly, early snowdrops
giving way to scilla and chiondoxa,
tiny and tough. With rising warmth, bluebells
and crocus emerge, daffodils open. Cool whites
and blues are joined by warmer tones; pink
hyacinths release their scent _
washed away in today’s storms.
Some flowers may survive. Others will be beaten
down, petals tattered, leaves and stems dragging
in the mud. Tomorrow I will walk my garden
and count the toll of devastation, mourn each
brave blossom — my hands dug them in,
planted them deep, for this?
But roots survive, the bulbs beneath the soil.
Most daffodils still hold themselves tight-budded,
will open when the sun returns; the tulips
will spring forth, straight and proud and tall.
Into every life a little rain must fall. Last night,
we read over the lists of symptoms and side effects.
No toxins in my soil, but we still pour them
into my body, to fight this strange unwanted growth.
At garden club, I ask, despairing, what to do
about the burdock — I dig and dig, but it keeps
coming back, the bastard. A long taproot, tenacious.
She says even eco-conscious sorts
may resort to poison in the end. But rather
than pouring it over the plant, the soil,
they paint it on, delicately, with a paintbrush.
The new drugs work like a paintbrush _ focused,
targeted. We hope their poisonous effects
will be lessened and contained. There will still,
undoubtedly, be some damage.
We ask the universe for a favor today.
Let the worst of the storms pass us by,
let the tornado touch down, lightly, and rise again.
Let the winds dissipate
while there are still flowers on the bud.
Let the sun return.


I’m about halfway through hanging stuff on doors in Oak Park, I think, mostly due to the efforts of a score of hardy volunteers (and their associated children). I am a little amused to see that so far, my friends (walking their own neighborhoods) clearly fall into certain areas. I wonder if that reflects some kind of demographic distribution — income level, likely liberal values, etc.? Intriguing!

Apologies to those volunteers who didn’t get a slice of banana bread with their packet of materials — I meant to include it with everyone’s, but I ran out of bananas!

The Anti-Unicorn

I watched “Bend it Like Beckham” this morning with Kavi, in preparation for her starting soccer (and me starting coaching). A fascinating movie to watch with a nine-year-old part-South Asian daughter — we paused several times to discuss various things. I think the funniest moment, though, was at the wedding, when one of the participants came in on a horse, and Kavi said, “A horse!”

And I told her that back when I was dating white boys originally, my mom said that if I’d just marry a Sri Lankan, I could get married in Sri Lanka and ride in on an elephant, which, I admit, was not an inconsiderable inducement. Kavi said that was cool, but she’d rather have a horse, and then she’d put a carrot on it and paint it so it looked like she was riding in on a unicorn.

Unicorns are, it turns out, the coolest — they had a discussion in Spanish class at school, and unicorns were determined to be cooler than horses, cooler than dogs, cooler than basically everything. Kavi says their scale now goes up to unicorn at the top. At the bottom? Donald Trump. Trump is the anti-unicorn.


A brief public service note that people keep being startled that I have enough energy to do all the campaigning stuff + life, and I thought I’d pause in frenetic cleaning post/pre-party to say two quick things:

a) I *am* quite tired, and looking forward to vacation this coming week!

b) since I started actively exercising several years ago, I have more energy overall than I used to. Even though the exercise sometimes makes me tired immediately afterwards, once I’m a few weeks into regular exercise, my overall energy and stamina levels notably improve, an effect which lasts through the whole day.

I honestly spent decades not believing the whole ‘exercise gives you energy’ thing, because I’d exercise once, feel tired, and stop exercising. It turned out that it’s more ‘regular exercise for a few weeks will increase your overall energy levels,’ which is not as catchy, but is helpful to know.

Now I just need to convince Kavi of this — she tends to come home and collapse onto the couch or bed for hours on end, and then complain that she’s tired and doesn’t feel well, and it’s hard to convince her that she’d feel better if she actually moved a little more. Working on it.