Friday, January 30, 2015

Thomas Merton --Prayers and Contradictions

On January 31, 2015, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer. 
Merton’s life was full of paradox and contradiction. He was an extroverted New Yorker who entered the silent world of a Trappist monastery in the back woods of Kentucky.
 In making this choice, he left behind his ambition to become a writer, only to have his abbot sit him down at a typewriter and tell him to write. 
Deeply attracted to women he gave up female companionship in becoming a monk, only to fall in love and have a powerful love affair with a young woman when he was fifty-one years old.
He sought solitude in a hermitage even as his life and writing turned outward to society’s evils: war, violence, injustice.
Profoundly Christian, he discovered toward the end of his life the spiritual riches of Eastern religions.
One of the most famous prayers of Thomas Merton, and one of my favorite prayers is this—from his book: “Thoughts in Solitude.” Merton wrote:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadows of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Are You A "PWC" or a "Cancer Veteran" or maybe a "WMPHMO"?

Oh I do love Susan Gubar! She is cancer writer extraordinare, and that is because she is one of America's great writers, who happens to have cancer. Let's keep those factors in the correct order, please.

But true confessions: I have been reading Gubar's New York Times Living With Cancer column a long time and, while moved and impressed by her intuition, honesty and expression, I did not read her bio until recently. Shame on me. Susan Gubar, Ph.D.  is Professor of Literature at Indiana University, anthologist, literary analyst, and Pulitzer nominee. And yeah, she has cancer, and she writes about it beautifully and powerfully.

Keith Negley
Her column in today's New York Times is called "Words That Obscure" and it's about language--the language of cancer. As you would expect from a writer and literature professor, she teases this apart, shows us the pain that language can cause, and she suggests some new terms for people with cancer.

I put the link to the column below. You'll want to click on this and read the whole piece, and share it with your CancerLand friends. And perhaps you'll choose some new terms to describe yourself and your cancer experience. And maybe too, you'll share this with your oncologist, nurse, and caregivers--for that is how--bit by bit--we change language and thought and meaning."

And if you love her column/blog maybe you'll want to look at her book, "Memoir of a Debulked Woman."

Here's the link:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Who is Getting Some? You Can Google It

Do you have questions about sex? Of course. And do you wonder if your questions are normal? Or at least familiar? It's very likely they are.

In yesterday's New York Times I read Seth Stephens-Davidowitz--he's an economist--article analyzing "big data" on sex, desire and our insecurities. His work is fascinating--how he does it and what he finds. Sex and relationships are our favorite topic here on Love in the Time of Cancer--so how cool is this to compare against the norms.

Stephens-Davidowitz uses Google searches as a baseline for his work. That makes sense since so many of us turn first to Google for everything from "how to cook an artichoke" to "how to have more orgasms." And, as Stephens-Davidowitz points out, we are more likely to take our sex questions to Google than to a close friend. So Google knows.

Google knows who's getting how much, how often, and who is happy or unhappy with what they are getting. And Google is a record of our insecurities: men and pens size; women and butt shape. Surprise: Women now want bigger, rounder butts rather than skinny Twiggy butts. There's a demographic marker!

So here's the link to the full New York Times article. Enjoy this, and yes, compare but don't stare:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to Love Your Kids ………...More Than You Hate Your Ex

Isn’t that just one of the best book titles ever? If you are divorced or divorcing and you have kids that title will give you a sense of relief or it will make you cringe. 

Because it is true that at some point in a divorce you did or are doing the very opposite—you are hating your ex at the expense of the kids. No, you are not that bad—not as bad as that other mother—the one who makes her kids say, “I hate you Daddy” or the Dad who tell the kid’s that their mother is a bitch. But still, there was a time when you made faces at or about the other parent or you said awful things about his/her new partner, or maybe you dumped old pictures of the two of you on the doorstep of ex’s new love nest. Really? 
(Jealous Woman mask from Noh theater)

In all of those scenarios you later realize that you crushed your own dignity and decency and that none—not one—not even the most supportive of your friends—thinks you are a good parent for doing that stuff. But the worst is that it hurts the kids. The kids!

Most divorced people with kids had a day or a month or some years of trying to stay together for the kids. So why, when that doesn’t work, do we fall into “Torpedoes full steam ahead” and take down her/him/them—with the kids being the biggest “them?” My god, we know better, but we have all fallen into the pit, and we feel like crap after. And the kids—whether 6 or 26—are the victims.

But it is really hard to climb out of that slough and to say “I will not bash or wish harm on my ex” and mean it. So here is this fabulous little book to help us. Helen Fried wrote, “How to Love Your Kids More Than You Hate Your Ex.” The title itself tells us that she speaks from experience and the stories will confirm that.

Her story: Remarried in 2006, Helen found the intricacy (brutal pain) of dealing with a “blended family” (war zone) to be quite trying (almost divorce number two.) She founded a support group to help others keep the focus on the kids and make choices based on the kids rather than revenge, retribution and trying to win what can never be won—victimhood.

It’s a book for all of us who are divorced, who married someone who is divorced or divorcing, and especially for the stalwart, longstanding friends of anyone caught in the hate stage of divorce. Just hand over this book and step back. It might take a really long time for the thanks to come—but it will. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Literature of Caregiving: A Happy Marriage by Raphael Yglesias

I’m a writer and a reader, yes. But sometimes I feel so amazed and wondrous at finding a story in fiction that is so perfect for my life.

Years ago I discovered “A Happy Marriage” by fortuitous accident. We were leaving on our honeymoon; I needed a book for the flight to Paris. I grabbed a new paperback from the shelf at my local bookstore. The title seemed perfect: “A Happy Marriage”. Almost themed for us and for me. Strangely it turned out—almost too perfect.

Yes. “A Happy Marriage” by Rafael Yglesias. It was his fifth novel. He also wrote “Fearless” which is one of my favorite movies—which also has a changing marriage as its theme. But in this book, the “happy marriage” is a stunning tale of cancer and caregiving and marriage and mystery.

“A Happy Marriage” is, to a degree, based on Yglesias’ own marriage. The courtship, love affair, struggles, rejuvenation by cancer and finally devastation—all in love—happened to Yglesias when he cared for his wife who died of cancer. But he is a great fiction writer and he used those life experiences to expand on and pull out and push in layers of ideas about marriage and illness.

This novel is perfect in CancerLand. Do not let the fact of a death by cancer scare you away. If cancer is a partner in your relationship you already know there are gifts from that player.

And Yglesias adds perspective and intensity of language, and he is a detective looking at what is love and what is marriage and what are cancer’s contributions.

This is also an important book in the Literature of Caregiving canon because we are presented with a male caregiver, and a story of rich, imperfect people. So, again, this is no saccharine made-for-TV-movie cancer story. It’s a book that any book club will debate late into the night and the couple will, long after the book is back on your shelf, feel like great friends you once knew and admired.

The imperfection of both husband and wife, patient and caregiver give this book extraordinary reach.

I’ll return in a few weeks with another entry for our new virtual book club: The Literature of Caregiving. I’d love to have your feedback and your suggestions too. Please share your thoughts here or email me anytime.

[You can see the first post for Literature of Caregiving --Marilynne Robinson's "Home" on this blog on Monday, December 8th.]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Writing Workshop for The New Year at Saint Agnes Cemetary--Menands, New York

Have you promised yourself that this is the year you will begin your blog, memoir, novel or family history? But you are nervous about beginning? You are not alone and there is an easy way to get started.

I will be offering an afternoon writing workshop for new writers and new writing projects on:
 Sunday February 15th  1 to 3pm at:  The Living Room Art Gallery located at The Welcome Center in St Agnes Cemetery in Menands, New York.

Yes, an art gallery in a cemetery. Isn't that perfect? And perfectly fitting for Love in the Time of Cancer. It is ideal--celebrating life and creativity in a place of death, memory and mourning. I'm thrilled to teach at The Living Room gallery because it is a beautiful site and could there be a better memento mori--a touchstone--to stimulate us to put pen to paper?

It's a Sunday afternoon--Sunday February 15th--1pm to 3pm. Materials are provided and registration is required.

You can register by calling Kelly Ann Grimaldi, Historian, at 518-463-0134 extension 110.

I promise you that you will write easily and quickly. We'll talk and laugh and you will leave with techniques and strategies to keep writing at home.

I hope you will join us--your story deserves to be told.

Here is a link to the class brochure:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It's Not Your Fault

We have learned not to blame the victim. We have learned not to ask, "Did she smoke?" or to say, "Well she had that cancer personality." But still, not "blaming the victim" still suggests that there is a victim, right?

Now some important cancer news in today's New York Times Science section. (After the Sunday Style section the Tuesday Science section is my fav).

Today's cancer article by Denise Grady is called "Cancer's Random Assault" and it says, basically, that most cancer is bad luck. Huh? Yeah. The article says that environmental risks, heredity and diet account for only one-third of cancers, the rest is, "random genetic mistakes."

In addition to being a short, well-written medical reseach article this piece is also worth reading--and saving--for yourself or a friend or loved one who has--or gets--a diagnosis.

No, you did not do this and no, it probably wasn't your diet, plastic water bottle, lead pencils in the first grade, or even the spray on your apples.

No, cancer is not your fault.

Here is the article: link right here:

Click, and read, and go live your life.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

CURE Magazine--a Resource for Cancer Patients and Caregivers

I love magazines and I read all kinds: beauty, history, current events, news, sports, fashion, style and now in my CancerLand life I also read CURE. The tagline for Cure is, "Combining Science & Humanity".

Now, it is true that when I was a newcomer to cancer  I didn't want to touch this magazine. There were always free copies in the oncology waiting room and I shoved them aside. I didn't want to need this resource, I didn't want to learn anything more about cancer and chemo and diets and caregiving. I was, well, sick of cancer. I was sick of my cancer, his cancer, our cancer.

But over time, and time is what we pay to cancer, I began to read the covers, and I began to care about the science of cancer, and I began to learn the language of cancer…and I'd read an article here and there. And I was surprised.

Now, I'm a subscriber. I clip articles for friends. I learn about new treatments and new strategies.

So, be smarter than me and be faster to learn than I was. If you or a family member or friend is hanging out in CancerLand pick up a copy and check it out. CURE is free, you can take a look at it here--the link is below, and you'll see that it is easy to get a free subscription.

I'm reading an article in this month's issue: "Promising Strategies in Colon Cancer and Melanoma". Both are cancers that I have experience with. And now, a breath away from each, I am happy to learn more.

Take a look. Here's the link:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy Introvert Day--Today!

Hooray! It is January 2--the day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief.  We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone, and to stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Hip Hip Hooray! The holidays are over. 

Yes, from mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.

I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and, in fact, very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time. 

I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it.

This is also one of the blessings of being older. Along with the wrinkles comes a, “What you see is what you get” self-acceptance, or perhaps for introverts it is more like, “Who you don’t see is what you get”. 

But it’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion, while being disdainful and suspicious of reflection and solitude. 

I’ve learned to spot us though. We’re the folks walking toward a festive house saying, “How long do we have to stay?” Or we’re the ones in the center of the room and slowly backing toward the door. Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper on our

Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us.

Many great leaders are introverts and I think that many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son.  No, maybe that’s not totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” and “make friends”.

The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”  Introverts do. So let’s make January 2nd, Happy Introvert Day. But there is no celebration; we’ll just be quiet and happy.