Why Not Me?

A few days ago, a cancer-buddy wrote an article, in which she asked, Why not me? about her cancer. I remember the night she Facebook messaged me about her diagnosis. I was like— why is this girl I barely knew in high school messaging me? She was so much cooler than me, what could she possibly want now? And then I read her message and my world began to spin and I dialled her cell phone as fast as I possibly could, and I wished I was in New York City so I could wipe her tears and make her ginger tea, but I wasn’t so instead I tried as hard as I could to be a source of solace, a place of comfort, a friend who got it from the inside. Cue, beginning of a very intense and very awesome friendship, forged mostly over text messages. I now completely adore this girl I never knew in high school. She’s funny and sassy and smart and sensitive.  Thank the goddesses she came into my life, except, she came in because of cancer, so fuck that- but I cherish her friendship. And she’s an amazing writer- and she wrote about the shift the other day, the shift from “why me” to “why NOT me?”

So, turning inward— WHY NOT ME? It’s a really excellent question, especially for me as I stand on the brink of the life-altering event of the birth of our twins.

Why not me, the one who needed a surrogate? My hands smell divine. This afternoon, I gingerly stepped into a circle of five women. My beloved surrogate, with whom I have been brutally honest about why we have chosen surrogacy, and who accepts the frustration and grief about having to choose surrogacy that exist alongside my hopefulness/excitement/gratefulness with open arms. Her doula Lori, who is so whole and present and who with her eyes urges everyone else to be as whole and as present. And Leia, the head of Canadian Fertility Consulting, the company that hooked Angela and I up together in the first place.

It was beautiful. There were rose petals and little bowls of herbs and thoughtfully arranged rocks and shells, and tiny woven dragonflies for the baby girls. Leia and Lorie sat near Angela and I, loving us, while we sat together, our hands on each others’ hearts, and we all listened to melodic, comforting music about motherhood. We sat together, and wrote out our fears and worries, and we burned them in a clay pot. They prepared two hot tubs of water, and massaged our feet, readying us: her to birth me and my babies into motherhood and life, me to receive this gift from her and mother the babies. It was one of the first times, one of the most profound times, that I was recognized as an expectant mother. They held the space for me to express the sadness about how my babies are not inside of me, and they also held the space for me to say, gingerly, that I wanted to let go of that sadness, and that I wanted alongside that letting go, to celebrate how reflected I feel in Angela’s choices, how grateful I feel to be walking this path with a woman who I respect and love and so consistently learn from. They held the space. We listened to each other, and passed a wide-lipped, wooden bowl of salt among us, adding each of us to it’s contents, pouring in herbs and love and essential oils and hope and flower petals and truth and sea-shells and dreams. And we moved our hands through the salt, and we hoped and talked and imagined and set intentions, and our hands smell divine. So why not me, the one who needs a surrogate? Why the hell not?

Why not me, the one who had breast cancer at 29? Sometimes I wonder in awe, at the depth and breadth of community that supported me through diagnosis and chemo and mastectomy. There’s people who cooked. People who flew to be with me for chemo. People who explained pathology reports. People who exercised with me. People who sent cards. People who bought boob cakes for boob going away parties. People who sat with me when I was so distraught through the surgeries and made silly jokes just because we needed some laughter in those tears. People who I found because they got cancer at the same time and/or same age as me. People who treated me normally even though I was bald. People who knew it wasn’t over when it was over. It still fucking sucked hard core like nothing in my life has ever fucking sucked, but there were people. And why not me? It happens to everyone. Anyone. And what am I, but one of many, trying to love and live in this world? It was extraordinarily humbling. It made me look in the eyes of strangers, of enemies, of people who I might have otherwise disregarded (or at least, not thought deeply about) and wonder, what’s going on, behind those eyes? How do they live their lives? Who do they love, and is their heart broken? What is hard for them? Why have the struggled? Cancer made me wonder about all the things I couldn’t see about people, because it felt so impossible that I could be in the world and people (often) didn’t seem to notice I had cancer, or thought the wigs were real hair, or assumed I was some version of “normal.” I used to wonder what they would think, how horrified they would be, if they knew? And so I wonder, what I don’t know about all those other people, then? Besides, there was a person who wrote a song about how much it fucking sucked with me. Who does that- who writes a kick ass song and makes a music video about their cancer? Me. I do that. So why not me? It fucking sucks, but it sucks more to be in the place asking, why me, and seeing everyone’s puppy dog sad eyes, than it sucks to be in the place asking, why not me, and now listen to this fucking awesome song that I wrote with my friend and it totally rocks? I can’t wait until I can say, and also watch this kick-ass music video that will punch you in the gut and make you think about young/er adult breast cancer. 

Why not me, the one who raged with anger and grief about cancer and fertility, almost exactly a year ago at the Callanish retreat? At the point in time during which I went on retreat, all I could do was look around me and rage that, of the seven others, only one was my age. Then there was an age gap of twenty five years before the next person. All I could do was think whhhhyyyyy mmmmmeeeee? All I could say into the circle was, “It isn’t fair that this happened to me at this age, it isn’t fair.” Everything was about my age. I looked out at the other participants and thought to myself, they’ve all had kids, or had the option to. They’ve all had careers, or had the option to. They’ve all had time to love and to travel and to whatever. I was so angry, so jealous, so incensed at how much time they’d had before they got slammed with cancer.

But you know what? Of those others, there was one who was really special to me, and she was more than twenty-five years older than me. I would look at her and think, if I grow up like that, I’ll be all right. She was the one who finally looked at me, her eyes glassy with tears and said, “Chels, it doesn’t matter how old we are. No one wants to die. And yes, it matters that you haven’t had babies yet. Yes, it matters that cancer destroyed your baby plans. Yes, your age matters, but not really. You will be a mama.” And now she is gone. And she already had grown kids and a closet full of hippie skirts and so many afternoons with her beloved. And here we are, a year later, and I wish I could email Char and get an immediate and sassy response, as we lay in wait for the birth of our baby girls. It’s not how I thought it would be, and soon enough, I’ll get those baby girls, but Char won’t be here to smell their baby-smell. So age is just a number and at the end of the day, and it turns out, Char was right- age doesn’t matter. I mean it matters but it doesn’t. It matters, and it doesn’t. Try holding those two things together, at once, compassionately, side by side.

It matters and it doesn’t….Why the hell not me? 


Another Day in Babyland

Yesterday was another day in baby land. The three of us- me, Angela our surrogate, and the doula- sat in the waiting room, waiting for Angela to be called for an ultrasound. We talked of nothing in particular, of the in between spaces that fill up our lives. And then they called Angela. We both stood. And then the technician told me she would only take Angela back. Angela reneged. “She’s the mom,” she explained, “she needs to come.” My heart clenched again and the technician said no, explaining that I would compromise the exam. We argued for a moment, and I told her this is not a normal situation and not appropriate. Finally, I said, “Fine. Give me your supervisors number.” I will email. I will call. I will make sure they change this stupid, stupid policy.

They often say, “we’ll bring you in at the end, that’s what we do for the dads.” BUT HELLO, I AM NOT THE DAD. YOU ARE LOOKING AT MY BABIES AND THERE IS NO PARENT WITH THEM. Yes, I know that Angela will look after them. I know she will make the same decisions I would. I know it will be fine. But knowing it will be fine means nothing because still, someone is measuring my babies and looking at the length of their little legs and I am in the waiting room. In case I didn’t detest medical systems enough already, the wild inability to negotiate care with differently configured families makes me want to scream and cry and stomp. Did no one teach these people about difference? Did no one nudge them and say, sometimes we have families that don’t fit our policies, families not written into our regulations, families that don’t look like a pregnant mom and a doting dad and a single baby in the belly? What about queer families? What about families that speak another language? What about families that have a surrogate? Total inability to deal with difference. Total rigidity. Totally fucked.

But it was all ok, because then we came home and had this really intimate time, the three of us, making a cast of Angela’s oh-so-pregnant belly. We casted and smoothed and awed over how her body has stretched and changed and accommodated and made space for two tiny beings to grow inside of it. It was really quite incredible. During one of my breast-casting experiences, one of the women involved noted, “this just feels like something women do to take care of each other, like caring for each other in the way women always have.” And she was right, and yesterday, too, felt like hundreds of women behind us and in front of us, caring for each other. Sure, belly casts are a new fad- but women caring for each other is not. Women carrying babies for each other is not. Women making memories with each other is not. Women transferring knowledge is not. And sure enough, when I told my friend CJ she really taught me well with the breast casts, she reminded me it was, simply, the transfer of lesbian knowledge. From her community at Michigan Women’s Festival to me and mine in my living room the night before my mastectomy to Angela and the doula in the living room of the yoga retreat we are calling home until the babies come. So.

And then we took a photo, and we posted it to Facebook, and a jillion people liked it and commented on it and sent me loving messages. You know, social media gets a bad freaIMG_7637-2 copyking rap. So many people tell me it depresses them, because people only post glossy images of their lives, images that showcase birthdays and perfectly decorated parties and newborns and bouncy puppies and friends in community— and the onslaught of “I’m so awesome and my life rocks” can be depressingfor the person scrolling through the feed. But you know— it’s like anything, I think. It’s an opportunity to appreciate life is going swimmingly for someone you remember from grade school. Sure, I’ve definitely complained to my cancer friends about how my news feed fills up with newborns and international trips, which is insanely painful because I am waiting on the oncologist who is already running late. But really, it’s not that other people are having babies or that I can see their international trips that makes the tears flow. It’s that I harbour an insane amount of grief related to what cancer did to my body, and when I see happy, healthy bodies I feel jealous and sad and overwhelmed because desperately, I wish I could have that and desperately, I wish there was a way to undo my cancer, and desperately, I wish it was not true. See how many “I’s” there are? It’s not about their glossy photos. It’s about the grief that lies just below the surface and makes my heart hurt. It’s about me, not them.

So- back to social media. So we posted this photo, right?  A jillion people liked it. Tons of people commented. Every single person sent messages of love, congrats, hope, joy, utter excitement, awesomenesScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.36.16 AMs, love, silliness, and sparkle. People I haven’t talked to, since, literally, grad night after we graduated from high school and scattered away to college sent love, excitement, joy, hope, and excitement. I have to say, it was pretty overwhelming. And really awesome.

I’ve been so quiet on social media about this pregnancy, because I didn’t know what people would say. I can’t tell this story without telling also, about the cancer. I still feel so raw and heartbroken about the whole situation (and in case you doubted, check out the last post I made) and I knew I couldn’t take any weird comments. I knew I couldn’t take any weird comments and I knew I’d feel really icky if people were insensitive. But it wasn’t like that at all. There were a few comments about how mine is “such a sad story” (womp-womp-womp…. and I promise, my life isn’t “sad” or a “tragedy”) but for the most part, I felt insanely loved and cared about and like people were so freaking excited for us. Which is so freaking awesome.

And then I also got to connect with a few people over text. One young woman, who literally, I have not spoken with since high school. She has a baby. She can’t have another. She thought she’d breast feed, and can’t The details are unimportant. What is important is that she reached out, and she was so kind, and she shared her story, and she wanted to talk about giving her baby a sibling through surrogacy, and even though we were never even really friends growing up we could connect and support and love each other, and it was really freakin awesome. It was all the heart-feelings, all the time, as I asked her questions about formula feeding and she shared her experience and we talked about surrogacy. Like so incredible.

And the messages from people who were on my AMIGOS staffs- people I did wild and crazy things with. So sweet. People told me I meant so much to them and I taught them so much. I was overwhelmed. You just never know how you are touching people, and sometimes you might only find out ten years down the road.

Baby girls, you are going to be so loved. Please come soon. Mama is waiting. A whole wide community of people are eager to see your little faces. Papa wants to play the marimba to you. There is so much in this world to show you. So many sounds to hear and sensations to have and textures to touch and friends to make.

Plus, social media. It can save the day.

Oh and also- in case I didn’t feel loved enough already. Our surromama read the last blog post last night, about how this shit is freaking hard. She sent a text that was so kind about how her heart was breaking for me, too. And I went downstairs to her and we cried together and talked late into the night (10:30 is really freaking late when you’re nine months pregnant with twins), and I felt insanely connected, and she gets it so much, because she’s right here with us, carrying our baby girls in her belly. I felt so connected and loved. That’s all I want. Real connection. Raw feeling. Togetherness.

And then I fell asleep knowing, they will come. And it will be just as it should be. Soon enough.

Laying in Wait

We are, for lack of a better term, laying in wait. Waiting for two baby girls, twins currently nurtured by our surrogate, Angela. We are holed up in Nanaimo, and in case you didn’t know about Nanaimo, maybe you better listen to Kate sing this song, because it’s weird. We are calling “home” this cute little cabin at a woman who fancies herself a yogi’s home, and our surrogate has a little cabin, 20 feet away from us. I say our host fancies herself a yogi, because I attended one of her classes yesterday- and well, for more on that, see below*.

We are here waiting, with Angela. Waiting with Angela, the woman who offered her uterus to grow our twin baby girls, because breast cancer ravaged my body and my fertility and my baby-making plan. Now it is time, she is but days away from giving birth to the two baby girls who were conceived of the eggs and sperm we preserved before I did chemotherapy to save my life.

I am grateful we are able to do this, but there is so much. So much. Words unspoken. Feelings unsaid. So much.

I’m grateful to be so close to our surrogate. I was so glad to attend the midwife’s appointment this afternoon. So profoundly grateful to be here, sharing this time, at these appointments, knowing this process in this intimate way, being introduced by our surrogate to all the important people.

And also.

I have to be introduced, in this process, to the caregivers. I have to be introduced because someone else is the centre of bringing my babies into this world. Think about that for a second.

I’m away from my people. Far from my friends. Not close to my mom. Miles from my support networks. It’s hard to be so far from everyone who knows what my voice sounds like when I need a hug, from everyone who knows what kind of food I need when I’m stressed, from everyone who knows all the inside jokes about my life. It’s hard to be away, and to also be on the brink of life-changing moments.

Here we are, lying in wait, with a bag packed with baby clothes and tiny diapers. Lying in wait, for babies genetically ours but developing in someone else’s belly. I am anxious always, to know how Angela is feeling. To hear about her evening. It is so lovely to have her so close. To know I can pop in at a moments’ notice.

And I am also cautious. Cautious to share my feelings. Careful to frame my gratefulness to the many caregivers. I am holding so many emotions carefully, below the surface, because they are unintelligible, because I wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful. I am cautious, because there is no roadmap for this territory, and because I don’t see anyone here, who knows what this feels like, from my perspective. I don’t see myself reflected in anyone’s eyes, in anyone’s experience, in anyone’s language. I am far from home.

I am cautious, because my people who know what its like to think about babies after cancer are far away. I am cautious because I feel misunderstood, and I also want to protect that misunderstanding, and want people to know, that they can’t possibly understand, unless they had babies after cancer with a surrogate. So many conflicting feelings.

I am lying in wait.

Today we had a midwives’ appointment. I feel a bit out of the loop, a foreigner adrift in a language I do not speak. They talk of this and that option, of this procedure and that one, of this doctor and that one.

I am acutely aware both that most new moms don’t know this language, and that if the woman who was visibly carrying child was the one who did not speak this language, everyone in the room would slow down and explain. And also, I know that my nerves, my feelings of inadequacy, my confusion stem from this situation. I know, intellectually, that I know how to be a good mama. But knowing that doesn’t meaning feeling that. I feel like I don’t speak the language, I don’t have the knowledge, and I am woefully inadequate. I feel like my babies are being gipped, because I don’t know everything.

And feeling this way at the midwife’s appointment, when I really like the midwife!

She says we don’t have to stay in the hospital: I had no idea. I say I didn’t know (how, pray tell, would I know?) and she admonishes, “well of course, they’re you’re babies.” Obviously.

Not so obviously.

Our surrogate says she can’t believe she forgot to tell me. But she can’t be expected to be both professional doula and doting surrogate in the same breath. It’s bigger than her. Bigger than me. Bigger than this process.

The feeling in my chest screams, they’re you’re babies, and you should have known. 

And I am an academic, and so I theorize. My experience is unintelligible. There are not words. No discursive space. I have to tell only one kind of hopeful, happy story, a story in which I cannot wait for babies, in which I am a grateful subject, in which all will be well, in which my eyes smiles. Someone told me recently, about some feminist scholar who writes of us all, as unmothered daughters of the patriarchy. Mothered by out of control mothers, mothers situated in the patriarchy.

I want to be in control. And so when she says, I can take my babies home whenever I want, I think…. I want to take my babies home, so all these people with this discourse that feels so foreign on my tongue melt away, and stop telling me what to do. I think, I want to take my babies home, and I want the doulas and friends I know, and I want my mom, and I want my familiar couch, and I will figure this out without this weird language. 

And then comes the discussion of breast feeding. Angela explains I want her to pump. But there is a question, around if she can’t, about the colustrum, about how important it is for those wee ones.

Except no.

No one else will breast feed my babies. At the thought of it, my heart stops. I need to feed them. That is what is best for them. I will hold them tight against my skin, and I will give them a bottle, and they will thrive.

But still. My voice feels gone. I feel like a bad mother for saying so. I feel ungrateful for saying so. I feel judged.

I try to remember Allison, a cancer friend who had a surrogate. No, she told me. No, you’re not a bad mother, she told me. No, she told me, that is you being fierce. Be fierce, I tell myself, like Allison said. Be fierce.

Sometimes, in all these appointments, I feel like no one is advocating for our babies. I feel like I am failing. Like I am not being fierce.

But I am their mother. As the mother of the babies, I have a plan for them. A plan for them after birth. I am their mother. I have to keep remind myself, I am their mother. They are my babies. 

Friends remind me that no, our surrogate is advocating for them because they are in her body, and that we chose her and trust her. Only the closest of friends can say this, and it is then that the tears fall, because I so wish they were in my body. And it is then I wish we were closer, that we were sitting on the seawall together waiting, instead of on the phone. And it is then I wish we were closer, that my people were a bike ride away. I know she is advocating. But it should be me. It should be my body. 

And so we wait. 

We wait for little Luna Juliette and Sienna Skye. We know they will be bilingual, we know we will love them. We want to know what they will look like, how their hands will feel, curled around our fingers, how their tummies will look, full of milk. We want them, warm in my arms. Nowhere else. Just simply, with me.

We lay in wait, and I feel weirdly in/visible, and we lay in wait, and there are yoga politics, and I cannot wait to pack up our baby girls, and hug Angela goodbye, and begin our lives as parents, and be close to the people who matter.

Because right now, we are laying in wait. And it’s hard. But we are doing it, and this is our post-cancer story, a story of pregnancy with a surrogate, of motherhood how I thought it wouldn’t be, of babies I want to have in my arms.

And so, we are lying in wait.

Baby girls, I cannot wait to hold you, kiss you, love you. Mijitas, mijitas, I cannot wait.

*On my experience trying yoga at the place we are staying: I was so excited to attend this yoga class, to witness and try out this yoga, to practice in a new space. And she began the class of four by telling me that in “real yoga” they don’t drink during class, that’s just a “hot yoga fad.” She then proceeded to say, many times, what they do in “real yoga.” Umm. Look dude. I know there’s a hundred opinions about hot yoga, and Bikram in particular. But I love it. It saved my life. My Bikram community and practice held me close through chemo, accepted and witnessed my tears and sorrows and my triumphs and joys, in ways that no other community did. It works for me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It is right for me, and I know it’s not right for everyone, but it is right for me. And I came into your yoga, which is not what I love, not where I’m comfortable, not my place of solace and comfort and warmth and safety, with an open heart. It was a risk for me to come into your yoga. I know you think Bikram can’t be a place of solace and comfort and warmth and safety- but I promise you, for me it was all those things. Accept that which I love- that which I was so excited to tell you about when you asked- as something that works for me, not as something that “is not real yoga.” Sure, she apologized afterwards, but the dye was already cast. Sorry, but once you discredit my safe place as “not real,” I discredit you because I no longer trust that you can know gently in this world, that your knowledge can intersect with mine in kind, light-producing ways, and that you are someone from whom I want to learn: after all, you called my safe place “not real”. I wish to surround myself with people who honour what I love, know we are all different, respect diverse practices, dreams, and needs.

Another One With The Cancer

There’s something I haven’t written about. Something that is sort of mine to tell, and sort of not. Something that is haunting.

My mom has breast cancer.

Yah, that’s right. You read it right. Only a few years after I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, my mom gets a call from her own doctor. Her, too. She said I could write about it.

When I first heard about a month ago, it actually seemed impossible. It was already impossible enough, for me to have had breast cancer at 29. It was already impossible enough. I have imagined a million ways this cancer thing could go. I have imagined a recurrence, and how I would break the news. I have wondered if I had a recurrence, if I would be like those rare few who survive despite the grim 0% survival rates for metastatic breast cancer. I have wondered if I’ll never have a recurrence, and if many decades from now, they will have found a cure and I’ll tell the story of when it was still so life threatening, so harrowing, so different. I have wondered if I’ll have a recurrence and die before I turn forty, and what the world would look like without me in it. I have wondered if I’ll ever spend a whole week, a whole month, a whole year even, where I don’t think about cancer. I have wondered if my cancer friends will all make it with me into the next decade, and the next, and the next. I have wondered about a million ways this cancer thing could go.

In none of these multiple scenarios that I’ve imagined, dreamed of, and worried about does my mother have breast cancer. Cancer was mine. Is mine. Not hers.

When I first heard, I told my cancer friends, “Whatever. Everyone has cancer. It’s not a big deal. A little surgery, a little chemo, its fine. Just another one with the cancer. Whatever.” Sweet, wise Ashley, Ashley who’s adorable chemo curl is straightening back to her pre-cancer hair texture, looked at me and said, “OK well when you do wanna talk about it, we’re here.”

Our beautiful, squishy, sweet twin baby girls are due in three weeks. Like I imagined how the cancer could, I have imagined how that will go. We bring them home, we feed them Angela’s expressed breast milk, sometimes they wear matching clothes, they cry a lot and we give them baths, people come over and rock them and we eat chicken soup and drink iced tea because it’s really hot, and then the babies need to be fed again.

Will everyone descend? I hope so. People always say we will want time alone, we will want not to be bothered, they say we will want- they say we will want- they say we will want. They think they know what we need. Except they don’t, because they’re not us. I hate when people use their experiences to tell me what I need, instead of asking me what I need and respecting, knowing, even celebrating it will likely be different from what they needed even in the same scenario. Because you know what? I do not need people to stay away.

When I have a crisis, when something enormous happens, when there are big and exhausting and magical and trying and hopeful and heartbreaking things happening in my life, I want nothing more than to bring everyone close, and have people fill up all the sofa cushions in the living room, and to visit and laugh and be together. Sam always reminds me that when I had cancer, I needed people like crazy, and the house was always filled with friends. Even though I’d had a Bye Bye Boob Party only the night before, the evening before my mastectomy I needed peeps. So I called them. And they came. And we were together, even though they were about to cut my left tit off in twelve hours, and I was comforted.

Likewise, when we have our new babies, and things are crazy and beautiful and unexpected and hard, I will need my peeps.

It’s so confusing to me why you would want people to leave you alone when you have twin newborns. Based on every other experience I’ve had in my life, and based on the fact that I know my own heart pretty damn well, I know what I’ll need: and it’s not to be left alone. It’s all the people. The many dear ones. The family. The friends, together, tired, eating, laughing, being our selves. It’s a gringo thing, Sam explained, the-leave-the-new-family-alone thing. In Mexico, everyone descends. There is no space. No one asks the new parents if they need space to form a family bond. Space means your story echoes into the ethers and no one hears it, no one catches the tears or mirrors the laughter. No thank you. Everyone comes. Because its a big deal, and people come for big deals. They don’t leave you alone to figure it out all by yourselves.

So I wanted my mom to descend. To come. To hold the baby girls. To rock them to sleep. To organize my pantry. To mother me while I mothered them.

She was going to. But, cancer.

Sure, she’ll still come. But not for as long. Not as many days. She’ll still come, but she won’t be able to lift her arm up to get the glasses down from the top shelf, because of her recent surgeries. She’ll probably have to hurry back home, to get infused with cancer poisoning chemo. She might be between chemos, a few days here and there, days she will spend getting to know the side effects of chemo. Fucked much? Yes, yes indeed. She’ll come, but she won’t be able to mother me and Sammy and our baby girls as much as she would have, before cancer.

And also, what does it mean? What does it mean for my babies? Do we carry a gene they could not find? I tested negative for BRCA 1 and 2, and they found no gene mutations. They think my mom will test negative, too, but since more mutations have been found since I was tested, they will test me again if she is positive for anything. So, probably not a gene. So, then what?

It’s profoundly weird.

Were we both exposed to something toxic? What was it? We cannot think of anything. Will we ever know? Probably not.

It’s profoundly weird.

I’ve thought of changing the name of this blog, because I am kind of out of cancerland. I mean certainly, I still get check-up appointments and take hormone therapy every night before bed and schedule scans and make lists of questions for my doctors. But my hair is back, my scars are fading, and some days I don’t even think about cancer for the whole day. Other days, of course, I can’t stop thinking about it.

But clearly, even if the cancer is out of my body, we live in a world that is cancerland. The bees are dying- entire colonies, extinguished. The numbers are rising of people with cancer- my mom, sixteen people under forty at the young adult group the other evening, that friend of a friend’s cousin who someone was telling me about, my cancer friends’ dog.

This cancerland you inhabit, with me? Because we all live in it, cancerland. My initial response was, at least in that way, correct: everyone has cancer. It’s an epidemic. It’s everywhere. It’s so much that it’s not even shocking anymore.

And our cancerland, this one we all live in? It’s profoundly weird.

Animals In Our Pathways

It’s been an interesting two days. A full two days. Full of wonder.

Yesterday, I picked up my friend Kate to walk around the seawall at 7am. It was a walk bursting with connection- to each other, to the animals around us- seagulls eating purple starfish and eagles calling from the trees, to the worlds and lives we envision for ourselves. There wasn’t any blood, but there was definitely sweat and tears, and as we sat on the edge of the walkway as our path came to a close and looked out onto the horizon and listened to each other, there was a lovely goose, giving us a show. She was splashing and cleaning herself, and craning her neck around and deep into the sea, and swimming in little circles. Even though we were talking about secrets buried deep inside our bodies and patriarchy and things that don’t normally surface, the goose was there, cleaning herself off, and showing us, to clean ourselves off and dance in little circles and delight in the waves we make.

And as we made our way to the car, we came across a dying rat. The crows circled overhead, waiting for her to die, waiting to peck at her little body.  Her foot trembled. She breathed a long breath, and nothing. Then another breath. We wrapped her little grey body in a giant leaf and settled her among other leaves under a garden bush- which seemed much more comfortable, much more hopeful, much more loving than dying in the middle of a walkway, crows waiting for your last breath. She had buck teeth and a long tail, and she was in the shade and away from the crows. We tucked her in, and said goodbye. My heart hurt for her, this little rodent that so many people would have just swept away, tossed into the trash because she’s a pest, because they might have forgotten that she had a family and friends and a dream to gather all the trash and recycle it into treasures.

And then Kate, the friend I walked with, emailed me. What was the universe trying to tell us, when that little rat ended up breathing her last breaths in our pathway? What could we learn from dear little buck-tooth grey rat?

I felt a little embarrassed. A little embarrassed I was so obsessed with reading about what the rat symbolized. And I’m sure it was embarrassment, not a hot flash. What the fuck? Whatever, I researched about the symbolic, spiritual, worldly, magical hippie-dippie meaning of crossing paths with a rat. And it was awesome. Why am I embarrassed at how meaningful it feels, to have encountered these animals, to wonder about why we crossed paths on this earth?

I read about rats symbolizing clearing clutter, about rats meaning asserting our selves in news ways, about rats showing us how to make space for what is to come. I thought about the changes coming in my life, the decisions still pending, the relationships I’m still holding on to even though they aren’t enriching me. I thought about the conversation we had while we watched the bathing goose, and about who I want to be in this wide world, and about what I need to be able to be that person I want to be. I wondered about the rat, and the goose, and the friend, all of whom came into my life in the last couple years and they all gave me something I needed.

I told a friend about this wonder last night, a friend I love dearly. And she said, “What does this mean for people who live in the inner-city, who see rats all the time? It’s like horoscopes- it doesn’t have any meaning.” Oh but it does. And what if it means, if there are lots of rats crossing paths in the inner-city, that  we need to clear our cities of the muck, rid them of racism and classism, do away with the misogyny?

What if it just means, we can permit ourselves to wonder? To wonder at the animals, to wonder at what comes into our lives, to draw connections? What if it just means, we can allow our selves to find patterns and hope in the everyday, afford our selves the opportunity to talk deeply and carefully with close friends, extend the possibility to our selves to imagine something wider, something bigger, something more sparkly?

I want to find synchronicity in the things that show up in my life, I look for meaning in the friends I make and the animals with whom I cross paths. It’s just one of many ways to make sense of the world, to hold true to our selves, to think creatively, hopefully, magically. And making sense of the world by wondering? I’m down. That sounds freakin’ awesome. That sounds whole. That sounds like what I need. So yah, whatever.

Thanks, rat.

So, I Was Home

So, I was home. I thought about writing a series of vignettes for these last five days, five days filled to overflowing with family and friends and myriad events. But then I started writing said vignettes, and they just went and on and on and on and on, and I would have never made it through the five days because there were vignettes happening every five minutes.

In the past five days, I’ve had a thousand firsts. The first pick-up from the airport for my brother and his daughter, after his six-year hiatus from California. The first planning of my dear cousin’s wedding. The first witnessing of her kissing her beloved at the wedding altar I decorated. The first time a dear friend flew home from Chicago… for me. The first time I wore the compassion warrior necklace I made with the #ArtTherapistWhoPresidesOverSandAndFeathersAndAcryllics all weekend, and actually know it made me feel and be more compassionate. The first time my mom and I shared a bed (in many decades). The first time my bestie had a baby shower for me. The first time my nearest and dearest showed me how much the will love our twin baby girls. Not the first time Megan and I ended a visit together by ordering tapas at Va de Vi, but alas, there must be some tradition amid all these firsts.

Liza’s wedding was absolutely stunning. It made me all warm inside to be able to work on it for the two days before it happened. I loved that we were all running around like mad people and tying table cloths to table legs so the wind wouldn’t blow them away, and sending our mothers to steal sunflowers from farmers’ fields, and weaving roses into the trellis under which they were to be wed. I loved that there were little children around, asking Liza and I for popsicles and chocolate milk- I loved that they came to Liza and me, and not to our mothers. I loved that Brandon’s girl Julie was there being silly, and that my mom and my brother picked up the rocker for the nursery while we were stringing flags that red “Eat Drink Love” on Liza’s farm. I loved that we were all a hundred percent dripping in sweat and just changed from our wedding prep outfits into our dress-up clothes, and I love that we put on lipstick in the mirror together and we thought wow, this is just like when we’re little girls.

Of course it wasn’t all love. It’s family, after all. Family always presents challenges and bumps and raised eye brows. Like how my brother thought his daughter could go to the wedding in a Dora The Explorer T-Shirt. And how we got into a totally weird family fight about how I wanted to prepare a veg lasagna for the requisite family veg. Sound weird? Trust me, it was freakin’ weird.

Speaking of weird, I always feel like the family pariah. Folks are threatened by those three letters after my name. (If only they knew the quantity of blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting that Ph.D.).  It sounds pretentious, but all my travel, education, and interest in things gender, cultural, and radical are wildly threatening. It’s hard that someone who grew up with you now thinks so differently (She doesn’t want to be called Ms.! She is annoyed at people gendering her girl babies in ways that she can trace back to patriarchy! She used the word patriarchy at the dinner table!)

Relatedly, everyone takes every opportunity to point out I’m wrong. About everything. Anytime. It’s funny, because mostly they attack words that have more to do with my #hippiecommunity than my love of feminist theory. I know I’m that weird #PhD kid to my family, and so maybe I should just hang out with my other friends- friends who don’t give a fuck if I have a Ph.D., because they have either done enough of their own soul searching to know it’s literally three letters and thats all, or because they have Ph.D.s, too, or at least, they’ve been around enough Ph.D.s to know, it’s just a Ph.D. . Like anything, being immersed in a Ph.D. community means you take on the language, the speech patterns, the dreams and visions of that community. So does being immersed in make-up artistry, or working as a nurse, or becoming a salesman. All those people have their own set of words, phrases, idioms, and beliefs that are total gibberish to me. But for some reason, when there are acronyms and periods and universities involved, people Freak. The. Fuck. Out..

When I was getting my B.A., I remember my family so vividly, calling me “College Girl.” I hated it. Not only was I not a girl, but a fucking womanidentifiedwomanthankyouverymuch, it felt like they were mocking me. And they were. It’s not exaggerating to say that my family has bullied me because I read lots of theory, especially feminist/queer/antiracist theory, because I think differently, because I love to travel, because I live my life in another language, because I have pursued a Ph.D. (an exercise in tenacity, not intelligence) and because I do things in a way they don’t understand. They love to prove me wrong because they think I believe that I have all the answers and am sadistic enough to want to engage them in intensive battle every time they think they can prove me wrong or detect an inkling of insecurity in some totally random and off-handed comment I’ve made. (What? Don’t they know I did a Ph.D.? Don’t they know that’s like the most sadisitic thing ever, where I actively recruited all the experts in my field to relentlessly tell me I need to rewrite, rethink, reconsider, reread, re-re-re?) I don’t think anyone I’m related to could actually tell you what kind of academic work I do, but that’s another story. And I don’t care much anyway, but I do wish they’d just appreciate it for what an accomplishment it is, as opposed to it’s incessant teasing potential. The things we put up with!

And then, came the finale. That was my bestie, throwing a more coordinated than perfect little baby shower for me and the twins. Complete with yellow and grey polka dotted flags and macaroons perfectly aligned on a tray, Megan made it beautiful. I was already  concerned about this shower- this shower that would be for me without a pregnant belly, for me but for babies inside another woman, for me but for me because I had cancer. And the BFF made it easy. And she made it grey and yellow. And she made it easy. And there were old friends and family and older friends, and PItzer friends and AMIGOS friends, and it was easy. And I was relieved, because there were tiny pink booties and little hoodies and champagne marked “for their arrival” alongside wine marked “for your survival.”

I was worried about this baby shower, you know. I wanted it, enough to tell my BFF to please organize it. But I was also concerned. Concerned because it’s different, concerned because it’s awkward, concerned because most of my community is in Vancouver. But the longest held friends are in Oakland and surrounding parts, and family is in Oakland and surrounding parts, and I want to be in Oakland and surrounding parts. And so we drew together the closest ones, the clearest ones, the ones who could celebrate even though, cancer. And I am so glad.

So I was home. I am still learning to set up the boundaries I need. I am still learning to tell my family when it’s been enough. I am still learning to tell my friends how much I need them. I am still learning to ask for what I need. I am still learning about this wide world, about myself in this enormous world, about the possibility for healing and for love that is so present and so possible. I was home, and I’ll be back there, soon. As soon as the babies are a month old and we have their passports. Signing off for now, Bay Area. See you soon.

…Because She Was Always Cooler Than Me…. My Cousin’s Wedding Toast

A few folks have asked for this wedding toast, and truth be told, it was THE COOLEST THING EVER to be asked to give it. I was super nervous, and the mic was weird, but Liza and her knight in shining armour were there, and the faces were friendly, and I had like way too much wine afterwards, and the sun was shining on those unmistakably dry California hills, so I did it even though I was nervous! Here it is. And warning, basically I think she’s awesome:

HI everyone, good evening. I’m Chelsey, Liza’s cousin. Liza’s my big cousin. I’ve always looked up to her.

For me, Liza has always been cooler, always older, always one step ahead. I’ve always wanted to get where she already was. There are a few traits in particular that Liza has, traits I’ve always coveted, traits that I’ve always admired, traits that she’s always modeled.

First of all, she is one of the most stubborn, tenacious women I know. And she always has been. Those of us who can remember little Liza will also remember how Little Liza liked her socks. You know those seems that go where your toes begin, on the top of your feet? Little Liza liked those seems lined up right at the edge of her toes. And Little Liza could do nothing and go nowhere if her sock seems her not properly aligned. She was stubborn as hell about this, and she made us late more than once. But you know, that stubborn little girl turned into a tenacious woman who never gives up. A young woman who could shepherd her family through a house fire with nothing to cling to but a vision of a better life. A young woman who could throw this rockin’ party and reclaim this day for her own. That tenacity has served her well. Indeed, her tenacity has served all of us- her closest community- well.

Second of all, she always follows her heart, and she doesn’t care what other people think. When we were little girls, Liza knew what she wanted, she knew who mattered, and she didn’t give a shit about what other people thought. It was the 80s. Side pony tails and trained bangs were popular. She was cool, and I was her model. Boy was I happy to be her model. I was delighted with the way she was training my bangs, ecstatic over her commitment to styling my hair into a ponytail on the side of my head. Nothing could be better.

Our parents, however, had other ideas. The side ponytails and trained bangs? They were making us sassy. Our parents unraveled my pony tail, brushed my bangs forward, and told us not to be sassy. We were only little girls, and we were sad. And vivid as yesterday, I remember when Liza pulled me into her room, and gathered my hair into a side-scrunchie anyway. “Do you like it?” she asked me. I nodded. I loved it. She looked me in the eye, and with all the force of a seven year old girl, said “Then it doesn’t matter what they think.”

And still today, Liza doesn’t care what they think, whoever they may be. She knew she’d wear a red wedding dress, and she didn’t care what they’d think. She knew just how to reclaim this day back for herself and she knew how to make her own memories, and she didn’t care what they’d think. She knows how to walk to the beat of her own drum, how to match wild colors together and paint her nails with crazy patterns, and she didn’t care what they’d think. And still now, I strive to be like her because regardless of what they think, she follows her heart.

Speaking of hearts, Hawk came into Liza’s life– and all of our lives- seventeen years ago. To Liza’s wild ideas and giggles, Hawk brought a evenness, a grounding, a sense of calm. He is her center admist her storm of bright colors and funky nail polish patterns. Hawk loves Liza for all that she’s ever been, all that she is, all that she will become. Hawk’s love is a guiding light for Liza, a firm, hopeful presence. Hawk loves Liza even when Liza isn’t quite sure how to love herself- their love for each other is a love we all aspire to.

It is this firm, unwavering love that persisted through times of extraordinary challenge. It is this firm, unwavering love that produced and surrounds their two beautiful children, Jonny and Emily. It is this firm, unwavering love that inspired all of us to come together to celebrate Liza and Hawk, their special union, and the joyful way that they have reclaimed today.

Today is a day reclaimed. Today, Liza and Hawk are showing us how to grasp life and shape it into our own, how to build the friendships, homes, dreams, and communities we imagine, and how to live, laugh and love. I am so proud to call both of you my family, so excited to spend more time watching you grow your lives, your children, your hearts, and your garden in this beautiful place. I love you both fiercely, and am honored to be able to be here with you today, to reclaim this day, and to make it yours, all of it, forever and for always.

So please raise your glass in congratulations with me tonight, to Liza and Hawk- May you love each other fiercely.