Getting ready for our concert of Latin music later this month. These musicians are amazing - it's going to be a beautiful night of singing. And I'm very excited I get to perform again! Happy spring!
This morning I hopped on the 6 train and headed uptown to the hospital. There was a time, not so long ago, when I had to make this journey everyday, but now I only have to do it once a year. It is the day of my scans, the day I find out if I'm moving forward or getting sucked back in.
On the subway I was reading Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton. I just happened to read the part of the book when his first wife's breast cancer comes roaring back five years after her initial diagnosis and takes her life in a matter of days. This was definitely not the thing to read on my way to a mammogram.
As I walked from the 59th street station to York Avenue, it felt like I was walking back in time. I passed the shops I would browse in, killing time before an appointment, and the restaurants I was would go to after a long morning at the hospital, and the insanely long line outside of Serendipity, still popular as ever. It felt like those four blocks were full of ghosts.
The waiting room had been redone and the gowns we all wore were now brown instead of pink, but it was still the same place where I received my diagnosis three years ago. As I waited, I finished the passage in the book, hand over my mouth, tears in my eyes. I must have looked like a crazy person.
Then it was go time - smush, press, hold count one-two-three. I couldn't stop thinking about that woman, the cancer coming back all those years later, taking her totally by surprise. The more time passes, the more you allow yourself to think you actually got away with this. You never entirely forget; it's lurking there, in the periphery. But you let yourself hope.
The doctor comes to tell me she has "great news" - all clear. All clear!
I won't have to make this pilgrimage for another year.
I received an email today from a woman who is also an aunt to a young niece. She said she loved the part in my essay where I wrote about Daphne. Being an aunt has brought me more joy than I ever could have imagined - it's wonderful to hear from others who feel the same about their nieces.
Though she was only seven months old when I was diagnosed, Daphne played a huge part in my recovery. There was something about the way she never flinched at my appearance that was deeply comforting. She was a reminder that life goes on - I watched as she changed from day to day and grew in the most extraordinary ways. I was overwhelmed by her energy. I called her my little healer.
She is three and a half now, and very musical. I no longer sing to her - she now sings to me. And I am the perfect audience.
I am so very grateful to everyone who has written to me over the past two weeks. I've heard from strangers from across the country - singers, musicians, cancer survivors, and people who are at a crossroads in their lives. I never imagined my essay would make me feel connected to so many people. I thank each of you for taking the time to reach out to me.
I was completely stunned when I heard I had won Real Simple's Life Lessons contest. I am an aspiring writer, but an amateur. It was my first submission to anything, ever. The essay is starkly honest because I never dreamed anyone would read it.
I started writing as a kind of therapy when I got sick. I needed a new creative outlet that I lost when I stopped singing. I was a life-long voracious reader but I never thought I could come close to creating anything as substantive as the work of the authors that I admired. Before I my diagnosis, my feeling was if I was going to do something, I wanted to do it well. That attitude held me back from trying. There isn't a soul alive who can sing as gloriously as Pavarotti could in his prime. Does this mean we shouldn't sing?
When I first got my diagnosis, I told only a handful of close friends, and I begged them not to tell anyone. Speaking so publicly about my cancer is daunting. But it was a story I needed to put on paper. And in the end, it felt like I lost one voice, but I gained another.
A friend sent me an email today that said "So this made me laugh this morning..." along with an attachment. I've posted the picture to the left to remind myself what my hair looks like now. As opposed to what it looks like below.
My husband sent the picture to some friends two years ago when my hair was growing back, with the title "I'm All Out of Love." My hair came back CURLY. As in intense, non-straightening, un-managable cork screws. I was tempted to get a brazilian blowout, but then read an article about how it was full of carcinogens. I think I've had enough cancer for now. So I just had to let it go. As you can see, it wasn't pretty.
Yes, that is Air Supply in the top picture, and me on the bottom. It's uncanny, right?
Glad I could make you laugh, Laurel.
I flew to London this week to see my husband perform the title role in Monteverdi's Orfeo.
He plays the role of the grieving husband so beautifully. I'm happy it's just theater.
"You are dead, my life, and do I breathe?
You are gone from me
never to return, and do I remain?
I will bring her back to see again the stars:
Oh, if wicked destiny refuses me this,
I will stay with you in the company of death.
Farewell earth, farewell heaven and sun, farewell."
My friends are always asking if I've liked anything I've read recently. I just finished Open City by Teju Cole. I had a hard time getting into it at first, but I'm very glad I stuck with it. The language was so beautiful, the observations clear and engaging. The book takes an interesting turn towards the end - I won't spoil it! - that makes you view the proceeding pages completely differently. I highly recommend. But only if you've already read A Visit from the Goon Squad, because that book was so wonderful it made me weep in public.
Yesterday was my three year anniversary. Three years since that bleak Thursday that divided my life into Before and After.
It was yesterday, and I forgot.
It doesn't mean I am free of it. I have forged an uneasy truce with my body. It is like the shock of finding out you've been cheated on - you can't ever trust again. Not when you've been so blind. Your body's betrayal stings sharper than any other.
So with no other choice, we cohabit - the body and the mind.
Every pain sends a course of panic through me. Two days after my 37th birthday, the pain on my upper left spine became difficult to ignore. I tell myself, you've been sleeping on a terrible mattress, with metal springs standing prominently below the fabric, digging into soft necks and shoulders. That's all it is. But the pain is insistent, it nags, it is a little finger pressing repeatedly into my brain. Until a week passes, or two, and it is gone.
The truth is I will never be free of this, no matter how I fill my life with distraction.
But yesterday, on a cold, sunny Monday, I wrote, I sang, I had dinner with my best friend.
And I forgot.
We climb up the life guard tower. The steps to the top are steep - so high we have to pull our bodies up to each level.
We reach the top and sit side by side, looking out across the lake. Daphne smiles broadly, swinging her skinny legs. There is a gap in her front teeth that makes me think of childhood.
She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tightly. It chokes me a bit, but I do not loosen her grip.
"I will hold you, Tia, so you do not fall." Her sweet breath is on my ear.
I am so overwhelmed with love for this wild haired child. I wonder if it is pulsing from my chest, seeping from me into her. Maybe this is why she holds me so tightly.
I have come to realize that there are kinds of love far more vital and constant that the kind I once searched for. And they hold your heart more tightly than any ever lover could.