Tell me what to do.

Life is full of decisions. Black shirt or red? This job or that? Eat dessert or not? I’m used to making decisions. I even think I’m pretty good at it.

Cancer was full of decisions too. I read, I consulted, I cried, I researched, and I made every one. And I was confident in every one. But it’s not over. It will never be over.

Because I am cancer’s bitch now. Every day, every minute, every second of my life, I live with the spectre of cancer looming over me. I thought, so naively, that I would get through cancer. That I would move past cancer. But you never do, because you’re never really “cured.” You’re just waiting.

For two years, I have struggled with menopause brought on by chemotherapy. Let me list, just for posterity (a word I just couldn’t remember and had to google because, you know – menopause), some of the symptoms:

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • disorganized thinking
  • forgetfulness
  • decreased libido
  • dry eyes
  • dry vagina
  • neck cramps
  • irritability
  • depression
  • wrinkles
  • thinning hair
  • thinning skin

That’s just off the top of my head. My body aged 10 years in three months and this shit came on overnight like a bucket of cold water over the head. But cold water, what a relief that would actually be! I slept through the night last week – something I haven’t done since December, because every single night I wake up numerous times, drenched in sweat, feeling like a fire is burning inside my body. I finally made an appointment with a psychotherapist two weeks ago, one recommended by the survivor outreach nurse at Swedish, because for the first time in years I felt suicidal. I feel trapped inside my own body and the ONLY way out of that would be to ESCAPE THIS BODY.

But that’s not what I want either. In the past, my suicidal thoughts have been linked to brain chemistry, to feeling worthless, useless, a burden. I know I have important jobs now – I’m a mother to two amazing children, I’m a friend, I’m a wife, I’m a sister. I want to watch my children grow up, I want to grow old with my husband, I want to change the world by filling it with kindness every day. So it’s not chemical – it’s situational. And most situations, you can rely on them ending, eventually. But what when the situation is a body that has been fucked up? What when it could be a year or a decade or even longer? What when there is no end in sight and you’re trapped day in and day out in a body that is betraying you? And could ultimately betray you to death?

So I decided to take control. I went to my gyno Tuesday and I laid out my situation and she put me on an estradiol patch and progesterone pills. And suddenly I felt liberated. It’s too soon to know if it’s working – the hot flashes continue, and it could take up to three weeks to know – but I had hope. Hope that things would get better. And more than that, agency – over my own body, over my life, over what cancer took from me.

We talked about it, of course, and I already knew – hormones are verboten for those of us with ER+ PR+ cancer. In fact, if you have been following my blog, you may remember that the actual full treatment for hormone+ cancer includes a drug called Tamoxifen that actually blocks naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone and sends the patient into menopause. I opted out of Tamoxifen, but it turns out I didn’t need it – my body went into menopause on its own. So in brief, hormones bad, make Kate’s cancer grow. But lack of hormones also bad, make Kate want to die.

Where the hell does this leave me? Fucked.

After floating for the last two days, I just got a voicemail from my gyno. She spoke with my onc, with whom I have an appointment tomorrow. He is not happy. She reiterated several times that he understood why I had chosen to go on hormones, but that he was not in support of it because naturally they have no data on what it does to survival rates. But since we know that blocking hormones increases survival rates, I think we can safely guess what increasing hormones does. Or can we? I mean, who the hell really knows?

So tomorrow I go meet with my onc, who you may remember I absolutely adore. I trust and respect him beyond words, so I already know this is going to be a tough appointment. And I don’t even know what to do at this point. I feel like whatever decision I make, I lose. I literally have to choose my mental health and physical comfort OR potentially dying of cancer.

And if it were just me, if I was a single, childless woman, I know what I would choose. I’d do the hormones and just live until I died. So maybe that’s my answer. But it’s just not as simple as that.

So here I am, wedged between a rock and the hardest of places. And standing here, I raise my middle fingers to the sky and say, FUCK YOU CANCER. FUCK. YOU.

Here be dragons.

I am writing this for me. I am writing this because I don’t know what else to do. I’m writing this because sometimes, for me, writing is a form of bloodletting, and I feel weaker but better afterward.

I am writing this but I don’t know where to start. I don’t want sympathy. Empathy, sure, maybe, if someone has been there. It’s a start. But it still won’t change things. Won’t help. I definitely don’t want pity. Good god, not that.

When I get here there’s a phony Kate that I have to push to the front. She smiles. She laughs. She asks questions and does the things she’s supposed to. Maybe she seems normal, but she doesn’t feel it. She feels like a cheap plastic imitation of me. Vacant. Vapid. She’s doing her best, don’t get me wrong. But she’s only covering. This isn’t her full-time job.

I am not sure what is going on. My medication is the same. I am depressed about some situational things, yes. I am depressed because three years ago, my body aged ten years in three months and it has not come back. I am depressed by the constant hot flashes, the night sweats, the muscle tension, the aches and pains, the forgetfulness, the thinning hair, the ache inside of me where I swear there was supposed to be a final child. (And for this last, I feel guilty, embarrassed. I have two beautiful children, what am I complaining about? I cannot explain the feeling that there is someone missing, that the two pregnancies I lost haunt me, that I am certain, somehow, we are meant to be a family of five – but I digress, and please don’t hate me for my greed.) The weather is soul-sucking. My house is a catastrophe. I miss my grandmother. And my Dad. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night. I’ve had nausea and the jitters for the past two days. Nothing feels good, nothing feels right.

I don’t – if you don’t fight this battle, I’m not sure I can describe it for you. And I know my description will be only mine, because each person fights so differently. But if you can imagine a day when you are down, for no specific reason, just down, and then imagine that there is nothing that can make you feel better – that is a start. “Go shopping,” friends tell me, “get a massage.” “Self-care, meditate – want to go to the movies?” Oh, and my favorite, “Exercise!” When I’m well, there are things I love. Taking photographs, dancing, making mix CDs, organizing, socializing, learning. When I’m here, where I am now, none of that sounds a) appealing or b) worthwhile. There is not one thing I want to do at this minute. Even writing is a struggle – I am forcing myself, but I feel myself rambling and ready to quit at any moment. I’m not illuminating anything. I’m just prattling about nothing. And right now, this is my every day. My everyday.

I feel terrible that my kids are seeing this, this gray mother, not the mother they’re used to, not the mother they deserve. Will they remember these days? Will it ruin them? Motherhood is the only thing I’ve ever been truly good at. I can’t fail at that too.

I’m seeing a therapist tomorrow. A new therapist, he specializes in post-cancer care. It feels pointless, honestly, although I know from past experience it’s absolutely not. Now that I’ve typed this all out I feel no better and just want to delete it but it’s a window. And I know you can’t just see in windows, but also out. Here’s to seeing the sun soon.

Oz Series Finale: WTF

I know this is a major deviation from my standard blog fare, but the cancer couldn’t last forever, and it was kind of a downer, right? So I think I might start blogging about some other stuff as the mood strikes. And when I have time. So, like twice a year. We’ll see.

Anyhow. I have been binge watching the TV series Oz for, I don’t know, the last year. How does it take a year to binge watch a six-season TV show, you ask? Add two toddlers to your life, plan to binge watch it only when you have time to watch TV by yourself (not with your significant other), and then take a second to congratulate me that it only took a year.

I am about to go into major spoiler mode so if you haven’t watched Oz (I do recommend it, in spite of the SHITTIEST SEASON FINALE IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION) and you want to, just bookmark this and come back to it. Believe me, you’ll want to.

Okay, WHAT HAPPENED? Did they run out of money? Steam? Did the show get canceled halfway through the sixth season? Seriously I ask you wtf?

Let’s start with Alvarez. Did he prove he’s changed to the new parole board head? Will he get out at his next parole hearing? Will he find love with Cutler’s widow? And why the hell did Cutler leave him all his stuff? Did the writers have an explanation for that in mind that we’ll just never get to see?

BOBBY CANNAVALE. Did you know he used to be hot? He was. He was a hot gay man (virgin?) with bleached hair and a crazy eye and lipgloss who goes to Oz because he throws acid in someone’s face. Why did he do that? Why is his eye crazy? Is he really a virgin? Do he and Alvarez form a relationship? Why the hell does he want to “be” Alvarez? Why did they introduce him midway through the sixth season if his storyline wasn’t going anywhere?!?

Joffrey?!? Who is this guy?!? What’s going to happen with him and O’Reily’s mother? More importantly, what is going to happen with O’Reily and Nathan? Both Joffrey and O’Reily are handsome and intriguing, I feel like we deserve to know more about what happens with their characters.

WHAT WAS IN THE JAR? Was it anthrax? Why would someone send a jar THAT BIG of anthrax to the prison?

Governor Devlin! Is that motherfucker going down or what?!? Let’s face it, we all waited six seasons to see him go down in a rain of fire! You’re really going to hint at that and then… nothing?! He needs to end up in Oz with Robson as his roomie!

And Robson – is he experiencing remorse? Turning over a new leaf? Guess we’ll never know.

Uh, Pablo? What was his point? He was gunning to be a major character and then… splat. That’s it, no more info.

Stella and Rebadow. Together? Not together? Friends? She survives BC? Does she have to get chemo? (Ah, the blog DOES come back to cancer, after all!)

Jessica Kirk – what the hell? Was that just a mind game? Is she going to come back and make Masuka’s life hell or what? What was the point of that?

Jax! And his Dad! And his birth parents! What the hell? Why even introduce that storyline?

I can’t think of any more pressing questions I had although I am sure if I’d been taking notes I could have come up with some. Right up to the end I was hoping. “Well, maybe they’ll do text saying what happens to the characters.” But no. Just a bus going nowhere.

A perfect metaphor for the series.

Watching life

I had my heart ultrasound yesterday. I won’t have the official results until next week, but the tech told me she saw nothing worrisome, so I’m not concerned.

What was interesting, though, was the test itself. Even having been through cancer, I don’t think I have ever felt my mortality, my fragility, as strongly as I did watching my heart pump on a screen. I mean of course I know I have a heart, have guts. I’ve had surgeries, given birth to babies. I am keenly aware of how everything inside me works – or doesn’t work. Still, watching my heart – MY heart, my very own HEART – pump as I lay there was both terrifying and thrilling. I watched my mitral valve flap open and shut. I saw the machine’s colors indicate blood flow. I saw in real time my heart doing its job to keep me alive, and somehow that sparked a deep, instant knowledge of how easily it could be stopped. It also rekindled a feeling I have had precious few occasions – a sense of pride in my body, of possession, of protection. That heart is mine, and it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and I love it.


For as long as I can remember, I have had a fairly slow pulse rate. It usually hovers around 60 at resting. I am by no means what anyone would consider athletic, although I think I am in fairly good health (cancer not withstanding).

Within the last couple years, a doctor detected a murmur in my sister’s heart, and she was diagnosed with a mitral valve prolapse as a result of Marfan Syndrome. Sounds pretty scary, but hers is very mild and should very likely never cause her any problems. Nonetheless, given that I have many of the same Marfan characteristics (long arms, legs, and fingers; tall and thin body type; curved spine; flexible joints), I brought it up with my physician, who recommended an EKG. I went in for my annual exam yesterday, and she and the nurse both commented on how low my blood pressure was (96/80) and how slow my heartbeat was (58bpm). Sensing a challenge, my heart said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”, and when they had me lie down and hooked me up for the EKG, my pulse came in at 48bpm – a condition known as bradycardia.

My doctor said it’s possible I just have a large heart – to which I replied, “No, duh!” – but recommended I go get an ultrasound to be sure.

Is this sounding familiar?

This is the same doctor who felt the fat lump in my breast and correctly diagnosed it as nothing, but recommended an ultrasound “just to be sure” – which is how my breast cancer was detected. So naturally, I am nervous.

I called the ultrasound place today and tried to schedule, but they have to wait for preauthorization from my insurance company, which usually takes about a week, according to them. I know this is SOP and really shouldn’t piss me off but it does because that means I have a week with my fears and Dr. Google. And I know this will probably be nothing but it does appear that in some cases of bradycardia a pacemaker needs to be implanted to speed your heart up to normal, and since I’m already 39 and in fucking menopause, I don’t really need something else to make me feel 60. Also, it should probably be noted that my grandmother died of heart disease.

On the bright side, I don’t have some of the other factors that point to bradycardia as a result of heart disease – I have a low blood pressure and, per my doctor, “Excellent cholesterol!” So I guess I just have to wait for the ultrasound and see what it turns up.

Boo bureaucracy.


There is a strange and hollow loneliness that comes from being in a unique situation that no one else you know is in or has been in. The general sense may be familiar, but the particulars are such that the concept itself becomes a very specific monster.

I count my blessings and find they overflow, but still this monster casts its shadow on my heart, and I don’t know how to talk about it or even who to talk to. There is nothing anyone can do and maybe not even anyone who could understand, because words seem to fail me.

And not for the first time in my life I find myself wishing desperately for a true soothsayer, a special soul who could open a window to the future and show me what lies ahead so that I could sleep without tossing and turning and live without a pall on even my sunniest hours.

Speechless and without foresight, I’ll keep smiling through.


Hi friends.

As I approach my two-year cancerversary, which is Monday, I have some news to share. Don’t worry – I remain cancer free!

As some of you may know, when I was diagnosed in September 2015, Julian and I had been planning to begin trying to expand our family the following summer. I would love to have a girl baby, but would equally love another boy – I just have a gut feeling that our family is not complete yet, that we are supposed to be a quintet.

I, like most other people, was not aware of the effect chemotherapy can have on a woman’s reproductive system, both during and after treatment, until I was diagnosed. That is when I discovered the cold, hard facts about the possible infertility chemotherapy can cause. Still, when my oncologist offered to refer me to a fertility specialist, I declined. Why? Many reasons. Specifically, I already had two beautiful children; I thought “seeing a fertility specialist” meant “freezing my eggs,” which frankly sounded like an awful procedure; and most importantly, I didn’t think infertility would happen to me.

Ridiculous, right? I was diagnosed with cancer at 37; the January before, I learned I’d had gall disease since I was a teenager. Why did I think anything that could happen wouldn’t happen to me? Maybe it’s because of those very things. Like, “Omg I have cancer as a 37 year old vegetarian who managed to bear two kids with only one fallopian tube. Of COURSE I’ll retain my fertility.” In addition, my oncologist put me on Lupron during chemo – a horrid drug that stops your ovaries from working, sending you directly into menopause, but has been shown to “sometimes” prevent infertility. How they determine that, I don’t know, since from what I have heard it’s basically a craps shoot whether you get your period back or not. But that’s not really the point.

Looking back, I wish I’d seen that fertility specialist. I wish I’d gotten all the information available to me. I wish my oncologist – who I love, don’t get me wrong – had said, “If you ever think you ever might possibly want to have another baby, just go see what the specialist has to say.” Because now I know there are other ways of preserving fertility – I read yesterday about a simple procedure where one ovary is removed and frozen, and then the outer layer – where the eggs are stored – is grafted back on to the remaining ovary, restoring fertility. Would I have done that? Yes. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and do it now. But alas, I was in denial. I thought I knew all the risks. I was both right and wrong.

Tired of my oncologist and my gyno both telling me I just had to “wait and see” what my body would do, I finally made an appointment at Seattle Reproductive Medicine (you know, like I should have done two years ago). A trans-vaginal ultrasound revealed my ovaries to be so small they were nearly undetectable. My uterus, while healthy, is a menopausal uterus – small, with a very thin tissue lining. A blood test measuring AMH came back so low that the doctor prefaced the result by telling J and I that it “couldn’t tell you the difference between low egg supply and zero,” but that mine was at the very lowest limit. She went on to tell me that’s not to say I couldn’t ever conceive, but the possibility is “remote.”

Why did “remote” hit me like a bucket of cold water? Low, small, even a percentage number – those I think I could have handled. But “remote” – remote is the snowy woodland where someone freezes to death because she lost her way hiking. Remote is where they used to send the very worst criminals to live and kill each other. Remote is so small it can’t even be quantified. Remote is not impossible, but it’s impossible’s next of kin.

I had previously asked J about adoption – which for some reason, he is not interested in – and between the ultrasound and the blood test I had even had a revelation that perhaps we could get an egg donor and a surrogate and have a baby that is at least a half sibling to our boys. So I had done a small amount of research into that, but even so – even so, I was hoping against hope they’d tell me my egg supply was lowered, but not – not that my chances were “remote.” I’ll be 40 next year – “remote” was already around the corner anyhow.

This was on Tuesday. I cried. A lot. I felt stupid, greedy, uninformed, angry, regretful, ungrateful, lost. For the last two days I have been processing. It’s still not real to me, if you can believe that – somehow, in my stubborn brain, remote is not far enough. I still feel this glimmer of hope. But my logical brain keeps trying to put that glimmer in check. And so I am struggling.

I haven’t told you everything yet, though. And I’m not sure if I should put it down, because we don’t know where we are with it. So take it as that, information, not opinion or decision. Just information we were given from a doctor, information that I will present to my oncologist at my regular appointment on Monday and ask his opinion of.

If they were to give me low levels of estrogen and progesterone – very low, the same my body would be making itself had my period come back – my uterus would rebound and begin working again as though my ovaries had not given up the ghost. Then, if we wanted, we could choose an egg donor, and I could actually carry the baby myself, nurse it myself. Genetically it would not be mine, but who’s to say how much DNA a baby picks up in the womb? Whose blood would be running through its veins? Whose heartbeat would it hear? Whose milk would it drink?

If you are by chance reading this, and you have been diagnosed, and you have not started treatment – even if you have children, even if you think you are done, even if you aren’t sure you ever want them – please go see a fertility specialist. Seeing them will do no harm. Know ALL your options. Regret is a horrible feeling to have after you’ve managed to survive a brush with death.