Outside the Law

December 31, 2013

Just Enough

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 3:38 pm
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ImageAt the end of every year, I’m asked about my New Year’s resolution.  I never have a good answer and often say something about going to the gym or being “happier.”  This is because resolutions are something I eschew.  In my experience, a “New Year’s resolution” is synonymous with “failure.”  Every resolution is intended to make me feel better, look better, be better, but at the end of each year, I cannot say I have fulfilled any stated resolution.  In fact, I would rather, at the end of each year, consider my resolution in hindsight of the prior year.  For instance, for 2013, my resolution proved to be becoming a slightly better teacher, a slightly better mother, and (barring commentary from Gregory) a slightly better wife.  None of which had I resolved to do (or to be) at the end of 2012.

Nevertheless, a good friend of mine shared a story relaying a “Wish of Enough.”  This wish is a hope that one has a life filled with just enough good things to sustain her/him: “I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”

So, my resolution this year is to have enough.  And I wish the same for you.  Happy New Year!

April 15, 2013

A Teacher’s Talisman

Filed under: Teaching,Teenagers,Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 1:45 am
Tags: , , ,

Image  tal-is-man /talismən/ noun: a physical object with symbolic power and meaning beyond the physical.

Things one might deem rather trivial, meaningless things really, can remind me of who I am, what is important to me, and what my goals are.  These things have changed over time; years ago there was the key, a cat’s-eye marble, and a pressed penny.  Those objects held a large cache of memories for me — the cedar chest full of journals and letters I’d locked away from prying eyes, the admiration on my friends’ faces after I’d won the 1st grade marble tournament, my mother’s humorous indulgence at my plea for the “squished penny” souvenir from Downtown Disneyland’s Main Street.

Over the years, these personal mementos have evolved, and I no longer have those sacred childhood talismans; today they are my mother’s Seiko watch (the hands haven’t moved for a decade and it’s entirely too small for my wrist), two brittle, parchment-thin rose petals (ZuZu’s?) discovered in a coat pocket from what sadly turned out to be the final round of a game my brother and I used to play, and a coconut lovingly mailed from Hawaii to Alaska and then rerouted to Massachusetts, California and back again, replete with postage stamps to prove it.  These three small tokens represent me and, during difficult times, help ground me – they remind me of what’s important in my life and help to reestablish my sense of purpose.  Yesterday, unexpectedly, I acquired a new one.

This email, from a student currently in my literature class, is in response to my sharing a story about a 13-year-old me making a bad decision and deliberately hurting a classmate.  That story has shaped me in innumerable ways and is the catalyst for my eternal search for redemption – a continued quest to be a better person than I was at 13.   This is a story I have begun to tell often and, despite its repetition, I become emotional with each telling.  I wish I didn’t.  I truly do.  But, just as this story will remain my albatross, the crying just comes with the telling.

After sharing my story, I excused the class so I could pull myself together.  I really had no idea I would get quite that upset while retelling this story.  There was something in the faces of these beautiful kids that … I don’t know … just punctured me. I was mortified and  honestly worried about returning to this class on Tuesday.

So, back to the email.  I could not have asked for a better talisman of redemption.  I take my role as teacher (also counselor, advocate, surrogate parent) very seriously and the material benefits and rewards are relatively few.  That said, the real rewards are what I internalize from it: often being the second biggest influence in a child’s life; being a role model for how these individuals relate to one another now, on the field or the court, and in the classrooms, but also for the rest of their lives; for instilling in them the values and skills they need to live their lives usefully and successfully; for holding and protecting their trust and faith in other human beings, … you know, the little things.  But, sadly, it’s often difficult to discern what stays with them and what doesn’t.

This email could not be a better indicator of what indeed stays.  I imagine taping this epistle to the front of one of my favorite journals and rereading it every few months as a reminder of what I do and why I do it.  I could not have asked for a better reward for my efforts and my time.  It is truly priceless and something I will forever treasure.

I didn’t imagine adding another talisman to my collection but alas, here it is.  Just in the nick of time.

May 25, 2012

Saving myself bird by bird

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 4:10 pm

I wonder if Anne Lamott fully comprehends the enormity of her influence on me and others like me.

Recently, an overwhelmed friend emailed that she was dealing with the bare minimum of what needed to get done before she collapsed. I responded, “That’s the smart way to handle it. Bird by bird.” Today, I saw a writer Tweet to another writer, “Bird by bird, right?” when talking about an impending deadline.

Bird by Bird is the title of Lamott’s hugely influential book. Though most ardent apostles of Anne are aspiring writes, like myself, I would venture that even established writers have internalized this instruction.

The vignette from which “bird by bird” springs isn’t even one about writing. It’s not even about Anne Lamott herself. It’s a memory Lamott relates about her brother who, at ten-years-old, is dealing with a school project where he has to catalog a prodigious number of birds. He’s left it until the last-minute and is in a panic about it when their father — himself a writer — counsels that he not think about the sheer enormity of what he has to do and instead take it “bird by bird.” Lamott calls it “the best advice about writing, or life, [she has] ever heard.”

Though it obviously bears the same meaning, somehow “bird by bird” become far more powerful and has a greater emotional resonance than the old standby, “one day at a time.”  Maybe because it’s more interesting than the old expression? Maybe it’s because Lamott has electrified “bird by bird” into the life of many writers, including mine, and as a result has become self-perpetuating in the larger writing community. That story of a left-to-the-last-minute project is a concept most can grasp with both the mind and the emotion.

“Bird by bird” is something writers say to other writers. But even when not applied directly to the writing task, it’s a semaphore of support that one instinctively locks on to and understands.  It has the “you so get me” element clinging to it.

Causing one to stop.

And take a deep breath.

So, I am taking everything bird by bird today. And also tomorrow. And so on . . .

March 18, 2012

Gun Running

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 6:58 am

I can’t write. I can’t work. I can’t laugh. I can’t cry.  My throat is distended with not saying what needs to be said.  My hands are stilled by not doing what needs to be done.

I am really very good at not talking about things. I recognize that this is a grossly counterproductive character trait for a blogger.

Everything and nothing is happening and until I get to the place where I have even a singular answer, I don’t know how to talk about any of it.

And so I’m doing anything but dealing with all of this inside of myself. Part of that is good: it’s detaching, it’s letting go, and it’s acknowledging that my life can and will continue even if everything I think mattered has come to a screeching halt. Part of that is not good, however: it’s denying, it’s avoiding, it’s getting all worked up over researching bacon because I can’t let myself get all worked up about everything else.  Did you know that there is bacon flavored personal lubricant? This is an actual thing, people.

I also got the hell out of Dodge for a minute, which was way more helpful than I ever thought it could be. I am, by nature, a runner. I run away from that which hurts me, and so far, it’s a trait that has served me decently well in life. I have a stunning ability to disappear in plain sight.

It’s a crappy coping mechanism, but it’s mine. I let time handle the impossible business of healing what is otherwise incurable, and I convince myself the scars that will never heal, have. Abandonment Issue Angel sits on my shoulder telling me to just gogogogo.

So I went to Happyland.  It was awesome.  I had unapologetic fun. I went to bed at 9:30pm my first full night there because I have forgotten how to sleep these past few weeks.  I went to bed at 2:30am my last night there because I had forgotten how to get silly drunk with my friends in a hot tub.

And I talked. I talked about the things that I am not ready to talk about here, and it helped. I always forget how many people are willing to help you run your guns, if you only ask. I came back feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit more able to do the next thing that I have to do.

Even if I don’t know what that is, exactly, just yet.

November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 4:12 am

I wasn’t going to post a “Thanksgiving” blog entry because it seemed so … trite. But then I realized that there is absolutely nothing trite about the gratitude I feel toward all the amazing people in my life, both real and virtual. So, here goes …

When the surgeons performed the double mastectomy in June, they put in expanders – like placeholders – to stretch out the skin in preparation for the final reconstruction (once my skin and body to recover from chemo and radiation). Although the expanders feel as if I have only partially-full Ziploc bags in my chest, they are low maintenance and I look mostly normal in clothes, so now the breasts themselves have become beside the point. Dying to get back to “normal,” I am back in the gym, a bit sporadically but still. It changes you physically, emotionally. It changes the way you see things and people and relationships. It literally leaves an imprint on your brain.

On my worst days I waged a war against cancer.

On my worst days I raged about the injustice, the waste, the why, the how.

On my worst days I allowed the disease to define me.

On my very worst days and nights I bobbed up and down in dark oceans of fear with no land in sight.

But on my best days…

On my best days I gave thanks.

Not for being sick. Not for losing parts of my body. But for life itself. And for all the things I learned.

They were many and they came to me piecemeal, as in the story of the old wise men who examined the elephant in the dark, each describing a different part of the animal. Eventually I managed to put the pieces together and to recognize them for what they were.

And here’s what I learned:

You go through life thinking you know some things, like what “healthy” means. Then one day the bottom falls out from under you and there you are, arms in the air, plunging like Alice down the rabbit hole. And that’s when you realize that nothing was as it had seemed. I learned to assume nothing and to question everything. I learned you must see through your own eyes and not through the eyes of others.

I still struggle to be comfortable with uncertainty, but I have finally made peace with it. Maybe someday I will even embrace it.

I learned that happiness in the face of adversity is revolutionary and that optimism makes you more powerful.

“What are you waiting for, J?” I would always ask myself. I’m not sure of what I was waiting for, but I spent too many years hand-wringing over my dreams. It was illness that finally pushed me over the cliff.

“If not now, then maybe never,” is what I recall thinking. I learned through this that healing may not be so much about getting better as it is about letting go of everything that isn’t you and finally becoming who you are. And when I squared off with all my thoughts of death, I learned that there is no such thing as too late.

I learned you never stop missing the dear ones who left too soon.

With my hair, my eyebrows and my lashes gone, every one of my masks stripped away, all I felt was love. All I desired was unity. All those things I had worried about over the years, raged about, complained of, fallen out over – all seemed completely worthless and inconsequential.

In the end, I learned that love is tangible and that it is the foundation of everything worthwhile. And if I had to go on to the next world, love was the only possession I wished to take along.

In my darkest hours, what I cherished most were not the firework moments of my life, but the most pedestrian: sitting together on a park bench in the warm sun, talks with my son during car rides back and forth to school, spontaneous hugs.

But time passes and amnesia sets in, dimming those bursts of clarity. Sometimes these days I find myself once again sleepwalking through the everyday and obsessing about the dramatic.

But this moment is the prize.

I know this. And I don’t want to forget.

Happy Thanksgiving.

October 11, 2011

So, you’re better now, right?

Filed under: Cancer — Jeniene @ 8:38 pm

Six months of chemotherapy + bilateral mastectomy +six weeks of daily radiation = who the hell knows.

After all the active treatment, I was told that the chemotherapy didn’t “have the effect [they] had hoped it would.”  The surgery on the other hand was considered a success and they believe they got all of the tumors.  The radiation was more of a precautionary measure as my recurrence numbers are at about 50%.  So, in the end, I went through all that and have a 50/50 chance of doing it all over again.  Not the best odds, no.

So, after almost a years worth of treatment, I am often asked the question, “Are you better? Are you a ‘Survivor’?”  In the face of this I often stammer and say…”Well, yes, but  it’s complicated.”  This is–by far–the best answer I’ve ever seen to a question that is too nuanced and depressing for me to answer on most days. In one fell swoop, it sums up what I either can’t or won’t say on any given day.

I look forward to enjoying long-standing membership in the 60 percent club.

June 17, 2011

A Job Well Done

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 1:46 pm

One of my earlier blogs regarding my cancer diagnosis was about how I wasn’t wholly invested in my breasts or hair or how I truly haven’t given much thought to my breasts lo the 30 years I’ve had them.  I developed early (at 12) and after Logan was born, I breast fed for almost a year.  Any similarly situated woman will tell you that that combination means my breasts, at 42, are … well, we’ll just call them “asymmetrically un-perky.”   So, with all the drama of the diagnosis, the chemo, the surgeries and radiation in my future, I felt that the least I could get out of this madness would be two symmetrical, perky B cups. Always looking on the bright side of life, am I.

Anyway, as the time of surgery draws nigh, I’ve begun to think a bit more deeply about my breasts’ significance.  These are the breasts from which my son nursed.  I remember having a thought, 7 or so years ago, while sitting in the rocker nursing Logan at some unfortunate a.m. hour, that if Logan and I were stranded somewhere, I could still sustain him; that I, at that moment, was all he needed.  It was such a weird and wonderful thought to have and brought up all these feelings of usefulness as a woman, a mother, a person that I hadn’t felt before.  With that memory resurfacing, the idea of giving up these “sustaining” breasts has begun to feel a lot more like “loss” than I anticipated.

So, in an effort to process this quickly, since, regardless of whatever attachment I may have suddenly acquired to my breasts, they’re going away on Tuesday the 21st, I have  tried to modify my perspective.  I am having no more children, thus there will be no one else to sustain in that way.  Therefore, these breasts have done their job.  And they have done it quite well.

One unfortunate casualty is Greg, since he’s a “boob guy.”  But that’s an entirely different blog post.

June 8, 2011

Clinical Trial Day 84: The Last Infusion!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 9:17 pm

Today I am D-O-N-E with chemo!!!

I can’t believe I’ve made it -24 weeks, 12 infusions – “DONE.” Such a lovely word.

I’m expecting the exchange surgery (June 21st) and radiation to be a walk in the park :)

This moment is a dual-edged sword. We’re thrilled that the last six months of chemo treatments are over, and that there is a light at the end of this very difficult and dark tunnel. On the other hand, the impacts of the chemo are cumulative, with a cascade of just-barely tolerable irritations. Recently, the persistent nosebleeds, presumably associated with Avastin were supplanted by a non-stop flow of bone, muscle and joint pain, presumably associated with the Taxol® (paclitaxel).

So this is the time when the intensity of the impacts is at its highest. We should see a gradual but relatively quick amelioration of the symptoms as the toxins leach out of my system. I should begin to feel more normal again. My hair should grow back (albeit considerably grayer). My sense of taste should return. The numbness in my fingers and toes should subside. My digestive track should become more regular. And on and on.

On June 15th, we’ll see the benefits in the degree to which my tumors have been knocked back.  And, as you know, I will have the first of two surgeries on the 21st.

If all goes as hoped – and of course it is entirely possible that it won’t – then I will join the best club in the world of which no one ever wants to be a member – The Breast Cancer Survivor Club.

It is worth noting that, even in the face of this struggle, my spirits have been (mostly) high, bolstered by constant, endlessly inventive attention from my many friends and family members, near and far, who have shown their support in a thousand different ways.  And I’m sure you would all agree that my good nature and wit are still here, unsullied.

As positive as we feel at the moment, this is clearly not a final post. We’re still early in a process that will have many twists and turns down the road. As you know, I’ll keep you posted as things unfold.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

May 29, 2011

Clinical Chemo Trial: Day 70 – So Close and Yet …

Filed under: Cancer — Jeniene @ 1:33 am

Well, here we are – almost at the end of the line.  I just finished my second to last chemo infusion.  One more to go.  Based on every discussion with every breast person at Dana Farber, I had banked on finishing my chemo treatment in early June, enjoying a chemo and surgery free summer, going to Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks at the end of July, having one surgery (a double mastectomy and permanent reconstruction) in early August and then enjoying a (knock on wood) cancer free life for the next X number of years.

But then the Universe once again turned in my direction and laughed and laughed.

On Tuesday of last week, I learned from my oncologist and research nurse that, counter to what the oncologist, surgeon and plastic surgeon all told me, I need radiation therapy.  That means, that I must have the bilateral mastectomy and a temporary implant/expander surgery first (June 21st), then undergo daily radiation for six weeks (the temporary surgery is required because the docs won’t radiate new tissue) and THEN have the permanent reconstructive surgery after that.  If you haven’t been able to follow my timeline, that means that I WILL NOT have a chemo/surgery free summer with an awesome Martha’s Vineyard vacation, etc.  That means my entire summer, fall and very likely winter is totally and completely hosed.

Before you say anything, let me say that I agree with what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Jeniene, regardless of your shitty summer and screwed up fall and whacked out winter, being cancer free come 2012 is the ultimate goal, right?.”  Yes!  I totally agree.  That said, I cannot help but feel an extraordinary amount of animosity toward my entire breast cancer team.  They, in no uncertain terms, suck.

Okay, I got that out.

I have the big scan on June 13th.  That’s the one that will tell me if the chemotherapy did indeed do it’s job:  decrease the size of the masses.  It will also reveal whether there are any other masses that have cropped up over the past 70 days.

I’ll keep you posted on the results.

March 23, 2011

Well You Knew Something Had to Happen to Make Me This Way…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeniene @ 5:54 pm

The suggestion for today’s Daily Blog Post is “What’s the Strangest Thing That’s Ever Happened to You on a Bus.”  Usually, I ignore the daily suggestions because they seem like too much work to figure out what/how to respond to them, but sadly, this particular post can write itself.

For those who know me, and many of you do, this post will not surprise you in the least.  Some of you actually know this story first-hand.  Nevertheless, I shall share my story as a precautionary tale to some and an utterly revealing testament as to why I am the way I am to others.

The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me on a bus is that I maced myself.  Yep, sure did.  It’s like something out of a Fresh Prince of Bel Air show.

Once upon a time in the mid to late 1980’s, my brother, a summer security guard, gave to me a can of mace as protection during my evening bus rides home from the mall after work.  One evening I was really sprinting for the bus home (1st mistake) as it pulled away from the curb, thus jostling my giant knock-off Gucci bag (2nd mistake) and giant 80’s hair.  Once I made it onto the bus, I stuck my head down into my bag (3rd mistake), searching and digging for my bus pass, and accidentally (and idiotically) depressed the little red button on the mace canister.  (Note Bene: Because the can of mace provided by my brother must have been at least a third-hand-me-down, if not fourth, the little protective flap that is usually positioned over said button was of course missing).

So, the bus driver and I were completely enveloped in a dense assaultive fog of pepper spray, tear gas and Ultra-Violet dye.  I recognize that I am sharing this story in a fairly relaxed fashion.  That is deceptive.  When this happened, I was completely flattened.  There I lay on the 242 Lakewood Blvd. bus, my face cartoonishly ballooned and my tongue four times its size.   All I could do was repeat, “Aahmasedmusefff” over and over again.

Eventually, a group of people carted me off of the bus, mosh-pit style, to the nearest Union 76 gas station and dumped me on the ladies room floor (yes, I am still grossed out and traumatized by that).  Maybe an hour later, after flushing my eyes and mouth with water, I staggered home to share this near-death experience with my family in hopes of some compassion and TLC.  Of course, my family being my family, instead laughed hysterically and repeated the story over and over again to anyone who would listen.

Well, you knew I got this way somehow.  Now, you have actual evidence as to why.

p.s. I never learned what became of the bus driver.

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