Tag Archives: Breast cancer

Wrong Turns, Road Blocks, and Crossroads

Well, this is embarrassing. It’s been seven months since I’ve written and in that time I’ve had more than enough to talk about. But, life hasn’t stopped moving once and in my defense, I did get another cat, take on another writing gig (which has come and gone), continued Portland After Dark, and started my big girl job as a radio news anchor. I may have stopped writing, but this world never stopped spinning and through it all you never stopped fighting. Even though I know some days it I know it felt as if you were the only one.

Your diagnosis was a hard blow to all of us. There were days when fear, anger, and doubt closed in, suffocating good spirits and hope. And I can only speak for myself. I can’t imagine how you felt, but we often forget that it was you who had cancer.

In those first few months, I felt as if I wanted to be suffering with you and for you. I wished I could sit next to you, tubes in my arms, the chemo pumping into my system as we gossiped, laughed, and complained. Almost like our pedicures. And there you have it. Comparing your months of chemo, dry skin, hair loss, nausea, and pain to a pedicure just shows how estranged I really was. And when it was all said and done, though it will never truly be said and done, I was absent altogether. When the glitz, glamour, and show was over, I was out of the auditorium before the curtain dropped.

Abby, I am sorry I was never there. I’m sorry I never saw a chemo treatment, I’m sorry I never drove you to the doctor, and most of all I am sorry I was never around to talk because some days that’s probably what you needed most.

When you have cancer or any disease, I imagine at first it feels as if everyone is behind you and fighting for you. You can hear their war cries and the beat of their drums, but as the days pass, the treatments continue, the acceptance settles in, I wonder if you ever looked back to see that we’d all left to go back home.

If you did ever feel that way, I want you to know that while I may have taken a detour to fight some smaller battles of my own, I will always be your second in command and you can rest assured that our roads will forever intersect.


So let’s get to it. Monday is the big day. You’ll complete your double mastectomy with the removal of your right breast and then you’ll go straight into reconstructive surgery, which I’ve been told is called Autologous or Flap reconstruction. Let’s stick with the former as it sounds much more serious and will certainly garner more shock and concern. ūüėČ

Sister, I don’t know how many more times I can say it, but I’ll say it until the end- I am so extremely proud of you, your life, the paths you’ve taken, and the way you’ve traveled them.

Our lives are so far apart these days. While you’re cleaning up after a beautiful, mischievous four-year-old, I am cleaning the poop of two wicked cats. As you drive to yet another doctor’s appointment, I head to the station to announce that¬†local game wardens put down a deer. And when¬†you’re driving home through the Pennsylvania hills, I’m losing my shit on a woman who won’t let me parallel park.

As divided as our lives may be, we’re bonded perpetually by our mother’s blood- and her appreciation of stretch pants, Garth Brooks,¬†and baked mac and cheese.

Sister, you’ve reached the halfway point of your journey and while it may be a never ending one with some lonely paths, I promise there is no wrong turn that could lead me too far from you. See you at our crossroads.



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Don’t start. I know it already. It’s been too long. I’ve been slacking and I’m not proud of myself. When I started this blog, I wanted to try my very best to make it the one thing I stuck with from beginning to, well, there really is no end. And that’s what brought me back here today, Sunday, July 20, 2014.

On August 31 you’ll celebrate your one-year anniversary.

This September 10th will mark a year since Fil and I made the move to Portland, ME.

And on October 2nd I’ll sit down at the table for my morning coffee where I sat a year ago and cried after mom¬†called to say, “I have some bad news.”

I was sitting there, Fil wasn’t quite home yet. I had just gotten off the phone and Butch, our maintenance man, arrived to fix our stove. I offered him water and though I thought I could hide it, when he saw the tears in my eyes he sighed and said, “We’ll get ‘er fixed, hon. Won’t take long.”

Once Fil arrived, we sat at the table and held hands while Butch fixed our shitty little stove.¬†Thinking it over, I wonder if Butch really thought that’s what I was crying over. It¬†would explain why he’s so quick to come switch the breakers each time I blow a fuse.

I was in the car with Shannen today, heading to the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Yeah, that’s a thing here. ¬†I could tell Shannen was out of it. She’s usually upbeat and chatty. Today she just wanted to ride, so I let her. I cranked up the country and we drove. ¬†An hour in the wrong direction to be truthful. ¬†After a while I asked Shannen what was up. How she was feeling?

“I feel like I’m in limbo.”


“I feel like I’m not going anywhere. Nothing is happening for me.”

I thought about it for a minute. I’m getting better at holding onto my thoughts and articulating them when the time is right.

“Shannen, I think we’re all used to things happening very fast in our generation. And I think we might be at a spot, you know, after high school, after college, when things might start slowing down for us. And I think it’s okay to let it slow down.”

She shook her head, not really satisfied, but I was. I took that hour drive going the wrong way to really think about the passage of time.

Just yesterday mom told me, “Fil will be home before you know it. Everything just goes so quickly anymore.” And that was really telling. Momma has come to a point where her life is picking up pace again. She see’s her eldest daughter married with a baby girl and her youngest living ten hours away and teaching. Gram and Pap are getting older, though Gram would hate that it’s in writing now, published for anyone in the world to see, but it is true. We’re all getting older, but it’s mom, it’s gram, it’s pap who see it. Why? Because one minute they see a bald, chubby little towhead and the next minute Paige has flipped¬†her Barbie Jeep from driving too fast.

Time. It’s a tricky little bastard, huh? Some days it feels like it’s not moving at all as¬†you stare at your ceiling fan, wondering if you’ll ever pass your permit test and how the hell did Jeri get her permit before you when she’s like seven months younger, and if you don’t pass it, how will you ever leave Martinsburg??? And other days you’re sitting in your apartment with your cat and your things and your bills and wondering how in the hell will you ever pay for new tires so you can get back to Martinsburg???

Time. That bastard.

It won’t feel like a year ago to me. I’m not sure it will ever feel like it’s in the past. Cancer isn’t an old boyfriend. ¬†Well, except for that one Italian guy. He was a real tumor, but that’s another story…

Cancer will never be in our past. It will never be history. We will never talk about it in terms of “remember that time you had cancer?” Not you, mom, or I. It will¬†always be part of our present. We will always be on the watch and there will always be that tiny bit of fear. Yesterday¬†I was¬†¬†reminded to schedule my yearly OBGYN appointment and this year I will be requesting my first mammogram, really making breast cancer a part of my own present.

This week mom will have the BRCA test and we will finally know whether or not this was a coincidence or simply fate. And if it was fate, if it is fate, we will be ready this time.

October 2nd will mark the day you were diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago and the day my stove broke. Things have never been quite the same since, but I’ll tell you one thing‚Ķ.

This morning I made one mean BLT.





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Boob Post

Readers, we’re talking boobs here, so if you can’t handle le boob√©e sujet (sorry, Ms. Wilson, French was not my strong suit), then don’t you dare speak, just forever hold your peace and get off this blog.

This coming Monday you head back to Pittsburgh. It’s not for a check up, a decision, or chemo. This time it’s the beginning of the end, what all of this has been leading up to; the first¬†of a double mastectomy. Monday morning you’ll wake up with both of your God given, got-’em-from-our-momma breasts and that evening you’ll rest soundly, a little closer to peace.

When I told you I was starting my “boob post,” you asked if it would be about fake breasts. Well, no. I don’t have a problem with fake breasts. I’d quite fancy a pair myself, but Fil assures me it is unnecessary. Just as I have assured him that dating James Franco is not a necessity. Ah, the gives and takes of love. You then asked if it would be about the “hype” of them. Well, no, again. I, as anyone, applaud a great pair of boobs. I applaud a small pair of boobs. I applaud my own boobs. All boobs. Let’s have a round of applause for boobs!

This post isn’t a criticism, a personal essay, or an opportunity to express how unfortunate it is that nature should give me, a woman, breasts that heterosexual men, by nature, should admire. None of that. Nada. You know me. I don’t have time for it. This post is to make you smile. That’s all it’s ever been meant to do. Hell, I think that’s all I ever wanted to do. To make my big sister smile or laugh has been a life ambition since the day I knew I could. And you know something? I’ll never achieve it because I could never make you laugh long or hard enough. It’s one of the best¬†feelings in the world. And the fact that we have the same laugh…yeah. That makes it 10 times better.

These¬†operations¬†have been¬†looming over us for some time now. You’ve been battling for months and your troops are wearing thin, but hold out. Hold out just a little longer. Long enough for a healthy recovery, long enough to come back bigger, better, and stronger (not your boobs, you.)

I can tell you’re tired by the way you refer to it nowadays. Rarely do you mention it, if ever. You’re worn out and it’s okay. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. It’s okay if you’re sick of hearing, “a friend of mine went through the same thing…” Yeah? Well, we are one big happy club, huh? It doesn’t have to be a part of your every day. It doesn’t have to be a part of you and after Monday, it won’t be.

I’ve never been that worried about you, you know that? You’ve always held your own. I was the delicate one. I was the one mom worried about when it came to love, life, and the real world. Not you. You were in the real world before the real world knew you were real. Always matter-of-fact with life. Just like today when I asked, “Are you getting nervous?” “No. I don’t think about it. Gotta do it to keep it from coming back.” “Oh. Yeah. That makes sense. Uhm, so…how’s the weather?” I mean, you really leave no room for discussion sometimes. But, I love that about you. I’ve always loved how you just roll on. Life is what it is. You never get too worked up about it, but you sure as hell know how to cherish it.

No, I’m not worried about you. Not at all. The only thing I ask is that a few days from now, when you’re alone and see yourself for the first time, for the first time without your left breast, tell the woman looking back at you how incredibly gorgeous she is and always will be. Tell her how strong she was through all of this. Tell her how happy she makes her husband and how proud she makes her little girl. Tell my big sister that she’s my hero and my best friend.

During my mystic boob research, yes, mystic boob research, you read right, I found that there were two sisters who ruled the Amazons together: Lampedo and Marpesia. Together these sisters formed an army of women after their men were killed off by Scythians. The widows of both tribes merged together and worked for peace, but raised their daughters to be warriors, usually binding the right breast for archery. This is where Amazon, “A” meaning “without” and “mazos” meaning breast, comes from. I love Wikipedia.

After reading that, I realized you are my Lampedo and I am your Marpesia. Together they raised a tribe of women who met the demands of life with ferocity and took no prisoners-well they would mate with men once a year, but you get the idea.

You, sister, are now among the Amazons. You’re a queen. A goddess. Your strength matches any army’s and I am so honored to be always¬†by your side in battle.



Much love,





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Your strength…

A few months ago I wrote a post addressing the fears you may encounter and the fears you already have. Today I want to acknowledge the courage you demonstrated that eased our fears. 

Sister, for years you have been hero, my guide, my best friend. You taught me respect and the meaning of love. Respect by way of correcting my wrongs, whether they had been hurting momma, friends, or myself. Love by confessing once that you didn’t know why people love who they do, just that they can’t help it.Today you’ve taught me courage. Today you’ve taught me that life is so much greater than ourselves, our pride, and our fears. I guess you’ve been teaching me that all along.

I’d been filled with anger for quite some time. Maybe I was born with it, maybe it’s a Gunn thing (Dad would blame the Scots.) But, that craving for someone to say the wrong thing, to hurt me or someone I love was starting to wear on me. I’d become suspicious even paranoid of any new face or friend. I wanted something to react to. I wanted something to hurt. Throughout high school and college I wore my heart on my sleeve as bait, hoping someone would take it and wreck it, just so I could wear the badge. But, that never happened. Instead I was the one hurting friends and myself.

I remember one Christmas you calling and raising hell because I had given mom attitude about helping with the dinner. Mom always called you in for re-enforcement when the threat of calling Gram or Dad didn’t work. You were her calvary, her Green Berets. You told me that I’d better knock it off, whatever little crap I was going through, and help mom because you were stuck in Cincinnati and would give anything to be baking cookies with your mom. Today I’d give anything to be holding your hand and hugging you both.

You’ve always put things into perspective for me, showed the bigger picture, revealed how small my current crisis was. You never gave in to gossip or cheap talk, said you didn’t have time for it. I remember calling you one night after a friend said something stupid about my dad, a dumb joke. I had tried to talk to mom, but she didn’t quite understand, so I ran upstairs to my bed and called you at college. I was crying and told you I felt humiliated. You laughed and explained how small that person was to be concerned with anything other than their own. You reminded me how great my dad was and how lucky we all were. I passed that person the next day and I swear they could hear my armor clinking.

Today, when I think back on how frustrated I was growing up in our small town, never really having an outlet, except for the giant plywood board under my bed I used for tap dancing, I feel so ashamed of the self pity. I guess all teenagers are guilty of it. Feeling like you have the WORST parents, you have the MOST zits, you get to do the LEAST amount of stuff, etc., but I don’t remember you really complaining when we were growing up. Sure, you still had the normal teenage angst, but for all that you really had to put up with, you never made a single wave. You’d just accept things for what they were and move on. I guess some would say you held too much in. I’m sure some shrink could find a way of making some “ism” out of it, but to be quite honest, you’re just too tough for that. You were a tough kid and today you’re one tough woman.

When we found out about your cancer, that anger I had learned to burry peaked out of its cave. It’s like that three-headed dog from Harry Potter, slobbering and stinking. Thankfully, with the help of Fil and some plain old growing up, I’ve learned to ignore the barks. ¬†But, when mom called to tell me the news, there wasn’t a song loud enough to drown out that dog. I got so irritated and mad. Didn’t want to talk about anything, got mad when mom would call crying, got mad when Fil would see my eyes watering. Just mad, damn it. Then I started to write this blog and at first I thought it would be for you. I was going to help you through treatments, long days, and nights. Instead this blog was really about me. You all know I can talk an ear off, but ask me what I’m really, really feeling inside and you might as well go talk to a brick wall. I get all flushed and embarrassed. Feelings‚Ķoy.¬†Here I’m able to talk to you. Ask you how you’re feeling. Tell you how I’m feeling. Tell you really how much I love you and what you mean to me. Maybe it’s not right, maybe I should be able to say it more, but when I’m talking my words kinda stumble over themselves like people trying to escape a smelly elevator. Writing is my outlet and I am so thankful for you allowing me to write this.¬†

Your courage has pulled us all through this hell. Not once have you complained. Not once have you stopped. The rest of us could have cried from day one on if you’d let us. “Poor Abby, poor me, poor us.” That would have done no good. Instead you continued to roll on. You were there for your daughter and husband, your mother and father, and you were there for me. Through every treatment and every test, you were there for all of us. Thank you, sister.

One of my favorite books is¬†East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it a few summers ago after my Aunt Patty told me I should. She was right. It’s an amazing book. My favorite quote from it was,”I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” Steinbeck is talking about you there. He most certainly was talking about you!

Congratulations, sister.You did it!

I love you,





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My sister’s cancer…

I woke up this morning wrapped in blanket after blanket, looking like a nibbled corn dog with my round face peering out. “I’m sick,” I groaned as Fil snuggled close. After a night of Nyquil ramblings, this was something he’d already assumed. “I was at a fire last night. Whole house burned to the ground.” “Mmmm.” “I’m making an apple cobbler for breakfast.” “Mmmm.” “I’ll be back.” And off he went to the store, leaving me to fight the common cold.

“My head is stuffy,” I texted momma, hoping for more than an update of last night’s headlines. “Oh no. Well, your sister has a sore throat and a cough and is burning up inside and she can’t get cool and her skin is getting dry and rashey AND your niece wants a unicorn valentine box.” And with that I rolled over and shrunk back into my cornbread coating.

The single most impressive event of my¬†day will eclipse all others, leaving me campaigning for it up and down my social block, but I’m almost always shocked when no one else seems remotely affected. “I’m sick, Bagheera,” and with the glare of one eye she’s back to sleep.

“I’m sick, mom.” “Cancer.”

“I’m sick, Fil.” “House fire.”

“I’m sick, self.” “Me too.”

This Thursday my sister goes in for the BRCA test, which will determine which operation she will undergo. Momma has been thinking about it a lot the past few weeks. It’s really all she can talk about, which doesn’t bother me, only I feel so detached from the whole thing.

I don’t see my sister’s bald head. I don’t see her dry skin or the bags under her eyes. I don’t see the hot flashes and sleepless nights. Instead I just hear from her and when we’re texting back and forth, it’s usually not about cancer. She likes to hear about the articles I’m writing or the bars where I’m drinking. I hate to say it, but I’ve kinda gotten used to the idea of my sister having cancer, it’s never really news to me. Please, don’t freak out! I’m not saying that cancer is something you grow accustomed to like aunthood, the snow, or an antique barrel turned side table (ehem, Filipp,) but when you’re an outsider looking in, when you’re the shoulder, the friend, the chemo partner (We love you, Brandi!), no matter how affected you are by it, it’s not your cancer. It’s your friend’s cancer, your wife’s cancer, your daughter’s cancer, my sister’s cancer.

I really doubt my sister feels territorial over it, and by no means would she pull a, “Well my cancer’s bigger than your cancer,” but with all the fuss we’ve made over it: the blog, the newsletter updates, the Facebook posts, and the easy conversation topic (yes, I’ve used the cancer card, don’t you judge me!), you really would think it was everyone else who had cancer.

Here’s an update for all of us- it isn’t.

It’s my sister’s cancer. It’s Abby’s cancer. Abby lost her hair. Abby can’t sleep at night. Abby has to call the doctor at the inkling of a damn itchy throat.

It is Abby’s cancer, but she isn’t Cancer’s Abby. She doesn’t belong to it and it can’t claim her. She is ours! She is Chad’s wife, Momma’s daughter, Paigey’s mommy, Linda’s niece, Gram and Pap’s grandbaby, Brandi’s best friend, and my sister!

We all fight for Abby because not a day goes by that the thought of her doesn’t exceed the best or worst moments of our day. There is nothing today that could be as great and wonderful were it to happen when Abby is cancer free. That was a mouthful. What I mean is that every good thing that occurs will be twice as good when the cancer is gone and every negative thing that happens never feels as bad as first hearing the diagnosis.

Here’s to my sister’s cancer. Thank you for making light of my common cold, my event, my moment.

I’m off to the craft store. I’ve got a unicorn valentine box to build.

Much love,




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“It’s Crazy.”

The little girl with wild curly Qs sprouting around her pixie ears, studies her mommy from the kitchen table, swinging her legs to the soundtrack of her two-year old mind. It goes something like this: Doo, da, da, Dee, Doo, da,da, Dee.

Mommy looks different today, she thinks.¬†No, it wasn’t that she was taller and it wasn’t that she got smaller, but mommy was certainly different.

She’d been told over and over that Mommy is “sick,” that Mommy’s medicine makes her tired, that she needs to be a good girl for Mommy, but no one told her this.¬†How come? Why not?¬†

The little girl strokes her curly Qs, pulling on one before letting it spring back into place. Wonder why mommy did that, she thinks. It looks kinda funny. Looks like Pap’s. Looks like my babies’. Wonder why.

She watches as Mommy makes her way to the bedroom and follows.

Mommy pulls a shirt or two from the dresser, playing dress up. The little girl watches. Mommy is good at dress up. Mommy has nice dress up clothes.

Before long Mommy and the little girl are joined by Drouchy, the dog. “Hi, Drouchy.”¬†She jumps up on the bed. “Ugh, move over, Drouchy!”¬†The little girl fights for space, deciding to use Drouchy to her advantage; as a head rest.

 Which baby should I take to school, she ponders, while popping another Goldfish in her mouth. Will I see Gigi today? Maybe Grammy. Why does Drouchy do that? Eww.

Now Mommy has work and the little girl will go to school. Mommy bundles her up and asks, “Which hat?” The little girl crinkles her nose as Mommy pulls the green sparkle one over her head.

“Sparkles.” “You want your sparkle hat too?” She nods and off they go.

On the way to school the little girl thinks of everything she loves starting with Mommy and Daddy, Gigi, Grammy, her Pappies, Goldfish, Babies, Playdough, and swimming.

She looks out of the window and wonders where the leaves went. Wonders if the trees are cold. She waves to the cows with their butts showing and wonders why they don’t wear pants.

At school the little girl plays with the other little kids. They play with babies, toys, and crayons. The little girl bounces about all day discovering answers to all of her questions, making friends, within minutes losing them, and making them again. The little girl with the curly Qs thinks of nothing but play all day.

But at 5:00 the little girl remembers her first question of the day. She sees Chloe’s Mommy, and Sarah’s Mommy, and Ryan’s Mommy.

At home the little girl lies on the bed with Mommy and Daddy. She rubs Mommy’s head. “It’s a wittle scwatchy.¬†Why you cut your hair?”¬†“Remember, Mommy’s medicine makes it fall out.” She rubs Mommy’s head again and after her dozens of questions and hypotheses, the little girl with the curly Qs comes to one conclusion;¬†“It’s crazy,” she says with a shrug.

The little girl lies her head against Mommy’s, the prickles tickling her ears. She snuggles against Daddy and let’s out a soft sigh, thinking how Chloe and Sarah don’t have sparkle hats like Mommy’s.


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New ‘do for you, sis

My new 'do for you, sis

My new ‘do for you, sis

This past Monday Abby and I had our hair chopped. I will be donating mine to Locks of Love. This weekend, during her visit, Abby will get a personal photo shoot with Filipp to debut her new ‘do! Yo, yo! Will keep you posted, readers! Much love, Liv


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