Both sides now

“Maintain healthy boundaries.”

That’s a saying I hear from the women’s empowerment culture. It is generally good advice to follow. I am not the only woman who has had difficulty saying no to demands on my time and my life.

I don’t want to get roped into an obligation that doesn’t benefit me—to accept the guilt or shame someone might be trying to project on me to control me.

I’ve joined in exercises with groups of women practicing saying NO!

I am sitting here holding a no in both hands. No more medical appointments. No more chemo. No more cancer!

I’ve had enough. This is the last straw.


There was another scan, and another test.

Good news! The breast cancer shows no sign of having spread.

Bad news. A totally separate and unrelated cancer in my thyroid is discovered. They are pleased to tell me that I am cleared for surgery to happen two weeks after my last chemo dose.

What?! I want to be done. I don’t want another procedure!

I’d like to throw up a strong boundary wall to protect myself from this intrusion.

And I remember—

There are two sides to a boundary. Some things have to be kept out.

Some things have to be kept in.

In my case, the enemy in the form of cancer already breached my boundary. I wanted that out.

But since it came in, I want to protect myself by shoving it out.

I would not have chosen one cancer, let alone two.

Deep breath. It’s here now, so my boundaries have to let the right answer in.

I am working to be ready to let that surgery happen. That’s holding my true boundary.

That’s the kind of strong woman I choose to be. To say my best NO for myself. When it is hard and requires strength and sacrifice.

the show

126 days of Chemo and I’m absolutely stir crazy to do something fun. Me and a 21 year old friend went to see Taylor Swift’s Eras concert movie. I figured I could sit in a chair for a few hours and see a spectacle.

It was incredible. I didn’t start out as a Swifty, but I’m converted. She put on an amazing glamorous, musical and suprisingly intimate show.

She is a very beautiful woman, with so many costume changes and an astounding body of work. It reminded me of Cher’s Believe tour which I also saw…in 1999, the year after Taylor was born

So much glamor, so many beautiful outfits and long blonde hair. I took it in huddling under two jackets shivering from anemia and AC blowing on my nearly naked head.

I felt very far from glamour and too weak to climb the cliff to get closer to it.

I wanted to collapse into a pile of pity. I had become a pile of misfit pieces, scraps half discarded and others pulled out of costume prop factories held together with pins and glue.

The show didn’t let me linger in my pity, because there was a new song or dance move every time I fell into that trap

When I got home and told my husband about it, he said “Taylor Swift isn’t even Taylor Swift.”

Oh yeah. She has costume props too…but with a bigger budget and a staff to help.

I remember when I was learning to put on the eyelashes. It was not easy. I landed that stickey strip on an unnatural angle. I would leave it there because I knew I couldn’t do better in the time I had before my first video meeting of the day.

The camera was forgiving, and I looked good enough. At the end of the day, my off angle lashes would still be haning on, and I’d confess to people I saw in person that I’d been learning to put in the falsies.

They didn’t care that it wasn’t real looking. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t right.

In the end, my friends and associated responded to my smile and welcoming positive attitude.

I’m hard on myself. It could be enough to open up my heart, and sing along to the parts I know. Most people don’t know all the lyrics, but I know I will have a better time if can stay in the spirit of enjoying the show

looking for what I can see

Living my life as an 80 year-old, I’m changing a few things. I don’t have the strength and endurance I had. I FEEL it when my dog walk turns on an incline. It’s slight, but I can tell instantly that I’m walking uphill.

More prominently, my preferences in reading material has shifted toward the less challenging. Yes, I like the beautifully written prose. And my brain is tired too. It’s like walking up a hill

High school freshman English class has my daughter reading House on Mango street. I have been avoiding that one for a while. It could be the perfect read for my weak mind.

The stories are like snapshots. Like a a box of photos from her childhood.

Some stories–some books—have a long wave of a story. An arc.

Cisneros’ book is like a life that is biopsied. She went into the long story of her childhood and took samples to examine.

It reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in that way. Snippets. Like glimpsed between the fence slats to the backyards I walk past. The words. The sentences.

What is it I’m seeing? I can’t quite see it but I kinda do see all of it.

I see why they have the kids read it. It’s very bite sized for teenagers.

And just enough for my worn out head.

I can’t see the whole picture right now. But maybe I kinda do see all of it.


There was a time when I could assume that all the parts of my body would work. Such a glorious symphony of cooperation.

That is what the doctors are relying on when they subject me to this cure. This strong poisonous medicine that is meant to kill the cancer disease dead, but which also damages a lot of the necessary parts of my system.

These medical people check their checklists. But their concerns are not the same as mine. They want to keep me out of their red zones.

But as I am a human figure, shifted in perspective and dissembled like a Picasso painting, I have to examine the pieces of myself and fit them back together into a mostly functioning whole.

This makes me think of witches. It’s the wisdom of Old Wives. Those stories…rub butter on a burn. Garlic helps with infection, you know. Ginger is good for digestion. There are many more of these tricks and cures.

Each self is unique, and what is bothersome to one is tolerable to another. The attention to the tiny details and comforts is the domain of loving relationship.

Also, someone who is willing to test out the cures and pay close attention to how it works.

Trying things with myself is a good start. Does this cure the itch? Does this help me sleep?

Then taking care of little children gives a lot of chances to take care of the little problems and learn their solutions.

I have to identify what’s not right in myself and practice the witchcraft science of following the clues of what’s worked for others to find the things that help me. I have to define what is wrong and then go on a quest to find what will make it right.

So this week I’m eating liver. It turns out that anemia is not just bad in my doctor’s opinion. Once I got some iron-rich liver in me I felt a lot more energetic.

Seems strange to me that the doctor left it to me to come up with that solution.

But the old wife in me met the challenge quite well.