Hopes for Healing

During our Head Shaving Party last month, Lucy and Bayla provided each guest with strips of white electrical tape and the opportunity to mark and share the stories of their scars – powerful evidence for our young daughters that each life includes a share of scrapes; that we heal and grow and life goes on.

We hoped to put in perspective the seven inches of scars I’ve added to my collection since this challenge began, the looming possibilities of bilateral mastectomy and ovariectomy, and the great unknown beyond.

It was a fun mixer for Luba and it made for some good photos. But looking back, today, I am rocked by the resilience of our two guests to the right. The tape fails to show that both Bob and Jamie have lost brothers.

Jamie celebrates the life of his brother, David, today.

Wishing healing and strength for both friends and their families.

Frozen Forgiveness

There are tonnes of things I love about living in Ottawa, and the Rideau Canal Skateway is number one, hands down.

In twenty-four winters of hopes dashed or bettered, I have never had a harsh word for the skateway.

Even when I went through to my thigh in ice-cold water (which is what I deserved for skating out of bounds).

Even when I sprained my thumb and had to forgo my very first xc-ski race (which is what I should have expected when skating with a brain-injured friend — twice my size).

Even when it melts and freezes and melts and freezes, when it’s bumpy, or crowded, or narrow, or short or when snow-covered cracks threaten to send me flying.

I absolutely always excuse it. I fiercely defend it. I’m unconditionally grateful when it’s open. I focus only on what’s good.

If only forgiveness were always so easy.

Happiness Is…

Long, strong friendships.


In a crowded Calculus lecture hall, first year at Waterloo, I spied a gangly guy in a fedora. In the twenty-six years since then, Bill and I have covered a lot of ground.

We made it through school, we braved bears on both Canadian coasts, we hitched a freighter to Labrador, biked past icebergs and camped among braying elk and screeching racoons. We drank a lot of coffee. We skied, we biked, we hiked, we drove.

We grew up. We stayed friends.

And what a friend. Bill has brightened our days throughout this challenge with delicious home cooked meals, healthful gifts and weekly visits. He’s subjected himself to gruelling afternoons of Life, Clue and Twister with Lucy and Bayla. And he’s turning the winter of their mom’s chemo into our girls’ first season of thrilling cross-country skiing adventures.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Bill Flanagan.


On July 1st, 1993, as we giddily embarked on a 7,550 km bike ride across Canada, I was greeted by the beaming smile, hand-painted Winnie-the-Pooh helmet and lime green cycling jacket of my soon-to-be best friend, Jay.

In the sixteen years since our cross-country meeting, Jay and I have survived headwinds, sunburns and soaked tents along the Icefields Parkway, the B.C. Gulf Islands and, scariest of all, rural Ontario. Our friendship has stretched to accomodate her adventurous years in Asia and my consuming years of early motherhood. We’ve skied, biked and skated. We’ve ranted and raved.

And our dependable weekly evenings of food, drinks and celebration-or-venting have kept me sane when little else could.

In October, Jay assured me, “We are going to get you through this.” With her weekly visits, her healing connections, her delicious home cooked meals and her weekend getaways for Luba, I know she’s absolutely right.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Jay Schmidt.

Ordinary is the new extraordinary

As part of the process of rationalizing something for myself, I’d like to tell you about a few people we know.

The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre and Chemotherapy Clinic have some amazing volunteers. Patricia and Dave, in particular, come to mind. When they greet you, you feel like you’re someone and you’ve arrived someplace you want to be. They happily escort you wherever you need to be and answer any questions you have. They’re just happy to do that for you; never mind that you may be stressed or feeling physically or emotionally crappy. They can turn around your attitude, feelings and outlook. If you ask them, though, Patricia and Dave will tell you they’re “just volunteers” and love helping out.

Most parents in Ottawa know or know of Little Ray. He’s the co-founder of Little Ray’s Reptile Adventure, a reptile zoo in the south end of the city. His collection includes abandoned pets from owners who had no clue what they were getting into, and he has even received wild reptiles that were rescued and in some cases confiscated by the authorities.

Besides his zoo and its amazing demonstrations, parties and eco-education programs, Little Ray is regularly invited into schools, conducts home-based birthday parties and exhibits in fairs all over the place. His passion for animals, education programs and life is completely infectious. Over lunch with Little Ray yesterday, I was caught up in how he can make you excited to learn and enjoy life. If you ask Little Ray, he’s “just living his dream”.

Meanwhile, Little Ray carried on about how inspired he is by our website and our transparency as we share Andrea’s journey to becoming a breast cancer survivor (see Little Ray’s blog post about being inspired by us).

For a good chunk of our journey, many people have remarked to Andrea and me how inspiring we are. Besides Little Ray, I received three emails with that message yesterday. I generally have difficulty understanding and accepting that idea. And then, when I consider how we view Patricia, Dave, Little Ray and many other people in our lives, I realize that ordinary may be the new extraordinary.

For Better or For Worse #1: Friends

Friend. Friend means hope, friend means laughter, kindness, joy,  excitment and peace. Lucky,  lucky us we are sorrounded by amazingly  caring people – friends. They squeeze us into after school programs, they walk us home from Q4, they bring us food (yum!), they have Bayla and me over at their houses and much, much more. THANK YOU!!!!!!

Ask for and accept help

Happiness Is…

My Family.

Based on the shouting, stomping, screaming and slamming of doors, our neighbours would never guess that our feisty little family is my absolute bliss.

We’re more BLAM! (Bayla, Lucy, Andrea, Mark) than Lamb (Lucy, Andrea, Mark, Bayla) but I wouldn’t trade even our most explosive family moments for the world….

…OK, now I’m just lying for no reason (AD).

But really, my feisty little family is my absolute bliss.

Image: Ian PK of KilMil.com

The Warrior Theme

I can’t help sharing again here a sampling of this absolutely overwhelming and magical show of support (we originally posted at our JustOneMoreBook! children’s literature/literacy site). Thank you Mark and Thank you to all the fabulous creative friends who are supporting me! xoxo

The day after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Mark sent a personal email to every one of the 220 interview guests of Just One More Book!! asking each if they would leave a voice message on our hotline sending me good wishes. Mark’s plan was to create a CD of audio messages I could listen to during recovery from surgery and during my chemotherapy treatments.

The messages started to pour in immediately (Henry Winkler responded first, within minutes). In all, 126 messages came from authors, illustrators, librarians and publishers from around the world (including England, Spain and Israel) and ranged from newcomers to celebrities.

Many of the messages were more than just good wishes. Some people recited poems or sang songs they wrote specially for me. Some related their own experiences with cancer and others offered to speak on the phone anytime I wanted someone to talk to. An overwhelming 75 minutes of audio! Plus, I received a number of packages in the mail — handwritten cards with original artwork, t-shirts, books, CDs and other gifts. I even received two “bionic” candy apples.

In fact, we received so many messages that Mark realized he needed to create a summary audio clip for me so I could get a quick hit of support and energy any time I needed it. The result is an audio collage called The Warrior Theme packaged over Sunshine and Starlight, a fantastic instrumental by Bjork Ostrom.

There are too many names to transcribe and link to from this post. Instead, listen carefully to everyone who so generously contributed, many of whom continued to send kind wishes and check-in messages throughout this challenge to date.

With all these creative beams shining in on us, we’re sure to sail smoothly to a swift, complete and permanant recovery!

Get Well Wishes from some Rock Stars of Reading

We treasure this touching Get Well message and can’t help sharing it again here (we originally posted at our JustOneMoreBook! children’s literature/literacy site)…

Our friend author Richard Michelson arranged and sent us this amazing video Get Well message which was filmed on November 8, 2009 during the 20th Annual Children’s Illustration Show at the Richard Michelson gallery. The video features an incredible gathering of authors and illustrators sending get well soon wishes to me. How cool is that?!

A huge Thank you to everyone who beamed us these good wishes and to Richard for the beautiful sentiment. We missed you this year and we’ll be there for sure in 2010!

YouTube Preview Image

Front Row: Heidi Stemple, Rebecca Guay, Jane Dyer, Jeanne Birdsall, Diane deGroat, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Nonny Hogrogian, Susan Yard Harris.
Second Row: Brooke Dyer, Shelley Rotner, Norton Juster, Jane Yolen, Lesléa Newman, Brian Karas, Barry Moser, Susan Pearson, Anna Alter, Alice Schertle.
Third Row: Wendell Minor, Jeff Mack, Rich Michelson, Kathy Brown, Nancy Sippel Carpenter, Jeannine Atkins, David Kherdian.
Back Row: Carol Weiss, Mo Willems, Scott Fischer, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Mordicai Gerstein, Paul Jacobs.

Out of the Mouth of Bayla #4: Because of Chemo

You know how if you are having chemotherapy you don’t really want your child(ren) to be there so the first thing that pops into your head is “oh let’s send them to a friend’s house” or “hey let’s send them to their grandparent’s house”, my grandparents are going to pick me and my sister (Lucy) up from school today. I feel useless because I can’t help after chemo.

Reflections on Family

“Why does she want me?” Coraline asked the cat. “Why does she want me to stay here with her?”

“She wants something to love, I think,” said the cat. “Something that isn’t her. She might want something to eat as well. It’s hard to tell with creatures like that.”

The other mother shook her head, very slowly. “Sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” she said, “is a daughter’s ingratitude. Still, the proudest spirit can be broken, with love.” And her long white fingers waggled and caressed the air.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
HarperTrophy, 2002

Journey Learning #3: Wow

Scrambling through a stuffed slate of commitments, from the wee hours of morning til the wee hours of night, we often glimpse others while they’re scrambling just the same.

This challenge has provided me with the opportunity to stop, spot and soak in the real goodness of the many people who have squeezed, and continue to squeeze, time into their own busy schedules to shine light on our family.

My life is brimming with good, good people.

I am immensely grateful.

Meeting Myself

Words of wisdom from Cheryl Crowe, breast cancer survivor:

I remember my radiologist saying to me, “Your mission now is to ask yourself every day, ‘Am I doing what I want to be doing?'” And  I do ask myself that, every day. I try to make the answer yes, even if it requires saying the word no and disappointing someone.

My experience was about letting go. It was about really experiencing all that was happening at the deepest emotional level, for that is where the big changes occur. That is where you meet yourself. Where you begin remembering who you are and who you were meant to be. I don’t believe you have to be diagnosed to come to these lessons, but sometimes the catastrophic moments in life force you to focus in on the immediate.

“Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” by Kris Carr.
Skirt! Publications, 2007