I have an app on my phone that gives me a yoga quote every day. The idea is to take a quiet moment and read the daily quote, reflect upon its wisdom, then go about my day in a serene and float-y way.
Instead, I usually read the daily quote as I’m loading the dishwasher and scooting our little piggie Piper out of the way and hollering at my kids to turn down the TV and wondering where my grocery list is and trying to remember if I paid the lawn guys and hoping I remember to water the new shrubs before they shrivel and die a brown, crinkly death in these dog days of Texas summer.
What part of that is serene and float-y?
None. Nada. Zilch.
I’m coming to grips with the fact that I just don’t lead a serene and float-y life. Going to yoga helps, although I don’t think I’ll ever master the art of calming my mind, even in the midst of a perfect yoga class, in a darkened room with my favorite instructor with her calming voice and lovely music.
Adding the daily yoga quote to my hectic, too-busy day and to my static-y, not-calm mind was a somewhat-desperate attempt to impart even more calm to my spastic self. Some days a quote resonates with me, and some days I think, “Yeah, right.”
Today’s quote grabbed me, and not necessarily in a yoga way but in a more all-encompassing way.
“These days, my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life — for the ways things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is”. — Anne Cushman
That one got my attention and forced me to slow down (and to ignore the dishwasher, et al). My guess is that this quote applies to everyone, regardless of whether you’ve ever set foot in a yoga class or attempted a reclining pigeon pose. Of course this quote applies doubly to any of us who have faced a serious health crisis, such as a cancer diagnosis.
My first thought when I read this quote was about how much I’d love to be in the presence of Anne Cushman, whoever she is, and hope for osmosis. I’d love for her acceptance to permeate my body and mind. I’d really love to emulate her practice of “being present for exactly what is” especially as it relates to my post-cancer body.
If only there were a “being present” fairy. A lovely, serene, calming cousin to the Tooth Fairy, who would visit those of us who struggle after diagnosis. She could float into our windows while we sleep and sprinkle yoga-fairy dust around our pillows. She could whisper words of wisdom into our ears and smile knowingly as we nodded sleepily, eyes closed and minds calm. We would fall under her spell without even knowing it, and would awake from our typically-disjointed sleep, no longer plagued by hot flashes or night sweats or nightmares about recurrence. We would emerge from non-tangled, not-sweaty sheets, refreshed and renewed and filled with compassion for the many ways in which things didn’t turn out how we expected. We would smile as we alighted from bed, bathed in calm and knowing that we now have the power to embrace our imperfections. We would no longer instinctively avoid our reflections in the mirror; that part of our minds that tells us “Don’t look! It’s not pretty! It’s not the same!” would be erased, no longer needed. We would cease the relentless and futile pursuit of “fixing things” about our bodies and souls post-cancer. Instead, we would smile sweetly at the broken parts and love them because of, not despite, their imperfections.
Susan Gubar has done it again. She’s written another fantastic post for The New York Times‘s Well blog. This one is about The Scar Project, which is near and dear to my heart. Perhaps it’s a theme this week: scars, invisible and visible, and how we cancerchicks live with them for the rest of our lives. The women pictured in The Scar Project will have a long, long time to figure out how to live with those scars, as they are all under the age of 40.
Says Gubar of the young women portrayed: “The youthfulness of David Jay’s subjects wrenches me. Unlike them, I had a good span of my adult life — more than 60 years — before treatment. Their bodies stopped being their own too soon. Did their selves also stop being their own too soon? Cancer scars are physical mutilations of and on the body; but, more than that, cancer scars the psyche, the soul, the spirit. The ‘me’ before cancer is not the ‘me’ after cancer. Nor can these identities always be sutured.”
Yes, Susan Gubar, I think it’s safe to say that our bodies and our selves did indeed stop being their own too soon. I was 40 when I was diagnosed, which is old by The Scar Project standards, but I can say with certainty that it totally sucks to have been denied a good span of my adult life before cancer . It’s a drag. Because estrogen feeds my cancer, and many other varieties of breast cancer, I had to shut off the supply of that vital hormone. Being forcefully fast-forwarded into menopause also sucks. Aging on an unnatural timeframe, well ahead of my peers, does too. Having to face mortality decades in advance extracts a heavy toll on us cancerchicks. We want to live long, healthy normal lives; we want to see our children grow up. We hope that cancer doesn’t have other plans for us. Gubar touches on this, too, writing this about the young women portrayed in The Scar Project photos: “The ones that grip me stare at the photographer — at me — defiant. They want to live. I want them to live. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, David Jay seeks to unsettle a ‘public anesthetized by pink ribbons and fluffy teddy bears.’” Unsettle away, Mr Jay.
Gubar writes that “David Jay’s portraits contain images of women whose bared breasts look crumpled, concave, synthetic, reconstructed without or with reconfigured nipples, stitched horizontally or vertically or at an acute angle, lumpy, lopsided, wounded, or hacked off. Bravery resides there, beauty elsewhere.”
Wounded. Hacked off. Those descriptions apply both to my body and my soul. My body is wounded, and like my cancer-ridden breasts, I am hacked off. That this disease happens. That it takes so much from those who are so young. That it steals so much beauty, both internal and external. That the scars that remain are so upsetting, so unsettling. That this disease robs us of our youthfulness and our peace of mind. That the cancer experience changes who we are, forever, and not always in ways that are good or positive.
Gubar says that before cancer, she may have been perceived as being “ungrateful for an intact body, taking for granted organs that functioned normally, arrogant about the boons of health, ignorant of the preciousness of life.” As the old saying goes, we don’t know what we’ve got til its gone, and so too it is with cancer. Pre-cancer, I didn’t think about an intact body, fully functional organs, the boons of health and the preciousness of life the way I do now. While there are days I’m grateful to be up and about and not confined to a hospital bed or tethered to an IV pole, there are many more days in which I’m hacked off. While I take notice of air filling my lungs and appreciate my stamina at the gym, that appreciation is tempered by sadness at what I had to go through. While I am happy that I’m capable of achieving strength and fitness again after the cancer, surgeries, infection, and treatment took their pound of flesh (literally), I’m pissed that my triumph is bested by the omnipresent fear of recurrence.
I can identify with Gubar 100 percent when she says, “I remember the ‘me’ before cancer nostalgically. My earlier self could … connect with family and friends spontaneously and lavishly. At times I visualize the diagnosis as a gun aimed at a flying bird — pitched down from the sky in an instant to lie fluttering on the ground.”
Susan Gubar ends her beautiful article by pointing out that “the young women in The Scar Project were gunned down while just trying their wings. With courage, the wounded survivors bear invisible scar tissue beneath the physical scars of cancer: the haunting lost person each might have become, had it not been for the disease. They live, but not the lives they would have led.”
In my ongoing rant against Pinktober, I’ve asked the question many times without getting an answer: what does all the breast cancer “awareness” make us more aware of, exactly?
I ask in all seriousness. I know what I think when I see a package of paper towels all decked out in a pink-ribboned wrapper, but I’m curious about the average, non-cancer-infested person. How does breast cancer “awareness” affect those who’ve not personally been waylaid by breast cancer? If I were just some normal person, going about my daily life and I saw an ad in the window of the TGF Hair Salon advertising their “Clip for the Cure” promotion, what would my reaction be? If I were not unwillingly strapped into the pink dress, would the “squeeze a boob, save a life” bumper stickers make me want to choke someone?
When people see breast cancer “awareness” products and services, do they think, “Oh my gosh, women (and men) are suffering from and dying from this terrible disease?” Do they think, “Damn, I’m sure glad I don’t have that!” or perhaps “Why does that damned breast cancer get all the attention?” or maybe even “mmmmm, breasts” in a caveman-like tone?
Apparently there was a time, not so very long ago, in which I was some normal person, going about my daily life. I don’t recall specifically reacting to any breast cancer “awareness” messages or intentionally buying pinked-up crap because I thought it would save some unfortunate woman’s life. I doubt I gave it much thought at all. Even very recently, as I went about my daily life and scheduled my annual well-woman exam, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When my OB-GYN wrote out the orders for my annual mammogram and I made the appointment and I showed up on that day and I changed into a gown and I stowed my belongings in a locker with a key and I waited in that ugly gown in a freezing cold room set up to look like a spa except for the TV blaring some dumb morning show that was most definitely not relaxing, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” (BTW, if I ever do go to a spa that has a TV blaring some dumb morning show, I will turn on my heel and walk out.)
When the mammogram tech chatted with me about how I’m young for an annual mammogram and I explained that I’ve been getting one since I was 36 because my mom died of a reproductive cancer, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” I expected the report to come back telling me I had dense breast tissue but no changes had been detected from the last year so I was free to go live my life unscathed for another year, until my next mammogram. When it didn’t exactly turn out like that, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” After my last mammogram, as I waited in the freezing cold room once again with the TV still blaring some dumb morning show while the mammogram tech showed my images to the radiologist on duty, I thought not of breast cancer “awareness” but of how much longer that appointment would take because I had a long list of things to do. When instead of being told I was free to change out of the ugly gown and back into my regular clothes, I was called back into the screening room so the radiologist could get a few more images, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When the radiologist suggested we do an ultrasound in addition to the mammogram, and when her gel-covered want hovered over a certain part of my right breast while she made an upsetting and not-very-well-disguised frowny face, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When the frowny-faced radiologist declined to answer any of my questions about what she thought she was seeing on the ultrasound screen and when the mammo tech gently patted my shoulder, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness,” beyond being “aware” that this situation had all the makings of a disaster–a really big, really bad disaster.
When my OB-GYN got the radiologist’s report and called me to say I needed to make an appointment with a breast specialist, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When I called to make the appointment with the specialist and noticed that the name of her practice was Southwest Surgical Associates, I didn’t think much breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy wondering why on earth my OB-GYN had given me the number of a surgeon. When the receptionist at Southwest Surgical Associates said I needed to go ahead and schedule a biopsy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because my whirring brain had not quite caught up with my common sense, which would have told me to panic.
While the breast specialist injected me with lidocaine before she inserted a hollow-cored and very sharp needle into my right breast, then twisted that needle to extract a tissue sample deep within my body, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy going to my happy place to avoid the searing pain that spread across my chest, despite the lidocaine. When the breast specialist, who at that point was just the breast specialist and not my breast specialist, double checked the coordinates on the ultrasound machine that guided her as she scooped out the tissue sample, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was craning my neck trying to see what she was seeing on that screen. When she was all done and bent down to her little freezer to give me a few ice packs to stick into my bra, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering if the ice packs were too noticeable to stop me from running into the grocery store on my way home.
When the breast surgeon’s nurse Sharon called me a few days later to make sure I wasn’t driving before she said that the doctor needed me to “put her on my social calendar” I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was consumed with a feeling of dread more palpable than anything I’d ever experienced. When I (unfairly) pressed Sharon to tell me over the phone how bad it was and she back pedaled, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was picking apart her every word and intonation for clues to how bad this really was.
When I drove to the breast surgeon’s office the next afternoon, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was instead thinking about how I was going to get ahold of Trevor, who was out of town, to deliver the verdict before he boarded his plane. While I waited in the breast surgeon’s waiting room, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering whether I’d get out of there in time to go home and grab my kids then get across town–in rush hour–for my cousin’s 60th birthday celebration. When the breast specialist said that the biopsy did not look good, I wasn’t thinking about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering if I’d live to see my kids grow up. As the breast surgeon–who went from a breast surgeon to my breast surgeon–told me very matter-of-factly that it was indeed cancer, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was focused on the pounding of my heart and the feeling of life as I knew it being replaced by a very undesirable alternative. As my breast surgeon laid out the options for ridding my body of its unwelcome visitor, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was already dressing for battle. When she told me she didn’t want me to make a decision about surgery for at least 5 days, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because my brain was full of slash-and-burn thoughts toward this cancer. When Trevor said he was ditching his business trip and catching the next plane out, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy convincing him to stay, because if he changed his plans and aborted his trip, I could no longer operate under the (temporary) assumption that everything was ok.
While I worked the phones and manipulated my calendar to get through the myriad scans and tests required to see if this cancer had spread to other parts of my body, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was still trying to make sense of the fact that at the age of 40, I was a cancer patient. As I researched oncologists and made appointments for them to review my case, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had a breast surgeon and an oncologist. Sitting in the oncologists’ waiting rooms, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was focused on the fact that every single person in those rooms was a good 20 years older than me, and I was pleading with the powers that be to please, please, please let me live another 20 years.
As I scheduled my bilateral mastectomy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy counting exactly how many days there were between the surgery and the last day of school, knowing I would need as much child-free time as possible to heal. When I explained to my kids what was going on, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was desperately searching for the right words to convince them that they weren’t going to watch me die from cancer they way they’d watched my mom die from it.
Healing from the surgery that left me battered, bruised, sore, scarred, and very, very flat (and not just in my chest), I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy emptying the 4 JP drains that sprung from my body and tugged and hurt like hell. As I searched in vain in my closet for something, anything, that might make me feel good about myself when I put it on, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was preoccupied with wondering if I would ever get used to my new profile.
And when the post-mastectomy infection took over my body and once again turned my life upside down, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying rather hard to stay alive. Upon being hospitalized for 9 days straight just 3 weeks after my mastectomy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy getting sicker and sicker while the doctors tried to keep me from going septic. When I was hospitalized a month later and then again 3 days after that hospital stay, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was consumed with worry about whether the infection could be contained. As I endured 267 days of powerful antibiotics, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was nauseated and utterly beaten down. When I decided to undergo DIEP reconstruction to get a blood supply to the oft-excavated and much-ruined chest wall, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was planning how to endure a 5-to-7 night hospital stay, including a night in the ICU. When I left the hospital with 6 JP drains and a fragile peace between the transplanted blood vessels and their new host site, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was on high alert for flap failure. As I recovered from that surgery, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was, well, recovering from a pretty intense surgery. As I endured two more revision surgeries, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was railing against the much-promoted fallacy that “at least you get new boobs.”
As I began life as a breast cancer survivor, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy trying to live my life as a breast cancer survivor. With the passage of time and the re-introduction of non-cancer-related things to my life, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying mighty hard to get back on track. As each cancerversary approached–date of diagnosis, date of mastectomy, date of infection, date of reconstruction–I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was thanking my lucky stars that all that was behind me. Then as I realized that “all that” may well be “behind” me but it’s always, always, always going to be a part of me, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy feuding with the unruly monkey on my back. As thoughts of recurrence snake through my subconscious on a regular basis (say, every.single.day), I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m way too busy talking myself down off the ledge. When the inevitable thoughts of “why me?” enter my head, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m committed to not RSVPing to that pity party. While I’m working my way back to my former state of fitness and wholeness at the gym and am surrounded by perfectly round, non-cancerfied breast implants, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because it takes all my energy to not feel really bad about my post-cancer body. As I gear up for the thrice-yearly oncology appointments and the biannual checkups with my breast surgeon, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m busy, very busy, following my dear friend Amy’s advice of “don’t borrow trouble” (yet those pesky thoughts of “what if” are very determined to infiltrate my postive-thinking brain).
While I spend a whole lot of my time not thinking much about breast cancer “awareness,” the current culture of Pinktober makes it damn near impossible to not think about it, multiple times a day. Open the newspaper and see the Wacoal ad. Flip on the TV and see pink splattered all over NFL stadiums. Drive down the road and see inane bumper stickers and their infuriating references to the ta tas and the boobies and the girls. Go to the grocery store for necessities and run smack-dab into a sky-high pyramid of pink-labeled Campbells soup cans, which more than likely are chock full of BPA, which has been shown to cause cancer. While in the store, run across a woman wearing a ridiculous t-shirt and accost her for doing so. Tune in for the presidential candidates’ debate hoping to hear a reference to a plan to confront the breast cancer epidemic but come away with nothing but a watered-down homage by the First Lady and the first lady wannabe.
After all this, my question still stands: what does all the breast cancer “awareness” make us more aware of, exactly?
You may not know her name, or you may know her only from her pageant past. Now you’ll know her as yet another victim of the breast cancer beast. Eva Ekvall, former Miss Venezuela, died Saturday. She was 28 years old.
28 years old.
She was diagnosed shortly after giving birth to her daughter, who is now two years old. Way too young to lose her mama. As far as I can tell, one is always too young to lose one’s mama.
Ekvall died Saturday at a hospital here in Houston. Another casualty of the breast cancer beast.
Her death is garnering attention because she was famous, and because she was so young. She was crowned Miss Venezuela when she was 17 years old, then clinched the third runner-up title in the Miss Universe pageant in 2001. After that, she worked as a model, actress and TV news anchor. All of those accomplishments are notable and interesting, and no doubt her physical beauty propelled her to success. What impresses me most of all, however, has nothing to do with her work on TV or runways but her work as an author.
Fuera de Foco (“Out of Focus”) chronicles her struggle with cancer, and she included some graphic photos of herself during her cancer battle. Of the book she had said, “I needed to send the message of the need for cancer prevention.” She gets extra kudos from me for focusing on prevention as well as baring herself in less-than-flattering photos. In a culture some would say is obsessed with looks, she was brave to show the real side of cancer. The ugly truth.
For Ekvall to appear on the cover of the book with a shorn head must have been a scary thing for a woman who was raised in the pageant world and who made her living based on her appearance. She wasn’t shy about showing photos of herself as she was during treatment. “I hate to see photos in which I come out ugly. But you know what? Nobody ever said cancer is pretty or that I should look like Miss Venezuela when I have cancer.”
Nobody ever said cancer is pretty. Amen to that.
Anyone who’s endured the cancer “journey” or has cared for someone on the “journey” will find the above photo familiar. For Ekvall, the 8-month regime of chemotherapy, radiation, and then a mastectomy left her exhausted, bald, and puffy from steroids. Of this stage of her life, she said, “It’s painful to look at yourself in the mirror. Your face gets swollen. You lose every single hair in your body – your eyebrows, your eyelashes. You become some weird animal or something, you don’t recognise yourself. That was scary. Especially because my job has to do with my looks. I had to look decent and not appear sick.”
Such a tremendous burden: the pressure to look good and look healthy. To paint a rosy picture of a situation that is anything but pretty. I am in awe of her courage and honesty.
When presented with the idea for the book and photos by Venezuelan photographer Roberto Mata, she was hesitant. “In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I looked good or not. Then I realised that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t supposed to look good, I had cancer. The pictures were very shocking because nobody had ever seen me that way. Nobody had seen me bald, without makeup.”
I’m so glad she did tell her story.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Giuliana Rancic’s breast cancer diagnosis in October or her decision to have a double lumpectomy or her announcement that her double lumpectomy has morphed into a double mastectomy. Much has been written about it, and she’s done the talk-show circuit, and I didn’t feel the need to comment on the latest celeb to begin a cancer “journey.” However, the more I read about her story, the more compelled I am to comment.
First, when her cover issue of People magazine hit the newsstands, it nearly caused me to have a heart attack. I was mindlessly unloading my loot from my shopping cart and putting it on the conveyor belt when I caught a glimpse of this:
I didn’t notice the photo or her name, but was drawn in by the bold yellow headline and wondered, who’s that and what’s she got that is serious enough that she has to fight for her life??? Imagine my shock when I read the fine print and realized that it’s Giuliana Rancic and she’s got what I had — breast cancer. After the shock wore off, I thought I’d better see how serious her diagnosis is; after all, if she’s fighting for her life, it must be bad. I’m thinking stage 4 with mets everywhere.
The article in People, titled “The Fight of My Life,” speaks of her “devastating cancer diagnosis.” I’m thinking this is really bad.
As I read on, though, I learned that her BC was caught early and had not spread.
So does this mean that early-stage, non-metastatic BC qualifies one to be deemed “fighting for one’s life”? If that’s the case, what does that mean for women whose BC is not early stage and has spread?
This kind of overwrought journalism really bugs me. I know that People has to sell mags, but good grief, how about a little truth in advertising? The cover story of “I’M FIGHTING FOR MY LIFE” in big, bold letters nearly caused me to stroke out, and left me thinking I really underplayed my BC story. My cancer was in both breasts, not just one, and I never declared that I was fighting for my life. I’m thinking I seriously mishandled this.
I’m certainly not one to kick a sister when she’s down. That’s not my intent at all. I wish her the best; I truly do. Cancer is a terrible thing, no matter what age or what stage one is when diagnosed, and I certainly don’t mean to give Rancic grief — she’s enduring enough of that as is. However, I do wonder about some of the comments she’s made. I was hoping they were taken out of context, but ….
She said that the double lumpectomy didn’t get all the cancer so she was moving forward with a bilateral mastectomy, and I totally support her saying that deciding to have a mastectomy “was not an easy decision but it was the best decision for me.” Agreed. But when she went on to say “Not only can it [mastectomy] save your life, but you can come out feeling healthier and with a positive self-image”
Ladies, raise your hand if your bilateral mastectomy left you feeling healthier and with a positive self-image.
Come on, show of hands.
On The Wendy Williams Show the other day, Rancic spoke openly about her surgery and how she thinks it will affect her: “Listen, I love my girls, but I’m gonna feel more like a woman when this is all done.”
“I’ll be able to say that I survived something major and it’s made me stronger. I will be a better woman for it.”
I hope she’s not setting herself up for a very big, very traumatic fall.
Rancic went on to say that “scars are beautiful. I think scars tell a story.”
Yep, there’s a story there all right. Millions of women can attest to that. There is most definitely a story there. Hopefully not a horror story.
I wonder if she’s seen any images from The SCAR Project. I was blown away by photographer David Jay’s shots the first time I saw them, and receiving The SCAR Project book is one of the best gifts ever (thank you, Trevor). The women are beautiful, and their strength and kick-assed-ness is beautiful. The scars, not so much.
Giuliana Rancic speculated of her breasts after reconstruction: “They might come out looking even hotter. You gotta have fun with this. We find the humor in everything. Bill helped pick ’em out. I’m like, ‘Bill, that big? Really?'”
They might come out looking even hotter.
I’m gonna have to linger on that idea for a minute.
And when I’m done, I will contemplate the damage that occurs when people say things that imply that facing breast cancer is a tidy event that requires surgery and treatment then fast-forward on to the happily ever after. While the happily ever after certainly can, and does, happen, I think it’s misleading to say that BC is something you deal with and move on. The idea that after cancer comes transcendence is flawed. The idea that all you have to do is wrap a big pink ribbon around a cancer battle is flawed. The idea that everyone comes away from breast cancer a better, stronger person is flawed. It’s not that easy, it’s certainly not pretty, and it doesn’t always result in the kind of change you would consider positive.
In speaking of Rancic’s mastectomy, her husband Bill said, “Our goal is to be done with this by Christmastime and not look back. We’re taking the rear view mirror off the car and we’re not looking back, because we’re going to be done.” Well, considering she had the surgery two days ago, and is still in the hospital, I hope she’s “done” by Christmastime. It’s good to have goals.
Maybe the whole cancer thing is still too fresh for me, too raw, but the idea of not looking back is weird and foreign and borderline incomprehensible. Maybe there’s a pair of magic “don’t look back” glasses that gets passed out upon diagnosis, and I missed out on that. I can see how that might happen as I’m always in a hurry and might have scooted out of Dr D’s office before anyone had a chance to give me the “don’t look back” glasses. Or perhaps I was supposed to get them from my oncologist, but was so freaked out by the fact that I have an oncologist that I ran out of his office before I got the magic glasses. Maybe Giuliana got her glasses in advance; one of the perks of being a celeb and having cancer. Personally, I don’t know how one can experience a cancer “journey” and not look back. I hope it works out for her.
If any of y’all are going to be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve, look out for Giuliana. And be sure you don’t bump into her. Those mastectomy scars and JP drain holes take a while to heal.
As I may have mentioned once or twice in this space, I love champagne. It’s one of my all-time favorite things on Earth. Now that my kids are off to school (hallelujah!) I have plenty of time to wax poetic about my favorite drink. I could drink champagne every day; contrary to popular opinion, a special occasion is not necessary. But there’s nothing more festive and celebratory than the pop of a cork. and I don’t hesitate to find a reason to drink some bubbly.
National Pancake Day? Bring it on. Armistice Day? Don’t mind if I do. Birthdays & major holidays? Duh. International Margarita Day? I’m not afraid to mix my liquors.
Not only is La Grande Dame a superb champagne, it also has a great story behind it. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Clicquot and was widowed after 7 years during the late 1700s. Francois left his family’s business — champagne-making — to her. At age 27 and knowing little of the fledgling business, she took the reins of the company and never looked back. She invented champagne-making techniques that are still in use today, and those greatly reduced production time, which means less time for the bubbly to get in my glass. She became one of the shrewdest — and wealthiest — businesswomen in France, and IMHO she deserves a place in history.
There’s a book about her called The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. I’m a sucker for girl-power stories, so I bought the book, but had trouble reading it because it made me so dadgum thirsty. There are a few things I was able to glean, though, that are worth sharing about the widow who was “a young witness to the dramatic events of the French Revolution and a new widow during the chaotic years of the Napoleonic Wars.” Sounds exciting even without the bubbly.
Barbe-Nicole rebelled against convention by taking over the Clicquot family wine business. She was brave and ballsy, and through “dizzying political and financial reversals” she became one of the world’s first great businesswomen. By her late 30s, she was one of the richest women in France. Clicquot sales are estimated to have been $30 million a year under her command. One of her lasting legacies was to portray champagne drinking as a lifestyle. She “took champagne from marginal to mainstream and made it synonymous with style,” according to the book about her.
I’m not a big French Revolution history buff, and I won’t bore anyone with the details on the first day of school (hooray!!!), but suffice to say that Barbe-Nicole was smart enough to realize that if she could get the Russians hooked on her bubbly, she’s have it made. She “arranged clandestine and perilous champagne deliveries to Russia one day and entertained Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte on another.” Toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, she cornered the Russian market by gambling 10,000 bottles of her best vintage. The Russians took the bait, and she became the queen of the bubbly.
The occasion for my enormous treat surprisingly had nothing at all to do with cancer. It wasn’t the marking of a milestone or the celebration of a clear scan or other good news. It wasn’t a drowning of sorrows, which is a very good thing, because all the drinking that’s been required since cancer came to town would make a very deep river.
No, the occasion was a reward for a little party-planning provided for my runnin’ buddy Staci’s 40th birthday fete. I helped her hubby, my buddy The Rajah, plan her soiree and he was kind enough to show his appreciation by flashing the beloved yellow bottle. He’d been teasing me with it for weeks while I was out of town, texting to tell me he was making mimosas with it — oh the horror! The humanity! The thought of mixing such a fine wine made me nearly weep. He’s soooooo funny.
The moment just before the lovely lady was opened, at La Vista (which is such a great restaurant. If you live anywhere near Houston and haven’t eaten there — go there tonight!!). It was a beautiful moment, ripe with anticipation. The bottle glistened with condensation after being chilled in an ice bucket table-side. I kept it as close to me as possible while it chilled. I fretted over it like it was a newborn baby fussing in a Moses basket — was it cold enough? too cold? just right?
As soon as I heard the pop of the cork, I knew — it was indeed just right.
Tiny, tiny bubbles that hit the bottom of the glass and skyrocketed upward in an elegant trip to the open mouth of the glass. Beautiful amber color, like the last rays of the sunset after a most-perfect day. Teensy hint of fruit and even teensier hint of yeast. The delicate scent of bubbles and dry-but-not-bitter loveliness. From the first sip, it was apparent that this was vintage. This was the good stuff.
That’s my version. Here’s another:
“Known among connoisseurs as one of the finest champagnes in the world, it’s the pride and joy of the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Ethereal, free and original, the Grande Dame teases aficionados with its rarity, making an appearance only when nature offers a concordance of perfect conditions.” — eat, love, savor magazine
Well, nature certainly did offer a concordance of perfect conditions, when a group of friends gathered at the end of the summer to celebrate the passage of time, the newest member of the “over-40 club,” and the savoring of the finer things in life. Cheers to the good life! And thanks, Rajah!