Boots

Sarah and I have just arrived to the ornate Providence Performing Arts Center settled in the heart of downtown Providence. We are about an hour early to the 7:30 show: An Evening with David Sedaris. In front of us is a vendor selling his works. To the left I spot an unassuming table with a sign that reads: “Please no photos”. I’ve never seen David Sedaris in person aside from a promotional headshot or two but I’m willing to make an educated guess that the man at that table is not the representative for RI NPR. In a fit of nerd-ity I gasp and whisper to Sarah: “that’s him!”

Our early arrival afforded us the opportunity to step in line behind just four or five other people to have him sign my copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. As I consider what I would like to say to him I observe his interactions with other fans. He has a kind face, he’s making eye contact, he’s engaging the fans, really listening to what they have to say. Full conversations are happening beyond the anticipated: “who do I make this out to? Pam? P-A-M? Oh, two M’s. Okay thanks for coming out PAMM.” Sedaris takes his time with each person.

My turn presents itself sooner than anticipated and I look back at Sarah wide-eyed. She shoo’s me along like a supportive mother sending her baby off on the school bus for the first time. I approach the table and before I can think of how to introduce myself he says: “If we were friends I’d call you Boots! So Boots, what’s your real first name?” I giggled and told him that my name is Jessica but he can call me Boots, you know, since we’re friends and all.

This little icebreaker made me feel more at ease but certainly was not enough to control the level of grade A awkward that was coming out of my mouth. To this point, there have been three occasions in which I have been able to express to other writers how their work has contributed to developing my own voice as an aspiring writer. Once through a well-crafted email to Will Schwalbe (where he was all too gracious to return my email with mind-blowing kindness), another smaller book signing with a local author, and now this event with David Sedaris. It’s always weird and voyeuristic. You, a total stranger, gushing over the author’s work and their personal lives (in the case of creative non-fiction).

In what felt like a mess of painfully awkward word-vomit, I somehow articulated to David Sedaris my appreciation of his work, how it has impacted me as a budding writer, and how writing has played into living with cancer. I must almost mention that when I drop the ‘C’ bomb on anyone unsuspecting, I tend to totally overcompensate for how serious it is by acting far too casual. In this case I explained my situation in short that I was diagnosed with advanced stage Ovarian Cancer in 2012 and “have just been riding the cancer wave since.” This was accompanied by a wave motion with my hand (oddly reminiscent of Clueless circa 1995).

Now, I expected a “thank-you” followed by a polite head nod but instead he asked me if I was writing a book. I explained that it is my ultimate goal to do so and that I have pieces written that are in progress. He then asked me what the name of my book was to which I do not yet have an answer (it may need to be Jess in Boots after this encounter). It was at this point that I mentioned maintaining this blog and the man picked up his sharpie and WROTE DOWN THE BLOG URL.

It doesn’t matter if he never visits the blog. I don’t expect him to. The fact that he cares enough to inquire about things that are important to his fans speaks volumes. It only served to reinforce why he is one of my favorite authors.

He handed me back my book:

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I could write another 700 words on the reading itself but I’ll keep it brief. It was hysterical, exceeded expectations, and included a story of how a stranger removed a fatty tumor from his body that he froze and he later fed it to a sea turtle. Need I say more?

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“…good news and bad news are often relative to your expectations”

*Dramatic SIGH* I won’t lie to you friends, I have been having a tough couple of weeks. Part physical, part emotional, there has been a fair bit of annoyances/disappointments to process. Yesterday I went in for my weekly treatment. This … Continue reading

You bleed it, you bought it

(PREFACE: Earlier I accidentally published a draft of this entry and quickly deleted it. For subscribers- please ignore the first email you received and read this new, improved, polished version. Thanks! -The Management)

Over course of the past year I spent some time on the Women and Infant’s Hospital Family and Patient Advocacy Council (it’s a mouthful…thank goodness we didn’t get business cards). In that time I had the great pleasure of meeting a few other patients as well as connecting with staff and administrators of the hospital. There was one ovarian cancer patient that stood out to me, Rhonda. This woman is kind, honest, and upfront with her ideas and experiences.

There was one day several months ago when I was at the point in my clinical trial treatment where I just had enough. I hadn’t vocalized it to my medical team yet and it was causing me a great deal of anxiety. After the PFAC meeting I happened to pass Rhonda in the hallway on the way to the bathroom. Now keep in mind that outside of this group, I really didn’t know her at all. She asked how I was doing and often times those words are just enough to drive an overly emotional person like myself into a tear fueled tizzy.

I divulged to her the inner conflict that I was having about my treatment options and the fear that I was making the wrong choice in light of how high the stakes are. She listened intently, not breaking eye contact. You can really see it in someone’s eyes when they understand your fear and struggle. She knew well. Despite having high stakes challenges of her own, Rhonda was reassuring and purely optimistic without being dismissive. I felt so understood by someone that didn’t have to understand me. I felt so cared for by someone that didn’t have to care- but she did. That interaction stayed with me.

As time went on and transitioned into new treatment I felt that it was best to take some time away from the council. That being said I haven’t seen Rhonda but through a very sweet oncology nurse, more recently we were able to keep up with one another.

I received news that Rhonda left the physical world yesterday morning. I am heartbroken but glad to know that she was at home, surrounded by her loved ones.

Despite our limited interactions, this woman had such a profound impact on me. When I learned of her passing it felt like a punch in the gut. Part sadness for the suffering she and her family endured, especially in her final weeks. Part fear over the grim reality of this disease and how quickly things can change. I am fully aware that we have different bodies, different circumstances, but regardless it hit close to home.

My sincerest condolences go out to anyone that had the pleasure of knowing, treating, or loving this woman. I know she was a fan favorite at WIH.

The last two days since finding out about Rhonda has left me feeling a bit out of sorts. After work today I was sitting in my apartment trying to distract myself with Netflix but I was just too antsy. After running an errand I ended up at my Mecca, the book store. I am the child of two voracious readers so it is only appropriate that in times of inner turmoil, I turn to the bookstore for distraction and clarity.There is a little book shop in Wayland Square called Books on the Square that I absolutely love.

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(Don’t worry this is where the story takes an entertaining turn)

So I’m browsing the latest selections and pick up a book off of the Biography shelf purely for its eye catching title (and NYT Best Seller Status)

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I like to open to a random page and read a paragraph out of context to get a feel for a book when I’m browsing. I crack the book open (honestly thinking that I’ll just read a few lines, say ehhh, and return it to its standard, upright position). Before I can read a single word- DRIP. DROP. Captain we have a nosebleed.

I BLED into this book. Seriously…

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It also seeped into the page before and after it. Whoops.

I did have that momentary: “I could probably just put this back…” thought but in good conscience I couldn’t possibly re-shelve a book that I just BLED into.

The bookstore clerk was kind enough to provide me with some tissues as I continued to gush blood into my hand. I politely tried not to leave my DNA all over the store and quickly excused myself to the bathroom to clean myself up. When the pipelines dried up, I returned to the counter and sheepishly shrugged: “ummm so I guess I’m buying this now?” The clerk must have felt bad for me because she gave me a 30% discount ( I mean after all, there was blood in my book. No need to point fingers as to how it got there…).

Well my friends, there are no accidents. I think I was destined to read this book that I was going to carelessly return to the shelf (pre-Bloodkstock ’15). It turns out that The End of Your Life Book Club recounts a man’s experience of his mother’s pancreatic cancer treatment and the bond that they shared over trading and discussing literature. From what I have read so far, it brings to light how powerful the written word can be as a common thread between individuals facing great upheaval.

I am only 45 pages in but perhaps there is something to be learned from this book. If there is, I will be sure to report back! One of the book’s themes deals with issues of mortality. If anything it will force me to really process Rhonda’s passing and not internalize it from a place of fear but more from a place of acceptance and understanding.

Well friends, read on (but don’t bleed all over the merchandise, it’s frowned upon)

Rhonda- keep shining 🙂