As I sat having my blood sugar checked before my PET scan yesterday, the new fall screensaver reminded me I’d seen all the seasonal photo montages at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, starting in with the winter pictures. I think. I definitely remember the spring flowers and the summer beach scenes before arriving yesterday to find that the computers are now showing fall leaves.

I got the results of my scan today, and right now I’m not sure when I’ll stop being so familiar with those screensavers. It looks like I might see the fall scenes on a regular basis a little bit more than I’d hoped. As I mentioned before, while my first scan after two cycles (four treatments) showed pretty dramatic improvement, but my scan after four cycles (eight treatments) hadn’t shown much improvement. Yesterday’s scan, after my twelfth—and what I had hoped to be final—chemotherapy treatment, didn’t show much improvement either.

There are two areas that are showing up as inflamed—one in my chest where my trachea divides and one somewhere near the belly. Since they’re not going away, they’re going to do a biopsy surgery and find out what exactly they’re dealing with, what to do next and why they’re not going away.

Apparently, Hodgkin’s lymphoma can mutate sometimes into another lymphoma. I hope it’s not that. Or they could just be inflamed areas. I forgot to ask what that could mean. What could be in there? An actual fire in my belly? Swallowed gum? Shards of shattered dreams? Venomous words I swallowed instead of spitting out in anger, slipping down my throat and forming a poisonous mass?

I meet with the thoracic surgeon on Monday for a surgery consultation. After the surgery, I might even have to stay overnight in the hospital, something I’ve never done before. I’m a little nervous about the surgery for all the usual reasons, as well as for my irrational fears.

Before my neck biopsy in March, I was mostly afraid of saying something weird while I was being put under. Or awful. What if I just insulted people randomly while I was out of it? I collected other post-surgery stories—tales of a doctor obsessing over his colleagues seeing him naked in the operating room; a loopy teenager turning to his mom and imploring, “Don’t tell my mom;” someone trying to jump from a moving car.

In the end, of course, nothing happened—nothing I remember. I scanned the nurses’ faces for any signs of an earlier awkward interaction. Had I made any threats? Demands? I don’t think so.

In addition to my anxiety about saying something crazy, I have a new fear, thanks to watching the first episode of The Walking Dead. It’s not really a spoiler, since it’s the first episode, is it? Well, I’m about to reveal the premise: A guy wakes up in the hospital and there are zombies everywhere. (I’m still on the fence about continuing to watch. This guy’s lack of follow-up questions irritated me. How did this happen? Maybe it’s explained in later episodes, but I might watch Boardwalk Empire instead.) It’s also how 28 Days Later started. So now that the zombie thing is fresh in my mind, I have to entertain the possibility of waking up to a world of the undead.

After the biopsy, then I’ll also have the results to worry about. That, perhaps, is the scariest part.

After the meh PET scans results last time, I didn’t allow myself to be too hopeful yesterday, as I let the radioactive material course through my veins and drank my raspberry-flavored Gastrografin. I’ve always wanted to ask if there’s a flavor other than red raspberry or if it’s labeled to give the illusion that there are choices. A storyteller I saw once says it tastes like “robot piss,” but I don’t know what that tastes like. I think it tastes kind of like Faygo red pop in that it tastes red, not really specifically like a red fruit.

Of course I would have preferred that this was the end. On Refinery29 last Friday, I saw a video of what a year of chemo looks like, as documented by one woman, and the entry in her blog when she talks about “clinging to normal” resonated with me.

I get a little bit of a return to “normal” life, even if it’s only for a few weeks, or a month. Although not fully normal—everything’s kind of on pause. Muffled. I’m in a weird limbo, waiting to find out what’s next.

The good news is that I’m cleared for working out and I don’t have to be quite such a bubble girl (again, for now, but everything’s temporary, really). I am signed up for kickboxing tomorrow, though with my sore left leg (from a flu shot) and my slightly sore and swollen arm from chemo, I don’t think I’ll pose much of a threat. (Because I definitely did before.)

Another bright spot: I am cleared for sushi and oysters now, as well as restaurant salads! I see a few $1 oyster nights in my future. Beyond that, it’s uncertain.

My last day of chemo, treatment 12 of 12, the last of the six cycles, was Friday. Why am I not setting off fireworks, organizing a parade and popping the champagne?

Well, even sparklers scare me, I don’t have time for a parade, and I can’t drink. It’s a bittersweet (and still slightly scary) time. My boyfriend says I always see the glass as half-empty. But I don’t think I’m being pessimistic. I’m being cautious. I don’t want to announce the end of chemo prematurely.

Because there’s a chance, even after these past six months of ABVD, that the cancer isn’t gone. I’m not saying that I know that for sure. I just know it’s a possibility, one that weighs heavily on my mind.

The last PET scan, after eight treatments, showed a reduction in the two remaining tumors, but they’re not gone. Ideally, the oncologists like to see the cancer gone at that point.

My new PET scan is slated for Oct. 10, and then I see the doctor about a week later. So I wait. I try not to think about the pains in my side and my chest. (Is it the tumors shrinking? Are they still there?)

I have plenty to busy myself with in the meantime. On Saturday, my community garden had a Bluegrass, Blues, Bake, Bulb Bonanza. (There’s still time to buy bulbs through Oct. 30 to support the garden!) And then I spent the evening making costumes for my cats for our Breaking Bad finale party. I have work, which I’m thankful for, though I’m still getting used to freelancing. It doesn’t feel real.

I also have something else to celebrate today—the last of the blood thinners! It wasn’t so bad, though the injections sting a bit, no matter how slowly you do them. It’s slightly less painful than listening to that LMFAO song about shots. What I noticed the most after the shots those first few days was that my butt felt funny. That’s right. My butt. It’s where I feel my squeamishness. It’s also the center of my fear. If I’m in a high place and have a fear of falling, or if something gives me the heebie-jeebies, the area around my tailbone feels funny.

After the first few days, the heebie-jeebies died down, but then I noticed the stinging. Also, making someone pinch her abdomen after she hasn’t been able to work out for months is a little cruel, but oh, well. I have more abdomen to poke.

The blood thinners appear to be clearing the clots, although my brave right arm, which bore the brunt of chemo since July, finally gave out on Friday. This time, I got an IV in the hand—but not the vein used last time, because it was a little achey. The IV was in fine, but for some reason, when any medications went in, I had an uncomfortable feeling in the middle of my arm. During the administering of the anti-nausea medication, raised red hives appeared on my arm, and it started to swell a bit.

The nurse put some cortisone on my arm, and she called in the doctor. They agreed it was an allergic reaction, though I’ve had that medication before. I think my right arm just had it with chemo. I feel as if they were protest hives.

The nurse administered the doxorubicin, bleomycin and vinblastine through that arm, but ouch! It wasn’t a searing pain, but a few times, I felt that feeling in your head when you have a lot of pain, like you might pass out. Maybe it was because my arm was irritated and swollen. I know I’ve been extremely lucky pain-wise until now, so I won’t complain. (Incidentally, I just recently found out that vinblastine is made from the Madagascar periwinkle. Who knew that such a pretty flower could be such a strong drug?)

When it came to the dacarbazine, the one that does kind of hurt, not to mention the most caustic of the medications, the nurse, the doctor and I all decided maybe we should try the left arm. The nurse found probably the last good vein in my left arm. I couldn’t even see it.

The next day, my hand was black and blue. The swelling went down after a day or two, though I still have some raised red marks. My entire right arm feels like it’s bruised. Sometimes it’s a shooting pain in my hand and arm, but more often, it’s a gnawing pain. I actually want to chew on my arm, like a wounded animal. It feels as if I could gnaw the pain out somehow. It’s really not so bad in the grand scheme of things.

This is temporary. Even the cancer, if it lingers, is temporary. At the very least, I get a break from chemo for a while. Once the scan results are back, the next steps are determined. I’m hoping that nothing is needed and I’m cancer-free forever. If it still looks as if there’s some left, there’s the watch-and-wait option, which I’m not a fan of. I want it gone! Or there’s the biopsy route.

I feel like I can’t start getting back to my “normal” life until I know what’s in store. I don’t want to make plans and then have them taken away.

Yet I also find this limbo, this uncertainty, comforting, because if it’s bad news, then I don’t know yet. So I wait and try to be cautiously optimistic.

My doctor’s advice to take it easy has really been stressing me out. That’s not a good sign. In fact, I didn’t even think to ask if she meant physically or mentally because I was already planning to ignore her advice and wondering how I could make my boyfriend un-hear what my oncologist had just said.

He comes with me to my appointments to make sure I don’t ignore my doctor’s advice.

I got the results of my PET scan today, and I had asked if there was anything I should be doing to get better. I should have known that it would be the one thing I feel I can’t do, but that I definitely should do.

The doctor showed me the PET scan, starting with the first, taken in April, that showed the lymphoma as black splotches. There were quite a few of them—the large mass in my chest and neck, and a bunch of dots through my upper chest, as well as one big spot near my belly. The later scan shows just two spots—the one that had pushed my ribs out in my chest and the belly spot. It’s good news—they’re still shrinking and I won’t be getting stronger treatment, just the remaining four (now three, as of yesterday) ABVD treatments.

But whereas the first PET scan after four treatments showed dramatic improvement, the scan after eight shows moderate improvement. It’s slowing down, while I am getting impatient. So there might be some cancer left after all this is done. Maybe.

Since that second optimistic scan in late May, I feel like my life has been falling apart, mostly with the stress of finding a new job and new insurance. I can’t relax. Since June, it feels like I’ve had a heavy leaden pot of worry in the center of my being, roiling with a big worry and stress stew. I understand my TV cancer companion Walter White more than ever. I want control. But I feel like I have very little right now—not over my body, my finances, my emotions. The latter I can do something about. I still need to work on my attitude.

I don’t cry over hair, no matter what. I’ve cried over test results my whole life. I’ve always beaten myself up about not doing my best. One day In kindergarten, the teacher gave out little awards for being able to recite your address. I knew my address. I was so excited when it was my turn. And then, when all those expectant faces were turned toward me, I blanked. This type of performance anxiety still haunts me today. We had another chance the next day and I got my award. In the end, everyone got one, of course. It was a round piece of orange posterboard that said “AWARD” with a gold star and ribbons that the teacher had stapled to the bottom. I was extremely disappointed in myself for having to use my second chance. I felt as if I didn’t deserve it.

It was the only award non-sporty me ever received until my high school decided to give out letters for academic achievements, and I lettered in academics. I sat near one of my friends who was a star swimmer and track athlete and was in my AP and honors classes. She was really nice, so I know she thought I was also against the academic letters when she said, “What am I going to put on the back of my jacket? Nerd?”

I was secretly kind of proud, but I obviously didn’t have a letter jacket. I wondered if it was too late to join a sports team so I could wear my academic letter. I don’t care about sports much, though, and who gets the ball to wherever it’s supposed to be. I’d rather work myself up into a frenzy about grades and what people may think of me professionally. I really do need a nerd letter jacket. I still have the letter somewhere. The little symbol, instead of a football or volleyball, is a torch. Presumably to fend off the cool people with letter jackets who want to give you wedgies and shove you into lockers.

And so now I have test results that disappoint me a little bit. Today was like getting a B or C when you expected an A. Or not getting a tiny paper award when you expected one.

Yet the remaining spot near my belly is also a glaring example of how useless my previous worrying has been. I knew there was a spot below my diaphragm that was considered cancerous—it’s what put me in the Stage 3 Hogdkin’s lymphoma category instead of 2. But until I saw the scan, I had no idea where it was, and I assumed that it was a smaller area, late to the cancer party that had been going on in my chest and neck. I didn’t realize it was one of the bigger infected nodes.

For the past months during treatment, I’ve had pain pangs in my abdomen that I’ve assigned various possible causes in my mind, from liver failure to intestinal distress. It’s the cancer, probably (hopefully) shrinking —a variation on the same twinges I feel in my upper chest from time to time.  I picture it going down like this. Maybe the black dot on my PET scan is my heavy cauldron of useless anxiety.

I’m struggling now more than ever. Everything just got real. Before this week, I could still kind of pretend like this wasn’t affecting me. I had hair. I had insurance, which runs out at the end of the month.

I didn’t realize my veins were in such sorry shape. I have a little bump on my left arm where part of a vein has hardened. There’s been talk of a Medi-Port, which typically stays in for a year and gives me the heebie-jeebies, though it looks a tiny version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man implant. My other option is the PICC line, which also gives me the heebie-jeebies, but stays in for less time.

Tons of people have had this done, so I need to admit to myself that if I need one, I need one, despite 100 percent chance of the heebie-jeebies. I need to stop trying so hard to stay “normal,” whatever that is. I don’t mind the baldness. I wear my wig only for other people, so I don’t freak them out. The same with the headcovers—that and to shield my head from the sun. (The pork pie hat, I just ordered, though—that’s for me.)

I’m hoping that since I have only three treatments left, my veins will hold out. The nurse yesterday, when she saw my tiny veins, told me she didn’t see how I got away with not having a port. My left arm just wasn’t accepting an IV, so we used my right again—for the third time in a row. When she was giving me the first round of drugs, though, she seemed more optimistic and said I probably have at least three good veins left. That’s all I need—for now!

I’m a little disappointed in my left arm for giving out on me. My left side, where this started and where the lymphoma remains. Side of my spare rib, my weaker eye and the ear that sticks out like the handle of a pitcher. A new study shows that there may not be such a thing as left-brained or right-brained thinking, so at least my creative and thoughtful right brain doesn’t have to forgive the left brain for those shortcomings. It turns out I’m just bad at math. I have a hard time distinguishing my right from my left anyway. I always make that “L” with my thumb and forefinger, no matter what—in the middle of yoga class, while giving directions to people who visibly look alarmed and doubtful (as they should be) when they see me do the hand “L.” Oh, well. It’s about body teamwork at this point, I suppose.

I also talked to a social worker yesterday, about what I would be eligible for now that my income has decreased. That helped—at first because I had to pull it together to talk to her. It’s the first time I cried while I was at chemotherapy. And it wasn’t even about bad news, just OK news. I really need to take a lesson from my veins and toughen up.

Plus, the social worker reminded me of some of the programs MSKCC has in place that I should take advantage of, including the Visible Ink writing program and the Look Good Feel Better program. I told her I’m not really into wigs, but she said there’s also makeup application tips. I haven’t been wearing much since my recurring eye infections, not that I wore that much makeup to begin with. But I think the social worker stressed the “feel better” part of the program, probably because I was still a little teary when she walked in. I put about as much effort into my beauty routine as ever—very little.

I prefer to spend my time working out—at first, in my early twenties, it was always to stay thin or lose weight. It wasn’t until later that I realized I worked out because I truly enjoyed it. It’s odd that after years of not caring about sports (and I still don’t), I’ve found what keeps me grounded is physical activity. It balances me out.

I’m eager to get back to my classes and yoga. Yet how many times have I heard that yoga isn’t just the poses? It gave me balance and sanity, and now that I’ve been told to take it easy, I’m going to have to practice less vigorously, but no less mindfully. But that’s another post completely. I’m eager to get back to working out, but this new “take it easy” advice probably doesn’t include kickboxing. And a Medi-port or PICC might limit my mobility for a bit.

I was beating myself up about something last week, and one of my former writers said, “Time to practice some self-compassion!” She’s right. I need to update my to-do list. It still will have jobs to apply for and deadlines to meet. But I’ve added three more reminders: Self-compassion, take it easy and stop worrying.

When I watched the first of the final eight Breaking Bad episodes on AMC last night, I had something in common with Walter White. We’re both bald.

Well, I guess we have two things in common, as I learned in the middle of the show (spoiler alert): It turns out Walt is going through chemotherapy too. I feel as if Walt and I have been through a lot together in the past few months, as he’s become somewhat of my cancer hero—or antihero. (Though I’m no Gale. W.W. is far from a shining star in my eyes. And perhaps Gale is the most obvious example of the dangers of loving Walter White.)

As everyone turned against him as the show progressed—from his wife to his former business partner to viewers of the show—I still felt somewhat of a cancer kinship with him. He was beginning to lose me in season five—but as we see so often with Jesse Pinkman or with Skyler—just when I thought I might be done with him, Walt pulled me back in.

In February, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I’ve been undergoing chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center since April. In June, I started watching Breaking Bad, after hearing hype about the show for years. The show’s premise—a high-school teacher who makes crystal meth after a fatal lung cancer diagnosis—seemed timely.

Just as everyone predicted, I became addicted. In fact, when I watched all of season four at Lincoln Center during a recent Breaking Bad marathon, a fellow fan confessed he would sometimes skip work or lie to his friends about having plans when he wanted to stay home and watch multiple episodes.

As I feverishly caught up on the show in time for the new episodes, Walt became a cancer companion of sorts. There are the physical effects of the chemotherapy—the nightstand full of medications, the red urine, the PET scans—but it’s the psychological effects on Walt to which I could relate.

Anyone who has ever received a bill for cancer treatment has probably thought that they need to make more money—fast. Even with insurance—something that I may be losing at the end of the month—the bills for a biopsy, medications, scans and chemotherapy add up.

Obviously, making and selling drugs is no joke. But if you could do something to make enough money—even if it were illegal—to not worry about medical bills, would you?

I might. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s as if, from time to time, the snakes from the medical caduceus symbol slither from their post and curl up in bed with me and hiss into my ear, reminding me of the expense.

Fortunately, for society’s sake, I have no illegal talents. I’m also a terrible liar and a goodie-goodie at heart, so I’m not cut out for a life of crime.

The thing that resonates with me the most about Walter White, however, is his anger, always bubbling near the surface, and his need for control, which drives him as much as—if not more than—his love for his family.

Walt’s anger is always present, constantly bubbling near the surface. After his diagnosis, he tells off his boss at the car wash and beats up a teenager for making fun of Walter Jr.’s cerebral palsy. Most of us can relate to wanting to do these things—and a cancer diagnosis is just the thing to push you to actually do it. You often want to have a tempter tantrum over how this isn’t fair. The smallest things can set you off, because you find yourself thinking, “This happened and I have cancer.”

Sometimes, I find myself walking around daring the world to piss me off—just for the release of pent-up anger. While I haven’t blown up a drug den or even thrown a pizza on a roof, I did find myself hanging on to a cab’s door handle and screaming at a startled driver when he refused to take me to Brooklyn after my biopsy surgery in Manhattan. It was during the change in shifts for cab drivers, when they decide whether you’re on their way home or not. After being turned down by one cab, I vowed to not let it happen again. “I just had surgery and you won’t take me to Brooklyn!” I screamed, pounding on his window. If I had been close enough to the open part of the window, I would have tried to force my upper body into the cab, new stitches along my neck or not.

Most of my anger is reserved for insurance companies and bureaucratic entities that are out of the grasp of my wrath. It make me feel helpless and as if I don’t have control—which brings me back to Walt.

But pride and a need for control are what really drives Walter, more than anything, and that’s when he started to lose my sympathy. Had he accepted the offer of his former business partners, he could have avoided this meth mess completely. We finally learned this season that he’s always been haunted by his decision to sell his share of a company now worth billions for $5,000, and that’s when his reluctance to quit the meth business comes into focus.

Yet I relate to his need for control in the face of cancer. To me, cancer has felt like a betrayal of the body. Your own cells are going renegade. When you have so little control over your own body, then what do you have?

You want to be tough. I’ve assured people over and over again that I’m fine, that this is no big deal. You put on your badass black hat or your wig and you become Heisenberg, your alter ego who is always strong and in control and unfazed. Who doesn’t want to assert, “I am the danger,” and “I am the one who knocks” when you feel as if you have very little control?

As Walt sits in a hospital gown and socks for his PET scan—a test that determines the state of your cancer, whether the treatment is working or whether you’re in remission—he’s still struggling for control. As a fellow patient spouts clichés and grapples with his diagnosis aloud, Walt goes off—again there’s the anger—and asserts to this poor stranger that he’s in control.

During one of several Breaking Bad discussions this past weekend, someone observed Walt has become the cancer. He’s the danger, but as the body count piles up and the consequences of his actions become increasingly dire, he still doesn’t have the control that he wants.

In spite of all of Walt’s transgressions, I still wanted him to be happy. I often find myself defending unlikeable characters. So I was disappointed when Hank found that copy of Leaves of Grass, after it seems that poor Walt had only a month of what he finally wanted. And now his cancer is back—as is Heisenberg.

I am now bald. I have a black hat, though it’s more Holly Hobbie than Heisenberg. Am I the danger? Inadvertently. I almost set my kitchen on fire while baking cookies and two of my lab partners in high school science classes almost set our stations on fire. (I wasn’t responsible, but I still feel as if I was an accomplice.)

Before the premiere of the new episode last night, my boyfriend shaved my head. A lot of people shave their heads early in the chemo process, but my hair was so thick that the thinning wasn’t noticeable until this week. Within the course of a week and half, my hair suddenly looked really thin. It was time. And what better time than before the return of Walter White?

I didn’t cry, though I’ve done my share of it over the past several months. But I’ve never been one of those people who cry when they get their hair cut. It will grow back—though in this case it will take longer.

Right now, I’m waiting for the results of my most recent PET scan. If everything is on track, my last chemotherapy appointment will be September 27—two days before Breaking Bad comes to an end. Walter White’s story and my cancer journey will end together. I know better than to expect a happy ending for Walt, though I hope for one for the end of my own story.


This is hard for me to admit, especially after so many people have told me how tough I am and have complimented me on my positive attitude. But I’ll let you in a little secret: I’ve been bursting into tears recently.

Most of the time, I can’t even tell you why. Usually, it’s not even real crying—it’s more of a passing wave of sadness that results in 10 seconds of tearing up or a single whimper.

Usually, I’m kind of a goofball, joking around and making light of situations. So it’s been really hard for me, personally, to deal with the seriousness of this cancer situation.

I’ve seen a lot of articles with titles like “10 Things Not to Say to People with Cancer” or “Things to Never Say to Cancer Patients.” Those definitely apply to some people, but I’m pretty hard to offend. In Are You My Guru? How Medicine, Meditation & Madonna Saved My Life, author Wendy Shanker, who has a rare autoimmune disorder, has a great chapter on things not to say to people who are ill—and she has an amazing sense of humor, which I appreciate.

I myself am horribly awkward in these situations—including the present one. I don’t know what I would say to myself. And I generally clam up when someone tells me something awful, or stick with the honest, “I don’t know what to say.”

With a few exceptions, no one has said anything wrong or shocking. When people talk to me about my own cancer, I’m still often the awkward party.

I suppose the compliments I get now are different. “Your hair looks full.” If someone commented about my hairiness pre-chemo, I don’t know how I’d feel. But it’s currently a good thing.

Some people have expressed worry that complaining about other things when I have cancer seems selfish or trivializes my situation somehow. I don’t think so. I don’t expect the world to stop for my health concerns. There will be heat waves and heartbreaks, and I will still be here to listen.

I sometimes wish I could stop other aspects of my life, but then I think having less to do might be part of the current crying situation. I’ve kept myself busy with work and social obligations. Now that work has stopped, I continue to book 9 to 5 and beyond with job search, applications and freelance pitches and work.

I’ve been working really hard at working really hard. I’m not sure if I’m avoiding dealing with cancer or this is my way of dealing with it.

So why the crying? I feel a little helpless and scared. So many things seem out of my control right now—including my own body.

Whenever I’ve been sick with even something trivial, I feel so betrayed. I’ve done yoga since the late ’90s, when Madonna made it trendy. There’s a lot of talk about the mind-body connection, but I still feel as if they’re at odds. Even my preferred form of yoga—Bikram yoga, a series of 26 postures in a room heated to 105 degrees—doesn’t focus on harmony. You’re often pushing your body to a limit, very carefully.

This isn’t the first time I feel as if there’s been a struggle for control. Nine years ago, I had panic disorder. It started while I was in a waiting room while getting a tire changed. Suddenly, I felt dizzy, and my extremities started to go numb. I was a little nauseated and started to sweat, then I couldn’t breathe. I also felt like my brain was trying to escape my head. The best way to describe a panic attack is that you feel as if you’re dying and losing your mind at the same time.

Panic disorder happens when you’re so worried about having another panic attack that you keep inducing panic attacks. It’s a fear of fear itself.

A panic attack itself is your body’s fight-or-flight response at the wrong time. A rapidly beating heart might help if you’re being chased by a predator, but when you’re waiting for a tire to be changed or driving, it’s extremely inconvenient. It’s a physical thing—something a lot of people don’t understand. People often tell you to calm down, but it’s not an emotion. It’s a physical reaction that’s happening for seemingly no reason, and that’s why you also feel crazy.

When you end up in the emergency room a few times because you feel like you’re dying but the doctors don’t find anything wrong with you, it’s really hard to not feel like you’re losing your mind. You’re often not taken seriously. Doctors openly scoffed at me and mocked me. At one urgent care, a sympathetic nurse who suffered from panic attacks after the birth of her first child listened to me and made me feel somewhat sane. I’m not saying panic disorder is worse than cancer, but the latter is taken seriously by the medical community.

Panic disorder makes you feel so alone. And you often alienate yourself, compounding the problem. A lot of people become agoraphobic or self-medicate with alcohol with panic disorder. I feel as if I lost about a year to a year and a half of my life to it. I was able to overcome panic disorder through a mixture of medication, cognitive therapy and educating myself about it. Writing an article about panic disorder and learning so much about it really helped more than medication. (If you want to read a great book about someone overcoming panic disorder, I highly recommend Priscilla Warner’s Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life.)

I found myself talking a lot about panic disorder, but I haven’t talked as much about the cancer. But I talk about the panic attacks more openly because they’re in my rearview mirror. They’re in the past tense.

I haven’t told everyone about my diagnosis. There was no Facebook announcement. I don’t link to my blog on my own social media. I’ve been telling people on a case-by-case basis. And even when I tell people, I follow up with a quick, “But I’m going to be fine!” and reassure them that things are going well. (Both are true.)

In fact, my boyfriend goes with me to my doctor’s appointments not only for support but to also make sure that I don’t downplay my symptoms and side effects. I want to reassure the doctors that I am fine, but he keeps reminding me that they really need to know about any symptoms.

So a lot of people don’t see the dark side—only my boyfriend in many cases, and that’s because he’s around. And my two cats, who sometimes hear me announce, to no one in particular, “I’m sad.” Though sometimes I address the nearest feline with, “Oh, kitty. I’m so sad.” Just a sad cat lady talking to her cats.

I generally find it difficult to talk about my Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s why I write about it. Maybe I’ll feel more comfortable discussing it in the past tense. I certainly hope that’s the case by the end of the year. I tell myself if I got through panic disorder, then surely I can get through this, with support and some of the best medical treatment around, even though my instinct is to try to deal with this alone. Like I’m some sort of wild animal who will be left behind or eaten if I show weakness.

But doubt lingers, like the sore throat I’m experiencing. (Not another cold and eye infection! Please!) This is irrational thinking, but that last time I randomly burst into fits of tears was at the very beginning of my diagnosis, so I wonder if the treatment’s stopped working. It was, of course, also a time of great uncertainty.

At that time, right after my diagnosis, I was also experiencing night sweats. At night, I would lay down a yoga or beach towel on my bed and put on my moisture-wicking workout clothes, with extra clothes by the bed for the nights I would wake up drenched and have to change. I felt as if the night sweats were my body’s way of grieving for itself and what was happening—as were the bouts of crying. It was like my body was a sponge full of sadness that couldn’t escape through my tear ducts and had to seep out my pores at night, when I couldn’t be on guard.

My next PET scan, which will show the chemo’s progress, is in a few weeks. Even if I need longer treatment or stronger treatment, I’m expected to get better.

For now, I will let myself cry and will move forward, until I can say, “I had cancer.”

For the first time since I was about 10 years old, I found myself looking for a four-leaf clover this week. As I weeded the brick path of the community garden, I examined the few patches of clover I found for any lucky ones.

I’ve never found a four-leaf clover, outside of the plastic or paper shamrocks at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But I figured I could use some luck. I’ve had two job interviews and sent out countless resumes. I have a PET scan in about three weeks to see how the chemotherapy is working. When you’re waiting and hoping for good news, you’ll take anything as a good sign.

About four weeks ago, the evening before the company I worked for shut down, I was weeding the paths in the community garden. I thought that if I had some time off, I would completely conquer the paths and free the bricks from the weeds, at least temporarily. The paths are never weed-free all at once, because once I weed the path, they’re back in a few weeks.

Now that I finally had time this week, finally over my cold and eye infection, temperatures outside soared over the 90-degree mark all week. That’s not good luck. So I stopped by early in the morning, to beat the heat. There’s something therapeutic about weeding the paths. Almost all the plants growing in between the bricks aren’t supposed to be there. A landscape architect I interviewed once told me an old garden adage: “A weed is just a plant out of place.”

So I don’t have to think much, except for the occasional pressing matter: “Why are all these ants crawling on me?” and “I hope that’s not poison ivy.” With my mind freed up, I can reflect on the random information that collects in the junk drawer of my brain. “Whatever happened to Tom Green? I really think his show was a precursor to Jackass and other shows I didn’t like, when MTV started to lose me.” Or, “I really liked that Jesus Jones album in 1991, but I think if I went back and listened to it, it wouldn’t hold up.”

I don’t think about cancer all the time—I don’t think anyone does. The other day, my boyfriend noticed I was pensive and looked upset as we were walking home from a comedy show, so he asked me what I was thinking about. “The first Sex and the City movie was on the other night, so I watched it, and it’s even worse than I remembered,” I replied. “It’s so bad that, for me, it even ruined the TV show, which I used to love.” Some people seem relieved that I still have the energy to reserve such ire for trivial matters.

Sometimes, however, I get a strange chorus in my head that’s just, “Cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer.” Just that word, over and over again, like Jan Brady’s jealous proclamation of “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” on The Brady Bunch. More alarmingly, I suppose it’s also like the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over again in Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. So either my subconscious is jealous of all the attention the Hodgkin’s lymphoma thoughts are getting, or I’m losing my mind. Probably a little bit of both.

As I weeded that morning, I didn’t find any four-leaf clovers. But my search sparked a childhood memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

When I was little—maybe from the ages of 4­ to 6—my grandma would get out sheet music and we’d sing songs together. This is notable because no one on my mom’s side of the family can sing. In my 20s, a friend and I stayed with my mom and my grandma to see a Peter Murphy concert in Cleveland for her birthday. My grandma baked her a cake. She was an amazing baker. I explained that we meant well, but we’d all be off key. To anyone who celebrates birthdays with us, I assure you, the song is mercifully short and the homemade cakes are delicious.

I’m not sure if my grandma could sing at one time, but age made her voice a little creaky. My mom always sings high and off-key. I don’t sing. In fact, even when I’m required or expected to sing, I usually would just lip sync in high school choir, church and birthday parties.

But in those days, my grandma and I would get out the sheet music and sing a few songs, joyously and loudly. One of these was “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” the 1948 version by Art Mooney. (Apparently Willie Nelson also has a version of this song, but c’mon—do we really think he was looking for clover on purpose or he happened upon some while looking for a different type of harvest?)

The other was “You Are My Sunshine.” The line, “So I hung my head and cried,” always sent me into fits of laughter. Not because I enjoyed dark lyrics—that would come later, during my goth years in high school and college. At 4, I wasn’t familiar with the term hanging your head, so I pictured this poor guy taking off his head and hanging it on a coat rack to cry and dry off. And that image is hilarious to a 4-year-old.

Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever really sang a song without some degree of self-consciousness or self-awareness. I got the picture when I was never picked for singing or dancing parts in grade school productions.

My grandma died in 2006, so I can’t ask her why we sang songs together, other than it seemed to be a lot of fun. That must have been the point. Just doing something fun even if you weren’t very good at it. I’m not sure that lesson stayed with me, as I stress out over everything from how I do on these interviews and tests to whether or not I’m doing all I should to beat cancer.

I wish my grandma could have seen me move to New York City, by far one of her favorite places in the world. She took me here first when I was 10 years old. She thought the city was so exciting and enjoyed interacting with so many people.

So I didn’t find a four-leaf clover the other day. But the next day, as I boarded the A train, a man was playing the guitar and singing. He was playing “You Are My Sunshine.”