Happy 2015!

Happy New Year!

Good bye to 2014! Hello 2015! This is the last chance that I’ll get to write on the first day of the new year of 2015, so I’ve decided to go for it. This post might be a little disjointed or stream-of-conciousness-y, but I’m just going to write it anyhow because if I spend too long dwelling on what to write, I won’t write at all! And there’s the story of my writing life in a nutshell.

A couple of weeks back I decided that maybe I would do something different on New Year’s Day — something memorable and significant — at least for me. 2014 was not the best of years, although I did manage to work in a few wonderful moments. Two aunts and one of my uncles passed away — a whole generation of my family gone — except for my father who is still as feisty as ever at age eighty-eight.

Of course there was the whole breast cancer experience — four surgeries and ongoing chemotherapy. That wasn’t much fun. However, I was blessed with family, friends, and co-workers who showed amazing love and grace by bringing me meals, and cards, and presents, and simply being there when I needed them. I got to go to New York for the first time and absolutely loved the city. And I took a road trip across the United States — 3300 miles in ten days — with my sister, Kris. We were able to see our aunt one last time and to reconnect with our cousins in the East. I had the best of intentions to write daily posts about the trip, but between driving all day, seeing amazing sights, flopping into bed at night, and lousy internet connections, I never really managed it.

I made a short but fabulous trip to San Diego to visit with some of my oldest and dearest friends from my college days and to just relax with my husband, sister, and brother-in-law.

So weighing everything . . .the highs and the lows, the goods and the bads . . . I was really so lucky in so many ways in 2014. And I’m hopeful that 2015 will be even better, so I wanted to bring it in with a bang.

I had been able to keep running between surgeries, but the chemo knocked me down hard, and even though I managed to keep walking almost every other day, it wasn’t until September 21st that I was able to start running again. Since then, I have slowly built up my distance to where I’m up running between 4 and 4 1/2 miles every other day. I set a goal to run the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco in May. And in keeping with my decision to try and do something memorable for the first day of the new year, I decided to try a 10k race today. I figured that if I could run 4 1/2 miles, I could surely run 6.2. So yesterday I registered online for the run a mere forty-five minutes before the deadline.

Lucky #515

Lucky #515

Just Before the Start of the Race

Just Before the Start of the Race

This morning Michael and I drove to the lovely town of Yountville, and I ran the Napa Valley Resolution Run. Ten kilometers in the crisp morning air through rolling vineyards, charming homes, and historical buildings. I had two goals: #1 – to not come in last, and #2 – to run the entire way without walking. But I wasn’t going to get mad at myself if I failed at either of those two things. Fortunately I didn’t. I think I came in 67th for the women and there were still a few coming in behind me.

Nearing the Finish

Nearing the Finish

It was so much fun! At mile three I was shocked that I hadn’t gone farther. At mile five I was shocked that I had gotten so far, and by the home stretch I actually forced my leaden legs to pick up the pace just a little bit.

A Triumphant Finish

A Triumphant Finish

Michael was there to greet me and take my picture at the finish line. Afterwards we drove to St. Helena and had brunch and then made the wonderful drive home again.

Team Hatzigeorgiou

Team Hatzigeorgiou

So I did THAT! I haven’t made any new resolutions except to make the most of each day the best that I can, and to appreciate every moment I get to spend doing the things I love and being with the people I love. I made the first day of this new year one I will remember, and I got a lovely commemorative pint glass as a bonus. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a very good year!!


Cross Country Road Trip – 2014 – Day 1

Our Trusty Mode of Transportation

Yesterday we started the first leg of our road trip across the United States. My sister Kris and I are driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over the next 10 days. That’s over 3300 miles. 

Friday we drove from my house in Benicia, California to a friend’s cabin in South Lake Tahoe. We’re staying here for two nights with six of our girlfriends. 

We drove up Highway 50, which was smoky because of all the fires in Northern California, but there was no traffic, which was great. As we passed by Placerville, we saw lots of signs along the road thanking the firefighters for being there. I think the rains over the past few days have helped to calm the fires. A lot of fire trucks were heading in the opposite direction back down towards Sacramento.

Along the way we passed a little town called Kyburz. There was a sign outside of a building that said at the top “Welcome to Kyburz” and at the bottom of the sign it said “Now leaving Kuipers.” Blink, and we would have missed it. 

South Lake Tahoe Cabin

When we arrived at the cabin, we got out of the car and were greeted with crisp, fresh mountain air. Some of the girls were already there, and it was great to see them.

That evening we went to Heavenly Village and ate dinner at a new restaurant called Azul Latin Kitchen that already has 4 1/2 stars on Yelp. The food was great (be sure to ask for the special) and margaritas were made with fresh squeezed lime juice and tasted fantastic. Our waiter was a cute young guy named Eric. By the end of the meal some of my friends were trying to hook up their daughters to this personable waiter/nurse’s assistant/paramedic-in-training. He was very good-natured about the whole thing.

After dinner we walked to Harrah’s to do a little gambling. The place was smoky, there were scantily clad women everywhere, and a lot of foul language. We saw two fights almost occur with more bad language being thrown around. I lost $20.25 playing The Wizard of Oz slot machine which mezmerized me with its amazing flying monkeys. But when the guy next to me lit up a cigar, I knew it was time to go. 

Looking Towards the Pioneer Trail



First the Good News . . .

Trinity Church - NYC

Trinity Church – NYC

There had been some good news following my first lumpectomy. The doctor had also performed a sentinel node biopsy to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. That had come back negative, so there was something to be thankful about.

Just like before, when I went in for the second lumpectomy there was never a doubt for one second that they wouldn’t be able to get all of the cancer out. After all, how much more could there possible be?

The thing is, apparently it’s often rather difficult for a surgeon to identify cancerous tissue during surgery. She is looking at the x-ray to guide her, and she tries to remove as much tissue as she thinks is necessary. The tissue is sent to a pathologist who looks to make sure that there is a clear (negative) margin of cancer free tissue around the tumor. A second lumpectomy (or re-excision) in order to get a clear margin occurs about 20 to 30 percent of the time.

Again, everything went smoothly. Again, we waited for the pathology report. And again the news was not good. There were still positive margins around the tumor. At this point, there would really be no option but to receive a mastectomy on my left breast.

Surprisingly, I was still full of optimism even though it was obvious that I just wasn’t going to have an easy time of anything. I was going to lose a boob; it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal as long as it meant the cancer would finally be gone. In an email to my girlfriends I wrote: “Unfortunately, my latest pathology report did not go the way we were hoping. They were unable to remove all the cancer with the last lumpectomy, and so the next step is a mastectomy on my left breast. I will be meeting with a plastic surgeon to see if I’m a good candidate to start reconstructive surgery at the same time they do the mastectomy. That is what I’m hoping for — get rid of this damned boob ASAP and get a perky, youthful one in its place. Maybe they’ll even do a little lift on the right side; it’s the least they can do after all!”

But when I met with the plastic surgeon and he started talking about all the reconstruction choices I had, I felt immediately overwhelmed. We weren’t talking about just one surgery, but multiple surgeries over time to replace implants, to make the right breast symmetrical with the new one, etc. Would I use saline or silicone? Was I going to use expanders? Did I have enough of my own skin or would they need to take it from my abdomen or back? How would the new breast be affected if I had to have radiation therapy? It was more than I could handle. So I ultimately decided to be lopsided and worry about reconstruction later. Baby steps for this baby.

I went back to work for about a week and half between surgeries. I missed my students. While I was gone many of them had made me cards that were so sweet and adorable. When I got back to the classroom, they had lots of questions about why I’d been gone, and I tried to be evasive. I didn’t want to tell them I had cancer; I didn’t want them to worry. So I just told them that I had had a couple of surgeries.

In the middle of class, one boy looked me up and down and said, “Where did you have a surgery?” The other students told him he was being rude, and I just smiled and told him that if he wanted to talk to me about it he could see me privately after class, which, thankfully, he never did.

I told my students that I would be out again for a couple of weeks, and they were not happy about it. Fortunately, we had been very lucky to have two wonderful substitute teachers during my absences. I was still making lesson plans and correcting my students’ papers, so they knew I was keeping an eye on them. When I left them again, on March 19th, I got lots of hugs, and I told them I’d be back soon. None of us knew then, that I wouldn’t be back for the rest of the school year.

Happy Valentine’s Day! (She said sarcastically.)

December 28, 2013 - A run in Morro Bay

December 28, 2013 – Morro Bay

I had my first lumpectomy for breast cancer on Valentine’s Day, less than ten days after my initial diagnosis.

When I met with my surgeon, Dr. M., she showed me the x-ray of my tumor, and it was not what I expected. Instead of a round mass, which is what I always thought breast cancer would look like, I saw a streak of white, like a bolt of lightning, traveling through the lower part of my breast and up towards my nipple.

Even knowing exactly where the tumor was, I still couldn’t feel it. Without a doubt, that sucker would have been there growing for a long time if I hadn’t gotten a mammogram. (Some time later, my husband, Michael, and I went back to the Kaiser receptionist and thanked her for being so persistent about rescheduling the mammogram after my eye appointment.)

It might sound strange, but the occasion of my lumpectomy was a cheery one. My sister, Kris, was there with heart shaped balloons to celebrate the holiday. I tried to joke around with my stoic surgeon without success. I even had Michael take a picture of my boob, knowing it would never look the same. Despite the fact that I was “going under the knife” I was happy that we had caught the cancer and were going to get it out of me as fast as possible. I knew that I’d recover quickly and be back in the classroom in no time. My biggest was question was, “When can I start running again?”

Everything went smoothly. Dr. M. was happy with the surgery. I was bandaged up and sent home before you know it. And then, again, I started to wait for the pathology report. Beginning to wait—what a paradox. But I wasn’t worried. It never, ever crossed my mind that my surgery wouldn’t be a complete and total success, and that this little experience would just be an inconvenient blip on the radar of my life.

Until I got the call from the Dr. M.’s assistant. There were no clear margins. They would have to operate again. And this time, might I consider a mastectomy?

Whoa! A what? A mastectomy? Hold on just a second . . . Hadn’t Dr. M. felt confident? Didn’t we ALL feel confident that I was done with this whole cancer thing? How was I going to tell Michael, my sons, my sisters, my dad . . . I hadn’t been successful. It didn’t work. We were going to have to try again.

I decided to go for a second lumpectomy. Baby steps, was my thinking. Little by little. No use in taking off the whole breast when I could possibly get rid of this mother f@*ker with just a tad bit more scooping.

How fast could we do it?

In less than two weeks.

Good . . . let’s go! Let’s do this!

A New Kind of Journey – Living with Breast Cancer


I can hardly believe that it’s been exactly two years since I wrote an entry here. Just like two years ago, today is the first day of school, but for the first time in twenty-six years, I won’t be there to welcome a new class.

At the end of January last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then I’ve had two lumpectomies and a mastectomy of my left breast, and have undergone thirteen chemotherapy treatments. I missed most of the end of the last school year and won’t be back in the classroom until January 2015.

All my life I’ve been a writer. I’ve written poems, stories, songs, journal entries, blog posts, etc. My love for writing is one of the things that drew me into teaching. I’ve written my way through and out of many crises in my life—romance and heartbreak, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression—but when it came to writing about my cancer, it felt too overwhelming.

Part of the reason was because I hadn’t written anything here for quite a while, and the thought of suddenly plunging in again by writing about having breast cancer seemed so overly dramatic that I put it off. My sister kept asking me, “Why aren’t you writing about this? Why aren’t you journaling?” Even though I wasn’t keeping a journal or blog in written form, I was constantly writing in my head . . . telling my story to myself over and over again as a way to make it real.

Because much of the time, the whole experience seems very unreal. There I was, at age 57, feeling terrific. I had started running two years ago and had been running every other day. I’d lost weight and felt healthy and strong. I had a great group of students in my classes. My own kids were doing pretty well. My marriage was going along happily . . .

But one day I went to Kaiser to have my eyes checked. My dad has macular degeneration; my sister has glaucoma. I’m always worried about my eyes, and I felt like I needed a new eyeglass prescription. I went to check in to my appointment, and the receptionist noticed that I was overdue for a mammogram. She suggested that I drop in for an x-ray after my eye exam.

I was not pleased. It was late. I had been teaching all day. I was tired and just wanted to get out of there and go home. But I reluctantly agreed.

During the eye exam, the doctor saw “something” and wanted to dilate my eyes, which meant my appointment would run longer and I’d miss the time for the mammogram. “Oh darn!!” I said to myself. “Looks like I won’t be getting my boobs squished today!”

I went to the perky receptionist to give her the unfortunate news, and she said, “No problem! We’ll just move your time back a little bit.” Drats!

The mammogram went fine. The x-ray technician was as sweet as can be, and the whole thing was over before I knew it. I didn’t give it a second thought. I was more concerned about my eyes, since my doctor had given me a referral to see somebody to check on that “something” that she’d seen.

Two days later, at the eye doctor’s, I was told that my eyes were fine, and that what the other doctor had seen was just a bit of calcification that had probably been there since I was very young. I was so relieved!


Then a few days later I got a call asking if I could come in to have some more breast x-rays taken. They said they just needed a closer look. I didn’t think too much about it; I figured I had just moved a little bit and the picture was blurry or something like that. I made an appointment for two days later. But on the morning of the appointment, I got another call, asking if I could come in an hour or so earlier because they might want to do a biopsy after retaking the x-ray. That’s when I started to get a little worried.

I called the school office and asked the manager if she could find someone to cover one of my classes so I could leave earlier, and another teacher graciously agreed to help me out.

Well, one thing lead to another, and before I knew it I was laying face down on a raised table with my left boob dangling through a hole while the technician did a stereotactic biopsy. It wasn’t pleasant, and I kept thinking, “I hope the men have a similar device to biopsy their junk!”

During the biopsy, a small metal clip was put in to mark the spot in case they needed to go back for surgery. Of course, I knew that wasn’t going to be necessary; they were going to find out that what they saw was nothing, just like with my eyes.

That was the first act of the incessant waiting game called “Waiting for Results.” A week later I got the call: I had malignant breast cancer.

I won’t go into everything that followed now. But I do think it’s time for me to start writing about this particular journey. There have been people who have shared their experiences with me in order to give me comfort and advice. And even though I would like to do that as well, my actual goal is somewhat more selfish. I need to write in order to make things real and in order to help me deal and recover and move on with life in a relatively ordinary fashion.


I will only be working half the school year while I finish chemo and possibly radiation treatments. I’m going to miss that first day of school as the students file into my classroom and we check each other out and we’re filled with hope for a fun and rewarding year. When I mentioned to a fellow teacher how weird it felt to not be having a “first day of school,” she said, “You’ll get that first day of school again; it will just be in January!” And so it will.