In the Boob Lounge, no one dances alone.

Late October in southern New Hampshire is the time when Mother Nature throws her biggest rave of the year, a trance riot featuring the leaves at peak color. Somehow Her party planning committee comes up with a unique and different palate every year, never once phoning it in or repeating last year’s theme. And when you live in a state that is 89% covered by trees, this makes for a big deal. But what never changes is this: at least once during peak I’ll be out doing errands or walking the dogs or on my way to work, and the gorgeousness of it all will literally make me woozy. I’ve been known to ugly cry it’s so beautiful.

When they found a tumor in my boob on October 3, only fifteen months after my husband had passed away from gastric cancer, I spent the following few weeks in and out of a nauseating daze, but not because of anything sublime like the pageantry of Autumn’s march into winter. I was simply sick with fear. I assumed I was going to die.

I’d been in the midst of planning my fiftieth birthday party. I was even starting to get my mind around starting to date again, but the discovery of the tumor jolted me into a mosh pit of adrenaline-fueled stops and starts, lurching between the tests I needed to have and their results, meeting doctors and making phone calls, sending and answering endless emails, constantly researching my diagnosis through websites like, and slamming my laptop shut when it got to be too much information to take in.

Somehow in the midst of all of that I was able to come up for air to celebrate my birthday at a beautiful gathering that thankfully didn’t feel like an anticipatory funeral.

By November all that was left to do was attend my second opinion appointment so I could make decisions about what treatment I would need and when it would begin. In those weeks before Thanksgiving, all the adrenalin and panic that had kept me going drained away, and I found myself doing a version of what most of us here have to do after the October leaves have dazzled us and dropped, loitering in random piles and thick banks all over the joint, transformed from the instruments of the highest of highs to a reminder of the biggest chore of the season.

Fall Cleanup.

Mymind was a mess. I was plagued by thoughts so awful they shocked me. I relied on a kind of numb “I’m okay I can do this” mantra in an effort to stop them howling through my brain day and night. All of the most traumatic and despairing moments of my husband’s illness replayed themselves over and over again, demanding a second audience. I slept so little I’m surprised it was legal to operate an automobile. I laid awake nights trying to figure out how this had happened, obsessively wondering if the real reason I’d helped my husband die of cancer the year before was to prepare for my own imminent death.

Impossibly, I tried to meditate. Like an animal running from a forest fire, I tried to wade offshore into the river of my intuition and heal everything that was burned and blistered. But I could never get deep enough.

Facing my mortality was not quite the 50th birthday present I’d hoped for.

Itwas either the literal worst thing that had ever happened to me and potentially the cruelest way that I knew personally to have to die if you think about what I had just gone through with my children. And I was thinking about them all right. All the time.

Or…? I’d hear occasionally underneath the mental ruckus. “Or what?” I’d wonder. The fear underwrote what was left of my tattered spiritual beliefs, leaving me feeling like I’d been duped. Whatever divine plan I’d trusted was clearly hiding a bastard of a plot twist in which I died in the same kind of agony as my husband, whose suffering I began to understand in an entirely new way altogether. Or…? Except it was much much worse, because he died knowing I’d at least be there for our children, and here I was in the process of orphaning them.


And this is how I would constantly hear it, the option like an interruption, a calm whisper on the breeze, distinctly not the sound of terror. After tears took me over in fits erupting from what was surely a heart smashed into pieces, time and again until spent, finally leaving me to sleep… I’d hear it.

…..Or it could end up being the best thing everYou’ll see.


“I’ve really gotta work on that intuition is never wrong thing”I’d think. “Because this can’t be the best thing ever. Not even remotely”.

Inlate November I got a call. There was a message on my phone from Kristen, who as you might remember I’d had lunch with immediately following the mammogram which had marked my initiation into the Boob Lounge and turned out to be the routine screening that saved my life. After the test but before I’d even gotten the call to come back for additional screening, I’d gone straight to meet her for our lunch date. We were gratefully taking advantage of the cafe’s patio on a warm sunny afternoon, all the more precious since basically any day like that after Labor Day is precious.

Yet I kept feeling like I should have brought a sweater. I was eerily chilly. I mean let’s face it, the way they squish your boobs in the mammo machine isn’t pleasant and most women would tell you it takes a while to recover from having gotten felt up in the most sadomasochistic conflagration of ways ever, but still. I was jumpy, distracted, anxious and I couldn’t shake it. We talked about how strange the mammogram tech had acted, interrupting me and talking a mile a minute and finally wishing me luck — and Kristen comforted me, encouraging me not to worry. “Well mine are evidently the high maintenance kind,” she laughed. “Every year they call me back for a second look and every year I’m fine. I just expect it to go that way now.”

But six weeks later, listening to her voicemail, I heard none of that breezy confidence as she let me know she’d gotten called back after her annual mammogram. Instead I heard my friend trying to manage her rising panic. While she was quickly reciting a flurry of facts in monotone, ones she said she thought I’d be familiar with, I recognized that tell-tale tinny flatness in her voice. The sound of someone who was just this side of freaking the fuck out.

But hadn’t she’d said this happened every year? What was going on? Was she just scared because this year I was her frame of reference?

Well great. Now I had ruined it for everyone. I felt like the Typhoid Mary of breast cancer anxiety, who by my mere existence was unwittingly disrupting the mental well-being of anyone who came into contact with me. In fact, because of my diagnosis, four women I knew had either gone in immediately to have their first ever mammograms or upgraded to 3D mammograms if they’d already had them before. My local hospital really should have given me a frequent referral bonus, with my very own handy punch card to keep track of my reward.

And then as the last piece of her message played in my ear, my breath caught in my chest and my heart started to pound. Wait, what? I’d heard it wrong. I must have.

I replayed it.

“….they said it looks enough like something that they want to do a needle biopsy right away to rule it out…..”

And a few days later she found out it was indeed, something.

Ithink if you do have to walk through a period in your life best characterized as a What Are The Chances World Tour like I did, it seems not at all a surprise that one of my dear friends would be diagnosed with breast cancer six weeks after I was.

It turns out we had a matching set of tumors. They were the same exact kind, the most common form of breast cancer and the least aggressive. Hers was in her left breast, mine in the right. Hers was smaller but a little closer to her lymph nodes. She was diagnosed at a local hospital like I was and became just as consumed as I had been facing the onslaught of medical information and administrivia that comes with a diagnosis.

I’d learned quickly that navigating the choices she was facing is an extremely personal journey, so no advice-giving is required to be a supportive friend. All that is needed is the willingness to stand underneath the disco ball and hold space for another woman who is going through it and to only share one’s own experience if asked. So many women did that for me and if they were afraid for me they kept it to themselves. I literally do not know how they did that. Some were Boob Lounge members themselves, who knew all too well how exhausted and terrified I was, and I simply marveled at how it didn’t prevent them from showing up for me.

They just started doing stuff. They drove me to doctor’s appointments and took exhaustive notes or sat in waiting rooms while I underwent a test. They made sure I stayed hydrated and laughed at my jokes. They watched my kids and got them to where they needed to be and crammed our fridge with food. And occasionally when I could summon the strength to talk about how I was feeling, they listened. Sometimes they even grabbed a couple of tissues for themselves from the Kleenex box they were passing to me.

Here’s the thing: Kristen and I have something in common besides having had boobs that were renting to the worst tenants ever. She is an indefatigable wise ass, or at least she’s on the smart ass/wise ass spectrum like me. So I see that as proof there’s at least one alternative interpretation of how we got thrown into the Boob Lounge within six weeks of each other.

At first glance you’d think it’s just more evidence of how way too many women are being diagnosed these days and how awful and scary that is. Point taken. But I prefer another way of looking at it. I believe that while life is hard, and certainly no one gets out of it alive, the way God, The Universe, and Everything attends to our suffering is often the most stunning and beautiful example of what is most real about life down here on Earth. I don’t believe in a God that causes suffering for some and mitigates it for others. Or in a spirituality that tries to leverage that. But I do believe that when the shit goes down for real, as it will in every single one of our lives here, we will show up for each other in ways that are nothing less than miraculous. The divinity of our lives becomes less that of merely enduring our hardships or even in vanquishing them, although that is certainly desirable. The real opportunity we’ve been given is to grow in compassion for ourselves and others. It is only through whatever circumstances we encounter our toughest lessons that we discover we are never ever truly alone. The part of us that is eternal is guided to connect with the same in others. When that happens, we are transformed.

If we’re lucky, it makes us into the kind of people that want more kindness in the world. If we’re luckier still, we want to become instruments of that compassion.

Kristen and I ended up leapfrogging through our treatment, each of us going first with some things and going second with others, but we were always in touch to compare notes and commiserate in real time. In fact, the very day after my bilateral mastectomy, Kristen was admitted to the same hospital to deal with a complication from hers. And not being the sort to leave opportunity to chance nor to shrink from a challenge, she waited until the coast was clear and made a break from her room, IV pole and all, to ride the elevator up to the floor I was on, drafty hospital gown be damned. I would have done the same thing had the situation been reversed. Seriously, if I had heard like she did that the food was better on my floor? Up there like a shot. It was a total win/win anyway, with me being fresh out of surgery and not very hungry. I mean we wouldn’t want it to go to waste now would we?

Within a couple months, we would both be recovered enough to start having lunch again, except this time we added a new ritual. We added it partially because of the look I got from a guy across the restaurant as I was explaining what I’d recently discussed with my plastic surgeon. It was the kind of look someone gives you when they are trying to figure out why you keep cupping your own breasts in public and seem to be using them to illustrate complex geometrical concepts. The kind of look that made me realize the extent to which I talk with my hands. I honestly didn’t know whether to go up and explain things to him or buy him a drink. Or both.

So now, no matter where we eat, after lunch we run into the Ladies and in the spirit of peer-to-peer education, flash each other.

And since probably nobody talks about their boobs as extensively as someone who is in the middle of reconstruction after a bilateral mastectomy, I like to imagine that same guy — who looked like he’d never been more confused in his life because apparently it might be ok now to grope yourself in public — had perhaps happened by the restrooms at a certain particular moment, and upon hearing the hysterical laughter coming from inside, was inspired to pause and eavesdrop a little.

It might have cleared things up a bit for him.

While it’s true that I hadn’t been in the Boob Lounge very long before I learned its most basic guiding principle — the rookies give the tour to the newcomers— I’m ever so grateful I caught on early. Since then, fortunately or unfortunately I’ve been part of a new member’s orientation several times. More times than I expected to be, and all within my first year. I’ve become a resource for other women, a phone number to call, and a point on a continuum. All the other Boob Loungers I know do the same.

My experience marks the boundary between my life Before I was diagnosed and my life After. But it also puts me in the company of many fine women who, whether by design or conscription are together walking the same messy, horrible, wonderful path on this gorgeous planet of ours. And who at some point, pissed off or wiped out from sobbing, had to wonder, this messy? Thishorrible? Who looked up at the sky and said, “Really? Because this better mean something other than You’re a gigantic asshole who’s forgotten about me.”

After diagnosis, no matter how thoughtful we’ve been about our lives, each of us stands at the edge of a big gaping ravine. There are questions that demand answering. A life and a self that must be faced. “What if this is how I’m going to die? If I make it, who do I want to be? What do I want my life to be like? What have I been tolerating that I simply cannot anymore?” And while this is searching work that must be traversed within the complete solitude of the deepest places in our hearts, we need solidarity with those that understand what grueling emotional work it is. Without saying a word, they’ll help us take the first step across the hollow because they know. And we continue to stand in that knowing for each other, listening to each other as we articulate all that’s changing. Until hopefully we don’t die, or at least stop thinking about it so much. Until we learn to truly live in the day we’re in. Until our truest self emerges, lighter, freer, happier. Until nothing remains that doesn’t serve our highest good.

Simply put, the spiritual and emotional challenge presented by my diagnosis was the best 50th birthday present I could have ever received. It made everything blindingly clear. There were only two guides for living after that — it was either NO MORE BECAUSE FUCK THAT or HELL YES.

And suddenly I knew that if I was lucky enough to get another 20–30 years out of this life you better damn well believe I was going to have some fun.

So here’s to the survivors who flash each other in public restrooms all across this great land of ours. I raise my blouse to you, Dear Ones.

Back to all posts