Category Archives: Cancer and our children

Giving Tuesday

S’alright. Shameless (make that proud) pitch for two of my favorite organizations on Giving Tuesday.

First, Camp Kesem. Honestly, I don’t know how my family would cope without Kesem in our lives. This free (yes!) camp for children impacted by a parent’s cancer diagnosis has played such a positive–make that transformative–role in our son Peter’s life.

Peter at Camp as well as a quote from him (Coati is his camp name).

Only seven years old when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, Peter’s childhood had a shadow over it. The summer he turned eleven, we were told I had three to five months left to live and both Peter and I began counseling. Obviously I didn’t die then, but we were all traumatized.

I had to talk Peter into camp and could only hope it would prove to be a positive experience. He came home from his first Camp Kesem MIT (college students from around the country both staff and support chapters) with the assertion that it had been the best week of his life.

Peter continued to be a camper right up until he aged out and now that he is a student at MIT, he is a counselor. His fellow campers and counselors are part of Peter’s extended family–a family that gets what it’s like to grow up with cancer in the house.

Last fall I had my own opportunity to attend ‘camp’ in Peru, as a fellow with A Fresh Chapter. Unlike Peter, I required no urging. However, my experience was every bit as transformative for me as Camp Kesem was for him.

Like Peter, I was surrounded by others who got my experience with no prior explanation required, as each of us had been diagnosed with cancer. For two weeks we worked in the morning as volunteers in the communities surrounding Lima. After lunch we’d sit in a semi circle of comfortable chairs in a large room that overlooked the ocean. Many magical conversations happened in that space and along the way we formed an unbreakable bond. My tribe is now part of my extended family–twenty three people that I love and respect to the moon and back.

So please, on Giving Tuesday, consider supporting one (or both) of these two life changing organizations.

Camp Kesem (Peter Duff’s fundraising page ūüėČ or A Fresh Chapter. And help spread the gift of healing.


My happy place

All three of my kids are within an hour drive now.

I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

The last five years have been both challenging and ripe with opportunities for personal growth. Living alone has allowed me to get back to me, in a big way. However, this independence has not been without collateral damage.

When I left my marriage I ripped apart the fabric of my family as well. Changing my own circumstance negatively impacted the lives of those I love, and it was not a decision made lightly. It is never easy to be the agent of change.

I think I can safely say that we have all adjusted and are in a better place now. Certainly I understand far better, well, so very much. It had gotten difficult to see through the lens over my former existence and it would not be hyperbole to say I see things clearly now.

Having my son August in house has been wonderful. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the simple act of cooking for and eating with another. And his brother has been coming by more often and it is a joy to see the two of them interacting.

I’ve also been able to spend some quality time with my daughter Jemesii—last week I dropped by her to store to gift her with a crown; this girl was born a queen. I have my scan review in Boston on Tuesday and I will be meeting Jemesii for breakfast beforehand.

My little princess

I’m writing everyday, squeezing some art in and working on liquidating my vintage clothing business. Busy, busy, busy. Happy, happy, happy. Alive.

Read this.

This blog by my friend Arash Golbon may be the most true and important thing you’ve read yet regarding lung cancer. Arash gets right to the heart of what losing your beloved wife and the mother of your two young daughters is really like. In a word, devastating.


Molly died last month…… I still have a hard time saying it, but the person who I spent my last 25 years with died last month. This means no more birthdays, no more Thanksgivings, No more Christmases…..means no more anything. I watched a part of me die that night; a part I will never get back.

Molly’s health declined rapidly four months before she passed. I left work and devoted my life to taking care of her. I was fortunate enough to have a very close friend name Elle who works for Mission Hospice. Elle arranged the best palliative care group possible for Molly. She arranged for doctors, nurses, caregivers, physical therapist, etc. My parents even moved in with us to help. Molly had the best care anybody can ask for.

But ultimately I took care of Molly. She was my responsibilty. Hollywood has made a terrible job portraying what a good marriage is. Marriage is not about romance and candlelight dinners, it’s about two people committing to take care of each other. That’s true love. I had a great marriage.

I loved taking care of Molly. It was very hard work as she was weak and could not walk far. The cancer in her lungs was so advanced that she would have painful shortness of breath throughout the night. It would sometimes take me half an hour to get her breathing comfortably just to have the entire process start again an hour later. Toward the end when Molly was so weak that she couldn’t talk, I knew what she needed just by looking in her eyes. Molly’s blue eyes had become even more radiant due to her sudden weight loss. Her eyes told so much.

During those last months, Molly and I talked about of a lot of things. Twenty five years is a long time to be with the same person. We had definitely made our share of mistakes, but those seem so unimportant compared to how much we had done right.  We talked about the love we had for each other, and all the adventures we had had.  Elle said I was the only person who could console Molly.  I loved when she smiled, I loved the sound of her breathing when she slept, her comfort brought me so much pleasure and peace. There are nights now when I look over to the empty side of the bed and imagine her still lying there sleeping and breathing. I miss her smile, I miss the sound of her breathing.

When Molly died on those early hours of morning, I sat with her alone despite repeated pleas from my aunt. I was her husband and I was going to be there until the end. I kissed her head and lips, and said good bye. I promised her that I would take care of her daughters and raise them to be kind, compassionate humans. I sat there and looked at her until they took her away. Then I felt the pain.  It was the sharpest pain I have ever experienced in my life. Part of me died there with her. A major chapter of my life was over.

The days immediately before and after Molly’s death brought an unprecedented showing of human kindness. Our story had touched so many people. Support in every form poured from friends, from family,  from complete strangers on the street who had heard about us. Some of the kindest notes we received were from children. For most of these children, this was the first time dealing with death. I applaud the parents who not only did not keep their children away, but actually invited mine into their homes. I wish CNN would have this as part of their news flash.

It’s just the three of us now. We miss her a lot, but we are trying to go on. We are lucky to have so many people who care about us. We are lucky to be living where we live. We are lucky to have loving family. Every day has it’s joys and tears. We know many more sad days are ahead of us, but we also know Molly would want us to be happy eventually.


You can read more of Arash’s posts at

Somebody is all grown up.

Muah! Mom lays one on Peter Duff

Muah! Mom lays one on Peter Duff

Okay, not quite. But Peter Albion Duff is a high school graduate! So very exciting on oh so many levels and a major milestone for his mother as well. Seeing Peter graduate has been one of my goals and I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to be in attendance on this special day. Peter’s father David, godfather Frank, Melinda, Kihan and I weathered the storm (literally) as we watched Peter receive his diploma. He graduated Cum Laude and with two awards–The Lt. John A. Larkin Jr. Memorial Prize in Art for outstanding work in drawing and ceramics and The David M. Bitman Prize for excellence in a wide range of science subjects. We couldn’t be prouder of his hard work and accomplishments!


Linnea, Peter, Frank


Photobomb: Linnea, Peter, David, Frank


Linnea, Peter, David, Frank


Linnea, Peter, David, Frank


*Thank you Phillips Exeter Academy for providing our son with an incredible education and the generous financial aid package that made it all possible. Frank Hundley, you have fulfilled your godfather duties nicely. Melinda Lee, we couldn’t have done it without you. Any of it. Kihan, if you ever want to quit your day job, I think you have a future in photography (all pictures by Kihan). Peter, keep up the good work and we are so excited to see what the future holds for you.


For Pete’s sake


Pete and his proud Mama

My son Peter has always been one of those rare individuals who is completely self motivated when it comes to school/education. I like to think that parental influence came into play (like the day we bought forty children’s books at Salvation Army for ten cents a piece and then sat down and read them all at once). However, as the mother of three I am only too aware that when it comes to personality and character, they are who they are, and no amount of parental influence is going to change that.

When it came to schooling, circumstance dictated that Peter moved around a lot, with two years here and two years there. Several of his schools had a real hippy vibe (one of them was on an ashram). One blissful year we homeschooled and spent a whole lot of time at the beach, in the woods and at our second home in Marfa, Texas. Undoubtedly he gained something wonderful from each of these schooling experiences (and became quite skilled at making new friends). But midway through the eighth grade it became clear to me that Peter needed something more. We were living in Meredith NH at the time and David (my ex husband) was working from home so we had some flexibility.

My research turned up a charter school in Nashua NH called The Academy for Science and Design which sounded like a great fit. In order to gain admittance a prospective student had to pass some rather rigorous exams. Peter crossed that hurtle and I started house hunting in earnest. After I found a lovely home in an adjacent town I prepared my arguments: better school which was tuition free, lower mortgage on a beautiful home significantly closer to MGH and two major airports. David and Peter were in and we took the leap.

The Academy of Science and Design proved to be a good academic environment for Peter as he tackled a curriculum heavy on math and science. At the same time, things weren’t going so well with our marriage and my health. It occurred to me that perhaps our son needed a village and I began to look into boarding schools. Much to my surprise, many of these institutions had hefty endowments and offered ample financial aid, making such a move potentially doable.

My criteria was that the school be no more than two hours away, so that we could visit often. Peter (reluctantly, poor kid was tired of changing schools at this point) and I began to tour and interview. Just as I started chemotherapy, we began the application process. I would lay wrapped in blankets on the couch as Peter would compose his essays. Somehow, someway, the two of us (David was totally hands off on this process) got through it. And again, somehow, someway, Peter was accepted to what some consider to be one of the best prep schools in the world, Phillips Exeter Academy. And he was offered a substantial financial aid package.

At that point, David jumped on the bandwagon. Peter surprised me by deciding that he would repeat a year (something that is not uncommon when you switch to a prep school). He began the first of what would be three years at Phillips Exeter.

Now a senior, we have once again gone through the application process, but this time for college and with a good deal more assistance (my dear friend Melinda and the fabulous college counselors at PEA). Last week Peter learned that he had been accepted to MIT, or the¬†Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To say this is an accomplishment–yes, I am tooting my son’s horn–is a gigantic understatement. His father and I are thrilled beyond belief for oh so many reasons. First, because Peter has wanted to attend MIT ever since he was a small boy. His participation in Camp Kesem (staffed by MIT students) only increased that desire, as did his internship last summer at the KOCH Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Secondly, it opens up a whole world of possibilities as he embarks on his college career. Thirdly, he will still be close to home. I can’t tell who how much that means to me, his father and his sister Jemesii. Here’s to you, kid. Mama couldn’t be any prouder.

And in the meantime….

On Pete's shoulders

On Pete’s shoulders

Life does of course go on. Two weekends ago we enjoyed spending time with Pete during parent’s weekend at Phillip’s Exeter Academy. Attending Peter’s classes was super—what a great bunch of instructors and an equally impressive group of students. Eating in the cafeteria was kind of groovy (although I had a misadventure to be shared in another post). And…meeting all his friends and some of their parents as well was absolutely fabulous.

Pete's in the back of the boat

Pete’s in the back of the boat

We also got to attend a crew practice and to see Peter (still a novice, but loving it) in action. It was a beautiful day in what has been the tenderest October I can recall—just glorious.

Pete then came home for two days, much to Buddy’s delight. And of course, I was able to sneak in some cuddle time; moments which are all the more precious for their infrequency.

Was it the right thing to do—sending Peter to boarding school? Absolutely. It is going to be a real life changer for him, and I couldn’t be happier (and yes, I take a fair amount of personal pride in having initiated and orchestrated this opportunity). Thank goodness David has been totally on board with it as well; financially it is a major commitment and not something that could have been realized without his support.

Of course, from a strictly selfish perspective I am admittedly lonely without the daily presence of our youngest child—particularly now. However, I’m also relieved that Peter is removed from the current fray; as difficult as the coming weeks/months shall be, it is made easier to know that Peter is busy with his own private world.

And I have to believe he is extraordinarily well taken care of:  last night I received a phone call from someone in the infirmary. Pete had gone there with migraine-like symptoms, and the PA on duty called to see what sort of work-up Peter has had previously. This is a relatively new problem, and so they will now refer him to a doctor.

While I had the individual on the phone I did make one request: “Please tell Peter to call his Mother. Tonight.” Worked like a charm—fifteen minutes later I was on the phone with Pete (who was already feeling better).

Drop everything

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I’ve got some stories to share. But first….this. I’ve finally gotten hip to the fact that my children’s preferred means of communication is text messages. And now that I have a phone where texting isn’t onerous, I drop them all a line once in a while. In fact, I’d sent quite a few messages to Peter that had gone unanswered. I figured it was simply an indication that he was quite busy but also¬†adjusting well to life at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Texts to Mr. Peter

Texts to Mr. Peter

Well, yesterday morning I awakened to exactly the message I’ve been waiting for:

A snippet from our conversation

A snippet from our conversation

I immediately responded like the love-sick puppy that I am. Several texts later we agreed that I’d meet him at the Academy at 1pm. When I arrived we walked downtown for lunch, strolled along the river and then went back to his tiny room. He sat at his desk and I stretched out on his bed. We chatted some more and then, just like old times, he started his homework while I took a little nap.

Absolute bliss.

For Pete’s sake

The month of August flew by; visits, appointments, camp and ironing. Not necessarily in that order.

Soon after my stay with Melinda and Kihan, our friend Julia and her boyfriend Keith travelled from Boston to join us for a meal which I prepared; in itself a simple joy (feeling well enough to cook!). Pete’s friend Miggles was staying over and Julia shared photos of her recent trip to Finland. The next day Pete and I dropped Miggles off in Concord and also attended a Love Your Neighbor event hosted by our friends at New American Africans.

Love Your Neighbor

Love Your Neighbor

The following week, Peter and I made a day trip to New Bedford for a meal with Jamie; we’ve not seen him since Christmas. Our daughter Jemesii and Jamie have filed for divorce but, realistically, are both happier now. As Jamie’s been part of our family for some years, it is important to me (and Peter) to maintain contact and just check up on him now and again—I’m glad we did.

And then, on August 18th, David dropped Peter off at his third Camp Kesem, a wonderful summer camp for children who have or have had a parent with cancer. Some of you may remember earlier posts from 2012 and 2011—and I wrote a blog about this year’s experience for There was also a report on¬†Fox News¬†about Camp Kesem MIT, and if you look closely, Peter makes two appearances.

Yet again Peter found the experience of camp transformative and a highlight of his summer. As we have done previous years, the two of us stopped at¬†Flour Bakery & Cafe post pick-up for an early dinner. Over yummy roast beef sandwiches, Peter spoke with enthusiasm but also a certain sense of sadness; every year some of the campers and counselors ‘age out’ and the uncertainty of reunion is never easy.

Post Camp Kesem 2013

Post Camp Kesem 2013

However, hellos and goodbyes are all part of life, and Peter is already looking forward to Camp Kesem next year.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a visit to Mary and Raleigh’s home in Meredith, and now that I can indulge, I was able to enjoy one of Mary’s special martinis (an olive and a pickled onion). We had a great time; leaving with full bellies, fuller hearts and very sore cheeks (from all the laughing).

David and Peter also took a special boy’s trip to Mattapoisett. Four days of fishing, crabbing and sleeping in the camper with one happy but smelly golden retriever (sick from drinking seawater). So glad I wasn’t there, and yet got to enjoy some fresh crab upon their return.

And then, the frantic days leading up to Peter’s departure. All those button down shirts to iron. An exercise in matching—I asked Peter to put together various ‘outfits’, pants, shirts and ties. I shouldn’t have worried; he’s a natural. David taught him to tie a tie—again, Peter mastered this new skill with ease. As he was going out for crew (intramural), he would need to take a swim test so we went over his strokes. It all came so easily that I teased Peter he was born to this (prep school) life.

In an exercise in sentimentality, the two guys watched Milo and Otis, Peter’s favorite movie ever. Aside: ¬†Milo and Otis is a sweet flick about the close friendship between a pug and a tabby cat. Narrated by Dudley Moore and free of ‘artificial’ special effects, it is delightful and Peter must have watched it fifty times. However, I always felt a nagging sense of unease about some of the perilous situations the actual animals were placed in during filming. Orange tabby cats are rather ubiquitous and I hoped they weren’t considered expendable. Well, Peter, if you’re reading this, stop now. I happened upon this site today and my first fears might well be realized. Just another example of do your research (or, not).

Anyway, the actual day came, and a week ago we dropped Peter off at PEA. It was hectic, heartwarming and occasionally humorous. Example: ¬†The Duffs went to the bookstore intending to get dad (David) some PEA swag, and while there noticed that all the other families were purchasing books. Oh yeah….books! David walked back to the car to fetch Peter’s class list and while Peter and I were sitting on a bench outside the store he turned to me and said something along the lines of, “I have this awful feeling we don’t know what’s going on…” I told him not to worry, we weren’t the only ones and that it would all be figured out.

Two days later I returned to campus for a meeting with a counselor. I’d brought along a rug for Peter’s room and we met up. I must say, the young lad was looking dapper:

Making a pretty face for mom

Making a pretty face for mom

Fun trivia fact: ¬†Peter is in a single room, small and rather like a monk’s cell. Quiet though, and private. And….it’s the same room¬†Mark Zuckerberg¬†lived in his junior (or when he was an ‘upper’, to use the PEA lexicon) ¬†year at Phillips Exeter Academy (he moved across the hall the next year).

One week in, all seems to be well. Peter’s already moved to a more advanced spanish class. He’s had his first crew practice which was ‘crazy’, but fun. I don’t believe he is a bit homesick. I think our boy is going to be just fine. And the grown-ups? We’re going to be okay too.

Where have I been (moving right along)

All over the map and engaged in just about every variety of activity except for writing. Oops. I have this theory about getting behind. It involves activation barriers and the fact that the longer you put off something you need to do, the more daunting the task becomes. The more daunting the task, the less likely you are to tackle it. There is the temptation to just move on. However, if you are (as I am) a conscientious procrastinator, that is impossible. You become your own worst enemy and there is nothing to do but surrender.


My distractors (David, Peter, Buddy) have headed south for the last of the summer’s fishing and blue crabbing. It is just me, my lap top and a nagging sense that there are things left unsaid…now where was I?

Way back at the beginning of August, 8/1/13 in fact…the actual August (our big boy) bid us adieu. It had been a wonderful week and it is always difficult to say goodbye. However, this time was a little different. I have been quite transparent in my attempts to nudge August back to the East Coast. And….I am happy to report that it just could happen. It’s been ten years since he moved to Colorado and my eldest son is not one to embrace change. So we are exploring this possibility in baby steps. But, I remain ever hopeful. And perhaps unreasonably excited.

Photo by Sadie Dayton

Photo by Sadie Dayton

Of course, even as I cross my fingers that one child may be moving back home, I am preparing for the departure of another. Master Peter Duff heads off to boarding school in a week. Every time I think about it my breath catches and my heart seems to skip a beat. After almost twenty nine years of hands-on mothering, this is not going to be easy.

Peter is just so much fun to be with. And I shall miss our daily repartee. The other day we were talking about hair. I finally found the perfect cut for me—I was sitting in the chair at Super Cuts, and my favorite stylist Tiffany had the scissors poised above my head. What to do? I glanced at the eight year old boy in the chair to my left, and decided I wanted my hair to look just like his. So, a little longer on top, and shaved to 3/4 ” on the back and sides. I like it. However, I digress. I had hoped that Peter would submit to Tiffany’s ministrations as well. However, he was still on the fence about whether or not he would simply shave all his hair off. I protested rather strongly (which, psychologically speaking, is probably the worst thing I could do. Mom doesn’t want me to do it? Decided!) Anyway, my effort to influence his decision went like this: “Get a trim and you are a handsome boy with great hair. Shave it all off and you look like a skinhead.” Alas, subtlety is not my style. Peter claimed my observation was ‘racist’ and Tiffany didn’t touch a hair on his head. Yet.

Photo by Sadie Dayton (check out that hair)

Photo by Sadie Dayton (check out that hair)


Some very special images

The photo shoot with my pal Sadie (Sadie Dayton Photography) turned out even better than I could have imagined. Literally done on the fly—no stylist, no make-up artist, no wardrobe—no matter! Even allowing for my personal bias regarding both the artist and the models, I think these photos are absolutely splendid. Thank you Sadie!

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