Category Archives: Milestones

Eleven beautiful and breathtaking years

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And counting. I’ve been so busy LIVING that I have neglected to note that we just zipped on past the eleven year anniversary of my diagnosis with lung cancer. That’s right–ELEVEN BEAUTIFUL AND BREATHTAKING YEARS that I didn’t think I was going to have.

Ever mindful of what a miracle waking up is, I continue to marvel at the fact that I AM ALIVE. Today, this day–and maybe tomorrow too. And you know what? It never gets old. The good, the bad and the ugly alike–it is a privilege to be here and something I shall never take for granted (and if you are reading this, neither should you).

Several days into year twelve (!), I vow to honor the memory of those who had to leave this party far too soon. Your departures hurt and anger–but death cannot tear apart the connections we made in life.

My personal goal going forward? To shift my focus from surviving to thriving. If you run the numbers, I’ve now known I had lung cancer for almost 1/5 of my lifetime–much of that lived on hold.

No longer. It’s full throttle from here on out as I plan to see and experience all that I can possibly cram into this life I call mine. To adventure!

Some self reflection and personal transparency

Self portrait in the ladie's room at Western Avenue Studios

Self portrait in the ladie’s room at Western Avenue Studios

I am in the midst of another break from packing; making the rounds of my gracious friend’s homes (thank you, thank you, thank you all). This has been a time to visit but also to decompress—and I’ve done just that, taking two naps in one day.

Despite my upbeat and can do attitude (at least I think that’s the tone I’m setting), I will acknowledge that this may well be the most difficult task I’ve undertaken yet. Disassembling a marriage is complicated no matter the circumstances; getting divorced while also battling cancer is crazy hard.

I am, on so many levels, stepping out into the complete unknown now. It has been years since I have been gainfully employed and financially, I am a persona non grata. Had a good friend not offered to cosign, I would not have qualified for my lease. Losing my independence was never meant to be part of marriage and yet somehow I let that happen.

I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how anxious this all makes me, but I keep moving forward in the faith that better times are ahead. I am thankful for not only the support of friends and family but also the timing: were Peter not boarding, the separation of households would be so much more difficult. And as it turns out, I am glad I didn’t qualify for the PD-1 clinical trial and that by default, extended my break from treatment. Otherwise, I don’t believe I’d be able to manage, either physically or emotionally.

As it is, I am rather proud of what I have accomplished. It took some frenzied research (and a bit of luck) but my future home (and of course, Peter’s) really is promising. I just about nailed the amount of rent I felt I could afford and by relocating south will remain a reasonable distance from Peter’s school and yet move significantly closer to Boston and Mass General Hospital. The lofts have onsite laundry facilities, are close to a commuter rail, parking is free, heat and air conditioning included and I won’t have to worry about shoveling snow.

As a plus, Lowell has a thriving cultural scene (did you know Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell?) and I am moving into not just an apartment, but a community. The day I signed the lease, my neighbor across the hall invited Sadie and I (along for the ride) into her loft. I think making new friends is going to be a cinch.

And there is some entrepreneurial potential as well, as open studios happen once a month. The wall outside the apartment is mine to use as gallery space and–I’ve been hatching this plan for a year now–I will also have the opportunity to sell vintage clothing (which I’ve been busy amassing) alongside my art at open studios. Woohoo!

securedownload-1So that’s a bit more of the fun stuff. Of course, in prelude to moving in, I’ve been packing up. I have singlehandedly transported carload after carload of boxes to a storage unit. And I’ve lined up a small band of merry movers (again, a preemptive thank you!) and will rent a truck to haul the furniture and boxes come December 1. And then I’ll move the vintage stuff into the storage unit.

I’ve also been working on the health insurance piece; worst and best case scenario. It is of utmost importance to me that I keep the same providers.

So, that’s a bit of an update. Tomorrow I move from one household to another…stages in a journey.

A space similar to the one I'll be moving into....

A space similar to the one I’ll be moving into….

The yellow brick road starts here…

ups and downs

ups and downs

I don’t know what’s up with me and WordPress but I can’t seem to set up a gallery of photos and I’m too tired to fight about it. So, I’ll just figure out another way around this problem. Multiple posts! With, of course, the added benefit of making me look really productive in a publishing sense.

Truth is, there is much I’d like to share but little time in which to do it. My father Ollie used to say ‘three moves equals one fire’. There are all sorts of ways to interpret that apt observation (not originally his own). I think he may have been referring simply to the damage moving inflicts upon one’s belongings—that which is lost, broken, nicked and dinged.

I prefer to think of it in a more spiritual sense, and this time I’m definitely burning  down the house.

Of course, once the smoke has cleared and the ashes cooled, I’ll be sifting through the wreckage for what is salvageable. And then I will begin to build anew.

I’ve signed a one year lease on a work/live loft in an artist’s community in Lowell, Massachusetts. I will move in on December 1 and having a known destination has provided me with a solid sense of direction. I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel and (thanks Melinda) I’m fairly certain it isn’t a train.

The photo at the top is of some very colorful stairs leading to an amazing warren of artist’s studios located in the old mill adjacent to my future residence. Studios such as this one:

creativity abounds

creativity abounds

“Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’.

Assorted busy-ness and notable happenings

Sienna, Peter, Rayla, Risha, and Rachel at prom

Sienna, Peter, Rayla, Risha, and Rachel at prom

I still have some catching up to do, and I better start with April. Although I kept quiet about it this year, it is worth noting that I was diagnosed with lung cancer in April of 2005. That was more than eight years ago. Or, another way of looking at it; I am into my ninth year of surviving.

Also, Mr. Peter Duff turned sixteen on April 20th—yet another important milestone. He is enrolled in a driver’s education class and should have his license within a month or two. And…he attended his first prom. I was in Austin, but got to serve as wardrobe advisor prior to my departure. That’s my Uncle Roger’s white jacket that Peter is wearing, and I have to say, the kid looks mighty fine (as do his lovely companions).

I’ve also had some fun dates with friends. Last week I spent twenty-four hours with Melinda, her daughter Lizzy (who is home for three weeks after completing her first year of law school) and Melinda’s sister-in-law Stephanie. Strolling, shopping and lunch followed by a nap, movie, tapas and a sleepover. Perfect!

Julia with the Boston Opera House in the background

Julia with the Boston Opera House in the background

And then, several days ago I joined my buddy Julia in Boston. After a yummy dinner made by her boyfriend Keith (barbecued chicken, asparagus and macaroni salad), Julia and I attended a Boston Ballet performance of Coppelia. It was pure confection; an all around delight. Too tired to drive back to New Hampshire, I crashed on Julia’s guest bed. As a child I seldom slept over at friend’s houses, but now that I’m an adult, it is one of my favorite things to do.

Over the weekend it was Peter’s turn to be sociable, as we hosted dinner and a sleepover for a few of his friends. Well, you know you’re getting old when you fail to get a real head count. Four of his guests left after dinner; the following morning I counted thirteen pairs of unfamiliar shoes in the front hall.

Normally I would be having chemo in two days, but it has been pushed back a week so that I can travel to Utah tomorrow for my stepfather’s eightieth birthday celebration. Busy, busy, busy!

Still time

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Well, somehow, someway I just haven’t gotten around to posting photos from our Thanksgiving trip to Marfa, Texas. It was, as always, a beautiful break from reality. Not just a change of locale, but a slowing down of time that is one part location—days really are longer at that latitude—and two parts attitude; we call it marfa-time.

Also of note, I marked another milestone while in Marfa: my birthday. Fifty three freaking years old y’all.


Late yesterday David and I traveled to Portland Maine for a delectable meal at Hugos.  Not just any old night out on the town, we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. To show how much he loved me, my husband wore his nantucket red chinos and the apple green topsiders that have been languishing in his closet. It pleased me, and in turn I donned a frothy skirt of amber tulle; one of our servers said it brought to mind an adult version of a ballerina’s frock.

It is hard to believe it has been twenty years, and that our flower girl is now twenty seven and herself four years married; the ring bearer an all grown up twenty six. On that summer day in 1992, the groom wore his grandfather’s tux and the bride an antique champagne colored lace and silk shift. The master of ceremonies was a justice of the peace, and Jemesii and August stood beside David and I as we took our vows. When we signed the marriage license, they placed their signatures next to ours.

It is an accomplishment, these twenty years. We have found ourselves challenged but also blessed, our three children being the best of all we share. Yesterday, we celebrated. Tomorrow, there will be an early morning session with the marriage counselor. Because love is worth fighting for.

Happy Day!

Fifteen years ago today I gave birth to a 10 lb 4 oz baby boy; our youngest, Peter Albion Duff. It was not an easy birth, for mother or child. His older sister and brother had each weighed a mere 6 pounds and some change, and I’d been able to employ lamaze breathing techniques for drug free, natural deliveries. I really tried to follow suit with Pete’s birth, but after far too many hours of labor, the attending physician suggested an epidural. The anesthesiologist, named Dr. Zipper (really), instantly became my favorite person of all time. Half an hour later, Peter emerged, or rather, was yanked free, to a chorus of “oh my god, he’s huge!” Aside from a temporarily misshapen head (which measured an astounding 15 and 1/2 inches in circumference), Pete was perfect. And I recovered.

Precious Pete

Seven years ago, on Pete’s eighth birthday, I was in house at MGH following a lobectomy. When his dad brought him to visit me in the hospital, Peter crawled into my bed and just sort of made these small animal sounds. It broke my heart, but also reinforced the fact that not surviving wasn’t an option. Our Christmas card that year was a photo of David, Peter and myself at the beach. I am about two months post chemo and we all have the same haircut.

So, another milestone. Pete is excited that he is six months away from qualifying for a learner’s permit to drive (oy vey). I am thrilled just to be present; to have the chance to witness my (big) little boy well on the way to becoming the wonderful grown-up he will become.

Happy, happy birthday!