Thursday, January 22, 2009


Imagine a small bald baby bird as he calms his screaming, looks over the edge of the nest, and takes a leap. No longer is he dependent. He stumbles at first, not quite sure which direction to fly, or for that matter, if he's flying at all. Hopefully soon, he will be soaring to new heights and building his own nest.

Little Bald Baby Billy Bird is writing his last blog . . . with tremendous sadness.

This experience with you, my readers, has been without question the most healing part of my journey with cancer. But it's over now and I have to move on, physically and emotionally. Just as much as the chemotherapy, the medical teams, and my private journal, I want this blog to always be a part of the capsule that I will close and file away under the title of "My Most Amazing Year."

I hope I have said something of purpose for each of you. There is no question that this writing, the research for it, and most of all, your responses and comments, have projected me into a new realm of spirit. Please continue to send me thoughts and ideas at

Of all of my 95 blog entries, this is the most difficult. Just as I ended my journal with "Goodnight sweet cancer," I will end this amazing segment of my healing with,

Goodnight sweet friends. You saved a life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Man's Search For Meaning

I have been reading Viktor Frankls' "Man Search For Meaning," which has sold over 12 million copies since it was first published in 1949. A good friend suggested I read it since its theme is very close to all that I have tried to say in the past year. Many of you have probably read it.

The book is a tragic recount of Dr. Frankl's experience in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 until 1945. And yet it is an amazing tale of survival and the human spirit. "Without suffering," he says, "human life cannot be complete."

In no way would I ever attempt to compare my past year to his tremendous agony, but from reading this book, I have learned so much from his theories of why we experience suffering. If I could summarize my thoughts from his book, it would be,

Each person's suffering is unique.
Each person's lessons are his rewards.
Each person's purpose is his gift back to the world.

Rather than to try to explain my own translations, I will copy some of my favorite quotes from the book.

"If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. . . . The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity -- even under the most difficult circumstances -- to add a deeper meaning to his life."

"It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. Our answers (to the questions of life) must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

"Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it."

"Humor is one of the soul's weapons in the fight for self preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation. . . . Any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp . . . it is this spiritual freedom which makes life meaningful and purposeful."

The second half of Dr. Frankl's book is an explanation of his psychological theories called "logotherapy." Rather than based on our past, like most therapy, logotherapy focuses on the future . . . on the meanings to be fulfilled by a person in his future. According to logotherapy, the striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man. He calls it "a will to meaning." He explains that once we know the "why" for our existence, we will be able to bare almost any "how."

I am not alone in my generation of Baby Boomers who strive to do good and find our purpose. Currently in this country, every day, 8,000 people turn 60 years old, many of whom are entering a new phase in that search for meaning.  Viktor Frankl's book has never been more pertinent.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Love From Beyond

Today I did something very powerful. I have wanted to do it for a long time but haven't felt emotionally stable enough to attempt it. This morning at 5:00 a.m., I felt strong.

My partner passed away in 1992 and for the past year I have wanted to write him a letter to ask for advice. He was a strong intelligent leader, and I knew he would have great things to tell me. That was the key to writing this letter. I had to also write a letter from him back to me; the most anxious part of the assignment.

Give it a try. Write all of your thoughts, updates, and questions to someone you love who is now up there protecting you. Poor your heart out. Be honest. And then without hesitation or thought, write a return letter. The true lesson for me is that all of the great advice that Randy gave me in this letter was obviously already in me somewhere. All of the good things that I don't want to admit are easier to say and hear when it doesn't feel like it's coming from me.

My motivation for finally doing this came after I rented a movie recently titled "P.S. I Love You." It sounded like a total chick flick, but I thought, "What the hell. I can handle a little sappiness right now." Sappy, chicky, whatever, it had a profound influence on me. If you don't know the story, a husband dies and leaves his new young wife a letter to be discovered every day for several weeks. The last letter asks her to please see herself the way he sees her.  That was an amazing line for me.

I know how much Randy loved me. It had never occurred to me to look at myself through his eyes, or to value the things he loved about me. Or one step ahead of valuing them . . . simply contemplating what they are.

My only warning to you is to have a box of tissues by your side (see blog below). It isn't working if you're not crying.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I went to an adorable Christmas play in Ohio for the elementary school where my brother is pastor. Throughout the entire show I was struggling to hold back tears. Nothing makes me cry more than little kids singing because they seem to be filled with such love and sincerity. Also, the children that are terrified in front of an audience remind me so vividly of a certain little Billy about 45 years ago. My mother agreed to put me in a fashion show when I was 6 and I sat on the edge of the stage, in front of the audience, crying and screaming "Mommy!" until someone walked out to get me. The scars still remain and the tears still come back at the thought of it. (Turns out it was my brother they wanted anyhow.)

The Today Show did a story about the Chicago post office offering letters to Santa for the public to come read and fulfill the requests. I cried at the generosity of strangers and the heartfelt intensity of the letters.

My young twin nieces showed up for our family Christmas dinner after being away for a long time. Guess what? Uncle Bill cried.

Why does Uncle Bill still have this lingering side effect from cancer that makes him cry every time his heart is touched? Obviously it is better than other side effects, but it's the only one that he can't hide. Of all the pains to remain, it's the strain of the pain with the most shame to refrain.

And then I think about it. It is not a side effect of cancer at all. It's a side effect from a heart that swelled last year to many times its previous size. Why would I want it to shrink again? I'm probably stuck with this side effect.

I remember that tears were abundant after chemo, or when I was very fatigued, but I have had plenty of sleep lately so now the excuses are gone. I have to blame them on lessons learned. Good lessons. And if I reread the first part of this blog, I was crying when I was 6, so maybe things haven't really changed that much.

Over the years, people have offered different theories for why we cry. I believe them all. It is a cleansing of our psyche, one person told me. It is the truest form of courage, another said. (I'm not sure I understand that one.) And another friend explained that we cry to flush away pain. But of all the explanations, I love my father's the best. When I was a child, he told me that when we get a lump in our throats, it is love solidified in our bodies.

That's what my crying has been all about recently, and all of this year.  Not my psyche. Not courage. Not pain.  Pure and simple Love.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Year Ago Today

It has been a wonderful three weeks in Ohio with my family. Although it is currently 5 degrees, I am truly enjoying sitting here quietly by the fire, watching the snow fall, and reflecting on a long and beautiful year. One year ago today was my first entry into my journal Lymph Notes, sitting in the "Pet Waiting Room" anticipating my first pet scan, and writing about my feelings. This is a portion of the entry:

"I am fighting tears right now. I pray not tears of self pity. I would much rather think of them as an enormous self will to have back my energy and spirit. My spirit. It is my spirit I miss. I can't seem to emotionally handle this wallowing of doubt and not knowing. I have recognized for a long time that there is something wrong with my blood. I have not had the ability to exercise, and sometimes even just standing up makes me light headed.

I must prepare myself for the possibility of cancer.

I continue to glance up at the only other patient in the room. She is also journaling. I want to burst into tears and yet she appears to have such a strong will. Poised and dignified, even with the IV dangling from her arm. Maybe she could loan me a bit of spirit. Possibly she thinks I look confident and poised. What are her thoughts? Uh oh. They have just come to take her away. 

Now it is just me and complete total absolute silence. It stirs memories of being in a church confessional waiting for the priest to slide the little door open, or in the womb, waiting for the doctor to slide the little door open. Someone please come help me."

What a difference a year makes. Here I sit once again, one year later, in total silence. I remember that day as if it were today, and yet I am a completely different person because of what 2008 has taught me . . . . 

I have learned that there are a lot of good people in this world. How powerful that last line, "Someone please come help me!" From my closest family members to strangers that I have never met, from old friends that I had forgotten to new friends discovered purely because of my illness . . . there are people who sincerely want to love and offer a new spirit. So many came to help me.

I have learned that quiet moments like this one can be the most powerful moments of our lives.

I learned that I have something to say. I started writing again, in a completely different context, but because writing had always been a passion of mine, it has been rewarding for me to use that passion to satisfy a necessary release of internal energy.

I learned that every individual deals with suffering in his or her own way, and that it is absolutely my right to use laughter as my coping tool.

And most of all, I have my spirit back again, thanks to all of you. A new and beautiful spirit.

Happiest of holidays to everyone. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Round On The Ends and Hi in the middle

When I was in college, a friend and I kept a list of the ugliest and the prettiest words in the English language. Top on our list for ugly were words like stink, sassafras, and cooties. Two of the prettiest words were winter and whisper.

I thought about that this morning as I woke up here in Ohio and we were having a soft (another of our prettiest words) fluffy snowfall. Winter and whisper both came to mind. Snuggled under a big comforter, I was amazed at the peaceful beauty of it.

And then I got up.

I have lived in Texas or California for thirty years. My blood is not used to this 20-degree weather. But I love all the things that go with it, like fireplaces, hot chocolate, sweaters, and soup. So I'm loving the extreme change from West Hollywood.

The other thing that fascinates me is the amount of land occupied by shopping centers and GIANT stores like WalMart and Target. They are like Starbucks out here . . . one on every corner. And you can barely see them because the parking lots are more enormous than the stores.

I know I'm sounding like a stupid city slicker, but it is overwhelmingly shocking and yet so incredibly convenient. When was the last time I had the opportunity to actually walk to a Home Depot?

Right here on my street is a Home Depot, Staples, Michaels, Barnes & Noble, Marshalls, Target, WalMart, Meiers, and of course, a GIANT EAGLE. Also represented is every imaginable food chain. My sister knows I love buffets, so my first night here she took me to Hometown Buffet, which we lovingly refer to as "The Trough."

Being here reminded me of some old jokes about Ohio:
You know you're in Ohio when . . . . 
-- You know what's knee high by the fourth of July
-- Every festival is named after a fruit, vegetable, or grain
-- You think the major four food groups are beef, pork, beer, and jello salad
-- You know about cow tipping and possum kicking
-- You only know three spices; salt, pepper, and ketchup
-- National and international news takes up one page in the paper.  Sports takes six.
-- The four seasons are Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction
-- You know what a real buckeye is, and you have a recipe for candy ones
-- You can spell names like Cuyahoga, Tuscarawas, and Cincinnati

I'm happy to be here with my family, and more than anything, so thankful to be able to travel again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I had a great Chinese dinner on Sunday night with a couple of good friends at a local restaurant, and at the end we all got our traditional fortune cookies. "You will receive good news tomorrow." "A surprise visitor will bring good fortune." 

I was telling them that many years ago, I was at a large business dinner. When I read my fortune cookie aloud, ("You have a yearning for perfection"), everyone started laughing. I thought they were all telling me that I was not very organized.  Turns out everyone thought I said, "You have a urine infection."

So we started thinking Sunday night what a great idea it would be to slip some "misfortunes" into the batch of fortune cookies . . . maybe one in ten.

"Your husband secretly wears your underwear."
"You will lose your left foot in a tragic car accident."
"This meal will give you food poisoning tonight."
"Everyone hates your blog.  They just don't tell you."

So many options.  So much fun.  Ah so.