I am home, most of the time, these days.

John and I packed up in Istanbul and flew home on May 20th. On May 22nd I rallied to give a commencement address. On May 23rd, I felt the weight of the moving, the 7-hour time difference, the ongoing cancer battle and treatments…and exhaustion. In many ways, I’m still recovering from all that. So, I’ve been quietly reintegrating into life at home.

I’m trying to be patient with low energy, satisfied with walks around the block (instead of runs around the track), and nourished by being a central touchpoint of our kids’ busy lives: graduation celebrations, working, a summer class, an internship, enjoying friends, family dinners, a boys’ trip to Florida, and Fathers’ Day. They haven’t missed a beat, and it makes me happy. Oh, and there is the dog. How is it that Rocky’s even cuter than before? By all accounts, he’s had an emotional year, and he seems so much better with his family altogether now. I’m happy to be back in my kitchen, cooking for myself and our family, and eating their delicious food too (well done on the keto-friendly eggs benedict and berry cobbler for Fathers’ Day, Grant and Sophie!).

It’s been a big adjustment being home, and also as if I never left. Time is strange that way. At first, I wondered how I fit…but that quickly became clear. Our kids lead the way. They have kept their $&*# together throughout this whole journey. In many ways, they are mature beyond their years. They don’t need oversight so much as love and support. That, I can give in spades. And admiration. I admire both of them so much and revel in the adults they are already. I really like this parenting moment.

I have my own lifeforce here too. Another book is coming together about braver cancer science and more empathetic cancer care. Interest in other work on empathy, with the police and personally, continues via podcasts and invitations to tell the story (e.g. the City Club of Cleveland). Of course, too much of my time is still spent fighting, mentally, emotionally, and physically, late-stage cancer. Anyone who has been there knows, it’s a full-time job all by itself. Nutrition. Supplements. Treatments. Tests. Meditation. Exercise. Prayer. Absorbing new news. Reconciling ourselves to the present work and traumas and accepting an uncertain future. And so on… I am not always gracious. It helps that this work is broken up by occasional fun visits, walks, and outdoor lunches with friends and extended family who keep us company along the way, although there is energy to conserve and still a pandemic to consider.

My life in Istanbul feels like a dream. I’m still in touch with friends there, though, so I know it was real. I also know they saved my life, because my memories of home before I left are painful, physically and emotionally…that was real too. The toxic mold issue that dogged me before/during/after diagnosis and the first round of treatment is gone, gone, gone, remarkably. Turkey gets credit for that too. Time at home now feels old and new at the same time. I still mourn the things that are more difficult than before cancer…I can’t seem to shake 51 years of healthy body memories even by acknowledging 2.5 years of struggle. When I dream, I am well and whole. Awake, I feel the loss of life as it might have been…and as it seems to continue for our friends and family because it’s apparent here. It’s all around us. John and I (and Sophie and Grant) have jumped lanes, and we don’t get to go back.

We do get to be home and together though, most of the time. Our solution for the summer is integrative oncology via the Block Center in Chicago – i.e., safer chemo – every 2 weeks. They are old friends on this journey. Via supplements and nutritional advice, the Block Center helped keep me feeling well and without side effects throughout the first round of chemo from April to September 2020. As in Istanbul, they deliver chemotherapy drugs along with nutritional infusions and hyperbaric oxygen to protect healthy cells and ward off side effects. So far, so good. As important as it was initially, it’s crucial to have integrative oncology when you consider how much and how long my body has endured these treatments. This is true for anyone with a difficult cancer. Full-body hyperthermia is not part of the deal here as it was in Turkey; it’s not legal in the US. It was effective, but I do not miss it. Brutal. Truly. I challenge anyone not to turn into a raging bitch in that chamber!

You know what’s funny? My view from the infusion chair in the Block Center is green, with lovely trees and birds nesting these days. What I didn’t notice the first time which was glaringly obvious last week was what else is growing around all of those trees! Can you spot them? Do you know what they are? Have you ever harvested them to make dolma? I have! A nice connection to Istanbul. And I think I’ll bring a cooler to Chicago next time…

Soon, we will know. We are following cancer and terrain markers to see how effective these treatments in Chicago are. At the very least, we hope I remain stable so we can have this time all together before the kids go off to their various adventures in the fall. There are some new tricks (e.g., curcumin and other nutritional infusions) that bode well for addressing the one cancer gene I, and anyone who gets cancer, have (TP53), which may up the anticancer game at this point. We hope so.

Also, being home and in the midst of our family has benefits that can’t be quantified…or can they? Before I even took more chemo in the US my cancer marker went down by ~30%. Maybe that’s the “empathy factor” at work? In any case, we will know how these treatments are working and have the data to make adjustments that might help…keep us home, most of the time.

So, for now, every 2 weeks, we travel to Chicago for 3 days to get chemo sandwiched between nutritional infusions. I wish it weren’t so often. I wish it weren’t so necessary. It is our reality for now.

The funny thing is…

Chicago is where John and I met and fell in love.
Chicago is where we thought we might live out our married life, or maybe some part of retirement.
So here we are, on another adventure…engaging in an alternate future (regular residents in Skokie, dinner out in Winnetka, appreciating the beauty of Lake Michigan in the summer, the chance to see dear friends) with a similar twist (Jackie getting pummeled with kinder, gentler chemo as part of the deal). Oh, to have retirement without that price! Is that too much to ask?!

I so often wondered what life would’ve been like for us if we stayed in Chicago. For now, I can say, we love Shaker Heights. It’s a special bubble in this country. We would’ve loved Chicago too, but it’s hard to imagine how life might have been better, especially for our kids. So, there’s that. I can stop that particular kind of wondering now.

For our kids, adventures await. Grant moves to Villanova for college in mid-August. Sophie moves to Granada, Espana (!) for a semester abroad in September. Oh, the places they’ll go, with their able bodies, thank goodness. I couldn’t be more excited for them and am so glad to be here to help them get ready. We will be empty nesters, but what it means is so different than what I used to imagine. For now, I’m thrilled to see them living their lives and relieved that our adventures in health don’t seem to slow them down much.

No matter where our kids go or what they do now and always, the rhythm of home keeps beating inside. I know, because it was with me in Istanbul and resumed at a closer range/higher volume here at home. It continues to sustain me through brutal cancer treatments in Chicago and tests, etc, here at home. That rhythm is what we’ve built together and the legacy we all carry, across time and space.

It never stops.

Like a dance.

Like a heartbeat.

Maybe this is what’s meant by “home is where the heart is”…it’s comforting to know you can take it with you.

It’s right there, inside.


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An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder


An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder

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