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March 2019

Merrily We Roll Along

When I was still working and running lunch time errands in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, I didn’t pay attention to the older generation. Although I know that some of them made their way with the help of canes or walkers, I was too focused on what I was doing to notice.

Now I find myself wanting to cheer those old folks on, especially because I know that any day, it could be me who has trouble getting around.  And I happen to be married to a very handsome man who goes to the gym or the bank pushing his bright red Rollator. It’s a four-wheeled beauty with storage and a seat in case its owner wants to rest.  Peter locks his to the bike racks next to the two-wheelers of Harvard undergraduates and takes the last few steps to his destination with the help of his cane.

It’s a far cry from our years of biking into Harvard Square, but it gets the job done.


Then and Now

I retired from Harvard’s Kennedy School more than five years ago. When I went back to have lunch with former colleagues or to attend a program open to the public, it always felt like going home.

But while we were away in Washington, the School completed a construction project that joined all the buildings surrounding a courtyard, so that it is now possible to go from building to building without going outside, a real bonus in Cambridge winters.

The other evening Peter and I went to a lecture in a classroom I had been in hundreds of times.  But now that all the buildings are joined together, I had to ask a random student how to get there without going outside.  He was very kind, explaining in detail which elevator to take to which floor and how not to get lost once I got there. I thanked him very much.

As we walked away, I couldn’t help but think about how every student in the School used to know who I was. Now, I am just some random old lady asking for directions.  If that student could read minds, he would have known that I was thinking “Hey, I used to be SOMEBODY around here!”




The Unwinding of the Miracle

Because we have given away so many books while downsizing, I try not to buy any new ones.  When a book review tempts me, I dash to my computer and request it from the library.  I did that twice with Yip-Williams’ book, The Unwinding of the Miracle (I actually did read two reviews) but the second time, the library reminded me that I was already on the waitlist.  (So much for my short-term memory.)

It arrived while I was confined to the sofa by my cold, and Peter retrieved it for me.  I read it in two days.

Yip-Williams received a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer at age thirty-seven.  A Vietnam refugee, she had arrived in California as a small child with only partial vision. Yet she became a successful lawyer, married to the “man of her dreams,” with whom she had two girls. 

The blog that turned into Yip-Williams’ beautifully written description of her four-year “journey” spares no details, and although the book starts with her warning the reader that, “If you are here, then I am not,” you are pulling for the miracle that you know won’t happen.

Julie Yip-Williams died a year ago.


I’m usually pretty healthy. I eat well (except for maybe a little too much coffee ice cream). I get a flu shot every year, and I wash my hands at all the right times.  Except for a knee replacement twelve years ago and an emergency appendectomy, I don’t recall ever taking a sick day at work.  In the last couple of months, I sailed through surgery and radiation with no down time whatsoever.

So when I thought I might be coming down with a cold the other day, I took whatever I usually take for oncoming colds, grabbed a handful of tissues and walked two miles with a friend. Since then, I’ve barely been able to get off the sofa.

To all you cold sufferers out there:  I feel your pain. 

The Glass is Half Full

I like to look on the bright side, but I have to admit that that has not been easy in the last two years, particularly in the health department. Now, I expect the worst when a medical professional says, “I don’t think it’s anything, but let’s check to be sure”.  And I’ve been right up until now.

On my way to the dentist for my semi-annual teeth cleaning last week, I was expecting to be told that all my teeth had rotted and would have to be replaced by a full set of dentures.  When the hygienist finished scraping and cleaning and announced that my teeth looked terrific, I was thrilled.

But I still worried about a suspicious spot on my chest that my dermatologist had biopsied a week earlier. Having had two basal cell carcinomas (skin cancers) removed last year when we were living in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t eager to go through that again. 

It took me a while to summon up the courage to open her email announcing the results—a benign neurofibroma requiring no further treatment. I was ecstatic.

Perhaps the tide has turned. 

Jeremy All-to-Ourselves


Jeremy visited us last weekend.  Just Jeremy.  We love being with his family, but when we are all together, we focus on our grandchildren.  But to celebrate his father’s eighty-ninth birthday, he came alone.

The three of us went to Peter’s surgery follow-up appointment where Jeremy charmed the doctor and her nurse.  He went to the grocery store with us.  He photographed all the pictures of his kids on our shelves. He took his father for a haircut (pictured above). He solved a computer problem for me and gave us his insights on some challenges we are facing.

Two of his childhood friends came to see him, and we laughed together for an hour before they went out to dinner.  And on a perfectly sunny (but a bit cold for him) Saturday afternoon, he and I walked in Boston’s newly developed Seaport area, the “in” place to be.  

That evening, we had a terrific birthday dinner in a restaurant we hadn’t tried before, and then at 5:30 a.m.(!),­ I drove him to the airport. As always, when a child leaves, I was sad.  And grateful.


Fear of Falling

When I began writing this blog in 2008, I rode my bike to work every day, and falling was of no concern. Yes, I had broken a hip in 2007, but that was because I was walking hand-in-hand with Peter when he tripped and pulled me down with him.

But what we worry about changes.

Although I’m not a habitual reader of obituaries, when I do look at them, I notice that many of the elderly die after complications of a fall. At the start of my radiation treatment, the nurses told me to avoid falling because they didn’t want anything to interfere with my daily treatments. Last week a good friend broke her knee-cap when she tripped just a few steps from her front door.

Jane Brody recently tackled (so-to-speak) this topic in her New York Times “Well” column.

I recommend it.


Late to the Altar


My mother and her five siblings all married late in life. Mom was what used to be an “older” bride at twenty-seven. Her brother Milton married at thirty-six. Two of her siblings married for the first time in their fifties, and one never married although she lived to be a hundred. (Being single may explain her longevity.)

Remarkably, none of their marriages ended in divorce. I see that as an argument for marrying late. My parents were worried because I was still single as I was approaching thirty. I wish they could know that Peter and I are still going strong after more than fifty years together.


Thursday was the final day of my radiation treatment for breast cancer. Every weekday for the past four weeks I had walked through the revolving door of Mount Auburn Hospital, down the stairs, past the day-surgery registration area and into the radiation oncology department.

Like clockwork, I changed into a johnny, climbed onto a table, and held still while a huge white machine killed whatever cancer cells may have been left behind after my surgery (and a lot of good cells too). Fortunately, the good cells come back. And if I’m lucky, the bad cells won’t.

The people in the radiation oncology department were lovely. The people at the hospital’s main receptionist desk and in the day-surgery department started greeting me as a regular when I passed by. The buyer for the gift shop and I are now buddies.

On Wednesday night I baked three-dozen cookies for the radiation oncology team—the least I could do for their kindness. They gave me a graduation certificate suitable for framing. I said that I wished them well, but hoped I would never see them again. It’s not the first time they’ve heard that.