Serving From The Heart

I have walked the fine line between hope and reality for over 8 years as a neuro oncology nurse.  This means I have helped coordinate care for patients with brain tumors and other neuro complications of cancer and a world renown comprehensive cancer center where people come from all over the world to seek treatment.  I have fallen off that line more times than I can count.  I have held the hands of spouses, parents, children, sisters, brothers and friends.  At other times I have endured angry outbursts like a parent listening to a tantrum after letting someone know that there are no tricks left in our bag, that we have honestly given their loved one our best and the best wasn’t good enough.  Also like a parent, I have asked those that are bringing cases of “miracle treatments” found on Google or on a blog or through a friend of a friend of a friend, if they think we would hold back any chance of a cure for their loved one?  I have supported those that wanted to throw their money at these things in desperate attempts anyway.  I have been to funerals, to celebrations of life, and to patient homes to say goodbye.  Those events always punched me in the gut, seeing pictures and hearing the stories of someone before they were suddenly derailed on their life course, whether it was a seizure or something more subtle leading them to their brain tumor diagnosis- one that often promises a 15 month prognosis.  Many fall on either side of this bell curve.  There is no rhyme or reason, and it’s not only the good that die young.  I have written many sympathy cards.  In turn, I have a stack of printed emails and cards from the loved ones of those in our care.  There are many that understand that death is a part of life, and others not willing to accept this truth.  Usually because there is something that needs reconciling, or there are just too many things left on their bucket list that they haven’t had the time for.  I’ll share the first note I ever received because I read it so many times when trying to sort out the unanswerable “whys” that are inevitable in this job and because I truly believe we can learn from everyone if we open our hearts to what they have to say.  “Thanks Megan (in response to a note I sent him), What you witness with *** and I, you have and will with others in your professional career and personal life.  There are a lot of victories that occur, some of them just aren’t as self evident.  I am grateful to have this time with *** on top of all the years we have shared.  I just want her to be safe, have dignity, be calm, and not have pain.  If all of that is accomplished in the time ahead, then that is a success.  I certainly will keep in touch.”

And he did and this was the first service I attended after starting.  It was the next week after, that I went back and printed this email and had it pinned up on my bulletin board.

God gives each of us our talents.  Mine has been to not only be a nurse, but an advocate, an advisor, a friend, and even some called me family as we walked through the most difficult journey together.  At other times, I have actually taken care of family- most notably my father in law as you know, and friends.  This can affirm one’s field of service, but it can bring with it a weight that is at times unbearable because as humans, we desire to “fix” things.  This is where I really learned to sit with and acknowledge not only my own feelings, but of those around me and that trying to control a situation is fruitless.  The only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions.

I have sat in the office of the head neuro oncologist we lovingly call “LR” for hours trying to figure out how to help someone in a difficult case.  His grandchildren call him “Grumpy”, because he doesn’t carry a smile on his face.  But one quickly finds he is a teddy bear who has shouldered the burden of little progress in brain tumor treatment for almost as long as I have been on this earth.  He tells patients he’ll let them know when it’s time to worry, and until then, he will take care of it.  Despite his many years, he always stumbled when it was time to tell someone the worst of news.  However, he wasn’t afraid to turn to me afterward and say, “how did I do?” when I urged him that this visit would need a little more reality than hope.  He holds a wealth of knowledge like no one I have ever met, yet was so easily approachable.  We would talk about all sorts of things from sports to politics, to our favorite TV shows.  I will miss my “work Dad” tremendously.

One of my other neuro oncologists, “Seema”, helped facilitate care for my father-in law.  For that I will be forever grateful.  She is an empath, is excellent at walking that indelible line of hope and reality and is breaking down the glass ceilings of working women in medicine.  We too have spent many hours in person, via text and email trying to brainstorm on difficult cases.   The world is lucky to have people like her.

Then there was of course my fellow nurses and nurse practitioners.  The glue to the medical team and often my own sanity.  I don’t even know where to start except I feel so lucky and blessed to have had such an incredibly hard working, compassionate, funny, innovative team by my side.  We talked about everything, wiped each other’s tears, made each other laugh until our ribs hurt.  We grabbed coffee, moments of fresh air and occasionally lunch together to make it through the day.  We gave each other advice on everything- from a certain patient situation, family grumblings, pregnancy and motherhood, family members with cancer and even shared recipes and fashion advice.  I can truly say they know me better than I often know myself.

This job helped me know myself, better than any other nursing job.  It has taught me so much about life, love and everything inbetween.  To let go of the small things that don’t matter and cherish the small moments that do.  As a mom of “just one”, I get to be a mom to so many more.  But my priority is Lincoln now.  Life as we know, is too short to not take the opportunities that present themselves.  As Condaleesa Rice says, serendipity is not just about being at the right place at the right time, but also who you know.  I have been looking for the right opportunity to move on.  A chance for my heart to hopefully hold a little less sorrow and to make space for daily small, but precious moments with Lincoln.  Change is hard, but I know I am right where I need to be.  Without change, we don’t grow.  I want to show Lincoln that there is always room to spread your wings and fly.


Beautiful Mess

Growing up my Mom always told me, “You have to have bad days once in a while to appreciate the good.”  At the time I probably rolled my eyes or thought she was wrong.  Turns out, Mom is always right.  The past few weeks have been less than “good” if one were to qualify a particular day as good or bad.  Over the years, I’ve learned to trust the process.  Whenever things seem to be falling into place, I tend to hold on to my peach and brace for the worst, for that’s when it usually happens.  Each struggle elevates us.  Each a step closer to our best self. My struggles are not the same as someone else’s (thank goodness!- sometimes you have to be thankful for what you DON’T have).  But it is still my beautiful mess.  So I’ll share it  because usually, people only share the best moments of their life or day to cast an illusion that everyone’s life is all good, all the time.  This is in fact one of the reasons my husband doesn’t have any social media accounts aside from Twitter so he can stay up to date on all things sports related.  I used to turn to him, so frustrated, asking- how does this person with (fill in the blank) have time to look like that?  and their house look like that?  and they go on vacations that look like that? “Megan, he would say- you don’t see the help from other people in the background.  Or maybe just the ugly mess that was just moments before.” I think about this when I look at some of our own family photos.  In particular, just before we headed out to have some family photos for the last Holidays, our house had been full of “hot” emotions all morning.  There was no reason in particular other than everyone woke up on the wrong side of the bed and there was even door slamming, yelling and I fought back tears and had to find a calm space as we drove so that hopefully our pictures didn’t reflect the dysfunction of the morning.

This week, I was somewhere between laughter and tears as my 4 year old threw up on the way to school.  I ran into grab an extra set of clothes from his cubby there along with a plastic bag, stripping him down in the parking lot and trying my best to calmly clean the mess.  I got him home and was thinking, “seriously- enough didn’t happen over the past 2 weeks that now I get to clean up throw up, cancel my brazilian wax (which I was finally getting around to after 6 months), and figure out how to get work done today?  So let’s rewind to the past 2 weeks.  It started with the 4 year old having a little cough and cold.  It got better, then escalated and kept everyone up in the house (Lincoln in a benadryl haze), myself in the guest bedroom next door so I could run in if he needed me in the middle of the night, and my husband down in his bed watching the monitor and coming up to help whenever necessary.  After night 3, we brought him in to the doctor just to make sure it wasn’t turning into something else.  “Just a really bad virus,” she said.  “And oh- expect a couple more bad nights”.  “Greaaaaat….”  I thought to myself as I anticipated my husband leaving in less than 24 hours to head out on business and then I really was working 2 full time jobs (parenting is a full time job, somewhat shared with a spouse).  Whenever my husband heads out of town, our other child, the 70 pound boxer, heads to my in-laws.  This is the compromise I made when I found myself unable to take care of a baby alone, a dog when we have no backyard to let him out in, and continue to work full time.  So, off he went down the road a few hours after I returned from the doctor.  We had another rough night as anticipated.  Jamie snuck out of the house early to catch his flight. I found a tiny piece of sanity on the stationary Peloton bike, and then as I was racing through my shower to be ready to address my sick child’s needs, my phone started ringing.  It was my father in law at the vet with the my dog-child. He was really upset, saying he was sorry he should have brought Bodhi there sooner.  I am now in my nurse mode trying to get information out of a distraught family member.  He hands the phone over to the vet, who says, “I am so sorry but we need to perform emergency surgery on your dog.  There’s a 50/50 chance he’ll make it.  The estimate is somewhere between $6000 and $13,000 and if you want us to go ahead we need a credit card to charge the lower amount of the estimate.  If you have pet insurance, this will be covered.”  “Oh sure, yes- we do.  Umm, OK, here’s our credit card #.  I have to get my son to school and then I’ll be there.”  In my head I was thinking, “did this all just happen before I even had a cup of coffee?”  Fast forward, my husband returns home after a few days and so does our dog.  Now we are not sleeping for another reason as our ears are perked for any noise again.  I trudge through work in a daze.  This is a place where I often gain perspective.  I mean, I work with cancer patients all day.  I hear there stories, and often find myself again thankful for what I DON’T have, but my life has been closely touched by this disease over and over again.  I see it bring people together in ways they may not have otherwise.  I have also seen it tear families apart.  I have mourned at the thought of a child being left without a mom or dad, a spouse without their soulmate, a mom or dad without their son or daughter.  I have seen people continue to build their legacy.  I have seen people become consumed with their diagnosis and almost lose themselves in the process.  It’s a big, beautiful mess of a life.

And somedays, I take a little longer to get over myself.  When I do, I can find beauty and joy in the little things.  Like the extra snuggles with my beautiful child. Listening to his sweet snores as he falls asleep on my chest. I realize, that it’s not that bad.  Sometimes, I feel like super woman when I conquer the week.  I managed it all and I didn’t die.  Some weeks may have more pics on my Instagram.  Others, I am just hanging on by my fingernails and only want to open my phone to see how many more hours or minutes before my alarm goes off.  And that’s ok.  I get to be here today.  I get to enjoy this big beautiful mess of life.

It’s Not That Serious

It’s not that serious. This is my mantra lately as the worry and anxiety creep into my mind. You know, those middle of the night moments when you start thinking about the “to-do” list.  Or worrying about being a good enough (fill in the blank). To avoid becoming consumed with these thoughts, I try to observe them and tell myself, “It’s not that serious”.  Because most of it isn’t.  It’s just my perception, the tunnel vision that takes over when I start overthinking.  We can’t control life, but we can control our reactions.

So I start celebrating the little victories.  “I worked out this morning!”  “I made it to work on time (sort of)!”  “My 4 year old brushed his teeth!”   

In fact, I’ve been taking cues from my 4 year old lately.  Children, especially our own, can be our greatest teachers.  They are often a mirror of our own behavior. They watch our every move and will certainly repeat it.  They also find our blind spots and point them out.  When I am in a rush and taking life too seriously, he’ll ask me “Mom, why are you talking so fast (or loud)?” Or “Mom, why do you keep saying that?”, followed by, “Stop telling me, I already know”.  


And I stop- take stock of what I am worried about and try to determine if indeed, it is worth it.  Is it really about him, or is it about me? I then find myself wanting to mimic his ability to be in the moment, incapable of multi-tasking. By simplifying, the grip of anxiety starts to soften. It’s amazing how much smoother our commute to school can be when I let the last 20 minutes of trying to rush him out the door go.  We stop worrying about the traffic, making up stories about why there are so many buses parked at the station (maybe they’re on a coffee break).  He points out things I would have otherwise let slip by as I stare at the car bumper in front of me, like someone working on a roof, or the color of the clouds.  We sing along to Sesame Street tunes.  (I dare you not to smile when listening to these silly songs). He gives me “smooches” and a hug before pushing me out the door to his preschool.  Then I smile, thinking about the moments we just shared instead of the “to-do” list as I head into a busy work day. (Another victory to celebrate!)  After all, it’s not that serious.  Life will still go on as it always does, bringing new challenges and opportunities to live in the moment.  It’s up to us what to make of them.

Aversion and Acceptance

Spring is here, my favorite season of the year as the days turn longer, flowers start blooming, rain clears the air and warm breezes fill the air. I’ve always had a hard time with Winter because of the colder days that are short in daylight hours but recently have found more beauty in it. As I think about these seasons and how they relate to my own life, I want to talk about aversion and acceptance.

After a turn of events that led Jamie to choose rehab, I had a severe aversion to alcohol. The smell of it coming from a wine glass, walking past it at a grocery store, watching it pass the lips of friends and family all made me shudder and sick with nausea. Big emotions have a physical response. I would tell myself that it was my problem, not theirs. That consuming alcohol is very much a part of the everyday adult life for most. That I too, had just been doing the same thing for many years, even before my adult life as a way to fit in, let my socially awkward guard down. But now the very shield I often used to hide behind, was causing me to become physically ill. It was the cause of my pain, not the suffering of going through this difficult time in my life. It made it hard to let the light of others come in. I was in my own winter. I would often make polite excuses to leave early. While this aversion helped me keep boundaries for myself and for Jamie, I never felt safe in talking to anybody about it. Was afraid that the already declining invitations to hang out or have dinner etc, would be even less.

Aversion, can put you in a lonely place. But during this time, I learned to start listening to my heart, my body, my soul. Slowly as my heart began to heal, I became more comfortable around alcohol. Now I even occasionally drink a glass, I don’t just hold it for appearances.

“Love your suffering. Do not resist it. It is aversion that hurts, nothing else.” Hermann Hesse

I have now fully accepted where I am, where my relationship is, where we are as a family. This of course is dynamic and consistently comes with new challenges.

I can honestly look back and say I loved this time of suffering. I have accepted it fully. And now I am working on continuing to live in the present moment and seeking to strengthen and renew relationships, build new ones and to be my best self, minute by minute, day by day, season by season.




Well here we are, mid March and almost at the 1st day of Spring.  The “busy” of the holidays and start of a New Year seem to be settling a tiny bit, or rather I have found my new routine.  I am struggling with finding the time to write.  Often things come to me in the early morning hours while I am running or breathing on the yoga mat.  When I get to my journal later, the words seem to have been lost along the way.  But I am still determined to get in at least 1 post a month.  As my first “shared” post was a magazine article I wrote and the magazine has since been taken down, I thought I would take the time to repost as inspiration not only to others, but to myself to keep on keepin’ on.

“I Do- The Promise That is Tested”

People make promises and then break them all the time.  To keep a promise, you must understand, that it’s not just to someone else, but also to yourself.

“I’ll accompany you, and you’ll accompany me”, is the promise my husband and I repeated to each other on our wedding day over 5 years ago.  A day we stood in front of our closest family and friends as we committed to spending the rest of our lives together.

Little did I know that a wrecking ball was going to come crashing in the window 10 days later, that would test us in so many, many ways. But my husband saved our marriage, by saving himself first.  Huh, you ask? Remember I said the promise is 2 fold, and lucky for me, he realized he had to start with the man in the mirror.

Long story (to be told another day) short-  the man I married just admitted he was an alcoholic, and not only needed but wanted help. At that moment, he didn’t want to be alone for a second, not even in the shower, like he was afraid the world was going to swallow him up.  I was kind of wishing it would swallow me up.  I felt like everything was surreal, like I was watching a movie. Watching someone face their demons head on is certainly scary.  But surely as the sun rises each morning, we found light in our love.  It was as easy, and as hard, as getting up each day and asking, “What can I do to help?”.

Over the next days, weeks, and months, people asked how I managed to continue living life as usual (as opposed to lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself ).  When you love someone, I mean , really love someone- you love all of them.  I believe that we find reflections of ourselves in those around us.  We’re not all that different from each other after all, and realizing that makes life a little easier. I put myself in his shoes everyday. We became better versions of ourselves and grew in ways that only comes from the hard times.  My husband has become the partner, son, brother, and father that he was destined to be because he started with the man in the mirror.  I am so glad I get to look into that mirror and see myself next to him, as the spouse, daughter, sister and mom I was destined to become by keeping my promise.

If you’re lucky, you will let go of those that you know you will not be able to hold true to your promises.  If you are even luckier, you will find the one that lets you make a promise to be your best self every day by being together.

What About Love?


So here it is, almost Valentine’s Day… and part of my “New Year’s Goals” was to publish a blog a month.  Well life seemed to get a little in the way as the end of one year and the beginning of another tends to be extremely busy at home, at work, and in general.  To save my sanity, I had to prioritize and with this, some of my hobbies took a back seat.  But it doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, or written little snip-its to use later.  So I was looking in my Notes section of my phone and found a lesson in love I had written down.  A lesson given to me by my 3 year old.  And well, as Valentine’s Day is almost here, I thought this would be a great way to refresh my blog, refresh my heart, and hopefully touch and refresh those around me.  And I hope you enjoy this short piece and stay tuned for more…

Today my almost 3 year old gave me a lesson in love. He told me he loved me after I said the same to him. My heart was of course bursting, as we all want to hear those words especially at those moments when we may least expect it (he used to just smile really big when I told him I loved him). However in the same moment he added, “but not Daddy”. I looked over and saw Dad’s shoulders slump as he was busy cleaning up the dishes among so many of the things he does for our family. I know 3 year olds say things to see what reaction it may elicit, so we didn’t dig further at this moment. And I didn’t tell him he “should” love Dad.  But apparently the lesson wasn’t over.  As I laid him down to sleep, he said it again,  “I love you, but not Daddy.” “Well I love you and Dad,”  I replied.   Then he added, “I’ll love him after I wake up from my nap.” Of course my mind started spinning as I was trying to navigate through this teachable moment. So I asked, “You can only Love one person at a time?” “Yes” he added. And I realized- I was the one who was getting schooled on big emotions that so often come from little words.  I put him down and walked out of the room, processing the conversation.  It hit me- to him, love is such a big (and complicated) emotion, he thought he could only offer it to one person at a time.  Of course we know this is not true, but in his mind and heart, when he “loves” someone it is an action that can only be directed at one person.  This gave me pause… a chance to reflect as I left his room.  It reminded me, that we should do all things wholeheartedly in the moment. Especially Love.


Photo Cred: Jessie Lathroum @insidethepaperbox

The ghosts in our closet

So where does it all really begin- the moment I knew I was in love with an alcoholic? Well of course the signs were there, but I ignored them. You could say that I didn’t actually admit my now husband had a “problem”, until he admitted it himself. What can I say, love is blind.

J and I rarely, if ever, argued- but while examining our relationship later, our arguments were mostly centered around alcohol. These escalated after I learned about his first DUI- something I did not know about until well into our relationship. It happened before I met him. He was sent to a “program”, but like most alcoholics, it was not his last as he did not believe there was any need for change. I then helped him cover up his other transgressions (like when he showed up to my apartment after a night of drinking- most likely still drunk, with a big dent in his car for which he tried to tell me was a “hit and run” from another driver). We later argued and I began asking him a question that would later become a regular part of our arguments, “Why do you do this, you know what happens when you drink and drive? Just tell me where you are next time so I can get you, or call a cab”. This was all before the ease of Uber or Lyft, but I don’t know if it would have been different because he honestly could not answer the question- a hallmark of an addict. I should also tell you that these arguments ended in me giving him an ultimatum- “if it happens again, I’m leaving”. Well we’ve been married for 5 and together for 10. Why? It’s complicated of course. But I can tell you about the day I flew back home from a weekend bachelorette party in NYC and he was very quiet as I rolled my suitcase up to the car. The hair started to tingle as I got in the passenger seat and my palms grew sweaty as I tried to flashback to the night before in which, yes, I myself was now suffering a hangover and tried desperately to remember if I called him in my own inebriated state and said something I shouldn’t have. Then he dropped the bomb, “I have something to tell you… I was out at a bar last night watching (insert sport of choice) and was pulled over for driving only 30 in a 40 and refused a breathalyzer so was taken in for a blood test, spent the night in jail, and have been issued another DUI. I understand if you want to leave me.” Well I knew in that moment, I loved this man for better or for worse, and in this worse moment- I was not going anywhere. We told no one and lived our lives as “normally” as possible, until the case was settled- 1 year without a license, community service, and classes for multiple offenders. At this point we obviously had to tell people. His mom of course was silent with anger. His Dad offered to help out and be available to drive him when necessary. The few co-workers he told, was so he could arrange a ride to and from work and to see his clients. My own parents were very supportive from the distance in which they live (my Dad has been known to get behind the wheel himself). I drove him to his community work program every Saturday during this time. We would come back from weekend trips early to get him to his “multiple offender classes”. Oh, and watched helplessly as the 2 cops that showed up at our door 1 day put him in the backseat of their car stating a warrant for his arrest. I called his lawyer, who asked if Jamie had been following his program, which he had. He was released several hours later… apparently a “glitch” in the paperwork they were receiving, or rather didn’t receive from the program so it was thought he wasn’t meeting the requirements. And then, just like the sun rises and sets everyday, that year ended, and we moved on…

J proposed (finally!) and we began planning the wedding of our dreams. We continued to enjoy drinking socially, as most people do, and while certain situations made me nervous (usually a round of golf with day drinking) there were only 2 other incidences that I can recall, where I received the dreaded phone call where he was drunk and I knew he was driving around and I couldn’t find him. I of course would threaten to leave, but we would kiss and make up and there was always a promise to never do it again that I always wanted so badly to believe. And I did try, even as I walked down the aisle into his arms.

Next… the promise actually kept….