Guilt and grief

Tomorrow is Monday. For most people, it will be just another work week starting. But for me, it is the worst anniversary: two years since we lost Dad.

July 17 used to be just another summer day, but now it looms like an exam I didn't study for or a long, painful dental appointment.

As this summer approached, I didn't think about lounging by the pool or trips to the beach. Instead I thought "was Dad in the hospital by now two years ago?" Anxiety festered inside me as I tried to decide how I should observe the day. I worried "what if I missed the anniversary completely? What if I forgot?"

Maybe someday I won't dread July 17, but I doubt I will ever forget what happened on that terrible day.

Sometimes I don't know how I have survived the last two years. One of the two people who created me no longer exists.

Other times, I think "I'm OK. This is how life works," before feeling horrible guilt over denying the extent of the loss.

Guilt has been an ever-present part of my grief. I feel awful for how selfishly I have been grieving. Losing Dad hasn't just been about the pain of not having him present in my life; it has caused me to question nearly every aspect of my life and its meaning. I have found myself drawing boundaries around the parts of me that hurt, building walls and hiding behind them. It doesn't come naturally to me, but I don't know how else to get back to being me.

I miss the littlest things about Dad. The way he's always ask me to help him choose which shirt or tie he should wear. His skinny chicken legs and how they look in all of our Rehoboth Beach pictures beneath neatly pressed shorts. His annoyance with mosquitos and how they gravitated to him, but left Mom alone. 

I think of Dad every time I smell fresh cut grass even though it has been years since he was physically able to mow the lawn. My memories of sleeping late on those glorious first days of summer vacation from high school all smell like grass and the chlorine Dad used to keep our pool crystal clear.

If I had a tally of all the names Dad called me, 'Jen' would top the list followed closely by 'Honey.' He only said "Jennifer" if we were disagreeing about something. Jenny was for when he felt like teasing me.

What I wouldn't give to hear Dad say any of those names for me once more.

What to read this summer (and beyond) - via @Octagon

I had the opportunity to share some book suggestions via Octagon's blog

You can see the full list here.

Via @TheSpaceGal

Via @TheSpaceGal

These are some of my other favorites - some new, some from a while back.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I first read this in high school and few books have stuck with me as much.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I prefer this cover art.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes. The perfect beach read.

Now reading:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 


What are you reading this summer? I get lots of my recs from avid reader Ashley Spivey. She's a great follow.

Am I the only one?

I have a bunch of blog posts started but that I can't quite finish. In the interim, here's something fun inspired by my friend Sara Lang's Facebook post:

What's something you've done that you're reasonably confident you're the only person on my friends list who has done it?

Two things quickly came to mind. And then another and another. Here's my running list.

  • Spent a night at Bill Walton's house
  • Spent 2.5 nights in the hospital after a cat bit me
  • Put in a straightjacket--at age 2 when I needed stitches in my nose
  • Had my picture taken with Lil B Da Based God and ended up in XXL's twitter feed
  • Broke my sternum playing sorority league flag football at Cornell and spent a night in intensive care
  • Hitchhiked in St. Barths with a driver who only spoke French


  • Danced to Taylor Swift on the pitch at Wembley Stadium before an NFL game
  • Flew across Kenya in a plane that was probably manufactured in 1970
  • Shot military grade weapons in the Utah desert
  • Was kissed by a doctor in his office (I was 22 or 23 at the time and had a huge crush on him, but I realize it sounds crazy in retrospect)

What's on your list?

The latest and greatest

Spoiler alert: this post features zero gross pictures. Apologies to the disappointed.

Today was my most recent CT scan. As I mentioned before, I'm slated to have scans every three months for a year. 

I prepare myself for the waiting, and yet I still find myself bewildered by the actual experience. In situations like mine, appointments are more suggestion than commitment. It's the trade-off for accessing a world-class specialist, and for him offering to review your raw test output with you in real time, same day. It's the knowledge that a patient in my situation will wait pretty much as long as is required to get whatever answers and comfort are available.

There is much variety within the waiting. Am I waiting in the wrong place? Did I arrive on the wrong day? Did I fail to prepare? Or is someone simply out to lunch?

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Do I risk adding to my waiting by pointing out the waiting? Or is speaking up essential to ending my waiting?

Although this was my third time seeing Dr. T, I'm still figuring out his systems. Whereas my surgeon was with one hospital, Dr. T is with another. Everything I learned dealing with my surgeon is useless now.

And no matter how much I prep, it seems like curveballs are the norm. Today I arrived at 1 pm for a 1:20 pm scan, only to find out that the test would be done without the gross barium drink (that requires approximately thirty minutes to drink and thirty minutes to digest). While this was good news, it also meant sitting in the crowded radiology waiting room until the actual test time: 2:20 pm.

Each visit with Dr. T makes the waiting worthwhile. At our first appointment, Dr. T picked up on my interest in medicine - beyond my own situation - and since then he has happily indulged my every question and even laughed at my jokes. I'm grateful for the way he treats me, as if I'm part patient, part student and part daughter.

So far, our appointments have started with a brief pronouncement from Dr. T - this time that the initial read of my scan says nothing in my abdomen has changed - before doing a deeper review and chat.

At this visit, he pulled up my CT scan images and methodically talked me through his process of evaluating them, what he hoped to see and what he did actually see. He shared with me how he determines if a spot is a blood vessel, some other organ structure or something in need of further investigation. He has studied my liver and kidneys, and complimented my gallbladder, noting that while it often swells with bile after a few hours of fasting, but mine has not done so. I suppose that's good. We looked at my bones, my lymph nodes and the spaces in between.

Dr. T took extra time considering the area where my left adrenal gland used to be, its former 'nest' now marked with medical clips no one had told me about before. 

"If there's trouble anywhere, it will most likely be here," he notes before adding "but it looks good." 

Dr. T will review the more official radiology report that arrives in a day or two, and share anything we might have missed. But the expectation is that I will have my third quarterly scan in July.

And then? Well, that is the subject of today's reality check. After two more quarterly scans, the plan is for me to begin having scans every four months instead of three. In my head, I had thought perhaps six months, so I felt disappointment I hadn't expected.

But the tumor took a long time to grow so large (working theory: ten years) meaning patience is necessary.

And so it goes. Give me a day or two, and hopefully I'll be able to turn my focus to the good news instead of the long road ahead.

Update: the July scan was also clear. I'll get my next scan in November.

"I hope that's not a @Cowboys star"

There I was, minding my own business, as I approached the TSA agent handling the TSA Pre check in at LAX, when suddenly I heard the man say "I hope that's not a Cowboys star."

"It's Hamilton, sir," I told him, moving my hair away from the embroidered logo on my sweatshirt.

"However..." I thought to myself, laughing at how the man might react if he knew

[And yes, I am wearing jeans and a sweatshirt while flying. I've been traveling a lot, ok?]

While I have you...hi. I am doing pretty well. Six months after my surgery, I only have three real reminders of what I experienced.

Itchy, unscratchable scars. I read this article in the NY Times and nodded. It should have occurred to me that I would feel this way given that I previously had ankle surgery and many years later, I still have a pins and needles feeling along one toe. But it's weird how surgeons never mention this likelihood. 

Annoying CT scans. I had one in January and my next one is in mid-April. The scan itself is easy and brief, but I dread drinking the gross barium 'milkshake' and the cumulative radiation exposure is scary.

Fatigue. Whoa. I need more sleep than I used to--and I have always been a sleeper. To be honest, I am tired all the time and it's a factor in my lack of recent blog posts. But the docs say this is normal so I sleep when I can.

Thanks for reading.