Saturday, April 22, 2017


   But in the middle of the month I received some bad news about my cancer which has returned to the lining (epithelium) of my stomach.  This time the chemo won't be as bad, they say.  But the doctor also said that I didn't have to take steroids this time. But she wasn't right about that. One of the chemo drugs is different and there should be fewer effects. But most people I spoke with didn't have pain with chemo, and I did.  As with most health issues, everyone is different, and responds differently to medicine.
   The pain began two weeks before and the first visit to Urgent Care sent me home with laxatives. Two weeks later they hadn't worked.  Meanwhile, and this is what makes me most angry, a blood test had been done when I first went and some doctor (not the UC doctor) asked for a CA-125 count.  It showed 92!!  Well, the month before, my six month check up, the count was 14!!  Yet this outcome didn't ring any bells, set off any alarms, nothing.  Had I not returned because of the severe pain, I would be walking around with the tumors on the lining of my stomach continuing to grow and spread.

Not like a baobab  tree that was across the Ruaha River from me in February 2015 when I visited Tanzania and Zanzibar, probably for the last time.  I am heartbroken that my health won't be good enough to fulfill that bucket list I had:  Amsterdam and the art museums, Yucatan and Oaxaca in Mexico, Ireland and Wales, Vietnam and Thailand.  Or a cruise in a very small ship around Europe. Don't forget all the places in Latin America I haven't seen -- Peru, Ecuador, Chile.

So I thought I would set my sights a bit closer to home and concentrate on that lifelong dream I have had of creating a beautiful, handmade, unique dollhouse.  Please don't laugh.  It has symbolic meaning in my life as I was gifted a beautiful handmade dollhouse for my sixth birthday.  Made by friends of my parents, it had a lift off roof, and a ranch style feeling, a fireplace, doors and windows that opened plus (I am pretty sure) lights that actually worked.  I turned six in 1953 when I was living in Croton-On-Hudson, New York.  The government was continuing its surveillance of my father and consequently my entire family. We suddenly had to move.  We purchased an old truck with a wood station wagon body that was owned by Allen Funt of Candid Camera. You have to be at least my age to know who he was.

More important than my dollhouse were the many books my father lost. He asked a friend to hold them for him in his attic in Croton but at some point the friend got scared and threw them away (possibly burned them all).  I guess my obsession with books and dollhouses goes back to those dreadful days when I was terrified but didn't know why, was told never to open the door to anyone, and lost the most precious gift of my short life.  I have never seen a dollhouse like it since and do not remember the names of the makers.  So sad.  This is the closest I've ever seen - by Marx - made of tin with a lift off roof.  Amazing!  The one I was given was wooden, with a shingled roof, and lights that worked. Much more sophisticated than this.

But now that I live in Los Angeles, close to Mexico (THIS IS MEXICO!), I think I should design a more logical house for this climate and natural setting.  So of course I thought of an hacienda - doesn't have to be a huge one, just one story perhaps, with a central courtyard, and the arches for the porches.  Found a blog with an excellent looking one and even wrote the artist.  She kindly sent me back the plans with the measurements!! So beautiful!  But it still isn't exactly what I want.  

I love that she designed it herself and figured out all kinds of beautiful touches to make it look real.  There is a center courtyard with a fountain but it is very very small.  The furnishings are exquisite and belong to a very upper crust family. Do I want my hacienda to be that bourgeois?  Not sure, yet who would own an hacienda if not a bourgeois?    I once stayed in an hacienda in Huejotitan, Jalisco, Mexico which was actually an orphanage.  It was huge, or seemed that way to my 16 year-old eyes.  Some of the staff had their own suites, bedrooms with a bath.  Larger rooms for multiple beds were plentiful to house the groups I had traveled with- about 15 of us - as well as the orphans themselves.  

The base of the above dollhouse is 39 by 25 -- that's quite large.  Access is from the back.  I imagined my doll house as a rectangle with a smaller one inside for the patio, with lift off roofs, so you look down on the rooms.  Indeed, I even hoped for a two-story affair.  And perhaps another way to open it by separating the whole into two parts that are also hinged in two.  But that's a lot to ask.  Our amazing carpenter/handyperson Gilberto Osorio (highly recommended - he can do anything and does it well, and if he can't he finds someone else who can) can probably make whatever I ask but I really need some good plants.

This is how I imagined the rich interior - full of beautiful pottery and rugs and art from Mexico.  I had started to collect furniture as well years ago so I have some.  This dollhouse will fulfill two of my particular wishes - bucket list I suppose one could say -- and those include a love of miniature animals and people.  I collected tiny ceramic animals and people for the first 14 years of my life, when I decided I was too old for them and told my mother to give them away.  A strange thing to do since adults collect these as well.  There is a tiny store at Olvera Street which houses many of the miniatures that I love.  I hope to lavish some love on them as well.  The store is owned by a couple who are struggling, as are all the stores there since the city decided to stop subsidizing them (so as to push them out in order to gentrify I suspect).

I wish I could believe in prayer and that I could pray for health.  Unfortunately this round of cancer is very painful -- to the point that I cannot really go anywhere unless I can sit with a heating pad on my stomach, and nod out when I am tired (which is most of the time).  

I'll end with something more positive - the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, a beautiful human being!  First African American to win the Pulitzer and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, among other great honors!


Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.

I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it?? Somebody wanted to joke. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your heart and dreams. If I can help in any way, please let me know.

    1. Thank you Yvonne. I think miniature quilts are in the picture - and wall hangings!!

  2. Sending meta your way. Steve is being treated for tongue cancer. He eats through a tube now. 2 weeks to go. Cancer treatments are horrible. Wishing you the best.

    1. So sorry to hear about Steve! Yikes!! So medieval what we have to endure. Send him my very very best! And love. And to you too!

  3. Joan, I empathize with your anger at the missed opportunity for having your treatment start sooner. It is baffling and upsetting. A similar thing happened to my son, twice. I know you said you're not one for prayer, but here is what I made up for him, and it helped me to get through some very dark times. May the doctors, nurses, and all those who have him in their care, bring to bear all of their knowledge, all of their experience, all of their skill, and all of their compassion, to provide just the right treatment--not too much, and not too little--to restore him to vibrant health and a balance of mind, emotion, body, and spirit. I wish the same for you, Joan.

    1. So beautiful Sheila. And how is he now? I will keep those words with me!!

  4. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing this story.

    1. Thank you so much Liz Murray!! I hope all is going well with you and your fabulous journey!

  5. i love doll houses. never owned one in my life. a friend of mine had a doll house and it fascinated me. love the miniature furniture.
    you are in my thoughts and prayers

    1. Thank you so much Tzivia Zeidman. It is never too late for a dollhouse in my opinion! I have collected furniture that fascinated me over the years. It's now the house that presents a challenge.

  6. I feel so privileged to be able to feel your pained but very lively spirit. You blog is an incredible body of magical and thoughtful drawing by words. Thank you for sharing . Wish I could help with anything. Peace and much love.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful words Yousef. I feel a privilege knowing you and all your incredible talents. I hope I can get better enough to visit again. Miss your humus and baba ganoush! (sorry if my spelling is off).

  7. Thanks for your honest and beautiful stories and I'll be dreaming of your magical dollhouse, and eager to see it take shape!

    1. Thank you Elisa - trying to figure out the 1" to 12" scale right now. How to make it big enough but not too big. And there's nowhere in my house to fit it. I will think of you constantly as I try to complete this. You are my inspiration.

  8. Your smile, your eyes and your warm hello made me smile. You inspire me speak out and fight for what I believe is right. Thank you for just being you.
    Can't wait to see your doll house.

    1. Thank you Mari. I hope I can share it soon. Thank you so much for your very kind words.

  9. Joan, I am so sorry for all of the pain that you're experiencing. Not fair! I love your dollhouse dreams.

    1. Thank you Renee. It is a bit better after the first chemo round surprisingly as they said it would take till after the second. But sometimes the effects don't come on at first. Right now it's almost 3 a.m. here and I can't sleep -- my face has turned red from the steroids I think. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. The doll house might be a source of ideas and inspiration for the CA. elementary SS curriculum, where there's a big hacienda project. I hope it finds the way. Wishing you the moment you are in and healing.

    1. We have mission projects now, right? I think we should do away with all the colonialism and have Mexican War projects - Revolution of 1910 I think it was. I envision my hacienda being plundered by the people and all the objects shared. Hopefully! Thank you for your kind words!!

  11. You CAN pray for health. Prayer is so many things. Thought. Poetry. Appreciation. Song. Affirmation. Gratitude. Determination. Resolve. A way forward. Sometimes surrender and serenity and peace to show the way forward. Or silence. Prayer is a sum greater than your parts and it's within you. I know you can find it, Joan. Xoxoxox

    1. I suppose all my swearing is a form of prayer as well since it's directed somewhere. But I did like the words of my friend Sheila as a prayer. And perhaps just trying to give up anger is a good thing as suggested by my friend Robin who had her own bout of this ghastly disease. But I thank you for reminding me that prayer can be so many things. I think it's why I wish I could write poetry. Hope to see you again soon Susan.

  12. There is a mystery to life that science has yet to grapple with -- a unity of all things, an energy and -- dare i say it? a spirit. All cultures have their own take on it, and always the ruling class seizes such thoughts as their private property; they try to shape such notions to fit their needs, to keep the people distracted and content with oppression. In the past the king was a god. And the spirit was captured and interpreted by the priest, the shaman. All developed dogma, rules to keep the oppressed in line; the rich and powerful lived in splendor while the poor suffered waiting for glory in the next world. But scientists will discover some day that the question of the spirt is not really a question of god/no god; it is a matter of an energy that connects all things, past, present and future. And if we pay attention we can feel that energy and hear Joan's voice now along with the others who lived good lives, done good things. There is an afterlife, brothers and sisters: Those who do good deeds and work for the people will live forever.

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  15. "Sheesh, your back went out... AGAIN?"

    Recently, a business associate shared with me an intriguing story about someone with back pain...

    Michelle Onoff is a successful yoga instructor. Yet for some reason, she suffered with lower back pain.

    As a chiropractor, and someone in the healthcare field, I was fascinated by this.

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    Actually, I was kind of shocked.

    If a health-minded yoga instructor can be dealt a crippling back pain blow, what does this say about the rest of us?

    Here's Michelle story in her own words. I think it'll inspire hope if you're suffering...

    "I was feeling very weak in my core area. And I was having some radiating pain in my lower back.

    And I was going to the doctors, and they were telling me things like you need to have disc replacement.

    You need to have all these surgeries...

    You need to be on these pain medications;

    And they wanted to put me through a lot of surgical procedures...

    I didn’t want to do ANY of that. But the pain was so bad... I needed some relief.

    So I went to two neurosurgeons and I went to a back pain specialist...

    The surgeons wanted to operate on me in different places...

    … and the back pain specialist wanted to do various procedures, including implanting something permanent in my spine.

    I’ve had four procedures that involved needles in my spine, epidurals in my spine and that only gave me a little bit of temporary relief for a couple days.

    But it did not cure or really help anything.

    It just put a band-aid on a pain for couple of days and that was it.

    After my first session of Back Pain Relief4Life, I felt an opening in my back that I haven’t felt in a long time.

    I felt stronger to my core and I felt that that radiating burning heat pain that I was feeling, seem to dissipate a little bit.

    It seemed to just open up my back in general.

    And then after my second session today, I noticed EVEN MORE the stretch in my lower back and more strengthening in muscles that had been weak that I think might help support my lower back.

    I was VERY SKEPTICAL about doing Back Pain Relief4Life. Because, as I am a yoga instructor, I feel very knowledgeable in anatomy. And how to help people that come to me in pain.

    But I was not aware of certain muscles that I was not using in the body that might help my lower back."

    - Michelle Onoff

    Here's the back pain program she's referring to:

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    I share this with you today because if you suffer from back pain (like 3/4 of the population), I'm told this pain relief program WORKS WONDERS.

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    Sounds incredible, but yet Michelle is a prime example.

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    You've got nothing to lose.

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    PS: My personal takeaway? Michelle was humble to admit yoga wasn't working for her.

    To me? That takes guts.

    She was also smart enough to stay away from drugs and surgery when there were other more natural options.

    But sometimes, one gets to the point where you'll try ANYTHING to get even a little bit of relief. If you're at that point, I encourage you to check out:

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