F*ck you, cancer!

OvarianCancer_TealFClogoYes, I did it. I used the f-word, the mother of all cuss-words on my blog (Moms who swear WARNING -this link and others in this blog post contain obscene language).

I thought about the title – should I use the word “you” in it, or leave it out? And I realized that I definitely meant it personally – I’m not just exclaiming about cancer, I am exclaiming to cancer itself – F* you, cancer!

The funeral is next week. She was… a warrior – in every sense of the word. Not only a warrior, but a positive, spirited, happy one. She spread joy to so many others and supported those of us she knew who were battling cancer also. She joked about the “rocks in her shoes” (peripheral neuropathy from chemo) and told me even though it hadn’t gone away for her after all the years, that maybe it would for me. She was a positive influence to me at a time when I was having difficulty seeing the future ahead of me.

Anyone who has survived cancer gets a sickening heaviness in their gut and their soul when they hear that cancer has returned to target one of our fellow survivors. It takes away a little of our hope and our joy in the life that we have found again after finally being told we are in remission. And our belief that this is something we can put behind us someday crumbles some as well.

She made the best of her second chance at life after she battled cancer the first time. She worked at getting 701e68dc84baea3329bd3ca375bfafbaas fit as she could and she spent her time with her family and friends – spreading her joy of life. But the question is “why?” Why did she have to have a second chance at life in the first place? She never should have had to deal with this. It’s not like she’d made bad choices, or had done anything to deserve facing death in the first place. So, why her?!

It’s the randomness that scares us. It hits me, but not you. It came back for her, but not me. And there’s always that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop – when I say I am cancer-free, there’s always a “so far” on the tip of my tongue. I want to believe it’s over for me, but then when another of my fellow survivors loses their battle, it plunges me back into the bad times, the dark hours of lying in bed and thinking it could be me. What would happen to my family? Would I be filled with hate at the end? I’m not the most positive person in the world, and certainly don’t have the biggest heart. How would I face something like this?

Loss Quote

So, f*ck you, cancer! F*ck you for causing so much pain and fear in her life. F*ck you for causing her family and friends to suffer along with her. F*ck you for taking her away from her family at such a young age so that she will never get to see her children get married or have children of their own. F*ck you for taking away her chance at the joy of someday holding beautiful grandchildren in her arms and pampering them as they grow. F*ck you for leaving a hole in the hearts of her daughters and her son and her husband that they will never be able to fill. F*ck you for taking her indomitable spirit out of this world, leaving just the memories behind.

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I try to be a positive voice here on my blog. I try to spread hope and information about what having cancer is like. But today, all I can think about is the millions of people who have suffered. All the holes in all the families from losing someone to this f*cking disease. All the research that has been done all these years – while creating better treatments and enhancing quality of life for some of those afflicted with it – yet still has found no cure.

Today, I just can’t do it. I just can’t pretend that I have hope that everyone with cancer will be okay someday. That all of us will get to look at cancer from the backside and say I beat it. Because even if our cancer never returns, we’ve lost so much of our life in treatments and coping with after-effects and praying and hoping that it never comes back, sleepless nights worrying about every ache and pain. I’d like to spread positivity. I’d like to give you all hope. Maybe I can another day. But today, all I have to say is – F*ck you, cancer!



Love is a choice

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Today my husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to imagine so many years have flown by and yet I try to remember when we weren’t together and that time seems impossibly long ago as well. We’ve been best friends all this time, with some bouts of what everyone else experiences along the way – disagreements and misunderstandings, tears, fears, changes in jobs, moving to a new house, loved ones lost, serious illnesses. But what I think about the most is the laughter. We laugh – a lot. Like to the point that people might think we’re idiots sometimes rather than two well-educated people. And that joy in life, and in each other has carried us through the years.

1992-002But the biggest thing that has helped us over the years to remain close and to be so happily married is our attitude about marriage in general. Marriage is a journey, not a destination. Every day we travel together, some routes are familiar (Someone jumping out of bed at 9:00 pm to whisper, “Daddy, I’m supposed to bring a snack tomorrow to school!”), some are scary and unknown (getting home from karate one night to discover a very large breast lump), but always – we travel these roads together.

Tim likes to say that “Marriage is a highway that has no exit ramps”. He says as long as both people in a marriage believe that, then there is never any doubt that your journey together will bring you only closer – good times and bad, like the marriage vows state. That’s what we’ve both always adhered to. No matter how bad things get – bald head from chemo or the aches and pains of age making us no longer the fresh, young, super fit couple we were in our wedding photo, we only see the beauty in each other and the things that have gotten better as each year passes (In my head I can hear my husband joking, “Speak for yourself, old woman!”  🤣 )1996-1A while back at church, the homily was about how love is a choice. Okay, now that doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? Everyone thinks of love as this grand thing that sweeps over you and whisks you away, something that you can’t control or understand. Sure, that’s romantic, I guess, but that’s not real love. That’s sexual attraction. Sometimes that excited, trembling, over the top feeling you get when you’re around someone may be the beginning of love (it was for Tim and I), but it’s not love itself. See, love is a choice.

Over time, you get to know a person really and truly. Think about the little things day after day after day… like where she leaves her shoes, or whether or not he puts the cap back on the toothpaste tube tightly enough, or if he stacks dirty dishes in the sink until they’re falling out, or how she gets up on the weekend and wears ratty old sweats with mussed up hair until noon, or he gains a few pounds around the middle while losing all that gorgeous hair that you loved running your fingers through, or whether childbirth has added weight that she can’t find the time or the energy to get rid of.


See, now you’ve fast-forwarded 25 years and while there is still that excitement and trembling and over the top feeling when you look at the person you love, those “in-love” feelings are backed up by the years and years of time you’ve spent together, forging a life, raising a family, refusing to give up on each other even when you seem so angry at each other over something that you swear you can’t take another minute. Love is a choice – you choose to continue to love because you know that there are also those moments where you’re laughing together like idiots over something ridiculous, or holding hands while you watch over your sick child who’s finally sleeping peacefully, or those terribly scary moments when your world falls away from underneath you and your husband takes you in his arms and says “No matter what happens, we’ll be okay.”  and you believe him and feel like his arms are the only safe place in the world.

We make choices every day, some big, some little, but the most important choice we make is to love someone, for better or worse, richer or poorer, toothpaste cap on or not. Love is a choice.


When I grow up I want to be an old woman

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question that kids always seem to be asked and most kids’ answers change over time. After seeing a fire engine in the parade – I want to be a fireman! A few months later they watch their dad or mom working on the car – I want to be a mechanic! The veterinarian visits – I want to be a vet! (one of my daughters). How we respond to children’s answers can make a difference in their lives, can’t it? I mean no one wants to dream of something and have hopes only to be met with scorn – you’ll never be able to do that. I think kids should be allowed to dream that they can be anything they want and be encouraged to follow that dream.

(I have, however, over the years tried to guide my children a little as they’ve dreamed. One of my other daughters told me, “Mommy I want to either be a princess or a garbageman.” My response was, “Well the pay’s not necessarily great as a princess unless you marry well, so you might want to look into that garbageman thing.” 😉 )

When I was a little girl, I had very specific ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up. And those ideas definitely did not involve being girly. Mom had tried for years – putting barrettes in my hair, putting me in dresses and lacy shirts. As soon as I was out of her sight, I would pull the barrettes out and “lose” them. And before I ran out to the school bus at the last minute, I would change my shirt into something tomboyish. My older sister tried to convince me to change my ways by telling me I’d never have a boyfriend. My standard answer: “Good! I don’t want one!”  My parents finally resigned themselves to the fact that I was never going to be a normal girly girl.

I am the littlest one sitting on Mom’s lap. Note the barrette in my hair and the girly shirt and shoes.

You know it’s partly Dad’s fault. I mean I was five years old when he bought me my first gun (a Daisy b.b. gun) and my first “motorcycle” (a Honda 50 trail bike).


I spent most of my childhood in the woods behind our house, climbing trees, building forts, riding my motorcycle, walking with Dad while he explained to me the difference between a white oak leaf and a red oak one, or a sugar maple leaf vs. a red maple.

The acorns belonged to the oaks, the spiky nuts that fell into our pool and poked our feet dropped from the big beech tree that stood nearby. The little squirrels were red squirrels that chattered and barked, the bad boys who chased away the bigger, prettier gray and fox squirrels that we liked so much.

There were bats that flew over our pool at night when we had the lights on. They dove and swooped to catch the insects, while we screeched excitedly, convinced that they would tangle themselves in our hair. The constant high-pitched peeping of the tree frogs, interspersed with the bonging buzz croaks of the bullfrogs floated in through my bedroom window calling me to come outside.

All these fascinating things drew me to a life in the out of doors. The things I could learn, see, research, write about… there were no limits to my dreams.


keep-america-beautifulI was, after all,  a product of the 70’s, with t.v. shows like Grizzly Adams and songs by John Denver never failing to make my heart ache with the dream of living in the mountains someday in the middle of nowhere studying wild things.

During vacations back then, we drove through the Rocky Mountains out West, camping in just about every National Park that existed out there. I fell in love with the mountains and wild places and decided I’d be a “park ranger” someday (that was the closest thing on the school’s Careers List to what I wanted to do).

In high school I had at one point seriously considered becoming a veterinarian instead. But during the time I spent in my senior year working at a vet clinic, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking out the window at the woods that surrounded the clinic – a clue that maybe veterinary medicine was not truly where my heart lie. When I started at MSU, I found out they had a fisheries and wildlife program, and I couldn’t imagine a better major for me.


With my Martin Bobcat bow

Over the years, my Dad teased me about being such a tomboy. He made comments to people like “You can see the type of girl that I raised” while pointing at the hunting knife I always carried or what I was wearing. But I knew deep down he accepted me for who I was. When I came home from my first semester at MSU, Dad’s Christmas presents to me included a compound bow (a really gorgeous wooden Martin Bobcat), a tent, a sleeping bag, and a Coleman lantern. After he passed away, many people told me about how proud Dad was of the life I’d chosen and how he’d shown them photos of our log house and bragged about me. 😌

A red-tailed hawk on MSU campus.

I spent four years at MSU earning my Bachelor’s degree. During that time I worked in the wildlife nutrition lab and helped grad students with their research. The research work was the best part of my experience. One semester I helped a graduate student who was studying metabolic rates of red-tailed hawks and great horned owls. The birds had been injured in the real world, missing a wing or a leg, and there was a room of cages in our building where they were housed. My job was to remove each bird from the cage and place them in a body wrap with a hood for keeping them restrained and calm while the grad student weighed them and cleaned their cages.


My fieldwork partner, Ed Olexa, holding a Peromyscus maniculatus we’d captured.

Another project was capturing and ear tagging small mammals throughout some red pine forests and aspen clearcut regrowth stands up north.

 I also helped track radio-collared elk as well as did a variety of habitat studies throughout northern Michigan.

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Two summers I worked at a nature center, where I taught summer camps, gave guided tours, and other work and of course during all this time I was also taking full-time classes.

There are many stories within the pages of my four years at MSU, but my bigger adventure began after that when I was accepted into a Master’s Program at the University of Idaho to study bighorn sheep, which I’ll share in my next post.

[One last note to end this post – since having cancer my dream of what I want to be when I grow up has become as simple as “I want to be an old woman”.]

The Next Step

My daughter flew to Kansas yesterday for Veterinary School interviews. She flew alone into Manhattan and is there now visiting the campus. Her interview is tomorrow. See, she has dreamed of becoming a vet since she was 7 years old.

She had just gotten a horse back then (she paid for him with her own money that she’d saved from Christmas and birthdays) and when the vet came to give vaccinations, she was worried about her horse. Why does Ti need to see a doctor? Is he sick? Will he die? When we explained to her that vets not only help sick animals but also help keep your animal healthy through preventative medicine, she was hooked.


After that, every time Dr. Russ came to check on one of our horses or the cattle, she followed him around like a puppy dog. She asked a million questions, he let her “help” him with some of his work, and eventually, by high school, she did a job shadow with this same vet. Over the next few years, she shadowed every vet in that clinic, asking them as many questions as she could, helping vaccinate piglets, do pregnancy checks on cows, castrating horses, eventually being offered a summer paid position in their clinic. She came home bloody, dirty, covered in pus and poop, and she loved every minute of it.

She’s meant to spend her life as a veterinarian, no question about it. Now she just has to get accepted into vet school and start her next stage of working towards her dream.

Since she left yesterday, I’ve been thinking of her constantly – Where is she now? Did she remember to keep her luggage close with her to keep them safe? Did she make it to her connecting flight in time? Has she calmed her nerves yet? Is she enjoying herself? Will she get admitted?  (Vet school is notoriously difficult to get into- I’ve read it is actually harder to get accepted into than medical school because there are fewer available vet schools. Many students apply year after year before finally getting accepted).

Then I remind myself, she’s 22 years old. She’ll be fine. And whatever happens with this interview, she’ll figure it out. If she gets in, she’ll then have 4 years of working her butt off to get through the program. If she doesn’t get accepted, then she’ll need to keep waiting, maybe take more classes, get more experience and try again next time (they only accept students for Fall semester). Either way, I know her well enough to know that she is not going to give up on this dream; no matter what work it takes, or however many tries it takes, she will eventually be in vet school.

It’s hard as a parent to sit back and not try to help. I want to see her succeed so badly – for her way forward in life to be easy. But then, that’s not really what’s best for her, is it? I mean half of the good things I’ve gained over the years have been due to scary hard work, mistakes, and bad situations that I’ve had to figure out how to get through on my own. If I eliminate all those things for her (as strongly as the heart of a mother feels the need to make the world easy for their children) it would not be the best thing for her. She needs to figure things out for herself, she needs to work hard for things, she even needs to go through some suffering. This is what will make her into the awesome veterinarian (and person!) that she will someday be.

When I was her age, I packed everything I could fit into my Chevy Citation and headed to Idaho. My dream was to be a wildlife biologist and I went out there to get my Master’s degree studying bighorn sheep. I think now about my parents watching me leave, driving across the country to start my life. Wow. No cell phones then, no way for me to contact them until I stopped somewhere that had a pay phone (kids – look it up. It’s how people used to stay in contact back in the Stone Ages 🙂 ). I can’t imagine how they must have felt when I drove out of the driveway and all that long day into the night when I finally called them at my first overnight stop.

When I first got to Idaho, I remembered being awed, then overwhelmed, then my anxiety kicked in and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I mean, I wanted this more than anything in the world ever since I was a little girl but suddenly I realized I was all alone, 2,000 miles from home. I didn’t know a soul and had very little money. That first day, I called my Dad’s house, but it was my step-mom who answered. I told her I was scared and that I’d found out I wasn’t going to make enough money doing my grad research to pay all my bills ($500 per month was the going rate then, barely enough to pay tuition and rent, how was I going to be able to get groceries or buy books?). I told her I was thinking that maybe I should just come home.

I’ll never forget what she did for me then. She told me that I would be fine, that she and Dad would send me extra money each month to get me through, and that I needed to stay there and live out my dream. It was probably a very hard thing for my parents to support me that way, when I know they would have preferred to have me closer to home. But they knew enough to toss me into the deep end so I could learn to swim.

And, once I got my bearings, I did swim and ended  up loving my life there. Some other time I’ll write about being in the Idaho wilderness with my bighorn sheep. In the meantime, I’m praying for my daughter to get the chance to live out her dream as well.

Today’s gonna be a great day

Some people say knowing when you’re going to die is a gift. It’s a reminder to focus on what’s important in life. You can plan what you want to spend the last of your time doing. Work on your bucket list. I think that’s mostly bullshit and I’ll let you in on a little secret – we are all going to die. Some know it will be sooner than they had expected, others have no idea when or how, but it will happen to every one of us. Because life includes death – it’s part of the whole. Knowing that your death is imminent must put a certain poignancy in everything you do. This might be the last time you’re able to do this thing, making every moment an important memory. Is that a gift? Maybe. Sometimes we let our life just pass by us and barely notice the important moments that are occurring – your son has outgrown his pants again, your daughter is home from college for an overnight visit, your dad called to say hi.

Since being diagnosed with cancer two and a half years ago, I’ve struggled mentally with the rate at which time has been passing me by. I was glad at first when my chemo treatments were over. Then the surgery and the radiation treatments. And it seemed like each day began to fly by faster and faster as if someone was flipping the pages of a book. I lost a year, then another. Many days, I have to remind myself what season we are currently in. Didn’t we just have Christmas? I ask myself. How can it be snowing again already? My kids are growing so fast (I know all parents say this) but honestly my life is such a blur to me right now that I feel sadness and loss just because I can’t seem to slow it down, even for a day, to enjoy things.

When I was little girl my grandma caught me saying something like “I wish it was summer.” She quickly said, “Don’t wish your life away! It goes by fast enough.” At the time I was around nine years old, Grandma was in her late 50’s then (very old to me of course as you tend to think when you’re young that anyone over 40 is really old) and I thought “yeah, yeah, whatever.” But you know, it’s funny – deep down it must have registered that what she said was important because her exact words have stuck with me all these years. She lived another thirty-something years after that and died at the wonderfully old age of 93 years, having seen all her grandchildren become adults and most have children of their own. We visited her in the days before she passed on. She’d been having issues with fluid in her lungs and we knew it was near the end. She talked about how her mother had lived to be 93 and she told us she was ready, that she’d had a good life and that she loved us all. When I got the phone call a day or so later, I felt peace knowing that Grandma had loved her life and had been blessed with a long, mostly happy one.

This morning before church I was inwardly griping about how the weekend was half over, how I had so little time to enjoy myself. After church, I’d need to go home and do laundry, which takes most of the day, and other chores would take up the rest of my free time. Then it would be Monday morning again, where my life is a rushed commute into work, meetings interspersed with time at my desk trying to complete a variety of tasks, all high priority, then running around like crazy in the evening to pick up and drop off kids, fix dinner, clean up, and fall asleep from exhaustion in a chair while trying to enjoy myself by reading or writing or watching tv before bed. How do other people do this, I wonder? How do other people find time to take care of themselves and have free time to have fun, while still accomplishing the multitude of tasks that are required of them?

One of the prayers of the faithful in Mass today was that people not worry about what needed to be done tomorrow, nor be bound by what had happened yesterday, but to instead appreciate the gift of today. This is something I need to learn how to do. Stop having anxiety about all the things I’ll need to get done, to not complain or feel cheated by all that has happened to me in the past. Live today. Love today. Appreciate the gift of today.

A dear friend of mine has a terminal illness. As the symptoms continue to worsen, his body slowly freezing up on him, refusing to do what he asks it to do, he has continued to smile and joke through it all. From the beginning he has faced his diagnosis with such grace and thoughtfulness and humility and acceptance. He already knows about the gift of today. The other morning as he began his day he told his wife, “Today’s gonna be a great day!” She said, “It is? Why?” His answer was “Why not?”

Be grateful for today. Enjoy the gift.

Personal Space

It’s that time of year again. Where I hurry from work to get the kids, to practice and games and karate. Where I sit on the bleachers for a game and when someone comes up and sits next to me, I want to tell them, “Hey, can you move over about… well, you know, a hundred or so feet please?”

See, I have issues with personal space. My sphere starts at the center of my gut and goes out to a radius of – well, pretty much the size of a football field. You want to stress me out? Come sit by where I set my jacket on the bleacher to try to save some space, then keep inching your butt closer and closer until you’re touching it. Come eyeball the spot where my kid just vacated to go get a drink. I’ll watch you like a hawk until either my kid comes back or you move away. If you try to sit there, I’ll screech at you that “Someone’s sitting there!”

It’s frustrating to be this way, because situations where other people are enjoying themselves (a fireworks show, the beach, the fair, Disney) are incredibly stressful for me. Even if I lay out a blanket to claim my “space”, other people will inch their way right up to the edge of it, making my heart pound, my breathing labored, my head light. Standing in queue lines where people merge together instead of having a clear sequence of who is next tortures me.

Why am I like this? I have no idea. So, of course I googled it.

Here, the woman on the left was secretly scooting closer to the woman on the right (in Finland) to see how she would react. Watch the whole video to see a perfect example of my facial expressions when people crowd me. (http://finlandtoday.fi/finns-need-personal-space/)

While searching, I found various articles talking about the importance of personal space in some countries (Finland and Sweden two of the most common). I’ve done some research and realized that if it weren’t for the weather, I might do well there.

This is supposedly a photo of  people waiting at a bus stop in Finland.


Wouldn’t it be nice if people would do this here? 😀 I, for one, would be a much happier person going out in public if I could expect this sort of behavior from strangers.

For the home games that Reagan has played this season, I’ve volunteered to run the game clock. I’d like to say it’s because being Catholic makes me naturally inclined to give back to the community and do my share of the work that needs to be done. <That’s not the reason>. I’d love to say it’s because I’m just a good person who wants to help others. <I’m not>.  See, the person who runs the game clock has a table all to themselves to sit and spread out and breathe and have no one around you crowding closer (except my own kids, but that’s my own fault).

I think I found what I want for Christmas. Could someone tell my husband for me?

Or maybe this?

Either one would probably be fine. :/

Anyone else feel the same?



I ran into an old friend the other day who also happens to be a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she asked how I was doing I told her that I was still cancer-free since my mastectomy a year and a half ago. After congratulating me, she instantly responded with “We’re not cancer-free, we’re in remission.”

Yeah…but… “in remisson” sounds so much worse, doesn’t it? It means I still have cancer and that it’s just not showing up right now. I don’t want to think that way. I really want to be cancer-free. What I actually am is evidence-free. As long as there’s no signs or symptoms of the cancer, I’m considered to be in complete remission.

But I’m not cured. See, it’s like alcoholism. You can stop drinking but you’ll still be an alcoholic – you’re just a non-drinking alcoholic. We removed my cancer and stopped it, but I’m still considered a cancer patient – I’m just a cancer patient in remission. Cancer cells could still be in my body, without showing any signs, even for many years. Then someday, like a sip of wine by an alcoholic could trigger disaster for him – one stray, rogue cell that grows out of control could trigger cancer recurrence for me.

So, because the words “cancer-free” implies your cancer will never come back, and there’s never a guarantee of that, most doctors will not give you that diagnosis. Instead, we are N.E.D. No evidence of disease.

It’s interesting what I hear – people tell you to forget about it- be grateful that you survived – go on and live your life. Okay. I get it. I should be happy and move on, forget what I went through. Don’t think about the small chance that the cancer may come back.  Let’s just say that it’s easy for someone who’s never had cancer to give that sort of advice.

Cancer changes you. As I’ve said before, never again will you think it won’t happen to you – because it already has happen to you before. I know I fought it off once, but if it comes back, can I do it again? Mostly, I do give myself the same advice the non-cancer people give me –  try not think about that. But I do. And I’ve found most other cancer survivors feel the same way.

It’s getting better. Other than the daily reminder when I shower that I only have one breast, and the variety of issues I continue to struggle with – I don’t think about it as often as I used to. It pops into my head more fleetingly now – a stray thought that I’m able to push away fairly easily most of the time.  Before my chemo treatments, my friend had told me that someday I would look back on all that I went through as an abnormal blip in the timeline of my life. That the time would go by fast.

They were right about that- I can hardly believe a year and a half has gone by since my surgery. In September it will be 2 years since I had my last chemo treatment. (and yet I still get nauseous at the sight of red or pink clear liquids :/ – only those who have had the chemo drug Adriamycin will understand that one 🙂 )

At my last visit, my oncologist said that after December, we’ll be switching from having checkups every 3 months to having them every 6 months. A milestone on my way to the coveted 5 years in remission.

During my morning run, I saw one of the homeless ladies that I regularly see on Grand River. She, as always, was wearing a coat and a smile. In contrast, I was wearing running shorts and a sleeveless shirt, sweat running down my face as I ran past her. I was burning up from my exertion, she had very likely been out there all night and needed the warmth of her coat.

She had been leaning on the bus shelter as I approached but hurried to move her cart off the sidewalk when she saw me. She said “I’m so so sorry.” I told her it was okay, I could go around. We exchanged our normal “Have a good day!” and smiles as I continued on past.

What if this lady was to have cancer? Would she even know what to do if she found a lump in her breast? Could she get to a doctor? Does anyone ever check on her? It reminded me also of Carmella and how I first felt when I realized what her situation was like for her.

It was a gentle reminder that life is good for me. Sure, I battled cancer and struggle with the aftermath, but I have a job and healthcare and a family to care for me. Life is good, even when you’re just in remission.