The Beautiful Fragments that are Orlando

One week ago, 49 people were killed by one man with two guns. Dozens of others injured.

The world is watching, Orlando. We have witnessed time and again how beauty can come from the broken. But first, the brokenness must be seen. Held. Nurtured. And we see you. I see you. And I will not look away until the pieces begin to be put together again. My love letter to you:

“Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision. Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together.”
– Terry Tempest WilliamsFinding Beauty in a Broken World

I am not Orlando. I’ve never even been to Florida. Orlando is a world away, in my mind. A world of heat and color and Latin grooves. A world that I envision with palm trees, ocean breezes, open sky, tourists in white pants and bright tops, beautiful people, verandas, sidewalk cafes, brightly colored drinks with umbrellas, and gay bars filled to capacity.

I am not Orlando or the Pulse Nightclub or one of the numbers of people shot down at the end of an evening of celebration. I am not one of the invisible people who lost someone they love who may or may not have been out as gay or queer. I am not someone healing from multiple bullet wounds, praying to forget the sounds of the blasts or the wicked laugh from the shooter who was reloading his weapon. Again. And again.

I am not Orlando.

Orlando stands out in my mind as a place shattered in a million pieces, torn apart by bullets and hatred. Orlando struggles mightily at the bottom of my feet, suffocating from all the ways people are stepping on its uniqueness. Orlando sits in the pit of my stomach, screaming to get out where it can begin to turn back into a reality of a diverse group of people living their own unique lives; some broken, some thriving, some sobbing, some dancing, some hanging on for dear life, and some lost.

I am not Orlando.

Orlando may not even be Orlando, at least in the ways we as a society are trying to pigeonhole it. Because the Orlando we are calling Orlando is a subsection of Orlando- a beautiful, diverse, queer-identified community of people who were gathered together to dance to the Latin beat when one man armed with 2 guns began his rampage. In the name of hate. In the name of fear. In the name of nonsense.

I see you, Orlando.

I am not Orlando, but I stand here, open heart and open mind to what it must mean to be in the heat of your pain. I acknowledge it while knowing that I could never fully understand what it is like to be among your ranks. I hold this truth as someone who has identified as queer for 22 years, and as a person who has experienced being fragmented and judged and spat on because of that fact. I say this jagged truth as someone who can easily pass as straight and as someone who has chosen to do that far too often in my life. I admit this as a real person who has spent many nights dancing in the sanctuary of gay bars with people I love and with total strangers, feeling joy and pride and a sense of community that nourished me into the weeks ahead. I cringe when I admit that my formerly righteous activist self has fallen into a blissfully boring life with my partner of 22 years, and that waking up to the news of your tragedy made me remember the fact that this level of hatred and fear still exists in this world.

I am awake, Orlando.

I am your sister, and I will not look away. I am your ally, your posse, your comrade, your witness, and I will not stand idly by. I stand with you.

You are beautiful, Orlando.

And what I know is this; there is resilience and beauty in Orlando. Right now you are shattered, but you have already begun to pick up shards, recognizing that there are glints of possibility in the rubble. The most beautiful mosaics have been created with less.


your silence is winning. speak up.

your silence won’t kill you.

Not right away, at least.
It might just slowly cause your brain to shrivel and your voice to atrophy, making words and thoughts turn into gooey, decaying nothingness.
Your silence makes you unable to function. It stifles you and takes away your beautiful wings.

Your silence is a bird on a wire. No ability to get through the lines to what really matters. Alone in a crowd.

take flight.


You think that you might gain strength and power by stewing in your silent fury, but what’s really happening is the silence is winning. Not you.
Power happens when you speak your words- through your voice, images, writing, body movement, or creativity.
Speak, dance, scream, sing, create, run, spin, write, scribble- anything. But don’t avoid.
Remember: Silence=Death.
You’re too important for that.
You’re amazing and beautiful and creative and unique.
Be all that.
Don’t rely on anyone else’s opinion of who you are.
Think for yourself.
Speak for yourself.

be yourself.

be YOU.

And when you finally decide to do that, you win.

boobs not bombs

It’s been nearly 2 months since I had my final chemo infusion, and since that time life has attempted to take on a new normal. Despite the fact that I have had 2 Herceptin infusions and an EKG, I rarely think about treatment. I do, however, think about cancer nearly every day. I think about the fact that the anniversary of me finding the lump is coming up, and the fact that I continue to struggle to recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I also consider the fears that cancer can bring up in other people, and the reality that it will follow me the rest of my life (as in, I am now officially a risk to insurance providers). On the positive side, I am beginning to witness the growth of my nails, with new healthy pink starts. My hair is finally getting fuller, and for the first time since beginning chemo, I luxuriated in a bath and shaved my legs. These small gifts do not go unrecognized- the gifts of newness and health, of hope and regeneration.

I continue my struggles believing in Western medicine, procrastinating the day that I will begin the Tamoxifen, which is supposed to lessen my risk of a recurrence. I hate the idea of more side effects. My energy level is increasing, the hot flashes have subsided, and my taste buds are on fire! Thinking about taking a medicine that could hamper my “normal” infuriates me. Though not as much as thinking about the fact that my body has failed me. Not a day goes by when I don’t consider how I could have avoided cancer, or how I can reduce my chances now, but it wouldn’t be in my nature not to question whatever would be considered authority.

Today, my family is walking in the Spokane Breast Cancer Walk in my honor. I envision a sea of pink shirts and baseball caps, thousands of pink ribbons, tears, and laughter. I never would have expected to be so moved by such a gesture, considering the fact that I continue to be annoyed by pink ribbons, however I am touched by the idea that my cancer has made people in my life think about other people’s cancer- that there will be more money toward funding research, and that the women that I care about will think about breast self-examinations and mammograms. So- a big cheer for my family, and for everyone who walks to honor anything. It’s not just breast cancer that we’re fighting for, but equality in healthcare. Until we have that, those stinking pink ribbons will be everywhere as a reminder that women are dying every day from a very diagnosable and treatable disease. So- “BOOBS NOT BOMBS”! Get those walking shoes on, and join me in Seattle on June 7th, where I intend to run, not walk, the 5k and to smile every step of the way in honor of the truly miraculous people who have supported me every step of the way since I was diagnosed.


Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don’t hear the tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
Music. Dance.
A brilliant city inside your soul!

– Rumi

 In the past two weeks, my body has been reawakening and my spirit lifting. I’ve been integrating moments of spontaneously removing my head coverings, which seems like a small thing, I’m sure, but there’s vulnerability in baring a naked head to the world. Especially when that hairlessness isn’t by choice. And so the times when I take off my hat in the park to take advantage of the sun shining down on my crown, I try to quietly acknowledge this temporary place that I currently occupy- that space between treatment and healing, life and death, internal and external. The present moment, where I am able to recognize that vulnerability is a gift of this human experience, and that I am not alone in it.

This past week, I had my fourteenth infusion, and I celebrated the following day by dancing at NIA class with a community of joyful souls. Even though nobody but me and my friends knew about the countdown of infusions, it was a precious gift to feel secure enough to throw my hat and over shirt to the back of the room when I was too hot. Wearing just my camisole and yoga pants, I spun, leapt, and danced with a smile on my face and my bald head shining for the world to see. I couldn’t have felt more beautiful or healthy, and it was clear from the responses of some of my classmates that they appreciated my honest presence- scars and all.

The more I consider what is important in my world, the more it boils down to the people around me and my ability to be authentically me. I love that I’ve been encouraged to be open and honest in my experience and to continue to be my silly self. Cancer doesn’t always make one wise, but it absolutely encourages one to reflect on what really matters. To me, that includes dancing, even when I can’t keep the rhythm, and laughing, even when nobody else gets the joke. Isn’t that where joy begins? And it flows into the world, creating possibility.

inhale. exhale. repeat.

New year- new port. Surgery went without a hitch, though I have tenderness today. After waiting over two hours post-surgery for my blood test results, I was given a hesitant “go” for chemo infusion. My white blood cell counts are wavering just above the level in which chemo is stopped and blood transfusions considered. What I have come to appreciate during my nearly 2 week sabbatical from chemo is that I don’t need to rush this process- I can absolutely take time to recuperate from the intense weekly regimen, and I will eventually be through it. Even if I’m told next week that I should hold off from sitting in the infusion chair, I will do my best to gracefully focus on my own healing and the control that I do have. If all goes as planned (I laugh as I type this), I will have 7 more infusions, with a break after the next 3. I am prepared for alternative plans.

Looking back at this past year, I am in awe of how much it held. A year ago, I was in the midst of my first year of graduate school and learning to juggle work, school, and life. I had no idea that I would be undergoing surgery and treatment for breast cancer, and I had no clue of my own courage and strength. What I could use a bit more of in the coming year, however,  is grace- that shiny, beautiful ability to welcome change and to allow others to help even when I feel stubbornly independent. I am slow to recognize that I can’t handle it all, and I have had to admit over the past several weeks that I am tired- emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When I received the news that I had this diagnosis, I also conjured up massive amounts of energy from my family and community. Now, after four months of cancer treatments, my energy is dwindling along with my attention span. All of my ideas for making this time a spiritual transformation that fueled creativity have been squashed, and I find myself obsessed with the future- the time that I’m not in treatment- as though my life will all of a sudden feel “normal” and cancer will be magically wiped from my mind. I am continually having to remind myself to focus on this moment in my life, and to appreciatate the wholeness of this experience. When I struggle with this, I remind myself to focus on what I can truly control- my breath.