At Dawn

Sitting on my front porch at 6am should be an International Coffee moment.  But in my pajama bottoms and two sizes too large flannel shirt, I was hardly a model for a TV commercial.

Instead this is where I ended a very restless night.  It was a familiar sight: me as a trapeze artist trying to string together one tolerable TV show after another until I could finally pass out.

After Seth went home and I tucked my mom into bed with a goodnight phone call, I made a half-assed attempt at my bedtime routine: a little snack, evening pills, try to wind down.  Unfortunately, my body had other plans.

First I was unusually restless.  Then, needed to eat something.  I wasn’t hungry, mind you, I just felt I had to masticate.  So I grabbed some celery and had at it.  An hour or so passed, and I had a wave of nausea.  (Let’s not blame the celery.)  Fortunately it passed quickly, and I thought I could get some rest.

But it wasn’t in the cards.  Around 4am I noticed my neck was incredibly tense, and it was getting worse.  I didn’t have a sort throat.  Instead, it was the muscles around it – including the ones attached to my tongue – that felt like they were half as short as usual.  It was hard to swallow.  I stayed calm and reminded myself that my tetanus was current.  Weird stuff happens all the time.  I wasn’t having trouble breathing, so I wasn’t too worried.

Anyway, at some point in my neck stretching I noticed dawn peeking through the frosted and cut glass of my front door.  It was inviting, and I suddenly remembered the dwindling loaf of bread on my counter.  I had saved the heels of the bread for just an occasion.  I donned my flannel “chemo shirt,” grabbed the bread and a glass of ice water, and headed outside.

Birds chirped in nearby trees, but none were in the grass just yet.  In other days I would have walked down to the sidewalk, but navigating steps at such an hour seemed unnecessarily cruel.  So I sat on the top step and scattered tiny pieces of bread across my front yard.

I watched the birds fly up and down the street and tried to use some sort of bird telepathy to tell them about the yummy whole grain morsels that awaited them.  And when no one came, an unexpected sadness washed over me.

Why wouldn’t they come?  The most unreasonable tears rolled down my cheeks.  All I wanted to do was to give these tiny, precious creatures a nice Sunday morning snack.  To salvage a modicum of joy out of this shitty night.

I sat thinking about this irrational emotional output, figuring most of it had to do with my lack of sleep.  It wasn’t PMS, but chemo can screw with everything else, so why not emotions too.  Or maybe I just wanted to feel appreciated by the cute chickadees and sparrows; maybe I needed to feel connected to them.  I haven’t been to the farm since February, and I’ve been missing our animals terribly.  My bond with animals is sacred to me, and perhaps in this way I’ve suffered a deficit.

All of this crossed my mind sitting on my front porch, shirt now damp with tears.  Then a little baritone chirp stirred me from my thoughts.

The birds… they came.


8 responses to “At Dawn

  • Pat Saunders Poling

    You’re such a wonderful writer! I was sitting on the front porch with you wishing the birds would just come on down and lift your spirits. Keep grabbing for the things that make you happy. It’s what gets us through!

  • Craig

    That was very sweet (or should I say tweet?). Thanks for sharing it. I wish you cheerful days and peaceful nights, with happy telepathic animals wherever you are.

  • Mia

    Hi Jessica, I was googling to find out how often patients taking prescribed Xalkori see their oncologists & have scans/imaging. I’ve been reading your posts & I see that God has gifted you in writing. I too was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with brain mets in Dec. 2009. I hope you can email me about the oncologist info. My email is – I will be praying for your healing. Take care, Mia. P.S. Here’s a resource you might want to check out.

    • Craig

      (Sorry for making this sidebar comment, Jessica.)


      Whether or not Xalkori applies to you depends on whether your cancer is driven by an ALK or ROS1 mutation (and the odds of that depend on which type of lung cancer it is). Even then, sometimes the cancer is already resistant to Xalkori or eventually becomes resistant (in which case an experimental trial drug LDK378 or AP26113 might help for a while). I’m in a Xalkori-for-ROS1 trial. My visits gradually tapered off to every other month, but with blood tests and a phone call status-check in between. My scans are every other month, but if you aren’t in a trial I’d imagine scans every 3 months is more typical (or even longer after being stable for a couple of years as long as no symptoms started to reappear).

      BTW, you’ll find a lot of support from the lung cancer forums at,, and maybe

      FWIW, re: onc’s in Phila, you might like to see the comments about UPenn’s Tracey Evans & Corey Langer posted at (my comment & Dr. Weiss’s reply).

      Best hopes,


    • Jessica

      Hi Mia, Craig is the best person to weigh-in on your questions. When I was on Xalkori, I had a PET scan every 3 months. Thank you for your kind words, too.

      Best luck to you,

  • Sjoukje

    I could picture it all……it was a pretty sight 😉 xxx

  • Mary Ruggiero

    Jessica, I love how you write and I appreciate your sharing your thoughts and feelings. I hope you feel better today. Xxoo

  • Julie

    Beautiful 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: