Response to USCG Rescue Swimmer’s Testimony of Abuse

There is a video circulating of Sarah Faulkner, the first female rescue swimmer in the United States Coast Guard, speaking out about the years of abuse and harassment she encountered during training and service. In this video, Sarah reflects on the sixteen years of constant harassing and expresses, very eloquently and through her tears, that even speaking about it is challenging for her. She tears up, she wrings her hands, she says, “and I’m working on it, you know?”

Do you have any fucking idea how strong a woman has to be to endure the training required of a rescue swimmer for the United States Coast Guard? Physically, mentally…the challenges of the training, the demands of the environments, the risks, the sacrifices…I have, and will always have, a very soft spot in my heart for a rescue swimmer. These are the people, that if I am adrift in a liferaft after a shipwreck, will jump out of a fucking helicopter and swim through the stormy, windswept ocean to shackle my totally fucked ass to a life sling, bro. Are you watching her talk? This is a woman who CAN and WILL do what the job of a U.S.C.G. rescue swimmer requires of her, and successfully completed those things, crying and wringing her hands because of the treatment she endured from WITHIN. From her fellow officers and trainees. She is a not a vulnerable damsel in distress, y’all. She is a fucking powerhouse.

“I knew all that going in, so I basically tripled, quadrupled what the standards were for the physical fitness test,” Faulkner said, knowing that other women had complained privately of being sabotaged. “I made sure I had extra gas in the tank for when they did screw with me.”

Women in ALL branches of the military, who are strong and fierce enough to even attempt these lunatic things that the military, or the Coast Guard or the Merchant Marine asks of us, are being abused. Raped, harassed, singled out, demeaned….but Sarah Faulkner didn’t want to be a solider or make a billion dollars shipping goods from China on a containership, Sarah Faulkner wanted to rescue people and the men she trained with could not give her the goddamn honor and respect of acknowledging her absolutely EPIC levels of discipline, courage and intelligence, they slapped her on her ass and made sure she KNOWS she is a woman.

Trust me, she fucking knows. Not one day has passed in her life, since beginning to try to do this hard thing that she wanted to do, has she been allowed to forget. She. Fucking. Knows.

But y’all can’t champion her, can you. You gotta make it even more difficult for her. I know why she wrings her hands around in nervous circles like that.  She is attempting to contemplate the complexity of responding to other people’s fucked up behavior in an environment where there is a system of power in place that determines your success, a system that you are required to respect or be punished, a system you rely on….she is attempting to contemplate how to respond to the broken system that dictates her career.   When the system is the thing that is defunct, but you can’t step outside of it because you depend on it to achieve your goals…it is time to change the system. I am glad this is all being brought to light. Bring it all into the light.

What exactly is it about this threat of a woman in a man’s world that is so difficult to swallow? Is it the same thing that is threatening about a black person trying to do goddamn anything, about a heavily tattooed woman walking into a gas station, about an Israeli man who’s control of the English language isn’t as adept as your own? Is the threat because they are different and you don’t like it? Is the threat because they make you uncomfortable? Is the threat because things have been a certain way for all these hundreds of years and you aren’t comfortable with change?

Isn’t the conversation, then….about the other people? About their responses, their accountability, their acceptance issues. About the men who taunted Sarah Faulkner and slapped her ass for sixteen years, about the police who shoot and kill innocent people, about the irresponsible government….the conversation is about them and their, perpetually shirked, responsibility toward accountability and changed behavior.

“Sara could have helped lead the USCG to a bright and exciting future. Instead, she was sacrificed to the good old boys club that has stunted our military for generations and robbed us of some of our best and brightest service members,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who heads the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. “This is an affront not just to her and other women in the armed services, but to all Americans who respect and value those who defend our freedoms and who protect us in our greatest hour of need. The cowards who allowed and enabled this injustice must be held to account.”

Sarah Faulkner worked HARDER to succeed within the framework of a broken system where men are allowed to perpetuate flawed and destructive behavior, without reparation, and Sarah Faulkner achieved her goals. Sarah Faulkner is a fucking superhero. She’s a legend. She shouldn’t have to work so hard. She was harmed by her process of success. She endured trauma, and now faces the mental and emotional work required of her trauma experience, to recover. She was harmed by what was required to succeed and that needs to change. A whole hell of a lot of shit needs to change.

At the end of the video, Sarah addresses the idea that she didn’t feel safe to speak to any of her experiences until her retirement. It is veritably impossible to challenge a system that you are dependent upon. It is nearly impossible to stand up for yourself in your career when you rely on your paycheck to buy groceries every single week. It is almost impossible to take a stand against the status quo when you have something real to fucking lose by violating it.

Sarah also muses that she is grateful for the opportunity to finally tell her story to someone who will “do something.”

So…are we going to fucking do something?

-Rebecca Rankin

See article from Miami Herald, July 13, 2020
She was a pioneering Coast Guard rescue swimmer. A tsunami of sexual harassment followed

Human Nature

There is an awareness tinting the edge of every conversation we undertake concerning evolution, planetary development, conservation, biology, nature, sentience and numerous other complex themes that renders many of us quite uncomfortable. The idea is elusive, squirmy, difficult to identify and we, “just, like, don’t want to get into it, man,” preferring to avoid, ignore or evade in favor of simpler, less personal discussions. This is the story of our messy, complex and tenuous humanity, our sentience, our purpose, our consciousness, our ego and our intelligence. This complexity permeates numerous contemporary conversations and is rooted in the concept that, at a point in human history, we began to separate ourselves from the evolutionary story and history of our planet, assigning ourselves a distinction from the “natural” that is both erroneous, dangerous and self-aggrandizing. We are not separate, we are, rather, inextricably part of everything around us, disconnected only by constructs of our minds, beliefs and imaginations, controlled by the whims and double-edged swords of our sentience and consciousness, our truest gifts and, yet, our greatest curse.

In his talk Love of Waters, Love of Life, philosopher Alan Watts addresses this separation by stating, “perhaps the ghastly mistake was just that step in man’s evolution which made it possible for him to comment, to reflect upon life as a whole. In being able to stand aside from life and think about it, he put himself outside it and found it alien.” Watts refers to the fact that we have assigned ourselves the distinction of sentience and, therefore, separated ourselves from the “natural” evolution of the planet and all other living beings. The definition of this word “natural,” in itself, is a point of contention. According to Merriam Webster, natural is defined as “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.” Science has expanded this definition and natural can be defined as, “any element of the physical universe – whether made by humans or not. This includes matter, the forces that act on matter, energy, the constituents of the biological world, humans, human society and the products of that society” (What’s Natural?). Even more intriguingly, “human nature” is described as, “a bundle of characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, which humans are said to have naturally. The term is often regarded as capturing what it is to be human, or the essence of humanity and is controversial because it is disputed whether or not such an essence exists” (Human Nature). The concept of nature is embedded in all of the above definitions because nature is everything, representing the ruling body on our planet as we know it, comprising everything that we can touch, feel and experience.

In the documentary Galapagos, David Attenborough provides narration for the evolutionary journey of the Galapagos Finch. This finch is described as participating in a purist evolutionary journey, developing the particularities of the design, shape and size of its beak without human influence until the finch’s “evolution stopped” when humans, especially tourists, began frequenting the Galapagos, introducing trash, potato chips, French fries and other human-produced sustenance options to the isolated development of the finch’s beak. After these introductions have been made, the finch can now consume lots of things, regardless of the shape of its beak. The human has directly affected the story of the finch’s evolution and some, like Attenborough, suggest that the effect of the human is separate from the evolutionary story of the finch. The human and the effects of the human, however, are also a product of evolution. Feeding French fries to the Galapagos Finch is part of the evolutionary story of our planet in the same way that “human-induced climate change” is a true effect of human nature and presence on Earth.  We, as a species, have just as much evolved from slime and muck as the next creature and the impact of our species upon the planet around it should be considered equal, in no uncertain terms, to the impact of the wind, the shape of a nut or berry or the presence of a French fry in a foreign land. Everything human is also natural if we are a product of nature, including the “negative” impacts of human nature.

Humans are separated from their environment, and the majority of other species residing on this planet, by a number of factors. We are separated by our desire for comfort and our alienation from our natural environment as, especially opposed to other species, we are, relatively, weak and ill-protected, relying on the intelligence of our minds rather than the spread of our wings, the functionality of our gills or the thickness of our fur to protect us from the dangerous outside world. Primarily, we are separate because we have decided that we are and that sentience, that ability to creatively reflect, is what separates us most definitively. Our ability to assign, to delegate, to believe in concepts is the basis of our consciousness and the primary driving force that we are special and unique. We believe in war, religion and money, and so, these concepts exist, likewise do the associations we provide for them. We declare that war is necessary and, so, it is, in the same manner that we declare types of art “beautiful.” Our perception creates the identity of the concept. We create tangible items that link us to these concepts in a physical way and, so, further create proof that these concepts exist. Money must be real if I am both cold without it and can touch it, correct? And so, we guide our universe, create our story and convince ourselves, through partially denying the much more elaborate and enduring story of our planet, that our story, the story of man, is the most important of them all. This is where our error continues and, likewise, our solution lies.

We exist as a duality. We entertain such a propensity for destruction and, yet, we are also capable of feats of phenomenal creativity, beauty and love. We have minds, consciousness and sentience. We have studied mathematics, science, space and the deep sea, but we cannot seem to make the simple decision: do we want to perpetuate long-term life on this planet or are we convinced of the wisdom of self-destruction? This conflict is evident in our actions, evident in our opinions that we are separate from the broader world and evident in our effects on our planet. We have studied history; we have studied war; we grasp concepts as deep as epigenetics; we have approached the cultural rhythms of all societies; and we continue to repeat the same patterns, unable to adapt, apparently, to the global situations we ourselves have played a major role in creating. Unable to recognize and respond to the deep need for an evolution of consciousness, it appears the homo sapiens may drive themselves into the very ground from which they arose with their greed, their obsession with advancement and their self-inflicted separation from the natural world. Charles Darwin rolls in his grave and Hunter S. Thompson muses,

“I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles—a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other—that kept me going” (5).

Taking this duality in stride, imagine a species so advanced they have progressed beyond their own ability to comprehend their advancement. It’s not that we cannot, it is that we will not. The homo sapiens are presented with a unique situation; we must evolve mentally and emotionally to cope with a shifting physical environment, and it is, as of yet, uncertain if we are capable. We are, if nothing else, obstinate.

“Human nature,” as defined, is a separated from “nature.” We have the blessed condition of great, big brains, capable of so very much, yet we seem to understand so very little, and, as Morrissette famously muses, “what it all comes down to/is that no one’s really got it all figured out just yet.”  The realm of science, barring human experience, is less chaotic and more concrete and Darwin often preferred the evolutionary story of the finch and the sediment over the story of the homo sapien perhaps in an attempt to avoid this moral, emotional and mental turbulence. When we add humans to the mix, the definitions muddy and the situations rapidly complicate. We experience a general sense of unease and wrestle with the sensation that all our questions aren’t quite being answered, is science is avoiding the point entirely? Perhaps, none of this matters, it is all selfish, human-centered and obsolete, especially when considered from a planetary perspective, and we don’t control a single thing, after all, and yet, “We all wanna know/ how’s it gonna end?” (Waits).

In order to survive, we must adapt. The hurdle to adaptation, to evolution, in the case of homo sapiens, is mental. This is the primary way in which we are separate from every other species on this living, magnificent planet; we have very, very big brains that are capable of very, very complex thought. Our evolution is not simply a biological one, it is an evolution of consciousness. The prospects for the future of the human race depend upon decisions made by individuals, especially individuals in positions of power, who can, then, influence the decisions of the collective consciousness. The grander point of contention concerns in what direction these decisions ought to proceed as we, as people, seem nearly irrevocably torn between peace and war, love and hate. We cannot make peace with ourselves because we cannot decide if peace is our intention and, so, many of us are obsessed with objects, self-satisfaction, pleasure and greed, constantly reducing the broad perspective to the myopic, self-centered, singular length-of-a-lifetime experience of the individual time and time again. As a sign of the increasingly self-interested times, the world “selfie” was coined as Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2013. We are becoming dangerously self-interested.

This individualistic, separatist culture is our greatest threat. In his book Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, Buckminster Fuller writes, “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody” (132) while also recognizing, albeit in 1969 when the book was published, that “there are many indications, however, that man is just about to begin to participate consciously and somewhat responsibly in his own evolutionary transformation” (145). Even in 1969, man was hesitant to contribute to his process of evolution, apparently about to engage at any moment. Has this ever truly occurred? To finally participate fully in this necessary transformation, we will need tools and solutions to guide us to a reasonable resolution through means like meditation, therapy and healing. Although no sources can seem to agree on a unified definition of the “goal” of meditation, the general concept of the idea is that the human quietly attempts to go beyond, or deeper into, their mind and to attain a state that is broader than the singular experience of themselves. In his novel Siddhartha, Herman Hesse describes meditation as, “a fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life,” (23) speaking quite firmly to the concept that mediation, although generally defined as an escape from the confines of reality, is truly an individual practice. Like many other aspects of the human experience, the journey of meditation is unique to the being participating in the process.

This process must have a goal. In her song “Generation Now” lyricist Nitty Scott paraphrases a recently viral commentary by the Dali Lama by musing, “If every eight-year-old was taught meditation/I think we have peace for an entire generation” speaking to the studied benefits of meditation that have been documented in a myriad of different situations. If humans are taught to meditate, they become, generally, more peaceful, more aware and more empathetic. The benefits of meditation are finally being studied and put into practice by various military bodies of the United States, including the United States Army and the Navy. Surely, on many levels, many of the individuals comprising the whole must recognize that there is a wiser way to operate this crazy train we call existence. If the individual has a responsibility to the collective, and the collective is represented by the entire planet Earth, the journey toward betterment for the whole begins with the betterment of the individual. If we are interested in creating a sustainable future, we must take responsibility for ourselves.

We cannot simply ignore the consequences of our actions or inactions. We cannot continue to act as though we are separate and special and deny that we are part of a larger whole when, in reality, we are one piece of a larger system upon which we depend for survival. Our evolution is a conscious process and, so, consciously we must choose a path upon which we will proceed. Individually and collectively, the human has evolved the biggest brain of all and we must make choices and be brave enough to begin to ask, “What could I do to help make the world work more satisfactory, more interesting?” (Fuller 112). Our curse and our blessing, our sentience holds us responsible to rise above the myopic perception of the self and to participate in the creation of our own future while accepting, simultaneously, that we control nothing at all. With this glorious dichotomy firmly rooted in our magnificent minds and hands, featuring opposable thumbs, we proceed into the future, creating the story of humankind with every step along our unique evolutionary path.

John Prine


I suppose I must have been introduced to John Prine when I was, approximately, no years old. I bet my Dad listened to him while I was in the womb. This might explain the condition in which I found myself upon the discovery his death: a useless pile of endless, boundless sadness.

What occurred to me, on the second day of grief, listening to “Clocks and Spoons,” was that I, for the duration of my silly life, had never even once connected John Prine’s music to anything but joy, safety and sweetness, perhaps sadness, but not grief. His music was an institution of safety and family, of humility and boundless love. I had sainted John Prine, in my mind. He could do no wrong.

But the funnier thing is, it doesn’t seem that he ever did. He lived up to my idealistic standards, he was an angel amongst us. He graced us all with his presence, his kindness, his humor, his humility, his lyrics and his stories. I could not be more sad. I have never experienced this type of sadness in regards to a human whom I have never met, my grief took me by complete surprise.

His music made us feel like we knew him. We DID know him. He exposed himself to us with every song. He was completely true. What a fucking miracle, what a truly miraculous human being.

And so, upon his death, I found myself conflicted. It wasn’t right, the way he died. Fuck this goddamn COVID-19 and its incubated nonsense. “John Prine deserved better,” I recall sobbing to my partner the night of his passing. I know he went to heaven. I don’t even know that I believe in heaven but, in this case, they made one just for him and his rock and roll band, his vodka and ginger ale and his nine-mile-long cigarette. We are all just great, awful candy bars, walking around in pairs of shoes, after all. Dead pecker-heads in waiting.

I first saw John Prine when I took my Dad to a concert in Washington, D.C., for my dad’s 50th birthday. I don’t recall much about that besides witnessing my father’s love for this silly, rather goofy looking fellow on stage with a guitar. I can’t have been more than 18 years old, then. Yeah, I did the math. I was 18.

Later, I went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, California. That’s San Francisco, for those of us that have been social distancing for some time now. This festival was “free,” put on by some high and mighty equity investor, and it was packed. John Prine’s stage even more so. My friends and I muscled our way forward, halted by a chain-link fence to the right of front and center stage. The fence itself mustn’t have been more than 25 feet from the front of the stage, but it was 8-foot-high and chain link, with a tarp zip-tied along its length, seemingly to prevent us from seeing the stage, from watching the show. I am a sailor, and I always carry a knife, so I saw this zip-tied tarp as an opportunity, and I just took out my knife and cut those ties binding those upper realms of yonder tarp. Down she fell, like a disposed angel from heaven, and, wouldn’t you know, John Prine, the True angel himself, took notice. He was between songs and he saw that tarp fall, he saw me and all my dirty, hobo, musician/artist friends with a newly liberated view through the chain link fence and he said, through the microphone, to God and everybody,

“Well, that was a good idea!”

It was a wonderful show. He told the story about the Happy Enchiladas.

Listening to John Prine, the other night, I realized that I have never even ONCE connected grief to his music. His music made me cry, frequently. Fuck Sam Stone. He’s got no right to make me cry like that, you know? I’m just trying to mind my own business and listen to some tunes. But this is different. Now I am angry, and now I am grieving.

But, I can’t let his music be tainted, be taken from me. I just can’t. I must let his memory shine on into the distinctly uncertain future. I must let the memory of John and his boundless, humble, incredible love guide my shaking steps. I must! And so, I will. His memory is like a whisper, at the back of my actions, to be kind.

Thank you, John. Thank you so very very much. For sharing your gifts, your songs and your humility with all of us mortals. We will love you forever and beyond that.

Rest well

A rapid auto-biography

A dear friend recently asked me, “Do you have a bio that you LOVE?”

I don’t, so. I will write one.

I was born on the 22nd of June, 1986, in a small town called Radford, Virginia. My mom was nearly 37 years old when she had me and I wasn’t part of the “plan.” Doctors had, in fact, told her she was barren. She muses that, since she started to show around Thanksgiving time, she was just getting fat because she’d been eating too much turkey and stuffing. Either way, my dear ma had a C-section because, as she puts it, all the turkey must have gone straight to my fat head. My dad divorced my mom a year later.

They stayed in touch, my dad only lived about 15 minutes from my mom and I spent time with both of them. It’s important to note here that my Father, Wilson, worked for the same company for almost forty straight years. First it was C&P Telephone, then it was Bell Atlantic, then it became what is now the enormous Verizon Telephone. Dad was a systems technician and he never missed a day of work. He retired at the age of 54 and continues to be a representative of the type of American Dream that seems as far away and intangible as the Sun itself. My mother, Maggi, is of course, an “artist.” She’s a stained glass, fiber arts, tile, photography, pencil and paper type of extraordinarily talented artist who can do anything besides hold down a “typical” job or maintain a “normal” level of mental sanity. She moved to the mesa of New Mexico when I graduated from high school, bopped around out there in the sagebrush in pursuit of the perfect sunset for a while and, eventually, bought a house a few miles south of the Colorado border at nearly 8,500 feet. She lives out there, through those New Mexican winters, all by herself, although she did have a pet rock squirrel named Rocky who stole her toilet paper for a little while.

As a kid, life seemed pretty good. My Dad went to work and played the piano, my mom cried a lot but that seemed fine, too. I didn’t cry much and I never got sick. I was extremely cute and, especially when I was a kid, my hair was the color of a carrot on fire. I got through all the predictable levels of schooling and was a stupendously involved student in high school. I was President of the Student Council, president of the Astronomy Club, played flute and trombone (not at the same time) in the marching band, I ran varsity cross country, I played soccer and I took five Advanced Placement courses my senior year. Upon reflection, the only evidence at this time I can see of my soon-to-be rebellious ways was when I penned an essay about how utterly ridiculous calculus was on TOP of my AP Calculus exam, rather than solving any mathematical equations. In the long run, this proved not particularly helpful as I, obviously, failed the exam, as an essay was not what they were looking for, and the AP credits didn’t transfer in my future years. I’d still like to read that essay. I bet it was good.

My high school graduation is the first screwy event in a trend of screwy events that seem to somewhat color my life. If I have guardian angels, they are drunk. I took the SAT’s and the ACT’s and I received high marks. I had a recommendation from my high school principal, I was a super-duper student, my GPA was high! I did all the right things and, so, and I applied to all the super-duper colleges and universities. I lived in Virginia, so it was places like William and Mary and the University of Virginia. I applied to some less academically inclined places, too, but the end of the story is that they all flat-out rejected me. Not wait-listed, just rejected. Firmly. From every college I applied to. I still don’t understand it, and neither did anyone else.

I knew a Mennonite girl named Cheryl. She was always nice to me and I liked her family, they made delicious food. After being firmly rejected from every other school, I went to visit Cheryl at HER school, Eastern Mennonite University. Like Cheryl, the rest of the students seemed really nice. I’m not religious, mind you. I am especially not Mennonite. But, the university said they’d accept me and, sensing no other options, I accepted their acceptance and found myself enrolled in a very expensive, private, Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

At EMU, I thought I’d be a dual photography and English major but I also dabbled firmly in the art of bulimia, which I now understand is often a version of self-abuse that manifests when you are extremely uncomfortable in your surroundings or body and have no idea how to talk. I didn’t fit in, at all. For some reason, they chose me to be the “Residential Advisor” my sophomore year and I remember laying on the floor in my single room with a pile of hot laundry on top of myself, the air conditioning turned on and all the lights turned off, sobbing and ignoring all the other girls who knocked on my door for something or another, and realizing I wasn’t the “right fit” for what I had undertaken. After an Amtrak train trip around the country with my friend Kristen during winter break, throughout which my bulimia continued to escalate, unchecked, I dropped out of EMU in the middle of my sophomore year.

I went home, to Radford. I went on walks with my Dad and to therapy for some time. Apparently, at some point I convinced everyone the solution to my inner unease was to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine and, since my grandmother had left me some money when she died, that is exactly what I did. I started in April in Georgia and I continued walking until I got to Maine in October. I had a Lyme’s disease scare, fell down a few times and met some nice people, but, mostly, that long walk continues to be one of the easiest things I have ever done. All you have to do is walk, eat and sleep and then repeat. It’s great.

Sadly, though, a 2,175-mile walk wasn’t enough to abate my bulimia, and I carried that right along with me into the post-hike disillusionment, pausing only long enough to transform it into anorexia as well. I helped my mom move another load of art supplies from Virginia to New Mexico and then wiled away the days by participating in another of my favorite pastimes: picking up hitchhikers!

I picked up these two guys in front of a gas station outside of Taos one afternoon and they said they were going to Tucson. I thought the taller one, who had a big facial tattoo, a black trench coat and smelled like wood smoke, was incredibly attractive so, despite that I had no idea where Tucson was located and was driving my mom’s Ford Taurus, I said I would take them there. It was a fourteen-hour drive so we had plenty of time to get to know one another and, once we got to Tucson and slept in a fucking tunnel underneath the city that is used for runoff during monsoon season, I had decided I was terrifically in love.

As love tends to do, though, by the morning I decided I was clinically insane, effectively ran away from the two fellows and drove back to my mom’s house. They hitchhiked BACK to Taos and found me. Further proof that this was love. It had to be love. We stayed together, on and off, for the next five years. He was schizophrenic, an alcoholic, a heroin addict and abusive, on all fronts. Mentally, physically and verbally. I had nothing to compare it to, I had never dated anyone before him, and we bought a 28’ boat together and were frequently isolated from everyone else. We drove my cars back and forth across the country, we sailed my little boat all over the place, I bought his booze and he “taught” me how to tattoo. I learned how to ride a freight train, how to sleep under bridges, how to “fly a sign” and how to get arrested. I also learned how to sail and how to make major and minor repairs to a fiberglass boat. I also tattooed my own face in a strange and sort of sad attempt to get him and his other dirty, heavily tattooed friends to like me, and that’s the truth of that story.

Over the years, I started to realize he wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. At one point I got so pissed at him that I single-handed my little 28’ boat, Dolphin, from Key West, Florida, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. He called me when I got to Mexico, told me he loved me and I went back to him. He then returned to Mexico with me, after I worked for six months to get him a passport, and we and another friend sailed to Guatemala and up the Rio Dulce river. He said we should sell the boat, I said ok, and then he flew back to California while I stayed in Guatemala. There are a thousand more stories packed into this paragraph. I brought the boat back to the states alone and, there, I sold her to my old friend. I supported us all along the way through the strength of my body and of my art.

I flew back to Cali and we broke up, once and for all. I had started doing yoga. He went to prison for manslaughter soon after. As far as I know, he’s still incarcerated.

I dislocated my left knee working on a weed ranch and had surgery on the right one the next day. I couldn’t walk for a while, I started selling my paintings for more money. I moved across the country again and I bought my old boat back. I hauled her out for eight months and did an absurd amount of manual labor, funding it all by selling weed, tattooing and doing the brunt of the work myself. There’s the honest truth, again.

In 2016, my best friend and non-blood sister Kimberly committed suicide in St. John, USVI. As I always expected, as of now I have ascertained that her husband actually killed her. Either way, her death fucked me up in every way possible. I was living in Key West at the time, aboard Dolphin, and I recall distinctly looking around and finding no one to hold me. So, I did what I always did, I ran. I sailed to New Orleans, up into Lake Ponchartrain, and I spent a very hot minute living aboard in New Orleans without electricity or running water. Looking back on the decisions I made during this time, I can only assume that I was practically insane. People are not meant to be that temperature for that amount of time. It wasn’t a very good look. I acquired even more questionable tattoos and dated a guy who honestly thought he was a werewolf.

At some point, it was decided that I would leave my boat and possessions and travel to Black Rock Desert to work as part of the Department of Public Works (DPW) building the giant festival in the dust that we know as Burning Man. I worked with DPW for three straight months, as part of the power crew, laying the giant, underground, temporary grid that powers Burning Man. I also walked in a straight line with 250 other people across the desert for three straight weeks as a part of “playa restoration.” I learned a lot about festival culture and was paid a sum total of $350 for my efforts. At the end of the season, I drove my truck, full of all my most expensive and precious possessions, to Oakland, California, where the entire vehicle was promptly stolen. I had been to Oakland before, the first couple times they only stole a stereo and a battery. I should have known better. To make a long story short, I got the truck back thanks to the ingenuity of some tow truck drivers and cabbies in the area, but most of my stuff was gone. Strangely, the only things left in my truck were the frame to my longbow and a yoga mat. I imagine everything else got hucked off the side of a cliff somewhere, besides the power tools. They were all Dewalt or Makita.

I felt I was very close to a nervous breakdown at this time. The weird acupuncture exorcism the guy I had been sleeping with in the desert had performed wasn’t helping, either. My best friend Zac showed up and took about nine billion photographs of the drive from Oakland, California to New Orleans, Lousiana, and he paid for hotel rooms and reminded me to eat food. We got back to New Orleans safely.

I decided it was time to make a change, to re-orient the set of my stars. I decided to sell my boat and pursue a “career” as a “professional” mariner. Someone told me about an apprenticeship program that was “free” in Piney Point, Maryland, and they accepted me. I applied for, and received, my Merchant Mariner’s Credential and my TWIC card. I sold the boat for $3500 to my friend Logan, making absolutely no money off the situation, and beat tracks for Maryland.

Piney Point was an incredible diversion from everything I had known. It is a militarized program, we slept in barracks and marched in lines to class. I met a guy named Charlie and thought it would be smart to sleep with him on the roof of the building after hours.  It wasn’t. I made it through the first phase of the program, the second phase being a 90-day apprenticeship on a ship of their choosing where you spend 30 days in galley, deck and engine departments. Piney Point has, effectively, become a funnel to the service department of Norwegian Cruise Line, but you can’t work for Norwegian with facial tattoos. Trumped! I waited at Piney Point another two weeks and was then picked up by Alaska Tanker Company and flown to Cherry Point, Washington, to begin my 90-day stint aboard their oil tanker Explorer.

Working on the tanker was pretty neato, but it was also extremely difficult. I got through it, but I got a bad evaluation from a single, Chinese chef who didn’t like me. She said I, “had a bad attitude,” and gave me a poor review. Despite my “superior” ratings from the deck and engine departments, both the actual directions I wanted to travel in (I am not an enthusiastic cook), Piney Point dropped me from the program when I submitted my project upon my return. They never gave an explanation, but I wouldn’t have had a chance to digest it, anyway.

When I read my journals, I realize that my stomach had been hurting for years. I had about 15 pounds of extra weight I couldn’t explain, despite routinely running 6 miles on treadmills aboard oil tankers and the like. I felt slow and strange. Health care had never been my priority. I just never got sick. After being dropped from the program at Piney Point, I did it again. I ran. I got in my car and I just started driving. The guy I was sleeping with at Piney Point was on a boat that was due into Houston, Texas, so I drove down there. I ran into another ex-boyfriend, Jason, at a bar. I decided that I loved him. I told Charlie. He said he didn’t care, so I stayed in Houston and hung out with Jason.

The story of my cancer diagnosis is a long and complicated one. I have told it at other points in this blog. I had an eight-pound tumor in my right ovary and this, eventually, became large enough to eclipse my bladder’s ability to function. My bladder nearly ruptured and killed me but I received a catheter just in time. My surgeon’s husband was a sailor on the tall ship Elissa and she decided to save my life. They removed my right ovary, fallopian tube and twenty-six lymph nodes and then the tumor was diagnosed as cancerous. Stage three ovarian cancer. I underwent six months of BEP chemotherapy, all my hair fell out and I turned into a skeleton. Jason was drinking nearly a handle of whiskey a day and wasn’t a help. My friends started a GoFundMe that raised over 18K. I had already sold my truck and everything I owned, though, but I got through it and I didn’t die. The chemo worked, they knew it would. My type of cancer was the rarest and most curable kind. There’s that drunken guardian angel again.

We bought a van from Jason’s roommate, packed it with our shit and drove down the Baja of Mexico. Jason wouldn’t stop drinking. We tried to go to Reno, Nevada, where my friend had a spare room, but he wanted to go back to Houston. Eventually, he took the van and left. I have no idea how he’s doing now. I bought a cherry red BMW and drove it to Philadelphia, where another friend had a spare room. I stayed with her until Philly got to be too much and yet another friend said there was a place I could stay in Maine. I had heard of Camden because schooner Appledore sailed there from Key West in the summers. I moved to Camden, Maine and I spent an entire year there healing from my dramatic experience in Houston. I endured chronic staph and UTI infections that were “wicked” gnarly due to my weakened state, but the hardest thing I endured in Camden was being utterly, absolutely unemployed. I applied everywhere, but no one would hire me. I was forced to ask my Dad for money when I ran out of fuel oil in the middle of the winter and there was no foundation under my shitty rental house. It was negative temperatures INSIDE the house.

I realized I had been living in Maine for a year and Maine Maritime was nearby. In-state tuition policy stated I had to live in Maine for one year. This was perfect. I applied. They accepted me. It felt like the hand of God herself had reached down and plucked me from oblivion, Maine Maritime was my salvation! So, I moved to Castine once the weather thawed out and worked as a house painter until school started.

Freshman year went well, I got great grades. Last summer I translated my apprenticeship onboard Alaska Tanker’s Explorer into a Co-Op opportunity and I received a 100 on the project. I participated in the Race to Alaska and sailed from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska aboard a 27’ trimaran without an engine, and then I worked a summer alongside my ex-boyfriend aboard a terrifically shady salmon tender, packing 250,000 pounds of salmon into her hull at one time and transporting them around Prince William Sound.

At MMA, I am on the Dean’s List, was invited into the Honors Course and am Chief Mate of Schooner Bowdoin, the school’s training ship’s, club. I am 30K in debt so far and will sit for my 200T license in April. I am a writing tutor. I am, also, suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, seeing a counselor for trauma and have chemotherapy-induced Raynaud’s in my hands. I’m finally in a relationship I feel good about. I own a 38’ steel yawl named Cu Mara that I have never sailed. I sell everything I have every painted or drawn but I have absolutely no fucking idea how is best to proceed forward from this point.

And now, we are here.


a poem i wrote at an undetermined time, years ago, that is very good.

(heart’s song, boom boom)

i used to sleep
with this speaker
resting on the space between
my ribcage
and pubic bone
a guttural

(breathing in)

i’m not searching
for the answers
tucked into the arms of a man
my love, my lava
that search has broken
my heart

so we’ve been shopping
for pillows
shaped like doves
and scenting the rooms
like sagebrush and
remember when?
you’ve always been
a fool

a beautiful fool
tripping over what’s
already been before
your tears running hot
and steady
remember when?

(breathing out)

he called you his
you called him mine
you danced along the promenade
wrapping yourselves in
scars you cannot bury
heart’s of blood

it’s warmer than you thought it’d be.
close your eyes and
look ahead
my love, he’s bringing pears
cooked over coals
pulling back the silver lining
and i
made you


It’s been a long time since I’ve written in my blog, but people on the internet kept suggesting it so i’ll give it a fucking go. inspired by this author Ron Curie and his poem “fuck you e. e. cummings,” i wont be using any fucking capital letters.

i guess i’m healed from the cancer, so that’s not really something worth chatting idly about, besides that i’ll never really heal from the cancer, you know, and i’ll always wonder why i sold so much art when i was dying,
except that I already know why and
so do you, but
you don’t want to think about it.
you could buy my art now, if you wanted, i’m still
fucking alive.
for the moment, anyways.
the only solution to all of this is gratitude.

i’ve lost a lot of time fucking around with the wrong boys. all my life, but especially since the last post in this blog. the most perfect thing i can imagine is that my ex-boyfriend is finally coming to get all of his shit out of my house. his arrival has been contingent upon the end of salmon fishing season in alaska. the end to this season is one of the most arbitrary fucking events i have ever observed–everyday, at 2 p.m., some alaskan biologist flying around in a plane decides what areas of various sections of water will be “open” for fishing the next one, two, three or four days or whatever. nobody knows when it will stop, nobody knows where the boat will be when it does. that’s because NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THE FUCKING SALMON WILL DO BECAUSE THEY ARE FUCKING SALMON NOT ROBOTS AND THEY ARE SUBJECT TO THE RULES OF NATURE, WHICH YOU DON’T EVER CONTROL, YA FUCKIN DOOF.
broke my own rule and used the SHIT out of those capital letters.

the salmon don’t care what you want or how much money you spent on your seine-fishing permit. but they sure as shit care about if, hey,
is the water getting hotter?
can i spawn in this river? oh, no, sorry, its dried up, cause the fucking planet is, in our opinion slowly and, in geology’s opinion VERY QUICKLY, turning into a convection oven and the headlands aren’t headlands anymore and the woods are on fire.
it’s fine. i’m sure it’s fucking fine.

anyway, the season is finally over, so my ex boyfriend is coming back to get his shit out of my house, his boxes of treasured knick knacks. the most perfect thing that i can imagine is that the day of his arrival to my fucking house coincides perfectly with the arrival of Hurricane Dorian, who single-handedly flatted the fuck out of a few of the islands in the Bahamas, and is now making her broad and fantastic way up the eastern coastline.
what fortuitous timing, i can’t imagine anything more potentially delaying than a fucking hurricane, i’ve only been waiting three years for this motherfucker to actually get his shit out of my house, so let those winds blow, i suppose.

once, I tried to outrun hurricane issac and ended up getting caught in that motherfucker three separate times.

he’s, honestly, a really, really nice guy. i hope to hell, one day, he makes someone else very, very happy.

i’m going to school, its real good man. i’m sure i’m becoming more adept at loving myself or at least, since my hair grew back and all the chemicals have taken their sweet, sweet time leaving my body, but they finally did, just like my ex boyfriend, hopefully.

at least i know if everything else fails i have become really REALLY good at listening to music.

you know that song “black velvet”?
haven’t you, at least once, just wanted to crawl inside that song and live?

i put a system in my toyota rav-4, it pleases me to pronounce the car’s name “rahv” rather than “rav,” and i bought it because family helped me and my family thinks i need airbags. they’re probably right, but i still think the gods that guide me are the ones who will cause the airbag to, irrationally and inexplicably, fail, if they want it to.

there’s no stopping a goddamn thing, man.



Such a simple, three letter word.

Why, in this case, am I writing this down? I run into this sometimes and my mental train of thought derails. I take a break for a day or two, I think about it.

The funny thing about all stories is that they occurred in the past. In order for a true story to be told, it has to have already happened. The telling of the thing is decided, at some point or another, by the author of the tale. And all that person, or persons, does is make a very small decision, multiple times over the course of the telling, the writing. And that decision is very simple, and it is

“Because it feels important to me.”

This decision must be the foundation of every book ever written, every commitment ever made. There’s no fanfare, there’s no hoopla, there is just a small decision that carries through over a period of time. You want to get fit? You start going to the gym. You want to become an artist? You start drawing. You want to tell a story? You start writing.

Writing presents its own difficulties. By writing about this journey, am I living in the past? Am I inhabiting something that I simply need to let the fuck go, something that is over for me, something that doesn’t have to define me? No, brain. I’m not. I am not defined by this journey or any other one that I’ve experienced, but this one, this journey, was more transformative than anything else I’ve ever experienced, touched more people than anything else I’ve ever been through and was more challenging, in every way, than anything else I’ve ever attempted. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006. 2,175 miles. That was easy. Simple. Walk, eat, walk, eat, walk eat, sleep. Repeat. I single-handed a 28’ boat across the Gulf of Mexico, twice. That was certainly more challenging, but it also came naturally. Even the paramilitary school and the oil tanker had some kind of guidelines, some kind of rules, some sort of map. All the things I had done before were things that I decided to do. Things that made some sort of sense to me and felt important, like I was making the right decisions.

The funny thing about Cancer, or any true accident or tragedy in a person’s life, is they aren’t decisions that you make. Not at any point. All pantomimes of control that exist around you and your life fly out the window like Peter Pan on crack cocaine. You have nothing. You can’t do anything. You didn’t ask for this, you don’t think you did anyway..did you? Your body, the one thing you trusted, the one thing you felt you could count on even if all the world falls down around you, is now your enemy. And the solutions don’t make any sense. And the diagnosis doesn’t make any sense. And here you are, a year later, and it still doesn’t make any sense. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, and it changed me, my life, my body, and even my mind completely and utterly. It strips you, quite quickly and firmly, of whatever pretense of immortality that you may be carrying around. Maybe this is easier for people who are in their later years of life, the “average” cancer sufferer being an older person, someone who, most likely, isn’t carrying around a single shred of youthful aplomb. People who have had some time to make that Peace with their Creator and their time here in this life. Cancer isn’t “supposed” to happen when you’re 31 years old but, when it does, and you live through it, now you’re carrying around the knowledge, the firm and absolute and undoubtable knowledge, that you’re absolutely living in a frail and vulnerable meat sack that may attempt to kill you at any given point. So, what you gonna do now, boss? What, exactly, does your beautiful youth and elastic mind do with this information? Good luck, chuck! You’re a victim. Have fun sitting with that reality.

Yes, Cancer is my biggest teacher. It entered my life like a wrecking ball.

I went back to the house in Houston post-surgery.  For future ease of telling, I will refer to the owner of the Houston house, who is a lovely fellow, as Kee and my boyfriend as Ninja. He was a ninja, at one point, and he is responsible for a lot of lovely things in my life, including my introduction to the brilliant South African duo Die Antwoord. I miss him, but there’s no point in it.

I laid in Ninja’s bed for a couple of weeks, I think. I must have. This period of time is very foggy, I was on a lot of pain medications post-surgery. He had a really nice bed, one of those very expensive mattresses with bamboo sheets and pillows full of different kinds of seeds. Lindsay went back to Nevada and my tumor was sent to Pathology and Oncology for testing. I sent a lot of texts and got a lot of support for the surgery and most of my spare mental energy was sent to the thought,

“I don’t have cancer!”

My friends were praying for it, meditating on it. I was praying for it. In fact, I didn’t really feel that scared. The tumor was out, the pain was over. I can’t have cancer, that’s ridiculous. The doctors didn’t seem to worried about it, either. I laid in bed and learned to get it up rolling onto my side, falling off the bed and then standing up using the strength of my legs. I had absolutely no core control, but the bleeding had stopped.

My surgery took place at Ben Taub hospital, under the care and direction of Dr. Arristia. I also frequently went to another center, Smith Clinic, where I was assigned another incredible health care team member, Dr. Kristin Meaders. Over the course of my care, Smith was where I would go for all my check-ups and infusions and Ben Taub was where I spent my longer term hospital stays.

The day rolled around, finally, where we headed to Smith Clinic to hear the results of the tests the Oncology department had performed on my tumor. I remember walking in there with Ninja feeling pretty confident. I went into the room, sat down on the table and waited. Dr. Arristia came in, she sat down on a stool in front of my, she took my hand in hers and she didn’t beat around the bush. She said, “Rebecca, I love you, you have Cancer. I’m sorry.” She did love me. I love her, too.

That’s a funny moment, there. People talk about that moment a lot. The same moment as when the police knock on your door to tell you that your loved ones are dead, the same moments Regina Spektor sings about in that song, “Laughing at God.” Nobody’s laughing at God when someone tells them they have Cancer. Nobody knows what the fuck to do when somebody says that sort of thing to them. But it did seem sort of funny at the time, sort of laced in this ethereal light, sort of funny in the same dark, morbid way that it was funny when Stephen King got hit by a bus in the town named after him or when Fabio killed that bird with his face on a rollercoaster.

fabio bird face

I looked at Ninja. He looked at me. He looked like he might cry. I must also say, for Ninja’s part, this diagnosis must have hit him like a fucking freight train. He was not doing particularly well in life. His story was a very, very sad one indeed, and the main points of it included two previous girlfriends who he loved very much indeed dying of random, tragic events. One died in his arms on his birthday. Like I mentioned before, I had known Ninja for over seven years and I had loved him from the very first moment I saw him. He asked me out on a date, actually, on that very day. It was after yoga class and he asked me if I wanted to go “get a juice.” I thought he looked like Adonis and I was currently very actively involved in attempts to date an alcoholic, schizophrenic heroin addict who I don’t think even actually liked me very much, so I got scared and I said No and I got in my car and I drove away too quickly. I think about that moment all. The. Time. If I had said “yes” in that one little moment, so many things may have turned out differently for the both of us. But, I didn’t, and very soon after he started dating a great love of his life who, a couple years later, had a random brain aneurism and died in his arms on his birthday. She was incredible. I didn’t feel like I held a candle to her.

But now, here I was. Finally given a chance to be with this man. It was the thing that made sense to me after being kicked out of school, selling my boat, driving around. And, here I was, sitting in a room in a clinic, being told I had Cancer by a doctor with him sitting right there. Me, the strong one. Me the one who outlived the other girls, me another person he let into his life who now, what? I was probably going to die, too? What the fuck was Arristia saying to me right now?

So, I started asking questions. I remember processing that sentence “you have Cancer.” For about three seconds. I wanted to know what the hell she meant. What kind of Cancer? What do I do? What does this mean? Can I afford it? Why is this happening?

She was able to answer all of my questions except one.

I was diagnosed, in August of 2016, with Stage III Ovarian Cancer, specifically Ovarian Dysgerminoma, a germ cell tumor.

According to the American Cancer Society, Stage III Ovarian Cancer is defined this way:

“The cancer is in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes, and one or both of the following are present:

  1. Cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the abdomen
  2. Cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen”

I would also like to take this moment to assert that the word “cancer,” in my opinion, deserves, and henceforth shall be for the duration of this writing, a proper, capitalized noun. Cancer is just as proper a thing as Rhode Island, for example. It warrants the attention. I am the author here, I get to do what I want.

In my case, the tumor in my right ovary had becomes so swollen with cancerous cells that it had spread firstly to my left ovary. They cut out the right ovary, cut it away from the left and scraped the left free of all impact. However, the cells had also spread to my lymph nodes. They cut out twenty-six lymph nodes during surgery, but it wasn’t enough. Your lymphatic system is a highway that traverses the entirety of a person’s body. Stage 3. I had Stage 3 cancer. There are only four stages, and the fourth one, often, is a death sentence.

lymphatic system

All right, doc. What are you telling me here? What does this mean? She said, then, one of the funniest sentences I think I have ever heard, in all of my life.

“Rebecca, you are so lucky! You have one of the most curable forms of Cancer there is!”

…Doctors and nurses have a twisted sense of humor, but she was right. Ovarian Dysgerminoma is a couple things. It is one of the rarest forms of Cancer and it is, simultaneously, one of the first forms of Cancer that they cured with a very specific regime of chemotherapy back in the early 70’s, right when Cancer and its “cures” were first being discovered. The regime isn’t practiced often but, when it is, it has about 98% curability and success. The regime is the same as it was in the early 70’s. Here is a fun excerpt from the American Cancer Society’s website concerning the development of chemotherapy:

“During World War II, naval personnel who were exposed to mustard gas during military action were found to have toxic changes in the bone marrow cells that develop into blood cells. During that same period, the US Army was studying a number of chemicals related to mustard gas to develop more effective agents for war and also develop protective measures. In the course of that work, a compound called nitrogen mustard was studied and found to work against a cancer of the lymph nodes called lymphoma.

This agent served as the model for a long series of similar but more effective agents (called alkylating agents) that killed rapidly growing cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Not long after the discovery of nitrogen mustard, Sidney Farber of Boston demonstrated that aminopterin, a compound related to the vitamin folic acid, produced remissions in children with acute leukemia. Aminopterin blocked a critical chemical reaction needed for DNA replication. That drug was the predecessor of methotrexate, a cancer treatment drug used commonly today. Since then, other researchers discovered drugs that block different functions in cell growth and replication. The era of chemotherapy had begun.”

Ah, yes. The sweet, healing song of mustard gas.

My specific regime of chemotherapy was discussed. In short, it is called BEP chemotherapy. B is for Bleomycin, E is for Etopside and P is for Cisplatin, the three different, major chemicals involved in the treatment. If the acronym had followed the rules, it would have been called BEC and maybe that would have done it. Maybe that would have been too much.

Arristia told me the basic plan. To administer my chemical cocktail of BEP chemotherapy, first I would go back into surgery to have a “chest port” placed. A chest port is a permanent IV that mainlines into your heart. Once this port was placed, I would require five doses of BEP chemotherapy. Each dose required a five-day stay in Ben Taub Hospital and then subsequent trips to Smith Clinic for additional infusions of Bleomycin.


She told me I might not lose my hair. She told me I would be very sick. She told me if I didn’t go through with it, I would probably die. Most likely. She asked me what I wanted to do.


The way she looked at me, the way Ninja looked at me, and the way I looked back at them, it didn’t really seem like a question. People like to ask me now, now that I have a slew of side effects that nobody mentioned, now that my whole life is different, would you still have gone through with it? Would have rejected the treatment, now that you have Raynaud’s Sydrome in your feet and hands and fibromyalgia and mental problems related to trauma? Now that you’ve lost Ninja and everything you owned and you’re doing all you can fucking do just to get over it, get back on your feet? Would you do anything differently?

To be honest, I don’t know. To be honest, I wish they’d told me. To be honest, they didn’t know. You can’t tell someone something you can’t predict, you can’t promise something you don’t control. Everyone just does the best they can with everything they’re presented in life at that moment with the tools and information they are offered.

So, I said “yes” to the treatment.


God, damn, man. What the hell happened? There are gaps in my memory.

They gave me a room in the “real” hospital, with a chair for my boyfriend, and soon other friends, to sleep in. I must have gone straight from the children’s ward to surgery, effectively, but I can’t actually remember. I don’t recall being afraid, I don’t recall feeling much of anything. They said it’s a thing I had to do, so I was going to do it. I didn’t have a choice, much like most of the rest of this tale.

I’ve only had one other surgery in my life, arthroscopic surgery on my right knee. I had ground the cartilage to nonexistence from running, hiking and working and they went inside my knee and sucked all the floating pieces of cartilage out with a little tube and filed down the sharp and jagged edges, just like a nail salon. It was cool to watch, but the knee I had surgery on hurts more than the knee I didn’t touch, to this day. I’d certainly never experienced anything like abdominal surgery. I didn’t really comprehend the severity of what I was experiencing at the time.

When I got to my new digs, my stupid friend Shing had already somehow managed to discover my room number and then fill it, to my chagrin, with the “ugliest balloons they had in the gift shop.” I remember texting her about how much I hate Mylar balloons and the glee with which she replied, “I know!!” This was just the beginning of a waterfall of support and love that I would experience over the course of the next few months, mostly from far, far away, extensions of care, support, love and concern that I am still reeling from today. Damn you, Shing.

I must have punched the car window before I had surgery. The next few days and hours don’t make any sense in my memory. They had to send the tumor to the lab to discover it was cancerous, but how in the fuck did I walk around, go to the hospital, get in a car after they cut my stomach open? That would have been days later, post surgery. There is so much muscle to cut through, what business did I have walking around and much less punching car windows? I think I lost my mind somewhere along this story.

My surgeon and primary care physician’s name is Concepcion Diaz-Arrastia. If you are ever lucky enough to have this woman as your surgeon or physician, you have encountered a miracle. She performed a “salpingo-oophorectomy,” which is medical jargon for a surgery where one ovary is removed. She sliced a perfectly vertical line from my belly button to the top of my pubic bone, went inside my body and removed my right ovary and fallopian tube, a portion of my left ovary as the tumor had grown so large it had attached itself and twenty-six lymph nodes. Those little lymph nodes became very important in the near future, but the surgery was a magnificent success.

My friend Lindsay arrived on scene immediately post surgery. Lindsay and that little button they give you to administer morphine. Lindsay had already shown up as an angelic presence in this story; she is a registered nurse and midwife, one of the best ones around. Without her advice and communication through the process of discovery and attempts to locate care, I do believe I would be dead. She encouraged me, guided me and informed me, not to mention pulled some heavy, heavy strings at Ben Taub to get them to pay attention to me. I owe my life to that little lady and I hope she knows how grateful I am and how much I respect and appreciate her, every single day of my life. I had never even met her before she showed up in my hospital room. Lindsay is a sailor, past crew of HMS Bounty, a burner and an angel.


I don’t remember much, besides I couldn’t actually move. A salpingo-oophorectomy is similar to a C-section, but rotated 90 degrees. It is impressive, truly impressive, how limited you are once someone cuts through all the muscles and tissues in your abdomen. It is an absolutely dense and necessary grouping of muscles and you can’t so much as sit up on your own after this type of surgery.


How long was I in the hospital post-surgery? I don’t remember. How did I feel? I also don’t remember. How did I get home? Did anyone call me on the phone? My family sent flowers. Lindsay slept in a chair and struggled to meet the Thai food delivery drivers in the waiting room. They gave me a lot of pain medication. It was necessary.

My boyfriend had a big, giant comfortable bed with a big, giant awesome TV at the end of it. I was sent home to rest. My tumor, ovary and lymph nodes were sent on a journey of their own.



My tumor was inside my right ovary, the technical term for this event being “dysgerminoma.” Defined by Merriam Webster, a dysgerminoma is a “type of germ cell tumor; it is usually malignant and usually occurs in the ovary. A tumor of the identical histology but not occurring in the ovary may be described by an alternate name: seminoma in the testis or germinoma in the central nervous system or other parts of the body.” The term “malignant” is also a fun word, and for clarification it is described as such: 1: a obsolete, b: evil in nature, influence or effect; 2: tending to produce death or deterioration. Lovely!
My tumor was 17x15x10 cm. I had to re-read the pathology report to make sure I had the numbers right, but that puts the thing inside my right ovary at larger than a large grapefruit. Now, doesn’t it seem a little fucking weird that I had been walking around, for God knows how long, with some foreign body the size of a large grapefruit inside my lower abdomen? Doesn’t it seem like I should have noticed or something? In retrospect, I did, but I just kept going. I had digestive issues for years. I had about ten extra pounds on me that couldn’t be explained, especially in regards to the amount of exercising I was constantly doing and the good diet I had. However, I was rarely actually hungry. I’d tried all sorts of things to jump start my digestive system, from acupuncture to Chinese herbs to Thai abdominal massages to deep breathing techniques. Nothing helped. I simply accepted, at some point, that I felt weird all the time. This weird was my new “normal,” and that’s the dangerous place. We are disconnected from our bodies, sometimes alarmingly so, but also often don’t have the knowledge or ability to address what is happening inside ourselves. As I mentioned before, I have never had health insurance. While living in the state of California I was able to obtain Reproductive Health Care for free due to my low income, but that didn’t apply anywhere else. It was easier to accept how I was feeling and carry on than it was to try to find help for something I couldn’t explain.

I should take this moment to mention all this—I have always been a very healthy person. A very, very strong person. I stand 6’1” and weigh in about 160. I was averaging 175 pounds during the years prior to my cancer diagnosis and I couldn’t explain it, or shake it. I have always eaten very, very well, and my yoga practice has been with my since the age of 22. I was practicing, regularly, an hour to two hours on my own nearly every single morning of my life and, by the time I finished my 90 day apprenticeship on the oil tanker, I was dead stone cold sober and running six miles on a treadmill aboard a moving ship. I had also very, very rarely been sick in my life. I never had so much as an ear infection as a child and the illnesses I encountered as an adult were things like giardia from drinking straight out of beaver ponds or a head cold. I was not a chronically ill person. I suffer from depression and anxiety, but I do not suffer from physical ailments. Hell, in regards to all the dumb shit I did I rarely even hurt myself. A few sprained ankles from soccer and a dislocated knee from running down a rocky creek bed carrying 75 feet of garden hose on my shoulder were about the worst I ever experienced. I sailed boats for a living and could swim a mile without stopping. The school I attended was a paramilitary school where I was one of two women in my class of fourteen or so, we wore uniforms and marched around and got yelled at and slept in barracks. All this is just a long-winded way of saying: I was not weak, unhealthy or prone to illness, accident or injury. However, I never had “regular” care. Not from any type of doctor. I moved and traveled so much that I could hardly keep up with myself, much less someone else keeping up on that history with or for me.

There is also zero history of cancer in my family. Zero. Not one single case. Not on my mother’s side, not on my father’s side. I am an only child. We have a history of three things in my family: depression, alcoholism and tragedy. My Dad likes to describe us as “peasant stock” as we are a sturdy people hailing from some mashup combination of Eastern European countries, peoples prone to hardy constitutions, good work ethic and solid bodies paired with distinctly less solid minds.


Trust me, I’ve gone over and over and over again all the possibilities for a “cause” or a “reason.” I have been on some form of birth control since I was 17. I wasn’t having periods, but I was also 17 and running, on average, about ten miles a day. I was on the cross country team and in the marching band. I wasn’t broken, I was an athlete. No matter. I was on the pill most of my 20s and then tried Implanon and Paraguard. I wonder sometimes about the Paraguard, because I would bleed for two straight weeks. It is the copper laced, non-hormonal IUD and I am topically allergic to copper. For example, if I wear a copper bracelet my skin will turn green but I will also develop holes in my skin. When I realized this, I pulled the IUD myself, in the cabin of my boat. I don’t recommend that, exactly, but it was cheap.

I’ve been in a lot of toxic environments in my life. I worked, for months and months, in a boatyard where I was covered nearly constantly in fiberglass dust. I’ve lived under bridges and in squats and tents and cars and eaten food out of dumpsters. I have never, by any stretch of the imagination, been “pure,” but I have always been healthy, strong and capable. A fucking warrior lady, a Viking. I had a bit of a reputation as such and this strength of spirit is why I am still here.


My doctors said the “why” is “a random cellular event.” A dysgerminoma can grow from even one malignant cell. Just one. Little. Rogue. Cell. I remember talking to that cell—“Man, what the hell!!! You don’t have to ruin it for the rest of us, why couldn’t we have just talked about this??” It only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole damn bunch. A local psychic told me recently that my tumor happened because I am addicted to negativity, have surrounded myself with toxic people and I am generationally cursed. I suppose, when presented that option, I am happier to stick with this “random, unexplainable cellular event” concept because, while it is difficult to sit with mystery, it is more rewarding than saying I am a horrible, doomed person and that’s why I got cancer. Christ, Lady. How much am I paying you?

I digress. They found the tumor.  17x15x10 cm, inside my right ovary, the pathologic diagnosis also including statements like, “intact capsule with no surface involvement,” “lymph-vascular invasion present,” and “metastatic dysgerminoma.” No one had mentioned the word “cancer” at this point, but I was set up for surgery on the 21st of July, 2016.



If you’ve ever sprained an ankle or dislocated a knee, or watched a pregnancy grow, you know that most parts of the human body are most elastic than it seems possible or logical to believe. Skin, especially, stretching to strange, new limits without breaking, encompassing fluids, embryos, without breaking. A bladder is like this, too.

The radiology technician couldn’t seem my right ovary because my right ovary was a tumor the size of a large grapefruit. A 17cm “dysgerminoma,” as they are called in the medical world. The best I can figure, trying to put the pieces together, is that the surge of hormones in the morning after pill gave the beast of a tumor inside my body just enough leverage to grow large enough to achieve the goal of anything obsessed with its own power—the ability to affect surrounding entities. The tumor was so large that it had eclipsed my bladder. I had been drinking water and probably whatever else I had gotten my hands on but I hadn’t urinated in over three days. I didn’t notice. Nobody asked. It seems shocking that something this simple had been overlooked by myself and by everyone else, but you do funny things when you think you are dying. Either way, my bladder couldn’t evacuate. My stomach was swelling because my bladder was filling with urine and the urine couldn’t leave. There was a giant tumor acting as a roadblock, a landslide, a downed tree.


Seven doctors rushed into my room while I laughed from the ceiling. Somebody shoved a catheter in me. I wish I remembered the exact numbers, but whatever a bladder’s “maximum” capacity is considered, mine was seven times that. It took almost two minutes to drain my bladder with that catheter. My stomach deflated like a balloon. I returned from the ceiling into my body. The doctors stood around and stared at me. My boyfriend woke up.

When your bladder exceeds its ability to swell to meet the demands of the liquid inside, it can rupture. Most people will pee accidentally before this even comes close to occurring. But, if they don’t, urine can fill up the abdomen. Urine can poison you, causing septic shock. You can die from a body cavity full of piss. I’m already full of piss, vinegar and issues. I didn’t die. It didn’t happen. My lower abdomen deflated like a balloon .

My doctor had a shock of white hair and a winning smile. Somehow, she realized I was a sailor. She decided to save my life.