Archives for posts with tag: Annabel Clark

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1.     What the fuck was that? I ran my hand over the side of my breast. A lump.

2.     I took a few steadying breaths and assumed the breast self-examination position : right arm extended upward, elbow bent next to my ear, palm cupping the nape of my neck. I’d been doing regular self-exams since my 20s when I worked on Journal, a photography book about surviving breast cancer, which inspired me to finally, really start living my dreams. Definitely a lump. I concluded and keeled over in the shower.

Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer by Annabel Clark and Lynn Redgrave |

Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer by Annabel Clark and Lynn Redgrave |

3.    But I have somewhere to be in an hour.

4.     I called my partner, Melinda. I explained that I’d felt a lump. I tried to sound calm. I tried not to scare her. She was at the office. Later, she told me I was screaming. “We need to call my gynecologist,” I said/screamed.

5.     Melinda three-way called the doctor. Somehow they fit me in that afternoon. “Don’t panic,” the receptionist said before hanging up. “Think positively.”

6.    What does that even mean?

7.     It could be cancer. I was in my mid-thirties. Statistically speaking, I was young for breast cancer. According to WebMD, women under age 40 accounted for only seven percent of breast cancer cases in the United States. I’d never been tested for the BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic mutation that Angelina Jolie made famous, but nor did I have reason to suspect I’d inherited it. Breast cancer didn’t run on my mother’s side.

8.     It’s probably a cyst.

9.     According to the Centers for Disease control, I wasn’t immune. No woman was. We were all at risk. Especially those of us who lived in dank, polluted cities like Manhattan, who ever took the pill, who didn’t have children, or drank, or started menstruating early.

10.  What did it mean to think positively? Was it limited to focusing solely on the lump being probably, most likely nothing or that cancer wouldn’t happen to me?

11.  I brushed my long hair and tried not to think about losing it. But my friend has clippers, I recalled, and she was a survivor.

12.  My doctor felt the lump, too. She called it a mass and told me to have a mammogram and sonogram immediately. “Both,” she said, “tell them it is diagnostic—not a regular screening. That will get you in faster.”

13.  Once a lump could be detected in a younger woman’s breast, which was usually denser, meant—if it was cancerous— it was potentially advanced, aggressive. “Go right away,” my gynecologist said, handing me a referral sheet with the area circled over a clinical drawing of breast. “It’s better to know.”

14.  Melinda called the radiologist office. At the word “diagnostic,” an appointment became available for 7:30 the next morning. We sat on a park bench outside the Natural History Museum. I unbuttoned my denim shirt and let her touch my spot.

15.  “I like our life,” came out with a sob. “We’ve got this,” Melinda said, as her eyes filled with tears. “We can handle it.”

16.  When I let myself consider the possibility of such a life-altering situation, I also became aware of all of the relationships and resources I had to help me live with such a diagnosis. I wasn’t going to delude myself with the thoughts that age or eating farmer’s market food or being white somehow inoculated me from cancer. I had a lump. It wasn’t negative thinking for us to do the tests and prepare ourselves for the possibility. Positive thinking was less about focusing on cancer not happening, and more about being able to manage it—if it did.

17.  The next morning I shook beneath a rose-printed robe in the waiting room. Melinda wrapped a pink blanket around me.

18.  “First one?” asked a woman, reading a well-thumbed issue of MORE magazine. I nodded. “It hurts,” she said, “Anyone who says otherwise is lying, but it’s quick.”

19.  “Mammograms don’t hurt,” my technician said as she stuck two stickers on each of my nipples. They were printed with a floral pattern swirling around a tiny metal ball, branded N-SPOTS, and that apparently helped orient the x-ray.


20.  The compression was uncomfortable. It felt similar to pushing on a bruise. “Hold your breath,” she said. “Go to a happy place.”

21.  Corsica.

22.  While we waited for the sonogram, Melinda and I discussed in upbeat whispers that breast cancer was highly treatable. If caught early, women have a 98 percent survival rate, according to the National Institute of Cancer. For women over age 35, they offered a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool on their website that estimated risk by assessing seven factors: Age; Age at first period; Age at the birth of first child; Family history of breast cancer in mother, sister, or daughter; Number of past breast biopsies; Number of breast biopsies showing atypical hyperplasia; Race and ethnicity. My estimate was almost negligible.

23.  Yet, young women did get breast cancer. The Young Survival Coalition estimated that 250,000 were currently battling breast cancer and 13,000 new cases would be diagnosed this year in the United States. Breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in women aged 15-34 and the leading cause of all deaths in women ages 40-55. I knew, because I was freaking myself out by reading some run-walk donation brochure.

24.  The mammogram technician called me back for additional x-rays. Not to worry, she explained, younger women commonly had dense or fibrocystic breast tissue that was completely normal but did make the mammogram images difficult to decipher. Using a smaller, circular plate, the size of a fist, the technician compressed each breast for another four positions. This time it felt as though my proverbial bruise was being kneeled on.

25.  Eighty percent of lumps were not cancerous, I chanted to myself, back in the waiting room for two more hours, until my name was called.

26.  “Relax, sweetie,” the sonogram technician said in a soft Spanish accent. “That’s a cyst if I’ve seen one.” I felt as though I might levitate off the examination bed with relief. “But you do have a few of ‘em.”

27.  The radiologist joined her and squinted at the screen. After another five-forever minutes of imaging, she physically examined area and must have felt my heart pounding in my chest. “I want you to see a specialist.” She explained that I had a cluster of cysts, probably benign, which would most likely dissipate on their own. “But they’re complex.”

28.  I booked the first available appointment with the breast specialist—five weeks away at the end of October “Till then think happy thoughts,” her receptionist said.

29.  The season turned pink. Breast Cancer Awareness Month had me constantly aware that I might be facing a diagnosis whenever I watched football, shopped for lipstick, or flew Delta Airlines. Melinda and I took at trip home to Minnesota and were greeted at the airport by Caribou coffee honoring their beloved roastmaster, who had died of breast cancer with Amy’s Blend, proceeds benefitting CANCERCARE, which I misread as cancer scare.

30.  As Melinda and I ticked through the days, we came to realize that positive thinking was recognizing the abundance of love and care in my life that would—if necessary—help me face the results, whether they came back negative or positive.

31.  They were negative. Cry.

Three years ago, today, I decided to start writing my first book. On that April Fool’s Day, I thought I was writing a collection essays, but it turned out to be a memoir. Since then, I’ve written—and re-written—something that I believe finally adds up to a manuscript. Getting it published will be an entirely different story.

However, on this anniversary that I hold dear, I find myself looking back and cataloging the books that have literally altered the course of my life. Starting with the first book that inspired me to write back beyond the margins, here are a few of the books, listed in the year I read them, that beckoned me to the page in the hopes of adding to the cultural conversation of books.

1994: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

1995: Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel

Asking RWE why at 17

1996: Emerson’s Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

1997: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

1998: My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok


1999: Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson

1999: Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson

Starring Bill Bryson during Study Abroad

2000: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman

2001: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

2002: Middlesex, Jeffery Eugenides


2003: A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

2004: Journal, Annabel Clark and Lynn Redgrave

2005: Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres

Commiserating with Jesus Land

2005: Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres

2006: On Writing, Stephen King

2007: Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell

2008: Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris

2009: The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick

2010: Boys of My Youth, Jo Ann Beard

2011: The Commitment, Dan Savage

2012: Virgin, Hanne Blank

Learning from the historian, Hanne Blank

Learning from the historian, Hanne Blank

2013: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy

2014: Don’t Cry, Mary Gaitskill. Or, Cut me Loose, Leah Vincent. I’m in the middle of reading both right now and couldn’t possibly decide.


What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

On Monday evening in what would have been pre-theater rush on any other day, I made my way through 42nd Street traffic to the American Airlines Theatre. Melinda and I had 6 o’clock tickets to celebrate Lynn Redgrave’s life.

I met Lynn and her daughter Annabel in 2004 when I was the marketing department of one at the art book publisher for their Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery From Breast Cancer. I was new to New York and barely 25. I’d only met a few famous people in passing and certainly had never handled one—let alone a Golden Globe winner and Broadway star.

Despite my inexperience Journal was bound to be a success. Lynn was a pro and Annabel alarmingly talented. What was unexpected was how much Lynn would inspire me to become the woman and artist I wanted to be.

“Amy,” Lynn said one evening after the book signing I learned that a greenroom wasn’t actually green. “Very few people will really want to do what you do. Figure out what you want, truly deeply want, and pursue it flat out. You’ll notice that most won’t work as hard as you will, so there won’t be so much competition after all.”

Lynn spoke from her acting perspective. Many may have believed they wanted to be a star but few (even if they possessed the talent) actually endured the constant workweeks, live humiliations, and public invasions of privacy that the profession required. She worked through cancer treatments—always adamant that she wasn’t too sick to work—she worked so she didn’t feel sick thanks to “Doctor Theatre.” She never missed a performance.

Maybe it was her voice training or her English accent but her advice punctured through my self-doubt and New York naivety, and I believed her. Lynn always did have a way of making an audience feel as if she were talking directly and solely to them, alone. I continued to hear her words long after I left the publisher and started to write…revise…write…submit…revise…and eventually publish.

Last May I learned from a Yahoo! headline that Lynn had passed away from cancer: “Actress, Lynn Redgrave, Dead at 67.” I cried at my desk. I remembered typing out the subtitle of their book “A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer” at least a zillion times, all the while convinced that she had recovered once and for all. I donated to her memory at The Actor’s Fund. I went to see plays on Broadway—especially the funny ones—in remembrance of her.

Assembling at the American Airlines Theatre for a memorial celebration a year later was fitting. Behind the speaking podiums and larger than life screen rotating photographs of the many Lynns people knew and loved, the stage was set for the current production of The Importance of Being Earnest. I saw Lynn in Earnest at BAM and then here in The Constant Wife. She had invited me for a drink afterwards, making me feel like the most important person in attendance.

Brian Stokes Mitchell opened the evening. Lynn’s sister, Vanessa, spoke. Jim Dale the Georgy Girl songwriter crooned the tune to her memory. Related actors read scenes from Lynn’s own plays Shakespeare for My Father, Nightingale, Rachel and Juliet, and The Mandrake Root. We saw a film montage accompanied by her real-life colleagues Liam Neeson, James Earl Jones, and Robert Osborne. Favorite songs were sung, including Maude Maggart’s “I’ll See Your Again.” Her children spoke. A recording of Lynn accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Image Network closed the evening.

The tribute that touched me the most was from her Dr. Clifford Hudis from Sloan Kettering. He encouraged us not to see a lost battle but instead all the victories of characters performed, art created, and family moments shared since her diagnosis. He concluded by succinctly summing up how I feel saying something to the effect of how humbled, thrilled, and honored he was to play a small role in such a big life.

In the end, there was a standing ovation. Melinda and I clapped in celebration of Lynn and her life, her achievement, her light that had touched all of us and continued to even now on Monday, when Broadway was dark and their stars were supposed to be enjoying their one day off.

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