Saturday, August 6, 2011


A fermata (also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is an element of musical notation indicating that the note should be sustained for longer than its note value would indicate. Exactly how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor, but twice as long is not unusual.

In essence, the fermata steals time.


I was really embarrassed when the tears sprang to my eyes. Everyone got quiet as I stared at the floor and tried to collect myself. I glanced up and looked over at Nick with pleading eyes and face mirrored a my sadness and concern, but wasn't budging either. Then heard my oncologist say "Don't blame him, blame me, I'm the one that's telling you that you can't go."

I was supposed to be heading to Chicago in a week for an overnight trip with my team from work. A wonderful two-day design brainstorm with a fantastic design firm. It was a crushing thought. This is why I do the work I do, these are the experiences that feed me and propel me forward in my learning. It was not only something that I was looking forward to, but also something that made me feel normal during this time of non-normal living.

My doctor had made a good point. I would be staying by myself...what if I spiked a fever in the middle of the night? What if I couldn't get in touch with my team mates or him? I wouldn't have any data to share as I showed up at a Chicagoland emergency room. And me, with a problem after every chemo to date was someone he didn't want far away. We were switching things up again, better to play it safe and stay put.

He was right, but it was maddening. I started this process hearing from friends whose relatives had gone through chemo unscathed, one of two weathering it so well that they didn't even tell people at work that they were undergoing treatment. My expectation was that I would just live my life the way it was with this little inconvenience happening on the side. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for those of you who know me well, you aren't surprised. I power through, damn it. And when I can't, it's a shock.

Letting go of that trip really cause me to think about what breast cancer has brought to my life. It's like someone has punched a huge pause button. On the rough side, it's the hold on the phone to an important conversation you want to get back to. On the good side, it's the fermata, holding of note for a time that you see fit, knowing you can move on to the next beautiful combination of notes when the time is ready.

It's taken me over five months to get to this place. Five months to finally realize that I need to let go of what I thought was going to happen and just be. To feel like a bug trapped in the amber sometimes. To end that last note (the days before I got my diagnosis) and just hold it until I can resume. It's stolen time,  yes, but stolen time that will give me time in the future.

The reality is I never believed I would have cancer at such a young age and I don't think I have ever come to terms with what it and it's treatment has and will mean in my life.

I think I am still in denial, to some degree, of how big this is and what it means.

Allowing that in would have made/may still make me insane. But, I am coming into an understanding of what I am in, right now.

But time is tricky. If you are like me (or the old me), you count the minutes, you look at the long haul, you make plans, you wait. In the fermata, you try to sit with the pause, you begin to realize that you can't fight what comes, you pay attention to what is around you. You are a hybrid being with one foot in the future (4 more to go! 5...6...7...8!) and you mind and body in the very real and addled present, forcing you to sit, very firmly, where you are.

It's been years since I have considered getting a tattoo, but I may have found the right one to remind me of this time. Just a small one, inside my wrist, to remind me of what I have learned here, how important it is to be, to rest, to hold that note for as long as I need to before moving on composing the music of my life. The gift of memory and mindfulness, movement and pause.


  1. so well written. hold the note for as long as you need right! thinking of you Fran.

  2. That would be a beautiful tattoo.

    Elizabeth Maher

  3. Fran, we have a great tattoo artist if you need a local name.

    Meg & Ter

  4. Hi Fran,
    Beautiful and brave. I only hope I can reach my fermata sooner rather than later. Will update you soon with news.
    Love you lots.
    Anne xxx