Where are you now?

Wow, it has been a long time.  You have probably noticed by now that I have a tendency to disappear from the blogosphere for long stretches.  And part of that is that, yes, I am “cancer-free” and haven’t felt the urgent need to write as often as I did when I was going through chemo.  During that time I felt like I would burst with all of the emotions I was going through.

I have since realized that even though the bulk of that journey is over–all the diagnosis and treatment and wrapping of the brain around the impossible–it will never be totally over.  I hope it never comes back but I have to remember that it’s always a possibility and never let my guard down.  I’m just now finally in the process of moving on to bigger and better things, things that don’t involve the day-to-day all-consuming health concerns of my life.

Just things that involve the major life changes of marriage, moving and searching for a new career.

Cause, you know, once you beat cancer down there’s no excuses left to not be living the life you want.  Even now as you read this, please consider one thing: would you want to wait for cancer to come into your life as the mechanism that made you chase your dreams?  Because if the answer is yes, don’t forget there’s that whole you could die thing attached to that choice.  I suggest the other option 🙂

So yeah… in the last year or so Sean and I made it through some major milestones and we’re still working on some right now.

We planned a wedding and were married in October surrounded by close family and friends.  We had a small ceremony in Maui (we technically got Maui’d).  I was never the big crazy wedding kind of girl.  Don’t get me wrong: I always wanted to get married; I just didn’t want the big to-do.  I don’t like trying on white dresses I will only where once, or picking the exact right placement of people at a table, or simply planning events.  I admire people who do love all of that and I understand why wedding planners were put on this earth.  I mostly just wanted to take every person who touched our lives in a positive way and drop them onto an island and stay together forever with great food, drink, dancing, etc; but we had to be realistic.  We had been stuck on Maui (please do not be offended or miffed when I say “stuck,” just hang through it and you may understand what I mean) through cancer treatment and so we decided, Ok, the wedding will be our last Hawaiian Hurrah (for the time being… maybe we’ll retire there one day).  We knew it would soon be time to move off the island if we wanted to pursue other life goals (that list will be available shortly in this reading).

Post treatment and with a return to work, I quickly realized that I could not physically do the job I was doing for much longer (cleaning up after tourists on a boat while trying to teach them about whales and encourage them not to injure themselves because they had never been on a boat before).  I was exhausted every day, I was too hot every day, the pay compared to cost of living meant we would never get ahead.  It was frustrating to work hard and feel like it wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to be.  We committed to putting our wedding together in the place where we had fallen in love so that we could leave Maui on a positive note with the last thing we remembered as something amazing and happy; only a wedding could trump cancer memories.

With lots of help, the wedding went wonderfully.  It just went by too fast!  We spent the week with family and friends and had a quick honeymoon to the Big Island (we had taken a pre-wedding vacation to Chicago and Boston).  Then we buckled down at work as whale season arrived, assuming in the back of out heads that this was going to be our last winter season on Maui and enjoying it for what it was.


I’m not sure many people believed we could leave such a beautiful place.  But we were steadfast in it.  We had lived in Friday Harbor, WA a few summers ago and we were ready for a big change, a big CITY change, one with sports and music and stores and family and cheaper plane tickets.  Sean began looking at houses on Zillow; we were so excited that the what we paid in Lahaina for a tiny one-bedroom could actually stretch a lot farther in Seattle, Washington!  Ah, the American Dream.  The potential of the future kept us focused on the short-term goals.

Finally, we sat down and made a plan, a plan that involved plane tickets.  We had selected our dates.  We got boxes and started packing; we made plans to ship one car; we started selling surf boards and bikes and all the extras we had accumulated over 14 years (Sean) and 4 years (me).  We told friends and family and work.  We checked in with the brother and fiance in Seattle and found with them a temporary landing pad as we navigated the area.

We even made a conscious decision to do something completely unheard of and out of character at least for me: we were going to move without jobs.  Scary.  Never before had I moved without job security.  This is when I had to really embrace that whole fuck you cancer (and you thought I could make it a while post without a curse word, ha!) and decided that we had earned some solid time off.  We earned the right to chuck the calendar in the ocean for a little travel and adventure during our move.  We have been through a lot over these last few years; it was time to reach for the tree, jump off the bridge and hope that bungee cord stretched (we’re still stretching the bungee cord).

Whale season came to an early end on the whale side of things which made it a little easier to leave work; saying good-bye to friends was hard of course though.  At the end of April, movers came for our stuff and we sold almost everything else.  We flew to LAX where the car had been shipped and prepared to road trip up the west coast to our final destination of Seattle.  Consider it honeymoon part II!

We coordinated with many family and friends so that we could see lots of familiar faces that we had missed over the years.  We emptied out my storage unit in San Clemente.  We ate so much good food and saw beautiful sites.  We acclimated to new weather patterns along the way.  We considered ourselves “temporarily retired,” and spent time making memories that will last a lifetime.  Major stops included Orange County, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sonoma, Fort Bragg, Oregon Coast, Portland, Kalama and lastly, Seattle: our new home!

And I gotta say… I love it here.  The number one thing people said to me when I started telling them I was moving (and people still say it when I tell them where I moved from) is “don’t you know it’s cold there?”  Um, yes, we know that it does get cold and dark and rainy.  Got it.  But can you maybe consider that there might be a greater reason(s) that lead to our decision to move?  Perhaps these folks could look at the positive side, especially since we had already bought the tickets (or are already here!).

So in case you were wondering why we chose to leave Maui for Seattle, let me outline it for you in the top ten reasons why we moved:

10) More for your money in housing.

9) Groceries are cheaper aka affordable; no more $5 milk!

8) Weather: I’d like to feel a little chilled/cold on Christmas, it’s OK!

7) Stores.

6) Sports, music events, festivals, shows, ballet, the symphony…

5) Flights to friends and family are affordable and shorter.

4) Greater job opportunities and better pay.

3) Hiking and green spaces for Scupper… snow for him to make yellow.

2) Qualified, capable, smart, modern MEDICAL CARE and doctors… even some that specialize in breast cancer and family planning.

1) Family and friends are way closer!

And as I learn more about the city, there’s even more great reasons that Seattle is a perfect place for us at this point in our lives.  Maui is just a plane ride away too.

As I wrap this up, let me just admit that the number one challenge I face right now is: what do I want to be when I grow up?  I am currently job searching but I have not idea what I want to do!  That’s the hard part.  I am applying for jobs that sound like they would be fun and provide room for growth.  I’m looking for anything from conservation, science, biology, lab work, and education to medical, office and editing work.  But I am going to be a little bit picky… I did interview with a boat company and received a job offer but I turned it down.  Yes, it’s a job but I don’t want it.  I did it once before and I need a change now.  I’d like a big girl job, maybe even one where I get to dress up…

We also have to find a more long-term place to live.

We shall see what the future holds for Sean, Scupper and I.  For now, we are enjoying our new city and welcoming new adventures!

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

― Maya Angelou




Who ARE you?

My armpit is numb; I think the new Aluminum-free deodorant made it on but I can’t really feel it.  I don’t stink, so that’s a plus.  And these pain killers make me loopy and relaxed, it’s great.

In these days post-surgery, of waiting for results, managing pain and focusing on simply eating, resting and reading, it has occurred to me that many of you may not know who I am and what I’ve been up to in life. Some of you left off with me in high school or college, some of you have relied on updates from Mama Neff over the years, some of you may know nothing about me, except that big glaring c-word that sits on my chest.

Let’s cover some highlights…

June 30, 1983: Welcome to the world.  9 pounds and 3 ounces, and the youngest of three (we were all fat babies, which is surprising since we’re all tall and skinny!).  I’ve got a big brother six years older than me–Erik–and another middle big brother three years older than me–Ethan.  My mom, Sandy, is/was a nurse practitioner in Dorchester, MA and my dad, Bruce, is/was a director of materials at Data General in Westboro and Southboro, MA.  The parentals are retired now; they have become my personal care system… good thing I ended up in Maui and not Minnesota!

We spent summers and ski weekends on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  I picked blueberries and lived in my swimsuit, staring eye to eye with inch long baby fish for hours on end.  My career was set before I even knew what career meant (or job for that matter, though my first job was selling blueberries and big thanks to the neighbors, my only customers).

I was a quiet and curious baby (yeah, like I remember, it just sounds good).  Growing up, I was always shy and observant, watching my big brothers do boy stuff and remembering how not to get caught for things.  By the time, I came of age and was interested in parties, the reigns of parenting had lightened anyway.  Plus, let’s be honest, I was never really the badass rule breaker.  I did well in school, I worked hard, took AP classes, I always did my homework; I was an obedient rule follower (most of the time).  I had a great circle of friends at school and was focused on academics.

I did figure skating and gymnastics as a kid but never really stuck it with organized sports through high school.  I got into kickboxing for a while with my friend Maris but that was about it from the sports side; I left that to the bros.  I was a very emotional teenager and have continued such as an adult.  When I was young, I couldn’t understand it but as I’ve matured I’ve learned that I am very susceptible to the expectations of others and that my ability to empathize with others is overwhelming: I take on other people’s emotions in certain situations but then need extra time alone to process those out and then process mine out.  It can be exhausting!  But it led me to my interest in psychology, customer service, and management.

Junior year of high school I decided I wasn’t going to college.  Wrong!  Not an option!  You’re going!  Ok, mom and dad.  I dragged my feet a little but figured it out.  I decided I wanted to study nothing…….. except marine biology.  One foot on Roger Williams University campus and I knew I would be applying early and only there: right size (small undergrad community), right place (Rhode Island, far enough from home but not too far, on the water), right feel.  I met another group of amazing people who grew into life with me.  It is my strong belief that college isn’t just for academics, but more for learning how to be an adult, how to F up (how to fail your first class because when the hell am I going to use calculus in my real life?  Stupid calculus), how to make good and bad decisions; oh, and how to do all that while on scholarship.  And while doing two years of early morning crew (rowing long boats while watching harbor seals) club sport.

During my senior year, I lived out a lifelong dream: I studied abroad in Australia and SCUBA dove the Great Barrier Reef.  In retrospect, it didn’t live up to the hype.  The reef was trashed where I went but I imagined that that the rest of the reef, where people don’t usually go, was pristine.  It’s an unrealistic hope in this day and age but it’s a driving force in me wanting to tell people to protect the ocean.  Kim, Jo, remember the creepy diver man with the belly button ring?!  Note to men: don’t get a belly button ring!  Gross.  I thought that was a given.

Post graduation, it was the big “now what” question.  Well, shit, I’ve always wanted to live in California (I strongly disagree with cold weather and humans subjecting themselves to it all the time), time to apply for big girl jobs there.  Thirty applications later, I ended up with a job at Inside the Outdoors as a naturalist for fourth graders in Newport Beach, California.  I drove cross county with my future roommate Veronica and we met Laura as we were signing the lease: all new imports to CA.  Big scary steps taken for the sake of adulthood.

Within two months I was at a preferred job, instructor at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA.  I was taking my marine biology degree, throwing in my psych minor and teaching all age groups about science and California state history.  I was working on boats and watching whales and dolphins and encouraging understanding and conservation.  I was living more dreams out.  I was meeting like-minded people.  Over time, I became a coordinator in the Outdoor Education department, then a co-Director with my friend Sara.  Finally, I jumped into my favorite role as Assistant Director to the At Sea department.  Basically, you add a lot of budgeting and big kid stuff to the fun teaching and program development stuff and stir it up with some fishermen hating Marine Protected Areas and we call it my job.  And I will still call some fishermen from there ignorant to their impacts on the ocean.  Those jerks.

Three years with the company and it was time for something, somewhere new.  My friend Ash had moved to Maui and started working for Pacific Whale Foundation.  She said apply and I did.  Time to jump farther from home, cross the Pacific and start staring at 45-foot long humpback whales.  Endangered species in paradise and a full platform to encourage conservation through education?  YES, please!  I work on boats and take people snorkeling and whale watching.  Yes, I also clean up a lot of vomit (A LOT) and assure people that yes, the waves normally get this big and no, you wont die.  That may not be my favorite part but the opportunities to learn and love the ocean out here are limitless.  Learning (not in a forced classroom setting) is still a passion of mine.  Smart and a smart ass, right?!  Plus the people I work with are incredible.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  ~Native American Proverb

Currently, I also work as a naturalist at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua.  It is refreshing to work for my first FOR-profit.  There is definitely a difference but customer service (there’s that psych degree again) is what it always comes back to.

After being in Maui for six months, I met this man.  You know his name, Sean.  I had planned on giving Maui six months and then maybe moving on and back to the mainland but he threw a wrench in there and I decided to stay.  He’s not at all the person I thought I would be with–tattoos everywhere–but that’s not all he is.  I’m gonna tell them, Sean, who you are.  And you can’t stop me cause it’s my blog!  But I wont tell them every mushy detail.  Sean is the kind that looks badass (and he can be) on the exterior but he’s all sweetness on the inside.  He has a heart of gold and is the most caring person I know.  He’s also the best gift buyer too because he gets people; he’s interested in psychology more than I am and he’s a natural at reading people.  He loves the ocean and snorkeling and diving (he just passed his dive master test yesterday!).  He is kind and patient (I started this blog on his birthday, he is very patient).  And I know that Sean will be here with me through it all.  Plus, we have a dog child (Scupper, black lab/ridgeback mix, 5 months, perfect) together and our dog child doesn’t know us as Serena and Sean but as mommy and daddy.  Yeah, we’re set for life 🙂  I love him and our little Maui family.











The only thing I can’t get to fit in here (dinner is almost ready and my parents have been interrupting me every five minutes, I think they are checking me for signs of life) is every person in my life that has touched my life and made me who I am.  Last I checked, this thing had 1,300 views.  So all of you, every one of you would be in here but I just can’t start typing all of that!  Here, let’s do this.  Just write your name here: I love _______________ and I think that covers most of it!

I’m sure I’ve left out some details but that’s where you come it.  Your homework (aha, you thought I was done assigning boob checks and the like!) is to remember a good story and reminisce and then go on with your day.  Something that makes you smile, preferably.