Mammogram Recall

I had a mammogram recall last spring.

Nothing can ruin your day faster than that phone call. I’ve gotten them before, but each time the fear factor goes flying off the charts.

AND nothing can improve your day faster than finding out all is well, which luckily I did last spring.

I snapped this photo at UNC Hospital and loaded it into the blog shortly after I came home from that scary appointment. And it’s sat here ever since waiting for me to think of something encouraging to say about a mammogram recall.

Two week ago, I saw a new gynecologist. I told her how I hate the phone call and the repeated screening. “Mammogram recalls are part of the process,” she said.”If you think of it that way, you’ll go into less of a panic when the office phones you. Recalls are very common and are usually needed because an area of the breast did not show up well on the film.”

My doctor went on to say that if the radiologist suspects cancer, the office will use more urgent language to get you quickly back for additional screening. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I thought her words might be helpful the next time you or I get that dreaded phone call.



Santa: Here’s to the Believers

Beyond the tooth fairy, I’ve never been a hardcore believer in fairies. They never seem to sneak into my house to dust and leave tiny specks of glitter to let me know they were here. And I’ve never had a fairy whisper something encouraging in my ear or wave her wand and take away ten pounds.

But Santa? Of course!

When I was little, my family went out to dinner on Christmas Eve. Seems like an odd tradition now, but perhaps in the fifties, some people ate out on that important night. I remember being terrified that Santa would come to my house while we were at the restaurant, discover that I wasn’t in bed, and refuse to leave any presents. I was a believer!

And something in me still believes he’s in the sky on Christmas Eve. And let’s not forget Mrs. Claus, who is waiting for his return. In fact, I was lucky enough to interview Mrs. Claus a few years ago on Friend for the Ride. You can read the interview here.

Now I have grandchildren who are believers. And memories of a mom, a believer in all things whimsical, who painted the watercolor at the top of this post.

Here’s to believers everywhere. Believers in whimsy. Believers in kindness. Believers in justice.

May you have a believing sort of holiday, with much love from my house to yours!



Playing Jesus: Thoughts on Helping People Heal

The day after I played a ghost in the HIllsborough Spirits Tour, I played Jesus in a skit during the worship service at church. I became Jesus by default since the men of the congregation were either going out of town or not interested in taking on the role.

My minister friend Bernie was thrilled to hear I was playing Jesus. Bernie thought a female Jesus would make a great theological feminist statement. But actually, I just took on the role to help out Carolyn, my friend who wrote and directed the skit. Carolyn really needed a Jesus!

I took the role seriously though and played Jesus with dignity. I didn’t ham it up or try to overly interpret how he might have felt. In the skit, I healed blind Bartimaeus.

My friend Rich did a remarkable job as Bartimaeus. We saw his despair as the blind beggar and then his elation when he was healed. The congregation reported that the skit was quite moving. And it certainly was a moment for me in my short acting career.

Healing Bartimaeus got me thinking about healing in real life. I have no medical training. How can I be a healer?

I’ve been sick. Cancer. What helped me heal? Skilled doctors, of course, did the bulk of the work. Cliff comes next. But how did others help me heal?

Kindness. Yep. Simple gestures. Cards. Calls. Emails. Flowers. Meals. Homemade cookies.  Gifts. I learned from the trenches how much those gestures improve your spirits as your body heals.

I’m on a kick of sending  Wolferman’s English muffins to friends who are ill or injured.  I never know if they actually like English muffins, but the muffins are delicious, come happily packaged, and include a festive jar of jam.

I sent off a shipment to a friend a few weeks ago who was recovering from cancer surgery. He soon wrote:

Thank you for the breakfast basket and especially for the card and positive thoughts and prayers. As you have experienced, its inspiring, recovery-wise, to be reminded of the good people in the “outside world” that one is trying to rejoin.

You don’t need to walk on water to be a healer. English muffins, or whatever your giving style may be, will help keep someone afloat. Thank heaven for simple gestures that can pack an almighty punch.




The Ladies Room Door Art Series: Part Forty-seven

Here we go… Lots more doors for your viewing pleasure!

From Candace, a unisex door (above) at Hotel Blue in Lewes, Delaware.

And the Nectar Cafe in Lewes.

Candace admired this wonderful duck mobile too.

I found this elegant W at Burton’s Grill in Charlottesville, Virginia, where my daughter Katherine lives.

Look at the lovely Blue Devil door in the newly renovated Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke. Go Devils!

I found this sign on the stall door in the Duke library. Never would have seen a sign like this in my Duke days. Period Power!

This sad, frumpy sign graces (not!) a door in a Hillsborough second hand store. I almost spoke up and said, “Can’t you all do something a bit more creative?”

I admired this subway sign at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. It’s a fascinating museum and quite kid-friendly.

Granddaughter Emerson loved driving the bus.

Here’s a handwritten sign at French Louie, a restaurant in Brooklyn.

And bathroom signs at a Brooklyn pizza place.

Some of the best pizza ever.

I snapped this sign when we took Emerson to the doctor for her two-year-old checkup. She loves playing with her doctor kit at home but wasn’t too happy when the real doctor brought our her real instruments.

And I found this sign at Bare Burger in Brooklyn.

Laura, Matt, and Emerson are moving next week from Brooklyn to Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re delighted to have them closer but will definitely miss our trips to New York. Lots of great bathroom signs in the Big Apple!


It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

I am delighted to have a part in Orange Community Players’ production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. A playwright took the movie and turned it into a vintage radio show. How fun is that!

It’s Christmas Eve, 1946.

I play Rose, George Bailey’s mother. I get to be the sweet Rose, who adores her son. And then I’m the Rose at the boardinghouse who doesn’t remember George once the angel declares George has never been born.

I play Matilda, the receptionist, who has one of the best lines in the play (which I’ll tell you when the play is over).  I play humble Mrs. Thompson during the run on the bank. And I get to be Sadie Vance, the state bank examiner. In that scene, I go up against my good friend Bernie Nord. We shoot each other daggers!

(In the photo below, I’m actually stepping in for a fellow actor during rehearsal.)

We’re using vintage microphones and sound effects just like those done in radio days. Our sound effects people, called “Foley Artists,” are part of the production and do a fabulous job. They can also sing and double as the very adorable Barrymore Sisters.


The rest of the cast and crew are just as adorable as the Barrymore Sisters, and our director, Lisa Woodward, is masterful at bringing out the best in the actors and the story.

Since I don’t have a super large speaking part, I’ve got lots of downtime on stage, officially called “business.”  I’m bringing my aunt’s forties purse.

Inside are photos of my mom and dad in the forties and a letter my dad sent my mom from the Pacific during World War Two. I’ve got an old compact in the purse too and lipstick and a nail file. Hopefully, these items will keep my busy onstage as I wait for my turn at the mic.


If you live near HIllsborough, do come to the show.  Here’s the scoop on tickets.  

And if you can’t come to the show, stay tuned for a post-production report.


I Go to the Afterworld and Learn a Lesson

The weekend before Halloween, I went to the afterworld.

I became a ghost in the Hillsborough Spirits Tour, a production put on by Orange Community Players and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough. I played Mrs. Coffin, expert pie baker, sadly poisoned by my husband. Seems Mr. Coffin grew tired of my delicious pie over the years (and my unpleasant manner).

As I dressed for the tour that night, I had such fun putting on creepy makeup and  mussing up my hair. When I emerged from the bedroom as Mrs. Coffin, my real husband Cliff seemed a bit taken back by his now ghastly-looking wife. He was nice enough to snap my picture though (above).

My haunt was an old cottage on the grounds of the Hillsborough Visitors Center. I donned my apron and cap when I arrived and snapped a selfie.

Soon my ghostly husband appeared, played by my friend David Hecht, actor extraordinaire. David told me I looked wonderful, which was a nice compliment coming from a man who would soon poison me. I guess fellow ghosts learn to appreciate the ghostly pallor.

That night, we performed our skit every twenty minutes as the tour leaders brought groups by to watch.

I’m a fairly new actress, but I’ve learned that you really do become your character.

So what did I figure out when I was Mrs. Coffin? How can she help me live my best life right now?

It sounds simple, although it’s easier said than done: Solve you differences. Don’t act them out again and again like David and I did. Sure we had a blast, but it was pretend.


Repeatedly acting out the same arguments is a a waste of your good life in this world. Figure it out now. Or soon.

And in case I really do become a ghost someday, I want to be a kind, upbeat, and humble one. I don’t want to become a Mrs. Coffin.

Although I’d love to learn to make a really mean apple pie.



Fourteen Thousand Miles Away Isn’t So Far: Keeping Close with My Mom from Vietnam

A post by writer Gwen Bellinger. Gwen is the daughter of my good friend Susan. I asked her to write us a piece about living away from her mom, far away, and the challenges, insights, and joys it brings:

You’ll be fine,” my mom says over the phone. Or maybe it was on Skype, or Facechat, or in person during one of my visits to the United States. I can’t remember because she’s said it to me so many times over the last few years.

I don’t live in the same country as my mom, nor do we talk everyday, so sometimes I feel guilty dominating our conversations with self-doubt or rambles about boys. She never seems to mind being used as an emotional crutch. In fact, I believe our relationship has grown stronger in the last years, maybe not despite the distance, but because of it.

Having lived abroad (or at least in another time zone) for six years now, I’ve navigated the majority of my twenties with a lot of physical distance from my mother. My current location is Vietnam.

Last year I lived in South America, and before that, India. As a “digital nomad,” someone who makes a living by working online, I can literally be anywhere as long as I have access to a computer and internet. It’s a brave new working world, one my mom still doesn’t understand, but at least she stopped calling me unemployed. I haven’t lived at home for ten years now, and for the majority of that time I was not within driving distance (or even the same continent).

So what does that mean for my relationship with my mom?

Well, there are definitely times the distance bothers me. Sometimes this is due to nostalgia. I teared up in public last month when a friend left me a voice recording and I could hear the overwhelmingly chirp of cicadas in the background. It made me think of my unexpected visited to North Carolina a year ago in the thick humidity of July, the last time I saw my grandmother. Sometimes I crave banana pudding and BBQ sandwiches and going to the gym with my mom.

Other times I miss my mom taking care of me. Once, I got brutal food poisoning in India and spent a week moaning on my hard mattress, in so much pain I couldn’t even watch TV, and running to the bathroom to expel liquids so vile I’m ashamed (and shocked) my body was able to produce them. I was miserable. There was nothing I wanted more than to have my mom dote on me.

Often I miss her emotional support. As I have transitioned from my early 20s to my late 20s, the decisions I need to make have become bigger and weightier. Part of that is just having more options and needing to think more seriously about the future. In college, my “big” decisions were if I would live in the dorms or in an apartment and where to go for spring break. Now I need to decide if I should give up my freelance writing career for a lucrative position in China. “Big decisions” involve moving in with boys and career paths.

Mothers have invaluable life experience, are devoted to your best interest, and know you better than anyone. They can slip into roles of life coaches or therapists but are better because they don’t charge by the hour.

It’s times like these I miss my mom most of all, if nothing else, just to have her tell me, “you’ll be fine.”

And yet, the independence of living abroad has made me a much stronger adult. While I usually call to talk out difficult decisions with my mom, the consequences of my choices are ones I must bear alone. While a good Skype cry once or twice when I first moved to India were great cathartic releases, ultimately I was the one who took on those challenges without much handholding. When things got hard, I couldn’t retreat home for a weekend. I had to get resourceful.


Likewise, family time has become something sacred. There isn’t much of it, so it means really taking advantage of it while I have it. My parents have an excuse to travel to odd places. They’ve visited me in Chicago, Budapest, Prague, India, and Buenos Aires. These trips mean being able to share something a little outside the usual with my family and show them different sides of myself. In Argentina, I served as the translator. In India, I became a traffic controller to get them across the crazy streets. In every country, I have to find the best bakery for my mom.

As much as I miss the “routine” of going to the gym or lunch with my mom, or chatting in the living room, I still think the distance has helped, rather than hindered, our relationship. We value the time we have, and we make our conversations and communication count. She’s given me the emotional (and physical) distance to experiment with adulthood, and find the best path for myself. It’s nice though, that technology has given me the possibility to always pick up the phone, and have someone at the other end tell me I’ll be fine.

Gwendolyn Bellinger is a freelance writer, editor, and English teacher, currently working abroad while exploring the world. Originally from Hillsborough, North Carolina, she has worked and written her away across 60 countries. She currently lives in Beijing and works as a college counselor at Due West Education while continuing to offer some writing and editing services on the side.

You can read more about Gwen’s adventures at or inquire about her services at