My Friend and Mentor, Lisa Adams

On Friday night, our friend Lisa Adams died of metastatic breast cancer. She was 45.

Much has been said about Lisa, about how she was a warrior, about how hard she fought, and I nod my head and echo those sentiments. Lisa stood out because Lisa was a different type of cancer patient; she defied the very stereotype of a dying person, doling out inspiration and comfort by the fist.

I say this because I think that Lisa would agree: Lisa wasn’t here to bring us comfort. Her disease and suffering did not exist to inspire us. They just existed, and she hated it as much as a mother dying of cancer should. Lisa was not prone to personal sob stories; instead she fundraised and educated us on the disease and the brutalities of metastatic breast cancer. She wasn’t writing for sympathy, or to comfort us.

But she did bring comfort, the hope that one day we would, too, live tenaciously, live beyond what our diagnoses dictated.That we could be as strong as Lisa.

Sometimes reading Lisa’s blogs confounded me. How could she be so steely, I wondered, so full of reserve, so full of fight. She was, at times, airtight and clinical. She was patient with her readership, knowing that they did not fully understand the world that she inhabited. Lisa explained things, gave knowledge, shared tips on how to be a better patient. And then Lisa would share a poem, or write about her children, and your heart would crack at the unfairness of losing this young mother, this beacon.

Earlier this year, I began to emerge from a two and a half year illness that had taken me out of my busy, twentysomething life and placed me in the apartment above my parents’ garage. Throughout this time, Lisa was as close to me as she had ever been. She was always a message away from helping me, and I greedily accepted her knowledge. She answered my questions speedily. She referred me to a hematologist who helped revive my blood counts. I knew Lisa online for five years, and throughout it all, no matter what she was facing, up until this very last month, she wrote me, checking to see how I was.

I recently found the first correspondence we ever had. It was in 2009; I was holed up in NYU hospital, battling a lupus flare and the first emergence of diabetes. Through Julie Klam, she had found my blog and even as a stranger, sent me good wishes and offered advice.

She sent me more than that over the last five years. She sent strength and beauty and delight. I loved how she loved my niece, and how she cheered me on.

I won’t ever forget her. I won’t ever want to stop asking how she is or hear something funny that her son Tristan said. I’ll never forget how much she went through to stay alive, for as long as possible.

And the next time I face a health obstacle and want to give up, I’ll hear Lisa in my ear, telling me to persevere. To keep going. That there is beauty outside and I must go and see it.  

When I recently admitted to her that I felt guilty that I had survived, and that she wouldn’t, she didn’t let me finish my sentence. She made me feel that I deserved the sunshine.

But she deserved it too. And God, I wish she had longer in the light.

Goodbye, Lisa. Thank you.


This Is 2015

Joe Dirt 2, Starring...

A Reluctant Kelly Bergin

Yesterday I reclined in the oral surgeon's chair and inhaled the sweet smell of laughing gas.

The assistant inserted an IV full of Valium and Michael Jackson Drugs and soon I was out.

I remember waking up and coughing on the blood and joking about how to date with dentures: maybe my grandma will have some advice? Shit, she hasn't dated since the late 40's.

Most of the teeth on the top are gone now. My gums are bloody and swollen and I sound like Sadie when I tried to say my S's. (Her lisp is way cuter than mine.)

On Thursday, I'll get my new falsies, just in time for my move back to Hollywood.


On Christmas Day, I took a Dilaudid for the wicked mouth sores that accompany lupus. I have been deservedly prescribed painkillers by pain care specialists for over two years now. 

Besides the occasional Dialudid, which is similiar to morphine, I have a standing prescription for a Vicodin and Tylenol mix. Depending on how severe my pain was, I took anywhere from 1 to 4 a day.

Used long-term, these medications can cause liver failure and memory loss. And, of course, terrible addiction. 

I do not believe I abused them or that I was addicted to them, but when I was in the hospital, I craved the liquid Dilaudid. And the days following a hospital release had me itchy with pain and lust for the drug.

But I used them as a crutch; I took it to anticipate the pain, without thinking about it first. I took it thoughtlessly. I swallowed a Vicodin with my morning coffee. They never made me feel stoned; just lighter, more able.

So on Christmas Night, I decided to quit painkillers. Cold turkey. I am bull-headed like that. I did not want to become a slave to addiction. I wanted to remember more. I wanted to sleep less and do more. 

I am trying to do things with purpose. To think before I speak. To consider what I eat. To think more about my autoimmune diabetes and how different foods affect me. 

I never took them when I drove. I didn't mix painkillers and booze. I wasn't physically addicted to them, though a different person might become addicted with that sort of dosage. But mentally, I leaned on them.

They made my days easier. I deserved easier.

I coveted easier.

When I went cold turkey, I had intense itching for about 36 hours and then it was done. I wanted them; I took a few when I needed to. I will not deny myself relief from extreme pain; that is ridiculous.

But I wanted clearer days. I didn't want additional medical conditions that might arise from long term painkiller use. My decision isn't for everybody. None of my doctors encouraged me to quit. This was my decision, and mine alone.

At the beginning of the New Year, 6 days without pills, I read my horoscope for the year. I used to laugh these off, but now I figure that more guidance, even hokey guidance, can't hurt.

I translated my horoscope, with it's rounding generalizations and usual sort of BS, into something else:

If the world is asking you to be brave, then be brave.
On New Year's Eve, Gen and I flew out to California. And on January 3rd, we had the immense pleasure of watching Meghan and Declan get married on the beach in Santa Monica.

It was one of the best weekends of my life. Surrounded by my second family and all my very best friends, I never felt happier.

I stayed out in LA for a week longer. I almost didn't get on the plane home.

In Claire's kitchen, I decided to apply for graduate school. I'm getting my Master's in psychology with a focus on child studies. Depending on how quickly I get in and secure student loans, I will start in Los Angeles in either April or July.

I want to work with sick children. I want to counsel families in hospice. I want to take my experience and use it for good. I want to run a camp for sick children. I want to do something with this unfortunate knowledge I have, and I want to use it to help. 


It's been 30something days since I decided to start feeling my pain. In that time, I've taken a handful of pills for extraordinary pain.

Some days, it feels as if I have sloughed off a layer of protective skin. I feel so raw and I can be so moody, feeling this pain. The pain of the everyday, and the pain of these inflammatory diseases.

When my knees swell, I look toward non-drug treatments. I use heat and ice. I take vitamins and probiotics. I can digest food now. I feel newer, even as the days wear on.


I move to Los Angeles in six days. I am ready to come out. I feel excited about who I am and who I will be.

I am scared. I am nervous as hell. I'm feeling everything, for the first time in forever.

And I can't wait to feel brave.


I don't think I could do anything without the support of my family. They push me. They believe in me.

These last two and a half years at home have been so hard. I hadn't lived at home FT since I was 18, and then I came back at 26 for three months that turned into two plus years. I have fought and yelled and resisted. I have felt anger and rage. 

But now that this time is coming to an end, I can only feel gratitude. My parents took care of me. My brother runs to the store for me. My sister is my best friend in all of this. My brother-in-law shows up with Sadie when he knows I need to see her.

And Sadie saved my life, more times than I will ever tell her. During the deepest sickness and depression I have ever known or hope to know, she was the reason I kept myself alive.


Thank you all. See you in California, where I plan to stand in the light, all day long.


Hey Baby, Let the Good Times Roll

2014. What a mothereffer you could be. The warmest year on record except for every day I spent in Los Angeles? You brat. You KNOW how cold I get.
But besides the usual shit, which has been documented so diligently, and perhaps maybe a bit too much, if you ask my family, this year had its' moments. And it is within me to be able to take the crazy along with the good.
Which is good.
Because there was a lot of fucking crazy. 
(There really was, guys.)
So, 2014. What good hath you brought?


This fucking kid.
Watching her become a person is probably the dopest thing I have ever seen.
She is so funny.
She is so full of light.
She is so snuggly.
She talks now. She has ideas and plans and she executes them. 
She is always making me fake hamburgers and they always taste the same, like disgusting plastic, because I pretend to eat them and inevitably taste some and I pretend to choke, and she always laughs, which we'll worry about later and give her Heimlich lessons.
 She is confident and assured. 
She knows when to go for the laugh. 
She knows when to be pouty. (I taught her that.)
There will never be another Christmas again where she is two, beginning to understand the wonder of the season. 
Where she rearranges the ornaments she likes and calls the tree her "Minnie tree."
There will never be another first time in New York City. 
She fit right in. She watched everything. She felt it, and I got to be witness to her growth, to her changing, to her being.
How could the year be so bad when I've got that?

Time Spent in Los Angeles
There is something so specific about the light in LA, the way it bounces and shimmers from the East Side to the West.
It's a special place.
I've tried to explain how to love it to my friends who live in New York, but they are snooty about surviving all four seasons.
I never had to try to love it. I went there, I was sixteen, and I knew I would end up there one day.
And so much shit has happened since, that every time I land at LAX (four times this year), I head outside, breathe in and out and feel immensely grateful.
There are few places I feel at home.
My parents' house, my grandmothers' house, New York, and LA.
(Genevieve and I are flying out New Year's Eve. We will be in Santa Monica by 4:30, just to watch the last sun of the year descend upon the ocean.)

This Ding Dong Doggie
This dog.
For never leaving my side, for keeping my feet warm, for hogging the bed, for being OK when I exchanged you for a human partner, for coming back when things ended, for being a dumb dog who doesn't understand a fucking word I'm writing. You are easy, simple company, Shea. I never truly understood the whole man's best friend thing until this dog refused to leave my side as I recovered from hospital stay after hospital stay. Way to kill it at being a dumb dog, Shea Stadium Bergin.


The sunrise

So many nights I did not sleep. Most nights I did not sleep. 
Most nights I forgot how to sleep and so I stayed up, watching The West Wing, being less productive than any of the guys on Tinder I meet who live in the parents' basement.
Shit was bad.
But I would always look forward to daylight, because I knew I would drag myself up to see the light.
On the good days I would walk East, Shea tied to me, and stride straight toward the great blue sea.
The sun would crack open, yellow as a yolk, and we would glide into the day.
(Usually by falling back asleep.)
My most peaceful moments are when I am within something bigger than myself. 
When I feel altered and changed by something that does not belong to me, but to all of us. 
Universal and whole.
Day light.

Travel, or: the reason I have no money.
I had to be so many places this year.
I had to go. I had to have momentum. I had to do something other than be alone with my sickness and my sadness.
And so I moved around. I glided, when I could glide.
I spent a couple months in Brooklyn, but that was not far enough.
And so I headed to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, and down to Los Angeles. 
And then I had the opportunity to surf in Mexico,
and I did that, even though it hurt. 
And many times I could not get up, from bed or on the damn surfboard.
Some days my particular afflictions feel bolder than they were the day before, and these days sink me.
In Mexico, I swam.

The rest of you.
There are many things I've done or said or fucked up that I regret.
I treat myself pretty badly sometimes, and I can do it to others too.
What a jerk I can be.
And yet.
I still have this big beating heart that lives outside of me, that is there for me. I have numbers I can call when I need help.
I have my parents, who are saddled with the task of caring for me, yet never make me feel like a burden.
The same goes for my siblings, whose love is beyond measure.
And the friends I've had since elementary school, and high school and college.
We had great weddings this year, and gatherings in Denver and the Poconos. I got to move in packs.
Whether it was with family or friends,
I had a pack.
And that made this year all the more liveable.
So thank you all.
Because I can say eff this year, or I can see, look, I got to watch children grow and change. 
And while I am not grateful for sickness, 
I do believe that it has given me a bitter but knowing 
perspective of the way life can kick you in the balls, time and time again, while handing you over the most precious of gifts, time and time again.
See you all in 2015.


All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth (plus a bedside performance by Alvin, Simon & Theodore!)


I wake up coughing, choking on the something that is scratching the back of my throat. I throw the covers off and the light on and in my hand is blood and a piece of a tooth.
I think of the dreams, the countless nightmares I have had about losing my teeth, and how they are all coming true. And how somewhere in the midst of that unconscious knowledge–I knew I was losing teeth before I woke up–I bled before I woke, I choked before I could see.

It is almost Thanksgiving, and then almost Christmas. But I cannot think of turkey without thinking of the pain that would accompany each bite.

The next day, I see my dentist. A buzz fills the room and then a pause in the action. She is thinking. The dentist tells me to open my mouth wider and I am trying as hard as I can. I feel my lips stretch and break and I wish for Vaseline. She says I can close my mouth and the dental hygienist wipes my spit and blood.

The dentist draws all the air in the room as she looks at me and says that they need to go.

All the teeth need to go.

One, two...8 teeth, all on the top. She gives me the name of an oral surgeon. Eight teeth will be removed on December 19, the surgeon says, and the denture will come in on Wednesday, and we'll try it on to make sure it fits. Your Christmas food will need to be puréed, he jokes.


We are living older now, I think. We outlive our teeth. At some point, many of us will face the possibility of dentures. It will strike in the oddest of ways, sting you in a way you did not predict. Your health will fail and your teeth will rot.

I don't have a wrinkle yet, or a 401k. I have no plans to age.

I leave the office, my head pounding, my left eye threatening to jump ship. The pain in my left temple is as sharp as the craggy teeth still left in my mouth. What will it be like when they are all gone?

Dentures at 28. I don't wonder how this can be; I know. Twenty eight years of medicine and chemotherapies and radiation and steroids. Osteoporosis, and gum disease, type one diabetes, chronic candidiasis, lupus, scleroderma, thyroid cancer. Each disease a sandpaper rub to my system, each disease burning me off, a little at a time. I look at the elders in my family and I covet their health.

I don't fight anymore. I don't scream. I take medicine to suppress the darkness of physical decay.

I get home and I lie in bed, in the apartment above my parents' garage.

When I thought of all the ways my body could destroy me, I did not think of my teeth. I relied on my teeth. They are bone. They are there, and they should stay there.

I did not expect this.

There is no Tooth Fairy visit for the 28 year old spitting pieces of molar into a sink. A gummy, toothless smile is not so cute when you're dressing up for Tinder dates, pulling down your lips when you smile. My body has learned to hide its flaws. My smile has changed.

I am giving up my teeth. I'm no organ donor; I'm just contributing to medical waste. There is no glory in this. There is no guts to admire in me anymore.

I ache thinking of the pull. I have lived this before. He'll take his eight teeth, and they won't grow back. I'll get my denture. I'll hope my bottom teeth don't spoil too.

I want to fight for these teeth. But it is no use. There is no way to salvage these bones.

I am so angry. The feeling surprises me, and it breaks me open, and I am flooded with the emotion I usually stow away.

I cannot fight for these teeth now, and I know now I never really did. The advice given to me ten years ago went unnoticed, and I carried on, knowing I was high risk and forgetting to floss most nights anyway. I was 18 and in college and passed out smelling like beer and cigarettes most nights.

These teeth never had a fighting chance in a mouth like mine.

I am giving these teeth up so that I can go on. Maybe these sharp pieces of bone, soon to be removed, will remind me of what is left of me: what is left to fight for, what remains at stake. They are a small part of a body that needs serious maintenance.

We are not invincible. Our strongest bones will one day break.

I didn't expect this fight so soon, and I am tired and weary. It wasn't my fault and it wasn't not my fault. Death comes for all of us, one tooth at a time.

The teeth are going, but I am not toothless, not yet.


Trigemenial Neuralgia

I swear to God, I must have been Hitler in my past life.

I actually hate this line of thought; that we are reincarnated and paying, karmically, for the sins caused by our former selves.

I'm also not quite convinced of karma. I have been an asshole many times in my life, many many times in my life, but I know even bigger assholes who walk around scot-free, without any karmic retribution.

Yeah. I don't believe any of that crap.


For the past few weeks, I've been experienced pain in my lower left jaw. My right jaw had gone completely numb when I was in Mexico. I had also been experiencing MS-like symptoms. Falling often, dizzines, blurred vision.I believed this to be from the bad teeth that would soon be extracted. 

Until Tuesday, when the pain in my gums, cheek and jaw was so bad, I was admitted to the hospital.

I needed IV pain medication to sedate me, to soften my pain. I cried hysterically for days, because a pain like this was even too big for me to handle.

I had no idea something could hurt so badly, I'd truly wish to be dead so that I would be free physical pain. 

I was released Thursday morning after they seemed to come to a conclusion. and had me scheduled to meet a neurosurgeon and pain management doctor tomorrow.

They hesitated to give me the diagnosis, because as my doctor friend responded to the news :"Fuuuuck. Noooo.."

I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Trigeminal Neuralgia, where convulsions in the face cause pain that feels like electrical bolts. I thought my cheekbone was coming through my skin.

The diagnosis is more common over 50 but it is still very rare. LIke, one in 50,000. Sheeeeet.

I have to find a way to keep living despite this absolutely horrific pain.

It's absurd, for me, to be diagnosed with what they call

...the most painful affliction known to mankind. 

The suicide disease.

Like, Jesus Christ. 

My book is gonna be amazing now.

Thank you for all the love. It is appreciated.



Is it okay for me to admit that sometimes, it's really hard to see anything to be grateful for, because I'm in so much pain it's hard to see straight, sleep or eat... 

I will be honest here because there is no point in lying about the brutal truth of chronic disease: it hurts it hurts it hurts. It fucking hurts, and it hurts every day, although some are worse than others. (see: the last 24 months.) My mouth is a graveyard, craggy, broken teeth and wide open sores. Ulcers that make me punch stuff and swear and cuss till I fall the fuck down. I'm in the thick of it.

It is hard to see what is good underneath the deep layer of pain and painkillers. It can be so hard to remember the point of this fight. But this week, I looked around and saw everyone suffering, too. I saw them living through it. I saw their grace, and I prayed for mine to come.

I am blessed with so much. Everything except good health and dental insurance, really. I am thankful for the enduring love that sailed me through the sick this year. I am incredibly thankful for my family, who take care of me in every way, and for my friends who stick it out, who empathize and try to understand. Thank you.

I am so frustrated and sick and feverish, but I am thankful to be alive, to see and smell all of this. For the fact that I get to live, and experience it all, and make new memories. I get to be here now. 

What a gift that is.


In Which We Marvel

I spend so much time in bed, examining my brokenness. I slide my tongue over my teeth, counting the cracked ones. The craggy half teeth. The chips, the holes.

They will soon be all gone. It seems I have convinced myself this is the worst thing that could happen to me.

I was in Mexico two weeks ago when a tiny part of my lip went numb. My right arm tingled and my legs were hot with sun. The numbness spread. My entire chin lost feeling. Part of my right cheek, too.

I went to the doctor and he shrugged and said to get a brain MRI. He said he did not think anything was wrong. 

I went to the dentist and she was more concerned so she sent me to the oral surgeon who stuck his fingers in my mouth and pulled until a bad tooth was excavated. It hurt like hell, and I don't admit that easily. My pain tolerance is high and it is a point of pride for me, the way I beat my chest. Toughness.

The oral surgeon and I discussed when he would remove all my top teeth and replace them with a denture. I was bleeding and drooling and still half-crying as I tried to negotiate down the price of the seizure of my teeth. $2700 + $1800 for the denture. He said he would work with me. I said, I'm on disability, I only get a thousand a month. The receptionist said she would mail me a quote.

My chin is still numb. I have my MRI this afternoon. I am sure it is fine. 

I wake up most mornings with a terrible headache. It gets better once I take my prescription migraine medicine but those few minutes of consciousness are truly terrible. It is like this almost every day.

I can't look at screens when my head and mouth hurt and this is when I marvel at the brokenness of my body. I scan it. The head hurts, the nose clogs, the mouth is a minefield. The throat hurts, the thyroid was cancerous, the lymph nodes perpetually swollen and sore. The chest aches, the stomach paralyzed (but temporarily fixed with Botox injected during a sedated endoscopy weeks ago). The pancreas: useless now that I am a full blown type one diabetic. The hips, the knees, the feet, these things ache in the everyday.

I can’t get over the teeth. I don’t want to have a gummy smile. Being toothless is cute for five minutes in the first grade.
I have to time it right. So that I’m toothless for a week in early December. They will take seven teeth out and then there will be open sockets that will need to heal. I’ll need pain meds, and salt water, and ice and heat. I need to get it done asap, but I want to eat Thanksgiving dinner, and I don’t want to miss gymnastics with Sadie. I have to plan it just right. I have to download movies I want to see. I have to refill my Dialudid. I have to do this just right.

It’s the little things, the everyday things, the stuff we take for granted that when we lose them, we are shocked. We marvel. We let them pull the teeth. We move on.