Ask Nora: My Boyfriend Has a Brain Tumor. Should I Marry Him?

by Nora McInerny

I'm taking your questions about life, love, and lizards. Starting with this one, which is kind of a doozy.

I got a message from a 22-year-old who was planning to marry her boyfriend, who she'd been dating for ages. Her boyfriend has a brain tumor. A cancerous one, that can't be fully removed. And suddenly, the parents who were so excited to have a new son don't want her hitching her wagon to a star that is going to burn out too soon. They assumed that the diagnosis meant that any wedding plans were off. Their 22-year-old daughter certainly didn't intend to marry a man with brain cancer, did she? Well, uh, she did, actually. Her parents weren't movie villains, forbidding her to marry her beloved, but they didn't understand why she still planned to say "I do." It seemed crazy to them, which made it seem crazy to her.

"You married a man with a brain tumor," she wrote me. "Do you regret it? Would you do it again? Am I CRAZY for wanting to marry him still? Help me."

The short answer is: I did. Not for a moment. A million times, yes. You're not crazy. And, I can try.

The long answer is this:



I Got Micro-Bladed and Permanently Said Goodbye to my '90s Brows

by Nora McInerny

The only people who knew were every single person I encountered that day because I told everyone in earshot.


Say the words "face tattoo" and most people picture Mike Tyson, or perhaps Lil Wayne. Say the words "permanent makeup" and most people picture little old ladies in church with blue-black eyebrows that look like faded Sharpie drawings. Say "microblading" and people...have no idea what you're talking about, even though you're talking about the lovechild of face tattoos and permanent makeup. It sounds crazy and stupid and impulsive and too good to be true. Which is exactly why I did it.

Like many of us in our early-to-mid-thirties, my eyebrows have been recovering from a beating they took in the late '90s, when a pencil-thin Christina Aguilera brow was the epitome of sophistication and modern beauty (at least to this Minnesota girl). Hair on our faces? No thanks! My friends and I spent hours ripping these tiny hairs from above our eyes. We had no idea what a huge mistake we were making, even as we wore our mistakes to school. One girl in my class unintentionally shaved her eyebrows into what can only described as an upside-down Nike logo. Another showed up to a dance with a right brow that had been reduced to a small, horizontal line just above the middle of her eyeball. She'd tried to even it out, she explained, and took it too far. Was it noticeable, she wondered? Only if you looked at her face


Photo by Kylee Leonetti

How I Accidentally Convinced 100 Strangers to Get Matching Tattoos. Great Women Think Alike.

by Nora McInerny

Great women think alike.


Today, I woke up with a Mitch McConnell quote tattooed on my forearm. That is not a sentence I ever imagined writing, but so far, 2017 has been full of sentences we never thought we’d write and situations we never thought we’d see.

When Senator McConnell said, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” he didn’t exactly mean it as a compliment to Senator Elizabeth Warren. Republicans had used a really old rule to stop Warren from reading a letter by Coretta Scott King during the debate over the nomination of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General, and McConnell defended the silencing of Warren. He surely did not mean the phrase to have the effect that it did: echoing through social media as a rallying cry for women, finding its way onto Tshirts and mugs and eventually, my skin.


Photo by Kylee Leonetti

The New Generation of Breast Pump Might Not Actually Suck

by Nora McInerny

And it looks like a pretty lil' round thing that could disguise itself as a smart home device with an unclear purpose.


I chose to breastfeed primarily because I knew in my heart it was the best for my baby. Just kidding, I breastfeed because I'm lazy. Mixing a bottle in the middle of the night is far harder than just rolling over and lifting up my shirt. I'm a person who has been known to forget the diaper bag, even when the diaper bag is just my purse with diapers shoved into it. But I can't forget my boobs.

As a mother whose infant son recently needed to borrow a dress from another baby at mommy and me yoga when he pooped through his clothes and I hadn't packed an extra outfit, I am clearly the perfect person to test a very fancy and expensive breast pump clearly designed for women who are used to the finer things in life. The Medela Sonata, new to the market, bills itself as a smart breast pump that tracks your pumping sessions and your baby's growth with the help of a custom app and some Bluetooth magic.



Why I Quit Everything and Started a New Life After My Husband and Father Died

by Nora McInerny

Quitting is the most important thing you'll ever do.


This is not a story about how I quit my job to travel the world and scrub toilets in paradise, and how I’ve never been happier and our cubicles are coffins and you deserve an unconventional life that brings you bliss.

This is a story about a girl named Lucky. Just kidding, but now that Britney song will be in your head all day.

Like nearly all of us, I was not raised to be a quitter. Quitting was probably the worst thing you could do, according to most motivational posters hanging in our gym locker rooms. Quitters never win. Winners never quit!



by Nora McInerny

If you don't post your pregnancy on Instagram did it even happen?

A few weeks ago I spoke at an event in front of about 100 people where I talked about some formative experiences in my life. How in 2014 I miscarried my second child. How my dad died 5 days later. How my husband died six weeks after that. The point of my talk was about owning your own story, not letting other people define you by what they think your life is like. When it was over, everyone clapped and there was time for Q&A. A woman's hand shot up.

She wanted to know if I was pregnant.

Silence filled the room, and like I was Angelina Jolie or something, I just said, "next question."

I could say a lot of things about this. Like, how I know it was asked from a good place but why are women asked that? Like, if you wanna tell 100 strangers, you tell 100 strangers! Or the irony of having a stranger demand a story about me when I'd just talked for an hour about personal narrative.

Instead, I will tell you that I was indeed pregnant with a baby I would have a few weeks later and I didn't want to talk about it with 100 strangers or even 100 of my own friends.

I didn't want to talk about it with anyone.


We Live On the Internet. We Die Alone.

by Nora McInerny

A good way to become very popular is to be on your deathbed. Everyone wants to stop by, drop off a casserole (I’m in the Midwest), say the deep and meaningful things they always meant to say, have a poignant moment, a cinematic hand squeeze.

A deathbed is really not the time for that, though. If you’re worried about making sure people know how you feel, go ahead and do that right now. This can wait. But once Aaron was admitted to hospice care at age 35 our phones kept dinging and buzzing and lighting up with messages from long-absent friends and long-lost family near and far who suddenly and urgently needed to be a part of my husband’s death.

At first, I tried to be a good messenger.

“Aaron,” I whispered to him after my phone lit up with an offer for a casserole from a couple we’d last seen 18 months before, “the so-and-so’s want to stop by to see you. What do you think?”


Getting an Epidural Does Not Mean I Failed at Giving Birth

by Nora McInerny

A baby grew inside me and then came out, and if you try to tell me it wasn't natural, well, I wish you well on your path of righteous judgment.


I was always going to be a cool mom.

Not the Amy Poehler in Mean Girls kind of mom, although yes, I would wear that Juicy tracksuit. The kind of mom who just goes with the flow. Who doesn't fret over nap times and baby vitamins, over milestones or sleepless nights. The kind of mom who isn't always complaining about the brutalities of motherhood while also captioning all of her Instagram photos #blessed (you know who you are).

I started my Cool Mom quest before I was even a mom, when my son Ralph was a tadpole growing in my stomach and my husband and I were being bombarded with questions from friends, family and brochures that showed up in our mailboxes. Where would we give birth (um, a hospital??). Who would be our care provider (uhhhh, a medical professional?). What was our birth plan (hold on, let me Google that).

A birth plan, as it turns out, is exactly what you think it is: a plan for an uncontrollable natural experience, meant to provide a sense of the atmosphere you'd like as you welcome into the world the small human who is bursting forth from your vagina. Areas of interest in your birth plan include:



Please Don’t Ask Me to Put Down My Phone

by Nora McInerny

It’s a time machine to a place where my husband is still alive.


“Wherever you go, there you are.” My father quoted the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the famous mindfulness advocate, to me my entire life.

He said this whenever I wanted to run away from something that was too hard: the varsity basketball team, where I spent a significant amount of time on the bench, avoiding eye contact with my coach and hoping not to have to break a sweat; my Latin class in college, where I struggled with conjugations and pronunciation; a boss who once told me to be “less myself” at work.

My father—and I can say this because he’s dead and won’t read this and get all bent out of shape—was wrong. Wherever I go, I’m wherever I’d rather be. I’m a modern-day time traveler; the constraints of time and space do not apply to me.


How Working Out Taught Me To Embrace The Struggle

by Nora McInerny

It wasn’t until my husband was diagnosed with cancer that I started to take my fitness seriously.


Like most children raised in the ’80s and ’90s, I was awarded for nearly everything I did — things that were not particularly accomplishments, like completing my elementary school’s field day, or showing up for a swim meet. Most of those shiny PARTICIPANT ribbons eventually made their way into a landfill, but there’s a collection of plaques and trophies that have nestled into every bookshelf I’ve ever owned.

“NORA MCINERNY, MOST IMPROVED,” they proclaim in all caps, telling the world that while I was never the very best at basketball, or volleyball, or golf, or really any athletic endeavor of any kind, I at least got better at it.

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by Nora McInerny

If you lose a baby, and nobody knew about it in the first place, does it make a sound?


I  know what I'm seeing before she tells me. I knew when the midwife excused herself from the examination room, claiming not to be an ultrasound expert. I knew when the ultrasound tech looked at the screen and recommended we move to her room, where the machinery is more advanced. I knew when I saw her face, and the tiny white figure hanging motionless on the monitor. 

I knew the night before, even before Googling, that no blood is good blood when you're pregnant. I called the twenty-four-hour nurse line, curled up in bed, with Aaron beside me playing with the ends of my hair and tracing an infinity symbol between by shoulder blades. "It's not blood," I tell her, "it's just, blood-ish. Like, it's more gray than pink." Never in my life have I paid such attention to anything that's come out of my vagina, including the very alive child who is sleeping in the room next to ours. 


Don’t say this to your friend whose boyfriend has cancer

by Nora McInerny

When your boyfriend is having his head shaved before emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor, the right thing to say about his shiny new head is probably not “You were going bald anyway.” But that’s what I said, because I am an idiot and because nobody ever knows what to say in awkward, terrible situations.

Aaron laughed, because he had the superhuman ability to laugh at himself, but even today I feel terrible about how that came out. Even though, I mean, I was right.

Since that bizarre Twilight Zone episode of a Halloween night where my boyfriend went from being a normal thirty-two-year-old dude to being a cancer patient, our family has gotten emails from long-lost acquaintances and friends of friends of friends. We have been stopped in restaurants and on the street by total strangers, people who just want to tell us they love our love, that they think of us often and wish us well. Even though this tends to happen when I am out in public wearing no makeup and looking like a drowned sewer rat, that’s a really amazing feeling. It’s been like a never-ending fire hose of love and energy that we get to dance in like sweaty children on a hot summer day, with occasional pauses for someone to instead pelt me in the face with a water balloon.

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