Saturday, July 30, 2011

Please, sir, can I have some more? Also known as "How I knew I wouldn't 'live' past 36."

Today was my abdominal MRI to get shots of whatever these lesions are found on my liver and adrenal glands. I've been told not to worry, but then again, I was told that before. So, guess what? I'm worried.

I arrived, after taking the stupid prednisone at 10:30 pm last night and then, again, at 4:30 am this morning (I swear to gawd, I was being woken up in the middle of the night less when I was nursing both my children than I have in the past week and a half taking prednisone!) and again at 8:30 and again at 10:30 am. Let me tell you, that is a pill that desperately needs a candy-coating. Bleah! The bitterness stuck for hours on the back of my tongue. I had two technicians today - Michael & Gerard - over at the hospital. Fortunately, since this was a "regular" MRI, I didn't need any breast specialists, so I could have it done at the main Radiology department on a weekend. Both of the guys were really nice. I discovered that Gerard was a mountain biker who just bought a Trek 3900 (the bike I ride) a year or two ago, so I invited him to join us at the ROCK the RIDGE on 9/18 to benefit LIVESTRONG. While he was trying to find a vein - for years I've had veins to envy according to the Red Cross, but I guess having had more ports put into my arms than I've had in my life has caused my right arm to scar up a bit, so we had to go to the left - we talked about what he could do to teach his kids to get off training wheels (and a little plug for Danny's Cycles... he wasn't happy with where he bought his bike, originally, from a shop farther south... ). Finally we had blood flow, and I was shot into my futuristic tube.

While I'm in the MRI, I like to pretend that I'm in one of those wacky Japanese hotels, just even more compressed. It's the only way not to lose one's mind when you open your eyes in there. Either that, or that I'm on the Starship Enterprise and that Patrick Stewart has commanded the medical team to scan me for any fungi picked up on an alien planet before allowing me to mix with the general population, again. But the Japanese hotel image lets me relax more.

Believe it or not, the chirping of the MRI when you first walk in doesn't bother me. To me, it's like a strange inter-galactic bird simulation. It's the buzzing and the thumping that gets annoying - for a number of reasons. First, I like to get into a "zone." I'm not big into formal meditation, but I'm pretty good at transporting my brain to other places than where it's physically located. One of the easiest ways to do it is via music. So, I sing in my head - that also helps me regulate my breathing for the tests. Today's soundtrack included some audition pieces I'd prepared and/or considered for my "The Voice" auditions - "Get It Right" from Glee, "Rolling In The Deep," by Adele, "Jar of Hearts," among others. The problem is that often, the thumping doesn't jive with the rhythm of the songs! And today, I was just too tired to think of music to match the beats.

Secondly, I am starting to feel like my body starts to react to the vibrations and magnetic forces as it runs over my body. Does this make sense? It's like I can feel the scanning with a very fuzzy sensation. It's like a mild Dementor's Kiss, sucking a bit of my soul, out of each incremental portion of my body that it reviews. There's a strange twinge and pull, and then a release. And I can't control it.

Lastly, the mind wanders and I start philosophizing. It's not very funny in there. Perhaps it's the Jewish mystic in me, trying to find universal connections between this world, the spiritual world and the next world, guided and highlighted by spirits of those past and present with whom I've connected. The past several years have felt very out of control - between finances, having to entrust various people with ranging levels of trust (emotional, financial, task-oriented) and being let down, having to clean up those messes - and physically. Things really took a strange and bad turn in 2005 or so. My body/metabolism stopped responding to the thyroid-based treatments my endocrinologist prescribed. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't tell what it was. Vague symptoms haunted me - lack of ability to lose weight despite "correct" diet & exercise (save when I starved myself because every penny I had had to go to finish the house, and I could only afford 1 meal a day of beans, tomato paste and whatever else I could find in the house - and maybe the free bagels the local bagel shop boy would give me if I can at the end of the day), sicknesses that, previously, I'd bounce back from quickly, but now were leaving me bedridden, vertigo, an ultimately mental sense of losing control, and anxiety related to it - you name it, something was off-kilter. We readily blamed my Hashimoto's - from the sometimes overwhelming emotional "insanity" to the dead metabolism to the fatigue.

But it's as though my body has been SCREAMING, increasingly loudly, that, "Something is wrong here!!!!! And I'm going to shake you up, rattle your cage and make you find it because I can't tell you what it is, but it's happening! SO FIND IT & FIX IT! NOW! BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T SOON, IT'S GOING TO BE TOO LATE!"

I'm not going to lie. For years, I mean, as long as I can remember, I never thought I'd live past 36. I'd never envisioned myself as an older person. I saw myself as being forever young. That's one of the reasons I'd never pictured myself as having children. Something in my gut felt like I'd be part of the 27-club or something. Perhaps it's a result of losing enough people that meant the world to me to death at such early ages - as though their deaths knock another 10 years off of your own life. Add into that those people that you lose for other reasons - pride, distance, fights over nothing - figure that can knock another 5-10 off.

And, perhaps it's what my cousin can tell you, while we will never claim to me "psychic" or fortune tellers, we do genuinely have a connection to an "Other World." No, that's not the meds - I'm not on any, nor do I need to be (ahem, Billy, Dash & others... truly... when psychiatrists have evaluated me, the answer was, "NO.") But it's true. I know I have an acute connection to those that are now dead. It's not just the figurative, "It's like they are around me." It is that they are around me. If you've seen "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part II," think about the forest. If you have seen "Goblet of Fire," think right before Harry battles Voldemort in the cemetery. Yeah, we know when houses are haunted. Do we see dead people? No. Do we feel chills, get possessed and convulse? No. Do we know? Hell, yes.

This isn't a new thing, either. Our Grandfather saw his dead father at his bed when he was in hiding in Germany telling him, in the middle of the night, to take his tallit and tefillin & go to synagogue in Berlin. He did. When he returned, his friend stopped him from going back to where he was staying because the Gestapo had raided his apartment looking to arrest him moments after he left.

When I was in college, I had just bought a car from my friend, Kristen, in Oberlin, and I'd driven it home for a week or two before I went back for the summer where I was studying voice, working at the Conservatory and studying at LKKK LCCC (Lorain KCounty KCommunity KCollege). The day after my birthday, I drove back to Oberlin by myself - something I'd never done. It's an 8-12 hour drive, depending on traffic. I left early in the morning, it was a bright day, and I was bushy-tailed. Half-way through Pennsylvania, however, I fell unconscious (after much speculation, we concluded that the strobe-effect of the bright sun on the newly-painted dotted lines triggered a massive migraine) and I veered off the road at 80 miles an hour from the far left-hand lane, across 3 lanes of traffic, missing the safety barrier, and plummeting into a valley, with the car flipping head over tails 3 times before landing in a ditch. The attending physicians advised my parents not to show me photos of the car for weeks, because he was afraid it might trigger shock.

Aaron Cass, my best friend in
high school, who died
I don't remember much except for waking up in a wooden-paneled ambulance. I saw the driver and another paramedic in the front of the ambulance. But a third man in a white uniform was standing next to me. I couldn't focus on his face, but his voice was remarkably familiar. He was holding my hand, smiling at me, telling me that he'd never let anything happen to me, he promised, and that I was fine. He said he'd watch over me until he knew I was ok, and he wouldn't leave my side. A flash before I fell back unconscious, I focused on his face, got a mental "snap shot," but fell back asleep before the final "light bulb" went off. It wasn't until later, when the two guys who were in the front stopped by to see how I was - I only had minor abrasions, a concussion, and some ridiculously minor damage to the nerve that controls timing in my left thumb - and to tell me my iguana (who was in the car) was taken to a vet and he was fine.

I then asked them where the third guy was - the one that was holding my hand, checking my pulse, and telling me I would be alright. They looked at each other. Clearly, they were confused and didn't quite know what to say. They asked me to describe him, and I did - to a tee. Black hair, blue eyes, comforting yet awkward voice, pale skin, big smile, wavy hair - very old-fashioned hair cut - slender, slightly hunched, nervous hands. Their eyes opened, they stood silently, and explained that there was no one else in the ambulance - just me, alone, in the back, the two of them in the front, and my iguana hidden under the sheets under the gurney so they could keep him with me. I told them he was with me for quite some time. I described the scenes out the window as we drove - which they verified. But they swore there was no one else. They asked me describe him again, and then I realized who it was. It was Aaron Cass, who pledged to be my "paladin," my guardian angel, months before he was killed by a drunk driver.

I could go on with moments like these (like when I was biking in Boston a couple of years ago, and had gotten lost on my way back to Chestnut Hill. A truck almost hit me, when something literally pulled me into a parking lot and I avoided being dragged along by the truck. When I stopped to catch my breath, and get my bearing, I looked up - it was the funeral home where I had stood watch over my friend, Ari Wolov, the night before his funeral,) but I'll refrain.

I don't mean to say that I plan to throw my hands in the air and say, "Uncle!" Nor is it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't plan to die this year. But it goes to show that I've had these kinds of gut feelings, instincts, senses that something is/isn't going to be, someone will be there, etc with no explanation other than that I know it to be. Even when Aaron died, the night before, I knew I had to get something off my chest the next night, come hell or high water, or else it would be too late, somehow. Sadly, he died in the morning before I had a chance to. But that's the key - I know things.

The point is, I cannot help but think that everything is falling into some strange cosmic place. According to the doctors, while what we've found is relatively small (at least from what we can tell - staging cannot happen until the lesions are removed), breast cancer doesn't just "happen," it takes several years. Perhaps the past few years, some of the sensation of being out of control, the resistance to treatment of my Hashimoto's, my sometimes erratic and out-of-characteristic behavior, was my body's way of trying to communicate to my brain that something is wrong. My requests of my OB/GYN at my annual for a baseline mammogram and initial resistance to her assurance that there was no way I needed one was my gut's way of saying, "Yeah, ya do!" The sudden impulse that made me decide to take an extra 10 minutes to get that digital mammogram out of the blue, that caused me to cut off 2 drivers to make the left-hand turn when I should have been rushing back to work, was my body saying, "ENOUGH! Just do it!"

Perhaps this sensation that I wouldn't live past 36 wasn't really that I'd die at 36, but if I live past 36, I'm going to battle something deadly - like when the doctor didn't want me to see the photos. My mind didn't want to clue me in to what my instincts and 6th sense was projecting past 36 because I couldn't handle it. (No, I do not think it's a coincidence, either, that I had the mammogram the day after my birthday - the first day I'd outlived 36 - "Double Chai" - or "Double Life.") Could this be why I've refused to turn a day older than 29?

By the time I'd realized, without question, that I've known for some time that something was terribly wrong, and that I'd known when things would change, without having a clue what it was and how I wouldn't "live" past 36, I was pulled out of my test tube and told the tests were done.

And now, we get to hurry up and wait.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Eye roll here, please...

This morning was supposed to be the biopsies on the intraductal papillomas found on my left and right breasts. A word about biopsies: To the layman, it's just a needle or something withdrawing a sample and then off to the lab, right? Basically, yes. But there seem to be 316 different kinds of biopsies, requiring various levels of consciousness, position, accuracy, etc. Since these papillomas were found via an MRI where I was lying on my stomach with the shplazoinkas hanging down, they needed to do a sonogram to map exactly where the papillomas were on my back. This meant a sonogram and then the biopsy.

I was running a bit late, as was my college friend, Sally, was coming from Nyack to be with me for this procedure. I forewarned her that it will likely mean a lot of time with her in the waiting room, so she came prepared with her knitting. (You know we're getting old... I've got cancer... she's knitting... Oy!) I checked in, and Sally arrived just a few minutes before they called me back in.

As you know by now, I've been using humor to deflect. Well, while she was very efficient, the nurse that brought us to the back to go over the procedure didn't really have a sense of humor. I was throwing zingers, Sally was laughing, which was great because I was dreading this procedure, but the nurse just kept going forward stone-faced. She didn't seem amused. After a bit, she left to give another patient ice and said she'd be right back.

Sally and I have led very busy lives since college, and even though we live within an hour of each other, we've seen each other once or twice since I graduated. But it's funny how "Contador" brings people together... so we caught up with one another. Only, we realized that after some time, we had nothing left to catch up on because the nurse was gone for so long. She came back in, at one point, to tell us she'd be back in a few, but a few turned into a whole lot. Finally, she returned, showing a glimmer of a sense of humor, and then carted me into the bathroom to change into a robe while Sally was sent off to knit.

I changed and went into the sonogram room with the MRI up on the wall. Have I mentioned, lately, that I'm not an MRI tech? And that I really have no idea of where our parts go except for the fact that all organs except for the brain, eyes and a couple of other bits fit somewhere in between my legs, neck and arms? So as she's scrolling up and down to figure out where the white spots are in relation to my nipples, I see this HUGE thing behind my rib cage on one side. And I mean HUGE! Now, I'm not a complete moron - I know the heart should be about the same size as my fist. But using my cup size as a reference, whatever this blog was it was twice the size of my first. Which either means my heart is enlarged or there's something MUCH bigger than these papillomas to worry about. So, I ask the tech. She looks at it and says, "That's a lung." And I point out that there isn't a matching one on the other side. She raised an eyebrow, as though I found something, and then she pointed out that was my liver. I felt stupid.

And so, the sonogram began. I watched the screen fill with things that looked like squished honeycombs. Over. And over. And over. Then she stopped, went back to the MRI, and came back with a, "Huh." I asked her what's wrong and she explained she couldn't find the papilloma. I asked what she was looking for, and she said something different from what we were seeing. I asked if there was anything I could do, but she said, "Nope!" And she moved onto the other breast.

Again, nothing but honeycombs, baffled tech grunts, and not much else. She wiped me up and explained that if they can't find the papillomas via sonogram, they can't do the biopsy. I'm thinking, "Oh, great. Sally schlepped her butt up here, we both sat for what seemed like forever to get into the room, I got all antsy over this biopsy, and for what?" The tech goes to get the radiologist, yet another stranger to whom I get to expose my breasts, and a few shmears of goo and swipes of the wand, I get a "Huh." They tell me to get dressed because we have to go the MRI route.

I figured we'd hop over to the MRI. No... that's a whole other procedure. A whole other appointment, nay another TWO appointments - one for each breast.

Sally has to go, and clearly, not much is happening, so I send her on her way. Then, about 20 minutes later, I get a call from to breast surgeon. We're going to hold off on the MRI/biopsy appointments and just biopsy the tissue when they remove them with the main breast surgery.

Now, I'm tooling around before I have to get to bed. I have the MRI of my abdomen tomorrow to see what these lesions are on my liver and my adrenal glands. (Oh, did I forget to mention that?)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The Uniballer. Juan Pelota. Titzaru. BoobieWed. Cancer jokes border along the edge of completely inappropriate and an absolute necessity. The same can be said about death jokes. I remember when my friend Ari died, which was not funny at all, part of me felt the need to break tension, ala Chandler Bing, with some off-handed remark. I try and be delicate enough not to be offensive, of course.

I've, personally, found that I have to get some zingers here and there while I meet with the flocks of nurses, technicians and doctors just to keep myself from losing my mind with fear. I look to this blog to document some really good lines, so that if when I beat this, I can start a new career doing stand up. (And, no, it was a passing thought yesterday as I was sliding through the bone scan as it hovered a centimeter or so from my nose and I had the fleeting sensation I was in a coffin and started to panic. At which point, I asked the tech if I should smile pretty for the camera, which made her laugh, and so I did. I showed a very happy skeleton.)

However, I seem to have some competition in this regard, from a rather unlikely source. Robin Williams? Perhaps. But he's only second-hand cancer funny. I'm talking about from my 9-year old daughter.

First, she's a funny little creature, anyway. As most people who meet her, within seconds, they look at me and say, with amusement at the novelty, and a bit of fear that there are now two of us released unto the world, "She's a mini-you!" And when they say that, they don't mean a 9-year old version of me, they mean the current 29-year old version of me! But she was like that as a 2-year old, making random, but strangely wise observations like the classic, "Mommy, earthworms don't eat ice cream," dictated with great authority. And her first word was, "chocolate." Truly, a gifted child and 100% mine. (I only attribute her ability to tan even while wearing sunblock to her sperm donor er... biological father. Some initially say she got her "brown" eyes from him, but she really has my father's hazel eyes.)

Another example of her rapier wit... the other day, we were making Mary Kay deliveries in the rental car, and listening to music on my Blackberry. I have such a crazy mix of music - from some classical, to punk, broadway, folk, Israeli rap, hard rock, early 80's - you name it, I think the only genres not on there include gangster rap, and... yeah, that's about it. I have 2000 tracks to date... and growing. An Israeli folk song comes on, and I sighed, saying that it always makes me think of Machaneh Hachsharah (MH) at Camp Tel Yehudah, which always reminds me of an individual with whom I've had a falling out last year and really want to reconcile with. As I was sighing, about to say, "This song reminds me of... " she responds from the back, "Oh, no, not again. Do yourself a favor and change the song." I sat up and was like, "Excuse me?" And she responds, "I know you miss him. And you wish you could change things, but Mommy, you can't. He's being a poopyhead. I miss him too, but I don't want him around while he's being a poopyhead. And you shouldn't cry over him anymore. Change the song." So I did.

Another song came on, and I laughed, and pointed out that it reminded me of her Uncle Ari, my very good friend who died of a heart attack when he was 25. She rolled her eyes, and said, "CHANGE IT!" I smiled and said, "No, Ariella, this is a good memory. While of course I'm sad that he's not here to hug, or call on the phone, being reminded of him brings a smile to my heart." She then allowed the song to continue.

From there, our conversation went from Uncle Ari and how we met - in Israel. Which had reminded me that I'd found a local camp for kids whose parents have cancer to get away for a weekend and that it had horseback riding, and that the parents could go, too, and enjoy the camp. She reminded me that I'm allergic to horses. I tried to explain the rash I got while I was in Israel working with horses was because I was grooming an extraordinary number of horses that were sweating profusely because they were being ridden in Israel, and most people would have broken out in a rash if they were constantly rubbing their bare arms against 20-30 sweating horses. She didn't get it, so I decided to give her a parallel.

"OK, you know how the Aztecs used chocolate as a poison, because technically, it's a poison?"


"Ok. Well, if you ate 2-3 chocolate bars, which I don't suggest that you do, but if you did, would that poison you?"

"No. I might throw up, but I'd have fun doing it"

(Again, she's an absolute mini-me.) "Right. Now, what would happen if you ate 20-30 of those really high cocoa content chocolate bars Mommy eats? That are pretty pure?"

"I'd die."

"Exactly. So now do you understand?"

"Yep," said with a sly grin forming, "So, if you eat 3 horses, you won't get sick. But if you eat 20-30, you'll die, right, Mommy?" said with that sly grin turning into a sh*t-eating grin.

The conversation veered back towards Uncle Ari. I don't remember how, but somehow we got onto the subject of funerals, and I'd mentioned that one of the things that made it so hard and sad for us was that it came out of nowhere - there were no real signs until we had a chance to look back and say, "OOOOH!"

She meekly asked, "You mean like your cancer?"

And I said, "Yes."

She asked if I was going to die and how she would have to plan the funeral while she was at sleepaway camp. I smiled and told her I wasn't planning to die while she was at camp, joking that if I did, who would pick her up? She giggled, and said, "Mom, I'm serious."

So, I told her that I didn't plan on dying anytime soon, but, even if the absolute worst happened, that I had everything sorted out. She asked what that meant, and I explained to her that I'd had my funeral planned for years - ever since Uncle Ari died, I'd swear I wouldn't leave the kids or my loved ones without knowing what I would have wanted - I have details figured out, where I want the funeral, the seating chart, what music should be played, etc. She raised an eyebrow and asked, "Is that why Grumpy calls you 'anal'?" I laughed and said, "Exactly."

The next song up played, "Dust in the Wind," which was played at Ari's funeral, and I said, "Like this song. This is on the playlist." She asked if she could play the violin part on her violin. I explained that she might be too sad, but if she'd like to try, she could. She asked about what flowers I wanted (sterling silver roses - no surprise to her) and she asked if she could put my picture next to Uncle Ari's, my friend, Aaron's, who died when I was 18, my Gramma's and my cat, Sammy's photos. I told her, I wouldn't expect my picture to be put anywhere else. She asked if I really meant to be buried with my Madone, and I pointed out that it was carbon, so if I get buried with it, maybe after a while, it would turn into a diamond. Her eyes lit up, and I had to tell her I was kidding.

As we were chatting, the Blackberry shuffled and all of a sudden, what song comes onto the radio but, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the "Spam-A-Lot" soundtrack. She perked up and said, "MOMMY! YOU HAVE TO PLAY THIS AT YOUR FUNERAL!" I reminded her that I wouldn't be the one to play it, because as the guest of honor, my only job would be to lie very still in a box. She laughed and I said, "I get it... at the end, after all the sad stuff, the Rabbi will ask everyone to rise to walk the casket down the aisle and out the door, and all of a sudden, the song starts."

Like this...
"Yeah! And then we can tell people to reach below their seats and pull out BIG paper cut-outs of your face - like that photo Liz Kreutz took of Lance with all those fans - and sing along! That way, they'll all be laughing instead of crying!" I laughed, and then I thought about it...

"You know what? That's not a bad idea. Your Gramma & Grumpy would kill me, but then again, I'd be dead, so who cares?" We shook on it and agreed. We'd have paper cut-outs of my face made up and play "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as irreverently as I was, and my daughter is growing to be.

Well, the jokes didn't stop yesterday as I went through more tests. Some of the pathology from the biopsy returned later in the day - the cancer is Estrogen Reactive, which introduces yet another blow to my femininity, though my friend, Jody, tried to explain the "Bright Side" of cancer by explaining that when it comes to treating the cancer, not the woman, it's a good thing. (My jury's still out on that, as I'm starting to believe what my friend Shawn said to me years ago - that I'm really a gay man trapped in a straight woman's body... )  I also learned that the membranes are penetrable (I forget the exact term - Jody, what was it called again?)

Yesterday's testing started with an injection of radioactive dye for that afternoon's bone scan, which meant a port in the arm. I had my tech, Rebecca, in stitches. First, I wore my FUCANCER t-shirt by Handlebar Mustache. That, already, made her laugh. Then, as I'd noticed my cell battery was running low, I asked if I was now radioactive, if I could charge my own cell phone battery. Got a laugh.

When I had to go to the waiting room to drink my two cans of barium for the CT Scan I asked if it was legal for me to walk the outdoor premises with open containers or if I'd get in trouble with security. When I was handed the cans, the nurse at the front desk asked if I wanted a straw, I said, "Of course!" Once she put the straws in the cans, I stood there and waited. She asked what was wrong. I asked her where my umbrellas and cherries were for my cocktail. Again, another laugh.

Inside, however, I wasn't laughing. I was shaking. As I explained to the CT Tech when she said they'd be coming for me in a few minutes, I told her that I'd studied very hard for this test - I read my LIVESTRONG Guidebook cover to cover, all the chapters in the Breast Cancer text book my Breast Nurse Navigator had given me, and that clearly all the tests they'd given me up until this point were too hard, as I'd failed all of them, and that I had to pass this next test, or else I'd flunk. She cracked up. I laughed heartily. But my gut was terrified another round of failed exams. Bad news. Wrong answers. And I was reading and studying and doing my best to pass.

Anyway, the humor got me through the rest of the tests - all the way through the bone scan (as noted above) - which was SUPER cool, by the way! As you can see by the sample I found online, it's got a really neat look. When I had told my daughter about the scan, she asked if I could get it printed out life-size to be a Halloween door cling. I thought that was the coolest idea, so I asked the tech. She laughed, said that no one had ever asked her for that, but that she'd try and get it burned onto a disk for me so I could do that.

And now the waiting game.

As of this morning, the initial review of the bone scan shows all is clear. Later this afternoon, I meet with the surgeon to review the final results.

And, appropriately, as I have nothing more to say, Pandora has chosen to play my farewell, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life..."

And so, adieu, until tomorrow.

Oh. And P.S. had another lovely time at the Kleins in New Jersey. The car is picked up, it's no longer a death trap - I'll leave that to my boobies (or, as they say in NJ - at least according to Caroline Manzo, "bubbies," which I always thought was the plural of Der Yiddishe Grandmother)... After 10 years, it appears that children, marriage, divorce and cancer can't keep 2 Partners-In-Crime from wreaking havoc on the world...

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I've had some friends and family respond to the diagnosis with remarks of "unbelievable," "weird," "out-of-the-blue," etc. When they ask me, I tell them one thing, "It's just stupid." I mean, truly, it's just stupid. But what's even stupider is the week that I've had.

As if a ridiculously stupid diagnosis of cancer wasn't enough, I'd decided to audition for NBC's "The Voice." Now, before you start rolling your eyes and think, "What, now she's going to whine 'sour grapes?'" not to worry, that's not where I'm going. But I'd been preparing for this audition hard for a month, and some might say I've been preparing it for my whole life. This whole cancer thing, however, completely threw me off my schedule. I didn't forget about the audition, but on Friday, while I was battling the stupid camp board president (aka Queen High of Attitude), and trying to negotiate another wave of appointments, I forgot the audition was the next day until my friend, Lynne Ann, asked me about the auditions. And then I panicked - I'd just confirmed that the kids and I would be cleaning & packing on Saturday to get ready for camp and cancelled my parents' Saturday with them! I hadn't figured out what I'd wear, I had
I was planning to wear a denim jacket
once we made it inside,
but it ended up too darned hot.
Note the LIVESTRONG yellow scarf...
ignore the terrible tan lines. OY!
meant to run by my songs with a friend who's also auditioning in L.A., and I was still at the office at almost 10pm trying to get work done after more time out of the office! Fortunately, I had a brainstorm about what to wear (though I hadn't realized how obvious my cycling tans were), lined it all up and found out that, in fact, I didn't have to camp out that night, but arrive as close to 5:00 am as possible when the parking garage opened.

I set my alarm for 3:00 am so I could leave by 4:00 am. Of course, I somehow slept through the 3:00 am alarm and woke up at 4:00. Thank goodness I'm fast when the adrenaline rushes, and, like before my MTB races, I had everything laid out and had my plan, and I was out the door before 4:30 - I was a bit behind, but not terminally. Traffic was absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, there was a whole other hitch on the George Washington Bridge.

My brake pad one what I thought was one side had started to squeal a bit earlier in the week. I'd asked a friend if he could change the pad, and he kept putting it off, saying it wasn't the end of the world and I could drive on it for another couple of days until he was available. (FYI, this is a pattern - he has no concept at all of deadlines, appointments, etc.) I turned a sharp corner on the ramp approaching the bridge and I hear the squeal, a grind, and a "PING!" from the rear, driver's side. I'd also noticed, though it was more obvious now, that it felt like the car was dragging - like when I'm riding the bike and the rear brake is on and won't release fully. I didn't really have any options but to continue forward, so that's what I do.

This is "The Voice."
I get to the auditions early enough that I secure a spot 2-building sides away from the entrance (sounds like a lot, but not too far), and fortunately, I make "camp" with 3 other lovely ladies, including a red-headed singer named Kaitlyn and a 17-year old phenom named Rachel. We laughed it up all the way into the building itself, and we were then sorted into lines. Kaitlyn and I made it into the same group. The process was pretty interesting - they kept sorting us into lines and "sifting us" through until we were left with groups of ten. Then, we were seated in the arena itself, and row by row, producers and assistants would ask that you stand and ship you off to private rooms for the auditions. Contestants and assistants made the wait quite entertaining - We sent waves across the arena, there was a spontaneous performance by all of us of Cee Lo's "Forget You," and a full-choral version of "Don't Stop Believin'" with 4-part, improvised harmonies that put "Glee" to shame. (Maybe we should all audition for "The Sing Off"?) Kaitlyn and I got to sit next to each other, and she was privy to a call by my daughter who wanted to sing with me to warm me up. Finally, our row was called.

For years, whenever I auditioned, I had terrible nerves. I don't think it showed, but my heart would pound, my stomach would churn, I felt the need to go to the bathroom, and I had this feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. But as I got up, aside from my usual clumsiness, I felt invigorated. I realized that the last time I had those sensations was when Michele Speer gave me the biopsy results - and that sensation was 10x worse that day. I was calm, collected, and confident. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? They say, "No?" Compared to, "You have cancer," that would be good news.

I locked down my song choice, which in my gut I knew I'd do, on the walk to the green rooms where our auditions were being held. I would sing Duran Duran's "Ordinary World." The song became a favorite of mine back in 1993 when I was in Israel when it first came out. Then, it became the ring tone of a friend from that time in my life when we reconnected and the song then has an association with him. He and I stopped speaking 17 months ago (but who's counting?), and I still reel from the loss of that friendship.

I knew that Simon had dedicated the song to Andy's dad at a concert we were at right after Andy's father died. I'd never paid attention to the lyrics, save for the chorus, so I just assumed it was about having to get through the "Ordinary World" after a friend or loved one had died. When I was narrowing down my list of audition songs, I, obviously, had to focus on lyrics and learn them. And when I read them, I wept:
Came in from a rainy Thursday on the avenue
Thought I heard you talking softly
I turned on the lights, the TV, and the radio
Still I can't escape the ghost of you
What has happened to it all?
"Crazy," some will say
Where is the life that I recognize?
Gone away
But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive
Passion or coincidence once prompted you to say,
"Pride will tear us both apart"
Well now pride's gone out the window, cross the rooftops, run away
Left me in the vacuum of my heart
What is happening to me?
"Crazy," some'd say
Where is my friend when I need you most?
Gone away
I was originally moved to sing the song because of the second verse, "Passion or coincident once prompted you to say, 'Pride will tear us both apart.'" My friend and I are both very, very stubborn people, often accused of cutting our noses off to spite our faces in order to prove that we are right. In our relationship, we'd often butt heads trying to out-stubborn the other one. More often than not, I'd cave into him for fear of losing him in my life. And, ultimately, it was his pride that has driven us apart and it is his pride that is keeping him from being able to let the rift close when I need him most. To be very frank, the only thing that has me terrified about this fight is that I am doing it without his counsel and with this horrible silence. It's been difficult to bear for over a year, but now, it's devastating.

Add in what I'm going through with cancer, and it's a whole new level of heartbreak. Again, the second verse continues with, "What is happening to me? 'Crazy," some'd say. Where is my friend when I need you most? Gone away... " Truly. Every word of that verse applies on every level, now. And, now, the chorus has a new meaning - that I have to find a way to make it through this world and survive. And he's gone away.

So, I decided when they told us to sing just a verse and a chorus and I'd start do the second verse because, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten is the best impression you can make as a performer it so perform from the heart.

The ten of us were called into the room, and we were brought into a grey room with a large table and a young, blonde woman with a laptop, a stack of those coveted red tickets, the pink "maybe" tickets, a list and our audition passes. We filed in and sat just as we stood in line, which I guess is an aberration, because the later producer laughed as she called our names and we stood up in perfect order for our turns to perform. I was the last in the room, so I was the closest to the producer on the left side of the room, sitting next to Kaytlin. We sat in silence, until a large, flamboyant African American man with a joyous smile stood and said, "Thank you, I'd like to welcome you all to our first AA meeting, my name is Ralph and I'm an alcoholic. Let's start with a prayer." The producer then explained the process, and as she spoke, you could tell she seemed very tired. I don't blame her, mind you - she'd endured hours of auditions the day before, and it was still very early, and we'd overheard she had been running late and we were only her first or second group of the day. And I didn't see coffee anywhere - bad sign. Plus, one thing I've learned is that you do NOT want to be first to audition - you want to come in later - that way, the person you're auditioning for isn't so conservative with approvals, and hopefully they are a bit bored, so if you can wow them and make an impression when they are drowsy, they will be grateful. It's harder to wow them when they aren't numb to all auditions.

One by one, in perfect order, we take our turns. I'm not going to lie - there were some lovely voices. I'm a very harsh critic - and I look for genuineness is the performances that I love and want to hear again. Too many were good, or ok, but overly rehearsed. People were trying too hard. They were good, but with only a few exceptions, there was no soul or heart. One song made me tear up - the man who called the AA meeting sang, "I Hope You Dance," and he worked the room a bit. He looked me dead in the eyes when he sang the line, "May you never take one single breath for granted, God forbid love ever leave you empty handed."

Then, as always, the exception to the rule - she called me up before Kaitlyn. I stood up, introduced myself and sang. Some of you reading this blog know that I can be objective to a fault when evaluating my performances. I'll tell you where I screwed up, that it was not "on," etc. But, I can tell you, I nailed it. If anything, I may have rushed it a bit, but I was on key. I know I emoted - how could I not? My tone was great. And when I stopped, and I turned to sit back down, the others in the room kind of gave me that look like, "Wasn't expecting that!" and "Uh, oh... " I smiled, graciously, and sat back down. Kaitlyn rocked her song, too - surprising depth for a girl so small! And then the producer sat back and told us, mechanically, that none of us were getting any colored tickets, we were all getting the boot. (She said it nicer than that, but it was the rehearsed speech.)

On the way out, however, every individual in that room took a moment to tell me that I killed it and she was nuts. That they were expecting her to give me a ticket. So, did I make it onto "The Voice?" No. But did I accomplish what I wanted to? Yes. I pleased 10/11 people in the room. Just not the one with the passes.

Before last week, I'd have broken down in tears once I got into my car. I'd be devastated, as I was years ago when I quit my dream. I can't tell you how many auditions I went to, hoping to make a life in the business, crushed and in a pile somewhere crying until I heaved. But I walked away, smiled, and in my mind, checked off another item from my bucket list. I was disappointed, and I know the show made a big mistake, but what can you do?

Instead of going straight home, however, since I wasn't that far from my friend, Lisa, who has been trying to coordinate a "play date" with me and my kids, I gave her a call to see if I could stop by and say, "hi," before I went home. I called and her husband said they had no plans and I'd be more than welcome to stop by. So I drove down, but that pesky squeal was still there. When I arrived, I asked Lisa if there was a car repair shop nearby so that, on the way home, I could stop by quickly so they could tell me what's going on with the car. Since her husband, Scott, was going to barbecue for lunch, she suggested we go to the repair shop so they could look at the car while we eat, and I could pick up the car after we were done. While I backed up to turn around on her street, a horrible metallic shriek screeched, there was a loud snap, and an awful grinding sound. We got around the corner, pulled into the lot, and I left the car with the mechanics there.

Fast forward a couple of hours of fun with her 3 kids, who are so different in personality and looks from one another and their parents, I get a call from the shop.

My driver-side rear brake pad had snapped in half, and literally fell into the mechanic's hands when he checked it. The passenger-side rear brake caliper was frozen, and I'd been driving with the brake on the whole time. And the front brakes were toast. Since he knew I was a good 2 hours away from where I lived, not expecting this at all, and caught off guard, he took quiet a bit off the repairs, but the estimate came in at over $1,400.


I asked if I could drive it home, and he returned the question with my own blank stare in disbelief I'd be so blonde as to ask that. So, now, I have to leave my car in New Jersey until Monday afternoon, because he didn't have the parts in stock, rent a car (which, after noon on a Saturday in New Jersey, is apparently an impossibility except for Rent-A-Wreck, which is very true to it's name) costing an additional $150+, and I have to drive back down to return the rental car by 4:30 pm or else I get charged another full day (even though end of day on Monday is much later). What makes that a real challenge?

Monday morning, I'm getting an injection, then I go in for a full-body CT Scan, then my Bone Scan, and then my genetics testing in Stamford, CT. If everything happens on perfect schedule, I can't leave Stamford before 2:30 pm. And it takes at least 2 hours to get to Dover, NJ. I'm going to call the manager on Monday and as for an extra hour or something, because I cannot afford to get charged another $50 because I missed the return time by 30 minutes when they will be open for another couple of hours.

Anyway, there it is.

So, within 5 days, I was diagnosed with cancer, I've been told something has been found on both breasts, now, under both nipples, I've learned that we have even more family history of breast cancer, I didn't make the next round of "The Voice" auditions, and I have $1,500 in repairs to be done to my car in another state.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Who knew I'd be so popular?

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Ok. Bad news first. I'll go into one of my classic "Rica Rants" for a moment.
  1. Money is tight with us. Not too much of a secret. It has been before the "recession," as we were affected by "pre-recession" stuff. So, we've had to rely on scholarships for school and the kids' programs whenever possible. When scholarship was no longer available at their day school, the kids moved to public school, which was pretty traumatic for them. But I promised them, they'd still be able to go to their sleepaway camp, if not for the whole summer, for 1 session. Last year, we were turned down for scholarship because I didn't get all the paperwork in. I know, lame on all parts, but it is what it is. This year, I got all the paperwork in that I could - all but my tax documents because forms were due before taxes were complete, so they said we could send other documentation (W2s etc) in lieu of 1040s and we wouldn't be penalized. I did that, and I sent the 1040s as soon as they were in. I was then told we were turned down, again, because documents weren't received in time. Only I knew this wasn't the case. When I challenged that, they explained it might have been processed wrong, not to worry, there would be another round of considerations. Great. And then we were turned down a 2nd time. Without explanation. And so late in the game that no other organizations had funds available. So I'd been scrambling before this whole cancer-monster hit us between the eyes. Then, when "Contador" surfaced (I decided to name my cancer "Contador," because he needs a serious ass-whooping, and I'm just the girl to do it), it really threw my ability to ramp up my Mary Kay business and other chances to raise the funds for camp off track.

    I, perhaps foolishly, called the camp yesterday to tell them about the diagnosis and to apologize that I may need another couple of weeks to pay the balance (did I mention that the amount owed is about what a scholarship would have been, and is less than 1/3 of the entire tuition? So the vast majority is paid?) in light of this wrench thrown into our lives. The responses I got from the camp were despicable and condescending, including ending this horrible email with, "I understand that this is a difficult time and I hope that you will be able to receive treatment that will completely eradicate the disease." (If you're curious, email me at and I'll forward them in their entirety to you.) I believe the President of the camp board was a form-letter writer. As in those form letters where you roll your eyes at their utter insensitivity. And you can totally tell from the pre-fabricated response, that probably went through legal to feign sensitivity, that this was composed and re-composed because it is the absolute opposite of her telephone demeanor, nastiness, and the following messages.

    SO... now, instead of making the calls to doctors, making appointments, sorting out insurance stuff, and prepping for my battle against cancer, I have to fight an administrator on a power trip, who has given me a deadline of 5 days to pay the balance, or the kids can't go to camp - which at this time, is so important for them. The children know, and this part of things is so awful for them, at the very least, because I don't have any answers for them, and I'm a wreck processing everything. Not to mention the fact that I am having a hard enough time managing where and when I'm supposed to be places, let alone figure out where they have to be. They need the escape, security, and vacation from the "C" word.

  2. "Contador," just like its namesake, Alberto Contador, doesn't know when to throw in the towel. Just like in today's stage, where you think he's finally settled into the pack, accepting the fact that he's going down, attacks one last time just to be a royal pain the ass. "Contador" has either sent a domestique or two to throw me off, or is attempting another attack, because the MRI results show what appear to be subareolar intraductal papillomas. By nature, these seem to be benign. But, given how annoyingly frustrating "Contador" appears to be, we're not sure if it's a benign bluff or a genuine attack.

    (BTW, you may wonder why I'm getting into such detail here. It's very simple. I sucked at biology, and I sucked at chemistry. The more I have to write, say or type the things that I have, the more likely I'm going to remember what the hell these things are. I'm not yet at the stage where I can pronounce half of what defines "Contador," so I've got to keep typing it.)

  3. Stamford Health Systems seems to be in love with me. Because every part of the radiology department wants a piece of me. First, they want a biopsy next Friday for the intraductal papillomas. But, before that, on Monday morning the phlebotomists want me, the CT Scan Techs called me in for a full-body scan (they love every inch of me!), then I get a full-body bone scan and, if that weren't enough, the geneticist wants a piece of me, too. (Now, if only I can turn these appointments into skin care classes... I'd have the camp tuition balance situation solved!)
And now, the good news...

Lastly, and saving the best for last, LIVESTRONG. Oh, how I love thee, LIVESTRONG. My blog post "Never Say Never," caught the eye of folks at LIVESTRONG HQ. I got a request to share it with the team and the blog. I was honored. As a result, I have been flooded with the most amazing Tweets, FB messages, calls and emails from a network of loving, caring and encouraging people. Some called me an inspiration, but I haven't done anything yet. THEY inspire ME. Don't thank me - "Contador" still thinks he has a chance to score points on this Tour. Yes, we know that, but I haven't finished him off yet. It's you - all of you - that inspire me to dig deep, and to find the depth that I need to suffer this epic ride until I can claim.... YELLOW.
    Now, inspire me to ride. I have a race - the EFTA NECS #8 Treasure Valley Rally - coming up at the end of August. Sponsor me - make a donation to my LIVESTRONG Challenge account. Yeah, I'll ride it. I have to defend my current 2nd Place Standings in the Clydesdale Class and stay on the season's podium so I can represent Team LIVESTRONG! Last year, I rode and fought for others. And I DNFed. (Did Not Finish) This year, I'm digging deeper. Let's hope "Contador" can't mountain bike, cause I'm finishing this sucker.

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Never say never... (Also known as "Coming Clean")

    Cancer will affect 1 out of 3 of you. Period, end and finish. There is no way to avoid it. There is no way to ignore it. And there is no way to say it won't be you. It can be.

    Since becoming a LIVESTRONG Leader, I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, by fellow LIVESTRONG Leaders and others, "How did cancer touch you?" expecting to hear that I'd survived myself, and they seem somewhat disappointed when I explain that I never had cancer, but I supported the cause because of others that have died. (In fact, I wrote a whole blog about it, "Wait... You don't have cancer?") I've explained that I ride for people in my life, like my Gramma, my friends and others.

    Between you and me, I was extremely proud of myself that I was participating in LIVESTRONG merely as a good Samaritan, standing on the sidelines of cancer.

    As a child and a teenager, all I wanted to do was belong. For example, I was furious when I learned that I had 20/20 vision and couldn't have glasses when all my friends had glasses. Of course, the adults around me, as well as my eye doctor, couldn't understand why I wished that I'd had a defect so I could wear glasses. The same thing with my teeth - I never needed anything to re-align my teeth. Not a retainer, nor braces. And I was mad that I couldn't have metal pieces fused onto my teeth, with wires and rubber bands and funny speech patterns. Again, my dentist, parents and others were baffled. I should have been thankful.

    With my involvement with LIVESTRONG, I was quite content with being the outsider whose only connection to cancer was through others.

    Well, the universe has a very sick sense of humor.

    I remember being told by an old friend a couple of years ago that there always seems to be a rain cloud hovering above me. When he implied that it was a flaw, I explained he should see it as a blessing, because I am the lightening rod for bad things. Therefore, the best thing for my loved ones is to stay close to me, because I'll draw all the evils and bad things from them and onto myself.

    So, for my loved ones, it's time to thank me. Because you aren't going to be the one in three that are touched directly by cancer. I've got you covered.

    On July 19th, after getting what should have been a baseline mammogram the day after my birthday care of a Mobile Digital Diagnostic Unit from the Bennett Cancer Center of Stamford Health Systems at a health fair at my day job's office building, it was confirmed that I have breast cancer. Don't ask me what stage I'm at - I can't tell you yet. Here's what I know so far:

    • Being the overachiever that I am, I don't just have one type of cancer, I have two. I have In Situ Grade 2 Ductal Carcinoma and Invasive/Infiltrating Grade 3 Ductal Carcinoma in the right breast.
    • I have a (newly learned about) family history of breast cancer on one side of my family.
    • It is possible that all the frustrating metabolic problems my endocrinologist and I have blamed on my Hashimoto's Disease could be attributed to this brewing cancer.
    • It appears that this has been caught absurdly early - what is terrifying it to think about what might have happened had I not gotten that baseline mammogram - could you imagine where I'd be in 3 years after lack of diagnosis?
    • I don't know what course of action I'm taking yet, and that won't be figured out for a couple of weeks.
    • I am getting local consultations, and then second opinions at two major facilities on the East Coast, assuming I get an appointment.
    Obviously, there is a lot being digested on my part, my family's part, etc. Since I find some strange solace in blogging, I'll likely be posting to the blog about my progress.

    But here's what else I can tell you:
    • LIVESTRONG has proven to be an invaluable resource - even during these very early stages of diagnosis. The support, references, programs to date, and it's still so early on, is remarkable.
    • I have told my doctors that I don't give a damn where I'm at with my treatment, I'm still running ROCK the RIDGE in September and I am going to ride the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Austin. Because I have to do what I prayed I'd never have to do - I am riding for myself. My son is riding for his Mom. And my daughter is running for her Mommy.
    I don't know how, yet, but I'm going to kick this cancer in the ass.


    Oh. And don't send me pink ribbons and all that pink blah-bi-dy-blah-blah. For me, pink ribbons are reserved for Mary Kay Stage Calls and awards. I want to earn those.

    Send me yellow. Lots of yellow.


    Monday, July 11, 2011

    When getting first place doesn't feel like such a win (Chal-lange 2011)

    Last year, I documented my experience on the Maine Sport Run-Off EFTA race and, by the end, I was tremendously proud of my efforts. This year, I wish I could feel as positively as I should. But instead, I'm facing a new challenge - disappointment - which is strange, considering that I came in first place in my class. Of course, I was in a class by myself, as the only other Clydesdale lost enough that he had to leave the class and moved into Masters. So, while I took first place, I also took last place. And was, officially, the Lanterne Rouge of the day.

    The weekend started off with a bit of a hitch - with the cost of sleep away camp looming, I've been very budget conscious, so I've been scrimping and saving - so when I agreed to take the kids up for the weekend for the race, I was on a tight budget. We brought the tent, sleeping bags, a small cooler and a wad of cash. We were going to head to Camden Hills State Park to camp as a "walk-in." However, we got on the road a little late, and the flash thunderstorm and bad road conditions in Connecticut turned our 6 hour drive into a 7+ hour drive before we even reached Portland, ME. We were exhausted, hours behind when I assessed that we would not be able to camp out in Camden after all. We were well over an hour past the cut-off for entry into the park for camping, we still had another 1-2 hours to go, plus with all the bad weather, I had no idea if it would even be wise to camp with the kids outdoors. Fortunately, a call to the 'rents and we had found a motel for less than $100 for the night where we unloaded our stuff into the room and caught some of Stage 7 of the Tour de France, including poor Chris Horner being loaded into the ambulance not realizing where he was and that he'd finished the stage. With that, we went to sleep and, in the morning, hit the road to Camden to set up camp, get to know the mountain, possibly get some riding in and enjoy the festival.

    The day was quite pleasant, however, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I wasn't going to get any riding in on Saturday, which posed problematic on Sunday. You see, since the evening Saturday, July 2 to the late morning of Wednesday, July 6, I was in bed with a viral infection that came in like a mild allergy attack in the morning one week prior, and by the end of the evening, I had so much post-nasal drip and congestion that I had to sleep with a pillow propping me up so I wouldn't drown. And, ah, yes, I went from a normal temp in the morning to over 101 in the evening. Sunday morning, July 3, I was in Urgent Care being poked, prodded and prescribed Z-Pak. I still had no sense of smell, really, while in Maine, I still had a rattly cough, and my nose wasn't as clear as I'd have liked it to be. Needless to say, I hadn't done any riding during the week, either. Perhaps it was because I was still tired from the drive up, or residual from having spent 4 days straight in bed, but it hadn't occurred to me riding Ragged Mountain cold wasn't a good idea.

    The kids were having a blast, though, going up and down the ski lift with me, picking Maine blueberries and strawberries right off the bushes and into the mouths, going to see the Rockport Lighthouse on the 7/8 mile break water, collecting sea glass and shells from the shore and looking forward to S'mores by the campfire (which we apparently missed - for some reason, it wasn't burning for those of us who were in town during dinner  & the film festival). The kids got the chance to take the 5:00 guided ride from the peak of the mountain (which, I found out too late to kit up and bring the bike, I could have taken, as well) and so they had the opportunity to pre-ride with some tips from great guides.

    We met up with friends in the parking lot who'd just arrived and invited them along to Smokestack in Camden for dinner - I'd promised the kids fish 'n' chips, and I had Smokestack's last year and was hardly disappointed. We changed and hopped into the car. Word of caution: When in Maine or any New England state, do yourself a favor and stick with seafood. The glutton in my did me a great disservice by pushing me to order the rib eye steak special, which was surprisingly served so over salted that I did the one thing I've never done - I sent it back. It was inedible. The chef tried to "fix" it, as it was the last cut, but to no avail. So I didn't quite have the pre-race meal I should have. Again, another omen. We were going to head back to camp, but someone pointed out the second movie was going to be shown in a few and we could slip into the back to catch a bit of LifeCycles, which we did. Great film, too - had never heard of it prior. Piling back ino the car, we drove back to camp where we tried, as quietly as possible, to get ready and get to bed.

    Usually, I sleep well outdoors, but perhaps it was because we decided to sleep on a wooden platform under a gazebo, or just the luck of the draw, my back was not happy. While it's been over a year since the double sacroiliac ligament sprain was diagnosed and in treatment, it's a soft-tissue injury, which means, like an old soldier, it never dies, it just fades away. That is, until you anger it. So, with a bag of clothing tucked under my knees and tilting my pelvis just right, I tried to relieve the pressure off the tender spots on my back with little avail. By morning the back was sore. Another omen?

    I've mentioned my friend, Sean Drew, in these blogs before. He's kind of my MTB Buddha- jolly in face, mellow in temperament, but wise with all things MTB. Sean frequently advises others not to try new things the day of a race. I know he's fallen victim to disobeying his own mantra by trying new energy drinks with not-such-great results. I tried a new meal plan the morning of my first race of the season with really bad results (see my write up about Weeping Willow). So, why I thought it would be ok to race Maine Sport RunOff with new shoes I hadn't had a chance to break in and new cleats - single-release, not multi-release, I don't know. But, I had to replace my shoes after Muddy Moody Park, and, ominously, I attached the new cleats and found I struggled to clip out. I got the hang of it, in the parking lot, and figured all was well.

    Now, the race. Buddha Sean bestowed great wisdom upon me last year: Maine Sport RunOff isn't about starting off with a bang - Thou Shalt Not Burn Thyself Out On The Initial Climb Up At All. I decided to take that one step further - Thou Shalt Not Bother Trying to Ride Up This Stupid Mountain. I knew I'd be clipping out soon after the start to begin my hike. I was less bothered by this strategy when I learned that Glenn Roche, the only other Clydesdale at the race, had lost too much weight and no longer qualified as a Clydesdale, so I was racing against myself. Which, in all actuality, is how I race anyway - I like to earn points, and prizes make me happy, but I know I'm hardly in condition to race anyone but myself, my demons, and to beat the mountain. Besides, I race for LIVESTRONG, so finishing is winning. Podiums are gravy.

    I lined up at the start, after comforting my daughter who'd been shoved into a tree by a competitor in the children's race, just in the nick of time. I hadn't even had a chance to really settle into the pack and clip in my left foot - my usual ritual. We were off, and for the life of me, I couldn't clip in. Already, a bad start. Finally, I clip in and I ride to the beginning of the incline. As soon as I pass the trees, I clip out and begin my hike.

    I'm struggling, though, as my lungs are still trying to clear themselves up after the viral infection, and that rattly cough starts again. The efforts seem to be causing my lungs to crackle and pop and I cough as I enter the woods. Just like last year, I have a soundtrack of gravity-defying songs in my head, but they too often are being interrupted by the coughing. I get to the split between the long lap and the short lap - a "measly" 3 miles - I mean, shouldn't be too tough - the cyclometer is reading that I'm walking over 3 miles an hour, so I should be back at the bottom to start my second lap within an hour. So I thought. The slope and the trees break, and it's the first flat crossing, so I hop into the saddle, clip in and ride across the mountain. Piece of cake. Up in the woods, and hiking upwards some more, and then I get to the next flat across the fields under the lifts. I clip in and start riding straight.

    Let me take a moment to describe these open sections. Imagine a hokey 70's romance flick. The image blurs on a sunny day, and there are back and forth shots between the blonde chick in a white flouncy dress running slowly towards the camera as it pans back to a man in a pirate shirt and black pants. You get the idea - tall grasses and wild flowers that move like the ocean in the breeze. The track itself is very narrow - maybe 4-6 inches wide, but it's all good because it's just dirt, wild flowers, and perhaps a floral wreath left behind from the blonde trotting through from the previous scene.

    Leave it to me, however, to not only find the only 2 rocks in the entire field, but to get my front wheel stuck between them and I begin to wobble terribly. "Clip out," you say? Yes, I'd have loved to. If my cleats were multi-release, but as it happens, as I lean to my left to clip out (did I mention leaning left meant leaning down the mountain), I cannot loosen my right foot and I've leaned too far to the right. Since children may be reading this blog, I'll refrain from a direct quote, but I scream, "________ NO!" as I flip over to the left, wheels in the air and over my head, and then roll over to the left. Not only as this terribly embarrassing, as it was in full view of several spectators, who are now running towards me as though I were the man in the pirate shirt and black pants, but I managed to land the tenderest part of the left side of my back on the pointy part of one of the 2 rocks full-force. I do a quick inventory of bike and body parts. Bike is fine. Back's been better. Bruised butt and ego. Allez!

    I clip back in and finish the straight until I see a pile of rocks over a pipe. I have a flashback to skidding on pipes last year, so I clip out and I walk. I start walking, recognizing some of this trail from last year. I rode this trail last year. But something in me is now terrified to clip back in. What if I slide on a rock? What if I hit a tree? What if I lose my balance? What if I can't clip out in time again? Self-doubt is now washing over me. I clip in anyway and ride forward, overly aware of the discomfort in my back. I start asking myself, "Have I re-sprained my back? Is it smart to continue? Is that a temporary pain or just the beginning?" I get myself so wrapped up in all the things that can go wrong internally that I don't pay attention and, just like Moody Park I ride head-on into a small tree.

    I decide to walk on and try and shake whatever bad vibe is haunting me. But it's not working. I am psyching myself out of clipping back in. And the harder I fight the "but you might... " tendencies, they are winning. The longer I go on, and as I start getting lapped, the more frustrated at myself I'm getting. I rode this last year. Not all of it, but enough of it, that this is a repeat - I already did it - why can't I do it again? I try clipping in again, and I'm riding. I'm doing ok. As soon as I think to myself, "There you go - it's just like riding a bicycle - you've done this before - now just go," I skid on a loose rock on a downhill slope and land - you guessed it - on the left side of my lower back and I go skidding and bouncing down a rocking slope - still clipped in. I pick up the bike, and I hear more riders coming, so I yield. And I yield. And I limp and I yield and I walk and I yield. At this stage, there isn't a good place to clip in for a while, so I just grab the bike and hike. I must have hiked about a mile, and I decide to clip back in on this one stretch. It's familiar to me, and it's not so sloped that the words of doubt will come back. I ride, I weave between trees and rocks, and I get my flow. I'm finding that my abs are more sore on this race than ever before - is that from the flipping and crashing? Steering the bike around the land furniture more properly than usual? Whatever the reason, as I move the bike around things with my hand on the handlebars and leaning and moving the bike with my body, I start to feel that unhinging feeling I got that helped the doctor determine it was the sprain. As soon as it registers that I'm experiencing that pain, I'm finding I'm not able to steer with my left side as well as moments before. I come around a sharp left around a large tree. My mind registers that this was the tree I crashed into last year when I got lost on the course and I rode around in the wrong direction - this was the tree that introduced itself to my right side. That split second was enough for me to lose my flow and, just as I was clear of the tree, my rear wheel catches it and I go whipping back to the left and smack my left side into the tree, and both feet clip out spontaneously.

    I don't know what hurt more - the impact, the shock, the frustration or the shame, as riders are coming up and seeing me, with tears streaming down my face. I take the bike and try and ride, but it's no use. Between the volume of riders coming - I didn't want to be the "roadie" that ruined someone else's run - and how shaken I was, I was done trying to ride this section. I limp on and on.

    I find one more section towards the end that I feel confident I can ride. I clip in and go, and the next thing I know, there is a ramped up bridge coming up. Bridges scare me. Usually the approach involves a bunny hop or some sort of technical skill I haven't mastered yet, and I have this fear I'm going to bounce off instead of make it onto the bridge. Then, no matter how wide they are on trail, I'm constantly afraid I'm going to fall off the edge, at which point, I usually ride way too close to the edge. But I have no time to change course - I have to ride over this bridge. And there are a bunch of guys watching the race there. Uncontrollably, I yell, "I HATE BRIDGES!" and I ride over it. I stop, clip out, look at the bridge, look at the guys, and say, "Holy sh*t! I just rode the bridge! Woot!" And then I wobble and almost fall over - but I don't. I clip back in and try and continue to ride, but I hear some of those Elites coming, it's a fast, narrow, technical descent, and I know I'll just get in their way, so I clip out and walk.

    By now, I've been lapped 2, 3 even 4 times by some of the riders, and I still have my second lap.

    Rather than bore you with my second, lonely, lap, here it is in a nutshell: It was pure hiking. I was Lanterne Rouge. My rear end and back are swollen, sore and stiff and I have bruises and swelling on my left knee that match my right knee from 3 weeks ago.

    Yes, I technically got first place. But, I also got last place. And I didn't ride. I just didn't ride the way I should have.

    Maybe in some time the feeling will change, but right now, it doesn't feel like first place was earned. Did slow and steady win this race? Or was it just slow?

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Ch... ch... ch... ch... changes

    Sometimes, making a change can be bad. Sometimes it can be liberating. And sometimes it can be both.

    After long consideration, weighing options and sorting through the pros and cons, I made a difficult choice this weekend. I knew that I risked upsetting some individuals, but in the end, I know it was the right choice.

    For friends & followers that might be looking for me on weekends when I'm not at an EFTA race, you won't find me at the Trek Bicycle Store of Fairfield. Instead, you'll have to take a quick jaunt down to Danny's Cycles at the Stamford, CT location. Lest this move confuse you, let me point out something: I work my full-time job in Stamford, CT. I can bike to Danny's Cycles' Stamford location (once I figure out how to avoid having to go uphill - oy!) as opposed to having to drive 45 minutes each way to Fairfield, CT every weekend day I worked. While I was raised in a home in Pound Ridge, NY, I've long considered Stamford, CT more of a home-base because 90% of my childhood, career and life is based around Stamford, CT. This was very much a practical move when the opportunity arose to work closer to home and in a city I've already got cycling connections to - aka, when I don't need my car after work, it's where I ride.

    It also happens that, since Danny's provided amazing support at not one but two of my LIVESTRONG fundraisers (a bike was donated to the Melting Pot event in White Plains and Danny's provided mobile mechanical support for the ROCK the RIDE & RUN this year), I really appreciated the philosophy of this shop and their support of LIVESTRONG, so how could I say no?

    The fact that they carry all 3 brands of bikes that I own (Trek, Raleigh & Bianchi) doesn't hurt, either.

    I don't know what my schedule in-store is yet - keep an eye out or feel free to drop me a line.

    Here's where I'll be calling my retail-cycling-home-base:

    To my colleagues, friends and those I worked with, for and to serve in Fairfield, I wish you all the best!

    And to the Stamford area? I'm coming home... (sung like Frank-n-Furter in "Rocky Horror Picture Show!")

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Sat, 7/2: Bridgeport Bluefish vs. Lancaster Barnstormers 4th of July Fundraiser with a FIREWORKS EXTRAVAGANZA!


    Join us for a GREAT night of baseball in Bridgeport, CT on Saturday, July 2 at 7:05 PM at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard! Who could ask for anything more American during our 4th of July Weekend but a baseball game, hotdogs, fireworks and making a difference! Tickets are only $10 a piece!

    We have partnered with the Bridgeport Bluefish to raise money for LIVESTRONG.  We need your help! When you buy a $10.00 ticket through our special on-line fundraising portal, $3.00 will go back to the organization. Please share this information will your family and friends, to help us meet our overall goal of $25,000 by October 2011.”

    Buying Tickets is Simple:
    1. Go to
    2. Enter Fundraising Code: LIVESTRONG
    3. Click “BUY”
    4. Select your seats and complete your order

    The Bridgeport Bluefish is an American professional baseball team based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They are a member of the Liberty Division of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball. The Bluefish play their home games at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard.