Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Big C-ancercation

I'm now discovering that it has been too long since I blogged. Or put together a LIVESTRONG event, for that matter. I'm a bad blogger. I'm a bad LIVESTRONG Leader.

I've had myself convinced for the past few months that it was due to family matters that had to be addressed, which is true. I've told myself it was because I'm not in chemo, so there is nothing else to share. I've used the excuse of a new job, busy life, new hobbies, etc.

But, early this morning, as I wrapped up a binge on the Showtime series "The Big C," which came out almost a year earlier to the day that I had my double mastectomy, I had an epiphany. Well, I had a few epiphanies.

Epiphany #1: I needed a C-Cation.

Subconsciously, I think I "took the year off" of cancer, particularly after Mary was rediagnosed with Stage 4 and then when she passed away. By no means do I blame her, but I think I had to take a break from all things cancer-related, aside from my mandatory surgeries and appointments. But why?

Epiphany #2: Fear

Yes, I'm a "survivor." Yes, I acknowledged guilt over surviving when friends like Mary, Ryan and others ran out of time and died. But I either never wanted to or never realized just how (pardon my French) just how fucking scared I am of cancer. I'd numbed myself to the anxiety of going back to Dr. Tepler's office time and time again. It creeps out every time I second guess Dr. Tepler's report that my counts and blood work are fine. Every time Dr. Tepler tells me that my requests for an MRI and scansare unnecessary   because all signs are positive that I'm cancer free.

Epiphany #3: Hypocrisy

Throughout this blog, and my cancer journey, I have stated and restated that you have to trust your gut. But have I trusted my gut? Lately?

Here's the reality. I don't know that I can trust my gut right now. I can't decipher between Fear and My Gut anymore. Why do I say this? My Gut keeps telling me to tell Dr. Tepler to wake up and give me a godammned body scan because I "know" the cancer is back. But at the same time, isn't that a natural Fear for cancer survivors? That terror-inducing nickname, "Mets." Not the second-best New York baseball team (Yankees rule), but metastases. See, if you get Mets, you're automatically Stage 4. Plus, my chances of survival plummet from the 80% or better to numbers that aren't even worth putting out there.

I've been in complete denial of this. Of the fear. Of my gut.

All of this has resulted in my LIVESTRONG apathy this year. Guilt of hypocrisy and not living up to the STRONG in LIVESTRONG. I was afraid. I felt weak. I felt like I betrayed the message of LIVESTRONG.

But worse, I have been terrified of the cancer returning.

Blogging, for me, was a means of expressing what I was feeling and sharing how I was feeling. But I had made myself numb to how I was feeling. I had to be. Right now, I don't want to leave my bed. I'm paranoid about my cats' affections - is Samson just maturing from kitten to cat and less restless, more affectionate, and that's why he is sleeping with, next to and sometimes on me? Or is his instinct kicking in like "Death-enny" in "The Big C?" Why has Schmooie, who has been like Sean - living outdoors for weeks, even months at a time, despite having a home, decided to stay, not only indoors, but within inches of my head - either behind my pillow or dwelling on my nightstand at eye level, with little interest of going outside, where she loves? She's 15 years old - and now she decides to be an indoor cat? Or is it the same instinct Thomas had?

How could I write my blog when I couldn't even acknowledge what I was feeling? If I wrote it, it was real. If it was real, I'd have to deal.

So, I blame "The Big C." How dare you expose us like that? To the world? To ourselves? Did you have cameras set up in my home? My head? Is Adam modeled on Zach, who may not have acted out sexually as Adam did, but in other ways? How dare you make your character the same age as my son? Why couldn't Cathy have been single? I'm now furious I had to be my own Cancerierge - I had to be my own Paul, with a splash of my Dad and My Rock in the mix.

And worse, how dare you film in my backyard? Sometimes within yards of me while I was going through chemo? Filmed on backroads that I know like the back of my hand? And did you base some of Dr. Sherman on Dr. Tepler? Seriously?

Sometimes, we project a lot of ourselves on shows and things we are watching on TV and on screen. But this... how could I not? Particularly when so much of the footage was filmed where I would go for treatment, for recreation, etc? When Cathy experienced chemobrain at the Stamford Mall, I felt sick to my stomach. The minute that the elevator went up in the background - the elevator I had been riding since I was 8 and the Mall first opened - my stomach fell. When they shot the vertigo shot on Cathy's way up to the 7th floor, I got lightheaded. As she was speeding down Long Ridge Road near the old GE headquarters, my first instinct was to blurt out, "If you're going to hospice, you're facing the wrong direction - the fastest route is in the opposite direction - you missed your turn."

But this show, even though Cathy had a very different cancer, a very different treatment, this was too close to home - literally and figuratively. I'm very confused, outraged, appreciative and terrified now.

Clearly, I'm going to be calling Dr. Tepler tomorrow and fighting to have a full body scan, if possible. I'm going to call a dermatologist. I'm questioning every mark on my body, every ailment, every ache, every pain, every dream, every thought... is any of it an indication that the cancer is back?

I know so many people who I know have remarked that I'm so strong, that I've inspired them, etc, but when I said months ago that I'm just me, I wasn't kidding. I'm terrified. How can I inspire others to be strong when I feel so weak right now? And I'm not even in active treatment?

So, thank you, Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabriel Basso, Phyllis Somerville and Darlene Hunt, for fucking me up. Thank you for holding up a mirror that I feared as much as death. Thank you for last night's night sweats, fear and anxiety induced dreams, and forcing me to second guess every, "You're cancer free," report I've gotten from Dr. Tepler.

And thank you for making me blog again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life's full of surprises... as is your abdomen.

So, yesterday was the oophorectomy and the reconstruction continued (part 5?). I think at least 4 prep nurses came in, which was fine, since Dad and I are old hands at the pre-op prep. My name is Rica Mendes, I was born on June 20, and I'm here for thus-and-such procedure. I so wanted to tell one of the nurses, "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die," but the last nurse to come in didn't seem like the "Princess Bride" type.

As always, Dr. Nordberg came in, on time, looking dapper in his suit and tie, pleasant demeanor, purple marker in hand. I felt like a road atlas after he was done with me - circles and squiggles all across my chest, under my arms, and a bit below. Dr. Ratner never came in - she had a procedure earlier in the morning that was running late. The anesthesiologist came in and explained he'd give me a TAP block, and additional local anesthesia to my abdomen to ensure the least amount of pain.

I never get over the walk into the OR. Not the actual walk through the hallway, but the entrance into the OR. The room is never as dark and calming as on "Grey's Anatomy." It's bright, you can see the sound-proof ceiling tiles, the floors are white with minimal splatters of iodine staining. Various nurses are attending to tons of trays, and the operating table is there, with arms out, a Hannibal Lecter looking mask sitting where your head goes, and the blue cloths all around. I get that flash of, "Why do I feel like I'm being mounted on a horizontal cross?" when the nurses help me up onto the table and put my arms out to my sides and tell me not to move. There is nothing to do but to stare at the ceiling and the four operating room lights with those weird handles in the middle of the bulbs. This anesthesiologist didn't play music like the others, so I can hear the clanging of tools and the tell-tale, "Ok, we're going to give you a little something in the IV and then some gas and you'll fall.... " And that's about it. I lose all sense of time. I lose all sensation. And I wake up in that awful fog.

I hate coming out of anesthesia. As a result, I'm usually fast to come out - once I start waking up, I'm up.

But not yesterday. I was in that loathsome fog for way too long. I was too sleepy for too long. I had no compunction to move. I couldn't stay awake. I was too unaware of where I was, and what was going on around me. I hated it. I forced myself to try and snap out of it. I saw my friend's little sister, Kara, a recovery room nurse, and called her over. I made her talk to me. But that wasn't enough. I felt bloated - like the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka. I was sore. Something wasn't right. I was parched. The saliva glands in my mouth were in pain. My lips were sticking too much to my teeth. My throat felt way too dry and scratchy. My dad and son kept coming in and out and I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough. I felt clammy. I felt sweaty.

I felt like shit.

Something wasn't right.

I asked to go to the bathroom, and I was walked to the bathroom. I could barely feel my feet. I didn't know if I was upright. I was overly disoriented,. This wasn't right. I got to the bathroom, and all I felt was cool. I started to feel a bit like myself. I didn't even have to go - I just needed to move. Walking back to recovery felt better.

It was too hot in the recovery room. It was too cozy. It was like a womb. I had to get out. Finally, we left, but I still couldn't wake up fully. I dozed off in the CVS parking lot as my dad and son got my meds. The warm, summer breeze felt good and lulled me back to sleep repeatedly.

Ironically, once home, I couldn't sleep. Percocet, Ambien and more, and I couldn't sleep. It was awful.

And today, forget about it. I felt inflated - still. My stomach hadn't been this rounded since I was pregnant. Something was just off. I spent time in the hammock. I couldn't go to the bathroom. I couldn't move without pain - pain focused on the right.

Finally, it got to be too much. I broke down and cried. I called the doctor's office, furious, that I still wasn't "right," that I was still bloated, that I still couldn't go to the bathroom after 2 days, and that she didn't bother to see me before or after the surgery. I was neglected and something was wrong.

After too long, earlier this evening, the surgeon called me. She explained that they inflated me with gas to be able to see my abdomen clearly, and that the gas would pass. She also explained that she had come to see me in recovery - she even drew me a picture. I have zero recollection. That sent me into a panic.

But then, the fun part - they removed a 3-4cm cyst along with my right ovary. That's not small. That's big. They were going to biopsy my ovaries anyway, but holy crap! I cyst! I panicked again.

Dr. Ratner explained they decided to check out my liver and other organs. All was clear. But that cyst on the right side was not easy to remove (hence, the extra pain). But the good news - it was benign. Everything was benign.

So I am further in the clear. But far less than whole.

Good? Bad?

Right now, I'm on Percocet, so I'm in no position to make any sound judgements.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Stop riding my coat tails, Ms. Jolie!

Just like she copied my voluptuous, succulent lips, she had to go ahead and lop off her perfect breasts, just like I had to a couple of years ago. Granted, she decided not to wait until she heard the words, "You've got cancer," to do it, but still. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm flattered.

But, now, she's going all "Single White Female" on me with getting an oopharectomy.

Oh, no, Angelina-chica, this is where I draw the line.

I was due to get spayed months ago, it's just that my insurance got all ferkakta. And now, you come along, and you think you're getting your ovaries removed before me? No way. Get in line sista!

So, just to make sure you don't keep trying to lay claim to territory I've already staked, I'm having my ovaries removed on Monday.

Oh. And I'm having my boobs tweaked, too.

Beat that, Miss-Right-Leg-Show-Off!

Stupid BRCA genetic defect... #FUCANCER

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's been too long.

Oh, my readers and those that accidentally chance upon my blog, it has been too long. It has been too long since I've blogged. It's been too long that I've reflected on LIVESTRONG. It's been too long since I've explored what this disease has brought onto my life. It's been to long since I've shared. On some levels, I feel like a champagne bottle shaken and ready to burst. On others, I feel like a sleeping lion about to be shaken awake. So, forgive the ups and downs of this blog entry, but it's time I spill.

So, do you want the good news, the bad news or the status quo? Let's start with the good.

The Good News

I've landed a job. A great job. Yes, it's a contractor position, but this is different. There are benefits - even a 401k. The commute is brilliant (though me thinks not one I can bike to and from, but we'll see as I get stronger this year). It's for a company that I don't think is going anywhere - anyone ever hear of this little known beverage, "Pepsi?" Yeah. Pepsi. I know! I couldn't be happier! My boss is awesome. Our bosses are awesome. The stuff I do is awesome. Am I saying this because I'm new and someone from Pepsi may be reading this blog? You want me, expect me, to say, "Yes, duh." But the answer is, "NO!" I really mean it. (Ok, two flaws. First, I may end up a diabetic, as my friends, particularly my college friends, should remember I'm a cola addict. Second, I am only a contractor, which is kind of like being a Permanent Resident, but not a Citizen. It's fabulous, don't get me wrong, but I'd really like to be a permanent employee. But, maybe, someday, that will happen.)

My hammock is hung up. My summer last year was made most relaxing with the addition of a hammock. While last year's rope hammock rotted over the winter, it's been replaced by another. Next to the hammock I've also added a drink holder, as the cocktails need someplace to reside and not get knocked over.

Son got a job at the local nursery. Very happy for him.

My forget-me-nots are running wild. Literally. Which makes me so happy, as I've tried to grow them for years, and this year, they have taken off - so much so, they are growing like weeds in my yard, so I have to transplant them all over my rose and flower beds.

I have hair. I can officially pull it back into a ponytail. It's a teeny ponytail, I call it more of a bunnytail, but it's there.

Lots of hair. It officially hit my shoulder the other day. That is wicked cool. And it's curly. Not wavy, not with a bit of curl, I mean corkscrew from root to tip. I have a ridiculous Hebro. See below (and this is straightened out!).
That's me in the middle. Well, from the hair roots up.
We're looking towards more reconstruction. Why is this in the "Good News" section? Because part of the procedure includes liposuction. Yep! Those spare boobs I've been growing that could be mistaken as being a large butt or a beer belly are going to be put to use! Dr. Nordberg is going to suck fat out and graft it into the areas formerly occupied by breast tissue and around the implants to give a softer look, fill in some gaps, etc. I told him that if he's going to be supplementing the reconstruction with fat, I wouldn't mind being a FFF cup size. I think he thinks I'm kidding. So, we'll see where I end up in a few weeks. Hopefully, I'll end up with an itty bitty butt and waist and REALLY big boobs. If so, you'll know how that happened.

The Bad News

I'm having an oopharectomy in the near future. Essentially, I'm getting spayed, which is going to turn me into a reclusive, territorial kitty with a penchant for sitting on open magazines and open window sills. At least, that's been my experience when I've witnessed other critters getting their ovaries removed. I'm not yet 40, and I'm being put into permanent menopause. For the good news to this procedure, see the last Good News.

Just to make things even more exciting, while my status is still officially NED, during the exam, which included a sonogram which prompted the technician to tell me I have a BEAUTIFUL uterus - hey, I'll take any compliment that comes my way, they saw a "something of no concern" on my right ovary. Why is it of no concern? Because the ovary is coming out anyway and it can be biopsied then. Here's the problem: When I had the mammogram, those innocent looking salt-crystal sized spots were "somethings of no concern" until I got the letter to come back for a follow up. Those spots that I was told would be nothing ended up not only being something, but a really bad something. So, I'm chalking off the "something of no concern" as "something to be terribly concerned about which I can't do a damned thing at the moment." I'm preparing for the worst just because preparing for the best got me a double mastectomy.

The IRS seems to have forgotten that they were not only in receipt of my 2009 taxes, but, if I recall, I even got a refund for 2009. So, now, I have to find my 2009 1040s and resend them. So, here's to hoping they don't decide they didn't get 2010, 2011 and, well, they acknowledge receipt of 2012, so I guess we're good. Actually, it's more amusing than bad, but it's a pain in the butt.

My children are adolescents. My son is 14. I think that's the most catastrophic news. I have a 14-year old boy. Save me. Somebody. And he attends a school with an administration run by morons and a school board reminiscent of an insane asylum - a most untrustworthy, corrupt, power-hungry group of stubborn asses. (Can I say that outloud? Yes, I can. It's my blog and I'll say what I want.) I've had to deal with them in the past, but now they have gone above and beyond all reason. I can't get into specifics, as much as I would love to, as there are open issues in the process of resolution, and by resolution, I mean they are giving themselves a platform upon which to pontificate the most ridiculous parallels and dictating the most absurd rules and regulations. I don't say that loudly. Some of you know all the details, some of you know this isn't the first time that I've come up against this administration of pathetic power mongers who clearly have to compensate for something by asserting authority in all the wrong places and ignoring the actual, hard issues.

My daughter is a willful pre-teen. She has my stubbornness, is too smart for her own good, and seems determined to drive me insane. And wear makeup to school behind my back.

Draco, the bearded dragon, died on Saturday. Funeral services will be Friday.

Had a most unpleasant experience happen with someone whom I've long admired for being a consummate professional. I've done business with them years and now, I wonder how I can.

I had to lock the chocolate chips in the safe to keep the kids from getting at the chocolate chips. I set the combination to the safe and made sure not to write it down anywhere in case someone found it. Now, I can't remember the combination and cannot figure out how to override the combination. So, now, I can't get at my chocolate.

My house is a money pit. Just as deal with a septic tank crisis, I have a water filter crisis. Now, I have a water pressure crisis.

Oh - shoot - I forgot - 4 foot long, 4-8" in diameter limb from our oak tree fell about 2-3 stories onto my head and neck yesterday. I was gardening with my daughter in the morning before taking care of stuff inside. She was next to me, and we were bent over planting bulbs. All of a sudden, there is a sharp pain on my neck, it feels like I've been hit by a baseball bat and I'm seeing black. Once I realize the object I assume my daughter must have smacked me with is still in front of me and my daughter is telling me that I'm bleeding. I stand up and look around. She points down at the limb, now in 3 pieces, and she tells me it fell from the tree. A concussion, a bandage and a bump the size of a grapefruit later, I'm hoping I'm clearheaded and recovered enough to be able to get behind the wheel. The problem? I have a 14-year old boy and a pre-teen daughter who have been driving me nuts today. Somehow, stress doesn't seem to be helping the concussion, as I've had headaches all day - and they are not from the skyfall.

The Status Quo

Some projects have been on hold because of the insanity of my life. My LIVESTRONG efforts are kicking in, though late this year. I'm in the process of opening May 19th's ROCK the RIDE & RUN registration. Painting class is going well, though we've missed the past couple of classes. I'm still trying to get to a point where I can ride again. Not there yet. I have my dress form, but I have yet to sew again.


I'm still feeling somewhat lost. The new job is fantastic, do not get me wrong. But, other than that, and my garden, I feel like I'm not getting anywhere, and I'm not sure why. Some of it is just that as much as I seem to I want to get things moving, I'm just not. This isn't like me. I mean, I can procrastinate, don't get me wrong, with the best of them. But something else is going on and I don't know what, which is just frustrating the bejeezus out of me. There is a lot going on with my kids, but I've just felt somewhat lost and foggy. I don't quite get it. I've been told this is kind of normal for survivors, but I just don't get it.

Anyway, there it is.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Chemo Buddy

If you've followed this blog during my treatment, you may recall references to someone to whom I referred as my "Chemo Buddy." I shared with you that she was a couple of years younger, we'd known each other for some time, but we were diagnosed around the same time with breast cancer. We started the same chemotherapy regiment on the same day. We lost our hair the same day and shaved our heads the same day. We finished chemo the same day. We celebrated our chemo "graduation" together at Mary's Place by the Sea.

But we weren't identical in our cancer stories. Her cancer was triple negative - far more resistant than my cancers. I had 2 forms of breast cancer, one highly aggressive. I had the BRCA 2 gene mutation which commanded a double mastectomy. She opted for a lumpectomy and radiation with chemo. My cancer was estrogen responsive, so I had to go on hormonal treatment, she did not.

I revealed that while I was very vocal about my cancer journey, she, in my opinion far more bravely, remained relatively silent. While I worked from home, she hid her disease and went to work with little time off to the extent most co-workers has no idea of her battle.

On a personal level, she was never married and had no children. I had been divorced with 2 children. She looked forward to building a family. I looked forward to when my kids went to college so I could romp and play.

Our joint cancer journey, however, tool a drastic turn this fall. She was ripped from the No Evidence of Disease path when she discovered a lump in the same breast which has been radiated - a feat with shocking odds against recurrence. That was bad enough. She and I talked about her getting a double mastectomy as I had and that was what she was considering.

But, then, she was drawn further off-path when they found that the cancer had spread. Each exam revealed another site. Liver. Back. More.

Her doctors no longer spoke of cures, nor treatments. They stopped speaking in terms of years or months.

She was less connected. We went from phone calls to text messages to Facebook messages to the occasional like to a post. I was lucky if I got a one or two word response.

Hospice wasn't an option. She went home where her mother and aunt cared for her. Her sister kept in touch from out of state, and the friend that introduced us and I got updates from her sister, but we couldn't visit or see her. Communication died down.

Then, the phone rang on February 10 as I was wrangling my daughter and her friend who was over for a slumber party. She was gone.

Mary Caprio died at home on the Jersey Shore. This beautiful, vibrant, young woman was gone. My friend, Nadine, lost her baby sister. Lisa lost her friend who helped her recover from the death of her fiancé, one of my dear friends. And I lost my Chemo Buddy.

I'm relieved, now, to be able to name her. I hated to speak of Mary with a label because she was so much more to me. She was my friend. She was my sister with whom we could connect and speak frankly about our cancer and chemo and side effects in a way we could not speak to anyone else.

Her funeral was over a week ago. I'm here in Chicago at the LIVESTRONG Assembly in a room of survivors and supporters in an exercise where we were handed sealed envelopes with a fake diagnosis to role play. My throat choked up because my diagnosis was normal. Mary was recovering better than I was. Even in this fake diagnosis, I was devastated that I am still alive and Mary is gone.

As much as Mary's death hurt me, perhaps the heartbreak that her time ran out so early and mine is still going, but I'm doing it alone without her scares me. The guilt that I, who has been taking longer to recover while she looked better than ever, was embracing life, who hadn't yet experienced the joys of motherhood and marriage, survives is overwhelming. More than anything, the fear that I'm next is too much to bear.

But this is about Mary. A beautiful woman. A devout woman. A loving daughter. A devoted friend. My Chemo Buddy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Choices? Or a roll of the dice?

It was brought to my attention that I seem to be preoccupied lately. Honey, you don’t know the half of it.

I’m dealing with the typical, and atypical dramas of being a divorced mom of a pre-teen and a teen. I have an ex-husband who fights doing the minimum for his children and is causing them constant angst. I’m still forced to make COBRA payments to a former employer that are higher than many mortgages monthly as I’m still contracting and not receiving benefits. And, oh yes, I’m still contracting and not working in a full-time, permanent post. 

So, in keeping with my previous candor regarding my situation, I’m faced with an even more perplexing situation: to remove or not remove my ovaries right now. If I choose to, do I opt for a hysterectomy or not? Do I voluntarily put myself into an irreversible menopause, or do I gamble on my chances with ovarian cancer? And do I permanently, without question, kill any chance of carrying children ever again?

Let me make one thing clear. I already have 2 children. Two children that, though I love them with every cell of my being, I had too young (at least, too young for me). I’d had every intention of not having children until I was older, after I’d done much more traveling, established my career, following more dreams, etc. So, the fact that my son is only a couple of years away from graduating high school and with my daughter nipping at his heels, means that I’d have my freedom from parental responsibility that much sooner. The notion of having a baby, and having to delay my second shot at my 20s, isn’t high on my to-do list.

Perhaps it’s the concept of no more conceptions: That I may never experience that surge of adrenaline, fear, nerves and excitement when you see the window on the stick I just peed on change from blank to life-changing, nor will I ever have the joy of playing “poke the baby” with my own stomach and have my stomach poke back. Or, more likely, I’ve already had my breasts carved out, replaced with plastic goo, and the final remaining body parts that define me as female will be butchered.

Ok, so I may be going a little OTT, but I’m kind of not. I already removed one breast for the sake of prevention. Now, I’m venturing south in search of new organs to remove for the sake of prophylaxis.
My oncologist wants me to have my oophorectomy yesterday. My gynecologist says it isn’t an immediate need, but it should happen soon. I know I have a short window of time to make the decision before the alleged time runs out. I can’t figure out why I’m hesitating!
Maybe it’s that word, “menopause.”

I mean, we women all face it. But I’ve barely got my head wrapped around the fact that I won’t be going to anymore proms let alone that menopause is closer to me than my high school graduation naturally. Can you imagine how mind-blowing it is that, something I thought I had another 20 years to dread is knocking on my door now? Will I grow a beard? I don’t want hot flashes! Can you imagine me even more unpredictably moody and bitchy? Holy crap! I WILL turn into my mother!

But seriously, folks, it’s like when I was rock climbing in Colorado and I was faced with having to jump off the cliff to go rapelling – and I opted out, against my protest. I could make sense of the mastectomies. I could make sense of the chemo. I could make sense of losing my hair.

Why can’t I get myself to just have the oophorectomy? Why am I hesitating?!

(And, I gotta say it, why the hell is this procedure given such a ridiculous sounding name? Is that the problem? I can’t take this operation seriously because it sounds like something a cartoon character would blurt out when punched in the gut?)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Let them without sin cast the first stone...

Never, in my life, have I been ashamed of being Jewish. Nor have I ever been ashamed of loving the state of Israel – I proudly call myself a Zionist. In my lifetime, I have been faced with international issues with Jews & Israel – from Bernard Madoff to expansion of settlements into the Shtachim, from scandals involving corruption in Israeli government to terrible behavior by Jews in community leadership positions. Yet, still, my devotion to Judaism and Israel is unwaivering.

There have been leaders in my life that have met with challenges. I proudly voted for Bill Clinton, not once, but twice. So did the majority of the country. Were we all saddened and ashamed, personally, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light? You betcha. But when foreign media attacked our President, we, communally, defended the office. We defended our President against critics, sometimes having to acknowledge personal wrong-doing, but reminding them not to throw the office under the bus, regardless of our personal views.

As a mother, I often take a non-traditional approach to apologies. I'm constantly telling my children that I would much rather they never say, "I'm sorry," if they don't mean it and they will repeat the wrong-doing. I don't want false apologies, I want to see that they are willing to change their ways. I want to see action speak louder than the "I'm sorry."

So, after watching both episodes of the Lance Armstrong interview on Oprah, here's my take:
  • Lance messed up. He made some really lousy choices during his cycling career to feed ambition. However, it should really be noted that Lance was hardly the only one who made that poor choice. In fact, it was the minority that didn't make the bad decision not to take performance enhancing drugs/treatments.
  • He's got an ego. Tell me something I didn't know. What celebrity, politician or athlete doesn't have an ego? I mean, to be a competitor at that level, you can have some humility, but you have to have enough of an ego to say to yourself, and everyone else, "I am so much better than everyone else that I can win."
  • Lance has an Achilles Heel: Pride & being stubborn. Rather than admit to being wrong, in his younger (and perhaps more immature later) years, he'd rather deny his transgressions than confess that he did something wrong.
  • Unlike all the other athletes that have admitted to, voluntarily or otherwise, Lance took his fame and fortune and did something remarkable with it for the good of humanity. He took on cancer survivorship with a vengeance like no other person has to date. He leveraged every opportunity to promote the need to raise awareness for prevention sake, to strip cancer fighters of any stigmas, and to inspire those battling the disease to live strong. This does not mean that the ends justified the means, but there is a good man and a good heart there, who had his ego bungle a lot of great things up for him.
  •  Critics complain that Lance was not genuine in his apologies and it was all lip service. While I will hardly call him my BFF, I've had the opportunity to see him speak in person several times now, and I've had the chance to chat with him one-on-one. I think people were expecting a far more emotional tone in his voice or facial expression. That wasn't my take at all. He's a very matter of fact kind of guy. Yeah, he can laugh, get emotional, etc. But he was absolutely in his, "I'm not bullshitting about this," mode. He was dead serious. (And, FYI, that "I didn't call her fat" line, IMHO, wasn't meant a s a dig or anything. My guess is that he was trying to lighten the mood and it just came out all wrong. Something, I am guessing, we have all done when we try and insert some humor into something to break up an awkward moment.)
  • He's finally allowed himself to be aware that:
    • His doping cost him the rewards, victories and triumphs that he doped for in the first place.
    • Denial was not the best idea.
    • It may very well be too little, too late to recover trust and admiration as he'd had before.
    • He betrayed fans and others by refusing to suffer the consequences earlier on when he might have been able to salvage his career, his position and his reputation much earlier. 
    • He has suffered a terrible loss - his ties with LIVESTRONG - and he very clearly is devastated by that loss.
    • He needs help. And he's getting it, with this admission a first step.
    • He wants to be a good father.
My son refused to watch the interview. He dug his heels in and refused. I was so shocked, as typically, any mention of Lance in any media outlet has him obsessively riveted. Lance is one of Zach's heroes, without question. Without a doubt, the highlight of his life was meeting Lance in 2011 at his house and then riding with him and Team RadioShack during the LIVESTRONG Challenge. He wouldn't tell me why he wouldn't watch it, but angrily said he'll never watch it.

I finally got him to break down yesterday and tell me why he didn't want to see it. He said that Lance had let him down. He said that Lance was a liar and a no-good-cheat. He said he never wanted to see Lance Armstrong again.

I have to tell you, I was furious, and I lashed out at him. I can't recount the number of times my son has been caught red-handed breaking rules - some large, some small - at home, at school, etc. My son will go to the grave before he ever confesses, and it is short of waterboarding that will get him to finally admit his wrongdoing. So when he dared criticize Lance for coming clean, trying to start to make amends, on top of all the charity work and kindness he, personally, has shown me, our family, and my son, I lost it. In the past 3 years, Lance has done more positive things and been a far greater role model to my son than his own father. Lance screwed up big time. But he's now openly admitting to what he did and is paying the consequences. He's not lying anymore - he has no reason to cover anything up anymore.

I turned the tables on my son and I told him that I wished he could behave the way that Lance is now - admit to the wrongdoing, show remorse, get help, try and make amends, and make himself a better person - than to sit there and brew with anger, conceal mistakes and never admit to anything.

We continued to debate for almost an hour. I asked Zach how he would feel if, after losing everything, and then apologizing, people treated him the way that he was treating Lance. Finally, by the end of the conversation, both of our anger waned. Zach understood what I was trying to explain to him. He sees that what Lance did on Oprah should be seen as a real-life lesson on how not to handle getting caught doing something wrong in the sense that Lance waited too long to be able to make half the reparations he would have been given the opportunity to much earlier on. That admitting guilt as soon as your caught often means a punishment that pales in comparison to that which comes after trust is lost.

But, even then, Lance is still showing enough remorse that he's trying to apologize and put actions to those words.

Zach is going to watch the interview. And he, like many others, may become angry and sad and disappointed throughout.

But I'd like to think that my son, and many others, including you adults who read this blog, can be enlightened and mature enough to see that he may have done some pretty disappointing things in his past, but this is a man who did a hell of a lot of good, and that he's trying. Perhaps instead of trying to beat the man while he's doing, we should all let ourselves, and Lance, lick the wounds a bit, and when the time is right, be ready to support him when he needs us, just as he supported millions of cancer fighters when we needed him.

Am I disappointed? Sure. His dope-free story was amazing. But even with the doping, his story is still incredible.

And in some senses, I have even greater admiration for Lance than I did before the interview. In his own unique Lance-Armstrong-way, he is showing great humility, he's showing remorse, and he's trying, even when he knows it may be too late to recover, he's still trying.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lance, Oprah & Heroes

I know one reader of this blog, who keeps insisting on posting as Anonymous, feels that I am a blond blind follower of Lance, feeling that he can do no wrong, and I will do nothing but defend him even when he's wrong. A lot of people choose to see everything in black and white and not in the realistic shades of grey the world we live in is portrayed.

For some of us, those lines are clearly delineated based on subject matter. I confess that there are certain topics where my feelings are purely black and white - which isn't always the most realistic way of looking at something. I am a very stubborn human being - when I dig my heels into something, I don't budge. But I do so with a tremendous amount of consideration - even stances that may come off as "knee jerk" are, in fact, not. You are not always privy to the man behind my curtain, though this blog should reveal he exists as I explore the behind-the-scenes workings of my thoughts and actions frequently.

So, for the record, I do not, have not, nor ever will defend Lance Armstrong blindly. I may do so vigorously, passionately, etc when the task is at hand, but never, ever blindly. I do not see heroes as infallible. And I do not know if I've ever seen Lance as a "hero" in the first place. A "hero" in my mind has a very specific connotation - a "hero" must be of the same cloth of the Greek gods, extraordinary in many, many means. To me, Yoni Netanyahu was a hero. Doña Gracia Mendes was a heroine. My grandparents on my mother's side were heroes. This doesn't mean that Lance can't be someone's hero, for their own reasons. But he was never mine. This also doesn't mean that Lance - the man and what he stands for to me - doesn't matter to me, either. He does tremendously.

(This is when one of my kids would interject by telling you all that I think he's cute and that's why he matters to me. While, admittedly, he's a good looking guy, in fact, that's not the reason why.)

There are many pundits, on both sides of the Lance Armstrong aisle, that have their theories as to why he's going on Oprah now. Some say it's a sly legal move because the statute of limitations is up and he can't be brought to task for perjury. Some say he's been licking his wounds since his failed Don Quixote-like fight against the USADA and had to regroup. Some say his ego is hurt that he's not in the headlines and is now making, yet another, tactical PR error. Well, I hate to break it to you, but unless you are Lance Armstrong himself, and even if you ARE Lance Armstrong, you may not know what is driving him to do this interview right now. Speculate all you want, but let's not forget, it's all speculation. And quite a good part of it is speculation by those who feel burned, or are taking this situation way too personally when they really don't have a right to do so.

The cycling world always seemed to be divided into Lance Lovers and Lance Haters. And the Haters are having a field day while the Lovers are questioning themselves, re-evaluating, and being put on the constant defensive where they, like many allege Lance has done in many cases, have had to stand their grounds just to save face because, after years of taking one stance, it's unbearable to admit they were wrong.

I'm just as interested out of sheer curiosity about the Oprah interview tomorrow evening. Would I love the answers? Yes. Because I become rather obsessive over unanswered questions. Do I need to watch the interview to determine whether or not my feelings about Lance will change? Absolutely not. In fact, I can assure you that they won't change. and here's why:

Because I could give a rat's ass whether or not he doped. I don't care who he bullied to keep quiet. And I don't care that the haters may have their day in the light. With very, very little exception, I gain no joy by anyone's downfall. But there are two things that I do care about when it comes to people who have made poor choices in the past: 1) Do they understand the severity of what they've done? Are they willing to bear the consequences (assuming the punishment fits the crime)? 2) What have they done to make amends? (Note: Not, "Have they publicly admitted to doing anything?")

Ideally, of course, those amends would be directly related to the transgression. An eye for an eye, yes? However, that's not the real world. And that's simple to presume when you speak of the simplest, least complicated situations. Lance is hardly in a simple position, no matter whether or not he is truly innocent or guilty! Public opinion has deemed that he's guilty. If he protests his guilt, he's talking to a wall. The judge and jury made their decisions and there isn't a damn thing the man could say to undo what has been done. If he admits guilt, truthful or not, then he's just a liar as "we all suspected." He's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. So now, he has to deal with the least of all evils presented before him, as well as the damage this whole situation may have caused a movement he cares deeply about - cancer survivorship.

Only the most troll-like haters can say that he doesn't believe in the cause of LIVESTRONG with every thread of his being. You can fake sincerity to a degree, but the lengths that I have witnessed this man go to connect with people, share their plight and improve the lives of  cancer survivors around the globe is only matched with the likes of Doug Ulman, Chris Brewer and other professionals in the cancer non-profit world - maybe.

Is it possible that part of his drive to do good wasn't just out of survivor's guilt, the responsibility of the cured, but in fact a means of trying to wash his hands of the guilt of suppressing bad choices made in his cycling career? Well, unless you are Lance himself, or his psychotherapist, you will not know. Even if he says it on Oprah, you won't know. You may hear what you want to hear tomorrow, you may not.

Some have compared Lance to Madoff, saying that Madoff was considered a "hero." Hardly. The man has showed no remorse. He gleefully bankrupted hundreds, destroyed businesses, and caused family members to choose suicide over facing what took place. There is no comparison in that regard.

To me, however, actions speak volumes louder than words. I challenge each and every Lance Armstrong critic to spend one day performing the tasks that Lance has done on behalf of LIVESTRONG before opening their fat yaps about what a scumbag Lance is. For starters, try to do this: Remember every single cancer fighter with whom you've ever interacted, and, when you randomly run into them, make them not only feel like the most important person in the room, but remind them about details from your original meeting - details that are so unique that the cancer fighter doesn't even remember that accurately. In 5 minutes, say something so heartfelt and motivating that you encourage that fighter to strive even harder than they were before. Give that person, and their family, hope. Genuine hope - not in a cure, a drug, a medicine - but in themselves. And make them feel like a rock star because of the encounter - a feeling that should last their lifetime. Then, spend another 5 minutes looking into the eyes of someone terminal. Someone whose time to fight is dwindling down to hours and tell them that their choice to die the way that they chose is alright, too. Make them believe that they made no mistakes because they are handling the disease the way that they wanted do. Give them dignity, not pity. And make sure that the family has someplace to turn from which to derive strength when their loved one perishes.

Had Lance spent 1 week doing as I described above, in my opinion, he'd have made the amends necessary to balance the injustice. But the man has been doing this for 15 years. Around the world. For cancer fighters of all ages, sexes, races & creeds.

He did that for me. He did that for my children.

And, let's face it. We all have skeletons in our closets - some great, some small, and all of which could sink our careers, our public face, etc, should they leak out. Mistakes from college, adolescence, in business dealings, relationships, financials - you name it, we all have one. And, more often than not, it's one that we've publicly denied - either when filling out applications to being asked directly at a party or someplace more formal. We've denied them one way or another, adamantly.

Think about your most shameful mistake in your life, which you may or may not have denied publicly, and imagine it brought to light, to all your co-workers, loved ones, family & friends, and in your face constantly.

What would you do? Note: I'm not asking, "What would you like to imagine that you would do?" Nor am I asking, "What is the right thing to do?" I'm asking you, human being to human being, made up of many shades of grey, What would you really do?

Be honest with yourself.

And then cast the first stone at Lance Armstrong.

Is he a hero? Perhaps.

But he's a man who has accomplished an extreme amount of good, has influenced many more to hope and strive for a better future one way or another, and, whether for good or for bad, has the ability to remember damn near every person he has ever met.

Not many of us can say any of those things. So, until we can, maybe we should silently watch what unfolds, withhold judgement, and let the man make amends for whatever he needs to make amends in peace. And maybe, just maybe, we should offer him some slack, forgiveness even, if that's what he needs, to get back on his feet and continue to do good in a way that many of us only dream we could do in our lifetime.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Last night, I was lying down on my sofa, with one cat, Malka, behind my head, another cat, Motek, in my right arm and a third, Sammy, in my left (that is until he lept out of my arms as captured on my phone by my daughter as he was in mid-flight).

Quite a picture, yes?

I looked up at my father, who had come over for dinner, and said, “Holy shit! I’m the Crazy Cat Lady!” He smirked and glibly said, “You always were,” as he left for his home.

I’m really not, though. I’ve been accused of being one by an ex-boyfriend, but that’s because he didn’t like cats. And being a single woman with cats doesn’t automatically put you into that category. I don’t have ramps and all kinds of weird structures to accommodate the cats in every room. I don’t have kitty houses all over. Yes, I do have 2 kitty litters on each floor of the house, but that’s because when you have four cats, you need to have two.

Yes. Four cats. It’s not what you think.

I have a 15-year old cat named Schmooie (Schmooella Daniella). (No, I didn’t name her “Schmooie,” she came with that name.) She’s a breast cancer survivor – no joke. In 2005, she had a quadruple mastectomy. She was my ex-husband’s cat – we got her when she was 6-months old. Until recently, she would spend 75% of her time outside – it was agony to keep her indoors. Lately, she’s been relatively content being an indoor cat, thank goodness. So she was kind of an absentee cat. So, yes, while I own four cats, I never really considered her ours – she was very much her own cat.

Malka was “gifted” to us a couple of years ago. A former friend, who was a little more than psycho, decided she had to get a kitten to keep her solitary cat and her young son company. I urged her to reconsider, as it seemed to come out of left field, but she insisted. She asked me to accompany her to pick out a kitten as someone who has had cats all her life. I found a kitten in the litter with an amazing personality, with great potential to be a loving lap cat and one that got along with the other kittens. She, however, chose to ignore my recommendations altogether and went for the psycho kitty, who seemed to show great disdain towards all the other cats, and was female. Her logic? This kitten was the only one who didn’t have six toes (which I thought was kind of cool – the entire litter but this one was six-toed). I warned her one last time that I didn’t think this was the best companion kitten, but she didn’t listen.

Sure enough, 48-hours later, she was on my doorstep, handing the kitten to my daughter saying, “Here! Look! It’s a present for you!” and I was stuck with her. Malka was now my daughter’s kitten – and my daughter is the only person whom this cat adores. She despises my son – his mere entrance into a room can cause her to hiss and growl and even attack his ankles.

Motek is the newest addition to the family after Hurricane Sandy. His story, as it was told to us, was that he was abandoned by his former owners and left in the hurricane. When we learned about his plight, and saw his sweet personality, we had to adopt him. Since Malka is my daughter’s cat, Motek became my son’s, though he seems to have claimed my bedroom as his domain.

And that leaves Samson. My Samson. (Well, technically, He’s Samson the II. My grandmother had a pair of cats - Samson & Delilah - Samson being a red tabby, Delilah a grey. Samson I became my cat when she passed away. There was something, when Samson II was a kitten, that was so much like Samson I, that I knew I'd mistakenly call him Samson, so I decided, "The hell with it, I'll just name him Samson II after Samson I.") A little more than a year ago, my big, grey, teddy bear of a cat, Raouw, had to be put down. I was trolling the internet just looking for places in the area from which we could adopt a cat when we were ready. Then, I saw this photo:
What a shayna punim?!
I wasn’t planning on getting a new cat immediately – I wanted time to mourn Raouwsiebear. However, when I saw this face, I was in love. Super Bowl Sunday, we went to a pet shop to meet the woman coordinating the adoptions, and went into the large bathroom with her, the kids and a pet carrier. The minute she opened the carrier doors, this lovely lion of a kitten walked out, with the confidence of someone who just won the Presidential election, and he marched into my lap, purring loudly, and curled up and looked me in the eyes. Within minutes, we were buying him food, a collar and toys.

Why is this relevant?

When people say that I’m a “Crazy Cat Lady,” I know in my heart that I’m not. If anything, I’m a very sane person because of these little four-legged (five-toed) furry family members.

In case you hadn’t seen the reports, the kindness and healing that these purring bundles of joy provide to people is remarkable, so much so that after the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an organization brought kittens to provide therapy to the children and anyoneneeding support. Cats are the only animal on the planet that have a functionthat is strictly meant to express happiness – purring. And studies show that those with cats tend to have lower levels of stress and fewer heart attacks than those without cats. The act of simply stroking a cats fur has a healing ability.
There is no question, whatsoever, that my ability to recovery from the blow of hearing that I had cancer would not have been handled as well had it not been for the affection of my cats. When I came home from the hospital after my mastectomy, as I’ve described previously, my cat Raouw didn’t leave my side for days – all he did was curl up with me, purr, kiss me, and sleep. Even Malka slept with me. Schmooie would curl up on my pillow behind my head. Collectively, they all cared for me in their own very unique ways.

During chemotherapy, when I felt at my worst, I could tell that Malka sensed something was wrong with me, but she was confused. Raouwsie, however, wouldn’t cease contact with me, going so far as to keep me lying down when I was tempted to get up so I could rest.

Once Raouw was gone, Sammy, in his own clumsy, bad ass way, cared for me. Though he doesn’t have half the patience Raouw had to sleep in my lap, or sit still for long cuddle sessions, he’d pay attention to me, clown around, and keep me entertained. And Sammy still showered me with loud purrs and sloppy kisses when I had various reconstructive surgeries and, when I wasn’t looking, would curl up and sleep next to me so I would wake up with a face full of ginger fur and the soothing vibration of his purr.