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.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

One way or another...

I love Blondie. She was blonde, gorgeous, feminine but lethally fierce. She was untouchable. Would that we were all that indestructible.

But we aren't. This medical parasite keeps eating its way into our lives and silently strikes harder and faster the more chances it gets. Cancer is voracious. Unless you put a stop to it right away, it seems to not relent until it has consumed you.

My chemo buddy, whom I've mentioned had a recurrence and metastases, took a terribly sudden turn during the Christmas holiday. I heard from her sister that the cancer has seemingly spread. Discussions of hospice are arising.

There is nothing more than I'd like to do than to visit her, but we, her friends, are being asked to remain supportive from afar.

How can we? What can we do from a distance while she is in a hospital bed? I want to hold her hand, make her smile, tell her jokes, reminisce with our friend and give her comfort. From afar, what I can I do? Send her a card? Flowers? We're even advised not to call!

I've begged her family to reach out, to build a support network - for her and for themselves - but they refuse. If I could drag Doug Ulman personally to her bedside and Chris Brewer to her family's home, I would. But they don't want the support.

I find this terribly perplexing. Why would they want to fight this battle without anyone there? Without any support or guidance? Is it denial? I don't get that sense. Is it fear? Fear of accepting my friend's illness? I could understand that with her first bout, but this is a different animal.

I know that I'm the LIVESTRONG Leader, but that doesn't mean that I have all the answers. Aside from praying, "sending good vibes," and continuously asking if it's ok to visit yet, what more can I do?