Sunday, November 13, 2011

WHAT AM I DOING ?.....and why does it matter

It is official.

I am having a midlife crisis.

Good news; I don't feel a need to buy a red sports car.
My car goal is to pay off the one I have: I love Hannah the Hyundai.

So what is this all about ?

It just hit me yesterday - but it's been coming on for a while.

A confluence of things I guess; turn the clocks back, first quarter of the school year over, a rapid visit upstate with the family, moving things around and OUT of storage; some shedding of goods and treasures that are no longer needed or treasured; beginning a new phase of my two year plan, reading day six of A Purpose Drive Life, by Rick Warren, and BAM. There it was.

WHAT AM I HERE TO DO - have I found out MY purpose yet, and why does it matter ?

Since I had had breast cancer, I thought I knew my purpose; to educate anyone who would listen to me about the Chemo Sensitivity and Resistance Assay and empower people to make well researched choices about health care. I have had opportunities to do that and its very rewarding.

But there is more.

There has to be.

There has to be more to life than rushing around, fitting everything into a schedule to pay bills and have a few bucks for brunch at the diner or libations on occasions with friends, ( both of which I enjoy beyond words), fill up the gas tank, and get back to work and run a treadmill. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I have been giving a LOT of though of where I am and where I will be in two, twelve and twenty years. I have come to learn that EVERY choice I make now is going to impact me for that long. It's rather daunting, actually. Cleaning and disposing of worldly goods has become a gesture meaning so much more. It's as if I have to make room for something; be ready for something...or is it maturity ?

Am I ready to get rid of what my mother not-so-lovlingly, but jokingly referred to as, "..those rags from high school," meaning my well heeled bohemian clothes and accessories. Is it the merging of those treasures from my childhood home and my life in NYC that is saying, "...ok, choices HAVE to be made, you cannot keep everything."

Or, is it just that there is too much stuff. How many tee shirts that I don't wear do I need ? Do I really, TRULY, need all those work out clothes that I don't work out in ? Just because I made that skirt in 1991, am I obligated to keep it ? I can sit here and REMEMBER when I made that skirt and why - does that mean I have to hang on to it ? Or, can I let it go...does it matter if I keep it or not ?

Is it the clutter of it or the fear of letting it go that will way on me ...and does it matter ?

Yes, it does. Within reason, you cannot build a new life with so much of the old one hanging on, hanging around and weighing like an albatross around your neck.

Ah - this is what I am doing - I am loosing weight; not on the scale, but on my soul.

Last week I deleted text message from summer 2010 - I hung onto them because I had thought they gave me joy to reread them; but realized, now, they only reminded me of disappointments. Let it go...they do not matter now.

I gave the thrift shop bags full of clothes, craft items and household goods at one time I believed I had to hang onto as reminders of past projects. No I didn't - I let them go - that was a week ago - and the exact list of WHAT I gave them is unclear, because, it does not matter now.

As a teacher, especially in these economic, "keep it cuz you may not get another " of it times, it enables my proclivity for pack rat like behaviors. But, as I see that I feel trapped by the weight of all of this stuff, I ask myself; "WHAT AM I DOING ?"

And as a matter of fact, in shedding the weight, the load, the excess and the goods, and giving them to others through various means, it does, indeed, matter.

A lot.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just because the dress fits...take a good look at the WHOLE image; and other little summer musings...

Did you catch that BIG full moon last in, just a few nights ago ? My friend called it, "Cosmo's moon," and it was true ! Creamy white on Thursday, golden on Friday and blush on Saturday - no wonder poets and scribes have written so much about it....ahhhh....

How's your summer ? Great I hope - I have a few stories for you from a whirlwind weekend...

While in Albany ever so briefly last week making a much needed bank deposit to truly stave off financial ruin, I happened into Mentor Closet, a nicely run/stocked consignment store. Browsing casually I came across a cotton dress that fell somewhere between "Stepford Wives" and bridal shower in the garden. With a good label, (Talbots), a great price, ($18) and a size smaller, I gleefully took it to the dressing room. SCORE ! It zipped, hung well and was all floral and light - and all wrong.

The style was that great 50's line - sleeveless, rounded scoop, fitted bodice, long zip up the back. Great look in a light floral with a background of white. Great look if you are 32. I took a long look at myself in the mirror. I wasn't fixated on my hips' width or my narrower waist, the length of the dress, or if my bustline revealed any anomolies.

I looked at the maturity of my face in this dress and could think of only one thing: "Mutton dressed as lamb."

For the first time, I admitted quietly, I was too "old" for something off the rack. I had out lived my demographic; I am not "21 Forever" at all. Regardless of the label, the cut, the craftsmanship the good fit or the price, the dress was wrong. Too late.

Sometimes just because the dress fits, it doesn't mean you should wear it. No matter, I have lots of other timeless rags to adorn myself with.

I shared this story with Kimberly Duryea whom I hadn't seen in nearly 20 years at breakfast the next morning. We giggled about it, but as I thought about it more, I realized it wasn't the end of the world. I still was ME, just with more experience. It's okay to not be 21, 32 or even 40 anymore. Time marches on and I am choosing to be happy about it and join the band !

Avocados; let's talk about avocados. I was invited to join an acquaintance for breakfast over the weekend. He served a resplendent impromptu spread with sliced avocado, cherries, strawberries and bread rounds with gourmet cheeses, prosciutto and salmon. It was delightful and WAY too rich for first thing in the morning - accompanied only by green tea. I was ill for the next six hours. Note to self; no avocados before 5pm !!

Regardless, his hospitality touched my heart and I enjoyed handwriting a thank you note to him. Yes, I omitted the post breakfast meeting consequences, but still, I was so touched by his generosity. It was truly a great experience.

Thanks, too, to David, who literally took me by the hand into the Atlantic to jump the waves. I had been ceremoniously knocked on my tuckus two years ago while holding his son's hand when a big wave crashed down on us - I lost contact with Jacob for what seemed like an eternity, my glasses and sun shield had been knocked off my face rendering me visually challenged, and I was unable to get up quickly with the undertow. I was never so frightened in my life. Since then, I did not go into the water beyond my knees - I had always had respect for the sea, but now I had bona fide fear. That ended this weekend. David's tutelage brought me back to waist high water where I jumped the waves, and learned to lean into them - much easier than diving by the way. Thank you, Dave, for reintroducing me to the joys of the sea.

Lastly, thanks to my brother Bill who so unselfishly has appointed himself handy man for my house in Qbury - he's an amazing guy - giving up an hour of his time here and there to fix this and that....and Steve, who has his back. And their WIVES !! Great people - all.

So many people to be grateful to and for; so many opportunities and choices.

Please, keep in touch..

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year End (Mental) Clearance - and a song to boot !

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot….for auld lang syne.” *

You know the lyrics - it’s from that song we sing or lip synch because we don’t really know all the words, or, we may have imbibed too much to sing along. This traditional ditty signs off one year and ushers in a new one.
Another cycle of seasons and holidays and traditions and expectations that are embraced with four salient resolutions; more exercise, loose weight, less clutter, save money.

For many of us, these resolutions may join the company of the long lost forgotten toy sooner than Easter – for me it’s usually Super Bowl weekend ! Winter is half over, February vacation plans haven’t quite come together, Valentine’s is forecast to be Black Friday yet gain and more is expected with seemingly less rewards.

Lordy day, I sound like a Debbie-Downer, don’t I ?

Is it the fact that we are three days from the turning point of turning points ? New Year’s Eve ? Once again along with several others around the GLOBE we reflect on blessings and miracles, disappointments and loss.

It’s been a hell of a year; my mom’s health was at the top of the list – elder care and public health funding was both an education and my biggest accomplishment. My family showed how awesome they are not with gifts and parties and photos, but with actions and deeds. I received a generous respite in a cyclone of chaos from one friend who gave me his house for a week far off in the Hamptons. My colleagues overwhelmingly graced me with their trust to represent their best interest as the steward for the labor contract.. There was some loss – mostly intangible things like connections with people and opportunities for friend and family time that I missed or didn’t act upon with the initiative I should have.

While being house bound on the last Monday of 2010 I listened, first with bemusement then with disdain the endless whining about how inefficient the DSNY was at cleaning up after the Blizzard of 2010. I posted this on my status: I had surmised that our techno-instant gratification collective mindsets are turning a blizzard into a natural disaster because not every street is plowed and cleared. While I respect that lots of people need to get to work, perhaps this is a good time to reevaluate "non essential" personnel; take a group chill pill, read that book you got for Christmas, and relax. The response to this post suggests I am on to something.

Perhaps, then, it is in the same vane that I greeted the closing of the BARNES & NOBLE in Lincoln Square. Has the conversion to eBooks gone SO very well that not only we have we run out small independent book stores, but now they are making the big box go the way of the dinosaur ?

Will manual paper page turning books become as irrelevant as the daily newspaper ?

It leaves me with a new question;
WILL old acquaintance be forgot ?

Have a safe and Happy New Year ☺

*”Auld Lang Syne” Lyrics by Robert Brown, Music; Traditional. Late 18th century poem by Mr. Brown. Scottish origins, in which “auld lang syne” translates to “old long ago.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Have you let it all go if you never had it together ?

I'm not sure if it is a scientific fact or not, but, I think there is something said about having a preconceived idea , an image in your mind about what you look like before you look at yourself in a mirror. This is why when you "catch yourself" in a mirror or window, you may be surprised or aghast at what you see.

I have never been someone who fussed over hair/makeup/garment ensembles before leaving home; except during that social period in my late teens/early twenties when I was out till all hours having harmless fun. Really. I mean that; I have witnesses and accomplices who will attest to it.

For the most part of the past 10 years, I have relied on big eyes, good skin, a nice smile, and reasonably decent, though bohemian, clothes.

My mom was always conservatively dressed, with good Irish skin and lipstick as her only accessory. She taught me the mores of NOT staying out of the sun. I dressed seemingly well enough for most occasions, crediting my style to the events/ eras of my life; student, teacher, opera singer/audition ware, rehearsal ware, casual ware...but it seems that there was a change of some sort in the last decade.

And today, there in a glance from a mirror at Filene's Basement on the Upper West Side, (UWS), was one of those; "CUH-LICK" photo moments staring me back. My inward reaction was somewhere between, "oh dear," and, "damn, Suze was right."

While processing what I had just seen, in all its raw and 3-D glory, I came to realize that my boho chic had become boho frump. Tip to toe. The assessment of my likeness was blunt and unforgiving. I chuckled to myself thinking that Stacey and Brian from "What NOT to Wear" would pop out and take me hostage. As well they should.

Question: Is what I am visually communicating really what I am thinking of myself ?

If today was test day, the answer would be; I guess so.

It was midway thought the weekend; which was midway through autumn, midway through the academic semester; midway, (God willing), through my life. There I sat getting a pedicure thinking; am I this person that stared back at me for that moment, that walked all over the UWS ? Well, yeah. I am. I was.

Having gone into work that morning, I dressed WAY down in sweats, a tee shirt, old white sneakers, ( oh the shame), and donned my purple plum LLBean winter coat. My hair, freshly colored and trimmed, was...well, dry, up in a hair clip, and much to my dismay - not showing its finer self.

I looked frumpy. Schleppy. Sloppy. Un-noticeable. One of the unseen - not quite as invisible as a homeless person, but, clearly one of those extra NYers who blends into the crowd. Damn. When did that happen ?

Having slowly dropped some pounds I recently started wearing less "big" things, though I am clearly in a zone of discomfort. I like layered skirts, scarves, textures and colors. Some of my garments are too big, but I like them anyway. As far as buying new ones, I spend my clothing budget on different things at a time; currently I am overhauling tops/sweaters and the like.

I remember my sister-in-law telling me about the women in Atlanta who dressed to go shopping. That ole southern pageant type mentality - full wardrobe, hair and makeup style. I thought about the conversations my voice teacher and I used to have about the state of dress at the Met Opera; how it had de-evolved to a whisper above jeans and tee shirt; and seeing someone dressed up was an event in itself: one of the last bastions of formality slowly loosing its glamour.

While I am not one to ritually dress up for every outing, today was a wake up call. My inner self is happy and enjoys getting out and seeing the sites: I don't have to have handfuls of shopping bags - I like walking and taking it all in; the smells of NYC, the prattle of people on their cell phones, the chatter of children, and the kaleidoscope of offerings.

I have survived a lot, lived a lot, done a lot, and endeavor to do more. I have many projects going and I am excited about new opportunities. But you would not know it by seeing me today. Or, I fear, many other days.

So at 46 years old, my new question tonight is:
Could I let it all go if I never had it together ...and, can I get it back again ?

If I endeavor, just a few times a week to "step up" and make the effort to let the outside appearance match my inner essence, am I selling out ? Am I abandoning my boho nature and conforming to something that I don't subscribe to naturally ? Do appearances really count ?

Or does it come down to that naked realization: if what you are doing is not working, then do something different.
Boho Frump. Not working. Not liking the reflection.

I can change my reality - but I promise my family, friends and blog readers this; it's a change I believe in.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pink, by any other name

On Friday my school colleagues and I rallied to launch Breast Cancer Awareness month by wearing pink. This month is dedicated to being sure that every social opportunity sends out the message; BREAST CANCER IS STILL THERE. The Empire State Building even donned a pink hue.

Yet despite all the miles walked, monies collected and reported gains, Americans have jumped from having one in 15 women diagnosed with the disease in 1975 to one in seven women diagnosed with the disease in 2008.

One in Seven.

That is a LOT.

You can look around almost any venue you are in at any time and count seven women and say to yourself, " of us will get breast cancer." That's what I did after I was diagnosed; on the train, the bus, in school, shopping, "...5, 6, 7, yup, don't worry, it's me..." Of course, this was all silent - it was during that weird period of time after diagnosis when I would look at everyone's boobs and wonder; have you got it ? Did you have it ? Will you get it ?

Don't worry, I got it - you're okay...

What became more strange is the number of women I met who HAD had it - they were everywhere - all ages, all ethnicities, all sizes, shapes, all income levels, activity levels, education levels, and treatment levels.

Breast cancer has made some strides in the past ten years, but, there is still a significant amount of work to be done. There are many different types of breast cancer, therefore many treatment options. One of the most significant is the FTCP: Functional Tumor Cell Profiling, formerly referred to as the CSRA; Chemotherapy Sensitivity Resistance Assay. Simply put, this test takes your live tumor, any tumor for any cancer, after the margins for pathology are removed to assure that the surrounding tissue is clear. Then the lab tech chops the remains of it up into little bits. These wee bits are put into petri dishes and different chemotherapies are tried on each one to see which kills it best. The results are "in vitro," meaning - not tried in the body, but the results are based on YOUR individual tumor. What can be better than that ? When I heard the explanation of this assay, I had no doubt this was the way to go. In fact, I cancelled the bi-lateral mastectomy I had planned for both breasts and went with lumpectomies, and with the chemo recommendations from the assay and radiation, I have never questioned or looked back. I do pray from time to time I never see cancer again but I do not wonder about the science of my choice.

I don't do the marathons to raise money for The Cure and The Cause. I don't swathe myself in pink. I respect the people that DO walk and that DO donate funds. The generosity of the American people towards this disease is amazing. I respect that cancer is a formidable foe, but I don't fear it.

What I do is teach about the FTCP; I talk to women and men who are recently diagnosed with cancer and I empower them to have this assay done during their first tumor surgery; that is the caveat; it is only usable with live tissue, you cannot go back and test the sample that is put on a wax block in storage in a lab.

It's a hard sell. Women and men who have been diagnosed with cancer, find that their doctors are dismissive of the assay because it is not on their protocol; the results dictate what is the best choice, not the pharmaceutical company. Other than my own team of oncologists & radiation therapists, I am a team of one. But I continue to do it because I know it's right. I just know it is.

So on Friday when I found I didn't have a pink t-shirt I realized, "so WHAT ?" Cancer has as many shades of pathology as there are shades of pink. So I wore raspberry colored pants, a fuscia hip wrap, two pink flowers in my hair, a beaded Survivor bracelet, and a traditional pink awareness pin on a charm necklace that also showed hope, love and peace. I looked at myself and was pleased with this ensemble. It reflected the reality of breast cancer; each woman's cancer is a little different; and her survivor story is as special and individual as she is.

And THANK YOU to those who walk, run, wear pink and show your beautiful bald heads to the world to proclaim I SURVIVE !

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One month later...there's been a miracle

It's been a month since I checked my mom out of the rehabilitation nursing home.

On the day she left, she was undernourished at 109 pounds, ( at 5'7"), had been diagnosed with pneumonia three days before and her spirit was so broken she nearly left this earth. With the efforts of my family, the home health care team and her strong Irish grit will to live and be her own person again, I am pleased to report, that after one month, the Betty has recuperated, and is now onto recovering her life.

The first order of business was live like a cat; eat, sleep. Eat, sleep. Be happy. Eat. Sleep. Her stomach was shrunk to the point where she could barely eat a quarter of a sandwich. She was so weak, that going from the bedroom to the bath room was a monumental task. The antibiotics she was taking for the pneumonia she contracted in the rehabilitation center were making her irritable and more anxious, among other things. Slowly, with the dedication of the aides and infinite patience on their part, we worked 24/7 to help her recover from pneumonia, maintain muscle tone to walk, and gain weight through a slow and gradual increase in home cooked nutritious foods. I stayed with her for three out of four weeks, with Team Betty, leaving for one to come back refreshed and able to look at things with perspective and I realized a miracle had happened right here; we saved her life.

During one of the many, many hours I sat at her bedside during the first part of the summer she spoke of longings for things we used to do together; one of them was "get a dog" at the park outside the public library in my hometown. 'Get well so we can go to the park' I would say to myself as I held her hand and sent her positive healing energy through her fitful haze of overmedication, lack of nutrition and bone tired weariness.

So today- after an appointment, Mom decided she wanted a hot dog from the vendor who sells them at a stand in the public library's tree lined park in my home town. We found her, parked in the shade, and I brought two dogs with yellow mustard and the last root beer to the car. We shared the root beer with two straws, enjoyed the dogs and had chips I had packed in a plastic bag. It was the best lunch I had had all summer, and have been on a cloud all day.

It's a little thing in the scope of a 24 hour day but it's indicative of the kind of progress she is now making. Each day she's a little stronger, a little more strong willed, a little quicker step, a little faster on the quick response, and sometimes, a lot more tired; but a good tired; the one that comes from a day well lived.

To me, that's the miracle.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mom is home; New Norms...Summer is...

It's a picture perfect night in the Adirondacks; 60 degrees, cool, fresh mountain air, and full moon that is glowing in a nearly dark sky with small stars against a poetic blue velvet sky. Sitting on the lanai in a nearly damp lawn chair, nothing seems different than any other summer I have done so.

But tonight, something IS different. There is a sense that this is not as "for sure" as it has been. I was here last year, and the year before, and so on, even after chemo, after Italy, after the opera season, there was always the chair on the lanai for a few late night stare-at-the moon hours.

I never thought about how many more there may be; but I am thinking about that tonight. Circumstances and reality being what they are, being here this summer isn't the same. It just isn't. There is a foreboding sense that things will change, and this summer norm of being here and doing all the things my mom and I have traditionally done through the summer all these many years won't be so anymore. They just won't.

Mom is home; this is good. In six days time she has kicked pneumonia, put a bit of weight back on, is sleeping a little more, is a little less scared and from time to time acts like her "old self." But I have come to realize that things won't be the same, pre-fall, again. They just won't.

Therapists and nurses and doctors talk about getting her back to "pre-fall" conditions, and physically, that may be possible. But the loss of nutrition, weight and situational trauma from the totality of events may have taken an irrevocable toll on her. Sustaining her lifestyle for safety and comfort is at the forefront and is presenting new challenges; most of which are attainable among the family and resources at hand. But it won't be the same. it just won't.

She struggles with "all these people here" while knowing its needed for her to be in her home, where she wants to be. It's the new norm - someone here all the time. At 85, it's hard to just accept that in your own home; A walker. New norm. Knee brace. New norm. She knows she needs it, may not want it, but knows it's part of the program to be here; and thus, a new norm.

New norms now include my heart jumping when one of my brothers call me. Or when I see "Mom" on the phone screen wile I am out and the home aides are with her.

I am scared. I'm scared that my mom won't be able to stay in the house she has come to enjoy after selling her other one she built with her husband of over forty years. I am scared that she will not be able to shake the trauma of being in three different facilities and the subsequent experiences of them - though, overall, she received good care. I'm scared that one bad move will injure her further and home won't be an option at ALL - and that a facility will be the only option. Scared, sad, depressed; all these descriptors cover it.

One thing I am NOT scared of is my ability to make decisions for her welfare, safety and health. I didn't and don't have any regrets about the timing of my decision and following my gut in pulling her out of the rehab facility. My family was equally supportive and in agreement.

It is my fervent prayer to the Universe that this energy feeds her soul and recovery at a molecular level to create a new norm that brings my mom the physical, spiritual and emotional contentment and dignity that she should have in the twilight of her quiet life.

Should that not be the new norm ?