Sunday, August 28, 2016

Take Care of Yourself--First

If you are in the midst of breast cancer treatment right now, sleep, take a walk, eat. The rest of life can wait--the dishes, the laundry, the cleaning. Enlist someone else to do that work. This is your time to heal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

After The Flood Was Gone...

Bedroom under construction
It has been four months since that fateful chilly April night when water blasted through my home like a flooding river. Even though the remodeling to repair all the damage officially finished the end of June, my place is still not completely in order.

For one, a lot of  things were destroyed. Now I have empty spaces where furniture once stood. Because that furniture stored a lot of stuff, there's no where to put it. I decided the most logical strategy to get things in order was to focus on one room at a time. Since my bedroom took the biggest hit when water burst through the ceiling like a waterfall, I started there. 

I had three pieces of old, abused furniture that I collected from a flea market and Craig's List sitting in my garage for about two years. With no furniture left to speak of in my bedroom, it seemed a great opportunity to finally tackle the refinishing projects I had planned for these pieces--all scratched, dusty and tangled in cobwebs.

Refinished campaign furniture that I bought on Craig's List
I wanted to do a  professional job. So I bought an electric sander, which had a life of its own. Every time I turned it on, I couldn't get it under control. It just kind of flew everywhere. I finally opted for a simple, manual block sander instead. Applying the stain and white paint on to the furniture had its own set of challenges. Now I know why contractors wear bandanas on their heads. If you don't, your dripping sweat will ruin the finish you are working on. Finally, I pulled out some artwork and accessories I had stored and collected over the years, and voila! I got a whole new bedroom.

Refinished bureau and chest from the Elephant's Trunk flea market

It felt really good taking those sorry-looking, old furniture pieces and giving them a second life. Plus, my car now has plenty of room in the garage. I could have gone out and bought a bunch of new furniture spending way too much money, By opting to exert a little elbow grease and creativity, I did my part to protect the environment by not throwing the furniture in a landfill.. The whole process has given me a new sense of confidence in my resourcefulness. Now it's on to the living room and kitchen!

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Lady's A Champ

For the past four nights I have sat glued to the TV well past midnight watching the Democratic National Convention. The endless parade of speakers chronicling Hillary Clinton's lifetime record of public service and the soaring speeches given by Michelle and President Obama gave me a renewed sense of pride for our country.

When the delegates began the nomination roll-call, I felt like I was watching a long, drawn out horse race, The moment South Dakota finally threw her delegate numbers over the top, I was overwhelmed with joy. The possibility that I would witness our first woman president in my lifetime is something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. I stand with hundreds of thousands of women that feel the same way.

I'm With Her
Mothers throughout the country posted pictures of  their daughters on social media--from toddlers to pre-teens--sitting in front of the TV well past their bedtimes. "I want my daughter to witness a historic moment that is equivalent to watching Neil Armstrong taking the first step on the moon," explained one mom.

Every night I would at turns jump up and down clapping over a profound point made, laugh sarcastically over jabs at Trump, then openly weep over a story that touched my heart.

In my view, the democratic party systematically made a strong case to vote for Hillary and reinforced my support for her with each passing evening. By contrast, I have grown to hate Donald Trump more each and every time he opens his mouth. In fact, I despise him so much that I view him as the twenty first century's version of Adolf Hitler.

I have been cyber-bullied for vocalizing my support for Hillary on social media repeatedly, but I don't care. Never in my life have I felt so strongly about effecting the outcome of a presidential election. That's because I have never felt more terrified that someone like Donald Trump could possibly  become our next president

As for Hillary, I see a champion that gets kicked down repeatedly but always picks herself up with grace and dignity to fight for what she believes in. If you're a Baby Boomer like me, you know the feeling well. Getting kicked down always hurts, but dusting yourself off and getting back into the battle is what takes courage. I have followed her career as a first lady, a New York state senator, and as the secretary of state. I have read her autobiography.

It has been a wonderful experience to witness history when Hillary officially accepted the presidential nomination. This lady walks the talk of what her mother told her as a little girl: "Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can." She inspires me to do the same. Which is why I'm with her. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two Graduations And A Wedding

June. The season of dads, grads and brides. This particular month, my oldest nephew received his Master's Degree from Yale University and my youngest nephew graduated from Kent prep school. Then there was my boss's wedding, which I attended last Saturday night.
Wedding celebration with my co-workers

These life celebrations helped lift me out of a dark mood that has stood like a cloud over my head since April. The upheaval that has gone on in my home for more than two months has opened my eyes on many levels. It has been sobering. I realized that I turned my back for way too long on things that needed to be updated and repaired. I had to come to grips with the infestation of clutter that kept growing.

To make amends, I spent week nights painting doors and trim with super-white glossy paint.  I purged my kitchen cupboards and refrigerator with expired food and condiments. I got rid of scratched pans and chipped cups and bowls. I brown-bagged clothes that were more than five years old. I made Goodwill runs almost every day.

My nephew graduates from Kent School
But all this extra work wore me down after awhile. Where had the fun in life gone? Two graduations and one wedding helped me get my happy groove back. It is amazing to see my two nephews step into adulthood armed with such great education. The Yale graduate will continue towards his PhD at Yale in mathematical engineering (whatever that means). His girlfriend is studying at Yale to become a doctor. I have always been amazed by Alex's high IQ and drive, but it is a pleasure to see how it has transformed into solid economic security for him since he works at Yale, too.

His youngest brother, Davis, has grown into a polished young man thanks to attending Kent for two years. Davis is also driven to make his dreams come true as a hockey player.

 I have had the privilege to witness how my company supported my boss, who is gay, when she became engaged. Management hosted a wedding shower for her at the office. I was one of nine people from work that attended her wedding. It was a wonderful experience to see 185 family and friends celebrate two women in love and share their joy--without condemnation.

I expect the flood renovation to be completed in about two weeks, which means I will finally be able to bring my house back to order. It's been a tough go over the last two months.  So thank you June, for bringing some joy back into my life.

Monday, May 30, 2016

...And Then Came Summer

It's so typical, the way spring arrives here in New England. We wait and wait for the first signs of this fickle season because it's pretty much unanimous among all of us that winter lasts way too long. One day the weather will be completely on point.  Warm, sunny. All you need is a jacket or sweater. You see the buds on the trees, the grass greening. When you look up at the sky, you can feel the warm beams of sun on your face.

But then the next day, it's back to the same old weather--cold, damp, gray. Not for nothing, many New Englanders joke that spring lasts all of two weeks. It usually gives us these short bursts of seasonally-correct teases and then, bam! Summer arrives. This year, summer was perfectly timed by kicking off during the start of Memorial Weekend with 85-90 degree weather. Ten days ago my heat was still blasting and now the air conditioning is running round the clock. That's how things roll around here this time of year.

The inconvenient part of summer arriving, is that I can't access most of my warm-weather clothes since they are buried in the back of the garage that houses all my earthly belongings. It has been two months now since the flood, and construction lingers on. I'm still crammed in my tiny guest bedroom with my resilient cat that is clearly handling the whole mess better than me.

The white dust that stubbornly hangs in the air and covers everything, everywhere is concerning me. As soon as I get in the house, my throat constricts, I get a dry cough and  my voice gets hoarse. What to do? The foreman of the renovation assures me we are coming to the home stretch. The demolition, the rebuilding of the walls and ceilings, and even the painting is all done. What's left is some electrical work, and finally, the installation of hardwood floors. I am betting this will take another two weeks.

In the meantime, I continue to shuffle mounds of stuff around. I am always searching for something. Most likely, whatever I am looking for is in any number of heaped garbage bags. They are scattered everywhere. The things I am looking for no longer have their usual place. It pushes me into this low-level panic mode. So I try to create order however meagerly--like keeping the kitchen  and bathrooms spotless. Then I convince myself that this is nothing more than a major spring cleaning that is long overdue. Lighten up! This too shall pass.

But then I get pissed because summer is unofficially here, my favorite time of year. Do you think I want to spend this fleeting season trapped in my house decifering through all me shit, putting all the pieces of my domain back together again? Hell, no. That will be scheduled for rainy days and after daylight hours.

I refuse to let this minor catastrophe ruin my summer. I will go to the pool, go to the beach, enjoy sitting out barbecuing, and generally having a good time outside
The mess will have to wait, because yay! It's summertime.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

When The Shit Hits The Fan, Remember Your Cancer Battle

There will always come a time when it seems like shit just falls on you like rain. That's how my spring began.

It  actually started out really good the first Monday of April.  At our weekly sales meeting, I was honored with an award for getting  most new business sales. What's more, as all sales managers famously do, my boss crunched the numbers every which way and revealed that I have a 70 percent closing ratio whenever I go on my first new-business appointment. In other words, if I manage to get an appointment with a new prospect, it's a pretty good bet I will convert them into a new customer the moment I introduce myself and shake their hand.

Quite honestly, all these impressive stats came as a surprise to me. But hell, I'll take the crystal trophy, the bonus check and do a little pound on my chest. The only thing that rained on my parade was that I wasn't feeling so great. Since the previous Saturday night, I  had caught a fever that I just couldn't shake. My throat felt raw and when I lost my voice that afternoon, I told my boss I was heading to the doctor's office.

The verdict? Strep throat. I was prescribed antibiotics immediately and ordered to stay home--in quarantine so to speak--for 48 hours since that's how long I would be contagious until the meds kicked-in. By Tuesday, I was starting to get pissed off. The fever continually spiked up and down. I felt dizzy and weak. As a cancer survivor, I have been vigilant about taking care of my health, I  get check-ups religiously. I pop vitamins, I go to the gym, I take flu shots.

On Tuesday night I mindlessly loaded up the dishwasher, turned it on, when a blast of water came shooting out from under the sink. Within minutes, my kitchen was flooded and water was flowing fast into the dining room. I called 911 and they said the fire department was on their way. By the time they arrived, The water had filled the dining room.That's when I started to hear what sounded like a waterfall downstairs. My master bedroom is right below the dining room.When I got down to my bedroom, it was like Niagra Falls took over the space.

The firemen turned off all the water immediately but it took a good 30 minutes before the flood to finally subside. That's when they broke the bad news. For safety purposes, they had to keep the water shut down, then turn off the electric and heat, too. I had to leave my home and spend the night in a hotel. No, no, I thought. There was no way I was leaving. I suddently remembered what happened to  my neighbor down the street last February. A pipe burst from the unit above her.  Since they couldn't fix anything without turning off the heat, water and electricity, she was condemended from living in her property. In fact, she was still living at The Marriott Residence Inn.

My neighbor who lived above me, had been darting in and out of my house the whole time during this crisis ordering me around. I pretty much ignored her--especially when she remarked sarcastically that: " I wasn't handling this flood very well" while I stared blankly at my waterlogged dining room furniture and area rug. Thankfully, she walked out after that. Then a troop of EMS guys marched into my home, I asked them in so many words: Who invited you? Apparently my neighbor called them and said I was sick.

They asked me if I had called a hotel yet. I reiterated that I was staying in my home because luckily, my guest bedroom was totally dry and that's where I would stay. That's when the EMS ring leader took matters into his own hands. "Well ma'am, you have two options here. You can either go to a hotel, Or we're taking you to the hospital," he announced in no uncertain terms.  He started making calls to all the local hotels. Turns out there was some sort of convention in the area and the nearest hotel was a Comfort Inn 17 miles away.

When it finally dawned on me I was outnumbered,  I reluctantly grabbed my handbag, down vest and headed outside. I noted the firemen and EMS guys formed a sort of human chain link at the front of my doorstep as I jumped into my car. The youngest fireman waved and called out meagerly: "Just remember: It's only stuff! No one got hurt!:

I glared at him and muttered to myself, Yeah, but it's MY stuff and most of it is ruined. When I got checked into my room at the hotel, the gravity of the situation hit me and I started to cry. I called my mother in Florida. All I could do is repeatedly cry out her name into my cellphone: Mom! Mom! Mom! I just wanted her to be there with me.

"Get a hold of yourself! my mom hollered back. She ordered me to call the condo association manager pronto to inform him of the disaster and deal with all the rest of the shit in the morning. I must say it felt good to be in a pristine room. There was nothing more to do but fall into bed.

I was back at my house the next morning at 8 am. True to his promise, the condo manager knocked on my door at 9 am sharp with his crew of an electrician, plumber and foreman standing behind him.They filed in and with timely precision fixed the plumbing under the sink,  removed the ceiling lighting in my bedroom and turned everything back on. The hardwood floors began buckling from the water.  A contractor walked through and noted the damage. The ceiling downstairs, the floors, and the recessed lighting are all destroyed. I need a new mattress.

I was told my townhouse wouldn't be completely repaired and renovated for at least eight weeks. In the meantime, me and my cat are living in my tiny guestroom and bathroom. Looking at the grand scheme of things, that newbie fireman was right. I'm okay, my cat is okay. Eight years ago--during the spring of 2008--I was not okay. I was going through chemotherapy, I was sick, I was bald, I could barely get through each day. I often feared I was walking on a path towards death. Shit happens. Shit will always happen. Just remember how you dealt with all that shit called cancer, count your blessings, and move on.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Celebrating Life & Eight Years Cancer Free

Today marks eight years since the day I found out I had breast cancer. I vividly remember the call I received from my doctor telling me I had the "garden variety" of breast cancer--carcinoma. That was the good news. It wasn't an aggressive disease like triple-negative breast cancer.

The bad news is that the lump in my left breast was over five centimeters--the size of a golf ball--which indicated it had probably spread to my lymph nodes. That indeed proved to be true. After the biopsy and scan results came in, the breast surgeon announced my ultimate diagnosis; Stage 3 locally-advanced breast cancer.

The implications of that diagnosis made me realize that if I had waited six months to get my annual physical, the cancer would have probably evolved into Stage 4 breast cancer in which case I most certainly would have been dead by now.

Doing what I love at The Elephant's Trunk flea market
I know what you're thinking. How could I not have felt such a large tumor?  The fact is I had large, dense breasts. When my doctor showed me where the lump was, all I could feel was a subtle, ridge. buried deep into the underside of my breast. Honestly, I had no clue. That illustrates how insidious breast cancer can be. You feel perfectly fine, Then comes this suspicious lump. I will admit it, I never bothered checking for lumps regularly and I did miss getting a mammogram the previous year.

Since the lump in my breast was so big, my course of treatment dictated that I undergo chemotherapy first in order to shrink the lump followed by surgery to remove it. To make matters worse, when I had undergone the MRI to discover how far the cancer spread, they found another pea-sized lump in my right breast. This meant that I had to undergo the most aggressive treatment possible.

Here's how it went down: Twelve weeks of chemotherapy followed by surgery, which included a mastectomy in my left breast and a lumpectomy in my right breast. Eight weeks of radiation. Four months later, the road to breast reconstruction began. Because they were not able to get clean margins in my right breast, I had to undergo another mastectomy as well.

Then there were complications with reconstruction during surgery on my left side due to radiation. I ended up having three subsequent surgeries, with my last "tweaked" procedure done July 2011--more than three years after my initial diagnosis.

It was a long road. After that, life shifted into normal gear--with a difference. I embraced it more. Above all, I sought opportunities to have fun--to enjoy the privilege of being alive. That meant that my passions and interests no longer took a back seat. The things I loved to do during my spare time were explored immediately.

For instance, I have always loved scouring through tag sales and flea markets and I always liked decorating my home, I kicked those hobbies into high gear. I spent more time refurbishing old furniture and updating my home. I am constantly re-painting, rearranging, and revamping everything in my environment. Then I started refinishing sorry, old furniture and flipping them
for profit on Facebook tag sale sites.

The point is, it really does matter that you take time to enjoy life doing the things that you love. After all, you were given a second chance. Don't waste it.