Thursday, March 24, 2011

Farewell Elizabeth Taylor

Four weeks ago, when Egyptian protests were in the headlines and the news that Elizabeth Taylor was hospitalized, I had an intuitive feeling. I felt in my gut that Egypt had a very bright future ahead. But as far as the outcome of Liz Taylor's new health crisis? Not so much. So on a quiet Saturday night, I scrolled through some On Demand movies and thought watching Cleopatra would be quite appropo.

I last watched the film as a kid at a drive-in movie in the early '60s. As a five-year old, I was enchanted by Elizabeth Taylor's spectacular beauty. And when I watched the movie a month ago, I was just as captivated by her commanding presence on the screen. Even though the movie was incredibly long--lasting four hours, I turned off the TV at 2:00am and fell to sleep with visions of Elizabeth's beautiful gowns, dramatic makeup and perfectly delivered lines swirling in my head.

I had the good fortune of seeing Elizabeth Taylor in New York City back in 1983. It was a beautiful sunny June day--Flag day--and Liz happened to be performing on Broadway that summer. There was a celebration in Central Park commorating Flag Day and Liz was asked to get up on the podium and say a few nice words about the USA. She did it alright, with much passion and flourish. I was on my 10-speed bike watching the whole spectacle as she descended from the stage and walked out of the park surrounded by the bright flashes of photographers. At one point, we made eye contact, and I thought about rushing up to her and trying to get her autograph. But thought better of it. I was a New Yorker then, after all, and that meant you had to be nonchalant about celebrity sightings.

She must of been about 51 years at the time, around the age I am now. She was wearing a simple T-shirt and jeans. But I do remember her eyes. I think when she looked at me with those steely light blue-violet eyes, it was just too intimidating to do anything but stare.

Of course, now I wish I had been bold enough to approach her, get an autograph and have a better story to tell. But I feel lucky that I did see this movie icon, whose death marks the end of an era.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hunting for Treasures

The past four days have given Connecticut a taste of warm, sunny weather. I couldn't resist jumping into my car early Saturday morning and hitting some local Estate sales--another sign that Spring is on the horizon. When I came across a tag sale where clearly an elderly woman had died, I found it fascinating--in an eerie way--to poke through the contents of her entire life. I mosied down to a dingy basement and discovered a treasure trove of glass Christmas ornanents made more beautiful by the patina of time. A woman that wandered downstairs after me wanted the ornaments too, after all they were cheap--$1 a box. Initially, I got nasty with her, but then reasoned it was silly to take them all and got three boxes of the ones I really wanted.

Anyway, I found the fabulous vintage costume jewelry upstairs more worthy of another scuffle. Once again, everything was sold at rock bottom prices--$1 a piece. When I walked away with my loot that set me back all of $10, it occurred to me that all the things we collect over our lives and treasure, are worth very little to others. Perhaps it's because others don't know the history of those momentos.

I was sure those beautiful ornaments had many memorable Christmases behind them and I don't understand why the kids of that dearly departed woman wouldn't want them. At the end of the day, they were fought over by two people that didn't have a clue. But at least we both realized we came across something special that was worth fighting for.

When I got back home, I imagined the entire contents of my home being rifled through by a bunch of strangers. I think of my prided collection of Limoges boxes. I bought one every year I went back to Paris, France. Two of them I got at the St. Ouen Flea Market for a mere 35 Francs a piece, back in the day before Euro currency. I paid more than $100 a for others--like the Eiffel Tower box with midnight blue and gold stars at the bottom. But each one is connected to a specific memory of my time in France. That's what makes each box so special.

Anyway, I'm so happy the warm, sunny weather is here. Welcome Spring!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Remembering My Dad

Tomorrow will mark the first-year anniversary of my father's death. St. Patrick's Day will never be the same for me as long as I live. I started crying this afternoon, and I've been on an emotional bender ever since. The video clips of devastated Japan on TV doesn't help.

St. Patrick's Day also reminds me of my crazy ex-boyfriend who happens to be a blue-blood Irish man as well. He told me that my father pulled him aside once and made him promise that he would encourage me to write once he was gone. Joe texted me a couple hours ago and said: "Tomorrow, write, in honor of your dad. I promised him I would push you to do that." Of course, that just threw me into a new round of tears.

Tonight, I miss my dad, I miss my old boyfriend, who drove me nuts, but wish we could have spent one day, tomorrow, celebrating his Irish heritage. I dread tomorrow. Maybe I should just go to some Irish Pub, eat some corned beef and cabbage, and make a toast to my dear, departed dad.

I still can't believe he's gone. Somehow, some way, (as Joe used to say) I will get through tomorrow. For the rest of you, Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Laundry Can Wait

Ever since I got cancer, I have never denied myself time to chill out. If there's a weekend when I have no plans, and I want to wallow away a few hours watching old movie classics or listen to music, I do it. I refuse to feel guilty about it. At one point, the laundry and the dishes will get done. But the joy of the moment can't wait. I hate to admit it, but I've become somewhat of a slacker--at least when I'm not punched into a time clock.

The reason I indulge in such guilty pleasures is because the very act of doing nothing but feel joy is the antithesis of stress. There are enough moments I live through that send my blood pressure skyrocketing. Stress causes illness. And who would have thought I'd have to worry about blood pressure and cholesterol anyway? I cannot believe I have to go to the doctor every three months to get blood work checked! Apparently, my cholesterol and blood sugar levels are on the line.

Hey I'm 54, it happens. So damn it, I'm going to have fun as much as possible. I'm going to be hedonistic and grab as much pleasure that I can get--be it going out with my friends, playing with my cats, or going for a long walk along the river. The dirty laundry will just have to wait.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Celebrating Three Years As A Survivor

This week will mark my third-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. I will never forget the day of March 12, 2008 when I received a call from my doctor that my biopsy was positive for breast cancer. My first reaction was to try killing the messenger. I screamed at my poor doctor, insisting her prognosis was wrong. I explained that my mother--a registered nurse--told me I would never get breast cancer because it didn't run in our family genes. So surely, this was all a mistake.

Looking back, I realize convincing myself that my mother's beliefs somehow trumped a doctor's diagnosis was nothing but major denial. I also remember lashing out at my boss after that phone call and abruptly driving home. Suddenly, my whole life was shrouded in fear. And unfortunately, with each succeeding doctor visit, MRI and Pet Scan, the news kept getting worse. The tumor in my left breast was 5 centimeters, it had spread to the lymph nodes and I had a small tumor in my right breast as well.

When all was said and done, I had to go through chemo first to "get the cancer under control" in the words of Dr. Pronovost. Then I would have a mastectomy, followed by radiation. A year later in March, I had another mastectomy followed by three reconstructive surgeries. It was a long haul. I finally finished up with everything just last year.

So even though I'm a three-year survivor, It hasn't been that long since some kind of operation hasn't interferred with my life. I have to confess that I've recently become obsessed with survival rate for my type of breast cancer--stage three. Supposedly, I have a 50/50 chance of making it to the five-years survivor mark. That doesn't sound good.

That's when I start over-analyzing every ache and pain in my body, and over-thinking why that cold I had three weeks ago lasted so long. I still get tired more easy, so I allow myself to sleep a lot. I'm fortunate that I live alone and not victim to a crying baby or some guy tossing and turning beside me all night.

Anyway, it's been three years, I'm still counting and I'm just grateful to be alive.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten

This month--on March 12 to be exact--it will be three years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is I'm finally happy with the length of my hair and realize it hasn't looked so healthy and shiny since I was a child. I have to give Josie, my hair dresser, credit for being careful about over highlighting and babying my baby fine hair! It's not often one gets to start with a fresh new crop of hair, so don't ruin it by burning your hair with a cheap hair dryer and coloring too much.

The bad news is I wake up every morning to numb, stiff feet and a sore left arm due to the effects of chemotherapy and the removal of lymph nodes in my left arm pit--which causes pain and swelling. I've come to realize these side effects will never go away. Every morning, when I wake up and limp out of bed I am reminded that my body will never be the same. Recently, the muscle spasms I occasionally get in my upper left body when I suddenly turn to the left have increased. I find the sharp pain eases when I stretch out. I'm guessing this is yet another side effect of the radiation I received in that area and the cold weather.

I finally got back to my Bar Method exercise classes after a hiatus of about three months. It's so depressing to discover how out of shape I am and it will be a long haul to get back into shape again. But I don't have excuses, like going to chemo and radiation and recovering from surgery.

Everything is done. The fear of the unknown, the exhaustive treatments, the bumpy road towards reconstruction is behind me now. But I will never forget how tough it was. Now that it's over, I must face the music about all my health limitations and do whatever is in my power to improve my wellness. My cancer is gone, but not forgotten. And that serves as the spring board to take my health to the next level.