Sunday, December 30, 2012

Move Forward

Sometimes the hard work of change requires but a small, simple act to begin. There is no need for  high drama, no sweeping proclamations before a wide audience. Just stop doing the same thing over and over again--in silence.

Need to get a toxic person out of your life once and for all? Stop picking up the phone when his name pops up on the screen. Ignore the text messages. Keep doing that and eventually he will go away--for good. That's when you will feel like you broke out of the last of many crippling chains.

Want to stop drinking? Simple. Put down the bottle. Then carry on, one day at a time. Sooner or later, you won't even think about picking up a glass of Pino Noir to drown your troubles.

Just say to yourself--enough. Then move forward, leaving the destructive behavior behind. Things will get better with time. Trust me.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just Pray For Us

At the Sandy Hook memorial site
I love my adopted state--Connecticut. Whenever I get lost driving through our meandering rural back roads, I just shrug my shoulders and enjoy the view. There are stone walls and babbling brooks that weave through dense woods. There are quaint colonial buildings and white-steeple churches that overlook town greens. Newtown is a quintessential Connecticut village nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains.

Since I moved to Connecticut in 1995, I knew many couples with young children that bought homes in Newtown just because of its family-oriented community and outstanding school system. While Gold Coast towns such as Greenwich and Westport have always gotten national recognition, Newtown has long been Connecticut's best-kept secret.

So it was heartbreaking today when I visited this Norman Rockwell-like town that is wrapped in a black cloak of grief. As soon as I passed the Newtown sign, a police motorcade came trailing down the hill toward me. It was followed by a silver hearse and a long funeral procession of cars.  It reminded me that I have a co-worker who lost her daughter in this tragedy and her funeral is this Thursday.

Newtown has this signature huge flagpole that stands in the middle of the road at the beginning of Main Street. Today the flag was at half-staff, flapping in the wind against a dreary gray sky. The church's white steeple stood at watch.

As soon as I reached the flagpole I took a right on to Route 6 and wound down the hill toward Newtown's municipality, Sandy Hook. That's when I saw Saint Rose of Lima church with a black hearse parked at the entrance. A woman was walking along the road with tissues in both hands sobbing uncontrollably.

Then I came to the Sandy Hook memorial. There were candles, flowers and heartfelt messages piled one on top of the other. There were two christmas trees with ornaments that had the fallen children's names etched upon them.  And there were the Comfort dogs. Golden retrievers, Chase, Libby and Tillie were on duty when I was there. The sadness at that site hung heavy in the air.

Funeral procession on Main Street, Newtown
I placed a candle and card into the mass of other messages. I felt so helpless, because like so many others, there was absolutely nothing I could do to help ease this grieving community's pain. So I got in my car and headed back home. As a I crossed the Newtwon border line into Monroe, there was a sign by the road. It had a simple message: Just Pray For Us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rest In Peace Sweet Melissa

As a cancer survivor, it is so scary to see someone you know lose their hard-fought battle to this disease.  Yesterday, after going through every imaginable treatment and flying to Vienna, Austria three times for cancer therapies that aren't available in this country, a work colleague lost her life to lung cancer. Melissa was only 31 years old and didn't even smoke.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer six months before I found out I had breast cancer--back in 2007. Melissa came back to work in April 2008 after undergoing surgery, chemo and radiation. On her first day back, she walked into our Monday morning staff meeting. Everyone stood up and began clapping, but Melissa walked straight towards me. She handed me a gift bag and gave me a huge hug. I didn't know what to say.

Melissa and everyone else knew I was about to go on the same journey she did. After the meeting, I opened the bag. Inside there were two books about battling cancer. Melissa wrote a note on the inside of each book cover. There was also a box with a silver bracelet that had a Pandora angel charm on it. Melissa wrote in a card that she was giving me that angel to watch over me as I battled cancer.

I looked down at my Pandora bracelet all day today. As I touch and twirl the Guardian angel charm, I am beginning to think that from now on I will call this charm Sweet Melissa.

For awhile both Melissa and I wore wigs. But as time went on I got my hair back. Melissa never did, because her cancer spread to her brain. Her head had to be radiated on so many times, her hair never grew back entirely. There were permanent bald patches that were the scars from lasers. I know this is true because I never did get the hair back under my left arm pitt where I was radiated on. But that cannot compare to Melissa'a hair issues.

Everyday for more than five years, Melissa waged a war against cancer. There were endless cat scans, chemo treatments and surgeries. She was on a continuous roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. After a couple years all that eventually stopped for me. Not so for Melissa.  But she continued to remain upbeat and even got married just last August.

It was only about six weeks after that when she posted on facebook for the last time: "When you need to rest, just lay down and rest," she wrote. Shortly after that, she went into the Smilow Cancer hospital never to return home. She was on a breathing tube for quite some time. Last week they administered her last chemo treatment. I guess that is part of what did her in.

Five years ago there were two women in an office who found out they had cancer.  Both of them fought like hell to get well.  For awhile, they walked together on the same difficult road. But today, one of those women died. The other woman is still alive. That woman is me. For whatever reason, God took Melissa and spared me. I don't understand why this is. But I have looked to the heavens to tell Melissa how she inspired all of us with her strength and courage. And I thank God for giving me a second chance at life.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Keep The Music Playing

This past week we lost the great jazz maestro, Dave Brubeck. If you don't recognize the name, listen to the song Take 5. It will probably spark some kind of memory. For me, his music played in my household since I was a toddler. He burst onto the scene two years after I was born--in 1959. My mother tells me she would play his breakout record over and over again. My dad loved it too.

That is why I was so thrilled to take my mom to the Newport Jazz Festival back in August 2007 where Dave Brubeck headlined on Saturday of the event.  It was a pleasure to see mom get so excited as he started playing his signature rendition Take Five on the gray brick stage surrounded by blue waters and boats bobbing in the waves.

My mom and I went back to the Newport Jazz Festival a year later--in August 2008--and took Joe along. Dave was there playing on the stage once again. He was a regular fixture at the Newport Jazz Festival and would often team up for duets with other jazz greats like Tony Bennett and Wynton Marsalis.  That summer I was going through chemo. I had just finished my last treatment on July 16. I remember Joe bought me this cute blue straw hat from one of the vendors at the festival. I put it on to cover my bald head.

I was still reeling from the side-effects of chemo and was going into the hospital to have a mastectomy the next week. But on that glorious summer day, with the sweet sound of jazz floating all around me, I didn't have a care in the world.

Spending the day at the Newport Jazz Festival was great therapy during my treatment. In fact, that summer I listened to a lot of live music. Joe and I went to two Irish festivals, the Oyster Festival where we saw The Pointer Sisters and Live At Five to see Gato Barbieri. I highly recommend it. I love music and can't imagine life without it.  I've said it before and I'll say it again. Indulging in your passions is one of the best ways to battle cancer.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamp of the not quite yet and the not at all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to realize. The world you desire can be yours. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours."--Ayn Rand

When I was 26 years old I read the book, Atlas Shugged by Ayn Rand. It was a huge endeavor--the book is 1,200 pages. It think it took me a week to read, but I remember that I couldn't put it down.  The book made an impact on me not so much because the writing sang like poetry.  No, there are other books I've read that do that it and it feels like eating candy.  It was the plot of Atlas Shrugged and its profound philosophical message that hooked me to the core.

For days after I finished the book, Ayn Rand's theoretical questions haunted me so much that I immediately picked up her other book--The Fountainhead--and dived into her work again. I remember this now because I watched a documentary of Ayn Rand last night. The film producers make the case that Ayn Rand's prophetic tale in Atlas Shrugged is coming true today. The failing economy, government regulations multipling by the day--these were the horrors Rand predicted when she published Atlas Shrugged in 1957.

But enough about the politics of her novel.  It is Rand's passionate belief in the individual's right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness that rings so true for me. Her philosphy is called Objectivism. Rand was a victim of communist Russia. Like so many others who come to this country after being held back in a communist nation, she was fierce about protecting America's capitalistic society.

On a personal level, I am once again inspired by Ayn Rand's message. Our goverment can't take away  all our property and the money we earn just because politicans believe everyone should be equal and there should be no economic disparity. Here in this country, we are truly lucky. We can pursue our own happiness. We can make our dreams come true.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Power Within

When you are going through breast cancer treatment, your whole life feels like it's spinning out of control. First, you have no control over your body. Once, when I was driving home from work--two days after chemo--I felt this wave of exhaustion. I had no other choice but to pull into a rest stop on I 95 and take a nap in my car for 30 minutes before I continued my journey home.

You get sick. You may get an infection. And you can't do half the things you used to be able to do on any given day. What can you do? Enlist the support of others to help you do what must get done.

Do your best to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life. That is why I elected to work. My boss was very flexbile about letting me go home early on Fridays when chemo side effects started kicking in.

You can't control feeling ill. What can you do?  Plan ahead. You will start to know how and when your body starts reacting to chemo and radiation Make sure you are in a safe place--like at home on your couch when you get sick. I had to learn this the hard way. On Wednesdays I would have chemo and usually 48 hours after treatment--on Fridays--the side effects would begin. After my third or fourth treatment, I decided to take a day trip to New York City on Saturday, which is 90 minutes away from where I live. In the afternoon I got deadly ill. The only way I managed to drive home way by eating lots of candied ginger, which I picked up in Chinatown. It helps with nauseau. Good to know.

Just do your best and cut yourself some slack. This too, will pass. Know that the pain you feel today is all in the name of saving your life. Keep your chin up and carry on. You can control the way you manage your life while going through treatment. And that's how you use the power within.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cancer Survival Rates--Look at The Bright Side!

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and are understandably in a "why me?" state of mind, consider this: breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates of any cancer. About 83% of breast cancer survivors are still alive and kicking after five years. Those are odds pretty good if you ask me.

Even prostate cancer--which is a highly treatable cancer among men--doesn't have as favorable a prognosis, with a 76% survival rate after five years. Skin cancer is the best cancer to have with global survival rates of 85%. Lung cancer patients, however, are not so lucky. Those diagnosed with this aggressive disease only have a 10% survival rate after five years.

Here is an excerpt from Disabled World News breaking down survival rates by cancer type.

Survival percentages"In the past, cancer was considered to be fatal. However, nowadays it has come to be recognised as a curable illness", Chirlaque points out. "Testimony to this is the results shown in this study, which indicate that of every four people who suffer from it (with the exception of lung cancer), more than three overcome it".

  1. Breast cancer, the most common tumour in women, presents a high survival percentage: 83% of patients have survived this type of cancer after five years.
  2. Lung cancer is one of the most aggressive tumours and survival after five years is very low: only 10% of patients diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm survive for more than five years.
  3. Colorectal cancer (of the colon and rectum), the most common malignant tumour if we group men and women together, presents an average survival rate of 50-55% five years after diagnosis, meaning that half the patients survive this form of cancer.
  4. Prostate cancer, today the most common tumour in men, has an increasingly favourable prognosis, with a global survival rate of 76%, which is higher in young adults.
  5. Ovarian cancer presents a very varied prognosis depending on age: whilst 70% of the group between 15 and 44 years survives this form of cancer, this is the case for only 19% of those over 74 years-old.
  6. Testicular cancer, a rare malignant tumour that mainly affects middle-aged males, is the tumour with the best prognosis, with a 95% survival rate five years after diagnosis.
  7. Skin melanoma displays one of the highest survival rates, reaching values over 85%, although there are European countries where recovery exceeds 90%.
  8. Hodgkin's lymphoma displays high recovery with survival greater than 92% amongst young people, although amongst elderly groups it fails to reach 50%.

The point of this survival rate suvey is to remind all of us breast cancer survivors that it could be a hell of a lot worse. A former colleague of mine, Melissa, was only 26 years old at the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago--only six months before my breast cancer diagnosis. As I write this, Melissa is laying in the ICU unit of Yale Smilow Cancer Hospital with a breathing tube stuck in her mouth. Her twin sister Lindsay is heartbroken as she implores everyone on her Facebook network to pray for her ill sibiling.

Today I am running around with a full head of hair, 100% percent back to normal. But Melissa is struggling--with every labored breath she takes--to stay alive. Her cancer spread to her brain five years ago too. She has had so many radiation treatments on her head, much of her hair will never grow back again. Melissa has been wearing wigs the entire time she has been sick. Just so you know, Melissa was not a smoker. Lung cancer just happened to choose her.

So if you just found out you have breast cancer, look at the bright side. More than likely, you will survive. And please say a prayer for Melissa who was not so lucky.

Bibliographical reference:
 Chirlaque MD, Salmerón D, Ardanaz E, Galcerán J, Martínez R, Marcos-Grágera R, Sánchez MJ, Mateos A, Torrella A, Capocaccia R, Navarro C. "Cancer survival in Spain: estimate for nine major cancers". Annals of Oncology; 21 Suppl 3:iii21-29, May 2010. DOI: doi:10.1093/annonc/mdq082.

Citation: Disabled World News (2010-07-15) - The probability percentage rate of surviving different types of cancer:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Tutu Project

About The Tutu Project™

The Tutu Project™ began in 2003 as a lark. I mean, really, think of it. Me photographing myself in a pink tutu, how crazy is that?
But nine years ago my wife, Linda, and I moved to the East Coast and, as odd as it may sound it, the self-portraits proved to be a perfect way of expressing myself. Why? Because even though the move was exciting, exhilarating, and inspiring, it was 180 degrees from what I knew. So I took the old, mixed it in with the new, and kept the tutu handy.
Six months after the move, Linda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it, only to have it recur in 2006. During these past nine years, I’ve been in awe of her power, her beauty, and her spirit. Oddly enough, her cancer has taught us that life is good, dealing with it can be hard, and sometimes the very best thing—no, the only thing—we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.

Enter Ballerina, the book.

Not only is it a collection of my tutu images, it also shares many humorous stories about the adventures of a guy and his pink tulle. So far, there has been a tremendous response to the series of photos—people are particularly moved by the images. And their interest and enthusiasm have made us want to share that experience with as many people as possible in the form of a book, so that we can raise money to help other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
This autumn, I will self-publish Ballerina. The net proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to breast cancer organizations, including and the Beth Israel Department of Integrative Medicine Fund, that make significant differences in the lives of women with breast cancer and in the people who love them. Our goal is to raise $75,000. But we need your help to seed the book project so it will take root and grow—and positively affect these families.

Support our Project

Thank you for finding a way to support the much-anticipated Tutu Project. We want you to know how grateful we are. By joining us in this effort, you are making a real difference for women who have to endure far too much.
After years of talking about the project, it’s really happening—and I’m tickled pink.
Bob Carey

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sharon Osbourne Raises Awareness About The BRCA Gene

Sharon Osbourne announced today that she has undergone a double mastectomy after discovering she carries the faulty BRCA gene, which greatly increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Our incredible supporter, Emma Parlons, speaks candidly about her reaction to this news and why she choose the same route as Sharon. Listen again on BBC Radio 5 Live at 1hr 15mins in to the programme.

If you can relate and would like to share your own BRCA story, please contact our press team

Friday, November 2, 2012

Surviving Hurricane Sandy

This has been a hell of a week.  After Hurricane Sandy blasted through Connecticut on Monday, everywhere you go it's utter chaos.  Downed trees tangled up in power lines, yellow tape blocking roads. Houses gouged out by trees, leaving whole rooms exposed. And that's just inland. Get to the shoreline, where my brother lives, and things start to look like a war zone. My brother's home was flooded on Monday night.  On Wednesday I found him, his girlfriend and dog, looking ragged, shell-shocked and cold in their chilly abode. They came to my house to shower and warm up that night, but went back believing they would find things normal again. The clean-up hadn't even begun. With no hope of the power returning anytime soon, they've come back here.

On Tuesday night a colleague of mine stayed overnight here. Thankfully she got her power back last night.  The utility companies are promising Connecticut residents that they will all have their power back by midnight next Monday.  But they also made those deadline promises after Hurricane Irene and Storm Alfred last year and didn't keep them.

I feel like one of the lucky ones. I live on one of the two highest peaks in Shelton. Through the national blackout of 2003 and countless storms, I have not lost power once.  So it's no surprise that my place has become a Hurricane Hotel.  People think I sit up near the clouds overlooking the river--seemingly immune from it all, which is not true. My townhouse community lost 10 trees and one chimney from this storm. I lost my singular front yard tree last year to Hurricane Irene. It just missed destroying my car.

I am just happy that I can keep the people I love safe and warm during this disastrous time that has befallen the Northeast.  I met the niece of a fireman who died tragically in Easton, Connecticut last Monday. They are having the funeral tomorrow. Yeah, I'm one of the lucky ones.

Hurricane Sandy is Proof of Global Warming

Al Gore


On Hurricane Sandy

Posted: 10/30/2012 3:46 pm

This week, our nation has anxiously watched as Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast and caused widespread damage -- affecting millions. Now more than ever, our neighbors need our help. Please consider donating or volunteering for your local aid organizations.
The images of Sandy's flooding brought back memories of a similar -- albeit smaller scale -- event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis -- which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality.
While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis. Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. Hurricane Sandy, and the Nashville flood, were reminders of just that. Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions.
Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse.
Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.