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.