Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving thanks

It's Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.  It really was quite an eventful few days starting with Sarah coming in Wednesday and ending with Sarah flying home this afternoon.

In between we saw a local community play, celebrated Thanksmas with my side of the family,  hung out at Karma, showed our apartment in Newburgh and cleaned the house.  I don't take part in any Black Friday activities, so I saved my shopping for this week.  Even without hitting a store, we had plenty of things to do and it was jammed with fun.

Most notably this week was Thanksgiving Day, of course.  In our family, we are traditionally guests of other people's TG spread.  Over the past few years, we've traveled to Dawn and Sean's for an early dinner and then moved to Patti and Stuart's for dinner later in the evening. 

This year was a little different... Dawn and Sean had quite the eventful few months themselves.  They were hit by the flooding from hurricane Irene and lost their home back in September.  Coincidentally, they had already been looking at a new home and quickly closed on it and moved in. Happily, we sat in there new dining room eating the turkey Dawn cooked in her beautiful new kitchen!!!  A true reason to be thankful.

As I sat and ate next to my sister, I mentioned missing Mom this week.  This was the first holiday without her.  I saw a picture of her with my nephew Ben during the week and the emotions just flowed out of me.  I remembered picking her up and traveling through the county to get there for dinner and talking about anything and everything.  While it wasn't easy the last few years, she was still Mom - all laughs and love.  We missed her as we talked about the rutabaga Donna couldn't cook this year. 

My memories of last year flooded in a few times too.  I sat there eating and remembering what it was like last year.  Last year, I walked in knowing that I had breast cancer.  We didn't tell anyone and we tried to act normally.   I think we were successful although it felt like we walked with a cloud over our head and everyone could see it.  Either way, it was a very strange feeling. 

This year was entirely different.  We sat around the new table at the Ackerman's and ate and talked and laughed.  Reminisced of years past and were grateful for where we were today.

We moved on that day to Patti's.  Again, no one knew.  The four of us sat at a table in the back with just a few others.  It's like we were holding each other up because we were the only ones that knew our secret.  Bob shared with Patti that day.  Her mother-in-law Deena noticed our different behavior and asking about it.  This year I talked about my year and my journey to the family and friends that were there.  I was grateful that it was just part of my past now.

That night we drove home - me, Bob and Sarah.  Last year, Alex was going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Melissa's family but at the last minute because of the diagnosis, he changed his plans to be home with us.  This year, he made it the Clark's for the holiday - as much as I missed him, I'm thankful he was able to keep his plans. 

Life has gone on... I'm thankful for the gift of life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Year In My Life

It's been a year... a year since a distraught Bob walked through the door of the studio to tell me the news.  A year since we heard the words and saw the pictures.  A year since we told the kids. A year since every thing changed.

Memories come flooding back of those days.  When I could only think of the people I had to tell and what I had to do next.  Scheduling appointments was a priority and trying to figure out how to fix it.

I sat at my desk today and the messages came in marking the day from my family and friends.  Emails, tweets, texts, facebook are the reminders of the people I love and the connections I've made over this year.

I was happy.  I was sad.  But I do know how lucky I am.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finding Wonderland

I haven't talked much about it lately, but the last 3 months of my life have been filled with preparations for this year's annual dance recital at Yanarella School of Dance.

If I said it was a lot of work, I'd be lying!  It was a ridiculously huge amount of work!!! I spent most Sundays teaching and rehearsing for 10 or 12 hours.  I've been teaching for 28 years now

My labor of love begins with auditions for the story ballet back in August. I prepare several pieces that I teach in a 2 hour time frame.  The girls learn as much as I can produce and decide which roles they will be auditioning for.  I invite a few teachers in to watch with me and judge and within 4 hours I've filled all the roles. 

Right after Labor Day I start having these marathon rehearsals.  I take time with my leads choreographing and teaching their parts - directing them.  After a few weeks, we add the other classes to the mix to create the balance of the story.  Each class usually gets a special part and of course a coordinated bow. 

This year, my story ballet was Alice in Wonderland.  As I described earlier in this blog, I went to see Wonderland on Broadway with the intention of using it for my ballet and it didn't disappoint.  The score is so clever and colorful!  I took the score and cut it all up to fit my storyline and started to put together dances.  We had about 8 of these long rehearsals - some with groups up to 70 dancers.  It was long and arduous and fun and exciting all at the same time.

My regular classes were moving along but not as quickly and seamlessly as I'd like.  I teach a group of intermediate 12 year olds and their classes were doing well.  They can always use more work, but I was very happy with their progress.  Workshop was working on 3 dances - Bless Our Show, Orange Colored Sky and another song. 

The other song... Late in the game, I changed the song to I'm Gonna Love You Through It - a Martina McBride song about the breast cancer experience.  Bob loved the song and felt it was very powerful.  I didn't change the song without clearing it with my Workshop class - everything we do is a team effort.  They loved the concept and the message.

So, I began to shift my focus to this new song.  Each week I would come to class with new choreography but nothing seemed to work.  I was really distraught about it.  I approached my former student Juliane for some help from long distance but it was too difficult to work together.  I just kept pushing through fixing, reviewing, adding - whatever it took.  We were almost there when I heard a different version of the song at the Silhouette of a Woman Fashion Show.  This was one week before the stage rehearsal!!! I had to add a couple of steps in the middle and a whole new ending.  I called an emergency meeting after one of the 10 rehearsals to work it out... and it worked!

I wanted it close to finished for rehearsal so we could get the audience to buy into our story.  We wore our costumes to get the full effect.  I had recorded my voice to begin the song - 'My experience began 10 days after last year's recital...' it was the first time the class had heard it and it was haunting.  We all immediately started to cry but it created the spark we needed.  The dance worked ... it just gelled into something beyond what we had even intended.  Jackie described it as 'Organic' - perfect description. We finished telling our story and as we all hugged and wiped away our tears, I looked into the audience and they were doing the same.  They got it... we conveyed our message.  I called it 'Experience of a Lifetime'.  Here it is:
This year's dance recital was a complete success!  The last song our story ballet was called Finding Wonderland and the are amazingly ironic.  I believe the journey over this past year allowed me to find my Wonderland.

Finding Wonderland
We move to fast
We miss so much
We seldom see all the miracles in front of us
A warm embrace
A human touch
And so it goes
I race around
Search high and low for a truth I used to know
When there was magic to be found

Cause finding wonderland
Is taking time to see
The child within has always been there smiling back at me
So when I close my eyes I just remember and I cant hale finding wonderland

Its not to late
Here in my prime hearts can un-break in the story's nick of time
A happy ending
A perfect rhyme

Cause finding wonderland is finding who you are
The child with in has always been there like a shining star
So when i close my eyes I see forever and I keep on finding wonderland

Ordinary magic happens every single day
Wonderland is never far away

Cause finding wonderland is going home again
To feel the love another gives and giving back and then
If you should lose your way reach out for someones hand and you'll be finding wonderland
Youll be finding Wonderland

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fashion for a Cause - Silhouette of a Woman

It started out as a regular day at the office... it ended with stories to tell!!

I went to work that day with the intention of leaving no later than 2p.  I scrambled out the door as close to it as I could.  I was told to get my nails colored red and be at the salon, New Creations, at 4pm for hair and makeup.

I was the last to arrive at the salon.  There were probably 6 or 7 other models waiting to get spruced up for the fashion show.  It was a special feeling to be standing there in that room.  As I started to chat with the other models, I realized what a special group of women I was among.  The models were a mix of ages and about half were survivors.  The other half were so interested in our story and compassionate to our journey that it was easy to see we found some new friends there. 

New Creations... these ladies gave of their time and energy to work on this event.  My hats off to Debbie, Colleen, Jennifer and Jill who really went over the top to get us ready.  Poor Jill was given the task of working on my hair. While I don't have much of it, I have 2 cowlicks that have a mind of their own!  But after many products, a couple of pairs of hands and a bobby pin or two, we got them tamed!  Colleen used makeup to hide my flaws and enhance what I have.  And don't forget the lashes!!!  I may never where that much makeup in my life or fix my hair that way, but it's incredible how good it makes you feel when all the fussing over you culminates in a 'look' and the compliments are flying!!!

Once we were finished, we were to head to the Bardavon.  There was a freak snow storm that night - Oct 27th, so we left with heads covered and faces sheilded to protect us from the elements.  A stop or 2 on the way and we all met up in our respective dressing rooms.  A group of my new friends all particitpated in a bit of Vitamin V to loosen us up.  We dressed with the help of Beth and Robyn from Elizabeth's.  Then we chatted and tried to stay cool in the tiny hot dressing room while the paying customers where in the lobby enjoying a beverage and the festivities in the theater.

It was finally time to take the walk.  As we made our way to our starting positions, it was clear we were going to rock this show!  My group was in the Shadows scene and we decided that it would be appropriate if we danced on the stage as we waited for the others to finish and end back on the stage.  That was right up my alley!! I was up first and did my best model posing at center stage with a lunge and a look to each corner and of course a spin to show off the flirty skirt I was wearing. Then it was off to walk through the audience, around the lobby and back up to the stage.  As we all made it to the line on the stage, we danced and laughed and held each other up!  We played the 'party scene' perfectly - even made the Poughkeepsie Journal! 

After the scenes were over, we split up again to join our respective businesses - Elizabeth Boutique and New Creations.  I was so happy and honored to represent Beth Madsen at the event. She worked so hard putting this all together and I really wanted to make her proud of her selections.  Hopefully she found a great deal of satisfaction in putting in the time and effort in creating such a wonderful event.  In fact, it was obvious that she did! She simply glowed that night!

The last part of the event pulled each of the survivors out to stand in aisles of theater.  Announced by name and time since diagnosis, I was honored to be among the 25 or so women in the show who took their places with their roses.  When all of us were in place, the call went out to the audience for other survivors to also stand as we were all honored with applause and a song.  Of course, the song was 'I'm Gonna Love You Through It' - more on that in another post.

While the song was playing, it was very emotional to look out to see Bob and Sarah, Shelly, my friends the Kram's and the Marcus's, Jackie and Marisa and anyone else I knew that came out to support this cause that has grown so dear to my heart.  I hugged my family, my old and new friends and my sister-survivors as I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for what I have.

A huge thank you to those involved.  It was a great experience for me and know the success of the event is a true testiment to the commitment of those who created it.  Hugs and more hugs!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Silhouette of a Woman - the pre-game show

Tonight was the rehearsal for the Silhouette of a Woman fashion show at the Bardavon.  I was asked by Beth from Elizabeth Boutique to be one of her models and I quickly agreed.  This is to benefit the Miles of Hope organization and Beth has been hard at work putting it all together.  Here she is doing her thing -

They have over 60 models and I'll be appearing in the Shadows scene.  We did a quick run thru tonight.  Walking to center stage, walking through the audience and back up.  It was quite funny how many of the models were very serious about their jobs.  The second part we came out associated with our boutique and salon - it was nice to represent both Elizabeth's and New Creations - Beth has been very supportive of me and Colleen made me feel great by making me a red head once again!

The very last part, each survivor is announced with the length of time since diagnosis.  11 months for me.  I'm the newbie, so to speak.  Many people said congratulations to us and we shared our stories between us.  Again, as I stand there, I'm simply amazed it's me.  That I'm counted among the 'sisters'.  Totally surreal - I'm betting tomorrow night is worse....

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Dance Days

It's been a while since I submitted a post here - almost a month!  After so many posts, it's hard to believe I didn't feel compelled to write something over so many days.  But, it's that time of year for me... recital time.  Much of my free time is spent creating and fine-tuning the assorted projects I have going on for Yanarella School of Dance.

This year's story ballet is shaping up nicely.  Alice (in Wonderland) is a pretty complex story that I put together using primarly the soundtrack from the Broadway show Wonderland.  Certainly NOT the Disney version!  I love the score.  There are so many meaningful and powerful messages in the songs that's its hard for me to believe that it closed it's Broadway run so quickly.  I do feel lucky that we got to see it - me, Bob, Laura and Halley.  It really inspired me to work on this story.

Year after year, I am surprised and amazed at the talent and effort that emerges.  This year, we have a dedicated group of 13 dancers that comprise all the characters of story.  We spend most Sundays in September, October and November learning and rehearsing over long 10 or 12 hour days.  These girls give me everything they have... and we are all exhausted afterward.  The effort is so worth it in the end.  We all create nice memories and bonds that we share.  These are important parts of our lives that shape us all - even me.  Even now.

So, it's October.  This time last year I was feeling some pain in my left breast at the site of a cyst that had grown.  Nothing that was going to stop me from going about my day to day business.  I planned on telling my doctor about it when I saw him for my annual exam. In the meantime, I would keep an eye on it. 

I do feel like I've come full circle as I enter this first anniversay.  I still take one day at a time... don't look too far into the future.  Trying to enjoy life and appreciate what I have.  And I have alot!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moving on

Doctor appointment tomorrow - plastic surgeon.  It's just a regular check up, but I'm hoping we can start talking about planning for the next surgery.  It will be a relief to get the permanent implants in place.

What am I relieving?  I don't really know.  The doctor can't tell me they'll feel any better than the ones I have now, but I'm hoping that's the case.  Hoping they'll feel a little more natural, softer.  That's the physical aspect of it.  Maybe the relief I seek is to close this chapter and move on. 

Moving on, what is that?  Do I forget about what's happened to me over the past 10 months?  10 months - that seems like such a short amount of time.  It's not even a year yet!  It's hard to explain how it feels - in some ways things are still so fresh, but in others it feels like a distant memory. 

No, I'll never forget.  The memory will soften as the time grows longer but it will never go away.  I don't want it to.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Second Life

Here it is... September.

One year ago, I had no idea the turn my life would take.  Just 9 months ago, 2 weeks after my recital last year, I found out I had breast cancer.  From that moment, my life flipped upside down.  While I tried to take each day at a time and deal with what came my way, nothing ever seemed really 'normal'. 

Time marched on and so did all my treatments and doctors appointments.  Previously, I was always so healthy and energetic, but this wouldn't always be the case now. I spent my birthday, anniversary and countless holidays and weekends making the best of it all.  It wasn't always easy, but you do what you have to and can do.

How different yet the same everything seems now.  I feel good.  I am working, dancing, running just as I did last year. Well, almost as I did last year - just a little lazy in the 'training' department.  The difference is that I'm thankful for each day I get to do it all over again.

So, this weekend I spent a few hours at the nail salon.  As bad as my nails were just a few months ago, these people were miracle workers. This one woman in particular (her name happens to be Mary!!) at this salon made them look just as they did before. 

But this time, I had someone else.  She had a heavy spanish accent and we didn't talk at first.  I don't even know her name because I could barely understand her.  She worked on my feet, which still have a heavy ridge at the top of the toe nail as a result of the chemo side effects.  When we moved to the chair to do my finger nails we were able to decipher our languages a little better.  I was marveling at how great my nails look naked!  She thought I was looking at the imperfections in her work!  When I was able to explain why I was so happy, she instantly smiled.  She too had breast cancer 9 years ago and had suffered the nail discoloration, pain, markings, etc. that I did.  Her's still show signs of that.  She was amazed at how good my nails looked.  We talked about breast size and hair and feeling bad.  All the memories that are so hard to erase.

Finally, she ended her time with me by talking about getting a second life.  Congratulating me for getting here and wishing me the best for my future.  I wished her the same.  We were instant friends - kindred spirits of sorts.

It's September.  I get to celebrate my kids birthdays - Sarah will be 23 and Alex 25.  Bob's is next and then mine.  In between is work, work, work, my dance recital and all the preparations that lead up to that, a run or two and plenty of other day to day activities.  It's a very busy time of year and I'm entirely grateful that I'm here to be able to deal with it all and enjoy all the craziness.  And then it's Thanksgiving... it will mark the year anniversary of the dreaded news.   But this year Thanksgiving is met head on as a celebration of life and hope.  I am truly thankful for my second life.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Success is one of those things that can be a moving target. What is considered to be the meaning of success today can change as our lives change.  Success comes in all different shapes and forms and can show up at different times.

All our lives we are taught to set goals and when we reach those goals, we are supposed to feel successful.  Some measure their self-worth based on these lofty goals.  But I think success can happen long before the final goal is reached.  And who's to say that if you don't reach that goal, that you should feel proud of your accomplishments. The milestones along the way can be just as successful and fulfilling. 

Life is full of ups and downs, hills and valleys.  We fall down and get up and try again.  Where do we find the drive to keep going when you get defeated so often?  Human beings have an indomitable spirit and ability to adapt to new circumstances. 

Never give up... I saw the best example of that phrase in action this past week.  I know a guy.  This guy recently reached a goal that took a long time to achieve.  When there was a dead end, he found another road.  Success.  As each step along the way was climbed, a new one was added to the ladder.  Challenge after challenge wore him down but he persevered.  More successes.  Finally, 6 years of hard work finished with a diploma and yet another roller coaster ride began.  You'd think after all this, your ego would be hurt, your drive diminished.  Just over 2 months after and hundreds of resumes later, the job offer came in the mail.  The perfect offer from the ideal company.  The result of hard work and many many goals and successes.

Is success found in the ultimate goal? No, I don't believe so.  Success is living your life everyday the way YOU believe is best.  Finding happiness in what you do and making the best of every situation is success.

I couldn't be prouder of this guy  - if you haven't figured it out, it's my Alex.  He'll be very angry with me for writing this about him.  He's very humble and not boastful and really doesn't like it when we make a big deal about things.  But this is a big deal to me and Bob and we just can't hold in our excitement for him.  Sorry Bud - couldn't help myself!!  Love you.

Success is found all along the way... with many more to come!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off to School

This week marks the beginning of back to school season here in the Northeast.  The college kids pack up their lives and are campus bound while the younger ones cram in whatever last minute fun or shopping they can before Labor Day hits.

In years past, I was doing all the running around shopping and moving my kids from here to there.  This year, things are different.  Alex has graduated, is looking for a job and is living in New Baltimore.  Sarah has been in Pittsburgh for 5 years already and is now in the midst of her Pharmacy rotations.  Things are pretty stable with them this year.

It's my dance family that's in flux.  It marks losing my seniors from my dance class.

I've been teaching for a long LONG time.  Our dance year runs from December thru November with our recital just before Thanksgiving - yes, we dance all year with no summers off.  Most of my Seniors 're-enlisted' after recital this year to continue dancing for a while because, believe it or not, it's really difficult to leave it behind.  Generally, I lose my seniors around February or March - before graduation.  I'm used to that. They all get so busy with end of school activities or preparations for college there really is no time for dance.  It was different this year.  I had more of them stay much longer than I expected - June, July and August.  In fact, a couple of them are leaving me tomorrow... and they leave for college this weekend.  That speaks volumes to me. 

I spent the better part of 6 months just trying to stay comfortable in my own skin.  There were days and nights it was easier than others. If you've been following this blog, you know that I would stay home the week after my chemotherapy treatment to protect me from catching anything from the kids at the studio while my white blood cell count was so low.  Every third Tuesday, my usual dance day, I would stay home.  It was very difficult for me to do.  Teaching dance is much more than a paycheck to me - it's my mental health, my therapy, my joy.

On nights I wasn't there, I would get messages from the girls, not just my seniors, that they missed me.  These teenagers did not have an agenda in saying that.  Not a selfish thought was in their head.  I may have planned an exciting class while I was gone with a fantastic guest teacher.  It would have been so easy for them to forget about me and my struggles but they didn't.  They reached out to tell me how much they enjoyed the night, but wished I was there to share it with them.  How do I describe my relationship with these kids?  Wonderful...

In fact, one of them went above and beyond.  I would be having difficulty sleeping so would pop onto Facebook late at night.  It would be Juliane who would see me and chat with me until I felt tired enough to try to sleep.  Some nights she'd do her homework while spending the time with me - which I would only figure out after the long pauses between chat lines. It'd go something like this - 'Are you doing homework?' 'Ummm Maybe'.  'Great' - let's just say I wasn't too happy about that!! 

Most of the time that wasn't the case and it was just us chatting about stupid stuff, making each other laugh, high school/dance gossip or discussing what was going on with me at the moment.  JP was very curious to know about the medical side of things so I answered the questions as detailed as I could.  It didn't matter.  It kept my mind busy on the nights when I was feeling blue.  She didn't know the effect it had on me and how much I appreciated it.  It was a game changer.

It's not to say we didn't have a special bond already going into this... I'll back up 4 years.  Juliane appeared in my Workshop class then.    There are 2 events that bring me and my students closer together - competitions and the story ballet.  During one of the years, we did a solo together for competition.  I particularly like to do 'novelty' type dances - funny, unique, strange - all that.  For JP, it was 'Sweet Georgia Brown'.  You see, she played basketball at the time and was pretty good at it. She could even spin the ball on her finger and I knew I could work that into a Harlem Globetrotter type tap dance... Oh did I mention she's a great tap dancer???? Yeah - she can do it all...

I called the dance 'risky' because whenever you work with a basketball, things can go dramatically WRONG!  She was willing to take the risk, so my imagination went wild!  In the 3 minutes we had, she became the waterboy for a basketball team - pushing a cart filled with balls.  Spinning, bouncing, throwing them - all while tap dancing!!! (and not easy tap dancing either)  After doing assorted other 'tricks' she finally rode the cart off the stage.  Somewhere in the middle she kicked one of the balls away!  And in typical Juliane fashion, she used it to her advantage with the judges who just loved her abiltity to make lemonade out of lemons!  Let's just say, it was worth the risk - High Gold and top score.  Very satisfying!!!

Soon after that, we did the 2nd thing - a story ballet.  Basically, to accomplish this we start spending virtually 12 hours every Sunday together starting in September.  That year, I decided to do Sound of Music.  Juliane played both male roles.  But, now that I think about it, that year we did 2 other time consuming numbers - 'Be Our Guest' from Beauty and the Beast and 'Freak Flag' from Shrek.  All 3 things took a lot of time to create and rehearse but it was so worth it!!

Over the years we did other solo tap dances together for competition along with assorted group dances.  Rehearsals were always long and arduous, but still we liked being there.  A long weekend dance convention and competition gives us time to just hang and do other stuff, talk of other things and not just dance. 

It was the fall of last year that solidified our relationship.  We had tryouts for my version of Wicked/Wizard of Oz.  Juliane earned the lead role of Elphaba in our little production - which meant more Sundays!  JP had a level of commitment to this that I've never seen in anyone.  She worked so incredibly hard on perfecting whatever I was throwing at her - and it was ALOT!!! I ramped up the difficulty and she mastered it.  She was always one of my better dancers but with this she owned the top position with no doubt.

She earned my respect in so many other ways.  She never complained of  being too tired, a step being too hard or having to work with someone she didn't like.  If I needed help, she offered whether I needed shopping done or prop painting.  She encouraged all those around her to be better and respectful.

To top all this off - Juliane put on the performance of her life at our studio.  She was incredible.  She has a talent that is rare.  I'm just glad I got to experience it in my own way as her teacher.  As I say, I'm just the navigator.

So, you see, we have this relationship that we built up over the years that culminated in the Wicked performance at the Recital in Novemeber 2010.  Approximately 2 weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Chatting online was just a continuation of what had been happening for years. 

Tomorrow .... no goodbye's this time.  Only see you later's.

Thanks for everything Juliane.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Goals for Hope

Goals for Hope.... another great event to raise money to support Breast Cancer victims and their families. Goals for Hope

On Saturday August 6, 2011, an unbelievable group of people put together a really special women's soccer tournament.  170 players at the Lagrange soccer fields with all money going to the Miles of Hope Foundation was so well organized and attended!  While I knew of these great events before I became a victim to the disease, I never really knew of the passion behind them.  The incredible people who create and fulfill all that is necessary to run such a thing are a special bunch.

It was December 30, 2010 when I got a message via Facebook from a long ago friend, Mary Darcy Schanz.  We knew each other in a past life back when I was in high school and Mary was not yet there.  My blog alerted her to my situation and she reached out to me to show her support and cheer me on.  We quickly caught up over the 30 years that we were missing from then until now. We would share things from the birth of our kids to an update on our medical situations.  We became fast friends and strong supporters - again.

Somewhere in the middle of this time, Mary told me all about the event.  While I'm not exactly a soccer player (hahaha) I am a very good volunteer and offered to help in any way possible.  Mary connected me with her sister Trish and I was assigned to work at the raffle tent - whatever that was!

Raffle Tent - high stakes gambling (6 chances for $5) for donated prizes from local business.  There were a few of us in there, but I was the newbie who had to learn the different levels of participation in order to place the purchased ticket into the bucket of the prize.  The drawings were at the end of tournament so we had approx. 5 hours to sell, sell, SELL!!!  We shared the tent with the logoed clothing and paraphernalia and somehow I was entrusted with Dana's cell phone so I could process credit cards!  Besides being a very cool piece of technology - I thought I was hot stuff... kind of typical of me!

I wore my yellow 'Yes they're fake.  My real ones tried to kill me.' t-shirt that my Workshop girls gave me right before surgery.  It gets lots of attention whenever I wear it! It also demonstrates the sense of humor you need to get through the tougher times. It garnered so much attention that there is talk of adding this to clothing line for fund raising!

The co-chairs of the event presented to the crowd all the impressive details - money made, thanked players involved, thanked volunteers for their contribution.  All the things that should happen at an event like this.

It was Mary who began to read the list of survivors... and somewhere in the middle was me... Mary Sylvester Ritter.  The phrase shot through me like an arrow. I instantly felt alone but in shock.  Reality can come smack you in the face sometimes and this was one of those times.  That was me - survivor.  It's still so hard for me to comprehend what I've been through in 9 months.  I feel so physically good it's easy for me to forget what my body was like from Dec until May.  It's easy to forget how unsure I was of the outcome when presented with a diagnosis in November.  The thoughts and  fears that consumed me all seem so far away ....

But here I was - standing amidst these wonderful women for the 'Survivor Picture'.  That's right, for a few minutes I was known as a survivor.  The rest of the time, I preferred to be known as Mary, the chick with the cool t-shirt working the Raffle Tent.

All in all, I had a blast!  Time flew by with the ladies under the tent.  I saw old friends, made new and confirmed what I knew already - the people in my life are a courageous, caring, giving, selfless bunch.  I found myself counting my blessings more than remembering what I lost. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Feeling it

Been a little more tired than usual lately.  The radiologist warned me the fatigue might hit me later on - even as much as a year later.  It doesn't quite feel the same as it did during chemotherapy when my muscles would just stop functioning.  This is more like an overwhelming urge to close my eyes and sleep. 

Long before I had breast cancer and any of the side effects of the drugs I was taking, I would run myself into the ground.  Burning the candle at both ends some might say.  Late nights, early mornings, work hard, play hard.  I could do it for quite a long period of time and then my body would just be too exhausted to move.  I could lay in bed and literally feel my body buzzing.  From head to toe a sense of my skin quivering.  After a few days of rest, that would go away.

These past few weeks, I've felt that sensation each day and night if I sat still long enough to acknowledge it.  I've been ignoring it and just keeping my usual pace.  But I think its catching up to me.  Last night at the studio, I had an issue in the middle of the 'workout' phase of my Workshop class that startled me.  I just couldn't seem to catch my breath which is totally unlike me.  This was soon followed by a wave of nausea and dizziness.  It happened to me once before within the past month while I was down at the track for a run.  Time to monitor it more closely.  I just have to be more aware of when I'm overdoing it and take it easy if I need to.  It's just different than the fatigue I experienced last time.

Made a visit to the dermatologist yesterday for my annual checkup.  I was anxious to see him so he could evaluate the burn the radiation had made in and around my armpit.  He was happy to report that it looked like the skin was not damaged at all with no other pre-cancerous areas on the skin of the rest of my body.  He even commented on how the chemotherapy could aid in killing them off, if their are any, and the Tamoxifen that I continue to take will do the same. 

At least that feels like a good side effect to the chemo - - Bonus!

Monday, August 8, 2011

1st Haircut!

Things were getting out of hand on the top of my head.  We have a wedding this weekend and I just wanted to clean up what I had going on up there.

Besides being easy, I'm kind of enjoying the short do.  It's an interesting color and the way it frames my face isn't so bad.

I called Kim and she was able to see me right away.  She trimmed around my ears and the base of my neck, just  evened everything out ... and she got rid of the rest of the fuzz I've been sporting on my cheeks!  Marina and Ty colored and read books to me while I had my hair cut.  I found the ease of sitting in her chair while she cut and we chatted about dance and Disney to be extremely refreshing.

Afterward, I had lunch with a close friend of mine.  Sometimes, just sitting and talking even about simple, silly stuff can make the difference in your day. 

Thanks ladies.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

BwayFans Take Manhattan!!!

Traditional Train Picture!!!
I'm still recovering from this!  What a day we had...

I organized the second trip of the year for Workshop this week.  In recent years, the second show would usually be the one we were using pieces from for recital - Shrek (Freak Flag), Wicked (well, most all of Wicked!).  Anyway, this year we are using music from Wonderland but, sadly, that show closed within a month of opening!

My usual group size is 20 or so.  This time I didn't get the participation from the girls as I expected but we adjusted and went anyway.  It ended up with 6 of us - Juliane, Taylor, Sara, Lauren, Jackie and I.  Since I had such a small group, we could move around the city a lot easier and faster.  We could eat where ever we wanted with out having to worry about group seating.  I also planned to go to Broadway Dance Center (BDC) so the girls could take a class or 2 there before we went to the show.

The show - it was a pretty easy choice considering who was in the group with me!  Juliane is absolutely obsessed with Sutton Foster.... so Anything Goes it was.  It's a big splashy musical with great music and dance and a giant tap number to close Act I that I'd seen on the Tony's already - I knew we'd all enjoy it.

The dilemma was going to BDC to dance beforehand.  It was their choice to go to the BDC and they seemed excited about it when I first mentioned it.  We've done workshops in the city before seeing shows at other times.  While they were always fun and exciting, the girls didn't like feeling so hot and sweaty afterward.  Getting dressed and sitting through a show at that point was uncomfortable.

It was Tuesday - our last class before we traveled and I printed the BDC and train schedule so we could make some decisions that night.  I also noticed there was rain in the forecast, so an umbrella was a must.  After our regular class, we sat down and talked about the schedules and somewhere in the middle of it, someone brings up seeing a second show instead of dancing... maybe it was me... I don't remember!  It was intriguing to me because I've never seen 2 shows in one day - movies, yes, Broadway shows, never!  So, I scurried home and connected to the computer as quickly as I could to research if we could get to another show the next afternoon.

Nothing of interest came up in the Off-Broadway search.  I went that route to find something different and interesting.  We needed a matinee and there aren't a lot of Wed matinees Off Broadway.  I was entirely too tired to continue to search... so I gave up and went to bed.  Before I did though, I chatted to Juliane to make the decision that no matter what we'd see a 2nd show so the girls wouldn't have to pack dance clothes if they weren't going to use them.  With no show decision that night, I figured I'd stand on the TKTS line to see what I could get.

I went into the office early to get through my emails and set appointments for the balance of the week. I did a quick search in between and found what I was looking for.  I was so excited and tweeted 'surprise' to get some of them thinking.

Taylor was my first pickup at Ketchum - right after her Driver's Ed class.  Next, to Sara, then JP and LP and finally we mashed Jacklyn into the back seat for the short trip to the train.  Once on the train, I played a little 20 questions to get them to guess what we were seeing first.  It took them longer than I thought it would to figure out the show was.... Sister Act!  It also had one of it's big numbers on the Tony's and I wasn't overly thrilled about it there but the price was right and we were open to anything.

The rest of the train ride consisted of laughing, talking, photos.... just enjoying each other's company.  It continued when we shared a quick bite to eat on a bench in Grand Central before going up into the big city.  

I was just so happy to be there with this group.  Our adventure began walking through the diamond district and ogling the beautiful jewelry.  We were so flexible and carefree - we could have walked and done anything and it would have been ok.  But once we hit Time Square, we had to head up town straight to the theatre. 

Sister Act turned out to be a fantastic choice!  My surprise really surprised all of us - it was so hysterically funny with catchy music and clever lyrics that when intermission came we all looked at each other in total shock!!! We really loved this show WAY more than we expected to and the second act didn't disappoint.  There was even a touching scene when all the sisters stood to take the bullet for Dolores.  Believe it or not, I could relate to the sentiment and knew the other girls could feel it too.  We had a new bond that day - we've always been 'dance' sisters but .... read between the lines....

Show one done. It has started to rain while we were in the theater.  Off to dinner at a nice Italian place on Restaurant Row.  More relaxed talking and sharing and eating and whatever!  Just a nice time.  It's now pouring outside and we still have an hour to kill so we make our way to Forever 21 by request.  Sara is all about the shopping and comes away finding something she likes!!!

Show two - Anything Goes.  I know we could not get there early enough for Juliane so we head over as soon as we can.  There is a covered walkthru next to the theater and we camp out there until the doors open just taking pictures of flamingos, foreheads, what have you! 

The doors are finally open and we get to our balcony seats - they weren't too bad really.  We are so accustomed to the environment and enjoy just looking at the logo in anticipation of the start of the show.  Have I mentioned the Sutton obsession that Juliane has?  Let's just say, she did not budge from her seat for fear she miss any moment of seeing her!  She was very cute... a big BIG fan!

This show did not disappoint - big, splashy musical as I anticipated!  Unique staging, dancing top notch, funny bits from much of the cast but especially Joel Grey, great orchestrated score - overall a fantastic rendition of the classic musical. And Sutton was wonderful as expected!!

As we sat on the train home, the events of the day rushed over me.  I smiled over how well we all traveled together and how much we enjoyed each other's company.  How easy it was for us to adapt to the changes of the day - sun, rain, show, 2 shows, no dance.  It didn't seem to matter.  Content is a good word for it. Truthfully, I was exhausted but loved what I was hearing all around me as I shut my eyes to try to rest for my long ride home.  We recounted the funny parts - Gelato, FM boots, no UW, Taylor's attractive forehead, so much more.  These are the moments that make life so special.   I'm just so glad to be here to experience it.

I know they all had a great day... if they only knew how much it really meant to me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


One of my least favorite words in the dictionary and yet I use it myself and see and hear it from others every day.

Verb: Remove or obliterate (text), esp. by drawing a line through it or marking it with a delete sign: "the passage was deleted".
Noun: A command or key on a computer that erases text. 

How easy is it these days to just press a delete key to wipe out a mistake on the computer.  You sat down to write an email or draft a document and somewhere in between your fingers and the keyboard something happened - a mistake or an error of some sort.  If you are a regular computer user, you are quick to reach for the delete key - GONE!  You don't have to be a master typist any more like the days of sitting at a typewriter in High School. You just have to be someone quick to fix their mistakes in this fast paced computer driven world.

Fixing a mistake is the most common, simple one.  Its when entire thought processes are wiped out with a single keystroke that seems to be so unfair.  The keystroke that's initiated by you is a purposeful act and one you control. Is it necessary to expunge entire passages without even saving a hint of them?  Ideas lost forever.

Commonly, I've typed (and have heard the same from other people) and have forgotten to save my work in progress.  At some point, something happens to the computer - it reboots, crashes, what have you and it's gone.  This situation is totally not of your doing and you are panic stricken.  All the valuable thoughts and phrases you used are lost and the feeling of helplessness to find the appropriate words once again is overwhelming.

I'm not a writer.  I like to write but I don't consider myself particularly good at it.  In our business, First Direct, I can write emails that garner some praise once in a while.  I'm far from the marketing side of the business - that's ALL Bob!! But I can proof read and correct grammar as good as the next guy thanks to Mrs. Mignault at SJS!  These days, my writing is generally of a technical nature or, my favorite, telling an ornery Customer to take a hike!  Very, very satisfying!!

But, either way, if it's an email or document of significant importance to me, good or bad, its saved.  Sometimes its saved several times in several places!  Easily accessible if I need to refer to it again.  I'll even hold on to iterations of the same doc or small snipits of thoughts that I've cut and pasted along the way and may someday be useful for something else.

So here I am now writing in this blog for the last 9 months.  I've written 120 posts - some of them good, some not so good, some happy, some sad and some downright embarrassing!  But never once have I deleted any.

At this point, I now feel very obligated to my readers and to myself.  I've started down the path of recording my medical activity, thought processes and emotional states and intend to continue.  My blog has been referred to others who find themselves in the same situation as me with the hopes they can relate to some small part of it.  If it can help them find solice and hope or even understanding then how could I EVER delete the entire blog or even just a previous post?  I may take a break from updating or adding to it, but I won't delete from it.
I go back and read and re-read my own blog often.  It helps recount all the events and feelings I went through at the time and is a good reminder of how different these months since I started were for me.  I'm just sorry it took cancer for me to start recording my days.

It's way too easy.  Press delete and it's gone with the wind.  Erasing parts of my life that I may never remember clearly on my own.  With the help of my blog, I'm able to recall details that I just normally couldn't.  And I'll keep writing.  Even if it's only for me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nipples '12

Had my checkup today with Dr. Sepulveda, my plastic surgeon.  He wanted to see me once I was finished with radiation.

I was kind of hoping with this visit he would set some dates for the next surgery.  The one that replaces these temporary implants with permanent gels.  I'm anxious to get this over with and behind me. 

But that didn't happen.  He checked out the skin to see if there was any visible damage but he didn't see anything.  In fact he was pretty happy with the results but still not ready to talk specific dates.  He wants to see me again in 6 weeks to check on the progress of the skin.  He wants any effects from the radiation to be totally healed before moving on. 

Estimate?   I'm looking at Jan/Feb 2012 for the permanent implants.  It is what it is.  They aren't bothering me as they once did, so that's not the issue.  It's just the looming surgeries to get through.

Just to prove that I had further to go, Dr. S added more saline to the left breast to make it the same size as the right.  I think I have to keep an eye on him or he's going to make them bigger than I really want them to be!! 

It looks like it'll be nipples in 2012...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Disappearing Act

My skin is really recovering quickly from the radiation.  What was once a very bad burn under my arm is now just a darker patch of skin.  The square of redness around my right breast has really faded.  If you looked at my chest, you wouldn't know my body I had gone through anything.

As part of the surgery I had in April, I had 2 lymph nodes removed which left a 2 inch scar in my arm pit.  It was raised so much, that I had be careful of it when I shaved.  Yesterday, as I was getting ready, I noticed that the scar was gone! Not just faded - GONE! I honestly can't believe it and didn't notice any lead up to it. 

Could the radiation burns have taken care of the scar?  A pretty good side effect if it did!

I have an appointment with my Plastic Surgeon tomorrow.  I'm pretty excited for him to see how well my skin is recovering and talk about when we can finish the creation of my breasts!

Monday, July 25, 2011

49 - 28 - 35

Measurements?  Maybe if you were Barbie!  These numbers are not physical measurements but markers.

49 - Way back in the beginning of my writing this blog, I mentioned an article I read about other survivors and the goals they had.  Reasons to feel the pain of chemotherapy and radiation and cure yourself just to see your children get married or hold your grandchild.  I couldn't wrap my head around it back then.

I used to be the one who never broke the mold - laughing in adversity, enjoying any situation, serious professional when I needed to be, concerned for the safety of my family, a caring friend and supporter, tough enough to stand up to the big boys, etc.  A force unto myself.  Never really getting 'that' close to people so they would know ALL about me.  I created a good cover - stone cold Mary.

In my 49th year of life on this planet, I've become a different person. Many of these things about me haven't changed.  I still laugh and smile to make the best of a situation.  Life is fun, after all!  I always look on the bright side as an eternal optimist.  What has changed is I'm not emotionless as I once was.  I wear my vulnerability much more on my sleeve.  Tears flow a lot more easily than they ever have.  Sometimes uncontrollably - it's not my comfort zone, but I can't seem to help it.

Over the course of these last 7 months, the outpouring of love and support that has come my way has been overwhelming.  Cards and letters, internet chats and emails, flowers and plants all meant so much to me.  With each note, I felt my armor crack and finally crumble away.  It helped me to realize how many people I've effected and how I'm not done making a difference in others lives. 

My family, my friends, my dancer family, my office - all of them are the reason I did chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to cure myself.  I love my life and want to live more of it!  I'm not done yet.

28 - This week I finished my radiation treatments.  The extra safety measures to ensure we got all the cancer. I didn't feel the fatigue they described, just some soreness like a sunburn with the worst of it under my armpit.  It feels better each day.

35 - About a year ago, Bob and I were driving past a cemetery and we started to talk about heaven.  Being Jewish, Bob doesn't believe in the concept of a life after death but I do.  He asked me what I would look like when I'm in heaven.  Back then, my answer was I'd be 35.  When I was 35, I was in the best shape, my hair was still red and I was just in a good place.  Bob listened intensely and devised his own plan.  If I could be whatever I want, then he would be Brad Pitt!!! I think I have him on board with the heaven concept!

But seriously.  I've changed my mind.  When I go to heaven, I want to be who I am today.  I am incredibly satisfied at this moment.  I have some really fulfilling relationships as a result of this disease and wouldn't trade them for the world.  New friends, old friends, my family - they've all brought me to this place that I just wouldn't trade.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good to the last dose

Tomorrow is my last radiation treatment - woo hoo!  While I am pretty excited about it, it seems I can't quite muster the energy tonight to do much about it.  I am feeling incredibly tired.

We had a great weekend, Bob and I.  We've been seeing alot shows at the Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College again this year.  This weekend we were scheduled to see 3 - Friday, Saturday and Sunday!!!  Knowing it would be too much for us, we gave the Saturday night tickets to Jay from our office. 

Off we went to see February House with Barbara, Allen, Joel and Nadine... let's just say it wasn't our favorite show of summer.  Oh that's right - except for Bob - much to my surprise he really liked it!   I was just not connecting to the music or the story but somehow Bob found the meaning in it all. Well, it just goes to show you never know what a person's going to like or dislike - even after 26 years!

Saturday I went to a Zumba class out in Millbrook and ran some hills.  We went car shopping for Bob that day too - that was fun!!  Hopefully, he'll get the car that makes us feel like we are on vacation VERY soon! After that, we crashed a 21st birthday party to listen to a friend's band and we were supposed to move onto an outdoor concert, but instead we opted to stay.  All I can say is - I laughed so hard at the drunkenness around me!  Our friend was the drummer of this garage band of 50+ guys - they were pretty good until they started the 3rd set after several rounds of shots!!  The dance floor was funny too - imagine Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies dancing with black Mack - one of the drummer's friends.  She smacked him repeatedly, hugged him then turned around for us to see that she had wet her pants!!!  I lost it at that point.... funny night.

Sunday I hit the track for my long run and then Bob and I took the bikes to the Rail Trail for 15 miles.  In between we had a little incident with the M.I.L. which I'll reserve for later - but it was off to another show at the Powerhouse with Barbara and Allen.  This time is was a cute children's show - Island Musical.  Very newly written and still very much in progress from Dar Williams - a fellow Beaconite!  It was short but fun. Afterward, we went to the Karma Lounge to see the Differents - good food and great music!

Why am I telling all this?  To prove a point - I was very tired when I got home last night.  It wasn't very late, maybe around 8pm when we got home.  My body was buzzing like it does when I am overtired.  I attributed it to all the activity of the weekend, of the past 2 weekends!  No real down time just to recoup and recover.

Today, I went to Dyson for my 2nd to last radiation treatment, as usual.  It was exciting to know this was my last week.  They promptly brought me in and prepped me for 2 angles - the 3rd was dropped as part of the plan.  Also, the bolus was dropped a week or so ago because of the reaction my skin was having.  I asked to keep the bolus - for no apparent reason but why not!  So here it is:

So, this thing, would sit on top of me like armor and would simulate another layer of skin.  Thus pulling the radiation closer to the surface of my real skin.  I think it's cool looking - almost like a piece of art or something!

First time I've seen Dr. F in about a month - he's been away on vacation.  He asked how I was feeling and was surprised when I told him I felt fine - no fatigue. He warned me that it could happen at anytime.  The wave of fatigue/tiredness could hit me now, next week or even 6 months from now!

I think he jinxed me.  I was so tired when I got home that I found myself laying in my old familiar spot on the sofa.  The same thing I had done countless times before during my chemo treatments.  I needed a couple of hours of rest but even that didn't really help me get back to speed.  I'm hoping this was an anomaly and not the norm for a while.  I have my last treatment tomorrow, a dance night tomorrow night and we're off to see Sarah on Thursday - I have no time to be tired!!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blog writing, blog writing.

I don't want it to be a chore.  I want it to be fun, meaningful and inspiring, but you can't be meaningful and inspiring every day!  So, sometimes I just write about where I am with all the breast cancer treatments, my workday, dancing, the fam - whatever!  I promised myself today that I would try to find something to write about everyday - - - if it makes it here or not!  As I sat getting a pedicure today to cover my UGLY toes, I pulled out some paper and just started writing.  That one won't make it here...

My side effects from the chemo drugs have worn off.  My hair is coming back in thicker than before as are my eyebrows and lashes - darker and longer!  I'm not swollen at the feet/ankles any more either.  Those half size larger shoes are way too big on my now. I'm almost down to my 'fighting' weight, so I'll try the closet organizing again that I never did in the first place.  My nails are looking a bit better - even though I still cover them with polish - but no neuropathy!  I can untie a knot or open a jar again!

I'm down to the last 3 days of radiation and since they removed the bolus from me its not burning my skin as it was last week.  I was also given the cream for burn patients that is really helping to heal it and ease the pain rather quickly. But that's all.... I'm tired, but not from the radiation.  I spent 4 days with my dance girls - long days, short nights - and I'm still catching up from that. Ahhh - a topic for another post.  Back to where I was - I'm tired, but no fatigue as with chemotherapy. 

I pretty much feel back to my old self.  I just look a little different than I did a year ago!

I have to thank Juliane for the blogging suggestion way back in December.  I never thought I'd enjoy writing as much as I do.... now for my next topic.... stay tuned!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Joining the Circus

That's right - I'm a side show!  The hair on my body is coming in fast and furious EVERYWHERE!!!  I've already talked about my Grandmother's mustache, but this is different.  I noticed a little fuzz at my neck when I looked in the mirror against a dark backdrop... but when my dance girls mentioned my fuzzy cheeks to me at the dance convention I thought I was going to die! 

The Bearded Lady.  It could come in handy if I need a job someday....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Needing to catch up, on a few things I guess.  My life has been busier than ever these past few weeks and thus my blog has suffered. 

I've been running back and forth to radiation every day for the past month.  While it has become 'routine' now, it does disrupt me in the middle of the day.  I have a giant red square around my right breast from it.  The center is pretty sore and is peeling and my armpit looks bruised and is a bit bubbly too.  They've given me several topical creams, but switched me to another one today.  They call it bliss - it's pretty thick and has lidocain and aloe.  What a mess, but it feels a bit better I guess.

I'm down to my last 5 treatments.  It'll be good to get it behind me.  I go to see the plastic surgeon next week so he can see if there was any damage done to the temporary implants.  If there was, he may have to do an additional surgery to correct it before replacing them with the gels. I'm looking forward to it.

I've started a bunch of posts, but haven't finished very many...  I'm a work in progress in more ways than one.  I'll keep working on them.

--- don't know if I have this floating out there or not...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

All in a Day's Work

Took the train to the city for business today.  It was a beautiful day - sunny, low humidity.  Bob and I went together to tag team at the client ... it's been a long time since we did it and it's always fun and entertaining.

This morning, there was a black gentleman that asked me for the time on the platform in Poughkeepsie.  I gladly gave it to him and we exchanged smiles.  What I didn't notice was both his arms seemed to be prosthetic.  Bob pointed it out to me once we were on the train.  'Did you notice that guy's arms?', he said.  Me being the nosy busy-body that I am had to check it out when I had the opportunity getting off the train.  No wonder I didn't notice - there were beautiful black hands protruding from the long sleeves of a white shirt.  I was surprised Bob could even tell they were false!  I looked closely and yes there was a type of plasticity to them.  They seemed to start at elbow and made arms look unusually long.  He was carrying his shoulder bag in his hand and looked to me again and smiled. 

On our way home now and 6 rows in front of me is an oriental family - I know I'm supposed to use Asian or something, but it's hard to get used to.  They are split across 2 rows.  It's about 7:45p and the train is crowded with business people and the occasional tourist.  On these peak trains, the rule of the day is quiet - sleep and work abound.  But the man on the right is smiling and guestering to the pair in the seat across.  It looks funny to see such an animated face with no noise coming out of it!  I can only see them from the neck up.  Finally, I realize what's happening - they are talking in sign language!  Having a perfectly acceptable 'train' conversation between them!!  Hands and arms are flying as the conversation now looks more like an argument!!   Curiosity has me now - are they still speaking Chinese to each other or is this sign language universal?  If so, could I jump into the middle of  the conversation?  I might have to break up this fight!

On our way to the train today I had to stop at the Dyson Center for my radiation treatment.  I had them move my regular time for me so we could make today's appointment with the client.  Dan and Maggie were nice enough to come in 15 minutes early to take care of me before 8am.  For my outfit today, I purposely wore a shirt with a collar to hide the redness of my chest and shoulder on the right.  I've got this whisper of a hairdo that calls enough attention to me, I didn't need to show off my 'sunburn' to start the initial meeting with a conversation about my bout with breast cancer and what it's done to me.  So, we didn't.  I walked in, shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and went to work. 

The man with no hands, the family with no hearing and me all have something in common.  We strive to just be ok with what we have, or have not.  To find a way to conduct our day as easily and comfortably as we can. To live a life that's full and interesting and joyful.  To understand those that feel pain and feel less of themselves, but not to pity them for they wouldn't have it that way.  Comfortable in your own skin ... lemons and lemonade ... all in a day's work.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Signs of Life

These past 2 weekends have been incredibly busy.  Bob and I traveled from one graduation party to the next.  We had a birthday party or 2 sprinkled in, along with a bridal shower, a few dinner parties with friends, a couple of dance rehearsals and finally a rendez-vous at Torches with a 'new' couple.

All these things are signs of life.

The graduates all have such promising futures and their excitement is infectious.  I only wish the best for them as they venture onto this next phase.  Life continues as they grow and create more incredible experiences for themselves as adults.

Birthday parties mark the most special and memorable days for children (and adults too)!  Another year older and happy to add them up!  Enjoying all the little joys of childhood each and every day - I can still remember that feeling.  Watching my 'greats' opening gifts and blowing out candles makes me want more joys each day.

I went to a bridal shower this weekend too.  These KIDS are getting married!! It's hard to believe I was that young once  - even though at that time in my life, I didn't feel that young either!  So cute to see them opening gifts and dreaming of their life together... a wonderful reminder of all that I already have.

The fabric of my life is made up of all different fibers - friends that come in all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  Each brings something important and unique to share with the other.  It's what makes it interesting to be together and you know these people would have your back if you needed them.  The closest thing to family without being them...

My weekly dance rehearsals with an incredible set of girls makes me appreciate their passion as I make them roll out of bed at 9am on a Sunday morning.  Commitment to their goals, to themselves, to each other and to me prove this extracurricular activity that we all share can enrich your life and teach positive life lessons.  Lessons I learn from THEM each and every day.

During this weekend we made a quick trip to visit the makings of something new over there in Newburgh.  Happiness was all around and I could feel it.  Why go through life unhappy??? This feeling is just soooo much better! 

Life has lots of ups and downs.  It's your perspective that gets you through to the next phase.  Take a look  - the signs are all around.... but boy am I exhausted!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Did you ever wonder what this life was all about?  Why are you here?  Do you have a purpose - not as a whole but as an individual?  Would it matter if you were gone?

My mortality has become very real to me.  I'm not going to be here forever.  The thought can go through my brain in a flash at all different times.  Like the split second in Philosophy class when you thought you 'got it'...

Things look very different to me now.  You get up each day after a night's sleep to greet the sun with hope that you'll do the same tomorrow.  You get the chance to start everything fresh and new, right any wrongs, make peace, apologize and love your family and friends more fervently.  You wonder why you worry about certain things because in the great scheme it really doesn't matter.  And why you did do all this before.

A day at the office, a night at the studio, a drive to Poughkeepsie, a phone call with the kids, an internet chat, dinner with friends - things you do all the time that impact your everyday and other's everyday all seem sweeter. 

Life is a chain reaction.  What I do in the days I have on this earth impact all those I touch, and so on.  Make sure the people that are important to you know it NOW so they can pass it on.  You'll never regret taking that great emotional leap.


Today was my 10th radiation treatment... not really a lot going on yet.  I do see a little discoloration around the 3 areas they are targeting but not much.  I've been given a cream to treat the areas and I do (when I remember).

Target areas are all on the right side of my chest.  Each time I check in, I change into a double hospital gown - one opens to the back topped by one opening to the front.  Once finished, I then have to scan my id again and confirm that it is my picture that pops up on the screen before laying on the table. 

They are always ready for me with my body form in place on the table and my bolus in the warmer so it doesn't make me jump when they put it on me.  Dan, Jen, Maggie and Shy have all been wonderful during our 'brief encounter' each day.  Once they line up the beams against the 3 small tatoos they've made that look likes freckles and calibrate it, the bolus goes on and the machine starts up. It twists slightly to my left and the lead that I can see forms a design that shapes the beam as it hits the inside of my breast wall.  They make a very precise calculations to avoid hitting anything the beam shouldn't - my lung, the implant, etc.  The hum or buzz emanates from the machine for about 20 seconds before it moves to the next angle to my right side.  This hits the outside perimeter of the breast wall with another 20 second treatment.  One of the therapist's come in and remove the bolus and the machine twists to just above me to radiate the lymph nodes in my chest and up to my clavicle.  All done and dressed... unless there's a visit to the doctor, nurse or more xrays to make sure we are still lined up!!!

Only had one hiccup during the first week - terribly hot day and the hospital was taking too much electricity to cool itself, so there wasn't enough to power up the machine!  As much of a pain as it was to make it all the way up to Dyson, get undressed just to be told the machine was 'broken', I'm awfully glad nothing happened in the middle of my treatment!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Grandmother's Mustache

Things are getting back to normal for me - my hair is growing back (albeit a different color!!) and if you look at my eyes from this angle you can see my eyelashes and eyebrows!

In fact - it's all coming back with a vengence!  I've always been exceptionally hairy.  My sister says when I was born I was like a monkey, covered with a kind of fur!  Not alot has changed over the years except for the months of chemo.  Now?  I used to be able to get away with not shaving my legs every day but not anymore.  The difference now?  I don't care as much and I'm actually enjoying the fact that I have it!  Plus, it's pretty light-colored, so who cares? 

I 'heard' that the hair on my lip wouldn't come back... but not for me.  I have even more of my Grandmother's Mustache - but I take care of that one on a regular basis - thanks Josephine!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Tanning Bed

I've been staring at this blank post all night.  I do have some updates to make, but this seems incredibly difficult for me to write as if nothing has happened.  Funny, that my emotional state can get in the way at this point.

Today was the first day of my radiation treatment plan. Five days a week for 5 and a half weeks feels like a lot but I'm told it will just become something you have to do every day.  I hope that's true. 

Last week on Friday, I had to go into the Dyson Center to do a test run with the machine and the plan developed for me.  They tested the body molds they had made the week before and checked on the measurements the had made previously for accuracy.  The therapists took a bunch of pictures (xrays) to be sure all the angles were lined up correctly.  It took upwards of an hour to get it done - a little longer than expected but important to get it right.

Today began my daily 1:30p appointments at Dyson.  Bob came along with me for the first one so he could see the equipment and meet the people I'll be with.  Dan and Maggie were very nice showing Bob around and discussing all the apparatus.  I was hit with radiation at 2 angles using the bolus they had molded for me and then straight on without it.  Altogether I was in there for approximately 40 minutes.  Here we go.... one down and 27 to go.

I also had another checkup with Dr. Sepulveda today to see how the expanders/temporary implants were coming along.  He was happy with what he saw and I'm feeling better about them myself.  While I can't say they are easy for me to ignore, it is getting easier and easier.  I'm running and dancing without much trouble.

Going to all these appointments seems so familiar for Bob and I.  Strangely, we look forward to our escape to go to them.  It was a beautiful day and we spent the evening at the river for dinner.  A nice end.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Margaret Sylvester (6/12/1923 - 5/29/2011)

10 minutes after my last post, the phone rang from my sister... My Mom passed away.  The end came slow and fast at the same time.  There is comfort in knowing she made it to the place she's been longing to go for so many years.  She is truly happy.

Today was Mom's funeral.  I wrote the Eulogy:

Margaret Sylvester.  She was just one person but had a lot of personalities, alter-egos and names!!!  Margaret is her given name but she would answer to a whole slew of different ones - Honey, Marg, Mag, Peg, Mom.  I think of all of them, her favorite one was Nanny.

Mom grew up over here on Spring Valley Street in the 1920’s – the depression.  We always heard stories of mashed potato sandwiches, sharing a bed with Aunt Viney, being on ‘relief’, plucking a chicken (and the smell it) and getting milk at school because she was too skinny!  That irony inevitably made her laugh!

Mom lived in Beacon all her life but never drove a day of it.  Donna tried to give her a driving lesson once (I mean once) down the ‘old’ driveway… I was sitting on the concrete steps up to the back porch when my mother barreled into the garbage cans! End of driving lessons… Living on Oak Street meant she could walk to all the places she needed or wanted to go so she felt she never needed to drive. Whether it was to get her hair done with Mary Ellen, pick up a few things at the store or have lunch with Lois and Butch at Quinn's she walked all over town. 

But that didn’t mean she didn’t go other places.  My mother was carted around by more people than you can imagine.  Aunt Viney would pick her up for the weekly trip to Price Chopper for grocery shopping – it was quite an event that always included lunch.   Besides her kids, Nancy and Sue would take her out regularly for breakfast as did Ella for dinner.  She was entirely spoiled by those around her who enjoyed her company for the smiles she brought them.

Then there was Dad.  Henry spoiled her most of all.  When Dad left us, we had some big shoes to fill.  We did the best we could, but she was angry that he left and let us know it!  I’m sure she’s giving him a hard time right now!  They both had this finger thing – I can see it now.  Dad shaking his big sausage finger at Mom and she waving her crooked finger back at him!  Ahhh True Love!  They showed it in their own way.  The thought of them being back together makes me happy.

For all of my 49 years I had to convince her that I didn't look like her.  She'd say 'You look like me' and I'd say 'No Mom, I hate to break it to you but I look like Dad.  Donna looks like you!' She was happy with that because 'Donna is such a pretty girl' and I'd hear all about how the boys (The King and The Prince) and ‘aren’t they so funny!’  And then there’s me – the baby of the group.  The others say I was spoiled – yeah, I’d have to agree.

As sweet and funny as she was, she was a tough cookie growing up.  There was not a lot of yelling in our house, but if you got the 'evil eye' or the 'cold shoulder' you knew you were in big trouble!  The silent treatment was one of her favorite methods of motherly torture!  Mom was notorious for staying up and waiting for you to come home after a night out... There'd she be at 4am laying on the sofa with a puzzle book wide awake waiting for us to come through the door.  She never did quite understand why we had to stay out that late, but never stopped us from doing so.  Of course, we had to sit and have a reasonable conversation before going to bed just as a test.  She supplied plenty of guilt to make you think twice before doing anything wrong!

You could always count on a pot of coffee being on at our house.  I have fond memories of mom sitting with coffee, a cigarette and a Harlequin Romance.  Being in the center of town meant everyone stopped over to visit.  I could guarantee when I would walk thru the door after school, any of my aunts or Mom’s friends would be sitting at the table with her chatting and laughing, coffee cup and cigarette in hand. There might be a Pokeno or card game going on – some high stakes gambling! Dinner was promptly at 5 o’clock so everyone had to be gone in time to cook.

Saturday nights held even more gambling with Aunt Viney and Uncle Roc!  (I’m feeling a theme here.) They would rotate game sites and would play several different games and serve snacks.  Thursdays was Sewing Club where not a lot of sewing was going on!  Whatever it was, there was always plenty of chatter and laughter with her friends.  The occasional bus trip to Atlantic City was also a source of fun with Fran and the crew.

Mom was a great cook who never used low-fat or low-sodium anything!  Her claim to fame were her meatballs and sauce – pretty good for not being a bit Italian!  She would credit the ‘old’ grandmother with teaching her that skill.  Roni’s were on the menu at least once a week.  You could always count on your favorite dish for your birthday and the grand children could expect theirs anytime. 

My mother was a very religious woman and always had her prayer on her lips and her rosary beads in her hand.  She spent the last 2 years at the Lutheran home attending services there but it wasn’t the same as coming to her church – St. Joachim.  She wasn’t born a Catholic, but converted as an adult.  She gave us a good solid background in our religion, but never was one to be prejudice of others of different faiths.  I will never forget when I was engaged.  She wasn’t upset that I was marrying a Jew she knew I loved him and he loved me.  In fact, she embraced it.  She simply said to me – ‘as long as there is religion in your home, that’s the important thing’.

But there was also this twinkle in her eyes – those big blue eyes.  I’ll never forget when I realized how funny my Mother was.  She was quite the troublemaker at a baby shower or a Tupperware party!  It was like she was a different person in the company of these women-only parties – if you know what I mean!  She had plenty to say about everyone and laughed about everything.  At a wedding, her big move was the hip shake and she was happy to take credit for my dancing ability.  Hard to believe she never drank a drop of liquor!

But her real pride and joy were her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Each one was so special to her and they in turn hold a special place for her in their hearts as evidenced by the beautiful group in front of me.  Nanny was the one person who made you feel good no matter what – no judgement, just love.  She would have done anything for them.  They brought her such joy even to the very end.

We laugh often over some of the things she would say – I’ll call them Nannyism’s.
-          Goes down easy
-          Better out than in
-          You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die
-          Sweet Baby

She brought smiles and joy to our lives and her memory will live on in us.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

For 6 months I fought my fight to live.   Today, I stood helplessly watching my mother as she passes away. 

I made my choice back at the beginning to not tell my mother what I was going through.  To spare HER the worry, I thought.  I felt I was saving HER but what did I lose in the end?  The last precious months of HER life, not mine. 

So much more I want to say, but not ready for.  I need to leave it here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Radiologist - take 2

This week we went to see a second radiologist.  Dr. Faranghi was referred to me by Dr. Keleher.  We always knew we were going to have 2 opinions because Dr. Rubin gave us one name (Dr. Doogie) and Dr. Keleher another.  We respect both of their opinions, so it couldn't hurt to have 2 more doctors review my case and make recommendations. 

Bob and I decided to definitely meet with Dr. F after we both agreed that the vibe we got from Dr. Doogie's nurse wasn't in line with all the rest of the people we met with along the way.  She was not warm and inviting, kind and considerate - I'll stop there.  No need to continue down the 'bashing' road.

We pulled up to our regular valet at Dyson just as we have since December.  It was familiar to us - home.  I checked in at the desk to another Mary and in no time was in the Radiology department discussing my history with Tara, Dr. F's nurse.  She was warm and inviting, kind and considerate.  She laughed along at  our strange sense of humor.  Much more our speed. 

Dr. Faranghi came in and was also very professional and informative.  While he was with us, he received 2 phone calls each from my doctors - Keleher and Rubin - to discuss my situation.  We talked and shared and laughed.  It was good and it felt right.  He stepped out while I changed for the exam and Bob and I quickly agreed he was the one, this was the place.  So we finished up and made plans for me to come back and prepare for the 28 radiation treatments in store for me. 

Today, I spent a few hours at the Dyson center with the Radiation Therapists of the Radiology Department - Rabah (I hope I spelled that right - I kept calling him RaBOB!!) and Jen.  These 2 took very good care of me while we spent the time creating molds of my torso and head and then the 'artwork' of my boob mold! 

I layed back on a bed of beads like that of a bean bag chair.  Rabah blew it up some how so it molded around my back, shoulders and head. We'll use this so I can ensure I'm in the same position every time for every treatment - they are looking for no mistakes or they'll miss the target!

Afterward, they had to mark the laser beam positions on me.  I had different electrodes placed on and around me and I went in to the CT scan machine several times to check and verify their accuracy. All the while, there was time between each thing they did and either one or both of them would come out to talk to me so I wasn't alone while we waited for Dr. F to review or change a position.  Once the positions were set, Jen tattooed me in 3 places with a tiny grey dot no bigger than a freckle so they can line me up correctly each time.  

Finally, they had to make the mold of my breasts.  They used a sheet of a substance (bosu?) that was soaking in warm water.  They placed it over the front of my torso and after smoothing out the bubbles waited for it to dry and harden.  When it was removed it could be my armor!  Its a creamy white color that shows the entire shape of my torso - really could be a work of art! 

The next step is to take all the pictures, scans, etc. and develop the treatment plan that will be administered by Jen and Rabah over 5 and a half weeks. The Dosimetrist designs this and Dr. F signs off on it - hopefully in the next week.  Its looking like we'll start this all up on 6/6 - the sooner, the better!