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.