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!