Breast Cancer: Cure Is Long Overdue

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My cousin Joann, walking in a 5K seven months after finishing treatment.

We Need To Keep Fighting The Fight

I just couldn’t let October slip away without paying homage to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. None of us should take for granted the advocacy spurred by medical professionals and ordinary citizens. There are very few of us whose lives have not been affected by this insidious disease and though detection and treatments have improved there is still no cure. My mother died of breast cancer in 1975, when the medical industry was just waking up to the fact that mammography screening could save lives.

My experience with breast cancer illustrates how far we’ve advanced and how pivotal awareness is. When my mother was diagnosed in 1973, my family considered it a death sentence. She died within two years and was treated with I’m sure deadly doses of radiation. I recall seeing deep purple bruises running down her back as though she’d been beaten with a strap. I was nine years old and living under a shroud of silence. I had no idea what cancer was and did not discover my mother had cancer until years later. It may be hard to comprehend but cancer was not a household word in the 70s and secrecy was a coping mechanism. There was minimal support for patients and families, no 5K fundraisers with women sprinting across finish lines and an entire month dedicated to awareness was unheard of. I’m not minimizing the suffering of those after my mother, alternatively I’m praising awareness and the significant strides that have been made to help patients and families – but it’s still not enough.

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My mother early 1950s.

My mother’s diagnosis followed the trajectory of the disease in the United States, it wasn’t until the late 70s that breast cancer came out of the closet thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Philip Strax, galvanized by the loss of his young wife he was a tireless advocate for mammography screening. Though not perfect, this screening has saved lives but more work is necessary for detecting breast cancer in younger women.

Through the support of family and friends, I honored my mother one year by walking in the Susan G. Komen “Race For The Cure” raising $5,000. Yet, none of us should remain complacent. A beautiful friend of mine passed away at 40 years old, suffering from breast cancer for 10 years, and will miss out on the beautiful gift of watching her children grow up. Though awareness, research and fundraising has taken us far, her fate was as tragic as my mother’s.

Though the mortality rate has declined, according to the American Cancer Society statistics for 2014:

  • About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
  • About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer.

I am grateful to new technologies, having undergone two biopsies myself and fortunately received good news but I worry about my daughter and little girls everywhere. How many more years do we have to wait for a cure? I can only imagine what my mother would think, nearly 40 years later and still no cure.

Last week I saw a photo of my cousin, my mother’s godchild, who has three young children and is battling breast cancer walking in a 5K race. She looked radiant and vibrant and coincidentally happened to be born on the same day as my mother, 35 years apart. As beautiful as the photo was, it was a sobering reminder that we are still fighting the fight.

Friends: The Axis Of Comfort

small__4939925977Find Your People

I just read a wonderful article by author and pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker about the importance of finding your tribe at midlife. She noted the benefits of keeping in touch, though she recognized that it is often difficult due to familial obligations. The article prompted me to think about my own experiences:

For as long as I can remember I craved the companionship of a like-mind, someone who would listen to my stories and theories about the world. As a twin, I thought I had a ready-made candidate. However, despite the title, we are as different as night and day. Though I love her dearly, we identified early on that she’s a doer and I was a thinker.

So began my quest to fill my life with friends who embraced words, enjoyed sharing notes and were prone to deep analysis. I found a forever friend in grammar school. Our story started with the case of the star-crossed school bag. We attended a strict Catholic grammar school where homogeneity ruled even down to our schoolbag. One day, among the sea of navy blue bags, my sister took the wrong bag home. Once the mishap was identified we drove to my classmate’s house for the switch, this transaction fated our friendship. We couldn’t stop laughing about our schoolbag caper and it wasn’t long before we were circling the playground fashioning stories and sharing popcorn. Adolescence was ushered in with seemingly endless calls, arms tethered by a chord, to discuss the same topic over and over mostly involving boys. Though I don’t see her as much as I would like, we will always be the stuff that friendship is made of.

Sailing through life, I’ve found friends to weather the storms of college, starting a career, boyfriends, engagements, weddings,  having and raising children. Looking back, I’m still in touch with many of these friends, though geography often dictates a closer relationship, I find that even a quick phone call can add a jump to my step. Friendship is a necessary ingredient for a happy life and there are certainly ebbs and flows.

During the middle years, between the pull of elder care and eclipse of growing children friendship for me is a soft escape. It is necessary, pivotal and the axis of comfort during all the looming goodbyes circling overhead. The launching of our offspring, the decline of our parents, can leave gaping holes. So we need to continue with our people, someone who can listen to the difference between twin and twin Xl sheets for departing college offspring and enjoy commentary from the dementia ward. Love it when my dad, who suffers from dementia, asks, “Are you having a bad hair day?” When faced with a world in motion, where change is simultaneously embraced and feared friendship is a panacea for our blues. There’s  nothing like a “we are in it together” chat, hearty laugh or sympathetic ear. The road ahead may be uncertain but just knowing your people are there for you can make all the difference.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/amandavenner/4939925977/“>amanda.venner</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/“>cc</a>

Our Voice Is Being Heard!

small__12192161504Over 9K Views Tells Me Someone Is Listening!

Last night, and the number keeps rising, I received more views (almost double) on my blog than I have in the year and a half since its inception. My son advised, “That is not exactly going viral” but certainly for my blog it is! Thus far, the post has been viewed over 9K times, received over 2K FB Likes and over 200 shares on Facebook’s Help Find Hannah Graham page, in less than 24 hours.

There is a small part of me that is excited but there is a part of me that mourns. Why? The article I wrote in September about Hannah Graham struck a chord. I had been keeping up with the case and my heart sunk when I heard the news. Yet, I’m proud that our collective voices are being heard. When I think about the “1 in 5” college rape statistic, I think about my daughter and all the young girls starting out ready to conquer the world. We need to raise the alarm and tell our girls to stay together and always keep their eyes open.

I’m not a “Kardashian” and this may be the most fame I ever receive and I hope that maybe our collective rage may be the whisper in one of our daughter’s ears. For those that commit these acts, I have no words. I think they are someone’s son, brother, friend, husband, boyfriend. Is humanity lost? We have a responsibility to aim our message at boys and men as well.

I received many heartfelt comments regarding how to keep our daughter’s safe to how the alleged seemed to slip through the cracks. Here are two comments I wanted to share:

Julie: “The media, the economy, testosterone driven entertainment, video games, alcohol, drugs, mental health, a bad start in life.” – One more to add, perhaps part of the media, is pornography. It desensitizes men to the reality of women as people.”

Justine: Hannah is all of us. I walk with her when I walk alone at night. I walk with these women who’ve disappeared. They’re everywhere, they’re all of us.

I’m haunted by these stories and hope that our collective voice is heard. I thank everyone for reading and hope that in sharing our concern, our stories and reactions Hannah’s voice will not be silenced – it would be comforting to know that in some small way we haven’t failed her.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/68397968@N07/121921615

I’m Not My Daughter’s Friend

get-attachment-9.aspxLeaders Stand Alone

I was having dinner with my daughter, who just turned 18, the other evening and she shared that a new college friend of hers tells her mother everything. I wasn’t sure how to decipher this exclamation. Was this negative or positive? Upon further explanation, I unearthed the gist of the comment. She wasn’t enamored with the idea of a “tell all” with me. I’m not so naive that I believed she shares or needs to share all the particulars of her life. Yet, there was s little part of me that was thinking, “hey thanks a lot” and “what are you hiding!” Just like one of those lovely comments, we’ve all been recipients of, stating how great you look that prompts you to think, “how awful did I look before?”

I speared my sushi, sipped my miso soup and nurtured my wounds. Her comeback, sensing this was probably not the best topic for our first reunion since she left for college two months ago, was to state, “Oh it’s just about boys she likes and things like that.” So I began to pepper her with questions of my own which were as welcome as the flu. A few more exchanges about moms that look so young and we were off to an exceedingly positive start. That’s where I began to see the light, or it may have been the wasabi, either way I decided I don’t want to be friends with my daughter. I want to be her mom.

It wasn’t like I shared all my comings and goings with anyone when I was 18 but it was more than that. I believe we had already made great strides in taking the next steps to independence, her going off to college for me to start lobbying for a starring role in her life. We are very close and although she’s now 18 and growing up, I’m not interested in being her friend. I’m certainly not stating that this is the right way or that forging more of a friendship is wrong, just my gut feeling about how we will proceed during the college years. I do not want nor do I need to know everything. I feel confident that I’ve armed her with the skills she needs to make the right choices and I’m smart enough to know she will likely make mistakes but those same skills will help her get back on track.

Motherhood isn’t easy, just ask any great leader. It’s vital to stand by your troops but not necessarily with them. Henry Kissinger once said, “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”

Oh, and the remarks about moms that look so young well that one I’m not letting go!

9 Lessons For Visiting College Offspring

small_4974012671-1A Metamorphosis

The college application process, the decision, the drop off – I found resources for these milestone events but what about the first visit, two months later, where you want to squeeze your child to death, pinch their cheeks and go back to the good old days? Well, the guidebook has prematurely ended and you are now mining this one on your own. The first visit to my daughter was precipitated by a virus that turned into a bacterial infection and maybe mono. The sojourn turned out to be an eye opening experience, so I thought I would share what I’ve “learned and lost along the way” now that I’ve been to the other side and persevered:

  1. You Are Not Their World Anymore – You pulled out all the stops and halted your obligations for this emergency visit. Don’t expect the offspring to do the same, there’s class (even when you are sick, most professors don’t allow more than three absences), projects, lectures and prefigured lunch plans to tend to. Though some time can be carved out, be warned you will not have your offspring’s undivided attention.
  2. You do not belong in a dorm! - Does a cat belong in a fish tank? Can a squirrel live under the sea? That’s Sandy on SpongeBob – that’s TV. Get out fast! Yes, you will want to see the room you shopped for and set up, scary prelude here, but be warned if your offspring wasn’t tidy at home don’t expect a metamorphosis. No worries that bug is not your offspring (Kafka reference) it is just a bug.
  3. Don’t do laundry! - I considered it since I had the time and she had class. It’s so wrong but felt so right – until I was shooed away and advised that she will take care of it on the weekend.
  4. Refer back to point number 2 - You don’t belong there!
  5. Don’t Overstay Your Dorm Welcome – It’s nice to meet friends and they seemed happy to meet me but I didn’t overstay my welcome, its plain awkward and let’s face it there is no, and I mean no place you will feel older so refer to point number 2 again!
  6. Acceptance is OK - Okay, she was sick and full disclosure, I washed her flatware and dishes, threw out trash and helped make her bed (she is wearing a brace since an easel fell on her hand) but that is where I stopped. I left with the feeling that laundry may not get done and that the bed may not be changed for a while and I was okay with that – refer to point number 2 again!
  7. Get Back To Civilization – I’m being honest here; it felt good to get out of there and back to my hotel so I may just skip the dorm next visit.
  8. The Denouement – your offspring will likely hug you maybe kiss you, depending upon the virus situation, and walk away. That’s right walk away, you’re not in Kansas anymore, I mean nursery school where you were “oh so needed.” Your baby has carved out a life and will walk away and so will you. Cue, for some tears.
  9. Final Metamorphosis – And it’s okay, refer to point number 2 you were a visitor and soon the light bulb will go off: offspring has left the nest and it’s okay. Now the metamorphosis is on you.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/robaround/4974012671/“>Robert Burdock</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/“>cc</a>

 

 

Be Unapologetic!

small_4441155157It’s hard to write about being “unapologetic” when uttering “sorry” is a close second to guilt to me. Like many women, I think everything is my job or my fault. The reasons behind this are myriad, but sorry I won’t elaborate because I’m sure you are a woman if you are reading this, so you get it. So, it was remarkably refreshing that, at a conference last week run by two amazing women Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin (look them up) who launched a movement on relaunching after a career break, stated that “if you want to get back out there, be unapologetic, that’s your past and this is what you are intent on doing now.” This gets better, human resources personnel from Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg concurred with this strategy and the moral of the story: taking a career break isn’t the road to professional suicide it once was.

This message has been percolating in my mind because I just sent my daughter off to college and my son will follow in two years. Though I’ve primarily been a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I have worked as a freelance writer for the past five years on my own terms and setting my own pace. There is a little voice that’s now asking “what’s next” and “how would it look if I carried on like this?” Why should I care what others think? I’m conditioned.

In America women, are the most scrutinized, dissected, judged group, and that’s a movement that has to end. Worse yet, women judge each other – for the type of snacks doled out to our kids, staying at home, going to work, the type of work we do, our clothes, our hair and let’s not even start with our bodies.

There is a smorgasbord of articles popping up on the intent pondering what SAHMs with children in school “do all day?” I hear traces of this in conversations I’ve had over the recent weeks. I’d just like to go on record as stating that raising a family is one of the most devalued professions in the modern world. I too wondered, when I first moved to the suburbs, what exactly moms did all day as I ran to make a train. When I found out, it wasn’t pretty. I learned I could calm down an angry client but a crying baby was another story. A newfound admiration was formed.

Whether you are a SAHM were a SAHM, didn’t have the opportunity to be a SAHM our collective ire should be propelled against our country – which in my opinion is one of the most unsupportive for parents in terms of workplace flexibility, subsidized childcare and maternity leave – part of the reason many women opt out.

It’s your life and if you are content with your choices create a quirky little one liner, “a la Ann Landers,” to use when someone hurls one of those questions at you.  If you’ve always been a working mom, or a SAHM or a SAHM with a newfound mission to relaunch a career, volunteer, tend to your garden or help raise your grandchildren – it’s your life.

There are no fixed rules, that our paths must be linear. I say be unapologetic about your choices and here’s a dose of Nora Ephron on the ubiquitous topic of “having it all” to send you off with a smile (unapologetically): “…surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/camdiluv/4441155157/“>Camdiluv ?</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/“>cc</a>

 

 

The Middle Years

small_2142478943Time To Wear A Tutu

I was sitting in a light filled room, on assignment for an article I was working on, gazing at a dozen ballet students as they moved to the music and listened to their teacher’s direction. Not sure if it was the music, the light, the energy or watching these young girls that stirred my intense desire to put on a tutu and challenge myself. I could see some of the girls struggling with their positions. Ballet is hard and even at that age I was as flexible as an iron pipe and still am. Yet, I’ve always loved to dance, although most of my dance moves were developed in discos, just moving put a smile on my face. I thought maybe I would enroll in a class. Why not?

As I watched the girls experience the highs and lows of their exercises, the intensity, frustration, pain and pride, my mind wandered off to the possibilities of my own life at my age. Part of a generation that did not automatically get “signed up” for an array of classes, I always reveled in most of the classes my children took, especially anything creative. I want to engage in new endeavors before it’s too late.

I’m no fool. I know where I stand, sandwiched between my growing more independent children and aging parents – in my case in-laws and one parent. I also know what it’s like to never reach these years, my mother dying at 45. As I think about my mother’s untimely death and watch my father’s descent into dementia and in-laws ailing health, my despair has turned to desire. I can feel it intermittently, during assignments for my work as a writer but also during college tours or watching my son read a classic I haven’t found my way to yet.

Perhaps I’m naive but I don’t feel the middle years should be anything but exploratory, our offspring are moving on and so should we. These are our years, as the demands of childhood wane, to do the “things we’ve always wanted to do” even if it means delegating to handle elder care or liberating yourself from laundry. We all know the laundry isn’t going anywhere.

I want to paint, dance, love great literature and write forever. What do you want to do?

 

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/cybertoad/2142478943/“>cybertoad</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/“>cc</a>

 

Hannah Is All Of Our Daughters

small_5982590252I was grabbing a coffee and a banana at a hotel in Pennsylvania last weekend, when shivers went up my spine. We were visiting a lovely college and it also happened to be parent’s weekend, so the hotel was buzzing with families, many wearing smiles and sweatshirts emblazoned with their alma mater’s logo. A large flat screen TV, centrally located for viewing, hummed in the background. The Hannah Graham story came on and soon the morning rhythm seemed to suspend in time. I arched my neck to listen, see and hope that this story was now brandishing a happy ending. There was a young mom who halted somewhat as she sipped her coffee and eyed her two young daughters. Another mom, with a daughter closer to the college years, winced at the news shaking her head. The tone was mournful, all passed in a newsroom minute. I felt fear and longed to shout “what are we doing about this” but I needed to rush off. I believe we were all thinking the same thing.

My thoughts were with Hannah’s family but also drifted off to my daughter who just started college four and a half hours away from home. I felt my eyes well up because no matter how much talking we do about safety and traveling in pairs – stories like this surface and I felt an overwhelming desire to turn back time and whisper in Hannah’s ear. Hannah is all of our daughters, though I don’t know her, I see my daughter in her face. Perhaps she was more sophisticated or more daring but she was in the prime of her life, attending a great institution and learning about life. She made an error in judgement, going off alone, if indeed that is the case but that misstep should not cost her this unfortunate situation. It’s not over and I hope with all my heart she is back enjoying her life again.

I look at my teenage son and I say something that jolts me as sexist. I’m surprised since  the remark jars me as I’m as opposed to a double standard. I tell him “girls need to be more careful.” He looks at me and says, “Boys get kidnapped too” although I can tell he doesn’t really believe this statement. He’s old enough to hear this so I say “girls are targets for sex crimes.”

Truth is most of these young girls on campuses around the country are intelligent but have likely grown up in leafy, green communities where they have been embraced and loved and have always felt safe. Danger seems far away, the truth is it isn’t. On a daily basis, we all read about kidnappings, rapes, domestic violence, finding bodies – all mostly young women and girls.

The media, the economy, testosterone driven entertainment, video games, alcohol, drugs, mental health, a bad start in life – they are no excuse for what’s happening to our girls. Domestic violence, treated as a slap on the wrist, for football players and entertainers. The type of men young boys in this country admire. I recently read about a group of high school seniors who spelled out the word rape on their T-shirts as a joke. The incident received press and the boys showed remorse. The incident is inexplicable.

America’s rhetoric touts we are the land of the free but dare I say, fear runs through my veins a little more every day. How free are we when according to The Campus Sexual Assault Study between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years. The president just started his own campaign against campus sexual assault dubbed “It’s On Us.” I couldn’t agree more. Hannah needs to be our wake up call. She is all of our daughters and we have failed her.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/velvettears/5982590252/“>Noukka Signe</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/“>cc</a>

So You Made It To College!

IMG_0437Now What?

My daughter graduated from high school this past June. A new beginning and the end of four years filled with many ups and downs. As I ponder my years as a mother and the 18-year-old I once was, here’s a little advice I’d like to impart to all of the 2014 graduates embarking on their first year of college.

Be Bold

Whether you were the head cheerleader or newspaper editor, dust yourself off and start fresh! It may be tempting to preserve your high school persona but it will serve you better if you seek out new opportunities! Try something you always wanted to do.

Mix It Up

So, in high school you played it safe and though you were polite to that boy in your art class you never bothered to develop a friendship. I say mix it up, seek different kinds of friends, take off your blinders. Diversity is what makes life interesting, don’t waste the next four years of your life making friends with people just like you!

Stay True To Yourself

It may be tempting to follow the crowd, for fear you won’t fit in but don’t bother. If your experience in college starts to feel like high school, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

Lose The Panic Button

You hate your major or feel your college choice is wrong – so you’re hiding under your covers for fear the world will think you are a loser. You are not a loser, you are experiencing life and sometimes it takes several detours to find your destination. Now is the time to figure out what you are really made of by evaluating what went wrong and mapping out next steps.

Fill Your Emotional Tool Box

Ditch the panic button and start filling your emotional tool box. These are the skills you develop when your major isn’t working out, Romeo has turned into a Lothario or you’re alone in your room and something fuzzy with a tail is staring at you! Remember you can tell more about a person when something goes wrong in their life, so start building those skills.

Don’t Go Overboard With The Partying

I know, you’re finally free and it can be tempting to party all the time but this is the fastest ticket home  Don’t be afraid of hard work, it will make your next stop in the real world easier.

Build Your Character

A favorite Einstein quote: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” Wisdom can be found in all of us despite bank accounts or degrees.

Like Real Life

Take time to walk away from social media. Stop checking your “Likes” and posting every event – this all takes time away from real living.

Learn And Keep On Learning

You don’t know it all and you never will. We spend our lives’ learning – and those that embrace that concept are far more successful.

Appreciate

If you are attending a fine institution in our country, it’s safe to assume you have parents who have sacrificed, saved and planned for you. Remember to thank them, remember there are many who will never have the opportunities you now have.

 

 

 

College Move In Day

IMG_1637Behind The Scenes

Instead of basking on the beach in early August, I was scurrying around from store to store, washing, packing and becoming acquainted with space saver vacuum bags – it felt like nesting! The last time I nested I was waiting for an arrival and this time a departure loomed ahead.

Though it seems counterintuitive, preparing for the send off reverberated memories of being a new mother. I remember going through the motions of buying cute little onesies, folding them neatly and thinking I had it all together when I was paralyzed with fear. How would I know how to handle a newborn? Would I have what it takes? For some strange reason, many of those feelings were reoccurring. Have we prepared her for the challenges ahead? Overtaken with worry for how move in day and the college year would turn out I got sucked into the vortex of dorm shopping. The last time I encountered so many unnecessary items was when I had my daughter – remember the bumpers you have to take off the crib and the comforter you never use. Dorm shopping is not so different. I let the insanity take off, scrutinizing the merits of a backrest versus throw pillows and the best under bed storage system.

All the while, tears would flow sporadically. I’d like to say the last few weeks have been glorious with my daughter as we bonded and shared the love but since I’m as truthful as a two year old – it’s been rough. We’ve butted heads over the impracticality of a duvet versus a comforter, disputed the merits of purchasing a planner and bickered over what should stay and what should go. My daughter did her own dance of avoidance by interrupting this process for friend send offs including her own, creating a museum quality photo collage and wrangling with a last minute Staples order  – all taking precedence over packing.

I steamed like a well boiled kettle all the while wondering how we would make it there in one piece and dreading the “goodbye.” I worried that we squandered this special time bickering over nonsense. I took a stand that I would not cry when saying goodbye, well at least not in front of her. Somewhere between the search for twin xl sheets and laughing at a mix up at the Staples copy center we found the time to laugh.

I’d read all the empty nest articles streaming on social media and I was sure I would cry all the way home. Well, life can be surprising! We practically pulled an all nighter packing and the next morning was chaotic resulting in a space management tour de force to get everything in the car. I then spent over four hours with a Sterilite bin on my lap eating peanut M&Ms. We settled into a hotel and the next morning began our journey. It was hard work but all was well and despite a reoccurring dream that I would return with most of the items we spent hours packing she had plenty of space in the room. The day of dread was fun. We laughed and organized and the entire family worked as a team. The energy was positive, current students were great and new students seemed so eager – I couldn’t help it but I was bursting with excitement for her. A new beginning with so many possibilities I was flooded with emotion, despite some tears most of it was pure happiness.

 

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