Archives for October 2014

Breast Cancer: Cure Is Long Overdue


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.


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=”“>amanda.venner</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>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=”

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=”“>Robert Burdock</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>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=”“>Camdiluv ?</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>cc</a>



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