Friday, September 23, 2016

The Party is on Oct. 1 -- Join in the Celebration

I won! I was selected as the winner of the Tales & Tails Gala Sweepstakes and will be attending the 20th annual event, benefiting Canine Companions for Independence, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando on Oct. 1. In addition to the fabulous dinner dance party that is planned, attendees will enjoy a live and silent auction.  There will be guest speakers sharing stories of how their highly trained dogs have made such a difference in their lives, thus allowing these individuals to live a more independent life while also having a loving, caring companion by their side.

Tickets are still available for this event. Go to the Canine Companions for Independence site (Orlando FL) to learn more. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Health Issues Following 9/11 Attacks; I Knew This Would Happen

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was working in Guest Services at the Disney Reservation Center. When guests began telling us that planes were going into the Twin Towers, I knew we were in for a long day. Suddenly, planes were being forced to land before reaching their destinations. This meant we had guests unable to get to Disney or leave Orlando. Our reservation agents were unable to handle the calls and thus, Guest Services took a tremendous hit that day -- with call volumes rising rapidly. When I was finally able to take a quick moment away from the phone, I ran to the breakroom. There, everyone was watching one of two TV sets with the news of planes hitting the Twin Towers, going down into a field in Pennsylania and at the Pentagon. Shock and horror! That was the only way to describe how we all felt.

While we were focused on what was happening and hoping that there would be survivors, it occurred to me that there would be more issues down the road. I recall telling one of my colleagues that survivors or anyone in the vicinity of the World Trade Center would be in danger. Looking at the rising smoke -- the huge cloud of dust and debris overtaking Lower Manhattan that day, I knew that future health issues would take even more lives. I was already thinking about future cases of asthma, COPD and lung cancer. Other cancers would also be possible. It was obvious to me as I watched people running through the streets of NYC that many of the first responders as well as anyone in that immediately vicinity could be in danger.

I kept waiting to hear what was going to be done.  It seemed that no one was mentioning this "silent killer" during the immediate attack or the days following. And, if anyone was thinking about it, no one had publicly acknowledged the potential for future health issues. Well, it is now 15 years later and news outlets are sharing stories of individuals who have died or who have developed different types of cancer or other health problems most likely related to 9/11. There is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Named for Zadroga, a detective who died after becoming ill from working at ground zero, funding will be available through 2090 thanks to a law signed by President Obama. Cancers, respiratory / heart ailments and gastrointestinal problems have all been associated with the toxins at ground zero.

I was approximately six months post radiation treatments for my stage one breast cancer. I was finally back at work full time and feeling much better. Until 9/11. The demands of my job began to take its toll. The daily stress levels continued to rise. Guest Services became the "hub" of all things related to 9/11 and we had added responsibilities in order to help our guests with their vacation plans. I found myself extremely stressed out as did many of my co-workers. If I could prove that high stress levels can lead to metatasized cancer that would be my story. By April 2002, my stage one cancer had  spread to the lungs.

I am not one of those individuals who can foresee the future. However, in this rare instance, I not only realized the ramifications of what happened that day on 9/11, I understood that there would be many more victims of these horrid attacks. The death toll and the numbers of people effected at or near ground zero would continue to rise over the years. It's gut-wrenching to think that the terrorists  behind these attacks may have already known that they would be able to kill or hurt many more people than just those who died when the planes hit those buildings.

To those now living with serious health ailments as a result of 9/11,  I sincerely hope and pray for your continued good health. I also extend my deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones from the health issues brought about by the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Celebrating Another Year

It's not just another day.  Today is my birthday.  As a child, I couldn't wait to get older. Each passing year was special. At least I thought so. Turning 10 was cool. Right? Double digits. Then, turning 16 meant you could get a driver's license. I was 18 when I started advocating for the right to vote. By the time that became a constitutional amendment, I was 21 and legal. I could vote and drink legally. At age 27, I became a first-time Mom. I was overwhelmed with parenting.  My child didn't come with an instruction manual. Somehow, life really began to change a lot more once I became a parent. Time took on a different meaning.

I still enjoyed birthdays and my 30th celebration was a huge BBQ bash in the backyard of our Bucks County home. I can still remember the crazy cake Edward had the bakery prepare for me. I also remember friends and family stopping by that day to join in the fun and I recall lots of presents. A year later, I welcomed my second child. Now birthday parties were the ones I planned for the kids. These were well thought out events -- with themes and special locations. Each party needed to be unique. I became an event planner and while I continued to celebrate my own birthday each year, it was not the same. Time had taken me into a different direction. The years were adding up and I was growing older.

When I was 48 years old  I heard the words not one wants to hear: "You have cancer." My life instantly became a "roller coaster, merry-go-round" and I was just trying to hang on to anything remotely resembling normal. At my 50th birthday celebration, I already knew that my cancer had spread to the lungs. I had gone through horrific surgery that spring, leaving me emotionally exhuasted and physcially a mess. By August 9 when we gathered at a local Italian restaurant to celebrate, I was happy to see dear family and friends. It was no longer a question of another year of growing older or a different age I had to recall. I was now much more aware of the real meaning of celebration. I knew how special it was to be alive... to be able to enjoy another birthday. I would no longer take birthdays for granted. This day each year would now be extra special to me.

Ed, Brian, Adrienne and Jason all planned a special celebration for my 60th birthday. I had mentioned my dream of visiting Hawaii. While that was not meant to be, they came up with Plan B. We went to Disney's Polynesian Resort for its Luau. I spent an incredible evening dining on delicious food and watching a Polynesian revue that featured talented performers. It felt like I was in the Islands. My family knew how much I needed to celebrate. It wasn't that I was growing older. I didn't really think much about being 60. I felt great! It was a number. What they understood was that I had to find a way to make the day stand out from other days. For me, August 9 was a real day to jump up and down for joy. It was meant to be special. Time was now being measured in moments -- treasured experiences that would create memories.

Here it is ... August 9, 2016 and I am 64 years old. If I were still working I would be very close to retirement. I spent a wonderful time last night with Brian. We dined at bosphorous, a top-rated Turkish restaurant in Winter Park. Afterwards, we enjoyed a stroll around the park. The evening was perfect. Today, I'll enjoy some freebies ... such as picking up my subs at Jersey Mike's and Firehouse. I will also savor my brunch at Denny's with Adrienne where I will get my Grand Slam meal. I may also head over to Tropical Smoothie for my free smoothie. (Still trying to find room in my tummy and refrigerator for all the goodies I'll get for free in the next few days and weeks. I love getting all the birthday stuff. Already did my visits to Moes's and Steak and Shake.)

For me it is all about the celebration. A number is a number. I don't feel any different. (My pain in the neck is still a pain.)  However, celebrating another year is awesome! My perception of time may have changed over the years, but my appreciation of life and enjoying another birthday... that's priceless.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Current events... Relating to my own challenges and struggles

When I heard the news of the Pulse shootings on June 12 my heart literally skipped a beat. How could this horrific act of violence happen so close to home? I live just outside of Orlando, yet most times when I'm asked where I live my response is "Orlando, FL."

Seeing the faces and learning the ages of the victims really brought this tragedy closer to my own reality. My children are 36 and 32. So many of the men and women lost in that massive shooting were so young, just starting their lives. They were out sharing an evening of what was supposed to be creating lifetime memories and making new friends. Instead, 49 individuals died while many others were wounded. Not only would there be physical wounds to be dealt with, the emotional scars were only just beginning. As someone who has faced both physical and psychological pain, I immediately knew that anyone who was at Pulse that night, those who had to respond to the emergency or the professionals who would be providing care for those injured -- the events of that night would create long lasting damages beyond the obvious gunshot wounds or broken bones. I could feel the pain. I understood that there were families who had last a loved one -- husband, father, wife, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, cousin, significant other, dear friend. There were others left fighting for their lives, taken to area hospitals including a place I often refer to as my "second home." Orlando Regional Medical Center, part of Orlando Health, is the major trauma center in the region.  That evening, the center became ground zero for many of the victims -- some being transported via personal trucks or vans since rescue vehicles could not reach the scene. ORMC was only a few blocks away from the nightclub. (Per members of the medical staff who spoke to the media, the hospital's proximity helped some of the seriously wounded individuals reach emergency care faster.)

Since Dec. 2000 I have been a cancer patient. While my care was initially provided by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando, I am now associated with UF Health Cancer Center, Orlando Health. (To me, it's all semantics. I have the same doctors, nurses, etc.) The buildings where I go for treatment, testing or doctor visits are located just off of Orange Ave. While there was a name change, fortunately for me and other patients, the care has remained consistent, compassionate and professional. The cancer center building is linked to ORMC via several passageways. I often go between the two buildings, visiting the gift shop or cafeteria. Depending upon what my oncologist orders, I may also have some testing done at ORMC's radiology department. I have also been taken to ORMC's ER after several auto accidents.

Why am I mentioning this after my reference to the Pulse mass shootings? It was ORMC that made headlines around the world when it took in most of the victims that night. (The main campus of Florida Hospital also received patients from this tragedy, offering its ER and surgical services as well. I've been a patient at FL Hospital and must add that the care was excellent.) When I realized many of the Pulse victims were now at ORMC receiving treatment in the ER or heading off to surgery, I also knew that they were in good hands. Highly skilled surgical teams were prepared to make a difference.

Having grown up in Philadelphia, PA I was used to having multiple major medical centers not only close to one another but also offering ER/trauma care. For some reason, Florida has different regulations allowing for only one Level 1 trauma center in each region. Central Florida has ORMC. That means it serves from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast.  Anyone who is classified as a trauma victim is supposed to be transported to ORMC even if another hospital ER is closer. Since I am not a politician or an expert in emergency/trauma care, I may not be the right person to comment. However, on the evening of June 12 ORMC's Level 1 Trauma Center was truly overwhelmed with patients. The staff did an outstanding job. No one is doubting that it performed to the highest standards. But, is that the right solution for Orlando which aspires to grow into a major cosmopolitan city? Why there only one Level 1 trauma unit for such a large population and after the Pulse shootings, maybe it is time to re-think ER/trauma care throughout Florida?

I am extremely proud when I tell others that I am a patient at Orlando Health and its affiliates. I call the care I receive at the cancer center... one stop shopping. I have access to anything I need from spiritual to mental health counseling, dietary to pharmacy services, a library with computers, books and information that is safe to read and informative. My doctors and nurses are the best; many are considered experts in their fields and are respected throughout Orlando, Florida and the nation. The men and women who found themselves at ORMC the night of June 12 were placed into capable hands. Their care was top notch in every aspect.

I have had my own challenges over the years, from dealing with chronic pain to financial matters.  Those who witnessed the mass execution of individuals that night will have major challenges and struggles ahead. Is is even possible to relate a cancer patient's journey to that of a trauma victim? On some levels it is. Of course, I can't begin to imagine how terrifying it was for those men and women to see others being shot dead before their eyes and wondering if they would get out alive. Or, being shot multiple times and then dragged over broken glass in order to be saved. I hate pain and when I heard some of the survivors speaking about their ordeals I did feel a relationship to them.  I could understand the physical pain they had to endure. I also understood the emotional pain they were experiencing. The tie between this current event and my own cancer journey seemed a bit of a stretch at first but as I began to listen to the survivors, I did feel a common denominator.

Chronic pain is difficult to live with and for many Pulse victims this may be a part of their future. (I hope it's not.) Depression develops slowly in most cases and once it takes hold it can last months or years. (Counseling is essential as is learning to relax and meditate.) Cancer survivors or anyone who has faced a major health issue can relate to physical and psychological pain.  I can.

The current climate of violence overtaking our nation is alarming. Finding myself able to relate to the Pulse victims and their families is another small step towards a better understanding of what I went through and continue to endure.  It's also learning how my challenges and struggles relate to others. It is what makes us human, the ability to understand our compassion for one another and how we are all truly the same.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Moving forward on my journey

There are days when I can't recall a time that I was not a breast cancer survivor. I have been living with this reality since December 2000. It has become a big part of me, the person I am today. 

This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different reality.  I wake up with a greater appreciation of life. The simple process of jumping out of bed has become not just a daily ritual but a welcomed moment. The fact that I can get out of bed and walk (after two broken femurs as well as the osteoarthritis that keeps worsening) does not go unnoticed in my mind. (Which, by the way, has become much less cloudy in recent months.) The ability to remember little things, to finally have some clarity and mental recall -- I can't take any of that for granted. I lost so much of me during those years in that dark, terrifying place that today when I see the sunshine it is a beacon of hope. 

There was a me before all this happened. I know that I existed before my cancer diagnosis. I see photos of me with family and friends. I see a woman, much younger, having fun on vacations, at holiday gatherings and living life as if nothing could ever go wrong. Then bam! I hit that wall. I never saw it coming. 

I knew my Mom was a breast cancer survivor. She was only 48 when diagnosed; she immediately underwent a mastectomy.  Other than needing physical therapy she would be fine. In fact, she would be a 30 year survivor. She also dealt with thyroid cancer; she would survive that for 16 years. She had type 2 diabetes. Was I living in la-la land all those years as I watched her dealing with her various health issues? Did I not comprehend the reality before me? I was 48 when I heard the same words my Mom did, "You have breast cancer." Yet, it still never registered how complicated this could all be. In the beginning it seemed simple. Reality took a slight detour. 

In my book High Maintenance   Surviving Cancer at All Costs   I live through this reality, page after page. Covering over 12 plus years, the book chronicles my continuous journey as a breast cancer survivor who has been through radiation, chemo, surgeries and much more. It is an adventure I wish I never had to take and yet it has changed my life in many ways. I became a slightly different me at some point. Perhaps a bit wiser, more understanding, someone with a greater appreciation for small things... an individual who decided to embrace life and move forward.  

Today is a new day and I will enjoy the sunshine. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's Pink October -- An Opportunity to Share My Story

Yes! Today is October 1. When I began getting ready for the day, I almost forgot the significance of this month. Well, at least, I thought I did. Unconsciously, I was well aware that today marked the beginning of Pink October. I had already picked out one of my favorite hot pink exercise tops to wear to spin class. I also pulled out a pair of "hot pink" panties. (Okay, so no one would actually see these, but I would know.)

Pink October is not meant to be a fashion statement. While I may look good in pink, I must admit it was never one of favorite colors -- at least, not until I heard the words: "You have breast cancer." The date -- December 4, 2000. I woke up following surgery; I had undergone a lumpectomy after a biopsy had indicated that one of the two tumors in my right breast was malignant. My life changed that day.

At first, it seemed rather simple. My Mom was a long-time breast cancer survivor. Her mastectomy was in September 1976, just months after I had gotten married. Back then, cancer was usually spoken in "hush hush" tones. My Aunt Elinor, a registered nurse during her career and my Mom's sister, seemed rather concerned but tried to reassure my Dad and I that things would be okay. Actually, it was my Mom who gave us the reassurances -- she woke up asking: "What's next?" Other than the surgery, she never had any other problems from her breast cancer. She did undergo physical therapy for a year after surgery, needing to regain the use of her arm. But, otherwise, she was fine.

That is what I recalled as I went home that evening.  In fact, when I called my Mom to tell her the news, she responded: "You'll be fine." My cancer was stage one, fully contained. That was my diagnosis. The news was good. My cancer was found early, thanks to my diligence of undergoing annual mammograms. I went through radiation treatments (which were horrific but I survived) and I went on Tamoxifen, because my cancer was estrogen positive.

Then, my life really changed. Fast forward to 2002. A routine chest X-ray showed tumors in both lungs. The week after that "not so routine test" turned into a real nightmare. Suddenly, this "rather simple" breast cancer" experience was way out of control. I underwent major lung surgery, losing the upper lobe of my left lung. Now, my life had really changed.

From that day in May 2002 until nearly 2008 my life became a "living hell." Pain was constant. I now lived with chronic pain and it was in stages that hit past 10 on the standard pain scale. I lived on so many medications that I needed an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper just to keep track of every pill I took around the clock. I gained weight from my sedentary life style, reaching 186 pounds at one point. I had asthma, diabetes, osteoarthritis, pulmonary hypertension, high cholesterol, high blood pressure -- on and on. I wasn't seeing pink -- I was seeing darkness. I went into a very deep, scary depression. For years!

Thank goodness that darkness is gone. I can see pink and it's beautiful. Now, I look forward to Pink October. I look forward to the annual 5K Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. I look forward to attending exercise classes at the Oviedo Y... including spinning, Zumba, Qi Gong and water fitness. I look forward to seeing friends and family. I look forward to waking up each day. I look forward to sharing my story -- a story of survival.

It's Pink October and I'm a breast cancer survivor. I'm here to celebrate!

(I recently applied for a U.S. Copyright for my book "High Maintenance." The book shares my cancer-related experiences over the past 13 plus years.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Step Closer to the Goal

Yesterday, September 19, 2014 I finally took another step towards the publication of "High Maintenance." I applied for a U.S. Copyright.

Let's simply say that this process was not easy. In fact, it took two college educated individuals several hours to navigate through the pages of the form. We both had difficulties, at times, understanding how to proceed from page to page. We would begin to answer a question and then, would have second doubts as to if it was done correctly. I was working with a gifted graphic designer who knows how to work his way through the computer and online forms. However, he was overwhelmed by the U.S. Copyright's site. I was beginning to understand why other writers have mentioned (on various online sites such as Linked In) that they do not even bother applying for a copyright. But, to me, this process was essential. After spending four years writing this book, it was important that it be protected.

When I was at Temple University, I spent my last semester taking "Law and Ethics of Mass Communications." The textbook was massive in size. It weighed a ton -- okay, a mere exaggeration but since I only weighted 98 pounds at the time, it was a heavy load in my backpack. The class was early. If I recall correctly, it began at 8 a.m. My brain was barely awake at that hour. In addition, I spent the entire semester totally "lost." I never (despite my greatest attempts) understood anything we read or discussed. Even with the assistance of a legal expert (My Mom had me consult with a judge in the Philadelphia court system who had his law clerk helping me throughout the semester.) I never understood anything -- I felt "stupid" and "completely overwhelmed."

Before class began, I knew two things. There was libel and slander. One pertained to the written word; the other, to the spoken word. When the semester was over, I knew this ... if I were ever accused of either, I would hire an attorney. Even my instructor gave me "points" for this and, although I managed to pass the class, it was not without many nights of anxiety attacks.

I also learned that getting a copyright was always the smart thing to do when you wanted to protect a piece of work you created. Most of what I did throughout my career was protected via the publication I wrote for -- my work was within the collected pieces that were protected by the magazine or newspaper. Again, I am not a lawyer so don't ask my any specifics. I just know that a copyright is a good thing to have and my book, "High Maintenance," could not proceed to the next step in the world of publishing without it.

Now, that step has been completed. The forms have been filled out, the fees paid and my work has been sent to Washington, D.C. I will now have that U.S. Copyright protecting my words. My work. My book. My college instructors can be proud of me for, at least, learning this much from a class that basically "turned my brain to mush." While I may have hated the Law and Ethics class, I am happy to know that I will soon be taking the next step to get "High Maintenance" out to the public.

Copyright -- applied for. Next step -- moving closer to the date of publication for "High Maintenance - Surviving Cancer at All Costs."