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." 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

SunRail -- Is it Really the Answer to Orlando's Mass Transit Issues?

(Note to readers: This entry will deviate from the norm. I am not writing about health issues or promoting a fundraiser. I am using this blog as an opportunity to express my opinion about a major issue in Orlando -- the new SunRail system. It's a new me .. opening up about issues and concerns that may impact upon many of us. It's been a long time since I've done any op-ed type writing. I am both excited and terrified. But here's to an exciting moment in my life and moving forward.)


First, I need to explain that when I moved to the Orlando area in 1988, I honestly thought there would be an "explosion" of changes in the region. There were huge developments being built throughout Seminole County, the area I had chosen to live in. While the road closest to my home (Red Bug Lake Road) was undergoing renovations at that time (and still is) I believed (as did others) that a form of mass transit was not far behind. After all, I had grown up in Philadelphia, PA and had used buses, trains and trolleys all my life. I simply assumed (a terrible notion) that buses would follow all the road work. My area could connect with the bigger intersection of 436 with a bus and then, I could get to other places in my county and throughout the region. It hasn't happened; I'm still waiting.

There is no infrastructure to the system that the region established and while buses (or perhaps better stated -- a bus) does run along 436, I cannot get to it. Thus, the new SunRail is not accessible to me. The nearest station in Altamonte Springs is approximately 13 miles from my home. I do like to walk but quite honestly, that's way beyond my current ability. Plus, it could downright dangerous in certain areas to try and walk. Keep in mind that my son, Brian, did walk hundreds of miles while living here because he used the transportation system -- he rode the buses and was often left stranded for hours without a bus or found himself in the "middle of no where" because the buses were not running or were not available.  He has since moved to Washington, D.C. where the mass transit system really works. Anyway, back to Orlando -- the new SunRail looks pretty and runs rather quietly along its route from Debary (Volusia County) to Sand Lake Road (Orlando).  But, there are a number of issues that may keep SunRail from being the "best new kid on the block."

Yes! It's better than nothing. I have heard those words from many who have taken advantage of the "free rides" being offered at this time. For many "train travelers" it has been an experience. I saw wide-eyed children with hands over their ears as SunRail pulled into the station become giddy with excitement. After all, this was there very first train ride and their parents were also thrilled to provide this experience. However, again, some of the excitement was "derailed" by the long delays between trains. Due to mass overcrowding at the stations along the way (they underestimated the number of people who would come out for this free ride) trains were extremely overcrowded and sometimes could not even stop to pick up more passengers. Delays of an hour plus have been common. Now, let's remember that this is the "trial period" and not everyone taking to the trains will actually be a real rider on a regular basis. But, for those who intend to become regular commuters, this has not been the best of circumstances. If they need to count on SunRail to get them to work on time, then these delays need to be fixed -- ASAP.

Now, onto a much bigger and more frightening concern. Safety. I boarded the SunRail on a Friday evening.  The schedule indicated it was due into the station at 6:23 p.m. Edward and I waited for the train -- it arrived around 7 p.m. We boarded and he wanted to go onto the upper level. That was impossible since people were standing everywhere including the stairway. But here's the bigger challenge -- where could I stand safely? SunRail was built for riders who will be seated. There are very few places where commuters can hold on safely. While the train rides very smoothly and that was a good thing (considering my past history with falls) I kept telling Ed that we needed to find a place where I could hold onto something and feel like I would not be compromised. We made our way through the crowds and I finally found the area where passengers with disabilities can sit or where travelers with bikes can lock up their gear -- that was the only location with a poll I could hold onto. I grabbed on and the train took off. During this time all I could I think of was what would happen if there was an accident. My heart raced a bit harder as I looked around for more options. This beautiful, brand new train offered little in the way of making me feel safe. I enjoyed the fact that the ride was smooth (thank goodness) but my premonition did come true just this past week when a SunRail train hit a landscaping trailer just past the Longwood station. And yes, people were standing on the train at the time. Fortunately, reports did not indicate any injuries (although that may change) and the engineer was able to slow down the train prior to impact which, most likely, did make for a safer situation -- with time, this could prove very dangerous. How could they build a commuter train without any thought of passengers who would be standing and should have access to an overhead area where they can hold onto or polls that can easily be reached even by younger riders? Also, don't even get me started about issues involving disabled passengers in wheelchairs or with walkers. We have already seen the photos in the papers of major problems at stations. Again -- our safety is supposed to be a number one priority.

My anger is directed at the Governor of Florida and the legislators who made the financial decisions for SunRail. Because they chose to cut costs, we now have a system that is "doomed" for potential failure even before it really even starts. We have a train that only runs Monday through Friday. (Last time I checked there are two others days in the week.) It runs from 5:30 a.m. until approximately 10 p.m. (I got off at Church Street Station and the last train out is at 9:25 p.m.) There is already talk of how SunRail intends to pay for cabs or buses if a commuter is unable to get to a train on time, such as if they need to work OT or have another work-related issue that keeps them from getting to the station on time for the ride home. That does not take into consideration anyone who would like to take the train for an evening of theater or other entertainment in downtown Orlando or near Loch Haven Park. The Orlando International Fringe Festival begins soon. This could be a golden opportunity for SunRail, but of course, it will not be available for potential riders because of its hours and the fact that it does not run on weekends. Seriously? How could they have missed out on this tremendous chance to prove just how great SunRail could be? Plus, if you know anything about cabs in Orlando -- let's just say that with the program as it is (which allows for four rides per year per person) this would amount to many more dollars than the actual train ride itself. Bottom line: More mistakes that were made in the planning stages and now we pay the real price for the errors.

SunRail has potential. I have to believe that because I want Orlando to have a mass transit system. But, until the leaders and those with access to our tax dollars begin making wiser decisions, we are at their mercy. Plus, future expansion is critical. We need to be able to access all of Central Florida. My daughter now lives in Davenport, Polk County. Adrienne asked me if SunRail was near her. Unfortunately, it is not and I'm not sure if they even have plans to implement any system in her area. Also keep in mind that the hours the train does run makes it difficult for me to really utilize it even if I can get to a station. I may be able to get to a location, but getting home in a reasonable time frame may proven challenging.

I am not getting into the cost of riding the train because for now, that issue is not as relevant to me as is the safety issues I mentioned and the hours the system runs. Without better hours, SunRail will not be accessible to many potential riders. And, without a real mass transportation infrastructure (where we have buses that connect our communities to the train) again -- how is it expected to really work right?

I have heard others say what I was thinking as well. We should have let the Disney corporation take over the mass transit system of Orlando years ago. Or at the very least, our leaders should have listened to their advice. We could have had an incredible system of monorails and real futuristic transportation running throughout the region. But, instead, we have this quiet, great looking train that, for now, has many flaws. And, some of the flaws are not even with the train itself.

Yes! I hope SunRail survives. And thrives. And yet, I have many doubts about the future of Orlando's mass transit system because I have lived here for 25 1/2 years and very little has changed. There is still no bus running along Red Bug Lake Road. I have used LYNX (the buses connecting Orlando) once in all those years. My "joy ride" on SunRail may be the one and only -- unless things really truly change.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fundraiser for Oviedo Y

If you are looking for a way to support the Oviedo Y's Annual Community Support Campaign plan to  dine this Thursday, April 3 at Gator's Dockside from open to close - in eat or take out. A portion of the proceeds from this event will support the Oviedo Y's scholarship program. Please remember to tell your server that you are at Gator's to support the Oviedo Y. See attached flyer for more details. Thanks for caring and supporting this important cause.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Amoena Selects My Essay as Its Winner

Yes! It does feel great to see my byline gracing the pages of a magazine after a long hiatus. Amoena has published my essay "Embrace Every Curve" in its spring 2014 edition. It is available online this month. (See below for the link.)

My story shares the "curves" I have endured over the past 13 plus years as a breast cancer survivor. While it is the "short version" of my book (a very abbreviated version at that) I am still excited that thousands of people will be reading my work. Back in the day when I worked as the editor of several different newspapers I was always writing stories. My topics range from travel and articles about interesting individuals to medical breakthroughs. My byline has appeared more times than I can count. The name - Marilyn Wattman-Feldman - looked good on the pages of the magazines and newspapers where it appeared. But more importantly, I always put myself into every piece. That's not to say I necessarily gave my personal opinions (unless it was called for) but rather, I did my research and I worked to make every story the best I could. If my name was to appear on a published piece, then it was my intregity at state. It had to be better than good.

I had great influences along the way. There were men and women who helped shape my writing -- they helped make me a better writer simply by doing what I needed to do. I also feel a great deal of pride when I realize I attended a top notch university where I earned my degree in journalism. Temple was only a name to me when I was there. But now that I live in Florida and Temple University is unique, I understand its value. I had the best education possible. And now, I put it to work everyday when I write.

It does feel wonderful to see that byline ... it's been missing for way too long. http://issuu.com/amoena/docs/amolife_spring2014_us_screenpdf/10

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Celebrate St. Patty's Day & Raise Funds for ACS RFL



Come on out to Casey's Grill and celebrate St. Patrick's Day on Monday, March 17. While dining on some great corned beef and cabbage (and plenty of other delicious entrees) you will be helping to raise funds for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. 

As a cancer survivor, I have come to know (first-hand) the incredible work that the ACS does. Money raised helps support the society's mission to provide patient services, education, advocacy and research. I have personally benefited from all of these -- and as a volunteer, I have shared "my voice" with legislative leaders in order to raise money for vital research. A single voice does make a difference.

Looking for a way to enjoy St. Patty's Day -- look no further than Casey's Grill. And,  while enjoying a "yummy" meal and a fun-filled atmosphere, you will be making a big difference. A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit the ACS RFL.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I did it ... Now I Need to Accept the Kind Words Being Shared

"You look great!" "You look amazing!" "Wow, Marilyn! I can't believe how terrific you look!"

Over the past few weeks, I have heard these words or similar ones repeated over and over again. To say I've been "surprised" or even "shocked" to hear these comments -- let's just say I am happy yet still trying to comprehend the meaning behind those words.

Why? Well, I know I certainly look much different than I did several years ago. In fact, I look much different from how I was between 2002 and 2009. In early 2002, my cancer had spread to the lungs and I underwent major surgery. That certainly affected how I felt and how I looked. There was the overall fatigue and inability to do much physically, so yes... I began to gain weight. I also began chemo in the summer of 2002. While I never completely lost my hair, it thinned out to the point where everyday I gathered up hair from my sleepwear, my pillow and from around the shower drain. Then, as the years progress, I was still sedentary and the weight piled on. When I broke my right femur in 2005, I weight so much that my rehab took longer than anticipated. (At least, that's how I remember it.) The femur break in 2008 was still horrible, but because I had already started loosing weight, my rehab process went much faster. (That is the truth.) Fast forward to today .. I weight what I did after having Adrienne. And yes, I feel great and apparently ... I am looking much better these days.

I guess that's what I can't quite process. In my head, I am still heavier -- I am still having trouble moving about. My body is far from perfect and I'm in pain more than I care to admit. I take so much medication on a daily basis and although most of the drugs I take are necessary ... they keep me moving about -- with pain levels that allow me to participate in classes like spinning, water fitness and Zumba. So, the drugs give me a life worth living because if I were in the horrific pain I could be in, I would not be able to function. Getting out of bed everyday would be impossible. I could not even be typing this blog -- my fingers would cease to work from the osteoarthritis that has mishapped my knuckles. Without my pain specialist and the medications prescribed, I may very likely be in bed most of the time... or perhaps back in a wheelchair unable to move around on my own. As I even think about that option, I must admit it is terrifying. I hated being so vulnerable back in 2005 and 2008 following my femur breaks. Unable to do anything for myself -- being totally dependant upon the aides and techs for everything -- all the personal stuff we humans do on a daily basis. It was a horrible, gut wrenching experience back then and it's one I do not want to repeat.

I remember a moment several years ago when I got out of the car and started to stretch. I bent over to touch my toes. I heard a loud "shriek" like sound coming from both Brian and Adrienne. "What was I doing?" They could not believe what they were seeing. I immediately did it again -- reaching down to my feet -- feeling the stretch down my back. When I got back up, I looked at both of them. "Seriously," I said. "When I tell you that I'm doing water fitness classes. Or I'm at Tai Chi or Zumba. I'm not playing tiddly winks." I wanted them to understand that I knew how important it was to keep exercising. To keep moving. I was talking about my life. If I were to truly follow my mantra -- "Everyday in every way I am getting better and stronger" -- then I had to keep exercising. I know they got the message. They no longer question my quest for better health. (They do ask me to be safe and not overdo things. I honor those logical requests since I know they are said out of love.)

Meanwhile, I am still grappling with the words I keep hearing from those around me. I hear it most often when I enter the Oviedo Y.  Apparently, people notice when you are really exercising and getting results. Perhaps that's what is happening and I'm just not totally prepared to accept that I've achieved my goals. That's not to say I can stop and no longer do classes. In fact, it means I not only have to continue but I must really make the effort to remain diligent. I've had a couple of days this past week where my energy level dropped and I simply didn't want to do much. I arrived at the Y unprepared to do anything in particular. However, I finally ventured into a Zumba class and remained there for 30 minutes. (I was ready to call it a day after that session although the class was 60 minutes.) Another day, I arrived and decided to attend a lecture given by Kim Lett, RD, the Y's dietitian.  She was speaking about heart health and healthy eating -- the lecture was titled:" Don't go breaking your heart". That was in lieu of another exercise class that ran during the same time frame. I simply was "not in the mood" to exercise. For me, that's unusual but I do have those times where I am"tired" or "hurting too much" or simply "not in the zone" (my head isn't there)... so I've learned to adjust. I listen to my body. I used to do back to back cardio classes and now, I realize that is not always in my best interest. I was actually doing too much and was losing too much weight. (I attended sessions with a dietitian at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando where I learned how to balance my diet with exercise.) It has been a learning curve all along.

Now, I must begin accepting the wonderful compliments that come from working so hard and achieving so much. It's not easy for me. I love complimenting others and giving praise. It is much more difficult for me to accept and appreciate the well meaning words from others. Slowly, I am doing so and I must say -- it feels great! I'm not sure how "awful" or "what I must have looked like even a year ago" but I enjoy hearing all the wonderful things people share with me. The kind, expressive words they say -- the compliments and the smiles I get as well. Both men and women sharing their praises... their compliments and inspiring words. A friend saying: "Marilyn, you look great!" Another one saying: "Marilyn, you inspire me!" Wow! And then, hearing so many others asking: "So when is the book coming out?" To that last question I can say... I am working diligently on that. I intend to publish my book this year. "High Maintenance" will be a success and in no small part, due to the incredible individuals I have met over the past 13 years. (As well as all the friends I have known most of my life and of course, my amazing family.)

As I prepare to leave the house and venture back to the Y for yet another exercise session of some sort (not necessarily a class but a cardio activity plus muscle toning, etc.) I must be ready to "hear" perhaps another kind word or two. When I think about how good it feels when I hear their words, it's like Valentine's Day all-year long. There may not have been chocolates or hearts yesterday -- I did hear the words "Happy Valentine's Day" expressed along with a warm hug -- but more importantly, I am starting to realize that kindness, friendship, happiness and yes ... love -- is year round and not a single day in the calendar. In addition, being able to receive the compliments given by others is essential. (And yesterday, I received several more amazing compliments.)  Once we can truly internalize that we are worthy of "compliments" and not feel "guilty" when we hear kind words spoken about us -- it's another way for us to grow. To learn more about ourselves. Even at my age, (And I'm young!) I am still learning more about me everyday. Those around me are helping -- because the journey is not meant to be solitary. Life is meant to be shared with others. Thus, it makes sense that we make friends along the way -- we share good times -- we share kindnesses -- we share a compliment or two. And now I know that I can enjoy those very special words that are meant for me. It's okay to smile, give a hug and say "thank you." (Because you did what you had to do and now, it's being acknowledged... congratulations!)