Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy 2012

Every year has become more significant to me since being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2000. Every day -- every hour and every moment is a gift I treasure. 
As we enter a new year -- 2012 -- I find myself reflecting back upon the past as well as looking towards the future. The past is over, it cannot be changed. I am forever a cancer survivor. Although I would like to change that December day when I heard those words, “You have cancer” that’s simply impossible. Even if I had a time machine capable of taking me back in time -- and even if I could change the past (at least the part where I became ill and at times, in such horrible pain) there are aspects of my past I would never change. 
I love being a Mom. I have never taken on any responsibility that has ever matched this role. No job or position I’ve held has come close to being a parent. It’s a 24/7 job -- no day’s off, no vacations, no benefits I can take to the bank (or use for retirement), but I love it and would never change anything about it.
My son, Brian, never ceases to amaze me with his talent and creativity. When he was younger, it was apparent he had “inherited” (or discovered) the world of the arts. He was a natural on stage and began exploring various avenues of acting, writing, film making, directing, producing ... whether it was theater or film, he was somehow involved. Brian has taken his talents into many directions -- most noteworthy, his current passion for performance or conceptual art. When he speaks about his “projects” I am most astounded by his range of creativeness -- there’s no limit to what he can do or imagine. To think, I gave “birth” to this incredible individual. (I’m beyond amazed!)
My daughter, Adrienne, has also developed a strong passion for the arts. She has been a dancer, actor and director. She has spent countless hours doing “back of the house” work for theatrical productions including sound and light operator, assistant stage manager and stage manager. Her creative energy is only matched by her skills to coordinate productions, organize schedules and keep things running -- a simple description of a stage manager. Adrienne came into this world as a very tiny person. (At birth, she weighed a “whopping” two pounds, 14 ounces.) However, despite her petite size, she is a giant when it comes to creativity, tenacity, determination and a passion for living life to the fullest. Wow! And I gave birth to this special individual. (How did I do it?) 
I have never figured out how Brian and Adrienne became so “incredible.” Maybe that’s because it just happened. One day I was holding this helpless little baby and the next, I was watching this incredibly talented person perform on stage. Or, I was looking at a painting he or she created or watching them cue actors for a production. Maybe it was when I saw a film that Brian worked on or when I first saw Adrienne head to the back of the theater to begin her role as SM. Each of those moments was so special and when I look back, it’s with such happiness and pride. 
When I try to glance the future, I see so many wonderful moments ahead. Adrienne got married on January 1, 2011 to Jason McIntosh. They will celebrate their first wedding anniversary on 1/1/12 by casting off on a cruise aboard the Carnival Dream. (The first of many “dreams” to come true for them as a couple.) Brian, meanwhile, has big plans for 2012. And while I would rather not share all the details, I can “say” that he will be heading off in a new direction - and I cannot wait to hear about all the wonderful things that will happen once he is established and ready to make his mark. 
Brian and Adrienne are a “big” part of my life and a “huge” reason why I have worked so hard at “surviving.” I realize I have so much to live for... here in the present, I am having fun. And the future, it’s so bright that I may need extra “dark” shades just to “see” all the exciting things to come. 
When the “ball drops on New Year’s Eve” and everyone suddenly thinks about the past year (with flashbacks, etc.) and then looks into the “eye” of 2012, I will be smiling with happiness. Trust me, my life is not perfect. (If you know someone living the perfect life, I would love hearing about it.) I am not always smiling and happy. (I have my “time restrained” pity parties.) But, when I take into account the total picture of my life --(subtracting out any negatives) it’s absolutely fabulous! It’s spectacular! It’s supercalfraglicexoalpdous! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Greetings! Creating Memories

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very happy holiday season.
If you are celebrating Chanukah, may the lights of the menorah shine brightly. I had a wonderful evening recently -- celebrating the first night of the holiday with my daughter and son-in-law at their apartment. It was a real first for them as a couple, hosting a party at their place. Family and friends gathered to enjoy latkes, a delicious cheddar fondue,(Adrienne & Jason love fondue and made sure that their bridal registry included several fondue pots.) and of course, plenty of sweet treats including donuts, Brownies and a “to die for” chocolate ganache cake. (Jason celebrated his birthday recently, so the cake was a belated b-day special treat.)
I watched Adrienne lead a game of dreidel, taking time to read the “rules” of how to play from a book she had had since childhood. She decided to create teams of two -- and the game began. Taking turns, each guest spun the dreidel and awaited to see what letter came up. Laughter filled the evening as those who were winning gathered more and more chocolate Hershey Kisses. (The candy Kisses were the “gelt” or money being played for and trust me, everyone wanted to win big.) At times, it was downright hilarious watching and listening. Remember, Adrienne’s guests were not Jewish and thus, for many, this was the first time they had ever played with a dreidel and not only were learning a new game but even a new “language.” She would pronounce the Hebrew letters and everyone attempted to say them as best they could. At one point, a good friend of Jason’s shouted out, “L’Chaim!” To which I responded: “If there’s a L’Chaim on that dreidel, I want to see it!” Again, we had a good laugh! Fun was the buzz word that night!
This weekend, members of my family as well as dear friends, neighbors and my “newest friends” (readers of Marilyn’s Byline) will celebrate Christmas. One of my Mom’s sisters raised six of my cousins in the Catholic faith. So, every Christmas Day as far back as I can recall, we visited their home to enjoy a traditional Italian Christmas dinner of lasagna. Of course, I enjoyed seeing their big Christmas tree and all the gifts piled underneath. (We would have them over to our house for a Chanukah party, so the month of December always meant lots of parties and celebrations.) 
I sincerely hope that everyone has a festive time -- filled with good food, lots of laughter and perhaps most of all, the creation of memories. I have so many wonderful memories from childhood of the holiday season. Growing up in Philadelphia, PA meant cold weather, perhaps even snow in the month of December. As a kid, snow was fun! Sledding and days off from school. Yes, those were fun times. As I grew older however, I also began to “hate” snow and ice. If you have never driven in either of these horrific weather conditions, let me say this, it’s not fun. The cold, dreary days of winter is what drove me to eventually want to live in Florida. I needed the sunshine. And yet, I still have fond memories of those days when I was a child sledding the hills behind the doctor’s office down the road from where we lived. 
The holiday season has a greater meaning for me now as a cancer survivor. In fact, everyday is more special. I don’t take much for granted. I appreciate everything -- if someone says “happy holiday” to me, I relish it. If they take a moment to walk over and give me a “hug” and again say “best wishes” I am extra happy. I took some time this morning to venture over to the Oviedo Y, one of my favorite places to hang out. There, almost everyone took the time to say Merry Christmas,Happy Chanukah,” and “Happy Holidays,” to me .. while I was riding the stationary bike, working out on a piece of equipment or just sipping a cup of coffee. I felt so good being around this type of positive energy. Even when I left the place where I had a bite to eat for lunch, the woman behind the counter (who has supported my Relay for Life team) called out to me, “Happy, healthy holidays.” 
Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or if you will be gathering the family to enjoy Kwanzaa, I wish you a happy holiday. I also extend my best to you for a healthy New Year. Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. If you are healthy -- you are a very fortunate individual. Never underestimate the power of good health.
Eat, drink and be merry. Also be safe. And, may we all enjoy a peaceful holiday season.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feeling Like Humpty Dumpty

(This entry pertains to an experience that happened in April 2008.) 
Besides the horrific physical pain I was experiencing, I was already dealing with major anxiety and depression. I don’t recall the trip to the hospital nor anytime spent in the ER. I was put into a room and the only relief from pain would be surgery. Yes, my instinct was correct. I had a broken left femur and the pain level was 100 on a scale of one to 10.
Here I was, again, a patient at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford. I was just down the road from the zoo and from my friends at Relay. They continued to enjoy the night -- raising a lot of money for the cause. Meanwhile, I was lying in a hospital bed moaning in pain and waiting for surgery. 
The most wonderful moment came when a physician walked into my room and introduced himself as Dr. Thomas Brodrick, MD, an orthopedic surgeon. He said he would be able to operate on me that afternoon. (It was now Saturday morning. I had fallen Friday night about 8 p.m.)  I had mentioned another surgeon’s name upon arrival in the ER since he had operated on me in 2005. He was the only specialist I knew in this field. However, when I was told that this other surgeon would not be available until Monday, I realized I had to make a quick decision. Would I really want to wait until Monday for surgery? In 2005, as you may recall, I had no other choice. I was on Coumadin, a blood thinner. So, I had to wait until this medication was out of my system. But, it was 2008 and I was no longer this on drug. I had other alternatives. I could allow Dr. Brodrick to do the surgery on Saturday afternoon. That would mean I could begin the road to recovery (and the lessening of my pain) much sooner. After a call to Edward to inform him of what was happening, I told the nurse on duty that I wanted Dr. Brodrick to operate. I learned shortly afterwards, that I would be heading down to surgery by mid-afternoon. 
Even though my pain was intense, I felt a sense of relief knowing that the operation would allow me to experience a lower pain level once it was completed. While I did not know Dr. Brodrick, he certainly made me feel at ease. When I arrived in pre-op, he stopped by to visit briefly. He told me he had another patient to operate on, but, given the intensity of my pain and the break itself (Apparently, I had a severe left femur break.) he was going to put me first on the schedule. He said he realized how much pain I was in and wanted to relieve that as soon as possible. I must admit, even in that moment where all I could think of was pain, I knew that he was a considerate and compassionate individual. I felt comfortable putting my “life” into his hands.
When I met with the anesthesiologist however, I did not exactly feel “warm and fuzzy.” His initial comments “terrified me!” He said, “I was going to be awake during the surgery.” All I could think was “No way!” I was not even going to move from the bed I was in until they had me fully sedated. I could not handle anymore pain, so moving me while I was still awake was not an option. Nor, was it an option to have me “alert” while operating  But, despite my protests, he was going to keep me awake. Apparently, it was the only way to safely operate on me due to some complications with my throat and breathing. Since he was the “specialist” he was the person in charge of my overall health and well being during surgery. His decisions won out over my protests. 
Yes -- I was awake during major surgery. And please, don’t even ask me how they accomplished this. (Call it a modern medical miracle.) To this day, I am still somewhat in awe every-time I even think of what was done and that I was actually awake while it all happened. It was not like having a baby, where I had an epidural and was still wide awake to see my child born. It was different, although I’m not quite sure how. I never did find out how the doctor accomplished what he did that afternoon -- keeping me awake while Dr. Brodrick fixed my broken femur. Maybe it was some type of epidural, and yet I don’t recall having anyone put something into my back. (I think I would have remembered that since I would have been screaming my head off as they moved me to do so.) Maybe someday I’ll ask. However, I know I was “somewhat” alert and yet, I was not really there either. 
I remember being wheeled into the operating suite. I recall being moved from my bed to the operating table. I did not experience any pain whatsoever, so again, I can’t even begin to imagine what the specialist did. They took my arms and began placing them where they wanted them to be. A nurse took my right leg and moved it -- from where I was lying, it appeared that she took my leg over my head. (Obviously, that was not the case.) And then, she moved my left left (the broken one) some place else. Since there was no pain, I really didn’t seem to care where she put my leg. I noticed the bright light over my head (extremely bright) and I also saw some plastic sheets or covers that  separated me from Dr. Brodrick. 
That’s about I remember of my time in the OR. Probably, that’s enough. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Wine Fest!

Join me at a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Sanford on Wed. Dec. 21 at the Lake Mary Cork & Olive, 4247 W. Lake Mary Blvd. from 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. RSVP and get the $25 admission fee. ($30 at the door.) Includes three (3) chance drawing tickets. Lots of great giveaways including one prize worth more than $1,000. Light refreshments. Plenty of fun!

To RSVP contact Elaine at 407-688-0923 or Marilyn at 321-262-6756.

Celebrate the holidays & help a great cause! See you there.

Down on the Ground, Again!

It was April 2008. I was ready for a long night ahead. The Relay for Life of Sanford was underway at the Central Florida Zoo. We had just finished a wonderful survivor dinner inside the Wayne Densch Center. Gary, my brother, was sharing the “spotlight” with me that evening as we gave out a variety of prizes to survivors and caregivers.  All donated from area businesses, we had received a lot of giveaways that year. So, instead of just giving them out inside after the meal, we told guests we would meet them at the outdoor stage to continue the fun. We had more prizes to award. 
Gary and I had just be given several thank you gifts for serving on the committee by Survivor Chair Carol Ann Pohl. We had put them down at our campsite and made our way to the staging area where the festivities were underway. Once done, I told Gary I was returning to our site to make sure all was well. We had left our youngest brother, Michael, at the site to keep things going while we tended to other things. Since this was his first actual Relay at the zoo, I wanted to make sure he was okay. Most of my team members had also made their way to our campsite, so this was my chance to say hello to everyone. 
I was standing at the site, less than a foot away from my walker and cane. I was simply talking to Michael and Gary, who had just arrived. At some point during the conversation, I began to “turn.” At least, I think that’s what I did. As I moved (I was going to get my walker and begin heading off to visit other sites.) I felt myself falling. Obviously, I was unable to stop the motion. It felt like I was falling in slow motion ... the sensation was so strange. And when I finally landed, the pain that I felt was “all too familiar.” The searing pain through my left leg was definitely “familiar” in a horrible way. I immediately knew I was seriously injured. I began to scream. “Gary, I can’t go through this again!” I shouted out! “I can’t do this again!” Without actually knowing what I had done, I was already feeling this horrific pain. That all too familiar 100 level on the scale of one to 10. 
Gary didn’t even realize immediately what had happened. One minute I was talking to him and the next, he almost could not comprehend that I was down on the ground. He had been standing right behind Michael (on the other side of our site’s table) and the three of us had been casually chatting. Now, I was screaming at the top of my lungs! Gary radioed for emergency help. Fortunately, he had requested on site paramedics who were there in an instant. (They were on bicycles.) Elaine Raymond, our Event Chair, arrived quickly and was down on the ground with me, holding my hand.. attempting to calm me down and assuring me that help was on the way. Meanwhile, my daughter, Adrienne, who began screaming  “Mommy!” was pulled away as she tried to get down next to me. Someone pulled her away, explaining that they needed to clear the area for the paramedics. Gary had also told someone to find Edward, who had began walking around the area. 
The following moments are a blur. I know an IV was put in, and I was told I was being given a pain killer. I was screaming away! The pain was so excruciating! I could hear comments like, “Look at her leg!” “You can see the break!” I could not see anything but I sure felt the pain going through my body! Even before I had the X-ray, I knew I had broken my left femur. 
How in the world did this happen? I had broken my right femur just three years earlier in 2005, but I had tripped over a curb. Now, I was simply standing.. talking .. I moved very slowly and did not even complete my move and I went down with such a force that the largest bone in my body had broken! I could not comprehend it at all. But, this is what I did know. It had taken years to get back to some degree of normalcy. Now, after finally feeling so much better, all I could imagine is “years” of more therapy. Months of being in a rehab center, then more home care, weeks of outpatient physical therapy and then, more work on my own. Yes, it would be “years” before I could even think of being “normal” again. At that instant, I was not only in physical pain but emotionally/mentally I was a broken person. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I began my blog, Marilyn's Byline in late June 2011. So, it's been five months. I just noticed that I reached the 1,000 mark. That is, I have had 1,024 hits since starting my online journal. I am beyond "words." I can't believe I have touched so many readers -- and in turn, you have reached out to me and my story. I am so grateful to all of you. I appreciate you reading my entries and I especially thank you for telling others about Marilyn's Byline. Word of mouth has made a huge difference. I also know that many of you have enjoyed the bookmark I have shared with you.

Again, thanks for your tremendous support. I will continue sharing my story. Plus, I promise that I will also continue to work on my book, "High Maintenance.. Surviving Cancer at All Costs." 

I have had so much happen over the past few months. I had "three" skin biopsies -- all benign. And, recently, I underwent a needle aspiration biopsy of my right thyroid -- also benign. I will have my PET scan next month and need to schedule another colonoscopy. In other words, my doctors are keeping me busy. (Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.)

Hope you can join me and my team, Circle of Hope, at our upcoming fundraisers. (Mentioned in my blog this week.) You can "see me" this coming Tuesday, Dec. 6 at Ale House in Sanford and on Wed. Dec. 21 at Lake Mary Cork & Olive. (For my out of town readers, I know you're with me in spirit!)

Celebrating the Holidays

Marilyn’s Byline is taking a different direction this week. My entry is not in the past. It is very much in the present. Or perhaps, the near future to be more precise. 
I am promoting several fundraising events that will benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Sanford. I have a wonderful team - Circle of Hope. We are a small team, comprised of family/friends. There are 11 of us this year. 
On Tuesday, Dec. 6 enjoy a delicious dinner and help raise money for Relay. How? Miller’s Ale House in Sanford will generously donate a portion of the proceeds from the evening to RFL. That is, you stop by to have a family dinner or holiday gathering with coworkers and Relay for Life of Sanford benefits. 
Miller's Ale House
50 Town Center Circle
Sanford 32771

Time: 4 - 9 p.m.
In addition to having great food and drinks, you can also purchase chance drawings for a holiday stocking filled with gift cards! Wow! For a $1 you can walk off with a prize package worth over $50 plus dollars. You do not need to be present to win. 
For more holiday fun, join my team at a Holiday Wine Fest on Wed. Dec. 21 at Cork & Olive in Lake Mary. Stop by this popular wine bar & wine store for light refreshments and a chance to win some great prizes. (Chance drawings will be held that evening.) Special prices on a terrific array of wines. 
Cork & Olive
4247 W. Lake Mary Blvd.
Lake Mary 32746
Time: 6 - 9 p.m.
Price is $25 pp in advance; $30 pp at the door. To RSVP contact: Elaine Raymond at 407-688-0923. 
A portion of the proceeds from both events will benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Sanford. 
We are now celebrating our 6th year as a Relay. Our main event is set for March 30, 2012 at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. I am currently serving my second term as Advocacy Chair. Our event chair is Jayna Fox. To learn more about our event go to: