And God Laughs

I should be sleeping. It’s 2:33am. I have to be up in four hours.

I am in Albany as part of a campaign for New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. The campaign, 50 Reasons by Compassion & Choices, highlights 50 stories of real people and their reasons why they support the bill. Its genius. The people included aren’t just terminally ill patients; they are members of the clergy, doctors, caregivers, loved ones. They all have personal stories; reasons that provide their perspective.

Today is my day to share my reason.

Normally, I can do this with my eyes closed. I’ve been coming to Albany and have been involved in this advocacy for years. I’ve blogged about it in the past. My reasons then were very clear. I didn’t want my son to see me actively dying, lying in bed for who knows how long and remember me that way. I was working hard to create special memories for him. I wasn’t going to have the end of my life strip that all away. While that’s still true, he’s much older now. There is another reason that has moved to the top of my list.

(This is the most unnerving coincidence – I know God is laughing)

Exactly one year ago, I published a blog What The Fuck Is The Reason. My dear friend Melissa died the night before from metastatic breast cancer. I had sat with her family, her best friend Chrysta, and watched countless others come and go as they checked on her or said their goodbye’s. There were a few nights I stayed with her Aunt and close family friends so Melissa wasn’t alone.

Facebook Memories Suck

Melissa lingered for nine days. There were times she was in pain but unable to communicate beyond calling out. She was visibly restless, and fluid was building up in her lungs. It was incredibly frustrating for those of us sitting there bearing witness. We were mad. We were upset. We felt helpless. I can’t fathom how Melissa felt being trapped in a body shutting down and not being able to communicate what she needed.

Death is not how it is in the movies or on TV. It’s not a natural, peaceful, falling asleep death. If you’ve never sat bedside for anyone while they died and thought that’s what it was like – you’re greatly mistaken. Cancer patients who have been on pain medications for a long time have it the worst. There is a level of tolerance that develops. A false understanding exists that with the right ”formula” of morphine, any pain can be managed. That may be true for some, but not everyone. The line between palliative coma and death is razor-thin.

Those days and nights I spent in Melissa’s hospital room gutted me; not to mention how it impacted her family, those that loved her and her sweet daughter. I don’t ever want to be trapped in my body like that. To put my loved ones through that. Those nights reinforced to me how important it is that there be Medical Aid in Dying laws in every State. Everyone with a terminal illness should have access to this option if they want it.

It’s not a religious issue – It’s a personal choice.

It’s not suicide (OMG It’s NOT) – I want to live. Cancer has other plans.

I think I always knew about the correlation in dates between yesterday/today and last year. I just never let my mind REALLY go there until it forced me. Always the middle of the night. Thanks, brain. While it will be familiar, it will also be different as I see staffers and lawmakers. The tears I know will come will be about Melissa.

I’m livin’ the dream, Melissa.

Livin it for you babe.

Two hours until I have to be up…..

Six Month Increments

It’s been six years, six months, and 24 days.

I’ve been living my life in six-month increments.

I go about my life like everything is normal, like nothing is wrong.

Don’t let them see. Smile. Laugh. Don’t let them hear any worries or fears.

Celebrate all the moments, create lasting memories.

It’s the happiness I want them to have when I’m no longer there.

It’s been six years, six months, and 24 days.

I’ve been living my life in six-month increments.

Those on the outside looking in are scared of what they see.

It could be them as easily as it was me.

Anger is mistaken for bitterness.

Determination is mistaken for anger.

Knowledge is mistaken for negativity.

People I thought were my friends turned into ghosts.

It was easier to dismiss what wasn’t understood.

It’s been six years, six months, and 24 days.

I’ve been living my life in six-month increments.

Making friends just like me. Forming strong bonds.

Watching them get sicker, seeing them die.

Feelings of guilt while being happy, I’m still alive.

Every day I take pills.

Every day there are side effects.

Every month I have appointments.

Every six months, I get scans.

It’s been six years, six months, and 24 days.

I am living my life in six-month increments.

January 2020

This is where I am supposed to say I am #sorrynotsorry to see 2019 come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I am. Quite a few shitty things happened that impacted many people. Notwithstanding some of the fun stuff. Traveling to Cancun in January with my ride or die Tori by invitation of Michelle and Robert. Epic trip! (Thank you both again so much for inviting us!) Followed by a pit stop in Orlando to attend the Metavivor Metsquerade in February.

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That’s where my 2019 peaked. It all went to shit after that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rehash all the negativity and make this a pity party. No one wants to read that, and quite frankly, I don’t feel like writing about it. That’s what therapy is for. (Thank you, very much Whitney)

I have to say, though, I am not super impressed with 2020 so far. I am hopeful though, after all, it’s still January. Barely. That said, I am going to try something a bit unusual for me and see where it takes me. It’s been said that what you put out into the universe, you will get back from the universe. I know it sounds hokey. I almost feel foolish writing it as it sounds like those platitudes I cannot stand. Please don’t ask me who said it, I have no idea. But I know I heard it or read it somewhere, so I’m putting it to the test.

 

Here we go, my hopes for 2020 are as follows:

 

     1. Everyone has stable scans (yes, everyone)

 

      2. My friends who are struggling catch a big break

 

      3. I get back to writing regularly

 

     4. Spring arrives soon & Summer sticks around

 

     5. NYS passes the Medical Aid in Dying Act

 

     6. I actually get to see the big 5-0 without any crazy medical issues

 

     7. I give myself more self-care and grace

 

     8. More options & better treatments become available to extend our lives

 

     9. There will be more good news than bad

 

     10. The country gets its shit together

 

Ok. #1 and #10 are BIG asks, but it can’t hurt. Fingers crossed! That’s my list.

 

Now it’s your turn. What are your hopes for 2020?

 

 

The Couch That Love Built

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’ve talked about The Cancer Couch, and it’s founder, Rebecca Timlin-Scalara. In case a refresher is needed, Rebecca started a nonprofit as she was recovering from treatments she was receiving for breast cancer. The irony in her choosing the name of her foundation comes from the fact that she, a neuropsychologist, literally went from one side of the couch to the other.

Rebecca initially was told she had Stage 4, metastatic breast cancer, but after having additional scans, it was determined she was Stage 3C. When her doctor told her she had a chance at a cure (being 3C), she decided then and there she had to do something about the fact that MBC is woefully underfunded. She wasn’t going to leave those of us dying behind.

Rebecca and I met and began working together in the summer of 2016. We had a “small world” family connection that Italian families are known for. It wouldn’t surprise me if our “ancestries DNA” held similar leaves on some of the same branches of our family trees too but I digress.

Rebecca could hustle. She formed relationships with just about everyone she met and if there was a way to partner up to raise money for her foundation, which meant MBC research – she made it happen. Fun Fact: There are only two organizations that are focused 100% on MBC research; however, every single donation gets matched, which makes volunteer-run TCCF unique. That’s right – MATCHED – Dollar for Dollar.

Cancer is a sonofabitch. It doesn’t care who you are; it doesn’t discriminate. A sobering statistic I have mentioned here before is that up to 30% of those successfully treated for breast cancer will recur with metastatic disease. It may not happen immediately; it could be up to 15-20 yrs later. When Rebecca found out hers had spread, it didn’t slow her down. As I write this TCCF has funded over 3 Million Dollars for MBC Research.

This incredible woman, this champion for metastatic breast cancer patients, my friend, died on Saturday, December 14th. Please keep Rebecca’s family and friends; especially her husband and children during this unimaginable time.

Below is Rebecca’s obituary, as written by her husband, Tom. As much as I hate that it had to be written, it’s the most magnificent tribute that encompasses the essence of who she was.

Dr. Rebecca M. Timlin Scalera
August 20, 1972 – December 14, 2019

The Radiant:

A Radiant Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Friend, Neuropsychologist, Breast Cancer Activist, Division 1 Athlete, Coach, Captain, Comedienne, Traveler and Writer. A True Force of Nature and A Whole-Hearted Lover of Everybody and Everything in this Life.

The Angels:

A beautiful blue-eyed angel was made on December 14, 2019. Dr. Rebecca (Reb) Timlin Scalera was the wife of the incredibly lucky (she wanted me to write that), Tom Scalera, and the loving mother of her amazing children on this earth, Bella and Luca, that are a daily reflection of their Mom’s radiant energy, beauty, and intense love for them. We are all comforted to know that she will now be with our heavenly son, Angel.

The Magical Days:

Reb was born August 20, 1972 and grew up in Windsor Connecticut. But there was even more family magic on that date…33 Years later she birthed her beautiful cosmic twin, Bella, on the very same day and (wait for it)…the same minute. It is a day of miracles in our family and it shows how uniquely and freakishly strong Reb’s connections have always been and will always be to her children. She also continues to have a life-long connection to her special childhood friends from Windsor that have been faithful traveling companions through every stage of life with her.

The Smarty Pants:

Reb was insanely intelligent, that rare combination of IQ and EQ – yes she had it all and she had the lighting-quick processing speed to use it. So not only did Miss Smarty pants get a B.A. in Psychology from Fairfield University, she went on to Fordham University to get her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and then added on a Professional Diploma in School Psychology from Fordham University for good measure. She made neuropsychology her career choice and ultimately became a partner at Neuropsychology Consultants in Norwalk, CT because her spirit could not bear to see anyone in pain (store that one for later). Reb was born inside out, her soul was on the outside, you could immediately feel it when you were in her presence. A brutal 4 year war with Breast Cancer ravaged her body, but her Mind and Soul just grew stronger and more magnificent every day. She lived a daily life of passionate enjoyment – to Reb everything was amazing. And while she did not have very much time on this earth in this form, she enjoyed it twice as long and twice as hard as anyone I know.

The FU:

Going back to our beginning, it was at a Fairfield University beach party (just 10 houses away from the dream home we just built), that we first met and fell in love. She said she was hit by a lightning bolt and immediately knew we were soul-mates (remember soul on the outside). Some of her other amazing memories and accomplishments from the Fairfield University days included being named All Scholar Athlete on the Women’s Division 1 Soccer Team, experiencing a life changing semester abroad in Spain, engaging in a decent amount of partying and forging life-long friendships and connections within the amazing Fairfield University Community.

The Couch:

So after a dream vacation in August 2015, Reb was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and the long battle officially started. She, like so many others, thought that all breast cancer is curable, but she quickly learned that it is not. It is not! So she directed her energy, passion and intellect to increase funding for cutting edge research for Metastatic Breast Cancer – the one that ultimately takes 42,000 lives a year in the US alone. So the former psychologist started the 100% volunteer managed Cancer Couch Foundation from her own recovery couch. In just 4 short years, the Cancer Couch has funded over $3 million in research at Dana Farber and Memorial Sloan Kettering. She proudly represented the Foundation on ESPN, the NBC Today Show and countless other news and radio broadcasts. The Foundation also hosted 4 of the best party fundraisers in Fairfield County – Reb made sure that everyone had a crazy blast while combating this deadly disease – that’s how she rolled. While there is much more work still to be done, we are so very thankful to the thousands of supporters of the Couch’s mission all around the world.

The Reb:

Rebecca constantly amazed the many, many people who loved her with her boundless energy, optimism, smarts, and thoughtfulness. She made devoted friends in every stage of life, and kept them, always one to reach out and bring people together with great warmth, humor and enthusiasm. She had many interests and talents that she pursued passionately, often inspiring those around her to pursue them as well. Among her many loves were the sea (she was the Lady S Captain, not me), the beach, traveling, writing, blogging, raising millions, live music, reading, tons of movie popcorn, watching shows and snuggling. She was notoriously the last one to the party and the last one to leave – she never wanted to fun to stop. As exciting and accomplished as she was, there was no one better in the world to do absolutely nothing with.

The Family:

Reb is survived by the incredible Tom and Rosalie Timlin, her three indomitable siblings: Vivian Ciampi, Sean Timlin, Paula Cunningham; her 4 super-cool siblings-in-law: Marc Ciampi, Jim Cunningham and Nicholas Vasquez Scalera and Carolyn Vasquez Scalera. She will remain a constant presence in the lives of her 8 adorable nieces and nephews: Zachary, Carina and Colby Ciampi; James, Makayla, Thomas and Kendall Cunningham; Briana Timlin and Amelie Scalera. The Family would like to thank the countless, nurses, doctors and support staff that lovingly cared for her and often received a personalized rap song as a gift of her appreciation (yes that really happened often). And we’d like to extend a very special thank you to Dr. Andy Seidman, Reb’s Rock-star oncologist and trusted friend and her dream team of researchers at Sloan led by Dr. Sarat Chandarlapaty and at Dana by Dr. Nikhil Wagle. The Family would also like to thank the extensive and highly capable network of family and friends for the countless acts of kindness and love shown to us all in so many ways.

Those wishing to make a donation in her memory to her foundation can click HERE.

Rebecca established an Angel Fund at The Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester, NY (where I go locally) for metastatic breast cancer patients in financial need. Those who would like to make a donation in Rebecca’s memory to that fund can click the link above and scroll to the bottom of the page until you see my photo.

Writers Block is Real

Writers Block is Real

Nine months. I have been relatively silent for the past nine months. Even now, as I begin, the words are difficult to find. So for record-keeping purposes today is Tuesday, November 26, 2019. It’s 2:16 PM.

The Circle of Life is a Never-Ending Tail-Spin

Death is a part of life, and over the last 6 yrs, I have experienced more of my fair share; a lot more. That part of my emotions should be numb like a hardened callous by now from being overworked. It would be SO much easier, but what is it they say? If it were easy, everyone would do it. I chose to get involved in advocacy, and in doing so, I’ve had the honor of meeting some fantastic people. Some were a significant part of my life, albeit a short time. I wouldn’t change that, but dammit, ENOUGH ALREADY!

My circle has gotten smaller. Partly for self-preservation, the other part from death. A small circle means the losses are much more challenging to overcome; to get one’s head back into the game. All I want to do is save my friends when they start to slip into the metastatic quicksand that’s trying to swallow them as their treatments stop working. It makes me furious that I can’t and feeling defeated that after everything I’ve been attempting to accomplish, participated in, I don’t see the needle moving. Not as fast as it should, as it needs to.

In Memory of Social Graces

Social media has become a dreadful place that I now avoid. When there aren’t posts of shitty news regarding someone’s health, others are doling out bad medical advice, or there will be hundreds of comments under posts for the intention of instigating a verbal beat down. The worst are self-righteous soapbox posts scolding everyone or instructing us how to act. HARDFUCKINGPASS.

This advocacy world I live in isn’t the same anymore. (Please take note: I specifically avoided the term “cancerland” because people don’t use it to reference the work that Champagne busted her ass for; it’s cheapened to sounds like a fucking amusement park). It used to be a place where we could all count on each other. When we had to rally the troops (virtually) – they came. No question. People just showed up. We had chat groups where we shared information and strategized. It’s different now; It makes me sad. The goal hasn’t changed. Our mission is the same. The atmosphere is more of a “too many cooks in the kitchen.” We all may not have always agreed, but there was a basic level of understanding. Now you can expect to be treated as an exiled pariah or begrudgingly called out in public. Issues don’t get handled by two people at that moment who disagree but are drawn out into lengthy grudges that people feel they have to gain strength in numbers like a schoolyard confrontation. It just leads to more animosity, divisiveness, and people getting canceled because they don’t fall in line with what one person’s idea of what this “community” should be.

There is no privacy or loyalty to those that are outside of individual social cliques (which often congregate in small private groups or chats) even to the point where advocates have been through character assassination publicly. Things they have asked to stay private have been spread outside of private groups (where people assume a false sense of safety and privacy) to enhance gossip and drama. And for what?

We used to have movie nights where, at a set time, we would watch a movie; we’d start it at the same time and hang. People who couldn’t get out of bed were still part of us, and it helped us remember why we were doing this, not for self-glory or fame, but to save the lives of people who became a community from our shared experience. Unfortunately, we aren’t a community anymore; we’re becoming only individuals. There are groups of friends and advocates, but they function much more like high school cliques with their relative queen bees who decide where they are focusing and can swiftly scold or cancel anyone who falls out of line. The vibe is no longer grown adults working together for a common goal, and it’s hurting all of us in the long run.

You Can’t Do It All – Stop Trying

When you find out your time has been significantly cut short, the desire to make an impact on the world becomes more important. You want to leave a legacy behind your family can be proud of. One problem with that is it’s impossible to do everything. I know, I tried. At one point, I had to step away from METUP, of which I am currently active again because trying to be everything to everyone in all of my advocacy roles became wearing. More importantly, be proud of what you hitch your wagon to or rather your name. If you’re keeping the things you’re doing off of your social media (and those things aren’t tied to a confidentiality agreement), maybe reconsider your choices. Otherwise, own your shit.

Advocacy isn’t about elevating yourself to be the lofty and look down at people who may not be doing things your way. Or filling your Facebook Friends List to the brim with people you’ve never met; it’s about representation and speaking up for yourself and using platforms whenever they are given to you to further your cause – not yourself. Advocacy isn’t about celebrity; it’s about philanthropy and making sure our collective voices are being heard.

While I’m sad and disheartened right now, I am thankful for the connections I have made; the people I know who are honestly great advocates. I don’t know if we will ever get back to where we were or if it’s even possible. I do know one thing, we would be a much bigger force if we could.

It’s now Wednesday, November 27, 2019, 12:13, PM.

Happy Thanksgiving