It’s 2020 and the Whole World is on House Arrest

Like so many, I had high hopes for 2020. Super high hopes actually and not just because of the obvious this upcoming November. Hubs and I have birthday’s six months apart with mine being the first. A fact he is quite happy to remind me of every . chance . he . gets. There were plans in the works for an epic vacation. But I’ll come back to this in a bit.

Last month, was my PET/CT. It was scheduled at Sloan Kettering. The days leading up to when we had to leave, I kept in contact with the hospital. It was still early on but NYC had already been given ‘stay at home’ orders. Restaurants and non-essential businesses were closed. There was some chatter about closing the city completely. That never happened of course so we were good to go. I’m not going to lie, the drive to the city was a little creepy. Any other time it would be an absolute miracle as the usual traffic and back-ups on the bridges was nonexistent. The hotel was a ghost town. I am pretty sure we were the only guests staying on the property. There was no going out to dinner or walking around the city. It was TV and room service. The streets were noticeably absent of the normal crowds of people as we drove to Sloan the next day. I had the scan and we drove home.

 

I am very happy to report that I am good for another 6 months as my results were stable – again.

Soon after, we all started hearing phrases like ‘social distancing,’ and ‘flatten the curve’ and we were all told to stay home.  We were quarantined at home for 14 days because we had been in NYC. Neither of us had symptoms or were sick at all but we stayed inside in case we were asymptomatic. I have only gone out into the world one other time – for treatment. Otherwise, I have been home, watching the news, looking outside, keeping in touch with friends and family online or by phone. As much as I like to be home and I do like to be home; I want to runway like a prisoner planning a prison break and never come back. Seriously, as soon as the world opens up again and I can go where I want, I may disappear forever. There is something about being told you have to stay put that all of a sudden makes you want to do ANYTHING but that. Even my pup Bella is completely fed up. She’s beginning to look at me funny; almost like she’s plotting something sinister for some night when I am sleeping.

It feels like we are all living in a real-life version of the movie thriller Pandemic. Except it’s a lot less exciting and a whole lot more annoying. It makes me long for 2019 a little bit.

Back to the trip that never was. This year we both turn the big 5-0 and we’ve been planning on taking an epic trip for the last year. A destination that has been on both of our bucket lists – Rome. (Yes, I know) So, OF COURSE, days, before we were going to book the trip the entire country of Italy, became locked down. (Thank you novel virus)

I am making a prediction that we will still be on lockdown by the time my birthday rolls around next month. That completely bums me out. I hope I’m not right. I don’t normally make a big deal about birthdays but I admit that I was looking forward to being quite annoying about it. Balloons, streamers, a big over the top cake. I was going to cash in on all the years I was all – ‘Meh’ about it. I am trying to focus on the bright side of turning 50 during a pandemic – I have additional time to plan an even BIGGER epic extravaganza!

On a related note, I am now a proud member of AARP! Yup, that’s right, I said it. I used to get annoyed when an unsolicited email would find it’s way into my inbox, however the other day, I went to their site (on my own) and became a card-carrying member. I have to admit that it’s not at all what I imagined it was going to be. I won’t officially be able to take part in their benefits until my actual birthday but I already have my eye on a few things I plan on taking advantage of. I am gifting myself Vision Insurance for my birthday! SO EXCITED. It’s the little things, isn’t it?

Aside from becoming a missing person once the world opens back up, the very first thing I plan on doing is going to the salon. I may be turning 50 but I sure as hell will NOT be keeping these gray hairs and LOOK older than I am. Also, I have been making a complete disaster out of my bangs. Every pair of scissors should be hidden from me until this whole thing is over. I am not even kidding.

Wash your hands, Stay inside and above all Stay healthy.

 

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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.

Wildfire Magazine Shines a Light on Changemakers

Wildfire Magazine is the very first magazine by and for young women with breast cancer. Editor April Stearns published their February/March issue this past Saturday, February 1st. Each issue comes with a different theme as well as their regular issue features such as Reader Stories, Yoga & Recipes, and Tell Your Story. This issue shines a spotlight on the Changemakers within the breast cancer arena. These are women who have realized an unmet need through their individual cancer experiences and are doing some incredible things about it. They tell their story in this issue in their own words.

Rebecca Timlin-Scalera was one of the chosen Changemakers to be featured in this issue. Unfortunately, she passed before she was able to write her story. It was my great privilege to honor Rebecca in this issue. I wanted the focus of my piece to highlight how hands-on Rebecca was running The Cancer Couch. If you would like to read the entire issue, you can get a digital or print copy HERE.  Subscription options can be found HERE.

 

Remembering Rebecca

 

It is so easy to get pulled down into the yuck that surrounds you when the words “it’s cancer” are said to you. I should say it’s so easy to stay there when pulled down into it. Metastatic cancer is a whole other elephant (see what I did there?), and it’s even harder to pull yourself out of the yuck when facing that diagnosis. I know very few people that have glanced at the yuck, said, ‘Oh hell no!’ and went on to do what no other volunteer patient run non-profit has ever done for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) research.

The Cancer Couch

It sounds like an odd name for a metastatic breast cancer non-profit: The Cancer Couch Foundation. The irony wasn’t lost; it makes perfect sense. Professionally, Dr. Rebecca Timlin-Scalera was a neuropsychologist. That conjures up images of patients lying on couches as they talk about their childhood. While Rebecca was recovering from the effects of chemo, she was where most folks hang out – on her couch. Rebecca went from sitting in front of the couch to recovering ON the couch.

Rebecca saw the need for change. She recognized that those who have breast cancer that metastasized, they would essentially be left behind due to the lack of necessary funding. Rebecca didn’t wish for change; she didn’t hope for change. Rebecca CREATED change. She did it all with grace, humor, and dignity.

The First Fundraiser

Rebecca created and organized her first fundraiser shortly after the foundation was an official 50c3 in 2016. An ingenious idea that involved teams of local school kids eating as much ice cream as possible in front of the local ice cream parlor. Teams were required to raise a minimum amount with an ambitious overall goal of $18K. The owner of Saugatuck Sweets generously donated the use of his store and staff for the event, while behind the scenes, the distributer donated all the ice cream. Over $20K had been raised that June afternoon. Due to its success, the Scoops Challenge is popular at other schools in different cities all over the country, with the funds raised going to metastatic breast cancer research.

The Cancer Beat

If a rock concert and a live auction had a baby, it would be The Cancer Beat. This gala benefit held in Rebecca’s home town of Fairfield, CT, is the party of the year. Musical guests have included: The English Beat, Howard Jones, G Love, and The Special Sauce and this past September The Wailers. I was excited to be there for the first annual Cancer Beat. I had no idea what to expect. In true Rebecca fashion, there was a blue couch (with the high heel shoes next to one end) where Rebecca was taking photos with each guest. We were all dressed in our rock star chic. While we all knew why we were there, how important it was to raise money for MBC research, the whole night was fun, exciting and, memorable. We all partied like we were rock stars.

Joining Talents

Rebecca made connections. She liked to work with other people and organizations. Begining in 2017, Rebecca enlisted the help of bloggers for a new partnership with New York-based marketing consultant, Shari Brooks, who’s mother Judy (an avid baker) died from MBC. Imagine raising money without selling, asking for, or collecting and money. Choose one of Judy’s recipes to bake and post a photo using the hashtag #BakeItHappen! Each shared and tagged photo raises money for MBC research. ($200K to date)

Her foundation joined together with Twisted Pink and Hope Scarves to create the Metastatic Breast Cancer Collective in 2017. Altogether they raised $60,000, which was matched, bringing the total to $1.2 Million. That money funded two specific projects, one in each of the labs supported by the Cancer Couch.

#Reason4FreezinMBC

This past spring, Rebecca introduced a viral challenge on The Today Show. Hundreds of people made videos of themselves, friends, and family eating anything cold – the catch? It had to be done hands-free. Not as easy as you’d think. Afterward, people uploaded the video with #Reason4FreezinMBC and encouraged others to do the same as well as donate to MBC research. In the first week of the challenge, $25K was raised.

One of Rebecca’s last public interviews was this past October. She was featured on ESPN’s Outside The Lines to talk about her foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and her days as a D1 college soccer player!

From the Scoops Challenge, #Reason4FreezinMBC viral challenge, to their most significant annual event – The Cancer Beat, all of the fundraisers for the Cancer Couch raised thousands of dollars for MBC. Each year has been more successful than the last.

Educating the public was just as important to Rebecca. In every article, interview, podcast, or conversation where she shared her story, Rebecca had a way of making you want to hear more even if what she was saying was sad or didn’t have a happy ending. She was engaging and had a way of drawing you in.

So, where is the money going?

Two leading scientists working on the most promising research at the top cancer centers in the US were chosen. That kind of science requires big money. Big money is what they are getting due to Rebecca’s tenacity and the overwhelming support from her immediate family, her Fairfield family, and the community at large.

Sadly, Rebecca passed away this past December 2019. But also, at the end of 2019, a staggering 3M dollars went into those Cancer Couch Foundation selected labs dedicated to Metastatic Breast Cancer Research. Three groundbreaking papers have come from being funded by Rebecca’s foundation thus far. Rebecca’s legacy and the work of the Cancer Couch Foundation will live on.

“Some people want it to happen; some wish it would happen; others make it happen.”
– Michael Jordan

 

I lost track of the number of times I thanked April for thinking of me to write about the amazing accomplishments Rebecca made in such a painfully short time to help improve and lengthen the lives of those impacted by metastatic breast cancer. It was truly an honor. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge April Stearns and the Wildfire team for being significant changemakers in their own right. Not only does April produce a beautiful publication, but Wildfire also gives back. Since 2017, a portion of new and renewed subscriptions are donated to the Cancer Couch Foundation and Metavivor. 

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?