Fifty Years of Gratitude

Today I am grateful. I’m grateful every day, really, but today I am especially thankful. The people responsible for my gratitude should be acknowledged and adequately thanked, so I dedicate this blog to all of them.

The Early Years

I am grateful for my parents and that romantic night they had (I’m taking some creative liberties here, but you get where I was going) that resulted in me.

I was fortunate to have had a privileged childhood because my father worked his ass off, and my mom ran the house and raised my brother and me. We were monsters.

I am grateful to have had a close relationship with my mother’s parents growing up. I learned an innumerable cornucopia of life lessons that could have only come from them.

I’m grateful I was raised with all of the traditions of my Italian heritage of cooking, holidays, always using my hands when speaking, and swearing.

I’m fortunate to have an older brother. No, I am.
Even though he teased me relentlessly when we were growing up, we did have some fun times, and he’s there when it matters. He and my sister-in-law have given me two nephews I am super proud of.

Nephews – The Early Years

I’m grateful to my dad for bringing a puppy home to us kids knowing full well he was the one that was going to need a dog house. While my mom was none too happy for a long time, Pepper survived four homes, two states, and getting hit by a car. 13 long years in all.

I am grateful to all of the friends I had growing up. I couldn’t tell you where most of them are or what they’re doing, but each one played a part, even a small part in shaping who I am now. I also have some cool memories. I don’t know how I didn’t get arrested with some of them.

I’m grateful for having had piano lessons as a kid. On my ninth birthday, my folks bought me a piano. Remember, I said I had a privileged childhood? I took lessons on and off through high school. I can’t play much now. Sorry, mom & dad, that was an expensive piece of furniture to display framed photos.

I was fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity of a good education. My parents chose private schools for most of our education. They weren’t uppity boarding school private schools (no offense to boarding school alum). I’m talking about Catholic school. Yes, the rumors are true, BUT that doesn’t include me. I was a nerd.

I’m grateful for my parents teaching me that life isn’t a series of handouts. If you want something, you work for it. There were chores to do, then babysitting until I was old enough to get a” real” job. A MALL JOB. Every sixteen-year-olds dream job. Mine was to work at Baskin and Robin; sadly, I ended up at Macy’s.

I didn’t know it at the time, and I sure didn’t feel it; however, I am grateful now that my family and I moved across the country when I was 17. California to NY. It was devastating then, but it had a massive impact on pulling me out of my shell and shaping the course of my life.

 

Adulting

There are no words for the gratitude I have for whatever power or force is responsible for trusting me with the outspoken and stubborn child I have. I mean that in the most loving way, only a mother could. Raising a child on your own is challenging. When that child is (at times) smarter than you (and knows it), make sure you have wine available. The moment I knew I was doing a rockstar job as a mom was when my son shouted those three little words and went stomping into his room,” I hate you!” I Love you too, kiddo.

I am grateful for all of the amazingly fantastic teachers my son had throughout the years. Most memorable to me are Mrs. Moore in PreK, Sr Pat in 3rd Grade, and Mrs. Feller, who taught him four years of Latin. I know there are so many more. I don’t mean to leave anyone out. These three are the teachers I immediately recall; however, I do mean all of you. Except one. Who shall be known as Voldemort. Don’t ask, please. I’m serious.

I am so fortunate to know some outstanding individuals who I keep within my inner circle. I met Jennifer as a senior in my” new” high school in NY. She was spunky, sarcastic, witty, and smart AF. She still is, but imagine all of those qualities the way fine wine will age to perfection, and that’s Jennifer now. One little reason why I adore her so goes back to that August in 2013. The night before my first ever PET scan, I received a call that the machine was down. I had to be rescheduled; they don’t know when. Jennifer wasn’t having any of that. She pulled all the strings she had, made calls, and went straight to the top. The top of what, I have no idea, but it worked. I was the first person in that machine the next morning. I adore Jennifer.

Duran Duran Fans 4 Life

I’m grateful for my pup, Bella. She’s a source of comfort, she’s my snuggle buddy, my secret keeper, snack taster, walking partner, and little spoon to my big spoon every night.

 

I am grateful for my extended family, my in-laws. They are supportive. They call to check on us, are always available at the drop of a hat, and generous to a fault. My step-sons are a trip. They put on a tough exterior, so you don’t see how much they care. Most recently, the youngest wouldn’t book a trip he was looking forward to taking until my scan results came back. He would only go if the news were good. It was, and he went. I LOVE my sister-in-law. She’s my comic relief; every family function is even better.

BREAKING NEWS!!

I am grateful for my FUTURE DAUGHTER IN LAW! That’s right. My son asked, and she said yes!! I am so happy for both of them. She has a generous heart, and she’s hard-working. She loves Adam and makes him happy. I can’t ask for more than that. Bring on 2021!

 

The Hard Stuff

I am grateful beyond words for my Primary Care Physician. Without her keen attention to the results of my tests; the clues she found could have otherwise been overlooked, I certainly would be dead and wouldn’t be writing this blog. While this may seem contradictory considering my current diagnosis, Dr. P saved my life in 2013.

I am grateful to have access to excellent medical care, especially at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. My oncologist there, Dr. Modi, is the best. She listens, she’s calming, she’s honest but not scary. I love seeing her. I shouldn’t because – cancer, but I do.

It’s not always roses and rainbows even in the best of marriages. Throw in a serious illness and you’ve just upped the stress factor by about 100 levels. Anyone who says otherwise is a damn liar. Most of our marriage has been in the shadow of cancer. It’s been trying at times but my hubs has always made sure even after that final diagnosis that the best medical care was available to me. He never complained, in fact, he insisted we travel to Manhatten so I could become a patient at Sloan Kettering. He still found time for us to get away when we could (still does) and he always tried to make me laugh even when I REALLY don’t want to. His sister asks me all the time how I ‘put up with him’ but really he puts up with me most of the time. I am grateful for him every day.

I am thankful for my friends that stayed. The friends that didn’t leave or ghost me after cancer became part of the dialogue. There’s a huge adjustment that happens when you are dealing with a serious illness. An even bigger one when that illness isn’t ever going to go away. No one realizes that until it happens to them or it’s happening around you. Just like marriage or babies- there aren’t “how-to” step by step manuals. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” does NOT count. That’s crap too. It glosses. I digress. I’m trying to say that I wasn’t the easiest person to be around that first year. Thank you for sticking it out.

36 years of Friendship

I am grateful for the radiation oncologist that treated my bone metastasis. Instead of putting me through a month’s worth of treatments, the plan was five days for each spot after careful mapping and tattoo placement.

I am tremendously grateful to the first oncologist I had locally (I’m on my third one, not by choice) that not only listened to me but also HEARD me when I kept pushing for breast surgery to remove the tumor that was still present. I was not a candidate because I’m Stage 4. Ultimately I met with an angel of a surgeon who understood my logic and worked out a compromise. I had the surgery and am very thankful to Dr. O.

I’m thankful for my Gastroenterologist. Even though every single test came back negative and had no explanation for why I felt so shitty or why I kept losing weight, he referred me to a surgeon who removed my gallbladder. While it appeared normal on all the tests, it was acutely inflamed. That was the problem all along.

I am so grateful to have met and gotten to know so many extraordinary and remarkable people from all over the country and the world. Please understand, I am not now nor will ever be thankful for cancer. I’d give that shit back in a hot minute. I consider the men and women I have met along the way being gifts for the shit hand life forced onto me. They have all changed my life for the better. Far too many to mention by name.

All of the advocacy opportunities have been unlike anything else. It makes me feel like I am doing something to make all of this not so shitty for the next person. Going to conferences, taking part in protests, lobbying, and even organizing a social media blitz – it all makes me feel productive. I am so grateful for that.

 

This is the longest blog ever. Hopefully, you’ve made it this far and not fallen asleep. I’m just about done.

I am the most grateful and overwhelmed that I am celebrating my 50th birthday tomorrow, even though it’s during this pandemic and most things are still closed. My birthday falls on a Thursday this year. I bring up the day of the week because I was born on a Thursday, and I think that my 50th falling on the same day of the week as I was born is pretty neat. I used to have a mug that had the “Mondays Child” Nursery Rhyme on it. I loved that mug. It was then I learned that I was a Thursday’s child, and I had far to go. It’s not so corny anymore.

It’s a little bit poetic when you think about it; I should be dead. I should have died in 2016 according to the statistics. That’s IF you believe statistics. I’m not special. I’m not doing anything different than anyone else has done. It’s 75% luck. The other 25% is because of the treatment plan I’m on that has been working for the last 5 yrs. I wouldn’t be taking these medications if it hadn’t been for the researchers working to find the CDK/4 Inhibitor who then ran the clinical trials that resulted in Ibrance. That 25% is saving my life right now. It shouldn’t be. It should have stopped working, but it’s still saving my life.

Remember gratitude; always be grateful.

I’m leaving this song from Sia “Saved My Life” that inspired this blog below. Sia is and always will be my music God.

 

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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Remembering Mary

Yesterday, on May 21st, I turned 45. Officially at 4:35 am.

My Birthday is a mixture of happiness and sadness.  Happiness because I’m still here despite living with a terminal illness and sadness because I share this day with the passing of my Grandmother and the infant daughter of a high school friend. It’s bittersweet.

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My Grandmother and I were very close and not just because I was her only granddaughter. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents.  Most weekends actually, because both my folks worked at our family business. I learned a lot from my Grandmother: the finer points of gardening, how to play the latest card games, why it’s important to go to three different stores to buy 6 different items and how to iron.

My Grandmother often said we were a lot alike because we shared the same astrological sign of Gemini. We were ‘twins’.  I was always able to confide in Nonnie. She listened without judgement and never betrayed my comfidence.

I would argue that I inherited her stubbornness and compassion for others. When she was insistent on something there was no changing her mind. However, her naivety was all her own. She always saw the good in everyone….e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. You could ask her about Charles Manson and she would insist he didn’t really mean to hurt anyone. This was frustrating as it was amusing.

As Nonnie got up in years it was clear she shouldn’t be living alone. She was becoming forgetful and she would occasionally fall. She was very proud of her independence.  She had spent 60+ years married to my Grandfather who took care of her completely.  After he passed away, Nonnie became self sufficient for the next 20 yrs.  It was difficult for her to admit she needed help. Not to mention dementia was taking hold.

Nonnie lived with my folks for as long as they could care for her. In early 2013, the hard decision was made to seek out a facility that could give Nonnie the care she needed. I spent many afternoons with her once she got settled into her new digs.

It was difficult to watch her decline over the next 4 months and in May it was clear she was transitioning and preparing to be with my Grandfather.  That day, my birthday, she hung on until we arrived but didn’t pass until I had left the room. It was her final gift to me.

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If I had to choose between having her here today and her passing on my birthday, I’d definitely choose the way things happened. I’m thankful she never knew of my diagnosis and at the time of her passing she knew I was the happiest I’d been in a very long time.

That was MY last gift to her.

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