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.

What the Fuck Is the Reason?

I am so sick of hearing people say to me that I’m still here for “a reason” or I’ve outlived my prognosis for “a reason.” If there is in fact “a reason,” then please tell me, what the fuck it is.

This week has been especially difficult. A close friend of mine who I see on a regular basis and talk to daily, took a turn she unfortunately wouldn’t recover from. Her Mom called me this past Monday to let me know Melissa was going into hospice. I don’t care how prepared you think you are; you are never prepared to hear those words about someone you love. As I hung up the phone, it felt like someone pulled the world out from under me. I don’t remember a time when I ever sobbed like I did on Monday. I wasn’t crying for me. I was crying for Stella; Melissa’s 6 yr old pint-sized-version-of-herself, daughter. What kind of sick joke was the universe playing?

Melissa & Stella

I went to see Melissa Tuesday evening. In true Melissa fashion, her room was packed with family and friends. To know her, that was it, you had no other choice BUT to love her. Her no nonsense, tell it like it is attitude combined with a je ne sais quois and dimples gave her an unmatched power that would evoke a response of “Thank you, Hope to see you again.” after telling someone to fuck off.

My visit turned into an all nighter. I stayed with her Aunt’s Marie and Kathy. Of the three of us, Marie slept. Kathy and I talked all night and kept an eye on Melissa. Even the night nurse Vicky spent a good chunk of the night chatting with us.

Tuesday was the last time I would hear Melissa speak any words. By Wednesday night she stopped taking any liquids.

I returned to the hospital Thursday night. I was certain that the next time I walked out of the hospital to go home, Melissa would be leaving as well. Headed where she would be reunited with loved ones from her past and friends who had arrived ahead of her who were waiting patiently for her. Kathy and I again talked all night long while Maria slept on and off. By morning, the general consensus was she was waiting to see Stella one more time. No one could ever tell Melissa what to do and she wasn’t about to let anyone pull that crap now.

While all of this was going on, I was going through periods of anger rage. White hot rage. Serious question: Why Melissa? Why not me? Before anyone freaks out, I’m thinking this because I reached my “please God just let me live long enough to see..” goal. IF something were to happen to me, I know my son would be OK. Melissa, on the other hand, is 36 yrs old. She has milestones to reach with her daughter: Kindergarten graduation, first lost tooth, first sleep over, first crush, first boyfriend…Stella needs her Mom for this – all of this. There is no good damn reason to explain this unfair bullshit.

Then I encounter stupid people on social media (by proxy) and I may have had a rage tantrum. I read in a Facebook post that someone said they felt having cancer was a gift and that comment was offensive to the person who’s now talking about what she read. What-the-what? A cancer patient, who is actively living with cancer NOW feels it’s all a GIFT?? Now I have to give my two cents, which is more like a dollar fifty in pennies.

I said my last goodbye to my all-hours-of-the day-or-night-chat-buddy, my Indian food loving, CheesecakeCake binge eating, classic moving addicted, fabulous friend at 9:48am, March 1st, 2019.

Yesterday was a blur. I slept. A lot. I forget that I can’t keep up the pace that I think I can. My body gets exhausted and I shut down. Two all nighters in 3 days was cake in my 20’s but 20+ yrs and a cancer diagnosis later – forget it.

My phone rang at 10:49pm Sunday, March 3rd. It was Melissa’s mom. I knew before I answered. For a split second I wondered if I ignored the call, could I change the outcome? I answered and heard the words I didn’t want to hear: Melissa had passed.

Part of me feels very selfish being upset. My sadness is a little about me; but mostly for Stella. As sad as it is, Melissa is no longer in pain, she’s not struggling to make it through the day while being so exhausted all she wanted to do was sleep. She’ll never be nauseous or sick at the drop of a hat. Melissa will never have to endure another scan, treatment, or side effect.

I’m still pretty fucking angry. Death didn’t have to be what gave her that freedom. We should have better treatments. We should have medications that keep us going without the worry of impending death. There’s no good reason for children like Stella to be growing up without their parents.

So, I guess I’m just going to have to use whatever extra time I’m being given and take it up with those that failed Melissa and Stella.

Maybe, just maybe, I figured out what that “reason” is after all.

Melissa DePalmo ~ March 26, 1982 – March 3, 2019

Let’s Talk About Bucket Lists

Bucket lists.

They’ve always made me itch. From time to time I’ll hear friends talk about making their list or they will post pictures with a lead in of “Well, I checked this (whatever ‘this’ is) off my bucket list.” I immediately think about what happens when they finish the list or worse; they don’t get to finish because their health suddenly takes “that turn” no one wants to happen. Because of that, I’ve associated bucket lists with bad karma and never really put one together. I’m already living on borrowed time, why would I wag my finger in the face of fate just begging to get a clap back?? Ask anyone, I can be a pain in the ass with the whole – “no one’s going to tell me what to do, if I want to do it, it’s happening” but this is a whole other animal and I don’t think I’m ready to poke that chupacabra. Know what I mean?

All that being said. I still don’t have a formal list. Not even a Post-It note. However….

There has always been one thing, just one, that I’ve wanted to do. Even before cancer became my dark passenger. I had even kind of resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.

Then . (holy shit) . It . Happened.

What I consider a once in a lifetime opportunity landed in my lap to go home. Well, not where I grew up, but close enough. San Francisco, California. This was huge. I haven’t been home in 25 yrs. I truly believed I was going to die from this hideous disease without ever going back. The ironic thing is the way it worked out, I missed my 30th High School class reunion by four days but that was OK. Totally, absolutely, 100% fine.

This past Wednesday, two days ago Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew west. It was surreal. It really didn’t hit me until the plane touched down. As the plane taxied in and as I looked out the window, the familiar mountains in the horizon was like a hug to my senses. I cried. I cried the same way I am now typing this on the plane back (looking absolutely ridiculous to anyone that may catch a glimpse of me. I need a damn Xanax)

Oh those mountains
San Francisco Neighborhoods are Awesome

I only told one person I was coming home. There was only one person that was important enough to occupy the precious time I had. I only wish it could have been two. Both classmates. One from elementary/junior high and the other from high school. Unfortunately, Laurie, my dear friend from elementary school tragically died in 2011. That will always be my biggest regret, not coming back in time to see her.

I was able to give the biggest hug to Melanie. She’s no slouch giving hugs back! We had the best time catching up and hanging out. It was like I’d never left. Kind of. We ended up at at a casual neighborhood pub that made the evening even more memorable. We had no idea we walked in on trivia night. We opted out which lent to even better comedy. (We were compared to the old men on the muppet show but in a good way – I swear).

Our “30th Reunion”

It was the most amazing trip. I cannot emphasize this enough. This was everything.

I still don’t have a bucket list. After this week, I honestly don’t need one because I completed it without ever needing to make one.

To those that made this all possible (the whole thing), I could spend the rest of my days thanking you and it truly wouldn’t be enough.

Seriously, Thank you.

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken; They Just Get a Little Cracked

The last 5 years I have been living my life straddling a fence. I fight every day to stay balanced. Steady. On top and moving forward trying to live my life while also making some kind of difference.

There are days when I don’t feel well or I have side effects from treatments. I struggle to keep my balance. Then there are days when news of a another life stolen from this insidious disease makes it way through friends and social media like a sick game of telephone. Its all I can do not to fall flat on my ass onto the ground.

Last year, singer/songwriter P!nk released a song: “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”. I’m sure she had her own reasons for writing this song. Clearly, it’s not because she knows me or understands what a day in the life of any Metastatic Breast Cancer advocate is like, however, that is exactly what this song is to me.

“I will have to die for this I fear

There’s rage and terror and there’s sickness here

I fight because I have to”

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018, 41,400 men & women will die from MBC. That number hasn’t decreased in over 30 years. But that’s not widely talked about.

The only way to see that number move in the other direction is to actively fund meaningful research that will focus on Metastatic disease and drugs that offer longer progression free survival.

“There’s not enough rope to tie me down

There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth

The stones you throw can make me bleed

But I won’t stop until we’re free

Wild hearts can’t be broken

No, wild hearts can’t be broken”

Over the past 5 years, I have held several fundraisers benefitting the only two organizations that exclusively fund metastaic breast cancer research. I have traveled to Washington D.C. three times to help organize and participate in public demonstrations to raise awareness. I’ve spoken to lawmakers and I am vocal on a daily basis on social media. If it’s going to make any kind of impact, I’ll do it. If it could potentially save just ONE life – ONE. I’m there.

You bet there isn’t enough rope, chains or straps to tie me down. You’ll never find any tape or glue to shut my mouth. (Ask my family – they’ll vouch for the mouth).

Sure, there will be people that may say “why bother, it’s too late” or “Go out and enjoy the time you have left; stop focusing on ‘cancer'” To those people my message is simple: I’m not just doing this for me. I’m doing this because I need to make sure my future grandchildren won’t ever have to worry about this.

Wild hearts can’t be broken, but every time another friend dies, tiny cacks appear. Those cracks are there to remind me and the rest of us that tirelessly advocate that it’s essential and to keep plugging along.

This song is my battle cry. It’s what motivates me when my headspace says I can’t. It’s what I listen to after learning of another death.

I owe P!nk a debt of gratitude for writing what feels like an anthem for all those living with and madvocating for a terminal diagnosis.

Should anyone happen to run into her, please pass that message on to her.

The Underbelly – Changing Breast Cancer Narratives

In my last blog post, I left a link at the bottom of the page to a project that I’m involved in with two of my closest friends – Melissa McAllister and Melanie Childers. (I hope that you clicked thru and took a look!)

The Underbelly was an idea conceived by Melissa and Melanie after many conversations about all the harsh realities that come with having a diagnosis of Breast Cancer and the aftermath of it all. Everyone hears of the “happy celebrations” and “bell ringing” after treatment ends but no one ever talks about what REALLY happens. The issues that can arises after surgeries, the depression, the feelings of isolation, how your body changes with treatments, PTSD and the list goes on. Men and women need to talk about these things and many feel they don’t have an outlet for these conversations or a safe place to go to read about others with similar experiences.

The flip side is what those dealing with Metastatic Breast Cancer live with. The shock of getting a terminal diagnosis, having to be in treatment for the rest of our lives, having to process grief sometimes on a daily basis when another friend dies, the anxiety that comes with every blood test, scan and test.

Factor into all of that there is a discord between those that are diagnosed with Early Stage Breast Cancer and those living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, the three of us wanted to create a community all of it’s own where it would be inclusive of ALL of those that have ever had a diagnosis of Breast Cancer – past or present. The Underbelly would be a place where we could share real, raw stories that were not ‘sugar coated’ or covered in ‘pink platitudes’. And not just our stories – we invite and encourage others to contribute their stories and experiences.

And that’s just what we did.

In August, The Underbelly had a soft launch of it’s website and Facebook page. We were extremely pleased with it’s success and the embrace we received from the Breast Cancer community.

We have now expanded our mission and we have some pretty lofty, although very attainable goals, for The Underbelly. However, to make it all happen we have started a Crowdfunder and have set a goal of $20,000.

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The magazine is not supported by way of subscription fees, which means we get to deliver amazing content to our community for FREE. The costs of running the site are around $2000. That includes hosting, a code monkey on the backend, equipment, and storage.

We’d like to pay back our initial investors (Melanie’s awesome folks) at $2000.

Most importantly, we need YOUR help to fulfill our commitment to providing a source of financial assistance in and for the breast cancer community. Cancer really sucks your wallet dry. Giving women & Men who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer an opportunity to tell their stories and make a little cash on the side is incredibly helpful, so your support will directly help contributing writers get PAID. Three articles/writers a week @$50 per article for 9 months is $5400.

We also intend to grow and expand our reach and voice in the community, including podcasting and video. For that, we need funds to invest in joining with other projects, traveling to conferences and events, advertising, and sponsoring causes that positively impact the community.  We estimate $5000.

To continue growing and supporting ourselves, we will also be launching a store to generate income and distribute super cool swag, such as bracelets, t-shirts, mugs, posters and other awesome items. $2000 will go toward launching the shop.

Additionally, a percentage of proceeds from certain merchandise sold through our store and this crowdfunder will go to nonprofit organizations who either fund metastatic breast cancer research or directly assist patients in need. 10% of the bracelets will go to the non-profits we’re supporting, around $2000.

And of course, if fully funded, the administrative fees for running the funder itself come to around $1600.

As of last night we reached 16% of our goal!!  Not bad for launching just one week ago today, but we are still a long way off.

We have some pretty nice “perks” that can be chosen when making a donation. There are 6 different Mala Bracelets that represent the 6 Non-Profits that we support and each were designed in their respective colors by our own talented Melissa McAllister. 10% of each bracelet goes back to that NPO.

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Your contribution may support a writer directly, or get your ad in front of our email list, or a full sponsorship of the site for a week, two weeks, or a whole month!

If you can’t give to our campaign, that’s OK!  I still love you an awful lot.

It would be SUPER awesome if you’d share our campaign on your social media platforms or even this blog post and encourage your friends to help us out. You never know who might be looking for something just like The Underbelly, or who might want to share their story!

Also – and this is a pretty big deal, at least I think so. TODAY – well tonight at 7pm EST. I am going to do a Facebook LIVE on The Underbelly Facebook page and broadcast to whoever may be out there to talk about why The Underbelly is important to me and perhaps if some of you pop on and don’t leave me hanging you can even ask me some questions. I’m kind of nervous about doing this but Melissa and Melanie have already done it and today is my turn and I can’t let the team down!!  So, set an alarm – mark your calendar – SOMETHING!!!  Please SHOW UP!!

The Underbelly – Changing Breast Cancer Narratives