The Quiet Time

Most mornings, I am the first one awake. I like that. I have a routine that I follow. I go into the kitchen, turn on the Keurig, put hazelnut creamer in my coffee mug, and while the coffee is brewing, I prepare Bella’s breakfast. The first of her several small meals throughout the day. I grab my coffee, my meds, an “after breakfast” cookie for Bella, and head for the couch. While I check my phone to see what I missed overnight, Bella & her full belly snuggles up next to me & falls asleep.

Morning puggle snuggles

This quiet time is my favorite time of the day. The only sounds that I hear are the clock’s ticking on the dining room wall, the soft whooshing of the traffic below us & Bella snoring. It’s peaceful & relaxing. My Twitter feed is full of tweets about what’s going on in the world & updates from friends sprinkled in between them.

It’s ironic how the brain triggers the memory of events that happened in the past. Songs, smells, places, reading a book, or specific dates. It happens even when we don’t mean to or even want to, depending on the memory it triggers. That happened to me this morning. Not just one memory, but two.

These memories are both exceptional, each in its own way. They are separated by fifteen years. I can recall every last detail of each memory. When I think of them, it’s as if I am back in that moment again. I hear the sounds, what was happening around me, and who was there with me. I even experience the feeling as if it’s happening for the first time. I don’t always remember them in the order in which they occurred. However, one always triggers the other. It’s like being in a time machine but without the “Back to the Future” Delorean. Does this happen to everyone?

This morning it happened backward. My memory placed me back in one of the many waiting rooms at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. I was waiting for the nurse to call me for the first of four scans I was having. I was sitting in an armless chair; the bright sun came through the windows on my left. Above me, in the corner of the room, the TV was on. Good Morning America was on. A couple won a contest to be married, live on their show. The hook was that John Legend would also be there to serenade them with his wildly popular love song: “All of Me.” Later that afternoon, I would be in the exam room sitting next to my Oncologist and, on the other, my husband. She read the results of my PET scan. It was the first one I had after I started treatment and the first time I heard: No Evidence of Disease. I was confused. My doctor put her hand on mine, looked me dead in the eyes, and said, “The cancer is not detectable. The Aromatase Inhibitor is working. This is the best possible news.” It took a minute to sink in. I cried & laughed at the same time. That was seven years ago.

GMA 2014, Courtesy of ABC News

I will always be grateful for that memory. It’s probably the only positive, happy experience I’ve had living with cancer. I had hope again. Hope that cancer had taken from me. That feeling is what triggers my next significant memory. It was a snowy day in 1999. I had the ultrasound that every expectant parent looks forward to. I saw my son, for the first time, cramped in my belly. He looked so chill. The tech pointed out his tiny little finger buds, his spine, his legs. She was reassuring that all was well. Did I want her to tell me the sex? she asked me, YES, I wanted to know. She moved the wand back and forth over my stomach. “There it is,” she said. “You’re having a boy” The rest of the story can be read Here

As I sit here remembering these two events, I think about what’s to come this month. My son & future daughter-in-law are graduating from college. They will have commencement ceremonies this year. While the No Visitor policy is still in place, I’ll be watching the live feeds. The following week I will have fully realize a dream I never imagined I would have the honor to attend; my son’s wedding. I am so looking forward to watching his bride walk down the aisle to exchange their vows.

I adore these two

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all of this. When did he grow up? Most parents who get to this point in their children’s lives want to turn back time to when their kids were little. I honestly don’t. I cherish this time right now as he builds his life with his soon-to-be wife. They both have accomplished a lot in the last four years. I couldn’t have imagined a better future for my little pup.

My lil pup

At the last minute, I chose to have my PET scan last Friday. I wasn’t going to do any significant medical stuff this month as I didn’t want anything to put a cloud over these monuments occasions, but in the end, I knowledge is power. I didn’t post anything about it or the “look at me; I’m having a scan” picture on social media. Many of my friends are dealing with their health that it just didn’t feel right. I realize it shouldn’t stop me from talking about what’s happening with my own health. It’s separate, but I guess I’m becoming more empathetic now that I’m in my 50’s. Is this what happened to the Grinch?

May 2021 will be the most fantastic month. I am going to take in every second & enjoy it to the fullest. I feel so, so fortunate, and I thank the universe for keeping me No Evidence of Disease for now.

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.

The Numbers are Not in My Favor

At my last update there was concern over my rising tumor marker: CA 27.29. I had my labs done on Thursday and the decision was made to schedule a PET/CT for August 2nd. The rising numbers coupled with my continued weight loss (I’m averaging about 10lbs a month) and my over all feeling like crud has my team feeling there is enough concern to warrant the scan. 

I’ve been thinking all morning. I’m working in a visit to Sloan Kettering on August 5th to see my Primary Oncologist while Adam and I tour NYU. I’m going to see if the PET can be done earlier that same morning before my Dr appointment. I haven’t been scanned there in a while and due to the mixed reading I recently had that involved the lymph nodes, I feel it would be best if Sloan could do it. Hopefully, all the stars align and it works out. *fingers crossed*

On a lighter note….I recently returned from a quick advocacy trip to NYC. 

Compassion & Choices asked if I would share my story and why I support Medical Aid In Dying with WABC7’s Ken Rosato for his Weekend Show – Viewpoint. Of course I said yes! It’s important to keep this important topic at the forefront and keep the conversations going. It’s the only way to gain traction and enlighten people about why terminally ill people, like myself, want this legislation. 

The interview took place at the WABC7 studio in Manhattan. The same studio that Kelly Ripa and Rachel Ray call home! In fact, Kelly Ripa was live on the air when we arrived.

Corinne Carey, the Director of the NY Chapter of Compassion & Choices and I sat with Ken Rosato for 10 minutes. Corinne spoke about the facts and statistics of the other states that already have these laws in effect. I shared a shorter version of my story and why I’m in support. I also stressed to Ken that I am in NO way suicidal nor do I WANT to die. I want to live. God, do I want to live. That’s so important for me to have people that don’t know me understand. I so hope I made that clear. I think I did.

The segment, I’ve been told will air on July 27th and again in October. I’ll be sure to post links on my Facebook Blog Page and Twitter.

At least I didn’t look as awful as I felt on the day of the interview. 😉

Until We Meet Again

Social Media tends to bond people with similarities. Similar interests, hobbies, music and even illnesses.

Cancer is one of one of those illnesses that bonds people rather quickly. Especially terminal Cancer. We are a group of people that bond over treatments, side effects, helpful hints, advice, support groups and stories of when diagnosis happened.

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Deb Mumma is one of those extraordinary women I was lucky to have met thru Social Media because of our common diagnosis. Right down to the same pathology. We became fast friends and talked quite frequently thanks to our mutual friend – insomnia. There were many 3am conversations when Deb was recuperating from back surgery. If you’ve ever spent time in the hospital you know how difficult it can be to sleep for any length of time.

Deb loved her family. She spoke of her parents and how after as many decades they had been married they were still just as close as in younger days. Her husband, Ron passed after a long illness. It was very clear how much Deb missed him. The way she spoke of their marriage made me a little jealous.

The pride and joy, that always brought a smile into Deb’s voice were her Children and Grandchildren – 12 little ones in all! And of course her pups, Sully and Kiki.

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At Christmas we talked about our kids. Deb worked furiously on two identical doll houses for her Granddaughters. And then there was the trip to Disney World in March. Deb was so excited to tell her Grand kids and witness the expected ‘freak out’.  It was very important to her to make lasting memories as her health began to decline. Although she would never admit it or want to talk about it.

The first weekend in April, Deb helped me with a speech I gave in Buffalo (See previous post dated April 7). She knew how nervous I was and offered to read it and give me the honest criticism I needed. Then on Saturday night we Skyped so she could be my audience and I could practice giving my speech to her. Deb was selfless like that. Even though she had been feeling sicker from chemo and her liver failing she still made time to video chat.

Many of us with Metastatic Breast Cancer are active in some way with advocacy. Deb was no different. Her advocacy was on a local level. It was important for her to raise money for those receiving care at Cumberland Valley Breast Care in PA. Deb even designed a beautiful necklace with the help of a jewelry designer with part of the proceeds going to CVBC and to Breast Cancer Research. “Ribbon of Hope & Tears”. This is one ribbon I can endorse. It doesn’t have to have a pink gem. There are 10 gem options and 3 metal options for the ribbon.

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In the time I’ve gotten to know Deb, we had meaningful conversations and we were there for one another whenever we needed each other without question and regardless of the time of day or night. Deb knew I never muted my phone and that I am a very lite sleeper so the ‘ding’ of my messenger would never go unanswered if she needed to talk. I’m going to miss that. A lot.

“A dragonfly to remind me even though we are apart, Your spirit is always with me forever in my heart”…..Until we meet again Deb. I love you.

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I’m A Fraud

I’ve been holding out on writing anything lately. There’s so much rattling around in my brain and it’s taken me a while to sort it out.

It’s kind of like when you open up a jigsaw puzzle and all those pieces fall out in a big pile. None of it makes sense. Some of the pieces are even stuck together in the wrong way. You know once you sort it out it will be the pretty picture you saw on the cover of the box and you’re excited to see how it all comes together. However, right now I need to get the end pieced and the middle pieces separated so I can work on the frame.

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That’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m trying to get the pieces in my head separated so I can start to work on the frame.

You see, many people see me as a strong person. A strong advocate and voice for the Metastatic Breast Cancer and Aid-in-Dying Community. And while that’s true, that’s just a small part of who I am. Others see me as a fierce and loving Mom of a smart almost Senior in High School Son. That’s also true. Still others see me as a loyal, “I have your back friend”. Another true statement.

What many people don’t know, what they don’t see because I hide it so well is that I’m actually a very scared, paranoid, anxiety consumed ball of nerves with an unhealthy load of guilt that I carry every day that gets heavier with each friend that died prematurely.

And that makes me a Fraud.

I push those emotions down. Stomp them down until they are all jumbled together like those puzzle pieces in the box so I don’t have to see them. Or deal with the how that finished picture will look.

So, I keep pushing the pieces around, because I havent been willing or ready yet to start working on what needs to be done. But that’s about to change.

I’m tired of being a Fraud.

I’m tired of ignoring my feelings because it makes others more comfortable. I’m done not being true to myself. I’m done not speaking up or backing down from a fight because others don’t fight fair and it’s easier to just take the high road. I’m done being bullied and letting people use my illness as an excuse to push their own adjenda.

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I’m going to dig deep and find the person I was before Cancer. I know she’s there. I know I don’t have to let that part of me go just because some people want me to believe she’s gone. Those are the people I need to ignore because they don’t believe in me nor do they have my back. Those people are the real Cancer in my life.

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Be patient with me as I go thru this process. I will still update on my medical stuff, upcoming PET Scan, which is May 16th. We will get to see how the Ibrance/Faslodex has been working.

You can follow the day to day updates on http://facebook.com/stickit2stage4