My Caregivers

Posted on: November 21st, 2015 by


It’s November, National Family Caregivers Month. I don’t usually write about months attributed to certain causes, but in this case — and in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in the US — this is a chance to honor those who took such excellent care of me during cancer diagnosis and treatment. As my readers know, at-home support during the darkest time of my life was nonexistent, and I went through treatments and mental agony alone.

But, now, looking back, I realize I was never really alone. I had many caregivers who tended to me as a family member.

They were my medical team — doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.


When I was diagnosed with cancer, my then-primary care physician became a superhero. She called me several times to see how I was coping. I could tell she cared deeply about me. She had recommended my surgeon and medical oncologist. She followed up with them and with me, keeping up with my treatments, health, and emotional well-being.

Years later, when I underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction, she visited me in the hospital. I had a rough time in ICU, and I was stressed and depressed, even though I was now in another recovery unit. She showed up at my bedside one day and held my hand. And right there, she gave me the pep talk that gave me the stamina to get through my hospital stay. “I know this is difficult for you,” she said, “but you need to hang onto courage. You need to be brave and get through this.”

And with these words, she nudged me through the darkness.

My internist’s medical group unfortunately became affiliated with another hospital, so we had to part ways — but not before I told her how much she meant to me.

At first, my surgeon seemed to lack emotion, and I didn’t think he cared about me. But that changed on the day another doctor botched my stereotactic core biopsy, leaving me understandably shaken. But then, that very day, my surgeon seemingly materialized out of nowhere and performed the biopsy himself. We spoke while he worked, not as a doctor and a patient, but as human to human. The nurses and medical assistants rubbed my legs and held my hand to comfort, calm, and nurture me.

“I don’t want it to be cancer,” I told him pleadingly. And he responded, “I don’t want it to be cancer either.” That comment showed he cared about me. When he called to give me the news that I had breast cancer, he was enormously kind, telling me that I could drop everything I was doing and see him that day if I wanted to. I declined his offer, but I appreciated it.

My mastectomy surgeon, a cancer survivor herself who had had a single mastectomy, spoke to me, not just as a doctor, but as someone personally touched by cancer. She totally “got” me. We had so much to talk about, and I instantly knew that I wanted her to do my bilateral mastectomy. After the procedure, she visited me in the hospital often and advocated for me.

My medical oncologist took wonderful care of me from the very beginning. He spoke to me, not only as a patient, but as a fellow human being. When I was having cognitive dysfunction from the chemotherapy and feeling sorry for myself, I told him I was stupid. He held my hand and told me that I was not stupid and then explained why I was intelligent. Each follow-up visit has been rough for me, given my PTSD, but it’s wonderful to know that he is always in my corner, encouraging me to write, and is generally interested in me as a person.

My radiation oncologist was a ray of sunshine. She smiled often, with a positive, authentic demeanor. We spent a lot of time laughing, which is amazing, considering that I was there for cancer treatment. Once one of the radiation machines was undergoing maintenance, causing a delay in patients getting treatment during their allotted time slots. To lift patients’ spirits, she and the wonderful staff handed out small flowering plants to each patient. One time she was chatting with another doctor, and I appeared, sick with some kind of infection. She immediately left her colleague to take care of me.

One day she said, “I love you,” as she hugged me. While some people might think that is crossing the doctor-patient boundary line, the context of this statement was not lost on me. And neither was the impact of hearing these words at a low point in my life.

Doctors weren’t my only caregivers, however. Nurses were so kind to me. I fell to pieces in front of a nurse at a time when I was so overwhelmed with my diagnosis and starting radiation and chemotherapy. The nurse sat down besides me and held me, rocking me like a baby as I sobbed. She gently wiped the tears off my face and glasses. She nurtured me with dignity.

And, of course, Ann. My beloved oncology nurse. Knowing that I was alone for treatment, she gave me the extra doses of TLC I needed to get through treatments.

Overall, doctors and nurses communicated with each other so well, it seemed everyone knew whenever I entered the Cancer Care Center.

Organizations were also carers. A volunteer with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program called me every week, and we talked and talked. She regularly got me through the darkness. Gilda’s Club Chicago was a safe haven, where I learned that I could have fun, even though cancer had entered my life.

My brother and aunt were my familial heroes. Although their being out of town meant they couldn’t be there for me physically, they took great care of me by calling me often and talking me down from the ledge of absolute terror and despair. And they came in for a couple of my surgeries and cared for me afterward. I remember after diagnosis my brother calling me and crying with me. Friends also supported me with their calling and stopping by. My parents had difficulty coping, but they tried by calling me each week to see how I was doing.

I am so grateful to so many people; I know I can’t list them all. However, I realize caregivers are not just those we live with, but those who care for us in any capacity. While I had no at-home support, my medical and support team made me feel special and rallied behind me — reminding me that I was never alone.

Caregivers Nice Scene

Who were your caregivers during cancer diagnosis, treatment, and beyond?

Feel free to share how you were/are taken care of throughout your illness. I would like to hear about this.

Tami Greenfield Boehmer

Posted on: November 11th, 2015 by

We didn’t always agree.

Tami Greenfield Boehmer was more hopeful than I was.

So much more hopeful, in fact, that she wrote a book titled From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds and another book titled Miracle Survivors: Beating the Odds of Incurable Cancer.

Despite my skepticism about the idea that a positive attitude can help fight cancer, I saw value in the Miracle Survivors books, something that spoke to me.

It was the message of enduring hope.

So despite our philosophical differences, I was inextricably drawn to Tami. Perhaps it was her sheer candor. Or her seemingly endless realistic optimism. Or the fact that she marched to the beat of a different drummer than so many in the blogosphere. Perhaps it was because she always held her ground by speaking with integrity and advocacy.

Perhaps it was because of her positive thinking. I marveled how she could be so hopeful, considering all she faced.

Heck, I loved her blog because it was so beautifully written.

And thus we became online friends who were destined to meet. It started when we spoke on the phone, which led her to graciously profile me on her blog. A few years later, Tami was going to go on a cruise for those affected by breast cancer, and she invited me to consider going. She said she would like us to meet. I wanted to go on that cruise but was unable to.

A few years later, December 2014, Tami and her family traveled to a Chicago suburb for a clinical trial appointment. As luck would have it, I live in a Chicago suburb. And so her family and my family met at a restaurant for dinner. Arielle is incredibly shy and didn’t want to talk, so the gift of gab was reserved for me, Tami, her husband Mike, and their daughter Chrissy.

Tami (right) and me

Tami (right) and me

The Boehmer family is a loving family with great integrity, authenticity, support, courage and joy. Chrissy is beautiful and kind. Tami and Mike raised a great young lady. And that evening I had the privilege of meeting a lovely family that, until that day, I saw only in Facebook pictures.

What surprised and delighted me was how spiritual the family was. And I was also pleasantly taken aback by Tami’s and Mike’s irreverent sense of humor. I’m on the irreverent side myself, so we had good fun and laughed a lot.

A week ago, on November 4, I saw the dreaded news on Facebook from Mike about Tami passing away, worded so spiritually: “Heaven gained a powerful angel. Tami made a peaceful transition at 8 pm with Chrissy and Me at her bedside. Her spirit lives on in the hearts of many.”

I know her spirit lives on in my heart. And my heart goes out to Mike and Chrissy, who must go on without Tami’s physical presence.

Tami made the world a better place for having been in it. And she and her family taught me the power of hope, optimism, grace, and sheer courage.

Ups and Downs

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by

I look at the doctor. Worried. Things have not been going well.

She remains calm, but it hardly reassures me.

Even though I’m not the patient, each visit is traumatic, and I can’t seem to calm down. “Don’t cry in front of her,” I tell myself on most visits, though I know the veterinarian would understand.

The patient is Hemi, my tuxedo cat – and his glucose levels are out of control.


Hemi is a sweet Manx named for his Hemi-engine purring. I fell in love with this rescue animal the moment I saw him. A deeply affectionate, gentle cat, Hemi is quite dapper: his black and white coloring makes him look as if he is always ready to step out for a black tie event. He especially likes the ladies and flirts with my friends regularly, once he gets over his initial shyness, that is.

Dapper Hemi with his pal Cosette

Dapper Hemi with his pal Cosette

A few months ago, the veterinarian informed me that Hemi is diabetic but he had an optimistic prognosis: Hemi had “a good chance of remission.” With a prescription diet and regular doses of insulin, we believed he would do well and eventually no longer need insulin.

But his check-up last week indicated skyrocketing glucose levels.

Hemi now gets his insulin shot twice a day and has his glucose level checked every 7-10 days; each glucose check is 6-8 hours after his shot. When his insulin treatment began, we seemed to hit a homerun. His glucose level was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I just needed to bring him in in a few weeks for a routine glucose follow-up.

But the veterinarian and I had a false sense of security.

The follow-up showed his glucose level to be too high again, so we increased the insulin dosage. A week later, his glucose level was way too low; if it dropped much lower, he could die. We lowered the insulin dose, and I fed him more when we got home. The veterinarian then recommended doing a glucose curve, where Hemi would spend the day at the animal hospital and have his glucose levels tracked hourly.

But the vet couldn’t put a handle on a pattern. Hemi’s glucose level was lowest only about four hours after I had administered the insulin. Glucose levels went up and down throughout the day with no rhyme or reason. This glucose yo-yo-ing is disappointing.

I’m so worried about my tuxedo boy. How is he feeling, I wonder. I want his glucose levels to cooperate. I want him to be healthy. I know diabetic cats’ glucose levels take some time to regulate, but I find patience elusive.

Part of my dismay is spurred by self-doubt, which creeps in every day. I wonder, did the needle actually penetrate his skin and did the medicine get into his body? This feline gentleman allows me to give him shots, no problem, thankfully; in fact, I don’t think he feels them. But sometimes my hands shake or he moves a bit, and I’m sure I have missed sometimes. A few times, his fur had the medicine smell of insulin. I asked the doctor whether the smell was emanating from his skin, but she said the scent was probably due to a couple of misses and not to worry about it.

Not to worry about it? I’m emotionally tormented about it.

And another thing: Given my cancer history, I am in turmoil whenever my cats have medical issues. I realize that all doctors – yes, even veterinarians – scare me. Hospitals – even animal hospitals – give me the jitters. It is so emotionally draining to keep this cat healthy day in, day out. But some days it’s even more difficult to keep my emotions under wraps and keep me strong and steady through this glucose-regulation runaround.

But my emotions are like Hemi’s glucose levels: up, way up, and down, way down.

I’ve come to dread each visit with the veterinarian and must recalibrate myself: to check my anxiety levels and deep breathe to keep panic away.

It’s way too early to throw in the towel. He gets a fructosamine test tomorrow. We are keeping Hemi as healthy as possible, and we hold onto the hope that his glucose levels will eventually become regulated. Once that happens, perhaps Hemi will be in the mood to step out on the town after all.

Have you had/Do you have pet(s) with a medical condition? What’s been your experience?

Would you care to share stories of your pet(s)? ? I really would like to hear from you.

Hemi trying to do math

Hemi trying to do math

To read about my other cat, Cosette, click here.

10 Things I’m Grateful For

Posted on: September 11th, 2015 by

It feels like it happened yesterday, but today is the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on American soil. That day, people went to work and got on planes, unaware this day would be their last one.

Like many, I use this day to reflect about the event — and this gives me pause to think about what I’m grateful for. So without further ado, here are the 10 things I’m thankful for, not in any particular order of importance. I’m grateful for an infinite number of things, but these are the ones that come to my mind today, September 11.

1. I’m grateful for the privilege of raising my daughter. Although we were randomly paired by the Chinese government, we have made a wonderful family who are perfect for each other. Rather than take motherhood for granted, I relish it. The universe had decided that two people from opposite ends of the world belonged together.
2. I’m so thankful I’ve surrounded myself with kind, generous-spirited people. I have wonderful friends and acquaintances who give me great joy. Last night I was lucky enough to socialize with people of various backgrounds, and I reflected how blessed I was to be in such great company.
3. My family is my anchor, and I remain close to them, though distance keeps us apart for much of the year. Part of my family live in my household — they are my two cats and a rather large goldfish.
4. I’m alive.
5. I have wonderful physicians and nurses who treat me with kindness and respect and have done their best to save my life and keep me healthy.
6. I’ve rediscovered art. After a long hiatus, I started painting and sketching again, resulting in optimal meditative relaxation. More on this in a future post.
7. I’ve rediscovered reading. Though chemobrain has affected my attention span and concentration, I have made reading a priority and have regained my love of reading. I’m almost 60 percent done with War and Peace. It’s taking me a long time to get through this book (doesn’t it for everyone?) but I am enjoying this piece of literature.
8. I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and enough to eat. This sounds basic, but so many people have nothing; I realize my good fortune.
9. I write regularly and love it. Putting words down on the screen and on paper is cathartic and fun.
10. I’m grateful to my readers and the online community I belong to. In many respects, this community has been my salvation, validating my concerns and feelings. And I hope that I have helped validate and support those who read my blog. I’m happy to have wonderful people like you reading my blog.

What thing(s) are you grateful for? I would love to hear about it.

Related Posts:

Adoption After Cancer, guest post on No Boobs About It
Adoption Story
Heroic Moments
My Oncology Nurse
Chemobrain: War, Then Peace

My daughter, whom I'm most grateful for

My daughter, whom I’m most grateful for

Ari enjoying summer fun

Ari enjoying summer fun

One of my paintings

One of my paintings

Aging Ungracefully

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by

Pre-cancer, I was sturdy, strong, resilient. I reached far into the sky, living the myth that mortality was far, far away, especially since I took excellent care of my body. Like many young people, I believed I wouldn’t have to confront death for a long time.

I had incredible amounts of energy and an amazing memory, and I was in excellent physical shape, being an avid runner and walker.

Until cancer made me realize long-term health was a pipe dream.

Understandably, I’ve never been the same since diagnosis. After all, who is?

During treatment I felt exceedingly old, lacking energy, suffering from extreme fatigue and major cognitive impairment. Medical staff told me that I’d bounce back after treatment. But a funny thing happened on the way to post-cancer: I didn’t bounce back well.

The body and the mind never forget a hurt. And cancer and its treatments are a major hurt.

The multiple surgeries have taken their toll on my physical and mental health. I have body image issues. I’ve had bone fractures, part of the collateral damage of treatments.

And I still have chemobrain — 14 years after chemo ended. My rewired brain has gone haywire.

I struggle with short-term memory. In desperation to brush back the chemo fog, I desperately play Lumosity brain games, but I get frustrated easily. Reading is more difficult, as my attention span has diminished. But I keep reading; I refuse to give up on literature, which I love, and I refuse to completely give in to chemobrain.

But, let’s face it, since cancer, I feel older than I am.

I have felt old since the very first chemotherapy treatment and since radiation.

And to add insult to injury, some medical professionals use diversion tactics to deny that cancer treatments have aged me.

Like the specialist who told me that a stress fracture was because my body wasn’t sufficiently conditioned, rather than the truth about my compromised bone health. Or the physician who wondered if other fractures were due to me accidentally sustaining a recent injury rather than wonder about my poor bone density.

Or the doctor who flippantly told me that my short-term memory problems were not due to chemobrain at all, but due to the natural process of aging.

Or the doctor who blamed my brain problems on aging rather than chemobrain. How could this be, when I noticed a decline in cognitive abilities after my very first chemo treatment? My brain power didn’t coincidentally diminish on its own as soon as chemo was administered.

Or the physician who told me the effects of chemobrain were short-term and I shouldn’t have symptoms of cognitive impairment more than a year after treatment. Well, I know my brain fog is permanent.

Or the doctor who believes my medications are the short-term-memory culprits.

Some physicians simply dismiss my true concerns and feelings about cancer treatments’ collateral toll on the body, mind, and spirit.

If I weren’t so level-headed, I might think there is a medical conspiracy to keep mum about treatment’s looooong-lasting effects.

I’m not trying to be ungrateful here. I’m grateful to be alive, NED (no evidence of disease), and to be able to swim and walk. Not everyone is this lucky. I love my doctors and medical staff. But sometimes I just feel dismissed.

Patients house too many truths to be dismissed.

Empire State Building

Have you ever felt dismissed by medical professionals?

Do you feel cancer and/or its treatments have aged you?

No, Cancer is Not a Journey

Posted on: August 13th, 2015 by

I dislike many platitudes when it comes to cancer. The general healthy public likes to give a positive spin to cancer — especially breast cancer, of course. In fact, so many in our society consider breast cancer the cute, benign sort of cancer, even though it kills and maims.

Well-meaning people have tritely referred to my breast cancer experience as a “journey,” as if there’s a beautiful road to a beautiful place of self-revelation.

The Road Ahead

I hate this platitude.

My life’s path hasn’t become more meaningful since cancer sunk its fangs into me. I don’t have a higher purpose or calling. Cancer did not set me on an important journey toward self-discovery and self-revelation.

The only journey cancer took me was on a road paved to hell. And therein lies my self-revelation.

For example, on biopsy day, my surgeon told me that the diagnostic mammogram showed that the mass in question was highly indicative of cancer. I literally felt the examination room table I was on drop down, down, down — and I was falling into an abyss of unchartered terror.

That was my initiation into the world of the cancer journey.

But that was only the beginning. Chemotherapy and radiation and an aromatase inhibitor wreaked havoc on my body. At a young age, I did have an epiphany of sorts: I learned what it was like to feel old, sick, and worn down.

Not exactly a feel-good breast cancer journey.

And cancer wasn’t done with me after treatment ended. I am exceedingly lucky I’m not metastatic, and each day I realize so many people are still struggling with breast cancer and its treatments. Many will die of the disease. Thus far, my life was spared.

But my mind was not spared. In fact, it bled out. The journey to PTSD is a one-way ticket to a horrific place filled with triggers and land mines. Any misstep is precarious.

I’m lucky to be NED (no evidence of disease) thus far.

But in a sense, I am still a lifer.

PTSD has forever has changed my brain chemistry; trauma haunts my mind, inhabits my body, and is here to stay.

Yeah, some journey. Right.

I spend my days working harder than I should have to in order to make life’s moments meaningful and stretching these moments into meaningful hours and days.

Some people tell me that I should be over “it” and see my “cancer journey” as a well-paved road that goes from point A to point B. But truth is, that road is not linear and it’s fraught with potholes.

The journey metaphor is harmful to people who have/have had cancer because it puts pressure on us to feel that cancer somehow impacted our lives in a meaningful, positive way. This is not always the case. That being said, however, my cancer take-aways have been to not take my health for granted and to realize that I am luckier than others.

And that has to be enough.

What are the platitudes you dislike the most and why?

What are your cancer struggles? I want to hear about them.

For a post on other problematic platitudes, click here.

Watermelon for a Cure

Posted on: July 29th, 2015 by

When it comes to cause marketing, I thought I’d seen it all — until I walked into the grocery store the other day. As soon as I walked in, I saw seedless watermelons sporting large pink-ribbon stickers. And to add insult to pink injury, right next to the ribbon the sticker said, “A Sweet Way to Stay Healthy.”

This cutesy message strongly implies that watermelon somehow protects people from breast cancer. This campaign is called MelonUp!, and its website boasts the cancer-preventing benefits of eating seedless watermelon.

The website says, “Lycopene is a red pigment that gives watermelon its color. It’s packed with antioxidants, which are known to prevent cancer.” Oh, and if this misinformation isn’t enough, the website says, “Through nutrition education on the health benefits of watermelon, combined with donations to breast cancer organizations, we endeavor to help the estimated 1 in 8 women who will be affected by this cancer, and to never give up the fight for a cure. You can help support this worthy cause when you purchase MelonUp! Pink Ribbon watermelons. Every juicy bite of a MelonUp! Pink Ribbon melon helps to fund critical breast cancer research.”

Puh-lease. This rhetoric, which has been seen time and time again, is tiresome. And that’s not all: people can download a ridiculous MelonUp! Pink Ribbon Watermelon App for $1 where one can play a fun seed-spitting game and where all proceeds will supposedly be donated to cancer research. And the irony of the game wasn’t lost on me since MelonUp is touting its SEEDLESS watermelons.


I love watermelon. In fact, it’s my favorite fruit. I grew up eating lots — and I mean an enormous amount — of watermelon and have continued eating it. And I got breast cancer anyway. I still eat a lot of this fruit and enjoy it immensely. While watermelon is a healthy food, I have no illusions that it will keep me healthy.

Here’s the e-mail I sent to The letter is short and melon-sweet.

To Whom It May Concern:

I love eating seedless watermelon. You are certainly right about it being a nutritious, delicious food. I’ve always eaten lots of watermelon — with and without seeds — and relish the fruit.

However, I don’t relish the inaccurate message you are sending customers — the one about watermelon’s ability to keep people healthy and cancer-free. Despite all the watermelon I’ve eaten in my life, I got breast cancer anyway. Cancer causes suffering and death, and watermelon cannot prevent cancer.

By implying that watermelon prevents cancer, you are misinforming the public and doing them a disservice.

While I would like the MelonUp! campaign to be dismantled, I realize this request is unrealistic, given your organization’s penchant for cause marketing. However, I implore you to change the wording on your website. You could start by touting the value of watermelon without linking it to cancer prevention.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this e-mail and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Beth Gainer

Have you seen pink ribbon products being sold during summer? If so, what have you seen?


Posted on: July 16th, 2015 by

“Oooh, that’s one creepy-looking dinosaur!” I told my wide-eyed-but-ready-for-bedtime daughter.
“Then read about it, Mommy!” she laughed, pointing at the ferocious dinosaur in one of her favorite books.
“Honey, I’m so glad they are extinct.”
“Otherwise, they would chase us and eat us?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
She yawned. “I’m glad they are extinct, too,” as she rolled over to sleep.

It’s now midnight, and I’ve been trying to sleep for hours, but cannot rest an eyelid.

A dinosaur is trying to devour me.

I’m having a bad night. One consumed by fear and anguish. I wish it were a good night, one where the medications ease my anxieties and put me in a restful sleep.

But tonight isn’t that night.

The last of my cancer treatments was a long time ago in cancer years, yet here I find myself curled in a fetal position, crying about breast cancer.


With. Too. Much. Time. To. Think.

I ruminate endlessly about how I needed not to have heard the words, “It’s cancer.”

My loved ones think I should be over “it” by now. A friend recently told me that where I am now is so much better than where I was a number of years ago when I was newly diagnosed and undergoing treatments.

In a sense he’s right. I am far better off now. I have a beautiful, joyful life for which I’m thankful every day. I really lucked out so far in this game of cancer roulette.

But the PTSD that keeps me up some nights has made me supremely unlucky, too. It is part of the collateral damage that ensures I will never be done with breast cancer. NEVER. No matter how long I long for the carefree days when I was untouched by ill health, I will never be carefree again. It’s not just fear of recurrence and paranoia about aches and pains that keep me up at night, but trying, trying, trying to cope with trauma.

I have repeatedly told my doctors about my PTSD, and they are understanding — but unless they themselves have faced a life-threatening disease — I know they do not understand. They have helped me physically; their interest lies in the human body, not the mind. Of course, the mind-body connection is powerful; I just wish they understood that.


Although mental health professionals have my back, I still wholeheartedly wish for my other doctors to understand what I’m going through.

One mental health professional asks me each time I see him how my sleep is. “Just fine,” I lie. I’m afraid I’ll be put on medications that will make me a zombie. This is unacceptable to me. So, here I lie tonight unable to sleep, constantly looking over my shoulder and grieving.

Yesterday, my daughter made a discovery, “Mom, this breast is smaller than the other one!” Though I was weeping internally, I calmly said that I know and once again reiterated that it’s because mommy had a boo-boo there, and it was removed, so my right breast is smaller. “And what about that?” She was pointing to a remaining deformity on my right breast due to three lumpectomies, radiation, and mastectomy with reconstruction. I then told her that it was because the doctor had to treat it to make the boo-boo go away.

Then, thankfully, she dropped the subject, leaving me relieved but shaken. Sooner than later, she will put the pieces together, and I will help her, as I help her put dinosaur puzzles together.

I have a great life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m lucky I am spending wonderful amounts of time with my daughter. We have activity-packed days, which help keep the demons at bay.

Come to think of it, I think I could live with the dinosaurs. I wish cancer were extinct instead.

Feel free to share how cancer has affected you emotionally and/or physically.

Do you have “dinosaurs” in your life?

I am eager to read about your experiences.

15 Random Facts About Me

Posted on: July 9th, 2015 by

I just read Nancy Stordahl’s latest post titled 15 Random Facts & A Blogging Challenge Too!, where she shared 15 facts about herself. And I thought, what a great idea, so that’s what my post this week is about.

And, as Nancy has done, I’m putting a challenge out there for others in the blogosphere to blog on 15 (or less or more) facts about yourselves.

Here are 15 random facts to know about me:

1. I’m from the Bronx, NY, home of the New York Yankees. I am now living in the Midwest, but I miss my family who have remained in New York. I visit when I can. I also miss NY food, particularly pizza and bagels.
2. From the age of 12 to 18, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always been crazy-in-love with animals. In fact, I used to rescue cats from trees on my way to and from school. During my high school years, I volunteered at an animal hospital. Nothing says humility like working in a kennel or passing out when watching surgery. I’ve done both.
3. My favorite field trip took place when I was in high school. Our biology class went to Sloan-Kettering to learn about cancer cells (ironic, huh?). I did get to work an electron microscope, which was beyond cool and a memory I will always treasure.
4. I went to Michigan State University because of its veterinary program.
5. I changed my major to English.
6. I teach English literature and writing at a local university. Being a teacher is fulfilling, and I enjoy helping others.
7. I love writing. So. Much.
8. My favorite hobby is art — in particular, oil painting and drawing. These are completely relaxing activities for me. One day I’d like to go on an artist’s retreat in Italy, France, and/or Ireland.
9. I’m more than halfway done reading War and Peace. I’ve since lost track of many a few characters and it’s taking me forever to get through, but I’m determined to finish it.
10. My daughter has gotten me hooked — literally and figuratively — on the Rainbow Loom, where you make jewelry out of rubber bands, and there’s, like, a zillion different patterns. Luckily YouTube has many instructional videos. She and I have recently mastered the fishtail pattern! This is why War and Peace is taking me so long.
11. I wear a lucky pendant I never take off. It has my daughter’s Chinese name, which literally translates to something like “highest luck.”
12. I am terrible with plants and admire those with a green thumb. My mom is a great gardener, but plants/gardens under my care don’t fare well.
13. My favorite instrument is the violin. I don’t play it, but I sure enjoy listening. I love strings in general, but the violin soothes me like no other.
14. I have a wide range of musical tastes — from classical to folk to rock — and like most people, I am loyal to my favorite artists who speak to my heart. When people critique my musical tastes, I get exceedingly annoyed and take it quite personally.
15. I began blogging for two reasons: because my efforts to have a newspaper column on patient empowerment fell through. I also wanted to write a book on this topic and felt more comfortable creating a book in small chunks. I’m trying to get the completed manuscript published. I’d also like to write more about topics other than cancer. But, for now, I still have a lot to say on this subject. And I’m proud to be a member of a wonderful blogging community of writers and readers.

Well, there you have it. The 15 random facts about me. I had fun writing this, and I hope to write more non-cancer-related posts in the future.

What are some random facts about yourself?

I would love to hear about you.

War and Peace

My lucky pendant

My lucky pendant

Seeking Independence From Ignorance

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by

Today my 7-year-old daughter is participating in her day camp’s Fourth of July parade. The children will be marching around waving American flags, as they do every year. Ari looks forward to this parade, the fireworks on the Fourth, and she enjoys listening to how the United States gained its independence.

Throughout the year, we have discussed how this country is a true melting pot of people — many from other countries. “Like me!” she says smiling, referring to China, her country of birth. “And like grandpa,” I add, acknowledging that my dad is from Poland. (Of course, she’s too young to understand that he escaped the jaws of Nazism.)

Part of the narrative woven into our family life is how wonderful China’s people are. And how the United States tolerates people of all backgrounds and beliefs. We root for China and the United States during the Olympics. I expose her to Chinese-related customs and holidays, while celebrating Jewish holidays. We are a multicultural family who embraces tolerance.

And we are also a conspicuous family. But in America, the land of the free, tolerance of conspicuous families sometimes falls short. A Caucasian mother with an Asian child is not always well-received. In fact, we have encountered more than our share of ignorant, unsavory comments from people of many nationalities and countries.

And what’s worse, most of them are said right in front of my daughter. I give appropriate responses because how I answer these questions will affect how Ari perceives herself. I must quell my impulse to tell these ignoramuses where to go. Sometimes I educate, but much of the time — depending on how shocking the comment is — we walk away. Ironically, we live in a diverse area.

So to those sometimes-well-meaning Americans, let me set the record straight on this Independence Day holiday:

* Yes, my daughter speaks English. Quite well, thank you very much.

* To the Chinese-food delivery guy who pointed at Ari and asked, “Wow, you’ve got a real Chinese girl living here?” Yes. She’s real. And her favorite food is Chinese food. Imagine that.

* To the Americans who call my daughter a “China doll,” knock it off. Once again, she’s a real person. For her dance recital, she eagerly wore some make-up, but then looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I don’t look real; I look like a China doll.” To stave off any more pain, I told her that she was real, not a doll.

* I’m not an American mom with a Chinese daughter. My daughter is also American.

* How much did I pay for her? Um. None of your damn business. I’ve been asked this in front of Ari many times, as well as “Did you buy her?.” Each time I’m asked these questions, I wish I could say what I really feel like saying (not appropriate in front of a child). But here’s the answer my pre-adoption classes trained me well for: “As much as it costs to give birth.” That answer shuts them up.

* No, her eyes are not too small. They are perfect.

* A woman stopped us in a store and kept repeating ad nauseum how lucky Ari is to be in the United States and in an American family. When I told the woman that I was so lucky to have my daughter, she then said “In China, they hate girls. They throw them in the garbage.” Ari and I quickly walked away. Later, we had an age-appropriate talk about China’s then-one-child policy.

* Stop calling Ari a lottery baby because she was adopted in the United States. She doesn’t play the lottery, she’s not a baby, and she isn’t completely lucky. Adoption is also a story of loss — the loss of a birth family and her native land. I know she experiences some grief, as do I. I want so much for her to know her birth family, but that will never happen. We want to go to China in the future, though.

I’d like to think these comments don’t faze Ari, but about six months ago, she told me, “This isn’t working out for me. Being an American.” I told her that there’s prejudice and hardship everywhere, and to keep an open mind because many people in our country eagerly embrace differences in others.

Truth is, my open-minded daughter is giving the United States another chance. This July 4, she will be celebrating with her best friend in red-white-and-blue style. She’s embracing America. I only hope other Americans follow suit.

How have you and/or someone you care about deal with unsavory comments from others?

If you are in a conspicuous family, how do you and/or your children fare in society?

If you are from the United States, how are you celebrating Independence Day?