Radiation Blues

Posted on: June 21st, 2018 by


When I finished radiation treatments for breast cancer 17 years ago, I received a beautiful certificate stating that I “graduated” from radiation and that I crossed that finish line. The staff signatures on my certificate and hugs from my radiation oncologist and nurses were amazing. I actually felt like a survivor and my spirits were buoyed up.

Now I realize I never really graduated at all. Unbeknownst to me, I was left back.

I’m currently recovering from pneumonia, the second bout I’ve had in three years. Whenever I get sick, I never get the common cold. Never. I get really, really sick, always involving my lungs in some way: bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and now, pneumonia. I can never get better on my own, but need a doctor’s assistance to hop aboard the wellness train.

My new primary care physician could not understand why, when I went to the ER the day before, the lung X-ray showed I had COPD. In addition, my oxygen level was lower than ideal. In the ER, I was peppered with questions about whether I had ever smoked. I have never smoked, so you can imagine my shock regarding the X-ray.

During my post ER follow-up appointment, my new doctor looked over my history and asked me if I ever received radiation as part of breast cancer treatment. Then he told me — which pains me as I write this — that he believes my lungs were somewhat damaged by the radiation treatments.

Fuck you, cancer.

I am one of the lucky ones, I know. I am NED thus far. So many patients, especially those with metastatic cancer, have it worse than me and are more ill than me.

But right now, I’m understandably pissed off about my situation.

During my 17 years of survivorship, I made the best out of my life: I fulfilled my dreams of becoming a mother, artist, writer, and teacher. I’ve had a joyous life in so many ways — filled with love, laughter, friends, and a daughter who is my everything.

Since my last post on exercise, I had even gotten myself into a nice exercise routine, where I walk for 60 to 90 minutes intensely several days a week; exercise makes me feel good and strong.

But I’m anything but strong now. The steroid and antibiotic I received from my visit to the ER were ineffective, so I’m now on a stronger steroid and antibiotic, which seem to be working slowly but surely. Meanwhile, I had to cancel our trip to visit family in New York last week because I’m not well right now. I’ve canceled playdates with my daughter’s friends. I’ve canceled get-togethers with my friends.

I’ve spent 17 years trying to develop confidence in my body. And if, dear readers, you’ve been reading my blog steadily, you know I do my best to take care of myself physically and emotionally.

I may be NED, but having had cancer treatment makes good continued health precarious.

My new doctor wants to get to the root of the problem to figure out why I get so sick. No other doctor has ever admitted to me that having had breast cancer had caused collateral damage. When I am better, he recommends an X-ray of my lungs, as well as a follow-up with a pulmonologist.

Even if nothing is found, which is what I’m hoping for, I have to be honest with myself: the doctor’s intuition might be right — radiation might have damaged my lungs.

I thought chemobrain, PTSD, and osteopenia from this experience would be all that I would have to deal with. Wrong, I was. Naive, I was.

I am angry.


Diagnosis and discussing suggested treatment protocols are a murky time. There is so much information that patients have to process and sometimes a plethora of treatment options. And, of course, we patients are facing imminent mortality head-on.

I know that medicine has advanced from 17 years ago, How could it not? But when my radiation oncologist smilingly reassured me that the radiation part of my treatment was safe as all-get-out, I believed her.

When my breast-conservationist surgeon said lumpectomy plus radiation is as good as a deterrent for re-occurrence as a mastectomy, I listened. I initially chose to make the best treatment decision possible for me. I wanted to keep my breast at that time of diagnosis — a time when so much information is given to a befuddled, confused, frightened patient, that one’s head spins.

If I had a crystal ball back then, I would’ve skipped the radiation and gone straight for the bilateral mastectomy. Not a walk in the park, either, but I’m afflicted with the radiation blues.

Disclaimer: If you are a doctor reading this, I’m not recommending that patients simply throw your medical expertise to the wind. Nor am I questioning a particular treatment protocol you are recommending to your patients. And if you are a patient, only you can make the best decisions for your body. My wishing I had chosen a different treatment protocol is an individual desire of mine, but it’s not the right decision for everyone. And, who knows, maybe in time I will realize that I chose the right treatment after all.

So here I am, recovering from pneumonia and am hoping I can hit the gym in a few weeks.

I’m just bitter about my body right now.

Its continual betrayal makes me understand that I’m still reaping the effects of cancer treatments.

In the end, I do not blame my doctors or me for our decision to initially go with a lumpectomy plus radiation. I made what I thought was an educated decision, weighing what treatment would give me the best long-term outlook. The priority was to prevent a recurrence and/or metastasis.

When I get well, I will be seeing a pulmonologist.

In the meantime, I am still grateful to be alive, and that I’m in good overall health. My doctors worked hard to save my life, and they have been so loving and kind. Seventeen years ago, I made the best treatment decision I could — and I must have the courage to live with the consequences of that, without blaming the medical profession or myself for going through with a recommended treatment.

Have you had any kind of damage from cancer treatment? If so, please feel free to share your story/stories.


Posted on: June 14th, 2018 by


In Judaism, there’s a beautiful gravesite tradition where the rabbi cuts a part of the mourners’ shirts, about where the heart is located. Those closest to the deceased wear the ripped shirt every day during the first week of mourning to symbolize and remind us and the community how our hearts are torn apart.

The shirt I wore the week my father died was eventually thrown away, but my heart is still torn apart.

This Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.

As I write this, I am torn apart by fresh primal grief, as he died only a couple of months ago.

As I write this, I feel a plethora of emotions — from feeling lost and angry to grief-strickenly sad.

But this Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.

This post celebrates my father and contains 20 facts that will help you know the kind of man my dad was.

1. As mentioned in a previous post, my dad survived the Nazi peril. He made the most of his life in America, despite frequent anti-Semitic jabs from co-workers (yes, it was accepted back in the day). On workdays, he often woke up at 2:30 a.m. and came home around 6 p.m. A punctual man who had a weakness for donuts and such, he would get to his favorite donut place each day, have a danish or donut, and still have time to be early for work.

2. He understandably loved bakeries.

3. He had an aversion to tardiness.

4. His work ethic was that of superstar. He had a manual-labor job in the food industry, where he worked until he retired. He was never late to work, labored in all kinds of brutal conditions — in a warehouse with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer — and hardly ever called in sick.

5. The plus side of having a dad who works in the food industry is that he loved being creative with food. I always had watermelon baskets for my birthday parties, as well as fun, delicious finger sandwiches.

6. Speaking of fingers, my dad almost lost his in heavy machinery several times. OSHA-who?

7. He had a penchant for work. Even after my parents retired and moved to Florida, he worked as a pool security guard. He no longer had to work for financial reasons; he just wanted to work.

8. He was an uncomplicated man — he loved his family, friends, and work. That’s it.

9. He was an extrovert. He loved people and was never shy. Everyone who met him loved him. I’m more of a shy introvert, so our personalities clashed sometimes.

10. He and my mom were champion ballroom dancers. I’m not exaggerating; they won some very impressive awards way before Dancing with the Stars was ever conceived. In fact, my parents were the stars of many a dance hall — from his younger years to his retirement years.

11. My dad’s love of dancing got passed down to me. He used to ballroom dance with me and teach me all the moves (I never retained all of the ballroom dances and, if asked, couldn’t recall them now). He and my mom supported my years of tap dancing lessons.

12. After my recitals, my parents wanted me to feel special, so we usually all went to a diner for a treat to celebrate my dancing prowess.

13. Despite our limited financial means, my dad always managed to treat his and other kids to treats such as ice cream and admission to movies and museums. He was an exceptionally generous man.

14. My dad would frequently talk Yiddish with our relatives. When the individuals in our family wanted to keep my brother and me out of a conversation, they turned to Yiddish. Luckily, I learned Yiddish through my paternal grandmother during my formative years. My dad would embarrassingly say to them, “Zi farshteyt” (“She understands.”) And I did. I’m no longer fluent in Yiddish, but I loved hearing my relatives speak it, and I relish my Yiddish-speaking days. I will always love the language of my father and our family. In fact, my friends can tell you that I often pepper my English with Yiddish words and phrases.

15. My dad and brother loved playing catch together. They also wrestled on my parents’ bed, which would sometimes collapse as a result, and to my mom’s dismay.

16. My dad was a big kid with an infectious sense of fun. He was often goofy and immature. Also to my mom’s dismay.

17. He didn’t care for all the music I was a fan of, but he tried to be. We spent hours together, when I would play my favorite songs for him on the stereo. He fed into and expanded my love of music by purchasing 45s (remember those?) from a record machine in the grocery store and surprising me every week with a new record.

18. He always cared about making life convenient for me, even if his life was made less convenient by it. When I volunteered at an animal hospital during my teens, my dad would often try to save me the long ride home via two buses. He’d pick me up. And there happened to be a Carvel ice cream shop right next to the animal hospital, so….

19. My dad had real values that he passed onto his children. I hate it when politicians preach “family values.” But my dad’s basic values were real: they included treating others with respect, working hard, not giving up easily, not taking ourselves seriously but taking what we do seriously, and trying our best with whatever endeavor we undertake. His mantra to my brother and me were to always try our best and not to let go of our dreams. I’ve passed these values down to my daughter, as well.

20. When I was an insecure teenager, my dad gave me the most powerful gift I’ve ever received, an anonymous poem called “Don’t Quit.” I taped it to all my books and read and re-read the poem all the time. It helped me succeed academically and deal with my insecurities. To this day, it remains my favorite poem and was poignantly read by the rabbi at my dad’s gravesite. The text of this poem is provided here.

Yes, my dad will always be alive within my heart and my family’s hearts. But that won’t make this Father’s Day any easier; in fact, this holiday will be so difficult to bear. But I will honor and celebrate Father’s Day by never letting go of my dreams and never quitting.

How will you spend Father’s Day?

Are you missing your father or guardian?

Please feel free to share something about your father/guardian; I’d really like to hear about him.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

My parents' wedding day

My parents’ wedding day

Retirement days

Retirement days

My Father and the Holocaust

Posted on: May 23rd, 2018 by

This is my first post in awhile, for I was still grieving the loss of my beloved aunt, when my dad died of Parkinson’s in March. And I found myself sunk even deeper in the quicksand of depression. Writing is therapeutic, but I was so locked in grief that I couldn’t write.

Grief and depression are a bitch.

But now, finally and shakily, I write.

Saying the past few years have been hell is an understatement. My poor dad suffered, and it was understandably excruciating for me, my brother, and my mom to watch. But long before Parkinson’s, suffering was no stranger to my father. In fact, suffering was the hallmark of my dad’s life.

I will write a different tribute to my dad on another day, but today I need to divulge a family secret: my dad and his family survived-did-not-survive the Holocaust.

My family history is shrouded in mystery, so much so, that the concept of creating a family tree is foreign to us.

My dad was born in 1937 in Poland — Vishkov to be exact, a small village not far from Warsaw. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and most of my family perished. The lucky ones fled. Understandably, my family knows nothing about what happened to specific family members or even who they were.

My dad’s father died in 1939 in Poland.

Family stories say he “drowned,” but no one ever found his body.

My brother and I suspect he was murdered, but we have no proof. My dad’s baby sister died, too. The stories surrounding her death are also unclear: either she starved or froze to death during my dad’s family’s escape from Poland. The trek was filled with hunger and extreme discomfort. Desperate for food, he and his family ate grass. The rare occasion they ate bread, my dad said it was so delicious, it tasted just like chocolate to him and his family.

For years, my dad, his mom, and the rest of his surviving family lived like nomads, moving from country to country — even surviving a Russian labor camp — until they immigrated to the US when he was about 12 years old.

He inherited a legacy of pain from the Nazis. Like our family members who survived this horror, my dad almost never talked about his experiences in Europe, nor did he watch films about the Holocaust.

No need to. He lived it.

He came to this country with nothing but the curse of memory. But he worked hard his entire life, often working two jobs to keep my mom, me, and my brother fed.

My dad was an exceedingly generous person. No matter how little money we had, he made sure my family’s needs were met. If my brother and I wanted ice-cream or to go to a movie, my dad never said, “I can’t afford it.” Instead, he reached into his pocket and found the money. His life of deprivation made him determined not to deprive his children of the good things in life.

We always had an abundance of food available, and my dad was an expert host: he offered food to relatives and friends constantly — to our embarrassment when my brother and I were growing up — and he couldn’t bear to see anyone go hungry. One time, at some sort of banquet, he gave his dinner to a woman who walked in from the street, claiming she had nothing to eat.

He and my mom eventually saved up for a house. And we lived the American Dream.

But all was not well in our household. My dad suffered from constant nightmares and emotional stress that plagued his entire life. So much so, that he received reparations from Germany until he died. Of course, reparations can never make up for his suffering.

My family history is filled with confusion and gaps. It always will be. And I grieve the relatives I never met.

My dad wanted what was best for his family. He was a devoted son, husband, and father. He died an American citizen in the country that embraced him, the country that he loved. I, my brother, and our children are my dad’s legacy. And we are honored.

The survivors: My dad as a boy (front row, left), next to his mom and grandmother

The survivors: My dad as a boy (front row, left), next to his mom and grandmother

My Father’s Dying; They Just Turn Their Backs

Posted on: March 12th, 2018 by

After a harrowing few years filled with suffering from end-stage Parkinson’s disease, his days are finally coming to an end. My dad has stopped eating, and now all my family can do is sit and wait. For a doctor’s phone call.

Understandably, this is a difficult time for my family, made even more difficult by the people who are supposed to make things easier — medical personnel.

Such is the nature of health care in the US, or maybe everywhere.

It’s difficult enough to lose a loved one, but it’s exceedingly difficult when medical staff take on a philosophy of non-cooperation and callousness.

When I found out this weekend that my dad was probably not going to make it through the next couple of weeks, I called the nursing home to hopefully speak to a doctor on call.

I was not in denial and grasping at straws for a doctor to tell me my dad would be just fine. What I did want, and what I do want, is assurance that he’s comfortable and a guesstimate as to about when the doctor might think my dad will pass away.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Yet, by the reaction of the nursing home, you would think that I had asked for $1 million. They told me that no doctor is available to speak with me, even though I insisted there must be a doctor on call who can speak with me about my dad’s physical state. The head nurse gave me the number of the hospice corporation, where I might get in touch with a doctor.

Even though my name is listed as a contact who has a right to medical information, the nursing home didn’t want to be bothered. So I called hospice.

Hospice told me that even though I was listed as a contact, they could not give me information because I was not listed as my father’s caregiver. They told me to call the nursing home for information. Maybe I was a tad emotional about this runaround, but I gave them a few pieces of my mind — and then some more.

I called the nursing home again, and the head nurse told me to call them this morning, as the hospice doctor would definitely be in this morning. So I called this morning, and lo and behold, the doctor was not in. As of this writing, 1:10 p.m., Florida time, the doctor is still not in. I just got off the phone with a nursing home staff member, who sarcastically said, “Well, if the doctor comes in and I go to the bathroom, I might miss her.”

I felt like getting equally sarcastic and telling her she might fare well using a catheter, but I don’t want to escalate things.

My goal here is not to start a fight, although I pissed off quite a few people lately.

All I want to know is if my dad is comfortable. I’m not asking for miracles. I know my dad is going to die anyway, so I guess my efforts are futile.

I’m tired and resigned.

I have a feeling that no one will get back to me.

I’m Not Your Punching Bag

Posted on: January 19th, 2018 by

Punching bag

Awhile ago, I wrote a post about those breast cancer support group members who were more of an albatross to me than a help. You can read about it here.

Within the last year or so, two of the three offending, most insidious group members, D and S, contacted me. As I haven’t had a good rant in awhile, it’s time to unleash my first rant of 2018. The third toxic group member’s name is G, and I doubt she will contact me, but I will rant about her anyway.


You called less than a year ago to touch base and to tell me you heard about faculty layoffs at my college and you interrogated me about my job security. Prior to our conversation, you had left your typical bossy voicemail message, “Call in!” and a bossy e-mail message “Report in!” So, I called you up, not because I like you, but mostly out of obligation and because one of my flaws has been that I am too nice to oppressors.

During that conversation, I found out you had had a prophylactic mastectomy planned in spring. I wished you the best of luck and a quick recovery. I was glad that your recurrence didn’t seem to metastasize.

I ignored your disparaging question, “Are you still living in that little house in suburbia?” (I know, you are better than me because you live in downtown Chicago, the center of the universe.) I didn’t even bother to tell you we moved to another little house in suburbia. What’s the point? You never have had full conversations with me. You just call me to dig up and, ultimately, share any dirt on me to your other support group cohorts. Every time I called you in need of support, you would get off the phone within two minutes, using the excuse, “I’ve gotta go. I have something in the oven,” or “I must run, honey.” When you needed support, on the contrary, you expected me to linger on the phone with you.

The last time we spoke, you had questions about my single mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction. I told you I no longer remembered any details, but truth is, I was miffed: you had never even bothered to remember that I had a bilateral mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction, even though we had talked in depth several times prior about the procedure.

Our support group friend Faun had the single mastectomy and TRAM flap, not me.

I am not Faun. Rinse. Repeat.

Oh, and here’s a fond memory: When I was preparing for my surgery, you told me that my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction choice was not in my medical best interest, even though my doctors fully supported my decision.

I know, I know. Your doctors are better than mine. You’ve said so a billion times.

After our last record-setting 15-minute conversation, you got off the phone, and I then deleted your phone number from my contact list.


You are deranged.

Last week, you oddly sent me a friend request on Facebook — even though we haven’t communicated in more than 10 years.


The only reason I can see for you to get in touch with me is to find out what’s going on in my life and report back to the rest of the insidious group.

When I was a regular member of the support group, you always made it a point to tell me that your doctors and hospital were superior to mine and that all the cancer research in the world was done at your hospital, not mine.

I repeatedly told you that you were not supporting me, but you continued to throw this petty shit around.

And I remember what you did. When a male breast cancer patient tried to join our support group at Gilda’s Club Chicago, you ostracized him and made him feel like a nothing. I told you that he has breast cancer and deserves our support, but you went to the head of Gilda’s Club and flatly told her that a man does not belong in a breast cancer support group, especially since we were all women. So he was asked to leave.

The support group would have been better off if you left instead.

And the time you told me not to adopt a child. That this was not the right choice for me. Who do you think you are to try making decisions for me? I may be significantly younger than you, but the truth is, I’m an adult, capable of making my own decisions. So between the my-doctors-are-better-than-yours and do-not-adopt-a-child episodes, I decided it was in my best interest to sever ties with you.

So imagine my surprise, after more than 10 years of being out of touch with you, you send me a Facebook friend request. Between you and D, there are too many assholes trying to contact me for my comfort.

Why now?

Because you want to once again intrude upon my life. You don’t miss communicating with me; you miss communicating about me.

I’m not your punching bag.

So go away.

Oh and by the way, I deleted your Facebook friend request.


Thankfully, you haven’t attempted to get in touch with me since our big blow-up over 10 years ago. You won’t. You regularly have a litany of all the people you hate. That’s the bulk of your phone and in-person conversations. I know because whenever you would call me, which happened to be every fucking day, all you would do is complain about all the people who did you wrong.

I didn’t know boundaries then. But I do now.

Over 10 years ago, when you told me that the group felt I wasn’t ready to adopt a child and that my dream of motherhood was not meant to come true, I yelled at you and hung up on you. We never communicated again — thankfully. I’m sure I’ve since been the subject of many conversations between you, S, and D. But I don’t care.

Just try to send me a Facebook friend request. I dare you. I will feel delirious when I delete your request.

And to all three of you, my life is rich with wonderful friends and family. I don’t need any of you.

The only thing we ever had in common was cancer. So goodbye, toxic trio.

Have you had problems with people in support groups? Feel free to share.

Have you ever joined a support group? What has the experience been like for you?

2018: My Three Words

Posted on: January 12th, 2018 by


For 2018, I’m continuing the tradition that fellow blogger Philippa Ramsden started: blogging about the three words that will guide me this year. (To check out Philippa’s three words for 2018, click here.)

As my readers know, 2017 witnessed me getting laid off and losing my beloved aunt soon after. My precious aunt was my rock. She was fun. She was non-judgmental. She helped me when I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. She took care of me when I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. She was my advocate, my cheerleader, my biggest fan. And now she was gone.

And my dad entering hospice was the shitty cherry on top of a craptastic year. Hopelessness and grief entered my physical and emotional sphere. I worked so hard at finding another job, all while in deep distress.

Such a difficult thing to do.

I cried constantly: I was overwhelmed. I managed the best I could. Finally, in early September, I obtained a teaching position at a local community college.
Although I love the job at this wonderful college and connect well with the students, grief has been my epicenter. I stopped doing things I found pleasurable, such as painting, reading, exercising, and even writing. I stopped taking care of myself, handling grief by turning to food and a sedentary lifestyle. I slept too much, fueling my depression.

At my oncologist’s office recently, I got on the scale, and the truth was in the numbers. And I wondered, how could I have lost control of my physical and emotional well-being?

So, for 2018 and beyond, I’m taking my life back.

And that’s why my three words for 2018 are grit, resilience, and tenacity.

I’m going to tap deeply in my courage bank and reach for these words throughout 2018, as I work hard to get back into shape and stay in shape and enjoy other pleasurable activities — all to stave off depression, keep my mind sharper, build up physical stamina, and lose weight. I physically and emotionally thrive on exercise; for me, it is a huge stress reliever.

This might sound like a New Year’s resolution, but this is a lifetime resolution.

I’ve already started working out at my gym most days, and my goal is to continue a healthy lifestyle for as long as I can into the future. It takes grit to get up each day and walk away from depression towards the gym. It takes resilience to cope with grief and decide that it’s acceptable to grieve, but it’s also acceptable to be kind and generous to oneself even when grieving. It takes tenacity to continue making healthy choices and eat foods that help, not harm, one’s body.

Workout place

It takes all three words to keep crippling depression at bay.

I am not expecting to be free of grief or sadness. I refuse to be some kind of automaton that doesn’t feel.

I simply want to be kinder to myself.

This does not come easily to me.

And that’s why grit, resilience, and tenacity will be my allies, guiding me to grieve and yet take care of myself, to feel sadness but not allow it to cripple me, and to keep hope from veering onto the road of hopelessness.

Do you have three words that will guide you in 2018? If so, feel free to share them.

Six-Word Memoir

Posted on: January 5th, 2018 by


I’m going to begin 2018 with a rather short-but-challenging post: creating a six-word memoir. This is an assignment I will eventually be asking my students to complete, so I feel that I should do the assignment as well. So, without further ado, here it is:

Mother. Family. Cancer. PTSD. Friends. Lucky.

Feel free to share your own six-word memoir in the comments section. I would love to hear yours.

Twelve Twenty-Six

Posted on: December 26th, 2017 by

I don’t remember all my cancerversary dates.

But I remember December 26 all too well. Like it was yesterday. It was the beginning of my cancer nightmare.

Weeks before this date, I found a weird-but-subtle dimple on my right breast during my monthly breast self exam. My doctor said “It is probably nothing,” but he wrote a referral for a diagnostic mammogram “just to be on the safe side.” I clung to his “It is probably nothing” as my new mantra of biblical proportions, so I felt a bit wary but somewhat confident going into the diagnostic mammogram on December 26.

The mammography room was cold. I shivered in the paltry gown the staff had me wear.

I waited awhile for the technician, so to pass the time, I picked up one of the available magazines. One featured a story about a woman in her 30s who died of breast cancer.

“Oh fuck,” I thought.

I was also in my 30s.

The “It is probably nothing” mantra started fading away, and I started feeling colder. I shivered again, staring at the mammography machine that would reveal my fate.

Then the technician came in, smiling and friendly. I liked her immediately.

She took shots of both breasts, but particularly my right one. I expected that. She then left the room.

Then, the unexpected.

She came back, saying: “The radiologist wants me to take more shots of your right breast.” Panic cut through me as she worked. My brain worked overtime. Do I have cancer? Why are they taking so many pictures of my right breast? No, I told myself, they are just double checking, and once again I clung to “It is probably nothing.”

Or will I be like that woman in the magazine who died in her 30s?

The technician smiled again, said she would be back soon, gently patting my shoulder. She left me sitting with my thoughts and staring at the mammography machine. I didn’t want to read any more magazine articles.

The technician interrupted my thoughts and said the radiologist wanted to see even more shots of my right breast.

As she worked, I felt sick. I wanted to pray. But prayers stuck in my throat. I was choking on fear.

I wasn’t a person someone read about in a magazine.

This was happening to me.

And in an instant, I saw my life shatter in a million puzzle pieces.

I wished this was a nightmare from which I would soon awake. But this was cold reality. And, who knows, perhaps someday someone in a room like this one will be reading about me, as someone who died from breast cancer in her 30s.

The technician returned and escorted me to a consultation room where the radiologist would meet with me. At that point, my gut told me all I needed to know: I had breast cancer.

The radiologist soon appeared. “There’s been a change since your last mammogram,” and he put a film of the mammogram a half-year ago and the one from today next to each other. (I had a mammogram earlier than recommended because a half-year before I thought I had felt a nodule on my left breast. My report said my breasts were dense, but nothing was found. Negative.)

As the radiologist spoke, my body moved mechanically to take a look at both films. All I saw was white everywhere in each of them. He used the back of a pen to show me a growth in today’s films. “Your breast tissue is highly dense, so it’s really difficult to see what’s going on,” he said kindly. “But there is a definite growth there. It could be benign. You have to have a biopsy to make sure. He then told me that the technician found it; he boasted that she had keen eyes.

I didn’t know whether to thank her for finding my tumor or to scream.

Numbly, I was led to the locker room to put on my clothes.

I cried all night. I knew I was seeping through the mess called cancer.

And in January, sure enough, biopsy results indicated that the mass was malignant.

Breast cancer.

Innocence shattered.

My world would forever be changed.

Puzzle Pieces

How did you find out that you had cancer? Please feel free to share your story.

Holiday Fun

Posted on: December 22nd, 2017 by


With Christmas fast approaching, people are getting ready to create new memories and new traditions or reinforce established ones.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, I figured I’d share my perspective on the holiday season in general. As people know, Ari and I celebrate Chanukah, but we also appreciate other holidays.

1. My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, which involves the gift of being with friends and family. I love making the Thanksgiving meal and hosting the holiday. This year was a bit different, as Ari and I were invited over to a friends’ house, where we had a lovely time. But that didn’t deter us from hosting Thanksgiving anyway. The day after Thanksgiving, we had Friendsgiving, where we made a Thanksgiving dinner, with all the trimmings, for a dear friend. And we all had a blast.

2. Although Arielle and I celebrate Chanukah, we also embrace Christmas. We are hosting our first Christmas party this year, and we are nervous because we want to be great hosts in this new-to-us terrain.

3. The Christmas lights really help stave off depression during the darkest time of the year.

4. When my brother and I were kids, we would judge the decorations of each house and deem which house had the best Christmas decorations.

5. My favorite, most memorable Chanukah gift was a ventriloquist doll, named Willie Talk. I was into ventriloquism for awhile (no, I wasn’t any good at it) and kept the doll for years. But I did a dumb thing: At the time, my mom smoked, so I stole one of her cigarettes, lit it, opened the doll’s mouth, and inserted the cigarette. The cigarette fell out and burned a hole in Willie’s shirt. Lesson learned: don’t smoke and don’t play with cigarettes. And ventriloquist dolls shouldn’t smoke either.

6. I love latkes, but they are really unhealthy. Nothing like carbohydrates and grease to contribute to a poor eating habit. I don’t make them for Chanukah; the holiday also encourages eating other grease-laden foods, such as donuts. OK, I admit it, we had donuts. We can’t always take the high road.

7. The fancy Chanukah candles we got this year for our menorahs suck. They keep falling out, and we must heat up the bottom of each candle to make them stick.

8. We’ve bought into the Festival of Lights on a new level. We bought some lights that illuminate holograms of Jewish stars, menorahs, and dreidels. Problem: the lights are nice; the holograms are lame.

9. Ari and I do extreme dreideling, which is all sorts of fun. While the dreidel is spinning on a book, for example, we toss the dreidel in the air and see if it can land on the book and still be spinning continuously.

These dreidels are for show, not for spinning.

These dreidels are for show, not for spinning.

10. One fond memory I have of extreme dreideling took place in a previous workplace. I brought dreidels for my co-workers. One co-worker showed extreme dreidel prowess and turned out to be advanced in the ways of the dreidel. One day, she was spinning the hard-plastic dreidel with a passion, and the thing fell out of her window, which was opened just a crack to let fresh air in. Well, the said dreidel spun out of the window and fell onto the street 20-plus stories down. She and I looked at each other shocked, and we were scared it hit someone in busy downtown Chicago. We later searched for the dreidel, scared it would have blood on it. Luckily, it didn’t, but the dreidel’s stem was a bit crooked. Lesson learned: Dreidel responsibly.

Do you have any holiday memories you would like to share? I would love to hear them.

Happy Holidays to all!

Guilty Pleasures

Posted on: December 14th, 2017 by

These days, I’m feeling guilty.

My father is faring badly hundreds of miles away. My mom’s anguish is palpable. I’ve been frantically advocating for him and trying to calm her down. All by phone.

I have to be prepared to leave to Florida at a moment’s notice.

But lately, and — this is the crux of my guilt — I’ve been having fun. I feel I’m a poor excuse for a daughter for experiencing joy at a dark time in my family’s life. While my father suffers and slowly approaches the end of his life, I’m enjoying life.

My daughter and I are doing so many fun activities together. Don’t get me wrong; she has seen me cry in grief and despair over my aunt and dad, and I think that’s a healthy thing for her to witness.

Nevertheless, lately, we’ve had all sorts of fun. We are having a blast shopping for presents for others. Play dates with Ari’s friends fill our schedule. She’s been ice skating. Lately our obsession is a ceramics place, where we choose bisques and paint them with all sorts of colors and designs. The art studio then puts the pieces in the kiln, and oila! A beautiful vase, holiday decoration, bowl, and so on. Ari and I are in love with this place.

Painting bisque pieces

Painting bisque pieces

In the near future, we are going to our favorite art store to buy canvases. I’m going to paint a landscape, and she will be painting a puppy with a kitten. We also mold clay into all sorts of interesting objects.

Lately, we’ve been playing with dreidels and all sorts of Chanukah and non-Chanukah games. We drive around our neighborhood, marvelling at all the houses sporting gorgeous Christmas lights.

Ari is fun. She brings out the child in me, makes me happy, and we enjoy each other’s company.

Despite all the fun activities — or, rather, because of them — guilt gnaws at me. My dad can no longer enjoy fun activities. While Ari and I enjoyed dinner out this week at a yummy restaurant, my dad was hardly eating his puree. My mom is understandably depressed, and worry has diminished her appetite. Before my dad broke his hip a few years ago, my parents used to ballroom dance two to three times a week. (In fact, before I was born, they won awards for their dancing talent.) In fact, my dad enjoyed dancing so much, that he has danced non-stop at friends’ weddings — often dominating the bride’s dance time. Poor groom.

Now, my parents no longer can go dancing.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying all kinds of music and dancing with my daughter. And, somehow, I feel rotten that our dancing is so enjoyable. My guilty mind is killing the joy, replacing it with anguish. But I continue to partake in fun activities, even though I know my parents are suffering. I do it for my daughter, I tell myself. But I’ve been watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on my own for selfish reasons: to laugh and relieve the stress. Truth is, I feel I have no right to be happy and laughing while my parents are suffering. I don’t deserve to have a good time.

In fact, I feel like a horrible person that in spite of what’s going on with my parents, I’ve found significant moments of pleasure.

I feel guilty I never moved to Florida to take care of my parents.

In fact, lately guilt rules so much of my world, that I usually feel horrible after Ari and I have fun. Still, if it weren’t for Ari, I’d sink into a horrible depression. The girl is my salvation.

But in the courtroom of my mind, I try, convict, and punish myself for being guilty as charged.

Do you feel that you experience/have experienced joy when you should be/should have been grieving? Feel free to share your experience(s) and perspective.