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ROCKSTAR STATUS INDEED

ROCKSTAR STATUS INDEED

“Are you alayne white?” a very kind woman and soon to find out a client of our Providence location asked happily at the registration area at Women and Infants Hospital yesterday morning. I had just registered and was off to the next phase of my final surgery time slot. She was checking in with her I presumed husband by her side. I didn’t recognize her, but her head scarf and fine hair gave me the clue that she was familiar with my story as I have been writing endlessly. This is the gravy of writing; you get to meet people and hear their stories in all areas. We respectfully didn’t keep each other long, but the knowing in our eyes said volumes as we immediately connected through our cancer experiences. Words are not necessary, the smile and the warmth was a great way to head into my surgery yesterday. My “living apart together” partner kept walking as he is used to these recognitions by now. I gather from him that these peripheral conversations a half hour before my final surgery are not necessary, but I embrace them because the intent is always from a great place. I never feel intruded upon even in this private moment because it was my choice to write and to publicly speak about this mastectomy. I love when people approach me and share their stories and am thrilled to think that my stories help to let Pandora out of the box. It is only my opinion that talking about the fears, the humor, and the female experience of cancer and all of its ramifications are helpful. This may not be true for everyone, but if the permission is granted because of my writing, then so be it. I have always felt that talking honestly about the feelings and thoughts about any life experience coming at you is part of the healing because the alternative in holding that in is usually more dis-ease over time. Just my two cents.

I made my way to the second floor to the community of women waiting with their men to be checked in for whatever female ailment was about to be cured. C sections, mastectomies, lumpectomies, salpingo oophorectomies, hysterectomies and transgender operations even, Women and Infants seemed to have the superchick monopoly. A bustling female ailment business surrounded me and my partner while we took a seat to join the party. What were my thoughts as I waited? Would I stay over or go home? (my choice). I forgot to write a brief testimonial for my friend, Peter about why Roger Williams University is an asset to the community, does my mother even know that this is going on, when would I be able to exercise again, would the size of my replacement tits be too big, too small or just right, blah blah blah. Mostly though I just took nice deep breaths, took Michael’s hand and allowed myself to relax. I was actually looking forward to anesthesia to shut my fucking brain off for a few hours. I was actually looking forward to a recovery vacation to shut it down for a bit. You know you are a nut when you are looking forward to a week off of work because of a double mastectomy reconstruction surgery. This is fucked up, I know. I have been busy in a good energizing sort of way but I was looking forward to the first chance to stop for a bit and use this surgery as a reason to do so.

Next stop the height measurement, blood pressure, temperature and the scale. I get that the anesthesiologist needs to know your weight, but since I have had this surgery in April, I have avoided the scale at all costs. Six months of swelling, tissue expanders and drugs assured me that the scale was not going to be my friend. Rather than torture myself, I just went with how good I felt and refused the call of the female torture chamber we call a scale. As a matter of fact I removed the scale from my bathroom and put it away never to be used again, because I have accepted that it will never be the number I desire so fuck the scale. Until yesterday when I had to step on it. Why did I look? My crazy female head that I seriously thought I had in check started that familiar list making… how much do my clothes weigh, my shoes, my fake breasts, all acceptable deductions, maybe if I hadn’t eaten a half of pint of mint oreo cookie icecream as my last supper, Okay I think I can safely account for a five pound deduction. I am happy to report that I quickly shut that part of my brain down because it is crazy and I have done way too much work on my self to undervalue my worth because of a scale. This is one of those female crosses we bear and I for one can’t stand this but needless to say, I got sucked back into the vortex in a nanosecond.

I write about this because I want to acknowledge the silliness of taking a potential number obsession to the surgery room. I am about to have silicone implants put in to replace the hard baseballs I have gotten used to. I am about to have my nipple disconnected and reattached, and the doctor is also going to go into my previous ports of entry above each of my hips to suck fat out of my sides of my legs so my cleavage looks more natural and less Barbie (his choice not mine). I laugh at this. Then on top of all this as Dr. Michaud (aka Dr. Hottie) starts drawing with a black pen all over my front so he knows the areas in need of tweaking, I ask him how much the tissue expanders weigh hoping he is going to say five pounds. Yep, bat shit crazy, but here I am. Take me or leave me. (By the way, he said two pounds, damn.)

As I waited for the anesthesia Doctor, I felt the bustle of the presurgery room, pregnant women preparing for c sections, women preparing for their mastectomies and then I see a man with a beard getting carted off and naively comment because after all we are at Women and Infants, hence the word women. Then it dawns on me that she was becoming a he the same day I was reinventing my she. (The same day Hugh Hefner died, seems apropos doesn’t it?) And I felt so happy that I was in a hospital that is progressive enough to be part of his new life. The business of female, I don’t know how this hospital is not fiscally healthy. Women are big business and this was just two hours of one day.

When Dr. Anesthesia walked in we became fast acquaintances because she too recognized my name as she is a client too. Yay! I knew I was in great hands as far as the sedation went and the camaraderie that took place in that silly little room sealed the deal that all would be ok. I went in at 8:00am, was home, yes home, by 3:00pm, liposuctioned , 475cc silicone inserted feeling like I just got tackled my Gronk. It’s done. Now I just have to remove the bandages and my boobilicous staycation begins.

ROCKSTAR STATUS INDEED.


this is me after surgery just getting home on my couch. I can’t believe how great i feel.
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TWO DAYS UNTIL THE FINAL SURGERY

TWO DAYS UNTIL THE FINAL SURGERY

Fingers crossed, hands in prayer position, this Thursday it is almost six months already and I have my (hopefully) final surgery. Reconstruction consists of two parts. One part, the first part, is about the inserting of the tissue expanders so when you wake up from the mastectomy you get to look down and see breasts. Of all the surprises during this experience, this was the best part of the whole thing (besides not having cancer). It made the entire anxiety ridden wild ride a lot more fun for sure; I got to play boob dress up this past six months. Not everyone who has a double mastectomy has the tissue expanders put in out of the gate it turns out. Some women have the actual silicone put in right away. I think it has something to do with the fact that I had radiation at my first round and the skin needed to repair or something like that. I have stopped trying to learn every single detail because I trust my doctor so much and at this point I just want to get on with my surgery hence get on with my life and get used to the next phase of my upper body.

This summer when I speak of playing dress up, what I mean by this is that I had to get fills for the tissue expanders on an almost monthly basis and I had some input as to the size I wanted. This was actually pretty fun, the notion of playing Barbie adding more saline to see what a bigger badder ass tata would appear like. It turns out that 500 cc is actually too big as I quickly learned that over filled boobs struggle with my clothing size and there are some dresses I haven’t been able to wear because my boobs are too big. Not to mention my six foot partner and his very large hands barely fit over them. (Luxury problems indeed)

All of this as a matter of fact is what I would consider luxury problems at this point in my young life. I don’t have cancer, I don’t have my real breasts, my ovaries or my fallopian tubes either, but three surgeries later and I don’t have cancer so this whole shindig has been a welcome alternative and I am grateful. When I say I have my final surgery this Thursday, what happens next is that the Doctor does a small insertion on the scar I already have and pops out the hard baseball like tissue expanders and replaces them with a smaller 450 cc silicone implant. These are squishier and more realistic then the Barbie looking and feeling ones that presently reside in my upper body. When I say hopefully final surgery, it seems that many women have to go back in for some tweaking, maybe the size isn’t right or maybe the new silicone doesn’t settle properly and the mismatch isn’t right or God knows what else can go south. I am sure there are stories after stories of implants gone bad. I made the fatal mistake of reading a Medium story about some explosion that happened to a young mother on a plane. Holy hell. Like bad baby delivery experiences, I am so glad that when I was pregnant, social media didn’t exist with all of the horror stories out there for my inquisitive eyes to see. But the stories of breast reconstruction gone bad are everywhere if you make the fatal mistake of asking the question. I didn’t make that mistake and I won’t. I don’t have cancer and this is the only part of this party I am concerned about. I don’t really care anymore if my boobs are even (they are right now) or if my cleavage is natural looking (it is not right now) or my nipples match (they don’t). Dr. Hottie cares and this is his job, it is his art project and I have surrendered to his capable and artistic hands. At this point after “surviving” this bizarre experience, I am all too happy to move on with the final stage of this whole miraculous procedure just so I can have the female shape I think I still want.

Watching handicapped women and men protesting at a hearing yesterday at the Capital, a woman with no arms and no legs in a wheelchair who made it to Washington DC to protest the healthcare repeal and replace vote- I will not complain. These are boobs for Christ’s sake. I have health insurance that pays for this entire surgery. This is not life or death and it is cosmetic at the end of the day.

Dr. Hottie will take fat from another part of my body and use it as a sculpting tool to fill in gaps etc to make these boobs look more like they are the real deal. I can’t wait for this to be over. It is all so silly compared to all of the mayhem going on in our wild and wacky world at this point.

What I can’t believe is that is has been six months. A half of a year already. I start again with the six month check ups to try to get to the desired five year mark that all cancer patients want to get to. That five year mark somehow signifies that you are cancer free for real. I don’t know about that. I think that this circumstance continues to remind me to live in the glorious present. The alternative to living in the present is to obsess about something completely out of my control, the future. I have learned and am still learning that this is where I need to live or else I have the ability become obsessed with worry and fear. This is surely not helpful for healing. My lifelong personal work is living in the present; I know this for sure. I am the happiest when I reside here. This is the lesson from this last round and from the many women I have had the privilege of meeting who have had much more serious life issues coming at them then I have. In these times of our lives and maybe it is just my age now coupled with cancer and genetic testing outcome, I don’t mean to say cliché, but the present is where it is at, it’s all we got so again onward to this moment.

Hallelujah.



the moment in the sun, the memory to take more naps and the last glorious beach day I got to enjoy because I said yes yesterday.
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YOGA AND (RECONSTRUCTED) BOOBS

YOGA AND (RECONSTRUCTED) BOOBS

I forgot how much I love yoga. Not the hardcore kind where the heat is up to 105 or some crazy ass temperature causing hot flashes that I already have naturally thank you very much. But old school yoga of gentle conscious stretching where you feel the move and feel the after the move. I learned this at Kripalu Center in the Berkshires, hence the name Kripalu where I went on a Yoga retreat when I was about twenty seven. Yoga changed me. Yoga created a self awareness that I was unaware of at the tender age of 27. Typical of major life changing events where I think I am on some high level path to a huge shift in consciousness, I stop. Yep. Stop. Because why continue something that makes me feel so unbelievably grounded and peaceful? Kind of like when you go on a diet and lose weight feeling better than ever and then eat your way back to your previous weight. I don’t know what it is that makes me do this, but this has been a self sabotage pattern for a good portion of my life. Maybe it has something to do with feeling deserving or worthy, I don’t know. But the past two weeks I have reentered the paradise that yoga is and have felt that self connection I remember.

So when Yoga teacher Tracy and spiritual friend had my super flexible and somewhat newly balanced body from a few strengthening warrior poses move back down to the mat and flat on our fronts, that self awareness came barreling back like a rocket launching to Mars. Me and my upper rack do not do full frontal. It is impossible. It would be like putting two baseballs on the front of your upper body and lying face down. Now normally this would send me into a roar of laughter at the silliness of the experiences I continue to find myself in, but this time I was feeling so zen groovy, I started crying. Yoga does this. Yoga taps into that depth you didn’t know was there and in that resting pose after some vigorous warriors and tree poses, yoga brought out the tears I forgot about. Usually I embrace the tears, allowing them to flow knowing that my body knows what it needs. But this time, the tears came from a place of annoyance and frustration. Will I ever be able to lie on my damn stomach again? I am tired of tissue expanders and I am tired of thinking about my body in this way. I just want to go back to BC to BM. (aka before cancer, before mastectomy).

Then I have these thoughts and actually feel guilty that I have them. Alayne’s brain 101. Mad at myself for thinking that I shouldn’t feel a certain way because I otherwise feel so great and I know that I am fortunate in so many other ways. Like who the hell do I think I am whining about not being able to lie on my front in a fucking yoga class? This compartmentalization of feelings really irritated me. Then there is that. Getting irritated about a feeling, judging a feeling. How fucking absurd. I have had enough good solid therapy, read a bzillion self help books to know better than to judge a feeling, but I also was raised by some bad ass grandparents who screamed resilience and pull up your bootstraps and stop complaining. “Enough with the crying already.” I can hear my grandmother say after only four months of losing my young brother. Wahh wahh wahh. “Keep a stiff upper lip. You are an emotional girl,” I can hear my grandfather’s voice as tears stream down my face because poor me can’t lay on her front in a resting yoga position at my fifteen dollar yoga class in my $150 of lululemons. I am embarrassed at even writing that. I have a lot of goodness and the fact that I am crying because of this really pissed me off.

Add to this now that I have just completed my second night of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s eye opening VIETNAM, I feel even sillier for crying over the trials and tribulations of alayne’s breasts. But as we all know, tears wherever they come from for whatever reason, are valid and at some point they must have their own moment of reckoning. Loss is loss, and I presume our bodies and spirits don’t know how to differentiate. So even though I felt silly crying in full frontal because I couldn’t lie there, I know damn well I must allow these tears to flow because the alternative is to bury and most of us know by now what happens when we bury the shit. It has to come out sometime, somewhere, somehow.

As I approach my hopefully upcoming last and final surgery that by the way is purely cosmetic and as the great Dr. Hottie reminded me at my first consultation, “Alayne, this is elective.” Elective because I want boobs. I want the hour glass shape I have been accustomed to for most of my life. The shape I have ironically and finally after all of these years accepted after so many years of body loathing. So these very elective balls of fire on the front of my body are part of my own party. I chose this. I chose to participate in this. As much joking as I do, as much of an open book I am about this experience, having a cancer diagnosis twice even though it was caught so early has been a game changer, a life changer as a matter of fact. I also realize that I have had the luxury of many choices because of my privileged life, privileged because I have worked my ass off for my life by the way but surely was given a launching pad that many don’t have the good fortune to start off with. I recognize this.

I was thinking as I wrote this piece how many women were going through this surgery and may have been living in Houston or Puerto Rico or parts of Florida. Yes I am lucky, resillient and bad ass for sure, but I also get to say this from the my joyful perch. This experience has been mostly for the positive and the reconstruction piece of it oddly has been kind of fun in a twisted way. Like playing dress up or Barbie for the summer. I have been able to change the size of my boobs and decide on the shape, size look. This is crazy, but I have tried to spin this in the best way possible and I can wholeheartedly say with a most grateful heart it has been a wild ride. Let’s hope that the replacement models will be the softer and easier to lie on version as promised. Fingers crossed.



recipes

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

Dearest Michael,

It seems apropos on the week before Rosh Hashanah to deliver to your future kitchen Grandma Belle’s Brisket recipe. I never really felt like I made it as great as she did, but it is surely a wonderful memory response as soon as the first smell of it baking in the oven seeps out into our kitchen. I think it will be this way for you too.

Grandma, your great grandmother who you were so fortunate to know, was famous for making her food ahead of time and freezing it to save time. I guess there is some wisdom to this after having to be the head chef in your own kitchen for over seventy five years. Being married to Grandpa was different then your life experience for sure as Grandpa Herbie’s culinary skills were limited to getting his morning bowl of cereal and pouring the milk. This was never the scenario in your home when Dad and I were married. Dad was and still is a vigorous cook and often my dinners can’t compete with his robust attempts at recipes that would never cross my kitchen threshold. Bacon and hamburger macaroni and cheese for example, I can see the draw for a young hormonal teenager now on his way to full blow twenties. My coconut oil roasted salmon and lightly dressed arugula salad is no match and I am ok with this. I love that you share a cooking bond with both of us together and apart and your love of kitchen and confidence is one of our many proud outcomes of your young life.

Brisket can be finicky. I have bought the most expensive ones at high end meat counters and have been disappointed by their lack of tenderness at the end of its long journey in the oven. I have bought cheaper cuts because I didn’t have the time to drive to a Kosher meat market and pick one up before the holidays and been wildly surprised. The thing about brisket is patience. Like gardening, the less you are consumed about outcome, the better your plants will be. Basil and dahlias this year have taught me this. Stop fretting, cut happily and let the sun and the water do what they do and abundance prevails.

Life is kind of like this too. As you get ready to enter your twentieth year on this beautiful and fortunate planet, life twists and turns in ways that you may be unprepared for. The inner struggles you must have because of your own grandmother’s, my own mother, deciding her life would be better without me in it must be some type of force within you that you have to deal with just because of its existence. I am sorry for this. I can’t fix that and it seems on the surface that you let things roll off of you at a rate that is admirable. I am not sure how this works internally for you; if it does the way you seem, I am in awe of this ability of yours. It is a maturity and blessing to be free of fret. Fretting is something that Grandma Belle did more and more as she got older, but she had a matter of fact pragmatism to her life that was like yours too and I see Grandma and Grandpa’s depression era outlook on life in you.

Grandma Belle had no idea she was BRCA positive. She would have been uniquely curious about this and I wish I could have talked to her more about it if I had known. The potency of this genetic mutation in our family lineup is astounding. The farthest back I can go is to Grandma Belle’s father, Murray, your Great Great Grandfather and down the line it traveled. To you from me, from Grandpa Dave and here we are with the knowledge of not really knowing what to do with it except for the five things that the glorious Dr. Wiggins bestowed upon me when we discussed this.

1. Don’t smoke

2. Don’t drink excessively (mmmm, rugby player, sophomore in college… not sure how to translate the word excessively)

3. Keep fit and eat healthy

4. Keep calm, stress is a major trigger

5. Pay attention to your body, feel a lump, don’t ignore.

This is a great list as a start to life anyway. We are not an alarmist type of family, at least Dad and me anyway, can’t speak for Dad’s side of the family (you know what I mean). We like knowledge and information and do not wallow in the what ifs and might bes. I love that about our family. We march forth.

And in times of trauma and stress, for me anyway, I cook. I bake. As you march ahead in your life, I know that your Uncle Michael’s cancer was caused by many environmental factors you were never exposed to. Your risk of cancer at the tender young age of 23 like Uncle Michael has been taken off the table because of this. Please remember this as you make your way and do not use a positive BRCA as an affirmation for your life but rather as an opportunity to wholly live it instead.

This brisket recipe takes a long time to cook for its most tender outcome. I expect your life to be long and glorious, you are already tender and the sweetness of your essence permeates my heart every time I see your beautiful face.

I LOVE YOU.

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

The ingredients for this are not typical of my usually clean kitchen but there are some recipes you just have to make an exception for.

Beef Brisket (taken out of fridge at least ½ hour before putting in oven) (Whatever size you want, the cooked tender slices of this can be frozen so buy more than you will eat) -I have often made the trip to The Butcherie in Brookline, Mass. not because I keep kosher, but because there is nothing like a tired and true kosher brisket. Plus the wild experience of this market a few days before any major Jewish Holiday is something that should not be missed at least once in your life.

1 bottle of Chili sauce or 1 can of cranberry sauce (the cranberry sauce ingredient was given to me by David from the kosher meat market that no longer exists in Framingham, Mass. It was his mother’s go to ingredient for her brisket. They interchange well. I often went to this market instead of Brookline because I could visit Aunt Kiley and Peggy and Grandma Kitsie at the same time)

1 package of Lipton Onion Soup mix (you must be seeing a pattern by now with this ingredient)

salt, pepper, garlic powder (I never have garlic powder, so I use fresh but the purist in me must give your Grandma Belle’s recipe as is.)

½ cup of water or kosher sweet wine (I just saw a recipe for a can of beer instead and I am guessing this would be super tenderizing, I am also guessing you probably have a can of beer in your fridge so give it a try and let me know)

Preheat oven to 350

Salt and pepper and garlic both sides of the brisket and place in a pan or a ceramic dish that gives you pleasure.

Mix the chili sauce, onion soup mix and whatever liquid you decide together and pour over the brisket.

Cover tightly with foil

Place in preheated oven for thirty minutes then turn oven down to 300 and cook for another 3 hours. After three hours take foil off and cook for another forty five minutes.

Take brisket out and let cool slightly (important step, remember good tender brisket can’t be rushed)

Slice against the grain. It will be like butter, trust me.

Put back in pan in the juice and can be reheated at 275 30 minutes before serving.

Love Mom

grandma belle and grandpa herbie and you blowing out candles on a very funny homemade birthday cake. I expect you to have many more birthdays my love.
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RUSHING AND MORE RUSHING

RUSHING AND MORE RUSHING

The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, I said to myself that it takes a knock out to slow me down. This is usually my approach to sickness; flus, colds, strep throat- for people like me who are super active and generally energized, it usually takes something like this to slow me the fuck down. My body knows when I need this. It usually weakens when it wants me to know it is time to lie around on the couch eating macaroni and cheese and chicken soup watching Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock movies. I felt like the first round with a “we caught it early” breast cancer diagnosis as frightened as I was gave me that necessary free pass to stop.

I like lessons. I really thought this was going to be one of those experiences that would teach me to stop the rushing so when I found myself this past week flying to the doctor’s office, heart racing because I thought my appointment was at two, but it was at 12:30, I scolded myself. I have been rushing. Flying around to get to a workout class or an appointment or some activity I have put in my calendar. I don’t like that heart racing moving fast feeling like I am late for something, like I have over committed, over scheduled myself for no other reason than an open schedule. Something suffers. I suffer. But in doing in so much, I actually never feel like I am doing much.

I laugh at myself writing this because I do a lot, but the question I pose is am I doing what feeds me when I am doing all of this running around. The irony is that I can just as easily stop without the excuse of an illness, but the breast cancer diagnosis and the discovery of the BRCA 2 gene have propelled me into an unconscious state of flurry. I am sure it is because of the sense of urgency to get shit done with a fury because it feels like a first and second chance to live fully. This means getting rid of the cobwebs, the crap that has accumulated and leave only what I love behind. My friend, Lisa Griffith, rockstar professional organizer, (I suggest her to anyone who needs to declutter- she is a gem) has explained to me that what I see in my house should only be the things that make me happy. This is Feng Shui 101 too. For example, let’s say I have a picture or a piece of art up in my house that each time I see, it gives me a sense of sadness or dread or an other than joyful emotion, it simply shouldn’t be there. Easier said than done. I have paintings and items in my house that are from my great grandparents who made their way from Russia, or Ireland or Scotland to escape the many plights that were part of their times. These immigrants in the early 1900’s didn’t have time to contemplate their busy ness and they surely didn’t have excessive shit in their homes to contemplate whether to hang on to or not. They had to get to work, learn English, assimilate into a brand new culture and figure out how to survive in their new surroundings. I have their things that they bought because of their successful journey to here and I cherish them. But where will they go? I realize that I live in luxury just by the notion that I get to contemplate.

When I finished watching the marathon of news about the hurricanes between Houston and Florida, I thought about this home full of stuff and I knew once again that there was just too much of it. Cancer brings you to your knees, but a hurricane of the magnitude we just witnessed is not even in my radar. Talk about more pressure of the sense of urgency as living in New England we discuss the weather constantly. “We’re due for a big one,” becomes the new mantra as I make my way through my days. Talk about negative affirmation. But New Englanders have an innate pragmatism to their days especially their weather. I love that rawness about being a New Englander, but as I think about my stuff again through the eyes of a hurricane, I am in awe of how much I still have even after a truckload carted away by J’s Junk. One thing I learned from cancer is how sentimental I was I no longer am. My grandfather always comments on my emotional existence collecting every item from my grandparents and great grandparents over the years thinking that I was some keeper for all of my much younger cousins. It turns out that none of them seem to want all of this emotional sentiment and my son surely doesn’t either. It turns out that it seems when you grow up in a relatively stable home by somewhat stable parents, the pull of hanging on to sentiment doesn’t really exist. Now that I have the glorious satisfaction of having that stable home and being a good parent to my son, he has that sturdy foundation, that jumping off point that doesn’t need the stuff to help him feel secure or less abandoned.

I create that rushed feeling and I realize I don’t need to. There is nothing to rush for. I am alive. My son is alive. I have a home, a successful life and the sense of urgency is just one more thing to shed in my incessant need to blast through my day rather than stay in it. The lessons in rushing reflection for me are that I don’t have to. I can redirect my energy to satisfy the internal compass by slowing down by choice rather than trauma. If I can manage to say no and keep my schedule empty even for a few days, I am sure there are sweet nuggets in the depths of the open calendar I have yet to realize. What I do know about the rushing feeling is that it does not nourish my soul or my spirit. I have started taking yoga again because this is one ninety minute chunk of my day I know nourishes. Slowing down and noticing the world, my garden, my life, this nourishes. I need more of this and recognizing the need to slow down is certainly the first step in doing so.


my grandfather, almost 100 reading the paper about four hours before the hurricane was supposed to hit Sarasota. Calm, no sense of urgency to his wisdom filled life.
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RUGBY AND BEING A MOM

RUGBY AND BEING A MOM

From the time my son, Michael, was in kindergarten he was on the sporting track to play baseball. His dad played baseball among about five other sports so the first T ball game was like watching the Red Sox win the World Series. I wasn’t sure if I had more fun watching my son try to hit the ball off the black t looking like a professional baseball player or watching Dave, his dad, my former husband.

I wasn’t much of a sports kid when I was younger. I was more on the music and arts track as back then it seemed that you were one or the other. I am not really sure if this is accurate, but my perception was this and I also think it had something to do with your own parents personal narrative. My father was never interested in sports, I never recall any sporting events playing on television or him attending any professional games with my brother or me for that matter. My mother too was never interested either and so I ended up in music classes mostly. Violin, piano, flute and even a short stint with the oboe. I was competitive in music and vying to be first seat in whatever school band I landed in.

I did have a brief attempt at middle school basketball, but this was short lived as I was not comfortable with a team sport. I actually had intense anxiety before a game, so I quickly realized that basketball was not to be. I also tried cheerleading, but in the seventies and eighties cheerleading was an addendum to a sporting event, not the full blown sporting event it has turned into at present. The only sporting event I actually competed in was gymnastics and swimming. I loved gymnastics because even though you were on a team, you were solo performing and that was my thing. (for those people who know me I am sure this is no surprise). Swimming I was never very fast at, but I did enjoy my brief time on a swim team at the Fall River, Mass Y. I think I was in third grade around eight years old and I distinctly remember the superstars on the team because they stood out due to their parents’ example of parental performance at the swim meets. When Susie (this was the rockstar’s name- she must have made a an impact on me since I recall her name with such ease) propelled forward with her stunning butterfly swim down the lane, her parents cheered and hooted in a way that felt to me the way parents were supposed to hoot and holler at their child at a sporting event. I looked over at my parents who were in attendance and I actually think I saw them roll their eyes in distaste at Susie’s parents. I think they were likely thinking that the behavior was provincial and beneath the way they were raised. They would not be “those type of parents,” surely. For me this was a defining moment in my swim career. If I wasn’t to get the bells and whistles from my parents, swimming on the swim team felt anticlimactic. Perhaps I chose music because yelling and screaming at a performance was just not part of the menu options so this gave them the free pass at not living up to my parental expectation from the get go.

When my son started playing baseball I vowed that I would be the type of parent like Susie’s parents were. Attending every game, volunteering to be a team mom, doing my share at the concession stand and most importantly cheering loud and proud at every game. Part of my personal parenting strategy was to make up for all of my own parents’ inadequacies. Of course in hindsight this wasn’t always the best strategy, but it was certainly a great jumping off point. Dave was the opposite, his parents were those type of parents who went to games, bought all the gear and really participated, hence a repeat for his own son. I had the double pleasure of watching my son over the years, but alos watching my husband watch my son and it was a thrill almost every time. I say almost because there were those occasional wincing coaching moments of impatient coaches forgetting that the kids were eight and not trying out for major league baseball.

At my son’s games, I met parents, learned what was the best type of chair to buy to bring to the games, how to dress warmly enough, and for the next eleven years of his schooling, kindergarten through tenth grade, Dave and I went to almost every game and attended with vigor. We were both bummed when we noticed Michael starting to lose his enthusiasm for the game after tenth grade as I watched him lie around the house when he really should have been practicing for tryouts. As a result he got cut from the team after his second round of his junior year of high school. I wasn’t sure who I felt worse for, Michael or Dave or Michael having to tell Dave. Just like wishing I knew when the last hand hold or good night mommy hug was to be, I wish I had known that the previous year’s last game was to be, because just like that, my career as sports attending mom was over. No more complaining about the having to leave a campground to get to a game (we were teaching commitment to our young six year old, I laugh at us in reflection thinking back on how much credence we gave to it all) no more jumping up and down because of a great hit or or game saving catch. No more parental get togethers after the game and no more concession stand volunteering. I had to admit, I had some withdrawl, but I was happy to see Michael spread his wings a bit and take up golf, actually get a job because he was now free from the ties of a team and take up sailing. I think that the cut from the team was a blessing and it seemed that it was something Michael may have either consciously or unconsciously wanted. He took his senior year and the first part of his freshman year of college off from team anything. He was free.

When I got the call that he decided to give Rugby a try, I was a little startled. Rugby? Was it because I had taken him to London for his winter break? Why Rugby? I mean he is 5’7 and not a big kid like a traditional rugby player. Rugby doesn’t wear any protection either to speak of, but off he went to join the URI Rugby club. He started last spring and was hooked. This year, his sophomore year, he went to the Rugby camp that the salty dog Rugby coaches organized a week before school started. Last night I attended my first, his second game of the fall season on the B team and was at home again. Talking to a mom getting to know where to buy Rugby paraphilia because I now must have a URI Rugby shirt and I felt like the good old days again. I was transported back to the early years of glorious parent sporting event attendance. I didn’t realize how much I missed the camaraderie and the excuse to get out of the house to attend something totally out of my radar and comfort zone. I have no idea how this game works, but as I watched my son screech down the field, get tackled and protected I found myself in that familiar thrilling place of parenting like the good old days.

And I loved it. GO URI RUGBY.


happy me and my friend peg, my son the blury one.
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ALMOST FIVE MONTHS

ALMOST FIVE MONTHS

Since March, I have created an awareness of the upper half of my body also known as my boobs, breasts, rack, tits, tatas and whatever other slang words that describes. This of course is not because I have wanted to draw attention to the inevitable stares that naturally come my way because I have opened the proverbial floodgates, but to speak the truth of what was going on in my body, on my body, in my heart and on my mind during this last diagnosis. The stares and glares have come because it is just simply the natural curiosity and I have actually encouraged the gawks because it helped answer the questions that most have wanted to ask. What is it really like to go through a double mastectomy? What is it really like to go through breast reconstruction? What does it look and feel like? What happens physically, mentally and emotionally? How do you live through it?

When my sparkly team shows up for a meeting at my house, the first question I almost musically sing out with Oprah Winfrey like enthusiasm is “What business are we in?” The answer I am seeking is never “facials” or “spa” or “beauty” or even “service.” The answer I am looking for is “The Anticipation Business!” I love the notion of anticipating needs and satisfying them before the words can even come out of a client’s mouth. Often our mostly female clients will lie down on our facial beds for their first rest and self care in goodness knows how long and the thoughts of time, childcare, husbandcare and chores start spewing and interrupting their moment of peace. Mind chatter and multitasking thoughts start pouring in to their brains and we can almost feel their sense of unease at the misaligned feelings of selfishness for taking this little time to regenerate. It is during this time we anticipate these thoughts and attempt to put them at ease acknowledging that we know these are some feelings that naturally come up when the brain quiets and try to teach some simple breathing and awareness and most importantly living in the now. This is what I mean when I speak of Anticipation.

There is an awkwardness with cancer diagnosis and mastectomies when people don’t know what to say or how to say it, but are curious about the experience. They often don’t know how to approach the subject in fear of invading some privacy. My writing lets the bulls out of the gate and into the rodeo. I welcome the conversation because let’s face it, if it is not happening to you, it is happening to someone close to you at some point and the more information you can have, the less frightening this whole rodeo will be. Knowledge is power as the genetic doctor and my own doctor assured me when I was contemplating the decision to have my 19 year young son tested for the BRCA 2 gene. Yeah sure, when it is not your kid.. I wanted to say, but of course didn’t because I know their advice was solid.

I love when people say to me, “Wow, you look great.” Like they are surprised that this was even a possibility. I mean it is not like after your first baby when you are headed back to work and squeeze into your before baby pants trying to prove how fabulous you are. I am not trying to “look great.” It is just that the perception of post cancer visual is usually based on bald heads wrapped with scarves, and gaunt appearances. This is not because of cancer, but of chemo because of cancer. Totally a different experience as I have said on numerous occasions. I didn’t have chemo. I am so lucky.

Along with my upperbody, my hugging has also changed. If I get a hug these days it is usually not a full frontal chest on hug. My chest usually lags behind and it is more of a shoulder to shoulder hug. On the occasions when someone doesn’t realize that this is the boundary I have created and we go full on frontal, the surprise of the hard balls that land on their own front is startling. Of course I acknowledge the surprise immediately because it is shocking. When you have tissue expanders placed in the remnants of your breasts and they get pumped up with saline every three weeks to fulfill their mission of tissue expansion, the end result are bowling balls. Hard immobile, inflexible albeit temporary thank goodness bowling balls. This is cause for conversation because it is fucking bizarre that someone thought of this as a way to soften the blow of the otherwise alternative. The option-less alternative my grandmother had to take of no reconstruction because it wasn’t available in 1957. I love the excuse to talk about the surgery part of this experience because it is so interesting and valuable and so many people have no idea about the possibilities of this. I feel like my own science project going through this as the body is an incredible machine, repairing at a rate I never really gave it credit for. I have learned in this ALMOST FIVE MONTHS that I am in awe of my body’s mechanisms and of my own resilience.

Everything has changed for me in this last five months. My view of how I choose to live in the world, the way I think about my business, my friends and my future has all shifted in a variety of ways. Some magically and great and some self defeating thoughts have arrived that have surprised me. “Is this all there is?” “What is the point of all of this?” have reared their heads into my radar and I wasn’t really prepared for them because I love life and I love my life. So thoughts of what’s the point even though I know there is a great point to living juicy and fully, there is also a slight resolve and a numbness that seeps in every once in a while as I contemplate the decisions I choose in my life going forward.

So this is my ALMOST FIVE MONTHS commentary today as I approach twenty two days left until my hopefully last and final surgery on September 28 when I get to remove these hard balls of fire and have them replaced with a squishier more readily huggable version that I can live with. And living with is the goal so onward to my day and my life and the joyful appreciation of the life I have created.

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THE SPEED OF LIGHT

THE SPEED OF LIGHT

After my last and final fill last week, four weeks before the fifth month, I am in awe of how much time has flown by. This time machine speed of light is accentuated by bringing my son to college again but this time for his sophomore year. The ease of the drop off as he did most of the packing and reminding himself this time around of what to bring. Less reminding from his parents, less nagging from his mother, less stuff overall. TV, Fridge, microwave, and sneaking cans of Bud light left over from this summer into his college fridge along with the killer wardrobe I bought for him yesterday at Banana Republic after a nice brunch at Elis’ in Warren, RI about summed up his combination of inventory for his college move in. This year his room is on the second floor and he has a good size room sharing only with one other roommate as opposed to three in a room. A bigger space with more breathing room and a new roommate he gets to connect with as I watch my son turn into a man overnight it seems. My son is smart and kind and I love watching this part of parenting, Dave and I are lucky to get to enjoy this part of our lives, it is something we only imagined just nineteen short years ago when it seemed like even kindergarten would never come. And just like that, here we are, entering the end of the first half of his first half of college. More relaxed, calmer, less nervous, more confident, a joy to watch.

I have to say that there are these timestamps in parenting that give me great pause. Without sounding morose, the way a funeral allows one to reflect and appreciate more of the present time despite the very dark feelings of grief and sadness, there are moments in time when your child is growing so fast you can barely take a breath and some of the peppery spice you can’t do anything but notice falls into your life by these times. So many firsts. First days of kindergarten, and listening to him chant from the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah, watching his face on our first travel outside the country, buying a coveted video game for him to help him get over his adolescent first broken heart, having to tell him that his parents were divorcing and watching his eyes fill with tears, starting his freshman year of high school and watching him get the only home run for his first season on the freshman baseball team. Watching him get cut his junior year of the same high school and find himself in having to step away from the only sport he ever played. Visiting colleges in the south and coming to the realization that RI wasn’t such a bad place to stay put in for his college years. High school graduation and my mother not attending because she was mad at me (again). Then there was the telling him that I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time and then the second time. These are only the major periods, there are so many commas between these stories and they are recorded through the endless streams of photos locked away in my icloud settings waiting for the day that I make the time to sift through them and make all of those photo albums I intend.

Where does the time go becomes a permanent question I ask daily as I contemplate my upcoming final surgery and life seems so shortened because of all of this. Learning about the BRCA 2 genetic mutation that like a bad sci fi movie has infiltrated my family line like an evil colony takeover and trying not to overworry when I learn that my Doctor wants my son to be tested. Then the final period in the story of genetics learning that my son in fact is also now part of the lineup making him the fifth known generation on my grandmother’s side to have this frustrating mishap in his genes. What the fuck. Grandmother Isabelle, breast cancer in 1957, Great grandfather, Murray, (her dad, my great grandfather) “stomach” cancer in 1959 taking his life way too young, my brother carcinoma of the lung in 1995 taking his life way way too young, my father, esophagus cancer in 2011 taking his life, his sister, my aunt, getting uterine cancer around the same time about 60, luckily she is a warrior and is still fighting the fight because she was a healthy chick going in. Then me in 2015 at 50 getting breast cancer and all of us finding out that the link is that fucking gene. Finding out that my son shares this is almost a surreal experience as I ponder the ways of the world and the life coming at me I seem to always be on the receiving end. Then I consider the comparisons of places like Houston and even worse the crazy exodus of yet another group of people whose religious beliefs don’t jive with another in Bangladesh and I realize how lucky I am.

Isn’t that crazy resilience? I am past wallowing and commiserating because the reality is that I love my life and I love my son’s life so I take this latest with the grain of salt it is and try not turn it into a pile. I just try to remember that these darts flying towards all of us are a good reminder to stop and smell the proverbial roses way more often than I already do. And believe me when I say I smell the roses way more than most. I embrace the roses, I bathe in their delicious fragrance and I never take them for granted because before you know it the season is over and you are wishing for one more smell of them and the smell is only a faint memory in reflection. I am grateful I take the time to bend down when I see one and inhale. This is life in its pure powerful joyful present.

Warrior indeed.



recipes

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE

Dearest Michael,

Growing up in a small town like Bristol, RI and raising a child happily forces some friendships with unlikely people because of this connection. School, sporting events and all of the activities that happen in your young life create bonds with families that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened. This is the glory of old fashioned small town living, you meet friends at school and Dad and I got to meet couples because of this. We made some great friends during this time, had lots of get togethers, and hung out at every sporting event for most of your school life. During this time in your life, we also got to meet lots of grandparents along the way too and this was an added bonus especially since we didn’t have a lot of family around here. The thing about a small New England town is that lots of families are multi generational and live close together often around the corner. This is not difficult in a town that is made up of only twenty two thousand residents.

As you know I grew up in a small town too. I really consider this upbringing my childhood, but when I think about it, I had a childhood before this too and that was when we lived in Fall River, Massachusetts. People who are unfamiliar with Fall River, Mass don’t know the greatness of it “back then.” Our family was in the textile business like so many Jewish families in the fifties through the seventies back when America was actually proudly only making their own goods, but providing job opportunities for thousands of women who were the elite sewing tribe. I have such clear memories of walking into the factory to see Grandpa Herbie, your great grandfather, and Grandpa Dave, my father, your grandfather and walking between the hundreds of women sewing blazers and pants to get them ready for shipping. There were many men there too; they were often the ones on the big machines called pressers. These steamy instruments looked like two large ironing boards clapping together to press jackets and pants so they would be perfectly pressed, ready for sale. They were also usually the ones who were responsible for cutting patterns or running the outlet store, way before the notion of commercial (aka bullshit) outlet stores became of fashion. When I think of it, Fall River was a small town for us. My grandparents and my great grandparents lived around the corner, and because we lived in walking distance of our synagogue, it made it easier to share the community of Jewish connection surely much better than Jamestown did. When we moved to Jamestown, we were one of only three Jewish families on this island of three thousand year round and five thousand in the summer. Fall River was much more part of my upbringing than I have given it credit for. It was safe and community driven especially in the Highlands where we lived. In this lovey neighborhood, I had a childhood friend named Maureen and her traditional Irish family lived down the street from us. They had a built in pool and a Chevy or Ford station wagon, the kind with the paneling on the side and we got to ride in the far rear likely with the window open on the “long” outing to Ann and Hope on Route 6 in Seekonk, Mass. I think Ann and Hope used to be where BJ’S is now, but I may be wrong. Going to Ann and Hope seemed like an adventure back then and I am not sure why. Maybe because I have no memories of Grandma Ann or Grandpa Dave ever going to places like Ann and Hope. It all felt so normal to me, whatever that meant to a six or seven year old in the very early seventies. You have to remember that Grandma and Grandpa were super young parents, when I was seven, they were only twenty seven so “adventures” to Ann and Hope were highly unlikely. My parents, your grandparents were much more likely to head up to Boston and drop me off with your Great grandparents as babysitters. Yay me. I am probably the only grandchild in the family who has these young childhood memories of sharing my young life with super young grandparents. Grandparents were such an integral part of my life, they still are even though all but One has moved on. You didn’t have that connection as much as I did, but what you missed in that connection, you got to have with two stable parents who showed up and participated as whole heartedly as we were capable of.

When we moved to Jamestown, it was a completely different cultural experience for us. Surely Fall River, Mass was no cosmopolitan mecca, but the circle of people we were part of were a lot like each other. In Jamestown, this was more of a collision of cultures. We lived in a great neighborhood and really enjoyed the simple world we found ourselves in surrounded with water and beauty. The freedoms we had as children running around and having to be home by the sound of the noon and six pm fire station horn blaring made our upbringing a peaceful and joyful one. It is too bad that this where our family life as we knew it failed, but until then we really had a pleasurable upbringing. I hope this was mostly your own experience in Bristol, where you have been born and raised from Day one.

Living in this small community brought us to community type outings as well and this is where I learned how to make homemade Italian Sauce. Every year our town organizes bus trips to New York City at Christmas time. We went on this one time with a few families and Mrs. Minutelli, one of the grandparents of some dear friends went along too. These friendships though we don’t know this at the time are what I would refer to as temporary friendships. By proxy, they are fun and convenient and part of the growing up process both for you and for us as parents. Couples parties where we wanted to include our children forced a connection and friendships formed during this time. As all of you kids got older, these friendships faded simply because of the natural evolution of life changes. This is not a bad thing, just a typical ebb and flow in the world we call life. I cherish the memories of this and I have hundreds of pictures reminding us of all of these wonderful times. Mrs. Minutelli’s Italian Sauce though is one of my favorite memories. I got to sit next to her on the bus ride to or from, I can’t remember now and typical of many conversations I have with women, we started talking recipes. I was still a young mother, I think you were about eight and I loved to cook and experiment, but wasn’t nearly as casual and knowledgeable as I am now about throwing sauces together. It was here on this bus ride to New York, Mrs. M. gave me her recipe for sauce and I have never turned back. I can still hear her voice explaining the simplicity of its ingredients with the enthusiasm of a seasoned cook. She wrote it out for me later and gave it to me on an index card, but I can’t seem to locate it. I don’t really need it other than for the memory though because it is imbedded in my brain and it is one of my all time favorite go to recipes I make as soon as the New England air cools.

I hope you are never tempted by the ease of a jar, there is something about homemade sauce simmering on a stove that comforts and cares and this is the recipe thanks to Mrs. Minutelli.

I LOVE YOU.

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE (I have made this so often, that I am sure my own take has changed her original, but she gets the credit)

5–6 cloves of garlic

2–3 carrots (this is where she told me that carrots are a much better addition than sugar typically added, I can’t even imagine adding sugar to marinara sauce as you can probably guess)

2–3 stalks of celery

1 small onion

Fresh basil

Good olive oil

Crushed red pepper flakes

Oregano, salt and pepper

1 or 2 Bay leaves

2–3 large cans of crushed tomatoes

In a food processor, chop the first five ingredients together somewhat fine.

Heat olive oil in a pan that makes you happy, (maybe by now you have the turquoise Le Creuset pan that Aunt Kiley gave to me) on medium heat.

Add garlic, carrots, celery, onion and basil mixture and sauté until fragrant and soft tender. Do not let it brown or golden. Add salt and pepper, crushed pepper and oregano. Once the mixture is soft, add the crushed tomatoes and mix well.

Add the bay leaves.

Bring to an easy and brief boil. Turn down to low and simmer for at least thirty minutes. You can cover it once you turn it off and let it sit on the stove for the day. I always let it sit for the day because I like to get this ready in the morning.

If you are going to make meatballs, then get them ready (recipe to follow at another time) and add them to this and simmer for a few hours. They will cook in the sauce and Holy Yummy. If and when you do this, you will need to make a bit more sauce, so you may need to add an additional can of crushed tomatoes. Trust your vibe. Cooking is about experimenting with not only ingredients and timing but also quantity and portions.

I hope the first time you make this, you will smile with the memories of my kitchen and the thoughts of your childhood adventures.

Love Mom