Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wow! I've missed you blog

So...here it is October and I realize that I've had a very unintended hiatus from the world of blogging. It wasn't for lack of productivity...precisely the opposite. This past summer
ranks among the busiest ones of my life. Biggest of all milestones...my sister got married (and five other friends). It was a summer of weddings. But besides the requisite travel time and cluster of booked Saturdays...my summer was spent working on projects for Melissa's Living Legacy.
It's hard to recount all the amazing things that transpired in this past action-packed summer...but the energy has carried straight through to the fall.

Particularly, the past seven weeks have been a true journey...in every sense of the word.
It started off with Lauren sharing an idea...that this year's Journeys (the annual dinner and fundraiser) feature performances from the teens.
What followed was a long and winding endeavor as the teens of TLC (Teens Living With Cancer---aka the support network of Melissa's Living Legacy) began an artistic journey into their own stories. When Lauren first approached us with the idea...none of us could have known how much soul searching was going to take place. None of us could have known how much stronger the bonds within the group and beyond were going to become.

Weeks of brainstorming, sharing sessions, edits, revisions and rehearsals followed. Creativity blossomed and there was a lot of fun sprinkled in. As they crafted and created their stories...it became so much more than storytelling...it became an expression of their deepest selves. By working with literary, theatrical and audio visual professionals who had donated their time, the teens each developed a piece of about 3 minutes in length to be performed in front of a live audience. Together as an ensemble production it will debut in a program called Our Journey So Far. Fittingly it will be the highlight of this Saturday's JOURNEYS, the annual dinner and benefit for Melissa's Living Legacy.
I am truly and honestly honored to have had the chance to not only see this beautiful program come together, week by week, story by story...but am also a part of the process myself. I was persuaded to come outside of the role of advisor and cheerleader to these teens and share my story too.

I haven't the words to really sum up all that I have learned, not only from this project, but from so many other things we've worked on with these teens. I watch these teens and they amaze me...they are stepping slowly outside the battle with cancer...and giving others something. Their honesty, their intensity and their perseverance lifts them so far beyond their years. They are traits that have not been acquired easily, or without sacrifice.

At times this process led me to think back to the years I spent as a teenager...chronically ill, having been denied the advantages of normal teenage life. Forces beyond my control pushed me out of a world of blissful normal into a harsher reality. I couldn't help but think back to that...
I hand't been diagnosed with cancer yet then...but the feelings all lead me to think of that time. The teen years are hard enough on a healthy teen.

Wise beyond your years...this is uttered often and applied to a myriad of situations...but unless you've faced serious illness in a pivotal time like adolescence...its hard to really wrap your head around this old expression.

These teens have an understanding and a grasp on something mostly unseen and undetected by peers around them. Nothing seems simple anymore. Wisdom like this has a price...but can be truly priceless when its lessons are passed on. Imagine if that rare understanding could be communicated and shared? That is exactly the excitement of what's about to happen Saturday.

As teenagers who will be sharing the intimacy of their own journeys...I see the power that they possess. Perhaps they see it in themselves, the capacity they have to teach others. Cancer itself is a horrific illness...but in all its ugliness beneath it lies beauty. And it rests with the hearts and minds and spirits of those who fight it.

With every voice...each one magnificently unique...each journey not like any another...they are beautiful. I have been given a rare gift to join these wise souls. As they take their places and as I join them on stage I'm going to be reminded that I am so lucky and so blessed to know the other side of illness...the part where I have to glance back at my path and how far I've come, so I can continue to help others rebuild.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

They upstaged the Fray tonight!

I lay here in bed literally too amped up from the most amazing night that I just can't sleep...not until I write this down. Tonight Lauren, myself and a survivor and her sister from Teens Living with Cancer were at the Jack's Mannequin and Fray concert at Darien Lake...
We were invited backstage to meet Andrew McMahon and hear our very own private mini concert with ten winners of a contest during the soundcheck. We actually didn't win the contest...but the irony is that JoJo and Margi had been trying desperately to win those radio tickets to no avail. They had no idea that in the meantime I was working on getting TLC this special treat through a series of six degrees of separation network.

I could tell you every last detail...but I am just too tired right now. However, suffice it to say that Andrew is one of the most giving and big hearted people I've had the chance to meet. He himself is a cancer survivor and spent more time with our group than he may have even been allotted. He has a deep committment to give back...and that is clear in not only his music but his good works through it. He not only talked to each of us individually and eagerly listened to find out what TLC was all about, but recorded a touching personal video message to one of our kids who is very sick right now. I heart Andrew McMahon...

For us to see him perform with such vigor and energy...and the light behind it all...
At several points in the evening he jumped and pounded his (well, someone's) piano, threw his legs over to and fro over it---feet hammering the keys, he flipped, spun, shook what his Mama gave him and continued to confuse his piano with a dancefloor. It's a wonder Steinway doesn't grit their teeth when watching youtube. He is at least an aspiring acrobat...and few in that audience could imagine this was the same young man fighting for his life just four years ago. This is the same person who was told a transplant of his sister's stem cells was probably his only shot to beat the big C. Thankfully, it worked. Lauren said it best tonight "perhaps only someone who has been there... can truly understand how amazing what he is doing up there is"...as he whirled around the stage like a man on fire--on fire and happy to be alive. So I am tired now...but I will leave you the pictures to tell the rest of the story.
Thank you Andrew....if you find your way to reading this...thank you for your love and thank you for giving back to the cancer community...
Thanks also to the tour manager, Aaron...Ellie and Steve at Aware Music and of course to 100.5 the Drive's fabulous Julie who made sure to capture precious moments for us on both video and snapshots. Despite the downpour and the cold...it was a very special night I won't soon forget.

Oh...and the Fray was awesome too...phenomenal... but Andrew...you...you are a cancer survivin' rock star!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Without further ado...the Lil Wayne story

There are times in one's life where simply re-telling of a story can not match up to the supreme oddity of a moment. In such cases, one can only reply that you had to be there.
And frankly, for the two eye-witnesses who were there with me...they can comment and help back me up.

So...Las Vegas is a crazy place. Larger than life. Things happen in an instant and people go there for that very purpose. I'm sure the idea of finding a strange random weird celebrity encounter is not uncommon. But I'm still scratching my head about this one. Regardless, I've been telling this story so often that I am getting tired of recounting...truly. So I leave this story here for you---its on the internet...and perhaps will live a life of its own now.

Because of the nature of Hollywood...and the expansiveness of the internet I must be careful. I must of course put up a disclaimer---that the person in question may or may NOT have been Lil Wayne. The events that happened may have very well been simply a case of mistaken identity and one must read this blog with that in mind...Lil Wayne is already involved in legal action in Rochester and I don't want to add to his list.

So here goes...

I was sitting on a rock ledge/ wall thing outside a casino with my friends Jeff and Araceli. Our friends had just bounded off for the bathrooms while we waited tired and basically worn out from another energetic night out in fabulous Las Vegas.

Then it happened. A red hat coming out of the casino caught my eye. A red hat attached to a short statured African American young man...who appeared to be Lil' Wayne. I gasped. Jeff at the same time was having the same reaction, but I was the far more obvious gawker. Without thinking my pointy finger shot up. I aimed it right in his direction. Let's just say, usual Leah style...I did not act casual.

Below is an actor's rendering of the expression on my face at the time of his appearance.
So anyway...the person who in that instant appeared to be the Wayner himself...was strolling in the middle of two companions, two very large male companions in normal street clothes. Aracelli was a little farther off so I couldn't see her reaction. It was then, at that very moment, when the man in question...looked at my pointing finger aiming in his direction.

A whimsical smile came across his face. Who knows what he was thinking.

But he approached me...and stopped short. He was probably about 15 feet away where he stopped. Then he asked me if I had three things in quick succession...none of which I understood fully. However I heard what I thought was the word Twister being one of the items.

Without fully understanding I said No.

Jeff would later tell me asked me if I had a twista, a zigzag or a bluntwrap.
It is my firm understanding that he surely was barking up the wrong tree by asking this unassuming Upstate New York cardigan and comfy sock wearing teacher assistant.


He shook his head and started back on his path. End of game right? Not hardly.

As the young man and his duo of large companions nearly disappeared from view...I began to regret thinking to myself 'was this all of the strange encounter I was going to have with this person who may or may not have been Lil Wayne?" No No no...we don't end bizarre things unfinished.

So instead I shouted back...into the night, not knowing whether my words would fall unanswered.
Seeing as how he had mentioned what I thought was my favorite childhood game I decided to indulge this crazy moment.
"No...but I have silly putty, " I called.


In an instant he doubled back to where I sat. I couldn't gage either Jeff or Araceli's reactions as this bizarre exchange continued into part deux. After questioning this offer...Silly Putty... he came back with four words that I will always laugh about.

"Can you smoke it?"

To which I replied something akin to...
"No...you press it on comics..." He shook his head again...and in an instant he was gone.

After he disappeared with his companions Jeff, Araceli and I proceeded to freak out from the encounter which lasted probably all of 40-50 seconds in duration.

Jeff, who was right next to me and had had the best view as I mouthed off ignorantly to the Wayner, insisted that yes, this was Lil Wayne...and we were not imagining things. We began to lose it, laughing hysterically and shouting...I looked around for other witnesses, but there seemed to be no one who had stopped to see. It was a lull, almost a wrinkle in time...even if there were onlookers no one had taken note. It seemed impossible.

Now imagine my friends returning from the loo, only to hear this story fresh from its occurence.
They asked us why we hadn't pulled out a camera, asked for an autograph---something in the form of proof.

But after kicking myself for not doing any of these things I've come to the conclusion that this story is just meant to be another one of those mythical encounters...that will live in legend. You can believe it or not...you can ask "was it really Lil Wayne'? But it matters not. The point is that somewhere someone out there is wondering about the weirdo girl he ran into in Vegas who offered him some Silly Putty to smoke and that weirdo girl...that girl is me.

Please note if a song hits airwaves containing silly putty as a lyric...I will have made my forray into the annals of music history.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

OMG was amazing


OMG! I forgot, rather I didn't have time to post about the OMG Young Adult Cancer Summit.

Recapping: this was probably the craziest most insane way to pack everything possible into one weekend I have EVER had in my LIFE. And in 2 wks I'm going to be moving so go figure...
Slow down? Ha...not likely.

BTW...Happy belated National Cancer Survivors Day.

I didn't get to Syracuse till way later than I planned Friday. I will spare you all the minute details of the car adventure...I killed my battery by leaving my lights on...my car died. Challenges challenges. As you might know already, due to a slight error my sister's family bridal shower was arranged on the same day/same time as the OMG Syracuse. Most of you who know me know that OMG was 8 months of planning-- for those on the committee especially Dan, Carrie, Matthew and I it was almost like like planning a wedding. With last year under our belt, we had learned a lot but still...8 months.

Anyway---needless to say, you can imagine the tough choice I had between OMG and my sister's other shower. Pick one? NO--way. Leah decided to do both.

When I swung just in time into the Palace Theatre everyone was already there and things were in full swing. I was able to ever so briefly chat with Erin Zammett Ruddy, our guest speaker and super cool Glamour Magazine rock star. But I was really sad that in my rushing across town mode we didn't get to talk more. I was frazzled and late and really would have done better with down time prior. Erin, if you're reading this I hope we will cross paths again very soon.

Alright, so here is the deal about the second annual OMG Young Adult Cancer Summit.
It was amazing. Okay, so already the thunder was stolen...NYC had BNL performing. How do you compete with that? But what transpired in Syracuse NY was something wholly amazing, something pallpable...smaller in scale, but from where I stood it was an intimate sense of community that stretched beyond town, city, and county lines.

New Yorkers have always been categorized by the city of Manhattan. It is plausable that the great state of New York is seen by many outsiders as purely of an outcrop of Manhattan. Not so. Upstate--I've been asked to define---to specify. But the diverse communities and the various stretches between town to town, city to city are a community that was tied together yesterday. There were young survivors from Syracuse, Rochester (most of us), Buffalo, Ithaca, Corning, Albany. Sure most NYC survivors could hop on the subway...but there were people who travelled 2, 3, 4, 5 hours to attend. And Aaron Spicer from Ohio wins a special award for a 6 hour journey he made with great delight (and sacrifice).

Watching people look around the room and see (perhaps for the first time) others their own age walking the very same journey-- connecting and relating. On so many levels it was empowering beyond any coherent definition.

My energy could not equal my enthusiasm. This day--this weekend-- filled my heart!

Erin told us her inspiring story of surviving to be a MOM against all possible odds. Erin IS a pioneer. GO Erin!
I tried to upload the video I have of part of her speech but I experienced technical failure. I will get that up as soon as I figure out what went wrong. Sorry!

Then at the end of the Summit an amazing band, THE ACTION cranked up the ska...trumpet blaring, people unwinding, drinking, mingling, eating the delicious appetizers. Perhaps to some it seemed like a big party. It was.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE...


But because you weren't-- I'm gonna just give you the images...and hope you'll understand...somewhat.


THE ACTION
with i[2]y YALC Pres. and most dedicated Summit traveller, Ohio's Aaron Spicer
With Stupid Cancer Guru Matthew Zachary ( who appears to be my Siamese twin? ha ha)
Three amazing brain cancer survivors show who got busy living
With Thomas Waters... St. Bonaventure student, survivor and advocate extraordinaire! The T-shirt pic. Minus quite a few...but a smattering of the gang... After some shenanigans and complicated logistics...15 of us grabbed dinner!
I'll say it again...life is like a sandwich...
enjoy the big bites!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vegas Part Deux

Okay so that was a test...and you responded...and I laughed because who does that?--- "Everyone comment me?"?? Pppllease! As they would have said to me in the 1980s ---gag me with a spoon...
...so I will not ask anyone to do that again unless it is entirely for a good cause. Promise.

Las VEGAS
As I am sitting here trying to recount what we did on what day I am coming into a little blip in my memory bank. So those of you that were there feel free to correct and forgive for any erronerous re-telling or misrepresented dates and times.

On Saturday we all tiptoed into another hotel pool...at the Tropicana Hotel.
Some more fun was had...this time our whole group was able to sun and splash and lie in the shade of giant palm trees (which provide not so much shade)
But I have to say this, I heart palm trees.

What is it about them that makes you feel like you are really on vacation? I mean I could have a vacay at a garbage dump...and if there was a palm tree and a blue sky and I looked up (and plugged my nose) I would feel relaxed.
But I digress...

As usual we applied more SPF per capita than anyone else in a 1,000 yd perimeter. Hey, we're cancer survivors...what DO you expect? While everyone else lathered on the cooking oil and tried to fry their skin to a nice glowing bronzy crisp...our idea of fun (despite popular misconception) is not another biopsy...thank you very much.

Aside from the cute little colorful drinks...there was even more ways to help you spend your hard earned cash wet gambling.

I am not a gambler. I do not profess to be one.
I do not know when to hold them...
I do not know
when to fold 'em...
I do not know when to walk away...

but hey, I do know whe
n to run---a big grizzly bear, an armed intruder...a stale fruitcake bearing neighbor... trust me I'd probably know when to run.

But I could not resist the novelty of a swim-up blackjack table. I gave my friend Stefanie $20 to play blackjack so that I could see the process. It was thrilling when we won $5...but the rest we quickly lost. Subsequently the game after us was nearly ended by a rather intoxicated and splashing guy who completely hosed the deck of cards--and incited the wrath of the bikini clad dealer and her equally feisty manager. Good times...yeah...a good time to leave. Quit while you're ahead---and someone's getting yelled at.

Later that Saturday evening ....we had another nice dinner in and prepped for yet another night out on the strip. For our lively crew of Mak-A-Dream alums, getting ready to hit the town is almost as fun as hitting the town itself.

video

The taxi drop off point was the Hotel NEW YORK NEW YORK...where I wandered wi
th friends from table to table looking for roulette...I just wanted to try but with a $20 minimum and cigar smoking men packed in with no hole for a bystander...I hesitated. I was intimidated. Gamblers are everywhere...serious gamblers...afterall this is the city to draw them.

Don't get me wrong...it's not to say that a dealer won't take the money of a naiv
e Upstate New Yorker...but its the serious high rollers that bar (or at least dissuade) you piling on in.
Then it was on to the club Diablo...which had a roof top bar.

Live music- there was a singer who was doing her best Kelly Clarkson. But our group j
ust ran around the roof like a bunch of kids let off a school fieldtrip bus at Six Flags on a sugar high.

There were scantily clad dancers on the roof
and that was great fun for the boys.
But there was fun for the girls too. Namely the cops, who stood around that place with arms folded, looking like extras from Chips...but they cracked a smile when they saw our group.
Perhaps we don't
look menacing, it was easy for them to see, I suppose.

They seemed friendly as they laughed openly at my own signature dance...which thankfully (that I
know of) no one has on video-- but involves grabbing one leg at the ankle and jerking around convulsively (with some rhythm). That won them over and they uncrossed their arms posed for a photo. That is how you officially know you are a good egg...when cops pose for photos with you. Evidently Stef had the same idea and she happens to be a good egg too. They posed with her as well, but she's a little more legit with her own badge to flip out when necessary.

Robert, Jeff, Ansley and I split off from the crew to make our own entertainment n
ear the Belagio. It was the last water show of the night and we didn't want to miss it. But after the show...we decided to do an impromtu performance near the fountain.... I can't recall which of his songs we sang---but I'm certain we would have made Neil Diamond proud. Had we thought of it we would have tossed down a cap for people to stuff dollar bills into...hey, gotta pay for our $5 water bottles somehow

We met many strangers who were kindred spirits, shall we say...and we had moments. In particular an exciting Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long on the escalator into Caesar's Palace that will probably go down in the books. A bunch of partying ladies ahead of us joined us as the rest of the crowded hotel looked on...Thunderbolt of lightning...very very frightening..... Now we do not have this on video either. Ya just had to be there.


And then my moment with the real Guitar Heroes....these performers who just cracke
d me up. The truth of the matter is these gentlemen were likely college guys who bought matching guitars on an impulse buy...but I can't resist people who can break it down.

A---ha...Hmmm? So I still haven't told the story about the infamous rap artist e
ncounter...well I ran out of time. But I promise I will recount that on the final installment of this blog series...
and you won't have to comment...not unle
ss you really want to...





:)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Vegas a go go!

Back by popular demand...another blog post...thanks to encouragment from my pal, Val!

Toward the end of 2008 the super amazing friends who I met last spring at Camp Mak-A-Dream decided it was time for a reunion.
I was so excited, but at the time my disappointment overcame me because I was certain with all my expenses this year and a trip that had already been booked to California... there was just no way I could do it.

However fate stepped in and on my return from California a bump was offered from United Airlines. I jumped at the chance for the round trip voucher they threw my way.

And so it was that on Memorial Day wknd I was on my way to see my pals...in Vegas baby!

There are many adventures to recount...
Take for instance sneaking into the Flamingo Hotel's pool and having a crazy game of volleyball in the pool. If the story ended there...well I'd end it there...but my friend Val got us the hook up. Somehow Val in her bathing beauty glory attracted the attention of a club promoter who just handed her tickets to an album release party at the Mirage's exclusive JET club for none other than recording artist Mike Jones.

Now mind you, I say none other...as if Mike and I were buds. For the sake of truth in blogging I will admit that I had no idea who Mike Jones was.

But no matter...we had free ladies passes to this event at the Mirage Hotel's totally off the hook club, Jet. We looked at the line in horror, but no our passes worked...and a little bit of the Cancer card, to again be truthful.

Hello? Ten Cancer survivors on vacation together ...Paris Hilton, you can wait yo damn turn.

Well, we weren't sure what would be coming the way of our guy friends as they came in with us. It would take some doing...(and yes our guy friends had to fork over $40 to get in) but we ladies were able to be fast-tracked "fo free"past all the waiting and obviously annoyed revelers in line for entrance. People actually sneered at us as we bipassed the line led by a very accomodating bouncer. The looks on the faces of the dressed to the nines without wearing much hoochies were more like "WHO ARE THEY?"

What awaited us inside was quite a scene...the likes of which this group of cancer survivors was really taking in in all its glory. I'll spare you the blow by blow details but...you can take a look at the pictures and see...it was fffffffffuuuuuun!

THIS video was taken prior to "jumping the rope" so to speak...you can see the anticipation was mounting...
video

So that was just Friday night folks...and you know the night life is what peiople actually go to Vegas for. But for us the meaning of the trip was not lost on the crazy Vegas strip. We rented a house in a quiet residential area just a few miles outside of the bright lights of Vegas.We were in business with a pool table, a fully stocked kitchen complete with a grill and hot tub out back. With wallet savvy friends who wanted to capitalize the most out of our time together we ate a lot of our meals at the house. In case your planning a trip with a large group of people to Vegas I would highly recommend this as a budget friendly option...




Okay, so I have your attention...
FYI, it takes a while to write and compile these posts (and I'm a busy girl)....so if you wanna hear more about my trip to Vegas and an eye witness verified encounter with Lil Wayne you have to make it worth my while.

They say what happens stays in Vegas...but I'm willing to hedge a little and tell you the rest if you're tuned in. So if I get some comments requesting me to post the second installment...I will forfeit the stays in Vegas mantra.

Vegas Chapter Two?...It's up to you!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Next week...NATIONAL YOUNG ADULT CANCER AWARENESS WEEK

There are lots of things going on in our world right now that are not right. At times it seems like the bad things that happen in life we are powerless to stop.
Take cancer...its easy enough to think that cancer too is something that 'just happens' and we throw our hands up in frustration. The world just isn't fair, right?

It isn't fair...it isn't fair that anyone should have to battle this disease...and truly it is the most obvious injustice that anyone should ever have to die of it either. But what if I told you that a stastical demographic group (spanning more than twenty years) has not reaped the same rewards-- the same likelihood or chances that others have enjoyed of surviving their disease. If you are diagnosed in your late teens, twenties or thirties...according to current studies you don't have the same shot as everyone else outside that bracket has.

But forget the statistics for a minute and let's just talk people. Because numbers don't speak clearly...not until you've watched a wonderful young vibrant person you know pass away when perhaps they could have been saved with earlier detection or better access to resources. Watching this, you become attuned to the real lesson in those numbers...that perhaps... just perhaps--- a better way, a more proactive and informed health care system and a more informed public might have made a difference. If the blinders were taken off and the next time a teenager or young adult went into their physician's office complaining of consistent or alarming symptoms they would not be dismissed and told they're too young to worry about cancer. In fact, for young adults late diagnosis remains the largest factor to contend with. Awareness could do so much to change that.

Perhaps yes---then perhaps we all can make a difference.

But change doesn't happen by a single domino knocking over just one other domiono. If we are to see a difference we need to not allow the chain to stop at us. Next week e-mail your friends, co-workers and family about Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week. And ask them to sign SeventyK, the petition to promote legislation aimed at changing those ugly statistics I mentioned. Yes, there are ugly things in this world...but believe that your voice can be heard. Make your statement...and hope the chain continues on.

www.seventyk.org



Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week

Saturday, February 28, 2009

California Dreamin'...Part One

On such a winter's day...

Over February break I went to California (my 31st state) and I have to say from the very deepest recesses of my upstate NY frame of mind----I don't know why I came back to yucky winter here. Ha ha!

Most of you who read this know there are things on my bucket list--(the one I created in 2006 upon my second cancer diagnosis)-- that I've slowly been checking off. This time it was visiting California, which I'd only ever experienced from a stop over at the LAX airport on the way to Hawaii (lame!).

Back in the fall my friend Kevin called me and happened to say "hey, why don't you come visit?" and it was impetus to actually consider. Kevin lives outside Los Angeles in Playa del Ray, right on the beach practically! Kevin has the life, seriously. Okay now I get it...now I get why one might put up with smog and earthquakes and traffic jams. We will not mention what the psychic said, Kevin.

My first full day there (mind you without any of my luggage--ha ha!) I went out to breakfast with Cutter and Butter while I waited for my friend Val to come. Yes, I am serious Cutter and Butter. :) Butter is Kevins roommate, Cutter is their friend. We had awesome omlettes at this diner nearby...Good times!

Then Val and I went cruising all around L.A. and she showed me all the touristy sites of course in Hollywood. But we actually got to a scenic overlook where you can see all of Los Angeles and of course the Hollywood sign...which you might be able pick out ever so slightly from the picture of Val and I. We had some interesting adventures along the Walk of Fame as evidenced by the rather strange looking leather clad hello kitty studs.

What a time! That night (Saturday) we had dinner in the Valley at Kevin's friend Butch's house. Yummy! And to my surprise, I was tricked into eating Brussell Sprouts which I actually loved! My mom would be so happy to hear this--I ate Brusssell Sprouts! Kevin is a sly culinary whiz...nice work!

The next day was the surprise brunch. I love surprises as anyone can attest that knows me...When Kevin told me to bring my coat I was pretty sure the brunch would be outside. Butch, Butter, Kevin and I stepped aboard the Hornblower for a brunch cruise in Marina del Ray!

Fun! The other surprise was that the guys had told the staff of Hornblower that is was my birthday...so as I swilled down the never-ending champagne I celebrated my special day...ha ha.
What a fun afternoon!

Some other highlights of the time in L.A included a little karaoke...who would have guessed, huh? There was also a visit to speak to the class Kevin teaches at Loyola Marymount University, and of course the thing Side Order of Life fans might appreciate, dinner with Diana Maria Riva and her husband, Mike.
Kevin and I met this awesome couple out in Hollywood for a fabulous meal I will never forget.

More than a year ago when the effort was launched to save Side Order...and I was telling all of you to send menus I certainly never imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd meet the woman who played Vivy. Diana's raw and honest portrayal of Vivy made those of us who are cancer survivors proud on so many levels. Vivy was strong, she was real and she was a real person who just faced a challenge with her own blend of humor and vitality.

Well Diana is just as vivacious, just as fun...and so is her husband Mike. I am so glad to have finally thanked her in person for all that she brought to our lives (as survivors) for that one phenomenal season. If Hollywood has any sense at all...her next project is going to take off like gangbusters. Not only is she a phenomenal actress...but a truly warm and genuine person.

I would say Los Angeles was a pretty amazing time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big bites and bold streaks

I have been looking at life through a different lens lately. Those things that we do...the decisions we make....whether to take a risk, try something new...go a different path. Fear itself is the obstacle to that growth and I'm trying to get better about knocking that fear factor if you will out of my life.
But it's not to say that I'm not a big wimp every now and then.

Who hasn't had the best laid plan fall apart...and then be dashed and discouraged the next time?
Who hasn't put their heart on the line...and felt once bitten but twice shy?
Who doesn't look back on little vignettes of life and feel the sting of what could have been?

How do we work out these kinks---live the best life...I'm not about to tell anyone that...because I don't know. I really don't know. And that's just it. None of us know. Not even the so-called experts really have their shit together.

The self help section at Barnes and Noble can take you only so far...because while you're reading the book on how to live----someone else is out doing what you're reading about.

I'm a big believer in the idea that sometimes poetry, philosophy and grand ideas come to you in whispers...or car radios because that's just where I found my inspiration the other day. A song played in my ipod that hadn't come up on shuffle in quite a while. And it moved me enough to play it again.

And thank you John Mellencamp for getting this right...because it fits just where I was at...what I was thinking.

See the moon roll across the stars
See the seasons turn like a heart
Your fathers days are lost to you
This is your time here to do what you will do

Chorus:
Your life is now your life is now your life is now
In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now

Would you teach your children to tell the truth
Would you take the high road if you could choose
Do you believe youre a victim of a great compromise
cause I believe you could change your mind and change our lives

Chorus:
Your life is now your life is now your life is now
In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now

Would you teach your children to tell the truth
This is your time here to do what you will do

Your life is now your life is now your life is now
In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now

John Mellencamp "Your Life Is Now"


We wait for tomorrow with so much in our lives...but life, in its finite nature isn't waiting for us to get our acts together. Live dammit! Live! ha ha ha!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hoping for February to be better

On the way to work Thursday I heard a really sad story on the news....a woman and her dog had both been struck and killed by a car while walking down the road. The snow had hampered the driver's sight. Tragically, it was unavoidable.

When I got to work an email came across from my dad.
Mary Beth, the family friend who'd taught me how to ride, who'd help us pick out Bear (my beloved horse) had been the one killed in that accident.

I'd last seen Mary Beth right around the time I was in treatment. My dad had taken Lucy, (then a puppy) and I up to the pond to play and there Mary Beth was with her dog. She had marvelled at how I'd grown...perhaps in her mind's eye she'd seen me as the young kid she'd gently reminded to put her heels down in the saddle. Perhaps I'll always see her as that young woman in her 20s who I'd idolized.

Tears came...but I had just ten minutes before I had to proctor some students in a Regents test.
I proctored that test, but all the way through kept thinking about Mary Beth and how I'd wish I'd taken her up on her offer that day to visit her farm. Some regrets you just can't help.

I wish there were something that could explain to me why bad things happen to good people.
There is philosophy that I read that explains some of it. Harold Kushner does an excellent job of it. Sure, there are words of comfort that help give higher meaning to so many of life's unfairness....but sometimes I think its okay to just throw our hands up.

I guess I am ready to put January away...it's been a difficult month.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You captured our hearts buddy


I lost my dear friend this weekend.
Zach passed away quietly and peacefully Sunday morning.

And I am changed...yet again...in a way that is shades different than the person that I was even when Zach first stepped into my life and into my heart.

Just two weeks ago Zach's mom called me to tell me that Zach would be up at the hospital again that following day. I had a doctor's appointment and knew I might cut it close swinging by the other side of town...but felt compelled to chance it. As it would happen, this would be the day that with the help of his Mom and Dad, Zach told me he would be going to the hospice. For this fierce, determined young man who fought for so long...it might appear that this was giving in...accepting that the fight was over. But this was not the case.

He was taking control and bravely deciding how his final chapter would play out. There in that room, sitting by his bed I was feeling weak, crestfallen at hearing this news. But I couldn't show it...not when Zach was resolute. When you see strength like that...you just don't want to be the one to crack...I was just trying to follow his lead. As hard as it was to hear this...the finality of it--- Zach was facing this with the bright side immediately ready to share with me. He could "have visitors there...he could watch his videos...bring his favorite things...hang the "Lance bike" in his room."

After all, as Zach had reminded me on countless occasions his blood type was just right for him--- B positive...and that was what he had to do---be positive. It's one of many things I'm remembering now...things he said and little inside jokes...simple things he enjoyed that the rest of the world takes for granted. Like Triscuits...who lives to taste a Triscuit cracker?...Zach did and I'll never go by a box of them without smiling and thinking of him.


Zach had a sneak peak at several little goofs I made. Anyone who knows me any length of time catches on to my scatterbrained nature. I've been trying to correct it...but alas it's just here to stay. But what was so good about Zach was his ability to sweetly point the goofs out...but not broadcast them. I told him once jokingly that I only did that to make him laugh. Well, he knew the truth...

While I was driving him somewhere once I realized to my frustration that the shifter was stuck.

"Oh man! So much for this new car," I said haphazardly jerking the handle back and forth.

Without missing a beat Zach lifted a quarter out that had rolled into the shift track, thus immobilizing the shift. "Here...try it now," he said smiling. Then we both laughed...and there was no judgement. He could have thought to himself, 'geesh, this dippo---Aha, somebody's got it worse than me', but if he did he never let on. Zach lived in the moment.

Though that might have made a great story to add to his storytelling creds he never retold it for a cheap laugh. It was our little inside joke.

What I'll remember forever about Zach is that he shared his whole heart with you. From the first day I sat with him and Michael in the lobby of the 5500 floor lobby next to the candy machines...to that last visit and that very last hug, the one that would be goodbye, he didn't hide his gratitude. "Thank you" was a word that passed his lips often and without trepidation.

And as we all prepare to say goodbye this week I am thinking of one moment that sums up Zach and his determination to face the most unbearably difficult trials of his life with positivity.
The afternoon after Zach had been awarded the Lance signed bike at his local bike shop the small little group that had gathered to see him get it dispersed. I too headed out the door. But he called after me just as I passed the threshold...he ran up and stopped me. As I turned around to face him, he looked at me with a look of contentment. "Hey...do you ever sometimes think that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you?"

Knowing the absolute sincerity with which he uttered that statement...no self pity, no desire for accolades about how brave he was...I felt a pang of truth. But it didn't settle easy. I wanted to agree without reservation...but I felt how painful and layered some heartfelt truths can be. Despite the fact that his storm had never truly subsided...and there hadn't ever been a reprive...a remission...an enticing promise of a future. Despite the fact that he struggled, he felt it made him stronger. He felt he was learning as he endured each part of the journey...his faith was no small part of that. And he also was grateful for the people that were brought into his life...people he once said he may not have ever had the honor to cross paths with in different cicrcumstances.
"The best thing?" I thought, and it hurt to even contemplate, looking at where the road was leading for him... but I knew he meant every word...that much was clear.

I nodded through tears and it almost stung to agree, looking at him in a moment I knew I would always remember for the rest of my life."Yes, Zach...sometimes I do"

So one night later when Sean Swarner, the mountain climber who'd shared friendship and his posh hotel room with Zach, echoed those very same words about his own experience----there were at least two audience members in absolute awe.
That keynote speech struck a chord. Zach turned toward me with an ear to ear smile of jubuliant recognition and gave me a wink.

I will always remember Zach DeRidder. He is alive in my heart.

I hope as you read this you'll keep him in yours.
Miss you Z-Man.
Zachary T. DeRidder July 30, 1984--January 18, 2009