August 26th, 2014
Earlier this summer I wrote a feature for the August issue of Redbook on how not to sabotage your vacation. One of the main saboteurs, of course, is staying too connected to our devices. In the piece I covered how to avoid getting sucked into work emails and tricks for honoring your out-of-office status but also the importance of taking in the scenery not just tweeting photos of it. One of the experts I spoke with—Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D, a psychologist at Stanford University and author of The Willpower Instinct—felt strongly about not having a camera in hand the whole trip. “Part of the joy of a vacation will be savoring it later on so taking pictures is OK but limit it,” she said. “People mis-experience things by trying to document them.”
And here’s her kicker: If you’re truly looking to disconnect, don’t post photos publicly right away. “Give yourself an embargo on your photos and share them when you get home,” she said. “Then it’s part of the savoring experience instead of interfering with the direct experience.” She added that you don’t want to be scrolling through your phone at night to see if people liked your sunset selfie. “That’s a pretty toxic process,” she said. Especially if how many likes you got—or didn’t get—will affect your mood.
Don’t get me wrong, I like being connected. I like social media. I am not a facebook hater. If you’re reading this you likely follow me so you know I am an avid oversharer. I post vacation photos and I enjoy looking at friends’ vacation photos. But since I’d done all this research and wrote a story about it I figured I should actually take the advice I was spewing. So last week while I was on vacation with my family I didn’t share anything on social media. The place we stayed—out on the North Fork of Long Island—had wonky wifi and no cell service so that encouraged me, too. And you know what? It was pretty freeing to leave my phone in the room most days and to never say to my husband “Do you like this photo? Should I post it?”
It’s hard to resist hitting share, I get it. Especially when we sit in our offices day in and day out seeing shots of our friends with their toes in the water and their asses in the sand. We scroll through the requisite “feeties” (see mine above, which I took for the sole purpose of this post) and drool at the food-and-umbrella drink shots. When we’re finally in our own heavenly locale, we want our moment in the sun. Of course that competitive, braggy mindset is not why you should be posting things on facebook in the first place. McGonigal mentioned research showing that if you engage in social media with that intention it actually makes people like you less (there’s a beach in France that has banned selfies for that reason).
I am certainly not accusing any of my friends (or myself) of this type of motivation. And I know there are plenty of people who post quickly and never think twice again, typos be damned. That said, I do have some overthinking tendencies when it comes to what I post and the point of the vacation was to think less so this little experiment was perfect for me. Does it mean I’ll never upload another shot from vacation again? Heck no. Does it mean I don’t want to see your ass-in-the-sand photos? Definitely not! Keep ‘em coming! It makes me happy–not a hater–to see beautiful locales pop up in my newsfeed. But it was a pretty cool experience for me to be off the social media grid for a while.
I didn’t post and I didn’t look at anyone else’s posts for six days straight which allowed me to be completely present with my family. This was especially helpful since having three kids on vacation requires a lot of presence (and patience). I’ll be the first to admit that I’m sometimes distracted by my device and the second I look down at my phone, all hell breaks loose. Or all three swarm around me like gnats. But as long as I’m engaged with them or looking in their general direction, my kids tend to be cool. Cooler than they would be if I were examining my bathing suit photos for cellulite or scrolling through ALS bucket challenge videos. At the very least, this taught me to be more mindful of my technology use and for that I’m grateful. And now, stay tuned for a ton of vacation photos that will feel really old since they were taken last week….
August 12th, 2014
You may have noticed some chatter about “the end of summer.” My friends in the south have already sent their kids back to school and posted the requisite first-day photos on facebook. That crazy Halloween catalog arrived last week (yes, Nora wants to be Elsa). Pottery Barn is so desperate for me to buy monogrammed backpacks for my kids that they email me three times a day. I suppose it all makes sense since it is mid-August but here on the north shore of beautiful Long Island (and in my semi-delusional mind) we are still in the thick of the lazy days. With no end in sight if I shut my eyes really tight.
There are many years, I’ll admit, when I am big-time ready for September to get here. Last year I wrote an ode to the end of the summer with versus like: “Goodbye oppressive heat and goodbye grilled processed meat. Goodbye crickets, goodbye sand. And goodbye to the ice cream man who I really can’t stand.” But this year is different. There are some obvious reasons: We’ve had gorgeous weather—not too hot, not too humid, very little rain (I’ve rocked the glorious flip-flops-shorts-hooded sweatshirt combo many nights) and the simple fact that I’m not pregnant. But there’s also been some special seasonal stuff that I want to highlight here—many have links, so check them out before it’s too late! Here goes…
Paddle boarding, sunsets, swimming (in the ocean, the sound, the bay, the pool), staying too late at the beach, Swallow restaurant: Hate the name, love the food (and the chef). They serve only small plates and they’re all delish. My recent order: skate wing with chorizo, clams in curry broth and pork buns—wow! Next: Eating outside on my new deck. We have a pretty small kitchen which we eventually want to redo but in the meantime, we put a deck off of it which has transformed our living space and made dining al fresco a daily occurrence. Iced lattes (I run on Dunkin, not Starbucks in case you’re wondering). Skinny Pop Popcorn. I buy the jumbo bags at Costco and always have it close at hand. Sometimes I dip it in hummus. I know you can eat popcorn in the fall too but this is a new snack obsession–and great for the beach–so I’m including here.
Watching Nora learn how to dive, watching Alex reel in big fish—then happily cook and eat them. Watching both of them boogie board in the ocean, watching Molly eat sand (really, I’ve come to adore it). Robert Moses. Despite living only 40 minutes from this gorgeous south shore beach, this is the first summer we’ve frequented it as a family. And thanks to a surfer friend’s tip, we know where to go to avoid the crowds. We’ve even taken our paddle board and paddled in the ocean waves which is intense but amazing.
My Havaianas. Spin classes at Breakaway Fitness. More on that place soon but nothing rights the ship better than an hour of fun jams and sweating so much I have to clean the floor after. I’m in love. Running on the road (instead of a treadmill) and shamelessly listening to Katy Perry. Running longer distances than I thought I could—or would ever want to do.
Greenport, NY. I went out there for a girls’ weekend in July; heading out there again with the fam. We have a reservation at North Fork Table and Inn for dinner one night (sans kids) and I can’t wait. Never been! I also want to try to get back to The Frisky Oyster (um, also sans kids since they don’t allow them!) and to Bedell Cellars for some wine tasting and live music. We’ll see…
American Ninja Warrior. The bar is set pretty low when it comes to summer TV and I rarely tube out but I can’t help watching those crazy people try to summit mount wanttohockalugey or whatever it’s called. I did also binge watch season 1 of Below Deck on Bravo and it is the best thing I’ve experienced in a long, long time. And by best I mean it’s trash but the really good kind. Mazzar Grill, a new middle-eastern kebab takeout place that makes everything fresh to order and everything I’ve tried is fantastic. The Purple Elephant, Kerber’s Farm (check out my friend’s story on them—then definitely check them out before they stop serving their delish lobster rolls and roasted corn), drinks at Prime (what can I say, I’m like a fly to the light with that place).
My garden, of course, which has provided us with an abundance of fresh and delicious produce for the past few months (created by the fabulous Elizabeth Rexer Leonard of Earl’s Kitchen Gardens). The highlights: Enough garlic to get us through fall and zucchini the size of baseball bats because I always forget to harvest them before they get huge. This zucchini bread, which is about the unhealthiest thing you can do to a zucchini but man is a treat.
The Northport Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. I go because Imperial Empanadas (my brother-in-law’s company) is there. I stay because of the view of the harbor and the laid back vibe and Nina’s Fresh Batch Granola (I get the pistachio golden raisin), Blind Bat Brewery and pickles, which the kids get on sticks to snack on while we’re perusing the goods.
OK, I do realize that the majority of this list seems to be food related. First, I don’t go out to eat that much but when I do I make it count and the places above are the places I go. Second, there is lots of exercise and fresh air sprinkled in throughout, I swear! I have also worked a ton the past few months (for Redbook, Glamour, Dr. Oz’s The Good Life and the no-longer-with-us Yahoo Shine, which I feel kind of lost without) but that’s not what this post is about. Or what this summer has been about! Hope yours has been lovely too and that you plan to see it through to the bitter end like me. Which, PS, isn’t technically until September 21 so we really do have time to pack in more good times. Enjoy!
June 26th, 2014
My friend, who has three little kids, recently found out that the reason her once-regular sitter hasn’t been available many Saturday nights lately is because she’s also been—wait for it—stripping. Once I picked my jaw up off the ground I jokingly asked if her husband ran into the babysitter at a strip club while there entertaining clients or something. That would have been amazing. But the revelation was a far less made-for-the-movies moment (and no, her husband does not frequent strip clubs). It happened when my friend had gotten home from dinner and was asking the babysitter about her plans for the following weekend. The sitter hedged a little and then came out with it: she’d been working in a high-end strip club. As a hostess? Nope. As a bare-it (almost) all dancer. I know my friend pays well but apparently not as well as the sweaty, drunk businessmen with wads of bills in their hands. Yowza.
My first question: Does she have an amazing body? Apparently she’s thin as a rail and not at all voluptuous as you might expect someone who strips to be. Interesting. My second: Are you going to keep using her? The sitter wasn’t full-time or even working very regular lately but my friend liked her and her kids liked her and she was reliable. They trusted her. Now they’re a little conflicted as it seems that perhaps she isn’t the best decision-maker. I don’t want to offend anyone so I’m trying to tread lightly here but I understand why you wouldn’t necessarily want someone who takes her clothes off for money hanging around your house and your kids. (And your husband, but that’s another post for another time…). Strip clubs aren’t the most savory of places and someone who’s rubbing elbows and other body parts with horny dudes isn’t the person I’d want watching my children. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies with characters who strip but what if one of her customers was stalking her and came to the house?!
But then again, good help is really hard to find and when Friday night rolls around and mom and dad need a break, sometimes we lower our standards. That said, just because this person is stripping doesn’t mean she’s a bad or unsavory person at all. Plus, my friend already has an established relationship with this person. It’s not like she showed up looking for a babysitting job and listed “stripper” on the top of her resumé. I have two sitters I absolutely adore and if either of them started stripping I might be inclined to keep them on. But first I’d offer them a raise so they didn’t feel compelled to take off their clothes. You hear that, Jenny and Jamiee?! Please don’t strip! Come to me first! I know you should judge the person and not the profession but when kids are involved and suddenly you’re talking nakedness and groping men, I’m just not sure I’d be comfortable. And I’m curious to hear what you would do in this case. Would you continue to have her babysit? Is it prude and judgmental to not want someone who strips to watch your kids? Keep in mind this is not someone who used to strip, this is a person currently doing it. Let’s discuss!
November 21st, 2013
Since so many of you have asked. And since you know I want to tell (warning: it’s long and unedited!)
On Saturday, November 16 at 10:56 p.m. I gave birth to my daughter, Molly Kate Ruddy. I was just hours shy of being 41 weeks pregnant, something I hadn’t expected at all. With my first two kids, I went into labor on their due dates and gave birth the next day. I was thinking the same might happen this time. I had been really afraid of going early because I wasn’t prepared so obviously I jinxed myself. Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th came and went without so much as a cramp.
Every night over the next week Nick and I had a last hurrah dinner with our kids. My hospital bag taunted me from the bench in my room. I started answering texts and emails and calls with, “nope, not in labor.” On Wednesday the 13th I had a biophysical and sonogram to check on the baby. She looked great and my fluid was good so my doctor was on board to let me forge on as planned (I did not want to be induced as I really wanted a drug-free birth). For the next few days I walked—outside, on the treadmill, at the mall—I ate spicy food, I nested, I spent a lot of time at the new Target near my house. I tried everything (yes, even that). It was a really strange week. I was bored, frustrated, confused and I couldn’t think about anything else. (I wrote this post about it.)
On Thursday, I went for yet another long walk with a friend. Later that night, Nick and I took the kids to a great dinner at a yummy local Italian restaurant and I ordered eggplant rollatini (not something I would normally eat but I’d heard eggplant could do the trick and I was getting desperate). I took one bite and I swear I had a contraction. We had an awesome dinner (yet another perfect last hurrah for our family of four), and that night things got started. Slowly. I had contractions throughout the night. They were strong enough that I had to sit up and occasionally get out of bed and onto the exercise ball, but not really painful or regular. I thought for sure when I woke up in the morning I’d be in full-blown labor. I was not. My sister, Meghan, who was my labor coach/confidant just as I’d been for her back in March (she had a 30-hour drug-free labor and delivery and was a total champ) came over and we went for a walk. Nada. So Nick, Nora and I went to Target to return some of my “where-the-eff-is-this-baby, I’m-just-gonna-buy-stupid-stuff” purchases then Nora and I went to a playdate with friends. All the while I was cramping but nothing bad at all. If I didn’t know I was in early labor I would have just thought I had a stomachache. I came home, put Nora down for a nap and showered. And I blew out my hair, just in case… (I blew out my hair almost every day that week—it gave me something to do and, yes, I’m a little vain).
To be honest, at this point I was starting to get worried. I wanted the baby out. I wanted to meet her and know that she was OK. And I was anxious about giving birth (one way to get more anxious about something is to put it off for a week). I started to feel like I couldn’t trust my body. Fortunately, one of my oldest and dearest friends is a doula who I was texting with during this time and she kept sending me positive, “your-body-knows-what-to-do” notes. Friday night the kids slept at my parents’ house because we thought we might be going to the hospital in the middle of the night. Nick and I dropped them off and picked up pizza (sure I was in early labor but a girl’s gotta eat). We watched a little TV and I got into bed around 8:30. At this point I’d barely slept in two days and with labor imminent (I’d hoped) I wanted some rest. But of course that night things ramped up again and I was hopping in and out of bed all night to walk through contractions and go to the bathroom and sit on the exercise ball. (My sister, Meghan, loved laboring on the exercise ball…I found it aiight but I was willing to try anything to keep me going). At around 3 a.m. the contractions slowed down and I fell asleep.
Again, I thought things would progress quickly when I woke up. They did not. Meghan came over again, we walked, I ate some toast with peanut butter. I felt fine. I was having mild contractions but nothing I couldn’t talk through. And they were far apart and totally irregular. So we decided to go to the kids’ soccer games. I stood on the sidelines for about an hour, chatted with the other parents, had a few mild contractions and enjoyed the gorgeous day. At this point my mother-in-law arrived from Michigan, a total Godsend. Now we not only had my parents on call, we had my mother-in-law staying with us. That afternoon I just lied around resting, watched a shitload of The Good Wife on Hulu (I just started the series and it was a good distraction) and having mild contractions. I took another hour-long walk with my sister. There was a full moon and she had me pose for a picture in front of it. We agreed it was a good day to have a baby. But it did not seem like she was coming any time soon….
They tell you to wait until contractions get close together—5 to 8 minutes—last about a minute and are intense enough that you can’t talk through them. Then you know you’re really in labor and you can go to the hospital. Well mine never got to that point. So when it came time to order dinner, I wanted in. (I was also ravenous from being in labor for what was now going on 48 hours). I stayed up in my room and ate a pretty big bowl of plain pasta, some nuts, some plain popcorn and cheese and crackers (I was seriously hungry). If I had been laboring in the hospital at this point I would have been on a strict ice-chip diet…another reason I wanted to stay at home as long as possible. I knew I might regret eating a lot of not-so-bland food (the pasta had garlic and olive oil) but I also had no idea when I would be having the baby and I needed the energy. In between bites I’d have contractions (and I’d pause The Good Wife so as not to miss anything). As far as labors go it was quite lovely.
I spent a little extra time saying goodnight to the kids that night and then retreated back to my room. At 8:30 I had the first contraction that took my breath away. “Intense” I scribbled next to the time on the little green post-it note I’d been half-heartedly recording things on. From there I had a few more intense contractions on and off, but still about 10 minutes apart. Meghan was at a restaurant with friends and asked me if she should come over (she didn’t want to go to dinner at all but I insisted). I hesitated. “Not sure,” my text read. “I’m pretty relaxed right now lying in bed. Just enjoy dinner and text me on your way home.” At 9:43 p.m. she checked in and I wrote: “Thinking maybe I should go in. Contractions are really painful. But still only about 10 minutes apart.” When she got here, we pulled everything together pretty quickly and headed to the hospital. At this point I still had no idea how far along I was. I suspected I might be close but I’d suspected that before and been wrong. I told Meghan and Nick that if I was only three centimeters, I may not make it. I was exhausted mentally and physically. When we pulled up in front of the ER (we had to go in that way since it was nighttime), I had a super strong contraction. But then I walked in and got myself registered. On the way up in the wheelchair (I really wanted to walk but they wouldn’t let me), I jumped out and had another. In between contractions, I was talking and walking—though I was definitely in the this-is-for-real zone.
The nurse who greeted us in labor and delivery immediately recognized us from seven months ago when our roles were reversed and we were doing the same thing with Meghan. She brought us into a room, I got undressed, went to the bathroom and had a swig of Gatorade (behind the nurse’s back since it’s not allowed). I had one more intense contraction during which Meghan told me to try to relax my shoulders (she had been very good about encouraging me to open up and stay relaxed and all that stuff). “I’m past the zen shit,” I said, “I’m gonna need to curse at this point.” (And I did.) The doctor on call came in and we chatted for a sec while the nurse set me up on the bed with the monitor to check the baby’s heartbeat (my beloved doc, who pretty much guaranteed he’d be there to deliver me had to be at a conference that day and was at that point driving through the Queens Midtown Tunnel). I felt a really strong contraction coming on, called Nick, squeezed his hand and…my water broke. I kind of freaked out because when that happened, I also felt the urge to push. Like for real. “OMG, what was that,” I said, “And I think I need to push, I think the baby is here,” I hadn’t even been checked yet! I had just walked in! They rolled me over, the doc felt my cervix and said there was a tiny rim left so not to push but we’d get ready.
Anyone who’s given birth this way knows that when you feel the urge to push there is almost no way to stop from pushing. But I had literally just read the part in The Birth Partner about why you don’t want to push if there’s still any cervix left undilated (it can swell the cervix and stall labor, among other things…no thanks). So the super awesome nurse looked at me and got me focused and helped me breathe through them. For two super-intense contractions I just breathed and resisted the overwhelming urge to push. It was torture, literally the hardest part of my whole experience. I dare say, the only real hard part. (Meghan and I later said we suspect that the reason they didn’t want me to push is not that I wasn’t ready but that they weren’t ready…which I totally understand seeing as I had just got there). While the nurse was getting me to focus and relax and bring my legs back and breathe, the doc was furiously arranging things so she could catch the baby. On the third contraction I begged to push, someone grabbed my legs, I took a deep breath and the baby was out in two pushes. As soon as I could push I felt great. I mean, it didn’t feel good but it felt like what I was supposed to be doing and I knew she was right there and it was seriously that easy. Two pushes. (I deserve this, by the way…I pushed Alex out for two and half hours!).
The second she was out and on my chest, all the pressure and discomfort was gone. That’s the coolest thing about a drug-free birth. You literally feel fine the second the baby is out. Also, I didn’t tear at all, which made a big difference. Huge difference with recovery. The whole room (it was just the doc, the awesome nurse, Meg, Nick and me) was stunned. We laughed. The doctor, who was great, texted my doc and said it was a drive-by birth. She also had me sign the consent form that I wanted to have my baby there. We laughed again! The nurse said she couldn’t believe how I walked in so nonchalantly she would never have thought I was about to give birth. She said it was 15 minutes from the moment I got into the delivery room to the moment the baby was out. I was shocked, too. I wanted to think I was close but after being a week late and laboring so mildly for two days, I knew anything was possible. And I didn’t want to jinx myself. Nick, who had lugged in the exercise ball and coconut water (fortunately I never had to drink that—yuck) and Gatorade and snacks, said: “Well, that was anticlimactic.” And it was. We seriously thought we were heading in so we could begin the tough part. But it was over. And it was so not that bad (the hardest part: those two contractions when I couldn’t push). We hung out in that room for over an hour. My mom and mother-in-law and sister, Melissa, came up, we chatted, we laughed at how shocked we still were, we took pictures. I nursed the baby so she could get some colostrum (I’m going back on my Gleevec this week so I won’t be breastfeeding). I got up and peed and put back on my regular clothes and we headed down the hall to maternity. And that was that.
For nine months I had been hoping to have a drug-free, empowered birth (one that felt like I was calling the shots, whatever those shots happened to be). It couldn’t have gone better and I am so happy that I listened to my body and let things unfold at their own (super slow) pace. It was my third birth experience and by far the best. And the easiest. I am so grateful to my sister, Meghan, who was so present and patient and a source of great comfort for me through the entire pregnancy but especially at the end. The birth only wound up lasting a few minutes but I was glad she got to be there for it!
Molly Kate is now five days old. She and I are both doing great. I have no pain, which is amazing (with Alex I had to do the sitz bath and sit on a donut for nearly six weeks!). I honestly have to remind myself I just gave birth so I don’t overdo it. Fortunately, my mother-in-law is still here so I have lots of help. I can’t imagine doing this without her (she’s snuggling the baby as I type this and will feed her while I take a quick nap—heaven). I am a lucky girl.
Thank you to everyone who has followed along with my pregnancy, sent prayers and well wishes and support. I truly feel the love and we are so so so happy Molly is finally here. Finally! Oh, and the best part about the birth experience: I never have to do it again!!! (I actually said that moments after she came out—I may have had a great experience this time but make no mistake, giving birth is hard work and I am done. Snip, snip!)
August 19th, 2013
As you guys have probably realized, I haven’t been posting much on my site lately. I apologize. I should be. I want to be. I miss it. But with my new gig blogging for Yahoo Shine and a crazy/wild/fun summer with my crazy/wild/fun kids, plus work (check out my latest feature in this month’s Glamour), plus being seven-and-half-months pregnant and thus kind of lazy, I just haven’t. I’m going to remedy that. Starting today. Because, well, you guys are nicer to me than the people who read my other blog and (cue the pathetic statement): I miss having people like me.
Some of you probably saw the Yahoo homepage on Friday (photo above). They occasionally pick up my Shine posts and promote them with provocative, clickable titles. If you logged on Friday or Saturday you were likely met with a photo of me and Nora. This is a big deal. A compliment. Good for the blog. Great for my numbers, etc. But, well, the more people who see your posts, the more who are going to dislike it. And tell you exactly how and how much they dislike it. And a lot of people (i.e. millions) use the Yahoo homepage. The post in question was a silly little rant I wrote last week about wanting to change Nora’s name a few days after giving birth. It was not meant to be news or life-changing or even all that compelling. It was an unfiltered peek inside my mom brain, which is what I generally give readers. Because I think it’s relatable. And entertaining. And that’s my job. I am not a news reporter, I am not covering world events, I am not trying to shape opinions. I’ll be the first to admit that most of what I write could fall under the hashtag “first world problems.” I love that I get to write about this stuff. And I like to read this stuff. I know others do, too. Lord knows there are enough stories out there about war and disaster and crooked politicians. And effing celebrities.
But last week’s post pissed people off. At one point 14,785 people had logged in to say how much they hated it. 14, 785 comments! They were mad that it wasn’t news. They wanted their two minutes back. They thought I was a lunatic. Some said I shouldn’t procreate or I should go on meds. Those particular comments mostly made me laugh. These people don’t know me, they don’t read my other, more substantial work, they don’t “get” what I do and how I write. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tad unsettling. It’s embarrassing to admit this but I care what others (even strangers) think of me. I want them to like me. Or to at least not hate me because of a 200-word blog post. I want them to understand where I’m coming from. But that’s not the way it works when you write a blog. And I know this.
I’ve been blogging for almost eight years now. When I wrote my Life with Cancer blog for Glamour, I had one troll in particular who really hated me and wrote awful things. Unprintable things. Not just meanish comments like the people on Yahoo post (mostly the “get a life” and “why am I reading this drivel” variety), but hard-core, crazy-stalkerish stuff. That was bad. When I blogged for Parenting, people were generally cool and we had a real dialogue—unless I talked about my not breastfeeding or showed a picture of Nora’s car seat with twisted seat belts and then they were ruthless. The thing is, I love blogging for Yahoo Shine. It’s huge. By far the biggest platform I’ve had. I think the site (which has always been my homepage) is well-run and easy to navigate. And I hope my posts make the homepage again! But there has definitely been a learning curve when it comes to the sheer volume of comments and not letting them get to me. And I just wanted to acknowledge that here. Because a lot of people have asked. Over the past few months I’ve been getting texts and emails and calls from friends and acquaintances and fellow bloggers wondering how I handle it. “OMG, I can’t believe what people are writing, are you OK?” was the latest message from a friend, just a few minutes ago. You guys are generally concerned about me and I appreciate it!
The truth: I don’t love the negative comments (who would?) but it comes with the territory. I signed up for this. And even though I’m not supposed to read them, I do. Sometimes it makes me feel bad. Or get angry. I hate when people misunderstand me or twist my words. I obsess about it to Nick, who is great at talking me off a ledge. And my editors are totally lovely and supportive as well. Ultimately I (try to) just laugh it off but it does wear on me a bit. I’m not looking for sympathy. This is what I do and I get paid to do it. And I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to spew my “first world problems.” I just wanted to open up about it here and say thanks for the support–and thanks for following me at Yahoo! I am working hard at growing a thicker skin, which I really should have by this point. In the meantime, I’ll be posting on my personal site more often…where I can control the comments
Hope you’re all enjoying your summer. Be back soon! Erin
June 14th, 2013
In honor of father’s day, I’m posting this essay about my dear old dad and my husband—and how my allegiance to both is sometimes tested when it comes to matters of the home (improvement).
MY FATHER, THE HANDYMAN
I’m hiding in my master bathroom, whispering into the phone while my husband, Nick, stands on our bed, tools in hand, light fixture dangling from the ceiling. “I think he shut off the electricity but I’m not sure,” I say. “Oh my God, Dad, what if he didn’t?!” This is not an uncommon scene. You see my father is an expert handyman and my husband, while increasingly handy, is still new to the whole DIY, home-ownership thing. The problem: I’m a 35-year-old mother of two who’s been married for nearly eight years. My loyalty should lie with my husband…and yet I still find myself dialing my dad behind Nick’s back when I hear the toolbox open. It’s just hard to have complete faith in him when what hangs in the balance is a home I love—one we’ll be living in until the end of time since we bought it about a week before the housing bubble burst. And when it comes to home improvement (and not getting yourself electrocuted), my father really does know best.
The smell of sawdust and spackle were as much a part of my childhood as Barbie, Ken and the Keatons. I don’t think a day went by without seeing a screwdriver in my father’s hand. His basement workshop overflowed with fascinating things like plumb lines and levels and nuts and washers in every size you could imagine. I remember going down there in my nightgown after dinner and watching him work, hands pressed over my ears to dull the piercing whir of the buzz saw. I always hoped he’d ask me to pass him something and hoped even harder that I could remember the difference between, say, a Phillips head and a flathead. Little girls are supposed to think their dads can do anything, but mine really could. He’d make us wooden airplanes we’d spray paint gold and stools with our names carved into them so we could reach the sink to brush our teeth. When my parents bought our house in the 70s it was a one-bedroom ranch. Today it’s got two stories, five bedrooms and lots of cool personal touches (like a living room made completely out of wood reclaimed from a Pennsylvania barn). And my dad was there for every floorboard, every shingle, every nail. It went through so many transformations that I don’t even recognize the house in that photo above. I think my mother loved the fact that there was nothing my father couldn’t do himself, but I know she not-so-secretly loathed it, too (a repairman, while costly, usually finishes a job swiftly and completely, doesn’t leave his tools strewn all over the kitchen and rarely drops a %*&! or a $#!@ in front of the children).
It’s no surprise that when my husband, Nick, and I bought our first house, my dad was involved from the moment before we signed the contract (“you don’t need to hire an inspector, I can do the inspecting” he insisted). Obviously, we leaned on him and, often, like when our kitchen sink was mysteriously and ever…so…slowly…leaking, he saves the day. And he loves it. I know because any time my sisters call him to save their day (we all now live within a six-minute radius of my parents), he will casually work it into conversation: “So, did you hear we finally got the toilet fixed at Melissa’s?” or “You gotta go by Meghan’s and see the shoe molding we put it.” He lives for this stuff. And he’s really good at it. He is one of those renaissance men who has literally worn every hat there is—from cabinet maker to air traffic controller to techie business owner. And many, many things in between.
But of course any good story needs conflict and there is some of that, too. (Cue the whispered phone conversations whenever Nick tackles a job without consulting my dad.) Nick is smart and self made and not keen on asking others for help, something I clearly don’t suffer from. Especially since, deep down, I still believe my dad knows pretty much everything (poor Nick). But, my father believes that his way is the right way and never approves of calling a real expert (he didn’t speak to me for a few days after I had actual fence people put in our fence.) And he often leaves his jobs only 90 percent complete mumbling, “you can touch up around the molding” or “just put a little phenoseal on it” as he walks out the door. And he brings a work ethic and level of intensity that is not for the faint of heart. There may be cursing. There may be yelling. There won’t be breaks. And he expects an assistant (this used to be one of his daughters, now it’s a son in law) to stand next to him at all times. All of this forces a delicate balancing act for his three daughters, who adore our father but also our husbands—and our autonomy.
Still, in the six years we’ve been in our house, Nick has developed a real passion for home improvement, which my dad respects beyond words. Nick recently refinished our kitchen table and every time my dad is over, he marvels at what a good job Nick did (he also marvels to me at what a mediocre job Nick did patching the hole in our ceiling so it’s not like he’s losing his edge or anything). I’m often caught in the middle of the two men in my life, defending Nick to my dad “Eh, it doesn’t have to be perfect!” and my dad to Nick, “Babe, he just wants to help.” But the truth is, Nick has learned a lot from my dad. And I know he appreciates the guidance (and the tools and nifty gadgets he gets for every holiday) and, when needed, the helping hand. There’s been a slow passing of the blowtorch and it’s awesome to see. Some dads connect over baseball or golf or Cuban cigars. While my father loves all of those things too, it’s when he’s working with his hands, fixing, improving, doing that he’s at his best. The fact that he’s willing to share that with the next generation truly is a gift. And we need to soak it up. As hard as it is to think about, my dad won’t always be around to run over and tighten a faucet or put up some drywall. Any time I think about cutting him out of a project we’re doing, I think of this. Sure, my dad is always going to think he can do it better—and maybe he always will—but I know it gives him great peace of mind and pride to know he’s teaching the next generation the joy (and the responsibility) of DIYing.
For my part, I’ve learned to let Nick do things his way before reaching for the phone. At first it was about keeping the peace with my husband, who I adore, but now it’s because I just don’t have to. All the years watching my dad in action have paid off. Nick has become really good at plowing through the never-ending, to-do/fix/upgrade list that comes with home ownership. Or maybe it’s that he’s so hell bent on not having his father-in-law up in his grill that he’s willed himself to succeed. Either way, I’m not complaining. Especially since, so far, no one’s been electrocuted.
Happy Father’s Day to all the DIY dads out there (and the ones who call for professional help!). Bottom line: I’m a very lucky girl to have two super handy men in my life. Guess I better make a nice dinner for them on Sunday! Also, a bit of exciting news: On Monday I will be starting as the parenting blogger for Yahoo Shine. Stay tuned for links and more!
June 3rd, 2013
This story originally ran in the September 2009 issue of Parenting magazine. I wrote it while I was 18 weeks pregnant with Nora, about where I am with my third pregnancy now. I wanted to repost it here because so much of what I wrote then still holds true. And I know, for my CML friends especially, how and why I choose to have children while having cancer is a topic of interest. This pretty much says it all.
(Parenting.com) – My son is not a hugger. He’s almost 2 years old, and I can count on one hand the times he’s squeezed his chubby arms around my neck (they all involve my husband running the vacuum). I’m okay with this because on the rare occasion when I do get a hug, I get very emotional. I imagine most moms experience these my-heart-might-burst moments when a seconds-long embrace makes them feel like the luckiest person in the world. But for me, it’s a little different. A little sweeter. And I am a lot luckier. See, I wasn’t supposed to have a baby. I’m a cancer patient. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a slow-moving form of blood cancer. I’m in remission, thanks to a medication I take every day that states right smack on the bottle: Do not get pregnant while taking this drug. But I did. Then I stopped my lifesaving medication and endured nine long months of what-ifs: What if the brief exposure to the drug affects the baby? What if my cancer comes back? What if I leave my child motherless? I took a big risk, but it paid off even bigger. Now I want to do it again.
Getting pregnant with Alex was technically done the old-fashioned way, but really there was nothing old-fashioned about it. I had a team of doctors — oncologists, obstetricians, fertility specialists — and we had a strategy, a plan A, B, and C. Because of the risk of miscarriage and birth defects, I couldn’t take Gleevec — the drug that put me in remission — during the pregnancy. But my oncologist didn’t want me to stop it while I was trying to conceive in case it took a while. The less time off Gleevec the better, since it was pretty much a given that without it, the cancer would eventually come back. So the plan was to shelve the pills the second I knew I was pregnant (the half-life of Gleevec is short, so it would likely be out of my system before an embryo even attached to my uterine wall). Then hope the cancer stayed at bay.
Voluntarily skipping Gleevec felt like looking a gift horse in the mouth. I was diagnosed with cancer just six months after the “miracle” drug was approved by the FDA. Before Gleevec, many CML patients didn’t survive more than five years. You may not think of cancer patients as being lucky, but I was incredibly so. Taking Gleevec meant I didn’t have to endure chemotherapy or hospitalization or even lose my hair. I didn’t have to get sick just to get well, which is the unfortunate paradigm of most cancer treatments. My leukemia was whittled away by a little orange pill while I was working, playing, living. Yes, being diagnosed was terrifying for me and my family and I have angst-ridden and annoying tests every three months and will always have a great big question mark on my health, but my life with cancer has not been much different from my life without it. Because of this, I found it hard to grasp why I shouldn’t want to start a family.
Our pregnancy journey kicked off months before we even began trying with a semen analysis (my husband, Nick, loved that), constant blood tests to check my hormone levels, ovulation charting, and a slightly unhealthy obsession with the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. We didn’t want to go through all the trouble of risking my life to have a child only to find out we were infertile. We were not. Three months into trying, I was pregnant, and seven days after conception — which was confirmed by a hypersensitive blood test at my fertility doctor’s office — I stopped taking Gleevec. Nothing could have prepared me for the screeching halt I felt that first day I didn’t swallow a pill. How would I survive without my safety net? But I did. I had my blood tested every month to see if the cancer was returning, and, amazingly, the results kept coming back negative. I was off treatment for a total of ten months and my disease never made a peep. Other than the epidural giving out just as I started to push (ouch!), the entire process went off without a hitch. Alex was born the day after his due date, plump, healthy, and hungry (double ouch!). I breastfed him for one month, then switched to formula so I could resume Gleevec.
Since having Alex, I have learned that every cliché about parenthood is true. It is a 24/7 job, you never stop worrying, date nights with your husband are definitely a must, and the truest of them all: They grow up so fast. Alex now feeds himself with a fork, bounds down stairs, and says, “Bless you, Mommy” every time I sneeze. Before I know it, he’ll be leaving for college. I know that we are incredibly blessed to have one child, but I’ve always wanted a big family and I hate to think that cancer could take that away from me — and take it away from Alex. I am the middle daughter in a ridiculously close family of three girls. When we were young and bickering over who got to be Barbie’s hairdresser or who raked in more Halloween candy, my mom would say, “Do you know how lucky you are to have each other? Someday you girls are going to be best friends.” We’d roll our eyes, but she was right. My sisters are my best friends, and we are always, always there when it counts. A year and a half after I was diagnosed, we learned that Melissa, the oldest and then seven months pregnant, had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She began treatment immediately (they delivered her baby at 36 weeks) and went through months of hard-core chemo and radiation, then she relapsed and had to have a grueling stem cell transplant. Meghan and I were with her when she shaved her head, we took turns sleeping in her hospital room, taking care of her son, and when it was time to toast to remission, we had the champagne chilled and ready. Needless to say, I cannot imagine life without my sisters by my side, laughing, crying, bickering. And I want that so badly for Alex.
When I watch him with Melissa’s new baby, it brings this all into focus. No matter where Alex is in a room, if he hears a pacifier drop, he runs to get it, then delicately places it back in his cousin’s mouth. He sings “tinkle, tinkle” and rocks his teddy bears to sleep, and when he sees the little toddlers on his YoBaby yogurt, he points, declares, “Ba-by!” and then puts his finger to his mouth and whispers, “Shh, baby seepin.” If that’s not a sign that he’s ready to be a big brother, I don’t know what is. But it’s just not that simple for us. And as I contemplate going through the roller-coaster ride all over again, I can’t help but wonder: Am I tempting fate? Will I be as lucky the second time? What if I leave two children motherless?
Nick and I recently watched Dan in Real Life, about a widower with three children. How did his wife die? Cancer, I’m sure. They always die of cancer. During one particularly gut-wrenching scene, tears started streaming down my face and an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Finally, Nick said, “Jeez! This is depressing.” It was obvious we were both thinking about him raising our kids alone. We’ve talked about that possibility, of course, and while Nick is an awesome dad, I can’t imagine what it would be like for a little guy to grow up without his mom, without me. Who would sing him made-up songs about dirty diapers and put just enough cream cheese on his toast so that he doesn’t get it all over himself? Who would put him on the bus his first day of school and take pictures at his first baseball game? The thought makes me sick to my stomach. And I imagine that feeling will get exponentially worse with another child. But maybe not. A friend of mine who just had her second post-cancer baby said that having two kids makes her less worried about dying because she knows they would have each other. I guess she has a point. It’s a morbid one, but I get it.
What I try to focus on and explain to any naysayers is that I’m not on my deathbed. I’m not picking out baby names while sitting in the chemo room, pale and sick. But a lot of people don’t see it that way. In response to a blog post I wrote about wanting another baby, an anonymous commenter told me I was an idiot: “This time you’re not just facing the possibility of ending your life but also having a child grow up without a mom,” she wrote. “That in plain terms is selfish all because you can’t be happy with what you currently have, which is a great kid and husband. Horrible.” I’m not going to lie and say that reading stuff like this doesn’t hurt, and that there isn’t a nagging part of me that thinks, what if she winds up being right? When my sister had her transplant — which involved a five-week hospital stay in isolation — her son was the same age Alex is now. I remember him playing in her suitcase as she packed pajamas and magazines and her wig, and then pressing his face up against the window, sobbing “Mommy” as her car pulled out of the driveway, headed for hell.
Of course I don’t ever want my son — or any of his future siblings — to be in that situation. Of course I wouldn’t voluntarily put myself in harm’s way, cavalierly risk my life just so I can hang another stocking on the mantel next Christmas. But the truth is, I don’t think I am. I am not an idiot, and my doctors are behind me. Yes, my oncologist did joke that he would need to buy some hair dye for round two, since this time will definitely make him go gray, but he’s optimistic — and on board. As he put it when we spoke recently, “The question was whether or not to have kids, not how many kids to have.” My plucky, if a little delusional, interpretation of that statement is this: I’ve risked my life once with success, why not do it again? And so… we did.
This time was a little different, though; not so calculated. My doctor has increased confidence in my ability to remain in remission off treatment, so he wanted me to stop Gleevec even sooner to lessen any risk to the baby. Though there isn’t much data, it is known that the danger of exposure lies in the very early developmental stages, so he felt the safest plan would be to stop the drug at ovulation. My cycle is like clockwork and I know my body well, so it wasn’t a problem to determine, especially since we used those handy-dandy ovulation sticks again. For two months I got the smiley face, stopped taking Gleevec, then started again when my period came. This stopping and starting treatment was not ideal (my doctor’s words: “Is this what we recommend to patients? Heck, no”), but given my previous success with getting pregnant fast and staying in remission, it was a pretty good option. And it put the risk on me, not the baby, which is the way I prefer it. Fortunately I didn’t have to do it for long. After the third cycle, I was pregnant.
“Success!” I e-mailed my doctor. I am only 18 weeks pregnant as I write this, but so far so good. Like last time, I am having monthly cancer tests — if there is any change in my blood work, we need to know about it right away. I’m also seeing a high-risk ob-gyn who will be able to work with my oncologist should I need to start treatment at any point (there are a few pregnancy-safe options). But my doctor doubts it will come to that. Is he assuring me the cancer won’t come back this time? Absolutely not. In fact, he ended his last e-mail with “It could be completely different the second time… we don’t know.” But he is hopeful. And so am I.
In the meantime, Nick and I are focusing on the normal second-baby issues — like how we’re going to afford two kids in this economy, whether I’ll make it till January without chardonnay, and which bribes might work to get Alex potty trained in time. It’s not that we don’t understand the real risks; we do. It’s just a lot more fun to worry about what kind of car we’re going to buy than how we’ll deal if my cancer comes back and I have to have a bone marrow transplant, the only known cure for CML. I just don’t see the use in dwelling on the what-ifs anymore. If I’ve learned anything from my cancer experiences, it’s that you never know what will be thrown in your lap tomorrow, and obsessing doesn’t help. But I am thinking about how lucky I am that I get to have another baby, that Alex gets to be a big brother, and that there is life — a lot of life — after cancer.
May 29th, 2013
By now you’ve probably heard about the (latest) Rutgers scandal: Julie Hermann, the newly-appointed athletic director—hired in the wake of the Mike Rice throwing-balls-at-players’-heads-debacle—was herself an emotionally abusive coach. Yep, you read that right. I played volleyball at the University of Tennessee from 1996 to 1997 under Julie. I was one of the 15 players you keep hearing about on the news, the ones who wrote a letter detailing her behavior stating that, among other things, Julie “succeeded in taking a sport we have all dedicated our lives to and making it the enemy.” And it’s all true.
On April 3, I wrote a post for my parenting.com blog about Mike Rice’s abusive tactics and in it I referenced my experience at UT. I didn’t name my coach—it was never my intention to drag up the past—but now I can tell you it was Julie Hermann. So you can imagine my surprise when a few of my teammates facebooked me to say that Julie had just been named the new athletic director at Rutgers. My mouth literally dropped open. And it has continued to drop every day this story has been out, growing uglier and uglier.
Last week several of Julie’s former players were approached by Craig Wolff, a Newark Star Ledger reporter who had dug up some pretty unsavory stuff from Julie’s time at UT. Including our letter. Eventually he called me and I gave him a little background info and confirmed what he was hearing from other players, but I did not go on the record. I was (literally and figuratively) on the sidelines for much of my short tenure as a UT volleyball player. It was a long time ago. I didn’t have much to add and I didn’t want my name involved in what I knew would become a media circus. I am a magazine writer and a blogger and a leukemia survivor and a major advocate for cancer research. I am a mother of two young kids with a third on the way. Like my teammates, I have moved on from my experience at UT.
But here’s what I told Wolff and what I’ll tell you now with my name attached: After our 96/97 season, the team got together—sans coaches—to figure out why we were all so miserable and why we felt so much animosity toward one another. We quickly realized Julie was the common denominator. The letter you’ve seen referenced was written as a result of that meeting. We carefully crafted it, signed it simply “The Lady Vol Volleyball Team,” then brought it to Joan Cronan, our athletic director. Joan called a meeting with the entire team—held in the women’s basketball locker room, which, rightfully so, was way nicer than ours—and we shared our grievances with Julie face-to-face. There were a lot of tears. It was not easy. In addition to the bad times, there had been good times with Julie and this was not the way any of us thought our careers at UT would unfold. But, as the letter stated, it was an irreconcilable issue. After the meeting, Julie walked out and many of us never saw her again. I know I never did.
What’s important to know is that 16 years ago, our intention was to see Julie go because there was no way any of us could continue at UT with her at the helm. Our intention today is not to see her suffer or to take her down in any way. None of us wants that. It is simply to tell the truth because we were asked. And because it is relevant. But we have all moved on from that time. Julie has moved on. And just because she was a bad coach doesn’t mean she can’t be a good administrator. Maybe her experience with us made her a better administrator. Who knows? Sure, she made mistakes but she paid for them at the time by losing her job at UT. It’s only because she was hired at Rutgers—Rutgers!—in the wake of an abuse scandal that our past experience is even relevant. And it is, don’t get me wrong. Everything in that letter is true. But I agree with what many are saying: This reflects worse on Rutgers than it does on Julie.
That said, the reason I have chosen now to speak up is that the blatant denial from so many of the key people involved, people who were handed the letter, people who were in that meeting, is shocking. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is questioning our credibility. I am not commenting on the other baffling memory lapses, just on the one that affects me. My teammates who shared their painful experiences and who went on the record are essentially being called liars and I can’t stand by and let that happen. Not when I have the platform to make a statement of support. To hear our credibility and our motivation called into question is infuriating. For the past few days, we’ve been fielding nonstop calls and emails and facebook requests from producers and writers all over the country. Many of us (myself definitely included) do not want to go on TV. We got dragged into this and we want it to end. We want to get back to our lives. But that doesn’t mean we don’t stand by what we did 16 years ago and the comments we’ve made over the past few days. I do not want anyone to think that we conspired against Julie in any way or that we were untruthful in any way.
My name is out there at this point (and our team photo has been flashed on nearly every network) and that’s why I’ve decided to write this post. On my own blog where I can control the message. To come forward to vouch for what went on, to vouch for my team and for the letter and to say that none of us wants this ugliness on our hands. We want to move on just as we did 16 years ago. We were young, Julie was young, no one was perfect. Mistakes were made and the problem was solved. And while it wasn’t easy for many of us on the team, we worked through it and we persevered. The best part: My teammates and I are still friends (on facebook and in real life). And, above all, we’re proud to have been Lady Vols. My hope now is that we can all move on for the last time.
May 21st, 2013
For us the question wasn’t if we were going to find out the sex of our third, it was when. And how. I know two people who’ve recently had gender reveal showers—they have pink- and blue-themed drinks and snacks and decor and place bets and then there’s a big balloon launch or cake cutting ceremony and the color of said balloons or cake reveals the sex. I think that’s a really cute idea for your first…if you can handle learning that information in front of all your friends and family. I’ve always wanted to find out privately so I have time to process the info (what if one of you were disappointed and it showed?!). With Alex and Nora, the technician at the 20-week sono told us in a very nonchalant way and then we called/texted/emailed our family and friends after the fact. But this time I was up for having a little fun.
Here’s what we did: As I mentioned, I had a chromosome blood test done at 10 weeks that, in addition to other more important things, determined the sex. The doctor wrote it on a piece of paper and stuck it in an envelope. I wasn’t too anxious to open it but everyone else in our families desperately wanted us to. So we came up with a plan. Over Mother’s Day weekend we were down in Florida for a quick family getaway. Nick’s mom met us there for a glorious few days of fun and sun. We hit the ocean, the pool, we played golf, we went to Disney and, most importantly, we got to be with my MIL on Mother’s Day, which I don’t think has happened ever since I’ve known Nick. Her present: The envelope. She cried when we told her what it was and that we wanted her to open it and read it to all of us. We are her only source of grandkids and this is definitely going to be her last so it was extra special. We had a big dinner with the kids and all went around the table taking bets on what it was (Nora’s I-refuse-to-be-wrong response: “I think it’s going to be a girl…OR a boy.”) Then Debbie opened the envelope and gasped and turned the paper around and scrawled in little doctor writing was…
We’re having another girl! After we let it sink in for a few minutes,we called my family who were all at my parents’ for dinner. They put us on speaker and on the count of three Alex and Nora shouted “It’s a girl!” When we first found out we were all kind of shocked. I think deep down I’ve been rooting for a girl all along but after writing my list of reasons I wanted a boy versus a girl, I was starting to like the idea of a boy (i.e. that they are way easier than girls). And Nick and Alex, because they are boys among other reasons, were thinking it would definitely be a boy. I honestly don’t think anyone expected to see girl on that paper although in retrospect, it makes perfect sense (I’ve felt much more icky belly with this pregnancy than with Alex and I also look like crap and don’t they say girls steal your beauty?). We are all thrilled, of course, (and would have been either way), and I think the family dynamic is going to be awesome. Mostly, I am pumped for one reason: My daughters will have a sister. And, as I’ve said, there’s nothing better (yes, I’m biased). So now I have to give away Alex’s old clothes which will free up some storage space and start taking better care of Nora’s clothes and brace myself for more pink (ack!) and, perhaps, take a class in doing hair. At the very least I need to learn how to French braid. I have till November. Stay tuned!
P.S.: As you may have heard, Parenting magazine and parenting.com were bought by another publishing company and the magazine—where I’ve had a writing contract for years—has been closed. The July issue will be the last. Still no word on the fate of parenting.com or Mom Without a Filter so please check back here often for updates. I promise to keep you posted!
May 14th, 2013
By now you’ve probably heard about the op ed Angelina Jolie wrote for The New York Times about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy (if you haven’t, take a second to check it out now). I read it this morning over coffee and I cried through most of it. As a cancer patient and a mother and a daughter and an advocate for cancer research and prevention, it touched me on so many levels. I think any mom has those moments when she fears she won’t be there to see her children grow up but when you have cancer—or you’ve lost a parent to cancer, as Angelina did—that fear is much more palpable. I literally can’t even type the words without crying. Of course I’m currently off my life-saving cancer medication and 14-weeks pregnant with my third child, so all of the maternal worries and what-ifs are definitely on the front burner. I’d be lying if I said my mind didn’t drift to those dark places lately where I picture saying the impossible goodbyes and Nick raising our three children on his own. We’ve even had the super-fun conversations where I insist that after a respectable period of mourning, he remarry (so long as she doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie). Over the past 11 years, I’ve had countless bone marrow biopsies and blood tests and each time I wait for the results, even though deep down I know I’m fine, I wonder if this will be the time my luck runs out. You better believe if there were some way to (literally) cut that risk down to nearly nothing, I would do it.
We’re constantly reading about what Angelina Jolie does for the international community but I love that she’s brought her do-gooder abilities stateside to help the millions of women affected—and potentially affected—by these cancers. She could have very easily kept her very personal decision private but she didn’t and that, to me, is worthy of all the praise she’s getting today.
“I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action,” she wrote in the op ed.
Giuliana Rancic, Christina Applegate and Sheryl Crow are some of the many celeb moms who’ve gone public with their breast cancer battles, which is awesome, but this is different because Angelina doesn’t have cancer…yet. She was in a position to prevent it and she chose to do so. And by writing about it in such a personal way (I love that she shared her kids’ heartbreaking concern and the fact that they talk about “Mommy’s mommy” and that Brad Pitt was by her side for all the surgeries), she showed other women that they can choose it, too. As mothers, we owe it to our children to do whatever we can to be here for them as long as possible. Taking care of ourselves is the best gift we can give our families. You know how I feel about the importance of maintaining mom mental health (date nights, kid-free time with friends, wine) and the same goes for our physical wellbeing. We need to go to the doctor, to get regular check ups, to follow up on any weird hunches, to get rest, eat well, exercise and, if we can, take whatever measures possible to cut our cancer risks. Because I can tell you, being a mom and having cancer is not a good combination. (Read all about that in my momvivor piece.)
Very recently one of my best friend’s mothers (who I was also very close with) lost her long battle with breast cancer and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t think of both of them and feel extreme sadness. They don’t have the breast cancer gene but I know if they did, my friend—a mother of three—would have already had the surgery. Not that it’s an easy decision or an easy procedure, but if you could do something about your risk, wouldn’t you? I’ve written many breast cancer stories over the years and I’ve had the privelege of getting to know many wonderful advocates and survivors. One of the hands-down coolest: Lindsay Avner, who started Bright Pink, an organization devoted to helping women assess breast and ovarian cancer risk and take preventative measures (Guiliana Rancic is a huge supporter). Lindsay has a ton of family history (her grandmother and great grandmother died young of breast cancer within a week of each other) and at 22, Lindsay tested positive for the same genetic mutation Angelina carries, increasing her lifetime risk of breast cancer to up to 87% and ovarian cancer up to 54%. Can you even imagine? At 23 she became the youngest person in the country at the time to opt for a preventive double mastectomy. And since then she and her organization have helped hundreds of thousands of women do the same. Many of them mothers. “What is so special about a mom like Angelina Jolie’s decision to take any sort of preventive action, whether that is surgery, surveillance, or a change in lifestyle factors, is not only what she is doing for herself but also the example she is setting for her children, for the future generation,” says Lindsay. “It’s a message of strength and courage. And we all know that actions speak louder than words.” Bright Pink is an awesome resource and you can use their Assess Your Risk tool for both breast and ovarian cancers. First gather your family’s health history on both your mom and your dad’s side (“don’t forget your dad’s side,” says Lindsay, “these cancers manifest more often in women, but the males can still carry the genetic mutation, and we get 50% of our genes from mom and 50% from dad”). This information will then inform your answers on the Assess Your Risk tool, which combines that health history with lifestyle factors and provides an analysis you can save, email, and print out to bring to your doctor’s office to start working with them to create the best risk reduction plan for you. Easy, right?
Say what you will about Angelina Jolie (full disclosure: I have), but what she has done by simply sharing her experience is a HUGE gift to women everywhere. Sharing your cancer story—whether you’re an Oscar winner or just a regular writer/mom/person like me—helps people, period. It helps them cope, it helps them feel less alone, it helps educate and inform them. I hear from CML patients and survivors all the time about how comforting it was for them to find my book or my blog or my Glamour magazine column when they were diagnosed. I can’t tell you how that propels me and keeps me doing what I do (raising funds, speaking with patients, oversharing). And I’m just me. The fact that A-list, mega-star, international-goddess, mom-to-six Angelina Jolie wrote about this experience in such a big public way rocks. She will save lives. She will save mothers. She will save families. And so can you. Take a look at the piece and share with the women in your life.