Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kid Fears: A Survivor's Story

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I never thought "I'm going to die"... I moaned "oh, this is gonna suck". And then I thought "well, at least I'll finally get my perky B's".

Maybe it was this kind of positive attitude that kept me going... and going... and going... to doctors, to labs, to surgeons, to "drip trips"(chemo), through scientific tunnels of treatment... I watched a whole season of Reno 911! on my ipod in waiting rooms, I pointed out spelling and grammatical errors on signage to hospital staff while on gurneys, and I pushed my morphine button like a contestant on Jeapordy in my hospital bed... and when the tube came loose and a puddle of morphine formed on the floor, you better believe I let them know damn well I wasn't going to pay for it.

Three years later, I still tear up thinking about those months, but I don't cry for myself. Sure, I recall painful moments and I feel my still healing muscles tense up, but I'm sadder when I think about all the people who aren't here three years later.

I am very vocal about early detection. I was 39 and it was my first mammogram.

I am on the board of directors for the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes (formerly the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance), and I have become a sort of touchstone in our community. I have been interviewed for numerous articles, I have been a guest celebrity judge for Cayuga Radio Group's "Ithaca Idol" at the Tompkins County Relay for Life... twice... and I had the honor of being the keynote speaker for the Relay for Life Kick Off Dinner... which happened to fall on my birthday.

For that presentation/speech, I decided to make a film about my experience at the Young Survival Coalition's annual conference. It is semi-autobiographical, but I was incredibly inspired the most amazing people I have met... young survivors.

Please watch this film, "Kid Fears: A Survivor's Story"... note that music does come in about 30 seconds in... and pass it on...

Thank you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nipples or No Nipples....

Technically speaking, can I be considered "topless" if I don't have nipples? Not that I ever would... it's just a thought.

After my reconstruction, I decided to forgo the nipples. I just couldn't deal with the thought of another surgery... and more tape and more gauze and more creams and ointments. And I'm used to them now. Just round, flesh bumps with some visible rippling from the saline pack... and without nipples. I'm like a lumpy Barbie Doll... ok, maybe not.

The funny thing is that after a while EVERYTHING starts to look like nipples! My dad once ordered two linzer tarts and I almost peed my pants when I saw them on the plate... two flat, powered boobs with raspberry jelly nipples. And it didn't stop there. Any ceiling light section in a giant homegoods store resembles an overhead, frosted glass boob catalog... the dogs' "kongs" drying in the dish rack look like enormous red, rubber nipples... pretty much anything round and displayed in pairs looks like boobs now.

One night at dinner, soon after my implants were complete, my dad and my husband had a debate over whether or not I should get nipples. I found it humorous that I was not actually invited to join the conversation. My dad insisted I get them because it would "complete" the process, while my husband understood the stress the surgeries were causing me. I finally said, "They're my tits, and I'll decide how to decorate them!" And that was the end of that.

So nipples or no nipples?

I'd rather have linzer tarts!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daddy's Little Girl

This is a tribute to my father, Richard Winston. I read this at his memorial service:

"The last time I spoke about my dad in front of people was 30 years ago… for a third grade assembly at Birch Wathen School. With our classmates’ parents in attendance, we each gave a presentation about the person we admired most. I spoke about my dad. I got his birthday wrong. I bragged that he used to play for the olden day Yankees. And even then, my illustration had his hairline starting three quarters back from his forehead. At the end of my speech, I introduced him to the audience, and he stood up from his fifth row folding chair… and everyone clapped… it was a moment of shared pride that I will never forget.

This… is another testament to my father’s character… his charisma… his life.

And this is just some of what I would like to add today about the person I admired most.

My dad was handsome. He was funny, and he was kind. He was also forgivably consistent.

Like how he called every woman “cookie pie” with such charm that they forgave him for not remembering their names. Eventually they realized they were all cookie pie… or, um, we were all cookie pie. My dad lived on one big Pepperidge Farm!

And how he was always tidying, straightening, futzing… I can’t remember him ever walking by a picture frame he didn’t straighten, or a television antenna he didn’t adjust. At “work”, his desktop was perfectly organized. The edges of his papers lined up to a micro-meter, and no dust spec had a life span longer than the sweep of his beautifully manicured hand. At “play”, he handled the treasures in his fishing tackle box with the same meticulous care he gave to rare gems and jewels. Lures and bobbers became his diamonds and pearls… his rods and reels, the beautiful bodies they were designed to adorn.

If you ever had the pleasure of watching my dad order a hamburger, you’d have seen his adorably amusing Jackie Mason persona order the bun “let me tall ya, a little buttah on both sides, lightly toasted, if you could”… and then you’d just pray he’d leave a good tip!

Almost every person here has shared smiles with my dad. You may have called him a friend, a colleague, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a golf buddy, a patron, a partner… you may have even called him in cards… but I called him Daddy, and as Daddy’s Little Girl, I can tell you I always called when I was going to be home late! Collect.

My dad was a pillar of unconditional love.

He didn’t get too mad when I once mistakenly pilfered his prized Liar’s Poker roll of twenties… just like I hadn’t gotten too mad when I didn’t get that chimpanzee for my 5th birthday.

My dad’s motto was “whatever makes you happy”… Some would say I was spoiled… a silver glitter Ludwig drum set (which didn’t exactly make for nicer neighbors)… Bally table pinball machine… skateboards, bowling balls, ice hockey equipment… a Bloomingdale’s credit card at 12… a brand new Chevy Camaro at 18… an apartment overlooking the Hudson River, so I’d have my own place (and not have to give up my really cool job at Tower Records)… with a furniture budget more than most college tuitions…

He even scored me a sixth row center seat to see The Who perform Tommy at Radio City Music Hall in 1989… my dad just wanted me to be happy.

Come on… spoiled? Let me remind you… I never did get that chimpanzee…

On car rides with our family, my sister and I could pick the music…hell we could even drive the car… at 5 years old… sitting on his lap… and well… that nice police officer could tell you the rest... My dad is also solely responsible for my appreciation of the most important automobile feature of all… the princess seat! You know it as a center armrest… imagine my joy when we eventually got a car with a princess seat in the back! For my sister.

My dad could make boo-boos go away with a kiss… really… but he knew that colds and flu’s required FAO Schwartz. He smartly realized that the only cure for my summer camp homesickness was to just bring me home…midsummer. He told me later that he did it because missed me just as much.

He recognized the symptoms of meningitis as more than just an “I don’t want to go to school today” headache… and when I had to call him this past June with my diagnosis of breast cancer, he reacted with a cool calm collected “well, you’re not going to go to any Podunk surgeon”, like Ithaca doctors only treated farm animals… so he and Susan mapped out a course of action that demanded nothing less than the best in the world for his baby girl. That “best” is here today as well with his family.

In retrospect, my diagnosis was an unlikely gift… it gave me a frequency of quality time with my daddy… more in the last 8 months than we had shared in the last 8 years. I saw the bond between him and my husband, Chris, solidify… in hospital waiting rooms, in midtown cafes, at the rooftop bar of the Peninsula Hotel… and through weekly phone calls when they’d just “check in” with each other. How many little girls can actually say that their dads approved of their husbands 110%? I know that my dad not only approved, but was satisfied I had married someone so much like himself… oh no, I married my dad? How did I get so lucky?

So here I stand, 30 years later, speaking again about the person I admired most...
A devoted father, a loving husband, a gentle caring soul… he was a friend to everyone who knew him… and if he were here today, he would stand up shyly, give a little wave, blow me a kiss… sit back down in his fifth row folding chair… knowing how proud I am to have him as my dad."

In memory of

Richard Alan Winston
June 12, 1927 - March 15, 2006

Monday, July 21, 2008

Baseball Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend

Diamonds... considering our great uncle was "The King of Diamonds" (not sure if I can even use his name anymore because it's actually been copyrighted), it is ironic that my sister, Lisa, chose a career that celebrates the diamond, the baseball diamond.

Red Sox fans may recognize the guys in the photo (Terry Francona and Brad Mills) , but to me that Spring night in the late 90's in Clearwater, they were just my sister's friends buying us my birthday dinner. My sister was covering the minor leagues for Baseball Weekly and I got to tag along for a few days.. a very cool few days! Who knew they would go on to win multiple World Series? Well, actually, my sister probably did... she knows EVERYTHING about baseball. Her blog is her current project (although it takes away from our Scrabulous tournaments), and I only WISH I could blog like that!

Bottom line: my sister is THE queen of minor league baseball. She's been doing it since before some of the players she covers were born!

And this is my "tribublog" to her. My big sister rocks!

Now go check out her blog!

Friday, July 18, 2008


I have a jiggy "i" on my keyboard and it's making me nuts.

The problem began when my dog's paw skimmed my keyboard and jarred off the i key. For a long time, I just figured out how to type an i by using just bit more pressure not unlike trying to learn an A# to the F3rd or something in piano lessons.

Then a friend fixed my keyboard so that I at least had an i, but it was really sensitive, and I found words spelled with one i now had little picket fences of iiiiiiiiiii's.

If it were almost any other letter, it would not cause a problem. But the i happens to hover right under the middle finger on my right hand...and I have a Thinkpad with a toggle, not a fingertip pad (those pads will make orthopedic surgeons millions... those and flip flops...), so the iiiiiiiiii's appear as peripheral movement... and often cause more than just a few typois... (left for effect) ...I often end up at strange websites, and my password almost ALWAYS has to be re-entered.

I began to just rely on the red dotted line signaling "oops" under the misspelled word.

It is wreaking serious havoc on my need to be as rhythmically grammatic as possible in my prose. These i's are horrid little speed bumps, sticking to an alibi of a "green lighted" word according to spellcheck (which I am now adding to my dictionary as a word!).

(Anyone have the time and energy to help me fix the problem once and for all? For free?)

I also want to rid the world of the misused apostrophe... maybe I'll start a Facebook group...

In the meantime, please enjoy the photos on this page of images from around Ithaca while I ponder my next rambling:

Just kidding. the last one's from Vegas.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


There are three anniversaries that many cancer survivors observe.

The first is the day of diagnosis. For me, that will always be the day after father's day. It doesn't even need a numerical date.

The second is the day of surgical operation, the bodily invasion. For me, it was a double mastectomy on July 18, 2005. In many ways it is a birthday, or a re-birthday, not an anniversary - because the first thing I saw when I woke up was my father and my husband at the foot of my bed, smiling the smiles of those who just got a thumbs up from a surgeon.

I often think of that moment and of my dad's jubilantly anxious grin, and I believe it was the exact same one he wore the day he heard "it's a girl" on March 28, 1966. My birthday. On July 12, 2005, I was reborn into my father's waiting arms.

The third is the day the "all clear" sirens sound and the non-stop needles and dread subside for a while. For me, that day was October 6, 2005, my sister's 46th birthday. Our mother died when she was 46, and so my sister was about to surpass my mother's lifespan - and I would resume catching up.

Five months later, my dad passed away from complications from a fairly routine surgery. It had something to do with his heart. Maybe it was too big, or too full. As daddy's little girl, I owned the twinkle in his eyes. I was his little star - maybe too often a comet - but his heart was the one thing I never wanted to break.

I was at his bedside when that heart beat for the last time. I know he knew I was there - that my hair was growing back a curly silvery gray, that my husband would take over responsibility for taking care of me, and that I was totally healthy - his healthy, baby girl - with arms waiting to hug him one last time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why I love NASCAR

Two words: Bobby Labonte.

Not since Roger Daltrey's face graced my 1970's TV screen as the adult Tommy in "Tommy have I been so overcome with... well..... dduuuuhhhhuuuyyyyy is kinda the only way to describe it.
I cannot believe I am 42 years old and I have a teenybopper-type crush on Bobby Labonte!

Here is how I became a NASCAR fan:

My husband and I are at our favorite second home, the Woodland Roadhouse, eating at the bar as usual, when I glance up at the TV and catch a glimpse of probably the most beautiful man I have ever seen.

Yes, I have used that phrase before - many, many, many manymannnnymny times before - but this... this was different. Bobby Labonte has the dreamy grin of Mel Gibson and the quiet charisma of George Clooney. I was sooooo smitten!

I made a mental note to Google NASCAR and Cheerios when I got home, and I immediately put up all sensory antennae. I was able to discern that a Daytona race was experiencing a rain delay. I watched #43 interact with the sportscaster and fell HARD. I had no idea race car drivers could be so damned handsome.

I did Google him. Bobby Labonte. Early 40's. 2000 Winston Cup champion. And he drove the Susan B. Komen pink Race for the Cure car too. I should note here (as I will elsewhere) that I am a breast cancer survivor and embrace causes for a cure. Especially when driven by (IMHO) the hottest man to ever wear a team uniform.

Thanks to Liz Allison, author of "A Girl's Guide to NASCAR", I learned a lot more about NASCAR. I can't get enough of it! I have actually become addicted to NASCAR.

I sometimes compare it to Dead Tour (only I don't go to the tracks)... like a jam band, race car drivers play a team sport. Every track is a different venue with a different set list, and each member has a slew of "behind the scenes" supporters who aid in the final production. The fans may wear a lot less tie-dye, but the energy is the same. Fans have a Driver (or team), as opposed to a favorite song, and while I know Bobby Labonte may not get to Victory Circle without a wreck involving the 19 cars ahead of him, I am happy just to see the bright 43 speed across my TV screen.

I'll still go on occasional jam band tours, but I'll be sure to pack my Bobby Labonte baseball cap!

Podunk Road

My driver's license still says it... 6098 Podunk Road, Trumansburg, NY.

It's in one of those neighborhoods where the address numbers are bigger than the homes, and where really big people drive really little cars, as opposed to my hometown of Manhattan, where quite the inverse is true.

Our quiet little hamlet of Podunk Heights - the region that begins at one edge of our property and ends at the other - became more like a stretch on the Podunk Parkway. We could here the thumping bass of the pizza delivery car from miles away, and our neighbor put such bright mercury vapor lights over his garage, we felt like we were living next to a gas station. Haven't people ever heard of timers?

So my husband, Chris, and I made the decision to make the move to my brother-in-law's newly acquired land and renovate an old farmhouse that happened to come with it. We are still in Trumansburg, but now we're in Seneca County - you can almost smell the comb-over hair oil as you cross over the county line. Trumansburg is full of Democrats - and there are a few Jews - but not the Seneca County edge.

Hence, I retain the title of Podunk Princess.

Our new home is incorporated as Porcupine Farm, and my husband proudly painted a handcut stenciled, spray-painted porcupine on our mailbox.

The farm is about 70 acres of fields, woods, and ponds. We (okay, he) planted a winter's worth of vegetables, I drive a tractor, and the only vehicles that travel on our road are either the people that live on it or the farm equipment operated by the next generation of local landowners.

On any given day, depending on the weather, I have my choice of what to weed, what to water, and what I can pretend I didn't see get eaten by wildlife.

And we have a lot of wildlife. Aside from raccoons, skunks, deer, rabbits, and other expected woodland creatures, we have coyotes, foxes, and even the occasional black angus cattle (or whatever those big black cows with tagged ears are called) whose successful escape from the neighbor's cattle farm means our dogs have something new, fresh and stinky to roll in. More about the dogs later, but needless to say, having a white dog makes it really easy to detect where the vile smells are coming from.

We have bugs. Lots of bugs. Crawling bugs, flying bugs, meat-eating bugs, dead bugs... ironically, it's the ladybug I have come to despise. Every Spring we get invaded...inside the house. They cluster by the thousands around the windows, and somehow manage to work their way into every aspect of life. They migrate in pocketbooks, they travel in luggage, they drop dead off the ceiling onto laptops. One night my husband and I went to dinner and we noticed a ladybug on his baseball hat. It spent the whole evening on his cap, and when we got home, Chris let it loose in the garden. The only thing I can do is wait for them to all die and then vacuum them up. If anyone knows a better way, please let me know!

We also have well water, which to me translates into "Well, we have water...". At least it's not sulfur water like on Podunk. There is no graceful way to welcome guests into a home that has sulfur water.

We do not have cable - but we do have one of those giant wok-like satellite dishes affixed to the side of the house. All the better to watch NASCAR with. Bobby Labonte is the dreamiest man in sports.

Oh... gotta go! Green flag at Chicagoland Speedway!