I was seven, so she was eight, when things really kicked into gear. Living three houses down from each other up on Shelter Rock Hill in Danbury, CT since birth we had certainly met previously around the block, but when you’re a kid school is what cements a friendship.

In 1985 I was acing the second grade so hard my teacher, Mrs. Holmes, pulled my mom and dad into a parent/teacher conference and suggested I be skipped ahead to third grade. It’s all gone down hill in the years since, but in that life moment I had figured out the key to elementary education: if you practice chapter 2 during class you’re going to get assigned the worksheet at the end of chapter 2 for homework that night.

To my little seven year-old brain, school was a massive waste of creativity and energy, and homework even more so. What right did Shelter Rock Elementary have to impose on my free time? Non-school hours were meant for daydreaming in the backyard and going to tap class, not homework. So while the teacher taught chapter 2, I filled out the worksheet at the end of chapter 2.

It all seemed pretty logical to me. And as it turns out, in the second grade, the ability to grasp logic pretty much makes you a genius.

A grade year is like forever so in October when I moved up to third I needed the older neighborhood kids to embrace me. You just can’t really be friends with a second grader after you’ve become a third grader. It’s bad taste. I was moving up in the world and those little idiots wouldn’t understand.

I lucked out with Mrs. Shearer but Ericka got stuck with mean old Mrs. Hannstein. She needed all the support she could get. We were there for each other and just like that [**poof**] a friendship was born.

It’s crazy to think about how fickle life can be, but if I hadn’t been moved ahead we may have never become good friends. We wouldn’t have been in Mr. Weber’s 4th grade class together. We wouldn’t have laughed our asses off in the pop-up camper in my driveway all night making fun of Mr. Center and Mr. Arbitel the summer after 5th grade. We wouldn’t have experienced taking the bus to Broadview Junior High together. We wouldn’t have senior prom and Peer Leadership retreats and who knows what else.

Studies show childhood friendships rarely last into adulthood yet here we are. Thirty years have passed since Mrs. Holmes’ fateful decision brought us together. Thirty years of togetherness, separation, marriage, divorce, kids, college, careers, travel. Thirty years of friendship that we’ve refused to give up on.

I laugh about it but skipping the second grade has actually meant a lot to me in my life for many reasons. Only now am I realizing this life moment is one of them.

Surgery is in two days. Please pause for a minute, think a good happy thought, put E in your prayers and radiate as much LOVE out into the world as you possibly can!

4th grade

WE NEED YOUR HELP TO REACH OUR GOAL! PLEASE CLICK HERE AND DONATE TO CYCLE MY HEART OUT TODAY. EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS!!

 

 

 

 

It’s been a while since I’ve added to my file of Things I Find Awesome and Wendy Leahy Mitchell of #MyLeftBoob fits the bill quite perfectly.

We met her last night at Molten Java in Bethel, CT and it was one of those introductions that could have easily gone on all night. Three hours just wasn’t enough – we closed the place and would have stayed for more if we could have.

On the one hand it was simply glorious to see Eri-ska’s eyes light up every time she and Wendy recognized, empathized and cheered each other on through very similar stories of their journey so far. On the other it was incredible for me to soak in the light of such a powerful force.

It’s always the women in the thick of it who are able to emanate their strength and remind the rest of us to snap out of our own shit. Wendy & Ericka make a pretty fierce combo.

Wendy is chronicling her experience with Triple Negative Metaplastic Carcinoma, an incredibly rare cancer discovered in 2000 which only occurs in 1% of women with breast cancer. She is beyond brave in the face of intense adversity and I’m so honored to call her a new friend.

Check her out! She’s doing some great stuff and staying truly positive and inspirational over at WendiPoprock’s Wild Ride.

 

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My Nissan is parked at the unmarked northwest entrance of Tarrywile Park. The rains have finally come. They had been threatening for days, maybe a week.

I’m at that point where I’ve been away from home for so long I feel desperate for the familiar routine of a normal evening. All I want is to sleep in my own bed. But I don’t have a bed. I don’t have a home even though I’m kind of home-ish.

Driver’s seat pushed all the way back, Thai take-out on my lap and a Snapple iced tea in the cup holder for good measure. I’m doing the grown up version of a thing I did often as a kid. But rather than sit alone in my mother’s dark red Saturn, it’s me and the dogs in my dark red Rogue.

The sky is yellow and gray, the grass still bright green. A fire engine red tractor sits in the distance. Rain thunders onto the hood, the roof, streaming down the windshield. I’m motionless, staring out at the field, my favorite field, quietly letting everything pass through and out.

Tarrywile

 

When I was a teenager I would scream and pound my fists on the steering wheel. Back then the world didn’t make sense. I hadn’t learned how to process it yet, couldn’t slow down enough to see what was going to happen. The anger and frustration needed to be released out through some sort of valve and sitting by this field in the pitch black of night after theatre rehearsal always did it.

It’s different now. Perspective changes as we grow.

Our visit to the surgical oncologist last week didn’t bother me. She was compassionate enough but mostly tough and confident to a degree that kept her within the bounds of a very business-like demeanor. The MRI and ultrasound showed almost no remaining detectable cancer (excellent news) but she was still strongly recommending the full double mastectomy over the simpler single breast lumpectomy.

Eri’s young age almost guarantees a nasty aggressive cancer with a high rate of recurrence. With Invasive Ductal Carcinoma the younger you are, the harder it is to beat. Complete removal of breast tissue is always the recommendation because one single cell accidentally left behind on the margin would reproduce itself and she’d be back at square one in no time.

The oncologist spoke with straightforward brevity. Even though the news was tough to swallow, it was all manageable.

But today with the plastic surgeon details were spelled out to such a specific and personal degree it all became very heavy. The plastic surgeon is softer. Professional and trustworthy but more sympathetic. She doesn’t talk about killing the bad evil cancer; she talks about artistically fixing your outsides to make you feel and look human again.

We went in with a long list of questions and came out in a mild state of shock. There’s no more hiding behind the hope that this might be simple and easy.

In a nutshell Ericka’s looking down the barrel of a four-hour surgery (provided there are no complications) followed by two days in the hospital. She’ll have two incisions, drains on each side, and 7-10 daily visits by a home nurse to change bandages. Four to six weeks of basic recovery will lead into six months of weekly doctor’s office visits to gradually inflate the implantation spacers. Radiation starts after the spacers are fully inflated and only after five weeks of basically being burned alive on a daily basis, will she be able to have her second surgery to remove the spacers and insert the actual silicone implants.

It will be a year before this is over.

So I’m crying a lot. A double lot. Eri has a full-time job, lives in a house with seven (sometimes nine) people and four cats, and shares a bedroom with her two youngest kids. Eri doesn’t have time to cry and even if she did she wouldn’t have the space to cry and even if she did she still would not cry.

But I get to cry whenever the hell I want and this is when I want. The field at Tarrywile can take it. It endured all my loud angry rage when I was a teenager and now it will embrace my quiet fear and restlessness.

I rub my eyes until they hurt hoping with enough pressure I can tourniquet the tears but they just keep coming. The level of pure suck on this is so colossally high.

 

CYCLE MY HEART OUT

 

Remember when I promised only to pay attention and remain open to whatever comes my way? I really meant that and I hope you can bear with me on this.

After much careful thought I’ve decided to make a big change to my fundraising ride. I could list a number of valid points regarding logistics, finances, weather patterns, closed campgrounds, my mother’s sanity and much more.

But in the end it comes down to two things:

#1 – I’ve been gone for a long time and no matter how successful E’s surgery is next month and how quick her recovery, there is no way I’m going to be ready to ride 2,000 miles away from her on October 1st.

#2 – New England states (especially CT, MA & NH) have some of the highest rates of breast cancer in the country and no one seems to be asking why. I think there is much to be gained in streamlining the focus of this effort, staying local and giving back to my home. Any New Englander knows if you’re from one of these states, you’re from all of them. We’re a tribe.

So with that said, here is the new plan:

Cycle My Heart Out – New England

2,100 miles over the course of 30 days (as initially planned) but now in the form of 21 centuries (100 mile rides) criss-crossing over very corner of New England. (For those just tuning in, I was originally planning to ride from CT –> CO.)

Questions? Concerns? Fear not, there is much more info to come and I promise to be very thorough. MUCH LOVE and thanks for all the support we’ve already received and everything still to come!

If you live in or near New England and ride a bike please plan to join me on one of my rides. I’m already mapping and planning – and I can use all the suggestions you have!

And don’t forget to click here and donate to Cycle My Heart Out today!

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The numbness in Eri’s hands is technically called Chemotherapy-Induced-Peripheral-Neuropathy (CIPN). Far from the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS) is tasked with connecting our limbs to our organs and keeping communication flowing between our brain and extremities.

Chemotherapy, like a clueless idiot boyfriend, constantly gets in the way of all that beautiful communication. Unfortunately the PNS is not protected by bone (like the CNS), which leaves it much more exposed and susceptible to toxins. And chemotherapy is nothing if not toxic! Hence the neuropathy: pain, burning, tingling and numbness caused by damage to the nerves away from the brain and spinal cord.

There is no such thing as textbook cancer. Sometimes these symptoms are temporary and sometimes they become permanent. Hers have gotten progressively worse which inclined Dr. Mike, her medical oncologist, to explain the following. There is little research that shows an 8th chemotherapy treatment (4th specifically with Taxol) will make a significant change in the size of a tumor. However there is quite a lot of research that shows it will turn a temporary symptom into a lifelong permanent one. The decision was up to her.

Permanent peripheral neuropathy at age thirty-eight? Thanks, but no.

We still had to go to her appointment so she could officially refuse her last treatment. It didn’t seem like the appropriate setting to pop open a bottle of champagne like I had hoped (plus it was eight o’clock in the morning) so we just said goodbye to the incredible oncology nursing staff at the Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital and made our way to Waterbury for her next MRI.

[Here’s what I have to say about breast cancer MRIs: WHAT THE LIVING FUCK IS THAT ALL ABOUT?!! That is some audio torture-like bullshit! How can we have such advanced levels of technology that can see through our skin and bones, reading the densest tissue in our bodies but we can’t put noise dampeners on that coffin-like hell hole of a machine? And let’s not even get into the position she had to lay in – face down with her arms above her head, gown open, hooked up to a contrast dye IV with radio waves pulsing up from below. Talk about fear inducing psychological warfare. Forget about water boarding. You want someone to talk? Give them a daily MRI.

Forgive my rant. It’s crippling to not be able to protect someone you love from things that are awful and I just really needed to get that off my chest. I could go on for days about the dreadful reality that is a breast cancer MRI, but life is for the living and E’s not one to bitch and moan like the incessant child I am half the time. For her sake I shall move on…]

I held onto her pinky finger for what felt like forever and at long last the radiology nurses rolled her out. I removed her earplugs as they took out her IV and ultimately she got through it, because that’s what you do.

Two days later, blessed with a few hours away from her gorgeous wonderful perfectly awesome children, we got on a boat. My mom traded off the helm with Eri’s seventeen year old nephew and we set sail on Long Island Sound with her sister and brother-in-law. We popped the cork on that bottle of champagne (sparkling Clementine soda for the teenager) and toasted our rock star’s fortitude. You might think she probably looked exhausted or worn out, dragged down from the physical, mental and emotional intensity of her last few months.

But you’d be wrong. Ever thankful for being alive, she looked like this:

 

E on LIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here and donate to Cycle My Heart Out today!

Ericka decided very quickly where she wants to donate half the money raised: Ann’s Place in Danbury, a non-profit that offers free services to cancer patients and their families and caretakers. Reiki, yoga, support groups, family days, activities for children and cooking and art classes are just a few of the ways they offer support to anyone at any stage of their cancer journey.

Ann’s Place was started in honor of Ann Olsen who was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-80’s and passed shortly after. Her dream of helping others cope with the insanity that is a journey through cancer has been kept alive by her husband who started the fund and the growing devoted staff of this incredible facility.

According to their website Ann “faced cancer with a degree of courage, dignity and humor that truly inspired others.” It’s no wonder E feels so drawn to them. She’s doing the exact same thing, carrying the torch of bravery just as Ann did.

Please check them out, stop by and say hello if you’re in the area and DONATE TO CYCLE MY HEART OUT today so we can help keep them going strong.

Here’s me and the President & CEO of Ann’s Place, Anthony Zeolla, at the Amber Room Run From the Sun 5K last night out at Candlewood Lake which raised over $19,000 for Ann’s Place!

Ann's Place 5K

#AnnsPlace

#CycleMyHeartOut

She was fourteen, so I was thirteen, when she showed up at the bus stop with a pixie cut. My jaw dropped as she regaled us with her tale of defiance, locking herself in the upstairs bathroom and taking a pair of kitchen shears to her long flowy brown hair. She chopped the back, chopped the sides, mangled the bangs.

When she emerged from her cocoon, alas, she was no butterfly. She had destroyed her gorgeous locks to such a degree the only thing she could do was go back in and even them out with the shortest bits, barely an inch long.

I was still living in the zone of docile compliance. My true rebellion wouldn’t kick in for another year or two, but E was born a hellion. I remember her finger waving in the air when I asked what her mom thought about it. She answered like a true teenaged snot.

“My mother had nothing to do with this, Jen. This was my decision.” Fourteen year old code for I haven’t told her yet. Why the heck do you think I’m wearing this hoodie?! And don’t you dare say anything or I’ll kill you!

And I don’t know if you know her mom but she was not the kind of mom you messed with.

I couldn’t believe she would cut her hair. She loved her hair. She had that subconscious habit of incessantly twirling and releasing it. I would watch her for hours over night-long kitchen table discussions of the ins and outs of teenaged life, desperate to learn her twisting technique.

But no more. It was gone.

Lucky for her she has one of those Madonna/Johnny Depp faces. You know the kind that looks flawless no matter what ‘do she’s rockin’. She rocked that pixie in the 9th grade. She had the face and the attitude to pull it off.

So here we are at the kitchen table twenty-four years later wondering what the hell kind of alternate universe we’ve dropped into; one where I’m relentlessly twirling my long flowy blonde hair and she’s wiping sweat from her bald head.

“Sweat?” you ask with confusion in your tone. “But I thought last night was a cool 70 degrees in the breezy backwoods of Connecticut.” Ah yes it was but here’s the fucked up thing… Taxol, her 2nd chemo drug, often brings on signs of early menopause like hot flashes.

Yah suck on that – menopause at thirty-eight on top of all the other bullshit.

We delved and dove into the oddities of the cancer life. I asked if she wanted to twirl my hair for old time’s sake and her answer held no buried emotion, just the honesty of “No, I wouldn’t be able to feel it. I still have no sensation in my hands.”

The numbness she acquired three Thursdays ago has yet to subside, so I pulled and twisted and released my hair in honor of her, an ode to her, to the habit she taught me that I cling to like a warm familiar baby blanket. And I don’t know if she was aware, but in between sweat swipes she kept running her finger in a tiny circle just above her temple. Old habits die hard. No worries though, she’s totally rockin’ bald with even more chutzpah than she had at fourteen.

She’s still got the face, and the attitude has morphed into true courage radiating nothing but confidence.

 

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Please click here to support Cycle My Heart Out

 

#CycleMyHeartOut

 

A lot of people have been asking me what’s next what’s next what’s next? And they keep expecting me to reply with a new form of employment. I appreciate it. For two decades now I’ve acted like a poster girl for single women with a strong work ethic and high-level organizational skills. There has always been a job, an exciting prospect for climbing a new ladder, making more money, taking on responsibility.

This time around I’m gonna try things a little different. So the thing is, there is no job.

This is the plan as far as I’ve laid it out: 1) Get home in time to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne at E-ska’s last chemotherapy treatment  2) Learn more about breast cancer, mastectomies and reconstruction surgeries than I ever hoped to know  3) Train for a bike ride  4) Be there when she goes under the knife, maybe make some sandwiches for the kids  5) Take a bike ride.

This is what’s next:

Cycle My Heart Out

an Epic ride to help End cancer for Everybody (but mostly Ericka)

Won’t you join me?

Cycle My Heart Out 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She and her sister piled the kids into the car and took off south on a road trip. Her most recent set of Facebook photos scrolls something like this:

First up is her, completely bald, in a fluorescent pink cammo baseball hat with a gun in her hand. She is learning how to shoot.

Second she is grinning from ear to ear, proudly displaying her Target Man riddled with bullets. Almost every shot made it straight to his head. We can assume she’s got some acceptable aggression to work out.

Next comes the girls all smiles with Moon Pies and ice cream cones.

Let’s just say family vacations take a forgivably odd turn when you’re facing off with the C-Word.

Two Thursdays ago we celebrated the fact that she had no feeling in her hands. This was a good thing because the alternative is typically a burning sensation so agonizing she wouldn’t want to get out of bed. There are a lot of things that make her want to stay in bed. Headaches, exhaustion, nausea. How the Red Devil makes everything taste like sand. The part about the nurses having to wear protective gear because a single drop will burn through their skin.

I cringe when I think about what this week’s round will bring. Chemo sucks.

It sucks the disease out of you while sucking the life out too. So how do you reconcile the compromise of forcing yourself to the brink of death in order to come out living on the other side?

First of all you don’t sit around in bed thinking about it. You dust yourself off and take road trips. You shoot guns. Maybe check out some tigers. You keep all the balls in the air because it’s just too hard not to.

For 30 years I cursed her stubbornness. It scared me. Now I get to be so grateful for it as I watch it keep her in motion. She can break down later once she’s in the clear. But for now, fuck it. Come hell or high water, she’s gonna keep moving forward.

I love you E-ska. I’ll see you in a week.

For quite some time I’ve been emitting a crystal clear signal of readiness. Pinging like a submarine cruising below the surface of the waves, I’ve been taking all the necessary steps. Moving to the low stress non-profit realm, surgery to ensure I can conceive and carry if the opportunity arises, first time home buyer classes.

Chanting in the formative, the positive; exhaling out the vision of where I want to go: Family, love, home, relationships, commitment, helping others, expanding my heart, taking care of someone (anyone!) other than myself.

I sent out one last ping and the Universe responded. My oldest friend called to confirm her cancer diagnosis. And there it was – everything I’ve been trying to manifest into my life.

“Go home,” said the Bottom of the Ocean.

Not the pretty package of handsome stranger/future husband and a plus sign on an EPT, I’ll give you that. But I know enough to accept whatever gets offered up. The philosophy of Yes/And has done good by me so far. Why stop trusting it now?

And isn’t it just like the Universe to line everything up right when you need it? My contract wraps in two weeks and while I absolutely love the work I’ve been doing, I’m comfortable walking away without any regrets. I did a good job and now it’s done.

So on August 1st I’ll pack the car and drive east. My goal is to return to Colorado and really settle into Boulder in the fall but that is very much a goal and not a plan. I promise only to pay attention and remain open to whatever comes my way.

We still have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow…

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I Can Feel The Love

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