Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My horoscope today

Washington Post:
August 31
TAURUS (April 20-May 20) A choice you are faced with may seem serious - monumental even - but it's not. It's actually as silly as worrying about which side of the bread to butter. Your life will be delicious either way.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Great Game


Chicken Street

We made it to Chicken Street before we left Kabul. Our last live shot was at 4:30 in the morning. It took me until about 6 am to wind down, finish answering e-mails and fall asleep. We'd done it. After the last hit, I was standing on our live shot platform on the roof of the sandbagged house that Fox occupies in Kabul. You can tell it used to be some wealthy Afghan family's house. Now it has the constant hum of an industrial strength generator and an HMI spotlight lighting up the blue tiles of its neighbors' rooves so that we could broadcast back to the U.S. It was still dark but there was what looked like a full moon. You could see the tops of the mountains that ring Kabul and give it that just out of National Geographic feel. As we stepped up one last time to go live, the muezzin had broken the night's silence just before dawn - early enough since it was Ramadan so that anyone who wanted one last meal before sunrise would have time.

My wingman and producer Justin Fishel came out to the roof delirious from not having slept in 20 hours. He was trying on Conor Powell's local shalwar kameez - the pajama like outfits that men in Afghanistan wear. He looked like a member of the Taliban. We did the hit. I tossed back to Jon Scott and we turned the lights off. The sound of yelping puppies in the courtyard had quietened in the past 24 hours - there always seem to be stray dogs and yelping puppies in war zone capitals. I took a step off of the platform only to be embraced by cameraman Bryan Cole, whose wife Amy is also a breast cancer survivor. He knew what it was for me to stand back up there after the year I'd had. Then photographer Eric Conner emerged from behind the lights and hugged me. His mom is also a survivor. Justin came in for the group hug. We'd done it. We knew we had had a kick ass trip. Colleen Williams and Jacqueline Pham back home had edited two days of knockout pieces. It was overwhelming.

Of course, I was still recovering from the live shot with Shep the day before. Something about the familiarity of his voice, which I hadn't heard coming down a satellite line for nearly a year. So familiar, So empathetic. He and I had been on a similar roof in northern Israel and broadcast live once during a particularly harrowing Katyusha rocket attack. He knew what it meant for me to go back to my stomping grounds. That's when the tears started rolling and didn't stop. Former Vice President of Fox News John Moody had called me 5 years before after I had had a particularly emotional live shot when we were covering the tsunami in Thaliand. Cameraman Mal James, producer Yael Kuriel-Rotem from our Jerusalem bureau and I had not slept in days, had seen more dead bodies bloating in the hot South Asian sun and seen far too many bedraggled tourists looking for dead family members. It was New Year's Eve and the bulletin boards of missing were just too much. We were reading the appeals from family members in search of those who had been drowned by the sudden wave and just as the clock struck midnight and they came to us, I broke down.

Now I know you are not supposed to cry on TV. ("There's no crying in baseball!" - A League of One's Own), But everyone understood and Mal James - war-hardened photographer that he was - was balling behind his camera so I wasn't alone. Moody called a few days later when we were back in Jerusalem to see how I was doing. He said it was one of the most moving live broadcasts he had ever seen and then added with his typical fatherly tough love, "Now don't ever do it again." I laughed and I promised.

Well, I broke that promise as soon as I heard the warm slow Southern cadence of Shep's voice, as soon as he said, "How are you, Jen?" Oh well, what can I say. At least we made it to Chicken Street.

We woke up with very little time before we needed to catch our flight but I was determined to buy a rug. After all, I had never left Kabul before without a duffel bag full of rugs. Our team, including our Afghan gunmen, dashed over to Chicken Street, the Rodeo Drive of Kabul. I still have the grainy black and white photo on my bureau back home that Greg and I had taken on Chicken Street alongside Abdullah, the AP fixer, back in 1994. At that time there were still street photographers with pinhole box cameras operating on the street as though it were the 19th century. That was before the Taliban. Chicken Street looked exactly as it did before. The same lapis lazuli shops and rug merchants and local fur coats that look like they could have been worn by Davy Crockett. Where's PETA? I used to spend every Friday (after the carpet wallahs in Islamabad would return from the mosque) drinking tea and bargaining in their crowded shops for carpets. Justin and I walked into the back alley shop lined with carpets from the ceiling to the floor and they started frantically laying them down. I had forgotten one trick and in my impatience I let the carpet seller know which one I really wanted too soon in the bargaining process. Suddenly, the ones I didn't want were 100 dollars a piece and the one I wanted was 500, even thought there was very little difference in quality. I walked away - across the courtyard to another carpet seller. Justin stayed and bought a very fine rug for 100 dollars and I acted like I was interested in the carpets in the other shop, but I had already seen the one I wasn't leaving Kabul without. It was a mixed carpet/kilim. Unusual. Sublime. Our guards were getting anxious. We needed to keep moving. But I thought of one more trick and went back to the original carpet seller. And acted as though I really wanted a prayer rug that was hanging outside I made him show me all his smaller rugs and dismissively asked how much. 100 dollars a piece. OK - I said I'd take two and then almost as an afterthought said for 350 total he should throw in the first rug - the one I really wanted. He wanted to move product and I had reopened the negotiation in a roundabout way. He acted as though he was going to cry and he said he was losing money (the usual carpet seller sob story). Sold. Before I knew it they were wrapping the carpets up and we were on our way back down Chicken Street. I managed to also buy Greg some lapis lazuli cuff links for his tux. It's his birthday on Wednesday so shh!! He proposed to me after my first trip to Kabul in 1994. It was the night before he was leaving for South Africa to cover the country's first post-apartheid election and I surprised him by getting a ride back to Islamabad with the Red Cross a day early to see him before he left. So to have a carpet and cuff links from Kabul for his 50th birthday is pretty special.

About as special as two days before when Akbar, the Fox stringer who Geraldo first hired back in the Tora Bora days, heard me waxing nostalgic about Kabuli Pulau (the amazing Afghan rice dish with raisins and cashews and saffron and shredded carrots). It's Greg's favorite. Lo and behold the next day Akbar shows up with a pot big enough to feed a small wedding party of Kabuli Pulau. His sister had cooked it for our team - during Ramadan no less - during the day while she was fasting and probably very hungry. It was delicious and so generous that it really made us blush.

The scene at the airport was a bit different than the one on the way in. Leaving Kabul were mostly Western aid workers, with loosely covered scarves over their long blond hair, some traveling with children being raised in Kabul. One blond-haired little girl sat quietly on her car seat - a Western safety precaution that looked a bit out of place in the rough and tumble streets of Kabul. Given the daily risks that her parents were having by living with her there, I think you probably could forget the car seat. Anyway, on the way in it had been a scene right out of central casting at the airport in Dubai. The lounge was filled with one bald, muscle bound security contractor after another. It looked like a casting call for Blackwater, Inc. Now I get the bald thing. being fit and having a bald head I now know how strong and somewhat intimidating that can make one feel, but really it is such a cliche in a war zone - and where do they all get those wraparound sunglasses?

We boarded the Safi Airlines flight back to Dubai. Did a little duty free shopping. The boys stopped for a Happy Meal at the airport McDonald's. (I nearly broke down and had a french fry - afterall, how much worse for me could it have been than sucking the black fumes of the fires set by the anti-narcotic task force as they demonstrated how they captured all sorts of heroin and hashish at their training camp south of Kabul? But I didn't. We boarded the plane and my phone rang. It was my dentist's friend who had just been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Mother of 3. I could tell in her voice she was terrified. She was starting chemo next week and was going to look for wigs on Sunday. On the tarmac in Dubai until it was wheels up, I tried to take myself back to those feelings of fear less than one year ago when I too didn't know what awaited me. I tried to remember what all of the survivors who had coached me through that time had said - what was helpful, what was not. I wanted to empathize but i also wanted to give her the old Vince Lombardi - get back in the game pep talk that helped me psychologically get through. I hope she knows that I totally empathize and know what she is going through. She kept telling me she was frustrated the doctors' wouldn't give her a prognosis. I said they never will and even if they did, don't listen to them because "you are going to survive," I told her. "From one mother who knows, no matter what they say, you are going to survive." I promise.You just have to kick cancer's ass and never look back.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


(On the phone with my mom from Kabul before getting on the Black Hawk.)

Crocodile Tears

John Moody told me during the Tsunami that it was ok when I cried (with cameraman Mal James) on New Year's Eve in Thailand, but he added: "Don't let it happen again." I don't make a habit of crying on television but I must say the tears just started flowing when I heard Shep's voice. So familiar and yet it had been so long. It was such a heartfelt question from a guy who is all empathy: "how are you?" Should have been simple enough to answer: "Fine!" Instead I didn't know where to begin. The whole day had been so emotional from start to finish. Here's the clip in case you missed it. See John, I told you I couldn't make that promise!


But it's only natural, Shep and I bonded during the war with Lebanon. This was video of us on the air while our position was taking fire.


Our interview with General Petraeus


Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Attended a classified Commander's brief this morning at 7:30 am. In a few hours sitdown with General Petraeus (whose local nickname is P4, McChrystal was M4). Part I of our interview will air tonight at 6 pm Eastern on Special Report with Bret Baier. Part II will run tomorrow at the same time. Tomorrow we do a "battlefield" circulation with the General and see Navy Seals training Afghan commandos and attend of shura of Afghan elders. All I want is some Kabuli Pulau (local rice dish), but it's Ramadan so I'll have to wait until Iftar at sunset. I can already taste it. Akbar (our local fixer who you saw me standing next to in the picture at the airport has asked his sister to make some Pulau for our team tonight (Justin Fishel, Eric Conners, and Bryan Cole, who by the way gave up a trip to Martha's Vineyard with the CINC to come with us). Typical Afghan hospitality. Stay tuned!
P.S. This is what General Petraeus is reading these days:

Like riding a bicycle

It's as though I never left. When we landed at Kabul 'International' Airport, my mind immediately rewound back to the first time I flew into Kabul in 1994 or 5 (when we first moved to Islamabad it was too dangerous to fly in - mostly because the old Soviet Antonovs that Ariana Airlines flew were, well, Soviet. But also because the mujahideen - the very ones we had backed to push the Soviets out, had turned their guns on each other and all of Kabul felt like you were waiting for a rocket to land on your head as you dashed around town. it felt like being on a dart board. The airport in those days was strewn with the carcasses of old aging aircraft - most of them split in half from bombing raids or missing wings. Today when we arrived it looked like we were passing by the National Air and Space museum as we taxiied to stop. A bunch of brand spanking new commercial planes and helicopters - the Coalition likes to talk about the Afghan air force but so far they are not really a force to be reckoned with, but they do have some fancy toys - even if they are repainted Soviet choppers.

The airport was remarkably well organized and had none of the tension or chaos that Baghdad's airport had in the bad days at the beginning of the surge, when you were greeted by your AKE personal security detail and handed a flak jacket and kevlar helmet and told to duck all the way to the bureau. Those were harrowing rides. We were met today by the same AKE folks but other than being told to cover my hair, which I did under protest, it was a very peaceful ride. Kabul was bustling. It's Ramadan and the bread, or naan was hanging from the outdoor stalls, in anticipation of breaking the Iftar when the sun set. Well dressed girls were hustling down the streets with brand new school backpacks on - the clearest sign yet that this is not the Taliban era.

We got to our house in Wazir Akbar Khan, the same neighborhood where Greg and I spent our honeymoon in 1994 at the AP house. It is the same neighborhood where the Kite Runner was set - and it too hadn't changed. Still a lot of sand bags in the windows, and armed guards with AK-47's. But those Afghan guards had a surreal quality about them. Instead of the old shalwar kameez that they wore in the past, the ones employed at this Western compound were wearing black suits and ties, as if heading to a wedding. It was a bit laughable, but I greeted them with a grand 'Asalaam Alaikham!' It's so good to be back, I must say. This really is the best medicine.

Before leaving for Kabul, I cleaned out my purse. Here's what I found. A lot of remnants and souvenirs from the last year: a near empty bottle of hand sanitizer (for when my white blood cell counts were too low). Neopsporin on a handy keychain bought for my by Anamarija Muvrin when she came to save the day after my mastectomy. (Yes, Anamarija, I wore my compression sleeve on the flight over so that I wouldn't get lymphedema - which can cause your arm to swell up like a ballon on the side where they took out my lymph nodes - so far, so good - touch wood.) I'll never forget when I asked my oncologist Claudine Isaacs if it was ok for me to go to Kabul at my 3 month check-up - she looked at me as though I were crazy and said, "Do you WANT to go? Because I can give you a note saying it isn't, if you want." She could tell that was not what I wanted, so here I am.

What else was in my purse?

The top from the Veuve Clicquot champagne that Geralyn Lucas ("Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy") made me drink to celebrate the end of this hellish year last time I saw her in NY. There was the guardian angel sent to me by my mom's high school friend, Anne Mellinger. A card for Blair Watson, my physical therapist at Georgetown Hospital, who trained me to lift my arms above my head again after surgery. There was the pink wristband that says: "Alert! Lymphedema - no blood test, blood pressure, no iv or injections in this arm." Well, I won't be wearing that to my interview with General Caldwell tonight and I probably should have been wearing it when I went for my first 3 month check-up because in all of the excitement - seeing old friends and telling everyone how good I now feel, I let the phlebotimist take blood from the arm where I had my surgery - a big no-no that can spark lymphedema. Fortunately, I dodged a bullet at that time. At the bottom of my purse, more residue from the year. An UnderArmour cap sent to me from a friend with the NFL for when my head was bald to protect me from drafts (not into the NFL but from cool breezes in my old house.) There were a few horoscopes that I had torn out of the Washington Post - all good. A St. Albans parish nametag and a stone - the bronzate stone that my dear friend Kerry Arroyo sent from Paris. It was the stone that the fortune teller had given her when I threw a baby shower for her and my god daughter Anais in Jerusalem before Anais was born. The Bronzate stone given to Kerry had a note from the fortune teller that read: "gives strength, enhances decision-making, aids in perseverance, reaching one's goal, and strengthens lower back." My lower back is strong - thanks to Joshua and Luke.

So there you have it. I have jsut unpacked in my tidy, military style room in the Fox house. I brought my own food, though I am in the land of green tea and whole grains. I brought almond butter and oatmeal and walnuts and agave nectar, along with a few bags of green tea from the Anti-Angiogenesis Foundation and, of course, my Chia seeds.

I called the girls last night before I went to bed in Dubai. I caught them just as they were returning home from the first day of school 4th grade for Annalise, 3rd for Amelia. Exciting stuff. They were breathless in their excitement. I was sorry to miss it but knew they were fine. Annalise had told me as I said a long farewell (teary) to Luke before getting in the cab to leave - she said, "Pull the band-aid off, Mom. Don't be a band-aid soaker." Meaning don't take so long to say goodbye to the little guy. Pull the band-aid off quickly and the pain will end before you and he know it.

Well, I've pulled the band-aid off, Annalise. I am back at work and tomorrow I sit down with General Petraeus to begin writing (and living) a new chapter.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My hero

As I pack my bag for the last leg of this trip to Afghanistan, my first back since being diagnosed, I think of all of the wounded warriors who have gone back to the fight. I remember a Marine named Spanky Gibson who I met in Anbar who was the first full leg amputee to redeploy. Then there is a person who is so near and dear to me, Lt. Dan Cnossen. Navy Seal. Lost both his legs to an IED almost exactly a year ago in Afghanistan. You've heard me speak of him. He is the one who when he came out of surgery after having both of his legs removed asked the visiting Admiral for hand grips to start strengthening his upper body. This is the video that his sister Leslie just sent me. He has already "run" his first marathon (not that everyday isn't one for him). These are his new legs. A SEAL recruiter once told me that when they look for the high school athletes that they want to reach out to, they ask the coaches, "don't send us the best athletes. Send us the most determined ones. The ones who get knocked down and get back up again and push themselves a little bit harder." Dan is the quintessential SEAL.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

And I brought my UnderArmour...

Protect This House

I'm back...

So many people have written asking if everything is ok. I must apologize for the silence. I never meant to go so long without an update. I think when radiation ended and our family started back into the summer routine, the shock of not being in doctors' offices anymore made me a bit hesitant to post. What else was there to say? Then I began receiving e-mails from other women who have gone through this journey. They wanted to know what it was like after treatment ended - what were my tips? I thought I had run out of things to say but then I realized that for many this time after treatment was one of the hardest times. Sort of like a soldier coming home from combat. They'd gotten through their year of fighting and then the guns had gone silent and then there they were in the middle of a crowd at a Macy's shopping with their kids maybe for Back to School deals and bam that's when the panic attack would occur. These survivors were suffering the same PTSD that I had seen with our wounded vets.

With summer coming to an end. My kids go back to school tomorrow. I drove 12 hours back from Martha's Vineyard yesterday so that I could then head to the airport today to head back to work. To Afghanistan. My first day back on the air will be Wednesday when I interview General Petraeus in Kabul. I am bringing him a pair of running shoes with pink shoelaces (since I guess I can't hide from his offer to run any longer.) Fortunately, I have been training, though truth be told I am no runner. Joshua came to the house this morning for an "at home" Pilates session. In fact he has left our gym, Sports Club L.A. and is now giving private lessons. So anyone in the DC area looking for a Pilates coach who will come to you, Joshua Dobbs is your man: Joshdobbs@me.com. Anyway, I hope I can sleep on this flight. I will admit that my gut is filled with butterflies. They say going back is like riding a bicycle. I feel like I fell off that bike and have two scraped knees, but I know I am ready. I used to go to Gaza to get some rest when the girls were young. Secretly, I can't wait to get on the flight and get some sleep. 13 hours to Dubai. Sounds pretty good right now. I am reading in on the latest from Afghanistan and frankly not much has changed since Greg and I lived in Islamabad in the early 90s. Can't wait to get down to Chicken Street to see if they still have any good rugs. I cleaned them out in the early 90s - can remember ducking in the back of an International Red Cross vehicle crossing the front lines of the Kabul River as the muj shot rockets at each other. All that mattered were that my rugs were safe (and they were). Each one in our house has a story behind it. I ducked and hid behind them in the car and averted my eyes as the ICRC driver gunned it to safety (in the Khyber Pass). Things have changed but not really.

I am carrying with me Sebastian Junger's fantastic book: War. It goes along with the documentary that he and Tim Heatherington made on the Korengal Valley. If you haven't seen Restrepo, you must. It was in local theaters and won the Sundance Film Festival prize this year. Likely to get an Oscar for best documentary. It's the best combat verite that I have seen since Vietnam era pieces. And it focuses on a unit that I visited in the Korengal Valley with Admiral Mullen - the post - Restrepo, named for Doc Restrepo who was killed in action. It is the post where I realized that I was pregnant with Luke. We got out of the Blackhawk and I climbed up the hill and threw up. That's when I knew I had morning sickness. I met Capt (now Major) Dan Kearney there. He is featured in the film (Restrepo). It is a must see.

Here is a link to the trailer:http://restrepothemovie.com/