Saturday, October 30, 2010

Race Day and Beyond...

I asked Dudi and Yonat to come by the hotel early before the race. We were staying at the David Citadel Hotel next to the King David and I had just finished having breakfast on the terrace overlooking the real David Citadel near Jaffa Gate. The Jerusalem stone literally seemed to float. I began lacing up my pink trimmed UnderArmour walking shoes and opened the envelopes that Komen had left - little pink notes that could be placed in the Western Wall, prayers for our sisters, prayers for the end of this scourge. The night before I had heard from Gary Zimmerman who had been given a tour of Haifa's Rambam Hospital where he had been told that there is currently a surge in breast cancer cases in Northern Israel. Why? My head began spinning - was it those 34 days during the Lebanon war that I spent on the border with Katyushas falling all around? Did that give me and others breast cancer? I had long thought that the stress of that period certainly may have contributed, in part. So much adrenalin. So little sleep. How much of this disease is environmental?

Anyway, the race was to begin at 12 noon at Sacher Garden - the same field where a bunch of ragtag journalists (myself and Greg included) used to play pick-up games of soccer on Saturday mornings (Shabbat) before the Intifada started in 2000 when we still had time on our hands. Those games got to be rough at times. A lot of aggression was taken out on the uneven playing fields as we all tried to still prove we had it - whatever it was. The competitive spirit was fierce.

I had to stop by Tsvi's before the Komen race began. After all, that is where I spent so many hours - the start of every day in Israel. A "cafe ha fukh" (Israeli latte) and a blow-out. We straightened and colored and highlighted my hair. It was a ritual. It's where I read the papers and transitioned from home and babies and diapers to work each morning. I saw Tsvi and Hanan more than I saw Greg in those busy years. I used to take Annalise in a Moses basket to Tsvi Michaeli's hair salon on Marcus Street just days after giving birth, so that I could feel myself again. I had to show him my new hair - silver and cropped. He patted my head as I walked down Marcus from our first apartment at Marcus Shteim (2 Marcus Street) above the Millers. Arnona, who was getting her toes done in the sunshine, squealed with delight when she saw me. Hanan and Tsvi and I hugged until all the years dissolved and it was as though I were living down the street, asking them to squeeze me in between clients.

But I digress. Dudi and Yonat indulged my need to stop by my other two Jerusalem apartments: Hagdud Ha Ivri - where Amelia was born and our last home - really a house on Mishmar Ha'am 22. The grass seed that Greg lay was still thriving and the pomegranate tree appeared to be well cared for. It is an old Arab style house with a garden. The number plate above the door was the same that I bought from the Armenian pottery place next to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. It was as though we hadn't left. We snapped a few shots for the girls and went to the office.

The Fox bureau was still in JCS. And little did I know but the bureau had planned a surprise for me. Yonat had ordered t-shirts made that on the front said: "Fight like a Girl" and on the back said "Team Jennifer 2010." But I wasn't supposed to come by the office and see them. So Yonat called ahead and everyone, including Eli, took theirs off so that the surprise would not be ruined. I was oblivious. I kept wondering why they weren't walking with me to the race. It was about to begin. So I ran ahead. I did a few interviews and then I heard the announcer say, "Will Jennifer Griffin please meet her team by the stage?" That is when the bureau surprised me with the t-shirt. They were all wearing them and I put mine on over my pink Komen survivor shirt. It was amazing. Claudia Cowan, from the San Francisco bureau, joined us for the race with her girlfriends from Tel Aviv.

So many people who I had known in Jerusalem came out for the race. It was hard to even get started walking because there were so many people to hug. There were Lori and Marvin from my favorite bakery La Cuisine. I always bought my Shabbat sweets and cakes and quiches from La Cuisine. I especially loved and usually had to drive out to Talpiot to pick up the mini quiches that Lori made. After the babies were born I usually made my way over to Azza Street to see Marvin and satisfy my sweet tooth. Lori and Marvin were at the Race. Lori had breast cancer. We had never talked about it. She was still wearing her tell-tale lymphedema sleeve - the same one that I wore on the plane ride over. We hugged.

We started up the road. Israelis kept looking at our t-shirts and saying "Mizeh, Jennifer?" Everyone wanted one. We took over the streets and 7500 people wound their way through the narrow city streets and ended up next to Solomon's pools outside the Old City walls. Fox and Friends were nice enough to take us live. We used a fancy new technology to go live from a back pack while we were walking. It was amazing. And then suddenly I saw Oron Dan, son of my dear friend Uri Dan, who had written for the New York Post for years and was one of Ariel Sharon's closest friends. Oron was wearing a crisp pink shirt and we both sobbed when we hugged each other. Uri died of lung cancer in 2005. He had treated me like a daughter. Then there was Sharon who was very choked up as she explained to me that she had had breast cancer 5 years before but didn't know that it was Triple Negative until she read my blog - this blog - and asked her doctors and figured out that she was Triple Negative. She had brought a team. Their name…The Triple Negative team. Wow. That blew me away.

On stage at the end of the race was another survivor. Allen Wilson. Yes, he too had had breast cancer. Not once, but twice. Yes, ladies, men get this too. And Allen is bravely explaining that around the world. There is so much more to say but we got home and went straight to Amelia's gymnastics meet and Annalise's soccer game. And with jet lag it is now 5 in the morning. So good night and I will send another update tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom.

A Homecoming (and a Baby Shower) at the American Colony

There had been a slight baby boom since I left Jerusalem. So I cleaned out baby Gap on my way to Israel and Yonat Friling and Courtney Kealy helped me arrange a surprise baby shower at the American Colony Hotel for Reena Ninan. I had played Santa Claus the night before at Reena's apartment, delivering tiny ballerina outfits and little stuffed toys to all of the children from the office. Ibrahim had had a girl. Yaniv and Osnat's son, Ben, had a slight fever. Ronen...Yael...Karen announced she was just pregnant. I thought wartime was when there were baby booms and yet Jerusalem is as peaceful as it has ever been (maybe boredom also leads to you know ...) Anyway, I had been in Jerusalem (and in fact rode the first wave of the last baby boom with all of the foreign journalists who were covering the start of the intifada.) I had gone to work in a flak jacket and Annalise was born in April of 2001. Our break from covering rock throwing and tear gas (I remember then Philadelphia Inquirer's Barbara Demick worrying about me inhaling the tear gas at the Old City on that first Friday prayers after Ariel Sharon took those fateful steps on the Temple Mount. She was one to talk. She was still nursing Nicholas.) I blew off her maternal concern - maybe that's why I got breast cancer. Who knows? One thing we loved to do at the beginning of the intifada was have baby showers. It was a great break from suicide bombings. Julie Sennott, Jennifer Ludden, myself...And we always invited a fortune teller. We were desperate to know the future. Joanna Chen of Newsweek - her sister in law read our tarot cards 9 years ago. And when I threw a baby shower for my dear friend Kerry Arroyo in 2001, Edith (Joanna's sister-in-law) not only read our tarots, she gave us each a special polished stone that represented some unique quality we or our newborn baby would possess. This year when I was very ill, Kerry, who now lives in Paris, sent me the tiny suede pouch with the "Bronzate" stone that Edith had given to her for my goddaughter Anais, just before she was born. Kerry found out that she was pregnant with Anais and nearly burst through the doors of my delivery room at Hadassah Mt. Scopus to tell me the news. The "Bronzate" stone symbolized strength, courage and a "strong lower back". It arrived and took me back when I was going through chemo and preparing for the mastectomy in April. I told Reena that all I wanted to do was go and sit and gossip and have lunch in the American Colony hotel's garden and to shop in Claire Kosinski's jewelry shop (my favorite shop anywhere in the world - I buy all of my jewelry there and my friends have spoiled me with pieces from there for years. ) Claire, a gorgeous Irish lady with a heart of gold and the gift of the gab - a dear dear friend. Claire's boutique - a jewel box in and of itself sits at the entrance to the Colony. She is an institution. I used to tease her that EVERYONE knew Claire and EVERYONE tells Claire their problems. I told her she should put out a shingle like Lucy did in the Peanuts: "The Doctor is In." I told Reena to pick me up at 10:15 am. I was running late. And nearly blew the surprise as Jill and Rich from the bureau stopped by to pick up the baby Gap gift boxes so Reena wouldn't see them. We crossed paths in the lobby and I made it seem a great coincidence. Reena was none the wiser and in we pulled to the Colony. The garden was just as I remembered like the Garden of Eden...water fountain gurgling, the smell of cardamom laced coffee and plates full of Arabic pastries. A dozen of Reena's friends turned up for the surprise, including Eli, who decided not to wear a skirt but to get in touch with his feminine side. The tarot cards were read. Reena was told she might give birth early (I told her to cross her legs since she was supposed to fly to DC in three weeks to give birth in Washington on Christmas Day.) And Edith showed me two tarot cards - one showed a bear with a strong heart - ok. And the other had what looked like a Franciscan friar with a little bird on his shoulder - the little bird she told me were the nagging thoughts - the worry that this cancer is coming back. She said I have to calm that little bird. I said, "But what about my health?" She said pull another card. I did. This one had a woman surrounded by little children dancing in a circle, laughing, She said I would grow old to see my grandchildren. Edith is always right.

Rusty Mike Radio - live from Jerusalem

A podcast interview in 3 parts with Adam Mallerman, the husband of Annalise and Amelia's gan teacher, the amazing Tammy Wilson whose Gan Tammy is a mainstay for those in the know in Jerusalem. Adam broadcasts live to the Anglo-Israeli community and should be doing drive time radio in Britain. He has a Monty Python sensibility and opened with a breaking news announcement about naval lint. Take a listen.

Interview with Hadassah
Go to the Hadassah site and press next story to see our 10 minutes interview overlooking the Old City.

On the Record with Greta

The land of miracles...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home and Design Magazine
If this keeps up, Izzy the Cockapoo is going to demand an agent.


"If someone said 3 years from now, you'd be long gone, I'd stand up and punch them out, 'Cause they're all wrong..."

It's one of the songs on my iPod and even though we were running a little late to the bureau party that Reena Ninan was throwing for me and Greg at her beautiful apartment overlooking the Golden Dome of the Rock and the pink Old City walls, I managed to get in a workout. I laced up my pink trimmed UnderArmour running shoes and went to the hotel gym, which wasn't easy either because it was under renovation. So I had to go to the new Mamilla hotel across the street which is more Tel Aviv than Jerusalem, and a bit like the W, but nicer. 45 minutes of exercise each day and a low fat diet - that's our tamoxifen and herceptin for me and my Triple Negative sisters which don't have such drugs to prevent a recurrence. I had tried to stay on my diet at the hotel breakfast bar this morning, bypassing the delicious baked goods and barekas, the quiche and labne. I opted for the pea sprouts with a hint of olive oil and the cooked tomatoes (cooked and with olive oil make the anti-cancer lycopene in tomatoes more potent). I broke down and had a "cafe ha fukh", an upside down cappuccino, an Israeli specialty, but asked that it be made with soy milk. Reena had gone to such lengths to have healthy food, which in her state - 8 months pregnant and likely exhausted, meant the world to me. Then her hormones kicked in and she started crying and then I started crying, as she tried to speak. Eli Fastman, man of few words - a former Israeli tank commander who runs the office with a look, said a few words. He talked about how his mother died of breast cancer when he was young - something from which by his own admission, he never fully recovered. He even knew the statistics. He noted that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. He said when I was diagnosed, he looked around the office and realizing that there were 8 women, including me, it was his wish that since I had been diagnosed that that would be it for the office. Statistically, we were done. (I was glad I could take one for the team.) But what he was trying to say, and we all knew it, is that we had left the door open, remembered to leave a seat for Elijah and we had been passed over.
More women die of breast cancer in Israel than of anything else. Most are Triple Negative, like me. And many Ashkenazi Jews are BRCA1 and 2 carriers.
That's why Komen came to town and the city is now awash in pink, in case anyone asks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

This year in Jerusalem

I knew it was going to be a wild ride when we started a packed journey heading toward the Continental gate in Newark - flight 90. The same flight we took back and forth to Jerusalem when we lived there for nearly 8 years. We hadn't been back in 3 years since we left. Greg and I were leaving the kids "Home Alone." And hoping for the best. We were really excited. The butterflies turned to flying elbows as we approached the chaos at the Continental boarding. They called our row, which was at the back of the plane, and I tried to move past the strollers and the rolling carry-ons. No one was budging so I said, "Excuse me," perhaps a bit louder than I needed to. An 80 year-old man shouted at me, calling me "lady" and told me to wait my turn and that we would all get there at the same time. I explained that he must have misunderstood me, but it was to no avail. We each were indignant. Cross words were said. My blood pressure was up and I laughed as we went down the gangway that with my luck I would be sitting next to the old man. Greg reminded me that I was an "Ambassador" for the Komen race, but gently suggested I may NOT have diplomatic immunity. We made our way down the aisle to find my seat mate: the man who had yelled at me and called me in essence, "a pushy broad." I laughed and told him we would have 14 hours on the flight to get to know one another better. He laughed. I laughed. We both had proved we weren't 'friers'. Then it turned out he was in the wrong seat and moved.

We landed at Ben Gurion airport - not on a pink plane as I had envisioned but it was just as splashy an entrance. I was watching the last few minutes of the "Hurt Locker" as the plane pulled into the gate. I couldn't take my eyes off the movie because it was so unrealistic and yet it did capture a certain aspect of the tragedy of Iraq as was evidence in the 400,000 Wikileaks war logs that I had spent the weekend plowing through. For me, the tears started rolling when Fox's Jerusalem bureau chief Eli Fastman sent me an e-mail saying, "Welcome home, Jen." Greg and I hadn't been back in 3 years - since we left Jerusalem at the end of a nearly 8 year assignment. I guess it was the tears that made me not realize that instead of grabbing my red rolling bag that Greg had picked up the bag of one Seymour Rush (wonder if that is the same man who I had exchanged cross words in Newark? Now that would be funny.) Needless to say, his pants didn't look like they were going to fit as I raced to get dressed for the Komen launch at the Israel Museum at our hotel in Jerusalem. Reena Ninan and our friend Linda Rivkind saved the day, delivering a black Calvin Klein dress that belonged to Reena just in the nick of time to the hotel. Reena being 8 months pregnant won't need it for a few months but I guess I'll eventually have to give it back. Darn.

The Old City walls were lit up in pink as the sun went down tonight. Yonat Friling and our Fox team were there to record it. And so was the building where the Dead Sea scriolls are kept at the Israel Museum. The dome-like structure that houses the scrolls looks like a boob - now a pink boob. Going to get some rest. Race is 4 days away. If you want to support Komen (75 percent of all funds raised will stay in the Israeli and Palestinian areas to fund research here and help encourage women to get mammograms. Women here mostly have Triple Negative like me.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Komen Gala Kennedy Center Saturday, Oct. 16

They made me feel like a rockstar. In fact, I even had a dressing room with my name on it backstage at the Kennedy Center. It was the Komen gala and I, as my friend Lila likes to say was a 'minor celebrity' (at least I could pretend as I put on my ballgown and ate from the spread they'd laid out for us in the Green Room. I sat and waited backstage and chatted with the likes of Carlos from Desperate Housewives (his mother died of breast cancer and two sisters were diagnosed in the past year - one with Triple Negative), Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City (I told her how my girlfriends took me to see Sex and the City 2 on my last day of radiation in June), Olivia Newton-John, Lynda Carter (the real Wonder Woman) - all breast cancer survivors. Cynthia Nixon introduced me and I walked out on stage with the only person for whom I was really starstruck - Dr. Eric Winer of Dana Farber. I had stalked him during the past year. In fact, I was impressed how he remembered. I said I called you and he said, "I know - twice." Once at 11 at night. He had tried to talk me out of the double mastectomy after I had the complete pathologic response to the chemotherapy. He said I could get away with a lumpectomy. But that didn't sit right with me. Not in my gut. I wanted all of that tissue that tried to kill me (think of the t-shirt my friend Jennifer Patterson gave me knowing that I cover the Pentagon - "Get out of our racks!") I was not inclined to have to have mammograms in the future and to worry that the cancer could come back in the other breast. And besides as I stood next to him (he is not a tall man) wearing my sequined Nicole Miller strapless gown that only stood up as well as it did because of my very symmetrical and very large, almost perfect reconstruction, I wanted to say - see how wrong you were - even if medically he may have been right. He and I bantered onstage as we tried to educate the black tie crowd about how and why we must find a cure. Triple negative came up. Robin Roberts from ABC emceed and earlier in the day we had all been brought on stage to sing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in a somewhat "We are the World" kind of finale. Greg reminded me from his box seat, not to sing out loud (my family is constantly reminding me that I am not the next American Idol). But a girl can dream and it was the most fun I had ever had clapping and mouthing the words as Olivia Newton John and Lynda Carter belted out the words. I told Olivia how she had done a shout out to me at Greta's request during my treatment and that my kids had seen it as we watched when we were going through the depth of chemo. I thanked her for it. I did NOT tell her that I knew every word to Grease and that when we were kids we did a neighborhood production of Grease to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy and that I had to be Danny because I didn't have blonde hair and that Suzanne Schull had long hair and got to be Sandy. It was an amazing evening and most importantly my mom and sister Caitlin and my grandparents were there with me. I was given an award with other women in the media who had survived this scourge (Laura Ingraham, Robin Roberts, Anne Thompson, Jill Dougherty, Debra Chisholm. Andrea Mitchell). But the most memorable part of the evening was meeting Dr. Mary Claire King who discovered the BRCA1 and 2 genes. I handed her the Scientific achievement award, told her my family history at the brunch at the Italian Embassy the next day and she thinks she knows which of my my genes ("jeans") is broken. She plans to test me for CHECK2 - it could be a breakthrough for Triple Negative types like myself.

People Magazine

photo courtesy: Tim Devine

Living in Pink

Dream Ball ....Look Good Feel Better

Will October ever end?

OK - I have been a bit paralyzed about updating my blog since I returned to work after Labor Day. I'll admit it. I am a perfectionist and I had so much to say that I just kept putting off my updates thinking that somehow I would get back in the swing of things, come home from work, get the kids in bed, get a second wind and tell you what it's really like going back to work after a year of treatment. I wanted to tell you what it felt like to take those first steps back through the Pentagon doors. I wanted to tell you how it took my breath away on that first day that I went to pick up my Pentagon pass which had expired. I walked through those doors - through the Metro entrance because I didn't have a pass. The fluorescent lights were the same. The squeaky clean overly polished floors had the same institutional feel. The walls closed in on me as I walked down the corridor back to the press hallway - the same hallway that I had left on a Friday, carrying my gunmetal gray Container store lunch pail, only to be told on a Monday, September 28, 2009 that I had stage 3 breast cancer. Now my hair was gunmetal gray, my resolve after a year of treatment was steely but my knees were shaking and I kept telling myself, if you just get back on the horse, it will be like riding a bike - or whatever the correct metaphor is. I figured if I went through the motions and told people I was psyched to be back at work then suddenly I might actually get psyched. Well, no such luck. I smiled and spent that Friday before Labor Day getting back into the groove just logging into my computer and trying to remember my passwords and telling Mik from NBC that yes I was really psyched to get back to work, even though it all seemed remote and difficult to get too worked up about. And how was I going to drop Luke at his first day at pre-school on Tuesday and then head in for 10 hours inside the Pentagon to my windowless pod which I have compared on more than one occasion to working on a submarine or being assigned to Gitmo - though there is more light at Gitmo. I spent the first week sneaking out to the courtyard for 20 minutes at a time to get some sunshine. Vitamin D3 - I am sure the absence of light inside the Pentagon contributed to my disease. Or maybe it was that microwave that Justin sits in front of, propped on top of the National Geographic atlas. No one had cleaned the mini-fridge since I had left on that Friday not to return on the Monday I was diagnosed. All that was there to remind me of those who had filled in were the salt packets that Steve Centanni had left behind from his many lunches at his computer. There was a new backdrop that they installed replacing the cardboard paper cut out that said "Pentagon" and looked like Annalise and Amelia had made for a school project. It was replaced with a new flat screen tv that played a fancy video graphic of the Pentagon that looked mighty fancy and was the envy of the CNN staff next door. Justin and Louis from ABC had installed a DVD that resembled a fish tank replete with the blub, blub, gurgle of such a tank. It was very relaxing, except it made me and Justin constantly fall asleep.

The stories hadn't changed nor had most of the spokesmen. There were the two wars, North Korea and Iran, China, cyber attacks, you name it, and it can fall under my beat. Take today for instance. I went to work thinking I was talking about Iran's invitation to talk with NATO in Rome, ended up covering that and a shooting that took place at the Pentagon - lockdown for 45 minutes until they found the 7 bullets - 4 of them lodged in the bullet-proof windows on the 3rd and 4th floor. And then just as I was catching my breath, the Pentagon announced that gays and lesbians could openly serve in the military. Don't Ask Don't Tell was suddenly suspended and this was just by noon.

I didn't get a chance to tell you how I spent my first week back at work crying everyday as I left Luke at preschool. He was not happy at all. It felt as if I were dropping him on a church step, leaving him in a basket for someone else to care for or arriving at a Romanian orphanage. He knew no difference and he and I wailed like it was a scene from Sophie's Choice. I nearly didn't make it. I nearly pulled him out of school, which would have marked him for life as a pre-school drop-out. Somehow I kept my wits about me, God knows what I said on the air each day. Annalise and Amelia got so teary dropping Luke at the pre-school catty corner to their school that we had to devise a system where they would walk on the opposite side of the street for the last block so that it wouldn't be so hard to say goodbye. Luke, we were told by Debbie and his teacher "Miss Vanessa", was having one hour of Spanish two times a week, which seemed a bit ridiculous since he didn't speak much English yet. On one of those early days back at work at the start of school, Amelia called very upset that Luke was still upset going to school. She said, "Mommy, Luke does not need to go to school. He does not need to learn Spanish. We don't even speak Spanish. He's going to learn a language that we don't even understand." She was adamant that this little social experiment, i.e. school, must end.

I held my ground. I knew things would get better, though I had to enlist Rose to drop him off because it was too traumatic - mostly for me.

And low and behold October began. And the pink came out. Last year I spent my first month of treatment surrounded by shop keepers who wanted to know if I wanted to buy something for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I told them "I'm aware." And that pretty much shut them up. There is only so much pink that a girl can stomach.

Anyway, the month is almost over and Greg and I leave for Jerusalem on Sunday. To take the Komen Race for the Cure to Jerusalem for the first time. Remind me to tell you about the Dream Ball, Living in Pink and this weekend's Komen Gala at the Kennedy Center in which I presented with Dr. Eric Winer from Dana Farber along with Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City, and Ricardo Chavira who plays Carlos on Desperate Housewives. It turns out his mom died of breast cancer when he was 14. And his two sisters were diagnosed this year. One has Triple Negative. Olivia Newton John and Lynda Carter "Wonder Woman" sang. And we all sang Ain't No Mountain HIgh Enough at the end of the evening - though I lip synched and was told by my mom that I didn't know how to clap properly to the song. On Saturday, I am going to help lead a breast cancer walk in Alexandria (where I grew up.) And then we are off to Jerusalem. Wake me up when October [sic] ends....

Geralyn Lucas for President

If there is one thing you do today, watch the above link and pass it on to every woman you know... Geralyn is herself a one woman show and funnier than Tina Fey.