Monday, October 31, 2011

Komen Gala at the Kennedy Center

Raised $2 million. Hoda Kotb emceed. She interviewed me on the Today Show when I was in the throes of chemo. I gave her the Rebecca Lipkin award on Friday night named for the young ABC producer who died of inflammatory breast cancer two years ago. Rebecca's mom was there and sister Harriet. It's always a very moving night. This year Natasha Bedingfield sang. "Unwritten." And an amazing Israeli rock violinist Meirav who plays with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Susan Ford was there to receive a posthumous award for her mother Betty Ford, who broke down all the barriers when she announced she had breast cancer and allowed photos to be taken after her mastectomy at Walter Reed. She shared her diagnosis with the nation at a time when people didn't say the word breast in public. There wasn't a dry eye in the house during the tribute. I attended with Madeline Fraser, daughter of the indomitable Noreen Fraser who started StandUp to Cancer and now runs the Noreen Fraser Foundation, a leading light in the breast cancer fundraising community.

I knew there was a good reason I loved popcorn! Anti-oxidants

Still Haunted

Two years ago I was so sick. It was Halloween. I had given up candy for my new anti-cancer diet. It felt like it was going to be a long Lent. No Reese's peanut butter cups, again, ever. Really? Why live? But I was so sick that fall having just started chemo. My immune system dipped and with all of the bugs being brought home from school, I asked Greg to take me to the hospital. It was the only day that I was really sick during 17 rounds of chemo. I remember going to the door after returning home from the hospital when some early trick or treater, a young one, came to the door with her father before I was ready and had opened the plastic bags of Nestle Crunch bars and mini Mr. Goodbars. Who trick or treats when it's still light out? I couldn't be bothered to put on my wig. Boy, did they get a fright. I was so sad not to be able to go out with the girls on their rounds. They were vampires. I lay in bed and when they came home all jazzed up on sugar and dumped the pillow cases of candy on my bedroom floor I was too sick to even be tempted. The next day it was raining outside and I didn't let Annalise run in the rain for Girls on the Run because I was terrified of everyone getting sick, I had already cut to the front of the nation's Swine flu vaccine line pulling in a little help from some friends at DHS. With 3 small children how was I ever going to survive a suppressed immune system all winter? Somehow I did. And last year on Halloween, I was back to health. Little Luke went out for the first time, dressed like a little lion, tasting his first lollipop which he got from Chris Downey across the street, and having a cat jump out at him from around a corner beginning what would be a year long fear/obsession with cats until it was replaced this fall with a love of snakes. "Biiig snakes" and a trip to the zoo to see them every Saturday. I love Halloween. I used to organize the haunted house in Jerusalem and passed out candy to all the neighbors so that the American kids could trick or treat in Israel. But this year instead of taking my kids trick or treating, I am on a flight to Houston with Greg as part of our "book tour." Annalise wistfully asked me if I would be around for Christmas and her birthday since missing Halloween is right up there with missing these milestone events. I must say I am crushed that I won't get to see Luke head to school in his red devil which he thinks is a flying dragon outfit. I can't believe I am missing another one of these days that can't be repeated while the kids are still in this amazing age of innocence and wonder. I am wedged right now in a middle seat on a flight to Texas, instead. These trips are nice as a way to reconnect with Greg but what were we thinking? Just as we walked out of the house this morning at dawn a black cat was waiting for us. I am not kidding. Its yellow eyes shined up at me as it stopped in its tracks. I could not have made this up. I asked Greg, "Wait - if it runs straight away from you did it technically cross out paths?" We'll see, but all I know is I feel sick every time we get on one of these book tour flights together, thinking, "Oh God, how could we leave the children behind?" What if something happens? I had always promised my mom that we wouldn't be in the same place where there was shooting while covering a story. This is the height of irresponsibility.I said the Lord's Prayer on take-off today, just like I used to say it while I lay very still on the cold hospital machine during radiation. Let this book tour end and let me get home to my kids. Please.

You've Got a Friend

"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone….I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song. Just can't remember who to send it to…."

We got the news on a busy Saturday. There were soccer games and trips to Rockville for gymnastics. In fact I think I was driving back from Rockville when I read the news on my blackberry stopped at a red light. It stopped me cold. Two days later I thought about Girard as we took off for Worcester, Massachusetts sitting on the runway at National Airport. I thought about our friend who had loved to fly. He flew around the world to see all of his friends who he had met working for the Associated Press on the overnight in New York before being sent to Bonn where he covered the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall able to blend into the crowd because he looked a little East German. He taught me to freelance, inviting me as a 22 year old at Greg's suggestion before I moved to South Africa to a dinner in Old Town where he taught me the art of writing one story and pitching it and selling it four or five different times to different publications. That's how freelancers make money. That's how I paid for my travel and learned the art of the pitch. Girard was a great salesman, who loved to hear about everyone else's adventures. Years later when he heard that I had flown with the Thunderbirds, pulling 9.2 G's - and throwing up all over the cockpit, Girard sent me my own "flight log book", a black leather bound book, with the hopes that it would become a habit, which happily it didn't, as I continued to find myself in Blackhawks, Chinooks and C-130s covering the wars and the Pentagon. Girard had transitioned to the NTSB where he wrote crash reports and about flight safety. He still came to Washington quarterly and assembled his friends at a variety of ethnic restaurants up and down Route 1 and in strip malls in the DC suburbs. He loved Afghan food, Thai, Lebanese Taverna, and anything Greek. I think it reminded him of his travels. He died at age 60 of pneumonia, much too young for a guy who still looked 45 and loved to talk late in the night with a bottle of something, anything really. The last time I saw him he stopped by the house to drop off some t-shirts he had made while I was going through chemo. He had found the original print for the AP t-shirts the gang used to wear in Lebanon that said, "Don't shoot," in a variety of languages. There was an AK-47 on the front. It was a little AP joke that only AP veterans got. I think it was after my mastectomy that we were sitting in my living room. I didn't feel well and didn't really want visitors and now I regret not spending a bit more time with my friend. The last time he had been at our house he had stayed up all night by the pool talking about the Bosnian war with our Croatian friend. And then I had offered him a bed - albeit a small uncomfortable Ikea iron bed covered in Princess sheets. Somehow it did the trick and he was still up before the rest of us in the morning ready to talk some more. Girard was so detail oriented and would travel so far to see friends that once when we were in St. Louis for a few days on home leave, he packed his new bride Jean in the car and drove 8 hours round trip from Illinois just to have dinner with us. And he was the only invited guest at our wedding who noticed that the address we gave for the old stone church outside of Charlottesville where the wedding was to be was not really in Keswick as I wrote on the invitation but really in Cismont. I thought who knew Cismont but everyone knew Keswick. In 1994 Girard was the only one using a GPS. An aviator with a precise memory and precise friendships, who would have flown anywhere to see a friend and did. I wish I had had one last all night bull session with you, my friend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Parole Officer

I always know when it is time to check in with my oncologist. In my case, it's still every 3 months. The 2 weeks or so beforehand like an alarm clock my pulse starts racing a little faster. My heart is a little more on my sleeve and tears well up even before I know it. I start questioning the meaning in my life. "I survived cancer for this?" I think as I walk again through the River entrance of the Pentagon into the fluorescent lit hallways where I will remain tethered in a windowless room for the next 10 hours until about 8 pm when I get to go home and jam some food in my mouth before scooping Luke up to bed in his cowboy boots (he sleeps in them) and to read "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" for the umpteenth time. There's not a lot of variety to our routine, unless of course I get to drive to Rockville after work to pick Amelia up from gymnastics, like I did the day that Anwar Al Awaki was killed by a US drone in Yemen and I had been on the air straight since 6 am. Yeah, two years out and sometimes I feel like I want to jump off the pedestrian bridge that connects North Parking to the Pentagon (except I'd probably just injure myself so even that would seem like a waste.) I always know it is time to check in with my oncologist when I leave Luke's preschool in tears, feeling battered from the morning routine and worrying that the stress of the year with cancer has turned him into a more than terrible two. A friend of mine whose lymphoma is in remission says the return visit to the oncologist is like checking in with your parole officer, a reminder to get back on the straight and narrow, to eat a little better, to exercise a little more and to stop stressing about the small stuff. And yes I usually feel better a day later. Just the psychological relief that comes from seeing Dr. Isaacs usually gives me some sort of relief - or it may be the cathartic cry that comes every time that I leave her office and find myself sobbing so hard I can't catch my breath once Solomon (the valet at Georgetown's Lombardi Center who knows me so well by now) brings my car and I smile long enough until I buckle my seatbelt. I guess this is normal, as is the need to fill a prescription for xanax at each visit, just in case - though I don't use it or need it. It's nice knowing they are in my medicine cabinet for those sleepless nights when I fear getting a call from my parole officer.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Five

Watch this: Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore among others directed 5 short takes on breast cancer and how it affects us. Next showing is Saturday at 8 pm on Lifetime.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An American Icon

A look back on a storied career by Justin's grandpa. Justin is my wingman, producer and friend at the Pentagon. He inherited his grandpa's humor and eye for the absurd - that's why we have a ball working together.;housing;storyMediaBox

Should have stuck with Pilates...

Thought I'd hone my inner zen today, tried out "Stroga" (strength and yoga) in Adams Morgan with Eve. Then suddenly right in the middle of 'downward dog', there was a bomb scare and we had to evacuate the building and two city blocks. A sign perhaps that I shouldn't stray from Pilates. It felt like Jerusalem, circa 2002.