Friday, October 26, 2012

Too Stupid for Words

Some things are going on in my karate life; things that involved a meeting last week. In a nutshell, many of my training partners have been "ghost" as of late and, in an effort to get everyone back and on the same page, we went around the room and everyone got a chance to say what had been keeping them away.

One of my dojo sisters is working like a rant mule developing a business - so much so that she has been away from training since mid-summer. Always into wholistic approaches to life, energy and illness, she said she's been away so she can afford health insurance. She needs it because she's been told that the spot on her nose looks like it could be something not good. She can't even go to the doctor now because if she is diagnosed with skin cancer, it would become a pre-existing condition and would not be covered by her new insurance company. So she's very afraid - because it could be something bad but because if it is, she may not be able to afford to get treated.

Cancer absolutely sucks - but that this is actually someone's reality is ridiculous. Honestly, what kind of sense does it make to have your health insurance not cover you when you need it? To keep that from happening, she is working herself silly (so she cazn afford to actually get insurance) and worrying lots - which probably will cause harm (it's been proven that stress weakens the immune system) and that simply shouldn't be.

Our system of care is severely broken in this country. The Affordable Care Act was designed to address this, but the pre-existing conditions part doesn't fully go into effect until 2014, which is too late to help my dojo sister.

What kind of craziness...?

Monday, September 10, 2012


This is not about breast cancer per se - just cancer in general. She's still a sneaky something else and I detest her as a result.

A few weeks ago, my beloved had me pick him up from the car repair shop as his vehicle was having a "check engine" light issue. When he got in my car, he asked if we could swing by his brother's house for a bit because he HAD TO meet him at 2:15PM.

His brother - the oldest of 10 - is quite a big wig in the Air Force. A little over a year ago, he retired from the NYS Air National Guard as THE person in charge of over 5,000 service members in the state, which is the nation's largest ANG. His retirement ceremony and the celebration that followed had top enlisted men and women from all over the place, all there to pat "Chief" on the back, celebrate the military accomplishments he had amassed in his almost 38-year career and wish him well in his retirement. At about six feet tall, he looked quite daper in his dress blues with medals and ribbons gleaming and his gig line tight.

But when we arrived at the house, my beloved, Chief's wife and I had to help him get out of the car, up the few stairs in the foyer and into his favorite recliner because he couldn't walk. 2:15PM, I found, was the time he usually arrived home from radiation treatments for a tumor on his spine that was causing the inability to move his legs.

Not that long ago, Chief had had chemo for lymphoma. Although I'm not sure if he ever really went into a remission, you'd never know it from his demeanor. Lovingly stern, he was the anchor of the family and the one all the siblings went to for advice or to share news, both good and bad. His was the voice I heard on the other end of the phone the night he called to tell us that their father passed away. He was also the one who had put together the specifics for a family cruise this October, setting up the travel agency handling the arrangements and emailing his family members information on what to do to reserve their spots. Vibrant and full of life, he went from military fit to walking with a cane, then walking with two canes, needing a walker and finally a wheel chair - all in about a month.

Last week, my beloved and Chief's son moved his bed, wardrobe and recliner down stairs so he could get to them without having to tackle the stairs of his split-level ranch home. It was becoming more difficult for him to assist with his arms when he was being helped from one part of the house to another. So all the while I was pouting about being unable to train for karate because of an achy achilles, Chief and his immediate family were dealing with that.

Monday night, my beloved called to let me know he was going to be late for dinner because he was en route to the hospital. Seems Chief had had some difficulty breathing and they were heading to the emergency room via ambulance to see what was going on. By the time they got there, Chief was in a lot of pain. They gave him morphine to help ease it. He passed away not long after.

Only 61, he had a lot of life left to live. A husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend to so many, he left quite a mark during the time he was here. As I helped his wife, son and my beloved put together his obituary for the newspaper, that was the thing that stood out the most.

We looked through dozens of military pictures to find just the right one for his funeral service program. Not one for smiling when he was seated in front of the flag in his uniform, he always told the photographer that he needed to take at least one with his pearly whites showing so his wife wouldn't be upset. The one above was chosen because of the serene look into the camera with only the slightest hint of a smile. It seemed to fit.

Yesterday, his wife showed us a picture the two of them had taken together on a recent vacation. Chief wore a pair of shades and a hat to sheild his head from the beach sun. He was hugging his wife and had the absolute biggest smile on his face. That seemed to fit, too.

I'm sure he's smiling now - and will be tomorrow as his family and friends gather to remember his life and be with others who will miss him greatly. Perhaps it will be as celebratory as his retirement gathering last year was. Hopefully, after the tears have subsided a bit, we'll be smiling as well, remembering Chief's life and how vibrantly he lived it.

Rest in peace, Chief...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stupid Effin' Cancer...

It happened again. This morning, I found out that yet another BC sister is reaching the end of her journey. Of course it made me really, really sad, but I also felt utterly and profoundly pissed off. I can't believe another family may have to say goodbye to a soon loved one due to this ridiculously insidious disease. Ugh.

This has been a heck of a year so far. I've lost several friends and acquaintances to this beast and several more to heart attacks and accidents. Still reeling from the news of one untimely passing, a call, email, text or Tweet would come about someone else's. The memorials and funerals have truly exhausted me, but they have gotten me thinking about legacy a lot more than ever.

My reality is this: I am a breast cancer survivor. Since this disease is such a crap shoot (in that no one yet knows why some BCs get gone after treatment and others come back) and there is absolutely no cure for this disease, the chance that mine could come back with a vengence and take me out is very real - even after seven years of being NED. Other than some meories and a few blog posts, what will be left of me after I'm gone? And what will those life left-overs say about me and what I did with my time here on earth?

The friends whom I lost ranged in age from 21 to 65 years of age. Their legacies include their children, their writing, their advocacy and the promise of what life had in store for them had they been here still to live it. They leave behind husbands and wives, children and Internet sisters, girlfriends and parents, relatives and friends who all remembered them "when" - when they were alive and kicking, doing their thing and living life like they'd retire and have grandchildren. Sadly, they didn't. How will the memories of who they were live on?

A few days ago, I was asked to write a bio for a presentation this spring. I was warned that writing about myself can be difficult - which I already knew, but I really had no idea why until I sat down to write this particular bio. Most of the people reading it will know me from the world of martial arts, although the award is for teaching outside the dojo. The truth is that I'm more than just a teacher and a karateka, but if you only see me in a gi or behind the podium in a lecture hall, you'd be none the wiser. The difficulty in writing about all you do and all you are, I found, is all about what NOT to include. Who wants their bio to read like they are a superhero?

But isn't that what we all are? Rachel, Elizabeth, Tim and Mr. Guzman certainly were. Nobody just does one thing all their life - be that world politics, a more mundane day job or heading a fabulous yearly fund-raiser/event - and they were no exception. We're all much more of a multi-faceted entity than how we can describe ourselves to someone we're meeting for the first time.

Today, this super hero is ticked off. It's time to cut the bull and find out what causes this disease so we can find a way to end it forever. It's time to stop the stupid parade of pink crap - and the way BC is feminized and turned into something cute, beatable and oh-such-a-gift. Fuck that. Cancer kills - and despite what you see about early detection, breast cancer is no exception. It's time to start asking where the millions raised each year for research actually goes and time to start asking why Stage IV/metastatic breast cancer gets too little attention and funding when it's taking so many people away from us.

April will mark 20 years since my mom died of brain mets - but in that time, despite the billions raised "for breast cancer" (whatever that means), the death rate for this menace has not changed an iota. That's some serious crap right there...

I'm tired. Tired of sending condolence cards and hearing about folks going to hospice. I'm tired of funerals and memorials for sisters who left us way too soon. I'm tired of the anxiety felt when it's time for a visit to the oncologist for myself or one of my sisters and equally as tired of the cute pink ribbons that trick the public into thinking dealing with BC is as simple as having surgery, undergoing with chemo/radiation and never having to deal with this beast again. I'm. Just. Tired.

I hope you are, too.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thanks For Being So Narrow-Minded, Komen

By now, the story of Komen's funding pull for Planned Prenthood BC screenings is well-known. Like many survivors, I'm shaking my head over it.

But I am encouraged by the folks who are not only calling Komen out, but donating to Planned Parenthood. Some estimates note that Planned Parenthood has received about $680K in donations in the last 36 hours. That should help cover the $640K lost, I'm thinking.

Although not one person I've seen cheering Komen on for doing the right thing has been able to aptly explain what abortion has to do with breast screenings, the spittle is flying. But most of the comments I've seen after articles, Facebook posts and message boards about this issue seem to be appauled that the Komen would yank funding to an organization that provides so many screenings for so many women without insurance who have no where else to go for them. That so many have taken to giving to Planned Parenthood directly speaks volumes.

So maybe this is the "big thing" we needed to get folks to stop thinking of Komen as an alturistic entity solely about ridding the world of breast cancer forever. Perhaps this will get folks who've walked, run, bought silly pink products and/or otherwise donated to Komen to see that maybe the business side of pink is more important to the agency than saving women's lives.

If this is the issue that gets people to understand that there are other breast cancer organizations out there that really ARE about researching for a cure and helping BC go the way of the dinosaur, it really wouldn't be a bad thing, I'm thinking. And if that's the case, I'm most thankful to Komen. I just hope that they take all those pink ribbons with them when they fade into oblivion.

It's been real, Komen.