Help the Next One in Line

I assume by now you’ve heard Tim McGraw’s new song “Humble and Kind.” When you think about it, the message is pretty simple isn’t it? Basically, it tells you to be a good person.

Have manners.
Care about others.
Don’t use people.
Things we should already know – but maybe we need to be reminded from time to time.

When I first heard this song I just loved it – still do. But now it seems as if the words “don’t forget, turn back around and help the next one in line” jump right out at me. And I think of my best friend. A friend that amazed me with her strength, and her compassion for others, as she fought the toughest battle of her life.

During Sandy’s two-year battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, all she ever wanted to do was help the next one in line.

After Sandy was diagnosed, in the spring of 2014, she was anxious to start treatment. When she returned home from her first visit to the cancer center in Chicago, she was fixated on a conversation that transpired between her and one of the nurses.

The nurse asked her if she wanted treatment since there would be an out-of-pocket expense… a couple hundred dollars. Sandy looked at the nurse and said “Why would I decline treatment for that small amount?” And the nurse said “You’d be surprised at the number of people who do.”

Sandy talked about launching a not-for-profit organization for people who needed financial help with medical bills. It was something that I truly believe she would’ve accomplished, if she had the chance.

I’ve always known there was something special about Sandy. But I want to share a few things about this young lady. A few things that I think may inspire you.

If you’ve ever been close to someone battling cancer, you see what they go through – and quite frankly it makes you sick. You ask yourself “How can they endure the chemo treatments, the pain, the sleepless nights, and especially the fear of the unknown?”

You try to put yourself in their shoes. But you can’t. You just want to take it all away from them… so much so, you wish you could take it on yourself. But you can’t.

And as awful as this must’ve been for her, she continued to pray for others. Every day.

Yes, she had her moments. But, I’ve never seen anybody more grateful for what was good in her life. I know she’d want me to tell everyone who helped her along the way, how deeply touched she was. So here goes…

If you sent her an inspirational text, a card, or called her…
she’d talk about it through tear-filled eyes, because you
took the time to reach out to her.

If you gave her a token with a message or symbol to give her hope…
she’d look at it every day and it’d gave her the strength to keep fighting.

If you dropped off a meal, or a gift card….
she was thankful for the relief it gave her and her family.

If you stopped in for a visit…
she felt blessed for the time you spent with her.

Some friends even donated airline miles and hotel points to help with travel, and this is where I too say thank you. Because of your kindness and generosity, I was able to tag along on a couple trips to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America with Sandy, and for that I am forever grateful.

She was thankful for her girlfriends, who found they each brought a different strength to the table — they each played a role. And Sandy knew she could count on her lifelong posse.

Her college friends were front and center whenever she needed support — of any kind, and her neighbors were just an arm’s length away, offering help every day.

But most of all, she was thankful for her family. Her husband, her three beautiful children, and her mom – all by her side, every single day. They took every step with her, and gave her constant support and inspiration.

She had the unconditional love of her sister and brother, who called often and came in from out-of-state when they could, to visit or accompany her to a treatment in Chicago. We should all be so lucky.

Bottom line — she felt blessed.

And she’d say….
“Everyone has been so good to me. I should be helping others.”
Helping others was always on her mind. Always.

Even when Sandy could no longer work, and her sister Kris set up a Go Fund Me page to help with medical expenses. She kept saying, “Everyone has been so generous, but I see others that need help, this money should go to them.”

I remember one night, just a couple weeks before she passed, having to be a little stern with her. I told her… “You’re out of work. You have medical bills on top of regular bills. People love you and want to help. Accept their help. You’ll have time to help the next one in line.”

And yes, I admit it…I was wrong. Time wasn’t on her side. But the fact that in the last weeks of her life she was focusing on others makes me realize her story should be told.

I know if she beat this horrible disease, she wouldn’t be boasting about her accomplishments. She’d be working. Working on fundraisers to help a family with medical bills, making meals to bring to people who need rest from their chemo treatments, or taking the time to make a personal phone call to give someone the strength and encouragement to keep fighting.

Earlier I mentioned that “the girls” (Sandy’s posse of childhood friends) all had roles to play. I guess my role was to be the optimist… the perpetual cheerleader if you will. And I know people thought I was naive. I wasn’t. And I will never regret hoping for a miracle. Not for a minute. Because they do happen.

And I have to admit, it’s hard to believe that someone you spent 40 years of your life with will no longer be with you. So maybe being “the cheerleader” was just as much for me, as it was for her. And since our group of girls lost another sister, Sara, less than 3 years ago to breast cancer — I have to say, we really fought like a team. I’ve said to God…. “Now, you’ve got two of us on the other side. And yes, I’m sure Sara is winning every ‘Angel Ab Contest’ there is, and you’re in awe of Sandy’s rendition of GREASE, but please don’t take any more of us for a while… ok?”

Now it’s time to move forward, but how do we do that?

Well, after you lose someone close, you find it hits you in waves – one minute you’re strong and the next your crying like a little baby. It’s those little things. Like picking up the phone to call her and realizing you can’t. And quite frankly, it sucks out loud.

So I asked my friend Michele (who was Sara’s best friend), “When will I go a day without crying?” And she said “The day I stopped crying was when I asked if you’d help me with a fundraiser in Sara’s name. The day I decided to do something positive, to help others, in her memory.”

I know Sandy would agree. If she was here, she might say… “Don’t focus on the negative. You know I’m still here with all of you. Be grateful for the people in your life. And do everything you can… to help the next one in line.

sandy final

Well, my dear… I promise you I will. The girls will. Always.

https://powerthroughit50.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/eulogy-for-sandy-keller-napolitano/

 

Best Years of Your Life: 101

I spent the week packing my son’s things for college. Tyler is my third to leave the nest, so it should be easy this time, right? Not so much. And yes, there are sudden inconsolable bouts of crying. Me, not him. And noted obsessive compulsive behavior… “What if he runs out of shampoo, I better get him two. What if he needs paper clips, sticky notes, index cards, staples… what if he needs RUBBER BANDS!” God, I think the only thing I brought to college was a hot plate and a can of soup.

I get teary as I fold his bedding, weepy as I pack snacks — he needs something to eat when he’s up late studying, don’t cha know? — and I think I even started crying when I packed his toiletries. What’s wrong with me? It’s not like I haven’t done this before!

group

The Family

Then suddenly I stop. And I think.

This kid is about to embark on the best years of his life. The friends he’ll make, the parties he’ll go to, the mornings he’ll wake up wondering what he did the night before…and the stories he’ll never tell me and I will never want to know. And, of course the education. Don’t forget the education.

I sit for a moment and take a stroll down memory lane. And I’m happy — just thinking about those years.

College isn’t just a time for education. It’s a time to cut loose. A time to get it out of your system before you enter the real world. Before you become a responsible adult with a job, a spouse, and children.

Just last summer one of my best friends from college (who happens to do stand-up comedy) told me he uses some of my college stories in his comedy act. To which I replied… If you EVER say my name (even when you’re touring another country), or TELL one of those stories when you’re in Syracuse — I will kill you. He already knew the rules. That’s why I love him to this day, and he’s still one of my best friends. I can only pray that Ty finds a friend like him in college.

So, now I go back to packing with a smile on my face. And I look at all of the stuff I bought him and I think… so what if I’ve packed enough to send him to say, Siberia for a year. That’s ok. I only have a couple days left to baby him, so I’m giving myself a pass.

Come Saturday, these will be the….wait, dare I say it? Yes, I’m going to use my potty mouth… these will be the best fucking years of his life! And I know, there’s something BIG in store for this boy! 🙂

In the Spring of 2014, the girls and I held our first fundraiser  (in memory of our dear friend Sara). We wore tee shirts with the words Power Through It written across the chest — words used to describe how Sara handled her chemo treatments and battling cancer.

Sara had an inner strength to power through when she needed it most. She focused on the good things in her life — her children, her family, her friends. She was a true inspiration to all of us.

In the months to come, we realized the importance of this message…

We ALL have the strength to
POWER THROUGH IT.

Our daily struggles can be medical, emotional, financial…
work related, with relationships, and raising children…
just about anything.

After the fundraiser, people asked if they could buy a shirt for themselves.

pti cindy michSo, we took orders, mailed out the shirts, and something wonderful happened…
one year later dozens of people are wearing the Power Through It tee shirts — and spreading the message!

adirondacks

POWER THROUGH in the Adirondacks!

power through it michael

POWER THROUGH in the grocery store with mom!

power through texas

Our friend’s granddaughter shares the message in Texas!

reo2POWER THROUGH at an
REO Speedwagon Concert!

Power Through on Facebook

Sara’s family shares the message — they’re beautiful inside and out!

In the months to come, take a peek at our website to see how far
the Power Through It tee shirt has traveled!  🙂
https://powerthroughit50.wordpress.com/

The Art of Giving

This year, my friends and I will watch three of our children walk across that stage, and graduate from high school. We’ve already started planning their graduation parties and comparing notes. Being a single mom…it can be a little overwhelming — the invitations, decorations, food, etc. But it’ll get done.

As I sat there looking at my “to do” list, I received a phone call from my friend Michele. She said “Ok, here’s the deal…” then rattled off at least a half-a-dozen dishes that her and the girls are bringing to my son’s party. The next day I had more offers from my family and neighbors. So, it looks like I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but my friends and family are always there when I need them. I don’t even have to ask. And I’m not sure if they’ll ever really know how grateful I am. That’s why I’m writing this post.

They have mastered the “art of giving.”

Giving, because you see the need.
Helping, because you can.
Expecting, nothing in return.

But, of course, if you can pay it forward — you do. And I will.

Last year I had a similar experience. I ended up in the hospital, unexpectedly, and was out of work for weeks. Again, these “angels on earth” came to my rescue.

  • Someone to bring me to the emergency room — and patiently stay with me for hours on end, not knowing what to expect.
  • Someone waiting at my hospital room, to greet me — as I was being admitted.
  • Someone to support me, by arriving late at night just to walk beside me as I was wheeled into surgery — and to stay with me until they knew I was okay.
  • Someone to visit with me, and bring me the make-up I so desperately needed — while cheering me up the following day.
  • Someone to take the day off of work — just to drive me home.
  • And someone who (anonymously) donated all of their vacation time at work — so I wouldn’t lose a paycheck.

All Angels.

It didn’t stop there. Once home I had dinners delivered, groceries dropped off, visitors to check on me, flowers to brighten my day, and a personal chauffeur since I wasn’t allowed to drive. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.

So, to my friends and family, I want to say “thank you — from the bottom of my heart.”

And I hope, that others are inspired by you. You’re the best!