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/

 

Advertisements

Miracles Happen

It was April 1st, 2014. Yes, April Fool’s Day. A day when we rack our brains, trying to think of that perfect gag to play on co-workers and friends. But not last year. Last year April Fool’s Day was no laughing matter. And it’s a day I’ll never forget – as long as I live.

I was sitting in my office with my face in the computer when I received a call from my best friend. She had her biopsy results — Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. And it had metastasized to her liver. I think this is the first time I fully understood what the term “in shock” meant. Just six months earlier we lost a friend to breast cancer – and the probability of the “C” word hitting again was impossible – so we thought.

I remember trying to speak, but couldn’t. Hindered by that lump in my throat. When I finally opened my mouth, my voice was trembling. And tears were running down my face. However, the person on the other end of the line wasn’t trembling. She wasn’t even crying. She was pissed! “FUCK THIS!” As I recall… were her exact words. And it was at that very moment I knew, cancer had met its match.

I may not be right about a lot of things in my life, but I knew I was right about this. There was no way this badass friend of mine was going to be a statistic. And so, for the sake of this post, she agreed to let me refer to her simply as “Badass.” Because she is. Thank God. And we love her for it.

Badass immediately started researching the best treatment options, speaking to doctors, and reaching out to survivors. She changed her diet, started taking supplements… and she prayed. Every day. Religiously, so to speak. Still does. And not just for herself, but for others. And we pray for her right back.

And, although reluctant, she accepted help from others. Whether it be a shoulder to lean on, someone to stay with her during treatment, or homemade meals delivered to the house… she agreed to let others in. Like the purple bracelet says “No One Fights Alone.”

Someday I’ll tell her whole story. But for now, this is just part of her journey. The journey to “Survivorship.”

You know, they say that God works in mysterious ways, and boy do I believe it. Because it was that same day I received a call from a friend I hadn’t seen in months. And little did I know she’d be instrumental in helping Badass fight this fight.

Maryann, and her husband Brian, called to see if I’d like to meet them out for some Buffalo wings and a beer so we could catch up. As much as I wanted to, I just wasn’t in the mood – still reeling from the bad news. As we talked on the phone Maryann shared with me that she had a number of family members with Pancreatic Cancer. And from that very moment, she was on board – sharing information about the Macrobiotic diet, doing research, checking in on Badass, and praying every day. And it was Maryann that initiated our visit to Sloan Kettering – to an extraordinary person by the name of Nick Medley.

Fast forward to September 2015…

Badass is doing amazingly well almost 18 months after her diagnosis, and looks fantastic to boot. Yes, she still gets hit on by any man who glances her way. She’s a “hot” Badass, don’t cha know. However…looks aside, she’s still fightin’ the fight and we need to kick it outta the park!

On September 18th, 2015, we visited the Sloan Kettering Outpatient Cancer Center in NYC. You see, Maryann learned about a concierge at Sloan Kettering who gives “healing hugs,” and insisted we bring Badass to meet him. “My husband and I will pay for the hotel.” she said, “We need to do this; we need to go!” So…we did. Remember, when an earthly angel (AKA Maryann) is this insistent… you do as she says. And I’m so glad we did.

When you walk through the doors at Sloan Kettering there’s no need to ask for Nick…he’s waiting for you. He’s the first person you see. And you can feel his love and concern immediately.

sk1

His smile alone melts your heart. And when he hugs you – yes, he hugs everyone – you feel the warmth, the healing, the sense of peace.

His caring is not superficial.sk3
It’s genuine. And for a man who was featured on ABC news, and gives over a thousand hugs a day, we were shocked that he spent over two hours with us… telling Badass success story, after success story.

sk2He held her hands. He looked into her eyes. He said “Trust. Release. Live.” Trust in God — that all will be okay. Release your Worries — even if it means screaming, and punching a pillow. And Live your Life — to the fullest!
As I watched him speak to Badass, I was at the edge of my seat. There was something about Nick. I could see it in his eyes. A sense of calm came over me just being in his presence. I could tell that Badass and  Maryann felt it too. A sense that everything was going to be alright.

He gave each of us a guardian angel pin. And said “Whenever you’re having a bad day, look at this pin. And know you’re not alone.”

When it was time to say goodbye, it was kind of sad. Like leaving an old friend. We gave him a Syracuse University polo shirt and made him promise to root for our team. We said we’d keep in touch – and we will. Because he’s now part of this path to recovery. And Badass has already seen a small miracle since our visit. Yes, God does work in mysterious ways.

I asked Badass, “What should we name this post?” and she very simply stated… Miracles Happen.

Yes they do, Badass… yes they do.

Trust. Release. Live. 🙂

And while you’re at it, say a prayer for Badass.
No One Fights Alone!

 

 

 

No Peeing on the Potted Plant

Have you ever laughed until you cried? I have. Probably one too many times.

Last night I was reminiscing with a friend about my eight years at a local publishing company and how my co-workers could’ve been writers for Saturday Night Live. Honestly, they missed their calling.

I rarely got through the work day without having a moment of hysterical, tears running down my face, laughter with this group of ladies. And… I’d like to share a few of these stories with you. If any of them still worked there, I wouldn’t. But they don’t. So, I will. 🙂

DON’T LOOK NOW
I returned to work after being out for a couple of days. Everything seemed just as I left it. The team was busy cranking out the next series of books and I was happy to see everyone – they were my second family.

I logged onto my computer and got right to work. A few minutes later my supervisor wandered into my cubicle to talk about the yearly budget. As I spun around in my chair I immediately noticed that somebody had pinned….what looked like a condom…to my bulletin board. Not in the package. Stretched out as far as it could go.

All he had to do was glance to the left. Part of me wanted to laugh out loud. For Pete’s sake he’s having a serious conversation with me with a condom hanging next to him and he doesn’t even know it. But the other part of my brain, that wanted to keep my job so I could feed my children, said “Stay cool.” And I did.

I walked to the other side of the cubicle drawing his eyes away from any potential peripheral condom vision. The angels must’ve been watching out for me that day, because he left without seeing it.

After we all had a good laugh I could tell there was more. And yes, later that day I found a voodoo doll in my drawer, pins and all, made to look like the office trouble-maker. Gee, leave the office for a couple of days and you never know what you’ll return to. But, that’s why I loved working there.

YOU CALL IT CORN, WE CALL IT MAIZE
I think for all of us, lunch time was our favorite. My friend would get out her plastic utensils and tap the walls of our cubicles as she walked down the aisle. It was music to our ears. It was how she called us to graze. This is when we’d meet — and laugh until we cried — daily.

One day, a co-worker from a different department sat with us. We were enjoying conversation and laughing, but then she started to cough. The corn in her mouth flew out like an explosion and landed in my hair. She was so apologetic. I was pulling out the kernels saying “Don’t worry, it’s ok.”  That memory stuck with us for years. So did the corn. To this day I hear…“Remember when that girl spit corn in your hair? Remember?!” Ummmm, no… Of course I remember!!! 

BOUNCE REDUCES STATIC CLING
Another time, as my friend and I were chatting in the lunch room, I noticed she had a dryer sheet hanging out from the bottom of her leggings. She was laughing because she didn’t even notice it.  So, she reached down to pull it out (in front of a lunchroom full of people) but to our surprise, as she lifted the dryer sheet high in the air, it was in fact a pair of her underwear. TA-DA!”

PINTEREST: HOW TO FIX A FAUX PAS
Remember how I mentioned this team was creative? My one coworker confused a retirement card for a sympathy card? The two were being passed around at the same time. We were in a panic. You don’t tell someone that’s about to retire…. you’re sorry and you’ll keep them in your prayers. She stayed calm. Her message was on the corner of the card so she cut it out, creating the look of a bite mark and wrote “Take a bite out of life!” GENIUS!!

NO PEEING ON THE POTTED PLANT
But my all-time favorite is when the receptionist up front was busy typing and heard the front lobby door open. She could only see the top of the door over the high counter top when she was sitting. She waited, but nobody came up to the desk. When she stood up to see who was there, a woman who had come in from the street was squatting in one of the big potted plants in the reception area, relieving herself. Needless to say, we lost FERN that day. So, one of our team members reluctantly agreed to make a “No Peeing on the Potted Plant” poster. We hung them everywhere. Even handed them out at the next meeting.

no peeing

To this day, I keep in touch with this group of girls. They’re still a riot. I hope when they read this post they remind me of the many other stories so I have a “PART II” to share with you!

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!

I’m Sally O’Malley and I’m 50!

So… 2015 is a big year for my friends and I. We all turn 50. And we can ki-i-i-i-i-ck and
stre-e-e-e-e-tch, just like SNL’s Sally O’Malley. If you don’t believe me, I’ll prove it
(somebody must have footage from Friday night).

What happened Friday night? Well… it all started when our friend, Cindy, invited the girls
(a group of us who have been friends since the 7th grade) to attend her art show. Since all of us could make it, we decided to kidnap Cindy afterwards for a night on the town to celebrate her 50th. That’s her in the middle with the cool black and white dress. 

After we visited her exhibit, Cindy’s husband suggested we tour the museum. We just stood there, staring at him. It was time to get Cindy out of there and buy her a cocktail with a sparkler. But then again, here we were looking all fancy, so we decided to go ahead and meander through the museum like a bunch of art connoisseurs.

It didn’t take long for our real personalities to kick in. The big spider on the wall was calling us. “Let’s make it look like it came to life and attacked us!” We have the best ideas. If we only knew the spider was a Louise Bourgeois valued at 1.7 million dollars we may have kept our distance, and stayed near the refreshment table where the chicken fingers were a-plentiful.

11075251_1616478518582747_3501892658830034963_o (1)_copyAfter they kicked us out (joking), it was time to go to the casino and check into our room. Cindy showed us her AARP card. We assured her… “Don’t be sad, you get free donuts now.” 

Soon we headed to dinner, and bumped into a group of girls that were “us” from 25 years ago. They were texting…we were texting. I told them “We are you from the future, and in 25 years you’ll still be texting.” I wish I had used my robot voice.

After dinner, my friend Michele and I passed Elvis in the hall. He was sitting all by himself on a bench. Simultaneously we turned around, walked back and sat down next to him — no words spoken (by now we communicate telepathically).  In our minds . . . ELVIS . . . PHOTO OP . . . GO BACK.

We ended  the night dancing to an 80’s band. It was fun, but a little weird going into a club at our age. I saw two men walk into the Ladies Room and decided to stay outside the restroom door and wait. When they came running out I said “Wrong restroom, boys?” In their defense they responded “We were trying to meet girls.”  Touche’.

Later on, some punk bumped into the birthday girl and scumdidn’t even apologize. Our friend Sandy, who’s never mean, said “What a SCUMBAG!” Well… she was right. Check this out!

11036703_904693446241106_3182916722949028977_n (1)At the end of the night, we were quite proud of ourselves and our old bodies…we closed the bar! And as we walked to our room there was just one regret. Michele (who used to be a gymnast) turned to Cindy and said “I never got to do my one talent.” …to which Cindy replied “You are so talented; you can do a cart-wheel without spilling your beer.” Michele laughed, “That IS my one talent!” I guess we’ll have to save it for the next one. 🙂