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I am never more inspired than when I am in the air. I could do without all of the airport bullshit ( w hich, I know is necessary to keep us safe but is, nonetheless, a pain in the ass.) I don’t know why; is it the tidy little way I can be sure my flight attendant will be down the aisle with my drink, come hell or high water, whether it’s the fact that I can have some hours of uninterrupted sleep (which, to be honest I rarely do on a plane but, still – its nice to know that I could if I wanted to), Is it the beautiful sky I see when I look out that window? The fact that I can watch a full movie, play my candy crush, work on a blog post – you get the idea. Now that my children are older. Air time is MY time. 

I think, however , that the biggest draw for me when I travel is the fact, although I know in my heart that all of my problems will still be there at home when I get back, I have taught myself to shelve them while I am away. This may seem like a simple concept to many of you but, it’s been a long process for me. You see, for someone my type of personality; A Type, controlling, perfectionist to a fault person with more than a little touch of OCD, it hasn’t been easy.
I have been through so very much the last three (has it been three already?) months. Between the loss of my cousin, who I was so very close to and then my dad passing not even 2 days later, on top of the almost constant pain due to this nasty weather and now, my late cousins wife – who I have known for so long has become my cousin by osmosis, is gravely ill with Stage IV cancer and nothing seems to be working. She needs a miracle. I am in constant touch with her because we are so very close and because, due to the fact that I am a breast cancer survivor, I understand certain terms, action plans, side effects and a fraction of what she is feeling mentally and emotionally. 

It is an honor for me to be one of Amy’s go-to people, believe me. It also, however, gives me anxiety. Anxiety about her future, about the small but always there chance that I myself, could recur at ANY time (cancer is a tricky fucker), my family has not even really been able to properly grieve my late cousin and my dad because Amy was admitted to the hospital a few days after both of them passed away. It has just been another one of those periods where my family can’t help but have a little pity party because, damn, we seriously have not had a break from serious trauma (and I’m not over-stating, as my faithful readers know) for more than three months at a time without another piano dropping on our heads.

Despite all of this- we go on. I have certainly had my days, which I’ve been told by a therapist is normal and right. I am currently on my way to Las Vegas with two of my closest friends to meet up with more of my closest friends, to celebrate the marriage of a wonderful couple who means a lot to me and whom I love very much. 

These are the things that keep me going. Despite being sad about my recent losses, despite my physical discomfort, despite the fact that I was hesitant to leave New York because of Amy, despite the work I left on my desk – I refuse to let the bad times prevent me from celebrating the happy ones. And, as I mentioned earlier, I have always gone away to do fun and happy things with my family and friends but, many times it was out of guilt for missing an important event or for making my husband and children miss them. I would have a good time but, I was, without a doubt, only really half there. The other half of me was worrying about some scan or test (for both myself and both of my parents), trying not to be terribly sad because of a recent loss (as I said – the hits have kept coming for the last decade), worrying about some friend or even just acquaintance, who I had been helping through their diagnosis, whether it just be to explain terms, give my opinion on a certain proposed action plan, accompanying them to the wig store or just listening to them cry and scream and rail at God. It has taken me a lot of therapy as well as a lot of practice to get to the point where I am now. 

Now, I am In the present. Now, I am where I am and with who I am with. In a real emergency, I can be reached. I try to live life in the moment – which seems so simple but, is a very hard concept for certain personalities, like mine, to grasp and implement in their own lives. I will land, and my friends and loved ones will have my full attention for the duration of the trip. I will not only be there but, I will be present. They will have all of me.
And, here’s the upside to getting away for a few days without bringing your mental baggage with you- the problems and issues you come back won’t feel so insurmountable, because you have taken the time that you need to recharge and realize how much you really love yourself and how strong you really are. 

So, if you are kind enough to still be reading my work, I think that the message in this one is pretty clear. I pray that all is well with you and your loved ones.The truth is though, that we all get a turn at batting in this here world that can seem so cruel. Some may have years without major incident and some may be called up to bat much more often than others. 
So, again, I implore you to be in the present, to learn not to sweat the small stuff, to choose your battles wisely with spouses, children and other loved ones and to generally try to live as happy a life as you can in the short time we have here. Amy is not even 45 yet- put that into perspective. You may need a self help book, a friend to chat with or even therapy.  

I assure you – it’s worth every penny.

In the words of Mr. Timberlake; “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.”

All we have is the here and now. Go out there and grab some!

It’s one thing to have many close (some very close) friends, which I am lucky enough to have but, there is almost nothing sweeter, more fulfilling or more fun (for lack of a better word) than to have one true best friend. I have found that it is one of life’s greatest blessings.

I moved to Commack from Locust Valley just two months shy of my third birthday. I still remember, believe it or not, riding my big wheel as fast as I could up and down my new block, Doe Lane, hoping someone would see me and come out to play. Faster than you can say “big wheel”, there were a gang of kids out – curious to who the new addition to the block was.

It was a great block. Just about every house had two or more kids. The closest to my age, however, were Vinny, Kenny, Adam and, of course, my soon to be best friend, Jill.

Now, I actually became closest with Vinny first, and we maintained that closeness until he died tragically in the early nineties. He was like a brother to me, though. Jill and I, in fact, had some issues at first. One of them even culminated in us rolling around on the grass, kicking and pulling each other’s hair. But, you know what, that was absolutely fine. It was good for us. Our childlike, primitive way to solve a problem.

Slowly but surely, though, we became closer and closer. She was a year ahead of me in school but, soon, besides the time we spent in the classroom, we became pretty much “attached at the hip”.

Jill was the Ying to my Yang. The salt to my pepper. The Shirley to my Laverne. You see, in many ways we couldn’t be any more different. I was outgoing where she was reserved and a little shy. I was reckless (ok – wild) where she was rational. I was boy crazy where she was a little bit of a late bloomer. I constantly tested boundaries and she constantly kept me in line and protected me. I was always up to do anything and needed almost constant companionship where she cherished her alone time. I was an overachiever in just about everything while she was happy to just do her best (which is a quality, as I get older and older, I wish I had also had then). Where I was emotional and full of drama, Jill was even keeled and able to hold her emotions in check. We were anything but carbon copies of each other and yet, we didn’t see them as differences. We always felt as though we simply complimented each other. And we did. There were qualities that Jill had that benefited me more than I can say and there were qualities that I had that she has told me made life a little more exciting.

We have made so many memories that it is, in all seriousness, impossible to list them all. Since we lived across the street from each other, there was literally, except for the occasional illness or vacation, not a day that would pass that I don’t remember spending with Jill. We had our routines; watching General  Hospital every day with potato chips and iced tea, walking to Pathmark to buy our parents cigarettes at the stationery store (can you imagine??), stopping into the deli to flirt with the cute guys behind the counter, walking to the Flea Market to buy our favorite lip stick and to have a nice and gooey piece of pizza downstairs, roller skating every weekend with combs in the back pockets of our Jordache Jeans and feathers in our hair. We were miniature Dorothy Hamills on wheels because, when we weren’t at the rink, we were practicing our moves in my partially cemented back yard. We put on plays, made up dance routines (Another One Bites the Dust was a particular favorite of mine), got the ice cream man, played SPUD and Kick the Can with the other neighborhood kids and, of course, sat on the curb with our boom box under the street light until it was time to go in for the night.

We tanned until we were the color of mahogany. We still, unfortunately, have this bad habit but, at least now we wear sunscreen. No sunscreen for us then, though. It was baby oil all the way. When it got hot, we’d just jump into the pool. Luckily, we both had one, although Jill’s was a built in with a slide!

As we got older, we idolized her big sister, Karen. She taught us how to put our make up on, took us with her to Robert  Moses in her silver sports car and brought “older guys” around that we would literally drool over (or at least, being boy crazy, I did).

There was rarely a weekend that one of us didn’t sleep at the others house. My parents were her second parents and hers mine. We would listen to music, watch movies (anything scary was the best) and never missed Saturday Night Live. Jill is the one I saw my first “grown up” movies with; Fame, Flashdance, Raw and Purple Rain come to mind.

The night before the other’s birthday, one of us would spend hours making the other the big cardboard initials, wrapped in tin foil, with bows and a piece of candy for each year the other had been living. We never had to worry the night before about whether someone would make us one – it was a given – done.

We worked at McDonalds together, at the Stationary store together and at Sears together. Like I said earlier, “attached at the hip”.

There was no “threes a crowd” for us. If one of us had a boyfriend or plans with another friend, we would always include the other. We were Jill and Nicole and no one came in between us.

We shared secrets and dreams. She was going to marry Adam Ant and I was going to marry John Travolta. We had a lot of good times with lots of different boys and to this day, we often refer to different periods of our lives by which group of boys we were hanging out with at the time; first it was Randy, Shevy, Gerry, Todd and Jay, then the McDonalds crew, then the deli boys and finally, the days of Chuckie, Woody, Mike D., Mike V and Eric. Lol. You get the idea.

Sure, we got annoyed at each other sometimes but, I can honestly say that in our 43 years of friendship we only had two real fights. One was the scrap on the lawn I mentioned before and the other was when we were about 12. I though Jill was cheating at some stupid game we were playing (she wasn’t). I can’t remember if it was Gin Rummy or Life but, in any case, we had an argument. I stormed off to Old Farms and cried on the swings for about a half an hour. It was as if I had lost my arm. By the time I got back, we made up and that was the end of that.

We are so close that we are almost like twins in that we know when the other is hurting. We can also finish each other’s sentences and, sometimes, we can just look at each other without saying a word and know what the other one is thinking. Usually, this is some kind of funny memory that brings us to obnoxious hysterics.

Things, of course, have happened in both of our lives that were very deep and very painful. I can honestly say that I never could have gotten through those times without Jill nor she without me. When you are as close as are, you just instinctively know what to say, or what not to say. We are each other’s anchor, each other’s beacon in the night. Being with each other feels like home.

When my mother passed away, I was across the country. Jill and her mom went to the hospital to be with my dad and sisters in my place. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable for any of them – it just felt right. When I did get home, she didn’t leave my side, taking care of me, making phone calls I couldn’t make and showering me with hugs and kisses. She did that because she loves me so very much. We cried together, remembered together and took comfort in just being together.  Not too long before then, she had lost her beloved mother in law. I did everything I could to make her feel that she was not alone – and that she never would be. I remember holding her hand throughout the entire service at the wake. I remember looking at my devastated love and wishing there was something, anything, I could do to take that pain away for her. I couldn’t so I just did what came naturally – I just attached myself to her hip, letting her know that she was not, and would never be alone as long as I still had a breath in me.

I am so proud of my best friend. She went back to school after her beautiful daughter was born (whose middle name is, I’m proud to say, Nicole) and became an RN. After getting a great job at a wonderful hospital, she went back to school again to become a Nurse Practitioner. This was while having a child at home to take care of and working full-time. I cheered her on all the way. I didn’t even give her shit when she pulled out her study materials on the beach in Aruba, where we were enjoying a best friends vacation.

What a motivated, tough, beautiful woman has become. She finished her studies, aced her exams and is now a certified Nurse Practitioner.

The description of Jill and I from the beginning of this piece doesn’t totally apply anymore. We have both changed. Jill is no longer shy and reserved. She has come into herself beautifully, despite all of the hardships, disappointments and loss she has endured.  She is kind but, firm. She doesn’t take shit from anyone. She is more beautiful now than she has ever been and is self-confident, smart, sassy and comfortable in her own skin. She has a loving (and very handsome) husband, a daughter so bright and beautiful that the room lights up when she walks in, a beautiful home, a kick ass job and, most importantly, a pretty wonderful life.

So, Jill, here’s to you, my love. I have loved you for as long as I remember and I will love you always. I promise to always be here for you and for your beautiful daughter and I promise to fulfill all other pacts we have made. I cannot wait to experience all of the wonderful things that life has in store for us. And, I will be right there, holding your hand, for all the tough times ahead. You are a true inspiration.

Thank you for always having my back, for always holding back my hair and for the million laughs we have shared. Thank you for not getting fed up with my “alpha” personality and for always encouraging me to be who I am. Most of all, thank you for loving me – warts and all.

I know I’ve told you this so many times but, I think the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” sums up our relationship perfectly. I know that you have always been the wind for me but,  my hope is that as we have gotten older, and changed, I was able to be that wind for you, as well.

I love you, girl.

“It must have been cold there in my shadow, to never have sunlight on your face

You were content to let me shine, that’s your way

You always walked a step behind

So I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength

A beautiful face without a name, for so lone

A beautiful smile to hide the pain

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

You’re everything I wish I could be

I could fly higher than an eagle

Because you were the wind beneath my wings

It might have appeared to go unnoticed

But, I’ve got it all here in my heart

I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it

I would be nothing without you

Thank you, thank you, thank God for you

The Wind Beneath My Wings……”

~Bette Midler

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After all of the things I’ve had to do to get through my breast cancer diagnosis in 2002, I would be lying if I said that I was not getting tired. Especially since just when I thought I was done with all of the surgeries (I had twenty since my diagnosis), I found out that I would have to have three more this year. Two are pretty simple medical procedures but, I am scheduled for a double hernia and an old-fashioned (not laparoscopic) total hysterectomy in January.

I had the first of the two smaller medical procedures yesterday and, because I’m “special”, although we didn’t expect to find anything but a thickened uterine wall that would have to be dealt with, there were three large polyps that will have to be removed in the hospital in the next few weeks. Now, luckily, I had a biopsy of the uterine wall the day the sonogram showed the thickening because my kind doctor took pity on me when I started crying, so the chances of those polyps and the rest of the tissue that was taken yesterday being malignant is small since the original biopsy of part of the wall that was removed was benign. But, it led me to have to have another procedure to remove them. In addition, it caused me to have to set up the total hysterectomy because one of the side effects of the only medication I can be on while I am pre-menopausal to prevent the cancer I had from ever coming back is an increased risk of uterine cancer.

As it is, I have already been on the drug three years over the standard of care because, despite the chemo, radiation, Lupron and the drug I’ve been on (tamoxifen), my body refuses to go into menopause. Many women lose their periods after the rigorous chemotherapy I had and, if not, they lost it after being on tamoxifen for two or three years. I believe I am the only woman my oncologist has had who has had to deal with a patient who was still getting regular periods even after ten years of Tamoxafin. After much discussion at my check up after I had been on the drug for ten years, we decided I would stay on it rather than put myself into surgical menopause at only 43 since the only side effect I had ever had was a fifteen pound weight gain. The other effects are much worse; blood clots and, as I mentioned, an increased risk of getting uterine cancer. From years one to ten, the increased risk is small but, there is no data on whether the risk increases after ten years hence, the yearly sonogram that found the uterine wall thickening.

Now, although I hate the fact that I have to take this medication every day (with a baby aspirin to prevent the blood clotting risk referred to above), there was no way I was not going to do anything to be proactive in my cancer not returning. Especially since, like I said, I seem to be “special” and many times, my body does things that go against the “norm”. I wasn’t thrilled about the weight gain, either, which happened just as they said it would (think of it as being permanently in a state of “period bloat”) but, fifteen pounds, to me, was certainly worth my life. There are many women who don’t take the tamoxifen solely due to the weight gain and, I’m sorry to say that I personally know one of those women who is no longer with us. After ten years, you are technically considered “cured” and many people then go about their lives without any treatment but, I’m not taking any chances. I’m so blessed to have so many people in my life who love me and I would never want to be taken from their lives, on top of the fact that I have way too much living, and laughing, to do. Trust me, though, every morning, when I put those little pills in my mouth, it is a reminder that I had cancer. How nice it would be if I could just put it all behind me. Sigh.

So, I am having the surgery to remove the polyps soon and then, will have the total hysterectomy in January. On top of that, due to the cancer reconstruction surgeries I had, I have developed two hernias that need to be removed before they are able to do damage to other organs. I’ve already had to have one hernia surgery for the same reason, back in 2005 and, although it was not one of my longest (12 hours took that record) or even one of the hardest (one time I came home with 8 drains and had I don’t even know how many stitches – how many hundreds), it was the surgery with the hardest recovery. You see, where the hernias are happen to be the very center of my gravity so, I cannot shower, drive, lift, laugh hard, sit up without pain, etcetera for ten to twelve weeks. If you know me, you know that I am fiercely independent and having to have someone drive me anywhere I have to go, having to have my sisters help me wash my hair, having to sit at the edge of the bathtub and wash myself (which takes an excruciating amount of time) and having to have people help me with my work just sucks. However, it is something, for my health, that I will do.

So, I am getting tired, for sure. I’m tired in my heart, I’m tired in my mind and I’m tired in my body.  I’m sick of being afraid of anesthesia (how long will my luck hold out) and I’m sick of feeling fat and unattractive. I’m sick of being scared of test results (because I’m “special” – remember?) Just last summer, I had some symptoms that caused me to have a colonoscopy. Everyone said that at my age, I would be fine. They wouldn’t find anything. Well, they did. Six polyps, all different in size, that is very unusual for a woman in their forties. Now, I’m so glad I had it (and will have to have one once a year for a while) because I will probably not die of colon cancer. They will find the polyps early and remove them before they become cancerous. But, still – really?? On top of it, because of the fact that I have a recurrent staph infection because of one of the surgeries (that one caused me to have a blood transfusion and sepsis), I am unable to do any type of strenuous exercise. It causes my immune system to dip and the staph infection to rear its ugly head. Because of this, I also feel weak.

I was feeling sorry for myself yesterday when I woke up from the procedure and was told that because the polyps were big and “broad based”, I would have to have another procedure in the hospital, and soon. It couldn’t have just been a thickening of the wall that could be cleaned up. No. Because it’s me. And, I know that the doctor told me that she is not worried about malignancy because of the prior biopsy she did but, come on, it’s always there, in the back of your mind, once you have a cancer diagnosis. And, I know I’m beating a dead horse here but, things that doctors don’t expect from other patients seem to happen with me.

I came home and was crampy and exhausted. I texted the people who had been texting me, or who knew I was having the procedure and then, collapsed into bed. I slept pretty much twenty-four hours between the procedure and now. Unfortunately, I had to take a shower and now, doubt I will be able to sleep at all tonight. The cramping has gotten better, though so, that’s good. Paulie Walnuts is with me and we will just stay up cuddling and probably watching “The Sopranos”.

I know that this blog has been pretty technical up to this point and, it was necessary. It was necessary because of what I’m about to say next.

Yes, I’m tired but, I’m still here and going strong. I had a Fourth of July party with sixty of my closest family and friends there and we had such a great time. We laughed so much that my belly hurt the next day. I will go to Florida in October with old friends for our annual Halloween Horror Nights get together. Again, we will laugh and laugh and take so much joy in being together. I am taking a second trip to Aruba with my very best friend in December. We will just lay on floats in the water all day, watch the sunset, and then, go party in the small town. We will laugh, and dance, and talk about old times. We have forty-three years of memories so, we never run out of things to talk about.  We fall into bed, very late, tan, rested, slightly inebriated and completely happy. Then, in April, two of my favorite people in the world are getting married in Vegas and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. A Disney/Universal Family vacation will take place soon after. I can’t wait to see the looks on my nephew’s faces when I see them meet Mickey and Minnie and the Minions. I can’t wait to be on the corniest ride in the world “It’s a Small World” and I can’t wait to go on the roller coasters with my sons and brother in-laws. I always put my head back on those rides, and let the wind whip my hair around and breathe in the air and think “I am living.”

You see, there are lots of scary and hard things in my life but, I try to fill the other space, when those scary things are not happening, with as much love, laughter and joy as I possibly can. I think it’s very important to always have things to look forward to. That’s why I have so many parties; game nights, Rangers parties, holiday parties, BBQs. Sure, my core group is BIG and it’s a lot of work but, I wouldn’t change it for the world. People tell me I’m crazy but, they just don’t understand. These are the moments that keep me going. These are the things that turn the exhaustion into happiness and, most importantly, hope.

Unfortunately, I have a couple of friends who were recently diagnosed with cancer and they have long roads ahead of them but, I’m hoping they read this. Cry when you have to, it’s normal to be scared, it’s perfectly okay to feel like it’s not fair that this is happening to you but, be sure to remember that the reason you are going through all the treatment to make you well so that you can LIVE and not just exist. If you can survive this – and you can – I feel that it is not only a good thing to be happy for your soul but, that it is your responsibility to be happy. God kept you around for a reason. For me, I feel that one of those reasons is to try to inspire others who are going through really tough times to be grateful when you get through those times. To show others that although life is hard, there is so much joy to be had.

My mom used to say , when someone famous would die suddenly, that she never thought she’d outlive them since she had been dealing with cancer since she was in her twenties. But, my mom was sure to live her life to the fullest. She was happy. Sure, she was scared and tired, too but, all in all, she lived in such a way that she didn’t waste a moment of the good times. Anyone who knew her knows this is true. I guess that’s where I get it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.

So, when I’m surrounded by my friends and family and we are all eating, dancing,  drinking, laughing and having a good time, I’m often laughing the most. That’s when I’ve had people tell me “your always so happy”. That always makes me feel so wonderful. For me, it feels like Victory!

I know it is easy to feel despair and sadness in this life, especially with all of the horrible things going on in the world but, take it from me, you can feel empathy and sadness for the people who are affected but, then, try to get away from the news and the T.V. and go and do something that makes you happy. You won’t ever regret it.

xoxo

cry-crying-eye-purple-tears-Favim.com-100591

So, here I sit again – confused, upset, grateful, afraid and dealing with a bit of survivor’s guilt. I am also, once again and more profoundly than ever, realizing how music is magical and mystical – helping us through difficult times, helping us wallow in our sorrow in order to purge but, also, helping us to celebrate the happy times in our lives. It makes us think, it makes us cry, laugh, dance and, most of all reminisce. Sometimes, the reminiscing makes us happy and sometimes, it makes us melancholy but, both emotions are equally important. Without happiness, we would not know sorrow and without sorrow, we would not know happiness.

Of course, I’m talking about the unexpected and devastating loss of Prince, who is arguably one of the most talented artists to have ever lived.

The confusion, the upset, the gratefulness and the survivors guilt – that all comes whenever I hear of someone’s death, and especially when that someone has contributed (and could have contributed more) to our world in a positive and uplifting way.  I felt similarly when James Gandolfini died. He had so much more to give to this world as an artist and – just like that – all that potential went away.

I think that the death of Prince was so sudden, unexpected and shocking that it feels like, for me, an even bigger loss.

Why them and not me, again? I just had another biopsy that, if positive, could have turned my world upside down. It came back benign. Although I will still need another surgery, God willing I will survive it like I did the first twenty. I can carry on with my life. But, why? Why am I still here when this genius, who brought joy to millions of people, is just gone? Why am I, Nicole Abate, still here to see another day? I have an average life and although I always try and do anything I can for my friends and family, there will be no tributes on television when I leave this world. I haven’t left anything for the masses that they can enjoy for generations and generations to come. However, as much as I do feel the survivor’s guilt when I hear of someone’s passing, I am truly very grateful, as well, to wake up each morning and live another day.

Who knows? Maybe I touch more lives that I realize. Maybe this blog will be my legacy – especially if I can turn it into a book. Every time I do a post, I say a silent prayer that it will resonate with someone, maybe make them laugh, maybe take away some of their fears, maybe help them to conjure up some long lost happy memories of their childhoods.

It has taken me three days to be able to write about Prince, and the effect he had on my life. I’ll never forget where I was when I was told he passed by an old high school friend, Janine. I was in the car on the way back from a very productive business meeting and did everything I could to hold back my tears. I spent the next couple of days watching tributes and crying on and off. I know I didn’t personally know Prince, and from the specials I’ve been watching it seems like he was so painfully shy that not too many people did, but, I cry for  a piece of my childhood that has been forever altered, for the potential that will never be seen, and for his family and loved ones.

For so many years he had an effect on me and my friends. I remember that my friends Jill, Tammy, Francine and I watched Purple Rain so many times that we could recite every line. And we all wanted to be Appolonia. I am lucky enough that all of these beautiful souls are still in my life and we have all been grieving. The four of us getting ready to go out listening to “Let’s go Crazy” and “1999” are memories that I will always cherish.

I also had a friend (more like a brother), Vincent, who I would never go more than a day or two without seeing – we lived two doors down from each other. And, although it was not particularly “cool” for a guy to admit at the time that they liked Prince, because Vin would do anything for me, he would let me take the “Yes” tape out of his boom box and pop in my “Purple Rain” tape and I would listen, while he worked on one of his classic cars, for hours.

That album for me also turned our to be a “breakup” album for one of the young loves of my life. I had a very dramatic break up (what break up isn’t dramatic when you are a young teen) on the way home from an eighth grade school trip. I remember listening to “Purple Rain” all the way home. There was whispering, crying and there has not been one time when I could hear a song off of that album that it didn’t bring me right back to that bus ride.

So, you see, even that ONE album brings back happy memories of friends and fun times and melancholy over lost love and people I have lost along with way – including my old pal,  Vincent. Since it reminds me so much of when I was young it also makes me miss my mother, my grandparents (who could never see the appeal! LOL) and my childhood home on Doe Lane, where I felt so grown up having my own room in the basement(which, of course, was painted purple!)

I’m middle aged now, with one child even older than I was at the height of my Prince craze and yet, the guitar intro to the song “Purple Rain” always makes my heart jump and my knees go weak, especially now.

Another great thing about the Purple One was that his music is timeless. Just a few months ago, at a party at my house, Tammy and I were dancing in my living room to “Let’s go Crazy” and having a blast. Seth has the video of it – but was threatened with loss of life if it is ever released! Another happy memory made for me by Prince.

He was also an artist that could do it all. On many of his tracks, he played all of the instruments. His songs also crossed barriers; part funk, part disco, part pop, part Rock and Roll (and if you don’t believe that, listen to one of his guitar solos – You Tube “Guitar Gently Weeps” with Tom Petty and Prince), part R&B and part soul.

His protégées are too many to list. Of course, there was Vanity 6, Sheila E and Sheena Easton but, he also laid the keyboards down for Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back, gave Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares to you” and, hoping for a date with Ms. Hoffs from the Bangles, gave them “Manic Monday”. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

On top of directly collaborating and writing for others, there are so many artists who describe him as a “direct influence” on their music. There are far too many to count here.

Goodnight, sweet Prince. You did more on this earth in your short 57 years than most of us do in a lifetime. Where ever you are now, I hope you are singing, dancing and most of all, laughing in the Purple Rain.

I still live in the town I grew up in.

Well, actually, I did move a couple of towns over for a very short time but, I ended up coming back and planting my roots here, if you will.

Some people may find this odd. I know many of my childhood friends have moved away.  Maybe they feel on to bigger and better things.

I find comfort in living in the town where I grew up.

I still get my prescriptions in the same pharmacy where I used to buy my Love’s Baby Soft and Bonne Belle strawberry lip gloss.

I still get birthday cakes for my family at the same Carvel where my mom got mine when I was a child.

Until just a week or two ago, I still went to see movies at the same theatre where I went on some of my first dates and shared some of those first exciting and awkward kisses.

I have the same family doctor that I have had since I was a teenager.  Until a couple of years ago, I saw the same dentist that used to put on fake glasses with the fake nose before giving me sweet air, in order to make me laugh and not think about the pain that was coming.

I drive approximately two minutes to my childhood home to visit my mother.  My children play downstairs, where my friends and I exchanged dreams, plans and hopes for the future.. Where we comforted each other through break ups, picked each other up after disappointments and sang Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince songs at the top of our lungs.

Jill’s parents also still live across the street from my parents. She is my oldest and best friend. When I am walking to my car after leaving my mom’s, I can almost hear her yelling “see you tomorrow” from her door, as she watched me run from her house to mine late at night.

I am still in touch with many of my friends from childhood, junior high and high school. I feel blessed about this. For everything I’ve gone through, there is a comfort in having relationships that have lasted so many years. It’s a comfort that these people have known me for so long and knowing that despite what I have gone through, and despite all of the ways I have changed, they still love me. It makes me feel worthy. It makes me feel safe.  It makes me happy.

When I am hurting, or worried, or just having a bad day, I try and conjure up a memory from an easier time; playing kick the can, sharing secrets with Jill during our sleepovers, taking swimming lessons with Vincent at Crab Meadow, twirling my baton in the Memorial Day Parade, proudly wearing my bubble gum corsages, made by my girlfriends, to school on my birthday, getting my ankle bracelet from Randy, falling in love for the very first time, going to house parties, Robert Moses and concerts at the Coliseum. Applying for, and being accepted to, college, meeting my future husband…

All of these things happened here. There are memories around every corner for me. These happy memories have helped me to get through some pretty rough times.

I’m glad I still live here. It has had a big hand in my mental and emotional recovery.

If you don’t live where you grow up, be sure and go back and visit. Relive and remember the good times.

It helps the bad ones get fuzzy around the edges.

I am extremely glad that I had the presence of mind to enjoy the “space between”. The space between the strife in my childhood and the issues I have had this past decade. Not everyone does this and that, my friends, is very sad.

When I was very young, there were issues. My birth father left for good the night before I started kindergarten. I loved him so much and then, he was gone. Only a woman who has lost a father can understand how this affects you throughout your entire life. Although you know that it really isn’t you that is being “left”, you still feel inadequate and very alone. To top it off, there was only one other kid in my grade at Old Farms Elementary School who had divorced parents. That is the truth. There was only  one other kid. I felt alienated and misunderstood. There were some parents who wouldn’t let their children play with me. Somehow, as has been my way throughout my life, I was able to “mask” my negative feelings and project to the world strength and happiness. I did well in school and had lots of friends. Inside, however, I had many feelings of sadness and loss.

I was so lucky to have a strong mother, who always took care of us and made us feel loved and protected.  There is no substitute, however, for a girl having a daddy. It is just a different thing.

Then, my mother met my stepfather (who I refer to in these blogs as my “father”) and my baby sister was born. My life turned around. I felt loved and safe.  Things were more “normal” and less mercurial than they had been throughout my early childhood.  I gained self-confidence and my sense of self got stronger.

I really think that I led a pretty charmed life for the next twenty or so years. There was really no “masking” necessary.  I had friends, boyfriends, parties to go to, people to see. I made honors classes, made honor roll every quarter and was nominated for “best looking” in Junior High (although I lost to Kristen Church) . I was the lead in every school and camp play, got the solos in chorus and won “best singer” and “best eyes” as a senior. I always felt blessed to have all different kinds of friends. Some were jocks, some were “nerds”, some were popular and some were, what some people would call “misfits” and some were smokers (of various substances) in what we used to refer to as “dirt bag alley”. I always seemed to be able to get along with just about anyone. I went to five proms and won “best camper” more than once at the Smithtown “Y”.  I had a best friend who made me cardboard “N”s with bubble gum and ribbons taped to them on my birthday and I always had plans for the weekend. I got into a good college and made the dean’s list there. I rose through the ranks at every job I had and helped build a successful business. I married my high school sweetheart and we are still married. I had no trouble getting pregnant and had two beautiful and healthy babies who are the lights of my life. I was able to buy a home on Long Island and take regular vacations with my family. I had my grandparents until I was in my late thirties. I had an extended family who loved and supported me.

There is, of course, so much more but, that pretty much summed up my life before B.C. (Before Cancer)  and, well, it was pretty damned good. I am not saying I was happy twenty-four seven; I cried over boys, I was frustrated with my early curfew, I fought with my sisters. But, all in all, I was happy.  I am so lucky that I enjoyed that time!

Some of the positives were of my own doing. The fact that I was enjoying my life gave me confidence and motivation and helped me to achieve even more. Some, I suppose, were just fate and luck (or blessings, if you prefer to look at it that way). I thank God all the time that I didn’t take those years for granted. When I was first diagnosed and didn’t know if the cancer had spread or if I would be ok, I was terrified. I had a lot of emotions but, I can tell you one that I did not have.

Regret.

You see, I tried things in life. I took chances. I have made speeches and sung in front of rooms full of people. I left a successful job at a big company to take a chance on having something that was my own. I volunteered for things, even if I was scared and I put myself out there to learn about people and to befriend people, even at the risk of rejection.  I told boys that I loved them and entered contests just to see if I could win.  I loved and lost but, I lived those years.

What a waste it would have been if I had not. These past years have been so difficult that, although I did try every day to be positive and happy, it is something I struggled with. I had worries that were heavy and real.

I just had my last surgery. I am done, as long as this cancer stays away.  This is my A.C. (After Cancer) time and, I am going to ENJOY it. After all, I am wise enough now to know that this is just another “space between”.  Life is hard and things happen.

Please don’t waste your “space between”.

So, all’s well that ends well but, it was an emotionally tough week.

I had plans to go out with a few friends to see a psychic in a group setting, dinner and dessert included. Now, I am a very big skeptic when it comes to psychics. I do believe that there may be some people who have a gift and can tap into a part of themselves that others can’t. I do believe in signs and symbols in life but, not as easily or as quickly as others might.  Bottom line is, I was going for a night out with good friends, not for some need to connect to a passed love one. I was there for pure entertainment.

We are seated at dinner tables. I am next to Lauren, who is a fan of this  psychic and set the night up. After dinner, a motivational speaker spoke for around fifteen minutes and then, the psychic came on.

We were told that we should raise our hands if we had a question, and then, the psychic would answer it. Well, the room was shy and no one raised their hand.  He then asked if there was a Lauren in the room. When Lauren raised her hand, we heard oohs and aahs. Lauren and I, however, both knew that Lauren had been e-mailing the psychic that morning. He knew that there would be a Lauren in the house!

Anyway, the “readings” were generic and predictable. People were told that their loved ones were around them, were not mad at them, were at peace, were free, etc.  Frankly, the guy had no personality, either. It was like watching paint dry (a phrase I wrote down and passed to my friend, Andrea, like a five year old).

At some point, a woman stood up and asked “is my son around me?”. I leaned in to Lauren and whispered, “Of course he is”.

That was it. Lauren lost her mind. She laughed for a good five straight minutes. She leaned forward and her body was shaking. There were even tears. And, I laughed. With everything I had. She was contagious. Anita, sitting to my right, rubbed my arm in an effort to make it seem as though we were crying. I turned to Lauren and did the same thing. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a loud laughter. We were careful about that knowing that there were people in the room who had recently lost loved ones and were there for some sort of comfort but, boy did it feel good.

Finally, we composed ourselves.

Some time passed and then a woman in the front of the room stood up.  Her question began something like this:

“I have been trying out something new spiritually and have been dialoguing with my body. The other night, I was talking to my toe…..”

That’s all we heard. The laughter was immediate and almost violent in it’s intensity. Really? She was talking to her toe? This time, it wasn’t just Lauren and I. There were snickers all over the room. But, Lauren and I had a great friend moment. One of those moments that we will never forget. One of pure joy. In that moment together, we were truly happy.

As I laughed, I felt all of the tension of the week melting away. I felt relaxed and at ease.  I had that wonderful feeling in my stomach and that euphoric feeling in my brain. Better than any drug.

Luckily,  I went to use the ladies room and, when I came back, Anita was sitting at the bar outside the room we had been in. I sat with her and we didn’t go back in until we heard the applause letting us know it was over. Lauren and I enjoyed a few more belly laughs on the way home, and I crawled into bed and slept soundly and wonderfully.

I have always believed in the power of laughter. When I was having chemotherapy, my appointments would be on a Thursday and I would take Friday off to rest and get ready for the sickness that would generally start Saturday. I watched the entire series of “Sex and the City” during those Fridays. I laughed. It helped.

My sisters are very funny. We laugh a lot in my family. No matter what is going on, we make every effort to find the humor in it.

Like the time we went to Disney when I was bald and wearing wigs. After spending a whole, hot day at one of the parks, we all piled into the minivan to go back to the hotel. My sister, Chrissy, and brother in law, Jay, were with us. My head was hot and sweaty and I couldn’t take it for another second. I grabbed the wig off of my head, chucked it behind me (I believe I referred to it as a squirrel), and it landed on Jay’s lap. His face was classic and we all had a good laugh.

I am a firm believer in the old saying “laughter is the best medicine”.

I hope you laugh today.

My girlfriends and I made the people at Aqua Net rich and definitely contributed to the hole in the ozone layer with our hair in the 80s. It couldn’t be high enough or long enough.  A match anywhere in the vicinity was a very dangerous thing.

My hair was dark, long and wavy. If you had asked me back then I definitely would have said it was one of my best features. Hair for women is a very powerful thing.  Since ancient times, a woman’s hair has been a symbol of mystery, strength and power. In Corinthians it says “A woman’s hair is her glory.” Think about any fairy tale, any princess, any female character from Greek Mythology. You would be hard pressed to find one that was without long, flowing hair.

When I was first told I had to have chemotherapy, I went to my girlfriend, Angie’s, house and cried and screamed and railed against the world. I was not thinking about how nauseous I would be, how my joints would ache and how I would get sores in my mouth. I didn’t care that I had been told that I would have a metallic taste in my mouth for months or even that there could be damage done to my heart. What I was simply terrified about was losing my hair.

I couldn’t imagine it. I had already had my cancer surgeries so, you would think that I had lost the most important piece of my femininity but, you would be wrong. It was worse to lose my hair.

Knowing it was coming, I had my hair cut from my mid back to my shoulders. I thought, somehow, that this would make it easier once my hair started falling out. Let me assure you now, there is no preparation for a woman becoming bald.

About three days after my first treatment, my scalp was painful and sore. Another one of breast cancer’s little kicks. No one had warned me that it would actually hurt.

But, it did. I would brush my hair and actually hear a little sound, like a “pop” as the hair pulled out of my head at the root. I know some women choose to just have thin hair until it falls out completely. Not me. On the very day it began falling out, I had Al shave it off. It was another instance of me wanting some control over this thing. I would be bald but, it would be on my terms.

I didn’t even cry then. I had bought my wig in advance so, I just put it on and went about my business. I wouldn’t, however, look at myself, bald, in the mirror. I would put the wig on and then turn to the mirror to fix it. At night, I would pull the wig off and put a cap on in it’s place.

I was in denial. I tried to pretend that I wasn’t bald. I tried to ignore that it was happening. It was too much to lose. A devastating loss. I have to admit that I definitely felt like less of a woman. I was sad, vulnerable and pissed off.

That is until one day when I was on the phone with a girlfriend. My scalp was itchy.  Al was out with the kids. I pulled the wig off. We talked for another hour or so and, forgetting myself, I turned and faced the mirror behind me. I was shocked to see the image of me, bald as a cue ball. But, something inside me clicked. I had talked to my girlfriend for over an hour and the entire time, I had felt like myself. Like Nicole. Exactly the same as I had felt before my hair fell out.

It was a very powerful moment. It was the moment that I truly realized that it doesn’t matter what physical thing is taken away from me, I am still me.

My soul is the same. No matter how hard it tried, cancer couldn’t steal that from me.

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