Wednesday, September 5, 2012

!@#$% Happens

The Dream Summer
We were supposed to leave for five weeks in Italy on July 29 -- four of those weeks would be spent at an artists' colony housed in a castle in Umbria where I was hoping to finish my new book. A castle! Sound too good to be true? Uh huh…

The Reality
A visit to the radiologist on June 12 for a routine ultrasound (dense breast tissue) led to a core biopsy. Not that I didn't try to jump off the table and tell Dr. S I'd have the biopsy at another time because I had a really busy summer coming up. Oh, yeah--I actually did that, saying I'd discuss it with my GYN and get back to her. She convinced me, in her very quiet way, that my GYN would tell me to have the biopsy. Now.

The biopsy report came back a few days later while I was with my GYN in her office (a long standing appointment). It was good that I wasn't alone and that she, who has been my doctor for seventeen years, could explain it to me. Very early. Very small. Well differentiated. All good news.
But it was ductal carcinoma.

Wait – me? There’s no breast cancer in my family (recent extensive genetic testing shows no genetic connection). I haven’t eaten red meat in more than 30 years. I’ve never smoked, I exercise every day, forget alcohol - it’s bad for my reflux - I’ve been the same weight my whole adult life. How is this possible? Well, guess what – it’s possible.

Decisions
The biopsy report was a shock. Isn't it always? What do you do? Where do you go? I'm an emotional person. I'd read Betty Rollin's book, First You Cry, long ago - but for whatever reason I didn't cry. I choked up that first day, but the tears didn’t flow. This is neither good nor bad. It just surprised me. Instead, I sprang into action. Okay, I thought -- let's gather all the info, talk with both my primary care docs in NY. Talk with friends who've been through this. Ask for recommendations. Get a list of breast surgeons. Get this done. Taking charge (or thinking I was taking charge) made me feel better.
What follows are some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. 

The breast surgeon and the oncologist/breast cancer researcher who helped put my team together were great, and both were okay with either lumpectomy followed by radiation, or mastectomy with or without reconstruction. The decision was mine to make.

My cardiologist (primary care) and my GYN were not in favor of radiation for me. They know my body. They’ve cared for it for many years. I trust them. And while they have patients in common, they don’t really know each other. They are affiliated with different hospitals. Hearing the same thing from each of them was powerful. I won’t go into their reasons here. They’re specific to me. They have nothing to do with what might be the right treatment for someone else. (Most of my friends with BC have had lumpectomy and radiation.) They helped me make the decision to have mastectomy and reconstruction. Once the date was set I felt a sense of relief as I always do when I have a plan in place. Then, more decisions.

Breast Size Redux
I have small breasts (a la Margaret Simon). A-cups? The breast surgeon asked at our first meeting. She nailed it. I told her the exercises didn't work for me. Not sure she got my attempt at a joke. Like Margaret I used to think bigger was better. But my dense, small breasts aged well. They stayed perky while other body parts sagged. I'd become quite fond of them. Still, the idea of mastectomy wasn't a difficult emotional decision for me (again, these are very personal reactions and decisions). Maybe because my breasts have never defined my sexuality. Who knows?

At the shop where I was sent (pre-surgery) to get a couple of mastectomy camisoles for post surgery comfort, a yenta with a sense of humor said, Honey... take them both off and get yourself a matched pair. She wasn't the only one who recommended that. And I admit, sometimes I think I should have. Not for the "matched pair" but for the worry that it will happen again in the other breast. I have friends who've gone that route. If I were younger I think I’d have made a different decision. But I was focused on having as little anesthesia as possible, and the quickest recuperation.

The plastic surgeon thought she could do the reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy, saving me a second surgery months later. When it comes to reconstruction there are more decisions to make --implants or autologous? If implants, saline or silicone? By then I was so tired of having to make decisions I went with whatever would make the surgery easiest on me, give a decent result, and left the rest to the plastic surgeon, who had been highly recommended and was part of my team from the beginning. (silicone implant)

Six Weeks from Diagnosis to Surgery
During those six weeks, with the docs’ blessing, we were able to go to Nantucket where we’d rented a house for two weeks. Tiger Eyes was screening at the film festival and all our kids had plans to visit. It was a great two weeks. I got in plenty of beach time, we played Pounce every night, and most importantly, we all enjoyed our time together. During one thunderstorm (I’m phobic about lightning and thunder – have been as long as I can remember) we were in the car and the kids were concerned about me. I said, Hey, I have breast cancer. What’s a little lightning and thunder? (I’d like to tell you I’m no longer phobic but I’d be lying.)

When we got to Nantucket I went cold turkey off my estrogen patch (on the docs’ advice) without knowing if my tumor was ER positive (it was). I’d been using it for seventeen years and I really miss it. I’m having my first hot flashes at age 74. (Most of my friends with BC had never used any kind of HRT.)

We also got to spend four fabulous days in San Francisco, as planned, where Tiger Eyes was screening at the SFJFF.

Note to disappointed fans in San Francisco: I’m sorry I couldn't stay after the screening to sign your books. Now you know why. I wasn't supposed to be in crowds. Could not take the chance of catching a bug before surgery. On the plane I wore a surgical mask (and scrubbed our seats, tray tables, etc, like a lunatic while George pretended to be asleep) but I couldn't do that with you without explaining, and the time wasn't right for explaining. I’ll come back to your beautiful city and sign books for you another time.

July 30
I'm not afraid of surgery. Maybe I should be. Anesthesia can be dangerous but I'd had a hysterectomy seventeen years ago (cervical cancer caused by HPV). We didn't know it was cervical cancer before the surgery but we knew something was going on. Caught it just in time, extensive but still in situ. No other treatment necessary. Another story for another time. If I had a young daughter or son I'd talk to their docs about having the vaccine to protect them from getting or giving HPV. If only there was a vaccine to protect us from breast cancer we'd be lined up -- wouldn't we?
Anyway, this surgery went well, one night in the hospital, very little pain.

Going Public
My friends who've had breast cancer have been so helpful and supportive I can never thank them enough. They got me through this. They were my inspiration. If we can do it, you can do it! They were right. And I got off easy. The cancer hadn't spread anywhere. I don’t need chemo which is a whole other ballgame. (I'm considering taking a daily med but haven't yet made up my mind.) Also, I’m older, which is very different from being diagnosed when you’re young.

Now it’s one month post surgery -- I'm still in NY and feeling stronger every day, walking a couple of miles in the park each morning and going out to early dinners with George. Have seen movies and a couple of plays, as you know if you follow me on Twitter. I’m able to read again without falling asleep. Which doesn't mean I don't need a nap every day. I'm not working on my book yet (have just been given permission to type an hour at a time with arm exercises in between) but I'm thinking about getting back to it after Labor Day, kind of like starting school.

I have to thank Dr. S, the radiologist who's been doing my mammograms for 20 years. If she hadn't decided I should have a sonogram because of dense breast tissue we still wouldn't know. This didn't show up in a mammo or in physical exams, and I'm checked by doctors four times a year. Even the breast surgeon couldn’t feel this one. If you have dense breast tissue ask your radiologist about having a sonogram.

I’m lucky to have a loving, supportive partner in life (husband George) who has been fantastic, accompanying me to every doctor’s appointment, keeping me amused, making sure I’m well fed, and reassuring me every step of the way. I'm grateful to him and the rest of my loving family.

As I've told my friends who've also been treated for breast cancer, I've joined The Club - not one I wanted to join or even thought I would ever be joining - but here I am. I’m part of this Sisterhood of the Traveling Breast Cells (apologies to Ann Brashares). Medical diagnoses can leave you feeling alone and scared. When it comes to breast cancer you’re not alone, and scary though it is, there’s a network of amazing women to help you through it.

Stay well.
Judy

Friday, September 9, 2011

Full Disclosure

Not long after Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was published I got a call asking me to write a new edition of a booklet called Growing Up and Liking It. This was to be an educational booklet, preparing girls for the big day when they, too, would get their periods. I was offered $5,000 to write it. A small fortune to me in the early 70's. Five times as much as my advance for the book!

I didn't have a clue how to make this booklet fun without making fun of it, but I took my assignment seriously. I came up with the idea of three friends, Patty, Donna, and Ginny, who write letters to each other. (Any of you remember?) I gave one of them gerbils to add interest to the story but, alas, gerbils were vetoed by the male execs (or so I was told) for being too rodent-like. They strongly suggested changing gerbils to kittens. Also, they didn't want anything icky about periods. The ick factor was not acceptable.

Bless my first agents, who made sure my name would never appear on the booklet or in any connection with the booklets. But, recently, when I came across a website from the Museum of Menstruation featuring covers from the various editions of Growing Up and Liking It I decided it was time to come clean.

I was especially tickled by an editor of the website who says of the booklet:

I thought it was a wooden version of Judy Blume's famous book Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.... but I think the writer(s) had a tin ear for what passes between girls of that age - at least that is how it appears to this non-expert in girls' conversation.
Oops! I guess this proves I can't write to order.


I've never endorsed any product (though, personally, I loved those modess....because ads -- pictured left --so elegant!) But recently I've been getting invitations to write something on the subject of menopause, featuring Margaret and her friends forty years later. Margaret, menopausal? I don't think so. Maybe Patty, Donna, and Ginny are menopausal now, but to me Margaret will always be 12.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Margaret & Menstroo-ation

Why Margaret Gave Up Those Bulky Pads and Belts and Opted for a More Modern Solution

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret
was published in 1970. Just months after the book came out sanitary belts became obsolete when adhesive strip pads hit the market, leaving poor Margaret behind to struggle through the age old question: belts with pins or belts with hooks? Here she was, a modern girl of the early 70's trapped into using the same equipment I used growing up in
the 50's. A few years later a smart editor in the UK suggested that Margaret trade in those belts and pads for the new, more friendly Feminine Products. Until then I'd never guessed it was possible to revisit this issue once a book was published. But from that moment on, it was Go For It, Margaret! I made the few changes myself then approached my US editor, who readily agreed it was a good idea.

Some of my readers who grew up with the earliest editions of the book get angry when they find out Margaret isn't using sanitary belts anymore. (I think it's been at least 25 years since she has.) They feel cheated, as if my publishers are messing with a classic. I appreciate their concern - really, I do -- but in this case I disagree. We're not talking about historical fiction. We're talking about the millions of girls who have read the book since then, and continue to read it today, thinking of Margaret as their contemporary. For the purists among you, I'm writing a novel now that takes place in the early 50's and you can be sure some of my characters will struggle with belts and pins.

This is Part One of a two part blog. Stay tuned --






Friday, June 4, 2010

The Purple Jacket Goes to the White House

Key West -- I bought the purple jacket back in early April on a rare trip to Miami. I went to the only Mall I know in a city of malls (I've come to hate shopping, though I'm not opposed to having pretty things. I just want them to magically appear in my closet with no effort on my part, when I need them). Alas, that's not how it works. So I walked into a snazzy department store where I seemed to be the only shopper on a sunny Sunday afternoon and explained that I was looking for a jacket - dressy but not formal - and not black. Oh, and it had to fit really well.

As I walked around with Jane, the salesperson, I spotted the purple jacket. I have a thing for purple. (Yes, still!) Jane pointed out that it went with a dress but could be sold separately. Can't remember the last time I wore a dress. And a purple dress topped by a purple jacket would be too much even for me. But I slipped on the jacket and voila - it fit perfectly. And even in my cargo pants, t-shirt, and Mephistos I knew it looked good. Nevermind that it was way more than I'd normally spend -- with George asleep on the grass outside the store, and a long ride ahead of us back to Key West, I figured if ever there was a time for fast, but pricey, this was it.

I had no idea at the time I'd wear the purple jacket three times during the month of May, starting with the New Jersey Hall of Fame, then to the Authors Guild gala, and finally, to the White House. Yes, that White House. Had no idea why we were invited to this reception. The invitation said something about celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month. Who even knew there was a Jewish American Heritage month?

But any chance to go to this White House was a chance I wasn't going to miss. I was once invited for dinner during the Clinton administration, and, in my Good Girl Judy mode, sent regrets because I was expected on the west coast that day where a series of meetings had already been set up. When my son heard he was beside himself. Don't you know an invitation to the White House takes precedence over everything else? Okay. Now I know.

It was seriously hot and humid in Washington on Thursday afternoon (May 27). Too hot for the purple jacket. But I wore it anyway. We arrived just before three. Who knew we'd be standing on line sweltering in the hot afternoon sun waiting to get through security? But once we were inside, it was so worth it. We didn't expect to enjoy ourselves (expected only to enjoy the experience) but we did!

Abigail Pogrebin got it just right in this piece.


We met so many fascinating people, doing all sorts of interesting things. And the smart, spunky Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Broward County, FL was there (someone I'd wanted to meet since I'd seen her on TV almost every night during the presidential primaries). I'd read that this celebration was her idea. Thanks, Debbie!

For a humorous take on the afternoon check this out: Heeb Magazine

But wait a minute, Josh -- we didn't see any food. Not a cookie, not a cracker, or a strawberry dipped in chocolate, let alone London Broil. We thought that was one of the jokes of the afternoon. What do you feed several hundred Jews? Champagne!


While I know the First Lady was in the ballroom, as was the Vice Prez, I didn't lay eyes on them. Can't even tell you what Michelle was wearing. Those in the know gathered outside the ballroom doors early, waiting for them to open, and got the up front seats. By the time we entered the only seats left were in the back. We did see Obama but that's because he was at the raised podium and Danny Schayes (7 feet tall) finally sat down.

The absolute best part of the afternoon -- Regina Spektor played and sang for us. If you don't know her music check it out now. She is amazing. It was a thrill to meet her and find out my books helped her to learn English when she emigrated from Russia as a child.


Regina -- I am your fan for life!

And that's it for the merry month of May and the posts that tell the story.
Thanks for checking in.
xx Judy

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vixen

Key West -- During our three week whirlwind visit to New York and Boston, where we packed in more than I can even blog about, one of the most memorable events was being inducted into the Harvard Lampoon.

I am now officially a Vixen. And that's about all I'm permitted to say because it's all very secret.

When I paddle around this summer in a kayak that was christened Vixen back when Summer Sisters was published (remember Caitlin and Vix who called themselves Cassandra and Vixen?) I'll be thinking secretly, Hey, I'm a Vixen, too.

I can tell you this -- it was a dark and stormy night. For real. Buckets of rain and cold wind (so Boston). George and I were staying with Randy and when she saw the robin's egg blue leather jacket I was planning to wear, with the open work in back, she said, Kind of Michael Jackson for you, isn't it, Mother? Was it? Hmm... Wish I had a photo of the back of the jacket. I admit, it's outre, but fun to wear.

Both Randy and George came with me with the Lampoon's permission. They also were sworn to secrecy once we entered the castle. No kidding, the Lampoon is housed in its own castle on the Harvard campus. (Randy and George weren't with me for the official induction so only I know what really happened and I'll never tell except that it was dark and mysterious...)

For months I'd been emailing with Damilare, who extended the invitation on behalf of the Lampoon. I'd imagined a tall, exotic, female student
. The truth hit me when I asked if the evening was to be festive or casual dress. Whatever you feel like wearing. It really doesn't matter, was Damilare's reply. Suddenly, I knew Damilare was a guy! No woman would say that to another woman.

Judy with Damilare Sonoiki, and Courtney Bowman, current president of the Lampoon, outside the Castle.

And what a good sport he was when I told him my story. I love that this big, handsome guy grew up reading my books, already has book ideas of his own, and is part of the Lampoon. I think it's okay to say (at least I hope it is) that Courtney's parents met when both were on the Lampoon staff. I'll bet there were a lot of laughs around their dinner table.



Here's my official medal. So cool!



Thanks, everyone on the Lampoon staff, especially Damilare and Courtney.
xx Judy

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Graduates

Key West -- 'Tis the season for graduations and this year I got to celebrate, too.





My commencement was at Rutgers and I got to wear a regal crimson gown and black velvet hat. I loved parading around in it.

George now calls me Dr. J. It's not my first honorary degree. That was at Mount Holyoke College -- see my commencement blog of Friday, May 29, 2009 titled SAT (For Better or Worse). But because I grew up in New Jersey, being honored by Rutgers has special meaning.

I have Susan Wilson to thank for this. Susie was my champion. She's the one who sparked my interest in Answer and Sexetc. Because of her I serve on the Advisory Board of this important organization which is part of the Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers. Thanks, Susie!

But back to Rutgers and my memories of spending weekends there, bunking with students at Douglas College (Rutgers' sister school in the days when the two schools were segregated by sex), and going to fraternity parties with boys. I never learned to like the taste of beer but not drinking didn't stop me from having fun. (I'm sure I had more fun than the kids who got drunk and sick. Ugh!)

Who would have imagined then, that fifty years later I'd be back for an honorary degree? For anyone interested, below is a video.

video

And you know what the best thing about it was? I didn't have to give a commencement address. So I could relax, enjoy, and listen while Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW spoke. She focused on the fiftieth anniversary of The Pill and how it changed the lives of women. Can you believe it's been fifty years?

I have no idea who gave the commencement address at my high school graduation in 1956, nor do I remember a thing he/she said. I remember only clutching the hand of my best friend, Mary Sullivan (lucky for us we were seated next to each other, connected by the alphabet - Sullivan and Sussman). Her hand was clammy. I think we wore white. I have no memory of receiving my diploma. And four years later, when I graduated from NYU, I skipped commencement. My diploma arrived by mail. I was married with a baby by then. I felt too grown up for graduation. Little did I know! Which is why, I think, all these graduations mean so much to me.

So congratulations graduates everywhere -- you made it! And now, another beginning. I wish you all the best.
Love,
Judy

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jersey Girl

New York -- day 12 of our whirlwind visit to the city. But let's start at the beginning. The Miss New Jersey contest -- oh, wait! -- that's what George called it, but really it was the New Jersey Hall of Fame. What a night, what a hoot!

First there was the heat. The temperature outside was 90 plus that afternoon. The car picked us up at 3:30. The air conditioning worked for about 5 minutes then cut off. I don't even like air conditioning. I'm a person who rarely sweats. And I like to sweat, at the gym, or in my tap class --but not when I'm wearing my new purple jacket and an hour's worth of "natural" looking makeup, professionally applied. By the time we reached the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark I was ready for a swim. Instead, it was red carpet time -- directly from the car -- no chance to use the restroom first. And if I thought it was hot inside the car, the red carpet with all those lights made it feel like a sweat lodge.

George denies he's the guy with me here -- says it must be my bodyguard. But we know better.

Soon Frankie Valli arrived and the crowd went wild. At the end of my final TV spot I sang to him.

video

Can't believe I did that in public!

Then, bliss -- the cool air of the lobby of the theater, and a glorious theater it is. An opera house that seats 2,000. I headed for the Womens Room where I stripped down, spritzed myself with water, and paper towel dried, praying my deodorant was still working. It was -- whew! I mean, Miss New Jersey with smelly armpits?! But this is probably more than you want to know.

Each honoree was assigned a "minder" (that's what they call them in the UK) -- someone to make sure you get to where you need to be when you need to be there. Only problem was, our minders weren't properly informed (no fault of theirs) so mine didn't know there was a dressing room for me, or a green room with snacks and drinks where the official photo of this year's Class was taken. I made it just in time. Beautiful Susan Sarandon, who was there, isn't in this photo. Maybe her minder didn't know either. That's Michael Graves in a Segway chair. Thrilling to meet him.

And not bad, being seated between Jack Nicholson and Frankie Valli, with Carl Lewis behind us, and one of my favorites, Danny DeVito, next to Frankie. I was disappointed that Philip Roth didn't make it. He is surely one of America's finest novelists. Not to mention that our mothers went to high school in Elizabeth together.

Each of us was introduced by a video.



OMG -- was I ever that young and earnest? And how about David Letterman and Tom Brokaw in 1980? But that narrator's voice! Makes everyone's life sound so, well, lifeless.


I was lucky to have the fabulously smart and funny Judy Gold as my presenter.

We met when I went to her play 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.


Most moving moment of the evening -- widow of a police officer who was shot and killed on duty in Jersey City. He was acknowledged as a NJ hero. With three small kids, the youngest just a year old when her husband was killed, I'd say she's pretty heroic herself.

Funniest -- The Boss introducing Danny DeVito, then DeVito himself!

Four hours after it began the show ended. Even the Academy Awards don't last that long! As Jack Nicholson said at about 9:30 -- It's hard to give an after dinner speech when you still haven't had your dinner.

Something I've been thinking about -- from age 12 on I dreamed about living on the other side of the Hudson, which I finally managed when I went to NYU. For a long time I hated to be asked where I was from (wanting to be seen as someone more exotic?) though I never denied my Jersey roots. After all, N.J. was, and continues to be, an inspiration - so many of my books are set there, including the one I'm just starting. But lately, when someone asks where I'm from, I say proudly -- Hey, I'm a Jersey Girl! Ya wanna make something of it?