Sunday, October 31, 2004

It has been 10 months since my diagnosis, and as of my doctor's appointment last Thursday, my prognosis looks very promising. Dr. Goldberg told me that my bloodwork results were good and if he didn't know my history, he would never have suspected that I had had leukemia. He then told me to get on with my life. I walked out of the clinic with a huge smile on my face.

My immune system will continue to be susceptible to viruses and infections for up to two years, so I must remain vigilant about what and where I eat, handwashing, and in general, use common sense regarding my health. I will not get a flu vaccine (I haven't in past years either but that's because I didn't want to) because my new immune system cannot handle it at this point, so during the cold and flu season I must take extra precautions. Although my doctors cannot declare me cured until year five, I feel very positive about the future and am making plans.

I feel incredibly blessed because I feel so well and am able to focus on my future so soon after being diagnosed with cancer. I hear many stories of leukemia patients going through years of chemotherapy. I can't imagine. I suppose they are either not good candidates for transplant (not everyone is) or a donor cannot be found. Logistically, everything fell into place for me, and my doctors were aggressive in my treatment, which is what I wanted.

I'm spending MUCH time with my nephews—they're so adorable! Being around these little fellas has done me a world of good—they keep me active and silly. I will be taking somewhat of a break from them in the next couple of months as I venture to the Midwest—Ohio in November and Indiana in December. Then after the New Year it's time to get on with life!

The Power of Love (A Tribute)—October 2004

Note: much of the friend section of this entry is written in the "Defying Gravity" entry dated May 24, 2004

Turning to God
I’ve heard several people ask, “Where was God on 9/11?” They ask this question as a challenge to faith because they feel God abandoned us that fateful day. I feel compelled to respond. I believe that God was with every one of us that day, giving us strength—especially strength, courage, and comfort to those trapped in the Towers, the Pentagon, and the hi-jacked airplanes. One of my first thoughts, as those unfathomable events unfolded that day, was that probably most people in this country either knew someone or knew of someone who was linked to the World Trade Center tragedy. I was saddened to learn that a woman from my hometown, who graduated the year before me, died that day. She was only thirty-six, but from what I understood, she had been living life on her own terms. She enjoyed her work at Canter-Fitzgerald, was taking acting classes, and strengthening her relationship to God. I truly believe God was by her side as she struggled with her fear and accepted her impending mortality. Years later, the thought of the unbearable suffering and loss of that day still reduces me to tears.

On September 11, 2001, I felt fortunate to be living in Cincinnati away from the chaos and destruction of New York City, even though I was in the process of planning a move there the following year, much to my parents’ chagrin. On 9/11, the thought of dying while still in my thirties never entered my mind—it wasn’t even a possibility. However, that changed once I was diagnosed with leukemia at age thirty-seven. I have always been somewhat of a control freak, and I learned very quickly I couldn’t control cancer. I have been examining my control issues, and in the process, am trying to let go of control and learn to trust; to accomplish this I have turned to God more than ever before.

Throughout my life, especially in difficult times, I’ve sought God. I never blame or bargain with God (or if I used to do these things, I don’t any more), but instead, try to give thanks for the many blessings I’ve received in my life, and ask for help and guidance to navigate through difficult times. Letting go of fear and the need to control and trusting in God has been an exercise in faith. I had to have faith in the procedures of chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplant to eradicate the cancer in my body and to cure me. I agonized over agreeing to transplant and weighed all the possible complications—even death. Then I thought, ‘Yes, Barbara’s stem cells could reject my body or vice versa, and I’ll die, but if I don’t have the transplant, I’m likely to relapse or even die within the next five years.’ Having the transplant was my leap of faith that I was doing what I needed in order to ensure (or at least better the odds of) my long-term survival.

Turning to God is not always easy. In this world where I want to control everything, letting go and trusting has been a huge step. I knew from the start that I could not rely solely on my doctors and chemotherapy. I had to take action for my spiritual well-being to assist healing the parts of my body that were diseased. I prayed, meditated, and worked with affirmations and guided imagery to generate positive energy. I know these have aided in the healing of my cancer.

One Friday night after my second or third round of chemotherapy—I can’t recall which one—I was having an extremely difficult time dealing with my diagnosis. Everyone had gone to sleep and I was alone in my room. Earlier in the evening, I had noticed fog creeping into the neighborhood. I love fog at night, the way light disperses through the haze obscuring reality and conjuring a mystical, haunting atmosphere.

I needed to explore my feelings, and somehow gazing into the deep mist calmed me. I lit the candle on the meditation box, put on some beautiful Celtic music, extinguished the bedside lamp, opened the shades, and sat down cross-legged in front of the window, staring out into the night searching for I’m not sure what—answers, assurances, enlightenment?

This was my time to discourse with God, and I reached out for strength and guidance. I sat there for an hour, tears streaming down my face, talking to God about my future and how I knew my work here on Earth was incomplete. It’s not that I think I’m more special than anyone else, but I’ve always believed that God wanted me to accomplish wonderful things, and I still believe that. I was just beginning my “new life” living in the New York City area, and to have it all come to an abrupt end seemed like a cruel twist of fate. It couldn’t all be over at thirty-seven years of age! I poured my heart out that night and adamantly proclaimed that I was not ready to die. I suppose that is arrogance—having the audacity to tell God when you’re ready to leave this world. I’ve (for the most part) been one who speaks her mind, and I wanted God to hear me.

I eventually calmed down, blew out the candle, turned off the music, and climbed into bed. It felt good—a catharsis of sorts—and I fell asleep in peace.

Almost five months after transplant I feel positive about my progress. There is still a long way to go, but I know God is working with me to be cured, and that by making my sister’s stem cells almost a perfect match, I am on my way to a long, healthy, and productive life. I must believe that.

When I was first diagnosed, a minister read Helen Steiner Rice's poem A Bend in the Road to me; I was so moved by it (this poem is reprinted with permission in my book Rebirth: A Leukemia Journal). So, I read this poem when a lapse of faith occurs, and it inspires me once again to depend on and trust in God and let go of my need to control. Turning to God at this time has also helped me find the humility to depend on my family and permit them to care for me.

Depending on Family
I don’t know what I’d do without my family. My family is very important to me, and I’ve come to realize how much I want a family of my own some day. My parents, my sisters and their husbands are all so caring. They have tended to my health and emotional needs quite well these past ten months. Family is there for you no matter what—at least my family is and always has been.

The most immediate form of kindness I received was from Barbara and Dan, who let me move into their home. Once I was diagnosed, Barbara told me that I was to move in with them. Actually, it was more of a command, but then that is Barbara, a take-charge kind of woman. Daniel made no objections, dutifully accepting my intrusion. I can’t imagine having had to live on my own during this ordeal, especially when I was feeling sick, extremely fatigued, or scared. There were many times that regardless of the number of people surrounding me, I still felt incredibly alone. That loneliness would have been multiplied many times had I not been in the company of loved ones. Plus, my living in their home affords me much bonding time with my godchild, Aidan, and his baby brother, Andrew, both of whom I love more than words can express.

Dan likes to joke about my living in their home. For instance, he will tell people, “I was the only one in Deb’s family to really encourage her to move to New York and pursue her dream of acting. I even told her she could stay with us for a while. If I’d never encouraged Deb to do this she would still be in Cincinnati, and Karen and Jeff would be taking care of her!” We all laugh at this—it’s really Dan’s way of saying he loves me.

Upon hearing of my diagnosis, my parents, Karen and her husband, Jeff, flew to New Jersey. Karen and Jeff stayed two days past Christmas, while Dad remained for two weeks and Mom stayed for three weeks. This was definitely not our typical Christmas of food, wine, an over-abundance of gifts, and family merriment. Our family Christmas celebrations have always been major events, as we leisurely take turns opening gifts and savoring the moment. Previous Christmas festivities included going to 5:00PM mass on Christmas Eve, coming home to prepare and eat hors d’oeuvres, sipping wine, going to my grandparents’ home to visit with relatives, and then returning home to a living room overflowing with myriad treasures. We would pass out everyone’s gifts so that each person had a pile of presents surrounding where they were seated, and then proceed to go around in a circle taking turns opening one gift at a time. Some may see this as tedious (Dan would rather pull out his fingernails yet he tolerates it) but we have always enjoyed extending the gift opening as long as possible. About ten years ago Dad bought a camcorder, and ever since he has recorded every Christmas-gift unwrapping—countless hours of opening presents have been captured on film.

However, Christmas Eve 2003 there were no gifts, food, wine or family revelry, but rather, I was in the hospital, receiving chemotherapy and morphine with Mom and Dad at my bedside. Karen, Jeff, and Barbara arrived late in the day on December 25th. It was a somber Christmas but one in which we truly experienced the value of family. No longer did we take for granted that we would be together for many more years. None of us knew what lay ahead. Tragedy such as this had never infiltrated our family unit nor did we think it ever would, at least not at our ages. Up to this point, we had been unscathed by serious illness. My parents were beside themselves with worry, anger, grief, and fear. How could one of their daughters have cancer? My father kept repeating, “Kids are supposed to die after their parents.” He told me that he would gladly trade places with me.

I smiled sadly, touching his hand and replied, “Daddy, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through this.”

I was in the hospital for six days before I started feeling ill from the leukemia. Prior to that, the doctors had been running various tests on me. On Christmas Eve, what I thought were merely aching muscles, turned out to be bone pain caused by the leukemia. This instilled great fear in me, and having weighed my treatment options, I decided to begin chemotherapy that evening. I was in so much pain later in the day that I couldn’t take phone calls, so my family took messages for me. The nurses finally started a morphine drip after my father, who was in a hyper state of anxiety, insisted they do something to alleviate my pain. He stood by my bed praying over me. He was helpless to do anything else, so prayer was his contribution and his consolation.

As always, Mother stayed strong and spent the night nursing me. Although I was receiving fluids intravenously, she woke me up regularly to drink water and rinse my mouth with the saline solution provided to prevent mouth sores (a side effect from chemo). She helped me to the bathroom when needed. I was mentally incoherent so it was good that she was there to guide and assist me.

On December 26th, Dan, Dad, Jeff, and Karen moved my belongings out of my West New York apartment and into Barbara and Dan’s basement. December 27th I was released from the hospital and moved into their home. That day I also discovered that Barbara was pregnant. She knew that she was pregnant when I was diagnosed and decided to hold off telling me. I felt awful—my cancer diagnosis definitely sucked the joy out of her pregnancy news. On December 28th, Aidan celebrated his first birthday. Unfortunately, I did not feel up to celebrating with everyone, so I spent the afternoon in my room resting.

Over the next several weeks, my parents chauffeured me to my follow-up clinic visits despite their fears of driving in New Jersey traffic. Dad refused to get behind the wheel of the car, so Mom, despising every moment of it, braved the drive.

My father wrote out many affirmations for me to utilize in my prayer and meditation sessions. He was sure that I would survive; my death was not acceptable to him. My mother prepared meals for me, bringing them on a tray to me in my room. She kept me supplied with beverages, mostly water or cran-raspberry juice diluted with water, and she even slept in my bed with me a couple of times when I was scared and feeling vulnerable. We’d talk for a while, sharing our fears and frustrations about my illness and our hopes for a cure and then drift off to sleep.

One morning I woke up to the the dawn's early light and looked over at her sleeping peacefully. She looked very beautiful to me. My parents have always been a source of strength and security. I depend on them for encouragement and help, and right now they’ve even assisted financially.

Barbara and Dan have been an even bigger help financially. They’ve paid some of my health insurance premiums, hospital bills, credit card balances, and not to mention they feed me and allow me to live with them rent-free. This is an enormous sacrifice on their part because I am not working at the moment and am only collecting a mere $1,082 a month of disability. It is difficult to be so dependent on others when I desire to be independent. It’s been a humbling experience. Barbara and Dan’s generosity and love overwhelms me at times. I have always been close to both of my sisters and I love their husbands, too. In fact, their husbands have discovered that when you marry one Ludwig, you marry the entire family!

Karen has been here several times to take care of me after chemotherapy and transplant. Mother was here for two weeks after transplant, as well. When not visiting, both of them would call on a regular basis. As I got stronger and healthier, their phone calls became less frequent, though I still enjoyed hearing from them.

My family continues to be a wonderful source of comfort, support, love, and encouragement. In addition to my family, my friends have unfailingly been there for me. I always knew my friends were special and amazing people, but I don’t think I appreciated the depth of their amazing and special qualities until now.

Calling on Friends
I’ve never been very good at asking for help. Fortunately for me, my friends called on me. From the moment they found out I was diagnosed with leukemia, I was receiving phone calls, e-mail messages, letters, cards, etc. I never realized how many people cared about me. It was very eye-opening and humbling. My friend, Robin, wrote to me and said, “Some people never know how much they are loved and cherished, but the gods have elected for you to know.”

The following is a tribute to some of my dearest friends. It is also a list of things people did for me to help with my care, to brighten my day, and to encourage me to keep fighting the fight. This is my way to say thank you, and unfortunately there will be people I omit, though not intentionally. There have been so many acts of kindness it is impossible to share them all. Some of the following is written in my book Rebirth. This is a superb list of ideas for anyone who knows someone going through cancer or illness—or any difficult ordeal, for that matter. I offer these ideas to the reader as suggestions you may find useful when wanting or needing to reach out to a friend or family member who is suffering through a crisis.

I first met Lynn on a kindergarten field trip; we sat next to each other on the bus. I didn’t know her because she was in the afternoon class and I was in the morning one. I recall she had a cold sore on her little mouth and apparently I asked her what it was. I don’t recall asking her that but she says I did.

I didn’t see that little girl again until I entered Sister Cynthia Marie’s first-grade class in the fall. We became friends quickly, and that friendship has endured and strengthened over thirty-two years. Though she and I lead very different lives—she is a nurse and lives in the small, rural town of Rockport, Indiana with her husband, Dale, and their two adorable children, Kyle and Kara—we couldn’t be closer friends. Every time I visit my hometown, Lynn and I make the effort to see each other. We left for our respective colleges at age eighteen and have regularly written to each other throughout the years.

Recently, I received a $300.00 check from her. I started crying when I saw it because I kept thinking she should be using that money for her children. I called to thank her and she told me that she had wanted to do something for me when I initially moved to the New York area, in August 2002, because she knew how difficult it would be for me getting started. She felt that now was the perfect time to help me. She assured me that she had earned some extra money, and that she would rather the money go directly to me as opposed to some anonymous person through a charitable organization. The money was very helpful, but more than the money, it is her friendship that I treasure.

Karen B (EuroK is her alter-ego that she discovered during her European sabbatical the summer of 2001)
Karen B and I met at a party the summer of 2000, and it only took twenty minutes of talking to this woman to know that she would become a dear friend. We had an immediate connection.

Karen B has been the principal coordinator of much information regarding my treatments and progress. She regularly relays this information, via e-mail, to everyone in my address book. She visited for a week after one of my rounds of chemo and was at the hospital, in my room, during the bone marrow transplant. Then she returned the following week to spend the week with me at the hospital.

She not only made these trips to help take care of me and transport me to the clinic, but she also made a surprise trip to New York City my birthday weekend. She brought with her $1,250.00 she had collected to help with my medical expenses through the EuroK Flying Pig Marathon Challenge. She came up with this idea and named it such because it was the weekend of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. She has given of her time and energy above and beyond what I ever could, or would, have expected. Her friendship is very precious to me.

Cindy is my cousin, but she is much more than a cousin. She and I were in the same grade throughout primary and secondary school, and we ran with the same group of people. So not only are we cousins, we’re great friends. When she and her family moved to Lebanon, Ohio, I was overjoyed (I was already living in Cincinnati; Lebanon is about 28 miles north of downtown Cincinnati). I made many trips up I-71 to visit them. I’d spend the entire day at their home, playing with Jake and Megan, eating, drinking, and laughing. Cindy and John are so much fun and I love them and their children.

After I was diagnosed, Cindy was one of the first people to find out. From that moment on, she called me every two to three days if I was in the hospital and every two to three weeks when I was home. I enjoyed hearing from her so much. She also sent make-up, hats, and loungewear. She always brightened my day with stories of the kids. She and I have always been close, but we’ve found a deeper closeness throughout this time.

Nelson & Beckie
Nelson and Beckie just fit together. They are a beautiful couple and their relationship gives me hope for my own romantic possibilities. Nelson started out as an acquaintance. I met him in 1996 through his ex-girlfriend when she was my assistant director in Talley’s Folly, in which I played the role of Sally Talley. I did not become friends with him until I started hanging out with Karen B because they both worked at Procter & Gamble and were good friends. Eventually, he not only became one of my dearest friends, but also a fabulous dance partner! This Latino man has quite the moves when it comes to salsa, meringue, cha-cha, and rumba.

In April 2002, he moved to Los Angeles and there met a lovely British dancer, Beckie. When he made the move to New York, she came with him. When they moved to the city in August 2003 I was thrilled. I had only been in the area one year, and though I had made some friends, it was so wonderful to have a good friend whom I trusted living nearby. The first time I met Beckie, I liked her immediately. She is a warm, sincere, funny, beautiful woman. She and Nelson have been so good to me—even before I was diagnosed with leukemia.

Every time I come into the city, I stay with them. They have told me, “Our place is your place, and we want you to come and go as you want.” I stayed with them for six days and five nights over my birthday weekend, and I got the impression that they weren't ready to kick me out—that’s how great they are. They also call often to see how I am doing.

Another way Nelson has helped me is by providing some of his frequent flyer miles to my family members. This enabled them to visit me without the cost of flying becoming a financial burden on them. When I was in the hospital for transplant, during one of his visits, Nelson picked up his cell phone and called Delta Airlines to reserve a round-trip ticket for my mother’s visit the following month. This was not the first time he offered frequent flyer miles to my family. Karen used some for her flight out to New Jersey at the end of January.

Beckie, who is a Pilates instructor, gave me a free Pilates coaching once when I visited, which I thought was quite nice. Generosity is a trait many of my friends possess.

Natalie and I met the winter of 1994 when she came to see Ten Little Indians, a community theatre production that a couple good friends of hers were in with me. This was my debut performance in Cincinnati. However, we didn’t really become close friends until a couple of years later when we started hanging out together and realized how much we had in common. She is someone with whom I can have an interesting conversation about spirituality. Both she and I have dealt with serious losses the past couple of years and that’s strengthened our bond. She lost her father the summer of 2003 and I lost my health December of that same year. Unfortunately, I was not there for her the way she has been here for me. I called, e-mailed, and checked up on her and she did all those things for me, but she actually made the trip out to see me and help transport me to clinic visits. She showed up with two Cincinnati favorites—several flavors of Graeter’s ice cream and Skyline Chili—for which she scored major points with Dan.

Not only did she give of her time, but she also bought a three-month on-line subscription to Simply Audiobooks for me and sent bubble bath along with a $100.00 check. She is a true friend and I’m so grateful to have her in my life.

I met Lisa in 1995 when I directed her in The Diary of Anne Frank. She portrayed Mrs. Frank with grace and strength. What a performance! As her director I was so proud. Needless to say, she and I became best of friends very quickly. She went on to direct me as the Witch in Into the Woods, I directed her again in The Nerd, and both of us were two of the five founding members of Ovation Theatre Company in Cincinnati. We’ve definitely been through a lot together when it comes to theater, but we’ve also been through much together personally. I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in her wedding on November 13, 1999. Lisa is still one of the people running Ovation, which will be going into its sixth season.

I spoke with her about a month ago on the phone and she told me that she was going to donate her hair to be made into a wig for cancer patients who lose their hair from chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. Lisa has gorgeous, thick, curly, long hair. Anyone would be blessed to have a wig made form her locks. She also told me a little girl who attends her church is going to do the same thing for children who have cancer, and they’re planning to get their hair cut the same day. This is a beautiful gesture and a need that is achingly too real—even for children.

She, Tim, and Joshua made a trip out to New Jersey to see me about a month after I was released from my initial stay in the hospital. They drove from Cincinnati, which is at least a ten-hour trip. It was so good to see them.

Susan and I became friends when we both worked at Cigna in Cincinnati. She was in the healthcare division and I worked in the group department (life, accident and disability insurance). She moved into Ravenswood Apartments, where I lived with my sister, Karen, and we started hanging out, going for walks, and partying on the weekends. Just as our friendship was solidifying, she received a severance package from Cigna, eventually found employment in Miami, and relocated to Florida. I never had the opportunity to visit her in Miami, but a few years later, she moved to Pittsburgh, her current residence, and I have visited her there on several occasions.

A few years ago, she took her bike to Utah with Team-in-Training to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She did this again a year later in Arizona. (How ironic that several years later I would develop leukemia.) Unfortunately, she has not been able to participate again due to a severe knee injury, but that has not stopped her from donating time to recruit people for Team-in-Training. At the end of April, she met with potential volunteers.

She and boyfriend at the time, fiancé now, Doug, drove from Pittsburgh to visit me one weekend near the end of April. I felt well enough to spend that Saturday showing them the city. By the end of the day, though, I was exhausted. As always, it was wonderful to have a dear friend near.

Katie is another friend who visited me to help around the house and transport me to the hospital. This was all the more kind because she was three to four months pregnant and had left husband, Kevin, in Alexandria to fend for himself, while she stayed with me in New Jersey.

Katie and I met in 1994 when we both performed in the above mentioned show, Ten Little Indians. It was her first show in Cincinnati, too. Like me, she worked in the insurance industry during the day and her office building was located downtown a block away from mine. We became friends quickly, but in 1995, she and Kevin moved to the Washington DC area. I visited them in 1996 and we stayed in contact intermittently. Then we lost touch.

In 2001, I received a Christmas card from her that included her e-mail address, so I e-mailed her, and from that point we have remained in contact. I informed her of my impending move to New York City, and once I was settled there, she decided to spend some time going back and forth between New York and Alexandria to pursue acting in the New York market. It was during this time that she and I reconnected and cemented our friendship.

She told me she was pregnant not long before I was diagnosed with leukemia. She called me often, visited, sent little gift packages of shampoos, lotions, and foot scrubs—many items with which to pamper myself. Then July 18, 2004 she gave birth to Emma Marcelline. I can’t wait to meet Emma! She will come to discover she has very special parents.

Dan G
My friend, Scott, one of the founding members of Ovation, hooked me up with Dan over e-mail before I moved to the northeast. Dan and I e-mailed each other for months (he’s a very busy man) before we actually met. One Friday night I went to Chelsea and met him at Food Bar. In no time we were talking about everything. No topic was off limits and at times it got a little racy. It was fun! I couldn’t believe how quickly we opened up to each other. The next day I received an e-mail message from him declaring, “Oh, my God, you’re my new best friend!” I’ll never forget it. I told him I felt the same way.

Unfortunately, Dan G and I don’t get to spend much time together, but when we do, it’s like long-time friends, picking up where we left off. That type of relationship is very important to me, and I have many of them. It’s not the quantity of time you spend with someone that’s important, but rather the quality.

He gave me a wonderful gift on May 6th. He took me to see the musical Wicked. I absolutely loved it. The show is funny and touching and it offers a new perspective on The Wizard of Oz, specifically the back story of the witches. After the show, we moseyed on up to the souvenir counter where he bought me two CD’s—the soundtrack to Wicked and one with Idina Menzel (who played Elphaba and who won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical) singing songs she’s written/co-written. I couldn’t believe he bought all this for me. He told me, “You’re going to need something to listen to while you’re in the hospital.” He was referring to my upcoming bone marrow transplant.

While I was in Manhattan, late September/early October, Dan once again treated me to a Broadway musical. This time it was Avenue Q. Unfortunately, due to a conflict he couldn’t go with me, but told me to take someone else. Karen B was in town visiting so she accompanied me. The show was hysterical. I laughed so hard. Dan G has been very kind and generous to me this past year. What a sweetie!

I’ve known Maria since first grade. She, Lynn, and I were in the same class. Maria and I shared lockers all four years of high school and were college roommates all but one semester, so we have been close friends almost our entire lives. Maria lives in Chicago with husband, Aaron, and their three adorable children, Olivia, Eliza, and Nathan. I don’t get to see Maria often nor do we talk on the phone or e-mail that much, but when we are together, it’s as if no time has passed.

Maria was feeling a little guilty about not having kept in touch after I was diagnosed with leukemia. I told her not to feel badly, that we all have busy lives. She flew out to visit me (accompanied by Kimberly, our college roommate and friend) during my hospital stay for transplant. It was such an incredible surprise. I had no idea they were coming.

Maria also has sent cards, facial creams (after lamenting to her about my dry skin), and a few CD’s: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack, Bette Midler’s Experience the Divine, and Carrie Newcomer’s The Gathering of Spirits. All these gifts were so appreciated. I value her friendship, and know that we will continue to be cherished friends throughout our lives, despite our limited interaction.

Additional acts of kindness
There are so many kind gestures people have bestowed upon me and it is difficult to include them all here. However, there are some additional ideas I feel are worth mentioning because I found them to be clever, useful, and/or surprising.

Lynn and Maria knew that I could not attend our twenty-year class reunion, so they brought the reunion to me. Maria took her camcorder and shot general scenes of classmates mulling about and interacting, and then she recorded individual messages from several people. It was so wonderful to see these people and hear their voices. It was almost as if I were there.

Lynn had taken a shoe box and note cards with her, and set them up on a table so that classmates could write messages to me. She then mailed them along with $45.00 that had been collected to me. (I have no idea who the money was from.) These notes are tucked away with all my other cards and letters. These items are very precious to me, and my friends were so thoughtful to think of ways to include me in the reunion. I was extremely touched.

Another gift from the reunion was from Danny, a friend of my mother’s who is a photographer. He shot both of my sisters’ weddings. He took the group photo at the reunion and sent an 8" x 10" copy of it to me. It is placed in a photo album.

Marni took some photos of me not long after the reunion. She had visited in August and suggested that she take some pictures of me with my “new look” to send out to casting directors. At this point, my hair was beginning to grow back but it was extremely short. She used to take headshot and publicity shots for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival where she was a member (a founding member), so I thought why not? She took the train back out to Basking Ridge, September 13th. She shot four rolls of black and white film. She left the 15th for Atlanta to work with the Georgia Shakespeare Festival. Prior to that, she’d been doing promotional work at the U.S. Open, packing for her apartment move, performing in the NY Fringe Festival, and spending time with her boyfriend, so her fitting me into her already hectic schedule meant a lot. Marni also gave me many lovely scarves throughout the year and I’ve definitely put them to good use.

Lani, another performing artist friend, made two trips to visit me in Basking Ridge and spent much time with me in the hospital, especially during my bone marrow transplant. She made macaroni and cheese one afternoon and brought it with her to the hospital. This was awesome because I had had no appetite and this was the first substantial amount of food I’d eaten in weeks. Lani also recorded her debut CD with her band Stark titled, The Curse. I was reading the jacket cover some time after she’d given me a copy and noticed that she had dedicated it to me (and her beloved dog, Peaches, who she had put to sleep due to illness). I was so honored!

I felt honored again when Rick P, the theatre writer and critic at City Beat Magazine in Cincinnati, made two comp tickets available to me to attend the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. This was perfect because I had planned to be in Cincinnati in November during the awards ceremony. He felt this would be a good way for me to see friends and colleagues during my visit. It was so kind of him to think of me.

One of the most useful and clever gifts I received came from Karryn, an ex-co-worker of mine at Cigna. In August, she sent a lovely floral decorated filing box and inside it were hundreds of cards for all occasions—birthday, anniversary, wedding, thank you, get well, first communion, baptism, etc. Also included was a roll of stamps. I will definitely not have to shop for cards anytime soon! I’ve already used seven cards and it is only October.

And of course, what is an illness without having many activities to occupy your mind. Jen visited me many times both in Basking Ridge and at the hospital. She provided me with many audio books and regular books. One of my favorites was The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, which I’ve wanted to read for several years. It’s about following your “personal legend,” which is your greatest dream. It was inspirational and I enjoy reading inspirational books be they fiction or non-fiction.

Another book supplier was Bobbi. She was quite generous. She also spent time visiting me at the hospital, which I can’t even emphasize how beneficial and uplifting this was for my spirit. The hospital can be a very lonely place and to have friends spend time with me was comforting. Bobbi also was one of the few people to come out to Basking Ridge. Basking Ridge is not far from the city but it is a lengthy train ride, so the effort made by everyone to visit me there was admirable.

There are a few more people that I must mention—Shelley, Russ, and Geralynn. Shelley and Russ spent a considerable amount of time driving me to and from my clinic appointments. The drive was almost an hour each way and then they would stay with me during my visit, which could go anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on what I needed. For instance, during one appointment, I had to get blood drawn, see the doctor, get one bag of platelets and two bags of blood. Because I did not have my catheter yet, these transfusions had to be given to me in my arm, and to prevent pain, the blood products had to be administered very slowly. I wasn’t done until 8:00PM one night. Russ was quite the sport that day.

Once Shelley began driving me on a regular basis, she and I became good friends. People even mistook her for Barbara because of her blond hair and her being pregnant.

And last, but definitely not least, Geralynn, a friend from college. Geralynn has been very good about staying in touch over the years, and when she found out I was sick, she called often and sent some lovely items such as lotion, a small photo book (including pictures from college and my and Barbara’s 1994 visit to her in Los Angeles), a cute red bag, some yummy, flavored chap sticks, and a book mark. She is planning to visit next summer. She lives in Iowa with her family.

I know there are people and gifts I’ve omitted here, but every deed, every gift is stored in my heart, and my memory is very good. I feel an enormous circle of love surrounding me, protecting me, providing strength, and willing me to get well. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have so many beautiful people in my life. I love every one of you.

In closing, let me reiterate that these kind gestures have meant so much to me and have inspired me to be a better, more generous person. It’s not only the gifts either. There have been hundreds of e-mails, cards, and prayers from all over, and many from people I don’t even know. It’s the “Get well, I’m thinking of you, you’re in my prayers,” messages that have sustained me. Knowing that a large number of people are pulling for me, praying for me, and wishing me well has been the greatest tonic for my spirit.

It’s a struggle to be happy when you have cancer, but knowing there is an abundant supply of love and support out there makes the situation more bearable. The power of love—God, family, friends—can see you through any adversity. Your relationships are the most important thing in your life. As singer Sara Groves vocalizes in the song "Just One More Thing" on her All Right Here CD (a gift from Karen B), “At the end of your life your relationships are all you’ve got.” She’s right, so cherish them.