Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Rally for Girls' Sports!

The National Women’s Law Center is rallying today to support girls’ athletics. They asked bloggers to write about their involvement in sports and how it positively affected their lives. The question they asked: What did you win by playing sports? The following is an excerpt from The Accidental Feminist, an essay I wrote that was to be included in a friend’s anthology about feminism. Although she abandoned the project a couple years ago, I’m glad to be able to share a portion of my essay in this post.

What did I win by playing sports?
My journey starts with Title IX. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 states: No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid. Athletics has created the most controversy regarding Title IX, but its gains in education and academics are notable, as more and more women are receiving post-graduate and professional degrees. Before Title IX, many schools refused to admit women or enforced strict limits.

I was six years old when Title IX became law. I had no idea that it even existed until I was in college; or that it was largely due to this that I was able to be a junior high and high school athlete; or that I was allowed the same opportunities to participate in athletics as the boys in my school. I’m not even sure I was aware that sports participation for girls in schools had been an issue at the time. What I did know was that I loved competing. And until I reached the age of ten, I could beat almost every boy in my class in sprints. That did change some once I was in high school, yet I managed to claim the girl’s track MVP title all four years. My sisters excelled in athletics, too. In fact, I recall my father telling me at one time that the high school football coach told him that he wished we three girls were boys.

Title IX paved the way for young girls to actively participate in organized sports, which I believe builds strength, confidence, and an eagerness to engage in competition, not shy away from it. We compete every day, in one way or another. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but I believe this about competition: When you lose, you pick yourself up and try again. This attitude has helped me to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of tragedy. I face rejection constantly as an actress, but I have developed a thick skin (though admittedly, not as thick as I’d like). I know that if I attend enough auditions, I’m going to book jobs, so I keep doing it. I am a cancer survivor, and I wholeheartedly believe my competitive (or perhaps my fighting) spirit and the refusal to give up helped me regain my health.

The opportunity to compete empowers you to believe you can meet the goals you set. Because I was able to compete with members of the opposite sex at a young age, and then able to compete like them in the sports arena, I always felt women were as valuable as men. I was as competent, as smart, and as capable of accomplishing and doing anything they could. And so, my first foray into actively pursuing equal opportunities, where I saw girls blatantly excluded, occurred during my eighth grade year at St. Paul’s Catholic Grade School in Tell City, Indiana.

St. Paul’s housed grades K–8. Part of that Catholic education included attending Mass once a week during the school day. At that time, all the acolytes were boys. When I was in eighth grade, my friend Mariah and I decided that we wanted the opportunity to be altar servers, so we asked Father David Coats if we could do this. We felt that it was unfair that the boys could participate in the service this way and we couldn’t. Father Coats, being well ahead of his time, agreed that we should be able to serve. His decision caused quite the uproar.

The boys in our class were terribly upset that we would dare infiltrate their male domain, so much so that they called a meeting about it, which Mariah and I attended. In the end, we were allowed to serve. Mariah and I were the first girl servers at our church. After that, several other girls decided they wanted to try it, too. I only served once or twice, and that was during the school week, not during weekend Mass, but we’d made our point, and we were satisfied. Today, I’m encouraged because wherever I attend Mass, I often see girl servers, which perhaps will be an impetus for change (hopefully sooner rather than later) in the Catholic Church regarding women’s ordainment as priests. But that discussion is for a different essay.

Title IX allowed me to discover my potential, not just as an athlete, but also as a human being. Participating and excelling in athletics prepared me for dealing with and conquering life’s challenges and gave me the confidence to live life on my terms and to follow some of my dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may seem to others or how scary they may be to me.

Ladies, how has participation in athletics positively impacted your life?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Get Swabbed!

 “Get swabbed!” was the directive printed on all the promotional materials for the DKMS and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) bone marrow donor drive held today (September 25) at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.  I knew I wanted to volunteer to work this event the moment I received the email inquiry for volunteers from the LLS. As a blood cancer survivor who was lucky enough to have had a sibling bone marrow donor, I am acutely aware of the patients who are not so fortunate.

I was one of the volunteers situated at the information tables—the first area where potential donors stopped before being tested. Our job was to make sure they were not already in the registry, that they met certain criteria, and that they understood both methods for donating bone marrow: the peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) draw (approximately 70-80% of collections are performed this way) and the bone marrow extraction (approximately 20-30% of collections are performed this way).

We also had to inform them that they would be on the registry until age 61 and that they are donating to any searching patient who matches their tissue type. After visiting our table, they proceeded to registration and testing. Testing involved swabbing the inside of both their cheeks with cotton-tipped swabs. These swabs will be sent to a lab for HLA testing and entered into the Be The Match Registry (operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)). Donor data is entered in anonymous form and all information is confidential.

Per the NMDP, only 3 out of every 10 patients will receive a transplant that could save their lives. I was so inspired by those who showed up today, and especially pleased at the number of black and Hispanic people who were there, because it is these populations that are sorely underrepresented in the registry.

I encourage all of you to get swabbed; be a bone marrow donor.  This afternoon, a young woman who works for DKMS said, “Imagine if everyone in this country were in the registry.” Yes, imagine! If I could, I would be in the registry, but I’ve had cancer, so I cannot; though that is not true for all cancers, as there are exceptions: cervical, breast, and bladder (stage o) and cured skin cancer.

If interested in becoming a bone marrow donor, or if you want to help in some way, here are some ideas per the DKMS brochure:

  1. Sign up to be a bone marrow donor online
  2. Donate $65.00 to sponsor a donor (I did this today) – DKMS is a National Donor Center. DKMS does not charge the $65.00 registration fee, so they rely on the generosity of supporters – every dollar counts!
  3. Organize a bone marrow drive in your community, at your office or school
  4. Encourage family members and friends to register with DKMS (I’m doing this right now – hint, hint)
  5. Help DKMS raise funds by holding an event, raffle, etc. in your community
Those who know me, and are familiar with my history, understand how much the work of DKMS, Be The Match, the LLS and other cancer organizations means to me. Again, I encourage you to consider becoming a bone marrow donor. You never know whose life you may save, and to them, your generosity and courage will mean the world; you will be their hero. I guarantee it! 

Friday, April 02, 2010

Writing For Your Life: Journal Writing Workshop for Cancer Survivors

The next Writing for Your Life workshop is scheduled!

Dates: 5 Sessions EVERY Tuesday evening
• May 4
• May 11
• May 18
• May 25
• June 1

Time: 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Location: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
475 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10016

The Goal of Writing for Your Life
To use writing as a means to empower the cancer patient during diagnosis, treatment, and recovery by:
1.) Coming to terms with your illness
2.) Exploring your emotional life and any difficult issues with which you may be struggling
3.) Formulating ideas for living fully in the present, while fighting cancer
4.) Devising strategies that will aid in the healing of mind, body, and spirit
5.) Clarifying and outlining your hopes for the future
Caregivers are welcome to attend, as well.
To register please contact:
Maria Feeney at 212-376-4770 or

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Becoming Conscious

NOTE: Much of what I address in this blog is from Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of NOW  (Excellent book about this topic; I highly recommend it.)

This post is written for my Writing for Your Life workshop participants because there is a huge snowstorm today (a blizzard warning, in fact), so we canceled tonight’s session. (However, I hope anyone who reads it enjoys it and learns something.) For the workshop, I prepared a discussion about living more fully in the present. Carol, Iesha, Joel, Laura, and Becki, I want you to know that in preparing for this workshop over the past two weeks, I have been motivated to once again begin meditating regularly and to refocus on being aware of my behaviors and reactions. I thank you for this motivation. 

Awareness is the Key to Living in the Present
It was the usual morning stampede through the subway to get to work. Hoards of seemingly unhappy individuals were making their way up and down the stairs and escalators, bumping into each other. As I stepped off the last escalator and into the 42nd Street corridor of Grand Central station, a large man stepped on the back of my heel causing my shoe to come off and me to stumble. He didn’t acknowledge me, he just kept going; not one word of “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” ‘Really?’ I thought, ‘how rude.’

I continued walking through Grand Central to the underground corridor that leads me to 48th Street, right where my office is located. The sad part is that during most of that walk, I spent it raging internally at this man for his rude and careless behavior. An intense monologue, sometimes even a dialogue with him, was being created as to how I would berate him. Finally, I took a deep breath and realized what I was doing; I became conscious of my harmful thoughts, thoughts that could only hurt me. I would never see this person again, so all I was doing was allowing his bad behavior to affect the quality of my life and disturb my emotional equanimity. I was giving another person power over how I felt and thus, removing myself from the present moment and dealing with a past action that truly had no bearing on anything in my life. So, I let it go.

Awareness is probably the most important element to being in the NOW or living fully in the present moment. In The Power of NOW, Eckhart Tolle writes that if you are experiencing anxiety, worry and unease, there is too much future focus; if you are experiencing guilt, bitterness and resentment, there is too much past focus. By focusing on the present, we can alleviate many of these harmful emotions. We can cope with the present, but we cannot cope with the future because it is illusory; it is only in our minds. Another way of avoiding the NOW is the barrage of thoughts the mind creates on a daily basis.

Most people have relentless chatter running through their minds; they never stop thinking. These thoughts are mostly about what they imagine will happen in the future or about past events and situations. The ego has a lot to do with this. It demands our attention; it identifies with external things like possessions, careers, social status, physical appearance, relationships, belief systems, religious, political and racial identifications, etc. And because it identifies with these things, it constantly needs to be "fed and defended."

These externalities are not you; they are your life situation. The ego can never get enough, so it continually demands more. This is why when you reach a certain income level, or get a promotion, or get that new car, you are happy for a brief time, but then the ego wants something more – the next big thing. This is also true of peoples’ problems. Some people are so attached to their problems, even their illnesses, that it becomes who they are. They may not like their situation, but they are comfortable with it; it is familiar. And the ego hates change.

Tolle says that: “once you are aware of this dysfunction, you can step out of it, you become present; and when present, you can allow the mind to be as it “is” and not get entangled in it.” This will allow you to function more effectively and calmly, with less drama in your life. To overcome the ego, he suggests that the next time you find yourself getting defensive about something to ask yourself: What is it that I’m defending?

He further gives some examples of how we avoid the NOW:
  1.       Complaining – complaining is non-acceptance of what “is.” Once you can accept a situation, you can deal more effectively with it. Acceptance does not mean you agree with it or like it, just that you accept what it “is.” Once you have accepted the situation you have three choices: remove yourself from it, change it, or accept it. Then accept the consequences.   
  2.       Are you waiting to start living? Are you postponing something until you get that raise, the kids are in college, you buy that new home, you take that next trip, or you get married? If so, you are missing the present moment. Tolle suggests in this situation to switch your thinking to: what are you grateful for NOW in your current life situation and experiences? The NOW is where prosperity lies.
  3.       Negativity – any kind of negativity is resistance to the now. And while there is negativity, use it to your advantage—as an opportunity to become more aware. Notice negativity in your life; don’t let it overtake your thoughts and emotions. You have control over this.

Lastly (and I think this is one of Tolle’s best suggestions), when you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, focus not on the 100 things you will or may have to do at some point in the future, but rather on the one thing you can do now. By doing this, you bring yourself into the present and you avoid being overwhelmed by so many tasks that may lead to inaction.

When I was going through cancer treatments, I read many books on being present, meditation, gratitude, and all of it was beneficial to me. In fact, at that time, I was more centered, calm and content than I ever was before or have been since. Much loss of that centeredness is definitely due to being out in the world interacting with others, not sequestered as I was during my illness; yet a good deal of it is due to the fact that as the leukemia experience recedes further into the past, I have gotten away from the meditation and awareness exercises that I regularly practiced during that time. I am now trying to reconnect with those practices.

I warn all who have the courage to start an “awareness regimen” that it is tiring. You will discover how often you react negatively to situations or engage in behaviors that aren’t so nice, but it will help you to change those behaviors and will definitely make you more conscious of the present moment. I discovered the benefits of it years ago. And while I am not as aware as I was in 2004 and 2005, I am much more aware, or conscious, than I was prior to cancer. To me, awareness is the most important way to become more present in your life and enjoy it more.

The NOW is all we have. The past is gone; the future has not arrived. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, so live for NOW.

(If interested in reading more about my exploration of "living in the present", see the May 3, 2004 entry.)