Goodbye Gram

Two weeks have passed and this hasn’t gotten any easier for me. On the cusp of a new year and a clean slate, I lost the only grandparent I’ve ever had a relationship with; my Grammy. Gram was a mother of four, grandmother of nine, and a great grandmother of one. For most of her life she was a single parent, a hard worker, avid sports fan and shopper, and an unsuccessful gambler. Gram lived right downstairs my entire life and I’m still struggling with the fact that she’s not there anymore. Gram was a six year breast cancer survivor when she left us.

Since writing is the only way I know how to express myself, I thought it best to write a letter to Gram and post it where my feelings are most often read.

Dear Gram,
Thank you for not being like every other grandma I’ve heard stories of. Thank you for not reading me bedtime stories but for teaching me how to play Bingo and Yahtzee. Thank you for the shirts you used to get me when I was little that had hand painted celebrities and characters on them. Thank you for conversations we would have where we were both cursing our heads off. Thank you for saying “so what” when Mom told you that I was gay. Thank you for never saying “goodbye” on the phone because that was your trademark. And I’m sure I speak for all nine of us, when I say thank you for many memorable Christmas eves and many matching clothes.

Some of my best memories with you are ones that took place in your living room. When I was younger we used to watch ice skating and Riverdance and I would pretend that I could do both. Every time I bought a new dress, Mom made sure I tried it on downstairs to show you. You always made me spin. And I remember many times playing Lego’s, coloring, and playing with that metal circus set you had on the floor while you watched TV.

You used to take me and Gea to school a lot in your station wagon. We always had Burger King breakfast. And I remember one time when we were younger, we had all gone crabbing and you were so mad when we were throwing trash out of the windows of your car while we were driving.

Even though I couldn’t get there often enough, I enjoyed taking care of you whenever you were in the hospital. If things weren’t being done right, I made sure I got things done and that always made you laugh. Especially that time you had to share a room with two other women, one of which was out of her mind. That was a fun night.

I loved being best grandchild for a short while after I bought you a $1000 winning scratch off. Unfortunately the hundreds I’ve bought you since then were not as lucky. Christmas morning was the last time I saw you. I had bought you scratch offs yet again. You only scratched a little and then made me finish them because I had bought you the pain in the ass ones. But you won $12, and I promised to get you easier ones. Your winning tickets are still with me, I won’t cash them.

You were the center of this family and things will not be the same from this year on. We are all not the same and I am not the same. You were the only grandma I have ever known let alone the only grandparent completely in my life. You were one of my biggest fans and I know you will continue to be. I know the relationship you had with Mom and many times we both laugh because it seems me and her are becoming the both of you. I treasure her so much more now that you are gone. Rea and Aunt Joan are so lonely without you here but I promise to keep them company the best I can. I’m sorry that you won’t be there when I graduate or when I get married but I know you will be in my heart. There are many more things for me to say to you but I know those will be shared between us.
I love you and miss you so much Gram. Watch over us all.

Love always,
Nicki

In Loving Memory of Gloria Falconiere
September 22nd 1932 – December 30th 2013

2 comments January 16, 2014

The Great and Powerful

Have you ever had something surreal happen to you? Something that in a million years you never thought could happen to a regular person like you? Or to me – a retail employee and not so well known blogger from Staten Island. Well guess what, sometimes when you least expect it, the most unbelievable thing falls right into your lap – or into your comments spam.

For my avid followers who know my posts, I was posting different things in October as I usually do to promote awareness. I had just posted about mammo-graham cookies that my cousin Missy had told me about. Just last week I was checking my email and came across a comment on my mammo-graham post. The comment had come from a producer of the Dr. Oz show who was asking me to appear on an upcoming segment about health related sweets.

I was literally in shock for about an hour or two. I was frantically writing emails back and forth with the producer asking any question that raced through my head. My biggest concern was taking credit for a treat that wasn’t mine to share. She liked that I had a personal connection to breast cancer so we figured out something for me to say to not take credit for it.

Still in shock the next day, I had to switch my work schedule to be able to go. Not to mention I had only a few days to test out the recipe for mammo-grahams which I had never previously made. So Monday was the test run, which came out exceptionally good. But that still didn’t shake my nerves.

Tuesday, my girlfriend Lex helped me prepare the ones I would be bringing on the show. In those few days, I also managed to buy a brand new outfit, complete with a bright pink button down shirt. Mom kept telling me to check if someone was trying to scam me. Since Lex had work, and mom was upstate, I took a chance at asking my brother to come with me. Traveling to the city alone was freaking me out, not to mention appearing on national television. Luckily he had off and agreed to go on this wild adventure with me.

Wednesday, the day of taping, I was a wreck. I packed up my unassembled mammo-grahams and got dressed way too early. I left my hair in a messy bun because the producer assured me I would have hair and makeup done. My brother and I drove into the city and I had to remember to take breaths every so often. Mom was nervous for me which was making me want to throw up even more. We got to ABC studios almost an hour early and wound up sitting on a bench around the corner.

At 1 o’clock, I went inside, leaving Paul at the front of the line of audience members. I was given a sticker that said Dr. Oz and the date and was brought up to my own dressing room. I met with the producer who had been emailing me and the other girl who was to appear on the segment with me. We were both laughing at how unreal the situation was.

I went into hair and makeup and asked the makeup artist nine million annoying questions that she really didn’t want to answer. Then I decided to shut up and let her transform my stress pimpled face. My hair and makeup were done in about 15 minutes then it was back to the dressing room to wait.

A short time after that we were brought to the studio floor to set up our treats for the prop people. We had to plate them on the table that we would be standing behind with Dr. Oz. Then back to our dressing room to wait some more. The waiting was overwhelming.

After we were given our mics, we were told to sit backstage and watch the other segments being filmed that day. I watched my brother in the front of the audience and I couldn’t stop my leg from bouncing. My fear of public speaking had come back with a vengeance. I was drowning in sweat.

All of a sudden it was our turn. If it’s possible, I thought my heart had stopped beating. We walked through a huge blue curtain, and then a door, and right onto the set of the Dr. Oz show. I turned around to wave at Paul who was smiling at me, probably because he knew I was about to crap my pants. They set us up behind the table, and all of a sudden my mind went blank. I had bright, hot lights in my face and camera crew giving me directions. When Dr. Oz walked up to me and shook my hand, I don’t even remember if I was breathing. He quickly studied the script and all of a sudden the cameras were rolling. I don’t even remember much of what I said. And then I stood there smiling while he spoke to the other girl. Then we cut, I shook his hand and thanked him, and we were brought off set. Quicker than a Band-Aid.

We grabbed our stuff from the dressing room and I got downstairs just in time to meet Paul in front. We talked about everything the whole ride back to the ferry. He said I did a great job. He dropped me at the ferry just in time for Lex to meet me and take me out for dinner.

The whole day was unreal. I am used to a routine of working, school, and running errands. I have been in the local paper three times, but that never could have prepared me for this. I felt like I was in a dream. But then back to reality and back to doing what I love; this blog.

If you would like to see my national television debut, hear my actual voice instead of reading it through my words, the show airs December 4th on Fox 5.

I would like to thank (J), Dr. Oz’s producer for choosing me out of millions of people, Dr. Oz for giving me a means to spread awareness a little further, and I would like to thank my girlfriend, my family and friends for their outrageous love and support.

1 comment November 27, 2013

Walk this Way

I have been over the fundamentals to improving and maintaining breast health many times. But studies continue to explore just how positive certain aspects of the list can be for your health.

Take exercise for example. Exercising can help you improve your health in multiple ways. And help protect you from multiple cancers. Thankfully, the American Cancer society did a study that led to findings that those women who walked an hour a day decreased their chance of breast cancer by 14 percent. Those are huge results.

The study was rather large, surveying over 73,000 post-menopausal women over the course of 17 years.

Walking can also improve hormone levels, glucose metabolism, and reduce chronic inflammation.

It is not hard to try a little harder to stay active. I should preach this to myself. As the colder weather comes, I get more and more lazy. But make sure you are moving. Go walk in the park or at the mall. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk during your lunch break.

It’s important to stay active ladies – get moving!

 

Add a comment November 19, 2013

October 26th

October 26th, 2009, was the worst day of my life. That was the day we found out that Mom had cancer. I will not go into detail because I know you have heard it every year since I started this blog. This past Saturday, the 26th, I woke up extremely upset. But as the day progressed I realized I shouldn’t be living in the past. Mom has been cancer free for almost four years and that is what I should be focusing on. Thankfully, this past Saturday, my family and I were together celebrating my cousin’s engagement. Every day is another reason to celebrate – so that is what I’m going to do.

I love you Mom

 

Add a comment October 29, 2013

Making Strides 2013

October 20th, 2013 – back to one of my favorite days of the year. I can’t believe I’ve walked my 4th consecutive Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. My girlfriend Alexa and I were up early with anticipation and I think I was dressed within five minutes. I struggled with bandanas and scarfs but ultimately decided I was going to tone down my pink-ness this year. Doesn’t mean I am any less supportive. Pink runs through my blood now.

 

walk8

I made a very strategic move and had Dad drop us off at the park. It was nice not to drive around endlessly looking for a spot. We strolled into Clove Lakes and I had butterflies in my stomach. I was so proud of my new shirt which emphasized Mom and Grandma being survivors. I had our picture put on the front and a short saying on the back. Even with Grandma recovering in the hospital, and Mom wishing me well from home, I still felt like they were with me.

 

walk5

I always like to get to the walk early because I like to breathe everything in. The pink, the signs, the support, the smiles, just everything. Before I met up with my cousins, we got to see Gina before her Zumba warm-up. She gave me a wonderfully big hug and we briefly talked about our survivor moms. My cousins Melissa, Mike, Chris, and Candace met up with us at our old Team Peachy meeting spot. We just stood around laughing and taking everything in. At one point I glanced over at the bleachers during the survivor photo and my heart sank a little. I wished Mom was there, being the craziest in the bunch.

 

walk1

At 10:45, the Zumba warm-up started. Although we couldn’t get close to the stage, Missy and I broke out our expert Zumba moves in the middle of a crowd. It was so much fun but we were sweating before the walk even started.

 

walk7

Then it was time to start walking. Another one of my favorite parts of the walk is when they release the doves before the walk starts. We tried to walk across the field and beat the rush, but it was impossible. There were crowds of pink people everywhere. We walked one lake and then said goodbye to everyone. Lex and I briskly finished the walk and I was very sorry to leave.

 

walk6

In the American Cancer Society’s 100th year, there was such a wonderful turnout. Over 8,000 people walked, more than I’ve ever seen, and around $620,000 was raised. The weather was beautiful as always and the spirits were high. The website will still be active for a few months, so make sure if you haven’t donated yet you stop by it to help create more birthdays.

 

Next year can’t come soon enough!

Making Strides

Add a comment October 22, 2013

20,000 Hits!

20,000 hits! May not seem like a lot for three and a half years but to me it’s everything. This blog was started as a school project and has kept me informing hundreds of people. I have people all over the United States as well as Canada reading my blog. I even have a view from the Middle East. In the past two weeks, my blog has received over 2,000 hits. And I am just blown away. I thought I’d celebrate the new milestone with reposting my first post ever. Thank you for coming to me for info, I am truly honored.

Enjoy this flashback and keep coming back for more!

      I used to loathe the color pink. Pink for me was a misrepresentation of all things female that was thrown in our faces since our mommies first heard the words, “it’s a girl.” I personally felt no attachment or relationship with the nauseating color that is until the day it turned my world upside down.

     When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009, I found so much more meaning to the color pink rather than its constant effort to feminize me. It no longer stood for the entire class of women, but for a group of women that had become so much more significant to me. Pink embodied the millions of people affected by breast cancer. Pink signified hope. Pink represented hundreds of organizations attempting to find a cure.  Pink symbolized the cancer that would change my life forever.

      After my mom broke the news to me, I was out buying everything I could find with that little pink ribbon on it (which was not hard to do.) Shirts, rubber bracelets, key chains, I even bought pink ribbon dental floss at the dollar store because to me it meant hope that my mom would get better. It’s actually funny that I don’t floss, because now, five months later my mom is cancer free, awaiting radiation.

     Pink brought me into this world and now here it is changing my life. I have found a purpose for pink and I will share its purpose on here. I will spread hope, one blog at a time.

Add a comment October 19, 2013

Breast Cancer Prevention: Not Where it Should Be

Based on a poll that ABC News conducted at the beginning of this month, breast cancer prevention is slipping amongst women. The poll offered some startling results. Fewer women say they’re doing self-breast exams now compared to six years ago. Also one in four women, age 50 or older says they’ve never had a mammogram. The poll also showed women with fewer resources to pay are not getting as many mammograms as others.

Also according to the news story, more information is coming to life concerning the BRCA gene mutation. For people like me, who are closely affected by breast cancer, are aware of what the BRCA gene is and what the test can offer. But for others, most have really just heard about it based on the recent story about Angelina Jolie. As a refresh; BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes - The principal genes that, when altered, indicate an inherited susceptibility to breast cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. These gene alterations are present in 80 to 90 percent of hereditary cases of breast cancer.

ABC News: Breast cancer prevention slipping according to poll

Not only has Jolie’s story made the BRCA gene more known, but it has brought new techniques being used by doctors to the eye of the public. One is called “nipple delay” which was performed on Jolie prior to her mastectomy and helps preserve that part of the breast. This is usually performed a couple of weeks before a patient undergoes a mastectomy. This is also a rare step in a nipple-sparing mastectomy, and involves severing the blood vessels and other breast tissue beneath the nipple so that it is no longer dependent on the underlying tissue for blood supply. The nipple then becomes accustomed to getting its blood supply from the skin around it instead of the breast tissue underneath it which can help it survive the surgery. Jolie had stated that the nipple delay “draws extra blood flow to the area,” adding, “This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.” Nipple delays are very uncommon. Dr. Deborah Capko, breast surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, says that her group doesn’t even do them, explaining that they’re generally not necessary for nipple preservation. 

The second technique come to light, also used on Jolie is a sentinel node biopsy. A sentinel node biopsy is a relatively new way of pinpointing the first few lymph nodes into which a tumor drains (called the “sentinel” node). This helps doctors remove only those nodes of the lymphatic system most likely to contain cancer cells. The sentinel nodes are the first place that cancer is likely to spread.

The ABC News story concluded with talk of a new drug; Perjeta. Perjeta is an FDA-approved treatment for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. It is a targeted therapy used as part of a first-line HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer treatment plan, in combination with Herceptin (trastuzumab) and docetaxel (chemotherapy). 

“This is exciting, it’s the first drug the FDA has ever approved, before a woman has surgery and what they found is, when they get this, women who have surgery, they have fewer cancer cells there. The hope is longer survival, we’ll have to see what those studies show,” Dr. Besser said.

 

And as interesting and informative as these new techniques are, it does not change the fact that women have been dropping the ball when it comes to caring about their breast health. Women who have breast cancer in their family should take more precaution. But women who are not bound by genetics should still be taking notice. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. Starting at age 20, women should be conducting self-breast exams and having them done by their gynecologists. After age 40, women should be scheduling annual mammograms.

Please this is not something that should be taken lightly. Take my mom by example; she never wanted to get a mammogram done and when she finally did, she already had cancer.

Come on ladies! This information is right at your fingertips. This blog is full of information as well the as The American Cancer Society website.

 

Add a comment October 15, 2013

Mammo-grahams!

My cousin Missy sent me a picture of these adorable snacks and I had to share. I looked up the recipe because I hope to try making them sometime this month. Some recipes vary but this one I found on several sites. I hope you make them to spread awareness this month!

Mammo-Grahams

2 medium potatoes
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, chopped
2 16 ounce boxes powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond, actually, if you really wanted faux-marzipan)
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Other Mammo-Graham materials:
6 regular graham cracker rectangles, each broken into 2 squares
6 chocolate graham cracker rectangles, each broken into 2 squares
about 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
about a dozen pink M&Ms, preferably both plain and peanut

Boil the potatoes just until soft. Drain, mash, and measure 1/2 cup out into a mixing bowl. Add butter into mixing bowl, mix in thoroughly, and let cool completely (very important).  Add sugar and vanilla/almond extract, knead until smooth. Roll some of the dough into various ball sizes. Then add the peanut butter and knead thoroughly again. Different amounts for different skin tones. Follow the same process with the cocoa, adding incrementally to represent different complexions. Gently squeeze each ball between a pair of graham crackers. Melt the chocolate chips (either in a microwave in 30 second increments or in a double boiler). Transfer to a Ziploc bag, cut off the corner (as small as you can manage) and pipe some zig zags on top of each sandwich. Finally, complete each mammo-gram with its own M&M nipple, using shades of pink and tan and brown as you please.

Recipe used for post

1 comment October 12, 2013

Back to October

Happy October everyone! Honestly where does the time go? I feel like we just left last October. It’s incredibly scary how fast time goes by.

As you well know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness [and liver cancer awareness] month. October has become one of my most favorite months. I can’t help but love the splashes of pink mixed in with the yellows and oranges, along with the obnoxious and overpowering displays of breast cancer awareness. This month allows any and every product or business to throw pink on anything possible. But that’s fine by me, as long as the right message is being spread.

If you are someone out in the world, walking through your city during October and you see pink everywhere, it’s not necessarily going to strike a chord with you unless breast cancer has somehow affected your life. Because before my mom and grandma were diagnosed, I never noticed a thing. Now I get excited because every store I go into has something different to offer to spread awareness.

And although breast cancer awareness is a global movement, there will never be enough knowledge and understanding of the disease until people start taking precautions.

There is an issue that I want to discuss that I feel is very important for people to know. Especially for people who have breast cancer or any cancer for that matter in their family. The issue I’m referring to is speaking with your doctor about concerns you have for your health or your health in the future. This is also something that comes up for many people, not just with cancer, but for any genetic health issues.

This is an issue that I hold very close to me. Ever since Mom’s diagnosis, I have been so meticulous about my breast health and gynecologist visits. It’s almost like I want to beat cancer to the punch. But you can never take too much precaution when it comes to your health. I’m going to include a list of important facts that you should remember when visiting your doctor regarding a health issue. This list is from the Susan Komen website and I found it very informative. (I hope you do too.) At the bottom of this post I will also leave a couple of links to the Susan Komen website with more information about speaking to your doctor, and downloadable question cards to refer to when visiting your doctor.

 

I am also very pleased to report that Mom is well. She has quit smoking for what seems like the millionth time, but this time she seems very determined. She is also hard at work, and very happily a new mother to two adorable pug puppies.

Happy October again! I hope you all check back throughout the month, because there will be much more information to give out!

Questions to Ask the Doctor PDF Downloads

Talking to Your Health Care Provider

 

Add a comment October 1, 2013

Happy Birthday Mom

Happy Birthday to my mom, one of the best women I know. We didn’t always have the best relationship as I was growing up but now she is more than just my mom, she is my best friend. She whole heartedly wants nothing but the best for my brother and I. If I’m unhappy, she’s unhappy. She is the light and laughter of my family and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else.

Happy Birthday Mom – wishing you nothing but health and happiness always xoxoxo

 

Add a comment August 29, 2013

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