Today, I attended the funeral of someone who lost their battle with cancer. He was someone from the community, and someone I wrote about in my blog. (For my reflections of the funeral, and what I, personally, was feeling, see was http://unicorns-and-dragons.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html).

Listening, however, to how he lived his life, the legacy he wanted to leave his baby boy and family (he was fortunate enough to be able to articulate this to family and clergy before he passed away), while I questioned why I was there, I kept playing with my LIVESTRONG bracelet. I knew why I was there.

I knew.

Perhaps someone would catch a glimpse of the tell-tale yellow band on my wrist and read the message. Though I was weeping for the life that was lost that I didn't get to know (and I wish I had), I was standing strong. I represented a family-member's school day friends. I was standing there for nameless others that stand strong for families and friends and mourners and fighters all around the world.

I knew I had to be there.

I had to show there was a tomorrow. That he wasn't going to be forgotten. That the pain and agony that he, and his family endured, was not unnoticed. That the immediate pain of the loss was seen at the moment and during the mourning process. But we know that pain started a long time ago, and will continue. But there are shoulders to lean on. To help them continue to LIVESTRONG when he cannot. For him. For themselves. For his son.

Jonathan will LIVESTRONG. That's how he lived his life. He loved the outdoors, he loved the challenges of the sea, of running on foot, and riding his bike. He was part of the LIVESTRONG family before the cancer. He was part of the LIVESTRONG family without ever wearing a yellow band. And the LIVESTRONG family will be part of theirs, if they want us to be.

I just received this image from my friend, Jody, who offered to ride a portion of her LIVESTRONG Challenge in Austin, TX in Jonathan's name. I just wanted to share it with you
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In the past week, I have found myself in a repeatedly awkward situation. I have heard the "news" that someone that I know, or close to someone that I know, or close to someone I grew up with, has cancer or has already died of cancer. As a number of my personal friends can tell you, I am a "fixer" (typically of everyone else's problems, but that's neither here nor there). You tell me it's broke? I find a way to un-broke it. I will neglect my own duties and responsibilities to try and make things right for you. No, it's not a motherly instinct, it's just how I'm wired (or miswired, as some may believe).

When you get news of something like this, especially because you're not directly involved or impacted by this person's cancer, things become even blurrier as to what your role is supposed to be and what you can do. Of course, the immediate answer is to provide whatever support the family and friends that you are in contact with need. Attend the funeral. Bring whatever you can to allow the family to grieve - while I am Jewish, and therefore, it's part of what I'm supposed to do, I love the fact that our religion recognizes that mourners are in no position to host guests, let alone take care of themselves, feed themselves, etc. They need this time to grieve, set aside the daily grind and everyday chores for a while, and depend on their community to care for them. So, Jewish or not, think about asking the family if, while in mourning or supporting someone in treatment, if you can bring dinner for them all, run some errands, walk the dog - whatever you can.

But what else can you do? And, let's be even more honest. The "novelty" tends to wear off after the first few days. I don't mean that to be disrespectful or cynical, but realistic. The farther you are removed from the people grieving or immediately supporting the person going through treatment or recovery, the easier it is to walk away. It's only natural.

So what then?

This is where I, personally, find LIVESTRONG to be an amazingly wonderful outlet for those who are aware of cancer in their circles and community, but don't have much to offer the cancer patients or their families and friends outside of support when it's appropriate. (Another fact of life - sometimes, it's not appropriate to inject yourself in someone else's private business and battles, no matter how good your intentions are.)

If you are like me, and have this strange drive to "do" something to "make it better," and find yourself in a position of not really being able to "do" anything, channel that energy into the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Know that, even though you, personally, may only be passing on information, raising funds by riding a bike, baking a cake, buying a piece of art or running a race, what you are doing is helping someone. You may not know where that someone is, you may not know if it's bringing food to a family too busy and tired to cook, getting resources for someone who feels overwhelmed and lost with the diagnosis they received or holding someone's hand as they learn what their treatment course of action is - you are enabling those who can do something.

And, if you decide to bike in that metric century, run that marathon or sign a petition, do it in the honor or name of person who sparked your need to do something. Let the family know what you're doing. That someone "out there" knows about what they are going through and are doing what little they can to help in the only way they know how.

It's ok.
 
 
Since I'll be hosting the "Taste of Yellow" Food Challenge on November 11 (details at http://www.livestrongaction.org/content/taste-yellow-tasting) as a LIVESTRONG fundraiser, I realized I'd better hone my skills and really nail down one of my recipes. (Wouldn't it be awful if the hostess' dish was a clunker?)

So, in keeping with Barbara Harris' Blog (which inspired the event), here's my appetizer entry:

Maple Acorn Squash Soup:
2 acorn squashes
2 cups of kefir
1 cup of apple sauce (sugar free) 
1/4 cup real maple syrup 
1-2 tablespoons (or to taste) Cinnamon
1/2 - 1 teaspoon (or to taste) Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Cloves (ground)
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Ginger powder
1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Curry
Salt

1) Pierce the flesh of the acorns and microwave on the Potato setting on your microwave oven (or cook for 10-15 minutes at a 7-level on your microwave). Once done, allow to sit in the microwave until cool to touch. Preheat your oven to 450. Cut the acorn squash in half, scrape out the seeds, and cook in the oven, cut-half down in a glass dish or pan,  for another 10-15 minutes or until the squash is very soft and slightly roasted.

2) In a pot, scrape the meat of the acorn squash and stir in all of the spices. (Start with the smaller amounts and then add to taste. If you want a more savory/exotic taste, use more of the curry, Adobo and ginger and less of the cinnamon and nutmeg. If you want a sweeter/more fall taste, do the opposite.) Turn the heat on the pot to Medium, and, using an immersion blender, blend the squash into a puree.

3) Once smooth, slowly pour in and blend the applesauce. Bring to a very light simmer, stirring frequently.

4) Once smooth and brought to temperature, slowly pour in and blend the kefir into the mix. Bring to a very light simmer, stirring frequently.

5) Add the maple syrup, and blend in with the immersion blender.

6) While re-heating, be sure to taste for the spice-blend you want. Adjust seasoning, continue to reheat and serve.

Serve in bowls, and garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
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Served here with my cranberry-oat-apple muffins and home-blended pumpkin-pie spice coffee.

 
 
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If you read the first blog entry here, you'd know that on September 13, I'd attempted to ride 200 miles as a LIVESTRONG Grassroots event. Almost 3/4 of the way through, I had to stop due to a hamstring injury. I saw an orthopedist named Dr. Tifford. Dr. Tifford is a Stamford-based orthopedist who was referred to me by my primary care physician. We noticed at that first visit that we both were wearing the LIVESTRONG wristbands. By then, I had begun our local LIVESTRONG Army and let him know that, if he ever wanted to do something to support the Lance Armstrong Foundation, that would be great. He gave me a funny smile and said, "Sure."

When I had to follow up with him, I couldn't find his number, so I Googled him and then laughed. I realized why I got the strange smile when I invited him to "get involved."

From his websitehttp://www.cdtfoundation.org:

"I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January of 2002. My biopsy results revealed that I had choriocarcinoma, a rare, malignant and highly aggressive form of testicular cancer that had already spread to my abdomen, liver and lungs. At the time my wife, Gail, was 3 months pregnant with our second child and my son, Jason, was almost two years old. The diagnosis was shocking, as I had been leading a healthy and active life as a husband, father and orthopedic surgeon... The Craig D. Tifford Foundation exists to provide funding for research, to increase public awareness and to further patient education and support for men with testicular cancer. We are dedicated to improving the lives of patients and their families during and after cancer care."

I have since followed up with him (he has also been working with me after I was hit by a pick-up truck biking home on October 1), and I discovered that October 29th is The Craig D. Tifford Foundation's Seventh Annual Gala Benefit.

The AMAZING Doug Ulman, CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will be receiving the Orchid of Life 2009 Award and will be there!

I will be working at the event, and I would love to see some of you there, if you can make it!

The Craig D. Tifford Foundation's Seventh Annual Gala Benefit will be held on Thursday, October 29, 2009 in New York City at Twenty-Four Fifth. Please join us from 7:00 to 10:00 for an amazing night of reognition, special musical entertainment, cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, live auction, raffles and a "Great Time with Great Friends for a Great Cause".

http://www.cdtfoundation.org/events.html

Let's do whatever we can to #beatcancer.

 
 
Since I work a full-time job, have two very attention-hungry kids, try to ride to and from work daily, there are not enough hours in the day for my LIVESTRONG planning and meetings. I squeeze it in here and there - in between approvals on projects, doodling and jotting notes down here and there. But, let's face it, not the most efficient way of planning. And certainly not for holding meetings.

So, I'm taking a new approach, which started today. I work in Downtown Stamford - the heart of Fairfield County business, IMHO (sorry, Norwalk... too spread out and not as established). I realize that there are a lot of important connections here that I can easily meet with during my lunch hour. Especially since Stamford is a very convenient place for both Fairfield and Westchester County events.

Today, I met with a wonderful lady at the Bennett Cancer Center. I haven't stepped foot in the Stamford Hospital facilities for cancer since 1980, when my grandmother died of cancer. To say that times have changed is an understatement.

We had a wonderful meeting. I think neither of us had an idea of what we could offer one another, aside from the fact that I'm growing a group of people that want to help, and she works with a staff and for a group of fighters and survivors that could use whatever we could conjure up together.

Out of the meeting, I learned that they had been trying to find a local LIVESTRONG connection, and didn't have one. And they were baffled as to how our very well-populated area could have been missed and fallen victim to the old adage, "Well, it's within an hour of Manhattan, so... " Alas, another victim to the "If it's not in NYC, it doesn't exist". I had to smile, though, because, as I explained, that's exactly why I wanted to start a Fairfield County/Westchester County LIVESTRONG Army. While it seems to many that live afar, and within Manhattan itself, that NYC is certainly easily accessible, you couldn't be more wrong. And there is a need. I could tell from a very distant place that it was needed. But to hear from a "pro", that, indeed my instincts were right, and our area had fallen off the support radar, made me feel a little more secure in my concept to start a local LIVESTRONG Army.

The good news is that we're here, now.

We're going to be able to network with cancer survivors that would like to join us in providing support for cancer fighters. We're going to be able to participate and co-sponsor events. We may be able to provide the Bennett Center with an avenue for online social networking with younger cancer patients that are timid and reluctant for direct, face-to-face interractions until the "time is right" for a "Tweet-up". And, hopefully, that will lead to a comfortable community of young cancer fighters that can support one another in a venue that suits their lifestyles.

I'm pleased to say that we have some awareness and fundraising events that piqued interest, and I have a call into another level of support providers at the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital. I learned of a couple of WONDERFUL ways that LIVESTRONG can get involved with post-recovery fitness and transitional programs that the Stamford Health System provides. And there was quite a bit of eagerness in getting involved with our January gala to raise awareness for Cervical Cancer and the "unsexy" and more difficult cancers to promote. We talked frankly about how some cancers, specifically those that seem to have connections to behavior automatically seem to paint the fighter with a stigma. "What, you have cervical cancer? Oh, well, you brought it on yourself with what was obviously a promiscuous, irresponsible lifestyle. And you have HPV, too, I assume?" "Oh, you have lung cancer? Well, all that smoking and pollution in your neighborhood is to blame." Where as "Feel your boobies" and "I'm a uni-baller, too" can raise an uncomfortable giggle and provide an inside joke to fighters and survivors and put those on the "outside" at ease, other cancers aren't quite as "fun" or allow themselves to have quippy little catch phrases that alleviate the brevity.

So, we are moving forward in the right direction.

And, I found that in one lunch hour, a lot can be accomplished.

Interested in any of these projects or ideas? Drop me a line, leave a comment, feed your advice.
 
 
Today, I had a follow up appointment with my orthopedist, Dr. Tifford, after my hit-and-run bike (me) vs. pick-up accident on High Ridge Road. Dr. Tifford is a big LIVESTRONG supporter here in Stamford. As a testicular cancer survivor, and well respected member of the community, he started his own foundation, which also supports the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and will be honoring Doug Ullman at their upcoming annual event (at which I will be volunteering). Not only was I very happy to speak to him about the gala, but I got word that I do not have a torn meniscus and can go back to cycling as usual. (The hamstring injury that put a stop in my 200-mile ride 140 miles in is healing very nicely, too.) On top of that, he had some great advice for our January gala we're planning, so I was pretty happy on my way back to the office.

Until I checked my Facebook account and I saw the status of my Senior National Sales Director with Mary Kay, Lisa Allison. She announced that a fellow Mary Kay team member, Carolyn Davis, was just diagnosed with brain cancer. I was shocked. Carolyn, who lives in Texas, is one of the funniest, silliest, most energetic people I've ever met. She makes me look quiet, speechless and most wall-flower-like. (NO JOKE.)

I immediately Tweeted to my LIVESTRONG friends to pray for her. I looked up her number and gave her a call, to offer my support, and to see if I could put her in touch with some of my LIVESTRONG friends. Not 2-minutes into the call, my Twitter page was flooded with replies. I had 2 LIVESTRONG friends offer to go to her bedside. Another to send her support. And messages of hope and prayer and thoughts for Carolyn.

Holding back my own tears, I told Carolyn about the response. And she was so happy. You see, she hasn't even had a chance to tell her family yet. She just learned about it. And she's scared. And confused. (I could hear her trying to be strong, but she's shaken.) It was sudden. Unexpected. By the way, like me, she's a proud woman. Not the type to ask for help, from what I can tell.

She was so happy to receive the offer of support from people neither of us have had the chance to meet face-to-face yet.

THIS is why I'm a part of LIVESTRONG. THIS is why this organization touches my heart. Without question, the minute the big "C" enters someone's life, a virtual army of supporters come to hold hands, kick cancer's butt and be with you.

Please pray for Carolyn.

(VERY special thanks to Jody and Lynn. Thank you.)
 
 
I'm sure that many of you can understand my trepidation and fear that we won't be able to reach our lofty $25,000 fundraising goal for 2010. Given the current recession, regular notification from former colleagues that they've recently been laid off, their company is shutting down, and they are desperately seeking work - any work, I set that goal thinking we'd be lucky if we came in at $15,000.
But, I have to tell you, even though we haven't officially begun fundraising yet, I am hopeful.
You see, as you may have already read, I'm working on planning a Gala event in January, which will feature a silent and a live auction. For those of you familiar with Bi-Cultural Day School, my alma mater in Stamford, CT, they hold an annual auction that brings in tens of thousands of dollars in one night. It's a huge event. I've been lucky enough to work as a volunteer for that auction as a student, and later as a parent. I hope that the Gala in January will turn into the same kind of annual success.
But Year 1 can be daunting to set that precedent.
It just so happens, that I know a thing or two about these kinds of auctions. First and foremost, you need to start asking for donations to the auctions sooner rather than later. And I wanted to test the waters. As luck would have it, I have several friends from the course of lifetime that are artists. Since Lance set the precedent of art being connected to LIVESTRONG, I took his lead, and asked a number of these artist friends of mine if they would be willing to donate one piece that might reflect, or a new piece inspired by "LIVESTRONG" to the auction. All but TWO enthusiastically said yes. One is just waiting for clearance on another LIVESTRONG project, and the other has been on tour and has no more pieces that he can donate, as he's booked with commissions through the end of 2010. (I can't blame him, can you?)
I approached a woman who was demonstrating a granola product at Scotts Corner Market (who has already indicated they'd be willing to work with us as a rest area sponsor) the other day about donating granola to the spring ride/run I'm planning. She agreed, and, a few minutes into the conversation, she's giving me contact information for a possible location for the gala, and indicated we may be able to get the venue as a donation!

Following up on another topic, I mentioned to Edward Wimmer that I was starting a LIVESTRONG Army here in Westchester/Fairfield, and if he'd ever consider donating a RoadID or two. His response? This morning, I got confirmation that 3 gift cards were en route for us to auction and/or raffle off at one of our events. Without hesitation. 
The moral of the story? Now, more than ever, those that have understand that organizations like the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and other groups, that offer free services to those who need, and actively try and provide for those struggling (physically, emotionally, financially) need support.
And they are willing.
All you have to do is ask.
If you would like to learn more about upcoming events, have ideas of how you can help, or have something to donate for the auction, please do not hesistate to reach out.
Remember - you are already entering the conversation with a no. In the best case scenario, your request will be answered with a yes. In the worst case scenario, you end where you started.