Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dear Santa: Please Leave Me Some Hair! Cookies and Brunch Eggs Are Waiting For You!

This is a year of change for me. Change is good, and sometimes it hurts -- a lot! In late February, I lost a dear friend and mentor to cancer, John Yaldezian. John led a full life, and although he suffered in his last weeks, his time on this earth was well spent, and he was well loved and respected by his large family, his extended family, and his many friends.

Over the next several months, I traveled to my family's ancestral home of Dickranagert (eastern Turkey), I was diagnosed with cancer, I became a judge, and I started chemotherapy after three lumpectomies.

Not enough for a year? Nope, not for this kid.

In this past week, I turned 60 years old, and I lost to an assassin one of my dearest friends, a professional colleague, and personal mentor Jeff Tidus. What chemo hasn't killed in my poor body, this tragic event has. I'm told adversity in life makes one stronger -- my faith in that advice is truly being tested as I will my already beaten body into submission, and continue my fight against the invader, as Jeff would have wanted me to.

But, it isn't easy to combat grief, and cancer, at the same time. I draw on strength I never knew I had ... thanks to my late grandmother's fortitude, the support of my family and friends, and the knowledge that Jeff would have wanted it that way. I grieve for his family, who was his life. God has a plan ... I just wish I knew what His plan was.

Shortly after I wrote my last blog, I received an email from Jeff -- his response to my latest post was "You are my hero. I admire your courage and your strength."

Ditto back ... for the past 11 1/2 years, Jeff mentored me through the start of my own private practice, my mediation/arbitration work, my development of skills as a good lawyer, and, right up to the day before he died, my battle with cancer and my new job as an administrative law judge. We were each other's heroes ... Rest in peace, my friend.

As I approach chemotherapy treatment #5, I revel in the fact that I have gotten through the first four in relatively decent shape. No hair, fingernails may fall out, tired as one can get -- but, I'm still kicking!

My acupuncturists tells me that I look better than a lot of her patients going through similar treatment. My blood levels are decent (thanks to shots of Neulasta, and Iron supplements), my energy not so decent, but I'm getting by, and I will be done with this toxic invasion in another month. Lots of supplements, lots of rest, no exercise (not so good), and eating whatever tastes decent. I'm lucky to have cousins and friends who cook healthy food for me -- my desire for cooking is taking a vacation during all of this.

It's cold out there, and my head is freezing! So, when will my hair grow back? Have I been a good girl, Santa? Can I have a real head of hair as a Christmas present? Yeah, I know -- next year. OK.

Over the past month, and two more treatments down, I made 60 pounds of Adi's famous fudge, with the help of cousins Sandy and Susan. Definitely "back-breaking" work -- something Sandy learned when she found out a day later that a fall from a ladder the day before had broken her vertebrae and foot!

I finished most of my training as an ALJ, and am nervously awaiting the day when I will be thrown out to the wolves and have to do my first mediation and hearings in Special Education.
I'm over the hump, and heading toward the first finish line.

On February 3, I will have a double mastectomy and reconstruction, and recuperate for 7 weeks. Then, I'll hopefully start hearings at work and moving on toward the next surgery in May, and eventually a full recovery in the Fall.

So, what have I learned so far? It's all about a positive attitude. That's not a cliche -- it's true. One can either revel in one's misery, and feel lousy all the time, or pick oneself up and just keep moving along. Tomorrow will happen whether I plan for it or not (except when some sicko decides it's time to snuff out the candle). If it comes, then I'll deal with it. If not, then today I lived the best day I could have lived. Seeing how quickly one life can so easily be ended, I realize that each day has to be lived to the best and fullest -- without regret.

So, enough with morbidity! Here are a few recipes that will help you get through the holidays and feel like a gourmet chef!


Makes about 32 cookies

Ingredients: (this can easily be doubled – use a 4 quart saucepan)

2 cubes unsalted butter

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs (room temp)

1 T vanilla

2 ¼ cups flour (or substitute 1 cup oatmeal)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp iodized salt

2 tsp cinnamon

2 cups chocolate chips or to taste

1 cup unsalted toasted almonds

½ cup toasted chopped pecans (available at TJ’s)

½ cup currants


Melt butter over low heat in a 4 quart saucepan. Add both sugars and stir until dissolved and carmel-like. Remove from heat and carefully add eggs one at a time, stirring to insure that you don’t cook the eggs. Add vanilla.

Put dry ingredients into a sifter and sift into the sugar/butter/egg mixture – or use a mesh strainer (or mix salt/soda/cinnamon with some of the flour to insure it is blended). Mix until moistened. Make sure the batter is cool to touch. Add the nuts, chips and currants. Mix.

Refrigerate the batter in a bowl or plastic container overnight. Remove and let soften slightly. Scoop into small balls, place on parchment paper and bake at 375° for about 11-12 minutes. Don’t let them get too dark – they should be lightly golden but still soft looking. Remove paper onto cooling rack.

Batter can be frozen – either in a lump, or after making into small individual balls and flash freezing. ENJOY!


10 eggs

1 pint cottage cheese

1 lb Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

1 7-oz can chopped chilies (ortega)

½ cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

canola spray, or 2-3 Tbsp butter

Melt the butter in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole and coat bottom and sides. Or, spray with vegetable spray. The butter browns the bottom and sides better than the spray.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the remainder of the ingredients and mix. Pour into the pan. Chill overnight so flavors will blend. Remove about 1 hour before baking. Heat oven to 350°. Bake about 35-40 minutes, until the eggs are set and the casserole is golden brown.

This can sit in the oven for 15-30 minutes with the temperature off and it will be fine.


You can make this with low fat cottage cheese and 2 percent jack cheese. It is a little runnier and not quite as rich, and you may have to increase the flour slightly. I sometimes add additional chilies for a stronger flavor. Personally, I prefer it exactly the way the recipe is written.

This recipe serves 10-12 people. It can be increased to 1 ½ times for a 4 quart casserole. It will serve 20-22 people if you have other brunch items also. Or you can decrease by ½ and put in a nine inch square casserole for 4-6 people.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Anything is possible -- halfway through the chemo marathon

Today I completed my third chemotherapy treatment. I have learned a lot of "tricks" over the past 6 weeks, and I have learned a lot of lessons. Lesson one -- hair keeps your head warm!

But, first, before I share my lessons with you, I want to share an event that gave me the biggest boost I could have asked for -- my dear cousin Ken is going through a similar challenge. On September 12 his wife Harriet had a surprise 60th B'day party for Ken, inviting his many Trex fraternity brothers, as well as cousins - many of whom have been close friends for decades. She included me, my mother, and my cousin Roger. That evening was one of the most memorable, happy evenings I have ever experienced. We all had a great time visiting, reminiscing, and enjoying our time with cousin Ken. Ken and I were close during our childhood days in Inglewood, and when we were in our 20's. I was so happy to share a few minutes with Ken one on one, knowing that he and I were both fighting a battle that strikes so many of our generation. Courage -- that is a word that crossed my mind that night -- Ken is fighting his battle with courage, and I intend to do the same.

Ken, Adi, and Judy M -- all survivors!

Cousin Ken and Adi -- always eating!

Aunt Betty, Harriet and Adi

Ken and Harriet

The infusion of chemotherapy itself is not difficult, especially after having a porto-cath surgically inserted into the chest. No more stabbed veins having to bear the brunt of infusion. One tiny little pin-prick stick into the port, and the rest is easy. Each treatment lasts about 4 hours -- first the steriods, anti-nausea meds, and benedryl, then Herceptin, Taxotere and Carboplatin, one at a time, dripping into my vein. I find myself sleeping through most of the procedure - thanks to the Benydryl. On the "off weeks" I go in for Herceptin infusions - those last about 30 minutes.

The side-effects of the toxic chemicals flowing through my blood stream are more challenging. Dry mouth leads to sores in the mouth. Lots of them -- and, I found (I think) the solution by brushing with Biotene. Chemo round 2 - no canker sores! Yea!

The anti-nausea meds play havoc with the GI system -- I seriously considered checking into the ER at West Hills hospital on day 6 to request assistance with "delivery". Enough said ... thank you Milk of Magnesia, Dulcolax, and prunes!! I'm armed after session three with all of the tools I think will help --- let's see if they work.

Blood levels and blood pressure go crazy -- pulse rates at 115, BP at 150/99, low hemoglobin, low iron, low white blood cells, and then all of that reverses. And, the weight goes up and down by 10 pounds every week - - water, "stuff", then no water, no "stuff" -- one really learns to get in touch with ones entire body in a unique way.

Neulasta injections are the next thing on the agenda -- that drug stimulates white blood cell growth and helps the immune system -- and, it's like going through growing pains for a day. Those injections will follow each chemo treatment, beginning tomorrow. My lucky brother Brian has been designated to inject me on Thanksgiving (doctor's office is closed) -- payback time!!

And, thank you Lauren -- my savior -- her acupuncture treatments and plan for taking numerous supplements (herbal and vitamins) have helped me stay balanced and supporting my waning energy levels, all with my oncologist's blessings!


When I was little, I had thick curly hair. Before chemo, I had thick straight hair -- a beautiful dark auburn hair with red streaks. At 60, I will be partially bald, with a thin layer of white hair. And, next spring, I will again see the curly hair, not dark but salt and pepper -- the cycle begins again.

Just as predicted, about 14 days after the first chemo, my hair started shedding. Sorry - no pictures of that one! The day after the 2nd chemo, I had my hair buzzed, leaving a fine layer of hair on my head. Within another week, after a few "hair"-washings with soothing tea tree oils, all of the dark hair was gone and I was left with a very fine layer of white hair covering my blotchy scalp. The Dustbuster was my friend for two weeks - vacuuming the bathroom, the pillows, the beds, and around the bed.

Losing one's hair - particularly when the hair is a notably thick and beautiful - is a very humiliating experience, for a short time. And, it hurts! The follicles tighten up and my scalp actually hurt for two weeks -- somewhat like having a pony tail too tight.

I had to accept that I looked like a pumpkin, temporarily. I had to accept that I had white hair (covered by a very talented colorist for many years!). I had to accept that I am a cancer SURVIVOR, because I look at myself like that every single day in the mirror.
And, I had to accept that I had two choices -- fight it, beat it, and get on with life, or live in denial and depression. So, as I stood in the shower on that second Sunday, rubbing my head vigorously to rid myself of the last of the naturally dark hair, seeing LOTS of hair on my hands and at the bottom of the shower -- I cried a little, and then I looked at myself in the mirror and said DONE. Get over it.

The song "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" from South Pacific came to mind -- I wasn't washing out the man, I was washing out the CANCER -- and, wow -- the aha moment came to me right then. Big deal, it's only hair.

So, now I am brave enough to go without a hat around my family (once the shock subsides) and around the house, and it feels good. But, hair keeps the head and body warm -- and my head gets cold at night! Thanks to my cousin Judy M. who sent me a great cozy knitted cap that is soft and comfortable -- I wear that to bed a night.

And, I have lots of cute little cotton turban hats, brimmed hats, and scarves for accessories, and I wear the combos to work every day. I've worn the wig once - not my favorite thing - but, it works for formal events (like a formal group photo with my fellow judges in a few weeks). I'm becoming a fashion statement at work -- my new colleagues have suggested that they would have a day where everyone wears a hat to work in honor of my battle with cancer.

Judge Krikorian ... wow, a dream come true!

I go to work as a JUDGE every day, tired, sometimes queasy, sometimes achy, and not always in a good mood. But, I go. And, I just cannot say enough about how incredibly supportive every one of my new colleagues at the Office of Administrative Hearings is and has been, particularly my presiding judge Ann. I am training, learning a new area of law, new procedural techniques and rules, and new rules and regulations. The training and Friday furloughs have given me the ability to go to work, even when I don't feel well, and get through the day without a really rigorous schedule. Once this is over, I intend to hit the ground running and put the energies I am now focusing on getting healthy into my job and take on my share of the workload that my colleagues are selflessly absorbing as I get through these challenges. What a team we have in Van Nuys!

Friends, Family, Neighbors ... lots of support!

What has made this process feasible is the overwhelming support I have received from those around me. I will never be able to repay the kindness and generosity that has come my way.

The phone calls and cards from many friends asking what they can do for me mean a lot -- that alone helps me stay focused. I am learning to accept help and rides to treatments. My cousins Sandy, Susan, and Debbie, and my mom and dad (brave in the face of watching their daughter enduring this challenge) have come to the hospital during and after every surgery, and cooked for me regularly, keeping my refrigerator stocked with healthy food I can eat, and supported me with love. Cousin Frances and my dear friend Alice have kept me company at the hospital, supported me, and made Dolma for me (thank you Alice!!). Natalie has given me massages and energy work. Lucy Y. and Lauren (my acupuncturist) have given me CDs to listen to, and have provided me with positive energy. Nadya V. and Judy M. have been there for me, sharing their own similar experiences and giving me tips and encouragement!

Laurel K., Lorraine P, cousin Janis, and childhood friends Barbara H. and Joanie F. have offered me respite in their homes on the beach, at the desert, in the mountains and in the countryside. My neighbors Julie and Steve have been there for me whenever I have needed anything, including rides to the hospital and house chores. And, it goes on and on and on! Wow!! I'm going to have to make a LOT of fudge for the holidays!!

I cannot wait until Chemo is over. That's the darn truth -- I hate this!! But, what other choice do I have?

So, I have chosen to feel lousy when I feel lousy and accept feeling lousy for short time, and being grouchy! And, then I pick myself up, get on with life and face it the way Patrick Swayze did -- I may have cancer but I will not let cancer get me.

What's next -- Chemo the day before Thanksgiving, my 60th birthday 6 days later, then more chemo, then Christmas, New Years, and then one more chemo. Three weeks later (or so), I have a double mastectomy and take a leave of absence from work for 6-8 weeks. Then, hit the ground running until May, when the 2nd surgery for reconstruction happens. Then, more Herceptin through Fall. And, then, ... healthy and traveling again.

Tricks of the trade --

Cancer doesn't like sugar. Adrienne likes sugar. So, right now cancer wins this battle -- metallic tasting See's candy isn't my favorite flavor, so I've stayed away as much as possible from too much sugar. Dark chocolate occasionally -- a box of See's candy has NEVER lasted in my house more than two days, until now! Wahoo! Something good comes of this nightmare.

Ginger helps nausea -- ginger ale, ginger candies, ginger tea, ginger biscuits, even ginger locum -- just make sure it has real ginger in it! Ignore the sugar.

Water -- I HATE water! It tastes like metal! But, tea works, coconut juice works, and stewed mint leaf tea works ... water, well - it is a necessary evil!

My favorite "mix" for keeping the food moving through the system (and a good side dish under more normal circumstances):

Fruit compote:

1 small can of orange juice concentrate
1 package of dried prunes, pitted
1 package (or about 1/2 pound) dried apricots
1/3 pound dark raisins
8-10 dried mission figs (Trader Joe's)
1 fresh pear, peeled and cut into chunks
3 cinnamon sticks
1 cup water
fresh ground nutmeg

Place all of the above in a saucepan, bring to a gentle boil, then simmer 20-30 minutes until the fruit is soft and liquid is absorbed.

Serve with cottage cheese, yogurt, oatmeal, or as an accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin.


Exercise is necessary but hard during chemo -- after 12 years of weight training twice a week with my friend Hilda, I'm taking a break on the recommendation of my oncologist. Stretching at home, light free weights for upper body, occasional bike riding (in the bedroom) will have to do it for now. My body needs to send its energy to other places to heal.

No razor needed! No hair grows during chemo - so, no leg waxing, no shaving, no plucking. Wahoo!!

Avoid salt, spicy foods, and things with strong odors. Drink lots of water. Eat foods rich in potassium, iron, fiber, without salt, and anything that tastes good. But, avoid favorite foods unless you want to hate them when it's all over.

Use the Internet -- there are so many websites out there that refer us to sources of support -- not just for cancer, but for specific issues -- like "how do I resolve constipation when I can't walk" "what works for nausea" "where do I find hats for hair loss" ...

Draw on your faith, pray and take 10 minutes every day to just be inside your own self. Don't be afraid of fear, and draw on your inner strength to pull through -- a real challenge. This is easier for me with the support of my dear friends Fr. Sarkis and Fr. Shnork, who are praying for me.

Surround yourself with friends and family - maybe not in person, but by email, over the phone, a quick dinner out, or just a quick visit.

These things are not limited to someone going through treatment for cancer or some other disease - many cancer survivors have told me that once they are finished with their treatment, their lives change -- they look at life, and the people around them, differently. Their priorities change, their stress level in life changes -- the little things don't matter anymore.

Slowly but surely, I see these things are happening to me ... I am learning to let go of the predictable lifestyle, the predictability I have always tried to have over my life, and just let it all happen -- because, like it or not, it will. It's how I deal with what happens that matters, not what may happen.

That's it for now. More recipes to follow in the coming weeks -- if I can't cook, I might as well share the recipes for my friends! Thank you everyone for being there for me ... it is the most priceless gift one could ever ask for.

Friday, September 25, 2009

YO Adrienne! First Day of Chemo -- Five More to Go


A river runs through me tonight, and it’s not just red and white blood cells.

Thursday, I spent the entire day (7 hours) having my first chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment. I prepared myself by having a great massage and energy work by Natalie K on Wednesday, and then started the morning of chemo at the gym working out some of my anxiety – thank you to my dear friend and personal trainer Hilda for understanding and being there for me.

Then, my neighbor, Julie, drove me to chemo, brightening my day with the gift of a lovely Brighton Breast Cancer bracelet. I am one of the luckiest people to have such great neighbors for fourteen years – they are such wonderful friends, including their dog Maggie, who has helped fill the huge gap in my life that Benj left last August.

I joined 4 other chemo patients in the infusion center at the oncologists office, and waited for my turn – the oncology nurse, Sylvia, was the best – patient, explaining every step, showing a much-needed sense of humor, and easing what was obviously one very anxious “me”. It’s amazing to me how cancer patients quietly band together – several of the people in that room saw my tremendous anxiety and shared comforting words with me that helped me make each step a little easier. My friend and fellow “A” Angel H. and friend Nadya V have been a great support in that respect, as well.

Being a dental hygienist does not equal being at ease with needles! Insertion of the IV was probably the most traumatic part for me – I’ve been poked, stabbed and injected so many times in the last 2 months that the idea of having an IV every week for the next six months, and then every three weeks after that (not to mention the two upcoming surgeries) is almost more than I can bear. My veins are not the greatest, and I expected “trouble” - - unnecessarily. Not sure that I won’t still need a “chest port” (ANOTHER surgery) in a few weeks, but I’m going to at least try to avoid that if I can.

One does not just get one big blast of chemo at one time. One first gets blood drawn, vitals taken, etc. etc.. Then all the pre-chemo chemicals – steroids (which leave you completely unable to sleep at night!!) and antihistamines for anti-allergy to chemo, anti-nausea drugs, saline, who knows what else for about 1 hour. Then, one by one, each chemical of the “cocktail” is infused – Herceptin 1 1/2 hours, Taxotere 2 hours (I reacted negatively to that drug so we had to slow down the drip to drop by drop – grrr!!), Carboplatin 1 hour, saline flushes from time to time.

Thankfully, my trusty I-pod and the anti-histamine knocked me out – I couldn’t believe that I slept for nearly 1 1/2 hours! I woke up around 1:45 to a much welcomed Starbuck’s iced decaf latte from my mom, who came to keep me company and take me home (HOURS later!). And Mom very thoughtfully brought me ONE PIECE of See’s Candy for a treat after I got home.

Drip, drip, drip – by the 5th hour, everyone else had pretty much finished their chemo, and I was the only one left in the infusion room. By 5:30, the drips were finally DONE, and I was free to go home. Mom and I stopped to visit cousin Dr. Roger, whose office is in the same building one floor down.

The anxiety over the treatment process was gone (and hopefully the blood pressure will come down), and I felt pretty darn good. I know that this is just the start of this phase – it is the weirdest feeling to have all of this poison running through my veins – and, the next challenge is the side-effects – steroid puffiness, low white blood count and eventually Neulasta (not fun), susceptibility to infection, hair and possibly nail loss, weight gain (NO!!), tingling fingers and toes, fatigue, on and on. But, particularly after talking to my fellow chemo patients today, I realized that I have to focus not on what might face me, but on what is – when the side-effect comes along, I’ll just deal with it.

So, tomorrow it’s stay home and rest – after a bout with my reclining bike, stomach work on the ball, and stretches. And drinking that water that I just CANNOT STAND – ugh --- I have to drink 8-10 cups, at least, a day!!

Then, Saturday, I plan to work out at the gym, ride that bike, and get acupuncture from my friend Lauren – the latter is probably one of the smartest things (next to massage and energy work from Natalie and Debbie) that I have done for myself. No more terrible sciatica and back pain – and, the acupuncture (with oncologist’s blessings) will help me get through side effects.

Sunday, Nazaretian/Hairabedian’s Meals on Wheels will visit with a care package after the Trex Picnic at the Ararat Home. Yummy Armenian Food! Monday, I report to work at 8:30! Wow!!

And, next Friday, my “former” co-workers at Jackson DeMarco in Westlake Village are having a lunch for me to celebrate my appointment to the ALJ position. I’m so grateful and honored to have had the chance to work with my wonderful colleagues in Westlake Village!

This treatment regime will go on until early January, and then I continue the Herceptin until this time next year. In February (moved up from fall) I will have a double mastectomy and the first part of reconstruction – probably facing four weeks off work. Then, in May, part 2 of the reconstruction, with possibly one more minor surgery following.

I’ve been told to avoid crowds while having chemo, and to try to keep my exposure to people limited to avoid infection – of course, try doing that will be challenging when I will be traveling around presiding at hearings and mediations with parents, school district and board of education reps – “You sit at the other end of the table” will probably be my subtle motto. I look forward to visiting with my friends and family in small groups at a time.

Thought for the day: In October, 2006, I had the pleasure of attending the Armenian Bar Association mid-year conference in Philly, and spent several days with my friends Garo, Tanya, and Shake. Garo drove me around Philly, stopping the Philadelphia Art Museum and the famous “Rocky Balboa” stairs – where the statue of Rocky Balboa (aka Sylvester S) lives. I think the picture at the beginning of this post says it all (don’t ask what’s in that bottle – it wasn’t Gatorade!). “Yo Adrienne” never had so much significance! And, notice the hair ... it will return.

Friends Garo and Shake

The Doc and the Judge!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A New Life's Journey

Shortly after returning from our historic visit to Western Armenia, I learned that I had breast cancer. From early July until mid-September, I have been poked, prodded, cut, radiated, examined and injected more times than I can remember. And, that is just the beginning. So, why write about it?

I have learned a lot over the past two months, and have realized that anyone who doesn't have the energy to pursue the red tape can really be faced with insurmountable medical challenges. So, this is for those who may not be so fortunate to be the pest that I can be!

We take for granted that when a claim is submitted to our insurance carrier, all will be well. NOT! I have been through the gamut of "this is not covered" (wrong), "you haven't met your limits) (wrong), "we can't do anything to help you" (wrong), etc. etc.

First, READ YOUR CERTIFICATE OF COVERAGE. This is often mailed to you when you first enroll, and it can often be obtained from the insurer's website.

Know what is covered, what your limits are (deductible, out of pocket limits, maximum amount of benefits paid, co-pays, etc.). Make sure your policy covers the procedure you are planning to have BEFORE you schedule it. If your policy requires pre-certification (ex. MRI), DON'T rely on your doctor's office to get the pre-certification. Yes, they will make the initial inquiry. But, YOU have to be sure it gets done. Call the insurance company's customer service department and ask whether it is covered, or whether you have any pre-certification conditions that must be met before certification is offered. Remember -- pre-certification only means the procedure is medically necessary. It does not guarantee that the claim will be paid, or how much.


If your health insurance has a web portal for you to review your medical claims, sign up and check it regularly. Why? Because a claim will show up there, before you receive your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) and often times you can make the necessary phone calls to correct mistakes before the check is cut (or not), and before you receive your EOB. You can also call your provider's billing service for assistance. I have found that most billing services are very helpful -- much more so than the insurance companies.

Third, ASK QUESTIONS! Be aggressive -- knowing beforehand is a double edge sword - - in some ways having too much knowledge can add to your stress. But, I have found that arming yourself with as much information as possible is a blessing -- each little fact helps you face your challenge with a sense of peace.

Fourth, USE THE WEB!! I have learned that Google and other search engines are blessings. If you have a question, an answer is on the Web -- and, even more valuable, regardless of what your challenge is, support groups and companies who offer support, are also out there. I found sites that support breast cancer that 1) send chemo patients beautiful pre-tied scarves at no charge (, 2) have discussion groups for chemo patients (ex., 3) offer opportunities for volunteering (ex. for crocheted and knitted chemo caps), 4) offer sponsorship opportunities and information, such as Avon, Revlon and Susan B. Koman, 5) offer support for people who are uninsured for the treatments they need, and more!

Finally, DON'T GIVE UP! Help comes to those who help themselves. Yes, we do feel like victims from time to time, and I firmly believe we are entitled to do so. We ask "why me" -- a friend who had been through cancer treatment before I started all of this said to me "Don't ask 'why me' - ask 'why not me'?"

During my first chemotherapy treatment, a young man was in the infusion center with me -- he was probably in his mid-thirties, and was having his last of bi-weekly chemo (over six months) for lymphoma. He told me that he had kept his cancer a secret from his mother and sisters because he knew that they were not emotionally prepared to handle this crisis in his life. He relied, instead, on friends.

He offered me a piece of advice I found so valuable: Once you go through a challenge like cancer and its treatment, you look at life differently. You cherish every day as a gift. You cherish each friend and family member and live for each day -- life has a different focus and you gain an entirely new perspective on what and whom is important. Don't be afraid of that -- embrace it.

Good advice, whether you have cancer, financial challenges in your life, or someone whom you care for is facing similar challenges.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Turkey - Final Thoughts


My generation of Armenians grew up learning Armenian history in Sunday school. We listened to our grandparents and parents tell us the stories of the "massacres" of the late 19th and early 20th century in what is now called "Turkey". We went to college, studied world history, and learned how the "cradle of civilization" was located throughout the area now encompassed by Turkey, Iran and Iraq, as well as historic Armenia.

But, I learned that reading about that history is nothing compared to traveling to those lands and seeing it firsthand. That is true for any travel one takes to a place of historic value. But, as an Armenian whose ancestral family is from historic Armenia -- reaching from what is now Karabagh to the east of the independent nation of Armenia, to the region west of Mount Ararat -- standing on that soil is an entirely different experience.

Our 2009 trip to Turkey was everything I hoped it would be, and I urge anyone who has the fortitude to withstand a trip like that to do it! I walked on the streets where my grandparents walked, and where their grandparents and ancestors walked. I walked on the land where Armenians suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. I saw the river where their blood ran south to the Syrian desert. I saw the deserts, and the mountains, and the rugged landscape that bore the pain and suffering of over 1 million Armenians who died simply because they were Armenian.

The pain of seeing history crumbling before one's eyes is mind-numbing. The pain of seeing total disregard for human suffering because of political agenda is heart breaking. The pain of seeing world class architecture left to crumble into the earth is enough to make one want to scream at anyone who will listen. Today's occupants of historic Armenia - the Kurds -- are generally simple, poor, religious Christians or Muslims, who take pride in what is now their land. But, they too are suffering persecution for not being "a Turk" in the true sense of the word -- they are foreign, just like the Armenians and Greeks who were deported by Genocide. And, they too will someday be forced out of their homes (which were once the homes of Armenians).

The beauty of our Armenian culture -- which can still be felt and heard and seen in historic Armenia, even if one's imagination must embellish those senses -- is still evident, at least today. The Armenians were talented people - architects, builders, craftsmen, artists, religious leaders, kings, musicians, authors ... the list goes on and on. The Armenians played a significant role in what is today a flourishing and architecturally rich city called Istanbul. They built churches and buildings and monasteries and castles throughout what is now called "Turkey." Turkey only came into its existence after World War I. Armenia has its roots in this land dating back to the Urartu Kindom, and as far back as 7000 BC.

We cannot change what happened in 1915. We cannot bring back our intellectuals, artists, musicians, architects, homemakers, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. We can, however, remember and respect what they died for, and be grateful that, because of what happened in 1915, those who are living in the Diaspora and in the independent country of Armenia have a legacy to take into the next generation.

Let us not ever forget them -- honor them by visiting their homeland. Honor them by making sure that we remember their suffering, and that we continue the legacy they passed on to us.