Vindication

Thursday AM, March 19, 2016.  I slept 2.4 hours. But not letting myself mope around or feel useless again.

So the AT&T Microcell booster is in the process of installing itself.  I plugged in all the component parts, followed the directions on-line, and am now waiting for the 90 minute installation process to run its course.  We shall see.  I have not connected something around this house since we moved in 4 years ago.

And now I am going to get myself ready to take Jake and Ryan to school for the second time this week.

Let’s do this today.

Nerves and Guilt

Wednesday, May 16, 2016.   I don’t know if it is in my head, but I think I woke up a little nervous today about another treatment tomorrow.  [I think it’s only in my head because I have had this shot no less than 3 times before and it is really not that big of a deal.]  Nonetheless, after only sleeping a few hours, I woke up coughing and had the same sensation in my throat that I had at the beginning of my late April trip into Manhattan (which lasted for 16 days).  But after sending some texts — including a few to Jen who was also up at 5 in the morning after not sleeping because at least one of the three kids was up throughout the night (a far harder task than sitting at my office desk with Sports Center playing in the background) — I fell back asleep for another 2 plus hours. And I definitely needed some sleep (in the downstairs guest room by the way since I sit up until 3 or 4 am in my office).  Yet as soon as I woke up from what seemed like a pretty deep sleep, that is when the guilt started setting in.

Shouldn’t I be….. taking the kids to school everyday?  Hanging out more with Jen?  Playing with the kids?  Reading literally dozens of books and magazines that I have carefully organized in my office?  Taking a shower and changing clothes before 4 pm?  Working?  Working out?  Apologizing to old friends for acting like an ass or losing touch?  Feeling terribly that people are continually going out of their way to check in and show continued support?  Reading the nutrition files that my father-in-law printed for me over a week ago so I could figure out the right way to eat during all of this?  Returning every phone call?  Talking more to family?  Finally doing something around the house (like putting together a printer or installing the Verizon booster) rather than guilting one of my friends into putting something together as soon as they enter the house?  Hanging out with Drew who drove all the way to the airport to pick up my mom and then to my house only for me to disappear for an hour?  Siting with — and actually talking to — my mother who flew in from Florida yet again to be with me and help out around here?  Sleeping?

If I keep asking myself these questions I am going to go nuts, so I am chalking it up to the nerves.  But when the nerves pass and the medicine runs its course, I know many of these questions don’t stop.   I know this because I used to ask myself some of these questions before this all started.  Most all of the time it was just lip service.  After 5 full days at home, however, I question what I have accomplished other than looking through and organizing anything I can get my hands on.

All these questions aside, today was a really great day.  I hung out with a bunch of good friends throughout the entire day; had a very solid appetite out of the gates; watched an incredible video (at least 4 full times) that everyone from Kirkland put together (which makes you appreciate how fortunate you are to work at a supportive place with great great people); had french fries delivered to me for lunch (without even placing an order!); got in touch with several old friends that I have not connected with in some cases dozens of years; continued to look at old pictures and be reminded of some amazing moments; got a massage in the middle of the day; had my brother chauffeur me around with my mom sitting in the back seat (this happens once in a decade); finally took my college and law school diplomas to get framed; shaved my neckline for the first time in a month (since those hairs are falling out too); had a great conversation with Jake before he was getting in bed; responded to texts, emails and posts all day long, which I absolutely love to do; and once again enjoyed a few hours of complete alone time writing whatever it is that comes to my mind.

Tomorrow is going to start with me taking the kids to school and hanging out with Jen.  The nerves and guilt are just distractions.  Today was indeed a great day and tomorrow is going to be even better because of the way it is going to start.

 

Believeland

Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  I was born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 18, 1978.  We lived in Cleveland (Beachwood to be exact), until I was 15.  My mother was born in Cleveland and my entire family lived in the Cleveland area.

We moved to Boca Raton, Florida in June 1993.  My father, who grew up in New Rochelle, NY, went to the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and met my mother there.  [You are probably thinking to yourself that no one has ever gone from Westchester to Cincinnati.  It is probably true.  But he was just following his older brother.]  My parents got married right after college.  They moved back to Cleveland and my Dad went into the home construction business with my grandfather and great uncle.  He ultimately started his own very successful custom home building business until the savings and loan crisis (which ended in the early 1990’s).  My Dad fought like an animal to avoid the fate of many other homebuilders (liquidation) and ultimately wound down his business in a controlled manner (people wonder why I enjoy restructuring companies….).  He got into the chemical business in the early 1990’s and never looked back.  We moved to Florida for a fresh start when he got an opportunity to move into management.  Dad, I’ve always been proud of you.  You put your family first —  always (Mercury Sable baby).  You still work your ass off.  And you motivate me to be a better person every day.  Have I ever said thank you?

From Boca Raton, Florida I went to Syracuse University. And from Syracuse to Cardozo Law School in NYC.  I have been in New York for more than 16 years.  I love New York.  For the last four years we have lived in Scarsdale.  And we love Scarsdale.  Aside from convincing Jen to marry me and be the mother to my 3 unbelievable boys (I still wonder sometimes how I accomplished this….), moving to Scarsdale is one of the best of the decisions we have ever made as a couple.  It is a great community and we are blessed to have made life long friends in a very short period of time.  The last 3 plus weeks are a testament to the bonds that we have formed.  We are so blessed.

But this is about Believeland because Cleveland is home.  That is where I tell people I am from.  It has the benefit of being true.  My foundation was built in Cleveland.  I actually fell in love with my wife in Cleveland.  I still remember the weekend.  It was Mallie Sobol’s wedding.  Jen and I had been dating for a few months when I brought her to the wedding that fall, but we didn’t have the best summer (and it was, of course, completely my fault).   But when I brought her to Cleveland to stay in my Uncle’s bunk beds with the Road Runner sheets at my grandparents’ house on Duffield Rd (25113 to be exact), I got to show Jen where I was from and everything changed.  That was nearly 14 years ago and I have never looked back.

Today was not my best day.  I threw up this morning and didn’t feel good until later in the afternoon.  Not complaining, just saying.  I actually didn’t shower or brush my teeth until 7 pm.  That just isn’t me.  But I am adapting and listening to my body.  Especially after overdoing it the last couple of days because I so badly wanted to do everything and be everywhere (2 baseball games, a soccer game and my first trip to the mall in 15 years).  Yet I still feel like I am not spending enough time with my kids…

But I did watch Believeland this morning when I wasn’t feeling well. It is ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 about Cleveland sports and it aired this past Saturday night (5/14).  I taped it Saturday night and for some reason was thinking I would watch it this morning as I got ready for the Cavaliers return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.  It just so happened that this turned out to be the perfect morning to watch this show.  Because as crappy as I felt today, watching the 90 minute program about the heartache associated with Cleveland sports and the lack of a championship for as long as anyone can remember, will make it taste that much better when the Cavs win this June!  And what a good start it was tonight…

I truly felt Ernest Byner’s pain this morning as I remember wearing Browns gear to school for “Browns day” each week in the fall/winter of 1986 and 1987.  [Dad, I still remember you and Hochman making Super Bowl reservations during the championship in ’87 — you jinxed the whole city!]  I also remember those Indians teams losing in the World Series, including in 1995 when I flew in from Florida and went with Uncle Mike to one of the games.  And who could forget Michael Jordan coming of age against my Cavs (I had a Mark Price poster on my wall).  While the non-Cleveland fan who watched this program probably only picked up a few subtle “there will be next year” quotes, for those of us from Cleveland there was much deeper meaning to this program.  And for me, I think it is fate that this show aired just 24 hours after I got home from 16 days of intense chemo.  That is because this show is about the resiliency of Cleveland.  The ability of the city and the people that live in it to get up after getting knocked down.  To turn around and make sure that the Browns stay in Cleveland forever even after the team was literally stolen away in the middle of the night.  I was actually proud watching the show, not sad.  Proud to be from Cleveland and proud to associated with a fan base as loyal as they come.  Believeland.  What a title.  Amen.

Inspiration

Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  My first morning post.  And I’m fresh off 2.75 hours of sleep.  The sleep is pretty hard to come by because of the heavy steroids, which will continue for another 7 days.  The lack of sleep, however, is a blessing in disguise as it gives you more time to read and more time to think; and as of of late, my mind has never been this clear.

The first thing I read this morning was Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement address on May 14, 2016 at the University of California.  Sheryl is the COO of Facebook that tragically and unexpectedly lost her husband on a vacation just over 1 year ago.  Her comments, including the philosophy behind the 3 P’s to bouncing back (personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence), are uplifting and should be read by all.  The link to her entire commencement address can be found at: http://fortune.com/2016/05/14/sandberg-uc-berkley-transcript/

Immediately after finishing her speech, I got the feed to a video at 5:26 am from my buddy Adam Halpern.  The email said “Good morning.  I hope treatment is going as planned to free you.”  He then suggested I check out this video that he has watched “over 50 times” to “inject[] himself with this type of positivity every morning.”    

The video is good.  No doubt it is inspirational.  But unless you know Adam, this is just another sports video showing you some undersized athletes that rose to the challenge, worked a little harder, and came out on top.  The truth is Steph Curry may be the MVP at 6 foot nothing, but he’s got nothing on Adam Halpern.  Steph should be waking up to Adam Halpern videos and motivational speeches.

Adam is the brother of one my closest friend’s Evan.  On September 21, 2004, Adam sustained a spinal cord injury in a terrible car accident.  Both of Adam’s lungs collapsed, his neck and ribs were fractured, and he was paralyzed from the middle chest down.  Adam’s story is one of pain and triumph.  From literal rock bottom to 37-year-old Hofstra University professor, husband and father.  Adam is a true inspiration.  The word impossible does not exist in Adam’s vocab.

When we went away with our friends to St. Lucia in early April (where ironically I started feeling chest pain and shortness of breath), Evan sent me a newspaper article one afternoon from the Rockaway newspaper (“The Wave”).  While I was generally familiar with Adam’s story from Evan over the years (having met Adam on a several occasions), the perspective in the story was from Adam, and everything about where he had been and where he was now.  There was just incredible meaning and purpose when told from Adam’s vantage point and not in the third hand.  I remember sitting in St. Lucia, reading the story on a lounge chair, and telling Evan that Adam was a real hero and should be telling his story to everyone.

The link to Adam’s story can be found at: http://www.rockawave.com/news/2016-04-08/Front_Page/An_Outlier_Visits_RPHS.html.

Fast forward 3.5 weeks.  As I am sitting in the White Plains Hospital after being told I had a 4 1/2 inch tumor in my chest that needed to get tested for cancer, I pulled up the article on my phone that Evan had sent me a few backs in St. Lucia and read it again.  I had remembered Adam telling the students “if you are going through hell, keep going.”  I had no idea what was about to unfold or what that biopsy would show, but I read the article again. And again.

As I told Adam early on, what he has gone through — and overcome — is inspirational.  A battle with cancer is a walk in the park compared to his journey.  But whatever the battle we each have to win, no matter how large or small, I did want Adam Halpern to know that he was in fact a hero to me and someone who sets the example for living each day. That is why the sports video this morning means so much more than it should.  And that is why I reached out to Adam out of the gates to make sure he knew that he was my inspiration for attacking each day.

 

Here’s to Adam getting out there and inspiring other people to fight and be great.  Adam, you’re the man.  Looking forward to seeing you cheering on Chase and Jake in Scarsdale this weekend.

 

 

Priceless

Monday, May 16, 2016.  I used to love those Mastercard commercials.  Mastercard would assign monetary “values” to various activities (first class air fare, 8 course meal, some fancy new car) before delivering an amazing punch line to a feeling or state of mind that you literally could not price.  Hence, the “priceless” campaign.  There is no doubt if you dig deep you will remember.  Come on….  “There are some things money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”  Here is a great one:     

I went to the mall this morning (alone) to shop for myself for the first time in 15 years.  As I zipped through store by store all I was thinking about were those Mastercard commercials [OK, I also admit I was also thinking about which of these stores were future restructuring candidates].  But as I thought about those commercials, I actually recalled some of my favorites.  I remembered the one where the parents took their kids to their very first baseball game.  There was one where a couple gave their kitchen a “night off” because they went out to dinner (and everything in the kitchen (knives, bottle openers etc.) started dancing together).  In total, there were 160 different priceless ads over 9 years, all voiced over by Billy Crudup (who even appeared in one ad towards the end of the campaign).

As far as the mall is concerned — and for those keeping score — I was Steph Curry-like, shooting about 50% from the field.  This means that I tried everything on tonight for Jen and only need to return half the crap that I bought.  Aside from useless stuff at the Apple and Microsoft store (including a keyboard that is driving me nuts as I type this and a new green phone case to match my wrist band), I bought sweat pants, work out clothes and underwear from 6 or 7 different stores.  I have been wearing the same sweats and t-shirts since college, but ever since I got sick, Jen has been buying me all new “hang out” clothes.   So I figured I would get in on the act too.  Yet with all this new stuff that I have carefully folded like everything else in my closet (likely as a result of the medication that drives me to organize everything), would anyone who knows me be surprised to hear that I am sitting at my desk in old, ripped sweat pants and my Cornell t-shirt that has crunchy and permanent arm pit stains?  I will put on a new shirt after I shower tomorrow.

As I thought about those commercials throughout the day and the moments at the end of each segment where you simply could not put on a price on what was being suggested, I realized that my day itself — and most of the moments during its course — was priceless.  There were so many things that I did today that you simply could not pay for.  And if you think hard enough about your day (even when it is a crap one), there are no doubt priceless moments every day.  You just have to think about it.

Here were some of the priceless moments of my day:

  1. Eating breakfast with my three boys and wife.
  2. Taking Jake and Ryan to school.
  3. Responding to emails and texts from family and friends.
  4. Driving with the windows down.
  5. Walking around the mall without an agenda or schedule.
  6. Talking to a guy at the Gap (after buying sweat pants Jen wants me to return) who is in a full cast for 9 months because his achilles was ripped off, and thinking  I would be back in court before this guy could fully walk.
  7. Hitting my rear view mirror on the hut where you pay for parking on the way out of the mall and not really caring.
  8. Eating a bagel at the house with one of my best friend’s from childhood whom have I have known for 30 plus years.
  9. Walking around the neighborhood in the sunshine.
  10. Getting a huge hug from Brandon when he got home from school.
  11. Hanging out with my Uncle Jeff, who flew in from Florida, for 4 plus hours just talking about life.
  12. Watching Jake play baseball (even if he lost his shit after walking four guys and hitting two batters and me having to snap at him to get his act together after he was pulled).  [I know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.]
  13. Having dinner with Jen.
  14. Hanging out tonight with a few great friends and talking about life.
  15. Trying on clothes for Jen.
  16. Organizing and filing away all sorts of work emails after going through each carefully and making sure I still know what is happening on my deals.
  17. Responding to posts on my blog from people that I am inspired to hear from and whom I haven’t heard from in years.
  18. Texting with one of my closest friends from high school that I am so grateful is back in my life.

Whoever came up with that Mastercard campaign is a genius.  While money certainly helps to makes things easier, the most important moments and things we do during the day come without a price tag and cannot be purchased.  That is what being “priceless” is all about.

 

 

 

 

Meaning and Purpose

Sunday, May 15, 2016.  Three weeks ago tonight, Jen and I spent the night at White Plains Hospital.  It was earlier that day that I had gone to the Scarsdale Medical Center to get checked out yet again.  Something like my 7th or 8th trip to the emergency medical center and ENT for an ongoing sinus/ear infection that I think started at some point in early January.  I chalked it up to traveling, working really hard and not getting nearly enough rest.  But the fact that I was short of breath and couldn’t run more than 2 minutes on my treadmill (at this point for 3-4 weeks) was strange.  The chest pain started in early April when we landed in St. Lucia on our annual Scarsdale couples trip.  And the pain in my neck and behind my ear was different from what I would typically feel when I did something stupid in the gym with too much weight.

That next morning, Monday April 25th, I had a biopsy on the mass they had found that Sunday morning on my x-ray.  I really don’t remember what I was specifically thinking about that Sunday night.  But I do remember being with Jen, my brother and my sisters/brothers-in-law (all 5 of whom are true brothers and sisters) and knowing — without knowing what was even wrong — that everything was going to be OK.  I feel the same way 21 days later.

Don’t get me wrong, things are different.  Very different.  I haven’t had a cup of coffee in nearly a week, which is strange because I am a 3 cup a day guy.  I don’t sleep that well because of the medicine (also strange because I can usually fall asleep anywhere).  I wake up in the morning nauseous and have trouble getting out of bed, which bothers me because I haven’t had trouble getting out of bed since middle school.  My calves are sore, which is very strange because I still have not worked out my legs — ever.  I am still having a little trouble getting food down because of the chemo treatments.  And I haven’t worked in 3 weeks.  Which still is unsettling to me because I am strange and actually love my job.

But the common theme among these things is that they are all side effects.  And the side effects are all going to go away.  What won’t go away, however, is my new-found perspective.  In just 21 days, my entire life and outlook has changed.  I am happier than I have ever been.  I am more alive than I was before I started getting pumped with chemo.  My conversations with people are more meaningful.  I appreciate the small things that I used to ignore.  I drove without texting today because it is just not worth it.  I watched my son’s soccer game without being glued to my phone and it felt amazing (he scored the winning goal on a sick penalty shot and I screamed like a wild man, which is not new).  I walked around my neighborhood and appreciated that I was fortunate enough to be raising a family in such a great place.  I visited with and spoke to friends and family that are so supportive it fills you with energy.  I had a brief internal call with a few colleagues today on one of my cases and it felt awesome (and normal) to talk strategy and tactics.  I have said I love you and cried more in the last three weeks than I can remember in multiple years combined.  And while I know this will be a marathon, I truly feel like I have the wind at my back and I cannot wait for what is ahead.  Because I know I am going to come back stronger than ever, I am going to work harder than I did before at everything, but I am going to have a different meaning and purpose to my every day life that will help define me in a way that I did not know was possible.  We all live by the “catch phrase,” and everyone knows life is too short.  I am just happy to be living in this moment.  Even if I can’t drink coffee and know I am going to feel like crap in the morning.

Shower & A Shave

Saturday, May 14, 2016.  Today was my first full day at home.  It was a great great day.  After having some trouble falling asleep last night, I stared at my wife for a while — realized how lucky I am — and ended up sleeping the best I have in 3 weeks. 

The day went fast, but was packed.  It included hanging out this morning, organizing my newly furnished office with my mother-in-law, figuring out why my new ipad wasn’t getting email (took me one hour to figure out it needed to get hooked up to WIFI), getting to watch my son play baseball outside in the spring sun this afternoon, hanging out at various moments with each of my boys, watching sports, visiting with a bunch of friends, talking diet and nutrition with my father-in-law, and starting to get an appetite back (today’s menu included a bagel with veggie cream cheese and swiss at breakfast, a tuna melt and a few sliders, wings and a slice of pizza tonight).  Cheat day came earlier!  I also got a nice walk around the neighborhood in with Jake and my father-in-law right before dinner.  And I organized my bar and my closet.  Come to think of it, I got a lot done today.   Not sure I remember doing this much around the house since I started practicing law….

But the big event today was my shower.  Actually, it was the “grooming process” before the shower that took the most time.   Think it was 1.25 hours in total.  

I shave my head every single day of the week (and usually once on the weekend).  Cancer has not changed that.  I think the only day I haven’t shaved my head was April 25th.  That was the morning I woke up at White Plains Hospital for a biopsy after getting admitted on Sunday April 24th when a 4 1/2 inch grapefruit showed up in the middle of my chest on a cat scan.  [More to come on that front another time.]  The point is, had I had a razor at White Plains hospital, I would have shaved my head that morning, just as I did every single day at Weill Cornell.  I enjoy it.  It is simply part of my day.  Today, however, was a little different.  

When I got my first chemo treatment, the chemo nurse asked if I had “proactively” shaved my head.  I laughed and told her yes — “ten years ago.”  After she laughed, I asked her if I could ask a serious question.  She said yes.  I then explained to her that I was the type of person that had hair everywhere I didn’t want it, and was wondering whether the hair on my knuckles, ears and back (among other unchoice places) would fall out.  I was dead serious.  She kind of laughed and then started the chemo.  

Well as much I have been shaving my head every day to avoid the ring around my ears that I swore I would never rock (like my grandfather), the hair on the rest of body is in fact coming off.  So I made a decision over the last couple of days and implemented it this morning.  More specifically, I grabbed my Gillette Fusion Proglide Styler/Groomer and went to work.  After tending to my dome, I shaved off the hair on my hands (even my knuckles Chris and Nicole), arms (which will help with the IV’s and blood tests going forward) and my chest.  I just couldn’t do the legs.   Maybe tomorrow.   For those of you that think this is graphic or personal, please don’t be alarmed or concerned:  I did this type of grooming in high school because I thought I would look better at the beach, and I still do some “manscapping” of this nature around our beach vacations.  I know, ridiculous.  Anyway, I kind of like it and Jen at least said she thought it looked good.  And that is all I care about. 

Come to think of it, it was a pretty busy day and I enjoyed every second of it.  Looking forward to waking up tomorrow.                    

I’m home!

Friday, May 13, 2016.  I’m home.  After 16 days at Weill Cornell Hospital in NYC, under the supervision and care of some of the most wonderful people — literally from the top to the bottom — I am home with my superhuman wife and 3 unbelievable kids.  I decided not to post anything on this blog until I was back in my house in Scarsdale, sitting at my desk on my computer in the comfort of my own home.  And as I sit here, finally putting together the words that I have been thinking about for more than 2 plus weeks, it feels awesome.  It feels awesome to be home.  It feels awesome to really feel alive.  It feels awesome to write this as tears roll down my face.  My wife just said good night to me “live.”  I tucked in two of three of my kids (one is sleeping out).  And my mother-in-law is sleeping down the hall.  You never realize how important the small stuff actually is.    

I have been fortunate to have lived an incredibly blessed life and I have been so humbled the last couple of weeks by the outpouring of support from family and friends whom I have met along the way.  There is guilt at first for failure to have stayed in contact with so many different people that were so important to me over time.  But I have realized that the people that mean the most to you are going to be there for you even when you haven’t been there for them.  For that, I am grateful and honored.     Thank you so much to all of you that have texted, emailed, called and/or come to see me.  I love people and I love talking, and I loved every second of each visit, conversation and email/text reply.      

I plan to use this blog to keep people posted about my progress and quest to get back to 100% health as quickly as humanly possible.  Simply put, I have a lot left to do and this is just a speed bump.  But it is a speed bump that has opened my eyes and sharpened my focused.  It makes you appreciate things that you took for granted just 2 weeks ago.  And it makes you realize that nothing is more important than being surrounded by your family and friends.  So I will use this blog to provide information about my fight against T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma (see http://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancers/lymphomas/non-hodgkin-lymphoma-nhl/lymphoblastic-lymphoma), tell (at least in my view) some pretty funny stories along the way, and generally let everyone know how close I am to getting back to the court room and lifting weights.

Finally, and while this is obviously something private, my wife Jen is nothing short of amazing.  I still don’t think she is human.  With three kids at home and the biggest of her kids (me) staying in NYC for the last 2 weeks going through regular treatment, the way my wife has handled everything is beyond comprehension.  I am in awe.  I am indebted.  And I am forever in love.  Jen — not sure what I did to deserve you, but I promise there is no way I am ever letting you out my sight.