Reach for It!


A community of street vendors lines the sidewalk around the corner from where I live. As I run the gauntlet of tourists and fellow New Yorkers, my yellow lab-pit mix lunges at an unsuspecting flock of pigeons. They burst into the air, settling a moment later. Gracie gives it another go, all but yelling “Hiyah!” as the birds flap around us.

One of the vendors calls out, “You just keep on going!”

I turn to him and smile. “Yeah, can you believe she’s 11 years old?”

“No, you,” he grins. “You’re like the energizer bunny, going and going.”

As Gracie pulls me on, I wonder. Why did he say that? I don’t know his name, but he knows something about me. At the end of my 1.6 mile walk around the reservoir, I return to his food cart.

“Hey, excuse me,“ I say. “Can I ask you a question?”

He turns from what he’s doing and steps closer to his cart window, looking down at me.

“Did you know that I’d been sick?” I ask him. “Is that why you said that before?”

He smiles kindly. “Yeah, I talked to the guy who walks your dog. I asked him about you.”

I let that sink in for a moment. I take another risk.

“You were sick a while back too, right? I noticed you’d lost weight, and then you weren’t around for a while.”

“I lost a kidney,” he replies. “But now I’m 100%.” He says this with a big smile, spreading his hands expansively to measure his improvement. “ What were you sick with?”

“Breast cancer,” I say, without hesitation. “Surgery, chemo, radiation, the whole shebang. Now I’m 100% too.”

I reach my hand into his cart. “I’m Debbie. Nice to meet you, neighbor.”

“Jimmy”, he says, shaking my hand.

I see this encounter as a reminder. I survived some pretty daunting medical treatment in 2013. But I had incredible support from some unexpected places. In addition to a community of colleagues and Bank Street College alumni who did everything from walking my dog to accompanying me to chemo appointments, I had my own secret weapon. I reached into my Child Life bag of tricks for coping mechanisms to help me through. I used play, humor, writing and videography to scaffold my journey.


This week I face a much less frightening surgery, an outpatient procedure to mend a torn tendon in my right wrist. Until this morning, though, I have to admit I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and pretty anxious about being stuck left handed for the duration of my recovery.

But Jimmy’s witnessing was a reminder. It jumpstarted my awareness of the lessons learned during cancer treatment. I have all that I need. It’s all here. I can handle this. All I have to do is reach for it.


Getting Older

Me and my godson, Joaquin July 2015

Tomorrow at 12:50 AM, I turn 54 years old. Many women do not want anyone to know their age. I remember turning forty and all the angst that led up to that day -such a waste of energy now looking back.  By fifty, I had wised up a bit and  celebrated my birthday by going skinny dipping  with friends. But now things are even more clear. When you have survived cancer, there is a crack in the door of egocentrism that can squeak open to reveal a great deal of light — if you allow it in. I now celebrate my aging with gusto, even if that means a slowing metabolism, greying hair, hot flashes, and an ache here and there (and here and there and here and there!!!).

I am so profoundly thankful for every day of health, for the joy of spending time in the company of really good people, and for my adventures, of which there are many. I am glad that I am here on earth enjoying these things, even when I get tripped up by a modicum of anxiety and fear, probably on a daily basis.

A writing coach is assisting me with the immense task of authoring a book. As I stumble about trying to figure out what the focus should be, what to leave in and what to take out, she says, “Your account of your cancer treatment is too cheerful. I want to hear more about your pain, what you endured.” Continue reading