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Blog News QUAZ RIP (those Quazes who have, sadly, passed on)

Kate Granger

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We’re all dying.

It’s true, and no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there’s no denying our inevitable collective fate. Plastic surgery and Botox won’t save you. Two hours a day at Gold’s Gym won’t, either. You can eat 100 carrots, jog 20 miles, try the lifetime juice diet. Whatever. Come day’s end, we all cease to exist.

The question is: How to use the time we’re given?

Kate Granger has asked herself this quite a bit since 2011, when she was first diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare-yet-terminal form of cancer. At the time, she was a 29-year-old elderly medicine registrar at St. James University Hospital in Leeds, and the news—naturally—hit her like a Mike Tyson hook to the ribs. As a doctor, she had certainly been around death. But …. she was dying? How could this be? Why me? Why now?

Shortly after the diagnosis, Granger made the decision to live. She created an amazing bucket list—and is tackling the items one by one. She has written two books—The Other Side and The Bright Side, chronicling her journey (all proceeded benefit the Yorkshire Cancer Centre). She blogs regularly, and kicked off a social media movement (#HelloMyNameIs) to, in her words, “encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in the delivery of care.” She has thought long and hard about life, about death, about legacy, about love. You can follow Kate on Twitter here, learn more about #HelloMyNameIs here and visit her personal website/blog here.

It’s an honor to welcome our 196th Quaz, Kate Granger …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kate, I’m gonna start this very bluntly. You are dying of cancer. What is it like to be dying of cancer?

KATE GRANGER: Well, I wouldn’t have chosen it if you’d asked me what my life ambitions were in my early 20s. However, in some ways it has allowed me to make sure my friends and family know I love them and to do some amazing activities over the past three years. I think of it as a kind of gremlin we now carry with us every single day, which sometimes sits quietly and allows me to live my life relatively normally, but sometimes chooses to prod me hard to make sure I know it’s still there. My cancer causes lots of pain, particularly at night so my sleep is disturbed and I’m reliant on strong painkillers to be able to function day to day. However to anyone glancing at me in the street they’d probably see a normal, healthy-looking girl. I struggle with that all-too-common comment, “You look really well!”—especially when I’m feeling rubbish. The invisible effects of dying mean that I carry a huge burden of fears, anxieties and uncertainty about my nonexistent future. I can’t plan anything more than a few months in advance and a common response to wedding invitations is, “I’d love to come, if I’m still alive.” The only way to cope with it, I’ve found, is to live by a one-day-at-a-time mantra, embracing humour as a coping mechanism and trying to enjoy every last little piece of life that I’m lucky enough to have.

J.P.: I have long suffered from a horrible, sometimes crippling fear of dying. It’s not the act itself (cancer, plane crash, drowning, etc). No, it’s being dead. Not existing. No consciousness, no awareness. Just being nothing. I tell this to others and they usually blow it off—with either God talk or the ol’ “You’re dead, so you don’t know you’re dead. What’s so awful?” Neither soothes me. As someone who has surely given her mortality quite a bit of thought, I’m fascinated by what you think …

K.G.: I’m scared of the non-existential aspect of dying, too. I’m scared of the process of actually dying more though—the chances are that my dying will involve bowel obstruction, bleeding and pain. And being unable to control those horrible symptoms is a hugely scary prospect. I’ve seen lots of patients die in similar circumstances throughout my career so my professional experience doesn’t really offer any comfort. I think the aspect that causes me most distress though is the pain I’ll cause my husband Chris and my family when I do die; that I won’t be there to comfort them; that I will be the source of their tears. I was brought up in the Christian faith and we were married in church, but illness seems to have pushed any faith I did have away. I can’t remember the last time I went to church and I’m not sure I even believe in God anymore.

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Checked off the bucket list.

J.P.: Here’s what I know: You have a husband, Chris. You live and work in Yorkshire. You graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005 and passed your MRCP in 2008. But what’s your journey? Like, why did you become a doctor? When did you decide to become a doctor? What sort of medicine do you focus upon?

K.G.: When I was little my mum used to volunteer at a day centre for older people with mental health problems. She used to cook the lunch once a week and in the school holidays I used to go along and help. I loved sitting and chatting with the older people there, playing Bingo and doing crafts. I think that’s where the foundations of my career to become a geriatrician were laid. I was bright at school and worked hard so with my love of people and science it seemed obvious to go for medicine. I was educated at state school but was a very under-confident teenager. I didn’t get a place at university in the first round of offers, but when I was studying for my final A-level exams I received a phone call from the admissions dean at Edinburgh offering me a place to study there. I was obviously elated at this news and didn’t stop smiling for at least a week. All through university I enjoyed the medical as opposed to the surgical specialties and the specialty I loved above all was elderly medicine. I loved the challenge of diagnosis, the variety, the people. I was fascinated by how very different one 90-year old is from the next. The stories patients have to tell and the context of their illnesses within their lives still excites me today. I have trained for 10 years post graduation and have for the past three months been acting up into a consultant role in medicine for older people. It has been hugely exhausting, challenging and scary but wonderful all the same. Many of my professional ambitions  were stolen when I was diagnosed so to have the chance to do the job I’ve spend 15 years of my life training for has been amazing and a huge tick on the bucket list.

J.P.: You were diagnosed in 2011 with a rare and aggressive form of sarcoma. How did you know something was wrong? How long did you wait before seeing a doctor? How was the awful news delivered, and how did you initially respond?

K.G.: I was 29 and working hard as a medical registrar doing long days and night shifts. I’d been studying for my last set of post-graduate exams. So I felt tired. Understandably so, but looking back perhaps that fatigue was the first pointer to something being wrong. I then missed a period. I did a pregnancy test which was negative so I didn’t think much of it. Then Chris and I took a holiday to California. His aunty and uncle live in Santa Cruz in California and we love that part of the world. I had back pain when we stepped off the plane but thought I’d just slept awkwardly. I took some painkillers and got on with our holiday. We were very busy exploring San Francisco, Monterey and spending time with family. My symptoms weren’t going away though, and I started to go off my food. I just couldn’t eat—it was really weird. The pain was becoming unbearable. Eventually Chris found me lying on our bed in agony and put his foot down. His uncle took us to an urgent care centre where the doctor thought I looked unwell and referred us to the local emergency room. Within an hour of being in the hospital it became apparent that I was indeed very sick. My kidneys had failed and an ultrasound scan showed my kidneys were swollen. A CT scan showed the reason for my sudden illness; multiple tumours throughout my abdomen and pelvis, obstructing my ureters and causing the renal failure. I’d worked out I had cancer before they told me; there was no other reasonable explanation for the early test results. The doctor who told me stood near the door of my side room with his arms crossed and his back against the wall. He said, “We think it’s ovarian.” He didn’t finish the sentence with the scary big C word. I remember being calm and collected. I had to protect and shield Chris. I had to take charge of telling my family thousands of miles away. It was not a time for hysterics. I had to concentrate on the immediate hurdle of getting well enough to fly home.

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With Chris, the hubby.

J.P.: You’ve started an amazing movement, the #HelloMyNameIs campaign, to “encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in the delivery of care.” Which strikes me as sort of strange, in that, well, why wouldn’t a doctor introduce himself/herself? Why wouldn’t a doctor ooze compassion, humanity, empathy? So, Kate, why was this needed?

K.G.: In the UK healthcare is publicly funded and in the recent times of austerity that funding has been squeezed. This means everybody delivering healthcare in the NHS is under immense pressure. I think when that is the case and you are incredibly busy the first thing that tends to suffer is the compassion staff feel able to deliver. Somewhere we’ve gone wrong and along the way forgotten the basics of care and the person on the receiving end. I started the #HelloMyNameIs movement in 2013 after an experience in hospital where I’d been admitted to a surgical ward with post-operative sepsis following a routine stent exchange. I’m a keen observer of my healthcare and one of my starkest observations on that occasion was that very few staff introduced themselves to me before they started interacting with me. This felt very wrong, as the first thing we are taught in medical school clinical skills sessions is that you start with introducing yourself, your role, asking what the patient would like to be called and explaining what you’re going to do. So I decided, after discovering on Twitter that my experience was not unique, to do something positive about it. Hence #hellomynameis was born. I think it is needed to remind healthcare staff, by using my fairly powerful narrative, that the little things do matter and mean a huge amount to patients, and that delivering truly person-centred care can benefit both patient and staff alike. It is essentially a gentle reminder to inspire and encourage a change in personal behaviour of healthcare staff by harnessing the immense reach and power of social media.

J.P.: In your Nov. 23, 2014 blog entry you wrote this: “Charlie. That was what we planned to call our first born in honour and remembrance of Chris’s paternal Grandfather. But Charlie will always remain in our dreams and never become a reality. I will never have those precious new-born cuddles or experience the wonder of childbirth.” Kate, how have you been able to deal with these things? With the child you’ll never have? The events you miss? Because you seem to possess a profound bravery most people surely lack.

K.G.: Life is what it is. I can’t change what’s happening to Chris and me. We try our absolute hardest to live in the now most of the time. However, I am reflective about my losses and grief in my writing and the space of my blog and books; I guess as a cathartic exercise. I’ve been lucky to have been given much more time than we ever expected. I’ve managed to get to perform those bridesmaid and wedding cake baking duties; I’ve managed to get to know those children I never thought I’d see born. I have to be grateful for those things. I don’t see it as brave because being brave implies making a choice to act in a certain way. I haven’t had any choice about what has happened to us so we just take it each day as it comes. I do shed tears for Charlie, for the life we should have had, for the guilt of not being a complete wife for Chris and causing him pain, for not giving my parents grandchildren. But if I allow myself to dwell on those things I would be overwhelmed by depression and anger so I simply don’t allow myself to. I suppose that is my choice, so that could be viewed as brave.

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J.P.: You decided to blog about dying–in v-e-r-y detailed, gripping passages (“Why had you come along to ruin our lives? Abolished dreams of having my own family? Stolen my lifelong ambition to become a Consultant Geriatrician? Chris and I would never grow old together and be able to spoil our Grandchildren”). First, why? And second, do you find it more exhausting or exhilarating? Is it therapy? Painful therapy? You trying to leave a legacy? Both? All? Neither?

K.G.: Writing was not part of my life before illness. During those early days of a six-week hospital admission when I was very sick and the outlook was especially grim my boss at the time suggested to me the idea of writing a diary. It had helped his late sister gather her thoughts and deal with her emotions during her cancer journey. So I did and kept a diary, initially in a notebook, and when the notebook was full on my laptop. It grew into almost an obsession and during long, painful, lonely nights I would take solace in pouring my feelings and observations out onto the page. I wasn’t trying to write a book—not initially anyway. When I read back what I’d written it became clear to me it held a message and that message was to healthcare staff. It had become apparent to me that how the people looking after me behaved, whether that be in a positive or a negative way, had a profound impact on my experience as the patient. Those messages were not ones that I had considered much in my medical training before illness. Sharing my experiences as “one of them” but “one of us” seemed like the right thing to do. One of my passions professionally is medical education and I guess writing is kind of teaching … I enjoy writing and I do find it therapeutic. I like to try and say the “unsaid” to try and stimulate conversation and trigger reflections from others. It is comforting to me that my blog will exist long after I’m gone as a permanent record of my journey. Legacies are important to me. I really don’t want to be remembered as “that poor young doctor who died of a rare cancer before her time,” but rather someone who made a positive improvement to healthcare.

J.P.: Do you feel like people approach you differently since cancer was diagnosed? I mean, are there those who overdo it, those who stay far away? And, going through this, what would you advise people to do, if a friend has cancer? Is there a proper emotional/behavioral response?

K.G.: Inevitably … I want to just be treated as Kate. The Kate that I always was. Just because I have a serious disease doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy the same things in life; have the same values. I hate being treated with kid gloves—independence is so important to me. But cancer is part of me now and does mean things are different. I’ve always been the sort of person who has a small circle of close friends and that hasn’t changed. I’m also quite happy in my own company much of the time. I know those people are there for me no matter what, but they don’t smother us with attention. I’m not sure there is a ‘correct’ response to support a friend on a cancer journey as everyone’s needs are so individual. I think remembering the importance of ongoing support after diagnosis is essential though. People can be quick to send cards and presents in the beginning but putting the effort into being there for the long haul means a lot more to me personally.

J.P.: What do you think people, in day to day life, fail to see? Fail to grasp? Fail to do?

K.G.: I think it is very tough for people who look at me to see someone who is not going to get better, who is dying. I have fairly clear skin, glossy hair and I’m certainly not skinny. Even at my most sick I didn’t outwardly look that unwell. I’m also incredibly open about the fact that my life is going to be cut short prematurely and regularly speak about the ‘D’ word. I’m sure trying to associate those two disparate factors can be difficult for people. Because I’ve defied the odds in terms of my prognosis I think many people think I’m invincible. I hear, “You’re not really going to die though, are you?” I am. I always try to keep the realist view of what’s happening.

I’ve often been faced with people who perhaps haven’t seen me in a while who are in fact rendered completely speechless by the situation. They always seem to have those sad, sympathetic, “But you’re too young” eyes. Everyone wanted to be involved at the beginning—we were overwhelmed with messages and visits. But as time has dragged on we’ve found out who our true friends are; those people who have kept up their support week in and week out; and those who have disappeared from the scene. I keep many of my symptoms to myself and don’t allow most people to see my suffering publicly. Chris is the only one who really sees how unwell I become with chemotherapy; the tears at 2 am because I’m in so much pain I can’t move. We are blessed, though, to be surrounded by some wonderful support and are extremely lucky in that respect.

J.P.: I love your bucket list—especially your accomplished goals of making brioche, riding a horse, skydive, visit Venice and getting a tattoo (which, sort of ironically, is listed right above visiting Anne Frank’s house). So tell me, Kate, what was skydiving like? What’s the tattoo, and where’s it located? What was the horse’s name, how was the brioche? And what did you think of Venice?

K.G.: My bucket list has given everyone in my life such a positive focus to create special memories not associated with illness and has led to some amazing experiences. Skydiving was simply awesome—I’ve never done anything like that before but I loved it and would do it again. It was such a rush. The tattoo is a small, pretty purple butterfly on my left ankle. The horse was called Harvey and was very patient with me after so many years since I’d be in the saddle. The brioche turned out really well. I love to cook and bake, and some of the items on the list are about learning new skills. Michel Roux, Jr. who is a famous French chef in the UK, gave me a lesson in brioche baking at his restaurant. With all his tips I’ve made it at home successfully twice now and it was delicious (if I do say so myself!). Venice was beautiful—we’d always talked about going but never quite got there. I loved the Rialto market, the ice cream and the tiny back streets crammed full of a huge array of different shops. We nearly fell out of a gondola on the Grand Canal when we got a little too close to a large boat! I would say my favourite item on the list though has been renewing our wedding vows. It was an incredibly emotional and special day.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATE GRANGER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): David Beckham, Jet Li, Temple Newsam, Pride and Prejudice, Ed Sheeran, Nas, Kobe Bryant, opera, your wedding ring, the smell of armpit, paper airplanes: My wedding ring, Pride and Prejudice, Temple Newsam (if you mean the Tudor-Jacobean house with beautiful grounds near Leeds!), Ed Sheeran, Paper airplanes, David Beckham, Jet Li, Smell of armpits (Had to Google Nas and Kobe Bryant—so not sure I can have a view of them!)

• Three things you can tell me about your husband, Chris: He’s like a human calculator—if you ask him any mental arithmetic he’ll give you the correct answer straight away. He’s amazing at blagging free stuff which has meant my bucket list has been extra special. He’s a keen walker and has done some amazingly long hikes for charity.

• Should there be another A-Team movie? And do you like the idea of Rampage Jackson filling Mr. T’s shoes?: I’m not really that bothered for me, but if the A-Team fans have an appetite for another movie then fine. I wouldn’t be first in the queue at the cinema to see it though.

• I’m starting to have lots of hair growing from my ears. What should I do?: Don’t stress. Life’s too short.

• What are three things that should immediately turn a person off of a new doctor?: As a patient you form a judgement of a doctor extremely quickly. For me it’s when someone fails to introduce themselves, stands over you when you are in bed or has disinterested body body language such as lack of eye contact.

• If you could have lunch with five celebrities, who would they be?: Michelle Obama, HRH Duchess of Cambridge, Stephen Hawking, Colin Firth and James Galway.

• Tell me the best joke you know: A bit childish but someone told me this one the other day: ‘Doctor, doctor, I’ve got something wrong with my eyes. I keep seeing an insect spinning round my head.’ ‘Don’t worry, that’s just a bug going round.’ I’m rubbish at remembering the punch line to jokes!

• Can you create a poem, right now, that incorporates Starbucks, Cleveland, Muhammad Ali and the number eight?: Been sat in Starbucks since about 8/ They asked me my name, #hellomynameis Kate/ I’m reading an article on Muhammad Ali/ Before meeting my friend from Cleveland called Sally/ Must rush now before I am late! (Thanks to Chris for his help on this!)

• Six words that describe your knees: Pale, fat, scarred (I knelt on a piece of broken glass when playing in long grass as a little girl) and best covered up!

• You have “another visit to California” on your bucket list. I’m officially offering up my house in Southern Cal as a place to stay. You coming?: If you’re offering and I survive round 3 in the chemo boxing ring Chris and I will be there. Thank you! That’s an incredibly generous offer.

Categories
Blog News QUAZ RIP (those Quazes who have, sadly, passed on)

Emily Schaeffer

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Last October, I was scanning through Facebook when I stumbled upon an angry rant from Jessica Kupferman, my former University of Delaware classmate. It seems that her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, had been sent home from Brandywine (Del.) High for violating the school’s dress code. This is what she was wearing …

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Yup. It’s a cruddy jacket and black leggings. As sexy and risque as a stick of Trident. While I enjoyed Jessica’s angry ode to stupid academic rules, what truly got me was the aftermath. Namely, instead of meekly adhering to poorly constructed regulations and fading into the abyss, Emily battled back. She spoke up, spoke out and drew the interest of local media. And while I don’t know if anything changed, I found myself overflowing with respect for the young woman.

Which brings us to the 190th Quaz.

Emily Schaeffer is a high school senior unafraid to put herself out there. I asked her mom if her daughter would consider being Quazed, and the response was a quick, “Absolutely!” Will she discuss what it’s like to be a high schooler in great detail? “Absolutely!”

This was no lie.

If you’re a parent, wondering what your teen is thinking, meet Emily. If you’re a teen, wondering why you feel so alone, meet Emily. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s vulnerable, she’s aware.

She’s an absolutely fantastic Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Emily, so this all starts with a Facebook post from your mom, who was outraged by reaction from a school administrator to the (jarringly unrevealing) outfit you wore to Brandywine High School recently. Your mother said a school official saw you and said, “I’ve had enough of this with you. No more leggings for you ever.” So … what happened? In detail …

EMILY SCHAEFFER: OK, just as a little back story, the code of conduct says that you’re not allowed to wear “form fitting pants” without a shirt that covers four inches above the knee. I wore leggings only one other time this school year and I was asked to change, and I was compliant.

So I came to school an hour late wearing my aunt’s plus-size jacket. I went into the office and my administrator saw me and pulled me aside. He told me something along the lines of, “It’s something every day with you. You’re not allowed to wear leggings. And since you’ve already missed so much school, I want you to go home and change.”

For a moment I tried to tell him, “But Mr. Regan, I know this is covering up to four inches …” He replied by repeating what he said before. I drove all the way back home to change and came back to school, missing another hour of class time.

J.P.: It sounds like this is something of an ongoing issue at your school: the way female students dress, and the reaction of administrators—most of whom (I’m guessing) are male. Am I wrong? Right?

E.S.: There are three male and two female administrators at Brandywine. And, honestly, the only ongoing issue is the inconsistency of the rules. Some days no one will say anything to students about dress code. Others, you’ll either have to wait in the “time-out” room for a parent to bring you a change of clothes, or you’ll get sent home to change. I’ve heard they like to “make examples” out of some girls.

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J.P.: I can’t imagine being a high schooler in 2015. It just seems sorta sucky, especially with all the technology, everyone on Instagram, talking shit, showing pictures of the party you weren’t invited to. Tell me—what role does social media have on the life of the current high schooler? And is it more for the better of the worse?

E.S.: Instagram and Twitter have a huge role in the lives of average high schoolers. Personally, I don’t have Twitter—I think it’s the worst of them all. Social media has led everyone my age to believe that every thought they have throughout the day is important and worth sharing with the public. Social media has been in my life since the sixth grade, and because it’s been in my life my entire teenage years, I have literal documentation of everything I’ve ever done or thought from age 12 until now. It’s horrifying. No one should be reminded of how awful they were when they were 14 and 15. Before you turn 16, you are a completely different kind of person than you will be for the rest of your life. And the horribly embarrassing things you say and do on the Internet as a pre-teen potentially have the power to hurt you later in life. That being said, social media has given a voice to an entirely different kind of bully. I’ve been on both ends of cyber bullying. I know how it feels to completely trash someone online, knowing only I have the power to delete it. People can “like” what I say. I also know how it feels to read the post that someone wrote about you, feeling your stomach turn in knots and your heart drop. It’s total power, and total humiliation.

Between arguing with people online, the “shit talking” like you said, and the naked pictures and personal relationship things like that—I think i speak for a lot of people when I say social media has made life as a teenager extremely difficult.

J.P.: I never thought about body image in high school. Never thought about the value of how I looked; whether I was too fat or too skinny. None of that. But it seems like girls are under such insane pressure to look a certain way. Do you feel it? And, if so, how does that manifest itself?

E.S.: All over television you see women who are skinny and covered with makeup. You see women with big boobs and little waists. You hear men on the radio talking about big butts and long hair. I know as a young girl I felt so awkward because I didn’t have what these women had. I felt like total shit about myself for a really long time because all these women were special. They were being talked about in songs and they were on my television. I didn’t feel as special as them because of this. And it’s not just your weight or your makeup, it’s also how your peers will look at you. Boring or slutty. Like a good girl or a whore. I don’t really know how to explain how it manifests itself. It’s messy. It’s a constant battle with a bitter voice in your head. “I want to eat this—no, you need to stay thin.” Or “I want to wear this dress —no, you’ll look like a whore.”  Or “I want to wear this shirt—no, youll look like an idiot. Show some more skin.”

I’ve spent the majority of my teenage years trying to find the right balance of makeup, the right balance of skin to show, the right kinds of clothes and the right styles of hair. It’s hard enough trying to find yourself as it is. The pressure to be perfect makes it worse. Every girl who reads this will relate to looking in the mirror and picking herself apart. Every girl will relate to seeing a really beautiful woman and getting knots of jealousy and sadness because they don’t look like she does.

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With Nate, her brother.

J.P.: Blunt question. My daughter is entering puberty, and it scares the hell out of me. You’re 18. A high school senior. You’ve been through it. How should I, as a dad, handle this stage? Is there a Do list and a DON’T DO list?

E.S.: Always always always talk to your daughter. Remind her that she’ll make a lot of mistakes, but you’ll always be there to listen to her and to help her. Tell her that you’ll always be there to protect her from the mean girls at school and the boys (or girls) who break her heart. Make sure she knows she’ll always have you to support and love her. Tell her she’s beautiful and loved. That she can be anyone she wants to be and do anything she wants to do.

J.P.: Do you feel like you understand boys? How they think? Why they act the way they do? Do you find them mostly infuriating, endearing or frustrating?

E.S.: I don’t really want to generalize the actions and feelings of an entire gender. Every boy is different. But everyone is a product of their surroundings, so I think there are a lot of different types of boys who act generally similar. And it all depends. I think some boys are great. Other boys could get hit by a bus for all I care.

J.P.: There’s a perception out there that your generation is pretty dumb and disinterested. Fair? Unfair? Do you think most of your classmates know about ISIS? Ebola? The California drought? Or is it all about college and Saturday night parties?

E.S.: I think that perception is totally unfair. I think my generation, for the most part, is a lot more insightful and intelligent than people think. Yes, my classmates know about ISIS and Ebola. Aside from what i think about social media, it’s also very resourceful. People my age talk about “world issues” online a lot. I don’t think my generation is filled with a bunch of idiots, but I do think my generation is somewhat desensitized about the world.

Emily with her mother, Jessica.
Emily with her mother, Jessica.

J.P.: Back when I was your age, I’m pretty sure I thought of people in their 40s as ancient. I’m 42. Am I ancient to you? And, more to the point, do you ever think about aging? About death? Or is it mostly the here and now?

E.S.: No! you’re definitely not ancient. I can’t wait to be older. Being a teenager sucks so bad. I feel like I’m a lot smarter than everyone treats me. I do think about aging. Having a job, being done with school and having real responsibilities sounds like a dream, honestly. And, yes, I do think about death. It’s a little disappointing to think that this is it. You do whatever you’re allowed to do, whatever you can do to survive your whole life, just to die and that be it. I wonder, Does your brain just turn off? What happens? Where do you go? i don’t believe in a magical man in the sky. I don’t believe there’s some magical place you go after you die to hang out with everyone on the history of the earth who’s ever died. I think science has proven religion to be a bunch of crap. But thank you for giving me a minor existential crisis.

J.P.: I know shitloads of people who look back at high school as the best time of their life. Do you think that’s genuinely true, or merely a glossy flashback? Because I sorta remember high school being really hard and awkward and pressure-stuffed.

E.S.: I think that’s a really general question. I think it’s different for everyone. I’m sure some people really did love high school. I’m sure it scared the living hell out of others. Personally, I think some adults just say that because they didn’t have any real responsibilities back then. I’m sure that everyone’s disappointed being an adult and not a kid anymore. I assume nothing is fun or carefree anymore for most people.

J.P.: What do you hope to do with your life? And do you have hope in humanity?

E.S.: I hope to change something in the world. Whether it be with my voice or something I physically do. I don’t want to live my whole life being a waste of space. You can do anything you want to do, I feel nothing holding me back in my life. So knowing that, I want to do something that made my life worth remembering. Or just simply living. And yes, I do have hope for humanity. I don’t think everyone in the world is evil, i think the evil people are just more exciting to talk about.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH EMILY SCHAEFFER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Taylor Swift, Radiohead, Chief Justice John Roberts, Wilmington Blue Rocks, “A Walk to Remember,” Lenny Kravitz, blocks of cheese, math class, Sparky Lyle: Chief Justice John Roberts, Sparky Lyle, Taylor Swift (as a person, NOT as an artist), blocks of cheese, Wilmington Blue Rocks, Radiohead, math class, Lenny Kravitz, “A Walk to Remember.”

• Be honest with me—have you ever heard of Hall and Oates? And do you know any of their songs?: Yes, i have. Maneater was written about me actually.

• Five reasons one should live in Delaware: 1. Please don’t. 2. It’s close to Philadelphia. 3. It’s close to the beach. 4. It’s a small state so it won’t take long to escape. 5. Wawa.

• Five all-time favorite musicians: City and Colour, Queen, Neck Deep, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Def Leppard.

• Tell me one thing about your mom that could embarrass her: My mom is a terrible cook and makes a decent dinner like, once a year on Thanksgiving. It’s usually good but she still burned half the skin off her arm one year from turkey juice. Another time she burned the outside of the bird and the inside was still frozen.

• Do you support the legalization of marijuana. Why or why not?: Yes and no, mostly no. I think it’s mind-altering and I don’t really want to live in a world where people can walk around high all day. There’s a weird obsession people have with smoking weed that I’ll never understand, but I feel like that’s only because it’s not allowed so it’s “cool and exciting.” But at the same time, I think it should because that fascination wouldn’t be so strong. Also because iId be a total hypocrite not to think it should be legalized. I think alcohol should be legal and it’s just as bad for you.

• Tell me a joke: I can only think of “yo mama” jokes and they’re all offensive, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Lol

• I want my kids to stop growing so fast. Any ideas how to make it all slow down?: Spend time with your kids, just them. If you take away their phones and friends and Internet and actually hang out with them and talk to them, you’ll see they’re still really young. Also try to be a part of the things they do with their friends or by themselves.

• Why do so many people enjoy the music of One Direction?: Because it’s simple. Easy lyrics to remember on top of a simple repetitive beat. Everything is repetitive. and the lyrics are general enough that every girl in the world can think, “Wow these cute boys are talking about a girl just like me!” Because children are lost.

• What’s the nicest thing someone has done for you?: When I got my wisdom teeth out, my mom kept bringing me literally piles of toast to eat since it’s all I could chew. Like every hour on the hour she made me four-to-six pieces of toast with butter, and would refill whenever I asked.

Categories
Blog News QUAZ RIP (those Quazes who have, sadly, passed on)

Perry Wallace

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In the fall of 1966, a young man named Perry Wallace enrolled at Vanderbilt University.

He was black.

Now, if you’re young or naive or young and naive, this might not seem like such a big deal. Hell, turn on the TV today, watch an SEC sporting event … and there are tons of African-American faces. Athletes. Cheerleaders. Coaches. Fans.

Such was not always the case.

By signing a scholarship to play for the Commodores, Wallace became the first black man to play basketball in the (oft-racist) SEC. And while he was accepted by teammates, the road was a rough one. Wallace faced the abuse of rival fans, the excessive physicality of opponents. He always had to sleep with one eye open on the road, yet never felt entirely at home on campus.

Through it all, Wallace handled himself with remarkable control and patience, ultimately graduating in 1970 and going on to a career as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice. In 1992 he was appointed to the EPA’s Environmental Policy advisory council, and he now works as a professor of law at American University.

Wallace recently cooperated with author Andrew Maraniss on a fascinating new book, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.

Perry Wallace, pioneer—welcome to the Quaz …

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JEFF PEARLMAN: So Perry, we just found out that the police officer in Ferguson won’t face trial—and the reaction has been equally heartbreaking. Looting, violence, etc. I’m wondering, having lived through and experienced the civil rights era, what you’re thinking …

PERRY WALLACE: Nothing has been surprising about Ferguson, in my view. And this includes the decision not to indict and the explosion of violence. First, for all the progress that has occurred, America still has the potential for racial violence and confusion. This is what we get for engaging in such premeditated denial, blatant arrogance and partisan bickering. Among other things, there is a failure on the part of leaders (until an explosion like this happens) to try to bring people together to promote mutual understanding. Also, looking at the Keystone-Cops-like behavior of the local police, one sees, frankly, a fairly typical police department—lacking in the proper training, skills and insights suitable for a modern America. And unsurprisingly, the governor and the prosecutor were equally ham-handed in handling matters squarely within the range of both duty and foreseeability.

Finally, one minor, although controversial, point is that more black parents, leaders and others need to have “The Talk” with more young black men. Admittedly this would be like telling the victims to be more careful—and I recognize my peril here, but this is far from blaming the victim (as often happens in cases like this and in rape and domestic violence cases). My only point here is that I want these young brothers to “choose life” over death by “managing” and “de-pressurizing” these encounters. Obviously, this will sound like some out-of-date, old Tom talking, but plenty of black men my age and older have lived long, proud (enough) lives by not “taking the bait,”  whether wittingly or unwittingly dangled before them, from policemen and others. In other words, what if Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown had been taught how—and why—Perry Wallace exercised restraint and control in the face of virulent racism and handled his sense of anger and outrage another way—such as pursuing social change constructively and developing himself as a person? The answer, I believe, is clear. Oh, and one other thing: they’d still be alive, alive with their families and friends at Thanksgiving, alive to know wives and children, alive to know grandchildren.  What a shame this all is.

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J.P.: Perry, there’s a question I’ve long wanted to ask someone with your background: You’ve seen the vileness of racism up close. You’ve heard people scream every epitaph in the book. There were thousands upon thousands of whites who were against integration, against the mixing of races—until they learned their teams could win lots of sporting events. Then, hey, it was OK. I sorta feel like this still exists today—“We love you on the court, but we sure as hell don’t want you dating our daughters.” What I want to know is, how do you reconcile this? Does it bother you? Did you have to get past it? Or am I making something out of nothing?

P.W.: What I think is happening is that progress is partial—and often precarious or shaky. Realistically, or certainly from my perspective, we’ve come a real distance when those people accept black athletes at all. These folks are simply not able to go all the way (daughters and such). My way of dealing with this is to recognize that I have one life, and it’s going on now. In my highest moments of overcoming, I find pleasure and satisfaction in a very practical way, by celebrating the progress.

J.P.: There’s a quote in “Strong Inside” that was stated about your freshman year of college. You said, “The overwhelming number of students either ignored us or were hostile.” I’m guessing, over the past five decades, you’ve run into many of these people. Do you get apologies? Acknowledgments of idiocy and hatred? Awkwardness? And can you, truly, forgive someone who 50 years ago thought of you as sub-human?

P.W.: I haven’t seen a lot of the people in question because I have lived primarily in Washington, D.C. and farther up the coast. So the opportunities for many encounters haven’t been there. Even so, there have been a very few occasions when someone has apologized. More than likely, however, they just act as if nothing had ever happened—I call it “playin’ crazy.” Of course, I don’t bother to unearth old idiocies, or remind people of what they were like—no benefit to anyone.

On forgiveness, yes, I can forgive a person who saw me as sub-human—but it works best if they have shown some contrition. Even when they don’t, I just “play crazy” and act as if there was no problem. My thinking is that I’m actually celebrating my personal victory in overcoming and preserving my humanity, and they have to reckon with themselves and higher forces.

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Perry being inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame.

J.P.: What’s your take on the usage of “nigga” (A intentionally included) by blacks and whites today? What about African-Americans who say it’s “taking ownership” of the word?

P.W.: I think the popularization of any of the various forms of the N-word just shows that there has been enough progress that the people involved have hardly any real idea, or working knowledge, of what pain, hurt and tragedy underlies the word. They have simply drawn on the fact that, historically, blacks used it in only rather private, intimate settings, and they have put it over into the public domain as fully acceptable usage. You won’t see people in my generation and older using the word—certainly not loosely and in public settings.

J.P.: You were 18 when you enrolled at Vanderbilt in 1966. You clearly knew what you were walking into; knew it was a cause larger than scoring points and getting an education. When I was 18, I just wanted a friggin’ car. Where did your courage and forthrightness come from? How did you have the strength to step into such a world, knowing it’d be anything but easy?

P.W.: I didn’t really know what I was going into. But I soon found out. When I did, I decided to stay and fight, drawing on strength from my family and faith.

J.P.: What does it feel like to be called “n—–.” I really, really mean this. I feel like most people don’t know. Don’t understand or don’t care to know. But you’re young Perry Wallace, walking … wherever. And the word comes out. What does that feel like? What goes through your mind?

P.W.: There’s always a shock, a sting in hearing it. But I’ve never let it disarm me or throw me off course—even though it really may bother me and I may have to spend some time gathering up the strength to fight.

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J.P.: Do the southern coaches who recruited black players deserve tons of credit for doing the right thing? Or were they just trying to win? And does that distinction matter?

P.W.: Obviously I can’t know the minds of these guys. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they weren’t mainly just trying to win. Remember, they don’t tend to be great moralists or social justice advocates. The distinction does matter, however, in that it shapes both the nature of the institutional change and the protection and nurturing of the black athletes (C. M. Newton is the champion of a values-oriented coach).

J.P.: I’m pretty fascinated by something. You’re from the south, you attend Vanderbilt, you experience some horrific stuff. Then you attend law school at Columbia in New York City. Was the Nashville-to-New York move like going from Mars to Pluto? What do you remember about those early days in the Big Apple? Were you overwhelmed? Overjoyed?

P.W.: Yes, it was a culture shock. But it was softened by my having spent time in New York City and having lived in Philly. Also, I grew up really wanting to live in a large urban and urbane city. So at times I was overwhelmed and stressed. But I really wanted to make it, and since I had essentially been run out of Nashville, I had no real choice but to make it.

J.P.: I wrote a book that came out 10 years ago—and from time to time I still have people come up and tell me that they enjoyed it. And, in a way, it feels like it never happened; that is was so long ago, I hardly remember writing it. Is it strange, for you, to be most known for something that happened five decades ago? Are the memories still fresh and vivid, or do you sometimes feel like you’re telling stories about stories?

P.W.: Because I’ve given literally hundreds of interviews, it doesn’t feel strange. Even so, I feel like I’m somewhere between having a fresh memory of the times and telling stories about stories—where I am on the spectrum depends on the particular memory.

Young Perry from his childhood days in Nashville
Young Perry from his childhood days in Nashville

J.P.: I was watching Black-ish the other night—really funny show. And the father is upset with his son, because he doesn’t know he’s supposed to give the head nod to other African-Americans when they walk by. The wife says to her husband, “Maybe you struggled for equal rights so our son doesn’t have to worry so much about race.” To which the husband, to laughter, says, “Noooooooo.” I’m wondering, Perry, whether life ever feels that way? Do young African-Americans fail to appreciate the struggle? And is it ever uncomfortable/disappointing to observe society and see young blacks unaware of what so many went through? Oh, and do you do the nod?

P.W.: Of course no young black can have a full sense of what the struggle was like—and it would be unreasonable to expect that they do. But in some instances, for example when they are acting tragically because they have low esteem issues related to race and status in society, it is especially sad that they are ignorant of what sacrifices were made so that they could have a positive sense of themselves and could conduct themselves that way. And yes, I do the nod–if they seem to understand and appear ready to reciprocate.

J.P.: This is a political question and relates to little, I suppose. But you worked with the National Urban League, the District of Columbia government and the Justice Department—so it’s not altogether out of left field. I’m a liberal’s liberal. Civil rights. Gay rights. Amnesty. Etc … etc. I voted for President Obama twice, and overall think he’s done some good things. But I also think, perhaps not his fault entirely, he’s done one really, really bad thing: Killed the hope for change. What I mean is—he truly convinced voters he symbolized sweeping change, independence, the power of positive and powerful thinking to overcome so much. And yet, here we are, and it all just seems sort of the same. Politics as usual, fighting, arguing, etc. I’m not disappointed in Obama so much as I’m disappointed in the system. I feel like Obama was as good as it got, and it still sucks. Curious what you think about that.

P.W.: Obama really wanted to effect real change. But he was specifically stymied and generally stymied. The general part reflects how encased and loaded down the system has become, with campaign finance, partisanship (specifically the various right wing demagogues over the past 30 years) leading the charge. The specific part refers to the amazing, white-hot hostility and blinding fear that has gripped the country—all levels—because somehow a black became president. Now, to be sure, he has made misjudgments (starting off with healthcare reform was noble, but jobs would have stood him a chance of fighting off some of the hostility and doubt), but most of the problem, I think, relates to his being stymied.

Finally, I relate a lot to Obama, as a pioneer. I understand his care, caution and balance. I understand that blacks and others on the left would come to see him as weak and indecisive. Mostly, however, I understand that his approach was the one that had the remotest chance of succeeding. The problem, I say reluctantly, is that America (a large enough segment of it) is not really ready for a black president. And while some blacks now have learned the bitter lessons of this black presidency (although only some blacks), I can’t foresee when in the future the circumstances will be right for another black to make a run for the office.

With his wife, Karen, and daughter, Gabby.
With his wife, Karen, and daughter, Gabby.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PERRY WALLACE:

• We take 25-year-old Perry Wallace, put him on the Knicks right now. What’s your stat line for the season?: Six points, seven rebounds, four assists.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes. Things slowed down in a terror-filled few minutes.

• What happens after we die?: When it’s over, it’s over. Which is why you do your best, give your best, and enjoy this bad-boy (life) while you can.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronnie McMahan, Lucky Charms, apple cranberry oatmeal, Muriel Bowser, Gerald Ford, Eric Hosmer, Philip Bailey, dirt roads, left-handed relievers, Tel Aviv, Nirvana: Nirvana, apple cranberry oatmeal, Ronnie McMahon, dirt roads, Lucky Charms, left-handed relievers, Tel Aviv, Muriel Bowser, Gerald Ford, Eric Hosmer, Philip Bailey.

• Five all-time favorite political figures: JFK, Barbara Jordan, Parren Mitchell, Bill Clinton, Shirley Chisholm.

• One question you would ask Dana Plato were she here right now?: What support systems/groups would have saved you? (our daughter is adopted)

• I’ve lost complete faith in the impartiality of the Supreme Court. Am I completely wrong?: I think you are very right–correct. The ones on the right are just so discouragingly partisan and political. Long ago my focus as a lawyer changed from litigation for civil rights to helping secure political and economic rights.

• My dad turns 72 in a few weeks. What should I get him?: Get him some CDs of some music from his coming-of-age years and some DVDs of some great old movies. Don’t worry if he doesn’t understand at first. Sit with him and enjoy some of them to get him warmed up.

• Five reasons one should make Nashville his/her next vacation destination?: Music. Food. Culture. But let’s be honest. I grew up wanting to leave and to up North, to an urbane life. My wife grew up in NYC, I was in law school there–We love it. And we also love Paris, where we both have real connections. So I could only honestly give you three reasons.

• I’m pushing hard for the big DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince comeback album. Will you join me in my efforts?: Yes. I was drafted by the 76ers in the early 70s and developed an attachment to Philly culture and music traditions. Plus their music is high quality and not vile towards women, etc.

Categories
Blog News QUAZ RIP (those Quazes who have, sadly, passed on)

Adrian Dessi

The Quaz has never been about fame.

I’ve never sought out Julia Roberts or David Wright or Jimmy Carter; never hoped that (golly gee!) Halle Berry or Brad Pitt or Ray Rice will grace me with 15 minutes for my stinkin’ blog.

No.

I began the Quaz 100 interviews ago because I’m genuinely fascinated by people, and I prefer asking questions to answering them. I want to know how it feels to be a valet parking attendant and not get a tip. I want to know what it’s like, being a firefighter and climbing into a burning building. I’m intrigued by elation and rejection; heartbreak and overwhelming love. I always tell my students (100 times per class) that being a journalist is a gift, in that you have license to ask people almost anything you want. “That,” I shout, “is a beautiful thing!”

The first 100 Quazes have been a mishmash of people from mishmash walks of life. Guitarists like John Oates and Tommy Show and Bruce Kulick; four of Kevin Arnold’s love interests from the Wonder Years; a KKK leader, Miss Black Iowa, a childhood friend fighting through MS, a woman blogging courageously about cancer, an opera singer, a street musician, a Tea Party activist, 12 former Major Leaguers, an erotic escort, a professional skeptic, a bashful illiterate from Little House on the Prairie, the CEO of Panera, the only woman to score a point in Division I football, a dog trainer. Some have been great, some have been meh, but I like to think they all pay homage to the power of curiosity.

This week, for the historic-only-to-me 100th Quaz, I wanted someone special. I’ve fielded countless suggestions, but never one that truly moved me. Then, a few weeks ago, I thought about my boyhood on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y. Specifically, I thought of a man who seemed to somehow have this life thing figured out, even from the heartbreaking nest of a wheelchair.

I grew up with Mark and Chris Dessi, and consider both to be good friends. Four years ago their father, Adrian Dessi, was first hit with the idea that he might—might—have ALS. The initial symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease can be vague and misleading, so it’s difficult to diagnose. Yet, ultimately, Adrian’s symptoms could not be dismissed. He was experiencing, among other things, muscle twitches and fatigue.

Indeed, it was ALS.

Now 67, Adrian Dessi is extraordinary. I visited him at his home in Camel N.Y. on a cool Thursday last month, not quite sure what I’d find. Would he be depressed? Solemn? Would he cry? Bemoan the inevitable lost years?

Two words: Hell. No.

Meet my new hero—a man who overcame an rough childhood filled with ritual beatings and dismissive parenting to turn darkness into blinding light. He is the father of two, the grandfather of five, a successful businessman, a loving husband, an ALS sufferer and, oh, yes, stronger than steel.

Adrian Dessi, I am honored to have you as the 100th Quaz.

Adrian and Patricia at their wedding on Aug. 16, 1969

J.P.: How did you become aware that you had ALS?

A.D.: I had a heart murmur. In the fall of ’09 I went for my physical, and the internist says, ‘You have to go see the cardiologist. Your heart murmur has gotten worse.’ And at the same time I complained to him about getting muscle twitches. He said, ‘Go see the neurologist’’ So I went two paths—neurologist, cardiologist. I wasn’t thinking ALS. Cardiologist comes back and says, ‘The heart murmur is bad. If you don’t take care of it and get valve repair or replacement, you’re going to have serious damage to your heart.’ OK, I go to the neurologist down here, he sends me down to Cornell Weill, and I come back after that. He says, ‘Well, it’s possible-to-probably ALS.’ This is the fall of 2009. So I said to him, ‘How many people have you diagnosed with ALS?’ He said, ‘You’ll be the second.’ I said, ‘OK, time for a second opinion.’ Plus, when you have an ALS diagnosis you don’t go for heart surgery. So we went down to Columbia Presbyterian, to the Lou Gehrig neurological unit, and we met their team, went through their battery of tests, which were a little more extensive than the ones I got previously. And they came back and said, ‘Gee, we don’t think you have ALS. We think you might have benign fasciculations—the muscle twitches. And two weeks later I had my heart valve repaired.

This was now January 10. I had the surgery in Westchester, near White Plains. So I come out, luckily they didn’t have to do a valve replacement. They were able to repair the valve. I come out of the surgery and I say to my wife, ‘I can’t cough. I can’t sneeze.’ She said, ‘Tell the doctor.’ OK. Every morning a team of doctors comes in, checks me after the heart surgery. ‘How you doing?’ I say, I can’t cough. I don’t have the diaphragm. That’s what happened. The surgery … your body goes through trauma through something like open-heart surgery. And the trauma exasperated the ALS in the diaphragm. But I didn’t know it. I did very well with the heart surgery recovery. Within a matter of three, four weeks I was going three days a week to a cardio unit for exercise. Where they monitor you. They’re tracking you as you exercise. They increase the times, the duration, the kinds of exercises. All I kept getting were accolades. ‘You’re doing great! You’re doing great!’ But I’m saying to myself, ‘If I’m doing so great, how come I have to hold onto the handrail to lift myself up the five steps to get into the place?’

J.P.: Were you thinking about ALS again?

A.D.: I wasn’t thinking about anything. All I was thinking about was my body … something’s going on. This is not right. I’m saying to people, ‘I have benign fasciculations.’ But you’ve been in the gym—you know what it is to feel your body increase. You increase your breathing capacity, your stamina, your muscle strength. You feel it. Here I am, going to cardio physical therapy three times a week, 45 minutes each time, and after three months why can’t I walk up four steps? It was like, something’s going on.

On top of all that, I have a bad disc. I had lower back pain. So my internist suggested, ‘You need physical therapy.’ So now I’m up to five days a week. Three days with the cardio, two days a week with the physical therapy. I come home, I lay down on the couch, I collapse. I’m out. My wife’s coming home from work, she’s like, ‘What the fuck is going on? You’re sleeping in the dark at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what it is. I’m just exhausted.’ It goes on a little bit longer. I’m complaining about my back. Doctor says, ‘Why don’t you go get an MRI?’ Alright, so I go get the MRI. Now I’m feeling weaker, and I decide I think we need to go back to the people at Columbia to see what’s going on. This is now January 2011. We go back, they check me out and they say, ‘Yup, it’s ALS.’ OK. And at the same time, I’ve got pain here, I’ve got pain here. And the message I’m getting from the neurologist is that ALS is a painless disease. I said, ‘For a painless disease, I’m going through the fucking roof here. This is a bitch. I got pains in my thoracic area, 360 degrees around my body. And I’ve got pain in my lower back. So they sent me to their pain management group at Columbia. I go there, they look at the MRI, and they know I’ve just gotten the diagnosis of ALS. And he said, ‘Well, if you didn’t have ALS I’d be talking to you about disc replacement. Your disc is gone. It’s gone.’ So we started a regiment of lower spine steroid injections and some injects for my thoracic area. So ever since then it’s been—I have ALS and that’s it.

Adrian with his sons, Mark (left) and Chris.

J.P.: What does it feel like when you hear your diagnosis and it’s ALS? I don’t mean, ‘Oh, this is horrible.’ Like, how did you process it and did you accept it? Not accept it?

A.D.: When the first doctor told me and he said it’s possible to probable, I think in my gut I knew it was probable more than possible. And I accepted it. You know, it’s life. You know, how do you accept getting a D on your math exam? It is what it is. You have to deal with it. It was tough telling my wife. I went to the hospital myself, she was still working at the time. It was tough telling my sons, my daughter-in-laws; it was tough telling my brother, Joe. You know, I told my brother. We were playing golf over in Mahopac. He had come up for the weekend. We were playing and I said, ‘Something’s going on, I thought you would like to know. I have ALS’ He was like, ‘What?’

I don’t know how people react to things like that. I didn’t break down. I didn’t cry.

J.P.: No five stages of grief …

A.D.: No, no. It was another punch to the belly like any other punch to the belly you go through life with.

J.P.: That’s pretty amazing. I mean …

A.D.: You get punched enough and you stand up and keep going. You just go along with it.

J.P.: So obviously it’s a famous disease named after a famous baseball player, but how would you describe what it is like to have Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

A.D.: (Long pause) It’s a very frustrating disease. Because it doesn’t affect your brain, it doesn’t affect your heart, it doesn’t affect your bowels, it doesn’t affect your urinary tract. But it affects everything else. So, like, you have your finger in your mouth (Jeff’s note: He’s referring to me, sitting across from him on a couch). I can’t do that anymore. I have an itch above my eye. I can’t scratch it. It’s extremely frustrating because every aspect of your life that you’re so used to doing—you can’t do. I’m at the point now where I’m losing the ability to feed myself. I have to have somebody else to feed me. So it’s just very frustrating.

J.P.: So do you still have feeling in your legs?

A.D.: You have feeling over your entire body. You can come over and tickle my toes, and I can feel it. I just can’t move it.

J.P.: Does it feel like you can move it? Like, can you feel your foot right now and feel the impulse to move it?

A.D.: Um … put your foot on the floor. Now tap your foot. Tap it more. Tap, tap, tap. I can’t do that. It’s like it weighs 5,000 pounds, trying to do that. I can lift my heel, but I can’t lift my toes. My toes—I’m straining right now with every ounce in my body. And I can’t do it. There’s no pain involved. The foot doesn’t hurt. I just can’t move it. And if I try to move it, I strain and strain. But it doesn’t move.

J.P.: And what’s your breathing like? (Jeff’s note: Adrian has a breathing tube beneath his nose)

A.D.: When I came out of the surgery, I lost about 40 percent of my diaphragm. I’m now down somewhere around 30 percent. That’s why I use this. It’s not oxygen—it’s just air. It’s what they call a BiPAP machine. What the BiPAP does is it inhales and exhales for you. And it’s set to the amount you need to expand your diaphragm. This is basically what’s keeping me alive. I could probably survive without it, but I’d have to use other muscles to try and suck in the air. So there’d be a lot of strained breathing, and what that does is it easy exhausts you. Because it’s not a natural muscle. You get heavy breathing when you’re running, you stop or slow down and take a breath. Sitting at rest, you’re OK. Well here, sitting at rest, I’m using all these surrounding muscles and that exhausts you. And one of the watch words for this illness is ‘energy conservation.’ Don’t exhaust yourself. Because it exacerbates the situation.

I don’t know how much you want to know about the disease. Wait, Jeff, do me a favor and remove this pillow from behind my neck (Jeff’s note: I do). The disease affects upper motor neurons and lower motor neurons, basically. Basically that means it’s in your brain and it’s in your spinal cord, and it affects the transmissions from your brain to the muscles, and then back from the muscles back to the brain. The transmission back being disconnected is worse than the transmission going there. And what that means is, when you exercise, the muscles send instructions to the brain, ‘Hey, I just got exerted.’ And the brain comes back and says, ‘OK,’ and it does certain things. Without that connection the muscle just lays there, and that’s what’s happening. Now it doesn’t affect every muscle in your body. But what it does affect is the mouth, and a lot of people start with symptoms of slurring words, of dribbling. And they’ll gradually lose the ability to speak, the ability to chew, the ability to swallow.

J.P.: Will that eventually happen to you?

A.D.: Probably. Thankfully, knock on wood, I haven’t presented those symptoms yet. It’s interesting—last month I was out on Long Island, and I met a friend of my aunt’s who was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS. She can’t swallow, she can’t chew. But she stands, she walks, she writes. The disease doesn’t attack everybody the same way. Everybody is different. The next big area is diaphragm. That’s my big problem area. The next area is gross motor, and the fine motor, your hands. As you can see, I have trouble with my hands. I can’t make a fist or hold a pen. I can barely press the buttons on the remote.

J.P.: So does this disease come with definitive moments—Shit, I can’t make a fist any longer! Shit, I can’t press the buttons on the remote! Shit!

A.D.: Slowly. This hand looked like this hand two months ago. It’s slow, in that it wasn’t from yesterday to today. But it’s fast, in that six months ago I was able to walk with a walker. Not a lot, but I could walk 25 … 30 steps. I could stand up. You know, I could feel myself. I could stab something with a a fork. I can’t do that now. It didn’t happen yesterday, but it happens pretty quickly.

J.P.: This might sound like a dumb question, but do you wake up in the morning and think, ‘Crap!’ Or can you wake up in the morning and think, ‘This is going to be a good day”? Can you have enjoyment? Is that impossible at this point?

A.D.: The screwy thing about the disease is it doesn’t affect your brain. So I’m the same guy who was playing golf three times a week in 2009. But I just can’t do it. There is no … I’m not in a lot of pain. I’m in pain because I have disc issues. But other than that, if I’m laying in bed, I’m looking forward to the day. Then you get up and you deal with the realities. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.

J.P.: So what do you do? What are your days, generally?

A.D.: My days generally? Well, because I can’t dress myself and bathe myself and feed myself, it takes me the better part of the day just to get up and get washed and cleaned and fed. That’s done by 12 … 1 o’clock. I get up at 9.

J.P.: Do you sleep the same as you once did?

A.D.: I probably sleep a little better. Because I’m tired. There are some nights I sleep like a log. I usually get down around 10, so I sleep from 10 pm until 9 am.

My day … I watch a lot of TV. I’m a movie fanatic, so I watch a lot of movies. Last night I watched Prometheus. I like the concept of the movie, because it’s based on books I read a long time ago about aliens coming to earth. It was interesting. I probably see six, seven, eight movies in a week. I’ve seen Argo, Lincoln, Sliver Linings Playbook, Django

I also have two other things that keep my busy. I read. If I decide today I want to get into a book, I’ll start today and I won’t stop, and I’ll read two-to-three books a week. I have to use a tablet. I can’t turn pages. Ask your buddies Mark and Chris, when we used to vacation down in Florida, I’d take two big thick books, and I’d read them in four days—1,400-page books. I’d hear, ‘You didn’t read that book!’ They’d argue with me. I like to flip through a nice, thick book—start at 8 in the morning, come in at 5 for dinner. But now I can’t turn the pages, so I use my iPad. I also have model Lionel trains downstairs. I have a 10-foot x 10-foot table I’ve been working on for years. It used to be my father in law’s set, from the 1950s and 60s. I did a lot with the trains until I started getting severe ALS symptoms. So I pretty much stopped in 2010. But I’ve been relying on Dwight (Jeff’s note: Dwight is his lovely home health aide), and my friends who come over, to be my arms and legs. I direct them. My grandkids are beside themselves with it. I just bought a lot of new equipment, and I’m trying to solicit any neighbors who might have free time to help me build. Another problem is access—the only way to get downstairs is I have to go outside and in the back, which means when there’s snow on the ground …

After Chris completed a marathon in his father’s honor.

J.P.: Lou Gehrig gives his famous speech, and he says, ‘Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ Do you get it? Is it possible to feel that way while having a disease like this?

A.D.: I’m gonna die. Sooner than planned. ‘You plan it, God laughs’—that’s an old saying. I went to a support group at Putnam Hospital, and there were people with neurological diseases, and they were having a guest speaker who was a pharmacist. And there’s about, maybe, a dozen people, and some guests—caregivers. And the majority of the people had Parkinson’s. And they’re bitching and morning that they shake all the time. ‘Why do I  have to shake all the time?’ and ‘Isn’t there something I can take to stop the shaking?’ I’m sitting there saying to myself, ‘I’ll take shaking all the time … I’ll give you my right arm and take all the shaking. Because you guys don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.’

And I’ve said this to lots of people, and please forgive the language: I’m one of the luckiest fucking guys in the world. I’m a street kid from Brooklyn. You know what that means? It means your expectation is that you’re going to end up like the guy on the corner, flipping half-dollars in the sharkskin suit. Or you’re gonna end up, if you’re lucky, working in the railroad repair facility right around the corner. I grew up—nobody in my family graduated college. In fact, my mother never graduated high school. Eighth grade—that was it. My father, he was a big shot. He got his high school diploma. So I’m a street kid from Brooklyn. I was blessed. I was 30-years old, I was the vice president of a bank. A half-dozen heartbeats away from the presidency. Making a very, very reasonable salary. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ I had no … it was like, nobody in my family is the vice president of a bank. I mean, my relatives and friends would talk to a vice president of a bank like he was a god. So it was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ So I’ve been blessed all my life. I’ve got beautiful sons, my daughter-in-laws are gorgeous, bright young girls. My wife is the love of my life. I mean, I made more money, did more traveling, vacationed in places that I never thought possible. Jeff, we went like half a dozen times and rent a villa in the Riviera. And go for a month with the kids. We had the best freakin’ vacations. The place we rented was a friend of a friend’s, it was on an acre of land with a big in-ground pool overlooking the Mediterranean, 20 minutes from Cannes, 40 minutes from Nice, 50 minutes from Monaco. We were right there, in Provence. It was unbelievable. You thought you were in heaven. I’ve been around the world three times. I’ve done shit, as a kid growing up I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. Impossible. Will never happen.’ My brother is a former school-teacher. He taught in Long Island for 34 years. He’s also a football coach. He coaches seventh and eighth graders. We’re talking, he says, ‘What was the most amount of money you made in a year?’ I told him, I thought he was gonna faint. He couldn’t believe it. It was beyond his comprehension. Am I a multi-millionaire? No. But we did very well.

I have nothing to complain about. There’s nothing to bitch about. Am I disappointed with this disease? Yeah. What am I disappointed about? See my five grand kids? (Jeff’s note: He motions toward a nearby photograph). I’m not gonna see them grow up. That’s what’s disappointing. I have one grandson, Luke. I’m gonna give Luke my golf clubs. I have a brand new set of golf clubs that I think I used a half dozen times. But I’d love to be there when he’s graduating high school and say, ‘Here kid, these are for you.’ I don’t know if I’m gonna be there. I don’t think so. He turns 3 in July.

J.P.: Do you fear death? Does the idea of death itself make you nervous or uncomfortable?

A.D.: I don’t think about it. It’s there, but it’s … I never was the kind of guy that was in my head with my problems. I was never, ‘Oh, shit, you lost your job. What will you do? What will you do? How you gonna get a job?’ Yeah, I got shot down a lot of times. That’s life. My brother tells stories of how he would share my experiences with his friends, because he couldn’t believe it. He says, ‘You lose your job at A, you get your job at B for twice the money. How the fuck do you do that?’ You do it. ‘You lose your job with B and you get 50 percent more salary with C. How the hell do you do it?’ You do it. Those were opportunities. I didn’t set the price scale. They set the price scale. I just had the skill set. He used to crack up. I’d always say, ‘Joe, you just go do it. If you get it in your head, you start beating yourself up. That’s not the way to go.’ I had that as a kid. My parents beat the hell out of me—physically and emotionally. And I learned, you can’t go there.

J.P.: So you’re from Brooklyn …

A.D.: Yes. I’m from Gravesend. I was born in 1945. I went to St. John’s Prep. My father was Adrian—I’m a junior. And my mother was Marie. I have an older brother, Joe, and Carol is my younger sister. My father worked in the manufacturing business. He was a clothing cutter. They’d take the apparel, make a suit, you’d lay it out on these long tables, they would lay down on top of that a sample and he’d come along with a high-speed drill and cut out stacks of materials in the shapes needed to make an arm, a leg, etc.

J.P.: Was he a tough guy?

A.D.: A tough guy? Not really. My father worked in the clothing business, but that’s what they used to call a seasonal business. What that meant is he was out of work a lot, so he’d pick up a lot of odd jobs to supplement. And it was a family business, sort of. My grandfather was in the same business, my grandmother was in the same business, my father’s uncle was in the same business. But he worked six days a week. Saturdays he would get home, like, 5 o’clock. That was half a day. Because Monday through Friday he would work two jobs. He’d get home, like, 9 o’clock at night after leaving at 7 o’clock in the morning. So I didn’t see him much. Saturdays he would come home, he would maybe go shopping with us, then go to sleep. And he slept all day Sundays. It was his day off. So I never really had much of a relationship with him.

J.P.: So not a good dad, not a bad dad. Just a dad …

A.D.: He was … my mother was the disciplinarian. I don’t know what kind of upbringing my mother had. But my mother used to beat the shit out of us.

J.P.: With a belt? Stick?

A.D.: More sophisticated. My mother was a thrower, so she threw anything around at you. I got stuck with a fork in my arm from across the table. She threw a steel pot of food at my brother, and luckily he ducked quick enough it went through the regular window and the storm window, down three flights. Because we lived on the third floor. She would use broom sticks on us, but then she’d complain to my father that the stick broke. So my father would tell her to get a thicker stick. And one of my father’s odd jobs was he finagled himself to become a barber instructor. He never worked as a barber, but he got himself employed where he could get a cushy job teaching people to become barbers. That was his night job. So he worked at the factory cutting material all day, and then in the evenings he would work from 5 until 9, helping people to learn a skill. So what he did is he brought my mother a barber strap. Which is actually like three straps of leather. And my mother used to wear it on her apron. So she’d have it readily available. She would take us into the bathroom. She wore it on her apron, and she also had a hook on the door behind the bathroom and she’d hang it there. She would bring us into the bathroom.

It was interesting, as adults, talking to my brother and my sister about our treatment. They both agreed I got the worst of it because I wasn’t the daughter and I wasn’t the first son and I was a little bit of an antagonist. I pushed the envelope. Anyhow, that’s the bad side. The good side is it made me tough. I have a pretty high tolerance for bullshit.

J.P.: I wrote a book about Walter Payton. His parents would have him go out back and get a stick, then beat him with it. Yet he loved his parents. Can a mother be that way and also be a good mother? Or no?

A.D.: (long pause) I don’t know what a good mother is. I had a mother. I know what she was. She wasn’t a doting, loving person. My father developed a nickname for me when I was a teenager. The nickname was, ‘The bum.’ That’s how he introduced me. When I was in high school I went to preparatory school, so you had to wear a suit every day; gotta wear a shirt and tie. So I needed clothes, and he was in the clothing business. He’d say to me, ‘Tomorrow, come meet me in the office. We’ll measure you up for a suit.’ So I’d go, I’m at his work, and I’m meeting all the people he works with. And how was I introduced? ‘This is my son—the bum.’

Throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in 2011, on the same day Derek Jeter had his 3,000th hit.

J.P.: At that age, did it sting? Or only in hindsight?

A.D.: At that age it was sort of like, ‘What, is this a joke? Is this not a joke?’ It was kind of water off my back. But you asked about my mother. Move forward. I’m 30-something-years old. Married. Two children. Responsible job at a bank. A 3,000-foot colonial home. Brand new car in the driveway. And my mother says to me, ‘Well, maybe you’re not such a bum.’ And I said to her, ‘You S.O.B.—you meant it all those years. And Dad meant it.’ It wasn’t a joke.

My father and my father-in-law were at a family event, and the grandkids were all these, in college. And my father said, ‘Boy, we did good.’ And I said to myself, ‘What the fuck did you do?’ Get the hell out of my house. But I didn’t say that.

There was a situation [later on] where I sat down with him with my sister, and we read him the riot act. He said, ‘I’m flesh, too! I’m flesh, too!’ He was stupid. My mother was also stupid.

J.P.: Did you ever forgive your parents? Or now, that they’re not here, are you able to sort of, I don’t know …

A.D.: You know, it’s so tough. I want to forgive them. Because you need to forgive to move on. At the same time, uh, I did well. I did well. From where I came from, from my family. I remember going to a dance with my aunt and my uncle, my aunt says to my uncle at the time, ‘No one makes $100,000 a year.’ I was in my 30s. I was going, ‘Holy shit, she doesn’t realize I make that kind of money.’ I’ve done extremely well. Part of that is because I got my ass kicked; because I got my lip broken when my mother threw a metal dish at me three months before I got married. It made me tough, and because I’m tough I’m able to do things.

So on the one hand, yes, I should forgive them …

J.P.: But you don’t want to give credit for unintended consequences …

A.D.: Exactly! On the other hand, you say, ‘It would have been nice to have had been told when I was growing up that I was a responsible person, that I was a good person.’ I tell my granddaughters—one’s gonna be 7, I have two 5-year olds, and I have two littles who are 2 ½ a piece. But I tell the older girls, because they can understand. I tell them, ‘Tell me what you see when you look in the mirror?’ And they say, ‘I’m kind, I’m pretty and I’m smart.’ And my answer is, ‘That’s right. And don’t you forget it every time you look in the mirror.’ I remember as a kid, 8 … 9-years old, looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Who am I? What am I? Except a punching bag.’

J.P.: So coming where you come from, how did you escape?

A.D.: I remember, vividly, I was about 11, and I ran away. I had no money. But I took off. I just ran away. If I had had some money, I would have gotten on the bus and gone somewhere. But I ran away and during that time we lived, literally, by a train yard. It was a depot for the subway system. It’s one of the largest ones, down by Coney Island. And I walked that entire facility. I was gone for the better part of eight, 10 hours. And during that period of time I said to myself, ‘I’m out of here. I’m intellectually, emotionally out of here. I don’t care what they do to me, I don’t care how much they beat me. I’m out of here.’ And I realized the only way to get out was I had to develop skills and I had to educate myself. But to do that was very tough for me. I had no foundation of support to say, ‘You’re smart, keep going.’ What I had was beatings. So it was like, ‘Why should I get a 90 or 100? I’m going to get my ass handed to me anyway.’ So there wasn’t much motivation. I had to become self-motivated for the education. It was not easy because I was an emotional basket case. I went to a Catholic prep school, which you had to pay for. My brother went to Brooklyn Tech, so that was free. For me, I went to Brooklyn Prep and I thought a little, ‘Gee, wow, my parents have supported me.’ But it didn’t dawn on me until years later that they didn’t do that for me. They did it for themselves.

J.P.: Why? Status?

A.D.: Yeah. They always said, ‘You have to go to college. You have to go to college.’ I was an emotional basket case. I got out of high school, I graduated on June 9, 1963. On June 10, I started work. I worked at Steeplechase. It was an amusement park on Coney Island. The Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium is where Steeplechase was. I started working, and I worked Friday nights from 6-to-1, Saturdays from 12-to-12 and Sundays from 12-to-10. And on Mondays I worked at my brother’s old job, in the mail room of a not-for-profit called 40 Wall Street. He got a better job for the summer, so I took over for him for the summer. So I worked Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 on Wall Street. So I proceeded to work 20-straight weeks, seven days a week, working something in the neighborhood of 90-some hours. Why? To save money for college. Because when I got into college, what I got was a handshake from my father. ‘Congratulations, I’ll sign whatever you need me to sign.’ That was it. So I had to do it on my own. I needed money. Well, think about yourself when you graduated high school. That summer, you celebrated, rejoiced, rejuvenated, then went on to school. I didn’t have that opportunity.

So what did I do? I got to school—St. John’s University—and I did terribly. I got kicked out in my first year for academics. So my father was there, reinforcing ‘My son the bum.’ So I had to get a job, and I got one working in a bank as a teller. Lincoln Savings Bank—the branch on Flatbush and North Street. And I lived at home. And I did that for two, three years. Bought a brand new 1965 Volkswagen Beetle for $1,865. My car payment was $50 per month. I was working as a teller, so I was only making $65 a week. It was tight, but I could do it and I could get to work. And I enrolled in Pace as a non-matriculated student, and I started taking business courses at night. Until I got my grades up sufficiently, and then I quit work, I went to school full-time and I started working part-time because I still had to pay my tuition. I graduated in 1969. My brother went to college before me, so I was the second in my family to graduate.

J.P.: How meaningful was that to you?

A.D.: It was extremely meaningful to me, because it was the sense of accomplishment. It motivated me to go off for my graduate degree. I have an MBA from St. John’s. I went back to St. John’s to prove to myself I could get it through there.

J.P.: Do you think your parents were impressed when …

A.D.: I didn’t give a shit. I wasn’t doing it for them. I was doing it for me.

J.P.: Lemme ask this—I always think there are two ways people who are raised by bad parents can go themselves. They can either follow that path or say, ‘Fuck that, I’m going to be absolutely nothing like that.’ It seems like you took the second path. Were you motivated by bad parenting?

A.D.: Yes. My brother and I both agreed we were not going to parent the way we were parented. We both agreed we were not going to have a home life the way we had a home life.

J.P.: So was it easy to be a different kind of parent? Did it come more naturally to you than you thought?

A.D.: It was a hard job. A very conscious job. I have to give credit to my wife. My wife is a sweetheart; came from a 180-degree different type of environment. Very loving person, very giving person. It took a lot of her help to help me to see things.

My brother has three kids—his oldest son, Joseph, has his own ad agency. His daughter, Stephanie, has her own occupational therapy business in Manhattan. She specializes in breast cancer victims. His son Matthew is a geologist, but he works for an environmental company and he’s the head marketing guy. And you know my sons. Not too shabby. And they are—all five of them—are aggressive, they’re tough business people and they’re loving parents. They all have beautiful kids, great partners. That makes me and my brother and my sister feel so good.

J.P.: Like you made it?

A.D.: Yeah. We … we changed the cycle.

J.P.: What did Chris running the marathon in your honor late last year mean to you?

A.D.: It’s beyond words. Beyond feelings. I don’t know where to begin. It just chokes me up. I mean, for the majority of my life nobody did shit for me. From when I was born, nobody did shit for me. All I got was a 2×4 upside the head and a kick in the ass. To see my son do something for me—I can’t put words to it. I’m not used to it. Don’t know how to react. You know—never had it.

This disease has a plus side.

J.P.: How do you mean?

A.D.: It’s made us all closer. One of the biggest problems I’ve had in my life is accepting love. I didn’t know how to do that. Because what I got as a child certainly wasn’t. I got discipline. I was ‘My son the bum’ to my father and my mother’s words were, ‘Children are to be seen and not heard.’ And she lived by that. ‘Sit there and shut up. You have no point of view. You have no decisions. You have nothing to say.’ So it was difficult. And I had to deal with lots of crazy emotions. I was a pipe smoker for more than 40 years. I loved to go out and smoke. But it was also a crutch. Family would be in the house having a good time, I’d go outside and look in. I couldn’t go back in. I didn’t feel I was worthy to be inside, because I didn’t know how to deal with those kinds of emotions. It’s taken me a long time. This disease kicked me in the ass in that regard. So it’s helped me in that regard. I’m much more open and accepting and understanding.

Intellectually, I don’t understand it. But emotionally I’m learning how to take it.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ADRIAN DESSI:

• Five reasons for someone to make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination: The people, the beautiful lake, the people. I don’t know what else.

• Do you feel like you abandoned Mahopac by moving to Carmel, N.Y., it’s arch-rival town?: Uh, no. We don’t feel we have because we haven’t. We go to Mahopac for everything. I’m a Mahopac guy. When I was 12, my father’s cousins used to summer right near Lake McGregor. One summer my father decided to bring us up, and I fell in love with Mahopac. Years later when we were married and looking for a place to live, Mahopac came up and I said, ‘That’s the place!’

• Best advice you ever received?: Be true to yourself.

• How often in your life have people made the Rocky ‘Addddrrrriiiian!’ reference to you?: Uh, not as much today as they did years ago. When I was in college I got a lot of them. ‘Yo, Adrian!’

• How did you propose to your wife, Patricia?: We were sitting on the beach on the south bay on Long Island during a sunset.

• How did you meet your wife?: In college, at a dance at a hotel in Manhattan. I was a super senior at Pace, she was a freshman.

• What is the greatest moment of your life?: There are two—when my sons were born.

• Best movie you’ve ever seen?: Jesus, that’s a toughie. I like the movie, what the hell is it, the black-and-white movie … It’s a Wonderful Life.

• Do you feel like people approach you in a different way now that you have ALS?: Yes, they do. And it’s very uncomfortable. I would like people to approach me like I’m standing up 6-feet tall, 210 pounds, kick your ass, shake my hand with a nice tight grip. I don’t want to be perceived as that sickly old guy sitting in a chair. You know how you get like that, I think? When you start letting this situation take over your life. That’s when that happens?

• Do you never have ‘Why is this happening to me?’ moments?: Fleeting. Short. Brief. Kick their ass, get them out of my head. It’s really good, because if I let it take hold—and I know this, because I’m smart enough to know this—that will be the end. That will be the end of my relationship with my family, it’ll be the end of me. And you know what? I’m not dying today and I’m not dying tomorrow. So fuck you. I don’t have time for this shit.

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QUAZ RIP (those Quazes who have, sadly, passed on)

Kathleen Osgood

My favorite blog of 2012 has nothing to do with sports. Or politics. It’s as fancy as a rusty spoon and as modern and hip as a can of Tab. It’s no frills, no graphics, no celebrity cameos, no buzz.

It’s Kathleen Osgood’s Sittin’ On a Porch, and it is absolutely wonderful.

Kathleen is a woman in her 50s who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The blog is about that, but, really, it’s not about that at all. Truth be told, it’s the life narrative of an amazingly intelligent, confident, secure human whose life, in many ways, I envy. While many of us rush around, looking for the hottest this and the coolest that, Kathleen kicks back and enjoys. She appreciates the little things—a warm expression, a soothing sound, a cold drink. I suppose part of this is because of her cancer, and a reminder of life’s fragility. But, more to the point, I believe Kathleen Osgood to be genuinely special.

Here, she discusses life with cancer, what comes next—and why she’d take dog urine over Menudo.

Kathleen Osgood, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kathleen, first I want you to know how beautiful your blog is. You call it Sittin On a Porch, and—genuinely—it does that title well. Very casual, very welcoming. I guess what interests me, first and foremost, is this: You have Stage 4 lung cancer, which is
obviously nothing to laugh and smile about. Yet in so many of your pictures you’re laughing and smiling; so many of your entries seem so jovial and uplifting. My question: How is this possible?

KATHLEEN OSGOOD: Thank you for your kind words. The name actually came to me in my sleep when I was trying to find a new name for my cottage soap and herbal products business. SittinOnAPorch, as you see, spells soap. And it just seemed to fit my new life and world.

Years ago my friend Lynne and I had made a plan that when we were older if we got a chronic disease we would wallow in despair. Maybe go to the grocery store and walk up to people all dramatic and sob that we were dying of cancer. That we would just lay down and give up, because we were not interested in dealing with being sick. When I found out I had cancer, nope, that is not at all what I wanted to do. This journey has been a wild roller coaster ride at times. But in the beginning I just figured that the doctor would treat me with WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) chemo, radiation, whatever and the cancer would go away and I would simply go on with my life. The first doctor did not run all the tests commonly run to determine the source, or type of cancer I had. When I first went in to see him I had pleurisy and it was extremely painful. The pain had started in my upper back on the left side. The cancer had already spread to my bones, and the doctor misunderstood and thought that the pain was from the cancer on my bones. I am sure that some of the pain was the cancer, but it was more from the pleurisy. The cancer affected a rib next to my sternum on the left side and my C6 and C7 vertebrates. Radiation stopped that cancer, but it had spread to other places, which we did not know about because he did not run all the tests.

Because the cancer had spread, he was right that it was Stage 4. But not a cancer from unknown origin which is what he diagnosed. No, I had Stage 4 lung cancer, or as I like to refer to it as, the “little c.” He gave me three chemo treatments that are commonly used for many cancers, but mostly for breast cancer. It did nothing to my cancer. To me, it made me horribly ill, I lost my hair and had the bone pain that feels like someone is setting fire to your bones—like the worst case of shin splints but it was not limited to my legs. After the three treatments he sent me home and gave me Hydrocodone and told me to get my affairs in order.

I called a doctor friend who found my current doctor for me—the amazing, wonderful and gorgeous Dr. M. He took me from being so sick I could barely lift my head to feeling wonderful, alive, healthy … like I could do anything. During all of this my friends from all over the world started sending me emails and calling and sending me good wishes. That outpouring of love and affection, of kindness and sweetness … how can anyone be anything but jovial and uplifted? And it is my basic nature to be happy, hopeful and positive. Just because some of my cells have gone rouge and want to kill me really isn’t enough to put a permanent frown on this normally sickening happy Pollyanna face.

J.P.: I want to get to some blunt things first, if that’s OK. Namely, when did you learn that you had cancer, and how did you find out? What was your reaction? How did the news hit you?

K.O.: I am one of those people who does more in a day then anyone in their right mind would want to do or could do. I had just finished playing Yenta at the Monticello Opera House in Fiddler On The Roof. I went directly from that play into directing my first play, also at the Opera House, Sex Please, we’re Sixty. I was still working full time at the Florida Department of Agriculture as a Manager of the Certification and Training Program. I was very active at the Opera House, the garden club, the Art League and I have two acres with lots of animals (five dogs at that time, four cats, chickens, rabbits, fish) and gardens. By spring I had a killer cough and one day in April 2010 I sat down, right in the middle of Nun Bingo, a fund raiser for the Opera House. I always played the part in white face and was known as Sister Mary Mime, a nun who had taken a vow of silence that had gone terribly awry. I simply sat down and could not get up. I was worn out. My friend Mary, who is a licensed RN, had gently laid her hand on my arm and said she was worried about me. That I sounded like there was something wrong, maybe pleurisy, maybe going into pneumonia and that she wanted me to go see my doctor. The scariest part is that I felt so bad that I actually called the doctor that day and went in to see him that week. I told him Mary’s diagnosis and he said that he wanted a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed tiny nodules all over my lungs and pleural cavity, and fluid on my left lung. The doctor said that there was more fluid on my lung then he was comfortable with. I said, “That you are comfortable with? Let me tell you about not being comfortable.” He gave me some meds and told me that if I didn’t feel better in a week or so come back to see him. I had to go back and see him.

Another chest X-ray and he referred me to a pulmonary specialist who ordered yet another X-ray. Mary went with me to see the pulmonary doctor. After he had read the X-ray he started on the list of what could possibly be wrong. He said it could be a bacterial infection, maybe a cyclical viral infection, it could be cancer. And my hand went up and I said something to the effect of “Let’s not jump off the deep end.” I am strong, healthy, had no signs of anything seriously wrong with me except the cough and what the chest X-rays showed. Let’s start with the easiest to fix and see if that takes care of it. He looked at me. I had not lost weight, my color was good, I was one busy woman. I was happy and looked very healthy, so he agreed to the antibiotics. I took my 10 days worth of meds, and was sicker then a dog after the first two days, but by day 10 I felt better then I had felt in a very long time. So when we went back for the follow up, I announced I was cured and everyone was happy. About two weeks later I was not doing well at all. I went back to see the pulmonary doctor and more chest X-rays. He came in and sat down opposite of me. He could not look me in the eyes. Mary and I looked back and forth. We were still not worried. He said that he wanted me to go into the hospital where they would aspirate the fluid from my pleural area and run some tests and see if they could figure out what was going on with me. OK, this was July 2010 and I didn’t need night lights anymore in that my chest glowed from all the X-rays, hee hee. I called my friend Judy, a 14-year cancer survivor and asked her if she would join Mary and be on my team. I had not started blogging yet, but my family and friends knew something wasn’t right, and I was going to need help dealing with all the phone calls and working through this medical quagmire as they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I think it was the first week in July when the three of us got up early and they took me to the hospital for the tests. We were jovial and talkative. I had no fear, there was no way I could have cancer. I remember the World Cup was on and the doctor who was in charge of doing the tests kept running into the waiting room and watching the games.

They stuck a needle in my back and withdrew the fluid. The doctor told me that it is common to feel like you need to cough when the needle goes in to pull out the fluid, but not to cough hard because I could blow up my lung. WHAT???? Okay, maybe it wasn’t “blow up,” maybe it was “deflate”—I don’t remember exactly what all was said, I had a needle in my back. But regardless, blow up or deflate, I mean, come on, that is a pretty frightening thing to say to someone. I did not feel like coughing, though. He asked me how I felt and I said it felt like I needed to fart out my lung. He and the techs started laughing. I was not kidding. Then they moved us to the waiting room to get the results back. At some point they also did an X-ray of my thyroid and verified nodules on it also. Time has no relevance when you are in this situation, but at some point I heard them calling an oncologist to the area we were at. He was in fact Judy’s oncologist, so there was no doubt what kind of doctor he was. I looked at Mary and said, “I have cancer.” She looked at me and teared up and told me not to jump to any conclusions. I was the only person in that area going through these tests—who else could it be? Then my world changed. They came in with a gurney and the doctor watching the World Cup started ordering all kinds of tests and people were scampering everywhere. They started to take me out for a sonogram of my reproductive organs, which I no longer had, and I looked at Judy and asked her what was going on. She stood up and would not let them take me anywhere until the doctor came in and talked to us. In short order he was standing in front of us, not happy, he was not used to being questioned. Judy started to talk to him but he was infuriated with the delays. He wanted to get the tests done and solve this mystery. He was in Go mode. This was when he was his best and we called him Dr. G, because he thought he was god. But let me tell you, he was that good. He was not happy and Judy was trying to be diplomatic. I was just laying on the gurney confused. Mary quietly looked up at the doctor and asked him if they had found any malignant cells in the fluid they had aspirated. He was extremely annoyed and said of course they had, that was why they were running all of these tests to see if they could figure out the source of where the cancer had started. Had started. Those were his words. Mary and Judy stood there stunned. I think as much from how we had found out that I had cancer as the fact that it was starting to sink in. I had cancer. That was the only time I started to tear up and be afraid. Not because I had cancer, but because I had asked these two dear precious friends to come with me on this lark. Now not only was it serious, but with all the tests they were running it sounded to me like they were saying it had already spread completely through me. So, not only had I brought these two woman into the hospital with me, but now, I was going to die on them. I felt so much guilt for doing this to them. It never occured to me that I should be upset that I had cancer. I never thought, “No, not me.” I never thought, “Why me?” I just couldn’t believe how thoughtless I had been with their love and trust.

J.P.: I am a hypochondriac. Literally, I always think I’m dying of something—and I hate this part of myself. The thoughts consume me, burden me, sap a lot of the joy out of my life. Then I read your blog, and—even though you actually have cancer—I find myself feeling jealous of your outlook and disposition. Is it Jesus? Moses? Faith? No faith? What has given you peace on this?

K.O.: It as simple as I get tired of being sick. I am no good hanging on to anger or sadness or illness. I just get tired of it after a while and move on. Seriously. I was diagnosed with HepatitIs C, which I probably contracted while working as a technician at a waste water treatment laboratory. They told me I would die from that. That was 30-plus years ago. I almost believed them and did die back then. But when I got to the point where I wasn’t going to work, I wasn’t enjoying my life, I was only doing what the doctors told me and was still getting sicker and sicker, I got up and said, “Enough!” I started building my life back and moved on. I quit going to see the doctor, which I do not recommend, but for me at the time it saved my life. No, it is not religion, it is not any type of spirituality, it is life itself. For me to be sad and consumed with whoa-is-me, well, it just doesn’t work for me. I am a scientist by education and by personality. I like the concepts discussed in quantum physics, that every possibility is out there, it is your perceptions that make the world a happy place or a place of despair and grief. So I choose to have a happy life. Some days it is hard, but on those days I keep to myself. I have a hard time remembering the bad. The good? Oh yeah, I remember all of that. But the bad, well, maybe I don’t let it in so it washes off.  And the love and affection of my beloved ones, both two and four legged, lifts me up when I am having those bad days. And trust me, the meds give me bad days, sad days, anxious days. But the bottom line is I have been given so very much. So many gifts and opportunities, and maybe I feel an obligation to pay back all the good things I have been given. One way to do that, is to count my blessings each night when I go to bed and wake up each morning with a smile on my face and get to living. The last tip is yoga. Breathing, stretching, moving, releasing the bad times, breathing in the good air, leaving a peaceful heart, namaste.

J.P.: Your blog can be very, very honest—sometimes painfully so. The passage about your mother admonishing you and a friend for playing with a black girl was extremely powerful and, I thought, gutsy to write. Has, in some way, your illness set you free? Or have you always been wide open?

K.O.: Much to my Mother’s horror, I have always been wide open. My mother was very private. I am not good with secrets. I don’t mean secrets like not telling someone about a present or a surprise party. Those I can keep. I mean about pretense and not being real. The only way I could deal with this disease was just to be me. I never fit in with the “normal” people, but I grew up at a time when the radio played Linda Rondstadt singing songs about dancing to a different drummer and it was a time when being different was OK. It was time to express your individuality.  I never thought for a minute to keep this to myself. I didn’t do anything to cause stage 4 lung cancer. This disease is not from smoking. OK, maybe giving fire eating a try in my 20s might not have been the smartest idea I have ever had, but my doctor has assured me that this is not from fire eating or anything else I did. I guess I just won the lottery, and the only way I was going to be able to do this was to be open and honest about it.

J.P.: You wrote this paragraph, and I thought it jumped from the screen: “Please, I know you love us, I know you want this terrible disease to go away. I know the news is full of tidbits of stories and information about new treatments, drugs, alternate treatments, etc.
But please, please, no one has ever given me an idea that I did not already look into, that I was not already trying, or that had nothing what so ever to do with my particular cancer. I am sorry if that sounds mean or judgmental, but really, it does not matter what the
chronic disease, people just feel that they have to share this knowledge with you. And how kind can that be? Well, actually, it is overwhelming to us living with the disease. We appreciate your love, and good thoughts and kindness, but please, do you want an idea of how to best support us? How best to support the care giver taking care of
someone with a chronic disease? Just listen. Just love us. Ask if we are happy with our treatment. And if we say something that allows you to give us your ideas, your advice, your knowledge, then you know we are ready to hear what you have to offer. But up to that point, please, please, do not share this with us.”

Kathleen, I wonder if it’s hard writing words like this, knowing you’re directly going against the behaviors of so many?

K.O.: I did not write that post for me. I wrote that for my friend Jan whose husband of 40-plus years had just died from lung cancer. I have to admit that it is frustrating to have lived a very healthy lifestyle for most of my life and to have people come up and start telling me what to do, but I knew that they did it out of love. Out of fear, too, I think. I noticed at work that as long as I came in everyday, even part-time, it gave them hope. Hope that people can survive cancer. And when I would be out for tests or was sick on the chemo, it really affected them. Whenever I was was struggling was when people would really start giving me advice on where to go, what to do and how to eat. I think their fear was more for me then themselves. After all, none of us want to think about our own deaths. But when someone near you gets cancer, a little bit of you has to consider it. Or deny it. It is frustrating, but much much harder on the care-givers. The husbands and wives and friends and family of those who are sick. Whether with cancer or Alhzheimers or whatever, they are the ones who are closest and yet no more able to do anything to change the situation then anyone else. And for them to have to hear, “You should be doing this or that,” it really does take a lot out of them. So, since I was thinking of Jan and her loss and another friend Georgie, who is taking care of her father, I felt that I had a platform to stand up for them. It won’t stop people from making suggestions, because they love you and that is the only thing they can do. It is the only way they can feel less helpless. But just writing that post, let both Jan and Georgie, and maybe others that I have no idea about, know that someone understood and was standing up for them and their loved ones.

J.P.: Before you were the famed Kathleen Osgood, blogger, who were you? What I mean is, what’s your narrative? Where are you from? What’d you for your career? Married? Kids?

K.O.: I was born and raised in Palmetto. A small town tucked up between Tampa and Sarasota along the Gulf Coast of Florida. The only daughter with three brothers. My family was and still is close. Born in the 1950s, it was a perfect time to grow up. My best friend from kindergarten, Vicki, always says we had the perfect childhood and we did. I received my BS degree in entomology from the University of Florida and moved to Key West to teach special ed agriculture. After two years on the rock I moved back to my home town and then married Larry Osgood and moved to Pine Island for 20 years. This is the Pine Island in Lee County near Sanibel/Captiva and Gasperilla. I spent 25 years working for the Florida Department of Agriculture in the regulation of pesticides, feed, seed and fertilizer. The last five years were spent in Tallahassee as the Manager of the Certification and Training Program. Licensing and assisting in regulation of applicators of restricted use pesticides in agriculture, the golf course industy and aquatic and aerial applications. I was married to Larry for over 22 years. He died this past March from brain cancer.

Unfortunately by the time we figured out what was wrong with him, it was too late and he was gone within six months. There is no connection between his brain cancer and my lung cancer. Just the luck of the draw. We shared three Labrador Retrievers—Maggierose, who was black and we kept two of her puppies from her only litter, Harry a giant chocolate and Lily, the only yellow female in the litter. Maggierose and Lily both died this past year, but I still have Harry and he will be 14 this Valentine’s Day. I also now have a 3-year-old chocolate lab, Robert Copernicus (yes he is the center of my universe) and Ednarose, a black mixed breed puppy who is about 7-months-old now. I have chickens whom I adore. They give me eggs and fertilizer for my gardens. They all have names. John C. Bennett is named after the man credited with developing the Barred Rock breed and all of the hens are named after flowers. I also have rabbits that run wild in my yard and a handful of gold fish in my lotus pond. I retired from the state after 31 years of service in June and immediately took my 86-year-old dad to the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal for two weeks. It was such a memorable trip and I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to take that trip with him. I have had the opportunity to go to 49 state. Twice we rented a BMW motorcycle and road all over Alaska. I have been able to travel to Canada, eight countries in Europe, Great Britian, Mexico and Central America. I have worked at several plant nurseries, waitressed, was a professional clown and taught clowning at a couple of community colleges. I have worked at a flower shop, a stain glass shop, an art gallery, and a state park, as a part-time park ranger. All the time working full time for the state.

I have heard cancer survivors refer to their life before cancer as “BC.” It is funny that once you have been diagnosed with something like cancer your life changes. I think that some very important parts of me have changed. I still do too much, but I am more aware of each moment then before. I really live my life more fully because of that awareness. I have been on my own now for two years, having split with Larry almost three years before we found out he had cancer. We got back together before he died and we discussed our 25 years together and were able to forgive each other for the past. More importantly we were able to forgive ourselves. I was with him when he died. I was whispering that I loved him, and that it was OK to let go. I sang the lullaby I had written for him about our little family from many years before. It was not until months after his memorial service in May that I was able to decide to go on a dating website. I had dated someone after my divorce, and he was a great guy, but I think I was just not ready to date then. We remain friends today. But in September I actually tried a dating site. Once again I found that I do not fit in well. I seem to be too free spirited for the conservative men and to conservative for the bikers and more free-spirited men. I did meet one man, who lives up close to your neck of the woods in Delaware. Gary and I have become friends and chat several times a week. Having a virtual “boyfriend” is not the same as having someone next to you. Someone who, when you need a little support, lets you lean into him and he catches you in his heart and holds you there, safe and sound. The kind of someone who knows that they can rely on you to reach out and wrap your arms around them when they need a little contact. But he makes me laugh, and the loneliness I felt so often here with my animals, but no humans, is gone. And it is amazing how he can reach out through the ethernet and touch my heart with joy and laughter. We watch football games together and text each other. “What a pass!” “What a catch!” It is a new world. I would never have thought that I would be happy in this type of relationship, but when he says hello and that sweet smile appears on my computer, I can’t help but smile. And I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to laugh out loud with someone that I just like. He makes me giggle like a teenage girl and always has something nice to say about how I look. Doesn’t everyone need to be told once in a while that they look nice? He met me after I was living with cancer, and he does not see me as sick or dying. He sees me as a woman. What a lovely gift to have at this time in my life. I have gotten to do so many wonderful things in my life. And really, I don’t have any plans to change that. Whatever I do, it will probably be in my blog.

J.P.: I’m sure you’ve given this some thought: What do you think happens when we die? And are you comfortable with the answer?

K.O.: I consider myself a Possibilarian. That means I believe in the possibility of God and I also believe that my mind is not large enough to truly understand most of the secrets and magic of God and the universe. And isn’t that how it has worked over the ages? Anything we don’t understand is considered magic. I say what we know and are learning every day does not make this amazing existence any less magical. I would like to think that after I die that there is nothing. I could just stay as busy as I want and then when I die I could cease to exit. It would be the most complete and total rest. But as a scientist I do not believe that energy can be created or destroyed. And our bodies are atoms coming together to make physical bodies. The same ingredients as in stars, rocks, trees, birds and animals of all kinds and maybe even fairy dust. And all of these atoms are run by energy. Energry generated by food and light and thoughts. All of this energy has to go somewhere when we die. And since our thoughts and experiences and memories are made up of this energy then it can not be destroyed. It can only change form. What is that form going to be like? Oh, that is part of the magic. I will tell you this: When I am gone, if I get to still recognize my friends, my beloved ones, I will definitely want to watch and see what happens next because my friends are just so darn entertaining. But I will not come back and give away any of the secrets. Just like a good magician, I will let the magic of the universe unfurl before you. Because so much of who we are and become is based on our beliefs of what comes next. And I am comfortable with the laws of science and not knowing. I am not worried, this life has been such a wonderful journey filled with so many twists and turns, how can whatever comes next not be a continuation of the joy or a quiet still rest?

J.P.: In your first-ever entry, you write about going along with the doctors and hoping it all works; that, in a sense, it’s their ballgame more than yours. The phrase “fighting cancer” is used very often, as if it’s a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. Is there a such thing as
“fighting” cancer? Do you believe optimism matters? Outlook? Or, day’s end, is it just hoping the methods work?

K.O.: I have never actually understood the whole “fighting cancer”. The war on cancer???!!!! That makes no sense to me. And I have angered friends who want me to fight. I have known cancer survivors who tell me to “fight the good fight and don’t stop fighting.” Always with an embarassed voice I explain that I am not going to fight anything. After all cancer is simply some of my cells gone rogue. It is me. It is a part of me. Please, I never ever want to know that it wasmever said that I lost my fight with cancer. There is no fight.

I understand those cancer survivors who get to go into remission. Who get a new lease on life, a life where the rogue cells have been controlled and destroyed and only the good well behaved cells remain. That must be amazing, and yet frightening. Most of the people I know who have survived cancer and are now in remission, any time they get sick it is always a bit frightening. I am grateful to my cancer—it has given me far more then it will ever take from me. When it comes to being optimistic, science tells us that it does not appear to make a significant difference in studies that have been conducted. Having said that, I think that the two things that people with cancer or any other chronic disease are interested in is, 1. how long will they live and; 2. quality of life. So even if optimism does not increase the length of our life, it definitely makes all the difference when it comes to the quality of life. A positive outlook can decrease pain and anxiety, two of the big ones for people with cancer. And at the end of the day, a good relationship with your oncologist and all the amazing giving and wonderful people who work at the clinics and hospitals, well, at least at my hospital, will not only help to add to the length of my life, but to the quality. Everything is connected.

J.P.: If someone is reading this two … five … 10 … 20 … 30 years from now, and you’re not here, what do you want them to know and think about you?

K.O.: I have never thought about that. Hmm, I must be learning to live in the moment better then I thought. I think that I would like my message to be, it is okay. It is okay to laugh and enjoy life, regardless of the challenges. It is okay to love your life and to really live it. It is okay to get sick. It is okay to sit down and give up. It is okay to just keep running. It is okay no matter what you do. And no matter how scary life can feel at times, that is okay, also. There is no script, so no one is going to know if you mess up or don’t get it right. Each person has their own life. And it is okay to love fully and completely. And to say I love you out loud to those you love. And to say it to everyone you love, regardless of the kind of love. We each are the artist of the tapestry of our lives. Weaving memories and experiences, with our lives and loves into what will be the stories that remain behind us. Isn’t that just absolutely amazing? As long as you show up, you don’t even have to participate anymore then you want. After all it is your life. Live it anyway you want. It is okay.

J.P.: I often debate this with myself—is the world a beautiful place, or is it an ugly place? Are people good, or are they bad? Selfish, or selfless?

K.O.: I have always thought this blue and green globe is a place of amazing beauty. A favorite moment in my life is spending a day just laying in a field of fire weed and gazing up through the bright magenta flowers into a clear blue Alaska sky on a summers day listening to the familiar song of insects as they danced in and out of the mass of wild flowers. Larry had gone combat fishing, as they call salmon fishing during the runs. He had fallen to the fishing fever curse and taken everything we owned with him in the car when he drove off at 4 am, leaving me alone and abandoned with out the basic necessities of food or a book. There was a hand pump for water. At that time the idea of spending 12 or 14 hours alone listening to the Russian River hurry by filled with cold water and salmon with only one destination was perfect. Since being diagnosed with cancer I have found that same sweetness, that same beauty, that same joy now in people’s faces. In the love and concern that is always directed my way. I don’t understand people very well. But these past two years I have found that is not what matters. What I have found are people who have never met me, but have heard my story who reach out to me with love and concern and true compassion. I have always had a full life, and yet now I find it richer and deeper and happier and full of so much more meaning because of the goodness and kindness that truly does exist in the human race. It is when we try to organize and or define people that we start to bring in the selfish, greed and jealousy. We are all the center of our own universes. So of course there is always going to be complications in our lives and relationships. But when we come together, when someone reaches out to a beloved one or to a total stranger, it is so sweet and precious. I would weigh that sweet precious kindness against one hundred selfish people and I think I would still come out ahead.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATHLEEN OSGOOD

• Rank in order: Fernando Valenzuela, Celine Dion, Brett Favre, MC Hammer, your eye glasses, Woodrow Wilson, candied yams: My eye glasses, Woodrow Wilson, Fernando Valenzuela, Brett Favre, Celine Dion, and tied for last would be MC Hammer and candied yams. I may be a southern woman, but give me sweet potato pie—you can keep your overly sweet candied yams.

• Give me five reasons why the Florida Panhandle isn’t the armpit of the state:
1. The Monticello Opera House; 2. St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and lighthouse on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico; 3. McClay Gardens with all the camelias, azealeas, magnolias, roses, crepe myrtels and Bradford Pears in the fall; 4. Blue Springs, Marianna, Florida;
5. The state Park on St. George Island.

• Bigger concern for you—climate change or the price of gas?: This old tree huggie, “save the whales” sign carrying hippie has to say climate change. I don’t blame the human race on climate change. But if we do not use our brains and talents and energy to adjust how we react to climate change, this planet may not be a place where humans can survive. We need to quit pointing fingers and come together to determine how we can best keep this beautiful planet healthy in the ways needed by the species sharing it.

• Strangest reaction you’ve had from someone when they learned you have cancer: It was when I was working out at the Y with the HOPE project (Helping Oncology Patients Exercise) and I had on my HOPE shirt. The woman asked me if I had had a radical double Mastectomy.  Okay, I did have on a sports bra under my shirt, but really? I smiled at her and said that this was all I had been gifted with, that I had lung cancer, not breast cancer. But I could see her confusion as I looked down. After all my port, which is above my right breast near my shoulder is perkier and stands out further then my breasts.

• I’d love a recipe for something delicious. What you got?: Pesto, Florida style. This is one of my favorite things to make. It is so versatile. Try it on a turkey sandwich or on some hot fresh pasta, a tablespoon in a soup or stew, or spagetti sauce, or spread over fish, chicken or meat before roasting, grilling or baking. Or add additional equal parts of olive oil and lemon juice and it is a wonderful salad dressing over garden greens. My favorite way to enjoy this is to toast some sliced whole grain baguettes, about 1/2 inch thick. Spread on the pesto and the put some sliced, roasted in olive oil red peppers, onions and portabello mushrooms, maybe some chopped olives and then top with a little more parmesan-reggiano cheese and broil until bubbly and brown.

Florida Pesto
Prep time: 10 minutes
Ingredients:
* 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (I use the lemon/lime scented basil)
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
* 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 1/3 cup pecans chopped
* 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* 1 T lemon juice

* Special equipment needed: A food chopper or processor

Chop the garlic and pecans together to a rough chop. Add the rest of the ingredients except the cheese and process until well mixed. Remove from the processor/chopper and fold in the cheese. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or so. Up to three months in the freezer, but do not mix the cheese in before you freeze. The cheese does not freeze well.

Hmm, think I am going to go make a new batch! It will be a bright flavorful addition of summer on a cold winter day.

• Gauge your interest in Rocky VII: None, sorry Sly, sorry boxing enthusist, sorry Philly, and sorry Adrian.

• Would you rather have a dog that pees on your carpet every hour or a radio in your house that’s on 24 hours and only plays Menudo’s greatest hits?: Definitely the dog pee. Yep, that is an easy one, I go with the pee.

• Five greatest places you’ve ever been: 1.National Camp Ground outside of Cooper Landing on the Kenai Penisula, Alaska; 2. Prince Edward Island, Canada; 3. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain; 4. Muir National Redwood Forest, California; 5. Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received: Hard to pick from my favorite four: Righty tighty, lefty loosy, no wait, I think maybe red skies in the morning, sailor take warning, red skies at night, sailors delight. Or maybe my grandmother telling me when I was like 5-years old to wake up each morning with outstretched arms and a smile to match, to start the day. Advice I still use. Or my last choice is my dad telling me that I could do anything I wanted if I was willing to work for it. But to be careful not to do something just because I was told I couldn’t, because it was a time when girls were told they could not do what boys do. But to choose what was important to me and then go for it heart and soul.

• Does prayer belong in school? Why or why not?: The problem I have with school prayer is not whether it is right or wrong, but whether it brings people together or tears them apart. There are so many different ways to pray. Some bow their heads, others chant, some may dance or sing, some may sit quietly in a chapel or go out in the woods. Prayer is such a personal thing. However, it can also be an important part of some communities. I think the problem is trying to make it uniform in a country that is so diverse. Would I support my nephew to pray in school? Yes, but our freedom and rights only go as far as they do not hurt another person’s rights and freedoms. I would not want the right of my child to pray to what they perceive as god to infringe on another’s. Does that sentence even make any sense? I guess my answer is it should be up to each community to determine how best to compromise and represent their entire community.