Friday, July 25, 2014

Monster in Hiding

love our salt water aquariums; they are more than underwater gardens, they are secret doorways to hidden worlds. You see animal behavior you can't believe - like our anglers literally holding hands when they feel threatened, our rock skipper's colors changing for no apparent reason at all, our corals dancing in the current, and our clownfish hunting live guppies and feeding them to its host bubble tip anemone.

Salt aquariums force you to work through complex problems, and research constantly. You also learn patience and flexibility; for example, you could spend hours setting up your rocks perfectly only for an urchin or hermit crab to rearrange things in 2 min. Every day there is something new to discover ... it's a living hobby that brings me joy and wonder every day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mood Music

In a world where life's pressures often feel too much to bear, and inner peace feels too fleeting to hold onto ... it's hard to choose to be happy. Yes, happiness is a choice - not some tangible person, or event, or goal you chase after. It's a way of living - a way of being open to possibilities of a greater purpose. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that if Holocaust survivors, like Viktor Frankl, were able to find spiritual resistance and resilience in that hell, so can we all.

That being said, sometimes we could use a reboot; like a frozen computer screen, we get stuck and can't seem to process the world around us in a positive way. The power of music over mood and physical well being is scientifically established ... But you don't need medical journals to tell you that; just go into any mall department store and listen. Clothing stores utilize music to increases confidence and sales, just as bars use music to boost booze consumption and endorphins.

Still skeptical? Try this little experiment that I do with my English classes to teach the difference between "mood" and "tone". Listen to Hey Ya by Outkast and then the version of Hey Ya by Obadiah Parker. You will feel an involuntarily shift in emotion.

We subconsciously mimic the mood of the music we listen to - so when you're feeling depressed, resist dwelling in cathartic sad tunes for too long and opt instead for songs that pass the American Band Stand Test: they have a good beat and are easy to dance to. (Ps. I personally am guilty of putting on lonely, crooning songs when down. In fact, my mom knows every Depeche Mode song by heart because as a teen, when I was upset, that was my go to band for my "Depressed Mode" soundtrack.)

Below are my top five music videos that help me shift gears and change direction when I'm going in circles: Ms. Jackson by Outkast, I Like the Remix by New Kids on the Block, Sitya Loss by Eddie Kenzo, Weapon of Choice by Fat Boy Slim, and Radioactive by Imagine Dragons.

'Ms. Jackson': The supporting cast of animals grooving along to this song in the video are as smooth as Outkast's catchy lyrics. My personal favorite extras are the cantankerous kitten and hooting owl. Fun fact: the song features an altered version of "Bridal Chorus" from the opera Lohengrin by German composer Richard Wagner (also known as the "wedding march").

"I Like the Remix" by New Kids on the Block is a blast from my 80s past - just updated.. It features one of the best statements on inner beauty I've ever seen in an overly sexualized industry. This video is sure to boost any girl's confidence thanks to Artemis Pebdani's sassy attitude. * Urban Dictionary definition SASSY = possessing an ungodly amount of cool.

I fell in love with Ugandan children while working with the Invisible Children project 9 years ago. For more than 30 years, Joseph Kony has kidnaped over 30,000 Ugandan children, and through unspeakable acts of machete brutality and psychological torture, forced them to become child soldiers in the LRA. Luckily, grassroots movements seem to finally be effectuating change; just yesterday, CBC reported that Kony's LRA army is on the run. This video shows Ugandan children dancing to an Eddy Kenzo song (Ugandan singer). If these kids can find joy, what's stopping us? PostScript: Kenzo promised not to leave the kids behind, and has kept his promise - finding them a home and taking them along with him for shows. The featured "ghetto kids" no longer wear tattered clothes and are malnourished - a drop of humanity in an ocean of human rights abuses against Ugandan children.

If you've never seen Christopher Walken's dance swagger - you need to see this Spike Jones directed Fatboy Slim video immediately, if not sooner. I dare you not to smile. Fun fact: the line "halfway between the gutter and the stars" refers to a line in Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan: "We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

'Radioactive' by Imagine Dragons has Lou Diamond Phillips, a radioactive pink teddy bear, and an underground puppet fighting ring that harkens back to Jabba the Hut scenes from Star Wars. Need I say more?

Finally, my bonus "feel good" pick has to be Stephen Colbert's 'Get Lucky' Music Video. (It is a Comedy Central clip so you have to chase it a bit on the internet. Totally worth the search.) I'm a huge Colbert Report fan, and was lucky enough to see this air live. What a treat! Colbert and friends try out their best dance moves ... set to Daft Punk’s 2013 summer hit ‘Get Lucky‘ - featuring appearances from Hugh Laurie, Jeff Bridges, Jimmy Fallon, Bryan Cranston, Henry Kissinger, Matt Damon, Jon Stewart, Nick Cannon and the Rockettes. Classic.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Grammar Refresher #wordcrimes

I'd like to interrupt your regularly scheduled lackidazical summer with a little grammar refresher ... After all, Back to School sales are everywhere - even though we have only been out of school for about 2.5 weeks.

Weird Al did this spoof on Blurred Lines by Thicke .. If you are having sound problems with the above embedded video look it up on YouTube -  it's worth the extra 2 seconds .

Monday, July 7, 2014

Yo - Anyone See Hamlet?

Our school year went long; my last day was June 30th! At least some of my students gave me a few end of the year chuckles on their final exams and projects.

The above is an answer to a 12th grade exam question: Why do you think Shakespeare left Hamlet out of Act 1 Scene 1? (Btw Act I.i takes place outside.) #Elsinorishellabig

My favorite project: 10th graders created IPod playlists for the characters in King Lear. Students had to choose songs that their character could theoretically identify with, and pick out the lyrics their selected character would like best, with an explanation as to why. This sweet, quiet, incredibly polite boy came up with the song Loyal, and specifically the lyrics: "These Hoes Ain't Loyal"... and nailed his explanation. #CordeliaOG

I've got the best job in the world...but I'm glad for the break from my 126 darlings until September.



The Power of Doctors' Attitudes

     During my last CT, I forgot to take off my St. Anthony's medal, which hangs around my neck 24/7. Rookie move for such a non-rookie. The MSK nurse was so kind that she insisted on taping it to my wrist for good luck. Guess it worked because my latest scans and blood tests indicate that everything is stable. Thank God.

     Many have asked me why I continue with Sloan Kettering when the general noid community repeatedly hasn't had great success with them. That nurse's personal touch of boosting my confidence during a nerve racking procedure is the MSK difference.

      In my follow-up appointment later that day, Dr. Nash was a little flabbergasted at my lack of questions. Usually there are all kinds of painful revolts going on in my body, and I look to him to lead a forward charge against a slippery foe. He asked me if I wanted to redo my 5-HIAA test, which was a little higher last time... I declined. My weight has stayed stable and my symptoms manageable. That's the best anyone can hope for with chronic conditions. If any new tumors emerge, I'd probably go back to Dana Farber in Boston for treatment anyway. For now, I'm sticking with MSK.

     Doctors' attitudes have so much power over recovery.

     For example, my recent MSK visit was NOTHING like my ER visit at Hackensack Hospital two summers ago. My body was obviously shutting down ...I lost 25 lbs in 6 weeks and I couldn't walk. I was having uncontrollable muscle spasms, and was in so much pain that my friends couldn't bear watching me, so they took me to the local ER for help. The first two nurses were awesome. Then I got this doctor who saw my physical condition and incorrectly deduced I was a junkie in withdrawal.

     This dumb woman thought she was going to "call my bluff." Little did she know I still had 300 ... Yes 300 pills of oxycodone at home that I never touched during recovery because I'm against drugs. After my hemicolectomy surgery, nurses would push my morphine button because I refused to push it myself. They kept telling me that if I was in pain I wouldn't heal as quickly - I didn't care. I'm terrified of drugs. I've lost friends to drugs, and know their power to destroy lives. So this ER doctor couldn't have been more wrong.

     I told her I had Carcinoid and she asked for MSK's number. 10 min later she returned - with her back to me she announced to my friends, who were holding my hand, that I was a liar. My cancer was cured and there was nothing wrong with me. She smiled at me when they gasped in disbelief.

     She didn't even talk to Rachel or Dr Nash - she had some random person look at my chart that showed no new tumor growth. In her opinion, that meant no cancer. Carcinoid is often chronic, and many sufferers never even have their tumors found at all. MSK and Dana Farber both have in my charts that they "can't rule out" Carcinoid syndrome due to symptoms and initial tumor size. Cancer Centers of Hackensack has a positive diagnosis of Carcinoid Syndrome, as does my GP and dermatologist (who recognized my tell tale flushing during one of my visits - and controls flushing, as well as the swelling in my legs and arms with Spironolactone... He has other carcinoid patients he treats similarly. It works. Click here for an article about Spirolactone and Carcinoid Syndrome). Carcinoid is complex, and this simpleton ER doctor put her ego trip over an obviously suffering patient.

     Thank goodness I had Dr. Woltering's cell number, which he makes available to the Carcinoid community because of the general lack of knowledge in the medical field about this rare disease. Dr. Woltering calmed my friends and myself down as we drove - me writhing in pain - to RWJ, where I was first diagnosed. RWJ took care of me - turns out that in addition to muscle spasms in my legs and arms, I was also having intestinal spasms - the equivalent of a massive charlie horse in your stomach - every 10 min. They too explained Carcinoid syndrome to my friends, and we were again on the right track with new medicine.
     After the visit to the Hackensack ER, I was seconds away from giving up and having others give up on me too. Who knows how much weaker I would have gotten if I had let that ER doctor get to me. Thousands of Carcinoid patients face this reality every day, which is why most carcinoid patients are treated 3-7 years for the wrong disease allowing for the cancer to spread.

     Luckily for me, my friends know of my drug phobia and that I always downplay my pain ... So instinctively they knew the ER doctor was full of shit. With Dr. Woltering's and RWJ's sound advice, we kept hunting for answers. 

     For all the Carcinoid patients and caregivers out there - be your own toughest advocate. Don't let doctors bully you. They estimate my cancer went unnoticed for 5-6 years ... Partly because I didn't push for help until the symptoms were unbareable. Stay connected, stay positive and stay strong.