SURVIVORsm

National Cancer Survivors Day ~ Thriving Day

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It’s a good day. In general and also for a special reason. The sun is shining, Summer is almost here, and for me and many others, it is National Cancer Survivors Day. For me, it is a day to realize all that I have far outweighs all that I could lose one day.

As you can tell by blowing the dust off and sweeping away the cobwebs from my blog, I haven’t written much on my blog over the last few months. It’s not that I wasn’t writing. Quite the opposite.  While I was not having much luck coming up with topics that I felt you would want to read about, I was blessed the last few months with an opportunity to create and contribute public relations and social media efforts for the Haverford Spring Fest. I wrote a number of press releases and stories leading up to the Spring Fest, which in two years has become a vital addition to all that Haverford Township and my adopted hometown of Havertown has to offer its residents as well as those in the extended Philly area. Havertown rocks big time!

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Despite some downright nasty weather forecasts that kept some people away, thousands still danced, sang, and partied on that wonderful Spring day, in that wonderful (and delicious) area of Havertown, Brookline Blvd. Music from David Uosikkinen’s In The Pocket, Charlie Gracie, Kuf Knotz, Ashley Leone, The End Of America, Cabin Dogs, The Cat’s Pajamas, and the Haverford High School Jazz Ensemble created an amazing aural soundtrack for an afternoon of fun, food, and just hanging with thousands of great people for a great cause, music education.

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For me personally, it was a chance to experience what I used to be able to do in my old job put to good use again, and that is to excite others about something that excites me tremendously. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it wasn’t always easy. Focus is an issue for me right now, organizing thoughts into logical and productive deeds. My computer, god bless it, was pushed to its limits by what I tried to do with it. My basic photshopping skills got a little less basic, and it thrilled me when people said they looked good. And physically, I pushed myself over the limit, especially day of fest, and felt the pains for days afterwards. But it felt so good to do that. The pain was fleeting, the feeling is forever.

The best thing were the “thank yous” that were offered to me, not just by the fest organizers, but by musicians, managers, and their families who made it all worth it. As much as I’ll say that I am not deserving of all the praise I received, a part of me was overjoyed to be thanked once again for a job well done after so many years.

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And that brings me to how I see today’s National Cancer Survivor Day. I’ve spent a good amount of time over the last few days reading hundreds of posts, stories, and comments about NCSD2015. Many wonderful, some heartbreaking, some frustrating, all inspiring. In addition, this “celebration” comes at a time of both personal and public cancer issues: the sudden downward turn of someone who was a major positive figure in my home video retailing life who has been battling cancer, as well as the sad outpouring from the death from brain cancer of the beloved Beau Biden. It is also during the news that Leah Still is suffering a setback in her treatment.  It is hard to celebrate being a “survivor” when we lose one good person and almost lose others.

The conversation online is how some of those suffering from cancer (sorry, I cannot bring myself to calling us “cancer patients” because that is too clinical, too cold, even though it is technically true) struggle to justify calling themselves “survivors”. Some have concerns calling themselves “survivors” when they are still continuing treatment, some of whom will have to have treatment for the rest of their lives, like me. Some have concerns celebrating while others struggle with their own cancers. And some have problems with the word “survivor” itself, because it doesn’t go far enough.

I fit into that last category. Cancer cannot be cured. It does not go away. It never leaves. Being “cancer free” is not forever. Remission is an ultimate goal but it never removes the ugly face of cancer from your life, from my life. I used to dream of taking a trip by car across the county to see the good ol’ USA, of taking an extended vacation to Florida or Hawaii, or retiring at age 65 after a successful career impacting how you watch home video and enjoy music. Now I dream of reaching a point where I can have these dreams again.

I’m getting there.

But the word “survivor” feels too limited. The word  ”survivor” gives too much weight to the horrors of the past, and not enough to the potential of why I and others celebrate. I don’t want to survive, I want to thrive, I want to create, I want to dance, I want to sing badly, I want to experience, I want to share, I want to contribute.

I want to have an impact and for others to have the chance to impact me.

So, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never be cured, that I can’t change the past, that I’ve lost some wonderful things I had in my life, and that because of my lung fibrosis, I’ll always need Gilligan, my little oxygen buddy, at times. But I have not resigned myself to my life being over and done with. Been there, done that.

When I was told that my kidney cancer had gone metastatic last year, the world felt like it was flat, was tilting, and was pushing me over the edge.  My primary care doctor told me that I could be hit by a car tomorrow, too. I was beside myself with anger.  Such matter of factness was not what I wanted. However, the guarantees that I wanted was not what I could get and frankly, not what I needed.

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What I needed, and what I found from so many of you was the expectation for me to get out to live and enjoy life again. My family, my friends, my doctors, the people with the Haverford Spring Fest (especially Tom Kelly), my Dunder Mifflin friends, video industry friends, the many musicians and people I have become friends with over the last few years (especially David Uosikkinen, Dallyn Pavey, Peter Shinkoda, and Craig Shoemaker), and so many more taught me how to deal with this and find the light that exists in every darkness. I can’t name everybody here, but you are all in my heart every minute.

So, I celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day with so many other great people who have the same doubts as me and still struggle with how we apply the word “survive” to our current health battles. Lankenau Hospital held a party for over 100 cancer survivors as well as cancer center staff this past Thursday. It was a fun beach-themed afternoon, meeting good people, sharing stories, dancing to great music (and yes, I requested The Hooters AND WE DANCED as my contribution to the celebratory spirit) and just moving past what was past and thriving on the spirit embodied in every person there. I even took part in a conga line, but stubbornly did it without Gilligan, my little oxygen buddy. And I paid for that omission. After a couple of laps around the room, I felt my oxygen levels drop and my heart race, so I had to un-conga myself. It burned, but like a good strenuous workout, it was a good burn and I had a blast doing it.

Still, we continue to survive today going forward, doubts and fears never far from our minds, but also no longer the only thoughts on our minds. I actually wrote this new blog post after six months of writing inactivity. I am moving forward again with all of you. There is no reverse in my “car”. I can and will create. Every day.

Today, I ask you to say hello to someone with cancer. Don’t quiz them on it, don’t tell them they look healthy, don’t let the elephant in the room become the topic of the day. Instead, just share with us, goof around with us, sing along badly with us, argue with us over politics, and remember, we love meeting and making new friends because of who we are, not how some miserable disease defines us.

zegerWe are happy to be “survivors” but we simply love to be with you, making each day better. And please, please, please, if you ever see my sister Julie or my brothers Joe, Tommy, and Ricky, mock them mercilessly but give them hugs for me. In addition, if you ever see my god, my rock star, my hero, my oncologist Dr. Erik Zeger around, say Hi, tell him you know me and he will do his own mocking of me. Realize that like so many other caring doctors and nurses, he is frakking amazing.

And that all of you make all of us thrive, not just survive, every day.

Love to all.

SURVIVORsm

Falling Skies s3e8: STRANGE BREW (Please Come To Boston)

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If you watch a show from week to week, you will find yourself repeat viewing individual favorite scenes or characters, but many times, you will watch and then move to the next episode. You may talk about the show around the real life or virtual water coolers that are available to all of us through social media.

Sometimes, though, you have to really watch something twice to get what is subtly in the story and on the screen. There may be clues missed or just subtle shadings and line readings that can change your initial opinions of that episode. I’m working on a blog post called SECOND LOOKS about the ability to revisit and re-evalute films, TV, books, and music that you’ve either experienced previously or, for some reason, you’ve dismissed as not in your entertainment wheelhouse.

Some episodes of FALLING SKIES deserve a similar “second look” because your first look may be a bit deceiving. Never has there been an FS episode more deserving of that revisit than STRANGE BREW. In structure, it basically plays with a main act with two other story arcs following along. These arcs intersect but each are set up in starkly different styles.

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The STRANGE BREW episode of FALLING SKIES starts off in an unusual way and proves to be the most different in style and story of the series. And yet, it is in perfect keeping for what I and so many others see in a show that is far beyond aliens vs. spunky humans. The show opens with what is essentially a “theater of the mind”, a blank screen with only sounds from previous 2nd Mass battles coming in surround sound to your speakers.

The black screen forces you to pay attention to both what you are hearing as well as what you are not seeing. As the blackness slowly fades up to a close-up shot of Tom Mason, the sounds you just heard help to emphasize the next scenes even more. As the fade up begins and the battle sounds depart, we are not left with a shot of Tom in Epsheni captivity or of 2nd Mass action, but instead, it is a domestic husbad Tom, waking up next to his wife, in his nice home, with his loving family. It is both a reset of what we’ve seen from the Masons since episode one as well as a contrast to the tone of the whole series.


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FALLING SKIES (s3e7): The Pickett Line (On The Road Again)

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“The Road Not Taken” is a popular theme in film, TV, and literature. Even in real life, we wonder what would have happened if we had turned left instead of right. We look at an accident that just occurred and wonder if that would have been us had we arrived a minute sooner. We allow someone ahead of us in a lottery line and then wonder if that gave away the winning ticket.

Even deeper, we may wonder what our life would be like if we had made a different life choices in love, school, or employment. These “what ifs” of alternate scenarios can never truly be proven but by imagining what could have been, we actually help ourselves recognize who we have actually become and possibly work out that which is troubling us.

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Such was the case with last weeks’ FALLING SKIES. For the first time in a while, the Masons were able to be the Masons, not the 2nd Mass version but a family unit. No, they didn’t go back to school or play in the yard or go to the mall, but they did have to act as one unit again. And with this return to a focus on family, you can also see them return to the roles each had earlier in the series: Tom, protecting his brood, Ben feeling a bit like an outcast, nervous with the responsibility his “power” brings him, Hal becoming the older brother again to Matt and Matt seeming to bring revert to little bro status and follow the family.

However, the last three seasons have made that past family relationship go through some changes. Tom is now filled with self-doubt about the path he chose for himself and his family when the aliens attacked. Ben still has the alien traces on his back and is fighting the inner struggle between trading enhanced strength for a normalcy of asthma, weakness, but a life beyond 20. And Matt is growing up and there is no way to reverse that. The same desire to help, to participate exists in Matt, but with the knowledge and determination he has had to develop over the last couple of years.

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With Anne and Alexis still missing and held by Skitters, Tom and his family left Charleston to try to rescue them. On the way, Ben and Tom happen upon an injured rebel skitter who warns them about an alien squad that is tracking them. The mission turns into more than a search and rescue when they are ambushed by another family that has been surviving in the woods of Georgia seemingly off the radar of the aliens.

The Picketts set up a central theme for this episode, an alternate universe version of what might have been if the Masons chose to run, not fight. This theme is a staple of film and TV, in films such as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and SLIDING DOORS. What if you had made one different choice that led to an entirely different life? You tend to think first of how it would affect you, but then you have to look at how it may have exponentially affected everyone you have ever come in contact with. Much of the time, these “what if” thoughts have come from moments of great stress.

wonderful297228-1020-a In IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, George Bailey starts to crack under the pressure of being essentially a nice guy that is pushed to the limit as responsibilities to family, friends, and the town of Bedford Falls start to squeeze all humanity out of him. He gets the chance to see just what life would have been like had he never been born. How that absence drives everyone’s life going forward is obviously conjecture but it does show that things would change outward, not just for you.


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FALLING SKIES SEASON THREE : Turn Up The VOLMume

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fs32I am a huge TV and Film freak. Yep. I admit it. It has always been a passion of mine from the first time I remember dancing as a little kid while American Bandstand was on up until, well, right now, though I am not so cute while dancing anymore. But if a show hooks me, I become a passionate fan. FALLING SKIES has become one of those shows.

In the past couple of years, I’ve blogged about each weeks episode, following a more traditional “recap” format for the posts. However, I decided that there are plenty of great sites offering recaps, so it was time to do this a bit differently, and hopefully more to the point. Since this is a blog about me, I decided that the best way to share my love of FALLING SKIES was to talk about what caught my eye in each episode.

So no, these posts won’t read like a complete descriptive of what happened it week, but it hopefully will excite you enough to tune in, if you don’t already. These little standout nuggets will hopefully capture my enthusiasm and spread that around.

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As for FALLING SKIES, I am the kind of person that likes my sci-fi/horror shows not for how scary the aliens are and how loud things go “Boom” but for how characters who embody human attributes react to the situation. I like my fantasy grounded in some reality, and I want that grounding to be logical and make me think. It is great to see a “rise up out of your seat” shock in any show, but it is even better to see characters who I can relate to.

That element of human drama and interaction, the examination of how their life roles before a disastrous occurrence have both changed and remained the same, is why I watch. Add in the fact that I love how past American and world history informs the narrative makes this a must see for me.

These pieces that I point out won’t be in chronological order, but more in the order that they pop into my brain (yes, I have one) while writing this.

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fallingskies-s3-knowyourenemy-megamech-620x349This past Sundays two part premiere, “ON THIN ICE” and “COLLATERAL DAMAGE”, had one tiny scene that to me might have possibly been the most powerful visual in the series. Ben and Denny are scoping out an alien work camp where the aliens (ESPHENI) are using the harnessed kids to do slave labor to build and power a newly introduced alien war machine, MEGA-MECHS. I’ll be honest and tell you that Mega-Mechs came fairly close to reminding me of evil robots in dozens of other sci-fi tales that I’ve seen. However, that familiarity goes away immediately and devastatingly when watching this scene. As Ben (Connor Jessup) and Denny watch from a hill, a harnessed kid doing slave labor keels over and dies. The Skitter “foreman” simply picks up the body and tosses it on a pile of other dead bodies, a pile that I had not noticed before this.

Up to that point, the scene had been about surveillance on an enemy camp, observing what was being built to use that info for strategic purposes.


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