Friday, November 28, 2014

Caregiving author — surprise! — gives thanks

Writer's eyes mist up at end of a flawless day as he re-reads dedications in 'Rollercoaster'

Thanksgiving Day 2014 is gone. So's the bird. And the cranberries.

But the good feelings linger on.

The holiday started with my wife, Nancy Fox, and I in our hot tub splitting 20 minutes of spontaneity itemizing what we're grateful for.

We covered a lot of ground.

Although I'm sure we each could have gone on for at least another 20 minutes, we decided to stop at an emotional peak.

And only once did I feel a need to refer to this marking my partner's 20th year of being free of breast cancer (a subject I cover thoroughly in my new VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his wife's breast cancer").

Midway through the day, we added to the warm 'n' fuzzy sensations.

We traveled to Whistlestop, a San Rafael facility that provides transportation, programs and meals for seniors, the disabled and the poor all through the year — not to mention a special lunch with all the trimmings on Turkey Day.

Nancy played background piano for 90 minutes.

Nancy Fox performs as Woody Weingarten
 reads song requests from audience
during Thanksgiving lunch. Photo by
Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal.
I'd checked with each diner and volunteer for his or her favorite tunes, then handed the lists to my wife. She easily rendered each one (because she miraculously retains thousands of tunes in her mind, and plays them all by ear).

Heads bob. Bodies that may otherwise be bent with pain sway comfortably. Toes tap.

And faces smile.

It's ecstasy for the two of us to be able give back this way each year.

And it was an unexpected pleasure to see our photo on the online cover page of the Marin Independent Journal, our local daily newspaper, accompanying its story of the meal.

Then, a family dinner for seven happily topped off a flawless Thanksgiving.

But my eyes misted as I appropriately ended the day re-reading the dedication to my book. I was again moved by my interactions with:

• Nancy, my soulmate, wife, friend and companion who supported "Rollercoaster" even when it crossed the line of intimacy and took forever to finish.

• Irving N. Weingarten,, my father-hero who up to his dying breath was convinced I
should write a book — though I suspect he would have preferred a less weighty volume.

• Matilda Weingarten, my mother whose immense strength I failed to see until her final years.

• Janis L. Brown and Mark D. Weingarten, my daughter and son, who consistently gave me love and admiration, even when I occasionally handed them inflexibility.

• Zachary Weingarten and Drew Brown, my grandsons, and Hannah Schifrin, my granddaughter, who have brought me pleasure upon joy upon delight.

• Laura Schifrin, Hannah's mom, who generously sanctioned tons of time — which meant gobs of fun — for me to spend with her effervescent kid.

• Marv Edelstein, Dan Goltz, Heinz Feldman, John Teasley and the other Marin Man to Man support group regulars and drop-ins who for decades endured my incessant chatter.

• Edward Marson, whose artistry is responsible for the graphic design of my book's covers; Larry Rosenberg, whose photo made me more pensive than ever; Alan Babbitt, whose back-cover shot lovingly captured Nancy and me lovingly staring at each other; and Wayne Heuring and Steve Cook for proofreading and copy-editing "Rollercoaster" and making me look at every word, especially a few tortured metaphors and similes.

• Charlie Durden, a friend I will always miss, who vanished from my life one day into the L.A. smog, and died.

• All those buddies, acquaintances, relatives and colleagues I haven't cited by name who
helped me and Nancy through the breast-cancer years (as well as after and before).

And, last but definitely not least, each and every caregiver and patient who's been forced to ride in a cancer rollercoaster.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving thanks on Turkey Day and every day

Breast cancer upshot — a grateful patient who survived, a grateful surviving caregiver

Thanksgiving is but a blink and a quarter away.

Which triggers thoughts about what I'm grateful for (parallel, I expect, to what most folks living in these United States experience).

This year, my wife's 20th free of breast cancer, I'm particularly thankful for her survival. And for my having survived.

And for every day we're alive.

Being a patient can be tough under the best of circumstances. Being a caregiver certainly isn't easy. Facing a life-threatening disease can make it all the more difficult.

I shudder even now when recalling what we've had to deal with — the malady, its treatments and aftermath, an unrelenting up and down journey that I've chronicled in my new VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer."

Rainbows bounce off dining room table in
the home of Woody Weingarten and Nancy Fox.
But the image I try to retain in my mind is totally positive. It's of the circular glass-top table in our dining room, one whose artistic acrylic base acts as a prism that turns natural sunbeams into rainbows streaming throughout the room.

Fantabulous! Breathtaking! Not bad!

Twenty years ago we'd wanted to replace our unattractive rectangular wooden table that was surrounded by eight uncomfortable wooden chairs that could have passed for a torture rack.

So we looked, and we looked, and we looked.

Furniture store after discount store after department store.

Nada! Zilch! Diddly squat!

Then, after months of searching, we chanced across a wondrous table at an upscale showroom in Berkeley. We couldn't come close to affording it.

So we decided to track down the San Francisco-based Russian émigré artist who'd created it. And we did.

We asked him if he could build a less expensive version for us. He could.

But we still couldn't afford it.

So we let it go.

Until a couple of months later, when my wife, Nancy Fox, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We both were terrified she might die — soon.

So we instantly decided to buy the table, figuring we needed to live "here and now" and enjoy whatever we could with whatever time she had left.

Two decades later we're still enjoying the furniture.

Every day.

Even when it's cloudy and there are no rainbows.

And we've mentally amortized its cost so, in our minds, we could afford it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Panel chair presented 70 awards in 7 years

Woody Weingarten ending a 10-year stint as Quality of Life commissioner, relishes legacy

After spending a significant, fruitful decade on the environmentally-oriented San Anselmo Quality of Life Commission, I, Woody Weingarten, have resigned effective Nov. 30, 2014.

I'm a little sad about it.

But I desperately coveted the hours required to do its work.

Woody Weingarten (right) and Kevin
Donahue (and his daughter) march
in Country Fair Day parade.
To put it into context, my tenure (which included six years as chair) equaled half the length of time spent immersed in my wife's breast cancer, its treatments and its aftermath — and doing research for my new book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer")

I've also spent 19 years being the point person for Marin Man to Man, a support group for caregiving males whose partners had contracted the disease, an organization that's one of the focuses of the book.

I have no plans to leave that chairmanship.

But in the letter I read to fellow QOL commissioners I noted that "after considerable thought and with much regret" I found it necessary to step down since promoting "Rollercoaster" will "require a major chunk of my time."

Keeping this blog current, by the way, is part of those efforts.

And though I didn't cite specific achievements of the commission, I did say I'd always remain proud of the advances made during my multiple terms.

Want some examples?

Well, we helped get approval for a weekly garden exchange and an organic food stand on the lawn of Town Hall, led the local movement to substitute reusable bags for plastic at supermarkets and drug stores, obtained free parking for plug-in electric vehicles, won removal of book bins that curtailed revenue for the public library, initiated a free Connect the Green Dots lecture series, marched with electric cars in annual parades, and staffed booths at the Country Fair Days and the Marin County Center Eco-Fair.

And, on behalf of the commission, I presented 70 plaques at Town Council meetings to "unsung heroes" over a seven-year period — Green Awards for green-oriented achievements, Silver Awards for other activities that benefitted the town or vicinity.

But none of those actions address the educational materials we disseminated. 

Woody in Quality of Life Commission booth.
We offered tips on saving energy and water, using public transportation and bicycles instead of driving, substituting LEDs, certifying businesses as green, and eliminating junk mail. 

We also voted to endorse the town's Climate Action Plan, the Deep Green option of Marin Clean Energy, recycling (including cloth diapers, batteries and athletic shoes), the boycotting of plastic water bottles, rejecting Styrofoam containers, stores not stocking rodenticides, climate-friendly landscaping, spruce-up days and shrub-trimming, unplugging home electronics when they're not in use, home composting, Earth Hour, shopping locally, and picking up dog poop.

Plus — as the cliché goes — more, much more.

Not a bad legacy, I'd say.

I have every intention, parenthetically, to continue pushing for environmental advances as well as the betterment and beautification or the area in which I live.

All of which falls into what my dad, my hero, taught me over and over on his lap:

Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Softening the impact of breast cancer chemo

Humorous photos don't appear in 'Rollercoaster' but helped couple deal with hair loss

Rhoda Draws in her studio.
Humor can help patients and caregivers cope.

So can artistic flights of fancy.

At a time when her breast cancer and chemo-induced loss of hair turned my wife, Nancy Fox, into a portrait of cheerlessness, Rhoda Draws, a painter-caricaturist-friend based in Mill Valley, California, superimposed some playfulness on half a dozen photographs.

Nancy couldn't help but smile.

Nor could I.
Nancy, digitally enhanced.
Rhoda, who's also an author and teacher, presented the re-imagined photos (aka digitally enhanced, or cyber-imaged) to Nancy as a gift.

Immediately, my wife for a while stopped mourning the loss of her shoulder length, red hair — what she describes in my new book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," as "the one part of my body that I have loved unconditionally."

None of the distinctive photos accompany my narrative. Not because Nancy doesn't appreciate them 20 years after her diagnosis and treatment, but simply because I, Woody Weingarten, didn't use any illustrations at all in the book.

Nancy used the six re-imagined, often whimsical photos on a one-page flyer she sent to friends and family members who aided her. She added this text: "Thanks for your helping hands…and your loving heart…during all my changes."

The front of our refrigerator is decorated with two of the images — on magnets. They still make us smile, every day.

And cope.

And remember the ups and downs of the past triggered by passages in "Rollercoaster."

Such as:

• "Her dread of going bald had careened off the charts. Just before turning out the lights she recalled that as a girl with braids down to her waist, she'd panicked when her mother demanded she cut them off."

• "I do wish she could consistently see herself as I do, as a beautiful creature with or without hair."

• Sadness about her missing hair — even though that loss was temporary — remained the biggie for Nancy. A year after her final treatment, she wrote in her journal that it 'was clearly the psychologically devastating part of the cancer."

• It had taken more than two years before she could look at images of her baldness…She agreed at last to put the photos of her hairless stage into two albums…[She] triggered my caregiver button: 'You and I will never see it the same way,' I replied sincerely. 'Your high cheekbones and eyes showed off better when there was no hair to look at. The fact is, you're lovely both ways.'"

Two decades after her breast cancer diagnosis, Nancy's loveliness still makes me tremble.

Even though her hair is draped around her shoulders again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

No. 1 book buyer survived breast cancer HIMself

First 'Rollercoaster' purchaser is male breast cancer survivor and a support group advocate

The very first buyer of my book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," was somewhat of a surprise.

He wasn't a caregiver for his wife. He was a breast cancer patient himself.

One of the unlucky 1 percent.

Gerry Bourguignon, a regular member of the support group that I, Woody Weingarten, have been leading almost 20 years, tells on our website — — of his finding an early-stage small lump in his right breast in 2009.
Gerry Bourguignon

A biopsy showed that surgery, a modified mastectomy, was necessary to remove the tumor.

Eighteen months later, he stopped taking the post-surgical med tamoxifen — it's usually recommended for five years — because of "increasingly painful side effects [that] are generally worse for men compared to women."

But he felt okay — physically.

He needed support, however, and that's why he joined (and still attends) our group.

Gerry, a PhD and retired college prof who splits his time between homes in Pollock Pines and Mill Valley, California, is now on the board of directors of the To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation — — an agency that since 1996 has granted more than $4 million to fund emergency and direct services for breast cancer patients.

Its basic mission is to raise money and give financial aid to other nonprofits that help people living with the disease.

Only 1 percent of all breast cancers occur in men — about 2,400 are diagnosed in the United States annually. That compares with nearly 250,000 women, which translates into roughly one every two minutes.

More than 2 million stateside women live with the chronic disease, and about 40,000 die of it each year.

Daunting statistics, perhaps.

But, as I note in "Rollercoaster," we all must remember that "each person is an individual, not a statistic (and that breast cancer couldn't care less about race, creed, sexual orientation or politics)."

Or, in fact, gender.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book buoying male caregivers ready in 2 formats

'Rollercoaster' available now, in paperback or Kindle edition, after merely 6,341 updates

Only 20 years in the making.

Only 6,341 tweaks, updates, corrections and other changes before it was "ready for prime time."

Now, as of Nov. 1, 2014, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer" is available — in either a paperback or Kindle edition.

Amazon, the publishing behemoth, has slightly discounted the print version from my originally established list price of $18.18 (a "life-plus-life" symbolism building on one meaning of the Hebrew word chai).

Woody enjoys "Rollercoaster" proof.
The Kindle price is $9.99, with no symbolism whatsoever.

"Rollercoaster" shows "how a pair of very-human beings overcame their anguish in the wake of relentless medical procedures."

It spotlights tons of lessons that I, Woody Weingarten, learned, and lots of emotions I felt, while leading a men's support group for almost 20 years — and simultaneously dealing with my wife's breast cancer, her treatments and the aftermath.

In the final analysis a love story, "Rollercoaster" also illustrates "that physical and psychological hurdles must be cleared, that strong relationships can help kill not only mutated cells but worries that metastasize."

I'm certain that male caregivers can benefit from reading "Rollercoaster" because, even if they mistakenly believe they require zero help and can fix anything, they, too, need support.

Women who are preoccupied with a life-threatening disease may suggest their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons and brothers read it.

Or they may read it themselves to find out what those males are feeling.

"Rollercoaster" includes such wisdom as: "It feels good to let go of anger at doctors for not having instant answers; at pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing life-extending but not necessarily life-saving drugs; at yourself for not having a magic wand."

And, "It's crucial to remember each person is an individual, not a statistic (and that breast cancer couldn't care less about race, creed, sexual orientation or politics)."

Buy a copy (or two or three or…). That'll help me spread the message — that male caregivers can help a great deal but need support.

Like I did.