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Group F Stories Fall 2020

Stories for the Fall 2020 Feedback Sessions

Group F

To avoid emailing stories back and forth, please upload on this page the story you wish to discuss this month.

Post your stories a minimum of one week in advance of the feedback session. Those seven days give you and your buddies time to read and provide helpful feedback on each others’ stories.


  1. Share your story in the comments section on this page. You can either copy and paste the text of your story in the comment box or click the paperclip icon to attach a PDF of your work. Note: it must be a PDF; Word documents are not accepted on the comment app.
  2. Print a copy of the Story Review Form (below) for each story your buddies share here.
  3. Read each story a couple of times.
  4. Complete the Story Review Form after your readings to organize your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.
  5. During the live Feedback meeting, you will share with your buddy what you wrote on the form, as well as anything new upon hearing their story read aloud.
  6. Email a copy of your completed Story Review Form to each buddy so they can keep a record of comments and suggestions related to their story.

If there are specific questions you’d like answered, or if you want your buddies to concentrate more heavily on a certain story device, e.g., dialogue, opening, title, etc., please include those requests in the comments when you attach your story. Ask for what you need to help you make your story the best it can be.

The Feedback Guidelines are available below to provide the framework of how Life Writers approaches giving and receiving feedback on written work, both via posts on the website and during feedback sessions.

Feedback Sessions

10/27 @ 6pm EDT

11/17 @ 6pm EDT

12/29 @ 6pm EDT

Need help with how to give and receive feedback?

If you’re new to giving and receiving feedback on written work, or you’d like a refresher, watch our video tutorial for a better understanding of the process.


  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted October 20, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Well, ladies…what shall we call ourselves?

  • Claramargaret Groover
    Posted October 21, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Ricki, that’s one I am going to think on.
    In the meantime, I am posting my 15 minute creation from our first night, mostly unedited. It is an imagined moment that my grandfather might have experienced in his life as a circuit riding lawyer in Appalachia at the beginning of the last century. Please let me know the questions it raises, what is not clear, imagery that could be improved. Thank you very much for taking the time to help me. Best, Claire

    • Ricki Aiello
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 9:41 am

      This is a marvelous beginning, Claire. I love the imagery. I’m assuming Shiloh is the horse…you could give a bit of description- white, dappled, ? Just to help the reader know for sure. I looked up the word “kudzu”. It seemed important to the story since it was mentioned three times. Where do you plan on taking the story? It has me intrigued and wanting more. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Carole Mayback
      Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:30 pm

      I like your story, Claire. It has a mysterious and dangerous air. I look forward to discussing it more tomorrow. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    I Know Why You’re Here 9/30/2020 submitted to Raconteur


    “I know why you’re here. You’re just waiting for me to die.”

    Hazel looked at me, the grim words barely loud enough to bridge the distance between the straight back chair I sat in and the old, scarred rocker she was in. I looked over toward the kitchen where Alice, the old lady’s daughter, was preparing some refreshments, wondering if she had heard her mother’s appalling words.  

    “Well, aren’t you waiting, hoping you can put me in the ground?” Her toothy grin looked devilish, and I knew she was enjoying my discomfort.

    Hazel’s 98-year-old frame was clothed in a faded print robe, the blue flowers decorated by whatever she had had for lunch. One bony shoulder had slipped free, and I prayed it wouldn’t give up altogether and reveal more than I wanted to see.

    “Well, how are you two getting along? Now, isn’t it nice that the church pastor came to visit us today, Mom? Alice smiled as she placed the plate of bacon-wrapped shrimp and small pieces of bread spread with a garlic and spice hummus on the coffee table. “I made the hummus for the holidays.”

    I mumbled a word of appreciation, while Alice tucked a napkin in my lap and invited me to help myself. As I bent toward the plate of cold shrimp, greasy with bacon fat, an unpleasant odor filled my nostrils. I knew it wasn’t the delicacies on the blue-edged serving platter. I looked over at Hazel, smiling at me as though she had just accomplished a remarkable feat. Her lips were pulled back from the discolored teeth wedged haphazardly in her mouth without any sense of order. My stomach twisted in alarm. Whatever Hazel had done to create the smell, now drifting throughout the airless living room, seemed meant to challenge the fragile hold I was desperately trying to maintain as I silently thought to myself, get a grip; you’re the minister

    Alice finally caught a whiff of the foul odor and stood to come around to the left side of her mother’s chair. Without explanation or apology, she pushed her right hand into the loose waistband of Hazel’s pajama bottoms, then frowned with a look of barely concealed exasperation. Then, she remembered I was still in the room and a witness to this invasion of modesty. She quickly pulled her hand out and reached for one of the napkins by the plate of food only inches from touching the shrimp, which was less and less appealing by the moment.  

    “Mom, seems you’ve leaked through your clothes. No worries. Shall I take you into the bathroom to clean you up?” She looked at me with regret. “This may take a while. Please, just enjoy the shrimp. We’ll be back quick as a bunny, right, Mom?”

    I started to protest. “Perhaps, I should leave and let you tend to your mother’s needs. I can come back another time.” Please.
    “No, no. That isn’t necessary. We have this down to a science, don’t we, Mom? Shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes, tops.” 

    Alice placed the walker in front of Hazel and then stood with her legs firmly planted on either side of the device to hold it steady. With her hands under the old lady’s arms, she lifted Hazel into a standing position. Throughout this extended labor, Hazel stared at me, but only when Alice wasn’t looking. At one point, she stuck out her tongue and wagged it at me. Her action relayed a message, though I didn’t know what it was or why I was the chosen recipient. Could it be, this diversion in the afternoon’s visit was just that – a game of sorts. Or was it more hideous: an evil plot to best the minister and break down my composure? The thought made me smile at my foolishness, yet as I watched the two head for the pale pink bathroom off the hallway, I couldn’t help but wonder, what had I done or said to make an enemy of this 98-year-old tyrant? 

    Fifteen minutes became twenty, and then twenty-five before the two emerged. Hazel looked fresher now in a clean pair of pajamas and a robe with yellow flowers, equally as pale and thread-bare as the soiled blue robe she’d been wearing. She was tired; the ordeal took away whatever afternoon energy she had left. Alice looked exhausted and apologetic. 

    “So sorry it took so long, but we’re done now, aren’t we, Mom?” 

    “I want to go to bed.” Hazel’s words were not directed to her daughter but aimed straight at me. I knew it wasn’t my decision to make, but I did think, oh yes, please, do go to bed. To be freed from this hellish visit was now the only thought I had. No Hazel; no pastor.

    Again, Alice looked apologetic and somewhat embarrassed. I wondered why her mother’s accident (though I still wasn’t sure it was an accident) hadn’t embarrassed Alice, but her mother’s request to adjourn to her bedroom did. Perhaps there were things about Alice I didn’t know. Maybe she, like her mother, wasn’t quite all there mentally. Then again, I had the luxury of vacating this house with its stale air, but Alice had to deal with the old witch every day and, maybe, long into the night. I could leave; she couldn’t. 

    “Wait one minute, Mom? I have to grab your shawl. You never go to bed without it, do you?” I gathered the last bit of information was intended for me, not Hazel. She stood clinging to her walker, smiling slyly at me again. “Say good-bye to the pastor. We’ll see him again soon, I’m sure.”

    I stood and walked over to Hazel, intent on my well-rehearsed pastoral exit plan. She 
    looked at me, a smug and victorious grin painted on her wizened face, and muttered her good-bye loud enough for both Alice and me to hear. But then, while Alice was preoccupied at the rocker pulling the shawl free from caught the rungs of the chair, Hazel whispered her final words meant only for my ears. “When you visit again, I’ll be here.”

    Hi ladies: This is a story based on truth, but fictionalized to protect the identities of both the characters and the minister (me :-). As a minister, i walk into some odd situations many of which, begged to be told. However, I have to honor my vow to hold to confidentiality so, as I said, this one masks the identity of all involved. There is some elaboration on the actual event. I have submitted this story hoping the magazine will accept it. We’ll see. I have to say: this was a great deal of fun working on and will be submitted elsewhere if Raconteur doesn’t take it. Thanks for looking at it.

    • Carole Mayback
      Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:26 pm

      This is fun, Ricki! I really have a sense of what that experience must have been like. I enjoyed the contrasting smells of the shrimp, bacon and poop! Also the close proximity of it all. Relieved when you did not partake! Although it might have been funny if you took one bite and gagged as you smelled Hazel’s not so accidental accident. Haha.

    • Carole Mayback
      Posted October 28, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      Hey, Ricki:
      Here are my notes from your story. Nice work! I enjoyed it a lot. See pic of notes attached. :)

  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted October 26, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    In terms of a name for our buddy group. 3 possibilities- How about 1.) Going Viral 2.) Writing Pen Pals 3.) CRC Centered, Remarkable, Creative…based on our initials. Your turn 😊

    • Carole Mayback
      Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:21 pm

      I like your ideas for names, Ricki. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I know us well enough to give us a name yet. I like CRC. Going Viral is catchy, but not really what we are doing (I hope!) Pen Pals is cute. I will need more time to think about it. Do we need to choose by a certain deadline?

      • Ricki Aiello
        Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:52 pm

        How about The Rewriters or Wannabes. I do a lot of the first and the second describes most of seeking to publish..

        • Ricki Aiello
          Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:54 pm

          I’m just having fun generating ideas. I love creating Titles for my stories 🙂. No hurry, I’m sure.

          • Carole Mayback
            Posted October 28, 2020 at 8:58 am

            I just thought of a name. How do you like “Story Seekers”? I feel like we all are seeking, in some way, and I am a fan of alliteration… I will keep posting whenever I think of something.

          • Ricki Aiello
            Posted November 7, 2020 at 11:10 am

            I like that, Carole. Story Seekers does seem to speak to what we are all about. I wonder what Claire thinks.

  • Carole Mayback
    Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    My Story – Part 1
    By Carole Mayback

    My sister was diagnosed with cancer at age 36. That year she was one among many of her age with similar diagnoses. She’d been trying for years to get pregnant. After several rounds of synthetic hormones, she had acquired three children under age 3 and two types of cancer in one breast.

    Jane and I were not the best of friends growing up. We fought and competed with each other most of the time. However, I felt some respect for my sister that year, and many times since. I would not have handled all that she had on her plate with as much grace. She was so young and beautiful.

    Though she had never had a mammogram, she knew she had breast cancer. “I just had a feeling,” she told me. “You know, for the past 4 years, I have been either pregnant or nursing, but I just had a sense that something was wrong.” Leah, her youngest was nine months at the time; Sam and Max were three. I felt a renewed camaraderie with her as she openly shared her experience with me. I think she knew that I would likely face this disease one day.

    The worst part emotionally was the not knowing. What was the extent of the cancer? Would my sister live through this experience? Would she have to leave her young children without a mom? It was a difficult time for our family. Everyone was on edge … I was terrified. Afraid she would die, and I would be the one to step in and raise the kids. Of course, I would go to any lengths to help those three adorable, lovely, intelligent, beautiful children, but it would involve moving from Orlando to Kansas City, where I knew no one, plus I knew nothing about being a mother, I also never wanted to be a parent!! I now realize that all their aunts and uncles felt as I did; not to mention their grandparents! There would have been a long list of family and friends to love and guide those little ones.

    My mother was distraught. Not knowing what to do with her feelings, Mom spent several days trying to maneuver an appointment for a third opinion from Johns Hopkins. She succeeded! Jane, ever the responsible one, had already gotten a second opinion in KC, but only an appointment with a doctor from Johns Hopkins Hospital/University would satisfy. Johns Hopkins is the ultimate authority, in Mom’s eyes. Jane went to the doctor as soon as she arrived. Oddly enough, we were all in Baltimore for a few days that summer to see Jane and the kids. It was likely the first time all three of us siblings were under our parents’ roof since I left for college 19 years prior.

    In spite of mom’s efforts, Jane still had cancer and the Hopkins doctor agreed that she needed to act swiftly. She opted for bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery one month after our visit. I cannot imagine having major life-changing surgery, while raising three children under the age of three. I don’t know how my sister did it. I do know that Josh’s siblings stepped up. I also know that the kids’ au Pere, Mindy was a blessing during this time.

    My sister and her family struggled and got through the ordeal. Jane underwent several surgeries plus chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her kids each had unique reactions to their Mom’s illness, which manifested differently at various stages of their lives. I soon realized that ultimately, I was afraid for myself. Born only 14 months apart, Jane and I resemble our father’s mom, who died of breast cancer at age 55. Our maternal grandmother had also passed away from breast cancer, just after I graduated college. I knew I would have to act fast if I were to avoid the same fate.

    I just needed to know how to take care of myself so that I could avoid getting cancer. I knew that I would not do well dealing with a diagnosis, and I really knew I would not handle chemo or radiation well. In so many ways, preventing cancer (and other diseases) continues to be a motivating force in my life.

    • Ricki Aiello
      Posted October 26, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      This is tough to read, but very well written. Breast cancer is a common fear among women, isn’t it?

  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted November 3, 2020 at 8:42 am

    For those who know my birth name is Henrietta, the question of how I became known as Ricki is far too often asked. The conversation goes something like this: “How did you get Ricki from Henrietta?” It’s a fair question, but after more than 70 years hearing it, I’m finally going to put it to rest, at least with my cousins. We have decided to work together writing stories, sharing photos, and adding some letters based on our childhood memories of the significant and influential people in our lives. Then we will collate the results into something we can share with our children and grandchildren. Tops on all of our lists is our grandmother, Mama. Mama is the reason why I’m named and nicknamed what I am. So, stay tuned. I have a rough draft, but it needs some work before I post it.

  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted November 6, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    I have few real memories of my paternal grandmother without the aid of family photographs but, if I were to tell one of my own, it would be centered on how her name came to be my name…kind of. You see, my first name, Henrietta, has its beginning, as one might expect, with the day I was born. Apparently, I was not an easy birth as my mother would remind me and anyone else standing still long enough to listen to her. “I almost died, you know. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Hennessy (not his real name) I would have been left to bleed to death.” The grim details were embellished over time and often more so, when I annoyed my mother about something. 
     I was sort of named after Mama but, as I said, not really. I’m always telling anyone who asks…and many do…how I came by my nickname, Ricki, and of course, that telling includes the undeniable fact that my father was committed to honoring his mother, since it hadn’t happened with the births of my cousins. Aunt Tillie didn’t call Ro, Enrichetta and Aunt Pat didn’t name Ginny after Mama but, perhaps, this was to be expected. It seems the Sicilian tradition of naming the first girl baby applies to the first son who fathers a female. Like any unbendable rule, this was a hard and fast one; it had to be the first granddaughter born to whatever son came up with the prize X-factor.  By all rights, this should have been Uncle Al’s cross to carry. Of course, the death of one of the twin babies was a hard pain to carry already. No one could blame my uncle and aunt for choosing to sidestep the customary tribute to Mama, which left my dad to do the deed. I guess he chose to anglicize the name and instead of the very Italian, Enrichetta, I was named Henrietta. My mother so detested the name, she refused to use it. In fact, in her nearly 94 years of life, Mom never called me by my given name and I do mean NEVER. Not once, in all my 70 years, did she ever say that name to me or about me. Weird, huh? Can you imagine your mother never using your name? No wonder I’m so screwed up. 

    But, of course, Mom’s resistance to the use of Henrietta didn’t mean others would avoid it too. I distinctly remember a time, when my second-grade teacher, Miss Feloni dared to use my real name in class to “punish” me for repeatedly mispronouncing her name. It was an embarrassment to me when asked to write my name, Miss Feloni discovered, I didn’t know how to spell it. I had never been taught and, likely, my mother saw no reason to teach me since she wouldn’t say it anyway. With the secret out Miss Feloni made me sit at my desk and write it one hundred times. By the end of the exercise, I could recite the letters in my sleep. I still didn’t like the name, but I knew how to spell it. 
    When Mom found out what Miss Feloni had done, she was ripping. She came down to the school raging and insisting Miss Feloni must call me Ricki in class. It was not a pretty scene. Two fiery red heads, yes, oddly, Miss Feloni also had red hair just like my mother going at it as though they were two featherweights punishing at each other in a boxing ring. I’m not sure how the match ended, but I can tell you, Miss Feloni never called me that name again and the whole experience frightened me into learning how to properly say her name. 
    I sometimes wonder if I had been properly named after Mama and called Enrichetta would the real thing been acceptable to my mother. I suspect so…Mom loved Mama and she held her in high esteem. She was always a bit unforgiving to my father for naming me as he did. Her choice had been the name, Donna; she settled for her choice taking the middle slot between the outlandish, Henrietta and the all too Italian sounding, Aiello. I was doomed to be the odd kid from the moment of my birth.
    Well, of course, none of the above explains how I came to be known as Ricki. It was the efforts of my other grandmother, Mom’s mom seeking to soothe my mother’s ire, who came up with the derivation taken from the middle letters, “rich” from Enrichetta, tossing in her strong Sicilian accent, and pushing out the very odd, but inventive nickname, Ricki. I know it was done in pure love, but back in 1949-1960 or so, there simply wasn’t a whole lot of girls named Ricki. I may have been the only one!!

    • Carole Mayback
      Posted November 10, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      Love it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Norma Beasley
      Posted November 15, 2020 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Ricki. Enjoyed your story…it was funny. I have a title for your story…”What’s In A Name?” I once worked with an executive VP whose name was Ricki so you weren’t the only one. Her name was Erica. So Ricki works in this case.

      • Ricki Aiello
        Posted November 15, 2020 at 6:53 pm

        Thanks, Norma. It needs some work since reading through it just now, I saw some glaring errors in spelling, grammar, etc.

  • Ricki Aiello
    Posted December 19, 2020 at 9:41 am

    If I’d Had a Gun (12/19/2020)

                “If I’d had a gun, I swear, I would have shot him.” 

    The occasion for this extraordinary statement, uttered with barely restrained anger, was a visit to my mother. She was talking about my dad, dead now for the last 21 years. To say the marriage was loveless is to understate the bile that consumed them. On the surface, and certainly, in front of others, my parents did a fine job concealing their dislike for one another. I still don’t have a clue as to what drew the two together at all, but likely the decision wasn’t theirs to make. It was a marriage deeply imbedded in the ingrained Sicilian traditions and customs of post-World War II immigrant life.  The story came out over time, but the gist was simply this: two families, the Calvo’s and the Aiello’s met and planned a wedding before the principals – my mother and father – had reached the tender age of 10. I was fortunate, or unfortunate depending on how one might view it, to have two strong-minded grandmothers who though married to Sicilian husbands didn’t brook argument or expect anything less than being the decision-makers in their respective families 
    “Ricki, every time I look at that picture,” Mom said pointing to the recent oil painting gifted to her by my cousin Chris and wrinkling her nose in distaste, “I just want to cry.” 
    “Why, Ma?” I glanced over to the image on canvas, which hung on the wall by a single picture hook. Sadly, it didn’t look at all like the dad I remember, but I wasn’t inclined to cry about it. After all, Chris’ son, K.C. had done the best he could with the photo Chris had sent him. So, my father had never been camera-friendly. Wasn’t his fault. He and I both shared that unfortunate quality; neither of us were photo genetic. For me it hasn’t happened yet and with each passing year, the probability of a success grows increasingly unlikely. 

    “Well, I think it probably would be a good idea not to say anything, Mom.” K.C. did his best, and Chris was just trying to do something nice for you.” 
    “Yeah, yeah. Just put it somewhere so I can’t see it.” 
    “I’ll put here on the window shelf behind the television. Then, next time Chris visits, we can just pull it back out.” I took my mother’s quick head nod as agreement and tucked the photo in the farthest corner of the window sill. How long it would be there before one of the aides pulled the shade down and knocked it to the floor was anyone’s guess. 
    Though the painting was gone from sight, I couldn’t help but think about the many photos my dad had taken of me or the ones I have of him. None of them all that good with the exception of one. It’s a photo of Dad sitting in a lawn chair outside by a pool or, perhaps, at the beach. He’s wearing a straw hat tipped just slightly to give the viewer a sense of the moment. It shows him genuinely happy, and I wonder what (or who) had made him smile so broadly. It’s a fair question, but I’m afraid to know the answer. Doubtful it would be my mother. I don’t think I ever saw him smile like that around Mom. 
    Unwillingly, my thoughts went to a dark place. I couldn’t help wondering if the dad I saw in the photo was with her. The “her” in question had no name or face. She wasn’t someone I would know or recognize. I suspected there were many “hers” in Dad’s life of which only one or two might have been revealed by name in some way. I could run through a short list of those I thought I knew about, but the diversion seemed to be without merit. Dad was gone and had been gone for over 20 years. What’s the point?
    Mom had always had her suspicions too. She had once accused – silently – her dearest friend of betraying her. Apparently, Olly’s husband carried his own degree of distrust regarding the relationship Dad might want to have with Bill’s wife. As a result, at least as Mom related it to me many years after the fact, Bill up and moved his whole family south to escape what Bill perceived was inappropriate admiration on the part of my father for his wife. The only one alive who could clear up the mystery is Olly, and she’s not talking, though it is odd…no matter how many years have passed since Dad died, Olly never forgets the date and never forgets to let Mom and, now me, know that she remembers. I have to wonder why, but maybe, it’s only because my dad died on Veterans Day, an easy day to remember.
    By now, Mom was off on her own trip down memory lane. “Your dad could be so annoying. He loved to get me going.”

    Carole, Claire – There is more to this story, but here’s some of it for our discussion when we meet on Life Writers. Thanks for reading it.

  • Carole Mayback
    Posted December 29, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    My Story – Part 2 – Three Angels
    When I heard the results of my genetic testing for Breast Cancer, I went numb for what seemed like several minutes. My mouth fell open and I am certain my jaw remained hanging there for at least 10 seconds until I came back to the room! I was seated in a slightly cushioned armchair across from Dr. D’s large mahogany desk in her private office. I remember the deep blues and browns covering the floor and walls. Muted sunlight streamed in from the narrow floor to ceiling window behind her, through which I could see the sidewalk and shadows of people walking along the Avenue, each with their own medical drama weighing on their shoulders. Dr. D and I rarely met in this room – usually we talked in the exam room, but this was different. There was no exam. Her nurse had drawn about 6 tubes of blood weeks ago and sent the kit away to a lab in Utah, the only genetic testing lab at the time. In a laboratory with all sorts of newly developed machinery, my blood was broken down into strands of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in a search for broken or mutated spots in the helix that was my unique genome. She looked at me kindly over the paper lab report, and as the truth slowly dawned on me, I felt tears on my cheeks.
    She knew this would be a tough dose of reality for me to swallow. We had discussed many times my lack of a serious dating relationship. I had not been in a romantic relationship since 1990, when I broke off an engagement in NYC and relocated to Orlando. I was shocked. How could this be? I did not want to lose my breasts. I had “planned” to take care of my health LATER. I would look into preventing cancer AFTER I met that perfect ‘someone’ waltzed into my life and swept me off my feet. But that is NOT what was happening. Time was running out. I would need to fall in love and build a life with some imagined person pretty quickly to stay ahead of the ticking time bomb inside me.
    Dr. D. talked in a soothing voice – something about a high percentile for breast, ovarian and colon cancer. I was 87% more likely to develop breast cancer before age 70, and 59% more likely to develop ovarian cancer. Based on my sister’s recent breast cancer diagnosis, I felt like I had a ticking time bomb inside me with no indication when that bomb would ignite. I was only 37 years old (inside I felt about 22), and there were so many things I wanted to accomplish before losing my breasts. How could this happen?
    Over the next several months the pieces would come together … both grandmothers, as well as all the female cousins on Dad’s side of the family had died — of breast cancer. The BRCA 2 gene mutation, also known as the Ashkenazi breast cancer gene, was about to change my life. Mom was unaffected, but my sister, dad and I had the gene mutation.
    Lively and passionate Dr. M. appeared in my life very soon afterward. I signed up for this Lunch N Learn to be held in the Blue dining room of the AAA building. Our HR department sponsored events like this every year, and I am so thankful for the gold nuggets that were dropped in my lap as a result. I had no idea the profound influence this event would have on my life. Dr. M was all about prevention. She talked with me at length after her presentation, once again in a relatively dim blue and brown room, where I told Dr. M. about my sister’s diagnosis at age 36. I felt encouraged. The doctor was involved in a weekly meeting with surgeons and oncologists, and she would bring my case up to her team of researchers on Friday! The following month I went to her office downtown to get a plan.
    I remember the disturbing scene in the waiting room. There were almost no healthy people there, unless they were escorting a patient. In this large L-shaped room of chairs, about 20 sick people were waiting to receive their chemotherapy treatments, or to consult with the doctor after surgery. I was the only person there for prevention. Later, Dr. M. would tell me how much seeing me in her office year after year helped HER. Each year, my annual appointment was a bright spot in her day.
    That day, she helped me sort out my options. Basically, there were three. 1. Frequent screenings, the least aggressive option would mean I would be traveling to a Doctor of some sort every 3 months to be evaluated. 2. The middle solution would require that I start taking Tamoxifen, which would put me into a state of drug-induced menopause, and 3. Preventative surgery, the most aggressive choice, but also the most reliable. The success rate was higher than 90%, whereas the Tamoxifen solution was only 50%. She knew there would be challenges as a result of the surgery, but she also knew that there were safe ways to administer bioidentical hormones to mitigate those challenges. Evidently, bioidentical meant they would not have harmful side effects. I was excited.
    Dr. M helped me work out my prevention plan: to see a doctor every three months for regular screenings. I would be examined by a breast surgeon on the even cycle twice per year, and on the odd cycle my GYN and oncologist would each see me once. That way, the breast surgeon would know my case and could possibly detect any change in the tissue sooner than someone who did not know me. It was a great plan, but not so well-executed.
    I could not see it at the time, but I had been treating the prevention plan like a loose guideline rather than a set schedule. In hindsight, I could have scheduled all my appointments ahead of time for the year, so they were spaced appropriately. What actually happened was chaos. I set a calendar reminder to schedule an appointment, but then was unable to get in to see the doctor for several months. Or I would need to reschedule the appointment for some lame reason, like I had double booked the appointment, or was running late. The plan was flawed in practice. The truth? I did not want to live my life from doctor to doctor, awaiting the inevitable. I wanted to be living my life. Looking back, I see the irony; the best way to live my life worry free would have been to set my appointments and keep them no matter what seemingly-pressing life event kept me from attending.
    Six years went by before my surgeon, Dr. S. pointed out my flawed execution of the prevention plan. She was angry, “either you’re on tamoxifen or you’re having surgery, or … I’m not your doctor!” An ultimatum! I had arrived once again without my films, and she knew what I was doing, though I did not. Looking back, I had been paying lip service to self-care, but not really doing it. I was treading water, holding my breath, avoiding my doctors, as I told my friends I was all about preventing cancer. It was a lie. Who was I kidding?
    These were the prime years of my life, and I was wasting them. I was obsessed with making my life work, but it was not working. I was trying to hook a guy into loving me. Never mind that he was on the edge of a drug and alcohol relapse, and was not that into me. I just wanted SOMETHING to fall into place. Trying to pound a square peg into a round hole was making me emptier and emptier. I was obsessed, and neither the universe, nor the guy was cooperating. In my desperate attempt at securing a lasting relationship, I was losing myself!
    Looking back on my life, I had been warned that this decade of my life was going to be a desert wasteland. My spiritual advisor said to me, just before I left New York at age 27, “your 40s will be amazing.” I had no idea was lay ahead for me, but truer words were never spoken! My 40’s were amazing, once I let go of trying to control my life and everyone in it to suit my desires, and started truly living, THEN I could finally experience the beauty and the mystery of my life.
    I left Dr. S. that sunny day determined to find another doctor. “I don’t need her, and I sure don’t need her yelling at me.” I thought. How screwed up can one’s thinking be! I was caught. Guilty. Yet still fighting reality.
    By some miracle, my friend Debby had offered to go with me to this appointment, and I accepted. Her mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she would likely get as much out of the appointment as I would. (Or so I told myself.) As we walked to the car after the ultimatum, Debby must have been formulating what to say to me, because we were silent for much of the journey. Finally, as we reached my car, Debby said, “Well, Carole?”
    “Well what?” I said.
    “Well, I guess you have a decision to make.” Honestly, I did not see it that way, so my curiosity was piqued.
    “Really?” I said, “what decision?”
    Ever the pragmatist, Debby said, “Well, are you going on tamoxifen? Or having surgery?!” That question stung. It lingered in my mind for many days, until a final decision was made. I was thrown into a proverbial pressure cooker that day and the heat was on. It was August 12. To my own surprise, within two weeks I had made a decision.
    I could not see much of anything at the time – I was too angry, upset, frustrated! I think I was actually afraid to see the bigger picture. Now I can see that Dr. S. saved my life.

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