Friday, July 9, 2010


“My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life.”

- Olivia Newton-John

In case you’re feeling sorry for yourself…

I know I do. Too often.

While I try to put my angst over not:

finding a job

being published

into perspective,

I often indulge in my own personal dramas.

In May, a parent of another child in my son’s class died*, and since I found out, I’ve thought about her everyday. During the last week of school, I spoke to another parent and found out more about her illness. Those details made me feel the brunt of her loss all over again. I think about the family of four that has now become a family of three.

Jackee’s mother has cancer too and has battled it for a long time. (

These are reminders that things can be so much worse. When things are going well, when people around us are healthy, remind yourself of your good fortune. Treasure it.

The curse of living a long life is that we “win” the race of longevity. We watch many others around us die.

My maternal grandmother came to America from Sicily when she was three-years-old in 1913. She was one of eleven children. She lived in a tenement house on the Lower East Side of New York City. The oldest, she dropped out of school in third-grade to help support the family by doing piecework. Only three of her siblings made it to adulthood. One babe, at age three, died in her arms of tuberculosis. “That was hard,” she once told me.

This grandmother had five children whom she raised in Queens, New York. She lived into her 90s, outliving her husband, her siblings, and many other relatives and friends. For many years she languished in a nursing home, living but not living.

The story is different for my paternal grandmother. Of Irish descent, she was born in America a year after my maternal grandmother, and lived her first years in upstate New York. When she was five, her father, a conductor on a trolley, stepped off, and was hit by an oncoming trolley. Her mother soon remarried. One day, her grandma came over and her mother left. Asking where her mother had gone to, she was told her mom went to have a baby. She hadn’t known her mother was pregnant. How did she feel when she found out she had a little brother? “Boy, was I mad,” she said.

She frequented speakeasies with my grandfather during Prohibition. Right after getting married, she became pregnant. That was the first of four children. She lived in Queens, New York (ten minutes from my other grandmother) for most of her life, with her best friend in the same town. She outlived her husband and stepbrother. When she was in her 80s, her best friend died and she took it very hard, harder than we knew. I think my grandma was closer to her than anyone else in her life. Not so much time had passed after the death of her friend when my grandmother died of a heart attack. My father found her when he went to check in on her after she hadn’t answered her phone.

I’d rather go quickly than languish.

I’d rather get to say goodbye than to be taken suddenly.

Do I want to live a long life to endure more goodbyes of those I love?

When it’s my time, I won’t get to decide any of these things.

But I don’t want to dwell on death - I want to dwell on life.

Why am I writing this post? Because my writer-friend, Selena Sheaves has finally left her job. She’s a talented writer, dedicated mother, and a dear friend. I met her years ago from the SCBWI board for potential critique partners. We wound up living in the same town, with children of a similar age. One of the first things she told me was that I should know she had cancer. At the time, I didn’t know what it meant. Was she still getting treatment? Would it mean she might have periods when she wouldn’t be able to critique? Was she letting me off the hook in case I didn’t want to deal with it? Or was it just a fact she wanted to share?

Of course, I still agreed to share pages. Our manuscript exchange turned into a friendship.

Selena is an amazing person. She does more than me, often overtaxing herself. The more she took on, the more I mourned the shortening of her writing time until it disappeared. But now she’s back. She has a blog. And this post moved me, reminding me what a wonderful writer she is. Read the post NOW:

I recommend following her blog. She needs more people (especially writers) in her life nagging her to write. So join me.

We have to remind ourselves to appreciate what’s good, what’s working while we have it. It’s all about perspective.

* Post about Lisa:


  1. 'I want to dwell on life.' Interesting reflection on several people close to you who died too early. The important part is remembering and living a life of vitality.

  2. Thank you for writing such a moving and personal post. As you know, I also lost a great friend too young to cancer. It's difficult sometimes to not focus on the loss instead of the life lived and how I want to live every moment to it's fullest.

    I wrestle with the same questions - not wanting to suffer, but wanting to say goodbye. Mostly, I try to make sure that everyone I love knows how much I appreciate them and I'm trying to do my best.

    it's easy to lose perspective - thank you for such a beautifully written reality check: "I want to dwell on life."

    Selena sounds a lot like my friend, Joyce, who is in remission from breast cancer and is a force to be reckoned with! I look forward to reading her blog.

  3. Theresa, what a lovely post and I loved the history of your family, now there is a book or two there.

    I cant believe that someone could be busier than you, I have just been over to Selenas site, what an amazing woman.

  4. @ Paul, I like the idea of "living a life of vitality".

    @ Kathleen, I wish Joyce the best. I'm sure you'll like Selena's blog.

    @ Brigid, I have quite a few good family stories. More than a few...

    I'm glad you visited Selena's site.

  5. This is a lovely post - thank you for sharing your grandmothers' histories here - brave wonderful women who lived incredibly harsh lives and survived.

    I've been to Selena's site - a harrowing touching and ultimately life affirming post. I love how she ends her piece - not being able to sing but not losing her song! Good for her!

    Take care

  6. Theresa, what a beautiful post. I liked the history of your lovely family :)

  7. Very moving post Theresa. How fleeting it all is. I have just been over at your friend Selena's blog. What a brave lady. Such a wonderful positive attitude. I think she has found her voice!

  8. How wonderful for you to help build support of Selena's writing! Support comes in all ways, and friendship is the best. I'm headed over to give her a visit ...

  9. Theresa, I am touched and honored that you would include me in this way, and so appreciate you sharing word of my blog!! Thank you so much, and thank you to everyone who has visited. You are all inspiring me to keep going at this, to keep raising my voice! Hugs to you all.

    I love the family history as well and have always been intrigued by peoples' family stories. I wish I had been able to write down some of my grandmother's stories (she was a real firecracker!) but am piecing them together from memory, bit by bit. I'd like to pass them down to my children.

    Thanks for another great post. I hope that everyone out there who is touched by cancer is holding up, going strong, learning, appreciating their strengths and all they have in their lives!

  10. Theresa thanks for sharing the link with us. That was very moving and a great reminder to count our blessings often!

  11. Theresa--Thank you for sharing so much about your family and friends. I'm off to Selena's blog. :)

    I adore Jackee--she and I are planning something special next week. :)

  12. Selena's post is such a powerful post

  13. This is such a touching and insightful post!!

    I have an award for you at my blog :) Hope your weekend is wonderful!

  14. One thing I miss about my grandmother is all the stories she used to tell me about 'the old days.' I can sit and listen for hours to stories about family histories, thanks for sharing yours! A very inspiring post, going to go check out the site...

  15. Very inspiring post. You're right in that we have to appreciate what's good. I think that too often I focus on what's wrong or what's bad, so I've been trying to think of more things I'm grateful for. Like you said, it's about keeping things in perspective.

  16. This was a beautiful post. Loved reading about your family. I'll be at Selena's blog now. Nice quote at the top.

  17. @ Old Kitty, thanks for checking out Selena's site. I agree - it's a "life affirming" post.

    Our lives are so much easier than they were just a couple of generations ago.

    @ Short Poems, thank you.

    @ Ann, it all is too short, isn't it? I agree, Selena has found her voice.

    @ Joanne, when I read Selena's post, I knew I had to share it. Her blog is new, and I'm sure she doesn't have many readers yet.

  18. @ Selena, I wish I wrote down more stories too. My husband's grandmother's story is awe-inspiring. She and her family fled the Nazis and lived in Siberia for the duration of the war. I actually recorded her and wrote a paper in my senior year of college.

    Too many people are dealing with cancer from either family or friends. Yesterday morning had a dream about the family I wrote about in the beginning of this post. Then I read your post, and knew I had to share it and somehow bring these stories together. Besides, I wanted my blog friends to read it too.

  19. @ Vicki, yes, we should be grateful and count our blessings. Thanks for reading Selena's post.

    @ Sharon, you're planning something with Jackee? I'm glad. She needs to get out more!

    @ Sheila, I agree. Thank you for reading it.

    @ Saumya, thank you. I'm off to check out the award. You have a wonderful weekend too.

  20. @ The Words Crafter, I appreciate you checking out Selena's site.

    Knowing our family's stories is important in knowing more about where we came from and who we are. It's like studying history on a tiny scale.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, keeping things in perspective is hard. There's always something to complain about!

    @ Mr. Stupid, I liked having a quote from an actor in "Grease". I'm glad you liked the post.

  21. A wonderful post and tribute, Theresa. It speaks not only about Selena, but about you as her friend.

  22. I constantly have to remind myself of the good things in my life.

  23. @ Helen, thank you very much.

    @ Amanda, we all do. It's easy to dwell on the problems.

  24. As someone whose life has been affected by cancer and just losing loved ones, it puts a different perspective on life.

    Makes you appreciate the little things.

    I'll have to go visit your friend's Lisa's blog! :)

  25. @ Karen, I'm sorry you've been affected by cancer and lost love ones.

    We do need to appreciate the little things.

  26. Thank you for this honest and thought-provoking post, Theresa. It's important to keep things in perspective but so easy to take life for granted.

  27. @ Julie, I'm trying not to take life for granted. It's a gift.

  28. What an insightful, inspiring post to share with the blogosphere. It's so important to be reminded every day of how lucky we all are to be here at all. Thank you for this :]

  29. Therasa, this is a lovely post. I fell into the story of your family history; you tell their tale so well. And that is so true, being grateful for what we have. Thank you for the reminder.

  30. @ Lia, thank you for your nice words. Many of us should appreciate that we are lucky.

    Jayne, thank you. I'm glad you thought it was lovely.

  31. Wow Theresa, I'm sure she is really glad to have such a good friend as you.

    And you are right, I too get over upset because I cant find a job, as well as the bad perspectives on the writting market.

    But as you said, as long ad we have health, we can keep on trying to do something about it.

  32. @ Clara, "we can keep on trying to do something about it," is a great attitude. If we wallow in self-pity, little will change.