Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

The Love of a Listening Heart

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Defining Love on a Day of Love

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” Leo Buscaglia

Finding Love

Waiting for the Valentine’s Day sunrise of 2012, I have been thinking about love. I know we all need it.  Some of us were fortunate enough to have found it in our homes and classrooms during the early days of our journey.

I never studied love.  I learned what I know about love by watching my parents love each other and their children. It was love deeply rooted in discipline, loyalty and responsibility.

At one point in my life I was a great admirer of “Dr. Love,” Leo Buscaglia.  His poetic words helped me at a time when love was in short supply, or at least the road rashes of life made me think that way.

Today as I approach the Indian Summer of my life, I have a much better appreciation and understanding of the healing power of love.

If truth be told, life has been the greatest teacher in that regard, and last year I earned my Ph.D. in love.

Watching, helping and caring for Kitch while she battled cancer gave me more opportunities than any man deserves to think about the essence of love.

Permit me to share what I learned with words that are both old and new, words that best illuminate that mystical, and often elusive, virtue that can heal the empty places in our life.

Defining Love

Love is all we have; the only way that each can help the other. Euripides

Love is the beauty of the soul.  Saint Augustine

Fortune and love favor the brave. Ovid

Love conquers all. Virgil

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.  Marcus Aurelius

Who so loves believes the impossible. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love – and to put its trust in life. Joseph Conrad

The art of love is largely the art of persistence.   Albert Ellis

Where there is love there is life.   Mahatma Gandhi

You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love. Henry Drummond

Living a life of Love

And what, I ask myself, is the spirit of love?

The obvious answer speaks to caring, sharing, helping, giving, enhancing, affirming and living for someone other than yourself.  Yet there is another nuance of love that seldom gets much attention.  It’s the beauty and power of a listening heart.

Sister Joan Chittister’s poem "A Listening Heart" says all one needs to know about that life sustaining aspect of love.

There is a magnet in a seeker’s heart
whose true north is God.
It bends toward the Voice of God
with the ear of the heart
and, like sunflowers in the sun,
turns all of life toward
the living of the Word.

This listening is pure of pride
and free of arrogance.
It seeks wisdom—
everywhere, at all times—
and knows wisdom by the way
it echoes
the call of the scriptures.

The compass of God implanted
in the seeker’s heart
stretches toward truth
and signals the way to justice.

A truly listening heart knows

that we lose the chance for truth
if we give another—any other—
either too much, or too little,
control over the conscience
that is meant to be ours alone.

And yet, at the same time
mutual obedience,
real listening,
holy listening
forever seeks the spiritual dialogue
holy wisdom demands.

This listening with the heart
to the insights of another
is not the obedience of children,
or soldiers,
or servants,
or minions.
It is the obedience given to a lover
because of love alone.

During Kitch’s battle with cancer we experienced what “Dr. Love” called  the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring from family, friends, physicians, nurses, and medical technicians. These acts of love turned our life around and taught us how to listen to the challenges we faced with our hearts.

From now until we reach the other side, we intend to transmit the light of love to others who travel the long dark gravel road called cancer.

May your Valentine’s Day be blessed with the love of a listening heart.

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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(A listening heart was excerpted from the book The Monastery of the Heart by Joan Chittister, OSB. It was used with permission:

Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. Seneca

Stories from the Heart

These are stories about people we met by circumstance or design during the past week.

The women in these stories personify what someone once said so accurately about Thanksgiving, “Don’t only give thanks for what you have. Give thanks for what you give.”

In our opinion, these stories reflect the spirit of America on its best day. They speak to the heart and soul of Americans at their best. They give truth to the words of Dr. Stephen Post, “America is the home of the free and the land of the good.”

Helping Hands

On a cold November afternoon as I was leaving a store in a strip mall, I watched a woman come out of a store and approach a Salvation Army volunteer who was ringing a Christmas bell and greeting shoppers. She was shivering.  Her hands were beet-red from the cold. 

“Give me your hands,” the woman asked the volunteer?”

Then, she opened a bag containing a new pair of woolen gloves, and she carefully placed them on the hands of the volunteer.

In astonishment, the Salvation Army volunteer asked, “Are you coming back to get the gloves, or can I keep them?”

The woman smiled and said, “They’re yours. Thanks for making our world a better place,” then she disappeared into the crowd.”

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. Theodore Roosevelt

Bobbie’s World

Kitch and I met Barbara Platt at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center during our Face of America journey. She was singing copies of her book, This Is Holy Ground. It was a perfect opportunity to introduce our granddaughter to an author.

On that June day in 2010, we became fast friends.

Barbara Platt came to Gettysburg in 1955 with her husband who accepted a teaching position at Gettysburg College. She has been a student of the battlefield for more than 50 years. She is a woman of fierce independence and inspiring determination to learn, grow and make the most of life.

She is loyal to her friends, and she is willing to help people who ask for her help. One week after our chance meeting, Barbara did a wonderful interview for our book, America at Its Best.  Standing in the shadow of the place where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, she shared insights about the battlefield, her work, her life, and her battle with breast cancer.

When I asked Barbara to identify someone from the battle who, in her mind, represents America on its best day, she did not name a general, or a statesman.  She told the story of a 70-year old man, John Burns. He was too old to join the union army, but when the battle began he picked up his Revolutionary War rifle and asked a commanding officer to let him join the fight.

Barbara was 83-years-old when she told that story. The breast cancer that slowed her down seven years earlier was in remission, and she was not about to let it prevent her from living a full life. To encourage Kitch, she wrote these words:

My very best to both of you. I am all too familiar with Kitch’s situation. Her treatment “ain’t fun,” but having been around now for seven years after the doctors almost gave up on me, I know it’s worth it.

This week, Kitch and I visited with Barbara at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park to do an interview with her for our documentary about cancer. Her circumstance is much different today than when we first met. Cancer has returned with a vengeance, and the signs of its return are obvious. Nevertheless, Bobby is still doing the things she loves to do, and she refuses to spend any time lamenting her fate. “I certainly have no problem with my situation.  I never have. I wake up every morning, she told me, “and I do what I can to be productive.”

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. Thornton Wilder

A Library for Laurie

Laurie McDonald was an extraordinary woman of dignity, class, and passion. It was our good fortune to meet Mrs. McDonald at a Bedtime Stories event at the elementary school my granddaughter attends. She was welcoming and very pleasant to be with.

Described as a perfect principal by people who worked with her, Laurie McDonald was dedicated to excellence and innovation in the classroom.

During our Face of America journey, Laurie responded to virtually every newsletter with words of encouragement and support.
One year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, we received this note from her:

Dear Tony and Kitch,

“Thank you for the lovely note and beautiful picture.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season is a blessed and happy one for you and your family!!”


One month later, December 2010, she responded to an article we wrote entitled “Putting the past behind us.”  

“Once again, thank you for sharing a beautiful story, your lessons of dealing with challenges in such a positive and loving way, have brightened and uplifted me on many a day, thank you and many blessings to you and Kitch.”  Laurie

In February, when Kitch was battling Cancer, this note arrived from Laurie:

“Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you both.  Fondly, Laurie”

In April, my daughter and I attended the funeral service for Laurie McDonald. The pancreatic cancer she had been battling for three months took her life.  She was the same age as Kitch.  She was diagnosed in December 2010 the same month as Kitch.

Monday, November 22, was a rainy day in Leesburg,Virginia.  Kitch and I attended the dedication of the Mrs. Laurie McDonald Library. It was a beautiful and emotional event for 800 students and many parents and guests.

Mrs. McDonald was celebrated with readings, poems and songs. It was a joyful but poignant experience. It was exactly what she deserved and something she would have enjoyed.

As I recorded scenes of children singing, laughing, talking and learning, I thought to myself how short and unpredictable life is, and how fortunate Kitch and I were to meet this incredible Face of America.

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count
our blessings. Eric Hoffer

Donna’s Gift

On Tuesday, November 22, Kitch and I were returning from Virginia.  It was shortly after 5 p.m. It was raining heavily. The roads were treacherous. 

We stopped at the Sheetz store in Duncannon, PA.  My wife wanted to get a small cup of coffee.

When we approached the coffee maker, there were no small styrofoam cups.  We asked for help, and one of the employees at the food counter contacted someone in our behalf. The store was crowded, and it took a few minutes for the person to arrive with the replacement cups.

By that time, my wife had selected another size cup, and she was pouring coffee into the cup when Donna arrived.  Donna politely apologized for the inconvenience. My wife accepted her apology, and then she handed me the half full cup as she walked to another section of the store.
Donna restocked the empty section with cups. Before I made my way to the cashier, I thanked Donna for her willingness to help us.

I was standing in line waiting to pay for the cup of coffee, when Donna approached me. She smiled and asked, “Is the cup of coffee all that you have?”

I replied, “Yes.”

Then, Donna spoke these words. “You don’t have to pay for it. You were inconvenienced, and I apologize for that, and I appreciate your understanding.”

I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, the expression on her face, or the warm feeling of appreciation I experienced.

Donna just did her job, and she did it well. She was pleasant, helpful and cognizant of our needs.  She gave us more than we expected. She did not know anything about us. She only knew how to be kind.

Treating us with courtesy and consideration, she made a very favorable impression.

Although the road ahead would be long and challenging, Donna’s act of kindness and appreciation filled our hearts with the warm glow of gratitude.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer

Beautiful Thoughts

During this year of years, many people have lighted the flame within us. We will write about them before the year ends. For the moment, I would like to share some beautiful thoughts we received in response to a question we asked about important life lessons.

“Each human life is unique and has special value. We are social beings. As members of communities we have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others, and by so doing our own lives become more fulfilled.” Dr. Dan Kopen

“I learned that while we are people of place, we are also destined to move on from time to time… Love the people where you are, and do dig deep and meaningful roots. But realize as well that on a path of spiritual growth, there is something to be said for Rt 80!” Victor Chan is right, “Most people on a journey have to move on to grow… Wherever you are is home if you focus on the things that matter most!” Dr. Stephen Post

"Nothing trumps perseverance and hard work." Julie Marvel

“The lesson came to me through an act of kindness from a colleague. In the midst of a crisis, this colleague asked me how things were and I told her. She then ran into her office and came out to give me a red metal cuff bracelet that has this on it: ‘Be still and know that I AM.’  That remains the biggest lesson for me.” Dr. Agnes Cardoni

"Loyalty to whomever I was working with." Barbara Platt

“What lesson did I learn in life…To be thankful and not just on Thanksgiving.  I had a Sunday School teacher as a child that said, we could be thankful for something different every day.  I have never forgotten her telling the class that.  The Bible tells us that in everything give thanks because it is the will of God.  Each day is a gift from God and I must make it count.” Janie Kiehl

“I’ve learned not to be so critical of things. To be more understanding and more compassionate, to have faith.” Louie Bigiarelli

"The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. I was fortunate to have been taught this a child and it has given me a foundation to build my life, values, and life principles on."  Chuck Wagner

"To receive kindness and understanding from my neighbors and friends, I have to be kind and understanding to them." Helene Bigiarelli

"Life is, indeed, short so there is no time to feel sorry for yourself. We would just be wasting our days and leaving little time to do for others.  I guess this is one of the lessons I have learned…. " Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum

You can be sure we will be thinking about these life lessons as we give thanks for the gift of life and the many opportunities afforded us during our Face of America Journey.

From our hearts to your home, Happy Thanksgiving, and may all of your stories have happy endings.

Kitch & Tony Mussari

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Finding the Ecstasy in Life After the Agony of Cancer

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Three Cups of Tea at Candy’s Place

By Kitch & Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

Joy is not in things. It is in us. Richard Wagner

During our Face of America journey, Kitch and I survived a serious automobile accident in Minnesota, heat stroke in New Hampshire, road rage in Florida, a blizzard in Arizona, closed roads in Wyoming, and 3 computer meltdowns.

These are trivial events compared to what happened on December 9, 2010. On that day Kitch went for her annual mammogram. I was at home preparing for a screening of our documentary: Visiting Shanksville in the Rain. It was scheduled for December 10, in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

The telephone rang. The voice at the other end of the line cracked with emotion. I heard words that I never expected to hear. Kitch could not finish the call. That was done by the compassionate and competent voice of Dr. Dan Kopen.

Within minutes, I was in his office holding Kitch’s hand while Dr. Kopen explained the results of the mammogram and the need for a biopsy. In less than a week, we met with Dr. Kopen again.  This time he spoke three words that seared an indelible mark on my soul: “invasive ductal carcinoma.”

For the next 11 months, virtually all of our time, effort and energy was spent battling an adversary we could not see, hear, or feel.

Fast forward to the most beautiful Sunday of autumn, Kitch and I are making our way to the Grand Ballroom at the Woodlands Inn and Resort. We were welcomed graciously at the door by a board member and a volunteer from Candy’s Place. After a brief conversation we entered the ballroom. We were overwhelmed by what we saw.

Wherever we looked, someone dressed in something pink was smiling or laughing. People were engaged in good conversation. They were taking group pictures.  They were checking out the cornucopia of prizes donated by public spirited citizens to raise money for the one-on-one programs offered at the Center for Cancer Wellness.

Heather Gaydos, a high school student and volunteer, was selling homemade biscotti and cookies. Theresa Novak, the yoga instructor at Candy’s Place and two of her friends were carrying baskets filled with chocolate products courtesy of her store, Ah! Some Chocolates.

Penny Cunningham, the founder of Candy’s Place, was busy meeting and greeting people, and Nicole Farber, the center cirector, was attending to last minute details for the tea.

The atmosphere was welcoming and very festive.  The mood in the room was joyful, and the setting was beautiful in every respect of the word.

The beverage and sweets served at the tea were tastefully displayed and quickly removed by the room full of cancer survivors, family members and friends who came to show their support for Candy’s Place.

One by one, eight of these women walked to the podium in the front of the room to tell their stories about diagnosis, treatment and survival.

Rebecca Barrett was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She asked the question, “What has the gift of cancer given me?”

Her answer; “It made my family stronger. It made me stronger, and it made me closer to my family.”

Mary Ann Meeker is an affable woman.  She likes to talk. In 1996, she was 57 and enjoying life. She had no family history of breast cancer. These are the words she used to describe her reaction to the news that she had breast cancer. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Carol Marino is a strong woman with a good sense of humor. She talked about the dark time between diagnosis, surgery and recovery. Even though she has been cancer free for 17 years, it is still an emotional experience for her. She celebrated the services provided by Candy’s Place and the friends she made there.  She offered this piece of advice to those who will be diagnosed with cancers of any kind. “You have to believe in hope. When it might seem darkest, you have to have hope.”

Stacey Casey attended the event with her husband. She admitted that she is a newcomer to the long gravel road called cancer. She thanked her husband for his loyalty and support and she made it very clear that she is learning every day that support from family and friends is vital to recovery.

Rhonda Zikowski spoke with honesty about the fear that comes with cancer, and she thanked Christine Fazzi the personal trainer at Candy’s Place for making her feel stronger. With sincerity that touched the hearts of everyone in the room she paid Chris the ultimate compliment, “You are always kind, generous and there for me.”

Jean Connelly is a decorated veteran in the war against cancer. She has successfully defeated two different forms of cancer. Jean is a woman of infectious humor and great resolve. She spoke with authority when she shared these words, “When they throw the “C” word at you, it hits home and knocked the wind out of my sails.”

Thinking out loud about what she learned from her experience, Jean offered this insight;
“I am a blessed person, because cancer taught me how to live, not to wait to be happy. It taught me to be happy today.”

For Beth Miner, 2007 was an Annus Horribilis. Her 40-year-old niece died from breast cancer.  Her neighbor died from breast cancer, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Beth had a very difficult time with chemotherapy, and she could not finish the infusion treatments, but fortunately things worked out well for her and her family.  Today she is a volunteer at Candy’s Place and a woman who has a special gift when working with other survivors.  Maybe that’s because when people walk through the door to Candy’s Place, Beth sees a mirror image of herself.

In Beth’s words, “When I meet a cancer survivor for the first time the feelings come back to me.  I don’t know why I am here, but I am standing strong.”

Mary Ann Gap was the last speaker. She is a positive and determined woman. Her story speaks to the heart and soul of Candy’s Place. When she was diagnosed at 50, she was alone.  Her family and friends lived out of state. She did not drive, and she was struggling.

Her radiation oncologist, Dr. Norman Schulman, connected her with Candy’s Place. When she made her first visit, Nicole Farber greeted her with a smile.  She arranged to have Denise Fried make a weekly call to Mary Ann. This call gave Mary Ann the gift of connection, and it helped her make a successful recovery.

Listening to these women and thinking about Kitch’s experience in her one-on-one yoga classes with Theresa Novak, makes it very clear to me that cancer is a vicious disease that can be beaten if detected early. But it takes a family to overcome the fears and the scars that come with the treatment and cure.

In my opinion, if you’re looking for love, go to Candy’s Place. If you’re looking for compassion, go to Candy’s Place, if you’re looking for understanding, go to Candy’s Place. At Candy’s Place you are family.

It was inspiring to be in the presence of a room full of heroines. No matter where you looked in the Grand Ballroom, you saw a heartwarming, thought provoking scene.  The words of Emily Dickinson took on new meaning for me, because these women had found ecstasy in life. For them, the mere sense of living was joy enough.

In a way, Kitch and I were having our third cup of tea at Candy’s Place. We were no longer strangers, or casual friends. Like everyone in the room, we were family, and it felt wonderful.

The moment Penny Cunningham won the door prize added to our delight. What a fitting and serendipitous end to a memorable afternoon.

It doesn’t get any better than an afternoon of pink tea at Candy’s Place.

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Battling Cancer: Kitch Reaches a Milestone

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Aphorisms for a Cancer Patient and Family

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

It’s Over, Hallelujah. Kitch Loftus-Mussari

The Last Day of Chemo

On June 2, Kitch had her final chemotherapy infusion. It was a moment we will never forget. Like all of the previous visits to Medical Oncology Associates, we were apprehensive and fearful.  With chemotherapy you never know what to expect.  There are so many variables both psychological and physiological.  It is never a pleasant experience for the patient, and it is always an unnerving experience for the caregiver.

During the past six months, we have seen the heartbreaking and painful consequences of cancer.  It is not a pretty sight. It is both humbling and transformational.  

The major tool in the arsenal of oncologists fighting this dreaded disease is chemotherapy.   Our friend, Dr. Richard Loomis, described it with these words: “Chemo is an itinerant intruder. It takes over your body and it tries to take charge of your life. It is barbaric and it has consequences.”

On this the last day of chemo, Kitch and I experienced several family moments. A woman named Kathy who we met at a session in May sat next to Kitch. They exchanged stories about their experiences, and they enjoyed one another’s company.

The woman, who occupied the recliner on the other side of Kitch, asked if the television set at her station was too loud.  When we replied yes, she apologized and immediately turned the volume down. “I appreciate your need for peace and quiet,” she said.

Our special friend arrived and we spend some quality time with her answering questions and filling in the blanks as it were.  We agreed to stay in touch by telephone.

One of the receptionists who has always been considerate and kind offered her best wishes in a genuine and thoughtful way.

When we arrived home, we were greeted by a surprise from my cousin, Kathy, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a dear friend of many years, Patricia Brown. My daughter sent a package of cosmos seeds with a note of congratulations, and wonderful cards from my niece and godchild, Teresa, lifted our spirits.

For the rest of the day our home was filled with feelings of accomplishment and relief that are hard to describe. Kitch has every right to be proud of herself.  She had a very heavy and aggressive dose of chemotherapy chemicals to rid her body of any rogue cancer cells.  Now she can say with confidence she is onto the next step in her journey to recovery. After an operation to remove her portacath, and some tests, she will begin six weeks of 30 radiation treatments.

Recently someone asked me how Kitch is doing. I answered the question with these words: “She is a profile in courage.”  If truth be told, every cancer patient we met deserves the same description.

There are many things we learned during the past few months which can best be summarized in these 20 aphorisms of a cancer patient and caregiver.

Aphorisms for a Cancer Patient and Family

1. Don’t let cancer define who you are.

2. Connections matter. The energy from family and friends can light the way to recovery.

3. Forget the “if onlys” in your life. They only bring regret.

4. Focus on the “next times” in your life. They bring hope.

5. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything you want to do, and that’s OK.

6. Make time in your day to laugh, talk, complain, and plan. Laughing at yourself and your fate is liberating.

7. Chemotherapy is difficult, disorienting, debilitating, frightening and an inconvenient experience. It has a “use by” date. It doesn’t last forever, thank God!

8. Don’t preach to patients. They won’t listen.

9. Don’t talk about a positive attitude. Model it.

10. Compassion and caring will make all the difference.

11. An unexpected act of kindness is often the best medicine.

12. Caregivers must be available, and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

13. Be patient with yourself and the process.

14. Be vigilant, ask questions, get answers and never give up.

15. Little things mean a lot. Do the little things joyfully.

16. Don’t poke the cage. There are days when the patient wants to be alone.

17. Give yourself time to be angry, frustrated, sad and weary, but don’t lament forever.

18. This is a time when everything in moderation takes on new meaning.

19. Losing your hair is distressing, but other side effects are much worse.

20. No matter how bad you have it, someone has it much worse. Gratitude always saves the day.

During our dark moments of disappointment, depression, fear and uncertainty, we were rescued by people who took the time to help, to encourage, to do the unexpected, and to lighten our burden.

Terry Tempest Williams spoke words that say it all: “An individual doesn’t get cancer, a family does.”

To everyone who volunteered to be a part of our family, who understood our need for privacy, who found a way to connect and help us without intruding, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are our heroes, and we will never forget you.

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Tony & Kitch Mussari

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Battling Cancer with Living Prayers

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Living Prayers, Celebrations and Mother’s Day 2011

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

The worst thing in your life may contain the seed of the best. Joe Kogel

Kitch’s Journey: Pleasant Surprises

On Thursday Kitch had her second 280 mg Taxel treatment, and we had an eye opening experience that will remain in our hearts forever.

To be perfectly honest, Kitch dreads going for chemotherapy. She fears the needles, the chemicals and the consequences of the drugs. Two days before the appointment you can see the dread in her eyes.

Nevertheless, she does not complain, and she musters all the positive energy she has to handle the situation with calm acceptance, courage and dignity.

Several friends old and new, some of our relatives like my daughter, my sister, my niece Theresa from Maryland and my cousin Kathy and her daughter  Susan from New York, help us get ready for the inevitable with encouraging  notes, calls and acts of kindness.

Friends we made in North Plainfield, New Jersey and at Fox Chase in Philadelphia are always there for us with positive words and helpful suggestions.

Two breast cancer survivors who we have never met, Pat and Kathy write thoughtful notes and our friends Janie, Jayne and Chuck from Shanksville, and Bill from Orwigsburg are there for us in meaningful ways.

Our friends Julie from California and Marilyn from Dallas and Tulsa respectfully, and Elisa from Long Island have been nothing short of inspirational in what they have done and continue to  do to lift our spirits.

Our friend Bob from Portland has shared every phase of his wife’s experience  with us so we can be prepared for every eventuality.

Ann Marie, the mother of one of our formers students, has been very kind and  very helpful in all the ways that matter.

Our Neighbor Theresa, has baked delicious German pastry for Kitch, and another  neighbor who is dealing with a life threatening illness brought her daughter  and her grandchildren to the garden on one of the few sunny days of this otherwise  damp, dark, and very wet spring.

Nothing brings hope like the innocence of a child, and these children are wonderful in the questions they ask about the garden, the fish and the frog.

Marlene from Ashley and Gerry from Delaware baked the most delicious Irish  Soda Bread we have ever eaten.

Dr. Richard Loomis, my former teacher and chemotherapy patient, is sharing  his experience and showering Kitch with prayers for recovery.

If you ask kitch to describe these people, she will tell you they are the Face of America on its best day, and we are the beneficiaries of their kindness.

Living Prayers

There is no way we can repay these people and many others whose names we have not mentioned in this newsletter, but there is a way we can follow their example, and that is what we try to do.

Yesterday while Kitch was sleeping during the last phase of her treatment, I talked with one of the cancer patients who has been friendly to us. She is an older woman who is always alone.  Her only  companion is her walker. During our conversation she began to cry. She is suffering mightily, and she is in a very difficult circumstance. She needs additional medical care for the Neuropathy that has swelled her feet and her left arm, but she is reluctant to make additional appointments because her son works at night and he sleeps most of the day.

This is not a woman of wealth or connections. She is a widow living on a social security income who is waging her second battle against breast cancer. The painful and haunting look on her face touched my heart, and I promised her I would do something to help.

During her daily telephone call I mentioned the situation to Ellen Mondlak, our lifetime friend and cancer patient. Ellen connected me with a wonderful woman we met during the production of Windsor Park Stories, Brenda Lispi. Brenda works for the bureau of the aging. The result of these conversations was positive. 

Last evening, I called our fellow traveler on the dark gravel road, and I gave her the telephone numbers of the organizations that will help her find a  solution to her problem. The pain on her face enabled us to do something I learned in grade school at St. Mary’s. “When you can’t say a prayer, live the prayer with a kind deed or a thoughtful gesture.” To be honest, I have found living prayers to be the best prayers.

To everyone who has been kind to Kitch during her walk along the dark gravel road called cancer, this prayer was for you.

Two Wonderful Events

Last Sunday, Our Face of America Journey took me Misericordia University in the morning, Wilkes University at night.

Scholarship recognition day at Misericordia is always a special event, and this year was no exception. In fact, it was extra special for me because the new director of development, Jim Bebla, is a former student of mine.  

Jim is a wonderful person and a consummate professional with a heart of gold. There is nothing more gratifying than watching a former student equal and surpass the teacher.

Congratulations Jim and best wishes for success.

Misericordia will always have a special place in my heart, and I know Kitch feels the very same way. We have only pleasant memories of the Sisters of Mercy and the members of the administration and staff. Dr. Michael MacDowell has been a very effective leader. He and the members of his faculty and staff have created innovative programs like the Women with Children Program that serve the needs of students who want to make a better life for themselves and their  children.

Jane Dessoye, Executive Director of Enrollment Management, summarized the event and the philosophy of a Misericordia education with the words of a confederate soldier Albert Pike:

"What we have done for ourselves dies with us; what we have done for others and the world, remains and is immortal.”

At the end of this visit, I took a picture that speaks to the essence of Misericordia. It reinforced something Jim said in his speech, “This scholarship brunch holds special meaning for all of us because it celebrates the wonderful caring spirit that is at the heart of the mission of the Sisters of Mercy.  And today, in this room, you can feel this joyous spirit that makes Misericordia so special.”  

Our evening at Wilkes University was a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Max Rosenn Lecture in Law and Humanities.  It was quite an evening for a very dear friend, Joe Savitz. Joe is affectionately known as the “First Law Clerk,” and everyone went out of their way to affirm and congratulate Joe on the work he has done to make the lecture series a success.

I was fortunate to capture one of the high points of the night for Joe, a reunion with Dr. Mollie Marti. Mollie has written a book about Judge Rosenn.  It is titled Walking with Justice. It will be published in January. This picture captures the moment when Mollie showed Joe a picture of the copy of the book cover. I think the facial expressions speak louder than any words I can write.

Congratulations Joe, you are a wonderful friend.

Congratulations, Mollie. I hope Walking with Justice is a huge success.

Writing Again

Speaking about books, after a two month hiatus while I devoted all of my time to Kitch’s needs, I started to write again this week. At the moment I am preparing material for our agent, and refining some of the chapters in the book about our Face of America Journey.

Writing is a very demanding master.  One must have patience, persistence, time and a quiet place to concentrate. In so many ways, it is an insecure and tedious process that involves writing and rewriting. On the days when the words just won’t come I spend time cleaning up our garden.

Like writing, gardening it is challenging, creative and humbling.

Happy Mother’s Day

Sunday will be the 103d time America celebrates Mother’s Day. Thanks to the determination of Anna Jarvis and her devotion to her mother, this holiday has become the second most successful commercial  holiday in America. That is not what Anna Jarvis intended it to be.

The first Mother’s Day was a day of prayer, and a celebration of peace and the virtues of motherhood.  It took place at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  Today this church is a central part of the International Mother’s Day Shrine in Grafton.

On Mother’s day, Kitch and I will be thinking about the many sacrifices our mothers made for us.  We will follow Anna Jarvis lead and give thanks for the blessings of our mothers.

We will remember the words of our greatest President:

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.

A mother understands what a child does not say.

I regard no man as poor who has a godly mother.

All I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel; mother. Abraham Lincoln

May your Mother’s Day and every day be blessed with peace, good will and good health.

Tony & Kitch

This article was originally distributed as our Face of America Journey Newsletter for May.  

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