Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Death of a News Crew

Like everyone else, I  reacted with horror at the deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, the journalists who were gunned down on live TV in Roanoke, VA. It is another senseless episode of gun violence that will have us questioning (again) the role of guns in our society.

But Alison and Adam's murder struck a much deeper chord with me. I, too, have been part of a news team that had to cover the murder of one of their own.

Fast Friends

In 1987, I was a reporter with the Journal Inquirer, then the third largest newspaper in Connecticut. A new reporter had just joined the staff. Her name was Kara Laczynski. Like Alison, she was 24 and at the beginning of a promising news career. Kara was bright, beautiful, and talented. We quickly became friends and then neighbors when she rented an apartment in the building next door to mine in Hartford, CT.

That October, she had planned a weekend away in Philadelphia, where she was meeting up with friends from her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. She had been looking forward to the trip for a while. My last glimpse of her was in the newsroom, when she turned to wave goodbye to me and promised to tell me of her weekend's adventures.

A Tragic Day

That Monday morning, she wasn't at her desk and hadn't called in sick, very uncharacteristic of this dedicated, hard-working professional. After being unable to reach her, her editor - knowing we were neighbors - asked me to check on her. My fear was that she was ill and needed help.

When I got to her building, I saw her car parked in the lot. I called her phone, rang her bell. No answer. I then called the property manager and relayed my concerns. She sent over a member of the maintenance crew to unlock the door.

He and I had the horror of discovering Kara's naked, lifeless body sprawled on the floor of her living room. Her hands were bound, and a belt around her neck strangled the life out of this beautiful woman. Strangers gained access to her apartment. Her death was likely the result of a sexual assault gone wrong.

The next days, months, and years passed by with a blur. An investigation resulted in arrests in Kara's murder, but the case became bogged down in a racial, cultural, and political morass. Some say Kara's murder marked a tipping point for Hartford, damaging its reputation and sending it into a tailspin. Mistrials were declared, and no one was ever convicted of murdering my friend. The justice system let her down, and it let me down.


It is difficult to gather news when you are part of the story. "I feel like this happened to my little sister," one reporter covering the case remarked. Another - a seasoned crime and court reporter - struggled with his emotions when the crime scene and autopsy photographs were entered into evidence. I interviewed Kara's father for a piece, still one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

My thoughts and prayers are with the WDBJ7 team. These next days and weeks will be dark ones. They are coping with the sudden, tragic, and very public loss of people they cared about. There are still stories to be written and broadcast about Alison and Adam. It is difficult to properly mourn when the cameras are on you. The apparent suicide of the suspected shooter will spare them a lengthy investigation and trial. But this won't be easy. They will never get over it.

The effects of a murder are long and far-reaching. Alison and Adam's coworkers will likely have sleepless nights and other emotional repercussions. They may spend years looking over their shoulders every time they are out in the street. They may relive those terrible last moments of their colleagues' lives,
made worse by the fact that the incident was on live television. The news business is a transient one, and those working for the station will likely move on to other jobs. But they will all have this one important and horrible day in common for the rest of their lives.

Finding Peace

I hope they will be like me - able to make peace with tragedy. At first I agonized over what Kara had to go through as she died. Her memory brought pain. I had trouble listening to the music of U2, her favorite band. I had a lot of what-ifs in my head.

But after nearly 30 years, her memory brings a smile to my face. I remember her beautiful broad smile, curly black hair, and sparkling brown eyes. I remember her intelligence and humor and the way she valued learning. I remember that she loved journalism because she wanted to stand up for the underdogs in life. What I remember now is the vibrancy of her life.

But even after so many years, I still have difficulty talking about this period in my life.

 To all those who are grieving this day,. I wish you peace.


Monday, August 10, 2015

A Year Has Passed

It's been one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The past year has been a thrill ride with many peaks and valleys. Although it was difficult, I'm not sorry I have gone through this experience.

I spent most of July 2014 in a whirlwind of tests. First came my routine mammogram; then a second-look mammogram; then an ultrasound, and biopsy. Finally the phone call from my doctor came. "Are you somewhere you can talk?" she asked me. That's never good.

Breast cancer is a difficult disease. It strikes us on a part of our bodies that is uniquely feminine. It is fueled by the hormones that make us women and mothers. As one friend put it, "It messes with your head." So I had much to reflect upon as this one-year anniversary approached.

Do you know someone who would like to read this post? Please use the share buttons at the bottom of each post.


I was afraid of a lot of things - dying, pain, sickness, being unable to be present in the lives of my friends and family. I faced down a lot of them and have come out the other side. After you've had cancer, it hard not to be fearful and mistrustful of your body. There are days when I worry about every little ache and pain. But I now know how resilient my body and mind are.


Where would I be without them? On my last day of work before my leave of absence, my colleagues (all of them women) gave me a surprise lunch. During lunch they gave me several gifts - a beautiful shawl, a soft pink bear, and an assortment of teas. The shawl was like having their arms around me. The bear caught a few teardrops, and the tea sustained me when eating was difficult. Because of their kindness, I was able to embark on my journey with a light heart.

"Breast cancer strikes us on a part of our bodies that is uniquely feminine. It is fueled by the hormones that make us women and mothers."

Then there are my church friends. Our family is part of an Episcopalian community. The prayers for me were palpable. The day before my surgery I attended our Sunday service. They gave me a laying-on of hands to bless me 24 hours before my surgery began. The morning of my surgery, I awoke early and checked Facebook. There Amy, one of my church friends, and her young daughter posted a picture of them wearing pink sweatshirts in my honor. Throughout the day, church members posted to my husband and me that prayers were ascending. During my recovery, home visits were made, communion offered, and meals delivered.

Another friend, who is an executive for a major hospital, stepped in when I had to change doctors and facilities. I was unable to see ahead. She solved all my problems before the end of that difficult day.


You can read about my husband's support by clicking here. We are fortunate to have a close relationship. The rest of the family rallied behind me. My two young nieces posted a picture on Facebook in pink t-shirts
to let me know they were thinking of me. My mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, and cousin went to work stocking my refrigerator and freezer with meals for the next month. My house was kept clean. All I needed to worry about was getting better.

Ultimately, I have had to arrive at a peaceful place. I can't live in fear, but I have to live in reality. One day I will die. I don't know when. I don't know if cancer will take me. Today, I am alive and healthy. I wish you all good health!

You can read more about my experience with breast cancer by clicking on the topics in the sidebar.

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to Reconnect With Your Body After Breast Surgery

We've all had these moments. You look at a photograph of yourself at a family wedding and are shocked by how much weight you've gained. You've lost weight, but still are surprised when you look in the mirror and see your thinner self. Then there were the almost-daily changes during pregnancy that had you wondering what was going on in there.

These are times when we have not truly connected our bodies and our minds. Breast surgery can bring about that same kind of disconnect.

I had a double mastectomy last fall to treat breast cancer. I've undergone months of reconstruction and still face one more surgery. I have been struggling with my body image ever since.

Do you know someone who would enjoy reading this post? Please share it. Share buttons are located at the bottom of each post. 

Those days following my surgery were difficult ones. My breasts were a part of my body that I've always been happy with. My first reaction upon seeing my chest for the first time was "This isn't me." Then I cried. A lot. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband, who hugged me and reassured me. "This is what healthy looks like." It is hard to fight the feeling that your body has betrayed you. 

In addition to emotional difficulties, I faced physical ones, too. My posture was thrown off. I couldn't reach my hands over my head (brushing my hair was an ordeal). I tried to get as much activity in each day as my battered body would allow. Lifting anything (including cats and coffee cups) was hard.

Once the healing process was begun, I began to find ways to make friends with my new body. The following are some of the things that have worked for me. I'm not a medical professional and you need to speak to your doctor during your recovery. I also have not been compensated by the makers of any of the goods and services I write about here. They are simply things I've found helpful.

Reconnect With Your Body Through Exercise

One of the best things I did for myself post-surgery was ask for physical therapy. I was sent to a therapist who specialized in mastectomy recovery, and she proved a valuable resource. She gave me information about things like lymphedema. She reassured me that I was recovering normally. She was a shoulder to cry on. She also helped me get back the use of both arms, improve my posture, and build up my strength. She stressed the importance of ongoing exercise, particularly the emotional benefits of movement.

I've been a dedicated home workout fan for many years (remember Jane Fonda's Workout?) I have a space set up in our basement where I can exercise. But following my surgery, there were many videos in my library that no longer worked for me.

I had to take a look at workouts that I could do and that felt good. I (literally) dusted off my old step and got out my old video from 1992. Stepping worked for me because I still had a strong lower body. I could modify the movements of my upper body according to what I could do each day. It's still one of the sweatiest, heart-pounding workouts out there if you load up the risers.
Some of my favorite videos, both new and old

I was also able to do a little mat pilates work and discovered Zumba for the first time. I had very strict weight lifting limitations from my doctor following both surgeries. I can't stress this enough - it's important that all your doctors know what kind of exercise you are doing. 

Reconnect With Your Body Through Nutrition

I start the day with a healthy smoothie
This has been an ongoing journey for me. I suffered some health complications even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Those led me to becoming a vegetarian. Research has shown there may be some benefits to following a plant-based diet for cancer patients. But the biggest difference for me is how I feel. Since giving up meat, I have more energy and my skin and hair look healthier. This diet may not work for everyone, but it's helped me. (Once again, your doctor's advice here is crucial).

I start nearly every day with a green smoothie. It includes leafy greens and some kind of fruit, fat, and protein. This morning's drink was kale, pineapple, banana, flax meal, and coconut oil. It fueled my workout and kept me going until lunch. I feel like this starts my day right. For other meals, I have rice, beans, lentils, and quinoa, along with lots of vegetables.If you choose this kind of diet, there are many resources on line to help you. Perhaps the most important bit if nutrition advice I can give is "Listen to your body." Pay attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. Develop a way of eating that will keep you healthy.

Some fruits and vegetables from the local fruit stand. Buy local and in-season!

Reconnect With Your Body by Showing Emotion

I get it. We all want to be the brave "pink warrior," able to cope with life and our illness. We don't want our friends and family - especially our children - to worry. But breast cancer is big, serious, scary stuff. Keeping all our emotions inside can be detrimental to our overall health and recovery. 

I felt very guilty when, during a particularly difficult day before my surgery, I began crying and couldn't stop. My son saw me like that. I worried about the effect it would have on him (he's 16). A friend reassured me. "He saw you being real," she said. He also saw that the sad and angry moment passed quickly, perhaps a good life lesson. 

I relied on friends who have recovered from breast cancer. My mom, a survivor herself, lives with us and helped reassure me during some dark times. And there is, of course, my husband. I've written about his loving support here.

Showing your emotions can be the first step in asking for help. There were things I simply couldn't do without help. I needed to really understand that. It was temporary, as I continued to build back my emotional and physical strength.

I still don't feel like I'm all the way back. My reconstructed breasts don't quite feel like "mine" yet. My plastic surgeon reassured me this is normal. He's found that patients take about 18 months to feel some kind of normal again.

Cancer was a reminder that I need to continue to be vigilant with my health. I wish you all good health!

Don't miss any posts from The Middle of the Journey. Sign up for e-mail updates in the sidebar to have all new posts delivered to your inbox.