I’m home now having lived through another surgery. Grateful to be here. I’ve survived being cut in half again. I’m beginning to feel like a Vegas magician’s assistant, without the tickets or the revenue.

Seems like my reward is to live to see another day and a few Vicodin pills to rid my body of the pain.

Not that I’m complaining. Another day is what I ask for before I close my eyes at night.

It’s Sunday night. It’s quiet in the house. Sleep is all around me. The quiet murmur of purring and snoring. In between the sound of good sleep, the thoughts of fear keep slipping into my brain.

In three days, I will undergo another operation to repair some of the damage my original cancer operation caused.

There’s no way to go into something like this without a hint of fear. It would be inhuman to think that someone is so brave that fear does. not touch them. Fear can motivate. In fact, in my case it’s causing me to remember to live in the moment. To say I love you. To show appreciation for kindness shown with no expectation.

Everyone is going through something. I’ve heard some awfully sad things this week from my friends and those are the times when you feel helpless. You can’t change someone else’s pain. You can only offer your wishes of a better time and give them love.

My first instinct is to always ask what I can do. Truth is, in some cases there’s just nothing you can do. But I know that at least the offer is on the table, with the hope that they know I’m here to listen if need be. I call. Leave a loving message and hope they feel my love.

We never know what someone else is going through on any given day. And we’ve become a society that doesn’t ask. We text, we FB message, we email, and we disconnect from the reality of relationships.

I love nothing more than a great chat on the phone. It reminds me of late nights as a teen talking away about life with my friends. Making a real connection. Hearing the tone of another person’s voice is so important. Today we don’t hear tone anymore. Because we don’t use our phones to talk. We use them to avoid the deeper connection we should be having.

So, if you’re a good friend of mine and want to know how my operation goes, pick up the phone.

And listen to my voice.

When I think of you, I think of a woman who for decades, I wanted to be. And wanted nothing more than to fill your shoes. To be THAT talented, beautiful AND smart, was all I dreamed of. Your beautiful soul just added to the package. Would I ever measure up?

Then we come to the full bodied, silky toned voice. Yeah, I put that voice in as many spots as I could. Sometimes I put you last at an audition, so I could catch up on your most recent activities. You’re busy. Kids, working, love, I get it. But I’d at least have those few minutes to drink in your thing.

It’s important to tell people how you feel. I’ve been up all night and this morning you happen to be my target. You’re as incredible as they come. You have the magical phenomenon of not seeing your own gift.

But knowing enough to have fought for it to be your livelihood and your joy. Your award winning and validated gift.

You’ve directed theatre works as well. Faced the fear of telling your fellow actors what to do and how to do it. It’s got to be like looking in a mirror and criticizing yourself to get the best out of you.

I’m trying to think of three words to end this post with. You are : unbreakable, sensitive, and more than anything else self-aware. Oh, you tend to keep that to herself. But you, Lia know yourself. And I’m so lucky to say I not only know you, but that I love who you are, too.

You’re the gold that flows in every fleck of your twinkling eyes.

You are a special person. Filled with beauty and flaws. Flaws are perfection in their imperfection. So let imperfection help you understand the moments you live.

Because you’re meant to live baby. Yes. Live.

Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

There’s a beautiful thing that happens after major surgery. You don’t remember very much. That’s why it’s good to have someone to take notes to repeat back to you, so you know what happened. Remind them to repeat it several times over the span of, let’s say maybe a year at the very least. Because you, as the patient, aren’t meant to recall.

Keeping that fact in mind, I didn’t remember that when I originally had cancer in 2017, that a piece of my rib was removed to gain access to the tumor. I was also recently reminded, that I was in a very weird position on the operating table. Also to be able to gain access.

In my mind, I feel like I was Dolly Parton having a rib removed while doing a ballet move under anesthesia. Too much to fathom for this uncoordinated advertising producer. I can be creative in my mind. But on the operating table while asleep? Not so much. I should’ve been awarded a gold medal for table gymnastics.

But I digress. So, back to the rib removal. It is the possible cause of a hernia to develop a few months after surgery. It didn’t bother me too much. But I kept having constant pain especially after this Summer’s car accident. I wonder if that indeed had any affect on my insides as I was tossed around. Even though I was belted in, it’s still a crash and you’re tossed around.

For the next six months, the pain has grown to the point of being uncontrollable. Add in a knee replacement surgery, which was definitely caused by the car accident, and you have quite a pain party. What number is it? Well, let’s say it’s an eleven.

After meeting with my surgeon, and awaiting during his thirty minute radiology consult, he walked back in the exam room to explain how surgery would be my only chance at pain relief for the hernia. Seems counterintuitive to cut someone open to get pain relief, but since I know way too much about medicine, I had to agree.

I’m not saying I didn’t immediately start crying at the thought of being at risk once again, because I definitely cried. But I knew I had no choice. I have to try and come back to life. A full life. A quality life. I may not be able to work a desk job for quite some time, if ever. But I have to try to regain some of the quality I’ve lost. There’s no life in watching daytime television everyday.

So, it’s one more time on the table for me. Check, please!

When I had cancer surgery thirteen months ago, no one told me what to anticipate afterwards. I was scared beyond belief. It’s been quite a fight to keep that feeling at bay.

So when I found out I didn’t need chemotherapy, I felt ecstatic. It meant everything you’d think that means. I’d get to keep my hair, not barf my guts up, and I’d not have to be strapped to an IV poll for treatments.

I wake up every morning with this pain filled body, with a dark, little creature filled with fear sitting on my shoulder everyday. It’s there until I proverbially knock it off, and wonder what I’ll do with my day.

Who could known that this past year would also include; operations, endless scans, blood tests, a car accident, a knee replacement, doctor visits, and lots of other types drama.

So on this day, who’ll call? Probably no one. Who’ll visit? For sure, no one. I feel so alone sometimes in this journey, that there’s not enough light in this world to bring me back from the dark. Then I remember I’m alive. It’s a pretty profound reason to get pulled into the light.

I’m not really working at all now. I’ve taken a couple of gigs, just to help out here and there. Work I can do from home. I’m pretty much free all day. Free. Now there’s a word. Free from fear? No. Free from worry? No.

The one thing I’ve learned from being sick, is who is left around to be in the picture of the remnants of who I am, is who will be there no matter what.

The things is, I’m who I always was. I’m just that person who’s free of toxic people and relationships now. I’m finally free to be that, I give zero f***ks kind of person I’ve always been, but had to hold at bay. Because I’m a people pleaser to add to the stupidity of it all. I no longer have time for that kind of BS.

I’ve beaten the grim reaper enough times, to understand that you best get to the business of living in the now. That’s all we’ve got and all we’ve ever have. So I flick that dark motherfucker off my shoulder and get back to being free.

I have a war to win against cancer. I want to see a cure in my lifetime. I raise money for treatments and wellness programs. I want my life to mean something. I want YOUR life to mean something.

Do you understand it yet? Now. It’s all you’ve got. We’re not promised tomorrow or the next hour or the next minute. We’ve got now. Let me ask you, are you free?

It’s Sunday night and I’m listening to Sara Bareilles sing the part of Mary Magdalene with sweet perfection.

We come to the song we’ve all waited for. Wait for it. Wait for it. No wait. That’s another musical. Oh honey, she starts singing and all I can hear is, (“I never thought it’d come to this. What’s it all about?”), the beautiful voice of my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Neal, singing every word as she did so often in our class.

Mrs. Neal had an incredible voice and a love of the play’s soundtrack. She taught this Jewish girl to learn to love a song about Jesus.

Sara Bareilles Singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” live

You see, it didn’t matter that she was the first black teacher at our school, and it didn’t matter that she was amazingly young. It just mattered that she was putting music in my soul. Feeding it, like my Mama did at home. I thrived in her classroom and I thrived at home.

Two women, who maybe met once or twice would have an incredible influence on the structure of my love of music.

I’ve thought so often of Mrs. Neal throughout the last forty six years. What and where was she? Before the days of computers and social media there wasn’t a way to look. When social media became available, I didn’t think of her as often and maybe tried once in a while to no avail. I never knew her first name.

I knew her husband’s name. Oh man, did she talk about him in class. We knew she loved him a lot.

So, back to tonight. Easter Sunday, watching, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and hearing that song. Feeling the way I felt in fifth grade. Free and uninhibited. Free to sing, and sing loudly. That’s how Mrs. Neal taught us to be. How my Mother taught me to be.

So, after Sara was done singing, there was an overwhelming ovation. As well as a filling up of my heart. I had to look for Mrs. Neal again.

This time I saw Carey Neal’s name on FB. Aha! I knew it! I’d found the beloved husband! Let me look though his friends to see if I could find her name. I couldn’t. I did find a younger Mr. Neal. Maybe it was his Mom. I wrote him this message:

Hi I’m trying to find an old teacher of mine, who I think may have been your Mom. Did she teach at Green school in the 70’s? What’s her first name? I know it sounds crazy but I’m watching Jesus Christ Superstar live and she used to play us that soundtrack and sing with it constantly.

OMG, he wrote me back almost as fast as I’d written. Some small talk went on back and forth. In it, he’d used the words: She was. I asked, not breathing, yet knowing the answer, ‘You said was. Is she not alive?’ ‘No’, he answered. ‘She died too young. About twenty five years ago from breast cancer.’

I went on to tell him what she meant to me, and that I could hear her in my head when the song was being sung tonight. He said they were watching too.

I wondered to myself, jealously, how many times had she sung that to him?

It hurt to hear of her fate, and that the gift of a long life was not to be for Mrs. Neal. But she passed on her love of music, and on this night, her Son knows someone out there heard his Mom’s voice clearly in her head, and she was alive once again for a few minutes.

On this night Jesus Christ rose in the ears of a Jewish woman during Passover, and in the hearts of two strangers, to remember a woman who gave us both the gift of song.

Bless you Mrs. Neal RIP

Tomorrow will mark eight long years since my Mother left this plane of living and moved to a higher level of being. Some would call it heaven. I like to call it a far away vacation.

This incredible woman named Francine Lee Falkow, was born April 16, 1938 on the island known as Bronx, NYC, to a Russian immigrant Father and a second generation, American born Mother.

An only child, due to the problems with Rh negative blood factor pregnancies, (there was a lost child before and after her birth), Francine grew up in a household that was idyllic. Two parents who adored each other and her. It made for a trio of perfection.

Treated like the true princess she was, my Mother never missed a beat to bat her gorgeous green eyes at the boys, until the day she died. This was a woman who enjoyed being a girl. Doing girl things. In the days when she grew up, it was quite ok to be as frilly and girly as you wanted to be. After all, you had to catch a good husband.

She was smart in addition to her looks though, and just collecting a husband wouldn’t do. She studied at Drake University, rooming with a friend who apparently wasn’t that nice. Good wing woman material to find a husband. 😂

The phone rang on the 11th of May in 1956, with the news of her Father’s passing. And after that, she came home to continue her education and to keep her lonely and broken hearted, forty six year old Mother company.

She met my Father not long after that. Funny, I never asked her or him where they met. How do you never ask your parents that question? But I digress. They met somewhere obviously, and married in August of 1957.

She was a beautiful bride.

Eight years later they divorced.

I used to spend mornings watching her out on her makeup. Everything so expertly applies. This was a real woman. In the Elizabeth Taylor sense of the word. Baudy, strong, independent, and everything you’d expect of a woman with brains and beauty.

I was so jealous of her gorgeous green eyes. They were like two shimmering emeralds staring at you. I can only imagine the men those eyes won over.

All I really know is she loved me and was proud of me. She called me every morning at 9:30am to make sure I made it to work ok. Those calls occasionally annoyed me at their regularity. We spoke 5-10 times a day, depending on the day. Sometimes it was just to tell a joke or call to hang up on each other. We were two comedians in a pod.

8 years. 8 seconds. It doesn’t matter. Missing you cannot be measured by time. It is infinite and always will be.

What I wouldn’t give for one more, slightly annoying 9:30am call.

Francine Lee Falkow

April 16, 1938 to March 31, 2010