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 family drama with my siblings.

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. Free from heartbreak? No. I’ve lost a lot of my family due to starting this blog. And writing my truth. But my truth it is. Maybe if they’d have kept in contact, they’d know.

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

Cathy Richardson Band: A Benefit for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre

I’ve been raising funds for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre since 2003. Before any Earth was moved to build a building, let alone any of the amazing life saving things they’re accomplishing there.

When you’ve been influenced as I have by Olivia’s music and life throughout my own, the way to say thank you is to pay back the positivity with philanthropy.

I’m not a wealthy person by any standard. I gave what I could every month just to contribute to brick and mortar. I didn’t know it would take the next decade for the building to be finished, but that didn’t really matter to me. The money wasn’t going to make them rich, and it wasn’t going to make me poor. My life’s mantra has been: I have two hands. One to help me, and one to help others.

I felt incredibly proud when the Centre was finished. I was a tiny part of a place that would heal people suffering from cancer, mind, body, and soul. It would bring them some comfort in their journeys. Whether it be long or short. The programs were meant to help. And that’s all I cared about.

Then I found out my name would be on the wall. I didn’t know how to feel knowing that. I don’t have children, and so my life’s legacy would be the people who’d see my name on the wall of the Centre. A place where researchers are working on treatments and the cures to many forms of cancer. It blew me away.

In a previous blog, I wrote about being diagnosed with cancer. But the first time I visited the Centre in 2016, I didn’t know I was already ill. As I walked the halls, I felt the energy of a healing, beautiful facility, where people were receiving the help they needed to stay alive and win over cancer. I even saw the eighth floor where patients making the life transition, were made comfortable for the time they had left. It was a quiet and serene place, where I felt the souls of those who’d gone before.

When I saw my name on the third floor donor’s wall, I cried. It was real. It was the most humbling moment of my life. Something that I knew would be remembered long after I was gone.

Then we walked outside in the beautiful garden and noticed another donor wall outside. Lo and behold, my name was pointed out to me on that wall as well. I was gobsmacked. I truly was overwhelmed to the point of almost being frozen in my step. Had I really given enough to have two plaques? I asked as if it wasn’t in front of my eyes.

Humility can knock you over in a moment like that. I wasn’t expecting it. But truly, for the first time in my life, I felt proud of myself.

That year, our walk team, The Sol Seven, raised over $44,000 for the Centre at the annual walk. The next year, we nearly equaled that amount. And in between I’ve raised thousands by auctioning and selling items graciously autographed by Olivia for the purpose of raising funds for the Centre.

2016 Team

2017 Team

This year, a year when I’ve had my own issues with cancer and a knee replacement, I decided I had to do bigger things to raise money. This concert is one of those things.

Please join me in thanking Cathy Richardson, The City Winery Chicago, Libby Brickson and her entire staff, for their generosity and support for what we’re trying to accomplish.

Cancer is a rough go no matter what kind it is, or how tough you think you are. Those of us who’ve experienced it, need the support of others. Let’s band together to celebrate Olivia’s accomplishments and keep the programs going by buying a ticket and checking out the autographed items we’ll have for sale the night of the show.

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. The Sol Seven Fundraising Team thanks you as well.

It’s been a day of joy and sorrow. The true yin and yang of life. A life that was lost too soon was remembered yesterday. Then by midday today, a baby was born that incredibly, inherited his dimples and his beautiful smile.

Julia Mary Cerney, entered a world full of division and strife. But she lay in the arms of many who love her today. Healing their pain from last year’s loss of the Uncle she’ll never meet. But she’s got those dimples of his. I hope she’s as sensitive a human being as he was.

Billy was a beautiful soul who only wanted to have a family. Live a normal life. To be honest, like the lives all his siblings are living. I thank the stars above that they are living those lives.

They don’t walk around like he didn’t matter. They’re beautiful. And honor him at every chance they get. He’s never far from anyone who knew him. In thought. In energy flow. In remembering those dimples. That smile.

How does the universe take a man so wanting in his desire to be here, and have a family, with one stroke of its mighty sword? The evil injustice of opioid addiction took Billy’s smile from our lives. But put it right back a year later, plus one day on Julia Mary Cerney’s face.

She already knows joy. In her first day of life, she truly knows what joy is. You can see it right on her face. Posing with her Mama for the first of many thousands of pictures.

No, we do not forget Billy on this day. What he did was graciously let his Niece have her own day to have as her Birthday. Unconnected to the prior day, which is indeed a complicated one. His beautiful Sister’s Birthday, and the date which he chose to take one more flight that ended in heaven.

Why do these kinds of things happen? The yin and yang of joy and sorrow. I think some would say you can’t know joy without sorrow. I say bull to that thought. Billy should be here. Celebrating with all of his family. And Julia Mary Cerney should have her Uncle here to love her. To teach her all he taught so many of us. The beauty of sensitivity. He had a heart full of it.

Let’s remember him by loving his family. His children. His fight for life.

Please support his family by donating in his name to stop the addiction that held him for too long. They will be running the Chicago Marathon in his name.

https://www.crowdrise.com/thp-your-own-race/fundraiser/cerney

William “Billy” Cerney

Thank you.

Happy Birthday Julia Mary Cerney!