So it’s been a little over a week since I had my first chemo treatment. And I have to say that it has gone really well, as far as the side effects. I had one major set back, but after seeing my doctor we have found a way to get ahead of the side effect before the next infusion. It’s trial and error with each patient to see what affects them. I can only hope that this remains the same for the rest of the treatments. Here’s to staying positive and concentrating on everything going well.🥂
And of course that was the attitude I took going into my first infusion. My Mom and I prepared my bag with all the things you need to take to your first chemo treatment and also your Cold Cap Therapy. So I wanted to share photos for all the women who are about to do the same thing. It always helps to have a nice laundry list.
So here are some suggestions for preparation. I brought my Ipad, and crossword puzzles for entertainment. A large refillable water bottle to to keep me hydrated and snacks to munch on. A warm blanket in case you get cold. Nice warm socks for your feet. Lip balm, hand cream, hand sanitizer, and tissues for comfort. A notebook and pen in case you want to write down anything the nurse tells you, for after treatment. Also I was told to bring candies to suck on in case you taste metallic. But I did not have that issue. Also dress comfortable and warm with a shirt that can leave room for your port entry and slippers if you need to walk around. Last but not least, I needed a neck pillow for my Cold Cap Therapy, and of course I decided to bring a pink unicorn! Because pink represents breast cancer, and a unicorn represents me, because that’s what I am. LOL😂 There’s nothing that says you can’t make this ride a little more fun and positive!
After all, ATTITUDE is everything!
For inspiration I did bring jewelry that friends and family had given me, I only wore the one ring because the extra metallic can actually irritate your skin, but I kept them in my bag. So I brought my angel ring. This ring is to remind you that you’re protected and you can spin the ring if you feel anxiety.
So before infusion, I finally got to meet with my Cold Cap Therapy administrator, Fran! I feel so lucky that Fran was chosen for my treatment.
She is a breast cancer survivor of Stage 3. She has worked in the medical profession for over 30 years! And, she also used the Cold Cap Therapy during her treatment, and was successful. She had no significant hair loss. She decided to get involved with Cold Cap Therapy to help other women and give them comfort.
Because she is a survivor and has worked in the medical field, it was very reassuring to have her there as things were being administered to my body. She was able to walk me through everything, keep me calm and also give me tips that helped her during her journey. Also I think I’ve made a new friend. My mom and I fell in love with Fran.❤️ I felt like she was an angel sent to me.😇 I really took well to the cold cap treatment, I just kept telling myself I am in Colorado skiing or I am walking through a blizzard in Brooklyn. That helped me take my mind off my very cold gel helmet.
Because we felt so comfortable around Fran we were able to have a little fun and take some silly pictures of me with my cold cap on top of my head.
There’s NO shame in my game! LOL
And of course I needed to listen to my amazing niece #_brenzy singing her song “NASTY” on all music platforms! (And YES, I just plugged my niece, because she is FIERCE!) and you need to go listen. Getting silly in the infusion room!
Emily, you were there with me!! XOXO
Your Auntie Looking HOT, LOL 🤣
Although Cold Cap Therapy is a little expensive, because its not covered by insurance, I do think it’s completely worth it. And I have been very lucky that my two girlfriends Jamie Holton Calcutt, and Michelle Walker Nault have been campaigning for me on a “Go Fund Me”page to pay for the treatment. And we are very close to our goal! 😍
I am overwhelmed and grateful for all the beautiful donations and comments that have been sent my way. I want to thank everyone for every dime they’ve sent me, it really helps take the burden off my chest, and reminds me that people DO care and are on my side during this journey. I love you all! ❤️XOXO
After Cold Cap Therapy, there are specific products you can use for your hair to help the possibility of saving your hair. They must be paraben and sulfate free. Also while doing the therapy, you cannot massage your scalp, scratch your head, stand under a pulsating shower or pull your hair tight because it stimulates the follicle. Here are some tips on how to wash her hair this brand new way.
And here are the products I am using for curly hair.
So you use the No Poo for shampoo, The moroccan oil for detangling, and the Frizz Free and Tame for styling. But do not apply near the roots, only midway on your head all the way to your ends.
So here is the routine for washing hair without touching your scalp.
First you take 1 to 2 caps of shampoo, depending on the length of your hair and mix it with 8 ounces of water in a pitcher. Also I added a whisk to mix the shampoo with the water. The pitcher with the long stem is to administer the shampoo. The other picture is to rinse. I also added a mirror in my shower to make it easier to watch what I’m doing. When filling up your pitcher only use warm water. Then you let the shampoo sit on your head for 2 to 4 minutes. I leave it on for four minutes to make sure everything gets clean. And then rinse your hair. You cannot use a blow dryer curling iron etc. only towel dry lightly.
So I’ve been told to use a specific nail polish to help your nails with discoloration during chemo. It’s called Nailtiques Formula 3. Do not use the other brand Nail Tek, its a knock off, and doesn’t work for this specific issue.
Another tip I learned was to use serum’s for your eyebrows and eyelashes to try to prevent loss. My Aunt Katrina’s sister Jodi works as a representative for Rodan and Fields, and I recommend using her Lash Boost serum for lashes and brows. Here’s my before photo, so we can compare it later after my treatment is over. There is a link if you would like to look into or buy this product. It’s great for anyone to use to make their lashes longer. https://jvitarelli.myrandf.com/
Here is my first photo after doing my first new hair routine. Not bad huh?
If you’re feeling well enough, don’t forget to have a little fun and meet up with friends for laughter, food, and whatever makes you happy. I was able to get out and have dinner with Steven, Will and my mom, and It felt amazing to be social and enjoy my friends, and what amazing food they served.
Also a girlfriend of mine, Ann, was passing through town and we decided to get together for lunch and hang out last minute. She is my photography manager from Look Better Online. So we have known each other through phone calls and text for over three years, and she was coming through town,so she wanted to stop and finally meet me in person. It was like meeting an old girlfriend that I’ve known for years. What a beautiful surprise.
Life is what you make of it, and while all of this is happening, you have to remember to stay true to yourself, and don’t let it WIN!!
FIGHT THROUGH POSITIVITY,LOVE AND FAITH!
Thanks for reading, and remember to follow me for more updates during my BC journey!
In October 2019 my Life was going along like normal. I had been to my Doctor for my yearly exam. She told me I needed to get a mammogram. I was always the kind of person who got a mammogram every single year because I had a cancer scare back when I was 37. I had a mammogram in 2016, and they told me everything’s fine, you don’t need to come back for two years. Although I didn’t really like that idea of waiting two years, I figured they knew what they were doing, so I did what they suggested. The unfortunate thing is I don’t remember getting a reminder in the mail to get my mammogram. So without realizing it, I had waited three years! You know how life is going so fast you just forget things in between? SO Ladies, a little bit of advice, Beware! Never listen to anyone when they tell you to wait two years! That is for the health insurance companies benefit, so they don’t have to pay for your visit. Always insist, it is your choice to go every single year, they cannot deny you that right. Never wait, always get checked, it can save your life!
As per usual after my mammo they asked for an ultrasound, which happens to me every time I go to get checked, because I have very dense breast. For the first time ever my radiologist who did my sonogram said “I see a couple places that I can’t be 100% about, so we need to do a biopsy.” Of course my heart stopped, but I thought this might be routine. A couple weeks later, I went in for my biopsy. The radiologist that did my procedure was wonderful and very precise, I knew at one point that something might be wrong because he took extra slides of the lump they found. So I asked “when do you think you’ll get the results?” It was a Monday, and he said “Possibly on Friday maybe even Monday, I don’t like to rush the lab people.” On WEDNESDAY, two days later, my phone rang and it was my gynecologist. I answered the phone and she said it was definitely CANCER!! No one ever wants to hear the big C word!
Of course my life flashed before my eyes and I just screamed out “What stage, What stage? My doctor said “You have to talk to your oncologist (who she recommended) to find that out. We can get you a appointment later this week.” I said “OH NO! you will get me an appointment today or tomorrow because I am not going to sit around crying in my bed wondering what stage my cancer is! If ever there was a time to call something an emergency THIS IS IT! So please get me an appointment!” Luckily because I stood up for myself, they got me an appointment the very next morning with the Oncologist. In the interim they needed me to go pick up my slides from the radiologist and deliver them to the hospital before my appointment the next day. Mind you I just found out I have cancer, I’m a crazy emotional mess, BUT I still have to go do the legwork to get everything started. So my journey began at Maimonides Breast Cancer Center!
So I do all the legwork to get my images, I show up at the hospital to drop off my CD of slides to make sure my doctor has everything she needs for my appointment the following day. So you can imagine me walking in, no make up, baseball hat on my head, emotional mess, trying to stay calm. I walk in there’s a kiosk where you have to put in your name, your birth date and your appointment time. Of course I didn’t have an appointment so I look around in total dismay and the tears started. Then this adorable 4 foot 11 woman, be- lines across the room to me. She says “What’s Wrong?” And of course I’m telling her as I’m crying, so you can’t even understand what I’m saying. So she says “Come with me”, she takes me behind a door, looks me in the eye, and says, “First of all, YOU need this! And she hugged me tight and let me cry. That was the moment I realized I was in the right place. God had sent me this beautiful angel named Iris.
Of course once I found out about my cancer I first called my mom, all my relatives, and my closest friends. I was really scared to go and get my results the next day and my very close friend Steven said “you need someone to go with you tomorrow!” and I said “I don’t have anyone, who could I ask?” He’s like “ME Silly!” Steven has a way of making everything seem like it’s going to be OK in the thick of total madness. That’s what I love about him most. He said “We’re going to make it fun, we’re going to go find out your results, and then I’m gonna take you out for breast cancer cupcakes!” And of course that made me laugh out loud! Low and behold he did show up, and took me to my appointment. My doctor said it was in the early stages which was a relief. So we did go and have lunch, they didn’t have cupcakes but he did surprise me with two beignets instead! That day, I knew I had a gig coming up at “The Bitter End” singing with my dear friend Adam DeLisi! I wasn’t gonna let this cancer stop me! And on Steven and I’s walk back to my apartment we dropped into my favorite consignment store. I found these amazing shoes for my gig, and they fit me perfectly. It was meant to be. We called these my KICK CANCERS ASS SHOES!
Steven, I love you! Thanks for making that day bearable.
*It’s amazing how God can place people in the right place and time during your life. While this was happening one of my best friends Christina,(who lives in Miami) just happened to be in town on business the week of my biopsy and my results. We had made plans to meet on that Thursday, (the day I got my results) before we knew I had cancer. But I decided no way am I going to sit at home and miss out being with my friend. So we met in Hoboken New Jersey and had dinner, and getting a hug, and spending time with her was exactly what I needed to feel strong, and know I can beat this thing! Girl power!
Being a creative person, my entire life, whenever life gives me lemons,
I turn it into a “BIG ASS” pitcher of lemonade. LOL 🍋 That’s just how my creative mind gets me through the rough patches in life!
So I focused on learning the music for my amazing gig with Adam DeLisi and friends. The guys were so supportive, and it was such an amazing night! Many of my beautiful friends showed up! SO, I want to take this time to thank each and everyone of you for coming out that night, and also my friends and family who tuned in to FB live! It meant the world to me! Not everybody knew what was going on either.
And like I mentioned before, I believe that God puts people in your path in specific moments and times for a reason. That night was another example! Before going on stage, I saw a man at the bar wave at me, and I could not figure out who it was from a distance. Once I walked on stage the mysterious man walked forward past the lights so I could see his face, and it was one of my very first boyfriends from my teenage years, Tom. We met at music camp when we were in high school. We’ve been in touch over the years, and in recent years, thanks to Facebook. Its been nice to watch his life unfold with his lovely wife Dawn and two sons over the years. We always chatted online about him coming to one of my gigs at some point, but you know how life always gets in the way etc. That night he just happened to see my last blast on Facebook Live saying that I was playing at the Bitter End in a few moments, and he was only two blocks away! So he figured if not now, when? After my performance, I told him everything that was going on and he was SO supportive! It was just the right magical thing I needed to happen that night to put everything in perspective. Friends no matter how far apart or how many times you see them in your life, they always have the best intentions for you. Thanks Tom! And by the way “I DON”T Doubt You! LOL (sorry, inside joke)
When you first get diagnosed, you have to get many tests done to figure out the stage of your cancer. My first test was an MRI. They do this to determine if they see any cancer cells floating around in your body, and also to check your lymphnodes. You’re in a chamber, (lying face first) that’s super loud, and requires earplugs. Even though I was going through this test, I still was trying to be as positive as possible and even with earplugs it was super loud, but to me it sounded like Rave music at the club. LOL! So of course I was singing along in my head.🤩 One thing I can tell you ladies, it’s not a great time to do a selfie after an MRI! 🤣
So after my MRI, it was right around Thanksgiving, so I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Orlando Florida, to share the holiday with my sister, mother, brother-in-law, my nephew Ian, my brother-in-law’s sister Barbara and her husband Craig. I also got to spend time with my amazing friends Christina, Jamie, Tim, Vicki, Richard, Alan, and Scott.
Alan Darcy has been one of my friends for over 27 years, he is a very talented professional musician who lives in Florida and gigs all over the place. I am the Grace to his Will! He was having a show at The Villages in Florida. I let my Florida friends know I would be in town and would perform a few songs with Alan, and also how they needed to see Alan, so they can go to his future gigs! (because he is awesome!)
My mom, sister, and brother-in-law Tom came to the show with me. My girlfriend Jamey and her boyfriend Tim drove out from Tampa to see me and hang out with their friends who lived there, and my friends Richard and Vicki, who I know from New York, just recently moved to Florida, and drove three hours and stayed overnight in the area just to say hello to me. Amazing! Shout out to Jamie, Tim,Vicki and Richard! So touched by you guys showing up and supporting me through this crazy time. Not to mention it was a blast! I love all of you so much! It was such a nice bonding moment for my family as well. We all danced together, laughed and had an amazing time! Alan thank you so much for everything and making this possible! You are the most amazing entertainer and musician, not to mention an amazing friend! I love you with all my heart.❤️
The next night Alan had another gig at one of my favorite places in Dade city called Kokopelli’s. I performed with Alan a couple years prior at Kokapelli’s and fell in love with the owners. They Rock! Also, my beautiful friend Christina, drove all the way from Miami to meet me in Orlando, so we could go to this gig together in Dade City and spend time with Alan and Scott. Alan was able to arrange us both to come to this private fundraiser gig with the owners as long as I sang for my supper. 😂 It was a wonderful night! I sang my usual Bobby McGee that night, but this time I was feeling it more than usual. I was thinking about my situation and feeling great being with MY people, so I was really channeling the energy, because I decided I was ready to go to war! Time to kick some cancer BUTT!!!!
It was wonderful to share Thanksgiving with my family and I got to spend a little more time with my nephew Ian and my Sister Kelly, who took me for a walk with the puppies in the beautiful park near their house called Lake Eola, before heading back to New York. Thanks for everything guys! What am amazing place!
Love all of you so much!!!❤️
As soon as I got back, I was invited to a fundraiser for Steven and Will’s church. Steven’s husband, Will is the pastor at Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish. Their church does an amazing job of feeding the homeless every day from the church kitchen and pantry. So they were raising money for the parish to feed the homeless in the area. The event was held at a cute piano jazz bar in the neighborhood called Rue B’s. That event was called “Cocktails and Carols”. It was a lovely night to spend with friends, and a good time was had by all.
The next day, I had another follow-up with my doctor to decide my path of treatment. So my doctor informed that I was Stage One! I was SO relieved and thankful to hear that news! But then she said that I have a very aggressive cancer that is growing fast, so I would still have to have surgery (a lumpectomy) to remove the cancer, and I would still have to get chemotherapy and radiation afterwards. Also during surgery they would also add a port under my skin for the upcoming chemo, and perform a biopsy on my lymphnodes, all in one shot.
Of course I was severely confused because it was stage one, Right?
But, the doctor explained that all women have three genes or receptors in their bodies that can feed the cancer if they are negative. The three genes are Estrogen, Progesterone, and the HER2 protein.
If only one of the receptors is negative, they can usually treat you with a pill or a blocker. But unfortunately, I am a TRIPLE negative, which means all three of my receptors are trying to feed the cancer. (Little brats) Since all three receptors are rapidly trying to make the cancer grow I must have chemotherapy. And since it is stage one, once I complete my treatment the chance of it coming back is much less. This is a proactive approach to kill the cancer and tell it to never come back! Of course in my mind I keep thinking “Don’t let the door kick you in the Arse!!!”
After seeing my medical oncologist, she has explained to me that sometimes the MRI will show the growth larger than it actually is, So once they get into surgery they can determine whether it is .5mm in size or 1.1mm in size, which is what the MRI is showing now. If by chance the cancer is smaller .5mm I will have less aggressive chemotherapy, (4 rounds every 3 weeks) instead of 8 rounds every 2 weeks. And less side effects.
So my doctor and I decided I would get my lumpectomy on December 20th. Of course the first person I called was my mother, and of course she was going to be here for the surgery and for the holiday. I am the luckiest person in the world. My mother is my rock and the sweetest most gentle person in the world. I thank God for her every day! But usually, whenever Mom comes to visit we always have a good time, and we decided why should this time be any different? My mom was flying in on the 19th and we decided to buy two tickets to see Tina Turner the musical on Broadway the night before my surgery! She was one of my musical idols as a kid, so we figured this would be a very encouraging show to watch! A strong woman’s survival story, before I continued mine. And what an amazing show! Please go see it if you get a chance!
So the next morning it was the day of surgery. We got up early went to the hospital, went through all the prep work prior to surgery. My mom was by my side the entire time. She waited for me to come out of surgery, but for me, it seemed like it almost never happened when I woke up. Everything had gone well and they sent us home. We got home around 2:00 PM. I was feeling amazing, but then two hours later all the sudden under my armpit seemed to be growing. I had developed a Hematoma, which is a very large pocket of blood that is considered a bruise and can take forever to heal. So I called my doctor, and her team said they would meet me in the emergency room. Of course we thought since they knew we were coming we wouldn’t be there very long, but boy were we wrong. A Friday night in the emergency room. I am sure you can do the math. 😜
So my mother and I did not get home until about 1 AM. Not fun to say the least, but we were troopers and made it through.
Being the energetic person that I usually am, and thinking I am super woman, I had planned to go to Christmas Eve service at Steven and Wills church with mom. We also planned to go to our annual Christmas day dinner with them at their house the following day. The service was beautiful on Christmas Eve, but for the first time in my life, my body was being defiant. When we were up singing it was telling me to sit down and relax. I’ve never had my body tell me NO before, so this came as a surprise to me. A lesson learned. I guess we all have our limitations, and need to listen to our inner being. So afterwards we headed home, but it was so lovely to see Steven and Will and spend some time with both their parents. Needless to say the next day when I woke up on Christmas, I decided that mom and I should just stay in and have a very low-key relaxing Christmas. I tried to do things too soon after surgery, so I had to cancel our plans with Steven and Will and their family. But of course they were awesome about it, Steven said to me “You do not have to make any excuses or apologize, you need to rest and if I had a car I would bring you dinner tonight.” I told him, I believed him, that’s the kind of guy he is. Thanks Steven and Will!❤️
So mom and I did our traditional Christmas. We made our country breakfast, put up the yule log on the TV that plays Christmas music, opened presents from our amazing family and friends all over, and later watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
And like a good New Yorker we ordered Chinese for dinner. It was a lovely day. I received the most thoughtful gifts from friends and family. My sister Kelly and Michelle came up with some really clever gifts that made me laugh, which you will see below. I appreciate everything, and all the thought that was put into every single gift. I am the luckiest girl in the world, I have the most amazing family and friends on the planet. No exaggerating!
As most of you know, I have been singing in Times Square at my restaurant Tony DiNapoli’s for the past 14 years on New Years Eve. For the first time ever I could not be there in Times Square to Ring in the new year, watch the ball drop with my work buddies, because I was still recovering from surgery. But luckily my friends are amazing, and Kathy France and the rest of the gang from work decided to FaceTime me while the ball dropped, so I wouldn’t miss it. I have to say that my managers at work have been amazing! They have been nothing but helpful, accommodating, empathetic and loving! Thanks guys for being awesome! I love you all! Happy New Year 2020!!!
Sometimes you wonder why things happen to you in life. And since I have chosen to go on this journey with the most positive attitude, believing in Gods love, and living life to the fullest, even when I am experiencing the most vulnerable time in my life. I have to say that the thing that I have learned so far, is that despite how you feel in your life sometimes, like when you’re feeling down or low or depressed, life and God have a way of telling you that you are blessed. As soon as my friends and family found out about my news, I have never seen so much love, compassion and support in my life. I received so many gifts (tangible and non-tangible) in the mail prior to the holidays that were just beautiful and overwhelming in the best way possible. I received a beautiful letter from my friend Gary, my Aunt Trina and Uncle David sent me an amazing care package to arm me with the tools I needed to start my fight. One of my coworkers Trisha, gave me a bracelet that wards off evil spirits, and she and another one of my coworkers Danielle are wearing them as well, to signify my journey. People sent cards, texts, phone calls etc. Old friends I haven’t spoken to in a long time I’ve gotten back in touch with me, and keep checking on me constantly. Strangers doing random acts of kindness for me at the hospital. My heart is FULL! You all know who you are, and I LOVE YOU all so much, there’s no other words I can use to describe how I feel. But thank you and I hope you’ll keep checking in, and I will try to keep posting on this blog so I can share my journey with everyone. I am hoping that this blog will help someone else who has just begun their journey! I want them to know that they are not alone. I am fortunate to be surrounded by love, but I also know there are people that have no one, that are going through the same thing as me, so I am grateful.
My recent update about my diagnosis is that the lump they found was actually smaller than anticipated and now I am going to undergo less invasive chemotherapy and radiation. It is the best outcome for my situation that I could have hoped for! Although I know it will not be easy, I am going to fight for my life and also my hair! I am opting to do the Cold Cap Therapy. It is a therapy that is recently been FDA approved, but is not covered by insurance. A high percentage of women who receive less invasive chemo and do Cold Cap Therapy end up keeping their hair. It is not cheap, but most of you know that my hair is a big part of my identity. So I think it’s worth fighting for! My two beautiful friends Jamie Calcutt and Michelle Walker Nault set up a go fund me page on my behalf. I am the luckiest lady in the whole world! I am floored by their efforts to help me during my fight!!
Thanks everybody for reading this blog, the first edition is very long because I needed to wait until I knew what my final diagnosis before I posted, and also so all questions would be answered, and I felt confidant enough to share. 😍
I contacted my new friend Paul, from my first volunteer experience in Staten Island, to see if he would like to come along and of course he said YES. For this venture, they asked if people could bring their cars to help get the volunteers to the site, and Paul was gracious enough to bring his car. Thanks again Paul!! We were told to meet at this lovely church in Bay Ridge Brooklyn called“The Good Shepard”, and boy were they ever “GOOD SHEPARDS.” I was really impressed by the amount of supplies and clean up gear stored in their basement that had been donated to distribute to Occupy Sandy and the volunteers.
The organizers of Occupy, made a list of all the volunteers and helped get everyone paired up with other volunteers to ride together to Far Rockaway.Paul and I were lucky enough to have been paired up with three lovely women, Sai, Kristine, and Aarty, who I now adore and hope to stay in touch with.
It was a beautiful day and luckily not to chilly for our upcoming work conditions.
It was a very scenic drive to the Rockaways, you almost wouldn’t believe we were heading to a place so devastated by the hurricane.
As we drove into the neighborhood, you could see that the power companies were in full effect trying to restore the lines for the locals.
When we finally arrived we were told to meet at their sister church in Far Rockaway called “The Pilgrim Church of Averne.” The pilgrim church was used for a staging area to organize, pick up supplies, and give out assignments to the volunteers. There were so many donations of cleaning supplies it was quite amazing. They even had a family that had been making and donating hundreds of lunches every day for the past couple of weeks for the volunteers, to have on hand, out in the field. It was so generous of them, and I applaud their efforts.They were even sensitive to vegetarian needs!! Thanks for keeping us energized!
The five of us, and another car of five, were assigned to a house in Far Rockaway that needed to be emptied and gutted.
We arrived at HOWARD’S HOUSE ready to work but we were greeted by his tenant Shatisha (who did not want her picture taken), but was willing to give her name and story.
When we opened the door you could smell the mold that had already accumulated through out the house. Shatisha,told us she was a mother of four who lives on the ground floor with her youngest son. She said the kids were staying with family and she had lost everything she owned. She said “I packed up 3 outfits for both of us, and my sons favorite game, thinking we would be back in a couple of days, back to normal. But now everything is gone, except for my sons bike, so please don’t throw that out.”
Shatisha was a very strong woman, but you could see she was just devastated, and trying not to cry, or to be overwhelmed by all of us going through everything that was left of her life. I can’t imagine what that would feel like, CAN YOU? Trying to process the fact that people are there at your home trying to help you, but they are going to throw everything you love in the trash. Kind of surreal, don’t you think? God Bless her!
She had started cleaning but wanted us to wait for the owner Howard to get instructions on what to do to get started with the demo and gutting of the house.
As we waited for Howard to arrive we decided to start cleaning the area in the front yard. We swept and gathered trash, debris and some mementos that got lost along the way.
Kristine found this very sweet note from a child to her father. If only we could find them and give them the photos. It would be a nice memory to see this letter again. If any one reads this, and may know who they are, please contact me on my Facebook page “Robins Relief Effort”.https://www.facebook.com/RobinsReliefEffort?ref=hl
This is Howard, he told me that he wanted to get this property back in order, so his tenant would have a place to live. He also told us that his upstairs tenants snuck out in the middle of the night leaving him high and dry. So this was an effort to get both of their lives going again, and we were ready to make that happen.
Sai and Kristine were in the back bedroom ripping out the carpet, so I decided to walk around the backyard so I could help them. This is the view of Howard and the neighbor’s backyard and all the items that had been destroyed in the wake of the storm.
The girls had already made a huge dent with ripping up the carpet when I showed up. Sai is the strongest and fastest approx.
5 foot woman I have ever seen! She was running circles around all of us!
Sai also had an awesome sense of humor, she says:
“Hey take a picture of me after I am done, and almost dead, from working so hard! She was amazing!!
This was a closet door we pulled from the bedroom, by the look of the sky you would think this was just another beautiful day in the Rockaways. So ironic.
After we were done with the carpet I made my way around to the front of the house again only to meet this nice man from FEMA. In fact they had 3 reps in one day come by to take information. He explained that they are trying their best to get to everyone, but people need to realize it is going to take a lot longer then expected to get information from everyone affected.
These are the Meade contractors helping with appraisals, they were nice enough to offer us a few water bottles from their truck.
So I went back inside to help the other volunteers with the gutting of the house. Time to take down the drywall!
Paul was great at using his feet to help with the expediting of the drywall! Go Paul!!
After a few hours of continuous cleaning and gutting the drywall, Kristine and I took a break, and went on a quest to find the ladies room. You have to remember everything is without power. We walked a couple of blocks when we came across a “Dunkin Donuts” that was closed and had some serious damage.
We took picture through the window, NO coffee or doughnuts today!
Behind Dunkin, was the presence of The Military. They had set up nice bathrooms in a trailer that had sinks and running water for the residents. They also were providing cases of water and boxed food, and any assistance they were able to give to the hurricane victims in the area.
These two nice soldiers, Raphael and Tom came over to see if we needed help. We told them about our project and volunteers and they insisted on bringing over a couple of cases of water for all of us and the neighbors. There is always a sense of safety when soldiers are around. I was proud to see them lending a helping hand.
Here are a couple of the photos from the walk back to Howard’s House.
When we got back we went back to drywall demo inside the house.
Sai was taking care of business breaking down the drywall to be bagged for trash.
We definitely had made some progress!
After about 6 hours, the help of ten volunteers and Howard, were able to completely gut the entire first floor of Howard’s house, so now he can start rebuilding! A step in the right direction for Howard and Shatisha to have a new beginning.
But, It was time to pack up the tools and go.
But first we wanted to take a group photo to commemorate this proud moment of a job well done!
Its amazing what ten hearts can accomplish when they come together for GOOD!
So many of us talk about being positive, equality, love thy neighbor etc. But if we can’t reach out and help one another when we are in need, then whats the point?
I think Sais backpack says it all……LOVE ALL, SERVE ALL! I hope you will too!
To find out how to volunteer for the Hurricane relief just click on my Links to Volunteer Page.:http://wp.me/p2TjsH-2F
As I was stuck in my apartment during Hurricane Sandy, like everyone else here in New York and New Jersey, I watched the coverage on NY1 news. Being alone, I was a little scared of what would happen, but luckily here in Park Slope, I only had a flicker of lights, wind and rain. So I was thinking, wow this might not be that bad. But in the morning when I woke up, I looked up at the TV to see nothing but destruction and people’s lives destroyed.
At first, I felt bad like everyone else, calling friends etc. to see how they were, and feeling lucky that we fared the storm without a scratch. Then a few days later, after it was over, a lady from Staten Island was allowed to tell her story and vent on camera.
When I heard her beg and plead for the people of New York to PLEASE HELP, and WHERE ARE THEY? Its been four days with NO electric, NO heat, NO food, NO water. WHERE IS EVERYONE? It struck a nerve in me, and made me cry. I thought “How CAN I help? ” I like so many people here in New York, I have a limited amount of money to donate, so I wanted to find a way to donate my TIME and Volunteer wherever I was needed.
And boy, am I happy I did!!
I ran a web search and came across this great website http://www.recovers.org Within the site I found different communities to help with lists of meeting places and organizations that had work for volunteers.
I looked up the Staten Island link and decided that was the community I would like to help FIRST. My reason being, that Staten Island was one of my best friends hometown (Alan Darcy) and he now lives in Florida, so I wanted to represent him and support his family that lives there (luckily they were not harmed).
I would like to share some photos and tell some of the heroic stories that these amazing people felt comfortable enough to share with me, just because I was willing to show up and listen.
I hope when you attach their faces to their stories, it will inspire you to want to get out there and donate a little of your time to help those less fortunate than you. If the shoe was on the other foot you would be looking for a person, just like you, to show up and help.
On Monday I was able to connect with The City Council through http://www.recovers.org to sign up to go with them to Staten Island to volunteer.
The volunteers met for the first time downtown, with the city council group that arranged a “New York City Sightseeing” bus to take us to Staten Island to Volunteer. We thought that was pretty crazy and awesome at the same time.
This lovely lady that usually works on this bus as a tour guide volunteered her time to go with us and even tell us some facts along the way of our amazing city. Thanks New York City Sightseeing for donating the bus!! http://www.newyorksightseeing.com
I was so happy to meet such wonderful people with the same goal in mind, to get there and do whatever we could to ease the pain and work load for the people of Staten Island.
On our way to Staten Island we were probably all wondering what we would see and encounter, but we were all ready to work and give our time!
We made it to Staten Island! But, first we stopped at what they called the “Staging Area” where we would pick up extra supplies and find out our instructions to walk to the neighborhoods that needed the most help that day! I was really impressed with the organized effort of the NY City Council, they made it easy and a pleasant experience for all!!Once we got to the neighborhood, they told us to break up into groups of 3 and 4, and walk around to different properties, talk to the people and ask them if they would like help. We were instructed not to work on any electrical or drywall, since we were not qualified. But we should offer to help clean up instead. I ended pairing up with two nice men I met on our walk, Paul and Casey, and we first approached this house below, where we met a lovely couple from Poland. We asked if they needed help and Lydia responded by saying,” YES! Please, my husband work so hard he may have a heart attack”. They asked if we could help clean out the backyard, and of course we said YES! Lydia explained that the entire fenced in area had been completely submerged in water and most of the debris left behind was from other houses. As we dug through everything we found mementos, like a child’s jewelry box, a photo album from circa 1970’s completely dripping with water that Lydia decided to save because she said,sweetly, “I save, maybe somebody come by looking for” It almost broke my heart how lovely she was.
We even found this Super Hero doll, “Robin” (ironically), but not even this super hero could stop Hurricane Sandy!
I loved meeting Lydia, she even invited me to come swimming this summer. She said she would fix us all a big Polish dinner. I just may take her up on that! I asked her if we could take a picture together and she said “No, you so skinny like a model, I used to be skinny when I first came to the United States, but I like Pizza too much”, as she laughed. But then she said “Ok, lets take”. So we did! God Bless Lydia, out of everything she has lost, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor or her smile!
After we were finished with Lydia’s yard, we walked up the road, and around the corner to find a couple named George and Shirley. As we walked up you could hear George yell “Hey Shirley the troops have arrived”with a chuckle. He was in the drive, hosing down various pieces of equipment so they wouldn’t rust from the salt water.They had a 2 story home, with a garden of red peppers, that they made sure to pick before the storm hit. They had a car port that George had recently built that actually was still standing and a shed full of farming equipment, that had been under water, which George told me he uses on his farm in upstate Pennsylvania . They needed us to clean out the shed so he could get to the equipment, so he could help others in the neighborhood. How amazing, that during his own hardship, all he could think about was helping others. Love him!
But this isn’t the only thing you will learn about George! MEET GEORGE, HE IS AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE!!, I bet you didn’t know you were meeting a Hero!
Let me explain,
While I was working, I couldn’t help but notice this big canoe sitting in the yard. When meeting George, you know he has this great sarcastic sense of humor, so I said “Hey George I bet that canoe came in handy, huh? He was like (insert new york accent) “you have no idea, you don’t know the story. So I said “So please tell me the story!” He was like “first of all, I want you to take a look at the water line on my house.(he lives in a 2 story home and the water line was almost to the top of the house, give or take 3 or 4 feet. ) He said “I took the canoe onto the 2nd story balcony, just in case we needed it. And as you can guess, we did. (smile) So I decided to get in the canoe and see if I could help anybody after the surge,and now thinking about it, what I did, may not have been so smart, “cause here I am floating around not knowing whats under me.” He then says, “So I got my Fat Ass in that canoe, you know I am a 65-year-old guy(chuckle), I get in and as you can see most of the houses in Staten Island have that 3rd floor attic with 2 little windows, so I see this guy beating on the windows saying HELP, HElP!!, So I broke the window with the Oar and pulled him in the boat and brought him to safety. So I said “George? You know you’re a HERO don’t you?” George says” Nah, I just did what I needed to do.” And I said, “That’s why you’re a HERO George, YOU don’t even know your one!
Me and George taking a pic in front of the tip of the canoe, he yelled out to his wife, “Hey honey, this is my new girlfriend!” (chuckle, chuckle)
George and Shirley both said to me that they were “thankful for good people like us, and that this was a good thing we kids were doing and that we would be rewarded in this life.” They also said that this kind of situation shows the true colors of people. George said, “the people you think will show up don’t, and the people you least expect show up when you are in need.” Shirley,
George and I exchanged information, so we could stay in touch and they both invited me this summer, to bring my boyfriend to their farm in Pennsylvania.At this rate my summer dance card was going to fill up. 😉
From Left to right. Casey , Me(Robin), Shirley, Paul, and the Unsinkable George!
Once we left George and Shirley we wandered down the road to help a nice couple outside, Dario and Maria, they were working on getting Darios mothers backyard back to normal. There was green astro turf, tarps and broken tile embedded in the dirt, so we all dug in to get it done. The only thing that was not broken was this ceramic chicken. It’s crazy it was in one piece.
After much physical exertion, it was time for a water break. I was standing by the road when I noticed these two ladies talking next to me and apparently one of them lived next door to Dario’s mother and was complaining (which she had every right to do) about the confusion with FEMA, and whether or not she should start cleaning up or leave it so they could see the damage. She was getting conflicting advice from FEMA officials and was very frustrated. She just needed to vent, so I was happy to just be an EAR that she could bend. While listening, my new volunteer friend Paul went with her to check out the inside of her home and maybe give some advice. While they were inside I stayed to talk to Mary Anne. She just wanted to tell her story and I was ready to listen, and her story was unbelievable. Mary Anne was a 6 feet tall, lean lady with a lot of Spirit who has been living on the Island for many years. She was very upset about how the city officials did not tell the entire Island to evacuate! Shes like “there are no ZONES on State Island , we are a single island!! We should have all left! DUH!! She started her story by saying, You don’t want to see my street, its like Armageddon! (as she laughed)
Here is a photo we took together, I wanted to put a face with this amazing story!
She began by saying, “I take care of 5 outdoor feral cats at my house, so I trapped them in cat carriers and brought them inside for safety. I stuck them on the bed to secure them in one spot and they stayed.During the storm,I was inside waiting for the hurricane to hit, when I saw a news reporter set up outside, near my house, so I walked outside to check it out. When I looked up, I saw 100 people running towards me yelling here comes the surge!!!! You have never seen a wave so BIG!! It was like a Tsunami!! I ran inside and barricaded my self to prepare for impact. Now remember, I am 6 feet tall!! When the wave hit, the water started to rise through my floors, so I started to grab all my electronics, computer, phone etc., I threw them in a bag I put it around my chest, I looked over and the mattress with the cats was floating around the room and the water was past my waist. I decided to make a break for it, I blessed the cats and said I gotta GO! I opened the door and the water was up to my neck , so I let go of the bag of electronics, because they were ruined. I started to swim and when I started to get tired I swam over to a tree and wrapped all fours around it. Then I prayed to God and said, either take me now, or let me hold on to this tree til it’s over!, Right when I said that, I heard this guys voice coming from an attic window that said, “STAY THERE!!”, Then he threw me a rope and pulled me into his attic where 20 other people were also pulled to safety. We all stayed there and huddled together, keeping each other warm while we tried to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, the guy that saved me said “come here to the window, I want to show you something,” The tree that I was clinging to, had a house on top of it!!” I guess God heard her prayer after all!! Then she told me that a couple of days later, after the water had gone down, she walked back to her home to see what was left and what did she see?, But all 5 cats on the porch looking at her like “Where in the HELL have you been?” We both laughed loudly and then in that moment, my reaction was to just grab and hug her and say, “that was an amazing story and you are blessed to be standing here right now! That guy saved your life!” And she said Yes, we will be friends forever!! I want to thank Mary Anne for sharing with me, a total stranger, her beautiful story. She is one tough cookie, that I admire for her courage,stamina, unstoppable spirit!! Needless to say, we exchanged information, so we can stay in touch. I will never forget that moment.
We walked on down the road to see who else we could help out, when we came across more of our volunteer friends who were all jumping in to help this family of four who lived across the street from the shore line. They were a young couple with 2 young children, that lost everything in their basement and media room. You have never seen so many soaked through piles of papers, shoes, clothing and toys. It was so saturated that we had to use shovels to scrape up the debris and throw them into trash bags. Luckily Paul suggested to use the dolly to haul the bags to the curb, which was up a steep hill.
This is the beautiful wife and mother of two, Asiatu!! The basement is behind us, after we all cleaned it out, try to image it full and extending into another room to the right. About ten of us knocked it out in about an hour and a half.
There was a lot of LOVE to go around!
The amazing thing about Asiatu, is she actually called me a few days later, to thank me for all we did for them!! Can you imagine, during all of the chaos she is encountering she felt the need to thank the volunteers! Extraordinary kindness!! I plan to check up on her soon, to see how things are going.
Just to give you a sense of the conditions of Staten Island, here are some photos I took with my phone of all the Destruction and surreal surroundings.
Most of the children have been taken to safety, but you are reminded of there lives being turned upside down when you come across their toys and mementos.
Although there are many wonderful, giving people, there is always a dark side to disasters, like looters and thieves. The people posted many homemade signs letting us know what was happening in their neighborhoods,that has caused fear and insecurity within the area. Even going as far as threatening trespassers!
Don’t you just love the sweet little statue, holding up the sign.
The next shots gave me the chills. The loss of life is the most real and tragic story of them all. But the neighbors still found time to honor their neighbor Jimmy who died during the storm. I was humbled at the sight of this home.
God bless you Jimmy, I am sure you have a secure place in heaven. It reads RIP Jimmy, We Love you!
It’s Amazing to me, that most of the people who live here, even after all the crazy events that have descended on this community. They still find a way to fly their American flags showing their love for this country! It’s very touching.
Somehow, this rose found time to bloom, its showing us that its time for a new beginning.
I hope you will dig deep and find your American spirit, from these stories and photos, to help you decide to get out there and volunteer your time for our neighbors who desperately need our help. Its wont cost you a thing, just a little of your time, open heart, and ears to listen to the people who make this city so great! Lets show them we are here to help them during this scary time and help them rebuild their lives!!
They really are appreciative! 🙂
This was one of the best experiences I have ever had, it has changed my life, and made me realize how lucky I really am!! I will be going back soon and I will keep you in the loop. But once you have gone and have a story to tell, feel free to post it up on my Facebook Page. Robins Relief Effort!! Lets share and spread the word!
You will have muddy boots and a smile on your face!! I LOVE NY!!
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