No Nonsense, No Excuses

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Every bone in my left foot, knee and spine hurt as I made my way home. I was tired and still rattled by the news that my longtime co-worker/friend abruptly stepped down from the anchor desk.

I’d arrived at work in time for our morning show producer, Tyler, to tell me that Lori was still inside. I’d missed her goodbye speech and cake but I was determined to say farewell to her in person. Lori was standing, talking to other people when I arrived in the newsroom. I waited to tell her that I wished best and that I knew she would continue to honor her father’s legacy.

Lori turned to me and said, “I’ve told you before. You are one of the strongest people I know.”

I forgot back tears as I embraced her. I tried not to think about what her loss meant to me for the rest of the day. But, suppressing my feelings left me mentally exhausted by 6:15. I couldn’t wait to get home. My body made getting there difficult.

I dragged myself the final block to my townhouse. Then, I decided to stop at the mailbox. There was package wedged in it with a name on it that was unknown to me. It was clear the package was for me because my entire first name was written on it, not just Nika.

16 stairs later I ripped my shoes off and leaned on the kitchen counter while I opened the package. Inside was a t-shirt that read “No nonsense. No excuses” in purple glitter; that’s the name I gave to my Autoimmune Walk NYC team. My cousin Darcelle told me she had a shirt made for me to wear but I’d forgotten. I was so thrilled to see it, I didn’t feel the pain as I walked into the living room and slipped it on.

I stared at myself in the mirror and repeated, “no nonsense will deter me from making it through work or anything else every day. And, there are no excuses for not living my best life by showing the strength others see in me.”

#LoriStokes #tvnews #noexcuses #nononsense #autoimmunewalk #chronicpain #chronicillness #autoimmunedisease #igg4

A Career To Remember

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I was in the middle of doing a cut sheet for an insert on Charles Schumer’s fight to restore mandatory sleep apnea testing for Metro-North engineers and writing and editing Vo Sot Vo about the British model who claimed to be kidnapped when the camera crew arrived. I’d reluctantly agreed to take a photo and provide an on camera quote as part of my company’s celebration of my 20 year anniversary.

I’d chosen a job behind the scenes decades ago, in part, because I can’t stand the sound of my voice on tape and doing hair and makeup aren’t things I enjoy doing. Yet, I flat ironed my hair for the occasion. Unfortunately, the moisture in the air took out the curls and made it puff up.

I placed my cane behind the assignment desk and waited for instructions. When the lights were turned on and the camera was pointing towards me I almost decided to cancel.

“How does it feel knowing you’ve been here for 20 years?” The producer asked.

I paused and and replied, “Do you really want me to answer that?”

“I can ask you something else,” the coordinator said. “What’s the best part of spending 20 years with the company?”

I responded as I looked around my corner of the newsroom at all the faces. “I’ll answer.”

I thought for a second and said, “The years have flown by. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years; most of my adult working life. I’ve had steady work for the last two decades covering world events. I’ve written about fires, births, deaths, wars, trials and elections. I’ve learned about budgets, foreign affairs and health breakthroughs. But, the job isn’t what I’ll remember most; the people are unforgettable. The people make the long hours, the irritation, and the writer’s cramps worth it. I didn’t intend to be in the news business this long now I don’t know what I’ll do next.”

#tvnews #journalism #disability #chronicillness #chronicpain #autoimmunedisease #nomakeup #anniversary

Kid At Heart

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I was running fifteen minutes late when I arrived at 66th Street for the Disney Voluntears Lincoln Center Outdoors event. My mother was the first to greet me as I struggled up the stairs towards the gift giveaway table.

My pace slowed as I saw the young girls jumping into and out of the Double Dutch ropes. The “Cupid Shuffle” was blaring, seemingly in beat with the foot steps striking the ground. It reminded me of the countless hours I spent turning rope on Corsa Avenue and Hicks Street in the Bronx, in gym class and in my parents’ backyard in Scarsdale in Westchester County at family barbecues. The sound of laughter was intoxicating; it made me feel like a kid again.

As soon as I arrived at my “work” station, I thought I’d have to behave like a responsible adult. But, I was wrong. We ran the games that allowed children and adults to earn movies and water bottles. One by one people walked up our wheel and answered questions like how many hours of sleep should I child have? And How much sugar in teaspoons is in a can of soda?

There were activities too. People spun to see if they’d have to do jumping jacks, jump rope backwards, and complete their age I. I watched even senior citizens took turns to recapture their youth. My mother and I were so engrossed in what we were doing we even skipped lunch. My mother ignored her hip pain as did I. I also shook off the pain in my lower back and feet. The hours flew by and before we knew it was time to pack up.

We gave away gifts but we got several in return. We took with us the smiles, the life stories, the languages from around the world we heard and the memories of adults who challenge themselves to remember a time in their lives that was carefree. I needed to remember when my life wasn’t so difficult.

#childhood #TheBronx #DoubleDutch #Scarsdale #disability #ChronicPain #ChronicIllness #DisneyVoluntear #volunteering #AutoimmuneDisease #igg4 #LincolnCenter

Get It Off My Chest

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I’m don’t mince words often and I’m rarely out of them. If I have something to say I get it off my chest right. But, I was swamped at work when the results of my breast ultrasound came in. I glanced down at my iPhone 7 while the message from my Ob/GYN was being transcribed. It said, “your results are in. The radiologist wants to see you again in six months. I’m preparing your referral. Thank you.” Immediately, all words escaped me.

I saw the four hypoechoic nodules with my own eyes during my scan. They were the dark circles the technician paused over, measured, snapped images of then refused to discuss with me. Yet, I kept hoping I was wrong; that they were so insignificant they didn’t warrant being mentioned in a report.

I immediately signed on to the Lenox Hill Radiology portal and pulled up my report. It described each lump by height and width, as well distance from my nipple. There were two in the left breast and two in the right. On the bottom of the report, the radiologist said they were likely benign but recommended monitoring.

“Likely? What the hell does that mean? I’m supposed to wait six months to find out if some of kind of cancer is present? It may be okay with the doctor to watch and wait, but can I live with that? At least when Lymphoma was suspected I had the six surgical biopsies and I knew what I was facing. I may need a second option or a biopsy just to be sure,” I mumbled to myself. “I’ve spent most of my life since puberty trying to hide my double chest. Now, if the images change they could be gone. I don’t have much of a figure without them. I think I’d actually be sad to see my breasts go.”

I grabbed my cane, subtly rose from my chair and walked over to the printer to collect a copy of the radiology report. I didn’t tell anyone around me what was bugging me. I couldn’t figure out what to say so I said nothing other to answer questions about the stories we were writing for 5:30 and 6 pm newscasts. I completed my work and I laughed just like everyone instead of crying. And, on the way I home I wrote down my feeling to get them out.

#ultrasound #mammogram #chronicillness #chronicpain #disability #lymphoma #tvnews #radiology

Under The Surface

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Her name was Colleen. We’d only met a few minutes before she asked me to open my robe and expose my chest. After that she was silent other than to tell me to, “lay on your back with your eyes towards the ceiling.”

She used a scanner to spread warm gel on the right side of my chest. Then, she began peering inside me to see, what if anything, looked out of place. Moments later, she found something.I felt her stop the scanner and heard clicking on the keyboard. I glanced over and I saw it.

There was a dark circle on the upper left side of the screen. She used the tool to measure it, zoom in and then there was more clicking. She went back to that spot and one other on the right side several times before it was time to switch. Colleen examined the left side too. But, either she found nothing remarkable or I didn’t notice. Afterwards, I was free to go; allowed to leave to contempt the possible results.

I was on my way back to my office with fear running through me when my college friend/former roommate texted me to say that she and her son were in the city and they wanted to stop by. Years, distance and illness kept us from seeing each other often but today the timing was perfect.

My heart leapt and my concern about the test dissipated. All I thought about was being in the moment, catching up, showing them around the tv station where I work and absorbing the love from them.

#mammogram #breastcancer #friendship #disability #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #nyc #ultrasound #roommate #tvnews

Eating My Feelings

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I tossed and turned worrying about the reason my doctor required a 3D mammogram in addition to a traditional one. She said it was impossible to see through my dense tissue to clearly make whether I actually had a lump or not. I’d never had that type of imaging before but I was assured that this was the one of the latest technologies that would help me avoid something more invasive.

I took a cab over to the imaging center at lunch and I was immediately called in. I put on nipple markers that looked like pasties and stepped into a machine. I was pulled, pushed and then smashed before my scan was over. Then, the technician asked me to stop by the admitting desk to schedule an appointment for an ultrasound.

Wtf? I thought. What else do they red to do to tell me I’m okay.

I booked an appointment for the following Thursday and headed out into the rain.

Even God is crying, I thought as I bowed my head. He knows how much I’ve gone through and continue to every day. I guess He never said the road would be easy.

As soon as I looked up I saw a Dunkin Donuts/ Baskin Robbins. I took it as a sign. I cautiously made my way over there as my cane slid in the puddles and I picked out a carton of my favorite ice cream: Gold Medal Ribbon. Tonight, I will pray then eat this, I thought. I’ll fall asleep and tomorrow will be a new day.

I was smiling until I realized I had no way to get the ice cream back to New Jersey without it melting. When I returned to work I mentioned my problem to my friend Sixto. He took his dirty Tupperware out of his lunch bag and handed the bag to me.

“This ice should keep it cold,” he said.

He’s helped me lot of times over the years but this time he may have saved my sanity.

#food #nyc #breastcancer #cane #disability #autoimmunedisease #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #baskinrobbins #dunkindonuts #eatmyfeelings

View From The Rooftop

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I couldn’t see the bustling NYC streets from the rooftop at the Empire Hotel, which is near Lincoln Center. I heard the wind whipping, glass clinking, laughter and friendly conversation. I’d ventured just blocks from my workplace after a stressful day writing more stories than I thought I could complete to celebrate Ashley’s 30th birthday.

She’d arranged her own party at the bar on top of a hotel I’d stayed at countless times to cover the news of the day: Superstorm Sandy, snow storms, etc. But, I’d never gone up to that floor before. Today a ventured to a “new place” to cheer Ashley.

A talented newcomer to the TV station, Ashley quickly became a friend. Her brains and talent are impossible to ignore. She also genuinely cares about the service we provide to the public and goes above and beyond to deliver it even when she’s not compensated enough for her efforts.

I didn’t notice the hours flew by as I talked to other co-workers who often don’t get time to get to know from 9:30 to 6:15. I learned and I shared. I soaked up the energy from the endless party. I didn’t think once about my cane, my evening pills, the pain in my hips or my fatigue. I was simply a New Yorker out having fun. Ashley inadvertently gave me a gift at her birthday party. Thank you Ashley. Happy Birthday.

#birthday #lincolncenter #empirehotel #nyc #tvnews #disability #chronicillness #chronicpain #autoimmunedisease