Monthly Archives: October 2012

Book Review: “Jackie After O”

For many years, I have been a great admirer of the late former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She had a great sense of self and was a woman of deep confidence, passion, and focus

I have read and am the proud owner of many biographies on her (at least 20, but who’s counting). and even 18 years after her death, the world still yearns to learn more about the notoriously public figure who wore big, black, round sunglasses and wanted nothing more but maintain her privacy.

Though there are many biographies that cover her entire life span, including her marriages, there are few that have documented her greatest love of all: books. 1975 was a big year for Jackie. In Tina Cassidy’s “Jackie After O”, Jackie’s life had completely changed that year: she was a widow for the second time, her children were growing up and leaving her nest, joined the working world as a book editor, and joined the fight to save Grand Central Station.

Cassidy does a great job of presenting the facts in Jackie’s life in an attractive way. She clearly did her research by providing background information that helps better understand the scope of what Jackie had to endure and what she ultimately achieved. Times had changed since Jackie was a debutante and a Kennedy wife. So much has been said in the media and tabloids on what Jackie supposedly was and did.

Cassidy provides amazing contrast between the true Jackie and the superficial Jackie everyone believed her to be. She provides examples of the outside perceptions of Jackie through headlines and personal comments of others. She provides many examples of what actually happened in Jackie’s life at those moments. The true Jackie was a fiercely intelligent woman, who became a great writer, editor, and preservationist. She was a voracious reader of the classics and art history and had developed a level of persistence rarely seen. An enigma wrapped up in a mystery, Jackie did the majority of her work behind the scenes and always credited others for her accomplishments.

Jackie wasn’t a perfect person, but often her actions were, unfortunately, displayed on the front pages of tabloids. Cassidy precisely captures the humanness of Jackie. Like everyone else, she has made mistakes, but as always, she handled them with grace and dignity. Until her death, Jackie continued to evolve as a woman in an era when women were not supposed to aspire to anything beyond being good wives and mothers; and she continued to make the best of every situation in which she found herself.

She was more than just a global celebrity, a rich socialite, and a style icon. She was an inspiration for every woman.

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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Book Reviews


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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A/N: 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and it is one of the leading causes of cancer among women. I was so humbled to interview three extraordinary survivors for the October issue of BusinessWoman’s Magazine‘s insert. Below are their stories:

Monstrosities, Adieu

Sherry Smith-Weber couldn’t wait to get her two “monstrosities” off her chest so that she could attend the opera on time.

After years of being very large breasted, the 56-year-old opera aficionado opted to get a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstructive surgery. Fresh out of chemotherapy since May and now taking tamoxifen, Smith-Weber is glad to have followed her instinct.

“The doctor said that I would have had as good a prognosis if I had the lumpectomy, but I was a triple B size. I’d always wanted a reduction, but I’d never do cosmetic surgery,” said the Hummelstown resident. “I always said that if I need to have any type of breast surgery, they were both going, and there would be no reconstruction either. I was very set on what I wanted.”

Diagnosed in December 2011, she discovered a lump during a self-exam. In the past, Smith-Weber has had four negative biopsies, but she knew that something was wrong.

Time was of the essence as doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed the mastectomy in late January. She thought the cancer would put a damper on her opera schedule, but the surgery was such a success that by late February, Smith-Weber attended the last concert of Wagner’s Rain Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan.

“The nurse at the Breast Center said they put on the front of my chart, ‘Get her to the opera on time,’” she said. “After having invested 18 hours of opera, I was not going to miss the last one.”

One of the hardest parts in her recovery was feeling tired at times, but Smith-Weber is thankful for the love and support of her husband of 32 years and their daughters.

“I made it through, but it was hard,” she said. “But it does come to an end.”

Mom’s the Word

When 36-year-old Maggie Pfitzenmaier discovered she had cancer, she quickly focused on one thing: being a mom.

In 2010, Pfitzenmaier, of Lancaster, was six months pregnant with her third child when she developed breast cancer. Her priority was putting her unborn son’s needs first.

“We chose to do the lumpectomy first and proceed with the other treatments after I had the baby because I wanted to make sure that he was healthy first,” said Pfitzenmaier. “I’m a mom so my priority was to make sure (my kids) were fine so I could get through it as best as I could.”

The tumor was located near Pfitzenmaier’s heart. After the lumpectomy, she started chemotherapy when her youngest son Trent was five weeks old. By September 2011, doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.

According to, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for pregnant women in their mid-30s. Though pregnancy doesn’t cause breast cancer, the hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can augment the tumor growth. In Pfitzenmaier’s case, the cancer was non-hormonal, meaning there was no increase in her hormones.

Physically, Pfitzenmaier’s mastectomy proved grueling.

“Mastectomy was hard because I couldn’t pick up my kids. I had to be careful like I couldn’t even get a dish out of the cabinet,” she said

With the constant support of her loved ones, Pfitzenmaier, who has participated in the Tougher Mudder race since her surgery, said cancer has made her stronger and credits her daughter Lily, 8, for making her see the positive of her recovery.

“She would come up with the most inspiring words out of anybody, which is very heartwarming,” Pfitzenmaier said. “She said, ‘OK, Mom, we are going to get through this. It’s OK, Mom, we are going to get a baby.’”

Living life to the fullest

The American Cancer Society reports that each year about 180,000 women are diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer.

Diane Funston was among those women. The news hit her like a ton of bricks, but with the unconditional support of loved ones and the passion to educate other women about the disease has made her live life to the fullest.

“Breast cancer has taught me so much: how to enjoy life and how much more I can enjoy life. There is a lot of life still out there for me,” she said. “I’ve learned that I can help another person through their journey from diagnosis through treatment and even to the end of their journey.”

Funston’s journey began in October 1996 when she was diagnosed at age 42. Her emotions initially delved into dread and terror.

“I couldn’t think straight. My thoughts were all about dying. I had no risk factors,” she said. “I had a thousand questions, but was afraid to ask even one of them. I wanted to disappear or turn back time.”

Funston underwent a lumpectomy with axillary dissection followed by a mastectomy. Navigating through her chemotherapy treatments were difficult because it made her ill and unbearable to work.

She found encouragement and empathy through a support group. Her family and friends were also very present in her recovery.

“They cooked and made meals for me. They stayed with me after my surgeries and treatments so I wouldn’t be alone,” she said. “They were everything to me and so much more.”

Funston urges newly-diagnosed women to never give up on their fight.

“Facing breast cancer involves fear, distress, courage, and hope. Armed with knowledge, a positive attitude, and the will to survive, we can prevail, overcome and even triumph,” she said. “We are in this together.”

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Published articles


Why we should save Big Bird?

I know it’s been a while that I’ve updated my blog, and I will post another book review in the coming days. But I’d like to talk about something that it’s near and dear to my heart, which has become a hot-button issue for the past few days.

Many of you have probably watched the first presidential debate last week between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In the end, the general consensus has favored Romney’s performance over Obama’s lackluster demeanor. Though I agree with the majority, there has been an ongoing debate among the political pundits and the American people over Romney’s narrative about PBS’s future, which has angered some people including yours truly.

According to Romney, he stated in the debate that he plans to cut certain programs like Obamacare (no surprise) and subsidies for PBS if he’s elected President of the United States. His exact words were:

“First of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test. Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it and if not, I’ll get rid of it. Obamacare is on my list. I apologize Mr. President … I’m sorry, Jim (Lehrer, debate moderator and veteran anchor of the PBS NewsHour). I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too, but I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it …”

I’m going to play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment. First of all, I’m glad Romney loves Big Bird. I mean, who wouldn’t?! Second and most importantly, it’s no secret that the United States is in debt. We are in a tremendous debt crisis that we’ve never faced before. According to the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. government debt reached more than a trillion dollars in fiscal 2012. The actual amount is $1,275,901,078,828.74 and climbing. We do need to tighten our wallets when it comes to spending. I don’t like the fact that we keep borrowing money from China, but it is what it is. However for the past 10 years, we have been spending countless dollars on wars, for example. There may be an instance where certain programs have to be cut, but killing Big Bird isn’t one of them. It is not the answer, Governor Romney.

The facts and figures to the left indicate why PBS is important in American household. One fact figure that is astounding is that more than 121 million people watched 500 hours of arts and cultural programming on PBS last year. Another amazing fact is that PBS ranks #1 for media content for preschool teachers. Educational programs like Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and Square One create a foundation for children for their love of learning and reading, etc. and for parents to spend quality time with them while they are expanding their minds. Why rob them of that opportunity?

According to a report recently published by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, students in Latvia, Chile, and Brazil are making gains in academics times faster than American students. Students in Shanghai outscored every other school system in the world by taking international exams. American students ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. Will eliminating PBS greater the chance to bump USA up to #1? I don’t think so, Mr. Romney.

On a personal note, I am an example that public television is an asset not a liability. Sesame Street and other PBS programming played a significant role in my upbringing. As the daughter of Italian immigrants, I had a difficult time learning the English language as a child b/c we spoke and still do speak Italian in our household. I got held back in kindergarten because my English-speaking skills sucked. I was behind all the other kids b/c I wasn’t properly pronouncing certain words or constructing sentences correctly. It was frustrating. Television, particularly PBS, was a major source for me to step out of that comfort zone of Italian lifestyle. Watching shows like Sesame Street, Barney & Friends, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Reading Rainbow changed my life because it made learning the English language fun and educational and it laid the foundation for my love of reading and writing. If it wasn’t for PBS, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here in the middle of the night writing my convictions to this issue. So PBS, from the bottom of my heart I thank you, and I will continue to support you.

I guarantee you there is a child out there who is in the same boat as I was about 25 years ago. These 21st century children, especially the low-income children, do not deserve a total educational disadvantage. Americans should be investing in the future of all aspects of early childhood education. The reason we invest in public television is that it brings educational programs to people who might not have them. It is one of the best investments we’ve ever made to this country. The 21st century children are our next leaders. We could foresee our next president of the United States or our hero who finds the cure for cancer, etc. There is a large amount of students in our public school system that do not know who the vice-president of the United States is or where Texas is on a map, and cutting funding to education and educational programming is the right thing to do? There are other ways to lower the debt.

If I was president, my first priority would much rather be eliminating tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires who suck the life out of it than automatically expelling PBS programming. Forbes recently listed 400 richest people in America. I bet you if each of them would be willing donate $1 million to $10 million a year from their precious bank accounts to the national debt, I am sure the total amount would not be in the trillions. Come on, Oprah!! It’s like giving away a car! There’ll still be work to do, but the rich should not be getting off that easy.

Let me ask you this. Would you want the Kardashians or the Paris Hilton’s to teach your child the ABCs and the importance of sharing?? They would probably teach kids that, “A is for Armani, B is for Burberry, C is for Chanel, D is for Dolce & Gabbana … Oh Kim, shut the f*** up!!” Give me a break!

We face a deficiency in our problem-solving mechanism. Why does it have to be all or nothing?? Why can’t we just be bipartisan about this and come up with a compromise? I know we can. We’re just too stubborn because we  think that our own way is the right way. Listen, if we keep this trend going in our country, we are never going to come up with a proper solution, and the only people who are going to be educationally malnourished are the innocent children.

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Random Thoughts


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