New Year’s Evolutions…

new-years-resolution-apple After years of making and breaking New Year’s resolutions, I’ve decided to try a new tactic this year – New Year’s Evolutions. For me, a new years evolution means evolving into the person I’m meant to be in 2010 instead of making a list of things that I intend to do beginning at the stroke of midnight on January 1st and praying that they stick. Besides, I can probably count on one hand – make that one finger – the resolutions I’ve made over the past several years that I’ve actually stuck to.

Over the next several days, the editors of Women at Forty will be sharing some of our New Year’s revolutions and we’d like to hear some of yours. We’d also like to hear some of your past resolutions, whether you stuck to them or not.

Share your evolutions and resolutions in the comment section or on our Facebook fan page.

Women at Forty’s year in review – Maria’s story

In October, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month we asked readers to submit their true stories of challenge and triumph.  Rachel Dachel submitted this touching story of a wife, mother and friend who fought cancer and her insurance company, and won.

breast cancer awareness Healthcare Reform is a national hot button topic; it has been for more than 15 years, as First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made universal healthcare her priority and signature platform. Unfortunately, neither reform nor universal care materialized, so healthcare in America has continued on “as is.” Insanity can be defined as “continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different outcome.” It sounds as though America fits the description—at least as far as healthcare in this country is concerned.

For too many people, healthcare is more than just something being debated in town hall meetings and on cable news shows; it hits close to home. Not just acquiring coverage, but also having medical coverage and actually obtaining treatment and having it paid for in as timely and stress-free a manner as possible. Illness threatens the lives of millions of Americans and sadly, uncaring bureaucrats and greedy insurance corporations have threatened their sanity, faith and financial future while deciding if the cost of saving a life fits into the profit margin. Such was the case with my best friend, Maria.

Maria and I met at work in the late 90s. We worked for a company that was known for providing excellent benefits to its employees and their families. Insurance had covered the birth of her three children as well as the nicks, scrapes and broken bones that came along with rambunctious boys. Her healthcare coverage was part of why Maria remained with the company and always lauded it. Well, until she really needed it.

In her early 30s, Maria noticed lumps in one of her breasts. Frightened, she sought medical attention immediately and after examinations, tests and biopsies, was relieved when told “it’s not cancerous.” Although the lumps seemed to multiply, she didn’t worry because the doctor continued to say “it’s not cancerous.” Over a few years, she developed lumps in the other breast as well and upon her next round of tests was told, “It’s not cancerous…YET.” One simple little word—three little letters—changed everything.

An Ounce of Prevention

After getting additional opinions, examining her family history and a great deal of soul searching, Maria and her doctors determined that a radical double mastectomy would be her best option. She was not yet 35-years-old and had three boys under ten-years-old. Maria opted to have her breasts removed in the hopes of preventing a battle with breast cancer and living to see her precious children grow to maturity.

Maria was a trooper about it. She was the epitome of grace under pressure and most of our other friends and co-workers had no idea what she was experiencing. She continued to be the busy working-mother for all outward appearances, and to think ahead to when the physical discomfort and tear-filled nights would be long behind her and life would return to something closer to normal.

After months of preparation and prayer, it was time for the final consultation with the surgeon who would remove her breasts and the threat that they posed to her life, her family. Maria called me. Her voice was weak and I could hear it crack, just as I could hear tears rolling down her cheeks. While finishing up the surgical consultation, a representative from the insurance company had called to advise her that her mastectomy would not be covered and she would be responsible for all costs associated with the surgery and her recovery. Since the lumps were pre-cancerous, the insurance company had decided that she was choosing to remove her breasts at this time. The representative reassured her though, that when the condition became cancerous, it would be a coverable procedure—and then had the nerve to thank her for choosing XYZ insurance and wish her a good day.

Difficult Decisions You Shouldn’t Have to Ponder

Next were frantic calls back to the insurance company, then to Maria’s attorney. After months of coming to terms with losing her breasts and preparing for a recovery period of several months, my friend’s world was rocked, literally. Maria and her husband began debating her health versus their family’s financial ruin. Maria’s health insurance was also needed for her diabetic son. If she went ahead with the surgery without the insurance company’s approval, not only would she have to pay the medical expenses, but she would face an unpaid recovery period and possible job loss. The latter would compound the family tragedy even further, as losing her job would mean having to find other insurance, and her son’s diabetes could be seen as a pre-existing condition and thus he could be denied coverage.

Thankfully, the attorney made light work of the insurance bureaucrats. Maria was able to keep her original date for the surgery, and I am proud and blessed to report that the surgery went well. I still remember the wave of relief I felt as I watched her sleep in the hospital after the surgery. Despite the wires, monitors and the look of exhaustion, she never looked more beautiful to me. My friend, my sister—Superwoman had survived the battle and was on her way back to being all things to all people: wife, mother, aunt, sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, maid, chef, teacher, personal shopper, late-night phone buddy and radical double mastectomy survivor.

Adding Insult to Injury

Months passed as Maria recuperated and anticipated her next milestone, reconstructive surgery. The process for that involved pain—not discomfort. A band was placed beneath the skin where her breasts once were, then inflated over several weeks to stretch her skin and eventually accommodate the breast implants that would help restore her body image and her feminine figure. There were days when no amount of medication could assuage her pain, but she soldiered on, because that is simply what Maria does.

Ironically, as her final surgery approached, some sort of idiot alert sounded at the insurance company and Maria was told that reconstruction was elective and the procedure would not be covered. This time, we were all a bit wiser and better prepared and at least we knew that Maria’s life was not in any immediate danger. The attorney was dispatched, the insurance company relented and Maria got her new breasts. Nipples, however, were deemed purely cosmetic, so those had to be paid for out-of-pocket.

Those of us who know and love Maria are blessed to have her in our lives and cannot imagine things any other way. But there are too many Marias in America whose stories have very different endings. No life should be lost and no family should go bankrupt because of the callous greed of an insurance company. President Obama saw his own mother suffer with cancer at the hands of insurance companies and he wants to change the way they do things. He wants to adopt a different practice, one with common sense and dignity where you actually get the coverage you’ve paid for. He wants to stop the insanity.

Rachel Dachel is a freelance writer and editor, and the creator and author of the blog Rachel-y Motivated Incidents.

Women at Forty’s year in review – The Three 6 Mafia post

Here’s another one of our favorite posts from 2009…

If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar…

oscars This is the rallying cry of a friend of mine. She’s the creative force behind Bella Flowers Books, a fellow blogger, and one day she’ll have an award winning screenplay. How does she know all this? Well, if Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar…

Whenever she sounds the rallying cry, our little group of entrepreneurs laugh. Hard. And then we all nod in understanding and get back to work.

For those of you who have no idea who Three 6 Mafia is, they’re the group behind the 2005 song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp“, which won Best Original Song at the 78th Academy Awards. I am not a fan, nor could I identify the group’s members in a crowd of people. But millions of people worldwide can. And they have an Oscar.

I wonder if way back when Three-6 Mafia was merely a Couple of Guys and An Unorganized Gang, they ever thought to themselves, “one day, we will have an Oscar.”  I mean, I’m sure they thought Grammy definitely, but Oscar?!? Not so much. I imagine that even after receiving the nomination, when fellow nominees were proclaiming “It’s just an honor to be nominated,” Three 6 Mafia was more like “word?,” “for real?”  “seriously?”  But maybe not. Maybe they knew all along. Maybe they trusted their talent and knew that others would too – even if the word pimp was in the song’s title.  They were obviously on to something, because now Three 6 Mafia will forever be mentioned in the same circles as Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. Maybe it’s not that hard out there for a pimp.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but maybe we can learn a lesson or two from Three 6 Mafia. Maybe if we trusted our talents more, and doubted ourselves less… Maybe if we spent more time being authentic, being who we really are, and less time conforming to what other people think we should be… And maybe if we write our books, start our businesses, work diligently on our blogs and pen our screenplays, even when no one is watching, maybe we’ll be saying “seriously?” one day as we’re presented with an honor we never imagined receiving.

So the Woman at Forty question for today is this, if Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, what can you do?  Here’s how some of you answered the question…

Women at Forty’s year end wrap up

It’s been a great four months for Women at Forty! Since we launched  we’ve been blessed with contributions and comments from women all over the world. As we prepare for 2010, we’d like to take a look back at what you’ve contributed and commented on since we got started. Next week we’ll share a few more of our favorites and start the usual New Year’s resolution talk, but this time with a few twists, and hopefully better outcomes. But until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays to all! And a special thank you to Rachel, Tanya, Tricia and Jen (aloha!) for your frequent article posts!

The Project

j0432847 On September 2nd, we introduced the Women at Forty Project to the world. This site is only phase I of a project whose goal it is to redefine the way we look at women at forty. There are dozens of magazines and blogs dedicated to telling women how to live better, be better, look better, at forty and beyond.  The Women at Forty Project isn’t about telling you what forty should look or feel like, it’s about you telling us what it really is like.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you’re forty, soon to be forty, or have wisdom to share about that year of your life, we want to hear your story.  To find out how you can contribute your stories, visit our Contribute page here.

Are you hiding your age?

Although it’s hard to hide your age if you’re contributing to this site, we asked women the question, are  you hiding your age? Here are some of the responses we got…

Tricia

I have a strange (maybe)relationship with the appearance of my age; according to manyj0430507 people, I look much younger than 39. I ardently disagree, because I know what I looked like before, and this is NOT it…I’ve let go of all that now, though I still don’t enjoy being underaged, which often translates to being undervalued, underappreciated. I love being my age, and look forward to being older…I want people to give up their own notions about what forty looks like…cuz this IS what it looks like. I’m 39, running toward 40 at top freakin’ speed!

Kalin

I never lie about my age. And when I turned 40 I was so happy to be “40 and Fabulous” that I told everybody! I understand why women lie about their age, but I have more respect for those who don’t.

Tanya

My MOTHER still lies about her age and now she’s trying to get me to lie about mine! I refuse and it totally pisses her off. As of today (I’m 40), she had to “upgrade” her age. My oldest daughter said to her grandmother, “You had mommy at 11?” The young bride story didn’t fly that high! She admitted to being 58!

Bittersweet Milestonelaurie

In October, we honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a pink ribbon logo and special posts from  and about breast cancer survivors. I first read Laurie’s story on Blogher after she’d responded to The Women at Forty’s Five Questions challenge. I immediately visited her blog, Not Just About Cancer where she talks candidly about “What happens when you are 38 years old, write for a living and are diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.” Laurie’s graciously agreed to share one of her posts with Women at Forty. It was written on August 3, 2007, an hour before she turned forty. Read her inspiring story here.

Rachel Dachel is a freelance writer and editor, and creator and author of the blog Rachel-y Motivated Incidents. She’s a friend and frequent contributor to Women at Forty. She’s contributed several awesome posts so it’s hard to narrow it down, but here are a couple of our favorite “rlw bnwDachelettes” as we like to call them…

Rachel on Motherhood, or not…

I’m nearing forty and I am unmarried and without children. It seems that almost daily I read about a 50+ aged woman who is pregnant or recently gave birth or I see toddlers with parents who look old enough to be their grandparents—which means the parents have to be at least 70 because with Botox, Restalyne and plastic surgery being so popular, only homeless people and hippies look their age anymore, right? Read the rest here

Rachel on love, marriage and divorce…

…At some point in the middle of depositions and hearings, I realized that I hadn’t failed myself or my soon-to-be ex-husband. I realized that I hadn’t even been in the marriage. The part of Rachel in the marriage had been played by a hollow version of me who was afraid to speak her mind, show her talents or simply be herself—my desolate, depressed and disillusioned doppelganger. Read the rest here

Special nod to Rachel’s post, E-harmony vs. Old School, especially the part about wanting a man with a neck. Read it, you’ll understand.

Our Five Questions Challenge

This has been, by far, our most commented on post. We set out to ask 100 women at forty, fivej0433165 questions. The catch, you had to answer each question in three words or less. Here are you five questions…

  1. Most exciting thing you did/plan to do at forty?
  2. Biggest regret?
  3. The thing(s) you’re most proud of?
  4. The monkey on your back you can’t shake?
  5. Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can…

And here’s what you said…

1. Most exciting thing you plan to do at forty? Embrace life.
2. Biggest regret? Wasting my 30s.
3. The thing(s) you’re most proud of? My mom’s strength.
4. The monkey on your back you can’t shake? Caring too much.
5. Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can…believe in myself.

Chelle

1 Most exciting thing you did/plan to do at forty? Move.
2 Biggest regret? Agreeing to Florida
3 The thing(s) you’re most proud of? Changes in 2009.
4 The monkey on your back you can’t shake? People Pleasing
5 Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can…Start a new career at 43!

bsuperbee

Just turned 40.
1. Most exciting thing you did/plan to do at forty? Have a quiet day to myself
2. Biggest regret? My naivety as a young woman
3. The thing(s) you’re most proud of? My children
4. The monkey on your back you can’t shake? It is not on my back but my butt 😉
5. Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can…live my life without worrying about what other people think of me.

Tamika

1. Most exciting thing you did/plan to do at forty? buy a vacation home in another country
2. Biggest regret? not going to graduate school
3. The thing(s) you’re most proud of? my children and not giving up on my dreams
4. The monkey on your back you can’t shake? never feeling good enough
5. Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can… win one too!

Teresa

Okay, I’ll play… Although I’m already 46 years old
1. Most exciting thing you did/plan to do at forty? Got a divorce
2. Biggest regret? 2 marriages!
3. The thing(s) you’re most proud of? New younger boyfriend
4. The monkey on your back you can’t shake? Those 2 divorces!
5. Finish this sentence (ok, so technically it’s not a question) – If Three 6 Mafia can win an Oscar, I can… be totally happy.

Read all your responses here

Next week we’ll revisit posts from Jennifer, Tanya and Tricia and take another look at our Three 6 Mafia challenge.

Tricia Amiel: At the Midpoint

In keeping with this week’s reflective mood, today we share a poignant and moving post from Woman at Forty contributor Tricia Amiel. Tricia’s a teacher and a mother, and a few days ago she had a hysterectomy…

Me & Baby Chris It’s nearly the midpoint of my final year before turning forty.  Now, this great project has been interrupted by a strange loss.  To put it tritely, I’ve said good bye to a part of my person that has, in some ways, defined me, as a woman, a progenitor of life.  The first home to my children.  About four days ago, I had a hysterectomy.

Once the cervical biopsy came back negative, the rush of control I’d felt at making the decision to have a hysterectomy quickly crumbled, the pieces swirled and washed away in a flood of embarrassing emotional attachment; it was, and I’m still embarrassed to say it, as if I was turning my back on a friend.  Setting her aside because she was sick, and I just didn’t want to deal with her pain.  I questioned my motives, cried in my friends’ ears, and in my doctor’s office during our pre-op meeting.

It was easy enough to make peace with not having more children;  my only real loss was that I would never have the experience of telling a beloved husband or partner “I’m pregnant!” and having him say, “Oh, honey!”, gathering me up in his arms and treating me like someone so much more precious than any other, the mother of his child.  My pregnancies were not that way, or even close to it; in fact, the second one pretty much decided that my marriage was over…but so what?  I have wonderful children, and I started early; my older son a mere six days before my twenty-first birthday.  Too young for the hospital’s complimentary bottle of champagne, we celebrated over a steak dinner and ginger ale in champagne glasses, naively joyful, in spite of not having lived the aforementioned fantasy at the beginning.  I have been a mother my whole adult life, and coming to forty, single, I have no problem imagining a life that is about finishing up the job of motherhood and focusing on career, travel, relationships, selfhood.  Still, a part of me grieved over the loss of possibility; in my last love affair, there had been slight talk of a child.  It wasn’t going to be a choice anymore.

Worse than any of that though, was going through this process of making peace with my decision alone.  Alone is a word I use with some hesitation here because I don’t want to seem ungrateful to the friends who consoled me, comforted me, listened to me cry, kept checking on my emotional and physical well-being.  But I was confronted again by that lonely place that friendship cannot touch upon, the knowledge that you really can only ask so much of friends, who have their own lives and families to attend to.  They couldn’t be at my doctor appointments, or hold my hand late at night when my thoughts tortured me, when I worried and worried and worried about the management of my household, my students, my life, while I was in recovery.  And of course, my mother is gone from me.  But my friend, Lois, cried on the phone with me the day before my surgery because she couldn’t be there for me, knowing instinctively that I didn’t want to wake up and not see the face of someone who loved me.  I received message after message of love and well wishes, friends telling me that they were thinking of me, praying for me, pulling for me.  In the end, I was surrounded, engulfed by loving words and kind gestures of care, almost more than I could bear.

Four days ago, my friend, Angela, drove me to the hospital at 6:15 AM, and stayed with me, cracking jokes and making me laugh, until I was all decked out in my hair cap and surgery gown, a lovely lavender ensemble.  She took my picture.  She told me I’d be okay, and I believed her.  My doctor, ever cool and confident, talked with me, again running through the possibilities with my warm hand in her smooth, cool one.  She looked in my eyes, and I told her the thing that Angela had made me believe; I was okay.  “You’ve made some peace with this?” she asked.  I had.

I said good-bye to yet another piece of my old life, one that was causing so much pain and distress, inhibiting my well-being.  Inside of me, I imagine not an empty space from which something was lost, but room for my own growth. Here, at the midpoint, there has been no loss; just more room for more me.

Photo: I asked Tricia to send a photo along with this piece. She sent this beautiful picture of herself and her son, and these words – “I’m attaching a picture of myself at 21, a young mother with my then 5-month-old firstborn.  It seems appropriate since before all this, I thought I knew how very blessed I was to have had my sons; only now, the blessing is so much deeper, having said good-bye to that part of myself that made them possible…”

http://womenatforty.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/MeBabyChris.jpg