Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop: A Nose For Trouble


Alex J. Cavanaugh,  Michael Di Gesu,  Stephen Tremp, and  L. Diane Wolfe are hosting the Survive and Thrive Bloghop to create awareness, and encourage early screenings for disease prevention. Please visit our wonderful hosts to read their amazing stories, as well as the rest of the talented participants. Below is my contribution.

                                                                     A Nose For Trouble

I'll never forget my childhood days of summer. We'd spend hours soaking up the sun in our backyard. Before anyone even heard about tanning beds, my mom had her own outdoor version. It was an inflatable raft that she filled up with water. Because it was silver, it was comparable to baking in a large tinfoil reflective pool. Somehow my mom came out perfectly bronzed without a hair out of place, while I turned beet red.

When tanning beds first came out, I was one of the first people to line up. In a half hour, I could evenly cook my front and back without burning. How could it possibly be harmful?  If only we had known about the dangerous effects of all types of sun bathing.

During a routine dermatologist visit several years ago, my doctor noticed a suspicious mark on my nose. He thought it was a basal cell, and suggested I have it removed by a plastic surgeon to avoid scarring. Two questions immediately came to mind, "Are you going to do a biopsy, and should I meet with the plastic surgeon before the procedure?"  Because this dermatologist had been treating my family for many years, I didn't argue with him when he answered "no" to both of my questions. Big mistake.

After my procedure, the plastic surgeon sent a biopsy to the lab. Instead of a cancerous basal cell, it was just a gland. The procedure was a complete waste of time and money, which could've been avoided if I would've followed my instincts.

As a fair-skinned blond, I'm always prone to blotches and blemishes. Seven years later, I noticed a recurring blemish that appeared near the area of the botched surgery on my nose. It would turn crusty, and reappear every few months. I made an appointment with my new dermatologist who immediately took a biopsy. This time I had a confirmed basal cell, but the location was even trickier to get to, and there was no telling how deep it went. For those reasons, my doctor referred me to a Mohs surgeon.

According to Mayo Clinic, "During Mohs surgery, layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains." When I arrived, the nurse told me how fortunate I was that the cancer didn't spread to my left eye.

After each layer, they sent me back to the waiting room, so they could examine it. My husband kept me company until they called me back in for the next round. As a result of the prior needless surgery, I had extra scar tissue, so the surgeon took a skin graft from behind my left ear. It took six attempts until the surgery was complete. I asked if that was a common number, and the nurse said that it took one of her patients sixteen attempts to remove all of her cancerous layers.

Now I try not to be in the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and wear sunblock or a moisturizing lotion with SPF 30 or higher. As my scar was healing, it looked like some of the sutures were popping out, so I immediately went to the doctor's office.  One suture looked particularly long, as I was able to wrap it around my finger. After the nurse examined me, she fought hard to keep a straight face. Then she relayed her findings, "Those aren't sutures. They're hairs. We deliberately took the skin graft from behind your ear, because most people don't grow hair back there." Now there's something I could be proud of for finally coming in first.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sidestepping Into Fall

Fall is the time for new beginnings, and Rosh Hashana symbolizes the Jewish New Year. We celebrated by filling up on the traditional holiday dinner which featured everything from matzo ball soup to brisket. The evening was pleasant but relatively uneventful until our guests said their goodbyes.

The front door is no longer an option for some of our family members who walk with aids. Hence, there are fewer steps to the car through the garage. My aunt and uncle were the first to leave, before the pile-up began. With breaking speed, Mom was about to pass-up my cousin. I told her to stop showing off with her walker, and let our cousin head to the front of the line. My brother helped her down the first step. Then she broke free, and kept walking with her cane. Seconds later, I heard my brother call out for help. Unfortunately, my cousin hadn't seen the second step, and was lying face down on the garage floor.

Apparently, this was the second time she had fallen in two days, and her face was pretty beaten up. After not taking no for an answer, our cousin agreed to let us drive her to the emergency room. My brother met us at the hospital, and we kept her company in between tests. The hours passed quickly, as she told us stories about growing up with our dad. They were first cousins, and though he was five years older, he treated her like a sister. They even took separate trains to meet at the Cubs games when she was only ten. She enjoyed going to the games with our dad, because he told her everything he knew about baseball. Years later, Dad introduced our cousin to his fraternity brother who became her husband.

After her tests were over, they stitched up the inside of her cheek, and were ready to send her home. My brother and I both pleaded with the doctor to keep her overnight, as she lived alone, and was at risk to fall again. We were also hoping a physical therapist would assist her in using a walker. My cousin kept apologizing for ruining our evening, and told us to go home. She didn't realize how relieved we were that she wasn't seriously injured, and how much we enjoyed learning more about our dad. My cousin couldn't have been more appreciative that I stayed with her until she was safe in her hospital room, and promised to call her children first thing in the morning.

It was almost 3 a.m. when I got home. I expected to find all of the dishes piled up, but my husband and sons washed all of the wine and water glasses by hand, and set off the dishwasher. I was so grateful for their wonderful surprise.

At the end of Yom Kippur, I had my immediate family over for a casual break the fast. After dinner my mom seemed anxious to go home. She suggested my brother take his dessert to go. We couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. Finally, she admitted she wanted my brother to drive her home before the storm hit. None of us could figure out what storm she was talking about. The sky was completely clear when we walked her to my brother's car.

A few days later, the subject came up again. I thought my mom made up the whole story, because she was mad at me for something.  She swore she heard about the storm on TV, while I was preparing dinner. Then it hit me. She had been watching a previously recorded program from the week before. It must have been interrupted due to a severe storm watch. When I told her she exclaimed. "How was I supposed to know that? And by the way, you gave me indigestion." I'm so glad my aunt has offered to host Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IWSG Guide: How Selling Yourself Short Might Shortchange You


Alex J. Cavanaugh has decided to take the IWSG to a new level with The Insecure Writer's Support Group Guide To Publishing and Beyond.  As the group enters its third year, as well as the first anniversary of the IWSG website, Alex is compiling a book to assist other writers in the areas of writing, publishing, and marketing.  For a sneak preview, be sure to visit all of the talented writers here.  Below is my cutting room floor contribution for consideration in the Guide.

 How Selling Yourself Short Might Shortchange You

Oh, how I loved to sing. As high school thespians, we would often burst into song like the characters in Glee. I didn't realize how annoying that habit was until I decided to belt out some Ethel Merman show tunes during a long drive home. My "older" boyfriend was too polite to say anything, as I sang for an audience of one in an enclosed vehicle with enough vibrato to fill an auditorium. When he pulled into my driveway his head was throbbing so heavily that he didn't even bother to walk me to the door. Any false sense of bravado I had was lost that day. It must have somehow disappeared along with my phone number.

This is only one of many stories that led me to join the Insecure Writer's Support Group in 2011. As the group was celebrating its third anniversary in early September, I was also celebrating the publication of our anthology, Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Our team of eight witty and wonderful writers, includes two other members of the IWSG. After we got the word out on our blogs, and other social media, the hardest part was marketing to friends and family.

Upon recovering from the initial shock that I was finally published,  a few friends offered to buy the book. I could tell they were just trying to be nice, so I foolishly said, "That's okay. You don't have to." I gave them an out, and they took it. What I should have said was, "That's great! All proceeds are going to Care International. Thank you!"

I didn't want them to feel obligated, and I couldn't be more wrong. I was playing the restaurant game. We've all played it. The bill comes, and one person grabs the check. He or she offers to pay. You initially say that it's not necessary, and offer to split it. The person insists, and you say thank you. I was waiting for the "I insist" round that never came.

Though some older family members wanted to help out, they were concerned about providing personal information to Amazon, as well as shipping charges. They offered to reimburse me, after I ordered copies for them. I was glad they weren't the least bit worried about me sharing personal information. I tried to explain how to access an Amazon card, but they didn't seem interested.

My closest friend surprised me by buying five copies. She gave one to each of her sisters-in-law who enjoyed it so much they're planning on buying some additional copies to send to their friends. Last week she also gave books to two more friends when we were at her house for a holiday dinner. Then  I realized she had given all five copies away. As if reading my mind, she said, "Don't worry, I'll order some more copies." When I started to argue she didn't hesitate to add, "I insist."

This is my entry for consideration in The IWSG Guide To Publishing and Beyond. If accepted, I give permission to include this entry in the anthology.

My Bio: Julie Kemp Pick writes about family humor often featuring her rebellious mom, and blogs at

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Big C Hop: Willful Women With Woes and Secrets of Honor

A person's true character is revealed under the most adverse conditions. When my mom's close friend Joy's prognosis from lung cancer was only six months, she came up with a plan. After she made her funeral arrangements, and got the rest of her affairs in order, she invited my mom, and another friend to go on an Australian cruise with her. They made the most out of their "last hurrah." Happily, Joy proved the doctors wrong by stretching those six months into ten years.

Between chemotherapy and radiation treatments many cancer patients have difficulty coping. My Auntie Rho was not one of them. She made friends everywhere she went, and continued throughout the worst of times. Though she wasn't my aunt by blood, she could not have done more for my family. Before she came down with lung cancer, the non-smoker was the first one to help me clean up after a holiday dinner. Even at seventy, she would have everything cleared off the table and put away faster than I could bring out the next course. Just when she seemed to be fading away, Auntie Rho miraculously rallied to celebrate her seventy-fifth birthday with family and friends.

After my neighbor moved away, we were in and out of touch for a few years before she was diagnosed with leukemia. Since she underwent a bone marrow transplant, she has suffered from one complication after another. Her extensive cocktail of anti-rejection drugs has resulted in diabetes, as well as a slew of other ailments. Fortunately, she continues to maintain her wonderful sense of humor.

Whenever I inquire about her health, she always replies, "You don't want to know." Then she rattles off one horrible thing after another in a surprisingly amusing way. Recently, in an attempt to prevent a corneal transplant, her ophthalmologist glued her left eye shut for three and a half months. Her grandson asked her when she was going to stop looking like a monster. Despite all of her hardships, she still managed to potty train him in just one day.

Because she's been to so many different doctors, she's threatening to change her name to "Ologist." Remarkably, she doesn't let any of her ailments slow her down, and though her eyesight has been fading, her nose for news is stronger than ever. She is always up on all of the latest happenings in the neighborhood, and had to fill me in on what was going on practically outside my front door.

At the end of our recent phone conversation, I couldn't believe we had been laughing for over an hour. This tough little survivor who at one time dropped down to seventy-eight pounds, could always keep me in stitches. Though we have had the most entertaining time on the phone together, I couldn't remember why we haven't seen each other in years. Then it hit me. The last time I suggested getting together, she didn't quite share my enthusiasm, as she replied, "Well, it's almost winter."

Needless to say, all of the women fought with dignity, grace, and humor. The youngest, and feistiest of the group continues to fight off whatever is thrown her way, and I hope she doesn't stop taking my phone calls for many years to come.

This story may be featured in an anthology to raise money for  Melissa Bradley  who has been battling cancer. Proceeds will also go to Gilda's Club Chicago. Please visit Melissa to learn more about her story. You can  find Melissa, and the rest of the talented participants  here.  Special thanks also to Michael Di Gesu  for hosting this worthwhile event. I wish Melissa all the best in her recovery.


In other news, I'm thrilled to announce Carol Kilgore's SECRETS OF HONOR is now available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.

Purchase Kindle edition here:

Purchase paperback edition here:

Please visit the delightful  Carol Kilgore at Under The Tiki Hut to congratulate her.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ferreting Out The Competition



Last week in celebration of our new release Old Broads Waxing Poetic, we held a contest inviting bloggers to write about their favorite old broad. Our winner wrote not one, but two essays about his mother which shot him straight to the the top of the list. This made me think of another sharp shooter who treated his ma right.

Gangster Meyer Lansky remembered how much his mother sacrificed for him, and vowed to take care of her when he became wealthy.  He set her up in a luxury retirement complex, and often visited her. The "mob's accountant" always made sure his mother had the "very best in medical care, and remained an affectionate and devoted son."
I'm pleased to introduce you to another devoted son,  Stephen T. McCarthy, who has won a copy of Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Congratulations Stephen! Though his stories about his favorite old broad were both funny and heartwarming, they were too long to post here. They are definitely worth the trip over to Susan Flett Swiderski's to see for yourself. I would pack a light lunch, as it will take a while.

After you've stopped laughing and crying yourself silly, you should head on over to Stephen's Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends.  If you haven't been there already, I guarantee the shock value alone will make your head spin. The man clearly revealed his sensitive side to Susan when he eloquently wrote about his "tough Ma" Any man who cares that deeply for his mother, is a good man. I'm sure that's what Meyer Lansky's wife told herself too.

Friday, September 5, 2014


 Available on Amazon

To celebrate its release, each old broad featured in this book is blogging about her favorite old broad today, and we invite each of you to tell us a little something about your favorite old broad in the comments. Stay tuned for more details on how you could win a free copy of Old Broad's Waxing Poetic.

I couldn't decide on just one favorite old broad, so I thought it would be fun to create my own. My mission was to build the best old broad by combining the most exquisite features from glamorous screen legends.

I came up with Elizabeth Taylor's eyes, Raquel Welch's cleavage, Jane Fonda's abs, Cyd Charisse's legs, and Lena Horne's sizzle. I glanced at the list, and couldn't quite put my finger on what was missing, so I called my life coach.

I went over the list with my mom, and she was unimpressed. She began talking about some of the legendary movie stars from her day like Veronica Lake who was known for her beautiful blond "peek-a-boo bang," and Betty Grable 's "million dollar legs." Sadly both actresses died young. Veronica Lake died at fifty from hepatitis, while Miss Grable lost her battle with lung cancer at fifty-six. Like many of our writers, technically they were too young to be considered old broads.

This conversation took place while my mom was having her bedtime snack. I overheard her request a "handful of peanuts" from her caregiver. It was after eleven o'clock, and I was making her late for bed. I didn't dare comment on her dangerous late-night snack. She said in an irritated voice,"So they both died young. What do you want from me? Why don't you go with Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies as your favorite old broad?"

My mom was in a better mood when I redialed at 11:02. She started to whisper when her caregiver left the room. "Can you hear me? I have to talk fast. I want you to know that I moved my money from the third drawer on the right to the second drawer on the left in the other room. That's where it will be tonight. I'm planning on moving it again tomorrow. I just thought you should know in case anything happens to me."

Then I asked her if this meant I got to keep all of her bingo winnings for myself, or if I had to divide it among the family. With that she let out a very husky laugh which reminded me of  a younger Lauren Bacall. My mom regained her title as my favorite old broad. Though she had known all along that her position was as secure as her forty-seven cents.


Now it's your turn to tell us about your favorite old broad for a chance to win a free copy of Old Broads Waxing Poetic.  Just write a short poem or essay in the comments.  In addition to reading a wonderful mix of entertaining and heartwarming poetry, you'll also feel good in knowing all proceeds from its sale are going to CARE International.

Now let's meet our talented group of young and hip Old Broads. Be sure to follow their delightful blogs.

NOTE: "Technically, Michael isn't a broad. He's a very nice guy who used that lovely image from Francesco Romoli to create our cover for us, so you could say, as an important member of our team, he's an honorary broad. With hairy legs."  -Susan Flett Swiderski

Help spread the word on Facebook and Twitter throughout the week. Also, please indicate where you posted about your favorite old broadso we're sure to find it. The winner will be announced next Friday, September 12th. Thanks for your part in making this a very broad celebration.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

IWSG: So, you're a poet now?

Now that it's the third anniversary of the Insecure Writer's Support Group,  I finally feel like I belong here. Yes, I've always been insecure, but with the publication of our new anthology, Old Broads Waxing Poetic, I officially consider myself a writer. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh  for all of your support, and congratulations on leading this inspirational group for three incredible years. You can visit the other talented IWSG members here.

When I told my friend about our poetry book she replied, "So, you're a poet now?" Well, the jury is still out, but I do feel confident that I've surrounded myself with seven sensational poets. Since we are constantly being judged by the company we keep, my poems have been given a chance to shine among shooting stars.

It's also been a tremendous learning experience. This has enabled me to go behind the scenes in the world of self-publishing. Though I was always the last to be picked in gym class, this was a true group effort, and I owe it all to this hard-working team.

To celebrate our book launch on Friday September 5th, we're inviting bloggers to enter to win a copy of Old Broads Waxing Poetic by writing about their Favorite Old Broads in the comments section of our blogs. I hope to see you on Friday for the cover reveal, details about our broad spectrum of writers, and easy-breezy contest rules.

Though I'm still insecure about my writing, thanks to my three years of therapy with the IWSG, and wonderful experience with Old Broads, I have graduated from a tricycle to a big girl bike. Nonetheless, I'm not quite ready to take the training wheels off, just yet.