Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cure Panel Talk Radio: Yoga for Healing on Nov 7 (Yoga is one POWERFUL way to get through cancer treatments!)

The Cure Panel Talk Show

Cure Panel Talk Radio: Yoga for Healing - November 7
It should come as no surprise that yoga is one powerful way to make it through treatments-- even during chemo, transplant, post transplant and beyond. I am so excited to see this as an upcoming discussion on Cure Panel talk radio. On November 7 at 6pm ET, Dr Carol Horton will be talking about "Yoga for Healing" and three myeloma warriors will also share their stories and experiences on how yoga helped them through chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and treatments. Get more details on the show here (

Getting through treatment for Multiple Myeloma was very challenging and, really, I had it good when compared to others. I experienced extreme fatigue. There were days that I felt like I was floating and everyone seemed to be talking to me as if we were standing in a tunnel. I had horrific chemo brain. And my bones (especially my ribs) ached. And those were just the physical side effects. Psychologically, I was at times in denial, other times terrified, and confused, bewildered, angry, worried, hopeful, and everything in between. Of course, it didn't help that, in addition to being a newly diagnosed cancer patient, I was also contending with an awful divorce and a mean and hateful husband.

I coped with all of my side effects by eating very healthy, sleeping, taking lots of hot baths, praying, meditating, power walking when I could, and yoga. I discovered a Bikram yoga studio ( near my home and after one try, I was hooked. The peace and warmth (literally) was heaven sent. I learned to focus. I learned to heal and forgive and to purge negative energy from my body and soul.
If you're in any stage of fighting cancer (and many other chronic diseases) or are in serious need of mental and emotional healing or clarity, I highly recommending giving yoga a try. The benefits are countless and well documented.


Honeymoon in Yekaterinburg (our Russian adoption)

In June 2002, I did the most significant thing of my entire life up to that point: I brought home the cutest little 26-month old Russian girl who became my daughter. Born Maria Sergeevna Buntilova, she got a new name (Morgan), a family, and more love than she knew what to do with. The entire experience was so amazing that I knew I had to do it again.

This is a photo of Morgan about 18 months after I brought her home. She was tiny. At 26-months old, she weighed just 19 pounds. In this photo, she's about three and a half years old and weighed less than 27 pounds. She was my best friend-- we've been through so much together.

The summer before I met Rob, I started the process to adopt another Russian daughter. Things had drastically changed in the Russian adoption world by then and it wasn't nearly as fast or simple. Never cheap, the cost had also risen dramatically. Adopting Morgan had included one trip to Russia for a week, about four months of work prior to leaving for Russia, and about $26,000. (By the time we got Siena home, it was three trips and over $60,000!) By the time I met Rob, I had only completed my home study and gotten INS approval to bring a child into the United States. Up to that point, I had spent about $5,000 towards the adoption and had set aside another $40,000 to finish the adoption. About a week prior to meeting Rob, I had the opportunity to adopt a little boy in Murmansk but I declined it-- I really wanted to hold out for a girl. When Rob and I decided to marry, we also decided that we would take a "wait & see" approach with the adoption. If we got a referral for a child, we'd review it together and decide if it made sense or not. And we both sort of forgot about it.

About a month prior to our wedding and after we had already moved into our home, I got a phone call from Brent of Adoption Options, my coordinator. They had a little girl for me to look at! We got photos and a medical record. Her name was Victoria Gedanayeva Pokisheva, she was turning two in September, and had been abandoned by her birth mother on a street corner in Yekaterinburg. She had been in the Russian orphanage system since about four months old. The tricky part with this adoption is that she was living in the toughest region in all of Russia to adopt from and it would take three trips. Rob and I decided that we would take our honeymoon in Russia and go meet this little girl. We would know right away if she was "ours" or not. I mentioned this to Brent.

"Wait a minute, Liz," said Brent. "If you're getting married, you can't adopt this child. Russia law requires that couples be married for two years before starting the adoption process."

Uh oh. So we decided that the wedding was moving forward but we wouldn't legally file our marriage certificate in order to keep the option of adopting this child open. No one knew about this decision but Rob, me, the woman who married us, and our adoption agency.

Our honeymoon in Russia was really fun, significant and amazing. This photo was taken at Red Square.

Yekaterinburg is on the border of Europe and Asia. Rob and I went to the border and put one foot on both continents. I love exploring new places and how many people can say they've done that?

And so it was that two weeks after our wedding, Rob and I flew to Moscow and spent a few days exploring that city. It was my third trip to Russia and my second to Moscow, and it was Rob's first. I have to say that I love Russia. Everything about it enthralls me. I must have been a Bolshevik in a prior life because even back in sixth grade, I would pick up books about Russian history and read them for fun. I think it was Winston Churchill who said that Russia is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery. So true. It's exotic and beautiful and different. A few days later, we boarded another two hour flight for Yekaterinburg. The sun basically never set when we were there and flying at 2:30AM and watching the sun set and rise just a few minutes later was trippy. We landed, were met by our driver/translator Lydia, and went to our hotel. Later that day, we were driven to the orphanage to meet "Vika."

Walking into the orphanage for the first time to meet the little girl that would become our daughter.

Our first meeting was "interesting." She froze up when she was brought into a big room filled with toys and had two strangers staring at her. Rob hung back while Vika sat on the carpet in front of me, started sucking her thumb, covering her eyes, and rocking herself back and forth while she cried. I gave her space and started playing with building blocks. After maybe 15 minutes of this, the crying stopped and she started watching me, then playing with the building blocks.

This is our first meeting with Vika. She had just stopped crying and interacting with me.

After she was a bit more comfortable, Rob and I took her outside to the playground area. On our way out, she allowed Rob and I to hold one hand each and swing her back and forth.

Rob took this photo of Vika and I walking out to the playground for the first time.

Rob was amazing with Siena. He didn't "force" her to like him. He played with her, stood back, gave her plenty of space, and just the right amount of attention. I will forever be grateful to him for supporting and encouraging this adoption and for being her dad. Seeing these photos and writing this blog post is incredibly difficult and emotional for me. It is tragic that we couldn't make our relationship work and that alcohol was far more important than anything else. It's a crying shame that alcohol was far more important than two families, two wives and four children. I hate the effects of alcohol. It is a dark, evil and horrible thing and the consequence of alcohol abuse are horrendous.

The playground equipment at the orphanage was so old and unsafe!

Once out at the playground, she started playing on a slide-- a wooden slide with nails sticking up. It was so dangerous. And soon, two little boys started walking towards us. Vika showed an amazingly spunky personality by jumping off the slide and walking right up to these two bigger boys, speaking rapidly in Russian and pushing them away. It worked-- the boys sauntered off. Rob and I couldn't stop laughing. Another time, she grabbed both of our hands and walked us over to another part of the playground. There was a little boy whose eyes followed us, and they narrowed at us as we got closer. When we were nearby, the boy ran over to Vika and started hitting her. Of course, Rob and I pulled him off. It was Vika's way of testing us-- to see how much we could protect her-- and showing this boy that she, Vika, had her own protection squad.

This is the photo of Siena pushing off the older boys who tried encroaching on her new territory (aka her soon-to-be mom and dad).

When we got back to our hotel, I looked at Rob and asked the big question: "So, what do you think? Because she's adorable but I could go either way. You make the decision because I can never have this come back to haunt me." And I meant it. I was going to do everything to make my marriage and new family work and however that played out, so be it.

"Let's do it," Rob said.

My heart stopped. "Are you sure? Do not do this for me."

"Yes, I'm sure. She needs a home and we are going to give it to her. You and I will be great parents," he said.

And I started crying right there at the lunch table. It hit me how lucky I was to have Rob. Everything would be OK between us. It had to be. I didn't deserve this guy who I didn't love. He was good, kind, honest and selfless. Come hell nor high water, I was going to make this marriage work and I was going to be happy. Rob looked at me with such love and adoration in his eyes and I felt so very, very small yet optimistic.

"I don't deserve you," I said. Of course, Rob had no idea what I really meant by that statement. How could he? "You are such a great person and please be patient with me, ok?"

"What do you mean?" he asked.

And I just cried. "I love you," I said. I didn't love him but as long as I said I did and I acted like I did, then that would have to suffice. At that moment, though, I adored him. I respected him and was so hopeful that, together, we would have a great relationship-- we would be each other's best friend, advocate, and companion. And that would be good enough. We would parent our children together, we would enjoy lots of grandchildren some day, and we would be happy and this was a good decision. I knew that, together, we could craft an amazing family, home and future together. We could be happy. We would be happy, dangit!

And so it was that we flew home a week later after spending several hours each day with Vika. One day after we got home, I was at work and sitting in my office with my employee, Aida. She was telling me about one of her favorite cities in Italy-- Siena. We got online and looked at pictures. "I love that name for a girl," Aida said.

Me too! I emailed Rob. "How about the name Siena?" I asked.

"Love it!" he replied. And so it was that Rob and I moved forward with adopting a beautiful and spunky little Russian. Her name would be changed to Siena Smith Nielsen temporarily. When we got back to the US with Siena, Rob and I would re-adopt with both of us on the certificate and her name would become Siena Syomara S#@)berg.

Over the next nine months, we embarked on an annoying, long, expensive and frustrating paper chase in order to complete the adoption. I will write about that experience in another blog post.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Suck it up, Cupcake

I achieved a Big Huge Milestone this weekend: I entered and completed my first race since being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in January 2012. Just so I don't mislead: that race was a whopping 5k.

So early Saturday morning, William woke me up (too early) and I dropped him off at the start line of the Haunted Halloween Half Marathon. It was chilly! I then drove to the start of the 5k. It was busy and, yet, a truck in a space right in front of me pulled out. Perfect! I started pulling into the spot and I could see a woman about 35 years old running to that same spot on foot. She stopped, right there in the middle.

"I'm saving this space," she said.

Excuse me? "You can't save spaces," I said. I was amazingly calm.

"She has a baby. You just need to go find another spot," she said. She motioned to her phone. "I'm calling her now. She'll be here in just a few minutes."

Good thing I wasn't taking my Dex that morning because this could have gotten dangerous (for her). "I don't think so."

"I'm not moving," she said. She folded her arms in front of her after she took off her glasses so I could see her glaring at me.

Ok, honey, see the headband? That's right- "Suck it up, Cupcake. Now move along." I won my spot.

And that's now my new motto! And I love my headband. I think I should buy a few more in a plethora of colors.

My short little race was beautiful-- fall colors, lots of trees, a river I didn't know existed, new hiking trails to explore. While I waited for William to finish the half, I had ample time while to walk around the State Capitol building, something I've never done before. Dang, I love Utah. It's so beautiful here. Stunningly beautiful. There were statues and memorials and a meditation chapel and the cutest dang houses ever. Older, restored, charming nestled among huge trees that were red and orange from the Fall colors.

After William was done was his race (I was so proud of him!), we got some lunch, went to a little chocolatier and ate ice cream, and then checked into the Armstrong Mansion B&B ( Can I say charming? I love that we try to discover new and interesting things to do, see and stay. There are so many gems out there and while I can enjoy a Marriott or Hyatt like the next person, this is far more memorable and romantic and cozy. We ate a great stake dinner at Spencer's and then retreated to Armstrong Inn and watched a movie. I think I was sound asleep before 9:00 PM. I felt so well rested and peaceful and content this morning.

It was only less than two days that I didn't see my girls but I really missed them! When we got home, I kept looking at the clock and counting down the minutes until my mom would drop them off from church. When I heard, "Mommy!" I just ran up to Morgan and Siena and we had a very long group hug. Will they ever know how much I completely and totally love them? I will walk over hot coals and shredded glass a million times over for them, even if that means filing a paternity suit (of which I am seriously considering) on behalf of Siena. I'm so proud of the people they're growing up to be. I just hope and pray that God will guide me in parenting them in the best way possible and that He will guide me in making good decisions when it comes to them.

I'll leave you with a song I love and forgot about: Out Here On My Own. It touches my soul and I'll just leave it at that with no other explanation for now. Maybe some day I'll get in to this but not tonight. Sweet dreams, readers.

Out Here On My Own
Sometimes I wonder where I've been
Who I am
Do I fit in.
Make believin' is hard alone,
Out here on my own

We're always provin' who we are
Always reachin' for the risin' star
To guide me far
And shine me home
Out here on my own

When I'm down and feelin' blue
I close my eyes so I can be with you
Oh, baby, be strong for me
Baby, belong to me
Help me through
Help me need you

Until the morning sun appears
Making light of all my fears
I dry the tears
I've never shown
Out here on my own

When I'm down and feelin' blue
I close my eyes so I can be with you
Oh, baby, be strong for me
Baby, belong to me
Help me through
Help me need you

Sometimes I wonder where I've been
Who I am
Do I fit in
I may not win
But I can't be thrown
Out here on my own
On my own

Friday, October 25, 2013

Recap of Cure Talk Radio Show

In Multiple Myeloma, there are always a plethora of treatments and picking one can be a daunting decision. Yesterday's Cure Talk panel answered that questions: To transplant or not in multiple myeloma? The decision was made for me long ago-- I did not just one transplant but two under a tandem transplant regiment. The rebroadcast can be accessed here:

I know I've been posting quite a lot this week but now I'll take a break for a few days. Tomorrow is mine and William's one year anniversary and we are heading out to celebrate! Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An email to share

I get quite a few private messages from readers, many who know me and Rob. I don't share many of them but sometimes I feel the need to. This one came from one of Rob's friends who's been around for a long time. They dive and fish together and I always liked him a lot. He knows Rob very well (as much as anyone really knows Rob). I asked this guy if it was OK if I reprinted his email as long as I kept his identity private. He said yes so here it is. (Hey, I know you're reading this- thank you!)

Dearest Liz,
Reading your blog is really hard. I'm a big tough guy and even I find a tear or two. Sometimes I can't finish your article and have to try again later. Your health is most important so make sure you take care of you first. If you need to cry or see a therapist, I hope you do.  No shame in that. I hope you have love and support around you to get you through this. You're a beautiful, smart, amazing lady and I'm sure you do. I even thought you were probably too good for Rob. Keep that a secret between us! Rob can be a good guy but I always wondered how you were doing with him. I always saved a big huge hug for you whenever I saw you because I thought you probably needed it. Right now I want to see you and give you an even bigger hug. No excuses for Rob. Boy's got some big issues and he needs help. He's a fun guy but everyone knows he's a lot of fast talk. That's just the way he is and it aint right. You be strong and you stay healthy and good. I'm keep a reading your blog because I expect great things from you.

I wrote him back.

Thank you! I always liked you and now I know why. Your hugs were THE BEST and I remember them well. You made me cry and your words give me strength and courage. Just so you know, I sometimes sound really sad and pathetic. I'm working through the disappointment. I saw great things in Rob once. He rarely lived up to it but I knew it was in there somewhere. I'm doing my best to work with the girls through their deep pain and sadness. I don't know if you know but Rob has cut off all contact with the girls. Shocking and devastating. In an attempt to punish me, he's gone after the girls. Unfortunately, two innocent little girls are caring the weight of that decision and it's just sad and wrong. I can't change him. I had hoped and prayed that he would change. He even cut off ties to Siena- Siena who he adopted with me and who is her father in every way. Many of my friends and even a few attorneys are trying to convince me to file a paternity suit. There are some very strong legal arguments that lead me to believe I would have at least a 50-50 chance of winning. It wouldn't be about winning but, rather, showing Siena that I am truly her advocate and I did my best. That might mean something to her later on. And Morgan is hurting. She loves Bob, he's her dad, and she misses him horribly. Well, what can I do but pray and hope and love. I am not a victim anymore. I am an advocate of other abused women and children. We survivors need to stick together. But the only way I know how to be an advocate is to share my story and try to give others support, courage and hope for something better. Thanks a million for your email. Please stay in touch and keep reading. I hope you'll enjoy on some level the transformation you'll find. Some time when I'm in Southern California (truth be told, we're there many times a year), I'd love to meet up for lunch.
Hugs, Lizzy

(not) The blushing bride (or How did I get here?)

We moved into our new home on June 1 and our wedding was just two months later on August 4. The time between the two big events were insanely busy. Trying to unpack, planning a wedding, trying to get kids settled and establish some kind of order. Some days were fun. I loved having a home and painting and decorating and making it "ours." I loved cooking and entertaining.

There were days I'd think, "At 39 years old, I finally have what I've always wanted- a husband, children, home, good career, pets. This is how it's supposed to be.

And there were other days that I'd be on the verge of a meltdown. One day I was at work and was on a long and very boring conference call. I went to and there was the condo in Pacific Beach that Morgan and I were living in for sale. I got teary. That was my house! I wanted it back more than anything.

As I always do when confronted with a bad or scary situation, I look for something positive to hold on to. As silly as this sounds, I grabbed on to the Christmas party that Rob and I had talked about when we first saw our new home. "This is perfect for parties!" Rob promised. "We are going to have a huge Christmas party this year." I loved to entertain and I held on to that tiny miniscule promise and I find some kind of joy and comfort in my moments of terror.

It was now Monday early evening, just five days prior to our wedding. Morgan and Nicole were swimming in the pool while Rob and I were sitting outside at the table talking. We were laughing and having fun. I had my laptop and I logged on to my email. My heart stopped. I had a message from Todd. My eyes must have gotten huge and I quickly closed out of it. At one point, Rob went into the house and I could wait no longer. I hadn't heard from Todd since prior to moving into our house. I opened up his email. I remember exactly what it said by heart: "How's your summer been? I've been spending a lot of time surfing. Work is busy. I hope you're doing well. I think about you all the time."

Holy hell. That email sent me into a tailspin. I sent a brief reply back. "Life is good. Busy. I bought a house, we moved. Summer's great. Take care." And that was it. No mention that I got engaged, was getting married, that I was living with a man. Nothing. I couldn't. If I had, it would have closed the door to Todd forever and I just couldn't do it. If he came back into my life and I thought there was a future, maybe (probably) I'd leave Rob. I'd have to. I didn't think I had enough strength not to. As the wedding got closer, I put on a brave face and smiled and acted excited, while inside my head, I was falling apart. I wanted to be with Todd. I was sad and scared and regretful and filled with dread. I did NOT want to get married. Not one.tiny.bit. and I was powerful to stop wedding day from getting closer and closer. I was in a total "Todd funk." Rob felt it because he told one of my friends, Emmy, that he thought I was getting cold feet. When Emmy told me this, I thought "cold feet"? They are frozen.

I might have been dying inside but I smiled a lot and put on a fantastic game face. I think no one could have come close to guessing at my inner turmoil and sadness. But bolting from my wedding day was just not an option. That would have taken courage and I didn't have it. I made my bed and I was going to sleep in it. End of story.

The day of our wedding arrived and I got up really early and started getting dressed. I loved my dress, Morgan looked gorgeous and, by all accounts, our wedding and reception was going to be beautiful and fun. And yet I was in a panic.

I had a vision. I wanted, more than anything I've ever wanted in my entire life, to get in my car, wedding dress and all, and drive to Todd's house and not show up for my wedding. I had a million scenarios in my head on how that would work. Just like in a movie. I'd show up on Todd's doorstep. He would be there, see me, I'd tell him I loved him and I almost made a big mistake. He'd grab me and kiss me and I'd be happy and then we'd live happily ever after. I couldn't quite imagine in my head I would explain to all our wedding guests why I didn't show up. Or how I'd tell Rob. Or how I'd move out of our big house and get out from under that financial albatross.

Rob, Morgan, Nicole and I drove to our wedding venue together. I acted happy and excited. Rob and I held hands a lot and laughed and smiled. We saw our guests. We hugged and smiled some more. Our ceremony started. It was gorgeous outside. Our family and friends were all there (minus Rob's daughter, Kalie, who boycotted the whole thing). We wrote our own vows. Rob read his and I smiled and laughed a lot. I have to say, Rob looked so happy and it tore my heart out. I wanted to love him. He was so kind and good and optimistic and I wanted to wrap my arms around him and sob. "Why can't I love you like you deserve?" I wanted to scream. But I couldn't. I could only smile while my heart kept breaking a bit more every single second. This was horrible. I think I had read books about stuff like this but this was ME.

I started reading my vows, saying words like "I can't wait to come home to you" and "we will be building our family" and "you are becoming my best friend" and "I love you and you're amazing and I trust you". (Actually, I think I know where our vows are and I'll post them another time in their entirety.) And then I started crying during my vows. I didn't mean any of those words! And then I heard clapping. I swear it broke me out of a trance I was in. I looked up at our guests, almost confused. Right, there are people listening to all of this and they all thought I was crying because I was touched. Rob was smiling at me. I looked at him. I looked back at our guests. And I wanted to scream at everyone, "STOP CLAPPING! I'm not crying because I'm touched! I'm crying because I don't want to be here. What am I doing here? I want to stop this! Rewind! Take me back to my condo in Pacific Beach please! No no no no no!!!"

Here I am crying during my vows. I was not crying because I was touched but my words but, rather, because I was there at all. I did not want to get married. I wanted to walk away before I said "I do" and drive straight to Todd's house. This was all a mistake and I was devastated that I was there at all. I felt like a fraud.

And I envisioned, again, getting in my car right then and there and driving to Todd's house.

But this wasn't a movie or a book or a dream. This was real. I was stuck. And I smiled some more, read the rest of my vows, kissed Rob, and it was done. Sealed with a kiss. After the ceremony was done, Morgan rushed into Rob's arms and called out, "Daddy!"

Morgan was ecstatic. She had a dad! She rushed into Rob's arms as soon as the ceremony was over and called out "Daddy!" It melted my heart and gave me hope and faith that it would all turn out alright. Maybe this wasn't a mistake.

The wedding was actually lovely and beautiful. We got married at the top of Soledad Mountain with panoramic views of La Jolla and the ocean. Our reception was in our home and the food was delicious. We grilled food and the kids swam and we hung out with family and friends. And inside, I was dying. Todd was, in spirit and unbeknownst to him, with me the entire day.

A beautiful yet incredibly sad day for me.

Rest is good

I've done my best to blast through all the pesky side effects of my Multiple Myeloma maintenance treatments. But I have come to the realization that sometimes rest is good. Make that "great". And necessary. So most days I am scheduling in a nap. And so here I am, getting ready to slip into a short slumber with my cat, Princess.

I woke up feeling like a new girl, ready to listen to Cure Panel's weekly radio show. Today's topic: To transplant or not in Myeloma patients. So much is happening in the Myeloma world, which gives me great hope and confidence that some day soon, we may be able to cure, not just treat, this disease.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The kids are not alright

When I met Rob and we raced forward with our relationship, I was concerned about Morgan, my daughter who was seven years old at the time and in first grade. Was she alright with my dating? Post my divorce, I had dated two men: David and Todd. She knew David well and we spent a lot of time with him and his two daughters who were Morgan's age. We even traveled together. But beyond a simple hug, she never saw us be affectionate and she knew David simply as Mommy's friend. Morgan never met Todd.

After several months, I told Morgan that Mommy was dating Rob. At first, she thought it really weird and then she got used to it. When Rob and I decided to buy the new house and told her that Rob and I were getting married, she was ecstatic. In the few months Rob and I had dated, Rob and Morgan became very close. She loved him and she went to school and told her teacher that "My mom and I are getting married to Rob!" And she quickly called him Daddy. They were very close and Morgan loved to do all the things that Rob did-- diving off a boat, fishing, playing with lobsters and did fish, you name it. And I know that Rob loved Morgan.

Rob's two daughters Kalie and Nicole? Well that was a very different story. First, Rob told me that his girls were fine with his dating again. He and Terri had separated in July, six months prior, and Terri had a new boyfriend and everyone had moved on. Of course, that wasn't true. Terri had just moved out of their home a few weeks prior to our meeting and his girls were in deep emotional pain. In my defense, I had no idea. Completely clueless, I was or trust me, I would never in a million years have started dating this man.

The first time I met Nicole, Rob's oldest daughter, my first impression was that she was a very troubled girl. While she was pretty, I could tell in a second that she was smoking pot and probably doing other drugs. At one time, she had been a very good student but currently was barely making it through her classes, often ditching classes, smoking a lot of pot, and had some very questionable "friends." Nicole and her mom were not on good terms and Nicole was refusing to go to her mom's house for her weeks of custody. Rob said that Terri didn't like Nicole. They both told me of one story in which Terri had confiscated Nicole's phone. They were at Albertsons, the local grocery store, and had run into Terri, who had followed them both up and down isles trying to tell Rob that she had received many text messages on Nicole's phone in which the texter was trying to arrange drug buys with her. Rob thought it funny and blew it off. The result was that Rob no longer encouraged Nicole to go to her mother's house at all and she was living fulltime with Rob.

By the time we moved into our new home, Nicole had a new boyfriend, Tim. Tim was a nice enough boy but he, like Nicole, was going through some major issues. They spent hours and hours at the new house swimming, making out and nearly having sex in our loft, sleeping, going out and partying, and asking Rob for money, which he dutifully handed over.

Right away, I was already starting to get upset about that scenario. I demanded that we put some rules in the house because this was not working for me. No boys upstairs. Period. No making out in front of a seven year old child. No having sex in the house. No drugs EVER. All agreed.

One day shortly after moving into our new house, Nicole screamed at Bob: "I hate this house! I never wanted to move here. I want my old house. You never even asked!"

I was floored. She wasn't happy? She now had a big new house, a bigger room, a pool, central A/C, a better neighborhood. I thought all the kids should be thrilled, right? Stupid, clueless, gullible me.

And there that was Kalie. I really liked Kalie from Day One. She seemed kind, thoughtful, intuitive, smart and savvy. Initially, according to Rob, she told her dad she was fine with him dating but, really, what is a child supposed to say?

After Rob and I got engaged but before we moved into the house, Rob, Morgan, Kalie and I went to my BFF's Julie and Shane's for the weekend. While Rob disappeared to find a bar and drink, Kalie and I went shopping to look for a dress for our wedding. We found a beautiful one that looked amazing on her at Ann Taylor. It was a little pricey at $250 but I bought it for her anyway. I told her if we found something we liked better, we could always return it.

Rob flipped out and demanded we return the dress. Kalie was really upset. I think the dress signified something significant for her: something beautiful in the face of ugliness, and when she wore it, she felt pretty and hopeful. That set Rob and Kalie on a collision course. Kalie was sometimes openly hostile to her dad. Rob blew it off. "Kalie and I are tight. You just wait and see. She'll soon understand that her dad is the only one who can help her be successful in life and that her mom's a loser."

And so he started badmouthing Terri in front of Kalie like you can't believe. And there I was, going right along with it.

We'd hear things like: Your mom doesn't have enough money to pay for that house she rented. Without me, she'd have nothing because I'm the one with the money and she still depends on me. Her budget doesn't work out. Her job is stupid. I could've gotten her a better paying job at the company (they worked for the same place) but she's just too lazy.

I, who earned a substantial living and truly was self sufficient, would hear about her income and expenses and would be baffled. Wow, how was she going to pay those bills? And, truth be told, I was pissed off. Thanks to Rob's ex wife, I was the one writing check after check trying to cover these enormous expenses. I was literally drowning and the more horrible stories about this woman that I heard, the angrier and more frustrated I became.

It wasn't long before Rob and Kalie got in a huge fight in which Rob threw her cell phone in the pool, Terri came to pick up Kalie from our house, they called the police on Rob, and Kalie and Rob didn't speak for a few months. I've already covered that event in this blog so I won't rehash it here.

"The kids are fine!" Rob told me when I brought up the chaos going on in our home.

No,Rob, your kids are not alright.

And our wedding date kept getting closer and closer.

My Big Question of the day

You know what made my day? Having to shell out a big chunk of money to the IRS in order to satisfy my ex husband's obligation to pay his taxes. I'm so angry. As if I have nothing better to spend my disability payments on but my high income earning, healthy ex husband. Geez, thanks, dear.

If I have to hear him one more time talk about his financial successes, I think I'm going to be sicker than I already am.

Over the past, say, six months or so, I've received many phone calls from the lien holders of his two cars that he isn't making his car payments on time either. In fact, at one point, one of the banks was preparing to repossess his car. I didn't pay any of his back payments but I did help out by giving them his correct address and phone number, which he "forgot" to give the bank.

Which makes me wonder: With all the many, many friends that Rob claims to have, why the heck are none of them helping him out in his financial crisis? Odd.

Sorry I had to have another little rant today. I think I'll take a break and meditate. Anything to calm my pounding heart.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I'm on a train to Hell and I can't get off! (The story of how I accidentally got married)

I always said that couples should always date for at least a year before even discussing marriage. But I broke that rule when I met Rob.

I only started to date again because I had just experienced the most painful breakup of my entire life and I was trying to find something to distract me. See? Rebound relationships never work. They can't. You have to take time to mourn before you're emotionally healthy enough to move on. I learned the hard way.

This is me with Todd just a month prior to meeting Rob. Todd is the one who got away. I'm here to tell you that rebound relationships never, ever work.

Our first meeting was at his house. He offered to cook me lobster. He worked at the same company as my friend, Shannon. She asked around to ensure he was ligit. I asked Shannon if Rob was cute. She paused. "Well, he's 'cute enough'." Hmmm... I gave Shannon the address I was going to and texted her upon arrival. When I pulled up to his house, Rob was standing outside. My first impression was average at best. He was wearing dumpy sweats and a big huge Chargers jacket. All in navy. He had an oversized head, he was far heavier than I expected from a guy who said he ran marathons, and a strange walk-- tiny little steps. But he had good coloring and nice eyes. He seemed nice enough. Our date was ok. The next day, he showed up at my daughter's skating practice and, afterwards, rented skates and went skating with her. He was clearly trying hard. It was cute.

He was quick with getting me introduced to his family. Within a week, he had a talk with his younger daughter that he was going to be dating again and was he OK with it? He brought her to my condo and introduced us. Wow, that's bold, I thought. I just tell my daughter that Rob is my buddy, no more. (Years later when I learned that Rob and his ex wife had just separated about a month prior to meeting me, I was horrified. In my opinion, you just don't do that to your kids! You don't show your children that after a marriage, you just hop right back into a new relationship! That's so damaging and teaches such horrible messages to them that it makes my head spin. Of course, when your only concern is yourself, things like teaching kids important life lessons just don't matter. Yuck. Bad character? Hell yes.)

Just a few weeks after meeting Rob, he asked me to take family photos at the beach. This is one of them.

Not too long after meeting Rob, his ex wife called him when I was at the house. "Rob, I'm happy you're dating someone new, but you have kids so please take it slow." She said before Rob cut her off in a very loud booming voice: "I don't give a fuck what you think!" and he hung up on her. "Sorry," he said to me in a sheepish voice. I think he was a little shocked that he had let me see a very tiny eentsy weentsy glimpse of his temper. "She's so awful and I learned that communication skill from her."

For several weeks, I wouldn't even kiss Rob. The first time we did kiss, I got a voicemail a few hours later from a giddy Rob. "That was the best kiss of my life," he said. I thought it was funny but endearing. A few weeks later, he asked me for a commitment. "Rob, you just got out of a marriage. You need to date around. You shouldn't just commit to me this fast. Please, see what's out there," I said. "Do you want me to date others?" he asked. YES, I wanted to say. But that wouldn't be nice so I didn't. "Not really. I don't want to know about it but it's ok. You really should. Do it for yourself. If I'm really that great, you'll come back." But he insisted that he didn't want to date anyone else. I felt kind of bad because I was dating another guy, Conrad. But I was allowed, after all.

And then one day out of the blue, I heard from my ex boyfriend, Todd. My heart stopped. We talked and a few days later, I went to his house. We went for a run, got some pizza, and went back to his house where he pulled out his guitar and serenade me. Oh my gosh, I was melting. I was completely and totally madly in love with him. The whole world stopped spinning, I lost track of time, I was enthralled. This was how I should feel for Rob and I just didn't. I couldn't. I never would.

When I got home, there was Rob. Attentive, kind, thoughtful Rob who was so nice to Morgan and was clearly trying so hard to be "the guy" for me. I felt so small and guilty. Todd needed to be my past, not my present. I vowed to try harder to love Rob. He wasn't nearly as handsome, engaging or fun to talk to but he was so honest and great. It was really hard but I stopped responding to Todd's phone calls and, if I did, I was flip and flaky. I stopped seeing Conrad.

A few weeks later, I couldn't help it. I went out with Todd again. Hey, Rob and I didn't have a spoken commitment yet so technically I wasn't cheating. Todd and I went to dinner and then, on our way home, opened up my sunroof, blasted Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve, pushed the driver's seat as far back as it could go, and made out like crazy under a full moon. It was something out of a movie. I never wanted our time together to end.

The next day, I looked at my phone and there were several texts and voicemails from Rob in an absolute panic. Where was I? Why weren't we together? Terri (his ex wife) had cheated on him and he just couldn't handle it if I did that, too. It broke my heart. Oh.My.Gosh. I can't do this to him again. He doesn't deserve this, I thought. I called him and reassured him that I wouldn't cheat on him. He went for a run and came over to my house afterwards. I made a huge dinner to haul over to his house later that evening while he took a shower. That evening, I was really tired, and I fell asleep in his arms as we watched TV. It was sweet. This is real, I thought. No more Todd for me.

The next morning, I got a text from Rob: "Good morning. I love you. How's that?"

It took my breath away. I called him immediately. I couldn't say I loved him yet, I said, but give me time. After I hung up, I wondered why I just couldn't love him. What was wrong with me? I'll try harder. Surely it'll come?

Rob was great with my daughter, Morgan. He quickly became Dad. They were tight. They went fishing and did many things together. He was fun and she loves him very much. One of the tragedies of our divorce is Morgan and Siena. The last time Morgan saw Rob, she cried for a week. They miss him very much. It breaks my heart.

A few weeks later, we gathered up Morgan and his two daughters and we went skiing in Mammoth. I decided that even if I didn't love Rob, it was time to tell him I loved him anyway. Maybe if I said it, the feelings would follow. And that set us on a collision course of marriage.

Morgan searching for eggs left by the Easter bunny at the condo we rented in Mammoth. Rob spent time the night before hiding all kinds of goodies. Rob is standing in the forefront but you can only see his shoes.

It was maybe a month later and we were at his sister's mother in law's house for dinner. As Rob and I were sitting at a table and eating, Rob stood up and said, "Marry me in August." I was shocked and literally spit out my food. "You got me on that one," I said. Rob responded: "I'm serious."

Over the next few weeks, we decided that some day we would get married but we'd just wait to see when that would be. In my mind, I thought two things: 1) I didn't love him and, please, I wanted to love him. I knew I never would. But I thought that he would be a great companion and dad and we could probably build a great life together. And, best yet, we both had kids and some day they'd all have kids of their own and we could be surrounded by family; and 2) It was just an engagement some day maybe and people breakup all the time. I wasn't in too deep and I could back out of this relationship at any time if I wasn't feeling it.

And then we were driving around the Del Cerro neighborhood of San Diego one Sunday, there was an open house, we stopped and walked in and realized that, if we were to get married, the layout was perfect for our family. It had a pool, a master bedroom with attached office, a guest room on the main level, a big huge kitchen... Upstairs there were two bedrooms at one end and another bedroom at the other (perfect to separate Morgan a little bit from the older girls) and a loft where the kids could hang out in their own space.

"Let's make an offer!" Rob said.

I loved buying homes. Besides, it was just an offer. This was fun. Let's lowball it. They'll never accept. So we did and they accepted and Holy Hell, I was buying a house with Rob. We signed some papers and a few days later, I realized I wanted none of this. My "boyfriend/potential fiancĂ© some day" became my fiancĂ© NOW in that instance because we were buying a house together and I didn't love him and I wasn't sure I wanted to marry him at all and I loved my condo and now I would have to leave the beach community I loved so much and my simple life was beginning to end and WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING? NO NO NO NO NO. Rob was excited every day. I was sick. I couldn't sleep. I took a bath one night and had a complete and total panic attack. I had to back out. I could NOT DO THIS!!

I called Rob. "I need to back out. I can't do this. I don't want to break up (truth was, I sort of did. I didn't want any of this) but I don't want to buy this house. It's too expensive. It's too soon. I'm not ready. I don't want to move from this cute condo. I love you (not true) but I can't." I couldn't breathe. I was nearly hyperventilating. I started crying.

"Calm down," Rob said in his soothing voice. "It'll be OK. Things always work out."

"No they don't," I said.

That night, my ex husband asked if he could come over and use my computer. His wasn't working. Sure, I said. But it was bedtime. I went to sleep with Morgan in her room, locked our door, told Mike to lockup on his way out, and that was that. I was sound asleep when I got a phone call around 2:00 AM from Rob. I answered. He was yelling at me. "I just went over to your house to try and reassure you but guess who I found when I opened your door? Mike! What the HELL is he doing in your house?" he screamed.

"What? Well, as you can see, I am sleeping without him. I am LOCKED in Morgan's room. He was using my computer. Ok, I have to be at work early tomorrow. You know this. I will talk to you later," I said. (Hint Hint, Rob: I'm still on good terms with my ex husband, it sure would be nice if you could speak with your ex wife. Why was that? Oh, right, Rob said that his ex wife was a screaming hateful woman so he was unable to.)

"Fine! We are backing out of the house!" he yelled.

I was so relieved. Yes! My out. "Ok, sounds good. If we can't make it through this glitch, we won't make it through anything big. So let's cancel the house and we'll figure out 'us' later. I'm going back to sleep. I'll talk to you tomorrow." I hung up. I felt hopeful that this whole mess could go away.

But nope. Rob apologized. I did, too. Sorry I let my ex husband in the house but it's not like I was shagging him. Gross. And, unfortunately, the purchase of the house kept crossing one hurdle after the next, on its collision course.

Once more, I tried to back out. Rob flipped out this time: "We will lose $25,000. We can't back out. It'll be fine." Well, Rob, it's my $25,000 we'll lose, not yours because any penny you had went to your ex wife in the divorce, I wanted to remind him. I didn't. I took the high road and kept my mouth shut about that one. Instead, I responded: "I don't care about the money! I'm not ready for this. I can't do it."

Rob said, "Please tell me you will show up today at closing and sign papers. Please promise me."

When Rob's ex wife found out we were purchasing a home and he was selling their former home, she was livid. She called him: "You don't get married so fast, Rob! You heal, you get therapy, you help your girls adjust to their new reality. What are you doing? Oh my God, Rob, you need therapy. You need help!"  I could hear her on their other end of the phone because Rob motioned me over so I could listen in. As she spoke, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. She was right! But how the heck was I supposed to back out? Rob hung up on her. And I tried to put on a brave face, smile, and press forward.

At the time, I owned two homes in Utah that I had purchased as investment properties. I had to sell one of them to buy the house with Rob and try to settle some of the enormous debts that Rob had wracked up to his mother. For his part, Rob sold the little house that he owned and, after all settled, I realized I had a lot more cash on hand than he did. Ugh. And, really, this time it was too late to do anything but start signing-- purchase papers and papers to sell my house and checks-- lots and lots of checks. Some with Rob's money but mostly with mine. What the hell. I stopped sleeping. I also stopped eating. I was a wreck but I put on a brave face and smiled a lot.

Rob, Morgan and I went to the Bahamas over Memorial Day weekend, I got my engagement ring, and on our way back, Rob got a call while we were at the Miami airport that his oldest daughter hadn't gone to school while we were gone. Instead, she had a great time partying while we were away. Oh my, this was going to be fun living with wayward kids that needed to be redirected. Fabulous. Too late now. We got home and closed on the house.

Rob took this photo of Morgan and me at the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas. This is where we got engaged.

My parents were horrified. "Do you love him?" my dad asked. I giggled. "Oh, Dad, what do you think?" He answered, "I don't think you do. I think he's a nice guy but you don't love him. What are you doing?" Good question. Too late.

Julie said, "Liz, I've seen the guys you've been dating since your divorce and he's not even your type. Are you sure about this?" I couldn't answer, not even to my BFF.

Shane put it simply: "I give you five years."

It was time to start packing up my condo. My last night there, I took another bath and cried. We moved two homes over the weekend into our new big house. My boxes were neatly packed up with labels on which room every box should go. Rob's move was a disaster. Boxes of things dumped into them. Some boxes were packed well, others were thrown into the garage in a pile of-- disasterness.

Just a few days later, I had to go to New Orleans for work. Rob followed me out. We had fun. He went home, I stayed for work, I then had to go back to our new house, sick about what I might find when I opened the door. Sure enough, when I arrived, it was late and everyone but Rob's younger daughter was in bed. My heart stopped. I'm an orderly person who loves neatness. The house was a complete disaster. Rob's daughter was unpacking a few boxes in the kitchen, bless her heart, while her older sister and dad were sound asleep. How does anyone sleep when a house looks like this?

One of the photos I took when Rob and I were in New Orleans.

An omen of things to come. And our wedding date was getting closer and closer. Just two months away but I was already stuck. Stuck stuck stuck.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mommy Dearest is back in full swing

I am fighting an awful cold. Every single inch of my body aches. I have a sinus headache that won't quit. And without Afrin, I wouldn't be able to breathe. Yesterday, I dragged my sick self out of bed and helped the girls get ready for school, which entailed making their breakfasts and lunches, helping Siena do her hair, and signing off on forms for Morgan. When carpool picked them up (yay, I'm not driving this week), I was so happy.

I went to my bathroom, started up a nice bath, dumped my Epsom salts in with lavender and eucalyptus essential oils, and sank into the very warm water. It felt delicious and I had a big smile on my face. The water was still running and I had a good 40 minutes of soak time before I needed to get ready. Heaven. Peace. Warmth.

And then my phone rang. It was Morgan. "Hi Mom. I forgot my chorus uniform and I need it because it's 200 points of our grade."

"Ok," I croaked. I can barely speak because my throat and voice is a total mess. "When do you need it by?"

"Right now."

Holy.Flipping.Hell. I turned off the water and started draining my beautifully put-together bath. No more smile on my face. All those warm and fuzzy feelings of peace and serenity vanished. Just.Like.That.

The rest of my day sucked. I had an appointment with the bank at 9:00 that I really needed to get to. It was pretty comical, no doubt, because every time my financial advisor asked me a question, there would be a long pause as he and his assistant would look at me and I'd realize I was supposed to supply an answer. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" was my favorite phrase during that meeting. I finally said, "Maybe we should reconvene on Tuesday."

I then met my friend Jenny (actually, this part didn't suck) to look at a few Myeloma sites she's working on. I then came home and tried to sleep but every time I dozed off, either the phone rang or my mom or dad asked me something, unaware that I was sleeping. And then Siena came home. And I had to take Morgan and Alyssa to soccer practice and wait it out for almost two hours. The one bright spot is that during those two hours, I met William for dinner.

When I got home, I was just annoyed and I wasn't very nice. "Just so you know, Morgan, bringing your chorus uniform today was so not right. I was just getting in the bath and I felt like hell and when you called me I wanted to scrape my eyeballs out."

Morgan started crying. "I know Mom. I'm sorry!"

"No you're not. You have no idea how much I do for you and Siena. You don't appreciate anything I do for you."

...And Siena who was watching TV. "Turn that off. If I hear one more stupid 'hahahahaha' (laugh tracks) I'm going to vomit. Get upstairs and start reading or working on homework." Siena just looked at me, turned the TV and literally ran upstairs.

A little fear is good. I realized I was being Mommy Dearest and to calm down.

So I made some chamomile tea and, at last, fell asleep on the couch.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Validation (or "One of us is crazy. Is it me???")

Pretty much every abuser puts his victim down endlessly. My ex husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic) was no different. (If you're new to my blog, I call my ex Rob the Great because he constantly told me what a "great guy" he was and how he had so much to offer and, really, I should be so happy that I had a guy like him in my life.) He told me things like: without him, I wouldn't have a job; my job was in the dumbest part of the company; I couldn't survive a power outage without him; he was the best dad ever and our children liked him more than they liked me; I wasn't fun like he was; he made so much money and was so successful; if I left him, he'd find another girlfriend in a second because there were so many women out there looking for a great guy like him and, really, I had nothing but baggage and I would have a really hard time; he was so incredibly honest.

When we got in fights, he'd remind me of all of his wonderful qualities. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and fled our home and moved to Utah to enter treatment, the endless horrible texts and emails were incredible. I would read them or forward them to friends so they could see it for themselves because, really, it was hard to believe (Rob comes across as a really nice, sweet, helpful guy until you get to know him).

And then I got this email from Rob:

From: Rob
To: Lizzy
Subject: This is YOU baby!!!!
Everyone in my life hates you and is glad you're gone. Nicole can't believe that you took the girls after I started all over and agreed to raise kids again. The girls love me and miss their dad and I'll tell them it's your fault, baby, that they were taken away from their loving dad. Kalie hates you. She is getting so much more from me now that you're gone. If you think she's being helpful by telling you anything, it's all lies. She's so glad you're gone. When we go to court the room will be filled with everyone supporting me. My mom, Kalie, Nicole, Chris, Joanie, Aussie Mark, Kevin. The landlords are on my side. Even the woman at the Marriott thought you were really weird. So, baby, you just get better and can't wait to see you in court with all my friends ready to testify that I'm a great guy and you're a crazy, lying thieving nutjob. Have a great day!!!!!
A few email exchanges later, I sent Rob an email reminding him about the time in which Kalie told him, sobbing, that if he drank again during the weeks she lived with him, that she would move out and not come back. And then he drank in front of her a few days later and Kalie, true to her word, stopped living with him, decreasing his custody from 50-50 to 90-10.

Rob responded with this:  It never happened!! You're a LIAR and Kalie is going to write a letter saying it never happened!!!

Clearly, one of us is crazy. After a while, I started wondering if I was the crazy one and not Rob. I needed validation.
Immediately after getting this email, I contacted our landlords. "I'm sorry to hear that you're on Rob's side. Can you tell me what that means, exactly?" I asked. He was baffled. "On Rob's side? We don't have enough information to be on either side and we're just the landlords. That said, we hear you are sick and we pray you'll recover soon. We both like you very much and are so sorry."
Next, I sent Kevin a text message. Kevin is a friend of Rob's who coached Morgan in soccer for several years and was our Realtor in San Diego. "Hi Kevin. I hear you plan on going to court to testify on what a great guy Rob is and how crazy I am. I am sorry to hear that and wish you all the best. You know how much I struggled with Rob's drinking because you and I discussed it. I want you to know I never lied or exaggerated. I survived hell, escaped it, and am now sick." Kevin responded immediately. "I would never go to court to say anything bad about you! I know how much you struggled and I have not one thing bad to say about you. I don't know why Rob would put words in my mouth like that."
I then contacted the Marriott Residence Inn in La Jolla. I knew that Rob lied about this one. The girls and I stayed at that property three times over the years when Rob and I got into an argument and I needed to seek refuge somewhere. Each time, the stays were for one night and after checking in, we quietly retreated to our room, had breakfast the next morning, and left. I forwarded the email to the manager and talked with him many times. He interviewed every front desk manager at the property and told me that no one has any idea what Rob was talking about, nor would anyone ever give that kind of feedback.
Several months ago, I talked to Kalie, Rob's younger daughter. I told her that if there was anything in this blog that she found untruthful or hurtful to her or her mother, I would remove it. "No," she said. "Every single word is true and don't change a thing."
There was no need to contact anyone in Rob's family after I got the call from one of them. I've written about it in this blog but on that call, this family member told me that they all knew Rob was an alcoholic and needed help and they were incredibly disappointed that instead of getting help, he was simply acquiring a new girlfriend.
But the coup de grace was this email. It came to me several months ago via email. Someone had stumbled on my blog and sent me a private email. I've changed a few words and names so as to keep this person's identity private.
I know [a woman who knows Bob well] and that's how I know Bob. Even though he's nice and helpful enough, I always thought there was something off about him. Several in our circle thought the same. Of course we won't tell [our friend] this because we don't want to get in the middle of it. One night I did a Google search and found your blog. Wow what a story! I cried when I was done reading. Everything confirms what I thought but couldn't quite put my finger on. He's an alcoholic. I am so sorry you went through that and I worry about [my friend]. I am hopeful she'll figure it out before it's too late. Stay strong, Lizzy! You are an inspiration of strength and resilience. What comes around goes around. Some day Bob will feel the pain that he has caused you, your children and his first family. I'll be praying for your health and full recovery.
That email came at such a perfect time-- a time when I was having panic attacks about my health and future. As bad as I feel for any woman who gets involved with Rob, it is no longer me. I was so relieved that I was no longer the one listening to his screaming fits and pathetic excuses for his behavior. I was no longer his enabler. Instead of getting help for his disease, Rob finds a new honey. I was that new honey but no more. Sad that someone else becomes the "distraction" but at least it's no longer me. Let someone else help Rob teach his children that marriages are so unimportant that when one ends, just hop right back into another. That, really, is a "great" message to teach your children (if you want them to have unhealthy relationships themselves, anyway). Let someone else be Rob's cover. I was done.
Validation was necessary. A reality. Fact check. No, I wasn't the crazy one.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

At the top in Hollywood

We just got back from six days in Long Beach, California. We flew out on Thursday eve and went straight to Julie and Shane's, my BFF's. As always, it felt like we were home.

One of my favorite things to do in Southern California is hiking the Hollywood sign. I love the drive to the sign. The neighborhood is old-time Hollywood. Beautiful homes up a windy street that dead ends to many hiking trails and a horse stable. And the hike is awesome. Last time I did the hike, it was a huge struggle for me to make it. I had just come off of stem cell transplant and I was incredibly weak.

The children all made it! Look how happy Jake is in this photo. He wanted to go surfing but was "forced" to hike instead.

So on Saturday, we loaded up four adults and 12 kids into two cars and headed up. Shane lead the way with the kids who were in great shape, I stayed back with Julie, and William and his daughters got sidetracked and disappeared down a different trail. This time, my hike was much, much easier. My quest to get strong post transplant must be working. The views, as always, were amazing. I felt like I was on top of the world.

The best friends anyone could ever have is Julie and Shane. I don't know what I would do without them.

When we got back to the cars, William's daughters were waiting for us but no William. Apparently, he went looking for us. Some 30 minutes later, he made it back. He took a trail less traveled all the way up to the sign. Actually, the trail he took wasn't actually a trail. He went straight up the mountain to the front of the sign. He said it was strenuous beyond belief and he had to hold onto branches during part of the trail to pull himself up so he wouldn't fall. And, dear lord, he heard two rattlesnakes on his way up. If I had been with him, I would have had a complete and total meltdown over the snakes. I asked him if I could have made it up with him. The answer was "no way." William is in amazing shape and he said it was really super hard for him. Ok, glad I stayed on the normal trail. As hard as it was, he said, it was worth the experience a thousand times over. I'm jealous.

The girls got to see Grandma Peggy (my ex husband's mom) and do lunch, shopping and a movie. We had tried to meet up with Kalie, my ex husband's younger daughter, but we couldn't make it work. Instead, I invited her to join us next summer in Italy. I'm renting a villa for a month (I might add a few weeks onto that) near Lake Como so that'll provide ample catch-up time.

Later, we dropped the kids off at Knotts Scary Farm, they swam, we went to the beach, we did some interesting people watching at Venice Beach, and took a tour of the movie star homes that departed from Hollywood Blvd. I also participated in the radio broadcast while sitting on the beach in Seal Beach watching the waves. It was so nice. And, lastly, William and I took his girls and mine to Medieval Times in Buena Park for dinner. It was very entertaining-- the girls all loved it. Not cheap but something different and memorable.

These girls get along so well. I almost wrote "like sisters" but they get alone better than most sisters.

Funniest T-shirt. I almost bought it for William and then thought better of it. He'd never say that to me anyway.

Breakfast in Venice Beach

As busy as this all sounds, it was actually quite relaxing. I slept a lot and ate too much. Part of my healing process and focus on staying well means doing things that are good for me emotionally and physically. This weekend was spot on target and much needed. Some day I suppose I'll need to return to work but before that can happen, I need to get myself ready for it. This helps get me there. Not sure how I'm supposed to work around chemo brain yet. That part makes me most nervous, to be honest. Oh well, I'll have to tackle that topic another day.

Breakfast in Venice Beach. I'm starting to feel my cold coming on. My head was pounding and my throat was on fire.

We are home now. I have piles of laundry to do and I'm afraid to check my email inbox. I have a stack of mail. And a deadline for my column looming. But since I've now come home with a killer cold, a headache, fever and sore throat, it can all wait until tomorrow. Or the next day.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Happy anniversary to me!

My anniversary
I just had my one year exam! I did my tandem stem cell transplants, took a three week break from all treatments (dangit I got to feel "normal" again and it was terrific), and started my one year of maintenance therapy. Well that one year just wrapped up and I had my appointment with Dr K last week.

The great news? Things look fabulous.

The bad news? Because my maintenance plan is working so fabulously, we're going to keep me on the same exact regimen for, who knows, forever? For another year? For...? To be determined. I'm young, I'm in excellent health (minus this pesky myeloma thing), and I can handle thalidomide (not everyone can say this, whooohooo I guess??), so let's just keep it going! Um, I'm not sure I should celebrate or cry over this one. I think I'll celebrate. Every day that things look good, heck, why not? I guess I'll need to cope with forever chemo brain and some days of unimaginable fatigue. I'll be nice to my body when that happens and forgiving of myself. I'll take naps, rest, and live each day to the best of my ability. That is what I can control so control it I will.

So, the question is, how should I celebrate this achievement? Some thoughts:

1. Buy a new car
2. Go on vacation to Jamaica
3. Go on vacation to Long Beach in a few days and hang out with my BFFs and favorite guy, William (and all the kids between us all)
4. Get a massage
5. Renew my monthly Bikram Yoga pass

Or a combination thereof. These kinds of decisions are very fun.
Holy hell I am happy about Obamacare and holy hell I think the federal government sucks because they cannot flippin' get their stupid web site up and running. I mean, totally expected. But how embarrassingly pathetic. So my insurance broker has found a work-around. We're submitting the application hard copy, which even if you do your application online, it's going to get signed off by someone anyway. And now that I know my new premium, it gives me great peace of mind. Maybe Obamacare will be a huge disaster but we have to start somewhere.

And, lastly, a little plug on two great movies we've seen in the past few days.
  • Gravity: We saw this on IMAX. It's more an "experience" than a movie but it was terrific.
  • Rush: Amazing. One of the best movies I've seen in a very long time. I definite and complete "highly recommend"
Tomorrow the girls are out of school for the next five days and we're hopping on a plane and flying to Long Beach. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 interviews Dr Fonseca of Mayo Clinic

Last summer between my two stem cell transplants, I took a little trip to Scottsdale, Arizona for a fourth opinion at Mayo Clinic. Dr Rafael Fonseca met with me for over an hour going over my medical records from Kaiser (who first diagnosed me), the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute (who was treating me), the notes from LDS Hospital (who gave me a third opinion), and the results from the tests done at Mayo Clinic. He was incredibly knowledgeable and thorough, and his bedside manners rocked.

I am excited to see that Dr Fonseca will be the interviewed on's radio interview on Friday, October 11 at 3PM CST. While I'll be in Long Beach on vacation, I'm going to do my very best to listen in. You can, too, by dialing in: (347) 637-2631. For more information, visit

To transplant or not in Myeloma patients? Join Cure Panel Talk Show Oct 24 to find out


To transplant or not to transplant? That is the question

The Cure Panel Talk Show on Myeloma on 24 October, 2013 @ 6pm ET

The Cure Panel Talk Show is excited to feature Dr. Paul G. Richardson from Harvard Medical School / Dana Farber Cancer Institute on Thursday, 24 October @ 6pm ET.

Dr. Richardson is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, as well as Clinical Director of the Jerome Lipper Center for Multiple Myeloma at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Chairman of the American Myeloma Research Consortiom. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, University of London, and completed residency training at Beth Israel Hospital. Dr. Richardson is board certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology.

The biggest fight ever (the gloves are off)

Living with an alcoholic can be a really bizarre experience. "Volatile" is the word that comes to mind. With Rob, I never knew what or when an explosive fight would occur. As time went on, I tried in vain to try and avoid fights by carefully selecting things to talk about or how I acted. But none of it worked. Rob and I got in huge fights. Most of the time, when Rob screamed at me in his alcohol-fueled rages, I kept my mouth shut and walked away. But not always. And here is a classic example-- the story of our biggest fight ever.

On Sunday evenings, if we were in town, we often had dinner parties. This particular Sunday was one of them. I had spent the better part of the weekend prepping for our Sunday dinner-- making deserts, appetizers, breads, and marinades for Sunday. We invited the Mormon missionaries, Kalie and Nicole, his mother, his brother Chris and wife Joanie, the neighbors, and Deena and the twins (Deena is the sister of my friend, Lisa, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 38; she left four children behind and Deena took custody of all four children). It was Sunday afternoon and I was at the kitchen sink cutting up vegetables and Rob was sitting on the couch with a "soda" (which had lots of alcohol in it, though I wasn't supposed to "notice"). We were talking about where we should go on vacation next. I mentioned Europe and Bob wanted Alaska.

I kid you not, that's what started this fight. Out of nowhere, Bob's screeching high pitched scream boomed out. "You're so selfish! We never go anywhere I want to go!!!!!"

"Bob, why are you screaming at me?" Oh.My.God. I hated when he screamed at me. First, the pitch was horrific. It shook the entire house. Second, it was so condescending and pathetic that it made my heart pound. "I am standing right here. I can hear you."

"You never listen to me!!!" he shouted again.

"Bob, we are talking about vacation. This should be a happy topic," I said really slowly. Kind of like I would talk to a five year old (which, talking to Drunk Bob was just like talking to a five year old).

"Fine! I'm leaving! You can have your stupid dinner party all by yourself. I'm going to Anaheim." Bob was on a work assignment that had him in Anaheim Monday-Thursday. He usually left on Monday mornings but now, after a weekend of me prepping for a dinner party, he decided he wanted to leave? This was one time that I wasn't going to walk away from a fight.

"You are not leaving me to manage a dinner party alone- most of which are your friends and family," I said. I was so angry and, truth be told, freaked out. I didn't know how I could do the party alone and I didn't know what I would tell everyone. It would be so embarrassing and I tried so hard to portray this (false) image of our family and marriage.

I went into our bedroom and grabbed his laptop and ran outside with Bob chasing me. I walked out onto the diving board and held his laptop over the pool. "If you come close to me, I'll drop your laptop into the pool. Try it," I challenged him. This whole scene would have looked really comical if anyone had been able to record it.

"Don't do anything to my laptop. Oh my God," Bob was distressed, running his hands through his hair. "Please. I have so many work things on there that can't be duplicated. Please."

For once, he was contrite and humble. Drunk asshole, I was thinking. Wow, this kind of power isn't something I had normally felt. It was kind of nice. I was in the driver's seat. Yeah for me!

"After the dinner party, you can leave and never come back. Until then, I'm keeping your laptop and you can have it back when it's over. Then you can get the fuck out of here and stay gone," I said.

Bob promised, I took his laptop and hid it on the side of the house.

We had the dinner party and it was awful. I sat at a different table and every once in a while, I'd hear Bob say something really loud like: "Yes, women are really difficult. We men have to always try and pick up all the pieces. Right, Liz!" Our guests would kind of laugh and look at us-- not sure if it was a joke or they should laugh or what the hell was going on. I ignored Bob completely. I utterly hated him at that moment. He was a fat disgusting pathetic drunk and I loathed him.

The dinner party couldn't end fast enough. I did the dishes while Bob packed up for the week. Lord knows Bob would never put a dish away. At this time, everyone had left except the twins. Deena had left them in our home for a few hours while she ran errands. At this time, I gave Bob his laptop back.

"Here you go, now leave, asshole," I said. Bob's response was to grab the back of my head and kiss me hard.

I pulled away from him. "Don't touch me!" I said. I was stunned and disgusted.

He did it again, this time harder. I hardly remember doing this but I know I grabbed the side of this mouth and shoved him away from me. "Get away from me!" I said.

The next thing I know, Bob picked up the phone and called 911. "You cut me!" Bob screamed at me while he called the police. "I'm bleeding!" I looked at him. There was a small scratch to the side of his mouth.

"Please don't call the police," I pleaded. "Morgan is afraid of police. Please. You grabbed my head. You kissed me. You wouldn't leave me alone. Please. Oh my gosh. I'm sorry. Please just go to Anaheim."

Bob went into the garage and finished the call. I sat outside and waited, shaking. The kids were all up in the loft playing and watching TV so they saw none of this. The police came. One officer went to talk to Bob while the other talked to me. I thought for sure I would soon be heading to the police station. The officers then switched places- one talking to me and the other to Bob. Soon, a decision was made.

One of the officers said: "Bob admits that he has been drinking today. He is ok to drive now. Actually, because he grabbed you after you told him not to, you can press charges and we can arrest him. But if you're ok with it, we can wait here while he leaves tonight."

Yes, that is what I picked. I didn't want anyone going to jail. I just wanted him gone.

The officer was so kind to me. "I lived in an alcoholic home. You really need to consider leaving him."

Yes, I needed to leave him.

Then Deena showed up to pick up the twins. With the police cars in the front of the home. Holy hell, I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. At this point, the kids had come down from the loft and noticed the police. Deena and Taylor (Taylor is Lisa's oldest daughter who also lived with Deena) distracted the kids in the living room until Bob and the police left. Then she pulled me aside in my bedroom.

"Are you ok?" she asked.

For the first time, I started crying. "Yes. I don't know what to say. Bob is an alcoholic." I was so embarrassed. It was the first time I told anyone this bit of news. It sounded so strange coming out of my mouth. Weird. Liberating? A relief? Maybe.

"Lisa lived with this. Robert did all of this to her, too," Deena said. Yes, Lisa was married to Robert, a drug addict and his behavior was well known by everyone in the town we grew up in.

I called my best friend, Julie, and told her what happened. It was the first time I told her about the hell I was living in. It felt good to start confiding in a few close friends.

Over the next few days, I refused to have any contact with Bob. I didn't respond to phone calls or texts. Peggy called me and I spoke with her. She told me that she would encourage Bob to get help. Of course, none of that happened. And I spent a few more years living in the cesspool of alcoholism and abuse.

And it all started with a conversation on vacation options.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Exercises in futility

Lately you might notice that I'm focusing more on my divorce than my illness (and fight to get and stay well). That's because very soon I'll be announcing my weekly column, which I'm very excited about. As I'm on this new path of self discovery and life, there are a few major components that make up the new Lizzy Smilez: single mom, divorce, survivorship of alcoholism, and cancer warrior (multiple myeloma specifically). Today, my post is about alcohol survivorship.


If you want an exercise in futility, try arguing or pleading with an alcoholic. Because that's exactly what it is: futile. It doesn't work. Ever.
During my entire relationship with my ex husband, Rob, I kept thinking that if I said the right combination of words that he would finally realize the severity of his problem and get help. He promised. He apologized. He acknowledged. But he never got help beyond a few therapy or AA sessions.
It was frustrating beyond belief and, of course, I couldn't encourage or make him get help. Instead, I continued to be his punching bag while I wanted to bash my head into a wall in complete and total frustration. More than anything, I wanted to have a cohesive and peaceful home. I begged, pleaded, threatened and... and... stayed.
In case you're interested, the email exchange below is so typical. As a survivor of alcoholism and abuse, I can tell you that the most liberating thing you can do for yourself is to: 1) acknowledge that you will never change your abuser's behavior; and 2) stop engaging in any kind of dialog. It's a complete and total waste of time. 
From: RobertTo: Lizzy
Subject: Re: Dumped my brain.
Back to the last email I sent. I did more with you in 3 years than I did with Terri in 21, and more than folks go through in a lifetime.
With Terri, she never wanted to do anything. When I was done with that relationship and met you, I exploded. Kind like, let's get done with and do everything I could not do with her now. Buy a big house, buy property for retirement, and you had your goal of another child which I jumped on.
Travel etc...
Finally I had a wife that was willing to stretch the boundaries with me and I for her because I loved her.
Unfortunately, I bust out of the gate with my head down and it took me and you down.
My drinking as things progressed much worse than ever because work was piled onto all the other loads that we managed in 3 years.
Yes, that's what broke our relationship, too much, way too much in such a short period of time. Draining it was on us both.
I realize that now and like I said would be glad as hell to cut out all the large ticket items that are a burden (Big Home, white car, Big Bear) for ever and move into a small easy to maintain home with you, the kids and animals.
To me now that I reflect through all of your emails, that's what you wanted all along, a simple life, with kids, travel, and a focused family. Instead, I gave you hell on wheels, busting out to lay a path I never had with Terri, loving family Twhich we were), big home, vacation home, travel...none of that matters, I realize that now especially when its all gone
I would ask one last time that we try by unloading as much burden we have and allow me to be a much better husband and as important, a good father to our kids.
And yes, I've thought about the church and Allens talks when diving, and have experienced with your family, has me convinced that there is, at minimum, a great family reason for me to join the church. Its for the family as much as me, I need it, as well, but the family should pray together. I will get dunkedand take the steps necessary to do that and will do it whether you keep me around or not. After all, who knows what religion is the one to get you there, the more the better chance. And I am sincere about this. Drinking must go away, that was my concern in the past with joining. And I thought it was rediculous some of the rules you have, however a clean lifestyle leads to a happy healthy and spiritually solid family.
That is what I want, that is what I have/had right in front of me and I took advantage of it.
You are right with your anger, you are right to want to bail, you have the door right in front of you and the rear view mirror right there. You can take it, but with all I realize that we've tried to do, which is not what you want, I would like to work with you to simplify and pull the family together to focus on what matter instead of trying to create 2 handfuls of stress every couple of months.
You are very beatiful, educated, morally solid with a great head on your shoulders and do not drink, the kids love me and they are great wonderful kids, both are exactly what I was looking for and exactly what I want. - sure I've been the opposite in your eyes, but would like one last chance in one month after spending time with Randy and talking with Allen and the Bish to try to mend this.
I will get dunked and arrange for it the weekend you let me back in.
I f'd up, I stepped up, I want to right this cut back focus and move forward as Husband and wife and parents to the kids.
Its late, I'm going to have a rough day, but I'm glad I reflected.
I seriously love my very beautiful wife and kids.

From: lizzy
To: Stolberg, Robert
Subject: Re: Dumped my brain.
Excuse after excuse. ALWAYS an excuse. Men who beat up their wives and kids have an excuse too. Doesn't matter the excuse AT ALL-- its the victims who have to continually pick up the pieces, except I am not willing to clean up anymore. Sleep with you laptop, balckberry and photo of the brewco. It is where your heart lies, what gets all of your attention and the only entities that get your good side. I am done being a victim, my life is hell, I am exhauted and unhappy and I am not buying it AT ALL.
From: Robert  To: Lizzy
Subject: Dumped my brain.
I would like to switch gears a little bit back to the issue at hand the blew up on Sunday. This does not justify my actions at all, but helps you understand what lead to the outburst (which was totally wrong of me).
Yes I drank Sunday, it was a tough 3 days for me and I knew that work was around the corner which has consumed me.
Now work, yes, I admit, that my priorities have gone wrong. Prior to the project, I had dropped down to 203 pounds and was fairly healthy walking the dogs 2 times per day for a bit. I would pick up the kids and put Siena to bed most nights. Infrequently I'd do other chores, but have none assigned (although I know you have wanted me to take over bills).
Then, the project. I told you when I started, I'd be away for 4 days per week. What I did not know was what the project would do to me, exhaust me. Every day here is a new thing progressing at a very fast pace. It's a whirlwind that never stops. If you don't believe me, ask Rick D., Rick Gardner (who got divorced during it), or Robin Ables. When I get home and sit on my fat ass, it's because I'm brain dead and want to get all of it out of my head. But I can't. It's huge, and with anything business wise I put my head into (Big Bear Properties/Work/My Conversion Job), they all do great. Why, I get consumed and live it. I think of every process, every requirement, the entire end to end to make it a success. And this project, nearly pulling together a 1/2 Billion dollars into one integrated system is huge. Fair to you or anybody, no. That is how I tick. Projects and work always great, always get bonuses, always get raises, without being educated. It's what I hang on to and it's wrong.
With that, when I joined the project, I had no idea the amount of energy it would take away from my enjoyment and family life. You think I fish a lot now (no more than 2 sat am's a month), not at all until I talked with Allen a few months ago. I used to go 3 Sat.'s a month and I do not have that energy now.
Family, this has been a struggle for me. I love you, I love the kids, but unless I'm bashed in the head, my work and all the details get in the mix of it all. Work meaning anything I sign up for. I know it worked with Terri when I had actual chores (not bills, nor laundry) that was assigned on a calendar. That house part worked when we did that.
It is not my intention to avoid you, nor the family, nor is it my preference to ever explode the way I do. It all builds up inside me, like you right now and floods out that door. I love you all dearly, and you pay for me not knowing how to manage inside the family. So, please never say that I do not want a family, that is totally not the case. I want one bad and would pay anything to get clean in my head to be able to manage all of it. It's my head that gets in the way with it all. Yes I am an alcoholic. Terri hated it. And ruined that family. I don't want to do this to you because I love you like I will never love another woman.
Lastly, everything I do is to improve my and my families life now and in the future. I want us all to be ok, but I see now that when I do this while away, I'm piling all of the enhancements on to your shoulders. I can get rid of Big Bear, get rid of the white car, can sell Corto if that would help ease your mind. We'd probably come out of it paying off all our biils, in a much smaller house, and nothing more that a home, animals and vacations to tend to. However I'd like a boat at some point, the kids and I love that.
From: Lizzy
To: Robert
Subject: Re: Re:
And, besides, that's like saying "We have great times, then I beat you up maybe once per month, and then I apologize and we have great times again." That's OK? NO, it is NOT OK. Besides, on a DAILY BASIS I am killing myself trying to work harder and faster to keep up with the house while you are either GONE, sitting on the couch, napping, fishing, etc. That is a DAILY struggle for me. It's not for you, obviously, but it is for me. Every. Single. Day. The fact that I cope with it does NOT MEAN IT's FINE when we aren't fighting. If you look at it that way, pretty much EVERY day sucks for me, I just happen to cope with it better on most days than others.
From: Lizzy
To: Robert
Oh, yes, you've done so well with the pressure to perform in the past, haven't you? yes, the times we've seperated, the times I've threatened to divorce you, the times you've promised to be well, the times you promised to do AA, while on the cruise when you told me that you were weren't drinking but, after looking at your cruise statement, you drank a lot. Yes, all those times you've done SO well, haven't you. The more you promise, the more you write, the more you say that "this will be different" the more disgusted I am with you. I do not believe a thing that comes out of your mouth, I don't believe ANY of your empty promises, and I am NOT willing to work on this relationship ANY more. You've felt pressure in the past to perform differently in this marriage and you have NOT. This time will be NO different. I have heard ALL of this before and, quite frankly, I do NOT care if you get well.