Thursday, February 28, 2013

For You, Today Is National Rare Disease Day. For Me, It Is Everyday.

Just weeks after my first daughter was born here in Los Angeles, we packed up and headed to our old hometown of Boston.  My father-in-law was terminally ill, and we knew having the freedom to spend my maternity leave with our family during his final days was invaluable.

So, when I started waking up with sore wrists every morning, I kept things in perspective.  I paid attention to how I was sleeping, to make sure I wasn’t straining them.  No new mother ever has a free hand, but I tried to give mine whatever break I could.  I massaged them.  I stretched ‘em.  Still, no relief.

When I finally spoke up, my mother (a retired RN) suggested it might be tendonitis from holding the baby.  This seemed completely plausible, but somehow I knew it wasn’t the case for me.  My discomfort was mirrored, identical in both wrists.  I knew that if this were related to the position in which I was holding my tiny daughter, or her bottle, one side would be significantly more affected.  Back to the drawing board I went.

Some time later, back home in Los Angeles, I saw my general practitioner.  He said exactly what I suspected he’d say, which is just what my mother had suggested (typical).  Tendonitis.  Though he suggested a regimented schedule of Advil and icing, I skipped it.  I waited however many weeks it was that he wanted me to hold out before a follow-up visit and returned, still uncomfortable.  Leaning toward arthritis, he referred me to a rheumatologist.

Fast forward through my first visit with her, and the agony of waiting for test results that we all are too familiar with.  I have a vivid memory of working late in an edit bay at The Bachelor when her office called.  I excused myself, as an after-hours call from the doc is never good.  My bloodwork looked fine, she said.  No arthritis.  I did, however, have a slight positive for Lupus.

As anyone familiar with autoimmune disease knows, they are very difficult to diagnose.  Even the blood test I’d had was a slight indicator of the disease more than anything.  There were still several factors to be considered, over time, before a real diagnosis could be made.  Also of great significance was that I was still post partum, when anything you are already prone to can flare, so time alone may have healed me.  But it didn’t.  My symptoms worsened.

It was nearly two years of a watchful eye before my rheumatologist was 100% convinced that I have Lupus.  Though there is little I can do to protect myself against the toll the disease can take, I am thankful to finally call it by name, even if that name is one people have heard so little of that they are unsure of what it means or how to react when I mention it.

The bottom line is that I knew in my heart (and joints) that something wasn’t right, and wouldn’t let that be dismissed.  It isn’t always easy to trust your body first and foremost, but the alternative is a sad and dangerous one.

Today is National Rare Disease Day, intended to increase advocacy, awareness, support and education of such illnesses.  I hope that attitude continues for the next 364 days of this year, and onto the next.  And you can help. 

Listen to your body, and encourage others to listen to theirs.  The secrets you hear may be the most revealing (and lifesaving) ones ever.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Was Hardly Expecting To Make This Playground Apology To Taylor Swift...

I had serious beef with a five year old that isn’t mine.

We were at the playground.  My youngest, nearly three, was climbing up into a swing when another child came over and hip checked her, รก la Wayne Gretzsky.  When I told her (gently) that it wasn’t her turn and that she could have the next spot, it was clear she had other plans.  Well, I'm sure this guy had other plans for his teeth, too.

(Bobby Clarke)
Her mother saw us chatting from across the park, but never approached.  Eventually my daughter and I moved on, waiting for the next opening.  But I was furious.

This was the first time I saw my daughter be bullied, and it hurt.  Despite her indifference to the situation, I was thankful that I had been there to protect her, as she can’t compete with a girl twice her age.  But let’s face it, I am several times the bully’s age, and still couldn’t reason with her.  It scared the shit out of me.

I am doing what I can to teach my kids about bullying.  We are big fans of the book “The Juice Box Bully” and the promise it encourages us all to make to take action against such behavior.

My hope has always been to teach my children enough respect and compassion to keep them from being anything close to a bully.  But as the above crash course illustrated perfectly, I can’t stop another person from doing it to them.

In hindsight, I have come to admit that I too can be a bit of a bully.  I think we all can be at times...  I love making fun of Taylor Swift on Twitter.  Granted, the chance of her seeing one of my lame jokes is even smaller than that of her recording a ballad duet with Kanye, but it doesn't matter.  On that playground, I started to feel the pangs of guilt for it.  And I felt terribly for her mother.

Thankfully, there is something I can do.  I can support my kids in making the Juice Box Bully Promise.  I can even make it myself, and encourage you to do the same.

I guarantee Taylor Swift’s mother will thank you.

For more information on The Juice Box Bully & it's promise, click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Dangers of Reality TV Can (Literally) Be Hell... Or Heaven

The world lost an incredible helicopter pilot during a tragic crash while filming in California last week.  A brilliant video camera operator and reality show cast member were killed in the same accident.

Unfortunately, this is neither the first fatality on the set of a reality television show, nor the first loss of life attributed to the often grueling production of such programs.  Shockingly, I have an opinion on the matter.

I think I speak for many of us married to the genre when I say we are a world all our own.  Our staffs, from creative producers and production management to legal counsel and technical crew, are unique.  We are artists, free thinkers, free spirits and rebels.

We accept late night phone call orders to hop on a plane to an unknown destination in 3 hours.  We bring all-weather gear, moleskin notebooks and passports everywhere we go.  We don’t just love adventure.  We are adventure.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Still, we are our own body.  We make our own decisions.  And, like anyone, we make the sacrifices that come along with pursuing a passion.

I have flown in many helicopters, over both glaciers and volcanoes, including several flown by the fallen pilot.  My daughters haven even flown in them, in utero.  But I wanted to be there.  Had I ever, ever expressed a fear of flying or used motion sickness as a lame excuse to avoid the trip, I could have opted out.  I didn’t.

(Yes, The Door Of The Helicopter Is Wide Open)
Granted, my parameters have changed along the way.  Before shooting Jason and Molly Mesnick bungee jump in New Zealand, much of our crew took advantage of the plunge.  A new mom, I couldn’t justify that risk.

But I softened with time.  Two years later, when given the chance to take a seven-month pregnant plunge off a pirate ship rope swing into the Caribbean ocean, I took it.

(OMG, OMG, I Can't Believe I Just Posted This)
I have heard many an argument considering the safety, liability and risk- both physical and emotional- involved with producing reality television.  Much like our footage, they will go on without end.

The bottom line is, I guarantee pilot David Gibbs and camera operator Darren Rydstrom died doing what they love.  And I hope, when the time comes, the same can be said for you.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

As Diane Sawyer & I Both Know, One Interview Can Change It All

I’m often asked how I got into television.  Truth is, I grew up wanting to be a Child Psychologist.  In college, I started out studying elementary education for moderate special needs.  But after my very first rotation as a student teacher, I knew the position wasn’t for me.  Even in the second grade of an affluent Massachusetts town, the job saddened me.  Barely seven years old, one beautiful girl suffered from liver issues.  A classmate, consistently late to school, had to deal in the morning not only with getting ready alone, but also with his alcoholic mother.  And this wasn’t even the special needs room.

The teacher whom I was supporting told me that in her first years of teaching she dreaded Friday afternoons, as she would miss and worry about her students over the weekend.  She could hardly wait for Monday morning to arrive.  “If you don’t feel that way, this isn’t the job for you” she said, clearly wishing someone had given her the same advice.

Next on my list of who I wanted to be when I grew up was Diane Sawyer.  So I changed my major, made a great demo reel, and over ordered this ridiculous headshot:

My very first job was at a production company housed in Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB.  I knew from the moment I stepped into their newsroom that it was the energy behind the camera, not in front of it, that I craved.  I pursued producing, with great success, but a small part of me often wondered if I had made the right decision.  Until this.

Nearly a decade ago, I spent several months in Austin, Texas working on a show for ABC called “Welcome To The Neighborhood”.  Several “diverse” but well-deserving families would compete to win a home in a very white, Christian & Republican neighborhood, with these peeps.

After months of casting and prep, principal shooting began, and in no time at all we were shooting our first elimination, and accompanying interviews.

So as the professional tattoo artists were shuffled off into their send-off interviews feeling frustrated and dejected, I held the hand of their gorgeous 6 year old, blonde hair, blue eyed daughter, ready to do hers.

She sat on the curb while I sat on the pavement and asked her why she thought her family was being sent home so soon.  She had yet to enter the first grade, but spoke more eloquently than most high school graduates.  We cried together as she expressed how hard it is to have people make assumptions about her parents based only on their looks.  I knew in that moment that I was doing what I was meant to do.

Unfortunately, the world didn’t get to see that interview, or the incredible story that proceeded to unfold throughout the season.  Hours before our premiere, the National Fair Housing Alliance threatened to sue ABC on the grounds that the show violated anti-discrimination housing laws.  Sadly, it was shelved.

Granted, network promos aired where a current resident in the cul-de-sac that would welcome the winner stated he would not tolerate gays in his neighborhood.  But in an incredible turn of events and prejudice (no need for a spoiler alert warning here) the gay family won.  And in a way, so did I.  Years after that interview, it’s camera operator recommended me for a job that I took and was a life-changing experience for me.

Difficult as it may be, often we must wait until an event has long passed before we can fully understand or appreciate it’s purpose.  Thankfully, it can be well worth the wait.