R.I.P, Betty Ford

Betty Ford died yesterday at age 93. I’m so glad it wasn’t the breast cancer that killed her. As a young(ish) cancer-chick myself, it’s depressing as all get-out, not to mention terrifying, to learn of other women’s death from the disease we share. When this damned BC menace claimed Elizabeth Edwards, I was saddened and more than a little sick to my stomach at the stark realization that this disease does kill, young or old, healthy or not. The fact that this dreaded disease claims some 40,000 women a year brings into sharp focus the loss of maternal love that comes with each BC casualty. Knowing how much I miss my own sweet mama, the idea of the motherless Edwards children weighed heavily on my heart for weeks after her death.

I was a kid when Betty Ford was in the White House, so I don’t have much of a reference point for her. I do recall a grade-school chant of “Ford, Ford, he’s our man; Carter belongs in the garbage can” during Ford’s bid for re-election, but like the other kids on the playground, I chanted that with virtually no knowledge of politics. I’m sure I knew that Richard Nixon had been president, but was much too busy riding my bike and playing cul-de-sac games to realize that Gerald Ford became president in August of 1974, taking the place of a disgraced Richard Nixon. Now I know that Ford had been vice president less than a year before being “called up”; he’d been chosen to succeed Spiro Agnew, who also left office in disgrace amidst accusations of tax evasion.

I’m sure I didn’t realize that Betty Ford went from a “regular person” to wife of a Congress member fast. Really fast. She married Gerald Ford a month before he was elected to Congress; in fact, he was late to their wedding because he was campaigning up to the last minute. When JFK was president, the Fords became friends with the Kennedys and attended several parties at the White House. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, Betty Ford lingered at the burial and was the last woman at the gravesite. Two years later, Ford was elected minority leader of the House, and was away from home a lot. That’s when her heavy drinking began, and it continued for more than a decade before her family intervened. After she conquered her addiction to alcohol and pain pills, she founded the Betty Ford Center, which opened in October 1982. Since then, some 27,000 people have been treated there, including celebs like Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore, and Mickey Mantle.

I didn’t think much about Betty Ford once I was an adult, either, since her time in the spotlight had more or less passed and she endeavored to live as a private citizen. She apparently shunned the spotlight yet was returned to it in December 2006 when the country entered a 6-day mourning period upon the death of President Ford.

Even then, I didn’t think much about her, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

See, Betty Ford was a member of the pink ribbon sisterhood, and she blazed a trail that has significantly benefited subsequent generations of women. Women like me.

I was 6 years old when Mrs Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast. She learned the bad news on September 26, 1974, according to the First Ladies’ biographies website. Two days later, she underwent a radical mastectomy. She’d been the First Lady for a matter of weeks when she was diagnosed. She faced the situation with the candor for which she’d become known: she announced her diagnosis and surgery publicly and even invited the media into her hospital room and posed for photos. Here she is, reading a get-well card signed by Congress.

AP file photo

I have no idea if she realized how much of a trailblazer she was. It’s probably just how she was, and to her, being outspoken and honest about her “cancer journey” is “just what you do.” I can relate to that. I hope Mrs Ford realized the impact she had on breast cancer awareness, which is safe to say was nonexistent in the early 1970s. I think she must have, based on this quote: “Before I was ever out of the hospital, there were, on television, women checking in to have mammograms,” Ford said at the Gerald Ford Museum in May 2001. “It was kind of like, if the first lady can have breast cancer, anyone can have breast cancer.”

Mrs Ford underwent two years of chemo, and in the fall of 1976 her doctors declared her cancer-free. Someone once asked her if she felt sorry for herself after losing her breasts. I absolutely adore her reply:

“No! Oh no — heavens no. I’ve heard women say they would rather lose their right arm, and I can’t even imagine it. It’s so stupid.”

She believed that women facing breast cancer should “go as quickly as possible and [get the surgery] done. Once it’s done, put it behind you and go on with your life.”
It’s safe to say that Mrs Ford paved the way for countless women–including yours truly– who were diagnosed after her. She removed the stigma from cancer, and breast cancer in particular. Before she piped up, there was no breast cancer awareness, no public discussion, and certainly no pink-ribbon culture. Barbara Brenner, former executive director at Breast Cancer Action said that Ford “showed people that you can live with cancer, that it’s not a death sentence.” The Komen organization has similar respect for Mrs Ford. Their official statement says “Betty Ford opened the door for millions of women when she candidly acknowledged her breast cancer diagnosis at a time when we didn’t talk about this disease and untold numbers of women suffered in silence. She showed the world that breast cancer could be faced with courage, with humor and with great dignity.”

It’s also safe to say that Mrs Ford would likely be quite pleased with the advances that have been made in breast cancer treatment. Ironically, in the same year she was diagnosed, Tamoxifen was showing itself to be a wonder drug in decreasing breast cancer recurrence. Now it’s become a household name in the BC community, and it’s a daily part of my life.

I think I would have really liked Betty Ford. Not just because we’re both members of the dreaded pink ribbon club, either. Because she was smart, sassy, outspoken, and real. She was a survivor, in every sense of the word. She was beloved as First Lady, and used her role as a platform to educate the American public on controversial subjects such as abortion, marijuana use, and the Equal Rights Amendment. She made it clear that she and President Ford would share a bed in the White House (something not previously publicized, apparently), and when someone asked her about sleeping with the president, she said “I do–every chance I get.”

She was perhaps unconventional as First Lady, and I like how she shook things up a bit. I love this story about her, told by White House photographer David Kennerly. On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford walked by the empty Cabinet Room and told Kennerly, “You know, I’ve always wanted to dance on the cabinet room table.” Kennerly said, “Well, nobody’s around.” Opportunity knocked, and the plucky First Lady took advantage.

Kennerly says she took off her shoes, hopped up there, and struck a pose. “She’s a tiny woman, really, in very good shape. Very graceful, as a former dancer with the Martha Graham company. She got up there.”

Speculating on why Mrs Ford would be compelled to dance on the table, formally set with notepads and ashtrays (yes, ashtrays!), Kennerly realized that very few women have had a seat at that table. “I bet you could count them on one hand at that point, and knowing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment”—she endorsed it—”she was tap-dancing in the middle of this male bastion. She was storming the walls of the gray suits and gray-haired eminences.”

“It was a wonderful and whimsical ending,” Betty Ford wrote, “to that magical time I spent as first lady.”

R.I.P, Betty Ford.


The much-anticipated results of last night’s game

It was do-or-die for the mighty First Colony Red Raiders last night, and the cause of my nervous stomach all day yesterday. I would love to keep everyone in suspense about the outcome, and bury it at the bottom of a long, blabbedy-blab post, but that would be mean, and while I’m not above being mean, I do believe in the great karma wheel and want it to spin my way.

So, without further ado….RAIDERS WIN!!!

The stands were packed, the tension was high, and the mighty Raiders were pumped. Lots of non-Raider First Colony families turned out to support the boys in red. That’s one of the great things about our league (besides our utter dominance thus far in the All Star tournament, with the American League 9, 10, and 11-year-old teams winning district); we support each other. We hear comments from teams we pummel into the ground about our league having a “A” team and a “B” team, but it’s just not true. Nothing but sour grapes. Our league is divided into an American and a National league based on geography, pure & simple. Where a player lives in relation to the dividing line determines whether he (or she) is on an American or National team. No gerrymandering at FCLL.

And now, back to the game…

We had our starting pitcher on the mound, fresh after a day of rest and reset pitch count. The West U team did not. We faced the same pitcher who started for the boys in green on Monday, in which we delivered a 7-4 victory.

Our starting line-up remained unchanged: Max, Cody, Payton, Mark–ready to slug it out. Then comes Gus, Kyle, Camden, Taylor, and Carl. Cooper and Anthony are ready to assist at a moment’s notice. The bats were hot and the Raiders took an early 5-0 lead. No sloppy errors last night, as our boys delivered some first-class fielding and shut the West U team down seamlessly.

Final score: 12-2 in a run-rule (for the uninitiated, in this tournament, it’s considered a run-rule if one team leads by 10 runs after the 4th inning. What it means is the other team can’t catch up, so the game ends early. It’s rather demoralizing for the team who is behind, and exhilarating for the team with the big lead).

Celebration abounded as the Raiders and their parents whooped with joy at the victory. If the baseball gods had not smiled upon us, we’d be done with All Stars for the summer, and a certain gamer at my house would be in a foul mood for the rest of the summer. All Star families pretty much plan our summers around the idea of going all the way in the tournament, which means daily practice from the first week of June to the State Championship at the end of July. I am so very glad I don’t have the entire month of July to fill. It will be baseball, baseball, and more baseball — just the way we like it.

Apologies for the crummy photo quality — the iPhone is a wonderful device, but even with all the improvements the camera still doesn’t handle motion well. You get the gist, though, even with less-than-stellar pics.

Payton receiving his district pin from the league pooh-bah (in the black shorts).

Close-up of the district pin, which is quite an honor to wear. And a mighty fine profile, if I do say so myself!

Getting congrats from the West U team and coaches (who were very nice throughout, by the way, and that’s not always the case with opposing teams. A couple of their players cried in the field when they realized their run to State was ending, but the parents and coaches were quite civil). 

The ceremonial dousing of the coach with the water cooler. Craig is a very good sport. 

One of my favorite family shots — with a victorious boy under the scoreboard (which I cropped out because the glare off the board was heinous).

Payton being interviewed by a local sports reporter. And yes, of course I will link to the story when it comes out. See this, though, for a previous game’s story. 

Proudly displaying the district banner, which will be on display at our home field, hopefully surrounded by that of the sectional tournament and finally, the State Championship!


A whole new ball game

I’m as nervous as a cat. On a hot tin roof.

Payton’s All Star team was one game away from being district champions last night, and they went down in flames. We’d already beaten the West University team but they came back with a vengeance (and their best pitcher). As a seasoned baseball mom who’s used to watching a confident & uber-talented team, I can usually get a read on the game and have a sense of how it’s going to end. Last night I didn’t have my usual “sixth sense” before the game, and even when our boys launched 2 homers in their first at-bat to take a 3-0 lead, I didn’t settle in with my usual feel-good feeling about the outcome.

My kid got hit by a pitch during his first at-bat. Not a wimpy pitch, either, but a smokin’ fastball. That fastball thumped his thigh, just above the knee, quite audibly. My mama- bear instinct kicked in and I was on my feet, wondering if my boy would crumple in a heap on top of home plate. Then my rational brain kicked in and reminded me that my boy is tough as nails and meaner than a red hog on the field. He takes pain like it’s a cool summer breeze, as if it’s a “woonty” on the shore of Salisbury Beach. His pain tolerance is incredible, and yes, he gets that from me. He’s the ideal football player — a coach’s dream — because he’d rather take a beating than admit he’s hurt. Most kids take a “test jog” down the right-field line after being hit by a pitch, to make sure they can still run without a hitch in their giddy-up. Not my kid. After being pounded, my kid just casually tossed his bat and trotted to first base. Not a wince or a whimper from him.

Here’s the after-effect. I expect it to become much more colorful in the coming days. 

Payton’s teammate Gus responded to the bean-ball by hitting a homer off the pitcher who pegged my kid. Way to go, Gus!

Sadly, the First Colony bats weren’t as hot for the rest of the game, and we came up short. Errors in the field added insult to injury, and the boys in red got a long, stern talking-to from their coaches instead of a celebratory toast at the local pizza joint.

We face West U again tonight, and will likely bring a renewed vigor for victory. It’s winner take all tonight, so the stakes are high. Whichever team goes home tonight with a victory moves on to the sectional tournament, with hopes of progressing through that and onto the State Championship. Last year, that team was ours, and we’re all hoping for a repeat performance.

No one wants this more than me, since I missed every bit of it last summer. Thanks to a post-mastectomy infection, I was in the hospital instead of in the stands.  The team honored me by wearing pink sweatbands throughout the summer, and Payton still wears his. We had to get a new pair, though, because the original pair was filthy. The kind of filth that repeated washings and soakings and pre-treating can’t remove. Lots of sweat but no tears last summer.

Apparently I’m a bit nervous , as I was awake at 4:20 a.m. thinking about tonight’s game. Someone asked me at the gym the other day if I’m one of “those baseball moms.” I wasn’t sure what she meant — the kind of baseball mom who attends all the games and cheers for everyone on the team? Or the kind of baseball mom who gripes at the coach and yells at the umpire about being unfair toward her baby? I’ve seen both kinds. I like to think of myself as the former, but I have been known to yell at an ump a time or two over a particularly egregious call. I am the kind of baseball mom who wears my kid’s jersey to the games, proudly displaying #11 on my back just as my kid does. I am the kind of baseball mom who decorates the car windows, as is tradition around here, so that everyone on the road and in the parking lot know that there’s an All Star on board. 

I am the kind of baseball mom who feels deep pride at my kid being selected for All Stars. 20 players are chosen, then that group is whittled down to 11 or 12 for the traveling team. Lots of players — and lots of moms — would give their eye teeth to be a part of this team. Missing the games and the camaraderie last summer was hard. Really hard. I was able to follow along with the games via an iPad app that allows a user at the game to enter the pitch-by-pitch action so a user on the other end can follow the play-by-play. One of the moms asked me last night if it’s more nerve-wracking to follow along or to watch the game live. I said watching live is way more nerve-wracking. Sitting in a hospital bed staring at the iPad screen isn’t nearly as complete an experience as being in the stands, in the heat, with the roar of the crowd and the sounds of the game. I do have fond memories, though, of the nurses who were constantly in and out of my room getting involved and asking for updates on the game. And I distinctly remember forgoing pain medicine so I could be lucid enough to follow the game. This summer is a whole new ball game, for me.