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15 posts from October 2012

October 10, 2012

Debbie Zelman: Balancing stomach cancer with a greater purpose

How do you survive a death sentence?

Luck, good doctors, experimental treatments, an integrative medical routine, love, support and a bigger purpose.

Those are the factors that have helped Debbie Zelman survive for five years after she was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer, which carries a survival rate of only 4 percent for five years.

If you meet Debbie, you immediately want to support her efforts to find a cure for stomach cancer. She is upbeat, energetic and positive. She reminds all of us not to sweat the small stuff in our daily struggle with work life balance but to look for a greater purpose. Debbie now balances her personal health with a mission to help others with the disease as founder and president of Can't Stomach Cancer.

I hope reading her story inspires all of you as much as it has me.


Health — and purpose — keep angst in check

A cancer survivor’s example underscores the importance of a greater purpose in keeping work, life and health in balance.
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Debbie Zelman, cancer survivor and founder of Can't Stomach Cancer.
        Debbie Zelman, cancer survivor and founder of Can't Stomach Cancer.    

By Cindy Krischer Goodman


            Just last month, in a cozy restaurant with family around the table, Debbie Zelman blew out the candle on her birthday cake. It was an act that was both defiant and exciting. Zelman had turned 45.

Others might look at a milestone birthday with angst. For Zelman, the occasion marked something entirely different: resilience and determination after turning back from a deadly form of cancer.

In our daily quest for work/life balance, we live in the present, trying to get dinner on the table, the sprinklers fixed or meet a work deadline. But then comes a health crisis and all our mundane “to dos” seem inconsequential. In October, as the country gives our attention to cancer survivors, people like Zelman remind us that balancing personal health with a job that makes a difference for others is the ultimate balancing act.     

      It was only five years ago that Zelman was zooming between the demands of her own Broward County law office and her home life with three young children and husband. And then, her meals just wouldn’t stay down.

Doctors first told her she was suffering the effects of stress. Weak and famished, Zelman checked into a Plantation hospital. After tests, a hospital doctor delivered a deadly diagnosis: inoperable Stage 4 stomach cancer, rare in young women and carrying a survival rate of less than 5 percent in five years.

It seemed the most shattering news Zelman could possibly receive.

But Zelman, whose youngest was only three, immediately reacted obstinately.   “I cannot and will not picture my kids without a mother.” Zelman remembers thinking: “I could either let this disease define who I was or I could fight for my life. Well, I’m a fighter. ”

About a year after her diagnosis, Zelman figured she needed a game plan. She had spent much of that year in bed, doctors’ offices and hospitals. She needed to know that somebody, somewhere, was working to find a cure for stomach cancer.

Initially, Zelman launched Debbie’s Dream Foundation as a way for family and friends to help her fund innovative research and raise awareness of the disease. That foundation, now a national non-profit charity based in Davie and called Can’t Stomach Cancer, has turned into something giant and inspirational.

Zelman has rallied more than 10,000 people across the country to organize and participate in at least 50 events to raise money for stomach cancer research. She has brought together 20 of the country’s top doctors to participate in Can’t Stomach Cancer’s medical advisory board.

She has put together two national educational symposiums for doctors, patients and caregivers to share information. She has built a website, hired staff and founded a program to help cancer patients get information on where to go for treatment and how to connect with survivors.

Thanks to her efforts, Can’t Stomach Cancer now has eight chapters across the country. She now sits on the Esophago-Gastric Task Force of the National Cancer Institute.

Zelman built Can’t Stomach Cancer while receiving chemotherapy every three weeks, going on date nights with her husband, Andrew Guttman, and driving her three children, 14-year-old twins Rachel and Zachary, and 7-year-old Sarah, to school and activities.

“When I’m not being a mom or cancer patient, all my free time is devoted to the foundation,” Zelman says. “Family and friends have told me, ‘have fun, relax’ but it gives me strength to know that I may be part of finding a cure and helping others.”   

Click here to


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/09/3042188/cindy-krischer-goodman-health.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/09/3042188/cindy-krischer-goodman-health.html#storylink=cpy

Debbie and mom 

Debbie Zelman, founder of Can't Stomach Cancer, and her mom, Madelyn Zelman, secretary and board member of Can't Stomach Cancer.

October 09, 2012

Can you do it all in 24 hours? Working mother and criminal defense attorney Alison Triessl says yes!

This pitch got my attention:

How many people can say they run a law firm covering cases such as Lois Ann Goodman or Survivor producer Bruce Beresford-Redman on top of designing the “Wild About Trial” app, being the legal correspondent on “The Insider’” and the co-founder of the Pasadena Recovery Center aka the location of VH1’s “Rehab with Dr. Drew”? Oh wait – and also mom of three young boys.

So how does Criminal defense attorney Alison Triessl do it?

I was intrigued and wanted to find out. So, I asked Alison to be my guest blogger and impart her wisdom on all of us. I think you'll like what she has to say.


Just so you know, Alison is President of the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Bar Association,
and practices criminal defense law specializing in third strike, drug and assault cases. She also is the owner of three companies. Here are her life observations:

1.  Work is work.  It's important, fulfilling, and pays the bills. But at the end of the day,
work is work.  There is nothing more important than your family and you can never lose sight of that.  If my child is Student of the Month, I am there for the morning assembly, even if it means staying at
my office late to recover the lost hours of work.  Also, when I am at work, I am totally committed to my job and my clients however, my cell phone is always on just in case there is a kid emergency.  However,  I am NEVER on the phone when I walk into my house.  There have been hundreds of times when I have cut a phone conversation off mid-sentence by saying, "I'm walking in my house to see my kids and I have a policy of never talking on the phone when I walk in."  Nobody has ever been offended.

2. Talk to your kids (without interruptions).  When I get home, we turn off all electronic devices and put down the _____ ball (insert soccer, baseball, basketball, handball depending on the season or the day) and I then spend the next 15 minutes hugging, kissing and asking my kids about their day.  I ask each one individually  and wait for him to respond---my oldest son is super outgoing and therefore, he has a tendency to answer every question for everyone in the family so I make sure that each child gets a chance to tell me about their day.  In those uninterrupted few minutes, you can learn a lot about the day's adventures including what they learned, who fell from the sunny list, what girl likes them, why they did not eat what we packed for them etc.  Those minutes are so important because they allow me to stay connected to my kids.  And since my work schedule does not allow me to be room parent or pick them up from school, I need that time to experience the day through their eyes. 

 3. Being a working mom takes planning.  I have calendars everywhere---a calendar in my
office, a calendar in our kitchen and a calendar in my purse at all times.  I write down every appointment, every event, and every work commitment in triplicate. I even color code the one at home, each child (I have three boys) gets their own color.  I check my calendars daily and once a week, my paralegal and I have a sit down and have a "coordinate our calendars meeting."


4. Buy birthday presents in bulk.  Some for girls ages 8, 6, and 2 and some for boys ages 8, 6, 2 so
we are not scrambling the morning of the party to get a present. 


5.  Give kids their space. My boys love to play handball and if I let them,they would play it in every room in the house.  And while any mom will tell you that boys break things often, I have minimized their ability to do real damage.  I removed all meaningful furniture out of our front room and
declared it to be our official handball court.  They have access to the entire room.  They can bounce the balls off of the walls, the ceiling, even their heads if they want to, I don't care but, it is the only
room in our house where they are allowed to play handball.  If they don't comply, we move the furniture back into the room and their awesome indoor handball court is gone. Our handball court has been in place for two years now and no one has broken that rule yet!


6. Stay positive. I know that is the easy advice to give.  I see real sadness in my job.  I represent people who kill people, people whose lives have been torn apart because of drugs or alcohol or
sexual abuse. These are the real life horrors---the ones that we all want to shelter our kids from---and I have to deal with these tragedies on a daily basis.  Yet, it doesn't depress me or sour me. It makes me extremely thankful for the life I have, for the children I am blessed with raising and the husband that makes my life complete.      


7. Life is short. The time your kids are in car seats is even shorter.  Enjoy it, enjoy them and remember work is work!



October 05, 2012

Should employers take away Internet access?



I had an argument a few nights ago with a human resources manager. He had passed by the desk of an hourly worker and noticed she had a screen open on her computer and was car shopping. She immediately switched screens when she saw her manager coming over. But when he walked by again about 10 minutes later, she had returned to the original screen and had gone back to car shopping.

"Can you believe it? he asked me. Then, he told me what he decided to do about it. "I talked to the IT guy and had her Internet access cut off. She's hourly, so I consider what she was doing to be stealing."

I piped in with my strong disagreement of how he handled the situation. "She may be stealing," I said. "But if you cut off her Internet access, she will never put in extra effort again. You've just completely disengaged her."

This isn't the first time that a manager has brought this workplace concern to my attention. Web surfing at work for personal use is a big workplace problem. Some managers are fed up and have resorted to cutting off access for some or all of their employees.

I think you could argue that most jobs were done before the Intenet and can be done without it. However, when it comes to research, turning to the Internet certainly makes some jobs easier.

A manager could look at the situation differently depending on whether he's addressing the concern with a salary or hourly employee.

Most of us who are salaried completely blend our day, regularly switching screens between personal tasks and work tasks -- and we do this on our off hours, too. So, you could make an argument that car shopping at work is no big deal because working at home after hours is no big deal.

Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts. How would you react if a boss forbid Internet use at the office?


October 03, 2012

Working parents speak out about homework overload

I am a parent who believes kids today get too much homework. Although I'm all for giving homework, I just believe in moderation.

For working parents, ensuring homework gets done is just another item on their to do list. When jobs demand longer hours, arriving from work to a second shift at home that includes hours of homework supervision is exhausting.  I wonder if teachers understand this?

In my Miami Herald column today, I let readers have their say about homework insanity. By the way, parents, besides Google, here's a book that can help you when you're trying to help your kids with homework: The Parent’s Homework Dictionary

Column on homework overload brings flood of responses

A column about homework overload on kids and their parents drew a flood of response.

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Debbie Regent, 48, center, assists her children Haley, 10, left, and Brooke, 14, with their homework at their kitchen table.
        Debbie Regent, 48, center, assists her children Haley, 10, left, and Brooke, 14, with their homework at their kitchen table.    


            After putting in much more than her eight hours at the office, Julie Price returns home for a long night of supervising her daughter’s homework — a process that often lasts for hours. “It’s exhausting,” she says.

She’s not the only parent with this routine. Reader response came flooding in from all over the country after my recent column on whether homework is preparing the next generation for the workplace of the future. The message: Excessive student homework has become an overwhelming burden on working parents.

Price, a single mom in Coconut Creek, says she and other parents are confronting the perfect storm of work-life challenges — increased work demands and longer hours resulting from pared back office staffs, competitive pressure on students to achieve more and school budget cuts that have forced more learning to be done at home.      

“We’ve overstretched and overtaxed the family unit,” Price says.

In my prior column, Debbie Regent, a mother of two in Weston, said homework stress is ruining her home life. After a day of work, she arrives home to several hours of homework supervision. “There is a value to reinforcing what you learned that day through homework. There is not value in torturing a kid with five pages of math problems when they have other classes with homework assignments as well.”

Parents wrote to tell me their home lives have turned into a burdensome flow of homework, tests and projects. Nagging about homework and kids’ stress over it looms over the evenings and weekends, infringing on family time. In some households, it has even led to marital discourse, short tempers and a child’s need for anxiety medication.

Other parents wrote to say they had to quit jobs, change work schedules, even sacrifice career advancement to deal with the homework insanity. A mother of triplets says she left her job as a receptionist when she and her husband decided even dividing and conquering wasn’t enough to get all the homework done at night and allow their girls to participate in sports.

Read more.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/02/3031330/column-on-homework-overload-brings.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/02/3031330/column-on-homework-overload-brings.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/02/3031330/column-on-homework-overload-brings.html#storylink=cpy


October 01, 2012

Grief stricken Carlos Aguilar puts work life balance in perspective

They have jobs. They have responsibilities. But hundreds of people from all over Florida have put those things aside to help one father find his teen son.

I, too, like most of the volunteers, am completely moved by the father of Christian Aguilar, the University of Florida student who was last seen more than nine days ago. Today Carlos Aguilar issued a public plea for help finding his son's body.

As this story has been unraveling, the community has come together, moved into action by grief-stricken Carlos who will not give up on finding his son. It's been heart wrenching.

ChristianBy now, there seems little hope of finding Christian, alive. But Carlos pursues on, trudging through wooded fields in Gainesville, rallying volunteers for help, and doing whatever it takes to find Christian, who now is thought to have been beaten to death by a hometown friend, Pedro Bravo. Both teens were from Miami-Dade and recently had a falling out when Christian started dating Bravo's ex-girlfriend.

When the TV cameras roll, Carlos says almost everything he needs to say through the look on his face, the motion of his hand over his heart, and the tone of his voice. I watch and listen and my troubles disappear. The demands of juggling homework, dinner, deadlines pales in comparison to Carlos and his overwhelming need for answers, for closure. It certainly puts work life balance in perspective!

"You look at the picture and can't help thinking that could be your son, your child," Frank Lopez told The Miami Herald. Lopez lost his daughter in an accidental fall almost half a century ago but came to Gainesville to help with the search.

It is true. That's exactly what parents are thinking. That's what I'm thinking.

Today, Carlos Aguilar asked for the FBI to aid in the search --  if not for a wounded Christian, then for his body.

“Do not give up on my son," he pleaded.

With that one sentence, my day has changed. My son needs help with homework. My daughter wants money for honor society dues. They both need something I can give them. I'm sure Carlos Aguilar wishes he give his son what he needs -- if only it was as easy.