Monday, June 30, 2008

What's Within

"What lies before us and what is behind are tiny compared to what is within us."

Today I went back to Hackensack for a routine checkup. I go back about twice a year and usually to a different "post cancer" office building. Today it just so happened that my appointment was back at the clinic where I took chemo almost five years ago.

I haven't been inside the clinic in at least two and a half years and it was really strange to be back there again. It felt so familiar, like my second home, but then it felt like I was an outsider now. I didn't recognize a single patient there. All the ones I knew have finished up and are out of there a long time already.

The doctors and nurses were busy tickling and entertaining JB who was there for the first time, and I was signing copies of my book that I had brought along to give out.

I felt a little out of place talking about my book in a room full of kids who were so sick and seemed to have it so much worse than I did back then, but then the phrase at the start of this post caught my eye.

It was framed on the wall above the secretary's desk and I thought it was so beautiful. It made me feel so at peace with my illness and how long or short or hard or easy it may have been compared to others.

I realized it's not about comparing. Hashem doesn't compare. He gives us all different lives to lead, and different strengths to deal with our different struggles. Hashem doesn't look at us and compare our nisyonos with others', He knows what He has given each of us and expects us to use what He gave us to live with it.

He won't ask me after 120 why I didn't deal with my illness the way Leah'le did, or why I wrote a book about it when Michal kept quiet. All He will want to know was if I used the tools he supplied me with in the best possible way that I could.

He won't ask me about the details in my life, He will already know them as He is the one who maps out those details. He will only want to hear about what was within me. What I used from my own resources to navigate the road he chose to be my path in life.

So when I left my hospital today after a short checkup and a long visit, I left reassured that no matter who may compare me and judge me and criticize, the only two answers I need to give are to Hashem and to myself.

I am growing and learning and changing every day and there is no possible way for me to answer something now that will have to last for eternity, but I can say that I am happy with where I stand right now.

I didn't write this book for me, I wrote it for others. I know what role cancer has held in my life and now I hope that others can take hope and inspiration from my story, whether they like the book or not.

My book comes from that which is within me- my writing was a tool that G-d gave me to use in my personal life struggles and I know that people can say all they want about where I have come from and how far I have gone, but no one can judge me about what is within. That is between me and my creator.

I'm proud that I was able to work my outside experiences into something I was able to internalize. It doesn't matter to me anymore that my illness was maybe a little shorter than someone else's or that my story had a nice ending, what matters is how I dealt with it. I took a look within today, and I guess you can say I like what I saw.

And now I just took a look in the mirror and discovered that my head is once again bloated.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Looks Like we Made It!

Now I'm starting to feel like this is all real.

I got an email to my inbox from and it was a link to their new articles this week, Guess what was headlining??? Mine!!

I was asked to write an article for them and so I did and Gavriel Sanders polished it a little (okay, a lot) for me and today it hit the site! I'm so exctied.

Plus, my mother woke me up this morning to tell me that my book was listed as number one seller of the month in the Country Yossi magazine.

Talk about dreams come true!!

*Hugging myself with joy with right hand, left hand is trying to squeeze my head into before-ego size...- hands too tied up to write more!*

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Doctors don't know Everything

Doctors think they know everything. I used to think so too.

If the doctor told me to drink toilet water and smear toothpaste on my hair because it would help my vocal chords, I would listen blindly. I used to think that if the doctor went through x amount of years in medical school and made it here, it must be that he knew what he was talking about.

Of course, that was before I found out that they were passing by using Google and then getting drunk every night in the local bar...

Then I started seeing things happen that the doctors themselves couldn't explain. Kids who lived through "fatal" tumors, and kids who died from
"minor surgery."

I proved my heart could withstand pregnancy after chemo without a single drop in performance, and that my lungs went through each round of chemo without losing even a decimal of its former ability.

Kids like me were told the facts before we even started and some of us went and turned those facts into myths, right in front of our doctors' eyes.

I feel like slapping the kid who called me up crying that she only had a 90% chance of ever having kids- the same chance as almost anyone who never went through chemo anyway, and feel like bursting her eardrums with the stories of patients I knew who shocked the world with a baby after being declared 95% infertile.

I would never go to a doctor who said he didn't know anything, but then again, I would never go to a doctor who claimed to know everything. My doctor always impressed on me that he was Hashem's shaliach and that he was obligated to tell me what it said in the textbooks, but that he knew that nothing had to be true if Hashem didn't want it to be.

I still think doctors know a lot, but now I know they don't know everything. (Especially after the toothpaste and toilet water regimen...and yes I'm joking about that one! *rolls eyes*)

***Just as an addition, I was at the doctor for a random checkup today (a few days after the original post) and I had a funny rash he wasn't sure what to do with. My husband suggested a cream he had used on a similar rash. The doctor had never heard of this medication and so right in front of us he took out his blackberry and Googled it. He found out what the cream was made of and found that it would serve my rash very well indeed. I was so impressed that he listened to my husband's suggestion when he could have easily insisted that he was the doctor and that he knew what he was talking about...***

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Deal With My Name

Okay, here's the post you all deserve.

What's the deal with my pen name?

Well.... Long story, let's start at the top.

To begin with this was an anonymous blog just because I was trying to protect my family and the names of all the people I associated with at the time of my illness. I had to respect everyone's privacy, and even though my story was very recognizable to those people who know me, I had to keep it on the low for those that didn't.

I also wanted to keep it identity free because of all the readers who were reading this while trying to keep their illness a secret. For them, seeing that someone they might have known wrote this blog might make them afraid of reading it. I once had a reader email me to the blog addy and beg me not to tell anyone that she had read my blog. She thought I could tell who visited my site just by running it. She emailed me in a panic when she realized who I was and begged me not to tell anyone we knew. I know it sounds weird, but there are people out there who honestly know nothing about computers... and about how keeping cancer a secret (doesn't) work.

And then the idea came up for making this into a book. I was all for it, but I didn't want my name on it for a few reasons. One, I didn't want my students coming into class next year and on the first day waving the book in my face and asking if I was the bald kid who sassed her teachers.

Second- I didn't want to walk into a shop, hand over my credit card and have my name recognized. I can only imagine buying some clothing for my JB and having the salesclerk lean over and say "OMG EVERYONE!!! THIS IS JB!!! HE'S THE BOY WHO WAS BORN AFTER CANCER!!! THE ONE WHO LIVED AFTER HIS MOTHER FACED "THE DISEASE THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED!! LET'S RAKE OUR EYES OVER HIS FOREHEAD AND SEE IF WE CAN SPOT HIS LIGHTENING SHAPED SCAR!!" Yeah, I don't think so.

I also didn't feel right having my name on the cover of a book. I like attention, but I know when it becomes an ayin hara. It's one thing if I had written a fiction novel, it's another when the book is about my true life story and fairy tale ending for all to yenta about.

And then my book became more than a book. It's becoming a movement. People are asking me to speak all over the place and obviously, that means I'm not just Tzipi Caton, I have a real identity too.

I still chose to stick with Tzipi- (well by that time the book was already in print and I had no choice) but I had another reason for doing so. I have no problem getting on stage and introducing myself with my real name- and then explaining why I have a pen name.

This is why.

As much humor as there is throughout my book, cancer is a big deal. A scary, terrifying, nightmare of a thing to go through. I did it. I went through it, wrote a book on it, and hopefully gave and will continue to give a lot of chizuk with my story. Veni, Vidi, Vici.

But the fact remains that it is a very hard thing to live with every day. My trademark phrase is "That was then. I am now." Let the world associate the name Tzipi Caton with the kid who laughed through cancer. My name should not be stuck to that part of my past all the time- I want my name to just be me. The ME who is living life today, happy and healthy.

I always say that cancer has changed who I am as a person but has not defined me. I know that very clearly, but it's hard for others understand. I don't want to give them the permission to label me forever as that cancer person. I was, and I still have times that I am, but as a general rule, my life today does not scream "I WAS ONCE SICK!"

Even now that my book is out and some people have put two and two together and realized it was me, I am getting swamped with calls begging me to mentor this kid or that one who is going through treatment. This may sound so selfish, but I have a life, and a great one at that, and I can't invest my energy into developing close personal relationships with kids in tough times. It will kill my spirit as well as sap all my kochos. I wrote my book to help as many people as I can, but I know my strengths. My best tools are my writing and speaking. NOT my personal phone calls and the stresses of keeping tabs on a million kids on chemo.

I know this may be shocking to people out there, but I am not the expert on cancer. Far from it. I just touched the tip of the iceberg with my round. Yes, I chose to write about it and give the world a peek into what life forms on other planets are like, but that does not mean I have all the answers or that I would make a good mentor to others.

I have a family member who totally gives me that fish-eye every time she hears I got another speaking arrangement. She also went through treatment for another type of cancer and she thinks I know nothing because I didn't have the same symptoms as she did. Well Duh, She and I had two different diseases and took different chemos. I cannot speak for her pain as she cannot speak for mine.

I am involved and I do mentor the odd kid here or there, but it's proving to be a huge strain on me. I would rather keep my lives separate, my names separate, so that I can have the kochos I need to give strength to others and then forget about it all when I need to be a wife and a Mommy.

I hope this all made sense to you because it's all a little garbled in my mind right now- I am exceptionally tired right now as I had four phone calls just today from people I don't know who asked me to talk to people I don't know either to give them emunah from I don't know where. I am slightly annoyed that people don't respect my privacy and the decision I made by putting Tzipi Caton on the book instead of my real name, and that they still went and tracked down my unlisted number which is that way for a reason.

Oh well, can't win em all. :-)

Now, for those of you still following my kvetch rant for today- if you have been reading my blog long enough and still haven't figured out who I am, then why do you think that if I tell you my name it will mean anything more to you than Tzipi Caton does?

And my face? I blocked it off for tzniyus reasons... :-P


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Speak or not to Speak...That is the Question

Have a little debate going on in my head. Well not so much my head as between my husband and I and now on the blog.

My husband is not very happy with this whole publicity thing around my book. He is really excited with the book and the fact that I'm an author but he's afraid of all the speaking arrangements and the public appearances.

He claims that even though I'm passing myself off as a young spunky stinker kid of speaker, the fact that I will get up in front of dinner crowds and speak in public will automatically cause people to expect more of me as a person. He thinks that I will be forced to change some aspects of my life to fit a certain image that people will have of me from now on.

I keep saying that it isnt true and that even as a speaker I'm not hiding who I am, but he insists that now if I walk out in a badanna or a slinky skirt, or take my son to the beach, people might look down on me, sort of expecting more.

So that's our disagreement. I wonder if he has a point. I'm sure some aspect of it is right- people are going to view me differently, they already are. But I wonder if I will really have to change my lifestyle for it and if I dont, will it have a negative affect.

It's not like I don't practice what I preach- and it's not like I'm speaking about Torah topics that turn me into a rebbetzin- I just talk about what I know- Cancer and my experience.

Does he have a valid point? Do I have to start watching my back from now on and start dressing my kid in only Jacadi outfits to stop people from avoiding my speeches because my kid only wears Old Navy?

Opinions please!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ego Boost!

Having so much fun being Tzipi Caton...

I just walked into a local bookstore to buy a book for a student of mine and I noticed a beautiful display of Miracle Ride on the shelf.

JB was with me and he pointed at the bright butterfly which I took to mean he recognized Mommy's book. But then again, he also yelled "Pamper!" when he pointed at a stack of yarmulkas...

I couldn't find the book I was looking for and so I asked the lady behind the counter if she had it in stock. Turned out she didn't. She didn't have the other, backup book I wanted either.

Dreading the thought of leaving the cool bookstore to face the heat outside, I stalled for time.

"That book," I said pointing over at mine, "is it a good seller?"

She looked over the counter to where I was pointing and she starting raving about how she had just finished it and that it was a great book and that it so far was a good seller even though it was pretty new.

I asked her if she got any regards on the book and she shrugged and said that it was selling well but that it was still new. She asked if I read it.

I grinned and told her I wrote it.

Without even asking for ID as confirmation, she grabbed six books and asked me to sign them for her kids.

Mwahahah. Even the heat was okay after that ego boost.

Okay, time to deflate my head...

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm Still a Stinker!

Wow, my life is getting weird.

People are calling me up and asking me to speak in schools and stuff. Some people are talking to me like I'm some rebbetzin or like I'm the authority on all things cancer.

It's so strange to me because even my mother is talking about me to her friends like I'm just some angel she rasied by mistake. Ma!! Wake up!! Remember the time I tanned with star stickers on my cheek?!

I feel like slapping people and telling them that I didn't change- only their perception of me has. I'm still a little stinker- I was alaways this amazing person deep down inside, but now I wrote a book about it so they all know it.

Why did my husband actually listen to me and stop on the way home for the milshake I wanted? I guess fame and fortune have its merits...but oh, it feels sooooo strange!

The only one who hasn't been affected by my new status is my son, he proceeded to empty the tissue box an hour before Shabbos and climb into my cabinets Friday morning.

I am totally loving the ride I'm taking with Miracle Ride, but whoa, can I snap out of it when I want my old life back for a bit??


Just kidding... But still, it does feel weird.

Does being an author mean I'm not a stinker no more?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Signing

Well here's my late post about the book signing last week.

It was awesome!

I was so nervous before it started that no one would show up and that my book was going to be a dud, but then at 6:30, people started pouring into Eichler's.

There were lots of people I knew, and many more that I didn't, and some just walked in when they saw the crowd in the store and others came because they heard me on the radio.

At the end of the night I signed 150 copies- a total record!! My hand was suffering from writer's cramp the whole weekend.

It was so great to meet some of my fans and other bloggers, and to see how many people were excited to get the book.

I got a call from my publicist- Gavriel Sanders, this Friday. He called to tell me that we needed to fix as many typos as possible in the next hour because the book was going into a second printing before Shavuous. In the first three days my book sold 3800 copies of the 5000 printed and they were rushing to get more on the shelves!

Thank you to whomever out there bought this book!!!! I feel so cool!

The book signing ended at ten- two hours after it was supposed to, and it left me on a high!

My students came too, and three of them bought me a helium balloon with a little teddy bear at the bottom- they said that they wanted to get me a HUGE white bear that cost $80 but after reading excerpts from my book all year, they sort of figured I wouldn't be too thrilled. (For those of you who read the book, you know what I mean!)

They are so cute!!

When I came to class on Thursday- 95% of my kids had Miracle Ride on their desks. I think it became a new textbook in my school.... I took a picture of them all reading it- I'll put it up here later.

So now that school is ending and I have summer open, people are starting to ask me to come speak for them. I'm speaking in a girl's school this Friday and then in New Jersey in a week. I'm getting stage fright already, but I'm so excited!!

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some Reviews...

wow, the book came today. while waiting for the cheesecake to cool i started to read... i'm nearly done - i had to force myself to stop reading so i'll have SOMETHING for Shabbos!!!!


I just finished reading your book. I ordered it online (since all the stores I went to in Monsey didn't have it yet), and I sat down to read it the minute I got it. Its amazing! A real source of inspiration. I really have to thank you for all the chizuk you put in there. I really enjoyed your book. I cried on one page and laughed the by the next. I hope your part on shidduchim for people who aren't the typical because they have gone through something... will help to change the way people think and act.

Thank you!


Dear Tzipi's Mom,

I dont know where to begin...

First of all, thanks for the most beautiful gift,
My intent was to save it for Shabbos, after all I havnt been home at a
decent hour for over a month, so I couldnt indulge in a good book,
However, I couldnt resist and I just peeked in...

Well of course I couldnt put it down,

I cried and laughed and cried some more, I didnt know that a human has the
capacity to laugh and cry so intensely at the same moment, not the laugh so
hard till you cry kind of combination, but the real tears of emotion from
the pain and the hysterically humorous wit...
Well your girl is something special!!!!

Every part of the ride touched me all over again. Your strength throughout
the ordeal and the ability to document it, photograph it, laugh about it and
run your household through it all continues to amaze me.

I have lots more to say, but the sun is rising, and I'm scared my husband will
catch me still up

SO I will end with wishing you much nachas from your daughter, her husband, and JB (is that his real name?) and much much nachas from the rest of your mishpacha.

May this book inspire and encourage Klal Yisroel, and may this disease and
all sickness be eradicated from our people.

See you later, I"yH

Privileged to know such amazing people.


I just wanted to let u know that I skimmed the book yesterday (especially the last few chapters) cause I remembered part of the story from when it happened and it’s great! It’s such an easy read, I read much more than I meant to (being that I was in middle of giving my son a bottle at 12:45am). My husband was actually reading it too, and he really liked the Jewish Santa part. I’ll let u know when I finish it.

Book Signing Pics!

Will post on how it was last night when I get back from my day job...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Half my Nerves Gone

Half of my nerves for today are taken care of! Just done the Nachum Segal interview and I had so much fun! He was so funny and easy to talk to. The archives should be up later so I'll post a link to them soon.

Mr. Segal actually called me after to tell me that he was so unexpectedly surprised that I was from Boro Park and yet so worldly. I told him that he got me and that I was really an alien invader from another galaxy just posing as a chassidish kid from Brooklyn. Mwahahahaha!

I must thank two blogs, Serandez and BadforShidduchim, for posting about my upcoming book signing this evening. I hope news of the book has gone out to a large audience and that we will totally bowl ArtSroll over with the demand for the book.

We must show the world out there that there is a huge need for literature on this topic and literature that can be spunky and humorous and honest. This is really just about me making more money off it, but seriously, be there. The cancer community wants to come out of hiding and the only way it's going to happen is if there is a really positive response to Miracle Ride.

So far I got really good feedback from the people who have already read the book (it was put on shelves yesterday) and people are still calling to tell me about it. I hope that tonight Eichler's sells out of the 250 books they have in stock for the signing.

Hope to see you all there!