My Twitter Followers Love Cheese… by @steviesaf and @mewhinney

We haven’t done a back and forth in quite a while. Steve tells me Twitter is having a birthday, so we got all data nerdy about it.

Twitter turns 10 this week, and I’ve been on it for eight of those years @steviesaf. Twitter Analytics shows you lots of data about your audience, and I’ve find out some very interesting facts. Like how big I am among people who buy cheese.

I have about 1,200 followers and Tweet 2-3 times a day. My “engagement rate,” that is to say “people who vaguely care about what I tweeted” runs between 1-3%. This sounds awful, but is actually not bad and probably is as interesting as people find me in real life. I get about 2 “likes” a day.

That’s some good raw data. But Twitter Analytics is a real gift. You can find out a lot more about your followers. For example: 30% of mine claim an income of $250,000+ a year. Still another 30% claim $175K+ a year. And 20% of my audience admits a net worth of more than one million dollars.

So, as we can see, I have an audience of total liars.

Not surprising for a tech and news guy, around 80% of my followers like tech, business, politics and general news. But two-thirds like comedy! So I have a pretty good lock on the funny tech guys. And if you’ve ever met an engineer, you know finding 800 of them who think you’re funny is pretty good. (Or a lot of movie quotes, ed. note)

59% of my followers are guys. No surprise there. Pants humor skews male. I’m biggest in Massachusetts, New York and California (what’s up Silicon Valley!), but I rate in Texas, Florida and Illinois. Political campaigns should consider courting my endorsement.

Best of all, Twitter Analytics knows a frightening amount about what you buy. My followers’ biggest purchase is cheese (65%) and I love them for it. 87% of my audience, my top category, is into buying “premium brands.” So, my biggest takeaway is that @steviesaf is synonymous with “overspending on crap.”

Let’s see Britt (@mewhinney) top that.

 

Given it’s my blog, and I have ultimate editorial power and last word privileges, you’d think I could totally top that. But I can’t. Twitter Analytics did the loser-cough thing when I opened the program. I’ve only lured 527 followers to @mewhinney since I first logged on in 2009. Admittedly, I’ve only been active since I found @OhNoSheTwitnt and developed a GoT-themed girl crush that hasn’t subsided. People who stop by really don’t “like” me very much at all. Though I’ve had silly Facebook threads run over 100 comments long, I’ll only earn a “heart” or two a day on this harder-to-crack site. My meager 2.6% engagement rate is probably inflated by other weirdoes with insomnia (e.g., @steviesaf).

72% of my followers love comedy, writing, and music, and their income is equally stratified among levels quite south of the 1%-ers. And though a very small percentage of them own fancy homes, most of them wouldn’t scoff at a Chanel bag. Only 9% are vegetarian, which may have something to do with me constantly bashing liquefied salad diets and yoga.

Twitter Analytics can help you combine all of your demographic data into an amalgam of your typical follower. Mine is a California apartment-dwelling, dairy-loving comic with great taste. @13spencer should be hanging on my every word.

Every once in a while a huge account, like @CulturedRuffian, will post a dollar value that correlates with the worth of his Twitter-ing. Mine amounted to little less than one Jimmy Choo. And not even a boot, to boot. I’d love to know how someone with thousands and thousands of followers is surprised, delighted, disheartened, or aided by this demographic data. I’d also love to know who is buying all of this cheese on line.

cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stabbing Myself in the Back… by Steve Safran

I lied.

I said I wasn’t going to write about cancer anymore, but the after-effects have become overwhelming and it’s time to share a little more.

So here it is. My back catches on fire.

Ok, I mean that figuratively, because this “burning back” feeling has a name: neuropathy Neuropathy is common in chemo patients– about one in three get it. Think of it as pins and needles, only the pins are sticking you from the inside and the needles are hot enough to push through steel.

It comes in attacks, and there’s generally no way to know when. I have a few indicators: I’m more prone to neuropathy when I’m hot. Even having hot soup can bring on an attack. I get more attacks when I’m tired. I get it if I’ve been walking. So as long as I don’t move or go to sleep, I’m fine.

Now, I’ve had all sorts of side- and after-effects from chemotherapy and I’m happy to make the trade in exchange for the not-having-cancer bit. However, I’m finding the nerve damage to make for a terrible Catch-22.

Some background: During treatment, cancer docs want you to keep eating. This is to keep the nausea at bay. Also, nearly every local loved one is delivering casseroles, soups, baked goods, and lasagnas. Unfortunately, eating is the last thing you want to do during and after chemo. But they recommend 2,000 – 3,000 daily calories and avoiding an empty stomach. You know that lightheaded, skipped lunch, nauseous feeling when you’ve slogged through a busy day on coffee alone? Imagine that times chemo.

But they say you need to eat. And you can eat anything. Really? 3,000 calories of Ben and Jerry’s? OK, you’re the doctor. So I ate. I ate without joy. I ate in bed. Not good.

Truth: I’m heavy. I’m 5’7” and weigh 230 lbs. Not quite Homer Simpson, but more than the standard, doughy “Dad Bod.” My ideal weight is 150-175 lbs. When I found out I had cancer, I weighed 226 lbs. When I was finally declared cured, I weighed… 227 lbs.

I put on weight while I had cancer.

If I can’t lose weight on cancer, what chance does Weight Watchers have?

So now, with “remission” and NED (no evidence of disease) notations in my medical chart, it’s time to get back into shape. Only– the neuropathy. My energy is low. The cure? Exercise. The bad cholesterol is too high, the good one is too low. The way to reverse that? Exercise. My blood sugar needs to come down. The remedy? You get it.

Except as soon as I start moving, my back, legs, and shoulders start a conflagration suitable for a Fourth of July bonfire. Get your marshmallows on your sticks, kids. Stevie’s on the treadmill.

Oh– did I mention what else helps neuropathy? Exercise.

I’m taking a fibromyalgia medicine they give those poor folks who are in a constant, unrelenting nerve pain that I cannot imagine. I get bouts of the fire needle attacks, but they go away. To feel like this all the time? Insane. I’d rather vote Trump.

I’m going to try swimming: cooler water, less pressure on the joints, less overheating. Maybe it will do some good. My Body Mass Index indicates I’m certainly buoyant enough.

The list of things that happen after cancer is getting long and, unfortunately, interesting. It may be time for a book. Working title: “Cancer: So, You Think The Disease Was Bad…”

funny-fitness-cartoon-1

MY 2016 MIXTAPE FOR YOU… by Steve Safran

It’s time for an annual tradition: the Valentine’s Day mixtape. Last year’s was well-received, so now it’s an annual thing. This ancient rite dates back to the 1980s, when it was the height of romance to give a mixtape to that special someone. Also, it was free. (Minus, of course, the price of a good tape. Maxell was my choice.)  Here, then, is my 2016 Mixtape for You. Although I have linked the songs here to their YouTube versions, seek out these songs and listen on a good stereo or some great headphones.

SIDE ONE

  1. Happy Days” (Squeeze) A fantastic return to form for the band that will always make my mixtapes. This is off their new album, “Cradle to the Grave,” which came out this year – Squeeze’s first album of original songs this century. “Happy Days” is a simple ode to packing the car and having a great weekend trip. I read a great piece this past year on how the band’s ‘80s greatest hits collection “Singles, 45s and Under” is possibly the world’s most addictive album. Damn right. This would fit in perfectly.
  1. For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and this is Stevie at his Wondermost. A little guitar riff at the top and then right into it. Try not to smile when you think he’s singing this right to you. How this isn’t a top wedding song, I’ll never know.
  1. Two of Us” (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn cover The Beatles): This is such a perfect, compact treat. Rarely do covers of Beatles songs match or exceed the source material. But I like that spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn duet on this – having real life sweethearts sing this one makes it, I dare say, better than the original. Plus, come on, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Top that.
  1. Life On Mars?” (Played as an elegy to David Bowie) Bowie’s dead, and that sucks. It led to one of the greatest spontaneous tributes I’ve ever heard. After Bowie’s death The organist at St Alban’s Cathedral outside London played Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” likely unaware it was being recorded. It is a perfect elegy. Try not to tear up.
  1. Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) OK, it’s Phil, and don’t give me crap about it. Phil announced he’s going to make a comeback album, and the Internet exploded with hate. Revisionist nonsense. Phil Collins is great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and legendary drummer. Phil wrote it with Lamont Dozier, part of the legendary Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It’s peppy, very Motown and it avoids Phil’s tendency toward cloying writing in love songs. Listen, dance, repeat. Side one is over.

 

SIDE TWO

  1. Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” (The Tufts Beelzebubs cover Bob Dylan) The bad breakup. The bitter end. The desire to lash out. The sarcasm. All of that is in Dylan’s original song. But the ‘Bubs take it somewhere else. In this slow, deliberate, harmonious cover, they turn it into a song of regret and longing. I love when artists take a song and turn it on its head. The a cappella is wondrous. How did they arrange this? Valentine’s Day can suck. Let Dylan and the ‘Bubs help you through it.
  1. Smile” (Nat King Cole) This has just terrible, awful advice. “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking… You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” Are you kidding me? “Just smile?” And yet, what a song. Did you know Charlie Chaplin wrote it? So what if it is the least empathetic advice you could give to someone. It’s still touching and damn if you won’t tear up.
  1. The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy) Huh? What’s this doing here? OK, mixtape maker’s privilege here. I had a mix to listen to when I was getting chemo. This led it. It was my “get psyched – here come the poisons for your body” song. Coping mechanisms are weird things. You have your treadmill mix, I had my chemo mix.
  1. Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) Eric Clapton wrote this to steal George Harrison’s wife. There’s no way around it. It worked. Patti Boyd divorced Harrison and married Clapton. But, this being the ‘60s (and early ‘70s) things were cool. Harrison and Clapton remained friends, and Harrison even went to the wedding. Patti Boyd must have been something. She inspired at least 11 songs including “Something,” “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Need You.” But “Layla” is the best and most scandalous of the bunch.
  1. Moonlight Serenade”  (Glenn Miller Orchestra) As I noted last year, this has to be the last song. Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” Back from the war, you’re boozy and tired, your last Lucky Strike about to burn your lips. What was her name?  Do eyes really come in amethyst? She was, what, a nurse? You shared a dance with her, anyway. “Hattie,” was it? Maybe she was USO. Her phone number… MAyfair6-31… Oh, Hell. Someone has poured you into a cab, and your last recollection of the evening is that the band, oh, what a band, played “Moonlight Serenade” as you danced with… Christ… “Maddy?”
Maxell

Happy Valentine’s Day friends!

2015 Was a Year… by Steve Safran

 

Steve writes the only year-end summary you will need.

2015 was, without a doubt, a year. It lasted a remarkable 365 1/4 days, during which the sun rose and set an average of once a day. For me, personally, each day had 24 hours. Many people felt the same, and others did not.

With every day, there seemed to be news. Much of that news occurred. Some of it was unexpected, and pundits called it “unpredictable.” Other events happened that people saw coming. Still other things happened that some people foresaw but others did not.

Controversial things happened in 2015. Less controversial things were reported on the local news. There was a variety of weather.

Also, in 2015 there were sporting events. A scrappy, underdog team overcame tremendous odds to win. An overwhelming favorite made its fans cheer with great excitement as they, too won. There was tremendous heartbreak as some teams lost. Most people agree that 2015 had sports. There are those who do not.

It was a year during which there were events that were beyond our control. People had differences of opinion. It seemed, at times, we’d never agree. Yet, we came together on some matters. Many of those matters involved ribbons.

In 2015 many famous people died. Others died as well, but they weren’t famous.

Popular culture made us laugh, cheer and dance. There were new movies, music, plays and forms of rhythmic movement involving the posterior. Adults were shocked by many of these things and took to social media to express their outrage. There were public apologies by many people and companies. Other people and companies did not apologize.

We found, at the end of 2015, a full year had passed since the end of 2014. There are experts who believe the same will happen in 2016, but there is controversy on the topic. “Year-Truthers” believe the 365 1/4 number is a lie forced on us by the government. News networks devote equal time to both sides.

As 2015 passes into history, we can look back and see that there were four seasons. And that, in this reporter’s opinion, happened.

2016

My (Mostly) Final Word on Cancer… By Steve Safran

I don’t want to be known for the rest of my life as “The Cancer Survivor.” I don’t even want to be known by that label for the rest of the year. So this is my final post– more or less– on the topic. It’s not that I’m going to ignore cancer. It’s just that it’s time to get back to the regularly scheduled programming in this space.

Cancer can make you that person on social media. You know that person:

“The One with Four Thousand Pet Pictures”

“The One with ALL the Opinions about Obama/Trump/Vaccines/Guns”

“The One Who Posts Photo Memes” (so many photo memes)

“The One Who Should be Flogged with a Selfie Stick”

Admittedly, since I was diagnosed in May, my essays have been narrowly focused on reacting to that. But moving on, I don’t want to be “The One Who Only Posts About Cancer (but Didn’t He Used to Have a Sense of Humor)?”

For someone who didn’t immediately disclose his diagnosis on line, I guess I’ve come full circle wanting to give my timelines a break from cancer. For someone who has been paid to advise people to tweet and share and like and network, I wasn’t sure this felt right back in May. So I asked a friend, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, how they decided to update everyone via social media.

I can boil down his advice as follows: People are going to find out anyway, so they may as well hear it from you. And once you decide to share, you owe it to your friends to update them on your progress. In the absence of information, they’ll assume things are getting worse. And vague updates are a really quick way to anger, worry, and annoy your “followers” even when you don’t have cancer.

So, I wrote. I shared the stories about the diagnosis, the weird hospital experiences, the humiliation and, yes, the very dark humor there is to be found in cancer treatment. My friends, supportive blog readers, and my growing circle of cancer survivor allies kept responding positively, so I kept writing. It was the only aspect of The Cancer I had any control over.

This past month, I’ve been raising money through a very silly cancer fundraiser called The Movember Foundation. I’ve grown a mustache, and friends have donated money—many have ignored their razors in hairy solidarity, too. The generosity has been remarkable: My friends have donated $3,200 to charities that concern themselves with testicular and prostate cancer, as well as other men’s health issues. I am honored, humbled, and grateful.

I’m cured now. “Movember” ends tomorrow. It’s time to get back to life without chemo and end the run of cancer-centric posting. I need to write about the new experiences, humiliations, and dark humor that 2016 will bring. I need to find a job. I need to post stupid jokes, mock Britt’s gardening obsession, poke fun at Debby’s height and Jason’s bald head (now that my hair’s back) and, possibly, be a little nicer too.

I want to be known as a lot of things: a friend, a dad, a colleague, a wiseass, a writer, an off-key singer, and a Sox fan. I’d like people to know I’m one of the world’s most average ukulele players. I want to be known as trustworthy, sincere but a little too sarcastic, open to new ideas and yet still set in my ways. I even like being known as “The One Hit by the Bat at Fenway.”

As for now, I’m finished being “The One Who Had Cancer.”

Steve Movember

‘Stash-tastic Stevie

Eye-rolling past the memes…

Some mornings, our social media sites are less “hey, look at my kid/cat/foliage/punk art show” and more a shout-y tangle of would be televangelists attempting to grow their ministries. The goal isn’t really for discussion and sharing, but for agreement and accolades. Another evening of Republicans on must-see-TV will cause another flurry of what Steve Safran called “shouting into the echo chamber.” If the end game of that anti-Obama rant, your Stand with Planned Parenthood celebrity re-posts, or your War on Christmas battle cry is conversion of readers, well, you’re going to need better memes. Alternatively, you could scrap those and just post a quickie recipe or puppy-scared-of the-Roomba. Those are always good.

Though I’m beholden and flattered that any of you read this drivel, I am embarrassed by my own contribution to a Look At Me/Think Like Me society. Admittedly, barring rants against the Pinking of October, these blurbs are really nothing more than navel-gazing. And I’ve written it before: I’m politically purple and cannot muster the level of disgust and indignation apparently necessary for launching opinions into the ether. My most controversial belief is that colored Christmas lights are an abomination. Really, quit it with those.

I am quite public about being Church-y, though, and this might be the most provocative thing about me. At a recent meeting with civic-minded volunteers for a fabulous program helping kids in public housing, I “joked” that we should open with prayer. This was received with good-natured, mock horror. And I loved that. Strong opinions shared without humility, humor, balance, or thoughtfulness sadden and worry me. And kindness is sorely lacking in those tweets and updates belittling Belief or angrily supporting a specific worldview. Is there room in your sphere for those who don’t always recycle, for those who love Church or wouldn’t darken its doors, or for someone who thinks meat is murder or that life begins at conception? Is it really so important to try to convert your social media followers? And when did we become so groupthink-y and sensitive?

When strong beliefs are assumed to be commonly held and are shouted angrily into the interspaces, I react like an eye-rolling and embarrassed-for-you teenager, “I’m so sure you, like, care enough to post that. Dork.”

Divisiveness is as unproductive as it is un-loving. None of us has a firm hold on absolute truths. No one is persuasive enough to convince you that Bernie Sanders is our savior or that Matt Walsh has a point. We have ridiculously strong opinions about the Christmassyness of our coffee cups. OUR COFFEE CUPS. So maybe let’s share more of the things that unite us and do our darndest to quiet the earnestly and easily irritated folk who would pit us against each other… by ignoring them. (Dorks.)

I love John Atkinson

I love John Atkinson…

A Guide for Post-Cancer Patients and their Caregivers, by Steve Safran

First, a thank you. I am overwhelmed by the reception I received for my article “After the cure, the cry.” Britt tells me 1,000 people read it. Many people—friends and strangers– have contacted me and shared their personal stories with cancer, recounting their own illness or remembering a family member who went through it.

Grappling with my own, complicated emotions in the post-treatment period, I found a great many resources out there for people suffering through “Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress.” The important message in all of these is this: You are not alone. These words from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) ring true.

“Symptoms of post-traumatic stress usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, but sometimes they do not appear for months or even years afterwards.”

(Mine began about three days after learning I was in remission.)

I kept asking myself, “I’m in remission. So why do I feel so miserable?” The NCI list of key triggers for PTSD made me wonder how anyone escapes this. As a cancer patient, you’re hit with a series of terrifying events, any one of which would be stressful. Combine them, and they make a mighty cocktail of traumatic triggers:

– Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

– Receiving treatment

– Waiting for test results

– Learning the cancer has recurred

To that, I would add that only doctors on TV ever say, “You’re cured!” so we live with “Learning the cancer may recur.”

Side bar from Britt: Still reeling from these events, you can imagine how odd and occasionally irritating all of these Stay Strong Be Positive Awareness campaigns can be. With everyone gleefully praising the bravery and strength of cancer patients, while walking their own healthy bodies all over town for a happy cure, we might feel a bit of guilt or anger that we’re unable to pretend it’s all over. We might have (temporarily) beat cancer into some undetectable submission, but it is an albatross to our peace.

Cancer patients aren’t the only ones subject to PTSD. Caregivers are susceptible, too.

“PTSD can also affect caregivers. Learning that a loved one has cancer, seeing a loved one in pain, and experiencing a medical emergency are traumatic events that may contribute to the development of PTSD symptoms during treatment or years after the person has survived the cancer.”

So families and caregivers need support, too. For me, cancer was a full participation, family event. My parents, my sister, and of course, my kids weren’t shielded from the times I was in pain or scared. We’ll need to keep “checking in” to gauge the fallout of this on each one of us. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how my disease would influence their feelings in the future. Now I will.

What should we do about this? Is there a way to proactively safeguard our loved ones in the aftermath? Actually, yes. There are a few recommended steps. The first is everyone should have an opportunity to talk to a psychiatrist. Having a trained professional define the trauma and help identify its effects on your worldview can be enormously helpful. Also a doctor can and will, if necessary, prescribe medication. It’s been my experience, so far, that making sense of things with a psychiatrist is as much a part of healing as growing new hair. Holding in feelings of any sort is not healthy. Exorcizing those thoughts with a trained professional– not just your friends– is the way to metabolize them. This is just as important for caregivers and loved ones to consider as well. While your best friend or loyal sister is a great listener, a third party relieves her of trying to comfort and be comforted: You can’t be the patient and the therapist.

Another way to heal? Mindfulness. I’ve only just started to learn about this, so forgive me for being new to the effectiveness of this practice. Mindfulness, to be reductive, is yoga and meditation without all the New Age, crystal-waving, stand-on-one-leg, astrology-reading bits. And there is scientific proof that it works:

“A controlled study published in 2000 looked at 90 cancer patients who did mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation for 7 weeks. They found that people who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than people who did not meditate.”

I love controlled studies. They beat the heck out of well-meaning friends who say, “I have a cousin who only eats pomegranates and he’s been in remission for 30 years.” I went so far as to switch to a specialist trained in mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness isn’t faith-based, and doesn’t actually require that you post inspirational quotes over blurry skies on Facebook. A good friend observed: “So those cultures that have been doing this for thousands of years probably knew something after all?” Go figure.

If you are in cancer recovery or in caregiver remission, please pay attention to signs of PTSD, take advantage of the many resources available to you, and never forget that you are not alone. I’m overstating the point, but as I’ve said before: “You think the treatment is bad? Wait until you’re cured!”

Britt cannot resist science puns...

Britt cannot resist science puns…

After the Cure, the Cry… by Steve Safran

I broke down crying in Target today. Just started blubbering. People must have thought I was really upset they were out of the $9.99 sale sweatshirts.

This will be heavy. This is not the usual, lighthearted stuff I want to write. But this blog has always been weirdly honest, even when Britt and I have been at our jokiest. I like to think we’ve put stuff out there that’s tough to discuss, and more uncomfortable to admit. And right now, things are difficult for me.

I didn’t cry much during treatment for testicular cancer. Not when I was diagnosed. Not when I was in pain. Not when I spent endless hours in the hospital, frustrated at the lack of attention, information, or prompt pain management. Hardly a tear. Now that I’m in remission and feeling well enough to shop for sweatshirts at Target?

I can’t stop crying.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, as Londoners were faced with being obliterated by the Luftwaffe, the incidence of mental illness dropped. Fewer people visited psychiatrists. Even as the Germans tried to kill them, Britons actually experienced less stress and need for psychiatric care. You can chalk that up to the famous British stiff upper lip, but it’s likely something more universal: when you’re under attack, you don’t have time to worry.

This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Soldiers don’t get depressed in the field. But for years after– even for the rest of their lives— they can be haunted by the trauma they saw and endured. It’s only after the battle is done that your mind takes a beat: “Hey. Wait. What just happened?”

Thus, me, cancer… and the crying.

Right up to the moment they were rolling me into the operating room, I felt absolutely fearless. I was even indignant that the surgeon was running late. I was pretty drugged up, but I know, I absolutely know, I didn’t feel scared at that moment. I said, “Let’s do this” with all the bravado of a warrior. Let’s go in and smoke out the enemy. The camo was on, the war paint was smeared, and I had readied myself for battle, albeit wearing a backless nightie in a sterile room with polite nurses and soft rock.

Of course, I had an initial cry of relief. The release. It felt good. Someone with CT scan results and authority said, “remission,” that no more treatment was needed, and boy was that cry-worthy. But within just a couple of days, I switched into a very different gear. And things got dark. And I started to think…

My body tried to kill me. Twice.

First it betrayed me with cancer, and then a week later it attacked me with a pulmonary embolism. I’m having a hard time forgiving my body for that. To be struck by an enemy soldier is one thing; to be attacked from within? My body tried to kill me and when it wasn’t successful the first time, it tried again.

Bastard.

Now my body has scars. They embarrass me and they will never go away. I have had far more difficult emotional days since being cured than I did while undergoing chemo. I have hospital flashbacks, picturing needles and bags full of chemicals and it’s all horrible like some sort of far-off, war-torn jungle. Also, now I get a lot of eye boogers. Apparently chemo messes with your tear ducts. Not enough to stop the crying, apparently, but another daily reminder that I needed tear duct-poisoning medicines to ensure my survival.

I’m getting help. I talk with a psychiatrist who says he’s a “big fan of crying.” I see what he means. It metabolizes the pain. Crying is the most human response to all of the loss: losing parts of my body and, at least for now, any sort of confidence that it won’t betray me again.

There is appreciative crying, too. These tears spring from a different place. I think back on all the people who helped me–  all of the people who volunteered their time or simply gave a thumbs up to a posting. Cancer can remind you that you’re actually very loved, and the overwhelming gratitude in the aftermath makes it occasionally hard to speak without choking up.

It has been about four weeks since I learned the chemo worked. And I’ve gone from crying all the time to maybe once a day. So maybe there’s something to this business after all. It’s not manly, at least not in the traditional “suck it up and be a man” sense. But I think I get a little leeway on the “manly” front after getting the kind of cancer that requires the removal of an intimate chunk of physical manliness. The chunk, by the way, that was trying to kill me.

How do I forgive my body for attempted suicide? How do I come to terms with forever being branded a “cancer survivor,” or letting go a carefree notion that serious illness is something that happens to old people that aren’t me? How the hell do I get over this?

I don’t know. For now, I cry.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news. Also, another example of how nurses are awesome.

WTF, by Steve Safran

An oft-viewed post on this little site is What to Say to Someone with Cancer. That gets a lot of hits as October nears and everything from eggbeaters to sock garters is dipped dyed pink as otherwise good people Sympathize for Awareness. The best reaction to my crap news was similar to Steve’s. Matt phoned just to say, “FUCK. Should we go get drunk?” Stevie outlines the reasons why these expletives are the best.

Of all the reactions I received telling people I had cancer, the most empathetic came from my cousin, Gregg. He called right after he heard the news.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” said Gregg, getting right to the point.

It was absolutely the right thing to say. That’s not to discount the many sympathetic calls I got in those early days. People expressed their love, concern, prayers, and hope for my speedy recovery. And that was nice. It’s just, well, “What the fuck?” was on a closed, repeating loop in my head and it was a relief to hear it aired aloud. Gregg nailed it.

Hence, the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy says, “I’m sorry to hear it. But you’ll get better.”

Empathy says, “I’m coming over.”

Sympathy says, “Don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”

Empathy says, “Cry. This is something to cry about. I’m getting more Kleenex.”

Sympathy says, “I know you’ll be fine. I had a friend who had this, and he got better.”

Empathy says, “Scootch over. Let’s watch Netflix.”

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with sympathy. Sympathy comes from a good place. And oddly, a cancer diagnosis quickly reveals that there are people who actually struggle with sympathy. These are the ones who say stuff like “At least you don’t have double cancer” or other it-could-be-worse scenarios. They say, “You should stay positive” or “Get over it” when you’re sad. When was the last time you “got over” anything—much less cancer— on demand? “Let it go” is another doozy. Oh, I was going to hang on and stay scared and angry, but since you said “Let it go,” I’m just gonna let it go. Thanks. Who wants to go for sushi?

Empathy doesn’t require solutions. It doesn’t even want them. “What the fuck?” says a whole lot. It says, “I’m mad, too,” “This sucks,” “I hear you,” and it respects a shitty moment with appropriately angry humor. Sympathizers are sorry, and you’ll feel that; but empathizers are already pouring you three fingers of scotch or queuing up Breaking Bad episodes.

People will try to come up with solutions when there aren’t any. This is human and forgivable– it comes from a feeling of helplessness. But there’s a better way to help: don’t make any suggestions at all. A cancer patient (or someone who’s depressed or stressed or addicted or mourning or any number of afflictions) is already losing sleep over possible solutions. What helps is having someone just to be there and share those uncomfortable feelings.

“Why the fuck is this happening to me?”

“I have no idea. Sucks, though. And I hate that it is.”

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Breast-feeding request brings out the worst in people… by Steve Safran

All Kara Sassone wants is a place for women to breastfeed or pump at Gillette Stadium. As any lactating mom will tell you, even if you don’t bring your tiny child to the game, you’ll probably need to pump by halftime. So, Kara started a petition online. WBZ (the CBS affiliate in Boston) picked up the story and ran it on the news, which I expected would garner lots of support. Maybe some knuckle-dragging men would balk, but surely the women would support this, right? Even a “portable pod” accommodation without need for any substatial stadium real estate could be an easy, affordable solution. Providing a safe, clean spot for a breast-feeding mom hardly distracts from the entertainment at hand. Other stadiums have made this accommodation, after all. It’s not a major request, right? RIGHT?

Except that it is.

At this point, I should disclose that Kara is my friend, and I’m surprised and saddened that her pro-family, pro-Patriots, pro-breast-feeding request would inspire hate mail and nastygram posts. Kara is a kind person. She is also a mother of twins, a great mom, and a huge sports fan. She is fun, funny, and not the sort of person who demands stuff just because she’s the only mom who ever existed. There’s my bias. But if you met her, it would be yours as well.

The obvious, less vitriolic counterpoint to Kara’s request is that football games at Gillette are no place for babes at the breast. There’s some truth to that– I won’t even bring my young teens. It’s become a nasty place with some chance of witnessing drunken brawls, vomiting, and filthy language. But first of all, our sporting venues aren’t really in the business of policing parenting styles. Second, even moms who left babies at home with a sitter might need to pump during the game. Third, there are plenty of “family friendly” events at Gillette besides football games. Fourth, there are likely Gillette employees who might benefit from a private place to feed or pump. Fifth, OH MY GOD, THERE ARE TOO MANY REASONS WHY IT’S A GREAT IDEA THAT HARMS NO ONE.

Many of the responses to Kara’s request are, at worst, so awful they will make you hate mankind. Womankind, too. And there is the surprising part for me, a guy. I might expect the sports radio call-in types to be jackasses. But women are being pretty vicious, too. To what end?

Take a look at the Facebook post.

Here’s a sampling of comments from both genders:

Marybeth Michaelson: Stay home selfish mother and care for your infant, the infant deserves a calm, peaceful, comfortable home environment. Bringing an infant to Gillette for any reason, DCF should be investigating (you)…

Steve Link: What’s next tranny bathrooms?

Cindy Burns: I nursed both of my kids and never pumped, never had any of these issues, didn’t try to bring them places they didn’t belong.

Patrick Moore: Maybe if you decide to have kids you should be able to deal with the fact that you won’t be able to do all of the things you used to do and just stay home

Sally Donaldson Taylor: The world does not need to bow to you as if you were the first and only woman to give birth…. Suck it up Buttercup

And so on. Yes, there are messages of support…

Wendi Ankney: Such misogynistic hate in this comment section. We were all born from a woman… The baby doesn’t have to be AT THE GAME. Women who breastfeed have to pump on a schedule. It’s illegal to force the use of a restroom to do so.

Stephen Tuck Jr.: YES!!! Every stadium in the country should have one.

Matthew Baughn: Why wouldn’t you cater to the ones who use your facilities? If you (host) events that encourage mothers with young children to attend, you’d better make their experience safe and healthy.

However, you really need to cherry pick the comments to find the supportive mentions. The comments I selected from naysayers were the least offensive, to be honest. And, mind you, these are people posting under their real names.

I have to believe this nonsense falls under the greater category of “breasts make people crazy.”  Note how bananas people get about breastfeeding in public. Note how social media will censor pictures of breastfeeding women. Note how even a quick flash of a breast (or, gasp, a baby feeding there) will bump up a movie’s rating.

Kara Sassone wants a place to feed and pump while she’s at the stadium. Football has been vicious to women this year. Robert Kraft, on the other hand, is a generous and thoughtful person. Get this done.

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game...

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game…