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Happy Birthday to Me

After the worst year of my life, I come full circle ...

Saturday was my birthday. Last year, a day before I turned 43, six days after a bilateral mastectomy, I found out my cancer had metastasized to a lymph node. We had planned to have family over for dinner the next night, but all I wanted to do was hide under my covers – and never come out. We cancelled our plans.

This year, when I learned a Cycle for Survival event was taking place in Livingston on my birthday, I knew exactly how I wanted to celebrate a new, healthy year and say goodbye to a difficult, painful one.

My husband Pete, my kids, my mom and I volunteered to help out at the fundraiser, which was created six years ago by Livingston-raised Jennifer Goodman Linn to fund clinical research at Memorial Sloan Kettering for rare cancers. Goodman Linn died last summer from cancer after living with it for seven years.

It felt wonderfully symbolic to be involved with this cause on this particular date, especially because I was invited to cycle during the event on a special Bike of Hope.

I have never taken a spin class and am still whipping my body into shape four months after finishing chemotherapy and radiation, so I was a little nervous to hop on the bike in front of a room full of avid spinners. Once I started pedaling to the pumping music, with Pete behind me cheering me on, all I felt was exhilaration.

Hundreds of people spinning in solidarity, waving their towels, clapping their
hands, sweating it out, coming together to do something … it was meaningful and
powerful – as inspirational as a young woman with a soft tissue cancer starting a movement that has grown from a small event in a gym with 230 cyclers to one with thousands of cyclers in cities from New York to California, and her family and friends who are carrying on her legacy.

While the day was fantastic in every way – the Livingston event alone raised close
to $350,000 - I wouldn’t be me without having an acute awareness that I could
never accomplish anything so momentous and lasting.

It takes a special person to motivate and rally the masses, like my good friend
Hayley Hirschmann who founded Miracle Walk 11 years ago to raise money for the
Saint Barnabas Medical Center NICU, where our babies spent the first several
weeks of their lives.

Hayley showed up at the Livingston Senior and Community Center in her workout gear just as I took my turn on the Bike of Hope with a birthday balloon that she tied onto the handlebars and a sign on her back that said, ‘I ride for Sharon Scalora.’

On my back was a similar message. Before my spin session, my son Joseph accompanied me to the tribute room, where participants could post notes to acknowledge and honor loved ones who’ve had cancer. I clipped one to the wall, and Joseph affixed a large sticker to my shirt to show the reason for my cycling – in memory of my dad.

So many people are affected by cancer, it’s scary. A few become leaders, leave their mark, make a difference in the world, and others like me do what we can to support them. At the end of the day, it’s all good.

And at the end of my 44th birthday, Joseph, who it pains to speak to me at all these days, hugged me tight and whispered in my ear, “I’m proud to be your son. You inspire me.”  

All I could think was, why? I didn’t do anything. But I’ll take it. Though I may not be a mover and shaker in the world at large, it means a lot to know I make a difference to the people who matter most in my life. Who could ask for a better birthday gift than that?

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Sharon Scalora February 17, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Thank you, Jeff! It was great to meet you and your amazing daughter. Keep in touch and keep me posted about next year.
Beth E February 22, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Sharon, I'm glad to hear that you are doing well. I'm just over 1 year out from getting my diagnosis. I'm finally starting to feel human again -- it takes so much time to regain your sense of self after everything you go through. I've been thinking about you - so it was very nice to come here and see an update.
Sharon Scalora February 23, 2012 at 12:33 AM
I'm so glad you checked in! I've been thinking about you, too, and hoping that you are feeling better and better with each passing week. It does take a long time after treatment to feel good emotionally and physically. Chemo really destroys the body, and most people who've gone through it aren't fully recovered until six months out. And those who experience a life- threatening illness often suffer from post-traumatic stress disosrder. It's hard to get to a new normal and to connect with people the way you did before. I'm happy to know you're doing well now. Only good things going forward! Keep in touch!
kevin reilly March 02, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Hi Sharon I just recently came across your blog and your battle vs cancer You have such a strong family behind you ! Your husband Peter was quite a soccer player back in the day and I can attest to the little fighter you have on your hands in Lucas ! God Bless you and your wonderful family Kevin Reilly
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