Poem #4: Imperfect, Limerick, Enjambment


All for Race Day

Triathletes train every day of the week.

Swim, bike, run. Perfection they seek.

For months they prep for the big dance,

Miles in the bank could pay a big advance.

Unless of course, they short change their peak.

Paula Bender poetry. Copyright 2015. #writing201

Poetry course day 3: Skin, Prose Poetry, Internal Rhyme


10/7/15 #writing201 Assignment #3: Poetry course day 3: Skin, Prose Poetry, Internal Rhyme

Dermal Connections
Skin defines us and separate us. Gradations indicate graduation rates and whether neighborhoods have gates or walls of hate designed to bait those whose traits designate them into the lower substrates of our world. But it doesn’t have to be.

Life marks our skin with freckles and moles, oil slicks and zits, wrinkles and folds, and direct hits from the fist, the belt, the shoe, the switch. Veins form beneath the surface, a map of the heart’s purpose. Hair grows, or not, by choice or without, downy and soft, kinky wires or straight, curly, thin, thick. Rainbow hues separate rebellious youth who dare to be different. But we wrinkled kin know it doesn’t. How do you think wrinkles begin?

Skin is history, geography, society, community. Cut sharply skin bleeds. Battles spill and mix our blood as it seeps into Mother Earth. The dust settles. We find that peace and love know no hue. Opposites attract and blend and demand new definitions of beauty, sensibility and posterity. Get beneath someone’s skin to learn who dwells within.


HELP! Until I figure out how to make the posts that go to my poetry page show up on the front, or if some kind soul would assist, I will put my assignments here. If you would like to see my first two poems for this project, please go to my poetry page link above.

Finding a clinical trial that is just right


Last night my triathlete friend Karen asked me what the deal was with clinical trials. Like, why do I have to shop for a clinical trial to help me find a cure for my cancer? She was correct in thinking that there is an established treatment for melanoma stage 3a. However, the advantage of participating in a clinical trial, as explained to me by my surgeon yesterday, is that medicine recently approved by the FDA for those with cancer stage 4 could potentially be tested on those of us with stage 3. The FDA approves a substance to battle cancer if it shows promise. The purpose of a clinical trial for those of us in stage 3 would help principals determine if a new treatment is more effective than the established treatment.

The website clinicaltrials.gov lists all of the trials going on — for everything, not just cancer. Type in a keyword (malady) and a location (Honolulu) and watch the results come up. For me there were a few but they were closed in Honolulu. We would consider a trial on the Mainland, but transportation and lodging costs would be tough to handle, especially if it were for a year or more. Plus, I have two teenage daughters. One will graduate in June. I want to be here. I want to see that.

Using the keywords melanoma, Honolulu, and surgery, I sifted through the pages and found three clinical trials that might fit and emailed the links to my oncologist. One was closed to adults, one focused on a vaccine and was in its first phase, and another one was not yet open, but was exactly what I needed. However, there was no indication it would be in Honolulu:

High-Dose Recombinant Interferon Alfa-2B or Pembrolizumab in Treating Patients With Stage III-IV High Risk Melanoma That Has Been Removed by Surgery

This is a double-blind study, so if I were to enroll, I would get either Interferon or Pembrolizumab. If I don’t participate, I would be administered Interferon, because it is in Kaiser Permanente’s formulary. What do I have to lose if I get the one I would be prescribed or Pembrolizumab, which is being tested?

The page indicated that the study would happen in September, but, since it isn’t yet recruiting, I sent an email to the principal. His nurses sent his responses back to me, including that the SWOG-sponsored study will start in a few weeks, including here in Hawaii. Kaiser Permanente participates in SWOG studies, and the nurses told me that the study will begin here about the same time as it would at various locations on the Mainland.

The fine print at the Clinical Trials website for this particular study indicates that my surgery would have to be within a 98-day window. I’m 30 days beyond my last surgery, so it looks like I will make the cut. Other things such as a full-body physical, blood tests, and the imaging that was conducted before the surgeries will also be part of my application. Fortunately for me, Kaiser has an oncology research area here and they are already helping me get ready for enrollment. Yesterday was the first time I had heard of CareEveryWhere, a secure network that facilitates the sharing of patient medical information, which is truly necessary as trials blend patients and facilities from different healthcare organizations.

Consider me optimistic. My glass is half full most days. I will not deny that the dark clouds of funk do find me and psyche me out sometimes. At yesterday’s final post op, my surgeon said she was pleased at how well I am healing. The first cut behind my knee surprised all of us by healing well enough to not need the skin graft. That was a big, deep hole! She said I have a good attitude, which is HUGE when it comes to battling cancer or fighting fat or training for a triathlon. HUGE.

You know what else is HUGE? That my friends and family have been so supportive. High school classmates who are survivors told me their inspiring stories. I have friends who share information about holistic healing and miracle foods (hello turmeric). One classmate, whose son is in residence in Cleveland, asked him to help me find a trial. He asked three other doctors. I was so pleased when the one they thought best was the one I had found myself. Nearly everyday I get a greeting card from someone. And my friend Michelle, who lives here in Hawaii and is one of my Boca Hawaii teammates, has been sending me colorful Hawaiian postcards signed by various coaches and other teammates! Crack me up! One had a recipe for a pina colada. Others are just beautiful shots of our Island home.

Finally, yesterday I was given the green light to begin walking on our treadmill for 30 minutes at a time. Once my wounds are fully healed I can start swimming again, going the distance at a leisurely pace before working on speed. I can’t get on a bike yet, at least for a few months, because the lymph node surgical site is right at the bend of the hip and the torso. You can still see my stitches. My body is not yet ready for it. My trainer is home and eventually, I’ll set it up and start riding in the backyard to prepare myself for getting back into my Boca Hawaii workouts.

I am able to cook. We are enjoying #EatAtMoms meals as often as possible. I won’t know how I’ll feel once the immunotherapy begins. Stay tuned. I may need to lean on you even more.


Patience, patient.


I don’t think I have any more cancer in my body, but because we cannot be sure, there is more to be done, and I need to be patient.

For the last three days or so, I’ve been distracted by my drain, which developed a clog, slowing the flow of fluid from my thigh, giving me a scare, and making me very uncomfortable. Since last night, I was having lower abdomen pain,  8-9 out of 10 on the happy-to-sad-face scale. I saved it all for my appointments today with my oncologist and my surgeon. Let’s face it. I’m ready to be off antibiotics, but I need to finish the course. My scar for the lymph nodes is healing, the knee is fine, I’m just hot, bored, antsy, and a little bit cranky thanks to being under house arrest. My second surgery was August 31, so we’re looking at nearly a month with a drain dangling from my leg. It’s gross, don’t even think it isn’t. My surgeon unclogged it. I will have it a few more days, continuing to log the fluid. If it continues to slow its flow, it can be removed in a couple of days. No photo. You’re welcome.

There are good things to think about. Like, here I was this morning at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua  with John and 16 years ago to the day I was there resting from giving birth to Sophie, who aced her APGARs and just about every test since. I cannot thank John enough for convincing me that becoming parents was what it was all about. It is.

Now I’m home here with Charlotte, who takes a different tack on life than her sister. She’s got a cough, so she keeps her distance. I ask about homework and the papers she was to turn in, and she give me a peek into her day. Both girls play their cards close. In that way, they are not like me at all. I’m a spill-the-beans-all-the-time kinda gal.

So, because of the discomfort this morning, I was depressed going into my oncology appointment. We talked about a couple of clinical trials that would be appropriate for me, but they are on the Mainland. I wasn’t feeling positive about any of it. Traveling should be for fun and a change of scenery. One of the trials hasn’t opened yet, but it may any day now. The doctor said the window is usually within 98 days of surgery for someone like me to participate. He’s going to call me a month from today for a phone appointment to see what we’ve decided — and that day, October 22, is our anniversary, 20 years!

It’s limbo time for me. I’ll be getting in touch with the clinical trial principals to see if I might be a candidate with them. That’s where I am. Thank you for your support. I should look at it as another month to heal, get stronger, and get a few things done in my life.



Editing the Cancer Experience


Melanoma timeline. Who knows how long I had it before it was discovered in March 2015?

Melanoma timeline: Discovered March 2015; dermatology photo July 7; Punch biopsy after one week July 16; Full surgical removal July 30. Planned skin graft was not necessary.

It occurred to me that I’ve been making it easy for everyone to read about my cancer. There are a few things I’d like to share that might make you wince, like this melanoma photo timeline. I realize I’ve made light of my situation, I’ve admitted I’m afraid, and I’ve shared my heart-breaking revelations and the small victories.

Everything has been given a protective coating to prevent certain realities from seeping into my text, for fear I’ll lose our connection, that readers will cringe and leave for good. There’s no joy in no audience. And to make these photos a little more palatable, I’ve given them the Andy Warhol effect. You’re welcome. Still, I hope they are cringeworthy enough for you to cover up in the sun.

Below is a photo that was taken the day after my recent surgery at Kaiser Permanente Hospital Moanalua. It shows the catheter tube, the tape covering the incision where the eight lymph nodes were removed, and a pad covering the drainage tube to remove excess fluid and to help prevent lymphedema.  When I first found out about this cancer, Melanoma Stage 3a, I searched for similar experiences.

Catheter. Stitches over lymph node removal. Bandage holding drain in place.

Catheter. Stitches over lymph node removal. Bandage holding drain in place.

I am still looking for what to expect from a year of immunotherapy with Interferon. I am intrigued by people who’ve done the first month of Interferon, which is quite intense, but failed to complete the next 11 months of fewer and easier treatments. I need to know what made it so hard. I want to read how people suffered with Interferon and still completed treatment. What will I be up against?

Drain for the groin lymph node area. A tube is in place to remove excess fluid to prevent edema. I measure it twice a day and dump it out.

Drain for the groin lymph node area. A tube is in place to remove excess fluid to prevent edema. I measure it twice a day and dump it out.

The next photo is a close up of the hand-grenade like drainage bulb and the log to record how much fluid being extracted. You squeeze the bulb and close the plug to create a vacuum to syphon the liquid from my body.

Like many others, I’ve had quite a few biopsies scraped off my body and sent to labs. All of them came back benign and non-malignant. Five years ago, I wrote about the treatment I had to undergo to recover from years of sun damage on my arms (see the last photo). The doctor told me not use the carac lotion on both arms at a time. I’m glad I listened. It was painful and lasted several weeks on each arm.

The patient.

The patient, positively patient.

Doctors say the damage we are taking care of now was done in the 70s when we kids worked on our tans and spent the entire day in the pool or the ocean. That’s why it’s important to make sure our kids wear the right sunscreen.

My next year of immunotherapy will be a test of patience and resolve.

Is my arm red!

Back in 2010 I had to rub Carac on my arms to remove the sandpaper-like actinic keratoses on my arms that were precancerous.

Cancer 2, Paula 8; What’s next?


After Monday’s surgery and three days of recovery, John drove me home from Kaiser Permanente Moanalua hospital through a torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning. It would have been nice to stay where the meals were delicious, square, and timely; the personnel were kind and attentive; and I had an air-conditioned room to myself. But there’s no place like home.

For this second visit to the operating room in less than a month, my surgeon removed the remaining lymph nodes in the upper right thigh and groin area. It took longer than expected at just under five hours. There was a lot she had to do, such as slice into my skin and fold it back, gently ease out the eight lymph nodes there, stretch my muscle over the femoral artery and nerves, and stitch me back up. My family was there to see me in post op, and I was finally checked into my room by 9:45 p.m. Not only do I have stitches in place, but a transparent tube was inserted to drain the excess fluid into what best can be described as a clear hand grenade. It grosses everyone out, but I cannot deny the fascination I have with seeing what the vacuum is sucking out of me when I measure and log the output.

Buried lead: Dr. Uyeno called me today with the pathology results: All of the eight lymph nodes removed Monday were cancer free! Once again, a moment of silence for the sentinel lymph node that fell on the cancer grenade so that I might live. Does that mean I am cancer free? It might. But because it might not, I will begin immunotherapy once I have recovered from this surgery. No matter how good I am feeling, the therapy must run its course of at least a year. Zen moments. Happy places. White knuckles. Patient family and friends. It could get bumpy.

Thank you for your persistent prayers, thoughts and encouragement. My friends who have survived cancer and personally reached out to tell me their stories were especially helpful through this time: Debbie Donoghue Weller, Meg Lombard Edel, Jerry Penacoli, and JIm LaFond, and a few others. It is so important that people who have been there and done that to share their experiences — no matter what it is. It is invaluable!

Stay tuned for more updates and insights. I always intended to be one of those people who lived to tell, and to be forever grateful as a result.

Truly Misguided Crazy Ass Cancer Cells


There’s a storm named Kilo that is south of the state and it appears to be hooking right toward the north while increasing in strength. For the most part, hurricanes don’t quite make it here. A theory surmises that both the Maunas on the Big Island, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, shield us from the storms. Combined with the trade winds, the storms are broken up and we get the rain we need and and some blustery winds. But if a storm travels south, it avoids the Mauna Effect and could wreak havoc. Do you sense an imminent metaphor?

I wish this were the end of my hook up with Cancer. The good news is that the wound behind my knee is healing well enough that I will most likely avoid the need for a skin graft. That’s fantastic news. The incision where the lymph came out is healing and is no longer stretched by a swelled seroma beneath the skin. That had been drained by a radiologist using ultrasound as guidance. This is good. I’m feeling fine. I’m not quite 100 percent, but I’m better.

I am grateful that my sentinel lymph node fell on the Cancer grenade for me. Really. Think about the parts of your body that protect you and be grateful. But because the sentinal showed Cancer within, the decision is to go back in and get the rest. Next Monday, August 31, I go in for the lymphadenectomy. My surgeon-oncologist describes the procedure as cutting a lazy S from mid thigh to above my hip, pulling the skin back, and removing the lymphs. The skin will be put back in place and a drain will be inserted to manage the lymphedema because all these little filter friends will be removed from my right side. Nearly healed from the other surgery, I’m not looking forward to the recovery for this. We have to guard against necrosis of the skin that was peeled back. I will probably be on a crutch. Bathing is going to suck again for a while. And it’s hot.

Of course I will deal with it all. I don’t think I’m much of a whiner, but my family might beg to differ. After I heal from this surgery, I will be placed on Interferon for a year for my immunotherapy. As you can imagine, I am looking at stories from people who have been there and done that and lived to tell and say it sucked but they made it, and show ” No Evidence of Disease,” or “NED” since. Truly. No one says, it was tough but not that bad. No one. When I talk about triathlon training as my foundation for getting through this with fortitude and determination, I kid you not. For me, nothing hurts more than a 70.3 triathlon race, and for me, the run. How will this compare?

The most amazing thing that has come from all this for me is how much my family and friends support me. Cards from friends. Flowers from my Septmber1999Mommies group (Sophie was born in 1999). First-person books on melanoma and a book on how to make exotic cocktails (this, too, is important!). Through private messages on Facebook, I have had several friends share with me their experiences with Stage 3a melanoma. A dear friend whose husband had Cancer told me about it after he had been diagnosed, through surgery and out from under immunotherapy. Another friend shared with me her own experience and links to people who are taking this day-by-day and sharing it online, such as Patient#1 on Philly.com. And, if you saw my previous entry about this (not the recipe one!), a complete stranger was prompted by a mutual friend to get in touch. I have had long-distance Reiki sessions. I have been told I have three angels. I have been told I am scrappy and well prepared to go the distance.

I cannot call this a fight. Since when does a fight really solve anything? Truly misguided crazy-ass Cancer cells think my body is awesome. This ain’t no party. Soon we shall fumigate. They’ll never know what happened, which is fair because I didn’t even know they were here.

This weekend my high school had a car show featuring a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, the absolutely BEST Pope of all time. For everyone who has totally screwed up PR for Jesus and God, this incredibly outspoken man might just remedy that situation. He is The Dude. I am in awe of him. So if you kept reading the comments in my Cancer entries (The Skin I’m In, specifically), you would see that my friend Pam is going to try to see him when he visits Philadelphia in September. She is going to write my name on a card to try to pass to him. She and her mother are going to hold up a sign with my name on it for the Pope to read. Perhaps just his eyes and a fleeting thought will connect us for a nanosecond. That would be enough. Zing!

I am not looking forward to this surgery and the year after that. But all of you have shown me that I’ve got this.

Something phenomenally good has come from this. Cancer has given me a chance to reset my life. I feel like I am finally out from under the storm clouds of negativity that were a constant companion. It’s gone. Friends are real and true, even those whom I haven’t seen in decades. My family near and far keeps me grounded and surrounded with love. After this, I can be whatever I want. Again, gratitude.

Farro with Blistered Vegetables



Organic farro from Costco. Easy to cook.

Since #EatAtMoms is no longer a working website, I was trying to figure out where to put this recipe. I guess I’ll resume putting recipes here. Several friends requested this. I usually just throw stuff together, assemble, and take an Instagram. I think to myself that anyone could do what I do. Can’t you see what I did here? No? OK, then I’ll write it down. Crack me up. Especially for Sue PR. And everyone else! It was great.

Blistered vegetables happen when you heat a 12-inch non-stick frying pan until it’s smoking hot. The vegetables come out soft in the middle, a little bit crisp around the edges, and yield a natural sweetness. For this recipe, which is more of a composed salad than a starch with vegetables, I searched the refrigerators for the appropriate suspects. Most were a few days beyond their peak value. This was a great way to clean out the refrigerator. Farro is an ancient grain, wheat, and easy as heck to cook. A cup of dried farro in salted boiling water yields three cups of nutty and tender barley-like grains. The balsamic vinaigrette added just the right moisture and savory sweet to unify the veggies with the grains. Remarkable. You’ll see.


Blistered tomatoes.

Farro with Blistered Vegetables

Prepare farro according to package instructions, set aside if using right away, or refrigerate and bring to room temperature if you’re building this meal on another day.

Cut into one-inch chunks several vegetables. I used:
Bell peppers
Grape tomatoes


Blistered vegetables and farro.

You could also use other summer squash, diced onion, julienned greens like kale or collards, a few handfuls of fresh spinach.

To the searing hot pan toss in the eggplant. Sprinkle with salt. Let them sit in the pan for 3-4 minutes until they brown on the bottom side and start to get tender. Swirl in some olive oil, swish the eggplant around in the pan until it’s at that great soft consistency. Remove to a bowl. Add the next vegetable. Sprinkle with salt. After the bell peppers cooked for about 4 minutes, I sprinkled more olive oil in the pan, threw in the zucchini chunks and let them sear for another 3-4 minutes with the peppers. Place in the bowl with the eggplant. Half or quarter the grape tomatoes and add them to the pan. Sprinkle with salt. After they start to melt a little and their skins start to brown, swish in more olive oil and add the shallots. Let the shallots soften and the tomatoes reduce further for another 4 minutes. Remove to the vegetable bowl. Let them cool a little.

A small and satisfying bowl.

A small and satisfying bowl that can be a meal unto itself or served as a substantial side dish.

I like this at room temperature. Can you tell?

For the vinaigrette whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, minced shallot, a sprinkle of dill, salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup olive oil. Let rest a few minutes, it will thicken thanks to the mustard.

Assemble: Spoon vegetables on two sides of your bowl, fill the center with a scoop of farro. Drizzle with dressing.

This is very much like ratatouille, another one of my favorite dishes.

Another version of this could include winter squash, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, beets, fennel bulbs, and turnips; blanched and blistered or roasted in the oven. The dressing would complement both styles, or use your own.


But I Feel Fine!


Except for the hole in the back of my knee and a leaky incision where my lymph node was extracted, I wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me. I feel great! How can I be sick? How can I have Cancer? How can it be stage 3a?

I went back to see my surgeon on Tuesday and as she was checking and redressing my melanoma golf-ball sized scoop, I asked if there were any results from the surgery a week before.

“We have a lot to talk about,” she said.

My heart sank. I kept my composure as she finished wrapping my leg. She left the room and I had a moment to look in the mirror and tell myself to keep it together. She returned with the paperwork.

She said it was very surprising that there was no melanoma in the surrounding skin behind my knee. I’m pleased about that, but man, that site is fugly! It hasn’t healed yet so we are waiting even longer to proceed with the skin graft.

Then she said that melanoma was present in the sentinel lymph node removed from my thigh, putting me from stage 1 to stage 3a just like that. Huh? Is this really happening to me? I feel fine!

She told me what was to happen next: PET, CT and MRI scans. These will determine if there is more cancer in my body and where. We will also take out more lymph nodes in another surgery that will require a hospital stay. That surgery puts me at risk of lymphedema.

I asked her: “Is this when people cry?”

She told me that there have been great strides made in melanoma research in the past five years, more than in the prior 50 years combined. She said: “THERE’S HOPE!”

I shall cling tenaciously. I have raced in three 70.3 Ironman events on Hawaii Island that were hotter than hell. I have swum in three Waikiki Roughwater Swims and walked back to the start to drive home. I have had my tendon burst and three miscarriages. I think I have the tenacity to get through this, too.

I will face many decisions to proceed or not. Through tearful discussions with my husband, we’ve pretty much determined that each decision will be toward prolonging my life.

I wasn’t expecting that at 56 I’d be having these conversations, and then breaking down at the prospect of not seeing my girls grow up. I don’t know if I’ll be able to observe them from a parallel universe or from a cloud in the sky, but I do know that right here would be best.

I always thought that as a life-long athlete who swam, went on hikes, surfed, rode a bike and managed a half-assed run, that I’ve been adding years to my life bank. I expected to be a Blue Zone girl, who in her 80s-90s could paddle a surfboard and pedal a bike, and maybe achieve some new PRs. Don’t I have another 40 years to be a feisty fun force?

Since melanoma is a sneaky bastard, my medical team is moving things along as quickly as we can. I’m getting the PET tomorrow, the CT on Tuesday.

About two years ago, when my unemployment ran out, no one would hire me, and I had to do cart rodeo at the local big box as a short-term hire (read: piece of meat), my sadness was so deep that I sometimes had wished I were dead. It wasn’t just those things, it was so much more. I’m a sensitive person, I take too much too personally and it isn’t a good way to be. I sought counseling. When I met my therapist, she said that I looked like someone who was beaten down, enveloped in my own sad cloud world. None of these feelings were because of my family. No matter how bad it got for me outside our door, they never let me down. I even felt guilty about how hard they had to work to pull me out of my personal pit. Antidepressants don’t make you glassy eyed and oblivious. They keep you on an even keel. You can still be hurt, you can get irritated at other drivers, you still worry about your bills, and you think people are stupid when they talk loudly or smoke. Antidepressants do not put wings on your back and make your heart unbreakable.

So I want to erase all those times when I wished I were dead. I’ve told the universe that I really didn’t mean it. Imagine if such thoughts were to come true for all of us? What a mess this world would be.

So many of you have reached out in love and offered me your time, your thoughts, your prayers and companionship. Thank you for being such a fine safety net. My husband and my girls will need that, too. They are so very strong for me, but I worry.

My new challenge. Am I pedaling fast enough? Am I pushing a hard enough gear? Triathlon training makes you dig deep and fortifies you to stick to it through the finish line. Maybe this is the race I’ve been training for all this time?

The Skin I’m In


I’ve been hesitant to share this because of the infamous Facebook happy birthday syndrome. I don’t want everyone to go OMYGOSH! If you were to think positive thoughts, pray to your holy entities, or burn a swatch of herbs and dance naked on sacred stones in the light of the full moon to signify to the universe that healing vibes should come my way, then please do. Use your bandwidth to save the world, OK?

I don’t know how long this mole had been behind my right knee, but about two months ago I noticed it. I was holding up my leg doing a stretch and felt it when I clasped my hands behind my knee. Hmmm, a bump. You know how it goes: I guess I better get this checked out. And then you forget about it. About three weeks ago I thought it looked bigger, so I went in for a full-body skin check. The dermatologist used the CO2 can to freeze some spots and the treatment of other strange things were postponed because of the mole that stole the show. A punch biopsy was taken and it was determined to be a 1.13mm melanoma. My dermatologist stitched it up nice. Then she referred me for surgery. On Tuesday the stitches came out. I have a scar about the size of a dime.

Surgery is Monday. The newly healed skin will be cut back open and then some. Am I full of dread? Not really. As you might guess, I’ve been reading a lot of stories about melanoma, lymph nodes, the stages of cancer, alkaline vs. acidic diets, baking soda cocktails and tales of survival.

After having met my Kaiser Permanente surgeon, I am completely confident in how things will go. A nuclear medicine doctor will inject a dye to determine which lymph nodes are involved; I’ll meet with the anesthesiologist and get poked for general anesthesia; I’ll get a cut that might look like this: <===O===> (that’s an eye shape, in case you don’t see it). The procedure will end with a skin graft from my other thigh. Why? The site is too close to the bend in my knee and my skin is too taut for it to be sewn back together without limiting the movement of my knee. I wonder if I’ll need crutches? Maybe I can convince them to take a piece off my butt, where there is a little spare skin. J/K. #Triathleteproblems. #Muscularlegs. #Smoothskin.

It won’t be for another two weeks until we know if melanoma is in the surrounding skin or lymph nodes. My surgeon said I have an amazing 92-percent chance that it’s all gone. Isn’t that great? If I fall into the 8-percent realm, I will be placed in a clinical trial and/or immunotherapy.

Life is on hold, and admittedly, I have cabin fever. Not being able to work out, ride my bike or go for a swim is kind of driving me crazy. I go to the Boca Hawaii studio on Tuesdays for the turbo bike training so I can hang out with my friends, encourage them and fill their water bottles. Sometimes I dance. They let me be the DJ.

School is out, so I’m not missing work. I look around and see things I really should take care of, but, instead I have to find a happy place, ignore the weeds and enjoy this summer before the total high school experience happens with both girls at Kaiser HS.

Dark moments come and go. But more often than not I don’t even think about it. I feel pretty good. It would be great to surf along at “pretty good” while all this is going on, white knuckling through the bumps, and coming out stronger at the end of the ride. Stronger and wiser.

If you see me, chances are I’m in cooling-arm sleeves and capris. I wear a hat. Pretty soon I’ll shop for bottoms and tops with UV protection for swimming and riding. I’ll be that woman in the North Shore Swim Series next year covered from head to ankle.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a peeling nose and sunburns every summer in New Jersey. Here in Hawaii, I’ve surfed and swam sloppily smeared with sunscreen. I am sure this has its roots in small-kid-time summers in just a swim team suit at the pool or the beach from dawn till dinner.

This always happened to others. If you are fair like I am, or if you worked on your tan ever, then you should get your skin checked. What if this were somewhere else, like on my scalp? Things can go undetected for so long. Are you scared yet?

Offering hope


I have added some information at the end of this entry about the ClearPlan Easy Fertility Monitor, which truly made a difference in our lives.

It took a long time to write this because every time I started, I crumbled. After 10 years (four years ago), confident my daughters would survive, I finally could write it. Cathartic. Conceiving children is not all that easy. Planets have to line up, eggs have to be primed, sperm has to be energetic, a uterus has to be hospitable. Then, DNA takes over. For me, three out of five times the DNA was a disaster. It’s discouraging. It’s a total crapshoot. It’s a wonder. When I finally did get pregnant, you can bet I barely moved.

Reposting my 2011 miscarriage column here so I have it forever.

Maybe it will give someone comfort. More of us have miscarriages than we really know. Not many women can write about it, but they want to read about it. They seek a common experience, they want someone to connect to. That’s why this is here. I am offering a connection.

This is a column I wrote for IslandScene.com when I worked at cough, cough. Blocked memories FTW. It’s also on Oceanic-Time Warner. Because I don’t want to risk this link disappearing, I wanted to repost.


With Loss Comes Life

What miscarriage has taught me.

By Paula Bender

Two bright little girls and a MomSometimes it’s the people you don’t meet who have a significant impact on your life.

When I was in my late 30s, my husband suggested that we start a family. I was stunned. I liked our perfectly spontaneous double income, no kids life. We traveled to the Mainland a few times a year, we went out to dinner often, we lived impulsively.

All of a sudden, my husband was Mr. Domestic. It threw me off. I wasn’t exactly sure he was serious. But he persisted, presented a convincing case, and won me over with his enthusiasm. I also imagined little tykes with his dreamy eyes bouncing around. So I got with the program. All that baby-making stuff ensued. It was exciting as we planned our expansion.

Pregnancy the first time happened quickly. Unfortunately, it ended quickly, too. It was 1997 and I got a tummy ache one day while having lunch. I had actually gone in to labor at 12 weeks and had a miscarriage. I had two more miscarriages over the next year. The joy of conception was slammed within a few months and all I had to show for it was weight gain and depression. Deep inside, I felt as though I had been given a challenge to prove that I was worthy to be a mom.

Months earlier, I was reluctant to get on the mommy track. Now I was making deals with God to give birth. I was 40 and there was the added risk of genetic frailties that can result in mental retardation and other conditions.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. I was the fat lady always near tears who couldn’t handle seeing a happily pregnant woman or someone pushing a keiki carriage. If I’d see a parent publicly hit their child, I’d die inside. Why were children given to people like that? Yet, we kept trying.

Thanks to a fertility monitor, I was able to determine when we could conceive, which was about six or seven days earlier each month than I had thought. Finally, I took my first child successfully to term. She was born in 1999. By using the same monitor, we were able to conceive again. My second daughter was born 21 months later. Through those pregnancies, I have to admit, I was petrified.

On our way to the hospital for the births, I was overcome with emotion. The prospect of expanding our family floored me. The very thought caused me to weep because our family dynamic was about to change. I was both happy and apprehensive. I was thrilled and terrified. An amazing chemical-like process occurs when a baby is born. It is an exponential growth of love. It’s probably hormones, too.

All told, five pregnancies resulted in two bright little girls and three angels. Had any of those first babies come to term, I would never have met the little girls I have now. But those first babies taught me so much about the value of life. Children are a treasure. They are a statement of hope for the future. They are a reason to live, and they deserve every opportunity to flourish.

Interested in this? Here’s what I used: http://www.amazon.com/Clearblue-Fertility-Monitor-1-Count/dp/B0000532QB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433880493&sr=8-1&keywords=clearplan+easy+ovulation. 

This kit told me I was ovulating much sooner that I had thought. Amazing. You think you know, but really, YOU DON’T! After Charlotte was born, I sold the plan on eBay for very close to what I paid for it. And I threw in the extra test sticks for good measure. Best investment ever. 


Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 2015, the download


A beautiful place.

A beautiful place.

For six months or more, people like me train for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon somewhere on this planet. On Saturday, May 30, 2015, I participated in the Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 on Hawaii Island. It was my third time.

My first race was the fastest. Is it because I was younger? I feel like I’m in better shape now. I had a different and heavier bike back then, and that bike leg was my fastest. I’m happy that this year I beat last year’s time and that I made it across the finish line with 11 minutes to spare. Each year it had been my goal to finish under eight hours. Alas.

The only tattoo I ever get is the temporary race number. This year: 530.

The only tattoo for me is a temporary race number. This year: 530.

I was calm before the race. Packing is time consuming, but I didn’t forget anything. When I arrived in Kona and got my rental car, I drove to Target to pick up food: half and half for coffee, bananas, turkey lunch meat, veggie cream cheese, mini bagels, pickles, Lay’s wasabi-ginger potato chips, several bottles of water with electrolytes, and a big bottle of Starbucks cold brew coffee.

I checked in at race headquarters at the Fairmont Orchid resort, got my packet, dropped off my run bag (forgot to put in my visor), and attended the athlete briefing at 2 p.m. with some of my Boca Hawaii teammates. Then I crossed the grounds to get my bike, loaded it on top of my suitcase in the back of the Nissan Versa, and headed a few more miles up the road to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It was getting late. I filled the mini fridge, and got dressed to ride my bike to be sure all was well. It was. It felt good. I watched the sky change colors and the shadows grow across the lava fields as I went up and down the hills and up and down the gears.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Early to rise on Friday for a last morning swim with teammates in Hapuna Bay. Gorgeous, calm, clear. Is there a color somewhere between azure, turquoise, aquamarine and bluetiful? It should be called Hapuna. The Boca Hawaii folks work tightly in the months before an A race. But when it comes to the actual event, we’re encouraged to find comfort alone. During a race, a triathlete is truly working off the training and motivation that had been fortified all those months. Being alone isn’t a big deal to me. I can manage to be alone at a party and it’s OK. There were no big pre-race gatherings, just catching up with each other at race check-in, bike check-in, at the swim start, hollering for friends while M.C. Guy Hagi takes a breath.

The swim: 48:04.

Women in the oldest age group went last, and that would be me. We watched the first four groups launch and then it was our turn. We were ready for the cannon. And yet… when the cannon fired the women in front of me froze. WTF, I thought? That means GO, I said and swam through them. It was a difficult swim for me. It was hard to get out of the thrash of limbs to survival and a clear space of my own. Kicked in the head. Scratched in the legs and arms. Several times I kicked hard to get other swimmers off my legs. At one point, a woman kept swimming into my left side, pushing me out to sea. My smooth rollover resulted in no pain except that she stopped, popped up her head and called me a BITCH. Such bad manners. Clearly you do not train with Boca Hawaii. Rookie.

I was happy to pass guys in white, blue and green caps, and then women in pink caps. It is worrisome to pass the guys who should really be well over half-way done by the time I get to them. This swim time was better than last year. I felt great, despite the viciousness of some encounters. As much as I wanted to go faster in transition, it was really important to me to not be frantic. So I took advantage of the shower, got out of my speed suit, got dressed for the ride without any snafus and got launched on the bike leg with two really great pushes on my ass. I wondered how sore those guys would be later that day.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

The bike: 03:51:09.

This is my favorite part of triathlons. I have always loved to ride a bike. My coaches helped me develop strategies for up and down hills. They’ve convinced me that eating on the bike is key to survival and I have learned to do it even if I don’t feel like it. This ride was great. No stiff cross winds, no slick roads, successful bottle catches and refills, no punctures, no penalties. My passes went well and sometimes I’d pass two or three others before getting back over. Love shifting efficiently enough to keep my cadence as close to 90 as I climbed the rolling hills. Love building momentum as I pushed hard on the downhill for the next climb.

Buh-bye! I've learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Buh-bye! I’ve learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Just after my turn into the Mauna Lani Bay complex, I reached down and slid each foot out of a bike shoe and rocked the rest of the ride with my feet on top. I had a serious case of hot foot because my front straps were too tight. It felt really good to wiggle my toes! When I got to transition the velcro of the right shoe held tight to my sock when I dismounted. You can’t make this stuff up! I put that shoe on the handlebar, left the other one on the pedal, and ran toward transition 2.

As an aside, something isn’t quite right with my ride. I should be faster. I think I need to do more core.

The run: 03:25:30.

I have the vision of being a fine and easy runner. The execution is way off the mark. I took off from T2 with a pretty good trot, but I couldn’t catch my breath. The hot and humid air was oppressive. My heart rate was really high. After I got through the golf course lined with friends, critics, teammates and coaches, I started to walk. It was embarrassing, but I knew that I had to walk without shame. I didn’t plan on power walking, but that’s what I did. And toward the end, I was clocking in negative splits, some of which were faster than my runs. As much as I wanted to start running, I knew it would slow me down.

I know going into this race that I have to do well on the swim and bike to bank time for the run. I knew how much time I had for the run, and so I had to build up my walking speed to under 14 minutes. Half-way through I asked to sit down to get the lava gravel out of my left shoe. It wasn’t gravel. It was just really bad blisters.

This triathlon is famous for its Road to Nowhere, but actually, the whole run is pretty crazy. What does it feel like to run through lava fields? Like you’re an ant working your way through a hot pan of brownies. When we would meander back on the golf course, the heat would radiate from the ground, it felt just as hot. Plus, the Road to Nowhere is desolate, except for the smiles and cheers from friends and volunteers and the GOATS. Last year, I asked others if they had seen the goats on that road. Everyone humored me and figured I was hallucinating (sure, the run does hurt, but not that much!). But this year others heard and saw the goats! Bleat! I didn’t expect to see them all over the golf course, trimming the greens! There’s a solid herd of goats at the Fairmont Golf Course. We have chickens all over Oahu. They have goats.

During this segment I continued to check my Garmin and my watch to be sure I didn’t slow down and that I would make it to the finish on time. Soon, I could hear Guy Hagi announcing how there were only a few more minutes left. With less than half a mile to go, I zipped up my shirt (pictures!) and started to pick up the pace with a slow run. Don’t. Fall. Down. Don’t. Feel. The. Pain. Do. Not. Have. A. Heart. Attack. Do. Not. Let. Down. Your. Team!

The deadlines for each wave had fallen one by one, and I had very little time to make it to the finish line. I told myself the whole way that it would be inexcusable to do all that training and NOT finish in time. So I really pulled out everything I had and got in 11 minutes before the race was wrapped up. My first Honu was 8:12:25, my second Honu was 8:23:56, and this Honu was 8:19:00.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.