Friday, February 14, 2014

Little Pink Paper Hearts

Sometimes it's the simple endeavors we make on Valentine's Day that count the most. Creative gestures that we may think silly can often speak volumes to another and generate lasting memories of kindness and care.

 As children, we all remember passing out Valentine’s Day cards at school. Usually, they were the homemade kind crafted from construction paper and were glued to various sizes of lace doilies. We’ve come a long way from the elementary ways of expressing affection or love, but our hearts haven’t changed. Many of us still carry the influence of youth under our adult veneer and relish being remembered.

 This Valentine's Day I decided I would do Valentine’s Day acts of kindness. Along with creating special Valentine's Day cards on my compute to send to my family, I also made little pink paper hearts to hand out strangers and friends with uplifting sentiments written on the front.
Valentine’s Day is all about love, cupids, hearts, flowers, candy and cards. I’ve read that over one billion of them are exchanged each year. Also, that eighty percent of Valentine’s Day cards are purchased for relatives. And, that Hallmark has over 1,300 different cards designed specifically for Valentine’s Day.

 Along with the cards sent and received, we know romantic dinners will be enjoyed in restaurants and flowers will be delivered from florists this Valentine’s Day. That might make you think that lovers receive the most cards. I've read that isn't the case. Teachers receive the most cards followed by children, mothers, wives, and then sweethearts.

There are so many ways to extend love and bring a smile to a face.  My sister, Leslie’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day. It brought me great joy when I dropped the special birthday Valentine’s Day I created for her into the mail box. Feeling happy about the card and mailing it even brought a smile to my face.

With all the revenue companies receive from the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, it’s the heartfelt gifts that speak to my heart the most. Mine sit in my box of treasures. They are the ones from my children. I can still envision their little faces with a shy smile and arms outstretched with their gift so earnestly made from nimble fingers yet presented with such pride. 

Maybe my inspiration for passing out little pink paper hearts comes from my own children’s affection and admiration. I kind of think there is a connection. As a matter of fact, I am sure of it!
I hope you will share my blog with your friends and come back and visit to see what’s new.

Wednesday, February 19, Jennifer Botkin Phillips, will be speaking at "Young at Heart" senior luncheon at Montvale Evangelical Free Church, 141 West Grand Ave., Montvale, NJ 07645. 
For reservations call Karen at 201.391.6233. A $6 donation is suggested.  Topic: "Life on the edge including a kidney transplant".

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fling wide the gates

Now, I can say that my goal of writing a January 2014 blog post is accomplished! True, I barely made it, but perseverance has paid off! Perhaps, this is perfect timing now that I’ve settled in after a month in Montana with my family. And, now that I’ve had time for reflection on all that transpired in 2013 when my life dramatically changed.

It is nearly six months since my kidney transplant. What I’m keenly aware of is that due to the generosity of my living donor, Dot Elwood, I’ve been given a second chance at life. Each and every day I’m filled with thankfulness for the gift of life and what that means to me. Thanks to Dot, I’ve been spared the weekly treatments of dialysis and the challenges it presents.

With my transplant behind me, I now wonder what the days ahead will hold for me. What imprint will I make in 2014? Will my life be one of significance? Will I accomplish my goals and realize my dreams? The joy of living that’s bubbling within makes me want to shout, “Fling wide the gates!”

Maybe you too have crossed over a chasm and doors are opening for new adventures and opportunities. Second chances are a time of celebration!

Yesterday, at a follow-up appointment with my nephrologist (kidney doctor), at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, she totally surprised me. Along with her discussing my lab work and side effects from my anti-rejections drugs, I shared that I’m on the verge of realizing a lifelong dream. I found myself holding my breath while waiting for her response.

 “Go for it!” She said with an affirming smile. That was all I needed to hear. She continued, “That’s why we do transplants, so that you can go live your life!” Before I knew it I was out of my chair and hugging her enthusiastically!       

What I heard in her reply was an endorsement for, “Fling wide the gates!” With my new kidney humming along and my recovery in back of me the sky is the limit!

I’m a sixty-eight year divorced woman, mother, a grandmother, a sister, aunt and friend, who has a new lease on life. I don’t know what my future holds, but I pray for courage to step beyond the familiar and find out.

In the book of John we read, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Do I really believe that? Do you really believe that? You and I have the opportunity to trust God that He will fulfill His promises.

 “Fling wide the gates!” I’m ready to embrace each new day and see how 2014 unfolds. What about you?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hello everyone! It’s been four months since my last post. Since then, I’ve had a kidney transplant, started taking numerous medications, had a ureteral stent removed (the stent aids the integrity of the transplant), had a few minor complications (now resolved) and more recently, flew across the country for my 50th class reunion. Going to the land of my roots and reconnecting with classmates, friends and family, has given me a new lease on life. But, my transformation literally began August 14th, the day of my kidney transplant and receiving the Gift of Life.

If you read my previous post (July 29), then you know that God blessed me with a living kidney donor. The day I received the phone call that my potential donor was a match, was the day I felt like the gates of heaven had opened for me. All the years of waiting for my kidneys to fail and worrying what the future held came to an abrupt stop with that one phone call.

For over thirty years I’d lived with a time bomb. I followed my doctor’s orders and did everything I could to prolong the function of my kidneys, yet I never knew when my disease would get the better of me. The relief and gratitude that washed over me from knowing that I had a living donor, was overwhelming. I cried and laughed and called my daughters and family who rejoiced with me and called my best friend. I even jumped up and down with whoops of joy when I heard the good news!

On the day of my surgery at Columbia New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, Dot Elwood, my living donor, and I were to be at the hospital at 11 AM to check in. My entourage consisted of Lesa Maher, my daughter, and JoAnn Bowen, my cousin. When we arrived at 10:30 AM that morning, Dot and her family were already there. I think we were both a little anxious and wanted to make sure we were on time. As it turned out, we had time to spare because we didn’t go into surgery until 7 pm that evening!

As it happened, there were two unplanned transplants before ours. Both were for people on a kidney transplant waiting list who had received the call that a match had been found from a deceased donor. When you are on a transplant waiting list and that call comes, you have a short window of time before the transplant has to take place. In that event, since our case was a living donor transplant and therefore the surgery date could be planned, Dot and I had to wait for those transplants to be completed before they could take us into surgery.

We didn’t mind the wait. Someone’s life was being saved. We were NPO so we couldn’t eat or drink but we could talk! Thus, our respective families mingled and got to know each other. Dot and I prayed together, our families prayed together and the family pastor from our church came to the hospital and prayed with all of us. Dot and I were confident we would come through our surgeries just fine, especially with all the prayer support that even extended far beyond the hospital walls. Family members and people from around the country including Brazil and Canada were holding us up in prayer. We were convinced that God has his hand on each of us and that his name would be glorified. We didn’t know how; we just believed that good would come from our story.

Later when I was talking with a lady also waiting for surgery, she commented that she’d observed the prayers going on amongst us and that she thought that it was really nice. Her husband was her soul support in a waiting room full of strangers.

“I’ll be praying for you for your surgery,” I said as we parted and I rejoined Lesa and the others.
Finally, at 7 PM that evening, Dot and my names were called.

The moment had arrived. We each were whisked off with our families to our own private area secluded by drapes to be prepared for surgery. Another hour or so went by and then it was time.

We donned our designer caps that matched our designer hospital gowns and said our good-byes to our families. We then turned to each other and hugged tightly. Our eyes were a little damp as we parted not knowing our fate once we stepped beyond the surgery doors. All we knew for sure was that we were in God’s hands and that’s what counted.

Lesa tells me that around 1 AM, she and my cousin got to come in and see me in the recovery room for just a few minutes, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is that when I woke up in my hospital room the next morning, the first thing I wanted to know was about Dot. Was she ok? The second thing I wanted to know was if my new kidney was working? Dot, I learned, was doing fine and my new kidney was working like a charm! Once that pronouncement was made, I went right back to sleep.

Since my surgery and recovery, life has continued to improve. It’s changed but the changes are ones I can live with. They include having to take anti-rejection pills for the rest of my life, watching what I eat (no sushi or rare meat or grapefruit or pomegranate juice or smorgasbords’), frequent hand washing, carrying hand sanitizer, and avoiding people with colds or the flu. Compared with the alternative of dialysis three times a week, I’m managing.
With my transplant behind me and the future unfolding, I plan to write blog posts more frequently. Please come back and check often as a new look is in the works.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kidney kibitzing

When I was thirty-two years old, the doctor diagnosed me with polycystic kidney disease (PKD). I had three daughters; an eight year old, a seven year old, and a one year old. My husband was a hardy and healthy line backer looking kind of guy. I was a busy mom dealing with intermittent pain. It was the pain and a host of other maladies plaguing me that prompted my making an appointment with a physician.

Thirty-six years ago, after my exam, and after reviewing my records, my doctor came back into the room. His perfectly pressed lab coat added to his professional demeanor. I was stunned by the declaration he delivered. He said that my kidneys wouldn’t fail until I was in my sixth or seventh decade of life. As a young mother, even my fifth decade sounded eons away let alone turning 60 or 70 years of age. “That’s really old”, I thought. Besides, who thinks about organ failure when you are in the prime of your life?

At least, I learned that my genetic, hereditary and potentially debilitating disease with no cure was a slow progressing disease. I was told that it could eventually lead to kidney failure. Dealing with failing kidneys seemed far into the future.
It seems my original diagnosis was right on the mark. That “distant future” has arrived and my kidney transplant date has been set. Whether I’m ready for this new adventure (and you know how I love adventure) or not my life is going to change. I will be the recipient of a pre-emptive living donor kidney transplant (bypassing dialysis) at New York Presbyterian Hospital August 14.

Knowing that my name is now on the surgery schedule changes everything. Before Brian (my kidney transplant coordinator), called to give me the date, I was somewhat removed from my own reality. It was as if I were in the audience and watching someone else go through all the steps leading to transplant; finding a transplant center, learning of my candidacy, the day long evaluation with a dozen vials of blood drawn followed by doctors appointments. Then came abdominal scans, EKG’s, consultations, a mammogram, a bone density scan, colonoscopy, dental clearance, and a PPD, (Mantoux Tuberculin Skin Test), all of which are part of the weeks long transplant evaluation process.

Two years ago I was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing transplant list. One year later, I was blessed with a match. An amazing woman from my church heard about my story and felt led by God to find out if she was a match. She was. And now, ten months later, we will each lay on a gurney in hospital rooms next to each other where she will donate a kidney thus giving me the Gift of Life. I stand amazed!

I have lived for over half my life knowing that one day my kidneys might fail. That day has come yet this entire process has been a journey of growth and discovery. At times I’ve cried out to God, “Why did I have to be born with PKD? Why couldn’t I just be normal?” I’ve wished for a healthy body to do all the things I’m passionate about. I’ve wished to be pain free. I’ve wished I didn’t have to deal with limitations and could be free from struggling up the subway stairs in New York City. I’ve wished not to have the body distortion of a swollen abdomen from kidneys that can grow to the size of footballs. I’ve wished not to suffer emotionally and physically from dealing with chronic disease that causes my family worry. I’ve wished to not have to explain to a potential suitor that I have a life threatening illness and does he really want to get involved?

But, my greatest life-long wish has always been to be a blessing to others. That through my setbacks and weakness, even in my illness, that God would make me strong and brave. That He would build my character and make me a beacon of hope for others facing chronic disease, or just plain life. If I could be an instrument in helping another believe that life is really worth living, I’d be tickled pink!

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope that you will revisit it during these next few weeks and follow my kidney transplant journey. Please feel free to share my link. You may check my Facebook homepage for updates. Family and friends will mostly do the posting at least in the beginning.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Luck vs. blessing

During the early days of my marriage, my husband, Nick, used to say that I made everything harder than it was. Whether I was managing the household, getting ready to go somewhere, or even making dinner, he made his view known.

At the time, I was defensive and positive that he was wrong. But, now, over thirty years later, I sometimes hear his voice, “You’re making life harder than it is, Jen”. Perhaps Nick’s perception was spot on and, I’m still making life more complicated than need be.

But, the voice in me, my truth, is shouting, “Life is hard” just as Scott Peck wrote in, The Road Less Traveled. That’s my reality. I deal with two life-threatening, genetic diseases and am facing a kidney transplant. My days involve managing multiple doctors’ appointments, keeping track of medical records, lab reports, tests results and x-rays, and trying to locate my list of who to notify when the surgery date is set. And, I am trying to keep it together while dealing with the effects of chronic kidney disease, some of which include anemia, bone disease and fatigue, and still carve out a purposeful life.

Your own reality may be different than mine but you may be still juggling life, holding down a job, and caring for a family. Or, your stage of life may be like mine; in the over sixty-five category and facing health issues. You may be caring for an aging parent or a spouse who has medical/physical issues, or helping out with grandchildren. I’m not exactly sure who is living the “Golden Years” I’ve heard about, but it’s not me or anyone I know.

Life has taught me that few people escape trials. Everyone seems to be dealing with some sort of challenge to their equilibrium. We wouldn’t grow and come to realize that the richness we can gain from our experiences, even though they may not be ones we would have chosen, can contribute to our passion. They make us unique. They show us what we’re made of and sometimes, we’re even surprised to find we’re stronger than we thought. Even through tragedy people have discovered their purpose in life and champion a cause for good.

My life hasn’t turned out at all the way I envisioned. I would rather be perfectly healthy and been spared some of my trials and tribulations. But, God had another plan. And, now, blessing of blessings, He’s answered my prayer and the prayers of my family for a living kidney donor! Some would say I’m lucky. I would say I’m blessed beyond measure.

Life has also taught me about the resilience of the human spirit. God has taught me about love.

What about you? Is luck with you or is a force beyond just good fortune at work in your life that’s ended up becoming a blessing beyond measure?

I would love to hear from you!


Monday, July 1, 2013

October 22 - Upcoming Class Ridgewood Community School

Tuesday, October 22, 7-9 pm, at the BFMS (Benjamin Franklin Middle School) 335 N. Van Dien Avenue, Ridgewood, NJ, I will be teaching, "Speaking UP - How to Revolutionize Your Life". It's my most popular class. If you know of someone, perhaps yourself, or a friend who might benefit from this dynamic and potentially life changing event, sign up today! There are 5 ways to register: Phone Ridgewood Community School (201)670-2777; Walk In: 49 Cottage Place, 2nd Floor Lobby; Mail: 49 cottage Place, Ridgewood, NJ 07451; Fax: (201) 444-5565 or Online:

Class description:
If you are ready to embark on an adventure that can change your life through words and actions, then this class is for you. Speaking up and finding your voice can pave the way to a new found freedom in self-expression that sets you apart as a star. Are you sometimes just a bit too nice or too agreeable? Come and find out how to use your pleasant nature to your advantage without jeopardizing your relationships. This class will teach you how to put away doormat thinking and pull out a platform that will command respect and increase confidence on a daily basis. Combining these winning ways can transform your relationships and open up new opportunities to expand your horizons personally and professionally. Topics include: how to be true to yourself, how to say no without fear, the six steps for speaking up for yourself, and the seven benefits of speaking up. It will leave you with eight words that can change the course of your life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The power of a primrose plant

Upon entering the supermarket the primrose plant display caught my eye. I began maneuvering my cart in the direction of the parade of primroses on the display table. The flashes of color popping out from the rosette of leaves on each plant gave me a warm feeling as I placed a primrose plant in my cart. Spring is on its way.

I discovered from reading the Merriam-Webster dictionary on my iPad that the word “springtime” was first used in the 15th century. The very word springtime conjures up in my mind gaiety and color and freshness and newness and rebirth. After the long days of winter it’s an eagerly awaited season.

With warmer days ahead and the pastel colors that will soon grace our gardens brightening our spirits, I could feel the excitement within swelling. Celebration was in order!

It was a perfect near spring like morning when I picked up my friend, Carol. We were heading to Starbucks in Old Tappan for a friendship chat. After we were nearly talked out we then decided to stop at Bonnabel Nature Park for a pre-spring walk. When we met earlier that morning, the sun was out and the weather was moderate. But, by the time we arrived at the park the sky wasn’t as bright nor was the sun as warm. Still, we were rip-roaring ready to tramp along the trail and get in a walk in the woods.

We set out along the path hopeful for a sign of spring. But, there wasn’t a sprig of green anywhere. Nary had a bird chirped nor were there any other sounds of life from the forest. But, that didn’t stop us because as sure as the sun rises and sets each day, spring is coming.

I had the proof. The bright yellow flowers on the solitary primrose plant I’d purchased setting on my coffee table greeted me each morning. The burst of color reminded me that hope lay ahead. That the season of renewal, regeneration, and restoration was nearly upon us and that we’d soon be flourishing.

Oh, yes, there is power even in a solitary primrose plant.