Friday, August 11, 2017



That line from Shakespeare's Hamlet reflects how I feel about this blog entry.

Coincidences? Instinct? Fate? Sometimes, things in life get a little spooky, and though we---as rational people---try to explain away what's happening, the specter of Fate tiptoes into the room, tickles us behind the neck, laughs in our faces.

And that's where I'm coming from right now.

I should begin by explaining why this entry was somewhat delayed. It's a narrative known only to my family and my closest associates and friends. For a year now I've had a health issue, culminating six weeks ago in my having major lung surgery to remove a malignant tumor in my right lung.

(Let me jump in quickly to say that I'm fine. The tumor is gone, I am cancer-free, with no need for any chemical or radiation followups---only CAT scans from time to time.)

As I look back, I'm sure I didn't believe in Fate, but maybe it was there, in the back of my mind all along. And maybe it explains my odd cold-bloodedness from the very beginning.

I never for a moment worried about dying, even though all indications were that the tumor on my lung was, in all probability, cancer. Though friends and family were in a semi-panic sometimes, I didn't mind. I was aware of the possibility of dying, of chemo, of radiation. I wasn't in denial, but none of it fazed me. Totally neutral. Couldn't figure out why. Because I've lived a rich life and was content, no matter what? I didn't know. Even joked to my daughter the day before surgery that, because of all the outpourings of good wishes I had gotten from so many people, that---if I should die---there would be hundreds of people at my funeral! (Poor dear. She was not amused, and I apologize to her now for my thoughtless levity.)

But maybe it was Fate speaking to me at some gut level?

To begin, I had a mild cold last year. No big deal. A little sneezing, a bit of coughing. But when my slight fever kept coming back, I went to my doctor. Fate? Having come from an era where we pretty much took care of our sicknesses on our own and only saw doctors when it seemed to be important, I don’t know what persuaded me to go to my GP. Still don’t know what pushed me.

Called my local Primary Care physician. He was on vacation. His substitute was a pulmonary specialist. (Coincidence?) That doctor's diagnosis was that I had a mild case of pneumonia, which necessitated a chest x-ray, which then showed something on my lung. Scar tissue from my years of smoking (I don't want to hear it, people. Have been filled with my own regrets---don't want guilt trips from others, if you don't mind).  And on the scar tissue was something that looked like a tumor.

I had preliminary tests in my neighborhood. Follow-up tests in labs and hospitals. Doctors seemed fine, but something held me back. (Inconvenience? Personnel? See UNDER MY SKIN---AARGH EDITION for some of the less pleasant experiences.) Went for repeated tests over months, because things just didn't feel right. Primary doctor and lung specialist were both urging me to go for a biopsy, to schedule lung surgery to remove the tumor, etc. But I resisted. Why? Fate again? Instinct?

It wasn't a sense of denial---that if I ignored it, it would go away. I knew I had to have the biopsy and possibly the surgery. 

I'm aware now that if 1.) I hadn't come down with pneumonia and 2.) if I hadn't somehow felt impelled to visit a doctor, my life five years from now might have been vastly different. 

But maybe it was spooky Fate at work. That whatever was happening was meant to be. That I was making connections and decisions that were fated.

Finally asked my ex-husband for a referral for a second opinion since he had had medical contacts as an attorney through the years. He gave me the name of a pulmonary specialist at NYU-Langone in New York City. Don't ask me how we got on to colleges but, within fifteen minutes, that doctor and I had discovered that his family, like mine, were Brown University graduates. More than that, he had graduated from pre-med at Brown with my physician niece, in the same year. Innocent coincidence? Or Fate?

He sent me for tests, then we scheduled the biopsy. This time, I had no hesitation about agreeing to it. Why? Instinct again? Or Fate?

Biopsy showed it definitely was cancer. Arranged to see the surgeon who would perform the operation. Met first with his Nurse Practitioner for preliminary questions, explanations, etc. She took one look at me and said, "Why do you look familiar to me?"

I suggested that perhaps we had met when I made the rounds of the hospital for all my preliminary tests. "No," she said, indicating that she wouldn't have been in the section where all the tests were done.

Half as a joke (since I do sell wedding dresses at Macy's Bridal Salon), I said, "Have you had any connection with weddings lately?" (I guess I figured she might have come in with a group for bridesmaids' dresses, or something.)

She gasped in surprise. "Macy's!" she cried. "You showed me all those veils last month!" (Another eerie coincidence that's too coincidental? Or Fated?) She didn't buy the veil, but she remembered me. (And she married four weeks ago! I send her my congratulations.)

Then I met the surgeon who would perform the operation. We spoke of the operation, then chatted for a bit. It turns out he's a writer, with a published book to his credit. (Do check it out on Amazon---it's wonderful. Moving, inspiring, creative, funny. Super Performing At Work And At Home by Robert James Cerfolio MD, MBA.) And, basically, it's what I write here on this blog. He basically writes Life Lessons for the Professional, as opposed to the more general, motherly advice I give. But we're clearly on the same page. Another spooky coincidence? He played baseball in college. Well, so did I, and got a college letter for it. He has three sons. Well, so do I. 

I'm not trying to say I'm on his level of competence---he's at the top of his profession. But the coincidences were overwhelming. And so, when I was wheeled into surgery, I never for a minute thought I wouldn't come out of it. Because Fate had brought me to that moment and that place.

Coincidentally (???), while I was recovering at home, I watched a lot of old movies. And in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) , one of the older characters spoke this line: "As a man grows old, he begins to believe in Fate." And I knew that line was meant for me.

What's the Life Lesson here? Sometimes you have to put aside reason and accept that "There are more things in Heaven and Earth . . ." that are more than just "coincidences". And just roll with them.

Now I know that I'm usually more light-hearted than this. So I thought I'd close with a spooky "coincidence" story that is fun (but no less eerie, anyway!).

This happened some years ago. I had already written seven books that had been published. (Three by my first publisher, four by my second.) But the second publisher had closed down their division and I looked around for another publisher. I found a young editor at a new house who loved my latest book proposal. She signed me to her publisher for a four-book contract. She was a lovely young woman, about the age of my youngest son, Roger, I guessed. (He was 30 at the time.)

We worked together for months as the book was put together, edited, revised, discussed, etc. At some point she wanted me to meet her at the editorial offices on a Friday afternoon to go over something (can't remember what---not important). 

"I can't," I said. "I'm going up to my University that weekend for a seminar on Women and Popular Culture. Will be speaking there."

"Where did you go to college?" she asked.


Her eyes opened wide. "Oh my God!" she cried. "You're Roger's mother!"

Not only had she been in Roger's class, she had also been in Roger's dorm! Moreover, because I had first become a published author while Roger was at Brown, the young editor had been in the common room of the dorm the day Roger had rushed in and announced, "My mother just sold a book to be published!"

Oddly enough, until that moment, she had not put that memory together with my name. We laughed about that spooky coincidence for a long time!

P.S. I realized, thinking about this later, that I never thanked and praised my four children enough for standing by me through the surgery. They showed up from all over the country, to take me to the hospital, visit me there, take me home, visit me after I was home, etc. And thanks to my sister, as well, who came from Boston to visit. I feel truly blessed.


  1. Wow, those coincidences are just amazing. And I have to say, as I read what you wrote, it calmed me too, and I'm not even going through what you went through. You're right, sometimes we just have to sit back and trust. So glad you're on the mend!

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  3. Sylvia, I'm SO glad this is all past and you're hale and healthy again. The next time you find yourself in the arms of Fate, shoot me a text and I'll bring the vodka--or a nice, robust Cabernet. ;)

    1. Thanks, dear. One of the nice things was that, because I had very little pain from the surgery, I was not on any serious painkillers when I got home. So the surgeon said I could drink! Lots of Bloody Marys and Cabernets while I was recovering!

  4. Beautifully written, Sylvia! SO glad you are well again. Remind me to tell you more about the time I was studying abroad and visiting Paris, wondering how to contact a college classmate there (this is pre-cell phone, pre-Facebook, etc.). Well, at the next metro stop, in walks Natalie, right into my car, as if I'd conjured her!! I don't need to tell YOU how vast the Paris metro system is. What's that line from Casablanca again? ;)

  5. Spooky! And thanks for your good wishes.
    And when I was a teenager at my summer camp, my dearest friend used to tell me about her high school boyfriend. I was from Massachusetts, but most of the campers were from New York, as was she. Four years later, I'm at Brown and meet the man I knew I would marry. (And did.) Guess who had been his girlfriend in high school?

    1. Love it! So glad you have these stories in you, Sylvia! <3

    2. Me too, Anna! Memory is a chemical thing in the brain, and I am very lucky to be blessed. Can still actually see in my mind's eye something that took place when I was about two and a half. (Checked it at one point with my mother.) So I never seem to run out of stories!

  6. I loved reading this but it made me miss you dearly! I miss our long talks because I get a glimpse into the depths of your fascinating mind!! So glad everything is well back there. I think fate brought me into Macy's that day and you helped nudge me in the right direction seven years ago. Aaron and Nolan thank you. ;)

  7. Miss you too, love. Hugs to you and Aaron and Nolan!