Money en-us catherined at cosmopolitan dot co dot za Copyright 2009 Confessions of a Secret Player
Growing up in a suburb outside Chicago*, I lived with my mom and three sisters, who taught me that the way to impress a woman was to be honest and respectful. This approach always landed me female friends, but it gave me zero luck in the girlfriend department. I couldn't figure out why until college, when I met my buddy Tony. Whenever we'd hit the bars, women would swarm around him while I went home alone. I wasn't a bad-looking guy – 6 feet tall with brown hair and green eyes. And though I was a bookworm, I also worked out a lot. Still, I couldn't connect with a girl. So Tony gave me a tip: He said if I struck up a conversation with a chick but then played down my interest, her attraction to me would skyrocket.

I tried out his advice at a club the next night, and it worked. My confidence soared, which attracted even more women. I realised that by appearing standoffish, girls assumed I was the shy type who wasn't trying to come on to them – and that made them more willing to trust me. To better manipulate their trust, I wanted to understand exactly how their minds worked. So I read self-help books and rented lots of chick flicks. Plus, I also pored over COSMO each month, which taught me everything from how a girl likes to be kissed to what she expects emotionally from a guy.

As I learned what women wanted, I figured out what I needed to do and say to get them interested in me. This landed me a steady girlfriend for a little while, but the more women who fell for me, the more my ego surged – giving me the cojones to date several girls at once. So for the next few years, I saw two or three women at the same time. Though I knew my actions were wrong, I justified my player ways by telling myself that I was just a young guy having some fun. And I was obsessed with seeing just how much fun I could get away with.

After graduation, I took a job as a travelling sales rep. On the road, I had plenty of chances to hone my pickup skills. I approached women on airplanes, in stores, at hotels… anywhere. Though playing it cool still worked, I soon figured out an even easier way to get girls to open up to me: Establish a verbal connection. By convincing a girl we had something in common, she'd let down her guard. One time I was on a plane with a beautiful flight attendant, and I overheard her tell another passenger that she was a private pilot. I began chatting with her and mentioned that I was about to start flying classes. It was a total lie, but it sparked enough of a bond for her to feel comfortable with me, and we wound up dating. Another time, I met a woman who was into squash. I didn't know anything about the sport, but I claimed that I played all the time and asked her to play with me the following week. She agreed, and we had a hot fling. I became a chameleon, willing to blend in to any situation if it helped a woman feel at ease with me.

Another thing I learned was that girls love it when men ask about their job, family and interests. As you probably know, lots of guys drone on about themselves. By doing the opposite, I appeared caring, which couldn't have been further from the truth. Plus, I needed to ask a lot of questions to make sure one girl's life didn't overlap with the lives of my other conquests. So I found out everything I could about her and her family and friends. Women thought I was attentive, but I was simply looking for red flags.

After five years of conning girls into the sack, I still got a rush from it all. I'd never been caught, and I viewed myself as such a stud that I couldn't resist upping the ante even more. So I went from juggling numerous flings and casual relationships to maintaining five steady girlfriends in the same city at one time.

I developed an elaborate system. When each woman left her personal items in my apartment, I packed her stuff in labelled trash bags, which I stored in the back of my closet. Once I knew who was coming over that night, I'd find the bag with that girl's name on it and assemble her clothes, makeup, and other belongings around the apartment, just as she'd left it. After she went home, I stowed everything away until her next visit. I also had to hide all evidence she'd been over. That meant changing sheets, throwing out leftover food and wine, and making sure there were no sets of two glasses or plates in the dishwasher. I shredded all birthday cards, love notes and other incriminating items. Being so methodical was time-consuming, but it kept me from being busted.

To keep all my relationships going, I became a pro at telling lies. I read books on the art of persuasion, which taught me that body language and tone of voice are more convincing than what a person actually says. For example, crossed arms are a sign of defensiveness. So I'd always leave my arms at my sides if a woman confronted me with her suspicions, which is what happened once with Michele, who accused me of avoiding her the night before. Getting visibly upset is another guilty signal. So I'd put on a poker face, look directly at the girl – in this case Sarah, who was pissed when she heard my phone ring but I let it go to voice mail – and lie. Each woman always believed me.

Making myself inaccessible also helped me get away with my two-timing. If I was out with one woman, I'd turn off the ringer on my cell so the others couldn't reach me. I rigged my doorbell so I could shut it off in case a girl was over and another decided to stop by. When she'd ask where I'd been, I'd say I was out doing errands.

To avoid confusing one girl with another, I treated them all the same. I gave them identical gifts for Valentine's Day and their birthdays. I took them to the same movies. I also used the same moves on them in bed. I even repeated the same phrases, things I'd learned all women want to hear, like 'I like being with you' and 'I'm happy with our relationship'.

Eventually, each girl would start talking about a serious long-term commitment. I'd create excuses about not being ready, knowing the woman would get frustrated and break things off. The sad thing is, I really loved some of them and honestly thought about settling down. But my desire to play around was still too strong.

By the time I hit my early 30s, pulling off the player life was physically and mentally exhausting. For the past 10 years, I had been seeing a different girl every night of the week as well as keeping tabs on the others' whereabouts to avoid run-ins. Also, constantly hurting girls I really cared about was emotionally draining. The stress had simply become unbearable, and I was sick of living a lie.

Within the next few years, I cut back on my relationships and eventually stopped dating altogether. It was such a relief to have nothing to hide. Now I'm single, and I'd love to settle down and get married. But don't think I've emerged from my old life unscathed. Truth is, I'm haunted by all the pain I caused and humiliated that I abused the trust of so many innocent women. That's why I'm clueing you in to the signs of a player – so you can kick him to the curb before he takes advantage of you.

*Names and some identifying details have been changed. ]]>
Wed, 03 Mar 2010 12:00 +0200
'The Day I Discovered I Am a Rape-Child' I was going through a rebellious stage where I thought I knew it all. My mum had always been strict, but my dad usually managed to talk her round to easing off a little.

I’d been seeing a boy with “a bit of a reputation” and, despite my parents’ best efforts, they couldn’t stop me from sneaking out at night to see him.

One night I arrived home after midnight and my parents were both waiting for me. Mum was the angriest I’d ever seen her, while my dad tried to be calm. She told me to go to my room and I stomped off. Once there, I pressed my ear to the floor, trying to hear what they were saying about me.
I couldn’t make out what they were saying at first. Then my mother muttered
something and my dad totally lost it. In a rare display of anger he snapped: “I’ve done the best I can, but she’s not my daughter!” The words were like an electric shock through my body.

My heart was thumping as I waited for my mother to correct him, but she didn’t. Instead, I heard her say to him, “I know, love. It must be so hard for you. Sometimes I don’t even think of her as my daughter, I think of her as his.” I couldn’t hear the rest of what was said. I’d collapsed in a heap on the floor. I’m asthmatic and I felt an attack coming on. I inhaled on my puffer deeply, trying to get my head around what I had just overheard.
My first thought was that Mum had cheated on Dad. I’d always been a bit of a daddy’s girl, and was outraged at the thought of her betraying him. I wiped the tears away and waited until I heard Dad say he was going for a walk. I stormed downstairs to have a showdown with Mum.

I was bawling my eyes out when I faced her. One look at me and she started crying too. “I’m really sorry about before, Mum,” I managed to say. My anger had vanished. “Mum,” I said again, hesitating to find the right words. “I heard what you and Dad said about him not being my real dad. Is it true?” She looked up with error in her eyes. When she finally said “Yes”, it came out as a whisper. I hoped I’d heard wrong, but she was nodding. “Who was he?” I asked. “No one you know,” Mum replied flatly. “Did you have an affair?” I asked. But she didn’t say anything.

Eventually, she shook her head in response. But I couldn’t just let it go at that. “But how did you get pregnant if you didn’t have an affair?” I insisted. That’s when she said the last thing I was expecting: “I was raped.”

My mother sounded so unemotional, I moved towards her, wanting to say
how sorry I was for making her tell me, but she was frozen. I felt totally rejected.
Slowly, she told me how she’d been at a party, gotten drunk and was attacked by a friend after she’d gone for a lie-down in a bedroom. The rest of what she said was a blur. I tried to be sympathetic, but all I could think was, “What’s this got to do with me?” I just didn’t make the connection between having another dad and my mum being attacked. Then she said it.

“When I got pregnant with you, I couldn’t believe it.” The room started to spin and I had to grab hold of the coffee table, or I would have fallen down. Mum kept talking, but I was too stunned to hear what she said. It was as if she hadn’t talked about it for years and was glad she finally had someone to speak to. I was so punch-drunk, I just made out bits of it. Like when she said she’d had me because she couldn’t face an abortion. Or when she said her attacker was charged, but never convicted.

I’m ashamed to say all I could think about was how this affected me. I was no longer who I had thought I was. “I’ve always loved you, Gemma,” Mum said, like she knew what I was thinking. It made it easier for me to ask if she’d ever regretted having me. “Sometimes,” she said. “But your father helped me to love you, to see you as an innocent little baby. He didn’t care who your biological father was. He was your dad.”

Nothing was said the next day. If my father knew I’d found out, he never once said anything about it to me - even when, six months later, I was rushed to hospital after taking an overdose. A couple of times I almost told him I knew, but I just couldn’t do it. I was terrified he would start treating me differently if he knew I knew - especially since discovering the truth had made me love him even more.

After that night I tried to discuss it with Mum several times, but she’d always make an excuse not to talk about it.

With no one to really talk to about it, I ended up turning my anger inwards and, a few months after I found out about my father, I started cutting my arms. Then there was the overdose.

When I was about 17, I plucked up the courage to see a psychologist. It felt so good to talk to someone and not feel like a freak. He taught me to deflect my anger away, instead of turning it inside. It took two years, but with his help, by the time I was 19, I finally stopped hurting myself.

I still haven't told my secret to anyone, and I suppose it means there’s always a barrier up between me and the world. Holding down a relationship isn’t easy. How can I be close to someone when I can’t tell them the one thing that’s profoundly influenced my life? I was with one guy for a year, and it was serious, but it ended because I just couldn’t face telling him.

I joined a self-help group about a year ago. I was tired of being alone. The people are great. In one meeting, someone asked if I ever wondered about my biological father. And the truth is that I do - I hope he’s cold in his grave. It’s because of him that I sometimes catch my mum, who I know loves me, looking at me as though I’m dirty. She probably doesn’t even realise she’s doing it.

Even so, every day I feel more positive about the future. And I want to meet Mr Right. I know there’s someone out there for me, someone who I’ll find the courage to tell everything to.’

*Name has been changed
Tue, 02 Feb 2010 12:00 +0200
'Our Love Survived a Murderous Knife Attack'
He was funny, interesting and spontaneous. Then after I graduated, he convinced me to spend the summer with him. We both got on well with each other’s families and friends - I knew Glyn had passed the test with my family when they teased him about his height and huge feet.

Three years on, we were living together (in the UK) and saving money for a trip to Australia. I would leave in June to meet up with friends, and Glyn would join me two months later. Every night, we’d pore over a big map, planning our trip.

Then, a month before I was supposed to leave, my grandmother died. Glyn wanted to be with me at her funeral, but he’d already promised to go to a mate’s bucks weekend, and I persuaded him to still go. I had no idea how much I’d come to regret that decision.
When the phone rang at my parents‚ house at 5am, I assumed it was Glyn, drunk and wanting to talk to me. I smiled as I stumbled down the hall.

Then I recognised his dad’s voice.
“Rachel,” he said quietly, “Glyn’s been stabbed.” I started to panic. All he knew was that Glyn was in hospital. As I hung up, my hysterical sobbing woke my family. My parents raced me to the airport where sympathetic airline staff squeezed me onto the next available flight home.

At the hospital, when I was told Glyn was in intensive care, I felt a fresh jolt of fear as I realised how badly hurt he was. I found his parents, and standing nearby were police officers. They explained Glyn had left the bucks do and was walking alone to his friend’s house when a man grabbed him from behind and held a knife to his throat. Instead of handing over his mobile, Glyn tried to get away and the man launched into a frenzied attack, stabbing him over and over. By the time an ambulance was called, Glyn had 25 stab wounds to his chest, back and neck. They told me it was a miracle he was still alive.
I was in shock. Glyn was unrecognisable, covered in tubes and bandages. I broke down and cried. The doctors told us the stabs had, amazingly, missed his vital organs and his arteries by millimetres. They’d operated on his lungs, which had collapsed. All we could do was wait. If his wounds started to heal, they could wake him, but just one infection could be too much for his body to take.

The police told us they had closed off the scene of the crime. And their next words left me reeling. “We’re launching a murder enquiry.’

I couldn’t give up on Glyn. Although he couldn’t hear me, I talked to him constantly and read to him, willing him to wake. My mum arrived and begged me to get some rest, but I wouldn’t leave him. His parents stayed, too, but he remained critical.

After four days, Glyn’s doctors decided to stop sedating him. It would take him a day to wake up and there was a chance he would relapse, but I was filled with relief. He was going to recover. I knew it.

I saw his eyes flicker open 24 hours later. He had a tube in his mouth, so he couldn’t speak. “You’re going to be fine,” I said, kissing him softly.

He spent the next two days asleep, too confused to understand what had happened. He couldn’t remember anything of his attack, but the police told
us they’d found DNA at the scene matching a man whose details were on record and they had arrested him.

Part of me wanted to break down and tell Glyn how horrific the past week had been, but I knew I had to be strong. To keep Glyn’s mind occupied,

I talked non-stop about Australia and the things we’d do once he was well again. I helped the nurses wash his hair and held his hand as he slept. He was determined to improve and when he was ready, l helped him make his first few steps across the room.

Two weeks after the attack, he was discharged. We were so relieved, but on our first night together, Glyn was subdued. “Are you OK with this?‚” he asked, looking down at his poor, savaged chest. I told him a few scars could never change the way I felt.

But his confidence began to decline. He felt guilty about putting everyone through so much. He slept most of the day, frustrated at how weak he felt.

After a week, he was ready for a trip outside, but he was jumpy, flinching whenever someone was behind him. His physical recovery was only the beginning - he now had to deal with the emotional scars.

As the weeks went by, we took more trips outside. We still talked about Australia, but we both knew he wasn’t well enough to go. Then he said, “l
think you should go without me.” I protested but I realised he was right. If I went, it would be the motivation he needed.

I agreed to meet my friends in August, with Glyn joining me in October. Almost immediately, I sensed a change. He started eating and exercising
and, by me end of June, I could already see how much stronger and more confident he was.

Leaving without Glyn was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I called him every day. And from the moment I saw him in Brisbane in October, I could see it had been worth it.
He looked like his old self again.

After three fantastic months, we returned to London for the two-week trial. Glyn had to relive the stabbing and come face to face with his attacker, who showed no remorse. But, as the guilty verdict was announced, the relief we felt made his court ordeal worth it.
We returned to Australia and it was as if the horror was finally over. For the next six months, we travelled, surfed and made friends. Now we are back and he’s looking forward to our future as much as I am. I’ll always be amazed by his strength and will to survive.’
Tue, 02 Feb 2010 12:00 +0200
'I Watched a Girl Dying In My Arms'
A crowd gathered at the scene. People stared, but no one stepped forward to help. It’s not a criticism - people react differently. I felt I had to do something. I knelt next to her, took off my jacket and put it around her to keep her warm.

I had contradictory impulses. I wanted to pick her up, but was concerned about causing her further injuries. She was breathing and had a pulse, but it was obvious she was in a bad way. I rubbed her leg where I could see she wasn’t hurt, telling her she was going to be fine. I heard her friend call her Clea, so l was able to reassure her by using her name - I hope it helped.

About five minutes later, the ambulance arrived. I gave the police my name for a statement and left. Was I in shock? Absolutely. It was also the beginning of something. I felt I’d formed a bond with the girl, and I had to know what happened next. I went to the hospital a few days later and met Clea’s parents. A week later, the hospital staff announced that if she survived she would have irreversible brain damage… she passed away three weeks after that.

Before she passed away, there were discussions about Clea going into a hospice. That’s when I learnt about the problems facing young people with brain injuries. It’s possible she would have gone into the Dorothy Sales residential care cottages in Canberra, which house people with these injuries. They’re great; they have all the right equipment and support, and a focus on rehabilitation.

But from what I have learnt, there are no other facilities like that around, not between Canberra and Brisbane, anyway. In most cases, young people with brain injuries are put into nursing homes, with no one their own age to talk to, watching daytime TV and basically killing time.

I’d always planned to walk from Brisbane to Canberra as a personal challenge (I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic), but after learning about the care situation for young people with brain injuries, I now had an even better reason to do it. So, on June 1, I’m starting a walk for the National Brain Injury Foundation, called Walk With a Rose (Clea’s surname was Rose). My aim is to reuse awareness about the care problem, and to financially support some improvements to respite care, including giving the carers holidays or breaks.
There’s a healing component to the walk, too - it’s about giving myself some
personal closure. The walk is 1400 kilometres, and I hope to do it in about eight weeks - 30 kilometres a day for every walking day, and some days off for resting and when the weather is bad. Clea’s parents and sister will walk some of the way with me, and I will be joined by different people along the way.

There’s a final twist - through my job as a youth worker, l knew some of the
kids who were in the car that killed Clea. They’d stolen the car and were speeding away from the police. The driver got a three-year suspended sentence, but it will affect him for life - as it should.

l feel for all the young victims of brain injury out there. I’ve got nothing against
the old, but living in an aged-care facility must be an incredibly lonely life for a young person. People with brain injuries can be any age and their needs really do differ.’
Tue, 02 Feb 2010 12:00 +0200
Pole Position
We chat, have a few drinks and then the question… lap dance? Even after a year, I would much rather be asked to dance than have to ask. 'No thank you, you're not my type,' he says. I smile gracefully and move on. Rejection is a day-to-day occurrence. Then you get the shifty glances from another dancer. You know she has bookmarked him for later. And so it continues throughout the evening, over and over. This is the life of an exotic dancer.


I never thought I was going to end up doing this for a living, or enjoying it for that matter. I grew up in East London and went to a great school. I did well in class, was involved in sport and cultural activities, and loved music and dancing. My parents were fairly conservative and we didn't struggle financially. I had a pretty normal upbringing. I dated my first boyfriend for four years and went through all the norms of growing up. I didn't have the opportunity to study but, like many young women, did promotions and events to support myself.

I moved to Cape Town in 2005 and started working for an events company, soon moving on to nightclubs and restaurants. The nightlife was for me. Through the events industry I made friends with a few dancers and was soon intrigued. On one drunken occasion I told Raven, a dancer, that I wanted to try stripping. She called me one day asking if I wanted to try a 'boys' night', and I went for it.

I was so nervous. Sexy underwear – check. Music – check. 10 tequilas – check.

In all honesty, I went out there and felt so powerful. It was crazy. The clothes came off and I was fine. I had survived. From there I started doing bachelor parties and soon started working in clubs.


So what's my 'office' like? Well, strip clubs are slowly losing their 'old dirty man' reputation. The club I work at is filled with young, up-and-coming professionals and models who are mingling, chatting and having a great time. There is an electric, sexy atmosphere.

Some men come for the company of someone with no strings attached. They spend money for us to sit and listen. Believe it. And they talk to us about you – their wife or girlfriend. They know when they walk out the door, it's all quickly forgotten and they feel better for it. Service rendered with a smile. Some of my clients pay for a dance and we just sit and talk in the privacy of the booth away from the masses in the club.

Then there is the nudity. Women are sexy and beautiful no matter what shape or size. Guys enjoy the fantasy, the glimpse of something unobtainable. Ladies, this does not mean your man loves you any less. It's a fantasy. One that just happens to make me money!

The money in dancing is great. This is perhaps one profession that IS credit-crunch proof, although there are ups and downs as in any other business. You have your good days and bad – walking out with nothing one night and R10 000 the next. And it's hard work. You are in stilettos from 7pm to 4am and dancing, moving, upstairs and downstairs.


Often I meet really nice guys in the club I dance for. But it's not easy. Everyone wants to sleep with a stripper – no one wants to date one. So despite the fact that people think we have amazing sex lives and date constantly, we don't. Well, not me anyway. And it can get lonely. So when you see a girl on stage, smiling and swinging around the pole, realise she may be thinking of the guy she loves and whether or not he loves her back. We are real people, with real emotions – it's just easier for us to take our clothes off. This takes guts and a huge level of confidence.

Hilarious things happen too. I've lost a hair extension mid-dance and subtly had to curl it round my finger and hide it before the gentlemen in front of me thought I was going bald. I've fallen off a guy's lap and, just last night, accidentally flung one of my shoes across the club. All you can do is laugh, smile and hope a customer thought that was cute.

I am not going to be dancing for the rest of my life. I have ambitions. This is merely a stepping-stone – one which has opened doors. I have recently been a part of an American TV show and I plan to, ultimately, study further and travel. You see, there's very little difference between you and I. I have great friends, a great apartment and a healthy lifestyle. The only difference? I work naked.
Thu, 27 Aug 2009 12:00 +0200
When One Twin Dies
Losing any family member is heartbreaking; losing an identical twin is almost unbearable. 'The pain is somewhat more acute for identical twins because the similarities between them are so great,' says Nancy L. Segal, PhD, professor of psychology at the Twin Studies Centre at California State University at Fullerton. 'Their whole sense of self has to be revised.' Amy understands that completely. 'For my whole life, it was 'we',' she explains. 'Then, suddenly, it was me. I felt like I had lost a part of myself in that accident.'

Compounding the sadness for twins is that few people can empathise with their unique kind of grief (though multiple births are on the rise – 3.2 percent of births were twins in 2004, compared with 1.9 percent in 1984, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – it's still a relatively rare stare of being). 'Very few people know how to react when a twin dies,' says Segal, whose book Invisible by Two describes the lives of twins. The result: The survivor often feels more isolated.

'A twin's relationship is so special that the loss is special too,' Amy says. 'When people tried to console me, it made me angry and more lonely because I felt like they didn't get it.

But a few weeks after Mandy's death, Amy finally found people who did understand what she was going through when she went to Twinless Twins, an international support group for surviving twins with 400 active members. 'I felt an immediate connection,' says Amy of her first meeting. 'Being with others in my situation let me know that what I was experiencing was normal.'

Today, Amy is the New England regional director of the group. Though she still grieves for her lost sister – 'my birthday is really hard,' she says – having other twinless twins to talk to helps her cope. 'Nobody will replace Mandy, and I don't want that,' she says. 'But at least now I don't feel so isolated.'
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
Her Body Piercing Almost Killed Her
A few weeks after the piercing, Stephanie's left breast became very tender and red. In October, she went to the ER in excruciating pain and was later admitted with an infection.

Stephanie's condition worsened, and two days later, she was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis, a rapid bacteria growth that destroys tissue. Doctors had to remove one breast, lymph nodes, and skin up to her collarbone.

Though Stephanie's case is extremely rare, piercing complications are not. According to a national survey by Northwestern University, 23 percent of those with body piercings experienced problems, including discomfort, swelling, and bleeding. Naval piercings, the most common source of complications, 'are exposed to a lot of friction from clothing and take a long time to heal,' says Donna I. Meltzer, MD, associate professor of family medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine.

Other potential problems include hepatitis B and C and tetanus. 'I'm not for or against piercing if people make informed decisions,' says Dr. Meltzer.

That means making sure the piercer wears fresh gloves and uses a new, sterilised needle and researching any conditions you have that might make you vulnerable to infection, such as diabetes, which was the case with Stephanie. Unfortunately, she learned about the dangers of piercing the hard way.
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
'I'm a Survivor'
At the hospital, I learned that a blood clot had lodged in an artery and destroyed the left side of my heart. I was young, healthy and active – how could I have had a massive heart attack? Still in shock, I asked the doctor if I was going to die. He stared at me and said nothing.

The doctors hoped to save me with a transplant, but no hearts were available. So they implanted a mechanical device that pumped blood to my heart. But because of complications from an earlier surgery, my left leg lost circulation and became infected. Within a few days, it was amputated above the knee.

I was devastated. I couldn't stop thinking about having the relearn how to walk with a prosthesis and how unfair it was. But I tried to focus on the fact that I was alive.

After six weeks of intense physical therapy in hospital, I went back to school. I worried that my classmates would treat me differently, especially because I had to use a wheelchair while I adjusted to my prosthetic leg. But I was floored by how supportive everyone was.

Right before my graduation, I learned that a heart was available, though I was apprehensive about undergoing open-heart surgery. After the operation, I woke up in a panic, clutching my chest to make sure my heart was beating. Two weeks later, I went home, and I started Princeton University on time three months later.

The summer after freshman year, I was hit with another medical hurdle: I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. Mentally, I shut down. To me, cancer equalled death. I began chemotherapy, and I was worried about hair loss. But I found such a great wig, my friends though it was real. After three months, I was in remission, and the doctors don't expect the cancer to return.

Surviving against all odds has led me to reach out to others. I work at the NJ Sharing Network, a New Jersey non-profit organisation that educates people about organ donation. I also give motivational speeches ( My message: We can't always avoid obstacles, but we can decide how we react to them.
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
Haunted By an Ex-Boyfriend You might think that once you've met The One, all of your former flames fade into the background. But Kelly Bare, author of The F Word, learned that memories of past partners aren't so easy to purge.

I didn't do bad breakups; I was one of those girls who liked to think she had her exes within arm's reach. Sure, they were probably dating someone else. And no, they wouldn't come running back to me at a moment's notice. Hell, I wouldn't want them to. But I was pretty sure that deep down, they'd rather be with me.

As we all moved into marrying age, I even got some perverse satisfaction from the fact that these guys remained single. Like having no cavities, having no married exes was something to brag about. But eventually, that changed. Over time, as I heard of my exes getting engaged, I felt nothing but good feelings about it. I suppose that's due to a lack of scar tissue and my happiness in my current romantic situation. But when it came to deliver¬ing the news of my engagement to my most significant ex, I found I had a few exposed nerves.

When I first met my husband, Jona¬than, I was packing guilt. Just four months earlier, I had moved out of the apartment I'd shared with Sam, my boyfriend of almost four years. Sam and I grew up in the same town, met years later in Chicago, moved to San Francisco, then picked up together for a new life in New York: graduate school for him, a new career for me, with one apartment to hold us both. It was the first step in what we imagined would be a long life together. But a little over a year later, we were saying our good-byes.

What went wrong? Well, I guess the move triggered a growth spurt in both of us – only we grew in different direc¬tions. He studied all night; I worked all day. We ate dinner apart, made different groups of friends... We barely saw each other. And when we did, it felt more and more hollow.

I wasn't sure what was more trou¬bling: the lack of connection or the fact that he didn't seem to notice. Or maybe he just didn't miss me. But when I thought about it, I realised that I didn't miss him either! And then I knew it was over. How four years of adventure and camaraderie could flatline so quickly was terrifying, but the truth was undeniable.

My relationship with Sam had been my typical 0-to-60 affair. So when I started dating, I made a pact with myself to go out with at least 10 guys before getting into a relationship. I dated a guy I met at a bar, got set up, and even got singed by an old flame.

Then came Bachelor Number Six – Jonathan. He was sweet, quirky, and shy, with an encyclopaedic brain and dark good looks, of which he was barely aware. After our first date, I realised he might suit me for the long haul in ways I was only just beginning to realise might be important.

It was a startling thought. I wasn't looking for a long-term commit¬ment... and I still had four guys to go! But if a long-term commitment had found me, what could I do?

During the first year of my relation¬ship with Jonathan, I thought about my ex all the time. I called it the Sam echo. Every time Jonathan and I would hit a milestone, big or small, I'd reflexively wonder, Was this how it was with Sam? Every time we'd have a first – first vacation, first parental visit, first argument – I'd check myself: Did I feel this way with Sam? I hated that echo because it felt wrong, tainted, mean to Sam, and unfair to Jonathan.

In some cases, the differences between them were striking. First date? With Sam, it was a boozy night out with a group and – I'll admit it – a sleepover, with a 'proper' first date a couple of days later. Jonathan asked if he could ask me out (no kid¬ding), then made dinner for me at his place - three courses from scratch.

First kiss? I put the moves on Sam in the front seat of his Honda Civic; Jonathan and I had a tentative but promising third-date good-bye outside a subway station. First vacation? With Sam it was camping; Jonathan took me to the beach (and a hotel).

But there were more subtle echoes too. My mind kept returning to a con¬versation Sam and I had before our big move, in which we affirmed that it was time to make big decisions as a couple. 'We're a team, right?' I'd asked him. With Jonathan, I never even had to pose the question.

And then, about a year after my first date with Jonathan, before I even had a chance to wonder what kind of echo might pop up next, he proposed to me. I said yes without a shadow of a doubt in my mind.

Of course, the echo was still there. I felt guilty that I was getting engaged so soon after Sam and I had broken up. The thought of all the friends we have in common triggered a shrill warning bell – Sam might hear the news from someone other than me! I couldn't rest until he knew.

Since we live in the same city, e-mail seemed cowardly; the phone, only slightly less so. The best way to do it would be in person. Ten days after Jonathan's proposal, I e-mailed Sam to ask him to lunch, and we made a date for the next day.

We got burgers and fries and sat outside. I ached – a nonspecific, everywhere sort of ache – and my throat felt funny. We made small talk. I choked down some food. I psyched myself up. 'I'm getting married.'

He hadn't heard yet. But his face registered no surprise. He was reserved but polite, gracious, and con¬gratulatory – just as I'd expected him to be. I didn't think he'd try to stop me of course, but his cool, controlled reaction conjured up the emptiness of that hollow time before our breakup. The familiarity of his response hurt almost as much as telling him did.

Jonathan and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary and entered our fourth year together. Like first dates and first kisses, it's another milestone; Sam and I didn't make it past four years.

It has crossed my mind that four years might be some kind of thresh¬old over which I cannot pass. But here's what I'm learning right now, as a still-new wife: Despite our faltering forward progress, there's a very sturdy core. It's that same ineffable thing that helped me recognize the poten¬tial for lifelong partnership on the first date, that thing that meant never wondering where I stood.

I recently found out that Sam is engaged (he didn't share the news with me himself). Did I hear a note of that echo again? Of course; only now, it sounds like a reminder that I'm where I'm supposed to be.
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
'I Found My Dad Too Late' A BIG QUESTION MARK
I've always known I was adopted. My mom and dad explained that although my birth parents really loved me, they hadn't been ready to take care of a baby. I had a happy, 'normal' childhood with a loving family, but a huge question mark remained.

In Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I grew up, adoptees don't have access to their birth parents' names until they turn 19. So I spent my childhood wondering what they were like. The social-services agency provided some information about them at the time of my adoption, so I knew general details, like their ages (19 and 21) and hair color (both brown). The older I got, the more anxious I was to know where my ancestors came from and where I got my looks. Because I was raised as an only child, I especially wanted to find out if I had siblings.

I thought about my birth parents most on my birthday. I'd wonder if they were thinking Hey, whatever happened to our daughter? I had a recurring fantasy that when I finally found them, they'd invite me to dinner, and lots of family members would be thrilled to meet me. It sounds silly, but that's what I wanted to happen.

In 2001, during my junior year of high school, the principal announced over the loudspeaker that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre. Everyone was upset, but I felt a strange, overwhelming sadness deep in my guy that I couldn't explain.

When I got home, I blurted out to my mom that I thought one of my birth parents had died. I'd never had such a strong intuition before. My mom reassured me that the odds of this being true were tiny. But that scary intuition still haunted me.

In the weeks that followed, I was too spooked by my hunch to watch any coverage of 9/11, but it was impossible to escape. Tom Burnett, one of the men who helped thwart the hijackers' plans to crash United Flight 93 into the White House or Capitol, grew up nearby, so his photo and story were everywhere. I tried to tune it all out. I just went on with my life, hanging out with friends and writing for the school newspaper.

When I turned 19 in January 2004, I requested a copy of my birth certificate. Six weeks later, my mom called to tell me it had arrived and confessed that she'd opened it. When I asked the names of my parents, she insisted we would discuss it when I came home that night for spring break. Her curt tone surprised me; she'd always been very supportive of my search.

'Is it someone famous?' I asked.
'Kind of,' she replied.

I also asked if one of my birth parents was dead, but she repeated that we would talk when I got home. I hung up and started sobbing. I suddenly knew that my dad was the Flight 93 hero from the news. I just kept thinking That Tom guy is my father. My gut feeling on 9/11 had been light all along.
When my parents showed me my birth certificate, they were shocked that I'd already figured it out. They tried to comfort me, but I was too upset. I'd waited so long to meet my birth dad, and now it was too late.

I drove to Tom's high school so I could see his yearbook photos. There I came across photos of my birth mother – they had gone to the same high school but only started dating after they graduated. I tried GoogIing her but nothing came up, so I focused all my energy on thinking about Tom.

In the weeks that followed, I fell into a major funk. I slept all day or stared at myself in the mirror, searching for any resemblance to Tom – like that our eyes and noses were similar.

My parents wanted to help me get some closure, so my mom called a local priest who, she'd read, was good friends with Tom's parents and asked if he thought they'd be receptive to meeting me. My biological grandparents called a few days later and invited me to brunch. I was so nervous and excited. I wanted everything to be perfect - just like in my dream.

In reality, it was awkward. I met my grandparents, aunts, and cousin. We looked at family photographs and chatted, but I didn't feel the warmth from my grandparents that I'd fantasised about. Tom's sisters, with whom I have become close, told me he had confided in them how much he wanted to meet me. Afterward, my grandparents ignored my calls, which hurt.

A month later, Tom's widow, Deena, e-mailed me. She told me a little about herself, Tom, and their three young daughters and that they'd settled near San Francisco. We corresponded for months, and that December, Deena asked if I'd like to meet my half-sisters when they came to town for the holidays. It was one of the happiest days of my life. My sisters ran up to me, grabbing my hands and wanting to be close to me. Their warmth was just what I'd always hoped for.

During that visit, Deena gave me a letter Tom had written to me in 1987, when I was just two years old, after he'd parted ways with my birth morn. In it, he described how bad he felt about placing me for adoption. The letter wasn't finished, but I cherish it anyway. Everything I knew about Tom had come from someone else, but this letter was from him to me.

At times, I wanted to push my adoptive parents away. I was so upset about not knowing my birth father. But looking back, meeting my birth family has strengthened my bond with the parents who raised me.

I'm now 22 and glad the mystery of where I came from has been solved. I have graduated from college and am planning to go to law school. I love having Deena and my sisters in my life. I'm still coming to grips with the fact that I'll never know Tom. But because of my ongoing relationship with his widow and daughters, I do feel close to him. ]]>
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
'The Drastic Way I Saved My Fertility'
I underwent radiation treatments, which seemed to cure me, but a year and a half later, the cancer came back and spread to my lymph nodes. That time, I'd have to undergo surgery, more radiation, and then chemotherapy.

When my oncologist went through the list of chemo's side effects – nausea, hair loss, etc. – he didn't mention potential infertility. But I did research and learned that losing my ability to conceive was a very real possibility. I'd always wanted children, so the idea of being sterile was almost more devastating than the cancer diagnosis itself.

The surgery went well. Although one-third of my tongue was removed, it didn't affect my ability to talk or taste. I had eight weeks before I would start chemo, which I spent frantically searching for a way to preserve my fertility. I learned that the Stanford Reproductive and Endocrinology Centre, in San Francisco where I lived, had a program for freezing unfertilised eggs for cancer patients only. I was ecstatic!

I began the treatments immediately. Every day, a friend or family member injected hormones into my abdomen (I couldn't do it) to stimulate egg production. The shots caused terrible mood swings, and my ovaries became so enlarged, they hurt. After 12 days of this, doctors removed 29 eggs, which were sucked out via a tube inserted into the vagina.

I also opted for medically induced menopause to protect my reproductive organs from the chemo. For two months, I endured nausea, vomiting and dehydration brought on by chemo, combined with menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, bloating, and mood swings.

That was seven years ago, and I'm still cancer-free. I gave birth to a girl in June 2006. I didn't have to use my frozen eggs. But the chemotherapy accelerated the 'age' of my ovaries, so I might have to use them in the future in order to have more kids.
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200
Reaching New Heights On the way down, we ran into another climber, Chuck, and his Sherpa, and we all stopped on a ledge to eat. My Sherpa and I then continued down when I spotted a woman below the ledge who didn't look well. We were still in 'the death zone,' an area that's so high and treacherous, there's no possibility of a helicopter rescue if you get into trouble.

I went to check on her (my Sherpa had gotten ahead of me and was already on his way down) and saw that her mittens were on the wrong hands, her oxygen mask wasn't on correctly, and her speech was slurred. It turned out that her oxygen tank had run out. At that altitude without oxygen, your brain starts to deteriorate, and I really thought she might die. Chuck and his Sherpa came by and we got her up and started to lead her. But it was like trying to walk someone who's totally wasted down one of the most dangerous cliffs in the world.

Since we were moving so slowly, I suggested that Chuck and his Sherpa go for help while I stayed with the woman. I put my oxygen mask on her, and she started shivering like crazy, as if her body suddenly realised how cold it was. She was severely dehydrated, her lips were cracked, and her hands were freezing.

Soon after, another climber and his Sherpa came over to check on us, and it turned out to be Dave Hahn, an experienced guide. Luckily, they had dexamethasone, which is used to treat high-altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), and they gave her a shot. Then Dave made me put my oxygen back on, he gave the woman his mask, and I carried her pack as they got her back to Camp IV, where she received treatment.

Since being back in Ottawa, I've corresponded with the woman, whose name is Usha. It turns out, the group of climbers she was with allegedly had left her there so they could continue to the summit. Besides suffering from frostbite, she's okay. People ask her if I would have helped save her if I had seen her on my way to the top of the mountain, rather than on the way down. My response: How could I not have?
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 12:00 +0200