The Promise

December 4, 2017. I knew this day was coming, I knew it for a while but even with the knowledge I’m heartsick.

My friend, my “sista” Janette passed early this morning. She was suffering with cancer but putting on a very brave positive front for her family and for her friends. Late at night she would call me and tell me how frightened she was and then we’d cry. I wouldn’t let her know that tears were streaming down my face because she needed to let her emotions come out and not try to make me feel better. That’s what Janette was like, always helping others and making them feel better.

A few months ago Janette and I were on the phone one late evening and she told me I needed to make a promise to her. I asked what she wanted me to do. She told me to keep her alive after her death. She told me to write about her, to tell all the stories, laughs, and tears we shared. I’ve written about Janette before and she loved seeing her name in my blog. She’d laugh and hoot with her little southern accent which always made me laugh.

So I promised Janette I’d continue to talk about her in my blog. She said she wanted me to do it for me as well as for her. She made me promise not to forget her. I won’t.

There were a few other promises too. She told me I had to stay friends with her wonderful caring friend, Libby. She made me swear to continue to lean on, support, and love our friend, Cathy. She told me to write of her love for Daryl Hall and how he looked at her and smiled when she went to a Hall & Oates concert a few years back.

“I promise you, I promise you, Janette, I will write it all down.”

I want to thank her friend, Libby, for all the phone calls, the Facebook messages, and the texts she’s sent me and Cathy to make sure we were aware of everything that was going on as Janette became weaker and weaker.

Maybe five or six weeks ago Libby visited Janette in the hospice and Libby called me so I could speak with Janette for the last time. Janette knew who I was and told me how much she loved me and asked me to tell Cathy that she loved her too. She was weak and couldn’t speak for more than a minute or two but I will remember those last two minutes I spent on the phone with her.

Even though I’ve written about her before this is a new beginning. I am going to be writing about my “sista” Janette. It doesn’t matter if anyone else reads these entries or not because I am doing it for myself. I will keep Janette alive for me.

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My Thanksgiving Memory From 2011

My Thanksgiving Memory From 2011

I posted this six years ago on Facebook. I still feel the same way about the holidays.

I was going through the worst time of my life when I wrote this and was trying to dig myself out of a deep hole. I had help – my Uncle Mickey, my cousin Alynn, and a new friend, Lawrence. I will never forget what any of these three people did to help me back then. What they and others did to help is what Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and every other holiday is really about. I’m not sure if the majority of people realize it.

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Too many people, and the media, look at Thanksgiving as the start of the shopping season and getting what you want for less money than you normally would. Thesepeople should be thankful that shopping and getting up at 3:00 AM on Black Friday is the worst problem they have. There’s so much more to Thanksgiving and you only hear about these reasons in cursory measures.

Two of my close frinds have benn fighting major problems this past week or two. I’m sure the last thing they’re thinking about is buying a television set or getting concert tickets.

I’m very happy for everyone who has everything they need, have a way to get everything they want, and are healthy enough to get around everyday without even thinking twice about it.

But I’m thankful for my friends, my uncle, and my cousin who were doing what they could to help me during the past two years. I’m thankful that I know that life can be much harder than a lot of people suspect and there aren’t always happy endings. I’m thankful that I can see both sides of Thanksgiving and smart enough to know that not everyone eats turkey and all the trimmings on this day. And I’m thankful that everyday I wake up and know that life isn’t a bowl of cherries and appreciate the little things, like being able to walk three blocks to a store and celebrate it every time I’m able to do it.

Appreciating what you have and what you can do to help others is not just reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What are you thankful for every single day of your life?

Ghostly Visitors

Ghostly Visitors

Well, anyone who has read my blog has seen my stories about ghosts and other things that go bump in the night. My apartment is haunted. In fact I think my whole apartment building is haunted. I’ll go so far as to say that every apartment in New York City and all over the world is haunted. I do believe in ghosts. I have had experiences with them, nothing terrible or anything, just experiences. I’m not really afraid, I accept it all because I have no other choice.

I don’t know what happens when you die. I don’t know if you’re given a choice to go into the “bright light” or to kind of stay where you are to watch over things. Maybe you can go back and forth using some kind of heavenly transportation system. I don’t know. Maybe when you die you just aren’t around anymore like when you have surgery and put under and when you wake up there’s no memory of anything. I don’t know. But what I do know is that things happen in my apartment and around me.

I hear noises, footsteps, smell perfume, know when someone is in a room with me even though I live alone. I’m pretty sure it’s my sister who died eight years ago. My sister, even though she was three years younger than me, always acted as if she was the older one. She had to because everything terrified me and Ade was the person who had to solve all the problems. She basically took care of me and taught me things. She might have passed eight years ago but she’s still around watching and caring for me.

My mom drops by every so often too. I can smell her perfume, “Tabu.” I haven’t smelled Tabu since she passed over 30 years ago except for when she visits. Dad pops in every so often too. I can hear him clear his throat like he used to and Grandma Grace drops by once in a blue moon. I can tell it’s her because I can smell her apartment. I do wonder why Grandma Grace comes by since I’m pretty sure that I didn’t mean all that much to her but that’s another story. Maybe grandma got lost on the heavenly transportation system and is looking for one of my cousins.

I’m sure others come by too like Ray (Rachel) one of my parent’s friends who used to live in the building. Ray was a wonderful lady who really did care about me. A day or so after her death she came to me in a dream, kissed my right cheek and said, “I love you Shari.” Ray was the only person who called me Shari.

Lots of people who used to live in my building drop by to say hello once in awhile and that’s fine with me. I don’t mind and I know they’re just checking up on things. Their visits do not frighten me. When I sense their presence I always say hello, smile, and tell them that I miss them. I do miss them.

Two years ago I was in the hospital. The doctors thought I had a heart attack, I thought I was suffering from severe panic attacks. It was atrial fibrillation but the point is that Coney Island Hospital (lovingly known in Brooklyn, or at least by me, as “The Hell Hole”) admitted me into their Coronary Care Unit.

My room was right by the nurse’s station and because it was the heart unit I was alone in it. Well, kind of alone. Many times, many, many times, I saw old men sitting in wheelchairs in the room with me. Only men no women and they looked like they were at least 80 years old. Maybe some were younger but they all had that tired look that people get when they’ve been very sick for a long time.

I didn’t recognize any of them. At first I thought my dad might be one of those men or maybe one of my uncles, a grandfather? But no, I didn’t know any of them.

One day I was taken for a test, an angiogram. When I got back to the room and was finally able to move around all the men were sitting in their wheelchairs looking around and surrounding the upper portion of the bed. I looked at them and asked, “Who are you people?” I had to whisper it because I didn’t want “Nurse Ratched” hearing me. “Nurse Ratched” is for another story at another time.

“Who are you?” I asked the assemblage of eight or so wheelchaired older men sitting near the bed. They didn’t answer. I wasn’t surprised at not getting an answer. I wasn’t really expecting one. It was a rhetorical question.

I suspect they the men were the ghosts, souls, specters, of men who were in this heart care room at the end of their lives. I think they died there and still kind of haunted the room. I do wonder why there weren’t any women specters around though. No, I wasn’t afraid of them. I was afraid of Nurse Ratched, well, more like annoyed with her. She was a real pain in the ass. The male ghosts were docile enough and seemed content to sit in their wheelchairs watching other patients come into the room and maybe join them eventually. I have no idea.

I was in that hospital room with those elderly men for five days. The day I was discharged I wanted to be alone in the room for a moment just to say goodbye to the ghosts but Nurse Ratched was constantly in the room with me giving me directions on how to swallow the numerous pills I was given.

Did the men follow me home? Of course not. They’re probably still in that CCU room watching other patients and within the past two years maybe more men have joined their group.

But I do believe that my sister did visit me when I was in the hospital. I’m pretty sure she was the one who lead me to think that the men had passed away in that hospital room and were just sitting there waiting for something or someone.

I tell you this story to let you understand that ghosts, souls, whatever, are around. I think. I’m pretty sure of it. I know my sister is always with me. My mom and dad pass through and I get lots of visits from my cousin Donna who passed, I don’t know, nine years ago?

In my dreams I’ve been allowed into a room or something, where I think people who have passed on stay when they want to talk to people who are still alive. I’ve been in that place many times. I used to see my uncle come in and out of that room as I walked along the long hallway to get there. I wondered why my uncle was there since he was alive. Years later I learned he had heart problems, which I did not know about. Maybe there was a question about if he’d survive his heart surgery, which I also didn’t learn about until years later. Maybe I was being told through those dreams that he was very ill and might not be around much longer. My uncle lived about 15 years or so longer. Pretty good.

Just keep your mind open that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to this life and death than can be explained. No need to be afraid if something odd happens. As I tell my cousin, who questions everything and wants to know “WHY??” and HOW” and needs an answer to every little thing that occurs. It drives me nuts sometimes. I tell him, “things happen that can’t be explained. Either forget about it or live with it. If you want to research something, research it, if you want to question something, question it, but sometimes there are no answers and if no answer can be found then just accept it and go on with your life.”

And that’s what I do. I accept the strange things that happen to me. What’s the use of wondering if it will drive you crazy? I can’t explain what goes on or why I seem to be so susceptible to these occurrences. I do know my sister was able to “feel” these things too but I think my talent in that department is stronger than hers.

I have lots of stories that I need to write about, things that have happened with me and my friend Anita that did kind of frighten me but that’s because Anita had the same “talent” that I have and together Anita and I did and saw some strange things. I definitely have to write about that.

 

Message To My “Sista” – It’s Okay Not To Fight

Message To My “Sista” – It’s Okay Not To Fight

I wish I can tell you this. I wish we can talk but you’re in the hospital again and I can’t get through to you so I will write it here hoping that through some kind of osmosis you will hear my words.

When we spoke a week or so ago I told you that I support you in whatever you want to do. If you want to fight this cancer I am right there with you but if you want to let the disease run its course I’m with you then too. It’s your decision to make, not mine, your family’s, your good friends, or anyone else’s. You are living with it, you feel the pain, you have your thoughts, and you deserve to make the final decision. 

Your bad news started years ago when they found your first cancer and you fought it and won quite a few battles but with cancer it’s tough to win the war, not impossible, just very hard. Now it’s seven or eight years later and winning the skirmishes are getting harder and harder. Recently you were told that you might only have a few months left. Maybe a little longer if the chemo works, which is a 50% possibility if you can even tolerate the “cure.”

You called me the day you received the news. You were hysterical saying, “I’m afraid, Sharon, I’m afraid.” What can you say when your “sista” has been given such bad news, is so fearful, and you’re silently crying so she won’t know how your heart just dropped to your stomach? I said nothing and listened to her fears, how she told me that when she passes she will somehow send me pennies so I’d know that she loves me and is with me. She also asked if I thought she will see Christmas this year and mostly she lamented that no one will listen to her fears about her death except for me.

When she tries to talk to others they almost get angry at her, thinking that speaking of death will make it happen. They would climb Mt. Everest and shout into the wind that she will survive, beat the cancer, see this coming Christmas, and live to be 900 years old. They could shout it from the mountains, shout it from their roof tops until their voices are hoarse but they will not change the inevitable.

I’m writing this for myself because I’m angry, angry at me, no one else. I posted something on Facebook this past Friday about my friend. The post was about her disease, the prognosis, and what she asked me about her seeing Christmas.

First of all, let me say, that I write about this friend all the time. She asks me to do it. She even made me promise to write stories about all the laughs we’ve shared, and I will. She is happy whenever I write about her and her battle with cancer. I wrote about her on this blog about a year ago and I had over 500 unique hits with the article. When I told her she cried with joy because finally other people listened to her story and identified with her. She discovered she was not alone.

Her family was furious with me. The nerve of me to write their mother, sister, aunt, was dying. No big deal to me. Let them be angry, I unfriended the lot of them.

Friday’s post received a similar reaction from someone who is very close to my friend. I was told that if my friend saw the post it would make her feel bad. I know that would not be true! This person also commented on the post saying that if asked, my sick friend would say that she would see Christmas, and she would fight the cancer, and on and on. I doubt if my sick friend would say those things. It’s the friend who posted who needs to believe that our sick friend would say that.

I took my post off my Facebook wall which made me angry at myself. Not at this woman but at me. We all react to death and dying differently. This woman is having a hard time coping with the fact that our friend might not be around too much longer and I appreciate her feelings but I’m much more pragmatic than she is. There’s nothing wrong with facing the truth when it’s slapping you in the face. Screaming that things aren’t so bad will not change the situation but, as I said, people deal with this topic their own way.

My friend needs to be able to talk with her family and close friends. Just because she feels depressed doesn’t mean she will give up her fight, she needs to talk about it.

I will post this on my blog and it will automatically come up on my Facebook page. I will not take it down. I’ve stepped back from Facebook because of what happened last Friday and only discussed it with one person early Saturday morning. She knows who she is and I thank her so much for her sage advice.

I’ve allowed myself to be bullied my whole life and after 65 years you would think I could ignore it. From now on I will not allow anyone to bully me into not expressing my ideas or thoughts. If you don’t like what I have to say then keep on moving. I have every right to talk about whatever or whomever I like and since my friend wants me, no, needs me to talk about her, I will.

I hope my friend does see Christmas this year, and Valentine’s Day next year, and her next birthday but I also know that there is a chance that she might not. No matter what, I will support her and I want her to know that it’s okay not to fight, it’s okay to live the rest of the life you have in peace and pain free, it’s okay to close your eyes and enjoy the day.

I love you Janette.

The Ghostly Flutist

The Ghostly Flutist

I talk and write about my sister, Adrienne, a lot. She was very important to me. When she died from colon cancer in 2009 I thought my life was going to end too. It was horrible. But I somehow got through it even though I still get very depressed and think a lot about her when her birthday rolls around on March 21. March is also Colon Cancer Awareness month.

Not many people know this about Ade but she was a gifted flutist, or flautist if you prefer. She started playing the flute when she was in 7th grade and by the time she was in college her talent was incredible. She majored in music as an undergraduate and when she went on for her graduate degree. I was so proud.

Everyday she’d practice for hours filling our apartment building courtyard with classical music. Mr. Brovender, who lived on the second floor opposite our apartment, would sit and listen to Ade’s practice sessions. Once his wife asked him a question and he turned to her and said, “Hush, Adrienne is playing her flute.” Mrs. Brovender, who wasn’t angry at her husband, told my mother that story.

Ade could have had a great career but in her 20’s arthritis got to her fingers and shortly thereafter the disease went to her hips and by the time she was in her 30’s she could barely walk. But she always kept playing her flute. Her fingers hurt all the time as she played but she couldn’t give up her love of that instrument.

Then the cancer manifested itself a few years later. Her health problems were too much for her and she had to stop playing but she listened to her classical music all the time.

Eventually Adrienne passed. The last three years of life had no music in it. She couldn’t play and she didn’t want to listen to music any longer.

Adrienne told me where she kept her two flutes and her piccolo and after her death every so often I would put the cheaper flute together and blow a note. She taught me how to get a note out of her instruments. Playing a flute and piccolo is a little tricky. You don’t just put your lips on it a get a note to come out. You have to kind of put it below your bottom lip, twist the instrument up, bring your lips down, breathe a little air into it, and with any luck you get a note. You do that all while holding both arms up at mouth height pressing on a ton of buttons. Well, it was tricky for me.

About two years ago I was laying in bed reading. The light was on, it was the middle of the day, and I was wide awake when suddenly I heard two notes from a flute. I looked up and around the room, my heart thumping. The room was quiet. I thought maybe I heard a pipe making noise or someone doing something or other in another apartment. Noise travels strangely in apartment buildings.

After a few minutes of listening I decided that I didn’t hear anything and went back to my book. Things were quiet and I was happily reading for another seven minutes or so when I heard the two flute notes again. I was afraid now. The notes came from Adrienne’s bed where she spent so much time lying through her cancer ordeal. I looked at the bed, stopped reading, and listened some more. All was quiet the rest of the day and that night.

The next day I was reading in the bedroom during the afternoon and I heard the flute again. I put the book down and laid there listening, not doing anything else. Ten minutes later the flute notes chimed out for the fourth time in two days. This was too much for me. I sat up in bed and said out loud, “Ady, I know you’re playing your flute to let me know that you’re still with me and love me. I know you don’t want me to feel alone and to understand that you’ll always be with me and I do need to know that. But you playing your flute frightens me. I don’t know why but it scares me. I know you would never hurt me but please don’t play your flute to me. It really frightens me to hear it.”

That was the last time I heard her playing. I feel bad asking her not to play because I knew she was doing it for me. I know that Ade is still walking around this apartment. I feel her, I sense her. Sometimes her presence is so strong that I say hello to her and tell her I love her and am happy that she’s still with me.

You can believe this or not, I’m not writing this to convince anyone that my sister is somehow still around.

Is there life after death? I don’t know but I tend to believe there is or I hope that there is because  I need to talk with my sister again.

As for Adrienne’s flutes and piccolo, I’ll keep them and when I pass they will be sent to my good friend and “sista” in New Jersey who loves flute music as much as Adrienne and myself.

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This is an old Polaroid of Adrienne in 2004. She couldn’t walk because of her arthritis. Her walker is just out of camera view.

To see more of my childhood memories go to  S.A.K. Remembers on my blog.

 

Cancer Is Not Always Pink – Dress In Blue Day -March 3, 2017 – Graphic Details

Cancer Is Not Always Pink – Dress In Blue Day -March 3, 2017 – Graphic Details

March is Colon Cancer Awareness month and tomorrow is Dress in Blue Day. Please wear something in blue to support your fight to end this cancer. I know everyone has their causes and Colon Cancer is mine. I’ve written about my sister’s battle and there are so many others struggling to become a colon cancer survivor.

Most people don’t like to talk about Colon Cancer. It’s not pretty, not that any cancer is, but Colon Cancer deals with a very personal part of the body. It’s ugly. To be brutally clear here, you defecate in a bag that is attached to your stomach. Through surgery your rectum is attached to the stomach and when you have to move your bowels everything comes out from there into a bag. Many health insurance companies only allow for  ten bags a month so each bag has to be used for three days. You have to empty the bag and then clean it before you reattach it to your stoma, which is the rectum that is now at your stomach.

Grossed out yet? I have more. The stoma bleeds very easily, IF you scratch it while cleaning it or scratch it while changing the ostom bag it will bleed -a lot. Think of how much a hemorrhoid bleeds. The stoma is very delicate

Want to hear more? There are times when the stoma become prolapsed. That’s when the bowel protrudes through the stomal opening in the skin to a greater extent than was anticipated. The amount of protruding bowel can vary from 2-3cm to more than 10cm. Although when this first happens it can be very distressing and frightening it is usually not serious. My sister’s stoma grew to 9 inches. She had 9 inches of stoma hanging from her stomach. They had to operate on her to take the hanging portion off. The doctor said it was like removing a penis. That’s how big and thick it was.

And here’s another good one – visiting nurses aren’t allowed to change the bag, at least not back when I needed a nurse to stay with my sister for a day while I had to go to a Disability appointment. I was told to have a neighbor come in and help my sister change her ostomy bag. A neighbor! A visiting nurse wasn’t allowed to change it but a neighbor was qualified? I didn’t make my appointment that day.

I can tell you a lot of horrible stories about Colon Cancer but thinking back on all of that upsets me.

But I will ask you to wear something blue tomorrow, March 3, 2017 to HONOR everyone who is going through this dreadful type of cancer and to honor their caregivers too.

If possible change your Facebook image for an hour tomorrow with the blue star that I’ll post at the bottom of this page.

Colon Cancer is not for the squeamish. It’s devastating and deadly. If you’re over 50 and don’t really watch what you eat get checked. There are symptoms but you don’t always have them but beware of blood in your stool and pains in the left side of your stomach.

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Dying With Cancer – A Plea For Help From My “Sista” Janette Broome

Dying With Cancer – A Plea For Help From My “Sista” Janette Broome

I’ve mentioned Janette a few times in the things I’ve written here. She lives in North Carolina, has three sisters, one of whom is her twin, and one brother. She also has three kids, loads of grand kids with a new little boy expected any day now, she loves Daryl Hall and calls him her “man.” Janette is a sweet woman who can kick anyone’s ass if they push too hard, and she a good friend to me. We, along with our friend Cathy, call each other “sistas.”

Why am I telling you so much about Janette? Because she called me at 10:00 this morning in tears. Janette has cancer and not just one cancer she has a few different ones. She was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma ten years ago. Then late last year she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and had a mastectomy. The cancer has now spread to her liver and she just found out that it’s also in her Cervical Spinal Nerve 2. Out of all the cancers she’s been diagnosed with this cancer frightens her more than the others. Let  me just say that Janette is dying. Everyone knows it but even Janette never said it out loud to me until this morning when I told her I knew she was dying and have even spoken about it with our friend Cathy and to another of Janette’s friends. I admitted that I suspected that things were not going well to Cathy but never said it to Janette herself.

The reason for her tears this morning is that Janette’s having severe pain in her neck caused by the cancer in her Cervical Spinal Nerve 2. If you’ve ever had a pinched nerve in your neck you’ll understand had horrible the pain can be. Her doctors don’t seem to be taking her complaints seriously. Janette has told me multiple times that she feels as if she’s being brushed under the rug. I understand that.

I truly believe that when some doctors see a 66 year old woman with terminal  cancer they might not go out of their way to help much. Janette needs pain medication to control or even take the edge off the neck pain but she’s also given a million excuses why she can’t get a prescription. One excuse is that she might become addicted. For real? Becoming addicted to pain medication is the least of her problems.

Janette called and begged me to write about what she’s going through with her process of dying. She’s tired of platitudes, “the sun will come out tomorrow”, “you’re strong”, “keep fighting” and things like that. What Janette wants everyone to know is that she is not strong, she is not brave, and that whenever she seems that way it’s all an act that she feels she has to put on. The last thing she wants to do is upset her children, grandchildren, her sisters, and brother and the rest of her family so she smiles through it all but inside she’s terrified.

I tell Janette that she can call me anytime at all and she can feel free to get it all off her chest. That’s what she did this morning. My sister died from Colon Cancer seven years ago and I saw what a battle with cancer can and does do to the victim and their family.

She wants me to spread her story to other people fighting this disease. She needs help. Janette want to know how all of you fighting and all the caregivers get what you need? How do you get your doctor to listen to you and not brush you under the rug? How do you get your family and friends not to be afraid and to not try to sugar coat the fact that you’re dying and might not be around when Christmas rolls around this year? How do you explain to people that telling you not to be afraid does not work? How do you get people to understand that you’re afraid and need them to listen to you cry and to talk with you? How do you live with the fact that your time is limited?

I do my best when I speak with Janette. I never told her that she’ll be fine because I don’t believe that. I cry when I think of her but the last thing she needs is to comfort me because I have to be a part of her support group.

We’ve been on the phone for hours this morning. The only time we weren’t  was when she called her doctor’s office, stopped being nice, and told his nurse that she needed some relief from her pain. Today is her doctor’s day off but he called her back and told her to go to his office. That’s where she is now.

More than anything Janette wants whatever is left of her life to be lived with some sort of dignity and with some quality. She wants to be able to hold her new grandson when he’s born and tell him she loves him. She wants to be able to play with her little three-year old granddaughter, and she wants to be able to talk to her older grandchildren and tell them more stories about her life growing up. She wants to hold her children and tell them not to worry too much, and she wants to love her siblings and smile with them and maybe laugh a little too.

“How do I do this Sharon? How do I get people to listen to me, treat me with respect, understand what I’m going through? I’ve thought about this and the only option I see is to go to you and ask you to please write about me on your blog. Please ask people if they have an answer to the best way to die with cancer. I just want to wake up in the morning with little or no pain and to know that all my family and friends are supporting me and to not treat me like a child. I know I’m dying but I need a ton of support.”

So I’m asking you, cancer fighters, caregivers, friends and family of people who are going through what Janette is going through to please post on the blog and help Janette get through this hard time. I will make sure she sees your posts and I’m sure she will comment.

Thank you all.

UPDATE on Janette – The night this article was written Janette fell in her apartment and broke her back. She’s in the hospital now and is scheduled for back surgery next week. She will then be put in a back brace so she can heal and then she will have to go to a rehabilitation center. All this will take months.

I spoke with her late last night and she said that she thanks everyone for their beautiful comments. I’ll be sending her everything you’ve been posting. The only time she brightened up was when I told her how many people have read this article about her.

Please share this piece about Janette if you can. I’m so worried about her. Last night she said, “I’m in a real pickle now, Sharon.”