Jodi Meltzer

@jodi-meltzer | contributor
Jodi Meltzer is a multi-award-winning author who has also written extensively about grief, divorce, and parenting for various publications, including HuffPost, The Mighty, Scary Mommy, and Thrive Global. Before motherhood, she was an accomplished anchor/ reporter who covered everyone from Hillary Clinton to The Goo Goo Dolls. She transitioned to mommy blogger in 2010―the year her baby boy swallowed her whole. She escapes his grips with sarcasm, bold coffee, and ’80s music/movie binges with her rescue dog curled up on her lap. To learn more about Jodi and her books, "When You Lived in My Belly" and "Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are", visit jodimeltzer.com.
Jodi Meltzer

The Important Role My Husband Plays as My Grief Partner

November 8th was my bonus son’s 12th birthday. It was also the day my beloved mom died. Is was not the date chiseled on her grave stone, but my husband knows it is the day I lost my incomparable mom’s beautiful spirit. After a grueling 11 year battle with ovarian cancer, she went into septic shock and my brother and I had no choice but to pull the plug. I had to end the life of my closest confidant and fiercest protector — my source of unconditional love and unfiltered light — and it was a gut-wrenching heartbreak I have never recovered from. It was the endless paperwork and impromptu grief counseling through a river of tears that elongated her life past midnight on that soul crushing day right before the holidays, her favorite time of the year. If you looked around my house that day, birthday decorations were everywhere; it was festive, colorful and bright in honor of our pre-teen who is really coming into his own. My husband was up most of the night making sure it looked perfect for him, and he is most deserving of a memorable celebration. A day that gives my husband such joy — his cherished son’s birthday — is tempered with sadness for me, and he always acknowledges it with an abundance of love and compassion. I woke up that morning to an incredibly thoughtful card and pale pink roses in my exquisite mom’s memory, and thought about how lucky I am to have him. Mike responded to an article I wrote (Top 10 Rules for Dating a Single or Divorced Mom )in 2015. It was a highly sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek referendum on men; I pretty much teared them a collective new ass. I was suffering from post-divorce dating fatigue and I had just had it. As a single dad, he read through my defensiveness and understood exactly where I was coming from. We weren’t even connected through six degrees of separation, but he managed to make me feel heard, validated and appreciated in that fateful first email…and he’s still doing it today. It was unreal when we discovered his son’s birthday is my mom’s death anniversary. It was serendipitous when we found out he shares my mom’s birthday. It was downright unbelievable when we made the connection that his grandmother died on my son’s birthday. All of these dates woven together, the happy paired with the sad, to help each other through. My husband believes my mom handpicked him for me, and I do too. It took me a long time to be loved like this; I met him when I was 42 and I took a terrifyingly dark, unpaved third world country type of road to happiness (chock full of I-need-a-barf-bag-to-deal-with-twist-and-turn moments). But, now, he’s here to lend a hand when I am knocked down by intense waves of grief, to make me laugh through tears, to listen when I need to share stories from my past. And, while we are not perfect (we fight and have passive-aggressive eye-roll duels at times), like most other couples the love we share is, at its core, perfect. It’s a love my mom would approve of if she was still here, one I hope she sees from above.

Jodi Meltzer

3:00 a.m. Messages for Mother's Day

I recently inexplicably started the daunting task of sifting through old emails, trying to make a dent in the 20,000 or so that have been clogging my oldest inbox for years. During my latest stolen session of unearthing and trashing emails in the middle of my hyper-scheduled day, my mind wandered — I am notorious for it — and I had a vivid flashback of my mom. There she was, seated at her antique desk in her hodgepodge spare room — part office, part storage, part bedroom for her beloved grandson who delighted in his stays at “Chateau Grammy,” where delectable goodies were baked with love, where books came to life with her signature animated storytelling, where he once felt the most protected. She was cozy in her floor length housecoat adorned with pastel flowers, with her blonde hair pushed off her achingly exquisite face. Her doe-shaped eyes were darting across her computer screen urgently, greedily. “Hey, Jod, come here and read this,” she said, ushering me over with a gesture. Her arm looked devastatingly thin. It was no longer the arm that used to pull me in for reassuring hugs, or the one she used to show me what I did wrong, or the one that cradled my son when he was a baby. “You will die laughing,” she said, throwing her head back in a fit of giggles. The word “die,” one I used to toss around lightheartedly, lingered in the air. Although she meant nothing by it, I swallowed hard before I responded. “OK, Mom,” I said. I hope I didn’t roll my eyes. It was so late, and I was overtired and stressed. I read it, the umpteenth forwarded joke she shared with me through the years. I laughed only to appease her, in the hopes she would go back to bed. I was consumed with anxiety about how her interrupted sleep affected her body, which was nearing the end of its fight for its very existence. She was always a restless sleeper, getting rest in chunks of time instead of  uninterrupted blocks. Eight hours was unheard of. She preferred to pass out with the television blaring — one of my pet peeves — after a late-night binge of joke sharing. My inbox used to “ding” so much at 3:00 a.m. that I set my phone to vibrate. Nearly five years after her cruel death from ovarian cancer, it is still set to vibrate. I can’t tell you how much I long for one of her forwarded jokes or false alerts about the latest sinister scam or “best daughter” memes or delicious recipes I must try. No one contacts me at 3:00 a.m. anymore. It’s heartbreakingly silent. And this week, in anticipation of Mother’s Day, even more so. My mom’s late night emails number in the thousands. If I simply delete the jokes that once bugged me, I would make a huge dent in my quest to tame my inbox. But I can’t. I have re-read some of them, and I do find myself laughing at the ones that remind me of her wicked sense of humor. And nestled in-between those jokes are beautiful emails from her, ones I need to read, especially today. Thank you for a wonderful Mother’s Day, Jodi. Truly, when I saw our little guy and he climbed up next to me — his little kisses and his love and laughter make everything good. You are doing a wonderful job raising your son, my sweet grandson. Just look at him! You’re so amazing, and if you ever forget it… just ask me or, if I am not there, ask him. You are everything a mother could ever hope a daughter would be and more. You’re more than I deserve and more than I could have ever wished for…lucky me, so very lucky. Now that you’re a mom you can truly understand the depth of love I have for you. I love you like you love Alex, from here to infinity—and that will never change. Thank you for sharing your heart and your life with me, and thanks so much for making the words “Mother” and “Grandmother” mean so much. Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you, Mom, for finding a way to reach me when I miss you most. I didn’t quite realize how much I needed to go through my emails. Happy Mother’s Day.

Jodi Meltzer

What It Was Like to Have Basal Cell Carinoma

It all started with an innocent-looking pink bump near my jaw line. Maybe a zit, I thought, though I am not prone to those (don’t hate me for clear skin – a proverbial black cloud has stalked me for years). The pink bump flared up and went away, just like a good little blemish should. But then it came back in the exact same spot a couple of weeks later. Intrigued, I just couldn’t leave it alone this time… and it bled. Profusely. I just knew it was cancer. Between my stint as a health reporter and my unrelenting obsession with Google, I am an MD by osmosis. I called my dermatologist and pleaded to be seen right away. One punch needle biopsy later and my diagnosis was confirmed: basal cell carcinoma. Really? Four months after my mom died of cancer and I had it, too? I am convinced I have a reputation up above as a badass. I agonized about what to do. Post-mommyhood, I have pretty much given up from the neck down, but I still liked my face. Do I try the chemotherapy cream with a considerably lower cure rate that would burn my face but eventually leave me with no scar? Or do I go for tissue-sparing Mohs surgery with a 99 percent cure rate and a definite scar? Despite my vanity, I chose Mohs… and had the wound closed by a leading plastic surgeon. Good balance, yes? I had the surgery one day before my 41st birthday… the first one I celebrated without my mom. I missed being my mom’s daughter so much on that day. If she were alive, she would have dragged herself out of bed to make me laugh and hold my hand during my five-hour procedure. She would have bought beautiful pajamas and new slippers for my recuperation period in the house. She would have delivered homemade soup to nourish my sad soul. She would have sent me inspirational emails, called me 100 times per day, and put things in perspective. And she would have been the one splurging on La Mer restorative concentrate to minimize my scar. Instead, I endured the pain alone. I still can’t believe I had cancer – the “good” type, the kind people rarely die from, the “easy” one – and she wasn’t here to give me a hug. I wonder if she even saw what I went through. Four years later, I know the tumor is completely gone, and I am grateful. The silence of her death still hurts much more than my swollen, achy jaw ever did. Below are the signs of basal cell carcinoma. When in doubt, see your doctor (I always go and have the co-payments to prove it!). Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly and is usually painless. It may not look that different from your normal skin but some symptoms include: A skin sore that bleeds easily A sore that does not heal A scar-like sore without having injured the area Irregular blood vessels in or around the spot A sore with a depressed (sunken) area in the middle Sores can look pearly or waxy, white or light pink, or flesh-colored or brown You can follow Jodi Meltzer Darter on her website, Facebook and Twitter. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Jodi Meltzer

The Reality of Being Diagnosed With Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is dubbed the “good cancer.” The “easy cancer.” The “you can still keep your regular manicure appointment and manage it just fine cancer.” Diagnoses are increasing at a rate faster than any other malignancy in the US—56,870 new cases each year, up a whopping 200 percent from the 1970s—and it’s still viewed as a get out of jail free card in the cancer world. It’s a mindset that’s deeply frustrating for the overwhelming majority of thyroid cancer patients, including Jill Gurfinkel, my best friend from college. Jill has lost so much during her five-year fight with the disease – including her thyroid, for starters. Her highly successful career as a litigator, her once enviable stamina, her ability to juggle multiple, dueling responsibilities effortlessly—and in heels—are all gone, despite her “easy cancer” diagnosis. The truth is, the reality is much different than what is perceived by the public. Here are the 8 Realities of Thyroid Cancer: 1. It’s not the “good cancer.” Jill’s doctor held her head down as he inserted eight long needles into her neck to biopsy her two tumors. No anesthetic was involved, and that was just the beginning of her personal hell. A week later, her neck was surgically sliced to remove the right lobe of her thyroid. 2. It changes everything. When the pathology results came back, they weren’t “good.” One tumor was a papillary carcinoma and the other larger tumor was a rare, aggressive form of thyroid cancer called Hurthle cell carcinoma. It had to come out— stat. She was back in the operating room the following morning for the removal of the left lobe of her thyroid. She lost a parathyroid gland and ended up with a paralyzed vocal cord following her second surgery. She could barely breathe without coughing. She couldn’t drink without choking. And, worse of all, she couldn’t speak. (I was most devastated by this horrifying side effect, as I need Jill’s voice to function on most days.) 3. The treatment is definitely not spa treatment. How does a low-iodine diet in preparation for liquid radiation after two surgeries sound? Jill had to have radioactive iodine ablation to eradicate remnant thyroid tissue. Cloaked in protective gear, she drank a metallic tasting liquid out of a lead container and was forced to remain in isolation for five days afterwards. This meant no encouraging hugs from her son, no soup deliveries from her sister, and no contact with her boyfriend. She was alone, exhausted, and extremely nauseous. Her jaw and cheeks ached, but nothing like they would months after treatment when a stone in her salivary ducts caused recurrent parotid gland infections (parotitis). It was excruciatingly painful and a direct effect from having radiation. Now that she does not have a thyroid, infections are much harder for her to fight off. She’s also at risk for secondary cancers and dental problems, among other ailments. 4. It’s not “one and done.” The “take one pill a day and you’ll be OK” fallacy is not the case for many thyroid cancer patients. Jill takes dozens of pills a day, administers her own daily injections, and uses several hormone creams to address the numerous deficiencies, including autoimmune disorders, she has now that she no longer has a thyroid. Every single day is a challenge. Many spend years trying to figure out the right hormone levels, and suffer debilitating fatigue, depression, adrenal fatigue, cardiac issues, aches, pains, hair loss, brain fog, weight gain, inability to control body temperature, hot flashes,  edema, muscle weakness, impaired memory, sex hormone imbalance, anemia, slowed heart rate, palpitations, thinning hair, and menstrual irregularities. 5. Thyroid cancer survivors are misfits. Thyroid cancer survivors are often dismissed by other cancer patients, the medical community, and big budget cancer organizations. Most people just assume that since thyroid cancer is purportedly “treatable” or even “curable,” it doesn’t warrant much attention. Imagine going through what Jill has endured with little support or empathy. Thyroid cancer patients do not get the benefit of heightened awareness, 3-day walks, or funding for research of this increasingly prevalent disease. 6. Better diagnostic tools are desperately needed. The only diagnostic tools available for thyroid cancer don’t always work for patients like Jill. She has blood tests every three to six months plus ultrasounds and body scans to monitor for recurrence, but they are anything but foolproof. Her type of thyroid cancer, Hurthle cell, does not always uptake iodine, which is necessary for the scans to function properly. The thyroglobulin blood test used to monitor for thyroid cancer doesn’t always detect this kind of cell either, giving her no way of truly knowing if she’s still in remission. 7. Patients die. Many patients with medullary, anaplastic, Hurthle cell carcinoma, follicular and even papillary thyroid cancer are not responsive to standard radioactive ioodine ablation treatment. They endure countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and/or multiple surgeries to try to cure their incurable disease. In the U.S. alone, 2,010 people die from thyroid cancer every year. 8. The future is never certain. Even though Jill is an unrelenting optimist who has managed to thrive despite her condition, she will spend the rest of her life wondering if thyroid cancer is lurking somewhere in her body. She will pray her often recurrent subtype gives her enough of a reprieve to watch her son grow up, get married, and have a family of his own. She will struggle with the debilitating physical, emotional, and financial aftermath of a thyroid cancer diagnosis. And that’s the reality of living with the “good cancer.” January is Thyroid Awareness Month. To learn more about thyroid disease, visit the Thyroid Survivor Network. To read more from Jodi Meltzer Darter, visit her website. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via finwal

Jodi Meltzer

Traveling the Road of Life Without My Mom

Like a car showing its age from driving thousands of miles on rough terrain, I have had many starts and stops, fits and sputters, and, yes, breakdowns on my road of grief. I lost the person who always rode shotgun three years ago today. Our last drive to the hospital is forever etched in my mind. When I arrived at my mom’s that morning, she was almost unrecognizable — even though I saw her the day before. She was in her living room, sitting uncomfortably on the edge of her burnt orange couch — the hue of a magnificent sunset. The zipper wasn’t closed all the way on the suitcase by her feet. She was disoriented, saying random, bizarre things, yet still coherent enough to worry about who would care for her beloved dachshund in her absence. She did apply her lipstick. She always remembered her lipstick. When we set off on that drive, one we had taken hundreds of times before, I instinctively knew it was going to be the last time. She was weak from her unrelenting fight with ovarian cancer, relying on a feeding tube to nourish her frail frame. A rogue tumor strangled her intestine, making it deadly to eat. To satisfy her craving to chew, she was allowed to suck on hard candies. I traveled to the most obscure candy stores in a quest for variety, desperate to make a diet of suckers more palatable. My center console was stuffed with wrappers. She was admitted right away. New scans didn’t show any progression of disease, but I had an ominous feeling. My fear was confirmed that next morning when 30 doctors and nurses — seemingly the whole cast of “ER” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” — descended on her hospital room. Monitors beeped loudly, relentlessly as her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. High-dose antibiotics were administered to fight a raging infection — her body was septic — and she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. True to form, my mom surprised the doctors. When she was diagnosed with end-stage ovarian cancer in 2002, she was given a 20 percent chance of surviving five years. There we were, 11 years later, and she was still defying expectations on antibiotics. Still, her doctor remained guarded. He gently told us he didn’t know if she would make it through the night. My mom’s response is one I often replay in my mind. “I know how hard it was for you to tell me I may die,” she said, her doe-shaped eyes full of compassion. “Thank you for your kindness. You did a good job delivering bad news. I know exactly where I am. Don’t worry about me. It’s OK.” My mother’s remarkable resilience, her bravery, her empathy, her selflessness, her mind-numbingly stunning spirit made a tear spring to the corner of her doctor’s eye. When he turned to leave the room, she consoled me, her only daughter, her very best friend. I didn’t have the strength to remain as composed as my mom. As sick as she was, she held me up… like she always did. She survived that night, and it turned into one I will forever cherish. She wasn’t a lifeless vegetable relying on the kindness of machines. She was present, aware, engaged. When I think about it, all of the qualities I long for today, the 1,095th day since her death, were on display that night, her last night of consciousness. Today and every day, I miss her heart. Her doctor told me that never in all his years of practice did someone try to console him after he delivered bad news. No one had a heart bigger than my mom’s, and I owned prime real estate in all four chambers. Today and every day, I miss her watchful eye. She was dying in the ICU, but worried about her daughter being uncomfortable sleeping in a chair next to her hospital bed. She asked the nurse to bring me extra blankets, knowing I am part reptilian. She advocated for her child, always, until she could no longer speak. Today and every day, I miss our conversations. That night, I asked her everything. I wanted to make sure I could answer any question about her life… from favorite flower (lilac) to favorite song (“Africa” by Toto) to favorite fruit (watermelon). We traded stories, told jokes, giggled, reminisced, played music. At one point, I laid next to her to breathe in her scent one last time. It was a night that provided the grief soundtrack for the rest my life. Today and every day, I miss her wishful lipsticking. My mom was puffy from all of the medication, donning a johnny, and attached to an IV… but she still had her lipstick. She reapplied often that night, as she always did, abiding by the “If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack” mantra. Today and every day, I miss my co-pilot. After that night we shared together, my mom slipped away. She laid there, with her eyes half open for hours on end. Lifeless, vacant, gone. I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to pull the plug the following morning. She would never leave me willingly… not my mom. I had to drive home from the hospital with my mother’s half zippered suitcase. I was ill equipped to stare at the candy wrappers in the center console, to drive alone, to navigate my way back. I looked at my passenger’s seat in disbelief. Three years later, I still look at it in disbelief. This post was originally published on JodiDarter.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.