Cancer does not discriminate. It comes for the young and the old, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor. Everyone in its wake is affected — the person who takes ill, family, friends, doctors, nurses, and even the community.
When it happens to you, when cancer takes away someone you love, you have one of two choices.
You can either:
Kirsten Almeida, the Founder and President of Star of the Day Productions, chose door #2.
Born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Kirsten Almeida has always been musically gifted. I know firsthand. Not only did we grow up in the same town, I had the privilege of playing in the band and singing in chorus with her in high school. Back then, she exuded a contagious charisma that belted out in every note. She still does.
Despite her talent, not everyone supported her dreams, and she found herself working in a career she was not passionate about. Until cancer. When the death of her best friend took her by surprise, she realized that “tomorrow is not always granted and that if you have a dream or a passion that you should not keep it a secret.”
That inspiration led her to found Star of the Day Productions in 2011. Sharing her love of music and stage performance, she opened a community theater in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. The theater season runs from March to December, working with actors of all ages, and has performed musicals ranging from Babes in Toyland to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. There is also a family series that works with young actors from 8 to 20 years old.
Appreciating how much her musical experiences shaped the woman she is today, Ms. Almedia looks to inspire that artistic expression in young people. The best part of working with children is “hopefully inspiring them to be fearless, think for themselves, stretching their imagination, and understand that while performing is a ton of fun, that it is also hard work.”
Not only does she host the family series at Star of the Day Productions, but she also participates in a reading literacy program through the Civic Theatre of Allentown, another local theater company. Their Cat in the Hat program puts on playful renderings of Dr. Seuss stories for children from kindergarten through second grade. For the past six years, Ms. Almedia has performed with the company to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and the arts.
It would be an understatement to say that Star of the Day Productions is a success. The community raves about the shows, and the most recent production, Les Miserables, was so popular some people had to be turned away for showings.
The theater company not only entertains its community, it has been a paragon in charitable causes. Nearly $30K has been raised for Relay for Life, and productions are put on every year that donate proceeds to Pediatric Cancer, Adoptions from the Heart, Breast Cancer Awareness, and Melanoma.
Ms. Almeida says, “We have the fortune of changing another human being with a look, a word, a song. When you can move someone to tears or make them laugh because of the gifts you are sharing, that is being a superhero.”
Kirsten, you are a superhero in more ways than one. Inspiring our youth, building community, and standing up to cancer, I have no doubt your best friend is looking down on you with pride.
Visit the Star of the Day Productions Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/StaroftheDayProds/.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things”.
Maybe not of “of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” but of age and skin and growing old, of facing up to things.
There comes a time in every woman’s life when she looks in the mirror, and she sees them staring back at her. You know what I’m talking about. THEM! The soft pillows along your jaw line, the drooping cheeks, the “jowls”.
I have always prided myself on looking younger than my age, but after taking a close look at myself in the mirror the other day, I wonder how long the gig has been up.
If you have ever been to an amusement park or carnival, you have visited the gaming booths. One of these booths usually has someone who guesses your age for a dollar or two. What are they looking for?
First of all, anyone who pays for someone to guess their age usually does not “look their age”. The guesser knows to guess higher or lower than what they see at face value.
Except they don’t look at things at face value. They look for physical clues too and trust me, there are plenty.
In your twenties, you are gorgeous, darling! You have great collagen support to keep your skin supple. The apples of your cheeks are firm and perky, filled with subcutaneous fat.
In your thirties, things start to change. Your skin tone may become less even, blood vessels may break under the skin surface, and you could develop sun spots along with lines around the eyes. Loss of subcutaneous fat leads to volume loss in the mid-face and cheeks. Your face becomes slimmer and more angular.
In your forties (*cough* *cough*), your skin starts to get dry which makes any wrinkles more pronounced. Volume loss is not only seen in the mid-face and cheeks but over the temples and in front of the ears, and may even lead to skin sagging. The nasal bridge may shift downward too, causing lines to form between the brows. Your upper lip may retract and appear thinner.
I always found the aging process to be fascinating, even though I never wanted to “look” like I went through it myself. I dare you to find a woman who does.
Who knows? Maybe with all this info, you and I can host our own booth at the next county fair.
The truth is things change as we get older. We will look older on the outside, whether from wrinkles or jowls or gray hair. Some people may have stooped posture. Others may be presbyopic with bifocals perched on their noses, while others tweak hearing aids in noisy restaurants. Do not even get me started on sagging boobs.
None of this changes who we are on the inside. While we often like to show our best face to the world, the heart of things lies in our experiences and relationships, in our ideas and day to day life.
Not everyone is lucky enough to grow old. Wear your age as a badge of honor. I see the changes in my body as evidence of all that I have survived and endured over the years. I am proud of the woman I have become, even if I sometimes cover it up with hair dye and a bit of makeup.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is all about introductions, and let’s say our heroine sure knows how to leave a first impression.
When she meets Mark Darcy at the annual “ugly sweater” Christmas party, she is hung over and shamelessly puffing a cigarette in his face. When she speaks at the launch of Kafka’s Motorbike, she nearly forgets the name of her pervy boss and insults every author in the room. Perhaps, she is best when she introduces people she knows.
PERPETUA: Anyone going to introduce me?
BRIDGET (to herself): Introduce people with thoughtful details. Perpetua, this is Mark Darcy. Mark’s a prematurely middle-aged prick with a cruel-raced ex-wife. Perpetua’s a fat-ass old bag who spends her time bossing me around… Maybe not.
PERPETUA: Anyone going to introduce me?
BRIDGET (out loud): Ah, Perpetua. This is Mark Darcy. Mark’s a top barrister. Comes from Grafton Underwood. Perpetua is one of my work colleagues.
It makes me wonder. What kind of impression did I leave in April?
I work from home, but I “meet” new people all the time, consulting with hospitals nationwide. Case managers, physicians, company colleagues. Our goal is to do what is right for each and every patient at each and every hospital admission. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but we have to at least be open to discuss the issues. Getting defensive is not going to improve patient care. Being clear-minded and receptive is what will turn the tide.
We need to be receptive in other areas of our lives too, not just at work. We need to be open and kind to ALL the people we meet. That means speaking to one another with respect and kindness. Even good humor when the timing is right.
Each person you meet is unique and special, and each is an opportunity for a new first impression. From the cashier at the grocery store to the homeless man on the corner. That’s why I say hi to the mail woman and wave to the man delivering my oil. I smile at cashiers and say thank you to janitors. I do not know that it makes a difference in their day, but it does in mine.
I appreciate what it means to be appreciated.
Sometimes a first impression falls flat though.
We are all bound to have an off day here and there. Maybe a bad dream kept you up late last night and you are dog tired. Maybe your boss chewed you out for something that wasn’t your fault. Maybe you have a disagreement with your spouse or your best friend doesn’t return your calls. Maybe another friend calls on you only because he wants something. Maybe you worry about a loved one who has taken ill.
My month in a nutshell.
It can be hard to shake off life’s low points, whatever they may be. In times of stress, you may come off as tentative or rub someone the wrong way. All you can do is try to let things go, refocus on the positive, and move on.
Unfortunately, there will always be people ready to label you based on a single interaction. Did you try that food they offered you? If not, maybe they don’t see you as accepting or open-minded. Did you ask about their health, job, or family? Maybe you are too nosy. Did you dance like Elaine Benes at the company party? Maybe you have more to worry about than a lack of coordination.
Everyone needs to stop being Judgy McJudgersons.
You cannot expect to know everything about a person based on a single interaction, and sometimes you have to cut people some slack. People are complex, some more guarded than others, with layers to peel back before you get to the good stuff. If they continue to offer less than stellar impressions, well, that is a whole other onion.
Mark Darcy replied to Bridget’s winning introduction with one of his own.
MARK: This is Bridget Jones. Bridget, this is Natasha. Natasha is a top attorney and specializes in family law. Bridget works in publishing and used to play naked in my paddling pool.
Bridget offered him a less-than-stunning first impression, but he saw past it to like her just as she was. Playing naked in the paddling pool sure didn’t hurt her cause either. It goes to show that taking the time to get to know someone, beyond that first impression, can build new and meaningful connections.
Hi, my name is Tanya, and it’s nice to meet you.
The night my grandmother passed away, I took my dog outside for a walk. As I opened the front door, I caught a movement at the corner of my eye. A red cardinal sat perched on a vine that wound its way through the slats on my porch. His color beamed bright under the moonlight, and he bent his head toward me as if waiting for me to start a conversation.
I gasped, but then I smiled wide and deep.
“It’s nice to see you, grandma.”
She chirped back.
Many people believe that cardinals are our loved ones visiting us from heaven, that their tufted crests are symbolic antennae that connect us to the spiritual world. On more physical grounds, cardinals with their red color and feisty songs exude confidence. These birds are strong and self-assured. To see a cardinal is to remind you to trust in yourself, in your talents. While they might make you feel powerful, these birds also encourage life balance. Cardinals mate for life, males and females equally sharing the care-taking of their nests. In this way, they are nurturing and embrace family.
You may believe these things, or you may think they are hogwash. That doesn’t stop many cultures from putting faith in these beautiful creatures.
Do I believe in the symbolism of cardinals?
For me, timing is everything.
Maybe I needed to see my cardinal that night. Maybe my grief was so overwhelming, trying to be strong for everyone else, that I needed to feel there was someone there for me. The visit was a way for me to peacefully honor her memory.
Each person will grieve in their own way. Some people are stoic, concealing every emotion from public view or even from themselves. Others are drama kings and queens, making themselves the center of attention, perhaps to redirect their nervous energy away from their pain. I sit with cardinals.
There are as many ways to grieve as there are people to grieve.
Respect that we are different, that we all need our own time to come to terms. I personally believe in God, that we move from one plain to another, that life does not simply end — it just ends as we know it. I will not push my beliefs on others, but I am thankful my grandmother no longer suffers from the pain and complications of her cancer.
It’s okay to be sad when someone passes away, even when we know they are sick. Loss of life is rarely easy for the living. It’s human, normal, to think of what we have lost, but sometimes it is equally important to think about what we have gained. Are there memories that make us smile? What stories will we share? How did those experiences shape us?
More than anything, the passing of a loved one reminds us how very fragile life is. Time is short. It is sad that it often takes loss to get us to step up and enrich our lives here and now. What can we learn by how they lived their life? How can we avoid the slippery slope of regret? How can we aspire to live a full life?
That cardinal and I sat on the porch together for a half hour, meditating on these very issues, before I turned in for the night. We didn’t say a whole lot to each other, but we sat together, an aura of calm and quiet surrounding us.
With her health on the decline, my grandmother never got the chance to see my home in New Hampshire, but she did promise to visit one day. In my heart of hearts, she did just that.