Sherry Amatenstein Shares
Going through cancer during Covid last year changed me in ways I am still processing. Where once I was fearless ( some would say foolhardy) – crammed into a freezing cargo plane heading to Bosnia just as the U.N. Peacekeeping Team was coming in, ‘masquerading’ as a call girl for an investigative piece, always restless and looking for the next adventure – now I am content to be inside my apartment except for medical appointments and to walk Shea. Since March no one but that nutty terrier, Paul, and me have walked past the threshold of my one-bedroom in LIC. In my cocoon, my sanctuary, I feel safe and right now that feels like everything. Instead of impatiently wanting to reach the end of the book, I am happy to linger on each page. While I miss dining out and socializing in person, I’m content to wait until after we are fortunate enough to get the vaccine. After surgery, 8 chemo treatments ( each proceeded by a Covid test which led to hours of anxiety waiting for the result), and 29 hits of radiation I am the opposite of a thrill-seeking queen. Call me Sherry the calm junkie.
I didn’t publish a lot of pieces in 2020 (was otherwise occupied!) but I feel good about the last one – a roundup for Marie Claire on how 15 couples fared in this life-changing year!Marieclaire.com/sex-love/
How is it 11 years since the passing of the gentlest man in the world (no bias here!) Berek Amatenstein? He grew up in Lodz, Poland where he helped my grandfather at his shoemaker trade and ‘quelled’ at being the big brother to three girls. Dad retained his gentleness despite numerous unspeakable experiences at the hands of the Nazis – including watching his parents and smallest sister be “selected” by Mengele for the gas chambers, before being herded onto a cattle car to Dachau. Yet dad found the fortitude to survive and after liberation find his two surviving sisters Sally and Paula. Dad came to New York like many survivors determined to start a family and build a good life, which he did with Bronka Stylman. The two met while working at a hotel in the Catskills where dad was a waiter and mom a chambermaid.
Experiencing Chemotherapy During COVID-19 Has Given Me So Many Things to Be Grateful For
As the most reflective period of the Jewish calendar begins I work to center myself in gratitude. I am so fortunate my breast cancer was caught EARLY. I had surgery even as the pandemic engulfed NYC in March and am on the end-run of active treatment (chemo finito! almost halfway through radiation). I have access to first-rate medical care, a partner, sister, and friends who are unfailingly tender and supportive, a home, cuddly dog, and am no risk of going hungry. I am grateful to be able to see patients (virtually) and wear my wig Raquel on Zoom and FaceTime so everything stays ‘normal’ and focused on them. I bleed over the suffering of others all around me. I continue to struggle with whether there is a sovereign G-d (though I still do the – ha!). If the answer is YES it’s no wonder He or She keeps shaking the planet with hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and epic contagious viruses in an effort to wake us up to what we should automatically be doing – helping one another and living in unity, not splintering in hatred, suspicion and warping power struggles. My spirituality has been tested these past months but I continue to believe there is an inner connectedness and humanity in all of us – okay, not the orange-haired horror show! The more we work at not letting fear and pain consume us and narrow our focus to obsessing over whether we have enough toilet paper our hearts can expand outward and we can focus on what is most essential. VOTE!
Tomorrow my third week of radiation begins – my 30th and last session will be October 12th. Since my immuno-compromised days ended a few weeks after chemo, friends have been coming to my 6th-floor rooftop garden so we can mask/hang… And last week for the first time in forever Paul and I visited my sister – lounging in her backyard and nibbling on Jewish soul food – bagels and lox – topped off by an indescribably scrumptious blueberry cheesecake I discovered a few years back at Food Cellar in my hood (Everyone who has tasted it, even non-cheesecake fans, are INSTANTLY addicted.) Today we picnicked in the park outside my front door. Children nearby (but not too nearby) blew bubbles that drifted up and popped in the blue sky.
CHEMO & RADIATION = What a Small Price To Pay in This World
On this insomniac night rapidly morphing-into-morning I am saved from fear and loneliness as I’m sandwiched between the sweetest, most loyal man in the world and an ornery 9-year-old rescue dog who has considered me his property since the moment he realized he was NEVER going back to North Shore Animal League.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer and now undergoing chemo ( my ultimate prognosis is FABULOUS!) at this surreal moment has taught me many things, among them a trait I’d never imagined myself possessing- patience.
I’ve become used to isolating, the narrowing of my world as even a masked walk along the waterfront just yards away might accidentally expose my immunosuppressed body to the invisible plague.
My routine is a mostly content blur of morning news, fruit, and coffee, Pilates on the rare days I feel up to it, virtually seeing therapy patients while saddled with Raquel ( from the Raquel Welch line ) atop my head to disguise the stubby baldness of my scalp.
I feel radically uncreative and unmotivated but excuse this phase as the result of being ruled by the two-week demarcations enforced upon me. Last Thursday I sweated out my day before chemo COVID test ( my only ‘outing’ save an early morning trip to the 5th floor ‘rooftop’ off my building’s laundry room to rendezvous with my sister since safety protocol says I can’t let her in the apartment), got the prayed-for negative result, then had my seventh biweekly chemo. I came home, had a celebratory dish of chocolate ice cream and then was happily gobsmacked by the delivery of rugulah from my beloved Sloan.
This week instead of waiting for Godot I wait for side effects and swat them away with meds and feelings of gratitude that my cancer and chemo regime is so temperate in comparison to so many who suffer much, much worse.
I am even more greatly helped by the knowledge that everything passes -one just needs to breathe and wait it out.
Indeed, my last scheduled chemo is Friday, August 7. My excitement defies description. A few weeks later I will transition into six five days a week radiation treatments – CAN’T WAIT.
I am even somewhat resigned to waiting out COVID. I anticipate a sequestered, masked world til 2022. I have so much luck and love in my life for me it will be much less a hardship than for so many I grieve for.
The only thing to which I can’t summon an ounce of patience is (please, please, please!!!) the inevitable fall of Drumpf the execrable band of evil suckups.
I am not a prayerful person but I pray all this suffering helps right the scales and brings about decency.
“I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that ( my small problems) don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
For Father’ Day June 21, 2020
My father was a holocaust survivor who watched his parents and youngest sister be selected at Auschwitz by Mengele to be gassed, before being ordered into a cattle car with another hellish destination – Dachau. Despite dad’s unimaginable trauma, this demonstration of the horrific depths to which ‘alleged’ humans could stoop, Bernard Amatenstein was indisputably (okay, maybe I’m a wee biased!) the kindest man on earth. He is now indisputably the kindest soul in heaven.
Dad, I am so sorry I took it for granted that even after you’d put in a 12-hour day selling household merchandise door-to-door in Westchester, no matter how far you had to drive, you would unhesitatingly come to fetch me up from wherever I was, or drive a visiting friend home. After your errand was completed, you’d head to your cluttered office in the basement to sort orders for the next day, La Traviata on the record player.
Now that I am going through a tough time, made tougher by the communal ordeal of COVID, I think of all you endured and the pure, giving, gentle spirit you remained, even after being struck by Alzheimer’s, and then losing your beloved
wife. In those final years, you never complained though nearly every day began brightly asking where mom was, only to have the light in your eyes extinguished after being reminded of her death.
We had some of our sweetest times playing game after game after game after GAME of dominoes or Go Fish, watching the Marx Brothers or the Mets, or chatting about mom, long-ago memories, or that you’d just eaten so it would be a while ’til the next meal. Even when you didn’t totally understand what was entailed when I shared triumphs (i.e.: selling my third book; graduating social work school) you were always proud, always happy for my success.
While I am happy you and mom are reunited I can’t help wishing I could experience your sweetness and love just one more time.
Please read this: I just received a call from the concierge who I adore who said after the elevator incident this guy (who did wear a mask) came down to tell Irving that he’d been harassed a lot lately and when I asked if I could have the elevator alone cause I was coming from having chemo he just lost it but none of that was really intended for me. I am so sorry for what this man goes through and wish he wasn’t the victim of prejudice and I accept his apology. I appreciate everyone’s support – it means the world!!! Let’s have a good night. I wish I could have a glass of wine but that will wait til this is over xoxo
Since my early-stage breast cancer journey started in February (surgery got all the bad actors out. I have FABULOUS odds of no recurrence in 10 years) EVERYONE has been kind, empathetic loving and generous. When I dragged myself home 6 weeks ago after my first chemo- an ordeal that lasted 12 hours as the oncologist didn’t initially like my bloodwork – the most thoughtful gift on the planet was waiting for me: a box of N-95 masks from my building’s management team led by Board President Joanna Rock. But today coming home from chemo 4, Paul was parking the car while I waited by the elevators. The first one came but someone entered and I gestured to him to ride solo. My knees were buckling with fatigue so I was grateful when the (larger) freight elevator arrived. I got in followed by a male neighbor wearing a mask and holding paper towels. I said, “I’m coming home from having chemo. (yes. I will play that card!) Do you mind waiting for the next one?” He lit into me – he’d had cancer too. I wasn’t the only one with problems. Who did I think I was? I could have asked the doorman to get me an elevator…’ I was shocked. Words that were exceedingly nasty (f and b bombs) passed between us. I was so rattled I got off on the wrong floor, put my key in the lock, and opened an apartment door. (Clearly, the door was unlocked!) thought hazily: ‘Did Paul change the hallway floor this afternoon?’ Luckily I came to whatever little of my senses remain, slammed the door shut, and skunk back to the elevator to wait for the up elevator. One came down, clearly from my floor as you know who exited. (Hopefully, he hadn’t entered my apartment!) This time mutual ignoring saved the day. I watched him flounce down the hall. This meanness was rare as a dinosaur bone or an affordable Central Park Manhattan townhouse. I am home, feeling relieved and so grateful for the amazing people in my life and that I am HALFWAY through chemo. Thanks for reading this vent 🙂
Written by Sherry Amatenstein – you will want to read this!
4/14/20 for 4/19/20
We (https://newclevelandradio.net/) are proud to announce that Jeannie Ralston has invited Sherry Amatenstein to lead a free ZOOM on Sunday, April 19th at 3 pm EST on how to handle the plethora of mental health issues triggered by the Pandemic https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sunday-salon-sherry-amatenstein-on-staying-positive-tickets
We are ALL in this TOGETHER – our emotions are like the ups and downs of a rollercoaster. I for one do not like rollercoaster do the peaks and valleys can play havoc with me. Join us!
Please take a moment and read this article by Sherry Amatenstein
5 Ways to Support a Friend Who Lost Someone to COVID-19
You can’t rush to their side with hugs—so what can you do? One therapist shares a few ideas.
Sherry says 3/22/20
This Tuesday is a special SHERAPY: Coping with the Anxiety Pandemic. My special guests will be Sloan Smiloff, a mental health care expert and my soul sister; the amazing Amy Ferris, my sister host on this network
and the beautiful soul Karen Moss Hale
In the meantime here is this:
Tips for Coping With Pandemic Anxiety
On Tuesday, March 24th I am taping a special SHERAPY: Guide to Coping With Pandemic
Anxiety with guests Sloan Smiloff, Ph.D., who shared her wisdom and wit on my first SHERAPY in December and Amy Ferris, the beloved host of my sister podcast.https://newclevelandradio.net/post-coffee-pre-wineredempti…/
In the meantime, here are a few tips and resources for handling anxiety and other mental health issues in these uber-challenging times.
Anxiety is all about wanting control, craving certainty… The coronavirus is an invisible enemy, and the speed with which it has traveled and infected the globe leaves us reeling and feeling out of control. Stressors and triggers can be small – you temporarily misplace kitty’s favorite toy – or HUGE – hello, COVID-19. The only things we EVER ultimately have any control over are our feelings and actions.
Being forced to be up close with yourself 24/7 is frightening – you are not alone if you excel at creating new and novel distractions. However, that ship for the foreseeable future is docked. Yes, this is frightening but also presents an opportunity. It’s the running away from our feelings and/or trying to deny they lurk in those dusty cubbyholes in our minds that keep us trapped.
You are the same person with the same issues you had BCV (Before Coronavirus). Your inner monsters haven’t gone away – they just dove further underground as you became obsessed with this external Boogie Man – or, okay – Boogie Woman.
I ask patients to tell me what their worst crisis was before this currently shared one. They tell me – someone’s death, an illness, physical attack, relationship rupture… Then I ask how they moved through it. A typical response is, “I just did. I had no choice.” I respond, “There is always a choice. You have inner resources that enabled you to do the things you needed to do to move through. You are just so used to detailing chapter and verse all your negative traits, that you don’t see the positive ones.”
I am helping them reframe, reassess, and tune into their strengths and abilities. We’re all flawed but we all also have an opportunity to learn how to self-nurture, stop self-attacking and become – finally! – our own best friend.
Yes, this is beyond hard – but it beats the ‘comfortable discomfort’ of the psychological pain we walk the streets with (well, not literally anymore – STAY HOME!) that cushion us and keep us miserable but what feels like safe.
The real freedom is in realizing there is no external safety – just our appreciation of our ability to navigate, sit with and even embrace uncertainty.
Here is a quote from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
When the bottom falls out and we can’t find anything to grasp, it hurts a lot. It’s like the Naropa Institute motto: “Love of the truth puts you on the spot.” We might have some romantic notion of what that means, but when we are nailed with the truth, we suffer. We look in the bathroom mirror, and there we are with our pimples, our aging face, our lack of kindness, our aggression and timidity – all that stuff.
This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.
It’s a kind of testing, the kind of testing that spiritual warriors need in order to awaken their hearts. Sometimes it’s because of illness or death that we find ourselves in this place. We experience a sense of loss – loss of our loved ones, loss of our youth, loss of our life.
End of rant. Please tune in Tuesday for SHERAPY. (3/24/20) https://www.spreaker.com/show/sherapy-real-therapy-with-sherry-amatens
In the meantime here are some tips and resources:
• Set boundaries – don’t talk to people who trigger you with their negativity and fear. Tell them something like, “I love you (if this is appropriate – no need to say to a co-worker or neighbor ), but right now I’m working on not going to dark emotional places so I’m gonna say bye for now and wish you well.”
Please, please limit social media and updating news reports to say twice a day.
• Pay attention only to trusted news sources
World Health Organization
Daily press briefings from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo – he is fact-based, rational yet soothing – everybody’s daddy right now
Thomson Reuters News Bureau
• Breathe deeply
I do this with anxious patients during our phone sessions. Not sure who it’s helping more
Here is some instruction for deep breathing
C’mon – you know it’s great for your mental health. Om.
Here are some apps to get you started.
Yes, gyms are closed and we are cloistered in our homes. But, but, but…!
If you still need convincing here is some info on the health benefits of exercise. FYI: Good nutrition is essential too, folks, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy some ice cream.
Here is an article by Jennifer Garam on some great free online yoga and fitness classes
Yes, social media can be anxiety-provoking but it also allows us to commune with loved ones via text, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and the like.
Here is a helpful article on smart ways to utilize social media as well as how to avoid cyber-trauma and drama.
• If the person you live with is abusive
It’s stressful enough to isolate, but can be dangerous when you are forced to isolate with an abuser. According to the CDC, one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical abuse in intimate relationships. The National Domestic Hotline continues to provide 24-hour support by phone or computer
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, get help at thehotline.org or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.
• If you or someone you know is suicidal
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline is at 800-950-NAMI (6264). Chat with a counselor here:
More NAMI resources:
Finally, here is a terrific article on anxiety coping in the time of the pandemic
I wish I could talk to my parents and aunts and uncles who survived years of the Holocaust and came to New York and started over and built gorgeous lives. In lieu of that, I turn to Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:
“The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes it’s bitter. Sometimes you have a headache and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy… To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.
Post by: Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
In the Sonoran Desert – some of my Muslim and Jewish sisters did the hike to leave water and snacks for migrants… I wound up in Arivaca, 11 miles north of the border (2 days ago 2 people were killed here fleeing Border Patrol). In the only supermarket for 45 minutes, the cashier whose husband is in the National Guard tells starving desperate migrants who knock on her door for help to keep in migrants while others are like Banjo Bob who not only helps those who knock on his door he will RISKarrest to smuggle them in his car under a blanket hopefully closer to some kind of sanctuary. I. The cantina’s patio he serenaded us with original songs. He is off the grid so we can’t keep in touch but I will forever consider meeting him a soul moment,
In Tucson with https://Sosspeace.org on a ‘Building Bridges’ trip to the border. A lot to process – we were at the federal courthouse witnessing Operation Streamline- the Fastrack sentencing of shackled migrants who just days before attempted to cross the border. There are approx 7 lawyers to 70 migrants, many who speak
Indigenous languages and don’t really understand the charges despite the translating headphones they are given as they face the judge. They pretty uniformly plead guilty ( forever on their record), are given a jail sentence ranging from 30 to 100 days, then deported to their home country, often without ID or money and dropped off nowhere near their town. Our evening was spent decompressing at the Islamic Center of Tucson featuring a guest speaker from the Jewish History Museum. Two vulnerable minorities working together on this – the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – to help those who are considered ‘the other’
Article by: Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
“A Case for Extreme Empathy
How radical empathy has gone from the TED Talk circuit to everyday practice and why building emotional bridges is more important now than ever.”
On December 16th at 7 PM, if I had long hair I’d be letting it down! That’s when I take the@Generation Women stage with five other amazing women to share original stories about reckless, raunchy, rowdy moments in our lives. (Mine involves a job interview with Rocky the pimp!)
The monthly show is a unique, multigenerational and female-powered literary salon at Caveat Theater on the Lower East Side.. Tickets at: https://bit.ly/2tbPbDn
H/M: For an article I want to interview women, who post #MeToo went through the trauma of having the man in their life accused of being a sexual predator. The women I interview can be anonymous – no problem. Please email me at email@example.com@earthlink.net
Yesterday (12/11/19) was the launch of my podcast SHERAPY: Real Therapy With Sherry Amatenstein
One inspiration for Sherapy is Esther Perel’s fabulous Audible podcast: “Where Shall We Begin?” Each episode is a one-time only therapy session with a couple.
Each episode of Sherapy will feature a therapy session with an individual. Ideally subsequent episodes will follow three or four different patients, so listeners can track their progress. None of the participants will be my private patients. On Sherapy they can receive complimentary therapy and remain anonymous.
Perhaps the most potent inspiration for Sherapy is to de-mystify and de-stigmatize psychotherapy. Too many people in distress still suffer silently. The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) estimates nearly one in five people suffer from some sort of mental illness, yet only half of those seek help. Indeed, from 1999 to 2017 there was a 33% increase in suicides!
We need light on this, not shame and silence.
Through my work I have seen the commonalities in humans: our relationship role models are our parents; we are waaay too influenced by our assumptions of what other people think about us; our egos are often fragile as Kleenex; we think everyone else has the ‘secret’ to being happy and are ashamed (there’s the shame thing again!) at feeling jealousy, anger, and other negative emotions. But mostly our negativity is aimed our ourselves.