When a Storm Hits

rough seas

I read today’s entry from Melody Beatty’s Journey to the Heart and it focused on weathering the storm. It’s a perfect passage for me especially as September heads toward October.

It’s OK to be afraid, to acknowledge it, and do what’s needed to feel safe through the storm, no matter what is causing it. It can be illness, extra stress at work, loss, or difficulty in a relationship. Anything that makes you feels like your world is in tumult.

The storms remind me of what I went through when my son Nick was ill with cancer. Some days I couldn’t bear another moment in the sterile hospital. The smells, the cold, the sounds of machines beeping, phones ringing, and hearing my child in pain.


When the storms raged at full capacity, we’d hunker down. I’d cuddle up with him in his hospital bed, and we’d watch A Knight’s Tale or George Lopez. That was our late night ritual. George Lopez made us laugh. It gave us peace, a sense of normalcy, so that when the next storm came, we were stronger.

It’s the same with grief. The tsunamis and tumultuous waves make me feel like I’m going to drown. It’s like the dreams I had as a child. I’m swimming underwater. A sheet a glass covers the surface. I can’t get any air. I grow short of breath. I panic.

When this happens, I settle deep in what comforts me. A warm blanket. A cup of hot tea. Walking my dogs. Reading. Connections with family and friends. If nothing else works, I just breathe through each crashing wave. I’ve become a seasoned storm rider. I know the signs that a storm is brewing. I can prepare a bit sooner, so the storm doesn’t take such a harsh toll on me. The calm serenity comes quicker.


What storm are you weathering?

How can you settle in and bring comfort to you or a loved one?

What can you do right now to prepare for the storm?


Childhood Perspective on Family History


When I was a child, I thought my father owned a huge motorcycle, that every winter we had snowfalls taller than my 7-year-old body, and I had scarlet fever when I was 5. My father’s motorcycle was a small Bridgestone. I still think there was a tremendous amount of snow, but it was probably because all the snow being plowed from the road into our front yard. My mom denies that I had scarlet fever, but I think she’s lying!

We have these images, memories that we think are real are imprinted in our minds like a stamp. Our memories of childhood hugely depend on how we were raised, our order of birth, and what or who had a major impact on our lives. Five years younger than me and the last child, my sister, Michele, has a different perspective on her childhood. She probably doesn’t remember our home in Long Island that we moved from when she was 2 or 3. I’ll have to ask her.

She’s 8 years younger than my brother and 7 years younger than my older sister. Being the first and only boy as well as the first girl impacted their upbringing. Being the middle child, well you know we middle children have big issues of invisibility. But it put me in a more observational mode.

Last night at my monthly journaling workshop, we shared our thoughts on the above quote. Did they have memories that other family members disputed? Yes, like the severity of a car accident, joy of living with a large family, but the other members thinking it wasn’t so nice, memories of a parent differing based on age and order of birth.

I invite you to write these memories down and share them with family members. Have them record their memories on that event and then share one with you. Going back and forth, you’ll get a fuller picture or at least the differing perspectives of varying family members. Give your parent or grandparent a journal to record their memories and stories. Once they are no longer with us, their personal stories are lost.

Brainstorming your Memories and Building Memory Threads

Where do we get the ideas to write our family history? I suggest thinking about your first house. Jot down any memory. Don’t think about it too much. It’s a memory brain dump. It’s incredible how once you get started, all these new memories jump out at you.

You can go from your first house to the next and the next until you are in your current location or use whatever theme or location that speaks to you.

Here are some of mine from the first house I lived in Long Island:

  • Bobby pin in the socket
  • Describe my home
  • Fig trees
  • Monsters in the attic
  • Scarlet fever—Nanny teach me to crochet
  • Bike riding and hitting a car
  • Pool jumping from the roof
  • Almost drowning
  • Lobster crawling on the floor
  • YaYa
  • Aunt Anna
  • Planet of the Apes—Brown licorice
  • Monkey bars breaking leg
  • 1st day of 2nd grade
  • Stephanie forgets me at school

Maybe this is the only snapshot you need of that moment. Or perhaps it’s like a sponge and as you think about it, the memory expands. I call this Memory Threads.

Take the Monkey bars and breaking my leg. The threads may be:

Kindergarten, strong mother, missing much of school, Big Wheeling along the sidewalks, breaking leg again, tearing ACL on that leg, strong upper body.

This thread can weave into other memories. Like how my mother carried me out of the nurse’s office telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about when the nurse said my leg wasn’t broken–my mother becoming a nurse–protecting her children when a man tried to break into our house and she threatened him with the elephant knife–standing up to teenagers who were chasing me and my brother down the street–never giving up when my father fought cancer three times.

Memory Threads are powerful. They build themes that intertwine and pull in more memories until you have a tapestry of history. It starts with one memory and threading through it.

Begin yours!

June Month in Review


June went by in a flash.

It always starts quick with a weeklong venture to the Americade Motorcycle Rally in Lake George. Luke, friends, and I rode motorcycles back and forth to Lake George each day. We demoed bikes from manufacturers, walked around, and met other bikers. It’s always a cold and rainy week, but we plowed through and had a great time.

We rode bikes by day and roller coasters at night that week, because our annual Gillette Carnival fundraiser was the same week. It made for lots of goodness and by the end of the week, I was wiped out.

Because I habitually have so much on my plate, I had to get the eighth draft of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis done, so my illustrator, Danielle LeBlanc, knew the page count for the spine and another set of readers could look for those nitty gritty mistakes. There are still quite a few, so you know what I’m doing in July.

By mid-June, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotionally spent. Yet I was determined to find balance and self-care. In my adult journal workshop, we worked on setting goals and tracking it to support our purpose. Doing this with everyone clarified what I wanted to focus my time on, who I wanted to spent time with, and what I needed to do to make it happen.

If there is one think I have learned, it’s to ask for help. Volunteers, friends, and my wonderful husband joined in to help with fundraisers, get me to yoga, and simplify the rest of my summer.

Balancing work, play, and self-care has always been a conundrum for me, and I think many people feel the same way.

balanced rocks

I took this picture of three balancing rocks while I was with my husband for a soccer tournament in the middle of June! It reminded me of what I juggle in my life. In order for these rocks to maintain balance, there has to be a secure and firm foundation.

The three rocks represent my purpose, family, and life. My purpose is what I’m passionate about, my higher calling, which is to bring hope through my books and teaching writing. In order to do this, I need to take care of myself, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

The next rock is my family. I am extremely family oriented. I have my husband, sons (one here and one in my heart), siblings, my mom, nieces, nephews, and and friends who are my chosen family. I love to spend time with all of them and have to balance how often I can see them and how I can help them when needed. Love is the ultimate reason why I’m here, and I express this to my family as often as I can.

The most precarious rock is life. It’s what happens along the way as I try to take care of myself, fulfill my purpose, spend time with my family and friends, and be the best I can be. When life throws me a curve or throws me off a cliff, I have to trust my foundation of family, friends, and purpose.

Then I can rebalance and start over.

July will be a month of simplifying, clearing space in my life and my physical space, in order to create in a more positive atmosphere. Completing the ninth draft of Saving Atlantis, and enjoying my beautiful family. Reflecting back on each month keeps me on my path and makes me grateful for this practice.

How was your month of June? Review, reflect, and do what serves you best!

Dad and his Girls

My dad has been is on my mind today as this is the anniversary of when he passed away 20 years ago. My dad was larger than life. That may have been because I was his little girl along with my other two sisters. But it also was because he was a large man with hands that could crush rocks. No exaggeration!

Dad and my older sister, Stephanie 30 years ago

You can see how his hand engulfed my sister’s in this photo, but they were hands that held us when we were hurt, threw us into the air when playing, and carried us to bed when we fell asleep.

Dad and I at the same wedding. I was 21.

As comfortable as my dad was in his jeans and t-shirt with a tool belt strapped around his waist, he was a sharp dresser when it came to stepping out on the town. In addition to being a classy guy, he was a great and fun dancer. He and my mom, who at 4′ 11″ was tiny compared to my dad’s 6′ 1″ height flowed together seamlessly.

My baby sister, Michele (Mush Mouse to my dad)

Warm and cuddly as a teddy bear, my dad was also a ferocious protector of his family. Meeting my dad was the deal breaker when it came to boyfriends. If they couldn’t handle the bone crushing handshake, then they were out the door. He had a gentle heart, but not when it came to anyone wanting to hurt his girls and our mom.

I wish my boys got to know their grandfather. Just like my son, he had so much to do and give, but life often has other plans. My dad is in all of us. My brother looks a lot like him and has the same mannerisms. It’s the De Tillio way. All our kids have his gentle heart and the older ones were blessed to have known him longer, but it’s never long enough. I share his stories, because stories have power, memory, and hold the spirits of those who have gone before us. We never forget. We hold them in our heart.

De Tillio Gals–Gratitude Day 29

It has long been said that once you meet a De Tillio, you are never the same. When you are in a room with De Tillio women, you know there will be a lot of laughter, crazy antics, and outlandish conversation. My father and brother learned to go with the flow and be very flexible with four exuberant women in the house.


Today we got together to celebrate our fall birthdays, shop, and well…laugh. It doesn’t take much. And the funniest part is that no one else may understand what we are hysterically laughing about. It just happens, doesn’t stop, but can be quite contagious. We aren’t afraid to be the brunt of the joke, act ridiculously, or be plain old corny. See below.

sistersTechnically Stephanie (on the left) and I are the middle siblings, since Sal is the oldest, but I have always been considered the middling. It’s not easy having to balance the Stephanie’s sharp outbursts of comedic humor from the emotional volcano of Michele (on the right) when she passionately expresses her opinion or one of us has been wronged.

Having an older and younger sister has always meant that I had someone to look up to and take care of me and then someone I protected and babied. I am like the filling in the Oreo cookie. I can go it alone, but man it so much better all together!

I am grateful for the laughter, love, and silliness. Our family has been built on having a grand time no matter where we are or the circumstances. I love being a Cammarata, but I will always be a down home De Tillio gal!

Community–Gratitude Day 11

Today I am grateful for the amazing communities I have connected with over the years. They have transformed me, supported me, helped me grow, and become stronger.



The library and community of writers that I get to work and create with are the most encouraging and open-minded people I know. I am grateful to have an amazing group of writers who critique my writing and make me a better writer.


My yoga community has kicked my butt, twisted my insides out, and flipped me upside down all while teaching me how to breathe and love myself. I have never seen such an accepting group of people. I can walk into any yoga studio anywhere and feel like I have been there for years. It’s transforming and empowering.


My karate community challenges me every time I’m on the mat. The life lessons I have gained, the family that has become my own, and the foundation that we have built has sustained me through some of my hardest moments in life. They accept my goofiness, push me beyond what I think I can do, and literally kick my butt so that I’m safe on the street.


The childhood cancer community is a balance of devastation vs. compassion and love. I would have never thought that losing a child to cancer would expand my family in such an incredible way. Cancer is absolutely horrible and if I could I would find a cure tomorrow and wish my boy back. But in the midst of horror, sadness, and pain, we as a community choose to find joy and have hope. That is the strongest definition of community.

2005 May8memorial day

Family. It’s an old photo, but a damn good one. So much has changed in 12 years, but my family is my heart and has taught me the power of community.

Community: come bring unity to all. For all my communities, I am grateful

Nick Heald


Nick Heald

It was November 2010 and I was at a book signing at the Chronicle Book Fair in Queensbury. Part of my book sales are donated to the foundation so I always have brochures on hand. A woman from a used book store came over and asked if I was having a fundraiser for Nick Heald. I asked who he was and she explained that he was a senior from South Glens Falls who had cancer. I explained that Nick was my son and his Caring Bridge site was NickHealed. The connection sparked. She told me about the South Glens Falls Marathon Dance run by local kids at that high school. They raise money and donate the funds to local charities or people who really needed it. My interest was piqued.

The idea of this book wasn’t quite formulated at that point. When I was sure I wanted to write it, I asked Natalie Mahler, the Child Life Specialist at The Melodies Center for recommendations of teens fighting cancer who also were involved in giving back. I received an email from Nick’s mom, Amy Gurdo, that Nick had just finished his final round of chemo. Amy had picked up the foundation’s brochure and saw the Fight to be Healed slogan and my Nick’s name. Plus Nick’s dad Chad had heard about Nick’s Fight to be Healed on the radio and wondered what Nick’s mom was up to now. The connection flourished.

These are the first two paragraphs of Nick Heald’s chapter in my book, What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer. There were so many connections between the two Nicks and this strongly knit family who would go to great lengths to heal their Nick.

For seven years Nick Heald fought against an enemy that threatened to keep him from the life he wanted to live. I say threatened, because if there is one thing I learned about Nick was that he is the most resilient and determined person I have ever met.


Every time Nick relapsed my heart sank. I worried. I fretted. When was this young man going to get a break? I’m sure Nick worried too, but he didn’t let it stop him. He went to college. He graduated. He got a great job, and he lived his life with passion, understanding that tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed. He married the love of his life.

Maybe that was the key. Nick knew he had to live in the moment, and he wasn’t going to waste any time being bothered by what he couldn’t control. He threw himself into what he loved and was passionate about.

From what I have seen, he was most passionate about his wife, Courtney. Although it never is enough, they lived a lifetime together. Theirs is the ultimate love story, connecting in high school and living through what some older married couples wouldn’t have been able to handle. They lived in the moment, and my heart grew every time I saw them together, loving unconditionally, being who they are right at that moment.

In my book, Nick’s Mom said, “Be in the moment. If you’re not, you are going to miss something good.”

Nick and his family and friends did that. They lived each moment like it was the the most precious moment they would ever have. That is how we should all live. Right now.

Nick, you have changed the world for the better. You have left a legacy of resiliency, true love, and the power of family. Thank you for sharing your joy and passion for life. You helped me when I was missing my boy. You will be missed terribly. I will be there for your mom and your family as you were there for me.

June, 2011 interviewing Nick Heald