5’10” Beautiful Blonde Amputee
Handi-abled and Meeting
by Nicole Flier
“All of the top achievers I know are life-long learners…looking for new skills, insights, and ideas. If they’re not learning, they’re not growing…not moving toward excellence.”
— Dennis Waitley, Motivational Speaker and Author
One can’t help but stop in their tracks when Aviva Drescher enters a room. Leggy, blonde, and fabulously fit. At first glance, she is a true “head turner”. But there is so much more to this brainy beauty. Wife, mother, author, charity advocate, and television personality on BRAVO’s “The Real Housewife of New York”, Drescher makes juggling hats look easy and oh so, glamorous!
Through life’s journey, and its challenges, Aviva has become a top achiever, a life learner, and a role model not only for those faced with physical adversity but for anyone who yearns to be the best they can be. It was our pleasure to recently chat with Aviva about what it is like to be a “Leggy Blonde”.
At 6 years old you lost your leg in a farm accident. What was it like to grow up physically challenged? How did you persevere at such a young age? And what were your biggest challenges, both physically and mentally?
I adapted quickly to all the challenges that come with wearing a prosthesis. I was just a child and children are very resilient. I was determined to “be like everyone else” and make sure my peers forgot about “the leg.” Growing up physically challenged in high school was tough. Those rites of passage are very difficult without the additional loss of limb. My greatest physical challenge were constant painful abrasions on my residual limb. I had an awkward amputation which left skin and bone rubbing constantly against my prosthesis. I was constantly ridden with infections and pain. Mentally, my greatest challenge was anxiety which was a direct result of the farm accident which took my leg.
Who most inspired you when you were growing up? Who do you admire now?
As a child, I admired Mia Farrow, because she took in so many children as her own and always seemed very loving and helpful. And throughout my life, I admired my Mother who inspired me with her intelligence, grace, elegance and angelic kindness. Today, my admiration goes to all of those who persevere through tragedy with courage.
You have advanced degrees in three areas; a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College, a degree in French Literature and a Juris Doctor (J.D.). What motivated you to advance your studies and obtain three academic degrees?
The degree in French literature sprung from a passion for Paris, an appreciation of the French language and some of the greatest writers I had ever read. I went to law school thinking I would participate in the Innocence Project, a DNA based research foundation which helps free the falsely imprisoned. My language skills in French and English were strong and helped pave the way to law school.
You are a wife, mother, philanthropist and activist. How do you balance it all? What is an average day in your life?
It is a juggle! I take one day at a time and try my best in all areas. My priorities are my children and extended family — those amputees in need of guidance. Everything else comes second. An average day begins with two of my four children in my bed at 6 am. I prepare breakfast and get the children out the door by 7:30 am. The littlest child goes to school at 9 am. Then a quick run or workout and some phone calls with amputees. The rest of the day is a mix between helping with homework, a visit with an amputee or meetings to raise money for prosthetics. My days are a strange juxtaposition between domestic duties, child activities and one on one amputee work and fundraising. I travel often to hospitals. There are also work projects: filming, writing a book, and developing a natural anti-anxiety product thrown into the mix. Dinner is usually at home with the children and my husband. Story time, homework and bedtime. The last activity of the day is with my husband Reid, sharing details of our day, reading, or relaxing with TV.
You have a blended family. Do you have a secret for success to share with other blended families?
Never, ever discuss the ex-spouses at home or within earshot of your children. Children hear everything as if they were trained spies. Love and give to all the children equally but I suggest that biological mothers and fathers discipline their stepchildren VERY gently, otherwise resentment may set in.
You have been married for some time to Reid Drescher. What is your secret to a happy marriage?
Harmony in the home begins with a great marriage which includes friendship, partnership and romance. That relationship must be nurtured. Having structure in the house such as children’s bedtimes allow my husband and I to spend alone time together on a daily basis. I also believe in giving. Never calculate or keep score. If both spouses each give more, it’s a win-win. And humor! Lots of laughter at ourselves, each other and the world is one of our secrets for a happy marriage.
What is your greatest passion in life?
Health and Wellness. I believe that much disease can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle. I am very passionate about the potential for longevity and keeping the environment free from the poisons that affect our serenity and energy levels.
Tell us about One Step Ahead and your involvement with the Boston Marathon Victims/Survivors?
One Step Ahead is a foundation started seven years ago by another amputee, Amy Winters. I am the National Spokes-person. We raise money for children who need prosthetics not covered by insurance. We also create athletic environments and trips for young amputees to encourage their sense of fun and increased self-esteem. My work with the Boston Marathon began when I was called by two hospitals to visit amputee survivors. I have flown to Boston several times and hosted survivors in my New York apartment as well as visits to my prosthetist. The level of tragedy experienced by these victims is widely recognized; however, watching many of them run on prosthetics shortly after proved that evil does not prevail. My job has been not only to provide hope by example but also to show that life without limbs is limitless!
What other charities do you support and what is your philosophy on charitable giving, whether it is volunteerism, committee work, Board participation, or just helping to raise awareness?
I am on the Board of Cancer Schmancer/Trash Cancer, founded by my cousin Fran Drescher, to encourage cancer screening and cancer prevention. I am the National Spokesperson for So Gay So What which raises awareness for homosexual equality and on the Board for Life4Life melanoma research foundation. Those who have skills in raising funds should be raising money for charity; those with experience in social work or psychology are suited for peer work, and public figures dealing with any level of personal challenge have the opportunity to create high visibility for those challenges. My philosophy is to use your greatest strengths for good and to remember that each of us have unique, and special, talents to contribute.
What advice can you give to young adults starting out professionally?
Stay focused and give 150 percent. If you don’t love what you do, get out. If you are an expert in a field that you love, success is inevitable.
If you could give your children with one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do it afraid.
You are athletic and extremely fit, glamorous and in the “public eye”. What are your age defying beauty secrets? And what is your diet and fitness routine?
I follow an alkaline based diet that is largely plant based. I drink several green juices a day. It’s what I leave out of my diet which may be most telling: no sugar, dairy, meat, fried foods, vinegar and minimal alcohol. I exercise 45 minutes five times a week. I also take infrared saunas several times a week. And I have a chemical free home including my skin care products, which are also chemical free. Himalayan bath salts work wonders!
What is your greatest achievement in life thus far?
Being a mother to four children in a blended family.
Who is the most influential person you have ever met? Why?
My husband Reid. He is 100 percent honest and has more integrity than anyone I know.
What is your favorite travel destination and why?
Jamaica, West Indies. I have very fond memories of my childhood there.
What 3 things would you bring to a deserted island?
A photo of my family, a bible from any religion, and a knife.
3 words to describe your life growing up
Loving, innocent and lucky.
Three words to describe your life now
Calm, happy, purposeful.
Just Keep Dancing!
by Sharon Marantz Walsh
Given only three to six months to live, Valerie Harper has defied the odds! Icon Valerie Harper, dancer, actress, author, lung cancer survivor and brain cancer warrior, has learned through amazing daily triumphs, how to live, laugh, and yes, dance through another day.
FROM BALLET TO THE GOLDEN GLOBES
As a young girl, Valerie Harper dreamed of becoming
a ballerina. After studying dance, she made her professional debut at 16 years old, in CORPS DE BALLET, at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Following her passion, she joined the chorus, dancing her way on to the Broadway stage in such musicals as LI’L ABNER, DESTINY RIDES AGAIN, SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING, and WILD CAT.
Wanting to be taken seriously, Harper began to study acting, and in 1960 transitioned from a chorus dancer to an actress appearing in several Broadway shows.
Change was in the air in 1970, when CBS held auditions for their new TV sitcom, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Producers searched for an actress to portray a Jewish Girl from the Bronx. And so, long before TV audiences became enthralled with the life and loves of Carrie Bradshaw, there was Mary. An Emmy and Golden Globe award followed for the quintessential, screen stealing best friend Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Valerie Harper.
We loved Rhoda’s accent, identified with her over eating, followed her bad dates, and laughed at her sarcastic jokes. As with Carrie and her Mister Big, audiences across America cheered wildly when Rhoda finally fell in love and married her Joe, played by David Groh.
In the years that followed THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and it’s popular spin off RHODA, Harper returned to the stage. She portrayed the former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir in GOLDA’s BALCONY, a one woman show, and Tallulah Bankhead in LOOPED. She also appeared in films including BLAME IT ON RIO, THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and many tv shows such as TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL and SEX AND THE CITY.
AN ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY
In 2009, life-long non-smoker, Valerie Harper discovered
(almost by accident) that she had non-small cell lung cancer; this was the result of a chest x-ray that was required prior to an anticipated surgery on her wrist. During the surgery that followed, she had part of her right lung removed. Her cancer, thought to have been contained, was removed. Radiation and chemotherapy were not prescribed at that time.
Last January, CNN reported that Valerie Harper had suddenly developed slurred speech and numbness in her face. Upon further examination, doctors determined that the cancer cells from her lungs had indeed metastasized to the protective tissue of the brain and spinal column, called meninges. Her condition is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis.
LC is thought to be a rare complication, occurring in approximately 5% of people with cancer. It is usually terminal if left untreated, with a life span of four to six weeks. If treated, life expectancy is most often between two to three months. LC happens in about 3 to 5% of non-small cell lung cancer patients. Valerie’s cancer is in a sanctuary site, an area that is difficult to access with the cancer fighting drugs, currently available.
Valerie was told that she had three to six months to live. Knowing full well the considerations involved in going “public” with an illness (including loss of job opportunities), Valerie told her story with the hope of inspiring others to stay strong and “keep on keeping on”.
DR. RONALD B. NATALE & THE VALERIE HARPER CLINICAL TRIALS
In September, Valerie, her doctor, Ronald B. Natale, Medical Director of the Clinical Lung Center Program at Cedars Sinai; Tristan MacManus, Valerie’s partner on Dancing with the Stars, and Kim Norris, President of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, spoke with Meredith Vieira on her first live” Google + Hangout on Air,” about Valerie’s battle with cancer. Once again, Valerie captured the heart of America with her indefatigable optimism and announcement of her inspiring appearance on “ Dancing With the Stars”.
As we watched Meredith’s on line interview with Valerie Harper we got an intimate view of Valerie’s current reality.
Upon diagnosing Valerie’s leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, Dr. Natale prescribed high dosages of targeted cancer fighting drugs, that for the moment seem to bring Valerie close to remission. However, Dr. Natale stated that this is not a permanent cure; her cancer could become resistant to treatment and return.
In the quest for a cure and with the hope of duplicating the successful treatment protocol developed at Cedars Sinai, Dr. Natale designed a complex clinical trial, called THE VALERIE HARPER CLINICAL TRAIL. The mission was to hopefully produce remissions in other patients with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, similar to Valerie.
“Valerie Harper has been an inspiration to myself and my staff. She is exactly who she was when she was Rhoda. This thing called acting is just Valerie being herself”, says Dr. Natale. “Valerie is the greatest messenger of the message, life is precious; we wake up every morning with the assumption that we will live forever. But nobody promises us that.” The doctor advises his patients to grab every bit of life they can. And that is exactly what Valerie Harper is doing.
LIVING THROUGH DYING
“You can have a terminal disease and still function,” says Harper. She attributes this to her husband of 35 years, Tony Cacciotti, at her side in every way possible, who kept telling her to get out there and move. Valerie’s advice, “If you don’t have a Tony in your life, you have to be your own Tony, and keep moving. Not just for the cancer, but for your life.”
Luckily for Valerie, her good days and bad days are about the same. She hasn’t experienced any pain associated with her cancer since last December. “In recent months, maybe because of the good news I’ve been getting from the doctors, I no longer think of my cancer every minute,” says Valerie. “Tony and I are fighting like we used to, everything has gotten back to normal. We kiss, have fun, and laugh. Life is really more precious.” And like with Rhoda, Valerie considers a good day to be any day she can stay on her diet.
When asked how Tony is facing her ultimately inoperable cancer, Valerie replied that he is markedly improved. “We’ve looked at grave sites together, he has made big improvements about not wanting to look at death, not wanting to make a will; he has done all those things now, he is much more
encouraged.” “I am a realist,” says Valerie, “I say honey, you know there is no cure,” and he says, “There is no cure yet; if we can keep you alive long enough maybe a cure will come down the pike!”
JUST KEEP MOVING: “DANCING WITH THE STARS”
Surprisingly Valerie never asked her Doctor’s permission to do “Dancing with the Stars,” she just knew she could do it. “Valerie doesn’t want to be the one who sits on her couch watching Dancing with the Stars, she wants to be the one up there dancing,” says Dr. Natale.
For Valerie, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” was a wonderful experience. She tells us that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world. “It was a ball” says Valerie, “In fact, it didn’t feel like a competition at all, it felt like my chorus room dressing room, 50 years ago.” “When life asks you to dance, you just have to dance!” Valerie admitted that it was hard keeping up with the steps with 74-year-old knees, but felt that her partner, coach, and choreographer, Tristan MacManus was great, working with what she was able to do, while still staying true to the dance. Would she do it again? “Absolutely,” said the star, “as long as I don’t have to wear a skimpy costume.”
Valerie often thinks of her sister’s favorite quote: “laugh when you can, cry when you must; but always keep it moving.”
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT LUNG CANCER
Kim Norris, President of the Lung Cancer Association of America, told viewers that so much isn’t understood about lung cancer. In many ways it’s stigmatized. There is an unintentional belief that people who have lung cancers are all smokers, and that they brought this disease upon themselves. But in reality, 60% of patients newly diagnosed with lung cancer never smoked at all.
Statistics tell us that lung cancer is responsible for 30% of all cancer mortalities. Shockingly, lung cancer claims more lives than breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers combined, yet it receives a fraction of the funding from the Federal Government.
To learn more about lung cancer, and what you can do to help in the fight, please visit the Lung Cancer Foundation of America at www.lcfamericia.org