Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “July, 2019”

Shared Custody – Is Another State About To Do The Right Thing?

One of the best news stories to come across my news feed in a long time, is that it appears another state, is about to join many others in a major movement, making “shared parenting”, or 50/50 custody, the presumed position when it comes to figuring child custody.  In Pennsylvania, HB1397 was introduced on May 6th, which will hopefully be approved, making a long overdo correction to Title 23 of Pennsylvania custody law.

Title 23 breaks down to seven different types of custody, and unless both parents involved in the divorce can agree, the custody is decided by the judge via one of these seven types:

  1.  shared physical custody – the child gets equal time with both parents, just as the child had when the parents were still married
  2.   primary physical custody – one parent has a majority of the physical custody according to the calendar year (often referred to the custodial parent)
  3.   partial physical custody – one parent has a less amount of time with the child according to the calendar year (often referred to as the non-custodial parent)
  4.   sole physical custody – the most extreme custody, denying any custody of the other parent
  5.   supervised physical custody – the result of high conflict activity in the divorce or other legal issues with one of the parents
  6.   shared legal custody – both parents have the same rights to medical and educational records and appointments (only as good as the cooperation of the parents)
  7.   sole legal custody – as with the physical, an extreme ruling that takes away the rights of the other parent

As you can see, none of these take into consideration the rights of the child to have equal access to both parents.  What exactly did either parent do to the child, for the child not to have the equal rights to both parents in divorce, as when the parents were married?  The answer?  Most likely nothing.  The decisions are usually based on several other factors before the child’s needs.

  1.  attorneys that feed off of high conflict divorce resulting in rich paydays (many times averaging between $50,000-$100,000 just for the original order, not including modifications that become necessary)
  2.   proven or assumed risks to the child by a parent’s behavior (such as drugs, violence, etc.)
  3.   revenge by the parent on the receiving end of the divorce filing

Only one of those three things actually address the concern or safety of the child.  The other two are strictly selfish, and quite honestly, harmful to the child.

But under current guidelines, this is how decisions are made.  And it is up to the parent on the shorter end of the stick, to prove their worth to have any more custody time or rights, even when that parent has done nothing wrong.  The current law presumes only one parent should have the majority of the rights, even though in marriage, there were no issues.  And it is up to the other parent to fight to restore their rights… as long as they can afford to.

HB1397 in Pennsylvania will do what so many other states have done after realizing that children need both parents, even in divorce.  It will assume the rights to be equal for both parents as the starting point.  This is a win for the children.  It is a win for the many parents often on the end unable to see, or limited in time with their children.  Of course, those against, the lawyers who will lose money in less high conflict battles for custody, and parents who only seek to destroy the natural bond between the other parent and their child.

HB1397 is a start.  It needs to get passed and join the other states in this right for the children.  But two other issues that need to be addressed and gaining attention rapidly, co-parenting and parental alienation.

Co-parenting is literally what it spells.  It is raising the child in the same manner as when the mother and father were married.  It means making sure that a child (or children) are prepared for the switching of households from one parent to another.  Both parents are on the same page when it comes to medical care and issues of hygiene and puberty.  Co-parenting is continuing to raise the children with the same rules as they had always known, especially behavior.  Educational needs are still necessary to be supported equally by both parents, as well as family gathering or other special activities that both parents need to be, and should attend, whether school related or extra curricular.  And finally, the most important factor of co-parenting, communication.  Co-parenting is not one parent telling the other how it is going to be, but rather seeking input, for what they jointly feel is best for the child.  Communication makes sure that there are no scheduling conflicts, or issues that may get out of hand before the other parent is notified and involved.

Co-parenting is not trying to get an edge over the other parent for favorite status with the child.  Co-parenting is not seeking vengeance for the hurt of the end of the marriage.  Co-parenting is not about using the children to make the other parent suffer.  Co-parenting is not about finding ways to gain additional custody time, or worse, turn the child against the other parent.  Co-parenting is not about quizzing the child about the other parent, or asking the child to keep secrets.  Co-parenting is not using the children as messengers to carry conversations back and forth if the parents cannot do it themselves.  Co-parenting is not manipulating the child financially or emotionally.  Co-parenting is not eavesdropping on conversations.  Co-parenting is not notifying the other parent when an event or medical issue has taken place after it has happened.

HB1397 will hopefully pass.  This will also hopefully be the step forward to reducing the amount of conflict that arises in custody issues.  Yes, there will be situations that need to be addressed by the courts, but not at the expenses of the innocent parents who have done nothing to lose their parental rights, or the children to lose their rights to equal time with both parents.

Parental Alienation… that is a post of its own.

Jessica, The Mermaid That Beat Cancer 4 Times

The one thing that someone battling cancer worries about just as much as beating cancer itself, is the chances of that cancer coming back.  But as many of us who were diagnosed and treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma decades ago, we were given an extra concern, courtesy of our treatments.  An increased risk of a second cancer.  Of course, we are all at risk of developing a cancer in our lifetime, and there are those why may develop more than one cancer.  What I am talking about is an increased risk.

I remember the conversation very clearly.  “Mr. Edelman, we just need you to understand that there is an increased risk of developing a secondary cancer, especially Leukemia.”  My doctor was even specific about that.  As I mentioned recently in my 30th anniversary series, I did develop new Hodgkin’s (actually never really determined if it was a relapse).  But I am lucky.  Though I have had my scares with skin cancer, and have spots on my lungs, and nodules on my thyroid, nothing has turned up cancerous yet.

Others have not been as lucky as me.  I know too many who have relapsed, once, twice, three times, or even more.  Each time I would hear their new course of treatment to try to knock out their cancer, again, once and for all, I often found myself shaking my head, wondering “why” and “how much more can they take?”

And then there are those who do develop the secondary cancers, or combinations of relapse and other cancers.  As I am always honored to do, I would like to share one of those stories with you, about one of my fellow Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivors who has done just that.

Jessica is a 4-time cancer survivor.  That’s right.  A 4-time cancer survivor.  Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 11, she is one of many that have a longer longevity than me.  Jessica has two main things in her life, her sons, and her love of water.  And it is her love of water that has her refer to herself as a mermaid.  She is an aquatics specialist for Duke Diet & Fitness Center and has recently kicked off her own water fitness project.

If you are looking for motivation, Jessica will give it to you.  We are talking about someone who has beaten cancer 4 times!  And not only that, as many Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients are worried about having children because of sterility issues from the chemotherapy, she had two sons after her chemo.  Originally from New York, you can soon tell it is not just her motivational skills that she has, she is also very tough.

Jessica’s love of water, since childhood, is what often has her proclaim herself as a “mermaid.”  As she leads her fitness classes she is known to have themes.  Themes that have her dressed in appropriate swimwear for that particular class, like Rocky, Wonder Woman, or even Harry Potter.

But no matter what I can write about what she does, or what she has gone through, it is her own words that I want you to read, and be inspired by.  The following is by Jessica herself, and the website “Womenlite,” and an article on Jessica, in recognition of World Cancer Day.


“I’ve approached most of my 45 years of life with the same competitive spirit I bring to the sport and passion I love; swimming.

I was 11 years old and racing with my local swim team, The Eastern Queens Blue Devils when I had my first awakening to the fragility of life. It was the same year that I was going through the awkward changes that accompany puberty and being an aloof pre-teen, I was also quite pretentious and downright obnoxious around other children. Cancer was about to humble me. While at one of my many swim meets I had found a lump in my right collarbone area. Not exhibiting any symptoms it was dismissed by my pediatrician as part of my body changing and left until a walk-in urgent care doctor noted it after I was treated for an ear infection and I was subsequently taken to a general surgeon.

I come from a family of athletic Italian hardheads. Stubborn, proud, loving but full of insecurities and at a time when Cancer had such a taboo stigma when the results came in that a tumor in my neck was Hodgkin’s lymphoma there was an immediate retreat into secrecy. No one should know. Of course, there was the worry that people would look at me and think negative thoughts ( I still carry this paranoia and sometimes find it hard to say the word CANCER) but also the fear that I would be treated differently. Since my cancer was early stage I was treated initially with 3900 cobalt rays of radiation to the mantle region (chest and neck area) as well as the abdominal area. I had a staging lap prior to this where I was cut from sternum to pelvic region and my spleen was removed. That surgery would forever change my body and abdominal wall and leave me with a long scar that is still apparent today 34 years later.

During that surgery, a part of the bone marrow was scooped off my left hip also leaving a marked difference in my side. The radiation caused oral issues in my mouth including sores and bleeding, scoliosis in my spine, burning on my skin and degenerated muscles in my neck ( called pencil neck syndrome). What it didn’t do is kill a tumor in my chest and I was diagnosed with a relapse 3 months after initial treatment. It’s a strange feeling to have the epiphany of your mortality at the age of 12. I reacted to my parents crying and talking about sending me to other doctors for experimental treatments like I was watching a tearjerker Hallmark movie. Was this me? Were they crying over the fact that they thought I was going to die?

I was taken to two well-known doctors at a Long Island hospital and I credit them with saving my life. Dr. Kochen and Dr. Weinblatt were a power team that had decided to treat me with high blast chemotherapy known as ABVD. As the meds were administered and the doctors shared how well they were knocking out a tumor in my chest, I was feeling like my body was being battered to the point of near death. Five-hour infusions every 2 weeks with hours of vomiting and not being able to pick my head up, the loss of all my hair and the pains in my bones and the gastrointestinal system made me feel like I was wasting away. And that’s how I appeared as well shrinking to 90 lbs with a wig on my head that looked like a coconut and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy while still attending middle school and getting made fun of on a daily basis by children who are naive or sensitive to another child’s issues but would rather just see them aesthetically and enjoy targeting them in jest for their amusement.

I walked away from that second relapse with a cure. I was grateful, blessed and invigorated. I had my second chance and I wanted to LIVE. I went on to high school and became a bit rebellious wanting to reclaim my beauty and feel loved ( my insecurities were now tremendous with a scarred body and having been bald for a good part of the middle school). I continued to swim. I continued to teach it and love it. That beautiful elixir of water. It was my Linus blanket that I have my mother to thank for. She was the initiator and introduced me to it while working her job at the local YMCA years before. My sister and I followed her to work and were assistants in her classes.

I became a fish and as I grew and walked away from my 2 battles with Hodgkin’s lymphoma I felt I was growing that mermaid tale. Fast forward in time 12 years after my Hodgkins diagnoses. I had graduated college and was working in NYC at an advertising firm. A random self-body check on my right breast uncovered a hard spot near my right armpit. After two misdiagnoses and a biopsy later the determination was invasive right ductal carcinoma, stage 1. This would mark my third cancer diagnosis and my second chemotherapy protocol for cancer coupled with a mastectomy at 25 of the right breast. And I was more determined than ever to help others and to LIVE.

When I was on the swim blocks during my competitions I would always assess the competition. The girls who would engage in “smack” talk would just empower me more. I wanted to WIN. I knew I could WIN. I only saw the WIN. Id visualize it. I realized I brought that same passion to my health battles. I was in that zone. Only positive. I saw that finish line. I was getting there. First.

I went on to get married and have two children after the right breast cancer and was counselling at the Adelphi breast cancer hotline on Long Island and doing PR work for cable stations, a spot on Montel Williams, and channel 7 news. Anything I could do to help empower others and get the word out on breast cancer and how it was affecting not just older women but women of younger age brackets, empowered me. And still, I swam. I had gotten a job managing a swim program in Bayside for children ages 5 to 18 as well as received my certification as a NYS swim referee. The water was still my comfort. I bathed in its healing qualities on my emotions and my physical body..

Eight years after my right breast cancer diagnosis and after having my second son, I was diagnosed left breast invasive carcinoma. The year was 2006. I was now 33 and had two young sons and a dissolving marriage with an abusive, alcoholic husband. I knew it was time once again to ascend that swim block and visualize my win. I was treated for the third time in my life with a chemotherapy regimen. My hair fell out, my body was bloated and achy. I had now had another surgery to remove my left breast followed by reconstruction. And I swam. I kept my mind in that WIN zone. My father would remind me all the time to focus only on the good and that my thoughts translate into things. I was going to get through this and I believed it. (the word is now etched on my lower back with my father’s name running through it).

Here I am in 2019. I’m 45 and my sons are 16 and 17. I started my own business at to share my passion for water fitness and swimming and the element that carried me through it all, beautiful water. I am AFAA certified as a group fitness instructor, a WATERART certified water fitness instructor, a lifeguard, and a certified pool operator. I live every day with gratitude for this wonderful gift we call life and know that every drop of it is precious.”

Jessica, one of the thousands of cancer survivors I know, and one of the many with a longevity longer than me, like all of my fellow survivors, is an inspiration.  As someone who has beaten cancer, we often get nicknamed “survivor” or “warrior,” and to be honest, many do not like having that description, mainly because it was something that we had no choice about.  But Jessica proudly refers to herself as a “mermaid.”  And if you do your research, you will see that not all mermaids are like “Ariel” from Disney, but rather are quite tough and strong.

Jessica ends each of her classes with her trademark phrase, “Go Get This Day!”

As always, I do enjoy sharing stories of my fellow cancer survivors on “Paul’s Heart.”  Would you be willing to share your story, in your own words?  All you have to do is send me your story via email to, and in the subject, put “In My Own Words” and I am happy to share your story.  If there is one thing I have learned in nearly 30 years of survivorship, we can never hear too many other inspirational stories and you never know if it is yours that might just make the difference for someone else.

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