Wednesday, January 27, 2010


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - It never fails; whenever something tricky is going on in my life, I miss my mama. Who am I kidding? When anything happens I miss her, tricky or not. I try not to spend too much time on the ‘poor poor me, boo hoo, I have no mommy’ side of things, but doggoneit, sometimes I just sink into that valley. When you lose someone to cancer, it leaves a very particular scar on your heart. This isn’t something she signed up for, my mom, not something she did to deserve it. She was just swimming on the shallow end of the gene pool and didn’t even know it; lost the battle even before it began.

I talk to so many people who battle this disease and every once in a while, I am asked how I can still be hopeful. How, after losing my mom, after going through it myself, how can I still be hopeful? There are two things that keep me propped up. First, I have faith. That’s a biggie, can’t go through a day without God. Second, take a look at this photo. Just your average cute kid, right? (Who am I kidding. He is devastating, he is so handsome. :) ) Well, that dimple is the second reason. My mom had dimples. When that little boy comes over and gives me a hug and I see that dimple, I know that she is still right here with me. When I look into my daughters giant blue eyes, I see my mom. When my eldest laughs and I hear that sound of perfect joy, she is there. My little ballerina has the gentle smile my mom showed me my entire childhood.

All four of my children have little bits of her, and so I know I am never really alone. This photo was taken at a cancer center; a place that for better or worse is one that my children are as comfortable in as their own home. I hate that I have to go there for my own imperfect and weak body, but I love that I go there for the strength that I am given. For the doctors that hug me, and kiss my children on the foreheads. For the nurses that talk to me just like mama would – stand up straight, eat right, we love you. And I go for my mama. Because I wish the research we had now existed then, when she really needed it. Because she would tell me that every cancer patient is worth the fight, the fundraising that I do, the tears I shed when I talk to them. Because she would tell me to do everything and more to make sure my babies don’t get this disease. Because I wish she was with me every day. And because I know she really is with me every day; I’ve got dimples to look at as reminders.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Healthy Tissue

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - Big weekend for Indianapolis. The Colts won a spot in Superbowl 44 (and I’m sure you will all recall how wonderful those Colts are). Just the day before, another big win for Indy – a huge win for breast cancer researchers worldwide actually. The above photo shows docs from IU and the ZTA sorority from Bloomington, IN. Adorable, aren’t they? More importantly, they are generous, brave and healthy. That’s the unusual part. The girls came to Indianapolis to donate their healthy tissue to contribute to an amazing new bank. There are so many people around the world who want to do something in the fight against cancer, and they feel like giving money just isn’t enough. They walk, they run, they bake, they do all the things asked of them but still feel compelled to continue. What generosity these young ladies have shown, and what courage. Having someone remove tissue from your body is never easy, but they all did it with a smile and smoothie in hand. Thank you, girls, for what you have done for all of us. And as always, thank you to those amazing docs – my prayer remains that you will have to find another field of study very soon. Your work in cancer research will draw to an end when you crack the cure. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Picking Fights

WARSAW, INDIANA - One of my little peanuts is taking Ta Kwon Do lessons and is learning some incredible things; things I hope will give her a good strong base for her future confidence and strength. One of her instructors told her that she is never – NEVER EVER EVER – to start a fight. Once pushed either physically or verbally, she has to follow simple, clear guidelines before she is to respond with physical contact. Basically, exhaust all possible avenues before you wipe the floor with them. A few months ago, I was in with a group of people discussing an opportunity that had arisen. I was the lone cheerleader, trying to get something pushed through even though I knew from the moment I walked in that it wasn’t going to happen. During that conversation, I was told “Heidi, if it was meant to be, it would just happen. If you have to fight that hard for something it’s just not meant to be.” So being the Heidi that I am, I have been thinking about that for MONTHS and just trying to let that settle in my soul somehow. I love the person that said it, I really do. But I have to respectfully disagree, and with great gusto. Here’s why. There is not one thing in my life that has come easily, and most certainly not the really really good stuff. Every one of my children has been a fight to bring into the world, all of my pregnancies were a bit difficult. I’ve had two miscarriages, so I really do know how much of a fight it is to bring them all the way here. And cancer – please. That is one journey that I can describe as a ‘fight’ and almost everyone would agree with me. Mine wasn’t the kind that one surgery would take care of, and glide through without chemo or radiation. Oh no, mine was full on. Surgery, surgery and more surgery. Chemo that hurt and made me sick and took bits of my memory and all of my savings. Radiation that gave me a fab-u-lous little rectangle suntan and made me tired all the time. I’ve fought for insurance coverage, for relationships, for jobs, for injustices and even for things like the advertised price on laundry detergent. I let things go if I don’t feel passionately about them, and just move on. But if it’s something crucial to my heart, I will just keep.on.going until I have exhausted all avenues. Right now, as we speak, someone is sending me an email or a letter telling me that they (or someone they love) have been diagnosed. They want me to respond, and always ask for some advice, some words of wisdom. I don’t have great wisdom, but I can tell you this. Fight, and fight hard. It is worth it, and you are meant to be. Exhaust all possible avenues that you have. Then wipe the floor with that wicked cancer. I’ve got a little kid karate suit, if you need to borrow it. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Much Ado About Color

This past week, ladies on facebook were asked to post just one word that would describe the color of their undergarments. This was ostensibly to raise awareness for breast cancer – but there wasn’t a call to action or anything, so people were just left wondering what it was about.It was also supposed to be a ‘secret’ from the men out there, but there are 65 million fb users, keeping a secret from half of them would be quite the feat indeed.There has been backlash, surprisingly. Some said that this was unladylike and offensive. Others were upset that there was no end objective, and therefore a pointless excursion. From my own perspective, here’s what I saw happen. “Breast Cancer” became a trending topic on twitter to explain what was happening on facebook. Komen’s fb page jumped tens of thousands of fans in mere days. People were adding to the one-word color dialog by saying things like ‘I lost mom to bcancer’ or ‘im a survivor!’. Our own Vera Bradley Foundation received many messages on twitter. Did the increased activity result in any donations? I don’t know, I don’t have the inside track to all foundations - but I can tell you this: Millions of people thought about breast cancer, even if for just a moment. Maybe some remembered, maybe some were moved, maybe some decided to participate somehow. Sure it was silly, a crazy fluke thing, not going to change any lives. But it was a fun thing to see so many people talking about this disease without looking at the calendar and seeing OCTOBER on it. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cancer Etiquette, version 2.0

After the last post, I received so many responses on email, facebook and twitter I knew that I was on the right track. I heard some even better comments (funny, inappropriate, wicked; they run the gamut) but don’t want to stay focused on the negative stuff. My response to all of those comments was to just laugh out loud, and then usually call my friends so we could laugh together.

This time, I am going to share with you some of the things I was told that are the RIGHT things to say. They are wonderful, poignant and perfect and I will remember them forever.

“Don’t be scared, Mommy.” – my daughter Alexandra, who was 10 years old at the time

“We love you. We will be your support, your comfort, your family.” – Vera Bradley Designs, a card attached to a bouquet of flowers

“I know you said don’t come, that you don’t need help around the house. Shut it.” – Debbie and Lilly, who drove 5 hours one way to take my kids to the park and clean my kitchen

“Of course we can do this. Don’t be scared.” – Dr. George Sledge, oncologist/hero/gift from God

“She’s crying because she’s been through a lot. Leave her alone.” – Dr. Robert Goulet, breast surgeon/hero/gift from God

“I’m not ready for you to leave me yet.” – my husband

“I know mommy isn’t feeling well, honey. Why don’t you tell me about your day at school?” – Barbara and Glenna, who called my house regularly to make sure we were all ok

“You still look beautiful to me.” – my father-in-law, upon seeing my bald head in the hospital

“I don’t know what I can do, but I’m coming anyway.” – my sister Heather, who flew cross country just to hang out for awhile

“I am so proud of you, and your mom would be, too.” – my daddy

“Like we would let you go through this alone. Please.” – my boss and coworker, Cheri and Stephanie, who came with me to my first chemo treatment

“Trust me. I love you.” – God

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cancer Etiquette

I find myself answering a great deal of correspondence as of late with comments like this: “My friend (sister/co-worker/niece/mom/aunt/etc) has just been diagnosed and I just don’t know what to say!”; and as a fantastic paradox, they think I might be able to supply them with some sage words of wisdom. Hilarious! As I am fresh out of sage words (but with plenty of thyme…couldn’t resist), I thought I would pass on a few tips on what NOT to say. And yes, some of them were actually passed my way by a few folks who will remain unnamed. For obvious reasons.

“WHAT are you doing in the ladies room? Oh wait, are you a girl?” – yes, if you are 6 feet tall and bald, people assume you are a boy and a basketball player.

“Gosh, I thought chemo was supposed to make you lose weight” – this one actually came from a habitual dieter.

“Really, a partial mastectomy? What side?” – from a gentleman who wasn’t looking at my eyes. ‘Gentleman’ term used loosely.

“It hardly looks like you are wearing a wig!” – hardly? I sort of look like I am wearing a wig?

“Get the purple wig, that will be the most fun” – never take advice from a 10-year-old theater buff.

“You look tired. I mean, I have never seen anyone look like that and still be mobile”
– friend. No, really. Someone I actually consider to be friendly.

“They say if you are having a boy, your backside will get really big. I think you are having a boy. Maybe it’s just the chemo.” – from someone who, if that rule applied, would be carrying quintuplet boys. For several decades.

“Do you feel that now that you have lost some of your femininity?”
– medical students. God love ‘em, they really do want to know everything.

“Come on, one little drink won’t hurt during chemo.” – Oncology nurse. Not kidding. She was plastered at the time, so that one shouldn’t count…

“Um, did you see that one supermodel who had cancer? She still looks really hot. Really. She doesn’t even look like she ever had kids, either.”
– I don’t even want to tell you who said that one.