Tuesday, June 15, 2010


FLORIDA AND ILLINOIS - (He lives in both.) My dad is a unique character. Growing up, his school bus would pass a gentleman every day that he considered "wild" – big, fluffy hair and no shoes in the winter. He liked that old gentleman, though, and would always give him a friendly wave. "Hello, Mr. Einstein", he would say. Yep, that Mr. Einstein. I didn't learn about this particular connection until I was well into my 20s. Dad, why would you not have told me this before? It’s so cool! Because, he said, it shouldn’t matter what someone’s name is, or what they do. You should just like them for who they are.

The first time I encountered racism in the workplace (a co-worker was anti-Semitic), he was the one I called, angry and frustrated. Why would anyone say such a thing? It's so hateful, I just don’t understand! Because, he said, they just are uneducated. If you take the time to learn about another culture, you can appreciate them. You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to support, but you at least will be wise enough to understand what is happening in the world. Never stand back and let someone be maligned if you can at all help it, he taught me.

When I was a child, he read me "Les Miserables" – one chapter per night. When we got to the part that found Jean Valjean stealing the silver candlesticks, I cried. Please PLEASE read just one more chapter, I need to know what happens!! Nope, he said. One chapter per night. Even though he read these kinds of books to his children, he still professed to be a simple man with a simple life.

When my mom got breast cancer, he became another man entirely. Formerly stoic and reserved, strict and old-fashioned (by that I mean 1700s Germany kind of old fashioned :) he became a man who realized that if you love someone, you had better tell them. Pronto. As she began to slip slowly from us, during all of that horrible time, his open affection for his children grew. I often felt that she bestowed that to him in her passing. She was always the one who said the sweet stuff, the one who acted is if just seeing our faces was a special surprise, even if we had just come in from playing outside. She was our light, our constant warm hug. So, now Dad had to assume that mantle, and to be honest, I would have never guessed that he would have tried. But he did. Now, every phone call ends with not only an "I love you" but also a big "Hey, I'm proud of you, honey." Really, Dad? I haven't done anything, just called to say hi. "Proud nonetheless," he says. And I, you, Dad. Thanks for learning to be the one that says those sweet words. Mama would be proud of you. xoxo

Thursday, June 10, 2010


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - We salute you, too. Thanks for all you do for us cancer patients, and congratulations on Lord Stanley’s Cup. Well done, well deserved.

Monday, June 7, 2010


SOMERSET, NEW JERSEY - The original premise of this event was that I was set to speak to a group of Lutheran ladies. Always a great crowd, sweet and receptive, kind and accepting. Just perfect. I like talking to people; it helps me to feel like I am making a small dent in the world. And the more funds we get, the sooner we get a cure.

So tonight I meet Charlie.(Name changed to protect, um, everyone). Charlie heard that I was speaking at this little gathering and came, on purpose, just to hear me. This is kind of a first for me, usually people have no clue who I am. Just that woman who is really too nervous to eat during the dinner, that kind of thing. But Charlie heard me before, someone had sent him a recording. He said he’d listened to it at least 5 times, and wanted to hear me in person.

I talk, I finish, I thank everyone for coming. Charlie comes over and tells me his story. His wife of many years just passed away from breast cancer a few months ago. Charlie is crying. I am crying. The lady standing next to Charlie is crying. Basically, we are all a hot mess. After a few minutes of this, Charlie just looks at me. He takes both hands, and holds my face in his hands. He says “Thank you for what you are doing. God Bless you. Stay well.” Then he walks away from me, I’m still crying.

I’m so sorry, Charlie, for your loss. I wish that someone as sweet as you could have had that lady who must have been so wonderful for a bit longer. I wish the same for my dad, who lost his wonderful lady too early as well. And Ham, and Bunnie's husband, and about 48 other men I’ve met. I hate that they are gone from your lives, hate that I was denied the opportunity to meet them. But I do love the fact that I’ve gotten to meet you. And Ham, and Bunnie's husband, too. God has blessed me, Charlie. And I will do all I can to stay well. xoxo

Friday, June 4, 2010


DETROIT, MICHIGAN - I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. I used to, I've had a few before, but now my job is spectacularly unique. Oh, I still have a cubicle, still have voice mail, still get performance reviews, still get to attend company picnics and still have to file TPS reports. What I don’t have is a clock-out machine. I've talked to enough people out there that some of you know what I mean. I was once told, "Heidi, I go home after work and I’m done. I don't think about it, don’t talk about it, I'm done until the next day. You never actually clock out.”

A perfect example of that is the airport. I am almost always alone on my trips (speaking engagements, events, etc.) which gives me an opportunity to talk to people around me. I try not to be annoying, before you ask. I speak only when spoken to, just like mama taught me. BUT sometimes there I am, at an airport. The guy right next to me in the terminal is on a call, and he’s obviously struggling. We all ignore him, as if we can’t hear every word. There are about 5 of us, sitting here with our lives intersecting just at this one point in time, most assuredly never to meet again. Trying to ignore a painful conversation between a man and his obviously ex-wife. LALALALALA we can’t hear you!!!

He hangs up, and walks away to get a coffee, sits right back down in his original seat next to me. He sees my pink ribbon, which I wear always. "Do you know someone with breast cancer?" He asks. "Well, yes, to be honest, I know probably hundreds of "someones" with breast cancer. Up to and including myself," I say with a smile. His eyes grow wide – "Really? No kidding?" "No kidding. Come on, who would joke about that? Ick." We both laugh. He whispers and says – you know, my ex-wife had breast cancer. And then his eyes get really sad.

I don't say anything, because I’m kind of a) a dork and b) way on the side of the ex-wife and I don't even know the story yet. Shame on me, whatever. Don't care, we all have our opinions. So he continues, "It just got too hard. I didn't know what to do for her, and she changed. Like totally changed." So I am still smiling, smiling at this man, and not screaming at him. Yay me. "Changed during the treatment, you mean?" I ask, quietly. "Yes," he said. "And then afterwards, too." I ask if she was still on medicine during this intolerable "change" she made him witness. "Yes," he confirms, "she is taking something for her cancer. Will have to for years."

So I turn and face him so he gets what I am saying, and gets it clearly. Like when I talk to my kids and really want them to pay attention, I make them look at me right in the face. I tell him that I, too, am on medicine that has "changed" me. It also is saving my life. "Is she in pain, do you know?" I ask him. He tells me, somewhat sheepishly, that he has no idea. So I tell him about bone pain; a common symptom of many cancer meds. And what that does to you, that pain you can’t rub away, can't medicate, can't erase. That low, constant, throbbing reminder that something you hate has invaded your body and will take your life prematurely. The exhaustion that is a fun little left-over from the radiation that will last for years. The fact that surgeries have left her body more like a road map than that of that hot 17-year-old girl you are looking at across the terminal. "Yep, she changed," I acknowledged. But if you know anyone that has ever gone into battle, they all change. We all live with the battle scars, like dark little leaves in the fall. Just laying there, so visible. So, no, your wife isn't that 17-year-old-girl. But inside of her is the woman you once loved. She’s just scared, and tired, and in pain and now totally alone.

When I'm done talking he says "Well, we are already divorced. So that's it." "Yep," I acknowledge, "that bit is done. But when you talk to her next, which you have to do for the kids, maybe ask how she’s feeling. You can't change her pain, and it might take some time for her to believe you actually care about her at all, but at least it’s a start. It might help you more than her. Being kind to people always makes me feel better." He thanks me, believe it or not, and goes to board his plane. I don't know if he will take my advice, will never know. Such is the nature of the intersecting moments. I get these moments all the time. Sometimes at 3 am I'll get a text from someone who doesn’t know what time zone I’m in but wants to talk. She’s going in to surgery soon and is scared. Do I have a moment? Yes, I do. I don’t actually clock out.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hanging Chads and Blowout Preventers

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA - Ok, what? That’s the reaction we seem to have when we first hear about something in the news that we’ve only just heard for the first time. Remember the debacle of the hanging chad? In the matter of days, we all knew exactly what they were, and how our nation was absolutely.breathless.in.anticipation of the recount of said chads. Crazy. Now, we are all getting up to speed on blowout preventers. Truth be told, I worked in the oil industry what seems a lifetime ago. I knew a few engineers who actually designed bops, and so when I heard it on the news I thought 'uh-oh.' If you are hearing it on main stream media, something wicked has occurred. Like Kuwait in the 90’s. In case you want to know, I own a red jumpsuit exactly like the one John Wayne wears in "Hellfighters," but mine has a cute little patch that says ‘heidi’ instead of ‘chance’. Maybe someday I’ll post a pic of that. Thus endeth my cool connection to the world of oil and obscure code words contained therein.

So this brings me to the little inside phrase that was used, properly, here at work the other day. My friends at the Foundation were going over some accounting codes and one was NED. It was for a group of Lutheran women that had me speak at their convention recently, but one of the ladies said, “Hey Heidi, does that mean no evidence of disease?” I said, yes, that was indeed what that stood for in my world. Yay! Learning of the secret language of the cancer patient!

It gave me pause, however. Kind of like when I hear my 7-year-old explain to her friends that some mommies die from cancer, but some get to live. She’s not sure why, but she is familiar with the concept and it makes her uneasy. So I have now taken sweet, wonderful people who don’t know the inside story. Who don’t go to cancer centers, don’t know what infusion rooms look like and couldn’t identify a radiation machine. Ductal lavage sounds like a French dessert to them, not a procedure. I’ve taken them into this dark bit of the world, and don’t know how I feel about it. Mostly guilty – these are sweeties that have healthy lives and I don’t want them to hear these things unless they have to. Don’t want them to have to hear or smell or see or think about this stuff unless or until it is absolutely required.

Then I think about Cheri. She used to be my boss here at Vera Bradley. She’s healthy (just ran a marathon, for crying out loud!), her family is healthy (thank God!) and I remember what she did for me. I say this every time I have a speaking engagement; she is in the world of fashion and sales, not medicine. But when I went for my first chemo treatment, she and another friend drove down and sat with me. Right there in the chemo room with a bunch of bald patients, crying families and wonderful nurses. She didn’t say, "Oh gosh, I don’t think I can handle this smell, or look at this group." She just hugged me and held my hand, and made me feel safe and not alone. I will never forget that kindness, it’s one of the reasons I think the world of her to this day.

So the take-away for me on this one is to allow your friends and family to learn with you on this journey, if you are going through cancer. They might be grossed out, but they will tell you when it’s too much info. If they want to learn about things, don’t worry about shielding them; just allow them to walk with you. The more people know, the more they care. The more they will do. The sooner we can get this taken care of, our daughters won't have to explain cancer to their little friends.