Thursday, March 31, 2011


FORT WAYNE, INDIANA - They come every year to play tennis, play golf, bid on fun items, laugh at fabulous outfits, and just generally enjoy the beautiful weather and company. You might be surprised to learn that the nation’s largest amateur charity golf and tennis event happens right here in northeast Indiana, but it’s no surprise to this town.

If you have time, if you like to hang out in the sunshine for a fun day that wraps up by saving lives, please consider a trip to Indiana. You get to meet amazing people, and even get special Vera Bradley gifts. Come on, you know you need a little mini-vacation! We’d love to see you!!!

See photos from last year's event!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


WORLDWIDE - Quite recently, a well-meaning person was quoted as saying that we are "winning" the war on breast cancer. This made bloggers, oncologists and families across the world cringe a little bit. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people after that made the airwaves, most of them were with people who were angry. Not upset, not discouraged, but angry.

One friend reminded me gently (well, ok, not TOO gently…) "Well what about you, Heidi? Did you for one minute think that you had won, that you had beat this thing and were out of the woods? Of course not, when your oncologist said ‘remove surgically to test for cancer’ two months ago, you weren’t surprised at all. Went ahead with a complete mastectomy. That’s NOT winning." She’s right.

The collective conscious of cancer survivors is absolutely that of a warrior nation. We know words like finite and planning, and have to think about them all the time. I go to oncology wards across the nation all the time, and we are not a group of people who are neither forgiving nor forgetting of our cancer. I’ve learned that people don’t want to settle for just the following:

  • Better treatment

  • More targeted therapies

  • A cure (really!)

What I’ve heard from the collective at large is that we want prevention. This disease is sinister, and we are no less deliberate in our plotting to destroy it.

I don’t think the statement was meant to be cruel, to be self-serving, or to be crass, I really don’t. I think it was something said in haste from someone who hasn’t been around a cancer patient in quite some time. It made me angry to read, but then I reflected and decided this; what a blessing it must be for her and for everyone. They are the ones who might have had to be in a chemo ward before, but haven’t been so in a long while. We need to not fight amongst ourselves, cancer family. We need to pull together, educate each other and get ourselves into a tight Phalanx formation to win this battle. I.AM.SPARTACUS. :) (well, at least I have gladiator sandals...)

Thursday, March 24, 2011


ENGLAND - Little Ted Rice had a rash near his eye. He is only 4 years old, so his dad was worried. He didn’t have a fever, so his dad didn’t want to rush him to the hospital. Instead, he reached out to a friend of his – on facebook. He sent a quick photo, a close up of Little Ted's face. That doctor actually made a diagnosis of acute lymphocyte leukemia – on facebook.

Now this is obviously a rare situation. Few people are blessed enough to be able to have friends who are brilliant doctors with incredible knowledge. Few people use facebook for anything more than a bragging site. This exception, however, might just well become the norm, and soon. I was recently asked to take photos and send them to my own surgeon, several hours away. Had it been the serious situation my doctor had originally imagined, I would have had to immediately get myself down there for more surgery. Within moments of sending the photo, it was discovered that it wasn’t serious and I could wait until the following week’s checkup to make the drive down.

We are in an electronic, world, my friends. Change is happening – on facebook. I have an idea! Why don’t you consider making a life-saving donation today – on facebook. :)

Photo courtesy of Cascade News.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


VENEZUELA - Eva is beautiful. By that I mean “as stunning as one woman could possible appear to be” kind of beautiful. She knew it, too. She was Miss Venezuela, and for good reason. After serving in that capacity, she became a TV presenter. Her other title is "breast cancer survivor."

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so this blog is brief. Look at these photos, and get a glimpse into her world. Not the world of sequins and glamour, but one of the road to recovery, strength and self-esteem. Thank you, Miss Ekvall, for being such an amazing spokesperson for so many.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (via Wurttemberg, Germany) - I was going to title this post either “genius” or “hair,” but found both to be too trite. Everybody knows Albert, right? His birthday is tomorrow, March 18. I promise this won’t be boring, but I do want to let you know a few things about this fella that you might not already know. Tidbits, really, but it’s my homage to a humanitarian and storied academic.

  • He has a cancer center named for him, and was on one the first to be funded by the NCI.

  • He didn’t like haircuts (well, obviously!) and said “Long hair minimizes the need for barbers."

  • Was friends with Marie Curie (she shared our desire to rid the world of cancer) and said she was the only person he knew who was uncorrupted by fame.

  • He won the Nobel Prize, just like his friend Marie.

  • He produced most of his amazing work in his spare time, after his full-time job in a patent office.

  • That little triangle symbol above denotes a change, and can apply to mass. (Google: e=mc2 if curious.)

  • He said "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

Happy birthday, sir. I hope this inspires a few cancer warriors to live their lives today as if everything is a miracle.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


TEXAS - "I found it," she told me, "and I'm scared. I've never felt anything like this and although I know the symptoms say it's probably not cancer, I'm still scared.

I've done the research online and talked to my friends, my family, and friends of my family. They all say shush-shush, no worries, things like that. I'm sure its nothing, they tell me, just go get it checked and you'll see. It's nothing, nothing, nothing!

That's what they say, with their words. But I keep looking at them as they talk, and their eyes say something else. Some panic 'oh-my-gosh-i-wont-know-what-to-say-if-she-gets-sick.' Some are planners, and they've already begun the calendar and schedule for cancer center drivers and food delivery in their head as soon as I said 'lump.'"

"So I'm scared," she tells me. Online. Virtually. Miles and miles and miles away, where I can't hold her hand or hand her a book or teach her how to wear a scarf on her head. Sometimes the world seems quite small, but on days like today, it feels like a vast and open planet. And it's a planet full of people who need comfort.

I'm waiting for her email, and I know it will say that the lump was nothing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I like blank cards. I’ve spoken with people who find them, much to my bewilderment, terrifying. Why, they say, on earth would I want a blank card when I can find one that has stuff in it already and I can just write ‘love, me’ at the bottom? It’s all done! Piece of cake!

For that very reason, gentle reader. Because it’s all done, pseudo-complete. It is one less step you have to take, another great way to save time in the day. Someone else, sitting in a card development department, thought about what to say for an anniversary. A birth. A baptism. A birthday. A joke. A divorce! A death. That’s what someone’s job is, to fill them in for you. Piece of cake!

I decided quite recently that I don’t want someone else to complete my cards. To paint on my canvas, so to speak. Sometimes it is really important to be able to say what you really feel, not just for you but for those around you. My health is one of those things. There is a growing movement among cancer patients to say things like “You know, I would really like this procedure, check up, surgery, etc. It would really help me know that things are ok.” Now of course, this is a tricky thing as we all have to navigate insurance and finances when it comes to big things like this, but it matters. The stories I’ve heard from around the world seem to be quite similar lately. People are willing to work harder to take care of themselves, and their families, and their piece of mind. Fight for yourselves, my friends. Get out there and write your own cards. Take a risk and put your honest, real emotions out there and see how it feels. Tell your doctor what you are worried about. Tell your loved ones what you need to say. Because, more often than not, life is not a piece of cake.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


LOCATION: UNKNOWN - I’ve read her posts for years now, found them quite by accident. I’ve shared her words with so many people, but I realize now that I’ve only given her to patients. A few family members of patients, but very few. There are so many more who need to know what she says, and for so many reasons. All those reasons are stated far more eloquently on her blog than I could attempt on this one.

She has a job, like so many others. People walk by her each day and see her in her uniform, watch her doing that which she has chosen as this career. Do they know, do you think, what she is thinking? If it’s 4 pm and she doesn’t flash a big smile at you as she passes in the hall, do you assume that she is grumpy or sullen? How difficult for us to realize what is actually happening.

She just closed the door, you see, in the conference room with that family. She paid witness to an oncologist telling that family to prepare, and prepare as quickly as they can. Hard, mercy yes. As hard as anything, I say this as formerly one of those family members. But do you know as you pass by her and make that snap judgment that this is the third such conversation she has had this week?

Her words are severe, stark, honest and pure. They are beautiful but sad. Clean but difficult. It might be hard to read on a regular basis, but I do suggest that you at least try a post or two, just so you know. She’s an oncology nurse. One of the millions of people who go to work every day and deal with things we don’t know about. So please be patient with everyone you see who doesn’t give you a glowing smile all the time. You have no idea what door they just had to close.

“It is that hope perched so delicately in the souls of patients that guides and humbles and sometimes saves those of us entrusted to care for them.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011


FORT WAYNE, INDIANA - You don’t know everything. Just keep that in mind about … well, about almost everything! No matter how experienced you think you are, no matter how well-versed or studious, someone can always teach you something valuable.

I went into my mastectomy two weeks ago with about as much information as the average layperson could acquire; after all, the world now has Wikipedia so knowledge is just a click away! (Just kidding, go to your doctor with medical questions. Period.) I’ve been speaking about breast cancer for five years now, having gone through allllllmost every part I thought I knew just about everything a person could go through. Chemo, check. Radiation, check. Multiple surgeries, check.

Then I was introduced to something they call "drainage tubes." I’ll not say anything more about it, suffice it to say "ouch." All of those years I had been asked about my mastectomy (which was a partial, no tubes, five years ago) and I never had a response when asked about things like tubes. And reconstruction? Never had it, just walked around like Frankenstein’s monster and didn’t give it another thought. Well, now I’ve had both. I didn’t do it for kicks, there was yet another suspicious mass found and since it was the third in a year, it was decided that a complete mastectomy was a viable option. That way, all tissue can be checked and help answer these nagging questions. (I’m happy to report that all was found to be clean and clear, yay!) But, for years I have spoken to women who have talked to me about theirs, and their reconstruction following and I could only give a sympathetic hug and utter "I’m so sorry!"

But, now I know, girls. I get it. I’m so sorry I didn’t know until now what you’ve been through! I now have a full list of things to suggest when getting gifts for a friend going into this surgery. I now can offer tips and ideas about how to make yourself feel better afterwards. Everything has a silver lining; I think for me without question, the fact that I can help more people with firsthand knowledge is it. If you find yourself or someone you love about to step into that world, here are few links to help you with questions. But again, please talk to your doctor for specifics about your particular case.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center
American Cancer Society
American Society of Clinical Oncology

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


ANYWHERE, USA - Someone sent me a link to a photo last night, and although I didn’t know one single person in the shot I knew immediately where it was taken. It’s not a iconic landmark or monument or anything like that; it was taken in an infusion center at an army hospital. Suddenly it was if I was standing right there, with the sounds, smells, images all around me. Infusion centers can do that to a person.

Please understand, these are not bad emotions. As a matter of fact, this photo made me quite happy. The nurses pictured, while they were not on duty when I spoke at this military base a few years ago, were smiling broadly and I know I’d love to meet them someday. Much like every other oncology nurse I know, they look just exactly like the kind of person you would want to hang around with if you had to sit somewhere confined in a chair for hours at a time. The walls looked exactly the same as when I had visited and met the staff and patients, the windows were streaming with the same bright sunshine as the day I came and hugged all of our military heros holding the hands of their loved ones with cancer.

It has been a singular honor and privilege for me to have spoken at some of our military hospitals and bases. It is also just as special for me when I go to civilian centers across the nation. It’s funny, I can’t tell you what I had for lunch today, but I know an infusion center when I see one, even if I haven’t been there for awhile. And in a good way, too. These are places of hope. Strength. Determination. Fortitude. Sometimes, humor and sass as well! If you are interested in seeing just how far we have come with therapy research, go visit an infusion center. Better yet, share some photos of your wonderful nurses in your center with us at and we'll share them on our facebook wall of honor.