Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Matisse Mamas

My Dear Piet

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - I was asked to join a group of fabulous women, all breast cancer survivors, in Atlanta. The party was hosted by a company with a breathtaking view of philanthropy: they really just want to make a difference for mommies who have breast cancer. The company is Kids II and they search every year for women who’s charities could use a little financial boost. So far, 40 women have seen their foundations benefit from this incredible generosity. I’ve met the people who run this company, and trust me when I tell you – they are unique in all the world. They actually.care.about.us.   

So for one of the evenings at this all-weekend party, they took us to the High Museum of Art, a superfantastico art museum. We had such an amazing time, just walking around all of that beauty. And I’m not just talking about those cancer patients, the art wasn’t bad either. ;)

I realized at one point that we, all of us, were abstract now. At one point in our lives, we were all painted by Rembrandt, Titian, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbin. All of us cancer gals were exactly as we were originally designed; not a scratch on us. At some point; however, cancer reached out its brush full out paint and splattered us. Now we are an abstract version of who we used to be, in every way possible.

But the beauty of that is the fact that we are now a new and different type of art piece. Of course we have scars. Things are totally misaligned, crooked, off center. Entire body parts have been, in most cases, removed, adjusted and stuck right back on like a crazy lego set. As I looked around that museum, I realized that we are STILL ART, however. My fellow patients were still lovely – some so beautiful the rest of us were pea green with envy (me, mostly about their shoes, to be candid). But there you have it.

We are abstract. But as a result, we are beautiful. Worth noticing. Highly valued. As a matter of fact, every day we age we become even more miraculous and worth a pretty high appraisal. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


MORTON, ILLINOIS -  You have girlfriends. We all do. What would you do for your friends, how far would you go to help her if she needed you? What would you do for her if she never asked for anything, but nonetheless had needs? 

If she was diagnosed with breast cancer with little ones to care for, a job to attend, a life to lead? What would you do? Would you look at her home and realize that it needs to be spruced, fixed, repaired, redecorated? Would you go to every store in town and do the unthinkable – tell people why you are buying floor tile, paint, etc. (so that your friend has a pretty room to recover from chemo)? Just the discussion of that topic is too hard for some. Would you, could you?

Would you stand by her every moment and encourage her, love her, push her, prod her, prop her up, stare her down, wipe her tears and smack some sense into her when needed? Would you ignore her "I’m just fine" comments and push them to the side while you take charge of being her life assistant when needed? Would you look at her face, smile and tell her she is – IS – lovely; even when she has no hair, no energy, no heart to go on? Would you scour the internet, call everyone you can think of, research until the wee small hours of the morning just to find more about her diagnosis? 

Would you put your own life on hold at a moment’s notice to drive her, fetch for her, answer for her, plea for her? Would you drive for hours with your own family to make sure her children have someone to play with and something to do during her surgery?

Would you be able to do all of these things while being strong, fearless, independent, and breathtakingly lovely? I know someone who has. The lady on the left is my beloved sister-in-law. She is flawless, and she is helping one of her best friends on her cancer journey; much the same way she came to my rescue during my journey. 

I love you, Kristy. And all the other women out there who are in your role of best girlfriend. Caregiver.  Hope provider. Strength giver. We patients could not do it without you. 

Photo courtesy of Shelbyphotography.com.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


FORT WAYNE, INDIANA -  This is the Fort Wayne International Airport in my rearview mirror.  I only get to see this a few times a month in October, most of the month my car lives in the airport parking lot. :) Am I happy to see this in my mirror as I drive away? Yes and no.

Yes; because I miss my family. I like being near them, I like hearing their voices live and not on phone messages. I like to sit down with them and watch them as they tell me about their days. 

No;  because I am afraid that most people see October as some big "call to action" and then when November hits, they are all done with taking action. I don’t like that. Today – at about midnight last night, actually – I got an alarming text telling me a stage four patient in Indiana is doing poorly. Needed prayers, comfort, compassion. I’m pretty sure this patient doesn’t care that the official action month is over, because she still needs some help. Four days ago, I met a woman who had been diagnosed that day and was petrified. Ditto for her and the October thing.

So I’m issuing my own little request to everyone. Pretend October isn’t anything. Pretend that it isn’t the big pink month. Look at the upcoming holiday season and know that there are cancer patients that will need help getting gifts for their children. That they might need help shoveling their driveways. They could use someone to walk their dog when they come home from chemo. That their little kids might like to go to see the newest movie, but mama or daddy is either too sick or too financially strapped to do it. Get the whole family a little movie gift certificate!

And then realize that there are 11 other months that they still have to keep forging on; and your helping hand could make a change in their lives that you never even anticipated. (Then send me an email of what you’ve done – I love love love happy stories!!!)

PS: For holiday ideas, check out the Foundation team's suggestions - Other Ways to Spread Holiday Hope.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


NATIONWIDE -  Oh my goodness, do I get diet tips when I am on the road.  Every week, I have at least 5 or 6 emails, chats, etc that invite me to learn about  some new fabulous thing that will most certainly rid my body of cancer cells. The good part of this is that I have a) a genius oncologist who is willing to listen to all my questions and b) many of the ‘cure-all’ items being recommended do not boast universal endorsement by professionals. Soy, however, is a recurring theme I’d like to discuss.

IT DOES NOT CAUSE BREAST CANCER, I have been assured by myriad medical experts. Does. Not. However, because of my type of breast cancer, my doctor has recommended I do not eat it. According to him, for those of us who’s cancer really seems to enjoy estrogen, it could cause problems. Some certain parts of soy may exhibit estrogen-like activity, so I just steer clear. I don’t Eat it, Drink it, Consume it at all, so please don’t send me recipes containing it. I have watched so many interactions between a well-meaning tipster trying to convince a breast cancer patient to stop eating this or that and just eat soy;  and watched the patient politely smile and try not to wince. For many women and men with breast cancer, it is just fine to have this product.  No worries, it might even have a strong health benefit! For others, however, it very well may be walking trouble so we don’t consume it.

I have found that the best way for anyone to dispense advice about food is this way:.

1)      Only give nutrition advice when asked. Specifically. About nutrition, and then just stick to the topic. Don’t waver off onto something like exercise with a patient mid-chemo. We don’t want to know how fabulous your pilates or zumba makes your backside look . Please. We are just trying to survive.
2)      Don't pretend you are a doctor, unless of course you are a doctor. Always say: "This just is something I found helped ME when I was in chemo or radiation. I have a friend who tried broccoli and it was great for her. You should just ask your onc what he/she thinks might help."
3)      We know that by eating things like steak, whipped cream, pudding, etc., we might have made bad choices. We know diet has made a difference, but we also know that those choices didn’t make us eligible to "deserve our breast cancer."  Saying something like that to a cancer patient puts you on Santa’s bad list, just fyi.
4)      Read before you advise. I don’t mean articles on the web or something you saw in the waiting room magazines while you were getting your tires changed. Read the face of the person to whom you are speaking. Is she wincing? Perhaps you are saying something that she just can’t do. Does she look like she might cry or hit you? If so, immediately compliment her on her shoes. Trust me, this works.
5)      We all know that there are some other remote countries offering other diet programs at a glamorous spa-like retreat in a beautiful setting. If we don’t have access to it, please don’t tell us. Much in the same way I am certain that the Cinderella Suite in Disneyworld exists, if I’ll never see it I don’t want to know about it. Thanks, though.

Soy specific, our friends at Livestrong have written a great post about recent discoveries in that area. 

Friday, November 11, 2011


WORLDWIDE - “World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

11-11-11 – and this is a prayer that all wars will end. Thank you to everyone who has served in the Armed Forces, they have given tastes of freedom to those who so yearn for it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


NATIONWIDE - No, no, this post is not nearly as scandalous as you might think from the title. It’s about cancer drugs, which are (in my opinion) far less trendy than something people might try to score in seedy alleys. Doxorubicin is a breast cancer drug that is short supply, believe it or not. Leukemia and testicular cancer also have certain injectable medications that are getting harder to find as well. I first heard a fellow patient complain about shortages while speaking in the south several months ago. 

Sad to say, I kind of dismissed the comment. Well, maybe it was just her local cancer center, you know?  Had to be a fluke, some sort of local issue. Then I went to New York to speak; same thing. Then to Kansas; another identical story. By the time someone attending at event in Iowa (she was from Oklahoma) shared the same news, I was in a full state of alarm. 

From a USNews article:
Dr. Richard Schilsky, past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said "this is very serious, particularly the shortage of cancer drugs." Schilsky noted: "Patients are being called everyday by their oncologist being told that they have to delay their treatment because the drug isn't available ... We have had to set priority lists of which patients are going to get treatment, because we don't always have an adequate drug supply. And it varies week-to-week; sometimes day-to-day."

The question as to why this is happening, or how it is even possible, is a subject of raging debate in the world of social media. I’m not here to speculate about the financial repercussions of manufacturers or government intervention, but I do find this topic worth discussion. Please let me know what you think, and if you are experiencing these issues where you are. The more we all learn and share, the better we can all become!

Related articles:

Thursday, November 3, 2011


HOUSTON, TEXAS -  You might not know this, but African-American woman have a higher mortality rate than most other groups. It’s a puzzling and distressing mystery, and one that researchers are struggling to solve. Thankfully, Karen Eubanks Jackson, Founder of Sisters Network Inc.,  has stepped into the role of support leader. Our friends Hope For Women magazine have introduced us to her in this month’s issue, and we are so thankful for that wonderful article. You can never stop learning, especially when it comes to something as baffling as this topic.

She is an 18-year-breast cancer survivor, and has started her work on the best basis there is — 
she just wants to help others. What a delight!