Category Archives: Beautiful things

People, places, ideas

Defining Ourselves

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Something amazing happened to me last night.  During a track workout, no less.
The fact that I even wrote that sentence is so odd, because I don’t usually do track workouts.  Or really run that much.  But this year I’m attempting to do things outside my comfort zone.  Or just try new stuff.  I am attempting to not define myself by what has come previously in my 46 years.
Thus why I am even on a track at 6 pm on a Wednesday eve.  The tape in my head says: “I am not a runner.”  But, could I be one?  Might I actually enjoy being one?
Last night I worked hard to re-record that tape with a new message.  I pushed it.  When Kim, the coach of Team LOLA Ladies, explained that we were going to be running 4 sets of 2 laps around the track, I said to myself, “One at a time.”  When she suggested we try to do a negative split, which is either the second lap faster than the first or the second 2-lapper faster than the 1st 2-lapper, I said, “One at a time.”
I watched the disappearing back of a woman who had told us she had just completed her first half Ironman, and another tall gazelle of a woman on that first 2 lapper.  I couldn’t even keep up with them, hitting the last turn as they crossed the finish at the other end of the field.  On the second one, I asked myself to just keep them a bit closer, and to really try on the last straightaway.  I finished right behind them.  On the third one, I encouraged myself to dig a bit deeper, and passed them right at the end.
On the last one, the two girls that I had been happily following made me go first.  I didn’t want to do that, because I liked following them.  It felt more comfortable.  I mean, they were runners.  I was just hanging on as long as I could.
But the one said (and I’m not sure who, because she was behind me) she didn’t want me to pass her again at the end, because she was giving it all she had and then I would pass her.  And the other one said, “Hell, own it girl.”  Or something to that effect.
I ran faster than I thought I could those 2 laps, and it felt great.  And then Kim asked us to do one final lap.  What would it feel like, she asked, to give it all we had?  To turn the dial to 9 at some point, maybe just at the end.  How often do we get to ask ourselves to really dig deep.  She promised we would recover.  She promised no matter how much it would hurt, it would pass.  So on the last sprint lap, I bolted at the beginning, and around that second of three turns, when it started to HURT HURT HURT, the voice inside said, “You can pull up and slow now, Sue, because you’re not really a runner.  You don’t have it.”
The voice said, “You can stop.  It’s ok.”
But then I heard the hard breathing of someone coming up behind me, and damn if I didn’t want to give up.
If she could, whoever she was, I could.  So I kept going, even though it hurt so much.  And when I hit the straightaway and my breathing was all funky and raw, I gave it all I had left and turned it up to 9.  I crossed the line first.
I’m telling you, we are so much stronger than we think.  In all realms.
And today, Thursday the 29th of March, I can’t use the excuse that I’m not a runner.  Because now I am.  And I wonder where this new recording inside my head will take me.

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Finding the Sweet Spot

This is a story of renewal, perfect for the Spring.

This tree you see endowed with so many glorious orange orbs was, not so long ago, a barren and unhappy thing.  She was planted in the area of my yard most welcoming to citrus.  By that I mean it was hot, sunny most of the day, and protected from the wind.  It was also right inside the front gate, so every day, many times, I would walk by my little growing mandarin orange tree and mentally entreat her to “please grow.”  I put her on the drip system, I gave her citrus food, good earth, and I infused her with doses of iron and fish emulsion.  You know,  I paid attention to her.  And she responded.  Grew into a fine-looking specimen.  But she never, ever set any fruit.  Year after year, strong green growth, zero fruit.

The value in a fruit tree is … um … fruit.  Without fruit, it’s just a nice shrub, and in my little patch of warm, sunny yard, if a fruit tree was simply going to be a tree, then she had to make room for someone else who would provide.   But she was a healthy tree, and I’m a pushover when it comes to ending the life of a sturdy grower.  So we banished her to the backyard, in an afternoon-only sunny spot where the earth hadn’t been amended with all manner of lovely soil but rather had a clay-like consistency.    We gave her a nice hole twice as wide as deep, put her on the drip, and said a prayer.

She proceeded to drop each and every leaf, as if she was hot and needed to expose her branches to the fresh air.  Or she didn’t care anymore.  In the short order of two weeks, she went from a green, robust citrus bush to a craggy looking old lady.  The move killed her spirit.  Feeling like I had failed her, I took some consolation in knowing that I hadn’t simply ripped her out by the roots and dumped her unceremoniously into the compost pile.  We had at least given her a second chance.

But when, after a rain fall, I took a walk out the back door towards the compost pile, I noticed that my naked mandarin orange tree was adorned with delicate white flower buds.   Somehow, after jettisoning every bit of exterior life, this cagey tree was going through a re-birth.  And not just a few fruits on the maiden voyage.  Oh no, she was covered in flowers that I knew, weather and wind and birds willing, would turn someday into precious fruit.

So you see.  Sometimes we just need to find the right patch of dirt for us to fully flower.  And it might not be the patch of dirt everyone thinks is perfect for our growth.  Yet if it feeds us, then all is right with the world.

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The Universe Speaks

Call it the law of attraction.  Or karma.  Or just a spectacular coincidence.

But what would you call it if you had a conversation with your mentor about how you really really should think about speaking to others about your topic of passion, and not just in a casual way but in a Stand-Up-Before-You-And-Get-Paid fashion.  Then you leave that person and stop at the library and check out a few books on public speaking before you pick up your son to go home.  And at home the little light on your answering machine is blinking.  And the nice lady who just left you a message says how she would like you to be the program speaker for her upcoming fundraising event.

I mean, what do you call that?  Other than ah-mazing.

I’ll take it, of course.  And ask for many more helpings, please.  If all I must do is focus on what I want to happen, which is sometimes harder to do than I would like, then I should get on that.

And so should you.

Maybe we should all sit down with a pen and pencil, and just focus in on a few things here this new year that we would like to happen.  Maybe say them out loud a few times.

That way, whomever is listening can get right on the job of making our dreams come true.

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I’m Coming Out

Do you know what it feels like to come out?

I certainly don’t, but I’m trying.

Now, please, my sexuality is firmly fixed in the heter-oh category, but I’m speaking more metaphorically.  I’m not sure why this is so hard for me, but I struggle with embracing the fact that the things I care about matter.  And that expressing my point of view is valid, and shouldn’t mean I need to apologize.  Or be embarrassed.  Or worry that I am coming off as pushy.

There are so many facets to every matter, and we all have the power to stand squarely on our own convictions, just as long as we do it nicely.  With grace. Dignity.   I’d like to reiterate that point to the two rather militant ladies who set up shop across from my local market with signs of President Obama donning a Hitler mustache.  I told them that I would have been interested in learning of their point of view, except that the little hair patch they superimposed upon our Commander in Chief was offensive.  She wagged her finger at me and told me something about thermonuclear war and Russia and Israel, and that “I should be ashamed of myself” for not snuggling right up next to her and denouncing Obama, as he clearly is just like Hitler.

I wonder how successful she was pulling people to her side with that tactic.

Unlike this woman, I come from a mother who never wants to be a bother.  It’s a noble trait.  And her maternal point-of-view runs deep within me.  Although I sigh when I see her don the “I don’t want to be a bother” cloak, I do it myself.  My work now as a champion of talking to kids about a parent’s cancer means, by the very nature of the conversation, that I have to embrace my point of view and repeat it to others.

By the transitive property, that means championing myself.

So many of us are trying to sell ourselves, or our wares, or our thoughts every single day.  We struggle with, as my friend Karen so aptly described it, “the little voice” inside us that doubts ourselves, when we should be thinking of “the big voice” that carries the greater, more inspiring message we embody.

So here’s to believing in oneself.  Hip hip!  To not apologizing for our delightful points of view.  Hurray!  Because, as I tell my son all the time, if we all had the same point of view, then the world would be a very boring place indeed.

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No No

No.

I know no.

No, this can’t be happening.

No, I don’t want to lose my hair.

No, thank you, I’ll pass on daily radiation.

In truth, I couldn’t say no.  I had to figure out a way to square my new horrid reality. No matter how much I wanted to turn and flee, I had to face the music.

And yet.

Last weekend I had the chance to meet an array of women who have stomped on the word “no.”  I’ll tell you about two.

Rebecca Byrne, who along with me was chosen as a 2011 Pink Power Mom for her work as an advocate for breast cancer patients, was 13-weeks pregnant when she found out she had breast cancer.  Her doctor told her that no, she couldn’t continue her pregnancy.  She needed to terminate it immediately, and start radiation.

Rebecca pivoted out of that office and found another doctor, who allowed her to be treated for cancer while continuing her pregnancy.  Her daughter Emelia is now a happy 1-year-old, and not surprisingly, Rebecca used that same tenacity to start the We Will Not Lay Down 2 Cancer non-profit.

Karen Neblett, who heads up sales for Kids II, the company behind the Pink Power Mom program, has a different relationship to the word no.  Firstly, she doesn’t ever accept “no” as the final answer.  She likes to think of a “no” as meaning something more delightful, like “not at this moment in time.”  Things shift, she said.  Options open up.  At its essence, she said, a “no” simply means you must find another path.  The path to “yes”.

I am embracing this attitude.  Because life can be filled with people telling you “no” for a million reasons, but those who make things happen in this world simply pirouette past the word and sashay on.

So, here’s to staying nimble.  Let’s juke, jive, bob and weave around the negatives in life.

Remember, just like the Australian band Bomba said in their song “Busted”:

“Cursed is the walker who will never travel light.”

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Who Cares

Turns out, plenty. Plenty of people care, and sometimes it feels good just to see who does. As I take stock of what I’ve done in the past year, I’d like to publicly share the cancer centers where Nowhere Hair is doing good work.   I thank them for their support and for realizing that healing – true healing – comes when all members of the family are included.

Alegent Health Cancer Center Omaha, Nebraska

Alta Bates Medical Center Berkeley, CA

Baltimore Medical Center Baltimore, MD
Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center Ellsworth, ME
Beverly Hills Cancer Center Beverly Hills, CA
Bonheur Children’s Hospital Memphis, TN
Bozeman Deaconess Cancer Center Bozeman, Montana
California Cancer Care San Mateo, CA
Carol Simon Cancer Center Morristown, NJ
Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Cancer Center Los Angeles, CA
Center for Breast Care Burbank, CA
Center For Cancer Care Goshen, IL
Central Florida Cancer Institute Winter Haven, FL
CHW Sacramento Sacramento, CA
Colac Area Health Patient Library Australia
Concord Hospital Library Concord, New Hampshire
CPMC Institute for Health and Healing San Francisco, CA
Cross Cancer Institute Alberta, CANADA
Dana Farber Cancer Institute Boston, MA
Diablo Valley Oncology/Hematology Pleasant Hill, CA
El Camino Hospital Cancer Center Mountain View, CA
Ellis Fischel Cancer Center Gift Shop Columbia, MO
Fairbanks Cancer Center Fairbanks, Alaska
Florida Hospital Orlando, FL
Foley Cancer Center Rutland, Vermont
Fox Chase Cancer Centere Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Frederick Memorial Hospital Frederick, MD
Gibbs Regional Cancer Spartanburg, South Carolina
Helen F. Graham Cancer Center Newark, Delaware
Hickman Cancer Center Adrian, Michigan
Huntsman Cancer Institute Learning Center Salt Lake City, Utah
John Muir Hospital Women’s Resource Center Oakland, CA
Kaiser Permanente – San Rafael Breast San Rafael, CA
Kansas City Cancer Center Kansas City, MO
LSU Feist-Weiller Cancer Center Shreveport, Louisiana
Marin Cancer Resource Center Greenbrae, CA
Martin O’Neil Cancer Center St. Helena, CA
Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, W Virginia Univ. Morgantown, West Virginia
Massey Cancer Center Virginia Commonwealth U. Richmond, VA
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Rochester, Minnesota
MD Anderson Houston, Texas
Memorial Cancer Institute Pembroke Pines, FL
Memorial Sloan-Kettering NYC
Mid-Columbia Medical Center The Dalles, OR
Mills Peninsula Cancer Center San Mateo, CA
Mountain States Tumor Institute Boise, Idaho
National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD
Nevada Cancer Institute Las Vegas, Nevada
Norris Cotton Cancer Center Lebanon, New Hampshire
Norris Cotton Cancer Center St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Northwest Cancer Specialists Portland, OR
Northwestern Memorial Hospital Chicago, Illinois
NYU Cancer Institute NYC
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Palo Alto, CA
Payson Center at Concord Hospital Concord, New Hampshire
Pink Lotus Breast Center Beverly Hills, CA
Premier Oncology Santa Monica, CA
Providence Cancer Center Portland, OR
Queen of the Valley Medical Center Napa, CA
Rocky Mountain Oncology Casper, Wyoming
Roger Maris Cancer Center Fargo, North Dakota
Rutland Regional Medical Center Rutland, VT
Saint Anthony’s Hospital Cancer Center Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Saint John’s Health Center Santa Monica, CA
Sanford Cancer Center Souix Falls, South Dakota
Santa Monica Hem/Onc Consultants Santa Monica, CA
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Santa Rosa, CA
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Seattle, WA
Seattle Cancer Treatment & Wellness Seattle, WA
Sequoia Hospital Redwood City, CA
Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrated Oncology LA, CA
Siteman Cancer Center St. Louis, Missouri
St. Johns Health System Anderson, Indiana
St. Louis Children’s Hospital St. Louis, MI
St. Mary’s Lacks Cancer Center Grand Rapids, Michigan
St. Peters Helena, Montana
Stanford Cancer Center Stanford, CA
Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre Toronto, CANADA
Sutter Cancer Center Sacramento, CA
Swedish Cancer Institute Seattle, WA
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Miami, FL
The Angeles Clinic Los Angeles, CA
The Cancer Institute at St. Alexius Hoffman Estates, IL
Touro Infirmary New Orleans, LA
Tower Hematology/Oncology Medical Group Beverly Hills, CA
UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology Los Angeles, CA
UCSF Cancer Center San Francisco, CA
U. of Arkansas, Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center Little Rock, AR
University of Alabama – Kirklin Clinic Alabama
University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center Chicago, Ill
University of Vermont Cancer Center S. Burlington, VT
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center Los Angeles, CA
West Virginia University Hospital Morgantown, West Virginia
Women & Infants Hospital Providence, Rhode Island

Don’t see your favorite?  Give them my phone number:  415.388.2757 and tell them what they’re missing.

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The Road to “Yes!”

The train tracks from Alaska into Canada.

I am lucky enough to now be blogging for Facing Cancer Canada, which gives me an outlet to talk very much to the cancer community.  “It won’t always be about cancer,” I told Chantal, my contact there.  “My life is not all about cancer.”  She understood, and actually encouraged me to simply write what moves me, as they want to show all sides of the cancer experience.   In it, after it, through it.

This is my second blog post.

We’re a posse that understands the meaningfulness of firsts.   First time in the infusion lab.  First tug and eerie release of your here-to-fore sturdy hair.  First time hearing the solid “thunk” of the door closing as everyone flees the radiation room, yet you are left behind.

So many firsts.  So many difficult firsts.

But life has a way of evening things out.  The pendulum swings back.  The trick, it seems, is to catch it and go for a new ride.  Take a chance.  Try something new.

I am now on the side of more pleasant firsts, thankfully.  Like this past weekend, I was part of a gala event called Truth Be Told for the Premiere Oncology Foundation in Santa Monica, California.   I was invited as a storyteller, along with 10 other cancer survivors, to put a face on this disease.

I grabbed, and I swung.  I mean, I’m not a professional speaker.  I like speaking.  Do it a lot, actually, every day.  But not on stage.  And certainly not alone, without notes or a podium.  Terrifying?  You bet.   But so amazingly juicy to force myself to push through my comfort zone.

Not only did I get to simmer for 2 days with some soulful people, but I got to share my work with the audience, and ask them to consider the importance of including our kids in our cancer treatment.  In other words, saying yes to opening myself up to strangers allowed me to further a discussion that I am passionate about.

Life is just a series of firsts, punctuated by long stretches of the same old, same old.  For cancer patients, saying yes is part of the treatment.   We have to agree to some protocol and move forward.  But having an enthusiastic “Sure!” to what comes after we’re all finished with our doctor visits, that is part of the wisdom borne of a cancer diagnosis.

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Oh Daddy

He was a whistler and a whittler, and I miss him so.

Most nights, after we ate dinner, dad would sit in his chair, pick up a piece of wood and, depending on the point in its creation, would either sand or whittle with sharp as a razor knives.  Whales.  Birds.  Strange objects.  To my right on my desk is a interlinked set of ovals whittled out of some light wood.  His knife strokes are right there for me to see.

These links are symbolic.  I was born on my dad’s 41st birthday.

He was a fisherman and a tinkerer.  He taught me both.   I can still picture in my mind all the different fishing holes we visited. Our neighborhood had Square Pond, arrived at after a walk through the Connecticut woods and across a simple, open meadow.  While he would go fly fishing for Big Mama, the bass he was sure lurked in the deep, I would flit along the shore,  trying to catch bullfrogs or successfully catching tennis ball-sized Sunnies.  A longer car ride away was the place where we tried for carp, one from an overpass and another down by the river.  When I grew to be in middle and high school, we would try for salmon in Washington State, a long windy drive out to Fox Island until the road dead ended, and then an equally long windy walk past the blackberry and raspberry bushes down to the huge dock overhanging the Narrows.  Instead of the light poles with a red and white bobber, we used long, heavy salmon rods laden with herring that took all you had to whip it out there into the current.  We’d catch dog fish (which I believe were a kind of shark) that the Vietnamese fisherman who squatted for hours while they fished would take home, and every so often we would land a salmon. On every fishing trip there was a lot of casting and reeling in.  Casting and reeling in.  “Something’s out there, Sue,” he’d say.  “Just got to be patient.”  He was ever the optimist when it came to fishing.

He showed me the value of working hard.  Of trying to fix things yourself.  Of being creative in your down time.   Of telling good stories.  Of reading.

He could carve a beautiful turn down any ski hill, and perhaps his greatest gift to me, other than making me in the first place, was teaching me the same love for skiing.  He started me at 4, as I have done with my son, first in between his legs going down the almost flat hills, then watching as I shusshed down the slopes and doing the inevitable sweep of the hill behind me.

He carved me a small wooden mouse with a tiny leather tail that was pinned to my jacket or hat when I skied.  He told me it was a mogul mouse, that would help me navigate through a mogul field and not fall down.  There was nothing, he admitted, to be done about the snow snakes.  You just had to carve those turns and hope for the best.

We worked together to bring back to life a 1971 MGB-GT.  That meant many evenings after school and on the weekend, after he had played his round of golf with his buddies, we would attack a certain part of the car with the Chilton’s manual by our side and a whole heap of good intentions.  I learned to gap spark plugs.  Fiddle with duel carbs.  The crazy make-up of a disk brake system with all it’s little “shoes” and moving parts, and how to apply Bondo.  I learned with him that the electrical system on a British car is a thing of mystery, no matter what the pages of the manual say.  And that the simple touches, like the rear view mirror affixed to the right front fender, are both necessary and rakish.

He called me Chatterbox and Finella.  And George, sometimes.  You see, I was the son my dad never had.  How I wish I could hug and kiss him today.

 

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Being Present for a Present

In an age where convenience can strip away creativity, I’d like to make a plea for thoughtful presents.  You see, I’m faced with buying a 12-year-old boy a gift, and I’ve been guilty recently of taking the easy way out.  The gift card.   A present is reduced to a strict exchange of dollars.  It feels hollow, in a way, but it does get the job done.  Safeway has a kiosk right by the check-out stand that is 6 feet of colorful gift cards from every retail business around.  Certainly every giftee  – man, woman, child from infantcy to seniorhood – could use something from one of those stores.

Yeah.  But.

I’m here to tell you about a certain salad bowl that I received as a gift.  A woodworker named Lloyd General lovingly turned (literally, he hand turned it on a lathe) a massive chunk of California walnut into a work of functional art.  I just ate a salad out of that gorgeous striated brown bowl.  I have eaten or served items out of that bowl for close to 20 years.  And when I do, a tiny piece of my heart goes out to the woman who thought enough of the importance of gift buying to get it for me:  my mother-in-law Lou Ann.   It is, simply put, a five-star gift that my son will inherit when my salad eating days are done.

Now, I’ve given some wacky presents in my day.  A worm composter to my sister-in-law was an abject failure.  (I mean, who hates worms?)  But to a girlfriend mourning the loss of her husband, I gave a pair of soft-as-a-kitten cashmere socks.  I told her that if everything else was going sideways, at least her feet would feel loved.  And she could think of me, in those dark, cold days of winter, when she pulled them on and felt the warmth from my heart.

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What Pablo Neruda Said

People say things all the time.  Others write a whole hell of a lot of words.  Pablo Neruda, the poet, loves words as much as I do.  Probably more, I’d reckon.  From his Memoir, the last sentence has stayed with me since the moment I read it close to 20 years ago.

Savor this morsel:

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend … I bow to them … I love them, I cling to them, I fun them down, I bite into them, I melt them down … I love words so much … The unexpected ones … The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop … Vowels I love … They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew … I run after certain words … They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem. … I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go … I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word …  An idea goes through a compete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expected her but obeys her.”

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