Tag Archives: Bald Is Beautiful Initiative

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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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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The Jagged Path

                                     At 30,000 feet, coming home from St. Louis

You’ve heard the phrase:  going from Point A to Point B.   For humans, the path of choice is always a straight line.  It’s the quickest, after all.  The most efficient.  It expends the least energy, and allows you to move on to the “next thing” on your list.

Right.  The excruciating reality of life is that the straight line between Point A and Point B only happens in geometry homework and highways in Nevada and the Nullarbor Plain in Australia (one stretch of road has no curves for 87 miles).   And so the desire of doing something quickly and effectively is clobbered by the cold hard fact that life doesn’t work that way.

I mean this literally.  The act of life, whether it is manifested in a tree or a river, does not do straight lines.  Life is organic.  It meanders.

I heard a woman the other day say something that really stood out to me.  She said that we can’t force our business into a mold.  Because the marketplace will know we are trying on someone else’s clothes.  That we need to find our own voice, and make our own way in an organic fashion.   True success, she repeated, is organic.

Writing this post is another step in fully believing and processing this fact.  It comes on the heels of having a conversation with the man responsible for starting Camp Okizu, Dr. Mike Amylon.  He is a family friend, and I’ve had many conversations with him over the course of 20 years.  Mike, with the prestige of his position at Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford as a pediatric hem/onc, wanted to start a summer camp for families who were dealing with childhood cancer.  Maybe the child with cancer.  Maybe the sibling.  Maybe the whole family.

What he thought would be an easy sell to the oncology community turned out to be harder than he could ever imagine.  You see, many offices didn’t want to even have Okizu brochures in their waiting rooms, because then they would have to talk to patients about the tricky and poignant issues that arise from a cancer diagnosis in the family.   And precious few oncologists knew what to say on this topic at the time.

His idea, bubbling up organically from the work he did, was new.  He was forging his own path.  And he, like every other entrepreneur with an idea, had to hack his way through the deep brush to get there.

Today, 30 years later, Okizu stands ready to welcome yet another summer filled with humans trying to wend their way from Point A to Point B and have some fun while doing it.

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Goodbye My Lovely

It’s not often that you part ways with a member of your family after 22 years.

After graduating from college, my husband and his father traveled to an oversized patch of asphalt outside of San Francsico and spent a full day haggling with a car salesman over a certain new grey Jeep Cherokee.

Anders is an environmentalist of the first order.  Not only has he made it his living, studying environmental issues at Yale and then working for a succession of wind power renewable energy providers, but he also embraces the principles at home.  He simply doesn’t endorse in what has become known as the classic American throw-away mentality.

He uses file folders until the tabs fall off from overuse.  His affection for certain items of clothing is legendary.  One pair of shorts I purchased for him 20 years ago just last week was donated to the rag bag.  There were holes in the holes, but they still worked to cover his important bits while doing sit-ups and push-ups at home, so they stayed.

And then there was his Jeep.  The perfect car for an outdoorsy young man and his dog sidekick, the Jeep faithfully drove us both around town, and around the country.  We’ve taken epic American road trips, driving back roads cross-country from California to Connecticut, our dog Guinness resting his head on the black glove box nestled between the two front seats.  We’ve 4-wheeled through Wyoming and Montana.  We’ve driven to California’s Tahoe for skiing (gleefully shifting to 4-wheel without having to endure the elements), easily powered to the top of Old Smokey for our 7th wedding anniversary, and down to a tiny blues festival in Mississippi.  We endured decades of summer temperatures without air-conditioning, just the strong hot air blasting through the open windows and silly little triangle windows that never seemed to shut fully once they were originally opened.

We pulled people out of ditches with that car.  Slept in the back when the rains finally seeped through our tent.  And much to my utter horror, were discovered by a police officer in  … ahem … a compromising position outside of Kettleman’s City, California during a particularly lusty road trip.

The Jeep hauled treasures of every size and manner without complaint:  our 9-foot-long dining room table home from the auction house in Connecticut, lashed to the top and held up there by hope and twine.  The ridiculously heavy air-hockey table we gave Nils and Grace.  Anders’ trusty kayak.  Countless pieces of furniture lodged in the surprisingly roomy back.  Load after bloody load of yard debris destined for the dump.

The paint went somewhere in the 90s.  The seatbelt on the driver was used so many times that it lost the will to bite and hold.  An errant nail eventually slit the sagging headliner and the thin material started to hang down like the interior of a Morrocan casbah.  Ultimately Anders ripped out the fabric, leaving behind creepy stalagtite remnants of the once sticky adhesive used to hold it up.  We went through alternators and radiators and tires that my mother purchased for us when we were broke and first married.  The locks broke.  Hoses split.  Windshield wipers slowed, as if needing a nap, and after hard rains, the floor mat on the passenger side would be wet.  And yet.  Mechanics kept putting the Jeep back together, and we kept driving Hank, the name we eventually gave our big, boxy, trusted driving companion.

Friends started questioning our sanity.  After all, the average length of time of car ownership in this country is 5.5 years.  Anders saw no need.  Just as long as it would get us up the mountains in winter, we would keep it.  It was paid off, after all.

But one day mid-span on the Golden Gate Bridge, the shifter abruptly ended up in Anders’ hand, as if the gearbox had simply threw it up.  Not just the top ball, but the entire stick.

For the first time in my life, I was scared to drive the car.

So with 232,895 miles, we did what any self-respecting environmentalist would do.

We sold it to our long-time friend Agustin for $1.  He is delighted to be only the second owner of Hank, and undaunted by fixing the issues that come up with an aged vehicle.

So may the road stay firmly under you, Hank.  Ride on!

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C4YW Final Thoughts

This blog appeared on the Living Beyond Breast Cancer site today.

 

As with most things, the anxiety around something new never quite plays out and the unexpected benefits delight.  Such was my experience at C4YW this year in Orlando.  Unequivocally, it was a great conference for me to attend.

Why?

These young women were brave.  Honest.  Open.   Grateful.  Healing.  I met women smack in the middle of treatment, who had climbed aboard a plane to come to Orlando, because this conference was that important to them.  They wanted to be surrounded by other young women who understood, and learn about issues that affect them specifically.

They let me into their lives, these women, sharing their stories, the names of their children (sometimes with halting voices and tears), and their worries.  As someone just starting out selling my book, this was as real as it gets.

I was able to press 45 books into the hands of women with children at home, nurses who treat those women, and representatives of cancer support groups and national (and international) organizations who make it their business and passion to help these women.

Being an exhibitor on your own is a vigorous experience. For a total of 19 hours over 3 days, I stood up and talked to those who came by and expressed interest in my book. Gravity takes hold, and my toes, after being embraced by stylish yet slightly unforgiving footwear, swelled like ballpark franks. The second morning, instead of manning my table at an unforgivable 7:30 am until 6 pm (that’s 4:30 am for us west coast bodies!), I opted instead to get some fresh air and a run outside and slide in at 9 am.

I had hoped to go see a few of the speakers. But I learned that an exhibitor is not necessarily a participant, unless you sign up to be a participant.  Now I know.   And second, the exhibit hall, open during almost all the hours of the conference, never really quieted down.  When most participants were in sessions, there were always a few others wandering in there, and that was also the best time to talk with other exhibitors.  As business is about making contacts, this was a priceless opportunity to either meet face-to-face some of the people I’ve been emailing or talking to on the phone, or introduce myself to new organizations.  When things got slow, I introduced myself, handed over a book, and encouraged them to read my work at their leisure.

I was struck by how many of us there on the exhibit side had a cancer diagnosis behind us.  To wit:  Josh at Lymphedivas, whose sister started the company because she couldn’t stand the ugly compression sleeves offered to her.  Danielle and Angelle started Chemo Beanies because these two sisters couldn’t find something stylish and comfortable to wear when they lost their hair. Susan from the BeauBeau started a company to offer fashionable turbans to women with medical hair loss.  Although she came from  a family of women diagnosed with breast cancer, a diagnosis of Alopecia Areata motivated her. Countless non-profit organizations have been started to offer support and advice, from KC at Families Who Support Breast Cancer Survivors to Sarah at Project3One to a metastatic disease group represented by a mom and her young daughter.  Next door to me  Susan mixed personal experience with love and tenderness as she fitted women with a very beautiful (and sexy) double-arm compression garment she found manufactured in Italy.  When I introduced myself to the three ladies at the Anita booth behind me, helping fit beautiful bras and swimsuits for women who have had a mastectomy surgery, I learned that Twila was a 19-year survivor, Merri was closing in on 10 years, and Colleen, diagnosed more recently, was 7 months out.

If any participant wanted to see “life after cancer” in full, glorious view, she had to look no further than the exhibit hall and at the other participants. It pains me that there are so many young women who need a breast cancer related conference, but  there is comfort in  knowing that by offering targeted programming in a supportive environment, people will gratefully gather to see that they are not alone.

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The Giving Spirit

This is a story of a woman taking things into her own hands.  I like women like this.  I particular like this woman, because what she took into her own hands was my book.  And specifically, getting my book into other people’s hands.

I want to share this story for a few reasons.  Because this woman is so cool, and she deserves the props.  But more importantly, I’m sharing this because I hear every day from people who say they love the book … wait for it … but they have no funding.

I had such a conversation not very long ago with Sharon Leslie, a onco physical therapist from the Bay Area.   She had found out about my book when a girlfriend she works with showed her the copy I had dropped off.  Sharon listens to women “constantly” talking about their anguish over their treatment and their children.  So she did something to bring together the women in need with the book she thought got it so right.

Here is what she did.

  1. Sharon hosted a party at her home one night.  You know, a couple bottles of wine, some very nice nibbles and sweet things.  (She even invited me over for dinner beforehand, so I got to meet her whole family!)
  2. She invited to this party her girlfriend Liz who sells Silpada jewelry (www.silpada.com), which is just like www.stellaanddot.com.
  3. She asked if that girlfriend would donate 25% of her receipts from that night to buying my book.  The jewelry saleswoman was delighted to do that.  After all, she was going to sell a bunch of jewelry that night, and who wouldn’t want to help support other women going through a tough time.
  4. She then invited about 100+ girlfriends to the party (about 50 did come).    A night out.  Shopping for themselves.  Or for gifts for birthdays or holidays.  And knowing that their shopping is going to help support other women.
  5. She also put out a basket for straight donations, if people just wanted to support the idea of giving money to purchase books.

I went to the party that night, because it was in Los Altos, about an hour away from my house.  I signed 14 books that night for different guests who wanted to give them to personal friends.   Combining the $1,285 from the “straight donation” basket, and the 25% of jewelry sales resulted in 181 MORE books.    Sharon now gets the pleasure of handing out my book to anyone she thinks could use it.  No strings attached.

It’s such a fantastic idea and a 5-way win that I just had to share it.  May it inspire more such events!

Win:  for the books.  They get to work.

Win:  for Sharon because she gets to hand out a book to someone in need RIGHT THEN AND THERE when the need arises.

Win: for the Liz, because she gets to sell her goods and feel really good about donating some of that windfall to a great cause.

Win: for the friends shopping, because not only do they get the chance to go shopping in a unique way, but a portion of their purchase goes to help other women.  That they’ve never met.  But could be just like them.

And finally a big ‘ol win:  for the women with cancer.  Because there is nothing so wonderful as an unanticipated gift that will help you deal with something so very important and difficult.

So three cheers for Sharon Leslie, who took life into her own hands and has made a huge difference in the lives of close to 200 women and their families.

 

 

 

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