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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 View From the Top

This blog is about inspiration, basically.  I write about what moves me, whether it is something beautiful, silly, tragic, or just … well … something.  I hope that my mutterings are interesting, and I try to keep them concise.  After all, writing should be enjoyed, not endured.

So it’s the beginning of the year, and I am full of promise and promises.  Yes, that means I worked out this morning, by taking the dog up to the ridge after I dropped my boy at school.   Actually he jumped out of the car at the stoplight, hopped on his skateboard, and pumped toward the middle school.

All action.  All the time.  It’s what boys do.

I tried to mimic his energy up on the ridge, with the idea that I would run up the hills and walk down the back side.  You know, get the steep awful stuff out of the way as fast as possible by putting my head down and trying to forget, for a brief period, that everything in my body hurt.  The pay off, if you can call it that, comes at the top, when the pumping is over but the pain is not.   I look at my shoes a lot during this period.  And pant.

But then the pain passes.   Disintegrates like a foggy windshield heated by the defroster.   That’s when I look up and enjoy the leisurely walk down the back side, taking in the view of Mt. Tam and the houses snuggled in the green trees.

Janine and Alan are running up some steep hills lately.   And they inspire me because of it.  My wish for them in this new year – and for all of us really – is that the inexplicable grace of life sets on their shoulders and allows them, and their sweet son Mason, to walk leisurely down the back side, taking in the view.

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How Will it Turn Out?

Oh breathe, baby, breathe.

Will I land it?  Does it matter if I crash?  Is anybody even watching?

This week has been filled with a bunch of gut check moments.  Walking up to complete strangers, unannounced, and introducing them to my work.  Some look at you all leery, as if they’re not sure if they can trust you.  Or figure out what in the hell you want.  The ones that are better, the ones that smile right away because perhaps they can tell you are nervous and being authentic in your unpolished way, you want to hug.  And sometimes you do.  Really, I did end up hugging a bunch of people this week.  Because we ended up having a real connection, which would have never happened had I not put myself out there in the first place.

So here’s to jumping off the dock.  To attempting to land a triple axel.  Or dreaming up the McTwist 1260 in the first place, and throwing it again and again until you finally stick it.

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Ode to Joy

It’s hard not to be sidelined with the mounting signs.

I recently meet with someone in the cancer field, and as we talked about my 10-year-old diagnosis and how I’m feeling (which is great), she used the word “hopefully” when discussing how I’m “cured of cancer.”

I am in the midst of helping my mother create a family trust, and discussing things like “being incapacitated” at best and dead at worst.

I receive a heart-wrenching Facebook notice from a husband who is telling his friends that his wife, who is my age and has a son who is Hans age, is not responding to her treatment for her second round of breast cancer, and has been given less than an appealing outcome for her future.    He speaks of months.

The card catalog of experiences that make up my life tell me that she is not me.  That my mother is simply being prudent and smart about organizing her end of life, so that what my father worked so hard to make and she worked so hard to keep stays in the family, instead of going directly to the government.  That people get uncomfortable when taking about the future, and for whatever reason cannot help themselves but to qualify things with words that (perhaps unintentionally) deflate and terrorize.

So here in this moment, when I am starting to spin, I will write instead of words that will buoy.  Inflate.  Caress.  Boost.

My vision is that my lovely strong amazing mother will live her life as she has up to this point, riding her stationery bicycle and tending to her home, cheerfully showing up at my doorstep at any time of the day or night, until the day her heart decides to stop pumping and she slips like a red-hued leaf in autumn from the end of its branch and falls effortlessly, calmly, and dreamily to the ground.

That I will live out my life in the strong embrace of my family, in a long and varied swirling, twirling, exciting melange of people and smells and sights.

That Verna will shrug off what is currently consuming her body, like a snake slipping from its old skin, and emerge with health and vitality, knowing that what people tell you about your body and your life is an external discussion about an internal situation.

Because life – this life, our life, how life comes into being and changes over time – is a mystery.  No one knows what the future will bring.  And that, perhaps, is a gift of sorts.  We can guess all we want at what the future will bring, but is it not true that many times we stand surprised at what actually occurs.  That we never saw it coming, but it came all the same.

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