Tag Archives: Empowering

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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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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Oh, Those Shoes!

The little old lady had killer shoes on.  Grey high heel booties, sculptural and sleekly modern.  They weren’t stilettos, but I’m telling you, they were up there and I coveted them on the spot.  I couldn’t help but notice them because one, she was walking across the street right in front of me, and two, she also had on a pretty car coat and some sort of dress without stockings, so the booties stood out at the end of her legs.   She walked into the Tyler Florence kitchen/food store, and I was t-h-i-s close to parking the car and going in after her to ask for a photograph.

You see, I have a thing for shoes, but even more than that, I have a thing for people being interesting.  Going their own way.  Being lemmingless.  This was one interesting woman, I could just tell, because what kind of footwear she had chosen.

There are a few things in life that make you happy just by donning them, and shoes, my people, are one of those things.

I can’t help juxatapose another little old lady viewing in town, but this time she was sitting on the sidewalk, surrounded by young men in uniforms.  She was right there near the pedestrian walkway that links the Safeway to the Redwoods where a whole lot of interesting older people live.  Every Friday a whole heap of them come out with folding chairs and tambourines and drums and guitars and signs and ask people to honk for peace.  The split second snapshot I got of this woman (as I drove by in my car) was a frail little old lady looking relieved as a fireman cradled her head.  She either had wilted or fallen on the spot, and the siren from the approaching paramedics meant more help was on the way.

As I turned my car towards home, I had one of those moments when I considered what it would be like to be both the woman down on the street and then in the next moment, the stylish gal with the crazy boots on.  You can guess who I wanted to be.  And how, when I erased that vision and realized I have a lot of living between now and either of those two scenarios, that in homage to the one lady, I should always embrace wearing stylish shoes.

As if I needed another reason.

(And those shoes?  Why John Fluevog, my hero.)

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Cute. Really?

My soulful, piercing, disconsolate, smirking boy, Hans.

Having just witnessed the ball of fury that is this performance from Katie Makkai (yes, please click this link and watch the video first), I find myself wanting to give her a giant hug.  And not for the reason you might think.

Katie gets words like I get words.   She can, of course, also memorize a whole hell of a lot of them in a row, and deliver those words with such bravery and sincerity and force (and levity) that I can only sit here and wonder.

But her performance, combined with the mosh pit sample sale I visited this morning in the lobby of a business here in Mill Valley, has compelled me to write today about the word “cute”.

What a horribly overused little word.

Women shopping, no matter if they are responding to shoes or baby clothes or dishes, will nine times out of 10, utter the word when describing what they see.  Today I experienced a public bathroom that was being used as a dressing room for athletic wear, and right on cue, when a woman pulled on a top and turned to ask for feedback, the chorus would warble: “Oh, that’s so cute.”

You can hear it, can’t you?

I’d like to emphatically state that perhaps, just perhaps, a white cotton yoga top is not cute.  In fact, to my mind, precious few things are cute.  Baby animals might be the only true cute things in this world.    The yoga top in question was well-fitting.  I thought the design was unique, although it had a strange way of framing the woman’s boobs.  Her girlfriend did mention that, but still deemed it “cute.”

“Really?” said the wearer, doubtful.

How can a sex-kitten high-heel shoe be cute at the same time an Ugg boot is?  It can’t.  A sexy shoe is hot, or makes a woman look like a vixen.  It is fetching.  Or bad, said in a way that takes three seconds for that word to leave your mouth.  “Oh, girrl, that shoe is baaaad.”  Which means, of course, that the shoe is very good.

What I’m getting at is sometimes one word just won’t do it.  You need a good slew of them, to round out exactly how you feel.  As Hans is struggling to use interesting verbs to describe his writing, I am cheering for unique adjectives to seep into his storytelling.

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The Tipping Point

I am in a very interesting bitter/sweet position right now.  My work, this book that I’ve written, is, like a trickle of a river just being born, seeping away from Mill Valley.  There are some parched people out there.  People who wished they had it when.  People who know someone who needs it now.  People who are about to lose it all, and can’t imagine life on the other side.   They tell me their stories.  My very wise girlfriend tells me, “You’re allowing them to birth their grief.”

Yes.  Airing out our grief is part of what we need to do.  It’s as normal and healthy as filling our lungs with air to breathe.  But oh, why is it so hard sometimes?

I am struck by how I am at the nexus of all this emotion, and yet I am a person who doesn’t exactly emote.  And by that I don’t mean that I don’t feel, it’s just that I have a tight seal on that bubbling pot.  Before I went into therapy after I was diagnosed, the volcano would erupt every so often, and I’d be shocked at what came out.   Like who knew your throat could hurt so much with such a short yet vicious spitting of words?  Or how your whole body gets involved when anger comes out.  Sometimes, not every often at all, it was sadness and the relief from just letting it all go, and sobbing because that is exactly what every pore of your body longs to do.  To expel.  To empty.  To let it all down.

I’ve written, because I’ve been asked, of what piece of advice I’d give friends of someone who is diagnosed.  And I’ve cleverly said that even more than my book, the gift that every cancer patient (and in fact any human being in any situation good or bad) wants is for you to listen.  Just listen.

People, it is hard to listen sometimes.  It takes a certain amount of self control.  You have to not interject what you want to say, and instead just receive what that person has to give.  Sometimes it’s over in a minute.  Other times, it will take half the night.  Or 3 weeks.  Or a year.

I’ve had a number of pretty heavy conversations as of late, spanning topics and situations.  Because, that is life.  It’s sticky and messy and oh, oh, oh so confusing sometimes.  We all just want to live in peace, and that is true whether there is some foreign thing attacking us from the inside out, or a relationship that is just not firing on all cylinders like we wish it should, or a job that no matter how hard we try to make it work, it’s just not behaving.   Children.  Husbands.  Health.  Stuff.

Life.

I’d be lying if I said I am a good listener.  I am a doer.  I want to fix.  And although I just spent all those words saying that one really must just listen, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes I have this need to wade into the deep end with people.

Because if all you’re doing is being a sounding board, and you maybe have something to say that might change things (even the tinest bit), maybe that interaction or interjection could be the tipping point for change.  Because, you know, things do tip.  It may be something you read that offers a different perspective.  Or a comment from a friend that makes you ponder for a moment your position.  Or a stranger.  Maybe you’ve been teetering on a decision, and all you need is that featherlight tap to hurl you into an action that will change your life.

I just recently learned that the act of speaking raises our blood pressure from 10 to 50%.  The act of listening?  Lowers it.  So with our overall health in mind, both physical and mental, here’s to listening to each other.  What we fear.  What we hope for.  What we wish our life could be like.

Let’s listen anew.

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Being Bald

Boy, if I didn’t already know that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, I certainly have been learning that in spades lately.

Having come from a family of “Oh, I don’t want to be a bother” and “You don’t have to if you don’t really want to,” it’s taken some getting used to this idea of promoting oneself.  Like it doesn’t come naturally.  At all.

I have to be reminded by my pr savvy girlfriends that I’m trying to do good work, and part of how I can help others is by shouting from the tallest branch with the most authentic message.  And shouting a lot.  Or maybe whistling.  Or making a video that rocks the shizzocks.

So there I was at the Zero Breast Cancer Dipsea Hike event the other Sunday, having been convinced by my one girlfriend to set up a table and at least hike the course.  So I did what I was told.  I set up my little card table, put out copies of my book, and stood behind it with my cup of coffee in my hands and a big smile on my face.  I sold 2, count ‘em, 2 copies that day.  One to a teacher of young kids from Tahoe and another to a nice woman who kept tearing up when she looked at the pictures.

Not exactly a spike in sales.  But I have heard of such things, from other authors, who have talked of book signings where nobody shows up.   (Ouch!)

So I’m standing there post hike, and I notice that there is a woman who looks familiar not because she is a friend of a friend, but because I know she is on television.  Somewhere.  I know it.  And as I try to watch her without staring, her name pops into my head:  Gayle King.  That’s it, it’s Gayle King.  I know she is a television news reporter from San Francisco.   In that moment, my PR mavens jump on my shoulder and start whispering into my ear.

“Go talk to her, Sue”

“Give her a copy of your book.”

“It’s perfect.  This is a breast cancer event and you have a breast cancer book.”

I watch as she winds down from the run, as she peruses a table of free swag from another vendor, and as she goes and gets food to eat.  I try to do the mind meld where I ask her mentally to come over to my table, but that doesn’t work.  I even mention to my friends next to me, “Hey, that’s Gayle King, and she’s on tv.  Should I go and tell her about my book?”    They of course encourage this action on my part.

So, what the hell, I think.  And I grab a book, a business card, my proverbial nuts, and stride over to Gayle who is sitting in a chair flanked by some friends.

I don’t lead with “Hi, my name is Sue, ” or “Excuse me, I have something I’d like to share with you.”  I lead with “Is your name Gayle?”, which it turns out, is NOT her name.  She doesn’t offer her name, which is absolutely her right but leaves me with this terribly horrid feeling that I must have either a) thought she was someone famous and she isn’t or b) that she IS that famous person but she would rather not talk to some half-sweaty stranger obviously interested in showing her something.   The Not-Gayle woman tells me that if I’m looking for someone named Gayle, the women at the finishing table might be able to tell me whether she has come in from the hike yet.   And so I thank her for that information, and in another awkward moment decide on my next move.

“Well, I’m here, and you’re obviously moved in some way to support breast cancer awareness because you’re here, so let me show you what I’ve done.”

Thus ensued the pulling out of the book, which one of her friends asked to see and started to read with a couple of the other women.  Not-Gayle said that this is an important issue, and clearly a pretty book, and I said something about how I thought she was on television and that’s why I came to share it with her.  And that’s when she said,

“I am on television.”

And then I wanted to vomit.  Because that’s when she told me her name is Dana King, and I looked at her and her friends and smiled and realized in that split second that Gayle King is Oprah’s friend and not the Emmy-winning anchor of the CBS news affiliate in San Francisco that I was currently talking to.

So.  It blows when you make a fool of yourself.  But here’s the thing.  Dana ended up telling me that she would take the book and give it to one of the medical reporters at KPIX to check out, because “it’s breast cancer awareness month in October” and everyone is looking for an angle.  And indeed Dr. Kim Mulvihill called me a week later to ask if she could come and interview me, which she is doing next week.  When I told her about how I’d majorly blown Dana’s name, she said that Dana hadn’t mentioned that, and that she in fact had said that I was quite nice, which, Kim pointed out, is not always the way that famous people are approached at events.

So note to self.  Don’t think you know someone’s name.  Offer yours and go from there.  And sometimes being bald has nothing to do with how much hair you have on your head.  That Sunday, I was totally bald and just cloaked in my embarrassment.

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Free to Be, You and Me

Tonight was a game changer.  I sat in a room of strangers (except for Nancy) and told them my story.  Then I handed everyone a book, and we read it together.   I’m honestly too fried right now to write coherently or compellingly, but I just have to say that it was very moving for me, and it seems for everyone else as well.  On one side of me a 6-year survivor of stage 4 ovarian cancer, on the other a woman 3 months out of surgery and bald and beautiful.   A pre-school teacher was so effusive in her compliments that she almost made me cry.  I sold a handful of books, touched a number of people, and realized that tonight just might be the first night of a whole new career.  At dinner afterwards (Chinese, obviously), Hans overheard the music playing in the restaurant.  It was as perfect as my fortune.

“And you and me are free to be, you and me.”

To charting one’s own course.

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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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The Day It All Changed

She said cavalierly, “Oh, I’ve read that book.  It’s great.”

And I just about wet my pants.  Because “that book” was my book, and she wasn’t someone that I knew.

With that simple interchange, I realized that all the hard work, and late nights, and yes, the experience of having cancer as a 33-year-old young mother had translated into something transformative.

In that moment, surrounded by hats and wigs in the fitting room at A Lady’s Touch in San Rafael, where I had come to donate a book and a stack of business cards, I became an author.

I didn’t think it was possible to trump Monday, when I visited the Larkspur library, and asked if they would be interested in purchasing a copy of my book.  The librarian looked on her computer, noticed that the book was already in the system, and told me something that made me clutch my chest.

“Oh, there it is.  And it’s checked out.”

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Signs From Above

Sometimes things just line up perfectly.

I was walking up an unending hill yesterday, talking to myself about the plans for my future (actually interviewing myself about my kids book).  It felt good to be somewhere very very green, as Bequia was so very brown and dry.  Roxy, my dog, was happy to be out, and although I had made one “hail mary” call to a local girlfriend to join me last minute, I actually was appreciative of the solitude.

Of course, if anyone could see me, I looked like a lunatic talking to myself.

So there I was, huffing and puffing up the hill, all the way to the top, where I get a great view of my town and beyond.  Beautiful.  Satisfying.  I had said all the things I wanted to say to myself.  But it wasn’t until I turned around, started back down, and rounded a corner that I was met, full face on with the most glorious CLOSE and PERFECT end-to-end rainbow I think I’ve ever seen.

It was a big ‘ol cosmic HELL YA SISTER!   KEEP ON TRUCKIN’.

At least, that’s how I interpreted it.

And I even laughed out loud.  Because it was that perfect.  And I stayed there looking at this thing of beauty even after it started to rain, pretty hard on me.  Because, you know, when the cosmos is talking, you can’t start walking.

Sunshine and rain, that’s all we need.

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