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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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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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Just Ask

To ask.

Why is this so hard?

Kids know how to do it.  In fact, they can repeatedly pull the “Can I …” trigger until you would image they get some kind of elbow injury.

Having been on the receiving end of the “Can I?” game, I’ve watched  how a pro does it.  The initial approach is straightforward.

He asks.  Pure and simple.  In our house, often the pro gets a reply that he doesn’t like.

So, after a minute or so, he asks again.  To his horror, he gets the same unappealing answer.

Perhaps next it is a re-framed question.  Something a bit different.  “Can I do it later?  Can I do it tomorrow?”

If he still does not receive the right answer, he adds some flair:  The add-on.

“Can I do it IF I …”  This is a savvy move, for the qualifier makes the recipient believe they are negotiating.  This is smart.  It also serves to elongate the conversation.   Fatigue sets in.

This is the time for the extreme level of difficulty.   Time to unveil the ever-so-slightly desperate switcheroo.  The “Why can’t I …” refrain.  Only the best can keep a level head and dry eye at this level.   Whining doesn’t score extra points, and actually allows the recipient to know they might have the upper hand.

Today I tried the “Can I” game for myself.  I’m not a big player.  Not too comfortable with it.  But now, I wonder why I don’t play this game more often.

Because, you know, I’m finding that most people are pretty accommodating.

So today when I asked, “Can I get you to move my book from the childrens book section of your store to right there across from the cash register where far more people will see my book?” the lady on the other end of the phone said, “Sure.”

Clearly she didn’t know the game.

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