http://www.breastcancersisterhood.com/_blog/Brenda's_Blog - Dec 30, 2013 8:38:04 AM - Nov 16, 2010 11:03:13 AM
There are days when it feels as though maybe he’s clearing brush in the canyon, buying food for the deer, or he's just left a board meeting and will be home in a little while. I still think about the day he died, and what it must have been like for him. I wonder if he knew what was happening; if the dizziness he’d been experiencing gently transitioned him to the other side?
There are days when it feels as though maybe he’s clearing brush in the canyon, buying food for the deer, or he's just left a board meeting and will be home soon. I still think about the day he died, and what it must have been like for him. I wonder if he knew what was happening; if the dizziness he’d been experiencing gently transitioned him to the other side? While I will still be a breast cancer and womens’ health advocate, and keep up with each of you who’ve touched my heart, I’m now interested in all aspects of women and their lives. the difference between our needs and wants and how we see ourselves in the context of not just our towns and cities, but the world as a whole. I didn’t just lose James that day. I lost my entire family and everything I held dear. I lost my way of life. What I have in mind, I couldn’t do if James were here, but his love for me will go where ever I go. I dearly hope to hear from you as well. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Above all, please know how much you’ve brought into my life. Words cannot express my gratitude for all the things I've learned from you and the love and support you've given me. I love you dearly. Stay strong; believe in God; lift one another up; be open to miracles and possibilities and
Sunday, December 16, 2012The day after Christmas it will be two years since James died, and I’m still surprised he’s gone.There are days when it feels as though he’s clearing brush in the canyon, picking up food for the deer, or maybe he’s left a board meeting and will be home soon. I still think about the day he died, and what it must have been like for him. I wonder if he knew what was happening; if the dizziness he’d been experiencing gently transitioned him to the other side? I wonder if he hears me when I talk to him; when I tell him how much I love him and how blessed I was to have him in my life?I miss everything about James: the way he was quick to laugh; how he could read the clouds and forecast the weather and his passion for the land. Not just the land where we lived, but the curve of a neighbor’s tree and how it would be healthier and look better if it were trimmed, and how he’d love to be the one to trim it. I remember every detail of the first drive we took; how he pointed out plants like flaming sumac and doveweed; how perfectly and effortlessly he skipped flat stones across a river and how he pulled me toward him, but stopped just shy of kissing me, and oh, how I wanted him to kiss me. I miss the countless times he stood behind me under the night sky, his left arm wrapped around me, his right hand free to point out the North Star and the constellations. I miss how every day, without fail, he would tell me how much he loved me; how much he valued and appreciated me. God has put me in another state of grace, if you will, so that I’m not in as much pain as I was, but my heart will always ache for James. He’s my compass, my true north. I’m aware on many levels that he’s still with me, and I know I will see him, again. Since that first date, James has held the key to my heart, and he’s taken it with him. I still feel married and can’t imagine that will ever change, but I’m not ruling out the possibility there’s someone else out there... I can’t even finish that sentence, because I don’t know the words. What’s more, I may never be able to finish that sentence, and that’s ok. I do, however, have a yearning to try something new. The old Ramborella in me is alive and well, and she’s seeking something challenging. Remember the talk show I told you about? Well, it’s morphed into something far bigger; something that will use everything I’ve learned from all of my experiences and all of my teachers, which includes each one of you, dear friends. And if I’m to be honest, which you know I’m painfully transparent, I can’t write about cancer anymore. While I will still be a breast cancer and womens’ health advocate, and keep up with each of you who’ve touched my heart, I’m now interested in every aspect of women and their lives. I want to know what defines us and makes us grow; the difference in our needs and wants and how we see ourselves in the context of not just our towns and cities, but the world as a whole. I’m interested in women as role models, and how we’ve survived what life has put in our paths. I’m interested in whether we feel pressured to stay young, and if so, do we simply buy something trendy, or is our little voice whispering words like “facelift” and "laser peels?" At this stage of my life, I know what to expect if I keep on working at what I’ve been doing, and while I could be content with living in the middle of nowhere with my dogs, I must admit, what I have in mind is tantalizing. I didn’t just lose James that day. I lost my entire family and everything I held dear. I lost my way of life. What I have in mind I couldn’t do if James were here, but his love for me will go where ever I go. So for now, dear friends, I say goodbye, but you’ll be hearing from me, again. I dearly hope to hear from you as well. You can always reach me at email@example.com. Above all, please know how much you’ve brought into my life. Words cannot express my gratitude for all the things I've learned from you and the love and support you've given me. I love you dearly. Stay strong, believe in God, lift one another up, be open to miracles and possibilities and know in your heart that you can do anything!
Sunday, November 25, 2012 We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine, so for those of you who are struggling with cancer or are simply in need of a smile, I hope you enjoy Booker and Verlene. :) Booker’s toupee was an exaggerated version of the pompadour Frankie Avalon wore in the 60’s film, Beach Blanket BingoSeveral sizes too small, Booker’s odd-looking hairpiece sat perched on his head like a renegade dust bunny curled-up for an afternoon nap. Booker’s idea of a good time was to rattle-off names of Texas Hill Country vegetation: “Bluestem, switchgrass, sideoatgrama, purpletop and drop seed.” Just when you thought he was finished, he’d let out a long sigh and continue with “scurf peas, lespedeza, prairie clover and Englemann daisies.” In his younger years, Booker had wanted to be a barber, but the only job he could get was barbering in a nearby asylum where manic depressives, old folks with broken hips and autistic children were warehoused in dormitories like rolls of cheap carpet.
When I first met Booker, he and his wife, Verlene, had just been appointed by the State of Texas as trustees for Golden’s Nursing Home. Booker and Verlene bought run-down nursing homes and brought them up to compliance after they’d been shut down for failure to conform with state laws. At first glance, there was nothing out of the ordinary about either of them; just two country folks dressed for their day in court. Verlene wore her distinctive water buffalo hair-do, parted down the middle and flipped up at the ends, and a pair of purple sequined earrings that shimmied back and forth like flashy Cocker Spaniel ears.<PREVIEWEND>“When we first met, his eyes were so blue, it almost made your teeth hurt,” Verlene told me. She smiled and folded her hands on top of the straw handbag in her lap and nodded toward Booker as his right hand quivered in the air, swearing to tell the truth, “So help me, God.” “He’s seen so much of the world,” she whispered in my ear. Her tiny body seemed to vibrate under her dress. “I sometimes wonder when the new wears off, what we’ll have to talk about.” “How long have you been married?” I asked. “Fifty years come July,” Verlene said.Like Booker, Verlene had an appreciation for all living things: for the way an old weathered stump curled around itself, as if it were holding onto all the character it had acquired over time; the way old women can hold their head just so until they can see in their reflection, the woman of long ago. I imagined Verlene saw that woman every day. Booker had taken his seat on the witness stand and had begun testifying about the poor conditions at Golden’s Nursing Home. I tried to focus on his words, but like Verlene, his body looked like it was pulsating under his clothes. His left shoulder jumped and twitched, then abruptly stopped as the buttons down the front of his shirt rippled one after the other. I glanced at Verlene in time to see her right breast dance and spring outward like a Jiffy Pop container on a hot burner, while long strands of hair magically emerged over the top of her pearl necklace. At the same time, a small brown foot had dropped out of the armhole of Booker’s shirt and was pedaling frantically in midair. “Your Honor!” The prosecuting attorney shot out of his seat. “Once again, Mr. Booker has disregarded my instructions!“As the prosecutor spoke, a tiny head peered over the zipper on the back of Verlene’s dress. I screamed, and the head disappeared. The judge glared at me and asked if everything was all right, but the prosecuting attorney ignored us both. “Your Honor, I called their lawyer and told him they couldn’t wear these things to court.”“Wear what things?” the judge asked. “Will somebody tell me what’s going on?”“Sugar gliders,” the prosecutor said. “The witness and his wife wear sugar gliders under their clothes.”By now I had seen several heads, tails and clawed feet poking out from Booker and Verlene’s clothing. The animals scurried back and forth beneath their garments like little boys fighting under a blanket. Booker stroked one of the lumps under his shirt. “Your Honor, the last time we testified in one of these nursing home cases, my wife left her sugar glider at home, and the cat ate it.” Still not grasping what was happening in his courtroom, the judge arched one eyebrow and bent forward to scrutinize Booker. “What, pray tell, is a sugar glider?” Booker reached in his shirt and pulled out a small brown creature, then handed it up for the judge to see. “Flying possums, your Honor. They live in Tasmania.” “That may be, Mr. Booker, but they do not live inmycourtroom!” Court was recessed while Booker and Verlene worked at stuffing the sugar gliders into Verlene’s straw bag. “Good thing I didn’t bring my python to court,” Booker said. “He has an eating disorder.”I hesitated to ask: “How do you know?” “Well, he only eats one mouse a month, so I tie the front feet of one mouse to the back feet of the one in front of it until I get about four or five mice on the string. Pythons can’t chew, so it has to keep swallowing until they’re all gone.” Booker nodded and grinned. “That way, I know he’s gotten enough to eat.” Heaven forbid we should have an anorexic snake. I watched as Booker and Verlene wrangled the last sugar glider into the bag. On second thought, maybe it wasn't the last one... Perhaps I should take a closer look at Booker’s toupee.Monday, November 19, 2012Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a friend who died; a loving, well-respected man who gave of himself to everyone he met. Everyday since his illness began, I’ve prayed for him and his family, and everyday, I’ve imagined what they were going through, knowing their time together was limited. On my way to his service, I imagined what his wife and his family were thinking and feeling because I was remembering how I felt the morning of James’s memorial service. It had been four days since James’s death, since I’d last seen him, and I pictured where he was, both his physical body, as well as his soul.I knew the essence and soul of my precious James was in the presence of God, and I prayed that all was well with his soul.These last few days I’ve said the same prayer for my friend who died, but like James, he, too, was a good and faithful servant, so I give thanks that he’s in the presence of God.The day of James’s memorial service, my emotions were eerily under control. Perhaps it was because I was numb, still in shock. As I stood in the receiving line, I felt like I was comforting those who waited patiently to pay their respects instead of the other way around. I was trying to make them feel better and tell them how much James loved and appreciated themBut yesterday, at my friend’s memorial service, I came undone. As I sat in the pew, I cried and sobbed and struggled to catch my breath and not draw attention to myself. I cried like I thought I would have at James’ memorial service, and a couple of times I felt light-headed and faint. It was sheer willpower, God’s power, that kept me upright. Today I’m so very sad for my girlfriend who lost her husband. I’m sorry for everything I know she still has to face. Her husband had a long illness, but then I know what that’s like as well. While James died unexpectedly, my first husband died after a long illness. I sometimes think long goodbyes give us time to realize that living with a debilitating illness is not a life we want for our loved one, or ourselves as their caregivers. As difficult and unimaginable as it may be, most of us eventually arrive at a place where we’re ready to let them go. Whether our loved one verbalizes it or not, I think many of them come to the same conclusion. This realization doesn’t make it any easier when their final day comes; when we watch them take their last breath. It doesn’t make the heartbreak and the finality of never seeing them, in this life, any easier. I’m grateful my friend has real family who cares about and loves her, and unlike James’s family, I’m certain hers will not break apart in the days to come. Then again, we never know how people will react after a loved one dies; what things they will tell themselves that allow them to redirect their heartbreak and anger. Perhaps, instead, we should consider the day when it's our turn to find ourselves in the presence of God. Like James and our friend who died, will you be able to look at Him and say, "It is well with my soul?"Sunday, October 28, 2012 ©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved. (I originally posted this in March, 2010, but I feel the need for a little humor, so I'm running it again.) I sometimes wonder if I’m plagued with one of those trendy alphabet disorders like “OCD” or “ADD” that are favorite topics of morning talk shows. Or maybe the wiring in my brain temporarily short-circuits, causing the bimbo wires to mingle and override the common sense wires. Personally, I think it’s chemo brain, a result of my eight rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer. Regardless of the underlying cause, foods packaged in neat cardboard boxes, like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, seem to trigger a response that makes me assign them human characteristics.<PREVIEWEND>Most of us have personified an inanimate object by pointing out the “shapely legs” of a chair, or by calling an old pickup truck “a good old girl” or “a beauty,” but I have expanded the bounds of anthropomorphism one step further: I behave as though dried pasta has feelings. This typically happens when I open a box of macaroni and pour the contents into the pot. I imagine the stranded pieces of pasta glued to the bottom of the box are devastated at being left behind while their box mates go on to seek their destinies, tumbling and boiling together, soon to be a satisfying meal for hungry diners. I feel sorry for the macaroni left behind and find myself ripping open the box to free them, scraping away the remnants of glue and cardboard, then pushing them onto their boiling center stage. When this happens, I know my husband wonders if I have lost my mind, but I prefer to believe my reasoning abilities are creatively expanding their horizons: The macaroni have been together since they were first extruded from Kraft’s giant pasta machines, then spread onto conveyor belts to dry. I see the blue and yellow Kraft boxes, newly crimped and formed, jockeying for position, one after the other, their labels facing the same direction, ready to be filled with newly made macaroni. One by one, cheese packets are added, boxes are sealed, then packed into larger boxes for shipping. By the time the macaroni reach my stove, I imagine how disappointed these pasta orphans must be, stuck to the bottom and denied their birthright of being “the cheesiest.” Maybe I’ve watched too many dancing boxes of popcorn and singing colas while waiting for a movie to start, but I take comfort from the great architect, Louis Kahn, who said “a brick wants to be something more than a brick. It wants to be a great building.” Macaroni wants to be more than a dried glutinous mass. It wants to be a meal, amazing and creamy until the last bite. My husband says bimbos and macaroni have a lot in common. He smiles knowingly as he pats the top of my head. “They both want to be more than they are, but their brains are stuck to the bottom of the box.”| (Disabled) Previous commentsSunday, October 21, 2012 ©2012 L'Oreal USA, Inc.I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but the older I get, the more outspoken and interested I become in women and their well-being, especially the demographic that includes me: Women over 45. I’ve spoken with thousands of women, and I know this age group is far from grieving for our youth, empty nests or stiffening joints. Women want honest and frank discussions, not with Botoxed celebrities, but with authentic women who’ve walked in their shoes. Real women like themselves. As someone who’s considered, but never had an injection of Botox or plastic surgery, other than breast reconstruction because of two mastectomies, I want to address the cosmetic companies that want our business.<PREVIEWEND> Last month's MORE magazine had a misleading beauty cream ad, featuring actress, Diane Keaton. In the ad, Ms. Keaton appears to be the very best version of herself that we, or she, have ever seen. Not only does Ms. Keaton appear "ageless," no lines, sags or bags of any kind on her face, neck or hands, someone has removed the very things girlfriends of a certain age find appealing about her. At every stage of our lives, we've seen ourselves, and the women we know, reflected in the characters Ms. Keaton portrays. During the sexual revolution of the 70’s, she was the single woman who, unfortunately, went too far when Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and she was a neurotic twenty something in Annie Hall. We cheered when her character in The First Wives Club went from an insecure divorcee to an empowered woman, and more recently, she was the professionally successful but personally unfulfilled playwright in Something’s Gotta GiveWe love Diane Keaton because she’s always seemed like the "real deal." Like most of us, she needs glasses, has wrinkles and has kept the vast majority of the face she's earned, so why did the cosmetic company feel the need to turn her into an idealized version of herself? If a cosmetic company’s products, in fact, can make us a “Keatonized” version of ourselves, then by all means; back your trucks up to my door and keep those creams and serums coming. If, however, you're attempting to con women via Photoshop, then I’m not interested in doing business with a company that thinks so little of me. By the way, in case companies don’t know this, Diane Keaton is beautiful the way she is. The beauty and fashion industry has long undermined the self-esteem of women. Just as they've sent the message to young girls that they need to be thin to be beautiful, by digitally morphing 66-year-old Keaton into someone she’s not, the cosmetic company is sending the message that this is how women her age should look. Women over 45 are the best educated, most powerful generation in the history of the world, and it’s time companies respect that we want role models, magazines, skin care creams and clothing that are age-appropriate. We are loyal, valued customers who've survived sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; the glass ceiling; in vitro fertilization; divorce, death, cheating husbands and breast cancer. Like Chico's retail clothing brand and MORE magazine, cosmetic companies that have turned the clocks back on girlfriends of a certain age, no longer make us feel we are valued. By using ageism and false advertising to appeal to our vanity, companies are betting we’ll trust them with our skin care dollars. “Celebrating 40 Years... Because ‘you're worth it.’" Really? I think you have us confused with our wallets.Sunday, October 14, 2012 © Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't know this is breast cancer awareness month. In many ways, I've tried to run from October’s pink madness. I've put off writing a blog because once again, I didn’t want to address the controversy and the cloud that hangs over our community. All of us who are breast health advocates and bloggers have written and spoken out about the lack of moral compass when it comes to "raising awareness.” For those of you who don’t know, awareness usually translates into raising money for the cure, and too many of us know too much about where pink money does and does not go. For that reason, I’ve ignored dozens of requests from people who want me to promote their pink widgets.<PREVIEWEND>However, the one thing I can't ignore is the devastating toll breast cancer--all cancers--inflicts on those who are inexorably ensnared by rogue cells that cause destruction and sometimes death. Long after I lay down to go to sleep, I hear the words of my unprepared friend, Donna, who's new doctor, the first time she ever saw him, had the "end of life" conversation with her, or Lisa, a fellow breast cancer blogger who just learned her breast cancer has metastasized, and she wonders how to tell her children.
It's getting harder for me to write about cancer. Too many of my friends, many of whom I've met here on my website, are battling Stage IV cancer, fighting with everything they have to stay alive. I care deeply for all of them and in many cases, I love them. They are men and women I've come to know on so many levels; people I admire for their spirit and in some cases, for their sheer determination and will that keeps them alive. Others are not so lucky, but not because of their lack of will and determination.
Sometimes I think I know too much about cancer and the course it can take. I often wonder why oncologists don’t burn out more frequently than I hear about? I'd like to think diet and exercise, positive attitude and meditation will trump killer cells gone awry, but that's not always the case. Then there are others, like my friend Susan Pollack, who lived for 14 years with metastatic breast cancer. She ate red meat, never exercised and drank alcohol. Go figure!
Sometimes it's really difficult to stay positive about the future of "the cure" when everyday, people I know, love and admire are hanging on to positive thinking and determination. So, if from time to time, I write about something else, like the power of friendships on the healing process, or who knows... why the sky is blue, that's why. I know too much about this wicked, evil thing called cancer, and forgive me, but sometimes it's just too difficult to slap on a happy face and say, "we can beat this thing." But if those of you who are in the trenches can do it, I will continue to be here to honor your valiant fight. Daily, I ask God to bless each of you and your families.
Sunday, September 30, 2012 This is my little man, Sam. If you look closely, you'll see fur peeking out from between his toes, a sure sign he's a house puppy, which is fine with me. Being an indoor dog makes it easier for me to give him hugs, rub his soft silky ears and tell him how much he’s loved and adored. Sam is the only one of my four-legged family members who gets to do pretty much whatever he wants, and because he's nearly perfect, he has rarely heard the word "no." Sam captured our hearts the second we saw him. James said Sam was the only dog he knew who’d read and memorized the “Puppy Handbook.” He oozes cute and knows all the ways to make you say, “Oh... Isn’t he adorable?”<PREVIEWEND> When James first found him on our property, Sam was emaciated and had a severe case of heart worms. Even so, he smiled big; wagged his tail and pawed at the air as he danced around on his hind legs. The vet was amazed Sam had mustered that much energy and was hesitant to say if Sam would make it through the next few days, much less survive heart worm treatment. However, he was adamant that Sam wouldn’t have survived another two or three days without us. While there are those who might say, “he’s just a dog,” I haven’t met another living creature, man included, who’s consistently as loyal and nonjudgemental as a dog.For the last four weeks, Goldie’s been restricted to the bathroom except for when I take her outside on a leash. The vet said she has spinal stenosis, a type of arthritis in dogs that causes the joints in the vertebrae to swell, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and causes acute pain. With lots of luck and quiet time, she may heal. If not, I can’t allow her to suffer in pain. Recently I’ve let her outside alone, but since her mission seems to be singularly focused on chasing deer, I’ve resumed taking her out on a leash. The good news is, she’s no longer imprisoned in the bathroom, and she seems to be pain free. During the weeks she’s lived in the bathroom, my little man, Sam, repeatedly pawed at the bathroom door. The first time I let him in to see her, he walked over to Goldie, leaned his head down until their noses touched and then placed his paw on top of hers. Goldie perked up and wagged her tail, and with that, Sam laid down in the shower and stayed there for the next few days. We all value friendship and loyalty, but did you know that love and friendship is one of the most important components of healing? To have a friend, you must first be a friend, which means you must sometimes make the first move. Like Sam, sometimes all you have to do is just be there so your friend knows you care. It’s really a small gesture, but it means the world to the one in need. Last night my friend, Elaine, in North Carolina, called to check on me. She made me feel loved and valued. Thank you, sweet friend:)Is there someone you should reach out to; a person who could benefit from knowing that someone cares and thinks about them? So what if it’s “their turn” to call you? Send them an email or a Facebook message. Better yet, pick up the phone and call them. ... and thank you, God, for sending us Sam. He needed a good family, and we needed a great dog.Sunday, September 23, 2012
Isn’t it funny, the things we remember after a crisis, like what we were wearing? At the end of my junior year in high school, the girls’ PE teacher and sponsor of the Brahamadoras, a varsity dance group, called me into her office. While the rest of the school was gathering in the auditorium to learn who’d been selected as next year’s cheerleaders and Brahamadoras, my PE teacher was telling me she hadn’t selected me for a second year as a Brahamadora. She told me she didn’t like me because I didn’t suck up to her like the other girls did, and I should be grateful she’d given me this advance notice so I would be spared the embarrassment of sitting in the auditorium when my name wasn’t called. I’ll never forget the look on her face: It was cruel and smug; a smirk befitting a little dictator. Never in a million years had I seen this coming. In fact, some of my friends were speculating I would be named head Brahmadora. Instead, there I stood, in my new blue dress, speechless, trying to process the fact that I’d just been socially banished.<PREVIEWEND>That was the first and last time I wore that dress. I’d won it in a raffle at a local department store fashion show. It was very “mod,” something Twiggy would have worn on the cover of a magazine: a navy blue, sleeveless miniskirt, with a white Peter Pan collar. “Well, what are you waiting for?” my PE teacher asked. She stood up and smiled, “I have an assembly to attend. I suggest you go home.” I don’t remember what happened next, but my friend, Gayle, says I went to her homeroom and told her. The only thing I remember is literally running to Lee’s house, my other best friend, to the comforting arms of her mother.
Fast forward 20 years: I’m standing in the doorway of an emergency room in Washington, DC, wearing a pale blue dress, as ambulance attendants are shouting, “If we move him, we’ll lose him.” I’d ridden in the front seat of the ambulance as the same attendants had worked frantically to save my first husband. I could see everything they were doing as they hooked him up to bags of IV fluids and gave him multiple injections. The floor of the ambulance was littered with tape, discarded syringes, little glass bottles and rubber tubing. A nurse took my elbow and guided me away from the ambulance to a small, private waiting room and closed the door. Ten minutes later, a doctor came in and said, “I’m sorry, but we lost him.” “Lost him... “ I remember thinking, what a strange term to describe the death of someone. We lose things like sunglasses and socks, but my husband wasn’t “lost.” He was down the hall in the first room on the left. A nurse asked if I was bleeding. She pointed to the cushion I’d been sitting on. It was covered in bright red blood. She looked at the back of my dress, and it, too, had a bright red bloom that was spreading like a Rorschach test across the pale blue of my dress. “Do you need a tampon?” she asked. In a blink, the conversation had switched from “we lost him,” to a dissertation on how shock can trigger a woman’s menstrual cycle. In that moment, I was as speechless as I was in my PE teacher’s office, only I had no nearby home to run to; no best girlfriends; no mother to comfort me, just a freshly packaged tampon and a white sheet to wrap around my waist. A white sheet like the one they’d wrapped my husband in. It’s strange how we remember what we were wearing during the traumatic times in our lives. If only we could “lose” some of those memories along with the clothes. Do you remember what you were wearing during a time you’d rather forget?Sunday, September 02, 2012This coming Friday, September 7th at 8-9pm EST, Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) will hold it’s third, live, primetime television fundraiser to underwrite new ways to develop cancer breakthroughs. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and several cable channels will donate one hour of simultaneous, commercial-free television that includes a phone bank that will allows callers to interact with the biggest A-list celebrities in entertainment. Started in 2008 by a group of visionary women, including the late film producer, Laura Ziskin, who died of metastatic breast cancer; Sherry Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures, and advertising executives Rusty Robertson and Sue Schwartz, SU2C hopes to accelerate collaborative and innovative research by bringing together the best and the brightest cancer scientists.<PREVIEWEND>Instead of competing with one another for cancer research dollars, the SU2C “Dream Teams,” made up of scientists, clinicians, bioengineers, molecular biologists and other experts, are working together to move research from the lab to the patient in record time. Some of the areas the SU2C Dream Teams are working on are: • More effective, less toxic therapies for three major breast cancer subtypes • Identifying predictive biomarkers & effective drug combinations to treat breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer • Precision therapy for advanced prostate cancer • Personalized target/therapy identification in patients with BRAFwt metastatic melanoma • Cutting off the fuel supply to pancreatic cancer One of the areas that interests me is spearheaded by the Epigenetics Dream Team. They are concentrating on self-renewing cancer cells, commonly known as cancer stem cells. These cells often escape, evade and become resistant to cancer treatment. Researchers believe that by developing therapies that can target and strike cancer stem cells, they may “silence” key genes that permit cancer to exist and flourish. Another Dream Team is working on a Circulating Tumor Cell Chip (CTC-Chip). Cancers typically develop in an organ but spread, or metastasize, through the bloodstream. These circulating tumor cells that spread from the primary tumor are extraordinarily rare. By developing a CTC-Chip the size of a business card and containing 78,000 microscopic columns, each coated with a special material, researchers hope they can “catch” a circulating tumor cell, while allowing normal blood cells to flow through unimpeded. By using something like the CTC-Chip, the Dream Team hopes to be able to detect primary and metastatic cancers earlier and less invasively, as well as determine whether a tumor is responding to treatment. Unlike the Susan G. Komen Foundation, 100% of SU2C publicly raised funds goes directly into research grants. Since Stand Up to Cancer was founded in 2008, they have granted over $109M to seven Dream Teams, along with 26 high-risk, high-reward Innovative Research Grants. SU2C’s administrative expenses and overhead is paid for by a portion of funds raised from major donations and third-party fundraising. The Stand Up to Cancer Dream Teams believe they are at a pivotal moment when scientists have the knowledge and the technology to make the breakthroughs that are critical in the fight against cancer. From everything I know, other than the Love/Avon Army of Women, the continued funding of Stand Up to Cancer is one of the most important things you can do with your donation dollars. I hope you’ll consider taking out your checkbook and joining them this Friday, September 7, to Stand Up to Cancer!Tuesday, August 28, 2012 ©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved. Can you see that? It's rain, rolling in rivulets off my roof! Ordinary and yet, sometimes rare, rain! Granted, it didn't last more than five minutes, but I hurriedly removed the cushions from the chairs and then stood in the doorway and smiled. Rain! Our cracked dry earth is drinking it in like the life-giving elixir it is. What is it about the smell of fresh rain? Do you suppose that loamy, earthy smell is universal, or does Marie's rain in Ireland have a different smell than Philippa’s rain in Myanmar or mine in South Texas?Tuesday, August 28, 2012 ©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved. As a part of continuing my friend, Marie’s, challenge to photograph and write about the “ordinary,” let me say I’m not sure anything about yesterday was ordinary. The day began in the limestone courthouse of my little town. After several hours of listening to testimony in a case James had been an integral part of, and that affects me and my neighbors and our right to enforce our deed restrictions, I had to leave to check on Goldie. My girl is on pain meds and is restricted to the smallest room of my Little House, the bathroom. For now, all I can say is there’s a real possibility I may have to send my best girl to live with God, and I’m not ready, yet, to think about losing another family member.<PREVIEWEND> After checking on Goldie, I headed into San Antonio for an appointment with the dermatologist. Because I carry the BRCA2+ breast cancer gene, which means I’m predisposed to melanoma, once a year “Dr. Humorless,” cryogenic bottle in one hand, and a magnifying glass dropped down over his glasses, checks every inch of me. I think he enjoys it, but I’m not sure whether “it” is my naked body or the process of freezing off suspicious moles. If I had to guess, I’d say the freezing part gets Dr. Humorless’s juices flowing, if you know what I mean. It’s just the way his one, magnified Mr. Magoo eye looks up at me, as if to say, “Heh, heh, heh, little girl.” Reminiscent of Hannibal Lector, he makes me wonder if my moles would go well with “some fava beans and a nice chianti.” My next stop was a television studio to shoot a spot for Cure Fur Cancer, an upcoming fur fashion show and cancer fundraiser. You would have thought I would be a pro at this, but I was terrible! When I started talking about cancer and the devastating affect it has on families, I was emotional toast! No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat. It wasn’t just that I was talking about how families are pulled apart by cancer. My emotions about James, and the case he worked so hard on and the prospect of losing Goldie, were all jumbled up together with cancer families. Carol Glaze, owner of Morris Kaye & Sons Furs, was so gracious about my on camera ineptness. Thank you, Carol. Each year Carol does an amazing job of rounding up ever more awesome auction items and then making it easy for people to bid lots of money for them. If you’re in the San Antonio area and would like to join us, September 15th, or donate money to Cure Fur Cancer, come on down! By the end of the day, I’d put 150 miles on my car, but not before I stopped at a favorite place for a quick bite to eat. What could be more ordinary and basic than a simple meal of water, that when really cold, has the texture of velvet; goat cheese and basil pesto; fruit and crackers and prosciutto and fontina paninis? Considering my long, disjointed day, it was exactly what I needed. The Fonze would have said it was “Perfectamundo.”Sunday, August 26, 2012 ©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved. For most of my life my camera has been an appendage I’ve rarely been without, but since James died, it has languished, unused, in the bottom of my purse. The fact that my camera’s been relegated to a purse is extraordinary in and of itself, especially considering that until a few years ago, I rarely owned or carried a purse... only camera cases.<PREVIEWEND> Recently, however, when friends came to visit, I pulled my neglected camera out of my bag. It felt good to have a camera in my hands, again. It was particularly timely because my friend, Marie, has challenged her fellow breast cancer bloggers to capture, in photographs, the ordinary things around them and post them to their blog each day for a week. While I may not post everyday, I’ve accepted Marie’s challenge. So, dear readers, this means you’ll be hearing from me a lot this week. One of the places I took my friends, and my camera, was to Mission San Jose, an historic compound many of us locals take for granted. While it may have become commonplace for many, it is anything but ordinary. Mission San Jose was a walled community built in 1720, on the banks of the San Antonio River. To see it now, lovingly restored, it’s easy to imagine it as a bustling outpost on the Spanish frontier. Inside high stone walls, Franciscan missionaries worked to convert 350 indigenous Indians to Christianity, while outside the walls, residents built an aqueduct, tended crops, worked in the granary, raised livestock and defended themselves against marauding Apaches and Comanches. Even though the Mission was at the very core of their ability to survive, I can’t help but wonder if the residents got so they took their Mission for granted? How quickly did they forget the hardships of living in thatch and mud structures, trying to survive on their own? After a while, it’s easy to take even the most splendid of surroundings for granted. They become commonplace and ordinary, making it easier for us to focus on their flaws and shortcomings. This week, my camera will no longer be the thing that makes my purse heavy. Instead, it will go back to being a creative part of my heart and soul; the way I celebrate and separate the ordinary from the extraordinary. Is there something, or someone, you’ve taken for granted? Perhaps it’s time to celebrate what’s become ordinary in your life, especially if it’s life itself.Monday, August 20, 2012 Last week, Elly Cohen, Ph.D. gave me an online tour of BreastCancerTrials.org. As Program Director for the site, as well as Asst Professor at the University of California San Francisco, Department of Surgery (UCSF), Elly and her team have worked hard to develop a resource for those seeking further Stage IV breast cancer treatment.<PREVIEWEND> BreastCancerTrials.org was originally based on a patient idea: Since many physicians don’t discuss clinical trials with their patients, the study wanted to know whether women could self-report their breast cancer history online (age, type of cancer, pre or post menopausal, bio marker status, mets/no mets and treatment to date), and match their history with an accurate clinical trial that suited their needs? In 2008, the nationwide personalized matching service was launched as a collaborative research project between the National Cancer Institute and UCSF in hopes of reaching women who didn’t know about clinical trials. Since then, the system has been tested, retested and refined, then tested again, and site organizers continue to respond to user suggestions. While I haven’t personally gone on this site in search of a trial, the online tour Dr. Cohen gave me seems intuitive and easy to navigate. Because not everyone wants to do the personalized matching service, the site offers an alternative that allows you to"See All Trials"and organize research studies by zip code. Patients can see trials nearest them and read what they’re about. It also gives trial location, a map and the trial coordinator along with their email and phone number. Users can also see all newly opened trials, even if they’re far from home. Another feature allows patients to enter their type and place of metastasis, filter out all trials that don’t pertain to them, then save them to the secure site and/or email them to their oncologist. The latest version of the site was launched in March 2012 and allows users to select a “QuickView” to browse by tumor type, including Triple Negative and Inflammatory Breast Cancer and trial type.One of the hottest trials is the“Vaccine Therapy,” designed to harness the body’s immune system. Researchers hope vaccines will be good for those whose body’s are failing to respond to other treatment. Complementary and Alternative Medicine trials are also available. While clinical trial providers are careful not to recommend any of the trials listed as the way to go, since patients can email their doctors the studies they’ve found, providers hope this will begin a much needed dialog between patient and doctor about further treatment options. When most of us hear the term “clinical trials,” we think about treatment trials for those who have no other treatment options, however, numerous trials are also looking at quality of life issues. One of these is “cold caps,” a refrigerated unit worn on the head that constricts the flow of chemo to the scalp in hopes of lessening hair loss. Other quality of life trials involve adding treatment agents to alleviate symptoms of neuropathy, and 30-minutes of radiation during surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, as opposed to up to six weeks of daily radiation after surgery. Still other trials are psychosocial studies about the side effects of treatment on the brain. BreastCancerTrials.org will also email you if a new trial comes online that’s a fit for youThey also have a quarterly newsletter and new weekly articles posted on their Facebook page, so you might want to “Like” their FB page. Since many of you are looking into further treatment for Stage IV breast cancer, I hope this site will be a valuable resource for you. Please let me know what you think of the site and if you join any of their clinical trials. Wishing you all God’s blessings.Sunday, August 12, 2012 ©The New York TimesWho would have thought The New York Times would print one of my Twitter posts? I'm not an Ashton Kutcher or a Lady Gaga, whose every Twitter and Facebook message is monitored and scrutinized by the press. However, The New York Times and USATodaydid see and respond to my Tweet about the controversial Nancy Brinker, soon to be ex-CEO of the organization she founded in name of her sister, Susan G. Komen. As my Tweet suggests, unlike Elvis, Ms. Brinker has not left the building. It seems as though she may just be playing musical chairs.<PREVIEWEND>In what may be a delayed and long over due attempt to appease Komen’s critics, Ms. Brinker will be moving from CEO to a supposedly "lesser role" that focuses on strategy, global growth and fund-raising. Hasn’t she been doing that all along? It also seems as though she will be the decision maker on who becomes the new CEO. Hmm... In addition, Komen’s president, Liz Thompson, and two Komen board members announced they were leaving Komen, all moves that for many are too little, too late.Nancy Brinker and her Komen organization have long been heated targets of breast cancer advocates worldwide, not to mention anti-abortion activists and supporters of Planned Parenthood. For anyone who doesn’t read the “pink stories,” Brinker and her organization’s decision to cut funding for breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood caused many potential donors to put their checkbooks back in their wallets. Even before the Planned Parenthood debacle, Komen’s serial failure to make good decisions (unhealthy choices of funding partners like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, not to mention the dismal amount of money that actually goes toward finding “the cure”) have caused Komen to repeatedly find itself teetering on the edge of it’s own pink ribbon. In February I wrote a blog called, “Should Komen’s Nancy Brinker Step Down?” That was the first time I took off my journalist’s hat when writing about Komen. Prior to February, I reported the facts, with no editorializing, and gave them the benefit of the doubt until: Komen decided to address the breast cancer community via my blog and then didn’t engage, as promised, in a dialog with readers. Once again, Komen has handled yet another incident poorly, or perhaps we should say, “What incident has Komen handled well?”While many think the recent position changes are a PR move, it seems like once again, Brinker’s lofty goal of finding a cure for breast cancer has turned into a three-ringed circus with what may be ego in the center ring. In February, I suggested:If anyone doubts the power of Social Media, the millions of us out here in digital land have left organizations like Komen with no place to hide. Thank you Jennifer Preston at The New York Timesand the always incredible Liz Szabo of USATodayfor asking for my thoughts on the matter and for sharing them with the world. The real story in the Komen soap opera shouldn’t be about poor choices, skepticism or ego. The real story is about the millions of breast cancer families who are devastated and shattered by this terrible disease. The ultimate story will be about the heroes who find a cure for this insidious destroyer of life and love.“...in order to rebuild their image, it’s crucial for Komen to have the support of breast cancer advocacy organizations and top breast cancer social media mavens. ...they must gather breast cancer bloggers into their fold, listen to our concerns and once again, gain our trust.”
Sunday, July 22, 2012 ©DonnaPeach.com In recent weeks, many of us in the breast cancer blogosphere, including me, have written about what the term “survivor” means to us. I even polled readers on BreastCancerSisterhood.com’s Facebook page, but none of the responses or blogs have saddened me like this blog from my friend, . I'm reprinting it in hopes you’ll read it, and leave a comment that let’s Donna know you’re cheering for her, even though Komen might have been uncomfortable acknowledging her, and the existence of others with Stage IV breast cancer."Again, the Question: Who are Breast Cancer Survivors?" by Donna Peach The word “survivor” in the world of cancer is one that is loosely used, misunderstood by most and loathed by many. When I was diagnosed, my oncology team told me that everyone with breast cancer is considered a survivor. I find that definition to be consistent within the medical community where they do not differentiate between those who are in remission and those who are in active treatment, regardless whether the treatment is for early stage or stage IV breast cancer. After my remission went kaput, four years after my primary cancer, and I returned to active and strenuous treatment, I found that definitions in the lay population seemed to be different. Even among the populations that you might think would understand the term “survivor.” When I attended a Susan G. Komen event, the largest organization representing the world of survivorship in the land of breast cancer, I was a few months out from my diagnosis of bone metastasis, or stage IV, breast cancer. I had had extensive surgery on my back for the damage from the cancer, and it required me to use a walker and to wear a TLSO (thoraco-lumbo-sacral orthosis) brace. When I got to the site of the race, I asked a number of Komen volunteers and staff if there was a place for me to sign in or to go. They looked at me a bit oddly and responded to my statement that I was in treatment for mets, and they told me that the sign-in was “only for survivors” with a not-so-subtle tone of disbelief that I presented myself as a survivor. I felt a bit shell-shocked at, first, being at a breast cancer event of that magnitude and being told that I was not a survivor and, second, being made to feel uncomfortable because they seemed not to know what I was. They simply excluded me because they assumed I did not fit their impression of a survivor.<PREVIEWEND> Still, I pursued my query. As I became inured to the responses I received, I became a bit more assertive. I said to one person, Well, really, don’t you think that if anyone is a survivor, it is women like me who are fighting to stay alive from mets: I got a blank stare. When it came time to participate in the so-called victory march where survivors run or walk a circuit to show that they have achieved the stardom of remission, more commonly called survivorship, I walked up to the folks at the entrance and simply told them that I was going to do the walk with my walker because I thought I deserved to be recognized as a survivor. They looked very uncomfortable but did not argue with me. After all, probably the last thing they wanted was to have a woman in a big back brace hobbling around their victory course and tainting their projection of the so-called survivor. Throughout that event I was constantly amazed that no part of that huge Los Angeles style event included any recognition for the women who had metastasis and were in the throes of staying alive through treatment for the rest of their uncertain lives. How in the world does an organization like Komen leave out the thousands of women, and men, whose ranks will lose 40,000 every year and whose members never know when that fateful day will arrive. That day lasted privately in my mind for a long time. I never even told the wonderful folks who sponsored Team Peaches and ran and raised money on my behalf because I never wanted them to feel any of the disappointment I felt with Komen. It was, after all, not a disappointment with the people who trained for the event and generously gave of themselves but for the breast cancer community who should know better and should be teaching others what survivorship means. It was the first time I realized such a disparity exists, but it made a lasting impression on me that some of us need to help define that word better. Do you define yourself as a survivor? Do you define yourself at all? How do you define others you know who are in remission and those who are living on the edge of uncertainty with metastases? Do you think we should have different labels or no labels?Sunday, July 08, 2012SYMPTOMS: • Zealous, fervent and fanatical when faced with consumer products displaying the pink breast cancer ribbon. • Irrationally extreme in opinion or practice; furious or raging at corporations, especially those that manufacture products containing carcinogens and other harmful ingredients that support Komen for the Cure.TREATMENT: • Stop all purchases of products that contain carcinogens and bear the pink breast cancer ribbon • Stop all purchases of pink products except for those that openly disclose to whom and how much of the proceeds from the sale goes toward a known breast cancer cause. • Do not purchase pink trinkets at the checkout counter (keychains, bottle openers, cheap jewelry, etc.), bearing the breast cancer ribbon. More than likely, no money will be donated to any breast cancer-related cause. • Do purchase pink products that allow you to designate which organizations you want your pink dollars to support, or write a check to the organizations yourself. • If symptoms persist, get rid of your credit cards, checkbook and cash until you come to your senses. • If all else fails, immediately call or email a breast cancer advocate for help. • Do this until the cause of breast cancer and the prevention, or the cure, is found.WARNING: • Excitability may occur, especially with companies that have no intention of donating a dime to breast cancer. • Do not become so obsessed with avoiding all pink products, or ranting about what’s wrong with them, that you fail to purchase products that contribute to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation or the Love/Avon Army of Women and their search for the cause and prevention of breast cancer. • Do not lump all breast cancer foundations and their leaders together with erroneous statements like, “When one name leads a foundation, the cult of ego begins.” Instead, consider that 98% of all foundations are led and/or funded by the person who’s name is on the foundation.PROGNOSIS: • If you “Think Before You Pink,” and urge everyone you know to do the same, the incidence of Pink Rabies will hopefully subside in our lifetime.FOLLOWUP:
The pink marketing dollars’ issue will continue for as long as it takes for all of us to understand the pervasive depths of the problem. However, if we look hard enough, we can probably find something wrong with every product or corporation that funds breast cancer research. As breast cancer advocates, we must be careful that we don’t alienate ALL sources of funding. Every train runs on fuel, which costs money, and in the case of breast cancer research trains, a huge percentage of underwriters want visibility in exchange for their dollars.
I'm currently raising $1Million for a project I’m working on, and I’m here to tell you: Corporations want more than just a mention as a Sponsor, Underwriter or Charitable Contributor. They want a bigger “footprint.” And for those who think corporations should simply write a check, no strings attached, we need to remember that corporations are not in the “altruism” business. They’re in the business of selling their company’s goods and services. They have their own trains to run, and like everything else, they run on money. The Dr. Susan Love Research train is no exception, so let’s be careful we don’t derail them just because "evil corporate America" gives them money.
PS: For other blogs written about this topic in recent weeks, go to and ChemobrainFog.
- Does Someone Need Your Help to Heal?
- What Were You Wearing?
- How You Can Stand Up to Cancer!
- Day 3, Celebrating the Ordinary
- Day 2, Celebrating the Ordinary
- Sunday: Celebrating the Ordinary
- Breast Cancer Clinical Trials
- Will Komen Really Have New Leadership?
- Komen and Women with Stage IV Breast Cancer
- Do You Have Pink Rabies?
Tuesday, June 05, 2012 Fernando BoteroThis weekend my girlfriends and I saw The Very Best Marigold Hotel, a charming film full of characters with whom we can all identify. I loved this movie. I laughed and smiled throughout the whole film, only to break into tears as I left the theater. The film reminded me that our hopes and expectations don’t always happen the way we plan them, and that it’s not always over when the fat lady sings.The Very Best Marigold Hotel dovetailed with a blog I read recently that suggested we should lower our expectations to keep ourselves from being disappointed. Had the characters in The Very Best Marigold Hotel loosened the reigns on their expectations, perhaps some of them wouldn’t have been disappointed in the hotel or with their lives. In reality, I disagree with the concept of lowered expectations. When we lower our expectations, it affects the way we see ourselves, and in turn, how others see us and how we allow them to treat us.<PREVIEWEND> If, however, we can't maintain high expectations, what if instead of lowering them, our expectations are neither good nor bad, but we give them the freedom to be whatever they're going to be? What if we live in the dictionary definition of "to wait in expectation" like a couple who are "expecting" a baby and who don't want to know the sex until it's born? They're expecting the event, not the outcome. All of us encounter dozens of expectations everyday. They are the short paragraphs of life. To lower our expectations is to sentence ourselves to a life that’s missing the highs and lows, the very experiences that make life rich and rewarding. Our challenge is not just to cope with the short and unexpected paragraphs of life, but to string them together until we and our story thrives. Life is relentless, the way it goes on, expecting us to jump back on board after health problems, job loss, divorce and death. While most of us can get back on track, staying there with cheerful purpose and intent is the hard part. In the beginning, our painful attempts are nothing more than aimless stabs in the dark to regain our zest for life, to establish new rhythms and pathways. In the beginning, most of us don’t do it authentically and wholeheartedly. Instead, we do just enough to convince ourselves and those around us that we’re trying, and that once again, we’ll be alright. In The Very Best Marigold Hotel, Maggie Smith’s character asks Judy Dench, “What are you going to do now?” “I’m not sure what I shall do,” Judy’s character says. “Nothing’s worked out quite as I expected.” Maggie Smith pauses and then smiles and says, “Most things don’t, but sometimes, what happens instead is the good stuff.” Where we are in life is as much imposed on us by circumstances out of our control as by our willingness to overcome them. As the manager of the Very Best Marigold Hotel says, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end.” Perhaps that’s another way of saying it’s not over, even when the fat lady sings. There’s another act yet to come, and our job is to find the good stuff.Tuesday, May 22, 2012 Last week’s blog about the will to survive Stage IV cancer resonated with many of you. The desire to see our children grow up, as well as our curiosity about what lies around the bend, are powerful adjuncts to cancer treatment. For those who have or have had cancer, have you ever thought about how an “I’ll do anything” to hold onto the reins of life may affect your caregivers? I’m hesitant to mention this topic, but because it’s another important elephant in the room no one talks about, here goes...Cancer caregivers are encouraged to take good care of themselves: eat properly, exercise, get plenty of sleep and take a break now and then. On the flip side, caregivers are often criticized if they’re perceived to be having a “good time” while their loved one is suffering or dying, or after their loved one dies. Last week I mentioned my visit with Alana Stewart, friend and caregiver to a seriously ill Farrah Fawcett. In my opinion, Alana’s friendship knows no bounds. All you have to do is read her daily journal from that time, My Journey with Farrah, and you’ll see a woman who literally gave up her life, for nearly three years, to be by Farrah’s side. During one of their numerous trips to Germany for Farrah’s treatments, at Farrah’s urging, Alana, a single unattached woman, began a relationship with an Italian man. Based on much of the criticism Alana received when her book was released, you would have thought she’d hogtied and bull-whipped Mother Theresa. People called her selfish and in general, unloaded on her because she dared to reenter the world of the living while her Stage IV friend lay suffering in a German hospital. If you’ve ever been a Stage IV caregiver, particularly an end-stage caregiver, and I have, then you know that life as you know it can vanish in a blink. Caregivers find themselves walking a fine, and sometimes lonely line between life and death. Being an end-stage caregiver is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Days are often spent waiting to hear from doctors or the results of the latest scans; getting something to make your loved one more comfortable or just watching them breathe. There’s little time to go out for a sandwich or to stand in the sun, and if you do, it feels surreal to be in the land of the living, and it often makes you feel guilty. It’s difficult to remain cheerful, positive and in control of yourself and the situation. Your thoughts can run the gambit from wondering, “How will I make it when they’re gone?” or “How much longer will they live?” to “How much longer can I do this?” These feelings aren’t good, bad or selfish. They're human. My intent with this post is to let any Stage IV and end-stage caregivers, who can relate to any of these feelings, know they’re not alone. Coming to terms with the fact that we’re going to die is a brave, solitary experience. For end-stage caregivers, the loss of a loved one is a process that goes on long after their family member is gone. Is holding on to the reins of life, at all costs, a natural part of the will to live? Should we consider our caregivers before we tighten the grips on the reigns, and if so, does this mean we're not survivors? I don’t know all the answers, but I felt compelled to ask the questions.Sunday, May 13, 2012 My lower back has been in excruciating pain since Thursday, and I can't get in to see "Dr. Magic Hands" until Monday afternoon. I hesitate to even mention this because many metastatic cancer patients endure far more than I am. In comparison, my back is not even a blip on their pendulum of physical and emotional pain.I think about friends, like Donna Peachwho are enduring unimaginable pain and suffering due to Stage IV metastatic breast cancer treatments, and I wonder how they do it? Their will to live must be far greater than mine. Perhaps if James were still alive or if I had children, I would do anything to be with them, but James isn’t here, and I don’t have children, so I’m left wondering... What would I do in their position? Would I keep fighting and taking treatments that don’t give me a good quality of life?<PREVIEWEND> I’d already begun writing this blog when I read “Your Silence Will Not Save You” by Katie Ford Hall at UneasyPinkShe writes that when someone dies, we rarely know whether it was the cancer that killed them or the complications from treatment. She thinks it’s in everyone’s best interest to know how effective Stage IV treatments are, plus we should know more about the risks. I second that.In 1987 my first husband, Philip, died from complications of an experimental Stage IV Lung cancer treatment. Even though it was administered daily, on an outpatient basis at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, no one verbally told us what to expect. I’m certain complications were mentioned in the fine print on the treatment release forms Philip signed, but no one suggested any downside to treatment other than it might not work. Since it was experimental, I have to wonder whether his doctors even knew the risks? Of course none of that consoled me as I watched Philip die in the back of an ambulance after treatment. At the suggestion of a mutual friend, I recently spent the afternoon with Alana Stewart, actress, Emmy-nominated producer and best friend extraordinaire to Farrah Fawcett. Alana’s book touched me deeply as she described nearly three years of accompanying Farrah to Germany for what would be numerous painful chemo embolizations, laser and ultrasound surgeries, radiation and blood clots, interspersed with marathon sessions of projectile vomiting. Soldiering on with an unflinching will, Farrah was courageous and hopeful, nearly to the end. Perhaps I know too much about the odds of beating cancer to do what Farrah did; to be hopeful that I’d be the one in a zillion, megaball, Stage IV lottery winner who’s cured of their cancer. The will to do whatever it takes to survive and protect ourselves and our family is the strongest will there is, and yet, I'm not sure I would endure what many Stage IV cancer patients go through. It would be my fervent hope that a compassionate oncologist would tell me all the facts surrounding my options and quality of life. From what I know, palliative care may be the most loving and humane course of action, and in many cases, can prolong life better than experimental treatments. If I’m faced with metastatic breast cancer, I know I will be hopeful about some things: that the lives of those I love will be blessed, and that Dr. Susan Love and her Army of Women will find the cause of breast cancer and develop a way to prevent it. We all desperately want a cure, but wouldn’t it be better not to worry about getting breast cancer in the first place? For me, that’s the ultimate survival.Sunday, May 06, 2012 If you’re a regular reader then you know I embrace hypnosis, meditation and Guided Imagery as some of the most powerful weapons in our cancer-fighting arsenal. A recent dinner conversation with my friend, Nick, reminded me of one of my favorite places, Tulum. It’s where I frequently “go” when I need to get calm and centered and gather my strength. I found this piece about Tulum I wrote in 1992, that I was going to email Nick. I know it’s long, but I thought I’d share it with you as well. Where do you go when you meditate? "The Place Where the Sky Was Born"Sian Kaan is magical and mystical. The ancient Mayans said it was the place where the sky was born, ascending from the sea, soaring upward like a giant bird in flight. With each flap of its wings, the great bird painted broad strokes through the air, taking the blue from the sea and the white crest of the waves. Sian Kaan, together with the toucans and herons, the howler monkeys and jaguars, surround and protect my ancient Mayan city of Tulum.Even the name, Tulum, fills me with wonder and reverence.The energy here vibrates in waves from the temple Castillo and rises and joins forces with the sea and the sky. It’s not a coincidence I’ve discovered Tulum. In some ways, I think it’s part of my past, part of who I am, and who I hope to be.<PREVIEWEND> Like a small sapling, I gather strength and nourishment from the sun and the sea. I’m drawn like a magnet, and I come here every day, preferably alone. When I return home to our villa, Tulum dominates my dreams where I go in meditative prayer to sit on the edge of temple Castillo to watch the sea and fill my soul with rapture.I remember the first time I saw Tulum. We battled the dense geography of a three-canopy jungle, enduring mosquitoes so thick they hovered in clouds around our eyes and ears and filled our nostrils with a buzzing sensation that felt like a mild electrical shock. We worked most of the morning, chopping and hacking our way through vines as big around as our waist. Soaked to the skin with the salty taste of sweat and an insect repellent that served little purpose, we would turn around to look at our progress, only to find the jungle had removed all signs of our passage. It was as though nature was reminding us of our insignificance: Mere mortals, here for a fraction of a millisecond of God’s time. At some point, the jungle gave way to a series of small lagoons and meandering palm trees. A cool breeze began to dry our skin, leaving small crusty patches of salt on our arms and legs. And then there it was, perched on the edge of a cliff; a small Mayan temple, towering above the sparkling white beach and azure blue of the Caribbean. Like a small child runs to the outstretched arms of a loving parent, I ran toward Tulum, momentarily stopping to trace the carved relief images in the stone with my fingers. Then inexplicably, I was drawn to the top of the temple. I watched a native emerge from the jungle. Barefoot and brown skinned, he climbed to the top with ease and grace, then sat down next to me on the ledge overlooking the sea. His eyes were yellowed and smiling, playful and wise, welcoming me like he would an old friend who'd returned from a long journey. Pretending to strum a guitar, he softly hummed an exotic melody. "The Murder of the Jaguar," he called it. A two-headed serpent sat on the rocks next to us, its tongues darting in and out of twin throats, hissing in a syncopated rhythm with the native's song. Perhaps the serpent was a descendant of the feathered snake god, Quetzalcoatl. Perhaps it was there to remind us of the beauty of its Mayan ancestors and the power of Tulum. Twenty years later, I sit on the edge of the same temple Castillo as a barracuda cruises back and forth in Sian Kaan, the ocean waters below. I say the name over and over in my mind like a mantra. “Sh’an Ka'an.” The place where the sky was born. Overhead, a bird lets out a startled human-like cry. “The invaders are coming.” Behind me, bus loads of pale-skinned tourists with disposable cameras and fanny packs approach like bargain hunters at a garage sale, and I am reminded of a Joni Mitchell song, "Find paradise. Put up a parking lot." I watch as a man and woman walk past the painted frescoes on a nearby temple. They ignore the faded colors that depict Itzamná, the sky god, and the rain god, Chac, together with the moon, the stars and the fish below. As the couple moves on, bits of their conversation drifts upward on the wind. "You think they sell margaritas here?" the man asks. He’s wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap and a New Zealand Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt. "I don't know," the woman replies, "but I hope they have someplace I can buy one of those little ceramic frogs." I watch them hurry past and wonder if they “appreciated” the beauty of New Zealand as much as they appear to appreciate Tulum. I’m sad and somewhat depressed by the changes since my first visit, and I wish the jungle would close in around me, leaving only me, Tulum and Sian Kaan. Like a time traveler, I would gather the energy around me and become part of the painted histories of warriors and virgins, princes and priests. I would enter hidden rooms filled with cups of hammered gold and necklaces of jade and obsidian, then emerge into the sunlight and ascend upward from the sea like a giant bird in flight.Sunday, April 22, 2012 ©Ramborella, LLC. All rights reserved.Last week I shot the pilot for a national television talk show with me as the host, and I must say, it all went by in a blink. Months of work and planning were over in no time. My day began with an early hotel wake-up call and ended with removing my false eyelashes, then falling asleep seconds after I turned out the light. My friend, Celina, was worried I might have a “blue slump” when the big day was over, but there’s been no time for a letdown. As I told Celina, “I’ve bitten off something really big, and there’s no time to do anything but make this talk show a reality.”<PREVIEWEND> Oh, how I wish I could tell you every detail, but we’re in a “blackout” period until the show’s “a go” or “no-go.” Either way, you can’t imagine what’s crammed into our relatively short timeline, a critical path designed to turn a pilot into a full-blown talk show. We’ve begun something akin to an Olympic track and field event. The starter pistol has already fired, and we’ve come out of the blocks as fast as our legs will take us. While we’re not on the course with other racers, we do have to achieve a winning criteria. Then, if it’s “a go,” like being flung from a sling shot, another frantic race will begin: researching shows, booking guests and developing interview questions; finding clothes to wear and shoes narrow enough to fit my skinny feet; filling the audience with lots of wonderful women and men and shooting back-to-back shows till our first season is taped, edited and “in the can.” If it’s a no-go, then I’ll smile and cherish this wonderful, crazy experience and know that I gave it my best. As winning Super Bowl coach, Mike Ditka, said, “Success isn’t permanent, and failure isn’t fatal.” Either way, I will be fine. One of the things I can tell you is that from the moment Dr. Susan Love walked into the makeup room, everyone fell in love with her. Word she was on set spread like crazy, and the director and crew came to meet her. Quite simply, Susan Love is a phenomenon! She radiates openness, enthusiasm and a curiosity laced with intensity, excitement and more than a pinch of mischief. Even to the casual observer, it’s apparent Susan Love does everything with her entire being. She is the real deal! When we’d finished taping her segment, Dr. Love was mobbed by women who had more questions for her or who wanted to have their picture taken with her. I finally had to have one of the production assistants rescue her and take her to a car, waiting to whisk her to the airport. I would walk across hot coals for Susan Love, and I owe her a debt of gratitude for coming to do this pilot. I’ve already heard from so many audience members; women who’ve told their friends what they learned from the show and have passed the ArmyOfWomen.org website on and urged them to join. Others have sent word they’ve bought Dr. Love’s breast cancer and hormone books. This is so gratifying, because I consider myself a recruiter for the Army of Women. Regardless of whether you’ve had breast cancer or not, we’re looking for a million women to join, so Dr. Love’s research teams can find the cause of breast cancer and develop a preventative vaccine.That’s about all I can tell you for now except, I did cry. As I was ending my interview with Dr. Love, I looked into the camera and said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were the ones who made it possible so that our granddaughters and their daughters never get breast cancer?” By the time I got to “our granddaughters,” my voiced cracked, big time, and I bit my lip and had to pause before I could continue. The thought of what those of us who’ve had breast cancer, our family and friends have been through, lodged in my throat like it was the sum total of all of our pain and heartache. The thought of the great women who’ve already died, and the ones who are fighting with all their might, hoping against hope to be one of the ones whose Stage IV responds to treatment was more than I could verbally articulate. The good news about a pilot is that everyone learns a lot about what we need to do next time. If given a next time, I’ll keep a better eye on the makeup artist and stop her before she turns my eyebrows into Frida Kahlo lookalikes.Sunday, April 15, 2012 ©Ramobrella, LLC. All rights reserved.Who would have ever thought I might have my own national TV talk show? Stranger things have happened... I believe little men with big heads from a galaxy far, far away, may have landed in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico, and that Sasquatch, the furry ape-like creature with big feet may exist or, he’s just a hairy guy in desperate need of an understanding woman and a good body waxing. But me... a national talk show host?<PREVIEWEND>While I can’t tell you about it, or even the name, I can say the focus is not breast cancer. However, you can be assured that all things “breast cancer” will be discussed as frequently as possible. As a matter of fact, my first guest is Dr. Susan Love. Among other things, we’re going to talk about the difficulty in finding “the cure” and why she thinks the Army of Women have a better shot at preventing breast cancer from happening in the first place. We’re going to learn lots of new things about her as well, like did you know she speaks fluent Spanish, like it’s her native language? Actually, she does everything well, and she’s funny, and those are things I want people to know about her.One of the reasons this opportunity has come my way is because of this blog and all of the conversations I’ve had with you.We talk about intimate, life and death issues, online and off, and we cheer each other on in good times and bad. You’ve been here for me since James died, and I can’t begin to tell you how much your support and friendship has strengthened me. You’ve prayed for me when I’m down--and when Goldie ate 20 square feet of lace--and you’ve allowed me to get to know you and for that, I’m grateful. So, who knows if this talk show will actually make it on the air? A lot of things, I have no control over, have to happen. In many ways, the stars need to align before I have a close encounter of the television kind. Either way, the fact that I have a shot at something like this is remarkable, and I’m grateful and excited. I’m not afraid to standup in front of people and speak, or be on camera, but in all of this, my biggest fear is that I will get emotional, over relatively nothing, cry on camera and look like an idiot. You, more than anyone, know how easily I cry at simple things like dog food commercials or the mere thought of what we, and our families, have been through with breast cancer. I’m told a certain vulnerability is appealing, but what if the powers that be say, “What kind of a nut job is she?” If asked that question, my response will be, “Just your average nut job, I guess.” So dear ones, think of me this week, as I stand in front of a live studio audience. Once again, I will appreciate any prayers and hugs you send my way. I’ll keep you posted. Have a great week, and take care of yourselves....... I wish James were here to share this with me.... That made me cry.Sunday, April 08, 2012 ©Ramborella, LLC. All rights reserved.The other day I caught a glimpse of myself in a restaurant mirror.For a split second I thought the woman staring back at me was my mother. I spent another split second hoping it was my mother, only to painfully acknowledge it was me. I was shocked to see how much I’ve aged since James died. I know what Nora Ephron meant in her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, when she said her friends had begun dressing like “a white ladies’ version of the Joy Luck Club.” In addition to my neck, I need to add my jowls and my forehead to the list of visible body parts in need of camouflaging. It’s not like I haven’t planned for this day, when my face goes south, because I have.When I was 21, I began buying expensive French skincare creams designed to ward off the aging process: a light moisturizer for day, something a little richer for night and an eye cream that had the texture of vanilla mousse. Since I had insanely youthful, flawless skin, I rationalized the expense by putting the creams in the same category as Social Security: Someday, when I reached a “certain age,” they would pay off. By age 30, I started buying wide-brimmed Frank Olive and Patricia Underwood hats to protect my skin from the sun; hats that were so big, they needed their own airline ticket when I traveled. I remember a particular trip to Central America to dig for Mayan artifacts. The locals kept pointing to my head and smiling. I smiled back, thinking they were admiring my hat, until I saw my shadow on the ground and realized a bird had perched on my hat. While the bird may have decided she’d found a ready made straw nest, the locals probably thought I was a crazy lady with a satellite dish on her head. Recently I saw Jane Fonda on television. She’s 73 and looks great, for any age. Ms. Fonda’s admission to having had plastic surgery made me think, yet again, about having a facelift. Ten years ago, I had an appointment with a well-known Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that had “done” a friend of mine. While I didn’t have anything done, his outer office was well worth the price of the consultation. It was lined with young women with gold fish lips and old women in wheelchairs, wearing their granddaughter’s face and short shorts. At the time, I didn’t really need anything done, but now I sympathize with their desire to turn back the clock. How many of us haven’t thought about having a facelift, or a nip and tuck, more than once? Sometimes I see people who’ve had plastic surgery and who look like another species, or like they come from the planet Restylane. If I were to have plastic surgery, I’d want to look like my makeup artist friend, Sandy Linter, who, at 64, is achingly beautiful. I have the name of her plastic surgeon, but there's no guarantee I'd wind-up looking perfectly natural like she does. What if I didn't look like myself, or what if everyone said, "She's had work done, but it looks pretty good?" I don’t want to be a walking neon sign that screams "Plastic Surgery on Board" although I have had 10 breast surgeries because of breast cancer, but that's different. Sandy gave me some great advice, however. She said have the one thing that bothers you most fixed and live with it for a while, then decide if you want anything else done.Since I was the last woman in her 50s to get her ears pierced, the odds of my getting anything “done” are slim to none.Besides, I first have to deal with whether to try Rogaine or not. Also, when people see me, if they notice that my eyes are crossed and my tongue juts out, they're probably not going to think about how much I've aged. PS: I realize that talking about losing James and finding humor in my vanity may not go together, but I think James would say it's a good sign. That I have any humor at all after this last year is reaffirming that I'm finding my way without his physical presence. His love and his spirit will reside in me always.