http://www.breastcancersisterhood.com/_blog/Brenda's_Blog - Jan 16, 2013 5:12:21 PM - Nov 16, 2010 11:03:13 AM
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.