Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

Do You Have Any Idea How Beautiful You Are?

May 17, 2014

Musser_Barbara_2014Breast cancer can drum up many complex emotions and thoughts for those who are newly diagnosed, especially around body image. Barbara Musser, CEO and founder of Sexy After Cancer, writes about the importance of defining your own beauty and invites you to learn how to do this by joining us for our free webinar at noon ET/11 a.m. CT on Tuesday, May 20, held in partnership with Susan G. Komen of Greater Kansas City

Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is a big challenge that goes on for quite a while. On top of that, it’s easy to feel like less of a woman, especially with altered or removed breasts, instant menopause resulting from chemo or hormonal therapies and other physical changes that can happen.  There’s not a lot of conversation about our body image, self-esteem and self-love and our intimate and sexual lives. And yet these are the subjects that have the most to do with the quality of our lives.

It’s the elephant in the room that no one mentions. Partly it’s because these aren’t easy topics to broach and partly because we don’t know to ask about them if we don’t know what to expect. You may have experienced this spiral. (more…)

A Different Type of Survivor

June 18, 2013

Patricia Brett Patricia Brett, designer and founder of Veronica Brett, a luxury line of swimwear made specifically for women with breast cancer and those who have had risk-reducing mastectomies, will be blogging throughout the summer for LBBC  about her history with breast cancer and giving tips on how to enjoy the warmer months and feel sexy on the beach. Here, as an introduction, she shares her story about testing positive for the BRCA1 gene in conjunction with a significant family history of breast cancer.

I’m not a breast cancer survivor. I’ve never had breast cancer and I hope and pray I never hear the words “You have cancer”.

Yet for someone who has never been diagnosed with breast cancer I certainly have some pretty significant scars across the middle of my chest. Why? I’m a “previvor”.

Like Angelina Jolie and so many courageous, yet unknown women before her, I elected to remove my breasts to save my life.

At the time of my risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy back in January 2003 (has it really been 10 years?) people thought I was nuts. They didn’t understand why a woman with “healthy breasts” would ever have them removed. Healthy is a relative term.

When I was a kid growing up, I lost three aunts to breast cancer. I always thought it was some type of pollution in the water or the land back in Ohio where my father and his family were raised. By the time I was 18 he had lost three of his six sisters to breast cancer.

It turns out it wasn’t the water but the genes that contributed to their cancers. As Angelina referred to them in her NY Times Op Ed piece when she became public about her surgery, “faulty genes”. For me the faulty gene has a name: BRCA1, and the mutation has a number: Q1200X.

Like survivors who know the specifics of their diagnosis (stage 1, ER+, HER2-) I know my number, Q1200X. It’s that specific mutation on that particular gene that gave me an 85% chance of getting breast cancer and a 55% risk of ovarian cancer.

But it wasn’t the gene alone. What also contributed to my risk was family history. Not only did I loose three aunts to breast cancer, my sister and many first cousins have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In total honesty I have now lost count, but the actual number is something greater than six. One cousin has also been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Fortunately for us, all have survived.

So yes, the breast went in 2003, the ovaries back in 2007 (a significantly harder surgery than I ever imagined, story to be told at another time).

And now, I call myself a “previvor”, a person who has survived the increased risk of inherited breast or ovarian cancer, a term coined by FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, a group dedicated to providing information to women at risk of these cancers.

I’ve never called myself a “survivor”. I don’t know what it means to hear those words or to face that diagnosis. Yet so many women I have met over the years say I am a survivor. When I attended my first “young survivor” conference (now known as C4YW) in Jacksonville in 2008, they told me I was a survivor. “You’ve had four surgeries in two years and a double mastectomy, of course you’re a survivor!” I was told by one amazing young woman sporting her multi colored leis indicating her status as a five-year breast cancer survivor.

I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to learn you have cancer and I believe I have done everything I can to make certain I never hear the words “you have cancer” (full disclosure- I could still cut out the red meat and get more exercise!)

But I will never call myself a survivor. Out of respect to all the women and men who wear that mantle, I will always stay the simple “previvor”.

You’ll hear from me from time to time as I have been invited to blog for LBBC.

I’ll be sharing my story, along with fashion tips on surviving beautifully including some posts dedicated to swimwear for survivors. If you have questions for me or suggestions for blogs, I can be reached at: pbrett@veronicabrett.com

Stay healthy and sexy-

Patricia

Patricia Brett is the Founder & Designer of Veronica Brett, the first luxury collection of swimwear created especially for breast cancer survivors. After loosing three aunts to breast cancer, watching her sister battle the disease, and having her own bilateral mastectomy, Patricia created Veronica Brett to empower women to look and feel their best again.  Patricia has been profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine, Harper’s BAZAAR, CNNMoney.com, ABC evening news, as well as numerous fashion publications. She has a Master of Architecture from Yale University and resides in Manhattan with her husband and son.

I Talk To Strangers, You Should Too!

March 28, 2013

randi rentz

Long time LBBC blog contributor, RANDI RENTZ, graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University with a Masters degree in Special Education. She was an editorial assistant for a publishing company in suburban Washington,DC before becoming a special education teacher in a school district outside Philadelphia, PA. Randi currently is an Asperger’s Support Teacher for grades kindergarten through fifth. Presently, Randi has her own consulting company for children on the Autistic Spectrum where you can see her work at   www.helpforaspergers.com. She is a proud member, supporter, and blogger for many breast cancer organizations and never leaves the house without diamonds. Visit Randi at her web site at www.randirentz.com. Be sure to check out the teaser for her upcoming book “Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!”

***

Call me crazy, but I look forward to waiting in line, and just about any opportunity to shoot the breeze with people I don’t know. I’m chummy with the guy who pumps my gas, (the only gas station nearby where they still pump gas for you), still exchange holiday cards with my 4th grade elementary school teacher, and the other day I spent a solid hour gabbing with an 81-year old woman I met at the tailor’s while having my pants hemmed.

I’m now a life-long, die-hard people person. I never used to be, though. In fact, I never enjoyed chatty encounters with people I didn’t know…until cancer. I wasn’t hostile before breast cancer.  Every day I had pleasant exchanges with strangers and acquaintances—an enthusiastic “Morning!” or a friendly “Have a great day!”  Such moments continue to be life-affirming, yet, prior to breast cancer, they were blessedly brief.

On-the-fly updates from people I’ve barely met used to drain me. Seriously.  I always felt obliged to respond with genuine emotion, to pay real attention. I would fake outrage or concern, with a performance that was definitely Oscar worthy. That meant stopping whatever I was doing, and force myself to focus. Since my laser-beam concentration was always sensed by the people stopping me, their details got longer and longer. Oy, vey! I felt trapped like a mouse in a maze.

Did breast cancer make me a people person? Well, I think it made me more aware of the little moments in life that make up the big moments. I now enjoy being a true people person—even though I’m inclined to dislike anyone who describes himself/herself this way. Go figure. I digress, sorry. Anyhoo, hear me out. Lifting your head and engaging with whoever happens to be standing next to you is worth the effort. It’s nice to see people smile and to genuinely smile back. It really feels good and refreshing. You should try it.

For one thing, you never know when you will receive priceless advice.  The 81-year-old cautioned me to get in good with my son’s future wife and to always take the dog out for an evening walk to do “its business.” Little did she know, I have no children and own two cats which use a litter-box. Needless to say, I felt it worthy to file away her words of wisdom. Maybe a stepson and a dog are in my future. Who knows? I digress. Sorry. When I left the fitting room, fiddling with the waistband of my pants, she said, “With posture like that, who needs Spanx? Coming from a stooped octogenarian, her words felt like a wake-up call to enjoy my youthful existence.

I believe my world is bigger with my random encounters. My brushes with strangers bring me the thrill of the unexpected, to glimpse a world I used to brush off and otherwise never see or appreciate. In the frenzy of life, with intense money, work and time pressure, I honestly didn’t have much conversational energy to spare.

Now, I think of it as a habit as “meeting new people,” even if I never see them again. My encounters with strangers bring me back to a place where I long to be. I never had grandparents, because they died before I was born.  But now I cherish chance meetings with people of all ages, especially older people. I find their perspective to be rather eye-opening.

Instead of rolling my eyes, I appreciate the interruption. I am so grateful for the little things in life. I now understand what being a warm person means.

And now, onto the Spanx…

Alysa Cummings: Yearly Check-Up

February 27, 2013

Alysa Cummings, Group Facilitator for LBBC’s writing workshop series Writing the Journey, shares a seasonal excerpt from her recently published cancer memoir, Greetings from CancerLand,  in February’s second submission to Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writer’s Corner.

LBBC_WritersCorner

Yearly Check-Up

Excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand: Writing the Journey to Recovery

Fourteen years later and not much has changed. Not much. Not really.

Starting with the oncologist’s grand entrance.

He knocks twice, opens the door and hurriedly strides into the examining room. His energy speaks volumes (Places to go; patients to see. so many patients; so little time). I am sitting there, a veteran oncology patient, already changed, sitting on the edge of the examining table, a salmon-colored cotton robe wrapped around me.

Welcome to my yearly check-up.Cummings-Alysa_medium

As always, we begin by shaking hands. That’s our ritual. Then it’s my turn to smile and recite my opening line: so how’s my favorite oncologist?

Your only oncologist, to the best of my knowledge, Dr. C replies. There he goes – correcting me, reminding me of our running gag about his need for precision, his attention to detail. In CancerLand, Dr. C is a living legend with hundreds of patients’ medical records stored right in his head.  He won’t take any notes during the exam and somehow never forgets a date, dosage or chronic complaint. Maybe that’s why I’ll never complain about any quirky personality traits of his. An oncologist who’s a bit obsessive is a good thing, don’t you think?

Any lumps, bumps or bruises? Dr. C asks, moving briskly into Act One: The Physical Exam. I lie flat on my back. He modestly opens the gown, uncovering one side at a time, keeping the opposite side hidden, and presses the tips of his fingers in a circular pattern. Then he says the word I’ve been patiently waiting for (perfect) as he finishes with the left side and moves around the table to begin his exam of the right. Twelve years of exams later and like an addict hungry for a fix, I inhale the word (perfect), and savor how good it feels (I’m okay, I’m okay).

But honestly, is this ironic, or what? After all, there might be a short list of politically (and clinically) correct terms that could be used to describe my post-treatment upper body (altered? revised? reconstructed?) But perfect? Hardly.

Does this doctor who deals with so many breast cancer survivors know the impact of his word choice? Or is “perfect” the word this particular oncologist has decided to use with his patients to indicate that there’s no sign of disease? All I know is that perfect is a lovely word, and I can’t wait to hear him say it.

The exam comes to a predictable conclusion with light banter about our personal lives and those acquaintances we have in common, and that’s when I suddenly think of a word that I have to add to our yearly check-up script.

So, tell me, Alysa, Dr. C asks, moving towards the door, ready to conclude the exam. Overall, how was your year?

I’m ready with the perfect answer.

Unremarkable, I say, my year was unremarkable. And I see the doctor cock his head with interest. I have never used this term in our conversations before. Over the years, he has, of course. To describe my CAT scans, bloodwork and Breast MRI results. To report that everything is normal, that there is nothing out of the ordinary.

An unremarkable year, I repeat. No surgeries. I’m hoping that next year turns out to be another unremarkable year. Unremarkable totally works for me.

It certainly does.  And now that I’ve said it out loud, I need to step up to that challenge and day by day make it real until I’m in this examining room again, twelve months from today.

A disease-free reality; in my mind that’s the most remarkable thing I can imagine.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series this Spring, hosted by Alysa Cummings. And the good news is that there will be two different Writing the Journey groups in Spring 2013 – one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in Haverford, PA.  Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa and future Writing the Journey creations.  You can purchase your own copy of Greetings from Cancerland, on Amazon.com!

Alysa Cummings: Spirit of Spring

February 13, 2013

Alysa Cummings, Group Facilitator for LBBC’s writing workshop series Writing the Journey, shares a seasonal excerpt from her recently published cancer memoir, Greetings from CancerLand,  in February’s first submission to Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writer’s Corner.

LBBC_WritersCorner

Spirit of Spring

Excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand: Writing the Journey to Recovery

Six brown paper bags, stuffed almost to bursting, sit at the bottom of my basement steps. Long empty of groceries, each bag is filled with another sweet necessity entirely. I inspect these bags every time I pass by – even as I struggle with armloads of laundry on my way to the washing machine. I confess I just can’t help myself.

I think about what’s inside these bags and it always makes me smile.

These six brown bags have been hiding in my dark unfinished basement since early November. I remember packing them the night of the first fall frost, using sections of the Sunday Inquirer as insulation from the basement dampness. I look at the bags in my basement day after day, week after week, through the cold winter months and think the same thought over and over again: spring is coming.

It’s all about time, actually. Time passing. Looking forward in time. It’s quite intentional on my part. Ritualistic, even. You see, I look at the six brown paper bags and mentally project myself to springtime.

Maybe it’s just that time of year right now. All these months of cold, grayness and snow; oh yes, I’m more than a little winter weary. Somehow this brown bag ritual serves me, gets me through. Keeps me upbeat and hopeful, believing that spring will arrive and that I will be here to celebrate the season again.

Cummings-Alysa_mediumDuring the third week of March, these six bags will make the trip up the stairs, out of the dark, into the light, through the house and outside to the turned over and weeded perennial beds in the backyard. For the occasion, I plan to eagerly break out a fresh pair of gloves, slip into my most comfortable stained and well-worn gardening sneakers and (drum roll, please) break open the bags.

By mid-March it’s high time to check on the health of my collection of canna bulbs. Some will have rotted, unfortunately, but the majority will be pushing out pale green shoots; ready for planting in my garden. Early spring is the time to get these bulbs back in the ground so that, come July, there will be an amazing field of five foot plus high plants with wide tropical fronds and enough brilliant tomato red colored flowers to stop traffic.

I started this cycle of planting and digging up canna bulbs the summer after my cancer diagnosis. Now (happily) heading into year fifteen of my cancer journey, this bulb-in-the-basement routine is a conscious part of my survivorship strategy. I recommend it highly to my fellow green-thumbed survivors!

Until the buds start peeking out on the trees, until temperatures creep above 32 degrees, keep your heart and spirit as warm as you can. And as we all wait for the official arrival of spring on March 21st, please keep in mind the wise, often quoted words of Hal Borland, “No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn. April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series this Spring, hosted by Alysa Cummings. And the good news is that there will be two different Writing the Journey groups in Spring 2013 – one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in Haverford, PA.  Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa Cummings and future Writing the Journey creations.  You can purchase your own copy of Greetings from Cancerland, on Amazon.com!

Rachel Pinkstone-Marx: Book Review and CONTEST GIVEAWAY!

February 1, 2013

Love the recipes from Annette Ramke, CHHC, cancer survivor and co-author of the book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer? Now it’s time share our OWN! Read this review and leave YOUR favorite recipe in the comments section of this post. Annette will pick a winner to receive a FREE copy of  Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen! (Be sure to leave your name & email)

Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen Series

Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer

Annette Ramke & Kendall Scott

(Review by your faithful blog steward, Rachel!)

When you flip open the cover of Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen you learn that this book is “THE resource for the woman who has been handed the cancer card—and for the one who never wants to get it.” However, as a reader and a writer, I think that it’s categorized even better in their dedication. This book is for:

All those who have faced a major life challenge and kept moving forward with determination, because they just have way to much living left to do.

As I have now had the pleasure to read this thoughtful cookbook and speak with both of the authors, I surely connect every word of this book to that purpose.  Authors Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott are both cancer survivors, so they come equipped with the needs and perspective of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In this sassy and insightful book of recipes and stories, they share real-life knowledge and experience about the healing power of food, along with a look into their journeys with breast cancer. These pages are filled with more than 100 recipes for living a healthy life while living with cancer and easing the symptoms of treatment. This should be considered a favorable resource for women, before, during and after treatment. It also doesn’t hurt to give it a read if you haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, but would like an in depth look at a healthy and disease-preventative diet.

Annette Ramke was 36 when she was first diagnosed with cancer, and while in treatment, became immersed in studying nutrition as a way to fight cancer. She felt better than she ever had, including before getting cancer, and decided to pursue further studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, which is where she met Kendall. She is now a certified holistic health coach and works with those facing cancer and other diseases. She lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Kendall Scott was diagnosed with cancer at age 27. She then went from a meat & potatoes/ take-out pizza diet to leafy green veggies and whole grains in baby steps, and felt the improvement even while undergoing chemotherapy. After going into remission, she attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City. She is board certified in holistic health coaching through IIN and the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Kendall teaches nutrition and cooking classes, leads webinars, presents at wellness events and writes online articles as a nutrition expert. She lives in Maine.

As you break the book down after your first read, you note that you can enjoy two large and very different sections of the book:  a “girlfriend’s guide,” where you learn about Annette and Kendall’s “ups and downs” with diagnosis and treatment, and then a thorough second half filled with recipes. The intentions of the book are to help and comfort woman dealing with the struggles and dietary mazes that come along with treatment, but–don’t get me wrong–Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen is a resource that  would definitely appeal to the health/diet-conscious person, whether they have cancer or not.

Focusing on the “cookbook” portion, the recipes range from being as easy as throwing a few ingredients into a blender for a “Gorgeous Green” or “Superfood” smoothie, to moderate difficulty for your “Seitan Strogonoff.” However, nothing seems out of a Beginner Chef’s reach.  Also, there is a handy section at the top of each recipe that starts you out with bullet points of  the recipe’s “healthy helpers” such as being  “detoxifying,” “immune boosting,” and of course, “constipation kicking!” Our authors also then provide a quick, yet informative introduction of the recipes healthy hints. Right in the center of the book is most likely where you will get lost, as you peruse the beautiful photographs of a selection of the finished products as you choose what meal to make yourself.

This uplifting cookbook/memoir will not let you down, as it is written like a guide coming directly from the heart: girlfriend-style. I’m sure you’ll find it hard to pick out just ONE recipe as your favorite!

Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen has received some amazing press, and it’s only right to let all of you hear what some of these acclaimed authors have to say:

“…a beautiful, delicious, and effective way to improve your health at any time—whether or not you have cancer or any disease. In fact, I recommend that all follow this sort of diet for optimal health!”— Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of the New York Times bestsellers: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause

“An essential guide to using food as medicine and creating an inhospitable environment for cancer, while delighting your palette and invigorating your senses. Getting well has never been more fun or tasty!” —Mark Hyman, MD, author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Blood Sugar Solution

Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen offers, in one engaging and comprehensive package, what others don’t – first-hand experience, nutritional know-how, girlfriend-style support and tasty recipes – all designed to help kick cancer or keep you healthy. A healthy diet is an integral part of healing and fighting disease, and Annette and Kendall join you, step-by-step, and empower you to discover how easy and delicious eating well can be – starting with your very next meal! —Dr. Steven G. Eisenberg, Co-founder of California Cancer Associates for Research and Excellence and author of Dancing With The Doctor (2013)

Now it’s your turn! Leave your best recipe in the comments section of THIS book review post (along with your name and contact email address) and Annette will choose a winner!

annette1Annette Ramke, CHHC, is a certified health coach and breast cancer survivor. She took an integrative approach to treatment and focused on a whole food, plant-based diet. She coauthored (with Kendall Scott, CHHC), Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer, released October 2. Learn more atTheKickingKitchen.com.

Julie Anne Mauro: “Strength in the Face of Great Uncertainty”

November 26, 2012

Sometimes getting out your feelings can be just the therapy you need. Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers a “Writing the Journey” Seasonal Writing Series that offers instruction and encouragement for women affected by breast cancer to use this creative outlet to express themselves. On this second installment of the LBBC Blog‘s Writer’s Corner, Julie Anne Mauro shares who own musing on diagnosis and LIVING with metastatic disease.

I Quit Cancer - April 30, 2012 – after an extensive month of tests and trying to get on a drug trial and finally getting on a treatment that is working.

I quit cancer

Seriously, I quit

It’s not a fun job

It certainly doesn’t pay well

And it just takes up too much of my time

I’m tired of Pink

I’m tired of Anti-pink

I’m tired of just being a number

Tired of being a patient

Tired of blood draws and infusions

Tired of looking in the mirror and not seeing myself anymore

Just the battle scars

Just the bitterness

Tired of thinking, will this be the last time I ……

*          *          *          *          *

Untitled – August  7, 2012

Can you do something more than just a prayer?

But fight for me

Fight for me

Show the world that I was once there

Fight for me

Oh fight for me

Let me know that somebody really cares

Fight for me

Oh fight for me

Show me there’s more than blank and empty stares

Oh fight for me

Oh fight for me

Even when I’m weary and on my last breath

Fight for me

Please fight for me

*          *          *          *          *

Julie Anne is a recent transplant to Arizona from New Jersey,  married, and a mother of 2 boys (8 and 14). In July of 2009, a week before her 44th birthday, she was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer. After chemotherapy, a bi-lateral mastectomy and radiation, in May of 2010 her came up clean. She “beat cancer.” One month later, she found a lump in her chest wall–her cancer had spread to the lymphatic system and she was diagnosed Stage IV.  Since then the cancer has spread to her lungs, but she is still here and living strong every day with Metastatic disease.  Her motto is “Strength in the face of great uncertainty.”  Writing has been a great release for her and a way to express herself living in a world of unknowns.

Visit the LBBC Events Page for more information on the “Writing the Journey” Fall Writing Series

Randi Rentz: What to Say (and What Not to Say) when Your Friend is Diagnosed

October 25, 2012

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are asked to support and honor women from all over who are living with the disease. Whether it’s wearing your pink ribbon, donating to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, or simply talking with a friend or loved one who has been diagnosed, you are doing your part. Today, the LBBC Blog welcomes back avid writer, Randi Rentz, as she discusses the ups and downs of comforting a newly diagnosed woman.

A friend called recently. She had just learned that another friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. She could not stop crying after she received the news and had not yet called our friend to offer her…what? What is the right thing to say? What, as a good friend, do you do? My friend called me, thinking I had all the correct answers. She wanted to know if she should stop by our friend’s house (in between sobs). She also wanted to know if she should leave her alone. Seriously. What to say? What to do?

As a survivor, I was touched by the many people who reached out to me, but sometimes, I really had to wonder, what people were thinking. I should have written down some of the things people said to me. Wishful thinking. Although people had good intentions during my diagnosis, I really yearned for friends and acquaintances to “Think Pink” before speaking the “Pink Language.” Let’s face it, my friends were well-meaning, but I was irked.

As we all know, pink is the universal color for breast cancer. It is everywhere. I’ve always loved the color pink, all tones, tints and tinges of it. What can I say? I’m a girlie-girl who loves any shade of pink; especially hot pink. It’s way bolder than blush-and not the least bit bashful. Although I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, the color pink, please don’t tell me pink is my color; especially the same day of my diagnosis. Yup.

Empathy is wonderful, but please don’t say, “You MUST live!” (Duh!!!) or “Are you going to die?” (Geez!!!) And, PU-LEAZZZE don’t say, “My aunt, friend and/or grandmother died of breast cancer.” Ugh!

(I digress…sorry) To be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted other than to inch into my bedroom and wait for my doctor to call me with the next bit of medical information. I was completely self-centered (totally deserved.) I did not think about whether or not I wanted my friends to call, so in hindsight, I can see what a predicament the situation put them in.

So now I know you are thinking uh oh. What did Randi say to her friend who called her or what if I call a sick friend and say the wrong thing? What if I give them words of support and they want to say something snarky to me?  Or, what if I bawl my eyes out when I hear her voice?

I can only tell you based on my own journey into “Cancerville” what I think might be just the right thing to do. Here is my short list of do’s and don’ts:

  • DON’T make remarks about your friend’s lifestyle. Keep your comments such as “How can you not know that by smoking you were putting yourself at risk?” to yourself. People need to come to their own conclusions about themselves.
  • DO Listen. You are there to give your love and support.
  • DON’T ask your friend if you can bring a meal or help somehow.
  • DO say I’m going to take your carpool days. What time do you pick up the kids from school? Or, I am bringing over a meal for Sunday. What time works for you? Whether it’s a carpool, a doctor’s appointment, a meal or an errand, make yourself available, and be specific about what and/or how you will be helping your friend. Just DO it! My dearest friend made a meal chart, sent it out to all my friends via email and had everybody sign up for a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) during my entire treatment. She really earned her golden angel wings for taking charge!
  • DON’T say, “You are going to be fine!”  That was the one-liner that really irritated me. In fact, any reference to being fine can magnify the situation. Do you know for sure that your friend will be fine?
  • DO say, “I’ll be here to support you during and after your treatment. Enough said.
  • DON’T call your friend and unveil the story of how you heard the cancer news, where you were when you found out, how you were told and how upset you are. Also, please don’t say, “Why didn’t you call me right away?” Please remember, this isn’t about you and your feelings, it is about how much you want to support your friend. All of the other details can come later. As she processes her experience I practically guarantee that she will want to tell you anyway.
  • DO call your friend and offer your support and encouragement. You can open the conversation like this: “Oh Dee! I just heard that you are sick. How are you doing?”  It’s really not so horrible to cry, as long as you don’t make the conversation about you.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I believe people saw me differently. Deep down I knew that I was still me, and I wanted to be treated the same as ALWAYS. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t believe I had a diagnosis of DCIS. Breast Cancer? ME? Being sick is so overwhelming, that to have friends come along and lift you out of many overshadowing thoughts, even for 30 minutes, is TRULY wonderful. It made me feel almost normal. Doesn’t normal feel so good?

As I said, I am not an expert. I know only how I felt during my journey into ”The Pink Bubble.” I think as a whole, the dos and don’ts are great guiding principles to stick to. As a friend, your role is to support, help and send love. That pretty much sums it up.

To learn more about Randi you can peruse her blog or read excepts from her book, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!, when you visit her website.

Josh Fernandez: Debra Jarvis and Finding Meaning

October 2, 2012

Rev. Debra Jarvis, Mdiv, says cancer is about finding meaning, trusting your gut, learning to take risks, developing your curiosity and staying awake. To highlight these points, Jarvis utilized a handful of stories throughout her closing speech at the Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Annual Fall Conference on Saturday, Sept. 29. Here on the Blog, LBBC’s Web Content Coordinator, Josh Fernandez,  shares his experience hearing Debra speak at his first ever national LBBC conference.

Her first anecdote directly related to the title of her 2007 book, It’s Not About the Hair. After learning she had breast cancer in 2005, Debra and her husband called family and friends to give them the news. The oft response Debra heard was, “Oh my God, are you going to lose your hair?”

“After about the third phone call, I slammed down the phone and said to my husband, ‘I’m telling you, I’m going to write a book and I’m going to call it ‘It’s Not About the Hair,’’” Debra told the conference audience.

She later learned from friends that what they really wanted to ask was, “Are you going to lose your life?” For her friends and family, the hair question was a way to measure how bad the cancer was.

After explaining the book’s origins, Debra transitioned into her response to the question presented in the book: “If cancer is not about the hair, then what is it about?”

“I think any kind of really challenging experience is about finding meaning,” Debra said in her speech. “The real challenge is that nobody can tell us what our experience means.”

She said it’s up to the individual to discover this meaning, and that meanings are dynamic and change over time. Debra then discussed the importance of developing an attitude of curiosity rather than dread.

“We’ve all seen people facing challenges, and it takes a lot of energy…what if instead of contracting, we expand, move forward with our hands out and our palms up and have an attitude of curiosity, saying, “I wonder what this experience is going to be like?” she said. “When we approach any challenge with curiosity instead of dread, it suddenly becomes interesting and way less intimidating.”

LBBC’S Web Content Coordinator, Josh Fernandez

Debra said this attitude helps individuals  stay awake to possibilities and experience growth and change. She said being awake means “knowing that being alive is a gift, and that this gift is finite; it will end…To me, being awake is our task to love and leave the planet a better place in any way we can.”

Debra also said that it’s crucial not to “go back to sleep”. She cited an anecdote about a woman she met five years ago while working at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where she also received treatment. The woman was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and told Debra that she wanted to see her grandchild grow, start a garden, stop being judgmental and appreciate life in general.

Two years after the initial conversation, Debra ran into the woman in front of a chase case of a supermarket. Debra asked the woman about her grandchild, her garden and life in general, and the woman’s responses – among them being that her grandchild was a “nightmare” and that she didn’t garden because she didn’t want to ruin her manicure – indicated she hadn’t followed through on the promises she made to herself when she was receiving treatment. She was the same person she was before her cancer diagnosis; she had “gone back to sleep.”

When she finished telling the story, Debra said staying awake was important for continued growth.

“We don’t need to have breast cancer for spiritual and personal growth…but if we are touched by cancer, let’s use it. Let’s find meaning, let’s take risks and trust our gut, and be curious and open and not go back to sleep,” she concluded.

Check out Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s website to read Debra’s Ask-the-Expert questions. Also, feel free to peruse the Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s blog to read recent blog posts from Debra and stop over at Amazon.com to purchase her book, It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer.

2012 Fall Conference Speaker, Rev. Debra Jarvis: Speaks (part three)

September 26, 2012

On Saturday, September 29th 2012, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host the Annual Fall Conference at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. Women from all over the country will join us for presentations on a plethora of topics, ranging  on tops from “Long Term Survivorship” and “Newly Diagnosed,” to “Care for the Caregiver” and “Navigating Health Insurance Claims.”  Today, the LBBC Blog  offer one more installment from Reverend Debra Jarvis, our closing plenary speaker at this year’s event, as she discusses her experience with the “Random Voice Of God.”

A few months ago I took a four-hour trip to a mineral springs to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We all agreed we would not do this again for one weekend.

However all the travel gave us plenty of time to witness the Random Voice Of God (RVOG). Like a “found” poem the RVOG is everywhere. We first encountered it at a toll bridge where we read the sign, PROCEED WHEN CLEAR.

This is good spiritual advice. We noted it accordingly. Don’t proceed without clarity. Just wait. All shall be revealed in the fullness of time. But our culture rewards the quick, the speedy. Decide now! Au contraire, my friends. A wise woman once said to me, “Never make a decision in the presence of the person who is asking the question.”

She didn’t mean at the latte stand or in a restaurant. She meant questions like, “Will you take this job?” “Mastectomy or lumpectomy?” “Can you take my kids one day a week?” Think about it. Sleep on it. Proceed when clear.

One of the pools at this mineral spring accidently got up to 125 degrees and we considered poaching chicken in it. Posted in front of it was another sign from the RVOG: STAY OUT OF HOT WATER.

You would think this would be obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of people we saw who tried to dip their feet in it. What were they thinking? What makes us do things that will so clearly burn us?  Curiosity? Stupidity? A misguided sense of daring or rebellion? Grow up. Stay out of hot water. Life hands you enough hot water without your jumping into it.

That night my friend was handing out pieces of birthday cake. The edge pieces had lots of icing, the middle not so much. So she asked my friend, “What would you like?”

And my friend replied, “I’d like an inner piece.”

“Wouldn’t we all!” I shouted. But it was really the RVOG at the food fest reminding us that an inner peace is desired by everyone.

So I suggest we put it out there to the Universe: I’D LIKE AN INNER PEACE.

My favorite sign of all was posted next to Acacia cemetery on Bothell Way in Seattle. Sometimes we just need a sign from the Random Voice Of God that affirms what we already know, that reassures us by stating the obvious. The sign read: DEAD END.

Well, duh. Thank you anyway.

But hold on! It did make all of us in the car ponder what are the dead ends in our lives? What attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, friends no longer serve us but are holding us back, that are DEAD ENDS?  Where are your dead ends?

So stayed alert.  The RVOG is everywhere. Where have you witnessed it?

Debra Jarvis, “the irreverent reverend with something to say,” is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She is the author of several books, most recently It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer (Sasquatch Books, 2007) which was finalist for the 2009 Washington State Book Awards.  For more information on her work or her writing, visit her website. Visit the LBBC Events page for further registration information on the 2012 Annual Fall Conference.


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