Sunday, November 9, 2008

Angels Among Us

Two things prompted me to think of angels today. The first one is related to cancer, and the second one isn’t.

Imerman Angels is a non-profit that pairs cancer survivors with cancer fighters – those in the middle of their treatment or the beginning of their diagnosis. While Lance Armstrong defines a survivor as anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, from the day they are diagnosed, Jonny Imerman has to have a way to distinguish the two groups.

Diagnosed with cancer at age 26, Imerman had great support from family and friends, but never met anyone his age who was a cancer survivor while he was fighting his own battle. His own experience was the inspiration for his organization now helping so many others, and his goal is to make sure everyone diagnosed with cancer can talk immediately with someone else who is similar to them in age, gender and cancer type. These “angels” are walking, talking, living proof to inspire the newly-diagnosed that they too can beat the disease.

Jonny is the most enthusiastic, kind-hearted and loving soul you could ever hope to meet. He does his work with tremendous passion, and brings hope to so many. In that way, he is like the other angels I was reminded of today.

Matthew Shepard died on October 12, 1998, ironically, just one day after National Coming Out Day, and – unbelievably – ten years ago. At his funeral, Fred Phelps and other anti-gay members of his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, picketed displaying signs reading: “God Hates Fags,” and “Matt in Hell.”

As a counter-protest, a group of supporters led by Matt’s close friend, Romaine Patterson, dressed in white robes with huge wings, and stood silently with their backs to Phelps’ crowd, making a human barrier between the two groups. This You Tube video depicts the story with great music, but many misspellings in the text.

This week as we have so much to celebrate in this country’s election of its first African-American President, we are also reminded that there are still great divisions among us. I don’t usually get political in this column, but it’s hard to ignore the divisive rhetoric whipped up by a long campaign season, and the outcome of three anti-gay ballot initiatives across the country.

Proposition 8 in California passed by half a million votes, removing the right of gay people in that state to marry. I have personally, never understood how consecrating a loving relationship between two individuals of the same sex in any way threatens the institution of marriage, and I am deeply disturbed that we spend so much time and energy on a topic that should be a non-issue - especially when there are so many important and true problems to worry about.

The labels we all wear don’t begin to describe us as individuals: Christian, gay, Muslim, Black, Republican, liberal, cancer-survivor, disabled, Latino, leader, friend, husband. Even “angel” isn’t the complete story, but a picture of a moment in time when we are at our best. I hope in time the labels won’t be necessary, and we can recognize the commonalities rather than the differences when we look someone in the eye.

I voted for Barack Obama in part because I felt he could bring us together as a country. I was convinced by his 2004 DNC speech that he would try when he said, “We are not a nation of blue states and of red states. We are the United States of America.” It is time for us all to find some common ground rather than continuing to hurl insults from the wings. I created a blog called Meet in the Middle in hopes of starting a dialogue on the issues. Join me in the middle, won’t you?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Your Cancer Risk: How Much Do You Want to Know?

Sometimes medical advancements can give us more information than we want to know. With the discovery of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes, mutations of which are responsible for breast and ovarian cancer, women can now find out their risk of developing these two cancers. That is both good and bad news. There are many factors to consider before being tested. Is there a history of either disease in your family? Do you belong to one of the ethnic groups at a higher risk?

The test is expensive, and may or may not be covered by insurance, and there is still a chance of discrimination if you find out you do carry the gene mutation, though Congress did pass an anti-discrimination law this year to protect against this problem. Perhaps most difficult, though, are the decisions you will face if you find that you are positive. Would you have prophylactic surgeries, removal of your ovaries and breasts, to reduce or eliminate your chances of getting cancer? Many women have.

What if you are single? Want to have kids? How do those factors weigh into a decision that may save your life? It’s really an unfair position to be put into, and at the same time, gives us a new power to preserve life that wasn’t available before. One young woman, Joanna Rudnick, currently in her early thirties, documented her experience of carrying the burden of knowing, as well as that of others in her film In the Family.

The film is currently being screened at events around the country and on PBS during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can also watch it online here through the end of the month. In the film, Rudnick struggles with her own desire to have children, juxtaposed against the chance that she could die if she waits too long to take preventative measures. In her thirties and single, she hears the ticking of a potential time bomb in addition to the proverbial biological clock.

I recognized, as someone also stated in the documentary, that women and men who test positive for this gene mutation feel the same as those of us who are cancer survivors. Many of the same emotional and psychological issues apply. You are forced to acknowledge your mortality, and to make medical decisions that will “mutilate” your body, but could save your life. It is an impossible position, really.

I can understand Joanna’s need to do so much research and talk to other women faced with the same decision. Her search allows us to go along for the ride, and will help many women who are also struggling with finding their own path. At one point in the film, Joanna’s boyfriend wonders, “Does she only like me because she wants my babies, and she wants them quick?” All single woman of a certain age have probably dealt with this stereotype at some point, and those with a cancer history or probability likely feel it more acutely. As if finding the right person weren’t already difficult enough, the added pressure of a deadline is just so unfair!

I recently received my second cancer diagnosis. As always, the wait for test results can be the worst part. I knew when they asked me to call them for my biopsy results that it was “bad” news. If it had been all clear they would have just said so on the voicemail. Then when I told the receptionist my name, there was a long hold. I figured they were getting the doctor to deliver the verdict. Turns out it was a nurse.

Luckily this one was much less serious than my first. A small basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my shoulder/back was dealt with in a minor office procedure at my dermatologist’s. Five stitches later, I will have a small scar, but we got all the margins, so it’s all gone this time. I have had two other scary-looking moles removed, but both biopsies were negative. This one was a tiny, innocuous-looking pink bump that I noticed back in the spring and was just too busy to worry about until fall. Meeting a melanoma survivor in July at the LIVESTRONG Summit in Ohio lit a fire under me to find a dermatologist when she told me her diagnosis began with a small pink bump on her shoulder in her early twenties.

My chances of getting more of these is higher now, so I will have to be even more vigilant about watching for changes in my skin and using sunscreen. I always figured skin cancer was in my future. I’m fair-skinned, and I life guarded for eight years starting at sixteen. I grew up on a lake, guide whitewater canoe trips, and I live in Colorado, where the elevation puts us closer to the sun’s rays and we get more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

Whether getting a genetic test or taking part in recommended screenings, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of getting cancer. Go here to read more about them.

Find out more about genetic testing here.

Even if you missed the television event on September 5th, it’s not too late to Stand Up to Cancer. Find out how.

Watch a three-minute preview of In The Family here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cancer: By The Numbers

Statistics are used and abused so regularly that they have lost the power to impact us. We hear so often that 1 in 5 “this” and 30-percent “that,” and half “the other,” that we don’t really realize what the numbers are saying to us. I don’t know if the numbers I am going to share in this article will be any different. Personal stories are much more likely to tug at our heart-strings and make a real impact.

Given that, let me ask you this: Do you know anyone who has been affected by cancer? Lost a loved one, has a friend who was diagnosed, or is even a survivor themselves? I doubt there’s a person in the world who can answer no to that question. Everywhere you go, someone has a personal story – or several. In my family alone, my uncle and grandfather both died of cancer in the past year, and I was diagnosed two years ago. I’m sure you have a similar story.

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death behind heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2008, they estimate that more than half a million Americans will die from cancer. That number accounts for 22-percent of all deaths - one-third of those deaths from lung cancer alone. From 1950 to today, the death rate from heart disease has dropped dramatically, while cancer deaths have dropped only slightly.

In 1971 Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, and yet 1.5 million Americans are newly diagnosed each year. In terms of personalizing these statistics in order to help them hit home, the ones regarding people under 40 are especially significant to me.

• Cancer incidence in young adults (15-39) has doubled over the past 30 years to nearly 70,000 diagnosis each year.º

• Roughly 10,000 young adults (YA) die each year due to cancer.º

• The 5-year survival rates in YA has not improved over the past 30 years¹ and currently hovers on average in the low-to-mid 60% range. (As compared to high 80's in children and older adults)

• Why? Three reasons: delayed diagnosis, access to clinical trials and age-appropriate peer support that contributes to quality of life.º

These statistics were taken from the website of I’m Too Young for This, a cancer advocacy organization for young adults. The National Cancer Institutes is their source. These are the numbers that frighten me the most. Cancer diagnoses are hitting adults at younger ages – a population that “isn’t supposed to get cancer.” Another organization, SeventyK is advocating for this population and has developed a Young Adult Cancer Bill of Rights to establish a standard of care to meet the needs of this underserved population.

Young adults may also be at greater risk because of lack of health insurance. Between the end of college and the beginning of new careers, many twenty-somethings forego health coverage as an expense they can’t afford. Coupled with the fact that employers are placing more of the burden on employees and other expenses of this age group loom large, new workers who are young, and healthy assume they can go without. As many as 15 million people between the ages of 18 and 34 are now living without medical coverage.

Of course, medical care is becoming a larger issue for all Americans as costs skyrocket and coverage shrinks, even as premiums and deductibles rise. This article from The Philanthropy News Digest details the “perfect storm” of economic factors that is hurting working families. Additionally, President Bush has proposed deep cuts in funding to the CDC, NIH and NCI over the past two years, the first funding decreases since 1970. These three organizations play a vital role in our nation’s health, and the research they fund has the potential to develop new treatments and save thousands of lives.

This month (September) is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, another fact that has personal significance to me. Cancer also got a prime-time slot on all three networks on September 5th, as Stand Up To Cancer aired. The show featured 50 celebrities and medical experts, seeking to raise money to support research since government funding has been cut every year since 2003.

Even as one person, you can make a difference in these numbers. Here’s how:

• VOTE – Who you cast your ballot for, donate to or volunteer for does make a difference this election year. Research candidates at all levels carefully for their stance on healthcare and support of funding for research.
• SUPPORT – causes that are important to you with your time and money. There are countless organizations working on this important issue. Get involved with one or more today.
• SHARE – these and other resources with friends and family members. Knowledge is power. There are great resources to help no matter what your circumstance. Help your loved ones access help.
• CHECK – your own body for signs of trouble. Suspicious moles, strange symptoms, unusual aches and pains could be signs of a larger problem. Listen to your body and seek the advice of a doctor immediately when symptoms occur.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


There are some aspects of my life that help me feel a modicum of control over my health, and these are becoming more important to me – exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and managing my stress through meditation and yoga. I do a decent job on most of them, most of the time, but when I get busy with work or travel, most of it goes out the window. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with maintaining a regular fitness routine. I love how I feel when I exercise, but still have a tough time motivating myself to do it. I have been told making an appointment with yourself is the key – to literally schedule an appointment in your planner and honor it as you would a commitment to anyone else. I vow to try that and see if it works.

I tend to think since I work from home, that I am flexible, and can wait until the right moment when I need a break, and then I will stop to exercise. The problem is the right moment never comes. Something pressing is always there to fill the time, and before I know it, another day is gone and it’s time to think about what to fix for dinner. I find it interesting that we have the most difficult time honoring our commitments to ourselves. Most of us would never stand-up a friend or skip a meeting with a client – we try our best not even to be late for these appointments. However, most of us find it quite easy to reneg on a promise we made to ourselves.

I marvel at the women who have families to care for, and still manage to find time for exercise and taking care of themselves. These days, most of us are juggling work, family, aging parents, volunteer work and countless other demands on our time. Why is it that I can’t prioritize exercise when I live alone and work from home, and have the most flexible schedule in the world? When I have more to do, I magically find a way to get it all done, and I have heard the same from many a job applicant during the interview process, so perhaps that’s the key. Flexibility is not always our friend. Typically, having a lot on our plates helps us to balance everything better.

These days, it is easy to feel that our lives are out of control 90% of the time – not only on a day-to-day basis, but for the long haul as well. So many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water that life can feel overwhelming to the extreme. I sometimes feel as if we are just going with the flow, doing what is expected, being good citizens and following some prescribed plan for our lives without any real thought as to what we want.

My 20-year high school reunion is coming up this summer, and I have been reading postings on the website about my classmates and what they’ve been up to since graduation. I was surprised to read that many of them have children in high school, and my jaw just about hit the floor when I read that a few of them are grandparents! It made me wonder how many of us wake up one day with surprise at the life we find ourselves in. Would it have been what we would have mapped out for ourselves, or is it something we could never have imagined?

I certainly haven’t followed the typical route in life, or the one I thought I would follow. I was doing an interview for a magazine the other day and the reporter asked me how my cancer diagnosis impacted my life. There are so many answers to that question, but I told her about my change in perspective. When you are suddenly faced with your own mortality, you view your life in a whole different way. I recognized right away that I might not live to see old age, or to meet my grandchildren; and then, almost immediately that I probably actually wouldn’t even have children, much less grandchildren.

At first, this was an overwhelmingly sad thought, and then when I explored those feelings more, I realized that children were never high on my list to begin with, but rather, something I thought I would do because it’s just what you do. That experience of being a mother is such a quintessential female longing it seems, and being a woman doesn’t feel complete in some ways unless you are a mother. I love children, but don’t feel the need to have my own. However, motherhood is such an expected role for women in our society that is almost makes me uncomfortable to write this, and I have friends who get tired of answering questions about when they will have children. It is difficult for society to accept that some of us don’t choose that path.

I have spent a great deal of time over the years, comparing my life to others’, and wishing for things I don’t have – a high paying job, a fantastic boyfriend, a new car, a big diamond engagement ring, an exotic vacation, adorable children – but when I really look at my life, I am very, very happy with what I have, and I wonder again if I wanted those things because some larger force is making me feel that I should? A good friend shared this phrase with me a long time ago, and it is so appropriate. I remind myself of it often: “Don’t should on yourself.”

When I am completely honest with myself, the most important things to me are: work that makes a difference (and supporting me at a minimal level of comfort is a bonus), good friends, time to do the things I enjoy – spend time outdoors, attend cultural events, read and travel – and family. I may not ever have kids, but I have the best parents and sisters anyone could ever ask for, and a great brother-in-law and amazing niece and nephew to boot. The fantastic boyfriend is still on the wish list, but I have no doubt he will show up eventually, and hopefully turn into a fantastic husband someday as well.

The truth is, we do have control of how our lives turn out, and if at any moment we aren’t happy with the way things are going, we can change them. Sometimes it takes a catalyst like cancer, divorce or getting fired, and other times, it just takes awareness. Too many of us are merely surviving, and not always paying attention to what we truly want. Take control of your life, and figure it out. There is nothing more important.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


“How are you feeling?” People ask me that all the time now – especially those I see only occasionally. Or “How ARE you?” said slowly and with emphasis. “Is everything ok?” is another common one. All of these are code for “What’s going on with your cancer?” They are not inappropriate questions. The people asking them truly care about me, and want to know how I’m doing. I guess none of us is all that sure just how best to ask. I’m not totally sure how to answer either. I usually respond with something pithy and upbeat like, “Feeling great! Totally back to normal,” to let them know that I know what they’re really asking about.

I appreciate their concern and interest, but the truth is, I wonder if I will ever return to being just me, or will I always and forever now be the girl who had cancer? When I was in treatment, there was an outpouring of support – cards, phone calls (my cell phone bills were out of control), gifts, and visits. Those have ended now, and truthfully, I miss them. It’s such a balancing act – all this stuff that comes along with a cancer diagnosis. Many of us want to return to “normal” as soon as possible and never have any reminder that we were ever “sick.” Others immerse themselves in their newfound cancer community or get really involved with serving the cause – raising money, promoting awareness or taking some kind of leadership role.

I am somewhere in-between, I guess. On the one hand, I write a monthly column about my experience as a single woman dealing with cancer, and there are certain aspects of this disease and its causes that I think about regularly. On the other hand, I am completely confident that I am ok, and I don’t worry about the cancer coming back or think about it on a daily basis. None of us really knows, of course. The cancer could come back anytime, or strike someone new who just the day before never dreamed they would be affected.

Many cancer survivors have said there is no longer any such thing as normal, that we must get accustomed to a new normal. That idea makes a lot of sense. Cancer brings gifts as well as hardships, and for most of us, our lives will never be the same. For some, survival brings a new lease on life, the end to a destructive relationship they didn’t have the courage to leave before, or the advent of a new passion to explore personally or professionally. For others, it brings only surgery scars, early onset menopause and depression. Most of us probably have some combination of both the gifts and the doubts.
What is normal anyway? Does such a thing exist? And if it does, who really wants to be “normal?”

Whatever they are, others’ questions help us know that someone cares. This has always especially been the case for me. I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but somewhere along the way, I developed the idea that people who don’t ask me personal questions, don’t care about me. I have discovered that this is not always the case, but the idea persists for me nonetheless. Probably I feel this way because that is how I let others know I care about them – I ask them about their life, their recent trip, their ailing mother, or how their dissertation is going. It is my way of saying, “I remember that you went on vacation, and I’m interested in hearing about it because you’re important to me.”

A friend and I were having lunch the other day and she pointed out that we give others what we want them to give us. She brought it up in relation to her romantic relationship, but it really applies in any situation, and it is so true, isn’t it? The problem can occur when we fail to communicate what we really need, and assume the other person will just KNOW. Men complain about this all the time in regard to women. They want us to tell them what we want, but we too often expect them to divine it on their own – and some women go so far as to believe that if they really loved us, they would figure it out. Sometimes, even we don’t know what we want – we just know it’s something other than what we’re getting.

Given that, it’s important for us to ask ourselves the big questions as well. Two of the biggest are: Who are you, and what do you want? Some others: What makes you happy? What do you value? What can you not live without? Where are you going? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you believe? The list is endless. Pick up a journal or sit down to meditate and start figuring out the answers. There is an old joke about Unitarian Universalists – the liberal faith tradition that I ascribe to – that we question the answers. Many turn to religion to answer their questions, and give them a theology to cling to. We, on the other hand, tend to stir up questions and encourage people to find their own path. That is probably why it appeals to me so much.

Whatever your questions, I hope you are able to answer them, and more importantly, I hope you have people in your life to ask!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bad News & A Way to Help

Single Diva and cancer-survivor extraordinaire Vivy Porter won't be seen on Lifetime's Side Order of Life again this summer/fall. The network announced today that the show has been canceled. Or rather, they didn't really announce it, but quietly pulled it from the line-up. Go here to read more:

I just read in this week's issue of Newsweek about a progressive cancer study being undertaken by the American Cancer Society called CPS-3. They are ambitiously looking for 500,000 people between the ages of 30-65 who have never had cancer. They have 23,000 so far the article says. The study will follow participants for 20 years in an effort to figure out who gets cancer and why.

Unfortunately, this study doesn't appear to be specifically looking at the one age group in which survival rates have not improved over the last 30 years - those 15-39 - however, the results will still provide much-needed information in the fight against cancer. If you are interested, go to to learn more or click here to enroll in the study.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

You Are What You Eat

I ate dinner at Burger King tonight. I blame it on the crazy day I had – eating a late breakfast and working feverishly all day on too many projects, all of which seemed equal in priority, skipping lunch for an afternoon hair appointment which ran late, so that I was rushing back home to get my things for a meeting across town. It was only as I was sitting in traffic because of an accident that I realized how low on gas I was. I shifted the options back in forth in my mind: I can probably make it to the meeting and then get gas afterward. Followed by: I am already 20 minutes late because of the traffic, five more minutes won’t make that much of a difference, and I have an ironclad excuse. I got to the meeting 30 minutes late after stopping to put $5 in the tank – which barely moved the needle above E – only to find that the person I was meeting had also gotten stuck in the traffic and didn’t show for another 20 minutes. Meeting complete, it is now 7 p.m. and even though I had a pretty substantial breakfast for once, it had been ten hours ago.

I know that was a long story to justify my fast-food fix, and that what I described is familiar to many of you. The truth is, I feel the need to justify those now, whereas before I ate fast-food or delivery pizza 3-4 times a week without even thinking about it. Now, once a month seems like too much. As I was sitting there in the drive-thru looking at the menu, I realized why, with the triple-stacker staring me in the face – three beef patties, six strips of bacon, and three slices of cheese on a sesame seed bun – 800 calories, nearly 500 of them from fat. Suddenly, I understood why this country is having an obesity epidemic. These counts don’t even take into consideration the fries and drink! My double-cheeseburger kid’s meal – at 410 calories – paled in comparison to the other mega menu items. Since when did a triple anything become necessary?

As a cancer-survivor, I am more concerned about my diet than I was before, though I still wouldn’t consider myself a fanatic about it. I know other survivors who eat almost entirely vegetarian or even mostly raw vegetables now. I admire them. I don’t know how they do it – especially when traveling limits the options so much. Now that I work from home, it is easier for me to eat healthier with less planning ahead. I have never eaten a lot of junk food – potato chips, snack cakes or candy bars – though I do love an occasional hot fudge sundae or Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll. But now I am eating much more broccoli, less meat, and I have even added kale to my diet. I didn’t even know what that was until a few months ago!

I did used to have a serious addiction to Coke. Mom wouldn’t let us drink it very often growing up (thank you Mom), and I rebelled in college by drinking about a six-pack a day. The zits and freshman 15 soon broke me of that habit, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I have been able to give it up almost entirely. (I did have one tonight as part of my kid’s meal, though milk and apple juice are now options too.) I mostly drink water now, rarely having anything else with meals – milk sometimes, and iced tea in restaurants.

The thing is, I believe that our overly-processed food is killing us. It is causing diabetes at staggering rates, obesity-related diseases through the roof, and yes, even cancer. I have been reading a lot about food lately, and we should all feel indebted to those authors who are exposing the problems with the corporate-driven, agri-business food supply and terrible eating habits in this country. Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan and Kris Carr to name a few. Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation were also enlightening on the film front.

Ever wonder why there has been such a sharp spike in ADD and ADHD rates among children? Look no further than their sugar-laden diet. Who wouldn’t be hyperactive after eating sugared cereal and super-sweet juice for breakfast, drinking soda during the day, Twinkies in the lunch box, a mid-afternoon candy bar snack, and a huge bowl of ice cream after dinner? Sugary treats even masquarade as quick breakfasts on the go now in a variety of “bars” – cereal bars, breakfast bars and even granola bars pack in the high fructose corn syrup. In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock highlighted one Wisconsin school that eliminated all of its student behavior problems with one change. Instead of serving buy-in-bulk processed lunches, they bought locally produced food and made healthier meals from scratch. That’s it.

In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan notes that proportionally, Americans spend the same amount now as they did in 1960 on two major budget items – food and healthcare – only the percentage in each category has reversed. We now have access to cheaper and cheaper processed food-like substances, but we are spending much more on the diseases that this type of eating causes. As Pollan says, “Right now you have the food industry creating patients for the healthcare industry.” Doesn’t it make you kind of sick just thinking about how corporations are making large profits at the expense of our health? Pollan also suggests that if the government were paying for healthcare in this country, it would be far less likely to cave in to the food industry in making eating recommendations and setting policy.

We do have free will, and it’s time we exercised it by making better food choices. I have begun reading labels for the first-time ever. Pollan recommends we don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients or any ingredient we can’t pronounce. I also joined a CSA – these community-supported agriculture programs are popping up all over. Buy a “share” in the spring to support the seeds and labor of planting crops, possibly donate a little of your own sweat equity in weeding and watering, and reap the benefits of a big box of fresh produce every week through the summer and fall. Go in with friends though, as the shares yield large quantities of veggies.

It is very difficult, and often more expensive to eat healthily in today’s America. Choosing wisely from the menu is hard, and portion sizes are out of control. The large beverage of my youth is now smaller than the kid’s size at the movie theater. Many places don’t even have a small size anymore – it starts at “medium” or “regular” on the menu. Organically and locally grown produce is more expensive, and not everyone can afford to avoid processed and packaged food. Their price and convenience make them staples in lower socio-economic groups. However, farmer’s markets are growing in popularity, as are CSAs. Buying directly from the source has several benefits – you know where your food is coming from and can ask questions about how it was grown, you eliminate the middle-man, which can save money and also means your food wasn’t packaged and shipped for days to reach you, not to mention you are supporting the local economy and farmers with sustainable practices while creating a smaller carbon footprint at the same time. Win-win-win.

Finally, the slow food movement is catching on around the world. Started in Europe as a response to western fast-food creeping into their culture, slow food suggests that our eating should be based on quality, taste, environmental sustainability and social justice. It draws us back to a time when families sat down at the dinner table together to eat the same thing (and not individual meals nuked in the microwave). I have some friends who have hosted slow food events for groups of friends, and think it is a tradition worth continuing. If we truly are what we eat, we all need to be more intentional about what that is.

Side Order of Life

Lifetime Television's Side Order of Life, has one season under its belt. Many, many young cancer survivors are hoping for a second one. The show features character Vivy, a single woman in her thirties in treatment for breast cancer. Vivy has been called the first realistic, young cancer survivor ever depicted on television. For those of us living with this disease, that portrayal is an important affirmation that we too are living with the disease, and not being beaten by it. Keeping this character, and excellent show on the air is important as it will hopefully encourage other networks and entertainment executives to create similar portrayals.

The cause of keeping the show on the air has been taken up by the young adult cancer community. Andrea Wong, Lifetime's CEO has been deluged with mail and phone calls pleading with her to save this show. These kinds of campaigns have worked in the past. Please add your name to the list of survivors who want to continue to see good television like SOOL. Call 310-556-7500 and let Ms. Wong's assistant know you want to see the show back for a second season, or send take out menus to this address, and ask that SOOL be kept "on the menu":
World Wide Plaza
309 West 49th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019

This movement is even getting some press in Hollywood. To read about it, go here:

Friday, March 7, 2008

70K - Aged 15-39 Diagnosed with Cancer Yearly

I just found out about one of the coolest efforts on behalf of young people with cancer. Did you know there were 70,000 of us diagnosed every year? Did you know that while survival rates for most age-groups have improved dramatically over the past 30 years, for people 15-39, not so much. Not at all, even. Whether it's access to screenings or being taken seriously by doctors, this problem clearly needs some attention. If you support the rights of this group in dealing with their cancer diagnosis, please go here: and sign on as a supporter of this: (Watch the video too.)

Adolescent and Young Adults Cancer Bill of Rights.

We are neither pediatrics nor geriatrics,
we have unique needs - medically, socially, and economically.

However, the rights and dignity of adolescent and young adults are
equal and vital to all individuals.

We deserve to have our beliefs, privacy,
and personal values respected.

Access to care is a right,
not a privilege.

Our rights, as we perceive them to be and intend to preserve them, are:

  1. The right to be taken seriously when seeking medical attention to avoid late diagnosis or misdiagnosis, and entitlement to separate and confidential discussions regarding our own care.
  2. The right to affordable health insurance, as well as early detection tests unhindered by insurance or socioeconomic status.
  3. The right to be offered fertility preservation as well as current information and research regarding ongoing and potentially lifelong effects of cancer treatment that would affect our fertility.
  4. The right to be informed about available clinical trials and given reasonable access to them.
  5. The right to untethered access to adolescent and young adult cancer specialists and, when requested, a second opinion regardless of insurance or geographic location.
  6. The right to access a social worker or caseworker who is well-versed in adolescent and young adult cancer specifics.
  7. The right to “generationally applicable” psychosocial support.
  8. The right to have our insurance and position as a student or employee protected by law while dealing with our cancer in order to minimize discrimination.
  9. The right to clear explanations regarding the long-term side effects of our disease and its treatment, and to be offered all available and applicable physical reconstruction and rehabilitation options.
  10. The right to have all of our treatment options explained to us in full detail, to have our questions answered, and to receive clarification when requested so that we can be an active part of our own care.

Preserve our potential.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Hallmark Holidays: A Single Cell

I was going to post something about retreats this month, but then Valentine’s Day rolled around, and I decided someone who writes about issues from a single perspective couldn’t pass up this opportunity to address the holiday I like to call “Singles Awareness Day.” I think if you show any disdain for V-Day and you’re single, people assume it’s bitterness shining through. I used to get excited about getting flowers on February 14th when I was dating someone, and I still delight in the cards I receive from friends and family now when there is not a significant other. I even sent out my own custom-made cards this year to the special people in my life, and took the extra step of sending them through Loveland, CO to have them hand-cancelled by volunteers with the annual city of love stamp.

Even given all of that, I still think Valentine’s Day, like Christmas and Easter, has become more about commercialism than the real reason for each of those venerated celebrations. As someone who has signed onto the idea of the Compact, and bought very little new since last June, I have been appalled at just how consumer-driven our culture has become. Many others have as well, as evidenced by the popularity of the San Francisco-based Compact and the recent growth in popularity of FreeCycle. We are beginning to recognize that blatant consumerism is damaging our environment and our culture. More and more of us are waking up to a different way of living – realizing that we don’t have to have the very latest electronic gadget to be happy, and that we can probably borrow or buy used, much of the “stuff” that we really need.

It is so easy to let the marketplace with its expensive advertising, tell us what we need to be happy. It takes much more intentionality and thought to choose to live differently. The array of things that will supposedly make our lives better is endless, and the amount of time we are spending at work in order to buy them continues to grow. Personally, I would rather have more free time and control over my work schedule than all of the shiny new stuff that clutters up my living space. Really, how special do you feel to get a dozen roses or a piece of jewelry or a nice dinner out because some holiday prescribes it necessary? Isn’t it far better to have love shown by family, friends and romantic partners on an ordinary day through simple gestures – a card or note, a great massage or even a thoughtful email?

My family started some new Christmas traditions a few years ago that I am proud of, and which have turned out to be so much more fulfilling than any store-bought gift we could give. We started by deciding not to buy gifts at all, but donate the money we would have spent to worthy charities instead. On Christmas morning, we would share stories about where our donations went to, and how we chose them. Next, we decided to reinstate gifts, but rather than buying for everyone, we would draw a name and make our gift.

The gifts over the past five years of this tradition have been more meaningful and special than anything available in a store for any price! I have a talented family, so some of the gifts are still quite extravagant – soft quilts, beautiful cross-stitch, paintings, candles and gorgeously crafted furniture. Others have been simpler, but even more meaningful: scrapbooks, memory books, and CDs and DVDs with special songs or precious memories. This new tradition nourishes our creativity and invites us to express our feelings through our gift. The best part is that there are no returns, and everyone always loves what they get.

Colleen Anderson started a great tradition in Denver that is still going strong. She received chemo after her diagnosis, like me, with ovarian cancer. In 2002, she started Project Valentine, to deliver goody bags to men, women and children getting chemo on Valentine’s Day. Even though Colleen passed away this year from her cancer, her legacy lives on in the non-profit she started. Her friends and family, with the help of many volunteers, have kept the project going. If you think it’s bad being single on Valentine’s Day, imagine having to sit through hours of chemotherapy, and then deal with the associated side-effects for the next week! Doesn’t put you in a very romantic mood.

The project started in November with a meeting and the divvying of duties. Volunteers signed up to solicit donations of bags, books, DVDs, bracelets, lotion, candy, hats, scarves and other items. Others got cash donations to buy needed items, stored donations in their garages and rallied volunteers to decorate hundreds of valentines. There was a Saturday devoted to sorting and counting and filling candy bags, and another to assembling the bags. On the 14th, despite three inches of snow covering a quarter inch of ice on everything in Denver, drivers fanned out across the city to deliver the bags to infusion centers. Some of us were lucky enough to be able to distribute bags to patients directly, and chat with them for a few minutes. The smiles and gratitude from the recipients made the months of hard work and the braving of bad roads all worth it.

I admit I used to call Valentine’s Day Black Thursday, and my single friends and I would dress in all black in mock-protest of the “lovers holiday.” Now I realize how great it is to celebrate love in any form. This year I celebrated my love for me by having an evening all to myself. I lit a fire in the fireplace, cooked a great meal and curled up with a good book. I even got out the guitar I have been promising to learn for the past eight months and taught myself how to tune it – a great start! I went to bed with such a huge smile on my face and deep love in my heart for myself and for life. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?