Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Survivor Looks at Forty: A Single Cell

I am sitting on my lanai on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with my 40th birthday only hours away. As the waves from the Pacific Ocean crash against the rocks below, I can’t help but feel complete awe at the magnificence of my life. Tonight, and most days, really, I am the luckiest girl in the world! In this beautiful condo by the sea sleep four of my friends who said yes to spending my birthday with me in Hawaii. Two more join us in a few days. I am so blessed with so many amazing people in my life. That alone is enough to lead a fantastic life – how blessed are we who have good friends.There also happens to be a fascinating, handsome and funny man in my life at the moment. He finds me sexy, appreciates my brains and makes me laugh. What more could a girl want, really?

Three years ago, I stared ovarian cancer in the face. It was scary and inconvenient, but I was lucky. I received the multitude of life lessons that come from such a diagnosis, and got to walk away relatively unscathed – a few pounds heavier from the steroids that got me through chemo, one ovary lighter, and about a year with varying degrees of hairlessness. Not too bad a deal really in exchange for the rest of your life.

I had lunch last week with a “cancer buddy” – a friend I would likely never have met if a similar diagnosis hadn’t brought us together. She was not as lucky as I, and is already living on borrowed time. Though she has been doing chemo almost continuously for nearly three years now, the cancer is winning, and she knows she will eventually die from this disease. And yet, she lives her life fully every day, spending time with friends and family, golfing, skiing, kayaking and other adventures that even 100% healthy people don’t undertake. She travels and spends quality time with her husband, and talks matter-of-factly about her future, or lack thereof. She is my idol in every way. I feel blessed to have met her, and to learn from her, and I’m continually heartened by her courage and spirit.

Some might feel depressed at turning 40, and the over-the-hill jests are a given as people liken this monumental milestone to the beginning of a downward spiral, but I know better. I have come closer than many my age to the alternative, and turning 40 is more than cause for celebration to me. I have not begun to reach the highest peaks of my life yet, though I am feeling pretty far up in the pinnacles at the moment.

My Dad always swore that life began at 40, and I believe him. I am coming into my own, and I couldn’t be happier. I have a career that is so rewarding, get to do volunteer work that fulfills me, have great relationships with so many incredible people, live in a beautiful state and a fun city, and have the absolute luxury of two weeks in the islands for my birthday. Who could ask for more than that?

I know the year ahead is going to be incredible, and I am embracing 40 with a tremendous amount of affection and gratitude.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Exactly four years ago today I woke up, after ringing in 2006 with fondue and a few glasses of champagne at a friend’s house, to horrible stomach pains. What at first felt like the flu turned out to be the first symptoms of ovarian cancer, eventually diagnosed in May, and treated successfully throughout the rest of that year.

New Year’s Day always brings back those memories, and also reminds me how lucky I am to be healthy and happy at the dawn of another year. This holiday is also a particularly painful time to be single, and I’m reminded of that each year too as couples around me kiss in the new year on tv and at celebrations closer to home.

It is with both of these thoughts in mind that I resolve this year to finally make progress on two goals I have had for some time now. They are:

  1. To find a way to serve single people who are dealing with cancer.
  2. To write a book about my experience as a single person with cancer that might help others in the same boat.

Both goals are highly attainable, and progress has been made, but it has been slow. I am sharing the goals in this column to ask you to hold me accountable. By so publicly promising, after years of moderate progress, I hope to jump-start the process with the help of a strong support network with a vested interest in seeing these goals to fruition. There are many ways you can help:

If you are a single person who has had cancer, I want to hear from you. Your story could inspire someone, and you can share what services would be helpful to you as you navigate this experience. Complete the survey sponsored by the i2y Foundation and Imerman Angels here.

Send thoughts, ideas or just encouragement in the form of comments on this blog or email to: Check in occasionally and ask how things are going. This will remind me that I better have something to report when someone asks. I will also share an update each month at the end of my column. Short excerpts from past columns will be published in a book from Planet Cancer coming out this spring. The columns will likely be the basis for much of my book as well. I have been writing about living with cancer as a single person for almost three full years now, so there is lots of great content there. Let me know your favorites, or share topics you WISH I’d cover.

Let your favorite cancer organizations know what special support you might benefit from as a single person. There are lots of great organizations already out there serving the cancer community, and I feel no need to reinvent the wheel. If this population can be served through joining forces with existing organizations like i2y, Imerman Angels, MyLifeLine.Org, Planet Cancer, First Descents, Voices of Survivors and others, that is ideal. If eventually, a separate organization becomes necessary, that’s fine too. Help me figure out how to best reach single people and get you what you need.

I am planning to put together a dream team of single survivors to help me get this going this year. I know I can’t do it alone. I was lucky enough in November to connect with so many amazing people from the Young Adult cancer community and I will be calling upon them as well.

I hope you will make some resolutions this year as well. Instead of the same old ones about losing weight and saving money, be creative. What do you really want to do in 2010? Now is a great time to reflect and put some goals on paper. Share them publicly and ask the people in your life to support and encourage you to reach them.