Learning to Listen

2019 6 17 LIstenFor the past eight years, I’ve watched my best friend fight her body’s rebellion in the form of Ovarian cancer.

She’s had surgeries, blood transfusion, infusion ports, tubes down her nose, and more lab draws than I can count.

Her life revolves around doctor’s appointments, lab results, and treatments as she tries to have some normalcy in the everyday things.

When she first started this journey, I’ll admit, fury wouldn’t begin to accurately describe my feeling toward the situation.

How dare the evil “C” come after my friend so fiercely! (Insert multiple profanities here.)

If cancer had been person, I would probably be in prison right now. 2019 6 17 Most-people-do-not-listen-with-the-intent-to-understand-they-listen-with-the-intent-to-reply1


Not really.


I’ve said enough…

Anyhew…she got through her initial “debulking” surgery, which consisted of her getting a large, new belly scar, an infusion port, and a whole lot of new medications.

My anger grew as she told me about her upcoming treatments and how much her life changed, but compared to her ferocity at her diagnosis, mine probably looked like a couple of happy bunnies bouncing through the tall grass. Still, I wanted, needed to do something. Fix the situation. Make it better. Have all the answers.

I needed that, but that’s not what she needed.

When she called to tell me about her latest lab results, chemo treatments, or doctor’s appointments, she explained didn’t want me to fix anything.

She didn’t need me to tell her the latest trend in chemo research or if she’d just take these six things out of her diet or if she’d stand on her head every morning, it would cure her cancer.

She certainly didn’t want any articles about miracle cures or survival statistics.

No, what she needed me to do was listen. Just listen.

Understand, that’s difficult for me to do. Simply sit quietly, take it all in, and not spit out a solution.

I have always loved to help people. Over the years, (hopefully) I’ve given helpful advice and fixed situations that need a hand. I’m quick to address a problem and love the chaos of unpredictability.

That’s why I was a damn good trauma/critical care nurse. Before then, I waited tables and tended bar. All are perfect jobs for someone who’s got a brain thinking at ninety miles per hour 24/7.

Such skills didn’t bode well with two thousand miles between us. I couldn’t help her with the daily things like making meals or cleaning her house or helping her get to and from doctor’s visits and chemo treatments.

That stressed me just as much as her battling this stupid, stupid cancer.

2019 6 17 Never Miss a Good ChanceThen in the middle of all this chaos, something beautiful happened. When I asked her what I could do to help, she said for me to “hang out” with her while she had her treatments. “Be there” when she needed to vent and help her translate some of the medical terminology that didn’t quite make sense.

So, every Thursday, we started texting as soon as her butt touched the treatment chair. She’d call me to and from doctor visits and lab draws.

She’d vent when the chemo caused neuropathy bad enough that she didn’t trust her own feet underneath her.

I’d check on her several times a week, simply ask how her day was going. Not all conversations were about cancer. With over forty years of friendship, we quickly rolled back into talking about any and everything–kids, work, books, movies–whatever came to mind.

With all those conversations, I listened and learned and absorbed everything she told me about what she went through.

The obstacles with insurance. The frustration with remembering things she never had trouble remembering before because of “chemo brain.”

She explained how life at work changed because some of her co-workers wouldn’t look her in the eyes anymore when she lost her hair. (Can you believe that?)

Because of that, when I see someone who appears to be going through cancer treatments, I always make eye contact, smile, and say hello. It’s simple and it can mean the world to someone having a particularly crappy day.

She told me how to better ask questions of those going through difficult times and how to  better help.

She also explained, sometimes it’s perfectly okay to say…nothing.

That’s right. You read that right. To say…nothing. To simply sit and listen.

That doesn’t meant you ditch people. What it means is you keep being present, you keep showing up, and you keep being the same friend you’ve always been.

And it’s perfectly okay to tell someone, “I’m not sure how to help you.” or “Please tell me what I can do for you.” or “This sucks.”

Communication can make an amazing difference in the life of someone going through this crap and to communicate better, simply learn to listen.

2019 6 17 Listening to help

If these symptoms are new to you and persist for more than 2 weeks, please talk to your health care provider about addressing them and parameters for follow up.

If you feel your provider isn’t listening, please get a second opinion.

2016 8 31 Symptoms of OC


Dear Friend with Cancer

Dear Friend with Cancer,

Cancer sucks.  Period.  We both have it and we both have recurred twice.  There will likely be no long remissions for either one of us but one thing I know for sure:  we can LIVE with cancer.  That’s right.  We can live with it because it can be treated like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

Sure, chemo sucks, but it can work to prolong our lives.  There may also be clinical trials that might help.  However, nothing will work if we are not ‘plugged in’ and are not being an active participant in our medical journey.  I am a firm believer that attitude is at least half the battle if not more.  Without a positive attitude most of the time, our life becomes very short.  (It’s o.k. to have sad days as long as we don’t unpack and stay there.)

Unfortunately, with this latest recurrence, it looks like you have given up hope and there’s not a single thing I can do about it.   I am not scolding you in any way, I assure you.  I am merely stating my observation from the perspective of someone who cares about you.

To all the ladies out there dealing with ovarian cancer, support is available either in person or via phone, email, or the internet:

SHARE – this organization has a hotline that you can call at any time and speak with a trained fellow survivor.

Woman to Woman – this organization is a partnership between QVC  and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.  It is in several hospitals around the country and also provides support to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Resources – these organizations are partner members with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.  Many have support groups available.

In my state, we are fortunate to have the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing.  This organization provides support, exercise, nutrition, crafts, etc., to cancer patients, their families, and their caregivers FOR FREE.  It’s an amazing organization that I drive two hours each way so that I can go there for my own support as well as for my son.

My sweet friend, so many people love you and care about you.   I have never felt so helpless as I do right now.  There is support available and I hope you will reach out. No one gets through cancer alone.


Getting outside of my comfort zone

This past July, I had the privilege of attending the 15th annual Ovarian Cancer National Alliance conference in Washington, D.C.  I did not know a single person before going but I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and see what this conference was all about since I’d heard great things about previous ones.  The weekend was full of information about clinical trials, the latest research, and loads and loads of support from numerous organizations as well as fellow survivors.  I had the honor of meeting – in person – some of my “teal sisters” that I’d met through an online support group.  The energy and positive vibe throughout the weekend was fantastic.  I learned so much from other survivors from how to deal with side effects to how to deal with stress to nutrition guidelines to getting involved in advocacy.

We had fabulous speakers including the physicians with the latest research, people who spoke about their personal journeys or the journeys of their family members, and Jack Andraka also spoke to us.  He is the 15-year old who won the Intel award for developing a simple test (which only costs 3 cents) that has so far been 100% accurate in detecting pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers.  His test hasn’t yet been entered into human trials but he hopes to do that soon. He is a down-to-earth person who truly wants to find an early detection test for cancer and he may have found it.  I, for one, am very grateful for his research. If you would like to see a bit more about him,  please click the link: Jack Andraka Interview with Diane Sawyer   Our keynote speaker was Miss USA, Olivia Culpo, who had been crowned a few weeks before the conference.  Her mission for this year is to raise awareness about breast and ovarian cancers.  She is a very well-spoken, kind, and intelligent young woman who will work tirelessly to promote this awareness.

In conjunction with the conference, I participated in Advocacy Day. I went to Capitol Hill with about 70 other women and families – including Miss USA – to advocate for research dollars and to advocate for September to be officially recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  This was a totally new experience for me but it was very gratifying.  I met with the staff members of the Senators and Congresswoman from my state.  They were very receptive to my cause and listened to my story with concern.  I told them that mortality rates have not changed in the last 40 years for women dealing with ovarian cancer and that this cancer affects all ages including 3-year old girls, teenagers, women in their 20s, etc.  This is not an ‘older’ woman’s cancer.  The statistics are grim but hopefully, in some small way, I hope I’ve made a difference to raise awareness and get research dollars to find an early detection test for this insidious disease.

I felt like I had met a whole new branch on my family tree during this trip and I was so bummed when the conference ended because I really enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing our experiences.   Therefore, I jumped at the chance to attend a smaller conference in Boston this weekend that was organized by Ovations for the Cure.  Again, I went to the conference not knowing anyone. (As it turns out, I met up with a woman I’d met at the DC conference and there was also a woman from my church who attended.) It was a one-day event but it also provided information and I again had the opportunity to meet other survivors.  There was no cost for this event which was held at the Four Seasons in Boston.  The conference was very informative and we were treated to a fabulous lunch in Aujourd’hui. After all the poking, prodding, needles, surgeries, chemicals, etc., of the past year, it was so refreshing to have had this opportunity to participate in a local event and have lunch in a 5-star restaurant at no cost to me.

What I learned at both conferences is that there are a lot of women living with ovarian cancer.  I want to stress the word LIVING.  These women and their families have such positive attitudes and they do not let anyone rain on their parades.  They are intelligent women who ask intelligent questions and they will keep fighting to beat cancer.  They will find the best clinical trial or the ‘right’ oncologist to work with to get into remission. Some are fighting for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th remissions.  They are the most open, considerate, and generous people that I have met.

Ironically, getting outside my comfort zone and meeting cancer survivors has provided a great deal of comfort to me.   My goal is to continue to help women and provide support just like the women who have helped me.  Yes, we are statistics but we don’t let statistics define us. We will beat the odds!

Advocacy Day 2012

Boston Lunch Menu

Miss USA Olivia Culpo and me at the OCNA conference

If I can do it, so can you

In the mid-90s (March 1995 to be exact), I was in my local big-box book store and I saw Oprah on the cover of Runner’s World. It said, “Oprah can do it, so can you!”  I bought the magazine – for the first time ever – and learned about her marathon training program.  Because of this article, I started running for fun.  I entered 5Ks and 10Ks and even ran a leg of the White Rock Marathon with my employer’s team.  I never ran to win the race but I enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport.  I also found that the more I ran, the more I enjoyed the longer distances.  Eventually (a few years later), I decided that if Oprah can do it, I could, too. I really wanted to complete a marathon!  To me, the marathon seemed to be a goal that a lot of people had but they didn’t really try for it or they didn’t stick to a training program so it was an unattainable goal for them. I wanted to reach that goal and earn a finisher’s medal.

So I’d made the decision that I wanted to complete 26.2 miles.  TWENTY-SIX POINT TWO MILES.  BY FOOT.  No car, no bike.  All 26.2 miles under my own power in a pair of sneakers.  What now?  How do I DO this, I thought?  I did a little research and I signed up for former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s training program.   The people in this program were an eclectic group of folks who came from varied backgrounds – there was a podiatrist (who became quite the expert that we all called on), elite runners, retired grandparents, and working moms and dads like me.  Jeff’s program is a run/walk program and I had my own individual program all outlined for me to work on during the week and then we all got together for the long slow distance runs on the weekends.  I lived in Texas at the time and no matter what time of year it was, it was bloody hot to run.  Either that, or it poured down rain.  There really was no “nice” weather.  But I loved the idea of working towards my goal of completing a marathon.

After signing up for the 6-month program, I was grouped with the grandmas who’d never run a marathon.  I was a new mom but I was o.k. with being with the grammies since I didn’t have a time goal – my only goal was to finish.  I learned quickly that I would need to be self-motivated and disciplined to work the program that was laid out for me.  Honestly, it looked easy on paper and in the grand scheme of things, it was easy as long as I followed it.  My favorite part was the long slow distance runs.  I learned a lot about the lives of these strong women.  Some were old-fashioned and had never worked.  One these ladies wouldn’t make a single decision (I’m not even sure she knew that might even be an option) – she deferred everything to her husband who was also training but he was in a ‘faster’ group.  Another one was a widow and had raised her kids on her own.   And another lady – 75 years young – was training for a half marathon rather than the full marathon.

These ladies all inspired me and I looked forward to our weekly runs because since the long slow distance runs were at a slower pace, we could carry on conversations.  This training took place in what was the height of the ‘Furby’ craze so I got to hear about how each grandma was going to have THE favorite gift for the Christmas season (apparently the black-and-white ones were the prized ones to have way-back-when).   As a new mom, I would never ever consider such a gift for my kiddo but I learned all sorts of tidbits about patience and choosing my battles during my journey through parenthood from this ladies.

What I found with the training was that there would be easier days like the tempo runs and tougher days like hill training. OK, let’s be real….where I lived in Texas, there were not many hills but we managed.  If I was careful and didn’t overtrain, I could stay on target and not get injured.  Jeff’s program suited me perfectly because his philosophy with the long slow distances is to keep pushing ‘the wall’ back – each week, gradually increase the distance.  And each week I did.  Each week I was able to go farther and farther and my self-confidence grew with each passing week.  We all entered the White Rock Half Marathon for a training run (we were scheduled to do 16 miles that day so we started with a 1 1/2 mile warm-up and continued after the half for another  1 1/2 miles).

Jeff came to a few of our training runs and critiqued our running styles, made corrections as necessary, and offered an immense amount of knowledge and support to us. I remember after our 24-mile run, he was snacking on a Snickers bar.  Before anyone could criticize him, he said with a sincere smile on his face, “As far as I’m concerned, if you complete 24 miles, you can eat anything you want.”  As a Snickers fan, I heartily grabbed one, too, because as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t believe I’d just done 24 miles and there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish my marathon now.  What a mental high that was for me and such a boost to my self-confidence.  I was an athlete who was about to enter and complete a marathon.  That’s right….I, with the silhouette of a penguin, was finally an athlete.

Through the course of the training program, I also learned that training for a marathon is a lot like life – there will be tough hills to climb and obstacles, but with patience, consistency, and perseverance, I can always reach my goal. I had tons of support around me and the people who’d run marathons previously were very generous in sharing their expertise.  If that left brain kicks in and takes over, most people will reach the logical conclusion that paying money for a marathon entry fee and then actually choosing to go the distance is a bit wacko.  However, once the entry fee was paid, I committed myself to showing up.  As I lined up at the start (in the back, of course, because I’m a back-of-the-packer), I was nervous.  I wasn’t nervous about finishing because I’d already completed the distance a few weeks earlier when I completed the Galloway program.  I was nervous because this was IT – I was finally going to reach my goal and earn that finisher’s medal.  All the work, all the training…I kept telling myself, “Just trust the training.  You can do this.”  

It took me some time but I did finish my marathon.  Not only that, I did it again four more times.  That’s right – I’ve entered and completed five marathons.  So when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was consistently told that I was doing “so well” with the surgeries and chemo.  I didn’t know why people were telling me that and one night, I was chatting with my best friend about this.  She said to me, “You’re a marathoner.  You know about the long race.  You know about consistency and perseverance and most of all, you know about finishing.  You have your goal here.  You want to beat cancer. You want to see your son grow up.  You will do it because you already have the training inside of you.”  I sat back and said, “OK, if you say so.”  

The more I thought about it, the more I figured she was right.  Marathons are much more mental than physical. The fight to beat cancer is very mental – if chemo gets a hold of a negative thought, it will run away with it and that can be a dark hole that is hard to be pulled out of.  So I went into marathon-training-mental-mode and made it through chemo relatively unscathed.  In March, I was told I was in remission.  I was thrilled. When I went into remission, I signed myself up for a half marathon. I signed up for the very one that I had to pull out of last year a week before the race due to being diagnosed with cancer.  I wanted that finisher’s medal that I was unable to get last year.

The chemo has lasting effects and it’s taken me quite a while to develop any sort of physical stamina.  I am getting stronger each day and I’m proud of myself with each new accomplishment. A year ago yesterday, I was on an operating table having tumor debulking surgery and was staged with late-stage ovarian cancer.  Yesterday, exactly one year later, I was lined up at the start line for the Bar Harbor Half Marathon (my favorite race of all – I’ve done it many times) in my Fight Like A Girl shirt, the shirt I wore to every single chemo treatment.   Just like my battle with cancer, this was a family event.  My sweetie also entered the half marathon and my son entered the 5K.

I started the race early with the walkers (the runners started an hour later) and met up with a beautiful 85-year old woman who said she was “as slow as molasses” and I told her, “I doubt that.  You’re looking strong to me.”  I got passed during mile 5 by the first runner who wore nothing but his Under Armor compression shorts and sneakers.  His number was pinned to his hip because there was not another stitch of clothing on him. A few minutes later, another gentleman and the first woman zoomed past me.  Runners continued to catch up and pass me for the next few miles but I didn’t care.  I was doing my own race.  This wasn’t a competition for me.  This was a day of celebration in how far I’ve come in the last year.

On the dreaded mile-long climb in the middle of the race (I still haven’t gotten over my phobia of hills), some friends of mine who were running the race came from behind and said hello and asked how I was doing.  I said I was doing great – and I was – and they continued on.  Every volunteer shouted, “I LOVE YOUR SHIRT!” and I got applause from volunteers and runners who passed me and said, “Keep going!”  My sweetie, who started with the runners, caught up and I heard him holler from behind me. We crossed the 9-mile marker together and then he zoomed ahead of me to finish his race.

At mile 11, a lady at the top of the hill said, “If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. You look fantastic!  Are you having a good half marathon?”  I said, “I’m having the best half marathon.  It’s sure beats where I was last year and I will finish no matter what.”  She gave me a thumbs-up and then I was joined by a wonderful lady who asked if she could walk with me part of the way.  Since I was the slow one, I had been by myself much of the race so I said she was most welcome to walk with me.  I learned that she lived in the area and she is a 22-year breast cancer survivor. We chatted for almost a mile and she hugged me before jumping off the course. I only had a little over a mile left and then I’d be at the finish line.

I was also joined by the ‘bike sweep’ who is a volunteer who stays with the last person in the race to ensure everyone is off the course so that the mile markers and water stops can be packed up and the wonderful volunteers can go home. He would have also radioed for transportation if I wanted to abandon but I didn’t.  I told him my story and I learned about his 72-lb weight loss over the last year and his journey to fitness. I was starving and he was so generous – he zoomed over to the golf course on his bike and bought me snacks and water to get me through the last mile.  I didn’t catch his name but I will never forget him.  My sweetie had already finished the race and came back to finish with me while my kiddo, who had completed his 5K earlier in the morning, took photos.

I walked every step of the half marathon since I’m still not up to running. Just like my battle with cancer, I never once thought about abandoning or quitting. Once again, I met incredibly generous people along this course who offered me tons of support just like people who have helped me through my battle with cancer.  Much like life itself, I saw everyone that passed by me has his or her own style of running.  Whatever that style is, it works for them.  They were smiling and they each finished the race. I waddled like a penguin across that finish line and I got my medal. I am still an athlete.  I covered the same distance as everyone else and I did it with my own style. I don’t care how long it took.  My goal has never been about time.  My goal has always been to finish. Thank you, Jeff Galloway.  Your training program has served me well over the years not only in completing marathons, but it has also helped me face my toughest battle yet.  I finished that battle and intend to keep it that way.

Whatever your goal is, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.  If I can do it, so can you.

Angels Among Us

I have always believed in angels and have always felt that I have a team of guardian angels watching over me in the spiritual world.  In the last several weeks, I have seen the faces of angels who walk among us.  One angel came to visit me and she was armed with several meals that she had prepared for my family along with an enormous gift bag from my flock of angels (a.k.a. co-workers) at work.  Another angel is my aunt who is also a two-time cancer survivor.  She has been a tremendous source of support to me with tips on dealing with the upcoming chemo, hair loss, and navigating the cancer diagnosis and “year’s worth of stuff to deal with.” Another angel is my best friend since birth who has answered my many medical questions (she’s an RN) and been a wonderful source of emotional support for me.  There is an angel in a fellow mom who has offered to help transport my kiddo during basketball season.  Many more angels — including more members of my family — have offered me support, transportation, meals, etc.

I had breakfast with a wonderful friend earlier this week.  She and I met through church and have developed a warm friendship.  She also happens to be a two-time cancer survivor who has the same oncologist that I have.  I have had lots and lots of support around me in recent weeks and I’m grateful for all of it and I pray that it continues.  However, there is nothing like being able to chat with a fellow cancer survivor who knows “all the parties involved” – the doctors, nurses, medical facilities, medical tests, the lengthy drive, etc.  We discussed the differences in our cancers and our incisions.   We discussed how our families have been affected and we discussed various bumps in the road (both literally and figuratively).  We discussed getting everything in place from a legal standpoint. I was able to lament about the last bath I was able to take in my garden tub with water jets.  (It was the day before my first surgery.)  I have not been able to take a long hot bath since then due to my incisions and she understands.

As I think about the “minor” surgery that is scheduled for tomorrow to put in the IV and IP ports for chemo, I am so grateful to be able to share my experiences with this wonderful friend.  Every surgery carries risks – no matter how “minor” it is — and she understands.  She has offered to do laundry for me.  She gave me tips on music to listen to in order to keep me in “fight mode.”  She has given me tips on how to keep my head warm and what fabrics don’t irritate the scalp.  She has offered to take me to chemo treatments and entertain me.  I was also able to ask her to be a “Standby Mom” to check on my kiddo if needed which she quickly agreed to without any hesitation.  She is another angel on my team who walks among us.

There are angels everywhere.  They show themselves in very caring ways.  Who knows?  You might even be an angel to someone who appreciates you.

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