THIS Is One Way to Show Support

Tomorrow, I am speaking to a group of students at UF about how to support someone who has cancer. I do not have all of the answers, but I do know what helped me. While rummaging through my treasure chest of cancer memorabilia, I stumbled upon on a bag filled with cards, notes, and letters sent to me from friends, family members, and people I hardly knew. THIS is one way to support someone who has cancer. (And 12 years after these arrived in my mailbox, it still chokes me up to look at this pile of love.)

Look, This Is a Stent


Just before I had my port removed from underneath the skin on my chest after a year and a half of cancer-drug infusions, I asked the surgeon if I could keep it after he plucked it from my body. I did not want it because I am a collector of gross medical relics; I just wanted to add it to my box of breast cancer items so that I could share it with others headed for a port procedure. “Look, this is a port,” I would say. “This is how it works.” I practiced this same routine with my baggie of lost hair, my wigs, my lymphedema sleeve. It helps prepare people; it sometimes minimizes fear.

The surgeon told me I could not keep my port. My sedation was kicking in, and I did not have it in me to argue.

Yesterday, a different surgeon removed a stent from my ureter. He had placed it there 3 days earlier during kidney stone surgery. The stent helps with healing and allows urine and stone fragments to pass freely. It is a painful little bugger, and I was thrilled that the doctor yanked it out.

“Do you want to keep it?” the nurse asked me.

“Hmmm, I wasn’t allowed to keep my port,” I said.

“Why? my doctor asked. “You paid for it.”

I do not know why I was not permitted to take my port home, but I am now the proud owner of a ureter stent. See photo. If you ever must get one, this is how it looks. Don’t be scared. It does cause discomfort, but only for 3 days. And after those days, man, you will feel like a million bucks. Like I do.

Because Cancer Never Sleeps

A few little tears filled my eyes when a photo of a luminary (see middle image) arrived via text yesterday from my friend Sharon, who was up all night at the Relay for Life event in Newberry, Florida. (Because cancer never sleeps.) I had no idea this luminary would help light the high school track last night. I am touched. Truly. Thank you for thinking of me, Sharon.

This Time of Year

This is the time of year I start looking back and marveling at how I once thought good health was a guarantee. Nine Septembers ago, I believed I was invincible—and then November rolled around, cancer struck, and I ended up looking like this (see photo, left). Moral of the story: None of us is immune to illness, but all of us are capable of comebacks (see photo, right).

Cancer Is Relevant

"Relevancy" — Jason Arnold —

Says the artist about his iPad sketch, “Relevancy” is about how words are taken for granted until something urgent happens.

For me, cancer was just a word — until it crashed into my world. Now, the word has relevance in everything I do.

What word have you taken for granted that now has relevance?

Fight Cancer With Fitness (GUEST POST)

By: David Haas

Whether you have just been diagnosed with cancer, are undergoing treatments, or are in remission, the benefits of keeping fit cannot be understated. Exercise keeps the body healthy and functioning at its highest capacity, and for bodies fighting a rigorous chronic disease like cancer, exercise can make a tremendous positive difference.

When my doctor first told me I had mesothelioma, I felt like there was nothing I could do, but he encouraged me to get off my sofa and start exercising, even for a short time daily, so I could make a positive change. Conventionally, healthcare professionals have encouraged cancer patients and survivors to ‘take it easy,’ but Ciaran Devane, chief executive officer (CEO) of Macmillan Cancer Support, stated in an article posted by CBS News that patients would be shocked to know the benefits of physical activity on their recovery and long-term health.

Decreased Risk of Recurrence

Studies indicate that for those who have beat cancer, exercise can help keep the disease from coming back. In a recent article posted by webMD, Kerry Courneya, professor from Canada and research chair at the Physical Activity and Cancer organization in Edmonton, Canada, stated that not only did exercise reduce the risk of recurrence, but it also ensured a longer survival after diagnosis.

Elevated Energy Levels

Exercise is known to reduce fatigue and increase overall energy levels. It also increases stamina. Cancer treatment can be rigorous, and exercise helps build the muscle and stamina needed to better withstand its effects on the body.

Improved Quality of Life

Exercise reduces the risk of other chronic illnesses, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while decreasing the risk of other health issues, like osteoporosis and depression. It also enhances mood by releasing serotonin, a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain, and produces an overall positive feeling of well-being.

Even a little effort at fitness can go a long way while living with or beyond cancer. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous. Small choices like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening instead of watching television, or walking the dog instead of playing a computer game make a tremendous overall positive impact on living.

Thank you, David, for this reminder that exercise is powerful medicine!

I Picked Cancer

Joey went through this stage — he’d give me two horrible choices, and I had to pick one. Like, “Would you rather be torn up by a tiger or run over by a car?Tough stuff, and now, Danny is challenging me, too. Yesterday, he asked me if I’d rather fall from the Empire State Building or get cancer. I picked cancer.

I figure my chances of surviving the disease are better than what might happen if I tumbled from the 102-story New York landmark. It’s 1,250 feet tall, and, well, I’m just not signing up for that. Of course, I don’t want cancer either (once was plenty for me), but when a 7-year-old puts on the pressure, a girl’s gotta choose.

His follow-up question was a choice between cancer or a good life with people I love. Just as I was answering a definite good life, he added, “The people are shooting guns!”


Swim for Cancer Research

Ladies and Gentlemen? Take Your Mark? Go!

I would so totally do this if it weren’t for the buckets of water that flood my nose every time I swim, or my hate-relationship with swimsuits, or the fact that sucking air at the end of each lap makes me kind of cranky. Swimming is just not my thing. Running, yes. Biking, sure. Just not swimming. It’s the one thing that will forever keep me from competing in triathlons. Wait, that’s a lie. I just don’t want to compete in triathlons. The swimming thing is just a convenient excuse.

You, on the other hand, might love swimming. Or maybe you don’t, but you’re willing to take a stab at a great challenge. If that sounds like you, then I want you to try this out, and let me know how it goes. Why? Because it helps us cancer girls and guys, and because if you do it, then I won’t feel so guilty for not taking the plunge myself.

Here’s the deal, all wrapped up in a pretty press release:


Aqua Sphere Challenges Men and Women to Swim for a Cause

VISTA, Calif. – March, 2010 – Aqua Sphere, the leader in high-end, innovative swim products, dares to see who will go the distance—men or women?

As the sponsors of the Swim Challenge, Aqua Sphere, the company that promotes comfort and long-lasting performance in the water has thrown down the gauntlet in an effort to raise funds and awareness for breast and prostate cancer and in the process, determine who rules th e pool.

Beginning April 1 through November 30, swimmers of all abilities can sign-up and sign on to each day to log their hours (not their laps) in the water.  Whether they like it smooth or rough, on their backs or their stomachs – it’s not the stroke that matters but who will outlast their competition.

The Swim Challenge website will track the total time, men vs. women, via a “leader meter” posted on the website and created as a widget so that competitors can keep tabs on their counterparts. The site will also allow swimmers to individually track their personal progress in the pool, encouraging them to swim longer each day.

A $35,000 donation will be split between the Prostate Cancer Foundation (men) and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (women); allocations will be determined by the cumulative hours swum by each gender.

“Regardless who wins, they both win,” says Olivier Laguette, Director of Marketing for Aqua Sphere. “We’ve all been personally affected by cancer in some way or another but instead of simply writing a check, we wanted to do something fun that would promote a healthy lifestyle as well as some healthy competition – and a little bit of gender wars seemed appropriate.”

Aqua Sphere, the originator of the “swim mask,” is widely known for their line of comfortable aquatic eyewear includin g the popular Seal and Vista masks and the Kaiman and Kayenne goggles.  Designed for form and function, swimmers can simply fit the frames to their face and forget about them while they enjoy swimming for time, distance, exercise or just fun.

For more information on the Swim Challenge, visit us on the web at or join the Swim Challenge Facebook fan site. Twitter users can also follow swim_challenge for the latest updates.

About Aqua Sphere
Aqua Sph ere is the worldwide brand of choice for swimming gear, based on the highest industry standards of design and innovation.  Launched in the mid-90s as a division of the diving industry leader Aqua Lung, Aqua Sphere is committed to supplying eye protection for dedicated or casual swimmers, enabling them to feel safe, comfortable and at home in the water.  The company’s numerous innovations include the Seal, the first swim mask featuring 180° vision and Kaiman, the first panoramic goggle.  For more information, call (800) 775-3483, or log on to

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® (BCRF) was founded in 1993 by Evelyn H. Lauder as an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to funding innovative clinical and translational research.  In October 2009, BCRF awarded nearly $28.5 million to 173 scientists across the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. BCRF perseveres in directing at least 85 cents of every dollar raised directly to research.  And for the eighth consecutive year, BCRF received Charity Navigator’s highest rating, four stars, thus outperforming over 99.8% of the 5,400 evaluated charities, while the American Institute of Philanthropy has awarded BCRF its highest possible rating of A+.  BCRF is the only breast cancer organization in the U.S. to receive these accolades.  For more information about BCRF, visit

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) was founded in 1993 to find better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer. Through its unique model for soliciting and selecting promising research programs and rapid deployment of resources, the PCF has funded more than 1,500 programs at nearly 200 research centers in 20 countries around the world.  The PCF is a force of HOPE for more than 16 million men and their families around the world who are currently facing the disease.  For more information, visit

Live Like You Were Dying

Five years ago on this very day, I was two weeks from learning I had breast cancer. There I was, plugging along nicely in life, attending playgroups with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, investigating preschool programs, thinking the worst of my existence was a frustrating run at potty training and an inconsistent nap schedule. Ha!

There’s no better case for cherishing the day than realizing something devastating might be lurking around the corner. It happens to people every day. Everything is fine, then BAM! — Cancer. Now, I completely hope it doesn’t happen to you (although if it does, I am confident you can totally handle it, because I did, and I’m a pretty accomplished whiner), but just in case, I suggest you really do live each day as if it’s your last, just like country singer Tim McGraw sings:

Live Like You Were Dying

He said: “I was in my early forties,
“With a lot of life before me,
“An’ a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
“I spent most of the next days,
“Looking at the x-rays,
“An’ talking ’bout the options an’ talkin’ ‘bout sweet time.”
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

He said “I was finally the husband,
“That most the time I wasn’t.
“An’ I became a friend a friend would like to have.
“And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’,
“Wasn’t such an imposition,
“And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
“Well, I finally read the Good Book,
“And I took a good long hard look,
“At what I’d do if I could do it all again,
“And then:

“I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An’ what did you do with it?
An’ what can I do with it?
An’ what would I do with it?

“Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin’.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”

Cancer: No, Pulse: Low

Keeping a Pulse on Cancer

My body is free of cancer, at least as far as my radiation oncologist can tell from a clinical exam — just had a follow-up visit this morning, and I appear to be A-OK, which is great news and all, but even better at the moment is what I learned about my resting pulse (or heart rate).

Right after I was weighed and my blood pressure was taken, my heart rate clocked in at 47. “Oh My Goodness, 47?” said the nurse. “That’s really low.” I guess I knew this, I’m always pretty low, but her surprise threw me for a minute. “Is that OK?” I asked. She told me it’s just fine and asked if I’m a runner. I told her that I am. I mean, I’m not a marathoner or anything, in fact, a 5K is pretty much tops for me. But I do run, and walk, and make often-lazy attempts at push-ups, planks and other body-weight exercises. I guess it all adds up.

“Fit people usually have low resting heart rates,” the nurse told me. I took that as a compliment. Then I came home and found this on Pat Croce’s website:

One of the greatest barometers of your fitness status—that is, your ability to expend energy—is your resting pulse rate. The lower your pulse rate (also referred to as your heart rate), the less energy you expend doing menial tasks and the more energy you keep stored for other activities. Ironically, the best way to lower you resting heart rate is to exercise or engage in physical activity.

On average, the American Heart beats about 70 to 80 times a minute. The active or athletic heart beats around 60 bpm. And the highly trained athletic heart beats in the range of 40 to 50 bpm. For example, it has been reported that Tiger Woods has a resting pulse rate in the low 50’s and my friend Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong—who wrote the Forward for my book 110%—was monitored in the low 40’s. I’m proud to say that my resting pulse rate is in the high 40’s.

Hmmm, “highly trained athletic heart” — not sure about that, but it sure is motivating to know my heart is seemingly healthy. Makes me want to go out for a run. Tomorrow.

Weighing on my mind

I admit it, I’m concerned about my weight. Not worried about it, just concerned about in a way that makes me work at keeping it right where it is. But I don’t exercise and eat right (yesterday doesn’t count) for weight reasons alone. I also do it for my overall health, which really is a bigger concern for me than the numbers that stare up at me from my scale each day.

A healthy lifestyle as it relates to cancer prevention gets a lot of press. It’s pretty much a fact nowadays that by eating certain foods, ditching all the junk and working up a good sweat most days of the week, we can ward off all sorts of disease. Simple stuff. Also pretty high pressure.

Now that I’ve had cancer, I know that the way I live my life can quite possibly keep me from getting it again. So I do my best. But when I cheat and eat that plate of chicken nachos or skip a day (or week or month) on the workout circuit, I feel guilty, as if I’m rejecting the medicine that can keep me well. It’s a weird mix of motivation and burden. Knowing I have the key to a long, healthy life makes me want to eat veggies for all of time. But knowing I have the key to a long, healthy life makes me feel like I’m doing myself a major disservice when I steal fries of my kids’ dinner plates.

I know, I’m human, and I can’t be perfect all that time. Still, it weighs on my mind. Which is why today, I walked for 3.5 miles, and tomorrow, I plan to lift a few weights. A fruit salad is on the menu for breakfast this morning, and I’m recommitting to a ban on most packaged foods. It’s the least I can do to ensure I’m here for the long haul.

Photo courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography on flickr

Makes me want to run

The day after his mom passed away from lung cancer in 2007, my friend Rob started to run. He’s been running ever since. Of his early days as a runner, he says: “During the next year I ran some 300 miles. I ran a series of races: 5k, 5mi, 10k, a half marathon and on what would have been my mothers’ 60th Birthday (January 13th) I ran 26.2 miles across the mild Arizona desert in my first marathon. I ran on sand, on pavement, on dirt, on gravel and even through Camp Pendleton’s mud.”

Rob runs in the morning, in the rain and in bitter cold temperatures. Clearly, the guy is hooked. And he’s starting to write all about his love for the run. “I wanted to start a blog to help others understand how to find their passion and get as much out of life as I do,” he writes. “It took a series of major events for me to find the focus I have today. I’d hope that through sharing my stories and advice that the world will be a better place for you.” Here is where his story begins.