28 May 2012


Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a brilliant essay called Welcome to Cancerland  for Harper's Bazaar in 2001 http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm in which she says:
"Does anyone else have trouble with the term 'survivor'?' I ask, and, surprisingly, two or three speak up. It could be "unlucky," one tells me; it "tempts fate," says another, shuddering slightly. After all, the cancer can recur at any time, either in the breast or in some more strategic site. No one brings up my own objection to the term, though: that the mindless triumphalism of "survivorhood" denigrates the dead and the dying. Did we who live "fight" harder than those who've died?" 

By definition, everyone is a survivor...one that survives...to remain alive, to continue to function.  Society however, celebrates most cancer survivors - bestowing upon them a rarefied status as if we'd come through a great battle - blazing with glory.  Some survivors would agree, others would take the stance that cancer is a man made disease, supported by the continuing abuses of man made products and then chemoed to near-death by man made pharmaceuticals.  These are the "mad as hell" variety of survivor - the type that are more comfortable using the word victim.

Wikipedia makes this highly interesting comment on the definition of a cancer survivor:
"The ideal survivor, like a superwoman who simultaneously manages her home, family, and career, struggles valiantly to prevent cancer from affecting loved ones by appearing, behaving, and working as much as possible. Once the immediate crisis is past, the person may feel strongly pressured to donate time, money, and energy to cancer-related organisations. Above all, the ideal survivor does not die of cancer. People who publicly conform to this ideal are given social status and respect." 

Good grief!  "Social status and respect" - for conforming and not dying (publicly) from cancer!  I'll certainly try not to!

I think if we were arguing the semantics of the word "survivor", we could come up with any number of alternatives but what is really at odds here is society's head-in-the-sand approach to the realities of cancer survivorship - ignoring the ongoing physical dramas, psychological scars, relationship struggles and financial worries.
On June 3rd, National Cancer Survivors Day http://www.ncsdf.org/ - a day for all survivors wherever they are on their journey - I will celebrate being alive - continuing to live.  I welcome this opportunity to educate and increase awareness (with or without the promise of social status) - and hopefully earn society's respect by working hard for answers for those who have gone before us as well as for ourselves.

There is an excellent website called Survivorship A-Z http://www.survivorshipatoz.org/ which includes topics which are extremely practical without the sugar-coating. 
As well, http://www.livestrong.org/  was formed for survivorship and the challenges which a survivor faces in the real world.  They have a national network of Centers of Excellence in Survivorship which provides support of all types.

16 May 2012

Run Report

Sunday, May 13th marked the 10th Annual Run for Ovarian Cancer, London, Ontario.  Sunflower Sisters put together a team of 25 runners, walkers and "strollers" and at last count, raised over $11,400.  We're still a bit fuzzy about the grand total due to the Run Treasurer's need to manually handle and post personal cheques and cash.  The overall event goal was $160,000 and they announced a (sub)total of $180,000!!

Sunflower Sisters Team 2012
The day started out ominously.  I was awakened at 5:20am by two things - firstly, the sound of slashing rain on the skylight and secondly, by my darling husband moaning with a sore tummy and flu-like symptoms.  Oh boy...

As for the weather, my Dad claims a direct connection - a hot line to the Almighty - and told us not to worry.  Not to worry?  Hours later, we arrived at the Run grounds and it was still pouring - with all of us standing around in rain gear and umbrellas or simply getting soaked.  Hubby perked up (not sure if that was true) with the help of Gravol and tea - he refused to be left at home.

We assembled in the soggy parking lot - handed out t-shirts and caps - worked our way down to the rallying area and miraculously, on cue, the rain stopped and the sun made a valiant attempt at peaking out.  Thanks Dad!

Our brother-in-law - now claiming bragging rights for years to come, after recently running and (more importantly) finishing the Boston Marathon - led the men to the starting line - those who would actually run the 5km.  Nice to have a ringer!  His wife, our own webmaster and Team Leader, Lisa, also a running enthusiast, led the women.  Not only did they run, but they doubled back and joined up with the rest of us so we could all cross the finish line together!  And cross the line we did - in style - everyone jogging and pretending that we'd done that all the way!  We had a great walk, lots of good chatter and laughs and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful venue.  The running/walking path follows the Thames River - lined with wildflowers, old arboreal forest and teaming with birds and ducks...and yes, everything in London, Ontario is named after everything in London, England!

I was profoundly moved by the arrival of my departed teal sister's husband, two sons and daughter-in-law who joined us for the walk.  They were overcome with emotion from the flood of memories and our hugs.  We can only hope that it was a giant step in their healing.  Another Sunflower Brother, a friend who'd lost his wife to this disease two years ago, joined us as well - it too was cathartic for him.

We entertained about 30 people after the event - the house was abuzz with chatter and conviviality for hours.  We wished all of you could have been with us for the celebration.

I'll end this Run Report by saying how extremely humbled I am by the overwhelming enthusiasm, love and support that was given for a cause that united us as none other could - in the combined hope that the efforts made and funds raised, will make a difference.

Thank you!

10 May 2012

Mother's Day 2012

Sunday, May 13th is Mother's Day in North America but for some reason we've gotten our dates mixed up with our families in the UK.  They celebrate "Mothering Sunday" on the fourth Sunday of Lent - so this year, it was on March 18th.  

No one really knows how Mothering Sunday/Mother's Day began other than the fact that it has been celebrated since the 16th century. The day was possibly conceived as a celebration of Cybele, the Roman Mother Goddess.  Other theories include the fact that it is simply the mid-point of Lent. 

It was an extremely important day for boys and girls, men and women "in service"  i.e. maids, butlers, serfs etc., as it was declared the only day they had off - yes, in the year!  The holiday was given to go and visit their families and was considered quite a privilege.

Traditionally, these reunions included the baking of a Simnel Cake - a fruit cake with marzipan - but as it was Lent, it was saved for Easter.  Just for fun, here is a recipe for Simnel Cake:  http://projectbritain.com/easter/simnelrecipe.html

Some customs migrated easily across the sea - as one friend recounted, "It was in the '50's and I would buy a bunch of violets for my mum - they cost 6p - I remember - it was the same price as a chocolate bar."

A lot of families, both near and far, will be without the centre of their family this Mother's Day.  Many of us, myself included,  have lost our mothers prematurely to the dreaded disease which we now find ourselves facing.  Many of us however, have been given the legacy of a compassionate and caring role model.  We have seen first hand, how to live, love and die well.  My mother looked after her family first and foremost.  She doted upon all of us until she couldn't - was hospitalised and died peacefully the next day.

To all of my Sunflower Sisters - may you be given the gift of wisdom to know that the steps that you take along this path are being carefully recorded in the hearts of those who love you - to be brought out in times of need and as a constant reminder of what is important.

Happy Mother's Day to All!

P.S. For those who have forgotten, it's not too late to encourage our team in the 2012 Run for Ovarian Cancer on Sunday:


Many, many thanks to all of you who have so kindly and generously supported us!  I'll report fully next week with pictures!

7 May 2012

May is Melanoma Awareness Month

May is melanoma awareness month and with that comes the reminder of sun safety, tanning bed safety and the ABC's of melanoma detection.  For those of us who have forgotten, when you discover a mole or something that you think looks like a mole, here's the watch list:

A = asymmetry - one half is unlike the other
B = border being irregular
C = colour - varied from one area to another
D = diameter - greater than the size of a pencil eraser, itches or bleeds
E = evolves - changes over a period of time

Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers but has a 95% cure rate with early detection.  It is often unrelated to sun exposure as it can be sporadic or genetic.
A story about one of the more interesting Awareness Campaigns was told to me by my hairdresser.  Volunteers with the Skin Cancer Foundation visited hundreds of salons reminding their operators to look carefully at their clients' scalps.  It is one of the most notorious hiding spots for moles/melanoma and difficult for any individual to detect or follow. 
Melanoma can strike at any age and occur anywhere on the body but is more prevalent in adults.  It doesn't discriminate between male and female.  There are actually 3 types of skin cancers of which melanoma is only one.  The three types are treated similarly and are stage dependant.  This is an excellent website for further information:

Great controversy continues over the use of tanning salons - the type of light bulbs they use - and the amount of time one spends in them.  Vermont and California are currently the only two States in the US which prohibit minors from using tanning salons.  A very prominent media campaign is being staged by an 18 year old Canadian girl - who is believed to have melanoma caused from habitual tanning salon use - hoping that we adopt similar laws.  "There exists significant scientific evidence that indoor tanning is linked to increased risk of developing melanoma..." says the American Academy of Dermatology.  UV light occurring both naturally and artificially is a known carcinogen.

I have had two friends die from melanoma - both male - both quickly - as a result of their moles having been unseen - one had his occur on his lower back and the other on the back of his arm.  Here is a step-by-step guide for self-examination:

Finally, here's the lowdown on sunscreens per Dr. Joseph Mercola - with him saying that many of the popular brands contain even more harmful ingredients than the sun:
If you can't be bothered to read it, the bottom line is that he recommends the best sunscreen to be covering up - wear a hat and long sleeves.

1 May 2012

May Day

Today is May 1st - the halfway point between Spring Solstice and Summer Solstice.  Today is also known as Beltane in Celtic mythology.  It is the celebration of the rebirth of Mother Earth - a time of welcoming the warming of the soil, of new growth and a period of abundance symbolised by green everywhere.  It's a period of planning, planting and supporting.

Spring is hope - everything in nature is putting out an incredible effort to be - to reproduce - to ensure continuity.  It's not a period of reflection but one of action - of making an effort - of discovery.  Having just recently moved, I find myself staring at the flowerbeds wondering what's in there - what will those tiny shoots become?

I too am metamorphising from the dark days (of chemo toxicity) to a crisper awareness of light and energy surrounding me.  At today's yoga, we were reminded of where we are in our individual practice and how we can move forward...imbalance is needed to achieve balance. 

Some of my fellow practitioners and Sunflower Sisters are in deep physical peril from their disease but they have found the middle ground - the place of serenity and calm - and continue to nurture us through their example.

The expression May Day is a cry for help in Morse parlance.  I hear May Day as the trumpeter playing Reveille - a signal that it's time to wake up, get the rake out and sweep up winter's debris.