On Becoming a Warrior

When Lynda Carter assumed the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in the 1970s television series, I made a point of watching each program. Eyes glued to the screen, I waited with anticipation for the inevitable displays of Amazonian power. I especially liked watching Diana fling the magic lasso and use her golden belt and bracelets to deflect bullets.

She was the ultimate warrior, one that I hoped someday to emulate.

Alas, I was the ultimate non-athlete who shied away from athletic challenges and activities. In my workplace and interpersonal relationships, I preferred to adopt a non-confrontational stance that served me well (or appeared to serve me well) for almost five decades.

Continue reading on Brenda Whiteside’s blog.


Life is Good

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

During my cancer journey, I noticed one of the patients at the Juravinski Cancer Centre wearing a T-shirt with a grinning stick figure and the message: Life is Good. I asked about the T-shirt and learned that it was part of an apparel line launched by two enterprising young men in Massachusetts. Many cancer warriors throughout Canada and the United States wear these T-shirts during their treatments.

Here’s the inspiring story of Life is Good…

The story of Life is Good begins not with the company’s founding but in the childhood of Bert and John Jacobs. The youngest of six children, the two brothers grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Life in the Jacobs household was, by many people’s standards, hard. The second floor of their small home had no heat. Their dad had a temper. And they couldn’t always afford basic necessities. Their mom, Joan, joked that she bought them food they didn’t like so that it would last longer.

Despite all of this, Joan was a resilient and cheerful woman who focused on the positive. Every night at the dinner table, she asked all six children to share one good thing that happened to them that day. As the kids talked about finding a Rolling Stones CD at the dump, hearing a funny joke, or learning something cool in school, the energy of the room transformed. Everyone started laughing and smiling. Joan’s optimism lifted them up. “I like running out of money,” she would tell them, “because then I don’t have to worry about what I need to buy.” From her, the boys learned that joy comes form our mindset, not just your circumstances.

In 1989, when they were in their twenties, Bert and John started a business designing printed T-shirts, which they sold on the streets of Boston. They also traveled up and down the East Coast, selling the shirts door-to-door on college campuses, each time making barely enough money to fund the next road trip. They slept in their van, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and showered when they could.

On the road, they spent a lot of time talking. During one trip, they discussed the way the media inundates the culture with stories of murder, rape, war, and suffering day after day. Though bad things happen and it’s important to know about them, they agreed, the world is also full of good news. They thought of Joan and her ability to turn a light on in a dark room. They decided they wanted to promote her values in their work, to create a symbol that would serve as an antidote to the cynicism they saw in the culture–a superhero whose power was optimism.

John sketched a grinning stick figure on a T-shirt. He called the character Jake. When they got back to Boston, they threw a party and pinned the new T-shirt on a wall. Their friends loved it. One of them wrote on the wall next to the T-shirt, “This guy’s got life figured out,” with an arrow pointing to Jake.

Original Drawing of “Jake” from April 1994

The brothers distilled that phrase to three words: “Life is good.” Then, they printed the image of Jake and the phrase on forty-eight T-shirts. When they set up their stand on a sidewalk in Cambridge, they sold all of the shirts in less than an hour–a first for them. That was in 1994. At the time, they had $78 to their name. Today, they run a $100 million lifestyle brand.

As their business grew, they started receiving letters and emails from people who had faced and were facing difficult life circumstances, including cancer, the loss of a loved one, homelessness, and natural disasters. These people wrote about how moved they were by the Life is Good message, and how they had emerged from their adversity with a deeper appreciation of and gratitude for life.

In 2010, the company launched a non-profit arm called Life is Good Kids Foundation, devoted to children who are living with illnesses, violence, abuse, poverty, and other adversities.The primary program of the foundation is called Playmakers, an initiative that offers training and enrichment workshops to childcare providers like teacher, social workers, and hospital workers. Since its founding, the foundation has trained over 6,000 Playmakers who are working to improve the lives of over 120,000 kids each day. Each year, Life is Good donates 10 percent of its net profits to help kids in need.

Life is Good Website

Source: The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith


Adding a Touch of Gold to Celery Soup

During chemotherapy, I found myself unable to tolerate a host of foods, among them coffee, meat, fish, cheese, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salad dressings, citrus fruits, and all cooked vegetables.

So, what could I eat?

Plain Eggo waffles without syrup, roasted chicken, white bread, some luncheon meats, white rice, apples, pears, carrots, and celery.

I was especially fond of celery, a preference that has remained in life abc (after breast cancer). I love munching on the stalks and tossing them into casseroles, stuffings, and soups. Almost every soup I make has at least one celery rib.

Last week, I decided to make celery the primary vegetable. While researching celery soups, I discovered that most of them included potatoes or cauliflower. The final results appeared a bit too pale and unappetizing for my taste. I experimented and came up with this golden alternative.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of fresh celery, chopped
2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup of baby carrots, chopped
Handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped (include stems)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft.

2. Add garlic cloves and cook for a minute before adding celery, stock, carrots, water, and parsley. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

3. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the celery and carrots are soft enough to be puréed.

4. Purée the soup in the pot using an immersion blender. Or remove the soup from the pot and purée in a blender.

5. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

6. Sprinkle hemp hearts into each individual bowl.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


An Inspiring Passage for Cancer Warriors

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

Almost fifteen years have passed, but I can still recall feeling goosebumps as I read the following passage. It helped me survive and thrive during the most challenging season of my life.



Spotlight on Trixie Stilletto

I’m happy to welcome journalist and author Trixie Stilletto. Today, Trixie shares her inspiring journey and new release, Do Grave Harm.

Here’s Trixie!

I grew up in eastern Tennessee where storytelling is a huge part of everyday life. My dear departed husband used to say we were all experts at telling whoppers. And in a sense, he was right. Sunday afternoon was for family. The first question? What’s new?

If you stuck to the truth, it’d be a mighty boring story. So my family expounded more than a little. We didn’t consider it “lying” just making the story more entertaining. I never considered writing those stories down until I took a high school creative writing class. Though I excelled and my teacher urged me to continue, it wasn’t a “job.”

Fast-forward to college. I was on track to become a lawyer. Mostly for the money. While yawning through pre-law classes, I thought about where I’d be going drinking that night. A classmate suggested I take a journalism course.

I went to the “Intro to Newspapers” class the next day and I was hooked. (My mother lamented that day until she died.) My path was set. I spent the next twenty years working for different newspapers all over the eastern United States, meeting my husband, another journalist, along the way.

In my free time, I read. Voraciously. Yes, newspapers but also romance, mysteries, science fiction, anything. In 1988, I wrote my first romance novel. It was terrible. Life intervened. I was still working as a full-time journalist and on my books when I got my first publishing contract in 2001. I thought my life was set.

As often happens when we’re on one path, it veers away from where we think it should go. A series of deaths (both my parents and my husband), two moves, and finally a diagnosis changed me forever.

In 2014, my doctors discovered a small lump in my left breast. It was a particularly aggressive type of cancer called Her2+. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed. I may never be completely free of this disease.

While undergoing my first treatment, I came up with the idea for my newest release, Do Grave Harm, and Jennifer Atkinson. Like me, she’s a cancer survivor. Unlike me, she’s plucky, determined and dedicated. I hope you’ll visit my website to learn more. There are links listed with this post to online retailers where it is on sale.

A percentage of all proceeds will be donated to metastatic breast cancer research. Each October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, 100% of the proceeds will be donated to these charities.

Blurb

“Helpless” and “vulnerable” aren’t normally part of freelance writer Jennifer Atkinson’s vocabulary. But there’s nothing normal about her regularly scheduled radiation treatment, especially when she discovers that while she was fighting claustrophobia inside the massive machine aimed at her breast, someone was murdering the technician at the controls.

As the gruesome scene plays over and over in her mind, small details that didn’t seem significant at the time start the wheels turning. Soon she’s asking more questions than she’s answering for the seriously attractive investigating officer, Blue Bald Falls Detective Ben Manteo.

Despite Ben’s warning she should keep her nose out of it, Jennifer can’t resist using her limited energy to pick up seemingly unrelated threads that, inevitably, begin to weave themselves into a narrative. A story of lies, deceit, and betrayal that someone will go to any length to make sure never gets told…

Excerpt

Something wasn’t right. I didn’t want to panic, but I was starting to feel claustrophobic. Having a two-ton radiation machine sitting only inches from your chest will do that to you, especially when it seems you’ve been forgotten.

You’re not truly alone, Jennifer, I reminded myself. There were dozens of people down the hall in the waiting room. And this was a hospital. People were constantly moving around, even though they kept the radiation section closed off.

Repeating these things and more didn’t help. At that moment, I felt abandoned, as if no one knew where I was.

“Excuse me,” I finally called, hoping the radiation technician who’d brought me in here would answer, reassuring me.

Robert. I picture his name tag in my mind. Raising my voice, I called again, “Robert?” Nada. The room was probably soundproof with the door shut.

Panic sped up my breathing as I stared at the machine. It hadn’t moved after my radiation treatment had ended. That was the problem.

In my mind, the six inches between me and it had shrunk to three. My arms were starting to go numb, as well as my feet and legs. No one was coming to help me. I had to do something. Now.

Moving while under the machine was kind of tricky. I was a large woman, and I’d never been dexterous on my back, much to my rat ex- husband’s lament, I guess.

I kicked my legs out of their rubber support and, after several tries, scooted my butt down the metal table. Then I did an ungainly slide, like I was slipping under a barbed-wire fence. Except this particular fence was the size of a VW Beetle, and it seemed to be inching closer to me with each passing second.

When I moved enough that my head and neck were no longer in the plastic mold that kept me still during treatment, I banged the back of my skull against the table. “Ow, ow, ow,” I muttered, inching my way farther down it until I cleared the machine.

Finally, my legs dangled off the end. I sat up, took my first relieved breath in eons, and waited for my head to stop spinning. Freedom! I looked around the room, and everything seemed normal. Walking over to the plastic chair to my left, I picked up my long-sleeved cotton jersey and put it on. Since I got topless for my treatment, most of the time I didn’t bother wearing a bra when I came here. It would be one more thing to take off.

I moved to the doors. They’re made of thick steel and tightly sealed. No wonder no one answered me. They wouldn’t have heard me even if I’d shouted. I pushed on one a bit, staggering under the unexpected weight. When it opened a scant few inches, I peered around the edge. I don’t know why I was acting like a guilty person, doing something or going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to.

I hid a giggle behind a cough. Jeez, Jennifer, get a grip. Something still wasn’t right. In fact, I felt an overwhelming sense that things were horribly wrong.

“Robert?” Still no answer, so I pushed the door open a little wider. Now I could see the second lab and computer station. It was as dark as it had been when I came into the radiation lab at the Blue Bald Falls Cancer Center no more than ten minutes ago. I opened the door wide enough and stepped into the bright lights of the hall.

Robert had his head down on the computer keyboard like he was napping. The scalpel sticking straight out from the side of his neck and the blood pooling on the table down to the floor told me sleep had nothing to do with it.

Buy Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | KOBO

Bio

A southern girl, Trixie traveled north when she found the love of her life. Together, they enjoyed more than 20 years working as journalists. Now back home in Tennessee she’s writing stories that range from short hot romances with a kiss of humor to southern-flavored mysteries. She lives seven miles from the neighborhood where she grew up with two cats, an aging beagle and a host of characters waiting for her to tell their stories.

Get updates and win prizes by signing up for Trixie’s newsletter here.

Where to find Trixie…

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Find more information on Metastatic Breast Cancer Research here.


Living Vicariously Through My Protagonist

In the spring of 2001, I enrolled in the Career Development Practitioner Program at Conestoga College in nearby Kitchener, Ontario. After meeting with the course director, I sat down and meticulously planned the next seven years of my life.

I would continue teaching full-time during the day and take one online course each trimester. I even selected the order so that the more demanding courses would be taken during the summer months. Upon completion of the program, I would spend two summers interning in preparation for retirement and the launch of ReCareering, a counseling practice that would cater to boomers.

That was the fantasy.

The reality was very different.

Continue reading on Maggie King’s blog.


Featured on Writers Who Kill

interviewpixGrace Topping is interviewing me about my writing and cancer journeys, the Gilda Greco Mystery Series, and the Mediterranean Trilogy.

Drop by the Writers Who Kill blog.


Tips for Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

I am happy to feature this post from Anna Suarez and her colleagues, who are passionate about spreading hope to those who have cancer. I’m certain their tips will help newly diagnosed cancer patients and their loved ones.

Doctor talking to his female senior patient at the office

Doctor talking to his female senior patient at the office

Each year, 14 million people across the globe are diagnosed with cancer. Every person’s journey is different. Here is some advice on ways to cope with a cancer diagnosis.

Find survivors in your community.

cancersurvivor2When facing a cancer diagnosis it can be helpful to find a support group. Connecting with people who are experiencing the same things and can share in your struggles and triumphs can be immensely important for a patient’s mental and emotional health. These groups prevent patients from feeling isolated and the people they encounter may be able to offer helpful insights.

For people who have been diagnosed with rare cancers like mesothelioma this is especially important, but also a significant challenge. Cancers like mesothelioma, which is only diagnosed in 3,000 people annually, do not have the same widespread community. Online resources and even social media can be a great way to connect with other cancer patients and survivors. Additionally, when dealing with rare cancers it can be difficult to find information about your treatment options because fewer doctors specialize in that specific disease. This may also mean that you have to travel get to get access to the best treatments, or that those treatments might be more expensive. Following an online resource that specializes in your specific cancer or having a contact who can connect you to necessary resources can save you time and stress.

Write and read.

10615966_sWords have power: they bring us hope, connect us across generations and geography, and can be an outlet for our internal struggles. The written word can be a great resource for coping with your diagnosis and creative writing could be an ideal form of expression. Some studies even identify that writing for self expression can have physical benefits for cancer patients. One study found that expressing emotions through writing resulted in breast cancer patients reporting fewer symptoms and making fewer unscheduled doctor visits.

Reading offers another form of solace; the ability to escape from your surroundings for a short amount of time can not be overstated. Distraction therapies such as reading can be helpful in passing the time during treatment or while waiting for doctor appointments, but can also help mitigate some of patient’s symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and pain. Reading also allows a patient to exercise their minds and exert a small level of autonomy over their lives, which some can feel is lacking after a cancer diagnosis.

Lean on loved ones.

sharinghandsAlthough it may sound cliche, friends and family truly are an essential support system. Many of us are not used to asking for help or admitting when we feel defeated. Reaching out to the people you’re close to can help relieve any feelings of solitude and supplement a cancer-focused support group. In addition to emotional support, loved ones also have the unique ability to make us laugh and distract us from hardship. Friends and family can also offer support by accompanying patients to their doctor visits and acting as another set of ears at the appointments.

Coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis is a process that is unique to every individual. Hopefully these suggestions can offer some additional support on your journey, or spark some of your own ideas on ways to fully cope with the diagnosis.


Happy Birthday Louise Hay!

Today, spiritual teacher Louise Hay celebrates her 90th birthday. One of the founders of the self-help movement, Louise has inspired millions of people with her positive philosophy and affirmations. The best-selling author of several books, among them You Can Heal Your Life, she has helped facilitate–and often accelerate–the healing process.

louisehay2

In June of 2004, I discovered Louise Hay. Here is my story…

I was between appointments and had an entire day to myself. After running several errands, I wandered into the Bookshelf Café. I hadn’t picked up a book since receiving the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer. Appointments, tests, and trips to the Cancer Centre had taken over my life, leaving little time for anything else. It was time to start reading again.

youcanhealyourlifeA self-help junkie, I decided to check out the latest in that section of the bookstore. As I glanced through shelves of books extolling improved self-esteem and better work performance, a cover with a beautiful rainbow set against a yellow backdrop caught my attention. A picture of a perky, forty-something blonde rested on the bold title: You Can Heal Your Life. Later, I discovered that the perky blonde was sixty years old when the picture was taken.

I was curious about the boldness of the title. How could a woman who was not a doctor make such a claim? I turned the book over and read the short blurb describing her background. Metaphysical lecturer and teacher. Science of Mind minister. Personal growth and self-healing. New Age stuff. As I started to put the book back, I noticed a glowing testimonial from Dr. Bernie Siegel, the author of Love, Medicine & Miracles.

I then turned to the Foreword written by Dave Braun and was struck by the first sentence: “If I were cast away on a desert island and could have only one book with me there, I might well choose Louise L. Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.”

Another bold claim!

breast-cancerIntrigued, I flipped through the pages of the book. Several sentences caught my attention: “Releasing resentment will dissolve even cancer”; “The breasts represent the mothering principle. When there are problems with the breast, it usually means we are ‘over-mothering’ a person, a place, a thing, or an experience.”

Bingo!

I bought the book and spent the rest of the day reading about an amazing woman who had endured a traumatic childhood, poverty, divorce and a diagnosis of cancer in the vaginal area. She was short on clinical details, but it sounded like the cancer was in the advanced stages. I was particularly struck by the following comment: “The word incurable, which is so frightening to so many people, means to me that this particular condition cannot be cured by any outer means and that we must go within to find the cure.” Louise went within and healed herself of cancer without surgery or treatments. That was over thirty years ago.

While some of Louise’s suggestions were definitely out of my comfort zone, I didn’t dismiss them entirely. Instead of surrounding myself with bright lights and ocean scenes, I hung a print of an Italian soccer player in my bedroom. Each morning and evening, I would imagine that handsome young man kicking the tumor out of my breast. It had come from nowhere, and I wanted to send it back to nowhere.

I developed an interest in visualization and started thinking in positive affirmations, using several of Louise’s suggestions:

• I lovingly do everything I can to assist my body in maintaining physical health.
• Today, every cell of my body radiates health.
• I relax and let my body heal itself.

Excited about the book, I shared Louise’s ideas with friends and relatives. I chuckled at their raised eyebrows and forced smiles. To be fair, that would have been my reaction before the diagnosis. But cancer had staked its claim and thrown a monkey wrench into my life. While I listened to my health care team, I also incorporated suggestions from this remarkable woman, who is a living testimonial to what she teaches.

*Originally published in Memoirs 2013.


#WeCanICan on #WorldCancerDay

sharinghands2Today is World Cancer Day, a global event designed to raise awareness and education about a disease that continues to affect a growing segment of the population. Currently, 8.2 million people die from cancer worldwide each year, out of which, 4 million die prematurely (aged 30 to 69 years).

While it may be too late to organize a major campaign, we can still get involved and support the fight against cancer.


Continue reading on the Sisters of Suspense blog.