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Stories We Tell Ourselves

Sunday, February 26, 2012

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Regardless of where we are in life or, what we do for a living, we each have our own stories that have played in our heads since childhood. I’m not talking about fairy tales and fantasies, but our versions of our own lives. In some ways, we make sense of ourselves and our lives by the stories we tell others about ourselves. This is a recent photo of my mother, an unhappy woman who’s always painted herself as the victim. If mother has a choice between “I’ll give it a try” or “I can’t do that,” she’s always chosen the one that leaves her the most pitiful. Mother doesn’t know it, but her stories have played a huge role in the stories I’ve told myself and the woman I am.<PREVIEWEND>

One of my earliest stories was that I was an overprotected only child,
raised by an unloving strict father and a mother who tried to keep me wrapped in swaddling clothes until I was old enough to collect Social Security. As I got older, I told myself new stories like I was a daredevil who wasn't afraid to do anything. Even in the early days of living my new story, I was aware that my somewhat blind disregard for my own personal safety was a facade, designed to make me the polar opposite of my mother.

Almost immediately, my wanna’ be tough girl story became a self-fulfilling prophesy. My determination to tough-girl my way through any situation was also the same bravado that saved me from succumbing, numerous times, to things I shouldn't have done in the first place. When I escaped from my ordeal in Honduras, my brave, keep-on-going girl kept me from telling anyone what really happened to me there. I had become the antithesis of my mother and the overprotected girl who wasn't allowed to go barefoot. I could go to Hell and back and keep on going. I now know the stories we tell ourselves can be our saving grace or our own worst enemy. Either way, we sometimes need help processing them and crafting new ones.

The last year has been the worst year of my life, full of grief, heartbreak, betrayal, financial terror and depression. You might think the story I now tell myself is one of woe, my life will never be the same, but you'd be wrong. I may be embarking on one of the most exciting chapters of my life, one that will use all of the experiences, hard knocks, survivorship skills, love and the grace of God I've learned, earned, endured and been given, but if it doesn't materialize, I know I'll be OK.

What are the stories, the inner dialog  you tell yourself that have shaped your life? Perhaps they served you well in the past, but now it’s time to let them go. Or like my mother, do you tell yourself “you can’t” or “you’re afraid?” What’s stopping you from writing a new story? Where do you see yourself a year or 10 years from now, and what kind of inner story will it take to get there? If you're struggling with cancer treatment or maybe your prognosis, what are you telling yourself day after day, and is it helping or hindering?  Do you need help writing a new story and if so, who will you turn to?

Writing this piece has made me wonder where our stories stop and our identity begins, or are our identities more than just a story we tell ourselves?

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Join the Army of Women

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Like my friend and fellow breast cancer blogger, AnneMarie at Chemobrain...In the Fog, I am a fan of Dr. Susan Love, breast surgeon, author of “the” bible on breast cancer, frequent medical contributor to NBC News and president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Dr. Love’s foundation is working to eradicate breast cancer and improve the quality of women's health through innovative research, education and advocacy. In addition, her foundation joined forces with the Avon Foundation to form the Love/Avon Army of Women to discover ways to prevent breast cancer. As Dr. Love said in her recent New York Times essay, the “real race in cancer is finding the cause.”<PREVIEWEND>

Because it’s harder to find women to study, researchers use mice, but as Dr. Love told me over lunch recently, “mice don’t get breast cancer.” Therefore, Love has created an innovative research initiative designed to recruit real women of every age, ethnicity and breast cancer risk to participate in a wide array of clinical studies. In effect, the Army of Women gives all women, with or without breast cancer, the opportunity to partner with researchers and take breast cancer awareness beyond a cure to prevention.

Some of the Army of Women’s current research studies include:
• Developing an inexpensive and easy to use band-aid-like test strip that can assess whether a premenopausal woman is at risk to develop breast cancer
• Low-dose anti-estrogens & Omega-3 fatty acids to prevent hormone-independent breast cancer
• Using specially trained dogs and a chemical test on exhaled breath markers for early detection of epithelial ovarian cancer
• How bacteria in the intestines metabolize estrogen & other female hormones
• To see if there are differences in breast cells found in the breast milk of healthy women & those who have cancer
• Whether wake/sleep cycle disruptions in women who work the night shift may increase their breast cancer risk

Another Army of Women study is trying to determine whether DNA cell damage in normal breast tissue could be an indicator of future breast cancer risk. Initially, researchers at MD Anderson recruited women with benign breast biopsies who went on to develop breast cancer. Now they are looking for women who had benign biopsies but did not develop breast cancer. By studying both categories of women, scientists are looking for markers in breast cells that may be indicators of future breast cancers.

Researchers aided by women, not mice, are a powerful combination.
We already know what happened when researchers, with the help of women, focused on the cause of cervical cancer. Thirty years ago, women were given hysterectomies after a single abnormal Pap smear, but now our daughters have the opportunity to be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Once again, we have the opportunity to make a full-scale invasion on another cancer that kills women.

Please join me and the other 360,000 plus women who’ve already become a member of the Army of Women. Whether it’s your book club, Bible study group, sorority, friends and family or the women in your office, forward this blog to ALL of the women in your life, whether they’ve had breast cancer or not, and urge them to sign up.

If you’re a cancer researcher, tell your colleagues, medical professional associations and include in your newsletters that researchers can submit a research proposal to the Army of Women.

If you’re an individual or a corporation and the Komen controversies have left you jaded about raising and donating money to breast cancer research, you might consider donating to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. The Army of Women needs ALL of us to fund the search for the cause and prevention of breast cancer.

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Should Komen's Nancy Brinker Step Down?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

You may be wondering if there’s anything left to say about Komen and Planned Parenthood? The anger and outrage over last week’s events have prompted countless newspaper articles, television news stories, blogs, Tweets and emails from every news outlet, Komen affiliate and breast cancer advocate who’s semi-conscious. Therefore, I will not rehash the specifics of whether Komen’s decision to halt breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood had anything to do with abortion, politics or Komen’s new grant guidelines; why Komen rethought their decision, or whether Komen’s differing explanations portrays them as revisionists. However, to say Komen’s handled yet another incident poorly is an understatement.

While I consider much of my personal life fair game to write about, I steadfastly wear my journalist’s hat when reporting treatment modalities, current thinking about the causes and possible cures, along with ways to lessen risk of recurrence and lead healthier lives. Until now, I’ve also tried to keep my journalist’s hat on about Komen, only reporting the “who, what, when, where and why.” I’ve even gone out of my way to provide Komen with a public forum on this blog, in hopes they would reach out to the breast cancer community, say a few mea culpas and use it as a way to mend fractured relationships and some of their own policies. While I wasn’t holding my breath, I’d hoped for a small step forward, but that was not to be. Actually, there was a lot that went on behind the scenes I haven’t told you.<PREVIEWEND>

For starters, the national office of Komen approached me last August. While the reason for their call was never clear, I seized the opportunity to invite Leslie Aun, National Director of Marketing and Communications for Komen for the Cure®, to openly address the breast cancer community on my blog about the rage and anger over “Pinktober,” the endless stream of questionable pink products for sale, as well as Komen’s ill-thought-out perfume, Promise Me, and it’s carcinogenic ingredients. I suggested a post from Komen could
“be the first in a series of open dialogs with the goal of uniting breast cancer advocates and bloggers on common ground, while voicing our disagreements and working, together, to implement clearer fundraising and search for the cure mechanisms.”
Leslie Aun was receptive. I went on to tell her that in order for this dialog to have a chance of being successful, she couldn’t defend Komen. She would need to own up to their having made some poor decisions, like partnering with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mike’s Hard Lemonade as fundraising partners. How could Komen lead the search for the cure while taking high profile dollars from corporations that produce alcohol and greasy processed foods, both proven risk factors for breast cancer and poor health in general? At the very least, I told her Komen would need to say something like “if we had it to do over again, Komen would have made different choices.” Ms. Aun liked my idea and agreed to write something to that effect in her post on BRENDA’S BLOG. While she did write a post, it was a rah, rah, Komen’s not done anything wrong.

Ms. Aun also agreed to engage in a dialog with readers of my blog by responding to their comments.
She did not.
This was to be the first in a series of regular dialogs with the breast cancer community that we would eventually move to Twitter or Facebook, to which she agreed. She has not returned any of my calls since my readers posted their unanswered comments.

When I told a blogger friend Komen had accepted my invitation to write a post on BRENDA’S BLOG, she suggested Komen was using me to disseminate their party line and that letting them write a post on my blog would make me look bad and ruin my credibility. I respectfully disagreed, saying any failure on Komen’s part to respond appropriately would only hurt Komen, not me. That is exactly what happened.

Time and again, Komen has failed to make well thought-out decisions.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation began as a promise to a dying Susan G. Komen, by her sister, Nancy Brinker, to find a cure for breast cancer. What started off as a lofty goal has morphed into a three-ringed circus with pink money mania in the center ring. The Planned Parenthood debacle is merely the latest in a string of insensitive high-profile failures. If nothing else, we should learn from history, but Komen seems to repeatedly ignore their history of missteps, followed by repeatedly defending them.

Some Komen critics say Komen is arrogant and out of touch. Regardless, their repeated fiascos have let everyone down who’s ever lost a loved one to breast cancer; every breast cancer survivor who prays for a cure; everyone who’s ever participated in a Komen walk for the cure and every fundraising partner who’s ever donated money to Komen and other charities that raise money for a good cause. In short, Komen has lost their credibility among more than just the breast cancer community.

Most organizations plagued with serial failure to learn from their own history ask their leaders to step down. Perhaps it’s time for Nancy Brinker to relinquish her reigns and let Komen rebuild their image. This weekend, Komen sought the advice of an executive vice president at the tony Ogilvy public relations firm as well as Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary to George W. Bush. However, in order to rebuild their image, it’s crucial for Komen to have the support of breast cancer advocacy organizations and top breast cancer social media mavens.

Make no mistake, breast cancer bloggers have the ear of millions of survivors and their families, oncologists, surgeons and researchers, corporate sponsors and the media. While the Planned Parenthood story may have originated with traditional media, it’s gone viral because of social media. If Komen wants to rebuild their image, they must gather breast cancer bloggers into their fold, listen to our concerns and once again, gain our trust. Perhaps Komen should consider giving a breast cancer blogger a seat on their advisory board. The lives of our mothers and daughters and future sisters, named Susan, may depend on the strength and credibility of Komen. Please, Komen, don’t let them down, again.

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