Welcome breast cancer sisters, family and friends. We hope to make this chapter of your life a little easier, treatment less difficult, help families cope, provide inspiration and guide you to a new place of strength and purpose.

An Educated Life

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

I know an extraordinary amount of things most people would find trivial, boring or shocking. For instance I can discuss, in depth, tertiary yaws, those microscopic survivors from the Cenozoic Era that bore into the soft tissue of human feet and cause spontaneous amputation of the toes; I can give a scientific dissertation on how a basket of discarded tomato, potato and eggplant peels, when treated with 2-4-6 dimethyloxytropinone could make every man, woman and child in a small town hallucinate and swing from street lights like monkeys, and I know far more than I care to about the sexual appetites of some of America’s favorite rock stars. It’s not what you think, but I’m sworn to secrecy. Sorry.

My formal education has taken me from being able to read a book by myself at the age of three, play Rachmaninoff’s piano Concerto in D Sharp Minor when I was nine, come close to flunking my senior year of high school and finish college after two aborted attempts. None of the teachers I encountered along the way made much of an impression on me or imparted anything of real value, except for my college journalism professor. He forced me, against my will, to compose my thoughts at the keyboard and then to convey them in an inverted pyramid style, skills for which I am forever grateful.

My informal education is full of unorthodox and often outrageous teachers who taught me how to corner a 2000-pound, three-liter, rear engine car at 120 miles-per-hour without losing control; how to tether myself to a helicopter in flight, sit on the landing skids and take pictures without falling off and how to hang by one arm from the back of a moving train, then hoist myself successfully back on board. Unfortunately, none of my instructors are still among the living.

All in all, the variety of subject matter to which I’ve been exposed, as well as my learning curve, has failed to fit the profile of any standard curriculums. I am just now learning how to be still in the moment, how to talk to a mother I’ve had for nearly 60 years and how to recognize and give thanks for my many blessings. Before James died, my life was fuller and calmer than it had ever been. I had a husband who nurtured and loved me more than either one of my parents and who, daily, showed me the meaning of true character.

I’ve learned how to relate to women, to have girlfriends I look forward to spending time with and to talk about feelings, as opposed to power-to-weight ratios and return on investments. No longer am I looking for approval from, or am anchored by, the man in my life, and I’ve finally learned to live what most people call a “normal life.” I’ve learned what real love is, the giving of self, the grace of God, come to terms with the duplicity of man and I’ve realized that ego can be all encompassing.

Cancer has been one of my greatest teachers. Aside from giving me an up close and personal look at mortality, it has nurtured the deepest parts of my spiritual side; made me realize that while I’ll never have the mother I want, I can be the daughter she needs, and it’s helped me separate the people who matter from those who don’t. Cancer has made me more compassionate than I thought possible, has made me cry over something as simple as an apple pie and and made me determined to live my life out loud. 

What are the most profound lessons you’ve learned in your life?
Has life or cancer changed you; has it made you less judgmental and more open to try new things, or has it made you more fearful of the future? Since we don’t know whether we have a day, or a decade, I hope you: postpone death by living, eat pie, extend a hand, put yourself out there in ways that make you uncomfortable and become acquainted with God.