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A note from Marybeth: The Greatest Gift

It’s now 11 years since I found myself on the front lines of cancer – I entered this second decade of my saved life a few weeks ago, and thinking about the enormous gift of time I’ve been given made me remember the last installment of the blog I did when my 7 year anniversary was approaching. Called My New Boobs, we originally posted the 10 chapters so the last would hit in this month of October.

So in honor of my life, and yours, and all the lives we love so much, that have or are now fighting the cancer fight, I’d like to re-post my reflections on having the entire experience in the rear view mirror –

Something Debbie and I most fervently wish for all.


The Greatest Gift

My new boobs and I have been living together for many years now. They are very much a part of me, to the point where sometimes I forget what an arduous journey it was to get them.

I can also declare with complete honesty that having cancer was not such a bad thing after all. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and will do my utmost to never have to face another bout, but when I consider how I was “BC” and how I am now, I think of the disease as the wake up call that helped me truly understand and treasure the incredible blessing it is to be alive, to be loved, to be part of something that is bigger than just myself.

Prior to getting sick, I was a seriously high-octane woman. I never really relaxed. I didn’t know how to shut out the zillion thoughts always racing across my brain. I thrived on energy and stress and pushing the limits of what I could do. I didn’t appreciate what a trusted vessel my body had been. Living inside my unscarred, untested, pre-cancer body, I pushed it relentlessly, had a lot of complaints about what I considered its failings, and held it to exceptionally high standards.

Today, I’m still an over-achiever, but I’m not jet fuel anymore. I can slow down, sit on the porch rocker or watch mindless television and not feel as if I’m wasting time. I can walk our dog without needing to elevate my heart rate. I am able to tolerate some dust without reaching for the furniture polish and can cut myself some slack should I misplace my cell phone or keys.

I’m also completely at peace about getting old. Before cancer, I dreaded aging, and looked upon creases in my skin as an affront to my strenuous efforts to be strong and limber and young. I read about the in-office procedures many women had at the dermatologist’s office during their lunch hour, and figured that as the years marched on I’d be going for Botox and chemical peels and whatever other miracles could be called upon to erase the effects of time.

Now, I look at birthdays as accomplishments. Every year that comes to me is proof that I won my cancer war. And while I wish my face didn’t fold into saggy lines along my chin and neck I’m actually proud to have some cellulite in my thighs, and to feel the ache of muscles after a particularly hard work out. Those sensations, those lines and wrinkles and dimples are the trophies I wear as proof of my victory over disease.

That’s not to say I don’t sometimes mourn the loss of youthful beauty. Every now and then I’ll stand in the bathroom and pull the edges of my face up and remember how taut and smooth it once was. I’ll fantasize for a moment or two about facelifts and liposuction, but then the phone rings, or the dog barks and I move on with my day. I guess realizing your life could be ending sparks a true appreciation for the life you still have.

Before cancer, I was a pencil thin woman who watched every morsel of food I ate and was eternally at odds with my figure. Now I’ve got tits and ass. I love a good porterhouse steak, enjoy the occasional martini and no longer consider ice cream to be a once a year treat.

I suppose I’ll always be a nut about maintaining my weight, but I don’t let the scale stand between me and a particularly delicious cookie. I run and spin and swim for aerobic health and lift weights for bone strength. I don’t care if my arms have bat wings or my legs aren’t always smoothly shaved. I head out to the school bus stop in my sweats and t-shirt and if I miss the poppy seed stuck in my teeth I no longer cringe in embarrassment at having gone outside without being perfect.

It took cancer to make me realize that in all the ways that matter, perfection is a plateau I’ve already reached: I am married to my soul mate, we have our kids, we’re happy in our lives and my boobs don’t give me any more trouble.

Whatever it took to get here was worth the ride, and I’m determined to drive this highway until that last stop sign appears. Hopefully I’ll be an old lady by then, but one thing is for sure: no matter how old I get my boobs will be forever young.

And I’ll be forever grateful for all they taught me.

Ten Years After | ” Serenity’s Song”

Kicking back, chilling out, taking it easy… anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis will hear multiple times from many different sources how important it is to relax and de-stress, but talking that talk is oftentimes much easier than walking that walk.

After all, ours is not the most relaxed society on earth. Keeping up at work, school, managing a household, a family, friendships, staying fit, eating healthy are collectively a day-consuming business.

Add into the equation the time we spend commuting, reading, watching television or movies and participating in social media and suddenly the window available to anyone for contemplation, meditation, self-reflection and simply breathing in a mindful way remains almost completely shut.

I know that in my pre-cancer world, relaxation was almost anathema to me. Forever racing through my days, pushing myself physically, professionally, creatively seemed like the only way to really make the most of my time. Even my yoga classes were preceded by a multi-mile run on the treadmill, and the two-minute meditative end to each class was often the hardest two minutes of the entire practice.

And while I’d love to report that being in treatment finally taught me to slow down, the truth is that it was only after I was finished with oncologists and surgeons that I began to understand how important it is to chill and allow myself the time I need to simply, truly relax.

These days, it’s not such a big deal for me to spend 15 minutes in an easy chair thinking about nothing but the music playing on the radio, or the song that’s in my head. But it took years for me to figure out how that little bit of time spent being still could fuel a full day of activity and make it better, brighter, more meaningful.

What I have come to realize is what so many of the experts in Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls advised; being mindful – and grateful – for the life force coursing inside my body was one of the very best ways to keep that life force strong.

It makes such obvious sense: being calm and relaxing my mind meant my muscles would not tense, my heart rate would slow and my tension would ease; and while none of these things would have reversed the malignancy that had invaded my body, they would ultimately have made dealing with the side effects of treatment a lot easier to cope with.

These days, I find that the best way to compensate for a bout of nerves or stress is to take a bit of time to breathe deeply and visualize myself in a warm, nurturing space. If I’m really tense, exercise shifts my head – and my heart – away from difficulties and re-focuses my mind on what’s important: the day, the moment, the fact that I’m here, still alive, still able to be part of the circle of life.

It’s not to say that relaxation is easy or that once cancer strikes the mundane difficulties of life melt away. They don’t. But the ability to cope with life’s challenges improves when we give ourselves the space and the permission to whisk away anxiety, fear, anger and negativity by making a conscious decision to inhale positivity and embrace serenity.

When we do, we find that though an emotional storm may be brewing inside us, the shelter of peace and comfort exists within us, and needs only a personal commitment to seek out that peace that ultimately strengthens our minds and soothes our souls.

Ten Years After | “Letting Go”

There’s nothing like cancer to bring the elements of life into clear focus. Priorities become very clear, and extraneous thoughts and actions are as easy to toss away as a seashell into the water.

In my own life, throwing things away did not come easily. I had no trouble getting rid of things I no longer needed, and felt comfortable donating clothes I knew I wasn’t ever going to wear, but personal relationships, especially those that were very demanding and draining, were hard for me to jettison.

Even during my treatment, I found myself trying my best to accommodate those who were freaked out by my diagnosis; people who wanted me to be there the way I’d always been; people who wanted to believe as if the cancer was no big deal.

To my way of thinking, rather than make a comment, or a stand, it was easier to just agree and accept these people as they were. Rather than cut them off, my goal was simply to avoid interactions, hunker down, and focus my energy on staying focused and getting well.

The approach worked, as far as it went, but didn’t really address a core life issue most people at one point or another have to face: when it comes to certain relationships, when is it okay to let go?

It wasn’t until I talked to so many experts on the front lines of treatment while writing Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls that I came to realize that one of the best health decisions we can make for ourselves is to keep our emotional kitchen as clean and healthy as the one in our homes.

Stress is a known contributor to so much ill health, and the stress that comes from difficult relationships can be deadly. It doesn’t matter who the person is or how much feeling is shared between you. If the energy is negative, demanding, draining, confusing – if the cost to your sense of well-being and happiness far exceeds the benefits, it’s time to turn away.

It’s not only the smart thing to do – it’s the right thing to do.

Just as the airline attendant will tell passengers in an emergency to place an oxygen mask over their own face before attempting to help anyone else, one of the lessons cancer teaches is that we all must first be able to breathe before we can provide the wind to lift others.

During treatment, and for the rest of your life, use the journey of cancer to better assess who among your circle is really in your corner. Keep those people close. Cherish them.

And if it so happens that moving through cancer exposes you to truths about people, relationships or situations you find are more trouble than they’re worth, like the seashell, cast them away. Even if it’s only just a metaphorical shift in your own awareness of them, by taking away their power to drain you, you save those resources to enhance your own health and sense of personal harmony.

If something is out of tune in your world, cancer is the perfect excuse to either excise the note, or refine it. The choice – and the responsibility to ease your own path – is entirely yours.

Holiday Healthy – Written by Vicki DeRosa

“From what I’ve heard, the holiday season is a time when most people worry about blowing their diet. The month of December is full of holiday parties for work, friends and family that generally involve rich and often incredibly unhealthy foods. We all have at the very least one meal or party to got to that we know will not offer a “diet” option on the menu. So, how do you avoid gaining weight and risking sickness this time of year? I’d like to say “Easy!” but truthfully it will take a little effort on your part. There are some tips I’d like to share with you for how to maintain your healthy lifestyle during this glorious, but often unhealthy time of year.

Breakfast! While you might have a dinner party to go to every week, it’s very unlikely that you have a breakfast party planned. Pay closer than usual attention to what you eat for breakfast and make every calorie count. What do I mean by making your calories count? Simply this: make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamins, fiber and healthy protein out of your most important meal of the day. Grains, fruit and raw nuts or eggs are the way to go. You’ll feel full longer, making the cookies in the break room much easier to pass up. You’ll also be getting the materials needed to help break down the rich foods you might be eating later in the day or week. And you’ll be stocking up on vitamins that you might not get from dinner.

Snack throughout the day! Eating raw fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts throughout the day in small servings is a great way to keep your metabolism in high gear as well as keeping yourself full with healthy, nutritious foods!

Exercise a little extra. If you have holiday shopping to do, don’t drive around the mall parking lot looking for a close space. Park way, way out there! Get extra steps in wherever you can. I always say take the stairs, but really, TAKE THE STAIRS!!! A flight or three of stairs with a bunch of packages is great cardio. If you typically work out three times a week, up it to four. You may feel pressed for time, but that hustle and bustle feeling is one of the greatest parts of the season!

Eat before you go! Fill up on celery or raw spinach and almonds before you host or head to your gathering. I can’t stress this enough! If you’re going somewhere food is involve, don’t go super hungry! If you snack on the food served at least you won’t be counteracting all your hard work!

If you have options, eat what you know! Find the foods that you know have the most nutritional value and shy away from the foods that you know are empty calories, or worse filled with chemicals. For instance: Eggnog or apple cider? Apple cider. Hot wings or celery? Celery. Pretzels or Crudite? Crudite. And when it comes time for dessert, eat half! I’m not an advocate of wasting food, but in the case of dessert I don’t think it’s wrong to waste a little.

I don’t want to be a party pooper, but I also don’t want you to feel anxiety over any aspect of this beautiful time of year! I want you to know that all is not lost if you eat that chicken cordon bleu and mashed potatoes. No one puts holiday pounds on their wishlist, but just like socks and underwear, many people get them. Don’t sweat it (or do sweat it on those stairs). You now have the tools to avoid those unwanted gifts. The pounds, that is. I’m afraid I don’t have any tips on the socks or underwear.”

Read more about Vicki on her blog.

Happy New Year!

Ten Years After | “Taken’ It Easy”

“Have Patience with all things but, first of all, with yourself.” – Saint Francis De Sales

When it comes to children, or dogs, or the elderly, I have always possessed a large reservoir of patience. Letting my son dress himself at the age of two, even though it took five times longer than it would have had I taken over the job, was not a big deal for me. Dog vomit on the rugs or poop on the floor was unpleasant to clean up, but not the trigger for outrage. Repeating myself over and over to a person who was fifty years older than I and had lost most of their hearing was a piece of cake.

But when it came to being patient with myself, I had a fuse that was shorter than the wick of a birthday candle.

Seriously, if I couldn’t find my keys, or forgot to buy some ingredient at the store, or heaven forbid put on a pound or two because I was lax about exercise or ate crummy food, the self-recriminations flowed. Until I had to face cancer, that is. Then all those highly driven expectations of self-perfection faded in the face of a disease that was wreaking havoc on my body and my entire family’s psyche.

Once my weight blew up forty pounds from steroids and my skin bore a wealth of surgical scars, and I couldn’t taste anything but metal in my mouth, the memory of my once unstinting personal demands faded. Looking at the anguish in my husband’s eyes whenever I was having a rough reaction to the chemo, knowing that he was suffering because there was nothing he could do to alleviate my suffering pushed washed away any sense I may have had about being stronger than I was able to be.

In other words, during treatment, I had no choice but to cut myself a break – and once I healed, I found it a fairly simple thing to take it easier on myself.

Looking back on my pre-cancer self I can only shake my head at what a lunatic I was, with my dust free house and fat-free body and take no prisoners work mentality. Extra shifts? No problem! Spend six days out of seven flying from city to city? Sure! Days off? Who needs them? Food? No thanks, there’s always coffee to stave off those pesky hunger pangs…

It’s no wonder something finally gave out inside me – not that I think I caused my cancer, but I sure as heck didn’t make it easy for my body to fight it off!

Things are different now, mostly because I’m different. I’ve finally learned how to take the patience I have towards others and apply it to myself. Sure, I’d like to be a little thinner, a little less saggy, a little more gainfully employed – but I’m not, and that’s ok. The sun will still rise in the morning, I’ll still get my son off to school and put dinner on the table and take care of the chores of the day in between.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how clueless I once was. I really thought that by working towards perfection I would find happiness. Now I know that happiness is a journey, not a destination, and that taking the long road is much more enjoyable than racing towards the finish.

It’s too bad I had to go through such a hard time to learn such an easy thing, but even that’s ok with me, now that I’ve embraced the idea that patience really is a virtue, especially when it’s practiced on myself.

Ten Years After | “The Sound of Silence”

After Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls was published, I suddenly found myself talking to people all over the country who were dealing with cancer. Debbie and I had a radio show, did television and press interviews, volunteered at charity events gave keynote speeches on how to feel good and look better while fighting the big C.

Even now, five years since the book’s release, I regularly speak with patients, caregivers and survivors, sharing stories, advice and wisdom from the experts in our book and others I’ve met on this journey.

But where I used to think my job was to fill the space around me with words of empathy and inspiration, I’ve come to realize that one of the best ways to help people in crisis is to simply be quiet and listen. Give them the room to express what they’re thinking and feeling and experiencing. Guide the conversation, not lead it, and allow those on the front lines of cancer to share their stories and celebrate whatever insights and victories they can claim.

I find that in doing this, the workshops and support sessions I attend generate such grace and positive energy, and that in turn has helped me to be a better listener across the entire spectrum of my life.

I used to head into events with our expert’s advice ready for dispensing. Now I just mention a topic, maybe hair loss, and let the conversation flow, adding bits of information wherever it’s relevant, but mostly letting everyone else talk about their experiences. And what I find is that as a group, we laugh more, share more and learn more.

It’s the same experience if I’m doing a consulting job, or dealing with a contractor, or trying to reason with my tween-age son. Telling any of them something is not nearly as interesting to them as having me listening to their thoughts, and then weighing in on the basis of what they’re saying. Once they feel like their being heard, that their needs and views have been acknowledged, they’re much more likely to give me the same opportunity to express myself. The net gain is we each learn how to better communicate.

Years ago Paul Simon wrote about “… people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening…”

Ten years after cancer came into my life, I have come to realize it’s better to listen before speaking, and hearing about what matters to those with whom I’m engaged before I begin to speak; and that it’s in the silence that the space for understanding comes into being, and wisdom begins to grow.

Best Books of 2014!





Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls has been chosen as one of Amazon Editors’ Favorite Books of the Year!

You can order the book here

And view it here on Amazon

More About Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2014

All year, Amazon.com’s editorial team reads with an eye for the Best Books of the Month, plus the best books in popular categories like Cooking, Food & Wine, Literature & Fiction, Children’s books, Mystery & Thrillers, Comics & Graphic Novels, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, the best books for teens, and more. We scour reviews and book news for tips on what the earliest readers have loved, share our own copies and tear through as many books as possible. Then we face off in a monthly Best Books meeting to champion the titles we think will resonate most with readers.

In October, we collect all our favorites, look at upcoming 2014 titles, and cast our ballots for the Best Books of the Year. The titles that made our lists are the keepers, the ones we couldn’t forget. Many of our editorial picks for the best books are also customer favorites and best sellers, but we love to spotlight the best books you might not otherwise have heard about, too.

The books included in Amazon’s Best Books program are entirely editorial selections. We are committed to helping customers find terrific gifts for booklovers and drawing more attention to exceptional authors. Our passion is for uniting readers of all ages and tastes with their next favorite reads.

Ten Years After | “Being Number One”

One of the experts in Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls, massage therapist Gayle McDonald, provides this parting pearl of wisdom for the readers –

Throw out everything in your life that you don’t need and isn’t working. Draining friends, needing to have your house spotless, being president of the PTA – if it’s too much for you let it go and concentrate on what works for you and makes you calm and relaxed and happy.

It’s a great bit of advice that, over this past decade, I’ve come to embrace, realizing that we are not all each other’s cup of tea – and that it’s perfectly ok to acknowledge this, and act on it in ways that make life easier and more enjoyable.

Being an alumnus of 12 years of Catholic School, I grew up believing that it was uncharitable to not want to share the company of people who, for whatever reason, did not click with me. If invited to spend time with someone, I felt I had no choice to oblige, and be gracious and social. If asked to work on a project for which I had no time or interest, I thought it was my duty to accept. If plans were inconvenient, but included me, I never thought to decline, or bow out.

Cancer changed all that. Once I had to put myself, my treatment, my survival as my top priority, letting go of difficult relationships became much easier. I discovered that declining to tax myself beyond my capabilities was not selfish, it was smart. It focused my time and energy in ways that helped me get through the rigors of treatment. Once out of the cancer trenches, I realized that moving forward, I had every right and reason to continue to use the minutes of my life in ways that empowered without draining, and inspired without exhausting.

That’s not to say I took a wholesale approach to relationships and commitments. I refined them. So a person who may have been an enormous pull on my psyche was relegated to a less prominent place in my consciousness. I was able to make sure that my priorities did not take a back seat to someone else’s. The things that matter most to me, my health and my family, are now always center stage.

I find this all to be enormously freeing – it’s as if cancer gave me permission to put my needs first, and to either literally or figuratively walk away from people and situations I just don’t want to be around. I know there are already millions of people for whom this comes naturally but for me this was one of the best life lessons ever learned: that no matter how much time I’ve got left on earth, it’s up to me to make sure I use it in a way that makes a difference to me and those I love.

Anyone dealing with cancer discovers just how gutsy they really are. In my case, I found out that yes is a beautiful word, but that being able to say no – no, thank you, not today, not this time, or maybe not ever – is an equally empowering gift and one I’m grateful to have finally opened.

Ten Years After

“Do you think I can remember what grade I got on a test ten years ago?” the sixth grade teacher demanded of her honor students, who were collectively freaking out over the poor exam grades we’d all received.

I was 12 at the time, and I never forgot that moment. I guess what struck me was the way this teacher, who couldn’t have been more than 23, could speak so dismissively about an entire decade of time. I remember thinking how cool that must be, to have so much life in the rear view mirror.

Now, as I head towards my 54th birthday, what strikes me is how many ways there are to frame the decades I can look back on: by marriage or friendships or jobs… or cancer.

This month is a big anniversary for me: 10 years as a cancer survivor. And in many ways, it’s this past decade that has changed me as no other period of time before ever had.

I’d gotten a lot accomplished before cancer reared its ugly head: college, marriage, career, travel, and divorce. I’d lived independently in fabulous Manhattan apartments, globetrotted as a news and documentary film producer, bought myself a house in NJ, fallen in love, gotten married again, had a baby and blended our son and my husband’s two kids into a true family unit.

And then, wham! Here comes cancer and all the triumphs of the past drilled down to one thing: would I make it — or not? It took two years to really know the answer, but once my final surgeries and treatments were finished, I decided then and there that cancer wasn’t going to be a crisis for me anymore – only an opportunity to take the rest of my life and make it matter every day.

That’s not to say cancer isn’t horrible. It sucks. It’s so awful that once I was finished with treatments and all my surgeries, I got rid of any tissue where I thought it might still lurk. I had a hysterectomy, went through a brutal menopause without any hormone therapy and honestly, if I could’ve figured out a way to live without a colon, kidneys, or stomach, I would’ve gotten rid of all of them too – anything so that I never had to face it all again.

But cancer also changed me in ways I think have made me a better, more thoughtful and spiritually in tune person. Once I had to face death, it made the flip side of life all around me such an easy and beautiful gift to embrace. Cancer made me a more patient parent, spouse and friend. It taught me to listen better, empathize more, forgive quickly, laugh easily and relax in ways that were almost impossible ten years ago.

I know I’m not alone – because of our book, and the volunteer work I do on behalf of local cancer organizations in my community, I meet people in all stages of disease and survivorship. I meet their caregivers, and doctors and friends. We cancer people share a special bond – we know that along with every other living thing, each of us will have our time on this earth, and then one day the sun will rise and we won’t be here to see it.

But this truth only makes life’s fleeting beauty that much more precious. I’m often struck at how when survivors meet, an unspoken rapport develops and the positive energy of their spirits makes everyone around them feel uplifted.

Ten years after being thrown into the cancer club, I see my survivorship as an opportunity to make sure that the energy and light I share with every other person on this journey continues to shine outward, reaching people wherever on the journey they are, keeping hope strong with an abiding knowledge that no matter what they’re facing, they are not alone.

We’re back!

Hey Everyone,

Happy Friday! We’ve been quiet for a while, but we are back with a great blog series coming your way! Stay tuned for more stories from Marybeth.

Thanks for visiting, and come back soon!