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“Anna and Her Ponies” – Written by Heidi Guest

Duncan Family Christmas 2009 012

Anna Duncan and her family taken at Christmas. Left to right: Jeff, Julia, Matt, Anna

“The last thing you expect or want from life is often the first thing you take on your journey to life.”

Timothy Shriver
Chairman and CEO
Special Olympics

Anna Duncan is the kind of woman every person hopes to have for a neighbor. For two terrific years, she was mine. While others kept their distance, it was Anna who reached out, knocked on our door, introduced herself and made us immediately feel welcome. Active in the community, devoted to her husband and kids, I often smiled watching her go about her every day, her mini-van in perpetual motion. She moved with an optimism and a power of purpose that I’m not even sure she was even aware, so natural was this state of being. In fact, I’m sure if I had shared my impression with her, she would have good-naturedly laughed and dismissed it. I believe she considers herself average. Believe me, she is far from average. Anna Duncan is an extraordinary human being.

For the last nine years, Anna and I remain next door neighbors in spirit, but the truth is we now live on separate coasts. And because our interactions are understandably more limited than they were in the past, I always look forward to receiving her annual holiday letter. I remember sitting down ,early last December, with a cup of tea, eager to open the big stack of cards that had arrived that day. Anna’s was the first in the pile. What a great way to get in the holiday spirit, I thought to myself. I smiled as I glanced at the discernible changes in the two adorable kids we once knew who enthusiastically waved to us, without fail, on every cul-de-sac departure and arrival. Matt and Julia were clearly on the verge of adulthood and probably favored vehicles of the four wheel variety these days.

Anna’s always newsy Christmas letter felt both comforting and familiar as I settled in and began to read the annual update. Without warning, I came upon a new paragraph that didn’t match the rest. My body went cold. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Breast cancer. Already advanced at the time of diagnosis. Treatment to begin in January. Whether she said it directly or I read between the lines, one message was abundantly clear: My friend Anna was frightened. And so was I. Anyone who knows Anna would never juxtapose “frightened” with her name. Optimistic, Plain-spoken, Energetic, Dedicated, Giving. Yes. Frightened? Absolutely not.

Having already sent our own breezy annual holiday greeting across the country to Anna, I immediately sat down and wrote her a letter. For some reason, I couldn’t call. I suspect this was true for many of Anna’s friends. It was impossible for me to reconcile the concepts of Anna and Cancer. I felt disoriented and confused by the harsh set of circumstances that this effervescent person had to face. Why couldn’t I get on the phone immediately? Offer comfort? Share the exact right words? I remember being both surprised and disappointed at my own reaction. Suddenly, in a moment of insight and wisdom, I had a greater understanding and compassion for those who had failed to reach out to me in the most trying of times. I thought of the words Anna and I had repeated every Sunday as we sat with our families in the pews of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church: And forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…Though I prayed for her daily, I still could not pick up the phone. Unsure that it would be a good time to call, I sent an e-mail which would give her the opportunity to decide. Anna, of course, immediately responded and a call was arranged.

Ironically, I spoke to Anna just a few days before receiving a request to write this blog entry. Coincidence? I think not. At the end of our conversation, I promised to send her a copy of Beauty Pearls For Chemo Girls as one of its co-authors, Debbie Kiederer, had given me a personal copy at the time of its publishing. After reading it, I remember thinking that it was the perfect gift to give a loved one when you wanted to offer your love and support with all your being, but didn’t quite know how to communicate that message.

Shortly after accepting Debbie’s request, I e-mailed Anna, asking her for her valuable counsel on subjects that would be most meaningful. In her usual fashion, she responded immediately and her advice was quintessential Anna, just like the words I previously used to describe her. “Frightened” did not match anymore. It made my heart sing and I hope it does the same for you. Without any further ado, and with Anna’s permission, I would like to share her most recent discovery and paradigm shift…one that is obviously working for her.


I have to share something with you that my third opinion oncologist said to me. It’s been my mantra as I go through treatment. I have to set up this story though. I had three opinions because my breast cancer was quite advanced and I was frightened by the treatment plan. I kept looking for another, less scary, perspective. My oncologist is very young, and the third person I spoke too was older and wiser. His first admonition was not to be frightened by the long term effects of the chemo on my heart, that I needed to focus on beating the cancer and being there for my teenagers! He got my attention with that one. His closing advice was something like this:

Do you feel like you’ve landed in a stable full of shit?
When I nod yes, he continues with: Where there is shit, there are ponies,
Look for the ponies!
Every time something wonderful or even unexpectedly good happens, I consider it a pony
even something so seemingly small as a hug from Matt!
I’ve kept half my eyebrows til now (they’re going fast!), and that’s a pony.
You can find them anywhere if you’re open to them!
So the motto to this yarn is:
Attitude is everything, and my attitude is to look for the ponies and celebrate them!
PS forget about the shit, it turns to fertilizer! Thanks for sending the book Heidi, I can’t wait to get it!

Love to you, Anna

Love to you too, Anna. I will look for the ponies from this day forward. And you’re absolutely right, the coveted pony is not perfect. Where there are ponies, there always is shit. But, as you beautifully point out: Do we look at the shit or the pony? The choice is ours. I’m with you: Let’s look for the ponies…today and every day thereafter. Ralph Waldo Emerson agrees with us wholeheartedly:

“Though we travel the world to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

About Heidi Guest:

Heidi Guest is the Founder and President of The Guest Experience, LLC, a company committed to mentoring individuals to live into their full potential.  With a philosophy of “one size fits one”, The Guest Experience works with a broad range of clients providing private individual coaching as well as consulting to organizations.   Emphasis is placed on clients identifying their individual talents and applying those strengths to reach their personal and professional goals.  Heidi writes a weekly column on The Guest Experience blog, Beauty Every Day, designed to encourage people to pursue lives of meaningful engagement and purpose.

Prior to the creation of her own venture, Heidi was a twenty-two year veteran of the prestige cosmetics industry.  In her last role as Vice President of Education for Clinique North America, Heidi led initiatives that supported the selection, education, development and retention of both Clinique Consultants and executives. In addition, she led global point of sale strategies designed to optimize both the employee and customer experience for the number one volume department store cosmetics brand.

Heidi represented the cosmetic company to the public as “The Voice of Clinique” in Clinique’s longest-running national radio campaign as well as the brand’s media spokesperson on local morning talk shows and nationally syndicated programs like NBC’s i-village Live.

To read more about Heidi, visit http://www.guest-experience.com

1 Comment to “Anna and Her Ponies” – Written by Heidi Guest

  1. debbie's Gravatar debbie
    April 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Just beautiful…we all need ponies in our lives.

1 Trackback to “Anna and Her Ponies” – Written by Heidi Guest

  1. By on August 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm

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