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Living Pearls | 2010

When we began writing Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls back in 2008, we approached our project with the vision of giving women diagnosed with cancer a guide for coping, their friends and supporters a gift that could truly make a helpful difference, and everyone living through this experience an online community offering solace, strength and inspiration.

For the month of December we offer you this new chapter we call Living Pearls
Please click here to download your copy

Marybeth and Debbie

On the Air with BP4CG

In the dark of winter, holiday lights brighten our spirits and fill the air with a sense of hope and happiness… and in keeping with that spirit of brightening up even the darkest of days, Debbie and Marybeth launched our national radio show Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls Sunday morning, bringing our message of courage and inspiration to women across America who are facing cancer treatment.

Joining us on our first show were Heidi Guest, owner of the talent and strength based consulting firm The Guest Experience, and breast cancer survivor Lisa Rae-Korboosh. These lovely ladies spoke with honesty, insight and humor about ways chemo girls and all their friends and supporters can find the strength and courage they have within themselves to make it through treatment being the best they can be.

As Heidi told us, it is the right of every human being to live life to its fullest potential, no matter what sort of difficulties or setbacks we face. We hope you’ll take a bit of time to listen to the podcast of the show and join us each week as we continue our mission to let our sisters in need know that they are not alone, and that they really can find solutions to many of the chemotherapy side effects they face.

Click here for the podcast or here for the list of stations airing the show – thanks very much!

Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls National Radio Show!

Our National Radio Show will debut on Sunday, December 5th and 9 AM!

This week, Heidi Guest and Lisa Rae Koorbush join Debbie and Marybeth on the air to talk about finding ways to tap into your inner strength to make it through.

Click here to view more details and how to tune in!

“Do what makes you happy” – Written by Geri Mazur

I met Debbie Kiederer a few weeks ago and over coffee she asked me to write a guest blog. I said “What do I know? I’m a business coach…I write about marketing.” But then she asked me what I would tell someone who was invited somewhere, but was feeling crappy and didn’t want to go. I thought about it for a second and replied, “I would tell them not to go”.

Twenty-five years ago I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. Relatively minor in the world of cancer, but mine had spread to lymph nodes on both sides of my neck. Out came the entire thyroid and all those lymph nodes with it. Complications from the surgery kept me on tons of meds for almost a year. Today I still wake up and take five pills for those complications. But those first few years were hell. I wanted to believe everything was normal when it really wasn’t. The folks around me wanted to believe it even more than I did. And so I did my best to do all the things I would normally do…even when I didn’t want to. I went back to work too fast. I went out of town on vacation too fast. I went out with my friends when I was scared and tired and really wanted to stay home and put my head under the blankies. And when I look back, I wish I hadn’t.

I’ve been trained as a Co-Active coach. And the first principle in this school of coaching is that the client is creative, resourceful and whole. I will never assume I know better than my clients about what is right for them in their lives. I might help them make a conscious decision…and try to help them understand the consequences of their actions, but once they get that, then the decision to do or not to do something is entirely their own.

I always think the best thing to do…in any situation… is to work with what is. Cancer takes an enormous physical and emotional toll. Denial doesn’t help…and only makes things worse later on. But once we acknowledge how hard cancer is and accept that fact, it just actually may become easier to deal with. And way easier than fighting reality.

And so for that person who was feeling crappy and didn’t want to go…. If you’re like me, there’s a part of you that wants to go and another part that doesn’t . Figure out which part is the bigger part…which part will make you happier. Understand the consequences of your actions. And just do what you want.

Geri Mazur has more than 30 years experience moving people, products and brands forward. She combines strong business acumen with life coaching expertise to ensure clients get more of the good things in their lives. She has held a number of senior strategic management positions in marketing, communications and advertising, working with such well-known brands as P & G, sanofi-aventis and Pfizer. She has successfully positioned brands and companies of all sizes for growth in highly competitive markets. In addition to her extensive business experience, she is a graduate of The Coaches Training Institute, one of the few programs certified by the International Coach Federation, the largest worldwide resource for coaching and coaches. With a combination of insight and intuition, keen understanding of human nature, and practical business marketing and communications skills, Geri helps her clients see what to focus on to ensure continued success.

“Singing Birds and Winter Lights” – Written by Gail Welch

Singing Birds and Winter Lights – these are just two of the many things that remind me of Mum.

She loved the sound of singing birds and the sparkle of lights and every time I hear birdsong or see the winter lights in the city trees I think of Mum. I have many, many happy memories or her and our family; but unfortunately, there are the sad memories too. The smell of cigarette smoke and people smoking are particularly hard for me, as they bring back the reality of a life taken needlessly – if only she had quit smoking.

It was on a Friday in June 2005 when I received a phone call from my Dad, telling me my Mum was in the ICU with terminal lung cancer. The doctors did not expect her to last more than 3-4 days.

Time stood still. I had no idea that she was sick. When I’d last seen her four months earlier she seemed perfectly fine. Now we were being told we only had a few hours left with her. At that time my parents were living 3500 miles away in Cyprus, almost 21 hours travel time. I went into a frantic rush and within a day, began one of the longest journeys of my life, hoping with all my heart that I would get there in time.

I arrived to find my Mum in the ICU. She looked terrible; breathing through an oxygen mask, pumps with tubes everywhere. Over the next week she improved enough to be moved out of the ICU, and her diagnosis was changed to Leukemia, Emphysema, and Lymphoma. As a long time heavy smoker, her condition was blamed on this awful habit. She immediately began a course of IV chemotherapy.

I was extremely lucky and blessed to be able to stay with my parents during this time. My employer allowed me to work remotely from Cyprus and my husband was extremely supportive while remaining in the US. I spent 4-5 hours at the hospital every day, enjoying my Mum’s company with many long chats and reminiscences. It was a strangely pleasant time with lots of laughter. Her condition appeared to be moving into remission and the doctors were pleased.

On the day following her fifth course of chemotherapy, my dad and I arrived at the hospital and immediately noticed that something was terribly, terribly wrong. Mum was distant, unresponsive, her demeanor was different. She had a blank stare. The doctors came, conferred and whisked her off for a brain scan. The worst of our fears had come true – Mum had suffered a massive stroke. For the second time, time seemed to grind to a halt for me. I could hear the doctors talking, but it was like they were on TV or something, not real at all.

Realization set in. Mum had suffered an irreversible stroke. She was not likely to improve at all. Her chemo could not continue. Her condition would worsen again; there was nothing the doctors could do for her.

Mum never wanted to live like this; she had said it many times after caring for my stroke stricken Grandmother. She was now totally helpless, completely dependant on others.

Our daily visits continued but they were no longer chatty. They were long and for the most part silent. She was still Mum, but she was different. Her eyes remained sharp and watchful but the rest of her was dull and lifeless. The nurses told us that she was most likely fully aware of what had happened to her even though she was unable to communicate this lucidly. Her eyes told me this was true.

Yet one of the things that I remember most strongly about this time was her hair. Mum had beautiful, thick, blonde, wavy hair. The chemo ravaged her mane. It was ok for a while then all of a sudden it started falling out in big clumps. The nurses would take it away before we arrived in the morning, but told us how very upset the loss made Mum. Dad and I brought her hats to wear but they made her angry and upset and she refused to wear them.

Dad talked to her hairdresser and he said he would make her a wig but she refused to see him. She seemed more upset over the loss of her hair than she was over her terminal condition. This was most disconcerting for Dad and me. It took a while for us to digest this fact. The doctors were telling us she only had a few weeks of life left, yet all that seemed to matter to her was her hair. She’d lost about 90% of the hair on her head but 100% of the rest of her hair – eye lashes, eye-brows, arm hair etc. I think that that was the most shocking and striking thing for us. We are used to seeing bald people but not people without eyebrows, eyelashes etc. The hospital that my Mum was in did not have any kind of cancer care program that offered support in the hair loss or makeup department so we just had to accept it. We had no idea that there were options available to make this loss less traumatic for all involved. It never occurred to us to put makeup on her to replace her eyebrows etc. And though we did our best to try to see things from Mum’s point of view – it was very difficult for us to understand why hair mattered so much to her.

How I wish I’d had Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls to refer to during those days. I would have understood how important Mum’s appearance was to her, and how badly she wanted to retain control of at least one aspect of her life. It would have made things so much easier for my Dad, for me and most importantly, for Mum.

She passed away seven months after her original diagnosis, five months after her massive debilitating stroke. I will always be grateful for the hours we were able to spend chatting during those initial two months, and I remember that time as a priceless gift I will always treasure.

And while she lost her life and is almost five years gone, the things she loved remain with me, and in that way, so does she. I hear her in the singing birds, I see her in the twinkling lights, and I love her as much today as I ever did.

She is always with me.

“Living Out Loud” – Written by Donnalyn Giegerich

DL_headshot_2010_200HpxI was teaching yoga in the Caribbean to unwind from my otherwise hectic work life and came home to incredible right flank pain that was moving around to my back. Went to Riverview hospital on advices of my fabulous GP to uncover a baseball sized tumor in my retroperitoneaum…lodged between my kidneys and adrenals leaning up against my inferior vena cava. Fast forward to an originally planned 10 hr kidney auto transplant surgery at NYPresbyterian/Cornell for a 4 in 1 million soft tissue diagnosis of Leiomyosarcoma…a highly recurrent, erratic and no cure type of sarcoma cancer that affects up to 20% of children diagnosed with cancer annually.

As an athlete and businessowner seasoned in unexpected setbacks, I simply refocused my attention and direction on what I could do with this startling news. I could keep moving, working, living out loud and I could “pay it forward” in ways that would hopefully serve others well with my giftedness. So I kept going. Speaking professionally, doing sprint triathlons, teaching yoga, supporting a research foundation for LMS and most recently, mid life modeling, pageantry and creating a non profit KickCancerOverboard which encourages those touched by cancer has kept me busy. I’m Mrs Red BankUS platforming for rare cancer awareness in a bikini with a sixteen inch torso scar in kitty heels in midlife simply because I can!

I’m speaking so much now that my fabulous webmaster has created a website that entails my speaking topics, clients to date, testimonials and advocacy work around empowerment and LMS awareness. The great part of all of this is I’m doing what I really love! by helping people step into their greatness despite the adversity they face. I’m speaking across the country, advocating for others globally thru my blog and networking for and with others around medical issues, business opportunities and community service. Cancer’s certainly not a gift because I wouldn’t give it to anybody, but my husband and my dual cancer journey(he was diagnosed w multiple myeloma as my hair was growing back from chemo) has hopefully helped others gain perspective and encouragement around what’s truly possible through challenges…more opportunities!

To read Donnalyn’s blog, visit this link: http://donnalyn.org/category/blog/

The Best Medicine

In the months since Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls has been released, Debbie and I have spoken to hundreds – maybe even thousands – of women facing cancer treatment.  While each experience is as unique as the patient dealing with disease, one thing never seems to change:  the eagerness of all these women to reach out to others in need, to connect with fellow survivors, and most of all, to look into the face of cancer – and laugh!

Time and time again we’ve seen how tightly closed and worried faces brighten as we relate our tales from the front lines of cancer:  the laughter that follows as I relate how my inspiration for the book bubbled up the morning I stumbled into the bathroom and realized I’d left my eyelashes on the pillowcase; It resonates when Debbie tells the story of how one of our experts provided her advice while running in and out of stores collecting prescriptions and lollipops and chicken soup for her husband, lying at home with a cold.

It may seem counter intuitive to approach such a devastating diagnosis with humor, but by speaking honestly about the more ridiculous side of treatment – my two year old son not letting me in his room unless I first covered my ‘baldie’ head; greeting my newly growing-in hair with a mix of joy and horror as a wide white swath of fuzz appeared down the center of my head, prompting a trip to a hair salon for a dye job that made me look like a freshly shorn Lucille Ball – what we’ve found is that by being able to poke fun at the whole chemo experience, we take away some of its bite, and remind our sisters that even in the worst of situations, there’s always room for a smile.

As each of us faces the inevitable difficulties cancer creates, it’s vitally important to remember that no matter how serious or trying our situation is, the ability to find the lighter side of the moment allows the lighter side of our lives to shine through.

So while we take the time to cry, to mourn, to cope and to deal with the effects of chemo, we hope everyone will remember the power that comes from giggling, smiling – from laughing out loud.

Cancer is no joke, but if we can find within ourselves the strength to embrace some of the absurdities treatment presents – and let out a good guffaw in the process – we keep hold of joy in our lives, and remind ourselves that while the load may be heavy, the weight will ease as our treatment ends.

And the punch line lands on the disease that tried to wipe out our happiness, but instead was laughed right out of our lives.

Latest Reviews

It is our pleasure to share with you, two of the latest reviews of our book.

You can find the review articles by clicking the links below.

TheBreastCareSite.com – http://www.thebreastcaresite.com/tbcs/CommunitySupport/ForYourBookshelf/ForYourBookshelf.htm

The Wag – http://www.westchesterwag.com/fashion.asp

“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

From “Pearls of Wisdom” by Rebecca Haynes

“Now I feel like 50 is the new 20. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to people who’ve been diagnosed. Yeah, it’s scary, but it’s going to be all right. You don’t want people to be more afraid than they have to be. It’s like you’re walking into some terrible dark room, and my whole goal is to flip on a bright light.” – Marybeth Maida

Read more: “Pearls of Wisdom” by Rebecca Haynes, HealthyLife