“God got you.”

October is the cruelest month, at least for a long-time breast cancer survivor like me who’s sick to death of all the pink and story after story of survival attributed to a can-do attitude. Enough.

A couple of days ago, I was simmering over a segment on the Today show in which Hoda Kotb, a breast cancer survivor, surprised five women who are experiencing the disease with a spa weekend in NYC. While the sentiment was kind enough, two things about the story nagged at me: 1) all of the survivors were middle class white women, reinforcing the narrative from the past 50+ years that breast cancer is a disease of privileged women (despite mounds of research revealing the extreme disparities in diagnosis, treatment, and survival rates depending on the socioeconomic and racial identity of women), and 2) all that pink–the women were picked up in a pink limo, wrapped in pink boas, and whisked away to a makeshift rooftop spa adorned with pink candles, pink flowers, blah, blah, blah.

But when I picked up Helena from softball practice later that afternoon, she showed me a message that she’d sent out to her virtual prayer group (I’m sure the specific technology/social medium has a name, but I have no idea what that would be!). As she read her post aloud, all of my cynicism about breast cancer awareness month faded away:

“So most of y’all know that it is breast cancer awareness month. So I just ask for all of us to be praying throughout this month for people who have and have had breast cancer. This is very personal to me because my mom has had breast cancer twice and has fought it both times. I know that she is a miracle and God helped her survive. I am so blessed that she is in my life and I thank God every single day!”

Sometimes, I forget that those around me, especially my family, are experiencing my struggles with breast cancer right alongside me.

Edwina also made me think twice about my perspective on this month and our journeys through breast cancer. She texted me to ask how I’ve been. We don’t see each other as much as we once did, because Edwina’s new apartment is in a neighborhood that I don’t feel too comfortable wandering into.

We were updating each other on our lives, and I admitted to Edwina that I’ve been feeling run down and haven’t been taking care of myself the way I know I should. That gets me down, and the result is that I get further entrenched in a rut–not eating the right foods, drinking one too many glasses of wine, and favoring television and the couch over the trail near my house.

Edwina responded with three words: “God got you.”

She’s right. I may hate the pink, and the way in which a disease that has affected so many lives has been turned into a fluffy, happy, commercialized onslaught.

But God does have me, my family, Edwina, and the rest of us who struggle with disease, fears, depression, whatever it might be in his sight.


















My 2nd Act

On November 6, I and 9 other female cancer survivors–7 of us from Birmingham–will be presenting our stories of survival in a stage show called My 2nd Act (M2A). Cancer survivors from other parts of the country, from Nashville to Chicago to Raleigh, have also reached audiences through M2A to reveal the triumphs and struggles that follow a diagnosis of breast, ovarian, brain, colon, or any other type of cancer that knocks a survivor down before she figures out how to get back up again and create a new, albeit revised, life for herself.

One particularly cool feature of our stage show is that it’s being taped for a television documentary. More details to come!

I invite anyone who is interested in supporting the Women Survivors Alliance, the organization that benefits from ticket sales and other charitable donations, to join us on the 6th of November!


A new life in Bangalore

One of my favorite destinations in India is the city of Bangalore. It’s a bustling place, and the streets are filled with young people, many of them the company representatives on the other end of the line when we Americans call Dell or another U.S.-based corporation.

Today’s New York Times features a story about how some of those working in industries in Bangalore make their way there and some of the difficulties they face: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/world/asia/bangalore-india-women-factories.html?emc=edit_th_20160925&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=0

The article tells the story of Prabhati and Shashi Das, among others, who travel from their small village in the Northeast portion of India to Bangalore, a southern city some 33 hours away by train, to work. Life in Bangalore is, unsurprisingly, quite different that life in a small Indian village, where young women are protected by their families from men so that they may remain chaste (and just as importantly, be perceived as chaste) until an arranged marriage to an eligible bachelor who agrees to the family’s dowry. In the city, village girls like the Das sisters are often vulnerable to temptations with which they have no prior experience.

I learned about women in Prabhati and Shashi’s shoes when I interviewed the publisher and editor of Woman’s Era, a women’s magazine published in New Delhi. The target audience includes women who often find themselves in temporary working environments in a city like Bangalore, women who might be exposed to modern ways, modern fashion, and modern relationships.

An underlying message conveyed to readers of Woman’s Era is to remember that their reputations must remain intact for the time when they return to their villages to marry.




Blessings from Ganesh

A festival honoring the Hindu god, Ganesh, recently filled the streets (and surrounding waters) of Mumbai: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/world/asia/mumbai-india-ganesh-festival.html?emc=edit_th_20160916&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=1

In India and Nepal, Ganesh’s image appears everywhere–over doorways, in large temples and small shrines along the roadside, on clothing, handbags, and jewelry. I have numerous tributes to Ganesh in my house, too. Just in case he does bring blessings!

Visiting Kielce

The past few weeks have been full. Classes at UAB have begun, and my oldest daughter is now officially a college student living on campus. It’s strange to have her so near, yet not in the house with us.

As I get back into familiar routines, I’m also beginning to sort through my research this summer in Poland. While there, I visited a cancer center in Kielce, where I interviewed several cancer survivors, healthcare providers, and even the founder of the facility. By my side were three new Polish friends/colleagues: Joanna Bogusz and Dorota Dudek-Godeau from the National Institute of Public Health in Warsaw, and Ewa Brdak, a translator. Together, we examined how cancer care is delivered in this area and the ways in which survivors’ lives are affected as a result.

One of our specific visits was with members of The Amazon Group, a national organization for breast cancer survivors with chapters in several regions, including Kielce. Following my visit, an article was written by a journalist from the facility. Here it is, in Polish!




The Alabama Project at Loyola

Gradually, I’m settling back into Alabama time and writing about the amazing experiences I had this summer in Poland and back in Illinois. One highlight was the trip to the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University’s Medical Center to deliver some of The Alabama Project photos and to present background on the project during a reception there. The pictures that follow taken by my friend, Tanya, provide a glimpse at the exhibit and speaking engagement.



Me pictured with the women at Loyola who brought The Alabama Project to cancer survivors in Chicago.



An announcement of the photo exhibit alongside David’s picture of Debbie Tabb and her family. Attendees were also provided with copies of Cancer Today containing stories about some of the Alabama women.


A look at the lobby where The Alabama Project photos were displayed.


My presentation about the amazing stories behind David’s images.


Pictured alongside my family, including Mom (seated), my Auntie Rose, Uncle Tom, and Dad (left to right, standing).


Smiling alongside my gal pals, Tanya (who transported us to Chicago and played photographer) and Suzanne (van co-driver who accompanied me and the pics all the way from Birmingham).



Mom, Dad, and me enjoying a happy moment at Loyola–much happier than Mom’s emergency hospital visit that took us there earlier this year.


“Material proof”

Celia and I have headed on to Warsaw, leaving the rest of our group at the airport to fly home. We were all exhausted–not surprising, since we pulled out of Krakow by bus at 2:00 a.m. this morning–but the memories of the places we visited dwell deep in our souls.

Looking back through the photos I’ve taken thus far, I was struck by two in particular: 1) a picture of the building where “material proof of crimes” was gathered to devise cases on which the innocent could be tried at Auschwitz, and 2) a black and white image of men and women, young and old, departing the train at Birkenau. Many, we were told, tried to hold onto hope that their lives and those of their families would be spared. The majority never left the place alive.


Weighing “material proof” at Auschwitz.


Weighing “material proof” at Auschwitz.

The horrors that awaited prisoners at Auschwitz I and II are unimaginable. Those who escaped immediate annihilation slowly suffered. They were tortured emotionally and physically, treated like animals.

Though I’ve heard the stories before, seeing Auschwitz, like Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam last summer, makes the past both more real and more unfathomable.