Monday, January 21, 2008

Honoring more courageous women...

The other day I began introducing you to the stories of women who've faced the battle with breast cancer with courage, dignity and strength. Their names were submitted to me as part of a contest on my website (www.sherrylwoods.com) which promises a $100 donation to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation each month in honor of a survivor or in memory of a loved one who has lost this difficult battle.

Before I share some more of these wonderful and inspirational anecdotes, I'd like to share one of my own. Shortly after my arrival in Miami more than 30 years ago, I went to work as a television critic for The Miami News. One of my dearest friends there, Marilyn Moore, was soon to be diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time she and her husband had five small children -- including TWO sets of twin boys. During her recuperation from surgery, I spent a lot of time in their home. I discovered that the kids would eat almost anything except my one attempt at moussaka. They didn't like the "meat," which in fact was eggplant.

At any rate, during those long months, only once did I ever hear Marilyn complain and even that was in the form of a joke...made on the day after she woke up from her mastectomy. From then on, through chemo and radiation, she was totally focused on living a long and full life. If she had any kind of scan, she believed with everything in her that the results would be okay.

And for many years, they were. Sadly, though, the cancer did return and this time she lost the battle, but she did it with such grace and dignity that I will never forget it. Until the very end, when she could no longer deny the inevitable, her outlook remained positive. In some ways, I think that made losing her all the harder, because the rest of us honestly believed that she would win the fight one more time.

So I add her name to the list of women nominated by so many of you during my contest. Here are just a few more of their stories.

Debbie writes of her cousin Mary, who lost her battle in 1982 and adds, "We've come so far since then."

Lee Anne nominated her youngest sister "who was in stage three breast cancer when she was diagnosed in July 2004. On December 15, 2007 I had the pleasure of watching Lou dance with her son, Joe, at his wedding. Survival is real, but we can never stop fighting for those who don't make it."

And Michelle, who was diagnosed herself at the age of 33 and who is now a survivor of 10 years, shares the story of her mother. "In May 2006 she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time we were preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise together to The British Isles. It was a sad time for all the family. We canceled our cruise so she could receive the treatment she needed ASAP. She was graceful and courageous during her chemotherapy and radiation therapy in addition to all the complications that arose from her illness. Her only regret during that summer was her inability to have her annual "Joy-a-thon." For a week she has all 11 grandchildren at her house . . . And all the parents get a break for a week from the kids as well. She is a giving mother, best friends with her grandchildren and is an all-round wonderful woman."

A five year survivor tells of her own fight and her greatest fear. "My husband of 33 years helped me through surgery, chemo and radiation. He himself was trying to recover from a work injury that took his left foot. We worked together to help each other through the hard times. Two years ago on Labor Day weekend, he died...I worry about what I will do if I ever get it again and I am trying to do what I can to prevent it."

And to prove that friends can be there despite separation and the passage of time, Jane writes, "I would like to honor Margarita. She was my best friend when I was living in Arizona. Her daughter and my daughter were good friends. My youngest is named after her daughter. She has had to go through chemo twice now. She was ready to give up when her daughter came up pregnant and it gave her the will to go on. I faced my own scare this year and she was there to encourage me via email in my struggle while I waited on results."

If you're waiting for biopsy results or other medical test results, I wish you the kind of friendships that make the wait easier. And in a few days, I'll share more stories about other courageous women and the friends and family who want to honor them.

Sherryl Woods

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Honoring courageous women...

The battle against breast cancer is, in many ways, a lonely one. Only the person who faces the diagnosis must summon the courage to go through treatment, setbacks and challenges. But for the very lucky ones, there is a whole army of supporters there to walk with them, to offer encouragement and prayers and daily acts of kindness.

Never was this more evident to me than when I began to read through some of the entries to a contest on my website. Last month (and again this month and in February) I've offered a $100 donation to Susan G. Komen For the Cure in honor of a survivor or in memory of a loved one who lost the fight against breast cancer. Though there was only one randomly-selected winner from the hundreds entered, there were too many heartfelt comments to be ignored.

So, today and over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'd like to share some of the stories submitted. Even in a very few words, people were able to convey so much about their heartache, their sense of loss and their respect for those they wished to honor. For me, they're a testament to the powerful bonds between women and to the strength of those who've waged this battle. I'll use only first names here in the interest of privacy, but to all of you who entered I thank you for telling me about these wonderful people.

P.J., for example, wrote about her cousin Janet who "passed away from COPD in September. Janet fought many health obstacles throughout her 83 years. In 1980's she fought and survived breast cancer. She was a survivor in more ways than anyone will ever know. I still miss her..."

Sandra wrote of Nancy, "my best friend, who at 38 years old, lost her battle to cancer."

Another wrote, "I am a breast cancer survivor, but I would like to honor a very dear friend who died of breast cancer four years ago. (Frances) was a brave and loving woman. She changed many lives through her battle, including mine. I could not have dealt with the knowledge that I had breast cancer if it hadn't been for the strength and courage Frances possessed."

Kandi tells of "Freda, my brave friend, who is currently battling breast cancer. She uses her great sense of humor and the love of her large family -- sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and, of course, her devoted husband -- to optimistically face her greatest fight."

A daughter, Carmen, writes of her mother, Gladys, "She was my mother, my guardian, my best friend. It's been ten years but sometimes I still reach to give her a call. I have a really good friend who has had a reccurence, another who just got diagnosed and another who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It's a horrible disease. Here's to a cure!"

Another Sandra asked to honor two people. "First, my grandmother Alice. Although she's been gone many years now and she did not pass away because of the cancer, she's the first and so far only one in our family that has gone through it. She had a mastectomy and lived a long life afterwards, passing away in 1987, nearly 20 years after her triumph over the cancer. Second is my long-time friend, Mary...She was diagnosed approximately 10 years ago, so she's well past the five-year stage. She is now married and going strong. Another triumphant story!"

This is just the beginning. I hope the stories will touch you. There are many more to come. And in the meantime, if you didn't enter last month's contest and have someone you'd like honored with a donation to the Susan G. Komen foundation, please go to www.sherrylwoods.com and click on "Contest." There's also information there on how you can make your own contribution, no matter how large or small, to aid in this fight that affects us all -- whether we've faced the diagnosis ourselves or dealt with its effects on a friend or loved one. Banding together, there's nothing women can't do, including curing this terrible disease.

Sherryl Woods

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