Tag Archives: cancer

Long Ago: Community Entry #13

The bare bones of the blank page. The architecture of story. Apparently the muse decided to go on Spring Break today.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Grey day after grey day from this window where I sit with my laptop, writing…and the muse feels dark and fed up.  And then a sunny day comes.  And I remember what gratitude is.  Please enjoy this piece on gratitude.

On Belonging (Or, Becoming the Flower You Were Meant to Be), by Kara Norman

Belonging is a difficult topic for me.  Just last night, I found myself saying two contradictory things when speaking with a friend.  I said:

1.     When my husband and I have kids, I want to be careful about how many counter-cultural patterns I introduce into the house.  As writers and shyly sensitive people, I am confident we will have plenty of refuge from mass culture.

2.     In high school, I had lots of friends.  I still have a rich helping of friends in my life.  But I miss the person I used to be in my youth: hyper, excitable, quick to laugh. Eager to pal around.  Kind of shiny.

*          *          *

I met my husband during our first year of graduate school in North Carolina.  We were both aspiring writers.  He was from Ohio – a tall crane of a man.  He was five years younger than I, and cat-like.  He hung around the coffee shop where I worked, scribbling notes onto napkins and sliding them across counters to me while I chopped carrots in my spattered black apron and shifted from foot to foot, hoping to alleviate the cramps in my legs from standing for hours at a time.

I was twenty-eight.  I had a handful of meaningful, discarded relationships under my belt, and I was living with someone else. Until I screwed up the courage to break off the relationship, so I could be with the man who was to become my husband.

After the break-up, itself a strange flash of abuse by the boyfriend, I was semi-homeless. One of my friends generously let me crash at her apartment. I loved those days – awakening on her futon, her offers to cook me a fried egg. She served strong coffee and we navigated the morning delicately as her big-bellied cat waddled around the rooms.

I loved soaping myself with the wash cloths my friend left for me in the shower, the brush and its hairs strewn about the sink, her little kitchen with the little window that climbed onto a small roof ledge – everything screaming single, single, just as I want it!

But, as my friend also had feelings for the man who was to become my husband, and I hadn’t exactly fessed up to my motives in breaking up with my boyfriend, things quickly grew complicated.  I was out of another place to live.

I didn’t mean to move directly into Tim’s apartment, his arms, our life together, but things just clicked.  We had the routine of school, his teaching fellowship, my shitty coffee shop job, and nights together reading books, eating Chinese food, wandering the humid streets of our town.  We had a life, and fell in love.

When I called my mother to tell her I had a place now for my dog, which my parents had been dog-sitting until I had either my own home or a cat-less place to land, she asked if I was still at my friend’s apartment.  When I said no, she asked if I was getting my own apartment.  When I said no, she said, “Oh.” I had minutes earlier told her about my new affair with Tim, and she was putting together the pieces.

But I had just turned twenty-nine, and for some reason, my parents always trusted me – or generally went along with whatever half-baked plans I drew up for myself.  I retrieved my dog, installed his bed in the non-working fireplace in Tim’s living room, and got on with my life.

Months ticked away.  Tim and I completed our second year of school.  We moved into a house together.  I was as rabidly insecure about my talents as a writer and how my spiritual colors fit into academic worlds as ever.  I had moved from Asheville, North Carolina, a place people like to say was built on a bed of quartz.  I had just seen a psychic to heal a long-standing soupiness in my soul. I was a little out there.

I was also prickly around Tim’s parents, a sweet couple who were born, raised, schooled, and living in rural Ohio.  I was afraid they wanted me to be a conservative haven, someone they could agree with politically.  I was socially agreeable, but burned with resentment at certain times: when asked to lie about Tim and I living together, when the topic of yoga felt on par to them with talking about witch-craft.

I took a yoga training class, meditated, journaled. None of these practices cured my loneliness.  I was plagued by insecurities, a kind of self-hatred that built a thick shell of distrust around my heart, my body, my life.

And then, returning home from a round of golf with his boss, Tim called me into the bedroom.  He held his testicles in his hand, one of them swollen.  He hoped it was a fluke; it would go down.  I persisted in what he may have been hoping for: I insisted we seek medical help.

I found a sub for the yoga class I was supposed to teach that night and accompanied Tim to the Urgent Care, where we sat in the waiting room for a few minutes before being seen by the kindest, hottest PA I had ever met – a man who was humbled by what he saw on Tim’s body.

He sent us to the hospital.

In the examining room, as we waited for Tim’s next PA, we saw the stacked boxes of medical gloves, labeled with the name of the company where Tim’s older brother worked.

I held Tim’s hand, assured him that whatever happened, we would take care of it.

He knew it wasn’t good.

I knew it wasn’t good.

Neither of us had health insurance.

*          *          *

We were sent home with an appointment for Tim to see an oncologist the next morning, and the information that some types of testicular cancer produce a hormone called Beta HCG, the hormone otherwise only found in pregnant women. If we wanted a short answer to our questions about what was happening in Tim’s body, there was a chance a home pregnancy test could provide an immediate confirmation.

We went to a drug store, bought a test, and ducked when we spotted our program’s poetry professor, the one with basset-hound cheeks and eyes that could drill to the black center of you.  He was shopping through Valentine cards in the Hallmark aisle.  It was February 10.

*          *          *

That night, we confirmed it:  Tim was pregnant.  Three days later, he had his right testicle removed, chucked into a “bucket,” as his gruff, sirloin-fed oncologist joked.  His parents came down from Ohio and we all celebrated Valentine’s Day together, Tim on painkillers, walking with the support of a broom handle, a batch of brownies made by his mother, yellow and pink supermarket flowers bought by his father at Tim’s request.

It was beautiful.

We told only a handful of people in our small graduate program about Tim’s surgery and his removed cancer.  They organized and delivered a rotation of gorgeous, hot meals, providing company and nourishment and food to our light-filled ranch house.  We opened our front door to people we had only had class with previously. We ate burritos on our living room floor with dear people who were as afraid of social commitment as we were.  One of my favorite professors dropped off a Himalayan salt lamp, chocolate chip cookies.

One of the best hospitals in the country approved Tim and his myriad bills for their charity care program.  Tim survived. But the world was not the same after that.  It was more dangerous and stunning than we had ever imagined.  The shock of his young health – compromised – rocketed through the middle of our lives.  In its wake, it left an open field.  We could see further.  We had space. And people who loved us filled it. We got engaged.  I wrote a book.  Tim picked a part of the country he wanted to live in and we moved there, because we could.  And flowers grew in the open valley – delicate gifts that taught us to trust the world, our vulnerable beginnings in it.

BIO: Kara Norman lives in northern Colorado with her husband and dog, where she works as an administrative assistant during the week and watches birds at all times.  She writes about staying true as an artist on her blog Sut Nam Bonsai (www.SutNamBonsai.blogspot.com), and works with a fellow writing friend on their art project Grizzly & Golden (www.GrizzlyandGolden.blogspot.com).  She has written a novel, for which she currently seeks publication, and is at work on a memoir of how writing healed her life.



Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com


Filed under My Posts

Rare Cancer. Rare Doctor.

as seen on the Huffington Post Feel free to comment there as it will help drive traffic to this very inspirational doctor and his cause! Please consider forwarding the link to your friends who have cancer or love someone who has cancer. His letter (attached below) is powerful.

Amazing people have come into my life lately, and I can’t help but feel a deep knowing that it is nothing close to coincidence. Doctor Gary Hammer is one of them.

I met Gary because my sister-in-law was dying of a rare cancer that was supposed to kill her within months of diagnosis. Adrenal Cortical Cancer, or ACC for short. Doctors looked at her gravely. Mayo threw up their hands. There are only 300-600 cases in the US annually. That’s 1 to 2 per million. There was no cure. There was very little research being done. It looked hopeless. This is a cancer that often times lays dormant, wreaking silent havoc in the stomach, often caught too late. It goes where it wants. There’s little to radiate or chemotherapize. She was going to die, and fast. Five kids under 16. A woman who never drank alcohol, did drugs, smoked. An athlete, a practitioner of positive thinking and positive being, the definition of community leader, Sandra was that “one.” The one who defined the difference between the “two kinds of people: the ones who think about things, and the ones who do things.” Sandra was a doer.

So when she was stripped of her future, she caught her breath, and then she did the impossible. She lived for another nine years. She lived on will and positive affirmation and love. And then eventually, the cancer came back, and the only hope fell in the hands of a man who has devoted his life’s work to finding a cure for ACC. Gary Hammer, who is the University of Michican’s director of their adrenal cancer program. He is one of the only doctors in the US doing research on her kind of rare cancer. One of the only people in the world. When she barely had the energy to walk down the stairs of her home, Sandra participated in his clinical trial, travelling week after week with a family shepherd from her home in Ft. Collins to Denver to Chicago and back in the same day, processing the side-effects of the treatment, which is essentially a pesticide banned in the 1950s for use on crops. Because who wants to put money into such a quick killer of so very few. If you ask her children this question, they’ll try to find grace, because that’s what they learned from their mother. But inside they feel mad, ripped off, and beyond shocked that they live in a country that even still has expendable populations. How are they supposed to find trust again? How are they supposed to find faith after this tragic loss?

Gary Hammer is their link to making sense of loss, tragedy. It’s doctors like him around the globe who are blazing new trail, despite the odds, and in-so-doing, become the gatekeepers to new terrain. I am so inspired by Gary and his work, and also by his spirit. He has not detached from the heartbreak of his chosen field. He has moved deeper into it. He learns from his patients and has much to teach us about finding freedom even, and especially in the most challenging times. He is the sort of person who reminds us to have faith in the things that matter right now, wherever we are in our lives. My nieces and nephews can’t regain their mother, but they can rediscover faith.

My book is about rediscovering faith. Faith in yourself, against the odds. Mine were different odds. But finding faith in yourself is fundamental, whether it’s in death or love or both. For we all face both. In my book, there is a section that has to do with clear vision in the midst of crisis. The crisis, as you may know, had to do with my marriage, but on a deeper level, it had to do with my husband’s relationship with himself. Like me, he had rigged it that his personal worth was only as good as his career success, and though he worked so very hard, he wasn’t seeing financial results. He went into a crisis of self in which he questioned his love for me and our marriage. I felt that this was a crisis of his own self, and felt in my gut that the best thing I could do was to get out of his way. To not engage the drama. To focus on what I could control, and let go of the rest.

There began a time of soul searching for my husband that came together with crystal clarity when he went to be the family shepherd, assisting his sister on the long trek from her home in Colorado to the clinical trial in Chicago and back again. He called me from the waiting room with a tone in his voice I hadn’t heard in a long time. He was flattened by the weight of cancer all around him. Whatever fears he had about our finances and his job were washed upon the shores of his own good physical health, and his relationships. “It’s who you love and how you love,” he said, as humble as I’d ever heard him. That was his sister’s gift to him. To us. She passed away a few months later. And in her dying, she taught those of us who loved her how to live.

Her message was to find the freedom of the present moment. To affirm life in all its abundance right where you are, whether you’ve been given months to live, or if your husband has announced that he no longer loves you. Her message was and is one of empowerment.

Gary has written something that is ground breaking. He debuted it last week in Chicago at a hospital fundraiser where we were the keynote speakers. You could have heard a pin drop, but for the tears. I would like to share it here. I have never known a doctor to show this sort of vulnerability. Here is his hypothetical letter to a doctor from a patient diagnosed with cancer, and his hypothetical repsonse. This is the very definition of empathy. I am honored to have him in my life and to call him friend. Please pass this along to everyone you can think of who would benefit from it. It gives us hope.

To that end, here is what appeared the night my sister-in-law died. Over her house, for all of us to see. I’m going to believe that it is possible to make rainbows if we want to deeply enough.  Dr. Hammer, then, is making rainbows in acts like the following:  (get out your tissue)



Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts