Tag Archives: life

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)

http://www.annarbor.com/health/the-roller-coaster-chronicles-an-open-letter-to-cancer-patients-everywhere/

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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

Think Outside the Barn

(scroll down to photos if you’re in the mood for visual, not reading. Self explanatory.)
OR go to this link for SO MUCH MORE BARN FUN! http://lauramunson.wordpress.com/category/every-barn-has-a-face/

Have you guys been following my recent obsession? Barns. The fact that they have faces? I’ve been posting them on this blog in the EVERY BARN HAS A FACE category and literally taking off like an addict during the day to stalk barns all around Montana. It’s all I can do to NOT do it right now. And I finally figured out why: I am so interested in perspective and perception and assumtions and expectations. I’m so interested in seeing how they mess with us and inform our reactions. Often, we’ve already made our minds up about something before it’s even happened. We do ourselves such a disservice in this regard. What if we assigned different meaning to the things and people we encounter in our day? What if we surprised ourselves by changing the entry point of our interactions? I think we’d find some freedom there. I think we’d find some humor there too.

Here’s a challenge: Keep a camera in your car. If you are driving anywhere where you might see a barn…look at it like it has a face. Allow yourself to see it. What’s your knee jerk reaction? Who is it for you? Now inspire yourself to turn around, to seize the moment and stop. Take a photo. And send it in to: laura@lauramunsonauthor.com. Tell me “who” your barn is, and I’ll post it in my EVERY BARN HAS A FACE section of this blog. We’ll have some fun. We’ll think outside of the box (barn). We’ll remind ourselves of the power of stopping and playing with life. We’ll take ourselves a little less seriously and in so doing, dare I suggest: we’ll lighten the collective load.
Here’s what I’ve been up to below.
http://lauramunson.wordpress.com/category/every-barn-has-a-face/

Have you ever noticed that every barn has a face? I grew up in the Mid-west and my parents liked to travel and money was tight. That meant there was a lot of time spent in the family station wagon, staring out the window as corn-fields met rocky mountains and oceans, depending on whether we took a left or a right. I saw a lot of barns. And every one of them had a face. I’d keep it to myself because this sort of thinking didn’t go over too well in my family. I was the youngest. I was always saying things that got either patronizing responses or just chirp chirp. I had a relationship with those barns. I still do. So much of how we relate to life is as the beholder. Beauty, barns, and otherwise. I’d love it if you shared your barns with me here. I’d love to see those faces. I’d love to see that you see them too.
yrs.
Laura

Kalispell, Montana (side-talker)

Valier, Montana (needs braces)
Belt, Montana (has braces)

Red Lodge, Montana (that mean Nellie Olson)


Lewistown, Montana (Cyclops, the 8th dwarf)
Lakeside, MT (Meow)
Evergreen, MT (Mrs. Havisham maybe better on a foggy morning…)
Great Falls, Montana (Namaste or Burl Ives as the snow man in Rudolph. Can’t decide.)
Whitefish, MT (Hannibal Lecter)
Chester, Vermont (Gerorge Washington and his wooden teeth– why so long in the tooth? 1700s barn from Amy)

Kenosha, Wisconsin (a literal face and mini-me barn from Robb)
Bartow County, Georgia (Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your hair… from Lisa)
For more, go to Every Barn Has A Face on this blog! http://lauramunson.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/side-talker/
Send in more!!!

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Filed under Contests! Win a signed hardcover of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS!, Every Barn Has a Face, My Posts

Inheritance

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Inheritance by Laura A. Munson

When life is long, we take off our gold bracelets and put them into the back of a low drawer. When life is long, we move far away from that drawer. We curse the drawer. We curse the bondage of gold bracelets, the parents who bought them for us, the mines that produced them and the rivers they leached strychnine into to get the gold. We go to the river and look into the slither of the still-pink-bellied fish and say, “I’m sorry.”
When life is short though, we think, “Well, it might be nice to feel the fickle weight of a gold bangle on my wrist. Might be nice to look down and see my hand looking fancy and shiny. Might be nice to remember my parents in this piece of jewelry.” So we go back to the drawer and find the bracelets, and we put them on again, forgive our parents, and feel sixteen and long in life.
vintage_blue_bowl
This year I inherited a combined legacy of five hundred years of unbroken china, crystal and silver. And in some addendum to the throes of running from gold bracelets, I have found myself living, what looks like semi-permanently, in the northwest corner of the biggest “square state,” Montana. Montana, where the women were lucky to arrive with their lives, much less their china, crystal and silver. Montana, where pomp went out with the bath water. Montana, where a formal dining room is a new concept, or rather, one of the Bacchanalia left behind for a better life, a job on the railroad, a wanderlust-ful love for mountains, gold.
So I sit here on a snowy day and stare into my grandmother’s glass and oak dining room hutch and think, I am the one who is going to break this glass front, I just know it. It’ll be my child who slams her toy baby carriage into it and shatters it; my dog with such a brawny tail. After all, I am the first to allow a dog or toy baby carriage in the dining room. I am the first who uses her dining room to wrap presents for Christmas and to write novels, and not for nightly dinners and Sunday afternoon suppers. I am the first not to use the china. I am the first to merely behold it.
I found out last night that there is a woman in my town who has met me once and now feels the need to state in public places that she does not like me. She is quoted as saying something to the effect that I am a lady of leisure—that I sit around all day and have tea parties with all my fancy china. I guess she’s heard about my formal dining room with the five hundred years of china stacked into its hutch. It’s no secret. But in Montana, it is an anomaly. I like to think of this woman when I am on my third load of laundry, second batch of dishes, fourth leg of kid-school-transport, third reincarnation of this week’s beef—from roast to stew to cold sandwiches. I like to think about how my Montana includes her, but how hers does not include me. And make my peace.
vintage_blue_bowl
Other times, particularly when I’m on my fourth leg of kid taxi service, I day dream about teaching this woman a little lesson: I want to invite her to lunch and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Limoges Haviland that came with my great grandmother in a covered wagon from Manchester, Vermont to southern Illinois in the mid 1800’s when she and her husband realized that they couldn’t support their eight children on the income from their farm and that there was cheap farm land “out west.”
And then we’ll drink milk from Steuben goblets that I’ll blow the dust out of and I’ll read the accompanying note in the slanted elegance of looping letters: “Given to me by Chester Wright Munson on our wedding day. Good. Save for the girls.” And I’ll hold up a claret red shot glass and read that accompanying note in the same script: “Brought back from Chicago by my parents when they attended the World’s Fair– 1893.”
And we’ll stab at carrot sticks (it’s not a fancy meal, this one) with pre-Civil-War Towle forks not taken by the Yankees who camped in my great great grandmother’s yard, and I’ll tell her about my great great grandmother and how she hid her babies under her bed and her silver in the ground behind the smokehouse while her husband was losing an eye at the Battle of Shiloh, the same battle where William Elliott Aldrich also fought, only for his Northern cause. And I’ll tell her how he lived to have a son and that son was my great grandfather Hilen, who came to Fon du Lac, Wisconsin through the Erie Canal when he was nineteen and how he worked on the railway as a conductor and I’ll show her his lantern with his name engraved into its base—and a date: 1858.
Then I’d like to tell her that it’s his wife’s china that we are eating off of (Yankee china to Confederate silver), and that she had a son who had a wife named Genevieve who died young of typhoid and left two baby boys behind and it’s her Adderly’s white china dessert plates with the blue relief fleur de lis that we’re going to eat our chocolate chip cookies off of in a minute, right after she says that she was all wrong about me—that I’m not an over-privileged ninny, just a woman well-endowed with the fragile touchstones of family stories, just another sentimental woman in a long line of sentimental women who clung to their possessions in a world that had no promises and still doesn’t. Right after she says she’s sorry.
Then I’ll say, “That’s okay. Next time I’ll cook you a real meal,” and give her a linen napkin with hundred-year-old creases in it and a hand-sewn M in grey, and I’ll remove the straight pin from it and the browned note written in yet another slanted elegance, stating with some sort of pathos toward the daughters to come, “Hand embroidered for my trousseau—1912.” And I’ll tell her about the farm girl who wrote that note, that she had a beautiful contralto voice and went to Northwestern University to pursue a graduate degree in voice until she was sexually harassed by her professor who threatened her with failure, so she up and left and went back to her hometown sweetheart who moved her to a small industrial community on the Mississippi River where he ran a corn syrup factory and she sang in the Presbyterian church choir and at her piano and had a son who was brain damaged at birth by the doctor’s forceps and lay otherwise perfect, in a small crib in the dining room, right next to the hutch I have now, until he was thirteen and died of pneumonia.
vintage_blue_bowl

Then I’ll show her the piano and tell her that farm girl was my grandmother and maybe I’ll play her the song she used to play for me: believe me if all those endearing young charms, which I gaze on so fondly today, were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms like fairy gifts fading away… That’s all, of course, pending on whether she has a change of heart and hands over the olive branch. If she doesn’t, she won’t get a cookie.
But I don’t do any of that.
Instead I stand at the glass hutch doors and turn the old key and sniff the bloody waft of brass and stare at the notes I’ve been left by my mothers on all sides. Some have to do with china. Others, with furniture. Photographs. Silver. Quilts. I take out a sterling pitcher—the one my father says was always on his dinner table as a boy, and with flannel cloth and polish, I run my fingers over the same beveled handle that my grandmother did, thinking about her solo for Sunday church, or her vegetable baby not crying in the next room.
The fact remains that my mothers wanted to be known. And this is what they had to care for and show for themselves, with sick children and husbands dying in war and life on this mystical and heartbreaking planet. They were the ladies of the house, and that meant something to them; the fact that there are notes shows me that it did not, however, mean everything.
I’ve read those notes over and over. Some are on torn pieces of paper—the backs of checks, lined note-paper with the lines rubbed off by years of sitting in a teacup with the train going by. Others are on engraved stationary—“Mrs. Hilen Aldrich.” And on the inside, “Given to our first grandchild by her loving grandparents, Lucy and Hilen. Hoop skirt chair needle-pointed by Lucy. Chair belonged to Hilen’s father and mother. With sincere adoration—1932.” This note is covered in a child’s pencil scribbles; perhaps those of the first grandchild, my mother, or perhaps mine, playing next to my mother on a china-dusting day. Whichever. It doesn’t matter.
We are all the same in the china cabinet. We are rebellious youths running far from family. We are new mothers who for the first time fear death and seek understanding in the chain of legacy. We are trying to make “home” in new places, remembering Thanksgiving dinners and entire people—their voices, their smells, their eyes sparkling over a story and the gravy only their wife can make—all from the glimmer of a forget-me-not on a Staffordshire chafing dish. We are far from our mother’s gravy. We are the mothers.
vintage_blue_bowl

I’ll dust the contents of this cabinet. I’ll keep it well. We will not be the ones to break it. And there will be Christmases around these plates and cups and homemade buns, all because there is a tiny plate just for buns. There will be mint juleps because there are spoons for mint juleps. Shrimp because there are shrimp forks. Espresso because there are demi-tasse. And the mothers will bring these things to the table over and over; the bounty of table-side ritual, the battens of family. And the gold will wear thin on the cup handles and little chips will dig in around the crystal rims…and it means that we were all here. On this beautiful and heartbreaking planet, breaking our bread, but not our fragile things. That’s life, long and short, in a china plate. That’s inheritance.

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Filed under Motherhood, My Posts, Stories