Posted in Guest Writer, Perspectives on Cancer

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #12: The Divining Trunk

Karen Fayeth’s Grandmother

Author Karen Fayeth and her Grandmother




Karen Fayeth

The battered metal steamer trunk in my living room, a family heirloom, is crammed full of memories. Sturdy sides hold every photo album and scrapbook that was bestowed upon me in the weeks following my father’s death*.

This pile of memories is like a divination tool. I open the lid and dig in then something useful bubbles to the surface. Something I’ve never seen before or something familiar, but always just the thing I need to see.

One stapled stack of papers catches my eye today. It contains a perfect wood pulp circle of life: my paternal grandparent’s birth certificates, their marriage license, and both death certificates.

Their entire lives are covered off in five pages.

On my grandmother’s death certificate, it lists, “oat cell cancer to left lung” under the cause of death.

Oat cell. Doesn’t that sound very grandma-ish? Like warm oatmeal and a hug, however, a short Google search advises that oat cell is among the most aggressive forms of lung cancer.

Besides, my grandmother wasn’t very oatmeal and hugs anyway. She was something much more urbane.

Which makes her bigger than life in my memory.

When I was about seven, my paternal grandparents made a visit to New Mexico to attend my first communion. My dad grew up in South Bend, Indiana, which to this desert kid may as well have been on the other side of the universe.

In the mid-seventies, Albuquerque wasn’t a very evolved place. Our airport was a small building the color of dry grass next to a hot concrete tarmac shared with the air force base.

The waiting area had memorable soft leather chairs on sturdy wood frames. I’d sink into the smell of leather and through large picture windows watch the planes fly in over the Sandia Mountains.

Passengers would disembark down sturdy metal stairs, eyes blinking in the bright desert sun.

That day I stood there, clutching at my mom, both scared and excited to meet my dad’s parents.

“There they are,” my mom said.

“Where?” I asked, perking up.

“Look, the woman in the coat.”

I looked. Making her elegant way off the plane was my white-haired grandmother. She wore a dress, pearls, stockings and heels. On top of it all she wore a fur-lined overcoat.

No one wore fur, much less an overcoat, in New Mexico.

She carried herself like a movie star, the regal matriarch of my father’s family. Her lipstick was flawless, her porcelain skin showing nary a wrinkle.

Behind her tottered my grandfather, a tall man with a lined face wearing a good suit and a hat. Always a hat.

These people were like something out of a novel. They were big city. Granted, South Bend is no great shakes, but they flew in from Chicago and looked it.

To me they seemed worldly, intelligent, and jaunty in that “Great Gatsby” kind of way.

My Grandmother smelled of perfume and powder and my Grandfather of cigarettes and hair oil. I was in awe. My mother was visibly intimidated by them both so I followed suit.

My 1970’s fashionable bell-bottom jeans and ratty t-shirt now felt tacky and under-dressed, as elegance had just hit our dry, desert wilderness.

Over the course of the visit, I tried desperately to reconcile myself to these people; my family. I clung to my mother, a shy doe-eyed girl from Oregon who in later years would confide to me just how much her in-laws scared the bejeezus out of her. I understood why.

At breakfast one morning, Grandmother sat chain-smoking, leaving perfect lipstick rings on the filter while Grandfather sat quietly, acquiescing to her, always. Something my dad had said made Grandmother mad, and she spoke harshly, her Irish temper flaring.

She shouted down my father, something no one I knew had ever done. I fled from the room, scared out of my gourd.

No one talked back to my father and got away with it. I think that terrified me more than the shouting.

I’d managed to bond with my gentle, comedic Grandfather and did my best to studiously behave in front of my Grandmother, lest she turn her overpowering temper on me.

Several days into the visit, while having an early evening happy hour, my mom cracked open a can of smoked oysters and Grandmother clapped her hands with glee, as this was a favorite treat. She prodded me to try one. It looked like a globby, gray pencil eraser doing an oily shimmy on a cracker.

Wanting desperately to somehow connect with this elegant woman, I took the offering like receiving communion, and chewed. It was tasty and I smiled. Grandmother was pleased, and handed me another, which I quickly ate. She wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close to her warm, fleshy side.

I’d done good.

We were worlds apart, and yet, our mutual love of good food held the power to close the gap.

In the years that followed, I wouldn’t be able to explore any more potential common ground. South Bend and Albuquerque were just too far apart, and it was five years later that my grandmother died. It was the only time I ever saw my father cry, and at age twelve, my first experience with cancer.

I wish I’d known my grandmother more. I wish I could find more ways to say, “oh, I’m just like her” but I can’t.

She was like a shooting star, in my mind a brief bit of glorious celebrity, stolen away far too quickly by the oat cells.

*My father succumbed to complications from pulmonary fibrosis

© Karen Fayeth, copyright 2011, all rights reserved. The family photos are covered under copyright. Please be respectful.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Karen Fayeth ~ A corporate executive, writer, blogger, photographer, and visual artist, Karen was born and raised in New Mexico and moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1997. Her work blends the influences of Hispanic, Native American, and the deep rural soul of the American West along with her newer city-sense learned in places like San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Boston. She is an award-winning short-story writer, and her baseball photo Bromance was featured on Intential Talk, hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar. New Mexico magazine recently published three features by Karen. She has one published novel and lives with her husband, a cat (Gypsy), and two Siamese fighting fish, Benito and Margaret. Karen’s grandmother died of lung cancer. Karen blogs at Oh Fair New Mexico.

Posted in Guest Writer, Perspectives on Cancer


Myra Schneider



Myra Schneider

My first reaction is: I want it,
can’t wait to squeeze into
a scarlet sheath that promises
breasts round as russet apples,
a waist pinched to a pencil,
hips that know the whole dictionary
of swaying, can’t wait
to saunter down an August street
with every eye upon me.

But the moment I’m zipped in
I can’t breathe and the fabric
hugging my stomach without mercy
pronounces me a frump.
Besides, in the internet café,
where you can phone Tangiers
or Thailand for almost nothing
fourteen pairs of eyes
are absorbed by screens.
No one whistles when I smile
at boxes of tired mangoes
and seedy broccoli heads
outside the Greek superstore.

By now I’m in a fever to undo
the garment and pull it off.
And for all its flaws, for all
that it only boasts one breast,
I’m overjoyed to re-possess
my body. I remember I hate
holding in and shutting away.
What I want is a dress easy
as a plump plum oozing
juice, as a warm afternoon
in late October creeping
its ambers and cinnamons into
leaves, a dress that reassures
there’s no need to pretend,
a dress that’s as capacious
as generosity, a dress that willingly
unbuttons and whispers in the ear:
be alive every minute of your life.

© copyright, Myra Schneider, all rights reserved

The Red Dress from Circling the Core by Myra Schneider, 2008

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

In 2000, Myra Schneider was diagnosed with breast cancer. Writing for her – as for many – was a part of the healing process, if not the cure. She journaled two weeks after diagnosis:

I have to hang onto the thought of friends and the relatives and friends of people I know who have survived for years and years after breast cancer. I owe it to myself to manage my panic and to make this a life experience not a death experience, to concentrate on possibilities, to grab every moment of life I can, to use what has happened for writing, to include the awfulnesses but also the plusses. I mustn’t forget the moments of joy: the sun lying in swathes on the grass, the sharp clean cut of the air, the disc of the sun on water. I must keep the words that came into my head about the snowdrops I saw in a garden when we walked to the shops a couple of hours ago. I think it’s the starting point of a poem. MORE

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Myra Schneider ~ Myra is a poet, a poetry and writing tutor, and the author of Writing My Way Through Cancer and, with John Killick, Writing Your Self. Her poetry collections, Circling the Core and Multiply the Moon, were published by Enitharmon Press. She has eight published collections. Her long poems have been featured in Long Poem Magazine and Domestic Cherry. She co-edited with Dilys Wood, Parents, an anthology of poems by 114 women about their own parents. She started out writing fiction for children and teens. Currently she lives in North London, but she grew up in Scotland and in other parts of England. She lives with her husband and they have one son. She tutors through Poetry School, London.

Posted in Perspectives on Cancer, Poems/Poetry


“I AM NO LONGER AFRAID…” Deena Metzger.



Jamie Dedes

Ms. Metzger is a poet and playwright, essayist and novelist, and a healing storyteller. I wish her work was around in time for my mom who died of breast and colon cancer. Trees: Essays and Pieces is Deena Metzger’s first healing book and it includes the play The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them. She wrote the book to heal from her experience of cancer and mastectomy.

I love the brave picture above on a poster designed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, copyrighted and posted here under “fair use.” It’s also on the cover of Ms. Metzger’s book. You can order posters or postcards HERE if you care to. I don’t know if you can make it out, but Ms. Metzger had a tatoo done over her mastectomy scar. It’s a tree branch.

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,
but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.

Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.
I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.

On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

Excerpt from Tree: Essays and Pieces by Deena Metzger 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Jamie Dedes ~ Jamie is a former freelance feature writer and columnist whose topic specialties were employment, vocational training, and business. She finds the blessing of medical retirement to be more time to indulge in her poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She has two novels in progress, one in final edits, and is pulling together a poetry collection. Her primary playground is Musing by Moonlight. She is the founder and editor/administrator of Into the Bardo. Jamie’s mother was diagnosed with cancer the first time at thirty-six. She went three rounds with breast cancer, one with thyroid cancer, and died at seventy-six of breast and colon cancer.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


is now on Facebook and Twitter.

Please join us there.

Posted in Guest Writer, Perspectives on Cancer, Poems/Poetry

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #9: Metastasize, An Awkward Word




Cindy Taylor



an awkward word,

vowels lurking with malice

between those rock hard t’s

and stumbling past that sinister s,

into that endless z…

Even educated women know;

the seeds of broken dreams will gather

nearest to the heart

and grow

until the Gardener’s sharpened shears

snip away the wretched, rotted root.

That puckered rose, that brutal scar,

my brave and beautiful friend;

wear it as a medal:

triumphant, survivor, heroine!

©Cindy Taylor 2008

Photo credit ~ property of MBCCOP Network News


Minnie Julia Riperton (1947-1979), American singer-songwriter: In January 1976 Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a modified radical mastectomy. Though she was given just six months to live, she continued recording and touring, and in 1977 she became spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. Riperton was one of the first celebrities to go public with her breast cancer diagnosis, but did not disclose that she was terminally ill. In 1978, Riperton also received the prestigious Society’s Courage Award presented to her at the White House by then-President Jimmy Carter. She died at age 31 on July 12, 1979.



♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Cindy Taylor ~ Cindy is a freelance writer, a poet, editor and proofreader. She has an abiding passion for food and wine and an endearing zeal for life, which she shares with us on her award-winning food blog, The Only Cin. Cindy lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with her husband, daughter, and a fine cast of animal friends. Judging from photographs, she has a world-class kitchen and an abundance of red shoes.

Posted in Essay, Guest Writer, Perspectives on Cancer

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #6: Superhero and Junior Superhero



Patti Maxwell
This is a true story about Lisa, Patti’s daughter, who is doing well now and will make her own contribution to Perspectives on Cancer. J.D.
Like everyone younger than logic, she was fearless. Flying high on wings of inexperience, she took risks most learn to avoid and tempted Fate at every turn. She lived in a Land far from reality. She was eternally optimistic: there was plenty of time to grow up, time to move on, time to get ready, and time to get ahead. She had, after all, all the time in the world. There were endless Tomorrows stretched out ahead of her. Playing fast and loose, she beat odds she didn’t even know were against her. She was invincible, indestructible, immortal.
And then one day, her Land was invaded by a Monster and his legions. They assaulted many of her givens, and caused the rest to take shelter in denial. The air became rank with fear, as the Monster’s bombs of destruction exploded first here, then there, threatening the very way of life throughout the Land. She had never thought something like that could happen to her, and she was terrified.
But the one thing she wasn’t was dumb. She quickly realized that the Monster could not be allowed to run rampant though the Land, and that he had to be stopped before everything was destroyed. Casting fear and denial aside, she dug out her best cape, always useful back in her flying days, and put it on. And she became the first Superhero the Land had known.
She fought with all her might, long and hard and desperately. There were times when she was down, wounded and tired, but she quickly got up again, took up her sword, and resumed the battle. The war raged for many months, and though she won some and lost some, she never lost her will to survive. She fought on, until one day she realized the Monster was gone. She had won.
After the war was over and the smoke had cleared, she looked around and surveyed the rubble left behind. Many parts of the Land had been ravaged. Where once there had been bounty, there was now barrenness. Structures had been flattened. Expectations had been unalterably altered.
But she knew the Land could be rebuilt, and it was. New structures were erected, looking as good as those taken down by the Monster. The seeds of new prosperity were planted, and new expectations developed.
But one unexpected outcome of the war was her realization that life in the Land was perhaps not as eternal as she had once thought. Perhaps there really wasn’t all the time in the world. Though one might suppose that this was a bad outcome, one would be wrong. After having fought and won against the evil Monster, the Land was moved closer to reality and life was made forever better. Foundations and armaments were reinforced, made stronger than before to protect against any future attacks. Social programs were put into place to prepare the Land to be more self-sufficient and successful in the future.
So while she occasionally missed the wild and free antics she’d enjoyed before the Monster came, she was happier than ever before. She had learned that, true, there were not endless Tomorrows laid out in front of her, but Today was a much better place.
She never really put away her cape after the war, though. Battered and torn though it was, she kept it nearby, just in case she might need it again. She was a Superhero, after all.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


Patti’s daughter, Lisa, and her granddaughter, Emily, at

this May’s Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston, MA, USA






Patti Maxwell


She saw her mother hit by cancer at 33
Watched as she fought back and won
And learned what it takes to be a superhero.
Today they fight for the cure side by side.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


PattiKen is a writer/blogger and was a corporate trainer and technical writer for many years, keeping her creative (and sometimes whimsical) side under wraps. The business world sometimes frowns on creativity.  The opportunity to use her creative brain now is a lot like kicking off those heels at last and wiggling her toes.   Blogging has given her a platform to showcase her writing and has brought many new friends into her life in the process.  Patti is very grateful for both. Patti’s delights us with her short-stories, poems, and her slice of  real-life vignettes. She blogs at:

© PattiKen, Copyright 2010, 2011, All Rights Reserved. Family photo is included in the copyright. Please be respectful.
Posted in Jamie Dedes, Perspectives on Cancer, Poems/Poetry

PERSPECTIVE ON CANCER #5: Done and Not Done Yet



Jamie Dedes


Click on the post title for the poem to lay out properly.


I watched it all over my friend’s dear shoulder,

that day of living and dying and celebrating

like a garden snake the shedding of the skin,

the detritus of material man with its hunger and

wild, woody creative soul, sketching ruby-jeweled

memories in sand to be blown like a Tibetan mandala

across Timelessness while he, lone monk, gripped

by systems on systems of hospital wiring, billing,

approvals, and laws around funerals and burials,

estates, plans, and proposals for headstones and

the where, when, and how of a memorial service,

the left-overs of his life to be sorted, stashed, stored

or sent  to the right people in the right places. Done!

… as though there had been nothing. No one.



* Dedicated to my Group for People With Life-Threatening Illness*

A Chinese advertisement based on a true story . . . Sounds strange, but go ahead and give it a chance …

Thanks Laurel! 🙂

Posted to YouTube by .

Photo credit – flowers at Filoli Garden by Parvathy

Jamie Dedes ~ Jamie is a former freelance feature writer and columnist whose topic specialties were employment, vocational training, and business. She finds the blessing of medical retirement to be more time to indulge in her poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She has two novels in progress, one in final edits, and is pulling together a poetry collection. Her primary playground is Musing by Moonlight. She is the founder and editor/administrator of Into the Bardo. Jamie’s mother, Zbaida, was diagnosed with cancer the first time at thirty-six. Zabida went three rounds with breast cancer, one with thyroid cancer, and died at seventy-six of breast and colon cancer.



is out today.

The theme is Buddhism.

You’ll find some interesting pieces there including a

short piece that I wrote on Buddhist poets in the West. Jamie



is now on Facebook and Twitter.

Please join us there.

Posted in Guest Writer, Perspectives on Cancer




Naomi Estment

We each deal with death in a unique way. I can’t speak for my father; whose hand I held when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1998, aged 62. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if his disease was exacerbated by anguish about my brother’s inexplicable suicide almost fourteen years earlier. Although that type of trauma is tough to come to terms with, I’m certain that acceptance is the key to healing – which is why these quotes resonate deeply:

“Throughout history, there have been women and men who, in the face of great loss, illness, imprisonment, or impending death, accepted the seemingly unacceptable and thus found “the peace that passeth all understanding”.” – Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

“Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.” – Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

In line with the wisdom shared by Jamie in this blog’s About section, I aim to “live fully yet learn non-attachment” while exploring “the meaning of life in the light of death”. My experience is that the peril and passing of those close to us offer a gift of potentially releasing us from the fear of loss, through facing and transcending this (without implying that we bypass grief).

Being married for over sixteen years to an ex-professional superbike racer, who I love with all my heart, has challenged and blessed me in a similar way. For Dave, taking physical risks is as natural as breathing, and has almost cost his life more than once. Through it all, he remains a radiant example of how to live fully. I, on the other hand, have been learning how to “let go to grow”*.

This subject forms the underlying theme of my second novel (in progress), which is encapsulated in the following poem by the same name:


Embraced by love
beyond her dreams,
a formless fear
arises inside

What if it all
vanished tomorrow,
never to return her
into the light?

Yet love’s power
beckons her deeper
towards the heart
of the sun

Where she feels the fear
but has to follow,
in order to learn
that there is no loss

Only change –
and pain is caused by
the simple illusion
of holding on

is the answer
to receiving the gift
of grace.

©Naomi Estment

My prayer is that we all find our way back into the sunlight of our soul connections, without melting our wings trying.

*Quote from phenomenal women’s wealth coach, Kendall Summerhawk who shares how the traumatic loss of someone extremely close triggered her own powerful transformation.

Naomi Estment ~  Naomi is a freelance writer and photographer and, with her husband Dave, is the co-owner of  Outdoor Video & Photographic and the Johannesburg-based OV&P Studio. Qualified in portraiture, fashion & glamour photography and master lighting, she’s passionate about the latter, particularly as it pertains to nurturing talent. She is a magazine journalist and has one completed novel (see My Books). Naomi also blogs at Naomi’s Notes where she charms readers with her stories and photographs of South Africa and safari. Occasionally she treats us to one of her very polished poems.  Naomi and Dave share their home with a Norwegian Forest Cat (Jina) and a beautiful German Shepherd (Quest).

Photo credit ~ Brown Sanke Eagle in Flight, Okavango Delta, Botswana by Dave Estment.