Breast Cancer Deserves Our Attention

For years I thought of the color orange whenever thinking about the month of October. Pumpkins, leaves, candy corn. But now I see pink.

Earlier this week another friend of mine had her life intersect with breast cancer.

Statistically speaking, one out of eight women will experience invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Think about that for a moment. Picture nine players on the field for a softball team. All smiles, ponytails, and focused on winning. Pick one, say the catcher. Maybe the third baseman. Odds are one of the players on the field will have their lives interrupted or least disrupted by breast cancer during their lifetime.

October is National Breast Cancer awareness month.

According to the American Cancer Association, more than 250,000 women in the US experienced invasive breast cancer in 2017 resulting in 40,000 cancer deaths. Additionally, the greatest rates of mortality due to breast cancer occur in minorities, with the highest rates for African American women.
AP-895.jpgThe good news is the survival rate continues to improve as awareness and self-testing become more ingrained in daily lives. The sneaky thing about breast cancer is that it is considered painless cancer – one people do not generally find their body telling them something is wrong. Many cancers, as they take hold, begin to compromise or impact organs creating discomfort. Breast cancer, however, is a generally considered silent cancer – most times not discovered without either a clinical or self-examination. This alone makes breast cancer even more dangerous – allowing cancer to grow and expand in the body unchecked.

The lower rate of medical or self-exams appears to be the driver of higher rates of breast cancer incidence in minorities, according to medical professionals. Being as breast cancer is silent aggressor makes education and regular medical exams an important part of early detection and treatment for all women regardless of race, creed, color.

Surprisingly, family history is not necessarily a predictor of a woman getting breast cancer. With 90% of breast cancers being termed “spontaneous” or occurring without genetic markers, the incidence rate is more random than most would believe. With the exception of the aggressive BRCA1 gene (which carries a 50% predictor rate), which actress Angelina Joline both carries and elevated in the public’s awareness, the highest indicator of risk to women is age. Women under 40 years of age carry a 9% rate of experiencing breast cancer while women over 80 carry a 24% rate. Having a regular examination schedule becomes increasingly important in early detection when more options and treatments are possible.

AP-895.jpgAt one time I didn’t know of anyone who experienced breast cancer. Now I know more people than the fingers on both hands. I also once thought of breast cancer as something spoken in hushed tones – but not anymore. The more we educate, the more we make early detection possible, the more lives we can save. The rate of mortality has dropped in the past few decades, but we’ve still a long way to go.

Think pink. Think breast cancer.






True Friendships Make Life Special

You are considered blessed in life if you have one true love, one true passion, and one true friend.

Recently one of those came to town for a visit. Not any friend – the one I first met while the Mayflower moving truck sat parked in the driveway unloading my family’s belongings into a new home in a new town. First grade waited patiently a few weeks ahead of me.

Between the pumpkin colored sofa, four metal kitchen chairs, and a dozen brown cardboard wardrobe boxes, he and I first met. His mother, younger brother, and sister in tow had walked through the green space separating our houses. A large plate of cookies proved the perfect icebreaker as we kids mingled in the ankle-high grass.

Nearly half a century later, we remain the closest of friends but rarely see each other. We’ve not lived in the same ZIP code let alone in the same state in decades. Yet we still find ways to remain close and making opportunities to get together.

Our friendship is like most – filled with highs and lows. We’ve fought, cried, and experienced many of our greatest memories together. Some of the moments I am proud of; others downright ashamed. But the one constant is that they happened with us an arm’s length apart.

I remember us rolling in a front yard, arms locked, punching, spitting, biting until we finally gave up. A few days later we didn’t remember why we ended up in the dirt in the first place. We, as they say, walked it off, letting the episode blow off into the summer dust.

We were battery mates on the little league baseball diamond, me on the mound and he behind the plate. We climbed out of windows and scaled dangerous rooftops to check out the views. We even skateboarded competitively together – a thread that altered our lives forever. As teenagers, we even drove a car with broken alternator thousands of miles because we wanted so badly to go camping on a beach. For a week or so we each took turns pushing the small car down flat coastal roads while the other sat inside ready to drop the clutch.

Fast-forward a half-century. We both have experienced marriage, parenthood, and can legally claim a senior citizen discount at McDonald’s. But we’ve never let time or distance keep us from remaining the closest of friends. We are joined by time.

Friendship is like an investment – an investment you make with your heart. Today the word can simply mean you accepted an invitation to an emotionless social media platform. Tb11d00db-4ea2-4282-84b0-3acdf5089551.jpgo me, friendship is paid for with love, pain, and shared memories.

This past weekend my wife said she thought was watching two 10-year old kids. He and I went to the local skatepark, rode bikes, and even went surfing a couple of days. We were, for all practical purposes, the same kids who shared that first plate of cookies in the driveway. And for that, I consider myself a blessed man.



Bracelet Invites Belief In Mystery

With the clever misdirection of a seasoned magician, a small woman made a tiny beaded bracelet appear on my wrist.

Below the towering skyline of Chicago, I am speaking with a woman a few inches south of five feet tall. Cloaked in a red and gold silk jacket, oriental golden calligraphy covers the surface. Her somber face reveals the scars of a lifetime of first-person stories I’d love to hear.

She speaks softly, nodding repeatedly. Her broken words reveal she is most likely a long way from her birthplace. Or, maybe not.

I look down at my wrist where 22 red wooden beads rest around my wrist.

The woman gently turns my wrist, my palm now open to the sky. She places a small golden foil card in the center. With a Buddha-like image on one side, the reverse offers me the blessings of a lifetime of peace.

The woman continues to nod and opens a spiral notebook with small print. The bracelet and card are a gift, but a donation will help rebuild a temple in Southeast Asia. The notebook shows a black and white photo of what, to my eyes, shows what appears a temple in great distress.

I reach into my pocket and pull out a few bills. The woman invites me to add my name to the list of people who’ve done the same ahead of me.

And with the same sense of invisibility she arrived, she nods, takes three steps backward, and fades back into the crowd of busy tourists.

Looking down at the bracelet and card, two pathways become apparent – each offering contrasting emotions and outcomes. First, I can resent the fact I handed a few dollars to a woman who is working for a crowd, handing out costume trinkets for dollars. The other pathway is to absorb the moment and default to the wisdom of the universe and knowing there is a chance – however slight – my actions may pave the way for good things to come to my direction.

The red bracelet probably carries a cost value of less than a dollar – the foil card most likelyIMG_1595.jpeg a few pennies. But, I wonder, what is the value of the human experience of meeting the woman? And like the ever so brief belief we put in stage magician, what about the similar feeling washing across me while she and I interacted?

Much like a child, I’m increasingly open to enjoying the mysteries of life. The rational side of me knows most of the stories I was told as a children were nothing but well-meaning tales designed to inspire and shape my actions. And for the most part, I was especially careful in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So if I could then, why not now? What is the harm in letting a bit of harmless mystery and serendipity into my life? After all, I now know I have a lifetime of joy and peace on my side – and the card to prove it.




Ferris Wheel Rolls Back Time

From the top of the Ferris wheel, I could clearly see over 35 years into the past.

The other night my wife and I are at the base of a tall Ferris wheel. Colorful lights chase each up against a dark night sky. Blues, reds, greens spray down on us like mist an evening shower.

I don’t know why, but I was nervous about what came next.

“Do you want to ride the Ferris wheel?” I said.

My words felt likIMG_1456.jpge those of a teenager on a first date – clumsy, unsure, and tentative.

She said yes.

I don’t know why I was nervous. We’ve ridden dozens of Ferris wheels together. Add to the formula we’ve been doing this since we’re still figuring each other out as clumsy teenagers. The truth is, she still makes me nervous.

What makes someone nervous to ask someone else to share a ride in an amusement park after 35 years? Together we’ve raised two wonderful children, laughed and cried into each other’s shoulders. There is no home like being in the arms of each other.

But for some reason, she can still send me back in time to where I am unsure if she will say yes if I ask for a second date.

The ride operator waves us onto the ride, his voice fighting for air in the loud music swimming around us.

As the car rises into the air, she smiles at me. Again, I am unsure of myself. I’ve been here with her before and the feeling is always the same. I am in love.

She playfully swings the car knowing my discomfort with heights. I hear her laugh, the one she reserves for a time when the moment is shared only between the two of us. I love that laugh, drinking in the sound in like cold water on a hot Texas afternoon.

The car climbs into the air and stops at the top. Before us, we look out across a sea of lights. The world is small before us, below us, around us. The car gently rocks in the wind. I am nervous again, only know because I know I’m out of my comfort zone. I put my arm around her, not for show, but because I need to.

Suddenly it is 1980 something. We’ve stopped at a roadside carnival that sprung up unannounced alongside the highway. It is dark and we are tired. We pull over for a break.

Soon we are on top of an old Ferris wheel. She knowingly rocks the car. Her laugh dances around us. The smile is knowing, playful, but I trust it all the same.

I put my arm around her, pulling her to my side. The moment becomes magical – one where you realize it is okay to let someone else in, to share your deepest fears, your grandest dreams. And then it happens – my life is changed forever. We plunge more deeply into love.

I hope she’ll continue to say yes.