Who Among Us | Essay Submitted as part of #MyGivingStory for #GivingTuesday

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I submitted my essay Who Among Us  to #MyGivingStory a few weeks ago about the reasons why I support Facing Cancer Together.

(Submissions to #MyGivingStory were voted on as part of #GivingTuesday, and are no longer open to voting.)

Whether you’re able to give financially to Facing Cancer Together or not, you can help in a very big way by liking them on Facebook and sharing their updates and calendar of events with your friends, family and colleagues.

Sharing awareness of organizations as pure and authentic as Facing Cancer Together also goes a very long way.

I’d be honored if you take the time to read my piece and if it inspires you to give and/or share–I’ll be most grateful.

Thank you ~ Deb

Who Among Us

I’ve been lying on my back for the past hour, waiting for the alarm to go off. Looking at the ceiling fan and the early morning light, trying to remember everyone we’ve lost, not wanting to forget anyone. I started counting along the fingers on my left hand, and then the right.

Who went first? Was it Pat? Billie? What year? 2005? 2006? Suddenly their names came to me in no particular order. At first there were a few women whose faces I could see but whose names I still couldn’t conjure. Mostly, I remembered their stories and in some cases the first time they introduced themselves to the Writing for Wellness group, at the Wellness Community of Greater Boston, and later Facing Cancer Together.

In the beginning, I didn’t connect to the new name of the organization. Facing Cancer Together seemed like a mouthful and didn’t roll off my tongue easily. But then I realized how fitting it is; when it gets right down to it, that’s who we are and what we are doing. People who come together with one purpose and one purpose only—to face cancer together—because the weight is often too heavy for one person to bear alone.

We come together on Tuesday mornings. Newly diagnosed, in remission, and others like me who have had recurrences, all trying to stay afloat and not let cancer beat us down, and rob our lives of everything. We take turns. Some weeks the voice of strength for others, the ones who offer encouragement—we’ve been there—we can tolerate your pain. Tell us your pain.

We’ve all been the other, the one awaiting test results, and the one who doesn’t know whether this is the time the odds will change. The one who cannot stop crying, who doesn’t believe she’ll ever stop crying. And then she does. Somehow she does.

We write in our journals, guided by prompts. In response to a poem. Moved by a poet. Mary Oliver. Rumi. Stanley Kunitz. Jane Kenyon. In response to nature. The natural world. In response to a Buddhist perspective on life. To the words of Pema Chodron. Thich Nhat Hanh. One or two lines, a stanza. To help us find a way to say what is weighing on our hearts. A way to go inward, to the substance. Our fears. Our memories. Our childhoods. Times past. Lives before cancer. Lives after.

I remember their stories. The women who lost a father at a young age. The ones who grew up in Boston. Chicago. The South. The ones who had happy childhoods. Good marriages. Children. Grandchildren. I remember their family dynamics. The ones who were divorced. Whose children didn’t speak to them. The ones who felt forgotten. The ones who worried they had been a burden. I remember the ones whose families went with them to every appointment, every treatment.

I remember the women who felt cared for. Supported. Loved. Who had good partners and friends. Good relationships with their doctors and caregivers. The ones who knew how to ask for help. How to accept help. I remember the ones we had to coach. You deserve help and support. Don’t you deserve it?

I remember Pat and Christine. Jan and Rita. Billie, Jane and Karen. Bette, Dee and now, Laura. I remember them. I remember all of them.

Whether age thirty-five or seventy-five, they were all too young to die. Their children too young to be motherless. Their partners too young to be alone. There was too much life left.

I always think they’ll beat it. I always believe in the clinical trial, the last-hope measures. I always believe their bodies won’t be ravaged by cancer. I always wonder whether they know at some point—this time they won’t survive.

It’s often said, they died peacefully. They lost their battles with cancer. They said their goodbyes. They were at peace. That it’s us, the survivors, who are left in pain. They’ve been released.

Again we will bury a member of our group. We will say our goodbyes. Shed our tears. In an unspoken agreement, we will leave their seat empty for a while. In respect. In honor. In memory. And then, someone will sit in the seat again. Nervously, we will shift places.

One day the door will open and in will walk a new person. We will wonder whether they will come back to the group a second time. Whether they will join our small circle. Will they find what they need here?

I wonder, who among us will survive.






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Remembering the Lofgrens

Seven years ago, two days after Thanksgiving, on a gray Saturday like today, I received a phone call with the news of a terrible, senseless tragedy. Today, I remember the Lofgrens.

Please install, use, and check CO detectors.

Lofgren-download-002 (1)While driving home from a morning appointment, I saw a sign for an estate sale. I don’t know what was I thinking because I don’t do estate sales—maybe a yard sale every five years or so. But before I knew it I was in auto mode, following arrows and a succession of turns. I couldn’t help but notice there were no other cars on the road. I started to wonder whether I’d misread the sign and if it was an upcoming weekend event. By the time I followed the last arrow and pulled up to the house where only one car was parked, I questioned myself momentarily. Should I go in?

The front door was open. There was a woman in an apron standing at the kitchen counter reading a newspaper, blowing smoke rings. “Come on in,” she called in a raspy voice. “Everything’s for sale.” The house was filled with furniture, plates, clothing, and appliances. Every room turned upside down. I walked down the hall passed the master bedroom and the rooms with Disney motif bedding, the blue room with an over-the-door basketball hoop, the pink one with a dollhouse whose miniature people and furniture looked like they’d been through a cyclone. I suddenly had an eerie feeling that the occupants of the house had every intention of returning. But couldn’t. There was an older man in the basement, also aproned and reeking like an overflowing ashtray of snuffed-out cigarettes. I avoided walking past him and exited through the open garage door. I didn’t look back until I reached my car. Jostling the keys to unlock the door, I climbed into the driver’s seat and not being able to wait another moment, burst into tears.

Back at my house I sat and looked more carefully at a large hand-painted Majolica plate, a treasured gift from my friend’s family. The plate was part of their sister, Caroline and brother-in-law, Parker’s, estate—given to me following the senseless tragedy on Thanksgiving, 2008 that had taken their lives along with their two children, Owen, age ten and Sophie age eight. The family died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented house in Aspen, Colorado that they’d won in a raffle at the “Life is Sweet” benefit, a fundraiser for the children’s school.

An investigation at the house had revealed multiple malfunctionings—disconnected vents, defective boiler, and an improperly installed heating and air conditioning system. As in the case of so many of these senseless tragedies we hear about, there weren’t any carbon monoxide detectors in the home. Not one within the sprawling 3200 square foot, bar-none luxury house on 10 Popcorn Lane, Aspen, Colorado—an inexpensive device that could have alerted the family and saved their lives.

Caroline’s family travelled back and forth to Colorado in the years that followed attending to one heart-wrenching matter after another. The task of breaking down the house before it could be put on the market took many months. They had to make decisions about everything in it. Furniture was split-up amongst many members, trucked and delivered miles away. Their personal items were discussed and shared with a wide circle of family and friends—even the children’s stuffed animals. I’d heard about the process of going through the Lofgren house, closets and every last drawer, but the Lexington estate sale was a startling wake-up call that I didn’t know the half of it.

I still look at the beautiful photo of the family poised on a hiking trail in Colorado taken only months before, that accompanied every newspaper article and TV news story shown hundreds of times over the years, at every juncture along the way: The Lofgren Family Carbon Monoxide Initiative, Estates of Parker Lofgren and Family Versus Marlin Brown, Et Al, The Lofgren and Johnson Families Carbon Monoxide Safety Act. The iconic photo freezes the parents and children in time and place, forever beautiful and young—a somber reminder of the lives they should have been living.

Sophie would have been fifteen.  Her brother Owen, a high school junior, applying to colleges.  And, undoubtedly, Caroline and Parker would have still been making life better for everyone whose lives they touched.

As of January 2015, only 29 states in the U.S. have laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors. National Conference of State Legislatures          



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The Coloring Book Cancer Connection

As a long-term cancer survivor who’s been living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) since 1992, I’ve been looking for ways to manage stress and anxiety for a long time. Fortunately, a myriad of techniques and approaches are available.  Over time I’ve been drawn to yoga, meditation, music, walking, photography, writing—the list goes on and on.

This summer after reading an article about coloring books for adults, and then coming across them in my visits to bookstores and art supplies stores, I became fascinated with them. I wanted to buy coloring books as a gift for this person and that one, and stopped myself many times thinking maybe they won’t be as excited about these as I am.

But when my preoccupation with coloring books reached a tipping point, I finally realized that is was ME who wanted one of these newfangled books, and colorful sets of markers and pencils.  I went back to my favorite independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, to survey the choices again, and well, was a bit overwhelmed by the choices.


Another customer who was busily oogling and ogling the merchandise at the same time recommended the Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford and being very impressionable, I took her advice! (Johanna Basford and Millie Marotta have become two of my favorites, along with a host of many other fine artists.)

That night I began my foray into the deep magical world of coloring, spending nearly five hours on a two-page spread when I realized that I was having one of the best experiences with mindfulness yet.


I was in-the-moment, enjoying each and every color and squiggly line. I felt alive. Jazzed-up and headed back into the world the next day seeing opportunities to color wherever I went. The fall Starbucks cup was a no-brainer, they were quickly flying off the shelves.


One idea led to another and I started thinking what if I offered coloring workshops for people living with cancer?  Facing Cancer Together, a cancer support organization in Newton, MA, where I’ve been connected for many years was excited about the idea. This past Sunday we had our third “Coloring for Wellness” group and I think it’s fair to say that many participants got the coloring bug, too.

I was at the hospital today for my six-month follow-up appointment and I’m pleased to report everything is stable.  Looking around the waiting rooms at people staring into space, nervously checking their mobile phones, and reading yesterday’s crumbled newspapers, I saw loads and loads of coloring potential.

Discovering this funny video from Ellen DeGeneres today, is like the icing on the cake. And provided an impetus to write this post.

If you know someone going through cancer treatment, buy them a coloring book. Don’t wait for the holidays. Do it now.

They’ll be glad you did. And, if you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve had some interest, too.  Buy two.

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26 Things I Learned From My Editor, Cindy King

IMG_6292Several weeks ago while I was working on a story, I took a break and checked Facebook. Sitting in the quiet of the public library I let out a big gasp when I read about Cindy King’s death via an update on her own Facebook profile.

Cindy, the Editorial Director at Social Media Examiner, offered many personal and editorial teachings to me over the years. Several times a month we’d exchange emails, and go back and forth about topics for the online magazine. Pitches she accepted or flat-out rejected. Agreed upon due dates. Twenty-six ways to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs—you name it.

In the last several years, Cindy and I also talked about cancer.  As a long-time cancer survivor, Cindy asked questions of me as she headed into treatment.  And as is often the case, the student ultimately teaches the teacher.  Cindy taught me about places where she found hope and inspiration.

Cindy’s death coincided with my return to Facing Cancer Together, a cancer support organization, where I’m currently facilitating  “Coloring for Wellness,” an experience that is providing me with great joy as I see participants embrace color and a meditative activity.

I wrote many 26 tips articles for Social Media Examiner over the years and I couldn’t think of a better way to express some of the editorial lessons she imparted to me.  26 Things I learned from my editor, Cindy King.  An A-Z Guide.

#1: Address Readers’ Needs

#2: Best Foot Forward

#3: Create Worthwhile Posts

#4: Do Your Homework

#5 :Edit, Edit, Edit

#6: Fiddle With The Title

#7: Go Back to Evergreeen Content

#8: Humor Has a Place

#9: Invite Readers to Comment

#10: Join in the Conversation

#11: Keep Up with the Industry

#12: Love What You Do

#13: Make the Most of Your Word Count

#14: Never Give Up

#15: Open Minded to New Concepts

#16: Pitch a Few Topics at a Time

#17: Quality Matters

#18: Read Everything You Can On A Topic

#19: Share Valuable Content

#20: Teach Others

#21: Utilize Talent

#22: Value Resources

#23: Weigh In

#24: Xcellence Matters

#25: You’re Only As Good as Your Next Article

#26: Zero-In On What Works

In memory of Cindy King.

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Be Summer, Be Now

summerIs it my imagination or did the summer doomsayers start earlier than usual this year?

I’m remembering in particular the woman on the CVS check-out line back on August 1st who had to ruin everyone’s day when she lamented, “It’s just countdown to Labor Day now.” By August 22nd, I can feel them revving up everywhere I go. They’re officially kicking into high gear.

I don’t know about you but I LOVE summer and want to cherish each of the thirteen+ hour days of sunlight while I can. I beg of you. Be summer, be now. Please.

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Awe of a Flower


How wonderful to come across the quote and video below from the Feynman Series’ on ‘Beauty’ as I contemplated and photographed the very welcomed flowers to our garden–the magnificent peonies.

“…Look how beautiful it is

I see much more about the flower

I could imagine the cells in there

The complicated actions, which also have a beauty

It’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions

The inner structure, also the processes, the fact that the colors and the flower are evolved in order

to attract inspections to pollinate it is interesting

it means that insects can see the color.

It adds a question: Is this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that…why is it aesthetic…

all kinds of interesting questions which with science, knowledge, only adds to the excitement

and mystery, and the awe of a flower.”


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Over here

Some days everything is so bright and beautiful that it feels as if everything is calling, “Look at me!”

vyiing for attention-4918

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