Earn the Pink: A Breast Cancer Awareness Month Challenge

I find myself dreading October 1, the day the world turns pink.

The month-long campaign for breast cancer research and education is an astounding success in terms of raising awareness and money. That I will admit. But it has become an event. A celebration. Pink, pink pink.
Everywhere I look, I see pink.
It’s hard to witness when my sister is on her third battle with breast cancer, which has now invaded most every part of body. Cancer will be her constant companion. She will spend the rest of her life beating it back whenever it threatens to establish primary residency.
I cringe at the constant reminders.
I wish I could turn off the lights for just one month so I wouldn’t have to see it.
 The pink.
But I can’t do that. I have to experience this month, regardless.
So I started thinking about what I can do to ease the stress, what all of us can do.
How about this?
Instead of posting ribbons to our Facebook profiles, crying over survivor stories and wearing pink t-shirts, sneakers and hats, why don’t we do something about it? Do something to help save ourselves, our relatives and our friends?
Why don’t we each make a positive change and become an example?
It doesn’t have to be a huge change. It can be as small as doing a few crunches in the morning to tighten those abs, or switching out a morning bagel for a bowl of oatmeal, or promising to start each day with one positive thought.
It’s that easy.
Those are the little things that can make a big difference. They can make us healthier – less likely to become victims, and stronger in battle should it break through our defenses. These are changes we can talk about with others, encouraging them to follow our leads.
Post it on Facebook, chat about it in the office, tweet it.
We don’t know what caused my sister’s cancer.
She’s always taken good care of herself. I suspect environment played a role. She lives in Southern Jersey in an area where cancer rates are unusually high. But even as she holds her head to stop the pounding, or clenches her stomach to ease the nausea, she’s trying harder. She’s working to improve her way of living – her diet, her attitude and her fitness.
She is fighting with everything she can.
So go ahead and cheer her on with pink flags, pom-poms and ribbons.
We all want to know someone is thinking of us, and I’m certain that helps.
But jump in and fight, too. Prepare for battle and arm yourselves well. Don’t let breast cancer have it easy. Wear the pink glow that comes with a brisk walk, or after a good night’s sleep or when you look in the mirror and tell yourself life is good.
Make pink the color of your battle uniform, not just your décor.

Why I will not participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s innocent, right?
This whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing?
The Ice Bucket Challenge is all the rage right now on social media. It’s raised more than $70 million for the ALS Association in the past year, and the effort, which started with a couple of well-meaning average folks, has all kinds of celebrities and politicians posting videos of their sopped and freezing heads.
The level of awareness it has created for the disease is phenomenal. Just about everybody knows what ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is right now, and lots of people are feeling good about the contributions they’ve made toward finding a cure.
That’s a positive thing.
A very positive thing.
But there is a dark side to the Ice Bucket Challenge that few people seem willing to acknowledge.
It’s yet another form of cyber-bullying, a tactic I can’t condone, not even for a good cause.
For those who are unfamiliar with the challenge, here’s how it works:
You become involved when someone who has completed the challenge tags you on a social media venue like Facebook. Your name is now out there for everyone to see — all of your Facebook friends and all of your friend’s friends.
The expectation is set.
Now you must perform.
The least expensive option is to pour a bucket of ice water over your head and post the video for all your Facebook friends to see. Then you donate a small amount of money to the ALS Association and tag some of your other friends, challenging them to do the same.
The other option is to forgo the chilly water and simply donate a larger amount of money — usually about $100. That option gives those who are camera shy, suffer social anxiety or who just don’t want to pour buckets of ice water over their heads a way out.
All good, right?
But what if — for whatever reason — you decide to ignore the challenge?
What kind of person are you then in the eyes of your social media friends?
Your excuse is irrelevant.
If you suffer a level of anxiety that prevents you from posting a video, you have some kind of water phobia and/or you’re too broke to make the larger donation, you’re not likely to explain that situation to the entire virtual world.
If you get on Facebook and announce that you donate to a zillion other charities or that you have donated plenty to the ALS Foundation in the past and decline to give more at the moment, who is really going to care? You’re simply boasting, making excuses.
No matter your reason, you’re still a jerk for not accepting the challenge.
That’s where the bullying comes in.
The challenge is designed to embarrass or shame those who refuse.
We can shake our heads and deny it, pretend that it’s all is fun, that no one is hurt.
But I know that’s not true.
I know that because I’ve had those discussions (in person) with those who have been hurt, people who have good reasons for not participating, but do not feel comfortable publicizing those reasons.
They feel bullied.
They feel stuck.
They feel embarrassed.
They feel ashamed.
The money and the awareness raised for ASL research is a good thing.
But I cannot condone the method.
It is for this reason that I will not accept the challenge if I am tagged nor will I indicate whether I donate or plan to donate to the foundation. The Ice Bucket Challenge has had a good run, but it’s time it dried up because bullying is bullying even if it’s for a good cause.

Make-up-free selfies: Why breast cancer awareness undermines the movement

My sister is a recent survivor of stage-four breast cancer, her second battle with the disease in eight years. During her chemo treatments — after she’d traded her hair for scarves — she experienced an awesome show of support from the staff at the elementary school where she works.
They all wore scarves or hats in her honor.
She was overwhelmed.
With those scarves and hats, her coworkers showed they were thinking of her, that they understood every day she came to work was a struggle and every day she missed work was a disappointment. The hats and scarves were symbolic of the strength, love, prayers and positive energy they offered.
Now imagine that, instead, they all showed up without make-up.
Let’s face it.
There is a reason we feel both brave and vulnerable posting make-up-free selfies. Like it or not, we judge books by their covers, especially female books. It would be awesome if the make-up-free movement helped women become comfortable with our natural selves (I know I’m not.), and if society would become more appreciative.
But here’s the trouble.
These particular selfies are not posted in an effort to affect change. Rather they are intended as a show of support for those less fortunate than us in terms of their health. We wear no make-up to bring ourselves “down” to their level, the level of people who are suffering and fighting.
We, as a society, do not accept the “natural look” as inherently beautiful. We clearly do not accept it ourselves as evidenced by the fact that we consider posting such a selfie a “brave” act — a challenge we present to others.
It’s done with a gulp and a “Here it goes!”
The intent is, no doubt, honorable.
But here’s the message we unconsciously send to those battling breast cancer: “You look like crap, so I’m going to make myself look like crap to make you feel better. See how brave I am? I am even willing to look like you.”
I have not quizzed my sister about her feelings on this topic, but I’m pretty sure she would have been overwhelmed in an entirely different way had her female coworkers honored her by wearing no make-up. And if she cried that day, I’m fairly certain hers would be tears of a different kind.
I’m not opposed to make-up-free selfies in general.
Not at all.
In fact, I have nothing but praise for author Laura Lippman who started the movement after an actress was heavily criticized during the Oscars for looking like herself. Laura posted a natural selfie and encouraged other authors to follow suit in an effort to take down some socially created barriers. Built self-confidence. Help females authors support each other.
It worked for me.
With my novels current under submission to publishers, I’ll admit that the potential for post-publication photographic attention makes me nervous. I can’t help comparing myself to photos of those always-gorgeous looking authors who seem to confident, so put together.
Then I saw this slew of selfies.
I learned that many of those women looked different without make-up, but not in a negative way. The lack of make-up drew my eyes to their smiles, something I had never put much emphasis on previously. They made me smile inside.They made me realize these other authors are just as real as I am.
And that was an awesome feeling.
They were brave to post those selfies, but brave for a different cause.
They were brave in an effort to create change.
While I am absolutely certain the intentions of those who post make-up-free self portraits are honorable and that the posts show an admirable level of braveness and humility, breast cancer awareness or support is just not the right reason.
Do it for yourself.
Do it because it feels good to be free.
Do it to free woman like me who have not yet found the courage.
Do it because you believe it shouldn’t require bravery and because you want that to change.

One kind deed after another. Yes, it’s a sappy holiday post

I was bumming.
Big time.
The memorial ornament I had ordered for my aunt had finally arrived late last week, too late for me to make the hour’s drive to the mall to have it engraved. I would have to wait until Monday and then mail it Tuesday, risking that it would arrive after the holiday.
Then I remembered the local contractor who does engraving on the side.
I called him that evening and left a message, telling him how important this was to me.
I held out little hope.
Why should he care? He didn’t know me and it was almost Christmas. Most everyone is overwhelmed during the Christmas season and this guy had a contracting business to worry about as well.
So I was thrilled when he returned the call at 7 a.m. the next day, telling me to leave it in his drop box as soon as possible.
And I was stunned when the ornament was finished by 2 p.m.
But that’s how this holiday season has gone.
It’s been amazing really.
In this time of high unemployment, nationwide protests and political childishness and I would expect … well … depression. I would expect people to be less kind than usual, more bitter, less generous with their time, energy and good will.
Grumpy.
Yet I look at my Facebook page and see links to articles about someone who paid off gifts people put on layaway. A friend posted that someone ahead of her in a drive-thru paid for her meal. She was so tickled that she planned to do the same for someone else.
Her story inspired others to follow suit.
The holiday basket drive in my kids’ school raised so much money this year they were able to buy staples to fill voids in recipients’ pantries. A woman ahead of me at the Post Office gave another woman the extra change she needed for postage, saving her a trip to her car.
It’s just been one kind deed after another.
I first became aware of it — really aware — when I left a toy for my son on the bottom rack of my cart in the parking lot at Target. I didn’t remember until the next day when I was sorting gifts. I didn’t dare even dream I’d ever get it back.
Someone could easily have swiped it.
Even if it had been found, what were the chances Target employees would have held onto it for me? Why bother? It would have been easier to put it back on the shelf. Besides, I couldn’t find the receipt. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything without the receipt.
I called anyway.
It was waiting for me at customer service.
No hassles.
No suspicions.
Just smiles and holiday wishes.
A few days later, I finally came up with a decent gift idea for my father.
I’d been struggling for a while.
He is in a nursing home down south in the late stages of MS. His memory is failing him, especially his short-term memory. He loves literature, but novels are not easy for him these days because he can’t remember what he read the day before, or even minutes before.
The editor of Short Story America had sent an email. He offered a reduced rate and free shipping to me and all other writers whose stories were part of the debut anthology. I replied, telling him I would like to get one for my father as a Christmas gift.
They are my father’s kind of short stories, my kind.
The good, old traditional kind.
They are short enough that he might be able to get from beginning to end in one session, I explained.
The editor, Tim Johnson, wrote back quickly.
He told me he would mail the anthology out immediately to ensure it arrived before Christmas if I would just send him the address. He knew I was good for the money, he said.
Tim has a family — a wife and twin girls. He was leaving soon to spend Christmas with even more family. He had other things to think about. Yet he took the time to do this favor for me, someone he knows only through a phone call, Facebook and a story.
It’s affected me, all this good cheer.
I find myself leaving the packaging tape at the Post Office for others to use, being more gracious to other shoppers and drivers who seem to be in a hurry, dropping bills instead of coins into tip containers and charity boxes.
I’m itching to pay for a drive-thru meal, but there aren’t many opportunities in the middle of Amish country.
It’s not enough.
I know that.
I have not repaid the kindnesses that others have shown me this Christmas, not yet.
These kindnesses, this unexpected generosity, have helped me to put my writing aside, even my running aside, and most definitely my aspirations of a clean house aside as we prepare to celebrate this day of giving and sharing and loving.
This day of hope.
It has helped me to concentrate on what is important this season — people.
The rest can wait.