Redefining the Norm: When Breast Cancer Comes Calling


Breast Cancer Logo Butterfly

As I sat beside our baby sister’s hospital bed yesterday, I was both inspired by her strength and humbled by her resilience; she is redefining her norm with grace and dignity and a touch of realism (the occasional tear and/or ‘colorful’ word).

Feet in Hospital Bed

Bruised and broken may be her body, but not her spirit. She is a fighter.

I’m so thankful we could be with her over the weekend to celebrate her 35th birthday with a cancer center fundraiser. My sister’s wish to give back to the folks who’ve nurtured her through this process resulted in $1000.00 raised in two hours. We thank all of her guests (family, friends, coworkers) for their generosity!

CCCF Flyer

Cupcakes on Display

Early Monday morning had us all arriving before sunrise to prepare for her surgery.

Breast cancer has only made this beautiful woman stronger.

Love you, baby sister.


Please Don’t Come to My School When You’re Bald, Mommy: Helping Wee Ones Understand Cancer {Slice of Life}

I have two sisters. I am the oldest. And the bossiest, they would tell you. Whatever.  I adore them. More than they will ever know. I adore their children even more. Their respective other halves are pretty awesome, too, but this post isn’t about the adults.  Mostly.

It’s about wee ones. And cancer. And understanding. And strength.

Here goes…..


Recently, just two weeks into #BabySister’s chemotherapy, she sent me a text message that broke my heart. To be clear, there have been many since this journey began, but this one was particularly difficult:


Yes, our sister is a fighter. Her strength is her shield.  She’ll tell you, “She’s Got This” ~ loud.and.clear.  Let there be no doubt.  But sometimes, I believe, being vulnerable is your strength.

As for our niece, she is feisty, indeed.  But… she is five. It’s hard for wee ones to understand.

It’s also hard for us to hear our baby sister’s fear and anger, because we want to protect her. She IS the baby. Even at 34.   Fortunately, she turns fear and anger on their ear and takes back her strength, her determination and… her sense of humor.   Immediately.

In response to her message, I suggested, “We need to get that child a bald Barbie!”

Sister:   lol … They make those?

Me:   Yes!  Aunt Robin will find her one!

So, with a little research, I learned that Mattel didn’t make bald Barbie until a couple of moms took up the cause back in 2012.  Read more {here}.  But, those dolls are only given to cancer patients in hospitals, Mattel stating they “…. don’t want to make any profit from them.”

Noble. {insert sarcasm here} How about giving customers the option to purchase them for little girls whose mommies are going through treatment? What a customer-centric business decision that could be!  Mattel, are you listening??

Turns out, someone else was!  Here’s what who I found instead:

Moxie Doll, Avery
Meet, True Hope Avery!

Perfect!  I promptly had Avery shipped to our niece, and waited….

Before True Hope Avery arrived, mommy had to shave her head. Day 20 of #BabySister’s treatment:

Woman getting her head shaved due to chemo

As you can see, she was channeling all that strength to make this a positive experience … for everyone.  Wee one sat close by, along with her brothers.  There were many pictures taken that night. They are priceless, ones I’ll cherish as long as I live.

Wee one had a few days to adjust to mommy’s new look… apparently.

Avery arrived on their doorstep a few days later. #BabySister videotaped the introduction.  Worried that I had overstepped my boundaries, mommy reassured me it was okay, and showed me wee one’s candid reaction. It is the cutest thing you could imagine seeing. I cry every time I watch it.  And I’m amazed.

I ripped the audio so I could share it, while protecting wee one.  I invite you to click play, close your eyes, and listen to wee one’s response when her mommy asks her what she notices different about Avery….. 

What’s missing from this list of attributes?

We were stunned!  Not a word about Avery’s beautiful (and very obvious) bald head.

#BabySister:    Is she pretty?

Wee one:    Yea! I love her eyes!

Yes, our niece is five. But she gets it. Beauty is more than hair.

I’m told it was a few hours later when she finally asked, “Hey! Where’s her hair??”

So I ask you, who’s helping whom to understand????

Oh, and as for mommy…. she’s all over town, sporting her new bald noggin… and she is, I’m sure our niece would agree, the most beautiful person ever!!!  I’m pretty sure she’ll turn up at school soon… You’ll recognize mommy and wee one. They’ll be the ones with the super-cute matching hats, scarves…. or, just earrings.  No hat required.   😉

Tuesday Slice of Life logo
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Phase 1: And So it Begins…..

A few days ago, in between periods 3 and 4, I noticed I had a handful of text messages.

With 25 teenagers shuffling in and out of my classroom every 55 minutes, needing hall passes, homework updates, and hugs when the day is off-kilter, looking at my cell phone is a luxury that happens in a fraction of a minute.

Time in a classroom is unlike time anywhere else on the planet. I’m certain of this.

With a quick glance, one message stood out:

Phase 1

it read.

There, looking back at the camera was our beautiful sister, whose hair the day before had been a long braid winding down over her tiny chest as she sat through treatment.  Now, a new bob just above her shoulders gave insight to what’s coming next….

I was overwhelmed with pride and respect for this beautiful young woman who, 14 years my junior, is my baby sister, but in many ways, my baby, too. When she was born, folks often thought in the rural community where we lived at the time, that she was my child. I carried her with me everywhere, keeping her safe, making her laugh, and letting her know how much I loved her every day.

Now, I can only carry her in my heart and wish that I could take away her burden.

In the six weeks since receiving her diagnosis and two weeks since beginning her chemo, she’s gained so much perspective and understanding. She has found acceptance. She is strong. She is beautiful. She is a fighter.

 A few hours later….

… as I entered our local grocery store after school, a list forming in my tired brain, I looked up to see pale blue eyes looking back at me in the bustle of people entering the store ~ she on the exit, I on the entrance.

Everything around us stopped.

No noise.

No movement.

Just pale blue eyes looking at me.


A yarn cap hid the petite woman’s shorn head. Our eyes met. I looked away quickly.

Instantly, I wanted to say, “I’m not looking away in embarrassment, but out of respect.” It was too late. I felt horrible. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t want her to think I was staring. I really wanted to say I understandMy sister is going through it, too.

Instead, I said nothing and felt intense sadness.

It was what my sister fears will happen to her. People will look away.

I looked back after she passed by, noticing the pastels of her tattered yarn cap. I wondered about her age. Was she older, as she appeared to be, or younger, but worn down by the drugs invading her body?

I pushed my cart quietly into the store and thought, “Is this what #BabySister will encounter? How will she feel?”

I feel like I betrayed my sister and the quiet woman with the pale blue eyes in my moment of uncertainty.

I should’ve ….  what?  I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe just smiled a polite smile, as I would’ve to anyone in the store? Said hello, as I often do to others?

The sounds of afternoon busy-ness returned. People pushed past me.

Tears began to fall.

Phase 1.  And so it begins….

Sorry, Nurse Ratched

You can’t do that in here! There are privacy laws.
You might want to walk away….
I just did.
And will again.
You are going through the motions.
We are going through the emotions.
She is 1 in 8.
She is our Baby Sister. 
She is a mother of three.
She loves, laughs, and cries.
She adores Danny.
And kitties.
And dogs.
And all things good in this world.
She is beautiful.
Inside and Out.
Her body is betraying her.
We are documenting this journey, a life to celebrate.  
Because… She’s Got This!
She will beat it.
She is strong.
She is our Baby Sister.
Please …. we need you to tolerate, not berate.
Sorry, Nurse Ratched.
You might want to walk away.



Bodacious to Body Conscious: What Cancer Does….

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For as long as I can remember, since I was 10 or 11, my chest has been the interest of others.

From staring to envy, even jokes by our mother …. my hourglass shape has drawn attention.  Unwanted attention.

In turn, I developed an unhealthy relationship with my body, most notably, my ‘girls’ – always wanting to hide them or wishing them away. I have been resentful of and embarrassed by my chest.   I know, I know… the grass is always greener.  I get it.

Recently, though… things changed. Almost imperceptibly at first, but growing as the days passed.

You see, my baby sister’s newly diagnosed breast cancer has created a new perspective in me, one that’s been absent for 35+ years….

With the quickness of a diagnosis and the realization that comes from doctors’ visits, I’ve come to see the girls as something not to resent, but as they are – appendages like any other body part, that can become sick, diseased, capable of derailing you.

What a startling discovery for me.  No longer just an object of unwanted attention, these parts that define women, are objectified by many, and nurture babies, are so much more.  Or, maybe so much less.  They are just a body part – to be aware of, taken care of, kept healthy.

In my search to understand, I ran across this blog post as I was writing mine.  Seems my evolving feelings about the ta-tas aren’t that different from others when BC comes knocking.  In my case, though… I’m the outsider. The sister. Looking in. Trying to understand.

I’m not sure I’ve done an adequate job explaining my changing feelings here, but it’s a start. As I talked with the tech yesterday before my annual mammography, I found myself trying to explain it to her.  Give her credit – she said she understood.  Did she?  I’m not sure I did. Or do.

I just know my perspective is changed…. Altered. Transformed. Adapted.

This is what Cancer does.