Bertrand Russell, Richard Feynman and Me

Bertrand Russell, Richard Feynman and Me

You’re correct – that’s not a picture of Bertrand Russell who wrote this 10 point view on teaching, it’s my meditation mentor Richard Feynman. In my den framed is the Apple Computer “Think Different” advertising campaign poster with Richard. When I am really in a bind, I look at his photograph and ask, what would you do, Dick? Eventually I figure it out and  if I test my conclusions and they are correct then go for it and keep trying  until a better answer comes to me.  He’s been a great mentor. 

Bert’s words below, however,  apply to teaching as well as more life experiences than I can think of – it, too, applies to how I view my own cancer education. I never wanted to be a cancer patient and I never wanted to be a stepmom, but now I am those things and more. 

So for your edification and for the high regard I place on pedagogical philosophy that’s orders above the ordinary, here you go:

1.  Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2.  Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3.  Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4.  When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5.  Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6.  Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7.  Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8.  Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9.  Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10.  Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Thank you Bert and Dick. You’re both very much alive with me every stinking day and I am better for both of your words still available to me when I’m having a crappy day.

The Oncological Menu at the end of the Metastatic Universe

The Oncological Menu at the end of the Metastatic Universe

It just dawned on me as I was driving home, for expertise and advice we choose those people with whom who we agree, and more importantly, who agree with our way of thinking to be around us. No matter the circumstance: hiring staff; new friends; the closer of our family members; electing the president; even professional contractors and our mechanic. As human beings our fight or flight instincts can override our critical, logical thinking as a relationship becomes more intimate over time. We might find ourselves arguing and we may even decide to no longer see a friend due to irreconcilable differences of philosophies.

Simply stated: we don’t become friends with people we don’t see eye to eye with.

So why do we remain under the care of an oncologist with whom we disagree on treatment or with whom we cannot communicate well?  This person is the primary decision maker regarding the major decisions and details of how we can fight with the dread disease. They should at the very least talk to us and answer our questions in a way we can understand. I mean, if we’re good patients we become an integral part of our oncology team, and even go so far as to help in picking the solutions that we want as we go along our journey.  Hell, they cannot do it alone – they themselves wouldn’t have jobs without us – their patients.

So how can we define our role in our own care?  Isn’t it like we got parachuted like a soldier out of a plane onto a battlefield? A good patient navigates the terrain for themselves first and foremost. They don’t wait to get told what to do and they don’t accept blindly what’s doled out to them. When a soldier hits the ground hard, they release the parachute and get a view of where they landed and do their best to follow orders but that only goes so far. They have to protect themselves by the very nature of what they’re trying to accomplish.

A good patient will bring their oncologist information they’d would not normally have acces to. If you look at a time limit or a time that is spent with a physician – any physician like an oncologist, it’s just a sliver of time…just a small snippet of someone’s overall life. There’s not a way of seeing the whole picture in their dealings with the patient and they’re certainly not there on a day-to-day basis monitoring everything that’s going on with their patients.

It’s difficult for me to understand how, with so little time spent and only tests results to go by, they can make life or death decisions. You wouldn’t let your mother buy you shoes without your input; why would you let your oncologist treat you with things like chemotherapy and radiation therapy and other therapies without your input?  If your mother buys you brown shoes and you prefer black it’s your fault for not telling her you wanted black shoes in first place. She can apologize and take the shoes back. (Although you probably believes she should know your tastes.)

Your oncologist cannot force you into subjecting yourself to chemotherapy. She can’t make you submit to radiation therapy, which like chemo, might lead to more cancer. You have choices but you cannot have a say if you don’t speak up about your preferences. He can’t order an ultrasound rather than a mammogram if you didn’t tell the hI’m that you have very dense breast tissue and it would do more harm from radiation than good from a clear picture.

I am strange case apparently. I just seem to be responding well to treatments that many others haven’t responded well under. And I told my surgical oncologist today why don’t we just pretend that I’m stage IIIB instead of the stage IV? If I were stage IIIB you know I’d be getting metastatic sometime in the near term, right?  Because I’m metastatic, I don’t get a menu of options such as lumpectomy, mastectomy, and so forth because it’s just not in the restaurants in the at the end of the stage IV universe.
There is a tumor board that meets each Friday and  discuss my case as well as many others.  Before I even met with my surgeon he knew to expect my questions, he had heard of my annoyingly legendary knowledge base, he expected me to stand up for myself and ask a lot of questions if I didn’t understand what was going on. I chose to have the lumpectomy. My surgeon knows me well enough now. And he knew if he couldn’t get clean margins in my originating tumor he would push for me to have a mastectomy. I had my lumpectomy two weeks ago.

In my follow up appointment last week he looked at me and knew the answer before he even asked the question – I would say yup let’s go ahead and cut it. He said he said well I’m going to see the oncology board Friday I’ll speak to your oncologist as well as your other doctors and we will all decide. He said the first thing I’m going to do is make you an appointment with the plastic surgeon. We don’t want me walking around with just one boob really leaning into the doubt and says what are you curled call a girl with one boob? Ilene.
But guess what? No mastectomy needed. I can stand tall and straight and sit here and tell you to speak up and ask for what you want. Find the right team to help – ones who will work on YOUR side, not only by the books. The books change all the time and sometimes because a patient asked for something different than the set in stone procedural possibilities.
And be happy this holiday season. Do not forget your nurses and your team and thank them. You’re reading this and they’re glad you’re here.

Count and be counted.

Count and be counted.


We MBC patients count a great deal as we pertain to medical research. Welcome the guinea pigs. Long live the lab rats.

The MBC Project – – which asks us lifers to contribute our genetic material including a slice of biopsy material. Our genetic stuff will be shared with researchers “at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in collaboration with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and a growing coalition of non-profit advocacy partners,” to dive deeper into our currently incurable form of cancer.

My litmus test, well, my opinion anyway, is why not share what I can to help anyone who comes after me not to suffer at the fate of the three current and only widely available treatment modalities for MBC. You know –  chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy. Good lord, barbarism. Very profitable barbarism.

While I used to worry about my online security and privacy if I engaged in such tests and surveys – especially of my own physicality, my future would change that point of view in a way anyone could not have predicted.  I suppose in some ways I gave up my privacy the day of my diagnosis. No longer could I remain anonymous. No longer some generic marketer hiding behind a vague business strategy career overview on LinkedIn and my own, as well as corporate, business focused blog posts.

I became part of a community of the dying few too many with stage IV cancer.

Post diagnosis, my online life exponentially grew from occasional blog posts about marketing with a pithy, humorous voice, to a robustly public online presence with a pithy, humorous voice. My individuality showed a little more than I thought prior to attempting to turn up the volume to reach outwardly to receive help from others and  to reach inwardly to hopefully assist others in need of my experiences to help guide them through theirs.

I recall the same day of my diagnosis, after we assessed the earthquake damage, I turned to Craig and told him I’d participate in as many clinical trials as possible since it was incumbent upon me. Having tried to find some to participate in wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, and not all were appropriate for my health. There just aren’t many clinical trials for which I fit the bill.  However, there’s a few good ways to share information to help researchers to get a better handle on who has what and what we take and how it’s working and our lives and how psychosocial factors can effect our health.

Another such was run by Dr. Susan Love and looked at the collateral damage of MBC. Bravo as usual Dr. Love. She’s not only written the Bible, “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” available on Amazon, or chances are good in your local library has multiple copies available to check out for free, or in your local new or used bookstore, too. It’s with impatience that I await the results of that study, and I’ll let you know as soon as I know when the findings are made available.

You can delve into her information rich site and also take part in the HOW – health of women – study here:

In the mean time, do some diving around. Find some place so you  can reach out for support and participate in research specific to MBC:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Network –

MBC Alliance  –

Advanced Breast Cancer (full o’ great resources –

And a portal to give you a roundup of all sites cancer related