Tag Archives: strength

The Best Advice Ever



[Deviney Hall, Florida State University]

Dear Readers,

I recently read some rather sad news:  FSU is going to tear down Deviney Hall, my home for three years [1970-1973].  I guess the modern university student will not tolerate the monastic conditions under which my dorm mates and I thrived, during those years:

— The dorm had no air conditioning but we each had a window fan [remember, this is Florida, folks!]

— The dorms had steam heat [which the students could not regulate].

— 16 women shared one large, cleaned, shiny tiled room which contained three showers with curtains, one bath tub with curtain, five sinks with mirrors, and five toilets with privacy doors.  [This room was always in pristine condition, thanks to the housekeeping crew.]

— Each room had a small refrigerator.

— FSU did not allow ANY cooking or baking devices in the dorm rooms.

— There was a kitchen downstairs but it was easier to dine in the FSU Cafeteria.  There were no “fast-food” dining spots on campus.

— There was a Parlor downstairs, to which you might invite a male friend.

— There were NO MEN allowed on any of the floors at any time.

— I owned no vehicle but I had a bicycle.

— I owned no typewriter but there was a typewriter in the “Study Room,” which we took turns borrowing.

— All my earthly belongings easily fit inside the trunk of my parents’ car.

— The dorm Basement offered laundry facilities.

— The FSU Library was a QUIET place and did not allow beverages or food.


– 16 women shared one telephone, located in the hallway.

If that phone was in use, you could take the elevator [or hop down six flights of stairs] to the Basement, where you could find a telephone to use.

It was there in the Basement, in the Fall Quarter of 1970, during Midterms, that I telephone my parents, to touch base with them.

Like many other students, I had never had to study very hard in high school.  Now, competing for grades at a huge state university, I was completely overwhelmed.  I had not previously developed solid study habits.  Western Civ I was utterly daunting and “Bone-Head Math” eluded me.  I could not skillfully compose an English paper to save my soul and Biology at 8 am was a puzzlement.

And the lecture halls were huge!  Every class seemed to hold 250 students.  There was no hope of asking the Professor or Teaching Assistant for help.

It was humiliating.  I had been an above-average student in high school and now I was studying afternoons, nights and weekends, just to earn a “B.”  I had absolutely no life outside of my part-time job and my classes.

So, I called my parents one evening, hoping, I suppose to elicit some sympathy.  My dad answered the phone and my mom got on the extension.  They asked me how my studies were going, and I said, with a waver in my voice, “Well, it’s hard!”

That was the defining moment.  Right then.  I heard my mother’s quiet voice first: “Oh, sweetie . . . ” Her voice was full of the sympathy that I had hoped to hear.

Then, I heard my dad’s voice, full, booming, confident, with the mere touch of a chuckle:  “Yeah!  It’s supposed to be!”

And that was it.  Just five words.  I felt as if someone had splashed cold water in my face but it was refreshing and woke me out of my self-pity.  Just five words but they were exactly what I needed to hear.

Our conversation was short and I hung up the phone.  I don’t remember anything else we talked about.  But I remember those five words. It was the best advice anyone has ever given me.  My father, the former military man, had seen events in WWII that were too horrible to contemplate.  He raised four children on one salary. He knew a thing or two about life and he knew that each of his children needed to be strong to get through this life.

I contemplated all this, climbed the stairs to my dorm room, grabbed my books, and walked over to the library, where I dived into my studies.

I did graduate with a degree but I still have haunting dreams about still working feverishly, to finish my degree. So, I know that the stress of those university years will always be with me.

I wish my dad was still alive so that I could tell him this story.

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Filed under parenting, the university circa 1970, Tribute to My Father

The Problem With Pink

Dear Readers,

You say you are tired of October and all the Pink Ribbons?  You say you are relieved that  November is finally here?  Well, I hear you!  

Yet, we should be grateful for the Pink Ribbons, despite their profuse, plastic tacky-ness, for they have accomplished their purpose:  By now, everyone, I sincerely hope, is aware that one out of eight women WILL be diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

Yet, the pink bumper-stickers continue to puzzle and irritate me:  “Save the Ta-Tas!”  

Why are we still so silly about the word, “breasts?”   I should not have to list the other euphemisms . . . and I will not.

That is one of the Problems With Pink.

“Save the Ta-Tas!”   That is, indeed, an excellent idea:  Women should learn how to do regular Breast Self-Examinations [BSE] and should submit to regular Mammograms.   We should contribute to Breast Cancer Research.

However, the time to “Save the Ta-Tas” is nowbefore a Breast Cancer Diagnosis.  The sober fact is that, once a woman receives a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, it may well be too late to “Save the Ta-Tas.”  

After the diagnosis, we immediately shift the focus: “Save a Woman’s Life!”

A woman, faced with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, is willing to give up both of her breasts, if necessary, to save her LIFE.

I will be honest here:  The prospect, three years ago, of a bilateral mastectomy traumatized me.  The surgery is daunting yet it pales, in comparison, to the ravages of chemotherapy.

The spectre of chemotherapy mortified me and it was, indeed, more terrifying than I could ever imagine.

After I survived the surgery and the chemotherapy, there remained very few things, of which I was afraid.  I am certainly not afraid of facing my life without breasts.  Before the surgery, my breasts did not define me.  The loss of those breasts certainly will not define me now.

I have no Breast Reconstruction:  My bust area is concave and my collar bones are now more prominent than the place of my incision scar.  I can feel each one of my ribs.  By touching my hand to my chest, I can feel my heart not merely beating — I can actually feel my heart pumping.  [I mention these details to remind folks that not every woman is a candidate for Reconstructive Surgery.]


When I was going through chemotherapy, I received offers of make-up lessons and free samples.  The good-hearted folks extending these offers assumed, perhaps, that my first waking thought in the morning was,  “Am I going to feel pretty and girlish today?”  

And that is another Problem With Pink.

I refused the offers — kindly, I hope.  My first waking thought in the morning was, instead, “Am I going to survive chemotherapy today?”  and “Will I live long enough to hold my second grandchild?”

I recently stumbled across a blog, written by a young woman, in which she listed her fears.  Her top two fears?   Wrinkles and grey hair.   She was fearful of the inevitable aging process, against which she has absolutely no control.

I am more fortunate than that young woman:  I know now what to fear and what not to fear.

I should not have to point out that some Breast Cancer Patients may not live long enough to enjoy the luxury of obsessing over their wrinkles and grey hair.

Now, can we stop being so silly about wrinkles and grey hair . . . and about the word, “breast?”

Can we now turn our attention to protecting the health of women and on saving the lives of women?    

To focus on all things “pink and girly” and “the Ta Ta’s” is to view women as bifurcated beings.  But we are integrated beings, endowed not only with bodies but also with intelligence, creativity, strength, wisdom, imagination, and a myriad of other gifts.

I have identified the problem and, in future blog entries, I will offer practical suggestions to women, on how we can protect the health of our breasts and how we can support and encourage the strong and heroic women among us:  those battling Breast Cancer.

Coram Deo,





Filed under Breast Cancer