My Top 4 Cancer-Fighting Heroes

My cancer heroes are probably not who you think they are going to be. That’s the way I like it! Everybody has to have role models to strive for, and these are my top 4.

Angelina Jolie4. Angelina Jolie

OK, this one’s pretty obvious. While Angelina didn’t have cancer, it runs in her family and she has lost loved ones to it. I think it really took courage to choose to have a double mastectomy when she is in an industry that is so focused on physical attractiveness. I love how she is using her celebrity status for good – for bringing attention to not only breast cancer, but how women can take control of their own health and be strong. I know several people who have gone through breast reconstruction after mastectomy, and it is no picnic. Angelina shows women that you can still be sexy and strong, breasts or not.

Tig Notaro3. Tig Notaro

Tig is not as well known as Angelina, but I hope she becomes more well known. She combines her personal cancer experiences with the power of humor to produce a compelling stand-up act that entertains and awes at the same time. There is so much out there about Tig within googling distance, but this bit from Mother Jones describes her well:

One evening last August, comedian Tig Notaro sat at home in Los Angeles, wondering what she’d tell the crowd at the Largo club. Five months earlier she’d fought off pneumonia only to be waylaid by a gut infection that siphoned 20 pounds off her scrappy frame. Then her mother died and her relationship crumbled. Through it all, she had managed to keep people laughing, but a diagnosis of stage II breast cancer the day before had left her at wit’s end. When the solution finally dawned on her, she couldn’t stop laughing. That night she bounded onstage, waving: “Good evening! Hello. I have cancer! How are you?”

Way to go! I used to work in the surgical unit of a regional trauma center. Sometimes the only way to survive is by “black humor”. You have to laugh or you will cry. The audio of the original show is now on iTunes. If you are a survivor, it’s the best $5 you will ever spend.

Willie Nelson and Kristi Seehafer2. Willie Nelson

As far as I know he’s never had cancer. Kudos to Willie Nelson for his work with NORML, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Willie actually knows that he’s one of my heroes. We met a year ago after a concert, when I told him very briefly about my chemo experiences and thanked him for his work with NORML. I have to admire a guy who is so willing to stick up for his beliefs to the point of arrest. You can disagree with me and Willie all you want, but the fact remains that my special brownies helped way more than any pain pills when I was at the height of my bone pain during chemo. Yes, a good girl can break the law now and then.

There is really no good reason why medical marijuana should be illegal. Period. End of discussion.

I also told Willie about my 4th hero, Barbara. She couldn’t thank him for those brownies, but I could.

1. Barbara

Lastly, my biggest hero is my friend Barbara. I’m sure she knows that I love and admire her, but she’s no longer around for me to ask her if it’s OK to use her full name.  I have a picture, but I’m not posting it. Barbara and I were on the same chemo schedule, so we often chatted through the fog. One of her favorite subjects was her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s dog, Sweetness.

Barbara had already been fighting colon cancer for over a year, and she was going to continue her fight for almost a year after I was finished with chemo. I had quite a few special brownies left, and I decided I was going to give them to Barbara. She loved to eat, but it was a problem for her due to her multiple colon surgeries. She was so happy to have them!

Several months went by, and since I no longer was on any schedule, I rarely saw Barbara, but I had heard from the nurses that she had finally decided to quit fighting. The nurses said she wanted to talk to me, so they gave me her phone number. When I called we chatted for a bit, and she asked if I could get her more brownies; somehow the previous batch had all “disappeared.” Living in East Nashville, it’s never really difficult to find the herbal ingredients necessary for such baking, so I made a batch and took them over to her. She asked that I call first so that she could get out of bed and get to the door. When I got to her house, she was very obviously in pain and in her final days. She told me she wasn’t feeling well enough to chat, but perhaps when she felt better I could come by for a visit.

That was the last time I saw her. I got busy with work, because we were just about to go to Carnegie Hall. Just after I got back from New York, I woke up in the middle of the night with the sudden feeling that I needed to check the obituaries. Sure enough, Barbara had passed about a week earlier, and her service was while I was in New York. When I spoke to her son, he said that the brownies were a great help to her. That was all I needed to hear.

Barbara encouraged me to never give up. She taught me to stay positive – to not let cancer get the upper hand. She fought with grace, and made her final decision to quit fighting, at the age of 73, with grace. She never lost her sense of humor.

Here’s to you, Barbara.

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