Bette Midler: Master of Well Again moments

Back when I was working as a journalist, Bette Midler was my favorite celebrity interview ever. Brilliant woman, brilliant entertainer. So pleased to come across this clip again. I was lucky enough to see this performance live, and it still plays as fresh as ever. Bette has the greatest talent of all—rarer than just music or dance. She knows how to get the most out of a moment. She invites us to drink it fully, in all its joyful/sad/fleeting/timeless beauty. In my Well Again memory bank, this has a special place. Here's how the masters do it. Enjoy.

First edit of our film!

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Hey my people, 

It's been 10 months since we crowdfunded our short doc, "We Are Well Again." 

Today I saw a first rough rough cut, and I love it. It proves that cancer turns us into terrific badasses. We might look all normal and everything. Don't believe it. We are alive, loose, and fierce. 

Join our email list. I want you to be one of the first people to see the film!

Virtual/ Digital/ Dynamite

Hey my people, 

I just went to the future for a week. The 2016 Digital Hollywood summit gave me the chance to hear from dozens of seers who are remaking entertainment, marketing, and...medicine. You may know that virtual reality headsets are turning up all over the place (thanks, Google Cardboard), but I bet you don't know that if you "transport" a burn patient to the Arctic via a VR headset, that patient copes better with pain. I'm thinking maybe in a few years, we'll have VR headsets in infusion centers. If it distracts me from chemo, count me in! Meanwhile, check out these apps if you haven't already. 

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Attack of the Vitamix

Hey my people.

So, you know, juicing. Antioxidants. Natural goodness. It looks so easy when the Vitamix demonstrator guy does it. All that cancer-fighting nutrition, and no matter what you throw in there, it comes out tasting like bananas.

We own a Vitamix. Being allergic to cooking, I had shunned it. But today I decided to juice my way to Well Again. How hard could it be? I dumped in some ice cubes and a tub of raw spinach and jammed on the power. The noise was awesome; the blending, not so much. All I saw was a grayish band of ice and a swirling green mulch that remained steadfastly leafy. Where was that whirlpool of ice-creamy goodness climbing the sides of the pitcher?

I am not a patient person. I shoved the plunger way down to speed things up.

THWACK ACK ACK ACK ACK! The uproar was instant and terrible, like being strafed by enemy aircraft. I lunged, shut the blender off, lifted the dripping plunger. A chunk of the tip was gone. Down where the pitcher met the base, a green rivulet was oozing. I looked closer and saw that I'd cracked the plastic in a long slash starting all the way up at the old spinach-mulch line. 

I cleaned the thing out and made a new batch of glop. This blend may have contained bits of actual blender.  On the plus side, it did taste like bananas.

 

 

 

 

Buen Camino, dear Jessica.

Jessica Jahnke died two nights ago, in Seattle, much too soon. If you've ever read my writing in this space, you know that Jessica was my role model for courage and defiance in the face of cancer. You won't remember -- but I do -- that Jessica sought me out several years ago. She was doing what she loved, traveling in her Nissan pickup. She was cheerful despite the fact that the truck was pretty much all she had left in the world after her cancer returned, her insurance ran out, and her condo foreclosed. 

Jessica had a plan to walk the ancient Camino de Santiago in Spain, where she also had family. She was not deterred by the metastatic tumor pressing on her spine. "The doctors told me that if I fall down, it could end my life," she said. "So I don't fall down." She told me this in the midst of a two-mile walk.

Jessica did find her way to the Camino. By then she was too sick to walk the distance. She went back home to Seattle. True, she was dying, but no way was she losing the battle with cancer. To struggle as Jessica did, with all the joy and heart you possess—that's not losing.

I spent the day with Jessica not long ago. She was just getting the hang of the motorized wheelchair that had been lent to her. She was delighted to be out of bed. Although her right hand was clumsy -- the tumor that had already deadened her legs was now numbing the hand as well -- Jessica made that wheelchair obey.

Without our friends, Jessica and I would not have met again. Phil Todd, chair of our Well Again board and my stalwart friend, bought my airline ticket. Thank you so much, Phil. The extremely capable and kind Seattle-based cameraman Brian Miller volunteered his day and his world-class equipment to help me film Jessica at her best, as she told us the story of her cancer journey. If you are ever filming in Seattle, please hire Brian and pay him double. 

I asked Jessica what she expected to find on the far side of death. That was the only question she turned aside.  "I don't want to say," she told me with an uncharacteristically diffident smile. "I don't want to be disappointed."

Jessica, if there's any justice, the disappointing part of your journey is all done. I see you on a new Camino full of endless sights and sounds and friends at every albergue. On this Camino, you won't fall down. Not ever.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Masover and Monserrat Riu Jover.

Our Well Again movie is fantastic. Now help us reach our next goal. MORE FUN, LESS FEAR!

Hey my people,

In the last month, my film director, Mark Wolf, and I have been privileged to meet many extraordinary people who are sharing what it's like to embrace the adventure of life beyond cancer.  I am humbly grateful for this work and for the friends, family, healers, and thought leaders who have shared their gifts with us.

Well Again has been years in the making. Now we're ready. We spent lots of time trying to define "Well Again." Nothing clicked until we realized: It's our job to ASK, not tell.  

Our question became "WHAT'S YOUR WELL AGAIN?" And the amazing, moving, inspiring answers started coming our way.

Our first film will be released online for the holidays.  With your support, we will continue to shoot extraordinary encounters with new friends and old. 

Our heartfelt thanks to our FOUNDING DONORS, who made this film possible. Please follow their example!

MAKE YOUR TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION  on our TAKE ACTION PAGE. We need your contributions and nothing is too small. Remember we're tax deductible.  

AND PLEASE DONATE YOUR IDEAS. What's that passion, that mission, that moment in your life where you're doing something you love so much, there's no room for fear?  TELL US YOUR WELL AGAIN, because it just might help someone else find their Well Again too. 

 

Mark Wolf on the job. The man never grumbles. Imagine!


Survivor Superstar: Terri Wingham and A Fresh Chapter want you!

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When I first read about Terri Wingham, I had this crazy deju vu, like: This woman must be inside my head.  She believes, as I do, that travel may be the most powerful way to jump-start your life beyond cancer. And she has created what to my knowledge is the very first organization that offers travel for survivors. Terri's nonprofit, A Fresh Chapter, puts together "meaningful travel" expeditions -- big trips that allow cancer survivors to reconnect with themselves through volunteer work.  From now through September 17, Terri's accepting applications for her next India Odyssey, in March 5–19, 2016. 

Interested?  Here's Terri herself to tell you more.

1. What gave you the vision for A Fresh Chapter?

In 2009, at the age of 30, I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Friends and family rallied around me during the early days of treatment, but after 3 surgeries and 4 rounds of chemotherapy, the support had waned and I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to "get back to normal." I had no idea how to return to my life - let alone to the person I'd been before the diagnosis. I found myself grappling with unexpected emotions of sadness, fear of recurrence, survivor guilt, and anger.

I didn't want to stay in that dark place, but didn't feel like a traditional support group was for me. In search of inspiration and something epic enough to overshadow cancer, I had a vision of volunteering in Africa. Although at first it seemed impossible, I couldn't shake this dream. With the support of family and friends, I was able to fundraise enough to spend 6 weeks volunteering in an underfunded daycare outside of Cape Town. This experience changed me forever and set the stage for helping other people impacted by cancer heal the emotional scars of cancer through volunteering and meaningful travel. 

 

2. Why do you think travel is important to survivors?  And why pair travel with volunteering?

Cancer can rob us of our confidence and turn the world from a friendly place into a threatening one. Thankfully, travel opens our eyes to the broader world and reminds us of the possibility of new adventures. In a world where more people are surviving and/or living with cancer, it's so important to help build bridges from the isolation of disease back to meaningful experiences. To help people connect back to the world and back to themselves.  

Volunteering helps us move beyond feeling victimized by the disease to feeling like we still have so much we can contribute. It also gives us fresh perspective. I believe that when we have the opportunity to form meaningful connections with other people who are dealing with their own challenges of poverty, access to clean water, HIV, etc, we begin to see our own stories of struggle with new eyes. Developing connections with other people who know hardship, but who also demonstrate resilience, can remind us that we can survive and thrive through circumstances beyond what we would have ever thought possible. 

 

3.  What have you learned from cancer?  About the world and about yourself?

I won't say that cancer is a gift. I wish I hadn't had to experience all of the pain of the disease in order to also experience growth. Unfortunately, like all adversity, it bludgeons us with challenges, but also encourages us to broaden our view of the world and of ourselves. After my diagnosis, I was angry for a long time. Angry that cancer had robbed me of the vision I had for my life. Angry at my friends who were getting married and having children while I was losing my hair and my breasts. But it was only when I was able to give myself permission to grieve the death of some of my dreams that I started to be able to imagine new ones. 

I have learned that life is about contradictions and learning to live with both joy and pain, fear and excitement, ease and struggle. There is no perfect or magic life. We can only choose to make meaning out of what is in front of us and welcome opportunities to grow. 

 

4.  What one message do you want to give cancer survivors?

I wish I had met someone who could have looked me in the eyes and said, "Terri - this is going to be messy and grueling and awful. You're going to emerge from the trenches of treatment and feel like a shadow of your former self. This disease is going to poke holes in your confidence, challenge you to learn to love a scarred body, and open emotional baggage you thought you had long since packed away. But lean into the discomfort. Lean into the sadness. Cry. Rage. Punch pillows. Because I promise you, on the other side of this marathon, you will find new opportunities that you can't yet imagine. I know this might scare you even more. With new adventures and opportunities come new fears and new uncertainties. But perhaps the words of Rainer Rilke will give you comfort:

You are so young. I want to beg of you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 

5.  What's your Well Again?

My Well Again is giving myself permission every single day to reinvent, reimagine, redesign my life. To learn from the mistakes I made the day before and continue to challenge myself to find time - even amidst the intense schedule of building the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation - to continue to dream. To lean into more of what brings me joy. To surround myself with a tribe of people who share the big dreaming spirit and who are lit up by life. 

After all, it is only when we feel lit up that we can ignite something in others. 

Click here to learn more about A Fresh Chapter's India Odyssey in March 2016.

Call me #twidiot.

Hey my people, 

You know how they talk about chemo brain?  When you're just a little bit off?  When your windmill is missing a blade?  Yeah, I have that, but chemo's not the culprit.  I had it in kindergarten.  At age 7 I took to eating my egg-on-toast balanced on the back of my hand.  I had a lot of fails with that system, but I guess I wanted more suspense out of breakfast.  In school I once went through fifth period before I realized my skirt was on inside out.  To this day, I can say the wrong thing and be just as surprised as you when it pops out.  It's just part of my makeup, like being left-handed.  (Go #lefthandersday! Oh crap. That was yesterday.) 

When I was a journalist, my editors knew that my stories would be gibberish until draft #3.  I don't mean disorganized.  I mean not in English.  

This is why Twitter worries me.  For you, it's a genius instant bond with the globe.  For me, it's that place where it takes one millisecond to tell the universe that there's a leak in my oil pan.

I learn something every day though.  #restingbitchface #humblebrag #princegeorge

See?  A #twiddiot can up her game.  Once upon a time, even rain was a learning curve. 



My Well Again list: Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton"

Why is a hiphop-musical composer in a blog about survivorship?  Because artistry like this makes me want to live.  If you love musicals, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius.  If you think musicals bite, Lin-Manuel Miranda is still a genius.  In "Hamilton," Miranda sets the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to hiphop.  Just opened on Broadway.  Sold out through the Second Coming.  Not saying I'd kill for a ticket but I'd rough you up pretty good.  

Here's the man, previewing it at the White House back in 2009.

Marianne Williamson talks to Anne about why we get cancer

As a 3x cancer veteran, I hate being lectured by new age fans who preach that we “give ourselves” cancer. Whole Life Times gave me the chance to raise this issue with Marianne Williamson, one of the most respected leaders of new age thought.  I think you’ll be fascinated by what Marianne says on the cancer experience — including her advice on what to tell people who try to impose their opinions on you.  Enjoy, share, and comment....  We want to hear from you!

READ THE WHOLE STORY at http://www.wholelifetimes.com/7388/why-we-get-cancer/

We're launched!!!

It's official! Well Again is happening! It takes more than medicine to build a great life beyond cancer. That's why we're here-- to help you find your Well Again. We're going to work for you right now. Right this minute.
But we've got to find you first. Nothing is more isolated than a survivor living on beyond cancer.
So please, find us. Like our Well Again Facebook page. Follow us at @annewellagain. Join our list. And remember, we will never EVER share your information. We've been through cancer too. Respect, yo.

Cedars and Staples

Hey my people,

So glad we text with our thumbs, because here I am, with my fingers in a splint. Seems I am capable of impaling my hand with a staple gun. This was no big deal when I did it, except, wow, it's strange to look at your palm and see a staple there. Very solid, too. I had to pull to get it out.
And why the emergency room? Because the finger nearest the tiny puncture wounds started to swell. With a little nagging, I agreed to go to the emergency room, where they plugged me into a Very Serious antibiotic drip.
So at least I wasn't twice-dumb.
And I sure wasn't scared of the hospital. After three bouts of cancer, I feel quite at home at Cedars.
Plus they're classy. Not one person said, A staple gun. Really? You fool.

Rocking the Cactus Castle

Hey, my people,

Here's a bird with vision. See her up there? Staring down the wind, daring anybody to mess with her. I thought she just liked riding this massive cactus in the breeze. Who wouldn't? I'm getting the image of a pirate on a quarterdeck. "Faster, damn me eyes! Put every scrap of canvas on her!" Etc.

Leave it to my pragmatic partner to point out the obvious. "The bird's got a nest in there and she's protecting it." Okay. Still. It's got to be fantastic up in that penthouse of a plant. Those baby birds are going to be hard to please later in life.

We won't be here forever. Not the bird, not her babies. Not me. But just for today, what a view!

Grout Me Out

Hey my people,

Opinions please: Does a cancer diagnosis bring on DIY fever? That's how it's been for me. My temperature registers in the lower end of the spectrum, I admit: When I get a grand idea, like making a little covered hut out in the yard to house all that exercise equipment we never use, It takes all my energy to buy the list of materials. Every label has to be read and, half the time, deciphered with the help of YouTube or Wikipedia. Is it water- or oil-based? Toxic to children and animals? Long-lasting? Quick-drying? Does it require molly bolts? (I am not interested in molly bolts. The term sounds like a Revolutionary-era sexually transmitted disease.)

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time whipsawed between that cancer-survivor urge to take control of your environment and the chemo-brained reality that you are willing to exert yourself only in short bursts and then only on ideas you've already had.

I do get tired of the half-assedness that plagues all my projects. Also, it's new year's resolution time. So when my nephew-in-law, a professional tile guy, explained how to regrout the kitchen counter, I decided to Do It All the Way.

I was at it for three days, digging out all the nasty-greasy old grout in preparation for the fresh batch. Then came the rubber gloves, the cool water--not too much!--the bucket, the stirring, and, in about two minutes, the frenzied race to the finish. The instructions said to ply the tile float at a nice even pace, just ease that grout on into the crevices. Yeah, well. Not the way this stuff was drying. I wound up tearing around the counter at a dead run, raking big globs of black muck out of the bucket and stuffing it into every hole I could see.

It was like finger painting. It was fantastic.

There was collateral damage, it's true. Talk about the fog of war: There is now a thin layer of gray-black grout all over me, the floor, the dog, and the cat.

But I did it. No pile of unused supplies taking up permanent residence in a corner until I forget what they were for. No big swath of countertop left undone, with the promise to resume "next weekend," meaning "never in this lifetime."

No, for once I followed all the way through. That's what I told my nephew.

There was a brief silence on the phone. Then he asked, "You regrouted the whole kitchen?"

Skydiving.

Hey my people,

As we unwrap this gift of a new year, I find myself thinking of friends who have crossed over into some territory that I think must make this one look very poor indeed.

You can tell me there's nothing after this life. I don't believe it. I know there's more, because this segment is so nonsensical, it could only be a puzzle piece.

What do my friends know that I don't? What can they see that I can't? Don't get me wrong, I'm not itching to find out right this minute. But when the time comes, I think it's going to be like...skydiving. Hanging onto the plane, clutching grabbing shrieking and then.... OH WOW.

That's what Steve Jobs said as he crossed the threshold, according to his sister, novelist Mona Simpson. Three times: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."

My years on the cancer quad haven't given me the power to understand death, but I have come this far: I bet it's the best party ever. For one thing, so many of my friends are there already. Daisy. Ben. Shannon. Allison. Sandy. Steve. Sam. Nancy. Savannah. Brit. They've moved on, but they continue to enrich my world just as surely as if we were having lunch tomorrow. They've taught me that you can be in two places at once--two times infinity, for all I know.

So: blessings to all of us this year. Wherever we are in the great continuum, there's more to come. The altitude is perfect, the moment is right. Open your eyes. Jump.