“Sometimes It Helps to Be Reminded,” column for Oct. 2, 2012

When I rolled out of bed this morning and padded out to the kitchen, my husband was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee, reading the paper. This was not unusual. We are newspaper people. He’s an editor. I’m a columnist. We read the paper the way farmers check the weather report: We like to know what’s on the horizon.
The paper is a big part of our morning ritual. So is coffee. One gives us the news. The other helps us to face it. Without coffee, I am groggy, bordering on cranky. But my husband is entirely worthless.
Well, until he’s had sufficient caffeine _ lots of it _ after which, he is a perfectly fine human being, or at least, somewhat more human.
Seriously. It’s best he doesn’t try to shower, let alone, shave, before he has a second cup.
This morning, however, he was scheduled for a routine physical including blood tests that required fasting _ as in nothing to eat or drink. Lucky for him, I stopped him just as he lifted the mug to take a swig.
“You’re having COFFEE?”
He looked at me the way I used to look at my sister when we watched “Wild Kingdom” and I thought Marlin Perkins was about to get snake-bit.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I am.”
“What about the blood work?”
He blinked hard, looking back and forth from me to the mug, until finally it dawned on him.
“Oh,” he said, slowly putting down the mug. “Oh, no.”
I thought he was going to cry. Instead, he went back to reading the paper. That’s when I noticed it. The newspaper. Instead of dingy gray, it was pink.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The paper was pink (like the pink ribbon symbol) to recognize the month, and featured stories in every section on breast cancer _ its prevention, treatment, and most of all, its survivors.
So I poured myself a cup of coffee and started reading.
What makes a story not just good, but great? First you need a villain that strikes without warning, inflicting pain and suffering, even unto death.
Then you need a hero _ an ordinary person like most of us _ who didn’t ask for the fight, but can’t walk away, refuses to be a victim, takes every punch, endures the pain and suffering, sometimes even unto death.
Cancer is the perfect villain. And those who battle it _ the patients, their families and friends, doctors and nurses and others who stand with them _ are, for me, the perfect heros.
They were all great stories. I couldn’t put them down. And after reading them, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Later, after my husband called to say his check-up went fine and he was going into work as soon as he stopped for coffee, I went back through the paper to look at the stories again.
I wanted to find a common thread. What made them so compelling? Cancer is an all-too-common story. Why does it need to be told and retold, read and reread? What can it teach us that we don’t already know?
Sometimes, even if we know things, it helps to be reminded.
First, cancer is everyones story _ every woman’s, every man’s, every child’s. No one is immune, whether it attacks us personally, or worse, someone we love.
Second, awareness is both a weapon and a shield. It enables us to be proactive, empowers us with choices and inspires us with the stories of others.
At best, the stories are not about cancer. They’re about courage and hope, strength and frailty and the beautiful, stubborn persistence of the soul.
They make us less, not more, afraid; show us what matters; remind us to be thankful; and leave us just a little more alive.
Such is the power of a life well lived, and a story well told.


  1. Sharon, I love this column of yours. One year ago today I had my right kidney removed due to renal cell carcinoma. Cancer does seem to affect everyone, one way or another. Thanks for this.

  2. As always, I appreciate your conversational style and relating to what you share. My stepmother died from breast cancer within a year of her diagnosis and a double mastectomy. My father remarried and my current stepmother has survived breast cancer. My sister died last year , two months short of her 56th birthday. It does help to be reminded. Thanks.

  3. Sharon,

    As a cancer survivor myself, this beautifully written column really hit home. I was very moved. I’ll share it’s message far and wide.

    Thanks, again.


  4. Well said. My husband and I have something in common with the people you are talking about in this column. Although, his was not in pink. 🙂 He is a cancer survivor twice! We are thankful for the prayers of family and friends who helped us make it through.

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