It’s Not About You

What a great title!! The author, Tom Rath, has also been involved with writing about Strength Finders, which was a great asset to me and my law firm when I was practicing. Beyond personality, Strength Finders focuses on those traits that serve you personally well in the workplace. Super helpful, especially in a work place that contains disparate people from various generations and backgrounds.

Rath’s book, for which I am writing this review, came after his work with Strength Finders and is about his personal story. The story begins with his grandfather and the most important lesson his grandfather taught him, which is:

… the best way to fill my own bucket was to spend time filling other people’s …

He goes on to lay out the three elements that must be present if one is to apply this principle to ones life, to wit:

  1. Get Over Yourself;
  2. Invest in the People Who Matter Most; and
  3. Focus on What Will Grow When You Are Gone.

Since Rath suffers from a genetic condition that has reduced his life expectancy significantly, I was particularly interested in his perspective. Many of the insights laid out in the book clearly stem from the viewpoint of someone understanding that life is short. Some of the quotable comments he makes that resonated with me are:

How Full Is Your Bucket?

Living a Life of Contribution

He ends with this:

Most people agree life is not about focusing on self-oriented or monetary ambitions. It is about what you create that improves lives. It is about investing in the development of other people. And it is about participating in efforts that will continue to grow when you are gone. In the end, you won’t get to stay around forever, but your contributions will.

In the end, you are what you contributed to the world.

It’s helpful for me to think about a legacy and leaving a legacy in a concrete way.  The contributions that I make will live on and that’s a comforting thought to someone living with a terminal diagnosis.

Book Review: The Vagina Bible

“Power and health are inseparably linked.”

Dr Jennifer Gunter didn’t say the above quote until the end of the book, but it sums up all of the nitty gritty details she reviews, debunks and explains in exquisite detail. I can’t say enough about how important it is for all people with vaginas and those people who live up close to a vagina to read this book. Yes, the details are good for everyone to know!

One theme throughout the book is Dr Gunter’s disdain for the patriarchy and the efforts by said patriarchy to convince women that their vaginas are dirty, that feminine hygiene products are necessary. News flash, they aren’t! Also, many of the “medication” whether oral or topical that is sold for the vagina is unnecessary or, at worst harmful.

An additional theme, which I’m seeing so much more about recently, is the correlation in the media and popular culture between menopause and all things negative. Women’s bodies change as we age and the powers that be have grasped tight to the idea that women need to be fixed and have sold us a bill of goods that we keep buying and buying and buying.

Bottom line, buy this book! I’ve purchased copies for my nieces and plan to give them out at Christmas. We should all be more informed about our bodies and the miraculous things it can do without help from anyone or anything!

Book Review: Flash Count Diary; Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life

Finally, a book about menopause that I wholeheartedly agree with. Like the author, Darcy Steinke, I’ve attempted to understand the affects of menopause rather than medicate it all away. The author talks about the mainstream menopause authors and how each falls prey to the traditionally male conclusion that aging women must take hormone replacement therapy to be normal.

Why do men recoil from a woman’s normal biological functions?

Menstration, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause; each natural phase of a woman’s life is marginalized, thrust away and hidden.

But what if it isn’t? The author seeks out aging female animals in an effort to see what happens “in the wild.” She finds examples of aging female leadership and how that is venerated among specific animal populations. Why not in the human population?

The discussion about how the author modeled femininity and her relationship to her body to her daughter was fascinating. The author’s intentional decision not to mimic the same behavior that made her feel less or that she didn’t measure up to her daughter is both admirable and honorable. Her daughter’s horror at beginning to understand how the patriarchy view women and their bodies is classic.

In her chapter on Demonology, the author explores how women are demonized because of our emotions and how menopause, while not fun, is utilized to further sideline women. The symptoms of menopause and how women’s bodies ages different from men becomes synonymous with witches, evil, sinister, and death.

While being open and frank about how bodies change, the author does a great job of exploring how sexuality changes over time, how desire changes over time, and how sexual intimacy isn’t the only form of intimacy for partners. On the other hand, with the childbearing years or opportunities in the past, menopause can offer a different freedom, once the physical pain is resolved.

Yet, why are women and our bodies constantly defined by and in relationship to a man’s?

From viewing how animals deal with the aging female, the author gratefully concludes that female whales teach us that it is not menopause itself that is the problem, but menopause as it is experienced under patriarchy. In the wild, the aging female is not sidelined, but revered.

Menopause is not just physical or biological, but also metaphysical. It is thus harder to define and also defies one’s ability to provide a road map to others coming after.

The author concludes …

Sometimes I think how silly, how human, it was to feel I needed an antidote for menopause: it’s like trying to cure a rainstorm, a tulip tendril or nightfall. As a younger woman, I was led by my biology; now I’ll let the spirit tug me along. When I wake in the dark, incandescent with heat, I pray not to a deity up in the sky, but to the beauty of this world. I pray the body, I pray the lake, I pray the whale.

Book Review: And it was Beautiful

I recently discovered the books written by Kara Tippetts, a metster like me, who passed away in March of 2015. Like many of us, she began blogging while writing one of her other books (there are three) and her last book, “And it was Beautiful”, is a compilation of her blog posts while going through treatment for stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She was a wife, a mother, and she worked through her feelings on dying young, on leaving her children motherless and her husband a widower in her posts.

Kara takes the mundane, the routine, the detritus of parenting and life activities and finds the grace, finds the beautiful and celebrates time with her family. As a mother who has gone before me in this struggle to integrate life and faith and living while dying, her book feels like she was talking directly to me. Since I know that’s not logically possible, this is perhaps the genius in her writing, that her thoughts and feelings resonate across time and distance. Kara is, after all, simply recording the cries of her heart and soul.

She also called the machines that we regularly see for MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, etc., “scary snorts.” I love this so much that I am going to start using this terminology going forward. This will be my homage to her.

Knowing the outcome of Kara’s treatment and that her words are being received posthumously gives a certain weight and poignance to her efforts. Maybe that’s part of the resonance of her books. She was here, she made her mark, and left behind a husband and children and a community that learned from her life. I count myself as part of her community now, who grieves with those who lost her and who looks to her example. She wasn’t perfect, but she was courageous enough to leave her words, the words written from her heart, to guide the rest of us.

I count myself lucky to have stumbled upon her writing.

Book Review: The Cure for Sorrow

I recently discovered Jan Richardson and her blessings resonate with so many things, but this book especially has touched me in the midst of the treatment I’m enduring for stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She wrote this particular book in the middle of and as she lived her life in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death. While she is working through her own grief at the death of her soulmate, the specifics of the grieving process are nearly universal.

From the introduction, the author describes grief in this way:

“Grief is the least linear thing I know. Hardly a tidy progression of stages, grief tends to be unruly. It works with the most raw and elemental forces in us, which makes it unpredictable and wild. Grief resists our attempts to force it along a prescribed path. It propels us in directions we had not planned to go. It causes what we treated as solid to give way. It opens new seams of mourning in places we thought settled. It spirals us back through layers of sorrow we thought we had dealt with.”

These words reveal to me that the author gets it, she endures grief, and that speaks to me in a deep and compelling way. I haven’t lost my husband, as she did, but I am grieving a great many things in light of my terminal diagnosis and the language of grief is the same no matter what is being grieved.

One of the blessings that resonated the most with me is this one:


Let us agree

For now

That we will not say

The breaking

Makes us stronger

Or that it is better

To have this pain

Than to have done

Without this love

Let us promise

We will not

Tell ourselves

Time will heal

The wound,

When every day

Our waking

Opens it anew

Perhaps for now

It can simply be enough

To simply marvel

At the mystery

Of how a heart

So broken

Can go on beating

As if it were made

For precisely this–

As if it knows

The only cure for love

Is more of it,

As if it sees

The heart’s sole remedy

For breaking

Is to love still

As if it trusts

That its own

Persistent pulse

Is the rhythm

Of a blessing

We cannot

Begin to fashion

But will save us


Grief is human. Grief is real. Grief is weighty. Grief changes us.

Book Review: Breakthrough

My dear friend, Emily Garnett, had the author of Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, Charles Graeber, on her podcast earlier this year and if you aren’t already listening to her podcast, The Intersection of Cancer and Life, you should start immediately. 😉. It’s available through the podcast application on my iPhone and I wait anxiously to listen to each new episode. Anyway, I’m super interested in Immunotherapy since it seems to have some promise for the treatment of cancer and I immediately purchased his books while listening to the podcast. Yes, his previous book, The Good Nurse, is insanely well written as well.

A pretty important question is why our immune system does not recognize and kill cancer cells like it does the common cold. Scientists have been baffled by this question for a very long time and they still don’t fully know. In this book, the author utilizes records and real life anecdotal and other evidence to trace the key players and the perception of Immunotherapy from the early 1900s to present.

The pictures, information and evidence the author gathered is then weaved together into an easy to read and follow narrative. At some points, it’s almost easy to forget that the book is non-fiction! In hindsight, it is clear to see the progression of research and how scientists looking at different parts of the puzzle come to differing conclusions or how the research in one lab built off the research in another lab or overlapped, etc. In the throes of the research, scientists often didn’t know what they knew or didn’t know. Trials were designed using the wrong criteria. Patients who never expected to live were thriving and finding out that fact was sometimes accidental.

Sometimes, as a patient, it is troubling to be shown clearly, logically and irrefutably that doctors and scientists are people too. They get tunnel vision. They are affected by the opinions of the establishment. They miss connections. They ask a million wrong questions before they ask the right one.


Yes, it’s not a good thing to be reminded of how all people are fallible.

Yet, it’s also a good thing to see that even if something is debunked; even if the established thinkers/leaders think an idea is bunk, the truth will out.

There were sufficient scientists and a drug company or two willing to invest some money into the idea and Thank God they did. Immunotherapy is looking more and more viable the more each part of the equation is studied. The breakthroughs in targeted therapy over the last decade or so has certainly helped.

Bottom line, there is no cure for cancer yet. At the same time, Immunotherapy and other hot topics are the ones to watch as we get closer and closer.

Pick up Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. You won’t be sorry! It’s riveting.