Things I Learned At ASCO … Again.

Selma and Me ASCO 2013

Selma and Me
ASCO 2013

I’m sitting on the plane coming home from Chicago, listening to Brad Paisley sing Letter To Me, as tears stream down my cheeks.  Not because I am trying to remember all the of the things I wish I could tell my 17-year old self, but rather the things my 43-year old self sometimes forgets.

However, I do wish I had studied Spanish, though I’m glad I never took a typing class since I spend most of my time pecking on an iPhone or an iPad.  You’ll only understand what I’m talking about if you listen to the song at the end of the post.

I am returning from ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), a conference I have attended every year since 2007.  The last five I have worked for Vital Options International and a woman I am honored to call my friend, Selma Schimmel.  ASCO is stressful, it’s an exorbitant amount of work and I do the jobs of three people while I am there.  The AAA part of my personality (which is generally healthily suppressed with yoga) emerges in overdrive. 

Upon arrival, I am always confronted with the fact that people who were there last year are not around this year … and it’s not because they had a schedule conflict.  Right now it’s hitting too close to home and I was distracted.  My head was in it, but so were a whole lot of other things; many I didn’t want to think about.  So, of course, all I was doing was thinking about things I cannot control. 

Monday morning something happened during one of our production days that has never happened.  Not ever.  It was our busiest morning all week.  Doctors were calling and switching and showing up 24-hours early and 30 minutes late.  I had somehow lost my already wavering focus and my calm.  I should have stopped and done a headstand.  Maybe there was not enough blood in my brain?  My stomach was heavy (Selma is convinced it grew in Chicago), my back hurt because my breasts seemed to weigh 400 pounds, nausea was back and the maids were talking too loud in the hallway. 

I was so grateful to get to lunch I could barely see straight. 

Before I had backed them up on the media hard drive, the interviews of two doctors were deleted off of one of our media cards on accident.  I told my cameraman all was backed up when it wasn’t.  I’ve never done that.  I’ve never even come close to doing that.  I don’t do that. 

He deleted the card to use for the afternoon.  End of interviews. 

Apparently, I have now done that. 

I had the proverbial ball, and I dropped it, plain and simple.  There was only one location for the blame. 

One of the doctors I consider a friend, Allyson Ocean.  We profiled the organization she founded after one of her young patients lost his battle with colon cancer, Michael’s Mission.  The other one was our first ever in depth skin content with Dr. Mario Lacouture, who wrote the Skin Care Guide For People Living With Cancer.  I realized early in the afternoon right before one of our regular doctors came for his interview — the incredibly charismatic and passionate, Heinz-Josef Lenz (aka H-J).  He got there and I was in tears over my laptop; my anxiety was through the roof.  My husband was calming me, giving me solutions, Selma was amazingly cool (though she had every right not to be) — I felt like I had let everyone down, especially the doctors I was going to have to tell that 30-minutes of time they had generously given us was a possible waste.  I had all of the audio for both interviews, so it was not entirely gone, but their visuals were gone. 

I couldn’t shake it.

I sat in front of my camera and got ready to film the interview with H-J.  I was flush red and full of fluster.  He looked at me, laughing and said, Terry, this is NOT a PROBLEM!  Let it go!  This is not cancer!

I laughed, which is easy to do with H-J.  His energy is infectious.  And he was so right.

I turned on the camera and took a deep breath and thought about the Dumplings.  They didn’t need my anxiety.  More likely they needed some protein and a forward bend. 

Working in cancer advocacy and knowing so many people who have left this earth way before I think they were finished … I tell myself this all the time.  This. Is. Not. Cancer.  I tell myself this whenever I see tragedy of any kind.  Eventually we all have a cancer to face, even if it’s not cancer.  It’s our cancer.

The first thing we did was see if we could get the doctors back to our interview suite — a next to impossible task on the last full conference day.  They were both already back in New York. 

At the end of the day, I sat and wrote my confession to Allyson and Mario telling them I would see what I could do with audio and then probably send a camera person to their offices in New York to film them again so I could recreate the interview.

Allyson wrote, “It’s ok – things happen.  Don’t stress too much as it’s not good for those little nuggets!! I will be flexible and available to work with Dr. Lacouture to do it again. Thanks for the opportunity.”

Mario wrote, “Terry, thanks.  Don’t worry.  We’ll figure something out — next year also!”

It. Is. Not. Cancer.  It’s not life or death.

I love the fact that when I rose to the level of complete meltdown everyone around me went calm.  My husband.  Selma.  My crew.  Dr. Lenz.  Instinctively most of us know when people get like that, the beating they are giving themselves is enough.  I do it for people all the time, especially Jonathan.  I tell myself it’s one of the many reasons I know he is my soul mate.  When two people become tornadoes at the same time … it can’t possibly be a match made in heaven.   

We all make mistakes.  Lord knows, I have.  This week I inaugurated a new one, and guess what?  Everyone survived.  Rarely are any of our mistakes life and death, and for that we should count our blessings.  Maybe I’ll spend a few hundred dollars to fix it.  Most problems can be solved with a deep breath, a little more time and a little more money.  Many can be avoided if we were breathing enough in the first place. 

This morning we interviewed one of Dr. Lenz’s patients, Gloria Borges, Founder and Executive Director of the WunderGlo Foundation.  She was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at 28.  Instead of rolling over, she started a foundation and tasked herself with raising 250 million dollars for cancer research to find the cure over the next 9 years.    Her energy is contagious and I know immediately why she and Dr. Lenz make a great doctor-patient power team. 

I can’t wait to share her interview with y’all because trust me, it may not change you, but it will definitely awaken you.  At the very least you’ll feel like a chronic underachiever.

One of the last things she said was, I was working at a law firm when I was diagnosed (eventually she would become a junior partner).  I had a AAA personality and was working all the time.  Now I sit in traffic in Los Angeles and instead of getting upset, I think about the survivor I knew who just lost her battle last week and can no longer be in traffic. I’m happy to be here, even in traffic.

Then she said something else that resonated with me.  She said if someone gave her a choice to never get cancer and have her old life where she never met Dr.Lenz or all of the survivors battling alongside her … she would choose to get cancer and meet Dr. Lenz and have the life she has today.  The life where she has had 51 rounds of chemo to date.

I think the same thing sometimes.  If someone said to me, you can go back and meet Jonathan at 28 and get married right on time and have babies the old-fashioned way.  No infertility.  It would have been a lot cheaper, certainly easier and probably a lot more fun.

But, I don’t want that life.  I want this one.  I want the one where I have these exact two baby boy Dumplings growing in my womb.  The one where I need the help of the Girl Who Likes Chicken n’ DumplingsThe one where we started a production company a year before we got married.  The one where we met Selma and I wandered into this world of cancer advocacy.  The one where I met Dr. K and found my yoga community.  The one where I let go of the things I can’t control and embraced the things I can (most of the time).  The one where I feel closer to my husband and love him more today than I ever have … and it only gets stronger with each passing moment. 

Somehow I lost sight of this on Monday.  I wish I could say that it will be the last time I will get caught up in the anxiety of the moment and forget.  It won’t be.  I just have to remember H-J and Gloria … and breathe. Remember what’s really important. 

Oh, you got so much goin’ for you goin’ right

But I know at 17 it’s hard to see past Friday night

I wish you’d study Spanish, I wish you’d take a typing class

I wish you wouldn’t worry

Let it be.

I’d say have a little faith and you’ll see …

If I could write a letter to me.

Or the 43-year old version …

Oh, you got so much goin’ for you goin’ right

But I know at 43, it’s hard to see past your screw ups tonight

I wish you’d do a down dog, I wish you’d take a child’s pose

I wish you wouldn’t worry

Let it be.

I’d say have a little faith and you’ll see …

If I could write a letter to me.


  1. Kristal says:

    Great post!!!!!

  2. Ginny Mason says:

    You are SO RIGHT! Cancer taught me that life is not a dress rehearsal, this is it. If we mess up, it’s no big deal….get on with it, try not to do that ‘one thing’ again, and don’t look back. I wouldn’t have signed up for this journey but I also wouldn’t want to go back and try the other road. I would have missed out on knowing so many wonderful people and so many rich experiences.

    Sorry I didn’t have time to stay for the program last week….just too many things to accomplish in so little time :)

  3. Terrilox Terrilox says:

    Thanks, Kristal and Ginny! I so appreciate it.
    I understand about not being able to stay for the program, Ginny, ASCO is crazy. I only regret we got no pics of you. We must at SABCS. The Dumplings, Jonathan and I will be there!

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