Tired of traditional talk? People pontificating about this or that? The left or the right? Sometimes the truth is just off lost in the noise. Having learned life lessons the hard way, Chuck Gallagher, international speaker and author, cuts through the noise to share truth through transparency!
Now, here’s your host, Chuck Gallagher.
You can hear the interview with Karen Cortell Reisman here.
CHUCK: And it is great to be with you here in October 2014. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I know it’s kind of odd to hear a guy talking about breast cancer awareness, but it’s a subject that obviously has the potential for impacting over half of the population and as a prostate cancer survivor, I understand intimately the experience of getting that first diagnosis and then dealing with everything that comes as a part of that.
Now, that said, what I want to do on this show is I really want to explore not only the statistics perhaps and some of the things that women probably have a reasonable idea of knowing, but some of the emotional things that come up that are a part of that whole process of, “Oh, Gosh, I’ve been diagnosed and where from here?” I have to say that I love women. That’s [chuckles] an odd thing to say perhaps, but I do, and I want to make sure that we have a discussion that can be open and honest and frank. With that said, many years back, back in 2006 I was introduced to a lady by the name of Karen Cortell Reisman.
Karen is out of Dallas, Texas and a little back story to this. I had done my initial foray into the world of speaking and I talked with a really good friend of mine who ran a speakers bureau and she told me, “You need a speech coach,” which just really deflated my ego and caused me to wonder a bit. I thought, “Gosh, I can talk,” and she said, “No, it’s not so much the delivery as it is the content. You need to be able to tap in to the emotion of your story so that it will have an impact and potentially reach an audience in a deep way.” And Karen is the person that can make that happen.
Karen is an expert in communication. She works with CEOs and C-level executives literally all around the country helping people transform their knowledge and their skill into an outstanding ability to function effectively as a speaker. Her name is Karen Cortell Reisman and not only is she joining me because of her incredible skills as a communicator, but she’s joining me because she is a breast cancer survivor. Having been through that experience in the not too distant past, Karen and I were meeting in Dallas a week or two ago and we just kind of by accident, although there are no accidents, moved into this conversation and it occurred to me in the process of doing that that is the perfect show for the month of October so that we can focus attention on that. Karen, welcome so much to Straight Talk Radio.
KAREN: Thank you.
CHUCK: Karen, I guess, maybe the first place to start is, I’m seeing your face, we’re here on Skype recording this, but auditorily and in a video capacity, and I know that you are working and have regrouped and perhaps have new and refreshed perspective on life, but perhaps let’s start off with the story. Tell us what happened that led you to get your initial diagnosis of breast cancer.
KAREN: First of all, Chuck, thank you so much for the opportunity to be on your program. As you did such a nice introduction I’d speak about how to speak for yourself and how to grow your business and make more money, but in the month of October I will wear this extra hat about talking about not only my breast cancer experience, but I also want to talk about how every one of us can relate to somebody who’s going through a significant health journey. So, I’ll wear my communication hat as well.
To answer your first question, I walked in to my annual mammogram at the beginning of 2012, so 2.5 years ago, looking pretty good and feeling great. As I started down this path, I have to say that the radiation on [05:40] he goes, “You’re a poster child for mammograms.” He says to me and I said, “Why?” I asked this question from my seat in his very bad aqua blue treatment room.[Chuck laughs]
KAREN: I don’t know what he think his rooms, it’s such bad colors, and he says to me, “Because you found your breast cancer early. You’re going to be okay.”
KAREN: So I discovered my breast cancer by just walking in. So here’s what happened. I walked in to that regular annual mammogram at the beginning of 2012 as I said, looking pretty good and feeling great. Nine months later, after one lumpectomy, sixteen weeks of chemotherapy, thirty-three radiation treatments and one hundred and one doctor visits I walked out of that bad aqua blue treatment room bald, tired and extremely grateful. There were times during this health journey that I had days of euphoria, yes, oddly enough euphoria. I had days of despair and I had every kind of day in between. They were filled, Chuck, with frustration and humor and fear and yes, gratitude. So, there’s lots of things that I learned from this lesson, but that will get us started.
CHUCK: Oh, so, Karen, I’m a little confused because what I heard you say was that you went in for your annual mammogram, walked in, had the mammogram and literally the doctor diagnosed it and told you at that point you had breast cancer. Wow!
KAREN: No, actually, Chuck, I was just giving you the concise global version.
CHUCK: Oh, I got you.
KAREN: What really happened is that I got a notice in mid December. It was time to sign up to make my appointment, to get my annual mammogram and I’m typically always very conscientious and I do my annual physicals always within exactly 12 months, but I sat there, went to my office and I thought, “I really don’t want to make this appointment in January. It’s a very busy time in the year for me,” but I made the phone call and she comes on the line and she goes, “Mrs. Reisman, we have an availability for you on January 4.” I looked at my calendar and I realized I was just coming back in the country the day before and I just said, “I have a busy, busy schedule in January.” I thought, “For the first time I’m having this internal dialogue with myself, why don’t I just push it out. I just won’t do this in January. I’ll do it in February. I’ll do it in March. What difference does it make? Twelve months? Thirteen months? Fourteen months?”
And then, I don’t want to sound woo woo, but I literally heard a voice. I heard a voice in my head and the voice said, “Just do it.” it wasn’t the Nike commercial, but it was those words. Just do it. Very quiet voice and it was my gut talking to, it was my intuition and yet, this lady on the phone is going, “Mrs. Reisman, are you still there?” I said, “Oh, I am, I am still here and I will take that appointment.” So my first tip to our listeners today is we all have that little voice in our head. We all have our gut, we all have our intuition and we need to mind that. We need to really listen to that and see where that takes us. What that did for me is I took that appointment on January 4, went in, had a very easy appointment, said thank you, I’m always very grateful. For me, mammograms are not painful. It’s just a hassle, but it’s not painful. I had it and that was that.
And everything was fine until about five or six days later and I get this phone call. They said, “Mrs. Reisman,” they said, “Karen, we see something we don’t really like and we would like for you to come back and do a second mammogram.”
CHUCK: I got it. That’s very much like the story that my wife had where she went in for the mammogram. She would say that it’s not particularly pleasant and can be painful. I’m a guy, I hate anything to do with pain so, you know, I don’t even like a blood test, but different issue, and left and thought everything was just fine and then got the call back to come in for the second and I kind of have to assume that when you get the second call, there’s a reasonable concern at that point about what you might be hearing and why you’re getting the second call.
KAREN: And with that second call I obviously, to all of our listeners, do it, [chuckles], yeah, it’s definitely, I didn’t need a little quiet voice in my head. I definitely said, “Darn it!” Probably a little stronger word than that.[Chuck laughs]
KAREN: I immediately made the next appointment and I certainly didn’t dilly-dally. So several days later, I walk in and I have my second appointment. I still wasn’t terribly concerned, but getting there. After that second appointment, they looked at it right then and I met with the radiation person and she said, “I still don’t like it. It looks like some calcification and you probably have a 25% chance that something is really wrong here, so a 75% chance that it’s okay, but I want you to do a biopsy.” Several days later, I had a little, minor surgery and they did a biopsy. They were fine except that the next day they would call back with the results. I was now getting a whole lot more nervous, but still holding out because 75% sounded like a pretty nice number there.
CHUCK: A good number, sure.
KAREN: The next day she said that she would call around 3 o’clock and I have to tell you that at 3.01 I got the phone call. She definitely told me this was definitely cancer and it was very early, and to find a breast surgeon, and to, of course, take the next steps.
CHUCK: So we’re here at a break and that is the perfect time to stop the conversation for the moment, but be prepared for us to continue. I want to ask some more detailed questions to the extent that you’re willing to talk about it. We’re here on Straight Talk Radio with Chuck Gallagher and Karen Cortell Reisman who is a speaker who brings wonderful content to the audiences that she talks with. As importantly, she coaches people on the C level suite and folks like me on how to really craft that communication in such a manner that it can reach out and touch an audience. I am profoundly grateful for Karen to help me get started in my speaking career so we’ll be back in a moment, talking to Karen Cortell Reisman about breast cancer and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and I am here with Karen Cortell Reisman. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In 2013 there were 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer in the United States and 64,640 cases of in situ breast cancer. It’s the time of year that we focus, you know, all of the football players are wearing pink, I even have a pink jacket now when I speak in the month of October in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in grateful thankfulness for what can take place that makes peoples survivors, including my wife. Karen, thank you so much for joining us and being willing to talk about this. I got a question for you.
CHUCK: What type, was it an invasive breast cancer that you were diagnosed with or an in situ breast cancer?
KAREN: Chuck, everybody– It’s amazing, breast cancer is like snowflakes and everybody can have a very vastly different type and in fact, funny enough, they don’t can’t even tell you till after you’ve had surgery because they do a pathology report at that time, but they did tell me it was outside the duct. It was small, but it was already outside the duct, which is a bummer. At this time in the biopsy it said it looks aggressive, but it looks early. What turned it be for me was triple negative and what that means is it’s not the most common type and this is one of those times as a speaker you want to be unique, but when it comes to cancer, you don’t want to be unique. You want to be the most boring, common variety because they’ve done the most research and they’ve done the best modalities for treatment. So this one wasn’t. What triple negative means is that it was negative for your hormone receptors, which are your estrogen and progesterone. It was also negative on Herceptin, which is great. You don’t want to be positive on that. You want to be negative. So I had triple negative which makes it just a tiny– It does add a little bit more of a significant component to your recovery and the type of treatment they want you to do.
CHUCK: I’ve got to ask Karen the question. It does strike me as a little odd that the conversation where they informed you that you had cancer was over the telephone. How do you feel about that?
KAREN: I was okay with that, Chuck. I just really wanted to know and she was– I think we never like the messenger of bad news, but she was the physician. She was the radiologist and she was just a matter of fact to the point. Also in this day and age you have electronic everything and the system I went to was Baylor and there’s a lot of different Baylor hospitals so I was able to electronically access the record or I have a brother-in-law who’s a physician so it was very quick and easy. I felt very fortunate that I’m related into the medical world.
What I did right after I got the phone call I was actually in my car, not driving, and I called my husband, not driving, and I told him, got off the phone, because I was pretty upset, went back to my home, sat down at the table, called my beloved sister, very busy, busy, very successful lawyer, who just hung up and came over. So my husband and my sister and I, we made a plan and I was so very grateful I was able to get into a breast surgeon’s office the very next day. The journey began then.
Gathering a lot of data and what one has to do is to do the data collection and also again listen to your gut so with that lot of data and a lot of my gut instinct you then can make a choice. You will have surgery. Do you want to have a single mastectomy, a double mastectomy or a lumpectomy? You will have an ectomy of some kind and I made the decision with all the data and with lots and lots of different doctor visits of maintaining the physical integrity of my body and feel very grateful about that so what I had was a, I would call it aggressive lumpectomy. They took a lot out, but I was able to maintain the integrity of my body.
CHUCK: Now, Karen, I recall when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, like you, I called my wife and, of course, she thought I was kidding because I tend to kid a lot, and it was like, no, that’s not just the kind of thing I would kid about. So, I have to say I kind of thought it was a male thing to go into this mental, “All right, it’s in my head. I’ve got to research, understand, try to get my head around, determine what’s going to take place. Here is the process,” but yet I heard you say the same thing. I guess I kind of now have to assume that’s just human nature to try to determine, “Okay, there’s a problem. I need to find the solution,” and it’s almost as if we’re pushing away the emotion of the experience for the intellectual pathway to find the solution. Do you feel that that’s accurate or am I mischaracterizing it?
KAREN: No, I think you’re right. I think that there’s several categories. There is an emotional aspect. In fact, when I began our conversation earlier, I said there were days of euphoria. I’d like to explain what that was. There were days of immense fear, days of aggravation, days of joy, so it’s a combination of things. The euphoria happened when I had the surgery, made the decision, had the surgery and was surrounded by loved ones and had some pretty incredibly good news. I mean, that it was self-contained and that the margins were clean and that it was pretty small and that it was just a successful surgery. Some wonderful times. I know it sounds crazy, but I had, I don’t want to jump ahead, but I did end up having to do chemo. There are breast cancer survivors that do not have to go through chemotherapy. I did because of it being triple negative. I can talk more about that aspect of it. The positive is I actually had my chemo girls. I had some wonderful, dear friends and I would ask one to come with me and spend the day, people I adore and love. You don’t get together with girlfriends and spend eight hours at Starbucks. [laughs] You go to lunch or something, but I got to see people I love and hang out for entire day while I go through this process.
CHUCK: Karen, I know that you and I in our conversation a couple of weeks ago, you said that there were certain things that really, now that you can look back on it, that really resonate dwith you and the first one that you clearly shared in our first segment was trust your gut. What would be number two?
KAREN: Okay, number two on the list, what a lesson, normal, just plain, old normal, is great. It’s really not, Chuck, it’s not about how much money you make or how many trips you take or how large your office is or your home. It’s really about enjoying a normal day because during this journey you’re anything but normal, you’re anything but predictable. You’re completely not in control of your time, you hop when the doctor says hop, you get down to the lab when they say, “Go to the lab.” Trust your gut is number one. Number two, it’s not about vacation time, it’s just how can you make each day the normal days work for you? That’s number two on my list.
Number three, Chuck, is that it’s great if we can maintain some kind of sense of humor and I’ve always said humor equals tragedy plus time, so things that happen to us at the time may not be funny, but they are later on when you think about it or you talk about it. When I found out I was going to have chemo, I was pretty unhappy about this. I thought, “Maybe I wouldn’t have to do it.” I thought I might be able to dodge that bullet. The day that I found out that chemo is really going to happen and all the different potential side effects, my husband and I were just so upset. We got home and we were going to bed that night and it was like I couldn’t really sleep. At 3 in the morning I’m just walking around and he’s not really sleeping either. He goes, “Let’s talk about it,” and we started talking about all the different potential side effects in addition to losing your hair. Suddenly I just began to laugh and he goes, “Why are you laughing?” and I said, “Honey, I always thought I might sleep with somebody bald. I just never thought it would be me.”[Chuck laughs]
KAREN: What do you say?
KAREN: You got to find the humor and there are funny things that happen during the process so I would say that’s a big deal that you just try to keep yourself laughing.
CHUCK: It’s interesting to hear you say your number two and number three because for anyone who has been through the experience of having a significant health issue, and it doesn’t have to be cancer. You and I just both happen to be cancer survivors, but the process of what you have to go through removes you from normal. There’s no question about it and then you find out whenever you’re not taking radiation or you have finished your chemo and life starts return to normal, it’s almost like normal becomes really, I’m not even sure what the right word is, it’s a wonderful experience to be normal again.
KAREN: It’s probably one of the neatest lessons. Really, I’m not saying that we should all sit around and be sloths, [laughs], not do anything. It’s just important to embrace the regular day.
KAREN: And actually have one. You can make a day to have this wonderful interview and then work with a client later today and know that that’s most likely what happens.
CHUCK: That’s normal. Well, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio, and my guest is Karen Cortell Reisman. She is a wonderful speaker, outstanding at what she does and does executive speech coaching all over the United States. If there’s anyone that wants to improve their skill in speaking, especially if you’re at the C level as an executive and you really have this presentation you need to nail, Karen is the person to work with out of Dallas, Texas. You can find her at karencortellreisman.com. We’ll be back in a minute talking about breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, 2014.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: Well, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and we are back with Karen Cortell Reisman. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. With close to 300,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States every year, this is the second most aggressive cancer for women, lung cancer being the number one cause of cancer death for females, breast cancer being number two. As a prostate cancer survivor, I certainly know the experience of what that’s like. Karen is willing to share her experience and her journey as a breast cancer survivor and I am so thrilled that you are. Karen helped me with my speaking many years ago and is currently helping me with another project and I’m so thankful. Karen, thank you.
KAREN: You’re welcome.
CHUCK: We were talking about some of the ideas that you had and you went over several. The last one was humor, which by the way a lot of people think that they can’t find humor in things like this, but, Gosh, if you can’t find something to laugh at, there’s plenty, I’m quite sure, but take us a little bit on the journey because your journey not only included surgery, but chemotherapy and radiation. What else did you learn?
KAREN: Okay. I want to talk about two more things that I learned here and then talk about ways that you, everybody listening, can communicate with somebody going through a health journey. So, the next thing on my list is to maintain best practices around exercise and diet. If you’re already in good shape, you’re so ahead of the curve when you get a challenging diagnosis. It’s just good for you anyway. We read about it, we see this all the time in our world, but I already had a very nice exercise regimen. I have a walking buddy, I have a workout buddy and I never stopped doing those things, even during chemo, even during radiation. I continued to work out, I continued to walk. Chuck, I didn’t do it to a level and to the amount that I normally do, but I just felt much better during the whole journey. I mean, it was just awesome. I even would go and work out the day of chemo. I would actually show up at the hospital in those days in my workout clothes and people actually thought I was already on the other side of the coin and was just coming in for visits, but post-visits. That’s my next thing, just get out there and walk. It’s so important. The next one–
CHUCK: Karen, let me just jump in for one thing. As people hear this show, they hear the audio. Those people that want to can see this. It’s on YouTube so you could see Karen and Karen is the picture of health.
KAREN: Thank you.
CHUCK: Oh, you’re most welcome, but it’s true, you are. I have to say, it’s easy if you are comfortable with exercise regimens and eating well to do that. It’s a bit more challenging if you’re not accustomed to that, but yet I think both you and I would agree that what we intake into our bodies is so significant and how we exercise our bodies is so significant to the healing process overall.
KAREN: Excellent and well said. I will go on to my final thought on this list is that nurture your support system of family and friends. There’s nothing more important than creating your safety net before you hit the wall. My family and friends made all the difference. I felt very supported by my family, by my friends and also by my synagogue. I got a great deal of support, spiritually from my synagogue. It was in many ways heartfelt experience, if that makes sense. I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy, but I just feel very warm and fuzzy thoughts for my support world.
CHUCK: Karen, I do want to ask you one, I know we’re going into another phase of this conversation, but I do want to ask you one question and it’s kind of personal. Was there a point at which you considered the possibility of not going with chemo or not going with radiation?
KAREN: No. I’m all about Eastern and Western medicine. I mean, just a rounded approach, but it was not even an inch of thought for me. I wanted– To do the radiation is you buy into that when you have a lumpectomy. It’s like peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You don’t get one without the other. I mean, that’s my take on PB&J sandwiches.[Chuck chuckles]
KAREN: You have to do one. If you choose a lumpectomy, they make you a very topical type of post-treatment. That would be radiation. The chemo is a systemic– It’s just insurance, and I have children, I have a life, I have a husband. I was committed to doing everything I could.
CHUCK: Okay. Well, and that makes sense. Karen, now I’m going to ask you the question that I want you absolutely to say to me, “Chuck, we don’t need to go down that road,” but are you post-50?
CHUCK: Okay. The reason I ask that question is if you look at the statistics for breast cancer in the United States for 2013, obviously 2014 is in process, the great majority of breast cancers are diagnosed in women post-50 and yet there is a substantial improvement in mortality rates because of the ability to early diagnose.
I’ve got one last what I’m going to call kind of medical question, and this is an opinion on your end. There are a lot of people that say today, and it happens with women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer, that the proliferation of mammograms being done every year is just ridiculous. It’s overprescribing a procedure and a test that really isn’t that necessary and the same thing applies to men with the PSA. What’s your take?
KAREN: I never wanted to be a poster child, but that radiation in the bad aqua treatment room, he said, “You are a poster child for mammograms.” It makes you want to cry, what you just said, because I so fervently believe that an annual mammogram or an annual PSA or annual any gram is vital. It doesn’t even make sense to me. We would use less money, less insurance, less everything if you nip these issues in the bud and you’re proactive rather than reactive.
CHUCK: I agree with that and I am so flabbergasted by how people in the medical community can sit there and say, “Why don’t you just play Russian roulette with your life and let’s have less tests,” and yet, you and I are both living proof of a test that we didn’t think was going to produce anything saved our life!
KAREN: Oh, clearly, clearly, clearly! I want to now if we can shift it over to–
CHUCK: Yes, please.
KAREN: Let’s talk about, because I know our viewers may not have had, thank God or hopefully, have not had a cancer experience or a big health experience, but we all know somebody who’s going through something and I am wanting to share with you. I wrote about this in my blog and so I have seven or eight little tips to tell all us on how to communicate effectively.
KAREN: I’ll start by saying, number one, do stay in touch with someone who is going through a health challenge, and here is how: an email, a text, a phone message – all are great. Even if you’re, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do,” it’s very unobtrusive to send a text or an email.
It’s all good, but here’s number two on my list: do not, let me repeat, do not ask the person who’s sick to return your call or electronic message. That is a burden.
I mean, you’re already overwhelmed with stuff so what I do say, this is number three on my list, do say or text, literally put this in your text, “You do not have to return this call, text or email.” In that way we know that you’re thinking about us, but we don’t have to call you back. You’re not on our list and I felt really bad because I got so many phone calls and they would all say, “Call me back.” I just couldn’t. I just didn’t want to talk to them, I didn’t want to keep saying the same story over and over. I know there’s things like CaringBridge where you can tell your story. I didn’t really want to do that either. Those are my first three suggestions. Can I go on?
CHUCK: Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to run out of time in a minute, but go ahead and please share the other four.
KAREN: Okay. Fourth thing, do not ask, “What can I do to help you?” because that’s just so generic. Number five, do something that you would like someone to do for you.
CHUCK: Oh, I like that.
KAREN: Such as mail a “Get Well” card, appreciate it, non-obtrusive, meet for a walk, wash her car, make a meal, drive her to a doctor appointment, bring lunch, take her to a manicure place or make a donation in his honor, or do tell her she doesn’t have to write you and also say, “Don’t write a thank you note.” Just do something that you think somebody– Don’t make us guess. Don’t ask us, “What do you want,” because we’ll probably say, “Nothing.”
Okay, number six on my list: do not use Facebook or Twitter or social media to place your concern about the person who’s not doing well unless that person invites you to do this. That’s because you may want to keep this thing in a more private realm and it might not be good for your business, so don’t automatically go to social media.
The next one on my list, do not talk about your own experiences or the medical outcome from your brother-in-law’s mother’s aunt with the same type of illness. That’s unbelievable. You are there to help your friend. You’re there to hear your friend’s story. She is not there to hear yours. There are often times when people would start telling me about their own journey and their own and then the person would die in the story. I can’t hear your story! I’m going through it right now. So that’s a huge one.
The final thing is do listen if they want to talk. That’s right! Just listen. Biggest gift of all.
CHUCK: Karen, I think those are outstanding. As we finish this segment, I have to tell you I’m sitting over here completely humored, especially at the very next to last one because there are a lot of people in the family that when you start off with, “How you’re doing?” and you begin to tell to them and then immediately they start telling you about their ailments and illnesses. It’s like, “I just assumed you were going to ask me the question,” because this is crazy.
This is Chuck Gallagher and my guest has been Karen Cortell Reisman. She is an executive coach. She helps people learn the fine art of crafting that perfect speech, a speech that reaches out and can touch a heart and make a difference. You can find her at karencortellreisman.com. Look her up on the Internet, check out the services that she offers, but also, Karen, thank you for being willing to hold back the veil, so to speak, and talk to us here about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s been my honor to have you. Karen, we’ll leave the show at this point. We’ll pick up right after this, continue the conversation on Straight Talk Radio. I’m Chuck Gallagher.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: We’re back for our last segment. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and this has been a fascinating discussion at this point in time. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, although I have to say, I never really sit back and think about there needs to be a physical time of year to be aware of our health and to be aware of those things that we need to be so mindful of.
Years ago, and this goes back almost 10 years, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was not something that I expected. There were, like Karen has said, our guest, Karen Cortell Reisman, it was not something that just jumped up and said, “Well, you’ve got a problem.” It was diagnosed almost by accident, although I have to admit I don’t typically believe in accidents, so I understand the critical importance of being checked.
A good friend of mine, and I know this is a little bit strange, but a good friend of mine on the prostate cancer side said, “A man will know his odometer reading more quickly than he will know his PSA,” and that’s sad because the PSA is going to be the thing that could potentially save your life and their odometer is just the number of miles you drive. For women, although there is not quite that same test, the blood test, the fact that you have regular mammograms is critically important. There will be in 2014 some 300,000 women that will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that’s not something to play with. In fact, today one in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. It is something that is a curable disease. It is something that you can certainly survive and it is something that will change your life.
My guest, Karen Cortell Reisman, is a recognized speaker, she is a recognized author, she is a speech coach to many, many people who are working on trying to deliver that perfect speech especially if you’re in the corporate and business world, but I think Karen will tell you that one of the things that has changed her life is the experience that she has had in dealing with breast cancer. When as human beings we have these life-changing experiences, we can go into the “whoa, poor, pitiful me” approach or we can find what is it that we learn from it.
I heard recently that a pearl, beautiful pearls, in fact, Karen, you’ve got on some beautiful pearls, but a pearl is by its nature created from irritation. It’s when that grain of sand gets in the oyster and the oyster does everything it can because of the discomfort trying to somehow get rid of it, but in the process of trying to deal with the irritation, what ends up happening is the oyster creates something that is incredible and powerful and beautiful.
Karen, you’ve shared with me that in your synagogue you were asked to speak and this is one of the few presentations that was very different for you and I was wondering if you might take the time and share that with our audience.
KAREN: Thank you. Here’s the presentation that I gave at my synagogue about a year ago and it goes as follows:
My oncology nurse, in her nasal-breathy-sweetsy voice – which is a bad combo on any day – said, “Karen, once you start chemo, you’ll be better. You’ll get into a rhythm and enter a calmer phase of your illness.”
Well, here’s what I wanted to say – or rather YELL – to nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy, “Are you kidding me? Why don’t YOU sing up for chemo? You are crazy.”
Here’s what I actually said – or rather DID – just smiled, wanly. You don’t want to bite the hand that needles you.
But I felt like biting. And screaming. And cursing.
A bit of context here. At the start of 2012, and as we talked about earlier in this radio program, I walked into a regular annual mammogram looking pretty good and feeling great. Nine months later – after one lumpectomy surgery, 16 weeks of chemo, 33 radiation treatments, and 101 doctor visits – I walked out of a bad aqua blue treatment room bald, tired and grateful.
My one-side conversation with nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy occurred just after my successful surgery. She continued, “Well, if you don’t have any questions, we’ll see you next week for Round One of chemo.”
I finally spoke up – too stunned to say much, “Ummm, can I drink a spot of scotch during these 4 months of treatment?”
“No,” she said with noticeably less breathiness.
Then I began to cry.
Do you get the picture? I was NOT happy. With her. With my situation. With the realization that I might get chemo-brain/fogginess and rival Yul Brynner for hair-bragging rights.
No hair, no control over my life and no scotch. And I wasn’t feeling too spiritual either.
Then I got a letter from my rabbi and she wrote,
My thoughts are with you. Here’s a prayer, called The Dew of Life, which might help you as you go through this journey. You can recite this prayer when receiving chemotherapy. It’s adapted from the Annual Prayer for Dew recited on the 1st day of Passover.”
“Dear God – the prayer begins – Droplets of LIFE – flow gently mending the hurt in this body.”
Oh. – Chemo was not droplets of doom. Chemo was droplets of LIFE.
“Dear God – the prayer continued – droplets of BLESSINGS – come gently fetching a year of goodness. Droplets of DEW – heal gently, softening this hard place of blessing.”
I tucked this prayer into my “Cancer – Yes, I Can” calendar of endless appointment dates and notes – and it traveled with me throughout the rest of this journey.
As instructed, I recited the Dew of Life prayer at the hospital every time I got chemo.
And I transitioned.
No longer did I think of chemo with expletives preceding it. Chemo is/was the DEW OF LIFE.
And as this Service of the Heart, which is where I gave this little speech, states, any place can become a holy place.
For me Sammons Cancer Center Baylor Hospital during chemo treatments became a holy place. This prayer – soothed, supported and strengthened my reserve.
And speaking of cursing… Nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy was actually right and she really was lovely. My journey did calm down during that phase and I stand here, exactly a year later, feeling great and grateful.
I conclude here with The Dew of Life Prayer conclusion, meant for all of us:
Droplets of Dew, come for a blessing and not a curse, come for life and not for death, come bringing plenty and not emptiness.”
CHUCK: Wow, Karen, that was absolutely beautiful and I know that you put a lot of thought into what you would say to the members of your synagogue and I know that in my life the opportunity to speak about the experience has helped, I’m going to put it this way and say, polished the pearl.
There are a lot of times in life when we are faced with things we just don’t want to face. I don’t know that any woman that I’m aware of wants to face breast cancer and certainly no man that I know of wants to face prostate cancer or for that matter any other cancers. I don’t want to limit it to those two.
But here in October we have the opportunity in this country to really focus attention on breast cancer awareness and to make a difference. I am so thankful for the many people that have spent their time, and energy, and money, and effort, and love into finding cures for cancer. My wife is with me today as a breast cancer survivor because of those very cures.
So, if there is something that we can do as human beings, here in the month of October, wear pink, make a contribution. It’s not just about the pink and being on the band wagon. It means doing something. Karen, you were so kind in providing us some tips, some very helpful tips as to things that we can do to support those people who are going through this phase of life and this journey that you and I both have been on.
Now, with that said, it sounds to me like it’s time to wrap up the show, Straight Talk Radio, and as you know, we talk about all kinds of things on the show. Karen, it’s been my honor to have you as a guest. For those of you that are listening to the show, you can go to karencortellreisman.com. Find out more about Karen and what she has to offer. I’m sure she’d be delighted to talk with you.
And for this week, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. Remember, every choice we make in life has a consequence, and as a wise man said to me, make those choices wisely. See you next week.
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