Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Kind of Generalist

A quote from "The Myth of the Generalist," a post by Tomasz Tunguz:

"The only meaningful definition of a “generalist” is a specialist who can relate his own small area to the universe of knowledge." --Peter Drucker

In other words, a generalist is someone has demonstrated learning one field, who has an open mind and who can articulate relationships between known domains and new ideas.

A team built of these types of people would be a great fit for a startup - smart, flexible thinkers who communicate well.

Startups bob and weave. They change architectures and products and markets and tactics. Startups need teams who can change the tires on the bus as it’s traveling at 60 mph; they need a team of MacGyvers, who combine a little bit of knowledge, a wad of gum(ption) from their pocket and some raw smarts to solve a problem. That’s my kind of generalist.

via The Myth of the Generalist | LinkedIn.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Inspiration Looks Like

This is what should appear when you look up the term "inspiration."

Watch Terri Wingham's short video to Sir Richard Branson, read about her brilliant #Delhi2013 program, and join the Mob For Good with a simple RT, a blog comment, a Facebook share, etc.

Working together we can help the A Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation send 12 cancer survivors to volunteer in India in February 2013. They are going to Delhi to serve on community projects and get to know local cancer patients.

Once their mission is accomplished, they will have had a tangible positive impact on the lives of others and, almost unwittingly, gained immeasurable personal healing as well.

Beyond that, they will have brought our vastly differing circumstances closer together and shed light on global cancer issues:  How can it be that women in Africa would rather get AIDS than cancer? How can it be that cancer patients in Vietnam must sleep on the street when receiving treatment at hospitals far from their homes?

I am so proud to know Terri and thank her for inspiring me. I hope she will inspire you too.

Here is my note to Sir Richard Branson in support of #Delhi2013. It's one of the many comments to Terri's blog post. I hope you'll add yours!

Thanks for reading.


* * *

To Sir Richard Branson,

It’s a No-Brainer: Virgin Airlines is the perfect company to sponsor the A Fresh Chapter Foundation’s maiden voyage. Visionary, cutting edge, social, driven, global, daring, walking the talk (in this case, dare I say Flying the talk!)…. these are just a few of the qualities you and Terri, and Virgin and her foundation share.

After a cancer diagnosis obliterated Terri’s life as she knew it, she fought back, not only to regain her health, but to explore the world, and, here’s what’s truly outstanding: to Give Back. She discovered for herself that there is no greater healing power than to care for others. She could have stopped there.

With that, however, she chose to empower fellow cancer survivors to understand this wisdom and put it into practice for themselves and those they will soon be serving on the other side of the world.

Starting with nothing, she has built a solid program, forged international alliances, recruited 12 outstanding cancer survivors, and organized all aspects of their mission to volunteer in Delhi, India in February 2013.

Her drive, genius, gigantic heart and brilliant mind led her to accomplish this in a very short time. All that remains for this mission to succeed is for Virgin to become our Official Airline.

I say “our” because amongst other things, I am a 3-time cancer survivor, a member of the weekly #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) Twitter chat, a recipient of an #ePatient Scholarship to #MedX — Stanford University’s Medicine X — and I am looking forward to volunteering with Terri and her foundation on future missions to Africa and South America.

I urge you to partner with us!

Thank you for your attention,


Liza Bernstein

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Healing Power of Yarn Tangles

I've been unraveling lots of yarn tangles these past three months -- literally, as I've been knitting and crocheting with fervor. It's also fitting because my life right now is behaving just like a huge mess of tangled, randomly and nerve-wrackingly intertwined threads of undisciplinable, knotted yarn. 

If you've ever tried to untangle a mess like this, you know the only way to succeed is to slow down, remove any and all attachment to the result, breathe deeply, relax your fingers and hands, breathe again, deeply, and again... And on and on until you and your hands accept the state of the yarn and gently feel their way through the mess.

You zone out, you become one with the yarn (yes, I know, the saying has become so trite, but its true meaning is profound), and over time, your fingers find their way through the tangles and knots. With gentle persistence, you somehow manage to unravel it all.

I started writing this post earlier this year -- in February, to be precise, the day after Rachel and Susan died. I left it mid-sentence and found it in my drafts box today.

It might do me some good to spend more time unraveling yarn... it's a great way to lick the Emotional Flooding Monster.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My ePatient Bio from Stanford Medicine X

This bio was published in the 
Stanford Medicine X 2012 ePatient eBook which 
details the genesis of the groundbreaking 
#ePatient Program and features the 
inspiring stories of my fellow ePatients.

In early 1994, when I was newly diagnosed with my first breast cancer, I was initiated as an ePatient via a pre-internet social network—people connecting with phones.

My oncologist put me in touch with a former patient and encouraged me to ask her about her story of surviving cancer. I’m certain she knew that this woman would not only inspire me, but share tips and connect me to resources that would help me on my way…which, of course, she did. That’s how I discovered Harold Benjamin’s book “From Victim to Victor,” and the then quasi-revolutionary concept of “Patient Active.” This approach, which my oncologist and her former patient modeled, clicked for me, and thus began my ePatient journey.

In October 2005, when I began the recovery process from my second breast cancer, I joined a support group moderated by my radiation oncologist and an oncology social worker. I discovered the power of sharing stories and information in a safe setting and found solace in my ability to help and inspire people by “just being there” as a 2x survivor.

In December 2010, when I was recovering from 18 months of chemotherapy and surgery for my third breast cancer, I followed my curiosity about new research at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, explored their website, and found the event’s Twitter hashtag: #sabcs.

I read the feed until I saw a statement that intrigued me, at which point I jumped in and asked a question. Next thing I knew, a real person from a real, top-notch cancer center took the time to answer me, and my first (of what has now become many) real Twitter conversation about health care began. Here’s that seminal tweet (I’m @itsthebunk):
@danafarber: @itsthebunk 1) Fear/denial; some women feel they don't want to know. 2) The recent guideline changes make things less clear-cut. #sabcs 12/09/2010
Those three crucial experiences, plus many more, are what led me to become an informal patient advocate. I can’t tell you how many cancer patients I’ve helped since 1994, through an amazingly organic process. Someone refers a friend…someone asks a question in a support group…my oncologist asks if I don’t mind talking to a new patient…

I’ve been through it all. Each of my cancers were primaries, each was caught early and treated aggressively. While utterly disrupting my life, each episode has also been an opportunity for knowledge and growth. I’ve refined my knowledge, learned new things about coping methods and how to really heal, and developed my own tricks of the trade.

I’m deeply passionate about helping others become well-informed, engaged patients because I know one simple thing: getting a serious disease is terrible, but you have choices for dealing with it. If you can become a partner in your own care, your journey will be easier, you will be able to find grace and come to peace with agonizing decisions, you will meet some amazing people on the way, and you will discover how much inner strength you never knew you had.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fatigue: A Quote

“She felt tired, the way she remembered feeling in the days after her stomach surgery: severely weakened, her mind and heart and all her bone marrow taken up with unseen things.”

–Peggy Payne, from “Sister India”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Susan Niebur and Pinterest

I just discovered that Susan Niebur and Pinterest were mutual fans. 

Known, admired and much loved on Twitter by the #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) community, Susan, aka @WhyMommy, was an extraordinary "ordinary" woman we recently lost to Metastatic Breast Cancer. The example she set is a source of inspiration and courage when my doubts about being "out" as a breast cancer survivor threaten to consume me, and I wish I had gotten the chance to get to know her better. 

The beauty of the internet is that her legacy remains, and I now have some additional pieces to add to the picture: her interview on the Pinterest blog, their tribute to her, and last but not least, her boards.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In The Middle Of The Night

“Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. 
The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake somebody else up, so that they can feel this way, too.”

― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid (via kerryquotesquotes)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Artists & Studios

I grew up tagging along with my mother as she interviewed artists all over the world and have always felt at home in an art studio. 

I work wherever I can, from my kitchen table to the couch to collective spaces (ceramics).... 

One of my greatest dreams will have come true when I have my own space in which to make wonderful things from scratch. 

Meanwhile, I've created this growing board on Pinterest to provide buckets of inspiration.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Few Choice Words: Bonnie Erbe & Komen

In her column, "Komen 'Race for the Cure' a Misnomer," Bonnie Erbe has articulated a few of the things that bother me so much about that organization: 
"But the "race for the cure" is a misnomer. After 30 years and literally billions of dollars collected in donations, there still is no cure for breast cancer nor is there one on the horizon."
"Then there's the bit about funding breast cancer research. In its last fiscal year, the foundation spent a paltry 20 percent of its almost $400 million take on research. To call its signature event "the race for the cure" is false advertising. It should more appropriately be called "the race to pay Susan G. Komen executives huge salaries and give them permanent sinecures," or something of that nature."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Goodbye Rachel and Susan

On Monday, 02/06/2012, the #BCSM community lost two wonderful women: Rachel Moro and Susan Niebur. In a twist of cruel and bitter irony, they died within hours of each other, on the very day we gather for our tweetchat. That evening's chat was no doubt some kind of online interaction history in the making, as we came together to honor them, grieve, and support each other. Here is some food for thought:

Both Rachel and Susan were brilliant writers, and their work is a must read for anyone interested in Breast Cancer. Susan's blog is Toddler Planet and on Twitter @whymommy. Rachel's blog is The Cancer Culture Chronicles and on Twitter: @ccchronicles.

ADDENDUM: Here is the link to the Transcript of the #BCSM Chat in Rachel and Susan's honor.

Return of the Fatigue Monster

I have been battling the Fatigue Monster for the past five days, and when he (FYI, I arbitrarily designated this Monster as a male of the species; it could just as easily have gone the other way) hits hard —he must have copped some serious roids lately—I get to feeling like I must have had me a good ole round of chemo, just without the nausea. 
If you’ve been there, this might sound familiar: every cell in your entire body hurts and aches, on top of which you could swear someone yoked you to an anvil when you weren’t looking, because walking has somehow been replaced by the excruciating dragging around of your now pathetic, humiliated self.
And, of course, nothing really helps you feel better fast enough, not Advil, not a nap, not a “walk,” not caffeine, not fresh organic food, green tea or mac ‘n cheese, not chocolate, not Western medicine, not Integrative or Complementary either, not yoga, not meditation, not anything. The Fatigue Monster has prevailed and you are now its lowly slave.
This becomes all the harder to bear when you are already two years out of chemo, and one year out of a couple of major surgeries: You feel like you should be so much better by now. And if you’re anything like me, you have always been a striver, a do-er, a putter of much pressure on yourself… a person whose will and tenacity had made it seem like you could get through all sorts of unusually harsh life-events and come back to The You You Thought You Knew—you know, the one with all that determination, energy, good cheer, and…. drumroll….. STAMINA. Aaaargh..
(January, 2012).

Twisted Path

I don't know why cancer hijacked my life three times.

I have pondered the question ad nauseam and on any given day can tell you that "there's a reason for everything," or that "%$@# happens" or both or neither.

I don't have a family history of cancer, I've always eaten on the healthier side (I actually liked broccoli as a kid) and have always been an active person. Ironically, each time I was diagnosed I was otherwise Healthy -- yes, definitely Captain Healthy with a capital H for emphasis.

And throughout these three episodes, the only thing that ever made me "sick" was the treatment to rid me of the lethal disease. That's one of the reasons why the term "hijacked" seems so appropriate.

Being sick, being a patient, spending hours and hours and hours in Doctors' offices, putting medication and chemicals in my system..... none of these things were ever on my radar or even on the most remote edges of any wishes, desires, dreams and/or plans I might have had for my life. The notion of a hand of cards makes some sense. I have been dealt some terrible ones.

It's complicated. I've had cancer three times--three primaries, i.e., each one brand new from scratch--but each time it was caught early. That's considered lucky.

But having a body that allowed tumors to form--that's not lucky. And having to go through treatment to remove it and prevent it from spreading, that's not lucky either. State of the art** treatment is still a brutal combination of Slash, Burn and Poison (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy), aka Torture. I consider it Barbaric.

Then again, being diagnosed early, having the most outstanding medical team, having access to treatment, that's lucky because it has now literally saved my life three times.

Surviving cancer as a young woman is lucky, but it's also "unlucky" because you have to live with the aftershocks and the uncertainty (will it come back?). And on and on it goes. As I said, it's complicated.

Having to stop your life to fight cancer--talk about a source of anger and frustration. But I know I have grown and learned and continue to do so because of it.

I know that the lessons are about things like acceptance, surrender, and the true meaning and purpose of inner strength amongst other Big Life Questions.

Cancer has been a catalyst for my examination of these concepts over the past 15 years, and I realize now that they have been in and around my consciousness for as long as I can remember.

I never wanted to be sick, but I have always wanted to understand life. What a twisted path.

--Thanksgiving, 2009: written about a month after my last round of chemo.

By The Way: I don't consider cancer to be a "gift," and I don't use the words "acceptance" and "surrender" lightly!

**I wrote this in 2009. Since then I have learned a lot about genetics and targeted treatments (such as Herceptin for the subset of Her2Neu positive breast cancers) that don't compromise your entire system, and the research that is being done in that area. I highly recommend the incredible Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddartha Mukherjee for a comprehensive history of cancer, the "War on Cancer" and great insight as to where research is headed.

The Shadow

Breast Cancer, like any other traumatic event, will not go very far out of its way to gift you with its very own brand of PTSD whether you like it or not.

A wise man I know calls one aspect of this "the shadow of cancer." As in, once you're done with treatment, you're never "really done," because you have no way of knowing if it will come back or if you'll get a brand new one, or .... not.

That is something you have to learn to manage, and 30 days of 24/7 ubiquitous pink can get in the way of that.

As a fellow traveler on the verge of tears said to me the other day, as we both left the oncology office, "I'm just trying to live my life, and everywhere I go, it's PINK."

This brave woman is in great health. She's 3 years out from her battle with BC, but that relentless shadow still terrifies her. (October, 2010)