Celebrating Three Years (and Ways to Help a Friend with Breast Cancer)

3 YearsToday is my anniversary: three years in remission from breast cancer.

Hooray! 🎉

If you follow me here or on social media, you've seen that I've had an amazing year full of travel and adventure. I am so fortunate to have had these experiences, and as I've said in years past, the Thanksgiving holiday has special meaning for me now.

Sadly, the breast cancer war is still waged all around us; you likely know someone who has been impacted by it. Over the years, countless people have asked for my advice on how to help a friend or loved one who is facing breast cancer treatment, and I repeatedly forward an email with the below information that I crafted soon after my own fight. I decided to publish it here, as a point of reference for the next person who might find it valuable.  Everyone's situation is different, but these are some of the things that made my own journey more tolerable. Perhaps they'll benefit someone in your life, too.

Flowers and Cards.

FlowersCliché? Maybe. But a colorful bouquet and hand-written note can really lift one's spirits. Especially during the long months of treatment, after the initial shock of diagnosis has passed and you are just trying to get through, day by day. One dear friend even sent a small lemon tree to my home. Beautiful, living things can impart a healing energy when you need it most.


DogearedThere are a lot of pretty, cause-related jewelry options that provide hope as well as a daily reminder that someone was (is) thinking of you. Two lines that I like: Dogeared Make A Wish bracelets on Irish linen, and Bravelets Breast Cancer Awareness jewelry ($10 from each purchase is donated to the cause).

Reading Materials.

Whether to pass the time during long hospital waits, inspire or educate on breast health, or simply distract from heavier thoughts Booksand worries, reading materials of all kinds can be a welcome diversion. I received and stocked up on my share of guilty pleasure magazines (hellooo, US Weekly), light-hearted books, and one serious medical tome in the form of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book - not for the faint of heart but widely considered the Bible for the newly diagnosed (and utterly fascinating reading). Some of my friends put movies (DVDs) in my care packages and they were great - I'm a huge reader, but there were days when my eyes hurt or I just couldn't focus on text and zoning out in front of the TV was perfect.


Gift basketYou can't go wrong by offering to cook a meal or pick up groceries. Everyone needs to eat! And having someone else pick up/prepare it for you is a welcome treat. Just remember: if your friend is undergoing chemotherapy, s/he may very well suffer food intolerance and nausea. I ate mostly bland things during this time: oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, chicken soup, smoothies. With the occasional burger or steak thrown in when my red blood count was low. 

Head Coverings.

HeadcoverChemotherapy often leads to hair loss, and pretty head coverings come in handy not only for aesthetic reasons but for practical ones, too - bald heads get cold! Pretty knit or felt caps and cotton scarves are the perfect accessory. Avoid any rough/itchy material which can aggravate delicate skin, and silk which can easily slide off. I found some good scarf options at Headcovers.com but you can also find knit caps and square scarves at regular retail stores.

Skin & Nail Care Products.
Chemo makes your skin insanely dry and delicate, so you go through a lot of moisturizer. Near the end of treatment I was using a heavier, medicated balm on my feet (Carmex, with socks) - it was the only thing that kept them comfortable. Chemo can also really damage your nails, causing them to yellow and break. So, rich lotions and pretty nail polishes lifted my spirits and my appearance :)
Cre-C Shampoo.
Cre-c shampooLike skin and nails (and other areas of the body that have high cell turnover, like inside your mouth - see below), chemo damages your hair, causing it to fall out. A friend turned me on to this Cre-C Max herbal shampoo from Mexico (also available on Amazon.com) that is designed to stimulate hair (re)growth. I used it regularly in the weeks and months after treatment and I think it works!
Oral Care Products.
Chemo is tough on the delicate tissue in your mouth, often causing sores that make regular, alcohol-based mouth products unbearable. Fortunately, there are products geared towards people with "dry mouth" that work well. I used Biotene toothpaste, mouthwash and gel to keep my teeth and mouth healthy; it's available at most major drug and grocery stores. And for those suffering with mouth sores...popsicles help!
Natural Tears.
I had a lot of eye problems. The chemo dries out your eyes and then they over produce tears in an effort to moisturize themselves. There were days when I had tears streaming down my face and couldn't keep my eyes open because they were burning. But if you put a few eye drops in every few hours it keeps them in check.
Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements are really good to take while your immune system is suppressed, as it helps you fight off infection and helps strengthen bones (but definitely clear it with your doctor first).
Recovery Garments.
HealincomfortAs if surgery isn't bad enough, you're sent home with these God-awful surgical drains to remove fluids from the wound. Without going into the gory details, they are long tubes attached to your side that must be supported so that they don't fall (or get pulled) out. After my mastectomy, the care team at MGH sent me home in a Jacki All Star Shirt, which not only has multiple pockets to support the drains, but also a snap-front closure for ease of dressing (you can't lift your arms over your head after this kind of surgery), and Velcro sides so that nurses can easily check the drains on subsequent visits. Another nice option, which I purchased for a friend recently, is the Heal In Comfort Recovery Kit. It includes a shirt similar to the Jacki, plus a wrap-around drain pouch and shower lanyard. While these items aren't as fun and glamorous as jewelry or flowers, they are incredibly helpful (and comfortable) for those that undergo surgery.
HopeAgain, everyone's situation is different (and much of this is geared toward people who must go the chemo/radiation route), but these are some ideas to show your support. But really, the biggest thing you can do for someone diagnosed with breast cancer is to be a source of positivity and hope.

Hemingway's La Finca Vigia

I'm gearing up for another trip (more on that later) and I still haven't posted everything from my last trip! Here's another wonderful memory from Cuba...

Ernest Hemingway had a long and storied relationship with the island. He first arrived in 1932 for the marlin fishing, and rented room #511 the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana until 1939. This is where he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In 1940, he used the royalties from that book to purchase Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), a quiet villa in San Francisco de Paula about fifteen miles east of Havana.  He shared it with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (with whom he worked as a journalist reporting on the Spanish Civil War - the subject of the book); she was very impressive in her own right - this is a great book about her. He later shared it with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh

Hemingway lived and worked here for over 20 years, writing Islands in the Stream, Across the River and into the Trees, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and the Sea. When news of his suicide back in the US reached Cuba in 1962, the property was turned into a museum (whether taken by the Cuban revolutionary government or gifted to the people of Cuba by Mary Welsh is a subject of debate), complete with much of his original furniture, artwork, and personal memorabilia. 

Today, the restored home and grounds look much like they did when occupied by the famous author, with one exception: when visitors reach the end of the long, secluded driveway they are greeted with tourist amenities like fresh pressed pineapple juice and a Cuban band:

Pineapple juice


But leaving the driveway behind and heading up to the main house is like stepping back in time to a white washed villa so full of personal artifacts and period pieces that you half expect to hear Papa Hemingway hammering away at his typewriter behind one of the heavy wooden desks inside.

Main house


Visitors cannot enter the house; instead, you follow along the outside walls where most of the windows are open (no screens), allowing great visibility into each room. And a little black dog who had dug a hole near the foundation in which to escape from the midday heat:


Every room is adorned with hunting trophies from Hemingway's African safaris:

Living room

  Front hall



Sitting room


And the books! There are over nine thousand of them in his personal collection here; I would have loved to have gotten closer to investigate.









The furniture, tile floors and art are exquisite; besides personal photos and several Spanish tapestries depicting bullfights, there is also this ceramic plate by his friend Pablo Picasso:


And on a wall in the bathroom, hidden behind the door, you can see where Hemingway diligently recorded his weight every day...ranging from 200 lbs. to a high of about 240 lbs.



Also in the bathroom, a dead lizard sits in a glass jar of formaldehyde. The story goes that one of Hemingway's many cats got a hold of this fellow, and the lizard put up a fight to the end. Amazed by the lizard’s bravery, Hemingway decided to preserve it as a tribute to courage and dignity.


Alongside the main house is a tower, originally conceived as a writing retreat, although Hemingway preferred to work in his bedroom.


Here is a vintage shot of Hemingway on the steps:


And the main room inside the tower...


...which provides sweeping views of Havana:


Back on ground level, there is a small patio and trellis, with a long, winding path leading down to the pool area.




Garden path

The grounds are lush with flowers and ancient trees:



And at the far end of the property sits Hemingway's pool, where Ava Gardner went skinny dipping back in the day, after which Hemingway ordered his staff never to empty the water 😋


A small pool house serves as an art gallery full of personal photos of Hemingway and his celebrity friends.


Out back sits a pet cemetery (!).  Hemingway had ~50 cats in his lifetime (!) and some of them are resting here.

Pet cemetery

But the pièce de résistance is Hemingway's fishing boat, the Pilar. Besides using it for fishing in the Florida Keys, during WWII he used the Pilar to patrol the waters north of Cuba on the lookout for Nazi submarines that might attack sugar ships headed for the Allies.



The boat - and the entire property - is a fantastic piece of history, well worth a visit if you are ever in Havana.

My New Custom Chucks

I have a fun new purchase to share. But first, an anecdote.

You may recall that I took a design tour of Milan last year. While packing for the trip, I decided to wear my trusty old Converse low-tops on the flight for comfort, thinking that I'd leave them in the hotel closet for the duration of my stay. Milan, after all, is one of the top fashion capitals of the world and I'd heard that Milanese women wear stilettos everywhere...even on bicycles (since confirmed).

But what I didn't know then is this: when Milanese women are not wearing stilettos, they are wearing Converse All Stars! I'm telling you, these iconic American sneakers were everywhere in Milan. It seemed like every 3rd person on the sidewalk (women and men alike) was wearing them.

Billboards promoted them:

Converse Billboard

Store fronts featured them (and knock-offs):

Milan Shop Window

And mine ended up getting a pretty good tour of the town...to meet designer Antonio Marras...

Antonio Marras

...and tour his gorgeous studio...

Antonio Marras2

...to relax on the roof deck at 10 Corso Como...

10 Corso Como

..and lounge in my room at the Chateau Monfort.

Chateau Monfort

Interestingly, I even wore them to tour Missoni headquarters and was delighted to learn when I returned home that Converse had teamed up with Missoni to launch six new designs featuring their famous chevron print.


But the most exciting thing was when Converse - which was founded in nearby Malden, MA, and spent its most recent history in North Andover, MA (not far from my childhood home) - moved its worldwide headquarters to Lovejoy Wharf in Boston's North End (about a half mile from my current home).


The building houses about 500 employees, as well as Rubber Tracks (a community-based professional recording studio), and a 3500 square foot retail store on the ground level. Converse CEO Jim Calhoun even popped in to check on things while we were there (I hear his office is on the glass-encased top-floor of the building, which was a new addition that must afford spectacular 360-degree views of the city). Check out the fun lights in the lobby of the office building:

Converse Lobby

At the back of the retail store is the Blank Canvas workshop, where shoppers can customize their kicks, including choice of colors, materials, rubber toe caps, grommets, laces, and images - either from an assortment of ones in the Converse database (they have lots of fun Boston-themed images), or one you upload yourself (assuming you have copyright).

Which brings me to the real subject of this post, my sweet new customized Chuck Taylors:

Lulu Chucks

Because they're from the Boston store, they have the city designation inside, and a red strip along the bottom representing the Freedom Trail.

Converse Boston

How cool is that? The ability to not only customize but really personalize the shoe - and to do it so quickly (often same-day, mine took a couple of days due to backlog) - is awesome. Bravo, Converse.

I'll see you around the Wharf.

Lulu Chucks2


Living Well

It has been a big media week for me!

First off, I had an article published in Communication World Magazine: 5 Ways to Make Your Mobile Marketing Work Harder. That was obviously on the work front; thanks to our PR agency Denterlein for lining up the opportunity.

Karen and StephanieOn the personal front...I made my television debut! My friend Karen Fabian (pictured with me at left) has launched a fantastic new program on the Boston Neighborhood Network called Living Well. In it, she's putting her 25 years of healthcare and healthy living experience to work in order to bring the people of Boston (and beyond) information and inspiration for better health.

The first show airs tomorrow (Friday, June 5th) and the series will have segments on various topics including nutrition, stretching, meditation, technology and health, inspirational stories and activities and actions we can all take to stay healthy. While Karen will present various segments, guests will include teachers, physicians, nutritionists, community leaders, researchers, business leaders, yoga teachers, coaches and others making an impact in the health and wellness industry.

I was so honored to be included in the premiere episode of Living Well, on which Karen asked me to share a bit about my experience with breast cancer


Behind the ScenesIt was so fun to watch the taping of the entire show, including segments with:

Jose Masso, Director of Active Living and Wellness for the City of Boston (pictured above and at right with Karen) discussing the HealthyBoston/ #BostonMoves initiatives;

Yoga instructor Victoria Smith demonstrating stretches for the back; and

Yoga instructor Barrett Reinhorn sharing information on having a healthy pregnancy

Karen also launched a Living Well Twitter Challenge to get at-home viewers involved; simply use the hashtag  ‪#‎livingwellbnn‬ to share your ideas for living well, follow show updates, and/or pose questions for Karen or her guests.

The show will air Fridays at 7am on the Boston Neighborhood Network (Channel 9 Comcast or Channel 15 RCN for viewers in Boston) and via live streaming for those outside of Boston at bnntv.org/tunein.

It will also be available on the BNN YouTube channel, as well as Karen's Bare Bones Yoga channel for on-demand viewing, any time!


And before I sign off, I have to comment on the building that houses the Boston Neighborhood Network - the former MBTA Power Station in Egleston Square, which BNN purchased in 2005 and rehabilitated into a state-of-the-art media center that opened in 2007. They did a marvelous job maintaining the soaring arched windows, iron beams, and old pulley systems inside.














The mission and vision of BNN itself is also worth a read; it's a wonderful resource for the city of Boston. I hope you'll tune in.



Cocotaxi - Part 2

A very full life has kept me from the blog lately, but there are many more pictures and stories from Cuba that I'd like to share...so here goes:

Picking up from where we left off - my Cocotaxi tour along the Malecon - I had the driver loop around Old Havana and take me back to the hotel via an inland route, in order to see more of the city. And there is so much to see! I feel like I only scratched the surface, but what a fascinating surface it was...

Colonial style architecture:

Along the Malecon

Monuments to war heroes. This one is of General Maximo Gomez, commander of the military in Cuba's War of Independence from Spain (1895–1898):

General Maximo Gomez

A quaint Ferris wheel in Old Town:

Ferris Wheel

The ubiquitous revolutionary street art:

Street art

Museo Nacional de la Música/The National Music Museum. Built in 1905, this was originally home to a wealthy merchant and later transformed into a museum celebrating the history of Cuban music from the 16th to the 20th century. Look at that detail!

Museo Nacional de la Música

Museo de la Revolución. The former Presidential Palace (1913-1959) decorated by Tiffany & Co. out of New York, and boasting a Room of Mirrors modeled after France's Palace of Versailles. It was converted to a museum in the years following the Revolution, and that's an SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer parked out front (behind the white van):

Museo de la Revolución

The Granma Memorial sits across from the museum, and houses the yacht that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 with the goal of overthrowing Fulgencio Batista. The memorial is also surrounded by other various vehicles and tanks, including the engine of the a U.S. U-2 spy plane shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Granma Memorial

 More classic cars! know I've already shared tons of photos on this front, but they are so beautiful!

Cars in Old Havana

Cars in Centro Havana

More heroes of the Revolution:

Heroes of the Revolution

The emblem of the Young Communist League: "Study, Work, Rifle"

Young Communist League

Gran Teatro de La Habana/"Great Theater of Havana" - a theater, concert hall, art gallery, choral center, and home to the Cuban National Ballet. While the original building dates back to 1837, it's current incarnation is the result of a remodel in 1907 and includes wonderful sculptures by Giuseppe Moretti, representing allegories of benevolence, education, music and theater. Gorgeous!

Gran Teatro de La Habana

El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building in Havana, was the seat of government until the Revolution in 1959. Its design borrows heavily from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and it now houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences:

El Capitolio

El Floridita is a historic restaurant in Havana dating back to 1817 and later frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his stay in Cuba. Its bartenders were known for their cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum, leading to the popularization of the daiquiri (two versions in particular: the Daiquiri Floridita with maraschino liqueur, and the Hemingway daiquiri – or papa doble – with two and a half jiggers of white rum, juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, six drops of maraschino liqueur, no sugar). Unfortunately the restaurant wasn't yet open for the day and I didn't get to go inside (where there is apparently a lot of memorabilia on the walls); another reason to go back!

El Floridita

Moving further inland into Centro Habana, the urban landscape becomes much more congested and the glorious old buildings begin to lose their luster:

Centro Habana

Centro Habana2

But there's some cool street art:



And you can still see how beautiful this area must have been in its heyday:

Centro Habana3

  Cuban woman

Havana really is such an interesting place; I wish I had more time to explore its streets and hear its stories.

Next up, we'll visit Ernest Hemingway's home just outside of the city.