Two great daughters of Texas, two great friends, and two irreplaceable inspirations to women (and men) have passed away. Ann Richards, the former Governor of Texas, with her contageous smile, delightful banter, and larger than life persona, died of esophageal cancer on September 13, 2006. Less than five months later on January 31, 2007, Richards' dear friend, the insightful, brilliant and fabulously witty syndicated columnist, Molly Ivins, lost her valiant battle with breast cancer for the third and final time. Both were too young and seemingly much too mighty to go. Yet in their deaths, as in their lives, they continue to inform us. They bring us the message that if those so mighty can be struck down, the rest of us had better take heed. We must recognize the signs of illness. Do our best to protect ourselves. And work hard to ensure that ALL people have the healthcare to defend against disease.
Tributes to Molly Ivins continue to pour in. As well they should. Molly Ivins set a standard for journalistic skill, independence and bravery that won't easily be matched. Nor will the personal valor with which she openly battled her illness. The valor I witnessed first hand this past August while attending the Codepink Women's Retreat at the Crossings in Austin, Texas.
Molly Ivins was a featured speaker at the Retreat. Yet as ill as she was, she made certain to fulfill her commitment. Few of us knew how sick Molly was until we saw her that weekend. The ravages of her disease were apparent. She'd lost her hair, her skin was jaundiced, and her body was concave. She moved slowly, but with grace. She made ready eye contact, was kind, welcoming, and decidedly more jovial than the average person in so delicate a state.
I was awed by the openness with which Molly battled her disease. Molly Ivins taught a critical lesson to every woman at that Retreat. She provided a true-life example of the gravity of breast cancer. An unspoken but glaring message to take heed and do all you can to prevent this from happening to you. A generous, selfless gift to mostly strangers, whose principal bond was womanhood, and a shared vulnerability to the same disease.
As Molly Ivins wrote in her February, 2000 column regarding her first bout with breast cancer, "On a personal note: I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I intend to recover. I don't need get-well cards, but I would like the beloved women readers to do something for me: Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done.
This past August in Austin, Molly delivered that very same message to the women at the Retreat. But this time it wasn't written. Or spoken. It was visual. What grace Molly Ivins had!! What selfless generosity.
That weekend I had the pleasure to lunch with Molly's longtime friend and assistant, Betsy Moon, who told me Molly had informed her doctors of her plan to visit the Grand Canyon. Illness and all. Molly Ivins was a force of nature. And when she took the stage at the Retreat, she commanded it with characteristic charm and unrivaled wit. No self-pity. No sadness. Just astonishing courage and class.
Thank you, Molly. I hope you made it to the Grand Canyon. And we promise we will "Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammorgam. Done."!!
And while we're at it, let's push for single-payer health care so ALL women... ALL people... have the tools to defend against disease.
And while we're still at it, let's allow the great Ann Richards to continue to help us just like she always did.
Before succumbing to cancer, Governor Richards embarked on a crusade to educate women about osteoporosis. She'd been diagnosed with the condition and was determined to beat it. She'd even written a book about it, called "I'm Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle With Osteoporosis."
Now, if Governor Richards trekked clear across the nation to educate us on our bones, let's get educated! Let's learn about osteoporosis. And beyond that, let's learn about the illness that ultimately took her life. Esophageal cancer. I believe to my core Ann Richards would want us to do so. And not a moment too soon!
According to a recent medical study, "the incidence of adenocarcinoma and deaths from esophageal cancer have been increasing steadily in the U.S. and western Europe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which acid refluxes from the stomach into the esophagus (known primarily for causing heartburn) is a condition that afflicts 20% of the populations of the U.S. and western Europe." (see here)
All over the tube, drug companies are pushing over-the-counter and prescription drugs to combat acid reflux and indigestion. But taking over the counter drugs for chronic heartburn can sometimes mask the symptoms of increased esophageal problems. I'm no doctor. And I don't want to sound like a medical commercial, or employ Bush/Cheney fear tactics. But I look at it this way: I'd rather put the doctors to work than enrich the drug companies any day. So if you're lucky enough to have health coverage, and you have symptoms that cause you concern, go get checked. It's possible an endoscopy might give you the info that could possibly save your life.
Ann Richards and Molly Ivins worked hard to enrich our lives. They set examples for us to follow. Let's allow them to continue their work. Let's honor their legacies by honoring ourselves. I'm certain that's what they would want.
Photo by Maggie Freilich