The 'Gift of Giving'

I began writing this blog almost two weeks ago in hopes of getting it published before the holidays. But I was sidetracked once again by my cancer. It decided I needed to go to the hospital, and there I was for the past four days. There's no way I could have written this from my hospital bed under the influence of all the pain medication. But thank God, I'm out now, and I hope this makes it under the wire?

My subject is giving. In this season of running around and scurrying to find the right gifts, we perhaps lose sight of many things -- especially unusual gifts one might never think of.

For some like myself, the greatest gift would be a cure, a cure for all suffering from cancer and ALL diseases!

In my humble opinion, this season of giving should not just be aroused in December. As human beings we have an obligation and responsibility toward one another. And these obligations and responsibilities should be implemented ALL year round, not only this month of great celebration.

The following are gifts available ALL year and are not wrapped in lovely paper and bows. To me, these are deemed as truest of gifts. Some are tangible and some are offered to the mind, body and spirit from those of us who exemplify selflessness, kindness and love.

This past year I have discovered some new and exciting organizations and individuals that should be commended for their "gifts of giving" to our cancer community.

The California Mushroom Farm in Ventura, Calif., together with the Mushroom Council, has provided $50,000 to City of Hope's research on mushrooms' cancer-fighting potential. I spoke with Jeff Nichol at the farm in Ventura. He said, "There is definitely a new interest in the brown mushroom family -- portabella, cremini and shitaki." I wonder if these hard-working farmers could afford this generous donation? Nevertheless, the California Mushroom Farm gladly gave. Please keep buying those "rooms!"

And here's an organization that started from one woman's fight with this disease and led to a paradise in Hawaii for cancer patients. Through her own adversities, Karin Cooke, RN, caregiver to her husband who had a long family history of cancer and cancer patient herself, through all her anger, had a vision. As a young nurse in Portland, she hadn't a clue this would become her passion. With lots of studying on healing therapy research and personal cancer experience, Karin would go on to co found KoKolulu Farm and Cancer Retreat.

A year after her husband's death from cancer, she met Lew Whitney, a certified Shen Han Qigong monk (it's a 4,000 year-old Chinese discipline), who shared her passion for letting anger go and letting healing replace it. Karin had battled pent-up anger after her own cancer diagnosis and the subsequent frustrations with inferior doctors. She and Mr. Whitney studied various healing techniques together and made many trips to China. Qigong is a meditative, healing, and spiritual practice that, among other eastern healing concepts, that she would later employ at the KoKolulu Farm.

After many trials and tribulations, Karin often sought solace in the woods near her home in Oregon. She took charge of her own emotions and moved forward leaving the anger behind.

Eventually Karin and Lew Whitney married and created their own retreat in a lush Hawaiian landscape suitable for growing their own healthy foods from the fertile land. Kokolulu Farm and Cancer Retreats became a reality as a 501c3 non-profit organization. The name Kokolulu was affectionately chosen from Karin and Lew's nicknames and came to mean "calm blood" in Hawaiian.

Kokolulu is a glorious stop-over for patients like myself -- a peaceful setting with an emphasis on healing and empowerment and a respite from the complicated medical arena imposed on cancer patients. It's a quiet, serene place "far from the madding crowd." The natural treasures found at KoKolulu such as the velvety Hawaiian air, the ocean views, the plush rain forests are in abundance.

Karin feels this is her "Kuliana." In Hawaiian that means her responsibility, her passion to share with others her life experiences. "What use is this amassed wisdom if not to be shared." Karin says. She contends, "It's what's life's about, it gives a sense of purpose." And I concur. We all need to have purpose in this life! I am looking forward to visiting my new friends Karin and Lew at Kokolulu.

Now on to a pediatric ward at UCLA. The Who front-man Roger Daltrey is chatting with some teens being treated for cancer there. Daltrey and his Who band-mate Pete Townsend are opening a 5,290 sq. ft. cancer center just for teens. The funding is largely from their charity called Who Cares ( "I have loads of kids," says Daltrey, the father of eight. "I know all too well, teens are neither children nor adults."

The new UCLA Daltrey-Townsend Teen and Young Adult Cancer Program will be modeled after 17 other centers opened by the Who. This center features an entertainment lounge and six adjacent bedrooms to house residents aged13-25. "You put the shy kids with other teens going through this," he says, "and in minutes they open up like floodgates of a dam... And they can cook and watch MTV all night."

Daltrey has lost his share of loved ones to cancer and had a precancerous growth removed from his throat in 2009. He focuses on young people because they were the Who's core fans when the band first began. He stays in close contact with some of them and even shares tearful hours comforting their parents. Explains Daltrey, "They hold us all up to what our potential should be... so until these centers are all over the world, I'll keep going."

Yet another selfless human being helping defeat cancer is Martin Mahkovtz out of Peoria, Ariz. He is the owner and genius behind (a non-profit organization). I had the opportunity to speak extensively with Martin several weeks ago to find out about HIS passion of giving. He feels giving laptops to pre-teen and teens ages 3-17 is a way of letting kids be kids again and giving them a diversion from their illness.

These laptops and also some desktops are especially tailored by placing a custom interface with that child in mind, i.e., music, games, surfing, educational, etc. This enables kids to stay connected to friends and family while in treatment. The laptops are free upon request to all children fighting cancer. Martin says, "It really is, and forever will be, always about the children!" I'd say this would be a wonderful place to send all your worn-out laptops. What a wonderful idea to cheer the children with cancer.

Here's another gift-giver to share with you. In 1997, Sona Mehring's close friend suffered a very sad loss of a child. Out of this Sona's website was created, CaringBridge is a free personal website that helps keep loved ones informed during a significant health challenge. It connects a patient's entire community, it creates a network of support for all involved. Everyone is on the same page with the same accurate information; no need for endless phone calls or e-mails.

The free website includes patient care, journaling, a guestbook, a photo gallery and music. It's a meaningful way to help family and friends during life-changing events such as cancer. "Tell someone about CaringBridge today, even if they don't need it just now," Sona says.

And now for my most personal, close to my heart gift-givers of all,, a non-profit organization. From tragedy to triumph, Pete Bevin, the webmaster, keeps the fire burning on our site as we remember dear Menya. Menya Wolfe, Pete's first wife was the creator of the first list back in Feb of 2000, with just 47 people to start. She was diagnosed in 1996 with IBC, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. This eventually METastasized to her brain, thus the term we all now know on the list as "BCMETS."

Sadly, Menya died on Feb. 13, 2001 after five years of her battle with the disease. Her memorial service was held March 4, 2001 and over 300 people attended. Menya was just 36 years-old.

Almost 12 years later Pete Bevin, "curator" for our beloved site, keeps it going for us with donations from his flock on the list and some outside donors. Without Pete carrying on this list for us, none of us would have ever found each other. We have lost so many over these last 11 years, and my heart breaks as so many keep joining. We consider ourselves exclusive, exclusive to "METS" and we always say... "Welcome to BCMETS, the club no one really wants to join."

I know deep inside Menya is proud -- proud of Pete and proud of her sisters and brothers continuing the battle she left behind! Thank you dear Menya, thank you dear Pete!
I truly believe, Pete is the "Shepard" keeping watch over Menya's "flock"?

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and whatever your celebrations may be, may they be happy ones.

At this time I would also like to give honorable mention to my co-editors for their "giving"... Linda L. Batchelor-Ballew, Camille Blinstrub, Janel Landon.

Until next time,