First Words — 11 October 2013
Caring afar for someone with breast cancer

By Mark Gauert

I get the news standing up; but soon I feel like sitting down.

“I was just diagnosed with breast cancer,” my sister writes, “and will have to have surgery.”

We joke in my family that my sister and I do not talk. We email, we text, we post.

Now, I feel like talking.

I call her number in Arizona but, as usual, the phone goes to voice mail. My sister is hard to reach by phone. Just like her brother.

I look back at the news still glowing on the screen in my hand.

“I have been told that this is the ‘good’ type of cancer to have,’’ she writes, “and I am in the very early stage. Please don’t worry about me. I am doing OK, just a little shocked.’’

Just like her brother.

When we were kids, my sister lived about six steps away in a bedroom near mine. Now, there are about six steps between me and the car. Then 30 miles to the county line. Then another 700 miles to the state line. Then just Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico between me and Arizona.

My sister lives six steps – and six states – away now.

We are so far from everywhere here in the cul de sac of Florida. The distance can be a blessing, of course – especially when winter deep-freezes half the country, and we send our citrus to the snowbound, and they end up at our doors.

But now, the great distance seems like a curse. How many of us are separated here from our friends and families – not just by distance but responsibilities at home and work – just when they could use our help?

I look back at the screen in my hand, and wish I were closer now.

“It is stressful, and shocking,” I write back, “but we have a good friend here who went through it, and is fine now. That’s the outcome you should focus on.’’

It’s the best I can do, 2,338.7 miles away.

“Thanks for your support,’’ she writes. “I truly appreciate it”

Over the next few weeks, I follow her progress – in the patient company of her devoted husband and two sons.

“I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m going for the Angelina,” she writes.

How fast, I think, that expression has entered the vocabulary, describing a preventative mastectomy.

“You’ll be fine,’’ I write, “Angelina will be in excellent company.’’

My friend Tammy Gail, breast cancer survivor and true Force of Nature, is especially inspirational to me now. As she has been to so many here in South Florida. She is the force behind the Glam Doll Strut, which she puts on each October in downtown Fort Lauderdale to fight breast cancer.

“Your sister is in the same boat as me,’’ Tammy says, “I celebrate 10 years of survival this year. Still thriving and stirring the pot.”

It’s what I need to hear. But how can I convey that to my sister?

“Just stay very positive,’’ she says. “It helps more than you know.”

I am standing up when I get the news a few weeks later. I don’t need to sit down this time.

“The surgery went well,’’ my brother-in-law writes. “Funny thing is, Vicodin gives her a North Dakota accent.’’

North Dakota? Oh, great, I think. Another state away.

“Thank you for the beautiful flowers,’’ my sister writes, a few days later. “I am not quite sure what day it is, but otherwise I am recovering.”

It is the good news I was waiting to hear. Or read.

It makes me want to stand up – this time with Tammy Gail 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 13 at Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the Glam Doll Strut, her wildly entertaining event that raises funds for local breast cancer initiatives.

We may still be far from people we love, even further from a cure for cancer.

But maybe this brings us closer.

 Photo above: My sister and I, back when we lived six steps away.

Editor’s note: Glam-A-THON’s Lipstick Lounge kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday (Oct. 4) at a new location, the 15,000-square-foot Passion Nightclub at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.. Admission is $45 and includes a swag bag. The event is the lead-up to the Glam Doll Strut, which has been moved this year to a Sunday for the first time. Slated for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 13 at Esplanade Park in Fort Lauderdale, the event features numerous teams raising money for breast cancer patients and competing for awards, given to top fundraisers and to the most outrageous costumes. The registration fee for the Strut is $45. For information on all the events, see

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