From The SCAR Project

#WWBD? Day

It’s the night before my birthday. I’ve been feeling all the feels about getting to have another birthday, another road-trip around the sun, all day today. This one will be my 52nd. But I’d like to take 5 before I hit the gas, hit the road, chase the sunset. Cuz ever since 3 years ago today, on another day before my birthday, I got other feels that I just gotta repect. Feels that make me feel like taking a knee, to remember, to honor, my friend/doppelganger/breast cancer sister/fellow aerodynamic runner/SCAR girl Barbie Ritzco aka Marathon Barbie aka Gunnery Sergeant Barbara Ritzco, USMC.

I don’t know if she’s resting in peace or not cuz I imagine the SCAR girl reunion in heaven is still a bit lit since Barbie got there 3 years ago today. Still. Damn, I miss her like hell down here. And even though she’s still with me in spirit… or maybe it’s phantom pain, like sometimes how I feel something in my boobs that aren’t there anymore. The price of love. The proof. Of love. A beauty mark that she was here. Etched in me. Like a #WWBD? carved into, our outta, my soul. Maybe that old saying “you can’t take anything with you” is #fakenews. Cuz it sure feels like she took a part of me with her. I like that thought. The beauty mark she left on me, was also a piece of me she took with her. #partinggifts

So #WWBD? What. Would. Barbie. Do? That is the question I ruminate today, the day before my birthday, as I remember her.

Last month, I was happy, honored, and humbled to help bring David Jay’s Unknown Soldier Project to Cincinnati. One of the superpower most special parts of this exhibit, for me, besides getting the old SCAR Cincy crew together, was seeing my friend Barbie’s SCAR portrait on exhibit with The Unknown Soldier Project for the first time. Though to me, it felt more like: Finally.

On the surface, Gunnery Sergeant Barbara Ritzco’s portrait might seem to be a rather “unusual deployment” in The Unknown Soldier exhibition. Her amputation is not like the other amputations in the exhibit. Her IED was breast cancer to the chest. Her amputation was the collateral damage. Her battle with breast cancer was her unusual deployment, and one she would always say was the hardest one because it took her away from the men who served under her. Reluctantly, though, as she watched the lump grow on her chest, trying to will it away so as not to leave her brothers behind. And in the end, she laid down her life for her brothers all the same. Barbie died a couple weeks before her 40th birthday. She died planning her 20th year retirement party (with her sister who had enlisted with her). Which ended up being her sister’s retirement party and Barbie’s celebration of life. And we are proud to see her The SCAR Project portrait rightfully in this band of brothers and sisters. The following is Barbie’s The SCAR Project bio, in her own words, written shortly after her diagnosis at 36.

“Training didn’t prepare me. A weapon, a FLAK jacket and a Kevlar helmet didn’t protect from THIS enemy. 18 years active duty.  Two combat deployments. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Breast Cancer, after only four months in Afghanistan.

Perseverance, endurance, determination. Things that have been taught to me and instilled in me. Giving up or giving in is not an option. I have skydived, surfed, swam, cycled and completed about 15 Marathons since my diagnosis.

I didn’t set out to accomplish all these things with any real purpose.  I needed to remain active for my own sanity and dignity. Adapt and overcome. I am adapting to my new life with Breast Cancer and using it as my motivation to keep moving forward. I have been led, unarmed, to a different battlefield, in a different fight, one that is uncertain, unpredicted, and currently undefeated.

I am not going to ever get over Breast Cancer or move past it. I will live with it for the rest of my life. Remission is not a cure. I don’t believe people actually “see” Breast Cancer. They hear about it but they don’t listen. It is a terrible thing that happens to everyone else but could never happen to them. Everyone needs to understand and visually see the realness of this disease. Breast Cancer takes no prisoners. It can take anyone at any time.

The SCAR Project has allowed me to uniquely express myself and showcase how Breast Cancer has broken me down and stripped me of every feminine indicator yet I fight, unprotected, unarmed, and unwavering… but most importantly, unashamed.”

Click HERE to read Barbie’s SCAR story in her own words on The SCAR Project Blog.

Click HERE to see footage of Barbie sharing her SCAR story at The SCAR Toronto Exhibition in 2014.

Click HERE to see footage of Barbie’s SCAR portrait hanging with her band of brothers at The Unknown Soldier Exhibit in Cincinnati last month.

Paper Peonies and Dandelions

Dear V,

One. Year. Ago…

V's Wave

It’s true time flies.
(I threw a clock out the window once
and proved it.)
But Salvador Dali had the right idea
With those weeping clocks…
On days like today
I don’t believe time heals.
And why should it?
Would I ever want to
“Get over”

You left a beauty mark on my soul.
Your mantra is etched in me
The ink is dry
Except for teardrops…
Which keeps dotting the i’s
In Live Sincerely.


I miss you.

Meanwhile here I am
Spending time
This day
In the Big Apple.
Isn’t it ironic?
Maybe a little too ironic
—or maybe it’s poetry?
Because this is where we met
On that serendipitous day in October
when I saw you standing
(beside yourself)
Next to
Your breathtaking SCAR Portrait
Hanging in Soho
At the very first SCAR Project Exhibit
In 2010.

V exhibit

[Surviving Cancer.] [Absolute Reality.]
You and me both.
And both of us from Cincinnati.
Funny how
That’s how we met.

That time when time
Put the pedal to the metal
While we were working our asses off
on The S.C.A.R. Cincy Exhibit—
When the absolute fucking reality of surviving cancer
Was thrown in our faces
In the form of a headache you had
that wouldn’t clock out…
2 weeks before opening night.


because you said “the show must go on.”
Especially now.
There was no try
Just do
We did it for you.


It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life
But not as hard as saying goodbye
365 days ago
…and flew away with time…

I miss you.

This V-shaped hole is most def the hardest thing.
I hear the echo of your voice
That I can’t remember anymore,
“The show must go on.”
And I still sometimes wonder how?

I was wondering that the other day while I was driving here.
I saw a flock of birds
in a V-formation:
a Peace sign in the Sky.


Every time I see one I think of you.
And every day
For me (and for V) I am…

Living sincerely,

The SCAR Project Toronto Exhibition—PRESS RELEASE

[Reposting this from The SCAR Project Blog, which I manage for The SCAR Project.]


SCAR ImageMarch 3, 2014—The SCAR Project, the groundbreaking photographic exhibition created by fashion photographer David Jay is set to premiere March 28 at Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St West, Toronto Ontario.

The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors. On the surface an awareness raising campaign for young women, The SCAR Project’s deeper message is one of humanity. Ultimately, The SCAR Project is not about breast cancer, but the human condition itself; the images transcend the disease, illuminating the scars that unite us all.

Sponsored by Rethink Breast Cancer, the world-renowned exhibition will open this year’s Breast Fest on March 28, 2014. This marks the first time the exhibition will be shown to Canadian audiences. The gallery will be open for public viewing March 28-April 6 (closed Sunday and Monday). Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sunday by appointment. Admission is free.

A screening of the EMMY Award winning documentary about The SCAR Project: Baring It All will be shown at the Bloor Hotdocs Cinema at 3:30pm on Sunday, March 30. Tickets are $10. A Q&A session with David Jay will follow the

For more information please contact :

Jennifer Rashwan, Touchwood PR  416.593.0777 x 205,

Alma Parvizian, Touchwood PR     416.593.0777 x 202,

For more information on The SCAR Project visit the and Follow @thescarproject on Twitter and Facebook.

For more information on Rethink Breast Cancer


It Is Well

“!Hey there February. That was mighty sneaky of you…!” ~Amanda Michele Benton

Well… my sweet baby girl’s tweet first thing this morning took the words right out of my mouth. I mean, I know what they say about time flying, and I have been having the time of my life these days, but… holy crap how did we get to February already? I’ve barely slept a wink thus far this year, let alone toss my own two cents into the wishing well for 2013… and it’s already February?!

Such a lovely place
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Between kicking off the New Year in Cabo with the hubster for our 25th anniversary, then heading to Alabama to kick-off The SCAR Project Birmingham Exhibition, all the while planning an upcoming trip to Israel to visit lovely survivor/previvor friends over there, not to mention, sneaking in runs here and there to train for the Breathtaking Jerusalem 1/2 Marathon (which btw I just got a tatoo on my writing hand that says “Breathe” in Chinese symbols… just in case), and… all the SQUIRRELS…

Well… I figure that sitting still is not my strong suit. Oh well. I feel pretty lucky about the hand I’ve been dealt and am digging getting to play all these fun cards in my hand. #winning

Since February is the month of hearts, which I hope is my strong suit, I figure today is as good a time as any to ante up, or, if you’re OK with metaphor surfing, I think I’ll raise two cents, toss them into that well, and tell you my wishes for 2013. Which I think are way more fun than…

ResolveSo obviously I’d like to make 13 of them. To symbolize my top 2,013 hopes and dreams, and yes, even a few resolves (as long as they are triple action cuz I dig multitasking) for this year we’ve already dipped our toes into: the year of our Lord, two-thousand and thirteen.

[disclaimer: the following wishes are in no particular order because the thought of putting them in order, frankly, stresses me out. And I’m so not in the mood for stress. Read my tattoo.]

In case you can't read sign language and/or Chinese, my hand says, "Peace" and "Breathe"
In case you can’t read sign language and/or Chinese, my hand  is bilingual. Translation: “Peace” and “Breathe”

1: First, a word. And by that, I mean a word for the year. My word for last year was given to me by my beautiful friend Mardy. It was ripples. Which is appropriate, for the ripple effect she had/has in my life. My word for 2013 was given to me by my sweet Amanda in a prayer for me.

“Oh, the other day I had some of our team pray over you guys and this is what they got… Momma, this image: a picture of a well, send the bucket down further, it’s not dry, you just need to go a tiny bit further to find the water that’s always been there. Oh, and make RIPPLES!”

Well I can’t even tell you how perfect a word that is for me. In 2011 I cast out. In 2012 I surfed on the ripples. This year it’s time to dig deep. Deep into well: very, abundantly, fully, as wished, in good health, an exclamation of surprise, a segue to fill gaps, a hole in the ground, a source of water etc., a place where water surfaces naturally, a spring, ink well, wishing well, to seep out of the surface.

2: I ran my first 1/2 marathon last November. Now I’m hooked. I’ve got one 5K (The Birmingham Red Nose Run) under my belt, and the Breathtaking Jerusalem 1/2 and the Cincinnati Flying Pig 1/2 Marathons on tap. That’s three out of 13 races I hope to finish in 2013. Digging deeper, running further this year.

3: A pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 3 weeks in Israel. Digging my toes into the same dirt Jesus walked on. Yeah, I get it that there is 2,000 years of dirt on top of the dirt he actually walked on, but it’s my parade and I’m bringing an umbrella;) And I’m also going to try to walk on water. Or at least float…in the Dead Sea.

4: A year of living sincerely is the VLOG I started on my 4 year cancerversary to honor my friend Vanessa and her The Live Sincerely Project, and to count down to my…

5: High-Five-Year Cancerversary Not-a-Chemo-Cocktail Party! August 20, 2013 will be my 5 year cancerverary, which I know is not a promise of anything… really, what is, until we find a damn cure… and even then, you never know when you’re, say, driving a Vespa in Rome and *poof* all of a sudden you’re faceplanting against a stone wall of a church like Wiley Coyote, and coming even closer to “checking out” than what hap’d with the damn cancer. Yeah I added head injury to insult my chemo brain was already feeling. Anyway, all that to say I’m having a freaking PARTY for my 5 year. It’s my parade and I’m bringing umbrellas. For the cocktails. Everybody’s invited.

6: Super proud and praying for my sweet Mateo’s mission trip with Destiny Rescue in June.

7: Can’t wait for July when my sweet Amanda and Gary will be back again from their mission trip to Wales.

8: Family Vacation! All I ever wanted. Vacation. Have to get away! Oh yeah! Can’t wait! The whole fam damily! Woo freaking hoo!

End of Chemo Family Vacation Celebration 2009

9: Book 2 is percolating. And I’ve got a book of sonnets in the works as well.

10: As today is Groundhog Day, I’m happy to report one of my wishes came true this morning… although at first, it seemed like just another winter day after day after day. Yay for Punxsutawney Phil, who did not, I repeat DID NOT see his shadow this morning! So spring is just chilling out in all this snow, waiting to be uncorked! All I can say is Cheers, y’all, and I’ll drink to that! Clink, clink!

11: Since my Redheads have flown the coop, I mean, left the nest, I’ve been taking a bunch of the most adorable little warrior sisters under my wings and connecting with an amazing organization called The Dragonfly Foundation, which brings comfort and cheer to kids with cancer. Oh. My. Heart. I superfreakingheart all my little dragonflies!

This is one of my fave pics of my little warrior sister Maya the Magnificent and me. She's letting me rub her head for good luck before my 3-month oncologist appt. Which worked, btw! Got the 'ol 2 thumbs up and another 3 month hall pass!
This is one of my fave pics of my little warrior sister Maya the Magnificent and me. She’s letting me rub her head for good luck before my 3-month oncologist appt a few weeks ago. Which worked, btw! Got the ‘ol 2 thumbs up and another 3 month hall pass!

12: Hopefully we’ll be able to announce the dates for The SCAR Project—DC Exhibition super soon! Fingers crossed! Stay tuned HERE on the SCAR blog. I’m super stoked to see the exhibit premiere in our nation’s capital! Also still working hard behind the scenes trying to find the right venue for The SCAR Project—LA Exhibition. Both fingers and toes crossed!

13: Last but not least, I know I have been doing more Vlogging than Blogging these days, but I hope to use a little of that triple action resolve and maybe even try and sit still a wee bit more often, because I really do like playing with words and blah blah blahging.

L’chaim, shalom, love, and Happy Groundhog Day y’all!

The Rest of the Whole Enchilada aka Part II

[This post is dedicated to my friend Denise who played the part of my delightful sidekick on my recent Quixotic adventure along the Pacific Coastal Highway.  I’ve got to hand it to her for just agreeing to go with me. We’d only met Facebook to Facebook through her daughter Jolene—the youngest SCAR Project model. Jolene was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 17 freaking years old, which pisses me off every single time I think about it. This past October Jolene put down the damn pink boxing gloves to get a little rest in peace—2 weeks before she turned 26. Cancer is a such a freaking jerk like that. But in spite of it, or maybe to spite it, the community that exists and the friendships that sprout up from that big damn C… form a club that you didn’t want to join but now find yourself counting your blessings for. (#178, btw.) And that is why, when iPhoned Denise and told her I had a crazy ass idea of an adventure to run by her, she didn’t even hesitate but said, “Hell yeah!” And that is the once upon a time that began our epic road trip from San Fran to LA for The SCAR Project LA cocktail party kick-off, and then back again, with flowers in our hair, of course. Or maybe it was a pencil #179. You know me.]

With Denise #180 on our most excellent adventure!

‘Twas a little Thelma and Louise takes the Bucket List on a road-trip, minus, of course, the driving off a cliff part. But the point was, we had so much fun it’s not even really fair.

So as I was saying in Part I, I don’t really do bucket lists. (Though I did dig the movie.)

I tried. I really tried. Had the pencil drawn from behind the old ear flap, twirling in the fingers, ready to fly across the paper with reckless abandon. Then, as you know, I freaked out.

The point, methinks, my pencil was trying to make, was, why on earth would anybody want to wait until they are dying to start really living?

And because it’s a #2 pencil, it gets extra credit for bringing up this parallel point: Instead of counting down only to cross things off, why not count UP and keep counting as if there were no periods but only ellipses.

Keep counting like there’s no tomorrow. Now that’s a list I can’t scribble fast enough.

In fact, I’ve been scribbling such a list ever since I read THIS book #181 (Scroll down a little and there’s a trailer on the right. Scroll down a little bit more and there’s a link to read the first chapter.)

But besides big things like an epic road trip along California Highway 1 #182, there’s lots of small things that would never make a bucket list and to me they are just as important as the epic things. Like I always say, any reason to pop a cork on a bottle of champagne #183 is a good one, no matter how small.

And since today is the 4th of July, the more corks popping #184 the better. Sounds like fireworks #185 in broad daylight. No sense in waiting till it gets dark out to start the party. Cleanses the palette and tickles the fancy for seizing and celebrating all the special moments, big and small. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m assuming—because it doesn’t really bother me if I make an ass out of myself as long as you’re OK with the probability that if you’re anywhere near me you will also most likely be implicated—that we all want the whole enchilada out of this life. Are with me? Because I don’t mind sharing.

Found it!
Check out this cool song #186 about said whole enchilada
by my fave group Over the Rhine #187!

So to sum up… also, to pair with that enchilada, not to mention, all that champagne and slap happy bubbles, might I suggest a side of snapshots of such moments which kept taking my breath away there and back again, along California Highway 1? “Twas such a bon freaking voyage! So lights, camera, action, bon appetite, and of course cheers. By all means, cheers, and love, of course. And also happy 4th!

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Windmills, Bucket Lists, and The Whole Enchilada Along California Highway 1 – Part I

I. Love. Making lists and crossing things off. Especially, crossing things off. Then, wadding up said crossed off list and really showing it who’s boss. Slam freaking dunk.

Crossing things off lists is #174 on my list of 1000 gifts. Slam dunking a finished list is, obviously, worth 2 points: #175 AND #176.

Now, you might be thinking, “You’re pretty freaking tech-geeky-savvy, Joules… why not use your iPhone (#177)?…”

Been there, done that, bought the app for that. And, while I do admit, it is slightly satisfying watching the item *poof* disappear when you check the box, 1) I’m not really a check in the boxes kinda girl, and, 2) slam dunking an iPhone is just asking for trouble with Siri.

But really, all I was trying to do, is explain that all those post-it notes behind me in the photo are not a mess. They are my preciousssss…lists. Organized chaos, if you will.

Those particular ones were all the rabbit trails of my brain in regards to a couple weeks ago, in which my Amanda Michele Freaking Evans got MARRIED, graduated college, moved back to the Evanshire—where she and her now HUBBY will be living for the summer while they work and raise funds for a 10-month mission trip with YWAM Wales this September. (To follow their adventures there and back again, click HERE.) Also, my Mikeyy moved out of the Evanshire and in with his big brother, my Mateo, on campus at UC. Then, we moved the groom’s things into the Evanshire.

If you’ve ever done a Rubik’s cube with your feet while blindfolded you understand the logistics involved, that bigass bottomless cup of coffee, and all. those. precious. lists.

There is one list that freaks me out though. It’s the one list to rule them all: The Bucket List.

When I got cancer, of course I sat down and wrote Bucket List at the top of a page. After all, isn’t “Thou shalt make a bucket list” at the top of the What To Expect When You’re Kicking Cancer’s Ass Big Ten list? I’m pretty sure it’s either #1 or #2, but I forget which. And of course, I totally “blame the chemo” for that—which, I’m positive, is #9 or #10. But I digress, which isn’t really on the list, but sometimes I like to write things in just so I can cross them off.

That’s how much fun I think crossing things off is.

Except for, come to find out, on bucket lists.

Don’t. Want. To. Slam. Dunk. That. One. Don’tevenwanttostartthatlistthat’showmuchidon’twanttoEVERfinishit. To me it’s more like “the list that must not be named”. So yeah, I might have panicked and maybe sweat a few bullets, staring like a deer in the headlights of that freaking blinking cursor of a number 1. It went down a little something like this:

Me: (retrieving the yellow #2 pencil from behind my ear, twirling it in the right to open up the noggin to pencil channel, left elbow on the table, left hand cradling the chinny chin chin, left index finger in the shhh position so I can hear the light bulbs popping up, which I would then upcycle into thought bubbles-cuz I’m green like that-in which my version of 1001 things to do meets Arabian Nights meets Lambchop-from which I would transcribe   my list that doesn’t end…

1. (staring you down all Clint Eastwood style): “Go ahead, make my day. Fill in the blank, punk. Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Me: Not particularly, actually. I have cancer. Duh. (Yeah, I’d say duh to Clint Eastwood if he asked me a stupid question like that at a moment like that.)

At which point, cue the melodrama and fade into the theme from Love Story… “Where do I begin?” I think you see my dilemma?

Where? To begin? At which point my pencil showed its true color shining through and experienced stage fright as if said blinking cursor was not only channeling Dirty Harry, but on Speed  : “STAY ON OR GET OFF, PUNK”

Way. Too. Much. Pressure. At which point I put the pencil back in my ear and crumple up the list which must not be named. I mean, stress causes cancer and stuff, so slam dunk that, if ya know what I mean.

Or maybe kick it instead. Yeah, kick the freaking you-know-what-list. For three points and the win!

And with that, please tune in next time when the ucket-bay list takes a ride along the Pacific Coastal Highway with Thelma and Louise.

Skipping Stones and Surfing on the Ripples

So it’s already Day 5 into 2012 and I’m just now getting around to writing that post where I go public with my New Year’s hopes, dreams, and resolutions. For those who know me, it doesn’t surprise you that I’m just now getting around to it. I’m a freaking introvert. Not to mention, super freaking shy. Besides, 2011 was such a ridiculous amazing year for me that it’s not like I wanted that party to slow down enough for me to sit still and think about “What’s next?” Instead what really went down, was there was a bit more squeezing of life into what remained of 2011. I admit it, I’m a glutton when it comes to squeezing that last drop out. (It’s a good thing for me, that Jesus hangs out with peeps like that.)

Early on in 2011, I met a woman on a plane who told me that after meeting me, she had an image pop up in her mind that she felt like she was supposed to share with me. She said that she pictured a juicy pink grapefruit in my hand, that it was very sweet, and that I was going to squeeze every last bit out of it. She said she wanted me to know this is what God has for me. Then she gave me a $20 bill and told me she wanted the first copy of my book when I published it. Which I kept on my desk in front of me as I tried to squeeze the best out of my book in the editing process. (Yes, of course, I sent her a book!)

I. Love. Grapefruit. And I love whoever invented the grapefruit spoon. Have you ever noticed that when you scoop out grapefruit it sounds like a kiss? I think God did that on purpose to say, “Hey I love you! Now go have a good day! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.” (At least, my grapefruit had 25 kisses in it this morning. Which means, you KNOW it’s going to be a good day. And yes, I counted them. Who wouldn’t count kisses from God?)

Anyway, I appreciated that word picture she gave me. I don’t think in pictures; I think in words. Then I like to play with them. I try and make pretty word pictures since I can’t draw. But let’s not get into my flaws right now. This is supposed to be one of those uplifting, dive off into the New Year type of posts and how will we ever get there if we dwell on such things?

So one of the first things I read on Facebook when I finally dragged my lazy bum out of bed on New Year’s Day, was from one of my friend Julie Sweeney’s last posts of 2011. She suggested thinking of “a single word to represent a focus of intention for the new year (rather than a list of resolutions).”

I liked that idea a lot. I especially like it here on January 5th, where I’m 5 days behind the resolution groove.

So here’s my word:


During The SCAR Project Exhibit which I helped bring to Cincinnati during Pinktober, a friend took me aside and advised me to make sure I didn’t just jump into the next thing without taking time to experience the beautiful ripples from the stone I’d just thrown that was skipping so happily right in front of me. The next day another friend came up to me at the exhibit and asked me if I had considered all the Ripples spiraling out from The SCAR Project and my book? Well, I don’t have to be hit on the head three times. I decided I better sit back and enjoy the ride, or else. (OK, so I have a hard time sitting still . . . so maybe if I grabbed a metaphorical surf board;)

Anyway, here are some of the ripples I’m riding into 2012:

1. My book! It’s still a bit surreal to me that I actually get to finally say MY BOOK! But it’s out there on Amazon and Kindle. I’ve wanted to write a book ever since Mrs. Daneal helped me crack the code in kindergarten and I  went home that day and read a book all by myself. It was a big orange book called “I Want To Read” which  about drove me crazy because I so identified with the little girl in the story.  My Amanda was the same when she was little and I was reading Dr. Seuss to her. One day she pointed at the words on the bottom of the page, nearly knocking the book out of my hands, and then she literally threw her hands up in the air and begged me: “MAMA I NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT SAYS DOWN THERE WHERE THE SQUIGGLES ARE!”

I had a couple ridiculous fabulous book launch parties in December. One was at Book Bums, the coffee shop where I hang out a lot, go to my writers group, and where I wrote quite a lot of my book, while sipping on their delish highlander grog. The other one was at Art Design Consultants, the “Gallery in the Sky” downtown Cincy where we held The SCAR Project exhibit.

I like that particular picture from the book release parties, because I like the way my Amanda is looking at me. Also I love my sweet little survivor sister Paige sitting there all cute and sipping on a not-a-chemo-cocktail (minus the vodka of course) while I’m saying a few thank you’s before doing a reading.

I’m still trying to take it all in. So. much. fun. I feel like such a lucky girl, and so very grateful to have so much love all around me.

I’m scheduled to do an interview for a local magazine next week, 3 book clubs this month, and to speak at Cincinnati State in March. And my Mikey is going to help produce an audio book. Also I’m happy to announce that my Redheads have officially released the “Cancer is a Bitch” song on iTunes! But there’s also…

2. The SCAR Project. Working on The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. I met so many wonderful people and learned so much about myself. When my committee and I traveled to NYC to present The SCAR Project with a donation from our exhibit, I found myself asking David Jay if there was more that I could do. So now I’m lucky enough to still be working on The SCAR Project, consulting with other people who are trying to bring it to their cities. So far it looks as if there will be exhibits in DC, LA, and Toronto this year! I’m having the time of my life working with those who are trying to make it happen. Also, one of the loveliest things about working on The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit was getting to know many of the girls who have participated in it. I had begun interviewing the girls and/or hosting their stories in their own words on our SCAR Project Cincy blog. I’m really excited that I am going to be able to continue doing this as we are going to launch a SCAR Project blog on the web site.

3. My Amanda got engaged and thus we are planning a wedding! Here is my favorite of their engagement photos:

Amanda will become Mrs. Gary Duane Freaking Benton on June 10, 2012. That is a day after they graduate from the University of Cincinnati. What a weekend, no? Their plans are to go with YWAM on a mission trip to Wales for a year. Then they intend to move to Denver, where Gary intends on going to seminary to be an Army chaplain.

4. The nest is emptying. Sad in one way. But it’s also exciting to watch the Redheads chasing after their dreams at the same time. And depending on where they land, it looks like some interesting holidays for me!

5. Meanwhile, we have a lovely window where Mikeyy is commuting from home. Kinda cool that Matt had his year of being an only child at home last year while Mikeyy was out of the country with YWAM, and now Mikeyy has his turn.

6. Ive begun practicing yoga. Lucky for me, the yoga studio near me started a book club at my coffee shop a few months ago. This was the perfect segue into going to an actual yoga class for me. And I have been having the loveliest time getting to know my new yoga friends and learning yoga.

7. It’s cold outside, so I’m not doing much running. Hopefully my new yoga practice will keep me up fitness wise. But I do look forward to picking back up my running. I miss my daily 4 mile through the neighborhood. But not necessarily in the freezing cold. Oh how I need to live in a warmer climate.

8. Besides writing a book, there are a few other crazy things I’ve done outside of my comfort zone that I’m pretty happy about: I wrote a song which the Redheads have been covering and are going to release on their full length CD. I love what they’ve done with it and can’t wait until “Wind in My Hair” is released. During The SCAR Project I had to step way out of my comfort zone and do a couple of interviews on TV and radio. Although I don’t recommend viewing them in HD (holy crap my freckles jumped off the screen!) I’m glad I didn’t chicken out because it was good for me to stand in for my friend Vanessa and to promote The SCAR Project despite my shyness. One of the craziest fun things I did this past year was to hang out on set where my Mikeyy was being a grip and production assistant, and then end up being a stand-in and then even an extra in one scene that took place, appropriately, in a coffee shop! Crazier still, and it comes out this week, but the owner of the art gallery (where we hosted The SCAR Project) and I were photographed for a magazine article about successful charity galas in Cincinnati. Who EVER would’ve thought I’d do fashion photography? HA! It was more like Litsa (the Greek goddess) and me (the cartoon character)!

9. I can’t end a post on ripples that affect me without mentioning people I miss who are resting in peace during 2011 after fighting the beast that is cancer: Mary Jo Cropper, Daria, Jolene, Kaye, Cindi. I miss you all, and even though cancer is done with me (God willing) I am not done with it. You are always in my heart.

And since I don’t really know how to surf, before I hang 10 I’ll just stop there. Besides this post was brought to you by a glass of 9 Stones Shiraz that I’ve been sipping on while I skip these stones and surf the ripples they make. So cheers to you, your health, this new year, and to skipping stones and surfing ripples in 2012.

Where Are All The Tennis Balls?

I’m pretty fast when it comes to chasing tennis balls. I’ve been called “The Energizer Bunny” by some of my opponents. Others have told me I’m like a mosquito at the net—at which point I have to mentally disengage my super imagination powers so as not to see their racquets coming at me as giant fly swatters.

The point is, I’ve been conditioned since music class in elementary school to follow the bouncing ball.

Therefore I have never been a runner…until now. Well, I’m almost a runner but not quite. Close though.

My license plate says “Eat. Sleep. Tennis.” And that’s pretty much how things roll with me and my gang in the Evanshirehood. Normally. But you know me and normal. Hardly ever on the same page, let alone in the same sentence connected by a conjunction junction whose function is to hook up words and make them function and such. Anyway, it was recently brought to my attention that I have barely graced the poor tennis courts behind the Evanshire this summer. Last Thursday I hosted a girls night out and invited my long lost tennis girlfriends. When they started arriving at the door with bottles of wine they all had this similar look on their faces. It was like they were trying to place where they’d seen me before.

It’s understandable. After I finished writing my manuscript, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, I decided to take off this spring and summer, from my tennis addiction, to focus on editing and publishing my book. (And promoting The SCAR Project coming to Cincinnati this fall, which has been crazy busy fun.) So that’s why my tennis girlfriends were being so ridiculous, acting like we were meeting for the first time, and as if the wine bottles were house warming gifts, instead of a case of catching up.

Good times.

While working on my book and with the SCAR Project I’ve also been doing a lot of soul searching. Trying to figure out what to do with this second chance I’ve been given. Life, take two. What. A. Gift.

I’ve been digging deep into celebrating that gift, living out loud, laughing from the belly, spending myself loving God and others, following my Redheads chasing their dreams, and having the time of my life chasing down my own by writing a book. It’s my postcard from the other side of cancer/chemo to my survivor sisters. Been there, done that, had to buy a new t-shirt, wish they were here, on this side, too.

But wishing doesn’t seem like it’s nearly enough.

I’m pretty sure the only reason I’m still here is there is still more I’m supposed to do. I have this keychain I picked up at the Race for the Cure that says, “I am the Cure.” It eggs me on to do something. Like I said, I’m trying to figure out what.

All I know is that my daughter Amanda is supposed to start having mammograms when she is 23 because of me. She turns 21 in January.

Maybe I started running because I’m in a hurry. There’s something terribly encouraging about forward motion. Even if it’s something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

I have a 4-mile course in my neighborhood. One of these days I’m going to run the whole thing and in the process will have psyched my body into thinking a 5K is a piece of cake. This is a goal of mine. But it’s easier said than done. First I’m going to have to run up the Oregon Pass hill.

One thing I’ve learned about running, is that running downhill is way more fun that running uphill. I generally walk up the hills. But even then I have to channel my little engine when it comes to Oregon Pass.

I know I could easily flip my course, with Oregon Pass on the downhill, but we have speed limits in our neighborhood.

The hardest thing about running is breathing. Sometimes I forget to. Then when I think about it too hard I forget how. I’m working on this. Trying to pace myself, find a relaxed running form, spend time praying for my peeps which makes me happy thinking about them, and keeping my eyes wide open for beauty and breathing deeply as I take it in.

Continuing my 1000 gifts, here are some of the beautiful things on my runs:

#134 the song, “Beautiful Things” by Gungor, on my Chemo Cocktail Soundtrack that I run to

#135 iMapMyRun iPhone App

#136 Running downhills

#137 weeping willow trees

#138 morning doves

#139 sunshine

#140 wind in my hair

#141 H-2-OH

#142 the Elvis statue in some neighbor’s garden

#143 Thinking about friends as I pass their houses

#144 My “run.” necklace

#145 Sweating out chemo toxins

#146 Moving forward

#147 Shade trees

#148 best running socks ever

#149 fireflies when I run when the sun is setting

#150 sometimes closing my eyes and raising my hands in the air like I’m flying

#151 trying to find a running groove

#152 finishing a run

#153 making ice cold watermelon juice right after

#154 followed by a cold shower

#155 I thought I could and I just did it

#156 gaining confidence

#157 building fitness

#158 sipping satisfaction

#159 experiencing enjoyment

#160 Eric Liddell said when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. This is what I’m after. Not just in running but in everything I do. And I especially feel God’s pleasure when I write.

#161 that I get to have fun playing with words

The SCAR Project documentary “Baring It All” On Style Network this Saturday at 9 pm.

Tune in this Saturday at 9 pm to the Style Network’s world premiere of “Baring It All”—Patricia Zagarella’s groundbreaking documentary about the Pulitzer nominated SCAR Project.

“Baring It All” follows fashion photographer David Jay, into the worlds of four young breast cancer survivors, exploring their journeys and being photographed for the SCAR Project. “Baring It All” portrays what: “Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.” Is really all about, for them (and for the more than 10,000 young women like them, who are diagnosed each year).

“Baring It All” uncovers what’s beneath the pink ribbons.

In the rolling out of the red carpet for Saturday night’s premiere, I interviewed “Baring It All” filmmaker Patricia Zagarella. So without further ado, how about some lights, camera…and action (cue up the first question, enter Patricia Zagarella for the answer parts):

Q: How did you find out about The SCAR Project?

A: David Jay and I have a mutual friend, who was visiting NY from Australia. She randomly bumped into David while on her visit and he told her about the Scar Project. She then sent me a link and my co-producer, Nicola and I, were blown away by the photographs – the beauty and the pain, every image and every woman’s eyes screamed a different story we wanted to learn more.

Q: What inspired you to start filming the documentary?

A: When I first saw the SCAR Project I was captivated by the raw reality conveyed by his photos. Striking and beautiful, yet confronting and almost brutal, they pushed me to a place I normally contentedly avoided. I was both shocked and saddened, but drawn to the images like a magnet. Despite that the photos spoke volumes, I had a barrage of questions screaming in my head, not only about the young women in the photographs but also about the photographer: Who was he? Why was a successful fashion and beauty photographer photographing young breast cancer survivors? Why did he embark on this journey and what motivates him to continue?

Fascinated, I reached out to David Jay – who reached back with enthusiasm and warmth. I then met a genuinely kind and caring man, whose world had been turned upside down when confronted by a close friend’s body after a mastectomy. He told me that he dealt with it the only way he knew how, by taking her picture. And the rest is history.

Q: Can you describe the process, and the emotions of filming such painful images? (ones that most breast cancer patients haven’t seen before they have a mastectomy–hopefully The SCAR Project will change that.)

A: We were an all female team during the photo shoot sessions, our goal was to be unobtrusive and document the event, what we experienced was a palpable transformation taking place before us. Women would come to the door broken and nervous and by the time they left, they had a renewed sense of pride, hope and strength. Every single woman exuded beauty that came from her resolve and attitude, which David captured perfectly.

It was a very special experience, albeit a tough one, being able to capture this transformation, to be able to share in the anguish, the pain, the tears and the laughter.

Q: What were some of the hi-los of filming this project? What surprised you most about filming “Baring It All”?

A: Meeting and spending time with these amazing, strong young women has been an incredible high. I have been touched in a profound way by all the women we met, and I’ve learned so much from them – celebrate life and live in the moment. I remind myself of that daily.

The lows have obviously come when confronted with beautiful young girls struggling to beat this horrible disease.

What surprised me most was the enlightened attitude of such young women and their strength in the face of their mortality.

Q: How did you get into filming?

A: I started working in TV & film in Australia after graduating from University. My first job was working at a TV station and it just went from there.

Q: What do you consider your particular calling in the film industry to be?

A: I enjoy producing, finding compelling stories and character, and then finding the right team to execute that story. I really love meeting people and learning about them, and under the pretense of filmmaking I get to ask lots of questions most people are afraid to.

Q: What other film work have you done?

A: I started working in narrative features, but then about 7 years ago I was presented with the opportunity to co-produce a documentary, and from that point on I was hooked. I loved telling real stories by real people. Who needs a script, real life is far more compelling, heart-warming, and heartbreaking.

Q: The doc was originally titled “Don’t look away”? How did it go from there to “Baring It All?”

A: The doc was originally titled “Don’t Look Away”, a title Nicola my co-producer came up with. We decided on that title early on because people’s initial reaction at hearing about the subject and photos was to look away. The entire message and point of the project was to remove the stigma and normalize something that so many women undergo but no one ever sees or talks about. We wanted people to look at the photos, look at the women, at the scars, and at their eyes. The name was changed when the Style Network came on board as they felt that “Don’t Look Away” didn’t adequately describe what the film was about. After much back and forth, we settled on “Baring It All” as the new title.

Q: How did the Style Network come on board to air the documentary?

A: Two great women, Beth and Andrea from Remarkable Content took my trailer to the Style Network about a year before they actually came on board. The VPs at Style thought it was an important story to tell and one that their viewers could connect with, however one-off documentaries were completely out of the realm of their usual programming that it just didn’t work. They came back to me about a year after our initial conversation and the VPs had come up with an over-brand series called Style Exposed, which would include one-off documentaries. “Baring It All” is the first in the Style Exposed series. Hopefully it’s a success for Style and they continue to produce one-off documentaries with heart.

 Q: Who/what/where are you going to watch the premiere?!

A: I will be watching the premiere with David, Joanie, Nicola and my crew at David’s studio on Saturday night.

Q: When/how will the dvds be available?

A: The DVDs will be available on July 25th through Amazon. The SCAR Project, Volume 1 book is also available on Amazon.

Q: How would you articulate the message you hope people get when they view your doc and the SCAR Project?

A: I want people to see that there is true beauty in strength and hope in the face of despair. There’s power in optimism and it’s ok to have scars and to look at them and let people see them.

In line with the SCAR Project message, the goal is to raise awareness and let people know that young women can and do get breast cancer. Early detection is the best prevention, therefore the more people who see the film or the SCAR Project photos the bigger the impact.

Q: How can people follow you, support the amazing things you are doing like this documentary?

A: People can keep up to date with my work via my website at or via Facebook.

Q: What are you doing next?

A: I’m developing a project that deals with alternatives to incarceration, with a focus on young women who are at risk, and we hope to help transform their lives before it’s too late.

Q: Not really a question, but I’d just like to thank Patricia for a brilliant interview and also say “go break a leg!” in re: the “Baring It All” premiere this Saturday night. And I’ll just go ahead and say BRAVO! because I know it’s going to, as The SCAR Project intends: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens. So kudos Patricia. Cheers and kudos.

Blustery Day

[This article is cross posted at Thescarprojectcincy blog.]

Posted by Joules Evans
When Cincinnati SCAR Project subject Vanessa Tiemeier was talking about her Blustery Day Design business on Fox 19’s June “Think Pink“segment, you might  have found yourself channeling a little Winnie the Pooh and humming along with this classic:

But then again maybe that’s just me. Anyway. I don’t know if Vanessa and her sisters, Jessica and Christina, were channeling Winnie the  Pooh when they began their Blustery Day Design business, after Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer, but they definitely weren’t channeling Eeyore.

Vanessa did not sitting around sulking, like Eeyore always did whenever Christopher Robin would put his tail back on, saying “No matter. Most likely lose it again anyway.”

Like she told Fox 19’s Katie Morgan, “I know for a lot of people, their world just empties out. But for me, I was always: Well, what can I do about it?”

Vanessa credits her positive outlook and upbeat perspective to the incredible support she receives from her family.

Not many lifetime marriages are tested on the “in sickness” vows like Billy and Vanessa have been ever since Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer nine months after they said “I do.” (Happy anniversary to Billy and Vanessa, btw, who celebrated their 5th anniversary last week! Cheers to you both, and to both of your health, and here’s to MANY more anniversaries!)

And then there are Vanessa’s sisters, Jessica Yeager and Christina Blust.

“My sisters mean the world to me. They are my best friends,” says Vanessa, the sister in the middle.

Like bookends, Vanessa’s sisters were by her side, supporting her.

“Besides the obvious actions that were now immediately needed, to learn about her cancer and treatment plan and how we could best support Vanessa in this new, crappy situation…” Jessica explained in a recent interview. “…we also found we all felt like we needed to act, immediately, in another way, too, to make our dream to start a future business together ‘real’.

“I think we were destined to have a business together. Our different strengths and preferences complement each other, and we are best friends who truly love working together. Despite the obvious desire we had to do this, we felt no rush towards action on it, since we were each still finishing our degrees, getting married, buying houses, and enjoying young adulthood.  Our business plans seemed like something we’d do ‘once we grew up’ still, and we meanwhile relished our casual chats as young twenty-somethings talking about this sister business we’d certainly have, one day, and just how great it will be.

“Until Vanessa was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 25. That just made us rethink our whole timeline.

“Finding out about her cancer was a major wake up call.  We realized that waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to start just resulted in lots of waiting…  and we no longer had the luxury of time in which to wait. The time, perfect or not, was now.

“While Vanessa had her first chemo treatments, we sat next to her in the visitor chairs and talked through our business plan.  We took trips to try on wigs together and then followed that up with visits to paper shops.  We’d google ‘Adriamycin side effects’ and then google ‘small business web hosting’.  It became a joint project, this cancer and this business.  Together they formed a strange partnership of slowing things down and speeding things up, all at once.

“The company name that we settled on for our business was Blustery Day Design.  This is something of a play on our maiden names of ‘Blust’, but we also saw including a ‘blustery day’ in our name as a fitting testimony to both the good and the bad parts of life, the ups and the downs, the happy and the sad.  We believe all parts, all days, and all moments, are worth celebrating, acknowledging and supporting.  Our business is founded in part on a desire to assist people in really being there for each other, in small but meaningful ways, through everything life contains.

“Once we got ‘real’, our cancer greeting cards were an obvious first product line for Blustery Day Design to develop.  Who better than Vanessa, with her insider perspective, to create authentic and heartfelt cards that said exactly what she wanted to have said to her, exactly what she knew would cheer up someone else who was in just her shoes.

“When she got overloaded by the many very supportive but very pink cards and gifts, Vanessa came up with the ‘no pink‘ card.  When she felt her most low from treatments and surgeries that left her bald, boobless, and puffy, she created the ‘still beautiful‘ card.  As she weathered the storm that is chemo and all its side effects, Vanessa made the ‘chemo brain‘ card. When we all joked about how many times we just wished there was an actual ‘cancer card’ you could pull out of your wallet to get special treatment at needed times, our wallet-sized ‘cancer card‘ was born.

“The creation of the different cancer cards is therapeutic for us, but the feedback we hear back from customers who have sent on our cards is truly the most rewarding part.  To hear how Vanessa’s insight and experiences have brightened the day of someone else dealing with cancer, or to know our simple and small card let someone know they were loved and supported, gives us such a sense of making a difference in the lives of others in the world wide community – and this is a key part of what our goals are for our business.

“Currently, when I think of my sisters and our business, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and hope.  Seems rather odd to feel or say, seeing as Vanessa is now more recently diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, which means her cancer has spread throughout her body, will never be gone, and she will never be ‘cured’.  She has cancer as a terminal disease now, and the stats that go along with it are both sobering and horrible.  We have sister cry sessions over the fact that cancer has taken from us what we each imagined our futures containing –  different paths that still end with the three of us, with our own families, old and wrinkly and getting together for ice cream and marathon gab sessions at the ripe age of 96.  Life, it’s clear, is not fair, and the privilege of a limitless future is too often taken for granted.

“I’d rather go back to the boring, normal life where our business dreams were slow moving and Vanessa didn’t have cancer, any day.  But she has cancer, and we had the business in us all along, and now we’re running with them both – and we have resolved to use the business to defy the cancer.

“We have already made a difference in the lives of people around the world, and have so many ideas to do even more.  We are able to make a real contribution towards stopping this awful thing that is cancer, by choosing a promising local cancer research foundation to donate a portion of our cancer cards’ proceeds to.

“We have taken something ugly, and found the beauty there still.  We love, and live, sincerely.  Life is good.”

Not too shabby a mantra.

Vanessa’s younger sister, Christina adds, “I am so grateful, every day, that I get to be part of this with two of my favorite people in the world. Stationery makes sense for us — it’s all about reaching out in a meaningful way to the people in each of our lives, creating true communication and strengthening relationships no matter if the circumstance is a joyous event or a tough bit of news.”

“Being able to reach people with our cards has been amazing,” Vanessa sums up, harmonizing with the gratitude her sisters have so eloquently articulated. “I am grateful to be able to share my talent in a positive way and spread peace. Receiving feedback from our customers who give our cards to a friend is the best part. It reaffirms that what we are doing is really touching others. And isn’t that what our purpose in life is? — To spread hope?

“Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I have come to realize that me creating cancer cards for others to share has been my way of dealing with and expressing myself after my diagnosis. Some people write in a journal, or paint a picture, but for me, it was to use my graphic design talent to outwardly express my thoughts and emotions. And for Christina, it was through her music. She coped by writing songs. She is so gifted with words and melodies, and in way, paints pictures with her songs. I’ll never forget the first time I heard ‘Tumor‘ which she wrote after finding out that our Mom had a brain tumor and I had breast cancer all in the same week. She writes eloquently, ‘Tumor, you are mistaken: you are actually a small, frenzied moth. I will watch you from the front door. You will kiss the light on my porch, find in its brilliance fatal joy — you will not spread. You will die for love instead.’

“And in the song ‘Sudden Amaryllis‘ she writes ‘Sudden amaryllis! In dead fields reach lilies to the sky, to the sky. Hope is dancing in the sky. (Hope is staring right at you.)’. Christina was stricken with the fact that these flowers survive and thrive in the most barren places…in a gravel lot with otherwise no signs of life, these amaryllis flowers stand tall. I think this is a great analogy to my life now,” explains Vanessa. “Although there is all this ugliness an misfortune around me, I keep my head up and live sincerely.”

Live Sincerely. Now those are two words that’ll turn “The End” upside down. It’s never too early to start.