Terrific news and a gorgeous dream — Update on Cheri’s fight with cancer

OK, folks, I have amazing news:

First, Cheri’s last scan failed to detect ANY cancer in her body!! Woo HOOOO!!! Isn’t that fantastic? We are absolutely over the moon!! Doctors are still baffled by Cheri’s powerful recovery and feel it’s too early to declare a remission, but it’s exciting news all the same. And Cheri has been officially cleared to return to life (so to speak 😉 ).

Then this morning, I had a terrific dream. A friend ran up to me to say that support for Cheri’s fund had skyrocketed to $385,000!! Not only would Cheri surely get all the help she needed, but I could help so many other women gather their strength for a rebirth from the ashes. Talk about a gorgeous dream!

But here’s where it gets really juicy…

About ten days ago, a very generous donor in Australia offered a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for any money we raise for Cheri’s campaign before the end of this month. That meant that with only a few hundred dollars more in giving, plus the match, Cheri’s campaign would be FULLY FUNDED!

So, I started reaching out to folks who had pledged but not yet given, and also asked a select few with large, like-minded communities to share the campaign. Today, we are just $260 away from completion!!

You know, as the imminent threat of death recedes from Cheri’s experience, the challenges of conscious evolution — mental, practical, and emotional — are pushing forward more strongly. Cheri and I are determined to meet these challenges and, especially, to safeguard her budding good health. Having this campaign complete by the end of the month would liberate our attention COMPLETELY, and empower us to do the intensive work Cheri is ready for. And now I’ve had this dream.

So… will you help me bridge the gap? If I can dream $385,000, we ought to be able to real life raise just $260, right?

Please share this campaign with your lovely peeps. And if you can, make a donation. These are the last 3 days of the matching opportunity. 

Thank you so much for all you have done on Cheri’s behalf. This whole campaign has been an extraordinary experience. So much love, faith, and support. Cheri and I are both deeply humbled. And we thank you, with all our hearts.

CheriandGrandkids

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Four words for your 17 year-old self

What the hell were we talking about??

Aidan was home sick all last week and Dean was swamped with work, so I put most everything aside to be with Aidan. Then I got slammed with the same cold he had and retreated into mucous, coughing, Nurse Jackie, and John Sandford. Now reemerging this week, I feel like I’ve been cut loose from my life, like an astronaut drifting aimlessly in space after her tether’s been severed.

Seems like we were on a roll talking about inner bullets and what to do about them. But then….. nothing. Silent, weightless, space.

Clearly, I’m not ready to pick up the conversation where we left off (I’m back at my ship, but haven’t yet managed to open the hatch and come inside), but I will share something I saw on Facebook over the weekend.

A friend posted a meme (oh my husband will be so proud I used that word) that said:

4 words to your 17 year-old self: ________ _________ ________ _________

The friend who posted it answered with, “You’re making sh*t up,” to which I could really relate. No question I was making things up then, if only all the imagined bullets!

But it got me thinking about what most I would want to say.

I was excruciatingly unhappy at 17 (a fact I know for certain nobody knew), which means there are a million pieces of advice I could give that teenager that would be relevant. But the idea of saying only one thing, and in four words, was an interesting challenge. What would have really set me free?

I shared the meme on my wall and a lot of people responded. Actually, a lot more than I expected. Apparently, we were all excruciatingly unhappy at 17. Funny that that hadn’t occurred to me…. A holdover of my 17 year-old world view, perhaps. I am alone in the world and in my pain… No one feels what I’m feeling. Sounds about 17, right? (And 15 and 12 and 35 and 50…)

Anyway, there were a lot of offerings.

My sweet husband wrote, “You will find her.” Slay me with an arrow right to the heart.

And one jokester wrote, “Get off my lawn.”

But all the rest were pretty heartfelt:

“You really are worthy.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“This too shall pass.”

“Don’t listen to them.”

“You are not fat.”

“He’s wrong for you.”

“These hurts will lessen.”

“Everything will be ok.”

As a high school senior, I would have benefited from all of these. Literally every one feels appropriate. But none lands squarely at center.

Two others were particularly curious to me:

“You better be careful” and “learn to love yourself.”

I don’t know well enough either of the women who chose these words to know the circumstances of their teenage experience – who they were, what they needed – but just from my 17 year-old perspective, neither of these sounds particularly supportive.

The first feels like admonishment, maybe for some bad choices, or chronically bad choices.

I was definitely making those at 17, including some dangerous ones (too much alcohol, too many boys). But if my older self came back and said, “You better be careful,” I’m not sure I would have felt loved.

Removing myself from the fantasy though, I can imagine an older woman who knows what trouble awaits her 17 year-old self but who also respects her younger self’s right to make her own decisions. In that scenario, “you better be careful” could sound like a loving warning from a concerned observer… Not all that different from my image of God, actually.

The second one – “learn to love yourself” – feels like a directive (already not my ideal) to do something I clearly don’t know how to do (or I wouldn’t need the directive!). There are all sorts of implications underneath the directive – that I’m worthy of love, that I’m whole and complete, that I’m valuable – that do feel very loving and supportive. I just would have needed it in a different package.

So what, then, would I say to my 17 year-old self if given only four words?

I have this little trick I use, most often when I’m writing. I don’t just remember something; I actually travel back. It’s kind of a cross between a meditation and a shamanic journey. And when I do it, I land myself pretty solidly in that moment – the place, the people, the smell and colors, and most definitely, the emotions.

So I went back to 17. (Super brave, I know.)

At 17, I was taking a heavy load of academic honors courses, heavier than was required or expected of me. I was deeply involved in the theater department with advanced classes and tons of extra-curricular commitments. I’d been bulimic for 2 years already. I was steeped in relationship drama, always involved with someone, occasionally more than one person. And despite being generally well-liked and well-respected, I was excruciatingly lonely.

Sinking back in, I expected to find pain, sadness, and shame but those weren’t the overriding feelings (though they were certainly there). What I felt much more profoundly was heaviness, a sense of burden… As if I were Atlas, without the muscles and 20 pounds overweight, undernourished and improperly dressed, holding the world on my shoulders.

For as long as I could remember, I’d felt responsible for everything. What people thought, felt, and did; the unforeseen consequences of my every move; the final outcome of my life; and every ounce of my past. I thought I was fundamentally flawed, unforgivably so. And I was desperately trying to simultaneously hide that fact and make amends, while preventing future catastrophes. Remember the ant? Imagine her scurrying around a large construction site, trying to hold up steel girders.

And the number one thing I felt responsible for, though I wouldn’t have been able to name it for you at the time, was the breakup of my family.

I was three when we started to rattle and five when we blew up. Adult common sense says I had nothing to do with it, but toddler common sense says otherwise. It was devastating for everyone and, for reasons both altruistic and selfish, I was desperate to fix it, to somehow rebuild us. Only I couldn’t. The girders were falling faster than I could catch them. Plus, I was only an ant.

At 17, I was still trying, by contorting myself in every way I thought might help. If I could just do better, do more… be more, or less, fill-in-the-blank… maybe I could make up for everything I hadn’t been. Maybe I could earn the air I was breathing and pay back the debt of every breath I’d already taken. Maybe it would be all right if I could just carry the load…

So seeing that 17 year-old self sitting alone outside the science resource center, on a cold concrete bench with a mountain of textbooks, skipping lunch because of the donut she ate at nutrition break, with a school full of friends and no one to be with, trying trying trying to hold it together while the guilt she won’t be able to name for another 15 years eats a gaping hole in her gut, this is what I want to say:

“It’s not your fault.”

I want to sit at her feet and put my hands on her knees and look up to her eyes and say, “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do this. It was awful what happened, and I know it still hurts. But you didn’t break it. And it wasn’t yours to fix. I was never yours to fix.”

And my 17 year-old self would look back at me and cry… as sure as I am crying now. Not in blessed relief, because that feeling – if it came at all – would be brief. But because without the guilt, there is only the loss… And naked and undeflected, the pain is near unbearable.

Still, crying would have been a help.

To be given a path to the heart of my ache, secret even from myself, would have been a great improvement over the ruthless numbing and relentless carrying of all that weight.

Permission to break open?

Permission granted. And you are alone never, ever more.

And so, I give the question to you: If you could travel back and sit in the presence of your 17 year-old self, with your hands on her lap and look up into her eyes, what four words would you give her?

___________ ____________ ____________ ____________.

 

 

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In honor of a “fake” holiday

When I first met Dean, he absolutely hated Valentine’s Day. Imagine spitting-mad, vehement disgust and multiply that by three or four. I wasn’t his girlfriend at the time so it didn’t really matter, but it did seem a shocking amount of disdain.

When I asked him about it, he ranted that it was a fake holiday invented by Hallmark for nothing but profit and used to make single folks feel like shit about themselves and their lives.

I didn’t like Dean all that much then, so it’s probably better that I didn’t yet know the true origins of Valentine’s Day because, if I had, I’d have surely been surly enough to offer them and he’d have probably eaten me for lunch.

But now that we’re married and everything is hunky-dory, I’ll say this:

Valentine’s Day started as a pagan festival (a rather bloody one – Dean probably would have appreciated that detail), which was then co-opted per usual by a Pope who turned it into a Christian feast day. In both cases, it was associated with love, and exchanging handmade paper cards was actually the fashion in the Middle Ages… a bit before Hallmark. In fact, it wasn’t even Hallmark that began factory producing such cards. In the US, that started in the late 1800s and it wasn’t until 1913 that Hallmark got into the act.

So, whatever Valentine’s Day is or isn’t to any given person, it’s not a “fake holiday invented by Hallmark for nothing but profit” (though, heaven knows, they’re profiting!).

It seemed, at the time, also a bit of a stretch to think that anyone was intending to make single folks miserable. But, whatever. Clearly, Dean wasn’t thinking straight as evidenced by the foaming mouth.

Given all this, it might surprise you to hear that, on our first Valentine’s as a couple (love having finally trumped my surliness), Dean went all out — flowers, dinner, a lovely card. And since that day, boy, has he relished the holiday. For the longest time, he’d buy as many cards as the number of years we’d been together and hide them all over the house for me to find unwittingly as I went about my day. Talk about a romantic! When I reminded him once of his original bitterness, he seemed genuinely surprised by the memory. It appeared chronic singlehood had, indeed, poisoned his mind but nothing, in the end, could damage his true heart.

I’m gratefully the beneficiary of that soft heart, and this holiday is made only sweeter now by our son’s annual homemades.

If you’re among those spitting blood today, I apologize for being about to maybe make it worse. And if you’re celebrating the sweetness, I salute your brave, tender heart.

Here’s a funny story I wrote last year in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s about me and Dean and my one and only experience of love at first sight which, much to his dismay, wasn’t Dean. But, I think you’ll agree, it turned out all right for all of us. And it gave me one of the sweetest, most heart-warming stories to tell.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  xo

 

Tasty Words Valentine show 2015

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Dodging bullets in my head

I went into the bedroom the other morning, feeling pretty happy. Dean was taking Aidan to school, the house was quiet, and I was thinking about a blog post I wanted to write. I tossed my clothes onto the bed, hauled my body after them, and started wrangling my legs into pants. It was a fine day, and life felt all right.

Five minutes later, wheeling out of the bedroom, I felt like crap.

I stopped dead just before the door and thought, wait a minute, what the hell just happened?

Because nothing had happened. No one came in or out. Nothing happened outside. Dressing was routine. So why, all of a sudden, was I feeling so miserable?

And then I noticed how incredibly familiar that feeling was. I’d felt it countless times before, every day in fact, sometimes multiple times a day. It felt like a giant stone across my upper back, slumping my shoulders and pushing me down. I felt nervous and tense. Irritable.

I sat frozen for a moment, feeling the yuck, scanning, scanning, scanning… And then….

What were you just thinking? I asked myself. Because whatever had happened, it happened inside me.

And I realized I was imagining criticism.

Entering the bedroom, I’d been thinking about the post I wanted to write, and sometime between getting on the bed and getting off it, I’d started imagining the heat I might take. A specific person had come to mind and, within seconds, I’d plunged deep into a fantasy of confrontation where I was criticized, called out, and humiliated for what I’d (as yet not) written.

Well that certainly explained feeling beaten like a dog by a bullying master. No wonder happy had hightailed it under the bed.

But what really got me was the realization that I do this – imagine criticism – all the time.

I’ve been paying close attention lately, and nearly every time I have a work related impulse, someone comes to mind and starts telling me why it’s stupid, wrong, short-sighted, misguided, harmful, useless, self-centered, whatever… inside my head.

Now, I’m pretty sure that 30 years ago, I used to imagine such things even more often, across many more aspects of my life. So even though I’m doing it all the time and the effect is pretty fierce, it’s still an improvement. There’s been a lot of healing in the last 30 years.

Still, subjecting myself to invented criticism multiple times a day is just NOT acceptable. I mean, honestly, it’s a miracle I produce anything!

Talking to my friend, Beckie, about it the other day, she asked the obvious and same question I’ve been asked by multiple friends and therapists over the years: Whose voice is that? It seems natural to presume the inner critic is an internalized version of an identifiable outer critic.

But the question has always stumped me.

The fact is, I didn’t grow up with a parent or sibling who routinely criticized me. I wasn’t told I sucked or that I was worthless. I wasn’t habitually called out or humiliated. I’m not saying my family was some pinnacle of perfect support, but it’s definitely not as simple as, oh yeah, my grandmother was always lobbing grenades and now she lives inside me.

So what is living inside me?

One thing I find really interesting is that my imagined critic is rarely the same person twice. Every now and again, an antagonist makes a repeat appearance, but the person could be almost anyone: an acquaintance, friend, colleague, family member. It’s not like I have one, or even a small circle, of inner bullies. The roster is extremely diverse.

And rarely is it someone to whom I’ve given much power. So it’s NOT a beloved teacher, or my husband, or my mom, or a dear friend, or a mentor. I mean sometimes it’s one of those people, but often it’s a person in my life whose criticism, if it were actually coming my way, wouldn’t necessarily mean very much.

And that’s another interesting bit: in real life, I rarely get criticized.

For the last 13 years especially, I’ve led a VERY public life. And if folks disagree with me, or have been offended by something I’ve said, they’ve generally kept their mouths shut. Almost entirely. In fact, the very few people I can think of who have taken issue with me have done so extremely politely. Even lovingly. Those people sound exactly NOTHING like the voices in my head.

So, what’s the story?

Beckie is one of my dearests and we live 3,000 miles apart so, from time to time, we have these marathon conversations (pure heaven!). Last weekend, we spent a fair amount of time exploring my troublesome pattern. And when she asked what I knew about the origins of said pattern – the “whose voice is that” question – I started talking about what I did grow up with.

My mom is a child of war. She was born a refugee in Yugoslavia, poor as dirt, and by age nine was living in the midst of three simultaneous wars. She and my grandmother ended up at Mauthaussen, a concentration camp for prisoners of war (among other groups). She survived the atrocities and deprivation (they both did) only to languish for years in displaced persons camps in Europe. When she and her parents were finally sponsored by a family in the US in the 1950s, not only were they exploited, but my mom quickly contracted tuberculosis which very nearly killed her. So it is for good reason that her motto was and probably still is, “Look for danger first.”

I don’t remember expressly being taught the same, but I do remember having my ideas and desires met with immediate concern that often sounded like criticism. Just to give a concrete example, when I was 10, I told my mother I wanted to be a child psychologist. I wasn’t actually super attached to the idea but my friend, Danielle, had said she wanted to be one and it sounded noble and smart, so I adopted the idea. But when I shared it with my mom, her face stretched into a horrified grimace as she exclaimed, “You want to spend all day listening to the sad stories of suffering children?? How depressing!” So much for noble and smart.

When I think back on that story, and underneath the implied criticism, I see extreme protectiveness… Love, actually. However inelegant the package, I think my mom was delivering her best, proven strategy for self-preservation in no small part because she is bone-achingly devoted to my survival. What had saved her could save me, even if it clobbered me first.

And she was doing exactly what life had proven required: beware the downside… and by all means, avoid it. It wasn’t unusual, before being captured by the Nazis, for my mother to greet soldiers at the door demanding to know my family’s allegiance. And my mother would frantically scan the uniform for clues of affiliation so that she could provide the “correct” answer, thereby securing her family’s survival for one more day. Hers was a literally dangerous world. One always had to wonder from where the bullets would come.

My father was nothing like my mother in this regard. But ironically, he reinforced the lesson. Because my dad was often the one firing bullets.

I spent the majority of my days with my mother, but I saw my father one weekend a month for most of my childhood and while I have really treasured memories from that time, I was often extremely confused.

I remember unloading groceries from the car when I was 11 or 12. My dad had taken some bags inside and I was out by the car picking up more. I grabbed a heavy one and started walking toward the house when I realized the bag was too much for me. I didn’t want to spill the stuff and the bag seemed about to tear so I called out, “Papa, help!”

My dad came racing out of the house and around the side to where I stood, but when he saw me wrestling with nothing but groceries, he was livid. He scolded me for calling out like I was in real danger, made it seem like I should know better, shamed me for not.

My brainwaves went flat. He lived in a not stupendous part of San Francisco but I never felt insecure there, and never in a million years, when I called out for help, did I suspect he would fear I was being attacked. I thought he’d trot outside and rescue me from the uncooperative bag with a playful, “Aaack.” Instead he fired round after round of verbal bullets as I stood there, frozen and dumbstruck, unable to compute.

Another time, I was a bit older, he asked me to do the dishes. I expressed some mild teenage annoyance, a grumble or complaint, thinking he’d react the way my mother did: mildly if at all, knowing I would, in fact, do as asked. Instead he got mad and fired off shots about my intolerable behavior.

I remember so clearly, from both these occasions, my utter shock. Even as I write about it, I can feel the flat-lining, the… disconnect… inside my body. And I have a slew of memories just like these, times when I felt… just blindsided, by a reaction or response. I never saw those bullets coming.

Sharing these stories with Beckie, I started to realize my habit of imagining criticism isn’t so much about replaying old tapes as it is about dodging potential bullets.

When a critic surfaces in my mind, that person is the answer to the unconscious question, “From where could bullets come?” I’m looking for danger and trying to avoid it. If I know from where they might come, and what type they are, I’m better equipped to dodge any bullets.

I was just about to type, “The problem with all this…” but “the problem” is a ludicrous understatement. There are SO MANY problems with all this! And they are stupendously destructive.

First of all, the imagined criticism FREQUENTLY stops me in my tracks. There’s a lot of conceived work product that never comes into form. And that which does manage to manifest often requires excessive time and energy to birth because I’ve got to battle the effects of the criticism.

Secondly, way too much happy is getting eclipsed by crappy.

And finally, there is the problem behind the problem (by far, the most perverse): It is so ingrained to pose the question “from where might the bullets come” that I do not EVER notice I’m asking it. I ask it every time, without fail, in a whole host of circumstances… And I do not EVER notice I’ve done it.

That, my friends, is really bad news.

It is simply my instinct, my default to ask. And the whole question has been reduced to a switch that gets flipped or a button that’s pushed. It is unconscious and automatic, and that makes it very hard to change.

But… not impossible. 🙂

The good news is the problem behind the problem is the key to the whole thing. And I know what the problem behind the problem is. That means, I’m empowered. Clumsy… but empowered.

So, the work in front of me is to begin to notice.

At first, it will probably look a lot like it did that day in my bedroom. I’ll notice the crappy; it’ll feel familiar; I’ll remember what generally causes that feeling; I’ll become aware of the specific criticism and critic that surfaced moments before; and like that, bit by bit, I’ll trace my way back to the switch. I won’t be able to see the switch, but I’ll know it’s there.

Then, I’ll start catching it before the crappy, while I’m still imagining the bullets. I’ll become aware of the specific criticism and the critic. I’ll look for the switch.

And little by little, as I practice, the mechanism will lose its power. The switch will still flip and the criticism will still be imagined, but it won’t slow me so much. It won’t be so hard to defeat.

There might even come a time when I’ll become aware just as the critic is emerging, before s/he has a chance to say anything, and I’ll be able to choose if I want to hear what might be said. Mostly, I’ll choose yes because I’ll still be too afraid of bullets to choose no. But eventually, I won’t care anymore what the critic might say, and I’ll turn away.

Then maybe, just maybe, if I’m really lucky and I keep at it, one day I’ll notice that critics hardly ever show up anymore. That I no longer imagine criticism…. And I haven’t for a loooong time.

So that’s my plan. And it’s good to have a plan. Because no matter the origins of this unfortunate pattern, it’s my ballgame now. I am 100% responsible for every pitch and at bat. (That’s how we Sheroes roll, right?) Plus, even if I’m spot on in my analysis of my parents, I’m certain they never intended to shackle me. And no matter it all, I don’t live in a war zone and there aren’t bullets flying. It’s time I stop acting like there are.

Besides, if I’m going to invent how people respond to me, why not invent something wonderful? I mean, seriously, why not?

As I’ve been writing, I’ve noticed at least twice the rise of a critic (though I’m certain it’s happened more often), and both times, it caused me to edit myself. The real tragedy, though, is that the criticism and the editing happened almost simultaneously. It would be sad enough if I chose to contort myself in response to inner critique, but there was no choosing. It just happened.

Still, I noticed. A bit after the fact, yes, but I noticed. And my dearest hope is that, as I notice more often, the distance between bullet and dodge will grow, so much so I’ll have a chance to decide if dodging is even warranted.

And that, my friends, would be excellent. Because from the Shero point of view, having a choice is almost more important than eliminating the bullets.

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The Quickening

I went outside this morning with Reba-girl and discovered the most beautiful, spring day. Sunny and warm, with that kind of freshness that only hangs around in spring.

It’s a bit early, of course. I’m pretty sure our trees are going to be very confused. But that’s nothing new around here.

It’s interesting timing for me, pesonally. Today is Brigit, one of eight holy days in my spiritual tradition. It’s the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Quickening, we call it.

In winter (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), the earth is fallow. The soil rests and replenishes itself. If there are seeds in the ground, they lie dormant.

But then something happens. Something stirs inside them. A quiet, lightless spark ignites, so subtle it can hardly be perceived but with the power of a locomotive, for from barren stillness will grow a plant that feeds or a mighty tree.

That something is the Quickening.

And we begin to perceive, finally, the growing length of days (though, in truth, they have been lengthening since the winter solstice).

In my tradition, this natural phenomenon is seen as a metaphor for the cycles and seasons of humans. By the earth, we are called to settle in and dream during the winter cold, to lean into our communities, to rest and replenish (SO profoundly not the stress, shopping, and sleeplessness of the typical holiday season!). There in the literal dark, when hours of daylight are naturally scarce, our dreams are at leisure to emerge and evolve. They play off each other, expand, contract… like an eternal blossom ever unfolding.

And then, the Quickening.

Our dreams begin to coalesce into clear visions. The most fervent of those visions rise to the forefront of our consciousness and their brilliance, so luminous in the darkness, inspires our dedication. They become our priorities, our goals for the coming seasons.  We begin to invest our hearts more and more deeply in those few visions. And that love, that commitment and attention, acts like that same sacred something that awakens the sleeping seeds. Our dreams, like the seeds deep in the earth, germinate.

In accordance with the natural world, those dreams won’t take physical form until spring when, just like the tender sprouts of seeds breaking through the thawed crust of ready soil, they’ll become tangible and real in the world, infantile but poised for growth.

At least, that’s the idea.

So I find myself wondering, what are the dreams that are floating to the forefront, gathering momentum, condensing into potent seeds. Where will I place my devotion? To what will I dedicate myself?

There are two coming to mind in this moment. One is my memoir… My poor, suffering, neglected memoir. The other is a non-profit organization to house my work with women on a shero’s journey. (The campaign to raise funds for my work with Cheri is definitely inspiring me.) And actually, there’s also a third, though it’s vibrating considerably more slowly, and that’s an updated blog/website that reflects the evolution of my work and mission. (Ooooooo, that’s vibrating more swiftly now just for naming it!)

It’s too soon to say where precisely I’ll land. In my perfect world, I’d know this today, but I absolutely do not live in my perfect world! So, I’ll be comfortable with what I do know right now, and watching in the coming days as things evolve. Having asked the question, it’s usually my experience the answer begins to appear.

And you? What dreams are coming forward for you? To what will you dedicate yourself when the light fully returns and all around the natural world, there is birth, growth, and fruition?

(Click here for an update on Cheri’s Shero Fund to Beat Cancer.)

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