Monday, January 26, 2015

On the outside my cancer-tankerous self is like most other 55 year old women, but on the inside, I just turned 21.  Or at least my cancer diagnosis did.  

Even after all these years feeling nauseated still feels normal. Anytime I am not, I find myself waiting for another pair of cowboy boots to knock me backwards!

Twenty-one years ago, I was sitting on a sofa, inside the first house my husband, and I built together. It was on top of a mountain overlooking the TN River. I was 34 years old, and living a life, that had not been my own; I would have been green with envy.  At 34, my life appeared to loom ahead of me; it was easy to feel invincible, and smug. Happy and content were easier to take for granted.

I was watching my children as they raced to see who could get to me first.  My daughter, Tabitha,  won by pushing her brother out of the way, and jumping cowboy boots first onto my lap.

I put a hand up to protect my breast, and felt a lump the size of an acorn. That lump was breast cancer.

Cancer changes how people perceive things, and my life did not appear so envious after that. I was not so smug after that.  In 1994 most of us knew more people who died of cancer than survived it.

Cancer is not the worst thing that could happen to you. The worst thing is anything, and everything that adversely affects your children. I was terrified I would not live to see my children grow up.

My oncologist joked, my odds were good, but he would not go to Las Vegas with them, if he were me. 

A middle-aged, breast cancer survivor was more optimistic. She told me that I could get through it, and one day cancer would not be the first thing I thought about when I woke in the morning.

I shook my head in agreement, gave her what my kids call my fake smile, and thought to myself, “Lady, I ain’t ever getting over this!

In retrospect we were both right.

It took less than two years for my cancer not to be in the forefront of my thoughts. It was when my oldest brother’s, infant daughter, who was born with severe complications, died.

Life is filled with mountainous highs and hellacious lows.  

By 2001, when Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy was published, the nausea, and uncertainty my own cancer diagnosis had provided me, upon waking, had been replaced with marketing a book about it. Just as the book was about to hit the shelves, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Despite what is depicted in my children’s book about cancer, I never lost my hair due to chemo, but a decade later at a Texas book release event, I was hiding a big bald spot on the back of my head.  

I was thrilled to be able to celebrate the release of my book about nuclear power, with family members, in the Texas town where I had worked in the nuclear industry, but in my life, sometimes the highs and lows collide.  The year prior to my books release there had been one personal crisis after another, and I was recovering from stress alopecia.  

Although some anti-nuclear advocates would be happy to think otherwise, my alopecia had nothing to do with my proximity to any nuclear power plant.

Last year, I traded in the anxiety of public speaking events, and nuclear power hecklers, that accompanied my career as a children’s book author,

I joined my husband, Randy, in Alabama.  Where I turned his (corporate provided) apartment into a storage facility for everything from light fixtures to toilets. The two of us spent 2014, haggling over every detail of new home construction. My husband likes to say, people who agree on everything lead uninteresting lives.

I write this from our interesting new empty nest house. We moved in during the holidays. Like that first house we built, 21 years ago, it is located on a mountain in East Tennessee, overlooking the Tennessee River.  It is for most people, including me, a dream home.

I have lived to see my children grow up, and I sit alone on the sofa, listening to our dog snore, remembering January 1994.

My cancer diagnosis obliged me to exchange invincibility for hope, and smugness for gratitude.

I sit here waiting for the cowboy boots.  This time, the hand I put up is to protect my heart.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My son, Jordan, does not remember a time his mother was not a breast cancer survivor or a children’s book author.  He and his sister, Tabitha, have an impressive resume of marketable skills they acquired while helping me establish NutcrackerPublishing Company.

Jordan helping me out with a summer science camp group.
While still in elementary school they were pros at collecting book sale money at speaking engagements, or creating and selling balloon animals at fundraising events, and my daughter’s personal favorite (NOT), being interviewed by media.
What big feet you have Tickles Tabitha. 

As they grew up they educated me on the technicalities of my first website, and later social media.  They did everything from dressing up as the Tickles Tabitha character to critiquing my presentations. 

It was only this year that Jordan realized, what he viewed as ordinary and often embarrassing, some of his college classmates thought was totally awesome.   

So maybe I gloated a little bit.  It was one of those -I TOLD YOU SO- moments every Mom with a young adult child  appreciates. 
Clowning around at the Harris Nuclear Plant's
Community Days Event.

Teachers often ask me to share how students might come up with a writing idea. I always advise educators and students to pay attention to what goes on in their own lives.  Sometimes the very thing that bores or annoys them most (like having to help out with your mother’s author events) may one day inspire an idea to write about.  

When Jordan called and said, he had a writing assignment he thought I might like, I knew better than to be flattered, but I could not have been prouder.

Jordan, is a senior, majoring in biology at Western Carolina University.  

Pink Profits

Jordan B Frahm

I.                 Introduction
This essay intends to inform the reader of the ethical misconduct involved in the popularization of breast cancer awareness by various organizations. It will explore the rise of breast cancer philanthropy in the commercial setting, the effects it has had on the outlook of the disease, and the cultural implications related to the way awareness is marketed.
II.               Pink Diagnosis
            Prior to the 20th century, breast cancer was treated as taboo relative to today’s progressive openness on the subject. Although feminist movements can largely be credited for paving the way for breast cancer awareness campaigns, the disease’s most recognizable symbol of awareness was first used in 1992 as an object of Self magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Fernandez recounts the story of the pink ribbon’s beginnings in Mamm Magazine: A woman named Charlotte Haley had been distributing peach-colored ribbons with a card that read: "The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Self magazine contacted Haley to harness the ribbons for national awareness, but the activist declined in favor of a less commercial approach. However, Self legally circumvented Haley’s apprehension by using pink ribbons instead. That year, Estée Lauder handed out 1.5 million pink ribbons accompanied by breast self-exam instructions. (Fernandez)
            Avon and other cosmetic names followed suit with wild success in the coming years, bringing pink ribbons and breast cancer closer into the public eye. According to Fernandez, “Between 1991 and 1996, federal funding for breast cancer research increased nearly fourfold to over $550 million. And according to the American Cancer Society, the percentage of women getting annual mammograms and clinical breast exams has more than doubled over the last decade [as of 1998].” In addition to the pink ribbon, a variety of other breast cancer awareness campaigns have aided in spotlighting the once-overlooked disease. Awareness has even transcended the commercial market, reaching the levels of diplomatic implementation. In 2006, the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness was created, and soon made partnership with “the Komen Foundation, the Avon Corporation, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, and a variety of cancer care and business organizations in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Palestine.” (King 287).
III.             Philanthropy Prognosis
            Superficially, this campaign to end breast cancer appears wildly successful. According to, “Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades.” Yet conflicts of interest lie just below the surface and one must consider whether this campaigning has created a long-term solution to our breast cancer problem. Eli Lilly is a pharmaceutical company that sells cancer treatments (Gemzar) and preventatives (Evista) yet also markets rBGH – the artificial growth hormone it acquired from Monsanto to produce more milk in cows, despite its link to elevated risk of breast cancer (Hankinson et al, Macaulay, Resnicoff & Baserga). This suggests that Eli Lilly profits from both the treatment and the causal factors of breast cancer. The cosmetic industry, as well, notoriously uses cancer-linked ingredients in their products, yet once was the sole distributor of pink-ribbon merchandise. And despite the fact these companies raise awareness, it is clear that it is a profit-driven system. From a perspective of Virtue-based ethics, these organizations fail to do good in that they have acted for the wrong reason.
Commercial organizations recognize that consumers will respond to the opportunity to join a cause, because there is social influence to be philanthropic. According to Bolnick, there are “social pressures to contribute to the charity, and [consumers] will base their decisions upon the strength of these pressures, the utility derived from giving to the particular project, and the cost of choosing to contribute” (220). The pink-ribbon campaign has produced a huge variety of everyday items with pink labels, removing the variable of derived utility. That is, the consumer is going to buy a given product anyway, so there is only the choice between the regular brand and the one that supports breast cancer awareness. Oftentimes they are the same or similar price, removing Bolnick’s variable of the cost of choosing to contribute. Ultimately, shoppers shift their purchasing decisions toward pink labels and feel charitable with little effort involved on their part. Even the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness is suspect. Consider that “the campaign is a subproject of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), launched on December 12, 2002 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq” (bold added), and that even though the program is “encouraging companies to launch awareness programs and to offer free screening to employees, … Dubai already had in place a comprehensive free mammography service… open to foreigners as well as locals with no identification or health care required” (King, 288). Still, breast cancer screenings themselves are a matter of debate as there are many risks involved. Neither the money contributed towards breast cancer awareness, nor treatment, nor screenings can be judged as directly supportive to actually preventing or curing the disease itself. In a Utilitarian sense, then, good has not been done because, in the long term, breast cancer has only been applied a bandage.
IV.            Social Side-Effects
            As breast cancer awareness campaigns became washed in pink, it seemed that so too did the disease’s afflicted. Amy Langer, executive director of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations is quoted as saying, “it’s about body image, it’s about nurturing—it’s certainly about femininity,” (Fernandez). Initially it may seem fitting that breast cancer awareness campaigns be modeled after the concept of femininity, but this has had profound cultural consequences. The face of the fight against breast cancer has essentially become the young, white, attractive woman. Misleading advertisements for the risk of breast cancer in America may visually depict young women, while the actual data being presented is representative of those in their sixties and above. Mohanty comments on the “assumption that all women, across classes and cultures, are somehow socially constituted as a homogeneous group identified prior to the process of analysis,” raising the notion that this homogeneity is “produced not on the basis of biological essentials but rather on the basis of secondary sociological and anthropological universals” (22). By overlooking these biological essentials, the mainstream concern for breast cancer has largely overlooked the male population affected by the disease. For a diagnosed man, the feminized picture of the breast cancer struggle can be alienating despite how far our awareness has come. Women, too, are at risk when the disease is feminized. The emphasis placed on the sexuality of breasts has both garnered attention and given female patients a paradox - as described by Schulzke – because “once one has suffered from this paradigmatic woman’s disease, one loses the socially valued signs of femininity” (39). Schulzke even raises the concern that “The prevalence of pink indicates the lost radicalism and return to a traditional conception of women and actually helps to prevent them from taking meaningful action” (50). Pink propaganda seems an effective means to distract women from the profitable cycle of cancer described in Section III via the feeling of comradery - or even sisterhood. On all accounts, the young, attractive, female archetype for breast cancer is only valid in media, not in the true demographics of the disease. Here again, Utilitarian ethics dictates that good has not necessarily been done: the social pressures derived from feminizing breast cancer must be weighed against the awareness raised – which has not necessarily helped to cure the disease.
V.              Conclusion
            Marketing methods have been used to lift breast cancer into the public eye, providing awareness of its prevalence and methods of detection to the masses. Yet it is simultaneously clear that the concept of breast cancer activism has been used with conflicting interest, as even the companies that have so stridently brought attention to the disease are responsible for causing it in the first place. Meanwhile, these groups profit from marketing schemes colored pink and the mainstream media have consequently distributed a skewed vision of what it means to have breast cancer.


Bolnick, Bruce. “Toward a Behavioral Theory of Philanthropic Activity.” Altruism, Morality, and Economic Theory. Russell Sage Foundation, 1975. Print.
Fernandez, Sandy M. “Pretty in Pink.” Mamm, June/July 1998; available at Accessed Mar 31, 2014.
Hankinson S, et al. Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor 1 and risk of breast cancer. Lancet 351:1393-1396, 1998.
King, Samantha. “Pink Diplomacy: On the Uses and Abuses of Breast Cancer Awareness.” Health Communication 25.3 (2010): 286-289.
Macaulay VM. Insulin-like growth factors and cancer. British Journal of Cancer 65:311-320, 1998. 
Mohanty, Chandra. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. New York: Duke UP, 2003. Print.
Resnicoff M, Baserga R. The insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor protects tumor cells from apoptosis in vivo. Cancer Research 55:2463-69, 1998.
Schulzke, Marcus. “Hidden Bodies & the Representation of Breast Cancer.” Women's Health and Urban Life 10.2 (2011): 37-55.
U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. Sept 26, 2013. Accessed Apr 10, 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throw Back Thursday

 This photo taken in 2001 for Barr Labs, the manufacture of the BC drug tamoxifen, marked the beginning of my career as a children's book author. I have come to realize you really can't retire from being an author/advocate, but I have retired from the publishing/marketing aspect of the business. It will soon be a year since I left NC . My days have been busy and full. Mostly full of boxes containing, mirrors, faucets, light fixtures, and other building supplies which we hope to have installed in our new home this August. Whoo Hoo.                

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!  

Earth Day 2014 is Tuesday, April 22nd this year.

Perhaps the color GREEN will provide inspiration for the nuclear themed meme competition being held by my friends at the Nuclear Literacy Project.

If  you are of certain age and wondering, what the heck is a meme?  

You will find that answer at  #ATOMS4EARTH.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Mother's First Birthday Party

On Valentine’s Day 2008, my mother, Patricia Solomon, was in the hospital in a coma due to meningitis.  We were told to hope for the best and expect the worse.  We were fortunate; she woke up from her coma and recognized all of us. 

This is but one of the things that made my mother’s 75th Birthday so special.
On the left, my mother, pictured with her
grandmother, sister, and brother.

About a year ago she and I were laughing about a family member, who likes to drop hints that his birthday is approaching, expecting a party.  Something any six-year-old boy would do, except this boy was older than my mother. That is when I discovered my mother had never had a birthday party, not even as a child.

So this January 2014 in the midst of the worst winter weather the South has experienced in years, we celebrated the matriarch of Solomon’s Happy Hill Farm’s 75th birthday with a party!

The party was held at Annie Jones United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in Walnut Hill, Florida. Walnut Hill is a small community located in the Florida Panhandle.

My parents: Preston &
Patricia Solomon.

My mother had a wonderful time.
I think everyone in Walnut Hill who was not sick with the flu bug came to help us celebrate.

Life is never perfect!

Unfortunately, my brother Michael Solomon and his family did not make the party.  My sister-in-law Denise was taking care of her own mother who is battling cancer.  Michael and his daughter Makenna, who were driving in from Texas, got stuck in Louisiana when the roads closed due to ice.

Life is not perfect- BUT we came close. The party was fabulous!

The day of the party the temperature was a balmy 50-something and the sun was shining.

A few days later the ice storm hit, I was iced in at my parent's house for a few days.  By the time it was safe to venture out Solomon's Happy Hill Farm looked like this:

Luckily the ice storm did not hit us until after the party.

All of our friends and family who flew in from out of state, or drove in from parts of Florida and Alabama made it there and back safe and sound.

Best of all, my children's beautiful Granny Pat still glows, when asked about her first birthday party.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Tis the season, so don't get caught with coal in your stocking!   Santa lights his Christmas lights with Nuclear Power. 

It's hard to believe, but it's been two years since my children
helped create this video for the release of my children's book

Another family will be waiting for Santa to arrive down this 
particular fireplace. The stocking, and nutcrackers pictured here are in a storage unit somewhere in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Tabitha and Jordan have their own places to decorate the year. Which means Tabitha is decorating and Jordan is watching his roommate decorate.

The Thanksgiving holiday found my family cozying up next to a hotel room radiator in Eastern Tennessee where my husband and I are building what will be our empty-nest house.  

Which makes the memory of doing this video with my kids seem sweeter than it probably was. 

With any luck, this time next year the construction phase of our new home will be perceived the same sweet way!

 Ho Ho Ho...  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spirit of Survivorship: NC Komen Pinkfest 2013

Receiving the 2013 Maureen Thomas Jordan Spirit of Survivorship Award.

On Sunday October 6, 2013 it was my pleasure to attend the Susan G. Komen Triangle to the Coast Annual Pinkfest Event. This year Pinkfest was held at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel where survivors and our friends and family were invited to enjoy an afternoon of spa and beauty treatments along with drinks, door prizes and of course amazing sweets.

Tabitha and I grabbed our share of desserts, claimed our table and made a bee line to sign ourselves up for the spa treatments.  Then we set down to listen to the ceremonial portion of Pinkfest where the high light of the event was the introduction of sisters Diane Burnette, and Kathleen Thomas who in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure NC Triangle to the Coast affiliate presented the Maureen Thomas Jordan Spirit of Survivorship Award.

This award is given in memory of their beloved sister Maureen Thomas Jordan.  Throughout her 9½ year battle with breast cancer, Maureen never lost her hope, courage, strength or faith. She was an inspiration to all who knew her.  The award is given to a breast cancer survivor who like Maureen represents the spirit of true survivorship: someone who faces this disease with grace and courage, who provides service to breast cancer survivors and is an inspiration to others.

The sisters began their presentation with a quote from this year’s recipient.  One I recognized because it has been on Nutcracker Publishing Company's website since the publication of Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-tankerous Mommy led to my first public speaking event in 2001.   “A victim fears tomorrow, a survivor lives life as if there is no tomorrow- despite her fears.” - Amelia Frahm

As soon as I heard it I realized I was going to be the 2013 recipient of the Maureen Thomas Jordan Spirit of Survivorship Award.  I cannot adequately put into words the range of emotions I felt at that moment.

I nudged Tabitha and asked her if she had known about this.  To which she replied, if she had known she would have insisted I wear the pink dress I had debated on instead of the jeans I was wearing. 

If I had known I would have been recording the entire ceremony so I could replay it anytime I am having a bad day or feeling rejected.  Yep, it would get a lot of play.  My take on life is you don’t accomplish anything worthy of an award without first experiencing humiliation and rejection.

To experience the opposite was humbling. I sit there trying to think of what I should say when I accepted the award and telling myself over and over- do not cry- do not cry.

Receiving the Maureen Thomas Jordan Spirit of Survivorship Award is a memory I will cherish the rest of my life.  It served as a poignant reminder of how blessed I have been and validation that something I have done has indeed mattered.  

I am indebted to Christine Andrade, Corporate Sponsorship Manager at the NC Komen Affiliate who nominated me and am so grateful that my daughter, Tabitha was there to share this moment with me.  

Receiving the  2013 Maureen Thomas Jordan Spirit of Survivorship Award was an incredible honor. Although I received the award, much of the credit for it goes to my family, friends and even complete strangers.

As any survivor who has thrived will understand, my cancer diagnosis did not just affect me, but everyone who loved me and some who did not. I am grateful to all of you.

Happy Pink Pumpkin Month!