Tough Girls

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but recently this blog, was mentioned by Huffington Post contributor Peg Aloi, in Tough Girls: Do They Still Exist?

Apparently there’s a dearth of tough “gals” out there and women are simply “girly” again.  And “the blogosphere proves it!”

Peg writes;

Maybe it’s the “new” (crappy) economy, or our fear of the imminent zombie-vampire-Tea Partier apocalypse, or the realization that teaching our kids self-reliance instead of whiny entitlement really is the best approach to parenting, but there’s so much emphasis on, well, ultra-femme domestic activity these days. This weird retro world of cooking, heirloom tomatoes and Jane Austen is starting to feel a bit smug and smothering. Where’s the fun?

My blog’s mentioned under the auspices of “heirloom tomatoes” and whether this is “fun”?

Well readers, being the “tough girl” that I am, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  Here’s my retort to this brassy little article;

Thank you for mentioning my blog under the auspices of “Heirloom Tomatoes” (www.candow­omen.wordp­ress.com) in seeking to answer the question of whether tough girls still do exist?

 Funny, I’ve never thought of myself as particular­ly “girly” or indeed “anti-femi­nist”, although I do love to cook. And in answer to your question as whether I may personally qualify as tough? Before you or your readers judge me, perhaps I should include a link to my other blog; the one where I blog about my life as a women in her early forties dealing with metastatic breast cancer (see http://can­cerculture­now.blogsp­ot.com/201­1/01/can-d­o-spirit.h­tml

Your post reminds me that both my blogs have been sadly neglected of late due to all the “fun” my illness has been serving up to me, leaving with very little time, ability or gumption to pursue the things I really like to do. Like being a tough bad-ass breast cancer activist blogger, as well as someone who enjoys a bloody good heirloom tomato.

Tough “gal”? You be the judge.


Courtesy of Past Expiry Cartoon

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Universal Activism

Last night I was reading the latest issue of Time magazine and Bobby Ghosh’s article, “Rage, Rap and Revolution:  Inside the Arab Youth Quake. Middle Eastern youth from Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, now Bahrain and perhaps now Iran, are leading the way in revolts aimed to topple decades old hard line government regimes and bring democracy to their part of the world.  Ghosh says;

‘All of the revolts are led by young men and women, many of whom are novices at political activism.  All use modern tools, like social networking sites on the Internet and texting over mobile phones, to organize and amplify their protests.  And all have the same demands: a right to choose and change their leaders, an end to rampant corruption, the opportunity for employment and improvement.”

It may come as a surprise to many,  that women are playing an important role in this revolutionary activism in the Middle East. But it is happening.  See this article on the women of Egypt and the roles they have played in this recent uprising and indeed historically as well.

“Women have long been told, by the government and even by opposition groups here, that their rights are a priority — but that economic reforms, or security concerns, or cultural considerations must come first.

But as they’ve so fully participated in the first mass protest movement in Egypt in a generation — women here have found that they don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission to be full citizens.’”

Indeed in Yemen, Tawakkol Karman a 32 year old mother of three and one of the nation’s most well-known activists, is striving to produce a non-violent revolution that she hopes will result in similar changes to those experienced in Egypt.  Read more of her fascinating story in this Washington Post article by Sudarsan Raghavan; “In Yemen, female activist strives for an Egypt-like revolution”.

Time and time again the Can-Do spirit of ordinary women propelled to higher action proves to be indomitable.  No matter the geography, and no matter the issues, the themes of feminist theory seem to be universal and there is shared feeling of solidarity with our sisters all over the world.

How do I know this? Look closely at the photo from the Time magazine article mentioned above.

Can-Do Women Are Everywhere. Photo credit: Time, Inc.

The Story of Being Sarah

Photograph of Sarah Horton taken by Karen Choudhary

Today I’d like to introduce you to Sarah Horton, author, artist, entrepreneur, blogger, filmmaker, activist and an all-round highly accomplished and creative Can-Do Woman.  I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah through my other blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, an insider’s view of living with breast cancer in today’s society.  I found Sarah’s story to be so incredibly inspiring, and I am delighted to be able to spotlight her achievements here today on the Can-Do Women blog. Here is a part of Sarah’s story.

In February 2007, at the age of 43, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer.  To hear those words uttered is a moment so terrifying and raw, that one barely has time to think, let alone be able to string a sentence together in any cohesive manner.  Yet, that’s exactly what Sarah did.  Despite being paralyzed with fear (or perhaps “despite” should be read as “instead of”), Sarah began to write in earnest.  On the day after her diagnosis she took a leather-bound journal, had her husband Ronnie take a picture of her at their kitchen table, and  began compiling her thoughts, lists of questions for the doctors, research for treatment decisions; anything that seemed relevant to the horrifying road on which she was about to embark.

Sarah, who lives in the United Kingdom, soon realized that in order to secure the best treatment options for herself that she needed to seek out opinions from the country’s foremost experts on breast cancer.  Whilst her initial consultations and ongoing medical care were provided free through the country’s National Health Service (“NHS”), obtaining opinions from the country’s top specialists was going to cost money, and lot of it.  Now, this was money that was not immediately available, but would need to be found if Sarah was going to receive the best advice before deciding on and commencing her next lot of treatments.  By this time, Sarah and undergone two major surgeries with the NHS and was concerned about making the right decisions about treatment from that point on.

And so, Sarah turned to Yes To Life (“YTL”), a U.K. cancer advocacy organization that amongst other services, provides support to cancer patients in navigating their treatment options. In what turned out to be a fortuitous twist of fate, although Sarah could not have known it at the time, YTL suggested that Sarah set-up a website to help with the fundraising needed to pay for her upcoming private sector medical bills.  At the time, Sarah felt aghast and that she couldn’t possibly ask people for money, however YTL helped her to understand that this might just be feasible option, particularly if the fundraising was framed around her story.  And so with some misgivings, Sarah set up her website.

Sarah started to regularly publish an online diary and extracts from her journals, and created links for breast cancer resources as she came across them herself.  She included a “donate” page and despite her initial timidity in commencing the project, quickly gathered an email list of loyal “fans”.  As time went on and Sarah kept up with her diary entries, her following grew and that group of “fans”  began to metamorphosize into a virtual support network, in which real friendships started to develop.  And fortunately, Sarah was able to receive the financial help that she needed to pay for the ongoing medical opinions from specialist cancer doctors during her initial period of treatment, a time when the most important medical decisions needed to be made.  At this point,  no further fundraising activities were needed, and Sarah was able to move on with her treatment, receiving the rest of her healthcare for free under the U.K.’s NHS.  But she still kept writing her on-line diary.

Everything changes when you receive a cancer diagnosis, and Sarah’s experience was no exception.  In her words, “life changed beyond belief”.  Unable to work, debilitated by surgeries, and other medical treatments, feeling unsupported by family and her old circle of friends, Sarah felt a palpable anger bubbling away inside of her.  Surrounded by a breast cancer culture that seemed to be all about pink-ribbons and feel-good survivor celebrations, Sarah began reading about other women’s experiences, notably Barbara Ehrenreich’s famous article, “Welcome To Cancerland”, and came to understand that she “didn’t like pink” and that it was okay to feel angry at what had happened to her.  And so she kept writing, and reflecting, and being angry that control and choice throughout the whole breast cancer ordeal, seemed to be a consistently hard-fought battle for the patient.  And she began to consciously wonder, why she had developed breast cancer, and why at such a young age? And this made her angrier.

Continuing to write her journals throughout her entire treatment, on one hand, kept organized and safe the immense trove of medical information that amasses very quickly with a cancer diagnosis, allowing Sarah to keep control in navigating her treatment and medical decisions, but on the other hand proved to be a highly therapeutic outlet for  what is a lonely, frustrating and bewildering ordeal. By writing, Sarah was able to make sense of her anger and frustration, in the clear and coherent narrative that had started to take shape.  She realized there was immense power in story-telling, and her reflections on the “why’s” of her illness, and so the seeds of a book manuscript were unwittingly being sown.

By the end of 2009, Sarah’s arduous treatment regimen was almost at an end.  She had endured many complications and continued to fight fatigue and other debilitating side-effects of medication and numerous surgeries.  But she was almost there. In early 2010, Sarah began to feel strong enough to think about going back to work in the filmmaking business that she runs with her beloved husband Ronnie, A Sense of Place.  As well, she wanted to start getting back to some of the other activities that she had enjoyed before her diagnosis, like camping, painting, hiking, quilting, and her beloved allotment garden. It was at a meeting with her business adviser that they discussed the possibility of making a film or publishing a book about her experience.  At this point Sarah’s journals had grown to 80,000 words, and there was plenty of film footage shot by Ronnie during her treatment,  but Sarah was still unsure at this time which project would be the better fit.  In making a decision as to which project, Sarah’s business adviser suggested she meet with a local Liverpool book publisher, Fiona Shaw of Wordscapes.

As it happened, in early 2010, from the increasing popularity and visibility of Sarah’s website, Sarah was invited to a live debate on Sky TV, to discuss her views on the culture of positive-thinking that tends to surround the world of breast cancer.  It was a high-profile opportunity, seen by some 14 million viewers, and would be Sarah’s first foray into this kind of media.  As a result of her appearance, Sarah learned that she was naturally able to articulate her opinions and convey her anger, in a way that resonated with an audience.  And she liked the feeling of that.  After that appearance, and upon meeting with publisher, Fiona Shaw, they watched a clip of Sarah’s television debut via Sarah’s website.  Fiona was impressed with Sarah’s resolve and critical thinking in her views on the breast cancer cancer movement, and from there a book project was born.

Finishing the book at Lyme Regis. Photograph by Ronnie Hughes

Sarah took her journals, and commenced the extremely complicated process of completing and editing her journal writings into a format befitting of an audience, and in a way that clearly stated her politics with regard to breast cancer, but ultimately balanced with the story of her life.  A life interrupted by breast cancer. In order to achieve this mammoth task of completing the book,  Sarah and Ronnie took a trip to Lyme Regis, where they holed up in a little beach shack with no phone, Internet or television, and Sarah went to work.  What had started as a diary and a way to navigate her diagnosis and treatment, was at last a finished manuscript and ready for several months of fine editing with publisher Fiona, and finally, setting and design.

Click here if you would like to purchase this book

In October 2010, the book Being Sarah was published, and Sarah was finally able to sit back and catch her breath.  But not for long. Fast forward to today, and Sarah is now back at work part-time in her business with Ronnie.  She also undertakes speaking engagements, where she speaks out on the issues of breast cancer prevention and the importance of control and choice in breast cancer treatment.  Sarah also recently attended and spoke at an environmental summit at the European Union in Brussels on the issue of cancer prevention and environmental policy.  Most importantly, Sarah is finally now getting back to life’s simple pleasures, but she continues to  be an advocacy voice for those dealing with breast cancer who cannot speak for themselves, and passing on the knowledge of her own experience  with the disease in order to engage in debate and motivate future actions in breast cancer treatment  and policy.

I’m sure you’ll agree, Sarah Horton epitomizes the spirit of a Can-Do Woman, in what she’s accomplished so far, and as she continues to set the stage for raising public consciousness of breast cancer prevention and  meaningful debate within the breast cancer movement.  Sarah,  thank you for all that you do.  There is much to be learned from your story, and I am honored to be able to share at least part of your narrative today in this blog’s homage to the amazing achievements of extraordinary ordinary women like you.

If you would like to know more about Sarah, and read more of her writings,  you can purchase a copy of her book at the link above, or Sarah’s blog can be found by clicking on this link: Being Sarah.  I highly recommend you stop by and join in the discussion.

And here is a sampling of some of Sarah’s films.

A short video of Sarah’s book launch.

The Plot is a delightful piece about the Can-Do Gardeners who garden at  Sarah’s beloved allotment.

“What we love, we must protect” is a short film about Sarah’s recent trip to the European Parliaments summit on cancer prevention and environmental policy

Has an event in your life spurred you to greater action? Have you ever considered writing a book?  Fiction or non-fiction? Have you started it yet?

Copyright © 2011 by Can-Do Women. Images on this site are used for the express purposes of commentary and criticism under the fair use doctrine.