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Five women conquered in their own way...
with a facet of their individual victories
published in

Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul


e received an email, much like our other emails, containing someone's thoughts and offering something special in its own way. Out of all the emails that (unfortunately) had to be put on hold, until the November issue is online, I clicked on "Re: Event for Newsletter if not too late!"

This invitation from Leah Cano went beyond WOW! and took us down a path, actually a couple of freeways and a winding road, ending at South Coast Hwy. From there, we continued until we arrived at Laguna Beach Books. We must have known in our heart of hearts that this was going to be very special, even ahead of the topic of Breast Cancer Survivors, because we had our photographer meet us there.

Angela and I went to the back room of the bookstore and found it was standing room only. The women were listening so intently to the speaker that only a couple even glanced our way. We soon found out why. Donna St. Jean Conti was speaking from her heart as guilelessly as a child would. We rounded the corner and saw Patrick, our photographer, as he captured this scene.

From left to right: Donna St. Jean Conti, Carol Ross Edmonston, Kathy Vancura, Leah Cano and Mary Anne Breen

Donna was telling her experience dealing with a normal tendency to want to cover her scars. She continued and shared how a woman saw her scars and Donna was able to explain, "You just have to face your fear and get yourself checked." When she told her husband what happened, in support of her decision to go dressed as she was and face the stares, he told her that her scars were her "medals of honor."

Feelings ran deep within me as I saw Donna's emotions rise, listened to her loving and careful way of communicating and realized how much she, and the other women, were concerned that they not frighten anyone. Her story circled and finished my heart off, as I comprehended the encouragement her husband gave her. I remembered my late husband's comment about a long (ugly, in my eyes) scar I sport, and his take was, "To me it's beautiful-- because I still have my wife."

As Donna finished speaking...

Angela and I looked at each other, our hearts swelling, as we saw the dependence they looked for and gave each other. The intimacy of the moment in the picture you see here spoke volumes for the support women can access.

Originally, Leah was going to come to the signing by herself and that would have been a message of courage of a different sort, yet the privilege of seeing this sisterhood in person was a truly moving experience.

A woman caught in the moment could be afraid to reach out for support. But, seeing the love, assistance and pride these women shared would surely help even the more timid to know she wouldn't have to go her journey alone.

When they welcomed questions from the audience, one of the first was concerning whether they had family support. One such question was from a daughter whose mother had breast cancer. And it became clear that the support question is not only will the family give support but also the family wants to know what they can do and how much they can help.

Kathy Vancura's story in the Anthology shed wisdom on this subject. I'll give you a highlight but don't miss reading her whole story. She points out that as parents we always expect to be there for our children. Then she adds an upside that can come from hard times, "what we never counted on was the amount of strength we would draw from them..."

I looked around at the audience whose attention was riveted upon these inspiring women. Each one with their own story tucked away within them, for themselves, a family member, a dear friend, someone, or something else. The truth is those words of guidance and encouragement, at varying degrees of cost to each one, went beyond breast cancer.

There was a very important message everyone could walk away with: Life presents us with abundant choices! Very few people get up in years without experiencing some tragedy, when faced with such there is a common fear. That fear is that the circumstance, situation, will rob us of the person we believe ourselves to be.

Each of these women, unique and beautiful as flowers in the garden of life, came to the book signing as living proof that nothing, absolutely nothing can diminish who you are--if you determine to fight. Nevertheless, I'm sure they would agree that you don't remain exactly the same person; you're a purified, refined, more durable individual.

Carol Ross Edmonston made us laugh and showed us the power of doodling. Essentially, proving again that necessity is the mother of invention because she had to have a way to deal with the stress. And she passed her findings on to us.

A precious gem is a precious gem no matter what stage it's in, on the way to the jewelry store. But, with the knocking about, clarifying, cutting, firing, etc. that takes place--the inner fire and beauty is there for all to see, admire, value and protect.

The world of humanity is better and more beautiful when precious gems such as Donna St. Jean Conti, Carol Ross Edmonston, Kathy Vancura, Leah Cano and Mary Anne Breen rise to the challenges at hand. They and their supportive families and friends certainly are a credit to their Maker.

Mary Anne Breen stunned us by saying there are five houses on her street and four out of five have had breast cancer. She balanced her disclosure by telling how supportive the neighbors were for her and her family. When you read the book, when we listened to these women we realized life doesn't have to stop with the bad news. Follow their courageous decisions to be conquerors, and stick around for the love, support, wisdom and even laughs.

Book Signing at Laguna Beach Books

Leah Cano had spoken to us on the phone and then at the signing about the marvelous book, #1 Best Tools and Tips from the Trenches of Breast Cancer by Mary Olsen Kelly. It's obvious that we should all have a few copies on hand, because should the need arise; we may not be thinking clearly enough to go buy it as quickly as it would be beneficial to have it.

The bookstore buyer/consultant, Irma Wolfson, was quite familiar with breast cancer and shared how caring the staff was when she received her radiation treatments. She was a gem of equal value, what a touching and yet, downright funny experience she told and affably acted out for us.

As the audience thinned out after purchasing their books, and of course, had them signed, we got our own signed copy. We enjoyed talking with the authors and learned that Chicken Soup chooses authors using a one to ten scale. The seven and above are contacted and then revisions take place. Well, usually, but our five fair damsels were selected and their stories were printed as submitted. Hence, our title: 5 women that are 10s, in more than one way!

We thank each woman for giving of her heart, time, energy, honesty and courage. Each one is an inspiration to all that meet them.

We know you'll want to get your copy of the Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul. They truly are stories to inspire, support and heal. For your convenience, we'll list where you can find each of their stories, in the Chicken Soup Anthology.

Donna St. Jean Conti, page 181

Carol Ross Edmonston, page 118

Kathy Vancura, page 39

Leah Cano, page 28

Mary Anne Breen, page 139


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