My Picture Store

Traditionally, my least favorite time of the year is the end of summer vacation, and the end of summer in general. This year it’s a lot different for me, maybe because I’m on a road trip later than usual and don’t have time to mourn yet. Then, as if any of us can forget, there’s this pesky virus that just won’t go away and threatens all the things that we want to get back to doing. And of course I now have lung cancer and never know when my two year streak of good luck will run out. Yeah, my head is in kind of a weird place, I’ll admit it. Trying to turn the corner to better thoughts and having a tough time doing it. Maybe writing about something that makes me happy will help?

I’ve been posting about how important it is to continue to love life even when you’ve been diagnosed with a serious and chronic illness. In my last two blogs I’ve discussed finding new ways to do what you love and finding new things to love. I failed to write about my love for taking pictures, which sometimes gets forgotten with all the talking I do about the traveling and hiking that go hand and hand with the camera work! As further proof that I’m continuing to move forward with my life in spite of the fact that I live every day with a death threat hanging over my head now, I’ve finally done something that I’ve been wanting to do for years: I’ve set up an online photography store! I’m excited to have some of my beloved snapshots for sale after many years of collecting them.

People have been telling me for decades to sell my photography. I have thousands upon thousands of pictures from my travels through fifty states, forty countries, six Canadian provinces, more than forty U.S. national parks and several national parks in foreign countries, as well as thousands more from around New England, my backyard. Overwhelming stuff!

So, where to start? I chose Picfair as the place to set up my store. Picfair suggests picking out twenty excellent shots. Many of my files are saved on an external hard drive, and that’s where I began, going in alphabetical order. I just about made it through the A’s and B’s! Check out my store with my first “twenty best” pictures.

Whenever someone asks me how I take such nice pictures I have the same line: “Being able to go to really cool places is 75% of the battle!” I’m always looking for an interesting shot. Pictures are so easy to delete now, why not take a whole bunch and only keep the ones you like? Better yet, keep them all in case you change your mind. I’m totally guilty of loading up my cameras and only deleting the blurry ones.

Do you ever see that person that seems to be taking pictures of stuff that you walk right by? Yeah, guilty again! That someone is me. I chase butterflies and bugs and flowers. I’ve been accused of talking to rocks. I’m the slowest hiker on the planet because I have my camera bag and stop every twenty steps for a new shot. With odds like that you’re bound to hit the photo jackpot every now and again.

When I was a little kid my eyes were always drawn to the color green. Green just totally did it for me, and my parents indulged that by buying me green clothes, green bikes, green everything! I still love the color, though my eye has gotten a little more sophisticated. I dig color combinations when I take photos, but I also love black and white and sepia tone. When I picked my twenty best I included all the above and shots from several different places. Soon enough I’ll add to them.

Hey, I’m not asking you to buy anything, but I’d love to know if I made some good choices. I tried to do a post on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, but of course you can’t expect to reach anyone on FB without contributing to the Let’s Make Zuck a Zillionaire Fund. Have a look and drop me a line if you can!

I’ve peppered this post with more of my favorite shots from around the country and around the globe. They will probably make it onto Picfair sooner or later!

Okay, I feel a little better now. Life goes on!

I’m Writing Another Book!

Well, what the heck do you know…I’m finally writing another book! Yay, me!!

My last (and seventh) book was published more than two years ago now. Since then, my life has changed so much and I’ve had so many other things to think about that my writing career pretty much went to the birds. You might say that fighting cancer with all ten fingers was more important than any book that I could write, but not doing something that I love so much has left a big hole in my existence. I’ve been lucky enough to slowly put my favorite pastimes back on track. But finding the right manuscript to delve into was tougher than I thought. I wouldn’t quite call the possibilities “endless,” but I had a few irons in the fire to choose from.

Questions to self:

Do I continue my rock and roll groupie series? Do I continue my “Women Like Us” series? I wrote both under the pen name Brenda K. Stone and really didn’t want to go back to that, so I turned them both down, as much as I loved putting them out to the world.

Do I edit the romance that I finished shortly before my diagnosis? I pulled it out of “the drawer,” read it, loved it, got really excited about it. But I’m here to tell you that being excited about something and following through on a hell of a lot of work are two very different things! I simply lost interest, and back in “the drawer” it went!

Do I edit the true story of my cancer journey, plucked from journals that I wrote freehand in those cloudy days when I was just getting my sea legs to get me through a really frightening experience? To do so would be to relive and relive and relive something I was already beyond. I published a shorter version with an online magazine and kept searching for what I was looking for.

Before “all this” happened I had decided to focus on nonfiction, and started a little thing called “How to Road Trip.” That didn’t do it for me either; who needs to know how to road trip during a pandemic? And after a pandemic, everyone and their cousin will be writing a tome about how to road trip, so back in “the drawer” that went too.

And then, something popped into my head. A real “Oh Yeah!!” moment.

A few months before my life imploded I had written an outline for a a book I dreamed of penning. A small book, short on pages but long on meaning. Something that everyone could relate to; a story of love, loss, adventure and, you know, all that’s good and bad in the world. Well, I found it and I thought it out and I kicked it around, and I decided that it was The One. Rather than just tell you about it, allow me to interview myself (since no one else wants to interview me!)

INTERVIEWER: Does your book have a working title?

BARB LEE: Thanks for asking! Yes, it does. I first called it “A Thousand Winds That Blow,” but have decided to cut it down to simply “A Thousand Winds.”

INTERVIEWER: Wow, great name. Where did it come from?

BARB LEE: Thanks, I thought so too, and I’m glad you asked. The title comes from a beautiful poem called “Do Not Weep” that I discovered when my beloved mom passed. We used it on her prayer cards. I wanted something with very deep meaning for the title of the book and started thinking about lines in that poem, deciding on that one.

INTERVIEWER: Great reason. Now, what is the book about?

BARB LEE: I thought you would never ask! I’ve always thought how amazing it would have been to be alive in the 60s, to go to Woodstock, to participate in the March on Washington, to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement, and many other historic events. So I decided to create a character who did all those things and everything else I’ve ever dreamed of doing. But now she’s dying and she has a granddaughter that she’s at odds with that doesn’t know any of it, and she wants her to know it all. I think the book has an important statement to make about age and life experience, and how society devalues individuals as they get older, even though these people have done such incredible things.

INTERVIEWER: Wow, that sounds pretty incredible. When will it be done?

BARB LEE: When it’s done! I’m not writing on deadlines or worried about word count. Just going to enjoy the experience and the research that comes with it.

INTERVIEWER: Do you at least have a teaser?

BARB LEE: Can do! Below is the prologue in the perspective of Janis, who has just been diagnosed with ALS, a.k.a, Lou Gehrig’s Disease:

The way you look at me hurts. The message in your eyes speaks volumes: You’re old. Therefore, you’re worthless.

            You have no idea.

            Do you think your generation invented sex? Drugs? Rock and roll? You, with your Facebook and Instagram and TikTok? You, that can’t show your face without a “filter?” Because one of your “friends” might see your soul? So you cover it up with whiskers or a pig nose, and think that you have the world in the palm of your hand?

            Do you know what it’s like to truly be loved? By the same man, for forty-eight years? Could you find joy in a sandbox? Or playing house in the woods, where the rocks are your toaster, the trees your shower stall? Have you ever had to disappear into that same forest to escape a man that would hurt his own daughter to satisfy his sick fantasies?

            Coachella is a meaningless spot on the map to me, yet your biggest accomplishment. But were you marching in Selma, Alabama in 1965? Were you in the crowd for the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, 1963? Did you see the Beatles land at JFK on February 7, 1964, after hitching a ride from California? Not looking so smug now, I see.

            But there’s more. Much more. The life I’ve led even overwhelms me, to the point I have to leave it in the past sometimes and keep moving forward.

            You don’t know any of it. All you know is that seven years ago you found out that I’m really your grandmother, and who your parents really were. You haven’t spoken to me since.

            I guess you’ll never know where your grandmother has been.

Because you hate me. And I’m dying.

INTERVIEWER: Powerful stuff! Is there somewhere where I can read more?

BARB LEE: Yes! Click here, or go to my In Progress tab. And thanks for your interest!

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The New Face of Surviving Cancer

What’s so new about surviving cancer? A ton.

As I travel this road of being a cancer survivor, I’m learning a hell of a lot. Maybe more than I ever learned as I crisscrossed the globe for two decades. Maybe more than I learned my entire life. Absolutely more than I ever wanted to know about this particular subject.

Now, it’s my reality and I’m going to live it. And if I can help others in the process, even better. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, right?

But let’s get back to that new face of surviving cancer.

What’s your perception of someone with the Big C? It’s this, right?

Chemo Two

This may still be reality for some unfortunate enough to get this disease, but not all. What if I told you that every single picture of me in this blog (and most on my website) were taken after my diagnosis, and that my appearance didn’t change at all as I’ve gone through treatment? That there are people wandering around out there in the world, like myself, that have cancer and you don’t even know it unless they tell you? You’d call me a liar, but that’s okay. It gives me a job to do here, changing your perception of what a cancer survivor looks like.

Let me just clear up one more thing.

You’ll see a lot of this stuff out there, too:

Chemo One

I’m going to title this one “Gorgeous Woman Who Has Never Known Cancer in Her Life Telling You That You Can Look as Happy and Fantastic as Her While Your Body and Your Identity Get Depleted By Chemo.” This is called “putting a happy face on a really crappy situation.” It’s misleading advertising at its best and worst. And this is absolutely not what I’m aiming for here. Nor am I suggesting that every chemo patient is ugly, or that any chemo or cancer patient is ugly. I’ve seen people look absolutely stunning in head wraps and/or wigs. Don’t know how they do it. I admire them greatly. In general, I think strength is way more admirable than the Kardashians.

Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to turn my back on chemotherapy, but was less than twenty-four hours away from having it when I was offered cutting edge treatment at a comprehensive cancer center.  I don’t know what chemo is “like” and I don’t plan to. But I do know what it’s like to think that this is the only way to rid my body of this demon called cancer. I was almost there. My lucky stars aligned and I was saved this misery. And this is why I’m so different.

I have lung cancer. And no, it’s not because I smoked, and no it is absolutely, positively not okay to assume that or to ask me about it as if it’s a given fact. That’s an unfortunate way the face of cancer is changing: lung cancer is on the rise in populations in otherwise healthy individuals like me. But that’s for another blog. For this one, let’s get just a bit deeper into two of the reasons that cancer is getting a much needed makeover.

I was diagnosed at a local hospital before I went to Dana-Farber in Boston, which is consistently in the top five cancer research institutes in the entire United States. My local hospital was prepping me for chemo and radiation, but had the good sense to send my biopsy tissue out for what is referred to as biomarker testing, though it may also be referred to otherwise. I can’t even stress how important it is to get this type of testing done if it’s available for your type of cancer. It could be the difference between vastly different treatment scenarios. It could be the difference between life and death, as it was for me. When you settle for chemo and radiation as a first line treatment, that is all you’re ever going to get, and at many small cancer facilities it may be your only option. I know now that if I had not gone to Boston I would not have lived long. Scary stuff.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a biomarker, you may be able to have something called targeted therapy, which is what I’m on. It’s basically a pill that targets the specific mutation in your tumor but usually doesn’t destroy anything else, like white blood cells, which is what chemo is known to do. Targeted therapy drugs often have many less side effects than chemo. It may sound far fetched, but the therapy that I take daily started shrinking visual tumors I had in less than a week and set me on the path of getting my life back. Results vary, (mine was phenomenal) but many people have great responses to these wonder drugs.

The second fairly new treatment is called immunotherapy, which uses your own immune system to attack cancer cells. Like targeted therapy, more cancer survivors are living longer lives with infusions of immunotherapy. Many options are available, and I’ve read several success stories.

It is accurate to say that targeted therapy and immunotherapy are rewriting the script on cancer and putting more people in the survivor column.

Before you accept chemo and radiation, be sure to look into all your treatment options.

And join me as the New Face of Surviving Cancer.

Caution: Name Change Ahead!

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Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for following my travels, for reading my autobiographical posts, for learning along with me on my journey to being a cancer survivor. Soon, I’ll be changing my name from Brenda K. Stone to Barb Lee. It’s a switch that I’ve been wanting to make for some time now, and I’ve finally decided to proceed. Barb Lee is close to my birth name, and I feel it’s time to be me again. Other than the name, not much else is going to change! But of course I understand if you no longer wish to follow me. I will miss you if you decide to go. If you decide to stick around, and I hope you will, here is what you can expect:

https://brendakstone.com will still work! I’ll keep it in use for those who are interested in the seven works of fiction I published under my pseudonym, Brenda K. Stone. There will still be a page on my website linked to Amazon and other retailers.

https://iambarblee.com will be my new primary URL. Under this name and URL I will continue to blog about my travels, my life, my cancer journey, and my personal philosophies. My memoir, Destination Life: My Cancer Road Trip, continues to grow, and my fingers are crossed that it will be a published book. In the near future I hope to put together a newsletter as well as a small store on my website with merchandise geared toward the survivor in your life! I’m also working on a presentation that I’ll use to move forward on the desire to be a motivational speaker, something I’ve always been interested in. Now that I have a pretty unique story to tell, it’s a better time than ever, and the more people I can help, the happier I’ll be. And I’ll never count out the possibility of writing fiction again under either name, (or both!) as it is one of my true loves!

Whew! I have a lot to do! I’d better get going!

Thank you again for your support and for your interest in my writing!