Saturday, December 11, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
How many people do you meet who are two-time cancer survivors the first bout 25 years ago. And remember when the “Big C” was a stigma you carried like a scarlet A?
Roxanne Birney, a bubbly and gregarious 54-year-old, has those memories burned into her brain.
She can flash back to when people were afraid to come near her or talk about her diagnosis — Hodgkins disease — and when, as a young girl of 24, she felt like a leper or an AIDS patient of a few years back.
Discrimination. Fear. She was shunned. Even her parents couldn’t deal with the diagnosis, despite her aunt having suffered the same condition.
I, too, remember when cancer was a dirty word, when the fear was so overwhelming and the uncertainty so strong that people didn’t know how to react in the presence of someone with that diagnosis.
Yet, Birney survived a horrendous year of chemotherapy and radiation in her youth with the same positivity she displays today. “I knew my cancer was curable,” she says between bites of a gourmet salad at the Palm Beach Yacht Club where her husband, Kevin, is dining room captain and assistant maitre d’.
At one point during her first cancer battle, she lived in a “House of Hope” with 79 other cancer patients. She is, to the best of her knowledge, the only survivor of the group.
When she was hit with her second cancer diagnosis 10 years ago — a tumor on a vocal chord that felt like a knife when she spoke — she just knew she wasn’t going to die. “I knew in my heart there must be a purpose, why I was the only survivor of 80 people. It gives you a purpose-driven life. I couldn’t talk about it until five years ago without crying.”
Part of that purpose is to tell her story, to excel at public speaking as an active member of several Toastmasters clubs, and to help children have the confidence to speak publicly. “A lot of children aren’t speaking anymore. I tell them to stop texting and start speaking. Literacy is what I’m into.”
It is this passion that led her to self-publish a book. But it’s not about her battles with cancer. It’s about her daughter, Johannah, and her challenges with a “lazy eye” — amblyopia — when the 20-year-old was about six.
“When she was two, her eyes started crossing,” Birney remembers. “I recognized it right away, since my younger sister had it. Johannah went through surgery and wore special glasses.”
The child was OK with the glasses, but like many youngsters, being different didn’t go unnoticed. Classmates, maybe curious about her or maybe just vicious, would pull her glasses off her face, sometimes breaking them and hurting Johannah in the process.
This prompted Birney to write a child’s book about being different and how other children should cultivate compassion for those who are. Johannah’s Lazy Eye (which is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com) is filled with colorful drawings of young children learning this lesson.
Birney’s writing and baking — her carrot cake is now available at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket — helped her during the period after her tumor surgery when she couldn’t talk comfortably. “I had to reinvent myself,” she says simply.
And she is doing that with the energy that a person who has gotten reprieves from cancer is fueled by. There is another upside: Johannah can now see that, like her mother, suffering through illness or disability can make you stronger. “It helped me develop a strong personality and confidence because I had to let rude and hurtful remarks and actions roll off me,” she says.
And being positive in the face of cancer and strong in the face of bullying are strengths worth sharing.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
"Johannah's Lazy Eye". Thanks to the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County and hiring me for the position. The kids inspired me to write a story about a special need. Eyesight. "Johannah's Lazy Eye", is a year old. April 1st I received my first book off of the press. My favorite book to read to children!
This is a photo of my most favorite cake decorating students. Johannah Birney! My inspiration. I decided to give Johannah a lesson on fondant. Underneath, this beautiful gift is a brownie cake. Since teaching Johannah how to decorate this cake for a Christmas party we hosted I've taught 150 other students how to decorate cakes. Currently, I am teaching a class with Adult Education at Palm Springs Middle School on Monday Evenings. Life is sweet!
Monday, March 29, 2010
Baby Bear. How many of you have heard our story? This is too hot; this is too cold, this is just right.
Our story is very popular and became widely known in 1837. I wasn’t involved in the original story. Yes, I must admit I do have some issues about the first version, “The Three Bears”, and 70 years later. 1837 plus 70 (1907) the story was revised, and titled, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
If I could ask you a question, “When your mom and dad, grandma and grandpa or kindergarten read the story to you did you think I was being nosey”? Trotting through the forest to go to the Three Bears home?
Do you think I was invading Bears privacy? Did you think I was a mischievous little girl?
Well, I’m here to tell you the reasons why the things happened at the Three Bears house, with the porridge, the chairs, the beds...
Are you waiting for the truth and my motivation behind walking through the woods and peeking into the windows of the three bears?
Once upon a time………..
I went to preschool with Baby bear. Little Palms Academy. Our teacher, Miss Cavalier had asked all of us children one morning at circle time. Boys & girls……..1, 2, 3, Look at me.
How many of you had breakfast this morning with your mommy or daddy? None of the children raised their hand except for Baby Bear.
Then, Mrs. Cavalier asked, “Baby Bear, what did you have for breakfast?” Baby Bear, answered, “Mama Bear made porridge for me and Papa Bear. I told mama that my porridge is too hot. Mama bear always told me to add some blueberries to my porridge; I added milk and brown sugar. It was just right. Mama Bear picked fresh blueberries from the woods this morning and I put a hand full of blueberries in my porridge, because I know blueberries fight antioxidants.
I remember listening to my friend baby bear telling us all about his delicious porridge that his mother made him, I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was lying and making up a big gigantic story.
Well, my mom always takes me to McDonalds drive through and I get morning Hash Browns with lots of greasy oil and I know it’s why my childhood cholesterol is off the charts. I tell my mom this because I am learning about health and nutrition at school but my mom is always so busy and doesn’t have time to cook.
The next day at school was Fun Friday, and Mrs. Cavalier asked us another question the other day at circle time and guess what that question was??
Boys and girls……1, 2, 3, look at me. How many of you ate dinner together at the family table last night? Did you eat with you mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers? Now, raise your hand if you had a family meal together last night.
I looked around the carpet and watched to see who would raise their hand and guess who raised their hand again?
It was Baby Bear. I thought to myself, Baby Bear is such a show-off. What do you think she asked next? “Baby Bear, can you tell the class what you had for dinner last night with your family?”
Mama Bear made a meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and green peas!!! My favorite.
Can you believe it? Baby Bears Mama made him two meals in one day! My mom, only cooks on Sunday and she make frozen pizzas for us. You know come to think of it, I don’t even know what a “meatloaf”, is.
And then Baby Bear told us that his Papa Bear made vegetable soup for his lunch!!! This just isn’t fair, it isn’t right.
I am getting really sad about this food and family stuff, I decided I had to go on an adventure and see for myself if what Baby Bear was saying was the truth about all of these wonderful meals with his family.
Baby Bear wasn’t making up a pretend story. It was the truth. I saw it with my own eyes. I peeked in the window; they didn’t see me or notice, because they were engaging in conversation.
The three bears would talk with one another. Tell stories of their day and they were happy. I could tell they really were happy. Papa Bear was smiling, Mama Bear would smile and even Baby Bear. And they have a rule at their house while they are eating.
No one is allowed to play with their telephone games. Not at meal time. Can you believe it?
The next day, I walked over in the morning time. Guess what I saw with my own eyes? Papa Bear had made grits and eggs for Baby Bear and Mama Bear.
I ran through the woods and I told my mom. She didn’t believe me. My mom told me that I would go to bed without any food tonight if I was lying to her. I was being truthful. My mom told me I was in big trouble for making up such foolish stories.
What really pushed my mom’s “freak out”; button was when I asked her, “Mom, what is meatloaf?” Baby Bear told the class today, that Mama Bear made him a meatloaf.
So for so many years, everyone has been blaming me for eating all the porridge and breaking the chairs and sleeping in the bears beds. It wasn’t Goldilocks, It was Goldilocks Mother. My mother went for a walk in the woods. She knocked and knocked and no one answered and my mother walked right in.
My mother has blond hair too!
Goldilocks mother needed to be enlightened. You know juvenile diabetes is on the rise and juvenile obesity. Well, if you ate at McDonalds four days out of the week and Pizza Hut the other two days a week for the first four years of your life, you would be overweight!!!
The best part of my story is that it has a happy ending. My family never ate together at a table. My parents would eat in their room on their bed. And we could eat at the couch and watch TV in the living room.
Now, guess what happened at my home? We are just like the three bears family. We have dinners together at a table. Well, they aren’t as nutritious and homemade as the three bears but it is a start!!! It’s just right.
We are talking just like the three bears, we are laughing, and we are having fun just like them. My mom and dad are happy.
My teacher told my mother that my learning disability is vanishing because my brain has been stimulated and nurtured by our family eating together and that eating together is just right.
So do the right thing.
Friday, March 26, 2010
The man looked up at the stranger and said, “Yes sir, I’m Captain Plumb.”
He said, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
Captain Plumb asked him, “How in the world did you know all that?” the man replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”
They immediately held out grateful hands. This guy came up with just the proper words. “I guess it worked.”
Captain Plumb asked him, “Do you keep track of all the parachutes you pack?” “No” he responded, it’s enough gratification for me just to know that I served.”
I had the honor hearing this story from a Principal of an elementary school. I was a guest at a staff meeting. I was a green toastmaster when I was introduced to Principal Mrs. Peppers and so impressed with her delivery.
She spoke professionally. I was there to ask her if she would like to be a part of a community outreach literacy program a corporate business was rolling out. If I could come and read to children. Mrs. Peppers agreed and two weeks later I arrived on Valentine’s day.
She asked me if I could entertain/read to the Kindergarten children
For 45 minutes. I was eager and agreed. Mrs. Peppers packed my parachute and I didn’t even realize it. When I arrived at the school she told me I would be reading to kindergarteners, first graders and second grade in the cafetorium.
How many children? She replied 300. We’ve got a microphone set-up for you.
Now, my vision was that I would go into a classroom of 20 children not 300 children with 10 teachers in the audience.
My mouth completely dried up. I was so nervous! I was petrified.
She assured me that I hid it completely and was wonderful.
That was the springboard to my storylady career. I loved the instant gratification from the audience. I loved going shopping at my local Publix and children recognizing me at the check-out, in the parking lot. “I remember you!” Mommy, she’s the lady who wore the pink dress and diamond earrings. It was incredible.
I decided to get a website and researched for months and months local, national storytellers. The funny thing about this endeavor, my new career is I had a major health issue. I had a vocal chord injury. A small tumor had wrapped itself around a vocal chord nerve and was removed two years prior. Everyday for six years I lived with chronic pain. I realized I had to rest my voice. Not speak. I began nurturing myself.
Drastic lifestyle choices. Little steps, Big steps, my priority was to rest. Not speak. Do you have any idea how hard this was for me? I love to talk. I have the gift of gab.
For the past two years I’ve done pro-bono gigs. I really began to study speaking skills at Toastmasters. My fellow members packed my parachute. You are a storyteller Roxanne. I am. I was discovering my speaking style(s). It was a time of discovery. It has been a time to identify my niche.
For the first time in two years I was paid for a speaking engagement. I’m a professional. Last Saturday.
Wed., I received this email:
I am doing some preliminary searches for keynote speakers and came across your information on the web. We are looking for a keynote who could also offer some additional trainings on communication at our Early Childhood Conference in Roseburg, OR.
If you could email me with any details you could offer I would really appreciate it.
So what do I do….after the shock and excitement. I think to myself…is someone playing a prank on me?
I google Roseburg, Or. I good Douglas County Early Childhood Planning Coalition. I google the community college. Yes.
Being a toastmaster you develop relationships. I immediately emailed Mace, Charlene, called Myra and John. How much should I charge? Someone wants to pay me. Holy Cow! Someone wants a proposal….this is exciting. This is really happening