- Carolyn Hall Young

[Taken from the 2009 Women's Weekend Keynote Speech]


I was actually complaining about Warren one time to my oncologist...

[laughter]

Warren is a black belt in Karate. He's an amazingly athletic guy. He has body advantages that I could never have. But he can walk by a mess and not move a thing. 

[laughter]

Repeatedly. He'll say, "Don't do that, Carolyn. I'll take care of that for you." But yet it doesn't happen. So I was complaining to Tim Lopez, who I love - my oncologist - he is way cute. And I said, "Tim, do you have any idea what I would do with a body like that?" And Tim said, "Yes. You would be intolerable."

[laughter]

And he was probably right. So that gives you a little bit of a context. I've taken this way too seriously, but I'm going to read what I'm going to read, and you'll just shoot me or pull me out when you've had enough. And if everyone starts yawning at the same time, I'll get it. So here is what I wrote to say to you all tonight and for this weekend, and for your lives. 

Amy, thanks, you know ... all of the thanks for all of the times and all of the moments. We've had a hoot of a great time, and a deep time doing this. I'm really happy to see all of your sweet faces, and I'm not at all surprised to see how beautiful and, it's not written here,  but how beautiful you all are. And it's just a thrill. I feel like I'm with my sisters. And ... only you're much better than my real ones! 

[laughter]

Except my good sister, Kathleen. I'm really sorry that David and Lois aren't here, because both of them contributed a lot in inspiring this event. And if you care, they're on their way to Australia. David's going to be doing research in thermodynamics, which is, I think, pretty cool, to get to go do that.

It's wonderful that hope, inspiration and compassion can prevail and bring us all together. K2, I'm sort of ... you know, I think I'm going to skip over all these thank yous. Thank you God, thank you everybody, thank you K2, thank you Pajarito Mountain and everybody in this room. That takes care of almost an entire page. This is perfect.

You're probably wondering why I'm here, and I am, too. [laughter] But I am friends with David and Lois, and when David asks, you do what he says, and that's just the way it is. In August I was recovering from bilateral mastectomies for breast cancer: one a radical, one a modified radical. And for those of you in the room that knows what that means, it's not a lot of fun, but it really wasn't very hard. In fact, it was pretty easy.

David called, and he said he wanted me to be a part of an idea. And this day, this weekend, this is that idea. And we have just bridged the gap between idea and reality. And for a girl that believes in miracles, that's a miracle. That's pretty darn neat. And it's because some guy, can you imagine, some GUY said, "Yes, we can." And look at us. We will, and we are, right here, right now. That's exciting.

So, let me see. OK. So in terms of the breast cancer, let me get the elephant out of the living room. I'm lucky. My breast cancer was found early. I would not wish this on any of you, but it really was pretty easy. One out of every seven or eight women will have to deal with breast cancer at some point in their lives. My sister, Kathleen, is a 25 year survivor of breast cancer. One in two or three people will have to face cancer in their lives. And that's a whole lot of us, right here, right now.

And I'm here to tell you that cancer cannot diminish who you really are. Only you can allow that to happen. Because of vigorous advocacy and awareness, systems are in place to support breast cancer patients, and they're solid. And they should be a model for all cancers.

I had a nurse navigator that was extraordinary--Colleen Sullivan Moore. And the moment I walked out of the ultrasound room there was ... the doctor saying, "OK. We're going into a different phase, here. This is no longer your yearly mammogram. This is ... you're going to have to do something." And I walked out of the ultrasound room and there was a nurse navigator there who took me from the door of the ultrasound room to her office, where she started educating me.

And had I needed it, she would have guided me through every form of the financial abyss that you go into when you go into treatment, and everything. But basically, what she was for me was someone that I could reach 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for moral support. And I wouldn't call her in the middle of the night. But she was brilliant and wonderful, and I count her as an angel and a friend.

If you haven't already done so, I have to ask you to please get your yearly mammogram. Early detection is your best possible chance for a good outcome. I was lucky, mine was early. My flatness is a little radical compared to what most people will have to go through. But I have extenuating circumstances which ... I think, we're almost there.

So the other part is that I want to tell you that in addition, you do need to get your mammogram. And you'll get to celebrate afterwards because chances are you're going to have great results. But even if you don't have great results, I believe that there's cause to celebrate, because information gives us the power to act. And so if you should go get a mammogram and it doesn't turn out exactly the way you wanted, go celebrate. Because you can now do something about a problem that you didn't realize that you had. And if you don't know you have it, it can become a huge problem.

To put my words in a little bit more context, I have to tell you this, and I really struggled with how in the world I was going to tell you this. But I figure I'll just scare the pants off you, and then we'll move on and have some fun.

[laughter] 

Twenty years ago this week I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The doctor gave me a slim chance of living six months; another doctor gave me a slim chance of living maybe a little longer. If I had any idea I was going to last this long, I would have paced myself a little bit better.

[laughter]

But, you know, for those of you that know me, that's not an option. By the way, if any of you are around long enough to write my obit. I'd like you to mention that I was an excitable girl, and that I had a full and brave heart.

Twenty years ago, I was 35. I love this, because I have a hard time with math. That makes me 55 and almost a half years old, right now. I love being 55 and almost a half years old. I'm kind of known because I usually know how many months old I am, in addition to how many years. I love every moment of it.

I had been diagnosed at 35. I'd had symptoms for four years before that, but I was busy. I thought that my swollen lymph glands were just another one of those things that were normal, but secret, and that my mother hadn't explained.

To know my mother, you have to know this particular story. One day, we were in a parking lot. I was leaning over ... I think I was 16. I can't do the math, but 1953 plus 16. In the '60s, I was wearing hiking boots, and I was leaning over in my mother's '6-- it had be the '60s then--in my mother's '69 Cutlass convertible with my head underneath the console. If I moved quickly, I would have bumped my head, but I was tying my hiking boots. My mother said in a very serious way, "You've seen kittens being born. I don't need to tell you anything else."

[laughter]

I paused.

[laughter]

I paused and I thought "huh, that's interesting." I thought about lifting my head and turning it to see what she was looking like. But it really wasn't an option. Plus with my mom, it wouldn't have told me anything.

Years later, I was speaking with my very sweet sister, Kathleen the same one who went through bilateral mastectomies. She's always paving the path for me. She said, "Oh, yeah. That's Mom's talk about sex."

[laughter]

I don't know. Does that tell you everything you need to know?

[laughter]

If you have kids, I'm hoping that you tell them a little bit more than that. But it does explain why very strange things happen to me, and I don't think they're strange. I just think there's some secret that nobody told me about. It makes my life very interesting that way.

In the last 20 years, with advanced Stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and with Warren's unconditional love... He's the guy who is watching me where ever I go, because he thinks I'm going to fall -- sometimes, I do. I've endured rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and monoclonal antibody treatments, surgeries and alternative treatments -- more than I can count. I have lymphoma in my bone marrow and major organs. So far, it has been kept relatively stable.

I'm still alive, and I'm here to tell you that I have a whole lot of fun. I've had a number of recurrences. I can't remember how many; I choose not to remember how many. But this year's breast cancer and last year's diagnosis of anal cancer and multiple skin cancers were caused by the amount of prior treatment that I had already been through.

There is a reason that I'm telling you all of this stuff, to give you a little perspective, perhaps. I hope, and start yawning if it's not. Two years ago I had an accident in which I fractured two vertebrae in my back when I was catapulted from a horse. I am kind of proud that I was: A, on a horse; B, catapulted; and C, smart enough to know that it was totally my fault. I don't have to be afraid of anything.

The good news is, is that it was my fault. I understand where I failed in my thought processes. And, I will not repeat the mistake. So, I don't have to be afraid. I just need to pay better attention to my tipping point. Actually, because of all of these treatments, my brain has been affected. Again, as an excitable girl, I might jump into things a little bit more vigorously than somebody who really had any kind of a brain would.

[laughter]

The good news is I'm still willing to risk failure. But, I'm not going to risk injuring myself because poor Warren has to pick up the pieces. The good news is that I will always be moving forward with joy.

I have serious damage to my heart and lungs. They kind of treat me like a rock star at the oncologist's office, because I do keep on going.

[laughter]

‚ÄčI have a collapsed lower left lobe, DVTs (deep vein thrombosis, which is a life threatening side effect of treatment), blood clots and a torso that looks like a road map from veins and scars. I should be on oxygen, actually, right now. But, it really cramps my style, and it does not look good with this outfit. OK?

[laughter]

I always use it at night. It's not cute. I use it in the car. I use it when I'm volunteering on horseback at the Valle Caldera with my sweet friend Kahsia, who's back there. Actually, if you look at these photos, you can see my smile. And, when we're milling about, if you look closely you'll see I carry oxygen tanks. I find that where there's a will, there's a way. If you want to go out and do something, especially if everyone says that you can't, you try a little harder. It will work.

With the breast cancer occurrence, even my oncologist said, "This is too much." I told him we'd be OK. I am and we are. So, what's the big deal? I have a well developed set of coping skills. Tim Lopez, my oncologist, means more to me than I can tell you. He is a full-hearted, absolutely amazing, honorable, loving man. He invited me to his 50th birthday party; it was cool. I really liked that.

I have a chiropractor/homeopath Rae Lunden, so I'm not just traditional medicine. I try to put together everything that is possible, including my dogs, my horses, my garden, loving my friends and loving my enemies. It actually helps.

Several of the treatments that I've survived have been quantifiably brutal. I'm being subtle when I say that. The peripheral damage has been unimaginable. But, today is a brand new world of medical oncology. I am a walking history of old treatment. I have directly benefited from the amazing progress of the last 20 years in cancer research.

These days, treatments are far more targeted. You don't need to be afraid. The side effects and peripheral damage have been minimized. It's stunning. And yes, I consider that a miracle, also.

I stand in awe of the researchers who have made a real impact on the quality and the quantity of my life. For the work that Amy Bauer and many of my other friends are doing in various fields, I thank you and I thank you. And, I thank you because I get to be here, not just today, but for every luscious meal and every beautiful sunrise. Although I'm prone, usually, at about that time, to be asleep.

[laughter]

Again, thank you, thank you, thank you. Given that glimpse of one tiny aspect of my life, let me tell you how I thrive. Every day, I feel fortunate, and happy, and I live with a sense of well being. To me, a sense of well being is just about the hugest luxury that you could ask for in life. You get these little moments of grace where you truly, deeply and fully believe that the world is a perfect place, like that run down the mountain when everything is beautiful.

My aunt called it... I can't remember. She would call it good. You know, when you hurt good. When you hurt good: that's when you hurt when you hurt because you have worked and stretched yourself further than you have ever worked and stretched yourself, at least recently. That's good hurt and hurting good (My Aunt Lee calls it "Hurts so good").

I really am trying to shorten this ... Given that glimpse, I'm a happy woman. I have really good friends. Kahsia Hartwell is back there, Warren Young, though I'm married to him, is actually a really fine friend of mine, also. Thank you, again, that's very sweet.

We have great animals. We have six horses and two dogs. It's my big job to love them well every day, and it's tremendous fun. We each like it a lot. I have great neighbors, and I have nothing to complain about.

I get frustrated that I can't do as much as I want because I have a mind that is in gear all the time and a heart that just wants to burst out of this body all the time. I dream of running. I used to run. I used to ski. There is still a lot that I can do, but I have to triage my time and my energy. I can't do everything as much as I really do try. I don't really understand why I got this particular body. The one I ordered had a turbocharger on it.

[laughter]

This one, you know, is different.

I cannot say that I have radically been changed by having lived with a vivid awareness of my own mortality. My values are consistent with what they've always been. But my sense of urgency in acting in harmony with those values has been amplified. I know how strong I am. That gives me confidence and clarity of purpose.

I have a few tips for living fully and with grace, no matter what your circumstances are. Love with all your heart. Sister Corita Kent said, "Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries." I don't think I need to read you the rest of the paragraph, because I can tell that you all know exactly what that means.

Don't worry; I am going to read this one to you. "I made a conscious decision to quit worrying. A little fear is a good motivator. It alerts you to danger, and it makes you more aware. A lot of fear paralyzes you, and it's not a good thing." Just for the record, it doesn't work. It doesn't help you survive. Just enough fear is a valid survival tool. It tells you when you're in trouble. It tells you when to get off of your horse. And, it keeps you alive so that you can experience more.

Worry, on the other hand, is a total waste of time. I've always worried about the wrong things. I have been totally inaccurate about every single thing that I have ever worried about. Wait a minute. I consider myself a sane woman, and I'm consistently worrying about the wrong things. Why would I do that? [laughter] And on top of it, it makes me miserable. I am capable of ruining an entire day because I am worried. I still haven't figured out why that's built into our systems. It makes absolutely... Can you work on that one, research that?

Worrying is fruitless self torture. Know what you're facing. The unknown is a more frightening challenge than anything you could ever know. Trust that you have all you need to accomplish your goals. You have it in you, already.

Look for a reason to be grateful. Look really hard if you can't find one easily. Give thanks first; ask questions later. I've been given some less than desirable experiences that have helped me grow resilience and compassion. I'm grateful to know that I'm much more resilient than I ever imagined I could be. I look for the sweetness, and I always find it in everything, eventually. I am grateful that I can stand here, literally stand here, with you today.

Something that you might have noticed is that an optimist knows that things could be worse than they are right now. Therefore, you always have something to be happy about. It's perfect. It's a good thing to exercise. Pay attention, pay attention to your purpose and priorities. Watch your motivations; notice what gives you energy.

Be as healthy as you can be physically, mentally and psychologically. Exercise your body. Feed your mind. Nourish your spirit. Work on being conscious of everything that you think and everything that you believe because chances are a bunch of it is wrong.

Your positive thoughts will bring you strength. Take pride in your work and pride in your play. When the going gets tough, pay attention because you might notice that someone else has a more difficult path. Lend them a hand; it will do you a world of good.

I know this is long. But this is so important to me that I can't stand it. Be willing to be delighted. Jane Goodall said, "Live in joy, even though you have all the facts." I treasure the miracles I see every day, even when they require a whole lot of work and a bunch of money. I aid and abet my own miracles, and I thoroughly enjoy them.

When I paint a painting, I try to paint a better painting than I've ever painted in my life. I don't stop until I have, and when I have, I am really, ridiculously happy. That seems worth it. I plant a seed, and I get to watch it sprout and grow. It becomes summer, and it's a bush full of tomatoes. I think I planted 28 different heirloom tomato plants from seed last year. When I get that first tomato, it's absolutely a miracle. I don't care how much work it took. It is a miracle tomato.

When I hit a green light, I think it's a gift because I get to go. [laughter] When I hit a red light, I think it's a gift because I get to rest. Those are miracles. When I am capable of seeing my problems as possibilities and opportunities to stretch my limits, I am gratified.

I am asking you to start now. Be big, be bold and be prepared to succeed. There is a painting here, somewhere. It's called One Rock at a Time. We'll look later, if you want to look at it later. It's just me moving rocks.

I have a garden where nothing grew before I moved rocks and improved the soil. I built it one rock at a time. I moved some rocks that weigh more than I do. When I couldn't walk, I rolled them inch by inch, scootching on my tush, and I mean: Could Not Walk. Warren would pick me up, take me to the top of the hill and laugh and tell me that I was putting the rocks in the wrong places.

[laughter]

He's laughing, that's a good thing. My sister came to see me, because she thought I was dying. I'm not going to have a tombstone. But, were I to have a tombstone, it would say ... What would it say? It would say "Carolyn Hall Young, born 1953 through whatever, FINALLY!" 

[laughter] 

My poor friends have been on the edge of their seats for a long time. I hate it as much as they do.

So, I moved these rocks. My sister came to see me; she took the picture that I used for this painting. I had just been through a round of treatments that left me shaking and with no strength.

I would say the word "rigor", but I don't know how to pronounce it, "rigors"? It's when your shaking and you can't do anything, you know, it's a paralysis type of shaking. Anyway, I can't say that so I won't.

It was scary. But this was taken a day after I had an infusion of steroids, and yeah, the drugs were good. But my will was greater. I didn't get stuck and I can tell you that I've seen a lot of people that get a diagnosis, and it's amazing. One day they're OK, the next day they get the biopsy results, and suddenly they're sick when they weren't sick before.

Why would you do that? That's a waste. We are fine the way we are. We are even fine when we can't do anything. To allow a piece of information to take your power away is wrong. To allow anyone to tell you that you can't do what you love and what you want to do is wrong. Again, if it means enough to you, you'll do it.

So, Gandhi said, "Strength does not come from physical capacity; it comes from an indomitable will." And you know what that means.

So, do your work, build your community, do good. "Be the change you want in the world," Gandhi also. You know, he was a lot smarter than I am. We have too much to do all the time and too little time, so we rush. And in horse training we say, "Take the time it takes to do it right and it takes less time," and you get to enjoy the journey, and you actually get there faster.

I live in the valley and sometimes I have to stop and just look at those mountains and say, "Whoa, I live here. That's amazing."

I came across some words that made me pause, and the words were "Living is drawing without an eraser." And if you think about those thoughts for a while, it's pretty potent.

So, Warren and I were drawn into that at a friend's house, and we were talking about these ideas. And, well, my friends in college always thought I was stoned, when I really wasn't. [laughter] But I was looking out the window and I swear it looked like the landscape had slowed down, but it slowed down because I was really savoring each frame of each moment as we drove by.

We were drawing an indelible and lovely line, and the line drawn without an eraser. The arch of each life should be a good one, made with care. And the people and the experiences that come into our lives give us opportunity to be of service, to expand our capacity for empathy and discernment, to find meaning. And so, we are enriched. So I will try to draw my line pretty well.

Hopefully other people won't have to take the same path that I had. In the photo of me atop my horse, Warren, while taking the picture, was trying to command me to get down. And that picture is there; it's on the poster outside, again. I'm standing on top of my horse and my friend Kahsia was there, and Warren was in the background screaming, but kind of proud of me at the same time. He does give me a hard time.

Warren: I was there. I took the picture.

He did take the picture, but he did know what would happen if he didn't take the picture. It was my camera.

[laughter]

So, he had... He does give me a hard time, but I do sometimes hear him bragging to others about the same exploits that I get in incredible trouble for at home, which is really fun. He also said that I shouldn't ride the Valles Caldera ... shouldn't or couldn't? "Shouldn't", he said, but that's close enough to couldn't ... two weeks after the double mastectomies. But this picture over there, that looks like a very, very healthy woman riding and volunteering at the Valles.

Warren: I took that picture. [laughter]

He was there and we had a lot of fun, and that's two weeks after bilateral mastectomies. So, if you're holding any fear inside you of these things, you don't really have to, and you can call me if you need to.

Anyway, passion lives here in my fierce and determined heart, and that is the good side of stubborn. I will not be defined by this cancer; my world is far more potent. In life, Warren does give me a leg up and you know he's here supporting me literally and figuratively. He enables me to ride with the wind in my hair, paint my paintings, grow my garden, and he amplifies my potential everyday.

We volunteer together on horseback in the Valles, he sets me up for success. And truth be told, he also throws very large hurdles in my way, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, because it strengthens my resolve. And the funny thing is he admires my persistence even when he disagrees with my goals.

What I can tell you is that if you're motivated enough to achieve something, you will give it your love, your time, your attention, your intent and all your effort. You will succeed. When all of us take responsibility for our attitudes and our actions anything is possible.

There's another painting ... that one, that painting right there. The little photo is of me in an airport at age six. The coffee is the way I drink it, strong and good, with lots of cream. The red dice were just too beautiful with the light shining through them. And this image, you are welcome to make or take any meaning you want from this painting. But to me it says something important.

It says to me something about a search for meaning and understanding, of reflecting on the time between then and now and the decisions that have been made in the meantime. And the little girl who, if she knew what was coming, may not have had the courage to welcome the richness of the life that I've been given.

This quote comes from Joan Baez, and you know, there's only that much more to go (shows notes): "You don't get to choose how you're going to die, or when. You can only decide how you're going to live now."

I admire each of you for stepping up to be a part of this great adventure we're going to have this weekend. Warren will be cringing in the background. I want you to choose hope over fear, chance success by attempting something you've never done before. Have fun, be big, and be bold. Enjoy your great bodies. Expand your horizons. Feed your passions. Fall down and get back up for another round.

It's all about what is possible with a little help from your friends.

Thank you.

[applause]

OK, guys, you're the sweetest. You have no idea how much I sweated this and I couldn't get it down to 15 minutes. I don't know what I did, but next up...stay tuned...is this incredible woman Diane DaCamara. And, you know, she is going to have to tell you more about herself and more about the Anita Salas Memorial Fund. It's an extraordinary fund and this is an extraordinary woman. This is an all volunteer organization and it was started for very good reason. And you're going to tell the story.

[Transcription by CastingWords]

Carolyn Hall Young, two weeks after double mastectomies.

Why we are here.


"With a Little Help From Your Friends"


Pajarito Women