Robin Dance

essays on faith, aging, parenting, wandering and wondering

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I’m Mad And I Want You To Know Why

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 | 8 comments


Long ago and far away, or so it seems now, we lived in South Carolina. A few years after we landed there, a young couple moved to town, life-friends of my younger brother-in-law. We welcomed them with open arms; friends of family are friends of ours. They were barely out of newlyweddom when baby Dylan arrived. Stephanie and Trey loved him fiercely and completely, the way we all marvel at those firstborn, or let’s face it, every child we call our own.

Breastfeeding was a priority to Stephanie, and like any new mom, she expected to have questions along the way. When she complained to her doctor about a knotty sore place, she readily accepted his plausible explanation: a blocked milk duct (I massaged my way through a few of those painful devils). It was good news that satisfied her questions and concern, but this is what I would categorize as hearing what you want to hear (which is rarely a good thing).

Six months later Stephanie was dead, leaving behind a grieving husband and a son who would have no memory of her. She was 23. Cruelly, cancer cut her life short–six months from diagnosis to death.

My mother was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died at 38. Her mother died when she was 22, cancer again robbing a baby of knowing her mama. My sister is a survivor, creeping up on almost 20 years (thank you, Jesus).

I’ve lived under the Dark Cloud of Cancer Possibility my entire life (or at least as long as I remember). But as aware as I am for myself, taking all the preventive and proactive action I can for early detection and best health, I am even more aware for my daughter. She is 25 and has lived three years longer than her great-grandmother.

Medical opinions vary about when women with family histories of breast cancer should have their first mammogram; one popular suggestion is ten years prior to the diagnosis of first-degree relatives. While my daughter has no first-degree connection to breast cancer, her grandmother and great-grandmother died young, and her aunt endured aggressive treatment for DCIS and a malignant lump.

There are several methods to predict or evaluate your risk (for example, here or here). But I’m of the strong opinion it can serve you well to get a baseline early for future reference. 

Here’s the thing: no one wants to have a mammogram. They aren’t exactly painful, but they’re incredibly awkward and contort and smash your body into positions you didn’t know were possible.

Know what I say to that? So what? Get over your fear or dread or excuses. Early detection could save your life.


Continuing a streak of awesome adulting, my daughter recently decided to schedule her first mammogram (she’s a plane-ride away from me so if it’s going to happen, she has to make the effort without me dragging her kicking and screaming). She questioned me about anything she might need to know before she called a local provider, and I explained to her since it’s preventive (and given our family history), it’s covered under her insurance.


The office she called told her she did not need to have a mammogram yet, that she was too young and it wasn’t necessary. Of course, Rachel was thrilled and felt like she was off the hook for now. It was like they had handed her a “get out of jail free card.”

My response was volcanic.



or some manner of poked mama bear vitriol.

I want my daughter to benefit from my experience, to learn how to make herself heard when others aren’t listening. It is too damn easy to accept a medical professional’s advice BECAUSE THEY’RE THE PROFESSIONAL. We want to hear the easy, not scary thing. But this I know:

I am my best advocate for my own health. So is my daughter. So are you.


We cannot afford to be passive when it comes to our bodies. We must be brave enough to press in and ask hard questions and resist the temptation to back down if there’s something still disquieting in our spirit. We must speak loudly until we are heard. Doctors are not perfect – one friend helped me put it in perspective by reminding me that they’re practicing medicine and don’t know everything -but if your doctor isn’t listening to you or quickly dismisses your concerns without relevant explanation, find another one.

We’re nearing the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month aka When Athletes Wear Pink; you don’t have to get a mammogram during October, but you DO need to have one if your age and/or family history warrants it. Even if your insurance won’t cover a baseline mammogram, it’s worth it to pay for one. Better yet, be on the lookout for free screenings. Most cities and towns host health fairs at some point during the year where you can receive a mammogram at no cost to you.

Just do it.

/end of rant

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Beauty is the light in the heart

Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 | 7 comments


One of Sue Bryce's stunning captures from Jill's Paris photo shoot.

Thrilled that Babble included Jill's picture in their 50 Favorite Valentine's Photos on Instagram!!

If we ever met in real life, I'd like to think Jill Brzezinski-Conley and I would be instant friends. Hers is an incredible, brutiful* story splattered in courage and love.

My sister-in-love shared a post to introduce me to Jill, and before I read a word or watched her video, I saw a girl after my own heart:  a princess spinning in front of the Eiffel Tower in a flurry of pale 
pink and tulle.

Her story will wreck you–

  • Diagnosed with breast cancer one day before her 32nd birthday, only six months after she married the man of her dreams.
  • She learned the younger you are (like Stephanie in my Downton Abbey post), the more aggressive cancer can be; her treatment included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 31 rounds of radiation and 4 surgeries including a double mastectomy (with additional surgeries to follow). 
  • After two years her cancer was in remission; but a year later it was back with cruel vengence, this time burrowing into bone and diagnosed terminal.  

Jill's story is personal to me because breast cancer is so intrinsically tied to who I am; it robbed me of memories of my mom.  Jill is so brave, she's willing to bear her scars to make them less scary for others…and seeing hers catapulted me back in history to that one time I remember seeing Mama's scars.  

Women who endure mastectomy are the steeliest of magnolias.  

Jill has become a living cautionary tale, urging others to screen, educating about early detection, and hoping to help at least one woman with her story.

She's not gonna get that wish; her story is already helping thousands.

The mini-documentary below is stunning; a collaboration between photographer Sue Bryce and film maker Hailey Bartholomew.  Jill's candor, powerful ferocity and joie de vivre will inspire you.  You'll weep for her circumstance while cheering her on as Torchbearer for worthy cause.  You'll understand how she can say " I really do believe god gave me this horrible disease for a reason."  



Jill's powerful words below capture what I was trying to express in my previous post, A fool's delusion, a cautionary tale and how Downton Abbey can save your life


Jill Brzezinski-Conley quote

Quote source: Sue Bryce

Sue Bryce, the brilliant photographer who captured Jill's life and message published this familiar reminder about cancer, juxtaposed with the perfect image from Jill's photo shoot.  I adore Sue's take on Jill's story, "This is not a story about cancer. This is a story about love, and it’s a story for all.



I'm inviting you (begging you?) to help me share Jill's story.  Pin, Facebook share/like (the button is right at the bottom of this post!), Tweet, Email, Stumble, Tumble or social-network-whatever my post and any of these links I've shared.  

This one is sealed with love from me to you. xo

Thanks for your visit…won't you come again?  I'm always grateful when new friends subscriber in a reader or by email.  
Let me know you if you do, k? 



Related links ~ you'll want to click every one.  I have, some over and over…

* Brutal + Beautiful, borrowed from my lovie and author of Momastery, Glennon Melton.

Title quote by Kahlil Gibran.

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A fool’s delusion, a cautionary tale and how Downton Abbey can save your life

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 | 11 comments




Stephanie was a little bitty thing.

Even nine months pregnant she had coat hanger arms and matchstick legs and I wondered why her metabolism was in such a big hurry.

She birthed her baby boy with no complication, but then she discovered something bothersome and her doctor told her it was a blocked milk duct.  It made perfect sense so she accepted it as gospel without question.

It was what she wanted to hear, after all.

If I was her, in my early 20s, I would have chosen to believe it, too.

By the time she discovered it was something more, it was too late.  Her friends tried to pray her whole and the doctors tried to kill that cancer, but that little bitty thing just shriveled even smaller until she grew tiny enough to slip through Death’s door.

Her baby boy is close to 20 now.



In May I had my annual mammagram, a few days before my husband was returning home from work in Germany, and a few weeks before we were all to return there for the summer.  Since Mama died when she was 38 from breast cancer, her mama died in her early 20s from the same, and my sister is a 15-year survivor, I don’t miss opportunity for this singular form of humiliation, knowing that a good breast smashing is for my own good.

What I didn’t expect was the follow-up phone call early the next morning.


Why would I?  They’ve never called before.

“Mrs. Dance, we’re going to need you to come back in….”

The blood drained from my brain into the pit of my stomach splashing bile to the back of my tongue.

Nevermind that my tech was upbeat and minimized what she saw; they still needed me to come in to confirm their suspicions:  cysts in my left breast.

I’ve known my entire life I live in cancer’s shadow.

I’ve tried to be realistic about my odds for getting it, to imagine how I’d respond if I ever received that News.  Early detection would be my Savior, right?

My eyes filled with water and I did my best to steady my voice to make an appointment for the follow-up sonogram.  I was an Imposter until I hung up the phone.

The floodgates flung open.  I was so damn mad at myself because I couldn’t control the tears and this wasn’t even a diagnosis!  I had imagined my response would be different if I ever got that stupid News, but here I was a crybaby over an imaginary diagnosis.

The Imposter returned when I talked to my sister and husband later that day and I wondered if they could sense my detachment.  I wasn’t going to tell either until after my appointment–Tad was 5,000 miles away and my sister two hours, and they would be a tangle of worry and helplessness.

Despite my puddly reaction, there wasn’t a thing to worry about.

* * * * *

Relief came within seconds of my second appointment; the sonogram confirmed fluid-filled cysts; no solid mass or tumors or any of those ugly words.

Exactly what my tech had predicted.  Exactly what I wanted to hear.

Lurking in Memory’s 20-year-old shadow, Stephanie’s face came to mind.  I swept it back into the corner thinking My situation isn’t anything like hers was….

A fool’s delusion.

And then I called my sister who promptly went ballistic.

Among a torrent of suggestions, she urged me to see my gynocologist and to get a second opinion.  She’s my older sister by all of 16 months and she’s been bossing me as long as I can remember.  I suppose she decided it was her job after Mama died.  She’s as strong as steel and sharing her opinion is one of her superpowers.

Our phone call wasn’t sufficient.  A flurry of texts with scary words came next–

…needle biopsy…

…cyst aspiration…

…breast MRI…

And then the hammer–

“Our family members are not your average case study.  You are going to have to be proactive in the choices you make and you will have to take charge with your doctor.”

Gosh, she overreacts.  But then I was able to reach Tad, whom I thought would be satisfied with the post-sonogram report.  

I was wrong.

Though he didn’t know the Scary Words my sister had used, his sense of urgency was the same.  He insisted I make an appointment with my gynecologist for us both to attend after he returned home the next week.

We asked the doctor about all those Scary Words and although he remembers (because he’s looking at my file), I remind him about my family history.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  My initial diagnosis stands up.  A small cluster of cysts we’ll watch forever or when they dissipate, whichever comes first.


Another love in my life has been sick off and on for a while now, but it’s hard to say just when all the little things started.  She’s been back and forth to her small town doctor, and he’s been faithful to prescribe this and that for her symptoms.

Only recently it occurred to me that HE WAS TREATING HER SYMPTOMS–never has he diagnosed the issue causing the symptoms.  I haven’t been privvy to doctor/patient conversation and I know I’ve missed more than I’ve heard, but it dawned on me that she desperately needed to see someone else, because her preferred provider was missing something–

She hasn’t been 100% well in over a year.

I’m no doctor and I had no idea what he was missing, but that disquiet in my spirit was Sense telling me Something important.  So I railed and I ranted and roared like a lion, and at the risk of sounding like a complete jerk, I demanded that she make an appointment with SOMEONE ELSE.  Anyone else. 

Before she made a new appointment (who knows if she would have?) the Good Lord saw in His Divine Providence to smyte her with somethin’ dreadful, and her body betrayed her.  It literally told on her!  

In a miraculous chain of events, she got sick enough to warrant a trip to the ER.  The causative issue was revealed, she was properly treated, and just like that she’s on the road to good health.


Now, I don’t know how my way of thinkin’ squares with theology, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me otherwise; that God didn’t allow her to get Just Sick Enough to HAVE to go to the ER, so that someone else could look at her with new eyes and figure out what was wrong.

The what that was wrong…that Sense that was stirred up in my spirit….had her body not rebelled against her (stubborness? loyalty to her doctor? naivete?) would have killed her in a matter of days had it not been addressed.



So I was watching Downton Abbey Sunday night, awaiting the birth of sweet Sybil’s baby along with all the Granthams and the staff and the rest of the Downtonrazzi.

It was painful, wasn’t it?  All of it.

Not just Sybil’s labor agony; any woman who’s given birth felt the pangs with her.

It was the ridiculous

[and I beg your forgiveness in advance for employing so crude a phrase to describe what comes next, but I can’t think of another thing that more aptly describes Sir Philip’s and Dr. Clarkson’s behavior]

pissing contest between the two doctors.  The arrogant, petulant Sir Philip versus the Village doctor Clarkson.  Ignorning Lady Grantham’s best advice of them all – defering to Dr. Clarkson’s opinion who had known and treated Sybil since birth; he was certainly in a position to know what was best for his patient.

But the misguided Earl of Grantham, Sybil’s father, only heard what he wanted to hear.  He valued the pedigree of Sir Philip over the commonness of Dr. Clarkson; well, that and he couldn’t forgive the perceived failures of Dr. Clarkson with regard to Matthew’s temporary paralysis and Lavinia’s flu-related death.

Hearing what he wanted to hear informed Robert’s belief, and he bullied Sybil’s husband, Tom, and the rest of the family into getting his way.

Which, unfortunately, ended in Sybil’s unnessary death due to eclampsia.

We all watched and wept, didn’t we?  It was avoidable if only….

If only Robert et all had not acted on what they wanted to hear.  



Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey stirred memories past and present, three of which I’ve shared here.

Can we let it serve as cautionary tale?  If…when…you or a loved one receive a diagnosis you want to hear under a cloud of “What ifs”; would you please seek a second opinion to confirm that diagnosis?

But how can I cast stones at Robert?  We have the benefit of hindsight in Sybil’s (imaginary) circumstance, but haven’t we all acted at some point in our lives upon what we wanted to hear rather than what we needed to hear?

Consider me a big sister who’s assuming the right to boss you around; or compel YOU to boss someone else who needs bossing.

Because it might just save a life one day.


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Blame it on the reign…

Posted by on Sep 1, 2011 | 6 comments

It is raining.

There has never been a dryer month in Chattanooga than August 2011, and yet it pours.

umbrella reflection in the rain
Growl and hiss, snarl and bite, it’s raining cats and dogs, the dangerous kind.  Black lips curl over porcelain daggers, ready to sink in to flesh, to spill blood. 

To rob faith and joy and love.  To try to, anyway.

This is l i f e and it’s raining sideways and for now, I’m under an umbrella watching others get wet.

Sara is the first one.  She’s beautiful.  Almost seventeen and a volume of pages unwritten, she’s dancing to life’s song when black clouds descend and thunder stops her mid-pirouette. 


Her familiar-but-foreign-when-it-touches-you diagnosis sends me pounding my keyboard to understand; but even with all the information, I don’t really.  I’m mad for her, sad for her, for her mama and her daddy, and though I know God–and she knows him, too–that doesn’t stop the mad and the sad.

And the fear. 

What would have killed her ten years ago is now 90% curable.  But cancer is cancer, and it’s scary even if the odds are in your favor and you love Jesus and Jesus loves you…

because Jesus loves the other 10%, too, the one in ten. 

Jessi gives her permission to be scared and I'm so glad.  Who needs guilt heaped on top of cancer? "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave." Mark Twain is a permission giver, too. 

So Sara cuts her hair, a brave thumbing-her-nose and first kick at the monster who's invaded her body, and I admire her plucky "I have cancer but cancer doesn't have me" attitude.  I see her faith well up inside and spill over to those around her.  And what is faith?  Substance and evidence….

She makes a sign, a bold proclamation–

God = Hope = Joy

and I watch this child become a missionary in a field that has chosen her. 

* * *

Then it rains some more.

There's another family in our church who suddenly, tragically lose their 20-year-old daughter, and this with no warning?  Their baby girl says "I don't feel well," and within hours she's gone. 


I'm bewildered and my heart aches with the pain of this family's loss, someone I don't know but that doesn't seem to matter because we share the blood of Christ and the thread of parenthood. 

It's a shock to their sensibilities–this mystery is too great!–and I find myself humming a line from "Rock of Ages," Simply to the cross I cling, because in spite of the absurdity of circumstance, I believe God is good, and even in this, he is accomplishing a work for the good of his people, to bring glory to his name, and to advance the sake of the gospel.

It all feels hollow but I've rarely been one to trust feelings

And then I discover brilliance and wisdom from Henry Ward Beecher–

Rain! whose soft architectural hands have power to cut stones,
and chisel to shapes of grandeur the very mountains.

Rain has cut this family, powerfully so; it's chiseling away at who they were to shape them into who'll they'll be.  Grand?  Isn't that hard to imagine, to believe?

I'm hungering for truth, no, for Truth, and Ancient Words, familiar words, feed me–

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

All joy in the midst of suffering?  ReallySeriously??

And I think Yes, really…seriously

The only thing that allows me to believe is what informs this belief:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

I don't know the whole story


The whole story is shrouded in faith, hope and love.

God is love and he gives hope and he enables joy…and I can either fight with the tarbaby of trying to make sense of it all or I can press in and hold fast.

So I pray for strangers who'll never know I care.

* * *

Years ago I saw the countenance fall of a precious teenage girl.  She was outgoing and friendly and a whole lot of fun, but before she was fully developed, I saw her change.  Eyes lined in black, tees and shorts practically painted on, even her walk all slink and allure. 

Her parents were as involved as they could be, but she lived a masquerade.  Sometimes, compliance on the outside, but interior rebel always to the well acquainted.

It made me so sad to watch her from a distance.

She graduated high school this year and I just found out she's pregnant and getting married.

* * *

Recently one of my kids confessed a "laptop dies after Powerade spills" incident, and my initial response was fury.  HOW COULD THEY BE SO CARELESS?  THEY DON'T MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY A NEW ONE!  A blast of knee-jerk responses, and thankfully, since I found out through a phone message, the response was only in my head. 

I would have been unnecessarily vicious and fang-baring had I answered that call.

But before I had chance to respond, the rain-in-the-midst-of-a-Chattanooga-drought started–one…two…three–and my ugly thoughts transformed into gratitude… It's not cancer…or worse…or an unintended, teenage pregnancy.

It's raining but God is reigning….

and then I saw a rainbow.


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Jack’s Chattanoggins: bald for a cause!

Posted by on Jun 5, 2011 | 1 comment

Jack's ChattaNoggins logo

He says he's just an ordinary sixth grader but the evidence is stacked against him:

  • After reading  Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie ("a story about a middle school boy whose younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia.  The boy ends up shaving his head to make his younger brother feel better about losing his hair to chemotherapy.") he decided to do something in support of kids with cancer.
  • So he shaved his head…
  • and in two years, raised over $5,000 for children's cancer treatments.

This year, with ideas and support from his mom (my friend Dawn) and Children's Hospital Foundation, Jack's at full tilt, hoping to wrangle 50 people to join him in shaving their head and upping the fundraising ante to $20,000.

He dares to be the Little Engine Who Thinks He Can.

Bravo.  With a little help from his friends, I think he can, too.

There are plenty of ways you can support Jack's generous, bold initiative, whether or not you live in Chattanooga:

  1. Come HUNGRY to Spirit Night at Chick-fil-A on Monday, June 6, 4:00-9:00 pm. A percentage of sales will benefit the Children's Hospital Foundation.  You can dine at Gunbarrel Pointe or Hamilton Place Mall.  Be sure to let cashiers know you're there to support Jack's Chattanoggins!
  2. Make a donation.  Your dollars directly help fund cancer treatments for children.
  3. Register as a shavee.
  4. Become a sponsor.
  5. Find Jack's Chattanoggins on Facebook & let 'em know you're coming.
  6. Follow @Chattanoggins on Twitter.
  7. Attend THE GREAT SHAVE EVENT at Chattanooga Market on Sunday, June 26, 11:00 am-4:00 pm.  It'll be kinda like a sheep sheering but without the sheep. 🙂  

Jack Scowronneck getting his head shaved
A kid helping kids.  Jack is anything but ordinary alright.


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Scars and redemption

Posted by on Mar 14, 2011 | 19 comments

I remember seeing her scars one time.  Only once.

A body disfigured by diseased malevolence, a thief whose plunder demanded dignity and femininity and time…and eventually hope and life.  

It's a scant memory, a fleeting, vapored ghost, which I suppose is blessing.  A boy-like chest, flat and smooth with purple jagged lines; menacing expression replacing life-sustaining and desire-satisfying pillowy flesh.  

She raged five years against brutal torture, before the days of pain management and less invasive treatments.  Mama was the bravest woman I ever knew.  

This will inform my thinking for the rest of my life.

* * * * * *

I wonder what percentage of small-busted women don't think about implant surgery.  For over 20 years I flirted with the possibility.  Ever since Victoria let every imaginable secret out of her bag, I wanted what she flaunted–

sex appeal…


the ability to fill out a C-cup

The green grass on that side of the fence sure looked pretty.

* * * * * * *

Over seven years ago I moved to a new place; no one knew me here.  Once again thoughts of breast augmentation stirred in secret corners; if ever I was going to do it, now seemed like the perfect time.  By the time I saw friends back home, the contrast between before and after would be faded by time and my kids were young enough not to really notice.

The fact I cared about that was telling….

* * * * * * *

My sister is a 13-year breast cancer survivor.  After having both breasts removed, she had reconstructive surgery.  She is a hero.  

I don't judge anyone who has a breast augmentation, by the way, whether it be elective or reconstructive.  This was a very personal, complicated decision for me, and I understand women arrive at different conclusions for their own reasons.  It seems important to say that.

* * * * * * * *  

I weighed the pros of having surgery–do I really need to spell those out?!  And I weighed the cons ~

    The thought of leaving my children without their mother as a result of unnecessary, vanity-related surgery–no matter how negligible the risk–was affecting.
  • People would know or wonder, and the thought of anyone besides my husband noticing was unnerving to me.  
  • It felt like I was thumbing my nose at God, how HE created me, and telling him I wasn't satisfied with his work.  That He wasn't good enough.  No, make that I'm not good enough….

But interestingly, the most compelling reason of them all was living and breathing: 

My daughter.

* * * * * * * * *

She is built just like me, my only daughter, my first born.  In form and face, there is no denying our relationship, and sometimes in scampering glimpses, she is a mirror portal to my youth.  

High compliment is when she tells me I am mirror portal to her future.

Those well acquainted with our family will tell you she is the very best parts of me and my husband.  In seasons when marriage becomes more about love-commitment than like-love, she is perfect reminder that my husband and I are One for eternity and no one else was meant to be mine or his.  

* * * * * * * * *

I wake her on Saturday before she's ready to leave dreams behind and we have sleepy conversation.  Out of the blue and unrelated to anything we're talking about, she leans up on one elbow and with earnest sincerity chasing away Sandman she says, "Thank you, Mom, for not ever getting breast implants."  

My quizzical expression begs her to repeat and continue.

"I know you thought about it for a long time, but I'm really glad you never had the surgery.  Thank you."

I have no idea where this comes from; for that matter, I'm not sure she knows.  

Somehow this odd, unexpected thank you is delayed compensation (confirmation?) for my decision.

* * * * * * * * *

Mama didn't choose her scars; they chose her and ultimately they marked me.  

And yet somehow found in the mysteries of gratitude and fierce mother-daughter love, there's healing.

Let it be.


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