Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rest in Peace: Laurie Becklund

After the lumpectomy, after the radiation, we are told to take an anti-estrogen pill daily for five years, and then we are pronounced "five-year survivors."

"Have a nice life," Laurie Becklund's doctors told her at that point.

The part they don't stress is that one in ten of us still has micro-metastases after our treatment and will develop problems with cancer later.

Laurie died of metastasized breast cancer on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, exactly two weeks ago.  Her breast cancer had returned 13 years after her first diagnosis in 1996, and she lived almost six years after it returned.  

Today her family and friends put on a five-star memorial service, which my husband attended.  (I choose to attend my usual monthly Women-Church liturgy.)  She was an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times and had written several books.

Here's the final piece Laurie wrote, "As I Lay Dying," which appeared on a full page of the op-ed pages today in the Los Angeles Times.

William Faulkner never imagined that his novel, As I Lay Dying, would bear such strange fruit.

Laurie was born in 1948, as was I.  

She applied to be part of Stanford University's freshman class of 1966, but she was turned down.  The foolish selection committee still goes for students who have 1) achieved in sports, 2) held offices in high school government or edited high school newspapers or yearbooks, 3) achieved in music or the arts --in addition to having 4.0 grades.  

Instead of Laurie, the committee chose me and my neighbor Shelley Surpin, now an entertainment lawyer; neither of us did anything particularly noticeable with our talents, unlike Laurie.  Perhaps they chose me because they needed a few from Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley.  Laurie came from the San Diego area, where there were many qualified applicants.  

Note about The Ratio: one-third of the entering students were female.  Two-thirds of the seats in the class went to males.  If Stanford had not been such a sexist place, as well as sports-ist, Laurie would have entered the class.

Instead Laurie earned her BA from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, run by a group of nuns who took the Vatican II direction to heart and soon shed their habits and their subservience.  Cardinal McIntyre tried to squelch them by shutting down donations to the college, which had to close.

Pat Reif was among them, an activist for civil rights, against nuclear weapons, and for peace.  She later founded a master's degree program in feminist spirituality at Immaculate Heart College.

In this environment, Laurie flourished.  She learned activism and advocacy for women.  It's not surprising that she went much further than the sweetie-pies who went to Stanford in 1966 and married a classmate, as did I.

Laurie went to Columbia School of Journalism and did important work for the LA Times.  She didn't marry until age 32.  

Her reporting exposed the government death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s.

Laurie, the trajectory of your life and that of mine crossed in several ways.  Our husbands both worked at the LA Times--and you too were among those talented journalists.   

Our lives both were touched by the Immaculate Heart sisters.

You had one daughter (wise in just one), while I had three.

Breast cancer entered your life in 1996 but waited until 2014 to enter mine.

You wrote several books as I edited just one (the reverse of our daughter totals).  You were a much better reporter than I.

You died this month from metastasized breast cancer; I still live.

Cancer may get me in a few years, or maybe my end will be with Alzheimer's disease.

The important thing is that we were each created and loved by God and did our best to serve our Maker.

We both strove to answer the question posed by Evelyn Underhill in her book The Spiritual Life:

...what function must this life fulfill in the great and secret economy of God?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Checkpoint Inhibitors

I didn't realize that my own body has ways of fighting cancer.

T-cells attack and kill many invading cells, including cancer cells, but some cancers have a way of telling T-cells to go away.  

Doctors at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have developed a way to block the chemical reaction that sends the T-cells away.

Listen to this report today on NPR News: