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Listen for the Whisper

April 22, 2004, Vol. II Issue 9

Dear Friends,

We often think of best friends as someone outside of ourselves, someone we confide in. What if we thought of our bodies as our best friends? Our bodies are always trying to communicate with us. Are we listening?

It’s National Cancer Control Month, and the experts urge us to pay attention to our bodies’ messages as early detection saves lives. That’s why I’m sharing Fern’s story today. Hers is a prime example of listening when you don’t want to hear, and acting anyway.

Also, we’re hoping to hear from you. Looking ahead to October and Bre^ast Cancer Awareness month, inquiring minds want to know what other event planners are doing for their bre^ast cancer events. How do we get the mammogram and early detection messages across without beating them into the ground? How do we attract women to take time to learn about these things and take care of themselves? Because I know how valuable your time is, and I want to honor that, I will reward you with something nice if you’ll help us out. Looking forward to hearing from you! Email me at Thank you very much.

Yours truly,

Listen for the Whisper

“Doctor, you are the second opinion, my opinion counts.” With those words, Fern Carness, RN, MPH, made a statement that all women should heed. “You have to listen to your body. Nobody knows your body like you do. Nobody cares about your body as much as you do. Get informed and be your own first opinion,” Fern urges her audiences.

Flashback to summer 1992. Fern was a firm, fit, active 41-year old. She had it all: a loving husband, two healthy growing sons, a successful business, and her health. Or so she thought. One morning in the shower, she discovered a lump the size of a golf ball in her bre^ast. She says she knew immediately that it was cancer. Nonetheless, she stepped out of the shower and went right back into her life, never giving the lump a second thought. That evening, her husband rediscovered the lump. Lights on, romance over!

She had just had a clean mammogram two months before, and no one in her family had bre^ast cancer. Yet a voice deep inside said, “Fern, this is serious.” Without an appointment, she went off to the family doctor the next morning. “This was not your average doctor-patient relationship,” Fern says. “This doctor had delivered both of my children. He took care of all my friends and most of the nurses in town. He was a guardian angel to my sister. This doctor cared about me.”

Perhaps too much, to the point that he did not want to see the obvious. He told her to keep an eye on the lump and come back after a couple of menstrual cycles. Relieved to hear the seemingly good news, Fern went home.

By morning, however, the whisper was shouting and Fern marched back to the  doctor’s office. It was Friday of a holiday weekend. Between sobs, she demanded a needle biopsy. The doctor wanted to medicate her and call her husband to take her home. Fern stood her ground, “Be that as it may,” she said, “someone is going to put a needle in this or I’ll do it myself.” A surgeon was called and Fern got her biopsy.

The call came at work in the cardiac cath lab on Monday morning. “Why don’t you come down, and we can go over your biopsy results and by the way, could you bring a family member and all of your previous mammograms?”

“Now I knew what this meant,” Fern says. “I couldn’t believe the ploy. Do they treat regular people this stupidly? I was terrified, but as a health educator, I was angry.

“My husband and I arrived at the surgeon’s office, with me still in my scrubs. He told us the tumor was malignant and recommended a modified radical mastectomy. Then, as if I were no longer in the room, he looked at my husband and said, ‘We’ll have a plastic surgeon on standby. She’ll go to sleep with two bre^asts, and she’ll wake up with two bre^asts. You’ll never even know she had cancer.’

“I said to the doctor, ‘Excuse me, but did anybody ask if I want to be reconstructed? You just told me I have cancer. I don’t know exactly what that means to my life. I don’t know whether I’m going to live or die, and you want to know if I want to have nice ti^ts?’

He replied, “Fern, look how cute and se^xy you are, and you’re so young. Don’t you want to still be like a woman?”

The saddest part of this physician-patient encounter, Fern recalls, is that this doctor was very kind and meant well. However, when he said, “Well, if you like, you can get a second opinion . . .” that’s when she got angry.

“Doctor, you are the second opinion. My opinion was first. I count here.” And that’s when Fern made her commitment to helping other women become their own first opinion. “I want to teach women how to stand up for their own health care and to learn to trust their intuition, listen for the whisper,” she says firmly.

In addition to speaking up for women’s health, it shouldn’t be any surprise that today Fern co-owns a store in Portland, Oregon, called “Just Like A Woman,” where she and her partner and staff service and care lovingly for women with special lingerie needs.

Fern is such a multi-faceted woman, I’ll share more with you in a future issue about some of her other adventures, including the rescue from a Dragon Boat of a suicidal man who jumped off a bridge. The story was published in Reader’s Digest and re-created for the television show, “It’s A Miracle.”

As a “Voice for Women’s Health,” you can be assured that Fern brings her passion for life to any event. With her varied background as a cardiac nurse, entrepreneur, strategic health management consultant to Fortune 200 companies, author and professional speaker, she has a toolbox full of topics and perspectives you won’t get from anyone else.

In the Headlines: McDonald’s Gets Happy for Adults

I almost missed the headline as it was in the Business Column: “‘Go Active!’ Adult Meal Coming to McDonald’s.” One never knows where she might find her health news! And what a surprise! They were announcing Happy Meals for adults! They’ll include a premium salad, bottled water and pedometers (not edible ), and will be available in all 13,600 U.S. McDonald’s May 6. To go with the pedometers, there will be brochures promoting walking, “as an attainable and effective exercise goal.”

It’s all part of a balanced lifestyle platform that is a clear answer to the call from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the private sector to become more involved in finding solutions to the obesity issue. The platform focuses on three significant areas: food choices, education and physical activity.

In addition to the Adult Happy Meal, new food choices include new mix and match options for kids’ Happy Meals and menu choice ordering options, like bun-less burgers, for everyone.

While I find it encouraging to see this coming from a huge corporate leader like McDonald’s, ultimately the public will vote with their choices at the counter and the drive-up window. We’ll see.


Have you noticed lately what a bad rap food gets? It’s like it’s the enemy instead of a nourishing friend. On Good Friday, I took the opportunity to take time out for a Silent Retreat. It was both indulging and satisfying to spend the day simply being. When the lunch gong sounded, we were each presented with a gorgeous, artfully arranged salad, fresh bread, a drink and a brownie (yum!) on a tray that included this contemplative message/prayer I wanted to share with you.

“As you enjoy this meal, use it as time for communion with the earth. Remember that it comes from the earth, that it is a gift given for your nourishment, your invigoration, your health. Remember that the elements that make it up have passed through many hands before they arrived in this form for you. Bless the hands that held it, from those who sowed it to those who tended it, picked it and cooked it. As you enjoy it, acknowledge it as it gives you nourishment and supplies your cells with life. Breathe into your cells as they accept and use it. Remember that any meal can be sacramental when it is eaten mindfully. Namaste’”

Until next time, be good to yourself for your well being and those you love.


My vision for The Speak Well Being Group is to be a connector for speakers I know, love and believe in, with the audiences who will be inspired, motivated, and transformed by their perspectives, knowledge, empathy, compassion, information and, most importantly, capacity to enjoy the process, laughing at themselves and with you along the way.

You’ll find many of our speakers on our website.

Or please call anytime and let us assist you: 503-699-5031

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