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Words of comfort

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Know & Go

What: Paint the Town Pink

When: 5-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25

Where: Nevada County Fairgrounds

Contact: (530) 273-9561

Rather than collapse in a state of devastation after learning of her best friend’s diagnosis of breast cancer, Debra Heiden tried to keep things positive.

With the release of her book “You are Never Alone: Words of Comfort and Inspiration,” Heiden sought to offer inspirational thoughts and beautiful images to those who are going through a hard time.

“The book is relatable to things everyone goes through. It’s not only for people going through breast cancer but people who go through troubles and hard times,” Heiden said.



Heiden’s best friend, Lori Baldwin, was diagnosed with cancer in February 2009, which Baldwin said she could just not believe.

“We could share the book and  give people the same uplifting feeling as Lori felt.”
— Debra Heiden

“I felt like someone was going to wake me up and say, ‘We made a mistake. It isn’t true.’”




After speaking to the surgeon about her options, Baldwin said she finally realized the reality of the situation.

“I realized, ‘This is it. This is happening in my life right now.’”

In her circle of friends, Heiden was one of the first Baldwin called.

“One of the big things was keeping her sense of humor. She said, ‘I need to laugh. I need to laugh every day,’” Heiden said.

Baldwin suggested publishing the book during a time when Heiden herself was at an all-time low, facing a challenging financial time, nearly losing her house.

“Last year had been two years, and one of the ministers at church said, ‘You should go forward with this and publish it,’” Baldwin said.

After six months of sending the book back and forth to the publisher, the book was complete with an added six quotations the two collaborated to create to make Heiden’s original 44 sayings an even 50.

Heiden spoke about the book to Linda Aeschliman, R.N., during a routine mammogram at the Sierra Nevada Women’s Imaging Center. Aeschilman suggested that Heiden donate the book to the women’s resource center. Shortly thereafter, a woman who found out her niece was diagnosed with breast cancer saw the book at the center and quickly asked to purchase it.

“She wanted to hurry and get a copy for her niece before she went off to Asia for five months. We were really excited about sharing the book with people,” Heiden said. “We could share the book and give people the same uplifting feeling as Lori felt.”

Baldwin described a time when she met another woman going through the same thing while driving to treatment.

“My husband and I were on our way to one of my doctor appointments. If he drove, I would get sick from treatments. So I was driving, and there was another car in the parallel lane to us. She was bald, too. And our windows were down, and we said ‘You have the same haircut as I do.’ We touched hands, and she said ‘We have it. It doesn’t have us.’ And the light changed, and she was gone. That was really empowering.”

Baldwin said having support throughout treatment was essential.

“A lot of times you’re really isolated when you’re going through chemo,” Baldwin said. “Don’t ever tell yourself that a card or someone calling would impose or bother people. It meant the world to me.”

She said the book helped her through the difficulty of chemotherapy.

“Recovery can be challenging at times. I would refer to her gift a lot of times.”

Baldwin said receiving the book was a personal and heartfelt token of friendship.

“One day I was sitting on my front porch, and the mailman came and delivered, like, a journal, from her. It was in her shaky scrawl. And she glued a beautiful sweet picture on each page. I was so touched because I knew this must have taken a long time to do. It was so powerful,” Baldwin said.

‘Maintaining hope’

According to Elyse Spatz Caplan, director of programs and partnerships of Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a cancer support organization, the important thing is not to just focus on staying positive, which can be unrealistic sometimes, but to maintain hope.

“It may be unreasonable to stay positive all the time, but maintaining hope is an idea that may be embraced by more people and make you feel less pressure on yourself to stay positive,” Caplan said.

Caplan was diagnosed with breast cancer 21 years ago and has since beat the disease.

She said those who are stuck in a rut can reach out to find support to achieve a more positive outlook.

“People need to find a way out of that hole, if they find themselves in a bad spot, not to get stuck and to know when reaching out that there are different types of support (that) can bring them up and get to that more hopeful place, and if they can get there, they can get to that positive place,” Caplan said.

Kirk Deitterich, a psychologist at the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, said focusing on a range of emotions can help make for more uplifting future situations.

“I think it’s also important with cancer patients to be aware of anxiety and times they aren’t so upbeat because if they’re not aware of those times, they’re not aware of the changes they need,” Deitterich said. “Positive thinking can be pushed sometimes to an extreme where you miss out on those opportunities to change the stress in our lives. I see a lot of people come in, ‘Oh, if I just stay positive.’ However, you may be missing some things that can create more positives things in your life.”

Deitterich said simply being there for someone can be helpful during the treatment process.

“We know that social interaction does create things for our brain, and people underestimate the power of just being there for someone. They don’t have to be a famous psychologist or physician. Just being there is enough. It does wonderful things for our brain.”

The very title of Heiden’s book speaks to that message, Caplan said.

“‘You are never alone’ is a really important phrase for people diagnosed with breast cancer,” Caplan said.

“It’s a very important aspect for people to know that there is a village around them and lots of supporters and that people can play different roles throughout their treatment and recovery experience.”

Heiden and Baldwin met about 15 years ago when attending a class on positive thinking at the Tri-City Church of Religious Science in Fremont.

“It involved praying for that which you want in life in a series of steps. It’s about knowing your oneness with God and accepting mentally on a blackboard, ‘I accept health,’ ‘I accept prosperity’ and feel how your life would be, what would it look like with those things and give thanks that it already happened. Like creating a magnetic energy and acting on your energy.”

Heiden, a kindergarten teacher by day, said she would like to write children’s books or an autobiography. Baldwin is a peer counselor for breast cancer patients and would like to get involved with patient advocacy for those without insurance.

“There’s a lot we can do for each other,” Baldwin said. “It takes a village. It’s not somebody else’s problem. It takes all of us. I’ve told my kids, ‘Be a blessing and leave the wood pile higher.’ There’s more to life than looks. I tell them all the time, ‘Have some depth to you.’”

The women have attended breast cancer walks and cancer fundraiser Relay for Life, where Baldwin has been the opening speaker. They are also attending this week’s Paint the Town Pink, Thursday night’s event in Grass Valley.

“We’ll be wearing matching ‘You Are Never Alone’ T-shirts and pink wigs,” Heiden said. The book can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and on the Createspace website for $22.99.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.


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