Marifran Korb

A New Christmas and a HAPPY NEW YEAR

by on Dec.31, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

This experiment tried by my family worked so well, we plan on doing it next year. It could work for New Year’s, too.

It is my hope that you had a wondrous holiday with whatever you had been celebrating. This year my husband Ed and daughter Ilona made a pact that we would not exchange gifts. Ilona has been advocating for this for at least five years. I had been the holdout. Each year I said: “You don’t have to give me anything. I just want to express myself with a few gifts.”

The truth is, I wasn’t sure what else would work for Christmas Day. So we would exchange gifts. The way we did it would take up several hours. We’d have a big breakfast when Ilona came over. Then we’d take turns giving one gift at a time between sips of coffee or cocoa.

Our tradition was that we’d acknowledge the receiver for some wonderful quality we saw in them, whether or not that happy characteristic had anything to do with the gift itself. Often there was a story connected to the gift. None of the gifts have been expensive. We treasured the time it took to unwrap and acknowledge. It went on usually beyond lunch.

Often our time together was interrupted by calls from out-of-town friends and family. There was barely enough time to get ready to visit relatives in the mid-afternoon.

This year was different. I realized that I get gifts all year from Ed and Ilona, especially this year when I heard Ed’s desperation at the thought of fighting traffic, finding parking, and elbowing crowds. No matter what I said, he felt obligated to get me something if I was getting gifts.

IIlona had been saying for years that she had enough things and did not want more in her home. So, Ed, Ilona and I made a pact that we would not exchange gifts this year. It seemed revolutionary or anti-Christmas, may anti-Christian. Radical, at any rate.

Our choice was not to say humbug to the holiday. To be fair, we did give to some charities. And we did buy gifts for a family in need. In addition, Ed bought a computer housing and fixed up a used computer for that family. We bought a printer/copier/fax to work with the computer he fixed up.

Secretly, I had worried that my plans for the bulk of the day would fall flat. I never know for sure what will fly with my family, so as a backup I got the movie: A Christmas Miracle by Truman Capote from the library. It felt like I was cheating on the sacredness of the day. Happily I can say we never had time for any movie. Still, we have not seen it.

After Ilona and I made dinner together, marinated chicken and baked sugarless cheesecake to bring to Christmas dinner, Ilona suggested we make a list of the gifts we had received and we share that since we did not have physical gifts. Instantly I gave up my plans. What a great idea she had.

When Ilona went home and we all made our lists. Unsure I could remember it all, I wondered if Ed and Ilona had as much to acknowledge as I did.

On Christmas Day, Ilona came over for a big scrambled eggs and ham breakfast. Then for three hours, we took turns sharing the items on our lists. What fun it was to share what we had received and to hear what we had given. The year stood twinkling in bright lights before us as we re-lived good times and re-experienced generous spirits of others and ourselves.

Most often we forgot what we had given through the year. Each of us was astonished at how much we had had given and how much appreciation the receiver had. Originally it took three typewritten pages for me. By the time we were finished, we each had enough to type up another page or two.

After a late lunch, Ed played guitar and we sang together. The whole days experience was so fulfilling that I know we will keep this practice for other Christmases, whether we ever exchange gifts or not. None of us missed gifts. I though I would. Instead, I felt all sparkling inside.

The evening was capped off by being with Ed’s parents and siblings and their families. While there were 23 of us, there was enough delicious food to feed several armies. Since the food I brought was for my restricted diet, naturally not too many people wanted it. Some people tasted my organic Moroccan chicken and liked it. Some ate the sugarless cheesecake, too. Others took some home, presumably to eat. J

Tonight, New Year’s Eve is calling to me to see other aspects of 2010 such as the accomplishments celebrated, challenges overcome, relationships deepened, and possibilities looming.
Champagne and confetti,

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by on Dec.16, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

Metabolic physician, Dr. P, believes in giving supplements long before and long after any surgery, if surgery is needed. An obstetrics surgeon who ordinarily believes in removing a tumor, Dr. P said she trusted my instincts and respected my desires. Saying that I had the right personality and drive for this holistic approach, Dr.P heartily agreed to support me in making my body inhospitable to cancer.

In case cancer would spread, Dr. P did not want to rely solely on supplements for too many months without a CT scan. She suggested that it’s likely the tumor already has been there for years. That reinforced my conjecture that there needs to be fewer worries about urgency and more focus on saving my kidney. If it’s been going on for a while and it is still small, then it may not tend to grow quickly, I reasoned.

After Dr. P read my answers to a 22-page questionnaire, she thought the plan I devised was very good. Already I have been taking two supplements that she would have recommended for me if I had not been taking them already, the fermented wheat germ that blocks glucose from cells, and an immune booster. She approved of the wheat grass and tumeric.

Still, Dr. P recommended five additional supplements. One for oxygenating my lungs, one for estrogen metabolism, another is an enzyme that lowers inflammation, one is an homeopathic liquid for lung improvement, and another is a buffered vitamin C powder to lower inflammation. They all have multiple benefits for me and all create the hostile environment for cancer cells.

Spending over an hour with me, Dr. P tested my metabolism with a device before she drew up a plan that included five additional supplements plus the two key ones I was taking. Also, she gave me her e-address and several phone numbers to reach her if I needed anything. Every person I met at the office was exceptionally warm, upbeat and caring to me and to each other. They genuinely liked working there. It was a very unusual experience. I was given an individualized care manual to follow. It included a reading list, nutrition information with charts, phone numbers and email addresses for everyone in the office, etc.

Impressed with Dr. P, my husband Ed became a believer in this plan of action. With her many years of experience with cancer patients, Dr. P’s expertise helped Ed overcome his fears about my alternative plan. Now he thinks I made the wisest choice.

Ed reminded me that I have a lot to do in following this healing path with eating a severe diet, learning new food choices, taking the multitude of supplements, etc. I said it beats losing a kidney and experiencing many weeks and months of painful recovery from surgery.

Meanwhile, many changes were occurring within me. Since this was the tenth week of dealing with cancer, I had already lost ten pounds. Knowing I needed to enjoy everyday, many friends gave me wonderfully creative and healing gifts. And to remind myself of wellness, I kept in my office a mylar balloon that said “PARTY.”

Also, I continued my spiritual practices. One of them was, and is, to have fun, being aware of the enjoyment in each moment. Another practice is to rejoice in my generous and loving friends everyday.

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by on Dec.05, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

After reading a lot of information on the internet and searching through book stores, I added another supplement, one that stimulates the immune system. Meanwhile, I continued avoiding any food with added sugar, including even most well respected cereals. Steel cut oats was my main breakfast and only the fruit I added changed daily. Knowing that fruit had fructose, I did not think it would be a problem. Being such a healthy food, fruit was a staple of my diet.

One day in June, I called into the company making the fermented wheat germ product, the receptionist handed me over to a product expert named David. Mine was a simple question about the timing of ingesting the product suggested on the box. An easy conversationalist, David answered my question and talked about aspects of cancer. I shared that I was taking two supplements along with wheatgrass, several herbal supplements including four tumeric tablets equaling 2,000 mg. and a sugar free, alcohol free diet. David said: “Bump up the tumeric to 4,000 mg. daily.”

Unsure if I was doing enough, I confessed I had no medical guidance on my do-it-myself journey. Asking my location, David recommended Dr P at the La Valle Institute where three doctors practice. Thanking him, I immediately googled Dr P. Since she is listed as a gynecologist, I was skeptical, and called anyway. I left a message saying that I had cancer and I would take any doctor that was available.

The office manager, Mary, called back from her home at my dinner time and apologized for being too busy to call sooner. She had taken my name home with her and was calling from her kitchen. Assuring me that it was Dr. P that I should see, I made an appointment.

Asking me how I found the institute, I told her about the friendly man associated with two of the supplements I take. Mary said, “Oh yes, David. He’s the owner of that supplement company. Dr. P likes those products you are taking.”

On July 28, I showed up at Dr. P’s office. The first thing she asked me was what I had for breakfast. Proudly I answered: “Steel cut oats, milk and banana. Her response came swift and emphatic: “No grain, no dairy, and no fruit. Only organic meat and vegetables.”

Later, Dr. P amended the fruit rule saying that if I had any fruit, I had to eat three times as many vegetables with it.” Oh, mixing it with vegetables would kill my love of fruit. My sweet tooth was already reeling from the no-sugar rule I imposed on myself. Now having to limit fruit was a shock.

After testing my metabolism with Electro Dermal Screening, Dr. P declared I was doing quite well. The doctor and I both agreed that if the cancer grows, I’d go for surgery while continuing the supplements. Dr. P assured me it is safe to get another CT scan in four months to check the status. If the tumor stays the same or gets smaller, I’ll just keep taking supplements.

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by on Nov.27, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

Dr. K requested an office appointment five days after the procedure to determine the type of kidney cancer. I knew he wanted to schedule surgery.

The day arrived. June 29 was a sunny morning. Ed drove while I prayed that I had the strength to face the day’s challenges. In a few hours, I would conduct my first interview for my new Blog Talk Radio Program. Unsure of the technology, I was insecure about whether I would ever be prepared enough to interview a psychologist in a venue that could be heard around the world.

Definitely, that was not what I was most concerned about. One anxiety centered around overcoming kidney cancer. The most immediate apprehension focused on how difficult this meeting would be. I let the summer sun warm me. On the short drive, I imagined that the sun was pouring power into the cells of my body.

Once at the office, Ed and I were escorted to the office with the doctor’s big desk, not the usual utilitarian, soulless, cramped space. Dr. K came in after awhile and took his place behind the desk, facing us.

Getting right to it, Dr. K informed me he had already scheduled surgery for me. In three weeks was the date. Explaining all the aspects of surgery, he said he would have to go in by hand the old fashioned way due to the tricky location of the tumor.

Quickly I reminded him of the risks of such a long surgery since I have serious complications with my lungs. Dr. K thought it was no big deal since I needed this surgery to live. I asserted that whenever I had surgery I wanted my pulmonologist to be consulted. Neither agreeing or disagreeing, Dr. K was convinced I needed surgery no matter the extenuating circumstances.

“There’s a good chance I can save some of the kidney, and just cut out the cancer,” he cheerfully stated. “Yes, and it’s not likely,” I guessed aloud, disputing his claim. “Well, there’s a slight chance,” Dr. K countered. That was more what I thought. From the beginning, I knew I could not count on rescuing any of that kidney. Now the truth was out: just a slight chance, not a good chance. I was even more convinced of the risks.

Yes, I know I have another kidney. There’s a reason we are supposed to have two. I wanted them both intact if I could manage that.

I was aware of the risks of not having surgery. Cancer could spread and I’d be in much worse difficulty. As a calculated risk, I hoped it was worth it. It appeared to be all or nothing, and I was willing to go for it.

I told Dr. K and my shocked husband that I wanted to try some things for the next three to four months before I would consider surgery. My strong feeling was that I had time. The tumor was found by accident. I had no symptoms. It was only an inch in size.

“Size doesn’t matter” the doctor insisted, “a small tumor can spread as fast as a large one.” Though it had been five days since Dr. K performed the procedure, he said that my cancer may have spread already in those few days.

The biggest reason I wanted time was that I wanted to continue taking a supplement of fermented wheat germ. It takes at least three months to see any results. I did not share what I was thinking.

Reading my mind, Dr. K emphatically asserted that “no diet, no supplement, and no prayers are going to save you.” He made it clear that surgery was the only route and I could do it now and stay safe, or do it later when it spread. Urgency was of the utmost importance.

Ed was torn. I could see it on his face. He had said earlier that he believed I should have the surgery.

“I will get another CT scan in three or four months and then decide based on results,” I stated. Taking advantage of the doctor’s shock, I stood up and said: “Thank you. I’ll be in touch if I decide to have surgery.” We shook hands and parted without any bad feelings. Dr. K was gracious, suggesting I could get a second opinion if I had doubts.

Very relieved the exchange did not get ugly, I walked out to the hallway knowing I had no intention of having surgery before I gave my best to another way. While I had a plan in mind, I did not know if the one supplement and the no-sugar diet was enough to sidestep the spread of cancer in a few months.

And what would stop cancer altogether? While having no clue, I was committed to searching for something. I did not know what or how.

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by on Nov.20, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

What I came to realize is that CT scans are more precise now and have greater accuracy than back in 1991 when I was misdiagnosed with lung cancer. Yet, that idea of a possible misdiagnosis was a saving grace for me to get through the early days of this cancer journey.

Meanwhile, my pulmonologist now suggested an urologist at UC.  I figured a doctor closer to home would do just as well.

On June 17, I went to the nearby urologist. Looking at the CT scan, Dr. K assured me that I had only one cancerous kidney. I felt relieved. The left kidney had a cyst, not a tumor. He could “keep an eye on it” with future CT scans. The right kidney was cancerous. He was sure. It was stage one. Instead of being totally depressed, I was actually grateful to this doctor that I only had one tumor.

Heading home that June day, the reality of cancer set in. I knew I needed to study up on this. I called our daughter, Ed’s parents, and a few friends.

My father-in-law had inspired me with his restored health.  Almost a year earlier, his stage 3  prostate cancer affected him so much, he looked too frail to continue living.   Standing and walking were challenges.  He had no energy until he took a supplement of fermented wheat germ.

Within three months of taking the supplement he was alive and vibrant for his 88 years. It was that hope that I now would cling to.

Before I could tell Ed’s dad that I planned to take the same fermented wheat germ, he offered to give me his extra months supply.   Gratefully, I started taking it that same day after ordering my supplies over the internet.

In the book Knockout, I read that cancer feeds off sugar.   Immediately, I gave up all desserts and snacks with sugar.  Cold turkey.  It was not easy. Quickly, I discovered how addicted I was to sugar.

Dr. K had said that he thought I had a transitional cell carcinoma.   To determine exactly what type of cancer it was, he informed me he had to perform a procedure called a cystoscope.

After that procedure, I spoke with Dr. K. He said it was not a transitional cell carcinoma, but a renal cell carcinoma. That distinction made no difference as far as his assertion that the cancer had to come out immediately.

The surgery could not be done with robotics, since it was very close to the blood supply. I would have a scar on my back and the surgery would take two to three hours. It would involve weeks of recovery. On the internet, the people who had undergone kidney surgery said they were in pain for months afterwards.

Dr. K admitted that he could not be sure to save any of that right kidney. Still, he insisted that there was a good chance he could cut out only the tumor, doing a partial nephrectomy, and leave the rest intact.

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by on Nov.13, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

As with any relationship, this one continues to evolve.  Surprises occur, some I like and some I don’t.  Cancer doesn’t care about my opinion.  It just is.  Or is it?  One thing I know for sure: I’m in this to learn.  This crash course in life has provided enormous opportunities to widen my scope.

No advanced doctorate degree could be more intense.  My cancer education has been on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scale.

It started with a routine chest CT scan six months ago.  The radiology department had scanned from chest to kidneys.  Three weeks after the scan, I managed to get an appointment to hear the scan results. “Look, you’ve got cancer in both kidneys,” exclaimed my pulmonologist.  Excitedly, she pointed to a screen with black, gray and white marks on it.  I took her word for it. Not sharing her enthusiasm, I didn’t react.

There was no time to talk about my lungs on that visit. Rather, there was a flurry of activity around scheduling an abdomen scan to see the kidney more clearly. Within a week it was confirmed that I needed a specialist.

My history kept me calm and objective.  In 1991, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I had been coughing up blood from my lungs, something that was not new.  After a CT scan, the pulmonologist at the time, told me I needed surgery to remove my whole right lung.  I took the CT scan to a second pulmonologist who said: “Yes, it could be cancer. And with your lungs, the surgery could kill you.”

Since I said no to that first diagnosing doctor in 1991, he actually called my husband and enrolled him in the idea of surgery for me.  Figuring I could die if I did, or die if I didn’t, I refused.  Nothing bad happened as a result.

With that experience in my background, I decided not to worry about anything until I knew for sure.  The thought of having two cancerous kidneys would at times shock my mind, and I would remind myself that I did not have any physical pain. I knew I had to focus on the possibility the CT scan was wrong.

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My Relationship With Time

by on Jul.15, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

Last night I was in a writing circle that was around a virtual campfire.  It was led by vivacious, ingenious Julie Jordan Scott.  Julie directed us from her state of CA, while the rest of us were writing in other parts of the world. Our imagination keeps us together around a creative campfire that sparks our souls.

While Julie gave us two prompts in a row, this is the prompt that prompted this post: “The writing I will harvest today is … “

The writing I will harvest today is the moment I am in. On this clear evening, I can smell the honeysuckle as I observe the sun’s rays at a lower angle, highlighting the side of my house instead of the roof. Still, the strong sun makes its descent in the sky in these few hours before twilight. I love this time of day.

If a day is compared to a lifetime, how much time does my life have? Is this the stage my life is in? If all goes well, I can count on a few more decades before twilight time. Has my sun, or energy, peaked? What year was that exactly? I had not noticed.

On reflection I do not think my important energy is waning, even while the hour is way past noon and the years are adding up. In a day, I am very productive even between the time the sun sets and the time sleep sets in. So I can do plenty when the decades continue. Those years will be like this beautiful time of day when the sky is getting ready to dress up for the sunlight’s long passage through the atmosphere. The sky celebrates with spectacular colors.

Even when the sunlight disappears below the horizon and envelops the outdoors, my inner lights keep me going. I love the moment I am in.

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by on May.11, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

My mother was my first relationship. She was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, and later bi-polar disorder. As you can imagine, that relationship profoundly affected me.

Had I lived with her alone on a desert island, it is likely I would not have survived. In this story, I show how neighbors made a difference.

Below is a new sample from my book: Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents.


For days, Mother had been sleeping at night on the grass in the front yard. Actually the back yard was bigger, but it did not suit my mother’s purposes. It was definitely not as public and Mother had a propensity for drama. It was “too hot inside,” she explained.

Wearing her ragged bedclothes, she usually came in after the men on the street drove past on their way to work. That included Dad.

One morning, after a week of those grass-sleeping nights, men in white coats came to the house. Dad hadn’t left for work yet. The men spoke to him privately. Then they asked where to find her. He pointed to the bedroom where she had just come inside to rummage around for God-knows-what. The screaming started as the two men took her by the arms. She didn’t fight them physically as I knew she could. She was just yelling from the surprise of the ambush like a scared rabbit. Dad observed the scene as a bystander. It had to be a surprise to him, but his demeanor never gave it away.

When she was out of sight and hearing I asked Dad if it was due to the sleeping in the grass that led to this. “No, it was the noise and digging into neighbors’ garbage cans that did it,” he answered flatly as if nothing just happened. I got ready for school as always, and tried not to think of where she was going. My brothers had no reaction.

Walking to the bus stop, I lost myself in pondering what was the dividing line between sanity and insanity. “What behavior constituted normal and what constituted the unacceptable?” Making noise, digging in trashcans, and even displaying herself on the lawn didn’t seem that bad to me, especially compared to her anger flares, her sudden nastiness, etc. I guess it had to do with who was disturbed. The relatives and the neighbors knew some of the extremes that went on in private. They had seen and heard her screaming and hitting, and kept that to themselves. The people who saw her reactions and disturbances looked away. Yet, when odd behavior bothered and affected them, then it wasn’t all right anymore. It all seemed a blur to me. What got her put away didn’t seem anywhere near as serious as lots of other things that didn’t have consequences. I could never have gotten away with the things my mother was permitted to do.

Knowing that Dad didn’t call the men in white coats, I was secretly glad to have neighbors that did.

Another chapter from this book is

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by on Mar.25, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

Connection is powerful. Omnipresent, it is ready for us to just reach for it. One person who did not believe in connection was a sullen 14-year old girl who was in the Youth-At-Risk Program.*  Since I had recently left my job and left my husband, I definitely was not looking to volunteer for this yearlong commitment. Yet, there I was. After Natalie’s difficult behavior, her mentor quit before the program started. No adult was willing to take her on, so it was either no one, or I.

Raised by her grandmother who died two years earlier on Natalie’s twelfth birthday, Natalie had been shuttled around to live with whatever relative had the temerity to take her in. Her mother’s current lover had shot her young mother. Her father was in jail for another 3 years for robbery. She moved five times that year. With just a spoonful more stability, I moved three times in the same period.

Natalie’s first communication to me was that I was too short, too white and too old. I had to pull the sword out of my heart on that last part.

Our first scheduled meeting was memorable. She had planned on ditching me before I could find her. Deliberately she gave me a bogus street number on a very busy street. Since her aunt’s last name was not the same as Natalie’s, I could not find her in the phone book. As soon as I left the public phone booth, it started to rain.   Walking back to my car to get my umbrella, I considered my options.   Discovering that I had locked myself out,  there was no turning back.

Remembering that another mentor had mentioned that Natalie lived on that busy street,  I asked a small boy if he knew her.  Natalie lived on the top floor of the corner building, he assured me.  A fortress of four floors, the red brick building itself absorbed the odor from a garbage-strewn courtyard. There was no doorbell to alert anyone that I was there. By then, the rain poured out in endless buckets and the odor of the garbage was getting more foul. My hair was already soaked, and my sandals were getting squishy.  I was in no position to wait around. There had to be another entrance.

After finding a tall child, I started climbing the fire escape that had been out of reach for me, though not for the pre-teen.

People on all the lower floors came out of their windows and screamed, wanting to know what I was doing. They said they’d get Natalie. Yes Natalie, the teen that did not like being found, came out to get me. She brought me in with the air of one who had been outsmarted … this time. Whenever I called after that, her grandfather answered the phone and yelled loudly: “It’s that crazy white woman.”

She tested me all along the way that bumpy year. At times she growled menacingly that she could beat me up. Never doubting that she could, I gazed at her unflinchingly without comment.

Our conversations were curious. One of our agreements and obligations of the program was to meet with other mentors and youths in the Youth-At-Risk Program. The day before each all- day Saturday session, I’d inform her of the next program, the new great speaker and the reason she would want to hear the valuable information. Her response was: “I’m not going.” Ignoring that, I’d keep rhapsodizing about the other youths that would be there, what benefit was in it for her, and what time I’d pick her up. She’d repeat: “I’m not going,” exactly as Poe’s Raven reiterated “Nevermore.” After several rounds of this, I’d depart cheerfully reminding her: “Be outside by the curb at 9 AM when I pick you up.” Getting the last word, Natalie would say: “I’m not going” as I waved good-bye.

Most Saturdays at 9, she’d be waiting at the curb. I never acted surprised, though I always allowed extra travel time in case I had to chase her down.

Through the year there were many challenges and ample unwelcome surprises in our relationship. At the end of the year I was astonished when I heard her insist that the other youths should vote me the title of Most Dedicated Mentor. It was a revelation that Natalie admired my commitment and determination. I didn’t let her get away with her behaviors and I never shamed her either. We were connected. Though she disappeared soon after the year was up, we were never separated and remain together on some level.

* The Youth At Risk Program was an international organization that made a difference to at-risk teens.  It no longer exists as it originated.  In every city where it existed, crime rates were reduced.

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by on Feb.18, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

This video illustrates the courage and determination of a man without the use of his legs.  He has developed physical and emotional agility and strength beyond what most of us can do.  This man is heroic in his relationship to himself and to life.  Check this out for two minutes.
Wheelchair BMXFunny bloopers are a click away

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