How about a moment of keening?

As I reviewed the agenda of a recent advocacy meeting, I noted each day kicks off with a moment of silence. I’m sure the organizers have the best of intentions. How could silence offend anyone?

You would be surprised.

Earlier this year I attended an advocacy seminar. Each day opened with a remembrance of someone who had died from breast cancer and then a moment of silence. I was seated in the second to last row in a hotel meeting room with about 125 other attendees. Originally, out of old habit, I sat in the last row.

As a student, I always wanted to be as far as possible from the teacher. As a veteran of many trade shows, seminars and association meetings, I find it prudent to sit close to the door–maybe I can’t pick locks like Houdini but I can always pick the quickest escape route from any conference room.

Immediately after I sat down a woman approached me. I thought she was a fellow attendee coming to introduce herself. But it was actually a senior director from the advocacy group. “This row is reserved for the speakers,” she said. “Would you please move?”

I moved to the second to last row. During a break, I learned the young man to my left grew up in the shadow of my hometown. He was the Ace of Second Base–I am unclear on the group’s mission. His main activity apparently involved running long distances wearing an outrageously decorated and overstuffed bra over his t-shirt. His participation seemed on par with inviting Al Jolson to sing “Mammy” at an NAACP meeting.

At first the costume bra was casually displayed on a side table. But on the final morning, the Ace put it on over his golf shirt and posed for photos.

On the first day, each person rose and introduced themselves. “I can do this,” said one. “I can beat this thing.” Another attendee said she wasn’t a survivor. “I’m a THRIVER!” she declared to applause.

On the first day, the meeting’s facilitator lead the moment of silence. On the second day, she asked a volunteer to do it. A woman offered fond recollections of her sister who had died of breast cancer. The facilitator then called for silence.

I don’t know what people thought about during the quiet period. Maybe some offered prayers or were reminded of others who had died from cancer. Probably none of us could imagine ourselves as the sister who died. We would try harder and do more and take better care of ourselves. She might have had other health problems. It wouldn’t happen to us.

Nina Schulman, co-founder of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), died in 2008. She refused to go quietly.

“Nina was determined that our programs, our brochures, our website all represent hope,” recalled her friend and former MBCN president Ellen Moskowitz. “She would not allow any aspect of death. She didn’t want candles lit or moments of silence in remembrance. She wanted everyone to focus on keeping us alive!”


4 thoughts on “How about a moment of keening?

  1. Wow, the guy with the overstuffed bra really gets to me. Can’t believe it….or can I?

  2. Leslie says:

    I can’t believe that even silence can be offense these days. How PC are we going to get. Yes, we do have a right to be offended by things and to have out opinions about them. I believe that the moment of silence was a terrific compromise to prayer towards a certains deity. that always offends different religions. So, silence is a good option. I am sure that everyone focused on different trains of thought during that quiet time. The dude with bra, was silly and stupid. It wouldn’t be my thing, but someone at that meeting found meaning in him and his cause. The thing that I found most offensive in what your wrote is that you were asked to move by the representative. If the row wasn’t clearly marked identifying it as a special area for speakers, then she was just being rude and unwelcoming.

  3. katherinembc says:

    Hi Leslie
    Thanks for reading. Moments of silence are fine–and a prayer wouldn’t have been appropriate. My concern are advocacy groups that have a moment of silence for people who have died from metastatic breast cancer but have no real action plans to help people currently living with the disease.

    I have actually had the “moment of silence” cited to me as evidence that groups care about people with MBC. Well, that is like saying the ketchup packet in a school lunch qualifies as a vegetable since at one point it was a tomato. Pretty weak evidence.

    I didn’t say so above, but I didn’t think this group did a good job at covering MBC. The impression that many of the attendees may have gotten is that the people who died from MBC didn’t try hard enough.’s co-founder, CJ, relates the story of being at meeting and literally being ignored in favor of treat-it-and-beat-it stories. The moderator wouldn’t call on CJ or her MBC friends. I admit I thought maybe she was exaggerating or stretching a point–until it happened to ME at least twice.

    Many well-intentioned people wear silly pink outfits. I don’t understand the pink tiaras and feather boas, but you are correct, their hearts are in the right place and I am sure many are raising funds for friends with cancer.

    I had the same thought–it was a meeting room–they do have “reserved” signs. Why not put one up? Plus I didn’t think she asked very graciously.

    Rock on!

  4. Kathi says:

    So, this was a different guy from the infamous Dusty Showers, of the cowboy hat & pink bling bra over his shirt (or sometimes his bare chest) who recently organized a Hooters Hoedown?

    I got a pink feather boa once, for being one of the two or three actual persons with breast cancer at a comedy night arranged as a breast cancer fundraiser. It was the same fundraiser at which there weren’t enough chairs to sit in to eat our buffet dinner, so I had asked one of the waiters to find one or two more chairs for me & my friends, and when he brought them out, a group of charming suburban housewives — none of whom had breast cancer — stole them out of our grasp before we could sit in them. Nice. I think that was the last fundraiser I’ve been to. Kind of thing that puts the stink on pink.

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