Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Voting for life

One woman?s journey through cancer

Renate Beguin Photo by Mountain Express

October is annually Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. The yearly awareness blitz helps women everywhere (men, too) learn to recognize the signs of breast cancer, what to do about it and where to go for help. As important as the information is, people are encouraged to know their own bodies, do monthly breast examinations and to pay attention.

Case in point: In 1994, when Swiss-born Renate Beguin was 50, she had a sensation in her breast. A friend insisted she see a doctor. Beguin made an appointment for a mammogram and consult with a doctor in New York.

"He said, 'It's fine.' I said, 'No it's not; do a sonogram.'" Then the lump showed up. My advice is, 'If you suspect something, do a sonogram.' It will show stuff a mammogram doesn't."

In fact, mammograms often don't show even pea-sized lumps, something that a person can readily feel.

After Beguin shuttled between Geneva, Switzerland, and New York, a needle biopsy was performed on the lump. It was inconclusive. So, on the advice of her physician and family members, Beguin had the tumor removed at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City.

Before the surgery, she fell into a pretty deep hole of despair.

"I hid under the blanket in my bed and thought, 'I don't want to get up.' I didn't want to move into this world where I was a person with cancer. A friend stopped by and said, 'You're coming to lunch,' and got me out of my hour of never getting out of bed. I had a life, a job, family. I was raising money for people. I had my absolutely wonderful husband with his love and support the whole time. There was such a vote that I should live."

With all the support she found herself surrounded and nurtured by, Beguin's attitude for the most part stayed and remained pro-active and positive.

"I feel I was a sea of health with an island of sickness. It took awhile for me to get there. I started listening to (author and counselor) Louise Hay's words every night. It helped me tremendously with the fear. I had two children, 10 and 12 then. The terror that grabs you in the night that you're not going to watch them grow up is horrendous. Then it turns into this unbelievable confirmation of love and of your life."

Beguin was once a model and actress in New York City, but her career ultimately took a different turn. For many years, she was the managing director of the Hunger Project in Switzerland, a global, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. With that experience, she was used to being the one who helped and nurtured. At the time of her cancer diagnoses she was living with her husband and two sons in Geneva, New York City and Sun Valley.

Now a full-time resident of Sun Valley, she is a co-partner in No Harm Done Designs, which makes elegant "faux fur" items such as throws and pillows, which are sold locally at Silver Creek Outfitters.

Given a choice of treatments, Beguin opted out of chemotherapy, deciding not to put poison in her body. In Geneva, where she was having radiation therapy, she scheduled her last treatment for Dec. 31, 1994.

"I asked for it early, 6 a.m., so I could drive to Zermatt to ski that day. My friends were there, and we skied all afternoon."

Beguin, who has lived in the valley for 20 years, is now on the board of the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. She has twice participated in the annual Relay for Life event and is a supporter of Expedition Inspiration, an organization that raises funds for cancer research. Her life continues to be an altruistic one.

Her fair-trade company is a "conscious business," Beguin said.

"A percentage goes to the Lee Pesky Center (a learning center) and to different organizations," she said. "A Cambodian woman makes all the products in south China and is making enough money that she has now put one of her sisters through school, and helps to support her village in Cambodia.

"It's about making a beautiful product that's not outrageously expensive, like fur would be, and supporting people. That's what I'm about. I want to make a difference in people's lives."

Meanwhile, 13 years later, Beguin continues to be watchful and conscious.

"We can experience all things a body can experience," she said. "We have to nurture the spiritual side, which is not to say organized religion. That's my philosophy. It's helped me remember to be grateful everyday, to be thankful for my totally blessed life and look for the grace in everything."

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