03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Women We Know

We don't talk about the ways we support each other very often, even though it is so important to recognize. Recently on this blog we've debated why women are unhappy. Pollster Frank Luntz told me last night, the majority of "Americans are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore." Well, yes. We're unhappy and we're angry but we want so deeply to connect. Something positive is also happening. It's happening among American women, and it's largely happening online in "micro communities," and then in large gatherings. Micro communities of powerful women are working together on blogs and list-servs to make change happen.

This is our 21st Century consciousness-raising. Women want that kind of collective experience- I saw it last year when 5,000 women swarmed the Boston Convention Center at the Massachusetts Conference for Women. We see it in the incredible popularity of everything Oprah does, and in the success of Maria Shriver's Women's Conference. This hunger to take action and make change spans class, race, geography and marital status. And unlike past women's movements, the ability to make change is more equitably distributed, and that's because of the Internet.

This week, in the midst of frenzied online organizing to promote gender equity in health care reform, I had a family crisis. And when I had to bow out of action, Jodi Jacobson wrote "Don't apologize for anything...that's what a movement is for...."

And it is a new women's movement but a lot of it grounded in personal support as well as social change. I wasn't there for the second wave, I hope it too was grounded in personal support, although history doesn't remember it as such. Perhaps the current climate for women's action is part of Oprah's legacy to us, or a sign of our times. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, in honor of my own mom and countless other moms I know who have fought breast cancer, I'm going to share a poignant example of movement building and personal support and I would love to hear yours too.

I have the good fortune to convene an online group for the American Cancer Society. It's called the Blogger Advisory Council. We are a small group of women bloggers and we work to raise awareness about cancer and what women can do to prevent it. We are all part of a movement called "Bloggers for More Birthdays," because a world with less cancer is a world with more birthdays, and that is the American Cancer Society's mission and new branding. One of our members, Julie Pippert, read a blog post from another member Susan Niebur, who writes Toddler Planet. Susan has written a "classic" post on inflammatory breast cancer, and she herself is an IBC survivor. Julie had read Susan's blog post and, as she recounted to us, Julie's friend,

Was nursing her baby and complaining the baby refused to nurse on one side, ever. She'd been checked for mastitis, plugged ducts, etc. She described the symptoms and they sounded JUST LIKE what you had written about. I'm not one to go alarmist but I had this gut feeling and I said, "Will you please go to your doctor today and ask about inflammatory breast cancer? I'll drive you myself and babysit the kids.

She went, they diagnosed her quickly, she got quick treatment and is doing fine. You gave her more birthdays, her kids more birthdays with her, and even a new birthday with the new baby."

I think Susan has probably saved many lives with her blogging; you can track the remarkable voyage of her blog post here. I encourage you to visit her site as well as Mothers With Cancer. As part of Bloggers for More Birthdays, Susan has just written a moving tribute to her son's preschool teacher, a cancer survivor who inspired Susan. I feel like I know "Miss Sherry" and I think you will to after you read her.

Miss Sherry is a 21 year survivor of breast cancer. And she is now doing wonderfully, and remembers it as a time long ago, not a driver of every day life. Throughout the year, she kept tabs on me as well as my child, asking about me when I wasn't the one to drop Widget off at school, complimenting me on my hair as it grew out, or when my color returned and I looked like I had more energy....She is still there at the school this year, and we smile as we pass in the hall. We know something that not everyone knows, you see. We know how very precious this life is, and how I almost lost this opportunity to tell you so.

Miss Sherry put a note in the preschool newsletter this week, reminding everyone to get their mammograms, do their self-exams, and remind "all the women in your life" to do the same. It may seem like a little thing, to say what everyone says in October, but for a 21 year survivor to even want to think about this dastardly disease again, much less show such compassion and outreach, means a lot to me.

Blogger Karyn dedicated a post to her grandmother, Opal, who died at 36 of stomach cancer. Karyn writes

My mother often called me "Opal," and said that we shared some of the same fabulous qualities. According to my mom, Opal was very stylish. We're talking long-stemmed cigarettes (bad yet chic), gloves at cocktail hours/dinners, and tailored suits. She was beautiful, yet never met a four-letter word that she didn't like. As I often listened to my mother's stories about her mother, I always dreamed of what it would have been like to know her. Just like my children will wonder what it would've been like to know my mother who passed away at the age of 49.

Sometimes the internet allows us to write what we cannot say. Chefdruck writes of her mom, post-mastectomy:

I stood staring at my mother's violated chest, at the angry red gashes like gaudily made up lips. I was frozen with indecision. I wanted to hug her, to hold her. I wanted to scream and cry. But instead I just stood, staring at her irritated scars.

I should have been prepared. I knew that she would have to wait for her reconstructive surgery due to the extent of her cancer. But I imagined that the double mastectomy would return her to her pre-pubescent state, simply removing the breasts that had swelled with each of her pregnancies, as she gave life to me and my sisters. I had pictured the smooth chest of a young male swimmer.

And from Chefdruck's post, I was led to this post from the author of Dishing It Up who moved me to tears with the story of her mother, Mary Jo Bayly.

I guess I couldn't have been much more than a year to a year and a half old when Mom was diagnosed with cancer the first time. Obviously, I remember nothing of this time. But I know that with seven children ranging from age 14 to 1 ½ years old, it could not have been easy. She went through a mastectomy and a hysterectomy, followed by radiation. From what Dad told me, it was pretty awful. Much different back then than it is now.

What I do remember, is a woman of such beauty and grace that I could not help but want to be like her.

Julie Pippert wrote the most moving tribute to her friend who died of cancer leaving behind two little children,

I took the curve in the track a little slowly and I thought hard about her. She'd have loved this hot day. She'd have loved to be healthy and bickering with her children about getting ready for day camp. She would have loved having this day, I knew. And I wanted to give it to her, a late or early birthday gift, depending upon how you looked at it.

I sent the experience of the day up and out, and away to her. And a little bit of grief fell away from my heart. She may not have another birthday, but I do. She may not get to celebrate another birthday with her kids, but I can. And I can send the appreciation and joy from that to her.

When I read these blog posts I am moved to action, and I feel happy to be surrounded by community, even if I am alone in my house in the suburbs, friends and family far away.

The new women's movement is us. We can be involved in as many causes as we want, or we can concentrate our efforts. Some issues may have an explicitly feminist agenda, and some, like a current favorite Mom Sends the Msg, tap into women's power to change a whole family system. Bloggers for More Birthdays relies on women's power as storytellers to raise awareness about fighting cancer. I feel blessed, not weird, that I have a rich online life. It is my community and my social action.