In search of Audrey

There is a small village in the Romandie (the French-speaking part of Switzerland) that I must visit. As most of you know, I visit small villages in Switzerland largely to share with others via social media or my books how amazing this country is. But, this visit is different.

Years ago, Audrey Hepburn’s final home chose her, the same way this beautiful country chose me years ago; however, I didn’t know this Hepburn fact until this past week, when I learned it by happenstance. As I told Pierre Beret (clearly, I don’t remember his name, just the lovely Swiss-French accent), I remember her from two things, one of which is her simple, straightforward rendition of “Moon River.” It has enchanted me since I was a child.

“We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend, my Huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.” By the way, that’s one of the greatest lines of all time, in my humble opinion (lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Henry Mancini).

Though it is truly one of my favorite songs, my other memory of her is the Audrey Hepburn I saw in a photo in the early 90’s holding children in Somalia. I remember the article said she did this amazing work to pay forward the kindness she was shown as a child during and after the war. So, her gratitude for the innate kindness of others is the reason she carried the title of UNICEF Ambassador from 1989 until her death? Exemplary.

Getting back to Switzerland for a moment, I can say one thing with certainty. When one full-heartedly adopts Switzerland as one’s home, it is painful to have to leave for any reason or any duration of time. This country’s majestic mountains, breathtaking lakes, cultural depth, peaceful anonymity – one feels somewhat lost under the glittering stars, even midday.

(Perhaps, it should be noted, very few people feel the way I do about Switzerland. Not even the Swiss people.)

Pierre Beret told me, during my stalled train ride from Lausanne, that Ms. Hepburn had a similar, deep love, enthusiasm, and appreciation for this country. My “enthusiasm,” which most people say is “obsession,” is what sparked our conversation, I was going on and on about how much I love Switzerland, like I always do.

During the final months of her life, though aware she was losing her battle with cancer, she left her beloved home, in the Alpine paradise, time and time again. She still wanted to help. To bring hope, joy, sunshine, and goodwill, so she packed her bags and continued to travel around the world on behalf of UNICEF.

That self-sacrifice required a great deal of character, sense of purpose, and strength. It’s truly inspirational to me because I would be hard-pressed to say “yes” to the promise of 10 million dollars if I would agree to leave Switzerland for at least one week every year. I’m not kidding.

Naturally, what is interesting to most people about her are the films, I certainly understand that. She was a truly unique and remarkable actress. But, I find her love of this great nation, her devotion to helping the impoverished and imperiled children in this world, and her desire to raise her own children in such a peaceful, promising place…I find that interesting.

Anyway, for the lady that shared my love for this country and helping women and children in need – white rose it is. Exquisite ladies who love Switzerland deserve my most exquisite tribute.

I wish I had the contact information for the sweet, chain-smoking older gentleman that told me these stories. Pierre Beret, if you do read this, please write to me? I promise to treat you to a coffee the next time.

BRAVERY PROJECT: Guest blogger: Maggie Miller, “She is alive…and I am by her side.”

I have been profoundly moved by the bravery from a family that I met years ago. Please get a box of Kleenex and read Maggie Miller’s story of bravery (yes, you are BRAVE, Maggie).  Pictures will be added as soon as possible. Thanks, Laura Anne  Follow this project @BeforeYouBook #BraveryProjoect


Bravery. It doesn’t come from the inside. I know. I am often described as being “brave,” but never once have I ever felt brave. I have felt terrified. I have felt overwhelmed. I have felt hopeless and lost, but never once have I felt brave.

Bravery is something that is perceived from a distance, a retrospective observation of another person. So many people will tell you of my bravery, even those whose bravery I see. Yet, I cannot feel it. It’s not that I’m distant or egotistical. It is the truth that those who are brave, even those who decide to be brave, are often many things, but brave is not one of them.


I have a daughter, Sarah, whose whole life has been one big brave battle. She is the bravest person I know. She has been poked, prodded, examined, stabbed with needle after needle, held down against her will, fought back, cried and turned around and smiled and laughed. That is brave. I can only imagine the terror in her nightmares. What do you expect when a child’s own mother, the one being an infant is truly dependent on, forces her to swallow medication or stabs her with a needle or holds her down herself to let others do these things? The answer is simple, and oh so painful. The only thing you can expect is terror. Accompanied with the sympathetic nervous system fight and flight response; and of course a whole lot of tears (mostly mine).


But she faced it. She did it and she is amazing. She had no choice. She was forced to be brave. And I held her little body and kissed her little head. And she wears her battle scars, both physical and emotional, a little embarrassed (though she shouldn’t be), but she is alive. And she is well. And I am by her side. The war might be won, but there are still battles to fight. She struggles every single day. I help her when she falls, but mostly just watch her grow; nudging her along this unfair road that is her life, intervening to make her challenges a little lighter. Her courage is astounding. I see her as so much more that I could ever be. I tell her that it’s going to hurt but she has to do it anyway. She does it. Reluctantly, but she does. We bribe the crap out of her.


Being brave is not always the immediate choice when faced with a problem. It usually only appears after you’ve decided to do something, stand up for what you believe, fight for your life, etc. It often comes when the other choice is not something you want to face or accept. Fight the cancer or die. Fight for freedom or be a slave. Bring health care to the masses or have death and disease run rampant. Overthrow the corrupt system or be corrupted. Often eminent death is the deciding factor in becoming brave. In my case, I was never brave; all I did was take care of my baby the best I could. I have fought for her life and I continue to fight for her to live. Children deserve every opportunity to be healthy, educated and happy. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure my children have those opportunities. I only appear brave because I have done the unfathomable. I cared for a sick child when there was little hope, when my own body was exhausted to the point of complete shutdown. I never slept, barely ate (though I easily gained more than 50 pounds). It was the single worst thing I have ever experienced. But it made me realize some things:


  1. I never, ever, EVER want to go through that again. . . But if I had to, I know I need to know what to expect. In the event of relapse we will be inpatient facing a bone marrow transplant and roughly 120+ days in the hospital with one very sick child, another terrified and neglected child (I wouldn’t leave her alone) and a huge emotional void in my spousal relationship, if we can find a match. I don’t look for the worst, but I have to know what could happen so that I will be ready if it happens. I hope we never have to face that monster again and we do so much to avoid it, including eating an organic diet and growing our own food as much as possible.
  2. I will survive if I miss a meal or a night’s rest. I will not just survive, but I will reset my body and be better off for the skip. It will be challenging and emotionally taxing, briefly, but I will survive. I always miss meals and sleep the night/week before a follow-up appointment. I used to miss the night before the testing to determine the current status of the cancer. It’s part of a whole mess of emotional train wrecks just before scans/checks we all call “scanxiety,” and it’s normal. At least in my world.
  3. I learned to live in the moment. We celebrated Sarah’s birth every month while she was in treatment. I had no confirmation that she would be one to live through treatment. I didn’t know how many birthdays she had left. I wanted her to know she was important and to “Celebrate Sarah” every chance I got. She was crowned prom queen alongside a slew of friends who gained their wings and flew away at the age of 2. No one told me I would be the one to be so fortunate to be able to wrap my arms around my baby and tell her I love her every day or so for the past 8 years. And my heart breaks for each and every parent who cannot. For every single child lost, through cancer or otherwise, because. . . No parent should EVER have to bury their child. One of my favorite quotes applies here: “Dance as though no one is watching, love as though you’ve never been hurt, sing as though no one can hear, live as though heaven is on earth,” (Souza) EVERYDAY, because you don’t get a second chance to live today.
  4. There are always going to be obstacles. There is no such thing as smooth sailing. . . At least not for long. Sarah faced a tiger in the ring of the coliseum and won her battle, but she didn’t come out unscathed. She has physical scars, cognitive scars and emotional scars from her battle. Some we don’t even know exist yet, I’m sure. Every child we know who has endured chemotherapy has cognitive dysfunction of one type or another, Sarah is no exception. She has physical limitations, though with some hard work we should be able to minimize these. She has emotional struggles that may never go away. She certainly will develop more problems as she grows. Statistically, 90% of children who have received one chemotherapy drug in particular eventually develop a cardiac concern which will require surgical intervention. I hope she is in the 10%, but I need to be prepared (see #1). We will face these battles just like the others as they present themselves. In the meantime see #3.
  5. It is OK to feel. It is ok to be upset, or happy, or angry, or embarrassed, or excited, so long as you are not negatively impacting other individuals. Let me explain: It’s not ok to hurt someone else, but it is ok if they empathize with you. If you are sad and crying and another person feels bad because you feel bad, they are human and are allowed.   There were moments when I was so lost in the flood of emotions I couldn’t see beyond my own bubble (I unconsciously attempted to protect myself by limiting my perception to a short distance effectively rendering me clueless as to the world around me). You have no idea how big emotions can be until you experience it first hand, like tidal waves of emotion, amplified immensely. And the emotions were all filled with enormous guilt. A moment of joy was often accompanied with the thought of the family journeying home for the final time to say good bye to their child while you were celebrating the end of a chemo cycle or finally getting out of the hospital. A moment of sadness was accompanied by the same guilt that you should be glad for what you have. These slishy, sloshy emotions are best dealt with one at a time, allowed to wash over you and to dissipate. Once I began allowing myself to feel my emotions, I gained a much better control over them.
  6. Kids are amazingly resilient. And they bounce. My Sarah was so mad at me (steroids as part of treatment) that I wouldn’t play the movie, she jumped out of bed as I was attempting to get it into the player and push play. She landed on her head and scared the devil out of me. . . And her nurse. . . And the fellows on for the night. . . And probably half the hospital staff. She bounced and got herself a CT scan in the middle of the night which was negative. She was so sick that first year I had day terrors of her death. The month of October 2007 we spent a total of 4—24 hour periods NOT in the hospital (inpatient or clinic appointments). I was terrified and she always smiled.
  7. And those who work with sick kids are not human, they are angels. I cannot thank them enough for all they put up with and did for me in addition to caring for my baby. Each and every one of them, from the front desk staff checking kids in to the cleaning crew to the nurses and doctors, has something different inside that is so admirable.

BRAVERY PROJECT: guest blogger: Chantelle Edwards, “Live to make a difference – the essence of brave”

I hope all of you find Chantelle’s words as profound as I do. I admire her bravery in sharing them. Follow this project at @BeforeYouBook


I Am Brave

by: Chantelle Edwards

Wow. That’s something I never thought I would hear myself say. For some reason it doesn’t seem humble, and indeed insignificant. When I place that title on the people that I hold high on my list of role models: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King; who am I?

Then I read one of my best friends projects where she mentioned the little things that no one knows that you’ve done, that just might change a course of action and inspire someone else. These people took those actions without knowing the outcome and that is the bravery. Yet still I have a problem with that statement, it’s slightly self boasting. As a mother how do I inspire my children to be brave without truly verbalising and showing them what that means? So I write this to my Son and my Daughter, and someday you will read and comprehend that if you are ever deterred on a course of action that is the right path; be brave. Hopefully I am physically there, but even if not, somewhere up there your Mummy is looking down on you, holding your hand through what you know is the right thing to do. It is not about what we think the outcome will be, but who you truly are inside.

My Story

Define who you are

You may both go through times at school where you will be teased and or bullied. I hope not. I remember spending some lunch times in the toilets. I remember the taunts I had for the size of my bust. By the way they will be an asset later on in life. I remember feeling so different I tried to rub off the colour of my skin. It was red raw and the irony was the scar that was left was darker than my skin. In these years you are going to truly discover yourself, embrace yourself and be brave to love you; for who you are. The true beauty will be who you are inside and what you do. My first act of bravery was to accept this, my second act was to step in when another girl was being bullied and save her from a fate that I had experienced before. Stand up for yourself and others.

Define how you act in injustice

I really hope the issues your Daddy and I have faced will not exist; however, at the current pace there will likely still be prejudice due to your ethnicity and for you my daughter your gender. To my son remember you have a mother, sister and hopefully one day maybe even a daughter. Treat every woman with respect and equality. Now back to the bravery point. There have been times when I haven’t got what I needed, wanted or probably deserved because of the colour of my skin or my gender.

Funny episode number one was sending my CV via a friend to a company who apparently loved my CV, but “could I just attach a picture?” This was not necessary in England, but is in Switzerland, and suddenly my CV was no good. When I did have a role being told women are paid less was a big morale breaker. Lesson one: you can choose to react negatively or choose your battles. Your Papa (Granddad) told me “you will have to work harder than everyone else, you may be more educated but you still may not get the job, but keep on going because one day things will change.” He was unfortunately right. Lesson two make sure you get your education it will stand you in good stead and remember generation after generation things change.


Funny episode two was the unemployment office telling me I was nothing in Switzerland and was obviously no good. I persevered week after week retrained to work in a new skill, and learned a new language (you already speak four). Moral of this story (lesson three): is that some people may want to put you down, be brave, focus on positive energy and action to change the situation. Know that you are the content of your character, and don’t let someone else’s judgement of your skin colour affect you, do not give them the power. Lesson four, you may need to be flexible and adapt to life and the circumstances: retrain, reskill, move location but you can do anything you put your mind to trust me; I know and see it in the both of you. By the way your Daddy wouldn’t marry me just to get a Visa. He wanted to do it in his own time. So this was a very stressful time. I managed to stay in Switzerland on my own accord and your Daddy asked me to marry him after I got my Visa. Your Daddy is amazing and we married for love. Lesson five make: sure that you marry for love.

Funny or actually not so funny episode 3. As part of my reskilling I trained to teach yoga. Well you’ve probably heard your Daddy complain about my sweaty yoga pants; so this isn’t new. But a long time ago I taught a style called Bikram back in 2013 a number of cases were brought against Bikram which alleged harassment and rape as well as settled out of court cases on racism. There were several accusations where corruption, bullying and unethical behaviour took place. I remember being in a lecture at Teacher Training where the content was that gay people deserve to die from aids, all fat people should be put on one island to starve and a number of degrading comments to women. One: your Mummy stood up in a very cult environment and gave feedback on the quality of the training and unethical content (my heart did race). Two: when the allegations then started to come out I was not silent, despite losing the ability to teach at the studio, and the abuse in the community. I moved on and taught for your aunty Susanne which was bliss and kept my integrity. Lesson six: integrity is everything. There are times where the impact may be negative, but it goes to the very core of who you are, that doing nothing would let injustice prevail. Stand up for what you believe in. Your heart may race but Mummy is there.

Funny Episode 4. In Switzerland to get an apartment you have to put you nationality, what car you drive, religion and actually this may seem normal for you as this is where you were born. Trust me in England this is not the case it is based on can you pay and your previous references. You should see the places where we have lived, but purely because that was all we could get.   I would visit places where there were over a 100 people at the viewing and make an effort to speak to the people in German, but they would look at me with disgust. I was not Swiss and black. Just before you were born my daughter, we actually almost had nowhere to live. We stayed at your aunty Jas’s while I urgently looked for a place to live. I had to write to the prospective landlord and explain that we were going to be like Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus on the street. The phone never rang so quick; suddenly we had a flat! It used to be the ex-drug lord’s apartment, and even though we both had upper class incomes for Switzerland we were lucky we could get that given my skin colour. After that we bought. I never wanted to go through that again. Lesson number seven: if you ever need anything please obviously come to me, but aunty Jas will also be there for you. Lesson number eight: have good friends just like aunty Jas they are worth their weight in gold. Lesson number nine: try and establish empathy. Okay comparing yourself to Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus is extreme but I was 7 months pregnant and it got into the Swiss psyche. Even if you know the way that they are treating you is unfair, be brave start to get them to think about you as a person, and know you beyond a stereotype. When your Papa (granddad) first came to England they used to have signs “no dogs, not blacks and no Irishmen,” so this was a big leap forward. Bravery is sometimes about the long game and things will change. There are moments where you need to take big steps of bravery, and moment’s small seemingly silent ones that change people’s hearts and minds.

Funny episodes 5 to 15+. Well I have lost the number of times that I have been asked at interview if I’m pregnant? Am I planning to get pregnant? Why I want to work if I have kids and indeed not to work because I have kids! There are not enough fingers and toes for these questions, hence the number of episodes. I choose to work. I choose to use my mind that I had educated, worked on and to make a difference. I hope that you never felt left out. I visited your day care before I made the choice to go back to work, and make sure that it was a place where you would have fun: sledging, building fires in the woods, free play, making friends and learning how to be social. I got up at 5 am in the morning so that I could be there when you come home and wrap my arms around you for cuddles, play puzzles, draw, count, do your ABC’s, bake, play in the paddling pool in the summer, build snowmen in the winter, bath time, read the 5 + books you demand at night with my rapping of verse, Gruffalo voice and Jamaican accent that your aunty makes me put on over Skype for Mama God and Papa God a Caribbean tale. That said bravery is sometimes doing what is the right choice for you and your family even if it is against what society expects. I may be paid less because I am a working Mummy, but just somewhere out there, may be, I give someone hope. I also hope I role model to you my daughter that you have a choice. You can stay at home or work it is up to you both are hard work, and to my son you are ½ Scandinavian you support strong women to have that choice.  Lesson number ten: don’t put anyone down for their choice there is too much in fighting about how people should live their lives, every family is different and they do what is right for their family. Lesson number eleven: do what is right for your family period!

Live to Make a Difference

I guess this is the essence of brave. My whole life has orientated to this point. I am just now about to lead a huge program that affects childhood development globally and start a new business which will make such a difference to people’s lives, giving them more time on the things they love with the people that they love. I am hoping by the time you are reading this I have put in place a legacy that benefits future generations It’s funny even when you were both in my womb I think it was you that taught me to be brave. Somehow you have given me more strength then before. How can I make the world better for you? Every decision is about you and our family. The time we spend together and the happiness we have. So bravery lesson number twelve: whatever your dreams are – go do it, be happy, don’t be afraid and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

So in a way ‘I am Brave’ but somehow we started to have this dialogue before you were even born and you taught me the true meaning of brave.