While many of us cringe at the prospect of old age, Beverlye embraces it. At 83, this Renaissance woman is an artist, author, filmmaker, speaker and political advocate. She’s also a wife, mother and grandmother.
And oh, by the way, she’s a 15 year stage 4 cancer survivor.
15 years ago Beverlye was diagnosed with 8 large tumors in her stomach, metastasized Uteral Stromal Sarcoma. Her doctor recommended brutal chemo and stomach resection. He gave her 2 months to live. Though her grandmother, mother and 2 older sisters had died from cancer, Beverlye refused to accept the prognosis. She sought other opinions.
In a TEDx talk she gave last year, Beverlye said, “Things were so different when I grew up. We were told to look pretty, get married young, have children fast and keep our mouths shut. Well, I did 3 out of 4.”
Not keeping her mouth shut saved her life. The 4th and 5th doctors she saw suggested a different approach. They recommended an experimental treatment: injections of Lupron (then used to treat prostate cancer) and a daily pill of Femara (used to treat breast cancer). The treatment worked. Beverlye continues to receive Lupron injections and take Femara.
She’s still going strong—and still has 8 tumors.
Beverlye wanted to do something to help relieve others of some of the fear she felt when first diagnosed. In 2004, she produced an inspiring documentary, ”Stage IV, Living With Cancer.” She featured 4 young patients, plus herself, living with stage 4 cancer: a police officer, a college corporate relations manager, a marine who after 2 stem cell transplants participated in an Iron Man competition, and a teenage singer/songwriter who, 6 weeks after having her foot amputated, opened for Mariah Carey.
You can see the 16-minute video below. It begins with the dramatic text: “Not long ago a cancer diagnosis was considered a death sentence. In 1970 only 3 million Americans survived cancer. Today nearly 12 million Americans are cancer survivors.”
About this film, Beverlye says, “I kept finding other people who were also told they had little chance of surviving. They were still going 5 or 10 years later. It gave me hope.So I wanted to give others hope, and let people with cancer know—it is possible to beat the odds.”
This short film is sure to boost your spirits!
Beverlye has been a go-getter for years. When she was 23, her older sister gave her a birthday present: 3 art lessons. Beverlye was off and running. She has painted, drawn, taken photos and made ceramics ever since. Her paintings were purchased by celebrities including Suzanne Pleshette, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret. Ceramics she designed in Italy were sold in US stores.
Beverlye loves tackling new challenges. After receiving her diagnosis, she felt an urge to write. She took a class from then Santa Barbara poet laureate Perie Longo. Having recently lost her husband, Longo taught about writing as a way to work through grief.
Beverlye went on to write 3 books. I Can Do This: Living With Cancer, developed out of the work she did for Longo’s class. Nana, What’s Cancer?, written with granddaughter Tessa Mae Hamermesh (now a student at Northwestern) to explain cancer to children. Next, she started a blog, Aging In High Heels which she continues to write and turned into her 3rd book.
Certain beliefs keep Beverlye forging ahead. She gives frequent talks on what she’s learned from cancer and from aging. “Be your own health advocate. Be co-captain with your doctor.” She practices good nutrition, exercises regularly and visualizes goals.
Giving a TEDx talk on aging was a dream. She wrote it down. “Writing down what you really want makes you look for things that take you there.“ Having committed her dream to paper, she researched it online, found a class on honing a TED talk and shaped her idea. She contacted a TED organizer by email. Receiving an email back, she thought, “OMG, I’m gonna faint.” The organizer listened to her pitch on the phone, then said, “You’re in.”
Beverlye says, “Usually they make you go through a song and dance with a recording or video. I think she probably figured she had so many slots filled with young people it might be good to add an old person.” She spoke last October 17 (she remembers the date) along with several others in a symphony hall on the west side of New York. It was, in a word, “thrilling.”
You can see that 9-minute TEDx talk video below:
Beverlye continues to seek new horizons. She works as an advocate for aging with Global Healthspan Policy Institute, a think tank. She has spoken before congress on cancer and aging. She writes for the Huffington Post and is starting a column with the Montecito Journal.
Beverlye speaks often in retirement homes. “I meet interesting and exciting people. Today’s generation 60-90 is ground-breaking. They’re doing phenomenal things.”
Beverlye also enjoys time with son and daughter-in-law Jim and Leslie Hyman and twin grandsons Alexander and Gideon and with daughter Terry Hamermesh and granddaughter Tessa Hamermesh. Beverlye’s husband Bob, a retired music exec, has drunk Beverlye’s Kool-Aid. He’s taking acting classes.
“We’re all hit with injuries as we age. Though we may look or feel years younger, we can’t kid our bodies.” She’s currently recovering from a hip injury. But neither cancer, nor age, nor injuries can keep this dynamo down.
I’m exhausted just thinking about all Beverlye’s got going. But she has no plans to cut back.
“As I approach my mid-80s, my objective is to keep finding and accomplishing firsts. It gets my endorphins going. My motto is: Dream it, See it, Do it. Old age is a blessing. We’re not all lucky enough to get here.”
Thanks for the pep talk, Beverlye. You go, girl! (beverlyehymanfead.com)