A Holiday Message from a Grieving Artist

This year I'm not creating or sending out holiday cards for the first time in 40 years. When my beautiful and beloved wife Donna died in my arms from hereditary cancer in June after a courageous battle against the heinous disease, my heart was irreparably broken and my creativity and joy disappeared into a black hole of unbearable grief. However, I would like to leave you with something to think about at this time of year, and to remind everyone that love, empathy, thoughtfulness, fierce compassion for others, and the courage to show up and speak up can prevent unnecessary suffering and the needless loss of a precious life.

One of my wife's favorite holiday movies was It's a Wonderful Life, so here's a paraphrased line from the movie to reflect upon...

“Strange, isn’t it? Each person’s life touches so many other lives. And when that person isn’t around they leave an awful hole, don’t they?”

Please join with me by opening up your hearts and wallets to honor and help patients and families dealing with the literal hell of cancer this holiday season...


St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 

Cancer Support Community Arizona 

Breast Cancer Research Foundation




My wife's memorial tribute page at FacingOurRisk.org

  If I had a flower for every time I thought of you...I could walk through my garden forever.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson 


Patented Inventor

Before the pandemic, and before my wife died of hereditary cancer and broke my heart, we were avid kayakers, and on one outing I saw a need for an easy-to-use vessel to stow supplies and equipment that would not interfere with paddling or legroom. So, I invented the kaYAKtailtm to help solve the problem of never having enough space for dry storage of extra supplies on kayaking adventures. On October 19, 2021 my patent was awarded. Hopefully, someday, after I unpack a ton of emotional baggage from my wife's cancer battle and death, I can bring it to market with the assistance of my patent lawyer and licensing company. And use the funds to help establish a longtime desire of creating an artist retreat for cancer patients and their caregivers and families.


National Hereditary Cancer Week, National Previvor Day, and How to Prevent a Tragic Death

National Hereditary Cancer Week is a yearly event that begins on the last Sunday in September and ends the first Saturday in October. National Previvor Day occurs on the Wednesday of that week
"An individual doesn't get cancer, a family does." - Terry Tempest Williams
BRCA awareness and previvor ribbon
BRCA Awareness and Previvor Ribbon

The overwhelming grief of losing a loved one to a preventable cancer caused by an inherited genetic mutation is unbearable. Hopefully the information here will help numerous individuals and families avoid the same tragic experience.

Millions of individuals and families are currently facing the challenges of treatment for hereditary breast, ovarian, endometrial, melanoma, pancreatic, colorectal, prostate, blood and other cancers. National Hereditary Cancer Week was created to share information to save lives as well as to recognize and honor those struggling against inherited genetic mutation-caused cancers. That also includes hereditary cancer survivors, previvors, and caregivers, like me.

Last week my brave daughter officially became an inherited BRCA2 mutation previvor. My beloved wife should have been a previvor too. S
adly, in June she traumatically died in my arms from metastatic breast cancer caused by an inherited BRCA2 mutation. Her incredibly courageous struggle against cancer was a nightmare journey through hell with one setback after another. Heartbreakingly, it was all preventable! Because of HIPAA rules, there is currently no effective way for doctors to be alerted to potential familial genetic mutation risks for cancer for their patients, it often falls to family members affected by germline BRCA mutations to spread the word. Unfortunately, in Donna's case, despite a devastating family history of cancer, family members acutely aware of a pathogenic BRCA2 mutation for years failed to effectively communicated the seriousness of the risk. Had gene sequencing and familial cancer risk information been expressly conveyed as soon as it was known, she would be alive and well and celebrating National Previvor Day this year with our daughter. Again, hopefully the information shared here will help other families avoid the same tragic experience.

There are numerous mutations associated with hereditary cancer, including BRCA1/2, ATM, BRIP1,CHEK2, TP53, CDK4,
PALB2, PTEN, RAD51C/D, CDK4, CDKN2A, and several others that families with a history of cancer should be aware of. And the threat of hereditary cancer is something that should be taken very seriously. Cancer is a truly evil disease. A few of the body's cells are dividing uncontrollably. It can arise quickly and spread easily throughout the body and even cross the blood-brain barrier. And it can be or become therapy-resistant. However, there are many options for lifesaving early detection and even preventing hereditary cancers.

National Hereditary Cancer Week is an excellent time to educate yourself about your family's health history -- especially if there’s a family history of cancer. And act on it! Take the information to your doctor or talk to a genetic counselor. ASAP! And show up for your family too!** Be that lifesaving hero! Sit down and talk to them. And it's not an "oh, by the way" moment. Someone's life may be at stake! Openly, emphatically, and persistently share any inherited genetic threats you might find along with all the data with all those whom might share DNA. Brothers, sisters, adult children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. All of them! You might prevent an unbearable tragedy.


* Draw a family health and/or cancer history pedigree chart.


**Links for information about talking to your family about health and possible cancer threats:

Please share these links...

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome
Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is an inherited cancer-predisposition syndrome. Affected individuals have a significantly greater risk of developing certain cancers, particularly breast cancer, in both men and women, and ovarian cancer in women. Many affected individuals tend to develop cancer earlier in life as well, usually before the age of 50.

Brief Hereditary Cancer Syndrome Video

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered or FORCE.
FORCE's mission is to improve the lives of individuals and families facing hereditary cancer.


Bright Pink's mission is to accelerate, deepen, and expand the impact of life-saving breast and ovarian health interventions.


Helping families by providing free education, support and help finding early detection and genetics services.


To alleviate the emotional and financial burdens of women facing breast and/or ovarian cancer (regardless of genetic predisposition) through advocacy, direct assistance, empowerment and events.

**It's important to share medical information with your family
Because hereditary cancer runs in families, it is important to exchange medical information with your relatives. Privacy laws make it difficult for health care providers to share their patients' medical information with anyone else. This leaves sharing of life-saving information up to members of the family affected by the mutation.

 **Sharing Information with Adult Relatives
By definition, hereditary cancers affect entire families. Inherited gene mutations can be passed from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. Blood relatives, even distant relatives, may share the same mutation that runs in a family. Breaking the cycle of hereditary cancer requires two important steps:

    -- genetic testing
    -- sharing test results with relatives

Each family member who is tested and shares their results plays a key role in protecting their loved ones from cancer. This cycle of testing-sharing-testing-sharing is known by experts as “cascade testing.”

**Sharing Medical Information with Relatives
If possible, the following family medical information should be collected and shared with close relatives:

    -- family members who were diagnosed with cancer
    -- age at diagnosis
    -- type of cancer, including pathology results, if available
    -- genetic test results

  **Talking to Your Family About Your BRCA1 or BRCA2 Mutation
Learn how to share test results, letters from your doctor or genetic counselor, or other information you received about your mutation with your family. Giving family members information about your specific genetic mutation helps their healthcare providers know exactly which test to use.

**How to Share Genetic Test Results With Family
When you share genetic test results about hereditary cancers, your family members need to know at least these 2 important details to share with their health care providers or genetic counselors:

    -- The name of the specific gene where the mutation was found, like BRCA2
-- The specific mutation in the gene, like 187delAG in BRCA1

**All in the Family: The Importance of Talking About Hereditary Cancer
The key is communicating information with not just your daughter or son, but also extended family such as an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or grandchild, according to Megan Myers, M.S., a genetic counselor from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).


**Do not wait to tell your family about hereditary cancer risk.

**Encouraging Family Conversations About Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer - YouTube Video Project

**Bring Your Brave: Talking About Your Family History of Cancer

  FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) publishes educational brochures about hereditary cancer. Click here for free download info. 


  Other Cancer Resources

Take a Stand!
Staying on top of your health is one of the most important calls you can make. Nearly 5,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day in the US. Routine cancer screenings are incredibly important for early detection, especially for individuals with a family history of cancer.
National Cancer Institute

The American Childhood Cancer Organization

St. Jude's Children's Hospital

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

American Cancer Society

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Living Beyond Breast Cancer


Susan G. Komen Foundation

Supporting a Friend with Cancer -- www.100Actsoflove.com

My wife's tribute page at FacingOurRisk.org

Take time to care. A little effort and love can make a big difference. Not just in one life, but in all the lives connected to that life.  -- mark



By the way, the BRCA Awareness & Previvor Ribbons shown in this post can be downloaded from my website, www.EducatorClips.com, for royalty-free use.

BRCA Previvor Ribbon


Bottling Grief

 From my grief sketchbook & journal:

Grief Should be Bottled

When you have those moments of entitlement, when you feel superior, when your compassion for others wanes, when you have no empathy, when you put your own selfish needs above your loved ones’ needs, when you take all you have for granted, you take a whiff from the bottle. And it brings you to your knees.

Suddenly an unimaginable heartache hits you. Then an overwhelming fear that your world has forever changed. The bright future that you had so vividly imagined turns dark and bleak. The hopeless feeling that all the things that you held so dear have been ripped from your arms never to be embraced again. The painful guilt of missed opportunities to share your love or just simply say “I love you” sets in. And the tears flow uncontrollably.

Slowly the you regain your composure as the effects wear off. You rise up from your knees with a renewed gratitude for life. And gratefulness that it was only temporary and you thankfully will not have to carry those horrid feelings with you for the rest of your life, unlike me.


“After sitting at countless deathbeds, I can tell you, no one pines for their houses or cars at the end of life. What is meaningful is the people whom they have loved.” – David Kessler, from the book Finding Meaning, The Sixth Stage of Grief



The Wizard of Oz said, "Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable."

I will be taking a long break from the drawing board and sketchbook because
my heart has been ripped from my chest and crushed and creativity drained from my soul.  In June, the love of my life and mother of my child lost her courageous fight against hereditary breast cancer and passed away peacefully (traumatically for me) in my arms.
My beautiful wife was a sweet and generous soul. A loving wife and nurturing mother. A world-class educator. All stolen away by an evil disease.
Her nearly 4-year cancer struggle was a nightmare journey through some of the darkest regions of hell for her, me (her primary caregiver), and our adult daughter.  Heartbreakingly, it was preventable.   Genetic testing and prophylactic surgery would have reduced her risk by 95%.  Unfortunately, despite a devastating family history of cancer, the need for urgent genetic testing was never made clear to her by relatives acutely aware of a germline BRCA2 mutation for many years.

Because family members too often fail at effectively communicating the seriousness of the risk and the urgency of getting tested to other family members, there is dire need for more education about and better screening for hereditary cancer risks. To learn more about hereditary cancer and how you can help improve the lives of families and individuals facing hereditary cancer go to this page of mine.

Take time to care. A little effort and love can make a big difference. Not just in one life, but in all the lives connected to that life.
  -- mark








A Voice for Science

A great op-ed science piece written by John Henry Beyer, Ph.D. featuring a reprint of cartoon I created for a Union of Concerned Scientists calendar a few years back.
Snapshot courtesy of John Henry Beyer
Below is a link to a great op-ed science piece written by John Henry Beyer, Ph.D. It was recently published in the Sierra Sun Newspaper of Truckee, California. John is a geophysicist. He is retired from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where he managed research on the development of climate change mitigation technologies.

The article also featured a reprint of cartoon I created for a Union of Concerned Scientists calendar a few years back. Get the whole story here: https://www.sierrasun.com/news/environment/climate-dispatches-science-is-revolutionary-sometimes-people-like-it-sometimes-they-dont/



Adventures in Geography

Arizona Geographic Alliance Geography Activity Books. Cover art and design by Mark A. Hicks The Arizona Geographic Alliance has recently released a set of grade level-based Geography Activity Books. (That I just happened to have created the cover design and artwork for, by the way. And there's a couple pieces of interior art I created as well. All provided gratis.) Teachers, parents, and others interested in geography education can pick up or download a copy for free. More information can be found here: https://geoalliance.asu.edu/activitybooks.

The Arizona Geographic Alliance’s purpose is to strengthen geography education in Arizona. They partner with Arizona State University as well as other national and state groups.


On the Other Hand

Sometimes life literally changes in a minute. Plans change, or more accurately, you are often forced to change your plans.
Recently a loved one had a life-threatening medical crisis related to her cancer battle.  Now I’m reevaluating plans and reinventing myself to give my full attention to where it is needed the most. That means that updating this journal/blog might be a little sporadic for a while.

Needless to say, my creativity took a serious nosedive because of this crisis. However, while waiting for news from the doctors and surgeons I spent time doodling with my other hand to try and divert my attention. I leave you for now with a couple of those doodles from my sketchbook rendered with my other hand…