Stacy Millich and John Gyselbrecht a love story looking for a gastric cancer cure

John and Stacy

John and Stacy

Stacy Millich  and John Gyselbrecht were, in the world of young love, made for each other. “We were lucky,” she says, “because we found each other early when we were 19 and 20.” He has a sense of humor that was unique, and she knew right away that she wanted to be around that for life as long as she could.

Life was privileged for each of them, with great lives, families, and friends. After practicing law for 15 years, she now teaches criminal justice. He is a loved middle-school math teacher about whom students have the most enthusiastic things to say but summed up in the words of one who said “ya’ll mr. G is the best teacher i think I will ever ever have! if you havent had him your like totally missing out!!!!! seriously”

On May 8th of this year the flow of their life was ruptured. John was having trouble swallowing. A simple outpatient procedure would, the doctor said, take care of what was first thought to be a narrowing esophagus. The scope detected a far worse problem. John had an advanced stomach cancer. To hear Stacy and John talk about the experience of a shocking diagnosis, what it requires of them as a couple and how their relationship changed is a lesson in the depth of real love. John knows that, for him, there is no cure today, but that has not stopped him from knowing a cure could come in however many tomorrows it may take. What he and Stacy have done for research into both treatment options and an eventual cure is a tribute to their indomitable spirit while offering hope to those who may by diagnosed with gastric cancer in days and years to come.

Stacy and John are awash in a world of love letters, those they have written to each other more than ever these days and those they have been receiving from friends offering love, friendship and support. Listen to Stacy and John talk about love letters they have written and will write. Stacy’s will be in the form of a check they will present at the Gastric Cancer Foundation Gala this December 6th.

John’s love letters? Yes, plural. Letters on paper in ink stamped and mailed to all the people who are there for him with love and support in so many ways including a loving reconnections with one particular family member and a generous donation to the Foundation from a childhood friend he would not recognize on the street today. All these letters are reminders of how many and how much people care about him, reminders of affection that has not dimmed over time and distance, and a reminder of how people want to help.  These letters are, he says, a gift of the cancer.

A short biography of a friend by Sandra Foster Lovas is an incomparable love letter

Sandra's friend Dorrit

Sandra’s friend Dorrit

It is the specifics contained in a love letter that make it unique, make it yours, and make it a love letter. San Francisco writer Sandra Foster Lovas has written an astounding one to her long-time friend who is, as we all do, changing with the years, although not like all of us, she has remained doggedly undiscouraged by some agonizing challenges.

When Sandra moved to San Francisco decades ago, she knew no one here until the day she happened to sit next to Dorrit at a rug auction and, not knowing that Dorrit was one of San Francisco’s most distinguished interior designers, dove right in to offer some very recently discovered knowledge. Sandra still smiles when she talks about offering this long-standing expert her own fresh-out-of-the box mastery of exotic carpets. That day was the first day of the rest of their lives as close friends. Dorrit, a niece of Isak Denisen, author of Out of Africa, has spent her lifetime living with an adventurousness that seems to be an inherited gift.

Dorrit - beauty creating beauty

Dorrit – beauty creating beauty

While it is true that Dorrit was handed a huge genetic gift; what she did with it is all her own. To hear Sandra read her letter to Dorrit is to learn a great deal about friendship, talent and paying attention to a lifetime of lessons. This letter is a not only a tribute to a lasting friendship between two influential women but a lesson in the power of the written expression of affection. This letter so filled with specific memories that it is, in effect, a wonderful biography as love letter.

San Francisco writer Sandra  Foster Lovas

San Francisco writer Sandra Foster Lovas

Alexander Philippe and the compelling art of taboo thought-provoking issues

Artist Alexander Philippe creator of the game of Efil

Artist Alexander Philippe creator of the game of Efil

Alexander Philippe is an artist and philosopher for whom small talk seems to be a waste of time. He is here again with a conversation about conversation and what people can offer each other with communication that skirts chic-chat and gets to the point. Alexander is an emotionally generous philosopher who is cheerfully fearless about revealing what he feels and giving you permission to do the same.

Listen to him talk about his present interactive art project, through which you physically meander and whose goal is to allow dialogue about things most people would not, in a daily routine, discuss or admit. When it comes to taking on socially taboo subjects, the art is in the honesty. Always is, really.

Ruby Petersen Unger was, yes, Ms. Nancy of Romper Room and much more

Do you remember Miss Nancy of television’s Romper Room and the wonderful lessons she brought to your little ones? Do you remember the day Miss Nancy became Ms. Nancy, thanks to a conversation with Gloria Steinem, bringing a whole new consciousness to our little ones? Ruby Petersen Unger remembers it well and with good reason, because she was Ms. Nancy.

Ruby is a serious human being with a great deal to say and a most compelling way of saying anything to anybody. Her audience has no limits as you will hear when you listen to Ruby talk about her days as a very loved “double only child” in Wisconsin, her career as a speech therapist, her life as a television personality, and producer of training films whose goal it was to help

Ruby celebrating the Giants' win

Ruby celebrating the Giants’ win

children put a stop to abuse and molestation as well as understanding AIDS.  Ruby points out that her training films make the “teaching” compelling through rap tunes, humor, animation, demonstration – they show kids what to actually do to stay safe, healthy, tolerant and pleased with who they are.

Whether you are 3 or 90, Ruby is talking to you, and she is the kind of person you cannot help but want to hear. She is funny. She is smart, and she offers the kind of easy honesty that can slip right into the realm of charmingly outrageous. She is unflaggingly current and takes her mission seriously without putting herself in the center of any universe.

Her love letter? Not singular. Plural. She has files of them and knows each person instantly by the sight of each unique handwriting.

Alexander Philippe where philosophy and art meet to say more than hello

Alexander Philippe where philosophy and art meet to say more than helloAlexander Philippe is a one-man adventure. He is a San Francisco artist who paints. He has a degree in fine arts. And, more to the point of who Alexander Philippe is, he is a philosopher. He is a communicator and wants others to have the same satisfaction. He strongly identifies with Kierkegaard’s “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Alexander is an emotionally brave man with a joyful determination to get people to take  comfortable responsibility for thoughts, ideas, and secrets that may be hard to face. How to do this? Via involvement in his latest art project, a mesmerizing game called Efil. Yes, “life” backwards. To listen to him talk about becoming the artist he is, how he changed the direction of his own creative life and what he has to offer humankind is a lesson in listening to your truest voice, a voice that is never circumstance-driven. His love letter? So many possibilities he has yet to determine.

Stay tuned for his next appearance on Love Letters Live, already planned, which will zoom in on the thoughts that people love to avoid.

Forgiving the father he tried to kill

Joe Loya photograph by Max Cherny

Joe Loya photograph by Max Cherny

Joe Loya was a remarkable, smart, loving and joyful boy, whose life was derailed by sorrow, loss , brutality and filled with challenges no child should ever have. Joe and his brother were young boys when their mother died, and added to the misery and grief at losing her, they were, for years after that, the target of their father’s brutality. Joe, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber, has an optimism and a loving nature that has been inextinguishable and has allowed him to forgive the father he tried to kill. How? Good question. Joe is still smart, loving and joyful with the emotional courage to share insights learned through agony. Listen to him talk about his winding route to forgiveness for a lesson on what compassion actually is and how it let him forge the close relationship he has with his father today. He talks about the desolation of loss, the savagery he faced at the hands of his father, his years as a criminal, and what he learned in serving a brutal prison term is a brilliant teaching in regaining balance and living the life you were, by nature, meant to live.

Charles Troy sheds a bright historic light on Broadway shows

Charles Troy, Broadway historian and graphic designer

Charles Troy, Broadway historian and graphic designer

There is the well-known thrill of the Broadway musical and the lesser-known thrill of what went into producing that show, the backstory, the history, the personalities. The acclaimed Broadway historian with a background in graphic design, Charles Troy brings the details of Broadway shows into focus rather literally through over fifty of his cleverly fashioned and well-researched multimedia presentations.

To hear his story in his own voice is a lovely introduction not only to this very charming man but to his style and wealth of knowledge. He recently opened Noah Griffin’s SF Bay Area production of Cole Porter in Paris: the Lost Songs, furnishing the audience with a little-known history of Cole Porter’s Paris years that shed a new light on old favorites of the Great American Song Book.

Serendipity may be Cupid’s best disguise

Serendipity may be Cupid's best disguiseSometimes a mother, quite by accident, does something life-changing for her daughter’s love life. Here one thing led to another with the regularity of the knee bone connected to the thigh bone. She had fallen on some cobblestones in Mexico and injured her leg badly enough to throw off her immediate plans which was to meet her daughter who was living in Europe. Well, she finally got there and had to wait for her daughter to finish a yoga class, but she did need to sit down. Chose the nearest restaurant, which was closed but threw herself on the kindness of the manager who did let her come in to sit down with the caveat that when they opened she would have to leave because the restaurant was booked. Good enough. She sat down. Just listen to this loving and respectful mother tell the rest of this adventure and see if you don’t want to throw yourself right into the hands of Cupid and let that golden arrow fall where it may. It does require faith in humanity and a welcoming nature. Thank you to this graceful mother.

Cheryl Ward on Friends of Faith and an evening of Weather and Wine for cancer awareness

Cheryl Ward

Cheryl Ward

Faith Fancher was an award winning journalist, an exceptionally beautiful and accomplished woman, and an innovator who took her private battle with cancer public in order to raise awareness about breast cancer, the disease that did claim her life.

Faith documented every aspect of her surgery and treatment, a powerful collection of moments that aired on KTVU, channel 2 as “Faith’s Story”. Although Faith died in 2003, she is not gone from our midst as she has left, in her wake, a team of devoted illustrious friends who are carrying on what she began- approaching the challenge of diagnosis and treatment with enough strength and knowledge to let fear recede into the background so attention can be focused on treatment.

To hear Cheryl Ward, one of Faith’s friends talk about Faith, the realities of facing a breast cancer diagnosis and her own mother-in-law who was diagnosed at the age of 89 (and still going strong at 98 by the way) is a lesson in making the world a better place. Cheryl is a dedicated letter writer, and the love letter she plans to write will surely be a legacy to all who come after her.

Friends of Faith are at work all year long to help low-income women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and need a variety of services, the kind that are meant to soften the thud of the diagnosis. In answer to, “What do I do now?” “ How do I pay my rent when I have to take time off for surgery,” and “What is the doctor talking about?” it is the Friends of Faith who have some answers and compassionate practical solutions. Friday October 3rd , from 5 – 9  is Weather and Wine, an evening with a variety of options involving an inclusive tour of ABC channel 7, meeting anchors and learning about technical aspects. All this with elegant food prepared by Chef Ivan Giansante and presented by Il Fornaio restaurant as well as wines from the cellar of Spencer Christian.

For other opportunities to celebrate the joys of life in Faith Fancher’s memory, take a look at and choose for yourself.

Reverend Shawn coming out and overcoming his mother’s fury

Reverend Shawn coming out and overcoming his mother's furyAs soon as you hear the, “Hi, everybody, I’m Reverend Shawn,” you know you are in for a good, candid and emotionally educational time. His mother was not happy finding out he was gay back in the 70s. Understatement. She was furious.

He had girlfriends and knew he was supposed to get married and have children.  Shawn’s truth is that prior to his first and inappropriate relationship with a man, he had no inkling. He was 14 and suddenly knew who he was and where to go for love. Gay bars. Did his mother know? No, she was not great at supervision, but he invited her to come with him as a way to tell his mother. He succeeded informing and infuriating her in one fell swoop. His family’s journey from abysmal ignorance to their eventual love and friendship is quite a story. Short version is that eventually she saw he was happy.

Reverend Shawn’s forgiveness process is astoundingly strong and kind. The very tone of his voice, the comforting flow of his self-talk and his stand-up comic way of presenting the torment of his early life is a lesson in how to live life beautifully.. Serious pain and serious humor. You wonder how you can laugh at a time like this. You can. Because he can. With compassion and brilliance. It is no wonder he has such a following.