Apr 18, 2014

Depression is real. You need a support system in your life.

 For Brown Girls, Founder Karyn Washington death
Karyn Washington, Founder of For Brown Girls

I have two points in this post:

Depression is real. You need a support system in your life. 


About a week ago, the world lost a bright star when blogger and social media maven Karyn Washington committed suicide. This beautiful and caring young woman was a mere 22 years old and in those few short years she made a powerful impact on so many people in the world.

Karyn founded a blog, For brown girls, and a movement, #darkskinredlipstick. Both outlets were created with the intent of helping young black women find strength in their own beauty and to acknowledge that they too have value, in a world that often celebrates lighter skin by demonizing darker skin.

I did not know Karyn personally but her tweets crossed my timeline on occasion. Hearing of her death shocked me. I had no idea that she was going through anything so hard. But it seems that the death of her mother (due to cancer) had proven to be the most difficult darkness of all.

As a cancer survivor, a black woman and a woman who suffered from depression when I was younger... Karyn's life issues (as I knew them) made sense to me. I am twice her age now and I will admit that sometimes the weight of race, gender, cancer and even depression... gets heavy even for me.

Depression is real. You need a support system in your life. 


Karyn Washington, For Brown Girls
As a black woman in America, I often feel unfairly saddled with the pervasive thought that I have to be strong. That "strong black woman" mythology hangs around necks of all of my sisters, day in and day out. For some of us, that weight drags us so far down it is a wonder that we have the strength to get up every day and keep moving. The pressure of living up to a mythological strength is a hard. Being "strong" at all times keeps many of us stuck and lost and incapable of reaching out for, or accepting help. The guilt that many of my sisters feel when they may be having a moment of weakness -- as humans often have -- keeps us silent in our troubles. Too many of my sisters feel that they don't have (or shouldn't need) a support system to get through this life.

As it goes... "our ancestors made it through slavery, you are a STRONG black woman and you can get through this...".

Look, I dropped my superwoman cape a long time ago. Beating myself up for being human and having frailties wasn't going to heal me. Accepting that about myself probably prepared me for my bout with breast cancer. I am grateful.

Depression is real. You need a support system in your life. 


I keep repeating these two statements because the simplicity of their message hides the depth of pain that they represent. Yes, I survived breast cancer. Yes, I am a black woman. Yes, my ancestors came to this country in chains and were kept against their will as slaves until that legal status was outlawed. Yes, I do still face racism and race bias. Yes, I am single and unmarried. And yes... all of these things do mean that I have dealt with some tough times. But I am NOT superwoman. I get tired. I get sad. I feel weak. I cry a lot. I am scared sometimes. And some days... I feel an emotional pain that is so raw that if I opened my mouth to let out the sound that corresponded with my pain... I could shake the earth. Some days I ache deep down in my bones... from the pure pain of what I've been through, people I've lost and trauma I've experienced. Simply put, I am human. I am not always the archetype of strength that others expect me to be.

And neither was my little sis Karyn. Even in the midst of her personal grief and pain, she still set out daily to empower other young black women to feel beautiful in their skin and to hold their heads up in the face of a world that constantly devalued them and their beauty. I cannot stop applauding her for that. But I know too well that a woman can be full of love and strength and courage for others... and have none left for herself. And I want all of us to stop doing that to ourselves.



If you need it, let me give you permission to call a friend (or a family member) and tell them that you need help. Then sit there while they help you. If you would be willing to help someone you know who needed you in their time of trouble... know that you are worth at least that much to them. And then let them help you.

There is no shame in needing assistance. There is no shame in grief or feeling emotionally exhausted. Give your friends and family a chance to love you and show you how much you mean to them.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.racialicious.com/2014/04/14/voices-rip-karyn-washington-founder-of-for-brown-girls-1992-2014/ 

Apr 4, 2014

Ask a survivor: Does wearing the wrong bra contribute to breast cancer?

http://www.fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com
I've been asked this question a few times... so I guess its something that people really want to know about.

Q.  Does wearing the wrong size or shape bra contribute to developing breast cancer?

A. Short answer? Nope. 

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, buying and wearing bras was a PITA (pain in the a**). My breasts were large and heavy and finding beautiful bras was not only difficult, it was expensive. Lawd... it was really expensive.

I will admit now that I wore the wrong sized bras for years. I mean, years and years and years... I was shoving my boobies (poor things) into bras that just were not meant to contain them. *sigh* I just didn't know any better.

If every store that you shopped in only went up to DD bras, then you might have thought (as I did) that DD was as big as bras came. So that meant that was the largest size that breasts came in too.

NOPE!

I would read instructions about how to take your breast measurements, but I always thought that I was doing it wrong.

*you don't have to laugh that hard at my ignorance... okay, you can giggle a little bit*



I would measure the area underneath my breasts (my chest) and then I would measure across my breasts (while wearing a bra because my breasts were large and well... they drooped, blame gravity)... and the difference in the numbers just didn't make sense. The difference was like 10 inches. I couldn't understand it. Stores I shopped in didn't carry bras larger than DD so I figured that I was doing something wrong and I kept buying DD bras and mashing my boobies inside.

*yep... it looked horrible*

Finally, I found my way to a great lingerie store in Atlanta and my lovely sales assistant looked at me, smiled... walked out of the dressing room and reappeared with these magical bras. They were soooo magical. My entire breast fit into the entire cup. That had never happened to me before. Prior to that trip to Intimacy I thought that my breasts were supposed to be mashed in and around and sort of across that chest area. (insert sad face) The day that I walked into Intimacy and walked out hundreds of dollars broker but lifted, separated and feeling super, duper sexy... was a magical day. Mag-EEE-cal!

All of that to say, I wore the wrong size bras for years. I wore bras that compressed my breasts to my chest. I guess I was trying to minimize their impact on the rest of the world. Sadly, I didn't need to do any of that. I just needed to wear the proper garment and things were all different.

Over the years I've read a lot of things about breast cancer and I've talked to a lot of people about breast cancer (oncologists, researchers, clinicians, nurses) and the truth is that cancer starts at the cellular level. Your cells stop doing what they are supposed to do... and it changes everything.

Wearing uncomfortable and ill-fitted bras won't give you cancer. It will make you look a lumpy mess under your clothes. Depending on the quality of the bra, it may chafe your skin or cause a rash... but it will not give you cancer.

I stopped shopping at Victoria's Secret a long time ago. Long, long before I discovered Intimacy and the magical land of bras that fit larger breasts. For me, they just stopped working. They didn't offer sizes that fit me. And that was even before I knew that I was an H-cup and not a DD-cup.

Yup. H cup.  *let that marinate for a minute*  I had some HOOTERS!

So, don't fret that you are uncomfortable in your bras and may be causing cancer. You're not. You just need to go on a shopping spree and splurge on yourself. 



Apr 3, 2014

The worst advice I've received as a survivor

Thumbs down. You can't be serious! My Fabulous Boobies
I was recently asked, "what was the worst advice you received as a breast cancer survivor?"

*blink, blink*

Uh... short answer?  I have no FLIPPIN' clue. Seriously.

Here's why:  Soooo many people have said so many things that felt (to me) really insensitive and crazy that I'm not sure that I can isolate one that was worse than any other.

But, none of the questions were intentionally mean-spirited or harsh. Just perhaps ill-timed, or clueless about the realities of going through breast cancer treatment.

I think that one thing I heard a lot that was pretty useless to me -- especially when I was in treatment -- was the line, "my grandmother, aunt, next door neighbor, old lady at the grocery store, blah blah blah... died from breast cancer."

*blink*

I have heard a lot of variables of this. I suspect that I always will. But typically, it is offered as a filler for the silence that follows when I say... "I am a breast cancer survivor".

Let me be honest, I feel for you if you've lost a loved one to breast cancer. I am deeply sorry for your loss. I mean that.

I think that breast cancer is an awful disease and the families that are devastated when a loved one is diagnosed or passes from the disease break my heart.

But when someone is IN treatment for breast cancer (actively taking chemotherapy, radiation therapy, breast surgeries, etc.) the news that someone else died from the disease does nothing to keep our spirits up. It only reminds us just how vulnerable we are and how frightening all of this is.

I'm not sure that your goal is to make a sick person feel worse about being sick. 

So... if you can refrain from reminding a breast cancer survivor that death is possible... I think it will do a lot of help the mindset of the person trying to beat the disease. Just a thought...


Apr 2, 2014

Ask a survivor: When should you get your first mammogram?

 I received the following question from a facebook friend and I told her that I would address it here on my blog.

Q.  When should you get your first mammogram?

A.  It depends on what you and your doctor decide together is best for you. More than likely, you'll start at age 40.

The widely accepted protocol in the US is that women should start receiving mammograms when they are 40 years old. This age has been widely debated and some people feel that the age should be raised to 50 because most women are diagnosed after that age. However, for women like myself, diagnosed before 40, I think that it is a bad idea.

When you start getting mammograms also depends on your family history of breast cancer. If you have close relatives who have dealt with breast cancer, depending on the age that they were diagnosed, you may need to start getting mammograms earlier than 40. If you have a family connection, then your doctor will probably suggest that you start getting your mammograms when you are at least 10 years younger than your relative was when she was diagnosed.



That 10 year gap is important because it gives your medical team a baseline for you, where they determine what healthy breasts for you look like. And then they compare each following mammogram to the baseline and they can track changes in your breasts.

Do you want this guy to show up and help you?
My story is that I found my breast cancer by feeling a lump doing a BSE (breast self exam). I wasn't 40 years old. In fact, I had been looking forward to that next step. I considered it a rite of passage that meant that I was indeed, growing and maturing. (Yes, I'm strange like that.)

So, I highly advise every woman to give herself a self-exam once a month. And also to remind the doctor to give you a clinical exam when you go for your yearly exam. It takes just a few moments and can make all the difference in the world.

You can make it fun and sexy if you want; ask your partner to join you in examining your breasts. Whatever it takes. Just make it happen.




Mar 21, 2014

15 Best Breast Cancer Blogs

I've been blogging about breast cancer for a number of years now. Along the way, I've made a lot of great connections with other breast cancer bloggers who, like me, write from their personal experience with breast cancer. I want to share with you my top 15 best breast cancer blogs.

These survivors and co-survivors have chronicled their lives publicly with poignant detail. The stories are informative and breath-taking. My goal in sharing this list is to show the humanity of breast cancer. Many people are mesmerized by the pink ribbon. We are often exalted as pillars of strength and inspiration. While we can be that (both strong and inspiring) we are, most of all, human. We are frail. We may be weak. We are often overwhelmed with treatments, medications, side effects and the emotional enormity of the diagnosis. We are people fighting for another chance at life.

Although I have yet to find another blogger just like me (single/unmarried, childless and black*) I am blessed and lucky to be connected with such awesome people. I am fortunate enough to have met some of these amazing bloggers and I consider them my friends. There are other friends that I haven't met in person, but we've bonded and I feel connected to them just the same. The great thing about following these various stories is that it gives me so much information that I wouldn't otherwise know about. Every diagnosis is different and every patient's journey is different. I learn a lot about breast cancer from their stories.



At any rate, please take a look at my list. No... really click on the links and look at the blogs. If you like them, be sure to leave a comment for the blogger. Bloggers like comments. *ahem, ahem*

15 best breast cancer blogs (in no particular order)

  1. Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer
  2. Breast Cancer? But doctor... I hate pink!
  3. City Girl blog
  4. ChemoBabe!
  5. Let Life Happen
  6. Bumpy Boobs
  7. Feisty Blue Gecko
  8. Graceful Woman Warrior
  9. The Fight We Didn't Choose - My Wife's Fight with Breast Cancer
  10. Lisa Bonchek Adams blog
  11. I Have Breast Cancer blog
  12. Chemobrain In The Fog
  13. Afro Chemo
  14. Tales of a 3 Time Cancer Warrior
  15. Dancing With Cancer: Living with Mets, the new normal
  16. My Fabulous Boobies (of course I had to list this one)

*There is a major disparity in the mortality rates for black American women compared to white American women. We do not get breast cancer at the same rate as our white sisters, but we are more likely to die from the disease. That difference is why it is important for me to keep blogging and to continue to raise awareness. My sisters are dying and I want to keep my face out there so that the sisters who come behind me, see that they are not alone. You can learn more about this issue here: http://www.blackwomenshealth.org/issues-and-resources/black-women-and-breast-cancer/

If you know any other breast cancer bloggers leave their link in the comments. Or just comment and say hey. I like heys...






Mar 7, 2014

Handling feelings of being a fraud

I feel like a fraud. 


breast cancer scars infographic (My Fabulous Boobies blog)
I've been struggling the past few weeks with a strange feeling of being a fraud. As I plot and plan and procrastinate and find ways to distract myself from actually writing my book, I realize that some of the questions that enter my mind (repeatedly) are centered around the idea that people will not want to read what I've written.

A friend suggested that I write daily reasons why my voice matters. I was supposed to do this for 30 days. I think I lasted four days. I wrote a bunch of reasons (about 20) and they are all true... but it didn't assuage my fraudulent feelings for long. (Yes, I am returning to this assignment immediately) One conversation that I have often with my boyfriend is why I don't see myself the way that others do. I really can't answer that question. So, my trusty friend Mr. Google allowed me to search for more information about feeling like a fraud. I learned a lot.

Imposter Syndrome is real.


The term that is used to describe this phenomenon is "Imposter Syndrome" and it seems to be very prevalent among women. (figures) For some reason, we simply are uncomfortable accepting that we are as knowledgeable about things as we are. (sounds like me) I don't like the word "imposter" even though I suppose it is valid. But, the words "Imposter Syndrome" are so JARRING to me. How can I be an imposter about my own life? It is, after all, MY life.

*blink, blink*

Well smarty pants... how is that different from feeling like a fraud? 

*silent stares*

Welp... that's a good question. My answer? I dunno.

Reminding yourself of what you have accomplished does help


WEGO Health health activist award, twitterFacebook has this cool feature now where you can look at your timeline/news feed from the same date in a different year. Last night while I was procrastinating and thinking, I looked at my news feed from a year ago.

*sigh*

One year ago, I was nominated for an award based on my twitter activity which centers around this blog. Which is based on my life. I won the award by the way. (smile)  So... if people who don't know me, found me on twitter and watched my activity and felt that it was worthy of an award... whyyyyy do I feel like a fraud?

I have no earthly idea. *sigh*


Turn your city pink 2012 winners event, breast cancer advocates

A year before that, I was invited to a breast cancer blogger panel discussion in London; again, based solely on what was found on the internet. All based on this blog, which is based on my life. A month before that London trip, I was a featured cancer survivor in a social media campaign for a multinational corporation. And so on. I'm not tooting my own horn because for some reason that makes me uncomfortable. But I am showing that there is a pattern here where I have done good work and yet I still don't think it is good enough.

I think a portion of my fraudulent feelings come from understanding the enormity of the breast cancer experience and feeling incapable of articulating all of the variances and nuances of this disease, its treatment and survivorship. I feel as though I should be more versed in everything even though I know logically that it simply is not possible. People have been studying this disease for years and are perplexed and confused by it as well. People far smarter and more educated than I am.

*ding*  And perhaps that is the challenge I am facing. Am I discounting the value of my experience with breast cancer? I suppose in some ways I am. That is a shame.

My Fabulous Boobies blog social media screenshotsI looked through my blog and found three separate posts here, here and here... where I discussed feeling like a fraud. Isn't that something?

I am a survivor. That is a good thing. 


Being a survivor is (sometimes) a really heavy experience. It is so emotional, so physical and so confusing. I don't always know who I am. I feel as though the entire world shifted under my feet and I still don't quite have my bearings. And then I will read something I wrote years ago and I remember how much I've been through and how much I've shared. How much I've grown and... how much I may have taught someone else. Then I feel more grounded that my experiences are valid.

*lightbulb moment*

My experiences and my feelings are valid. I have a voice in this world. 


I am not a medical doctor specializing in oncology. It is not likely that I will discover the cure to cancer. I am, however, a writer and a storyteller. There is no valid minimization of that gift.

Let me repeat that for myself...

I made it. I survived breast cancer. What else can I do? I am a writer and a storyteller. There is NO valid minimization of that gift. 

One of my favorite pictures of myself was taken near the end of my chemotherapy treatment. I am bald as a cueball and my lashes are gone. But I am smiling so big because I am happy. I was having a good day with good friends. My eyes are dancing and I seem to be saying... "I made it. I survived breast cancer. What else can I do?"

I made it. I survived breast cancer. What else can I do? ~Nic Nac Paddywack


What have you survived, learned, witnessed that gives you the power and self-encouragement to tackle that next step? I know you've done something amazing. Let me know in the comments, so that I can celebrate you. Remember, your experiences are valid and your voice matters.


Mar 5, 2014

The husband's guide to breast cancer

Couple holding hands. Love: Its worth fighting for. Its the one thing in life that truly is...
A couple of months ago I was introduced to Todd Outcalt. Todd is a co-survivor; his wife Becky is an 11 year survivor of breast cancer. Because of their experience with the disease, Todd wrote a helpful book for husbands of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer based on information he learned while they went through treatment. When I learned about the book, I was touched and happy that Todd chose to add his voice to the conversation about breast cancer. Co-survivors need support and this book should provide a good source of information for them. Please read his heartfelt post and be sure to share it with any husbands that you know who may need to understand that they aren't alone in this journey with their wife.

-----------------------

Three Goals for Guys



Soon after my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer I went in search of helpful information and tips that would prepare me for my role as a support partner. This information wasn’t readily available.  There were plenty of books, magazines and web sites devoted to a woman’s needs (and rightly so), but guides designed to help men were fewer and farther between.


In short order, however, I began receiving helpful counsel from friends and family members who had walked this path with their wives.  There were more breast cancer survivor husbands than I realized.


Taking away the best of the best, I eventually settled upon three goals that I wanted to achieve as a support partner and husband through my wife’s breast cancer journey.  I pass them along here as key ingredients to your support, and hope you will find them helpful.


Goal #1:  Be the support—don’t just talk about it.



This was important on many fronts.  There were many aspects of my wife’s journey that were not conducive to my presence.  I would have rather talked about these, or assigned someone else to “be there.”  For example, spending the night with my wife post-surgery was a draining experience (the cot, the sleeplessness, the discussion with nurses).  But I couldn’t just say I was supportive, I had be there with my wife, by her side, and with every one of the subsequent steps in her healing it became easier to accomplish.  Our love deepened through these fearful and uncomfortable points, and I was glad that I made every effort, cleared my calendar, and took the journey with her.
 


Goal #2:  Wear different hats.



The breast cancer journey will press men to be and do what they didn’t think was possible.  During my wife’s surgery and recovery period I learned how to cook from her recipes, completed my first loads of laundry, changed bed linens, fluffed pillows, made runs to the grocery store, accompanied my children to school activities, and generally ran the household by myself for a short period.  I wouldn’t say I was a single-parent, but close.  All of these varied endeavors taught me much, however.  And I essentially learned that I had a greater capacity for multi-tasking than I realized.  Even work was easier once I returned to the desk.  After breast cancer, the rest of life is gravy and the days seem simpler and less complicated.  Wearing all of those hats increased my life skills and my talents.


Goal # 3:  Bring our lives back to “normal”.

Book cover. Husband's guide to breast cancer


Well, what’s normal?  In truth, life never completely returns to the same place after a breast cancer experience.  She is changed.  And he usually is, too.  But this isn’t a bad thing . . . in fact, it can be quite positive.  What I discovered is that we were creating a new “normal” post-recovery.  My wife changed careers (this is more common than you think!) and I was soon talking about these experiences and seeing the carry over to other aspects of our lives (marriage, parenting, careers).  All in all, getting back to normal is simply learning how to help your wife live as a breast cancer survivor.  Time changes things—and most couples discover that the new normal is better than the old.  It’s all in how you look at it.


~Todd Outcalt, author of Husband’s Guide to Breast Cancer (Blue River Books). His wife, Becky, is an 11-year breast cancer survivor.
 You can purchase Todd's book via this link: 
Husband's Guide to Breast Cancer: A Complete & Concise Plan for Every Stage