Oct 31, 2014

Paying it forward

A political science professor, a shower placard and a story saved my life

I've told the story about how I discovered my breast cancer by giving myself a breast self-exam one day as a distraction many times, and I'm sure to share it many more. It is one more story in this vast world about breast cancer.

Sometimes I mention that I had gotten into the habit of doing BSEs from my favorite college professor. She was a breast cancer survivor and she shared her stories about her journey with breast cancer with me and my classmates often. At this small women's college, where classes in my major rarely had more than 10 students... there was an intimacy among us that I had never experienced in a classroom setting before. That intimacy was, for me, like a rain shower on parched earth. It brought so much of who I am today to life.

My MVC memories

Dr. Maureen Casamayou was my political science professor at Mount Vernon College. She was the first woman I had ever spoken to directly about breast cancer in a personal way. I was a young woman in my early 20's when she brought this topic to my life. I had absolutely no concerns whatsoever about breast cancer. I thought it was something that happened to "old" people. Of course, in your 20's... everybody in the world seems old to you. Dr. Casamayou was older than me, very accomplished, very smart and full of life though. She wasn't "old"... just older. Didn't seem like the women I associated with being sick. She seemed to personify elegance and intellect and independence. I loved her for that. I also loved her because she was a professor who did not give up on her students. She did not let us slide by... or slip away. She saw potential and opportunity in each of us. And she spoke that life into us in each class, with each assignment.

Mount Vernon College was a magical place for me. Dr. Casamayou was integral in making it so. It would take too long to try to explain who I was before I arrived at Mount Vernon but I can tell you that the young woman who left that campus was confident, capable and ready to take on the world. A lot of that is due to a feisty professor who challenged me to be great, to write well, to be unafraid and unashamed to know or not know something. The freedom to be smart without judgement or name-calling was a tremendous blessing. The freedom to not be the smartest one in the room was too.

She taught me to own my story unapologetically

It deeply saddened me to learn that my pink ribbon sister passed away earlier this month. On my mental list of things to do, I had hoped to talk to her one more time and share with her how much she impacted my life and how often I think about the day she talked with a bunch of young female college students and told us how important checking our breasts was. How important that it was that we start checking them early so that we knew what our breasts felt like. She told us to get comfortable with our bodies and she gave us all shower placards that demonstrated the steps to conducting a BSE.

I still have my shower placard today. It hangs in my shower at all times. I think of her whenever I notice it. The irony of life is that the radiology center that created the shower placard she gave me years ago, was the same center I used when I had my first mammogram after finding my lump and the same center where I had my first sonogram where I saw the tumors in my breast for the first time. Sometimes life will bring you full circle.  [Read: And then there was Freddie... ]

There is power in the story

In discussing her passing with my boyfriend, I was weeping at the loss and mentally chastising myself for not pushing harder to find her after I was diagnosed. I felt like I let her down. I really wanted her to know that she saved my life. Her story saved my life.

That wonderful boyfriend of mine told me that he was proud of me because I had taken the gift she gave me and had chosen to pay it forward. Her story saved my life because she was unafraid to share it. She gave it to me, to all of us, and I am so grateful. And now I realize that I too have been paying it forward because there is a gift of life in the story.

Paying it forward

I have no way of knowing whether or not anyone who reads this blog will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer or have to cope with a loved one with breast cancer. I believe that clearly understanding that breast cancer is real, and that it strikes women of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds moves the mindset that breast cancer happens to "them"... to breast cancer could happen to me.

Thank you Dr. Casamayou. The gift of your story and your concern for my health, long before I ever realized it would be important, have blessed me tremendously. Because of you, I pay it forward and give my story to others.

Thank you. I hope that I make you proud.

See: Obituary of Dr. Maureen A. Casamayou

Oct 20, 2014

I want to grow my hair out... but first, my edges!

Nic's recipe for post-chemo hair growth (for natural hair) | My Fabulous Boobies

Confession: I have NO IDEA what to do with my hair. None.

Before chemotherapy, I wore my hair very short for a long time. With a few exceptions, I kept it close cut for about 15 years. I liked it because it suited my face and it was easy (and cheap) to take care of.

I don't like beauty salons. It's a long story.

Suffice it to say... I have no patience for sitting at a salon for hours and I hated spending what felt like the equivalent of a child support payment just for my hair. It was too much for me. So I stopped.

Desperately in need of some style

However, I'm now 5 years out from my initial regrowth after chemo and I'm feeling like I'm in a style rut - from my head to my toes. I have grown out my hair, cut it all the way back to my tried and true a few times. Don't get me wrong, I think I am very pretty in my short cut. But because I've worn it for so long, it feels lame.  My new goal: Growing your hair. Right now, I've got a sporty little afro... but... THOSE EDGES!

I recently wrote about wanting purple hair.  See: I want PURPLE hair! After talking about it with a few friends (and my boyfriend), I'm now on the fence about the purple hair. My guy was all for it, actually. My girlfriends were decidedly not as enthused.

While I thought about ignoring their advice and preparing for purple hair anyway... I received an email and then a phone call. A few days later, I was heading to New York to do the BET breast cancer awareness promotion. See: The surreal moment when you see yourself on tv. The experience was amazing.

Seeing myself in profile however, on the video showed me how bad my thinning hair (and hair line) really was. I really had not noticed it. Yikes.

Did I mention that this commercial length PSA has been showing all over the country all month long? Yep. With my edges looking like that.... deep sigh. 

Biggest moment of my blogging year and I'm staring at myself...critiquing my weight, my double chin and my invisible edges.

Sigh... onward and upward. When you see something is wrong, you've got to fix it, right. Time to start making changes.

This post-chemo hair is CUH-RAZY!

My hair grew back more rapidly than I expected after chemo. But it is very different now. It grows slowly. It is thinner, softer, curlier. It has a few more gray hairs (not many but still enough that I notice). Just sigh.... it is just different.

While I am very thankful that it grew back at all; I have to admit that I just am lost and clueless about what to do with it. I have thought about cutting it again and just loving that again, but my barber passed away a few months ago and I've been hesitant to find a new barber. Keeping it cut low was easy for me, but also allowed me to hide/not pay attention to the problems that my hair and scalp were showing.

The softness of my post-chemo hair makes me believe that perhaps I've been damaging it by not taking better care of it. So, I've been talking to other naturals and watching a lot of youtube videos and learning about some good hair practices that should help.

Since I have two issues to deal with -- growing in my thinning edges and retaining length of my weird curly/kinky hair... I'm mapping out a strategy.

I'll update you with whatever growth happens (or if I finally decide to just cut it off).

My strategy and recipe for hair growth

Based on what I have learned, I need to protect my hair from breakage by wrapping it at night with a silk scarf. Sleeping on cotton pillows is terrible for this soft, fragile hair. I also learned that taking Biotin would be good for my hair and my nails. (Which is an unexpected but necessary help too since my post-chemo nails are really soft and break often)  Daily temple massages with vitamin E oil and using JBCO (Jamaican black castor oil) on my hair regularly. Add a daily multivitamin, drink lots and lots of water... and I should see some positive growth.

My secret weapon is using miconazole cream in my hair cream. Yeah... I'm putting THAT in my hair. I actually tried it a few months ago, and it worked. Even though it is a vaginal anti-fungal cream, it really did help my hair to thicken and grow. *I will admit that when I stopped using it, I experienced a good amount of shedding*

My "operation long healthy hair" recipe:

I've included a really helpful youtube tutorial I found that I will be using. As well as an informative blog post from a natural hair forum.

See: I helped my mom regrow her edges

So that's it. That's what we're working with. Operation... get those edges together and grow some hair! is in full effect.

Let me know what tips you have for growing your hair, retaining length... anything. I'm not looking forward to all the work of long(er) hair... but I have been wearing the same hair style pretty much for nearly 20 years. I've got to switch it up.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase an item using those links, the blog will earn a small commission.  

Please consider how important your support of this blog is to the breast cancer survivor who creates it.

Oct 17, 2014

Black women needed for a breast tissue bank in Indiana

Black women needed for a breast tissue bank in Indiana | My Fabulous Boobies

Breast cancer, black women and research needs

I read an interesting article recently about a breast tissue bank in Indianapolis. The KTB (Komen Tissue Bank) at Indiana University collects normal breast tissue and blood from volunteers for use in their research into breast cancer.

As a survivor who is highly concerned about the high mortality rates for black women, the news of this repository excited me. I had no idea that it existed. Of all groups of women affected by breast cancer, black women are the most likely to die from this disease. That makes research into finding a cure, understanding metastatic breast cancer and awareness activities a high priority (to me).

The tissue bank is in dire need of breast tissue from black women. Without enough samples to utilize, some clinical trials and research projects are unable to be completed or are delayed for years while the bank slowly gathers the necessary tissue.

I can't tell how how sad that made me. My pink ribbon sisters are DYING... and what is needed to help them is for my black sisters in or around IU to give samples to the tissue bank. I don't know the details of what is required in order for someone to make a donation. However, I do know that there is a deadline looming.

From the Indiana Reporter article:
The next mass tissue collection is Nov. 8. and Ridley-Merriweather has a goal of collecting tissue from at least 50 African-American women. Those interested can contact the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center for further details and preparation.

Time for tough love

I know that there are many of us in the black community who have reservations about trusting the medical community based on history. Incidents like the Tuskegee Experiment and even Henrietta Lacks, serve as reminders that too often in this country, black people were not treated humanely and as though they had no power of choice in whether or not to participate in clinical trials. I won't be insulting and pretend that these practices were not barbaric, inhumane and insulting. They were. There is no excuse for it and I am only grateful that the history has been revealed to show that these atrocities happened.

We have been WRONGED by the American  medical community.  That is a fact of history.

Yet as a survivor of breast cancer, and as a sister who has grieved the deaths of too many black pink ribbon sisters (and grieved the diagnosis of far too many as well)... I beg you to consider making a tissue or blood donation to the tissue bank.

The only way to stop this disease is through research. And the only way research will prevail that affects our relationship with breast cancer is that the research can go forth. The tissue bank NEEDS black women (with and without breast cancer) to step up and make a difference. If you live anywhere near the Komen Tissue Bank, please consider doing this.

Black women needed for a breast tissue bank in Indiana | My Fabulous Boobies

For more information:  Komen Tissue Bank IU

Black women greatly needed for Komen breast tissue bank

*Disclosure: I have consulted with the Komen Foundation on matters concerning blogging and social media. I am NOT a paid spokesperson for the organization in any way. All opinions about Komen are my own. *

Oct 15, 2014

Don't be nasty! Wash your hands.

I recently did a bit of traveling. Not as much as some of you probably do regularly, but for me it was a lot. Traveling induces a lot of anxiety for me. It didn't always. I dread moving around strange cities alone and I really, really dread the fatigue and arm heaviness that usually happens once I'm on my own, pulling and tugging my luggage and my computer case.

I don't lift a lot of heavy items with my lymphedema arm and just moving around so much usually results in a flare up. Its one of those side effects that annoys me constantly but since I realize it really could be so much worse... I just deal.

Thanks to my wonderful life as a blogger and writer... I don't actually go a lot of places. I work wherever my computer and the internet are. Which is usually at home. But the downside of that is that when I do venture forth into the world... I come into contact with ... people outside.

Now, don't get mad... because I don't mean to be rude but... SOME OF Y'ALL ARE NASTY!

The seasons are changing. More germs are around. Take precautions!!

Its early fall. The temperatures are dropping. Leaves are beginning to change colors and drop. And germs are every where around us. Nasty little germy kids... (no... of course I'm not talking about YOUR precious darling kids...)

But some people's children are little magnets for cooties and yuck-stuff and germs.

So I have a PSA (public service announcement) for all the rest of us who don't often come into contact with nasty little germy people...


That's it.

It's really simple. Just wash your hands. Or use an antibacterial gel. Often.

When you go to the bathroom, wash your hands.
When you're preparing food, wash your hands.
When you sneeze or cough, wash your hands.

Just... wash your hands.

Its cold and flu season again. 

The temperature changes along with the fact that people aren't really ready to let go of summer yet... means that plenty of people are running around dressed inappropriately and catching all types of cooties. Germs just love all these opportunities I think... to make us sick and fill us with their party buddies.

I'm not a germaphobe but I don't like to be sick. So, do us all a big favor... and just wash your hands. And don't touch me!!

Enough of the foolishness. Let me be serious for a moment.

As I write this, we're experiencing an outbreak of Ebola in different places around the world. This disease is deadly if not caught and treated immediately. A man just died here in the US the other day from Ebola and people are panicked everywhere. Well, keep in mind that the flu can be deadly to some of us and colds make us all just miserable. The first line of defense for all of these diseases is utilizing proper hygiene. And that starts with washing your hands.

Cancer patients often have weakened immune systems thanks to the treatments they receive. Small children and the elderly also have weaker immune systems. Yes, you need to get your flu shots, and cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze... but the one thing you should always, always, always, always do... is wash your hands. 

Wash them often and wash them well. Use lots of soap and water... really lather up and wash your hands for more than a few seconds. That little action kills so many germs that get so many of us sick.

Prepare yourself and be kind to others... just wash your hands. Don't believe me... read this articles from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the Dana-Farber Medical Facility. Washing your hands is very important. Washing your hands is serious business (even if this blog post was full of silliness).

And while you're out and about... check to be sure that your sick kit is stocked up. In case you don't remember my advice about having a fully-stocked "sick kit"... check out this post. Read: Sometimes you need a sick kit

When my boyfriend came to pick me up from the train station, I went to his home instead of my own. We hadn't seen each other in about a week or so and I missed him. But we had to stop at the CVS on the way home because he's such a man and he didn't have a sick kit.

Boo... Guess what might be under the Christmas tree for somebody I love?

A handy dandy SICK KIT! I think every home should have at least one. Well, actually two. A sick kit for colds (that is filled with products like the ones in the picture)... and a general first-aid kit. You just never know when you need one.

Be safe y'all. 
*blowing air kisses because I refuse to touch y'all*

PS. Use Lysol too. It kills staph germs that may be lingering around your house. Trust me. Just get it and spray!

Oct 13, 2014

October 13th is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

October 13th is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day | My Fabulous Boobies

October 13th is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day | My Fabulous Boobies

Breast cancer awareness isn't just one month for me

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008. Before I was diagnosed, October was for Halloween. Yes, I was familiar with breast cancer awareness month but I didn't focus on it much. Once I was diagnosed however, I felt excited about Pinktober. The first year. I felt like people could SEE me, recognize my struggle and that somebody somewhere would do something. I felt acknowledged. I felt supported. I felt loved.

That was the first year.

Then the second year came around and I was tired.

I was still in active treatment. Still going to the doctor's office like it was my damn job. I was tired of having breast cancer. I wanted my breast back. MY breast... the one God equipped me with from the start. Yeah, the sick one. I wanted it back. I didn't want the sickness back but I wanted that comfortable wholeness back because once it was taken from me... I never quite felt the same again. I still don't.

The third year... I was a little more militant about it.

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise
Nic Nac Paddywack in 2008 after 3 months of chemotherapy
I felt like perhaps I needed to DO something. Needed to get the ball rolling somehow. I was slightly confused by all the companies and people who wanted to contact me regarding my blog. They wanted me to write about their fantastic new products that would raise awareness. All of their glorious pink things. They wanted me to give away things. Or wear things. Or go to events. Or write. A few people wanted to write for my blog. That touched me. Until I saw what some of them wanted to write about.

By the fourth year... I was numb.

By now, women that I new personally were dying. Women who were my friends before breast cancer and women I met along the way... were no longer here. Their deaths hurt deeply. I felt a loss and a strong fear that my breast cancer recurrence would be more likely than the 30% chance my oncologist had given me. And, more insultingly, people I loved were being diagnosed. Somehow, I thought MY diagnosis was enough to protect my circle from this. I was wrong. I wasn't the sacrificial lamb that would protect the flock from this scourge.

Each pink ribbon felt like a grave marker. I had become more aware of the intricate dances going on within the breast cancer community. I felt like an outsider in my own clique most of the time. We're all pink ribbon sisters and brothers and yet... we are looking at the messaging around the pink ribbon in a lot of different ways.

Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than other groups. Breast cancer awareness is critical for the black community. 
Tweet: Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than other groups.

Meanwhile, in the broader breast cancer community, there are varying perspectives about the necessity for continued awareness programs. Or what should be covered in those activities. Is there one right way to market the pink ribbon? How many more women that I knew were going to be diagnosed... or worse, were going to die? Leaving behind a lot of heartbroken friends and family members who only had memories and questions. When would it stop?

Fifth year... annoyed and slightly frustrated.

But more happy than previous years about Pinktober. I learned how to cope with the influx of attention from businesses that wanted me to validate their products for my readers. I learned that grieving would always be a part of my life -- grieving for my personal losses and also grieving the ache of losing women to this disease (both personal friends and strangers) -- and it was okay. I accepted that I would always have lymphedema and it didn't kill all of my cuteness. I found love this year and he helped me to see this disease through fresh eyes. I realized that I was becoming jaded because I assumed that all people had the same knowledge that I did. But they don't. Because unless breast cancer was personal to them... it only came once a year really. Like Christmas.

This is my sixth year of Pinktober since my diagnosis.

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise
Nic Nac Paddywack at the Komen Race for the Cure, DC, May 2014
This year I am not pink-fatigued. I am still very cautious about products and marketing to my readers. I have renewed my dedication to raising awareness. And I am aware that for some members of the breast cancer community, this seems highly redundant and too elementary for where we are in the efforts to find a cure.

I finally have the voice to say... Awareness is never going out of style.

Each year more people come into this world who don't know all the history behind the pink ribbon. They only know that the NFL wears a lot of it, pink ribbons represent breast cancer awareness and that women can lose their hair and their breasts. Every year, someone has to be there to teach them; to remind some and to shame others (*smile*) into caring about their future and their health by being proactive about caring for their breasts.

Each community that is affected by breast cancer is not affected the same as another community. We're all vulnerable to getting the disease but the rates of mortality vary. The toll of the disease on our bodies is different. And while more women than ever are living long lives after their diagnosis, learning to navigate the new normal of their lives is brand new, each time.

More awareness needs to focus on those sisters who are living with metastatic breast cancer (my stage IV sisters). Their needs and their sensitivities are different from mine. How do you market "hope" and "you can live a fulfilling life after breast cancer" to women who are scrambling from one treatment protocol to the next looking for relief, looking for an extension of their lifespans, looking for yet another glimmer of promise that the time ahead is a lot longer than they thought it would be?

I am a breast cancer survivor every day of the year.

The pink ribbon does not go out of style for me, ever. Unlike some, it does not fatigue me anymore to see those pink ribbons. And yes, I buy (and accept) pink gifts all year long. One, because pink has always been one of my favorite colors and two because pink reminds me that I am human and frail and I overcame a devil that was trying to take me out. I'm not superwoman... but I'm real close. And each pink ribbon reminds me of those sisters I've lost... whose spirits were pure and who brought joy and sparkle to the world. They are gone but never forgotten. They live on in my heart and in the hearts of their loved ones.

The pink ribbon gives me empathy. I pray for a day that we have a cure (though I don't know what I'll do for a job when that day comes, LOL). I also pray that people understand that as frightening as all of this is... there are nuggets of joy within the process.

Three hundred and sixty five.

The number of days in a year. The minimum number of breast cancer thoughts I have in a year. October is 31 of those 365. Make the most of this time. Learn. Teach. Share. Embrace. Have compassion. And be diligent about your own breast health.

Oct 10, 2014

The surreal moment when you see yourself on television

I'm really a smart girl. I am. I don't say that to brag or boast but as an offering against the idea that perhaps, I might be... just a smidge... uh... slow. Missing the obvious can make you ask those questions about yourself.

When I got the call to tape the PSA (public service announcement) for BET (Black Entertainment Television network), I was elated and surprised. The entire situation happened very fast. From the time I agreed to participate to the end of the taping, was less than a week I believe. I said yes, and doors just flew open.

It was amazing. Slightly overwhelming but amazing.

At the end of the taping, I knew that the PSA would air on the cable networks during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I knew that. I was excited to learn the exact time of the first showing of the commercial. I watched and was overjoyed. There I was, on television... like a star!

I shared my initial thoughts on Facebook (cuz that's what I do) and then I moved forward. I saw the commercial once, I shared the news with my personal friends on facebook and twitter and with the followers of the blog's fan page and felt that I had accomplished my social media work on the issue. It was good. I did a good thing.

And then... I didn't see it again. No biggie. But, family members saw it and friends saw it... and I started receiving texts and messages and tweets of congratulations. Really nice, right? But for some reason, it is not hitting me how many people watch these networks and how likely it was that the commercial would air. Meaning more people would see it.  Many, many more people.


So, when I was randomly watching The Real on BET the other day and thoroughly enjoying Tamar Braxton's antics... it caught me by surprise that I heard MY voice on television.

What... ? That sounds like me.
*looks up*
That IS me! They're still showing this... its like a week later.
*slow realization* 
This is going to show ALL MONTH LONG. 

*face palm*

Why didn't I realize that before? I understood it and I got it but I didn't really get it.  So many more people are going to learn about me, and hopefully about this blog and more and more breast cancer awareness for more people!


Things in social media move fast and since I'm not one of the heavy weights out here (I don't have a million followers on Twitter or on Facebook), I'm accustomed to sharing a thought and then moving on. I don't think about it again because in my mind, only a few people are even slightly paying attention to me.

Except... what I consider a few is sort of a lot. At least a lot more than the average person. With Facebook's new algorithms, that means that something you share just might end up getting bounced around your friend's news feeds more than your average comment.

I posted on Facebook that I finally saw my commercial... and tons of people started commenting and like-ing that status.


Most people sort of ignore me. Or I don't show up in their news feed and I'm okay with that. But this happened (and continues to happen).

I am blown away by the number of people who have supported this breast cancer awareness promotional video. So while I have your attention... let me remind you why this matters.

  • Breast cancer is a terrible disease. 
  • In our entire lifetimes, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 
  • Black women do get breast cancer. 
  • Young women do get breast cancer. 
  • When caught early enough, breast cancer is treatable.
  • Proactive health care does help. 
  • Breast self-exams (BSEs) are important. 
  • Regular mammograms are important. 
  • Being diagnosed with breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence. But you have to act. 
  • Knowing your body, being in touch with your intuition, makes a difference. Nobody knows you better than you. 
  • Although a lot of women are diagnosed, lumps in your breast do not automatically mean that you have breast cancer. But you won't know for sure until you see your doctor and have your breasts examined by a professional.
  • Your family needs you. Your friends need you. The world needs you. So get in touch with yourself, so that you can be sure to be here for all the people who love you. 

If you watch BET or Centric at all, you will probably see me on there sometime this month. If you do see me, drop me a note and let me know. And be sure to examine your breasts and get your mammograms as well. Eat healthy and if you can't be healthy, be healthier! A step forward helps. Everything in moderation. Keep your weight in moderation. Eat healthy food - lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, limited alcohol. Regular exercise. Drink lots of water. Yes, all of those things that we hear that we're supposed to do for ourselves anyway - they also play a part in reducing your chance of getting breast cancer.

There is no cure but there can be hope. It starts with you.

Please SHARE this video to your friends and family. Please LIKE the page to stay abreast of what's happening in the breast cancer community. And most of all encourage your loved ones to do as you do and check their breasts. Every month.