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May 22, 2009

a sweaty mess... and i need to temper my thoughts

It is 430 am and I am a sweaty mess. The routine is the same night after night. I find it interesting that while I was in Florida, my hot flashes were minimal. Not sure if its because it was hot like Hades there and I couldn't tell the difference or because I kept the air conditioning so low in the room that sweat didn't dare show up out of fear of instant evaporation.

Whatever the case, not working here. Definitely. However, there is good news. Relative good news, that is. I read somewhere earlier this evening that suffering through hot flashes was actually a good sign.

...women who are experiencing hot flashes have an associated lower level of estrogen circulating in their bloodstreams, while the absence of hot flashes is associated with higher levels of estrogen. And it so happens that reducing the amount of circulating estrogen is a major treatment strategy in breast cancer.


I will have to remind myself of this often over the next few years. Because honey... this sweating all night long (for no good reason) is for the birds.



....wanted to add that the whining and complaining I used as my last blog entry was a sad display. It is a tragedy that I have become afraid of living and dying at the same time. That there is some punk logic for ya. Since I'm up, I'm giving myself a mental pep talk.

Life is too short - with or without cancer - to live afraid. You can't function that way. Its crazy.

Yes, I have cancer. More than likely, I'll beat it. I was about to say but... but I won't. More than likely, I will beat it. More than likely, I will beat cancer.

Even though I can think that and somewhat believe it ...when I close my eyes, I see the faces of women who didn't make it. (shaking my head) I don't know family, finding that place of peace within the notion of death is more difficult than I thought.


Whew.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

struggling with the fear of 5

5 is a magic number when you have breast cancer. After chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment... I am taking a drug, tamoxifen, for 5 years to help reduce the risk of recurrence. Your chances of recurrence drop off significantly after 5 years. However, if your cancer recurs within 2 years, it doesn't bode well for your survival. At least that's what I've been reading lately.

Why is this on my mind? Because I've begun to think about the future. Making plans and thinking thoughts... about buying a home (finally), buying a luxury car, travelling around the world and maybe if I'm blessed... having a family.

But for everything on my wish list, I have a nagging thought about "what if I'm not here to finish paying for or taking care of it?" So, for example, I look at real estate listings just about everyday and my desires change everyday about what sort of purchase I would like to make. One day, I want something small and cheap because I want to have more disposable income available so that I can buy the dream car I want and travel like I want and continue to live a single girl's lifestyle. A few days later, I want to spend more and stretch myself to get the brand new(ish) house that is full of upgrades and such because I think... if I'm only going to be in it for a few years I want to appreciate the whole experience.

Its irrational, I know. But the anxiety is starting to choke me. I've been going through similar worrying sessions about buying a car, selecting vacation destinations and more. I want to go back to school. Is it worth my time to pursue degrees I may never use? Or should I use the time to do other things, like travel to countries I've always wanted to visit.

The truth is that I don't know how much time I have left. I don't know if I'll be here another 50 years or 50 days. And my fear and anxiety is illogical and irrational. But I feel it... deep in my heart and it scares me.

Part of the reason I haven't tried to purchase a house before now, or have kids or get the luxury car... is because I've been living with my life on hold. I've been waiting for "something" to come along; the love of my life, the outrageously wonderful job, the feeling that finally I'm adult enough to handle my own life. But I didn't live in the moment enough to recognize that I've loved a lot in my life - even though I never married. I would have been a good mother - if I had just believed in myself. I'm just as smart as my friends who have more degrees all together than I think should be allowed by law. And yes! I deserve full length fur coats and fancy cars... if that's what would make me smile. Why did I think those things were too much for me to have? And why now am I still worried about reaching out for them?

Its maddening to be so wishy-washy about your own life.

I can't turn the clock back and make myself appreciate myself more. But faced with the risks of death that cancer brings, I now feel that now I have permission to fully appreciate myself and do what I want to do. However, when I think about the things I want and how long it may take to get them... I start thinking about the magic 5. And I get stuck all over again.

Utter madness.

Life is really about the journey moreso than the destination. Procrastination has stolen years from me while I waited for perfection to show up. (it seems so silly now) The other day my mother and I were talking about relationships and dating and she said to me that my problem was that I was looking for perfection in a man. I didn't agree with that as it pertained to dating. But I do think its applicable for me regarding so many other things in my life. I have lived so much for tomorrow, that I never got to enjoy today. Procrastination stole years I thought I had, and then cancer tried to the rest. The shame of it all...

I've never watched the movie "The Bucket List" but one of the suggestions I got from one of the many cancer books I've read over these past months was to make a list of goals and work toward reaching them. This concept was supposed to help keep a bit of normalcy in your life -- give you things to look forward to. I have been thinking a lot about the things I want to do, the way that I want to live my life and when it dawned on me the other day that I was creating a bucket list, I got sad.

I know that I'm being a big baby about this stuff. Just buy the car, Nic. Start the process to buy the condo you want. Take some classes toward that new degree. Its not complicated. But it is. And that frustrates me. I'm struggling with the "what ifs"... and its silly and childish I know. I'm working my way through it. No doubt you'll start to hear bits and pieces about the goals I'm working toward. Pay me no mind. I am just working through some thangs. It will be alright.

May 21, 2009

GUEST POST: thank you

I'm sharing this post from another breast cancer blogger because I could not have worded this better. I thank every one of you who has chosen to stand with me, or with your friend/family member with cancer. We know its hard for you and just as you wish you could take this away from us, we wish we could take the worry and pain away from you as well. Please read the following and know that I feel the same way. THANK YOU!
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http://raisingmaine.mainetoday.com//blogentry.html?id=13427

Thank You
May 21, 2009 10:08 PM 0 comments, below
Categories: My Life Tags: Cancer, Support, Help, Thank you,

I was about to write a blog about my dang iPhone breaking again, when I read the comment section of my Farrah’s Story blog and came across Girl Talk’s comment.

She writes:
I was disappointed to have missed her story although I'm not sure I would have gotten through it - I watched my father-in-law try to battle pancreatic cancer for 13 months and am currently dealing with a friend battling breast cancer... it's very painful being a by-stander.

It was that last line that got me. So I’ll tell you the story of my crazy ridiculous ride with my Apple phone (4th phone in 8 months and going for a fifth tomorrow) another day—right now I need to talk to Kristen and everyone else who’s ever had to sit and “watch” someone have cancer.

Let me say that on behalf of myself and the too-many-other cancer patients out there who've been lucky enough to have you care about us, I thank you. You, who sits there and worries, and cries, and gets scared, and can’t sleep; you who tries to buy or make or do or say just the right thing to make us feel better, feel happy, get distracted, smile or in chemo-induced moments, eat something—what else is there to convey to you wonderful, important, helpless individuals but that you are-- in a nutshell--the best.

We cancer patients are scared, and we’re fighting. We have a goal and we have our drugs and our treatment plans and our maps for kicking cancer’s –ss. You on the other hand don’t have that focus: you are watching and waiting and worrying, and wondering—wondering if standing there feeling helpless and un-useful is really doing us any good.

Well I’m here to assure you, in no uncertain terms, that the answer to your furrowed brow question is Y-E-S.

You see, sometimes helping out has nothing to do with effort--even though I'm sure it doesn't feel like that. For most of our lives, effort has usually brought some kind of result; like when you volunteer to drive us to our 5th chemotherapy drip or bring a homemade meal over so we don’t have to worry about cooking at a time like this, you can feel the fruits or your labor. You clearly helped. You know where you stand. And it's so true; these are obvious moments where your generosity and kindness, mixed with your gas mileage, time and recipes, serves to lighten our cancer load and helps us make it through another rotten day.

But there are other times, indeed all the rest of the time, when you’re sitting at your home, staring at your phone and thinking of calling, but not wanting to wake us from what you hope is a nap we’re taking-- wondering how we are, what else could you be doing, and whether anything of the seemingly tiny things you’ve done to help us out of our trauma even mattered. I tell you, they do.

And as you go off and do things in your day that you want to enjoy but up next to our cancer now seem almost indulgent—the running around the grocery store with your biggest worry being what’s on sale, the catching up with a friend for a latte and to dish about the latest People Magazine, or the going to sleep knowing your kids are safe in bed and you are a healthy strong woman whose friend is battling something you pray you never get-- you wonder, how much more of this can I take? How much more of someone else’s cancer can I witness? Am I strong enough for this? What does this all mean for me? Is being scared of this okay, or am I one big failure as a friend?

Let me tell you, all those feelings are so absolutely okay they’re practically textbook cases of what happens when cancer hits your intimate circle: and as the friend around the friend/sister/cousin/husband/wife or someone-you-know with cancer, you have every right to have these moments. You have every right to live your life, to help out when you can, and even in certain moments to want to back away and pretend none of it is even happening.

But hear this: our cancer is not your cancer. In fact, it can’t be yours, we need you to be strong, and healthy, and we relish that for you. And we hope to be just like you again as soon as this hell is over. And when you take a break and need some time for you, take it—and don’t feel guilty. We get how hard it is, believe me, we get that loud and clear.

So thank you to all the outsiders, the bystanders, the ones who watch, and worry and wait. You are scared, we know, for us and for you. So thank you for coming so near at a time you may want to go running for a door. Thank you for just standing by or for not saying anything but offering your hand to hold, your shoulder to lean on, your smile and wink as comfort. It works. It really works.

I don’t know why cancer hits the people that it does, but we the bulls-eyed would be nowhere without you who encircle us: not only do you define our space on the dart board, but you envelop us in the love and support we need to give this fight the best we got, win, lose or draw.

And we are very, very grateful.

May 18, 2009

this weekend, i let folks "love on me"... and it was good



The theme of the week is "walk in love". I got that from my event on Saturday afternoon with the sisters and brothers of IASK. Before my talk, the group discussed walking in love as a way of life. We were tasked with showing love to someone (friend, family, colleague, etc.) who had been unloving toward us.

The sister who came to mind for me as someone I needed to show love to, was a sister whose name I don't even know. Some of you may remember her from a post back in December. She was the receptionist at the plastic surgeon's office who left me and my boyfriend sitting in the waiting room for hours, because she failed to properly (at all) process my information so that I could see the doctor in a timely fashion. During that time I was rundown from the chemo and I just refused to be negative or harsh to anyone. But what that meant was that in some situations (like that one) I allowed myself to be taken advantage of. (shrug)

I have seen that sister again because I'm in that medical building all the time for my treatments. Most of the doctors that I see are housed there. Although on that day, my boyfriend and I did make a comment to one of the nurses who did eventually get a chance to assist me, I have still harbored some negative feelings about her lack of professionalism and pitiful empathy for a sick person (me). When I have seen her again, all I could do was roll my eyes, and avoid talking to her at any cost. My rationale has been that I don't like her but I may have to deal with her so if I don't say anything to her I will be able to continue to conduct my business with minimal distractions between us. But... outside of her job as the receptionist, she's a human being. And in all honesty, she probably was just in a mindless space that day and simply forgot about me. It was close to the holidays. So far, the only person who has really been harmed in the transaction is me -- because I'm holding a grudge against someone I don't even know for an infraction she probably doesn't even remember committing.

I need to let it go and walk in love.


It was 5 months ago. (smile) You would think after all of the medical personnel that I have dealt with, she wouldn't even register in my mind. Sadly, she does. So, I am thinking of a way that I can be loving toward her... and hopefully remove this feeling in my heart that I have.


On Sunday, I spoke at "Women Speak" and it was an equally awesome experience. I talked about my experience but I also talked about how important it is for all of us to just let people "love on us". Black women are great at loving on others - family, friends, kids, etc. We make it our business to love and care and nurture those people in our lives. But when it comes to allowing others to take care of us, to simply "love on" us... we often balk. We lean back on our superwoman capes and tell ourselves (and anyone who will listen) that we don't "need" anything. That we can do it by ourselves.

And while that's true probably -- you CAN do it by yourself -- sometimes you really have to just be strong enough to rest, relax and let someone else love on you. The ladies at Women Speak loved on me Sunday afternoon. They laid hands on me, said a prayer for my healing and blessed my heart with their ability to love me -- even as I sat in front of them talking about how broken and heart-broken I felt. They just "loved on" me (little ol' me). And it was so beautiful.

I've been thinking about this weekend all day, I'm still in the bed because this cold I caught last week, just won't turn me loose. I've come to the conclusion that, I don't let people love on me enough. I stood in the middle of that circle on Sunday and cried like a baby. It felt so good to be loved on that way.

One of the hardest parts about breaking up with someone (yes, I'm talking about him again, lol)... is that you miss the intimacy that being in a relationship brings to your life. I miss the hugs and cheek-kisses, the laughs and hand-holding. And I didn't know how much I missed it until my sistas shared their hugs and kisses with me on Sunday.

When you're sick, people see you in your most fragile and vulnerable state. And they don't want to cause you any pain, so they often treat you gingerly. That's actually fine. And since I've been in treatment, I've had a few problems because of infections that have left me in the hospital or in the bed for days at a time. The truth is that my immune system is weakened and my body spends a lot of energy trying to heal itself. So, while I know logically that its best for me not to touch, hug, etc. lots of people... my spirit does still need that human connection from time to time.

I let the women who attended Women Speak love on me (see the picture of all the women holding their hands on me) and I feel so blessed because of it.

Let somebody love on you. And if there is someone who is unloving to you, show them some love this week. It may make a difference.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

May 15, 2009

GUEST POST: "my ode to Nicole"

This post was shared in my email group last week by one of the group members. I wanted to share her message because her issue with her "fabulous boobies" - though brief - was a great reminder that taking care of yourself is a responsibility that we all have. The story doesn't have to start (or end) with cancer. Sometimes an obstacle can be merely a bump in the road that reminds us that tomorrow isn't promised so let's take care of today.

~Nic
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As some of you may know, I've been a member of the group for years. Alternating between active (LOUD) and not-so-active (LURKING). I've received alot from this board; many laughs, some outrage, a little arrogance, some humbling, and even some tears.

The tears were more suprising to me. I'm an empathetic person, caring and kind, but with this vast virtual world of the internet, feelings and emotions - especially those which brings tears - are far and few between for me. Ahh, but I've been selfish with DCSG...cherry picking the best information and laughs and using the group when necessary. Not malicious, but somehow unfair to those who put so much time and effort to keep this group what is has been and allowing it to grow to where it is.

During this past year, I've been almost riveted in my seat reading Nicole's blog about breast cancer and her journey. Frozen sometimes. She once asked us to share how her blog and experience might have affected us and I literally froze. Me!? I couldn't get it out. I didn't even know what I was trying to get out. It felt scary and ugly and made me emotional and I didn't understand why. I felt that the blog was so personal and I was sneaking and reading someone's diary when I shouldn't. I didn't want to hear about her pain, but I couldn't stop reading. I wondered why I read about the boyfriend one day and then thereafter I didn't and I was scared to ask - but I wanted to know. I constantly looked down at my (not so big) breasts and realized that I never gave them much thought - not really any consideration. My breast are moderate in size - big enough to have cleavage - small and high enough to go braless. I thought them cute and functional.

Just being 37, I didn't have a requirement to get an annual mammogram. I'd had a fibroid adenoma when I was in high school, so I half-heartedly performed self-exams and went for my yearly pap/exam checkups so I never bothered. I'll wait til I'm 40 I said.

So a little over a month ago, I found a lump during one of my shower self-exams. And I kept feeling and feeling and pressing it to make sure that I wasn't freaking myself out in some way. And there it was - pretty large and defined and just....there. I asked my husband to come take a feel and he said he felt it too. And I lost it. I don't know why but I FREAKED OUT. I remember telling myself if only I'd call Nicole or sent her that damn purse she wanted or bought her that Kindle like I wanted to or simply responded to her request on how this affected us. I remembered feeling sad - not pity - but just a great sadness for her but mostly and selfishly just scared for me.

I scheduled my doctor's visit and when I arrived I told myself over and over not to cry. But as soon as I saw my doctor's face I just burst in tears. She was a little taken aback to say the least, LOL, but when she realized why I was there, she moved quickly to sooth me and proceeded with her examination. And that's when she told me that I was going to have to have a mammogram because there was definitely SOMETHING there. So I scheduled my appointment for a week and a half later (May 11). During this time, all I kept thinking about was this SOMETHING. I would find myself absently rubbing on it while watching tv or in my office. I would read everything that I could about lumps and bumps and borrowed The Breast Book from a friend of mine.

And then I went back and read Nicole's blog from the beginning. And I laughed and cried and cried some more and laughed again and smiled and then cried some more.

I went in for my mammogram this Monday. My husband came but wasn't allowed "in the back" as it's for ladies' only. When I went back and undressed and sat waiting in my gown, I looked around at all the other girls/women there and wondered - is she like me wondering? Is she a survivor? Is this just her check up? I didn't know so I didn't speak to anyone for fear that I would upset someone. So I sat quietly and then thought of all the times that Nicole has gone through this and all the sitting and waiting and wondering and pondering and I think that's when it hit me.

I didn't realize why I was so scared and quiet through Nicole's experience. But the only way that I know how to say this is to just say it. When faced with someone else's mortality you are often faced with your own. And I just wasn't ready. I don't know if some of us are moreso then others - I don't know if it's because of guilt or fear of the unknown. It reminds me of people who say that they wouldn't want one of those virtual body scans because they really wouldn't want to know if something was "wrong". If someone could tell you when "the end" was going to be for you - would you really want to know? Well I didn't and I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to think of leaving my son alone with no family (outside of my husband who is not his father) or just not being. I wasn't prepared to face that. And I don't think I'm strong; Nicole often said that she didn't think she was or that maybe that phrase was annoying in some way, but I have to disagree. Strong is the spirit within you that makes you stand up and face the world and everything that it brings you. Nicole has been and is strong enough to not only face these issues, but to share them with us?! Do you know the gift that she's given you?

So I had my mammogram. It was uncomfortable. It was not painful. And it was not cancer. It was a cyst - fluid filled and taken care of right there by the radiologist.

And I wanted to share this and to thank you, Nicole, because I don't know if I would have taken it seriously or gone to the doctor or had a mammogram or checking myself each month if it wasn't for you and what you've shared. I don't know if I would have made that living will in November or told my mother how much she really meant to me if it wasn't for you encouraging us and reminding us of those we love.

So this is my ode to you and to share with you what your gift of story has done for me. I'm so glad that things seem to be turning a corner for the best in your journey. I'm so grateful to you for just being you and sharing yourself and your joy (and sorrows) with me.

Be Blessed!!!!

Div aka Sharon

"nothing left to say"...



Wayman Tisdale died today. He was 44 and had bone cancer. He was a former NBA star and a world-known jazz artist. And though I have never crossed paths with him in my life... my heart is heavy with ache for his family. I was going to share a link of a video of him from last September. He had just had his leg amputated and was on the video talking about how good he felt and how much more life he was looking forward to living.

And now... just a few months later, he's gone. Now, Wayman lived a life that many folks dream of. He lived large... just making it to the NBA is huge. But to make it to the NBA and then have a follow-up career as a jazz musician...wow. That's like hitting the lottery twice.

Today has been a day of cancer-reflection and thought. As I mentioned, I have two events this weekend where I will be discussing my breast cancer journey. And, to my surprise, I read a very touching email message this morning that detailed a sister's brief journey after discovering a lump in her breast. (if she gives me permission, I'll post it here) She credited me and my blog with helping her to take the lump seriously and checking it out quickly. Thankfully her lump wasn't cancerous - and that's usually the case - but I was most thankful that she even thought to check it out.

I titled today's entry "nothing left to say" for a couple of reasons. One, this song is one of my favorite songs at the moment. Two, sometimes there really isn't anything left to say in a particular situation. And three... often times we don't expect there to be an ending to what we have in our lives. But, there is always an ending. What's important is how we prepare for the end and how we decide to let things go.

The song is about a break-up and he details how they talked and heard each other but failed to communicate. How the things that he loved about her were the things that ultimately pushed him away. And that made me think of myself and how I'm embracing the changes that breast cancer has forced me to make. Like, no longer procrastinating about doing those things that bring me joy. Making sure to keep myself surrounded by people who love and support me and keeping those people who drain me or upset me at arm's length. Realizing that life is short but while I'm here, I deserve to enjoy every moment. I'm tired of feeling like "I can't afford it" or "I'm not ready for that". Dying at 44, I'm sure wasn't on Wayman's list of "things I can do". But, everything that I've ever read about the man tells me that he had an amazing life full of things he really wanted to do. He leaves behind a wife and 4 kids and millions of fans.

There's nothing left to say...

May 14, 2009

i'm back from miami...

My birthday celebration was extended to a mini-vacation in South Beach. I planned this trip for months. And it was absolutely fantastic.

Initially, I had wanted to spend the weekend away with my boyfriend. But months ago (well prior to our break-up) I knew that he didn't want to go. So, I didn't press him about it. And seeing how things ended up, I'm glad that I didn't. The weekend then became a "girls" weekend which was just as good to me. I was going to make my way to the beach, no matter what. I felt that I totally deserved this vacation.

I can admit now... that I was terrified of travelling alone. I was worried about the possibility that something might happen while I was in Florida, or en route and there would be no one who knew me or my history to help the situation. I'm happy to report that nothing happened. Nothing out of the ordinary anyway. My first day in South Beach I think I pushed myself a little too hard trying to hang out and I ended up really tired on Friday. It was fine though because I rested in the hotel room for awhile and by the time my girlfriend arrived Friday afternoon... I had gathered enough energy to hang out for awhile.

The trip was a good exercise for me in reasserting some independence and returning to a more normal "me". Going on vacation after cancer treatment seems to be quite normal. And though I'm not done yet with my treatment, the break was really helpful in clearing my mind and allowing myself a chance to just relax and feel free. I hope to make a few more short trips this summer and then plan for a really long trip - maybe to Africa - after my reconstruction surgery(ies) are completed next year.

Preparing for the trip was a true headache. From trying to find swimsuits that work, to buying products to protect my skin, on down to making sure that I had outfits that worked for the weekend. Utter madness and extreme frustration. A couple of things I know now... this cancer thing will manage to do what nothing else has done for me -- strip me of my ego and my conceit completely.

I will try to explain. I love the water. I love to swim and it is my dream to own a boat one day. I absolutely love the water. The radiation oncologist and her nurse told me weeks ago that I would be able to get into the ocean with no problems. But they also told me to steer clear of swimming pools. At the time, I didn't think that it would be a problem because I wasn't travelling all the way to Miami just to swim in a pool. (laughs) However, it did present a challenge for me because the pool was simply closer than the ocean. For a babe that was extremely tired on Friday... it took a lot of strength for me not to get into the pool -- even for a moment. But when I did dip into the ocean on Saturday, it was totally worth it. The water was so wonderful that I was glad that I didn't risk any infections by getting into the pool. Even if I was saddened that I lost a day of beach-time.

I say that cancer will strip me of my conceit because I find myself doing things that I HAVE to do -- even if I don't want to, and wish I didn't have to. Because I did not sew in the pockets into my swimsuit like I should have -- I honestly forgot to do it -- I found myself in South Beach with a wicked choice. Wear my bathing suits without my prosthesis and appear to the world completely lopsided... Or, wear my totally unattractive mastectomy bra which holds my prosthesis underneath my swimsuit (which meant that it would show to the world). Neither option was very "fashion forward". But the bra option was a bit more palatable. So, that's what I did. Keeping in mind that South Beach is top-optional... I was feeling very unsexy.

In all honesty, it was ugly. (sigh) But on the other hand... I didn't look like a lopsided freak to strangers on the beach. I was just the crazy lady with a bra showing under her bathing suit. (smile) Tacky maybe but not a freakshow.

Those were my options. :)

I managed to put it out of my mind that I was a tack-head and just embrace the beauty of the beige sand and beautiful, clear, turquoise water... and I stayed in the water as long as I could. It was nice. Nice enough that I know that I want to be at another beach (or the same one, I'm not picky) within the next month. Not sure how to make it happen, but I know that I need it. And then another beach the month after that... and another the month after that. Until, its too cold for the beach and time for my surgery.



I had my herceptin treatment today. Chemo day is never fun but today wasn't a bad day at all. I am tanned (even using 70 sunscreen, I managed to get good color) and I'm still relaxed from the beach. Though, I seem to have picked up a cold while at the hospital today and I'm a congested mess right now. (I am watching myself diligently for any symptoms of swine flu... sigh) And today, my oncologist finally gave me the ultimate approval to return to work. Its been a bit of a shifting target for the past few months but I got actual dates and instructions today. Whew. Today also was the first day that none of the staff asked about my ex. They talked to me, about me, and about my trip and my birthday. It felt good.

I'm still struggling with the break-up. Still questioning a lot of things and wondering where to go from here. I read today, an article about a book written by a breast cancer survivor. The book is a memoir about her life -- dating while dealing with breast cancer.

(shaking my head)

Now to me, THAT is incredibly strong. She was widowed a few years before her diagnosis but just as she was getting ready to get back into dating, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a young woman in her 20's so she felt that getting married again was something she really wanted to do. So, she dated through her cancer treatment. Long story short, 6 years later, she's married and happy. So... I suppose that it is possible to meet someone who won't run for the hills at the mention of the c-word. I find that so hard to believe right now.

I'm not ready to date but at the same time, I know that if I don't at least entertain the option then I am determining that I will never get married. Ever. I can't do that. I do not want to spend the rest of my life single. Single isn't bad but its just not what I wanted for myself forever. But with cancer, so many things have changed and it feels like giving up on some dreams may be for the best if I don't want to burden others with my illness. I don't know.

I haven't decided whether to buy the book or not because I'm not sure that I want to read about that particular journey. But I may change my mind once I'm feeling more comfortable in my skin.

During the trip, there were a couple of moments when I felt less like the cancer-girl and more like a regular girl. They were fleeting moments but they did happen. I'm hopeful that as time goes on, they will become longer and stronger. Much like me. I am still working on getting comfortable with my body the way it is right now. And getting comfortable with risking losing someone as a potential partner when they learn that I have breast cancer. (that's just so scary to me) Ultimately, I'll have to learn to trust myself, and to trust that not every guy will run and hide from this.

I feel like I'm playing brothers short by not believing that there is at least one guy out there for me, the way that I am right now. But I am working on it. My guess is that it will simply take time before I feel worthy again of being loved and loving someone in return. Time isn't my best friend these days. I think of my mortality and my fragility everyday.

I'm still weighing the options about my reconstruction surgery -- whether to remove my unaffected breast in hopes of further reducing my chances of the cancer returning. I'm still searching for another plastic surgeon -- to get an alternate opinion and maybe find someone I have a better rapport with than the doctor I met with back in December. And I'm still pondering the issue of having kids. Do I try to get started on fertility treatments as soon as I get the greenlight from the doctor? Or do I start gathering research on adoption options?

I don't know. Maybe one day I will know, but until then I will continue to pray. :)

Have a great day... give a loved one (or a dear friend) a hug today. It will make you both feel better.

I promise.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

May 4, 2009

celebrating life...



My birthday brunch/lunch ended up being more of an early dinner. (laughs) Only one person was at the restaurant on time and it wasn't me. My party came in slowly over the course of about 1.5 hours. It was crazy... but funny. We ended up converging on the bar area for while because the restaurant would not seat us until a large portion of the group had arrived. Utter madness.

I'm not much of a stickler about time normally... but I was even more laid back about it than even I would have believed I could be. Though it wasn't expected, it was kind of cool that everyone was late because it gave me an opportunity to speak to each person individually, to hug and kiss them... and to just be with them for a moment. I'm not sure that I would have been able to do that if everyone was on time.

We laughed, had great conversation, took pictures, LAUGHED some more and generally created a jovial ruckus at the restaurant. We had a great time. I ended up wearing a pantsuit because I couldn't find a dress I liked. The suit was nice and it was comfortable but the shoes I picked - while cute were wrong, wrong... wrong. Could not walk in those bad boys. Lost my balance twice before I took them off and put them in my purse. (laughs)

I realize that everyone isn't like me... but I absolutely love celebrating my birthday every year in a nice way. This year was really great. The people who came were all people who mean a lot to me, people that by being fully and authentically themselves have taught me to be the same. Folks who are so good to me with the gift of their friendship, love and guidance that they make me want to be the best me I can be. There were people who were missing but I firmly believe that we are all where we're supposed to be no matter where we are. My birthday was supposed to be celebrated when it was, how it was and with that exact group of people.

The beauty of the celebration was the absolute joy of being in the presence of so much love. It didn't hurt that my friends are outspoken and easy to get along with. That took pressure off me to try to engage everyone with conversation. I didn't have to do a thing but look around me and enjoy the blessings of great friendships. I was very much in the moment and not stressing about my illness.

Lately my sleep has been fitful and short. But more than that, I've been having really vivid dreams -- not quite nightmares but about as close as you can get. Some of the dreams have led me to think long and hard about my own death, and also my own funeral and what that might be like. Morbid, I know but I'm being honest. I'm in no hurry for death to happen but I have been thinking about it lately. Seeing my friends together for a happy occasion was beautiful and it soothed my heart immensely.

Hey... we're all going to die one day. It will probably not be when we want, or where we want or even how we want. But, since I know that the day will come I want to make the most of the days I do have. Days like Saturday push that positive urge forward.

I have moments when I feel compelled to tell people - total strangers - that I'm fighting breast cancer. I can't explain it. I don't know if I want their understanding or pity... or if I just think that they care or need to know. But the urge is always just under my skin, just on the tip of my tongue. However on Saturday, surrounded by people who love me and know my story... it was a non-issue. The release of that burden was worth every minute I stressed about getting together, the time we spent waiting to be seated... and my trying to eat too-spicy food. It was WORTH IT, to not be solely present in my "I-have-breast-cancer-fear" for a few hours.

On reflection, I can't tell you what I did exactly. Maybe it was just being out. Or trying to walk in 5 inch heels. Or possibly the non-stop laughter for hours and hours... but whatever it was that I did... I was absolutely sore and totally worn out on Sunday. But it was a good fatigue and ache.

I tried to keep the event small because I did not want to overextend myself. Considering how tired I was on Sunday, I made a good choice. But, I will have to make more efforts to see all of my friends and family this year. It truly did my heart good to spend quality time celebrating life.

I am alive. Life will not always be what you want it to be. And you can expect a curveball to come your way when you're least prepared for it. But even with that, I know now that I am okay.

May 1, 2009

Link for the Race for the Cure Donations


http://globalrace.info-komen.org/site/TR/GlobalRaceForTheCure/GlobalRace?team_id=94600&pg=team&fr_id=1140 Race for the Cure

The link didn't show up in the previous post and I wanted to ensure that if you wanted to donate, you could do so.

A 5k isn't very long. Its just about 3 miles. But while that seemed like a short stretch of road a few months ago, today... its a real challenge to consider walking that far. But I plan to be there, with my pink shirt and my sneakers... ready to tackle the challenge.

I hope that I can count on your help too. If not for me -- just pick any one of the millions of women and men who are living with breast cancer now. Or consider the approximately 250,000 new diagnoses that will happen this year alone.

And now... imagine all of us CURED FOREVER.

That's why we need your donations. That last image in your mind. A cure.

ITS MY BIRTHDAY!!


Hot damn I made it! I'm 40 today... and it feels SO GOOD to be alive.

As usual, I'm awake in the middle of the night because these doggone hot flashes are giving me fits and my sleeping pills make me nauseous.

I spent a portion of yesterday in prayer and reflection. Just thinking about the past 40 years; the good times, the bad times and all that other stuff in the middle.

I'm here. My heart is overflowing right now because... I'm still here.

I'm feeling a lot of things but I'm finding it difficult to articulate them right now. So... I'll just say that I am ever so grateful for every person who helped to get me to this point. Family, friends... medical staff... strangers on twitter. (laughs) All of you.

THANK YOU. (from the bottom of my heart)

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

The Susan G. Komen Foundation will be holding a 5k Race for the Cure in DC on Saturday, June 6th. I've signed up and created a team -- DC Sistagirls. We're going to walk 5 kilometers to raise money and bring more awareness to breast cancer. I'm accepting donations on behalf of the team and myself from now until race day. If you would like to donate, or join the team and walk with us, please click this link to donate or register.

The research for a cure and for better treatments is necessary. The treatment I received is more advanced than the treatment another woman may have received 10 years ago. And hopefully 10 years from now, treatment won't be necessary because we will have a cure. But until then... millions of men and women are counting on us to help them navigate this scary process.

Please help.

Apr 29, 2009

connecting helps my healing...

In 2007, I decided that my closest girlfriends and I needed and deserved a girlfriends getaway weekend. I have three best girlfriends and they are the loves of my life. My life has been changed for the better because of them. Two of them live in Atlanta, one lives here in DC. I rarely see any of them. (laughs) My girl who lives here has a high-profile job that keeps her ultra busy and constantly on the move. We have a relationship that may appear to others as a little strange. We don't talk everyday, we don't see each other too often (maybe once a year and that's a big MAYBE) but the love never changes. As soon as the phone rings (or the email shows up), we connect as though we spoke 10 minutes before. I have a deep and abiding love and trust for these women.

So, when I decided in 2007 that we HAD to make time, just 3 days for each other naturally I had no idea what 2008 would have in store for me. We were still discussing where to go and when to go when I found out that I had cancer. And those plans fell by the wayside as my focus (our focus) shifted to more pressing matters like chemotherapy, and mastectomy surgery and so on.

I have called each of these sisters at different points of this journey to cry, to laugh, to connect... to feel whole again. And each of them without fail, stepped right up and embraced me over the phone or through an email and made sure that I knew just how deeply I was loved. They are the kind of friends that "I" need. They never doubt that I love them. Even during the darkest days, when I couldn't or wouldn't return phone calls -- because my heart was breaking, or I just didn't feel up to -- they kept calling. They kept reaching inside my tiny circle to hold my hand (virtually). They made me laugh and smile -- without even knowing that I may have been crying for hours -- which happened a lot then.

I'm telling you about my loves because like I said... I don't see them often and don't talk to them all the time. So, in the meantime, I've found facebook and twitter. And it has been AMAZING. Nothing could replace these women in my life but today it dawned on me that just connecting with people over facebook and twitter has helped my spirit immensely.

I know that a lot of people in the world are not familiar with twitter and facebook, although just about EVERYBODY in my world is. Celebrities are flocking to twitter because it offers them a direct line to connect with their fans, removing the filter of the paparazzi, the media, and staff. They get to be real people with real people. It has been fantastic. For the past two days, I've been chit-chatting (and eavesdropping on conversations) with people I may never meet in my life. Fantasia, DJ Dnice, Ray J, Toccarra, Plug One (from De La Soul), Shaq, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Idris Elba, Solange, Ice Tea, Spindarella, Gabrielle Union, Estelle, Tyrese, Kelly Rowland... you get the drift. There are more but I can't remember them all. What's funny is that I'm not really that big on celebrity watching, etc. I rarely read celebrity blogs or magazines and I seldom watch celebrity-focused television shows. But chatting (or eavesdropping) on celebrities on twitter has changed my perspective on things.

Why? Because I realized that they are just human beings like me. They have good days and bad, they have likes and dislikes... it just happens that their lives are exposed to many more people because of their professions. I knew that but it hit home for me today when I was twittering with all the folks I follow and who follow me and I realized I was reading and responding to people based upon what they shared about themselves and not who they were. Most of the people I follow and who follow me are strangers. But they are some of the most loving and helpful people I've met online in many years.

Have a problem? Send out a tweet. That tweet gets re-tweeted seconds later. And within a few moments hundreds or maybe thousands of people have been made aware of your question and someone usually responds immediately. It has been incredible to see bread cast upon the twitter waters and bring back whole loaves within moments. Twitter allows you to follow what is happening with other folks so you can see a question/comment go out and the responses flow back in real time. I love it.

Facebook is similar yet different and just as amazing for me. With facebook, I'm connected to people I know or have met along the way. And people I don't want to talk to, I don't have to. Facebook shares more of who you are -- pictures, links, connections to other friends and family members -- so there is more incentive to be protective of your privacy. I've enjoyed facebook immensely because it has allowed me to have brief spurts of spontaneous conversation with people I know or to NOT have those conversations if I don't feel like it.

I'm not much of a phone talker. When I do talk on the phone, I may be on there for hours but I can honestly go for weeks without talking on the phone to anyone. And not feel badly about it. (laughs) I prefer email. Strange but true.

My birthday is in a couple of days and I am celebrating a milestone. My girlfriends have been on my mind because since we didn't have our girlfriend weekend last year, we are meeting in Miami to celebrate my birthday and how far I've come on this cancer journey. I leave next Thursday and will return on Sunday. I cannot wait. Thinking about the upcoming trip, my birthday celebration and just life in general... made me realize that connecting with other people is very important to my spirit and my healing.

There are a lot of people and businesses on both Twitter and Facebook for business/marketing related reasons. And to me, that's fine. It goes with the territory of being in a capitalist society. (which I don't mind at all) But the amazing sense of comraderie and openness to simple communicating is fascinating and heartwarming to me.

When I return to work on Friday I won't be able to play with my friends during the day. I hope that the fact that I will be back among the "living" will offset any loss I feel from that disconnect with my virtual playmates.

All of this to say...

Today I realized that it is important (to my health, my sanity and my emotional balance) for me to connect with others and to share/receive from other people. I may be a loner at times but I require the "touch" of others to make everything seem balanced. Right now, I am focused on HEALING in all ways. Protecting my body and my spirit from toxic things and people. Twitter and facebook -- despite what you may hear or think -- have been helpful tools on this journey of healing discovery.

Thank you for sharing yourselves with me. You are helping me to become whole and healthy again.

Apr 26, 2009

home from the gala... and i miss cleavage and v-neck tops

The cancer gala was very nice. It was also a little boring. Not drastically so. I didn't yawn, or even fidget much. But, it was a bit dry. The food was... eh. Not stupendous but okay. The room was FABULOUS. The event was at the Ritz Carlton and it was well coordinated but it just wasn't "fun".

sigh.

My oncologist (the ever so wonderful Dr. Siegel) was one of the speakers for the evening and it was great seeing him at the podium. I didn't get the opportunity to speak to him -- I didn't feel up to navigating all the tables to find him -- but it was reassuring that he was there. Other than my mother, the only person I recognized in the room was Mayor-for-life Marion Barry. And he was sitting several tables from us as well. Not that I know him to strike up a conversation with him.

Let me go back to the beginning of the evening.

My hot flashes must be triggered by stress because I could barely put my makeup on and get dressed in a timely fashion because I was sweating like an overexerted athlete. There is a special frustration when you take 15 minutes to carefully put on your makeup, only to watch it disintegrate into nothingness because of relentless hot flashes. I had to leave the bathroom several times to go into my bedroom and stand (in my underwear) in front of my fan trying to cool off.

It was not amusing.

My dress, while nice was just a shade more "ordinary"... um conservative?... okay boring... than I would have worn prior to cancer. It was a perfectly fine "little black dress" but it wasn't sexy (not to me) and it wasn't fabulous and I didn't feel sexy or fabulous in it. The extra large rectangle of burned/discolored skin presents real challenges for me to dress around. Adding to the dilemma is the issue that one breast does not make cleavage. And many many outfits are designed to show off very feminine and alluring cleavage.

The dress was a sleeveless black dress with a sheer-ish fabric covering my chest area. The top had just a sprinkle of crystals to give it some shine and a drape in the back to provide just a hint of sexy. It stopped just at my knee, and it had a little "flow" to it at the bottom. It wasn't a bad dress at all... in fact, it would be the perfect "work dinner" dress because it covered everything. It just wasn't the kind of dress you wore with an extra bounce in your step because you KNOW you look amazing.

I didn't look amazing. I didn't feel amazing. And the reason why I cried in the dressing room on Friday was because there were dresses that I really thought were gorgeous but I knew I would be too uncomfortable to wear in my current state.

Tonight was one of the first times in my life that I noticed other women's cleavage and/or dress designs to the degree that I did. Normally, I notice just the dress and sometimes the woman in the dress. Tonight, every woman I saw, I found myself looking at more closely trying to "see" if she also was a breast cancer survivor. I looked for scars, lopsidedness, radiation scars. I couldn't tell. (laughs) And I suppose that it was for the best.

I never longed for cleavage before my mastectomy. With larger breasts, I never had to. I did have to learn to embrace those curves and appreciate the beauty in their very obvious femininity. And I did learn to love my breasts, and my cleavage. I am having a more difficult time than I imagined learning to love my new body. I imagine that after my reconstruction, I will have another learning curve to accepting the new breasts as well.

But tonight, my emotions were in overdrive. I felt like an imposter - pretending to be comfortable in my skin and confident about who I am. When I felt nothing like that at all.

All of this is pretty shallow but not truly so because it affected the way I felt tonight. I didn't feel "pretty". I looked fine but not "Nic-fine"... if that makes any sense at all. When I walked out of the house tonight I simply wasn't feeling fully myself. I felt like a pretender and that feeling dogged my mood all night.

So, I'm sitting with my mom and we only know each other. The other people at our table seemed to be just as uncomfortable as we were and they weren't very chatty or personable either (at first - they warmed up by the end of dinner). We are sitting in a vast ballroom of strangers, unable to mix and mingle because we arrived just at the beginning of dinner. That didn't help. The program was long and rather tedious, I felt "un-sexy" and a bit uncomfortable... and the food wasn't great.

I will say this though, my appreciation for the cancer center increased exponentially tonight. These folks do great work for a lot of people and their hearts are truly into their work. Its a beautiful thing. I am grateful that I had the chance to go to the gala tonight. Normally, a formal event gives me reason to reflect on my life and how lucky I am. But tonight's reflection brought tears to my eyes and a stab of fear into my heart. One of the evening's award recipients was a phenomenal sister who is going through her second bout of cancer. She had breast cancer in 2002 and it returned last year with a vengence. Her smile during her acceptance speech was absolutely electric. By the time she got up to speak, I learned that I was sitting at the table with several friends of hers and her neice and nephew. I was the only cancer patient at my table.

Her family and friends adored her. She received several standing ovations and based on what was shared about her life, I could see why. She was a very accomplished woman and by all accounts, a very warm and generous spirit. She was truly inspirational. And yet, looking at her small frame, and her shiny bald head made me sad in ways that I can't express. Her current reality is my nightmare. For all of her accomplishments, she could not stop cancer from returning to ravage her body. She spoke about how blessed she was to even have cancer, how much she gained because of cancer -- the people she had met, the awards she received and the outpouring of love from the people in her life. I understood her words but I honestly thought to myself that I would give all of it back (in my own life) if it would keep cancer from returning to my body.

By the end of her speech, close to the end of the evening... I was beyond ready to go. I no longer felt like the event was fun and a light-hearted way to spend a Saturday evening. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt afraid and angry. I wanted to go home. Now that I'm home and revisiting how I felt throughout the evening, I'm realizing I had less of a good time than I realized at the time.

I have so much work to do to get back to a level place emotionally. I didn't have a horrible time tonight, not at all. But as I review the evening and try to be honest with myself... my dissatisfaction had a lot to do with how I felt about myself, moreso than how the event itself went.

My next "event" is on Saturday; my birthday brunch. I realize now that I have to do whatever it takes to be sure that I FEEL fabulous, so that I can fully be in the moment and not in my head. It should be better because I will be surrounded by people I love and who love me. Instead of sitting in a vast room of strangers, feeling too timid to speak up, and too bored to have a great time.

My 40th birthday is Friday, May 1st. If you get a chance, send me an email saying "happy birthday". Right now, I'm not planning to go out on Friday. I may go to work, but that's about it. And even that is up in the air. (smile)

Apr 25, 2009

cancer, cancer... everywhere

Last night was like most other nights recently. I had a difficult time falling asleep and endured repeated hot flashes that bathed me in moisture all night long. After the weird effects from the ambien earlier this week, I've resigned myself to just dealing with the drama at night without those pills.

I fell asleep around 5:30 am and awoke to my cellphone alerting me to new emails at 9:00 am. Usually I ignore the phone and just go back to sleep, but this morning something told me that I needed to see what was going on. And I'm really glad that I did.

I had received an email from an e-friend (smile) who shared some bad news about cancer touching her life. Her pain was so raw and although I've never met this sista in person, I wanted to go to her side and just hug her.

Since my diagnosis, I can't get away from cancer. For a long time, I thought that "getting away" was the goal. I wanted to move to a life where I didn't think about cancer anymore. But I'm coming to accept that it won't be possible to get away and even if it were possible, I'm not sure that I should.

Cancer is one of those illnesses that is always portrayed as a big scary monster. Television characters and movies use the word "cancer" as the ultimate threat. The fear of dying from cancer, the fear of living through cancer treatments... and so forth, just hangs out in the air like a blanket. Smothering us at its own will.

Even when you're not living in fear of the disease striking you personally, if it strikes someone close to you or someone that you recognize (like a neighbor or a celebrity)... it just hits a negative chord. Either we have become spoiled because of our track record with irradicating diseases or our ignorance about the disease is driving us mad. Maybe its both.

I'm supposed to be getting dressed right now to go to the cancer gala this evening. But I can't stop thinking about my friend's new family situation and the path ahead for them. I just read another breast cancer survivor's blog about healing after breast cancer. Her perspective was that healing is a process and you really don't start "healing" in a whole body-mind sort of way until after you've gotten through your treatment. I really agree with her.

I want to be able to tell everyone that now that my mastectomy is over, the harshest chemotherapy is past and my radiation treatment has finished... that NOW I'm healed and ready for the world. But the truth is that I cannot foresee the day when I don't have a thought or a tear about cancer. I may look okay and feel better but I know that this battle hasn't been won and it isn't over.

My doctor (the fabulous Dr. Robert Siegel) has been very careful not to say that I'm cured of breast cancer. Even though he is very optimistic about my future and has been very excited about the way that I've handled all of the treatment so far I am longing for the day when I hear that I'm in remission. But I'm wondering whether that word will just then become another label that I'm forced to wear without realizing the full weight of it until its too late.

My advice to my friend was that she allow herself room to grieve and be sad about this news. I am a true believer that we self-impose stress on ourselves trying to be brave and strong all the time. We are strong, but sometimes the best way to show our strength and to use our strength is to be vulnerable. Don't wallow in your weakness but accept those soft spots that we all have as part of the entire package of you.

Getting the diagnosis that you have (or someone you love has) cancer feels like the worst day of your life. And if my story is indication of other stories... you will remember nuances of that day for a very long time. But, I have to tell you, diagnosis is only the beginning. The road is hard and it is long -- if you're fortunate, very long. But you learn about yourself, your ability to love, your ability to be resilient, to be giving, to be... human. Willingly walking into the fire of cancer treatment is no easy decision and there will be many moments of doubt and fear. But you CAN get through this.

I tell myself everyday... usually after I've shed a few tears about something... that this is not THE END.

And to my friend, I am sending up prayers, sending healing thoughts and peace... but mostly I am waiting with open arms and ears for those moments when she will just need to talk/vent/cry/shout/whatever.

I will be here for you on those days. I am here for you now sis. We will all walk through this time together.

~Nicole