Aug 17, 2009

my second visit with the plastic surgeon


Well, I will say this... prayer changes things.

I went for a follow-up consultation with the plastic surgeon this morning. And although we've had some issues in the past -- unfriendly staff, missed appointments, etc. -- today's visit was actually quite pleasant.

As pleasant as could be expected when you're discussing major surgery and all of the risks that go along with it. To start, it seems that I will be having at least 2 more surgeries and two in-office procedures following that. The first of the two surgeries is very serious stuff. But that's the most exciting one because I will emerge with a new fabulous boobie!

The second surgery is less major but still serious... the reduction of my natural breast. Then there are the two procedures where I get a nipple and aereola.

sigh.

It is a lot to absorb. I wish I felt better about just having one breast. It would make the decision to have any of this done, simply moot. But I don't feel great with just one. And though I'm sure no one else in the world cares about it other than me, I care enough to go through some serious stuff to feel whole again.

The thought of all this surgery is frightening and overwhelming. For my reconstruction, I will be in the hospital for about a week. In the intensive care unit for at least 2 days... and that's hoping that nothing goes wrong and I don't have to go back into surgery for any corrections. That is frightening to consider but I will be okay. I know that I will.

What I learned today, that I did not know, was that they cannot do both the reconstruction and the reduction at the same time. That is a bummer. I was counting on coming out of this surgery complete. But once again, not going to happen. So, while my natural breast will remain an H cup, my new boobie will be (prayerfully) a DD cup.

That's a pretty drastic difference. (not as drastic as what I'm looking at now) And even at that size, the plastic surgeon seemed concerned that she could construct a breast that large.

(That large?? Considering that a DD cup is about half the size of my natural breasts, I am dumbfounded)

So, I will become less lopsided with my new boobie. And then after the second surgery I will be more even. I know already that there is no way that they can guarantee me that I will be perfectly even and symmetrical after the surgeries are done. It is still wishful thinking on my part. But I continue to wish and hope and pray for balance (pun intended) to get me through this whole ordeal.

Here is the thing... large breasts run in my family. I am related to lots of wonderful women with FABULOUS BOOBIES of all sizes but I learned to embrace my large breasts because so many women in my family have them. They are not unusual. Its just how some of us are built.

As much as its sometimes difficult for me to fully accept, I do understand that every woman isn't endowed with so much and some women truly wish that they were. I understand that -- I don't fully get it but then again I do. At least, I do now.

Just over a year ago (before any of this began) someone could have stopped me on the street and offered me a free breast reduction and I would have seriously considered it. I thought of my breasts (my fabulous boobies) as somewhat of an inconvenience and a nuisance. A part of me built to satisfy others more than myself. Fast forward a year and now I'm practically begging my surgeon to make me a boobie as large as she possibly can.

You never know what God has in store for you.

It probably sounds silly for me to feel this way about my boobies, but its true. It is difficult for me to picture myself with small breasts. Small-ER breasts, yes. I am coming to a place of understanding with that. But not small. Not A or B cup small. No. I cannot picture that for myself. Not with my body structure.

I mention that because when I discussed the size I wanted with the surgeon today she seemed surprised that I wanted to be as large as a DD. I don't think it initially occurred to her that I consider a DD to be rather... well, middle of the road size-wise. Not too big, not too small. Just juicy enough that I still feel like me but not so big that I still struggle to find lingerie that is both pretty and supportive. Her perspective is different from mine. And I think that it is that difference that I have to really work on.


When I think of how Nicole looks... big boobies aren't the entire picture but they are definitely a part of the landscape. My paternal grandmother was tall like me, and built like me (or rather, I am built like her). She was a beautiful mahogany brown with long, black hair cascading down her back. I didn't get her skin complexion or her hair... but I got her build. On my maternal side, my grandmother was petite but curvy with high cheekbones, thick eyebrows and a curvy shape. I missed the petite part (laughs) but the curves and the eyebrows... Yes!

When I look in the mirror, I see generations in me. I see both sides of my family tree in different body parts. My legs -- from my momma, my height -- from my daddy and so forth.There were two reasons why I hesitated to have a reduction done in the past. One, I was waiting until I had children so that I could breast feed my babies. But the send part was because I felt that these breasts were a part of my heritage, a part of who I am. I did not want to turn my back on that as though I wasn't appreciative of the gifts I had been given.

My mother and I have discussed big boobies, breast reductions and breast feeding for many years. (shrug... its what we do) My mom helped me to come to accept my breasts and learn to enjoy them, appreciate them. I guess now, I want to replace what I was given. When I think of me post-cancer treatments... I still want to resemble the me it took me nearly 40 years to fall in love with. That me had two tigolbitties... two fabulously large boobies and while they didn't define me, they certainly were a part of my distinctive landscape.

But, today's visit with Dr. L reassured me that I will come through all of this okay. I will feel more whole again with my new boobie. My sexy-meter will be off the charts -- what with my new tummy tuck and all.

-----

I have spoken with the plastic surgeon's office and have scheduled my surgery. I will be having my reconstruction done on November 11th. Say a prayer on that day. I would say send flowers but I will be in ICU for a few days and they don't allow flowers. So, save the flowers for about a week and then send them to my house!! (smile)

I know you think I'm joking, but I'm not. :)

Aug 14, 2009

frustration... changes...


I had a moment today at work when I felt like slapping somebody.

Seriously.

Someone asked me something really trivial and I lost it (in my head). In hindsight it was rather innocuous but at the time, it was close to setting me off.

sigh. (keep praying for me)

Honestly... it wasn't a big deal. Even though I felt put out in that moment, I was painfully aware that I was getting riled up over a very pitiful and small issue. But in my mind, that little thing quickly became something else. I felt almost violated, taken advantage of... something. And it really wasn't that serious. Not that you could tell that by the way I felt inside. I am embarassed to even think about it now.

I've been feeling "some kind of way" for a couple of days now. I don't know if its being back at work, the actual job, or something else but I'm not right. I'm close to the edge. I'm not happy. I am too emotional and its not a good thing.

Now that I am aware that my anger is out of balance, I know what to do to get it together. I've got to get back into the practice of regular meditation. Meditation really helped me in the past when I felt out of sorts with my moods.

sigh.

I've been studying this detox program that my friend shared with me and its making me a little crazy. One, its not well-written. Trying to clearly understand all of the directions is frustrating. Two, its going to cost a GRIP to buy all the food items necessary to do it. Maybe that's why I'm a little twisted inside -- I can't afford this. But I cannot afford not to try it either.

Being sick is really ridiculously expensive. My frustration grows every week when I realize that something else I need or want is expensive and I may not be able to afford to do it on an on-going basis. Its really tired.


I have read several things that claim that juicing fresh vegetables and fruit daily and incorporating lots of raw foods into the diet is the way to get your body into a healthier state. And while it makes sense, I realize more and more that food is expensive and I (like many other Americans) am not really in the best position to always afford the best food.

Its a tragic cycle. Poor people eat poor quality food because that is what is plentiful and affordable. But that poor quality food is horrible on the body. Insanity...

I really have to wonder...Is there a conspiracy at work here?

We live in one of the richest countries in the world yet I'm beginning to wonder whether our advancements could be killing us. Most of us live on a diet of genetically modified food, prepackaged products, food that is combined with chemicals to keep it shelf-stable, meat that is filled with hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Is this stuff really killing us slowly?

I don't know. During the past year, more than a few people have come to me with their conspiracy theories about cancer and its treatments. Primarily, the consensus has been that its a grand conspiracy between "big corporate", the government and the medical association... to keep many of us sick in order to make money from the treatment of our illnesses.

I think that's crazy and illogical. But there is something going on here that's not quite right. Just a few weeks ago there was a story in the news about a 10 year old girl with breast cancer. How utterly crazy is that? Something really isn't right... but what exactly are we talking about here? And will it be fixed by drinking beet juice every morning?



Also, I have to contemplate... what is the mind-body connection when it comes to disease? I read an excerpt from a book that asserts that it is our thoughts that contribute to our diseases. And some of these thoughts are passed to us genetically through generations. That what we hold in our minds as true and as possible really does come to pass.

That resonated with me and scared me because as I've said previously, one of my darkest fears for many years was that I would have breast cancer. Now that I'm here, I wonder whether I ate myself here, drank myself here, believed myself here or what.

I often replay (in my mind) a scene from Sex and the City where Samantha remarks that her "horrible" lifestyle is to be blamed for her cancer. I feel that way too. The connection to alcohol consumption, obesity etc. is not to be forgotten.

Which leads me back to where I was. Is this some grand scheme in which female empowerment, women's lib... has only served to leave me cracked and bruised? I truly do not know.

I do know that somehow I will try the detox program. I do know that from this point forward, I will work diligently to guard my thoughts and focus on my health -- rather than wonder about my illness.


All in all... as usual I have a lot on my mind. A lot to digest.

Is it really possible that my embrace of the "American way" -- complete with artificial food and negative thinking -- has led me to suffer from cancer? And... is it true (as the detox program suggests) that the way to wholeness and health isn't through western medicine, chemotherapy and radiation... but simply through eating a more natural diet?

If it really is that simple to cure cancer why hasn't it been done already? Which way is the right way? It seems that once again, no easy answers are out there. But I will continue to read and learn and hopefully grow.

Aug 13, 2009

feeling the burden of perfection

I returned to work full-time yesterday. I received a phone call on Monday evening from my disability services informing me that my oncologist had released me to return to work. I was unaware of that. So, I came into the office yesterday and hung out all day. By the end of the day I was tired, but not so badly that I couldn't make it home okay. And I crashed as soon as I got in the house.

I definitely am stronger now than I was a few weeks ago when I tried to return. But I do sense that it will still be a bit of a struggle to fully transition into work. Like right now, its still morning and I am wishing I was back in bed. Getting up early has never been a favorite thing to do.



I am feeling particularly burdened today. Partly attributable to a book that I'm reading (one of the characters is a little boy dying of leukemia -- ugh cancer strikes again) and partly attributable to the fear that I may not be able to handle all of the responsibilities that I have at work.

My work isn't particularly challenging on an intellectual level, but it does require a level of dexterity in dealing with a variety of personalities, shifting priorities and deadlines... all with a smile. If you know me, you're aware that I do not have a poker-face. Whatever I'm thinking or feeling shows up on my face. I don't "fake" very well. But, like everyone else in the world, sometimes you have to be what someone else needs you to be rather than what you may want to be. I do not have the luxury of not working. I have been really blessed and fortunate that I was able to be out on disability for as long as I was. But reality has struck and my bills are piling up in a serious way. I have to be ready for full-time work because my life requires my full-time pay. (and then some)

Its funny dealing with a major illness in a work environment. I am not the employee who tends to share a lot of personal business at the office. Usually because being the single, childless woman at work gives people the impression that you have no worries in your life. Rather than apologize for my life and my lifestyle, I stopped sharing who I was at work a long time ago. And it has worked for me for many years. But now I am being told that I have to share some sort of explanations about what I may be feeling in order to balance expectations in the office. At the same time, I am told that I should not feel burdened to share too much of my personal medical issues with my colleagues.

Seems like I am in the proverbial hard place. They want to know what they feel they need to know to understand what I'm dealing with (as it affects them) but they don't want to know too many details (I suppose to protect my privacy and probably to ease their minds too). The less you know, the less you're responsible for.

It will be a challenge to balance those two objectives. Tell them a little, but not too much. Try hard to be what they need, but not at the risk of my own health. Stay tuned in to what you need for yourself while balancing what they need at the office. And all so that you can keep getting that paycheck.

Sigh.

...and while I'm sighing... why is our new office right down the block from McDonalds? (laughs)

I was warned that transitioning back into my life could be difficult and emotional. Today I understand that acutely. Not sure who I can talk to about this though but I may need to work through my emotions surrounding this. I am terribly aware that my life is different, that I am different. I feel very burdened that I am not the me I used to be.

As frightening as it all was in the beginning -- going to the hospital every few days for this or that -- the routine of seeing people who were responsible for my care became a real comfort. They are very smart and well-trained people who know what to do to handle my illness. While its new to me, its not new to them. I rested easy because I felt like I was in good hands.

Now that the burden of care is falling back on my own shoulders, I'm afraid. I don't know what I'm doing. I have never cared for anyone with cancer (laughs). I have never had cancer before. I am unsure when I should push myself and when I should give myself a break. There's so much information out there -- I read no less than 5 articles every day about breast cancer -- and it all conflicts with each other. What I read on Monday will probably be refuted in another article two weeks later.

Its overwhelming at times. Its days like this when I am not happy with being single. Today is a day that a good bear hug would make me feel better. But that's not likely to happen. (shrug) So instead, I will bury my nose in this book and get caught up in the adventure of finding the "living blood" that may save the little boy from his blood cancer.

I wish somebody could save me.

Aug 11, 2009

I wanna lick your scar...

"I wanna lick your scar..." Someone said that to me this weekend while I was out and about. It was the first time that I have ever been told something like that and honestly, it made me laugh. In fact, I have been laughing for days about it.

Now, of course there was no way that it was likely to happen. I told him that I was sensitive about that scar but I have to admit, the line itself was just plain funny.

Who says something like that?

You know who does? A man who has no idea what your history is and in the moment that he utters it doesn't care. He's just trying to make a connection. For the first time in many months, it didn't occur to me to correct him or inform him of all my medical issues. I just left the comment where it was. And I laughed.

Some of the joy I experienced this past weekend was being comfortable enough to hang out with little concern about the details of my breast cancer. I did not mope around wondering whether people could tell I had on a prosthesis, what they may have thought about my radiation tan or anything else. I simply did not care. It wasn't my highest priority this weekend.

That means that I'm growing. I'm returning to myself. Life is gaining some normal perspective. Its a beautiful thing. I am blessed. Its not so bad being the "sexy formerly-bald chemo girl" these days.

So... tell me, are scars sexy now? If so, I might need to flip my game around a bit. Who knew that my port scar might become a conversation starter one day? I didn't see that one coming.

...and that's a good thing.

Clifton's perspective on breast cancer


A few weeks ago, I met a guy on twitter whose mother died of breast cancer when he was younger. We chatted briefly and I could tell that the impact on his life was tremendous. He wrote a brief commentary for me about what his mother went through because I was curious to know how he felt about the disease. I was going to edit his commentary but I will post it here entirely as he wrote it.

As much as this disease is personal to me and my journey with it feels very lonely at times... stories like this one remind me just how wide the ripples of breast cancer spread.

It all started in the beginning of 2001 and we all know that year was a memorable one because of the terrorist attack on the United States but for me it was memorable because that is the year my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother 5’9 and 200 pounds was a regular sized African American woman. Moreover, this cancer was a shock to my father who is a surgeon because my mother was not a smoker and she did not drink therefore she didn’t seem like a candidate for any deadly disease. So as I overhear my father on the phone he and my moms doctor talk about the life expectancy of my mother being only a few months. My mother being the soldier she is still took me to school, cooked dinner the whole nine. Still I have to act as if I know nothing of her cancer because that would worry her about my mental state. If you haven’t caught on my mother is a very selfless person and even though that sounds great it actually half bad because that is what killed her. So 3 years pass and my mom is still alive and the doctors believed since she didn’t die the cancer must be in remission. Fast-forwarding to late 2006 around Christmas time my mother had lost tremendous amounts of weight and she became more bed ridden. But with mom being mom she told myself and others stories so that we would not worry for her. An example is that she said “she was on a diet and that she just had headaches so she needed to rest more” but little did we know that the cancer came back. My father set appointments up for my mom to get checked out but she wouldn’t go because she in my mind knew that the cancer had returned but she didn’t want to have a doctor reiterate it. So after my junior year in high school she returns to the hospital because of her gout. When we brought her to the emergency room she had lost large amounts of blood and had to be looked at over night because at that time her blood pressure was out of control. Within 72 hours after blood test the doctor informed my parents that the cancer had grown back. So for the next few months my mom took Chemo Therapy however she left an hour early to pick me up from school or a friend’s house. This is why I state that her selflessness killed her because she spent more time worrying about me then herself. In the end she passed away in Prince Georges Hospital in Cheverly, MD at 3:00 AM July 30 2007. In conclusion, if my mother were to be selfish about her health she would still be alive and when she knew her time was coming she was not afraid of death she was afraid of how my father, sister and myself would manage. So if many of you wonder what goes on in a persons head with cancer normally their thought is how will my family be when I’m not around. Also for those who are nice and selfless like my mother you cant expect to take care of others unless you take care of yourself so please get yourself checked (Especially Black Women). Finally, for teens who have a parent with cancer like me or have someone close to them with a deadly disease just pray because the doctors cant determine when your loved one departs from this earth and if your scared pray some more or try some form of meditation. In addition, get family support and always be positive especially around the sick because believe it or not good vibes can help a sick person heal. Also remember to look on the bright side. When my mom died from cancer I had to learn that my mom was suffering while she was on this earth but all of the torture stopped when she died.
God Bless,
Clifton C. Blair




Please remember that often when a black woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she is more likely to DIE from breast cancer. More frequently than her white sister. Considering how often we are the center of our family's universe... that means that a lot of sisters, brothers, parents, children, neighbors, co-workers, friends, sorority sisters, on-line friends, cousins, etc. will have to go on without you there. So, the exact thing you're working to do (take care of everyone else at your own expense) will end up undone because you won't be here to do it.

Like Clifton said... we have to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to take care of others. It is that simple.

We don't always have to be superwoman. We do have the right to be selfish sometimes. And to press for our voices to be heard. Check your breasts regularly. Heck... make a game out of it and have your partner check 'em for you. (laughs) But know your body. Listen to your body... it will tell you if something is wrong. And if you feel that something isn't quite right, keep repeating it to your doctor until he or she listens and takes proactive action.

Breast cancer is my enemy. I refuse to let it win because I failed to fight back with everything I have. Clifton's message really hit home for me.

Aug 10, 2009

I partied like a rock star... now its time for detox


This past week, the brothers from Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity held their annual conclave event in DC. I have lots of Kappa friends (and a few old boyfriends) so I was very excited to have a chance to connect with old friends and party a bit.

Well... I partied A LOT!! And had a blast. I saw guys I had not seen in 20 years... it was so much fun. I needed that blast of good time (in a bad way). It was wonderful.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend shared a detox program with me. She told me that it helped a friend of hers who also was battling cancer. It is quite detailed and a bit intensive but I do believe that I need to try it -- at least once -- just to see if it benefits me at all.

I initially thought to start the detox program at the beginning of the month. But I chose instead to wait until after the Kappa festivities because I knew that I was going to party and hang out all weekend.

I will post parts of the detox and keep you abreast of the changes that I feel as I go through the program. I've been reading a lot of books on breast cancer and in almost every book (where there is a focus on nutrition) there is a definite strong urging to clean up your eating habits and work on making good clean nutritional choices a component of your treatment plan.

I've been encouraged by a few people to move to a more holistic and natural lifestyle. To remove meat and sugar (and alcohol) from my diet.

** rolling eyes **

Y'all know that is going to be H-A-R-D for me. I love a good steak, some pork and some chicken. I could go for a ribeye from Ruth's Chris RIGHT NOW... (laughs) but... its time to refocus on taking better care of myself and learning to incorporate everything that will make my life better (and longer).

One of the difficult emotional issues I am dealing with constantly is the fact that I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as a woman. I am comfortable in my skin, generally happy with my life and breast cancer is threatening to take that away from me at any moment. Its so frustrating.

At any rate... this train is about to take a different angle. I will have to work slowly with reducing my meat intake and really work hard at reducing my sugar intake. I like desserts a lot, but I will have to do things a different way.

Life is just simply different now. No matter how much I wish it wasn't. To paraphrase Marlo Stanfield from "The Wire"... I want it to be one way, but its the other.

Aug 7, 2009

how a pedicure reminded me that i'm making it over...


Remember that old gospel song..."how I got over"? That's on my mind today because my soul is looking back and wondering how I got over.

I got a pedicure last night. I went to a place I had not been to since before my diagnosis (I swore them off after an episode where I felt cheated). But I have always liked their work and feel that the environment is clean and sanitary, as well as comfortable and calming. It was nice. More than ever, I am particularly picky about the environments where I receive services for my body.

When I sat in the chair, I explained to the technician that when he removed the nail polish currently on my toes, he would notice that my nails were discolored but it was okay. I also explained to him that I was in treatment for cancer and that he needed to be extra careful about clipping and scrubbing my feet. No breaks in the skin because I cannot get any infections. Some nail salons are not diligent about the way that they handle their clients. And some people leave nail salons with nasty infections. That is not acceptable or tolerable for me. I have to guard my safety in every situation now.

He listened and he was very gentle. But when he removed the gaudy design that was on my big toes -- the look of shock on his face (and the lady sitting next to me) was in direct opposition to the smile that slowly grew on mine. They were stunned that my toes were so black. BUT... (praise God)... the discoloration is receding.

It was a beautiful sight to me. True to my oncologist's warnings, the chemotherapy wrecked havoc on my nails, my skin and my hair. My fingernails went black very quickly and started falling off shortly after. You remember those posts about the bleeding nail beds and all that misery? I was told that my toes would do the same. And they did discolor, turned an awful shade of purple and black. But they never fell off. Which I was grateful for because I've lost toenails in the past and it is NOT FUN at all. (and its yucky to look at)

But my pedicure last night gave me an opportunity to be a witness to my own progress. I have only 3 toes that are discolored. At one time it was 9. One of the three is only ever so slightly discolored at the tip. The other two toes have a broader band of the discoloration across them -- but the base of the nail is clear and blemish free.

That soothes my spirit like a cool breeze on a hot day. You just don't know. (smile)

Clear nails are a sign of good health. I have learned that during this journey. I always took my clear nailbeds for granted. I assumed that everyone had them, and wasn't aware that your nails could be anything else. Now I know better. Your nails are a barometer for your health which is why doctors look at your hands when they examine you. To get an idea of what (if any) deficiencies you may have.


My toes are hot pink now... with a multi-colored design on the two that are most discolored. Sooooo... very cute.

But also so very much a blessing.

(crying) It is so wonderful to realize that this journey that has taken such a hard toll on my body and my spirit.... has not taken so much that I cannot bounce back.

My hands look so normal now. My nails are clear and strong. No discoloration, no bleeding, no peeling nails. My eyebrows are thick again, though one is thicker than the other. But they are almost back to normal as well. My hair is growing... its really curly, and sort of cute, but there is hair up there. And its a beautiful thing. My friends are laughing at me now because I have more hair now than I did before cancer because I used to keep my hair cut very low. I plan to let this mop grow as long as it can. I am learning to take very good care of my hair and I'm treating it (and myself) as gently as I can.

Even my skin is rebounding. Its still pretty dry but I make sure to slather my moisturizers and lotions on all the time. My radiation scar is lightening up (not fast enough for my nerves) so I'm still applying my bio-oil every day and my aquaphor and my other cream to the area all the time. I want that big square shadow GONE from my chest, immediately.

The lady sitting next to me last night getting her pedicure felt sorry for me when she heard that I had cancer. She asked me how I was doing and said that it was so sad that I was going through all of that. I agreed that it had been a sad experience... but its a year later ...

AND I'M STILL HERE.

So, its okay. God is good to me. Even though the progress is happening in small increments, sometimes so small that I don't notice, it is happening. It is happening. My body will never be the same, that much is true. But, my body is healing slowly... all the way down to my little toes. And I couldn't be happier about it.

A year from now, you may not be able to tell by looking at me that there ever was an issue with me. I think I'm starting to understand how that sister felt at the Cancer Gala when she expressed how much cancer had given her. This isn't the journey I would have picked for myself, or any of my friends or family. But I cannot ignore the lessons that it is providing me. Love, compassion, empathy, courage, resilience, humility, responsibility, trust and resolve. Just a few of the things that I'm learning so far.

I'm sure there's more to come.

Aug 4, 2009

some days i don't want to share my feelings


Tomorrow is chemo day.

Its been nearly a year since the first time I had my port accessed and my body was flooded with medicine for hours. And while it has gotten easier to deal with this part of my treatment, its still unsettling and nerve-inducing. But, anxiety aside... tomorrow is chemo day. Gotta suck it up and keep it moving.

There are days when I don't want to share my thoughts and feelings about this journey. Dark thoughts and scary dreams still dog my mind. They don't happen everyday, but they happen enough that I continue to have to work at keeping myself upbeat and grateful. Sharing my feelings (especially when they are deeply sad or frustrating) is difficult because this journey is hard and I want it to be easier for the next person. I don't want to frighten anyone -- at least not anymore than our media already does -- about dealing with breast cancer. But the path is what it is and it is not easy. Some days I am deeply sad and very discouraged and that's just the truth of the matter.

Blogging about this experience has changed my life in ways I didn't imagine last August. I have made friends because of this blog. I have had my writings shared all across the internet because of this blog. I have reconnected with family and friends as well. What I haven't done... is become completely accustomed to being so open about all of my emotions.

There have been days when I was too tired of having cancer. Days where I wanted to be done with all of it. I mean, done. I have had days and nights where I cried so much that I wondered how the tears kept flowing.

I watched a repeat episode of Oprah today with Montell Williams. He was discussing his journey with Multiple Sclerosis. His discussion about his depression about the disease really resonated with me. He told a story about how the pain of his illness had driven him to a point where he was sitting on the floor with a gun in his mouth, trying to figure out how to kill himself with the least impact on his family. I totally understood that place.

Now, I have never held a gun anywhere close to my head or my mouth... but I have had days during this past year where I contemplated just being done with all of this. Luckily for me, prayer still works and love prevailed. I am still here. But it is a constant battle. Some days are darker than others, harder than others. And some days it is just a joy to be alive. (by the way, today is not one of those dark days... I just felt like talking about it)

I cannot imagine what it is like to have MS. I cannot imagine what it is like to have a constant pain in my body, everyday for 10 years like Montell Williams. And before last July, I could not imagine what it was like to have cancer and to watch so many dreams fade away or change.

I wrote an article recently for Fight Pink (fight pink website) about my fears with taking tamoxifen. One of my twitter followers (another pink ribbon sister) wrote an entry in her blog about how my fears about tamoxifen reminded her of her fears about not being able to have children (journeying beyond breast cancer) and I've paused to just think about all the women & men whose lives have been altered because of breast cancer.

Dreams deferred... like the Langston Hughes poem asks... what happens to them? Like my pink ribbon sister, I still think (and cry) about the notion of not being able to have children. I really had not given up on that desire before breast cancer but now I find myself fighting to remain optimistic about having my own family. Travelling the world, living abroad, writing a best seller (or two), and getting married are just a few of my dreams that have been deferred because of breast cancer. Not completely denied but definitely thrown a curve ball. Sharing that sadness on this blog is hard. Not because I don't think that anyone will understand. But because I don't really want folks to feel sorry for me.

Its difficult to explain but while I want to remain honest and open about everything that this journey entails, I don't want to encourage pity parties. If someone in your life is dealing with this issue, or if -- God forbid -- you have to deal with this in the future, I want you to be prepared for the emotional war that this illness wrecks. And I want you to be aware that you (or your loved one) WILL get through this. But they can't do it without you. And if its you who is facing this journey, you have to accept the love and help from others. You can't do this alone.

Montell mentioned that he could not get through his illness without the help of his wife. She is there with him, day in and day out helping him to deal with his illness. She is so in tune with him and his pain, that she can see immediately when he's struggling and she steps right in to help him. And she does so in a way that to people looking at him, they cannot tell that she is supporting him in any way. In fact, he said that it looks like he is supporting her because of the way that she fits herself into his side.

I thought that was so awesome and again, I totally understood that feeling. I am getting through this because I am so very loved and supported. My parents, my family and my friends are so wonderful in taking care of me both physically and emotionally that it may appear that I am doing this without their help. The people who read my blog and then send me messages about my posts are truly helping me through this journey.

One of my girlfriends wrote a blog post about breast cancer and the single woman (blackgirlgrown). It was a great post and it clearly addressed my fears and concerns as a single woman dealing with a life-threatening illness. It is damn hard going through this without a husband or a boyfriend. (by the way, in case you couldn't tell -- I miss that man SO MUCH)

However, it isn't impossible to bear this because I do have support. Knowing how much that support has truly helped me through those dark moments of this journey compels me to reach out and help other pink ribbon sisters as much as I can. Now I understand why so many breast cancer survivors reached out to me when I started this journey. You lose a lot with breast cancer but you do gain a lot too. And you realize just how much your support (no matter how minimal it may seem) will matter to the next sister or brother who has to deal with this.

So, I am working through my emotional stuff. And doing it so openly is a true challenge... However, I wouldn't change any part of this blog journey because I know that it is helping and supporting other people on this same path. Whatever you're doing, or did to help someone handle their breast cancer journey... know that you are a blessing.


We're gonna make it... There is no alternative to that decree.

Aug 2, 2009

coming to grips with my two "me's"


I have taken to staring at myself intently every time I go to the bathroom. Since my chemotherapy began last September, I have definitely become more neurotic about studying the changes in my body caused by my treatment. However, even more perturbing is how I find myself unable to keep my eyes on my chest area -- especially when naked -- for too long. I'm uncomfortable with what I call... my two "me's".

I look like two different people split in half and spliced together. I've started to study the differences in the two sides of my chest. Partially so that I can be aware of my body movements and partially so that I can ...well, get over it.

I carry myself differently now, after the surgery than I did prior. I tend to carry my left arm in a more protective position across my body -- I never did that before. The baldness on that side of my chest makes me feel very vulnerable and a little afraid. It is a very visible and constant reminder of everything the last year has been about.

But it also shows me just how different my body looks with smaller breasts. And you know what? Its not horrible. (laughs) Well, let me clarify... I could not go through life with one breast. I know that some survivors do but I definitely could not do that. But I was really freaked out for a long time about how I would look with small(er) breasts and now I don't think it will be bad at all. If nothing else, my clothes should fit better. :)

Beyond that though, I am still searching for some peace with where I am in my treatment schedule. So, I stare. I force myself to take it all in for a few minutes at a time. Whenever I feel myself averting my eyes... I force myself to look at myself in the mirror and just hold it there for awhile. I start by looking at my face, looking at my "new" hair (I still don't know what to do with this mop)...and then I move to my shoulders and finally I rest on my chest. All of this takes about 5 minutes or less. But I know that getting comfortable with my body's image will help me in my relating with others and feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

I need that. I'm definitely coming along with my comfort level in my skin, in my clothes and when relating to others. But I know that I have some work to do.

I am still searching for a surgeon and a physical therapist. The appointment I had the other day with the PT didn't happen. She "forgot" I was there and left the office without seeing me. As you can guess, that left a really bad taste in my mouth and I am not trying to see her again.

I have been very diligent these past few days about massaging my arm, keeping it elevated above my heart and drinking lots of water to keep the fluid in my body moving. And I've definitely noticed a difference. My arm isn't as heavy and seems to be a bit less swollen so I think I'm on the right track. That is a huge relief for me since finding a physical therapist is proving to be a challenge. I will also be trying a massage that is designed for cancer patients as well. I've never had a professional massage in my life so I have no idea what to expect. The biggest problem is scheduling the massage. The school that performs the service only does cancer patients one day a week and I can't schedule it too close to my chemotherapy day. Its been a nightmare but I'm keeping my hopes up that it will work out and I'll get it done, at least once.

One thing I am noticing that I am struggling with is all this scheduling and appointment making. Its TIRESOME. I'm on the phone, on the internet, or en route to or from an appointment all the time. Its like a damn job. Go here, go there, call him, call her... blah blah blah blah. Ugh.

But I suppose the beauty is that I'm alive to even have the concern. All in all... this past year has been heavy. Hard, difficult, annoying, scary, frustrating... all of that. My cancer-versary was last Thursday. July 30th, 2008 was when I learned that I had cancer. I just spent a few moments re-reading those posts from the early days. Man, was I sad and angry. I am less sad -- but I do have my moments -- and I am still VERY VERY angry but I can contain it better. I suppose I am coming into a good groove in dealing with my cancer.

I wanted to do something special for myself to celebrate that its a year later and I'm still here. But it really didn't happen. Pretty much, nothing happened. I didn't order flowers for myself, or chocolate-dipped strawberries. I didn't buy a new dress or a new purse or even a new book. These are all things that I've done over the course of the past year at different points to perk up my spirits but I did none of the above last week.

I did nothing. (shrug) The reasons are various, including... my pockets are flat and my paycheck was short. (shrug) Nothing sprang to mind as something that would really bring a smile to my face. But I am still thinking of ways to celebrate my cancer-versary. If you can think of something nice and relatively inexpensive, let me know. Maybe something will "click" for me and make it feel better to have spent the last year of my life trying to beat cancer.

This week is chemo week (Wednesday) and an appointment to see Dr. S. Haven't seen him in a few weeks, so we get to check in and see how things are going. That means a LONG day at the cancer center on Wednesday. :) Yay, me.

Jul 24, 2009

thinking of travelling for my reconstruction surgery

I had an appointment yesterday to meet with the plastic surgeon I met with in December. Unfortunatly, I arrived late for my appointment (somehow I wrote the time down wrong) and I had to reschedule. I managed to snag an appointment for a week later, but my heart is really making me think that maybe this was a sign for me to really search for a surgeon I feel better about.

Although this particular plastic surgeon comes highly recommended by my oncologist and my first general surgeon... I'm really not digging her. At. All.

It took a few weeks for me to realize that the procedure I had researched on line, and had gone to the initial consultation to discuss, she never offered me. At the time, I didn't pay a lot of attention to the fact that we were discussing the TRAM flap procedure versus the DIEP procedure. But now that I have more time to think and reflect, I realize that I was about to settle for a procedure I don't really want to have.

That makes me a little angry, ya know?

I'll tell you why. Its one thing if I am told that, for medical reasons, I cannot have a particular procedure or medication. I can accept that. My body is unique and everything just won't work for everybody. However, it is a totally different thing to be told (or rather NOT TOLD that there are other options for your care) because the doctor does not have the ability to perform them.

Both procedures take tissue (fat, skin, etc.) from your abdomen area and use that to construct a breast mound. The TRAM flap is an older procedure and it cuts through your muscle in your abdomen. The DIEP procedure does pretty much the same thing, but it doesn't require that the muscle be cut which means that you heal faster and you're less likely to lose core strength (or develop a hernia). However, the DIEP procedure does require a lot more micro-surgery on the blood vessels. There aren't very many doctors in the country who perform this procedure.

I was just watching a video on-line of the DIEP procedure being done (and yes, it was GROSS) but watching it made me realize that no matter what procedure I choose to have, I'm going to go through a really major surgery. If I'm going to put myself in a situation where I'm risking so much, I really need to go for exactly what I want.

I'm starting to realize -- as frightening as learning breast cancer is -- I really could have (and probably should have) slowed down a lot in accepting my treatments & my surgery options. I don't know if they would have been different had I waited a little while and researched a little more. But I do know that I might not feel like second-guessing whether I've done the right things so far. I'm really second-guessing a lot right now. (the mild swelling in my left arm is really making me take notice that I still have a responsibility to myself to make sure that I take an active role in my treatment)

So, the missed appointment on Thursday gave me lots of free time to think about whether or not I really want to have this lady cut on me. I have not had a good experience yet in dealing with her office and I found her less than personable and far from friendly. Not that either of those personality traits reflect on her surgical abilities. But (maybe its me)... I want to LIKE the people who are treating my body. Cancer is invasive enough, do I have to feel further removed from feeling "whole-ness" by dealing with medical staff that I don't like?

At any rate... one of my "pink ribbon sisters" on facebook, recently wrote a blog entry about her most recent surgery experience. She has an implant and had to have it removed/replaced because of an infection or something. She travelled to Louisiana to have the surgery. And as I read that, I had to wonder would I be willing to do the same. In the early days of my diagnosis, I had many people recommend the cancer treatment centers of america to me. (they do have some powerful commercials) But as I looked into it, I immediately dismissed it because the closest center to me is in Philadelphia, PA. I didn't want to travel every week, or every other week to Philly for treatments. Especially not when I knew there were very good hospitals here in the DC metro area that I could go to. But... this surgery presents a real challenge for me.

There is ONE doctor in this area who performs this surgery. And he's at Georgetown University. I have put a call in to his office (today in fact) to try to schedule a consultation -- but I haven't gotten through yet. I will go to the appointment with the cranky lady next week. But I am crossing my fingers (and asking you to do the same) that I can get in with this Georgetown doctor. If not, I will be looking for plastic surgeons around the nation who can perform this procedure.

Travelling for medical care. Hmph. Never thought it would come to this but if this is what it takes for me to get back to feeling whole... I'm going to have to get with it. I have no idea how I'm going to afford this. Guess I need to get on my knees... and quickly.

Video of DIEP breast reconstruction procedure >>>> CLICK HERE

...of course, I just read something that suggests that the DIEP procedure might not be better than the TRAM procedure. Grr....

Why isn't there a blueprint for all of this stuff? Which way do I go?

DIEP Flap info>>>>CLICK HERE

Jul 21, 2009

how breast cancer is affecting my issues with men


I went to dinner with a college girlfriend on Sunday evening. We had not seen each other in years (life gets in the way sometimes). But y'all know the story... cancer changes things. (smile) When she sent me an email the other day asking if I wanted to get together, I made sure that I made it happen. I knew that my cancer was really hard for her. I wanted her to see that I was doing okay. Plus it was good to just catch up and laugh... and an even better excuse to go to this fabulous new restaurant that I'm just in love with.

So, while talking about everything under the sun we started talking about relationships and men. She asked if I thought that having cancer scared men away from me, or if the way that I was handling having cancer scared men away. (We had been discussing how I was trying to handle the bulk of my treatment/doctor visits/etc. by myself)

I told her that I felt that the opposite was true. While I have my concerns with dating, I am realizing slowly that guys seem to be rather understanding of the situation. I have found that when I reveal that I have breast cancer, if the guy was sincerely interested in me his interest stayed the same.

It seems that the one with the problem is Nicole.

Here's the truth: I realized a short time ago that I have real trust issues with men.

Yes, I know that sounds horrible. Its not that I think that all men are bad. I know they aren't. I just feel that sometimes people start things that they are not able to complete, for lots of reasons (usually good ones reasons too). Being disappointed, heart broken and ultimately let down... scares me. I worry that I will be left hanging by someone who "meant" well... but ultimately was not prepared to really go the distance. I will accept that this bothers me because it is a reflection of how I feel about myself. I often feel that I should just stay single, not put my trust in someone else's hands. Just skip the risk of being let down.


The real question though is what sort of life is that? Navigating life alone because I'm afraid of getting my heart broken... seems like a real waste. Its truly not what I want. (shrug)

Here's where breast cancer is showing me things. Life cannot be carried the way I want it to be all the time. No matter how much I try to prepare myself for the unexpected -- life will throw you a curve ball and you simply have to be ready to adjust your stance. There's no getting around it.

Waking up one day and feeling a lump in your breast is a major curve ball. Waking up one day months later, weak from chemotherapy, bald all over and tired like you've run a marathon course... is a major curve ball. And so on. I've learned to navigate these switches in direction -- not easily, but I've managed to do it.

I do not want to live the rest of my life alone. But at the same time, I am absolutely terrified of putting my feelings, emotions and everything else on the line and end up disappointed. Again. I am such a punk. (laughs) But I am truly working on it.

I don't know. Dating was crazy and hard before breast cancer. I thought I had figured out (just before my diagnosis) what my issues were with dating. I thought that I had commitment issues. And I was working on that. But now, I don't think that's totally it. My issue isn't being unable to commit to someone... its believing that someone can and will be willing to commit to me. Today, my issue is compounded by the fact that (God-willing) I will be living with the after-effects of having breast cancer for the rest of my life. There will always be some concern, some fear... some nagging something that will linger around my life and have to be dealt with head-on.

It sucks but its real.

The question that lingers is... if it was hard to accept that someone could stick with me through my craziness, my mood swings, my very "Nicole-ness" before cancer... my goodness, who is that man who will be willing to take on that PLUS millions of doctor visits, unexpected medical bills, fatigue, body changes and so on? This is REAL LIFE STUFF and its serious.

I think that I've been forced to face my own erroneous ways of looking at and appreciating men thanks to my cancer. They aren't all shallow and self-serving all the time. They don't always think "penis-first"... Breast cancer has given me some truly tender moments with various men in my life. From my cousins calling to check on me every week during my chemotherapy days, to my ex-boyfriend literally holding my hand during my early appointments... to my god-brother making sure that I got out of the house every so often just to have some fun. My dad made some oatmeal for me one day months ago because it was one of the few things I could eat and taste. He made it and carried it up to my bedroom so that I didn't have to walk to the kitchen. Don't let me forget the virtual friends I've made through twitter and facebook, who have checked on me regularly, sent me jokes or little notes of encouragement... little things like that.

It has certainly forced me to take a long look at myself and think about things differently. I wonder whether its unrealistic for me to still want someone to love. My heart says no but my head... just hasn't completely caught up yet.


It just dawned on me what the lesson in this (for love) might be for me. Just as I am fragile and beautifully human, men are too. If I can expect a man to see me and still see some beauty, then I should be able to do the same. Rather than expect or demand that "he" be perfect in his love for me, I need to work on accepting the beauty of his very human (sometimes disappointing, most times not) love for me. Rather than try to force his love to my vision -- I'll need to look at the love he gives me and appreciate it for its very uniqueness in my life.

Damn. It took me 40 years and breast cancer to figure that out?

Sheesh.

sigh... Ok. Let's go! Love is out there... let's get with it. :)

Jul 20, 2009

ohmygoodness... constipation? yuck

Sigh.

This post has already embarrassed me and I haven't even written it yet. But I promised myself that I would be honest and open about what I'm going through and this is something that I have to talk about. Its something that the women who will come behind may want to know and be prepared for.

Constipation.

I'm going to try not to be graphic with this one because well... eww... we're talking about "down there". (laughs)

I may have mentioned months back that my treatment makes me constipated. Well, my oncologist told me months ago to be sure to take stool softeners to help with the constipation and to be sure to increase my fiber intake as necessary. Well, I have to admit, I gave up on those stool softeners awhile back. Not that they bothered me or anything but honestly, the constant motion of putting pills in my mouth... all day, every doggone day... has gotten so tired that I try to eliminate taking anything that I don't feel that I can't live without.

For example... my back pain is still here and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Since I can't live on percocet and now that my oncologist has freaked me out about taking tylenol everyday... I rarely take anything for the pain. At least not while I'm at home. If I'm going out, I'll take some aleve or advil and keep it moving. But while I'm at home, I rest with a heating pad on my back. Its corny and it makes me feel like an old woman -- BUT I'm not throwing pills down my throat. (shrug) That's something for me.

So... after the mastectomy, when I was feeling more like myself... I stopped taking the stool softeners. I figured that I didn't need them as much anymore. Don't ask me why I felt that way -- I just did. I mean, I was going okay and I felt okay so... less pills going down my throat. Seemed like a good thing.

MAN! Wrong. A little red on the tissue alerted me that I have hemorrhoids. (yuck)

Ain't nothing like seeing blood in your toilet to shake you up a bit. Luckily google is my friend, so I researched what it most likely meant and acted accordingly. My mother told me that she had hemorrhoids while pregnant and that they aren't that unusual or even painful sometimes. But they do occur and they are easily treated. And google proved her to be right. (laughs)

I have NOT mentioned this to my oncologist yet for a number of reasons. One, I am learning that as much as I love Dr. S, he can be prescription happy. Two, he is an oncologist, a cancer doctor. And that is ALL that he is. Anything outside of the realm of cancer and he's a little ... well, clueless. Not entirely clueless but his answers typically include a little pad and his illegible signature. Three, I do not want to take any more pills than necessary. Seriously. Four, as gross as this is to me, it doesn't seem to be indicative of anything serious at all. After the fiasco about my back (MRI's, x-rays, percocets and finally an offer to recommend me to a back specialist)... I'm good. I am not in pain. And from what I've read and what my mom told me... as long as things are not hanging out (double yuck) I'm okay.

So, you guessed it. I'm back on stool softeners. And I'll be taking some old fashioned sitz baths until I'm on the mend. (laughs) I swear, every day, every week, something else jumps off that makes me feel like I'm leaping into old age. Sitz baths? (sigh) Actually its not that different from what I do to ease my aches after chemo (or a long day). A little epsom salt really is helpful. I usually soak with epsom salts for a couple of days after chemo to sort of help remove some of that "medicine smell" from my body. Epsom salts help to draw out the toxins in your body... and now I know they can also help with healing hemorrhoids. (laughs)

Before any of you get upset or worried about this... its really not horrible. Basically it means that I was slacking on my pimping... and I got a little backed up.

Ha. Bet you never thought you'd learn that about me. Actually, by the time you read this post, I'll probably be over this hurdle. I'm going to delay the publishing of this for a little while -- just so that I don't break out in a deep blush the next time somebody mentions my blog to me.

Lesson for all the kiddies: Eat your fiber and drink lots of water. It really is good for you.

But if you should end up with hemorrhoids or just really constipated... fear not. Its not that serious and you can treat them without a prescription.

Thank God for small favors. :)

Jul 19, 2009

Make tonight beautiful... [A tribute to men who love women with breast cancer]


I'm watching "Waiting to Exhale"... for the millionth time. I read this book YEARS ago when it came out. And I watched the movie when it came out a few years later. I remember thinking then that the story was overly dramatic. And for a woman in her 20's... it was. (laughs)

Now, as I watch it from an older woman's perspective I appreciate so much more of the story. I better understand the nuances of the friendships and the angst that each woman is going through. But... this post isn't totally about Waiting to Exhale... as it is about one small character. A character you never see, never hear from but who just made me pause for a moment of reflection. Breast cancer.

Wesley Snipes plays a character who is married to a woman dying of breast cancer. The last few times I've watched this movie, I've been really drawn to his character and his relationship with his wife. Even though he meets Angela Bassett in a hotel bar and basically begins an emotional relationship with her... he comes off (a little) like a victim in the movie. Because his wife is dying of breast cancer.

He speaks of her with reverence and love. He talks about her struggle, her efforts to be strong for him. He doesn't apologize for her illness or make excuses for loving her. Neither does he make excuses for not wanting to divorce her.

Its admirable and disconcerting.

Life is full of so many gray areas. Watching a man (even a fictitious character) engage with a woman who isn't his wife -- yet not feeling any anger toward him for finding a way to meet his own needs is odd. You're supposed to dislike the man who cheats on his wife. But somehow I can't do that. He's so human, so raw and so very open -- I find it fascinating and enthralling. To know that a man can love a woman that much, that even in her darkest hour he sees some beauty within her is nice.

At one point in the movie, he sends a love letter to Angela Bassett basically talking about his love for his wife. I know, crazy huh? But it works.

I hate that cancer and specifically breast cancer is like the great 'boogey man' in so many stories and movies. It makes it that much harder to cope with having the disease. Breast cancer is like a ghost who is constantly whipping my behind... and I can't swing back, can't really defend myself against the attacks. But I feel the after effects every day.

For a few weeks now I have wanted to write a post about how men love their women through their breast cancer struggles. I can "see" how my father, male friends, male relatives and even my ex-boyfriend struggle to cope with my illness. But I do not really know what goes on in their minds.

I met a guy on-line -- through a friend's suggestion because his mother is a breast cancer survivor and is currently in treatment for ovarian cancer -- who makes me pause often to think about just how hard this disease is on the men in a breast cancer patient's life. I've never met him, probably never will, but there is a reverence that exists in emails to me regarding his mother's journey with cancer that reminds me of my dad and my male friends a little.

Its difficult to explain really. I also met a man (a minister) on twitter whose wife has breast cancer. She just started her chemo and he posts every so often about how she's doing and what she's going through. His posts have that same awe in them that reminds me of Wesley Snipe's character in the movie.

It is hard having breast cancer. It is difficult feeling like I have to throw off my superwoman cape and trust that my medical team is doing all that they can do to ensure that I come out of this struggle as healthy and whole as I can be. But how much more difficult is it for men to watch the women in their lives struggle with something that they can't fix, or take away? Men are conditioned to desire to take care of the women they love -- daughters, wives, sisters, and friends. But in dealing with breast cancer, they can't DO anything, except be there and be faithful to their love and concern for that woman. And I suppose, pray that their support (in whatever way they give it) is enough to help her get through it all.

I am a daddy's girl. (laughs) We look alike and everything. One of these days I want to sit down with my dad and ask him how he feels about me and his sister struggling with breast cancer. Not sure if I'll get the answers that I'm looking for, but I will ask. Because I really want to know.

Wesley Snipes's character talks about how his wife's struggle with breast cancer inspires him. I have had a few of my male friends tell me that I am their "shero" because of my battle with breast cancer. Everytime one of them tells me that, I squirm a little. I don't feel that I'm doing anything heroic. I am simply trying to survive. But I think that I need to learn to embrace that compliment because it is a rare and beautiful thing indeed.

I think that discovering a strength that I didn't know I had, in the midst of being the frailest I've ever been as an adult is a beautiful thing. I hope that this beauty continues to inspire men to love the women they know (and those they don't know) who are dealing with this illness.

That's all I can really hope for.