mailchimp

Feb 19, 2010

Wearing the mask...

My survivor story was published today on Voices of Survivors. "My Voice" by Nicole McLean

It is an interesting story. I just re-read it and even though I wrote it, the rawness of it still surprised me a bit. Even if you're not a breast cancer survivor, I hope that you can relate to my issue of wearing the mask to hide your true feelings in life.

At any rate... thank you so much for supporting me on this journey. It keeps me going and gives me more strength than you can ever imagine.

~Nic

PS. The other day I participated in a panel presentation for Blogalicious DC (Blogalicious). The event was "Creating our Conversations" and I had an absolute ball. This blogging stuff TOTALLY ROCKS! The blogosphere is amazing. I have never felt so intune and joyous in a community that I didn't create. Its fabulous. But... I wanted to share a story that one of the bloggers in the audience (my confession: Her blog is my blog's shero) wrote about the event. http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/niteside/Nicole-McLean-Blogs.html

Also, there is a video recap of the event here: Blogalicious DC Meetup

It has been a very good week for a sassy, sexy (sometimes weepy) breast cancer survivor and her Fabulous Boobies. :)

Feb 17, 2010

inching towards 100

I was asked to contribute a survivor story to a website dedicated to cancer survivors. http://voicesofsurvivors.org/  I can't remember how I connected with Lynn, the guy who started the site and the correlating non-profit -- but I think it was through some other breast cancer survivors on facebook. I have to say, social media is proving to be a fascinating and very helpful way to connect with other survivors and supporters. It is amazing.

I digress. Lynn asked me to contribute a story for the the site focused on what being a survivor means to me. Normally, I write with little planning. I write my blog based on how I'm feeling on a particular day or based upon something I've found in my internet travels. I accepted the opportunity not realizing that it would be particularly difficult to articulate what it means to me to be a breast cancer survivor.

I've been in particularly low spirits lately about my cancer journey and each time I tried to construct an article, it became a dirge of woe and tears. I know that it is just my mood at the moment and not entirely how I feel, so I waited until I was in a better place to write about being a survivor. I have to say, what I came up with surprised me.

I wrote about "wearing the mask" of being a confident and strong breast cancer survivor. We all wear masks in our lives to get along with others, to fit in, and to just keep things moving in a forward direction. What the mask represents, reflects and hides differs from person to person. I have had a lot of people ask me how I've gotten through this with grace, or how does it feel to be an inspiration to others. (laughs) All of that... that grace, that inspiration, that courage... that's the mask.


Writing for "Voices of Survivors" helps me to inch ever closer to my goal of submitting 100 posts/articles this year. I've declared 2010 my year of being like Lil' Wayne. (laughs) One random day I found myself watching one of those shows on a music channel (can't remember whether it was MTV or VH1) about celebrities. Lil Wayne was the subject and for some reason I was drawn into it. I think it was because I don't really know much about him or his music. I could probably name two of his songs, so I wouldn't be considered a fan, but the show about him was very interesting. I was stopped in my tracks when they explained that his popularity shot up after he appeared on 100 different song collaborations in one year.

That is BANANAS. His work ethic is crazy -- in a good way. And while I am not one of his biggest fans, I admire his tenacity and his drive and decided that if it was good enough for Weezy, its good enough for Nic. I'm putting my stamp everywhere I can this year... already I have contributed to a few blogs, and offered background information for a local playwright who is working on a play about breast cancer. Later today, I will be participating in a blogging forum for women of color... and more things will be coming.

Feb 15, 2010

Will he hold your purse?

I've never reposted an article from another website... but this one just struck such a chord with me... that I had to. And since I'm still feeling the love from Valentine's day... its appropriate.  Here's to all the men who hold the hands (and the purses) of the women who fight breast cancer.

All my single ladies... find a guy like this. :) 

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


Will he hold your purse?

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2009/10/04/will_he_hold_your_purse/


As a breast cancer doctor, I’ve learned how to spot a devoted husband -- a skill I try to share with my single and searching girlfriends.

By Robin Schoenthaler
October 4, 2009


“Everything I know about marriage I learned in my cancer clinic.” I’ve been known to say this to my friends, maybe more than once, maybe even causing some of them to grind their teeth and grumble about Robin and Her Infernal Life Lessons.

I can’t help myself. I’ve worked as a breast cancer doctor for 20 years, I’ve watched thousands of couples cope with every conceivable (and sometimes unimaginable) kind of crisis, and I’ve seen all kinds of marriages, including those that rise like a beacon out of the scorched-earth terror that is a cancer clinic.

It’s a privilege to witness these couples, but the downside is I find myself muttering under my breath when my single female friends show me their ads for online dating. “Must like long walks on beach at sunset, cats,” they write, or “French food, kayaking, travel.” Or a perennial favorite: “Looking for fishing buddy; must be good with bait.” These ads make me want to climb onto my cancer doctor soapbox and proclaim, “Finding friends with fine fishing poles may be great in the short term. But what you really want to look for is somebody who will hold your purse in the cancer clinic.”

It’s one of the biggest take-home lessons from my years as an oncologist: When you’re a single woman picturing the guy of your dreams, what matters a heck of lot more than how he handles a kayak is how he handles things when you’re sick. And one shining example of this is how a guy deals with your purse.

I became acquainted with what I’ve come to call great “purse partners” at a cancer clinic in Waltham. Every day these husbands drove their wives in for their radiation treatments, and every day these couples sat side by side in the waiting room, without much fuss and without much chitchat. Each wife, when her name was called, would stand, take a breath, and hand her purse over to her husband. Then she’d disappear into the recesses of the radiation room, leaving behind a stony-faced man holding what was typically a white vinyl pocketbook. On his lap. The guy -- usually retired from the trades, a grandfather a dozen times over, a Sox fan since date of conception -- sat there silently with that purse. He didn’t read, he didn’t talk, he just sat there with the knowledge that 20 feet away technologists were preparing to program an unimaginably complicated X-ray machine and aim it at the mother of his kids.

I’d walk by and catch him staring into space, holding hard onto the pocketbook, his big gnarled knuckles clamped around the clasp, and think, “What a prince.”

I’ve worked at cancer clinics all around Boston since then, and I’ve seen purse partners from every walk of life, every age and stage. Of course, not every great guy accompanies his wife to her oncology appointment every day -- some husbands are home holding down the fort, or out earning a paycheck and paying the health insurance premiums -- but I continue to have a soft spot for the pocketbook guy. Men like him make me want to rewrite dating ads from scratch.

WANTED: A partner for richer or poorer and for better or worse and absolutely, positively in sickness and in health. A partner for fishing and French food and beach walks and kayak trips, but also for phone calls from physicians with biopsy results. A guy who knows that while much of marriage is a 50-50 give-and-take, sometimes it’s more like 80-20, and that’s OK, even when the 80-20 phase goes on and on. A man who truly doesn’t care what somebody’s breast looks like after cancer surgery, or at least will never reveal that he’s given it a moment’s thought. A guy who’s got some comfort level with secretions and knows the value of a cool, damp washcloth. A partner who knows to remove the computer mouse from a woman’s hand when she types phrases like “breast cancer death sentence” in a Google search. And, most of all, a partner who will sit in a cancer clinic waiting room and hold hard onto the purse on his lap.



Robin Schoenthaler is a radiation oncologist at the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology at Emerson Hospital in Concord. Send comments to coupling@globe.com. Story ideas Send yours to coupling@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.







© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Feb 14, 2010

Its Valentine's Day...

I've been surfing the breast cancer boards a lot lately and a recent thread about being single and dealing with the aftermath of breast cancer really touched my spirit.

Today is Valentine's day. And while it isn't a big deal for a lot of people... there are some of us for whom Valentine's Day is the ultimate in excitement and joy. A holiday dedicated to the joy of love, being love and showing love -- fabulous! I don't understand why people don't like or appreciate the opportunity to show love... but eh. Some do and that's their right, I guess... so we're going to go with that. But for the record, that is NOT Nicole. I love Valentine's day. Always have. Used to look forward to those days at school when you made your little mailbox for your desk and then you got a little sappy valentine card from every kid in your class. Even the ones you didn't like. I lived for those moments. I used to drive my mom crazy to make sure I had the best valentine's cards to give away.

I've always been a sucker for love.

I still have the card that my high school boyfriend gave me for Valentine's day when we were dating. (that was a long, LONG time ago!) He was a sweet guy and I haven't looked at that card in many years, but tonight it popped into my mind while I thought about Valentine's day, being alone and dealing with breast cancer.

Breast cancer most often strikes women in their later years. Usually, a woman dealing with breast cancer has been married for some time and has had her children.  She typically has a support system around her.  However, this isn't always the case. We know that breast cancer can affect younger women who may not have reached these milestones in life. It also strikes older women who may have lost their spouse due to death or divorce and whose children are grown and no longer home. These women at both ends of the age spectrum face the daunting task of handling a debilitating disease alone. That in and of itself, is difficult.

Dealing with cancer can be very isolating for the patient/survivor.  You feel that people who have not gone through what you're dealing with may be unable to understand the depth of your emotions and your concerns. So, you may keep your real thoughts to yourself. You don't want to scare people unnecessarily with your "stuff".

When it strikes a woman who doesn't have a spouse or a partner, it can be a particularly lonely burden to deal with. Think about it. You're dealing with life or death issues, you're dealing with the loss of your self-image, you're dealing with the loss of a part of your body that is also a part of your sexuality. You lose who you are and the person you become after your treatment is typically different from the woman you were before. (This doesn't happen for every breast cancer patient/survivor but some of us do struggle with body image issues) Its hard.

After dealing with all of that, some well-intentioned person says to you... "you should be happy to be alive". Or even worse, you may think those words about yourself. Just lucky to be alive.  I know I've said many times that I was just happy to be alive when someone inquired about my health. But the truth of the matter is that while I am happy to be alive... it really isn't a fair thing to say to someone or to feel about yourself.

Too limiting, right? So because I have a chronic illness the best I should hope for is to simply exist? To only survive? Is that what you wish for yourself? I certainly hope not. That can't be all there is to life. That cannot be the reason why you struggle and pray and cry and hold on to the hope that one day all of this will be behind you. More than survival, I want to live. And live WELL. Superbly well in fact. I want to be loved and to love someone in return -- real, deep and fulfilling love. I want that. And from what I've read lately, there are a lot of other people dealing with this illness who have the same fears and concerns and desires that I do.

Its a shame that breast cancer makes you feel like less than a woman sometimes.

Valentine's day is here. I don't have a valentine. That makes me a little sad. But I have hope for the future.  A year ago, I was bald, pale and weak from chemotherapy and mastectomy surgery. I was afraid because I started my radiation treatment in February and I had no idea what to expect. And I was alone. My relationship was crumbling apart and I didn't know what to do to make it better. I tried to be strong and keep a brave face so that the people in my life didn't worry any more than necessary... but I was a crumbling mess last year.

This year, I'm much stronger, much happier... though still alone.  After reading some of the posts that my pink ribbon sisters have shared... I realize that there are a lot of women who will be spending a lonely Valentine's day this year. And while I know that a lot of people don't particularly care of Valentine's day... I think that showing love -- either to yourself, or to someone you know and care about -- is a small gesture that may have immeasurable rewards.

Somewhere there is a woman (or a man) weak from cancer treatment, tired, scared and feeling alone and unlovable. To that person... I say...

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!!  You are beautiful and wonderful and the world is a better place because you're here.  Hold on... it will be better soon enough. I promise.

Feb 12, 2010

Why its important to do your breast self-exams

I write openly about my experience with breast cancer. I do that for a number of reasons. It helps me to breathe easier -- getting it all out as opposed to suffering in silence. It helps my friends and family members to understand what I am going through and allows them to be kept abreast of my treatment without feeling like they are burdening me with questions. And I do it for you. The person out there who reads these compelling mini-stories and sits there wondering... "what if that were me?"

Well... what if it were you sitting at home, thinking about your life and wondering how did this happen to me? What would you do? How would you feel? I know there are no easy answers to these questions. And I don't mean to be rude... but breast cancer is a beast. Sticking your head in the sand, pretending that it couldn't happen to you, won't happen to someone you love... doesn't change the beast's mentality. Cancer is a destroyer. It is an invader that creeps into your body by convincing some cells to outlive their natural lives. Those mutated cells cluster together and form a tumor. That tumor disrupts the functions of your body wherever they form. Cancer can form anywhere... but I am going to focus on breast cancer because that is my journey.

I could post graphic images of women with one or no breasts. I could post images of women who -- because of where they live in the world -- are unable to be treated for breast cancer and who have tumors that have grown so wildly out of control that they are literally coming through their breast tissue. I could show you images of x-rays of breast cancer tumors. But I won't do that. I've posted pictures with other posts but today... I'm just using my words to convey to you that it is important... very, very important that you know your body and examine your own breasts every month.

It takes just a few moments. You can do it when you're in the shower or when you're lying in your bed. Simply take your fingers and rub them across your breasts using a circular motion. You're trying to feel what's in there. It should feel soft and you may feel a few lumps. Don't let that freak you out. Our breasts are made of a variety of tissues that have different functions and feel differently. What you should do if you're just starting this self-exam process is check your breasts at different times of the month. Check them enough that you know what feels normal and what doesn't. Use your fingers like your eyes... to "see" what is going on inside your body.

After you've done this for a few months, you'll know what normal is like for your breasts. Try not to examine your breasts too closely to your menstrual cycle. Our bodies change during our cycle and you may feel things at that time that aren't there at other times in the month. But, at least once, check them then... so you can know what it feels like at that time.

I know that a lot of women, especially young women, don't consider that breast cancer is a possibility. But I am here to tell you that it can happen. Its not likely to happen but the possibility does exist. Know your body and if you are concerned, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Feb 10, 2010

hot flashes while snowed in

 I have been snowed in at my home for the past few days. The mid-atlantic was hit with a blizzard that dumped 2 feet of snow on us. Snow is so beautiful when its falling. But a pain once its on the ground. Right now, we are being hit with our second big snowstorm this year. Might see another 12 inches on top of the 24 or so we already have.

I spend a lot of time at home so it doesn't bother me as much as others to be stuck in the house. However, one thing that is really irking me badly... are these doggone hot flashes.

How is it that there is so much snow and coldness outside and I can't regulate my body temperature so that I can sleep through the night without taking pills? I have flashes during the day but they are nothing like the flashes that come at night. It is so frustrating that its laughable.

This picture of this lady laying down in the snow made me laugh because I feel her. I want to run outside and dive face first into a snowdrift and just cool off. I've never been so hot for so long in my whole life. Its utterly amazing.

Another 4 years of this? Geez... breast cancer is a pain in my behind. (laughs) But once again... I am  happy in the little things like, being here to experience hot flashes in the midst of a snow storm.

Feb 3, 2010

surviving 5 years after breast cancer...

I had a conversation with my auntie the other day. She is also a breast cancer survivor and we were discussing our different ailments and complaints (laughs) when she told me that she had reached her milestone mark. Five years cancer free.

That milestone is one that survivors hold their breath and hope for. The thought is that if you make it five years beyond your diagnosis, you are less likely to face a recuurrence. But, you also have to take into consideration what stage of cancer you were diagnosed with because that has a bearing on the survival rate as well.

All things are relative. If you were diagnosed with stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer... there is a 100% 5 year survival rate. Stage 2 has a 86% 5 year survival rate. Stage 3 (that's me) has a 57% 5 year survival rate and stage 4 has a 20% 5 year survival rate. Even with that understanding, we all know that anything can happen and just because you have breast cancer doesn't mean that you will die because of breast cancer. You could get hit by a bus crossing the street. Or something else equally unfortunate. You could die of embarrassment... (laughs) Who knows?

There are no guarantees, no absolutes. I am grateful that my auntie was diagnosed early, treated promptly and is here to hold my hand while I walk this path behind her. She made it. My other auntie died of breast cancer years ago. So, like I said... there are no guarantees, no absolutes. My oncologist  told me some months ago that I had a 30% chance of breast cancer recurrence. (living with 30) And I'm surprised that I had forgotten that actually until just now. At the time, I felt that I could live with 30. And I guess I can. But I also feel like I need to do whatever I can do to get that number down to like 10% or less.

Deep in my heart... way down deep... I fear that I may struggle with this disease again. And honestly, I don't know what I am going to do if that happens. But I do know that those things that I can control I will work on, and leave all the rest up to God to take care of. One of my breast cancer sheroes is a 16 year survivor. I am trying to see numbers like that.

Feb 2, 2010

Thoughts about breast cancer and finances

The economy is in bad shape. We've been in a recession for quite some time now. Unemployment is high, businesses are struggling, small businesses are closing... and people are filing for bankruptcy. The country has been discussing health care for some time now. President Obama made it an important part of his campaign to address the outrageous health insurance disparities in the country.

Last summer I blogged a bit about how a health crisis can (and does) send many people into dire financial straits and in some cases bankruptcy. (lets-talk-about-cancer-and-money.html)  Its a scary thing. The changes to your lifestyle -- beyond the cost of your medical treatment -- can quickly escalate the line items in your budget. Organic food, natural cosmetics, specialized clothing and treatments that aren't covered or are beyond the scope of your insurance can quickly take an already tight budget over the edge. Since many of us are but a paycheck (or less) away from serious financial disaster, it is time for a reality check.

I have not been the best financial manager of my money in the past. However, after dealing with breast cancer for the past year and a half and realizing that its really up to me (and me alone) to handle everything that is coming my way, I am taking things a lot more seriously. It is really difficult balancing work-life issues with a chronic illness. It is even more challenging to navigate the financial strain that being sick can place on your life.  Even though I am at a crossroad right now between going all out and following my dreams and remaining under the self-imposed pressure of doing the "right" thing... I am clear that the balancing act is possible.

When I was in the hospital for my surgery, I had a very memorable conversation with one of my nurses. She was a breast cancer survivor and a really sweet lady. A single parent of five kids, she worked the late night shift at the hospital. During one of my really down moments, she shared her story with me and helped me to see that despite the concerns that I was having at that moment, I was going to be okay. I told her that I was worried about the choice I had made in procedures and was wondering whether it would have been better to have implants. She had gotten implants and one of her implants was leaking and needed to be replaced. However, because she was the sole source of income for her family, she could not afford to take the time off from work to take care of her implant. She was monitoring it closely but she just was not in a position to stop and have things fixed.

How crazy is it that a health care worker cannot afford to really care for her own health? I thought about her for weeks following my surgery (and she still crosses my mind from time to time) because being sick is about so much more than health insurance to cover the costs of procedures and prescriptions... it is also about reduced money (assuming that you have and are eligible for disability payments), finding the strength (or the assistance) with your household duties while you recuperate and more. This lady probably had decent health insurance but it was the weeks off from work recuperating that were making her put her health on a back burner. Who would take care of her five kids while she lay in bed for weeks recuperating? Who would help her take care of her bills while her income was reduced?

I was, and still am, floored by how much this disease can take from you. How much it can alter your entire life story... in a moment. I don't have an answer to finding the balance between taking care of yourself and respecting your obligations... but I am searching.

In the meantime, I am preparing myself and tightening my belts and figuring out which dreams to follow first. And how I can afford to do so.

Feb 1, 2010

Things I wish I had thought about and planned for before 40

My birthday is coming. Its not for a few months so you have time to prepare your good wishes. But as I've been planning my celebrations (yes, multiple... I LOVE my birthday), I've also been thinking a lot about my life and what's in store for me.

I've always been smart but not necessarily quick. Meaning, repetition is really my friend. I have to hear/see/do something a lot of times before it really sinks in. I would call that slow... (laughs) but, its not really that. I just don't believe everything at first blush. Experience has been my biggest teacher and though I've fallen on my butt more than a few times, I still do dumb things because sometimes I just feel like it. But this post isn't about that. Well, not entirely.

I will be 41 on my next birthday. Shhh.... you won't hear me say that again. If you ask, I'm going to be 28, again. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Oohhh... got off track... okay.

At this point, of course, I can look back and see a lot of life that I've lived and a lot of mistakes I have made. Those are good things. I can also look back and see where I didn't quite do some of the things I probably should have, or didn't pay attention to things that ended up being important. And while I know that hindsight is 20/20... I thought I'd do a little countdown of the

Top Ten Things I wish I had thought about or planned for before I turned 40.


  1. I wish I had really given thought to the fact that fertility is for a limited time. Real basic concept, right? Though I knew this logically, I didn't think about it in a serious way until it was late. The years that I should have been thinking about having kids, I was really trying hard NOT to have kids. No regrets -- and no pictures either. :)
  2. I wish that I had focused more on my desire to be a writer. I LOVE writing. Absolutely, positively... few things bring me more joy than just tapping away on my keyboard or jotting something down in my journal. Unfortunately, my freshman year of college I was DEEPLY DISTURBED by the expected salaries of writers and journalists and chose to focus my skills in other areas. That was a bad move on my part. My soul is the soul of an artist and I absolutely detest working in corporate environments. Follow your joy...
  3. I wish that I had found a way to become more athletic. Weird right? I'm not competitive but I think I would have gained a lot by doing some team sports and also by learning to incorporate physical activity into my life on a regular basis. Though I can't see myself as a credible addition to anyone's sports team, I could have been a lovely dancer. Dancing made me very happy.
  4. I wish that I had really understood how much courage it took for _____ to ask me to marry him. (You know I won't mention any names...) I wasn't ready for what I thought marriage was, but the fact that he considered me is an honor that I think about all the time. I hate that when we ended, I don't think he really knew how much he meant or how much it meant to me that he wanted me to be his wife.
  5. I wish that I knew that I could trust my parents with my secrets. Something happened to me when I was a kid that I never told anyone until I was 35. Holding that secret for all that time changed who I was deep down on the inside. And when it finally came out, it changed everything all over again. Secrets = sickness. Let it go.
  6. I wish that I was comfortable being the pretty one. I was the awkward kid for so long that when I finally emerged as the pretty girl, I couldn't see her. Do you know how many opportunities I passed up because I didn't believe that I looked good enough to even try? Ugh. I AM beautiful.
  7. I wish that I had not flunked out of college. Yes -- I am admitting one of my biggest failures. I flunked out of the University of Maryland because I was overwhelmed, scared and not prepared for that level of work. I am glad that I eventually went back to school (and ended up choosing a different college that was a better fit) but I wish that I had found a way to make it through UMCP.
  8. I wish that I had never messed up my credit when I was in college. WOW... this is a big one. I want to blame my bad financial habits on those predatory credit card companies who used to stage all around the student union. While they played a part in my misery, it wasn't all their fault. Had I had sound understanding of basic budgetary concepts, I probably would not have fallen behind the 8-ball in my 20's. (Note to self: when you're paying credit card bills for meals, clothing and entertainment costs for your trifling boyfriend YEARS after that sucka is gone... you need a new plan) Stay on top of your credit, live beneath your means and save, save, save.
  9. I wish that I truly realized how fragile good health is. One of my favorite lines from my favorite movie (Its a wonderful life) is ... "youth is wasted on the young...". When you're young and healthy, you think that it will always be that way and that it is that way for everyone. Neither is true. Breast cancer has changed my paradigm forever. Stay healthy, eat well, get enough sleep, drink lots of water. And not a lot of alcohol. (laughs) And do your monthly breast self-exams. Its important.
  10. I wish that I stopped making excuses for why I couldn't move overseas, or to another state, or quit a job I hated... or anything that I wanted to do and decided it wasn't the right thing to do. Who cares? Being single and child-free has to have some benefit, right? I should be living in a small house in Africa RIGHT NOW... looking at my passport with stamps and visas from a million places. Instead, my passport is clean and I'm sitting at home. Whatever it is you're hesitating to do... make a plan, and make it happen. Go!
I could go on... but really, there's no reason to. Though I wish I had thought these things through and done things a little different, I am cool with my life. Even the breast cancer portion of the program.

Finally, the training wheels are coming OFF this ride. :)


Jan 30, 2010

giving my martini the side eye... why drinking and breast cancer don't mix


Excuse me. Have we met? My name is Nicole... and I truly enjoy a good alcoholic beverage.

I mean... FOR REAL. Like, I want to be a bartender in my next life... that's how much I enjoy alcohol. (laughs)

I keep trying to ignore everything I've read that links breast cancer to alcohol consumption. Its not working for me. Here's the issue:  a study was released in December that shows an increase in breast cancer recurrence in women who consume more than 3 drinks per week. [alcohol-raises-risk-of-breast-cancer-recurrence]

** side eye **

I can drink three GOOD drinks in one evening... and still want more.

I can drink three GREAT DRINKS several times a week and not feel badly about it.

(sigh)

I like a good drink. It makes me happy. Puts a really good slick smile on my face. Sort of like this one:

You know... happy, giggly, carefree, bubbly. But now it seems that those three drinks might rush my death. Is that unfair or what? Sheesh.

Alcohol increases the amount of estrogen in your body. My cancer was estrogen driven. Adding alcohol to my body is defeating the purpose of the tamoxifen, and putting myself at a higher risk of having my cancer return. Sad, right? One of the great pleasures (for me) of being an adult, is indulging in adult activities... like having an adult beverage whenever I feel like it.

I am a social drinker. I rarely drink at home. It just doesn't have the same joy for me. But when I'm out with friends (or even alone) I definitely enjoy alcoholic beverages. I have to switch gears now and get adjusted to socializing with mocktails.

I'm trying not to be too down about the link between alcohol and breast cancer. I am trying to look at it in a different way. But I have to be honest, this will be one change that will definitely take some serious effort to overcome.

Cheers!

PS. I don't wanna hear nothing if you see me out with a drink in my hand. Nothing. (laughs)

Jan 27, 2010

might as well be elbows... these new breasts of mine


Someone posted this statement in a breast cancer forum I track. It made me laugh out loud although honestly, her post was more angst than humor. But the thought that her newly constructed breasts might as well be elbows just struck me as funny. She was discussing having her nipples done... and it made me laugh. Second time today, I've thought about the nipple reconstruction phase of this "re-build" after my mastectomy.

I suppose for those of you not so intimately involved with the whole mastectomy-reconstruction world... it may be a surprise to learn that nipples don't come with your new breast(s). (laughs) But... alas, they do not. Getting nipples is a wholly separate procedure and pretty detailed from what I understand. I keep giggling about it because my "barbie boob" has started to grow on me. No pun intended.

(you know how Barbie's boobs have no nipples, right? that's what I call my noobie -- new boobie)

I suppose it will seem even more "normal" when it looks less like a doll-part and more like a lady-part. But until then...


I'm starting to feel whole again. My sexy noobie is nothing like my other breast. But in its own way, its soooo very fabulous. I mean... dig it.. its all nice and perky. Reminds me of my young-tender days... when everything was all upright and perky 'round these parts. (laughs) My noobie is so fabulous that it really doesn't NEED a bra, though of course I do wear one. That other side...? whew lawd... we have to strap ol' girl down!
 
Its sort of nice you know. Feeling perky and young again.  And even though I'm not balanced, I'm cool with that. Or rather, I'm better about it.

At the onset of this journey, I really had no idea that it would ultimately be years before I was done with everything and back to whole again. Each step of the way, I've thought "okay, now that's over... I can get back to living again". Only to be hit with another something that needs to be done or considered in the future. I will admit that its tiresome and sort of scary. But at the same time... it is what it is.

One thing I have learned from dealing with all of this is that LIFE KEEPS GOING until it stops. As much as I would like it to be different, there really isn't a pause button. So, no matter what you're going through, dealing with or expecting to come around that corner... life still goes on. Everyday that your eyes open... that's life that needs to be lived.

Don't laugh but this is a difficult concept for me to embrace somedays. I need a break sometimes. A break from having breast cancer. A break from being single. A break from not being a mommy. A break from all these doggone bills. Just a break. But the truth is that... no such thing exists. So, you have to switch up your perspective. Look for the funny, the giggle.... I mean... what if instead of a breast I did have a third elbow jutting out of my chest? (laughs) How crazy would that be?

...and yes, if I had a third elbow jutting out of my chest... I would learn to rock that joint like it was THE sexiest thing ever seen in this world. Yes, I would! I am "that" girl...

I have laughed a lot over the past few days. Silly things, like crazy videos on the internet and crazier blog posts from various bloggers... and each time I've been grateful for the ability to laugh and to cry with joy. I have been stressed a lot lately, worried about what might happen in different situations. But I finally just gave it back to God to handle and decided that no matter what happens, I am blessed in this moment just to be alive. So many of my brothers and sisters with cancer did not make it. While I'm here I feel it is my privilege to be happy about it.

So, even though my noobie isn't exactly what I expected, I love it. I love the fact that I have it. I love the fact that it replaced the breast that was trying to kill me. I love the fact that if I didn't tell you there was a situation under my bra -- you wouldn't know it. I love my noobie... and I'm glad that it isn't an elbow. (laughs)

Some of the places I've found giggles this week:

http://www.ohellnawl.com/

http://youknowyoudeadazzwrong.blogspot.com/

http://missjia.com/

http://www.averagebro.com/2010/01/laugh-break-corey-holcomb.html

If you have some favorite funny sites on the web, please leave a comment with the link. I tell you, laughter is good for the body and the spirit. Keep the giggles coming folks...

Jan 24, 2010

Femininity after breast cancer




Does breast cancer have an affect on the woman's femininity?

I saw a tweet this morning with this question and a link to this page: (does breast cancer affect females femininity?)  And honestly, it annoyed and frustrated me instantly. I know that I complain and moan about not feeling sexy and losing my swagger throughout this process all the time. But seeing that tweet just made me feel like someone was telling me to just give up on the notion of ever feeling sexy in my own skin again.

Its one thing if I have concerns and worries about myself. It is a totally different thing if someone is trying to tell me that they "know" something to be true about who I am. I don't like that very much. You can't know what I don't show you. Breast cancer is a thief. But I refuse to give up anything else because of this disease -- especially something as wonderful and priceless as my femininity.

I read the poster's question and the responses...and it made me sad, mad and motivated. Sad because millions of women live with breast cancer and it is sad to think that there are millions of women out there who may feel disconnected from their feminine spirit. Mad... breast cancer robs you of so much throughout your treatment. You go through emotional swings daily (if not hourly). It negatively affects so many parts of your life. To think that it could steal something that is so intrinsic and beautiful about being a woman is just cruel. And finally... it motivated me to get busy turning the thoughts in my head into tangible efforts that will help someone else dealing with this issue.

I refuse -- hear me -- RE-FUSE to let go of my femininity. That certain thing that separates women from children and females from males is as exciting as the sparkle on a diamond,  and as comforting as a hot toddy on a cold evening. Femininity is a glorious thing. I may not feel it all the time, but trust me... that's a temporary state. I'm all about being wonderfully and totally a girl.

I found a company that creates luxury lingerie for mastectomy patients. They have really put some thought into these items. Very nice, very pretty. That's what I'm talking about. I can still be fine after its all said and done.

Breast cancer, what?? Get outta here. My lovely cannot be restrained. http://www.dimurini.com/


Jan 23, 2010

learning to live a little


 I had a great time today... hanging with one of my besties and just talking. We talked about how we have become complacent in our lives and its time to break that bad habit and get back into the swing of things.

I confessed to her that I feel that I've lost my mojo, lost a bit of my swagger... though I'm on a mission to get it back. I am a reformed party girl. Yes, I admit it. I partied through my 20's and halfway through my 30's too. It was fun and I enjoyed just hanging out and meeting new people. The problem with being the party girl is that eventually you get old. And then you're not the hot girl... but the old chick at the spot. No matter how cute you are... partying isn't a lifetime career/hobby move. Its temporary and fleeting at best.

But its fun!!  And I'm all about having fun. That is what makes dealing with breast cancer rather difficult. Breast cancer is really NOT fun. Not that you can't find shining moments, and happy giggles while you deal with your treatment and its aftermath. But that overall... it is just too mentally consuming to really allow you to relax and float away on life's giggles.

I am struggling with navigating this void after "active" treatment. It is known to be a period where many breast cancer survivors fall into depressive states and feel lost and confused. (hand raised...) I can totally relate to that feeling. Even though I knew this was coming, and I thought I was prepared for it... I am having a hard time dealing with the loss of being in the cancer center regularly, and seeing my medical team all the time.

But the honest truth is that its over. I am done with that part of my breast cancer journey and I have to find new comfort in my new life. I told my girl that I feel that I have sort of collapsed in on myself. I hide behind this computer screen -- mostly hidden away in my bedroom -- and pretend to reach out to the world and interact. The truth is that... its easy here. Its safe here. But... real talk... its also BOR-ING here. The old Nic was a lot of fun. She was a bit of a crack-pot, sometimes flighty as hell... but good for some giggles and whatnot.

This new chick? Man... she's a stick in the mud, for real. Nice girl, to be sure. But scary as h*ll. (laughs) With good reason, I know.

Bottom line, I'm digging deep... pushing myself hard... determined to get back to the sexy girl I know that I can be. So... my new goal is to get out of my comfort zone at least twice a month and do something fun and different.

I will keep you posted on how that all turns out. We're starting with... going out dancing on Friday night. Pray for me!!!


Jan 22, 2010

my faith is keeping me sane


I am a christian woman. My entire life is peppered with great memories of church, vacation bible school, choir, and praise. I am not active in church right now -- haven't been for a number of years -- but I do still love the Lord very much.

I share a lot of myself here but not all... but I wanted to share that my faith, my spirituality, my ability to pray and believe that God wants the best for me is truly a lifeline. God is good and although the economy is shaky and money is funny... I believe that God will see me through all of this.

I pray in spurts. I'm not the one to stop for a few hours and say all the right words that you hear at church. I am a conversationalist with my prayer. I simply talk out loud, or ask a question and wait. Sometimes I close my eyes, other times I don't. Sometimes I'm praying as I'm writing a blog entry. It all depends on how my spirit is feeling.

Not sure why I wanted to share this with you. I've read a lot about how cancer patients should really have a connection to a higher power in order to help them deal with what they are going through. And I've also read about a study that came out last year that said that folks with strong faith were more likely to have to go through intensive treatments. (USA Today, Cancer coping)  While I'm sure that the studies were done correctly and all, I find it hard to believe that faith and prayer do anything but help you get through a diagnosis of cancer (or any difficult circumstance).

Without faith where would I be? If I don't believe that God has the best in mind for me, then I may as well quit now. Some days the burdens and worries get really heavy. Today is one of those days in fact. But I know that when I pray to God, He listens and He helps me to handle all that I've been given. Good and bad.

There is a book that I really want to read, Faith, Hope and Healing: Inspiring Lessons Learned from People Living with Cancer.  Breast cancer has changed me, changed my life, and changed my family in wonderful ways. It is still scary but when things feel dark and I start to worry too much... a prayer always gives me the strength to take another step forward.

Jan 21, 2010

Why I keep on blogging


Lately, I've been wondering a few things about this blog. Where is it going? Will it always be a hobby? Should I consider really making and effort to find ways to earn income from this? Is anybody truly paying attention? And if so, who are they? Am I meeting their needs? Am I meeting my own? Do I still have a relevant voice now that I'm not in active treatment? And finally... if I stopped doing it, then what?

I don't have answers to all those questions. But I have been really thinking about why I continue to blog about breast cancer. I'm done with chemotherapy. I hope to never EVER have to have radiation therapy again. I've lost and regained my breast. And they tell me that there isn't any more cancer in my body. So... why do I keep blogging about breast cancer? Is it healthy for me to keep talking about it? And (very important to me) is this blog keeping me from connecting with cute and available men because they don't want to deal with the "cancer girl"?

why I continue to blog about breast cancer

Because this will always be a part of my life. I can try to stuff it away in the back corners of my mind and pretend it didn't happen. I can acknowledge it once a year for a race for a cure or something. But neither of those options are good for Nicole emotionally. I'm a different kind of girl. I have to express myself or things get all bottled up inside and I start to go a little haywire. Its not a good look, trust me.

I imagine as time goes on and I become farther and farther removed from this time, it may not loom as largely in my heart. But even then, I think I will still blog about and talk about my experience with breast cancer. Awhile back I blogged (/home-from-gala-and-i-miss-cleavage-) that I went to a cancer gala and one of the honorees (a breast cancer patient) said that she had been blessed to have cancer and that she had gained so much from having cancer. At the time, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard anyone say. I have heard similar remarks from other breast cancer survivors and patients since then... and each time I thought that I must be crazy because I can't see cancer as any sort of a blessing.

But thinking about this blog, planning my future with it, realizing how many doors have opened for me and how many more will open for me... because of these words and this experience has led me to believe that in a very twisted way... breast cancer has been a blessing in my life too. Don't misunderstand me, this has been a horrible experience in so many ways. But there have been a lot of shining moments that would not have happened if Fred and Ted and Jim hadn't shown up on film. http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/2008/08/so-theres-more-to-catch-up-on.html

Jan 20, 2010

Just when you start to feel strong... you slide backwards


In talking about myself so much through this blog, I've discovered that my ability to overlook and downplay what I'm really feeling and going through is pretty high. I am amazed at just how frequently I talk myself out of believing what I'm experiencing and feeling.

Example: I fell down maybe a month ago. Never went to the doctor, didn't think it was a big hit to my body. Decided to rest and take it easy and just let my body heal itself. Today, I find myself wondering why its taking me so long to get my "umph" back since the surgery. Now, I've talked myself out of going to the doctor, out of believing that the bruises were the indicators of anything serious, and simply have blamed myself for being clumsy and being a brat for even considering worrying about this. Of all things that I can worry about, this is pretty low. (That's what I have been telling myself) And yes, my friends have been encouraging me to go and get it checked out but I have not been able to do that yet.

How silly is that? I have more doctors than the average person should ever know and yet I am hesitating going to the doctor to be checked out?

Sigh. I bother myself with these silly shenanigans. I tell you, I can't believe how much of a baby I've been about all of this. Why Nicole? What are you worried about really?

And then I spent a little time on the breastcancer.org message boards and remembered -- by reading other women's messages about their experiences with breast cancer treatment -- that I've been through a lot. And no matter how much I try to believe, accept or convince myself that its behind me, that I'm back to normal... I've been through a lot. And the real truth that I've been unwilling to face is that I'm still scared.

Life is difficult and unpredictable. Having breast cancer only highlights that unpredictability. I believe that I'm dealing with an anxiety issue. Now that I know what it is, I can deal with it. But first, I have to actually walk out the door and back into my life.