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Mar 20, 2010

Emotional ups and downs -- but SPRING is coming

This has been an interesting week. Like many other breast cancer survivors... the news of someone else's battle with cancer can send me soaring or can plummet my feelings into the abyss.  Depending upon whether they are triumphantly coming out of treatment with a great prognosis or are facing end of life issues when their cancer has been determined to be terminal.  Even when the news is about a friend of a friend of a friend, I'm still very emotional.

Cancer sucks.

That is what the shirt I'm wearing at this moment says and I wore it on purpose this morning because I learned about two people this week who are terminal with their cancer. It never stops breaking my heart. And it always makes me stop for a moment and just wonder... will that pain happen to the people in my life that I love one day? I don't know. I can't read the future any better than anyone else. I have an appointment with my oncologist next week. I have been looking forward to this appointment for a couple of months but in the past 24 hours, my mood around it has shifted into a little bit of fear.

I think that's how it is with cancer. You don't know when something will come along and remind you just how vulnerable you are... until it hits you. I've been cruising around these past few days and weeks... focusing on the future, trying to find new friends to hang with, trying to reconnect with old friends... not really thinking much about breast cancer. Well, thinking about breast cancer in a different way. My mind has been focused on how to live beyond breast cancer... and now I'm a little shook because in the blink of an eye it can be about how to die with breast cancer.

That's extreme but its possible. Two people tangentially connected to me are facing those issues right now. I'm preparing to go out in a couple of hours to hang with some good friends, eat some great food and have lots of fun. It should be an amazing night. But knowing that I'm going to see Dr. Siegel next week, and knowing that at least two more people will be lost to the world because of breast cancer... really makes me just a smidge afraid.

Life is about how you react to the situations and challenges that you are presented with. My life (at this moment) is about letting the world know that sexy and breast cancer DOES go together... and trying to leave a faint mark on the world that will remain after I'm gone.

Alright! Enough of the sappy stuff. It is a beautiful day in the DC metro area. Spring has SPRUNG... and I plan to twist, and flirt and laugh... all night long.

Smooches! (The Tidal Basin during the blossoming of the cherry trees is my ABSOLUTE-CAN'T-GET-NO-BETTER-I-LOVE-ALL-OF-THIS-TOURISTY-STUFF spot in the world. This is a stock photo, can't wait to get out there next week and take my own pictures)

Mar 17, 2010

Still thinking about sex after breast cancer

Still thinking about sex after breast cancer


Well, I seemed to have stirred the embers with this topic. Though only a few people were brave enough to post a comment directly to my blog, I have received quite a bit of mail on this topic. So, I’m not the only lusty chick out here wondering where did the love go and when will it return? (Laughs) I am happy to hear that.

And for all those luscious guys who have made kind offers of assistance -- (head nod) – yeah, I’m considering that. (Laughs) Expect an email or a text message soon. Soon!

But seriously, this is a touchy topic and it’s slightly embarrassing for me to discuss. I’m not the girl to talk a lot about sex. I become embarrassed and I blush and it just gets real weird/goofy/uncomfortable feeling for me. I suppose that means that I have some latent issues surrounding sexual intimacy that I might need to work on but in the meantime…

The question about sexual intimacy after breast cancer is a real one and I’ll keep diving into the topic until I figure out a resolution. The issue is bigger than me. There are millions of women right now living with the after-math of breast cancer. I’d venture a guess that many (if not most) of them would like to have or resume a healthy sex life at some point.

Once again, reading the breast cancer message boards has prodded me to understanding just how big breast cancer is and how pervasive the fear surrounding it can be. I read a few posts recently that reminded me that it’s not just the fear about sharing your new body with someone; it’s also about navigating different erogenous areas and making shifts and changes to “how” you make love with your new body.

Those of us with newly reconstructed boobies have to cope with the notion that the new boobies don’t have the old boobie’s feeling capabilities. The new boobies may not have nipples and for some of us that is a DRASTIC change from life before breast cancer.

(I am flushed and beet red right now… but I am determined to keep tackling this topic with honesty and openness)

Before breast cancer, my fairly large and luscious boobies were also super-sensitive and contributed to the enjoyment I experienced during intimate moments. Now, I’m down to just one lady in that game and pretty soon, even she will be adjusted and I don’t know how that will affect her ability to contribute to the feathery, tickly-ness that I am used to feeling in my tummy when…  you know, this is too much information for the blog. Suffice it to say, I’m gonna MISS that girl something serious. She definitely played her part well. (Laughs)

Anyway, I was reading another pink ribbon sister’s discussion of a recent evening with friends and how she felt different with her new boobies even though men seemed to react to her the same way they always have. Something she said in her remarks stood out for me because I had not considered it before. She said that her new breasts weren’t sexual to her anymore. She lost that erogenous zone when she lost her nipples.

I had not considered that even with a lumpectomy (which is a partial removal of the affected breast – just the tumor and its margins are removed from the breast) the likelihood that you will lose one erogenous zone still exists.

Wow, talk about unfair. Not only are you trying to balance the way your body looks after treatment and surgeries, but on top of that your erogenous zone ceases to exist? Seriously? Ugh what a nightmare!

I guess I could spin it and decide that now my excitement could be figuring out new erogenous zones – again, this is assuming that I can find a boyfriend and have sex again (laughs). But in all seriousness, these are conversations that I really think should take place in the beginning of your treatment. The compartmentalization of what breast cancer means to your life is not the best way to handle this from a patient’s emotional point of view. This thing is like being in a horrible car accident. One day your life is totally normal and then bam! Into a brick wall and everything is totally different. No warning, no preparation… just oh! Here’s your new life, good as new, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong!

Sigh.

It’s frustrating and annoying to realize that the issues of feminine sexuality, sexual arousal and well, sexual satisfaction are pushed to the back-burner when it comes to treatment. I wonder whether men are treated the same way when it comes to prostate cancer.

We’ve got to find a new way to deal with this. Because d*mmit… I want my sex life back and I want it to be as good as or better than before. Actually, I’m putting my order in for far better than before. Something wonderful has to come from this crazy breast cancer journey, right? Why can’t it be an exquisite sex life? (A girl can dream and hope right?)

I’ve read a bunch of very clinical (read: boring and dry) pamphlets about your sex drive and breast cancer. And they did nothing to provide ideas or suggestions about how to cope with your changing body image, your changed sexual abilities and what sort of head-trip that could send you on. If I am not my hair (thanks India Arie!) then my sex is more than my va-jay-jay and my beauty is more than my skin and my curves (though I like both of those and want them to return to their full glory asap). My breasts weren’t just window dressing on a cute frame. They were an active part of my life and my sensuality.

What I’m saying is that I am a little bit upset. I am happy to be alive. But the life that I seem to have been given isn’t the life that I put in the hands of my medical team in 2008. What they gave me back just isn’t the same and I’m frustrated with searching for ME again. They gave me back a life that says… SURVIVOR. This is fine except I gave them a life that said FREE!

Survivor seems so pared down and almost pale in comparison. I suppose I have to change that. (Ding!) I guess that’s what “My Fabulous Boobies” really is all about. Changing the perception of being a breast cancer survivor.

*singing*

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am not your expectations, no!

Hey!

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am the soul that lives within.


Mar 14, 2010

Is there hope of a sex life after breast cancer?

One of my pink ribbon sisters brought up this topic on twitter the other night and because I was in the midst of a hot flash (of a different kind)... I jumped right in with both feet and said I HOPE SO!

(I'm blaming my outburst on the wine I had been drinking)

It wasn't my intention to tell the twitter world that I wanted to get laid. (laughs) But... I did. And I've been thinking about that ever since my outburst. Its not a crime to want to experience sexual intimacy. Its a natural progression in life. So, I have to ask... why does all of this seem just so doggone hard? I mean, I know part of it has to do with worrying about the big "reveal" prior to the act. But I don't think that's all of it.

Here's the thing: I am a single woman. Before breast cancer, I was vibrant and energetic and enjoyed a full sex life. Well, its almost two years after my diagnosis and while I've been through the hell fighting this disease... I'm getting back to "me". And "me" includes enjoying an active love life.

I want that part of my life back too. (please and thank you!)

Getting to the place where I feel good in my skin has taken some time. I have moments when I'm not really feeling that great or that pretty... but they come fewer and farther between now. I'm so grateful for that. But there's always another challenge and the current challenge is... Will there be a resurrection of my sex life after cancer?

Sigh. I surely hope so.

I have confirmed that men do still find me attractive. I am assured that at least a few of those guys probably would consider having sex with me. However getting from the mental thoughts of... "I would really like to get nekkid with him"... to the actual..."ohmygawd... we're about to do it"... seems to be the equivalent of getting from Maryland to the moon.

And I don't have a rocket in my backyard.

From a clinical perspective, I can reassure my pink ribbon sisters behind me on the path... yes, your sex drive will come back. Depending on where you are in your journey, it may even be higher than you remember. From an emotional perspective, its good to remember that you're still a girl -- and to feel it, way down deep, down there too.

But I'm older and wiser in ways that I wasn't before breast cancer. And between that hesitation in my head and the thought of getting that close to another person and risking rejection... whew. We're back at looking at maps to get to the moon.

I WANT to get sexual again. Just not sure how to do it. Do I just jump right out there, pick a cute boy and roll with it? Literally? Or do I try to slow my hormonal lust down and find a good man to have a long-term and solid relationship with? Do it the "good girl" way?

Shooooooot!! I have NOT been a good girl all my life. Sorry to disappoint some of you. But its true. What I have been is relatively quiet and discrete about my actions. Those who know... KNOW. Those who don't... can only guess. I never confirm nor deny. I just smile and nod and keep it moving.

So, where does that leave me now? I'm a sexy, juicy girl... with a lot of lust in my heart. (Gawsh, I know some folks are probably wondering why I'm going there today) I'm trying not to be too crass but the truth is that I spend a lot of time with myself trying not to explode all over the place.

Hmmm... that didn't come out right. What I mean is...

What I mean is, I want to get back to having a normal sex life. Judging from what I've read about other pink ribbon sisters, establishing a new normal is par for the course and it does get better. Actually, I want an abnormal sex life, honestly. I want more sex than I know what to do with. (laughs) And I want it now.

In the meantime, I'll keep  working on the "good girl" plan. Its safer, I think.

Mar 11, 2010

Hair chronicles: returning to the "old" me

I’ve been stressed out about my hair for the past few months. When it started growing back, I was happy about it. As it continued to grow, I was still sort of thrilled about it. Although, I was pretty confused about how to care for it and style it. So, I started experimenting with different products and such. And it was growing pretty well. That was good.

 

For some reason though, I got it in my head that I needed a haircut. A shaping or something. I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror every day. I liked the hair itself, but I didn’t like my overall look anymore. Spring is coming and I needed something with some oomph.

 

Long story short, I cut my hair last night. I went to the barbershop and sat in my regular chair and got a haircut. It has been a year and a half since the last time I sat in that chair. I was happy to see my barber and we chatted a bit about nothing per usual but it was good. It was the same rhythm from before cancer. That was what I wanted. Some of that old rhythm in my life.

 

He started those clippers and I sat there stoic-faced trying not to be shocked as the little curlies fell on the floor. But it was really hard not to cry. I don’t know why. My haircut is really nice. Very sharp. Suits me just fine. But cutting my hair was really not the move.

 

I am really unhappy. Not with his work but it is slowly dawning on me that I am not that girl anymore. Every time I try to push myself back into the old me mold, I realize that I don’t fit there anymore.

 

I made a promise to myself that I would let my hair grow. And then I cut it. For no real reason other than I wanted to feel cute and sassy again. But I am realizing that like India Arie sang… I am not my hair. Hair doesn’t define me – but I mean that in the sense that I don’t have to wear a certain style any longer to feel or express my beauty. I don’t have to go back to the old me and the old definition of what makes Nic beautiful. I can be a very pretty and beautiful Nic with long curly hair too.

 

Sigh. Just wish I had this revelation before I went to the barbershop last night. (smile)

 

Oh well, back to the beginning. We start from here growing more hair.

Mar 10, 2010

Finding my rhythm and getting back to normal

I’ve been back at work for a few weeks now – minus the mini-vacation thanks to the blizzard on the east coast back in February – and I think that I’m finally starting to get back into the rhythm of things. I have a good idea how much time I need to rest in the evenings, how much sleep I need to get, and I have figured out how to pace myself. I still find myself worn down by the end of the week but I have opted to simply use Saturday as my day of rest and its working so far.

 

I am pleased.

 

But I have noticed that the more I force myself to do, the more that needs to be done. For example, if I choose to go out one evening to have some fun I find myself suddenly faced with more invitations to do more things – usually far more than I can handle. Its that push-pull sort of feeling that often causes my moods to swing a bit. I may feel frisky and up to having a drink after work on Monday or Tuesday… but when I’m faced with multiple offers for Friday or Saturday (after being out once or twice), I suddenly feel exhausted and I don’t want to go.

 

This has happened to me several times now. Its unsettling but I think it also makes me feel more “normal” because in my life before breast cancer, I often had to weigh and juggle many events and opportunities (not a bad problem to have really) and I often struggled with saying no to doing things and meeting with people because my schedule was just full.

 

(It feels so arrogant to say that, but I really am not trying to boast or brag at all) Today is a great example. The hospital where I had my treatment is holding a seminar this evening discussing patient care issues that sounds FASCINATING but I also want to get my haircut – made an appointment for this evening – and more importantly, I AM TIRED and I need to finish my laundry. (laughs) So, do I force myself to go to the seminar and possibly learn something new? Do I dash out and get a much needed sprucing up? Or do I head home and just put my head on my pillow – and pray for laundry to be completed another day?

 

So normal. So very very normal. Just another day in a survivor’s world.

Mar 4, 2010

Flirting is good for the soul…

I am convinced that flirting is just good for the soul. I think it makes your skin brighter, your smile shinier and your eyes more sparkly.

I have no medical proof of this but that's what I firmly believe. Its how I felt yesterday when I spent the afternoon laughing with an acquaintance.

You know the drill... its always someone that you never quite think of in "that" way... someone you've known for awhile... someone who somehow, magically manages to do or say or smile just the right way... and then it clicks...

Wow... he's cute, and smart and funny and sweet... How did I miss all this before?

In the case of this specific gentleman... He’s someone I’ve known for a couple of years. He is just a smidge younger than I am. (well, more than a smidge but eh… I don’t look my age so we’ll just keep blurring that line) And he’s freaking adorable. I had a really fun easy-going time with him.

I like those.

The great thing about younger men is that they seem just a tad fearless in their approach. (laughs) They put it out there, and if you seem hesitant, they put it out there stronger. And again... and then they tweak it a little and try again. Until you smile... pow!

Persistence can be sexy. (Stalking is not -- know the difference, please!)

It is very appealing to chat with someone and discover little nuggets about them that make you smile and that send your mind wandering just a little bit into the land of ... "what if..." and then to pull back to reality and think... "gee, this is actually a really good moment". And your smile grows just a little bit larger... and you nod (maybe to yourself) that yes... yes! THIS is a good, good moment.

It was like that.

All sparkly, shimmery, fun and frolic. It was a giddy, tickly feeling in my tummy. It was... slide your eyes down low 'cause you're thinking slightly naughty thoughts and you don't quite want to give it away. (I can say all this here because he does not read the blog, hallelujah!)

All that to say... after having a great day -- I gave a talk about breast cancer to some very nice people in Baltimore (great experience) -- an unexpected opportunity to flirt and laugh and feel free and happy... was the cherry on top of the sundae. It was a good feeling.


I am going to encourage everyone to take an hour or so (hopefully longer) today – or over the next few days – to just smile, laugh and say naughty and inappropriate things to someone you really want to see smile. Trust me… it will make you feel good all the way down to your toes.



Did for me. (wink)
 
Sessy pink ribbon girl strikes again!!

Mar 2, 2010

Hair chronicles: More work with the curly post-chemo hair


So, I've been using my Miss Jessie's products for curly-haired folks and I'm really digging it. It cost a pretty penny but the products are good quality and my hair seems to be responding pretty well to them. I am sort of pleased. Well, that doesn't sound quite right. I am pleased with Miss Jessie's and I am happy with the way that it helps my "new" curly hair look springy and shiny and happy.

I am displeased with the lack of shape that my hair has -- but that's my fault because I am too chicken to get it cut into a shape. I am displeased with the fact that the products are a little thick and take some time to dry. I'm used to washing and going -- literally -- out the door. I am just a smidge unhappy with the fact that my hair looks good the third day after I wash it -- instead of looking fabulous from the first day I wash it.

(shrug)

But, those are really little things to be concerned about. My hair is growing pretty well and most of the time I'm okay with my spongy, curly afro. Even if I don't really know what it will look like from day to day -- I can live with that.

I am slowly getting comfortable with the notion of actually having to DO my hair. I do miss my carefree barbershop days. And I am still thinking about going back to my super-low, sleek cut. But, until I make a definitive decision... I'll stick with my Miss Jessie's regimen and enjoy the little curlies all over my head.

Some days... they are really kind of cute. Post-chemo hair is a happy part of the breast cancer journey for me.

Mar 1, 2010

Always emotional about breast cancer and this journey

I've been reading and following along with a few of my pink ribbon sisters as they blog their way through their own health crisis. And it seems that no matter where I am on my journey, I can always connect deeply and sincerely with wherever they are in their journey.

My Fabulous Boobies| emotional about breast cancer, baby pacifierI have been buoyed and elated by some of their posts... and I've been saddened and overwhelmed by others. It really hurts me deeply to read about other people's pain. I guess I understand how some of you may feel reading about my issues, tears and such. Some days its just really hard.

Issues of fertility matter to young breast cancer survivors 


One of my favorite breast cancer bloggers is dealing with the issue of infertility... reading about her struggles with that tears me up. It is yet another really difficult and unfair part of the process of dealing with breast cancer when you're a young woman. Issues of fertility matter.

I keep trying to avoid thinking about my own fertility issues. I keep mentally crossing my fingers and toes that my current state of menopause is temporary and my fertility returns -- sooner rather than later. I don't have any guy in mind to father a child (laughs) but I have to admit that when I look at babies now, I just cry.

I've gotten pretty good at holding back my tears when I'm in public. But when I get home at night and crawl into my bed... sometimes I just break out in deep sobs and wonder when, how, if...

I remind myself that my journey isn't over and God grants miracles every day. I just hope that I'm on that list of miracles waiting to happen.


I'm sorry that this post is so somber. Especially after being so joyous the other day about rocking my scars and feeling all sexy... but the emotional ups and downs are part of this frustrating and overwhelming journey. Some days, I'm all smiles and glistening teeth. Other days, I'm teary-faced and puffy-eyed from crying.

Through it all... I know that I am blessed because I am still here.

Feb 24, 2010

Feeling sexy with all my scars hanging out...

Okay, by now you should know what the deal is. Nicole is on a mission to recapture her swagger, to pull the sexy back into her life. Breast cancer survivor or not, I’m still a sassy single girl and I want to feel that way every time I wake up and every time I walk through a door. You want to know why?


Because I love being a girl.

I’ve cried and stumbled through most of this journey. I’ve been sad and feeling low for the better part of the last year and a half. And while that sort of disposition is contrary to my natural effervescence, it is perfectly understandable. Dealing with cancer is hard. Its heavy and it takes a huge emotional toll on you – if you let it. (Which I did) But, I’m moving on past that. Its time.

I have decided that even though I am not perfectly pleased with my body as it is that’s no reason to dim my own shine. Most of us aren’t happy with our looks. We want longer hair or shorter hair. Straighter hair or curlier hair. A smaller nose or bigger boobs. Some of us want hips and others want to give away the hips they have. (shrug) It is… what it is. At some point you have to accept yourself, flaws and all… and just damn what you think other people will think of your shortcomings.

Before breast cancer, I liked feeling like a sexy girl. I didn’t go too far out of my conservative comfort zone to find that sexiness to be sure. But I did my own thing, in my own way. I learned to own my own space in the world.

And then I lost it. Probably somewhere in the hallways of George Washington University Hospital. (laughs) I’ve been dressing like a schlump for the longest time now. Wearing ill-fitting clothes because I didn’t want to shop for new things and my old things didn’t quite fit right anymore. But when you dress well, you feel better about yourself. And I NEED to feel good. (My cuteness cannot be confined to just my face…)

So, today I wore a sassy dress to work that shows a LOT of cleavage. And… well, my cleavage is crooked. And it’s a little misshapen. And its got a darkened area of skin (hyper-pigmentation from my radiation treatment) And its got a crazy scar going around my new breast.

AND… I TRULY DON’T GIVE A CARE!

(sigh) That felt good to release that into the air. I don’t care that someone sees my scars today. I don’t care that someone in my office may feel uncomfortable with my putting it all out there for them to see and acknowledge. I don’t really care about any of that. For me, that’s a huge leap forward. I’ve been terrified, scared to death, that showing my scars was going to be embarrassing for me and for whomever came into contact with me. I’ve been wearing anything and everything that covers my entire chest area because I didn’t think I should bare my imperfection to the world.

But you know what? I’m forcing myself to get over it. Life is just too short for me to continue to put these crazy restrictions on myself. Last summer I met the nicest guy. And the sweetest (yet strange) thing he said to me was that he wanted to lick my scar. He was talking about the tiny scar on my chest where my port was implanted. He had no idea that (at the time) I had a huge sideways scar on the left side of my body where my boobie was removed. He just saw a girl at a party and threw it out there. I think about that comment a lot.

Life is short. I’m tired of feeling afraid. I’m tired of not feeling comfortable in my own skin, in my own space. Breast cancer has taken a lot from me…I refuse to give up anything else to this disease.


Sorry. Today is MY day. And I feel pretty doggone good too.