Jul 19, 2010
Including my fat belly. I really miss that soft, squishy part of myself. When I opted for the TRAM-flap reconstruction, the largest selling point for me was that my breast would be constructed from my own tissue and I would not have to endure an implant. I know that many women opt for implants and are happy with their decisions. I think that its great that there are options for all of us to consider actually. For me, the thought of going from a natural H cup to any type of implant seemed just above and beyond what I could fathom for myself. I just didn't want any other foreign object in my body.
The fact that the TRAM-flap would also give me what amounted to a nice little tummy tuck was a bonus. I figured that it was a pretty good trade-off for the 12+ hour surgery and the 2-3 months recuperation time that I needed afterwards. I had hoped that the new breast and the flat tummy would propel me farther down the lane of recapturing my sexiness. It hasn't exactly done that though.
My tummy, while flatter, is not FLAT. And even all these months later, there is still a significant area that is numb. I have a belly button but I forget about it a lot because I can't feel it. (Although the numbness is making me consider getting it pierced actually.) I guess I didn't really think about what I would look like after the surgery. I assumed that I would be slim and trim with perky new boobies. When the truth is that while flatter, my tummy isn't flat and in order to get my body to look the way that I picture it in my head... I'm going to have to work out and eat better.
Gag. (laughs) I'm starting with yoga and running a couple of days a week. I'll tell you how it goes.
All in all, while I miss my belly a bit I am growing increasingly happy with my breasts. I can only hope that soon I will be happy with everything I see in the mirror and I won't keep having these "remember when" flashbacks.
Jul 16, 2010
So the request for my number immediately made me wonder what was going on in his life that he needed to actually speak to me and hear my voice. I was then surprised to receive a text message from him a short while later. This particular ex-boyfriend is rather eccentric. And I don't mean that in a "he's a weirdo" sort of way. But I mean that he has a very unique perspective on life and he finds the most abstract things funny or interesting... or whatever. So, receiving unusual notes and pictures from him is pretty normal. I expect for him to send me something I've never seen or heard of before... something I probably would not have noticed had it not been brought to my attention by him.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the text message and it was a picture of a woman lying on her back -- with her breasts exposed. She was a very pretty young woman with fairly large breasts. There was something vaguely familiar about her look. While I was trying to process why he sent me that picture, I realized that he had sent a message as well.
Subject line was: Reminds
Body of message in the text: me of you. Hope you're not offended.
(laughs) Seems that my ex came across this picture -- I didn't ask how -- and the woman in the picture reminded him of me. It would be odd except he and I have had a few conversations over the past couple of years about my breast cancer and how the treatment has affected me (physically and emotionally). I found myself staring at this young woman and I realized that she really did look a bit like me... skin color, hairstyle, and breast size. Well... she reminds me of who I used to be.
My reaction was complicated. I laughed (because only this guy would do something like this). I smiled. I thought that she was pretty. And then I sighed because I realized that I no longer looked like that. She had an innocence in her face (yes, while she was laying there half-naked) that I don't think I have anymore. And she also had breasts that were significantly larger than what I have now. It made me remember (in a different way) how much I have changed because of the breast cancer.
As I looked at the picture, I realized that I was a little envious of the way she looked. Her breasts were perfect, although large. And they were obviously hers and not fakes because they had a "flow" to them (that's the best way I can describe it). As you age and grow, your breasts lose some of that little girl/young woman perkiness and they soften such that they sort of flow a bit on your body. They give you a softness that I often find missing from women with artificial breasts.
When I did look that way, I didn't appreciate the way that I looked. I had a complaint and a worry about everything. I never thought much about how it may have appeared to someone else... I worried that I wasn't pretty enough most of the time. (tragic waste of time and energy I know now) It was sort of empowering to know that at one time I was so lovely and someone remembered me that way.
I replied by text that it was a good laugh and I remembered when I did look that way. And I thanked him for even thinking of me after all of these years. He then called to hear my voice and to find out how I was really feeling... after all this time with treatment and surgeries and ... stuff. That made me feel good too because even after all this time, I like to know that people still think about me from time to time.
You never know how your stuff will affect someone else. And something like breast cancer affects you so deeply and changes who you are and who you think you are and who you can be... that when someone takes a moment to remind you that you were (and therefore still are) a beautiful person... its simply a touching moment.
(the picture above is an edited version of the picture he sent me... )
Jul 12, 2010
I decided that I was ready. The swelling has gone down significantly on my breasts from the surgery and I thought that purchasing something really nice -- while getting fitted properly -- would kick off my weekend in a great way.
I scooted out of work with enough time to stop by this uber-chic European lingerie store downtown. I've been there before (years ago) but I've never ever purchased anything there. In the past, it was primarily because they didn't carry my size. (The sales lady told me that once when I walked in with sort of a sneer on her face... ahhh... don't you just love being snubbed when you want to spend your money?) But also because the prices are ... well devastatingly outrageous.
This isn't the run of the mill Victoria's Secret shop that you find at every mall across the nation. This store... is "special" (she says with a whisper of awe and a lilt of glee). I won't put the name on this post because I have NO plans to direct any traffic their way. But its still a really nice store.
You know how some people are fascinated by the store windows in New York during the Christmas holidays? This store's window fascinates me the same way. I've always been a tall girl. And for a good portion of my adult life, I've been a pretty thick girl (not fat...not that there's anything wrong with that). So, I'm accustomed to seeing things sometimes that I know are not or have not been designed with someone like me in mind. I'm pretty cool with that I suppose. I've always had a secret wish to either be much taller -- so I can completely stand out of the crowd -- or to be much smaller, so that I can be instantly thought of as sweet and petite. (There's a level of feminism that petite women seem to have locked down, that is rarely shown or thought of when you're a larger and/or taller woman)
But like I said, this store FASCINATES me with its window display. The lingerie in the window is always so very beautiful and colorful. It looks ephemeral... like its as light as an angel's feather. The lingerie never looks trashy or cheap or hooker-ish. It always gives me the sighs... and I look at the window and think... "if I can get something from there I will FEEL like a lady and it will probably radiate outwardly and guys will treat me more like a girl and less like one of the guys".
Yes. That long azz sentence runs through my mind whenever I see the window of this store. Right now, I'm closing my eyes and envisioning the beautiful pink and white lacy set that was in the window the other day. (sigh) So, like I was saying. On Friday afterwork, I felt that because I was in the mindset of reclaiming and celebrating my dreams I should go to this store and feel like a lady for a little while. I walked in and looked around briefly and asked to be fitted. I explained to the ladies that I was a breast cancer survivor and I had no idea what size my new breasts were. Interestingly enough I was not wearing a bra when I walked in their shop -- something that seemed quite distasteful to those two little ladies. (laugh) Whatever.
I went into the dressing room and the older lady came in with her measuring tape. I will give her credit. She did not gasp when I slid my dress straps down. Her face did not reflect any shock or surprise. I figured out later on that she was uncomfortable with my nipple-less noobie. (noobie = new boobie) First of all, my complaints and concerns that my boobies were small were wrong. I am a respectable F cup (that's a DDD in the US). So, that made me feel a bit better. Secondly, (and I knew this part) there are some gorgeous items for ladies my size. (smile)
My sales assistant brought me two or three very nice but quite non-fancy bras to start with. She chose them because they were smooth and could be worn under all types of outfits without showing. I tried them on and they were definitely prettier than the lounging bras I've been wearing while I'm healing...but they weren't "pretty pretty" like the display items. I liked them but not enough to purchase.
I asked her to bring me something "pretty pretty" preferably an exotic color or something with embroidered flowers... I wanted something that when I closed my eyes to remember what I had on under my clothes... I would smile. I want that secret "my lingerie ROCKS" smile to be a permanent fixture on my face.
She brought me the prettiest lavender lace bra that I've ever seen. It is simply gorgeous. Almost too pretty to wear actually. And I asked for matching panties -- though I suspected that they didn't have them in my size. I was wrong. She found something that worked. It is so pretty. I purchased the lavender set and also a beautiful black lacy bra -- I think every woman should have one black bra that is so lacy and frilly that she snickers every time she thinks of it and her lover can't wait to catch a glimpse of it when she is dressing or undressing. I think that should be an adult rite of passage. Anyhoo...
I get to the register, heady with cherubs and hummingbirds dancing around my head... (like I'm in a cartoon or something) and I realized that I was overspending but I didn't dare stop myself. This was more than just buying some bras and panties to get through the day or the week. This was another step for me to becoming more girly and lady-like. I was not going to refuse myself the opportunity to feel great.
So I handed my card and made my purchase. Did I mention that this place was tres snooty? When the receipt printed, there were TWO places to sign. One, the regular signature to approve the purchase. And the other was a signature line stating that you read the return policy and agreed to it.
*blink blink* Whatever...
I was soooo heady and happy that I laughed to myself and signed... twice. (shrug) And I jetted off to the other side of town for happy hour. Now, my evening did not go as planned but it was still good. I was happy with my investment and in a good frame of mind. I showed my new purchases to a couple of female friends at the bar and they sort of made me question my purchase. They thought my items were pretty until they saw the pricetag and then they were shocked that anyone would spend that much on underwear. Especially if you could get something equally as pretty a lot cheaper.
Their thoughts and comments stuck with me for the rest of the night and I started to wonder if I just had FOOL written on my forehead. And then I remembered an email (that has circulated for many years) and I remembered that my purchase wasn't about being appropriate but it was a chance for me to appreciate myself.
The reality for me right now is that no one will probably see me in these beautiful lacy garments anytime soon. But I know that when I do choose to wear them, I will be as pretty on the inside of my clothes as I hope I appear on the outside. I know that now when people look at me they don't see a breast cancer survivor. They just see a woman, walking down the street or riding the subway. I don't even wear my breast cancer pins anymore. I am simply... Nicole again. But on the inside, I am truly different -- even with two boobs again and I feel that I have to really honor that feminine spirit within. Truly bow down and respect what it means to be a lady, what it means to be a girl, what it means to be feminine. I know men don't usually think this... but its hard being a girl today. It is extra hard being a breast cancer survivor girl trying to reclaim her "sexy swagger" while sporting one nipple-less noobie. Its a tall order and whew... sometimes I just am not up to the challenge. But I realized when my sales assistant kept clucking about hiding my scar within the cup of my bra... that I am DAMN PROUD of my scar. No, its not pretty but so what. Like I told her, never mind that scar what matters is that I'm here. And if that scar wasn't there... I would not be here.
My first instinct was to take my tissue-paper wrapped lingerie and bury it in the back of my lingerie drawer. Pull it out every now and then to fondle and appreciate it but really never wear it. But... I decided that I'm going to wear it one day this week. Because life is too short to hold out for someday... today is someday. Below is the email that I thought of immediately after having regrets about spending so much on three little items. I hope that it sticks with you and reminds you... today is your someday.
[A forwarded email...]
My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister's bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. "This," he said, "is not a slip. This is lingerie." He discarded the tissue and handed me the slip.
It was exquisite; silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached. "Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least 8 or 9 years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion." He took the slip from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to me. "Don't ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you're alive is a special occasion."
I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where my sister's family lives. I thought about all the things that she hadn't seen or heard or done. I thought about the things that she had done without realizing that they were special.
I'm still thinking about his words, and they've changed my life. I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time in committee meetings. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event-such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, the first camellia blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market if I feel like it. My theory is, if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries without wincing. I'm not saving my good perfume for special parties; clerks in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that function as well as my party-going friends. "Someday" and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. I'm not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she wouldn't be here for the tomorrow we all take for granted. I think she would have called family members and a few close friends. She might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think she would have gone out for a Chinese dinner, her favorite food. I'm guessing-I'll never know.
It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew that my hours were limited. Angry because I put off seeing good friends whom I was going to get in touch with-someday. Angry because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write-one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn't tell my husband and daughter often enough how much I truly love them. I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.
And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is...a gift.
Jul 8, 2010
I received an email with this title: Celebrating the return of dreams. And it struck a note with me that sort of summed up how I’ve been feeling the past few days. The email was from the YSC (Young Survival Coalition: http://www.youngsurvival.org/) and it was about their upcoming bicycle ride fundraiser. Just for the record, I’m NOT going to ride 220 miles in the Tour de Pink. LOL… not gonna happen.
But I liked the spirit of the story that opened the email and it made me pause and think. The author of the story was a young woman when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was married and had small kids but still the news of having breast cancer hit her hard and she was really shaken. She mentioned how she lived day by day during the time of her treatment. She never really looked to the future too far because it was difficult enough to get from one day to the next. I really identified with that feeling.
I started looking for cars a few weeks ago because it’s time for me to have a car now. Travelling by public transportation is simply too limiting, too time consuming and becoming too inconvenient and too expensive for me to continue. I am fortunate that I can afford to buy a car. The other day, I also accepted that I was allowing myself to feel strangled by my medical bills. The stack of paper in my room is simply outrageous. Bills, bills, bills… everywhere. I gathered them all up and looked at my savings and said… enough! I withdrew a hefty chunk of change from my savings – it hurt my heart to do it – but I realized that unless I got that monkey off my back, I was going to continue to feel bogged down and stifled.
Getting through the process of writing down all the bills that I owed and making the money available so that they could be paid was difficult. I wanted to cry on Friday night when I got home because I was so angry. But I had made an innocent comment a few days before and it was continuing to resonate with me. “I need little luxuries in life to keep my wheels balanced.”
Once I did the hard part and I knew when the money would be available, I could breathe a little easier. I realized that I was extremely blessed to be able to access enough money to wipe out those bills. And even though they are bills that I never expected, they were mine and they were for a good reason. My life. I’m worth a few thousand dollars. I really am. Writing those checks the other day, freed me in a major way.
I went car shopping on Monday (window shopping) and found the car that I want. It is NOT one of the cars I had on my list. It is a car that I’ve wanted for a long time, I just didn’t think I could afford it. In fact, two years ago when I was diagnosed, I didn’t think I would ever be in a position to get it. I looked at it, looked at the sticker price, I sat in it… and then I resolved that I could afford it and that I would get it. Not that day, but soon enough. I have a few things to do first but then, with lots of good luck, good fortune and blessings on my side, I will have my dream car.
Since the day I went car shopping… I realized that a lot of dreams have popped back into my head. Like renovating my bedroom. Writing a book proposal and submitting it to a few agents. Finally purchasing my first full length fur coat. And so forth. They are things that probably won’t matter or make sense to anyone besides me, but I am looking forward to hitting each and every one very soon.
When I read the headline of the YSC article, it clicked. I am finally in a space where I too am celebrating the return of my dreams. When I decided that I wanted to buy the Mercedes Benz instead of the cheaper Pontiac or even a little hooptie car, I realized that I was giving myself permission to stop living on hold. To stop holding my breath waiting for the next “cancer” issue to fall out of the sky. I am moving from survival mode… to simply SURVIVOR.
Jul 3, 2010
My issue is that people I see on the street are amazed at the bandages. I am stopped constantly and asked.. "what happened to your arm?".
I suppose that it is startling to see a gorgeous lady (that would be me) strolling down the street like nothing is wrong with her arm bandaged up to the shoulder. A bit strange to see I'm sure. But it is my reality right now. Here's what's strange about the constant questions though... I simply don't feel like taking advantage of the obvious "teaching" moment.
Normally -- rather, for the past two years, I've taken every opportunity given to me (and forced more than a few) to educate people about breast cancer. I have had what I call... "breast cancer Tourette's" for the longest time. Just could not help myself from responding to anything that opened the door for me to discuss my journey with breast cancer. But I don't feel like sharing all that right now with every stranger I see.
It is strange for me. I can see the genuine concern in their eyes... but it feels like a chore to say...
oh, I have lymphedema (which just means that my arm is swollen) because I had a mastectomy about a year ago... by the way I am a breast cancer survivor.... yes, at my age. no i don't have kids... yes, its a shame. okay bye.Who DOES that on the street with strangers? Well, not ya girl. At least not for the past couple of weeks. (shrug) But you know... I have decided that I need a good cover story. Like, I was attacked by werewolves in the dark or something. And I need to practice it every day so that it rolls off my tongue easily.
Because I really will be wearing this sleeve of bandages for another 2 weeks I think. I just don't know what story to tell...
(as you can see, my arm is getting smaller... yay!)
Jun 30, 2010
I HATE these bandages. I’m just going to put it out there because its constantly on my mind. Un-sexy. Uncomfortable. Unpleasant. BUT… they work. That picture is of my arm after my bandages were removed during physical therapy on Tuesday. My swelling has been reduced significantly and my arm is just about back to its normal size. As my therapist said… “it may seem like a pretty primitive way of treating lymphedema but it does work”.
Gotta agree with that.
I’m bandaged up again. And will probably be bandaged up for the next 2 weeks. But, progress is being made. My progress would be more significant if I had not had surgery a few weeks after I started physical therapy. But I’m not complaining. Besides, my new boobies aren’t that bad. Still getting used to them though. And I think I’m having some healing issues with the breast that was reduced – its not looking quite right but we’ll see what the surgeon says.
All in all, its an okay day.
Jun 24, 2010
Jun 22, 2010
Jun 21, 2010
Been feeling a little lousy lately. Headaches, nausea, a little vomiting (nothing major) and so on. General yuckiness I guess is the best way to describe it. Thought that maybe the heat of North Carolina was getting to me while I was travelling this past weekend. Then I thought that maybe I was dehydrated. But resting in the cool didn’t help much and neither did drinking lots of fluid. I still felt sort of lowgrade yuck.
Today I had two back-to-back appointments – first to see the plastic surgeon so she could remove some stitches and then immediately after I met with the physical therapist so that she could massage my arm and finally wrap it (my bandages arrived last week).
I was annoyed to see that my blood pressure is still elevated… it hasn’t gone down yet and we’re going on three weeks of these high numbers. I’m getting a little worried. But, I didn’t press the issue because there wasn’t a point of discussing it with the plastic surgeon. High blood pressure isn’t her area of expertise. She didn’t really have any smart remarks but then, neither did I. And I think that my quietness surprised her. She noticed some redness on my new breast and thought that maybe I picked up an infection or something – which would explain my general feeling of ick. She wrote me a prescription for two different types of antibiotics and told me to follow up in a week.
Sigh. I am tired of seeing her face actually.
As for physical therapy… I really had hoped that when this lady said that I would have to wear a bandage wrap that somehow it would be slick. Maybe not sexy exactly but still not crazy looking. Well… I have on a pretty cute new sundress. Was looking forward to taking myself out to dinner tonight to try a new restaurant that I’ve been hearing fabulous things about. Let’s just say, I cancelled my reservations because I LOOK CRAZY!
The bandages go all the way up to my freaking armpit! Its horrible to look at and difficult to navigate with. I came to work with a blazer over my dress. You know, trying to keep things professional. But I can’t get my arm into the sleeve of my jacket because its all wrapped up like the mummy. (sigh)
Oh well. Guess I will check out Founding Farmers some other time… I still feel icky and I’m ready for bed. I had actually hoped to work late tonight but I don’t see that in my future.
Have I told you lately that I can’t stand breast cancer? This isht is for the doggone birds.
Jun 20, 2010
What will I do with the time I have left?
Since none of us knows how much time we have left -- no matter what the doctors may tell you, or what someone may have prophecied over your life -- you have to live consciously with the notion that every moment is very precious.
On Thursday, I attended my cousin Scharleen's funeral (yes, I've been spelling her name wrong all over the internet for the past couple of weeks) and on Saturday I attended the funeral of my cousin's grandmother. Both were dynamic and wonderful women. Both were well-loved and admired within their communities and their circles for being giving souls. And I realized at Grandma Baggett's funeral that they both taught me the same lesson -- just in different ways.
Its all about love. Loving yourself. Loving others. And BEING yourself. That last part is what is sticking with me the most about their lives. My cousin was never apologetic about who she was. Grandma Baggett never met a person that she couldn't love and become like family with. Have you ever met someone that the moment you met them, its as though they have always been a part of your life? Grandma Baggett was that way. Scharleen had a personality that was bigger than life sometimes. Once you met her, you would always remember her.
Both ladies taught me with their lives that being truly yourself... is the most freeing and wonderful gift you can give to the world. Even if someone doesn't immediately recognize that you're giving them a gift -- the gift of being just as free as they are -- the gift still has potency.
I've been fighting with anxiety for a couple of months now. I've been fighting against accepting that I am not doing the things that actually bring me joy. I have been tinkering around and pretending that not writing, not speaking, not pushing myself to be that entity that I feel I am way down deep inside is acceptable. I've been living a fake life, a facade. And the incongruity and lack of harmony is tearing me apart.
In fairness to myself, I know why I shelved those dreams and decided to live a different way. Part of it is fear of the unknown. Part of it is trying to be a grown-up. (I have this strange idea that grown-ups aren't supposed to be happy, living and doing things that make them smile. But being a grown-up means that you work a job you hate, and you deny yourself fun stuff because its too childlike.) Part of it is an acknowledgement that I don't have all of the skills that I need in order to really shine as a star on my own.
Someone asked me recently (through formspring.me) who inspired me. And I replied that I draw a lot of inspiration from people who are living their dreams. Whether or not I agree or like what they do... the fact that they shrugged off an ordinary life to reach for the impossible and found success and joy with it makes me so giddy inside. I can't explain it. When I watch someone like Janet Jackson or even Beyonce perform (and I am not a fan of hers, don't stone me)... its like breathing pure oxygen. Not because what they are doing is so fabulous or that I want to do that specifically -- because Lord knows I can't dance or sing and would not want to make a living trying to do so -- but because you can FEEL their joy, their connectedness to everything when they are in their zone.
I feel that way when I'm writing... I know I've said that (or something similar) a million times but I can't stop feeling this. When I'm writing, time passes, life could stand still and I would not really realize it. But the downside is that I don't have the business skills (marketing, accounting, etc.) that are necessary to move writing from a happy hobby to a profitable method of living.
Not sure why I'm sharing this today -- really wasn't where I wanted this post to go actually -- but looking at Scharleen and Grandma Baggett in their caskets this weekend reminded me that time doesn't wait for any of us. I don't know why I need the constant reminder but it seems that I do. The question... what will I do with the time I have left is ringing in my ears.
Those of you who have moved from an ordinary life to the life of your dreams... how did you make the leap? I think I'm looking for permission to walk away from being a grown-up and just be a happy kid... reaching for goals that are bigger than I am, that I have no way of seeing in advance how they will work out but just knowing that they will.
You want to know what some of my dreams are? To write a book that touches millions of lives in a good way. MILLIONS. To write (or contribute) a screenplay that reaches and touches MILLIONS of people. To be a speaker that people want to hear, want to see... and to have words to share that help people find their way to their own center of joy. Just to connect with people... and leave them better than before we interacted. Is it possible? Sure. I truly believe that each of those dreams are attainable goals. I just don't know how to get there.
But I have been reminded (again) that breast cancer doesn't have to be the end of my story. And that the life I really want -- not this boring "I'm a grown-up" life -- is out there. Its out there.
What I don't want... is to waste another minute of this life.