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Aug 10, 2010

Breast self-exams are worth your time!

The routines of life can become so boring... you barely notice things that surround you every day unless there is a reason to. Two years ago I found my lump (which turned out to be cancer) because I was trying to focus on something easy that would help me to take my mind off the fact that my father was lying in the intensive care unit at the hospital.

At the time, I thought I understood the importance of breast self-exams. I thought that I didn't really have anything to worry about but it was a precaution that I needed to take. I didn't think about the fact that a breast self exam could save my life. I never fathomed that my life could be in jeopardy because of breast cancer.

The shower card in my bathroom is old. I received it from an old college professor who was a survivor. She was so passionate about teaching us about politics AND about breast health. Even though the latter wasn't my major. I learned a lot about living from that professor. Even though she was a survivor, she didn't seem to live life in a small way... but she burst through the gates every day filled with energy and joy and a compassion for her students that often left me in awe of her. She was a really great teacher.

The fact that I still have the shower card that she gave me reminds me that God is always in the details and little moments of our lives. Whether we're paying attention or not. He's there. Making sure that we have what we need to move forward.

So amazing.

Take this post as a reminder that you need to check your breasts. Regularly. You can be a freak about it and check them every day, or every week. Or you can be laid back with it and check once a month or so. Its totally up to you. But the bottom line is that you need to check them. You need to know what your breasts feel like regularly. And you need to be comfortable with putting your hands on your body in a healing and loving way.

One day, when you're half-way paying attention to your life... this little bit of self-love just might save your life. Believe me... it could happen.

~Nic

PS. I have a few extra shower cards at my house. If you need one, send me an email and I will send one to you. Just my way of paying it forward. This offer only lasts as long as the cards do... so if you need one, just say so.

Aug 5, 2010

Numbness equals wardrobe malfunctions

I learned something this past weekend that gave me a great insight and understanding about something. I understand the great "Hollywood boobie wardrobe malfunction" now. I used to sit back and cluck about all the paparazzi pics that would show various female celebrities losing their tops at inopportune moments and having really nonchalant reactions to the situation.

I (like most folks around the world) watched Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake take it too far and show her nicely pierced nipple to the world. I (like everyone else) wondered whether it was truly a publicity stunt gone wrong as they stated or if the showing of the breast was the stunt and it went as expected. After my party experience last weekend, I've realized that... it probably was a stunt that went too far.

I went out on Friday night to a party. I was looking forward to being out because I was in a bit of a funk and needed to shake it off of me. Literally. I had already been out the night before at a birthday party that was a real blast, so I was truly expecting a great time. And I had just that. The party was a blast. I danced. I drank. I laughed with good friends. I flirted with cute (though too young) guys. I had a really good time. I went to a second location to laugh and dance some more -- it was only a few doors down from where I was already partying -- and I ran into an old college buddy. So, that made for an even better time. (don't ya love when you run into old friends and they are just as nice as you remembered?)

Anyway... by the end of the evening I was enthralled in a deep conversation with a couple of people. We were chatting and I was animated in my responses -- hands and arms moving all around. So much so that I did not feel when my top slipped down and I flashed my conversation partner.

Sigh.

Luckily for him (and for me) it was the side that looks like a normal boobie (not the breast that was reconstructed but the side that was reduced) so while it was shocking and inappropriate it wasn't (or shouldn't have been) scarring for life or anything. He looked embarrassed but did tell me that I was hanging out. The other person in the conversation helped me to retie my dress tighter so that I wouldn't have that problem again.

Sigh.

Even days later I still feel embarrassed but also a little saddened. The embarrassment will fade away. I know that. But the fact that my luscious and lovely perky girls have little to no feeling... will not. I am becoming more comfortable with wearing things that show off my cleavage (because I'm happy to have it) and that highlight my perkiness (because I'm excited about that too)... but I had not thought too much about guarding against hapless wardrobe malfunctions along the way. Puts a wholly different twist on the whole game.

That said...

I was rather cute on Saturday.  That in itself is a big enough deal. I felt attractive and confident and I believe it showed in the way that I interacted with others. I was easy and breezy... and it was a good time. (even with this long arm bandage on)

Power to the numb boobies!! Pink ribbon sistas unite in the struggle. (laughs)

Jul 27, 2010

Okay... so I'm not totally over wanting to have a baby

I actually believed that I had moved to a place of acceptance about not having children. When I started this breast cancer journey, I was told that the treatment could very likely leave me infertile. Because of the timing -- my cancer was found in an advanced stage and determined to be very aggressive -- I did not feel that there was time (or money) to invest in fertility treatments like egg harvesting. I opted to have my ovaries put to sleep so that the chemotherapy wouldn't ruin them entirely. The hope was that after I completed my therapy regimen, my ovaries would return to normal function and I could go on my way with having children.

I finished my chemotherapy treatment about a year and a half ago. Still no menstrual cycle over here. While a big part of me is rather happy about that, for all of the discomfort that your period may bring to your life... not having one means that your body is not releasing eggs to be fertilized either. In other words... fertility is still at zero for me.

In the time since I've finished chemo, I've dated a few guys and had some long talks with myself about the likelihood that I will never have babies. Before cancer I believed that I wouldn't have kids because I had not found Mr. Right. (shrug) Now it seems that even if I find him (or he finds me), kids of my own are not an option.

I thought I was okay with that. But I realized that I am not as okay as I thought. One of my oldest and dearest friends is expecting. Twins no less. I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited for my friend and his wife. I am beyond thrilled for them. They will be wonderful parents. But when I looked at some pictures of the nursery that they have prepared for their bundles of joy... I wept. I could not help but feel a twinge of envy. I had to ask myself how long I was prepared to feel saddened when someone I knew had a child. I had to ask myself hard questions like... would it even be fair to have a child knowing that cancer could very well come back in my life and could easily shorten the lifetime I have left? There are no easy answers because life just isn't promised to any of us. Anything can happen and life can be different in the twinkling of an eye.

I am just annoyed (yet again) that I feel grief over something because of breast cancer. At some point... this all just has to stop.

Jul 22, 2010

My panties are in a bunch

Okay, so you know the saying... "don't get your panties in a bunch"? It generally means don't get excited over small things. But in this case I think I'm justified over my excitement.

Breast cancer plays a wicked trick on your sex drive. While you're in treatment (chemotherapy, radiation), your body may be a little too fragile to really engage in sex. The head trip about dealing with your mortality and the difficulty of seeing the changes in your body can also reduce your libido. Add to that, after the treatments and surgeries end you could be pushed into menopause -- a time where your body naturally drifts into a lower sex drive -- and you could have a recipe for some bunched up dry panties.

(laughs)  I'm just saying.

I think I'm in a different category though because I can't say that my sex drive has diminished. In fact, it seems to heat up a little bit more every month. Which presents a challenge for me. I read somewhere that for breast cancer patients/survivors the old adage, use it or lose it really does apply. The drugs used to treat our cancer often affect our vaginas in several ways: the skin gets thinner, intercourse can become painful and our personal lubrication may diminish or dry up completely. Reading that information made me cringe. I like sex. Didn't always but I definitely do now. And I'd hate to lose the ability to engage in wonderful sex, complete with powerful orgasms just because I didn't have anyone to work it out with. But, right now, I don't.

So what's a girl to do? (laughs) Well, you know... (blushing)... you get to know yourself. I've become quite proficient at loving myself and I'm waiting for a delivery of some additional items to take that self-love to a different level.

All jokes aside, masturbation is a natural thing and the reality of being the single girl breast cancer survivor is that you still are a sexual being. I think that my regular doses of self-love are assisting me in reconnecting my new body to my old sense of sexiness and sensuality. Things are different, to be sure, but there's still a whole world to discover and explore over here.

So... my panties are definitely in a bunch. But its a good thing.

Jul 19, 2010

I think I miss my fat belly

My fabulous boobies:  I miss my fat belly
I'm still getting accustomed to my new boobies. I have been reminiscing and recollecting a lot about this journey the past couple of days. Realizing just how much I've been through, how much change I'm endured and how emotional this trip has been in its entirety. While I do like my new boobies and I am finding them to be quite satisfactory at this point, I do think about my body before breast cancer and I miss it.

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 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

You never know how folks think about your breast cancer

The other day I received a request from a former boyfriend for my cellphone number. I wasn't surprised to hear from him, since we have remained friends in the years that have passed since we dated. However, I was surprised to see a request for my phone number. Most people who know me well, know that I'm not the biggest telephone person these days. (something I'm sure would make my parents laugh considering how long I used to have the phone glued to the side of my head when I was a teenager)

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

Lingerie shopping... taking back my femininity and my someday

For a weekend where I really didn't do much... it turned out to be somewhat eventful. I felt really happy on Friday when I left work. I was planning to meet a couple of friends for drinks, and hopeful that I would see another friend later in the evening. I had been pondering and wondering whether or not I was ready to be fitted for a new bra.

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.