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Aug 17, 2010

Having cancer, being depressed and considering suicide

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I've ever written. I will start this post by saying that I am not suicidal. I am not depressed. And this post is not a plea for any type of help.

But I want to address the dark side of dealing with huge mountains of fear and disappointment with your life. My burden in this world (right now) is dealing with my breast cancer. Yours may be finances, or lack of appropriate employment, or addiction or maybe loneliness and grief... or it could be a million other things. What the specific burden is doesn't matter as much as how we deal with it. We all have something in our lives that bows our backs, makes us feel weak and small... and for a few of us -- those who have fought the demon of depression -- it makes us consider ways to end it all.

[I am speaking from my personal experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. I am not a clinical counselor or a medical professional. If you feel that you may be depressed or if you are having thoughts of ending your life... please take a moment and talk to someone trustworthy about your thoughts.]

Recently the news was buzzing about a young female celebrity who attempted to take her life. As a fan of her music, hearing the news of her suicide attempt really broke my heart. Some of the snippets of conversations that I heard and participated in reminded me that a lot of people do not know or understand about the mindset of a suicidal person. As someone who has in the past considered (never attempted though) suicide as a possibility... I have to say that it is not the simple exit theory that many folks believe that it is.

Well, it is and then it isn't. Statistics show that breast cancer survivors are more likely than other women to contemplate and attempt suicide. And of those survivors, African American survivors lead the pack. It is so very sad....

But I understand. The reality is that no matter how much inner strength you have, feeling vulnerable inside of your own body is a wholly betraying feeling. Wondering whether you can go on with the treatments, or go on with the fear of recurrence takes a heavy toll on you emotionally. My cancer was diagnosed at stage 3. But I often wonder how I would have dealt with being diagnosed stage 4. For those who don't know... stage 4 is the final stage of cancer diagnosis and means that your cancer has metastisized to your bones. Usually, it means that there isn't much that can be done to cure you and the treatment is to make your final days/weeks/months/years more comfortable.

How do you face knowing that you're dying? At no fault of your own? And with a small sliver of hope for a different outcome?

Being diagnosed at stage 3 was close enough to the door of stage 4 for me to seriously wonder why me? And to ask the hard questions about whether or not it was worth it to go on? I know for many folks... I am being blasphemous by even uttering that I considered suicide. But I'm going for raw honesty right now... and yes, I did. Yes, even though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am loved abundantly -- more than I could ever repay -- I thought that the pain and the burden of being a cancer victim was just too much.

How I got through it.

I am lucky (interesting choice of words, I know)... to have gone through a period of clinical depression a few years ago. That experience taught me how to recognize when I'm slipping into a dark abyss and what to do to pull myself out of it. Please believe me when I say this, depression is not the same as a funky mood. And... dealing with depression along with breast cancer is HARD. Because people actually give you an "out" when you are a cancer patient. They are afraid of you, because they are afraid of geting whatever unlucky vibe that you have. They are afraid for you. They are well-intentioned but sometimes fumbling. And meanwhile, you're more afraid than you've ever been and you're out of control of what it will take to correct the situation.

It is a tough time, to say the least.

One thing I have admitted to myself is that facing my mortality by going through breast cancer treatment has changed me. And changed my family and friends. Before I knew in a surface way that life was big and great and awesome... but crawling through the valley of cancer treatment -- chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, breast reconstruction, breast reduction -- brought it down to a cellular level that life is as big as you allow it to be in and around you.

Tough times will come. And they often come when you don't expect it, falling right behind some other tragedy... before you've had a chance to catch your breath. But if you have a breath, you have a chance to do better. To make things right. Or just to enjoy your friends and family for just a little while longer.

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.