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Oct 27, 2010

Do you know what cancer is?

Everyone has heard of (and maybe had nightmares about) cancer. The Big C. The boogeyman. Many of us have fretted about what we would do if we or someone we loved found out that they had cancer. And a whole lot of us have lived through that nightmare. What is amazing though... is that while so many us know the word cancer... I don't really think that a whole lot of us know exactly what cancer is. I'm going to try to explain it. (keep in mind that I'm not a medical professional and even as a survivor, my understanding of this disease is limited)

Ready? Let's go...

What cancer is NOT.
  • cancer is not an automatic death sentence
  • cancer is not a mysterious boogeyman coming to steal your mom, dad, child, brother, sister.... away from you
  • cancer is not contagious
  • every cancer is not the same
  • cancer is not a curse
What cancer IS.
  • cancer is actually more than 100 diseases that fall under the umbrella of "cancer"
  • cancer is a disease that happens at the cellular level
  • cancer cells are different from normal, healthy cells in that they grow abnormally and invade other body areas.
How cancer starts.
  • normal cells live, divide and die in a very specific way. If something goes wrong with a cell, it either fixes itself or it dies. In a cancer cell, when something goes wrong, the cell doesn't repair itself and it doesn't die. Instead, it changes the cells around it.
  • cancer cells grow out of control and invade other cells. That is what makes them cancer. Think of it as a part of your body deciding that it wants to rebel against the job it was created to do. Imagine that your nose decided that it wanted to be an arm. (silly thought, but its something like that)
  • when cancer cells grow out of control, they form a tumor. Every tumor is not cancer. Every cancer does not create a tumor. Some cancers, like leukemia, are formed in the bloodstream.
What makes cancer, well... cancer?
  • cancer is named for the area that it is found in. For example, I had breast cancer because tumors were found in my breast.
  • no matter where cancer may spread, it is still treated as the cancer from the first location. If my breast cancer were to spread to my bones, it would still be treated as breast cancer.
  • each type of cancer is different and requires different treatments. So if (for example) my breast cancer spread to my bones, it would be metastatic breast cancer and not bone cancer. The treatment would be for breast cancer and not bone cancer because the two cancers are very different.
  • some tumors are benign -- which simply means that they are not cancer. Benign tumors can still be a problem but their treatment is different from cancer tumors. Benign tumors can grow and press against other body parts/organs but they cannot invade cells. That is what makes them different from cancer tumors. Rarely are benign tumors deadly.
What else?
  • early detection is best for treating cancer.
  • just because you find out that you have cancer, it does not automatically mean that you're going to go through chemotherapy and lose all of your hair. Not everyone has to go through that treatment. Some cancers are treated with medication you take orally. Others are treated with relatively simple surgical procedures.
  • being afraid of "what if" is more dangerous than finding out that you have cancer and taking proactive steps to cure it.
  • sadly, cancer is very common. Nearly 50% of men will get cancer in their lifetime. And 30% of women will get cancer in their lifetime. While common, it is NOT -- I repeat N.O.T. -- an automatic death sentence.
  • we know how to avoid some cancers -- don't smoke (or quit if you do), stay in shape (if you're obese, lose weight), drink alcohol in moderation, limit your time in the sun unprotected, eat a healthy diet (fresh fruits and vegetables, moderate meat intake, lots of water)
  • those cancers that we don't know how to avoid, we still can take protective measures against -- know what you're putting in your body through food (the more natural the form, the better for you), be careful about what you put on your skin (chemicals in our cosmetics have been linked to cancer), and pay attention to changes in your body.
All cancers are not fully understood but they are not mysterious boogeymen either. If you are ever diagnosed with cancer, know that you can survive the diagnosis and go on to live a full and rich life. Life can continue and be beautiful after cancer.

I am a witness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Oct 26, 2010

I still forget that I have to make changes


my lymphedema arm during physical therapy
 One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is... "Youth is wasted on the young...". (Its from Its a Wonderful Life)  Whenever I find myself becoming wistful for my remember when days... that line pops into my head... "youth is wasted on the young". Today I am thinking it because it just dawned on me that I am at fault for aggravating my lymphedema this week. As a young person, you take good health for granted. You hurt yourself, you heal and then you bounce back... good as new. You rarely have to make lifetime adjustments to accommodate your changed body. Usually because your body just bounces back to its original state and you can keep it moving.

Well, I could not figure out why my arm was feeling so heavy. Or why it was swelling up. I was slightly alarmed but mostly annoyed. What in the world was going on? And how... HOW... was I going to deal with this crazy lymphedema if it just flared up for no reason like this?

Ha ha! No reason? No ma'am... there is always a reason, you just have to find it. Long story made short -- I aggravated my condition because I haven't been doing what I'm supposed to do. I haven't been walking every day like I should. I haven't been elevating my arm twice daily for 15 minutes. I haven't been doing my stretches and exercises. And ... I haven't been diligent about NOT carrying heavy bags on that side.

This past weekend, I attended (hosted actually) a brunch event for my meetup group. The sponsor of the event had supplied a few items to be given away to the participants. Since I don't drive and typically travel by subway, I moved the items from the box they were shipped in, to a bag that I could throw over my shoulder and keep moving. That's logical right? Wrong. At least... wrong for Nicole.

The giveaways were full size bottles of body wash and hair conditioner. I'll guess that with my regular stuff and the Dove prizes... I was probably carrying a bag that weighed maybe 15 pounds. Not super heavy... but too heavy for me to be carrying around on my bad arm. Which of course I did. Along with carrying my "I already know its too darn heavy" purse as well.

Ugh. I sooo hate it when I do stupid things because I'm not being aware and conscious. Carrying the products wasn't the worse thing ever. But it was part of a snowballing effect where I wasn't being a good caregiver for myself. I know better. I do. But I got comfortable and lax... and my body responded.

Sigh. I'll be taking my walk shortly. And elevating my arm. And wearing my compression sleeve. And I won't be pretending that I do not have to pamper myself and remain conscious that things are different now. I can do anything I set my mind to, I just have to be aware of how I do things and make accommodations for potential problems.

I met a miracle the other day...

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Lately, I have had the great fortune of having a multitude of serendipitous moments... I cannot complain about random good things. So Saturday evening, I was bone-tired and trying to find enough energy to make it to a dinner party that I had been invited to. As I was resting in the ladies lounge and charging my cell phone, a woman came into the lounge pushing a stroller.

Turns out that she was an old co-worker and she had just had a baby 6 months ago. Miss Emma was one of the most beautiful and happy babies that I've ever seen. As Emma's mommy told me the story about her birth -- her mom never really wanted kids but then changed her mind, once she changed her mind she found out that her body had some challenges that would make it difficult if not impossible for her to get pregnant or carry to term.

Long story short... all of the challenges and concerns did not stop Miss Emma from making her world debut. Like I said... she was beautiful. Cherubic, smiling face... the melodic gurgling giggles... just perfection. She was absolutely perfect.

Normally, the sight of a beautiful baby gives me a moment of womb-envy. It makes me pause and sigh and wonder what in the world my future will hold in that regard. But as Emma's mom and I kept talking -- mind you, we haven't seen each other in years so we had a lot to catch up on -- she helped to reframe my thinking about all of this.

Emma's mom had a lot of reasons why having a baby could have been a long-shot. She had a twisted cervix, and a serious issue with fibroids. Her doctor had actually recommended that she consider having a hysterectomy. But she decided that she wanted to try and she wanted to have a baby. And while she did experience some problems... her baby is perfect and beautiful.

(Fibroids are a major health issue for african american women - a lot of us have them and they can wreck havoc on your womb health) http://www.fibroids.com/news-blog/2010/04/african-american-women-and-fibroids/

As we discussed my history with breast cancer and I explained that I was concerned that my fertility was gone or significantly reduced, and I explained that the medication I take now to reduce my chances of breast cancer recurrence cannot be taken while pregnant... so the consideration about having a baby is a serious one for me. She asked me whether I wanted to have a baby... and I laughed.

Yes, I think children are beautiful (albeit expensive) and I would love the challenge of having a child and being able to nurture a new person for the world... but interestingly enough I can't do it alone. And there's still no guy for me to consider having a baby with. Emma's mom said something that made me pause... she told me to wait until I came across the guy who would adore me. Now, I've heard that before but for some reason it was as though a lightbulb went off when she said it. Emma's mom was glowing. And I could tell that it wasn't just because she had that beautiful baby. She was really in love and with someone who loves her back.

And it made me think about my own dating life -- or what vestiges remain of it -- and I laughed out loud at myself. I've been kicking myself for being too picky at times. Kicking myself for not being picky enough at other times. Kicking myself for being too aggressive. Kicking myself for being too passive. Overall... I've been kicking myself for not getting this dating thing right. But it just hit me that until I meet "the one"... moving beyond the ones who aren't him is exactly what I am supposed to do.

Likewise... Emma's mom dropped another nugget of wisdom on me. Again, something I new but it still made the lightbulb go off. She said simply... "our bodies are so amazing".  (don't worry if the lightbulb didn't go off for you) All of the ways that the doctors tried to prepare her for the likelihood that she could not become pregnant or that her baby might be born with some health concerns... at the end of the day, none of it mattered and her blessing was simply her blessing.

I needed to be reminded that sometimes God just has something for you. Its got your name on it and it will not be denied... no matter how long the delay may be.

I found my second wind and went to the dinner party. Fatigue overtook me after I ate and I had to leave before the partying began but... I went and had a good time. My frame of mind was better and I was peaceful with the notion that if its meant to be, it will happen.

That is a beautiful thing. :)

Oct 21, 2010

How do I measure up?

In a few days I will be seeing my oncologist for a follow-up appointment. I haven't seen Dr. S in about 6 months and I am actually excited. My oncologist is a very nice man... and he is exceptional at what he does. Making very sick people better.

When I first met Dr. S, I only knew what I had been told about him from another doctor and what I found from a google search. He exceeded my expectations. The physicians that I know personally (friends and family members) are wonderful, warm and easy to talk to. But I tend to think of them as the exception to the rule, rather than the standard. I expected Dr. S to be stiff and stuffy and to come across as arrogant and condescending. He was none of those things. And along the way, I developed a crush of sorts on him.

I don't mean that I thought of the man in a romantic way. But I felt very comforted by him. I never felt that he was trying to take advantage of me -- or of my health insurance. I always felt that he listened to me and that when I expressed fear or concern about something, he took it seriously. We had a great rapport. That said... I've missed him, and the other members of the oncology team during the past few months. They were my safety net and now they are gone. Its a little scary out here on my own.

I know that I will have to take a lot of tests and I will have to remember to tell him all the things that I have noticed about myself since my last visit. But what I really will be interested in knowing is how I measure up. Am I making good progress in my healing? I think so... but what will the numbers show? Is my fear of recurrence rational? Probably not... but its still there.

I know that comparing yourself to others is not a great way to go through life. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, taller/shorter, wealthier... something... than you are. Getting comfortable and excited about who you are is the goal. I know this and yet, I am still very concerned about how I will measure up next week.

I'll keep you posted about what I learn. Say a prayer and keep your fingers crossed that I never ever have to hear the words... "Ms. McLean, you have cancer" again.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Oct 20, 2010

still working on my "sexy"

A few months ago, I asked the ladies in my email group what they did to feel sexy. And when were the times that they felt the sexiest and most feminine. The ladies gave me lots of examples... including after a massage, after getting their hair done and more. I was looking for ideas and suggestions to help me reclaim what I feel is still missing in my life.

When I lost my breast to the mastectomy, I lost my sexy. I lost the feeling of femininity. It was strange to me because prior to that surgery, I would have never thought that how I viewed myself was in anyway connected to my breasts at all.

I lived with one breast for 10 months. Some women live the remainder of their lives with one (or no) breast(s) after their mastectomy. Those 10 months were very challenging for me. I often felt like a fraud. Like I was masquerading as a woman... hard to feel sexy when you've lost the connection to your own body.

I have now had my new breast for nearly a year and my connection to my sexuality and my sensuality is much stronger than it used to be. But I do believe that it can be even greater than it is. I know now that when I get dressed, I look good in my clothes. I like that my belly is flat -- though I feel a little fraudulent about that too. Flat belly from surgery, not exercise. That's cheating, right? (shrug) But I still am not completely connected to this new body. I go through periods were I vacillate between feeling uber-sexy and non-sexy. It is strange.

I look at old pictures of myself and I remember how dissatisfied I was with my body before cancer... and yet, I felt sexy and attractive every day. (laughs) Even on the days where I didn't look my best, I felt sexy. Now, its just not the same. I feel sexy when I'm dressed up. I feel sexy if I'm spending time with a special person. But if I'm alone... or dressed very casually... nope. Not a bit of sexiness do I feel.

I understand logically that my feelings of sexy start in my mind and go from there. But it just doesn't always translate. Struggling to pull this compression sleeve on and off -- not sexy. Running my hand across my skin and noticing how dry and thin it feels -- not sexy. Fighting with this (still) strangely curly hair everyday -- not sexy. Being afraid to have my brows waxed too frequently because I'm secretly worried that the hair won't grow back in a timely manner -- not sexy. Being scared to death to have a pedicure because the risk of infection is high -- not sexy. And on, and on.

The little things make a woman like me feel sexy. A fresh haircut, nicely shaped brows, pretty painted toes... yes. Those little touches make me feel so much like a beautiful girl. Trying to forget or ignore all the other ways that my life is different is a constant reminder of that non-sexy feeling. I don't move like I used to. I can't use my arm like I used to. My arm doesn't look like it used to. My clothes don't fit like they used to. Some things I need to get rid of because they will never fit again -- like my collection of expensive bras in my former size. I have a stockpile of things that I've collected over the past two years... things that I needed to cope with different side effects of treatment. When I open the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and see the soothing gel I used on my burns during radiation treatment, I get teary. And yet, I can't bring myself to throw it away. I have more bandages that the normal person should own... but I needed them when my fingernails and toenails lifted and fell off during chemotherapy. I can't throw those away. The toothpaste I used then. The lotion and creams that I used on my sensitive chemo skin... The collection of pill bottles... you get the drift.

I know I should throw that stuff away and be done with it. Move on. But I'm finding it difficult. So, I look past it. Act like its not taking up too much space in my life... but it is. And I know that its far beyond time for it to go.

I suspect that I will focus on taking care of that this week. I need a fresh wind to move through my life and my world. Guess it starts with me cleaning out my closets and getting rid of things that are from my old life. Maybe then some of the cobwebs in my head will fall... and my sexy will come back full-time.

Oct 19, 2010

I whip my hair back and forth...

Unless you've been living under a rock or something... you've probably heard that Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith has a blazing hot new single called "Whip My Hair". She is a fiesty 9 year old girl who has stolen my heart with this wonderful little tune. Why? Because she reminds me to be present... and to be happy to be an individual.

Whip my hair is about being an individual. To quote Willow, "Like you can't be afraid of yourself. You have to be yourself and you can’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong!"

The song is catchy with an infectious hook and a happy beat. The video that was just released yesterday is equally amazing and fun and effervescent. In this song, Willow has captured the essence of what it means for me to be a breast cancer survivor... its MY life now. I get to choose how to live it, what to do with it, and what brings me joy.

I whip my hair back and forth...

Being happy is a choice that you have to make every day. Several times a day. All the time in fact. Life is constantly presenting challenges. Some of them stop you in your tracks. Some of them are easy to get beyond. But everytime you're faced with one... you have, in that moment, a chance to choose how you will react to it and whether your will choose happiness or something else.

I read recently that people who think of themselves as happy people tend to constantly look at life as a series of choices and obstacles. They choose to see challenges not as impenetrable walls or road blocks but as detours. You choose one path and then a challenge pops up... if you sit there and stare at the challenge, cry about the unfairness that the challenge appeared in your way, sit down and study the challenge... you're missing an opportunity to be happy and to be on your way.

Go around it. Or maybe you need to go under it. Sometimes you may have to go back a little bit to find a different path to reach your goal. But the choice to be happy while you keep moving is always yours.

I don't say any of this facetiously. I know that some of the challenges that life presents to us can knock us to our knees. Learning that I had breast cancer, that I would have to give up my breast and my fertility in order to save my life... knocked the wind out of me and pushed me to my knees. And it hurt. It hurt so very deeply that I can still feel the heartbreak from that time. But the choice to smile and find something -- no matter how small -- to be happy about was mine.

I'll be honest. I didn't always choose happiness. There were (and still are) lots of moments when I do just stop and cry. I look at the obstacles in front of me and I just cringe. I shout out to God that I've simply had enough of the shenanigans. And then after I've gotten it out of my system... I get up. And I start moving again.

Or as Willow says... "I whip my hair back and forth..."


Check out the video, if you haven't seen it already.
 
Whip my hair - youtube video


PS. I am not trying to make light of having breast cancer or going through any type of traumatic experience. If you find that you cannot find your way to joy or happiness... you may need to talk to a counselor or a therapist. Depression is real. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real. And sometimes you need more than willpower or a catchy tune to find your way to happiness. There is no shame in seeking help. There is no shame in grieving your losses. If the people who love you and see you most often seem concerned about your sadness... chat with someone who may be able to help steer you in the right direction.

But if it feels like a temporary state of unhappiness... just whip your hair back and forth until you giggle. Believe me, it works.

Oct 18, 2010

How to give a good gift to someone with breast cancer

How to give a good gift to someone with breast cancer





I want to offer a little advice on how to give a good gift to someone diagnosed with breast cancer. These are a few simple rules that I've come up with during my time dealing with breast cancer... feel free to use (or not) as you see fit and as apply to your situation.


You learn that someone you love (or like a lot) has been diagnosed with breast cancer. You are distraught and want to help but you have no idea what this person likes or needs. What do you do?

Simple answer: call (or email) and ask. It is preferable if you can reach out to someone close to that person, especially if the diagnosis is new and you are afraid of upsetting them.


You are not very close to this person (or you're shy and don't want to bother them with a phone call) but you want them to know that you care and that you are supporting them. What do you do?

Simple answer: send a card or a handwritten note expressing your feelings. The note does not have to be very long. It can simply say... "Thinking of you at this time" and that's it. The thought that someone outside of the situation cared enough to spend a little time and thought to send a note, really is helpful.


You don't want to look like a cheapskate and you want to give a gift that really will help their life since the diagnosis. What do you do?

Simple answer: Try to think of soothing things... gift baskets that you make yourself are very nice. Try to be mindful about where the person is in their treatment schedule. If they are in chemotherapy for example, then keep in mind that food is likely not their favorite thing so edible gifts may not be the best gifts. While flowers are a nice gift, chemotherapy makes a patient's immune system very weak and flowers (as well as fresh fruit) can have germs on them that will sicken the patient. Tea (ginger or peppermint) and a nice mug is a good gift.


You figure if it has a pink ribbon on it and/or your purchase of the gift will also be a donation to a breast cancer charity... its a great idea, right?

Simple answer: NO! Just because it has a pink ribbon doesn't mean that it will matter at all to the person that you want to give it to. Some patients are very disturbed by the image of the pink ribbon. Many companies use the pink ribbon image and the promise of charitable donations merely as marketing ploys... keep in mind what your gift will mean to the recipient.


Your money is limited but your time is not. What do you do?

Simple answer: Call and offer your time. A visit is a beautiful gift that doesn't cost anything beyond your transportation expense. Offer to cook (or bring food) for them. Or offer to accompany the patient to an appointment or hang out with them during chemotherapy. Breast cancer can be very isolating and it is also very draining on the patient and their caregivers. You can give the caregiver a break for a few hours and sit with the patient... laughter is always free and a beautiful gift that will not go unnoticed. You can offer to cook or clean or maybe babysit the kids.


Your time is limited but your money is not. What do you do?

Simple answer: Give money. (laughs) Seriously though, cancer is a very expensive disease. Even if the person has great health insurance, co-pays, prescriptions, and all the "stuff" you need to buy as you go along in treatment really can tap your savings account in a major way. If you're uncomfortable giving cash, offer a gift card or a Visa/Mastercard giftcard to help offset expenses. Offer a giftcard for the grocery store, the pizza parlor (or whatever food place delivers and is enjoyed by the recipient).

The person diagnosed is one of your closest friends but you live a million miles away. You want her to know that you love her and that you want to be of help. What do you do?

Keep regular dates with your friend. Either call at the same time or day every week or send cards/notes regularly. Do not fall off the face of the earth. And do not take it for granted that "if she needs me, she will call me" because she may not. She may not have the energy to call.


You talked to your friend and she seemed really upset. What can you do?


Simple answer: You have to know your friend in order to know what will help. For me, comedy and laughter was the best gift. Some of my favorite gifts were funny movies and silly books that took my mind off of cancer for awhile. Also, the best thing that you can do to help your friend, is to learn about her disease. There are books out there to help husbands understand breast cancer, and there are books to explain breast cancer and its treatment. The more you know, the better you will be able to help her during this time. And the more you know the less likely you are to say something well-intentioned but insensitive.


You are crafty/handy and want to give a hand-made gift. What would be helpful?


Simple answer: it depends on the patient. Two things to keep in mind:

One, if you want to buy clothes or things that will touch the skin, natural fabrics are best and be aware that chemotherapy and surgery makes the skin very sensitive. So, things that you might purchase for yourself may not be gentle enough for the patient. I remember wearing my socks inside out because my feet were so tender during chemotherapy that the seams inside the socks irritated my toes. (laughs) Yes, its that serious.

Two, if you want to give gifts like lotions or soaps, etc., please PLEASE make sure that it is all natural, preferably organic and does not have any irritating properties to it. If you don't live in an area where organic beauty supplies are plentiful, give items that are made for infants where possible. Epsom salts are a WONDERFUL gift. And cheap. May not be the sexiest gift in the world, but it is so soothing to take an epsom bath after chemotherapy. It helps with the aches and pains and it also pulls some of the toxins out of the body. Avoid items with parabens, mineral oil and sulfates. (you will have to read the ingredient label to be sure that these chemicals are not in the product) A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't or couldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin.


You're not a great gift-giver but you want to help. What do you do?


Simple answer: provide ways to make life easier for the patient. Create a medical binder that the patient can use to keep all of the paperwork in one place. She will need a calendar system as well. Organization is the key to keeping everything relatively smooth going. The gift of a journal can also be helpful. A journal will give her a place to write her thoughts about the entire process but also to note any questions that make come up between doctor appointments. I kept a binder with sections for insurance paperwork, appointment paperwork, lists of medications and how to take them, bills and notices from the insurance company too. I purchased a large spiral paper calendar that I carried with me to every appointment so that I could write down where I was supposed to be and when. Any way to help keep things organized will be extremely helpful to the patient.


The bottom line

The bottom line is that you should remember a few things... depending on your relationship with the patient, your gift(s) and interaction should reflect your concern. If it is a work colleague, you may want to protect their privacy. In that case, a one time card/note with kind words and maybe a floral arrangement will be sufficient. If it is your best friend since forever... constant contact may be more appropriate. Regular get well soon cards, or thinking of you notes... regular phone calls and visits may be more in line with your close relationship. You just want to let this person know that you care and that you want to help. Just because it has a pink ribbon doesn't mean that she will like it -- or that she should. Give the gift from your heart... and all should be fine.











*Disclaimer: Affiliate links were used in this blog post. This means that if you make a purchase through these links, I will receive monetary compensation. All money earned covers the cost of running this blog and to support the writer. Thank you. *
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Oct 17, 2010

...can I be a little sick of pink ribbons on EVERYTHING?

As a kid, October was one of the best months because of Halloween. Getting dressed up in costumes and going trick-or-treating around the neighborhood was BIG FUN! When I outgrew that stage of development, October lost its shine... and became the month that little kids overindulged in sugary sweets.

Little by little... October's importance as breast cancer awareness month grew as I got older. It did not make October a favorite month of mine, but my respect for the month grew. And then I was diagnosed with breast cancer... and suddenly October's importance loomed large in my life again.

There are many breast cancer survivors who don't care for the pink ribbon or all of the hype that this month brings. I am not bothered by the sea of pink that this month brings. In fact, since pink has always been one of my favorite colors, I'm absolutely overjoyed to be able to find so many items in pink because of breast cancer awareness.

So... today when I opened an email and read about "breast cancer pears"... I was confused. What on earth is a breast cancer pear, I thought? Well... its a piece of fruit. Yes, that's all. A piece of fruit that grew on a tree. No, it doesn't have magical qualities or some sort of miraculous healing properties that will cure breast cancer. It is simply a pear.

Sigh.

But it is a pear that is marketed by an organization that claims that purchasing these breast cancer pears is a wonderful way to show someone that you care for them ... and to contribute to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. Its interesting that I stumbled on this email today because a few days ago I was engaged in a deep conversation with some ladies on line about the Komen Foundation and whether or not they are really working towards finding a cure... or just making money on the image of caring. (paraphrase mine...)

So... a pear that is just like any other pear that you buy or pick off a tree, suddenly is "better" because its packaged with a pink ribbon and sold (probably for a premium) in order for the California pear industry to be able to make a sizable donation to Komen.

Sigh.

Just seeing that made me sigh deeply. Some of the items that are plastered with pink ribbons simply mean nothing. Nothing. Companies have now begun to just take advantage of a disease that is ravaging the lives of many women and men... because it looks good to say that we support breast cancer awareness. But the lack of specificity about how exactly you hope to support breast cancer awareness, the lack of direct assistance to the millions of women and men who are struggling physically and financially because of this disease, the lack of anything other than a boost to the corporate bottom line... is truly distasteful to me.

Not every corporation is guilty of slapping a pink ribbon and leaving it at that. And maybe I'm just cranky because its starting to feel overwhelming this month... but some of the ideas are just so disingenuous. A pear? Why not a biscuit or a cherry or heck... some tea? I'm being facetious but I'm sure that if I searched for any of these items, there will be an organization who is selling the false hope that something is being done... because they slapped a pink ribbon on it and wrote a check.

I won't tell anyone how to spend their money. And honestly, I do believe that seeing pink ribbons everywhere does help raise the awareness of the disease. But, I also think it gives people a false sense of involvement and understanding... breast cancer is a complicated disease that requires a complex range of treatment options. Buying a pear -- no matter how well intentioned the giver is -- will not make anything better.

I wanted to respond to the person who posted that they were looking for these miracle pears because they wanted to gift them to someone who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. And maybe I will go back and send her a private note. But, I feel badly telling someone who has good intentions that their gift idea is lame and probably a waste of money. If you want to buy pears... just buy some pears. They don't have to be wrapped in a box with pink ribbons in order to be effective or appreciated.

Its the thought that counts... not the pink ribbon.

Oct 15, 2010

Dating chronicles: Follow up to my rant

The other day, I did a radio interview to discuss the blog and my journey with breast cancer. It was so much fun. During the interview, I was asked about my dating life after breast cancer and I really had to stop and take a deep breath.

See, a little bit of time and space has helped my perspective and while I'm still disappointed that I'm not going to be dating the guy that I was interested in... I'm very much okay with it now. I laughed and talked about some of my more interesting dates but I didn't mention the ones that I had allowed myself to feel vulnerable with.  I didn't see the point. But I will explain why.

I talk a lot about my life here on the blog. And honestly, it amazes me that people actually want to read about my craziness and all of my emotional outbursts. I keep a lot of stuff inside and don't talk to anyone about certain things. One of those things is the really personal and deep feelings that I may have for someone I'm dating. I have been in love before. Many times actually. (and I know somewhere someone is shocked by that revelation) But its true. I am very passionate and emotional... so either I'm totally open to loving a man early on... or it likely will never happen and we remain great platonic friends. Rarely does someone cross from platonic friend to romantic interest. And even more rarely does someone cross back.

The thing about dating for me now is that I'm actually more likely to open myself up and be vulnerable than I was before my diagnosis. The reason for that is that in order to even get to know me right now requires that you have to be open to hearing about the hardest thing I've ever dealt with. And then to become intimately involved requires that I open myself up to scrutiny as I discuss and/or reveal my scars (both physical and emotional). Because I am building a life and a career around discussing my journey with breast cancer, I am becoming more comfortable with wearing my vulnerability and not being ashamed of it. For me, that is a big step and a big deal.

Dating after breast cancer "can" be a buzz-kill but I'm finding that most of that negative energy is emerging from between the ears of the one who fought the breast cancer battle. Not from the people who find them exciting, attractive and appealing. We (survivors) put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we are no longer "perfect". We think that someone else will be freaked out because well... we've been freaked out. And yes, there may be some guys who cannot handle your new boobies, your surgery scars, your radiation burns... but a lot of guys are going to find your strength and your courage so very sexy... so very enticing that you're going to wonder what in the world is going on.

I'm back to thinking positively about dating again. I'm pretty sure that as long as I remain laid back and easy going about it... I'll meet someone who makes me smile and makes me laugh... and who thinks that this cancer girl is hot and sexy.

That's all a girl like me needs some days. :)

Oct 14, 2010

Support is critical for your healing

I spent most of the day today at a funeral for one of my cousins who passed away unexpectedly in her sleep a few days ago. Arlene's death was surprising and upsetting but it reminded me that support through tragic situations is something that we all need.

We all go through tough times and tragic situations. It may not always be something like breast cancer... but it could be losing your mother unexpectedly or losing your job. Something. And when that something hits, you have to dig deep into yourself and find the strength to carry on and keep it moving. But often, you may need a little bit of outside help and support to really get through the hard time.

Because I am an internet-girl... I will advise any breast cancer patient, care-giver or friend of a survivor... to use the internet to seek out other people who can relate to the intensity of the situation that you face. But if you're not an internet person, check with the social worker at your cancer center -- or the cancer center of a hospital near you if you're a care-giver looking for advice -- and they can direct you to resources that you can utilize to help to support you.

I am seriously going through some stuff on this side of the computer. To put it mildly, I'm hoping for some financial miracles and blessings. The bills are coming faster than the money and its looking really hard over here. But the beauty of my support system is that they always manage to do something smile-worthy when I least expect it. A beautiful care package was waiting for me when I got home from the funeral today. The perfect pick-me-up after a really long day and a very, very stressful week.

Build yourself a sturdy support system. Give back to them any and every chance that you get. Say thank you over and over again for their love and their affection and their prayers. And then pay it forward and be a support for someone else.

A few online support group resources to check out:

http://www.thewellnesscommunity.org/

http://www.cancercare.org/

http://www.menagainstbreastcancer.org/

http://www.cancer.org/

Oct 13, 2010

A new way to emphasize my survivor status

I'm an 80's kid... I was coming into my own in the 80's and I have lots of fond memories of that time in my life. Back in the day... we took a lot of risks with our fashion and we carved our own niche that made us stand apart from our parents and other folks. We had our own style... and it included things like nameplate necklaces and earrings... two (or three) finger rings and so forth.

I had a name ring -- in fact, I think I still have it somewhere -- and I had the requisite bamboo earrings (at least two pair) but I never had a name necklace. Those things were expensive and I was very accident prone and highly likely to lose any piece of really expensive jewelry that I had.

I was surprised a few years ago, when I was watching Sex and the City and noticed that Carrie was rocking her 80's name necklace. It was adorable... and instantly made me think that I needed to get one. But with today's world being what it is, I felt a little leery about walking around with my name on my neck. Cute, sure. But appropriate for a woman my age? Um... not so sure about that. But I couldn't shake the desire for my own name necklace. I just pushed it to the back of my mind.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I received an unexpected gift and decided that since I still had not celebrated my cancer-versary, I was going to do something just for me. So I did a little internet searching and decided that I wanted to order a name necklace for myself. But... with a twist. Instead of getting my name on a necklace... I got a title. And I couldn't be happier with my gift.

My cancer-versary gift to celebrate my second year of beating this disease was a name necklace with the word "Survivor". I haven't taken it off since it arrived. It makes me happy in a way that I don't think I can adequately explain to you. Its not super huge, or excessively gaudy... it just says what it says and nothing more.

It does exactly what I wanted it to do. Makes it plain to anyone who can read that I've been through something and I'm proud of my progress. One of my girlfriends suggested that I get some bamboo earrings with "Survivor" on them. Not sure about all that. But I have been considering a two finger ring.

What do you think?


Oct 12, 2010

Dating chronicles: It is official, I think that dating sucks

I had an entirely different post written... but I had to delete it because it was bitter and caustic and slightly mean. And I know that I wrote it that way because I'm emotional. So, I'm going to try to do this a different way.

I hate dating. I really hate dating post-breast cancer. There are a lot of really nice, very attractive men in the world. Really nice. Very attractive. And a lot of them are single. And out of that number... there have been plenty who have looked at your favorite breast cancer blogger and thought wow... she's pretty doggone hot! Okay... so maybe that wasn't what they were thinking... but that's what I think they were thinking. Because for a breast cancer chick... I'm one sexy babe.

Really. So, what's the problem you ask? The problem is that I am sick of dating. I'm sick of the getting to know you phase of life. I'm absolutely mortified of showing my new body, my new breasts to someone new... and I'm really tired of second-guessing whether or not I'm a good catch in a bad town... or a bad catch and should just let it go. The emotional baggage that circles my heart because I feel like I'm damaged goods... makes it difficult to get to know someone. And it makes me take everything that someone says to me... and analyze it to death.

What's sadder is that I am a really fun girl. I know this. I cultivated this personality over years and years of trying to get beyond my shy high school girl persona. I am a lot of fun, dammit. But I am more than that too. Its sort of a twisted problem. How can you be mad that people like spending time with you because you're fun? The same way you can miss your old saggy boobies that you had to replace with perky new ones because you had breast cancer. Its not logical but it is real.

To sum up why I'm hating dating right now -- its the same song that I've been singing for awhile now. It is difficult for me to find nice guys that I get along with, who make me smile and make me think... and who make different parts of my body tingle with just a word or a smile. Those guys are rare. But they are out there. And when I find one who does all that and then some... AND he thinks I'm cool and great and fabulous... I tend to want to spend time with that guy and get to know him well. And just maybe... maybe... go deeper than the shallow getting to know you stuff.

But when he tells you that he likes you... but not that much, you wince a little bit. Or when he says that you live too far away, or he doesn't like you enough to dig deeper... well, it stings. And then when you start to wonder what part breast cancer may or may not have played in this whole scene... it becomes a strange and sad feeling.

To be fair, I'm no saint and I'm far from innocent. Seriously. I've broken my fair share of hearts in this lifetime. Not by choice or design... but simply because it was bad timing or I didn't like someone as much as I felt they deserved. So... I get it. I really do. Everybody isn't for every one at every moment. Yes. I know that.

But it still stings when you like someone... and he doesn't like you back. Every time.

PS. For the record, I think he thinks I'm mad at him for being honest with me. I am not mad nor angry. Just disappointed. And mostly disappointed with myself because I should have been prepared for this sting... and yet, it caught me completely off guard.

That's the risk you have to take when you like someone... and when you're looking and hoping to find someone to love. No risk, no reward.

Oct 11, 2010

Write a letter to someone you love about cancer

A few days ago, I wrote a post that was a break-up letter to cancer.  (Dear Cancer...) I got the idea from a pink ribbon sister I met through my blog. She got the idea from a facebook page. And they got the idea (I think) from some other person's blog. All that to say, it was an idea that had been around for a time. And it was a good idea...

I've been thinking of ways to acknowledge the toll that cancer takes on the friends and family members of cancer patients/survivors. I decided that a letter campaign would be a good thing. If you know someone who is or has been struggling with cancer, consider writing a letter to them (whether they are deceased or alive) and letting them know how much their experience has touched you. Or if you are the one who has struggled with this disease, consider writing a letter to someone who impacted your life while you fought cancer.

Cancer affects so many people all around the world... and it can be an isolating experience for everyone involved. What would you say to your loved one with cancer? Why not write them a love letter and let them know how you feel?

It doesn't have to be long... but a heartfelt short note can change a lot. I think I will write a few letters... to my aunts who battled this disease, to my mom who stood by my side every day, to my ex-boyfriend who helped me in the beginning of this journey, to my best friends, my god-brother and the girls from DCSG... and to my grandmother who died from cancer when I was 9. Her journey has had a large impact on my journey.

Who will you write to?

Oct 10, 2010

I want to go to Kenya... can you help?

Thanks to my insomnia, I'm often up very late at night... usually playing games on facebook or working on some writing. The other night, I was up late as usual on facebook when a young Kenyan woman started to chat with me. We have never met but she heard an internet radio interview that I did some months ago and started to follow my blog. I was flattered that she wanted to know anything about my challenges with breast cancer. After our conversation, I was stunned and moved.

This young woman, with internet access and a desire to learn about global issues... was distressed that the conversation about breast cancer was very limited in her country. She knew someone who died of breast cancer and the person never said a word about being sick, or having cancer. Her death was a surprise and a shock to her classmates and friends. During our brief conversation, she explained to me that in her country women (especially young women) do not discuss breast cancer as openly as we do here in the US. This young lady was under 30 and seemed quite alarmed that she simply did not know enough about the disease or prevention. She said to me... if I know very little, with all of the access that I have to the rest of the world, I worry about the other women and girls in my country who do not have the same connections. She told me that conversations about breast cancer were simply lacking. Since our conversation, I've pulled a few articles from the internet and the news is pretty startling. I will post the links to a few articles at the end of this post. I ask that you read them... and think about ways that you and I can make an impact on this nation.

She asked me if I would consider coming to her country to speak about my experience with breast cancer. I rarely turn down opportunities to speak. Even when the events don't pay, I still try my best to be there. (Though, between you and me, I could surely use the money from any and all paid engagements).  This young woman did not contact me as the representative of some large organization, she had no budget or even a schedule. She simply reached out to one person that she knew felt as passionately about the issue as she did.

I cannot ignore her request. Even though I have no connections, no ideas about how to go about getting to Kenya and finding audiences of interested women, I still want to try to get there. Between the two of us, we have no idea how I would get there or where I would start with speaking to the women of her country. But there was something about her plea that really struck a chord with me.

I want to go. I have never been to Africa but I would love the opportunity to reach out to my sisters and share what I have been through. Kenya faces a lot of challenges... and I don't know if my voice would make a huge difference. But I'm praying that maybe I can help in some small way.

My journey with breast cancer has been relatively smooth... I did not have many major issues with finances until the end of my treatment. And even those issues have been mild compared to some of the stories that I've heard over the past couple of years. I was connected to a wonderful oncology team at a cutting-edge hospital. I had a very dedicated oncologist who promised to do his best to save my life. And he did that. The opportunities for life after a diagnosis of breast cancer are so much slimmer in Kenya. Between the poverty of the people, the lack of medical resources, and the cultural taboos... it is a serious challenge to get women to speak up and to take charge of their health.

I read somewhere that the cost of a mammogram in Kenya could be $20. Seems cheap right? Until you get the perspective that some people earn $1.00 per day. One dollar. The issue is staggering in scope. I am one person. One sister who feels compelled to talk about her journey. But as the face of breast cancer changes -- from the face of an older (probably wealthy) white woman, to the face of a younger, poverty-stricken woman of color -- more voices are necessary.

Please read the articles that I have linked to below. They will open your eyes to the scope of the issue in our developing nations. It is estimated that by 2020, 70% of breast cancer cases will come from developing nations. That is a lot of women who may die because money, access and understanding just may not be available to them.

I want to go to Kenya. If you have any ideas, any connections... or just an encouraging word, please feel free to share.

Articles:
Breast Cancer Around the World

Battling breast cancer (Time magazine)

Controlling cancer in Kenya

Kenyans urged to go for breast screening

The changing face of breast cancer

Oct 9, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Lopsided. How having breast cancer can be really distracting

Well, I am finally getting around to writing reviews of various books that I've been reading over the past year or so. As you know, I sort of fancy myself as a "writer"... (laughs). I've been kicking around the idea of writing a memoir about my breast cancer experience. While I was researching books about young African-American women with breast cancer, I stumbled on Meredith Norton's memoir about her journey with breast cancer.

Meredith Norton is black. And female. And a breast cancer survivor. And that is about all of the similarities I could find between us. (laughs) This sister is as different from me as the moon is from cheese. But she seems like the kind of woman that I'd love to sit and chat with over a good drink (or three) and laugh. She has a caustic wit that is razor sharp. Very interesting lady it seems.

Her memoir was not what I expected. For me, it started a litle slowly... was a bit challenging for me to relate to her rhythm initially. However, once it picked up, I found myself quite riveted to her descriptions of her world as a breast cancer patient.

She was a newlywed, first-time mother, living in France with her very French husband when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she is a native American, she came home to receive treatment... leaving her husband behind for a time and learning to struggle with a life-threatening disease and a toddler at the same time.

I won't give away all of the juicy bits but I will say this:  she's very honest about her emotional and physical journey with breast cancer. She is not too sappy, not too emotionally draining... and she is also not too peppy, not too cheerleader-ish about the journey. She is wonderfully and honestly endearing.

The book is a relatively quick read -- about 200 pages -- and it gives a good insight into the heart and mind of a young woman who is facing her mortality and trying to remain a calm constant for her young family. I highly recommend checking it out.

If no other reason... the title is quite appropriate -- Lopsided. How having breast cancer can be really distracting.

Breast cancer is ... if nothing else... quite distracting.

Oct 8, 2010

300 posts!!

Time marches on. Three hundred posts and I'm still here. And you're still here. How amazing is that?

This journey is not at all what I expected. Two steps forward, sometimes three steps back. Joy in the morning and sometimes tears at night. But I'm here.

And honestly, that's what I thank God for everyday. Thank you for one more day.

Two years later... He's still blessing me.

Awesome!

Oct 7, 2010

Grief -- its always just under the surface

Earlier this year, a friend of mine from college was killed. Though we weren't close -- had lost contact over the years since college -- the news of his death hit me pretty hard. A few weeks later, two relatives passed suddenly and I was rocked to my core again.

Yesterday I stumbled across the Linked In page of my deceased college friend and I just broke down in tears. I had to pause for a moment -- I was on Linked In looking at some other friends/connections and his page just popped up. It was eery. I had to pause for a moment and collect my thoughts.

Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had confused him with someone else. He wasn't dead. I mean, here was his Linked In page describing his business... making him sound alive and well. Ready to take on the world.

But then I exhaled. I remembered that yes, indeed he had passed away a few short months ago. And though we weren't close, the finality of his existence hit me hard. Death is a normal part of life. None of us lives forever. I, for one, do not fear death -- for myself. But it does present a conundrum for me when it comes to people I love and care for.

When cleaning up some paperwork in my bedroom the other day, I came across the program from my cousin's funeral... and again, I was stunned and shocked. Yes, I know that she's gone but seeing that paper brought it back to me that it wasn't a matter of we're too busy to connect... she really isn't here any longer.

I recently read a blog post about grieving and it hit me that I am still mourning. I am mourning the loss of friends and family this year. I am still mourning the losses I incurred because of breast cancer. And while I have managed to pick myself up and dust myself off each time I've fallen (or been pushed) down... that pain, that grief is right there just under the surface of my life.

The blog that I read mentioned that grief was broken into three stages... numbness, disorganization and reorganization. {Mamaspeak: co-parenting and grief on losing love and finding yourself}

I feel that I am giving the world my "I've got it all together face"... nearly 90% of the time. Truthfully, I feel that its my job to present that facade to the world. Reading this blog post showed me myself in a new way though. I'm smack dab in the midst of the disorganization phase... there are days where I cannot get it together. If you could see my bedroom -- where I spend an inordinate amount of time -- you would cringe. I am losing things, forgetting things... hesitating to do things that I know that I need to do. Its a shame and more importantly... its not really me. A little messiness is one thing, that's normal. I'm edging away from normal and starting to wonder if I'm really struggling with something major. I suppose that realizing that there may be an issue is a start to figuring out how to fix things.

For every victory and step forward... I am human enough to admit defeats and steps backward. But I'm still pushing forward. I do not know whether or not I'm doing this correctly. But I'm trying to keep moving forward. Even if the pace isn't as fast as I would like it to be.

Oct 6, 2010

Insomnia... still

My insomnia is back -- or maybe it never went away. I've been trying to go without my sleeping pills but its not working. I'm going to have to give in soon and refill my prescription (or get some over the counter pills) because I have been up consistently until the early morning hours for weeks now. I end up getting sleep thru cat naps during the day... but its difficult to function when I'm awake and the rest of the world is asleep.

I cannot blame chemotherapy or any other part of my breast cancer treatment. I am no longer in treatment and yet... my sleepless nights go on and on. Seems like there is no end in sight. As I keep forcing myself to focus on more holistic and natural ways to heal and move on with my life, this insomnia deal is really bugging me. Before breast cancer, I was struggling with over the counter sleeping aids... with pretty miserable results. Over-the-counter sleeping pills take forever to kick in and make me sleepy and then are super difficult to shake off when its time to get up in the morning.

Between me and you... Nyquil was a good help to get to sleep (ssshhhh!) but I worried that taking all of that medicine was just too much. All I wanted to do was sleep. So, when I mentioned to my oncologist that I was having difficulty sleeping while I was in treatment, he prescribed Ambien for me. MANNNNNN... that was the best sleep ever! Well, the second best sleep ever. The absolutely best sleep ever is whatever they give you in the hospital when you're having surgery. I have no idea what type of anesthesia that is but it is amazing.

At any rate... I've been taking Ambien for awhile now and the last time I saw my oncologist he seemed disturbed that I was still taking the Ambien. He wanted me to find other ways to get to sleep. So, now, months later... I'm trying to figure out ways to get to sleep without using some sort of pill to get me there. Needless to say... weeks of sleepless nights are showing me that I need to work harder. Or give up and just go back to over the counter pills.

Suggestions are welcome...

Oct 5, 2010

So sick of the sleeve... compression sleeve that is

Many breast cancer survivors wear compression sleeves to keep their lymphedema in their arm (and sometimes hands) in check. You probably have noticed these women around your town and wondered why they had on what looked like an athletic garment. I never thought that I would be one of those women but I am.
The sleeve itself isn't horrible but its awkward and well, not that sexy. I am supposed to wear it throughout the day and then take it off at night. But I actually keep mine on day and night, unless I'm going somewhere and I really want to look, well, normal. Its hard to be a hottie in a nice dress with a long compression sleeve on. LOL... it totally takes away from the look.

But seriously... I'm just sick of this thing. For one, I ordered the wrong color so it really stands out that I have it. I will say that they come in a lot of colors and patterns. But for my first one, I chose one that was a neutral color instead of a wild pattern or bold color. But its boring and I'm sick of wearing this thing. Plus, I don't think its working really. My arm is still swollen and its not going down. I'm frustrated. I can't afford to go back to physical therapy but I've got to figure something out. I can't go on like this for the rest of my life. Back and forth to therapy, always wearing bandages or a sleeve? Just... ugh. Frustration.

Today I'm annoyed at this sleeve and the lymphedema that forces me to wear it. But, I'll smile and grin anyway because being annoyed means that I am alive ... and that's something to be happy about.

I'm doubly frustrated because this sleeve is relatively new and its unraveling, which means that I need to order another one... sigh. Always more money to spend. Being a survivor is just not cheap nor easy.

Oct 4, 2010

I want to wear a pink wig

October is the month where everything shifts... the weather gets cooler, kids look forward to Halloween... adults prepare for costume parties and masquerades... and breast cancer awareness is everywhere you look.

I am not big on dressing up for Halloween. It has not been one of my favorite holidays for quite some time. However, this year, I'm feeling an itch to rock out with a pink wig. Seriously.

The same chick who refused to wear a wig when she was bald from chemotherapy, now wants to bring all sorts of unwarranted attention to herself by strolling around town in a pink wig.

Yep. That sums it up. So... I'm on a mission to find the cutest and sassiest pink wig that I can. I'll post pictures when I get it.
If you know of any cool Halloween parties that I can crash with my sassy pink wig -- I think I still have my Elvira costume somewhere in the recesses of my closet -- let me know. I'll show up... and show out a bit.

With my hot pink wig!!

PS. Wear some pink, hug a survivor, say a prayer for those we've lost to this dreaded disease... Keep giving so that we can find a cure.

Thank you.

Oct 3, 2010

Its breast cancer awareness month!! Yay for October...

October is breast cancer awareness month. It is the time of year where I see more pink ribbons, more pink shirts ... just a tidal wave of pink, pink, PINK! Everywhere I turn.

Sometimes it is so beautiful that I'm moved to tears. Other times, it feels pretty oppressive. The first time I actually witnessed a sea of pink... was at the Komen Race for the Cure in 2009. I was still in the midst of my treatment. I was emotional. I was tired. I was bloated. But I had to be there. And when I looked around and saw just how many people were affected by breast cancer and were supportive of breast cancer... I bawled like a baby.

How can one disease impact so many people? When will a cure be found?

I don't have the answers... only questions. And a deep faith that a cure is around the corner. I will ask a favor of you this month, this year... wear some pink. Even if you don't know a soul who has been touched by this disease... sport a little pink at least one day this month in solidarity for a cure. If you hear about an event to raise funds for awareness or research... give a small donation. Do one thing... this month to show support for the millions of women and men who are affected by this disease.

And... let me be the first one to say THANK YOU!

Oct 2, 2010

Follow-up to my first 3-day master cleanse

Well, I finished my three days of the master cleanse,[trying-master-cleanse] and I have learned something about myself. First of all, I am full of it -- literally. (laughs)  Second, I LOVE to eat. Third, this is really a good thing to do for my body. Fourth and finally... three days just isn't long enough to really change habits and make long-term changes. But it is a good start.

The master cleanse is pretty simple, but that doesn't mean that it isn't difficult to do. I should have prepared myself to do this before I started but I jumped right in. I didn't want to chicken out, so I figured that I'd leap into the deep end of the pool and just paddle like crazy.

That isn't a very good plan.

I updated my statuses on facebook pretty frequently over the past few days with the various thoughts that passed through my mind as I cleansed. To sum them all up.... quitting eating cold turkey is hard and constantly going to the bathroom is gross.

I decided to only do three days because I have plans this weekend that include eating... and I did not want to change my plans or substitute another activity for eating. I just didn't want to do it. But I have decided that I will definitely do this cleanse again, and soon. And the next time, I will push for the entire 10 days.

I'm hungry right now. And I think that it will be a more difficult road than I imagined to give up processed foods, white flour, white sugar and red meat. It will be equally difficult to reduce my alcohol intake as well. But... I'm pressing on because I have to.

Sigh.

I'm not sure if its related but my lymphedema is acting up something serious. I'm a little freaked out about it. I hope that I can reverse it with some self-massage and a few exercises.

I swear, If it ain't one thing... its another.

Oct 1, 2010

Dear Cancer...


Dear Cancer,

In two years, you have changed who I am completely. Actually, you did it with one phone call. My body is no longer the same. My spirit has changed and once again, the trajectory of my future has shifted. Although my medical team did all that they could do remove you from my body... the ghost of your existence remains in my heart. You have changed me.

In some ways I thank you. You removed some of my remaining naivete and replaced it with a maturity and an empathy I have never known. You gave me reasons to be strong that I didn't have before. You introduced me to people and allowed me to make friends with people that I may not have otherwise known. You have placed me in situations where telling my story to someone helped to save their life because it woke them up to the possibility of your existence.

But in many other ways, I despise you. When I think of people who have fought you multiple times and each time they beat you, you come back in a different way, attacking their body in a different place... I hate you. When I hear stories of relationships that you destroyed, I get angry. You are cruel in that you attack without deference to age, race, culture. There is no way to run from you.

I think of you everyday because there is always a reminder that you invaded my body, wrecked havoc in my personal life and scared my friends and family with your presence. When I get dressed and I look down at my new breasts, I think of you. When I'm trying to sleep and I roll over on my arm that is now swollen with lymphedema -- and I realize that I have to shift positions so that I don't further aggravate it -- I think of you. When the mail comes and its another bill that I don't know how to pay, I think of you. When the phone rings and its another appointment, I think of you.

But you taught me lessons that I needed to learn, like how to stand up for myself. I thought I knew how to do that... and then I learned that sometimes the answers aren't as simple as a choice between yes and no. Sometimes the answers are simply risks with variable degrees of effectiveness. I was faced with the choice between losing one breast because of cancer... or removing both breasts to try to prevent your return. I never would have believed that I would be strong enough to make a choice that difficult and stick to my guns, but I was. You are a vile beast, a squatter who takes up residence where you're not welcomed and unwanted. I kept my breast because I honestly dare you to come back. I dare you!

You taught me that no matter how much of a good person you are, sometimes life just isn't fair. You taught me to roll with the punches and keep getting up. You taught me to have faith when it seemed like the sun wasn't going to shine again. You taught me that this is my body, I have to love it. I have to take care of it. I have to treat it well. Because without my good health, nothing else matters much.

So, dear cancer, I am so very grateful that you are gone from my body. And I look forward to the day when you are no longer a threat to anyone anywhere. I now know how it feels to watch helplessly as someone you love struggles with this disease and I know what it feels like to be the person struggling to defeat you. Neither side is good. It is my prayer that you go away and never ever come back.

This is my break-up letter to you, breast cancer.

Sep 30, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Promises to Keep

A few months ago I was contacted by a publishing house and asked to read and review an upcoming book. Since I love FREE things and I was immensely flattered by the request, I accepted the book and promised to review it here.

I did read the book when I received it, but I couldn't review it right away because it bothered me. I wasn't sure that I could give a good review that wasn't harsh or unflattering. I wanted to be honest because I know how much work goes into the writing and publishing of a book... but I didn't want to be mean.

That said... "Promises to Keep" by Jane Green is a good book. And no, I'm not just saying that because one of the main characters is a breast cancer survivor. It honestly is a good book. It disappointed me because I expected the book to be more about the woman with breast cancer and less about everyone else in her life... but it wasn't.

A little background:  Jane Green is one of the first women to step into the chick-lit genre and really make a killing. Her book sales are large and she has a huge fan following. I was truly excited to read this story that was loosely based on her own experiences losing a close friend to breast cancer. As a survivor, I was looking forward to seeing and learning how this disease affects the people around you. In that regard, it didn't disappoint. I did learn how it affected her parents, her husband, her kids, her sister and her best friend. I just didn't learn enough.

Just a little bit of insight about "Promises to Keep":

From Publishers Weekly


In Green's 12th novel, Callie Perry is a happily married photographer with two wonderful kids, a lovable sister, Steffi, and a best friend, Lila. Problems are minor: Steffi can never settle down, Lila has finally found love but the guy has a nightmare of an ex, and Callie and Steffi's divorced parents haven't spoken in 30 years. But then Callie, a breast cancer survivor, is diagnosed with a rare and incurable complication of the disease. Suddenly realizing that she has only months to live, she begins the painful process of saying good-bye. While the subject matter is intense and personal, it's far from depressing; the characters are warm, funny and realistic. Green (The Beach House) manages to create an authentic tale of a woman who truly loves her life and family and is trying to do the right thing for them before she dies. While Green breaks up her chapters with recipes (presumably because Steffi is a cook), this peculiar modern conceit in women's literature feels like a misstep. Overall, Green once again delivers an enjoyable emotional story. (June)

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From Booklist

Callie Perry seems to have it all: a handsome husband she adores, two adorable children, and a thriving business as a portrait photographer. A battle with breast cancer four years ago only made her marriage to Reece stronger, but the couple faces a major setback when agonizing headaches and a frightening blackout send Callie back to the hospital soon after celebrating her forty-third birthday. While Callie's oncologist tries to determine if her cancer has returned, her family rallies around her. Her younger sister, Steffi, a successful chef, has recently traded a fast-paced life in New York City for a quieter one in Sleepy Hollow in order to reassess her priorities. Callie and Steffi's father, Warren, has barely been able to be in the same room with their mother, Honor, since she left him; but news of Callie's plight brings him rushing to her bedside. Inspired by a friend's battle with cancer, Green's story definitely has the emotional heart and resonance to hook readers of women's fiction. --Kristine Huntley

I know that chick-lit is supposed to be pretty light and fluffy... interesting character sketches that appeal to women. But this story fell flat for me. Maybe I am too self-focused to understand but it was as though this woman's death was almost an inconvenience for the people in her life. Everyone had their own baggage and stuff to work through... and while they were sad that she was dying of cancer, they seemed to function okay. Not what I was expecting.

That said... if you're into chick-lit, if you're a Jane Green fan, and if you are interested in seeing how the caregivers deal with someone they love dying of breast cancer... this is a good story for all of that. I just think (actually, I just wish) that Jane had dug a lot deeper into the emotional baggage surrounding the disease and the anticipation of the death of a loved one. I think it would have made a more compelling story. As it is... I felt that she applied too light of a touch to the story. I felt that the person who was dealing with the breast cancer recurrence was the only one who experienced any real depth of emotions and honestly, I know better.

The people who love you through your treatment and afterwards, go through emotional highs and lows on par with yours as the patient. Please believe that. Chick-lit isn't supposed to be deep, I know that... so I think my expectations were misplaced and that's why I was somewhat disappointed with this book. One story that I read a few years ago, about a mother dealing with a bi-polar child... really took me through the emotional highs and lows of the caregiver of someone dealing with a life-altering illness. I expected "Promises to keep" to be on par with "72 Hour Hold".   But sadly, it didn't go far enough into the pain that I'm sure was felt by everyone.

It was a good story but not a GREAT story. But then again, maybe I'm biased because I've been through the breast cancer struggle and I know the impact my illness had (and still has) on my close friends and family members. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Sep 29, 2010

Almost a year after the TRAM Flap surgery

My Fabulous Boobies| Diagram of TRAM Flap procedure for breast cancer patients
Its been nearly a year since I had my breast reconstructed. The TRAM Flap procedure is the method I opted for and generally speaking, I'm pleased. I ended up having a "free TRAM flap" which is a complicated and intense procedure. I chose this procedure because it used my own body tissue and because I felt that in the long-term, it would be better for me. It would have been easier and faster to have had an implant but after all of the breast cancer treatments, I was really leery about having anything foreign in my body. When I speak to other survivors who have gone through breast reconstruction, I still wonder whether I made the right choice -- or rather, was there an easier choice to make. But, its fine now and I really have few complaints.

My tummy is somewhat flat. It isn't as flat as I expected it to be. I thought it would be just ridiculously flat but a better descriptor would be smooth. I guess in order to get it to flat, I will have to do some work. (laughs)  My breast is amazing. I still don't have a nipple yet, but I will have one soon. Surprisingly, I'm actually okay without it right now. The reconstructed breast looks wonderful in my clothes. And its nice and perky (as is my other breast which was reduced to match in size). I often run around without a bra on... and that is really cool. Hmm... I didn't realize what I was missing all those years I carried those super-large breasts around.

The downsides are few... I still have limited feeling in my tummy area. The numb area is much smaller than it was immediately following the surgery. But all of the feeling has not returned to my tummy area. My abdomen muscles are stronger but still not completely strong. Every now and then I'll do something that reminds me that I had major surgery and had some of my abdominal muscles removed. But it doesn't happen often and when it does happen, the cramps don't last too long. My posture is still rather poor. It is better than it was after my mastectomy but I am truly a work-in-progress in this area. The tightness of my abdomen causes me to involuntarily curl at the shoulders to avoid pulling those muscles too hard. Hard to be sexy with rounded shoulders. (laughs) But I'm working on that too.

The additional surgery around my underarm area totally aggravated my lymphedema. It was very mild prior to the TRAM procedure... now, it is the bane of my life. I am so sick of the fat arm... ugh. But, I can still move it around and I'm just forced to constantly stretch and exercise and massage it. And wear my compression sleeve. I am hoping that as I start to lose weight (I'm changing my food habits now) and start to work out more (planning to incorporate some very light weight lifting into my exercise plan), the lymphedema will get better. I know that for the longest time doctors have been telling breast cancer patients with lymphedema risks not to over-exert the affected arm, not to lift heavy objects and all that. But that seems so off to me (and yes, I have no medical training whatsoever but so what). I'm just going to do what I think is best and hope for the best.

My Fabulous Boobies - a breast cancer patient after a TRAM flap procedure
[This is what a cancer patient looks like after TRAM Flap surgery.]
The other downside of the procedure is that while my new breast is nice... it doesn't actually look like a real breast. And there are times when that matters to me. Also, there's no feeling in it. I can feel around it... but I cannot feel the actual breast. If someone brushes against me, or even reaches out to grab me... I won't notice it unless I see it happen. That is not very sexy. (laughs) But, all things considered, I'm more happy with my reconstructed breast than I was without it.

The pain after the surgery is really a dim memory. I recall that it was the most painful thing I'd ever experienced in my life. And I absolutely hated the recuperation period. But, despite all of that... I am generally pretty happy. I chose the TRAM flap because implants require regular surgical maintenance and I did not want to do that. However implants are easier to get initially, take much less time in the operating room, cost significantly less and your recuperation time is far shorter. So they are truly a good option. TRAM flaps are one time options though. Once they take the flesh from your tummy, they cannot go back and do that procedure again. My plastic surgeon was trying to convince me to have both breasts removed so that she could do the TRAM flap for both breasts at the same time. I just refused to do that. I am hoping that I don't regret the decision to keep my natural breast.

I don't particularly like my scars (on either breast) but they don't make me as crazy as they used to when I look at them. I am becoming more and more comfortable wearing low-cut things that show off my cleavage and my scars. I am less concerned with people noticing my scars and asking me crazy questions. The scars on my hips and across my lower belly have healed well. They haven't disappeared which is what I had hoped for but they are okay. It really looks a lot like a cesarean scar except it stretches from hip to hip. Now that I think about it though, I have slacked off with my vitamin E oil/shea butter massages on my scars. Hmm... need to get back on that. It was definitely helping the scars to look better, my skin to look better and also to soften up the tissue underneath the scars.

I am about 11 months from the surgery and its been a good recuperation. I am confident that I will continue to make progress and feel sexier every day. I do not regret making this choice at all.

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