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Feb 16, 2011

I'm tired of being mad, sad, frustrated, aggravated...

One of my favorite holidays just passed... and I'm still basking in the afterglow. Valentine's day is just a great holiday to me. Okay... okay... before I get hit with all the bah-humbug rumblings from the peanut gallery I understand that a lot of people simply do not enjoy the day the way that I do. Its okay and I'm okay with your choice to hate it as long as you're okay with my choice to love it.

Cool? Cool.

So, here I am a few days after v-day... nursing a headache because I've spent the past two days gobbling down so much chocolate that I think I may have sent my body into some sort of shock. Its been wonderful. I received some fantastic gifts from people who love me and think I'm great. One of those gifts came from myself. Yep. I chose to love on me this valentine's day and I have to tell you that I am so thrilled with myself.

I am single. I'm not actively dating any one person in particular though I do date a bit. I go out when invited and have fun. I also go out alone quite a bit and enjoy the company of myself too. (Do you feel a theme here?) 

A few days before valentine's day, I read a blog post from another breast cancer survivor and it really helped to solidify the way that I decided to approach this year's love holiday. My pink ribbon sister is dealing with metastatic breast cancer. That means that her cancer returned and now it has advanced to her bones and other organs and basically... there isn't much hope for a cure at this point, they are simply trying to manage her pain and help her deal with the inevitable. She will likely die from this disease. As I read her post and empathized with her anger, I realized that my choice to love the LOVE holiday was a good one.

Back when I last had a boyfriend -- which was during the beginning of my cancer treatment -- valentine's day came along and I was so excited at the notion that in the midst of all the craziness of my life with breast cancer, I would have an opportunity to ignore the madness and fully focus my attention on showing my guy that I really loved and appreciated him. And then I was hit with a brick wall. My guy didn't like valentine's day. Refused to celebrate it. And even better, he was going out of town that weekend to spend time with friends. To say that I was severely disappointed would be an understatement. To say that I'm still angry about it would be really true. Here's the thing... I understood that he was "unhappy" and felt that I had not been paying enough attention to him. Personally, I thought it was some crap but his feelings were his and just because I didn't agree didn't mean that they weren't valid. But considering that valentine's day came about a month after I had lost my breast and about 6 weeks after I ended my chemo... a nice time with my guy was something I looked forward to. And yes, my heart was broken that he decided that I wasn't worth his energy.

So... two years later I'm still a little pissy about that sorry valentine's day. But I'm not sad about it. I'm angry that I wasted my precious energy being sad back then. I can't (and don't plan to) change anyone's mind about valentine's day. I love it. I don't plan on stopping. I still have the valentine's day card that my high school boyfriend gave me. I haven't looked at it in years but I know that its in the box on the shelf in my closet. I'm that kind of girl, you know? When someone shares a piece of themselves with me... I treasure it. I keep it and I think about it. Because it is a true gift and you can't under estimate its worth. And when someone shows you that they don't look at life the same way that I do... I file it away so that I don't disturb them in the future with the things that bother them if I can help it. When my then-boyfriend told me (yet again) that he didn't like or appreciate my fondness for certain holidays, I filed it under... "crazy things about this dude that I love"... and kept it moving.

Fast forward two years... I'm single. I'm cancer free. I'm slowly getting my sexy swag turned all the way up. I'm dating -- as much as my little heart and always crowded calendar will allow. I have hair and its cute hair. Very curly, quite stylish. I'm feeling peaceful about a lot of things. But those few days before valentine's day when I was feeling "some kind of way" and I couldn't put my finger on it... I was once again mad with myself. For all of the things I could complain about in my life (like everybody else) I knew that I really just needed to focus on all the ways that I am super-duper blessed and keep it moving.

Look, I'm tired of being mad. I'm tired of being sad. I'm tired of being aggravated by other people, stupid situations and really unfortunate circumstances that life brings to my doorstep. No, I wouldn't wish breast cancer on my worst enemy. Hell, if I could go back in time and keep myself from getting it, I surely would climb into my Delorean from Back to the Future and stop this mad train from running me over. But I can't. And since there isn't a cure yet... I can't keep anyone else from getting it. What I can do... is try to help other people be more comfortable with the idea that IF it happens to them (or someone they love) they can get through it -- no matter how it shows up. Whether it shows up and just is a huge and expensive inconvenience or it is a large and looming deadly event... you can still be YOU and function in this world.

So, this year, I decided that in the midst of all the madness that I'm going through and all the wonderful blessings that are heading my way... I decided that I wanted something nice just for me. And that gift to myself brought me more joy that you can really imagine. The icing on the cake was receiving gifts of love from some of my favorite little people in the world and receiving all kinds of happy text messages and smiles the entire day. It was a good valentine's day for me. I hope that it was a good one for you too.

Next year... maybe I'll take myself on a trip someplace tropical and warm. (smile)

Feb 11, 2011

Guest post: Maurice Judkins, Breast Cancer in Black America

One of the people who responded to my request for guest posts was my Twitter friend Maurice. Maurice works as a radiation therapist and has provided a really great post about the impact that breast cancer has on the black community, and ways that people can be proactive about their health regarding breast cancer.

His post really is like a love letter to all of us who have been through this or who are concerned about it. (Which should be all of us)

Breast Cancer in Black America

Although, we (African Americans) are a quite resilient race--we love our culture, our family, and our heritage but sadly, not our bodies. We willingly ignore health related tell- tell signs. Age specific diagnostic exams are often waved off. They are thought to be more of a hassle rather than help. Many think if we are feeling fine there is no need to have a mammogram or other recommended exams. And even sadder yet, we fear if you seek you SHALL find. The fact of the matter is that African Americans have the highest cancer rates of all racial ethnicities, yet we feel less at risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the United States following Heart Disease. With that said, my sistas, please, listen: 

Wake up! Wake up and take control of your health, your beauty and of course, your life. You all are and will forever be the backbone of the Black man and our culture. Without you we would cease to exist!  Cancer is a very serious deal and of course very frightening. Most equate the feeling of receiving the bad news with that of being punched in the stomach multiple times. You are flooded with emotions and immediately feel it is a death sentence. Fortunately, this is not the case in very many instances. Yep, most cases are highly curable.

The first step is detection. Early detection in all forms of cancer is the key.  Every young lady should perform a self breast exam monthly. Usually two to three days after your menstrual cycle. Dr M. Punukollu describes how to successfully perform this exam below.

Stand in front of a mirror with your upper body unclothed and pressing both hands behind your head.

Look for changes in the shape and size of your breasts.

Check for dimples of the skin or "pulling in" of the nipples.

Check for scaling or a rash on your beasts and nipples.

Next, place your hands on your hips and press firmly inward, tightening your chest muscles, while looking at your breasts for any change in their usual appearance. Perform leaning slightly forward and again while standing upright.

How should I feel my breasts?

In fact, there are three different methods that can be used, all equally effective. It is important that you choose the method that you are most comfortable with and use the same method each month.

Circular method

Use the hand opposite the breast you are examining, beginning at the outermost top of your breast.

Press the flat portions of the second, third and fourth fingertips into your breast.

Move in small circles slowly around your breast, working toward the nipple.

Press gently to feel tissues under the skin and more firmly to feel deep tissues.

Cover all areas of the breast.

Repeat for the opposite breast.

"Wheel Spokes" Method

Imagine your breast is divided into sections, like spokes dividing a wheel.

Begin at the outermost top of the breast.

Press the flat portions of the fingertips into your left breast, moving first toward the nipple, then away from the nipple.

When you complete that section, slide your fingers slightly to the next area and repeat the process, gradually moving around your entire breast.

Repeat for your opposite breast.

Grid Method

Begin at the innermost portion of the breast, near the breastbone.

With the flat portions of the fingertips, move down your breast, pressing firmly and gently.

Slide your fingers slightly and move up your breast, then down, and so forth until the entire breast area has been examined.

Repeat for the opposite breast.

Lying down

Masses in the lower part of the breast may be more easily felt lying down.

To examine your left breast, lie flat on your back with a pillow or folded towel under your left shoulder.

Raise your left arm over your head.

Use the flat portions of the second, third and fourth fingertips of your right hand to examine your left breast with one of the above methods.

Press gently to feel tissues under the skin and then more firmly for deep tissues.

Repeat for the right breast.

Standing up

Masses in the upper part of the breast are easier to detect while standing upright.

Place your left hand behind your head, and with the flat portions of the second, third and fourth fingertips of the right hand, examine your entire left breast by one of the methods described.

Repeat for your right breast.

Nipple area

Gently squeeze your left nipple between your right index finger and thumb and look for any discharge.

Repeat for right nipple.

Additional areas

Check the area between the upper outer breast and your armpit, as well as the armpit itself.

Check the area just above your collarbones for enlarged lymph nodes.

Another early detection tool is having a mammogram performed annually beginning at age 40.  However, if you have a family member with a history of breast cancer or any other form of cancer I would advise having it done sooner. Please consult with your primary care physician about your specific case.

According to Science Daily ( Mar 22 2009)
African Americans have a shorter life expectancy than whites, and cancer plays a major role in this disparity. African Americans are more prone to get cancer; they tend to present at a later, deadlier stage; and they have poorer survival rates after diagnosis

What the heck IS this?! Seriously!!! We are much smarter than this!  Take the first step. Get the exams done, get informed. Read, black people! Tell your mothers, your grandmothers, your sisters and even your brothers and fathers. Yes, that’s right. There is one percent breast cancer prevalence in men. Studies show that black men are more likely to die from breast cancer than our white counterparts.

This disease is not the end. Yes, there are many facets and disparities that come with it but YOU CAN FIGHT. There many black women living happy, healthy and successful lives post breast cancer battles. Take control! 

I tell my patients that wellness begins with mental wellness. A positive and optimistic attitude can move mountains… let that marinate.

For more information you can visit the American Cancer Society website.   http://www.cancer.org/
About the writer:

Maurice Terrial Judkins BSRT (T) is a Radiation Therapist with over ten years experience. He is certified with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and holds a B.S. Degree in Radiologic Sciences.

You may follow him on twitter @sdotslim

Feb 5, 2011


My thoughts about my journey with breast cancer.

Feb 3, 2011

Webinar: African-American women and triple negative breast cancer

I've mentioned in the past that breast cancer shows up differently in black women than in white women. Breast cancer is more often a deadly disease in black women than in other races. The reasons for this are multiple. But, one of the reasons is because of a particular type of breast cancer that is very difficult to diagnose and affects black women at a much higher rate than other women.

Triple negative breast cancer affects my pink ribbon sistagirls in a major way. Susan G. Komen Foundation is holding a free webinar to discuss this particular strain of breast cancer and its impact on black women. The details are below. I hope that you choose to tune in and learn about it.

PS. I did not have triple negative breast cancer. But I do know several women who have struggled with this disease and it is very difficult to manage.

2/14/2011 - Triple Negative Breast Cancer in the African American Woman

3-4 p.m. CST / 4-5 p.m. EST

Please join us for a discussion on triple negative breast cancer in the African American woman. Over the last couple of years, triple negative breast cancer has received a lot of attention from the breast cancer community. In spite of this “buzz,” women who are diagnosed with this form of breast cancer are confused about what the diagnosis means and do not understand their treatment options or their risk. Our two speakers for the hour will be Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade from the University of Chicago Medical Center and survivor and Komen advocate, Tina Lewis.



This event is being streamed. It is recommended that you listen via your computer speakers. If for any reason you are unable to stream, you can listen to the audio via the telephone by calling:

Telephone (ONLY if you cannot listen through your computer): ( 877 ) 633 - 6595

Conference ID: 38804979

NOTE: Please click the link below to easily test your internet connection prior to joining the meeting:

Connection Test: http://test.meeting-stream.com

Jan 28, 2011

Being poor or a minority with cancer is just not the same...

The Great Divide:  Why racial disparities in health care persist.
by Mary Carmichael
February 15, 2010 Newsweek

It's been more than a decade since Congress first officially acknowledged that this country has a problem with race and health. In 1999 the government asked the Institute of Medicine—an independent nonprofit whose reports are the gold standard for health-care policymakers—to investigate disparities in health and health care among racial and ethnic minorities. The results were damning: the ensuing study, called Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, found that minorities had poorer health and were consistently getting lower-quality care even when factors such as insurance status and income weren't involved. They were less likely to get lifesaving heart medications, bypass surgery, dialysis, or kidney transplants. They were more likely to get their feet and legs amputated as a treatment for late-stage diabetes. Clearly, something needed to be done.

In the years since the report, the issue has gotten plenty of publicity, more reports have come out, and several agencies—including the National Center on Minority Health—have examined the problem and suggested solutions. Still, studies continue to turn up disturbing disparities. For instance, earlier this month, a paper from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that between 1992 and 2004, black women were up to 90 percent more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer than white women, even though rates of mammogram screening were similar for the two groups. Another recent study put the health data in financial terms and found that race-related differences in health care cost the country $229 billion between 2003 and 2006, a result that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called "just stunning and shocking."

So why, now that everyone's aware of the problem, do we still have one? Mostly, the reason is that health and race are both complicated issues to examine academically. Put them together, and constructing a study design that can tease apart all the issues and make sense of the data is an enormous challenge. In other words, we still don't really know what's causing a lot of these disparities, much less what to do about them.

Take the simple issue of how to classify people in order to study health disparities. Let's say you want to look at Hispanics. "They're a group that is linked only by being from countries that were under Spanish rule," says Thomas A. LaVeist, director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. "To combine Cubans and Mexicans and everyone else into one category doesn't make a lot of sense. The populations are so different. You have a tremendous amount of variation [in health, lifestyle, and genetic heritage] that's being masked." Or take the fact that studies often put Africans living in the U.S. in the same category as African-Americans who were born and raised here. If you want to study, say, HIV rates, that catchall category becomes meaningless, says LaVeist, because the virus is so much more prevalent in Africa.

Then there's the thorny issue of causation. Almost all common health problems have two root causes: the "nature" ones (i.e., genetic factors), and the "nurture" ones, which come from one's environment. For minority health issues, both categories are complicated. Race is a notoriously inaccurate proxy for genetics, since it's such an imprecise way of describing people. Take the case of Bidil, the so-called black heart-disease drug. LaVeist posits a hypothetical question: would you give it to Barack Obama, whose mother was white? Looking at a patient's full genetic analysis would give you much more information than race does, but the era of personalized medicine is still years away.
The "nurture" category is even more complicated, because it encompasses both the social environment (how people live, their income, what they eat, how stressed-out they are) and the medical environment (whether doctors are treating them differently because of their race). It's not always possible to separate the two, says Thomas Sequist, an assistant professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School: "These issues aren't always so clean-cut as 'This is an issue of the social environment, and this is a problem with the delivery system.' "

Take diabetes, which is far more common in African-Americans and Hispanics than in whites. Both Sequist and LaVeist have looked at the issue extensively. Sequist's work has found that "the health system in general got much better for diabetes care" for minorities from 1999 to 2003, thanks to "cultural competency" training for doctors. In one study, physicians were treating patients of different races exactly the same way by the end of the training. But the minority patients' outcomes actually got a little worse over the same time period. Similarly, LaVeist has looked at "a community with black and white people living together, in the same conditions"—specifically, a neighborhood in southwest Baltimore—and found that "there was no race difference with diabetes."
Setting aside possible genetic factors, both these studies would seem to point to the social environment, since care was similar but the results were different. Put bluntly, the disparities appear not to be the fault of the doctors, but of the lifestyle the patients are living, often not by choice. But things aren't that simple. Other research has shown that indeed, the health-care system does play a role. Sequist says that in another set of studies, "a certain percentage of the disparities come from the fact that if you're a minority, you're more likely to be going to a community health center or a safety-net hospital," which have worse outcomes than large medical centers that serve patients in higher income brackets. Is this racial disparity the fault of the doctors at the "safety-net hospitals," then? Maybe they're treating their minority patients differently. Or maybe they just have less-sterling credentials than the doctors at major medical centers. Or maybe their poor outcomes stem from the fact that their patient population is unhealthier to begin with. The data are too tangled to say anything for sure.
All these complications make it extremely difficult to implement good policies around race and health. And yet, says Sequist, "about three or four years ago, there was a huge push to move into the phase of actually doing something about this." Cultural competency training has now become standard in many medical centers. And if the Democrats' current health-care legislation were to pass, it would implement "over three dozen provisions that offer promise" for addressing inequities, says Dennis P. Andrulis, director of the Center for Health Equality at Drexel University, who has assessed the House and Senate bills closely. (If reform doesn't pass, he adds, "I think the bills are a road map for what Congress might be looking to support in the future.")

But health-care reform probably won't be enough to change the fact that minorities are more likely to be in poor health. For that, we'll need even more sweeping social policies, says Brian Smedley, one of the authors of the Institute of Medicine report. "There's a growing recognition that we need to address environmental health hazards, that we need to improve the food options in neighborhoods and schools, to improve the availability of parks and recreation facilities in communities that are overrun with liquor stores and fast-food restaurants," he says. Those are all laudable goals, but they have to start outside the hospital.

Jan 20, 2011

Faith is necessary

I had a momentary crisis of faith this morning. I received a message that one of my pink-ribbon sisters found out that her breast cancer has returned for a third time. That news shook me deeply. After the fear subsided, the anger took over and once again I had to really stare into the mirror and adjust my faith.

Renewing my faith is a regular process. I lost my composure earlier today. Sometimes it is tough to remember that my blessing isn't another person's curse. They too have their blessings to be grateful for and thankful of.

I do not know what causes breast cancer. I do not know if something in our environment, our food supply, or something else is contributing to these high incidences of cancer. I do know that until a cure is found, I will continue to ring the alarm that we all need to do what we can to live our best lives to maintain our breast health.

  1. Eat well -- eat fewer processed foods and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Enjoy organic meats and drink lots of water.
  2. Move your body -- exercise daily makes you feel better, helps to clear your mind, helps to settle your stress and helps with your weight.
  3. Lose weight -- if you're overweight, even a minimal loss of 10 pounds can help you fight breast cancer.
  4. Give yourself regular BSE's -- regularly examining your own breasts goes a long way to helping your breast health. Know what your breasts feel like, be on the alert for things that feel differently.
  5. Get your mammograms regularly -- if there is a history of breast cancer in your family, tell your doctor. Regular mammograms help to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages which makes it more treatable and more curable.
  6. Know that if you do have breast cancer you can still have a wonderful life -- I am a witness that life after breast cancer does exist. A diagnosis of breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence. If you're single, you can still date. You can still be fun. You can still follow your dreams.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Jan 19, 2011

Half of American Adults May Have Pre-Existing Conditions Putting Them At Risk For Rejection by Health Insurers

Half of American Adults May Have Pre-Existing Conditions Putting Them At Risk For Rejection by Health Insurers

from Department of Health and Human Services

January 18 ,2011

Up to 129 million adults under age 65 have some medical condition which would put them at risk for being denied coverage by American health insurers, according to a U.S. government study. The conditions, ranging from cancer to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, would trigger rejection or much higher prices in the individual health insurance market.

Jan 18, 2011

An invitation to guest blog on "My Fabulous B**bies"

New year, new me... new blog. :)

This year, I'd like to present my blog and the breast cancer journey in a new way. I am opening up my blog for guest posts from people who would like to speak about breast cancer (or fabulous boobies) and its affect on the world.

If you're interested... send me an email (send it directly to fabulous.boobies@gmail.com) and let me know what you'd like to write about.

-250 words (can be a little more or a little less depending on the piece)
-answers the questions: how does/did breast cancer impact your life? what do you do to make sure that your boobies (or the boobies of people you love) stay fabulous?
-no profanity.
-images will need to be approved before posting.
-all submissions can be cross-posted to your own blog
-all submissions will be subject to review/editing before posting
-you decide the tone -- can be funny, sad, reflective, etc. totally up to you.

That's it!! I'm excited to see what other people may want to share with the breast cancer community. Nearly a quarter of a million people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. The impact on the world is major. I want to raise up a chorus of voices -- not just survivors either -- to discuss this disease and its effects on the entire world. I want to hear from mothers, fathers, children, friends, co-workers, health workers, employers, financial gurus, nutritionists, etc. ... anyone who has something to say.