Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My dirty mouth is famous!

Okay, they may not mention me by name, but there's an article in the Washington Post today about the conference. Read towards the end. See if you can guess the part that sounds like me. Yeah, I swore in the Post. Awesome. I was part of the photo shoot discussed in the article. (Not to be confused with my own shoot... more on that later.) I'm pretty sure I'm the last quote as well. On the website, however, you don't get the beautiful half naked pictures of us. Well, you do, but you have to look for it. What the article doesn't tell you, however, is that I was bitching cuz my pants were falling down. I just wanted to take them off. Or that the "disco pose" was actually very Charlie's Angels-esque. Or that halfway through, the Post photographer was all up in my business as I made high school senior picture poses (topless, of course)... putting my head in my hands, leaning against the pole, getting all "soft focus." Perhaps she's using those photos for her personal collection. Who knows. She was right, though. There was something just cool about standing around topless with a bunch of women, all scarred. Some without nipples, some with big dents. Some with what I liked to call my "blueberry muffin tops." (Hello, my pants fall down precisely to avoid muffin top). And it was fun. As was the rest of the conference.

For your viewing pleasure... can you find me here? This one's a little harder :)

In Real Life

I am back from the boob conference. It was good. Can't say I learned a ton of new stuff, but oh, well. I have done more research than the average bear. 850 breast cancer survivors under 40. That part was cool. I also learned that Washington D.C. shuts down if there's an inch of snow. Seriously, they told me it would be 2 hours to get a cab. You kidding me? I digress...

So, I'm fairly active on a few message boards. Some having to do with cancer, some not. It isn't uncommon to see the phrase "IRL" - in real life. Not to be confused with "url," as in a website. On the Young Survival Coalition board, you can read frequent comments on how "irl, people don't get it." "irl, i can't talk to my friend/husband/mom/dog" Okay, maybe I can, but you get the idea. Before this conference, about 40 of us discussed how excited we were to meet each other IRL. Women we only knew through signature pictures and diagnosis statistics. Women we only knew through written text: where humor, sarcasm and truth are deeply intertwined.

Off I went to the conference. And I recognized some of these women immediately. Some had different hair than in their pictures (myself included) but I recognized their smiles. Or their eyes. When you don't have hair, your eyes become bigger. Or at least they look bigger. Even though I don't post all the time, I immediately felt a part of this "family." We shared stories, jokes, rants. We laughed and made inappropriate comments at the sex toy party. We were from all over the country. Some were shy. Others, uh-hem, were not. We were single, married, gay, straight. IRL, one would argue if we would be friends, or even run into each other. But this isn't real life. It's cancer life. And in the world of the "big C," once you're in, you're in.

What did I learn? I learned that women are beautiful no matter if they have boobs or hair. I learned that a good laugh can make you feel worlds better. I learned that there are amazing, strong awesome women who have this disease. And they don't deserve it. I learned the value of a community and unconditional support. In spite of hot flashes and side effects and our own problems, there are women willing to reach out and help others. Give what is left of themselves. Where else can you get that many women together and not have it be a cat fest? Maybe cuz most of us have no hormones left.

I am in awe of these women. Stage IVs who refuse to give up. Women just diagnosed who have to go through all that shit. Shit that I'm so glad to done with. Although we all travelled back to our homes, our families, our lives - I now have a bit more of an insight to these women. When they offer advice, I will think of their presence. Or their hug. Or the fact that one went out on a date with a dwarf. Most importantly, I will think that I am proud to be a part of them, IRL or otherwise. I am honored to consider myself a member of this fucked up sorority.

Here's a group picture of women from the YSC board. Can you find me? It's like "Where's Waldo?"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ridiculous, Party of One - your Table's Ready

So I've jumped from planes, taken up pole dancing (which by the way, I can now go upside down)... what next?

This weekend I will be attending the Young Survivors Conference for young women with breast cancer. Think 600 women under 40... I'm sure there will be crying involved. And some bitching. And I sure as hell hope some drinking.

This in itself is not extraordinary. Although I am told there will be a Pure Romance party. Also known as a sex toy Tupperware party.

"Hi, honey. I'm home."
"How was the conference?"
"Great. I brought you home some lube."
"I love presents."

This is also not the crazy part. Here goes. I will be posing nude for a photographer. WHAT! Yep, me in my "30 pounds overweight, I'm not comfortable in my body" glory. What the hell? There is this awesome woman, Christine Benjamin, who's doing a photo project for breast cancer.

Here's her website. The project is called "I of the Beholder." Her work is beautiful and inspiring. She's at the conference and some of us have volunteered to be a part of it.

Why am I doing this? Well, it's nuts. I love that. More importantly, it's part of my life now. And it's impoartant to see younger women with scars, etc. For me, it's also about learning to love my post cancer body, chubby and all. It's not to say that I'm not trying to drop those pounds, but for now, they are my badge of courage.

I will give you all the details when I get back. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Breast Conservation

Back in the dark ages of breast cancer treatment, a woman would go to sleep on an operating table and wake up without her breast. Or her chest wall muscles. And some male doctor would shrug his shoulders and say, "at least you're still alive."

Thankfully, medicine has come a long way. Breast conservaton is all the rage. A lumpectomy (as in taking out the tumor and some surrounding tissue) plus radiation has a similar survival rate to a mastectomy. Recurrance rates may change, but it's comparable. Many women feel lucky to even have the choice. In turn, many doctors, especially women doctors, have been educated on the huge effect losing your boobs can have. They are eager to encourage breast conservation.

If you have been reading this little tale from the beginning, you would recall that I labored over this very decision. In fact, it is the one element to my treatment that I still debate with myself in my head. My very well respected, head of a major breast center, female doctor felt a lumpectomy was the way to go. Unless I wanted a mastectomy, that is. My tumor was small, it would have the least cosmetic downsides, etc. Finally I decided to do the lumpectomy, figuring I could cut them off later if I needed to.

Problem is, no one really tells you that a lumpectomy does NOT mean your breast will be conserved. Not in the way you thought, that is. My tumor ended up being larger than they thought. And it was in an odd position. It was at 6 o'clock. Most tumors are in the upper half. And no one told me that this is the worse place for a good cosmetic outcome. In conserving my breast, I now have 2 lopsided ones. One nice and normal and one with a huge dent on the underside. The plus side- it doesn't droop. Not enough tissue. And from the front, it's not too obvious. But from the side....

The first time I really noticed the dent, I was looking at the mirror in our bedroom. I was admiring the little half moon of my scar, thinking it was healing nicely. Thinking my boob made a cute little face... a one eyed smile, if you will. Then I turned to the side. And my face fell. There was a huge hunk gone. It was like a canyon, or a plateau, or a butte... whatever those abrupt drop offs are. I turned to Alan. "Did you notice this?" His look told me yes. Thankfully, put those girls in a bra and no one knows the difference. No one but me.

Then I had radiation. And the skin tightened. And lost some senstation. And if I ever do get pregnant, my regular boob will become ginormous while my radatied, "conserved" boob will remain the same. And when those pregant boobs shrink, they will be all sorts of messed up. That may be the time to just cut them off and start again.

I tell this story for the women who may read this. Do I wish I did a mastectomy? Got a matched pair? Gt a tummy tuck while I was at it? I'm not sure. It is what it is. But ask questions. Ask for pictures. And for the people who think that someone "just got a lumpectomy" so it can't be that bad, I would argue it sucks no matter what.

However, I revel in the fact that I got breast cancer, thus gaining a bunch of weight, thus getting HUGE BOOBS. Serously, these girls are out of control. Under a shirt or with a v-neck, they look great. Just don't take off my shirt.


Better Living through Chemistry

I was never a drug user. Nothing more than a Tylenol here or there. In fact, I was crap at taking pills. When I broke up with my boyfriend in college, I threw my birth control pills out the window. (that may have had more to do with the fact I hated sex with him, but that's a story for another day...) I've never been able to take vitamins. I did have a brief affair with Flintstones, but they were so chalky especially the purple ones. When I worked on ships, when everyone thought that buying prescriptions of Xanax in Cozumel was a good idea, I took a pass. Even more so when they chased a few with some vodka. (Seriously, it's amazing any of us made it to 30) I have never been offered so much pot as when I was in treatment. I swear, I had no idea so many people had "someone they could hook me up with." The idea of putting a hot, smelly bowl in my mouth when I already felt like puking wasn't my bag. Although some have told me maryjane got them through treatment... good for them. I missed out, I guess.

Because of cancer, I did have to make friends with pills. Pills before chemo, pills for 3 days after chemo, pills "as needed." Pills for pain, pills for my nausea, pills for my pooper. I got better at taking pills. I even threw back a couple at a time. In the beginning, Alan would laugh at me as I made faces and occasionally spit pills back up. He's one of those guys who can take pills with no water. Not me. I need flavor in my chaser. I eventually became friends with my pills. I learned that drugs were my friends. God gave us modern medical science for a reason. And pharmaceuticals. I learned to embrace cancer as my excuse to ask for medication when needed.

One of the cabinets in my kitchen is known as the "Magic Cabinet." Feeling anxious? Take an Ativan. Nauseous? Compazine. Pain? Norco or vicoden or percoset? I have all three. Trouble sleeping? Have an ambien. What about hot flashes? Effexor. I am my own one-woman pharmacy.

I now look forward to my minor medical procedures as chances to enjoy the wonders that are anaesthesia. Bring on the port removal, the colonoscopy! Twilight sleep? Yum! Ooh, I'm getting sleepy. I feel like I've had 6 martinis. When someone tells me they are taking this new med, I say, "Ooh, I love that shit." Or they're going in to get their port put in... "Versed. Get the good stuff!"

I currently take 3 pills a day. And another "as needed." More than I actually took some days during active treatment. Eventually, I may not need these pills. Until then, I'm going to take my drugs. Think of it as all the bad behavior I never displayed as a young adult. (I had pelnty of other vices, don't worry.) Only this time, I get to do it with a doctor's prescription.

Public Displays of Attention

Yeah, I said attention. Not affection, like 14 year old making out in line at Great America. Now that I have some hair, I no longer get the looks in public that I used to. No more sad eyes, double takes, or subtle acts of kindness. I also no longer get the random bursts of inappropriate questions or comments. My favorite? Walking through an airport, bald and in a baseball hat, my big ol' port showing. Some woman randomly yelled at me, "You go girl. We're behind you." I totally did that look around, is-she-really-talking-to-me thing... she was. I felt strangely embarrassed and proud at the same time. And much to my surprise, I felt tears welling in my eyes. How is it that one person's words can affect me so much? I felt a lump in my throat. Everyone knows, don't they?

Or at the checkout, a woman just flat out asked, "so, you have cancer?" Yep, I said. "Good luck." That was nice. Random that she just asked a total stranger, but nice. Another woman asked me that in Jo-Ann fabrics in October. Then proceeded to tell me about the Pink Ribbon fabric they had in stock. No thanks.

Since I stopped wearing my wig earlier than most, I got quite a few funny looks when checking my ID. Yep, that's me. I spared them the whole story of my Driver's License nervous breakdown. Speaking of, maybe it's time to "lose" my ID.

Instead, I now get the occasional, "Your hair is so cute." Funny, since I feel like Ronald McDonald. I say thank you, although sometimes I say, "Well, I didn't choose this hair, but it's what I got." The woman at Panera, where I go for lunch every Thursday before the ya-yas, comments on my hair all the time. "Wow- it's really growing." I'm not sure what I'm more concerned about- my hair or the fact I'm at the Panera enough for the woman to know me.

Most of all, though, I don't get noticed at all. And I can't decide if I miss that or not. Right now, I'm thinking not. I've had enough attention. Blending in ain't so bad.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Post-treatment mid-life crisis, chapter 4

Remember when I talked about my mid-life crisis? My desire to do any and all things ridiculous? That involved buying silly cars, adopting dogs, trapeze swinging, pole dancing... general craziness. I took suggestions and that was when it occurred to me that I needed to jump out of an airplane. I told Alan of my desire to skydive. What says, "I already did cancer and this can't be nearly as bad" as much as jumping from miles above the earth's surface?

Alan, the smart boy that he is, remembered such declaration and surprised me last weekend with an adventure for us. For Valentine's Day, he said. Because nothing says "I love you" like jumping together to your death.

So off we went. Unfortunately, we picked a pretty cold day down here in the South for it. I would guess it was below zero at altitude. We were jumping tandem with an instructor, so I wasn't too worried. I went first. Off to 14,000 feet I went. While I was nervous, the fact that some other jumpers were putting together a Mister Potato Head while falling through the sky made me relax. How hard can it be? I wasn't quite sure what falling at 120 miles an hour would feel like.

The scariest part? Right before the jump. I had to put my feet over the edge of the plane and count to three. Thankfully, I was attached to someone who was actually going to jump on three, so I was going no matter what. One- two-


Off we went. We fell upside down for a second and righted ourselves. I have to say, once that first second went by, the fear was gone. Probably "terminal velocity" shenanigans... - yeah, I took high school physics. I had no idea that it would feel like such a long time up there. I felt like we Had forever. Time to pose for the camera guy, grab hands and spin in a few circles, My ears felt like they might fall off and my cheeks were pushed up to my forehead, but it was great.

Awesome. Totally awesome.

Notice Alan has the "rock quotes."

There wasn't a cloud in the sky and we could see everything. After a free fall for about 8,000 feet, we pulled the parachute. A bit of a yank and it opened. Then I heard my instructor say, "oh shit." Oh, shit, you say? I can't imagine "oh shit" is a good thing. Turns out, a part of our chute was still wrapped up in itself a bit. After a couple more shits and some tugging, all was right with the world. Again, I was struck with how long you had up there. Time to play, time to fix things, thing to just sit back and have some fun. Me, I just enjoyed the ride. We sailed along in the parachute for a while, making circles and turns. My instructor announced, "Welcome to my office." You know he says that line every time. Just as I used to make the same jokes at bingo.

After a fun parachute ride, we landed gracefully on our feet.

And I was hooked. I will be going back. One of my best ideas ever. I am now taking suggestions for the next challenge.

Happy Cancerversary!

Happy Cancerversary to me-
Happy Cancerversary to me-
Kick the shitty year to the curb-
Happy Cancerversary to me!

You betcha. One year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. One year of doctors and surgeries and needles and drugs and side effects. One year of pain and fear and fatigue and anger. But here I am, one year later.

Last February 16th, I was waiting in my parent's kitchen cracking jokes with Alan and my mom when the doctor called. The doctor calling personally at 5:30 is never a good sign. With five words, my life changed forever.

"I'm so sorry, it's cancer."

After that, it was all sort of a blur. There was crying. There was wine. We went out to dinner that night. Get my mind off things. All I remember is spilling wine all over the table and laughing. That sort of hysterical laugh you get when it's really not funny.

The hardest part of February 16th? Saying the words, "I have breast cancer" aloud. I made some calls that night, and every time the words caught in my throat.

"I have something to tell you. Now don't freak out. But it's cancer."
"We got the results. Not good. It's cancer."
"Remember when you told me it was nothing and not to worry? Not so much. It's cancer."

Hearing other people's gasps or expletives or generally trying not to flip out on the phone with me was the hardest. I would love to say it was the hardest part of the trip, but there was a lot in store for me.

But here I am, one year out. How will I celebrate my Cancerversary, you ask? I will run errands, I will work out, I will be normal. I still have cancer stuff to deal with all the time. There are trials and hormone treatments and drugs, but normal isn't that far off. I've never wanted to "just be normal" so much in my life.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Yes, it's been awhile. For those of you wondering if I dropped off the face of the earth, I did sort of. I was on vacation - and by vacation I mean a few days in Sedona, Arizona. For some girl time. There's nothing better than girl time.

Why Sedona? One of my friends works for NASA and was there for her some sort of engineering-aeronautical- space conference thing. Science nerds. So I crashed the party. We drank. We got massages. We ate good food. We sat in hot tubs. We drank. Oh yeah, and Jill went to some presentations. So did I, in fact. I understood some of it, although I struggled with my urge not to giggle at words like "thrust". In fact, I felt a bit like the cast of friends when they wen to the Bahamas for Ross' dinosaur conference. "Dino-week" as Rachel called it. Complete with the rain. I struggled with my urge not to wear a "Science sucks" T-shirt or streak naked through a room full of geeks. But I did neither. I behaved myself. Sorry.

Things I learned while in Sedona:

1. Sedona is not beautiful all the time. In fact, the only day it was mildly nice outside was the day we left. So bad, in fact, was the weather that I have no pictures to show for my trip. Besides, you all know what a Mojito looks like.

2. Aerospace engineers on the whole are not the most sparkling of personalities. No offense to engineers out there. But conference with 400 people with only 3 at the hotel bar at night? What are you all doing - working, watching the discovery channel, what?!?!

3. A 90 minute massage is one of the best things in the universe. Better than just about anything. Yes, anything.

4. Drinks taste better when shared with friends.

5. When I'm away for even a couple of days I miss my dogs horribly.

6. Oh, yeah, I miss my husband, too. :)

7. The ride from Phoenix to Sedona is not pretty. Not until the last five minutes that is.

8. The average age in Sedona is 70 and that includes us.

9. People like to drive 5 to 10 miles under the speed limit in Sedona. (See number 8)

10. I don't ever want to live in the Southwest. All the houses are the same color. Or the same range of earthtone stucco. Where the blue house or a yellow house, or a green house? Now I sound like Dr. Seuss.

11. I do not like southwestern art. I am not the least bit interested in dream catchers.

12. New age hippies also live in Sedona. In fact, I almost visited a metaphysical department store for all things crystal and tarot.

13. Saving some money on the ticket doesn't sound so good anymore when you're stuck in Detroit for 3 hours.

It was great to get away. Great to spend time doing nothing but enjoying myself. But it's good to be home.