Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Deadliest Catch

Let's say you called me on the phone. Among discussing such important issues as Lindsey's drug abuse or the finer arts of blowing off a MySpace stalker, we would discuss television. What about McDreamy and Meredith? Whatever, I fucking hate her. What the hell is up with Juliette? What is it about pregnancy on the island? How hot is Hugh Laurie? You know, like "hot dad" hot, not "Friends top five" hot. How many fucking pop culture references can I put in one paragraph? If you didn't understand any of this, A. you are living under a rock or B. I need to get a life.

Then I would ask you about Captain Sig. Do you like king crab or opi season better? Is it me or have they upped the crisis quotient? Have no idea what the hell I'm talking about? You are missing out. Let me sell you on my absolute favorite show, Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. Like a basic cable Jehovah's witness, I will tell you how this show will change your life. Okay, maybe not change it, but alter it in some meaningful way.

Deadliest Catch follows a half dozen crab boats off the Alaskan coast. We watch as they navigate the Bering Sea, setting crab pots, working their asses off. There are mechanical malfunctions, rescues at sea, even some guy who had to get back so he could meet a court date or go to jail. Maybe it's my years at sea myself that draws me to it. Like some sort of WT cruise. Instead of bingo, they stuff raw fish into plastic jugs. Maybe it's that narrator guy that does all that Discovery Channel shit. Maybe it's the fact they use Bon Jovi for their theme music. It's all of the above, really.

How has this changed my life? I will tell you. And as it happens, it has to do with cancer. Last April when I was going through chemo, I used to have problems sleeping... before I discovered the wonder of sleeping pills. I was all hopped up on steroids and would watch TV in the dark, the volume on low as not to disturb my blissfully ignorant snoring husband. I watched more episodes of Law & Order than I care to count. I secretly wanted to buy the Magic Bullet or that crazy Gazelle thing from the guy with the ponytail-mullet. However, one fateful night, I happened upon the Discovery Channel and Deadliest Catch. I was inexplicably sucked in. And because it was replaying a bunch of episodes, I probably stayed up until 4am watching.

The next day, I raved about the wonders that I discovered the night before. Like I happened upon some oasis in the desert or saw a unicorn. Alan didn't understand. But he would. Later that night, when of course more reruns were playing, he sat down and watched. 2 and a half hours later, Alan agreed it was addictive. Alan and I cuddled in bed with the puppies and watched some fishermen in 30 foot seas drop like 1 tonne steel cages in the ocean. Hot, I know. From then on, I watched late night loops of the show every time I couldn't sleep. And I think they did a replay at like midnight every Thursday, because it was usually when I had just gotten chemo.

So this spring, Deadliest Catch returned. The moment I heard Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" it was like the year hadn't happened. I was bald and sick all over again. But strangely enough, it wasn't a bad reaction. It was almost comforting. Like a cancer security blanket. As opposed to the smell of Sally, which make me sick, the sight of my friends on the Bering Sea was kind of a cancer warm fuzzy. It was a sort of good memory about chemo. Lots of treatment are a blur of needles and pain, but these moments in the dark are clear in my hazy mind.

I've been getting a bit nostalgic about my treatment lately. I don't know. Maybe it's like a breakup... after a while you can look at the good stuff and smile, forgetting how goddamn horrible it was going through it. I gave a recommendation for my doctors at Northwestern, finding myself thinking fondly upon my time at the Cancer Ritz-Carlton. Thinking of my private penthouse chemo room, my funny queen patient rep, my oncology nurse. Never mind the mind-numbing bone pain, the nausea, the tears in the shower. Instead, it was like, "aw - Northwestern. You'll love it there." Like some fabulous life threatening bed and breakfast.

I don't think I will ever watch Deadliest Catch without thinking of being in chemo. And for once, that's not a bad thing. As I get further and further from active treatment, the bad memories are fewer and the funny stories become more prominent. Like my television obsession. Even puking in the McDonald's parking lot seems sort of humorous. When I so know it was actually miserable. There's a fine line between nostalgia and wanting to go back and do it over again.

I'll meet you 95 miles northwest of Dutch Harbor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


It's been over a year since I was diagnosed and I'm still not very comfortable with the term, "Breast Cancer Survivor." You remember "The Scarlet Letter"... yes, I do read. That Scarlet "A" burned into Hester's chest. She could feel it. Could feel people's eyes boring that "A" deeper and deeper. Sometimes I wonder if I will be wearing a Pink "C" the rest of my life. Forever marked. Forever changed. Forever labelled.

People have differing opinions on when you become a Survivor- some say the day you're diagnosed. Some say when they cut the cancer out. Or maybe it's when treatment ends. I sure as hell know I didn't feel like a survivor for a long time. I was just trying to make it through each day. I still am. If I had survived a car accident, say, I could go about my business, not afraid that same car will run me over again. Cancer? Not so much.

I feel a bit like "survivor" is a term those who haven't had cancer use to make those of us "in the club" feel better. Like saying, "You're so strong, you'll beat this." Calling us survivors makes others feel better. That we can get over it. That we'll be "cured." That it will be over. Everyone back to their respective business.

It was very hard for me to say, "I HAD cancer,"... had, as in past tense. It's still hard for me to say. Cancer is still a part of my life. Some of that is by choice, so maybe I'm gluing that pink "C" on myself. But I squirm a bit at "survivor." I'm not sure why. I'm proud to be an example for others. I'm happy to share my experience. I guess I just don't feel like I've survived anything yet. If I die of a heart attack at 75, then maybe I'll have survived breast cancer.

When I was at the YSC conference, there was a woman who spoke about what it means to be a survivor. (I don't remember her name- damn chemo brain.) She said something like this:

You go from patient to survivor when you stop saying, "Why me?" and start saying, "What can I learn?"

(Pausing for dramatic moment of revelation...)

I guess in that respect, I've been a survivor for a long time. I was never really the "Why me?" kind of girl. Shit happens. And I've been trying to learn from this for a long time. Maybe that's all we can really ask. Take what you can. Learn from it. Try to do your best. Take all the support you get - no matter how it's labelled.

Hi, my name is Courtney Bugler and I'm a breast cancer survivor.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sally-Sass-a-lot Sucks

I've been debating what to do with my wig, Sally. She's been sitting on her Styrofoam head with her perfect dye job for months, just staring at me. There's a part of me that says I should donate her. Then again, I keep thinking, "What if I need her again?" She's like my cancer woobie. When I was a little kid, my brother threw my blankie out a car window. At least that's how I remember it. I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that to Sally.

Today I was talking to my friend about Sally. She asked if I ever put her on. Like a drag queen before a night out. I reminded her there's a difference between donning some pink mylar and grabbing some glow sticks and wearing a wig because you HAVE to. But while on the phone, I thought about Sally. Maybe she was lonely. It would be nice to see long blond hair again. I proceeded to take Sally off her head and put her on. "Hold on a sec," I told Hope. Point four seconds later, she heard me mutter, "Nope. I'm done." I put Sally on and immediately took her off. Why?

Because Sally smells like Cancer.

The mere presence of Sally near my nostrils and I'm taken back to chemo. Nothing else I own smells like Sally. That combination of hair dye and god-knows-what. But it's still there. And I'm not doing it. No fucking way. My mouth automatically went dry and I put Sally back. I'm thinking my relationship with Sally is over. I may keep her long enough to show a colorist the exact shade of blond I'd like if I ever go back. But that's it. If I get cancer again, I won't ever wear a wig. Too much work. And I can only take so many Sallys smelling up my closet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I've had some requests for some photos from our vacay...

Here's me on a zip line through the forest in Jamaica

Formal night

Alan decided to be silly and do a glamour shot

Scuba diving in Grand Cayman

On the beach in the Bahamas

This is my favorite. It's ridiculous and fun.

Touch yourself up

Last week Atlanta's CBS affiliate ran a story on me and young women with breast cancer. It was pretty fun to shoot. They came and set up chairs in my backyard, like I was important or something. The story is pretty well done, and I don't sound too stupid. I learned the following things:

1. It's very hard for me me talk for any length without saying something inappropriate or swearing

2. Damn, I've gotten chubby. They rolled in all these "before" pictures and wow- time to get my ass to the gym!

3. When asked what young women should do, my answer was "touch yourself up. get your partner to help." I was very afraid this might be the soundbite. Thankfully, no. Best in print only.

So check me out.

Young Breast Cancer Survivor Raises Awareness

Racing for the Cure

This past weekend, I walked in Atlanta's Race for the Cure. This was my first one, as I was in the middle of treatment last year. Did I actually run? Hell, no. I walked that 5k. Alan joined me this time. We spent out morning helping out the local chapter of the Young Survival Coalition. Then off we went.

I only have the Breast Cancer 3-day to compare it to. They're very different events. The 3-day is a national event, while the Race raises money for local outreach and research. Everything stays in Atlanta. You have to raise $2200 to walk the 3-day, most people in the Race only pay a $25 participation fee. So there's like 15,000 people vs the 2,000 at the 3-day. And of course, it's three days and 60 miles, a much bigger commitment.

I guess I'm saying I was disappointed by the Race for the Cure. It was so big and so commercial. And everyone wandered around tents just getting their free stuff. And there was no real ceremony per se, no sense of communion. People showed up, walked their 5k, got their t-shirt and left. There were awards and stuff but it was done on stage in front of maybe a couple hundred people while others paid no attention. I guess I was hoping it would be meaningful and it wasn't really.

On the flip side, did it raise a shit load of money? Yep. Did it involve people that otherwise wouldn't be? You bet. Did people perhaps get information along with their free koozie? Uh-huh. So in that respect, it was valuable. And will I do it again next year? Sure, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. But I look forward to another 3-day in October.

Backing it up with Dr. Susan Love

If you are diagnosed with Breast Cancer, one of the first books that someone will recommend is Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. "It's the Breast Cancer Bible," I was told. So of course, a day after I was diagnosed, I run my little cancer ridden ass out to buy it. And read it from cover to cover. Take notes, turn down pages, freak the fuck out. As do thousands of other women.

I recently met Dr. Love. She's one of the top researchers on breast cancer and women's heath. Like Mr. Smith, I too went to Washington. I was at National Breast Cancer Coalition's Advocacy training conference D.C. recently. This was my second BC conference this year. Aren't I the little joiner?

The conference was awesome. I learned a lot. This organization is the largest breast cancer lobbying organizations on Washington. The conference was a great combination of science, politics and kicking ass. I very much enjoy kicking ass. It was a weekend of action culminating with a day spent on Capital Hill lobbying our congressmen. That was pretty fierce.

Presenting an award to a congressional staffer.

What did we lobby for? Funding for a Department of Defense program that gives research grants. Funding for research on breast cancer and the environment. Health care for all. Fortunately and unfortunately, I lobbied 3 liberal democrats (the perks of living in a very blue part of a red state) who had already signed on to these. Why is this bad, you ask? Well, I wanted to crack some skulls. Show some old rich white man my scars and my short hair. Make him dare to ignore me. But I didn't get to. There's always next time.

I've begun my road to being an advocate. I'm not sure if this is the direction my "giving back" will lead. I have volunteered for other survivor support programs. But this was so valuable and empowering. While there, I did come up with a brilliant idea to be shared soon. I do know I will attend this conference again. And I will send money. And encourage others to. The research money that NBCC fights for has enabled discoveries that save lives. Drugs like herceptin were discovered though the Department of Defense program. It is a group I am very proud to be affiliated with.

So please, join the NBCC. go to the website. Become a member. Donate some cash. Be a part of the thousands of people fighting for health care and research.

What does this have to do with Dr. Susan Love? Well, there was a party. With dancing. I vowed that I would "back it up" with a very famous author and head of her own foundation. As I spoke to her, I asked if she should sign my tits or my book. She laughed and said "As long as this doesn't end up on YouTube."

Tee hee.


Where was I during part of this hiatus? Dealing with the loss of one of the ya-yas. Some might argue the ultimate ya-ya. Candy passed away after a 10 year battle with Breast Cancer. In many ways, she beat so many odds. She was diagnosed with a stage IV recurrence about 5 years ago. Stage four, as many who've watched Elizabeth Edwards on the news, means the cancer has spread to parts of the body. Candy spent years in chemo after chemo, hormone therapy, drugs for colon cancer or HIV or whatever she could get her hands on. Candy kept fighting to the end. Now she's at peace.

Candy is one of the first people I remember from my original trip to the ya-yas. She was the first one to tout this amazing drug. She knew everything. She had done research, talked to doctors. She was in complete control. And she did not suffer fouls. I loved that about her. I'm not really a "sunshine up your ass" kind of girl. And Candy was totally type-A. She planned everything. And well. She even planned her own funeral. And it was beautiful.

One of my favorite stories about Candy was when I was assigned to bake something for a recpetion the ya-yas. Cancdy was in charge, as she usually was and I had strict instructions on how to cut the bars into 1 inch squares. I recevied my recipe in the mail, complete with directions to garnish it with mint springs. And a silver tray, not cheap plastic shit. I hadn't been a part of the ya-yas for very long, and while I was concerend with the depth of detail, I was also scared to death of doing any way other than what Candy told me to do. I had visions of the wrath of a Southern lady. And Candy was a lady in a way many aren't anymore. Accomplished, grcious - hiding a backbone of steel.

When Candy was starting to go downhill, I offered to be her personal bitch. She enjoyed that, I think. I told her I would be more than willing to pick up her pain dugs for her- for a small cut, of course. When I saw her for the last time, she looked and me and plain as day said, "I feel like shit." No excuses. No blowing smoke. She was who she was. A women who loved as hard as she fought. A woman who took no prisoners and no bullshit. A woman who planned a party as well as she planned her life. On her own terms.

Candy showed me how to live and how to die. With such grace and dignity. At her funeral, the catherdral was packed. Hers was a life well lived. A life where she led by example. A life that affected so many people. That can't be bad. Candy showed me how to do it right. She was right about almost everything.

While I didn't know Candy veyr long, she is forever in my heart. She was the general in our group of soldiers, leading us to live our lives better and fuller. Not to let cancer win. Ever.

We miss you.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Beer Goggles

Once upon a time, I was bit a drinker. Okay so I closed down the bar, but that is besides the point. A few amaretto sours or some other fruity chick drink made otherwise dull people more entertaining, stupid people seem smarter and some so-so guys seem absolutely spectacular.

Yep, I'm talking about the beer goggles. Before I was married and boring, I had quite a few mornings when the beer goggles made Friday seem way better than it felt Saturday morning. It was a world where I drank a lot and never got hangovers, where drinking beer upside down seemed perfectly natural. A land of tube tops and body glitter. A land I'm pretty glad I'm out of, but it was fun while it lasted.

What does this have to do with cancer, you ask? Apparently, there's some research that says alcohol feeds breast cancer cells. It's always been acknowledged that the sauce isn't GOOD for you, but feeding my cancer? Wow- that blows.

"We've known for some time that even moderate amounts of alcohol increase the risk. What's new is that this study shows alcohol speeds up the growth of any breast cancer cells that exist."

Then again, almost everything we do can "cause cancer." Our air, food, cars, yada yada yada. I could go on a whole environmental rant. But don't take away my mojitos. Please!

It's a tough line to walk- that enjoying your life thing while doing all you can to prevent recurrence. It's a line we walk every day we decide to grab the regular milk cuz $5 for a small carton of organic milk is ricockulous. Or when we have that cheeseburger or take a nap instead of hitting the gym. There's a happy medium somewhere. A place where you don't have guilt over what you could have done differently. If I didn't toss back dozens of body shots off that random guy in Mexico, maybe I wouldn't have gotten cancer. Then again, I wouldn't have the great story that makes me chuckle even now. (it involves dancing on a bar, and a head injury, but trust me- it's freaking funny)

Thankfully, I don't drink nearly as much anymore. I prefer to remember when and who I fell asleep with. Treatment made me a lightweight, anyway. But I'm not going to turn down that strawberry daiquiri on a hot afternoon, or the Christmas morning mimosa. I want to live beyond breast cancer, but I still want to live, you know. So raise a glass and toast.

"To saying fuck you to cancer. And not letting it get in the way of having a life."


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thank you, Cancer...

Some people can have cancer, get treated and go about their business. More power to them. I'd like what they're smoking. Most of us, however, tend to think of the "big C" as the gift that keeps on giving. There are others that truly look upon their cancer diagnosis as a gift - something that made them a better person, gave them a new outlook on life, etc. And yeah, I guess it's done that for me. But call me Bitter Betty, but I will never see Breast Cancer as a gift. I don't care how many "survivor" t-shirts you give me or pink ribbons you wrap me up in - cancer blows. Cancer's like getting a vacuum or a dishwasher for your birthday. Sure, you find uses for it, but your life would have been just fine without it. And those leather pants would have been way more fun. You can think of a lot more creative opportunities to celebrate your life. Or when you get a winter coat for Christmas - hello, you needed a winter coat anyway. If it weren't Christmas, you'd still get one... so instead of that karaoke machine you wanted, it's a Columbia parka... -

Sorry, that's my own personal problem :)

But cancer has given me many things. So here, I go -

Thanks, Cancer, for almost taking my big toenails. It's almost a year later and that weird little lifted part is much smaller, but it's still there. Saying hello every time I put those little footsies in shoes. Thanks for giving me something to explain every time I get a pedicure.

Thank you for making me bruise easier. Cancer, I love looking like my husband tossed me down the stairs when I simply bumped my knee against the couch. Or that my three dogs ravage me like wolves when I do some crazy new trick on the pole.

Thank you for utterly fucking up my hair. Everywhere. It's curly where I don't want it to be and patchy where I'd like it to be thick and curly, if you know what I'm saying. My landing strip would be more like a gravel path. (If you don't understand the "landing strip" reference, you're probably related to me in some way that you don't want to know.)

Thanks, cancer, for giving me lymphadema, a condition that makes my left hand swollen and gives me pain in my arm. Thank you for making me resize my wedding ring. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to wear a "compression sleeve." That's hot. H-O-T.

Thank you for making my skin still sensitive to sun even after a year. I love rashes and itching. I love love love not being able to tan. Pasty's the new black.

Thank you for screwing up my eyes. Getting an astigmatism in one eye was a real perk of the treatment, thanks. Thanks for making me pay more money for contacts that I used to. You're a real gem.

Thank you, cancer, for giving me diverticulitis. I thoroughly enjoy any and all problems you can give me with my pooper. Where should I send the thank you card- the one with my colonoscopy pictures on the front?

Thanks for the pounds. Thank you for giving my the opportunity to try new styles in all sorts of sizes. I so would rather buy size 12 clothes than furnish my living room. Thank you.

Maybe one day I'll have less to be "thankful" for. However, I'm inclined to believe Cancer is that guy that stays way too long at the party.