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Reconstruction is not a boob job and other scary stories

31 Oct

October has been a bit of a crazy month for me. I had my second reconstruction surgery at the end of September – followed by a couple of post-op complications – so for weeks, I’ve just been trying to bootstrap my way off the couch and back to normal life. But since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month – aka Pinktober – I’ve also been busily cranking out essays and stories about the crab monster and the various ways it messes with our lives.  

Two of those essays went live today.  The first, for TODAY.com, is about how Reconstruction After Breast Cancer Isn’t a Boob Job. Anybody who’s been down the long road to recon knows this (and how), but there are still many people who think reconstruction is something that’s done as simple day surgery in a plastic surgeon’s office. Breast cancer? No problem! Here are your new magical boobs!

For all of those people who think building new breasts is as easy as baking a cake and all my BC sisters who’ve been through hell and back just to regain what cancer stole from them, a few thoughts on the subject:

It’s been nearly a month since my last surgery and the new girls are still a little scary looking. Righty’s recovering from a post-op infection that had me in the hospital on IV antibiotics for two days. Lefty’s missing most of her nipple, a casualty of my first surgery back in May.

They’re bruised and bandaged and look a bit like they’ve been in a bar fight. But they’re mine, thanks to the wonders of breast reconstruction surgery. Or as it’s popularly known, my “free breast cancer boob job.”

I’m being sarcastic, of course. Only a fool would confuse breast reconstruction with a boob job, but sadly, there seem to be a lot of fools out there.

I should know; I used to be one of them, until a radiologist uttered those three little words that have made such a difference to so many peoples’ lives: You have cancer.

After that, everything changed, including my understanding of what women have to go through to get their girls back. And trust me, it’s not easy and it’s not quick.

Unless you’re lucky. Or Angelina Jolie.

And here’s a link to the full essay.

The second piece, written for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s website, doesn’t specifically focus on breast cancer. In fact, many of these tips could apply to anyone diagnosed with a debilitating disease. It’s on 8 Things You Shouldn’t – And Should – Say To a Cancer Patient.

As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences, either with reconstruction or cancer comments that have left you speechless. Sorry for the short post but as I said, this month is crazy.  And it’s not over yet – today’s Halloween! Take care and thanks for the read, my friends.

Oversharing is caring

11 Aug

showandtellI was standing in line to check in at the plastic surgeon’s last week when a woman tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Did you write about your breast reconstruction for the University of Washington alumni magazine?”

I nodded and introduced myself and the two of us talked “shop” for a few minutes. She was fresh out of chemo and going in to consult with a plastic surgeon about recon before her double mastectomy. I was heading in to schedule my second round of fat transfer surgery but, as usual, was happy to discuss my chest with another BC buddy (and her husband, as it turned out).

I never talked about my boobs that much until I got breast cancer. Ironic, I know, since the creepy crab monster pretty much stole my boobs. What’s there to talk about, right? But since I was diagnosed, had a double mastectomy, stumbled through treatment and most recently, started down the path toward reconstruction, it seems like all I do is blather on and on about my girls.

And now, god help me, I’m not just talking about them – or writing about them – I’m baring my chest, and my soul, in new and very public ways.

Three weeks ago, I went in to see my oncologist for a quarterly check-up (blood work all came back fine, by the way) and afterward, went up to the surgeon’s office where I stripped down to show her and her colleagues the results of my first fat grafting surgery. It’s a new process and not that many doctors — or patients, for that matter — are familiar with it. I let them poke and prod and ask all kinds of questions about the science experiment I’m conducting on my chest. Not because I’m some kind of exhibitionist but because I’ve always felt knowledge is power and anything that I can do to help educate and inform other BC survivors and/or the people who treat them is worthwhile. 

I have to admit, though, the old me sort of watched in horror as one white coat after another moved in for a closer look at what I’ve come to call my “foundation” (after one round of Brava/fat transfer, I sort of look like a 10-year-old girl entering puberty). Before cancer, I would never have been so blasé about showing my boobs to a room full of strangers. Well, not unless it was Mardi Gras and I’d had more than one martini (kidding!). But after living with breast cancer for 2.5 years, I’ve grown accustomed to opening my gown to whomever happens to wander into the exam room. One of these days, I’m going to scare the bejesus out the janitor, I’m sure.

I’m not just showing off my girls in person, though. I’m also talking about them — on TV, no less. Last month, I was asked to appear on a Seattle talk show called NewDay NW, to chat about my madcap cancer adventure (still can’t use the word “journey”) with Justine Avery Sands, a 32-year-old BRCA gal, who opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy with immediate recon (otherwise known as “The Jolie”). I managed to get through the 8-minute segment without throwing up, fainting or dropping an f-bomb (TV still makes me nervous).

More importantly, I was able to get across some crucial points regarding mammograms, dense breast tissue, the importance of self-exams, and, I hope, through my attitude and demeanor, convey to others – particularly newly diagnosed sisters — that a double mastectomy does not destroy your sense of humor or your strength or your soul or your lust for life. Or your lust for anything, for that matter. Here’s a link for those interested in watching.

The intersection of cancer and self. August 2013.

The intersection of cancer and self. August 2013.

These games of show-and-tell have become part of my new normal. But sometimes I do wonder if I’m mentally ill for being so open and upfront about all my BC stuff. It certainly hasn’t done much for my dating life. I’ve had more than one enthusiastic suitor flee after discovering my high cancer profile (Google me and you’ll see what I mean). Whether they’re turned off by the cancer itself, by pics of me mid-treatment, or by my willingness to discuss the “C-word” publicly (without whispering or anything), I’ll never know.

I do know, though, that a year ago, I wasn’t able to have a conversation about my mastectomy with doctors or family members or friends without tearing up. These days, I’m talking – and even making jokes – about the whole ordeal on TV, in print and in line at the plastic surgeon’s.

I never set out to become the woman who talks about her boobs – or lack thereof — all the time. But I think I’ve been able to help others by serving up a few straightforward answers and insights (along with a healthy slice of attitude). As I mentioned in the interview, for me, sharing is caring. And also, apparently, therapeutic.

So what about you? Are you open about your breast cancer with everyone – even strangers — and if so, has it been a positive or negative (or both)? Or are you more stealth about your diagnosis and treatment? Do you think being open about BC helps you process it? Or is it just time, itself, that helps heal those wounds? Would love your thoughts. And as always, appreciate the read.

You are entering a reconstruction zone

6 Jun
Photo by Erin Lodi, Columns Magazine

Photo by Erin Lodi, Columns Magazine

It’s been a tough couple of weeks here at Recon Central. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently going through breast reconstruction, and contrary to the Hollywood version (i.e., a woman decides to get new breasts following her mastectomy and a half hour later is sporting a pair of perfect, perky boobs), my experience has been less than immediate. Or ideal.

Without getting too technical — or too graphic — let’s just say the body’s healing process can be excruciatingly slow, scary and gross. Especially when you’re dealing with radiated skin which is touchier than a hornet on steroids. I’m currently a month out from surgery and Lefty (my radiated breast) still looks like something you might see on The Walking Dead. But while it’s not pretty (or healthy — yet), the takeaway is that I actually have two small breasts where I only had well-developed pecs before. 

And that’s huge (the news, not the boobs).

For those who may not know, I’m doing a different kind of reon than most women (Angelina included). Instead of doing a flap procedure (i.e., where a plastic surgeon cuts a slab of tissue, muscle and blood vessels from one part of my body and sews it to my chest to make a boob) or going the tissue expander/implant route (radiation put me out of the running for that), I decided to use an external tissue expander known as the Brava coupled with fat transfer surgery.

Basically, the plastic surgeon “liposucks” fat from where you have it (goodbye saddlebags!) and injects it where you don’t (hello boobs!).

But before any of that happens, you have to prep the area with this crazy suction cup device known as the Brava. I started using the Brava – or the Barbarella, if you prefer – in early April and wore it for 10-12 hours a day for a month before going in for my first fat transfer procedure.  Wearing the Brava – or as I put it, serving time in “boob jail” — is a trip. The domes are huge and unwieldy and are about as subtle as having two roasting pans attached to your chest.

By wearing them, though, I was able to stretch the skin and promote the growth of blood vessels, both of which helped create a welcoming environment for the tiny droplets of fat my plastic surgeon injected during that first fat transfer procedure (I’ll need at least one more to get my “B-girls” back, by the way).

Not surprisingly, this cutting edge procedure piqued the interest of my editor at the University of Washington alumni magazine, Columns, who asked me to write a personal essay about my recon experience. As usual, I decided that sharing is caring (seriously, I hope this will help people understand what breast cancer and reconstruction can be like for women) and took him up on his kind offer. Here’s the top to the essay and a link to the whole piece.

As always, thanks for the read.  Also, BC buddies, if you’re willing to share your reconstruction stories, I’d love to hear them.

Reconstructing hope

It’s 10 o’clock on a Sunday night and I’m sitting on my couch watching Mad Men, a glass of red wine at my elbow. In many ways, it’s a typically tranquil spring evening — a cat on my lap, the lull of the television in the background — except for one small detail.

I’m in boob jail.

That’s the term I use to describe the two gigantic domes I’ve got strapped onto my unnaturally flat chest. Prescribed to me by my physicians at the UW Medicine Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Clinic, where I am a patient, the Brava device, as it is officially called, involves two domes made of hard plastic with a thick gelatinous rim that sticks to your skin like bare thighs on a hot vinyl car seat.

There’s also tubing and a little motor and a blood pressure-type hand pump — all of which help you achieve the proper amount of suction. For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve spent 10-12 hours a day with this bizarre contraption suctioned onto my chest. And I have many more hours and days and weeks of boob jail ahead. Why? Because as annoying and cumbersome and claustrophobic as the device is, it — and my UW Medicine health-care team—are helping me do something rather spectacular.

They’re helping me grow new girls.

To read the full essay, click here.

Climbing back into the mouth of the beast

24 May

attack of the crab monstersFor those of you who haven’t noticed (as far as I can tell, there are about three who have),  I am the world’s worst blogger.  Or maybe I should say, the world’s most sporadic blogger.

When I was going through treatment, I blogged about the breast cancer beast a lot. Probably because treatment is pretty frigging surreal and you have to write about it and talk to other people who’ve gone through it, otherwise, you start to feel like maybe you’ve gone slightly insane. Nurses purposefully injecting you with poison? Technicians tying you up and easing you into a machine, then fleeing the room while they blast you with radiation? WTF? Who would do such a thing?

But that’s cancer and what the docs like to call cancer “treatment.” You come out of that crap and your hair starts to grow back and your strength returns and you just want to keep walking — or in my case, running — as fast and far away from Cancerworld as humanly possible. You want to forget it all and just live your life, worrying about the trivial crap you used to worry about BC (before cancer). I can’t meet any decent single men. Hrmph. I’ve got fun plans this weekend and now it’s going to rain. Waaaaaah!

You don’t want to think back to how hideous it was dealing with those drains after the double mastectomy or how your bones felt like they were being ground into powder by a giant during chemo or how horrifically ugly and dehumanized you felt every time you looked in the mirror when the doctors were finally through with you. Bald, board flat, chest burned to a crisp, I looked like a stand-in for Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Not something you want to keep on speed dial when it comes to calling up memories. I wanted to forget.  And part of forgetting for me, has been ignoring the fact that I’m supposed to be writing a breast cancer blog.

If you’ve been there, I’m sure you get it.

Also, if you’ve been there, I’m sure you understand how difficult it is to suck it up and climb back into the mouth of the beast yet again.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not experiencing a recurrence or anything like that (knock wood). Instead, I’m currently going through the joys of breast reconstruction which for me has been every bit as difficult and painful and worrisome as the original surgery and treatment. And I’m just getting started.

I’ve had one surgery so far and am still very much in recovery from that. At this point, things are a little iffy and I’m hoping to write more about my recon and what’s happening with that in days to come. And that just might happen since my doctor has advised me to forget exercise and activities and basically just lie around my apartment like a three-toed sloth doing this incredibly boring thing called healing.

What the hell, might as well fire up the blog again, right?

For the moment, I can tell you that I went with a new type of recon known as Brava / fat transfer. Here’s a link to a story I wrote about it for TODAY.com last year. This type of recon is supposed to be less invasive than traditional recon, particularly those flaps, where the plastic surgeon cuts a slab of tissue, muscle and blood vessels from your stomach or your back or your inner thigh, sews it to your chest and magically turns it into a boob. 

I knew reconstruction was serious business going in, which is why I put it off for a year and a half after treatment. I wanted to make sure my body – and particularly my left radiated breast – had healed. I boxed three times a week to stay fit – and to keep those pectoral muscles full of healthy blood flow. I ran to keep my weight down (more accurately, to keep those tamoxifen pounds from glomming on) and to keep my heart rate good and strong.

I exercised to keep the beast from catching up with me again. And to get into shape for recon surgery. But it still kicked my ass.

I had my first fat transfer procedure two weeks and two days ago (May 8) and if this is the less invasive kind of reconstruction, I don’t even want to think about what my BC sisters who’ve had flaps and tissue expanders and implants have gone through. Seriously, the next time some moron refers to breast reconstruction as a “boob job,” I’m just going to coldcock ‘em – literally, metaphorically, whatever. As soon as I get my left hook and my right cross back, that is.

Anyway, I know this post is somewhat scattered. A little weak in some places, a little angry in others. A bit purple here and quite dark there. In fact, worrisomely dark there. But it’s also a pretty accurate reflection of what’s going on with my body right now. At present, I’m on antibiotics and don’t appear to have an infection. Yet. But things are starting to go sideways which, as anyone who’s dealt with cancer can tell you, is par for the course.

I’m trying to hang in there; I’m trying to be patient. And though it’s difficult, I’m trying to remember back to what I went through two years ago – the surgery that took my girls, the chemo that took my hair and my strength, the radiation that turned me into a crispy critter – taking comfort in the fact that I made it through all of that. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the strength – or maybe just the sheer orneriness – to get through this, too.

Hope you’re all doing well. Thanks, as always, for the read. And for those who might be interested in what I’ve been working on lately, here are a couple of links to recent stories I did for nbcnews/TODAY.com on breast cancer-related topics.

Mom’s virtual cancer family helps daughter cope with loss
Like an idiot, I wrote this story one day after surgery. I do not recommend this.

Breast cancer bras a no-go for Victoria’s Secret
The latest on the push (no pun intended) for a Victoria’s Secret “survivor bra.”

Boxing, blogging and trying to ignore the breast cancer beast

30 Oct

Photo courtesy of Jim Seida / NBCNews.com

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve had a busy summer — hiking, baking, boxing and most of all doing this thing I like to call “pretending I never had cancer.”

But summer’s over and fall is here and with it, October, the month when it’s pretty much impossible to forget your breast cancer because everywhere you look people are dressed like gigantic pink ribbons and/or talking about their battle with the beast. And I suppose I’m no different.

I wrote a series of essays last October about my BC diagnosis, my double mastectomy and what it was like to go “out there” and date while going through breast cancer treatment, to try to find love in the time of chemotherapy.

My latest essay, published today on nbcnews.com/TODAY.com, takes up where those other essays left off, delving into some of the ripples you experience after diagnosis and treatment, as you try to navigate that weird territory known as survivorship.  Here’s a snippet:

There’s nothing like having cancer to make you appreciate the little things in life — like buying shampoo, running a few miles or being able to forget the address of the hospital where you were treated.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011, I felt like I lived at that hospital. Today — a year out from treatment — it’s in the rear view mirror, along with the double mastectomy and debilitating chemo and radiation I wrote about last October on TODAY.com.

Not that there aren’t still plenty of daily reminders regarding my year of living cancerously: chemo brain, adhesion pain, hot flashes (courtesy of my new BFF tamoxifen) and, oh yes, my board-flat Olive Oyl chest.

But there have been good, uh, developments, too.

The biggest one — for me — is that I now have hair. For those of you who think baseball is slow and tedious, all I can say is try watching hair grow sometime.

I disguised my bald head with a wig from mid-June until New Year’s Eve then gratefully ditched it, along with the tape, the itchiness, and the constant fear that I’d accidentally spin the thing around backwards while swing dancing like some character on Gilligan’s Island.

Come January, I let my freak flag fly and began rocking a dark gray micro pixie.

“With the wig, I was trying to pass as a healthy, normal woman,” I joked to my friends about my super short ‘do. “Now, I’m trying to pass as French.”

You can read the full essay — and check out more pics of me boxing! — here.  As always, thanks for stopping by. And please feel free to share your story — or favorite survival tip. We’re in this together, people.

Flight of the phoenix

29 Mar

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Which is good in some ways because it means I’ve been busy and not just moping around having cancer. Not that I’ve done a whole lot of moping, but there’s been some quality “under the coffee table time,” which I think is allowed (even in my family).

Primarily I’ve been working, writing stories about everything from the Hunger Games Workout to getting naked at the gym to Ashley Judd’s weirdly puffy face. I’ve also been running and socializing and swing dancing and doing a bit of dating here and there. In other words, wending my way back to my pre-cancerous life.

Or at least giving it my best shot.

But there are always reminders — and I’m not just talking about the new “pixie cut” or my flat-ironed chest. I’m flying to Arizona today which used to mean stressing out about packing and getting to the airport on time and worrying whether I’d be seated next to someone I’d accidentally made out with in college. Now that I have my breast cancer merit badge, though, I have new things to worry about.

TSA, for instance. Are they going to make me slap out my “gummi boobs” in front of dozens of passengers the way they did a breast cancer survivor from Charlotte, N.C., back in November 2010? Are they going to confiscate my prostheses as potential weapons of mass (transit) destruction? (Cue the fembot video).

Curious as to how other breast cancer survivors have fared while flying, I went online and immediately found a discussion board filled with posts from women with the exact same concerns. Some had indeed been subjected to invasive pat-downs and/or queries about what exactly they were packing in their bra (a question I haven’t had since seventh grade). Others talked about leaving “the girls” in their suitcase so they wouldn’t be grilled about the strange blobs on their chest after going through the body scanner. A couple (jokingly) talked about tossing their fake boobs into the gray plastic bins along with their shoes and purse and everything else.

I’m definitely not going to hide my girls away in a suitcase like some kind of illegal contraband. Likewise, I don’t want to have to announce to a complete stranger that my pretty Spanx bra is full of spongy silicone and not much else (although the thought of throwing my gummi boobs onto the conveyor belt with my bags and shoes and coat does have a perverse comedic appeal). On yet another note, I’m not too keen on going through the full body scanner, at least not after receiving 33 daily blasts of radiation this last fall.

Then there’s the whole lymphedema issue. Since I had lymph nodes removed from both sides (9 on the right, 3 on the left), I’m at risk for this crap. And flying, of course, is one of the big ways it can be triggered. Unfortunately, I remembered this about two days before my departure date, which didn’t give me enough time to find what’s known as a “compression garment,” i.e. a super tight sleeve (preferably in black).

So now in addition to worrying about the plane crashing (or the pilot or flight attendant having a meltdown), I have to worry about getting publicly outed by an over-zealous TSA agent and possibly having my arms swell up to twice their size.

On a positive note, though, Seattle is a sad, soggy mess while I’m headed for 85 degree weather. Also, more importantly, I’m still alive to bitch about all this stuff. ; )

Wish me luck, folks, and as always, thanks for the read.  Also, if anyone has any stories to share about flying with fake boobs (or fake anything else), I’d love to hear them!

What we talk about when we TalkAboutHealth.com

1 Feb

As many of you know, there’s nothing I like better than to blather on incessantly about my life, my dates, my “battle” with breast cancer (a word that always makes me feel like I’m jousting with this despicable disease), and anything and everything else under the sun.

Well, as luck would have it, I was actually asked to officially blather on about some of these topics by the fine folks at TalkAboutHealth.com, a website “where patients and caregivers get personalized, helpful, and accurate answers from experts, survivors, and partner organizations.”

The format is pretty simple. Members post questions and I (and countless others) answer them. So far, I was asked about the “tuck” on my left breast (the small, subtle clue that led me to discover my cancer), about my nipple and skin sparing surgery and about how — as a single woman – I managed to get the support I needed while going through cancer treatment.

I’ve still got a few more questions to answer (they’re about dating, so I’m saving the best for last), but if anybody wants to check out my thoughts on the above, here are the links. As always, thanks for the read and would love to hear your input!

Would you further elaborate about discovering the “tuck” under your breast and describe it? How did you know to tell your doctor about it?
I first noticed the tuck after losing about 45-50 pounds through diet and exercise. It was maybe about 3/4″ long and looked a bit like tiny elves had stitched a “seam” along the inside of my breast just under my left nipple. The tuck didn’t hurt and didn’t really bother me all that much until I noticed that whenever I raised my left arm, my breast would “crumple” in a bit. That seemed more disturbing to me.  Click here to read the rest.

Would you share your nipple and skin sparing surgery experience?
I was completely undone by my breast cancer diagnosis and even moreso by the news that my only surgical option was a double mastectomy (the location of the tumors, the number of tumors and the small size of my breasts disqualified me for lumpectomy early on). My breast surgeon thought I might be a good candidate for nipple and skin sparing, though, and I embraced that option immediately. Click here to read the rest

As a single woman, where did you get the support you needed while going through cancer treatment?
I’ve been single for most of my adult life and have even developed a bit of a writing platform regarding the single life with a book (How to Date in a Post-Dating World), an anthology of essays (Single State of the Union) and a humor column (Single Shot), published by the now-defunct Seattle P-I.

For me, singledom is a natural state. Instead of being cloistered away as one half of a couple, I have a huge circle of friends — people I’ve worked with, people I’ve gone to school with, fellow writers, gal pals, neighborhood buddies, drinking buddies, old boyfriends, sources that turned into friends, the list goes on and on. I also have four sisters, all of whom I’m close with. I had so many people I needed to tell about the breast cancer, in fact, I eventually started an email newsletter (the Cancertown Gazette). And then a blog (www.doublewhammied.com). Click here to read the rest.

Celebrity breast cancer twin: reader responses

10 Dec

I got some great responses to the essay I wrote about my “celebrity breast cancer twin” Giuliana Rancic, the E news! cohost who announced last Monday that she was going to have to have a double mastectomy, thanks to the advanced nature of her cancer.

Like me, some readers identified wholeheartedly with the shock, devastation and grief that goes along with knowing you’re going to lose your girls. Others brought up some valid points, for instance, the dearth of good, hard information that accompanied the announcement re Rancic’s forthcoming double mastectomy.

“I don’t have any problem with celebrities discussing their cancer,” wrote Jody here on doublewhammied.com. “The problem is that many of them, including Giuliana, don’t offer the kind of detail that could go a long way toward honestly educating others about early breast cancer. It is not about cancer stage but tumor biology; or the pathology of the tumor. I think to go on TV the moment you’ve stumbled out of the surgeon’s office is a mistake. The morning television shows do little to elaborate.”

I, too, am curious about what type of breast cancer Rancic has (I haven’t been able to find out any information on that), but do know the double lumpectomies that she underwent in October weren’t able to gain clear margins, hence the decision to move forward with the double mastectomy. 

Oddly enough, I got into a discussion regarding Rancic’s cancer with my breast cancer surgeon as she was removing my chemo port the other day (anything to keep my mind off the digging going on over on my right side). I wondered aloud if Rancic might have invasive lobular carcinoma (“my” cancer) because she had it in both breasts (ILC has a tendency to show up in tandem, aka, the old “double whammy”). My breast cancer surgeon wondered if it might be invasive ductal carcinoma since they initially tried to eradicate it with lumpectomies and radiation.

I guess that makes me an official breast cancer wonk. But I’m not alone.

Vanessa wrote to say she’s glad celebrities are coming forward about their breast cancer, but they’re not sharing enough. “I must admit I am a little upset that they aren’t talking about anything but the surgery,” she wrote. “What about the chemo and the radiation? … People need to understand that this is not a ‘take a pill and feel better in the morning’ type illness.”

And MaryBeth felt that Rancic’s “no big deal” attitude — not to mention her youth, beauty and privileged lifestyle — made it tough for the rest of us schmucks.

“It’s a total nightmare and underselling it like it’s some cool right of passage for the righteous, rich and beautiful does more harm than good for those of us everyday schlumps who have to schlep through it without the makeup artists, personal trainers, stylists, etc.,” she wrote.

As one of those everyday schlumps, I get what you’re saying, MaryBeth.  But for me, the bottom line is Rancic – beautiful or not, rich or not, primped and pampered and styled to within an inch of her life or not — is still losing her breasts. She may have better doctors, plastic surgeons, health care, physical therapy, makeup artists, life partners, publicity, etc, but she’s still going to wake up with those horrible drains attached to a flat chest covered with bandages and bruises and not much else. She’s going to have a wonderful erogenous zone replaced by a useless Dead Zone. And if she is able to have a baby (I think this is still on the table), she certainly won’t be able to nurse it.

So yes, she may be better off than the rest of us. But in many ways — important ways — she’s in the exact same boat as all of us, crossing those same choppy, dark, terrifying seas.

Anyway, that’s my rant for the day. As always, thanks for reading and writing and best to you all, especially those newly diagnosed women I’ve talked to recently. You are strong and brave and beautiful and absolutely capable of getting through this breast cancer crap (and, believe me, it is crap, whether you’re a star or a starving freelance writer). I believe in you and am here for you whenever you need me.

Also, one brief, heartfelt note of thanks to Stephanie, a 30-year-old single mom diagnosed in October of last year, who wrote, “I just wanted to send you an email thanking you for your candid insight and sharing your experiences for the rest of us out here … I would like to consider you my twin and think we will win these battles together.”

Cheers to that, twin!

Giuliana Rancic, my celebrity breast cancer twin

5 Dec

I got a call from my editor a couple of days ago, sharing some top secret (sad) news.

Giuliana Rancic, the young and vivacious cohost of E! News who’d appeared on the TODAY show in October to discuss her recent breast cancer diagnosis, was coming back on the show early Monday morning to talk about her latest news. She now had to have a double mastectomy.

Would I like to write about this? my editor asked. Absolutely, I told her.

As someone who only too recently lived through a cast-iron-skillet-to-the-head cancer diagnosis and a double mastectomy (not to mention chemo and radiation), I had plenty to say. (Check out some of my previous essays about breast cancer on Today.com and you’ll see what I mean.)

Here’s how my latest piece, entitled Giuliana Rancic, my celebrity breast cancer twin, starts. As always, thanks for the read.

Some women look to celebrities when they’re pregnant, identifying with famous moms-to-be who are due around the same date.

Others, like me, look for celebrity cancer twins, like E! News host Giuliana Rancic, who just joined the ranks of my small group of hapless — but hardly hopeless — heroes.

Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. But there’s something incredibly powerful about a smart, successful celeb letting down her perfectly coiffed hair to speak openly, honestly and even fearfully about a wretched, life-changing disease that has turned her world — and mine — completely upside down.

Wanda Sykes is another such cancer twin. Diagnosed in February of this year (same as me), the comedian went on Ellen back in September to talk about her double mastectomy. During the interview, which I’ve probably watched a dozen times, Sykes looks healthy and beautiful and strong. More importantly, she’s fazed but still funny, taking potshots at her cancer as if she were back roasting the president at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

NBC News’ tough, tenacious Andrea Mitchell is another cancer twin. Ditto for Christina Applegate .

And now there’s Rancic, the 37-year-old funny, self-effacing cohost of E! News and Fashion Police, who discovered her disease while prepping for a third round of in vitro fertilization treatments.

To read the full story click here.  

As always, I’m curious how others deal with their breast cancer. Have any of you adopted “celebrity cancer twins,” people who were diagnosed at the same time you were (with breast cancer or anything else)?

If so, have they inspired you? Helped you get through your ordeal? Made you so angry that you fought even harder? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Writing about breast cancer is scary, too

12 Nov

Originally published October 15, 2011 on SingleShotSeattle.wordpress.com

So it’s been an interesting couple of days. My essay, Mastectomy and the Single Girl, went live yesterday on Today/MSNBC.com, garnering a lot of online comments. I’m happy to say most of them were supportive, although there were a few people who thought I was “crude and vulgar” or being too flip with regard to a horrible, devastating disease (uh duh — I have it) or that I was suffering not only from ILC (invasive lobular carcinoma) but a really bad case of TMI.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Quite frankly, I still haven’t decided if I’m insane or stupid or brave or full of myself or what when it comes to sharing my story. I just know that I’m a writer and writers write about the stuff that happens to them. And when you suddenly lose a couple of body parts and then your hair and then your strength because you’re being pumped full of poison in an attempt to keep you from losing your life … well, that seems like something that might be worth delving into.

Even if it’s scary. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

And cancer — or any disease, for that matter — is not a comfortable topic.  When I was diagnosed I went looking for information on that topic, though, for stories from women who’d been through it.  Some of those stories depressed me.  (I told my friends if I heard the phrase “I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my wonderful husband and partner” one more time, I was going to throw up, but hey, I’d just been dumped).

Others scared the bejesus out of me. Tip to those recently diagnosed: avoid the online breast cancer forums for a while — they’re full of information, but all you’ll focus on are the horror stories about how your fingernails are going to turn black and fall off during chemo. (FYI, mine didn’t.) Other stories helped me beyond words.

Anyway, I guess I’m just trying to return the favor by offering my take on the situation. And since I write humor and have always had a knack for saying inappropriate things (and I have the grade school report card comments to prove it), I’m not going to be presenting the Lifetime Channel version of breast cancer.

I’m just hoping that some woman, somewhere, who’s just heard from a radiologist or surgeon or oncologist that she, too, is a brand new member of the Breast Cancer Club, will find something useful in my experience. Will see that breast cancer is doable. And survivable. Will realize that cancer can take your boobs and your hair and your physical strength, but it can’t take your sense of humor. Or your will to live. Or in my case, my determination to kill this motherfucker of a disease one bad joke at a time.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve sent me comments and subscribed to this blog. Your support means a lot. Gotta run now. I’ve got tap dance class.

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