Shut up about the small stuff

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Remember the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? I have a copy, somewhere. Or did at some point. I read it, too, thinking it would be good for someone like me: impatient, intolerant of idiots, and in turmoil over all that I couldn’t control.

The book was on the best-seller list for more than 2 years. Richard Carlson went on to write some 20 books in this series, from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women. I think I had the original copy, and knowing me, might not have made it through the entire book. Too impatient for that.

I do recall a few ideas Carlson presented in the book, such as “live in the present” and “become more patient.” Not sure I managed either, since I’m always in a hurry, usually thinking about what needs to be done next, and am most definitely not patient. It’s hard to become “more” of something when you’re not really “any” of that thing.

“Life isn’t an emergency” is another one of Carlson’s anti-sweat-isms. I’m not even sure what that means, but I can tell you for certain that it does not apply to cancer patients. Life most certainly is an emergency when you’re dealing with diagnosis, research, treatment options, doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, mounting medical bills, surgery, hospitalizations, and the like.

Carlson also encouraged us to “get comfortable with the not knowing.” I feel pretty confident saying that this will never happen. Never. Ever. I most definitely will not get comfortable with not knowing what happens next, where this “journey” is going, or what the future holds. Hopefully Carlson took his own advice, as he died from “an illness” in 2006 at age 45. That’s 3 years older that I am now (well, I will be on Wednesday), and 45 is too young to die, IMHO.

I wonder if Carlson would have had the same attitude if he too had been facing cancer. Maybe he would have sweat for a little bit, then invoked his ant-sweat-isms to conquer all of the “small stuff” that invades ones life along with a diagnosis of cancer.

My blog friend Lauren wrote yet another stellar post about this very subject. Every time I read one of her blog posts, I’m hard-pressed to say which part I like most, which idea resonates the loudest, which anecdote finds me nodding my head in agreement, or which passage has the power to make me misty-eyed. This week, it’s this passage that stands out:

“There are no small things in cancer. There are no ridiculous things. People like to tell us not to sweat the small stuff, but there is no small stuff in cancer. There is no such thing as a small assault on our feelings/psyche. Sometimes, the tiniest pebble in our shoe is the one that will make us most weary; indeed, the smallest of stones can derail a train.”

I now feel as if I have permission to sweat the small stuff.

As if I needed anyone else’s permission.

A whole lot of the cancer thing is indeed big stuff. Not to imply that my “journey” is harder than anyone else’s, but I would respectfully submit that being young-ish with dependent kids at home makes for more sweat-worthy stuff along the way. Laura, another blog friend painted a vivid picture of battling cancer while raising young kids when she wondered how to hold back tears when her 6-year-old said, “I forget what you looked like before the cancer when you had long hair.” Tell me how to not sweat that. Please. It reminds me of my own struggle to remember what my mom looked like before cancer. I was 36 at the time. I still have to work to hear her real voice and not her “sick” voice, and I was a grown woman at the time of her battle. Laura also remarked upon the depression and guilt she felt as her 8-year-old son helped his little brother pack his lunch for school while she lay on the couch motionless. That makes me sweaty just reading about it.

Lauren also covered a topic in her post that I recently experienced myself. It involves Press ‘n Seal. 

You know, the stuff in your kitchen that you use to cover food.

While Press ‘n Seal has many domestic uses, it has a medical use too: covering one’s port while said port is slathered in numbing cream, before facing the 20-gauge needle used to puncture the skin and the port membrane to deliver drugs.

Last week I went for my regular port maintenance, in which I have to have the oncology nurses access the port (poke the big-ass needle through it) to flush it. This needs to be done every 4 to 6 weeks to avoid a blog clot. The port is tied into the jugular vein, remember, and I do not want to mess with that big dog.

Before my port maintenance, I use the numbing cream (when I remember) so the needle stick isn’t quite so traumatic. Needles have always been rather sweat-inducing for me. I don’t care what Richard Carlson would have told me, I have never liked needles and they’ve always given me that sweaty-palmed, slightly nauseated feeling.

The day of my most recent port maintenance, I was going from the gym to the oncologist’s office. I told my Runnin’ Buddy to remind me about halfway through to use the numbing cream. I was pretty proud of myself for remembering the cream and the Press ‘n Seal, along with a hypodermic needle from my stash at home and my teeny little vial of B12 that my sweet oncologist prescribed for me. I get a B12 shot once a month, and it was time. I figured since I’d be there, why not ask the oncology nurse to give me the jabful of B12?

Any shot at resuming normal life is gone, baby gone as soon as you realize you have prescription Lidocaine, B12, a needle, and Press ‘n Seal in your purse. Any attempt to seem like a normal person is duly shattered by that paraphernalia in one’s pocketbook.

So at the appointed time, I stood up against the wall of mirrors in the gym, pulled my shirt to the side and slapped a thick layer of cream on my port. Then I cut a small piece of Press ‘n Seal and covered the cream so it wouldn’t sploosh all over my shirt. While I finished my workout, the cream slid around a bit, and the Press ‘n Seal crinkled with each movement, and the curious onlookers were probably wondering what in the world they just witnessed.

Here’s what Lauren had to say about our ol’ friend Press ‘n Seal:

“In all my years of reading on PTSD and grief and trauma with breast cancer, not once have I seen a section on dealing with the emotional trauma of how dehumanizing it is to put Press N’ Seal on your body. Not once have I seen a section on how deeply humiliated you feel when you are made to walk half-naked through hallways on the way to an MRI, where then, in front of the room full of techs, you must disrobe and awkwardly lay on your stomach and hang your breasts through two holes in a plank. There is nothing in any book about how violating it feels having a breast written on in sharpie, and that the last time you see it in your life, it has a doctors intials on it. There is nothing in chapter 3 of any book that discusses the indignity of having our bodies being measured with trigonometry like a drafting project as we lay there naked, and get tattooed by nurses for radiation, especially when you are one who doesn’t like the thought of ink in your skin. There is nothing, nothing about the angst of a port sticking out of your body, or how impersonal it feels having your body lifted and shifted by nurses until you are lined up just right for radiation.”

I can’t speak to the parts about radiation, but on all the other stuff I say yep, that’s right. How strange it is when things like Press ‘n Seal on your body become part of your life. How sad when experiences like the ones Lauren describes become lasting memories, and not in the warm & fuzzy way. How terrible its is when you realize that there’s “nothing in any book about how to come to terms with the death of control over your body and life,” as Lauren so aptly puts it.

I’ve learned, just as Lauren and Laura and millions of other cancer patients have learned, that the small stuff becomes big stuff, and the death of control over our bodies and lives is just one of the many casualties in the “cancer journey.” The PTSD in one’s daily life also chips away at the idea of normalcy, signaling the death of innocence, the end of easy.  It may or may not be well-documented, but it’s there. And as Lauren says, “Just because it is not said or written about, doesn’t make it less real. It does not make our feelings about many of these more ambiguous losses less valid, less deserving of mention. It does not make the trauma less valid, it does not make us whiners about small stuff.”

She notes that “we will suffer many more deaths on the cancer journey. Some by things taken from us, and some by things given/done to us. There will be a thousand deaths in cancer, and then a thousand more.”

And so I will indeed sweat the small stuff. Anytime I want.


What not to buy me for my birthday

If you’re still searching for the exact perfect gift for my upcoming birthday, here’s a tip: don’t buy this.

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It seems the marketing machine at Komen is looking to get a little more mileage from CEO Nancy Brinker’s book by cross-promoting a Promise Me perfume. Thanks to my blog friend Katie at Uneasy Pink for bringing this to my attention.

The more I learn about the Komen organization, the more I resent the “for the Cure” part of its name. IMHO we pink-ribbon girls do owe a debt of gratitude for the de-shaming of our disease compliments of Komen, but I don’t yet see what the organization is doing “to end breast cancer forever,” as it says in its mission statement.

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We all know the story: Nancy Goodman Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she (Nancy) would devote her life to ending  breast cancer forever. Suzy was diagnosed in 1977, in the dark ages of BC, and sadly she died from the disease at age 36, leaving behind 2 young kids and a grieving family. Give the Goodman family credit: they channelled their grief and put it to good use. In 1982 Nancy’s promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and “launched the global breast cancer movement,” whatever that means.

Komen says that today it is “the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.”

Perhaps Komen is best known for its Race for the Cure®, which has raised a ton of money and Komen claims to have “invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.” I love the idea of an army of pink in races across the globe. Walk, run, push a stroller, whatever, but get kitted out in pink and raise some serious cash. No argument from me on this one.

I wasn’t well enough to do the Houston race this year, but several people I know did, and the race was a success, financially and from a feel-good standpoint.  One of my sweet friends, Paula, did the race in Salt Lake City and was kind enough to put my name on her back, something that touches me to the depths of my soul.

I have no argument with Komen’s claims to be the BC authority, nor with the money raised. However, it does bug me that Komen’s quest for “the Cure” has been so fruitless. While I very much appreciate Komen making BC the most glamorous cancer, where is the Cure? Komen has been working since 1982 to find it, and yes it certainly is a complicated bugger, but I’d sure like to know what progress has been made.

Forgive my pessimism, but I don’t see what Promise Me perfume is going to do to find the Cure. Katie was kind enough to break down the math on Komen’s latest marketing cash cow, and basically here’s how it plays out:

A 3.4-oz bottle of Promise Me Eau de Parfum sells for $59.00. Of that, 13.5% goes back to Komen , but only $1.51 per bottle will be spent on research.

No, that’s not a type-o.

$1.51 a bottle goes toward research.

Now, I’m not going to get into the many ways in which this is completely whacked, but suffice to say that $1.51 a bottle isn’t going to find “the Cure.”

I’ve looked at Komen’s figures before and was shocked to see how precious little is devoted to research. I’ve heard survivors who do the Race for the Cure complain that every penny of the entry fee goes to cover administrative expenses. Again, where is the Cure?

At the risk of sounding like the granny in the old-school Wendy’s commercials who asked “Where’s the Beef?” I do wonder where’s the Cure.

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A quick peek at the charity navigator website talks a lot about Komen’s program expenses, fundraising expenses, and administrative expenses, with nary a mention of research.

Thus, I will not be buying the new Promise Me perfume, no matter how seduced I am by its “alluring Floriental fragrance combining classic elegance with a modern twist.”

I don’t even know what Floriental is, but I know I don’t want it. Even though its “initial impression is fresh and uplifting.” I can get fresh and uplifting from a bar of soap, thank you very much.

The marketing material claims that “as the fragrance becomes one with your skin, the floral bouquet blossoms in the heart, revealing sensual femininity.”

Oh, so that’s how I get my sensual femininity back after having both breasts chopped off? By spritzing some Floriental toilet water to lend “warmth and opulence and envelope the senses with a long-lasting trail”?????? How about find the Cure, so women like me don’t have to go through what I’ve been through? How’s that for an idea?

Maybe the “top notes of mandarin, bergamot, and blood oranges” blend nicely with the “base notes of white patchouli and creamy musk” to accomplish a good scent, but if you know what “sparkling yuzu” is will you please let me know? And tell me what it smells like.

Because I think it’s the smell of innocent consumers being hoodwinked.

You’ve got 5 more shopping days until my birthday. Don’t bother with the Promise Me perfume.



I live now

“With the past I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I live now.

Yes indeed.

I’m digging that quote. Today, as most days, I woke up and stole a few minutes before hitting the ground running. I like to check my email first thing in the morning, and see what’s what before I start my day. I have several cancerbabes in blogland whose musings I follow. I don’t know any of these women personally, but we share a commonality that is cancer, and that tends to make friends from strangers faster than anything, including hard liquor.

One of my cancerbabe friends posted some really, really good news on her blog today, and it was the first thing I read this fine morning. Long story short she’s a 28-year-old dealing with Hodgkin Lymphoma who left her home on the East Coast to spend some time in my lovely H-town at MD Anderson to endure a grueling clinical trial.

Sounds pretty awful, right? As most cancers are, whether big or small, early- or late-stage. Cancer is just plain awful. But my cancerbabe blogger friend had good news to share about her just plain awful cancer: the clinical trial worked and she’s in partial remission.

Hooray & hallelujah!

Another strike against the many-faceted and much-dreaded disease that is cancer.

I read the rest of my emails with a smile on my face, and as I hauled myself out of bed, that smile stayed with me.  I believe in celebrating every little bit of good news that comes our way, especially when dealing with the dreaded C. Nope, I’m not opening champagne at this early hour, before even getting my little darlings out of bed, preparing their breakfasts, making their lunches and seeing them off to school. Thought about it, but resisted. I’ve learned the hard way that bad things happen to good people, and to counteract that hard truth by celebrating all the good things that come along. Sometimes with champagne, but sometimes not.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the bad things about cancer. And believe you me, there are many, many bad things. Watching my sweet, vivacious, and much-beloved mama be eaten alive, literally, by uterine cancer was horrific. Knowing that I would have to live the rest of my life without hearing her big belly laugh, without her all-knowing guidance in raising my own kids was b-a-d bad. Seeing her ravaged body become ever more frail day by day left me wondering how much worse could it possibly get. Because as bad as it is, there’s always more. My BFF Ed tried to tell me that. He knew, from watching his dad die of pancreatic cancer. I didn’t want to believe him, and childishly clung to the idea that it was as bad as it could possibly be. But it wasn’t, and no matter how hard one “fights,” once cancer gains a stronghold, it’s devastating. No matter how much one wants to win the “battle,” there’s no guarantee.

If anyone on this Earth deserved to win her “battle” it was my sweet mama. Her own mama died when she was 13, leaving her to raise her younger sister, who my mama had to work hard to forgive for usurping her “I’m the baby” spot in the family line-up. They lived on a farm and life was hard. She was the only one of her 4 siblings to graduate from college, and she did it in 3 years.Barb's necklace She was president of her sorority, which is how she scored this fetching necklace, and I’m sure she bossed her sorority sisters into next week. Determined to make her mark in the world, she became a teacher, and did it well. She married into a tight-knit Greek family who didn’t necessarily welcome “foreigners,” but she won them over. Every last one of them. Even the stubborn, crotchety old ones. She raised two kids in a most-loving and uber-secure environment. Everything she did, she did it well and with such love & warmth that people were drawn to her. She made this world a better place.

Yet, after a multi-year, multi-stage “battle,” cancer claimed her as its own. Not fair. Not by a long shot. But fairness has nothing to do with winning the “battle” against cancer. So much of it is luck and circumstance. So much of it is out of our control. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a Type A bossypants like me.

And that’s exactly why I live now.

Cancer steals so much from us. Big things: health (duh), time, innocence, body parts, hair, self-esteem, a good night’s sleep, healthy body image, money, freedom, time, faith, security. Small things: major wardrobe issues, range of motion in yoga class, being able to look in a mirror without wincing, missing important events, becoming fearful instead of being carefree.

The past is gone, and no matter how hard you may try, you ain’t gettin it back. You can’t change it. The future? Good luck with that one. My theory is you gotta work hard, bear down, be the person you most want to be, and hope for the best. Hope that you’ll avoid the evil lottery that decides who will be stricken with cancer. Keep on living a good life and doing all the right things (antioxidants, splurges in moderation, wholesome foods, regular check-ups and exercise, blah blah blah) but don’t for one second expect those things to earn you a free pass. Because cancer strikes no matter what.

So I live now.


These boots…

I’ve been looking at this art a lot lately. Sometimes I’m more drawn to it than other times, rather like people I suppose. You know how certain friends drift in and out of your life, and your relationships have ebbs and flows — sometimes you can’t get enough of each other and talk multiple times a day, while at other times you go weeks without speaking then, if you’re lucky, pick back up right where you left off. That’s how you know a true friend, IMHO. The picking back up right where you left off part. Love that.

This little gem hangs in my bathroom, right above the light switch. Sometimes when I’m in a giant hurry, as opposed to the regular-sized hurry, I knock it clean off the wall as I grapple for the light switch, dashing to and fro through the house, delivering bundles of clean laundry, exchanging tennis shoes for flip flops, and going about my daily domestic business.

I glance at this little gem every day, sometimes more than once, and in the heat of the battle that was Nancy vs Breast Cancer in the qualifying match, then Nancy vs Mycobacterium in the main event, it made me smile. The battle was long and arduous, and any little thing that propelled me forward or gave me pause to chuckle was most welcome.

In retrospect, I see that the simple yet sassy message on my little piece of art reminded me that I had what I needed for the battles at hand. I was well-equipped with research; statistics; drug therapy information; most excellent surgeons; first-class hospital care (except for the part in which I got an infection, that is); an army of friends & family to help with kids and meals and dogs and errands; and comprehensive medical insurance to cover most of the nearly $300K I’ve racked up so far.

Inspiration comes in many forms. For some, it is found in nature. As I type this, I see the gentle motion of the lake across the street, calm waters moving peacefully just beyond the sign that says: “DANGER! Beware of Alligators.” As I glance upon the calm yet gator-infested water, I hear birdsong of many varieties. While the little birds that perch on the peak of our roof drive Harry the dog completely insane, I like their song and welcome their feathered presence into the hustle & bustle of my busy day. Hearing the peep! peep! peep! of baby birds in a nest, buried high and deep in the Italian cypress trees along my back fence, made me smile and reminded me that life’s not so bad, even with cancer and infection and all that mess.

I suspect those babies have grown up and left the nest, as it happens quickly in the bird community. I haven’t heard the sweet little peeps in several weeks, nor have I seen parental bird figures flitting in and out of the cypress to care for their young. The only evidence that the fledgling family was even there is the one long string, raffia-like, that must have been used in the nest-building process. It sticks out of the cypress about 8 inches, and while I always assumed it was leftover building material, it strikes me now that perhaps the industrious nest-builders placed it there on purpose, to make it easier to find the nest from outside. The 3 cypress trees along the fence are identical in appearance, and the nest was buried deep within, not at all visible from the outside. Perhaps the momma bird told the daddy bird to leave a piece visible from the outside so they’d never have to stop for directions.

Or maybe it’s just a fluke.

So much in life is just that, a fluke.


Blog-worthy

Remember the episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine faces a shortage of contraceptive sponges and has to evaluate all of her male suitors to determine whether they’re “sponge worthy?”

So is the task of this blogger. It’s been called to my attention that some people consider themselves “blog-worthy” and are not getting the press they deserve. I hope you’re reading this from Malaysia, Pete Keating. As Elaine said on the infamous sponge-worthy episode, “Run down your case for me again.”

As much as I like the idea of a gladiator-type battle to determine who among my circle of friends gets mentioned in this little blog, it’s not very practical. I am, however, open to bribes and prefer my Piper Sonoma to be brut.

The Rajah knows how that system works. In his invitation to Sunday Funday at the Martinez casa, he texted me this photo: 

A little something for me, and a little something for Trevor. The Rajah knows what his guests like. He’s hospitable like that.

So Pete, you don’t have to spring for the Veuve Clicquot to be considered blog-worthy. (But I wouldn’t complain if you did.)

I’m so glad the reverend Howard Camping’s prophesy was wrong. If the world had ended on Saturday, May 21st, as Camping predicted, I would not have had a chance to sip that lovely bubbly on Sunday, and that would have been a crying shame. Seems Camping made a mathematical error again, as he did in his 1994 prophesy. He says he didn’t have the dates “worked out as accurately as I could have” on the most recent prediction. Whew.

I’m really glad he had his dates wrong again this time. I would have hated to miss out on this scrumptious soup from the Orin Swift wine dinner at Aura last night. Chef outdid himself on this one: 

Yep, that’s a halved coconut serving as a soup bowl. It contained the most delectable concoction of Thai-spiced soup with a lobster dumpling, seen peeking out of the bottom edge of the soup. There was much debate at our table about what the wagon-wheel looking garnish was. Zucchini and cucumber were thrown out as possibilities, although I was suspicious of being able to fry a cucumber. Too much water, I’d think; the oil would sizzle and splatter all over the place. I can’t recall if it was Raymond or Marissa who suggested zucchini, and I think it was Trevor who threw out the cucumber. Keith had it right, as usual, with the winning answer: lotus root. Go figure.

I’m so glad Camping had his dates mixed up again and I lived long enough to eat that soup. Seems the real date for the apocalypse is October 21st. So get your affairs in order, people. You’ve got 5 months to prove whether you’re blog- worthy. And here’s a little note for Howard Camping:

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I Am Barbie

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On April 29, 2002, the woman who created Barbie died. I guess I missed the news that day. A New York Times op-ed written about Ruth Handler said that “perhaps Barbie’s most significant attribute is her capacity to make people wonder what she would be like if she were really human. But to imagine Barbie as a real woman is to imagine her subject to time itself. It is to imagine her with real politics, real worries, a constant struggle with the memory of her own once ideal figure. Above all, it is to imagine her with a voice.”

I went to a play this past Friday night called “I Am Barbie,” and we no longer have to imagine Barbie with a voice. She spoke, via actress Ivy Castle-Rush in the titular role, and she had lots to say about her life & times.

photo by Gary Fountain

Notes from the playwright, Walton Beacham, say:

“Barbie celebrates her 50th birthday by reminiscing about her careers, her relationship with Ken and other characters from her life, who express their own opinions about Barbie. An important motif is Barbie’s breasts as cultural icon, symbol and statement of feminine status, power and vulnerability. Two of the characters, Midge’s mother and Barbie’s creator Ruth, develop breast cancer.”

More on that in a sec.

The play was my introduction to Ruth Handler. I must admit, I’d never given Barbie’s creator much thought. Although more than 1 billion Barbies have been sold in more than 150 countries, and although Barbie even has her own Hall of Fame, in Palo Alto, CA, I never thought much about  her. I have bought Barbie dolls, clothes, and accessories as birthday gifts for Macy’s friends, but knew nothing of Barbie’s story or that of her creator.

I do now.

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Barbie  was created in 1959 for Handler’s daughter, Barbara.  (And yes, Ken is named for Handler’s son, which is kind of creepy when you think about Barbie & Ken’s relationship. Ewwww.)

the Lilli doll

Based on a German precursor named Lilli, Handler intended the Barbie doll to help girls “play out their dreams of adolescence and beyond,” hence Barbie’s trajectory from going to prom to going to college to getting married to going to the Moon. She’s embraced every fashion trend that’s come along, and she’s dabbled in nearly every career imaginable. In her 1994 autobiography Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story, Handler wrote: ”My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

I suspect that Handler was talking about more than just Barbie’s wardrobe.

I wonder, though, if Handler had any idea of how wildly popular Barbie would become. As the co-founder of the Mattel Toy Company, Handler clearly had a head for business, and could be considered a visionary in terms of the range that Barbie ended up encompassing. Did Handler know that Barbie would become a flashpoint for debates in psychology, cultural politics, feminism, fashion, women’s rights, and body image, just to name a few? Did she consider the firestorm of controversy Barbie could ignite, for example, just by her Teen Talk version uttering the phrase “Math class is tough?” That one really got the feminists going, and reinforced the stereotype that girls aren’t so great at math.

Well, I didn’t play with Barbies much as a little girl, and thankfully escaped her attempts to sway my feminist tendencies or influence my attitude toward math. In fact, my next-door neighbor growing up is a female statistics professor who taught classes, wrote textbooks, and became the chair of the math department. She gave me a tote bag once that says “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” When my middle-school speech class had to present a debate-style speech, mine was on the ERA, and I carried my notes in the girl-power tote bag. Take that, Teen Talk Barbie.

I missed the memo, too, on Barbie dictating body image. Like most of the world, I certainly have always thought her proportions are ridiculous — a real-world scale determined she would be 5 foot 6 with a 39-21-33 figure. Her internal organs wouldn’t even fit inside that package, for pete’s sake. Although she did undergo a makeover in 2000 to eliminate the waistline “seam” that made her poseable and reduced both her bust and her hips, she’s still a pretty unrealistic feminine ideal. However, it never occurred to me to let a doll determine how I feel about myself.

Maybe missing that memo allowed me to cope with losing my breasts to cancer, just as Handler did in 1970. She was diagnosed and underwent a bilateral mastectomy the year after I was born. To say that diagnostic and surgical progression has been made since then might be the understatement of the year. Facing her diagnosis the same way she approached the toy business — aggressively and successfully — Handler took on cancer awareness and made it her mission to ensure that women who joined the pink ribbon club after her had an easier time with it.

See, Handler faced breast cancer at a time in which real women had fewer choices than Barbie; the Women’s Health & Cancer Act that required insurance companies to cover reconstruction wasn’t enacted until 1988. Handler faced her post-mastectomy body-image demons head-on. And, dissatisfied with the limited prostheses options available at the time, she created her own.

Handler developed the Nearly Me breast form and founded Nearly Me Technologies, Inc in the mid-1970s after she discovered that the breast forms available at the time were “not comfortable, realistic, beautiful, or easily purchased,” according to the company’s website. Handler said, “When I conceived Barbie, I believed it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem to play with a doll that has breasts. Now I find it even more important to return that self-esteem to women who have lost theirs.”

”Until now,” Handler said in 1977, ”every breast [prosthesis] that was sold was used interchangeably for the right or the left side. There has never been a shoemaker who made one shoe and forced you to put both your right and your left foot in it.” She’s right about that.

Keep in mind that Handler was operating in an era in which there was little talk about breast cancer. She was determined to change that, however, and worked tirelessly toward early detection as well as helping post-mastectomy women reclaim a sense of normalcy. Handler personally fit First Lady Betty Ford with her prosthesis after Ford’s mastectomy in 1974. In promoting Nearly Me prostheses, Handler would unbutton her shirt during interviews and publicity jaunts and challenge a reporter or photographer to feel her breasts to determine which was real. Handler said that with high-quality prostheses, “a woman could wear a regular brassiere and blouse, stick her chest out and be proud.”

In talking about her two careers–creator of both Barbie and Nearly Me–Handler was known to say, ”I’ve lived my life from breast to breast.”

She knew what she was doing when she hired retired Mattel workers to design the Nearly Me prostheses. The same people who created Barbie’s breasts went to work, using similar manufacturing processes and materials. They discovered that using a polyurethane outer skin over silicone gel provided the structure and shape to match a real breast. And, just like with Barbie, no nipples were necessary.

So how does all this fit into a play? Very carefully. A review of “I Am Barbie” said that “the trickiest aspect is Beacham’s decision to include Ruth’s struggle with breast cancer as a recurring theme. One can see why Beacham felt it important to include this part of the real Ruth Handler’s story, relevant to the play’s theme of women’s body image.”

A breast cancer diagnosis, while dreadful, is real. Good things happen to bad people, and even Barbie gets the blues. Beacham did us all a favor by including this theme in the play. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to face heavy subjects, and perhaps some audience members felt a bit squirmy as they saw Ruth’s and Midge’s struggles portrayed. With all the “pink-a-fying” and prettying up of the disease, it’s nice to see a gritty and realistic version.

So thank you, Walton Beacham for not shying away from breast cancer’s impact on women. And thank you, Ruth Handler. For inspiring a playwright to tackle the very real theme of breast cancer and body image. For proving once again that life does not end with a breast cancer diagnosis. For saying “that’s not good enough” to the options available post-mastectomy. Oh, and for creating Barbie, too.

P.S. Of course there’s a Pink Ribbon Barbie, whose marketing material says she’s “wearing a pink gown with a signature pink ribbon pinned to her shoulder, Pink Ribbon Barbie doll can help open a dialogue with those affected by breast cancer, while supporting this worthy cause!” She can be yours for the low, low price of $78.99 at amazon.com.



Tennis time

Today’s the day, people.

I’m paying a call on my true love. Nope, this isn’t a tell-all expose a la Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s tennis.

Finally.

I’ve been cleared by my favorite doc to start playing again. To ease back into it and with specific instructions to stop in my tracks if I feel even a tiny pull in my 17-inch-long belly incision. That super-long, super-bad incision is healing up quite nicely, and it’s my job to guard it and baby it.

When I got the green light from my favorite surgeon, I asked his nurse  to please put a note in my file and have him sign it to that effect. A permission slip of sorts, so that when I see him again in a couple of weeks and mention tennis, he doesn’t forget he’d given me the go-ahead. The last thing that man and I need is another argument. Although, it has been a while since we had one….

With the tennis ban being lifted, I realized that I haven’t so much as picked up a racquet since The Big Dig, nearly 3 months ago. In fact, I had to dig around in the garage for my tennis bag. Sadly, it had been consigned to the garage instead of riding shotgun like normal, and it hung on a hook, quite forlornly, I might add, all this time. Over the course of almost 3 months, things like stadium seats and insulated cooler bags were hung in front of my beloved bag, and it took on the role of wallflower instead of constant companion. I had to take my racquet out, just for a sec, and hold it in my hand. Just like old times. 

Today’s return isn’t full of the fanfare the met my return to the court last fall, after finally triumphing over the God-awful post-mastectomy infection and all its myriad complications. You loyal readers know the story so I won’t bore you with the details yet again, but suffice to say that the bilateral mastectomy would have been enough, but the nosocomial infection that required 3 more surgeries, nearly a month in the hospital, and endless antibiotics was really enough.

No fanfare, because while returning to tennis after the mastectomy and infection mess was a lot, but it’s easy compared to recovering from the DIEP surgery. Good thing today is just a 1-hour drill, which is the perfect venue for me to see if I remember how to swing that racquet. I’m not giddy with excitement like I was last fall, because the cautious side of me is bracing for disappointment. For this return to not quite work out for me. Although I’ve been cleared, there’s no guarantee that my body is on the same schedule as my heart & mind, and I may well be met with resistance from the battle-weary bod.

See, this is one of the unseen side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Even after getting through all the hard stuff–comprehending the devastating news of diagnosis, all the gut-wrenching decisions, the surgeries & hospitalizations, the never-ending antibiotics & their grueling side effects, the cornucopia of doctors’ appointments, the worry & fear & fatigue–I’m still shell-shocked enough to automatically look for disaster. Although the 267 days of oral antibiotics worked and my infection is cured, there’s still a little part of me that assumes the worst. I can’t even remember the last time my skin opened up to let infected fluid escape, yet I still think I feel it a couple of times a week. It’s PTSD for patients.

So my job today is to say screw the PTSD. Can the shell-shocked tendencies. Bust right through the doubt. Ignore the niggling little voice that asks if I’m sure I want to do this.

Hell yes, I want to do this. More than anything else, tennis to mean means I’ve healed. More than being able to go about my busy little life, more than getting back into the gym, more than being able to lift my arms enough and twist my core enough to dress myself. Tennis means I did it. It’s over.

My friend who also battled the breast cancer beast has dusted off her racquet and returned to the game we both love. While I’m unhappy with the unfinished parts of my reconstruction and she’s unhappy with her not-yet-grown-back-in hair, we’re getting back in the game.

I’m going to take the advice of tennis legend Billie Jean King in my post-cancer tennis strategy:

“Ladies, here’s a hint.  If you’re up against a girl with big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys.  That’s the hardest shot for the well-endowed.”

My friend and I are both differently-endowed than we were before breast cancer came to call, but we survived that unwelcome visit and are ready to tear it up on the court. Even if we both get our asses handed to us in match play, I suspect we’ll both be smiling. Happy to be there, happy to have a racquet in hand, happy to be alive.