I’ve been quite busy the last few days living my life.
I’m going to say that again — living my life. Those are 3 beautiful little words to someone dealing with cancer. Past or present, once you’ve tangled with the beast, the idea of living, i.e., surviving, is sweet. The idea of living your life, even sweeter because it means that in some way, you are getting back a semblance of the pre-cancer life.
It’s almost October, which brings a multitude of conflicting emotions and thoughts. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is confusing for me, and for many other cancerchicks. On one hand, I’m grateful to Komen for destigmatizing what once was a shameful disease. I’m thankful for the research and the advances that have been made, which allow women like me to deal with BC much more easily than my pink ribbon sisters before me. On the other hand, I’m uncomfortable with all the pinkwashing that occurs. At what point can we declare enough with the awareness? Is there really anyone who’s not aware that BC exists and rips people’s lives apart to the tune of 1.3 million worldwide every year? More on that later.
While I’m torn about the Komen issue, I decided last-minute to do the Race for the Cure, which is tomorrow. The Houston version of the race usually attracts nearly 40,000 people so it’s a big deal, literally. I’ll be among the sea of pink tomorrow morning, wishing that the organization putting on the race would focus more on research and metastatic disease and less on putting a pink ribbon on products from fried chicken to dog treats to toilet paper. I’ll proudly wear my hot pink SURVIVOR shirt, basking in the glow of having made it through the plethora of crap cancer threw at me, but I’ll also mourn those who didn’t make it through.
But that’s tomorrow. Today I’m going to be kicking some butt on the tennis court. It’s the annual member-guest tournament at our club, and Christy and I plan to dominate. She’s a fierce competitor who wants to bring home the hardware. Me too, but I’m also happy to be living my life.
I ran into a woman at the gym who I hadn’t seen in a while. She didn’t know about my little bout with breast cancer, and when she asked what I’ve been up to, I told her. I told her the truth, that it was a simple cancer that was caught early and is highly treatable. The cancer was pretty simple, but the post-mastectomy infection was very complicated. I’m still dealing with the mess from that damned infection.
She asked a lot of questions, trotting out the usual suspects. I don’t mind the questions, and I don’t begrudge her curiosity. Here’s how the conversation went down: How did you know you had cancer? I didn’t. At my annual well-woman exam my OB-GYN found a lump that I never felt, even when she put my hand right on it. Why didn’t you do a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy? Because I wanted to slash & burn each and every cancer cell in the area. Do you regret having chosen such a drastic surgery? Nope, not one bit. Turns out there was cancer in the other breast, that didn’t show up in any of the pre-surgery testing. Do you have a family history of breast cancer? Not so much. My cousin Cheryl had it nearly 20 years ago, but my mom and her sister both died of different cancers. How old was your mom when she died? 67. Way too young, and not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t ache — some days physically but mostly it’s mental — from missing her, and while the grief certainly isn’t as raw after nearly 6 years, I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing her. How did you hide it from your kids? I didn’t try to but instead explained everything and reassured them that my cancer wasn’t going to kill me like YaYa’s killed her.
It was a perfectly normal conversation — well, perfectly normal now that I’m among the 1 in 8 women who will contract this damned disease — and then she said it: the one thing that sets my teeth on edge, that makes me feel like steam is coming out of my ears, that makes me have to work really, really hard not to punch someone in the brain.
She said, “It sounds like it’s been hard, but it’s so good to see you working hard in the gym. What a gift you’ve been given. Aren’t you so lucky to be so young and strong, and to have come out of this so well?”
I was speechless. I probably looked like a fish on a hook, mouth opening and closing, wondering what the hell just happened.
Of course I realize she was trying to say the right thing, and in all likelihood was even trying to compliment me with the “OMG, you look so healthy for someone who’s battled cancer” business. I know it’s a sticky situation, people, and that it’s hard to find the right thing to say. But really, is it that difficult?
I’m the absolute last person to look at a cancer diagnosis as a gift. It’s not. It’s a diagnosis of a terrible, terrifying disease. If you think cancer is a gift, kindly remove me from your list of people for whom you shop. I’m out. Yes, good things can come from a bad situation: new friendships blossom, existing relationships are strengthened, the depths of one’s character are carefully examined, yadda yadda. But at the end of the day, if someone tells me I’m better off for having had cancer, I call bullshit.
I recently read an interview with Melissa Etheridge about her breast cancer. She joined the pink ribbon club in October 2004, and has been quite outspoken about her “cancer journey.” I like Melissa Etheridge. I like her blatant feminism and her moxie. She displayed some rockin courage when she performed, bald, at the Grammys shortly after being diagnosed.
Things like her bald performance are very good for cancer patients, no doubt. Her decision to not wear a wig forces people to see the harsher sides of cancer, and I applaud her courage in putting herself out there, even if seeing her bald head makes some people uncomfortable. Especially if seeing her bald head makes some people uncomfortable.
But she also talks about cancer about something for which she’s grateful. I guess that takes courage, too, but I have a problem with it. She says that when someone tells her they’ve been diagnosed with cancer, her reply is “Wow, great! Your body is telling you that you can’t go on like this and you have to change. You’ll look back on your disease and say ‘I’m glad that happened to me.’ ”
Well, guess what? There was precious little in my life that needed to change pre-cancer. I exercised 6 days a week, ate heathfully, drank lots of water, avoided toxins, and worked hard to have a balanced and healthy life. Cancer got me anyway. I certainly won’t look back on this — assuming it ever ends — and say I’m glad it happened to me. Uh uh. No sir. No way. I can’t imagine looking back on this and saying I’m glad it happened. That its was a gift. Not in a million years.
Listen, Melissa: someone who’s newly diagnosed — and most likely terrified, freaked out, and shocked — does not need to hear someone essentially say, “Oops, I guess you’ve been doing it all wrong and this is your fault.” I don’t care if you are a celebrity and a Grammy winner. Zip it. No one needs to hear that. And no one needs to hear that cancer is a gift, either.
Sheesh. I’m not even going to get into the whole mess of it’s easy for her to say that, she’s a star and has plenty of money/time/resources/help/clout. That’s a post for another day (even though it’s true). Let’s stick to the idea of how wrong it is to imply that the person with cancer is somehow at fault, that he/she did something or didn’t do something that caused their cells to go wonky and create a shitstorm in their body. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I will never forget my sweet breast surgeon Dr Dempsey looking me in the eye while holding both my hands and saying, “This is not your fault. You did not cause this cancer.” Here’s that part of the notes that Boss Lady took for me that day (doesn’t she have nice handwriting?). I’m not a touchy-feely person at all, but Dr Dempsey is, and she did me a huge favor that day by looking me in the eye and telling me that this is not my fault. I’m all for accepting responsibility, but not here, not when it comes to cancer. It’s not my fault, I’m not glad it happened to me, and it’s not a gift.
If you’re looking for a laugh or an inspirational story, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m in a funk and there’s no amount of lipstick that’ll pretty up this pig (the funk, not me). My thoughts are scattered like leaves falling off a tree (if only that conjured up visions of the russet colors of fall, of leaves parachuting off of trees as they ready themselves for the change of season. That does happen in some parts of the world, but here, in the land of eternal summer, and in this infernal record-breaking, never-ending summer, the only leaves falling from the trees are brown and crackly, dead from the drought. How’s that for a cheery thought?).
I’ve been struggling the last few days. I’m frustrated with the pace of the healing from the latest surgery–yes, I’m a whole lot better, but I want to be done. I’m madder than a wet hen about the effect of the last surgery on my tennis game, and wonder if I’ll ever get my serve back. I’m worn out from the swirling, worrying thoughts of whether I’ll ever have the results I want. I’m both impatient for and dreading the next round of revision. I’m tired of being tired. I’m pissy about the fact that I’m still battered and sore. I’m ready to rip the port right out from under my skin because it catches on my clothes and shoots a sick sensation up my neck that reminds me the damn thing is sewn into my jugular vein. Oh, and it looks weird, too. I’m sick of cancer and all its many fallouts.
Normally, my solution to such a funk is alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Every night is ladies’ night when the funk shows up at my house. But there’s a niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me that alcohol is a major contributor to breast cancer, both initially and in terms of recurrence. And since not a day goes by that I don’t think about recurrence, perhaps I should avoid using alcohol as a balm for my beat-up soul. Dammit. Yet another way cancer has wreaked havoc in my world. If I can’t in good conscience comfort myself with booze, I’m in real trouble. This is no fun.
When I was diagnosed last year, Dr Dempsey gave me a stack of play money. She handed it to me and said it is very important currency. Each “dollar” bill was a free pass to be in a funk. To throw a fit. To have a pity party. As she put it, “to lay in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream.” I laughed and thought, pfffft! I won’t need that. I got this. Me and my positive attitude can kick this cancer no sweat.
While I am happy to report I’ve spent not one day in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream since cancer shat upon my head, I’m thinking I may need to pull out one of those dollars. How crazy is that — after all the crap I’ve been through, after seeming like I was finally getting close to the finish line, now I fall into the funk?
Don’t worry, I’ve already run through all the reasons I have to be happy: I’m alive, the worst is behind me, I’m not in the hospital, I have neither drains nor a wound vac attached to me, I’m cleared for exercise, I have great doctors and comprehensive insurance, I have a stellar support network, blah blah blah. Yes, all of that is true, and I know in my heart of hearts that there really is more good than bad in my life. I know that one day this whole “cancer journey” will be a speck of dust in my rearview mirror as I travel along the grand highway of a happy life. But right now, the funk rules.
Those of you who are within shouting distance have been hearing about it. The frustration, the impatience, the pissy-ness. What you won’t hear, though, is “Why me?” because really, does it matter why? Not so much. What matters is how ya sweep up the mess that’s dumped on ya, and most days I’m armed and ready with the broom & dustpan. But for now, I’m frustrated, impatient, and pissy. And mad. I’m mad, too.
I’m mad that this damned cancer “journey” has to be so hard for so long. I’m all for rolling up my sleeves, gritting my teeth and getting through it. I fully support Winston Churchill’s idea of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I believe Eleanor Roosevelt 100 percent when she said “A woman is like a tea bag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” I gather strength from Robert Frost telling me “The best way out is always through.” But geez, does it really have to be this arduous? The ways in which cancer robs us are seemingly endless, and breast cancer in particular is a repeat offender, a pathological thief.
I just read this article, “What’s It Really Like to Live Through Breast Cancer?” Today especially, I needed to hear other women’s stories. Valerie, age 52, said that “she needed symmetry. She needed things to be as they should. She needed, after two years of surrendering to the opinions of doctors and the input of the cancer Web, to have an ounce of control over her body.” Yeah, me too.
Renee, age 47, said that “when I had her mastectomy sutures taken out, I asked the surgeon to remove the Sharpie mark she’d made—the black line that went across my ribs like a big smile—and the surgeon asked what line? I pointed. Her eyes got big and she said, ‘That’s your incision, Renee. We opened up your body. We removed a lot of tissue.’ ”
There are lots of Valeries and Renees out there. One in eight women will be diagnosed with this dreaded disease in the United States alone. Worldwide, there are 1.3 million new breast cancer diagnoses a year. That’s more than a million women who will endure this disease. Of them, some 465,000 will die from it. But even those who survive it, like me, will carry the weight of the disease. The physical scars Renee spoke of are nothing compared to the emotional ones. People say we’re lucky that our cancer occurs in a body part that can be removed. True, but it also means that we see evidence of that cancer every day; if I had a kidney removed, I wouldn’t be confronted by the railroad tracks of a long, harrowing journey every time I undress.
Sure, it’s better to be scarred than dead. No question. But being alive doesn’t mean I have to be happy all the time. It doesn’t mean I won’t get in a funk and be frustrated, impatient, pissy, and mad sometimes.
But the funk will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later. Like in Carl Sandburg’s beautiful little poem, the funk, which can come in like a herd of elephants or on “little cat feet,” will overlook my city “on silent haunches,” and then move on outta here.
(thanks to google images for making it so easy to pretty up my blog today)
In my post yesterday I committed a journalism felony — I buried the lead. See, the lead is the most important part because it gets the reader’s attention. Typically the lead belongs in the first paragraph, to suck the reader in and encourage him/her to read the whole story. The Weekly World News and The National Enquirer have mastered the art of not burying the lead. I learned about that at the Paul Miller School of Journalism & Broadcasting back in the Dark Ages
I didn’t mean to tease you.
I forgot to mention something pretty important yesterday, and I thank the kind readers who expressed concern. I have been fearful of starting my period, but have absolutely no reason to think that will happen. There’s been no, er, physical evidence; nothing but my own cancer-fueled insanity to make me think this fear will materialize. I could imagine this bout of insanity becoming a sleeper sequel to the 2007 Daniel Day Lewis movie. Instead of the story (based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!) of the early oil boom in Southern California, in this story, There Will Be No Blood.
There will, however, be insanity. Plenty of it.
What do you call a recurring nightmare that happens while you’re awake? Recurring daymare doesn’t sound right at all. Whatever it’s called, I’ve been having it. Guys, you may want to click on over to espn.com or continue searching for pics of Minka Kelly in a bikini because I’m fixin’ to talk about some lady stuff.
This blog has been my outlet for all things cancer-related: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sadly, the latter two categories way outweigh the first in this trilogy, but that’s when you grit your teeth and plow right through it. There’s been much discussion on this blog about highly personal things, and lots of talk about boobs (sorry, guys; not the Minka Kelly type of talk). Such discussion is brutally honest and at times of the sort that makes people uncomfortable, but that’s how I roll. I could no more ignore the elephant in the room than root for the Yankees (dang, even the thought of that makes me sick to my stomach). I never learned how to sweep things under the rug or look the other way, and I’m not one bit sorry.
So, with the disclaimer out of the way, it’s on to the recurring daymare. Several times in the last few days I’ve had a moment of sheer panic when I think I’ve started my period. Not sheer panic in the sense of it’s gonna be a gusher and I’m in my white tennis skirt far, far away from any feminine hygiene products. No, this sheer panic is in the form of a stark realization that if I were to start my period again, after 17 months, that would signal the end of my chemically-induced menopause.
And that would be bad. Very bad.
Not that I love menopause, not by a long shot. I especially do not love menopause at the age of 42. Going through the ‘pause a decade early is cruel and unusual on many fronts: it’s yet another reminder of having been diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease while my kids were still in grade school; it sucks to be enduring it years before my peers; and it forces me to face all the unpleasantries of how breast cancer can destroy one’s self-confidence and body image at a time in which one should be living large in the prime of one’s life, to name of few.
But menopause for me means that the hormone suppression — which comes at quite a cost — is working. It means that the hormones that fueled my cancer are gone. There one day, gone the next. Hormone suppression causes me a litany of problems, but it means instant famine for my cancer.
If I were to start my period, it would be a red flag (pun intended) that my ovaries were pumping out the hormones that cause a technically-she-should-still-be-fertile woman to start her cycle. And while I’d love to return to that carefree time in which my ovaries pumped out whatever hormones necessary to keep me from being the withered husk of a woman that cancer tries to make me, it would be very bad news. I’m already on the short list at my doctors’ offices (plural) for being a troublemaker. The last thing I need is to ring my onco-crush, as Trevor calls him, to say, “Guess what? The ‘take one pill daily for five years’ Tamoxifen and the quarterly shots of Lupron aren’t working anymore.” I think that sweet man might have a heart attack. And I’d never hear the end of it from Dr S, who not-so-secretly thinks I invent symptoms to have a reason to go see my onco-crush, all the while shaking his head and muttering about what anyone could possibly see in a young, handsome, fit Peruvian doctor when there’s a much-older, much wiser plastic surgeon to adore.
This latest daymare is a perfect example of the PTSD that cancer patients endure. I imagine there are some cancer patients out there in this big, wide world who finish treatment and declare that chapter of their life closed, never to be stressed over or fretted upon again. I’m clearly not one of them. I hear tell that one day, this nasty cancer business won’t be in my forethoughts all the time but will be demoted to a back-burner status. I’m not there yet, but I’m hopeful. For now, though, the thoughts are there, and the fears are many. Things that used to scare me don’t scare me anymore (namely needles, but having been poked so many times I’m over it. In fact, I gave myself a shot the other day, like it was a normal, everyday event) but things I never knew were scary now scare the fool outta me. If that makes any sense.
The other day I was chatting with a friend in the parking lot in the brutal and ongoing Texas sun, and suddenly I felt something that flipped the switch from “I’m a normal person having a normal, non-cancer-related conversation with a friend” to full-blown panic, just like that. The feeling? Something wet was collecting, not quite pooling but definitely collecting, under my newly constructed right breast, site of the infection of the year that turned an average bilateral mastectomy recovery into a shitstorm, for lack of a better word.
I went on with my normal, not-cancer-related conversation, hopefully as if nothing was wrong, but was seriously panicked inside. Visions of hospital beds filled my head; the hospital smell that I dread more than words can say infiltrated my nose; and I could almost feel the 20-gauge needle puncturing my skin to access my port so the army of big-gun antibiotics could get in and fight the enemy. In my mind, I had been admitted and diagnosed with a recurrence of that damned infection within the span of a couple of heartbeats. In reality, it was a simple bead of sweat.
Ahh, yes, a simple bead of sweat. Such a common character in the land of perpetual sun, magnified a few million times by standing on a blacktop surface. A simple, everyday occurrence in the life of millions of Texans and citizens of other hot (but not as awesome) states in this fine country. One little bead of sweat that most people don’t even notice had the power to instantly transport me back to the hell that is included, free of charge, with a post-mastectomy infection.
Somebody wake me from this daymare.
Trevor is trying to get life insurance on me. I’m sure that should make me nervous on some level; however, I think he knows that even on my worst day, his life is a bit easier with me in it. Right?? Right??
Here’s what’s funny: I had to fill out a bunch of online forms, knowing I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being accepted. It’s ok, I have really thick skin. I don’t worry too much about rejection.
The online application has a big section on heath issues, conveniently divided up into categories: physical exam; common conditions; skin, hair & nails; musculoskeletal; women’s health; and “other.”
I’m sure I would pass the physical exam, as long as they give partial credit for having partially finalized body parts. The common conditions section included questions on whether one has had problems with things like colds, flu, allergies, as well as kidney stones and appendicitis. Since when did the latter two become common? I hope I never have either.
The skin, hair & nails section sadly had nothing to do with how fastidiously or fashionably maintained one is. I would pass with flying colors on exfoliated, moisturized, and sunblocked skin, as well as highlighted hair and a nice mani-pedi. But no, they want to know about boring stuff like shingles and psoriasis.
Musculoskeltal was a little more interesting with queries about back pain, bone spurs, fractures, and plantar fasciitis. No, yes, yes, and yes. That was easy.
Women’s health dealt with exactly what I’d expect: birth control, menopause, hormone replacement therapy. In other words, some of the most depressing topics on the website. No need for birth control when you’ve been thrown into early menopause. The baby-making department has not only been downsized but is out of business and closed for good. Menopause? Yep, in spades. Every symptom under the ‘pause banner got a big, thick checkmark from me. Hormone replacement therapy? No chance. The damn hormones fed my cancer machine, so there’s no way I’m going to replace them. Not even if they begged me to come back.
The “other” section inquired about a smorgasboard of topics: concussions, cycts, hernias, and plastic surgery. Hmmm, seems strange to throw the plastic surgery one in there. I can’t wait to tell Dr S that his exalted specialty is lumped in with such ordinary things.
After checking the boxes and reading the laundry list of symptoms and conditions, I had to give specific detail about any “health concerns.” This is where I’m expecting the giant red “rejection” stamp to hit. The questions:
“#1. During the past three years, have you for any reason consulted a physician(s) or other health care provider(s), or been hospitalized? #2. Have you ever had, or been treated for, any of the following: heart, lung, kidney, liver, nervous system, or mental disorder; high blood pressure; stroke; diabetes; cancer or tumor; drug or alcohol abuse including addiction?”
No amount of creative writing or playing fast & loose with the facts is going to help me here. During the past three years, I have indeed consulted a physician(s) or other health care provider(s) and been hospitalized. Further, I have indeed been treated for cancer or tumor; the jury is still out on the mental disorder and the drug/alcohol abuse issues. I’m thinking those could go either way.
So it’s Tuesday, and I’m still recovering from my weekend. Lest you think it’s because of all the wild partying I did, let me set the record straight. My brain has decided it’s time to be back to “normal” after my latest surgical procedure (whatever the hell “normal” is), but my body says it still needs more time. Going about what used to be everyday business for me still wears me out. As much as I try to fight it, it’s true. As much as I want to pretend it’s not so, it really is. And as much as I hate it, it’s reality.
Friday started with me spending 2 hours trying on bras. My brain decided it’s time to start wearing a bra again; to pretend to be “normal” and be like every other girl out there. My body, however, said, “Nah, normal is overrated so we’re gonna fly our freak flag a little longer.” If you think it’s hard to fit a square peg into a round hole, try fitting an elliptical boob into a standard bra cup.
Friday evening was Macy’s mock swim meet, to prepare all the kids who now swim year-round but who have never participated in a swim meet. My little fish knows what to do at a meet, so it was old hat for her, but not for the hordes of screaming masses congregated around the pool. After my looooong, unproductive session in the dressing room, being around tons of hepped up kids wasn’t my idea of fun. As luck would have it, there was a lounge chair at the end of the pool, so I grabbed it and thought longingly of an ice cold Negro Modelo. My “luck” was short-lived, as the area near my chair was where all the swimmers gathered to line up in their heats. No wonder that chair was available. Now I needed two Negro Modelos.
After a very long 2 hours, we were released from one of my personal versions of hell, and we skipped on over to the next neighborhood for some pizza & fellowship with Boss Lady and the Rajah. Good times, and I don’t mean just the bottle of champagne I had to myself.
Saturday morning was my much-anticipated return to the tennis court. I won’t say my game hasn’t suffered in the last several weeks because you loyal readers are much too nice to lie to. Let’s just say that the elliptical boobs wreaked havoc yet again and that my tennis game is all kinds of messed up. Who knew it would be so hard to serve with half a breast in one’s armpit? A good time was had by all nonetheless, and I did manage to rock a few nice passing shots despite my multitude of double-faults.
After tennis we had to skedaddle across town to buy not one but two cars. Ok, we didn’t have to, but we did. We got some rain Saturday for the first time in a coon’s age–about three months, to be exact–and while there are some people who would say something smart-alekey about the odds of Houston finally getting a good deluge on the same day we buy two new cars, I am not one of them. The fact that it hasn’t rained in Houston enough to measure since June 22nd but poured buckets on my new car day didn’t bother me one lick.
After two weeks of driving the adorable red Fiat 500C everywhere I could, I made it legal, and she is now mine, all mine.
Yes, she really is that cute in real life.
The dealership has a 50 club for the first 50 Fiat buyers, and I’m officially in it. I got to sign the canvas on the wall, and I may change my name to 21. If Chad Ochocinco can do it, why not me? If anyone is ready for a fresh start, it’s me.
Our reward for our super busy day was sushi and fantastic cocktails with two of my favorite people, Thad & Yvonne, at a new restaurant. The blood orange martini was sublime, as was the gigantic platter of sushi.
I still can’t decide which was my favorite, but it may have been the special red snapper sashimi we had before the gigantic platter. If you go there, ask for Sonny for your waiter. He was knowledgeable about the sushi, but more importantly, he recommended we order the martinis without the simple syrup but with extra alcohol. My kind of guy.
Sunday there was more fun to be had, with a trip to the Metropolitan Food & Entertaining Show at Reliant Park. The highlight of the show was seeing Paula Deen in the Celebrity Theater. Listen, y’all: she’s a hoot. I’ve seen her show on Food Network a few times, and I’ve tasted her recipes at potlucks and cocktail parties, but to be honest, I don’t follow her because I’m afraid that if I eat the way she cooks, I won’t be able to fit in my chair to write this blog. Yes, she does love butter, but there’s more to her than fried food.
Namely her outsized personality. She’s funny, warm, and honest. Even though we were surrounded by 2,500 screaming fans, she made it feel like we were sitting around her kitchen table chatting. Her husband, Michael, was with her, as was his brother Hank and a chef. Just offstage was Hollis, who I gather is her bodyguard. He just got some new teeth, and she encouraged the camera to zoom in on him so he could show them off. I got the distinct impression that Hollis isn’t one for a lot of smiling, and Paula likes to poke at him a bit.
Clearly, she and Michael have a great relationship, and the banter was flying between them. During the Q&A session, Michael proved to be as quick-witted as Paula had said he is when an audience member asked Paula if she remembers the very first thing she ever cooked. Before she could answer, Michael said “Dinosaur!”
It was hard to get a good shot of her, even though we had good seats; this will have to do. If you’re a foodie like me and are wondering what she cooked, the answer may surprise you. She didn’t cook anything. The guys did all the cooking so she could visit. They made bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, macaroni & cheese, and apple cake. The food wasn’t the highlight: Paula was. It was like an evening at the Improv, and she had the audience roaring with laughter.
She reiterated that she’s not a classically trained chef, saying, “I ain’t a chef, I’m a cook, baby!” Talking about the food the guys were cooking, she said it was “so good it’ll make your tongue want to slap your brains out.” And she said she loves Texas girls because we have “the biggest hearts, the spirits, and the biggest hair.”
Paula Deen is one smart cookie. And that was one fun, but tiring, weekend.
Yesterday’s visit to the doctor was the usual highlight of my day. We laughed, we sparred, we talked about my new Fiat, and I once again stood buck-naked in front of his omnipotent eyes for my three-week post-op checkup. Here’s where it got interesting: I told him that while I appreciate his valiant efforts in the OR, I’m not happy w the results. Shape, size, asymmetry, bumpiness…. I’m sure I wounded him deeply, but had to get it out there. And of course, it goes without saying that I’m not dissatisfied with his work, quite the opposite, but with the ongoing, multi-step drudge that is reconstruction.
I asked about options if the fat transfer doesn’t yield good results. It’s a relatively new procedure and data is scarce, so it’s hard to predict the final results. But I need options. Can he suck out the fat he’s transferred? Can I go back to being totally flat-chested? Because honestly, I’d rather be flat as a board than have an elliptical uniboob. The cleavage line looks great, but only from a distance, and I’d sacrifice it to get back to the point of being satisfied with my chest.
I know it’s hard for a plastic surgeon to grasp that a woman in the USA doesn’t want the biggest knockers she can possibly get, but I keep hammering away at the fact that I am indeed that woman. I’m all for a curvy silhouette but do not want big boobs.
To fix the aspects I’m dissatisfied with, we need to inject more fat, which results in a bigger bust. I don’t want that. I’ve said from Day One that I don’t want that. In fact, I think my exact words to the doc in my consultation right after diagnosis were “If I wake up from surgery with DDs I will kick your teeth in.” Direct quote. In fact, I need to get him a little pillow for his office couch with that message needle-pointed on it. That, and my other recurring message to him, also uttered at that first meeting: I know I’m not your only patient, but I’m your most important patient. I have threatened to get that needle-pointed for him, too.
NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell is the latest public figure to share the dreaded news with the world: she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. She announced her diagnosis and her “terrific prognosis” on the air last week.
Mitchell no doubt shocked her viewers when she said, “I had planned to be hiking in Wyoming last week, but instead discovered that I am now among the one in eight women in this country–incredibly, one in eight–who have had breast cancer.”
She seemed to stumble a bit on the words “who have had breast cancer,” perhaps because the news is relatively new for her and like most people who receive such a shocking diagnosis, her brain was still working hard to process the reality.
I’m not going to comment on the verbage she chose and my objection to the past-tense idea that she had breast cancer. My Cancerchick blogger friends have covered it more succinctly than I could, and while I think Mitchell is a little kookoo for assuming her cancer “journey” is over so soon after it began, one thing I’ve learned on my own long, involved “journey” is not to judge a fellow Cancerchick. Just as I learned firsthand that no one has a right to tell anyone else how to grieve (and if you try it, I will punch you in the brain), I believe that every Cancerchick has the right to conduct her “journey” however she sees fit.
Some of us are loud & proud with the disease and want everyone to know about every twist, turn, and detour on the “journey.” Some are guardedly private and keep everything quiet. Some go kicking and screaming into the OR, radiation suite, and infusion room. Some arm themselves with all the latest research and become fonts of useful information for other Cancerchicks. It’s very personal, and as varied as cancer’s victims are, so too are their responses to it.
I admit that as much as I hate to hear about one more woman joining the pink ribbon club, part of me feels a little less than compassionate toward Mitchell and her diagnosis. She’s 64 years old — more than 20 years older than I was when diagnosed. As far as I can tell, she has no kids — and if she does, they’re old enough to understand this breast cancer mess. I’m pretty sure she’s not juggling homework and the care & feeding of young kids while also battling the beast.
As for Mitchell’s other plans, to be hiking instead of hearing words that will forever change her life, I have one piece of advice: get used to it. As the sage John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busing making other plans,” and cancer has a crafty and crappy way of infringing on those plans.
Me, I was busy living an ordinary suburban life, packing lunches, driving carpool, and running my kids to baseball and tennis when I wasn’t on the tennis court myself. I admit I had no aspirations to hike in Wyoming. I’d spent many an hour volunteering at our elementary school and was contemplating other ways to give back to my community. A perfectly ordinary life, some days better than others but most filled with laughter, good friends, and happy times.
Once cancer picked me in the great genetic lottery, much of that perfectly ordinary life changed. All of my brain power was rerouted to disseminating this terrible information, researching options, facing the hard truths, and making a plan to conquer this vicious beast. I started a Caring Bridge journal to keep my friends & family informed, and remember writing this one week after my diagnosis:
“Today the exhaustion has set in, and the strain of keeping up with my regular life and taking on this new job of facing cancer has hit me hard. Nothing a cold bottle of Piper Sonoma can’t fix, but I truly feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I’m fixin’ to get into my jammies and climb into bed. Today is one week to the day of diagnosis, and it feels like I’ve run a marathon. Maybe two.”
I hope Andrea Mitchell has a good pair of running shoes. Even in her caught-it-early optimism about the battle that is breast cancer, even with “a terrific prognosis,” the race is long. I do hope that Mitchell is correct in her prediction and that she’s able to get rid of her cancer “in one fowl swoop” as my sweet friend Paula’s 12-year-old son Boyd said about my cancer. But I also hope she knows that in this cancer “journey” there are lots of twists & turns along with many, many detours that test one’s patience, zaps one’s strength, exhaust one’s resources, maim one’s body, and stress one to the max.
Halfway through my second pregnancy in early September, I went for my sonogram appointment. This would be my second sonogram — the one in which the baby’s gender could be revealed. Trevor and I had opted to not find out, wanting to be surprised as we had been with Payton. There are so few genuine surprises in life, and we wanted to hear “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” at the moment of birth.
Even though we had specified our preference to keep the baby’s gender a surprise, something went wrong at that appointment, and the doctor and sonogram technician let it slip. My surprise was ruined. I was devastated in the manner of a hormonally-charged, type-A mother who was stressed from dealing with a shockingly willful toddler at home. I thought this was the worst thing that could happen to me.
Little did I know that within 3 years, my sweet mama would be taken from the Earth by the vicious beast that is cancer, and that I myself would go toe-to-toe with said beast.
The date of the ruined sonogram was September 10th, 2001–the day before the bottom fell out of our collective world, and showed me in no uncertain terms that I had no earthly idea about the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I went to bed that night sad and frustrated and pissed off at the doctor and technician. How hard would it have been for them to pay attention, follow the rules, and NOT disclose the baby’s gender? Sheesh. I cried self-centered tears and railed against what I thought to be a great injustice.
Then I woke up on September 11th, eyes puffy from those self-centered tears, feeling exhausted from the travesty that had unfolded the previous day. I grumpily said good-bye to Trevor as he left for work, probably thrilled to bits to have someplace to go in which to escape his melodramatic, hormonal wife. Can’t blame him; in fact, I wished I had someplace to go in which I could escape myself.
Two-year-old Payton had spent the night with my parents across town while his cousins were visiting. I was getting ready to go meet them and start our busy day. A trip to the zoo with my rowdy toddler and his 2 young cousins would require me to ease out of my funk over the ruined surprise, and I was gearing up for that challenge.
I turned on the TV to catch the morning news as I dressed and ate breakfast and was confronted with the startling images from New York City. My pity party over the ruined surprise came to a screeching halt.
At first, no one was sure what had happened beyond a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At first, no one suspected it was anything but a terrible accident. At first, no one could comprehend that someone would do this on purpose.
I called my parents, in shock and disbelieving. I needed another human to tell me they were seeing the same thing I was seeing, even thought I’d already confirmed it was on every channel. Except PBS. My parents, at home with 3 young kids, had Barney on TV instead of the news (that’s the kind of grandparents they were — and my dad still is). I had the unfortunate job of severing their domestic bliss that day. Surrounded by their 3 grandkids, with another on the way, they were no doubt in hog heaven. The bliss was short-lived.
The attacks on September 11th are my generation’s Kennedy assassination. I doubt anyone will ever forget where they were and what they were doing that morning.
I’m a milestones kind of girl. I like concrete things in my life, and I’m not talking about driveways. I like a tangible, structured world, and milestones are a big part of that. Some milestones are happy, like Payton‘s and Macy‘s birthdays; some are poignant and sad, like the anniversary of my mom’s death; some are sobering, like my first cancer-versary.
As Trevor and I looked at the newspaper today, he wondered why we commemorate this event–why would we want to remember and make a big fuss over our defeat?
Good question, but to me, the remembering isn’t about the defeat or even the event as much as it is the people. The innocent victims, the grieving families, the stunned citizens thousands of miles away from NYC, the public servants who rose to the occasion, putting their own lives and health at risk to serve others and do things that fall so far outside of their official job duties as to be unimaginable.
Perhaps it’s impossible to separate the people from the event. Perhaps they are so intertwined as to render a separation not feasible.
The bravery shown by the first responders that day defies commentary. Firefighter Mike Kehoe was one of many who put his own life on the line this day 10 years ago. Like a salmon swimming upstream, he was going up while hordes of desperate people fled the South Tower.
There are no words to adequately convey the selflessness, the courage, the principles. The walking wounded must have been overwhelming to these brave souls, yet they kept going.
The images are numerous, and the stories of heroism are legendary — both in size and in scope. On September 11, 2001, when American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. ET at 466 mph, between the 93rd and the 99th floors, and when United flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m. ET at 590 mph, between the 77th and 85th floors, our world changed forever.
Meanwhile, American Airlines flight 77 took off from Dulles Airport in DC, bound for Los Angeles. With 5 hijackers on board, it crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. ET. All 59 people on board plus 125 on the ground were killed.
When United flight 93 departed Newark, that same morning at 8:42–40 minutes late–a new group of posthumous heroes was born. Todd Beamer’s command of “Let’s roll” as the passengers confronted the hijackers became a rallying cry for the entire nation. Beamer’s wife, Lisa, was pregnant with a baby girl, same as me. She delivered Morgan Kay two days before I delivered Macy. A simple twist of fate dictated that Morgan would grow up without her daddy while Macy had hers by her side.
With a simple twist of fate, lives changed, and something so unimaginable had happened to the greatest nation on Earth. Flight 93 crashed to the ground near Shanksville, PA, 124 miles away from our nation’s capitol, at 10:03 a.m. ET. The 40 people — passengers and crew — on board that plane gave up their own lives to ensure that the hijackers’ plan to crash into the White House would not come to fruition.
The images we watched that morning on live TV didn’t seem real, and our brains struggled to process what we were seeing but could not believe.
In ways big and small, our world changed. Forever.
Our sense of security, in general, was shattered. Things we’d taken for granted–US superiority, the safety of our skies, the normalcy of life in America–were upended.
We were about to learn that life would never be the same. Even thousands of miles from Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and the field in rural Pennsylvania, and even though we didn’t personally know anyone who died that day, our lives would never be the same.
We’ve all heard the horrifying numbers, yet 10 years later they still seem surreal. Some 3,000 people died from the attacks on this day 10 years ago. 343 New York firefighters. 23 New York cops. 37 Port Authority police officers. 658 people from one company, Cantor Fitzgerald.
More than 1,600 people lost their spouse or partner that day. And more than 3,051 kids lost a parent. This is what is worth remembering.
(all images courtesy of googleimages. com, nationalgeograhic.com, and my iPhotos)