Day 7 of the WEGO Health Activists Writer’s Month Challenge (HAWMC). Has it really only been one week? Dang, this is harder than I expected. Today’s challenge is much easier than yesterday’s was, though: What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about health or your condition?
There have been many ridiculous things said and written and passed along about my “condition.” Thanks to Komen, breast cancer is commonly thought of as the “good” cancer, the “pretty” cancer. You know, the one wrapped in a girlie pink ribbon and represented by rosy-cheeked, full-breasted warrior-women crossing the finish line of the race that’s allegedly going to “cure” my “condition.” (In fairness, it’s also thanks to Komen that my “condition” is one I can blog about without shame or fear or offending someone by using the word “breast.” Betty Ford gets credit for that, too. I can like Komen for de-stigmatizing my “condition” but still shake my head at its idiot pinkwashing.)
One of my all-time favorite ridiculous things said about my conditions is “Well, it sucks about the cancer, but at least you get new boobs.”
I didn’t need new boobs. I was just fine with the set I had. The new ones? Notsomuch. Perhaps this ridiculous statement applies to women who fall into the average age of those diagnosed with breast cancer — mid-60s. If I were 20 years older, I may well think, Hmmm, these old girls have served me well, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little renovation. But I’m not 20 years older, and I don’t think that. What I do think, though is this: I sure miss my old boobs. And this: Is it wrong for me to envy my pink-ribbon sisters who had the “easy” path of mastectomy to tissue expanders to implants, rather than the not-so-easy path of mastectomy to tissue expanders to several fills of said expanders to infection under the right expander to draining both expanders to removing both expanders to hospitalization for 28 days in one summer to multiple surgeries to extract dead tissue to wound specialists and a wound vac to daily home-health nurse visits to clean and dress that wound to an IV pole in my very own home for round-the-clock IV antibiotics to a year’s worth of oral antibiotics to a hellish reconstruction to two (so far) revisions to try to make that hellish reconstruction’s results palatable. Is that wrong?
Another ridiculous thing said about my condition: “Well, you look good.”
Too bad the general public doesn’t have x-ray vision. Not the kind that lets creepy guys peep under women’s clothing (although I do like the idea of a creepy guy having his retinas burned by peeping under my shirt!), but the kind that lets people see what a breast cancer patient looks like on the inside. Not so good. During the hey-dey of the worst of my BC “journey,” I may have slapped on some lip gloss and clawed through my closet for a top that would accommodate the many stages of my chest expansion. I may have smiled and said “I’m good” when asked how I’m doing in the midst of my own personal apocalypse. Maybe I looked good on the outside — a little sun on my cheeks is easy to achieve pretty much year-round in the great state of Texas. Maybe I portrayed a person who was faring well despite having both breasts removed — people do tend to see what they want to see, and I’m the queen of refusing to fly my vulnerability flag. Perhaps people just don’t know what to say. Either way, we cancerchicks may look good on the outside, but we feel like crap on the inside.
But the all-time most ridiculous thing ever said (to me) about my “condition” is this. Here’s the truth: if something as simple as eating a particular fruit or swallowing a particular supplement could cure cancer, it would. Period. End of story. Oncologists around the world would be out of work, infusion rooms and radiation centers would be rented out as party sites, and Big Pharma would go bankrupt.
If you’re tempted to share the latest internet craze for curing cancer with someone who’s actually dealing with cancer, let me quote Sweet Brown, my favorite meme:
Betty Ford died yesterday at age 93. I’m so glad it wasn’t the breast cancer that killed her. As a young(ish) cancer-chick myself, it’s depressing as all get-out, not to mention terrifying, to learn of other women’s death from the disease we share. When this damned BC menace claimed Elizabeth Edwards, I was saddened and more than a little sick to my stomach at the stark realization that this disease does kill, young or old, healthy or not. The fact that this dreaded disease claims some 40,000 women a year brings into sharp focus the loss of maternal love that comes with each BC casualty. Knowing how much I miss my own sweet mama, the idea of the motherless Edwards children weighed heavily on my heart for weeks after her death.
I was a kid when Betty Ford was in the White House, so I don’t have much of a reference point for her. I do recall a grade-school chant of “Ford, Ford, he’s our man; Carter belongs in the garbage can” during Ford’s bid for re-election, but like the other kids on the playground, I chanted that with virtually no knowledge of politics. I’m sure I knew that Richard Nixon had been president, but was much too busy riding my bike and playing cul-de-sac games to realize that Gerald Ford became president in August of 1974, taking the place of a disgraced Richard Nixon. Now I know that Ford had been vice president less than a year before being “called up”; he’d been chosen to succeed Spiro Agnew, who also left office in disgrace amidst accusations of tax evasion.
I’m sure I didn’t realize that Betty Ford went from a “regular person” to wife of a Congress member fast. Really fast. She married Gerald Ford a month before he was elected to Congress; in fact, he was late to their wedding because he was campaigning up to the last minute. When JFK was president, the Fords became friends with the Kennedys and attended several parties at the White House. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, Betty Ford lingered at the burial and was the last woman at the gravesite. Two years later, Ford was elected minority leader of the House, and was away from home a lot. That’s when her heavy drinking began, and it continued for more than a decade before her family intervened. After she conquered her addiction to alcohol and pain pills, she founded the Betty Ford Center, which opened in October 1982. Since then, some 27,000 people have been treated there, including celebs like Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore, and Mickey Mantle.
I didn’t think much about Betty Ford once I was an adult, either, since her time in the spotlight had more or less passed and she endeavored to live as a private citizen. She apparently shunned the spotlight yet was returned to it in December 2006 when the country entered a 6-day mourning period upon the death of President Ford.
Even then, I didn’t think much about her, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
See, Betty Ford was a member of the pink ribbon sisterhood, and she blazed a trail that has significantly benefited subsequent generations of women. Women like me.
I was 6 years old when Mrs Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast. She learned the bad news on September 26, 1974, according to the First Ladies’ biographies website. Two days later, she underwent a radical mastectomy. She’d been the First Lady for a matter of weeks when she was diagnosed. She faced the situation with the candor for which she’d become known: she announced her diagnosis and surgery publicly and even invited the media into her hospital room and posed for photos. Here she is, reading a get-well card signed by Congress.
I have no idea if she realized how much of a trailblazer she was. It’s probably just how she was, and to her, being outspoken and honest about her “cancer journey” is “just what you do.” I can relate to that. I hope Mrs Ford realized the impact she had on breast cancer awareness, which is safe to say was nonexistent in the early 1970s. I think she must have, based on this quote: “Before I was ever out of the hospital, there were, on television, women checking in to have mammograms,” Ford said at the Gerald Ford Museum in May 2001. “It was kind of like, if the first lady can have breast cancer, anyone can have breast cancer.”
Mrs Ford underwent two years of chemo, and in the fall of 1976 her doctors declared her cancer-free. Someone once asked her if she felt sorry for herself after losing her breasts. I absolutely adore her reply:
“No! Oh no — heavens no. I’ve heard women say they would rather lose their right arm, and I can’t even imagine it. It’s so stupid.”
She believed that women facing breast cancer should “go as quickly as possible and [get the surgery] done. Once it’s done, put it behind you and go on with your life.”
It’s safe to say that Mrs Ford paved the way for countless women–including yours truly– who were diagnosed after her. She removed the stigma from cancer, and breast cancer in particular. Before she piped up, there was no breast cancer awareness, no public discussion, and certainly no pink-ribbon culture. Barbara Brenner, former executive director at Breast Cancer Action said that Ford “showed people that you can live with cancer, that it’s not a death sentence.” The Komen organization has similar respect for Mrs Ford. Their official statement says “Betty Ford opened the door for millions of women when she candidly acknowledged her breast cancer diagnosis at a time when we didn’t talk about this disease and untold numbers of women suffered in silence. She showed the world that breast cancer could be faced with courage, with humor and with great dignity.”
It’s also safe to say that Mrs Ford would likely be quite pleased with the advances that have been made in breast cancer treatment. Ironically, in the same year she was diagnosed, Tamoxifen was showing itself to be a wonder drug in decreasing breast cancer recurrence. Now it’s become a household name in the BC community, and it’s a daily part of my life.
I think I would have really liked Betty Ford. Not just because we’re both members of the dreaded pink ribbon club, either. Because she was smart, sassy, outspoken, and real. She was a survivor, in every sense of the word. She was beloved as First Lady, and used her role as a platform to educate the American public on controversial subjects such as abortion, marijuana use, and the Equal Rights Amendment. She made it clear that she and President Ford would share a bed in the White House (something not previously publicized, apparently), and when someone asked her about sleeping with the president, she said “I do–every chance I get.”
She was perhaps unconventional as First Lady, and I like how she shook things up a bit. I love this story about her, told by White House photographer David Kennerly. On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford walked by the empty Cabinet Room and told Kennerly, “You know, I’ve always wanted to dance on the cabinet room table.” Kennerly said, “Well, nobody’s around.” Opportunity knocked, and the plucky First Lady took advantage.
Kennerly says she took off her shoes, hopped up there, and struck a pose. “She’s a tiny woman, really, in very good shape. Very graceful, as a former dancer with the Martha Graham company. She got up there.”
Speculating on why Mrs Ford would be compelled to dance on the table, formally set with notepads and ashtrays (yes, ashtrays!), Kennerly realized that very few women have had a seat at that table. “I bet you could count them on one hand at that point, and knowing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment”—she endorsed it—”she was tap-dancing in the middle of this male bastion. She was storming the walls of the gray suits and gray-haired eminences.”
“It was a wonderful and whimsical ending,” Betty Ford wrote, “to that magical time I spent as first lady.”
R.I.P, Betty Ford.
The kids were scheduled to be out of school today to celebrate Presidents’ Day. Not sure how exactly to celebrate this day, because it seems an obscure holiday marked mainly by furniture sales. But it is a day for celebration, if not for the presidents than for the fact that school is indeed in session (sorry, teachers). Because of our recent snow day on a day during which there was no actual snow, we have to make up the holiday. My kids were royally bummed about this. Macy circumvented it all by waking up yesterday with a sore throat and a nasty cough; remnants of last week’s strep throat, I suppose. So she’s home after all, and Payton is ticked but working hard to be a good sport.
I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know much about our presidents. I’m particularly ill-educated about the early guys. My kids make up for it, though, and can help get me out of a jam if I need info on the founding fathers.
Payton & Macy are particularly well-versed on the leaders of the free world, past and present-day. Why? Because they’re above-average in every way, like all the kids who live in our suburban bubble, of course. No, really, because of this:
The presidential placemat.
We have one for the flags of the world, too. It’s not quite as valuable as the presidential one, but does come in handy during the Olympics when an athlete is identified by a tiny icon showing his/her country’s flag. Payton gets them every time.
It hasn’t been used in a while because the kids have progressed, slightly, in their table manners and no longer need plastic sheeting and a power washer after every meal. But it looks like the flags placemat got put away before being sufficiently scrubbed and sanitized. Gross.
To distract my germophobe self from all the petrified crud living on that plastic, let’s get back to the presidents.
For my edification and your entertainment, I’ve listed a fact or two about our presidents. Some you may know, probably from watching “Cash Cab” which is where I find the most useful information these days.
George Washington: was the only prez to be unanimously elected. Upon his election, he only had one tooth. For real. His many dentures were made from human teeth, animal teeth, ivory and even lead, but not wood.
John Adams: our longest-living president. He died at age 90, damn near 91. He missed it by 118 days.
Thomas Jefferson: TJ gets a lot of press, but I wonder how many people know this: he wrote his own epitath and designed his own tombstone, but neither contained a reference to him having been a president.
James Madison: shortest president, at 5 foot 4. Also the lightest, at just 100 pounds. Teeny little thing. Tallest president? See Abe Lincoln. Heaviest: William Taft.
James Monroe: his daughter was the first White House bride, and he was the first US Senator to be elected president.
John Quincy Adams: swam nude every day in the Potomac River. Can you imagine present-day presidents doing that?? Where was the National Enquirer when we needed it? And aren’t you right now picturing this guy in the buff? Thought so. Of course he accomplished a lot of great things, and perhaps is our most pedigreed president, but now every time I hear his name, I’m going to think about him jumping in the Potomac in all his glory.
Andrew Jackson: had a great head of hair. Suffered a bullet wound near his heart in a duel at age 39 and carried that bullet until his death. Upon election, he granted government jobs to some 2,000 of his supporters and established the so-called “kitchen cabinet” of advisors. He was the first, and probably last, president to run a debt-free administration.
Martin Van Buren: first president to be born in the United States. He and his wife still spoke Dutch at home. Tried unsuccessfully to gain re-election 3 times, then gave up. Probably for the best.
William Henry Harrison: catchy name, and perhaps the only president for whom all 3 names are popular modern-day baby names. Sadly, was the first president to die while in office. He served just 30 days because of a nasty pneumonia. Glad there’s now a vaccine for that.
John Tyler: Harry S Truman’s great-uncle. He was disowned by his own party (the Whigs) because they didn’t like his financial policies.
James K. Polk: graduate of UNC. Survived a gallstone operation at age 17 with no anesthesia. Ugh.
Zachary Taylor: served in the army for 40 years and never voted before becoming president at age 62. Kept his army horse, Whitey, on the White House lawn, and tourists would pluck a hair from Whitey’s tail as a souvenir. Ouch!
Millard Fillmore: installed the first library, kitchen stove and bathtub in the White House. Refused an honorary degree from Oxford University because he was unable to read Latin and felt like a sham accepting a degree he couldn’t read.
Franklin Pierce: Installed central heating in the White House. Well, probably didn’t do it himself but had it done. He affirmed rather than swore his oath of office, for religious reasons. Gave his inaugural address from memory, without the aid of even one note card. Impressive.
James Buchanan: the only bachelor to ever occupy the White House. His niece, Harriet, took responsibility for the White House hostessing duties.
Abe Licoln: considered by historians to be our greatest prez, followed by G. Washington. Was not just the greatest, but also the first to wear a beard and the only president to hold a patent (for a boat-lifting device).
Andrew Johnson: was the youngest prez to be married, at age 18 to Eliza, aged 16. Was buried beneath a willow tree he planted himself that came from a shoot of a tree at Napoleon’s tomb. Try getting that through customs these days. He was also wasted at his inauguration as Lincoln’s VP, but had a good reason: he was sick with typhoid and self-medicating with booze.
Ulysses Grant: smoked 20 cigars a day (and died of throat cancer. Hmmmm.). Although he witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in history, he was grossed out by the sight of animal blood and couldn’t eat a rare steak. My kind of guy.
Rutherford Hayes: his wife was known as “Lemonade Lucy” because she refused to serve alcohol in the White House. He kept his campaign promise to only run for one term, and I’m sure the subsequent visitors to the White House weren’t nearly as thirsty as those who came during his term.
James Garfield: our first left-handed president who died from a blood infection caused by repeated probing for an assassin’s bullet. Oh, I how I hate infections.
Chester Arthur: His wife Ellen died before he took office so his sister Mary assumed hostessing duties. He was a night owl, enjoyed night clubs and entertained like a rock star. My favorite quote of his: “I am a president of the United States states but what I do in my private life is my own damn business.” Amen, brother.
Grover Cleveland: only prez elected to two non-consecutive terms. He served as the 22nd and the 24th president.
Benjamin Harrison: quite the windbag. He made 140 different speeches in 30 days, and I don’t think he had a staff of speechwriters. He was also the second prez to become widowed.
William McKinley: was in terrible physical shape. So bad that his doctors believe that if he’d been fitter, he would have survived the assassination. Let that be a lesson to you, people.
Teddy Roosevelt: a great man, but an attention whore. He was known to want to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. Strange.
William Taft: lots to say about this guy. He was the only one (so far) to serve as both president and Chief Justice. He created the tradition of the prez throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season (and some of his followers needed to work on their windups to avoid looking like pansies). His wife planted the first cherry trees that now adorn the Washington, D.C. landscape and look so gorgeous in the spring. He was by far our fattest president, weighing well over 300 pounds. He got stuck in the White House bathtub the first time he used it and had to order a new one, after a crew of embarrassed staffers wrestled him out of the too-small one.
Woodrow Wilson: an avid golfer, he refused to let the D.C. winters stop him from playing his sport and used black golf balls in the snow. Clever. His second wife, Edith, was distantly related to Pochahontas.
Warren Harding: one of the meanest looking presidents, IMHO. Both of his parents were doctors yet still gave him the middle name “Gamaliel.” Odd. He was the first newspaper publisher to be elected president and was known to be patient with the press, offering lengthy press conferences. Liked burlesque shows and snuck off to them as prez. His great-grandmother was black. He was pretty stern looking, but I like this photo of him and his dog. In fact, I may have to also do a post on presidential pets.
Calvin Coolidge: punched the Boston mayor in the eye while he himself was governor. Nice. Required 9 hours of sleep and a 2- to 4-hour nap every day. How the hell did he get anything done?
Herbert Hoover: was the youngest member of Standford’s graduating class. He and Thomas Edison were named the two greatest engineers by Columbia University. A social butterfly, for the first three years of his tenure in the White House he dined alone just three times. He was the first prez to donate his salary to charity. He was also one of the most honored presidents, with 84 honorary degrees, 78 medals and keys to numerous cities.
Franklin Roosevelt: elected an unprecedented 4 times. Was the first prez to be shown on TV. Claims to have been related by blood or marriage to 11 former presidents.
Harry Truman: Lots of good stuff about him professionally, but here’s something you may not know: his mom was a Confederate sympathizer and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s bed during a White House visit. He was the first prez to use air travel across the country. To recognize his contribution to the health care system, President Johnson presented Mr. and Mrs. Truman with the very first Medicare cards. The “S” that serves as his middle initial isn’t short for anything, so if you see Harry S. Truman, with a period after the “S” you know it’s wrong. An old copyediting pet peeve of mine.
Dwight Eishenhower: Payton’s favorite president. In fact, when P was chosen to portray President George Bush in his first grade program, he was ticked that he couldn’t be Ike. I guess Ike wasn’t current enough to make the program. He is known for ordering the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. Good man. He was the last prez born in the 19th century and the first prez to be a licensed pilot. He served in both World Wars and was an excellent cook. This photo, by the way, is one of the few in existence that show Payton wearing long pants. Take a good look, people, because it is a rare sighting.
John Kennedy: youngest prez elected (43) and youngest prez to die (46). Was the only prez to serve in the Navy and to appoint a sibling to a cabinet position. Had he not been so young and handsome, his wife may well have eclipsed him in notoriety and popularity, not unlike Charles and Diana. Jackie O was the first lady most outspoken about disliking the term “first lady.”
Lyndon Johnson: I gotta like him because he’s a Texan, but he seemed like a jerk. I do like his War on Poverty (at least in theory), and his civil rights reforms. He was the first prez to reject his official portrait, saying it was the ugliest thing he ever saw. His wife wins the prize for first lady with the best name. Although Lady Bird wasn’t her real name (it was Claudia), a wet nurse or nanny or someone proclaimed she was pretty as a lady bird, and the name stuck. Charming.
Richard Nixon: graduated from Duke, so he can’t be all bad.
Gerald Ford: he was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr, but I’m not sure how he came to be known as Gerald Ford. Need to check up on that, but this post is already stretching on and on. Plus, I need to save room for this: he and Betty were both models before they were married, and he campaigned for Congress on their wedding day. She was a patient woman. Or maybe that’s why she needed to drink. Both of the assassination attempts against him were committed by women. Women today owe Betty a big debt of gratitude as she was a big player in removing the stigma from a breast cancer diagnosis. Here she is with her hubby after her mastectomy, reading a card signed by 100 members of Congress. She was diagnosed in 1978 (when I was 9 years old, same age as my daughter now), at age 56 and was very publicly and bravely faced a mastectomy. She became a beacon of hope to lots of women, including Susan Komen, who died from the disease in 1980 at age 36. Komen did say “If Mrs. Ford can admit she has breast cancer and tell the world she intends to fight it, then so can I.”
Jimmy Carter: first prez born in a hospital (as opposed to at home, I presume), and the first to be sworn in using his nickname, “Jimmy” instead of his given name, James.
Ronald Reagan: was our oldest president, leaving office at age 77. He was also the first prez to have been divorced. During his tenure, our first female justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was appointed by a landslide 91-8 vote.
George Bush: Bush is reportedly related to Benedict Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, and Presidents Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford. Weird. Bush became the first vice president ever to serve as acting president when Reagan underwent surgery for three hours in 1985. Good thing he’s the only VP to serve as acting pres, since it was such a short time frame, he might easily have become the second person to hold that honor. He’s also the second man in US Presidential history whose son became President. In 1992, while at a formal dinner in Japan, Bush became ill and vomited on the prime minister of Japan, then fainted. Oh the horror.
Bill Clinton: childhood nickname was “Bubba.” Nuff said.
George W. Bush: press nickname was “Shrub.” Nuff said.