The “Now That You’re Over 40” Speech

I didn’t really start getting the “now that you’re over 40” speech until I was 41. When I turned 40 I was still getting Herceptin every 3 weeks. After that was over, I had to take a break from medical offices for just a little bit. But then the annual stuff came up–gyno, primary care for allergy meds, and the straw that broke the camel’s back–the optometrist.

I mean, I LIKE the optometrist and all, but for some reason his over 40 speech just sent me over the edge. I’d already had some random discussions with the other docs. But in early 2014 when I went to see if I needed new glasses/contacts, yep, it was announced I needed reading glasses. I’ve been horribly near-sighted since the 4th grade. But I’d noticed that books were creeping to arm’s length from me. Argh! It’s no big deal–at least according to mister eye expert. Just go to the dollar store, get the lowest (+1.00) strength, get a few because I’m bound to lose them anyway. Um what?! Not only am I told I’m getting old enough to need reading glasses, I’m getting so old I’ll start losing things?! Well, yes, it’s true, but that is a chemobrain thing, uh, right? Or is he not even aware of chemobrain (probably) and simply thinking I’m old and losing it? And while I’m at it, is that optometrist dude older than me–because all docs are older than me, just like they’ve always been, right?! OMG, no, some are younger than me, I am now suspecting, and it frightens me.

A few of my reading glasses--no, I haven't lost any, just, as a pet/house sitter, I keep spare pairs in a few homes. So these are just the ones on hand at the moment.
A few of my reading glasses–no, I haven’t lost any, just, as a pet/house sitter, I keep spare pairs in a few homes. So these are just the ones on hand at the moment.

So I got over myself, bought a few pairs of glasses, moved up to the +1.25 strength because the cute ones are never available in +1.00, put on some librarian-style cardigans and started hitting the early bird dinner specials while peering dramatically over the tops of my new reading glasses.

Psyche! No I certainly did not do that–well, the peering dramatically thing, I do that, I’m doing it now as I type and look up to scowl at various loud, distracting environmental noises.

Humorous anecdotes aside (read this HuffPo piece for laughs and background), aging as a diagnosed-with-cancer-in-my-30s person has sucked. Driving away from the optical center that day I could only grimly think, good thing I’ve had breast cancer already, so I won’t get “the now that you’re over 40 get a mammogram” speech.


I’ve written about age issues before in The Age Divisions, and I’m tackling it again. As I noted in that old post, being in my 40s with cancer is just weird. The average age of a breast cancer patient is 60 something (I’ve seen it put down as 61, 62, and 63, and I’m not interested in getting into a cite-sourcing nitpick session). It seems that since moving to the social media section of CancerLand, Town of Breast, I run into a variety of ages: 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. These brackets all have their unique challenges. But it seems the 35 to 40 range is some line drawn in the sand. It’s why I dislike the much-loved SCAR Project, because in my view, it seems to portray women under 35 as somehow more tragic for losing their breasts–our youth-worship culture at work there, I guess. And a few other media outlets have focused this same way too; in a laudable effort to bring attention to the fact cancer does strike women younger than average, they seem only interested in the heart string-tugging young women (read 35 or well under) who lose their breasts. On top of that, I do NOT have the same issues as others in my 40 something age bracket, being an unmarried straight woman who does not have, and never wanted, children. I don’t even bother reading articles targeted at the “younger” breast cancer patient anymore; there isn’t anything there for me.

I remember the early days of my treatment, having just lost my hair, just turned 39, and feeling like hell. I was shopping for chemo clothes one day (you know, button up shirts for surgery, easy access to the port, I was always a pullover knit person) and saw a bunch of young women, teens to early 20s, I don’t remember. No, they didn’t look at me funny or anything, but I remember being sad, angry, and yes, envious. Maybe up until then I was living in a sort of arrested development state–still thinking I was young, going out to bars or whatever, still–not invincible, exactly–but I just did not see myself in the settled life. But at that moment I guess I sort of confronted my mortality, and realized I’d entered some strange area of not only being older, but ill. Let me put it this way, a gulf between my old, seeing-myself-as-young view, and the new view of myself, just turned into a chasm that could not be bridged ever again. I was bitter as I observed those girls, wishing for my old days as relatively carefree, with life ahead of me. At that moment, it became about looking at life behind me too.

The odd fallout of the merging of aging and cancer continues today. I just never know if something is normal aging or not. That twinge–was that just a normal “oh my back” thing (see HuffPo piece linked above), or is that mets? I have CRS (can’t remember shit), is that chemobrain or normal aging? Or a byproduct of info overload due to our 21st century life?


Why am I bringing this up now, 2 years after the incident with the optometrist described at the start of this post? I guess because I notice the media chatter about it more now.

What really got me going was a story about some young woman shamed in her high school for not wearing a bra. She took a stand on how young women should not be objectified or denied education just to “keep boys comfortable”. A noble purpose to be sure, but I struggled to empathize. I almost never wear a bra because after cancer and surgery I just can’t stand the constriction, or the cloth touching me, or something. Bras now just bug me, and I used to wear pretty bras all the time. No one gives a shit about my braless state. Why? Well, #1, I wear baggy old concert t-shirts so I doubt people notice and, #2 if they do, I’m an old woman and no one cares–if they even bother to look. It was freeing and sad at the same time. But then, I never turned heads even when young–but the story of being an unpretty cancer patient is a tale for later.

What else has got me meditating on aging more of late? Just this week, Rose McGowan hotly defended Renee Zellweger’s aging appearance in a film trailer, because an actress is not allowed to age. I’m sure everyone has seen Amy Shumer’s “Last Fuckable Day”. Remember that Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie “Something’s Gotta Give”? Came out the same time as a “Lord of the Rings” movie? Which was the bigger fantasy film? Hint: not the one with hobbits, wizards, and a ring of power. It’s not just onscreen either. As a former Tom Hiddleston fan, I’ve watched the recent Hiddleswift mess with some disgust. I’m annoyed not just by the slut-shaming of Swift and weird threats to Hiddleston (booing him at ComicCon), but by the naive defenders of Hiddleston as well. Reading all the hand-wring snippets and analysis of it, some pointed out the anger was about a perceived classic-type actor not getting a “serious” artist girlfriend (like another stage actor or documentary film maker), but instead doing the cliched date-a-pop-princess route. Maybe, but in my view it is an even more basic cliched behavior: he went for the nubile glam-blonde nearly a decade younger in age (no offense to Swift, despite my dislike for her music, I respect her business sense, she sells her product/brand and has the dollar bills, good for her, wish I’d been so talented/rich). While some of his more shrill fans, reacting to critiques of their age difference, pointed to the male-celebs-usually-marry/date-women-a-decade-younger-so-stop-hating-on-him defense, it actually exasperated me more (hmmm, what a flawed argument they made). Yes, seems the dynamic, at least in her “squad”, is male-partner-is-decade-older. Big deal, Hollywood celeb culture is merely mirroring centuries of alleged normalcy: young, child-bearing age women married to an older man who’s finally settling down. Sure, normal (as in non-celebs) women are marrying/having children later, but not by much, and maybe celebs are just a bit behind. Because, hey, we have a sell-by date don’t we, or at least our ovaries do?

Ah, the sell-by date, of course that brings me to menopause. When I was first diagnosed, I was assured by the oncology team and gynecologist that I could stay on birth control pills for dysmenorrhea–ugh, didn’t want that on top of chemo side effects–as my cancer was E/P negative. But after treatment ended, I was lightly pressured by the oncology doctors to stop taking them–to reduce risk of a new, different estrogen-related cancer. My gynecologist didn’t think it was such a good idea; but I quit anyway. I had some minor discomfort, indeed some hot flashes, but it seems to be over now. I’m not sure when my gynecologist would’ve had the “now that your over x age” conversation with me on ceasing the pills; I had to look up the fact the average for menopause is 48 to 50 years of age. I’m fairly certain I’m in the post-menopause stage, and I’m not yet 45. So is this another consequence of my cancer, early menopause? Not that I ever wanted kids, but there is something very…FINAL…about being, just, done.

My transition during menopause was smooth, and I am not even one bit guilty about that. I’m taking the dysmenorrhea-and-cancer shit show as my get-out-of-menopause-horror-free card. Can’t say I love the weight gain much, which started in earnest not long after my final period, well over a year ago. Growing up I was super-skinny. Too bad I was unpretty to go with that good fortune. I didn’t think it was great at the time–people loved to grasp my wrist, finger meeting thumb, to yell, “you’re so skinny, put some meat on those bones.” I could eat anything, and it just never stuck. Oh, if there were one childhood attribute I could’ve kept into aging, it would be that. Having to make calorie/sugar/fat content conscious choices now is something I’m still learning.

Of course, not that it matters; I’m old, I’m unpretty, no one is looking. Still, it’d be nice to be comfortable in my clothes, to wear whatever I want.


Can the issues of age divisions in breast cancer, aging, and the sexualization of the disease be separated? I think not. Remember that time silly Miley Cyrus told Matt Lauer that she “heard” people stop having sex/being sexual at age 40? (Still rolling my eyes over that one.) I’m sure there are many examples of young people showing off their cluelessness about aging and sexuality, but that’s such a stellar example. A similar incident happened in CancerLand, Town of Breast, some time after the Miley-Matt show that immediately reminded me of it. Some British personality had a BRCA+ prompted prophylactic mastectomy. She threw herself a “goodbye boobs” party which induced some groans on social media; I’m sure I was groaning too. Sure everyone has the right to “do” cancer as they wish (maybe), but when celebs do things like that, it tends to reinforce the irritating idea that breast cancer is a pink sexy times party. A minor fracas in reactions broke out and I had the misfortune to read bits from some young breast cancer patients that implied maybe breast cancer patients in their 50s and 60s had forgotten what it’s like to be young, could not possibly imagine what cancer is like while in one’s 20s or 30s, and were in need of the reminder that women are sexual beings. I’m not sure what annoyed me more; the naive idea that older women are no longer sexual as they age, or the fact that once again, those in their 40s were forgotten. I mean, was I really thinking that at least breast cancer patients in their 50s in 60s were noticed in this analysis, even if it was in such a stupid derogatory way? And all of the sniping lost the larger point: no one can imagine what cancer is like for anyone else for a million reasons, age being the least pertinent, because we are all individuals, duh. My sense of alienation in CancerLand grew 3 sizes around then.


One of the Dumb Shit Said to Cancer Patients quips I hated early on were the unwitting lines from seniors looking at me as some young whippersnapper: “don’t get old, it sucks.” I would give a withering look and coldly say something along the lines of getting old being a privilege I hoped to have in spite of having cancer–unfair since they did not know I had cancer, but that was my angry-at-the-world state of mind then. Yeah, that was a conversation stopper. Now that I’m past the white-hot-just-out-of-treatment stage, I get the larger meaning: growing old ain’t for the weak of heart (figuratively and literally). Aging among my peers in real life is weird because, yes, the non-motherhood status, and oh yeah, all that cancer. It is weird in CancerLand because the few friends I’ve made here are all over the map in terms of age, type of cancer, stage, and yes, parental status again. I just cannot seem to figure out where I fit.

This overly long post is a bit of a ramble, and I know it is because I am still unsettled on this issue, and likely will be for a long while. I cannot reach conclusions here.

Just muddling along, as I so often do here in CancerLand. I doubt I will ever figure it all out, but I keep trying. This issue ain’t over for me.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

21 thoughts on “The “Now That You’re Over 40” Speech”

  1. Omg so much this. ALL of this. I have actually referred to someone younger than me as a “grown up”. Lol! I have never grown up. Just rapidly older thanks to chemo. Awesome writing, as usual. xx

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    1. Thanks Kim!! An aspect I didn’t dive into as much–am I a grown up? I just don’t know. I think of myself as immature at times, and a little carefree because I don’t have kids–but I’m not really carefree. I have some heavy responsibilities and then there is the cancer. I guess that what makes all of this so much more bewildering. Bewildered–that is maybe the best way to describe my day to day state of being. ❤

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  2. Wow!! So much of this could have been written by me. Thank you for once again letting me know I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings.

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    1. Thank YOU for saying that. I often find myself feeling alienated, when maybe I should not. Then I remember to just write it all out because at least one person will say they thought/felt the same way, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks for providing that sigh!

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  3. I was diagnosed at 50, and was regularly referred to as “young” by my doctors, which provided a good laugh at a time laughter was in short supply. And I was already post-menopausal, so had been through the whole hot flash thing. (Although, come to think of it, the flashes never actually stopped after menopause, merely continued through my treatment to the present.) I’ve been on anastrazole for nearly five years, which means it’s like my heat waves will continue, at least until I go off the drug.

    Like you, I have had a hard time figuring out which pangs and symptoms have to do with age and/or the drug, and which might actually be the cancer come back.

    In the end, I made a concious decision to ignore them unless it becomes painfully obvious I have cancer again (still?). Still, feelings don’t always listen to logic and concious decisions, do they?

    I do wonder if things will change a bit when I go off the anastrozole. It sure would be nice to be able to drop a little weight. Or at least know if the gain was caused by the drug or aging.

    Thanks so much for reminding me I am not alone.

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  4. Love, love, love. I was diagnosed with extensive DCIS at 54. Ages ago, I lived in the same neighborhood and shared a few mutual friends/acquaintances with Susan Love, who was admittedly the rock star of breast cancer back then. Fast-forward a couple of decades later, Dr. Love is no longer practicing, and I hear her refer to DCIS as ‘old-lady’ cancer. I hate glib shit. She should know better, don’t you think??

    Couple of other things. I’ve never been married, never had children, never felt the need to involve the legal system in my love life. I remember at age 26 visiting a doc for my gyno checkup & her saying, “Now that you’re 26…” preparatory to saying she thought I should stop taking the Pill because I’m ‘older now’ and had been on it for x-years. I remember thinking, “What?? Suddenly, 26 is too old for something??”

    Also, FYI, in my experience, sex only got better the older I was, and sex after 40 was enormously better than it was before 40. More experience, way fewer hangups, more comfortable with myself, way fewer metaphorical-only f*cks left to give? All of the above? Probably. To those poor children under 40 who wonder if sex stops at 40, all I can say is grow the eff up, will you? And, no, you don’t need a Brazilian. *eyeroll*

    Also, thank you for saying what you said about the Scar Project. While I staunchly defend post-mastectomy photos on FB, I always felt ambivalent about the Scar Project and other art projects like it. Subject for a post I’ve yet to write. Aren’t we supposed to resist sexualizing breast cancer? What’s the line between sexualizing it and ‘art’? Does our self-acceptance depend on how we women feel about ourselves when we’re naked? Why is so much ‘art’ down through the centuries about naked women? Admittedly, our American culture is whacked out & contradictory to the nth about women’s bodies. In Europe, a lot of women would just scratch their heads at us.

    *scratching my head about everything*

    xoxo, Kathi

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    1. Hmm, Yeah I’ve heard some very strange things Love has said. I try to take everything with an open mind, but that one was a bit…off.
      Amazing how even medical professionals assume stuff–like wanting or having kids. One of the things that continually stunned me during those first few weeks were nurses talking to me about how to deal with my kids, husband, that I should pray. All of that so wrong on so many levels. Grr. As for a Brazilian-ha! You know why I keep shaved? Ticks! I’m always outdoors and I am practical.
      I liked the SCAR projet in my early days, the slogan about cancer not being pink or whatever had appeal. Plus I was trying to see “real” images, not the crap in medical stuff handed to me by the cancer center. But the age thing, when I really started to read up on it, bothered me. Yes, I am ambivalent about all of it too-I mean, obviously I have my own selfies posted here. Some don’t like the Grace project–I’m a little more tolerant of it because it has women of varied ages and body types. But still. I wrote about it 2 years ago and still have not reached any conclusions https://anotheronewiththecancer.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/random-thoughts-on-baring-the-scars/ Sucks that I reach no conclusions as usual, but I’m still scratching my head about it all too!!
      xoxoxo

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  5. So much to love here. I was 41 when diagnosed – totally in between young and old. We will have to discuss more. Fyi, I had “chemopause” that became menopause when it hit the 2 year mark. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the periods started back up about 2 weeks after I was declared officially menopaused. Now at 49, I guess I’m going through the real thing.

    We have a lot in common!

    Katie

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    1. Oh no, I just had an annual check up yesterday and declared menopaused–I do NOT want it to start up again—grr. I mean, I’m freaked about being “old”–but can’t say I miss all the cramps, vomiting, etc.
      It is NICE to know we have stuff in common–part of why I write is because of some of the isolation I feel. It is good to be reminded that my skewed views are not so odd after all! xo Wendi

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  6. There’s a lot to tackle here. I come from a culture where people are very concerned with societal standards. I was expected to be married and have kids in my 20s. I lived with a couple of my exes without being married and was judged because of all the decisions I’ve made regarding relationships. My reaction to that was, whose life are you living exactly, yours or mine? I am now engaged and I haven’t set the date to get married yet — it’s like I am in no hurry (and I love my guy, of course) but I just take my time I guess.

    Now that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, people have mercilessly reminded me of all the years I “wasted,” because now I want to have a child and it’s more difficult. But I did not want a child in my 20’s. I wasn’t ready. And of course, I fought back and told these people how rude and disrespectful they were. Perhaps what they’re really thinking is,”damn I wish I had waited like you did. Come on, be like me! So I don’t feel so miserable.” And yes, I have said that to those people, too. Hey, they started it! Everyone’s circumstances are different and not everyone likes to live the conventional life.

    I have doctors who blame all my symptoms on the fact that I am aging. It all started in my early 30’s. And right now when I talk about the possibility of getting pregnant, doctors have mentioned that I might be too old, especially because I had chemo and that puts my body at a disadvantage. How about treating me as an individual for once?

    I too wish there were not so many age divisions. And yes, the the sexualization of BC has to stop, too.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post!

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    1. Thank YOU! You’d be surprised that there are still some pockets who are similar culturally. My redneck area expects women to marry and spawn in their 20s. If they MUST get a job, they should be a teacher. My 4th cousin, also one of my best friends, followed this route. People thought we looked alike (we didn’t) and would mix us up. They’d ask me how my teaching is going. And as an only child, tho my parents never say (to my face) the don’t like my childless choice, I think they would’ve been happier if I’d been more traditional. Oh well.
      I’m sure on a biological level 20s is the best time to have children, and maybe that is what the doctors are thinking about when they say these things, but having kids in the 30s seems to be getting more normal, and perhaps better in a mental and emotional way. I think of myself in my 20s and there was no way I’d have been equipped to be a parent, even if I’d wanted them and had a maternal manner. Oh well, again. Thanks again! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi CC,
    Great post. Don’t even get me started on the age thing in Cancer Land. Drives me nuts sometimes, you know that whole “walls” thing. And all those postings of naked women who’ve had breasts removed always bother me a little too. I mean, the inner scars are way tougher to deal with IMO. I am not that inspired by women baring their chests/scars. I’ve written about that too. And I hate it when doctors blame all my aches and pains on normal aging. I know some are due to that very thing, but some are not. Anyway, there is so much in this post to think about. I love it when you ramble and muddle. Keep at it. Btw, you’re still pretty darn young, my friend. xx

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    1. Ugh, I’m finding the age wall more and more of a problem lately, along with the stage walls, and the pink vs not pink divisions. Probably my lack of patience showing tho’, ha ha!
      I am still as ambivalent about baring the scars as I was when I wrote about it (link up in my response to Kathi). It seems to be the ONLY way BC gets the “inspiring” or “brave” comments these days. I do think the nude/topless breast cancer patient has supplanted the bald, feather boa-wearing stereotype, and what sucks about that is that for me at least, showing scars is just about showing a realistic picture of what happens. I like to keep it simple, not turn my reality into some hero mythology, which so often happens in these click bait pieces.
      Glad you like my rambling ways–this post is a clear example of exactly how I think, how my thoughts go from one thing to the next when I resist the urge to edit, tighten, move paragraphs around. Thanks! xxo

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  8. Great post! And I totally get it. I was diagnosed breast cancer when I was 39. And treatment aged me quite a bit. I agree that growing old is a privilege, and it is unfortunately denied to many.

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    1. Thank you very much! Funny I don’t remember being warned of the aging side effect. The docs kept telling me that my youth was an advantage (heart damaging drugs like Herceptin), I’d be able to “handle” the hard hitting drugs. They failed to say how much older I’d feel, or even be. Grrr. Thanks!

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  9. Hi Wendi. Your post is thought provoking and entertaining at the same time. Which is interesting because at first glance you and I don’t appear to have lots in common. Different countries, born in different decades, different marital status etc, diagnosed at different ages with different cancers so of course different treatments. And yet I find so much of what you write relevant to me and my Cancerland life. Maybe it’s that we both live near or in small towns, both live ten or fifteen minutes from the coast, both make our living from tending to other peoples animals – dogs for you, cows for me. (They’re not as scary as you think, and like to be stroked and patted, just like dogs) Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for being there when I was looking for someone who was thinking/feeling the same as me. I suspect it’s the curmudgeon bit that really resonates.

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    1. Thank you–I was hoping that by putting a little bit of entertaining stuff or levity in there it would soften some of the edginess of my views, and my dark sense of humor.
      Interesting! I wonder how much being from a certain type of region informs a person’s personality or views? For example, I’ve written a couple of posts that very much rely on knowing what life is like in a resort beach town–I forget that others in blogging community are in very different areas. My everyday issues–like right now in the summer–roads packed with tourists who break traffic laws in a craze to get to the beach, everything taking 10 times as long to do because of the inflated population (I’m often tempted to do grocery shopping at 3 AM so I can have some peace in the store). Stuff like that is impacting my life in a big way, and it is a rhythm of life I’m accustomed to. I’m sure this background of mine shows up in a million little ways in my posts, I just don’t see it!
      Anyway thanks for commenting!!

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