My Eyes Are Up Here

I notice that I often unconsciously place my hand on the spot where my breast used to be. It’s sort of like a breast, at least more so than right after my mastectomy. As I’ve previously mentioned, there’s a calzone-shaped tissue expander in there right under my skin. I do it so often that I’ve begun to worry that I’ll be talking to one of my patients and suddenly find that I have put my hand under my bra without even realizing it.

I have to admit, it’s a pretty good hand warmer. Since I don’t go around topless, it’s well insulated by clothing. Plus, it’s located near the nuclear reactor part of my body, where the hot flashes seem to originate. And since the skin over the expander has no sensation, it is not unpleasant to touch it with an ice cube cold hand.

But mostly, I think…

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cancer in my thirties

So I spent Thursday night through Friday morning in the E.R. with one of my sons.  I was reluctant to go in, but his 106.2 degree fever and listlessness made it necessary.  Though no one likes the emergency room, I have a developed a particular and overwhelming distaste for the whole hospital scene.  And, sadly, this hospital overnight prompted me to realize how “jaded” I’ve become when it comes to the severity of symptoms and illnesses in general.  Call it another side effect of being a cancer patient.

What I am afraid to admit out loud — and even really hesitant to share in this, my somewhat anonymous blog, is that I am beginning to wonder if cancer is interfering with my ability to be the kind of parent and person I want to be (and the kind of parent/person I used to be).

While procedures and blood draws and…

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Too Quick to have Mastectomy?

Interesting tidbit on Huffpost. Here are the comments I sent to Huffpost in response:

There are several interesting aspects to this article. 1) It seems to imply that the either the medical industry is pushing women to get unnecessary procedures and/or women are not making informed decisions. While I appreciate the idea of a watchdog attitude toward the medical industry I worry the motivation behind it is to cut medical costs, but not for patients. 2) It keeps using “survival” as the only measuring stick. Yes, surviving is the best; but why not study risk of recurrence that does not end in death? Maybe women go for mastectomy to avoid not just dying, but going through the hell of cancer treatment again. 3) The last sentence, yes, it would be interesting to see if perhaps women want a sense of control (cancer robs one of that). After eating right, exercising, not drinking, and all the other crap, being a woman with breasts is still the biggest risk factor, why not eliminate it?  


What is it about breast cancer….

Love this, from another blog I follow on Tumblr. I “get” why other cancer patients get sick of the pink ribbon, but I hope these folks do not think just because I have “that special cancer” that I’m automatically pro-pink. There is a lot to be desired about pink October, and it just makes me sick to even see the ribbons most of the time. There is a lot of anger out there, I hope corporations that use the pink start to wake up before it bites everyone in the ass.

More unnecessary cancer hype

So found this on Huffington Post. People will see “unnecessary breast cancer treatment” and not make it to the third paragraph which states “(m)ammograms are still worthwhile,” as well as the rest of the article which essentially says science does not know how to determine which cancers will progress into a threat. So…why did the study not go ahead and figure out how to tell when a cancer needs to be treated or not? I mean is the current method, wait and see if it spreads around, wrecking women’s breasts, so more mastectomies can be done, or if patients die? But as offensively pointed out in this post, screening is “only worthwhile if it finds cancers destined to cause death”. I mean, WTF? I’m still alive (hurray!), but I’d rather not have had the cancer at all, if you don’t mind!

I’m not exactly a big fan of mammography, being someone who got a false negative on her very first mammogram. I cannot believe that a false alarm is as bad as cancer…at least there is relief at the end of a false alarm. I live with the fear and stress of recurrence everyday…and this is after the stress and fear of having and being treated for cancer.

And I just love the last paragraph-yes, science needs to better define what treatment is really needed, or better yet, better DEFINE PREVENTION, where is the funding for that!

Ramblings On That Word Awareness

Seeing the success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so many other diseases are using the word “awareness” to bring attention to “their cause disease”. But the word is overused and has lost meaning.  My knee-jerk, smart ass response these days is, ”I can’t get any more aware, thank you”. In articles and online discussions I often see the comment when the NFL is wearing pink, or when you can buy pink kitchen appliances, or when you see (name random thing) pink, we’ve reached our awareness saturation point (in terms of breast cancer). I’m inclined to agree, especially since when the comment comes from someone with whom agree on the point of being sick of all things pink.

But maybe this view is wrong. Awareness may be at saturation point in the target audience for breast cancer cause marketing, which is middle class white women with the money to spend on any product with a little pink slathered on is. Are poor and non-white women being reached? I know that special education and outreach programs exist to remedy this, but I cannot see results beneath all the pink (and white). Unless the target audience can see themselves getting cancer, they will never really be “aware”. Where is the pinkification of products preferred by African-American women, by Latina women, or affordable to the poor?

Which leads to another, larger point—I was “aware” of the pinkness and assorted hoopla each October prior to my own diagnoses, but as someone under 40, I didn’t really see myself as the target…I did not see myself getting cancer. I was aware I could get it, aware of my risk factors, etc. I’m sure some would point out to me that awareness led me to get a mammogram that caught my cancer and saved my life, except in my case, that is not true (see my about page).

So I’m aware, you’re aware, she’s aware, he’s aware. Big whoop. What is being done about it? I modestly propose a change of focus and title for all these disease campaigns. Cancer is too complex for a cure, I get it, I read The Emperor of All Maladies. How about something like stop X cancer from killing people? Or better yet, dare I ask…Prevent ALL Cancer?

How Did He Recognize Me When I’ve Changed So Much?

The other day during my dog walking duties, a large black SUV pulled up next to me. I run into lots of people in each of the neighborhoods in which I house/pet sit, so I was not alarmed—it’s usually someone who knows the dog I’m walking. I was shocked to look up to see the husband of a former co-worker, neither of whom I’ve seen in over 6 years. He’d aged a little so it took me a second or two to recognize him.  Yet, he recognized me from behind (and I was wearing bulky layers, long coat covering my ass, so get your mind outta the gutter), from down the street.

Since I lost my hair in chemo, and it continues to come back soooo sllooowwwly, I’ve felt incognito. (Actually, I’d like to be incognito, for a number of reasons, but that is another post.) I hated my short, super-curly (like Gene Wilder or Tom Hiddleston curly) hair so much that when people who had not seen me in a while (and did not know about my cancer) would mention my short hair, I was quick to say I’d had chemo…like OMG you don’t think I’d have this hairstyle on purpose do you?!!

But I realize that I’ve changed so much mentally that I’m kind of surprised when people I associated with years prior to diagnoses know me. I guess I look close enough to how I looked before that I am recognizable, but me, the real me, has changed, all because in split second in 2010 I moved from the land of the well to Cancer Land. Even though I currently have NED, I am still a resident. As long as I have to keep my various oncology doctors in the contact list in my phone, I feel like I am under their care (especially since I still see them twice a year—two times too much). I look forward to the day I can delete oncologists from my phone’s contact list.

What to do about my tattoo

Got a design sketch proposal from a tattoo artist to cover my lumpectomy scar. A little background: I never got a tattoo in my college years (the 90s, when ALL twenty-somethings got them to express…er, individuality); I had problems committing to a picture I’d want on my body for the rest of my life (oh fuck it, let’s be real, I have problems with commitment in general). But now, I have numerous little blue dot tattoos that mapped me for radiation, and I have a substantial amount of tissue taken from my left breast, no nipple, and a 4 inch horizontal scar that even reconstruction will not hide. So I decided no reconstruction—I do not want a permanently erect nipple, and I’d have to get the areola tattooed on anyway. So why not do something else? So I’m getting the Red Hot Chili Peppers band logo put on there (I’ve been a fan for over 20 years without faltering, incredibly, so I guess I can make this commitment) with the words “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. The quote may or may not be from Churchill. I’d prefer it to be definitely his, but, so what, it’s a good quote that accurately sums stuff up for me. It is so much better than my other choices, both by humorist Dave Barry: “Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid,” and my personal mantra: “What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.”

So now, just gotta decide with the artist about the placement of the quote—around the logo, or through it? After 2 years of making health decisions that will affect my survivability and quality of life, I’m ok with this decision not having to be so momentous.