GUEST POST: thank you

I'm sharing this post from another breast cancer blogger because I could not have worded this better. I thank every one of you who has chosen to stand with me, or with your friend/family member with cancer. We know its hard for you and just as you wish you could take this away from us, we wish we could take the worry and pain away from you as well. Please read the following and know that I feel the same way. THANK YOU!

Thank You
May 21, 2009 10:08 PM 0 comments, below
Categories: My Life Tags: Cancer, Support, Help, Thank you,

I was about to write a blog about my dang iPhone breaking again, when I read the comment section of my Farrah’s Story blog and came across Girl Talk’s comment.

She writes:
I was disappointed to have missed her story although I'm not sure I would have gotten through it - I watched my father-in-law try to battle pancreatic cancer for 13 months and am currently dealing with a friend battling breast cancer... it's very painful being a by-stander.

It was that last line that got me. So I’ll tell you the story of my crazy ridiculous ride with my Apple phone (4th phone in 8 months and going for a fifth tomorrow) another day—right now I need to talk to Kristen and everyone else who’s ever had to sit and “watch” someone have cancer.

Let me say that on behalf of myself and the too-many-other cancer patients out there who've been lucky enough to have you care about us, I thank you. You, who sits there and worries, and cries, and gets scared, and can’t sleep; you who tries to buy or make or do or say just the right thing to make us feel better, feel happy, get distracted, smile or in chemo-induced moments, eat something—what else is there to convey to you wonderful, important, helpless individuals but that you are-- in a nutshell--the best.

We cancer patients are scared, and we’re fighting. We have a goal and we have our drugs and our treatment plans and our maps for kicking cancer’s –ss. You on the other hand don’t have that focus: you are watching and waiting and worrying, and wondering—wondering if standing there feeling helpless and un-useful is really doing us any good.

Well I’m here to assure you, in no uncertain terms, that the answer to your furrowed brow question is Y-E-S.

You see, sometimes helping out has nothing to do with effort--even though I'm sure it doesn't feel like that. For most of our lives, effort has usually brought some kind of result; like when you volunteer to drive us to our 5th chemotherapy drip or bring a homemade meal over so we don’t have to worry about cooking at a time like this, you can feel the fruits or your labor. You clearly helped. You know where you stand. And it's so true; these are obvious moments where your generosity and kindness, mixed with your gas mileage, time and recipes, serves to lighten our cancer load and helps us make it through another rotten day.

But there are other times, indeed all the rest of the time, when you’re sitting at your home, staring at your phone and thinking of calling, but not wanting to wake us from what you hope is a nap we’re taking-- wondering how we are, what else could you be doing, and whether anything of the seemingly tiny things you’ve done to help us out of our trauma even mattered. I tell you, they do.

And as you go off and do things in your day that you want to enjoy but up next to our cancer now seem almost indulgent—the running around the grocery store with your biggest worry being what’s on sale, the catching up with a friend for a latte and to dish about the latest People Magazine, or the going to sleep knowing your kids are safe in bed and you are a healthy strong woman whose friend is battling something you pray you never get-- you wonder, how much more of this can I take? How much more of someone else’s cancer can I witness? Am I strong enough for this? What does this all mean for me? Is being scared of this okay, or am I one big failure as a friend?

Let me tell you, all those feelings are so absolutely okay they’re practically textbook cases of what happens when cancer hits your intimate circle: and as the friend around the friend/sister/cousin/husband/wife or someone-you-know with cancer, you have every right to have these moments. You have every right to live your life, to help out when you can, and even in certain moments to want to back away and pretend none of it is even happening.

But hear this: our cancer is not your cancer. In fact, it can’t be yours, we need you to be strong, and healthy, and we relish that for you. And we hope to be just like you again as soon as this hell is over. And when you take a break and need some time for you, take it—and don’t feel guilty. We get how hard it is, believe me, we get that loud and clear.

So thank you to all the outsiders, the bystanders, the ones who watch, and worry and wait. You are scared, we know, for us and for you. So thank you for coming so near at a time you may want to go running for a door. Thank you for just standing by or for not saying anything but offering your hand to hold, your shoulder to lean on, your smile and wink as comfort. It works. It really works.

I don’t know why cancer hits the people that it does, but we the bulls-eyed would be nowhere without you who encircle us: not only do you define our space on the dart board, but you envelop us in the love and support we need to give this fight the best we got, win, lose or draw.

And we are very, very grateful.

this weekend, i let folks "love on me"... and it was good

The theme of the week is "walk in love". I got that from my event on Saturday afternoon with the sisters and brothers of IASK. Before my talk, the group discussed walking in love as a way of life. We were tasked with showing love to someone (friend, family, colleague, etc.) who had been unloving toward us.

The sister who came to mind for me as someone I needed to show love to, was a sister whose name I don't even know. Some of you may remember her from a post back in December. She was the receptionist at the plastic surgeon's office who left me and my boyfriend sitting in the waiting room for hours, because she failed to properly (at all) process my information so that I could see the doctor in a timely fashion. During that time I was rundown from the chemo and I just refused to be negative or harsh to anyone. But what that meant was that in some situations (like that one) I allowed myself to be taken advantage of. (shrug)

I have seen that sister again because I'm in that medical building all the time for my treatments. Most of the doctors that I see are housed there. Although on that day, my boyfriend and I did make a comment to one of the nurses who did eventually get a chance to assist me, I have still harbored some negative feelings about her lack of professionalism and pitiful empathy for a sick person (me). When I have seen her again, all I could do was roll my eyes, and avoid talking to her at any cost. My rationale has been that I don't like her but I may have to deal with her so if I don't say anything to her I will be able to continue to conduct my business with minimal distractions between us. But... outside of her job as the receptionist, she's a human being. And in all honesty, she probably was just in a mindless space that day and simply forgot about me. It was close to the holidays. So far, the only person who has really been harmed in the transaction is me -- because I'm holding a grudge against someone I don't even know for an infraction she probably doesn't even remember committing.

I need to let it go and walk in love.

It was 5 months ago. (smile) You would think after all of the medical personnel that I have dealt with, she wouldn't even register in my mind. Sadly, she does. So, I am thinking of a way that I can be loving toward her... and hopefully remove this feeling in my heart that I have.

On Sunday, I spoke at "Women Speak" and it was an equally awesome experience. I talked about my experience but I also talked about how important it is for all of us to just let people "love on us". Black women are great at loving on others - family, friends, kids, etc. We make it our business to love and care and nurture those people in our lives. But when it comes to allowing others to take care of us, to simply "love on" us... we often balk. We lean back on our superwoman capes and tell ourselves (and anyone who will listen) that we don't "need" anything. That we can do it by ourselves.

And while that's true probably -- you CAN do it by yourself -- sometimes you really have to just be strong enough to rest, relax and let someone else love on you. The ladies at Women Speak loved on me Sunday afternoon. They laid hands on me, said a prayer for my healing and blessed my heart with their ability to love me -- even as I sat in front of them talking about how broken and heart-broken I felt. They just "loved on" me (little ol' me). And it was so beautiful.

I've been thinking about this weekend all day, I'm still in the bed because this cold I caught last week, just won't turn me loose. I've come to the conclusion that, I don't let people love on me enough. I stood in the middle of that circle on Sunday and cried like a baby. It felt so good to be loved on that way.

One of the hardest parts about breaking up with someone (yes, I'm talking about him again, lol)... is that you miss the intimacy that being in a relationship brings to your life. I miss the hugs and cheek-kisses, the laughs and hand-holding. And I didn't know how much I missed it until my sistas shared their hugs and kisses with me on Sunday.

When you're sick, people see you in your most fragile and vulnerable state. And they don't want to cause you any pain, so they often treat you gingerly. That's actually fine. And since I've been in treatment, I've had a few problems because of infections that have left me in the hospital or in the bed for days at a time. The truth is that my immune system is weakened and my body spends a lot of energy trying to heal itself. So, while I know logically that its best for me not to touch, hug, etc. lots of people... my spirit does still need that human connection from time to time.

I let the women who attended Women Speak love on me (see the picture of all the women holding their hands on me) and I feel so blessed because of it.

Let somebody love on you. And if there is someone who is unloving to you, show them some love this week. It may make a difference.

Guest post: My Ode To Nicole

My Ode To Nicole (How knowing someone with breast cancer changed my perspective) | My Fabulous Boobies

This post was shared in my online social group last week by one of the group members. I wanted to share her message because her issue with her "fabulous boobies" - though brief - was a great reminder that taking care of yourself is a responsibility that we all have. The story doesn't have to start (or end) with cancer. Sometimes an obstacle can be merely a bump in the road that reminds us that tomorrow isn't promised so let's take care of today. [May, 2009]

"My Ode To Nicole"

As some of you may know, I've been a member of the group for years. Alternating between active (LOUD) and not-so-active (LURKING). I've received a lot from this board; many laughs, some outrage, a little arrogance, some humbling, and even some tears.

The tears were more suprising to me. I'm an empathetic person, caring and kind, but with this vast virtual world of the internet, feelings and emotions - especially those which brings tears - are far and few between for me. Ahh, but I've been selfish with DCSG...cherry picking the best information and laughs and using the group when necessary. Not malicious, but somehow unfair to those who put so much time and effort to keep this group what is has been and allowing it to grow to where it is.

During this past year, I've been almost riveted in my seat reading Nicole's blog about breast cancer and her journey. Frozen sometimes. She once asked us to share how her blog and experience might have affected us and I literally froze. Me!? I couldn't get it out. I didn't even know what I was trying to get out. It felt scary and ugly and made me emotional and I didn't understand why. I felt that the blog was so personal and I was sneaking and reading someone's diary when I shouldn't. I didn't want to hear about her pain, but I couldn't stop reading. I wondered why I read about the boyfriend one day and then thereafter I didn't and I was scared to ask - but I wanted to know. I constantly looked down at my (not so big) breasts and realized that I never gave them much thought - not really any consideration. My breast are moderate in size - big enough to have cleavage - small and high enough to go braless. I thought them cute and functional.

Just being 37, I didn't have a requirement to get an annual mammogram. I'd had a fibroid adenoma when I was in high school, so I half-heartedly performed self-exams and went for my yearly pap/exam checkups so I never bothered. I'll wait til I'm 40 I said.

So a little over a month ago, I found a lump during one of my shower self-exams. And I kept feeling and feeling and pressing it to make sure that I wasn't freaking myself out in some way. And there it was - pretty large and defined and just....there. I asked my husband to come take a feel and he said he felt it too. And I lost it. I don't know why but I FREAKED OUT. I remember telling myself if only I'd call Nicole or sent her that damn purse she wanted or bought her that Kindle like I wanted to or simply responded to her request on how this affected us. I remembered feeling sad - not pity - but just a great sadness for her but mostly and selfishly just scared for me.

I scheduled my doctor's visit and when I arrived I told myself over and over not to cry. But as soon as I saw my doctor's face I just burst in tears. She was a little taken aback to say the least, LOL, but when she realized why I was there, she moved quickly to sooth me and proceeded with her examination. And that's when she told me that I was going to have to have a mammogram because there was definitely SOMETHING there. So I scheduled my appointment for a week and a half later (May 11). During this time, all I kept thinking about was this SOMETHING. I would find myself absently rubbing on it while watching tv or in my office. I would read everything that I could about lumps and bumps and borrowed Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book from a friend of mine.

And then I went back and read Nicole's blog from the beginning. And I laughed and cried and cried some more and laughed again and smiled and then cried some more.

I went in for my mammogram this Monday. My husband came but wasn't allowed "in the back" as it's for ladies' only. When I went back and undressed and sat waiting in my gown, I looked around at all the other girls/women there and wondered - is she like me wondering? Is she a survivor? Is this just her check up? 

I didn't know so I didn't speak to anyone for fear that I would upset someone. So I sat quietly and then thought of all the times that Nicole has gone through this and all the sitting and waiting and wondering and pondering and I think that's when it hit me.

I didn't realize why I was so scared and quiet through Nicole's experience. But the only way that I know how to say this is to just say it. When faced with someone else's mortality you are often faced with your own. And I just wasn't ready. I don't know if some of us are, more so than others, I don't know if it's because of guilt or fear of the unknown. It reminds me of people who say that they wouldn't want one of those virtual body scans because they really wouldn't want to know if something was "wrong".

If someone could tell you when "the end" was going to be for you - would you really want to know? Well, I didn't and I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to think of leaving my son alone with no family (outside of my husband who is not his father) or just not being. I wasn't prepared to face that. And I don't think I'm strong; Nicole often said that she didn't think she was or that maybe that phrase was annoying in some way, but I have to disagree. Strong is the spirit within you that makes you stand up and face the world and everything that it brings you. Nicole has been and is strong enough to not only face these issues, but to share them with us?! Do you know the gift that she's given you?

So I had my mammogram. It was uncomfortable. It was not painful. And it was not cancer. It was a cyst - fluid filled and taken care of right there by the radiologist.

And I wanted to share this and to thank you, Nicole, because I don't know if I would have taken it seriously or gone to the doctor or had a mammogram or checking myself each month if it wasn't for you and what you've shared. I don't know if I would have made that living will in November or told my mother how much she really meant to me if it wasn't for you encouraging us and reminding us of those we love.

So this is my ode to you and to share with you what your gift of story has done for me. I'm so glad that things seem to be turning a corner for the best in your journey. I'm so grateful to you for just being you and sharing yourself and your joy (and sorrows) with me.

Be Blessed!!!!
Div aka Sharon

*DCSG (DC Sistagirls) is an online social networking group of professional African-American women. While based in DC, the group is open to black women anywhere. We have moved from our original yahoo group and now meet on Facebook. If you're interested in joining the group, check us out here:

"nothing left to say"...

Wayman Tisdale died today. He was 44 and had bone cancer. He was a former NBA star and a world-known jazz artist. And though I have never crossed paths with him in my life... my heart is heavy with ache for his family. I was going to share a link of a video of him from last September. He had just had his leg amputated and was on the video talking about how good he felt and how much more life he was looking forward to living.

And now... just a few months later, he's gone. Now, Wayman lived a life that many folks dream of. He lived large... just making it to the NBA is huge. But to make it to the NBA and then have a follow-up career as a jazz That's like hitting the lottery twice.

Today has been a day of cancer-reflection and thought. As I mentioned, I have two events this weekend where I will be discussing my breast cancer journey. And, to my surprise, I read a very touching email message this morning that detailed a sister's brief journey after discovering a lump in her breast. (if she gives me permission, I'll post it here) She credited me and my blog with helping her to take the lump seriously and checking it out quickly. Thankfully her lump wasn't cancerous - and that's usually the case - but I was most thankful that she even thought to check it out.

I titled today's entry "nothing left to say" for a couple of reasons. One, this song is one of my favorite songs at the moment. Two, sometimes there really isn't anything left to say in a particular situation. And three... often times we don't expect there to be an ending to what we have in our lives. But, there is always an ending. What's important is how we prepare for the end and how we decide to let things go.

The song is about a break-up and he details how they talked and heard each other but failed to communicate. How the things that he loved about her were the things that ultimately pushed him away. And that made me think of myself and how I'm embracing the changes that breast cancer has forced me to make. Like, no longer procrastinating about doing those things that bring me joy. Making sure to keep myself surrounded by people who love and support me and keeping those people who drain me or upset me at arm's length. Realizing that life is short but while I'm here, I deserve to enjoy every moment. I'm tired of feeling like "I can't afford it" or "I'm not ready for that". Dying at 44, I'm sure wasn't on Wayman's list of "things I can do". But, everything that I've ever read about the man tells me that he had an amazing life full of things he really wanted to do. He leaves behind a wife and 4 kids and millions of fans.

There's nothing left to say...

celebrating life...

My birthday brunch/lunch ended up being more of an early dinner. (laughs) Only one person was at the restaurant on time and it wasn't me. My party came in slowly over the course of about 1.5 hours. It was crazy... but funny. We ended up converging on the bar area for while because the restaurant would not seat us until a large portion of the group had arrived. Utter madness.

I'm not much of a stickler about time normally... but I was even more laid back about it than even I would have believed I could be. Though it wasn't expected, it was kind of cool that everyone was late because it gave me an opportunity to speak to each person individually, to hug and kiss them... and to just be with them for a moment. I'm not sure that I would have been able to do that if everyone was on time.

We laughed, had great conversation, took pictures, LAUGHED some more and generally created a jovial ruckus at the restaurant. We had a great time. I ended up wearing a pantsuit because I couldn't find a dress I liked. The suit was nice and it was comfortable but the shoes I picked - while cute were wrong, wrong... wrong. Could not walk in those bad boys. Lost my balance twice before I took them off and put them in my purse. (laughs)

I realize that everyone isn't like me... but I absolutely love celebrating my birthday every year in a nice way. This year was really great. The people who came were all people who mean a lot to me, people that by being fully and authentically themselves have taught me to be the same. Folks who are so good to me with the gift of their friendship, love and guidance that they make me want to be the best me I can be. There were people who were missing but I firmly believe that we are all where we're supposed to be no matter where we are. My birthday was supposed to be celebrated when it was, how it was and with that exact group of people.

The beauty of the celebration was the absolute joy of being in the presence of so much love. It didn't hurt that my friends are outspoken and easy to get along with. That took pressure off me to try to engage everyone with conversation. I didn't have to do a thing but look around me and enjoy the blessings of great friendships. I was very much in the moment and not stressing about my illness.

Lately my sleep has been fitful and short. But more than that, I've been having really vivid dreams -- not quite nightmares but about as close as you can get. Some of the dreams have led me to think long and hard about my own death, and also my own funeral and what that might be like. Morbid, I know but I'm being honest. I'm in no hurry for death to happen but I have been thinking about it lately. Seeing my friends together for a happy occasion was beautiful and it soothed my heart immensely.

Hey... we're all going to die one day. It will probably not be when we want, or where we want or even how we want. But, since I know that the day will come I want to make the most of the days I do have. Days like Saturday push that positive urge forward.

I have moments when I feel compelled to tell people - total strangers - that I'm fighting breast cancer. I can't explain it. I don't know if I want their understanding or pity... or if I just think that they care or need to know. But the urge is always just under my skin, just on the tip of my tongue. However on Saturday, surrounded by people who love me and know my story... it was a non-issue. The release of that burden was worth every minute I stressed about getting together, the time we spent waiting to be seated... and my trying to eat too-spicy food. It was WORTH IT, to not be solely present in my "I-have-breast-cancer-fear" for a few hours.

On reflection, I can't tell you what I did exactly. Maybe it was just being out. Or trying to walk in 5 inch heels. Or possibly the non-stop laughter for hours and hours... but whatever it was that I did... I was absolutely sore and totally worn out on Sunday. But it was a good fatigue and ache.

I tried to keep the event small because I did not want to overextend myself. Considering how tired I was on Sunday, I made a good choice. But, I will have to make more efforts to see all of my friends and family this year. It truly did my heart good to spend quality time celebrating life.

I am alive. Life will not always be what you want it to be. And you can expect a curveball to come your way when you're least prepared for it. But even with that, I know now that I am okay.

Link for the Race for the Cure Donations Race for the Cure

The link didn't show up in the previous post and I wanted to ensure that if you wanted to donate, you could do so.

A 5k isn't very long. Its just about 3 miles. But while that seemed like a short stretch of road a few months ago, today... its a real challenge to consider walking that far. But I plan to be there, with my pink shirt and my sneakers... ready to tackle the challenge.

I hope that I can count on your help too. If not for me -- just pick any one of the millions of women and men who are living with breast cancer now. Or consider the approximately 250,000 new diagnoses that will happen this year alone.

And now... imagine all of us CURED FOREVER.

That's why we need your donations. That last image in your mind. A cure.


Hot damn I made it! I'm 40 today... and it feels SO GOOD to be alive.

As usual, I'm awake in the middle of the night because these doggone hot flashes are giving me fits and my sleeping pills make me nauseous.

I spent a portion of yesterday in prayer and reflection. Just thinking about the past 40 years; the good times, the bad times and all that other stuff in the middle.

I'm here. My heart is overflowing right now because... I'm still here.

I'm feeling a lot of things but I'm finding it difficult to articulate them right now. So... I'll just say that I am ever so grateful for every person who helped to get me to this point. Family, friends... medical staff... strangers on twitter. (laughs) All of you.

THANK YOU. (from the bottom of my heart)


The Susan G. Komen Foundation will be holding a 5k Race for the Cure in DC on Saturday, June 6th. I've signed up and created a team -- DC Sistagirls. We're going to walk 5 kilometers to raise money and bring more awareness to breast cancer. I'm accepting donations on behalf of the team and myself from now until race day. If you would like to donate, or join the team and walk with us, please click this link to donate or register.

The research for a cure and for better treatments is necessary. The treatment I received is more advanced than the treatment another woman may have received 10 years ago. And hopefully 10 years from now, treatment won't be necessary because we will have a cure. But until then... millions of men and women are counting on us to help them navigate this scary process.

Please help.

Connecting Helps Your Healing

How Using Social Media Helped Me To Feel Connected, Not Isolated

It started with trying to connect with my girlfriends...

In 2007, I decided that my closest girlfriends and I needed and deserved a girlfriends getaway weekend. I have three best girlfriends and they are the loves of my life. My life has been changed for the better because of them. Two of them live in Atlanta, one lives here in DC. I rarely see any of them. (laughs) My girl who lives here has a high-profile job that keeps her ultra busy and constantly on the move. We have a relationship that may appear to others as a little strange. We don't talk everyday, we don't see each other too often (maybe once a year and that's a big MAYBE) but the love never changes. As soon as the phone rings (or the email shows up), we connect as though we spoke 10 minutes before. I have a deep and abiding love and trust for these women.

So, when I decided in 2007 that we HAD to make time, just 3 days, for each other naturally I had no idea what 2008 would have in store for me. We were still discussing where to go and when to go when I found out that I had cancer. And those plans fell by the wayside as my focus (our focus) shifted to more pressing matters like chemotherapy, and mastectomy surgery and so on.

Their love is like no other

I have called each of these sisters at different points of this journey to cry, to laugh, to connect... to feel whole again. And each of them without fail, stepped right up and embraced me over the phone or through an email and made sure that I knew just how deeply I was loved. They are the kind of friends that "I" need. They never doubt that I love them. Even during the darkest days, when I couldn't or wouldn't return phone calls -- because my heart was breaking, or I just didn't feel up to -- they kept calling. They kept reaching inside my tiny circle to hold my hand (virtually). They made me laugh and smile -- without even knowing that I may have been crying for hours -- which happened a lot then.

I'm telling you about my loves because like I said... I don't see them often and don't talk to them all the time. So, in the meantime, I've found facebook and twitter. And it has been AMAZING. Nothing could replace these women in my life but today it dawned on me that just connecting with people over facebook and twitter has helped my spirit immensely.

But social media never turns off... and it is amazing who you can see on Twitter

I know that a lot of people in the world are not familiar with twitter and facebook, although just about EVERYBODY in my world is. Celebrities are flocking to twitter because it offers them a direct line to connect with their fans, removing the filter of the paparazzi, the media, and staff. They get to be real people with real people. It has been fantastic. For the past two days, I've been chit-chatting (and eavesdropping on conversations) with people I may never meet in my life. Fantasia, DJ Dnice, Ray J, Toccarra, Plug One (from De La Soul), Shaq, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Idris Elba, Solange, Ice Tea, Spindarella, Gabrielle Union, Estelle, Tyrese, Kelly Rowland... you get the drift. There are more but I can't remember them all. What's funny is that I'm not really that big on celebrity watching, etc. I rarely read celebrity blogs or magazines and I seldom watch celebrity-focused television shows. But chatting (or eavesdropping) on celebrities on twitter has changed my perspective on things.

Why? Because I realized that they are just human beings like me. They have good days and bad, they have likes and dislikes... it just happens that their lives are exposed to many more people because of their professions. I knew that but it hit home for me today when I was twittering with all the folks I follow and who follow me and I realized I was reading and responding to people based upon what they shared about themselves and not who they were. Most of the people I follow and who follow me are strangers. But they are some of the most loving and helpful people I've met online in many years.

Have a problem? Send out a tweet. That tweet gets re-tweeted seconds later. And within a few moments hundreds or maybe thousands of people have been made aware of your question and someone usually responds immediately. It has been incredible to see bread cast upon the twitter waters and bring back whole loaves within moments. Twitter allows you to follow what is happening with other folks so you can see a question/comment go out and the responses flow back in real time. I love it.

Facebook is similar yet different and just as amazing for me. With facebook, I'm connected to people I know or have met along the way. And people I don't want to talk to, I don't have to. Facebook shares more of who you are -- pictures, links, connections to other friends and family members -- so there is more incentive to be protective of your privacy. I've enjoyed facebook immensely because it has allowed me to have brief spurts of spontaneous conversation with people I know or to NOT have those conversations if I don't feel like it.

I'm not much of a phone talker. When I do talk on the phone, I may be on there for hours but I can honestly go for weeks without talking on the phone to anyone. And not feel badly about it. (laughs) I prefer email. Strange but true.

I am not even a full year into this journey with breast cancer... 

My birthday is in a couple of days and I am celebrating a milestone. My girlfriends have been on my mind because since we didn't have our girlfriend weekend last year, we are meeting in Miami to celebrate my birthday and how far I've come on this cancer journey. I leave next Thursday and will return on Sunday. I cannot wait. Thinking about the upcoming trip, my birthday celebration and just life in general... made me realize that connecting with other people is very important to my spirit and my healing.

There are a lot of people and businesses on both Twitter and Facebook for business/marketing related reasons. And to me, that's fine. It goes with the territory of being in a capitalist society. (which I don't mind at all) But the amazing sense of comraderie and openness to simple communicating is fascinating and heartwarming to me.

When I return to work on Friday I won't be able to play with my friends during the day. I hope that the fact that I will be back among the "living" will offset any loss I feel from that disconnect with my virtual playmates.

All of this to say...

Today I realized that it is important (to my health, my sanity and my emotional balance) for me to connect with others and to share/receive from other people. I may be a loner at times but I require the "touch" of others to make everything seem balanced. Right now, I am focused on HEALING in all ways. Protecting my body and my spirit from toxic things and people. Twitter and facebook -- despite what you may hear or think -- have been helpful tools on this journey of healing discovery.

Thank you for sharing yourselves with me. You are helping me to become whole and healthy again.

Home from the Gala... and I miss cleavage and v-neck tops

My night at the GW Cancer Center Gala

The cancer gala was very nice. It was also a little boring. Not drastically so. I didn't yawn, or even fidget much. But, it was a bit dry. The food was... eh. Not stupendous but okay. The room was FABULOUS. The event was at the Ritz Carlton and it was well coordinated but it just wasn't "fun".


My oncologist (the ever so wonderful Dr. S) was one of the speakers for the evening and it was great seeing him at the podium. I didn't get the opportunity to speak to him -- I didn't feel up to navigating all the tables to find him -- but it was reassuring that he was there.

I felt so overwhelmed and then surprised that I was overwhelmed because going to galas and balls was usually something I enjoyed as a perk with my jobs in the past. I wanted to hide this time...

Mayor-for-life Marion Barry

Other than my mother, the only person I recognized in the room was Mayor-for-life Marion Barry. He was sitting several tables from us as well. Not that I know him to strike up a conversation with him.

Let me go back to the beginning of the evening.

My hot flashes must be triggered by stress because I could barely put my makeup on and get dressed in a timely fashion because I was sweating like an overexerted athlete. There is a special frustration when you take 15 minutes to carefully put on your makeup, only to watch it disintegrate into nothingness because of relentless hot flashes. I had to leave the bathroom several times to go into my bedroom and stand (in my underwear) in front of my fan trying to cool off.

It was not amusing.

Boring clothes make me unhappy and yet, that was all I could bring myself to wear

My dress, while nice was just a shade more "ordinary"... um conservative?... okay boring... than I would have worn prior to cancer. It was a perfectly fine "little black dress" but it wasn't sexy (not to me) and it wasn't fabulous and I didn't feel sexy or fabulous in it.

The extra large rectangle of burned/discolored skin presents real challenges for me to dress around. Adding to the dilemma is the issue that one breast does not make cleavage. And many, many outfits are designed to show off very feminine and alluring cleavage.

*wails* I don't have cleavage with one breast! 

The dress was a sleeveless black dress with a sheer-ish fabric covering my chest area. The top had just a sprinkle of crystals to give it some shine and a drape in the back to provide just a hint of sexy. It stopped just at my knee, and it had a little "flow" to it at the bottom. It wasn't a bad dress at all... in fact, it would be the perfect "work dinner" dress because it covered everything. It just wasn't the kind of dress you wore with an extra bounce in your step because you KNOW you look amazing.

I wasn't amazing. 

I didn't look amazing. I didn't feel amazing. And the reason why I cried in the dressing room on Friday while shopping for something to wear to the event was because there were dresses in the store that I really thought were gorgeous but I knew I would be too uncomfortable to wear in my current state. Sigh.

My cleavage envy is real 

Tonight was one of the first times in my life that I noticed other women's cleavage and/or dress designs to the degree that I did. Normally, I notice just the dress and sometimes the woman in the dress. Tonight with every woman I saw, I found myself looking at more closely trying to "see" if she also was a breast cancer survivor.

I looked for scars, lopsidedness, radiation scars. I couldn't tell. (laughs) And I suppose that it was for the best that I could not. I probably would have stared even harder.

I never longed for cleavage before my mastectomy. With larger breasts, I never had to. I did have to learn to embrace those curves and appreciate the beauty in their very obvious femininity. I did learn to love my breasts and my cleavage. However, I am having a more difficult time than I imagined learning to love my new body. I imagine that after my reconstruction, I will have another learning curve to accepting the new breasts as well.

It was all so overwhelming emotionally

But tonight, my emotions were in overdrive. I felt like an imposter - pretending to be comfortable in my skin and confident about who I am. When I felt nothing like that at all.

All of this is pretty shallow but not truly so because it affected the way I felt tonight. I didn't feel "pretty". I looked fine but not "Nic-fine"... if that makes any sense at all. When I walked out of the house tonight I simply wasn't feeling fully myself. I felt like a pretender and that feeling dogged my mood all night.

So, I'm sitting with my mom and we only know each other. The other people at our table seemed to be just as uncomfortable as we were and they weren't very chatty or personable either at first. They warmed up by the end of dinner. We are sitting in a vast ballroom of strangers, unable to mix and mingle because we arrived just at the beginning of dinner. That didn't help. The program was long and rather tedious, I felt "un-sexy" and a bit uncomfortable... and the food wasn't great.

The Katzen Cancer Research Center at GW University
(this is my oncology center)

My cancer center rocks though!

I will say this though, my appreciation for the cancer center increased exponentially tonight. These folks do great work for a lot of people and their hearts are truly into their work. It's a beautiful thing. I am grateful that I had the chance to go to the gala tonight. Normally, a formal event gives me reason to embrace how lucky I am. But tonight's reflection brought tears to my eyes and a stab of fear into my heart.

The keynote speaker touched my heart and confused me as well

One of the evening's award recipients was a phenomenal sister who is going through her second bout of cancer. Jeanette Michael was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and it returned last year with a vengence. Her smile during her acceptance speech was absolutely electric. By the time she got up to speak, I learned that I was sitting at the table with several friends of hers and her niece and nephew. I was the only cancer patient at my table. That was a pretty gracious seat placement.

Her family and friends adored her. She received several standing ovations and based on what was shared about her life, I could see why. She was a very accomplished woman and by all accounts, a very warm and generous spirit. She was truly inspirational.

And yet, looking at her small frame, and her shiny bald head made me sad in ways that I can't express. Her current reality is my nightmare.

For all of her accomplishments, she could not stop cancer from returning to ravage her body. She spoke about how blessed she was to even have cancer, how much she gained because of cancer -- the people she had met, the awards she received and the outpouring of love from the people in her life.

I understood her words but I honestly thought to myself that I would give all of it back (in my own life) if it would keep cancer from returning to my body.

The awards and accolades and opportunities are great... cancer is not.

I am not where she is emotionally. 

By the end of her speech, close to the end of the evening... I was beyond ready to go. I no longer felt like the event was fun and a light-hearted way to spend a Saturday evening. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt afraid and angry. I wanted to go home.

Now that I'm home and revisiting how I felt throughout the evening, I'm realizing I had less of a good time than I realized. I have so much work to do to get back to a level place emotionally. I didn't have a horrible time tonight, not at all. But as I review the evening and try to be honest with myself... my dissatisfaction had a lot to do with how I felt about myself, more than how the event itself went.

It was a beautiful event. Well done, and very lovely. But it all made me so very sad. Is this what I have to look forward to? Being happy because I'm dying and no one can fix it?

I'm just not there yet.

The big 4-0 is next for me

Home from the Gala... | My Fabulous Boobies
At my 40th birthday brunch. 
My next "event" is on Saturday; my birthday brunch. I realize now that I have to do whatever it takes to be sure that I FEEL fabulous, so that I can fully be in the moment and not in my head.

It should be better because I will be surrounded by people I love and who love me. Instead of sitting in a vast room of strangers, feeling too timid to speak up, and too bored to have a great time.

My birthday is Friday. If you get a chance, send me an email saying "happy birthday". Right now, I'm not planning to go out on Friday. I may go to work, but that's about it. And even that is up in the air. (smile)

Read: Wolf Blitzer hosts GW Cancer Gala

Read: GW Katzen Cancer Research Center Funds Innovative Cancer Research

cancer, cancer... everywhere

Last night was like most other nights recently. I had a difficult time falling asleep and endured repeated hot flashes that bathed me in moisture all night long. After the weird effects from the ambien earlier this week, I've resigned myself to just dealing with the drama at night without those pills.

I fell asleep around 5:30 am and awoke to my cellphone alerting me to new emails at 9:00 am. Usually I ignore the phone and just go back to sleep, but this morning something told me that I needed to see what was going on. And I'm really glad that I did.

I had received an email from an e-friend (smile) who shared some bad news about cancer touching her life. Her pain was so raw and although I've never met this sista in person, I wanted to go to her side and just hug her.

Since my diagnosis, I can't get away from cancer. For a long time, I thought that "getting away" was the goal. I wanted to move to a life where I didn't think about cancer anymore. But I'm coming to accept that it won't be possible to get away and even if it were possible, I'm not sure that I should.

Cancer is one of those illnesses that is always portrayed as a big scary monster. Television characters and movies use the word "cancer" as the ultimate threat. The fear of dying from cancer, the fear of living through cancer treatments... and so forth, just hangs out in the air like a blanket. Smothering us at its own will.

Even when you're not living in fear of the disease striking you personally, if it strikes someone close to you or someone that you recognize (like a neighbor or a celebrity)... it just hits a negative chord. Either we have become spoiled because of our track record with irradicating diseases or our ignorance about the disease is driving us mad. Maybe its both.

I'm supposed to be getting dressed right now to go to the cancer gala this evening. But I can't stop thinking about my friend's new family situation and the path ahead for them. I just read another breast cancer survivor's blog about healing after breast cancer. Her perspective was that healing is a process and you really don't start "healing" in a whole body-mind sort of way until after you've gotten through your treatment. I really agree with her.

I want to be able to tell everyone that now that my mastectomy is over, the harshest chemotherapy is past and my radiation treatment has finished... that NOW I'm healed and ready for the world. But the truth is that I cannot foresee the day when I don't have a thought or a tear about cancer. I may look okay and feel better but I know that this battle hasn't been won and it isn't over.

My doctor (the fabulous Dr. Robert Siegel) has been very careful not to say that I'm cured of breast cancer. Even though he is very optimistic about my future and has been very excited about the way that I've handled all of the treatment so far I am longing for the day when I hear that I'm in remission. But I'm wondering whether that word will just then become another label that I'm forced to wear without realizing the full weight of it until its too late.

My advice to my friend was that she allow herself room to grieve and be sad about this news. I am a true believer that we self-impose stress on ourselves trying to be brave and strong all the time. We are strong, but sometimes the best way to show our strength and to use our strength is to be vulnerable. Don't wallow in your weakness but accept those soft spots that we all have as part of the entire package of you.

Getting the diagnosis that you have (or someone you love has) cancer feels like the worst day of your life. And if my story is indication of other stories... you will remember nuances of that day for a very long time. But, I have to tell you, diagnosis is only the beginning. The road is hard and it is long -- if you're fortunate, very long. But you learn about yourself, your ability to love, your ability to be resilient, to be giving, to be... human. Willingly walking into the fire of cancer treatment is no easy decision and there will be many moments of doubt and fear. But you CAN get through this.

I tell myself everyday... usually after I've shed a few tears about something... that this is not THE END.

And to my friend, I am sending up prayers, sending healing thoughts and peace... but mostly I am waiting with open arms and ears for those moments when she will just need to talk/vent/cry/shout/whatever.

I will be here for you on those days. I am here for you now sis. We will all walk through this time together.


I Still Have A Sleeping Problem and I Have A New Silicone Boobie

I still have a sleeping problem | My Fabulous Boobies
I wish I could rest this easily

i'm going to a ball, my birthday is coming... and i'm still emotional

It just dawned on me that my birthday is coming right up. Its in less than 10 days -- eek -- and I don't have a thing to wear. Hmmm... not sure what I'm going to do. I decided to switch up my celebration a bit from my normal happy hour, or reserved table at the club. My energy is just not what it used to be and I did not want to put myself in a situation where I ended up leaving my own party too soon. (laughs) So, I opted to have a brunch. I like to eat and I figured that having a brunch would allow my friends (married and single, with and without kids) to celebrate with me without the stress of going to the club. Plus, it seemed more adult to have a brunch. (laughs) I am looking forward to the day and I hope that the rain clouds stay away.

So... I still haven't solved the swimsuit dilemma and now I have two additional shopping emergencies to work out. (sigh) First, is deciding what to wear to the brunch. You would not believe the mental hoops I've been putting myself through trying to decide whether to wear a dress, a skirt, jeans or a suit. For weeks, I was determined to find the prettiest and most feminine dress. I wanted to feel like a lady. But then one day, I actually stopped and looked (well, stared actually) at the radiation scar/burn... and it dawned on me that I wasn't really up to showing that to anyone. Its not horrible, in fact its much better than it was just a week ago... but its not pretty either. I'm rather self-conscious about how I look these days so, I didn't want to wear anything that might disturb my peace of mind on that day.

So my next thought was to wear some nice trousers with a crisp white shirt. But then, I got all discombobulated thinking about choices. Throw in the dilemma about what shoes and what purse to carry... and then I just shut down for a few days. Shopping before my cancer treatment wasn't always fun but if I had the money to spend, then I could always find something to look nice in. Now... jeez. I have to consider so many things that I didn't think of before. My body is different now, and its not just because I only have one breast but its also because my skin is burned and black, my breast forms are not the same size as my natural breast so I worry about looking lopsided. And I worry about my burns peeking out for the world to see.


Its just overly dramatic in my mind. And I'm tired of over-thinking everything. So... I moved from thinking about trousers and a shirt to wearing a suit and a feminine blouse. And I think that's where I'm going to stay. (laughs) For now. So... let's throw another twist into my shopping dilemma....

I'M GOING TO A BALL this weekend.

ha! Can you believe that? I received a call from the hospital inviting me and a guest to go to the cancer gala this Saturday night. I accepted because the folks at my cancer center have become super important to me. Super-duper important. I can't state it enough actually. I love those folks like I love my family/friends. This event is a fundraiser for the cancer center and the tickets are $500 per person. (ouch!) But luckily, I am able to attend as a guest of the cancer center and bring a guest. I asked my mother to go with me. I asked her to go at first because I was so excited and I thought that she would enjoy a "glam" night out. Plus, she's been so good at being by my side every step of the way -- especially since my boyfriend became to busy and then eventually became my ex-boyfriend. She didn't miss a beat in helping me out everyday, making sure I made it to every appointment, filled my prescriptions, had adequate rest and good nutritional habits. She has been my #1 supporter.

But... the downside -- which didn't hit me until a day or so later -- was that I don't have a doggone thing to wear. The event is this Saturday and I don't have a dress or even shoes for the grand event. I suppose that I will figure something out. But its just another twist on the shopping drama.

Let's add it up, shall we? I still need at least 1 swim suit and a cover up, related sun accessories; I need a fancy dress w/shoes and finally... a birthday outfit as well. For a sister on a limited budget and low energy... this is a tall order. But I'm up for the challenge, or I'm going to miss out on some fun activities. And I don't want to miss out on another thing in this life. Not another thing.

I had a great weekend. Had dinner with some girlfriends, celebrating another birthday and then we followed up with drinks and giggles at a martini lounge. It was fun. I enjoyed lots of champagne (early toasts to myself for just making it through the past few months) and even danced a little bit. I wasn't totally the "old" Nic but I certainly was very much the "new" Nicole. And I enjoyed myself immensely. I think I stayed out too long and drank too much wine but it was a really good time. I spent Saturday in bed... my joints were aching something terribly and I was just tired. But I sort of expected that. I walked a lot on Friday -- got turned around before I made it to the restaurant -- and then I was dancing and drinking like I didn't have a care. I figured it would come down on me later and it did. Sunday, my parents and I went to National Harbor and had dinner together. It was another really good time.

My parents are really wonderful people and they make me laugh all the time. All the time. I always threaten them that I'm going to put some hidden cameras in the house and tape a reality show about them. (laughs) But they are wonderful parents and good people. I feel so blessed to have them in my life. I relish the time we spend together, especially the happy laughing times. Life for all of us has been so stressful and scary over the past year. And I feel a lot of guilt about having cancer, having to rely on them so much, even for not being married yet and not having kids. Yep. I know its irrational, but its what I feel.

I went to chemotherapy today - a day early - for my herceptin treatment. I was not scheduled to see my oncologist today, but I got lucky (laughs) and had a chance to see him for a few moments. Dr. Siegel is just wonderful. He and the nurses at the cancer center have been my sunshine through all of this craziness. I know that they have stressful and demanding jobs. And it would not be unreasonable if they were curt or rude on occasion but they haven't been. Dr. Siegel always has a smile and a joke for me; or some flattery. (laughs) He's very human. And the nurses are too. They have made some mistakes (the nurses) but nothing that wasn't fixable. The reason I went to chemotherapy a day early was because one of the nurses made an error. She ordered herceptin from the pharmacy but it was a mistake. The herceptin has to be used within 24 hours of preparation or it is trashed. So, the nurse called me and asked me sweetly if I would come in a day early for my treatment. No muss, no fuss.

When I'm in the cancer center, I watch the other patients -- I just love watching people no matter where I am -- and some of the patients are just cruel and harsh to the staff. And it makes for an uncomfortable setting for everyone involved. I try my best to remain calm and not get stressed out while I'm getting treatment. Making other people feel bad just because I may feel bad will not resolve a bad situation. So, I think that the nurses treat me a little special because I am not a "problem" patient. And it has made for a good ray of sunshine during an otherwise gloomy time.

There is a gentleman in the cancer center -- I don't know his name -- but he just started his chemo about 2 months ago. I'm not sure what type of cancer he has, but he's in an advanced stage of cancer. He is a trip. (in a good way) Very lively personality but seeing him today made my heart twinge. He's really frail and thin, much thinner than he was when I saw him last. He walks very gingerly, as though his feet are just in pain. And he is completely bald now. I noticed dark spots on his head and on one arm... and I remembered that I had those same spots when I was bald as well. At the time, I thought that it was just the way that my scalp looked without hair but I realized today that it must be from the chemotherapy.

He was happy today and cheerful as usual but I felt so sad watching him. I know that he is probably giving his all everyday to kick cancer butt, and judging by his cheerful demeanor he probably recognizes that this is just one step on his journey. But I wanted to cry when I saw him. I'm not done with my treatment, not by a long shot. But I don't have the "look" anymore. My pain is manageable and I can return to my life for the most part. I pray that my friend will soon return to his life as well.

Whenever I see a cancer patient, I feel overwhelmed with sadness. Cancer is hard and its mean. And the treatment of it is hard and mean as well. You lose some of your essence going through the process of treatment and you may lose people that mean a lot to you. You can't get back the days you lose because you're sleeping, or in the hospital, or in too much pain to move. You can't get back the time you spend in waiting rooms, or hooked up to IV's. You can't get back the hours you may spend in the emergency room, or at the cancer center receiving infusions... or what feels like millions of tests and vials of blood that is taken from you.

You can't get any of that back. And the worry about how the treatment is affecting your body, and whether the cancer will come back... you have to learn how to live with that constant nagging in your head but not allow it to consume your heart and mind. Its a constant juggle. So when I see cancer patients, I get teary sometimes and I get sad everytime. Because I know that there is another soul who has been set on a rough path and I wish that they didn't have to suffer that way. I wish that I didn't have to either.

I am still in the process of learning how to balance having cancer (or as my friend would say... HAD cancer) with moving forward with life. In one moment, I can be happy and carefree and excited about something silly like my birthday... and then 10 minutes later I may have tears running down my face because I look back in my mind and realize that I have been through hell and its not quite over yet.

My mental state is a circus actually. I am trying to prepare to return to work. I am trying to figure out what clothes to wear and all that. I'm also thinking about my trip to Miami for my birthday celebration and considering my plans for the future. Going back to school, buying a new vehicle and preparing myself to buy a home of my own. Just trying to put everything on the right schedule. It can be done, it just needs to be planned out.

I've got to go, my ambien is kicking right in. And it is difficult to focus on ending this well.

Have a good day everyone. I have to go back to the hospital for an echo-cardiogram. They have to make sure that my heart hasn't been damaged.

i'll finish this tomorrow.

Audacity Tees

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