Is there hope of a sex life after breast cancer?

One of my pink ribbon sisters brought up this topic on twitter the other night and because I was in the midst of a hot flash (of a different kind)... I jumped right in with both feet and said I HOPE SO!

(I'm blaming my outburst on the wine I had been drinking)

It wasn't my intention to tell the twitter world that I wanted to get laid. (laughs) But... I did. And I've been thinking about that ever since my outburst. Its not a crime to want to experience sexual intimacy. Its a natural progression in life. So, I have to ask... why does all of this seem just so doggone hard? I mean, I know part of it has to do with worrying about the big "reveal" prior to the act. But I don't think that's all of it.

Here's the thing: I am a single woman. Before breast cancer, I was vibrant and energetic and enjoyed a full sex life. Well, its almost two years after my diagnosis and while I've been through the hell fighting this disease... I'm getting back to "me". And "me" includes enjoying an active love life.

I want that part of my life back too. (please and thank you!)

Getting to the place where I feel good in my skin has taken some time. I have moments when I'm not really feeling that great or that pretty... but they come fewer and farther between now. I'm so grateful for that. But there's always another challenge and the current challenge is... Will there be a resurrection of my sex life after cancer?

Sigh. I surely hope so.

I have confirmed that men do still find me attractive. I am assured that at least a few of those guys probably would consider having sex with me. However getting from the mental thoughts of... "I would really like to get nekkid with him"... to the actual..."ohmygawd... we're about to do it"... seems to be the equivalent of getting from Maryland to the moon.

And I don't have a rocket in my backyard.

From a clinical perspective, I can reassure my pink ribbon sisters behind me on the path... yes, your sex drive will come back. Depending on where you are in your journey, it may even be higher than you remember. From an emotional perspective, its good to remember that you're still a girl -- and to feel it, way down deep, down there too.

But I'm older and wiser in ways that I wasn't before breast cancer. And between that hesitation in my head and the thought of getting that close to another person and risking rejection... whew. We're back at looking at maps to get to the moon.

I WANT to get sexual again. Just not sure how to do it. Do I just jump right out there, pick a cute boy and roll with it? Literally? Or do I try to slow my hormonal lust down and find a good man to have a long-term and solid relationship with? Do it the "good girl" way?

Shooooooot!! I have NOT been a good girl all my life. Sorry to disappoint some of you. But its true. What I have been is relatively quiet and discrete about my actions. Those who know... KNOW. Those who don't... can only guess. I never confirm nor deny. I just smile and nod and keep it moving.

So, where does that leave me now? I'm a sexy, juicy girl... with a lot of lust in my heart. (Gawsh, I know some folks are probably wondering why I'm going there today) I'm trying not to be too crass but the truth is that I spend a lot of time with myself trying not to explode all over the place.

Hmmm... that didn't come out right. What I mean is...

What I mean is, I want to get back to having a normal sex life. Judging from what I've read about other pink ribbon sisters, establishing a new normal is par for the course and it does get better. Actually, I want an abnormal sex life, honestly. I want more sex than I know what to do with. (laughs) And I want it now.

In the meantime, I'll keep  working on the "good girl" plan. Its safer, I think.

Hair chronicles: returning to the "old" me

I’ve been stressed out about my hair for the past few months. When it started growing back, I was happy about it. As it continued to grow, I was still sort of thrilled about it. Although, I was pretty confused about how to care for it and style it. So, I started experimenting with different products and such. And it was growing pretty well. That was good.


For some reason though, I got it in my head that I needed a haircut. A shaping or something. I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror every day. I liked the hair itself, but I didn’t like my overall look anymore. Spring is coming and I needed something with some oomph.


Long story short, I cut my hair last night. I went to the barbershop and sat in my regular chair and got a haircut. It has been a year and a half since the last time I sat in that chair. I was happy to see my barber and we chatted a bit about nothing per usual but it was good. It was the same rhythm from before cancer. That was what I wanted. Some of that old rhythm in my life.


He started those clippers and I sat there stoic-faced trying not to be shocked as the little curlies fell on the floor. But it was really hard not to cry. I don’t know why. My haircut is really nice. Very sharp. Suits me just fine. But cutting my hair was really not the move.


I am really unhappy. Not with his work but it is slowly dawning on me that I am not that girl anymore. Every time I try to push myself back into the old me mold, I realize that I don’t fit there anymore.


I made a promise to myself that I would let my hair grow. And then I cut it. For no real reason other than I wanted to feel cute and sassy again. But I am realizing that like India Arie sang… I am not my hair. Hair doesn’t define me – but I mean that in the sense that I don’t have to wear a certain style any longer to feel or express my beauty. I don’t have to go back to the old me and the old definition of what makes Nic beautiful. I can be a very pretty and beautiful Nic with long curly hair too.


Sigh. Just wish I had this revelation before I went to the barbershop last night. (smile)


Oh well, back to the beginning. We start from here growing more hair.

Finding my rhythm and getting back to normal

I’ve been back at work for a few weeks now – minus the mini-vacation thanks to the blizzard on the east coast back in February – and I think that I’m finally starting to get back into the rhythm of things. I have a good idea how much time I need to rest in the evenings, how much sleep I need to get, and I have figured out how to pace myself. I still find myself worn down by the end of the week but I have opted to simply use Saturday as my day of rest and its working so far.


I am pleased.


But I have noticed that the more I force myself to do, the more that needs to be done. For example, if I choose to go out one evening to have some fun I find myself suddenly faced with more invitations to do more things – usually far more than I can handle. Its that push-pull sort of feeling that often causes my moods to swing a bit. I may feel frisky and up to having a drink after work on Monday or Tuesday… but when I’m faced with multiple offers for Friday or Saturday (after being out once or twice), I suddenly feel exhausted and I don’t want to go.


This has happened to me several times now. Its unsettling but I think it also makes me feel more “normal” because in my life before breast cancer, I often had to weigh and juggle many events and opportunities (not a bad problem to have really) and I often struggled with saying no to doing things and meeting with people because my schedule was just full.


(It feels so arrogant to say that, but I really am not trying to boast or brag at all) Today is a great example. The hospital where I had my treatment is holding a seminar this evening discussing patient care issues that sounds FASCINATING but I also want to get my haircut – made an appointment for this evening – and more importantly, I AM TIRED and I need to finish my laundry. (laughs) So, do I force myself to go to the seminar and possibly learn something new? Do I dash out and get a much needed sprucing up? Or do I head home and just put my head on my pillow – and pray for laundry to be completed another day?


So normal. So very very normal. Just another day in a survivor’s world.

Flirting is good for the soul…

I am convinced that flirting is just good for the soul. I think it makes your skin brighter, your smile shinier and your eyes more sparkly.

I have no medical proof of this but that's what I firmly believe. Its how I felt yesterday when I spent the afternoon laughing with an acquaintance.

You know the drill... its always someone that you never quite think of in "that" way... someone you've known for awhile... someone who somehow, magically manages to do or say or smile just the right way... and then it clicks...

Wow... he's cute, and smart and funny and sweet... How did I miss all this before?

In the case of this specific gentleman... He’s someone I’ve known for a couple of years. He is just a smidge younger than I am. (well, more than a smidge but eh… I don’t look my age so we’ll just keep blurring that line) And he’s freaking adorable. I had a really fun easy-going time with him.

I like those.

The great thing about younger men is that they seem just a tad fearless in their approach. (laughs) They put it out there, and if you seem hesitant, they put it out there stronger. And again... and then they tweak it a little and try again. Until you smile... pow!

Persistence can be sexy. (Stalking is not -- know the difference, please!)

It is very appealing to chat with someone and discover little nuggets about them that make you smile and that send your mind wandering just a little bit into the land of ... "what if..." and then to pull back to reality and think... "gee, this is actually a really good moment". And your smile grows just a little bit larger... and you nod (maybe to yourself) that yes... yes! THIS is a good, good moment.

It was like that.

All sparkly, shimmery, fun and frolic. It was a giddy, tickly feeling in my tummy. It was... slide your eyes down low 'cause you're thinking slightly naughty thoughts and you don't quite want to give it away. (I can say all this here because he does not read the blog, hallelujah!)

All that to say... after having a great day -- I gave a talk about breast cancer to some very nice people in Baltimore (great experience) -- an unexpected opportunity to flirt and laugh and feel free and happy... was the cherry on top of the sundae. It was a good feeling.

I am going to encourage everyone to take an hour or so (hopefully longer) today – or over the next few days – to just smile, laugh and say naughty and inappropriate things to someone you really want to see smile. Trust me… it will make you feel good all the way down to your toes.

Did for me. (wink)
Sessy pink ribbon girl strikes again!!

Hair chronicles: More work with the curly post-chemo hair

So, I've been using my Miss Jessie's products for curly-haired folks and I'm really digging it. It cost a pretty penny but the products are good quality and my hair seems to be responding pretty well to them. I am sort of pleased. Well, that doesn't sound quite right. I am pleased with Miss Jessie's and I am happy with the way that it helps my "new" curly hair look springy and shiny and happy.

I am displeased with the lack of shape that my hair has -- but that's my fault because I am too chicken to get it cut into a shape. I am displeased with the fact that the products are a little thick and take some time to dry. I'm used to washing and going -- literally -- out the door. I am just a smidge unhappy with the fact that my hair looks good the third day after I wash it -- instead of looking fabulous from the first day I wash it.


But, those are really little things to be concerned about. My hair is growing pretty well and most of the time I'm okay with my spongy, curly afro. Even if I don't really know what it will look like from day to day -- I can live with that.

I am slowly getting comfortable with the notion of actually having to DO my hair. I do miss my carefree barbershop days. And I am still thinking about going back to my super-low, sleek cut. But, until I make a definitive decision... I'll stick with my Miss Jessie's regimen and enjoy the little curlies all over my head.

Some days... they are really kind of cute. Post-chemo hair is a happy part of the breast cancer journey for me.

Always emotional about breast cancer and this journey

I've been reading and following along with a few of my pink ribbon sisters as they blog their way through their own health crisis. And it seems that no matter where I am on my journey, I can always connect deeply and sincerely with wherever they are in their journey.

My Fabulous Boobies| emotional about breast cancer, baby pacifierI have been buoyed and elated by some of their posts... and I've been saddened and overwhelmed by others. It really hurts me deeply to read about other people's pain. I guess I understand how some of you may feel reading about my issues, tears and such. Some days its just really hard.

Issues of fertility matter to young breast cancer survivors 

One of my favorite breast cancer bloggers is dealing with the issue of infertility... reading about her struggles with that tears me up. It is yet another really difficult and unfair part of the process of dealing with breast cancer when you're a young woman. Issues of fertility matter.

I keep trying to avoid thinking about my own fertility issues. I keep mentally crossing my fingers and toes that my current state of menopause is temporary and my fertility returns -- sooner rather than later. I don't have any guy in mind to father a child (laughs) but I have to admit that when I look at babies now, I just cry.

I've gotten pretty good at holding back my tears when I'm in public. But when I get home at night and crawl into my bed... sometimes I just break out in deep sobs and wonder when, how, if...

I remind myself that my journey isn't over and God grants miracles every day. I just hope that I'm on that list of miracles waiting to happen.

I'm sorry that this post is so somber. Especially after being so joyous the other day about rocking my scars and feeling all sexy... but the emotional ups and downs are part of this frustrating and overwhelming journey. Some days, I'm all smiles and glistening teeth. Other days, I'm teary-faced and puffy-eyed from crying.

Through it all... I know that I am blessed because I am still here.

Feeling sexy with all my scars hanging out...

Okay, by now you should know what the deal is. Nicole is on a mission to recapture her swagger, to pull the sexy back into her life. Breast cancer survivor or not, I’m still a sassy single girl and I want to feel that way every time I wake up and every time I walk through a door. You want to know why?

Because I love being a girl.

I’ve cried and stumbled through most of this journey. I’ve been sad and feeling low for the better part of the last year and a half. And while that sort of disposition is contrary to my natural effervescence, it is perfectly understandable. Dealing with cancer is hard. Its heavy and it takes a huge emotional toll on you – if you let it. (Which I did) But, I’m moving on past that. Its time.

I have decided that even though I am not perfectly pleased with my body as it is that’s no reason to dim my own shine. Most of us aren’t happy with our looks. We want longer hair or shorter hair. Straighter hair or curlier hair. A smaller nose or bigger boobs. Some of us want hips and others want to give away the hips they have. (shrug) It is… what it is. At some point you have to accept yourself, flaws and all… and just damn what you think other people will think of your shortcomings.

Before breast cancer, I liked feeling like a sexy girl. I didn’t go too far out of my conservative comfort zone to find that sexiness to be sure. But I did my own thing, in my own way. I learned to own my own space in the world.

And then I lost it. Probably somewhere in the hallways of George Washington University Hospital. (laughs) I’ve been dressing like a schlump for the longest time now. Wearing ill-fitting clothes because I didn’t want to shop for new things and my old things didn’t quite fit right anymore. But when you dress well, you feel better about yourself. And I NEED to feel good. (My cuteness cannot be confined to just my face…)

So, today I wore a sassy dress to work that shows a LOT of cleavage. And… well, my cleavage is crooked. And it’s a little misshapen. And its got a darkened area of skin (hyper-pigmentation from my radiation treatment) And its got a crazy scar going around my new breast.


(sigh) That felt good to release that into the air. I don’t care that someone sees my scars today. I don’t care that someone in my office may feel uncomfortable with my putting it all out there for them to see and acknowledge. I don’t really care about any of that. For me, that’s a huge leap forward. I’ve been terrified, scared to death, that showing my scars was going to be embarrassing for me and for whomever came into contact with me. I’ve been wearing anything and everything that covers my entire chest area because I didn’t think I should bare my imperfection to the world.

But you know what? I’m forcing myself to get over it. Life is just too short for me to continue to put these crazy restrictions on myself. Last summer I met the nicest guy. And the sweetest (yet strange) thing he said to me was that he wanted to lick my scar. He was talking about the tiny scar on my chest where my port was implanted. He had no idea that (at the time) I had a huge sideways scar on the left side of my body where my boobie was removed. He just saw a girl at a party and threw it out there. I think about that comment a lot.

Life is short. I’m tired of feeling afraid. I’m tired of not feeling comfortable in my own skin, in my own space. Breast cancer has taken a lot from me…I refuse to give up anything else to this disease.

Sorry. Today is MY day. And I feel pretty doggone good too.

Have I mentioned lately that hot flashes are evil?

Well... I think they are evil. Every doggone night I look forward to interrupted sleep (assuming my eyes actually think about closing without a sleep aid)... waking up drenched in sweat is not my idea of sexy nor fun. But it is my night-time reality.

Last night I took two advil pm pills so that I could sleep. [I finished my prescription of ambien a couple of weeks ago and am now relying on over-the-counter sleep aids to get me through the night.] Two hours later, I was still wide awake and wanting to be asleep, so I popped two more.

Yeah.  I know what you're thinking. "She's really not too bright, huh?" (laughs)

So no... I wasn't too surprised when I had difficulty waking up Sunday morning. I woke up really late and was very groggy. But I knew that having that much sleep aid in my system would leave me groggy and since I really didn't have anything critical to do, I was okay with it. However, as the day ended and I began to mentally prepare for the work week, I realized that I couldn't (or shouldn't) take anymore sleep aids because I couldn't afford to oversleep and be late for work. .

I decided to take a chance that my body would relax appropriately and allow me to sleep at a decent hour. Of course, I did not add in the factor of the night sweats... and now I'm screwed.

Currently it is the middle of the night -- around 2:30 a.m. -- I have to wake up early (really really early) because I move slowly and it takes me forever to get ready for work now. Its too late to hope for sleep. What little rest I could have had has been interrupted several times with night sweats. I've changed my pajamas -- slipping out of the satin red pjs and into a ratty old cotton t-shirt -- and I wish I could turn back time so I could get some sleep.

I just had to let you know ... in case you forgot or weren't paying attention -- HOT FLASHES & NIGHT SWEATS have to be the devil's product. What's really crazy is that the heat isn't even consistent. You can be going along just fine, feeling comfortable and relaxed and then wooosh! Sweat is pooling on your back, your face is dripping and your hair is becoming saturated. Since I now keep a standing fan going in my bedroom all the time... I get up and adjust the fan's output and get back in the bed. A few moments later... I'm cold. I've got wet, cold clothes sticking to me... and the breeze from the fan is making me shiver.

At that point... I do the unthinkable.. and turn on my electric blanket. (laughs)  Ten minutes later... I'm yanking it off and turning my body so that the fan is hitting me dead center.

These stupid shenanigans happen all night long. (laughs)

If I take my sleeping pill at an appropriate time, I'm good. Unfortunately over-the-counter medication isn't as precise as prescriptions... and sometimes it takes hours before they kick in.

Every night is an adventure.

Did I pick the right time to take my pills? Is the fan up high enough? Is the blanket on low enough? And so on.

Tonight, I didn't make the right decision. Which means that tomorrow will be a very long day at work. I don't know if I will sleep at all tonight.

I see Starbucks in my future...

Preparing for more surgery

I met with my plastic surgeon the other day. It was my 3 month follow-up appointment after my TRAM-flap procedure. All things considered -- 12 hours under anesthesia being operated on; 6 days in the ICU recuperating from the procedure; 6/7 weeks at home further recuperating; a loss of muscle strength in one arm; reduced energy; pain in my abdomen area following surgery -- I'm doing okay. My scars are healing well. My energy levels are slowly inching back up. My tummy doesn't feel as tight as it did before. (I used to feel like someone tightened me up so much that I couldn't stand up straight)

She was quite pleased with my progress. However, I take that with a grain of salt. (laughs)  I have learned that what the medical community sees as impressive is not always perfectly correlated to what the rest of the world sees as progress or improvement. Neither view is wrong, just different.

To my doctors and their staff... the fact that nothing is sticking out (hernia), I'm back at work, I didn't have to go back to the hospital for any complications... that means I'm doing well and progressing marvelously. Now, to the rest of the world who has no clue that I have been going through my own personal hell for the past 2 years... I look like a chick who might be a little lazy or a little overworked. I walk too slow, don't move so fast and refuse to lift anything that looks heavy. (laughs)

Its all about perspective.

I noticed that I am growing more comfortable with choosing whether or not to discuss my breast cancer status with people. I no longer feel as though I have Tourette's and can't control what comes out of my mouth. I went out last night to celebrate a friend's birthday. (had a blast too!) When I checked my coat and my bag, I got into a conversation with the guy working coat check and eventually shared with him that I was working on a blog and a book about breast cancer. Later that same evening, I ran into an acquaintance and when he inquired why he hadn't seen me in a few years... I simply said that I had been sick. Didn't go any further.

That would not have happened 6 months ago. (laughs) Thank God for growth and continued progress.

Back to the surgery... As I said, the surgeon was very pleased with my progress and wanted to start discussing the next step in the journey. (sigh) I am beginning to understand how some people get addicted/hooked on plastic surgery. It seems impossible to get everything you want done at one time. So, there is always another procedure waiting in the wings. At any rate, its time for me to start thinking about the next step to getting things back to "normal".

The next step for me is to have my natural breast reduced so that it matches the size of my reconstructed breast. Also, a little bit of additional contouring to my reconstructed breast so that it looks better. I'm going to have a little liposuction! (gasp) But its not what you think. (laughs) This will be some really small areas of fat removed around my reconstructed breast. Just to make things look prettier. (smile)

The beauty of this next step is that I won't be in the hospital for a week. The surgeon said that she can do it all in one day. (Sweet!) And that my recuperation will be about 2 weeks. (Even better!)  I definitely want it done and would like to have it done as soon as I can schedule it. But I have to coordinate with my manager (that sort of blows) and also keep in mind my travel schedule for the year. Right now, I'm aiming for early June but we'll see what works.

I am a bit scared but not overwhelmingly so because this procedure is far less dangerous, far less involved than the procedure I went through in November (TRAM flap). And afterwards... I will have CLEAVAGE and perky new boobies!

Fantastic!! My swagger will be at 1 million after its all said and done. (at least I hope so)

>>> Yay... cleavage!

Wearing the mask...

My survivor story was published today on Voices of Survivors. "My Voice" by Nicole McLean

It is an interesting story. I just re-read it and even though I wrote it, the rawness of it still surprised me a bit. Even if you're not a breast cancer survivor, I hope that you can relate to my issue of wearing the mask to hide your true feelings in life.

At any rate... thank you so much for supporting me on this journey. It keeps me going and gives me more strength than you can ever imagine.


PS. The other day I participated in a panel presentation for Blogalicious DC (Blogalicious). The event was "Creating our Conversations" and I had an absolute ball. This blogging stuff TOTALLY ROCKS! The blogosphere is amazing. I have never felt so intune and joyous in a community that I didn't create. Its fabulous. But... I wanted to share a story that one of the bloggers in the audience (my confession: Her blog is my blog's shero) wrote about the event.

Also, there is a video recap of the event here: Blogalicious DC Meetup

It has been a very good week for a sassy, sexy (sometimes weepy) breast cancer survivor and her Fabulous Boobies. :)

inching towards 100

I was asked to contribute a survivor story to a website dedicated to cancer survivors.  I can't remember how I connected with Lynn, the guy who started the site and the correlating non-profit -- but I think it was through some other breast cancer survivors on facebook. I have to say, social media is proving to be a fascinating and very helpful way to connect with other survivors and supporters. It is amazing.

I digress. Lynn asked me to contribute a story for the the site focused on what being a survivor means to me. Normally, I write with little planning. I write my blog based on how I'm feeling on a particular day or based upon something I've found in my internet travels. I accepted the opportunity not realizing that it would be particularly difficult to articulate what it means to me to be a breast cancer survivor.

I've been in particularly low spirits lately about my cancer journey and each time I tried to construct an article, it became a dirge of woe and tears. I know that it is just my mood at the moment and not entirely how I feel, so I waited until I was in a better place to write about being a survivor. I have to say, what I came up with surprised me.

I wrote about "wearing the mask" of being a confident and strong breast cancer survivor. We all wear masks in our lives to get along with others, to fit in, and to just keep things moving in a forward direction. What the mask represents, reflects and hides differs from person to person. I have had a lot of people ask me how I've gotten through this with grace, or how does it feel to be an inspiration to others. (laughs) All of that... that grace, that inspiration, that courage... that's the mask.

Writing for "Voices of Survivors" helps me to inch ever closer to my goal of submitting 100 posts/articles this year. I've declared 2010 my year of being like Lil' Wayne. (laughs) One random day I found myself watching one of those shows on a music channel (can't remember whether it was MTV or VH1) about celebrities. Lil Wayne was the subject and for some reason I was drawn into it. I think it was because I don't really know much about him or his music. I could probably name two of his songs, so I wouldn't be considered a fan, but the show about him was very interesting. I was stopped in my tracks when they explained that his popularity shot up after he appeared on 100 different song collaborations in one year.

That is BANANAS. His work ethic is crazy -- in a good way. And while I am not one of his biggest fans, I admire his tenacity and his drive and decided that if it was good enough for Weezy, its good enough for Nic. I'm putting my stamp everywhere I can this year... already I have contributed to a few blogs, and offered background information for a local playwright who is working on a play about breast cancer. Later today, I will be participating in a blogging forum for women of color... and more things will be coming.

Will he hold your purse?

I've never reposted an article from another website... but this one just struck such a chord with me... that I had to. And since I'm still feeling the love from Valentine's day... its appropriate.  Here's to all the men who hold the hands (and the purses) of the women who fight breast cancer.

All my single ladies... find a guy like this. :) 


Will he hold your purse?

As a breast cancer doctor, I’ve learned how to spot a devoted husband -- a skill I try to share with my single and searching girlfriends.

By Robin Schoenthaler
October 4, 2009

“Everything I know about marriage I learned in my cancer clinic.” I’ve been known to say this to my friends, maybe more than once, maybe even causing some of them to grind their teeth and grumble about Robin and Her Infernal Life Lessons.

I can’t help myself. I’ve worked as a breast cancer doctor for 20 years, I’ve watched thousands of couples cope with every conceivable (and sometimes unimaginable) kind of crisis, and I’ve seen all kinds of marriages, including those that rise like a beacon out of the scorched-earth terror that is a cancer clinic.

It’s a privilege to witness these couples, but the downside is I find myself muttering under my breath when my single female friends show me their ads for online dating. “Must like long walks on beach at sunset, cats,” they write, or “French food, kayaking, travel.” Or a perennial favorite: “Looking for fishing buddy; must be good with bait.” These ads make me want to climb onto my cancer doctor soapbox and proclaim, “Finding friends with fine fishing poles may be great in the short term. But what you really want to look for is somebody who will hold your purse in the cancer clinic.”

It’s one of the biggest take-home lessons from my years as an oncologist: When you’re a single woman picturing the guy of your dreams, what matters a heck of lot more than how he handles a kayak is how he handles things when you’re sick. And one shining example of this is how a guy deals with your purse.

I became acquainted with what I’ve come to call great “purse partners” at a cancer clinic in Waltham. Every day these husbands drove their wives in for their radiation treatments, and every day these couples sat side by side in the waiting room, without much fuss and without much chitchat. Each wife, when her name was called, would stand, take a breath, and hand her purse over to her husband. Then she’d disappear into the recesses of the radiation room, leaving behind a stony-faced man holding what was typically a white vinyl pocketbook. On his lap. The guy -- usually retired from the trades, a grandfather a dozen times over, a Sox fan since date of conception -- sat there silently with that purse. He didn’t read, he didn’t talk, he just sat there with the knowledge that 20 feet away technologists were preparing to program an unimaginably complicated X-ray machine and aim it at the mother of his kids.

I’d walk by and catch him staring into space, holding hard onto the pocketbook, his big gnarled knuckles clamped around the clasp, and think, “What a prince.”

I’ve worked at cancer clinics all around Boston since then, and I’ve seen purse partners from every walk of life, every age and stage. Of course, not every great guy accompanies his wife to her oncology appointment every day -- some husbands are home holding down the fort, or out earning a paycheck and paying the health insurance premiums -- but I continue to have a soft spot for the pocketbook guy. Men like him make me want to rewrite dating ads from scratch.

WANTED: A partner for richer or poorer and for better or worse and absolutely, positively in sickness and in health. A partner for fishing and French food and beach walks and kayak trips, but also for phone calls from physicians with biopsy results. A guy who knows that while much of marriage is a 50-50 give-and-take, sometimes it’s more like 80-20, and that’s OK, even when the 80-20 phase goes on and on. A man who truly doesn’t care what somebody’s breast looks like after cancer surgery, or at least will never reveal that he’s given it a moment’s thought. A guy who’s got some comfort level with secretions and knows the value of a cool, damp washcloth. A partner who knows to remove the computer mouse from a woman’s hand when she types phrases like “breast cancer death sentence” in a Google search. And, most of all, a partner who will sit in a cancer clinic waiting room and hold hard onto the purse on his lap.

Robin Schoenthaler is a radiation oncologist at the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology at Emerson Hospital in Concord. Send comments to Story ideas Send yours to Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

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