Remembering Robin - Race for the Cure

A year ago, I was recuperating from seven and a half weeks of radiation therapy. I was a one-boobie wonder – scared, scabbed, lopsided and swollen. I had the peach fuzz of a newborn on my head and my skin was a rainbow of varying shades of brown, black and purple. In other words, I was finishing up my treatment for breast cancer.


During the time I was fighting to get through all those treatments and keep a somewhat sunny disposition (I sort of failed at that part actually) a former colleague of mine was losing her fight with the same monster. Robin and I worked together over 10 years ago. We didn’t work directly together however, I always found her to be helpful and kind whenever I had a problem. She was one of those folks that you always just had a good feeling about. You know?


Learning that she was dying as I was finishing my treatment was startling and scary. And it made me more angry at this disease that seemed to just randomly choose people to take down. Robin was a good sister. She was a good friend to just about everyone at our company and I’m sure that she left an indelible mark on her personal friends and family as well. I often reflect that I didn’t have the energy to go and see her before she was gone. And for weeks after her death, I worried and chastised myself because I didn’t force myself to go and see her. I should have. I really should have. But since I can’t turn the clock back and make that right, I will push forward and do what I can do.


I want you to look at her face and realize that she represents millions of women (including myself) who struggle with this disease. Some of us make it – like myself – others of us are called home. If you are participating in the Race for the Cure, all I can say is THANK YOU. If you are not participating, but have made (or plan to make) a donation, THANK YOU. If you’re still on the fence… I can only ask you to consider doing anything that you can to help ensure that not too many more Robins have to be lost to us before a cure is found.

Therapy is a beautiful tool

Therapy is a beautiful tool | My Fabulous Boobies

Learning to understand the stress and anxiety of breast cancer treatment is key to learning to manage it

Well... after my post yesterday I still had a full on anxiety/panic attack anyway. For about an hour, I was heaving and writhing on the floor... crying, shaking and twitching. Looking and feeling a mess. Wondering where the "off" switch was on my life. It was a lot going on.

It was scary and difficult. It was hard to convince myself that I wasn't going to die in that moment and that no matter what I was dealing with or going through, that I was going to be okay. I struggled to calm myself and reset my mind.

Panic attacks are NO fun

Have you ever had a really ugly cry? I mean, snot everywhere, tears that just jump off your face, ugly crying. A panic attack is like that but ranked up like 10x.

I am emotional, and I cry easily so tears don't scare me much. But when my mind continues to unravel and I feel like there is no bottom, no way out of the madness... and my body reacts harshly to those thoughts... that's when I become afraid. That's when I'm in full on panic mode.

After I was under control a bit, I called my therapist and asked to be squeezed into her schedule. I knew that if I didn't see her as soon as possible, the likelihood of another panic attack was high. And there was no telling where it may happen -- the subway, the office, on the street, who knew? Better safe than sorry. I wanted to handle things immediately.

The key to a pleasant therapy experience is a great rapport with your therapist

I like my therapist. I really do. I truly value her service to my life. I understand that a lot of people don't believe in therapy, or think that it isn't a necessity to their life, but I know that I've been helped by my therapist so I always encourage others to give it a try when their life warrants it.

I haven't seen my therapist since before I started my chemotherapy. We sat down and caught up and then tried to figure out what was bothering me... so much that I was having nightmares and panic attacks. She found it really amazing that I had not had a panic attack at all during my treatment period. For all that I have been through, a moment where the world crashes around your head doesn't seem too far-fetched. But honestly, I never imagined that I would have another panic attack in my life.

Sometimes the thing that is bothering you, isn't totally about you

After discussing all the details of the past two years, my fears and my concerns... we stumbled on what was giving me grief. Turns out, it wasn't me that I was panicking over. It was my dad. This Friday marks the second anniversary of the day he almost died from a brain aneurysm. I had not realized just how scared I was at the idea of his death. And those emotions were lost in the shuffle of my own stuff because of breast cancer.

Unexpressed emotions will find a way to come out. It isn't always a good time.

The interesting thing about therapy for me is that its like having a good conversation with an old friend. It never feels like what I see on television -- some strange person grilling me about my life, my childhood, etc. It always feels like a talk with someone who knows me really well and wants to help me see what I'm missing. Generally speaking, I am in tune with myself emotionally. That doesn't mean that I always understand what I'm doing or what I'm feeling but I do acknowledge those feelings and allow them to come. As long as I do that, I will stay balanced and okay.

I have a lot of things on my mind -- like everyone else -- and I have to make some decisions and changes soon. But at least now I know that the likelihood of me having another panic attack is low. That is a good thing.

Anxiety/panic attacks and breast cancer

There is a train of thought among breast cancer survivors that stress could be a principle reason why someone gets breast cancer. I don't believe that there are any studies that can connect stress directly to breast cancer -- but that doesn't stop the conversation from going on among survivors. We all know that stress can cause havoc in our lives and that it is detrimental to our health. But, the nature of the world that we live in leavese many of us  feeling like you simply have to deal with it. Stress is a part of life -- for all of us.

Similar to stress is anxiety. The worry about something that may happen in the future or that has happened in the past. However, anxiety is usually based upon our imagined fears moreso than something that has actually happened. It is the eternal... "what if" question(s) that pushes us into a bad mental and physical space.

I mentioned recently that I was sick all last week. And after having a low-key but fun weekend, I thought I was ready to return to work and get back into the swing of things. But... instead, this morning as I was preparing for work... I started falling down the rabbit hole directly into an anxiety attack. I haven't had one of these in years. Until just now. (which is why I'm writing at the moment... writing calms me and brings me peace and I needed to bring myself down... before I got too far out of control)

During an anxiety attack, or a panic attack, the person literally feels as though some impending danger is rising against them -- possibly to the point of death. The escalating tension can push you so far that you start to hyper-ventilate, shake, cry... and so forth. Your body will react to the anxiety if you don't find a way to calm yourself down.

It is embarrassing to write these words. Knowing that thousands of people will read about one of my deepest shames doesn't make me happy this morning. However, in order to deal with anxiety, you have to know how to recognize when you've been triggered and you have to be able to find a way to calm yourself. Otherwise, you can end up in a really bad space. Considering how fragile I am in general, I would guess that my anxiety could easily land me back in the hospital. I'm in no hurry to sit in the emergency room, or have an ambulance come and take me away this morning. So I'm writing. I'm purging. I'm telling you what I'm going through... so hopefully I will push past this and be able to get back to a good place.

Over the weekend, I had an outrageous nightmare. It woke me out of my sleep -- which was really surprising because I was very comfortable not thinking about much when I went to bed. My nightmare was ridiculous but it scared me deeply. Caused me to get out of bed, move to another room and pull out a book to read. I couldn't close my eyes again. That nightmare stuck with me and I realized last night that my fear of it recurring kept me from falling asleep.

Those are classic signs of a problem. I haven't talked to my therapist yet. I actually haven't seen her since shortly after my diagnosis in 2008. Without talking to her (or anyone) I'm going to guess that I am probably dealing with issues of post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Writing will help me in moments like this -- when I need to do something quickly to move me from that scary place to a calm space. But it won't fully fix the problem. So, I'm going to have to do something and fast.

My breathing rate has calmed down, and my heart has stopped racing. So I will resume getting ready. I hope that none of you will think that I'm losing it because I shared this. But if I have to bear the strange looks and hushed giggles of people who think I'm losing it after all that I've been through, rather than continue to have moments of anxiety that feel so real that I think my life may be ending... I'll take the ridicule.

And give myself a chance to push beyond this next step of healing.


PS. Have I said lately how much I truly HATE cancer? Well, I do. (sigh)

Getting past the week from hell

*Update May 2015:  When I originally wrote this post in 2010, I was nearing the end of my active treatment. I was mentally exhausted and physically not as strong as I was prior to breast cancer. I was transitioning back to "normal" life after treatment but it was far more challenging than I'd imagined.*

It is just one thing after another...I can't catch a break

First bad break:  A stomach virus that kept me out of work for a week

This has been a hard week for me. I overdid my fun last weekend and set myself up for a bacterial infection that kept me out of work all week. Five days of fighting a stomach virus is NOT FUN. A week of eating like a bird is not fun. But, I feel like I contributed to my own dilemma by not keeping in mind that I cannot do now what I may have been able to do 20 years ago. I just can't hang like I used to. It's okay. I'm older now. I will make adjustments. 

I've been making adjustments to my life since my diagnosis. I guess I thought that moving out of treatment and back into "new normal" would be a bit easier. *sigh* Nothing is quite the same though. I'm still adjusting to being back at work. I feel so guilty about being sick and out on disability for so long. Everything seems foreign and overwhelming. But... I need this job so I have to figure out how to make this work. 

Second bad break:  Realizing that wanting to date is not the same as actually putting yourself out there and going on dates

I am an emotional BABY. There is a guy in my life that I like. But I am having a difficult time finding my equilibrium with liking him.  I don't know what to do now. How I would have acted before feels foreign and frightening now. Ahhh... who am I? How do I do this? The last relationship I was in... he abandoned me while I was in chemotherapy. And we broke up after my mastectomy. I have no idea how to date in this new body, new normal situation. 

As much as I like to believe that I want to be in a relationship and that I would like to be married one day.... I really don't know whether that is possible at all. I am distrustful. I am scared. I am hesitant. I am unsure of what I believe from moment to moment. Its like I can't trust myself to acknowledge what I see and accept it for what it is. Literally, my mind is racing back and forth between thoughts when I even considerd dating. I'm absolutely terrified of being rejected. I feel ugly. I feel broken. I'm so exhausted. And yet, I know that I can't get married if I never go on a date. If I never have enough courage to even tell a man that I'm interested... I'll never move forward. 

Why is this so hard?

Sigh. I know I'm a work in progress when it comes to relationships, affection, love, etc. I've known that about myself for a long time. My heart and my head simply don't speak the same language. Makes it difficult to trust my own choices. If I stay and move forward... have I chosen a good person? Will he be in it for the long haul? Can I make him happy and bring something good to his life? Can he do the same for me? On the other hand... If I leave and cut my losses... did I miss out on a great person? Is this fear talking or am I being logical? Did I miss the context clues that showed me that he was not the one? One part of me says one thing, another part says something totally different. This is confusing. 

Third bad break: Another big bill just hit my life... my savings account is dwindling fast. Why is this all so expensive?

Every time I have to go through another procedure, appointment, etc. relating to this stupid breast cancer, I end up farther and farther behind the economic eight-ball. I'm tired of being broke! I make a pretty average salary. In the area where I live, its better than some but far from what many of my friends and peers earn. I try to live within my own means and not act as flossy as I may feel. I know that I don't make six or seven figures and I act accordingly. But breast cancer doesn't allow me to live a modest life either. And that sucks.

If I was experiencing difficulties because I bought 10 pairs of shoes too many, I would be okay. Well, not okay but I'd understand the steps that I needed to take in order to get myself back together. Stop buying frivilous shoes. Problem solved. Over-spending on shoes, jewelry, handbags, books, watches, random weekend trips, fancy meals... I've done all of that. And when I realized that I was living beyond my salary, I cut back. It took some time but I eventually accepted that more income is better than more spending. I learned to bargain shop. And I learned how not to spend out of boredom or emotional struggles. 

But when the bills come because you're doing what you need to do to get your life back after breast cancer... it feels very unfair and it seems overwhelmingly difficult to get a handle on. How do you bargain shop when you need a surgical procedure? Or physical therapy? Or medications? I know that a lot of people end up in bankruptcy court because of medical costs. I am trying not to be one of those people. But it gets more and more difficult every month because the costs continually add up. The bills continue to keep coming. I am growing more and more tired and frustrated about it. Every choice about my healthcare becomes this crazy mathematical equation where I try to figure out the cost/worth of my time, my health, my job, my finances and ultimately my happiness and my joy.

I just want to be happy. I have no idea how to do that anymore.

I want to enjoy what life I have left. I don't know whether that will be 5 years or 50... but I want to enjoy it. All of it. I don't like to whine about my life because I know that to many people, even with the breast cancer experience, being single, never married and childless seems like a dream. Time to think whenever I want. Time to do whatever I choose. Money to spend however I see fit. No one screaming my name, needing me to take them here or there or just generally expecting me to show up in their life and make it all better. (shrug) I know that many people envy my freedom. And for the most part, I understand. I don't always agree with their perspective but I do understand where it comes from.

I too have my moments of envy. I envy mothers and their children. I envy happily married couples. I envy people who earn far more money than I do. I envy people who have never had to deal with cancer in their bodies. But, for all of that envy and wistful thinking... I know that each person's life story presents its own challenges and difficulties. I look at those friends and family members who are in love (either with their spouse or their children or both) and I sigh. I envision myself as wife and mother... and in my version of the movie, its wonderful all the time. Now we both know that it is not possible to be happy and wonderful all the time. But... that's my dream.

More debt. Another dream dies... 

Today, another bill came that I wasn't prepared for. As a result, I am another $4,000 in debt. Which means that something I wanted to do will have to be pushed to the back burner for some other time. I would cry but I'm just getting used to my dreams being pushed aside. Perhaps one day, I'll figure out a way to get beyond this debt and back on track to saving for my dream trip to South Africa and my first house. Maybe.

My oncologist saved my life but I'm wondering whether this new life will ever be mine again.

Where are the black people with cancer?

Where are the black people with cancer? | My Fabulous Boobies

Where are the black people with cancer? 

I was just looking at a developing story on the New York Times blog about life after cancer. NYTimes - Picture Your Life After Cancer  And I was thinking about submitting my picture and a brief story to the mix. But as I looked more closely, I was amazed that there wasn't at least one other brown face. Not one.

How could this be possible in the NYTimes? I mean, this is a global paper. Don't black folks read the NYTimes?

*That was tongue-in-cheek humor. I mean, I'm a black folks and I was reading it. So of course, black people read the NYTimes!*

Why so few images of black women with breast cancer? Or is it my imagination? 

I know that cancer is pervasive in our country. I know that millions of people are living and surviving this horrible disease right now. The numbers for breast cancer survivors rattle around in my brain every day. But whenever there is a story or a book or a movie about cancer... I look for faces like mine. And I rarely see them. It is so amazing and yet maddening that we are not often depicted in pictures or mainstream stories. I don't quite get it.

Don't get me wrong. I do identify with the stories of my sisters of other races who battle breast cancer. I really do. But I am a black woman and I like to see stories and pictures of people fighting this battle who look like me, think like me, showcase cultural references that are similar to mine and so forth. I am constantly surprised that our stories just aren't out there too much.

I suppose that means I should do something to help change that.

*Update September 2015: In the five years since I wrote this post, I can say that I have been seeing lots of images and stories in the media about black women with breast cancer. It always makes me feel included to see faces like mine. Now, I find myself wondering where are my Asian sisters, Native American sisters and my Latina sisters. (laughs) I'm not being difficult. But I know that diverse images do a lot to tell the stories about breast cancer as well as help all of us to realize that breast cancer can happen to anyone. Guess that means that we've still got work to do.*

They say that sex is different after breast cancer treatment

Breast cancer is a trip. The tricks that it plays on your mind are vicious and severe. Even after your body has healed from the treatment and the medications and the surgeries... you still may feel unlike yourself. Part of getting back to normal includes dealing with intimacy issues -- including sex but not just sex. It can be very difficult just to be close and intimate with someone. So many fearful thoughts are always just under the surface ready to throw a sister completely off in a moment.

Fighting against the mental images of your body as mutilated and unappealing is really hard.... And adding to the misery are physical symptoms that may really throw you for a loop. You may have to deal with issues of vaginal dryness, loss of sensation (due to damage to nerve endings), early menopause, and other symptoms. And there is also all of the emotional baggage that goes along with breast cancer that can come between a woman and her lusty side finding satisfaction between the sheets.

As we age, our sex life does change and become different. Hopefully the changes are good ones -- mainly because after doing it for awhile, you now know what you're doing and the pleasurable parts are easier to get to. (wink)  But what if you are a sister who is trying to figure out how to get back to being active and lusty after feeling like a pin cushion for breast cancer for a year or two? Or what if you're a married woman who finds that her husband is having a really difficult time being intimate with you now that its time to get down? How do you manage these issues?

You know how? You make a plan. You treat yourself nicely and you take time to learn and relearn your body.

One thing I'm finding really wild is that contrary to what I've been expecting, my sexual libido seems to be getting higher and not lower. Now, there was a long stretch of time when it was non-existent. But those days are gone. Long gone. Long, long LONG gone. (laughs) That's good and its bad. Its good because that means that when I do have sex it isn't painful -- as it is for some women. And if I can manage to relax my mind, it is absolutely enjoyable. I am grateful and thankful for those things. However, I don't think that what I'm experiencing is all that normal. Its great for me but I know a lot of women who don't have this same experience. Many of my pink ribbon sisters struggle with finding their equalibrium sexually and they don't know how to navigate that area of their life anymore.

I will be honest, it requires a level of trust that reminds me of my early days of sexual exploration. The fear that I have sometimes when it comes to a moment of intimacy is palpable. But, I can usually get over it when I remind myself that I've chosen to share myself with someone who cares for me and sees me as beautiful. You would be amazed at how much a compliment from the right guy can turn your whole world around.

In reading different breast cancer message boards and blogs, some of the stories about sex -- rather the lack of sex after breast cancer -- are absolutely heartbreaking. There are women in the world who really feel lost, alone and unlovable after going through the hardest thing they probably have ever experienced. It is really sad and unfair. But I want to offer a little advice and a little hope that your sex life can be resurrected after breast cancer. Because it really can.

First things first... you might want to buy some toys if you don't have any. If you do, then great! Pull 'em out and get reacquainted with yourself. If you don't have any, make it a lusty date and take your man with you to the store so he can help you pick out some stuff. (If that is just too much for you, you can order things from the privacy of your home on-line and have it delivered to your door in non-descript packaging.)

My second suggestions will be to add some sexy clothes/lingerie to your shopping list. Oh, and be sure to get some good lubricants too -- try something new, something flavored perhaps.

Third suggestion... plan a romantic date with yourself. Yes, with yourself. Get some champagne and maybe some chocolate-covered strawberries (okay, that's my personal favorite thing) maybe some pineapple... whatever you like. Put on something that makes you feel sexy -- something soft to the touch preferably -- and then just spend some time remembering what you like and how you feel in your own skin.

A big part of the difficulty with finding your mojo after breast cancer is that after going through months (or years) of treatment, your body simply does not feel the same. You spend doctor visit after doctor visit, flashing your body to strangers. It becomes numbing after awhile. So you have to make an effort to get back to thinking of yourself as a sexy individual and not just a medical case. You're a woman, a beautiful sexy woman who has exhibited more strength than most people can imagine tolerating. You are a hot girl -- you just have to remind yourself of that.

After some time with yourself, make a date with someone you find attractive. (I do mean your spouse if you're married) Don't get too far down the road with it, just see if you have any chemistry. Do you feel anything when you're with him? That sort of thing. Butterflies can show up when you're not expecting them to. You just have to go with the flow.

I'm not going to dictate to you how you should go about having sexual intimacy but I will say that talking will help. Tell your partner if you're feeling scared or vulnerable. It will help ease the tension if he knows that you're not thinking that he's doing poorly (laughs) but instead may be worried about something else. Do as much as you want to do... and nothing that you feel uncomfortable doing.

The reality is that for us single girls, there may be men who don't find you attractive or who don't want to deal with your breast cancer baggage. You know what I'm going to say to that, right? Eff 'em. You don't need THAT guy. The guy you're looking for will look at you and see beauty and tell you that. The guy who really wants to be the one who helps you find your mojo... that's the one you're looking for. Because part of the way that we see beauty in ourselves is to see it in someone else's eyes when they look at us.

Now, let me be honest. The possibilities that sex can be difficult and/or painful does exist. But like every other muscle in your body, you've got to use this one in order for it to stay in top working condition. (laughs) Depending on the type of treatment you've received, you can experience serious dryness issues and even atrophy problems. (yes, that does mean what you think it does) Whatever you're experiencing -- fears, pains, confusion -- you absolutely can and should discuss them with your oncologist or your gynecologist at your next appointment. Getting back into the groove sexually after cancer is difficult. And it does require that you be good to yourself. But it is totally possible.

Totally. (wink)

navigating the new normal

I just read a blog entry by another breast cancer survivor. We are almost the same age and she was diagnosed a short time after I was. We were introduced by a mutual friend and have become good internet friends from the first conversation. In her most recent blog post, she discussed that she finished her breast cancer treatment about a month ago -- and just the day before her 40th birthday -- and she was having difficulty navigating the "new normal".

I felt a wistful longing when I read her post because I have the same feelings of crazy guilt, unsteadiness and fear of the unknown. Its been a year since I finished my radiation treatment. Its been over 6 months since I had my last herceptin treatment. Its been a year and a half since my final chemotherapy infusion. And, as horrible as all of those stages of this fight were -- I miss it.

I'm not totally crazy. And I'm not saying that I miss being sick. But I miss the cocoon of warmth and love... and safety... that grew to be my "normal" during my treatment. I miss the comfort I felt knowing that someone was working diligently to make me better. That someone was taking control of whatever went wrong in my system and caused me to have cancer in the first place and they were fixing it; fixing me. So, when Alaina remarked in her blog that she was secretly feeling guilty about longing for more doctor appointments, more life-saving treatments, etc. I totally understood that feeling. I've been living this feeling for awhile... too afraid to really look at it head on though.

I can't be saying or feeling that I want to go back to having cancer. But in way, that's what it feels like. I feel stained. Even though, right now I'm living in NED-land (NED= no evidence of disease), I feel tainted and stained. I feel like the cancer left a mark on me -- more than just my scars -- but a mark on my heart and in my soul that I cannot shake.

It never goes away. No matter how much I try to avoid the feeling, I still FEEL like the cancer-girl. I still identify with those feelings, those fears. I still look in the mirror and see a totally different woman than the one who existed the day before I got the call confirming my cancer diagnosis. I am so different now. I'm not as good, not as sharp, not as together... as I'd like to believe I used to be. I'm scared (still) a lot of the time about everything. And even when I don't think I'm thinking about it -- my actions tell me that I am still worried, still living like a scared person.

These days... I am over-compensating for the time I feel that I missed. I am guilty of doing dumb things with little forethought because I need to feel differently about my life. I want to show the world this really brave face. I want to be this super-pulled together sexy, confidant woman and she... lives on the edge a little bit, she's the life of the party, she's unafraid to date and dance and drink and laugh. Because she's practically a super-hero right now.

Breast cancer survivor girl!! Leaps tall buildings in a single bound. Has her entire life changed in a moment but... she bounces back better than ever and ready to take on the world!

Oh, but I rarely feel like that girl. Now, there are days when I do feel empowered and bold. But, many days I still feel small and weak and fragile. And its incongruent to feel that way when I am supposed to be healed and back to normal. Good as new.

I don't know. I'm not sure whether other survivors feel as conflicted as I do many days. I imagine that they do. Alaina said that she's taking it one day at a time, and simply putting one foot in front of the other. I think that is a great way to take this on. Because, at the end of the day, all you have is right now; this moment. Nothing more.

I've been mistreating myself trying to recapture something I lost when I was diagnosed with cancer. Mistreating myself by not eating properly, not getting enough rest... mistreating myself by partying too hard, not accepting that I may really need to slow down -- not speed up. I keep thinking... "I missed 2 years of my life fighting breast cancer". But is that what happened? Really? Because looking at this blog... I was doing a lot of living even while I was fighting for my life. I wasn't partying a lot but I was alive.

Can I be even more honest and more frank? (Is that even possible?)  I don't like my life too much right now. I mean, overall, I'm happy I think. I'm cool. But I'm not estatic about my life. I'm searching for something but I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for. I just know that the new normal isn't as much fun as I thought it would be.

I don't really know what I'm feeling... but I know that the fear of recurrence still strangles me in my sleep. I know that the face in the mirror looks older and harder than it did 2 years ago. I know that the scars that zig zag across my body recount a story that I don't always want to remember.

Some days, its just really very hard. But then... I guess that is what normal is too sometimes, right??

Physical therapy is great

After my last debacle on the airplane trying to lift my baggage over my head to store it... I accepted that I needed some real help with this arm. (reason-number-6541835-why-i-hate-breast cancer)

I don't have a really good reason/excuse why I had not tried physical therapy before now -- other than I simply did not want to put one more thing on my already over-crowded schedule. But between the lyphedema (swelling) and the very limited range of motion with my left arm, I simply could not avoid the issue any longer. Not if I was trying to actually function well in this world. Since I do so many things alone -- purely a preference -- it was time for me to accept that I wasn't in the best of shape to be jetting around the country with one arm that was practically useless.

So... I dug around in that pit I call a bedroom... and found the sheet of recommended hospitals/lyphedema specialists that I was given at my breast care center and I made a choice. In actuality, my choice was pretty much random and not based on any research at all. I just trusted my gut and went on a limb. I chose Georgetown Hospital to be evaluated and treated for my lyphedema. (Honestly, I chose Georgetown because it was the closest to my job.) But, now that I've been there twice, I am very pleased with my choice.

First of all... my therapist is super nice. I don't know why this surprises me but it does. Her name is Jennifer and she's very knowledgeable about lyphedema and its treatment. A lot of her patients are breast cancer survivors.  That bit of knowledge alone put me at ease.  In the two visits that we've had, I've learned that my issue isn't severe (thank God) and that exercise and massage really do help.

One the one hand, I feel very silly walking my fingers up and down the wall -- that's one of my exercises -- but seeing how much it has actually helped keeps me from feeling like I'm wasting my time. The massage that she does to help move the lymphatic fluid back into my muscles as well as the work she does trying to relax my muscles that have tightened/shortened since my surgery is great. Its amazing what a little assistance can do to make your life better.

Once again, I am thoroughly grateful for great health insurance.

Jennifer mentioned to me that some of the muscles in my shoulder area are so tight, they feel like stone. How crazy is that? I've been walking around for a year, hitched up on one side -- trying to make things better/easier on myself and actually making things worse I think. But, like the saying goes... when you know better, you do better.

I still haven't totally gotten the hang of all my exercises yet. And truthfully, while they look so very simple and easy... my arm and shoulder do hurt a bit afterwards. But they work.

I'm travelling again. And this time, I lifted my computer bag into the overhead storage all by myself. It was still a little bit of a struggle but I definitely felt much better about my effort. So... I don't know how much Georgetown and Jennifer are charging my health insurance company for this work but I can honestly say its worth every penny.

Physical therapy is a beautiful thing.

Still navigating the choppy waters of intimacy after breast cancer

As I have mentioned a few times, I follow a breast cancer message board somewhat regularly. One of the topics that I have found interest in is a thread about sexual intimacy after breast reconstruction. As a single girl dealing with menopausal issues (thanks AGAIN chemotherapy for that gift)… I find myself often in the grips of hormonal surges that would make a teen-age boy blush. I try to maintain my composure during these surges and continue to behave as a lady should but it gets difficult. Really difficult. If I were a dog, I’d probably be humping trees on a regular basis. Luckily, I’m no dog.


That said, I find it very interesting (and helpful) to see other women facing the same doubts and concerns about sexual intimacy and relationship intimacy that I find myself thinking about all the time. And I’ve been learning a lot about ways to navigate these choppy waters. Its all new to most of us. And since so many of us are single in this particular discussion, it has different ramifications (I would guess) than what women who are in marriages or long-term committed relationships face in the aftermath of breast cancer.


I am still quite shy about my body. I never was much of a “porn star” in the bedroom from that perspective (laughs). But now, I find myself making odd adjustments and covering things up this way and that whenever I’m in a position to be intimate with someone. It is odd and a tad frustrating, but its where my comfort is right now so I roll with it.


Side note: I will have a surprise to unveil later on (maybe a few weeks from now) – my way of dealing with this body image issue – and it is my sincere hope that it goes well and helps in the ways that I think that it will.


Beyond the sexual intimacy issue – because it isn’t only about the physical act of making love with someone – there is the issue of just INTIMACY with a man period. I am closed off emotionally and in some ways, it is annoying me to no end. Though I understand why I am the way that I am – and I know that I am not the only woman in the world fighting this emotional battle after fighting the physical one – that knowledge doesn’t make any of this any easier.


I am having a difficult time just relaxing and allowing myself to feel anything too deep with a guy. I have had a few very nice men come my way trying to get to know me better and establish an intimate bond (not just sexual) with me. And I’ve found myself very actively pushing them away.


Does that make any sense at all? I want to be close to someone and yet, I’m doing everything possible to make it impossible to do that. (hanging head in shame)  I’m trying to be better though. In full disclosure, Nicole has always had some difficulty connecting (and maintaining that connection) with guys. No real excuses… I’m like most people afraid of getting hurt if I allow someone to get too close.


One thing that I’ve noticed on the message boards is that several of the women who post somewhat regularly are opting to just take commitment off the table completely. They will date. They will hang out in groups. They may even be sexually intimate with someone. But many of them are just like me – terrified of bringing someone into this world of breast cancer. I’ve had some intense conversations with different men along the way on this journey and many of them have assured me that “a real man” wouldn’t back away from dealing with a woman who was fighting breast cancer (or had beaten it and was dealing with the aftermath). But, there’s real talk and then there’s real life. And sometimes real life leaves you alone and in the cold. Real talk.  


That said, there is someone who is interesting me a bit at the moment. Not sure how long the interest will last or whether things will progress any farther than they have but – sigh – I’m really going to give it a try to be open to just allowing someone inside to get to know me more intimately.


Whew. That hurt just to write that. (sigh) So much work to do. (laughs)


ahhh... the joy of a spring cold

I'm back from my birthday vacation trip. Miami was beautiful and sunny and hot... just like I expected it to be. I had a fantastic time and got a spectacular tan -- using 85 and 100 spf sunblock too. However... I also came home with a bad case of the sniffles.

I'm blaming all the air conditioning... but it could have come from the airplane or anywhere. (shrug) I am miserable. But... one thing I can say is that during the course of my breast cancer treatment, I have accumulated a lot of medical supplies. So... I'm hopeful that I can either kick this cold in the butt OR at least ride it out without feeling totally miserable for the entire course.

*shaking my head*  Only Nicole would go away to one of the hottest cities in the country and come home with a cold. (laughs)

You don't really want to talk to me on the phone right now... I am sure that I sound awful. Will be going to bed early because I go back to work tomorrow.

I'll be back with some good breast cancer topics in a few days. I need to rest and drink some juice.


I am blessed to see another year. Two years ago, I wasn't convinced that I'd see this birthday. But here I am. (smile) And what a journey it has been.

I'm back in Miami celebrating with friends (actually I typed up this blog entry the night before I departed and set it to post on my actual birthday - yep, I cheated) but I wanted to take a moment and give thanks to God and to all of my friends and family members for praying me through these past 2 years.

I am so blessed and very grateful for every prayer that was uttered in my name. I have surely been protected by angels along the way. I have received the best medical care and have been supported by my family in ways that I don't think I will ever be able to repay.

There are things that I have lost during this journey but the fact that I am alive to experience more joy makes up for any losses and any sadness.

Since it is my birthday... I am supposed to get a birthday wish, right? Well... I wish for many, many more birthdays. Many, many more days of laughter. Many, many more opportunities to love (to fall in love and to be loved in return). Many, many more days of worrying about insignificant things like... whether I should buy myself cute leopard print shoes. Many, many more days of smiling and laughing and just being silly.

I wish to continue to be here. Present in this moment and awake to the possibilities of everything the world has to offer me.

That is my birthday wish.

Audacity Tees

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