I need a good cover story

I've been wearing these lymphedema bandages for a few weeks now. And I've gotten used to the way that they look. Sort of. They aren't sexy and they do not go very well with my wardrobe... but it doesn't bother me as much because my arm is really going down pretty well. I can see progress and it is making me happy.

My issue is that people I see on the street are amazed at the bandages. I am stopped constantly and asked.. "what happened to your arm?".


I suppose that it is startling to see a gorgeous lady (that would be me) strolling down the street like nothing is wrong with her arm bandaged up to the shoulder. A bit strange to see I'm sure. But it is my reality right now. Here's what's strange about the constant questions though... I simply don't feel like taking advantage of the obvious "teaching" moment.

Normally -- rather, for the past two years, I've taken every opportunity given to me (and forced more than a few) to educate people about breast cancer.  I have had what I call... "breast cancer Tourette's" for the longest time. Just could not help myself from responding to anything that opened the door for me to discuss my journey with breast cancer. But I don't feel like sharing all that right now with every stranger I see.

It is strange for me. I can see the genuine concern in their eyes... but it feels like a chore to say...
oh, I have lymphedema (which just means that my arm is swollen) because I had a mastectomy about a year ago... by the way I am a breast cancer survivor.... yes, at my age. no i don't have kids... yes, its a shame. okay bye.
Who DOES that on the street with strangers? Well, not ya girl. At least not for the past couple of weeks. (shrug) But you know... I have decided that I need a good cover story. Like, I was attacked by werewolves in the dark or something. And I need to practice it every day so that it rolls off my tongue easily.

Because I really will be wearing this sleeve of bandages for another 2 weeks I think. I just don't know what story to tell...


(as you can see, my arm is getting smaller... yay!)

Lymphedema update: The bandages are working

I HATE these bandages. I’m just going to put it out there because its constantly on my mind. Un-sexy. Uncomfortable. Unpleasant. BUT… they work. That picture is of my arm after my bandages were removed during physical therapy on Tuesday. My swelling has been reduced significantly and my arm is just about back to its normal size. As my therapist said… “it may seem like a pretty primitive way of treating lymphedema but it does work”.


Gotta agree with that.


I’m bandaged up again. And will probably be bandaged up for the next 2 weeks. But, progress is being made. My progress would be more significant if I had not had surgery a few weeks after I started physical therapy. But I’m not complaining. Besides, my new boobies aren’t that bad. Still getting used to them though. And I think I’m having some healing issues with the breast that was reduced – its not looking quite right but we’ll see what the surgeon says.


All in all, its an okay day.

Hair chronicles: A follow-up to my Miss Jessie's trial and what's going on with my hair now

So, a few months back I stepped out on a limb and purchased a whole bunch of Miss Jessie's products to help tame my post-chemo curlies. After some trial and error with the application - primarily trying to figure out how much wetness to product ration would produce the best looking curls, and how I could style my hair the fastest way possible, etc. - I fell into a good rhythm with the products.
I learned that I liked a few things:
*         I really like the lather-less shampoo and the conditioner.   They really make my hair feel extra soft and wonderful. Clean, but not squeaky clean. Didn't think I would like that but I really do.
*         Curly meringue is nice. Not too much hold or tackiness but a nice lightweight product. I like the smell of it too.
*         Curly pudding is very nice. I'm not sure how well it will work with my hair as it (if it) changes back to its original level of curly/kinkiness. It provides more curl definition and I like the smell of it as well.
*         The baby buttercreme was nice but nothing to write home about.
*         The rapid recovery treatment was EXCELLENT! Whoo... I can't say enough good things about it other than I really loved it.
That said... a few of the negatives:
*         Miss Jessie's is ridiculously priced. RE-DAYUM-DICULOUS! Ya hear me?? I know that the line just pushed out to Target and I am happy for the two young ladies in this step in their endeavor but on my "breast-cancer-is-my-beyotch-budget" I can't afford to look that cute. Just simply cannot do it. $58 bucks a pop for products is not working for me.
*         The curly meringue and the curly pudding are nice but (for me) they take entirely too long to dry. I knew I was getting in too deep when I purchased a hair dryer just so that I could speed up the styling process. I have this quirky thing about wanting to do my hair every day. I haven't been a part of the once a week, or once every two weeks tribe for many, many years. Honestly, I don't want to go back. I enjoy wetting and/or conditioning and/maybe shampooing my hair daily or at least every other day.
*         Miss Jessie's requires far more work, time and effort than I am willing to give. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my curlies and it was an interesting experiment. But Nic is a rock-and-roll sort of girl... I like my hair to be the quickest part of starting my day, not the longest. And I definitely do not like trying to do my hair at night and hoping that it looks presentable in the morning. I don't have time for do-overs if it doesn't.
*         I was disappointed to learn that Miss Jessie's has mineral oil in it. I'm sure that it's in there for production quality or something like that but you would think that if you were mortgaging your first child in order to keep your curly hair looking fly you could AT LEAST get a product that didn't have bad for you ingredients in the list. (shrug) Disappointing for real.
I am almost out of curly pudding and curly meringue. I have been out of baby buttercreme and rapid recovery treatment (I bought the small sample size of both). I have lots of shampoo and conditioner left. After trying so many items in the product line, I can say that I probably won't bother purchasing more. Maybe the shampoo and conditioner - but that's only if I can't find something else just as nice but more budget friendly. And assuming that I grow my hair out again.
About a month or so ago, I got totally fed up and chopped off all my hair. So I'm back to wearing my uber-low fade and pretty happy about it. (I was very tearful in the beginning but I've gotten used to the shortness of it) I've been using some ridiculously cheap Am-pro clear gel to help with styling my curlies. Less than $2 per jar. And honestly, I'm cool with the results. (shrug)  Guess I really am not a high-maintenance chick after all.
Love ya Miss Jessie's but you're out of my league.  The next step in the hair chronicles is to find a protein treatment that will help to strengthen and grow my hair. Part of the reason I cut my hair way down was because I was noticing some serious thinning in a few spots. People around me seemed to think I was seeing things but I thought I saw bald spots emerging and there was no way that I was going to sport cute curlies speckled with bald spots. Nope. I may be cheap but I'm still vain.
Will let you know how it goes with the protein treatment and what I decide to use. Meanwhile, I can check Miss Jessie's off my list and go purchase more clear gel.

Struggling with anger... still

*Update: June 2016 - When I wrote this post originally in 2010, I was mourning the deaths of my cousin and a woman who was like a grandmother to me. I was angry about being diagnosed with breast cancer and being forced to endure 2+ years of treatment to get my life back. Most days I handled it all in stride but this particular day I was just mad as hell. It happens. Looking back, it happened a lot more often than I shared. My anger (then and now) sometimes embarrasses me. I feel like I should be better than that and capable of quickly rising above it. I know that isn't logical or fair though. Anger is just an emotion. I have plenty in my arsenal. It is no worse than the others. And I'm entitled to feel how I do. This day I was just angry.

The emotional rollercoaster simply does not stop. 

Lymphedema is so very un-SEXY

My Fabulous Boobies:  Lymphedema sucks

Lymphedema is so very un-SEXY!

Been feeling a little lousy lately. Headaches, nausea, a little vomiting (nothing major) and so on. General yuckiness I guess is the best way to describe it. Thought that maybe the heat of North Carolina was getting to me while I was traveling this past weekend. Then I thought that maybe I was dehydrated. But resting in the cool didn’t help much and neither did drinking lots of fluid. I still felt sort of lowgrade yuck.

Today I had two back-to-back appointments – first to see the plastic surgeon so she could remove some stitches and then immediately after I met with the physical therapist so that she could massage my arm and finally wrap it (my bandages arrived last week).

I was annoyed to see that my blood pressure is still elevated… it hasn’t gone down yet and we’re going on three weeks of these high numbers. I’m getting a little worried. But, I didn’t press the issue because there wasn’t a point of discussing it with the plastic surgeon. High blood pressure isn’t her area of expertise. She didn’t really have any smart remarks but then, neither did I. And I think that my quietness surprised her. She noticed some redness on my new breast and thought that maybe I picked up an infection or something – which would explain my general feeling of ick. She wrote me a prescription for two different types of antibiotics and told me to follow up in a week.

My Fabulous Boobies: Lymphedema is so very unsexy
Sigh. I am tired of seeing her face actually.

As for physical therapy… I really had hoped that when this lady said that I would have to wear a bandage wrap that somehow it would be slick. Maybe not sexy exactly but still not crazy looking. Well… I have on a pretty cute new sundress. Was looking forward to taking myself out to dinner tonight to try a new restaurant that I’ve been hearing fabulous things about. Let’s just say, I cancelled my reservations because I LOOK CRAZY!

The bandages go all the way up to my freaking armpit! Its horrible to look at and difficult to navigate with. I came to work with a blazer over my dress. You know, trying to keep things professional. But I can’t get my arm into the sleeve of my jacket because its all wrapped up like the mummy. (sigh)

Oh well. Guess I will check out Founding Farmers some other time… I still feel icky and I’m ready for bed. I had actually hoped to work late tonight but I don’t see that in my future.

Have I told you lately that I can’t stand breast cancer? This isht is for the doggone birds.

What will you do with the time you have left?

What have I learned and what encouragement can I provide?

Two requests came my way over the past few days and I haven’t been able to adequately respond to either. The first was a request for me to enter an essay that covered what I’ve learned from my breast cancer journey. The second was a request to reach out to a newly diagnosed woman and give her words of encouragement for her upcoming journey.


In the situation of the first, it is my own fault. (shrug) I sent a comment/reply to a blog that I read regularly about breast cancer because I noticed that all of her entries to a particular post were from white women. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But the writer was compiling a list of top 10 lessons learned from breast cancer and it struck me as rather odd that no women of color had learned anything during their journey. Fortunately for me the writer was a real dear and she responded to my query and then asked me to submit an entry (and a picture) and to share my lesson(s) with the world. (that’s what I get for opening my big mouth, I suppose)


I have no idea what I will say but I will respond to her today because I need to. And I will pass along the information so that other women of color can respond as well (if they want to). But I need to respond to what I’ve learned as much as I need to offer encouragement to the woman who is just starting this journey… because I need to understand fully what I know now.


Some days, I am unsure if I’ve learned anything and unsure whether I have gained anything at all. I know that I have learned things – I see that in my responses to people when they ask me direct and pointed questions about different things regarding handling breast cancer treatment. I am often surprised by how much I’ve learned and how much I know. But when I sit down to just think about it – I simply can’t remember too much of it. Its too much.


When I started this journey, I was frustrated that there wasn’t one great book that would tell me all that I needed to know to get through my cancer treatment. I was upset that there weren’t more women of color publicly talking about their breast cancer journey and offering hope to those who continue to follow down that path. I was sad that I couldn’t relate to the permanently perky women I saw in various places who made it seem so easy to get through. While I didn’t have a map of the new land I was entering, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be an easy trek and I wished and longed for someone who could have helped me along the way. Someone I could relate to. Someone who looked like me, or talked like me… or something. But there weren’t too many role models out there for me.


Now, I try to be a bit of a guide – though probably not the best guide that’s out there – for sisters who are coming behind me. primarily because I know that they are coming. Until there is a cure, they are going to keep coming and keep coming and keep coming. And I feel compelled to let them know that you don’t have to be perky and chipper every day and some days it will take all of your energy just to stay awake or just to keep your anger in check. Some days, it will just be difficult being. And that’s okay.


I’m getting close to the last straw. (laughs)  Meaning that I’ve learned how to navigate the diagnosis, I’ve learned how to give myself space to weep and to cry. I’ve learned that it is okay to say no, or not now and not feel badly about it. Basically, I’ve learned that I have to take care of myself.


I guess that is what I will write the essay about and what I will share with my newest pink ribbon sister. Take care of yourself.




The guilt of surviving and knowing that you are blessed

I mentioned that one of my dear cousins passed away a few days ago. She died from complications after having a stroke. She was in a coma for a week or two, and there were indications that she may pull through. But ultimately, she passed away.

Naturally, I feel sad and my heart is heavy because of the loss and because I know that the pain that her child, her parents and her siblings feel -- along with the rest of the family -- will resonate for some time. She was a dynamic member of my family and her presence will surely be missed.

My cousin was only a few years older than I was and my father watched her grow up -- he lived with her family for a time when he first moved to this area. So her death is hitting him pretty hard. I think that it is hitting him extra hard because she fell ill almost two years to the day that he had his brain aneurysm. And while he survived and is doing well... she did not. It is hard to reconcile something like that.

There is a bit of guilt and some pressure when you know that you have survived something (and illness or an accident) that others did not. Since my diagnosis with breast cancer two years ago, I have lost a few friends and acquaintances. Each time it is a difficult matter to deal with because you wonder why them and why not me? You wonder whether their passing is a sign that your time is still borrowed. And if you're like me... you really wonder, why am I so blessed?

While I know logically that grace is not earned but is given by God... everytime I hear of someone else's death I am slowed down with guilt. Charlene and I were not fighting the same battles with our health. Her issue had to do with high blood pressure, mine was cancer. Yet at some point, we both were in dire straits. My cousin had been fighting to get her blood pressure under control for some time and although her doctors continued to try various medications, nothing seemed to do the trick. Meanwhile, I was diagnosed late with my cancer but still early enough that surgery and treatment could take care of it. And I was healthy enough to withstand the hardest treatment that my oncologist could give me to ensure that I made it through. Everyone just isn't that fortunate.

As I sit here thinking about my cousin, my father, my aunt who died from breast cancer and my aunt who has survived her breast cancer I just feel overwhelmed. There is so much out there in the world... I feel an obligation to myself to do whatever it takes to be happy and to live my life well. I feel an obligation to my family and my friends to do whatever I can do to take care of my health and not take my body for granted. I don't know whether my cancer will come back. I know people who have fought cancer multiple times and defeated it each time it showed up. I know people who have struggled with hypertension and turned it around... So I know that it is possible to come close to the edge and then to pull it together. I also belive that His grace is sufficient and that if He wants me here, then here I will be.

This is one of those posts that won't wrap up neatly. The thought for the day is that I am blessed to be here. And I understand that with that blessing comes a responsibility. I don't particularly like exercising but since my blood pressure has been elevated for the past couple of weeks, and my lymphedema has been acting up as well... I have no choice but to engage in some regular physical activity and to alter my diet.

I have been living like a person on borrowed time -- treating myself with permission to basically do whatever I want to do because I deserve it. Now, I have to switch gears and treat myself, not as though I am dying and trying to savor the last moments, but as though I plan to live forever and need to do what it takes to ensure that the years ahead are as good as I can make them.

I've been contemplating making some major dietary changes -- giving up sugar and white flour and possibly restricting my meat intake. I haven't made any solid decisions or plans but I should have things ready to roll out in a few days/weeks. My goals are simple, to lose a few pounds and to lower my blood pressure naturally. To become healthier, eat less junk while still enjoying good food and fun times. Its possible and honestly, it simply has to be done.

New profile...

Well, I just removed my bandages and my binder bra (I'm sure that isn't what its called but that's what it is -- a velcro-closing bra that holds me and my bandages tightly together). I put on one of my lounging cotton bras, the ones that I purchased and wore after my mastectomy and my reconstruction. They aren't the prettiest bras in the world but they are very comfortable because they have no wire in them at all.

I remember when I purchased these after my mastectomy. It was a challenge to find something to wear that was small enough to fit my back size and yet large enough in the cup size to hold my remaining breast. It was an impossible challenge actually so I just bought something that fit my back size and didn't worry much about the cup size.

After I had my reconstruction months later, I pulled these comfortable bras out again to wear. I couldn't wear regular bras because at my size almost all bras have underwire.  Underwire is a no-no after breast surgery. Because of the surgeries, there are areas of my chest/breast area that are numb and the wire in those bras could cause a lot of chafing and or wounding of the sensitive flesh. I would show you pictures of women who ended up with really bad sores after wearing underwire but... yuck. Its gross and I'm sure you get the idea.

These lounging bras have no support though -- that's what the underwire is for and without it, well, there goes the lift that my oversized boobies required. Needless to say, although I wore these bras for months for the comfort, they did NOTHING to make me look good in my clothes. I looked a little crazy (I'll admit it now) because I was lopsided in two ways -- one side was significantly larger than the other and also, one side was lifted higher than the other. Just not so sexy really.

So, like I said... I just pulled out one of these lounging bras since I just removed the binder bra to put on a tshirt and wow.... my profile is just significantly different. I was staring at myself sideways for about 10 minutes. Its amazing over here. I can look down and see my lap. (laughs) I haven't done that in years. The fact that this bra has no support doesn't matter because my boobies are actually perky and have their own lift. Wow.

So check it... I am comfortable. I have on a bra with no underwire. My breasts are lifted and sitting high on my chest. And most importantly, I am comfortable.

I have to get used to this new profile because it is just amazing to me that I look so... proportionate now. Amazing.

I won't say that I'm still completely sold on these new girls... but I will admit that they are putting in some good work right now. The next test will be to see how they look in cleavage showing outfits. :)

Someone to hold my hand... during times like this

I often think about being married versus being single. Partially because it seems to be the hottest media topic around now (why black women are not getting married)… and partially because of the cancer. To tell the truth, marriage frightens me. I take the responsibility of marriage very seriously and it can be an overwhelming thought sometimes. I believe that marriage can be fun and an adventure, with the right partner. I think that if you select the right mate you can grow in ways you couldn’t imagine as a single person and your life (ultimately) could be made all the sweeter because you decided to join together with someone and create a new family unit. Those are the good things that I think about marriage. There are some downsides too. But I won’t go into that today.


I think about marriage lately because I think about my desire to have kids. I have a difficult time reconciling my desire to be a mother with choosing to undergo fertility treatments alone. I love kids but I don’t love the notion of raising them alone.


I really think about marriage on days like today. Yesterday one of my favorite cousins passed away. Charlene was a sparkling ray of sunshine all of her life. She was bubbly and upbeat and smart. So much fun to be around. She was a little older than me, so I remember looking up to her and her sister and brother to learn the latest dance moves or the hottest new music. They kept a nerdy little girl pretty hip and connected. Charlene never was the one to ask me why I had never married or had kids. If she wondered about it, she didn’t share that curiosity with me. She had her son at a later age so I’m guessing that she understood that being a single girl in DC was a lot of fun. And there was no reason to change that fun until I was ready to.


Charlene was light. You couldn’t help but enjoy yourself with her. She wouldn’t really allow anything else. (laughs) That was my cousin. Just a beautiful, beautiful woman. And now she’s gone.


On the same day that Charlene passed, one of my father’s aunts passed too. I have a few vague memories of Aunt Clara but I know her daughter well. Another nice cousin of mine.


On a day like today… when my heart is starting to really feel heavy with grief… the thought of marriage sounds nice. The thought of someone there to hold my hand sounds heavenly. My chest is still bandaged up from the surgery last week. Though I feel fine enough to come to work, I am acutely aware that my body is healing and needs to rest as much as I allow it. I’m split-brained right now… worrying a little about my healing progress from my surgery and beginning to grieve my cousin’s passing.


I think of selecting the right man to marry in thoughts of moments like this. On the list of the wonderful traits you’d like your future husband to have do you also have… will be there to hold my hand through times of trouble? It’s always near the top of my list.


Sigh. I’m not married. I don’t have a boyfriend either. But I do have good friends who would probably hold my hand this weekend. I’m going to need that sort of connectedness to someone I am sure thinks of me in a loving and wholesome way.

Tying a knot and holding on...

I had a moment today at work where I looked at myself (from outside of myself) and said... "is this ALL you've got?"  I heard myself answer... "I really don't know anymore".

Surgery does something to my spirit. And its not a good thing. I'm anxious before it happens. I spend a week or two worrying and fretting... hoping that I've made the right choice. The day of the surgery, I am a ball of nerves -- high blood pressure, nervous laughter/jokes, and light nausea -- but I eventually calm down and accept that everything will be okay. Once the anesthesiologist (is that what they're called) comes in with the needle... I give it up to God and I get ready for some good sleep.

So far, every time I've gone under I've awakened okay and pretty much in one piece. Okay... so a couple of times I went to sleep and woke up with less than I came into the hospital with -- but that was the plan so, it still wasn't so horrible.

This last procedure went pretty much like all the rest. I was nervous for a week or so before hand. I was scared that I had made a bad choice. I questioned my motives and my strength.

I mean... why couldn't I just live with one new breast that didn't match the other one? In fact, why did I even get a new breast at all? Was that a good move? My stomach is still tight and its been months since my reconstruction. Did I make the right choice? Maybe I should have just stopped at the mastectomy. And then... speaking of mastectomies... why didn't I just remove my other breast at the same time, skip the reconstruction and just be one of those bad azz survivors who lived with their bald chests and scars zig-zagging across their bodies? That could be me, right? Bald head... bald chest... scars hanging out. Who needs curves and breasts? Especially when there is no sensation in them.

Sigh. I know. Its tiresome isn't it? If you think its tiresome to read it, imagine how it feels to bounce these same raggedy questions around in your brain... every day... all the time... every time you have to make a decision. Every time someone at your job looks at you cross-eyed when you say... "I have to go to a doctor's appointment today"... and you read the fatigue on THEIR face. (laughs) Like they could possibly be more tired than you of seeing the inside of hospitals, medical centers, waiting rooms...

I think that's the part that is starting to get to me. Looking at people outside of my circumstances and seeing their fatigue from my issue. I am prone to beating myself up mentally. I've been doing it all my life. My therapist laughs at the way that I always manage to make a situation about how I can make the least amount of impact on someone else. She laughs but then she helps me through it. (she's good like that)  The truth is that I believe that I am the laziest person on earth. No matter how hard I work, I always think I could have pushed harder. No matter how tired I am, I always think I should stay up a little longer and do a little more. When I miss a goal or a deadline, I fret. Sometimes I cry. But no matter what, I'm going to spend a little time feeling extra bad about it.

And that brings me to today. Long story short, I found myself doing a task that was requested of me and it was annoying. Annoying because it was taking so long. I couldn't make it go any faster -- the equipment will only do what it will do. After two hours, I was frustrated. Three hours, I was getting angry. Four hours, I was pissed. By the fifth hour, I was sad and mad and wondering where was the kernel of joy in this moment. I simply couldn't find it.

I've spent two years trying to get back to normal. And now that I am technically normal (or almost normal anyway)... My life seems so shallow and stupid and just wrong. I am always in awe of people who live selfless lives. People who could spend their time working to make lots of money but who choose instead to do other things that help people but don't earn them a lot of money. I never thought I could be that person. I love helping people. I love the feeling I get when I feel that I've been of good use to someone who will appreciate my efforts and who will likely pass along my good work to someone else. I've always felt that life was really lived in those small hand to hand moments of life. BUT... Nicole likes nice things. Always has. And I was taught that in order to have nice things, you have to earn money to pay for them. So I work. And I pay my own way. I buy what I want and what I can afford. If I can't afford it then I work on not wanting it. (laughs) But I still envy those people who live a life beyond the confines of making enough money... (there's never enough money, no matter what you have).

I don't know how to do that. And now that I am a cancer survivor, my ability to just pick up and roll out when the urge hits is stunted. I have to be responsible. I have to remember that a recurrence is possible and if I am caught without health insurance or an ability to pay for my treatment... I will face bankruptcy trying to save my life again... or sure death because I can't. The thought that my life has now become this balancing act of maintaining the status quo so that I don't end up destitute and dying on the street... makes me want to cry.

You see, I'm not built that way. I am just spoiled and silly enough to think that life should have lots of moments of joy and laughter and satisfaction in it. I believe that I should be able to help people in their lives in some way... and still be able to take myself out to eat a few times a week.

I'm rambling and I know it -- blame it on the pills, I had a bunch to take tonight -- but all of this is really to say... I'm not happy with my life. The places where I find joy and smiles... seem to be losing their luster. I have to fix that before I snap. I have to be strategic about my life now... something that isn't my strong suit. But I'm slipping... and I know it. So I've just tied a knot in the rope... and I'm holding on. Praying for some answers to this feeling.

Audacity Tees

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