A local church celebrates cancer survivors...

The following article is about a church that a friend of mine attends in Washington, DC. The congregation (I believe) is predominately black and because of the high incidences of cancer within the black community, the church decided to hold a service dedicated wholly to cancer survivors. Another friend of mine is mentioned in the article... she shared her experiences as a caregiver cancer survivor.

(This article was first published in The Washington Informer newspaper)
Cancer Survivors Celebrate at Campbell A.M.E. Church

Cancer Survivors Celebrate at Campbell A.M.E. Church

By Kyra O. Davenport - WI Contributing Writer
Thursday, 04 November 2010 19:19

The rate of breast cancer is higher in Caucasian women than African-American women; however Black women continue to have higher mortality rates.

A Southeast church hosted a program recently to celebrate survivors of a disease that disproportionately affects the Black community. Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church hosted their first Cancer Awareness service on Sun., Oct. 31 for more than 60 congregants and members of the community.

The services included various speakers, poetry readings and a special ceremony designed to uplift the spirits of the newly diagnosed and celebrate those who have gone toe-to-toe with cancer and lived to tell the story.

“Breast cancer came to me as a surprise. No one in my family ever had cancer; I am truly blessed to be a survivor,” said Juanita Wills, a spry senior and a member of Campbell A.M.E. Church.

The rate of breast cancer is higher in Caucasian women than African-American women; however Black women continue to bear the brunt in terms of mortality rates, according to a report published in The Oncologist, a monthly journal that tracks disease management.

Diane Dawson made it a point to attend the Cancer Awareness service. Like Wills, she also had a story to share with others.

“I am a survivor. [I] support my family members and [I] hope that the community will be aware of cancer and those affected by it,” Dawson, 67 said.

The three-hour service got underway with Pastor Adrien N. Ngudiankama of Salem Gospel Ministries located in Silver Spring, Md. The speaker, an American Cancer Society representative, presented the facts to the congregation in the church’s sanctuary. He reiterated one point on numerous occasions.

“Prevention is better than the cure,” Ngudiankama said.

“Furthermore, there’s a gap between African Americans and the knowledge of the disease. African Americans [are] less likely to see doctors and seek education [about] cancer.”

Ngudiankama said that although cancer isn’t a death sentence, it’s best to try and head it off at the pass.

He shared a few important facts with the audience about the second leading cause of death in America.

Age plays a major role, he said. The older a person becomes -- their risk for the disease increases.

He also cited family history – individuals who may be predisposed or have a history of the disease in their families, run a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disease. The pastor also discussed lifestyle – which includes diet and exercise -- two major factors that can put individuals at-risk.

Throughout the service, survivors approached the podium to share their stories. However, one individual captured the attention of the crowd.

“I am a survivor,” said Teri Ghaffaar to rousing applause from the crowd. “Wait a minute. I don’t have cancer. I am a caregiver survivor. Caregivers get stressed. As a caregiver you must be a strong advocate.

A caregiver must be educated so that we [can] educate patients. We must endure for the patient and ourselves,” Ghaffaar, 51 said.

“I want to see not only the American Cancer Society but all cancer related organizations get more involved with caregivers because if I’m stressed, how can I help the patients,” she said.

The Reverend Daryl K. Kearney, the pastor of Campbell A.M.E. Church, said that he had one goal in mind once he decided to devote his entire Sunday service to this important health care topic.

“My overall aim was to inform the community [about] cancer, which is prevalent in the community and our families, and to speak truth to power,” he said.

“I also wanted to give hope and inspiration to our survivors, and lastly, I wanted us to put our money where our mouth is by sowing a seed to the American Cancer Society for future research.”

Cancer survivors received pins during the service to celebrate their victory over the insidious disease. The Rev. Kearney announced survivors’ names and the types of cancers that they had defeated. Some among the crowd had even beaten two different forms of cancer.

The emotional pinning ceremony caused many seated in the pews to weep, clap their hands and praise God, while Hezekiah Walker’s song, “I Need You to Survive” resonated throughout the church.

James Young, 68, and a member of Campbell A.M.E. Church, spoke candidly about his journey on Sunday. He’s a survivor.

“I still have another chance at life and I’m going to extend my joy to others,” he said with a smile.

Sometimes, It's Just Your Turn

Learning to accept breast cancer as a part of your life is difficult

As usual, I've been contemplating the changes that breast cancer has brought to my world. Someone I know had someone close to them recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She came to me with a lot of concerns and fear... and I tried my best to be straightforward with her but also calming. This sister was scared. And I completely understood why. Her loved one was diagnosed with something scary and she simply did not know how to catch her breath and be there for her.

It was a familiar place for me. If nothing else, I want this journey to give me the ability to help other people transition from "normal" to "normal with cancer"... The two worlds are lifetimes apart and the chasm is deep between them. But once those words are uttered... you have no choice but to step off the ledge and into the abyss. No choice. So, you need someone to let you know that when you step off the cliff... you will grow wings.

That's what I'm here for. To let you know that the wings WILL come. The truth is... sometimes its just your turn. I know that may sound defeatist to some. But I don't mean it that way. I simply mean that as long as we're here on this rock, living and breathing and existing... sometimes bad things are going to come our way. Sometimes... it is just our turn. The real issue isn't whether something bad will come. It will. It always does. The real issue is, how prepared are you to handle the craziness when it strikes?

The preparation isn't about knowing everything but it is about adjusting your attitude to deal with whatever comes. My process for dealing with craziness might not be yours (in fact, I really hope that it isn't because my process is strange) but there is a process that I go through.

And as you tackle your demons -- breast cancer being a pretty big one -- you'll find your own process too. Tears may be involved, possibly some cursing and swearing... (shrug) it just depends on you. But the last step is always the same...

...you get up. You shake it off. You take another step.

Just remember... sometimes, its just your turn. Everybody gets one.

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My recent trip to the oncologist

I had my first 6-month check-up with my oncologist last week. I was nervous leading up to the appointment. I suspect that I will probably be nervous for awhile.

It was all in vain though. Everyone was a nice as I remembered. The new cancer center still looks lovely and peaceful -- a different vibe from the way it looked prior to the renovation. The patients still had various expressions of sadness, anger, disappointment -- something -- on their faces. I didn't see any patients I recognized but I didn't expect to.

Dr. S seemed a little cranky and out of sorts (which was surprising) but everything checked out fine. I'm guessing that my bloodwork checked out fine too because I haven't received any calls asking me to come back. So... for now I can breathe easy and not think too much about recurrence.

One funny moment -- Dr. S gave me a breast exam. And as he was examining my reconstructed breast I laughed and asked him whether or not it was likely that a lump would show up in that breast since its not actually breast tissue anymore. (I thought it was a funny question... Dr. S did not) He told me that while my new breast wasn't actually breast tissue, the tissue around it had to be checked because there wasn't any way that they could remove all of the breast tissue. (that was a downer moment)

All in all... things went well. It was a good visit. Seems like I'm still cancer free. And still on tamoxifen.

Life is good.

Thinking Of You: Lenny Kravitz's Tribute to his Mother, Roxie Roker

Thinking of You, Lenny Kravitz's tribute to his mother | My Fabulous Boobies

What Is Cancer? Do You Know?

Let's start with the basics. Do you know what cancer is?

Everyone has heard of (and maybe had nightmares about) cancer. The Big C. The boogeyman. Many of us have fretted about what we would do if we or someone we loved found out that they had cancer. And a whole lot of us have lived through that nightmare. What is amazing though... is that while so many us know the word cancer... I don't really think that a whole lot of us know exactly what cancer is. I'm going to try to explain it. (keep in mind that I'm not a medical professional and even as a survivor, my understanding of this disease is limited)

Ready? Let's go...

I still forget that I have to make changes

my lymphedema arm during physical therapy
 One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is... "Youth is wasted on the young...". (Its from Its a Wonderful Life)  Whenever I find myself becoming wistful for my remember when days... that line pops into my head... "youth is wasted on the young". Today I am thinking it because it just dawned on me that I am at fault for aggravating my lymphedema this week. As a young person, you take good health for granted. You hurt yourself, you heal and then you bounce back... good as new. You rarely have to make lifetime adjustments to accommodate your changed body. Usually because your body just bounces back to its original state and you can keep it moving.

Well, I could not figure out why my arm was feeling so heavy. Or why it was swelling up. I was slightly alarmed but mostly annoyed. What in the world was going on? And how... HOW... was I going to deal with this crazy lymphedema if it just flared up for no reason like this?

Ha ha! No reason? No ma'am... there is always a reason, you just have to find it. Long story made short -- I aggravated my condition because I haven't been doing what I'm supposed to do. I haven't been walking every day like I should. I haven't been elevating my arm twice daily for 15 minutes. I haven't been doing my stretches and exercises. And ... I haven't been diligent about NOT carrying heavy bags on that side.

This past weekend, I attended (hosted actually) a brunch event for my meetup group. The sponsor of the event had supplied a few items to be given away to the participants. Since I don't drive and typically travel by subway, I moved the items from the box they were shipped in, to a bag that I could throw over my shoulder and keep moving. That's logical right? Wrong. At least... wrong for Nicole.

The giveaways were full size bottles of body wash and hair conditioner. I'll guess that with my regular stuff and the Dove prizes... I was probably carrying a bag that weighed maybe 15 pounds. Not super heavy... but too heavy for me to be carrying around on my bad arm. Which of course I did. Along with carrying my "I already know its too darn heavy" purse as well.

Ugh. I sooo hate it when I do stupid things because I'm not being aware and conscious. Carrying the products wasn't the worse thing ever. But it was part of a snowballing effect where I wasn't being a good caregiver for myself. I know better. I do. But I got comfortable and lax... and my body responded.

Sigh. I'll be taking my walk shortly. And elevating my arm. And wearing my compression sleeve. And I won't be pretending that I do not have to pamper myself and remain conscious that things are different now. I can do anything I set my mind to, I just have to be aware of how I do things and make accommodations for potential problems.

I met a miracle the other day...

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Lately, I have had the great fortune of having a multitude of serendipitous moments... I cannot complain about random good things. So Saturday evening, I was bone-tired and trying to find enough energy to make it to a dinner party that I had been invited to. As I was resting in the ladies lounge and charging my cell phone, a woman came into the lounge pushing a stroller.

Turns out that she was an old co-worker and she had just had a baby 6 months ago. Miss Emma was one of the most beautiful and happy babies that I've ever seen. As Emma's mommy told me the story about her birth -- her mom never really wanted kids but then changed her mind, once she changed her mind she found out that her body had some challenges that would make it difficult if not impossible for her to get pregnant or carry to term.

Long story short... all of the challenges and concerns did not stop Miss Emma from making her world debut. Like I said... she was beautiful. Cherubic, smiling face... the melodic gurgling giggles... just perfection. She was absolutely perfect.

Normally, the sight of a beautiful baby gives me a moment of womb-envy. It makes me pause and sigh and wonder what in the world my future will hold in that regard. But as Emma's mom and I kept talking -- mind you, we haven't seen each other in years so we had a lot to catch up on -- she helped to reframe my thinking about all of this.

Emma's mom had a lot of reasons why having a baby could have been a long-shot. She had a twisted cervix, and a serious issue with fibroids. Her doctor had actually recommended that she consider having a hysterectomy. But she decided that she wanted to try and she wanted to have a baby. And while she did experience some problems... her baby is perfect and beautiful.

(Fibroids are a major health issue for african american women - a lot of us have them and they can wreck havoc on your womb health) http://www.fibroids.com/news-blog/2010/04/african-american-women-and-fibroids/

As we discussed my history with breast cancer and I explained that I was concerned that my fertility was gone or significantly reduced, and I explained that the medication I take now to reduce my chances of breast cancer recurrence cannot be taken while pregnant... so the consideration about having a baby is a serious one for me. She asked me whether I wanted to have a baby... and I laughed.

Yes, I think children are beautiful (albeit expensive) and I would love the challenge of having a child and being able to nurture a new person for the world... but interestingly enough I can't do it alone. And there's still no guy for me to consider having a baby with. Emma's mom said something that made me pause... she told me to wait until I came across the guy who would adore me. Now, I've heard that before but for some reason it was as though a lightbulb went off when she said it. Emma's mom was glowing. And I could tell that it wasn't just because she had that beautiful baby. She was really in love and with someone who loves her back.

And it made me think about my own dating life -- or what vestiges remain of it -- and I laughed out loud at myself. I've been kicking myself for being too picky at times. Kicking myself for not being picky enough at other times. Kicking myself for being too aggressive. Kicking myself for being too passive. Overall... I've been kicking myself for not getting this dating thing right. But it just hit me that until I meet "the one"... moving beyond the ones who aren't him is exactly what I am supposed to do.

Likewise... Emma's mom dropped another nugget of wisdom on me. Again, something I new but it still made the lightbulb go off. She said simply... "our bodies are so amazing".  (don't worry if the lightbulb didn't go off for you) All of the ways that the doctors tried to prepare her for the likelihood that she could not become pregnant or that her baby might be born with some health concerns... at the end of the day, none of it mattered and her blessing was simply her blessing.

I needed to be reminded that sometimes God just has something for you. Its got your name on it and it will not be denied... no matter how long the delay may be.

I found my second wind and went to the dinner party. Fatigue overtook me after I ate and I had to leave before the partying began but... I went and had a good time. My frame of mind was better and I was peaceful with the notion that if its meant to be, it will happen.

That is a beautiful thing. :)

How do I measure up?

In a few days I will be seeing my oncologist for a follow-up appointment. I haven't seen Dr. S in about 6 months and I am actually excited. My oncologist is a very nice man... and he is exceptional at what he does. Making very sick people better.

When I first met Dr. S, I only knew what I had been told about him from another doctor and what I found from a google search. He exceeded my expectations. The physicians that I know personally (friends and family members) are wonderful, warm and easy to talk to. But I tend to think of them as the exception to the rule, rather than the standard. I expected Dr. S to be stiff and stuffy and to come across as arrogant and condescending. He was none of those things. And along the way, I developed a crush of sorts on him.

I don't mean that I thought of the man in a romantic way. But I felt very comforted by him. I never felt that he was trying to take advantage of me -- or of my health insurance. I always felt that he listened to me and that when I expressed fear or concern about something, he took it seriously. We had a great rapport. That said... I've missed him, and the other members of the oncology team during the past few months. They were my safety net and now they are gone. Its a little scary out here on my own.

I know that I will have to take a lot of tests and I will have to remember to tell him all the things that I have noticed about myself since my last visit. But what I really will be interested in knowing is how I measure up. Am I making good progress in my healing? I think so... but what will the numbers show? Is my fear of recurrence rational? Probably not... but its still there.

I know that comparing yourself to others is not a great way to go through life. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, taller/shorter, wealthier... something... than you are. Getting comfortable and excited about who you are is the goal. I know this and yet, I am still very concerned about how I will measure up next week.

I'll keep you posted about what I learn. Say a prayer and keep your fingers crossed that I never ever have to hear the words... "Ms. McLean, you have cancer" again.

still working on my "sexy"

A few months ago, I asked the ladies in my email group what they did to feel sexy. And when were the times that they felt the sexiest and most feminine. The ladies gave me lots of examples... including after a massage, after getting their hair done and more. I was looking for ideas and suggestions to help me reclaim what I feel is still missing in my life.

When I lost my breast to the mastectomy, I lost my sexy. I lost the feeling of femininity. It was strange to me because prior to that surgery, I would have never thought that how I viewed myself was in anyway connected to my breasts at all.

I lived with one breast for 10 months. Some women live the remainder of their lives with one (or no) breast(s) after their mastectomy. Those 10 months were very challenging for me. I often felt like a fraud. Like I was masquerading as a woman... hard to feel sexy when you've lost the connection to your own body.

I have now had my new breast for nearly a year and my connection to my sexuality and my sensuality is much stronger than it used to be. But I do believe that it can be even greater than it is. I know now that when I get dressed, I look good in my clothes. I like that my belly is flat -- though I feel a little fraudulent about that too. Flat belly from surgery, not exercise. That's cheating, right? (shrug) But I still am not completely connected to this new body. I go through periods were I vacillate between feeling uber-sexy and non-sexy. It is strange.

I look at old pictures of myself and I remember how dissatisfied I was with my body before cancer... and yet, I felt sexy and attractive every day. (laughs) Even on the days where I didn't look my best, I felt sexy. Now, its just not the same. I feel sexy when I'm dressed up. I feel sexy if I'm spending time with a special person. But if I'm alone... or dressed very casually... nope. Not a bit of sexiness do I feel.

I understand logically that my feelings of sexy start in my mind and go from there. But it just doesn't always translate. Struggling to pull this compression sleeve on and off -- not sexy. Running my hand across my skin and noticing how dry and thin it feels -- not sexy. Fighting with this (still) strangely curly hair everyday -- not sexy. Being afraid to have my brows waxed too frequently because I'm secretly worried that the hair won't grow back in a timely manner -- not sexy. Being scared to death to have a pedicure because the risk of infection is high -- not sexy. And on, and on.

The little things make a woman like me feel sexy. A fresh haircut, nicely shaped brows, pretty painted toes... yes. Those little touches make me feel so much like a beautiful girl. Trying to forget or ignore all the other ways that my life is different is a constant reminder of that non-sexy feeling. I don't move like I used to. I can't use my arm like I used to. My arm doesn't look like it used to. My clothes don't fit like they used to. Some things I need to get rid of because they will never fit again -- like my collection of expensive bras in my former size. I have a stockpile of things that I've collected over the past two years... things that I needed to cope with different side effects of treatment. When I open the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and see the soothing gel I used on my burns during radiation treatment, I get teary. And yet, I can't bring myself to throw it away. I have more bandages that the normal person should own... but I needed them when my fingernails and toenails lifted and fell off during chemotherapy. I can't throw those away. The toothpaste I used then. The lotion and creams that I used on my sensitive chemo skin... The collection of pill bottles... you get the drift.

I know I should throw that stuff away and be done with it. Move on. But I'm finding it difficult. So, I look past it. Act like its not taking up too much space in my life... but it is. And I know that its far beyond time for it to go.

I suspect that I will focus on taking care of that this week. I need a fresh wind to move through my life and my world. Guess it starts with me cleaning out my closets and getting rid of things that are from my old life. Maybe then some of the cobwebs in my head will fall... and my sexy will come back full-time.

I whip my hair back and forth...

Unless you've been living under a rock or something... you've probably heard that Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith has a blazing hot new single called "Whip My Hair". She is a fiesty 9 year old girl who has stolen my heart with this wonderful little tune. Why? Because she reminds me to be present... and to be happy to be an individual.

Whip my hair is about being an individual. To quote Willow, "Like you can't be afraid of yourself. You have to be yourself and you can’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong!"

The song is catchy with an infectious hook and a happy beat. The video that was just released yesterday is equally amazing and fun and effervescent. In this song, Willow has captured the essence of what it means for me to be a breast cancer survivor... its MY life now. I get to choose how to live it, what to do with it, and what brings me joy.

I whip my hair back and forth...

Being happy is a choice that you have to make every day. Several times a day. All the time in fact. Life is constantly presenting challenges. Some of them stop you in your tracks. Some of them are easy to get beyond. But everytime you're faced with one... you have, in that moment, a chance to choose how you will react to it and whether your will choose happiness or something else.

I read recently that people who think of themselves as happy people tend to constantly look at life as a series of choices and obstacles. They choose to see challenges not as impenetrable walls or road blocks but as detours. You choose one path and then a challenge pops up... if you sit there and stare at the challenge, cry about the unfairness that the challenge appeared in your way, sit down and study the challenge... you're missing an opportunity to be happy and to be on your way.

Go around it. Or maybe you need to go under it. Sometimes you may have to go back a little bit to find a different path to reach your goal. But the choice to be happy while you keep moving is always yours.

I don't say any of this facetiously. I know that some of the challenges that life presents to us can knock us to our knees. Learning that I had breast cancer, that I would have to give up my breast and my fertility in order to save my life... knocked the wind out of me and pushed me to my knees. And it hurt. It hurt so very deeply that I can still feel the heartbreak from that time. But the choice to smile and find something -- no matter how small -- to be happy about was mine.

I'll be honest. I didn't always choose happiness. There were (and still are) lots of moments when I do just stop and cry. I look at the obstacles in front of me and I just cringe. I shout out to God that I've simply had enough of the shenanigans. And then after I've gotten it out of my system... I get up. And I start moving again.

Or as Willow says... "I whip my hair back and forth..."

Check out the video, if you haven't seen it already.
Whip my hair - youtube video

PS. I am not trying to make light of having breast cancer or going through any type of traumatic experience. If you find that you cannot find your way to joy or happiness... you may need to talk to a counselor or a therapist. Depression is real. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real. And sometimes you need more than willpower or a catchy tune to find your way to happiness. There is no shame in seeking help. There is no shame in grieving your losses. If the people who love you and see you most often seem concerned about your sadness... chat with someone who may be able to help steer you in the right direction.

But if it feels like a temporary state of unhappiness... just whip your hair back and forth until you giggle. Believe me, it works.

How to give a good gift to someone with breast cancer

How to give a good gift to someone with breast cancer| My Fabulous Boobies

How to give a good gift to someone with breast cancer

*Disclaimer: Affiliate links were used in this blog post. If you make a purchase through these links, I will receive a commission.*

I want to offer a little advice on how to give a good gift to someone diagnosed with breast cancer. These are a few simple rules that I've come up with during my time dealing with breast cancer... feel free to use as you see fit and as applies to your situation.

You learn that someone you love (or like a lot) has been diagnosed with breast cancer. You are distraught and want to help, but you have no idea what this person likes or needs. What do you do?

Simple answer: call (or email) and ask. It is preferable if you can reach out to someone close to that person, especially if the diagnosis is new and you are afraid of upsetting them.

You are not very close to this person (or you're shy and don't want to bother them with a phone call) but you want them to know that you care and that you are supporting them. What do you do?

Simple answer: send a card or a handwritten note expressing your feelings. The note does not have to be very long. It can simply say... "Thinking of you at this time" and that's it. The thought that someone outside of the situation cared enough to spend a little time and thought to send a note, really is helpful.

You don't want to look like a cheapskate and you want to give a gift that really will help their life since the diagnosis. What do you do?

Simple answer: Try to think of soothing things... gift baskets that you make yourself are very nice. Try to be mindful about where the person is in their treatment schedule. If they are in chemotherapy for example, then keep in mind that food is likely not their favorite thing so edible gifts may not be the best gifts. While flowers are a nice gift, chemotherapy makes a patient's immune system very weak and flowers (as well as fresh fruit) can have germs on them that will sicken the patient. Tea (ginger or peppermint) and a nice mug is a good gift.

A gift basket filled with cancer-sensitive items.
Click here to purchase 

If it has a pink ribbon on it and/or your purchase of the gift will also be a donation to a breast cancer charity... its a great idea, right?

Simple answer: NO! Just because it has a pink ribbon doesn't mean that it will matter at all to the person that you want to give it to. Some patients are very disturbed by the image of the pink ribbon. Many companies use the pink ribbon image and the promise of charitable donations merely as marketing ploys... keep in mind what your gift will mean to the recipient.

Your money is limited but your time is not. What do you do?

Simple answer: Call and offer your time. A visit is a beautiful gift that doesn't cost anything beyond your transportation expense. Offer to cook (or bring food) for them. Or offer to accompany the patient to an appointment or hang out with them during chemotherapy. Breast cancer can be very isolating and it is also very draining on the patient and their caregivers. You can give the caregiver a break for a few hours and sit with the patient... laughter is always free and a beautiful gift that will not go unnoticed. You can offer to cook or clean or maybe babysit the kids.
Panhandler bags are great for transporting a home-cooked meal.
Click here to purchase. 

Your time is limited, but your money is not. What do you do?

Simple answer: Give money. (laughs) Seriously though, cancer is a very expensive disease. Even if the person has great health insurance, co-pays, prescriptions, and all the "stuff" you need to buy as you go along in treatment really can tap your savings account in a major way. If you're uncomfortable giving cash, offer a gift card or a Visa/Mastercard giftcard to help offset expenses. Offer a giftcard for the grocery store, the pizza parlor (or whatever food place delivers and is enjoyed by the recipient).

A gift card for shopping at her favorite store, or to a restaurant
she enjoys will often be well-received.
Click here to purchase.
(Nordstrom is this blogger's favorite store, hint, hint.)

The person diagnosed is one of your closest friends but you live a million miles away. You want her to know that you love her and that you want to be of help. What do you do?

Keep regular dates with your friend. Either call at the same time or day every week or send cards/notes regularly. Do not fall off the face of the earth. And do not take it for granted that "if she needs me, she will call me" because she may not. She may not have the energy to call. She may not feel like burdening you with her concerns. Reach out to her and let her know regularly that she's not alone. 

You talked to your friend and she seemed really upset. What can you do?

Simple answer: You have to know your friend in order to know what will help. For me, comedy and laughter was the best gift. Some of my favorite gifts were funny movies and silly books that took my mind off of cancer for awhile. Also, the best thing that you can do to help your friend, is to learn about her disease. There are books out there to help husbands understand breast cancer, and there are books to explain breast cancer and its treatment. The more you know, the better you will be able to help her during this time. And the more you know the less likely you are to say something well-intentioned but insensitive.

This book is full of great advice for the man in your life
as he tries to cope with your diagnosis and treatment.
Click here to purchase this book. 

You are crafty/handy and want to give a hand-made gift. What would be helpful?

Simple answer: it depends on the patient. Two things to keep in mind:

One, if you want to buy clothes or things that will touch the skin, natural fabrics are best and be aware that chemotherapy and surgery makes the skin very sensitive. So, things that you might purchase for yourself may not be gentle enough for the patient. I remember wearing my socks inside out because my feet were so tender during chemotherapy that the seams inside the socks irritated my toes. (laughs) Yes, its that serious.

Two, if you want to give gifts like lotions or soaps, etc., please PLEASE make sure that it is all natural, preferably organic and does not have any irritating properties to it. If you don't live in an area where organic beauty supplies are plentiful, give items that are made for infants where possible. Epsom salts are a WONDERFUL gift. And cheap. May not be the sexiest gift in the world, but it is so soothing to take an epsom salt bath after chemotherapy. It helps with the aches and pains and it also pulls some of the toxins out of the body. Avoid items with parabens, mineral oil and sulfates. (you will have to read the ingredient label to be sure that these chemicals are not in the product) A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't or couldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin.

You're not a great gift-giver but you want to help. What do you do?

Simple answer: provide ways to make life easier for the patient. Create a medical binder that the patient can use to keep all of the paperwork in one place. She will need a calendar system as well. Organization is the key to keeping everything relatively smooth going. The gift of a journal can also be helpful. A journal will give her a place to write her thoughts about the entire process but also to note any questions that make come up between doctor appointments. I kept a binder with sections for insurance paperwork, appointment paperwork, lists of medications and how to take them, bills and notices from the insurance company too. I purchased a large spiral paper calendar that I carried with me to every appointment so that I could write down where I was supposed to be and when. Any way to help keep things organized will be extremely helpful to the patient.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that you should remember a few things... depending on your relationship with the patient, your gift(s) and interaction should reflect your concern. If it is a work colleague, you may want to protect their privacy. In that case, a one time card/note with kind words and maybe a floral arrangement will be sufficient. If it is your best friend since forever... constant contact may be more appropriate. Regular get well soon cards, or thinking of you notes... regular phone calls and visits may be more in line with your close relationship. You just want to let this person know that you care and that you want to help. Just because it has a pink ribbon doesn't mean that she will like it -- or that she should. Give the gift from your heart... and all should be fine.

...can I be a little sick of pink ribbons on EVERYTHING?

As a kid, October was one of the best months because of Halloween. Getting dressed up in costumes and going trick-or-treating around the neighborhood was BIG FUN! When I outgrew that stage of development, October lost its shine... and became the month that little kids overindulged in sugary sweets.

Little by little... October's importance as breast cancer awareness month grew as I got older. It did not make October a favorite month of mine, but my respect for the month grew. And then I was diagnosed with breast cancer... and suddenly October's importance loomed large in my life again.

There are many breast cancer survivors who don't care for the pink ribbon or all of the hype that this month brings. I am not bothered by the sea of pink that this month brings. In fact, since pink has always been one of my favorite colors, I'm absolutely overjoyed to be able to find so many items in pink because of breast cancer awareness.

So... today when I opened an email and read about "breast cancer pears"... I was confused. What on earth is a breast cancer pear, I thought? Well... its a piece of fruit. Yes, that's all. A piece of fruit that grew on a tree. No, it doesn't have magical qualities or some sort of miraculous healing properties that will cure breast cancer. It is simply a pear.


But it is a pear that is marketed by an organization that claims that purchasing these breast cancer pears is a wonderful way to show someone that you care for them ... and to contribute to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. Its interesting that I stumbled on this email today because a few days ago I was engaged in a deep conversation with some ladies on line about the Komen Foundation and whether or not they are really working towards finding a cure... or just making money on the image of caring. (paraphrase mine...)

So... a pear that is just like any other pear that you buy or pick off a tree, suddenly is "better" because its packaged with a pink ribbon and sold (probably for a premium) in order for the California pear industry to be able to make a sizable donation to Komen.


Just seeing that made me sigh deeply. Some of the items that are plastered with pink ribbons simply mean nothing. Nothing. Companies have now begun to just take advantage of a disease that is ravaging the lives of many women and men... because it looks good to say that we support breast cancer awareness. But the lack of specificity about how exactly you hope to support breast cancer awareness, the lack of direct assistance to the millions of women and men who are struggling physically and financially because of this disease, the lack of anything other than a boost to the corporate bottom line... is truly distasteful to me.

Not every corporation is guilty of slapping a pink ribbon and leaving it at that. And maybe I'm just cranky because its starting to feel overwhelming this month... but some of the ideas are just so disingenuous. A pear? Why not a biscuit or a cherry or heck... some tea? I'm being facetious but I'm sure that if I searched for any of these items, there will be an organization who is selling the false hope that something is being done... because they slapped a pink ribbon on it and wrote a check.

I won't tell anyone how to spend their money. And honestly, I do believe that seeing pink ribbons everywhere does help raise the awareness of the disease. But, I also think it gives people a false sense of involvement and understanding... breast cancer is a complicated disease that requires a complex range of treatment options. Buying a pear -- no matter how well intentioned the giver is -- will not make anything better.

I wanted to respond to the person who posted that they were looking for these miracle pears because they wanted to gift them to someone who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. And maybe I will go back and send her a private note. But, I feel badly telling someone who has good intentions that their gift idea is lame and probably a waste of money. If you want to buy pears... just buy some pears. They don't have to be wrapped in a box with pink ribbons in order to be effective or appreciated.

Its the thought that counts... not the pink ribbon.

Dating chronicles: Follow up to my rant

The other day, I did a radio interview to discuss the blog and my journey with breast cancer. It was so much fun. During the interview, I was asked about my dating life after breast cancer and I really had to stop and take a deep breath.

See, a little bit of time and space has helped my perspective and while I'm still disappointed that I'm not going to be dating the guy that I was interested in... I'm very much okay with it now. I laughed and talked about some of my more interesting dates but I didn't mention the ones that I had allowed myself to feel vulnerable with.  I didn't see the point. But I will explain why.

I talk a lot about my life here on the blog. And honestly, it amazes me that people actually want to read about my craziness and all of my emotional outbursts. I keep a lot of stuff inside and don't talk to anyone about certain things. One of those things is the really personal and deep feelings that I may have for someone I'm dating. I have been in love before. Many times actually. (and I know somewhere someone is shocked by that revelation) But its true. I am very passionate and emotional... so either I'm totally open to loving a man early on... or it likely will never happen and we remain great platonic friends. Rarely does someone cross from platonic friend to romantic interest. And even more rarely does someone cross back.

The thing about dating for me now is that I'm actually more likely to open myself up and be vulnerable than I was before my diagnosis. The reason for that is that in order to even get to know me right now requires that you have to be open to hearing about the hardest thing I've ever dealt with. And then to become intimately involved requires that I open myself up to scrutiny as I discuss and/or reveal my scars (both physical and emotional). Because I am building a life and a career around discussing my journey with breast cancer, I am becoming more comfortable with wearing my vulnerability and not being ashamed of it. For me, that is a big step and a big deal.

Dating after breast cancer "can" be a buzz-kill but I'm finding that most of that negative energy is emerging from between the ears of the one who fought the breast cancer battle. Not from the people who find them exciting, attractive and appealing. We (survivors) put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we are no longer "perfect". We think that someone else will be freaked out because well... we've been freaked out. And yes, there may be some guys who cannot handle your new boobies, your surgery scars, your radiation burns... but a lot of guys are going to find your strength and your courage so very sexy... so very enticing that you're going to wonder what in the world is going on.

I'm back to thinking positively about dating again. I'm pretty sure that as long as I remain laid back and easy going about it... I'll meet someone who makes me smile and makes me laugh... and who thinks that this cancer girl is hot and sexy.

That's all a girl like me needs some days. :)

Support is critical for your healing

I spent most of the day today at a funeral for one of my cousins who passed away unexpectedly in her sleep a few days ago. Arlene's death was surprising and upsetting but it reminded me that support through tragic situations is something that we all need.

We all go through tough times and tragic situations. It may not always be something like breast cancer... but it could be losing your mother unexpectedly or losing your job. Something. And when that something hits, you have to dig deep into yourself and find the strength to carry on and keep it moving. But often, you may need a little bit of outside help and support to really get through the hard time.

Because I am an internet-girl... I will advise any breast cancer patient, care-giver or friend of a survivor... to use the internet to seek out other people who can relate to the intensity of the situation that you face. But if you're not an internet person, check with the social worker at your cancer center -- or the cancer center of a hospital near you if you're a care-giver looking for advice -- and they can direct you to resources that you can utilize to help to support you.

I am seriously going through some stuff on this side of the computer. To put it mildly, I'm hoping for some financial miracles and blessings. The bills are coming faster than the money and its looking really hard over here. But the beauty of my support system is that they always manage to do something smile-worthy when I least expect it. A beautiful care package was waiting for me when I got home from the funeral today. The perfect pick-me-up after a really long day and a very, very stressful week.

Build yourself a sturdy support system. Give back to them any and every chance that you get. Say thank you over and over again for their love and their affection and their prayers. And then pay it forward and be a support for someone else.

A few online support group resources to check out:





A new way to emphasize my survivor status

I'm an 80's kid... I was coming into my own in the 80's and I have lots of fond memories of that time in my life. Back in the day... we took a lot of risks with our fashion and we carved our own niche that made us stand apart from our parents and other folks. We had our own style... and it included things like nameplate necklaces and earrings... two (or three) finger rings and so forth.

I had a name ring -- in fact, I think I still have it somewhere -- and I had the requisite bamboo earrings (at least two pair) but I never had a name necklace. Those things were expensive and I was very accident prone and highly likely to lose any piece of really expensive jewelry that I had.

I was surprised a few years ago, when I was watching Sex and the City and noticed that Carrie was rocking her 80's name necklace. It was adorable... and instantly made me think that I needed to get one. But with today's world being what it is, I felt a little leery about walking around with my name on my neck. Cute, sure. But appropriate for a woman my age? Um... not so sure about that. But I couldn't shake the desire for my own name necklace. I just pushed it to the back of my mind.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I received an unexpected gift and decided that since I still had not celebrated my cancer-versary, I was going to do something just for me. So I did a little internet searching and decided that I wanted to order a name necklace for myself. But... with a twist. Instead of getting my name on a necklace... I got a title. And I couldn't be happier with my gift.

My cancer-versary gift to celebrate my second year of beating this disease was a name necklace with the word "Survivor". I haven't taken it off since it arrived. It makes me happy in a way that I don't think I can adequately explain to you. Its not super huge, or excessively gaudy... it just says what it says and nothing more.

It does exactly what I wanted it to do. Makes it plain to anyone who can read that I've been through something and I'm proud of my progress. One of my girlfriends suggested that I get some bamboo earrings with "Survivor" on them. Not sure about all that. But I have been considering a two finger ring.

What do you think?

Dating chronicles: It is official, I think that dating sucks

I had an entirely different post written... but I had to delete it because it was bitter and caustic and slightly mean. And I know that I wrote it that way because I'm emotional. So, I'm going to try to do this a different way.

I hate dating. I really hate dating post-breast cancer. There are a lot of really nice, very attractive men in the world. Really nice. Very attractive. And a lot of them are single. And out of that number... there have been plenty who have looked at your favorite breast cancer blogger and thought wow... she's pretty doggone hot! Okay... so maybe that wasn't what they were thinking... but that's what I think they were thinking. Because for a breast cancer chick... I'm one sexy babe.

Really. So, what's the problem you ask? The problem is that I am sick of dating. I'm sick of the getting to know you phase of life. I'm absolutely mortified of showing my new body, my new breasts to someone new... and I'm really tired of second-guessing whether or not I'm a good catch in a bad town... or a bad catch and should just let it go. The emotional baggage that circles my heart because I feel like I'm damaged goods... makes it difficult to get to know someone. And it makes me take everything that someone says to me... and analyze it to death.

What's sadder is that I am a really fun girl. I know this. I cultivated this personality over years and years of trying to get beyond my shy high school girl persona. I am a lot of fun, dammit. But I am more than that too. Its sort of a twisted problem. How can you be mad that people like spending time with you because you're fun? The same way you can miss your old saggy boobies that you had to replace with perky new ones because you had breast cancer. Its not logical but it is real.

To sum up why I'm hating dating right now -- its the same song that I've been singing for awhile now. It is difficult for me to find nice guys that I get along with, who make me smile and make me think... and who make different parts of my body tingle with just a word or a smile. Those guys are rare. But they are out there. And when I find one who does all that and then some... AND he thinks I'm cool and great and fabulous... I tend to want to spend time with that guy and get to know him well. And just maybe... maybe... go deeper than the shallow getting to know you stuff.

But when he tells you that he likes you... but not that much, you wince a little bit. Or when he says that you live too far away, or he doesn't like you enough to dig deeper... well, it stings. And then when you start to wonder what part breast cancer may or may not have played in this whole scene... it becomes a strange and sad feeling.

To be fair, I'm no saint and I'm far from innocent. Seriously. I've broken my fair share of hearts in this lifetime. Not by choice or design... but simply because it was bad timing or I didn't like someone as much as I felt they deserved. So... I get it. I really do. Everybody isn't for every one at every moment. Yes. I know that.

But it still stings when you like someone... and he doesn't like you back. Every time.

PS. For the record, I think he thinks I'm mad at him for being honest with me. I am not mad nor angry. Just disappointed. And mostly disappointed with myself because I should have been prepared for this sting... and yet, it caught me completely off guard.

That's the risk you have to take when you like someone... and when you're looking and hoping to find someone to love. No risk, no reward.

Write a letter to someone you love about cancer

A few days ago, I wrote a post that was a break-up letter to cancer.  (Dear Cancer...) I got the idea from a pink ribbon sister I met through my blog. She got the idea from a facebook page. And they got the idea (I think) from some other person's blog. All that to say, it was an idea that had been around for a time. And it was a good idea...

I've been thinking of ways to acknowledge the toll that cancer takes on the friends and family members of cancer patients/survivors. I decided that a letter campaign would be a good thing. If you know someone who is or has been struggling with cancer, consider writing a letter to them (whether they are deceased or alive) and letting them know how much their experience has touched you. Or if you are the one who has struggled with this disease, consider writing a letter to someone who impacted your life while you fought cancer.

Cancer affects so many people all around the world... and it can be an isolating experience for everyone involved. What would you say to your loved one with cancer? Why not write them a love letter and let them know how you feel?

It doesn't have to be long... but a heartfelt short note can change a lot. I think I will write a few letters... to my aunts who battled this disease, to my mom who stood by my side every day, to my ex-boyfriend who helped me in the beginning of this journey, to my best friends, my god-brother and the girls from DCSG... and to my grandmother who died from cancer when I was 9. Her journey has had a large impact on my journey.

Who will you write to?

I want to go to Kenya... can you help?

Thanks to my insomnia, I'm often up very late at night... usually playing games on facebook or working on some writing. The other night, I was up late as usual on facebook when a young Kenyan woman started to chat with me. We have never met but she heard an internet radio interview that I did some months ago and started to follow my blog. I was flattered that she wanted to know anything about my challenges with breast cancer. After our conversation, I was stunned and moved.

This young woman, with internet access and a desire to learn about global issues... was distressed that the conversation about breast cancer was very limited in her country. She knew someone who died of breast cancer and the person never said a word about being sick, or having cancer. Her death was a surprise and a shock to her classmates and friends. During our brief conversation, she explained to me that in her country women (especially young women) do not discuss breast cancer as openly as we do here in the US. This young lady was under 30 and seemed quite alarmed that she simply did not know enough about the disease or prevention. She said to me... if I know very little, with all of the access that I have to the rest of the world, I worry about the other women and girls in my country who do not have the same connections. She told me that conversations about breast cancer were simply lacking. Since our conversation, I've pulled a few articles from the internet and the news is pretty startling. I will post the links to a few articles at the end of this post. I ask that you read them... and think about ways that you and I can make an impact on this nation.

She asked me if I would consider coming to her country to speak about my experience with breast cancer. I rarely turn down opportunities to speak. Even when the events don't pay, I still try my best to be there. (Though, between you and me, I could surely use the money from any and all paid engagements).  This young woman did not contact me as the representative of some large organization, she had no budget or even a schedule. She simply reached out to one person that she knew felt as passionately about the issue as she did.

I cannot ignore her request. Even though I have no connections, no ideas about how to go about getting to Kenya and finding audiences of interested women, I still want to try to get there. Between the two of us, we have no idea how I would get there or where I would start with speaking to the women of her country. But there was something about her plea that really struck a chord with me.

I want to go. I have never been to Africa but I would love the opportunity to reach out to my sisters and share what I have been through. Kenya faces a lot of challenges... and I don't know if my voice would make a huge difference. But I'm praying that maybe I can help in some small way.

My journey with breast cancer has been relatively smooth... I did not have many major issues with finances until the end of my treatment. And even those issues have been mild compared to some of the stories that I've heard over the past couple of years. I was connected to a wonderful oncology team at a cutting-edge hospital. I had a very dedicated oncologist who promised to do his best to save my life. And he did that. The opportunities for life after a diagnosis of breast cancer are so much slimmer in Kenya. Between the poverty of the people, the lack of medical resources, and the cultural taboos... it is a serious challenge to get women to speak up and to take charge of their health.

I read somewhere that the cost of a mammogram in Kenya could be $20. Seems cheap right? Until you get the perspective that some people earn $1.00 per day. One dollar. The issue is staggering in scope. I am one person. One sister who feels compelled to talk about her journey. But as the face of breast cancer changes -- from the face of an older (probably wealthy) white woman, to the face of a younger, poverty-stricken woman of color -- more voices are necessary.

Please read the articles that I have linked to below. They will open your eyes to the scope of the issue in our developing nations. It is estimated that by 2020, 70% of breast cancer cases will come from developing nations. That is a lot of women who may die because money, access and understanding just may not be available to them.

I want to go to Kenya. If you have any ideas, any connections... or just an encouraging word, please feel free to share.

Breast Cancer Around the World

Battling breast cancer (Time magazine)

Controlling cancer in Kenya

Kenyans urged to go for breast screening

The changing face of breast cancer

BOOK REVIEW: Lopsided. How having breast cancer can be really distracting

Well, I am finally getting around to writing reviews of various books that I've been reading over the past year or so. As you know, I sort of fancy myself as a "writer"... (laughs). I've been kicking around the idea of writing a memoir about my breast cancer experience. While I was researching books about young African-American women with breast cancer, I stumbled on Meredith Norton's memoir about her journey with breast cancer.

Meredith Norton is black. And female. And a breast cancer survivor. And that is about all of the similarities I could find between us. (laughs) This sister is as different from me as the moon is from cheese. But she seems like the kind of woman that I'd love to sit and chat with over a good drink (or three) and laugh. She has a caustic wit that is razor sharp. Very interesting lady it seems.

Her memoir was not what I expected. For me, it started a litle slowly... was a bit challenging for me to relate to her rhythm initially. However, once it picked up, I found myself quite riveted to her descriptions of her world as a breast cancer patient.

She was a newlywed, first-time mother, living in France with her very French husband when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she is a native American, she came home to receive treatment... leaving her husband behind for a time and learning to struggle with a life-threatening disease and a toddler at the same time.

I won't give away all of the juicy bits but I will say this:  she's very honest about her emotional and physical journey with breast cancer. She is not too sappy, not too emotionally draining... and she is also not too peppy, not too cheerleader-ish about the journey. She is wonderfully and honestly endearing.

The book is a relatively quick read -- about 200 pages -- and it gives a good insight into the heart and mind of a young woman who is facing her mortality and trying to remain a calm constant for her young family. I highly recommend checking it out.

If no other reason... the title is quite appropriate -- Lopsided. How having breast cancer can be really distracting.

Breast cancer is ... if nothing else... quite distracting.

300 posts!!

Time marches on. Three hundred posts and I'm still here. And you're still here. How amazing is that?

This journey is not at all what I expected. Two steps forward, sometimes three steps back. Joy in the morning and sometimes tears at night. But I'm here.

And honestly, that's what I thank God for everyday. Thank you for one more day.

Two years later... He's still blessing me.


Grief -- its always just under the surface

Earlier this year, a friend of mine from college was killed. Though we weren't close -- had lost contact over the years since college -- the news of his death hit me pretty hard. A few weeks later, two relatives passed suddenly and I was rocked to my core again.

Yesterday I stumbled across the Linked In page of my deceased college friend and I just broke down in tears. I had to pause for a moment -- I was on Linked In looking at some other friends/connections and his page just popped up. It was eery. I had to pause for a moment and collect my thoughts.

Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had confused him with someone else. He wasn't dead. I mean, here was his Linked In page describing his business... making him sound alive and well. Ready to take on the world.

But then I exhaled. I remembered that yes, indeed he had passed away a few short months ago. And though we weren't close, the finality of his existence hit me hard. Death is a normal part of life. None of us lives forever. I, for one, do not fear death -- for myself. But it does present a conundrum for me when it comes to people I love and care for.

When cleaning up some paperwork in my bedroom the other day, I came across the program from my cousin's funeral... and again, I was stunned and shocked. Yes, I know that she's gone but seeing that paper brought it back to me that it wasn't a matter of we're too busy to connect... she really isn't here any longer.

I recently read a blog post about grieving and it hit me that I am still mourning. I am mourning the loss of friends and family this year. I am still mourning the losses I incurred because of breast cancer. And while I have managed to pick myself up and dust myself off each time I've fallen (or been pushed) down... that pain, that grief is right there just under the surface of my life.

The blog that I read mentioned that grief was broken into three stages... numbness, disorganization and reorganization. {Mamaspeak: co-parenting and grief on losing love and finding yourself}

I feel that I am giving the world my "I've got it all together face"... nearly 90% of the time. Truthfully, I feel that its my job to present that facade to the world. Reading this blog post showed me myself in a new way though. I'm smack dab in the midst of the disorganization phase... there are days where I cannot get it together. If you could see my bedroom -- where I spend an inordinate amount of time -- you would cringe. I am losing things, forgetting things... hesitating to do things that I know that I need to do. Its a shame and more importantly... its not really me. A little messiness is one thing, that's normal. I'm edging away from normal and starting to wonder if I'm really struggling with something major. I suppose that realizing that there may be an issue is a start to figuring out how to fix things.

For every victory and step forward... I am human enough to admit defeats and steps backward. But I'm still pushing forward. I do not know whether or not I'm doing this correctly. But I'm trying to keep moving forward. Even if the pace isn't as fast as I would like it to be.

Audacity Tees

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