Mammograms should start at 40, not 50

Mammograms are back in the news.  It seems that although a government panel issued a ruling in 2009 that mammograms should be pushed back to 50 years of age to start, new research shows that delaying the start of mammograms puts a lot of women at risk for not being diagnosed with breast cancer early. Early detection is extremely vital in the fight against this disease because the earlier that breast cancer is detected, the more likely that the patient can receive treatment that completely eradicates the cancer from the body as well as the more likely that the recurrence of the cancer will not happen.


You hear that? That is the sound of all of us breast cancer survivors (and their loved ones) saying a collective... "duh" in our heads. Well damn. We all knew that didn't we? Don't we already know and understand that the earlier that breast cancer is detected the better the treatment options? The less time that a woman will spend in treatment? The less intrusive her treatment options are? The less likely she will lose a breast or have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment?

Sigh. I swear some folks are just stuck on stupid. For real. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. That is critically important because if you do have a history, then your baseline mammogram will likely start approximately 10 years before the age of your relative's diagnosis. If I had a daughter, because I was diagnosed at 39, her mammograms should start at 29 so that her medical team can know what her normal is and be able to track any changes and catch any cancer (if it happens) much earlier than my cancer was detected. But, without a family history of cancer -- and most of us do not have that -- the general age guidelines are critical. So, the difference between 40 and 50 could be the difference between stage 1 and stage 3. Between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. And in some cases, it will be the difference between living after breast cancer and dying because of it.

I just don't understand how so many people who claim to be in this fight against breast cancer can come out with suggestions that seem to say... money matters more than the potential lives saved.

My life matters. Every woman is at risk for breast cancer. Every woman. If raising the age to start mammograms causes even a few women to be delayed in learning that they have this disease... it is too high a price to pay. Why don't people understand that?

Is sexting bringing sexy back?

Okay... I was a moderately vain girl before breast cancer. I mean, my head wasn't so large that I believed that every man wanted me. I knew that was fallacy. However, I did feel that the men who did find me attractive... found me VERY attractive. I liked that feeling -- even if i didn't always know how to work with it or handle it. Being desired is a fantastic feeling, right?

So, after going through all this disfiguring, yet life saving, breast cancer treatment it is fair to say that I woke up after each surgery feeling some kind of way about the changes in my body. As time goes on and I see the changes and I notice the way that I react to the changes, I've come to realize that my vanity is coming back. Before my mastectomy, I took a few pictures of myself naked because I wanted to remember what my body looked like before I was disfigured for life. (Yes, I can be very melodramatic sometimes)  I had no intention of ever sharing those pictures with anyone -- I mean, I will be honest, I wasn't THRILLED with my pre-cancer body. I was lumpy and bumpy in all the wrong places and I could point out to you, with my eyes closed, all the parts of me that needed fixing. But still, it was my body. I was used to it and for all reasonable purposes, I did like it. I didn't relish the thought of losing pieces of it but of course, I had to let those thoughts go. The breast had to go. And when it went, it took a big chunk of my self-esteem with it. It seemed deeply unfair that I had to sacrifice so much to save my life.

The next big blow to my self-esteem came from the horrible effects of radiation therapy. Oh my gawd. They warned me that I would look different, that the radiation treatment would burn me and scar me. But dang. I had no idea that the scarring would be so serious. I have walked around with this ridiculous square of blackened skin on my chest for almost two years now. And the final straw... was the scarring across my chest, my abdomen and my hips from my reconstruction surgery. Yes, I was excited to have my noobie (new boobie) but I looked patched together like Frankenstein. I had these horrible scars that zipped around my noobie... and skated around my reduced breast... and then zig-zagged from hip to hip across my lower abdomen. The finished look was far from flattering. At least to me. And all of these surgeries happened within the span of one year. I can tell you now... I was horrified at the way that I looked under my clothes.

Well, now that it has been over a year since my last procedure and my scars are slowly (and I do mean SLOWLY) fading and lightening up... I have found the courage to look at myself in the mirror and just take in the way that I look. I figured that it would be difficult to share my body with a man if I could not look at it myself. So, over the last couple of years, I've tasked myself with regularly just staring at my whole body in the full length mirror in my bathroom.

In the beginning, I couldn't look at myself everyday. It was just too much, too jarring. I would burst into tears and then hide from myself whenever I got dressed or stepped out of the tub or shower. But, like I said, I'm still healing. The vitamin E has been helping my scars to fade and even out. The Shea butter has been working to give my skin back some of its elasticity (that chemo is a beast on your skin too).

A few weeks ago, I got a new cellphone. It is a fancy Droid phone and it is absolutely fantastic. I didn't realize how much I was missing out on with my old phone but now I know. Smart phones are simply incredible. And guess what? They have cameras. (wink) You can take a picture.  Of yourself even. (wow!)  I have started to do that now and then. Ha, ha. Scandalous, yes... I know. But I do.

About a year ago (maybe longer) I was contacted by a photographer who stumbled onto my blog. He wanted to take boudoir pictures of me as a part of a project he was working on. He had taken a few pictures with other survivors and offered me a chance to have my own set of sexy pictures. Before cancer, I fantasized about taking sexy pictures of myself but I never mustered up the courage to do it. When the offer came, I accepted immediately... and then after thinking about it... I flaked. I couldn't do it. I wanted the pictures but I didn't want a stranger to take pictures of my body. I still didn't want to look at myself, I certainly wasn't ready for someone who looked at beautiful models all the time, to then look at my disfigured shell and try to make it look sexy. I just didn't think that I had sexy in me. Not at that level anyway.

Back to my new phone. I'm more comfortable now with looking at my naked body and one day as I was getting out of the shower I realized that my phone was actually with me in the bathroom... and before I knew it, SNAP! I had taken a picture of myself. I snapped a few more then scurried to my room to shut the door and get dressed. But I looked at those pictures for quite some time. Eventually, I got to a point where it didn't bother me to look at myself naked. Since that day, I've taken a lot of pictures of myself... various poses... highlighting different parts of me and whatnot. I have to tell you... it is LIBERATING as hell to look at yourself and finally be able to say (and believe)... I look good.

I look good. I really... look good. The scars no longer scare me. I do hate the way that my skin is discolored from the radiation but I love my port removal scar. I don't particularly care for the way that I have a scar that looks like a c-section scar (since I don't have children) and yet... I like my strangely Barbie-esque belly. I like myself. And (gulp, confession time) I've gotten a few compliments too.

What's that feeling? Desire? I am... gasp... clutch your pearls... a desirable woman AFTER breast cancer? Stop the presses! Really?

Yes. Really. I am desirable and sexy and beautiful and attractive and all of that goes far deeper than my nakedness or my scars. It goes directly to the heart of me.

You have just read the confessions of a breast cancer survivor sexter.

I am not ashamed of what I've done. Nor am I afraid to look at my body or to show it off either. That doesn't mean that I've lost all of my conservativeness and will begin to parade around naked. No. I am still the same girl who gets dressed behind closed doors and covers things up probably more than I have to. But now I am very confident that my body -- with its scars and shades and lumps -- is really a beautiful thing. And that revelation has made everything worthwhile.

I am sexy.  Take THAT! breast cancer.

Celebrating birthdays after breast cancer

Well, another May 1st is heading my way and that means another birthday for me. I have been excited and ready to celebrate for weeks now. And now that its here... its starting to feel anti-climatic and a little sad.

I am here. A full year has passed with no cancer treatment. No unusual pains. No bad test results. Just another year. I feel like I've let myself down a little bit though. Life after breast cancer is supposed to feel amazing, right? I'm supposed to feel like superwoman. Can do girl. And yet... I just feel like me. This new me. With constant back pains and too many hangovers. With a fear of love and a correlating fear of being alone too. This new me who is a constant contradiction of everything. I feel fine but I'm constantly in a state of anxiety because one day I may not be fine.

Guess what?... its my birthday. I feel a little guilt (okay... a lot of guilt) because I have many friends who have been dealing with recurrences of their cancer this year. And friends who lost their fight with their cancer. And yet... I'm here. Feeling like I'm living in limbo. When will it be my turn to deal with this demon again? And what if it doesn't? Then what makes me so special that I don't have to fight the monster twice?

But... like I said.. its my birthday. I know that I am blessed. I am actually quite peaceful and happy about my life in general. My Celtics are doing great things on the basketball court. I am enjoying raising money for the Race for the Cure (you can make a donation here: I am dating and getting out of the house a lot. I can honestly say that I am happy.

I can now look at my naked body now and not cringe at my scars but just look at myself as a woman and be ok. And at the end of the day... I am a woman. A breast cancer survivor. Taking no days for granted and enjoying every moment that I can.

Happy birthday to me. :)

Learning to forgive and move on

I like to pride myself on the belief that my time in therapy helped me to become a more grounded woman. I know that emotions are neither good nor bad and that they don't have to be suppressed in order for me to survive. There was a time when I felt that showing emotions or feeling emotions was too difficult and I would stuff them down and pretend I felt okay until I really believed that I felt ok.

It worked for awhile. But, it didn't work forever. I learned in therapy that it is okay for me to feel pain, to be sad, to be happy, to be proud... all of that. It is entirely acceptable because I am human and what makes me human is that I can feel and express emotions.

One area that I still require work in is romantic relationships. I'm not good at expressing myself. It frustrates me to no end that I am so hard on myself and so timid when it comes to letting a man that I love and care for know that I love and care for him. It also frustrates me that I often feel unworthy of telling someone that I love and am in relationship with that they've hurt me in some way... What tends to happen is that I stuff away the feelings of pain and move on as though I was never hurt by them. I shrug it off. I keep it moving. And while that keeps me moving... it isn't healthy and it doesn't actually allow me to progress as much or as fast as I tend to think it does.

In the course of my research on breast cancer issues, I've run across a few articles that discuss the possibility of the suppression of your emotions leading to or contributing to having breast cancer. It seems that it was a prevailing thought in the 1500's in China and it hasn't completely left the consideration of healing for this illness for some in Chinese medicine. There haven't been many (or any) studies conducted on this theory lately but since I do believe that in a lot of ways the ancient ways of looking at life are still applicable... I've given this idea a lot of thought over the two and a half years since my diagnosis. Emotional issues, stress and anxiety do a lot of harm to your immune system and to your overall health. So, while it may seem a little spacey to think that the way you handle or mis-handle your emotions could affect your probability to get cancer... I do believe that there is some validity to remaining very open and honest with yourself and your emotions.

I've been dating since college (I couldn't really date in high school) and while I've gotten better at it, there were a lot of years when I simply had no damn idea what I was doing. I allowed my fear of being alone or being unlovable to dictate what I dealt with in relationships. I was scared of being alone and it showed. I'm telling you all of this because I was contacted by an old boyfriend yesterday and it totally blew my mind. I have not seen or talked to this guy in probably 15 years.  Our relationship ended really badly. And I was deeply hurt when we broke up. It took me a long time to put that relationship behind me and I felt that I had until he contacted me. Once again, Facebook is a wonder. Just seeing his name caused me some anxiety. And while we chatted for about 20 minutes or so... I could feel the anger and the bitterness climbing up my chest. My stomach was churning, my eyes were watering and I was sooo angry and sad. But grateful that I was on a computer and not on the phone or in person because I would not have been able to hide my emotions as well as I did.

He apologized for the past. He explained what he had been through over the years and how he was doing. (He's married now and seems very happy and balanced) I didn't want to accept the apology. I don't mean that I rejected his apology in a rude or dismissive way. I diminished the thought that there was even a need for him to apologize. I pretended as though it did not even bother me at all. I am grateful that he was mature enough to apologize anyway and not allow me to take that moment from both os us.  I was challenged by the notion that he had matured and mellowed to the point where he could say he was sorry for something that happened practically 20 years ago. 

My reactions after our conversation bothered me for a long time. It hit me after I was stewing about it for about 4 hours that it is this kind of reaction to bad news or the emergence of old unsettled emotions that could very likely have had some a negative impact on my body and made me susceptible to breast cancer or affected my immune system. And while I'm not looking for ways to blame myself for this disease... I am looking for ways to overcome whatever negative behaviors that I have (or had) that could have contributed to it. (I hope that makes sense) Its time to move on.

I had to stop and pray for a long time. I had to close my eyes and just try to calm myself for awhile because I had completely pushed away those emotions but never really dealt with the way that I felt then. And since he apologized, it was time for me to acknowledge that hurt and that pain and then let it go. The pain was deep and it surprised me. I never would have guessed that it was lurking in my heart and my spirit. But there it was... ready to bite me like a snake.

Forgiveness is one of those things that we think we know what it is and how it works... until we have to face something really hard and large and impactful. And then you realize just how much more difficult it is to practice than to theorize about. Forgiveness is simple and yet difficult. Now, here's the tricky part. I don't begrudge him moving on with his life and finding happiness wherever he's found it.  I really don't. This isn't a jealousy issue at all. It is an issue about being hurt by someone who once meant a lot to me. Remembering all the days/nights/weeks/months of questioning myself about what went wrong. But the truth is that all these years later... none of that really matters. What matters is that I was hurt and I am guessing that on some level he was hurt too. And so two hurt young people, hurt each other and then walked away from the aftermath as though it never happened.

I want to be big enough to say... I accept your apology and I forgive you for hurting me back then. But honestly, I'm not quite there yet. I'm close but if I were to say it today, it would not be sincere. Knowing that forgiveness benefits me more than the other person makes it a worthwhile mission to pursue.  I want to forgive him and release that hurt. Realizing that I have a lot of pain buried in my heart that I wasn't really aware of is scary. But I am learning to forgive so that I can move on.

I am also accepting that I am worthy of forgiveness for the ways that I have wronged others in my lifetime. If I can ask and expect forgiveness from someone that I've hurt, then I should be able to give and acknowledge forgiveness to someone who has hurt me and then said with all honesty that they were sorry that they did what they did. We all are worthy of that much.

Anything that I can do that will help me reduce the chances of this cancer coming back into my body... is worth the work and the effort to learn how to manage. It may or may not be true but I will err on the side of caution and just let go of these buried negative emotions. Its just not worth it to jeopardize my health any more.

God answers prayers and questions...

I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself a few months ago. I was honestly wondering whether I could go on.  It was one of those periods where I felt really low, really along and I wondered where I took a wrong path and ended up on the wrong path. While I was preparing for a new blog post, I start wandering around "Blogger" and looking at other people's blogs. I guess I was hoping for a little inspiration. Interestingly enough... I only read two blogs and it was just enough to shake me up and wake me up.

You never know how your life gives someone else's life meaning. Even if its someone you don't even know. When I was preparing to do my taxes a few weeks ago, I whispered a wish to God that I would be so blessed one day that I could put down as my occupation... "philanthropist". I don't live the life that I dreamed about as a kid. I live a very good life, to be sure but this isn't the life that I dreamed of when I was a little girl. But I've always felt that being a philanthropist has to be a life that is just joyous beyond measure. To be blessed enough to give is to be mighty blessed indeed.

I whispered my wish and then promptly forgot about it. A few weeks later a friend came to me with the idea of starting a non-profit. Now, it wasn't the first time that someone had come to me with the idea or the request but it was the first time that it felt right to say yes. My friend and I promptly started educating ourselves about how to start a non-profit. We talked to friends, we have read books, done research on the internet... and while the task is daunting, I am totally plugged in. For once in a very long time... I feel purposeful when I wake up every day.

We have a long way to go but I am so very excited. I only hope that my philanthropic efforts will be well received in the world. It is a blessing to be a blessing.

Audacity Tees

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