Off My Chest

Kicking cancer's ass and beyond

Archive for the tag “breast cancer”

Positively Resolute

new year beachHappiest of New Year Wishes for you all!

After a huge health scare, I am back writing again. I am going to try something I have NEVER been able to do before… Even if it is just one word, I want to write something every day. One of the ways I see my self is as a writer, but I haven’t really written anything – other than the ever-hated Algebra – in quite some time.

There was so much that happened, wonderful and flat-out-horrible, that dealing with all of it didn’t leave enough “me” left to write. Funny as it might sound, my New Year Resolution is to not lose the “me” that writes, again. Many people see New Year Resolutions as a path to certain failure, trite, or just too much to bother with.

To me, the coming of a new year is a good reminder to consider where I’ve been and where I want to be. How do you see it? Do you make resolutions? The more people that are Positively Resolute, the better this world will be. For this New Year, I wish you strength, joy, and courage.
Now, this is “Off My Chest”




A Gift From Out Of Left Field

The expression “Out of left field” supposedly comes from my home town of Chicago. One theory is that when the Chicago Cubs moved to what is now Wrigley Field  in 1915, The University Of Illinois College Of Medicine built its Neuropsychiatric Institute building in what had been left field. In other words, left field became where they teach all about crazy – I’m sure I’m in their textbook somewhere.  Another is derived directly from the experience of players. A runner attempting to score from third base will have his back to left field, thus a throw to the plate “out of left field” can arrive seemingly out of nowhere as a surprise to the runner.

Anything coming from “Out of left field” is unexpected and almost always unpleasant… like cancer. Nobody gets up in the morning and plans to have cancer that day nor does anyone pencil it into their calendar for the Tuesday after next. It slams into you from way out of left field with the speed and hideous destructive power of a tornado. The treatments for cancer come from that same left field. I was all of a sudden faced with a myriad of new words, acronyms, tests, gigantic pieces of equipment, sharp needles, doctors, and… options. Options are decisions you must make that will affect your whole life – or lack thereof. The clock is ticking madly away and you have to decide which painful option to go with… but no pressure. You can’t not make a decision, because not deciding is also a decision and it is not recommended, as you‘ll most likely die… sooner rather than later.

It’s kind of ironic that in my case, cancer didn’t hurt at all until they started hunting it down and killing it. I’m all for that mind you, especially the killing it part, but the process always seems to involve some sort of discomfort.

Very scary arm wrestling opponent

Discomfort, if you didn’t know, is the medical term for pain. “Pinch a little” means “nasty burning pain”. “This will only take a minute” means that “it’s going to hurt quite a bit, but hopefully for a short period of time”.  “I’m so sorry, but we have to do this” translates to “This could quite possibly feel worse than anything you’ve ever felt in your whole life including an attack by killer bees, being run over by a bus, or arm wrestling Godzilla.”  I’m sure I could come up with some more of these translations – and that you have your own –  but let’s go on to something better.

I received a gift from out of left field.  A beautiful gift from out of left field. Well, actually it came from a person, not a field, left or otherwise. And it came in the mailbox that usually contains only junk mail, bills, and notices of more medical appointments. As soon as I see one of those appointment cards, my stomach sinks to my feet as I wonder what further torture that killing this rat-bastard-cancer will require. Anyway, the point is that something wonderful came unexpectedly from someone I never even met. It came just when I needed a reminder that not all surprises are bad and that the unexpected can be wonderful.  A woman who reads my blog came across something that made her think of me. That fact alone makes me happy. That my scribbles are read by somebody other than my mother still thrills me. Having what I write impact someone enough so they think of me afterwards and want to do something nice for me, blows my mind. She contacted me through Facebook and explained that she would like to have a mailing address to send something to me. She told me that it was nothing really, just a token, but that she thought of me when she saw it and so she bought it. For me. I gave her the address of course and promptly filed the conversation away in one of the filing cabinets in my head labeled “maybe-maybe not”.

Little tiny package

It came in the teeniest, most adorable little package I have ever seen, all wrapped in brown paper. It barely had enough room on it for stamps. Just the package all by itself made me smile, it was that cute. Then I opened it. If this were a TV show, now is when it would be continued until next week or at the very least, go to commercial. This is not a TV show though and I am not all that fond of commercials so…

I just LOVE this!

How lovely is this?!!! I tried to photograph it against black, but I don’t know how to turn off the flash and you couldn’t see it at all because all the dainty sparkles reflected so much it became a big white blur. Beige countertop will have to do as a backdrop as the flash wasn’t an issue with it. The closeup shot lets you see how truly delicate and intricate my new bracelet is.

Delicate and dainty… LOVELovelove this!


As beautiful as this piece of jewelry is, what is more beautiful to me is the sentiment behind it. In these days of texts, instant messages, and instant gratification for that matter, that someone took the time to send this to me means so very much on every level. I’m sure Karen (she said I could use her name if I wanted) had no idea of how validating her gift to me would be. I started writing this to help  anybody else that I could – patients, families, doctors, nurses, technicians, and especially those wondering if any of this applies to them. It really-truly-honestly didn’t occur to me that I would be helping myself  or that I would become a writer looking for validation. This journey certainly has bumps and jolts and falling-off-cliff moments, but like the rest of life,  I have found that there is balance in this too. To balance the fear and pain and uncertainty, there are moments of such heart-aching love and beauty and laughter and grace…  and a bracelet from someone I never met, out of left field.

 Platitude Free Zone

Ok, so apparently having breast cancer is not a bad enough diagnosis for some people. They have to come up with all kinds of diseases, symptoms, and scenarios that are much worse than mine are and tell me all about them. Really? My double-mastectomy-requiring-cancer isn’t awful enough for you? Really? The fact that I have to endure radiation treatment 5 days a week for at least 5 weeks isn’t horrible enough for you? Really? The fact that I have to undergo extremely painful treatments from my Plastic Surgery Team every week (that make me feel as if I’ve been in a car wreck every week) can’t stop you from telling me how it could be worse? Really? The fact that I must have more surgery to avoid being left with only sad scarred empty spaces on my chest where my breasts USED to be is not tragic enough for you? Really?

Well, let me get something Off My Chest (besides my breasts and yes, double entendre intended).  I have been told that I am dealing with all of this pretty well. Actually, I have been told that I am dealing with all of this REALLY well. Maybe too well… because it seems that because I joke about fighting cancer, it might mean that I don’t feel pain/fear/mortality. BUZZZZZZ – wrong answer. I do want to be viewed as a person, not only as a patient for sure, but for the time being, I am both. Have some sensitivity people!

There is NO comparison between having a Breast Augmentation, which is a choice, and a Double-Damn-Mastectomy-with-Reconstruction. Partially because of the NO CHOICE thingy and partially because the surgeries are VERY different.The other difference would be the big death threat hanging over your head as these things tend to do. Being able to have reconstruction is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, but it is a REPAIR of damage caused by disease, not a cosmetic procedure that I chose because I wanted bigger breasts. I see nothing wrong – repeat – nothing wrong – with elective cosmetic surgery, but that is not what is going on in my world.

I hope that I don’t have terrible side effects from Radiation Treatment (3rd degree burns for example) and I really-truly-honestly do not want a laundry list of everything bad that can happen to me. I already know, trust me. My Dr. has to tell me – by law.

As I have already HAD the double mastectomy, I am completely not interested in hearing about the miracle cure/different surgery/different Dr. that someone thinks would have been a better choice. What am I supposed to do? Go and ask for my cancer ridden breast back so I can try your recommended treatment? Really? Hard to believe, but this conversation actually took place. Really!  I made the best choice for me and that choice has already been implemented. Sheesh, it’s not that hard to figure out.

I ESPECIALLY do not want to know how my situation could be worse than it already is. I do not want to hear how lucky I am that it isn’t X, Y, or Z. Please don’t tell me that this is part of God’s plan or that it’s “All good”. I don’t want to hear about the lady down the street who has it so much worse than I do. When my son was just a baby in 1st grade, his arm was broken in an accident. Some nitwit told him that the lady down the street had leukemia which is so much more serious and that he was lucky by comparison. Really? As sad as the neighbor’s circumstances were, they certainly did not make his poor little broken arm hurt less.  I am also fairly tired of the phrase “pain for beauty”. This again implies choice. Nobody chooses to have cancer. That is where all this came from. Cancer. Not some quest for beauty. No choosing was involved here. I did NOT choose to have this battle except by refusing to lie down and do nothing.

One last thing (unless I think of something else).  Please. Please. If someone tells you they have cancer or whatever other dread disease, take a second. Don’t mouth some platitude just to have something to say. Stunned silence is ok. That’s how most of us felt when we were first told. Hugs are good.Tears can be a bit tricky, but those are real so that’s ok too. But don’t blurt out “that’s the kind they can fix, right?”, or “you’ll be ok” or “you’ll be fine”.  Try really hard not to make it about you and your fears. I am doing my best to deal with all of my own fear right now and probably can’t handle yours. DO tell me “I’m so sorry” or that “this sucks” or that “I am there for you” or “we’ll kill this rat-bastard” or something along those lines. Fixable, ok, and fine? Fixable still means cancer, and so far for me, always means painful with dodgy outcomes.  I may OR  I may not be ok. It depends on what your definition of ok is. What the hell does fine mean? It usually means that those jeans DO make your ass look too big and someone says they look fine because otherwise they are likely to die immediately and in a great deal of pain. Which they richly deserve.

Now that’s off my chest, have a nice day.

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Kudos To Kashi – NOT

I was so impressed by this… for a little minute

Not everything in this blog will be about my health or lack thereof. Some of it will be just to get it Off My Chest.

I saw a notice in the grocery store the other day posted by Kashi. It was an apology and an explanation to their customers. The notice explained that they had discovered that some of the suppliers from whom they bought ingredients for their products were using GMOs. Therefore, they were pulling the effected products from the shelves until they could solve this horrible problem. I thought, “KUDOS TO KASHI! What a responsible thing to do!” Instead of being caught out like some wretchedly self-interested, dirty, money grubbing politician, they said “There is a problem here. We are accepting full responsibility for it, informing you of it, and pulling the product from the shelves to protect you from this low down sneaky supplier.”

All of this was an affirmation that I was buying products from a company that was one of the few “good guys” left. I had been persuaded by their commercials that they really did go to the ends of the earth to find delicious AND healthy ingredients that they would caringly make into food for me and my family. I, like a huge number of other people, willingly paid a good deal more for Kashi products, based on the idea that their products were a better tasting organic choice than other companies offered. I believed that I could have a serving of convenience with my organic food. They had dozens of tasty looking products that were no trouble to make  and a great healthy choice.

After seeing this communique, I went out of my way to pick up a few other Kashi products, both to reward them for their good behavior and to help sustain them through, what I thought would be tough times – because they took the high road. Since then, they have, without any changes, put the same product back on the shelves. They posted a video on social media “starring” some lady who was obviously and poorly reading from cue cards. The boiled down version is that they have some foods that are organic and GMO free and the rest are not. The consumer comments in response to that, showed very clearly, that those who viewed it were something less than placated. They then had their GM do a video. His performance seemed to be just that, a performance. While wearing a giant phony smile, he sniveled about there not being enough organic foods available for them to buy so they had to resort to non-organic and GMO ingredients, and that things would be better by 2014. There was some sanctimonious protesting that every product was well within USDA guidelines. USDA guidelines?! Oh, well I feel much safe now… We all totally trust our government these days, right?

Millions of us switched to organic foods because we didn’t trust the food supply regulated by the USDA in the first place. It had become corrupted by too many ingredients we couldn’t pronounce. Too many things sounded like a laboratory experiment rather than a farm harvest. Some sounded like they didn’t even come from this planet. The companies that made these products had become an invisible they, not someone we knew and trusted so we started buying from the little upstarts that had a new idea. The new idea was to go back to the old ideas – back to the basics of our great grandparents. Kashi was one of these companies. It seems, however that they have fallen away from the original mission. When Kashi published these videos, they accomplished exactly the opposite of their intended goal. They shone a spot light on a company that seemed far more interested in ass-covering than anything else. They became, through their own actions, a corporation to whom we were dollar signs rather than people. Kashi has become the Tiger Woods of the organic market. Because they portrayed themselves as the “Good Guys” that we could all look up to and trust, when they failed us, the backlash was instant and is becoming monumental. It seems they have fallen – far and hard. It will be interesting to see what happens next. I, for one, will be buying someone else’s Seven Whole Grains because I no longer believe them true to their mission.

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Day of reckoning

So when we were both up and getting ready to face the day and he said, “Honey, I think you have a lump in your right breast. I felt it last night.” Just like that my whole world changed. Forever and irrevocably, my everything was changed by those (oh hang on a second, have to count them, ok 15, the count is 15)  15 words. For a split second I just stood there and breathed and then I quickly told him that it must be my glands. They swell and recede like the tides with my cycle and because I am not overly endowed it’s pretty noticeable. Somewhere deep inside though, I knew differently. He accepted my hopeful explanation, kissed me goodbye, and left for work. I took a shower, felt around half-heartedly and haphazardly, found the lump, told myself that “of course it’s glands” and got on with my day.

I have absolutely no idea what I did that day, or the next or even the next for that matter. I can tell you that I kept checking… and that lump went nowhere. It stuck around like the old acquaintance from college that just comes to stay “for a couple of weeks till they get on their feet” and then doesn’t leave. They stay for a long time. Until you ask for some money. Then they find some other softhearted idiot to leach off of and go away muttering indignantly.

Even HIS head isn’t buried…

A couple of weeks of this and even an ostrich would have known that it was indeed a lump that was indeed going nowhere. No matter how many times I checked, the damn thing was still there. I actually talked to myself out loud in the shower. “You have to face this. This is real. You have to do something about this, you big coward.”

I have always talked to myself. Even as a child I would walk into a room and then have no idea what I went in there to do/get/see. Alzheimer‘s, if I should develop it, will be familiar ground, I tell you. So I learned to “speak the mission out loud” to at least have a better shot at remembering it. I regarded people that had the same pencil in school for two days running with awe. I could barely keep track of me, never mind possessions. I discussed this habit of talking to myself with myself and concluded after a spirited debate the following. Talking to myself is ok. Even arguing with myself is ok – unless I lose the argument. If I can’t even convince me of my point of view, well then there is no hope for me.

I gave myself two days to “deal” and got on the phone looking for help and answers. I told no one. I did not cry.

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