Post Chemo Pixie Grow Out | Nineteen Months and Counting

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So we are now approaching nineteen months after my last chemo.  I’ve just had another haircut, and Dragan warned me that I’m getting to a difficult stage.  “But you’re doing a great job faking it,” he reassured me. We talked about the growing out process.  He conceded that I could have just let it grow instead of coming to him faithfully every five or six weeks.  That may have been a little quicker to shoulder length, but I know I’d have hated every minute of it.  This way, I’ve had a lot of different hairstyles, but they’ve all looked intentional.  Intentional.  That one word makes a world of difference to me.  As soon as it was long enough to get cut, I never again looked like a cancer patient growing out her hair, I looked like a woman who had chosen to have a short hair cut.  (Of course, I only looked like I had made the choice, in reality, it had been made for me.)  Dragan’s encouraged me to really play with my hair and see what I can do– see how I like it.  The bottom two pics are my normal looks– more rock and roll on the left and smooth, tucked behind the ears weather girl style on the right.  I tried out the rocker style last week when I was headed into Turner’s classroom, and upon my entry, he loudly exclaimed, “It looks like you have bed head!” Um, mommy’s trying something new, sweetie.  Thanks for noticing.

I was chatting with a short-haired friend who lamented at how long my hair is getting– she really loved it short.  I told her I was growing it out, mostly for my family.  As we chatted, I had to admit that pre-cancer, I would have considered Clay’s opinion of my hair but would have likened letting the kids have a say in my hairstyle to letting them eat cookies for breakfast.  Sure, sometimes they want something, but kids don’t always make the best decisions.  I’m the adult.  It’s really only because of the cancer that I’m making that concession.  I want to be able to give them the “normal” they remember– the wife and mom with long flowing locks who didn’t have cancer.  Of course, it will be years before I have those same long locks, and by then I’ll be over forty and probably due  for the “I’m getting to old for this” chopping of the hair.  But it wasn’t until this weekend that it dawned on me– I’ll grow it as long as I can, but the next time I end up with a pixie or a faux-hawk, it will be my choice– not a necessity brought on by cancer.  And somehow, I think that small distinction will make all the difference.

We Heart a Great Fit | Nordstrom and the Young Survival Coalition

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It’s no surprise to most of you that I’m quite a fan of Nordstrom.  Their customer service, for one, is top notch, and that’s a big deal to me.  I’ll never forget the time that the gentleman in the shoe section was tracking down a pair of shoes for me at another store since he didn’t have my size.  It was taking a long time, so Sally and I wandered over to the lingerie section and were shopping there when he finally got it all taken care of.  He came over and found me and placed my order right there, at the “unmentionables counter.” (bonus points if you can name the movie reference for that one.)

Needless to say, after my first trip to the unmentionables counter at Nordstrom, I was a convert, never to return to the land of Victoria and her secret.  The women at Nordstrom know what they’re doing, and they will make sure to get you into a bra that fits you.  This weekend, they are partnering with the Young Survival Coalition for a fitting event, and will donate a portion of the sale of certain brands (I can’t remember now, but there are several– it’s not like you have to buy that one outrageously pink bra if you want to be part of the event!) to the Young Survival Coalition, which addresses the unique needs of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 35.  (I was barely 35 at diagnosis, but apparently, I make the cut!)

I’m pleased to be a part of the campaign for a bit on Friday morning, and will be at the Nordstrom in Tyson’s Corner.  I’ll talk to the staff there and probably stick around and answer any questions that they or any shoppers might have.  I can see where having a pink-hued bra fitting event for breast cancer might seem like just another Pinkwashing kind of thing.  But, I have learned that the “pink” opens some doors, and so it would be silly of me not to seize that teachable moment to encourage women to make smart health choices and have a better understanding of breast cancer.

So for the details: the event runs this Friday and Saturday, October 24-25.  I’ll be at the Tyson’s Corner Nordstrom starting at 10am.  Not sure how long I’ll be there, if you might stop by, let me know!

The DC Ladies Interview

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Do you read the DC Ladies? It’s a fun lifestyle blog for women, by women, in the DC area.  I love their tagline: the most fabulous women in the most powerful city. So I feel just a little fabulous today to be featured on their site.  It’s my first online interview, and I think they did a great job with it.  Shelley’s questions pushed me to think about things in a different way, so even faithful readers here will probably learn something new, and it is such a privilege to share my story with a new group of readers.  Check it out, and enjoy your holiday Monday!

Breast Cancer Awareness at the Pentagon | Recap #2

After the morning’s fun un-run, I headed to the Pentagon Athletic Center with a big crew from the clinic to shower and get ready to face the day.  I just love the camaraderie of a bunch of women getting ready together.  There are no pretenses– everyone can complain about their hair as they blow it out, there’s always someone with an eyebrow pencil if you’ve forgotten yours…  After a quick breakfast and a little break, we headed over to the Pentagon Conference Center where I gave my first talk of the day.  Of course, getting my talk from the laptop (which is maybe the oldest laptop I’ve ever seen!) to the screen was a bit of a challenge.  I think it took five of us to figure it out, and the conference center tech guy basically gave up and left us to our own devices before we figured it out.  Somehow it wouldn’t be a power point presentation if there wasn’t a problem with the projector.  (Those who know me well might know that I have a bit of a thing with fonts, so of course they were carefully chosen.  And of course the super old computer didn’t have the same font set, so I ended up with a few things in a rather pirate-y font.  Awesome. I’m sure I didn’t obsess over that and mention it in my talk at least four or five times.)  Once we got it going and I got over the pirate font, it went well.  The talk was open to anyone at the Pentagon, and I was privileged to have the senior staff from the clinic and the head of the Breast Care Center at Fort Belvoir and her chief nurse in the audience, too.  It was a diverse audience, but I think I managed to keep everyone engaged, and there was a great discussion afterwards.

DSC_0005In the break before heading out to the courtyard, I had lunch with the ladies from the Breast Care Center at Fort Belvoir. It was so interesting to share perspectives on patient care, and it was a unique dynamic– since she wasn’t my breast surgeon, I enjoyed being able to talk to Dr. Williams as more of a colleague than in the normal doctor/patient relationship.

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The courtyard event was fun, it was filled with people in pink who were eager to share their own stories.  It was a privilege to speak with so many men and women.

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And then I see this picture.  That’s me, standing on the stage in the courtyard of the Pentagon, being introduced to the crowd by the director of the clinic.  Craziness. I don’t get nervous, and feel like I’m taking it all in stride, but then sometimes I just realize– this is a big deal!

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I gave a quick talk, a little about me and a little about how to reduce your risk of breast cancer where you can and the importance of regular screenings before encouraging everyone to join me for a walk or head out on the three mile run that we skipped that morning.

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We encouraged everyone to walk for twenty minutes.  You know, for their health.  We’ll just not talk about the fact that each lap went through the designated smoking area.  Little victories, you know? 😉

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Oh, and did I forget to mention that I got a major award? OK, that might be overselling it a tad, but I did get a lovely framed certificate lauding my contribution the the Pentagon’s Second Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign and a commander’s coin from COL Pina. Very cool.  If I ever get a real job with a real office, you can be sure that bad boy is going on the wall!

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But really the best part of the day? I got to know some great people.  The clinic staff were such lovely hosts and made me feel like a VIP and part of the crew at the same time.  I spoke with several women who either were going through treatment for breast cancer or who had faced it in their past.  We traded stories and bonded in a way that’s becoming so familiar to me.  Karen tells me that she’s gotten great feedback since the event, and one of the women we talked to has even already stopped by the Fit to Win program at the clinic to start on a more proactive survivorship wellness plan.

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It was such a privilege to get to be a part of a breast cancer awareness campaign that I truly felt made a difference.  There was pink, yes, but I really feel like there was a conscious effort to embrace the teachable moment that the pink provided.  I was able to share some proactive steps a woman can take to reduce her risk of breast cancer, and I was able to incorporate some of the recent data that mammograms are catching cancers earlier.  But I was also able to use my time to remind everyone that there are no guarantees, and despite all the talk of risk reduction, early detection, and even my smile and healthy appearance, nearly 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year. With so many healthy survivors, it can be easy to gloss over the fact that breast cancer is a serious disease. And while October, in all its pink glory, can get a bad reputation for ignoring the hard parts of breast cancer– the suffering through treatment, what it’s like to live with metastatic disease, the lives it claims– I felt like my October day at the Pentagon was well spent.

Thanks to Natalie at the clinic for the images of the day’s events.

Cancer Vixen | Breast Cancer Book Review

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When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, several well meaning friends and family members gave me breast cancer books.  They were such thoughtful gifts, and I really did appreciate each one.  They were mostly the kind of books that had soft images of flowers on the front, they were probably really touching, inspirational, and encouraging.  I’m not sure because I only read (most of) one of them.  Somehow they didn’t scream “entertainment,” and that’s a pretty important component of any book that’s going to hold my attention long enough to finish it.

The day I had my head shaved, I first met the woman I consider my “cancer mentor.” She had finished treatment about six months before, and had tips, advice, and could commiserate over pretty much anything I wanted to discuss.  She has a great sense of humor, so when she suggested a book, I was all in.  Cancer Vixen didn’t disappoint.  It’s hilarious, a little irreverent, and so very true.  Any time a book has a magnification of little green cancer cells giving you the finger and mentions several new MAC lipstick shades I need to try, I think it’s a win. There were so many things to which I could relate.  It’s like it’s the book I would have written.  If I were an artist.  A funny artist.  A funny artist living a fabulous life in New York City.

I didn’t really want to read anything insightful, heartfelt, or inspiring.  I wanted to commiserate with a funny friend who knew just what I was going through.  Plus, anytime I can think of myself as some sort of super hero, and a vixen to boot, well, that’s a good thing.

Lessons Learned at North Parking | Breast Cancer Awareness at the Pentagon

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Early morning PT, that’s the Pentagon behind the group to the left.

When I got a call the last week in August from my friend, Karen, she had just started as Nurse Educator with the Fit to Win program at the Pentagon health clinic, and she had just over a month to help put together a breast cancer awareness event.  It has been a work in progress for most of the month, but I consider myself an easy going person, so I’m fine to go with the flow if the details change.  (foreshadowing alert!) The whole day was a great experience, but I’m waiting on pictures from Natalie, the day’s official photographer, so we’ll start the recaps with the early morning fitness routine, since I managed to grab a quick photo of that.

The general premise of the day had always been perfect for me.  I would join the clinic staff for their monthly RUN, head inside the Pentagon Athletic Center to shower and put on some LIPSTICK, and then give a couple of talks about breast cancer and CHEMO.  Run, lipstick, chemo.  Like the day was made for me.

After agreeing enthusiastically, I got a little nervous.  I was intimidated to run with all those military types– I run, but I’m not fast. Karen reassured me, it’s just a three mile run to the Lincoln Memorial and back, and the first half they run all together at a 12 minute pace. I can do that.  I was ready.

Imagine my surprise (shock, horror?) when the gentleman in charge of the o-dark thirty festivities, whose arms and legs resembled tree trunks, announced that we would not be running. Instead we would do something “fun.” Twenty minutes of army PT followed by fun relays. Gulp. I was a good sport, managed not to totally humiliate myself, and was, quite frankly, thankful for having had a mastectomy, which gave me an easy out from all the push ups.  Man, they do a LOT of push ups.  I decided to do sit ups instead to show that I was a “team player,” but did opt out of the bear crawl relay with a few others recovering from recent surgeries.  It was fun, and I even learned a few things:

  • They do a LOT of push ups.
  • Sit ups on an asphalt parking lot hurt.  If you position your spine along the parking space stripe, it’s not quite as uncomfortable.
  • Running short distance relays where you turn and go back (suicide style, at least that’s what we called it in middle school) works out a totally different group of muscles than “normal” running or body pump classes.
  • Doing upwards of 200 sit ups on an asphalt parking lot (even on the stripes) will leave you with bruises along your spine. You may wonder if you should blog this, not wanting any of the push uppers to make fun of you later. Secretly, though, you may consider your bruised spine a badge of honor.
  • Did I mention they do a LOT of push ups?
  • Being a VIP has its privileges– when they picked teams for the relays, I got picked first!
  • Most sets consist of ten of each exercise, and as they count off, after nine comes not ten, but one-zero.
  • Sometimes they do more than “one-zero,” in which case everyone (except the random civilian) knows to stop because of the tone of Mr. Tree Trunk’s voice. Said random civilian gets an extra workout by doing two extra jumping jacks before stopping like everyone else.

Intimidating as it seemed, I know that they were taking it easy on me. (I was a lot more sore from the body pump class full of ladies that I took earlier in the week!)  But they didn’t act like they were taking it easy on me, they let me feel like I was totally hanging with them, and they had great team spirit– lots of cheering on those relays for everyone. They made me feel completely welcome and it was a pleasure spending the day with them. And stay tuned, there are more stories to tell!

Early Morning Reflections

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You know when you’re at a shopping mall and you’re looking for the directory and all you can find is those signs with the ever-changing ads? I guess after the kids thought Daddy worked at a mall the first time we visited him there, it shouldn’t surprise me that the Pentagon has those same signs.  But this week, my face will float by that screen for ten seconds at a time!  So cool.

Yesterday I got to meet a lot of people at the clinic, and had a nice time speaking to the nurses after a yummy lunch.  I even got to chat with one woman nearing the end of her reconstruction process, and as always, it was like we were old friends, bonding over our common experiences.

As I sit waiting to form up for this morning’s run, I am in awe of the fact that I get to do this! I’m sure some people are used to this type of thing, but the idea of being a “VIP” with my face plastering the walls of such a high profile building kind of makes me giggle. I definitely feel like this is another instance of God getting everything ready before I knew what was even going on.

But that’s probably enough reflection for now. I’m starting to see people show up, I should probably stretch so I don’t injure myself somewhere between the Pentagon and the Lincoln Memorial. At least running with the Pentagon clinic staff, I know I’ll be in good hands even if I do!