Missing Cancer | Scarves

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A couple of weeks ago, Sally and I were at one of our favorite shops, Covet Boutique in Arlington, getting ready for a party we’re helping host this weekend.  I saw this scarf on a display and loved it.  I was so disappointed that Autumn, the shop owner, hadn’t found these last year.  Even though I’ve got hair now, I couldn’t resist tying it on my head, wishing I’d had it a year ago.  I love everything about this scarf– the soft, knit jersey, the red color, the chevron pattern, the long tail, the contrast of turquoise and navy.  As I recall, there was another print or two of these soft, knit scarves, but I can’t even remember what they look like, this was so clearly my favorite.  It almost makes me miss the bald head that required a scarf. (And if you happen to be local and would like to join us this Saturday afternoon, you can check out this scarf and the rest of our favorite gift shop– details here.)

This post is part of a series of what I’ll miss from my time as a cancer patient.  I know cancer is a serious thing, not everyone tolerates treatment well, and not everyone recovers.  I don’t mean to offend by making light of a serious subject.  These posts are just a glimpse of my efforts to make the best of my situation—to find the silver linings wherever I can.

Pinkwashing

sprinkles pinkwashing run lipstick chemo

Happy October, all.  Last year as the nation “celebrated” breast cancer awareness month, my friends, family, and I became acutely aware of breast cancer. To anyone in the throes of a new breast cancer diagnosis, I sympathize with you. October must be the worst time to be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Yes, Yoplait, I am aware.  Yes, NFL, those big guys do look a little silly in pink helmets.  Yes, 5 hour energy, I have heard of breast cancer.  (5 hour energy, really?  Still don’t quite get that one.  I’d think that stuff would give cancer to mice for sure.) Back in my days in the lab, I thought the idea of saving, washing, and mailing in pink yogurt lids was laughable.  Why not just write a big check and be done with it, Yoplait? Why do I have to do all that work? And all the athletes in their pink gear?  I was outraged that they spent the money on that gear and didn’t just donate it to a good cause.  Then my husband informed me that they auction them off and donate the proceeds, and apparently people will pay a premium for sweaty game-worn gear.  So there’s that.

But still, I can’t help but feeling like all the companies that are slapping a pink ribbon on anything they can think of are capitalizing on a life threatening disease.  Maybe it’s just an emotional reaction, and I know plenty of “survivors” who love them some pink ribbon swag. But I can’t help but feel a little dirty thinking of the money companies are making schilling all their pink products.

That said, I think money for education is fine (though are there really women who don’t know they should get yearly mammograms?) and I think money for research is great. I’m partial to Komen and Avon, as I’m familiar with their granting mechanisms and I know they stand behind strong science. I know there are plenty of products– good products, things I might even like– that donate a portion of their proceeds to some worthy breast cancer cause.  But really, it’s just a portion, and it’s rarely more than a dollar or two for each item. (That 5 hour energy? Five cents per bottle.) I’ve been trying to come up with an educated position on this issue, I don’t want it to be emotional on any level.  And so I’ve decided.  If I really like that pink ribbon lipstick/blush/yogurt, then I’ll buy it and be happy that they’re giving a small donation to a good cause.  But if I feel like I need to support a good cause and like a different lipstick, then I’ll buy the lipstick I want and send my two dollars to Komen on my own.

Breast Cancer and My Kiddos

kiddos breast cancer

I met a young woman last week who was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was and so we instantly started talking about our shared experiences.  Being moms, chemo, baldness, those wretched tissue expanders…  But as we chatted, she said something that left me speechless.  (And this blog would indicate that I am rarely speechless!) She hadn’t told her kids that she had breast cancer.  They range in age from preschool to upper elementary school.  I couldn’t imagine trying to keep that up– making excuses for missing out on activities because of doctors appointments and fatigue, explaining why people were bringing us dinner, hiding a port, scars, post-surgery pain…  But most of all, it exhausted me to think that she couldn’t let her kids know that she was bald.

That’s not the way we decided to handle it for our family.  Let me make it clear though, the way we handled it was definitely the best way. For OUR family. Not the best way for her family, she needed to make that decision, and there’s no way that I would judge her or try to tell her that she did it wrongly.

But it did get me to thinking.  There are probably women who struggle with how to talk to their children about their cancer diagnosis.  Or whether to talk to their children.  And when we had that conversation with the kiddos a year ago, it was a very raw time for me.  That fell into the category of things that I just couldn’t blog.

We decided to wait until we knew for sure the treatment course, I wanted to be sure that the kids got the full information when we had that conversation.  We wanted them to hear the whole story the first time. So once we knew for sure that I would have chemo and then surgery, we sat down with them.  I thought that it was important that we were honest with them and answered their answered their questions truthfully, but I know that there is such a thing as giving kids too much information.  Answer only what they ask, no more.

So when we sat them down, I reminded them that I’d had a couple of doctor’s appointments that week.  Then I told them that the doctors told me I had breast cancer.  Emma Clare gasped. Turner immediately said, “So you’re going to die, right?” Insert knife into heart. As quickly and as confidently as I could muster, I answered.  No. I explained to them that cancer is when some normal cells go out of control and don’t stop growing when they’re supposed to.  If the cancer cells get to an important part of a person’s body, that can make them die.  But my cancer was in my breast, and while they were important for feeding my babies, I didn’t need them to live. So I was going to have to take some pretty nasty medicine to kill the cancer that might make me sick and would make my hair fall out, and I would have surgery so that they could take out all the cancer in my breast.  But the doctors would do their very best to kill all the cancer and then make sure that I felt and looked as good as new when it was all over.  They didn’t love the idea of me being bald, and they really didn’t like the idea of me having to stay in the hospital overnight when I had my surgery.  But after we talked, I had several weeks before chemo started.  They had time to process, ask questions, and get used to the idea. They talked about it with us, with their teachers, with their friends. I think being able to talk about it made it less scary, little by little. By the time they went with me to have my head shaved, they were excited about it, and months later, they were even ok with the surgery, too.

I won’t say that we handled it perfectly.  I won’t say that it was easy. I cried a little.  I was honest and told them I was scared, too. (Maybe I should have been stronger?) At one point, Clay had to take over because my heart was broken, and so was my voice. But we told them that we had so much confidence in my doctors, and more than that, I was confident that God had a plan for me and for our family, and we would come through it all fine.  Believe me, just this week, I’ve had a couple of doses of reality.  Cancer isn’t pretty and pink, it isn’t easy, it doesn’t always have a happy ending, and my kids might not have the most realistic perspective of how bad it can get.  But you know what? I’m totally ok with that.  They’re just kids. They can grow up later.

In Case You Missed It | Alexandria Stylebook

In case you missed it, I did a guest post last week at Alexandria Stylebook.  I got to play dress up with such nice clothes, lovely jewelry, and fabulous shoes.  After shopping at Zoe Boutique, Kiskadee, and The Shoe Hive, I met with Allison at Bellacara to have my make up done before heading to a studio photo shoot with Sally.

alexandria stylebook run lipstick chemo

I had the opportunity to share my story with a new group of people and talk about why lipstick (and taking time to look my best) was so important to me, and it was such a fun day, too.  Many thanks to the ladies at Alexandria Stylebook!  Head there to read my post.

Happy Cancerversary

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August 2012 at Topsail Island. Probably the last picture of me where I was blissfully unaware of the cancer growing in my left breast.

One year ago, on Friday, October 5, I heard the words that would certainly change my life. “Invasive breast cancer… Triple negative…” You hear about mothers who receive inexplicable strength to lift cars off of their children– something takes over and it’s as if they lose the ability to panic. They do what needs to be done, and that’s it. One year ago this weekend, I became that mother. I’m not talking about the physical strength, or even the mom protecting her kiddos, I’m talking about the shutting down of emotion, the getting it done.

I re-read the post where I talked about that call, and honestly teared up when I got to the part where I spoke to my oncologist. She told me it would be a rough year, and then it would be over. I didn’t doubt her, but I don’t know that I totally believed her. I just nodded and made my plans for the next step. Just get it done. And now, this weekend (specifically tomorrow) marks one year since learning I had cancer. Want to know what I’m doing today? Buying a new bra. I’m healthy and out of compression gear. I’m going shopping for the next (much longer) season in my life. I guess my oncologist was right after all. It’s been a year, and now it’s over.

 

Strong vs. Beautiful

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Have you forgotten what I looked like this time last year?  With long hair?  I nearly have. Crystal took this top image just two days before Dragan shaved my head.  I loved my hair long.  So beautiful.

short hair

This picture is one Sally took last week.  I guess my hair really does look darker, now that I see these two images next to each other.  I was thinking it was closer to the same color as before.  Ah well.  Either way.

Still people ask, will I grow my hair back out?  Still, I answer with uncertainty.  I like it short, and I do get lots of compliments.  But the compliments have changed.  With long hair, those loose waves, usually people told me that I had beautiful hair.  And that’s an awesome compliment.  Who wouldn’t want to be beautiful?  With it short, the compliments are different. “You really rock that short hair.” People tell me that I look fierce, powerful, strong.  And those are great compliments, too.

I think of my family, my husband who fell in love with a girl with a ponytail, my daughter whose long hair is as much a part of her identity as mine used to be, and my sweet boy who is so empathetic that he is attached to my long hair because his sister is.  I imagine they’d love for things to be the way they used to be. And the idea of having that long, flowing hair is certainly attractive to me some days. But I’ve come to realize that even though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most of us do. Hearing you’re beautiful? Always good. But today, I like the idea that when someone I don’t know sees me, words like strong, powerful, or fierce come to mind. I may change my mind tomorrow, but today, I’d rather be strong than beautiful.

Photography: Lily B Photography and Sally Brewer Photography Lipstick: MAC Dubonnet and NARS 413BLKR

Important Things | Coffee

View More: http://sallybrewer.pass.us/stylelobbycoffee

I was talking on the phone to my mom one morning last week and when she asked my plans for the day, I told her I was meeting a friend for coffee.  She remarked that I sure do meet people for coffee an awful lot.  (Sally brought along her camera when we had coffee with Maria Jose last week, there are more pictures here.)

I was talking to someone else today and they commented that something like cancer puts things in perspective, makes you realize the important things.  It occurred to me, coffee has become one of those important things.  I wasn’t always a coffee drinker, it’s only been the last two or three years that I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee.  Even now, I do enjoy my coffee, but I’m more of a social drinker. And that’s what is really important to me.

Before last year, I still had a preschooler, and time to myself was limited, precious, and usually filled with a busy to-do list.  So with Turner in kindergarten last year, in theory, I did have more time for coffee.  Sally and I joke that cancer made me popular, though.  I had coffee with a few brand new friends and with some old friends who I would have likely met up with regardless. I also got to know better some friends who reached out to me during my treatment.  That time was so special to me, it was fun to spend time with friends old and new, and it was a brilliant distraction. An hour or two (plus the time to get myself ready and back home) pretty much filled my morning but still left me with the afternoon to nap.  Much more fun chatting with a friend than dwelling on cancer and my own mortality.

If I’ve learned one thing from last year, it’s that I have been blessed with countless wonderful friends.  I don’t even have the words to express what they all mean to me. I do love the coffee, but it’s not so much the coffee that’s important, it’s the friend behind the second cup that really matters.  And while the cancer and those blissfully long naps are behind me, I’m not willing to give up my coffee dates.