Archive for October, 2011

Cancerspeak: the good, the bad, the you gotta be kidding me!

My latest (and perhaps last) essay about life with breast cancer went live this morning on Today/MSNBC.com.   Here’s how it starts:

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was a wreck.  I tried my best to keep it together, to keep a muzzle on my hyperactive mouth, but inevitably some highly inappropriate comment would come tumbling out.

“Would you like paper or plastic?” a grocery clerk would ask.

“I have breast cancer,” I’d answer. “They found three masses and now they’re saying the masses are tumors and that I have to have a double mastectomy. I didn’t even know how to pronounce mastectomy until this happened! Oh … uh … paper would be great.”

After awhile, though, I didn’t have to worry so much about the inappropriate things I was saying because others were coming up with their own questionable cancerspeak.

Don’t get me wrong. My friends and family (and even a few kind strangers) have been there for me 100 percent — bringing by meals and flowers and homemade pies; taking me for walks and checking in to see how my 173 doctors’ appointments went that week.

It’s just that getting sideswiped by cancer — not to mention spending all of your time thinking and talking and waiting for test results about cancer — can make a body oversensitive.

Not to mention testy.

I certainly was the first time somebody made the mistake of wishing me well on my “journey.”

My journey? I wanted to yell at them. I’ve got breast cancer. I’m not going to Acapulco!

To read the rest, click here. To share your own stories of Breast Cancer Comments Gone Wild, send me a comment!

 

Cinderella after the ball

I went out the other night with some friends. We went to hear a swing/lounge type act  and because my girlfriend is glamorous and loves to dress up (much as I do), I put on the dog. Nothing too fancy, mind you, but simple and classic:  black pencil skirt, black V-neck shirt worn backwards to hide my radiation burns and a vintage cream sweater with a fur collar (a gift from a sister, who works in antiques).

Plus fishnets and black patent leather platforms.  Plus fake boobs. Plus a wig. Plus powdered on eyebrows, etc., etc.

And I had a lovely time. Probably drank a little too much (i.e., one and a half martinis), but then I’m in my sixth week of radiation and alcohol helps take the edge off the pain. Right now, my chest – especially the V of my neck — is lobster red and aches and itches and throbs all the time. One of my armpits is also deepening from a lovely tan to a dark brownish red and I’m starting to go about with my left arm a bit crooked all the time, as if I’m a pirate. Or just feeling rather jaunty.

I guess you could say I was feeling jaunty the other night. Loved the music. Loved my friends. Loved the venue, although considering the talent,  it should have been packed (Hey Seattle, what gives?). After the band shut down, I got a lift home from my buds, then got a phone call and spent some time with a recent suitor. Nothing too scandalous. We sat in his car outside my building talking … for the most part. It was a lovely night, a tipsy night, and thankfully, a night when I was able to  forget for five minutes the cancer and the daily radiation blasts and the fact that I’m bald and that my chest looks like somebody dropped a piano on it.

At some point (midnight, perhaps?), I left my suitor in the car and hurried upstairs. Where I took off my wig to reveal my ashy gray stubble. And stripped down to my skivvies, unveiling my flattened red chest. Then I put on a camisole, nothing too fancy since I have to grease up every night with special Eucerin cream that’s made for burn victims. Days back, I’d mistakenly used some of the cream – or my other standby, castor oil – with a lovely black satin nightgown and it had loosened the dye from the cloth so I woke to black smudges all over my sheets. As if I’d cleaned a chimney before bed.

This night,  I looked into the mirror at the end of it all and the glamorous blonde from earlier that evening was gone.  Disappeared — as if by magic. No sexy black silhouette, no halo of blonde hair. No hair at all, except for the wig perched on a white foam head on my dresser. I was the ash and cinder girl again. Complete with chimney stains on her bed sheets.

In some ways, it feels Grimm. In some ways, it feels grim. But for the most part, it feels like my life. And on nights like this, it ain’t no fairy tale. 

 

Love in the time of chemotherapy

My second personal essay on breast cancer, Love in the Time of Chemotherapy, went live this morning on Today/MSNBC and yet again, I’m wondering if I’ve done something completely stupid, self-sabotaging, or — who knows — slightly inspirational. Here’s how it starts:

Call me crazy, but I went on a date two weeks after my double mastectomy.

It was also my first social outing since the surgery, not counting the shambling walks around my neighborhood or the sobering follow-ups with my doc who told me I needed both chemo and radiation since my cancer had been upgraded from Stage 1 to what I called Stage WTF.

The date — a double date, to be specific — was with some married friends and a buddy of theirs. It was very casual, which was good since I was still wearing my surgical drains (stuffed down the front of my pants at this point) and was about as prepared to hold a conversation with an eligible man as I was to walk on the moon.

Thanks to the painkillers, half the time I thought I was on the moon.

To read the rest, click here.

From the online comments so far, it appears that the essay seems to have provided a little humor and inspiration for people (particularly people who’ve gone through something similar) although my guess is the trolls will be waking up shortly and sharpening their knives (and keyboards) for the kill.

Needless to say, I’m feeling slightly exposed.

Not so much because of the essay itself but because of the before-and-after photo shoot that accompanied it. I normally don’t go out of my apartment — or even down to the basement to do my laundry — without makeup and hair. Granted, I do go “commando” (sans wig) when I run, but I wear a baseball hat and sunglasses and figure as long as I keep moving, no one’s going to recognize me. (Of course, the first time I ran without hair, one woman in my ‘hood did the whole sunglasses-pull-down-open-jawed-gape. Nice!)

Anyway, I’d love to discuss the difficulty of “coming out” to a national audience (not to mention every single man within a 1,000-mile radius) at some point, but need to leave that for another day. Right now, I’ve got a deadline looming and a radiation treatment awaiting me in just six short hours. Burn, baby, burn – radiation inferno!  (I’ve been trying to come up with soundtrack to encapsulate each phase of treatment. Hey, you do what you can.)

Again, thanks for all your support, kind words and interest in my writing.  And Enchilada01, if you’re reading this, thanks for the offer of the date! I’ll give it some thought. ; )

Penis v breasts: The debate continues

I’ve been a bit harried since the publication of Mastectomy and the Single Girl, but have managed to make it to radiation every day, flirt with a few men here and there, do a photo shoot for this Friday’s installment (Love in the Time of Chemotherapy) and get started on my final Today/MSNBC essay for October, which is on all the inappropriate things people say to you when you have breast cancer. (If you’ve got a good story on this, feel free to share!)

What I haven’t managed to do, of course, is to throw up another blog post (if you’ll pardon the expression).  So here goes.

I usually try to keep myself from reading the online comments for my stories (trust me, once you’re called a “feminazi cow” a few times, the process loses its charm), but I couldn’t help diving into to the abyss last week to see what people had to say about my essay. And in addition to a handful of curmudgeons (like the guy whose entire takeaway from the story was that I was “promiscuous”) and a huge amount of support, I found some interesting debates.

One was about how breasts were nothing like penises, that there’s no comparison, they serve different functions, yadda yadda yadda.  I get that argument; it’s the kind of argument you might hear from someone who thinks very logically and linearly. It’s just hard for some people — especially perhaps for some men — to acknowledge that anything could be as spectacular as a penis.

As one reader put it (a reader who has apparently given this a lot of thought):

To say losing ones breasts are as bad as a man losing his penis is not true. Both are terrible, thats a given. But with out breasts you will still be able to have sex and function normally. I hate mens identity is tied to his sexual organ, but it is and with out it or even if it just dont work a man falls into DEEP despair and would just as soon die rather than live without, breasts although awful to lose as well are not as detrimental to a womans well being as a penis is to a man, it aint even a close race, now if you had your v-jay cut out and concreted and your boobs too that would be equal.”

Hand that man a trowel!  Not.  Another reader offered this argument (and again, I’m reproducing the comments exactly as written, as much as it’s killing my inner copy editor):

Breasts are not sexual organs. They’re reproductive organs that aren’t actually necessary for reproduction. Medically speaking, loosing your breasts is absolutely nothing like loosing a penis. It’s medically the same as a man with breast cancer… where I can understand the feeling of loosing some part of your sexuality with loosing your breasts, do not confuse them with being a sexual organ. That’s just outright wrong.

The thing is, though, we’re not talking tit for tat here (yeah, I went there). Reproduction function versus maternal function versus sexual function, etc., etc. This is about comparing how we feel about these particular body parts. And I think that women feel about their breasts the same way men feel about their penises.

I also think culture gives the two the same sort of heft, if you will.

For instance, when it comes to both breasts and penises, larger is generally preferred over smaller. Although to be fair, I think men are more appreciative of small breasts than women generally are of small penises. So just a shout-out to the guys. You’re better men than we. But I digress.

Breasts and penises are also the only two parts of the body that get full-on erections. I suppose you could argue that a woman’s clitoris gets a hard-on, too, but erect nipples — at least to me — are a lot more like an erect penis. They stick out. They’re readily accessible. They make themselves known to friends and strangers alike (a homeless guy once told me I could “pop balloons with those things” when I jogged by one morning).  Anyway, they’re body parts and they serve all kinds of other functions. But they’re also these fun fleshy toys that perform cool tricks. For many of us, they’re the absolute favorite part of our body, sexually-speaking and otherwise. And for society, they seem to be the body parts that truly encapsulate the essence of our sexual identity, our femaleness or our maleness. (Imagine a large-breasted woman walking by a construction site. Do you think the guys there are going to express their admiration for the amount of milk her breasts can produce?)

Anyway, that’s my take on the whole penis v breast smackdown. There were some other funny memes going through the comments section that I was going to mention, but it’s late, I’ve had a glass of wine and my sternum is starting to burn from my daily dose of radiation, so I think it’s time to quit typing.

Again, huge thanks for all of your support. Wish I could reply to each of your comments individually, but it’s been a busy week (a busy year!) and as a friend recently reminded me to say whenever I can’t get to the things I’d really like to get to, “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m still in treatment.”

Writing about breast cancer is scary, too

So it’s been an interesting couple of days. My essay, Mastectomy and the Single Girl, went live yesterday on Today/MSNBC.com, garnering a lot of online comments. I’m happy to say most of them were supportive, although there were a few people who thought I was “crude and vulgar” or being too flip with regard to a horrible, devastating disease (uh duh — I have it) or that I was suffering not only from ILC (invasive lobular carcinoma) but a really bad case of TMI.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Quite frankly, I still haven’t decided if I’m insane or stupid or brave or full of myself or what when it comes to sharing my story. I just know that I’m a writer and writers write about the stuff that happens to them. And when you suddenly lose a couple of body parts and then your hair and then your strength because you’re being pumped full of poison in an attempt to keep you from losing your life … well, that seems like something that might be worth delving into.

Even if it’s scary. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

And cancer — or any disease, for that matter — is not a comfortable topic.  When I was diagnosed I went looking for information on that topic, though, for stories from women who’d been through it.  Some of those stories depressed me.  (I told my friends if I heard the phrase “I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my wonderful husband and partner” one more time, I was going to throw up, but hey, I’d just been dumped).

Others scared the bejesus out of me. Tip to those recently diagnosed: avoid the online breast cancer forums for a while — they’re full of information, but all you’ll focus on are the horror stories about how your fingernails are going to turn black and fall off during chemo. (FYI, mine didn’t.) Other stories helped me beyond words.

Anyway, I guess I’m just trying to return the favor by offering my take on the situation. And since I write humor and have always had a knack for saying inappropriate things (and I have the grade school report card comments to prove it), I’m not going to be presenting the Lifetime Channel version of breast cancer.

I’m just hoping that some woman, somewhere, who’s just heard from a radiologist or surgeon or oncologist that she, too, is a brand new member of the Breast Cancer Club, will find something useful in my experience. Will see that breast cancer is doable. And survivable. Will realize that cancer can take your boobs and your hair and your physical strength, but it can’t take your sense of humor. Or your will to live. Or in my case, my determination to kill this motherfucker of a disease one bad joke at a time.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve sent me comments and subscribed to this blog. Your support means a lot. Gotta run now. I’ve got tap dance class.

Mastectomy and the single girl

I’m still not sure if this was really brave or really stupid, but whatever the case, I decided to write a series of personal essays about my battle with breast cancer for Today/MSNBC.com.  The first, “Mastectomy and the Single Girl,” went live today. Here’s how it starts:

Most people cry and cuss and rage at the universe when they’re first diagnosed with breast cancer.

Me? I scheduled a pin-up shoot.

Not that I didn’t do all of that other stuff, too, along with cracking bad jokes and mocking any and all medical personnel within spitting distance.

When the radiologist — aka Dr. Debbie Downer — came into that small dark room to tell me that the ultrasound had found three masses in my two breasts, I cried and raged plenty. I also told her I couldn’t have cancer because I was health writer, as if knowledge comes with a protective shield.

But just like the other 230,000 plus women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. every year, I had no shield. What I had instead was a needle biopsy, which confirmed that the masses were all positive for invasive lobular carcinoma, a “sneaky” cancer seldom found in the early stages because it doesn’t create a lump.

One of the tumors had caused a tuck, though, a small dent under my left nipple. That dent — and the fact that I had checked it out — undoubtedly saved my life.

To read the rest of the piece, click here.   To find out more about Old School Pinups, the people who did my pin-up shoot (including the attached photo), click here

My next essay, “Love in the Time of Chemotherapy,” will come out next week (I’ll post another link when it goes live).  As always, folks, I look forward to your thoughts on the piece.

Unless your name happens to be “SueinTX“.  Sheesh lady, lighten up. I got cancer here!  ; )

The cancer kiss-off

As luck would have it, one of the first things that happened to me after my breast cancer diagnosis, was the guy I was seeing decided it was all too much for him. Or I was too much for him. Or something.

Anyway, since post-diagnosis dumping is a pretty common phenomenon (for women), I decided it might make an interesting story.  My piece, “Cancer kiss-off:  getting dumped after diagnosis” went live on Today/MSNBC.com last week.  Here’s how it starts:

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is bad enough. But getting dumped by the guy you’re seeing right afterwards is sort of like finding a piece of spoiled lettuce on your crap sandwich.

Granted, the guy I was dating wasn’t exactly husband — or even steady boyfriend — material; it was far too early in the game for that. But there was something there. Until things started getting “heavy.” Then, not only was the “something” gone, so was he.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone when it comes to the cancer kiss-off.    

When Cindy Wine was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, she came home from her first radiation treatment to an empty house.

“My husband said he couldn’t go with me — he was too busy at work,” says the 55-year-old former radio host from Indianapolis. “But when I got home, all of his stuff was gone. I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut.”

For the rest of the story, click here.


What’s the story?

Meet Diane Mapes, your friendly neighborhood freelance writer. My regular beats include health, lifestyle and singles issues, but I also love writing about history, natural history, pop culture and TV/film. On this site, you'll find links to my latest stories, media appearances, and, yes, a bit of social commentary on the single life. Also here, info on upcoming classes and events, a library of clips, and a few shameless plugs about my books (hint: see links below). Have fun, glad you're here and hope to hear from you soon.

Oh! And if you're looking for my breast cancer blog, go to Double_Whammied

Check out my books!

How to Date in a Post-Dating World A dating manual for the modern, mangled single.

Single State of the Union
Single women speak out on life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

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