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.

23 Responses to “Writing about breast cancer is scary, too”


  1. 1 Jack Jensen October 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    You may have lost a couple of body parts but you still have a heart and sense of humor and that’s why I subscribed to your blog. Best to you Diane!

  2. 2 Steven Marcus October 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I think it is a great thing that you have shared your story through, Mastectomy and the single girl, and the other articles you wrote. And I believe it will serve your purpose of informing people that cancer can be survived.

  3. 3 Pamela October 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Hi, I am so sorry for your pain and physical disfigurement. My Mom had a radical m. at 28y/o, I was 8y/o. My brother was 5y/o and kept telling people> my Mom had her button removed. When I was around I laughed and said> oh, the button on her coat (silly, but at age 8 I thought it was a private thing :) She never had reconstruction, I never understood. I always told myself, never would this happen to me! To this day my Mom has fought “C” since she was 28, it just kept coming back somewhere else. I’m over it! I did have to fight my own battle (in a different/personal area), but I went the metaphysical way. After that I had an oncologist look and it was gone, but had laser done. I am a metaphysical mind/body therapist and always look for the underlying issues. (awesome authors> Louise L Hay (Heal your Body)+ Donna Eden (Energy Medicine)
    Always much love. Your articles are great!
    Pamela
    Atlanta,GA.

  4. 4 Shari October 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    You’re funny….those others? Not so much.
    Take care

  5. 5 The Ginger NInja October 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Your story really is inspiring and I know it will help other women. My grandmother had a double mastectomy when I was a senior in high school and her courage in the face of that really amazed me. She made what some would consider inappropriate jokes about it, but her humor in the face of something so daunting made me admire her so much and also made me realize that sometimes you just gotta laugh when everyone around you thinks you should be bawling your eyes out, because it might be the only thing keeping you sane.
    She survived for 20 more years and passed away in February at the age of 82. She beat the cancer and so will you. Keep telling your story because all of us out here want to keep reading it and are hoping for a happy ending.
    Good luck and keep fighting!

  6. 6 Puddintane October 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    It is one thing to be on the outside looking in, and it is a completely different thing to be inside, completely surrounded and doused in it. Every person is different and every cancer is different. How a person decides to face their cancer, medically and emotionally is their decision. I hope you keep telling your story. There are plenty of us out there who are supporting you. And as far as those others who feel you have a bad case of TMI, or are being flip or too vulgar, well, to hell with them.

  7. 7 Teresa Masters October 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    As a five day breast cancer survivor, I forwarded your link to a friend, only to hear you two are already aware of one another, Kim E. Whittemore.

    Terrie

  8. 8 Denise Abell October 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks! Never stop laughing!

  9. 9 AnneMarie October 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Diane,

    Tap on, sista!! Tap on….. I’ll just Yoga my way to fitness…..

    I didn’t realize we both belong to the invasive lobular club. That makes us special. We are “rare breast cancers” …… We already had a bit of a dim twit conversation about this and I’ve decided FOR SURE I’m going for my close up. If I could sit for that interview, I am finding a photographer and going your route. I’m getting hair and makeup done and want to have some great outfits to wear. In fact, I’m going to add some racy ones to the mix. Maybe I’ll hire a male model and really do it up right.

    Maybe we should do a compilation for a book? Over 50, dumped, tit-less and loving life. I’m okay with the way I look IN CLOTHES…..even if I’m horrified and petrified of intimacy. They are FAKE for the love of God… Do we share this information ahead of time? Do we insist upon total darkness?? (I think I liked soft lighting….) OR, perhaps I hit the Victoria’s Secret catalog with the hottest lingerie and insist the sexy bra has to stay on??? Actually, VS isn’t my choice…. that’s just name recognition, I think La Perla is more me.

    Point is, after 20 years with one guy and THAT guy decided “chemo changed you” and he “didn’t sign on for this” (funny that I really didn’t remember eliminating that sickness/health thing from the ceremony….. couple more of those lines got eliminated now that I think about this), I know I’m not alone in the ranks of the “I’m not dead yet and I still really really enjoy certain aspects of life……” But I am a-friggen-fraid…..

    A book. Definitely, a book. Maybe we can get Annie Liebowitz to do the photo shoot… You in?

    OK sweetie… I’m punch drunk. It’s 2AM on this coast…. Need to get my beauty sleep so I don’t have to use preparation H to reduce the swelling under my eyes because my head is up my ass….. you make me smile-ALWAYS…… and I love THAT!!!!

    Love,
    AnneMarie
    aka @chemobrainfog

  10. 10 Donna Shelton Estrada October 16, 2011 at 12:37 am

    I also lost my girls. It is refreshing to read your posts. You get that they are a big part of our identity. You speak honestly and with humor. Thank you for opening up and sharing your life.
    That guy that dumped you, well he wasn’t serious material as you said, but truly he lost out. You sound like a real hoot!

  11. 11 Henri (@TheNCRoadRunner) October 16, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Dance on gal…… Great ‘chat’ for all to read….. The mix of fact and humor is refreshing, and makes all the tough stuff easer to handle.
    Let us know how it looks from Everest…..
    Keep your sense of humor and your positive outlook….
    Love it…
    Henri

  12. 12 Jenene P October 16, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Diane ~ Right On! and Write On!
    Courage, Hope, Love, Faith!

  13. 13 Beth October 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Diane, what an awesome article. My daughter saw and read it and called me and said ” Mom there is something you need to read.” She was also standing beside me 5 months pregnant with my 2nd granddaughter, when I was told I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ…also known as DCIS. I was 44 at the time. By time I turned 45 I had already started Chemo and had lost my hair….. after my journey through chemo I opted for a dbl mastectomy, no reconstuct. Hubby said he loved me for me not my boobs! Well that wasn’t completely true….
    I am now almost 50 and still cancer free, and love life!! (and me) I put my girls on the dresser every night, don;t have to worry about rolling over and pinching one! And better still no matter how cold it gets I never have to deal with my “high beams” showing up!!! I to have used humor to deal with this, and my thinking in my Journey was ” It’s All About ATTITUDE!!! I got to watch granddaughter #2 take her first breath in this world and we have a very special bond, and since have blessed with a all boy grandson! My daughter is my hero and best friend, because of her my cancer was caught Stage 1…….
    Almost 50 single and loving life….. They will either except me without the girls or watch this 5′ 2″ gal walk away!!! I love who and how I am cuz I’m alive, and without surgery I may not be here…. Boobs they are so overrated…. lol

  14. 14 ihavebreastcancerblog October 17, 2011 at 6:24 am

    When a woman decides to be open and/or talk about/write about her breast cancer, there will always be someone with something to say about it. Or someone to tell you that you don’t need treatment you only need to eat asparagus under a full moon or something… It’s your decision and as someone who has been open and writing about her breast cancer experience, I say brava!

  15. 15 millspec October 17, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Chalk this comment up in the “good” column! I read your latest installment on msnbc.com this morning and I really appreciate your attitude and humor. Confronting the disease the way you have has been an inspiration to me…a guy. Like you, I lost over 50 pounds and am really enjoying the health benefits from it…and the interest it generates amongst the opposite sex! However, had I received news such as yours, I’m certain my reaction would not have been the same.
    Thanks for sharing. You have made a difference in my life. Maybe a few glamour shots are in order …

  16. 16 Nancy October 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Wow! I’m a 3 yr. survivor, got an email dump and I too loved my boob! Shared so many of your feelings, good to know someone else felt the same way…and yes some people are just plain ignorant, I was told “it’s just your boob!” WTH? I just wasn’t ready for a replacement part at 49 – thank you! So keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more, brought a smile to my face. Must admit I do like my Foob (fake boob) and the adjustment to my original – thank you God for plastic surgeons. As far as dating yes tell the guy about them – either they will accept or decline, their choice, their loss.

  17. 17 Dennis Rojo October 18, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Like your style Diane. Keep your insides alkaline as cancer hates that. Best way to do that is a plant based diet, plus 1 tps baking soda, and 1tps black strap molasses in 8 oz of water. I know sounds strange, look it up.
    The world needs your humor.
    hugs.

  18. 18 Pink Ribbon Journey October 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Hi Di. Loved your article. I too have often wondered if I’m being too honest in my appraisal of my breast cancer journey (on my blog). But then I think, if you don’t like it, don’t read it! I’ve found a sense of humor to be one of my best tools in getting through the whole debacle. Keep it up, I look forward to reading more of your story.

  19. 19 Patty October 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Diane…I just found your blog on facebook via the Pretty in Pink Boutique in TN. You are a great writer with an incredible sense of humor…!! Humor has been my life line since my second diagnosis of breast cancer. I was dianosed 17 years ago…had a segmental mastecomy and radiation…was told it wouldn’t come back in that breast…but it did in April of 2010…!! I made the decision to have my left breast removed and as I was nearing the end of resonstruction…they found pre-cancerous cells in the right breast. I elected to have that one removed too…and am now nearing the end of reconstruction…YAHOO…!! My sense of humor has taken me a long way on this journey. I ordered a breast cancer awareness t-shirt…which I wear proudly…and it says…”Heck yes these are fake, the real ones tried to kill me”. I will be receiving nipple tattoos as the last step in my reconstruction…and I have decided that if anyone ever asks me if I have a tattoo…I will promptly reply with “Yes, would you like to see them”…:)…!! There is life after mastectomy…single or married. Breast Cancer will always be a part of my life…but it is just one part…and it will never define who I am inside…!! Good Luck with your journey…!!

  20. 20 jane October 23, 2011 at 1:07 am

    I am one woman, one single woman, who has found quite a lot useful from your writings about breast cancer. I have been living with the after effects of a single mastectomy for the past year and have not yet gotten back into the dating mindset. I love the humor with which you write, and your dead on sense of irony. So, for what my vote is worth, I am very glad to have found your columns.

  21. 21 The Big C and Me October 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    It IS scary to be *publicly* vulnerable when you are *at* your most vulnerable! Kudos to you for your grit and your grace.

    Looking forward to reading about your journey.

    -Renn


  1. 1 will ann curry be interviewing me too? | ihavebreastcancerblog Trackback on October 17, 2011 at 6:33 am
  2. 2 One Brave Thing a Day » Blog Archive » Shared experience: a brave breast cancer story Trackback on October 26, 2011 at 9:16 am

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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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