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. ; )

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26 Responses to “Love in the time of chemotherapy”


  1. 1 Tegan October 21, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I vote for “inspirational!” Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Diane.

  2. 3 Mike Martinez October 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Hey Diane. A fellow Seattlite here with just a short note to thank you for your bravery in (ahem) exposing yourself on the subject of breast cancer and feminine sexuality.

    Breast cancer (well, cancer in general, unfortunately) has been a recurring villain in my circle of friends and my family (mom, ex-mom-in-law) and I know how huge looms the question of “am I still a desirable woman?” , post-surgery. I really appreciate how you’re taking such huge personal risk to shine a bright light on the topic.

    Hang in there!

  3. 4 Myles Beskind October 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Diane –

    Wish I’d read your work before a recent trip to Seattle. Would’ve loved to swap humorous cancer tales in person. For now, will read your blog regularly, and invite you to do the same at http://kickincancersbutt.blogspot.com . Drop me a line there and I’d be happy to send you a copy of my book Welcome to the Cancer Club – Surviving, One Laugh at a Time.
    Wishing you nothing but good fortune, in both dating and cancer-fighting!

    Myles

  4. 5 Barry Dean October 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

    You’re a very brave woman and I commend you for that. I hope your battle with this terrible disease is short and you emerge from the other side better for the experience.

    Very witty essay, by the way!

    Best of luck,

    Barry

  5. 6 addledminds01 October 21, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Hi Diane,
    Am rooting for you as well. I remember you as a child as I was one of your neighbors. Loved your family. I went to school with Gloria and remember as a 10 year old walking through the old haunted cabin on the property and selling old jewelry to the migrants on your dad’s farm. Childhood is always so much more idyllic than real life.
    My mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer and led the good fight til it took her 7 years in. I hope your prognosis is much more optimistic.
    I’ll be praying for you.
    Peg

  6. 7 jwilly48519 October 21, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Diane, I’m sure you’ve worked through to your answers and by now have moved on to the next set of concerns, but some thoughts from the outside:

    It doesn’t work not to disclose, preferably as early as possible. You want to filter out the possibles who in fact aren’t already prepared to see past your issues. Nobody likes investing in a social meeting and having it fizzle out.

    There are other folks out there who *are* prepared to see past the issues you’re trying to visually hide because they have hidden issues of their own. Maybe it’s distant- or recent-past cancer, maybe it’s some other health concern.

    Right now, you may want to consider focusing your social activity there, because it decreases the likelihood of insensitive questions and considerably increases your odds of finding someone who knows how you feel and is interested in you anyway.

  7. 8 Selizabeth October 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for a great essay! As one dealing w/ chronic health problems, I love your humor, especially your ‘online ad.’ Most importantly, media exposure of illness/disability is so rare, the reality of your experience helps bring much needed awareness of, and validation to, those living in less than perfect health. Thank you!

  8. 9 Richard October 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    You’ve got guts, Diane; and guts is enough. Carry on.

  9. 10 Karen October 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Diane – i just read your piece on msn and thought it brilliant. You are a very brave woman and just for the record, I think you ARE pretty (boobs don’t define a woman) and the picture of you with the peach fuzz hair – put on some hoop earrings and go out there and shine.

  10. 11 Sarah October 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I just read your article about dating after your mastectomy on msnbc.com and even though I felt a little guilty, I couldn’t stop laughing. I love your sense of humor in what is a tough (okay, huge understatement) situation.I felt like I was talking to a best girlfriend while I read your article. It made me laugh and cry all at once. One of my favorite sentences was “a different kind of pretty”. What a great way to look at it!

    I admire you, I respect you, and I LOVE your writing. I do not have cancer myself, but several girlfriends and my mom have been through the breast cancer battle, and I think humor is just what we need sometimes to help us survive the harsh and unfair indignities life doles out to us.

    Thank you, thank you, for being willing to open your heart and soul and let total strangers laugh and cry right along with you on your journey.

  11. 12 Becky October 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Being open about the experience made my cancer journey easier. Kind of hard to hide some things from people (protruding ports, baldness when you don’t feel like wearing the wig, time off work etc.) Keep up the humor it helps get you through. I’m a breast cancer survivor myself and found that laughing about things that happen helped get me through. Dating again is an experience and one you will laugh about too.

    Beauty is more than the physical and yet when going through what you are, your beauty is even more enhanced by your strength and courage – it shines through.

    Keep on writing – its good for you and also helps others!

  12. 13 Liza Bernstein (@itsthebunk) October 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Diane,

    Thank you for telling it like it is, pictures and all. You are beautiful in both pictures… in some ways all the more so because you present them both.

    -Inspiring? Check!

    -Hilarious (love the online ad too)? Check!

    -Great writing? Check!

    Keep leading the way!
    🙂
    Liza

    • 14 AnneMarie October 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      Diane,

      Ditto to everything Liza said…. the pics are great….. love the side by side comparison. The wig is awesome…… You could easily pull off the big earrings and be just as awesome. The only drawback I see about the hair? I kinda have a thing about a little hair tugging in the moment. It already sucks having no feeling in these things that have replaced my tit for tats…. Hope the hair comes back fast if you like that hair pulling stuff, too. We really need to get a tweep meet going on somewhere. You were on a date and I was deciding if I wanted to pull off being a milf with the Shore Boys… Love ya, girlfriend…..

      AnneMarie
      @chemobrainfog

  13. 15 ejesmer October 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    When you’ve moved past your 76-year-old playmate, could you please ship him to Los Angeles? What you have is what I’ve been looking for, since waaaaay before cancer.

    • 16 singleshot1 October 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks so much for the note but please know that my 76-year-old friend isn’t exactly a “playmate.” We mainly just take walks together, chat on the phone and occasionally play some gin rummy. I’ll happily pass your message along, though. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to know you’re interested!

  14. 17 K October 22, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Diane
    Once you hear those three words (and it’s not “I love you”), your life changes forever. And everyone responds to the challenge differently. As you are demonstrating to the world, attitude is everything!
    I, too, went through treatment as a single woman. Friends and family are great but they aren’t there in the middle of the night when the demons come out and just to be hugged would mean so much.
    Please keep writing. In my opinion, those who are attempting to shoot you down wish they had your gumption and moxie.

  15. 18 Alma October 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Love your strength, sense of humor and most of all your bravery, in telling your story to the world.
    Great advice on not looking at the breast cancer on line boards, when first diagnosed. Wish I had known that, when first diagnosed.
    I’m “blessed”, I only had DCIS in situ breast cancer, radiation only.
    I cried when I read your latest article, on the post surgery traumas, Thank you for being real about the details.
    Praying for your ongoing recovery.
    Single in Ohio,
    Alma

  16. 19 Ann Rudel October 22, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I’m 11 days post bilateral mastectomy,stage WTF and your article came just in the nick of time!! Celebrated the big 5-0 yesterday to boot…single. I just have to say thank you for sharing your humor of the process. It helps keep me going. I wish you the best for the remainder of your journey and look forward to the articles to come. Ann

    • 20 singleshot1 October 22, 2011 at 10:24 am

      Hey Ann:

      Thanks so much for writing and I hope you’re doing okay post-surgery, post pathology report, post 50th birthday, etc. My guess is you’re still wearing those lovely drains, which were the bane of my existence after surgery (my sisters looked after me during this time and we made a lot of jokes about “drinking and draining” – humor is the only way to get through it).

      Hope you’re not hurting too much or going through any complications. I felt pretty good at 11 days out, except for that “Gulliver” thing every morning (woke up feeling as if my chest had been “tied down” during the middle of the night). That took some getting used to but stretching seemed to help (do those arm stretches – you don’t want to lose your mobility!). Getting out of the house for walks and such helped too (and of course, the pain meds). Surgeon wouldn’t let me run until my drains were out, but I was able to go to tap dance class while wearing my drains (I tucked the suckers down my pants after a couple of weeks – couldn’t stand wearing them around my waist since it completely screws up your silhouette). My armpits ached a lot right after surgery, as I remember. Nurse told me to keep a couple of plastic sandwich bags full of uncooked pinto beans in the freezer and then stick those in my armpits when they hurt. They mold pretty well to the area and it helps.

      Anyway, hope some of this will help with the post-surgery stuff you’re going through. Hearing from you — and everyone who’s written regarding my essays on breast cancer – has certainly helped me.

      Take care and keep me posted on how you’re doing!

      -Diane

  17. 21 Ann Rudel October 23, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Diane…what a nice response!! Things are going well without complications(with the exception of a trip to the ER yesterday @ 5am as my cat chewed a hole in one of drain tubes while I was sleeping…can you believe that?). I’m up and about and doing more than I probably should be but the inactivity is more of a burden than the surgery itself. I’m hoping to go to my clogging class Monday(a form of dancing with noisy shoes as well)
    Like you, I try to find the humor in all of this and lace it with a healthy dose of sarcasm!! I It helps me and those around me keep it all in perspective. I meet with the oncologist this week for the chemo game plan. I didn’t realize you could have a wig made with your own hair so thanks for that tip. Since I started the reconstruction process at the time of my mastectomy…I decided to upgrade!! That’s my silver lining in this cloud:). Take care strong woman!!–Ann

  18. 22 Juju October 25, 2011 at 5:30 am

    I tried to leave a comment yesterday when I followed the link to the network…but their email verification system apparently wasn’t working properly…:-(

    Just wanted to tell you how BRAVE you are…for being so honest and sharing your experiences. They make me laugh and cry; smile and wonder – and your authenticity is just so rare these days. It’s refreshing and so appreciated!

    You’re quickly becoming a real-life hero! Thanks and know that you’re in my thoughts and prayers. XO ~;-P

  19. 23 Shelley Wee October 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Hi Diane – Thanks so much for being funny. I was diagnosed in August and am currently undergoing chemo (having that first) and then masectomy and then radiation. (Yes – the WTF diagnosis as well). I’ve received more than my share of “sympathy cards.” My coping mechanism is humor over hangdog expressions (I know you work for NBC but in our house we call it the “Ann Curry voice.”) I live in Spokane – so close to you geographically and also in humor. BTW, I opted to let my bald head shine. I have a wig but then decided not to wear it. I have bought lots of cute hats. In any case, I think you look beautiful bald AND with your lovely wig! I’m sorry we’re in the same club. Hang in there. As others say (and I’m trying to remember), things do get better!!!! (And hair, boobs, and all other things are not what makes us, us!!!)

  20. 24 Patty Burkett October 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I’m a Psychologist in Florida and I specialize in working with cancer patients. I will be sharing your awesome article with many of my breast cancer patients. Thank you for your honesty, your courage, and for simply sharing the way it is as a single woman struggling withe the “changes”.

  21. 25 Kristi October 26, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Hey, don’t let the haters get you down. Breasts are a big part of a woman’s life. I don’t care what any of these women are saying (and men). Whenever a woman has to go without them, it’s a hard and brave decision. I’m not sure I could even make that one. And being single dealing with this when a great deal of men don’t go for women with breasts (not that there aren’t men that do…because they are out there). It’s hard. Hell, I’m recently divorced and getting back out there; things have changed since I was single. So, I commend you for being brave and writing this out there for the people going through the same thing.

    Btw, if you haven’t guessed…love your articles.

  22. 26 Cdavis October 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    I had a double mastectomy , chemo, and reconstruction surgery at the mayo clinic 2 years ago and I feel so fortunate that it was operable. I have never felt angry that I was diagnosed and continue to have hope that I will continue on this track. A friend who had been through this before offered the best advise. She would send prayers and she told me to get out and walk-if it was only around the block or if it was 5 miles. The main focus should be to be positive!


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What’s the story?

Meet Diane Mapes, your friendly neighborhood freelance writer. My beats include health (with an emphasis on cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship) and 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 stories, praise for my writing (*blush*) and the odd bit of social commentary about the single life. Also here, a few shameless plugs for 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.

Follow me on Twitter!

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