Archive for the 'Breast cancer crap' Category

Single Shot Seattle: How about a little attitude with that?

Welcome to my website

I’m Diane Mapes, a local writer who grew up picking berries, climbing trees, playing the piano and reading everything from Nancy Drew mysteries to The Godfather on a gorgeously dysfunctional rural strawberry farm about an hour north of Seattle in Skagit Valley, Washington.

Love those sunsets. San Diego 2016.

At 20, I moved to Seattle and went on to marry, stepmom, start writing, divorce, grow up, travel, date, lose friends, eventually lose parents, get cancer and somehow stumble into the world of science.

And I’ve written about all of it along the way. Feel free to dig into the site or explore these handy links.

* Books on dating and the single life (also, my zombie parody, 50 Shades of Brains)

* My Seattle P-I humor column, Single Shot

* Oddball medical writing (think cutaneous horns and stone babies) and lots of other odds and ends.

If you’re interested in current work, check out my reporting on cancer prevention and research at Fred Hutch.

Want to hire me for some writing? There should be an email address around here somewhere. ; )

Looking for my breast cancer blog? Check out doublewhammied.com.

Wondering why there aren’t any new posts? Me too! No worries, you can also always find me at my #BC Twitter feed, @double_whammied

Thanks for stopping by and as always, enjoy the ride, including those bumps. Sun goes down for good before you know it. ; )

The brutal truth of dating after 50

Here’s an oldie but goodie I wrote for TODAY.com a couple of years ago. I can still relate. Can you?

Dating in your 50s isn’t all that bad. It’s getting naked that’s brutal.

I’m kidding. Sort of. The truth is by the time you turn 50, things do start to happen. And by things, I mean gravity starts to go all “Game of Thrones” on your body. Everything begins to drop, except your blood pressure and cholesterol, and you suddenly understand why Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck.

I feel bad about a lot of things, including the fact that I sometimes feel bad about my body. We’re supposed to love our bodies, embrace our “battle scars.” But I’ve been at war the last three years and I freely admit to having mixed feelings about the woman staring back at me in the mirror.

Read the full story here. Got a tip for dating after 50? Let’s hear it!

Dating with disease

Dating is no picnic. And dating with a disease —  for instance, breast cancer, which took both my hair and my boobs — is practically impossible.  But I’m hardly the only single out there trying to find a bit of romance while saddled with a disease or disability. 

Yesterday, Salon published a great essay by Meghan Holohan on the trials and tribulations of dating with narcolepsy, a condition that causes her to pass out whenever she experiences an intense emotion, like, say, an attraction for the opposite sex. Something she discovered in sixth grade, when she passed out on top of the cutest boy in class.  Check it out:

I was in sixth grade in Catholic school when I began fainting. I was a lanky, clumsy 12-year-old with a mouthful of braces and big plastic glasses, enamored with an Irish boy named Liam Brady. All the girls had a secret crush on him — brown hair, bright blue eyes and milky skin.

As we stood in line for Communion, inching forward, hands folded, I heard a ringing and my limbs became heavy; it took a Herculean effort to move. A blush flooded my face, and then I couldn’t see. Everything turned black and bright lights shot at me like I was going warp speed on the Starship Enterprise. The next thing I knew I was lying in the lap of Mrs. Tupper, an eighth grade teacher who lived a block away from me. I smelled the hideous burning sulfur of smelling salts.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You fainted right onto Liam Brady.”

I burned with confusion and embarrassment. I fainted? On the cutest boy in class? This was grade-school death. No boy would ever look at me the same. Every girl would relish my humiliation. Lucky for me, it was the last time I fainted on Liam Brady. But it set the stage for a lifetime of strange romance.

Meghan goes on to talk about the difficulties of dating with her disease. And how (much like me), she just wants to be like other women, “women who can date men casually without having to explain their mysterious spells.”

I don’t have spells. I have missing body parts, body parts that will eventually be methodically reconstructed, thanks to the wonders of plastic surgery. But until they’re back, I have to field questions from the guys I date about my missing breasts and when they’ll return (and occasionally, how large those returning breasts will be — sigh). Much as Meghan has had to explain to her dates why she sometimes passes out in alleys or galleries or the kitchen floor of her apartment “like a person who has blacked out without drinking seven cocktails.”

Some people have questioned my decision to date during cancer treatment and recovery, gently suggesting that I might be better off “just staying home and healing” than slapping on a wig and war paint and a tucking a couple of gummi boobs (or “sandbags” as one suitor called them) into my bra and heading out the door. I’m all for healing, but when it comes to cancer, I’m also all for distraction. Seriously, I can only sit around my apartment taking cleansing breaths for so long before I go a little bonkers.

So like Meghan, I date, even though I have a disease (despite treatment, the docs won’t tell me I’m disease-free for a few years). And like Meghan, I fill in the blanks for men when I absolutely have to.  And like Meghan, I occasionally write about the whole bloody mess, which may just be the most healing thing of all.

Dating with a disease may not be the smartest thing in the world. It may or may not be the healthiest. But it helps me feel normal and keeps me supplied with a slew of entertaining stories for my friends and family. Besides, if everyone with a little something wrong with them were to climb out of the dating pool, that sucker would be mighty empty. 

As always, thanks for the read. And for you singles with narcolepsy, cancer or some other disease or condition, I’d love to hear how the dating world’s been treating you.

My Q&A on dating with breast cancer

While I’ve been trying to keep most of my breast cancer stuff over at http://doublewhammied.com/, I was recently asked to do a Q&A for TalkAboutHealth.com, a website “where patients and caregivers get personalized, helpful, and accurate answers from experts, survivors, and partner organizations.” Since some of the questions they tossed my way had to do with dating and breast cancer — and living with breast cancer as a single woman — I thought it might be appropriate to post about it here. 

For those who might be curious, I’m all done with treatment now and am spending the next few months writing, recuperating and researching the next phase of my exciting cancer adventure: reconstruction. I’m also trying to figure out what to do with my new hair (it’s growing in much darker and curlier than it was before). And — who knew? — starting to realize there’s a whole segment of men who like really, really short hair. ; )

As always, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts on the single life and that crazy thing we all call dating.

How did you get started dating after breast cancer? What was the most difficult aspect?
Oddly enough, I never really stopped dating through my whole breast cancer ordeal. I had just started seeing someone when I was diagnosed and that relationship (which was rather tenuous anyway) bowed and finally broke under the pressure of the cancer and a host of other things. After that, I went out with a couple of other guys (and even reconnected with my ex for a bit) but most of my time and energy was spent on doctors’ appointments and tests and of course freaking out about my upcoming double mastectomy. I thought losing my breasts would mean the end of my dating life, my sex life, etc. But as it turned out, I recovered from surgery much faster than I expected (both emotionally and physically) and ended up going out on a date just two weeks after losing my girls. To read more, click here.

What advice would you give to other survivors about dating after cancer?
Dating after cancer isn’t really all that scary. Seriously, after being pumped full of poison and having our bodies blasted with radiation, I think most of us can fake our way through an hour or two of coffee and conversation with a potential love interest. Sex after cancer, on the other hand, can be a bit daunting. Especially if you’re missing some essential body parts. And all of your hair. And the feeling in what used to be your chest.

What worked for me was to try to “rebuild” myself (paging the bionic woman!), to put myself back together using a wig and fake boobs and makeup. That helped me feel like myself so I felt more confident going out there meeting and interacting with men. But everybody’s different so trying to “pass” may not work for everybody. And dating so quickly after treatment (or even amid treatment) may not work for people, either. I was lucky in that I only had four infusions of chemo and I seemed to endure it pretty well (as long as I took my meds, anyway). Same goes for radiation. To read more, click here.

As a single woman, where did you get the support you needed while going through cancer treatment?
I’ve been single for most of my adult life and have even developed a bit of a writing platform regarding the single life with a book (How to Date in a Post-Dating World), an anthology of essays (Single State of the Union) and a humor column (Single Shot), published by the now-defunct Seattle P-I.

For me, singledom is a natural state. Instead of being cloistered away as one half of a couple, I have a huge circle of friends — people I’ve worked with, people I’ve gone to school with, fellow writers, gal pals, neighborhood buddies, drinking buddies, old boyfriends, sources that turned into friends, the list goes on and on. I also have four sisters, all of whom I’m close with. I had so many people I needed to tell about the breast cancer, in fact, I eventually started an email newsletter (the Cancertown Gazette). And then a blog (http://doublewhammied.com/).

My sisters probably did most of the heavy lifting when it came to day-to-day support during my breast cancer treatment. They were there for me before and after surgery, even helping me with drain duty (and an apartment makeover). They also went to some of the early doctors’ appointments, when things were still very dark and raw and scary, talked with me daily via phone, sat through a couple of sessions of chemo (and chemo recovery) with me and prepared a ton of meals for my freezer. My friends were equally supportive, doing everything from bringing me food (pie! lasagna! homemade soup!) to giving me lifts to radiation to sending flowers and other gifts to taking me on weekend getaways. Friends and family both chipped in financially to help me pay for a wig made from my own hair (and those are not cheap). They also stayed in contact with me regularly, took me for walks when the chemo knocked the legs out from under me, and in general, made me feel loved and appreciated and cared for at all times. To read more, click here.

Moving the party over to doublewhammied.com

Now that I’m done with radiation (finished up this last Tuesday, November 8 — woo hoo!) and have a bit more time on my hands, I decided to go ahead and start up a “proper” breast cancer blog (if you’ve been reading any of my recent posts here, you know that I can be a bit improper at times).  

Anyway, from now on I’ll be writing about my breast cancer experiences, thoughts on “treatment” (I’m still convinced breast cancer treatment is about three steps from those grueling ordeals they used to put  so-called witches through), tidbits regarding new cancer research, and whatever else over at www.doublewhammied.com

Hope you’ll come join the party there. In the meantime, take care, thanks so much for reading and hope to hear from you soon.

Burn, witch, burn

I don’t know if it’s the Halloween season or the fact that I’m currently going through radiation treatment (burn, baby, burn, radiation inferno!), but I’ve been feeling a lot like a witch in one of those old Vincent Price movies lately. You know, the ones that feature a variety of tortures for women accused of witchcraft. Or maybe they’re just accused of being women. Or single. It’s hard to keep all that straight.

Anyway, the bottom line is, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between breast cancer treatment and torture.

When I was diagnosed back in February, one of the first things I learned was that I was going to lose my breasts, i.e., in order to get rid of the cancer, they had to take away the most symbolically female parts of my body. Presto chango — no more boobs. If that doesn’t sound like something straight out of the Spanish Inquisition, I don’t know what does.

After that, there was more “good” news. The surgery showed that my tumors qualified me for additional treatment, i.e., chemo and radiation. For those unfamiliar with chemotherapy, it’s basically a concoction of poisons that are pumped into your body through a port.  In my case, the port was surgically placed just under my right clavicle (where it still resides to allow easy access to my blood), a walnut-shaped lump that reminds me at times of an alien eyeball.

A third eye, if you will. Very witchy.

One of the worst side effects of chemo (at least for breast cancer patients) is complete and total hair loss. In other words, you’re shorn of your womanly locks, your crowning glory. That fabulous blonde stuff you flick over your shoulder and fluff whenever an interesting man comes into view suddenly starts to come out by the handful. Just as in the good old days of stocks and imaginary spells that supposedly caused some farmer’s milk cow to dry up, you’re robbed of yet another symbol of your womanhood. (You’re also robbed of your strength, your appetite, your dignity and so many other things during chemo, but we’ll save that for another time).

Losing your hair is the worst, though, probably because for a woman, losing your hair means you’re being punished. You’re a witch, a Nazi sympathizer, a prisoner. As Wikipedia puts it, “prisoners commonly have their heads shaven, often ostensibly to prevent the spread of lice, but clearly also as a demeaning measure.”

Head shaving, it goes on, “can be a punishment prescribed in law, but also something done as ‘mob justice’ – a stark example of which was the thousands of European women who had their heads shaved in front of cheering crowds in the wake of World War II, as punishment for associating with occupying Nazis during the war.”

In other words, when you lose your hair as a woman — not when you shave it yourself during that bad punk rock phase — but when it’s taken away from you without your consent, it ain’t good.  

But wait — there’s more.

After that, the witch — excuse me, the breast cancer patient — is burned. Not at the stake, mind  you, but in the bowels of some type of radiation machine. In my case, a new tomography wonder that my professional and attentive rad techs refer to as Tina.  It’s all very clean and technologically impressive. The treatment I receive at their hands is friendly and, yes, even comforting. But the machine still burns you, causing your skin to redden and blister and peel and throb so much that it takes your breath away at times. Sometimes, it causes the skin to harden enough that reconstruction becomes impossible. Or requires additional torture … er, surgery … to achieve.

Again, maybe it’s just the Halloween season. Or the fact that I’m in the last few days of my treatment and I’ve reached critical mass. Who knows, maybe I have a gigantic plastic bug up my ass.

I know that I have a vivid imagination. I know that the people who are treating me are not trying to hurt me, but get rid of this horrific disease so I can live a long and happy life. I know that researchers are desperately trying to come up with better solutions — solutions that don’t require this kind of torture — each and every day. But truly, I can’t help but wonder what the frigging hold-up is. Or whether this tortuous treatment for breast cancer is somehow considered acceptable. Because, after all, we’re just women. And women have been taking this kind of shit for hundreds of years.

But this particular woman — who happens to be feeling particularly witchy (and yes, even bitchy) this particular night — would just like to say, one thing.

I’ve had it. Seriously. I’m done.

In fact, if I have to take any more of this crap, I may just break down and turn somebody into a frog.

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. 

 

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.


What’s my story?

I'm a former freelance writer, now gainfully employed at Fred Hutch (views and f-bombs all my own).

I write about health and health care; cancer research and the cancer experience; dating, lifestyle and singles issues and lots of other stuff including humor and fiction and a few songs here and there.

Book info below.

Looking for my breast cancer blog? Go to doublewhammied

Where are 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.

Fifty Shades of Brains
Sex. Zombies. Really annoying present tense narration.

Follow me on Twitter!

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