Archive Page 3

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.

Single Shot gets double whammied

As some of you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new on this blog. Part of the radio silence was because I was really busy with my writing; in addition to my usual freelance assignments, I started working on a novel.  

But in February of this year, I was sidetracked with something else: breast cancer.

I don’t know if breast cancer and the single life are all that intertwined —  there are plenty of studies regarding breast cancer and age, ethnicity, geographic location, etc., but nothing on marital status — but I thought I might as well start posting a few of my thoughts and stories on the subject. What the heck, it’s my blog.  ; )

But first a few vitals for those who might be interested.  After finding a weird “tuck” on my left breast, I went for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on February 4, 2011 and was told I had three tumors in my two breasts. A needle biopsy the following week found yet another tumor. On February 11, my radiologist called to tell me all of the tumors were positive for invasive lobular carcinoma. On February 18, I met with my surgeon for the first time and she told me I would need a double mastectomy (talk about a bad first date). After two very rough months, that took place on April 18. 

While at first my surgeon thought I might be able to get away with “just” the double mastectomy and hormone therapy (i.e., tamoxifen for the next five years),   more fun awaited me when the post-surgery pathology report came back. Due to the size of the tumors (the “two” tumors in my left breast were actually one) and some minor lymph node involvement (again on the left side), I was told I would need further treatment.

So what did I do with my summer vacation?  Chemo, which is not nearly as much fun as it seemed on Sex and the City. I had four infusions total — my particular cocktail was taxotere and cytoxan — with my last infusion taking place August 8.  Chemo was every three weeks with only the first week being the really bad one. But it does wear a body down, so much so that by the time I was done, I could barely walk up the four flights of stairs to my apartment without stopping to rest about eight times. Thankfully, after a few weeks’ recuperation, I was up and running again – literally. At this point, I’ve been able to kick all of the chemo side effects to the curb (except for the hair loss, grrrr) and am halfway through radiation. Woo hoo!

So that’s the scoop on that.  As for the single life – particularly life as a single woman with breast cancer — I’m doing a series of stories on the subject for Today/MSNBC.com. I’ll post them as they go live. And I look forward to any questions you might have about this whole breast cancer thing, which I’m personally trying to treat like a really bad case of the mumps.

That’s it for now. Cheers to you all and thanks for reading.

Dating is murder

Jeremy Richards of Seattle’s local NPR radio station, KUOW, was kind enough to ask me onto his show, KUOW Presents, the other day to discuss dating and relationships in some of the current fiction I’d been reading. Ironically, most of my reading these days has been in the literary crime category, so I jokingly suggested a “dating is murder” theme. And wouldn’t you know it, he bit.

Herewith, a link to the show, where we discuss two books by the award-winning Irish author Tana French (In the Woods and its follow-up, The Likeness). Obviously, no one reads books about murder specifically for insights into dating, but I do think you come across as many relationship truths in crime fiction as you do truths about other human behavior. Not to mention some interesting insights into those supposedly “happy” marriages, many of which end with a leaded crystal vase to the side of the head.

One thing I didn’t mention on the show which is sort of interesting is that detectives —  often the narrators in crime fiction — are usually single. They may have occasional flings (sometimes with the wrong people, including suspects) but they always seem to start the book alone and end the book alone and that’s just fine with them. Their true relationship is with the case; finding the killer – as opposed to a soulmate — is what brings them happiness and satisfaction. But it’s not easy. Along the way, they get lied to and manhandled and led down countless blind alleys.

Hmmm, now that I think about it – maybe detective work and dating aren’t that different. What do you think — has your dating life been murder lately? Time to ‘fess up.

Would you outsource your love life?

Anyone who’s spent any time in the online dating world can tell you it’s pretty much a full-time job. Not only do you have to take hours writing your profile (and/or taking tedious questionnaires), you have to sort through an interminable list of hobbies and favorite childhood memories and items you’ll find in various strangers’ bedroom.

And let’s not forget the thousands of goofball photos — most of them featuring cats in hats, big-ass trucks or large potted palms jutting out of the back of your future former spouse’s head.

Well, for those who are tired of all that monotonous work of sifting through piles of dross in order to find dating gold, there’s good news. For a fee, a handful of “virtual dating assistants” will gladly separate the Wheat-Free Girl from the Just Call Me Chaff.

I wrote about these new start-ups and their unconventional services in a recent MSNBC.com story. Not only will the dating consultants create your online dating profile, they’ll surf your choice of online dating sites for potential dates, handle all communication between you and the hotties (or notties) you want to pursue (e-mails are approved beforehand) and even go so far as to plan your first date, down to the clothes you wear and the spot you go for dinner.

For some folks — namely busy executives with tons of cash and simple needs (i.e., naughty nurses) — the service is a dream. For others, it’s the height of deception. As for me, I’m far too high control to outsource my love life. Although considering how bad I’ve gotten about posting updates to this site (sorry, but life’s been insanely busy lately), I might want to consider outsourcing my blog.

No time for a relationship? Try an ‘elationship’

Like most people, I’ve done the internet dating thing. And like most people, I’ve become completely enamored with some witty, charming soulmate I’ve never actually met.

One such character – Sal – lived in San Francisco. I can’t remember exactly why I started corresponding with him (aside from the usual hormonal stuff). Perhaps it was because his introductory note wasn’t rife with the usual misspellings and annoying emoticons. They make me so ; ( .   No, Sal was smart, well-read and incredibly persistent. Not a day went by that I didn’t get an email or IM or, as time went by, a phone call from him. At first, all the attention was flattering. He told me he adored me and couldn’t wait to meet (he even bought tickets for a weekend visit). He told me I was beautiful, sexy, and more important, smart. Sal touched my very soul — for about 10 minutes.

Then, as suddenly as I had become enthralled, I became annoyed. Who did he think he was barging into my life like this? I seethed. The guy was calling me every day, sometimes twice a day. I had no privacy, no life of my own. Sal’s confidence now reeked of arrogance; his constant attention was suffocating. I felt trapped, resentful; god help me, I felt married. The next time he called, I told him to back off (I think I said back, anyway) — which he did immediately. And within three days, I was miserable. Where had my witty charming guy gone? I wondered, staring at my silent phone, my empty inbox.  Eventually, I called him and we began anew – our virtual relationship following the same arc as any normal face-to-face relationship, up to and including the kiss-off three months later (via email, of course).

As I said, though, I’m hardly alone when it comes to these online relationships, or as I call them, “elationships.”  In fact, I just wrote a story for MSNBC.com (here’s the link) about the phenom, which has become more and more rampant with each new social media /online communication tool. Part of it, I think, has to do with our busy lives and the ease with which we can reach out to (or even juggle) hundreds of potential new mates. And part of it lies in the nature of the Internet, this odd place where we can all too comfortably spill our secrets and bare our souls. One woman I interviewed even carried on a year-long elationship (via email, text, tweet, IM, Facebook and phone) — with a man she never actually met.

Incredulous? Don’t be. Intimacy is easy via the Internet. After all, don’t you feel like we’ve grown closer these last few months?  

Love is in the air … and between the covers

It’s finally February, that month when everyone’s thoughts turn to the brutal murder and martyrdom of St. Valentine.  Um, I mean, romance. Seattle is no different, with nearly the entire February issue of Seattle Magazine devoted to the topic of love and relationships.  

And wouldn’t you know it? They’ve asked yours truly to contribute my two cents’ worth.

What do Seattle singles have to say about the dating scene? Is there one? If so, who’s out there in it and how are they going about it? Do people even use the word “dating” anymore? Or do they prefer some euphemism like “hiking the Pacific Crest Trail”? And if that’s the case, are condoms one of the 10 Essentials?

I penetrated the city and asked local singles for answers to these and other burning dating questions (as for that burning sensation, you really should see a doctor). Click here for a decade-by-decade breakdown of the Seattle singleton scene.

And in honor of today’s holiday — Groundhog’s Day – here’s another little ditty.  Ever fallen for somebody who’s crawled out of a romantic stupor, spotted a shadow of a relationship, then fled back into their hidey-hole, leaving you out in the cold?  Sorry to break it to you, but that wasn’t a guy. You were dating a groundhog.

Happy February, folks, and hope to see you between the covers (of Seattle Magazine, of course!).

Have yourself a dysfunctional little Christmas

Stress and holidays go together like overcooked turkey and dry dressing and what’s more stressful than the thought of a new love interest meeting your entire dysfunctional family?

Seriously, what do you do? Bring your new squeeze home to meet your scrapping siblings or come up with a glib excuse to keep them away? Warn them about Uncle Toby’s drinking problem ahead of time or cross your fingers and hope he doesn’t attack them under the mistletoe?  

I’ve certainly been in the unenviable and (awkward!) position of introducing a new date to the dysfunctional family fold — as have many others – and thought it might be a fun topic to explore for Match.com’s Happen Magazine.

According to psychotherapist Tina Tessina, prepping a new love interest for the family dynamic is crucial (i.e., “By the way, honey, if my brother-in-law offers to show you his stomach surgery scar, tell him no or else you won’t be able to eat dinner”). Secret signals can also come in handy, like a finger across the throat when your new girlfriend keeps encouraging Grandpa to discuss his recent teabagging escapades (political and otherwise).

Wondering how you can reconcile a new boyfriend or girlfriend with an alcoholic dad, a hoarding mom and/or a trio of sniping sisters-in-law? Then click here and read on. And as always, feel free to share your own stories of dysfunctional family gatherings (is there any other kind?).  Merry Christmas, friends and readers, and all the best to you — and your families — in 2010.  

It’s a family affair

I always feel a little goofy giving interviews to members of the media (I’m usually the one asking questions), but I got an interview request the other day that was actually pretty fun. Phillip Milano, who writes the “Dare to Ask” column for The Florida Times-Union, wanted to know if I would be his “guest expert” for the week and answer a question from a 36-year-old Jacksonville, Florida man. The guy’s predicament?

I’m 36 and just broke up after three months with a very sweet 20-year-old, Michele, who was simply too young for me. … Her mother, Linda, is 37, divorced and as sweet as her daughter. I know Linda is very attracted to me, and though I think we’d make a great couple, we haven’t said anything yet to Michele … Is it wrong for me to pursue Linda now that my relationship with Michele is over?

That’s right, he wanted to know if it was kosher to date (and do) the daughter and then turn around and date (and do) the mom. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought this was a little over the top (here’s a link to the column with my suggestions for Doug, the dating machine). Seriously, who’s next — Grandma?  Great Aunt Ethel? 

The guy’s question did get me wondering, though, as to how many people find themselves in the same situation. I’ve never been attracted to more than one member of a family at a time, but way back in high school, I had a girlfriend who dated two brothers. Of course, in her situation, she did it accidentally, i.e., she thought she was dating the same guy (they looked alike, okay, and, yes, there was some alcohol involved).

How about you? Have you ever fallen for some older guy and then found yourself making goo-goo eyes at his 20-something son? Or started dating a woman and then realized you liked her sister better? If so, what happened? Did you ignore your feelings of lust? Pursue the forbidden fruit?  Personally, it seems better to move on than risk a huge family feud, but maybe there are circumstances where it’s all worked out in the end. Whatever the case, sounds like the makings for a hell of a family reunion.  


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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