Positivity Police

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to cancer, I am probably not the most positive person.  I never viewed my two years of treatment as some “journey,” and I absolutely despise those who call cancer a “gift.”   (If you think cancer is a “gift,” then you were on the receiving end of some pretty crappy gifts in your life.)  I would go as far as to say I’m a cynic and realist about cancer, but not a Debbie Downer.

debbie-downer

That’s not me, I swear!

The pressure to remain positive during cancer treatment starts at the very moment you are diagnosed, and you are relaying this information to friends and family.  I tried my absolute hardest to maintain this mindset during treatment, but it didn’t last long. Maybe a couple of months?  When you’re dealing with stress from treatment on top of family relationships being tested and broken, it takes a toll.  You can only smile so much as you endure chemotherapy and bad news after bad news.

Forced-Smile

Author Barbara Ehrenreich (who also had breast cancer) wrote:

The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage – not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood. Everything in mainstream breast cancer culture serves, no doubt inadvertently, to tame and normalise the disease. Indeed, you can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more feminine. In the lore of the disease – shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors – chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin and helps you lose weight, and when your hair comes back it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new colour. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing programme, opportunities for self-improvement abound. Breast cancer is a chance for creative self-transformation – a makeover opportunity, in fact.

When asked what would he say to someone who credits positive thinking to their survival, psychologist Richard Sloan commented in a November 27, 2011 CBSNews.com article: “I’d say, I’m very happy for you, I’m glad you survived. But for every one of you who said you were going to fight your way out of it, there are probably dozens of people who said precisely the same thing and didn’t survive.  One person’s anecdote doesn’t make evidence.”

Exactly!  Those who died of metastatic cancer weren’t all negative Nancys or Debbie Downers.  A lot of lovely people with amazing attitudes died of cancer.

I would hope that anybody going through cancer would feel allowed to feel whatever they are feeling.  You should silence those voices and pressure around you insisting that you must remain positive, and be authentic to yourself.  If you’re feeling down, that’s okay.  If you’re feeling awesome because it’s an off-chemo week, then masel tov!  I don’t want anyone to put on a fake smile and pretend to be hunky dory if you’re sad.  It’s okay – cancer sucks.  If it was easy, then, well… who the heck ever said cancer was easy?

A fellow blogger and I discussed our hesitation to even write about the pressure to remain positive during and after treatment for a very messed up reason.  What if we voice these not-so-popular opinions and then later have our cancers recur, then will people think, “Yeah, she brought this upon herself by being so negative.”  If my cancer recurs next year or 10 years from now, am I going to be blamed for it because I didn’t don a pink boa and a punny T-shirt about breasts?

If someone you love is going through cancer and you’re not sure how to act or speak to them about the disease, just know your audience.  If that person loves the battle metaphors and fighting persona, then go nuts.  There are a lot of merchandise you can buy for them.  Boy, is there ever.

However, if your loved one is someone like me, someone who talks about his/her experiences candidly and without putting on that Cancer Brave Face, then just listen to them.  Empathize.  You don’t have to put on your brave face, either.  It’s okay to just hang out with someone.  During my treatment, I became super skilled at just hanging out because I couldn’t really do much else.  Be there for your friend and family, and never put your need for them to act like everything is fine because cancer scares the shit out of you over their own well being.

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay.

Stories

Recently, I began asking my dad more about my mother’s family.

Even though my mother has been gone since 1987, my dad is still an amazing source whenever I’m craving insight into her family.   He has been and still is the go to guy when I want to know anything about my grandparents or mother.  I’m pretty sure if my dad ever took piñata form, and you knocked him open, nothing but stories would come falling out.  I may look exactly like my mother, but my personality is straight up from my dad.

I have written before about my grandmothers.  This time around, I wanted to dig a little deeper about the one who I barely remember or who I think I barely remember.  (Does remembering a deep smoker’s voice telling me to give her “some sugar” count as a memory?)  Who is my mother’s mother?

When I googled my grandmother’s name, I found out my great grandparents name, which I never knew before.  But I don’t want to just create a family tree, look at all the filled-in names, say, “I’m done,” and then pat myself on the back for doing such a splendid job.  I want to get to know these names, not just where they place in my family tree.

During my great family google, I even uncovered a great aunt’s name, which I had never heard (or maybe I had, but it had been so long that I had forgotten).  According to my dad, my great grandfather and his family arrived in Texas in a cover wagon.  My mom’s cousin told me that my great aunt was a loving woman who greeted beloved family members by kissing them and exclaiming, “I love you!”  Another cousin of my mom’s said that my mother made the best lasagna.

See, I did not know that.

My grandmother died when I was 3 years old of lung cancer, and my mother died when I was 7.  I’m not that close to my mother’s siblings since I have never lived in the same state as any of them.  I have these family members out there who I don’t know, and who don’t know me.  Sadly, I have these family members I will never know.

Every time I look at this photograph of me sitting next to my grandmother, where my face is so done up with so much makeup that I looked like a toddler beauty queen, it makes me laugh.  Man, she must have had a good time painting my little toddler face.   I wonder if she would have found my anti-girly girl personality during my teen-aged years to be unbecoming and would have had talks with me about how I could pretty up my appearance.

While pictures are great, stories are something else.  When I hear these stories, no matter how insignificant they might be to the story teller, my grandmother and mother come alive.  They become real people.  Any stories about these women slowly fill in giant holes in my heart that cancer created.  I don’t care if the stories paint either woman in a less than flattering light.  They were real life humans once, before cancer came along, and they had flaws just like everyone else.

I am third generation cancer.  I am sad that I never got to hear stories from my grandmother about what my mom was like as a child.  I have certainly never dreamed of shopping for wedding gowns since my mother and grandmother are no longer here.  Cancer took them from me, but lately, when I learn more about them, they are more than the disease that took their lives.  They are my family, and I know that I come from a line of women who will always be more powerful than cancer.

Wedding2

Thyroid Cancer during Breast Cancer

“Ms. Huffman, have you noticed a fullness in your neck?”

This was the question I heard from my primary care physician, who I had gone to see for a mammogram referral, which would eventually lead to my breast cancer diagnosis.

“Yes, but I had a radioactive treatment several years ago to treat a goiter on my thyroid.  I had thought the treatment took care of that.”  Women on both sides of my family have had problems with their thyroid; my mom had her thyroid removed when she was 16, one of her cousins had thyroid cancer, and one of my aunts had thyroid cancer.

“Hmmm, I believe that may not be the case.  Regardless, you need to see a specialist and have this checked out further.”

For a period of almost two months prior to my breast diagnosis, I had numerous appointments for scans, biopsies and specialist consultations for both my thyroid and breasts.  My bosses, bless their hearts, let me have flexible hours at work to make up for the plethora of appointments.   If they hadn’t been so accommodating and helpful during that initial period, I surely would have lost my mind.

I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in late September 2010.   Several weeks afterwards, I met up with an endocrinologist to discuss the results of my thyroid biopsy.  He informed me that there was a significant chance I had thyroid cancer, too, and I needed to have my thyroid removed.

Being told that you may have cancer while you already have cancer, it’s surreal, to say the least.  My inner monologue was basically: “Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.”

Since the breast cancer was considered the biggest threat, treatment for those particular rogue cells took priority.  However, a month after I was done with chemotherapy, it was time for the thyroid to be exorcised . . . I mean, removed.

After the full thyroidectomy, I was a sight to be seen: bald, greyish pallor and sporting a giant neck wound.  The first night after my surgery, I fainted in the bathroom and woke up surrounded by unfamiliar nurses and doctors all saying my name really loudly.   Apparently, as I was falling down, I had hit my head and the nurse’s aide (who I had insisted that she stay outside the bathroom because “I’m an adult and don’t need help in the bathroom”) caught me as I crumpled to the floor.

It was a “fun” night after that, and I was sprung from the hospital on my 31st birthday.  Happy birthday to me!

It wasn’t easy trying to get my thyroid hormones leveled while dealing with radiation for breast cancer.  I felt tired in ways I didn’t think were possible.   Since I no longer had a thyroid, I take Synthryoid every day and will do so for the rest of my life.  I never wanted to be on a medication for the rest of my life before my thyroidectomy, but now that I am, I don’t care in the absolute slightest.  Given how much trouble my thyroid caused me in my 20s (i.e., untreated hyperthyroidism for years), my only regret is that I didn’t have it removed sooner.  When your thyroid is off, everything about you and how you feel is off.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (which I checked off most of them):

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Goiter (visibly enlarged thyroid gland) or thyroid nodules
  • Hand tremor
  • Heat intolerance
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular menstrual periods in women
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight loss (or weight gain, in some cases)

Hypothyroidism (defined as a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone) symptoms:

Early symptoms:

  • Hard stools or constipation
  • Increased sensitivity to cold temperature
  • Fatigue or feeling slowed down
  • Heavier and irregular menstrual periods
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Paleness or dry skin
  • Sadness or depression
  • Thin, brittle hair or fingernails
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain

Late symptoms, if untreated:

  • Decreased taste and smell
  • Hoarseness
  • Puffy face, hands, and feet
  • Slow speech
  • Thickening of the skin
  • Thinning of eyebrows

I want to emphasize that if you think you could possibly be dealing with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, consult a doctor, who can order simple blood tests.   I felt off for so many years, and I had no idea it was because of an overactive thyroid.  I suffered from panic attacks, insomnia and a ravenous appetite that never let up.  Once a doctor figured out what was wrong and got my levels regulated, I felt normal again.

Dealing with thyroid cancer at the same time as breast cancer wasn’t easy or fun, but I’m beyond relieved that my thyroid is gone.  I admit that I miss my old chest often, but my thyroid?  Nope.  I hope it went straight to hell, which is where I’m sure it came from.

Backbone

Backstage at a dance recital when I was in the fifth grade, two girls took a toy away from me and decided to play keep away.  They tossed the toy back and forth with me in the middle yelling, “GIVE IT BACK.”  When my protests didn’t yield the result I wanted, I stomped on one of the girls’ foot and shrieked, “I said… GIVE IT BACK.”   Since I stomped on her foot with my high-heeled tap shoe, she quickly handed over my toy, and I walked away in victory.  I never did like the keep away game.

Two years later, in a seventh grade history class, Austin, the kid who sat behind me, decided to be a dick (or a typical 12- to 13-year old) and pull my desk away from me when I sat down.  As expected, I fell down, and everybody in the class laughed at me.  I got up furious.  Austin laughed the hardest, and I’m pretty sure my face turned red in rage and embarrassment.  I picked up the binder from his desk and threw it across the classroom.  Well, Austin’s binder was full of nothing but loose leaf paper, and all the papers went flying every which way.  The history teacher, who saw and heard everything, stood up from his desk and ordered Austin to go outside (after he collected all his paper, of course).  He protested and said, “Why isn’t Lara going outside?  She threw my binder!”  The teacher replied: “You started it.”   I felt vindicated as I watched him sulk outside the classroom.

As I went through middle school and high school, I slowly lost that fight I had in me.  In middle school, I was openly ridiculed and laughed at by my peers.  They would point and laugh at me, and call me all sorts of names, with an emphasis on how ugly they thought I was.  However, my story is certainly not a unique story.  Puberty is a bitch, and anyone who comes out of adolescence unscathed is lucky, lying or the one who did the name-calling.

Routinely hearing how others think you are the ugliest thing they had ever seen, does take a toll on you.  It’s like every time someone decided to put me down to make themselves feel better, they took a piece of my self-esteem, backbone from me.   I learned to keep my head down and to stare at the floor because sometimes making eye contact with them, just fueled the nastiness in their heart.  I internalized these insults, these unwanted names (again, not atypical for young teenage girls).

I am hideous.

My hair is a mess.

Ugh, my teeth are messed up.

During college, I slowly got some of that fight back in me.  Usually, though, these instances were just examples of me being young, stupid and drunk, aka a typical college student, but these moments of backbone were motivated by my desire to stick up for a friend.  Once at a bar, I totally lost it when this random guy was saying obscene, offensive things to my roommate and best friend.  The dude was just being nasty, and he was not taking the hint from my friend that she thought he was nasty.  Me, being young, stupid and drunk, told him off, and our fight quickly got ugly.  After I called him out for being a nasty creep, he of course had to call me a bitch and then an ugly bitch (because the worst insult a woman can be called is ugly – yawn – or a bitch).   This guy and I had to be separated after I got in his face.

A year or so later, I tried to stick up for this friend of a friend who was being dense and not noticing or caring that he was invading another guy’s space.  I said, “Hey, it’s cool,” to the guy who was losing his temper and threatening the dense friend of a friend.  This guy growled at me, “Bitch, shut the fuck up.  If you say another word, I will beat the shit out of you.”  I believed his threat and became paralyzed in fear.   The guy who threatened me was escorted out of the bar after my friend got me to tell her why I was shaking in fear, and she told the bouncer.

As I got older, once again, I lost that fight, my backbone just fading away.  I never stuck up for myself against certain individuals, who would treat me like a doormat.  Now and then, I would argue or walk away instead of letting someone boss me around or treat me poorly.  I didn’t fight.

I compromised.  I played nice, even when I was mad or insulted, and bit my tongue, even when someone said something unkind.  But if you keep doing that, as I learned, you let others think it’s okay to talk or act a certain way around you.  By playing nice, these negative people learned it was okay to treat me with little to no respect.  I mean, why not?  It’s not like I would ever say anything.

Then breast cancer happened.

After five surgeries, seven weeks of radiation, four months of chemotherapy, one anaphylactic reaction (and a partridge in a pear tree), I became a shell of myself.  After I emerged from the wreckage that is cancer treatment, I had to rebuild myself.  My priorities and perspectives changed, and much to my surprise, my fight came back.   I guess, when you deal with insurance company bullshit, plus all the stress that comes with managing your treatment, appointments, job (if applicable) and personal relationships, you have to have some backbone.   My fight definitely came through whenever I had to make repeated calls to Aetna and fight them over their most recent bullshit claim denial.   My backbone reappeared when I let friendships that should have died years ago just fall by the wayside.

In recent months, I have stuck up for myself in ways I had never done in my adolescence or early adulthood.   When I felt hurt and offended by a loved one, I told that person that they hurt me and why they hurt me.  Although I received a negative response, I felt better because I expressed myself and my feelings are valid, even if they make someone mad.   When someone confronted me for what I wrote (and to be fair, what I wrote was passive aggressive and uncalled for), I stood up for myself and didn’t back down from what turned out to be a nasty fight.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going turn into some Bravo Reality Tv Housewife and start flipping tables and screaming obscenities.  I’m certainly not going to be physically fighting anyone (yikes!) or creating Youtube videos telling my “haters” to suck it.   (Waaat.)   It means having professional goals and aspirations and fighting for them.  It means I’m not going to care about how many friends I have – just about the quality.   It means I want to have authentic relationships with my loved ones, which means expressing my feelings instead of swallowing them.

It means I’m going to stand up for myself, no matter what – because I’m worth fighting for.  Since I’ve already ran two half marathons and additional long races, I know I have some fight in me.

Diem Brown

The recent death of Diem Brown, and the headlines regarding her death from cancer made me really think about the over-usage of the battle and fighter metaphors when we discuss someone’s death from cancer.   If you do a google news search for Diem’s name, then pretty much all the headlines talk about her losing her fight or battle.

Anyone who even just casually followed Diem’s story knew that she had a positive attitude and a strong will to live.  She dealt with cancer since the age of 23 until her death at 32, and she became an advocate for those with cancer.  She blogged about her experiences, and she created the website MedGift.   I don’t want to focus solely on the death of Diem, especially in light of the fact that she used the warrior and fighter language, and one could assume that she would approve of the headlines about her death.

However, if you look up news stories regarding the death of high-profile figures who died of cancer, you will come across this language: Elizabeth Edwards, Adam Yauch, Roger Ebert, to name a few.  I also hope I don’t come off as critical of anyone who draws strength from using the fighting and warrior language to describe what they are going through.  Everyone is entitled to use whatever language they want to describe their own experiences, and I really don’t want to come off as the Word Police.  My point of contention is the use of this language when someone dies of cancer.

When we use the language that someone “lost a long battle/fight” with cancer, it suggests that someone in remission from cancer must have done something more than the one who died.  Someone who dies of cancer did not lose or give up or somehow lost any will to keep on living.

Michael Wosnick wrote about the battle metaphor:

It’s not the battle part that bothers me – it is the losing part. For those who ultimately die from a cancer, the idea that they have lost a battle implies to me that if they had just done something else differently then maybe they might have won [emphasis mine]. The use of the word, “lose” is like a zero-sum game to me: if someone or something loses then that means that someone or something else wins. You can’t have a loser if you don’t have winner. We should not so easily give cancer that kind of power over us.

A November 3, 2014 Independent item discussed the use of the battle metaphor in respect to those at the end of life.   The article discussed the findings of a study conducted by Elena Semino, a professor of linguistics and verbal art, who “analyzed 1.5 million words of discussion, representing the views of around 200 people closely involved with cancer care.”

Professor Semino remarked, “The battle metaphor applied at the end of life clearly can have harmful consequences for some people who end up feeling responsible for the fact that their illness cannot be treated.”  She also commented: “The metaphor somehow needs to account for the fact that you can live well with cancer.  There has to be another way to talk about someone who has died of cancer.”

Heather Cleland wrote in an August 16, 2011 piece in Walrus Magazine:

The language around cancer — of “battles” fought, won, lost, and succumbed to — fails to consider the sheer chance of it all [emphasis mine]. Sure there are cancers that we bring upon ourselves, but most are a result of the tiniest bits of bodies going rogue for reasons we’ve yet to understand. To speak of lost battles as though the warrior didn’t want victory badly enough projects our proclivity to control outcomes onto something that cannot be controlled. It’s futile, and it does a great disservice to people like Jack and Rachel who “fought” as hard as I did.

I don’t view the fact that I’m currently NED for breast cancer as a reflection of anything I did.   I cringe, and typically correct, when someone remarks about how I “beat” cancer.  I haven’t beat cancer, won or kicked its ass.  Until I die of something else, we don’t know if cancer is done with me.  I am in remission from cancer, or I’m NED.  I feel incredibly uncomfortable at any phrasing or hyperbole about what happened to me that paints me in some warrior, extreme fighter.  I was often tired, sad and scared, all of which are normal and to be expected.  I didn’t fight harder than someone else with the same diagnosis as me and who went on to have a recurrence.

Cancer is a complex, intelligent and dangerous disease, and we have given way too much credit to someone’s mindset for a positive outcome.  If a fighting spirit and positive attitude cured cancer, I’m pretty sure that Diem Brown would be alive and healthy.  Everyone also could probably name five people they’ve known who died of cancer who had a positive and fighting spirit, too.  Cancer does not care about that.

When I read the obituary for my #bcsm friend, Barb, who died of metastatic breast cancer, the last sentence made me smile, despite feeling very sad about her death:

Barb did not lose her battle with cancer; she lived graciously and courageously with it until the very end.

1 in 8

During this year’s Pinktober, did you happen to come across the “1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime” statistic?  Here are three screen caps with this statistic:

1in8-breastcancer.org

Now from the American Cancer Society’s website:

1in8-cancer.org

A Komen affiliate website:

 1in8

I actually learned recently that this 1 in 8 statistic is actually a teensy bit misleading.   Lifetime risk isn’t the same of your actual risk based on your age.  You know what blows my mind?  I found actual scientific information explaining this statistic on Susan G. Komen’s website (I know, knock me over with a feather):

Women in the U.S. have a “1 in 8” (or about 12 percent) lifetime risk of getting breast cancer [4-5]. This means that for every eight women in the U.S. who live to be age 85, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.

Absolute Risk Komen

Source: Komen

So next time you come across the “1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime,” keep in mind the second part of that statement: “who live to the age of 85.”

I don’t know why charities and organizations use that statistic so much and with little explanation.  Maybe they want to scare people into thinking breast cancer is going to happen to everyone or maybe they don’t really understand the lifetime risk vs. absolute risk?

My friend AnneMarie, over at Chemobrainfog, wrote:

One in eight is a good springboard for a fundraising campaign.  It makes for a great way to terrorize those who do not understand that the number applies across your entire lifetime and it increases with age.  As you are seated around your table with eight family members of different generations or eight close friends, don’t try to figure out who, unless you also incorporate WHEN into the equation.

There are certain factors that increase your risk of developing breast cancer, and I fell in several of those categories: family history, dense breast tissue, certain benign (not cancer) breast problems and not having children (and related to that, not breastfeeding).  No doubt that these factors definitely increased my risk more than the 0.4 percent figure stated above.    Plus, now that I’ve had breast cancer, I’m also at an increased risk for developing breast cancer again.  Since treatment ended, I have made changes to my lifestyle, such as running and not drinking alcohol, among others, to minimize my risk because I never ever want to go through that again.

Cancer can often feel like a numbers game, although many doctors and specialists in the field will emphasize that you are an individual, not a stat.  When you fall on the bad side of these statistics, these numbers almost seem cruel.  I had less than one percent chance of going into anaphylaxis during chemo, yet that happened to me.  Cancer is definitely not something I ever wanted to be unique at.

I truly believe it’s important for us to know our risks and what we can do to minimize our risks for developing breast cancer.   First, we need to fight through the Pink Ribbon rhetoric seemingly designed to scare the general public with statistics without little or no context.

Guest Post from “Hazel Flatchest”

Here is a guest post from a woman who reached out to me.  Obviously her name is not Hazel Flatchest, but she wanted to remain anonymous. 

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Breast cancer, you say?  Well, it is October…. That month when you walk into the grocery store and it looks like someone vomited Pepto Bismol all over the aisles.  So of course we want to talk all about breast cancer and awareness (gag!) and mammograms this month. Screw that.  Cancer is soooooo 2010.  Let’s talk about NOW.

The mastectomy scars have healed.  The port was removed.  The hair has grown back.  Everything should be back to normal, right? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.  I don’t even know what “normal” is anymore.

But for the sake of argument, here’s my new “normal”:  I haven’t held down a full-time job for more than 3 months in over 4 years.  I cry several times a day.  Not out of sadness or depression (although I’ve experienced my fair share of both of those in the past four years…), but mostly out of sheer frustration.  I often feel as if I have lost my mind.  It is shrouded in a haze of chemo fog that has affected my ability to solve even the simplest of math problems or puzzles.  I can no longer multi-task without feeling stress and fear rise up from the pit of my stomach.  I am, quite simply, a hot mess.  And the worst part?  Having to accept that this is now my new “normal”.

A recent article on NBC News regales that “Women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer may end up unemployed for a very long time.”  I am living proof that this sentence is true.  And discussions with friends who also went through chemotherapy for this asshole disease only seem to uphold this statement.  Even friends who were employed throughout treatment and still hold those same jobs whisper of negative performance reviews and fears of losing their jobs.  So what the hell?  Seriously.  WHAT. THE. HELL?

Here are some observations of my own situation since I did 16 rounds of conventional chemotherapy and 2 years of Herceptin for my stage 2, asshole Her2 positive breast cancer:

1)    I get frustrated (and cry) easily.  It really doesn’t take much.  Just hand me a pile of things to do.  I used to be a consummate multi-tasker.  Now I just look at the pile and can’t figure out how to prioritize it into a reasonable workflow. So what do I do?  Well, sometimes I just cry.

2)    I am crippled by difficult problem-solving.  I recently took an aptitude test that included a “spatial reasoning” section – lots of puzzles and shapes where you figure out what comes next in a series of shapes and symbols.  After much consternation and nail-biting, I had to call a spade a spade and realize I was freaking myself out instead of arriving at the answers.  I actually could not finish that portion of the test.  I was just too stressed out to do it.

3)    I am extremely forgetful.  I have learned to write things down if they are important and need to be remembered.  This has been particularly hard for me to accept because B.C. (before cancer), I had a mind like a steel trap.  Now my mind seems to be riddled with giant holes that allow information to escape at record speed.

4)    I am socially inept.  This is an area of life that represents a true paradigm shift in my behavior.  Before cancer, I was a social butterfly and easily made friends.  Now I am unsure of myself and hesitant to start conversations with new people for fear I will appear stupid or desperate.

And that is just a short list of things I can come up with off the top of my chemo-addled head.  I am Jack’s chemically altered brain.  I am constantly frustrated, ashamed and humiliated by these changes in myself.  And horrified that they are getting in the way of me getting a job and putting back together some semblance of “normalcy” in my life.  Is this cancer’s dirty little secret?  Does anyone else feel the way I do?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Second Half Marathon

Today I completed my second half marathon, and I’m very happy to report that I beat my previous time by a lot.   My goal was to achieve a time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.  I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 13 minutes.  Hot dog!   I guess not running with extreme IT band and foot pain really makes a difference.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100 percent injury free going into this race.  For the past two months, I have been working hard on renovations in my house with an emphasis on scraping glue and wallpaper off walls and ceilings.  Hours upon hours of moving my arm up and down or above my head, all sorts of repetitive motions.  Right now, I am nursing some pain and numbness in my right shoulder, and sometimes during a run, my shoulder will pop.  Dr. Google suggests that I might have some tendonitis in my right shoulder, but I will be seeing an actual doctor to try and figure out what exactly is going on.

I arrived at the race early, and I really didn’t need to, unfortunately.  Because I got there so early (well, on time), I ended up waiting around two hours before the race began.  It was cold and misting, and I shivered quite a bit.  I seriously need to remember to do the trash bag before races in the fall and winter.  This isn’t the first time I have came to a race under dressed.  One of these days, I will learn my lesson.  One day.

Around mile 5, my shoulder felt tight and popped – just once, thank goodness.  The bigger issue that came up was the giant blister on my left foot.  I blocked out the pain by totally people watching the other runners.  “What the hell is she wearing?”  “The runners who carry the American flag are bad ass.”  “That woman has a shirt saying ‘Run like a grandma.’  I can’t let her pass me…. crap, too late.  Go grandma.”

Before my half marathon, I contacted Metavivor to see if I can fundraise on the organization’s behalf.   They said yes, and I was able to raise around $700 for Metavivor!   I wish I could have raised more, but this won’t be the last time I’ll raise additional funds for them.   I want to raise more for them than I ever did for the evil Susan G. Komen Foundation.  I’ll right my wrong!

As of right now, I’m sore, hurt but feeling very proud.  I achieved a goal, and an amazing organization received money that will go to metastatic breast cancer research.  I feel actually more pride in that fact than hitting a PR.  I didn’t just write a blog saying: “Pinkwashing is bad, and money should go research.”  I’ve written many blogs saying just that, but this time I helped to raise money for just that.  All the people who donated to Metavivor hopefully learned more about the organization and might feel inclined to donate to them again without any provocation from me.

I run to help reduce my risk of a recurrence.  I run to quiet my demons that like to tag-a-long with me.  I run to keep myself in the best shape I can.  I run to get those endorphins released into my body.  I run to be something I never was before the age of 32: an athlete.  I run to hang out with all the awesome and wonderful friends I have made.

I run because I’m not out to prove anything to anybody but myself, and it’s freaking fantastic.

Things that make me go rage in the night

It’s not even October yet, and I’m already dreading the upcoming pink-washing assault. I despise with a passion of a thousand fiery suns the following phrases: save the ta-tas, save the boobies or save second base.  I am pretty sure if I ever saw someone wearing a t-shirt or some kind of apparel with those phrases on it, I might have a rage stroke.  That’d be it for me.  Dunzo.

Here lies Lara.  Her rage caused her to burst into flames.

When it comes to breast cancer, screw the ta-tas, boobies or second base.  The focus should be removing the cancer from the woman’s body, and oftentimes that means a single or double mastectomy.   You know – not saving the breasts.

After all of my doctors recommended to me at my one-year checkup to have a double mastectomy because it looked like my cancer was attempting a come-back, I didn’t look at them and say, “No, I don’t accept your recommendations.  You figure out a way to save my breasts.   You hear me, doctor?  Whatever it takes, and I mean whatever, you save my breasts!”

Hell no.  I gave them one shot when I had an initial lumpectomy, but that turned out to not be enough.  I didn’t want to have a double mastectomy (though who does?).  I sobbed the night before my surgery.  I asked my doctors repeatedly if this was the right decision to make.   It’s a shitty situation to find yourself in, to have to decide to surgically remove a body part.  I felt I had no choice but to have this surgery, and it destroyed me.  If it was between me and my breasts, then of course I’m going to pick my life.

Since I had a double-mastectomy, does that mean I failed?  Does that mean I am less than a woman since I technically don’t have breasts anymore, although I do have fake ones?  Where’s the “It’s Okay You had a Double Mastectomy” awareness campaign?   Where’s the “Free Side Hugs because you had a Double Mastectomy” campaign?   Someone needs to start a “It’s okay – you’re still beautiful after a Mastectomy” campaign.  I know, I know.  Not catchy enough.  Come on, Huffman.  Think!

These cutesy or provocative slogans are offensive to me because they reduce women to a single body part – our breasts.   The body part that could very well mean our death.   It gives the clear message that the focus should be on saving our ability to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex.  I did have a guy, some friend of a friend, ask me, “Did they save it all?” after I said that I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

His question floored me, so of course I had to berate him for saying something so stupid and offensive. “Save it all?  You mean my breasts?  Wow…  Wow, congratulations.  You’re the first person to ask me something so incredibly offensive and just weird.”   The guy sputtered and left me alone, rightfully so.

If someone is reading this and thinking, “Lighten up.  If it raises awareness, then who cares how it’s done?”

Well, I care.  This disease took my mother’s life, and it has left me forever scarred.  Why should I have to forfeit my dignity for the sake of awareness?     Breast cancer can take your breasts, your hair, your sex drive and/or your life.  It’s a deadly disease that claims approximately 40,000 lives each year, but time and time again, the focus is about saving our sexual desirability.  Fuck that noise.

Seriously don’t mess with me.

Also, why can’t people say breasts?  It’s always boobs, ta-tas, jugs, hooters, rack, boobies, etc.   Dear goodness, I had breast cancer – I did not have boobie cancer.  “What type of cancer did you have, Lara?”  “I had stage-one boobie cancer.”  Lolwut?  A family member close to The Boyfriend just died of prostate cancer.  He didn’t have wiener cancer.   Seriously, can we discuss a disease with a sense of integrity and maturity?

For four years now, I’ve been waiting for someone to really explain to me how shirts like these increase awareness for breast cancer in the first place.  To me, they just raise awareness to the fact that women have breasts.

One of the slogans I have never understood was “save second base.”  Why is it even appropriate to use a slang term for getting felt up, because that’s what second base means, and use it for breast cancer awareness campaigns?  “Let’s save all the boobies so a woman can always get felt up!”  After my double mastectomy, I have zero feeling in my chest, so second base has been crossed off for me.  You know what, though?   Screw second base – hit a triple or just run home.    There, problem solved.

Besides, how is wearing a shirt that says “Save the Hooters” increasing awareness for anything?   How does a men’s shirt offering to check ‘em for you fight the good fight?  Oh, this one is my personal favorite – a “funny” breast cancer awareness shirt for men.  (Yeah, dude.  Breast cancer is a riot.  I laughed all the way to the chemo ward.)  Or how does a men’s shirt telling us to SAVE MOTORBOATING help a patient undergoing chemo?  It doesn’t, obviously, but it apparently challenges young men to try to think of the most offensive breast cancer awareness stunts, like this one.  You know, because boobs.

The reality of it is that these campaigns are the result of folks wanting to make tons of money by selling T-shirts by vaguely saying money is going to a “good cause.”

Trust_No_One_tagline

A November 26, 2012 Post-Tribune article reported that a marketing presentation from the for-profit company, Boobies Rock! (gross), put its “gross revenues for 2011 at about $1.1 million with net revenues of $400,000 and unspecified ‘total commitments’ at just over $250,000.”   The following year, a July 8, 2013 9News.com article stated that Adam Shryock, used “Boobies Rock! profits to buy a BMW, subscribe to online dating service friendfinder.com, and even pay bar tabs and Molly Maids cleaning service bill.”  The article also reported that “some breast cancer charities supposedly ‘partnered’ with Boobies Rock! Received donations as small as $100.”

Yeah.

Breast cancer isn’t a joke, and what I and so many others have been through isn’t funny.    It’s time we start taking a life-threatening disease seriously and showing respect and compassion to those who are currently going through or have been through treatment.