Monday, September 16, 2013

When Good Boobs Turn Bad - Book Review

People are always nagging me encouraging me to turn this blog into a book.   And, you know, if a publisher offered me a fat advance I wouldn't say no, but guess what?

It's too late. The book I would have written has just been published, and it is called,When Good Boobs Turn Bad: A Mammoir by the hilarious Jill Foer Hirsch.

After promising to review her book, I opened it intending to read just the first page.  I wanted to see her writing style, and then I was going to go to sleep.  To be perfectly honest, I've read a lot of bad books and articles about breast cancer, and I was half expecting another snooze-fest.  I'm happy to say I was completely, utterly wrong.   Despite my advanced stage worries, I couldn't put her book down, and Jill, you cost me a night's sleep.  And, considering I take 2 mg of Ativan every night, that's no small feat.

I'm not kidding when I say her book is the best memoir about early stage cancer I've ever read, and also not kidding when I say I'm super jealous that I didn't write it.

She's wry, descriptive, humorous and helpful, all at the same time.  Her stories about dealing with cancer are LOL funny, and she sprinkles anecdotes with  tips on how best to manage breast cancer treatment.  She's both engaging and informative and writes in an accessible, down-to-earth style.  She's included photos of herself at the various stages of treatment, making it seem like it was written by your best friend.  One with unmanageable hair, just like mine yours.

At first, I read with suspicion.  I mean, this chick is hilarious -  and I thought I had the market cornered on cancer humor.  Did she steal from me?   She has my attitude about dealing with breast cancer down pat - that's to plow your way through it with a minimum of tears and a maximum of giggles.  She was determined to find the amusing parts of the experience (and there are many) and focus on those rather than fears and pain.  Naturally, I scoured her book to see if she had stolen any of my jokes or if she had copied my blog because really, can there be two women who laugh about cancer?  Well, apparently there can be.  She's pure original.

She begins with her diagnosis, Stage IIB cancer, and goes on to discuss her treatment, from testing to surgery and on to chemo.  She shares the options available to her and why she made the choices she made. She also regales you with her fashion challenges and the awesome food she got to eat. (That reminds me - bring Jill a casserole, please.  She is brave and strong and deserves your attention.)

She describes the exhaustion that comes with chemo by saying, "Even my fifteen year old cat was less lethargic than I was.  I looked on in awe and wonder as she got up every couple of hours and was able to stretch and change sleeping positions.  You know it's bad when moving at the speed of an old, lazy cat is your goal."   And, OMG, I have thought that about my 14 year old cat many times.

 She describes her flap surgery, which is not "blue skies and fluffy white clouds" and which caused her several complications.  You and I would freak out about having an open sore on your stomach pouring fluids of various colors - but she was grateful because it gave her more writing material.  That's how crazy she is.

I have always believed the best way to get through a frightening, tragic, scary event is with humor.  Jill obviously believes this too.  And, she did what I couldn't do - she wrote my book.

Even though I didn't write it, I believe this book should be given to every women who has a diagnosis of early stage cancer.  Put it in a gift basket with a bedazzling kit for jazzing up those hospital gowns, and a copy of my blog URL to assuage my jealousy.  Not only will this book help a woman know what is coming - I still remember how confusing those early days were -  but it also gives them a guide on how to emotionally manage a scary event with humor.  Anything that helps lighten the load is a good thing, and this book definitely lives up to the statement that "laughter is the best medicine."

Most women do survive a cancer experience and Jill has made it abundantly clear that she expects to be one of them, and her attitude is infectious.  She's currently a year past treatment and doing well enough to write a book, so that's also encouraging.

If you want to see a book written by me, then go buy Jill's book.  It's as close as you'll get. In the meantime, I guess I'll stick to pendants.

When Good Boobs Turn Bad: A Mammoir:  funny, homey, smart, helpful.   (The links will take you straight to buy the book in paperback or kindle.)

This concludes the review of this great book.

(Part II of How to Survive Cancer will be coming soon, I promise)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My first necklace

EDIT!  The product sold ALREADY!  That might be a record.  Thank you, S.  I will send it out on Monday and I will have more up in the coming days, all unique and different.

Hey boys and girls. A quick note before my next two real blog posts come up.

I'm feeling healthier (yay!) but obviously can't work.  I also have a child who is a senior in high school and a husband talking retirement.  I have decided to sell necklaces to help add to my son's college fund and senior year activities.  I realize that I may only buy a tassel, even with lots of sales, but that's okay, I am contributing.

I fell in love with these glass tile pendants and thought that I would make some.   I like them so much, I thought you might too! I have lots of designs drying and lots more in the works.  In fact, there is glue all over my house and my cat has a toothpick stuck to her tail.

There are glass tiles out there, but so far, mine are unique in glass tile world as they are collage with embedded items, not just pretty paper.

So, below is my very first one that's ready for sale!  How exciting!

Some coming up are cancer-related (and yes, pink, but I will do all the cancer colors, and in honor of my friend Sarah, gone over a year now, teal will be coming up soon.)  Of course not all of them are about cancer.  

Each one comes with a hand-written letter about why I made that particular design. I also have a liberal return policy - if you don't like it, ship it back, no questions asked.

If you order from me, I will mail it within 2 days after payment. Remember, I'm new to jewelry making but I think they came out okay, and I wear them so I figured you would too. I will do a special page to put them up when I get photos taken of more of them (I'm waiting on gold pieces) but for now, I was so excited that I finished one that I wanted to share it immediately!

Don't worry, Part 2 of my "How to be a Survivor" is coming up soon, as is a special review about a book I read.

In the meantime, even if you don't buy, I would appreciate a like on facebook!  Oops, I forgot to watermark time.  :)

Here is a photo, apparently once they are sold the entire listing disappears.  But you can see what you missed:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to be a Cancer Survivor - Part 1

An online post about 9/11 sparked a conversation about whether we should "never forget" or whether we should "move on" from that terrible day.  My argument was that the two are not mutually exclusive, they can both exist at the same time.  My example was cancer survival.  Many woman move on.  They can never forget such an indelible experience which leaves such visible scars,  yet they manage to put it in the past - it becomes a bad dream they remember once in a while.

Then there are those who don't move on; who daily talk, think, and live cancer  - sometimes years past diagnosis and treatment.  I'm not talking about those of us like me, who are in endless therapy.  I am referring to women who were early stage, whose treatment is long past, and yet their cancer diagnosis becomes the defining moment of their lives; their identity.  They are stuck in one moment in time.

That is understandable to me -a breast cancer diagnosis is a tornado that has attacked the very foundations of home, and nobody is taught how to rebuild.

What do I mean?  Monday, a woman finds a lump.  By Wednesday, she is diagnosed with breast cancer, details as yet unknown.  She is going to die, she's sure. By Friday she's learned there are types, sub-types, and more sub-types; she's floored to learn it isn't really one disease after all.  In the coming days, she learns jargon such as HER2+, ER+ or ER-, Triple Negative,  the TNM staging system, Oncotype DX, BRCA genetics.  She must learn what a sentinel node biopsy does, statistics and odds about types of breast surgeries, radiation facts, differences in breast reconstruction. She's poked and prodded and thrown into MRI after CT, sees surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist and back again.  She must make crucial decisions very quickly, ones that she feels unqualified to make based on information she didn't even know a week or two ago. She worries that it is life-threatening to take the time to become informed enough, so she dives in and spends days and nights reading about breast cancer: books and websites, forums and blogs.  She reads journal articles with a medical dictionary by her side.  Her life truly becomes consumed by cancer; it is a full time job at first, often with four or five appointments a week, and tons of homework.  She's thrown into this cancer medical blender and can't get out.

Personally, she is bombarded with friends and relatives telling her about somebody they knew who died of her cancer, or giving her wacky alternative theories or sharing some diet they believe kept somebody alive, and now she has to research those as well.  As decisions are made and treatment starts, she takes time off work and normality, and her world changes to that of statistics and odds, scrubs and nurses, medical offices and waiting rooms.

She is the center of this world, and all eyes are on her. Doctors take seriously every ache she describes, nurses focus on her, friends bring food, family comforts her and appreciates her anew.  She's brave, admired, told she's remarkable and special, heck, there is even a special color just for her.  She is no longer the mom in the PTA, she's the mom in the PTA who has CANCER, and is treated accordingly, either with extra kindness or with unwarranted avoidance, but whatever it is, she is now different.

Eventually, she relaxes and becomes part of the process. She knows by first name everybody in the medical offices, she makes friends with other patients.  She learns she is not Stage IV, she is not going to die, not soon anyway.  The terror lessens but doesn't leave entirely.   It is comforting to see a doctor regularly, to know that medications are actively fighting cancer. She may spend a year being treated, or a few short months, but it doesn't matter, it's CANCER and it's her life.

Then her last therapy is over: the chemo bell rings or the certificate is handed out or her rads end or surgical staples are pulled.  The long-awaited day occurs -  she's finished. She's out the door.  She's declared cancer-free.  She's back to her old life.

And many women reel, not knowing what to do.  It's like being dropped into another country with the same name as the old one, one that looks familiar but is no more.  She is left with a mangled body, often with mechanical defects, body image and sexual changes, medication side effects, conditions nobody has told her would happen,  She has a body that has made CANCER, that has betrayed her,  and she doesn't know why and nobody will ever be able to tell her. And, it can come back, early stage or not, even years later.  Many women enter a psychological prison of fear.

Fear of having to do it again, of it coming back locally or fear of it metastasizing and that she will end up like me, end-stage.

I am certain that many women who have been through cancer treatment develop a form of PTSD due to the intensity of the experience.

But all she is told now, once therapy is done, is that she's a Survivor.  She's given unhelpful phrases like "New Normal" and to figure it out on her own and get back to life with no details about how to do so. She doesn't know which aches and pains are side effects or leftovers from treatment, which could be cancer, which would have happened anyway (yes, cancer patients get normal-sick too).  Nobody has explained that tamoxifen causes bone pain, that shoulder problems are common, that scans are frequently open to interpretation.

Friends and family, having watched helplessly by the sidelines, are ready for it to be over, and begin to get frustrated when it doesn't end for her like it does for them.  She feels pressure to move on, but doesn't know how.

Many woman can do it; they can take a deep breathe and move forward and put cancer in the past.  They jump right back into the pool of life, shocking and cold as it may seem.  Many cannot, through no fault of their own.  They dip a toe in and pull back, dip a toe in and pull back, over and over, never getting in over their knees; the fear is too cold, their heart races with each dip.  Some women become stuck in a cycle of fear and appointments, fear and tests, the fear being a return of cancer and the tests are because the doctor must take complaints seriously. "With your history" becomes the catchphrase of her life.  A cough? Probably the flu, but "with your history" they run extra tests, which send women spiraling back into cancerland, certain the result of this test will show spread.   Some women live that way for years and are either always miserable or have periods of calm and peace pierced with flashes of misery.  "My back hurts.  Is cancer coming back?" they wonder, even the day after falling off a ladder.

These women with early stage cancer sometimes write me, the dying one,  to ask for help, that's how desperate they are. "How did you know it was back?  How do you do it?  How do you live with fear?"

It's a huge problem that the medical world doesn't address.  In one of those many cartoonish brochures you receive explaining treatment options,  there is usually a line or two about "woman may feel lost as treatment ends, but that is normal." and ..... period.  Okay, it's normal.

Now what?

I really think there should be a post-therapy cancer class, so women can learn to identify when to be nervous, what to expect, and given tools to manage their lives after treatment.  Included in this class should be physical therapy so women who have had reconstruction can learn that their body function has changed and strengthen the muscles necessary to avoid pain that may now be normal for them.  It never fails to amaze me that they can remove a body part, split chest muscles in half, put an implant inside, and then expect people to have full functioning with no re-training in balance, or strengthening in other compensatory muscles. Many, many women suffer shoulder and back problems post-mastectomy - and most of them think for a while that it is cancer returning.

Yes, I am the terminal one, the women everybody is afraid of becoming.  But still I understand what women go through.  I only had a few months after treatment ended before being diagnosed with mets, and in hindsight, I was likely Stage IV from the beginning.  But I didn't know that, and so I understand the nerves that come.  I did not live in fear those months, on purpose.  In fact, I was about to shut this blog up and go away and leave cancer, in all its forms, behind.

I cherish those months before I was diagnosed with metastatic disease.   I look back on them as last vestiges of my thinking I had a future, with plans and dreams like a normal person.  I miss the days when I could see something online and not think, "Oh, my friend will like that for Christmas, I hope I'm alive to give it to her."

I want women to cherish their time post-cancer too.  Whether cancer does come back a year later or more likely  never, they should love and enjoy their lives as quickly as they can.  I don't want women to look past beauty to the fear.  I want them to look past fear to the beauty.

I know they'll never forget, but I want them to move on.

In Part 2, I will have suggestions on how to accomplish this goal, and steps on how I had planned to do it.