Month

June 2017

Why You Should Never Ignore Your Intuition

I’m sitting in a dimly lit massage room, waiting for the masseuse to come back. A large clap of thunder explodes outside as the lights start to flicker between varying degrees of brightness. Aren’t massages supposed to be Zen, relaxing? This feels like the start of a horror movie. Oh God. How do I leave a note for somebody to please relocate my body to a dressing room at Neiman Marcus instead of the Massage Envy in a shopping center?

My thoughts are interrupted when the door opens. It’s the masseuse lady; she’s holding an iPad, reading over my health questionnaire I filled out moments ago. She has a slightly puzzled, sad look on her face as she reads about my colorful life as told by yes/no/fill-in-the-blank questions. It’s the same look I always get when people see that I had cancer: long puppy dog face.

I smile in an attempt to disrupt this pity party. “Yeah I had breast cancer, I’m fine now. Do you have one of those boob-pillow things? I can’t lay on my stomach very easily with these foobies.” The conversations that follow are predictable. The first question is almost always: “How did you know you had cancer?” Well, I didn’t know. I think that people ask me that because there is a preconceived notion that breast cancer makes you feel sick or it hurts. Like when you know you have a cold because you’re coughing and sneezing. Anna says she assumed that cancer made you feel sick, and that it mainly only happened to older, unhealthy people. Right now, take all those ideas you may have about who gets cancer and bury them. Let them be as dead as Juicy Couture tracksuits.

For two years I unknowingly had cancer. It was 2013 when I discovered that pea-sized lump. I sat paralyzed on the couch, Googling breast cancer for hours as waves of fear washed over me and made my body numb with anxiety. My intuition immediately told me I had cancer. I begged my gynecologist to squeeze me in for a sonogram. After the breast sonogram, I got a call from a very chipper woman “There’s nothing there, you got all worried about nothing!” Her voice was filled with phony enthusiasm, like saccharin and crushed Prozac. But I craved those reassuring words so much that I swallowed every promise she told me and buried the fear deep inside. After my second sonogram 6 months later, and again at 12 months I was told “You’re fine!” Did she really think I was fine, or did she just brush me off as a 28-year old hypochondriac? Was I crazy to question her about why a non-cancerous tumor was getting bigger? Why didn’t she recommend a biopsy? We trust these people with our lives, but in reality they don’t enjoy unearthing bad news just as much as we don’t enjoy hearing it. Maybe that’s why she didn’t dig, and neither did I. I now realize that a framed piece of paper saying that someone is a doctor will never trump a gut intuition.

Finally, I went to a different doctor who biopsied the lump, and well, you know the rest. I guess I had to grow a backbone and stand up for my intuition. It was either that, or start digging myself a grave. I could have buried my head in the sand, and listened to my doctors who all told me that I couldn’t get breast cancer because I was too young, too healthy, and had no family history of the disease. I’m not saying don’t listen to your doctor; I’m saying listen to yourself first and foremost and find a doctor who agrees.

I’m sure I’ll still get asked all of those questions a thousand times more, and I’m happy to answer them. But please educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. It could just save your life.

Namaste, ladies.

It’s 2017: Where is My Flying Car and Cancer Cure?

To infinity and beyond!

I dream of a future where we can take a pill and our cancer will be gone forever. Of a world that doesn’t have disease, and if we’re feeling sick we can just “reboot” our body like it’s a laptop. And when we need a new organ, we can teleport over to the hospital where a cyborg doctor zaps us with a space zapper thing to replace our old pickled liver with a fresh one that was grown using our own stem cells. Who’s coming with me?

Right now, we’re at the dawn of a paradigm shift where artificial intelligence and technology govern a future that we can’t even fathom.  The distant reality of what’s in store for our world may actually look a lot like The Jetsons with flying cars and robots (minus the racism, sexism, and kitschy futurism). But The Jetsons can’t even comprehend some of these absurd advances in science. Like, a cancer vaccine. The technology is close; Gardasil® and Cervarix® are HPV vaccinations that prevents certain gynecological cancers already. Or what if a bra could monitor our breasts for early signs of cancer? Well shut the front door, because the technology already exists! Medical and scientific research is on the brink of discovering remarkable technology; so get excited.

The World Health Organization predicts the amount of new cancer cases will rise 70% in the next two decades. It’s a terrifying number, and also the reason money is pouring into startup companies focused on developing oncology technologies and advanced cognizant search algorithms.

A.I. or artificial intelligence is the future of diagnosing and possibly curing cancer. The development of safe A.I. has given us as a more powerful, efficient human brain that can search thousands of sets of data using context and reasoning. I can barely walk and talk at the same time; but Watson–IBM’s “Jeopardy” winning supercomputer—can read through the equivalent of 1 million books in 1 second to generate a personalized, evidence-based treatment plan for my specific cancer. Watson can find new treatments and clinical trials that your oncologist may not be aware of. And it’s available to you now, your physician can request a report through Quest Diagnostics.

The applications for A.I. are endless. CureMetrix is a startup company using algorithms for image analysis to detect anomalies in mammograms and X-rays that have been missed by the human eye. While these technologies can’t and won’t replace a doctor’s human instincts, they do increase the patient’s care and prognosis.

In the future, maybe we’ll just rewrite our DNA? CRISPR-Cas9 is a controversial technology that allows scientists to do just that; edit DNA in a gene sequence by using two key molecules to cut into specific parts of the genome to forcefully mutate it. Theoretically, this could be used to reprogram cancer cells, although we still don’t understand why cells turn cancerous. That’s  where Microsoft’s big brain is coming to the rescue – they have announced a plan to “solve” cancer by identifying exactly why cells become cancer. If we can understand how a cancer cell mutates, we can probably fix it.

This all sounds wonderful, but A.I. and genetically modified cells is how the zombie robot apocalypse starts, right? According to Hollywood, yes. The same Hollywood that also made five Sharknado movies about a tornado with sharks in it, and like, thirty-eight movies about sparkling vampires. It’s possible that this technology could be used to create terminator robots, but many smart, rich people like Elon Musk are not going to let that happen.

In our lifetime, we may not have flying cars, or the ability to transfer our conscience into a robotic Chihuahua—but we will find a better solution for cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation will become antiquated treatments. I doubt humankind will achieve immortality anytime soon; but at least there will be a lot less suffering and disease. So, thank you to the scientists, doctors and smart people for your amazing work. 2017 is a strange time, but I am optimistic of the future. Also, I’d like to thank them ahead of time for my freshly grown liver, because this bottle of rosé isn’t going to drink itself tonight.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.

A Surgery Guide from Your Breast Reconstruction Sherpa

Get ready betches!

It’s no secret that I’ve had a few surgeries in the last two years (eight!). I guess you could call me a professional surgery-taker, a mastectomy aficionada, a reconstruction sherpa. Well, I’m here to share some of my do’s and don’ts of surgery so you can plow through the ordeal like you’re Michael Phelps at the Olympics.

If you don’t have breast cancer, you can still use this surgery guide because it mostly applies to all hospital procedures.

Be prepared before surgery. This is the most important point. I had major “chemo brain” once and forgot to pick up my prescriptions, pre-register at the hospital, check the time I needed to show up, set out extra clothes for changing at the hospital, etc. The morning was absolute chaos, and I spent the majority of it running around like I was being chased by a swarm of wasps. Take a few hours the day before your surgery to take care of business.

Get to know the nurses and hospital staff. Be kind to them, they literally have your life in their hands. Being nice goes a long way: an extra pillow and more attention.

Get comfy. You need to be prepared after your surgery with a cozy little recuperation spot at home. Do this ahead of time. Have your pillows, blankets, meds, books, etc. all in your little recovery nest so you can lie down and go to Sleepytown once you get home. My lifesavers after surgery were a neck pillow (those ones you wear on airplanes) so you can sleep sitting up and a back scratcher. The scratcher may seem ridiculous, but pain meds will make you itchy, and when you can’t move your arms very good, it’s torture. I also recommend a pad of paper so you can write down when you take your medication. Plus, you may want to send out notes via carrier pigeon or fly paper airplanes at your television, because why not?

Listen to the doctor’s orders. When you’re discharged from the hospital, you’ll usually be given a packet of papers from your doctor that look very unexciting. You need to read them! I’ve made the mistake of throwing them away once (because I’m real smart). The stack of papers will contain specific post-surgery instructions such as when you can eat, shower, return to work, go base jumping in your wingsuit, etc.

For a mastectomy, I have a few extra bits of advice. After surgery, you’re going to have drains that are sewn into your skin to collect fluid and blood. Yikes, I know. I suggest having a few dark-colored button up shirts on hand; that way you can change easily when you need to tend to the drains, and the dark clothing is for any spills. The drains will need to be pinned to your mastectomy bra, or you can buy little pouches that will hold them comfortably under your clothes, such as Drain Dollies.

The first surgery is always the most difficult, but I promise you it gets easier. You will have some setbacks along the way, but just remember that your pain and suffering are temporary. Happiness, joy, pleasure – these things do not leave behind a scar, but pain does because it is transformative. We grow and learn from distress. When I look down at my scars, I’m reminded of the torture that cancer generously imparts on the physical body, but I can’t help but smile because of the inner strength it gave me.

You’ve got this, ladies. Surgery is tough but we’re tougher. Now raise that back scratcher up in the air like a sword!

Namaste, pink sisters.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.