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.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

There is a disheveled little karaoke bar that is walking distance from my old address. It’s across from a strip of beach that’s lined with predominantly vacant snowbird condo buildings that are older than me. Inside the nautical-themed bar, it’s a sea of peppered gray and balding heads bobbing above a tide of Tommy Bahama button-ups and sun-bleached T-shirts advertising various Key West bars. It’s the least pretentious bar you could ever imagine visiting.

The South Florida city where I live is famously pretentious. It’s a place where money and beauty are common, and deciding whether to drive the Bentley or the Maybach to the grocery store is an actual choice for a lot of people. Where the hard-bodied weekend warriors masquerade through the sleek nightlife in their designer camouflage to atone for their insecurities. They’re peacocks fanning out their Chanel feathers.

The karaoke bar is a sanctuary away from the peacocks. After chemo, I sought out these safe places where I could avoid the size 0 birds and their irrationally beautiful skin and hair. Girls can be cruel, and when you don’t have hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes, the thought of being caught in the sightline of a Regina George-type (Mean Girls) will make you sweat like a polar bear on South Beach.

That evening, I was wearing a long, brown wig and a floppy, black hat. I had on fake eyelashes and stenciled eyebrows. It always was quite exhausting to get my face ready for public view, but I did it wearily because I needed a liquid remedy with friends after my week. Upon ordering our drinks at the bar, I overheard a male voice near me say, “Why would she wear a hat indoors at night? It’s dark out. You’d look better in that hat, anyways, babe.”

I froze. I came here to escape those exact words that he spoke, and yet here I was in my secure little nest being judged. The peacocks had infiltrated. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear it. But I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t stand up to this pejorative frat boy in the name of all of those who have been victims of the mean girls and boys in life.

So, I turned slowly to him with squinty eyes and said,“Oh, you don’t like my hat? If you want to know why I’m wearing a hat indoors, then you should just ask me. Because this is why.” I dramatically ripped off my hat and wig to reveal my bald head. “I had cancer. So, NEXT TIME … before you open your mouth to judge someone, you’d better think about me (insert expletive).” Drop mic.

The horrified faces of the frat boy and the girl almost made me feel bad for what I had done. Almost.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time something like that happened. Cancer can make you fragile, but its moments like these that will ignite a fire deep within. We have a confidence that is unshakable because it does not rely on our outward appearance. Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

By condemning each other, we’re only breaking ourselves and submerging our own insecurities — women, especially. We need to stick together. We need to empower each other instead of condemning, because a rising tide lifts all boats. I encourage you to strip away your own intangible veils the way I ripped off my wig. If we remove the façade, we’ll realize we’re all just men and women fighting the same struggles.

Bury the gossip, the office chatter, the neighborhood rants. Who are you really competing with or trying to impress? Think about it. And then go watch Mean Girls for a good laugh.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.

Buy the Good Shoes and Don’t Take Your Arms for Granted

Change (v): Make or become different.

Cancer will change you. It will become a catalyst of transformation, a revolution of your existence. It separates your life into two versions of yourself: You before cancer and you after cancer. My before-cancer self is someone who took things for granted; who was blindly unaware of many things, including her health and the delicate brevity of life.

When I was three days post-mastectomy, I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my hair or brush my teeth. I had tubes that dangled under my armpits; they were sewn into my skin and collected blood from the inside of my chest. I laid back over the bathtub as my boyfriend Jeff washed my hair, and I couldn’t help but think how ludicrous this was. At that moment it dawned on me – I had taken my own arms for granted my entire life. Arms! What I wouldn’t have given to be able to use my arms in that instant. Then, a few months later, as I raised my arms to touch my cold, bald head, I thought: What I wouldn’t give to have that hair again, even when I was unable to wash it with my T. Rex arms.

After things are taken from you, you miss them. We sulk and reflect back to the “old days” with sad, polar eyes. When familiar comforts, like working arms and hair, are no longer there, you realize how you’ve foolishly been unaware of their importance. As Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

With cancer, you’ll gain more than you lose. Sure, I lost some physical attributes, but I gained confidence, acceptance and wisdom. When all of my material crutches were taken – pretty hair, long eyelashes, breasts, a skinny body­ – I was left with only my mind and soul. It’s a blank slate, a clean canvas, a new birth, a reawakening. Cancer will make you hit rock bottom, but it’s never felt so good. You may think you were left for dead and buried in the soil, but you’ve actually just been replanted. I was buried so I could grow again.

The saying is true: The healthy wear a crown that only the sick can see. I wear that crown now, but I can see it, and I kept the receipt to remember how much I paid for it. Nothing is to be taken for granted. I have lived, I have learned, and now I upgrade. All of those things the pre-cancer me said she was going to do … I’m actually doing them. I had preventive surgery this week to remove all my moles, something I said years ago I was going to do (because I’m not trying to get skin cancer, too). I took a real estate class last week to get my license in Florida. I am currently writing a book. I dyed my hair lavender. I’m doing ALL THE THINGS because I can. I will always strive to be a better me than the day before. A healthier me, a stronger me.

If you’re waiting for a catalyst of change in your life, don’t wait until you hit rock bottom. Make this that day. Complacency is an ugly weed that will slowly suffocate your roses. Nothing will grow in the stagnant dust of your comfort zone. So, get moving, young grasshoppers! Seize each day, because tomorrow you might not be able to wash your own hair. Grab your life and elevate it like you’re Rafiki holding up baby Simba in The Lion King, screaming something in Swahili. BAHHHHHH-SOWHENYAAAAA-BABABISH-KIBABAAAAAAA.

There is plenty of time to make mistakes, but there is no time to be average. Death may stalk me, but I’m skipping around and waving my middle finger back at him saying, “You can’t catch me!” Because, newsflash: We are all going to die. He will catch me one day, but until then I’ll be that girl who is out there buying the good shoes, dying her hair like a rainbow, changing jobs, moving cities, and never ever settling in the dirt.

Namaste, pink sisters.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.

White Lies, Rainbows and Puppies

White Lies, Rainbows and Puppies: Sometimes We Just Need a Good Cry

Sometimes I get really sick of talking about cancer. I get sick of hearing my own voice, of talking about wigs and boobs, of posting photos of my chemo-hair updates with the inflated enthusiasm of an elf on crack. At times, I want to pretend that it all never happened. To never speak the word cancer again. To never write a single syllable or utter a single breath on the topic. Sometimes, my overzealous optimism becomes too full and embellished; it collapses beneath the burden of its own weight. It’s a difficult job to always be a cheerleader.

Sometimes I just want to talk about cat memes and tacos. Like, what’s cancer?

When a person asks about my cancer experiences, it can be an out-of-body experience. I am standing right next to this human who looks like me, watching her talk. “Chemo didn’t even make me sick. Me and my friends went out to a beach bar and drank vodka martinis a few days after my second chemo!” Remember that show VH1 Pop Up Videos? A white conversation bubble pops on the screen. “True Story: She had one drink, 8 days after chemo and had to leave the bar because she was nauseous and had unbearable heartburn! LOL.” That info nugget indicts me of my white lies. Of my cancer propaganda that narrates an altered story.

I will never outwardly admit that things weren’t all rainbows and puppies. It’s the big sister in me who is being intrinsically protective. I’m hiding the callous truths from my friends and family who may get cancer at some point in their lives. I’m guarding my own ego. Because, as bad as things may get, I am the type who never will admit to it. It’s mind over matter.

As a cancer survivor, we all have a myriad of internal struggles about coming to terms with what we’ve been through. Everyone will say “You’re so strong, you’re so brave.” In truth, we don’t feel that way. We try to act fearless for everyone else’s sake. Brave? Me? Bravery is when you run into a burning building to save a baby. We’re not running head-first into cancer. We didn’t choose this. We’re running head first into survival. And it can be exhausting.

So, forgive me and forgive us, when we’re not always standing tall with our hands on our hips and projecting a rainbow beacon of bravery like a pink Care Bear. As much as we wish we were a magical cartoon with superpowers, we’re mortal humans who still put on our unicorn yoga pants one leg at a time.

So, if you’re a friend or family member aboard this ugly rollercoaster with us, just know that sometimes we just want stillness. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about cancer like it was an educational summer camp we attended and came home adorned in badges and medals. Sometimes we just need to hide in a closet and cry.

We are grateful and happy to be alive, but it’s equally gratifying to occasionally have a good ugly-faced cry and think about how far we’ve come. We recall those little white lies that we told our friends and family, “Oh, I feel great! Surgery was a breeze.” Because, unless you’ve been there, you’ll never be able to handle our horror stores of physical pain and aching despair.

But we know the real truth. The stories we tell others may have a fake sparkly tint to them, but it’s not without reason. We rewrite them to selflessly protect you. And that’s what I believe makes us brave.

*Article first published 4/28/17 at Breastcancer-news.com by me, duh. 

Did you miss me?

Shalommm bitches! I’m still here. Don’t worry. I have been asked to write a weekly column about breast cancer (from a young survivor’s point of view) for another website…. which is why I have been MIA from my regular blog. So check out my posts here:  breastcancer-news.com

They’re considerably more G-rated than this website (cause fuck is a bad word I guesssss). So the new posts are something you could show your grandma and not feel bad about. I’ll begin updating my blog every week as I write my column for Breast Cancer News.

Oh yeah PS — I have pink hair. Incase you don’t follow me on one of my numerous social media channels. InstagramFacebookSnapchat. Ok ciao!