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betches guide to cancer

To the girl on the left…

Two years apart.

Same Lululemon hoodie; different body and soul occupying it.

I’m not here to bullshit with all the champions who are going through chemo right now and tell you “everything will be ok!” because we all know that’s not always true. And in those daunting hours, days, months of treatment we often can’t see the light because we’re literally confined indoors to our homes and hospitals under the stale fluorescence of fake lighting and saccharin enthusiasm.

I found my light by observing others who had walked the path before me. They have hair! They are going on vacations! They have cleavage! I was bald and puffy. I felt left behind and sorry for myself. But I saw my future in the other cancer survivors who were years ahead of me in remission. I realized that my new normal—crushing exhaustion as I would draw on my eyebrows every morning and glue on fake eyelashes just so I could look halfway decent and avoid sneers and stares if I even dared to venture into the outside world–would not be my forever normal.

So, to the girl on the left, I’d like you to meet the girl on the right. She is one of those future cancer survivors that you’re going to enviously admire. Let her be a testimony to all of the doubts and insecurities you’re feeling right now. Let her show you how life can be normal again. Although you feel small and helpless now, she is evidence that miracles are being planted in the ashes that surround you, and they will grow into oak trees with roots so deep they do not fear the changing seasons.

She is proof that –although you cannot see the plan God has for you—you are right on track.

To the girl on the left: I know you nearly had a panic attack before you posted that picture of yourself bald on social media.  You were flustered and frightened by what the response would be because you cared what other people thought. And you will be criticized but not in a way you are prepared for. You will be judged for wearing wigs to “hide” your cancer. You will be condemned for saying the word “fuck” in your blog. You will be chastised for posting photos of your mastectomy scar and surgeries. You will get fusilladed by a sea of eye-rolls as you perpetually forget important dates and can’t even recall what you said in a conversation two hours ago.

The girl on the right is proof that as time passes and people pass judgement, you’ll learn to care a little less about those things. She is proof that you can and should do whatever the hell makes you happy because by the time you’ve caught up to the girl on the right, you’ll have earned every ounce of that happiness.

She is proof that one day you’ll become a stranger in the oncology department which now seems so familiar and where everybody knows your name. She is proof that there will be weeks that go by before the word “cancer” is spoken. And when it is, that word will slip from your mouth like a vase full of flowers tumbling to their demise while you flinch at the piercing explosion on the cold marble floor. It will rattle you. But also remember that the girl on the right is a fucking badass so she asks someone to grab a broom and everybody laughs because she says “I hated that ugly vase anyways.”

She is proof that as your life changes, you will learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine.

She is proof that you are not alone in your fight. Stay strong, whatever you’re going through now is just the test before you learn the lesson.

 

 

 

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.