A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crash Landing

I couldn't help but notice that after US Air 1549 recently crash-landed on the Hudson--and everyone on board survived--one passenger responded by praying and thanking God. Another passenger went to a hotel lobby and ordered a martini.

I can understand how they both felt. After getting news yesterday that my follow-up MRI was normal (i.e., no sign of cancer growing in my bone marrow!), I was torn between praise & thanksgiving...and heading to a bar. I did say a prayer of thanksgiving...and then took my dog for a walk.

Not since my first diagnosis of cancer--when everything was an unknown about my chances for survival--have I felt this close to death. When cancer hits the bone, that's bad news. I thought I had come through so much last year, with all the surgery and my close call in beating ovarian cancer. And, then, to find a mysterious mark on my leg in December--that's when I realized I could never fully escape cancer hovering over me. It's a fact of my life forever.

So many thoughts coursed through me during this month-long waiting period for the 2nd MRI to see if the area had changed, signifying if there was cancer. I thought about my short time on earth and how scary facing death is. I thought about how 50 years have flown by...and how I can never recapture the years I took for granted. I thought about how I wanted every day and every relationship to matter. I even found myself angry at people in my life who are acting petty right now. What a ridiculous waste of time.

Somehow, my latest potential bout with cancer has made me more serious about the time I have left. And although I escaped bad news this go-around, I know that as a human being, I will eventually face my end on earth.

But until then, I'm going to keep praying...and have a martini.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cancer Doesn't Mean Carte Blanch

I'd like to take a moment and turn into your Sunday School teacher, since we all need a lecture now and then.

Picture me pointing my finger and raising my eyebrows--and my voice--and taking on an admonishing tone. Because this is what I'd like to say:

Although cancer can be cruel, heartbreaking and devastating, and can rip you apart physically, emotionally and spiritually...

And although cancer makes you face challenges you never envisioned, and can get the best of us when we're feeling weak and vulnerable...

And although the world may not be as caring and comforting as you need it to be at the time...

And although you have to endure many rough days, tough decisions, scary thoughts and lonely nights...

Cancer does not give any of us the right to act anyway we want to. In other words, it doesn't give us permission to be a jerk.

Now, I --above all people--have my moments. Trust me. I can be gnarly and irritated. Irrational and outspoken. Demanding and downright difficult. But, typically, I come around to realizing that I'm on the wrong side, and try to apologize and make amends for those times when I'm less than angelic.

But, I've also known people who are cancer survivors --or continue to battle cancer long-term--who seem to feel that having cancer somehow gives them carte blanch to treat everyone like dirt. And it doesn't.

Despite the rotten behavior you sometimes run into, I've found that most of the time, people go out of their way to show compassion and kindness to us who are suffering from cancer. As a matter of fact, I've experienced people going overboard to extend love and help.

At the same time, I also know people with cancer, who think they have an excuse to lash out at the world. To be intentionally hurtful and mean-spirited.

But they are confusing cancer with another disease entirely...one with a completely different cure.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tattoos for Ta Ta's

January, 2009--As my body continues to heal, and I've decided to keep my breast size the same (although this could change)...what's next?

Tattooing! And you thought that was only for Gen-X'rs.

Among us girls with mastectomies, a tattoo is the finishing touch in giving us a realistic appearance. First, you have to let all the scarring heal (meaning, no red marks) before you can begin the tattoo process.

My initial research provided me with this tip: avoid the plastic surgeon's nurse and opt for a professional permanent makeup artist.

Why? Most likely, a nurse doesn't get the cosmetic training as a permanent makeup artist...so more often than not, you don't get the color you want. (Also, depending on your insurance plan, my doctor's office was twice as expensive.)

Of course, I'm fortunate because I know an excellent permanent makeup artist--which is not to be confused with a regular tattoo place, in which they use synthetic dyes. A permanent makeup artist typically uses natural dyes and applies the tattoo with their hand, rather than a machine, for a more authentic look.

In addition to cosmetic tattoos (such as eyebrows, eyeliner, lipstick and even blush), many permanent makeup artists specialize in medical tattooing as well -- it's worthwhile to find out if they do and see photos of their work.

I discovered Cheryl Rosenblum, owner of Permanent Makeup of Atlanta (www.permanentmakeupofatlanta.com) when I finished chemotherapy and my eyebrows didn't fully come back.

After spending several frustrating months applying makeup to my brow line, I heard about Cheryl and paid her a visit. She showed me a portfolio of her clients who needed all sorts of medical tattooing (mainly covering up scars and filling in bald spots).

She not only filled in my brows, but my eyeliner as well. It looks natural--which is good, since I've never cared to look like a clown. (The jury is still out, however, on whether I've actually been a clown or not.)

I talked about my next tattoos with Cheryl, who said she often has to redo breast tattoos from doctors' offices.

So, when my scars heal, I'll head to Cheryl, and share anything else I learn.