What Is Paramount

Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: mastectomy, path of rememberance, radiation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Yesterday was the anniversary of one of the most significant life-changing decisions that I have thus far followed through on. Bigger than decisions like marriage, career, divorce or moving across the country. Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy.  My pragmatism and intuition told me that cutting to the chase, although  having “just” stage zero breast cancer, was the right think to do. While some tried saying that I was having a hysterical ‘knee-jerk’ reaction, I knew better.

Barkhamsted Bike Boots

A lovely banana snack view while sitting atop a dam.

I had a seriously stacked genetic breast cancer tree, even though I tested negative for the BRACA gene. My daily struggles with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue are serious. My chances of rebounding well after the traditional breast cancer regimen — lumpectomy and rounds of radiation — well, they didn’t look good for me.

On a good day, I was already functioning on a healthy radiation patient’s downward slope. And, after reading and discussing my odds with doctors, of them finally being stacked higher in my favor if I was free of any ticking time bombs on my body? I knew a bilateral was the way to go. And after the surgery, it was found that the “healthy” breast was full of cancer cells. I made the right choice.

Now four years after that, how am I doing? I’m content with life. I’m happy. And, that’s largely because of my friends, family and framily.

At some point during my trek through breast cancer, as a patient or now as a survivor, they became huge contributors to my overall quality of life. Whether they’ve shared support, reflection, an ass-kicking of reality, or, some uproarious laughter — they’ve been an integral part of my life feeling blessed and rich. They’re actively thanked for that, quite often.

As this anniversary had been approaching I kept finding myself asking, “What has having had cancer done to my life? What have I learned? And, how have I subsequently grown from that?”

Annie Me Painting

Annie treated me to a “Candied Skull” painting party. Lots of fun!

For certain, this is what I’ve learned is important to my life:

Treasuring high-quality friends is paramount.

People with integrity and honor are like rare treasures. When they flow through your life, honor them with your respect, support, honesty, laughter and love whenever possible. Be sure and spontaneously remind them just how wonderfully they make your life sparkle.

Peacefully letting go of toxic acquaintances is paramount.

If someone proves themselves to be toxic, I do my best to just let them go in peace. It took a while to learn to do this. It also took a while to learn how to do this.

I am actively working on embracing that ‘everybody is at where they’re at.’ It doesn’t make anyone good or bad. It just becomes more a matter as to if I can make a healthy contribution to their lives, and them to mine.

Everyone deserves a fair chance. But if someone proves to not be a good mesh into my life? I’ve learned that it’s far healthier to let them go — for me and for them. I give thanks for whatever was good within them and then I let them go.

Barkhamsted bike parked

“Lucky Luke” resting at the reservoir.

Consciously living in a state of gratitude is paramount.

This one is super simple … Be thankful for what you do have. Really, that’s it.

No walking around with Daisies falling out of your brains and butterflies kissing your footprints kind of bliss. Focus on what you do have, be thankful for it.

Did you wake up today? Did you walk to the bathroom on your own? Where you able to go to the bathroom on your own? Can you bathe yourself? Can you fix yourself a sandwich? Do you have shoes on your feet, proper clothing for a season? Some change in your pocket, a roof over your head?

No matter how bad it gets, if you can answer “yes” to any of those questions — you have it far better than millions of other human beings who woke up today do. For, someone out there today would give anything to bask in your good fortune.

Told ya it was simple.

Having a sense of humor is paramount.

My sense of humor is my number one coping skill. Scientifically speaking, there is all kinds of research out there that supports that laughter does all kinds of wonderful things for our bodies. No matter how bleak a situation may be, if I can find a sliver of humor in it, I’ll have experienced a ray of hope.

Humor has gotten me through some tough spots in life. Well, okay, it’s gotten me into some too. But that’s beside the point!

♦   ♦   ♦

So, how did I celebrate my 4th anniversary yesterday? It began with some Allman Brother’s tunes blasting through my morning coffee as I got ready to seize a balmy 70ºF fall’s day with a ride on “Lucky Luke” — I gave thanks for all of my friends, family and of course, my bike! I had a gorgeous two+ hour ride on the bike and later a fun evening at a painting party with my friend, Annie. It made for a most lovely anniversary day.

Stormdrain 2

Small details of a reservoir storm drain.

One last note … I’d like to make sure that this is left in my written trail of remembrance … Know that every nanosecond of your positive contribution to someone’s life really does matter. Keep on spreading that life-affirming manure, ’cause it really does count.

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Flipped Thank Yous

Posted: October 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: breast cancer, mastectomy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

“Thank you! Thank you so much for being here!” As each survivor arrived at the “Meet & Greet” for the 2014 “P.INK Day” at the Indigo Rose Tattoo Studio in South Carolina, this is how I greeted them. They each reacted the same way, they looked at me with polite puzzlement. I recognized that look, that was me, last year.

Throughout our uproariously fun night I then made a point to single out each survivor and repeat this thanks with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “Really, thank you so much for coming and being a part of this! We’re so happy you’re here! ” They each started to look at me like I just might be a crazy person. I could see it in their eyes, “Why on earth is this woman thanking ME for getting gifted tattoos?”

Then I’d add, “You are in store for a gift of joyous healing! We’re so happy for you!” Then I’d get the, “Okay, for sure she’s daffy,” and then they’d look happy, “But I’m getting my scars covered! Whatever,” looks.

I recognized those looks, it made for a delicious giggle within my heart.

After the survivors left the party and Shannon, owner/operator of the tattoo shop, and her wonderful crew of helpers were cleaning up, I told her what I had been doing. Her beautiful eyes smirked, she’d overheard me. I asked her, “So, I fill them in during the morning greeting you asked me to do?” Her, “Yeah,” was full of approving mischief.

Morning came, everyone was beyond excited to get going. Shannon quickly greeted the survivors and then said she’d like for me to say a few words.

I’ll do my best to recollect and paraphrase what I said that morning — as I didn’t write out a speech.

“Good morning! Again, we’d like to thank you so much for being here. A year ago, I stood exactly where you are standing today, waiting for my mastectomy tattoos to begin. But before I finally explain why we’re so happy you’re here, I’d like to first take a few moments to give recognition to some people that made today possible. People who you may never get to thank in person, shake their hand or give them a hug of gratitude.

There are countless volunteers all across the country today who put in their time, energy and funds into making “P.INK Day” possible. But the main core of people I’d like us to pay homage to today are Molly, Noel Franus and his team of volunteers. Noel and the Personal P.INK team have worked year-round to make today possible.

I had the privilege of meeting Molly, her family and Noel last year. They are some of the warmest and nicest people you’d ever want to meet. And if it weren’t for Noel and his team of volunteers pushing forward, all year long, with wanting to help more survivors, none of this would have ever happened for us. So, a special thank you to them.

Now onto why I’ve repeatedly thanked you. You see, that’s what Molly, her family and Noel kept saying to us last year. To the survivors and tattoo artists. “Thank you for coming! Thank you for being here!”

At first, at the “Meet & Greet,” I thought they were just really happy we made it to NYC okay. But they kept saying it. And the morning of “P.INK Day” Noel still kept saying it. I finally whispered to Shannon, “Why are THEY thanking US? They are gifting US with tattoos! Are these people crazy?””

I pantomimed out for this year’s survivors Shannon’s shrugging a, “Heck if I know” look. I went on, “I said to Shannon, “Whatever, let’s roll with it!”” And then I pantomimed Shannon’s silent, “Okay, let’s hit it!” Everyone laughed.

And then I got serious, I looked each survivor in their eyes. I said …

“Yours and my experience as breast cancer patients was far different than what women just five, 10, 15 years ago was. It was rough, but those women did what women do best — they spoke up and started networking to make things better. They, and their loved ones, networked until the medical community and the insurance companies made changes in how we, as patients, are now treated and dealt with. That is why our patient experience was far better than what theirs was.

But now we have many more survivors than there ever used to be. The medical community and insurance companies haven’t caught up with what our survivor needs are. And we have a lot of them. They haven’t caught up, yet. But because of organizations like Personal P.INK, because of women like you — who are coming together and networking, healing together — things are changing!

Last year history was made with tattooing 10 mastectomy scar survivors in one shop. That is why I think Noel kept thanking us. We showed up and helped make a dream into a change, we made history. This year 38 women in 12 shops, across the country, are receiving mastectomy scar tattoos today. You are the second wave of making history.  And, that is why I have been making a point of thanking you for being here today. Thank you for being a part of making more history!

And in closing, if I should ever have the privilege of being a part of another “P.INK Day,” and if you are ever a part of one? I hope that you will carry on this “Thank You” tradition. I  know I will, I hope you will too.

Now let’s get going with your gift of joyous healing! Go get your tattoos done!””

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Firebrand Rabble-Rouser

Posted: September 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: breast cancer, mastectomy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The 2014 Fall/Winter issue of Modern Woman hasn’t even hit the public shelves yet and already, some very interesting conversations have begun — in regard to my participation in an article in that issue. It will focus on what some of us breast cancer survivors have been experiencing.  My contribution was an interview about my mastectomy tattooing experience, gifted by Personal P.INK, and, some tasteful photographs of them. Some of these conversations proved for me to be perceived as being a firebrand in nature, and some, apparently, on the rabble-rouser side of things.

Firebrand Convos

I’ve always said, “It’s often not what you know, but, who you know that matters.” And, when I find myself impassioned about something, in the name of networking, I’ll gladly repeat my impassioned schtick — because, “you never know who knows who.”

I guess that makes me a firebrand … “a person who is passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action.”

Look into each others heartsBefore the photo shoot began, the photographer, Brad Clift, asked me a few questions about my breast cancer and my tattoos. I gladly told him a boiled-down version about my breast cancer and how much the mastectomy tattoos have changed my life. And, especially about how excited I was that we survivors were going to be heard from on a national platform.

Throughout the respectful photo shoot there was a good amount of chatter and banter amongst my family, Annie (my stylist), and Brad. It made for one of the scariest purposeful-actions in my life, so far, to be as comfortable as possible.

Something about that photo shoot apparently moved Brad. After he submitted the photographs to the magazine, he wrote me a very touching email. In it he said he was now a “believer and a convert” — as to what P.INK stood for and was doing for us survivors.

Brad requested to be put in touch with my tattoo artist, Shannon, who owns/operates Indigo Rose Tattoo Studio, and, with the folks at Personal P.INK … Because, Brad not only wants to contribute his professional services on a P.INK Day, he also wants to put P.INK in touch with several major magazine contacts he has! Pronto too!

I hope everything falls into place for Brad, P.INK, and his connections, to sync up for the “2014 2nd Annual P.INK Day.”

Last night, Brad and I got to have a nice uninterrupted 45-minute phone conversation. He asked more questions and I shared more details. Mostly about why us survivors need to be heard from — for morale and remaining medical issues. What the medical community desperately needs to get up to speed on, in regard to our post-breast reconstruction needs. Why tattooing should be a medically covered option, and procedure, when it comes to nipple and areola tattooing; and, mastectomy scar tattooing.

Suffice it to say, I think all of these various firebrand conversations going on will help the survivor community’s need to be heard from.

Rabble-Rouser Convos

I guess there’s a thin line to dance upon, when it comes to being perceived as a firebrand, an activist, or a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker.

 

A firebrand … “a person who is passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action.”

A rabble-rouser … “a person who speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people.”

 

People sometimes joke off, usually with a thread of their perceived truth, that which they’re uncomfortable about.  And sometimes, it can unintentionally come across as being mean-spirited. Amongst the conservative slice of my inner-circle’s demographics, this unintentionally happened.

Dalai Lama inner peace“Wow, Chérie could be a porn star!”  …   “Here comes the porn star!” …  “No matter how much of an activist you perceive yourself to be, to most folks you’re just gonna be a gal who bared her breasts for a magazine.” …  “Well, if it isn’t the porn star!”

I’ve patiently donned my “Firebrand Boots” and calmly pointed out how speaking to me, and about me (as being a porn star), planted an extremely negative seed in other people’s minds (who are dear to me) that heard those words — regardless of it being intended as a joke.

It is a blessing to be respected and loved within my inner-circle. The unintentional negative jokes have stopped.

As for the public? If and when the negative jokes might happen, I’ll just take it on the chin. Can’t chase down ‘n set straight everybody ‘n their 3rd cousin.

So … Rabble-rouser. Firebrand. Either way, I’m at peace. The path I consciously chose to walk will have at least gotten someone to stop and think — even if for a few seconds.

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