Recently, I became a magazine model. Did I ever think I would model? NO - not even when I had an undeveloped teenager’s mind did I ever ever think I would or COULD model. When I look back now, I realize I was really beautiful but I always felt NOT beautiful. I compared myself to everyone and anyone - I recall like yesterday being about 12 (so almost my daughter’s age now) and watching Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes…” music video on MTV (you know, when MTV used to play music videos) and feeling just huge and hideous and wishing I could look as trim and fit and as beautiful as she did.
I realize now that she had a team of people to make her look the way she did in that video and that it is insane for girls women to compare ourselves to stars, musicians and now, IG models and reality TV stars.
Most photos you see out in the world for advertising purposes are photoshopped and airbrushed and videos are also treated after the shooting before we see them so we really should NOT compare ourselves but it is what we do.
After cancer, I find myself doing this less and being more “content” with my body, my face, my weird facial expressions and you know, ME. I also am less fearful of like anything (IDGAF) and just doing things way outside my comfort zone (exhibitionist).
When I first shared with some friends that I would be posing topless and showing body positivity to the point of being a 41 year old (so middle aged) one breasted woman, some folks were shocked and wondering why I felt this need to show my body NOW. I mean, do not get me wrong, as a young lady, I wore string bikinis and “sexy” clothes but as I got older, I became more conservative and though I would show cleavage, I would not show too much and never ever posed naked - I mean, I was a professor / teacher and an executive - we never want to be found with naked pics out there because then it becomes the front page of the New York Post…
So when my friends pushed back, I explained how it was so important to me to show that even though my body has been mutilated and I have lost a piece of what is considered “feminine” by chopping off that tit, I am still happy with my body and sexy in my own way. I would share more about sex but I am married and NO ONE wants to know about married people’s sex life - if I were single and swiping right on Tinder, everyone would be down with it but because I am married, it is icky… lol.
I am also too prudish to write about that stuff anyway - but I am naked in this month’s amazing Body Issue for Wildfire Magazine. This magazine is all about breast cancer and a portion of the proceeds are donated to cancer charities. The magazine has been in print since 2015 AD FREE and showcases the true story of breast cancer with images, stories, coloring inserts and more.
My lovely photo taken by the amazing Sophie Mayanne of Behind the Scars was picked to be put in the magazine and check it out - it is a FULL PAGE image and on the next page is a little bit about my body image and my post mastectomy experience as well as a listing of my nonprofit, too!
If you have the time and are interested in an amazingly crafted with love magazine about our experiences and life with breast cancer, sign up to get copies here - you can get digital copies or printed ones! It is a great resource to find your tribe, to learn about things in the community and to give back, all at the same time!
The magazine is AD-FREE and a portion of each new subscription is donated to MBC/Stage IV research. WILDFIRE supports METAvivor and The Cancer Couch Foundation.
Check it out today! This is what I do in the time between.... share life as a "uniboober" and smile, every damn day -- come on over and tell me what you do in the time between in the comments or via insta.
You know, I wish I could tell you that I have cured myself of ever worrying or being stressed since I was told "you have cancer". I will admit that I am MUCH better at trying my damnedest to live in the moment and not worry and to always realize what is "small stuff" but I do not always succeed.
I came up with an "IDGAF" test to help me prioritize and just recently it hit me hard in the remaining boob as I almost could see it going another way. You see, my "IDGAF" test is to envision the worse news possible, as I received it in November 2016, the news that I had cancer. I can remember vividly BEFORE hearing those words and after how much I wished for the problems I had had the day before instead ofthis disease.
So I try to think through every current situation with the grain of salt/wisdom that "it could always be worse" and realize that as long as we are all "healthy" (and again, I put that in quotes because who the heck really knows if they are healthy - our bodies are a mystery but lacking an active diagnosis, I side with "healthy" always) then the rest will just work itself out.
Recently, I felt very woozy and almost unable to stand - I was standing though and walking and able to talk but I felt just OFF and of course I immediately thought, "This is NOT good." But then I realized that I was missing my allergy medicine for a week and that the symptoms I had come on me (gradually for a few days until this bad afternoon) were potentially due to missing my allergy meds during the height of allergy season and maybe not, you know, a brain tumor.
I am still monitoring myself as we who have had cancer all know the drill - any weird symptoms that remain for more than 2 week (or severe symptom that happens like God forbid passing out or still for me fever due to my clinical trial meds) must be brought to the medical team's attention.
It does not make much sense but I still do feel as though my dx was longer ago in the past when it was only 1.5 years ago. I look back on who I am now and what I am doing and how I am (trying) to help others and it seems like more time must have passed. This month is my one year blogging anniversary and it really is my lifeline, my way of getting it out. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself that I do not blog anonymously and that with over a million pageviews and 57k+ unique visitors, people are reading this stuff - but I still share and I still go there and I am not ashamed to share it and I hope you reading it helps you or someone you know...
Lately, I have been working so hard on my nonprofit and also on my small business, I sometimes feel scattered, accomplished, not good enough, overwhelmed, in charge, ready to help so many people, worried I will not help people enough and just everything in between. I also worry about the regular stuff - my house, bills, husband, kids, mom, dad, etc etc but I have had to shake it off time and again.
No matter what, I cannot get pulled under or back into the fears and worries of before - there is no solution to that and it is no way to live. Recently, I saw pictures of me from last year at this time, still bald, swollen and ashamed and then I saw pictures of me from the year before that (June 2016) before I was diagnosed and I knew in my gut looking at that face of mine that although I was smiling and had not yet been told I had cancer that I was not happy.
So my plan or goal is to keep on swimming- to focus on today's joys and try to get to today's deliverables all the while knowing there is always tomorrow and that so long as I am on this path of NED and can stay that way, nothing else should matter. The bills, the house, the craziness of family, being a mom, trying to stretch myself too thin - those things have to just be let go and the moment lived in.
This is what I do in the time between.
I love to read (and write) - finding books that I can devour is part of what brings me joy. Yes, devour. I find a book a like and I read it voraciously until it is over and then I think about it and wish I could write something a fraction as good. See, for me, reading is a visible thing - I see the story in my mind the way you see it on your movie screen or TV.
As much as I love to read, the mechanics are lost to me - so I cannot take lessons from what I read to write my own books though I am doing fairly well with writing short stories, so that is a consolation…
I read a book about the Radium Girls (link below)- and just thinking about it gives me chills. This book details the work young girls did from the advent of WW1 into WW2 working at factories using duh Radium. Radium found in the early 1900’s was considered for the general public to be a “health” product. It was included in water tonics and medicines and it also was used to paint watches and more during both world wars as it allowed for the dials to glow.
Despite the fad around radium, scientists learned painfully that it could hurt them as they found their bodies burnt from the liquid form kept in vials or other painful growths - despite that, the element was hugely promoted and “researched” by firms that used radium in products sold to the government and the public all agreeing that it was safe for use.
Young girls (as young as 13) found work in factories in the early 1900’s-1940’s painting watches dials for planes and more. The technique shown to the girls was called the “dip, lip, paint” technique in which they put their brush into the radium infused liquid, then put the brush in their mouths to shape it to a point and then to paint. They were encouraged to eat at their workstation and even paint their clothes and faces with the radium - despite the fact that the science men employed at the same companies had to wear lead aprons and hold the radium with tongs to manipulate the radium.
These girls were known as “ghost girls” as the radium made them glow - they considered it a sign of the health benefits to working with the new miracle element.
Within a few years of the first radium girls hire, they began to get sick and most of them died painful, terrible deaths attributed to the first known case of “workforce poisoning”. The radium settled in their bones and ate away at them - causing cancers, bone disintegration (most of them died via mouth disintegration - their jaw bones literally broke off in their hands.
They and their families fought tooth and nail for medical help, recognition and in so doing also provided help to protect future generations of workers from environmental / work related poisoning. Ones who survived worked with the government to do studies on the effects of radioactivity on the human body and donated their bodies to science - radium lasts for 1600 years so ALL of the radium girls are actually STILL RADIOACTIVE even those who died in the early 1920’s.
This book hit me hard because it brought to mind the countless other injustices that happen here and around the world, even now, today 100 years after these radium girls were lied to and told that the lip method they used was safe despite the few powerful folks who knew it was dangerous and enacted precautions for their more “valued” workers.
Of course, it led me to think of my experiences and that of countless others I know and love working in downtown NYC in the days, months and years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite being told it was safe, we now know it was not safe. The air we lived in, the dust we trudged through, the thoughts of those who died in the attacks always in our minds.
And then, 15 years later, I was diagnosed with cancer, the first in my family. My husband was a first responder and was being monitored and checked through the WTC (World Trade Center) medical program and now I am hoping to be, too.
Cancer sucks and the reality is that no one knows why things happen - and my own personal motto after cancer changed from “everything happens for a reason” to “it could be worse”. Here’s to us all staying someplace metaphysically where we can say, “it could be worse”. Here is to us learning as a world to protect others if and when we can, always.
Sometimes I feel like there are that many versions of ME and what I need to do and in all honestly, I think this is just a state of normal for anyone out there who has different "things" in their life - be it family, work, fun, etc - there is stuff to balance and manage.
Something I miss doing is writing and updating my blog more often - it seems I am down to once a week and I need this outlet so I have to take that splintered photo of myself and prioritize what I NEED to do to stay "sane". Writing is up there at the very tippity top of the list - it is my way of practicing self care.
I ran on empty for a LONG time and did not do anything for me like ever. As a mom, it is so easy to get swept away on what everyone ELSE needs and I was like that way before I ever gave birth. I will not run on empty anymore. I need to focus on what I need to do and how I need to do it but lately, it has not been easy and as all the parents in the land know, it is almost time for the most dreaded season of all seasons - SUMMER VACATION.
Now, listen to me, I love my kids so damn much. I treasure my time with them now but before I lived only for them - I planned activities up the arse each and every summer. I kept them rocking and rolling from 7am (when they woke, the little b-words) to 10pm at night for bed. Last summer, I was undergoing radiation so it was the first summer that I did not go balls to the wall in terms of activities and it was kind of brutal.
My kids, like all kids, love to fight, to complain about being bored and oftentimes now, I just have to let it go because I CANNOT do what I used to do. I mean, I could but I do not want to because then I wind up collapsing and not doing the things I need to do FOR ME.
I often have big plans for the summer academically - for summer reading, for homework activities and just to help with skills but it always falls to the wayside of fun, fun, fun. This year, though, my son needs to focus on his handwriting and his essay writing skills and I dread it with every fiber of my being.
But before all of that, in these last few days of school, I am going to work on what is nonnegotiable for me. I know I need to write, I need to promote my small business (check it out and let me know what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong - www.thenextstep1234.com) and I need to work on building out my nonprofit.
Of course I also need to have some fun and enjoy my kids - I see them growing up so quickly now - and I have tons of follow ups with Sloan for my clinical trial, Lupron shot and surgeon. I also have the 9/11 WTC program, which I am working on writing about as well. Oh and maybe a vacation at the end of August.
What are your plans? How do you practice self care? What is important to you? How do you keep your kids (if any) from kicking each other ALL SUMMER LONG? Asking for a friend. :)
Today is my first "Cancer Survivor Day" - last year on this day, I was still hiding out under my covers going to radiation and pretending like I did not have a story to tell and now here I am, a year later, living this day and dreading it and also focusing on the word "survivor" and despite knowing I could make this post ALL ABOUT my nonprofit initiative and what I can do to help people embrace their survivor life with work training and resume help and whatever, I won't.
(Well, in a way I did because I am a marketing person through and through but it was just an intro - here's the meat of the story).
Sometimes, when I am walking around perpetually smiling and thankful that I am still alive because YES I am a super smile-y happy kind of person now inside and out - before just on the outside ... well while doing this, sometimes, it hits me that there are people all around me that:
A- have no clue I was ever so sick that this was in question and
B-have never experienced "cancer" or an illness that could lead to them wondering these things chief among them the kneejerk"why me..." question.
In the beginning, I thought this way entirely TOO OFTEN to sustain life - I trained my brain to not think this way and to just change my life motto from "things happen for a reason" to "it could always be worse". Inside, I do not think I got cancer for a reason - there is no reason for ANYONE to get cancer. Despite that fact, more and more people of all ages are being diagnosed and either embracing this day or hiding under the covers as I did last year.
Cancer is something that once you have it, you ALWAYS have it - either in the front of your mind in fear or way back in a back file cabinet ready to jump out on a moment's notice. So, I have a headache - is it nothing or is it cancer? So I have a back ache - is it nothing or is it cancer? Cancer is one of the most insidious of diseases - you do not have a clue that it is there sometimes until BAM it is too late. For all of my times that I struggled with this diagnosis, I always was HAPPY that I found it before it had become WORSE.
That does not change the fact that despite my focus on wellness and being in the moment, sometimes, it hits me that I went from a spec on my mammogram in April 2016 to Stage 3A high grade, fast moving cancer by November 2016 with no lump, no family history and no capacity to manage being a cancer patient. I am so lucky it did not spread to my brain, bones, or vital organs. I also know that I have to stay lucky for the rest of my life for it not to rear up and do so - 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and 1 in 3 of those women will become metastatic where the cancer spreads and ultimately die from it or beat the "stats" of 3 years survival rate and live 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years but always in treatment and trying to stay HERE.
I have written in the past how in the blink of an eye you go from worrying about every little thing in your life to realizing just how fucking little those things were and wondering why did you ever spend a moment thinking about them. It happens that fast. And it does not go away - and I embrace THIS as a good thing on this Survivor Sunday. I even have "do I give a f&%k test" that I will write about soon but it focuses on "does this have the capacity to kill me" Y/N if Y worry if N fuck it.
Of course, a really good thing (the best thing even) would be for cancer to be eradicated, cured and that each of us still living in this time between would know that we are GOOD CURED and not worry about the "what ifs".
I mitigate my "what ifs" in a way I never knew before - and a way I could never have done before. My old "what ifs" were the rigid constructs around which I built my life. My rules and living methods were stricter than strict and I could not draw outside of the lines.
My new way of mitigating risks is to just fucking embrace them. Who knows what tomorrow will bring - today I will do what I need to do to "survive". And if that means pouring my soul into my current day and spending it loving my kids (even my husband) and trying to build my nonprofit initiative and working on my small business on the side and NOT thinking about cancer and how fast it enveloped my life, my breast and my lymph nodes well then SO BE IT.
I wish you peace on this day of "cancer survivors" and I hope you feel it in your bones and in your heart. To those of you who have never heard the words, "You have cancer..." you also never learned that the small things are everywhere and worried about and for that I pity you. Ironic, right?
I am sure you pity me - thinking about how I had cancer and maybe you do not understand the disease and you are happy in that and you assume I beat it and why do I continually live it by sharing and talking about it and basing my life on helping others with it... Well, it is what it is. This is me, one boob and all.
I was diagnosed at 39 years old - making me not only the first in my family with cancer but also the dreaded "young" cancer moniker. I do not focus on the negative I spend each day doing
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