Boob Voyage

I’m one week from having a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy to prevent the possibility of cancer, since I have the BRCA mutation.

At this point, I’m excited simply because I’m close to getting it over with. Looking back over the last six months, I’ve gone through a full range of emotions and I just wanna get off this roller coaster and be done with it.

Interestingly, I’m forcing myself to write this because I know writing always makes me feel better. But it’s one of the few things I actually don’t want to share on this blog. Perhaps it’s too personal, even for me. In an earlier post, I promised I’d write about it, since it’s as “true” a story as any on this site, but I haven’t felt like it.

So I’ll be quick about this (no editing!) and make a list, and hopefully, as often happens when I write, I’ll feel better. And maybe someone who is going through the same thing will read this and feel better, too.

Things of note.

  • Last week, I got my period. And I realized, “I’ll never have my period again.” And while that would often be cause for joy, it made me cry. Another thing to say goodbye to. (Other times I’ve cried include the moment it hit me that I will have no more children and the moments I’ve thought about losing parts of my body.)
  • Often-present sense of guilt that I feel this sad and emotional about my surgeries, since I don’t actually have cancer. There are groups devoted to the support of people like me, and while at first I thought that was a bit overboard, now I get it. Plus, there are other cancers I still do have to worry about, that I can’t have surgery to help prevent.
  • No, I am not excited about getting a “boob job,” since that’s not what I’m getting, not really.
  • The number of doctor appointments associated with this process is between extraordinary and extra-extraordinary.
  • For a while, I was scared about the surgery itself, more scared than I’ve ever been about anything. I “knew” I wasn’t going to make it through and that was going to be the end of me. I’ve had surgery before, but was never this scared. Fortunately, I’ve passed that phase. If my mom can have a hysterectomy, I can too. This took some mental work, a good reminder that we can change our thinking. Just picture it differently and the picture will change.
  • I’ve never doubted this is the right decision. I’ve definitely freaked out about surgery, but I would freak out even more if I had to get screened for breast and ovarian cancer every six months. As it is, I’ll have to be regularly screened for pancreatic cancer and melanoma.
  • One of the hardest things to put to words is how much I value and appreciate the love I’ve been shown by family and friends. The words “value” and “appreciate” are so ordinary. I’m almost uncomfortable with the wonderful things that have been said to me and done for me. And they remind me that while this isn’t the situation I’ve hoped for, the reality is this: I can largely do something about the shitty situation I’ve been placed in, and that isn’t the case for so very many people. On top of it, I can do something about it surrounded by people I love, and that’s not the case for some, either.

So, really, at the end of the day I feel lucky. Because out of the range of shittiness that can happen in one’s life, I’ll take this any day of the week.

My sister masterminded a surprise “Boob Voyage” party for me, which was awesome in and of itself, let alone considering she will also be having a double mastectomy, one month after me. That’s the kind of people I roll with.

Enjoy some pictures of the party, and I’ll see you on the flip side (meaning after the surgery, not after life).

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Courtesy of my mom and sister.

My mom, me, my sister, and my aunt all carry the BRCA mutation.

My mom, my sister, my aunt, and I all carry the BRCA mutation.

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A table full of some of my favorite people, in a room full of even more of my favorite people.

My husband and sister.

My husband and sister.

I'm quite touched by the number of men who came out to my Boob Voyage.

I’m quite touched by the number of men who came out to my Boob Voyage.

And finally, one of the best cards I’ve ever received, from my friends John and Michelle:

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Endnote: it took some strength for me to call this Boob Voyage, though appropriate. As some of you might remember, I don’t like certain words such as “blog” because they’re too flubbery sounding. Same goes for boobs. But Breast Voyage sounded too serious.

Breaking Up with Friends

Have you ever broken up with a friend? I have, though it was never dramatic.  I went through a phase (namely, my entire childhood) when I didn’t ever want anyone to know I was sad or that they’d made me so. Unsurprisingly then, friendships that ended died slow deaths due to lack of oxygen. There are things I wish I’d done, words I wish I’d said.

My-Other-Ex-final-3-266x400Enter My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friendsa volume of essays from the editors of The HerStories Project, now on my To Be Read list. In the anthology, 35 women tell of their own friendship breakups. (Women have a wonderful way of banding together, don’t they?)

One contributor is writer Hallie Sawyer. She’s got a big heart and writes fearlessly. I look forward to reading her essay. For now, she shares some answers to a few of my questions:

1. What made you decide to submit an essay for this book?

I had learned about submissions for the first book, The HerStories Project, but I didn’t have an overwhelming story at the time. I was bummed to miss out on that opportunity but told [editor] Jessica Smock to let me know if there was ever another book in the works. I was partially joking but sure enough, I heard from Jessica a few months later! When I learned about the theme of this new book, I knew I had the perfect story to share.

2. Without getting too detailed for those reading the book, how did it happen to you? Did you do the breaking up or were you broken up with?

It happened rather abruptly when she moved to a new city but when I examined it more closely, our friendship deteriorated over the course of a year. I think we were both to blame but in the essay, I could only explain my side of the story and tried to assume more of the blame because of my über crappy friendship skills at the time.

3. Did you change names for the story? Does this person know you wrote about her? 

I emailed her the essay once I had submitted it but I didn’t hear back from her for quite some time. I began to worry that she hated it but when I let her know about the upcoming publication, she opened up about how she felt about it. She loved the piece but didn’t love reading about herself and she requested I change her name. As writers, we put ourselves out there all the time but that’s not how most people operate and I totally get that.

4. Do you feel vulnerable having it out there?

Not really. I actually felt more vulnerable with my friend than anything else. I worried that I hadn’t remembered it right or that I hadn’t honored the friendship like I wanted.

5. Have you been wanting to write about this? Did it help to write about it or do you still feel like you need closure?

Yes and no. Yes, because the pain of that experience has been there for a long time and too much a part of me to ignore. I’ve always dealt with my emotions through writing but this was an area of my life that I had shoved away for some time. I was ashamed, simple as that. It does feel good to have it out there but I didn’t want closure on the topic as much as I wanted to honor our friendship, scars and all.

6. Many people often let friendships passively die; it’s somewhat of a taboo topic—to proactively end a friendship. What’s your take?

I’m not sure there is a right way to end a friendship. For me, if the connection no longer feels genuine, I usually pull back. No one has ever confronted me with, “Why don’t you call me anymore?” but really, it would be a fair question. The passive approach seems like the less painful one but ironically, when I think about it, it hurts more.

7. How is losing a friend like losing a boyfriend? How is it different?

I think it’s just like losing a boyfriend if you are the one rejected. You have all these unanswered questions and left wondering what you’ve done wrong or what the other person doesn’t like about you.

But boyfriends can come and go. Friends are for life. When you go through a friendship breakup, it can be such a deep hurt that you feel like part of you is missing.

8. What’s your advice for someone going through a friendship breakup?

Whatever the reason for the breakup, learn something from it. Let the experience change you for the better, not bitter. No matter whose fault it is, the important thing is that you find a way to forgive them…and yourself. Also, you are not alone in your feelings. This book is a testament to that.

9. Has your daughter suffered through a friendship breakup?

There was some typical seventh grade drama and she saw an ugly side of friendship. I was so proud of her because she did differently than I did at her age. She confronted one of the girls and it instantly deflated the situation. This girl had been a teammate for a number of years and my daughter let her know if she continued to act a certain way, their friendship was over. The girl denied everything and tried to point the finger at others and it changed things instantly. My daughter decided she didn’t have time for the drama and their friendship dissolved into more of an acquaintance.

10. What did you learn after the breakup —do you see friendships differently now? Do you look for certain signs or red lights when choosing friends?

It’s crazy to realize that our breakup was almost 20 years ago! I think the most important thing I’ve learned about friendships is that life is short. I’ve learned to spend my precious time with those who lift me up and bring out the best in me. Hopefully, I do the same for them.

Do You Know What Rape Is? Take the Quiz

*Dedicated to Rush Limbaugh.

In my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, a man forces a woman against a wall and, holding her with one hand by the neck as she struggles, he sticks the fingers of his other hand up inside her, repeatedly and forcefully.

Several women readers have told me, “I’m so glad he didn’t rape her. I really thought he was going to rape her.”

This makes me sad. Because he does rape her. By every definition of the law, he rapes her. And if adult women can’t define rape, their sons and daughters probably can’t, either.

We need to fix this.

Rape is underreported, but somewhere around 1 in 5 women experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. So unless you know no women, you know someone who was raped. It might be your neighbor, your coworker, or even your mother. Who knows—rape stories aren’t ones most people share.

But I think they should. I think mothers should tell their daughters and sons if it happened to her. I think friends should talk about it. I think victims should tell their significant others. Largely for support. But also to help wipe out ignorance.

There are too many high school and college students who don’t know rape when they witness or even partake in it, whether it’s because the two people know each other, or because the offender is usually really nice, or because they don’t know what consent means.

They don’t know because we aren’t telling them. Consider the Steubenville parents, teachers, and coaches who turned a blind eye and remained willfully ignorant when a girl in their community was raped by two football players. Their story got a lot of attention, but it is not unique. Not even close.

It might seem like rape is not always black and white, like there are some gray areas. Largely this is because various states and organizations have their own definitions of rape and use interchanging words to mean the same thing.  But there are not many gray areas, really. Rape is penetration without consent.

However, I find that the devil is in the details. In an effort to help clear up some things and rid ourselves of that devilish, imaginary gray area so we can better educate our youth–and our Rush Limbaughs–here’s a short, hopefully helpful, quiz:

Q: Two college students are at a party, drinking and flirting. He leads her willingly to a bedroom. They start to kiss on the bed. He holds her arms down and takes down his pants. She says she doesn’t think she wants to do this. He says she’ll like it and sticks it in. She silently begins to cry. She does not say, “No.” Is this rape?

A: Yes, it is rape. Not saying, “no,” is not the same as saying, “yes.” If a person has to be held down and talked into sex while she cries, it is rape.

Q: A man and woman are kissing and snuggling in bed. They stop, she rolls over, and falls asleep. She wakes to find him inside her and tells him to take it out. He does. Is this rape?

A: Yes, it is rape. I would not walk up to you and shove a cucumber in your mouth. You should not stick a penis inside me while I am asleep.

Q: A girl gets ready with her friends for a night out and says she hopes she gets laid tonight. At the bar, she gets too drunk to walk or speak coherently. The man she was flirting with takes her stumbling out to his car. Her friends let him because she seems happy and she’d been flirting with him. He has sex with her in the car. Is this rape?

A: Yes, this is rape. Again, if she can’t say yes, physically cannot put the sounds together to make the word and/or doesn’t seem to know she’s engaging in sex, then it is rape.

On this point, some people seem to think that because she wanted sex when she was sober, then it’s not rape. As if she should have expected it and should feel ashamed for bringing it upon herself. But let’s follow this logic. Say I go to a restaurant and order the ham and cheese melt. I really want the ham and cheese melt, because it’s 2am and I’ve had a few beers and the salt would taste sooo good. So I tell the waiter to hurry, but then I pass out at the table. When the waiter reappears after rushing to bring the food I want and finds me responseless, he’s annoyed so he starts shoving the sandwich into my mouth, thinking to himself, “She said she wanted it.”

Absurd, right? So is sticking a penis inside a barely conscious woman.

If a person cannot say, “Yes, I sure would love to have sex with you,” then the answer is, “No.” The slogan should not be, “No means no.” It should be, “Yes means yes.”

And men: If you’re unsure, it’s always okay to ask. A simple, “Is this alright?” or “Do you want to have sex?” should do the trick. If the woman nods but then slurs, “Mmmm. Yep. Yesh,” and something in your gut is saying she might not know what she’s agreeing to, then you have your answer. (To be clear: it’s no.)

I try hard not to get snarky about this topic. I know it’s condescending. I started this piece lovingly, with the best of intentions. But as I write, and I think about all the men and women who are ignorant on purpose, I get mad. I get mad because women are raped every day and are largely ignored. It doesn’t have to be that way.

When no one talks about rape, it remains hush-hush or considered shameful and victims don’t feel emboldened. It is then much, much easier for perpetrators to walk free because no one is holding them accountable.

Furthermore, rape cases can be hard to prosecute and hard to win. Since states attorneys don’t like losing, because they are usually elected into office and more wins make them look more successful, rape cases are rarely prosecuted—heck, even the evidence submitted by a brave victim after a rather invasive rape kit procedure is sometimes left untested or unused as evidence. It is relatively easy for the justice system to get away with this because we don’t talk about it enough.

Boy spray paintingRight now, we can’t rely on our justice system, but the best thing to do anyway is to prevent rape in the first place.
We tell our daughters to use a buddy system, to use mace, when not to walk alone. Talk to your boys, too. Talk and talk and talk about rape—what it is, what it isn’t always. Tell your children if it happened to you. Because if anything stops a cycle of ignorance, it’s knowledge.
 
The F.B.I. provides the following definition of rape:
 
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
 
Resources:
How to talk to your children:
·      The Wire
Articles:
 

A First-grader’s Account of a School Lockdown Drill

I wrote the following Facebook post last night, and it sparked a discussion that I’d like to continue here:

At dinner tonight, here are the sad, inevitable, horrifying words that spilled out of my first-grader’s mouth, four days into the school year (being a writer, I couldn’t help but discreetly take notes as he talked). I’m sharing them because I think they’re important–whether your own child says them out loud or not:

“There’s one thing about my school that makes me not want to go back. It’s this thing called a hard lockdown where in case there’s a bad guy in the school who wants to take a child or has a gun we have to go into the bathroom. And we have to be quiet for like three hours. Well, sometimes it might just be ten minutes but sometimes it might take a lot of hours. And we have to face the bathroom door and sing a quiet song so he doesn’t hear us.

“But our teacher said he’d have to get through her first. And we have like 19 kids in our classroom, and we could tackle him, too, couldn’t we? Kids can tackle adults. There are 19 of us. We could do it, right?

Photo Credit: BRETT MYERS/Youth Radio

Photo Credit: BRETT MYERS/Youth Radio

“I was so good and happy in school, in kindergarten and the first part of first grade, until they talked about the hard lockdowns. I thought that it would happen.

“But I guess it never happened in kindergarten and that was a whole year.”

When my son finished talking, I told him: “Just like they need to prepare you for tornadoes and fires, they need to prepare you for this. And just like with tornadoes and fires, it’s very unlikely it will ever happen. There are some bad people in the world, so we need to be prepared, but there are many, many more good people.”

The Facebook discussion brought up a whole host of questions: Why weren’t parents told about the drill? What is the right way to prepare children for the very rare possibility an armed nut will enter their school? How do we talk about it afterward with our children? What role do parents play in school drills? What details do children need to know? Should it even be called a “lockdown”?

Please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below–has your child had a similar drill? What is your school’s policy regarding parent notification? What words do you use with your child when talking about it? Does your school have a discussion with children after the drill?

Counting Change

There’s definitely been something about this year.

I don’t know if midlife crises find us, or if we find them through several culminating, transforming experiences.

Either way, I think I’m in one. Though CRISIS is the wrong word. Much too harsh. Maybe it’s a Mid-life Growth Spurt. Maybe I’ve finally become an adult and this is what it feels like. I thought it happened when I had my first child, but maybe that was just the dig that set it all up—the planting that’s been watered and sunned over the last six years.

This year–I’ll use the school year in this sense–started with my daughter transitioning to a Big Girl Bed and leaving her crib behind. The ends of things have always saddened me, I wrote at the time.

Then my son entered kindergarten. There were times I couldn’t wait for my children to enter school. This, in a nutshell, is the cruel joke of parenthood. I am now, and forever will be, in a constant struggle for space and independence, coupled with lonesomeness in the moments I find it.

I’ve never seen the movie To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, but I thought of that title several times over the last year. Thirty-seven was a big one for me. My year of changes, of feeling older, of seeing the end of the road. That sounds exaggerated, over-wrought. But it’s true. I see that there’s an end to this. I never could before, in that wonderful way of childhood and young adulthood, invincibility and joy. Now, I see that time does indeed fly with great big wings. I know when I am seventy I will look back on today and see softer edges, illuminated by the glow that the past inevitably holds for me. And I will think, “Man, that went fast.”

I turned 38 in February. Unfortunately, whatever black magic 37 possessed did not disappear instantaneously.

It was in that mindset, in April of this year of change, that I found out I’m BRCA positive–I have “the cancer gene,” the BRCA mutation, whatever of the various names for this relatively new diagnosis. I therefore have a much greater chance than the general population of having certain types of cancer, namely breast and ovarian. But also pancreatic, skin, and possibly lung and cervical. And who knows what else; it seems so new and good studies are long and slow, that nothing feels solid. Then again, I’ve been in a bit of denial and I’ve pushed it all off, which is unlike me. But I was diagnosed two weeks before my first book was published and I was determined to keep it at bay until after I could celebrate for awhile.

Well, my book tour is over so now’s the time, I suppose. (Though let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m putting my book too far in the background when it’s less than two months old; it still needs some motherly love.) My sister, also positive (which is actually misleading because in our cases, we don’t even have the gene; it’s missing from our DNA), dove in and learned all she could about the gene and our options. I had a “meeting” with her the other night to get up to speed. I felt slightly numb the entire time we talked, as I have pretty much since I found out.

Once in the car, though, a simple sight broke me: I drove past a father and daughter playing softball in a field. The father pitched to the daughter and she swung the bat  just as I passed and I could have sworn it was me and my father twenty-five years ago. And then time and motion and adulthood and childhood and joy and melancholy converged, and I cried all the way home.

There have been light moments—my sister and I laughed today as we talked about getting double mastectomies together and found ourselves saying things like, “December, maybe? I don’t know, when’s good for you?”

My mother and aunt are also BRCA-positive. Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population are BRCA-positive, according to ABC News. I’ve also heard it’s 2%. Regardless, we really represent in my family. We come to the table. Once your parent is BRCA-positive, you have a 50/50 chance of being positive yourself. So the women in my family flipped a coin four times in a row, and four times in a row we got BRCA-positive. I wish money was involved.

I hope to write about our experiences here; after all, it fits right in with the theme of this blog. But over the next few months, I might not be around a lot, and this is my explanation–to the readers and writers whom I usually visit and comment and correspond with. In this year of changes, there are a few more to come.

DNA