I Flashed My Support Group and Liked It

A dear friend I met as a result of having breast cancer (perks of cansah) asked me to join her at a breast cancer support group she attends; dinner included.  Sold!  There was to be a guest speaker, a sex therapist, at this meeting, too, who was to speak about intimacy and cancer.  I’m up for most anything . . .

Finding my way to David C. Pratt Cancer Center at Mercy Hospital, I walked into a room of beautiful women sitting in a circle.  My friend hadn’t arrived yet, so I took a seat next to a woman named Norma, and I am glad I did.  Later in the evening while the therapist was discussing vibrators and dilators, I nudged Norma and asked if she knew the difference between the two since I didn’t.  She replied, “No,” but quickly shouted out the question to the instructor.  Nice!  My kind of girl . . .

By the end of the evening, discussion had taken a turn to breast reconstruction and the decision whether to choose nipples or not.  Surprisingly to me, in a room full of nearly twenty women, it turned out I was the only one who had opted for nipples.  Questions were then geared towards me regarding the procedure, recovery, post-op instructions, etc.  From experience, I know this is a tough decision as breast cancer warriors are only given one shot at nipples due to the usage of skin.  If infection or necrosis sets in, a second attempt at nipple reconstruction is unlikely (as I understood it).

I finally thought to myself and out loud, “If anyone wants to see my boobs for themselves, I’d be happy to show them.”  In my experience, most everyone in the St. Louis Metro medical community had already seen my breasts during diagnosis, treatment, and reconstruction, so what’s the harm in a group of women taking a peek if it puts their minds at ease and helps make their decisions regarding their own bodies easier?

A fearless group of women warriors, I look forward to seeing them again.  If you are a breast cancer warrior undergoing treatment or post-treatment, come on out and network with some of the bravest women you will ever meet, and I may just flash you with my new ta tas.

Have you been to a support group which has helped you in your breast cancer fight?  Share the time/location below in the comments section.

Susan Abar’s Against All Odds

Our life as mortals is but a breath in

length.  We are no different than the

flowers- beautiful and delicate, sturdy

and hearty- dropping petals one

by one, until the last breeze, the last

breath, takes away the last petal, and 

we return to dust.

-Susan Abar

April 23, 2007

Since we were iced in yesterday, I thought it would be the ideal time to read Susan Abar’s Against All Odds:  Two Pennies, A Rainbow and A Woman Called Mercy, a gift from woman blessing Carol Cottingham.  Not knowing what the book was about, I was intrigued with not only the subtitle but the penny glued into place on the title page.
Reading further, I discovered the author has met more than her fair share of adversities in her adult life beginning with the loss of her job, which, in turn, was followed by a breast cancer diagnosis.  Written from the heart, the author accurately states what the loss of her breasts represented:
My eyes tracked the still-healing horizontal scars that crossed my chest like two six-inch dashes marking the place where my breasts had been . . . breasts that once nourished my babies . . . breasts that once defined me as a woman.  (19)

For me personally as a reader, I connected not only with her thoughts, but in the fact we had identical breast cancer diagnoses, estrogen positive inductile carcinoma, which had both been initially misdiagnosed as cysts.

The only problem I had were the wrong words used in the text such as, “As the months past”  (47) and “the write decision”  (29).

Without giving too much away, her cancer diagnosis did not end with her breasts.  So, Against All Odds is not only a telling of a miraculous medical journey, but, more importantly, a journey of Abar’s faith resuscitated through the discovery of two pennies.  

I Dined Out for the Cure and Then Some

Today was the 5th Annual Dine Out for the Cure in St. Louis sponsored by Susan G. Komen St. Louis.  Being a one-year survivor of breast cancer and a lover of food, this was a no brainer for me.  The difficult part of the day was deciding just where to eat.  Alas, the belly chose Pickles in the Central West End not only for its delectable sandwich options, but because it donated 50% of its proceeds to the fight against breast cancer.

Moist, Mile-High Brownies
The Pickles Club

As we approached the deli, a line was formed outside the door.  Yes!  Thank you to ALL who joined forces in the fight today.  The menu was posted on chalkboards behind the counter, so the squirts and I salivated in anticipation of our ordering.  The wait was well worth it with sandwiches piled high with various meats and cheeses.  After taking our last bites of mile-high, moist brownies, we headed to the World Chess Hall of Fame right around the corner.

Since my squirts and I are chess addicts, we looked forward to this outing.  On the main level, an art exhibit by Bill Smith entitled Beyond the Humanities was our first stop.  The docent was kind enough to turn off the lights for us so that we could experience the full effect of his spherodendron.  From there, we had two more floors in which to explore antique chess sets.

Victorian 4-Player Chess Setl

Upon our return to the first floor with free posters of the art exhibit and chess museum in hand (or rather in MY hand), we perused the Q Boutique, voted Best Gift Shop 2012 by the Riverfront Times.  Here we found some goodies for Dad (okay, for me too) for Father’s Day including Amanda E. Doyle’s Finally, a Locally Produced Guidebook to St. Louis by and for St. Louisans Neighborhood by Neighborhood.  Looking forward to reading through her book and planning a new adventure. . .   

Cathi Hanauer’s Gone Book Club

Years ago shortly after we had our first child, my husband and I read Cathi Hanuer’s The Bitch in the House and had great belly laughs (while pointing fingers at one another) at her honest writing as well as the writing of others anthologized in the book.  So, while reading Hanauer’s article in Real Simple Magazine, I noticed she had recently published Gone, a novel in which I had not read (in case you were wondering how books find me- chance, mail,  text recommendations in the middle of the night, and inviting covers).
Immediately intrigued by the ideal of a sculptor husband, Eric, up and vanishing with the babysitter one night after a romantic dinner with his wife, Eve, I did not feel hooked, though, until I had reached the vicinity of page 80.  For me, the beginning needed a metaphorical boost of vitamin C with the wife’s reaction to circumstances being a bit too accommodating for belief.  A strong front for the sake of the children is understandable as Eve has always been the one who holds the family together through routine and healthy eating, but as a reader, I yearned for more depth from Eve.
Nevertheless, again, once page 80 was reached, I needed to read on and on through the night so that I could know what eventually happens to this family dynamic.  Hanauer manages to keep the reader in suspense until the near end regarding  whom decides to do what with whom, yet I turned the final page feeling as if I still wanted more- more explanation, more layers, more . . .
As Eve is a nutritionist and her mother-in-law is eating more healthfully after a breast cancer scare, numerous, mouth-watering meals are described in detail.  Perhaps, a bruschetta much like Danny’s would be a nice starter for book club.
Then, perhaps Penelope’s meal of chickpeas, spinach, and tofu sausage (or chorizo for the carnivore).  Finally, a carrot cake with plenty of icing initially meant for a birthday girl, but instead enjoyed by bookies.

Cathi Hanauer

Ta Ta to the Ta Tas with Eileen Sutherland’s "Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo Boo"

So, I’ve been MIA lately, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of interest in reading.  It turns out that my “nothing but routine” breast excision evolved into a lumpectomy which has inevitably resulted in the need for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction tomorrow.  [deep breathing . . . more deep breathing]  Since I feel like an immature adolescent inside, it’s hard for me to come to the realization that my body is anything but adolescent, but rather it is adult dealing with adult medical issues.  The fact is that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Yes, 1 in 8!  The odds that a woman will develop breast cancer are staggering.  Yet, women are not the only victims.  For every 100 women diagnosed, 1 male will be diagnosed.  Why is there no cure?
As reported in my last blog, I was virtually without symptoms prior to my first mammogram.  A couple of weeks before the screening, I had spontaneous discharge from my right nipple, but no lumps.  No lumps!!!  I thought you had to have lumps!!!  My father passed away after losing a gruesome battle with cancer of the lining of the lung.  Thus, I figured I, too, would meet cancer one day, but I didn’t think it would be only five years after his death and in the form of breast cancer.
With a three and five-year-old, there is not much opportunity to come to terms with the diagnosis or wallow in any self-pity.  Instead, my “game face” must be on for them because I don’t want them to be frightened or worry about their momma.  This does not mean that tears do not flow, so I feel truly blessed to have a loving support system which includes friends who know just what to do, when to do it, and won’t take “no” for an answer.  Hearing “no clear margins . . . mastectomy” over the phone, I was in no shape to care for my three-year-old.  My BFFs without hesitation took turns watching my girls that day and keeping them occupied.  Just what the doctor ordered . . .  time to cry, time to think, time to research.

While researching, I came across a book which deals with breast cancer suitable for my young children.  Eileen Sutherland’s Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo Boo perfectly explains breast cancer at the child’s level.  Together, my girls and I have read this book several times, and I have referred back to this text whenever questions arise.  My favorite literacy device used in Sutherland’s writing is the use of the simile when she compares the release of the boo boos from Mommy’s chest to the flight of a butterfly.  The girls enjoyed the imagery and understood this explanation.
Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo Boo is a thoughtful gift for any breast cancer warrior . . .  If you do nothing else, though, please check your ta tas!

Learn More about Author Colleen Bradford Krantz

A film that brings tears to your eyes . . .

It has to be “Love Story.” I love quite a few older movies, but this from the 1970s is one of the best when it comes to tear-jerkers.
Describe your first kiss.
I just heard a great commercial asking listeners to describe their second kiss. Their point was you can’t remember it. First is best, they argued. I barely remember that first kiss, though, so the commercial was lost on me. I can say it involved a game of spin the bottle in the seventh grade, but wasn’t exactly a romantic highlight in our lives.
Your favorite children’s book, and why . . .
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would have to be my favorite (along with the others in the Chronicles of Narnia series). As a kid, I loved this world the author created through that wardrobe door. It was a place I wanted to explore myself.

A cause that’s closest to your heart, and why . . .
I lost my big sister to cancer when she was just 34 so cancer prevention and research are close to my heart. As much as that, though, is trying to embrace an attitude of generosity and kindness that was so built into my sister’s nature. I try to donate time and money to a mix of causes that fit into her view of life.
If you could be a character in any novel, who would you be and why?
Probably Brianna from Born in Ice or the other Concannon sisters in the Born In trilogy by Nora Roberts. I love the idea of living in Ireland, which my ancestors left long ago, but Roberts also makes these women very real with real interests/hobbies (besides the men).
Explain the worst job that you’ve held.
I’ve not had any truly horrible jobs, but I guess de-tasselling corn as a high school student might qualify. I grew up in rural Iowa, and walking the fields of seed corn and pulling off the top of the corn plant (the tassel) was a quick way to make good money during the summer. Of course, the corn was usually soaked with dew at the 5:30 a.m. start time so you were too within five minutes. But, hey, there were a bunch of my friends out there too so somehow it was more fun than not.
A quote that motivates you . . .
This sits on my desk, nice and simple: “Dwell in possibility” – Emily Dickinson
The title of the one song you would take with you on that deserted island . . .
“If I Had Words” – a song featured in the movie Babe – but I’d be most happy if it were sung by the farmer and then the little mice. Hey, it’s going to be a long stay on the island. I’d need something to amuse me.
Three Wishes
1) I’d wish that all my family and friends live a healthy and happy life, and when their time comes, that they might go gently.
2) I’d wish for a boatload of money with which to do good around the world. Yes, money might be the root of all evil, but, let’s face it, it can also be a tool for good.
3) I’d wish that all my future wishes would be granted once I’d submitted them and waited a required two-week waiting period to make sure it was a smart wish.
Favorite game you played as a child . . .
Capture the Flag. Not sure why except I love the outdoors and this is best played in a forest.
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
I want them to walk away understanding a perspective they might not have truly understood before or even considered. In the case of Train to Nowhere; Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation, I wanted those on one “side” of the immigration debate to understand the boy from Guatemala who wanted so badly to have his chance to see the United States. But I also wanted the other side to understand the former Border Patrol/immigration agent who once guarded that line in the sand even though his own ancestors once crossed it to leave Mexico. My goal is to tell both “sides” of any story as fairly as possible.

Learn More about YA Author Hermine Steinberg

A film that brings tears to your eyes . . .
There are so many but the one that probably had the most impact on me was Schindler’s List. That was probably because my parents were holocaust survivors from Poland. There were many scenes that affected me deeply but the one with the little girl with the red coat just made me sob out loud. My mother was eleven when she was sent off to a labour camp.

Describe your first kiss.
My first kiss can only be described as awkward and embarrassing. I was only 12 and it was on a dare…although I really had a crush on this boy. I don’t even really remember the kiss. I only remember how silly I felt afterwards.

Your favorite children’s book, and why . . .
I always loved to read but one of the first books that really stayed with me – ignited my imagination and actually led me to start writing – was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I think I have been searching for that secret door to another world of adventure of fantasy since that time.

A cause that’s closest to your heart, and why . . .
There are many things that concern me today and I have made contributions (money, time and energy) to, but the ones that I think most about today are breast cancer (my mother recently died as a result of breast cancer), alzheimers (my father has been suffering from the disease for over 10 years) and climate change (I am deeply concerned that our actions have destroyed the planet for future generations).

If you could be a character in any novel, who would you be and why?
Of course this answer would change depending on the day and my mood, but at this very moment I would like to be Clove in my own book – The Co-Walkers. She is funny, full of confidence and spirit. Most of the books I have read lately have been quite sad – Caleb’s Crossing, The Glass Castle, Room – I wouldn’t want to be any of the characters in these books.

Explain the worst job that you have ever held.
The worst job I ever had was one summer as a university student working in a typing pool. They probably don’t exist any more. But it was mind numbing, and the more efficient you were, the more you were given.

A quote that motivates you . . .
There are many but one of them is “Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.” by Albert Einstein

The title of the one song you would take with you on that deserted island . . .
Sooo hard to choose! Maybe Hero, or Hallelujah or Somewhere over the Rainbow.

Three Wishes . . .
Of course this sounds so corny and cliche but…
1. World peace
2. My family and friends being happy and healthy.
3. Everybody’s family and friends being happy and healthy.

Favorite game you played as a child . . .
When I was about 5 I loved to play with my cut-outs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these were dolls that were made of perforated cardboard. My sister and I or my friends and I would spend hours, making clothes (drawing them and cutting them out) for them, creating stories, building them rooms and houses out of discarded shoe boxes and other household items. 

What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
I would like young people to feel empowered to choose the life they want, to understand that the world needs them and their decisions impact us all.

Hermine Steinberg