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My New Boobs Series | “Off With Them!”

Color me crazy, but when I learned that double mastectomies were in my immediate future, one of the first thoughts I had was “new boobs covered by insurance – cool!”

I say ‘one of the first thoughts’ because I was simultaneously staring at the man delivering this news to me – a robust Jewish radiologist in his early 60s, gravely telling me what he thought my odds for recurrence were if I had only lumpectomies – and a piece of my mind split off, wondering if Santa could’ve been one of the Chosen People, if that’s what gave him all those magical powers, as this guy, with his wild curly hair and long white beard, was the picture of Saint Nick in a suit.

He was getting ready to head home for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, where he said his wife and kids were gathering for their New Year celebration.  I was his last patient that day, and in a way it was a rare blessing to be the only woman left in the waiting room.  He was obviously happy to be going home early and had the time and inclination to do me a mitzvah.

So I was sitting on his examining table, holding up the robe that had, just a few minutes earlier been covering me, until he’d pushed it aside and slapped the cold, jellied wand on my skin. Eyes fixed on the sonogram screen, his nurse beside him with the biopsy needle poised to strike, he centered the computer cross hairs on a black disk floating ominously in the swirly haze of white breast tissue and plunged the hollow needle deep into me.  Retracting a meaty slice of tumor, he dropped it in a test tube and told me I could sit up.

The nurse stood to the side, quietly putting away his tools.  He cleaned his hands, regarded me somberly for a moment then said, “You should have mastectomies.”

I blinked.  He nodded with certainty.

“Your breasts are no good for you.  Nothing in your history suggests you should even have cancer in them.  That means they’re good for one thing:  making tumors, aggressive tumors — vascular action prominent, especially the one on the right.   If you don’t remove them, they will make more, and who knows when you come back to me for another test where the cancer will be?”

In that moment, I knew the girls were destined for the trash bin.  No two ways about it, they had to go.

I understood about recurrence.  My dad had died seven months earlier from recurring colon cancer.  My sister in law had died from breast cancer at 29, having first been diagnosed at 24. My family had a long and painful history with malignancy and there was no way I was going to leave my future to chance.  I had a baby to raise, a husband to love and decided right there that no way was some suddenly toxic flesh going to get in the way of the rest of my life.

But it’s not easy to remain calm in the face of such news.  I stared at the doctor, considering his smooth complexion and wild hair, while my brain fragmented into sizzling shreds.

Mastectomies!  Holy Shit — This guy is telling me to cut my boobs off!

Time stopped.  A cyclone of thoughts raced through me: insurance and cleavage and these breasts which had so disappointed me throughout my life, blooming with initial teenage promise, only to sputter out, leaving me with a pair of inglorious protrusions too small to even fill an A cup.

Off with them, I thought savagely, remembering Catholic School, and the darts of my polyester jumper roomy and flat while all around me girls strained to tame their bulging bras.  My boobs had always been lame – briefly perky when I started taking birth control pills, then sagging into wrinkly prunes by the time I was 28, denying me access to décolletage fashion and requiring me to stay super slim so my body looked proportionate.

In almost every way they had been a total let down, except perhaps for the one area where it mattered most:  they really turned me on.  When it came to getting my juices flowing, there was nothing I loved more than the feel of my husband’s fingers playing with my nipples.

A pang went through me, thinking of that lost sensation.  But then a memory of my dad’s funeral, and many others, pushed forward.  Bruce was resourceful.  He’d find another spot on my body that got me all worked up.  And in a way, replacing these breasts with a pair a bit more in sync with my body type would be a dream come true.

I smiled at the doctor.  “Well you know,” I confided, “I always wanted to be a B-cup.”

His nurse giggled.  The doctor nodded his approval.  We talked turkey.

“Get the lumpectomies done,” he told me.  “You want the cancer out of your body as soon as possible.  Then go for chemo, because the veins from the tumors could have introduced cancer cells to get into your bloodstream.  After that’s all finished, get mastectomies.  There are lots of options.  If you call my office Monday, they’ll give you some names.”

He wished me luck and went off to his holiday dinner.  My husband and I wandered into a bar and inhaled some dirty martinis.  St. Nick had shared his recommendations with both of us, so there was no need to explain what we were thinking or feeling.  We just sat next to each other and came to terms with the news.

“It won’t be so bad,” I said, the vodka starting to warm my frozen veins.  “By April the chemo will be over.”

“We’ve got really good coverage,” Bruce offered in reply.

That was a comfort.  God only knows what we would’ve done had our insurance not been in order.  Looking to make some lemonade from the colossal lemon we’d just been handed, we signaled the bartender for another round and groped our way towards acceptance of this massive intrusion into our once ordinary lives.

My New Boobs

After blogging for more than a year about cancer and the treatment required to get it out of my life, there wasn’t much more I felt I could contribute to the lexicon of personal insights regarding this most dreaded topic.

But when it came to my particular diagnosis and treatment, there was one more journey I thought would be worth relating to those who are in a similar place, or want to help a woman who is: the surgical experiences surrounding breast cancer.

While chemotherapy was by far the most grueling experience of my entire cancer journey, lumpectomies, mastectomies and my search for a perfect reconstruction were in their own way equally difficult challenges to overcome.

Before beginning this project, the time before and after chemo was a sort of blurry frame around which six months of chemotherapy took center stage.  But when I sat down and began to remember how I came to be a cancer warrior, I found that the clarity of my memory was still quite precise, and that the days and weeks surrounding my surgeries were worth sharing.

So once again I sat down at my keyboard and began to write… and what I came up with is a series of 10 blogs, which I’ve collective entitled My New Boobs.

As with all my outreach to the chemo sisterhood, I have tried my best to be both honest and humorous, to not shy away from less than flattering memories or shortchange the difficulties any woman in my place must endure. I have related the good, the bad, the funny, the scary, the ridiculous, the terrible and the triumphant impact replacing my breasts has had on my life.

And while I am now recovered and healthy and living a life that in many ways is even better than it was before I found my first lump, the reality of those days will always remain with me, reminding me that life can change in an instant, but that with strength and courage we can always make the most of each moment we have.

Debbie and I hope you enjoy this story, and encourage you to comment on it if you wish, as there are no stronger voices than those of we who have been over the cancer mountain, and can now offer our strength and experience to those who are now struggling along the path to wellness.

Look Good Feel Better Week

Featuring real program participants telling the story of what it means to undergo cancer treatment and how look good feel better changed their outlook and impacted their confidence.

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer was diagnosed at 39 with Stage 3 Breast Cancer.  Jennifer is a wife to Chris and a mommy to 2 beautiful daughters, Grace and Phoebe, ages 10 and 4.  She underwent 4 months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiation, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and will have adjunctive therapy for the next 5 years.

“I was diagnosed on November 15, 2010 with no family history.  They say you become a survivor the day you are diagnosed.  I didn’t feel like a survivor but I was determined to be one.

Unfortunately cancer was something all too familiar to my family; my husband, Chris, battled and beat Hodgkins Lymphoma about nine years ago. You would hope that once your family has been rocked by such a terrible disease that somehow it insures a free pass for the future.

In March of 2010, we had finally finished paying off Chris’ medical bills.  I was excited to start a new venture with a baking business in October and then the bottom fell out a month later.

This experience has taught me that there are no guarantees in this life.  This experience has also taught me to appreciate what a wonderful support system I have, to never miss the opportunity to tell someone that I love them, and to cherish every single second with my children and husband.   I have kept my friends and family up to date with my journey through a blog. http://jennifermiceli.wordpress.com/. It has not only been informative but it has also been quite cathartic for me.

I was invited to attend the Beauty Ball 2011 while still going through treatment.  They wanted to help me but I didn’t think I needed help.  I thought getting help would mean that I was weak and unable to do it all.  I was wrong.  The Beauty Foundation was a constant source of encouragement.   It is so nice to know that there ARE people out there that want to help.

Today, a close family friend is having a mastectomy.  I hope that one day there is a cure for cancer but, in the interim, I am glad that I am able to now “pay it forward” to her how The Beauty Foundation has helped me.

Much health and happiness to all.”

Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Hello Everyone,

Please read this and pass it along to as many people as you can.
You may just save a life.

My name is Joan Mantone. I am 49 and the mother of twin, ten year old girls. It has been one year since my surgery and diagnosis of ovarian cancer. I have been through chemotherapy, tests, doctor’s visits and a lot of soul searching. Over the journey of the last year I have met many cancer survivors and all of their stories are both inspirational and heart wrenching. The key is that they are Survivors.

In order to have more Survivors we need continued research and vigilance against this disease.

Ovarian Cancer more often than not goes undetected until it is advanced. Women need to be familiar with the symptoms and the risk factors.

In my case I had endometriosis and underwent fertility treatments ten years prior to my first symptoms.

I have spoken with several other women who underwent fertility treatments and also were diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.

The incubation period is very long. Initial studies that were conducted did not follow the subjects long enough. A recent study conducted in Europe concluded that IVF does increase a woman’s chances of contracting Ovarian Cancer.

Some other risk factors are heredity (from either mother or father’s side)
Never using birth control pills
Never having children

Symptoms can include abdomen distension, gastrointestinal changes, tiredness, pain in the groin and abdomen.

Not everyone may experience all of these symptoms. Please visit the National Ovarian Cancer Alliance website (www.ovariancancer.org) for more information regarding risk factors and symptoms. Be sure to visit your gynecologist for an annual exam and if you have risk factors make sure your doctor orders appropriate testing immediately.

Not every woman that undergoes fertility treatments will get cancer BUT every woman who is considering fertility treatments should be made aware of the potential risks. This should be front page news as now that insurance covers these treatments many more woman have these treatments available to them.

An early detection test does not currently exist but with more research hopefully one will be developed.

Please remember to wear the color teal on February 29th for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day.

My hope is that more women’s lives will be saved and that this disease can one day be eradicated.

Thank you,
Joan Mantone

BP4CG & The Beauty Foundation

When Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls was a book-in-the-making, Debbie and I met a group of ladies dedicated to easing the burdens facing chemotherapy patients. Their not- for-profit organization, The Beauty Foundation, focused as we did on providing hands-on help for women with cancer, aiming to make the long days of treatment a little easier to bear.

Since that introduction in 2008, Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls and The Beauty Foundation have worked together to directly and positively impact individuals and families facing cancer. At events for chemo girls, on the air with our radio show, and when speaking at fundraisers, our mutual message to those on the cancer journey – that you are not alone – that help is here for you – continues to make a difference every day.

The Beauty Foundation provides financial assistance to individuals and families dealing with cancer. Since 2007, they have helped 125 families with everything from childcare and transportation to cleaning services, groceries, and cash to cover the never-ending onslaught of bills.

They also give all their women grantees a copy of Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls, spreading the knowledge we gathered in its pages and delivering it no cost right into a chemo sister’s hand.

Each of their grant winners has a story to tell. We are honored to offer them another venue in which to share the experiences and emotions of those with whom we share a deep bond: people fighting cancer, and those who love and support them.

We welcome The Beauty Foundation to the Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls blog, and invite our fans and visitors to come back each month to receive another dose of the insight and inspiration these brave and beautiful cancer warriors have to offer.

To learn more about The Beauty Foundation, please visit them at www.beautyfoundationnj.com

Amy Gibson of “Created Hair”

I was recently diagnosed with lymphoma and am going through chemotherapy. One big issue for me was losing my hair. This has been a difficult journey. The loss of my hair felt like a loss of identity. As I searched for answers I found the terrific resource, Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls, through my friend Stacy Kohn who was involved with the book and connected me to Amy Gibson of “Created Hair”. One bright spot in this series of events has been Amy. Her buoyant personality, supportive demeanor, and unparalleled aesthetic judgment helped me to feel at ease with my appearance and give me the confidence I needed at this time of my life. Amy not only sold me a wig, she was always there to answer my questions, reassure me, and most of all she took the drama out of this process and made it fun!! It’s ironic but I look really good in this hairdo!! In fact, my primary care physician told me I look like the poster girl for chemo girls because I look healthy and vibrant. My new fun “hair”- with its great color, style and texture – has made a big difference to my spirit. In fact, many people who do not know about my treatment have told me they like my new haircut!! They all commented that I look more youthful and fun. Thanks to Amy for her support, encouragement, and fabulous wigs!

Z. Heidelberg

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

We are celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness this month and would like to offer a free download of Chapter 6 – “A Girl Thing”

Visit the our homepage and click the link in the header to download your copy.

Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls on TV!

Our Television show will air for two weeks beginning October 3rd at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on:

LBCTV, a Government public access channel operated for the City of Long Branch, N.J. Cable TV Commission on Comcast TV channel 20.

It can also be viewed at http://LBCTV20.angelfire.com/ during airing dates and times.

Behind the Shadows : “Chemo Girls – Who is That Stranger in the Mirror?”

Hi everyone! Be sure to tune in to view Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls television show. Marybeth and Debbie were recently featured on the television program Behind the Shadows with Susan Finelli.

Here are the air dates & times:
Mon. July 25th at 8 p.m.
Sun. July 31st at 4 p.m.
TimeWarner Channel 34
RCN Channel 82
Verizon Channel 33

For those of you who do not live in Manhattan, you can view the show via the Internet at: http://www.mnn.org/ You just have to click on the appropriate channel at the time it is on (this is on the right side of the page).
If you need to update your media player you can obtain a free download at: http://www.real.com/

Click here to watch the show on YouTube
Click here
to watch the show on blip.tv

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show!