There was something I still needed to do… something else on the finish having cancer checklist… what was it…? Oh yeah, nipples. I had the strange fleshy little mismatched cones that I suppose could have passed for nipples as long as you didn’t need to use them, but they had no color. The nude nipples sat on vertical crescent shaped scars that where most definitely not even. Lefty had an off center smudge of left-over nipple skin. It was all kind of a mess. I almost wished I had just left them in their Frankentits stage – flat and scarred, righty pure and white with her off center slash looked like empty smiley face. I thought maybe the tattoos would clean them up. Put them in order. At the very least it would be nice to stop scaring myself in mirrors, when I was naked, – “what the?!”
I knew I should also do it for “closure” but “closure” would cost me an uninsured $600 a side, plus Dr. TG’s office charged a $350 “facility fee.” So I went ahead and ignored the nagging feeling until I got this email FW “A Tattoo That Completes A New Breast.” There are two very good reasons I almost didn’t open this email. One, – it’s really irritating to be on the list of – “Oh hey, look – an email about breast cancer – let’s not even worry about reading it and FW it to Catheryn.” My Mother especially lacked discriminatory powers: FW “The Carrots Breast Cancer Cure,” FW “Top Signs You Will Get Breast Cancer,” FW “Pregnant Mother Forgoes Chemo to Save Unborn Child.” And the worst FW Some Quote in pastel font with dancing cartoon tulips and pink ribbons “Women are like teabags you never know how strong they are until they get into hot water.” Send to the 8 women you care most about…cuz one of them’s gonna get the breast cancers…
Number two, – apparently this was a vlog that had gone viral and oh the pressure. These memes about women who had organized happenings or flashmobs, come on – how many people sent me – FW – “Courageous Breast Cancer Patient Organizes OR Flashmob – Rocks Out To Beyonce’s Get Me Bodied.” Beyonce even sent her two tickets to a concert – oh my God, wasn’t it enough to worry about having cancer – now I had to worry about celebrity endorsements?
And free concert tickets? – I would have sung about a car. Whatever.
I opened it anyway and found out that Vinnie Myers – a tattoo artist who was so amazing they called him the Michelangelo of nipple tattoos (what was he going to hang me from the ceiling?) His shop right there in Finksburg, Maryland. Now I had no idea where that was, but it was Maryland– it couldn’t be too incredibly far from my family, it’s not a very big state. And I’d be willing to bet, even if he was the greatest of all high classical renaissance artists – his shit would probably be cheaper than Beverly Hills.
Next time I go home I thought. I’ll take my Mom, she’d always layered in a thick hint about how bad she felt about “not being able to be there” for me. Maybe enough water had passed under the bridge and I’d grown enough that we could bond over the whole thing. I decided to combine my summer visit home after the beach with a trip to the tattoo parlor. Mom was excited. She said, “Oh! we could go and get our nails done after!” She then launched into a story about a woman who needed nipples but had had a bilateral mastectomy so they didn’t know what color to make them so she took her sister and they matched hers. She loved that story, I can’t tell you how many times she’d told me that story.
When the summer came I called Little Vinnie’s and found out that Vinnie was booked through January but I could go to his protégé Trent. I thought – why not – in for a penny, in for a pound. That and the total bill would be $600.00!
I was at the beach with my cousin and sister in law the week before my appointment when my besties brought up a very good point. “Are you sure you want to take your Mom?” Christina asked. It was late at night and we were a couple of bottles of Chardonnay in. The dishwasher was running and everyone else was tucked in bed. The time for honest advice.
“Well, you know – she’s always felt bad that she couldn’t help more, you know, come out to California I guess.”
“Okay.” My sister in law is smart enough to know I will start filling in my own blanks.
“I know she will probably say something awkward and make some really bad jokes and….” I trailed off. I thought about driving out to some strange tattoo parlor and having a man stick a needle into my ugly scarred fake breasts while I was trying to make my Mom feel more comfortable.
The dishwasher chug chug chugged.
“Do you want her to go?” Christina asked.
“No.” The tumblers in my head fell into a solid place. I didn’t. Going alone would suck and I was tired of it, but I didn’t want he to go. I felt relief.
“One of us will go.” Christina offered.
I felt bad at the same time I realized I felt very lucky.
These women cared about me, they wanted what was best for me, this is what honesty and tough love felt like. How lucky was I?
I knew they were both busy with their jobs and kids, my sister in law with a breastfeeding newborn to go on a field trip to Finksburg. But I found myself saying “Yes, yes, that would be great.”
True to her word my sister in law made the trek out to Finksburg with me. There was a moment of panic when we were told that babies weren’t allowed in tattoo parlors. This made sense to me but my sister in law insisted on going anyway. “JP and I will hang out in the car.” I couldn’t say no. I mean I could, but I really didn’t want to.
Little Vinnie’s was located in a strip mall way north and west of Baltimore between a vet center and a Curves. The walls were bright yellow covered with drawings of snakes and flames and your prerequisite deer antlers and skulls. There was even a pool table in the center.
I was filling out paperwork a yellow leather bench when an older couple came in. The wife was positively giddy. She had the same mischievous look on her face as the ladies I had seen on the web talking about how they went to a tattoo parlor for “little Vinnie’s.” like it was almost naughty. These mostly older women sporting mischeivious grins had come from as far away as Saudia Arabia, Spain and Brazil. I thought there was something quite lovely about it. These women who had survived breast cancer, got to break free of the sterile hospitals and Dr’s offices and go to a genuine pool table having antlers on the wall tattoo parlor.
A slight gentleman in a vest, bowtie with hipster porkpie hat and mutton chops emerged from the back room. I knew from the interwebs that this was the famous Vinnie. The couple introduced themselves, they had come from Seattle. Soon everyone was laughing and talking loudly over each other like they were at a party.
My tattoo artist Trent had the same hipster uniform, vest, tie, collared shirt. No hat, a close shaven head. When I told him about my sister in law outside in the minivan with a baby he laughed and pointed to a picture of a pretty woman cover in tattoos with three little girls – “I’ve got three tell her to come on in.” I assured him that Molly was a physician’s assistant who had actually worked for a plastic surgeon who did breast reconstructions. He said not to worry, as long as the baby didn’t start crying.
So there we were. My sister in law, Trent, the baby and my nude nipples in a little room in a tattoo parlor in Finksburg, Maryland. He squeezed out ink into a long row of tiny pots; turquoise, yellow, green, peach, baby blue, pink, red and a bunch of flesh tones. Molly and Trent laughed and told me that back in the day women had three choices – salmon, beige or pink. Trent pulled on black latex gloves and used a pink Sharpie to draw a pair first to check for placement. He had me stand up and he and Molly stood back, cocked their heads and narrowed their eyes. JP looked uninterested. The right one needed to be a little bigger to cover more of the scars and skin – but they couldn’t be covered entirely, unless I wanted nipples the size of pancakes. Please, just make them look like nipples. I had heard the stories of women who had roses or angels, the woman in Oprah magazine who had decided to take all of the money from reconstruction and create a gorgeous winding floral artscape on her chest. The idea came from the man she was dating who she would later marry. And then there was the nurse at the hospital when I was waiting with my father during one of his cancer treatments, apparently the nurses knew I was ‘the breast cancer daughter.” “My friend got shamrocks – here and here she said loudly with a finger on each nipple. “Loves ‘em!”
Trent fired up the needle which startled the baby. Molly went ahead and breast fed him. No one said anything but I’m sure the irony was not lost on any of us. It didn’t hurt, – I didn’t have nerves in my fake nipples. He took his time adding those little brown bumps – and shading. He and Molly chatted about how they used to just make the tattoes with a little metal circle template. I zoned out and inspected Trents work on the walls. He specialized in calligraphy. I noticed on the wall a drawing of a pair of angel wings with a halo – under it were the intials CB and a date of death. Well, that wasn’t creepy at all.
It didn’t take long at all and before I knew it I had a matching set of gauze pads over some hot red nipples and a little pink bag with a sticker that said “Tattoo the Tatas.” They look fine. Not great, not epic – not high renaissance but I don’t startle myself in mirrors and I’ve checked the box.
If you were wondering how my mother reacted to being uninvited to my tata tattooing – don’t worry, she was fine. I called her the day after my late night kitchen conversation. I was riding home from the park on my sister in law’s blue beach cruiser bike with my ear buds in when I just launched right into it, “Mom, I think it’s best you don’t go with me for the tattoos.” In an effort to stay true to the original spirit of bonding I added, “you know, as much as I put on a brave face, some of this stuff isn’t easy for me.”
Mom said, “You’ve handled yourself really well through all this, I’ve always thought that I’m glad it was you and not me.“
For a split second the beach cruiser swerved towards the curb. I deftly steered back towards the road. I knew what she meant. I knew she thought it was a compliment, I knew I would follow the sandy asphalt back to the house where there was a kitchen with a dishwasher, chardonnay and love.Tweet
So, I haven’t posted in a while, – I’ve been hard at work on completing the memoir as promised! Sure stuff has happened – like I GOT TATTOOED! Nipples that is. Exciting, right? I will post my story about my trip to Little Vinnie’s Tattoo Parlor in Finksburg, Maryland asap – after I straighten out the disarray all my websites fell into after I changed hosting sites… It’s all very exciting! Okay, really it’s not – I’d rather well, be pulling every hair out of my legs one by one with a pair of rusty tweezers on a thursday. Very soon!Tweet
In the last few hours of my Indiegogo “Blog to Book” campaign I’m wondering what is the best way to motivate people?
Feel good ads?
Let me know what works for you – there’s only a few hours left!
Please take a moment to look at my “Blog to Book ” indiegogo campaign.
Unless that’s how you got here, in which case, welcome! I hope you will have a little read, visit the sights. Tell me what you think.
I’ve been writing like crazy – a memoir weighs in around 80,000 – 90,000 words (ish) – can you believe that?
This whole post is only 109 , (if you count (ish)) – all the essays and posts are only about 20,000 so I’ve been pounding away at it, generating material. I’m told that’s how it’s done.
Also – I’m performing at Comedy Central Stage April 17th –
call 323.960.5519 for reservations.Tweet
“You have an audition. Check your Casting Networks Alerts for audition details.”
Woo hoo! I love getting these texts. I go right to my email to see what it’s for. Could be anything!… A national network spot…?! A Proctor and Gamble mom, a funny shopper, a snarky office worker, a…
Hmmm. A “REAL cancer survivor -Female, 25 – 45.”
I bet my agents were psyched when they saw this – “hey, we’ve got one of those! Brockett!”
The casting notice read, “We need someone who has a warm, inviting presence on the screen. Someone who can tell the story in a way that hits on the emotional parts but can also deliver it in a way that won’t leave the viewer depressed. A positive outlook.”
As much as I’d love to quote the rest of the notice, it’s not really Kosher, but I have to tell you it said the actress should have “hair of some length,” but if it wasn’t long enough, “the illustrator can always draw it in.” Then it says “REAL CANCER SURVIVORS ONLY” in ALL CAPS, which makes me think 2 things; #1, have they been having problems with FAKE cancer survivors? And #2, the cancer has to be real, but the hair can be fake? I’d really rather it be the other way around…
I can’t tell you what the product is, because again, not really Kosher, but it is national network and cable, if you are not familiar with the industry that means cha-ching in the thousands and thousands of dollars.
A note at the end says that casting director would like pictures with friends and family during treatment emailed to them directly.
The whole thing kind of bothers me, and I’m not sure why. I mean I am a commercial actress – I will sell anything (okay not cigarettes. Well, maybe in Asia. No – I’m kidding, not even in Asia. Thailand maybe…) Seriously – it’s my job. And I am a REAL CANCER SURVIVOR, and I have good hair. In high school they called me Blair Hair. You know, from Facts of Life, I spent a lot of time in hot rollers, but that ‘s really not the point. The point is – I need to go book this job.
When I get to the audition I see another actress sitting outside the room, waiting to go in. A beautiful black woman who is completely bald. As a cue ball. No hair. None. Egg, black egg. Anyway, I think maybe the illustrator can draw it in… I also think, maybe I have an edge!
“Weird, right?” I say to her like I know her. Like we’re in the same club. Club cancer. And I hate that because, well, I don’t know, for the same reason I freak out at the thought of walking in one of those walks wearing a pink ribbon rhinestone emblazoned hoodie.
I look at the scripts posted on the wall. Happy fluid drawings of a woman banking. (Ok – it’s for a bank.) Shots of her smiling, running, shopping…using the ATM… There is a note explaining that the audition will be interview style, and we should consider answers to some of the following questions; “What kind of cancer did you have?” “Can you share experiences with friends and family during your cancer treatment?” “What has the experience of cancer taught you?”
I head to the bathroom, “what has cancer taught me?”
“What has cancer taught me….” A peek under the stall doors shows one of the two free, I enter and a moment later the whole thing shakes the sister door is slammed shut. Then another door slam. I come out to find another beautiful black woman, standing at the sink fixing her make up. She has gorgeous hair.
“Well I guess that didn’t go well for her,” she says and eyes the door.
I put it together – she wasn’t the slammer. “Oh, I guess I missed it.”
“Are you here for?…” And I’m doing it again, the club…ugh.
And I want to ask her ‘what kind?’ But I really hate that question. She volunteers, “uterine, but I’m worried it was too long ago.”
“Well, you have great hair.” I tell her.
“You too!” she says.
I say, ”I wouldn’t worry, as long as you have good stories.”
Good stories. Positive stories, while smiling into camera, “You know, cancer really taught me to value life.” “My friends and family mean so much more to me.” “I really know what matters now.” Positive outlook stuff you’d find on coffee mugs or posters with kittens at the ends of branches. Like it’s assumed that somehow surviving cancer is a good thing. Not being dead comes with an added bonus of the key to meaning of life and knowing who to bank with!
The casting director calls me into the room. Surprisingly he is a very young man, and sweet. We share a little laugh a little at the absurdity of the casting.
He starts to tape, “So, when did you find out you had cancer?”
I smile right into that camera and say, “funny thing, it was right before my 39th birthday.” (It wasn’t funny. Well, it was kind of funny in an absurd waking up on your birthday with a piece of your boob cut out and having people over for strawberry cake anyway type way.) “But I guess the timing for these things is never good.”
“Did you have chemo or radiation,” he asks.
“Actually, no – (crap, maybe they’re going to think that’s not bad enough) so I offer, “I had a bi-lateral mastectomy,” (oh, that was probably too graphic… too much information? Positive, the positive…)
“I love my doctors, I was really blessed. My doctor, Dr. Kristi Funk is actually Angelina Jolie’s doctor (why would I say that? Am I actually cancer name dropping?) “She’s great, she always saw me as a well person, not as my disease. I don’t know how I would would have made it through without her positive attitude from the start.” (That’s all really true, and she’s funny and beautiful and when she took it personally that they couldn’t save my right areola I felt like the luckiest one nippled girl in the world.) Breathe.
“What about your friends and family?” he asks.
I look above the camera to the right, like I’m retrieving a meaningful memory, “Well, you really find out who your friends are. The people who you are close to become much closer going through an experience like that.” (And some people suck. Some people are like, “shit cancer!” like it’s somehow contagious, and you don’t hear from or see them until you track them down at their place of employment because you happen to need a bottle of wine and know he works Thursdays and say, “what the fuck – I thought we were friends!” And then feel horribly guilty because you know that when people react ‘badly’ it’s probably because of their own fears – that as soon as you say ‘cancer’ it goes right into that deep core of fear in the center of us that says – that if it happened to you it could happen to them, and taking it personally is pointless and lonely.
Aloud I say, “Yeah, you learn to really value those people,” and deliver a wise meaningful look worthy of a turban chemo scarf wearing City of Hope poster woman right into that lens.
And then there it is – “What have you learned from having cancer?”
“What have I learned from having cancer?” And I know what I am supposed to say – but I hesitate….
Awkward silence, he prompts me again as if perhaps I missed the question, or maybe really never thought about it.
“What have you learned from having cancer?”
(That it’s horrible you fuck nut! That there’s no real way you can put it in a a pre packaged/bumper sticker/coffee mug/window decal/positive sound bite bank selling kind of way.
That it sucks! That you think why me? Am I going to die? Is it somehow my fault? Am I supposed to make meaning out of all this myself or am I – as I deep and dreadedly fear, someone who is supposed to make meaning for someone else – like am I freakin’ Barbara Hershey in Beaches when I want to be Bette Middler or Randy Pausch from the Last Lecture or Susan Komen. No! It’s a deep dark place that late at night you can think it would be easier to die then fight with the hard grip of something that is bigger and more terrifying than you are. That it’s even worse because it has come from within you – your body has created it and the whole thought of whether you will win or lose the battle has to do with whether you believe you will or not.
Is that positive enough for you buddy? Pal? Can I open a new checking account?
But out of my mouth comes,
“What I learned from cancer… Is that cancer didn’t teach me anything. The meaning of life doesn’t come pre packaged with any experience good or bad, it’s a choice, a choice you can make every minute of every day, like Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I wouldn’t recommend cancer to anyone as a way of learning that lesson, I am sure there are much easier ways.
So that’s what I say. Smiling, looking directly into camera.
And I booked it.
No, I’m kidding, that was soooo mean. Honestly, I didn’t even get a callback!
I’m not sure why. (Did they want a more difficult cancer? Maybe an amusing chemo story or two?)
All I know was that it definitely wasn’t because of my hair.
I recently read that the whole thing about Eskimos having 400 different words for snow was “a linguistic hoax.” I thought this was pretty disappointing until I got to the part of article that pointed to a study of the Sami language of Norway, Sweden and Finland, that said the language has as many as 1000 different words for reindeer (never challenge these people to a game of Balderdash, right?) It made me wonder, from all the thinking and writing I’ve been doing about that area inside the shirt – how many words are there?
Here are the 140 I could find.
I think my favorite is “chuberteens,” or maybe baps…no, definitely love apples…
Bust, bosoms, assets, mammaries, bazookas, boobs, boobies, bouncers, boulders, bristols, cans, cantelopes, chesticles, chi chis, cones, fooblosity, fleshy milk cartons,
sweater puppies, tatas, teats, tits, titties, twins, dirty pillows, udders, who whos, bahama mammas, balloons, bawagos, big brown eyes, blinkers, bobambas, bodacious tatas, bombs, bosom, bosooms, boulders, Bristols, brown suckies, bubatoes, yabbos, baps, bust, busts, Cadillac bumper bullets, casabas, chest, chuberteens, cones, gedoinkers, doorknobs, floppers, fried eggs, fugis, gams, gazangas,
jungle, golden bazoos, winnebagoes, mounds, mountains, marshmallows, Maguffies, grenadoes, hogans, honkers, itty-bitty-titties, jalobes, bazongoes,
bazookas, bazooms, bazoos, ninnies, nips, nupies, pair, nice pair, beamers, starter buttons, tads, handles, tatas, tittyboppers, bee stings, jiggers, jobes, rolling hills,
cup cakes, cushions, dairy section, highbeams, hinyackas, knobs, love apples, love monkeys, luscious scoops of flesh, twins, love warts, watermelons, wazoos, whoppers, winnebagos, yabos, mambas, mammas, mamms, massive mammaries, mazabas, melons, milk factories, Mcguffies, mosquito bites, perkies,
melons, milk factories, Mcguffies, mosquito bites, perkies, pillows, pimples, pink chewies, rack, set, smosabs, stacked, torpedoes, twin peaks.
I have not had a diet coke since June 3, 2011. I used to drink 3 or 4 a day. What’s better than starting your day with a cold soda for breakfast, then one at lunch of course, and a sweet little treat waiting in the fridge at the end of a long day? I’d drink them with ice and lemon if I was feeling fancy, or just warm from the case I’d keep in the trunk of my car.
I knew it wasn’t great for me, but it was diet coke – not crack – whatever – George Burns smoked 10 – 15 cigars a day and he lived to be 100 years old. My friend’s golden retrievers only ever drank water from her pool and they lived until they were 16 and 17, and that’s old for goldens.
If you asked me then I’m sure I couldn’t have thought of any way I could give up this guilty pleasure, how would I ever kick the soda habit…?
Then I got cancer and I thought – well, that would do it.
After the initial period of shock – a sunny May weekend which I ate my way through most of the Gus’s BBQ restaurant take out menu half of a Sweet Lady Jane’s Princess Cake, several plates of food at a gourmet picnic; including 3 kinds of meat, 2 types of pie, many cookies and wine, most of a cheese and chacuterie display at a wine tasting, a burger, fries and more wine, – things changed.
Because when Monday morning came – the world stopped spinning with a cold hard thud. I thought – oh my God, I have cancer (breast, these boobs are new – I’ll be fine, but if you are anything like me then you will be wondering the whole time and I am trying to tell you a story.) But at the time I didn’t know anything – what stage I was in – did it start somewhere else – was it creeoing around in my body?… So after that Bachanailian weekend of wine and denial I thought – I better make my body into a lean mean cancer fighting machine.
Right? How does that happen? I mean I’ve heard those stories about people who have cured their cancer through the power of juicing or garlic, or milk thistle or an all carrot diet, I thought it was all bunk – but what if it wasn’t? There are people that say eating anything with a face will give you cancer. Like my landlord, who wrote a vegan cookbook – she was thrilled when she found out I had cancer – she said, “that means you are going to give up meat and dairy, right?” (but she’s not exactly a Ph.D., she stopped eating animals in the 60’s after she opened a refrigerator when she was tripping and all the meat spoke to her.)
What are the rules? I stopped eating meat, dairy, wheat, sugar, anything processed and alcohol. I was afraid to eat anything that wasn’t organic. I emptied my cabinets and wondered what else was trying to kill me. I threw out my Secret deodorant and stared suspiciously at my Crest toothpaste. And my Britta filter, come on – you pour water through charcoal and that’s seriously supposed to remove anything toxic?
I was particularly afraid of the evil white sugar because of a very intense energy healer lady with big white hair who got all up into my face to say, “sugar feeds cancer!” It was just like that scary moment in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – “tell ’em large Marge sent ya'” Aghhh!!!
I went to a Chinese Wellness Center and paid a ton of money for a brown paper lunch bag of twigs and mushrooms and sticks that I could only brew in a ceramic kettle – so I found one at Sears, and made pots of tea that smelled and tasted like something that was scraped off the forest floor.
I taped the Tao’s food philosophy, a quote from Hippocrates, to my refrigerator door – “Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”
No fast food, chips or cookies, not one bite of steak or cheese, bacon, butter, pizza, diet soda or Lucky Charms. Lucky Charms; the only sugar cereal I was allowed to eat as a special treat as a kid – and only on vacation – the heady pleasure of taking the time to eat an entire bowl, all the little oaty things out first, then each color marshmallow leaving only the pink hearts floating in a bowl of now warm purple grey colored milk sitting at my Grandmother’s breakfast table in the Florida morning sun.
In my adulthood, I was not above buying a box to get that high and eating around marshmallows – with the grown up addition of pouring the sugary milk into my coffee.
So – never do that again? Never, never?
Everything good was ruined – meatloaf was replaced by “neatloaf” a “meat textured bake made with oatmeal, organic catsup and barley. Butter with palm fruit oil spread, mayonnaise with Vegenaise, ice cream made from nuts, “burgers” made from sprouts and nuts…
I barely survived Thanksgiving, – rescuing a few green beans before they were casseroled and funioned, watching everyone slather soft butter on white flour fluffy rolls and scooping up bourbon laced sweet potatoes topped with crispy browned white sugar marshmallows. I missed out on dessert because newsflash – no matter what Vegan Girl says on her Vegan Yum Yum website – you really can’t make pumpkin pie that tastes “even better than the real thing everyone will rave” with tofu. It doesn’t! It’s like you said about the “delectable chocolate mousse” made with “a rich avocado base” – you know what that tastes like Vegan Girl? Avocado with chocolate. Chocolate guacamole! And yes, it’s disgusting, – it tasted like burp! The pie. Not the mousse. Come to think of it – the mousse too.
I would bake authentic white flour, white sugar, butter and vanilla chocolate chip cookies tor my favorite nurses and doctors, because several attempts at vegan cookie favorites like “grapefruit icebox cookies” and “magical nut chews” proved there was no replacement for the simple perfection of the original Toll House recipe. And when I would get to my favorite part – that just mixed soft dough stage where it took Herculean effort not to stick my finger into the bowl, I resisted.
I did it.
And I felt strong – like I was doing something, you know -with every bite of blueberry pomegranate seeds and quinoia salad and sip of disgusting tea – I imagined that the superfoods were soldiers kicking ass in my system.
The mutant cells were being starved into oblivion without their hearty diet of acesulfame K, benzly isobutyrate, methyl benzonate and hydroxphenyl-2-butanone.
I ate my weight in broccoli.
My friend who is now the head of surgical oncology at a major hospital, but back when she was only a fellow at an internationally renowned cancer program, would just laugh at me. Sitting at the bar Delancey’s eating fancy pizza one night, I ordered mine without cheese or sauce (yes, crust with mushrooms), and she said, “you know it really doesn’t matter.”
Of course it matters, if it doesn’t then there is nothing I can do – I have no control, I can’t stop it, the cancer from coming back, what if I eat all the crap again and I get cancer again later – what if it’s because some tiny little mutant cell behaving badly was just about to die a death of starvation – when along comes an ethyl methylphenylglycidate on a digesting marshmallow bit and it hitches a ride and grows an multiplies – only because I wasn’t strong enough to resist magically delicious breakfast cereal?
But I did cave.
It was Christmas cookies. But I’m sure you could tell that was coming by the way I wanted to FF chocolate chip cookie dough… Then it was Christmas dinner.
And then I caved and I caved – delicious bleu cheese, butter, pizza, and the meat from heaven – smokey crispy bacon and wine – lots of wine.
And everything was delicious.
Because what about twinkly eyed George Burns and those happy golden retrievers and every centurian on The Today Show who say it’s about “not sweating the small stuff,” and “having a sense of humor.” Like Jeralean Kurtz – 114 years and 148 days who told Willard her favorite foods include potato salad, honey buns, and McDonald’s chicken nuggets!
They’re right, right?
I thought my control freak diet made me feel stronger – but now I think maybe I was just punishing myself. Because I was angry. At life. No comfort in comfort food.
Does it matter what you put in your piehole if you are living your right life?
A woman named Anita Moorjani is the hot spiritual expert on cancer at the moment because get this – she was admitted to the hospital after 3 years of cancer and given only hours to live because her organs were shutting down, but get this – she didn’t die. She had a near death experience, woke up completely healed – doctors can’t find a trace of cancer in her body and they can’t explain it.
In her book she says, “If I ever had to create a set of tenets for a spiritual path to healing, number one on my list would be to make sure to laugh as often as possible throughout every single day – and preferably laugh at myself. This would be hands down over and above any form of prayer, meditation, chanting or diet reform.”
“The only universal solution I have is to love yourself unconditionally and be yourself fearlessly! Add a box of good chocolates into the mix, and we’ve really got a winning formula!”
I still don’t eat fast food, rarely processed food, and to this day not one sweet sweet refreshing diet coke. I have sitting in my cabinet a single package of Lucky Charms I was given as a gift. One day I will feel safe enough to eat it.
I didn’t mean to steal the nipples. I thought insurance was supposed to pay for them, so I just walked out of Intimate Images, the “all things cancerous lingerie shop” with a pair of $42 medium almond nipples, I didn’t really want them anyway but my plastic surgeon insisted I test drive them – to see where I wanted them because after my bilateral mastectomy I no longer had my own set. (I’ll be fine, but as a result – “Frankentits”)
I really thought it was her job to know where they should go.
So when Linda calls me and tells me that I owe them $42 for something I didn’t want and was only going to need for a couple of weeks – I’m thinking I am not going to drive all the way back out to Santa Monica to Victoria’s Malignant Secret, – a store with walls of the ugliest cotton bras in white! or nude! hanging between wigs on styrofoam heads from the 70’s with creepy orange lipstick and Twiggy eyelashes. Bras with features like a handy little detachable Velcro bags for your post surgical drains that are expensive! Last time I was there I spent $88 on a bra – $88 dollars – I told Linda for $88 dollars I expect something black, leather or crotchless.
I didn’t go back – instead – I became passive aggressive about them and just left them in the bag on my dining room table, where every time I passed them – the Tell Tale nipples would say to me, “ wear us! Take us back – or…wear us! You’re supposed to practice… You stole us…”
Until finally the Friday before my Monday surgery – I stick Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum where they look like they belong (with whatever latex magic stick technology they use in those kid’s toys you throw at walls) and the perfect little rubbery flesh colored discs look pretty great. I dress in a little black J. Crew dress a cute A line that falls straight out from the bust and why not capitalize on my new fake perky rack – I decide to go braless.
And I go about my errands for the day.
I go see my agent to drop off some money, a friend’s apartment, and the post office.
I get home, I take off my dress. And I only have one nipple.
I have lost a nipple.
I don’t know where.
My agent’s office? They all know about the cancer, so if there was a spare nipple around, clearly it would be Brockett’s.
Was my nipple at the post office? Stuck to someone’s shoe? Did it catch a ride on a priority box or an express mailbox on it’s way with someone’s Christmas packages? Was it sitting on a curb somewhere with a tiny knapsack singing“all by myself!”
And oh shit – my friend Anna has a miniature pinscher who will eat anything – so I called her immediately, “Hey, it’s Catheryn – is my nipple there? Well, look around on the carpet because I’m afraid Bruno will choke on it – and die. ” Death by my nipple.
I’m panicked. I take a flashlight and trace my steps back and forth to my car –- finding a lot of gum, a penny, a nickel, but no nipple.
I pray it is at the post office resign myself to the fact it is probably waiting to be discovered by my agent who will feel sorry for me – that woman with cancer who cannot manage to keep herself together.
By noon the following Monday I was out of the hospital and the surgery went great! Ok – I’m lying – the right one ended twice as big as the left – huge – it looked like I could milk a calf – this big round twisted Cinnabon looking thing held together with angry black stitches. I’m not sure what I expected from a nipple made out of skin origami from my groin, but they looked nothing like my tiny perfect plastic peach pancakes.
It took two minor surgeries to tame the nipple that ate Manhattan but – now, now that the “crisis” is over – the almost 2 years of cutting and pasting, is over I feel a desperate need to make some sort of sense or get the lesson out of all of this, the getting cancer, all the surgeries, the vanished time, the discomfort, the fear, the part of me that is lost and reconstructed into something that I wonder if will ever feel like my own.
There has to be some grand plan, – “everything happens for a reason.”
God isn’t careless and irresponsible, like some crappy foster Mom who lets the dishes pile up in the sink while smoking cigs, eating Doritoes and watching TMZ – I know this because I’ve seen some of his/her good work. I’ve seen sunrises, oceans, babies, and Hugh Jackman.
Clearly there has to have been a reason.
Live life to the fullest every day…? Live in the moment…? Don’t become separate from your spirit…? That causes dis ease. Did I become separate from my spirit? Should I return those cute patent leather pumps to Macy’s and wait to see if they go on clearance?
What’s the “take away?”
There is a wonderful Doctor, a pioneer in mind/body health who started the first cancer support group, – Rachel Naomi Remen, who has written extensively about the capacity of illness to be a gift. She tells gorgeous stories of people who have found a deeper meaning in the experience of cancer, in one story she says:
“Sometimes it takes a wake-up call like cancer to bring us back to ourselves. The crisis of illness may shake us free of the life we have created and allow us to begin to return to the life that is our own. “One patient, a CEO with cancer, told me, “I always knew what mattered. I just never felt entitled to live by it before.”
And now I feel worse because I feel completely gypped! Where’s my shiny new back to myself life? Because now I just feel like a human Mr. Potato head – but as my friend Matt pointed out – 2 years older with the same problems?
But sometimes, sometimes… I get a glimpse of something… Like in December when I traveled home – back to the East Coast for the holidays, and it was less than 2 weeks after the surgery – and with all of these surgeries you have limitations – I couldn’t raise my arms above a tee, and I couldn’t lift anything over 5 lbs. I got dropped off at the airport with no carry on – no purse. (I was so not looking forward to 5 hours with just my iPhone and a Skymall magazine.) And so I wouldn’t do anything, and could ask for help – I wore a fake sling on my arm.
I have to change planes in Denver – because it’s Southwest (the Greyhound of the sky) and I find out my flight to Baltimore is cancelled; fog. Not delayed, not rerouted, cancelled. And I’m just standing there at the counter in my stupid fake sling looking at the woman, who is explaining that I could fly standby to Dulles – an airport that is like 1 ½ hours from my parent’s house, but I would be number eight on the stand by list and I’m thinking – I don’t even have a toothbrush! And even if I could get back to LA – I would have to get one of my friends to come out and get me and the luggage and then do the whole thing the next day. The guy at the counter on my right is freaking out because he just found out he’d be number nine on the stand by list – which means now I’m up to number ten, and the ticketing agent motions to me to walk down to the other end of the counter. Once I get there she hands me an actual ticket on the fully booked flight. She says, “with everything you have going on – it looks like you should just get on that plane.” I looked at her and said, “You know – this is just a disguise, there is nothing wrong with my arm – I’m going through reconstruction for breast cancer and I didn’t even know how I was going to manage to get home – you have no idea what this means to me.”
And she started to cry and said, “I’m a survivor – 3 years.”
And I started to cry.
To me – it was a deeply profound moment – an amazing moment of connection I wouldn’t have had without going through what I’ve been through, without her going through what she’s been through – and I think – well that’s a hell of a lesson to learn – I mean how dark does it have to get to see the light?
It’s about seeing beauty in the darkness.
Then I think – no that’s totally not it, – it’s the fact that that moment wouldn’t have happened without us sharing it with each other, – that’s what it is! It’s about sharing our stories, that unites us and makes us feel not so alone…
And then I think – oh my god!! – fuck it!! – I have no idea – I think it just comes down to how you choose to see every moment of your day – a challenge, a choice, or a gift.
And feel entitled to live that.
And oh yeah, I found my nipple later that night – my nipple that I don’t need any more that I did get insurance to pay for – it was there in the hall by my door,– rolled up on itself like a Pirouline cookie or a tiny piece of salami waiting to be stuffed with cream cheese.
So my decision to go on Tamoxifen went something like this:
Dr. G.: After the mastectomy I’m going to put you on Tamoxifen. It’s an anti cancer drug.
Dr. G.: You’ll probably be on it for five years.
Catheryn: Okay. Are there any side effects?
Dr. G.: Not usually, it can put you in an early menopause, hot flashes, if we can get you through the first three months you’ll be fine.
If you are a keen observationist you might point out my lack of… lack of… thorough investigative questioning. But if you’ve read any of my stuff you already know that I don’t put a lot of creed into doing a ton of research about medical decisions. I credit this as 30% trusting my gut and 30% the fact that no matter how much research you do you will probably find everyone has a different opinion and no one can ever say %100 for sure anything and since I already blew the curve getting 2 cancers at 39 and so who gives a shit how much time energy and mind comprehensive research goes into any medical decision. And 40% I’m lazy. But mostly the other 2. I’d go back and adjust the math – but – lazy.
Whatever – here’s why I bring this up. Weight gain. I am pretty sure Dr. G. did not mention that Tamoxifen would give me the metabolism of a couch sitting, Cheeto eating, Budweiser drinking 50 year old. I will admit to a little blame – I mean I’ve had 8 surgeries in the past two years and what else is there to do when you are stuck inside then let friends feed you and give you wine? Delicious wine… where was I? Yes, so now all my favorite dresses look like sausage casings. I even had to go out and buy a new fat dress at Christmas, a short number with silver sequins – I looked like a disco ball.
All my oncologist can say is “Calories in, calories out. The best you can hope for is to maintain.” Bollocks! One of the best things about getting cancer is at first, when I was too scared out of my mind to eat anything with sugar, dairy, wheat or that wasn’t organic I lost a bunch of weight and looked fabulous! Always awkward when people said, “you look great – are you doing something different” but no matter, for a brief while, cancer looked amazing on me!
I will have to look into the whole calorie in calorie out thing. In the mean time – look at this ad I found in an old magazine. Disturbing, right?