Author: admin

Knowing Better Now

There was a time when I embraced the pink of breast cancer. I know better now.

Pink epitomizes all that is sweet and feminine. A pink ribbon is small and aesthetically pleasing. Breast cancer is anything but pink and pretty. The reality of battling the disease is enormous and ugly. Pink ribbons are gender-stereotyped accessories for my infant daughter, and no longer empowering for me as a breast cancer survivor.

There was a time when I embraced the sexualization of breast cancer. I know better now.

When one thinks of “tatas” and “second base,” smiles often ensue. Our culture is obsessed with full, perky breasts. Heterosexual men fantasize about them, and more than 300,000 women annually in the US get breast augmentation to fit that mold.  

It’s a lot easier to focus on the fact that a woman’s breasts are buoyant after reconstruction than to discuss how cancer has affected her breasts. Picture multiple surgeries, drains, expanders, large scars, burns from radiation, and no nipples. That’s the reality for most women under 50 after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s not the nipple-sparing surgeries and immediately reconstructed breasts of women impacted by this disease that the media chooses to highlight.

There was a time when I didn’t think about breast cancer spokeswomen. I know better now.

The celebrities the media features with breast cancer are typically women who have a genetic marker for the disease or who were diagnosed at the earliest possible stage and didn’t require chemotherapy. The common denominator to this equation is that all of these women have hair — and often, long, flowing locks! These women personify a standard of female beauty that is far from the reality experienced by women in the chemotherapy room. Images of bald women are few and far between. Those bald women who do share their stories with a large media outlet often do so with a stylist, a makeup artist and airbrushing. The raw pictures of breast cancer like those in The Scar Project don’t receive the same coverage. That’s not how the majority of society wishes to see women.

There was a time when I thought that we needed more breast cancer awareness. I know better now.

In this day and age of pinkwashing, we are aware of breast cancer and its impact. It’s time for action and for talking about those elements of the disease that need to be highlighted. I hope you'll join me in moving beyond the pink and the pretty.

Pinktober

I used to think Breast Cancer Awareness Month was a good thing. We need to raise awareness…to encourage dialogue about breast cancer…to reaffirm our commitment to saving second base! That’s no longer the case.

Pink products and pink-themed fundraisers associated with Breast Cancer Industry Month represent money given to people and organizations that are not necessarily committed to finding a cure or helping those dealing with this disease.

Interested in buying a pink product?

Here are my tips for how to think before you pink, as Breast Cancer Action implores!

  • Is the product a safe product? (A pink ribbon on a gun doesn’t change the fact that a gun is a weapon. Likewise, if there’s a connection between breast cancer and obesity, a campaign involving a pink tub of fried chicken doesn’t make a lot of sense.)
  • Does the product contain toxic ingredients linked to cancer? (These are especially common in bath and body products, including perfume, lipstick and lotion.)
  • Is it clear where the money raised from this product is going? Is a specific charity listed as the beneficiary of all funds raised? (Prior to my diagnosis, I bought checks and address labels with the pink ribbon on it. I have no idea which organization was the beneficiary.)
  • How much of the money goes to the cause? Is there a cap on how much the company will donate? Or, is this all just a smart marketing campaign to seem altruistic, while raising corporate profits?
  • Is there a guarantee that the money is going to the cause? Does this corporation have a successful cause marketing record in the past?

Apply a similar check list to Pinktober events designed to raise money for the cause.

  • When you buy a ticket to an event or make a donation to a breast cancer organization, how much of your money is going to what exactly?
  • Is the organization transparent and diligent with respect to its financial records and reporting?
  • For organizations focused on the rather nebullous "raising awareness," what does awareness consist of?
  • How much money goes to event expenses, overhead and salaries?
  • Are there patients and survivors at these events as a testament to how the organization has directly helped them?

What are your thoughts about Breast Cancer Awareness Month? How do you decide which pink products to buy and which organizations to support? 

For those of you interested in more information, you can download your Think Before You Pink! Toolkit here. You can also sign Breast Cancer Action's online petition to ban toxic pinkwashing chemicals here

Enjoying Every Moment

I recently wrote the following as a Facebook status update:

Many tell me to “enjoy every moment with Roya.” I assume they mean, “enjoy every moment that’s not sleep deprived, covered in spit up, or involving you cleaning poop off of places poop shouldn’t be.” (I’m thankful to have a very good baby, but she’s still a baby!)

Several of my friends responded in agreement. Quite a few others tried to assuage my guilt or feelings that I wasn’t a good parent.

From a sociological perspective, the latter reaction both fascinated and disappointed me. Parenting is simultaneously joyous and exhausting. Most people with children wouldn’t deny that being a parent is the most rewarding role they’ve ever had and also the toughest role. Why is it a bad thing to admit that the joys and the difficulties of parenting aren’t mutually exclusive? Why is this yet another occasion when women are expected to feel guilty because every minute of every day isn’t perfect? Is a female less of a mother if she acknowledges that parenting is the hardest work out there? Isn’t it time that we – as mothers and as a society – stop making women feel guilty for how they parent or how they feel about parenting?

I don’t feel like a bad mother for admitting that cleaning poop off of the wall at 6 a.m. isn’t a moment to be savored. In fact, it’s the antithesis of fun! That’s just the reality. It doesn’t need to be sugarcoated or packaged up in a nice gender-normative pink bow.

In the overwhelming majority of households, mothers are expected to perform most of the childcare duties. It’s time that we didn’t add the need to feel guilty to our already overflowing plates! Having a healthy and happy child is all that matters! We owe it to ourselves to not give into the pressure to feel bad about whether we work outside of the home or not. whether every item on our to-do list has been completed, and how we measure up to any other mother we know. There is much in life as a parent that we can’t control, but we do have control over whether or not we feel guilty about making the right choices for ourselves and our families.

When it comes to parenting, all that matters is that we do the best we can. If we’re on the receiving end of a well-intentioned comment to enjoy every moment, just remember that nostalgia is a powerful elixir complete with rose-colored glasses. Then, just smile and say, “Yes, as much as I can.” At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be expected to do more, and our children deserve nothing less.

Roya’s Announcement & Cards

My Mom was known for sending cards and notes to friends and family. She loved doing so and passed that on to me. She also instilled in me (or was it drilled in me?) the notion that every gift required a handwritten thank you card. Even before Roya was born, I knew that I wanted to have birth announcements and personalized note cards made. And, I knew just who I wanted to design them: Michelle Nguyen from Hey Love Designs

She had designed my business cards after my blog redesign, and I love her eye! Michelle is creative, but in a way that still manages to be classic. She also has a gift for making sure that the finished product is exactly what her customer wants without a lot of back and forth.

I gave her a few ideas for an announcement using this beautiful photograph of Roya that Moshe Zusman took.

Not surprisingly, Michelle used the photograph to make the perfect birth announcement for Roya! (And, yes, I have shaded out The Man's info!)

I also love what Michelle came up with for Roya's note cards. I had seen something similar online, but Michelle's use of bamboo paper and the two different shades of lavender made these cards distinctive!

Check out Hey Love Designs' project gallery, including her free downloads. And, for those of you who are wondering, this is not a sponsored post. I did not receive any financial or in-kind compensation or discounts. (In fact, Michelle won't know about this until I include her handle in the Tweet!) Hey Love Designs does unique work for a reasonable price. Period. The fact that she's a good friend is a wonderful added bonus!

Hooked on Masturbation?

It’s time to answer a reader’s question!

Question: So, I have a small issue with my boyfriend, and I’m hoping you could help me. Well, we’re in college, and we've been together for about six months now. Every time we have sex, he can’t get off unless he jerks off while watching me play with myself. I can’t help but think it’s me, but he constantly says it isn’t and that it has nothing to do with me. I don’t know if it really is me or if he just has a problem. He’s been to the doctor, and they’ve said it’s nothing. Help me!

Answer: I have several thoughts. First, it’s not uncommon for women to assume that they’re the cause of relationship problems, especially those that occur in the bedroom. Try if you can to not fall into that pattern. Remind yourself that whatever your boyfriend is processing likely has nothing to do with you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t help him try to get to the root of the problem or find solutions for it, though, as you’re currently doing.

Secondly, I’m wondering what type of doctor he visited and if it was really about this problem. Knowing how doctors and patients are often reluctant to talk about sex, I have a hard time imagining a college-aged male either going to a doctor about this issue or bringing it up in an unrelated appointment. 

Since he's able to get off, I don't think the problem is hormonal, although I'm not a licensed health care professional. My initial thought when I read your question was that your boyfriend might be so used to masturbating that he has trouble reaching orgasm without doing so. I would recommend that he stop masturbating for a month. If he enjoys watching porn, I also advise that he stop doing so. That might make it easier for him to come when he is having sex with you.

Another idea is that 75% of women can’t orgasm during vaginal sex without clitoral stimulation. It’s possible that your boyfriend feels as though mutual masturbation is more likely to please both of you or that he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable having sex or pleasing you. That’s normal for people of any age, but especially those in college. How much have you talked about what turns you on, fantasies and what you enjoy the most sexually? Opening the lines of communication might improve your relationship emotionally and physically.

Finally, is there anything that would cause him to view sex in a negative way? Is he or his family very religious or conservative? Is it possible that he’s been a victim of sexual abuse? If the other suggestions don’t work, it might be worth asking him generally if he feels guilty or shameful about sex. If there are deeper issues that he's processing, he might need to speak with a therapist or trusted love one.

I hope that this is just a phase and that the situation improves in short order. Good luck!

Okay, readers, what did I miss?

Have you or your partner ever dealt with something like this?

Roya’s 1st Shoot with Uncle Moshe

I first heard about Moshe Zusman in 2010 from friends who were amateur photographers in DC.  They espoused the virtues of his talents, which are easily apparent when you see his work.

I met Moshe several weeks later at Fashion for Paws. I was surprised at how amiable he was. That was reaffirmed when he casually and humbly gave one of my friends advice while she took a photograph at the event. (He didn’t even tell her who he was or that he did this professionally!)

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Moshe and I went to lunch. We had an instant rapport with each other, but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one of his friends to say that! He offered to take photographs of me during chemo, which he did later that month. (If you haven’t seen those photographs, click here.)

Moshe managed to make me feel beautiful in the chemotherapy room, which was no easy feat! More importantly, he brought joy into my life at a time when I truly needed that. I fondly remember laughing so hard with Moshe and two of my best girlfriends during one round of chemo that we almost got in trouble with the nurses!

Even after Moshe put his camera down, he continued to be there for me…on my last day of chemo…after my double mastectomy…when I told him that I was expecting…and many days in between. There are those moments after giving birth that I’ll never forget and tearing up with Moshe when he saw me with Roya is among them. We've come a long way since the chemotherapy room!

Moshe took our first formal photographs of Roya when she was six weeks old. I hope that you love them as much as we do!

Thank you, Moshe, for these beautiful photographs! Far more importantly, though, thank you for treating me like I’m one of your family and for being Roya’s Uncle. We love you! 

My Health Since Giving Birth

Back in October, I called my internist to ask if he thought I could safely carry to term. (He's cared for me for more than 13 years, and I value his expert opinion.) Dr. P. guessed that my health would improve during pregnancy, but dip after I gave birth. The only question was just what that dip would entail.

Since having Roya, concerned friends and readers have inquired about my health. Quite a few have commented that I'm glowing from the joys of motherhood.

I can’t deny that I do beam when I hold Roya in my arms, and I hope that feeling never stops.

stef woods, city girl, city girl blogs

Our second day together

But, if you saw me at 3am…or 5am…or 7am, I doubt you’d say I look glowing. I look like any exhausted parent of a newborn.

On the health front, there has been a dip, but it thankfully hasn’t been a dive. (That's the best I can hope for given the fact that three of my conditions are genetic.)

So…what's been going on?

  • Within two weeks of giving birth, my migraines returned to their previous pace of twice a week, every week. Luckily, though, I can take my old reliable migraine medicine when they hit.
  • Over the past seven weeks, I’ve had more low-grade fevers and swollen glands than I’ve had in years. (That combination of symptoms typically occurs when my body gets run down.) Yesterday morning, the fever topped 101, and the added chills and body aches made it tough to hold Roya without feeling dizzy. I count my blessings for wonderful babysitters that are willing to drop everything and help us out when we need them!
  • There's evidence of degeneration in six out of seven vertebrae in my neck. Holding Roya for hours on end isn't helping my neck pain and mobility. I'll be back in physical therapy soon to try to strengthen my neck and upper back.
  • I met with my radiation oncologist back in April. During a clinical breast exam, she didn't feel anything abnormal. I'll go for a breast MRI in a few months to confirm that all is still well.
  • The only thing that has improved since I gave birth is that I’m no longer vomiting incessantly. That means that I haven’t gotten dehydrated or needed to return to the ER since April. I’ll take it!

At the end of the day, though, Roya is (knock on wood) healthy, and my medical conditions are manageable. I’ll continue to do what's in my control to stay as strong as I can, but my health taking a dip is far less important to me than her being here!

“Priorities,” I think to myself, smiling and typing with Roya asleep by my side.

Thanking Your Ex after a Bad Breakup?

“Can I ask you a question?” a longtime reader and now friend in her 30s inquired via Gchat.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Well, you know that my long-time boyfriend and I broke up in March,” she said. “When we ended things, it was because he had cheated on me. I’m not sure if he’s still with the girl or not, but I wondered if I should reach out to him.”

“Are you looking to get back together with him?” I asked.

“No…well, not exactly…I don't know,” she admitted. “A friend who does relationship counseling suggested that I write him a letter because I'm getting ready to move on. [A guy she had recently met had asked her out on a date for the following week.]”

“Will you be sending this letter?” I questioned, as she responded affirmatively. “What would the purpose of that be?”

“My friend said that it takes men several months to process pain and that a letter from me could trigger something within him.”

“I haven't heard that about men and pain before. [And, I couldn't find any verification of that online.] What would you say in the letter?”

“I would thank him for the time that we had so he knows that I don’t hold any grudges against him. And, I would let him know that I’m moving on so that he knows he has to stop me before it’s too late.”

“Do you need a letter for that, though? If you’re moving on, then you wouldn’t be reaching out to him. Hey, I’ve done similar things before so I won't judge you if you send it. But, I feel like guys aren’t that cryptic. If a guy wants to be with a girl, his actions make that very clear. If he’s with someone else and treated you badly, why would you even want to be with him?”

“Well, I don’t know if he’s with that other girl anymore. And, when we ended things, I told him I was done so what if he thinks he can’t reach out?”

“You were together for years. I think he knows he can contact you.”

We chatted online about this over the course of several nights. She has already written the letter, and it seems like she really wants to send it this month.

“Have you run through all the possible scenarios in your mind of what he might do once he receives it? What if you don’t hear back from him at all? What if he and the other girl have gotten very serious? What if he responds something brief without any interest in further communication?”

“I think I'd feel worse if I didn't try. He already hurt me when we broke up so I don't think he can say anything to hurt me more. And, what if I am able to trigger something in him like my friend said?”

My friend’s thoughts reminded me of one of my Mom’s pieces of advice:

Closure is a female notion, when in reality, there’s no such thing. Unless there are children or assets in common, when a relationship is over, it just is.

I didn't always take my Mom's advice, but I believe it's true. Anytime I reached out to an ex for "closure," it was because a small part of me wanted to get back together.

What would you tell this friend?

Have you sent a letter or reached out to an ex for closure? How did the situation turn out? 

Should You Visit a Loved One in the Hospital?

Question from a friend: My cousin has a surgery coming up, and he’ll be in the hospital for four days. Should I go to the hospital to visit him?

Answer: Well, that depends on several factors. I’m thus answering your question with more questions.

First of all, how close are you to this cousin? Does he have other loved ones who will be providing support for him while he’s in the hospital? Is he expecting you to visit him, or does he need rides to and from the hospital?

Secondly, what type of surgery is he having? Will visitors be restricted to immediate family members because of the severity of the operation? For certain surgeries, he won’t be allowed more than a few visitors and/or visits will need to be brief.

If you are close with him and he isn’t barred from having you visit him at the hospital, I would ask him if he would like you to come by during those four days. When people are ill or recouping, they typically fall into one of two camps.

  1. Some people love to be around others, and the social element helps them to heal.
  2. Others are the complete opposite and prefer to be alone or have as few people around as possible until they feel more like themselves again. 

There’s no right or wrong approach, but if your cousin is the latter type, then wait until he’s recouped.

It’s also possible if your cousin hasn’t spent much time in hospitals, he might not know how he’ll feel and whether or not he will want visitors. In that case, I recommend texting him or whomever will be in the waiting room during his surgery to see if he’s up for a visit. If he is, then ask which day would be best. (He’s likely to be very groggy after anesthesia on the first day and then in more pain on the second day once anesthesia wears off.)

If he isn’t up for visitors, don’t take it personally. Let the primary caregiver know that you’re happy to help however is needed, if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, then tell the primary caregiver that you’re thinking of him and hoping he has a quick recovery. Once he returns home, you can send a card or food to his house, or reach out to him then.

If you do go to the hospital, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Prior to arriving, ask him if you can bring anything. If he’s allowed to eat real food, I guarantee you that there’s something he would rather eat or drink than what the hospital serves. (If the dish is high in sugar or particularly salty or fatty, check with the nurse before giving it to him.)
  • Most hospitals have hand sanitizers on every floor. Before you enter the room, sanitize or wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Don’t stay long, unless your cousin asks you to. Plan on staying between 20 minutes and an hour. If a health care professional comes in while you’re there to examine him, give him a gentle hug, wish him well and leave. If he starts to get drowsy while you’re there, excuse yourself so he can sleep.
  • Be yourself. If he doesn’t look good, you don’t need to say that he does. If you’re not a comedian, you don’t need to tell him jokes to try to make him laugh. Ask open-ended questions to allow him to tell you how he's doing or if he needs anything, and then talk about whatever you normally would with him.
  • Remember that visiting is about his comfort, not yours. You might need to wait to use a public bathroom, you might not have a nice chair to sit in while you’re there, and your cousin isn’t likely to feel or act like himself. Making sure that he is comfortable is your first priority!

Did I miss anything readers?

What's your mode when you're ill or recouping when it comes to visitors?

Truly A Miracle

Merriam Webster defines a miracle as:

  1. An extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.
  2. An extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. 
  3. A divinely natural phenomenon experienced humanly as the fulfillment of spiritual law.

I’ve written before about how I’ve been described as a medical miracle. It was also a miracle that I was able to conceive given my age and the fact that chemotherapy causes a woman's eggs not to be viable. Doctors have been referring to my pregnancy as miraculous, but none of us knew just how many odds had been defied until I gave birth.

While I was on the operating table during my c-section, Dr. OB exclaimed, “That's one old postmenopausal ovary!”

“Postmenopausal?!? Really?!?” I asked with surprise in my voice. I had been in menopause following treatment, but time had reversed some of the symptoms. Postmenopause occurs after menopause is completely over, and that's not typically the case for women after chemotherapy.

“Yes! Everything here is very sad and aged. One squeaked through, though, although we’re not sure how!”

This conversation transpired while the pediatrician was examining our daughter, Roya.

During my hospital stay, I started thinking about what the doctor had said. If my ovaries were postmenopausal, that meant that I had the ovaries of a woman in her 50s. A woman who is postmenopausal has no more eggs and thus no more periods. There was no way that I should have been able to get pregnant, and yet, Roya was here. She made it through the creaky, wrought iron gate that is my reproductive system. And, I'm so thankful she did!