Getting through

Eleven years ago, I was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer. I was diagnosed with an aggressive strain at an early stage. I wrote a lot about cancer and how tough chemo was for me. Some called me an inspiration. Some said I used cancer to get attention for myself or my blog. Most days I just was trying to get through.

I learned then that 30% of cases return as metastatic. Being a survivor or being cancer free from a clinical perspective is a marathon, not a sprint. During treatment, I was close with two other patients-turned-friends. We were all diagnosed at early stages, and we all did what our doctors told us. We all made it into remission, and we all believed we would survive. I’m the only one alive. 

After treatment, I read a post by Nicole McLean. The theme was that she’s going to keep talking about cancer and her experience. I found those words wise then and even wiser now. 

My hair has obviously grown back. My life is different in so many ways, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve learned to accept the post-cancer realities — such as early bone and height loss and early menopause, or a young daughter who asks if she will get breast cancer when she is older — at least most days. And, much like Nicole, I’m still talking about cancer.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, I’d love if:

  • More research dollars went to metastatic breast cancer. 44,000+ in the US die from this insidious disease each year!
  • More research was done on Black women, health disparities, and breast cancer, given that Black women have a 40% higher mortality rate from breast cancer than white women.
  • We didn’t cover this ugly disease in a color like pink that’s associated with femininity and prettiness in a gender-binary way.
  • Corporations didn’t profit from breast cancer and their “creative” campaigns. Check out the trailer for Pink Ribbons, Inc. or my Pinktober post about pink cause marketing.

If I’m donating to a breast cancer organization, I want to know where my money is going and that the organization is transparent and fiscally responsible. Two organizations I continue to support are:

Before the pandemic, I was on campus and a student group was tabling for breast cancer awareness. There were pink ribbons and slogans about saving second base. The three students behind the table started talking about how they wouldn’t know what to do if they lost their hair. I thought of saying something and then just went back to my work. 

I was blissfully ignorant for a long time. And, I definitely had no clue about chemo in college. I hope you, too, can be blissfully ignorant for decades to come because then it means that cancer hasn’t touched your life closely. I wouldn’t wish knowing what those final days are like or how bad treatment can make you feel on anyone.

Tonight is a Pink Out event at AU. R and I will be there to support the volleyball team. She’ll be wearing pink. I likely will not. I might be emotional. I might roll my eyes. I might just sit there quietly. I am neither an inspiration nor attention seeking. Much like I was 11 years ago, I continue to be thankful for being alive and am just trying to get through. xoxo

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was a Little City Girl.  Her parents raised her with love, support and opportunities.  They let her know that she could be anything that she wanted to be when she was older.

At 14, Little City Girl told her father that she wanted to go to Wellesley College and become a lawyer.

“Why do you want to be a lawyer?” he inquired.

“Because I like to write, debate and help people,” Little City Girl replied.

When she went to Wellesley several years later, the professors also impressed upon her and her classmates that they could be and do anything.

A college internship brought City Girl to Washington, DC, in 1993, and she fell in love with the nation’s capital.  After her internship ended, she stayed in DC and got a job as a legal assistant.  She went on to law school, and when she finally started to work as an attorney, she was thankful that an instinct that she had 12 years prior was the right one.

In her first job, she noticed that wearing a short skirt or a fitted sweater to work prompted inappropriate comments from her bosses.  With each subsequent position, she sported more pants suits and felt more comfortable informing male colleagues that their behavior was unacceptable.

She also learned that although her dating stories were entertaining, she had to be selective about what she shared with co-workers.  One partner only knew that she was dating an NFL player – without any specifics – and thought it funny to walk into a meeting after a football game, saying:

Your boyfriend can’t handle his balls.

In theory, she could do anything professionally that she wanted.  But, unfortunately, that didn’t mean that her age, gender, appearance or sexuality wouldn’t be topics of conversation or affect other people’s perceptions of her around the office.

When City Girl left firm life for a nonprofit, she began doing some legal policy work.  She always relied on facts and the law, rather than emotions, when speaking about a polarizing issue, but that didn’t stop a few very conservative people from sending her office hate mail.  Her former boss approached her about doing policy work exclusively.  She was flattered, but she worried that she would miss working directly with the clients if she chose that path.

In 2008, she decided to take a sabbatical from the law to focus on health issues and finish her master’s program.  As she prepared to write her thesis, she thought it would be fun to start blogging about her dating adventures.  She chose to blog anonymously so that if she reentered the policy arena, her sexuality wouldn’t be used against her.  (If she had received several pieces of hate mail and comments about her appearance or significant others without provocation, she knew that her sex life and dating mishaps would become ammunition for those who disagreed with her politics.)

As her blog readership grew, she began attending events as City Girl.  Quite a few people in DC knew both her real name and blog link, but they kindly respected her privacy.  Local online publications were also understanding, taking her picture with her name or quoting her as City Girl without using her name or face.  She managed with the help of others to remain anonymous from the legal policy world.

In 2010, City Girl wondered if it was worth taking another year away from the law to see where her blog could go and start teaching sexual health workshops.  She joined the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and attended their annual conference. She also found a platform, as she wrote about the use of toxic ingredients in sex toys and the need for self-regulation.  Lotus Blooms and Fascinations at Fun Love approached her about writing for their sites and reviewing body-friendly products for them.  She began to ponder how she could advocate for safe sex toys on a larger scale.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2010, she decided to use her experience to try to raise awareness and help others.  Her friends and doctors knew that she was willing to talk about what she was going through, and opportunities to do just that followed.  The more that she talked about her experience and let others in, the more she wanted to continue to do so.

She finished chemotherapy and realized that she is stronger than she thought that she was.  She also realized that there’s much more for her to do as an advocate and that it’s time to come out from behind her laptop.  If she can help one more person through her blog, her photographs or her interviews, it’s worth it.  She accepts that she may never work again in the legal policy arena, although she wishes that there wasn’t a double standard with respect to female sexuality in the workplace.

Once upon a time, there was a City Girl with long, red hair named Stef Woods.

Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs


Photo Credit: Kristina Hopper Photography

She’s bald now, but she still feels sexy.


Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs

Photo Credit: Moshe Zusman Photography

Although she’s not exactly sure what will happen next, she trusts that she will live happily ever after.