Think Pink

red ink . . .

In the last two posts, we talked about having your “own thing.” Well, one “thing” that pink ink and I share a passion for (honestly, she has been passionate for years, and I am a new convert, having been inspired by my own breast biopsy a few years ago and taken to a new level by her diagnosis) – is breast health.

I had my annual mammogram today! My birthday was yesterday and this was my present to myself. Have you had yours? I have to tell you that I had more than the usual anxiety going in (because of my heightened awareness about BC, and because of my own previous biopsy) but the sense that I am being responsible and taking my own health in my hands outweighed any angst. I actually was feeling pumped (albeit a little stinky – no deodorant allowed – and said to myself “let’s do this” as I walked in to the office this year. So the good news is that I was all clear. I was proud of myself because I know my Ta-tas better this year than I have in the past. Thanks to pink ink I am much more diligent about doing self exams monthly so when my doctor told me that my breasts were less dense (read – in need of more supportive bras – lol), I already knew that! (This is a side effect of being peri-menopausal, according to my doctor, which makes mammograms easier to read in some cases!). I’m also reminded by pink ink’s experience that breast health is an every day, and not an annual, event and will continue to “touch the Ta-tas!

To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) we are asking everyone that we know to “Think Pink” on next Monday, October 1st and to acknowledge your support for those in your lives who have been touched by breast cancer by wearing a PINK shirt (or anything that you have that is pink and fly) on that day. And schedule your mammogram if you haven’t already done so!

BUT HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART – We want YOU to take a picture of yourself in your PINK & let us know you’ve had or scheduled your mammo. Send the pix and a note to to us at inkwellchicks@gmail.com. We are planning to post the photos as a kickoff celebration of life and of our collective determination to find a cure!

Some of you guys will be joining us for the Komen Phoenix 20th Annual Walk for Breast Cancer on Sunday, October 14th. Even if you can’t be there, you can support the cause with a contribution to the team (Pinkwellchick). See http://phoenix.info-komen.org/site/TR/RacefortheCure/PHX_PhoenixAffiliate?team_id=219822&pg=team&fr_id=2646u. This is personal ya’ll. WE ARE THE CURE! Let’s make it happen.

My own thing

Pink Ink…

Brief, off the cuff post…

As Red Ink just posted, it is crucial to “have your own thing” to balance one’s lives. It is in this exact moment, that I realize that having my own thing is going to get me through the next month. I have been eagerly awaiting October and breast cancer awareness month. In my mind, it will be a time of celebration. Between surviving Life in the Cancer Lane, 17 years of a rock solid marriage, and…life, we have a lot to the CELEBRATE! (Who could beat a wedding anniversary on the day of the Race for a Cure?) I have also been looking at October as a focused time of dialog for me surrounding breast awareness. You know, “cancerrealtalk”! But I realize it is going to be a little bit more difficult than I thought.

I still have unresolved medical issues. That’s another post. But honestly, I am realizing that I still have to learn to breathe, to take in the events of the last year. I still need to mourn the life I had, while celebrating my new life. Crazy emotions are attacking at the most random times! (This is what I refer to as “cancerrealtalk”, keeping it real) Example, last Saturday was the actual anniversary of the day I was diagnosed. I thought it would come and go, with no issues. For the most part it did. In an effort to want to “share” how a diagnosis of breast cancer reads, I finally took the time to read the initial diagnosis, and then the 2nd opinion. My goal was to find the wording, tweet it out with a funny quip and move on. Instead, I was reduced to tears. That is also another post for another day. Last September, I heard the words, read the words. Last Saturday, with a year of experience under my boobs, I FELT the words. More healing to be done.

Just now, after interviewing a close friend, I sat down to watch last week’s episode of “Parenthood”. Red Ink and I share our love of this show. It amazes me how we ALWAYS find parallels in this show. It is definitely a “sleeper” show, missed by many. But it is a true winner. SPOILER ALERT. In the last 5 minutes of the episode, one of the main characters goes in for a routine mammogram. Before they even finished the scene, I was in tears. I knew where this was headed. The next scene, as she tells her husband the results, truly floored me, and had me reaching for the phone. Who to dial 1st? Big B? Red Ink? (A few days ago, Red Ink had asked me if I had watched the show. By her tone I knew it was going to be something BIG! But not this.) Instead of reaching for the phone, I reached for the computer.

I read Red Ink’s post.

I am reminded of a few things. First, this journey is not over, and it will continue to be painful for a while. Second, I should be thankful that I do indeed have my own thing. I am certain I will need the distraction during the sure to come low points this coming October. Finally, more people should be watching Parenthood! (Check your local listings) I have no doubt that they are going to handle this with the grace they have exhibited when tackling other hot topics. (bi-racial dating, Aspergers/autism, infidelity, adoption etc)

Whew, it’s about to get real!

Excuse me while I get back to…my own thing!

We got our own thing

red ink . . .

So pink ink and I were talking on my way home from a board meeting this morning about what keeps us, not only afloat, but sane and happy when things that we can’t absolutely control (like our health or our teenagers!) loom large in our lives.

Without a doubt, friendship keeps us going. The ability to talk to someone unedited, to tell your most random thoughts and to have them received, without judgment, and responded to with love, even if the response is just a heartfelt “Girl….” is crucial. But we decided, as we wound our way through another therapy session, that it’s more than that.

A bit of background is necessary here … you see we can both recall vividly the days when despite our educational backgrounds and training, the only thing we can remember in a given day is feeling great about getting showered and dressed in real clothes when the kids were babies. We get it — just getting through the day when you are a busy wife and mother can feel like an accomplishment!

The one thing that has always been there below the surface, albeit often unstated, is the idea that we both had something that we cared deeply about (in addition to the loves of our lives) that we wanted to apply our skills and talents to, and that we wanted to somehow make a difference and move the ball on some issue. We come by it honestly, because we both come from parents who taught us that by their example that “to whom much is given, much is required” whether their contributions were on a grand scale as a national leader for the Urban League (shout out to pink ink’s dad, Dr. Bernard Watson) or in their own communities as teachers, scout leaders and PTA presidents (shout out to my mom and dad, Walter and Gertrude Baker, and pink ink’s mom, Lois Watson)

Given the prominence of “health” over the last year in both of our families lives, it’s not surprising that we would both have chosen as one of our contributions, causes that promote health and wellness. We have both balanced babies (and husbands) and board meetings, with pink ink serving as board member at Komen Phoenix and Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer, and with me as the chair-elect of a faith-based, large system board based in Chicago. Our commitment to these causes, and to others, have given us an avenue for our creative energies and has made us feel like our time on this planet matters. This spirit of service and giving back has honestly been an umbrella in times of storm. Sometimes, attending a board meeting and taking your eyes off of whatever is happening in your house or your body for a moment and focusing on others is just what the doctor ordered to make you feel better.

Your “thing” can be whatever matters most to you – it can be personal, local, national or even global. And you can have more than one “thing” at a time (I care about health and wellness and mentoring youth for example), and your “thing” can change as your life changes. But for goodness sake, be about the business of figuring out what your “thing” might be now and get to doing something about it! (Side Note: So proud that pink ink launched her new website and blog, focused entirely on wellness. Check it out — http://www.pinkwellchick.com.)

Honestly, having your own thing – that thing that you care about and that inspires you, will get you through – at least, I know that it has for pink ink and me.

And so it began

Pink Ink…

September 15, 2011, I got THE call. The one that told me a detour was coming. I told you there would be a lot of “anniversaries” coming. Well this is one of the big ones. A year ago today, I was told I had invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3, stage 2 or 3 depending on which report you read. Triple negative breast cancer. You know, the one that black people get. The one that can kill you.

If you troll the Internet, you can find a million articles or posts on how people reacted to the life changing news. If you have been following me, you know I cried for about 5 minutes and then bucked up and prepared to tell folks. Prepared to fight! So today my post is not about me. It’s about my caregiver, my knight in shining armor. The love of my life. Below is an “UNEDITED” excerpt from my book. (You knew I had to write one!) Hopefully it gives an insight into the task he faced from the moment we got the news. It is a bit long, but it is just an intro into how he was thrown head 1st into Life in the Cancer Lane. Here we go…

last picture of us together before diagnosis

“It was official. We had to tell people.

B first called our parents. I was not there for those conversations. I knew that I could not emotionally handle hearing our parents’ grief. I did not know how that grief would present itself, (Tears, screaming, denial, silence?) But I knew I had to focus on me. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for my husband to share that news with our parents. At the time, he only spoke to our mothers. Both fathers were out. He had to be strong for my mom and reassure her. We don’t really “do grief” well in my family. My aunt had breast cancer 10 years ago, and we never really talked about how it affected her or my mom. So I had no idea how she would handle this!

But B also had to be strong for his mom, so she wouldn’t be worried about him. After all, his dad was a prostate cancer survivor. They had been down this road. When I asked how the moms handled it, he responded that they were “as expected”. I didn’t ask more because I didn’t want to know, and I didn’t want to have him have to tell it.

Next, we had to tell Lil B. We were just going to tell her, no subterfuge. She knew we were waiting for the news. She is a very astute little girl. There is no way we could have kept something like this from her.
B met her at the bus stop outside our house. She was her regular perky self, talking about her day, and asking where I was. Daddy didn’t usually meet her at the bus stop. Walking in the door, she saw my face, and said, “Did you find out?”

“Yes, Mommy has breast cancer.” My husband said before I could answer.

“NOOOO! Mommy” she screamed as she burst into tears and tried to run to her room.

That kind of sadness and pain is something no mother wants to hear coming from her child. My heart broke right then into a million pieces. Tears! More tears! I ran to the bathroom to wipe them away while B held her in a bear hug. This was the baby girl I had dreamed and prayed for! This was the girl who kept a smile on my face…most times! The love of my life! Watching her cry, knowing she understood the severity of this news, broke me in two! I had to go to her. I came back and joined the hug. I told her it would be ok.

“Think about all the people you know who have survived breast cancer. Miss Maureen. Aunt Mona, Dr. Lindell. We will be ok. You just have to help me.” I tried to reassure her.

Amazingly, after about 5 minutes, she was calm and sat down for a snack and to start on her homework. I snuck back into my room and cried a few more tears. All I could think about was how I was ruining her 4th grade year! Who would take care of her? How would she manage? B knew I was having a “moment”. He knows me so well. He came back to hug me and bring me back out front. We HAD to be together. We HAD to fight this together. We HAD to be strong together. With a sigh, I held his hand and walked back out front.

That night we all slept together, holding each other tight.

But not before he sent “the email”…

Family and Friends – Today we learned that Barbra has breast cancer. Many of you will recognize this as ironic because she has done so much volunteer work in the fight against breast cancer. However, it is a fact and we are going to fight it together until she is cured. I apologize for having to inform you in this fashion, but there are so many people who deserve to know that I couldn’t possibly call everyone. It’s my fault and not Barb’s if anyone is offended that I didn’t get to them directly. Know that Barb has handled this well. It’s heavy, but she’s strong and has demonstrated that through what’s been a very fast diagnosis. This came out of nowhere. We’re only beginning to form the outline of a treatment plan, so I don’t have much more to share, but I ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers. This email is not going to a long list of people, so you are free to share this information with those whom you feel should know and would care to know. We’re not going to post it on Facebook or any social media, so I’d ask you to refrain from that as well. We’re also not going to do a lot of blast email updates – we’re just going to focus on our family and on what’s to come. Please be patient with us – we might not call, text or email back as quickly as normal. We’re happy to talk, but please give us a couple of days to digest this and to make sure Blayre is ok. We love all of you and thank you in advance for the support we know you will provide.

B.

And so it began…

Pretending to be Normal

red ink . . .

So my girl is out of surgery…again. That little body of hers has taken a lickin’ and just like the energizer bunny – she keeps on tickin’! I heard from her friend Tracey (her cancer mentor) who Barb told me via text this morning, beat her to the hospital. Tracey called me from the hospital once again post-op (thank you Tracey), and snuck to let me hear Barb’s voice once again. Sounding tired and drugged, I could just barely hear her in there, but I was comforted to know that she wasn’t by herself. (Tracey and I have never met in person, but through Barb, we’ve become family!)

So, I’ll pause to give the “medical minute” in the words of pink ink.

She had surgery this morning to remove the expanders which have prevented her from having an MRI. An MRI is necessary to determine whether or not the spots that they think they see on her lungs and/or the headaches that she’s been suffering for months indicate that the cancer has spread. (I had to pause to write that.)

In any case, the surgery today was supposed to be “uneventful” and so far so good. She had worries about her skin and about her breathing and lungs after surgery, but according to Tracey, she made it out o.k. and might be going home to finish healing (albeit is a lot of pain) as soon as tomorrow. It will take several weeks for her incisions to heal such that she will be able to have the MRI, so it’s still a waiting game. But the short of it is, that she made it through the surgery and is one step closer to the finish line.

So I went to bed last night with her on my heart and woke up thinking of her this morning. As soon as my kids were out of the car, I sent her a text to let her know that I was there in spirit. I went about my day “pretending to be normal” (that’s actually the title of a book written by a woman with Asperger’s – another story), but that’s how it felt. It struck me that we now have had a lot of practice at this “pretending” when this year hasn’t been at all, in any way, shape or form, normal.

Last night on the phone our usual banter about Jack & Jill activities and getting through our to-do lists was interspersed with sobering talks about the prognosis for this type of cancer and about how I want her to be there for my 50th birthday next year. The laughs and the sharing still come easy with every conversation but the tears are more and more often just behind my eyes. I refuse to break down while talking to her because it won’t help her or me, and Lord knows she doesn’t need to carry any more than she has in her bucket. So we both go on supporting each other in the every day ways that we always have – pretending to be normal.

This past year, though, has been anything but normal . . .

For Me

Pink ink…

One day she woke up and her world was changed forever. She was faced with a reality she never dreamed possible. *

PLOT:
A 40 something black woman comes home from a breast advocacy meeting to find a lump in her breast. Viewers learn she had a clear mammo just months prior. Chemo, double mastectomy, radiation with 3rd degree burns and more are captured in a blog she creates with her “sister”.

REVIEWS:
“Crazy! You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know it was a true story!” –California
“It leaves you wondering, when will it end!” –Illinois

A year ago TODAY, my life changed forever. A year ago TODAY, I found my lump. A year ago TODAY I entered Life in the Cancer Lane. Little did I know what a year it would be.

When I awoke this morning, I didn’t know what I would feel. Would I cry? Would I not feel…anything? What would this day look like? Well, the day has started off the same as every morning, except it’s raining…in Phoenix! Lol! Big B and I gave each other an extra long hug and reflected on the fact that we made it a year. Then we sent Lil B off to school.

I remember finding the lump that could have killed me, would have killed me, like it was yesterday. I knew it was cancer, immediately. If you knew me then, you will remember that I was calm. Deep inside, I must have known it was about to be a rollercoaster ride. As I sit here trying to capture what I was feeling, what I am now feeling, the only word I see is…CALM. That is a blessing, as I face yet another surgery in 3 days.

I will face many “anniversaries” over the months to come. It will be interesting to see how they affect me, and my love ones. For now, I am happy for the calm.

Determined not to be a victim to…anything
She decided to set a new course for her life.
She never dreamed
The devastation she…faced
Would be the refiner’s fire
That turned her life around
She is now the epitome of a true survivor.*

Today, I CELEBRATE this anniversary. I celebrate the day I saved my life. I celebrate the fact that I had the courage to tell somebody, to immediately call my doctor. I celebrate that I am ABLE to share my story! I celebrate that I chose, that I STILL choose, to FIGHT!

Ironically, today is Stand Up To Cancer Day, replete with a concert & telethon! (Check your local listings!) The SU2C org asks “who do you stand up for?”

Today, I stand up…for me!

*Suzy Toronto (abridged)

Be about it

Pink Ink…

Brief break in the madness. As the song says…”Every day I’m hustlin’, hustlin'” Because clearly, I need a cure! HA!

Be about it!