Monday, July 27, 2015

I'm Wondering...

Summer is always the sluggish time of year when it comes to work. It doesn't matter what you do for a living - working during the summer is a drag. Commuting in hot weather via public transit saps your will to live (thankfully, I don't have to endure that anymore), but so does that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that you're not working because the evil forces are conspiring against you. 

As you all know, I am a freelance writer. It was quite difficult to resign myself to not working while I was going through chemo, but that's over and done with. Now that I'm feeling better and my brain is functioning at or near where it was prior to the infusions of poison, I'm still not working anywhere near as much as I'd like. Is this the universe conspiring against me? Am I unlucky? Is there a pile of shit out there with my name on it that I haven't stepped in yet? 

At the end of May I got some work from the local office of a marketing content company. The pay was good and the work wasn't particularly taxing. The problem, however, was actually getting paid in a timely fashion. I've been lucky for the most part in my career as a freelancer, because I've only gotten ripped off twice by questionable clients. This time, I was sitting around like a schmuck waiting weeks for payment. Since finances have been tight, I was quite vocal to my contacts at this company about needing payment for my services sooner, rather than later. My assertive attitude paid off, literally, because I received payment for the work I did in June much quicker than I did for the previous project in May. 

Here's where the evil forces come into play: I haven't done any work for this company at all this month. I sent an e-mail to my contacts telling them I was ready for a new project, and never heard back. Did I screw myself by being too aggressive? Or, is it possible that these people read this blog and decided they did not want to work with someone who had cancer? 

My e-mail signature contains a link to this blog. Every time I apply for work via e-mail, I use this blog to showcase my writing skills. I'm starting to think that prospective employers might be somewhat hesitant to hire someone who is recovering from breast cancer. I've e-mailed at least a dozen queries over the past four weeks, and haven't had so much as an automatic reply from any of them. Do I offend? Has my mojo as a wordsmith deserted me? Or, am I damaged goods? 

I've asked a lot of questions in this entry, none of which are easy to answer. When you go through a tough time in life, you want to believe there are good things waiting for you on the other side of those difficulties. Some people struggle constantly to keep cancer at bay for as long as they can. I like to think I am on a path where that won't be the case. 

As far as my career as a freelance writer is concerned, I want to pick up where I left off, but I also want to believe that there are better, brighter opportunities ahead of me. Freelancing is an unreliable, stressful way to earn a living. You're always hustling; if you don't work, you don't make money. It's exhausting. But, in all that stress and exhaustion lurks an elusive notion that at some point, there will be a reward that will make it all worthwhile. 

I'm wondering: where is my pile of shit, and when do I get to step in it?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Argument For Remaining Flat

A couple of months ago, I joined the Facebook group of the organization Flat & Fabulous. The members of this group have been diagnosed with breast cancer, had mastectomies (single and double), and elected to forgo reconstruction. Another fun fact about having breast cancer is that it isn't always easy to put your breasts back if that is what you want. Many women aren't aware of this, and it makes for some interesting debates in the breast cancer community. 

Not every woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer has to have chemotherapy and radiation. These women, along with women who elect to undergo preventative mastectomies, can usually have successful reconstruction soon after the initial surgery. Women like myself, who had to have chemo and get roasted, are the ones who have the toughest time with reconstruction. Chemo isn't really a factor, but once you've been roasted, your skin becomes compromised, which makes inserting things like tissue expanders and breast implants very difficult. Reconstruction for women like me involves fat transfer from other areas of the body, and skin grafting to make up for the damage we're left with. These procedures, according to the plastic surgeon I met with last year after my mastectomy, are possible, but can be complicated. 

Since joining the F&F Facebook group, I've interacted with many brave and strong women who are committed to not undergoing reconstruction; some for the reasons I've mentioned, and others because they are perfectly content to not have breasts. Still more have been through reconstruction that has gone awry. There are stories of infections and other medical mishaps, asymmetry, and overall dissatisfaction with the end result that lead many to have their implants removed. Others will occasionally wear prostheses, affectionately known as "foobs" (fake boobs), because they cannot, or will not, go through the additional hell reconstruction can turn into. 

The other day, I was finally able to order a compression sleeve to treat my lymphedema. The store I went to also had a full line of mastectomy products, including bras and prostheses. I decided to try on a bra with a pair of "foobs" to get an idea of how they looked and felt. I have to say, I had more fun playing with the squishy silicone foobs than I did wearing them. It felt weird to have on a bra with protrusions in the pockets, rather than ones attached to my own body. It felt odd to be wearing a bra again (I didn't miss it). The foobs looked okay, but I wasn't ready to order a pair. I have plans for my body that might include foobs at some point in the future, but for now, I choose to remain boob-less, and foob-less. 

My choices vis-a-vis breasts might not be what another woman would choose, but that doesn't bother me. I'm glad to know there are other women out there who, for many reasons, choose to remain flat. These women are inspiring, because many of them can ignore society's obsession with the female form, and do what is best for them. I count myself among their ranks because I don't need to have breasts to feel like a woman. I don't catch glimpses of my flat chest in the mirror and wish they were still there. I'd rather be healthy and live another 50 years than worry about everyone else thinks of my flatness. It's a waste of time. 

Maybe one day I'll change my mind and go for a pair of D-cup prostheses, or maybe some new surgical technique will be invented to make reconstruction easier for women like me. Until then, I am content to remain flat, fabulous, and healthy. 


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Here We Go Again

"Sweet Jesus in a Jeep" is a popular expression of frustration I see time and time again on social media. I refrain from using it, since I am Jewish, but I've been known to verbally exclaim "Jesus Christ!" on a regular basis to express frustration about many things. At present, I am in a position where I am completely flummoxed, and there isn't an adequate expression to describe my frustration with the raging mammography debate. 

This week, another study surfaced debunking mammography, and both Reuters and NPR reported it, re-igniting the debate about how more mammograms lead to the "overdiagnosis" of breast cancer, and do not increase the survival rate from the disease beyond the ten years following diagnosis. I have one thing to say about that: So fucking what? 

I think by now we understand that mammography is a flawed detection method, and that the research community needs to come up with a better way to screen women for breast cancer. Researchers in North America and around the world are currently working on treatments that will manage certain cancers, and there is real hope that these treatments will benefit many people. In the meantime, another segment of the research community is intent on berating women for their reliance upon mammography, and the epidemic of breast cancer it causes. 

We have two extremes: women, like myself, who had mammograms and were found to have early-stage breast cancer, and younger women, some of whom found lumps through self-examination, and are diagnosed with aggressive forms of late-stage breast cancer. In the middle are the millions of women who go for regular mammograms to either assuage their fears, or because they have family histories of breast cancer. All of us, I think, are confused and angry at the message these studies are sending: We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't go for mammograms, yet there isn't even a whiff of a suggestion about any viable alternatives we can explore to protect our health. Genetic testing is one alternative, but there is plenty of discourse out there finding fault with that, too. So, what are we supposed to do? 

Here's my suggestion: stop pursuing these ridiculous studies that don't do anything except alarm the public, and cause divisive arguments about who is and isn't benefiting from mammography. We are courting another controversy where one doesn't need to exist. Mammography is becoming one more reason for women to feel bad about themselves. Instead of shaming us, why not come up with better ways to help us? 

I am getting very angry at the judgement women dealing with breast cancer encounter at every turn. We are chided for going for mammograms; we are vilified for having bilateral mastectomies in an effort to protect ourselves. We are "overdiagnosed". I want to put my fist through a wall every time I see that word.

Someone please give me a cogent, reasonable answer to this question: WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?