Everyone else seems to be weighing in…

So, Tuesday morning, before I read the news of Angelina Jolie’s bilateral mastectomy, I was having a pity party. A big, old fashioned, woe is me kinda gathering.

The pity party had to do with waking up at 2 in the morning when my husband chose to go sleep in the guest bedroom. I have to confess that I snore. I’m not sure when it became an issue, but it has been noticeable throughout my 11 year relationship with my husband. However, it has never led to us sleeping in separate beds. In the past 2 months, my snoring has either intensified thanks to my Ortho Depot shot induced menopause or my Ortho Depot shot induced night sweats are making me more agitated and restless at night and causing me to sleep in positions that have led to increased snoring.  It’s become a problem and I’m going to have a sleep study done tonight, so I’m being proactive, but I was in a feeling sorry for myself place Tuesday morning and that was that. Tuesday morning, I was focused on just how unattractive I have become: snoring like a sailor, husband sleeping in a separate room (now doesn’t that make me sexy?), lack of estrogen sucking up my interest in sex, no longer able to wear tops showing my cleavage thanks to my mastectomy (and in NOLA, with warm weather comes lots of accentuation of ones cleavage…), clothes not fitting me right, and the list went on.

But the set-up for the pity party got its start late last week. I went to a teacher appreciation party Friday night, at a beautiful private home that included a pool. It was a really wet night after a day of some major storms and most people did not bring their bathing suits. But a few did and they went in swimming. A couple of things helped set up the pity party mindset such as the realization that pushing or throwing me into a pool these days without a bathing suit could lead to a very rude awakening by whoever is around and that it is a bummer that I can’t wear bathing suits that show off my cleavage anymore–especially considering it was the one area where I was ok with my body prior to my mastectomy. Cute suits? This year’s selection of Lands End suits aren’t making me happy and seem really fugly.

At the party, I was also talking to one of my colleagues about my BC.  She is 15-20 years younger than myself and she has a considerable family history of BC–paternal grandmother and a number of paternal aunts have suffered from BC and a number have died from the disease. She’s avoiding doctors and afraid of her family history. I strongly encouraged her to start going regularly to a doctor. At one point she made the comment that “well at least you got new and improved breasts.” But I didn’t. And that brought out those doubting demons…Did I make the right choice not to have reconstruction at this point? Am I attractive without one of my breasts?

Anyway, by Tuesday morning I was feeling extremely frumpy and very unsexy and this feeling of not being attractive is the fallout I sometimes experience thanks to my BC diagnosis and mastectomy in late 2011. That is my reality. I don’t feel the role of the ugly duckling very often, but with the right mix of ingredients, it’s periodically inevitable.

That I had a sobbing jag Tuesday morning because I didn’t feel attractive–let alone sexy–is a reality that Angelina Jolie, Most Beautiful One, will never apparently experience. As Angelina says in her piece (I highlight for emphasis),

Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal lifeNine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful. I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer. It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s itOn a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

I’m happy for Angelina that she has improved her chances of avoiding breast cancer by such a large margin, but her description of her bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction gives the impression that the decision and the procedure itself were easy peasy. Good lord, where did my medical team go wrong? How come I wasn’t back to work a couple of days after surgery? The thing is, my story is easy peasy compared to some of the stories I’ve heard since joining the BC Club…

I’m also happy for Angelina that she has support from Brad, because I know how important Terry’s support is to me. She says:

I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.

Lucky you, Angelina. It’s hard not to feel a little cynical about this area either. It’s hard to compare a partner’s support for a 3-month period to those partners who have to go through an extended period of illness and there is a new normal in both the role of the cancer patient as well as that of the patient’s partner. Frankly, there are points where cancer has brought Terry and I closer, but there are also points where there has been a huge gulf that wasn’t there before. The ex-husband of a woman I work with didn’t visit her in the hospital after her lumpectomy, just dropped her off at the hospital and said ‘good luck’. There are many marriages that don’t survive a hit like cancer.

So, how did I get over my crying jag, by the way? I started crying again when I was feeding the dogs breakfast Tuesday morning. Terry figured out that I was upset and took me in his arms and held me while I cried. The cry–and supportive arms–washed away the pity party.

Anyway, there are quite a few bloggers that I read regularly who have weighed in on Angelina’s Op Ed piece that you might want to check out:

Also, Another One With the Cancer shared The Meanderer’s picture What Survival Looks Like–without reconstruction…in case you were wondering.

24 thoughts on “Everyone else seems to be weighing in…

  1. JoAnn, so sorry to hear that you are having a hard time. Grief has a way of dipping in and out of our lives. Plus, breast cancer treatment ages us and their is the grief of perceived loss of youth and attractiveness.

    Thank you for sharing a glimpse of the impact of breast cancer treatment on sex drive. A lot of bloggers don’t talk about it but it is a reality. I thought the stress of parenting a challenging teen was enough!

    Sorry about swimsuit season. Lands End’s swimwear collection generally left a lot to be desired in the cute department this season.

    In the end, I am confident that you will get to a better place with this. But part of getting to the better place sometimes means feeling sad for awhile.

    • Elizabeth,

      You rock! Thanks so much for your support on this–and your objectivity. I had always thought that my 1.9 year younger sister suddenly became more ‘grown’ after she had kids with all of the responsibility and demands of parenthood. I think I’ve leaped back and reclaimed my elder sister status. BC treatment does definitely age us–but it is all about perception isn’t it? Thanks for reminding me to put loss of breast into the grief framework.

      I almost put a snippy “I wonder what will happen to her sex drive when she has that hysterectomy at 41?” into my post, but I held my tongue. Of course this will probably be the first of my 72 posts that T will read, so I may be second guessing my sharing… :–)

      Generally, I feel that I have gotten to a better place–especially compared to where I was in the fall, but there are definitely going to be times when I’m sad. Last week was a perfect example.

      • I’m so glad my comments were helpful. I almost added a P.S. last night suggesting that you get one of those “fugly” mastectomy swimsuits. After having lived in the sticky sweaty southeast for seven years, I believe that it is better to be cool and unfashionable than fashionable and hot. Just something to consider.

      • No worries, I have suits from last year. It’s just I have traditionally bought more bathing suits throughout my lifetime than running shoes and am used to a bit of a variety in choice. Staying cool has now become my primary goal…the hot, sticky summer finally arrived this past week! Bring on the fugly! :-)

      • That’s the attitude. I stayed out of the water for many years due to swimsuit body image issues and later due to the exacerbating impact of water, especially chlorinated water, on my eczema. Now that my skin is in better shape I am hitting the water this summer.

  2. Actually I didn’t really post that because of Angelina, I’m trying NOT to weigh in on all that because I’ve written extensively about BRCA testing (with unpopular opinions on its usefulness), and have little new to say. I don’t want to fan the flames. I commented on Chemobrain’s blog my biggest complaint about AJ and the media now, and remain unsure as to whether I’ll do more. In truth I had the picture on my Tumblr a few times in the past 8 to 10 months, and was impressed with a caption I’d not see before, and have contacted the original post’s blogger, the Meanderer, in hopes he’ll do a meme or something. It should probably be posted every month.
    Oh, and I snore so bad I wake myself up. Thanks allergies!

    • Ahhhhh…I haven’t been following your blog long enough to get a handle on your take on BRCA testing and so I apologize for bringing you into the mix in that way. I went back and tweeked your link–but still kept it in the pieced because I wanted to show the unglamorous reality of this ‘bloody mess’.
      Glad I’m not alone in the snoring department! :-)

      • Oh no worries, I think we’re all in the mix whether we want or not…simply because she put herself in the position of speaking for all breast cancers. Not that she did it intentionally, it is just how she and us will be perceived by the media and then the non-cancer public will blindly follow. But like 90% of BC patients, I’m BRCA negative. She does not speak for me.

  3. Thank you for helping to add fair balance to this important and not at all glamorous procedure. I am with you on the one breast, how do you dress dilemma. I think we should start our own fashion line because what is available is no bueno! I was ranting around my kitchen when I read her op-ed piece and I off-handedly said “Not everyone wakes up to Brad Pitt next to their hospital bed.” And my incredibly loving, supportive long time partner Joe, said “Hey! Thanks!” We laughed over it, but he got the reasons behind why I was frustrated. Please beautiful celebrities try not to minimize the awful truth behind BC or its preventative treatments. It bloody hell sucks!!!

    • Trina, I hear you, girl! I’m in on the fashion line thing–I’ve been thinking a ‘bring my sexy back’ type of store for women going through medical drama for a year now. We might want to seriously talk at some point. Glad Joe is there for you! And I so agree–this bloody hell sucks sometimes–even when you are able to laugh about it!

  4. Reading this post meant alot to me. I have my share of pity parties for many of the same reasons. Somehow knowing there are others that understand does make it better. Thank you for sharing your journey in such a moving way.

    • Thank you, Kayleigh, for commenting. It does help to know there are others that understand and feedback like yours validates the effort of a piece like this, where I put myself and my relationship out there.

  5. Thought about you, of course, when I saw the Jolie story on Extra or something. What you have gone through IS different and feel free to have a pity party any damn time you want!! I am sorry that I had no idea of what your days and night have been like, esp while finishing a stressful school year!
    Oh, I did read the previous comments. Deep.

    Get that small business up and running! Instead of a Food truck, a sexy BC clothing truck??

    • Love you, Kel! Good news on the school front…seniors finished up Friday and since my history students all took EOCs Wednesday and Thursday–No Final Exams!!!!! The next two weeks are movies with mini-seminars on how to conduct research! The best news, however, is that I got the scores back from my first group of students that did their EOCs: Excellent (5); Good (8); Fair (2); and Needs Improvement/Fail (0)!!!!!!!
      I’m liking the idea of a mobile boutique, more and more…

      • Wow—that is absolutely incredible and I should have read this earlier!!!! No final exams and great EOC results! Great end to a school year!!!

  6. Pingback: Weekly Round Up – The Angelina Jolie Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  7. People have no idea how different it is to have a mastectomy when you have to because of breast cancer and on top of that have to take tamoxifen and start getting non stop hot flashes and all sorts of side effects. Yes she made her reconstruction sound so easy, yet she isn’t doing anti-estrogen treatment. People thinking you get a free breast job are so ignorant and don’t realize that the area is numb. Your choice not to have reconstruction is all your own and no one has any idea of the difficulties you faced with this disease. I did do reconstruction, and I had horrible problems because I had a radiated breast (recurrence after lumpectomy), and when I first woke up from the surgery with the tissue expanders in I was thrilled with my breasts. Then when I got my implants in and expanders out, over time the surgery did not work right and I had a ton of surgeries including a failed lat flap and finally found a fantastic plastic surgeon who accepted my insurance for full payment who really cared and did a great job. Like you, I liked the originals so much more! This stuff is no piece of cake and it’s hard. People who have not gone through this have no idea…..

    • So true, Susan. I’m sorry you ended up having to deal with such challenges with your reconstruction. One of the reasons I haven’t jumped on reconstruction was that I thought I was going to have to do radiation after my mastectomy and I didn’t want to have happen to me what happened to you. So glad women like you have shared your experiences, so that others can learn.

  8. I did not mean to put people have no idea…at the end since I already said it. I am so glad I found your blog since you found mine.

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