October 2009

What is it About Prayer?

My friend Bruce emailed last week and told me that his partner of 19.5 years has leukemia and is having a bone marrow transplant in a few days. Why is it that my first instinct was to tell him I’d pray for them? My confusion stemming from the fact that I tossed conventional prayer out the window long ago (right along with my Catholicism). So, instead I told him “I’m not the praying type,” but that I’d be holding them both near and dear to my heart in the coming weeks. That’s the absolute truth, but it still doesn’t sound as solid, as comforting, as results-oriented as “I’ll pray for you.”

In his reply, I was reminded of the many people who prayed for me and how grateful I felt for the good energy these folks (many of them strangers) pointed in my direction. He wrote, “it’s been really interesting to see in my circle of friends, near and extended, how many people either say that ‘you may be surprised, but I pray, and I’d like to pray for you.'” Then he told me this story that (with his permission) I’m posting here because I found it really touching. For context’s sake, Bruce and his partner, Stan, live in New York City with Terry, their adopted rescue Greyhound.

A Thai hairdresser who works near here would always stop to admire our dog, saying every time, “Beautiful. Like tiger.” Our dog leaned his head against her a few weeks ago , she looked at his soulful eyes, and said, sort of out of nowhere, “Is he okay? You know, I pray for people healing.” She said she often offers prayers to Buddha for her clients–she sends a donation to the temple in New Jersey she goes to. So I told her a bit about Stan, asked if she would pray for him, wrote his name on a piece of paper and wrapped it in a couple of dollars. (You know, even in cynical New York, this seems reasonable–we’ve seen this woman for well over a year, and she clearly has no interest in hitting people up for money.) so now I’ve got her enlisted too. When I got home, Stan smiled and said, “It can’t hurt.”

My thoughts exactly—it can’t hurt.

Thinking of you Stan and Bruce… And, to all of those who prayed for me, thank you.

Blogging for the Man

As of last Monday I am the temp blogger for Time Magazine’s Wellness blog. (I would have posted sooner, but I’ve been blogging my brains out.) So far, the 3-week assignment is fun but a helluvalotta work. I’m supposed to post 4 to 6 times a day—a far cry from the 1 to 2 posts a month I squeeze out here. Not to mention I’m spending (on average) 2 hours writing each post so my work schedule is U.G.L.Y. My editor swears that once my “writing metabolism” revs up, I’ll be whipping out posts faster than you can say, “embargo, what embargo?” But, alas, by the time that happens, the gig’ll be up and I’ll be back to navel gazing. The upside? I’ll be posting here more often to ward off blog withdraw.


Yesterday, I spoke with a reporter from the Detroit News. She is writing a story about breast cancer awareness month and was interested in talking to folks who are less than tickled pink by the proliferation of pink ribbons. (Who, moi?) I thought I’d blogged forward and backward about this topic, but I was caught a bit off guard by what seems to be the most obvious question of all.

“So, why is pink NOT your color?” she asked.

(Insert forehead-smacking moment here.)

How could I have not written at length about why (exactly) pink is not my color! Okay, loyal readers (all 3 of you) know that I am not a card-carrying member of the rah-rah, breast cancer sisterhood. Hence, maybe the name of my blog is self-explanatory. But I welcomed the chance to answer her question and thought I’d do so here as well. Because, believe it or not, until I was tarred and feathered in pink last February, I thought pink was a swell color.

Let me explain. In those awful two weeks after the “C-bomb” dropped, Mary and I schlepped around shopping for a breast cancer surgeon. My first inkling that  pink was no longer my innocent, cherry, childhood friend was when I entered the first breast surgeon’s waiting room. It was as if a flamingo had just vomited on the place. My eyes stung at the pink upholstery on the chairs, the pink wall-to-wall carpet, and the pink window treatments. The staffs’ outfits matched their surroundings, like lizards that evolve to look like rocks or leaves. Every nurse was peppered with pink-ribbons from her lapel pin to her pink shoelaces. And the pink suffocation didn’t end when you escaped the office, it followed you home, like a virus.

Every time I consulted a breast cancer surgeon, I left with a bag of pink SWAG. I felt as though I’d just attended the breast cancer Oscars–or a birthday party for 5-year-olds. I kid you not, I have a box of breast cancer tchotchies in my linen closet. (Seems like hubris to recycle that breast cancer business—never know when you’re going to need a brochure on metastasis.) Each goody bag revealed various assorted breast cancer bric-a-brac including a pink water bottle to quench my thirst after sitting in the waiting room for hours, pink binders to hold my important medical papers, a pink day planner to help me remember my radiation and chemotherapy appointments, a pink pen to write them down with, and a pink journal in which to record my pinkest of pink thoughts. (Just so you know…I am not making this up.)

Now, just for kicks, imagine a man newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. Picture his doctors and nurses showering him with baby-blue baubles. Maybe his gift bag includes a blue beer cozy, blue-ribbon-bedazzled sweat socks, and a blue notebook to keep track of his deep man-thoughts about how it feels to lose a part of his masculinity. Imagine the man slinging his blue tote over his shoulder on his way out the door. Let’s stop and ask ourselves: Is this supposed to make the man feel better? Does his possession of a blue-ribbon festooned notebook make him feel welcomed into the “sacred brotherhood” of prostate cancer patients? Did a chipper “survivor” pop into the examination room to hold his hand and shoot him knowing looks while the doctor outlined his surgical options? (Again, I’m not making this up.)

This scenario sounds insane when you put a man in the picture, but this is exactly what happened to me last February, and I’m guessing it happens to thousands of women every year. Granted, some breast cancer patients undoubtedly eat pink ribbons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and that’s fine, but let’s make some room for those of us who aren’t hungry.

This pink-coating of breast cancer makes me want to scream until I’m pink in the face. What would I yell? Oh, here are a few jewels that come to mind: For starters, I’m an adult, not a fairy princess. I don’t want to join your pink sorority. I have a deadly disease, not a boo-boo you can cover up with a giant pink Band-aid. I don’t want a fucking pink day planner. What I need is a surgeon who will treat me like an intelligent person, a person who needs accurate, concise, no-bullshit information much more than she needs a linen closet overflowing with pink gewgaws.

And while I’m on my pink soapbox, I would add: Don’t use your pinkest, most upbeat voice to tell me that radiation will give me a “virtual breast lift” by tightening the skin around my breast or that reconstruction will give me the “breasts I’ve always wanted”—all expenses paid! And stop waving your pink wand, like I’m 8 instead of 38. Pink is cute. Pink is frilly. Pink is for little girls. But there is nothing cute or frilly about having your breasts carved off and your estrogen levels chemically decimated to the point that your libido is a distant memory and your genitals turn to sandpaper.

Do I want to shroud myself in black? No.

Am I a negative, angry person who wants to simmer about her disease, her brush with mortality, her troubles on Tamoxifen? No.

What I am is a smart, curious, thoughtful person who needs a little pink-free space to wrestle with her breast cancer demons. Because no amount of forced pink smiles, pink walks, and pink banners will undo what cancer has done to my body and my psyche. The hardest part is that I know there are other women out there who feel the same, but I can’t see them or hear them because we are all drowning in an ocean of pink.

Want fries with that?

I’m cranky. Today is the first day of breast cancer awareness month and everywhere I look some asshole is slapping a pink ribbon on their crappy product and calling it charity. At the grocery store yesterday, I saw a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade festooned with a pink ribbon. Really? Does no one care that drinking ups your risk of breast cancer? Yes, one must drink in excess but, honestly, isn’t that the point of making alcohol taste like pink lemonade? Have these people no shame?

Lord help me, it’s going to be a LONG month.

Instead of kvetching about everyone else making a buck, why not start to exploit my own “survivor status.” For instance, my short but snappily illustrated article in this month’s O Magazine is about new legislation aimed at ending the practice of “drive-thru mastectomies.” When my editor tossed me this softball assignment last July, I had to swing. Who better to cover this topic than a gal who detoured through the mastectomy drive-thru lane not once but twice! Who cares that they “straightened up” my story by editing out a mention of Mary or that they inserted a huge error into why I needed to revisit the OR in the first place. ‘Cause, hey, I was only too happy to cash the check. And, after all, it’s only money. Right?