Cancer Chic

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The lovely Anna Crollman

While I never wanted to be diagnosed with cancer, having this disease has led to me meeting some pretty amazing people.

Anna Crollman is one of them. I discovered Anna’s fabulous blog, My Cancer Chic, while scouring Pinterest for tips on making my post-chemo hair grow back. Anna’s also a young breast cancer survivor, and she started the blog two years ago after struggling to find resources for beauty and style guidance for those during and post treatment and surgery.

And in a small world-type moment, I realized that Anna lives just down the road from me in North Carolina. So, I thought she and her blog would be a great subject for a fashion and beauty column I write for The News & Observer of Raleigh.

One thing Anna and I talked about during our chat was how alone young breast cancer patients can feel because most of the women diagnosed with this disease are not among our peer group. She does a great job of providing resources and inspiration to women of all ages dealing with this disease, but particularly those of us who are under 40.

If you’re in treatment, a survivor or just interested in great beauty and wellness tips from a stylish, vibrant young woman, I encourage you to check the blog out!

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John McCain and the Cancer Warriors

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Like most people, I was extremely saddened this week to learn that Senator John McCain has an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. I lost a cousin to this two years ago, so I know what a dreadful diagnosis this is.

In the wake of his announcement, the internet was flooded with messages of support for Senator McCain. It was encouraging to see people across the political spectrum all agree for once and rally around one of their own.

This morning, I read a piece in The Atlantic on Senator McCain and the language that’s been used to show support for him: “fighter,” “strong,” “tough.” The writer says:

“These are all just expressions, I know, things we say when we don’t know what else to say. But they also betray the American way of thinking about health—as an individual battle, where death is losing that battle.”

It’s funny, but until I went through a battle with cancer (see, another war reference!) myself, I never really noticed all the warrior/fight language associated with this disease. Even in my own mind, one of the first things I thought was, “I’m going to fight this.”

There’s something about these statements of steely resolve that do seem to give us power. Taking on a fight gives us a sense of control, even if we really have no control at all.

But here’s the thing–not everyone wins. Some battles are pretty much already decided before the first shots are fired. Some cancers are untreatable. Some cancers cannot be cured. Some cancers only seem to be beaten, then come back months, years, decades later with an angry vengeance. And people with those cancers get very sick, and then they die.

Did they not fight hard enough? Was their resolve too weak? How could they lose?

People always mean well when they urge cancer patients to fight, or remark about their positive attitude being so beneficial. And they’re not wrong–it certainly can’t hurt to have a fighting spirit and an upbeat outlook.

But that’s never enough to cure a disease. And statements like these, though unintentionally so, diminish the experience of those who don’t “win” their bout with cancer.

No one wants to think about the harsh reality of cancer: It kills people. But to turn away from that truth for the easier battle cries and pink-ribboned paraphernalia is to avoid having the important discussions about how we battle cancer before it attacks people–through research and innovation. And it overlooks the forgotten who are just trying to maintain as long as they can–Stage IV mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters–knowing their “fight” cannot be won.

I hope Senator McCain can beat this. But if he doesn’t, I hope his death will serve as a reminder that we have so much fighting yet to do to prevent this disease from striking in the first place.

One Year

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One year ago today, my life changed forever.

One year ago today, I got the news no one ever wants to get: “You have cancer.”

My first “cancerversary,” as it’s called by so many who’ve dealt with this nasty disease, felt almost like groundhog day. Last year, when I got the news, I was en route to Chicago for a business trip. The thing is, it’s a trip I make every year at the same time. So, once again, I’m in Chicago. And I feel almost like I’ve been reliving the events of last year.

Just like last year, I spent my layover in the Atlanta airport. And I spent today walking the furniture market in Chicago. I’m staying in the same hotel. Even the weather is eerily the same–hot and stormy.

Looking around this hotel room that looks exactly like the one I retreated to last year, those feelings of terror and despair feel closer to me than they have in a while. And yet, in this same space, I remember good things, too.

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The Chicago sky, last year

In that first awful night after getting the news, I holed up in my room to wallow. I cried–my body heaving with sobs that left me practically breathless. And then, I began to pray.

I’m not a particularly religious person. I don’t go to church. I don’t read the Bible regularly. But, I’m definitely a spiritual person. I pray a lot. I talk to God. And I have a pretty strong relationship with him.

That night, I begged. I bargained. I reasoned. “Please don’t take me now. My son still needs me. Please let me see him grow up.”

And in the midst of my agony, I suddenly felt calm. A strange feeling of peace washed over me, and somehow, I knew everything would be OK.

While some will say it was merely my mind playing tricks on me or whatever, I truly felt it was God letting me know things would be alright.

I’ve carried that moment with me throughout this past year. When things got really hard, and I feared the absolute worst, I returned to that night in this hotel. That moment of peace has sustained me through this ordeal. And though I’m still fearful, I keep that peace with me to calm the worry and anxiety that simmers deep within.

I’ve lost a lot this past year: My breasts, my hair, my ovaries, my peace of mind. I lost my innocence in the sense that I no longer trust my own body. It has betrayed me, and I’ll never be able to feel an ache or pain without that voice in my head wondering if it’s a sign of something much worse.

But I’m still here. And while I’ve lost so much, I’ve gained so many things, too. Perspective. A new sense of gratitude. A renewed appreciation for the gift of life. The knowledge that I am stronger than I ever thought.

Today has certainly been bittersweet, but mostly, it’s been a good day. I’m thankful to be here. To be well. To be alive. And for today, that’s enough.

 

A Small Change

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog (thank you!), you may have noticed I changed the name. When I started this thing, it was a diary of sorts for my journey through a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and all that goes with that.

But I sort of felt like the name focused too much on my breasts, when this experience is about so much more than those body parts. So, I decided a name change was in order. “Strange Trip” seems apt, as this is probably the most bizarre ride I’ve ever been on. Looking back at everything that’s happened in this past year is truly surreal.

Thanks for coming along with me–it’s been a smoother ride knowing so many are cruising along with me.

I Heart New York

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View from the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many years ago, I fell madly in love with New York City.

I love everything about it. The architecture. The culture. The pace. The noise. The seemingly endless choices–you can go, see, do, eat almost anything there. It’s truly magical to me.

The first time I ever visited, my younger sister Wendy came along with me. This year, we decided to make the trip together again for a weekend. We hopped a plane this past Friday and spent a couple days exploring.

And as I traversed streets I knew well, and discovered new things along those I’d never visited before, I realized something: In New York, I’m just another person. I’m not a person who had cancer. I’m not someone to be pitied. I’m just a woman with some wild, short curly hair.

At home, everyone knows what happened to me. My family, friends, coworkers, neighbors–they all see cancer when they look at me now. But surrounded by strangers who were too busy hustling through their own lives to pay much attention to me, I was just myself. Just another woman combing the racks at Century 21. Just another art lover marveling at a Jackson Pollock at the Met. Just another tired person hailing a cab at the end of a long day.

It felt nice to be anonymous. To not raise concern. To just move through the day like anyone else.

Aside from that, I got to do some really fun things while visiting. First and foremost, I got to visit Rue La Rue–the Golden Girls/Rue McClanahan-themed cafe. I am probably one of the biggest Golden Girls fans on the planet, so it was damn-near a religious experience for me.

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The actual phone from The Golden Girls!!!

I feel a special connection to Rue. I actually got to meet her almost 10 years ago (one of the most incredible nights of my life!), and knowing she, too, survived breast cancer makes me feel like she was truly a kindred spirit.

In honor of the visit, I donned my Miami-best, and the owner of the restaurant (who was friends with Rue) told me that if Rue were alive, she’d probably snatch the shirt right off me, she’d love it so much. Best. Compliment. Ever.

And speaking of fashion, I got to see the amazing Rei Kawakubo Comme des Garcons exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love weird, artsy fashion, and this delivered that in spades. Kawakubo is known for her outlandish, sometimes unwearable designs. These pieces are meant to challenge the conventions of fashion design and show how thought-provoking and artistic clothing can be.

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Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons

But best of all, I got to spend lots of quality time with my sister. We talked and laughed and had a really great time. She and I are of one mind when it comes to NYC–we love all the same things about the city and always have a blast exploring it together.

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Sisters selfie on a rooftop bar

It’s been almost 15 years since the two of us first came to this amazing city. So many things have happened in those years. We’re both practically different people now. But, in so many ways, we’re still the same girls. And I hope that never changes.