Balance

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d have to start by apologizing for the mess. I’ve got laundry everywhere and dirty dishes piled up so high that we may have to drink our coffee out of wine glasses. Or take turns slurping directly from the pot. Your choice.

It’s been one of those weeks again. Obviously. I can’t figure out exactly what it is that keeps me so busy, but lately I feel like I live in a whirlwind of constant activity and obligation. Got to be there, do that, pick up this, drop off that.

I just learned that a friend of mine has written a book called Balance for the Hurried Woman. Well, I really wish that woman would hurry up and publish it already! I need this book. I need balance in my life.

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I should know by now that every time my life gets overwhelming like this, something happens that gives me a harsh dose of perspective.

This is a small community. Everyone knows everyone else. For example, there’s a woman I know who has a daughter one grade ahead of my son, and we pass each other every day at pick-up time. Our paths have crossed several times over the years, and while we’re both friendly to each other, I wouldn’t really say that we are friends.

One day this this week, I noticed that she was wearing a pretty green scarf wrapped around her head. Nothing unusual, really; she’s got a knack for accessorizing, so I assumed it was a fashion choice.

A few minutes of casual chit chat while we waited for our kids, and I realized that it had nothing to do with fashion.

I hate cancer.

I don’t understand how she can just go on with life as though nothing is wrong. Well, I do understand, in a way. That’s the way life goes; got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. The world doesn’t stop just because one person is terrified or overwhelmed.

Still, I don’t know if I would be able to go through the motions if I were the one facing chemotherapy. I think I’d be in a helpless heap of fear on the kitchen floor.

After I talked to her that day, I went home and tried to tune out the sound of my son’s voice begging me to play a game with him. “I have to finish the dishes first,” I told him. “And there’s laundry to do and the place is a mess.”

And then I thought about the woman with the pretty green scarf.

I sat down and lost two games of backgammon but won a round of Yahtzee by three points. I also learned that I will never beat that child at Hide & Seek in this apartment because the only place I can hide my big ol’ self is in the bathtub behind the shower curtain, and he’s smart enough to always look there first.

Look, I know the dishes and laundry still have to be done, and I understand that there are people out there who have figured out how to balance their responsibilities while still having fun with their kids. I’m just not one of those people, I guess.

Funny thing, balance. I loved gymnastics as a kid, and my favorite part of every class was the balance beam. Some people were afraid of falling off the beam, but I wasn’t. I knew it was exactly four inches wide and sturdy and perfectly straight, and I would be fine as long I didn’t look down, as long as I kept my head up and my eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

I knew I’d be okay as long as I had faith in what was beneath my feet.

I’ll get back there, eventually. I’ll find my balance in life, as long as I keep my head up and eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

In the meantime, I’ve still got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. But those things are all just going to have to wait if my son wants to play backgammon or if I see a scarf-wearing neighbor in need of a friend.

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This post is part of Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli. Please check out some of the other posts on this theme!

Everybody Needs ’em

There was a boy in my sister’s grade in school who wrote a song that we all affectionately referred to as “The Boob Song.”  It had several memorable verses and a rousing chorus that went something like “Everybody wants ‘em, everybody needs ‘em, they’re boobs BOOBS!”

I have long since forgotten the young composer’s name, along with some of the finer points of the song, but that chorus is forever burned into the deepest recesses of my memory and will not go away.  Boobs.  Titties.  Chi-chis.  Hooters.  Ta-tas.  Big ones, little ones, perky or saggy.  We dress to hide them, make them look bigger, cover them up or reveal them.  We spend a fortune on bras to push them up, minimize them, support them or simply strap them down.  I have a friend whose bra doubles as a purse, storing everything from loose change to Driver’s License and possibly even a change of clothes.

And now that I’ve made you all incredibly uncomfortable or at least made you start to question my orientation, let me throw a few statistics at you.  According to the American Cancer Society, here are some estimates for breast cancer in the United States in 2014:

  • About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer

To put that into perspective, the number of new cases in 2014 will be equal to roughly double the size of the population of Lansing, Michigan.  The number of breast cancer deaths is almost exactly equal to the population of the town I grew up in.

But there’s more.

  • 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime
  • Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, second only to skin cancers.
  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
  • The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is about 1 in 36 (about 3%).

It’s October.  National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We all put pretty pink ribbons on everything from ink pens to coffee mugs.  We wear pink t-shirts with catchy slogans, and our sons wear bright pink socks with their football uniforms to increase awareness.  We play silly games on Facebook and go braless for a day, or we spread funny memes about saving “Second Base” or whatever. We participate in 5K runs and bake sales and every possible kind of fundraiser there is.

All of that is great.

But there’s more.

Ladies, we need to talk. Put away the embarrassment and social niceties and pleasant little euphemisms and really talk.

All of the fundraisers and awareness campaigns won’t help if we don’t take a little bit of responsibility for our own health, our own bodies. We need to get our mammograms or breast ultrasounds.  We need to go to the doctor for our annual visits and get that incredibly awkward and uncomfortable breast exam.

I know.  Their hands are always cold.  The person performing the mammogram invariably has bad breath or b/o, and they get so far inside your personal space that you feel like they owe you dinner and a movie afterward.  They lift and squeeze and manhandle until you feel violated. And the basic exam in the doctor’s office isn’t much better; lying there exposed while a virtual stranger touches, presses and kneads one of the most personal and intimate parts of your body and you can’t do anything but count the ceiling tiles.

But there’s still more.

Ladies, these are your breasts, boobs, titties, or whatever.  You should know them.  You should be performing your own breast self-exam every single month.  Again, I know; it’s awkward and uncomfortable.  Do it anyway.  Get your boyfriend or husband or girlfriend to help, if that makes it more pleasant. Whatever it takes.  Just do it.

All the awareness campaigns and fundraisers in the world can’t do a bit of good if breast cancer goes undiagnosed.

My mom was 38 years old when she found the lump on her breast.  It was the late 1970’s, and her doctor laughed at her for being worried.  He told her that she was too young for breast cancer, and that lumps in that particular spot on the breast are never malignant.

He was wrong.

She underwent a modified radical mastectomy when I was in middle school.  She went through chemotherapy and radiation and she beat the odds for a while because she was a pushy broad who refused to let a doctor dismiss her concerns.  She lived long enough to see us all graduate, long enough to meet two of her future sons-in-law, long enough to hold her first grandchild.

She was 45 years old when it came back, 46 when she died seven months later.

She was not a statistic.  She was Kay.

A few weeks ago, I learned that another one of my friends has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is young and strong and otherwise healthy, and has a support network of friends and family that most of us could only dream of having.  She is a kind soul, a beautiful person inside and out, with a wicked sense of humor and a terrific laugh. This world cannot afford to lose her.

She is not a statistic.  She is Melissa.

It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives.  Take care of the kids, manage the house, go to work, complain about the ex.  It’s easy to worry about everyone else and put our own needs on the back burner.  “I’ll do it next month,” we tell ourselves.  “I’ll get my mammogram next year,” we say.

Knock it off.

Take care of yourselves, ladies.  As embarrassing, awkward, scary and uncomfortable as it may be, you are the only one who can make this decision whether to take care of yourself or not.  Early detection saves lives.  Period.

And isn’t your life worth a few minutes of discomfort?

Hooters and Chi Chis and Boobies, Oh My

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I am tired of hearing about Angelina Jolie’s boobs.

For those of you who live in caves or have had no access to the most important news story on every possible outlet, Angelina Jolie recently announced that she has undergone a “preventive double mastectomy” because she tested positive for the BRCA1  gene, which shows an increased risk for breast cancer.   Reporters are singing praises for her bravery, and Brad Pitt has gone public to say, with moist eyes, how much he still loves her.  She says she did it so that she can be there for her kids in the future.

Let me see if I’m understanding this correctly.    A famous millionaire was able to pay for a very expensive medical test that most of us can’t afford, and which is not covered by most insurance.

She then chose the double mastectomy, followed by expensive reconstructive surgery that made her famous breasts even more beautiful and famous than they were before.

Her loving man still loves her despite the best, most lovely set of tits that money can buy.

She wants to be there for her children.

Aww, let’s nominate her for sainthood.

Unlike the average woman, who can’t afford to be tested for the BRCA1 gene, she was able to make an admittedly difficult decision.  And unlike the average woman, that decision wasn’t made more difficult by the prospect of living the remainder of her life with a disfigured body – because, unlike the average woman, she could afford a terrific plastic surgeon afterward.

She is being lauded for raising awareness of the genetic test for BRCA1.  I find that amusing because awareness isn’t the problem.  Most women are aware of the test.

I know that I have been aware of the test since I had the first lump removed from my breast ten years ago.  My doctor told me about the test, told me how much it would cost, and explained that my insurance would not cover it.  Then he reminded me of my high-risk status because of my mothers’s diagnosis at age 38, and sent me on my merry way for my biopsy.

Awareness of the test isn’t the problem.  Affordability is the problem.  It needs to be made affordable to the average person, and it needs to be covered by medical insurance just like any other preventive testing.

Let’s talk about bravery.  Lori, who survived and became an outspoken advocate for her Sisters in Pink.  Her best friend Dee, who lost the battle before her thirtieth birthday but never, ever stopped fighting.    Kay – my Mom – who fought it twice and only survived long enough to hold one of her seven grandchildren.  Kristy.  Delores.  Sherry.  Donna.  Aunt Noni.  Chris.  Even Pam, the first Mrs. Big Guy.   The list is too damn long.

Every one of those women loved her children and wanted a future with them just as much as Angelina Jolie wants a future with hers.

Every time I hear someone on TV talk about Angelina Jolie’s bravery and difficult decision, I get angry.  I can’t help it.  I’m sorry, but she’s no braver than the women who fight breast cancer every day.  The only difference between them and her is that she has the money to be proactive.

This whole thing strikes me as being a bit Marie Antoinette-ish.   If the poor were starving, Marie Antoinette declared, then “let them eat cake!”   And now, if you’re worried about breast cancer, Angelina Jolie crows “let them be tested!”

Angelina Jolie is not a role model in this situation.  She’s a woman who was rich enough to find out if she was at risk, and rich enough to do something about it.  That’s all.