Sunday, 26 January 2014

Boobs are Important. Really Important.

Back in December, I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon to discuss surgery options. In case you missed it, I have decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy of my left breast, in a genius move that will reduce or eliminate the chance of getting breast cancer ever again. Now, apart from being a genius artist and engineer, my surgeon is also really good to talk to. We were chatting about things that I am really passionate about, like reconstruction and young adult survivorship, and he mentioned this newish website called Healthy Debate. It's kind of like a medical forum that poses different questions that you can weigh in on about various issues pertaining to your personal health. Anyone can have an opinion, and many doctors and medical professionals add their opinions and expertise to help facilitate thoughtful and relevant discussions. My surgeon told me about a recent question posed about accessing reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. The long of the short of it is, should reconstructive surgery be offered as part of the treatment process. I think it's safe to say that I 100% believe that it should be. However, there are those out there who are so narrow minded, and quite frankly ignorant, that they don't think reconstructive surgery is necessary. One person in particular decided to write about it.

Everyone, meet Chris. I don't know a single thing about Chris, except for the fact that he seems to think that breasts are basically a part of a woman for aesthetic purposes only. Below is what he had to say:

"I vote No because reconstructive surgery is not part of cure, it is essentially cosmetic to shape a woman’s chest under clothing. However if we were not competing for limited funds I would vote Yes. There are unfortunately other treatment/curative surgeries for other cancers that would be competing for these funds. Prostate cancer continues to receive very little funding compared to breast cancer while it is just as common (1 in 6 men will get it ) and has a similar mortality ( 1 in 27 men will die from it ). Speaking from family experience, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up for breast cancer was streamline, not so for prostate cancer with delays , uncertainty and variable programs. Unfortunately we are still at the stage that men have to pay for prostate blood screening if they want to get tested. This bias has resulted in a lack of research funding such that prostate cancer is still not very well understood judging by the multiple treatment options offered and significant side effects of even investigating the disease with biopsies. I find that discussing funding for cosmetic procedures is out of place considering the urgent need for research and treatment funds for conditions such as this. The irony is November is prostate cancer month for the Movember Foundation which tries every year to raise awareness. As stated above, if we were not competing for limited funds I would whole-heartedly support cosmetic reconstruction for every woman who wants it."

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that breasts serve more of a function than just "shaping a woman's chest under clothing". In my opinion, he missed the point entirely. This article is about reconstructive surgery after breast cancer, and yet he somehow managed to start talking about penises. Now, I know the topic of penises is highly fascinating for some people, but that's not what this article was about. What really got me though is his complete lack of understanding what breasts really mean to women. They aren't about making you look good under clothes. They aren't just about sex appeal or sexiness either. They are intrinsically linked to what it means to be a woman. I know for a fact that some women may not have a close relationship with their breasts, but I do, and as a woman who has lost a piece of herself, and is going to lose another piece, I just think his response is laughable.

Now, because I'm me, and have no filter, and take issue with stupidity, I just had to respond. Here's what I said:

"As a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 23, I would 100% recommend that reconstructive surgery be considered part of cancer treatment and get funded as a priority area. I had a lattissimus dorsi flap reconstruction immediately following my skin sparring mastectomy. They were unable to save my nipple, but through a feat that I describe as a miracle in engineering, science and art, my surgeon was able to build me a new nipple from skin off my back. 

I am inclined to disagree with Chris’s comments above. Like so many others, he believes that breasts are merely for aesthetic purposes, something to help fill out clothes. Reconstruction is so much more than cosmetic, and I actually find such narrow-minded thinking laughable and quite frankly, absurd. More often than not, a woman's identity is tied almost entirely on how she looks. If a woman feels she looks beautiful, she will feel better, and if she feels good about herself, she will have a far greater chance of beating breast cancer. As a man, would you want to walk around without your testicles? They might not be as outwardly noticeable as breasts, but they are still intrinsically linked to how you feel as a man. Could one not argue then, that the only purpose that testicles and a penis serve is to fill out a pair of boxer briefs? Could one not say that prosthetic testicles are just cosmetic then? How would you feel when you took off your clothing, on the verge of intimacy with another person, and you had to stop so you can explain to someone why your testicles were gone and where those scars came from? Would that not make you feel less of a man? As a woman, breast cancer often robs us of not only our breasts, but also our hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, making us feel self conscious and often times ugly. It robs us of feeling beautiful and desired, of being human. Being faced with an ugly disease, shouldn’t we want to make women feel the best they possibly can? Shouldn’t we want to reconstruct right away, and give a woman a much dignity and support we can? At the end of the day, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is more than just her cancer. She is first and foremost a woman, and she wants to feel like a woman. I know I did. I was so worried about how I would look after. Never mind that I had a tumor that spanned the entire diameter of my right breast that had the potential to kill me. I was worried about how I would feel when I looked in the mirror after a shower, and about how I would explain it to other people, and I how others would feel. I needed, and was lucky enough, to have an immediate reconstruction. Without it, I don’t think that I would be in the place that I am today. I was angry enough over having cancer, I certainly didn’t need to feel self loathing and ugly because I was living with a flat, scarred chest. 

I know that immediate reconstruction is not possible in every case. Every cancer diagnosis is different, but I honestly believe that this needs to be part of the discussion, and I believe that it needs to be offered as an option in a treatment plan. Just because it is offered, and because it is part of the discussion, doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman will choose that path, but having the option available is a truly powerful tool on the path to recovery."

I think I did a fairly decent job at refuting his argument and basically turning his logic on him. It just really gets me when people talk about things that they have no understanding of. First of all, you're a man. A really really stupid, ignorant man. I am not saying that prostate and testicular cancer are any less important than breast cancer, but you honestly have no idea what breasts mean for a woman, or how they make a woman feel about herself. I would really appreciate it if you at least tried to learn these things, or at least try to marginally inform yourself before you decide to take to the internet and spread your ignorance. The point that I am trying to make is that in order for there to be any steps towards a cure, of any type of cancer, this competition about what is more serious needs to stop. I honestly think that's the biggest obstacle. People like Chris, who miss the bigger picture, need to open their eyes and minds and see that any treatment that goes towards helping cancer patients feel like people, is one step closer to a cure.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now. Later days duckies.

xoxo
Leah


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Making Things Awkward is Kind of My Specialty

One of the most profound and hilarious moments of my life happened while sitting in the office of my plastic surgeon discussing my impending mastectomy in 2009.

I'll give you a little background as to why I am writing about this moment. Today I had a consult with my plastic surgeon. The same genius (and I don't mean that in a sarcastic way at all) who helped me come out of all the breast surgeries I've had. I met with him today to talk about that one time I made an adult decision and decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy of my left breast (also I just have to point out that it's really weird to talk about my left breast when all I talked about for a really long time was the right) so I can basically eliminate my chances of getting breast cancer ever again. This was an entirely different experience from the first time I sat down with him to talk about mastectomies. The first time, I had no control. I was told what to do, where I had to be and what it was going to be like. For a control freak like me, this was an awful experience. I was angry and sad and confused that first time. I wasn't able to play much of a part in the decision making process. I was told what kind of mastectomy I was to have, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. But this time it's different. This time I get to make all the decisions. I was the one who decided to do this. It was on my own terms that I called up my surgeons to get the ball rolling. This time, I get a choice of how I want my breast removed and I get to weigh the options that have been given to me. I am almost drunk with the power that I currently  hold in my hands.

Going through this process, albeit a somewhat different process, has got me thinking about I dealt with it the first time. My conclusion is that I dealt with it very poorly. This time, instead of the anger and sarcasm that I pulled about myself like cloak to sheild me from the cold reality that I was faced with, I am excited. I know that sounds weird. Who could possibly be excited about removing their breast?! I've had a lot of questions, and I find that for the most part, people understand, or at least they really try to. Some people look at me like I'm crazy. They wonder why I would ever want to do this again if I don't have to. I don't have cancer in my left breast so why mess with a good thing? To them I say that I am being proactive. It's not a matter of if I get breast cancer again, it's a matter of when. I could be one of the lucky ones and never have it come back, or I could be entirely unlucky and have to deal with far worse consquences that I did before. So, to reduce the odds of bad things happening, I am taking the steps to go under the knife, and as I've said before, I am completely, 100% okay with this.

In November 2009, I first met my amazing surgeons. They have been absolutely wonderful throughout this whole thing, and I am happy to say that I have a very good relationship with all my doctors. They have been incredibly patient with me, even when I was being particularly bratty. When I was first faced with the prospect of a mastectomy, they told me that I was to have an immediate reconstruction. That was awesome. Not awesome at the time, for me anyway, was the fact that I had to have an implant put into my left breast. I never wanted to be that girl. I always thought that breast implants were silly, and if you had asked me if it was something that I would ever consider, I would have vehemently told you otherwise. When I was told that I had to have an implant I lost it. I lost my shit, and threw the biggest tantrum I have ever thrown (which was surpassed by that one time I yelled at this awful woman for 20 minutes in the hospital). I cried, and shouted, and was a complete and utter asshole-ish bitch. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why my breast, a breast that while on the smaller side, I had always found to be perfectly fine. I didn't want to have to go up a few sizes. I liked my small A cup. I was happy with it. I'm a tiny person and the last thing I wanted was giant boobs. I ranted, I railed, and through it all, my plastic surgeon sat there, patiently waiting for me to finish. After what had to have been the 100th time of me asking why he couldn't just leave the left one alone, he turned to me, with a straight face and said "because they don't make implants small enough to match your natural breast". That stopped me dead in my tracks. Just the way he said it, and the way that it came about made me really stop and think. It was one of the funniest and most profound moments of my whole cancer experience. I don't even know why, but it was.

Sitting in his office today, as he drew all over my chest with coloured sharpies, I couldn't help but be reminded of that moment. Reminded of how it made me sit back and take a look at what he was really saying. I think it was at that moment that I just decided to go with it. If I couldn't have any control, why fight it. The was to fight is by not fighting at all right? At least that's what I tell myself.

So what's the moral of this story? The moral of this story is that this is actually real now. It's one thing to talk about doing it but it's a completely different thing to actually go through with it. I know that this topic might make some people uncomfortable, but making things awkward is kind of my specialty.

Here's to many many more awkward moments!

xoxo
Love Always,
Leah

Thursday, 10 October 2013

I Did An Adult Thing

Hi Friends!

So, I know it's been a while. Life has been busy. I've been trying to get my shit together and figure out my life which is easier said than done. But I did make a kind of adult decision. Well it was an adult decision that is kind of a big deal. It's something that I have been thinking about for a long time. It's also kind of a serious thing, so if you came here for funny and lack of a filter, this might not be the best post for you to read. So what's this big decision you ask? Well, I haven't really told many people yet. Just the really important ones know. You know, the ones that if they were ever bitten by zombies, you would shoot them in the head before they turned because you love them so much (I've been watching The Walking Dead like it's going out of style). Those ones know. But very few other people do. I know a bunch of people might be mad that I choose to tell people in this way, but you have to understand that it's just easier for me this way, and it means that things are less awkward for you.

I've always been, and have actually made it kind of my mission to be as transparent, up front and in your face as can be with that whole one time I had cancer. Breast cancer isn't pretty and pink and a pair of mittens or a t-shirt you buy in the month of October, because some corporate entity decided that this particular cancer needed it's own month, as if it doesn't already take some much from so many people. Breast cancer is not a business. It's a real thing. It takes and takes and takes, and you can never get away from it. Even when you're done, you're never really done. There are always the appointments, the mammograms, the MRIs and the worry. The worry that one day, at one of these appointments your going to not get the two thumbs you. Instead you're going to get furrowed brows, hushed tones, and the words "tests" and "biopsy" are thrown around a lot. I never want to feel that feeling, or have that happen to me ever again, even though it's a lot more likely than I care to admit. I'll admit it. I have a gene. It's called BRCA2, and it's a sonofabitch. Basically, this means that my chances of getting stupid cancer again increase by a bunch. It's not really a matter of if I get it again, it's just a matter of when. Like a fucking ticking time bomb, that has no wires and no way to diffuse it. Well there is a way, which brings me to my adult thing. I have decided to have my other breast removed. A prophylactic mastectomy.

This isn't because of Angelina Jolie, or anything else. It's because it's been weighing heavy on my mind for the past almost 4 years. When I first got sick, and had genetic testing, my geneticist highly recommended that I get it removed right away. She was quite insistent actually. But at 23, I was completely ill equipped and totally unable to deal with it. I was bombarded by information and had more than enough hang-ups about this new part of me, or lack there of, to think about it. At 23, I cared more about how I would look, how it would make me feel and how other people would feel. I couldn't see past that. When people would bring it up, and by people I mean mostly my family and doctors, I would brush them off and tell them that I was waiting until I had a family, and then take care of it. But I've been thinking. What happens if I keep putting it off. Maybe I have a family. What if I get sick again, and what if it doesn't go that well for me this time. I could lose more than just a breast. And that really scares me. So, I've been thinking, and thinking, and I'm at a point in my life, I guess you could call it a crossroads, where I'm not sure where life will take me. What I do know is that I want to be around long enough to enjoy what ever direction that life decides to take me.

So I made this adult decision. Kind of funny if you think about it. The girl who is chronically fighting adulthood makes an adult, kind of life changing decision. All I can say is that I am just as surprised as you are. But in my surprise, I am strangely happy and really calm about my decision. I always thought that making this decision would be hard, but it really wasn't. I would like to say that I had a moment of clarity when I realized that I want to do, but I didn't. It just kind of happened. A natural, organic, logical process that I have finally decided to act on.

So ya, that's that. That my adult thing that I did. Sorry this is kind of serious shit.

Later days my doves!

xoxo
Leah

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Ikea, the Place Couples Go When They Want to Break Up

I am a firm believer that Ikea was created as a form of gladiatorial games. Except, instead of having some poor, brawny savage (at least according to ancient Roman standards), pitted against another poor brawny savage, slave or criminal, or against a lion, it's for couples. Ikea was designed as a really sick, sadistic form of couples therapy, and I 100% believe that this form of relationship Darwinism either makes you stronger or makes you want to kill one another.

My Gentleman recently acquired a lovely little place. It's quite nice and I like it. However,  he needed new everything. New dishes, a new television, and new furniture. So, being price conscious 21st century kids, we went to Ikea. Now I don't live with him, and I fully understand that it was his money we were spending, but I wasn't about to let him go by himself and pick out something completely god awful. No, my input was required. So off we went. On a good day, I only get mildly irritated by Ikea and their whole concept of herding people through their entire, ginormous store like cattle. My trips there are quick and dirty, in and out in no time at all. But this trip was not like that. We actually had to look at things and compare them to one another. One of the things about Ikea is that they try to make their customers as self sufficient as possible. This is either a really smart idea, or a really bad one. I'm going with a bad one. They try to make it as idiot proof as possible. The tell you where you can go to pick up your 12 million boxes, they give you handy instructions on how to put it together, but, and here's the kicker, they only give you instructions in pictographs. It's a good thing I minored in classics and have at least some experience with hieroglyphs. If I'd had known that Ra and Horus were going to show up on Ikea assembly instructions I would have studied epigraphy instead of ancient art and architecture.

Once you finally manage to get all the pieces laid out in what you think is the right order, comes the gargantuan task of actually putting them all together . But then you are faced with the fact that there are either too many extra pieces or too little, which then leads to bickering between you and your significant other. You bicker because one of you always swear up and down that you know what you're doing and that in the box, there are exactly enough pieces needed to assemble it. So you sit back, and watch in amusement as he tries, in vain to put together whatever cheap piece of crap he has before him. But soon, the novelty of hearing the swearing and the look of frustration gets old, and you just want the whole ordeal to be over so you can get on with your lives. Then you step in proceed to help in whatever way you can. This is the point when the strength of your relationship is tested. Either it goes smoothly and the two of you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours, or, you end up fighting about why it just won't work, and that crappy piece of furniture comes to symbolize you relationship. 

Luckily for me, my Gentleman and I managed to actually build several pieces of Ikea furniture, however, we pretend that it never happened.

xoxo
Leah

Friday, 2 August 2013

Is This Supposed to be a Joke?

Dear Relient K:

I have a question for you: is your new album Collapsible Lung supposed to be a joke? I have three words to describe my feelings when I first heard it. What. The. Fuck? What have you done?!

Gone are the clever lyrics and actual music, played by actual people, playing real instruments. You've replaced all your hard work with electronic drum beats and a boy-band-esque sound. I should point out that you are not Justin Bieber (thank god),  nor are you One Direction (again, thank god). Your new album is ridiculous and not in the good way that, The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek, and Two Lefts Don't Make a Right... But Three Do, was. It is devoid of any real musicality, or emotion. It's terrible, and it really saddens me.

You have undone all the work and progession that you put into Mmhmm, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, and Forget and Not Slow Down. I was so excited to listen to your new album. Forget and Not Slow Down was so good, and it was the one album I listened to over and over again throughout my cancer treatment and surgeries. Your lyrics resonated with me, and I so hoped that you would come out with something that was just as good, if not better. Instead, what I heard made my heart hurt. You talk about "hoodies in my car", with music that sounds like something Bruno Mars would come out with (and that's not a compliment). Why are you trying to be something that you're not? I understand that bands and artists need to evolve over time and that tends to change their sound. You proved that when you came out with Mmhmm. It was exciting to listen to because everything after that showed a real maturity. It seemed like you were more interested in putting out good music, and less interested in appealing to 13 year olds, and being main stream, top 40 artists. But your new album doesn't embody that progression. If anything, its a devolution. You are regressing, and that's really sad. I understand that people change, and that the band is going through some changes at the moment, however, that doesn't mean that you had to sell your musical souls to the autotune and electronic back beat gods. I'm just so utterly and truly disappointed, and I question whether you have the ability to redeem yourselves after producing this disastrous album.

I think the my main issue is that I don't understand why you put out this album? Is it part of an elaborate set up, in which you release the actual album and yell "Got you!" on all your fans who question how you could have produced the mess that is Collapsible Lung? Or, do you actually believe that it's a solid album and that it's what your fans wanted to hear? I certainly hope it's the former and not the latter. This album is insulting to both your fans and to the music industry. It's with a heavy heart that I skip over almost every single song on your new album with the exception of Don't Blink, which I think is its only redeeming quality.

All I can hope for is that you take a long hard look at your future, and hopefully come to the realization that you fucked up in releasing this, and that you go back to Relient K we all know and love.

Yours,
Leah


Monday, 22 July 2013

Call Centres: Another Circle of Hell



Two words: F*ck. You.

Hi Duckies,

I sit here and write you this as I am on the phone with Apple, and by on the phone I mean, waiting and listening to sub-par music and some automated mans voice that is telling me to be patient and wait for an adviser. You know what, maybe I would have more patience if you actually made your products compatible with each other, and  better yet, if your wunderkind program that is iTunes, didn't have so many goddam problems. Was it not just a mere 3 weeks ago when one of your poor employees felt my wrath because your shitty program wasn't actually downloading the album that I wanted? But wait, you still charged me for it. Going back and forth with some poor kid from God knows where was irritating, but not as irritating as listening to this shit. Seriously, I get that "all Apple advisers are still busy". No shit Sherlock. If they weren't I would obviously be talking to one by now instead of listening to dead air, which has replaced whatever crap they were playing. You know, if your shit actually worked properly I wouldn't have this problem. I would be calmly listening to all the new music that I have, instead of having to restore my iPod because no matter what I do, it won't show up on my actual iPod. And again, I've been charged for this. Next it's telling me that about 100 or songs that I purchased cannot be found. Isn't that just awesome. Something that I have bought and paid for is no longer in my possession. What a complete fucking joke. Get your shit together Apple, you're drunk. Go home, or back to Cupertino and fix yourself up. Have a cup of coffee and get your heads out of your asses.

Call centres were designed to bring a circle of hell to earth. Designed by some ungodly creature, who thought they would be helpful, they actually create mayhem and destruction. Usually by the end of a call centre call, one is left feeling discouraged and filled with rage, wanting to smash the closest breakable thing into a billion little pieces. This is how I am already feeling and I haven't even spoken to whatever useless twit that will take my call.

Oh wait! Can it be! A human voice! Good lord! That took forever. And he's a mumbler. Great, just great. Well duckies, wish me luck. or should I say, wish him luck? If I could I would reach through the phone, grab him by the collar, and yell "enunciate!" I have a feeling that I'm in for a frustrating night!

xoxo
Leah

P.S. I'm sorry that I've neglected everyone. I know I've promised it multiple times, but this time is different (this is actually a whole other post). I'm back now.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Do All the Things, or Do None of the Things: A Vicious Cycle

Sometimes I just don't know what I am doing with my life. One minute I'm like, "maybe I'll do this thing", which lasts for all of 5 minutes, and then I'm like, "no, this thing is the thing I want to do", and then you  have people telling you that you should do things A, B, and C, and it's all just so confusing and circuluar, that by the end of it, the only thing you want to do is sit on the couch, not wearing pants, and watching re-runs of Maury Povich (because watching the train wrecks that are other peoples lives makes it better, doesn't it?). Sometimes I feel so much pressure to be all, and do all the things for everyone and everything that I can't deal. Usually when this happens I get weird and intorverted and shut down and binge watch my favourite television shows instead of doing all the responsible adult things that I am supposed to be doing. This makes people like my lovely Gentleman worry about me and ask me if I'm fibbing when he asks if everything is fine. And technically it is fine, except for the fact that I can't seem to get my shit together. It's very counter-productive to being a functioning member of society. On the one hand, I'm afraid to miss out on anything and disappoint myself, and on the other I am afraid to disappoint the people around me. But then I think that all that matters is that I am happy doing the things that I do, and screw what everyone else thinks or expects me to do, and then I feel bad for thinking that. See, it really is just one giant, vicious cycle that you can't escape.

Come on Leah, get it together.