BRCA Surgeries: Lucky Number 7

When I was a little kid Atlantic City, New Jersey had no casinos. There was only the boardwalk, the beach and small hotels. Salt water taffy, Yoo-Hoo and hot dogs were my Jersey Shore staples.

This morning from my hospital bed while I waited for the final phase of breast reconstruction surgery I watched the destruction hurricane Sandy left behind. It is hard to fathom how much Mother Nature has reshaped not just the Jersey Shore, but many parts of the Northeast.

I am grateful. My friends and relations in that battered part of the world are safe. Grateful that my surgery went well. Grateful to be at home under Jim’s watchful eye with all three cats snoozing close by.

I was born in upstate New York and lived in New Jersey until age 10. When I say it takes more than a monster storm or a mess of surgeries to keep us down for long you better believe it.

BRCA Surgeries: Farewell Barbie Boobs

Since January 27th I have been without the single anatomical feature that seems to define the female breast more than anything else. Most people get candy for Halloween. I get nips.

Barbies in all their glory.

Of course my reconstructed breasts look nothing like Barbie’s perky, smooth perfection. When this next phase is complete, fewer of my Frankenstein scars will be visible, but the end result will never be gorgeous and that is perfectly okay with me. Why? I will look normal. That’s all I really want. Cancer-free and pity-free boobs.

I will be glad to rid myself of the sort of appearance that makes a professional bra fitter avert her eyes and offer platitudes. Yep. It happened last weekend in a swanky lingerie store. I’ve become accustomed to my under-construction self as has my spouse. Sometimes I forget the mangled Barbie look can be a big surprise to others.

Right now I’m focused on what has become a familiar pre-surgery routine. No booze, plenty of rest, exercise, no supplements of any kind, no pain medication (not that I need any) and having some fun. Compared to any of the previous 6 surgeries I’ve had this year, this one will be a cakewalk. It is still surgery though, and I hate the thought of going to the hospital.

The plastic surgeon drew lines with a purple Sharpie all over my chest and explained the nipple reconstruction technique she’d use, noting that afterward for about a week I would have “bolster dressings” to protect the new nips. I have this vision of spending a week looking precisely like the female robots from that old Austin Powers movie.

Move over Barbie, here comes my Fembot self.

Badass fembot in action.


More Surgery, Pisco Sours and A Really Good Movie

Just over a week until The Great Pumpkin brings me surgery number 7 for 2012. More cut and paste is the last thing I want for trick-or-treat day, but with a bit of luck it will be the last one in my BRCA surgical adventure story. That alone is worthy of celebration. On that same Halloween day my sister will have her pre-op appointment in preparation for her upcoming DIEP flap surgery. For my family, the BRCA rollercoaster continues.

Yesterday James and I spent a lovely day indulging ourselves. We had brunch at a superb restaurant in Portland’s Pearl District called Andina. It had been far too long since we enjoyed what they describe as “novoperuvian” cuisine. It’s really a marriage of the flavors and ingredients of many South American cultures with a new world vibe.

Enjoying a Pisco Sour at Andina Restaurant.

For those who may not know, Jim and I were once the owners of a Malbec vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina. From the traditional brandy (Pisco) to the quinoa studded shrimp, asparagus with chimichurri and an alfajore for dessert, dining at Andina was like an afternoon in the tranquil wine country of Mendoza. Although we got the short end of the stick on our vineyard investment, it was a memorable chapter in our lives. I wrote a brief memoir called “The Malbec Diaries,” available from Amazon in electronic format.

The Tiny Madam Vineyard in 2007, Uco Valley, Mendoza Argentina

We spent the afternoon shopping, soaked in the tub, watched football and had a 1998 Leonetti Cabernet with our dinner of grilled beef tenderloin, carmelized onions and Brussells sprouts. Not a bad send off for my last day of consuming alcohol until after I’ve recovered from surgery #7.

We capped off this delicious, lazy day with one of themost enjoyable movies I’ve seen in ages. Moonrise Kingdom. So beautifully directed by the quirky and brilliant Wes Anderson. Ah, love.

Moonrise Kingdom – a little jewel of a movie.

Pinkbashing: Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Pinktober is upon us.

It’s Pinktober. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It has become fashionable to complain about the pink tidal wave that engulfs us each October. Hurling insults at corporate America is hardly new, but now there’s growing anger towards all sorts of organizations that wave the pink flag. Why all the fuss about the pink proliferation?

First, a history lesson.

The Komen Foundation did not invent the pink ribbon. Cosmetics giant Estee Lauder and the magazine Self did that. They were inspired by a breast cancer survivor named Charlotte Haley who’d begun an awareness campaign distributing thousands of peach colored ribbons she’d made herself. At first they tried to work with her. The color of the ribbon was later changed to pink when Charlotte resisted the commercialization of her efforts.

Estee Lauder’s “Pink Collection”

Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been with us since the mid-eighties. It began as a collaborative effort between cancer charities and what is now the drug company, Astra Zeneca. Big business and breast cancer have always been connected. Given the rampant nature of the disease, is this any surprise?

What has changed over time is the sheer number of companies and groups that have jumped on the pink bandwagon. Savvy sellers recognized that “cause marketing” was another means to increase the bottom line. Little or no scrutiny went into how much money was raised or where it actually went. The focus of Breast Cancer Awareness Month has always been on early detection. Not prevention, not treatment, not the suffering of those living and dying every day from breast cancer.

The term pinkwashing was created by the group Breast Cancer Action to call attention to those groups and companies that claim to support the fight against breast cancer but whose products may be connected to the disease. It’s grown in scope to include shady charities or those who claim to make generous donations who really don’t do squat.

I do not mind the October pink parade. I also do not feel compelled to buy laundry detergent, yogurt, nail polish, bras, kitchen gadgets, football jerseys or anything else just because a company affiliates themselves with some aspect of the breast cancer battle. Many times I have refused to support organizations that don’t meet my personal criteria. Engage brain before opening wallet is my rule.

The most amusing fundraiser this Pinktober? The porno web site is donating one penny for every thirty views of selected boob videos. Total projected donation? Around $25,000 going to the Komen Foundation. A very nice chunk of change. Let’s hope those in power at Komen have learned their lesson and will focus on their mission, not politics. I am watching them closely to see if they will ever make the cut again in my own personal book of organizations I support. Right now Komen is still on my questionable list, although I’m sure my charming husband would not mind doing his part by watching some Pornhub boob movies. There is nothing wrong with buying something pink, looking at pink body parts or any other activity that keeps the ball rolling. We need all the help we can get.




Goofing Off

For an entire year I have looked forward to spending a week in Maui. This trip was planned shortly before I learned that 2012 would be spent having multiple surgeries. I will take a bit of the aloha spirit with me on October 31 when I have my next procedure.

Jim and yours truly at Mama’s Fish House in Maui.