Healthy Tatas

a blog for women and the people who love them.

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The foundation of your eternity

The other day, my husband and I were returning from a trip late in the day. I told my husband that I would get on the shuttle bus to the car and come back and pick him up while he waited for our bags. When I got to the shuttle, it was empty. I ended up sitting on the bus for almost 5 minutes by myself, before anyone else started showing up. People continued to trickle in for quite a while. I sat patiently waiting as they all got on the bus. After 15 minutes I called my husband and he had already got our bags. Since the driver didn’t seem to be anywhere near ready to take off, I told him to go ahead and head on over. After about 5 minutes, the driver was ready to leave. All in all, I had waited almost a half an hour. I called my husband to see how near he was. He said he could see the shuttle from where he was at. I asked the driver if he could wait, but a very obnoxious woman on the bus started screaming at me that she was tired and wanted to go. I explained to her that I had been the first one on the bus and had waited patiently for everyone else, so she could wait for me. She went ballistic, so the bus left without my husband. In addition, she got everyone else riled up against me on the bus, so that when I got dropped off, not one person moved their bags out of the way for me to get my bags. With my arm lacking lymph nodes, I had to search through and move everyone else’s luggage to get to my bags. I couldn’t believe that in a group that large, there was not one compassionate person.

Having faced the true possibility of death and the loss of dignity that accompanies cancer, I guess I have a different perspective about human kindness. When you are facing an “estimated life expectancy” you begin to ask very philosophical questions, such as:

What kind of life did I lead?
Did my life matter?
Did I leave the world better than I found it?

I thought about missed opportunities. Times when I had the opportunity to do something nice and giving for another human being, but didn’t. Fortunately, that list was very short, but even so, I felt tremendously guilty about them. When I reflected upon those times, usually what was stopping me was something that truly had no meaning to me today. Waiting 10 minutes to help a fellow human being seems so insignificant when you are facing the end of your life. I realize now, that by passing up those opportunities, I did not just miss the opportunity to enhance my life by doing a kind act, but I actually diminished my own significance by being so selfish. It’s as if in the marathon of my life, I took several steps backwards with each one of these instances.

In contrast, when reflecting upon those occasions in which I actually did do nice things for people, I relive the joy of those people over and over again. It never diminishes and when I was facing death, THOSE were the memories that comforted me. THOSE were my answers to the questions above. If my life has been a marathon, then these random acts of kindness were sprints that propelled me faster and further than anything else.

And acts of kindness don’t need to be anything more than waiting a few extra minutes for someone’s husband, or buying the 12 inch sandwich and giving the other half to a homeless person, or helping an elderly person get big bags of potting soil into their car. They often involve little more than small amounts of your time and effort, but end up being the stuff your eternity will be built upon.

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When a charity falls from grace.

Last year, while I was in the midst of chemotherapy for breast cancer, the Susan G. Komen foundation cut funding for mammograms to Planned Parenthood, putting millions of low income women at risk of dying from breast cancer. I remember being completely outraged at this, as I had given hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to this organization to help women detect and treat breast cancer. I, myself, used their website to get information and had referred many people to them for resources. My initial response was to commit to never giving them another dime. In fact, many of my friends have kept that commitment. The response was overwhelming and within days, they had reversed their decision (and I must give kudos to my local San Diego chapter for never having gone along with the ban from the get-go). By the following week, the woman who had been responsible for this highly personally political move (a move that had nothing to do with breast cancer) was gone. Within a few months, Nancy Brinker (founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and sister of Susan G. Komen) resigned her position as CEO, and although she maintains that it had nothing to do with the Planned Parenthood debacle, it cannot have helped.

Yesterday, the news broke that Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he doped while he was racing in the Tour de France. Now as of this writing, no details have been released, and I’m expecting some fancy wordplay to the effect that he doped but for some reason it wasn’t like everyone else or that it was done without his knowledge or that he only used caffeine, blah, blah, blah. Time will tell. But the fact remains that 10 years ago, while I was training for my first triathlon, I slipped on my Livestrong bracelet and vowed not to take it off until they found a cure for cancer. This morning, I actually took it off, stopped, and then put it back on.

You see, the Komen foundation debacle has taught me a thing or two. First, cancer doesn’t really care how angry you are at anyone. The Susan G. Komen foundation has done a tremendous amount of good for women and had they persisted with the ban against funding Planned Parenthood, I definitely wouldn’t be writing this particular blog. But they immediately corrected the action, even though that movement was met with hostility from the anti-woman groups who oppose Planned Parenthood. They got rid of the person responsible for that decision and sadly the woman who hired her had to step down as CEO. Am I still angry that they even ventured to go in that direction? A little. However, there’s something bigger than my offended feelings at play here. There are the lives of women in the balance and the Komen foundation is there for all women at any stage of their Breast Cancer journey, regardless of their political affiliation (or lack thereof). They have and continue to do some really good things. I often refer women to them who cannot afford mammograms or need more information about breast cancer (mind you, there are many great breast cancer NPOs out there and I do refer to those organizations as well but Komen is so well known that people tend to find them easier). I realized that when it comes to cancer, we need to all work together on this.

Now cut to the Livestrong Foundation. Am I pissed-off at Lance Armstrong for lying about doping? Yes, I am, but I’m even more pissed that as a cancer survivor- and not just a cancer survivor, but a stage 4, less than 20% chance of survival cancer survivor- he would put cancer causing substances into his body after he was given such a remarkable second chance at life! I have recommended his book, “It’s Not About the Bike,” to everyone I know of with stage 4 cancer. In it, he says that he would never do that, precisely because of what it would mean for a recurrence of his cancer. So yes, I am extremely outraged at Lance Armstrong. But I put the bracelet back on this morning because I realize that this one man is not the fight. Like the Komen foundation, Livestrong is on a mission to beat cancer. Like the Komen Foundation, Livestrong has done and continues to do some remarkable things to help fight cancer. Like Komen, Livestrong is very highly rated by for the way it allocates its funds. Like Komen, Livestrong will continue to help millions of people battling this disease. And for me, that is the overriding factor.

When scandals like these occur, we have to be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m sure Lance Armstrong will resign from his position at Livestrong and distance himself from the foundation. This is a good thing. For those of us who are battling this disease (or love someone who is), we need to realize that these foundations are not the people who started (or even run) them. Just because we don’t like the person or people associated with the organization shouldn’t negate the good that these organizations do (and have done) for others.

It would be something completely different if we were talking about allegations of financial misconduct within the organization itself. With all the checks and balances that NPOs have today, widespread misallocation of funds (such as huge administrative overhead) shows a complete loss of commitment to the cause. Organizations that engage in such activities take donations away from the honest ones who actually commit to (and usually accomplish) doing good things for their causes. I refer, once again, to to investigate any organization you are contemplating making a donation to. In the cases of these nefarious organizations, I really do believe that one should take their money elsewhere.

But we are not talking about financial misconduct with either of these organizations. Even with Komen and the cutting of funding to PP- it’s not as if they were giving all the executives huge pay raises with the money they cut. This was the crusade of one person who put her personal political agenda ahead of the lives of women. They got rid of her and the woman who hired her. As far as an organization goes, I can’t really ask for anything more. And as cancer crusaders, we must let bygones be bygones and move forward in this fight. As with any battle, remove the Generals, but don’t get rid of the army. After all, cancer doesn’t care that Lance Armstrong lied. Cancer only cares about one thing and that’s killing us and/or the people we love. We cannot afford to let our hurt feelings do away with some of our best weapons in this fight.

Note: this blog was not intended to be a political discussion about Planned Parenthood or abortion. I have a political blog in which I will entertain questions and comments about that issue. See my post at The Liberal Diva.

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Bee Sting

The Sarcastic Boob

Some weeks ago I posted Breast Cancer: The Musical.  Well, here is something you won’t want to miss: a shadow puppet show.  The craft is quite impressive, but as for the production itself? I’ll let you be the judge.

So get in touch with your inner mother earth, put on a few dabs of patchouli oil, don your very best home spun clothes, and settle in for Bee Sting. (Don’t shoot the messenger.)


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The Silver Linings of Breast Cancer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. It is also the month that I started chemotherapy. It’s hard to believe that one year has passed already, and as I sit and write this, I am finding it hard to “get into” breast cancer this year. At the same time, I can’t help but think that this is completely normal since for the past year, my life has pretty much revolved around breast cancer. I am finding myself at a crossroads of sorts. On the one hand I want to get as far away from breast cancer and get on with my regular life and on the other, I sort of miss some of the parts of my life that were effected by it.

Now I realize it sounds crazy to say that I miss breast cancer and its treatments and in fact that’s not what I miss at all. However, I do miss being able to do nothing for a while. Lazing in front of the television or in bed was actually something that I really didn’t get to do very often. My chemo was on Wednesday and typically with chemo you feel good on the day you have it and the day after. It’s the third, fourth and fifth days following that are usually your “bad” days. After that, you go back to normal- especially given the new anti-nausea drugs they have on the market. I found that I was pretty much able to do almost everything I did when I was not on chemo. But I digress.

My bad days were Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A “bad day” means that you’re just too tired to do anything.  One of the things I miss most about my “bad days” were the weekends spent with my son, Max. He was 11 when I was going through chemotherapy, and since the weather was cold, we would snuggle in bed together watching our favorite show “Psyche.” Often I would fall asleep during the show, so we would have to “re-watch” it, which was fine with both of us.

Prior to starting chemotherapy, I used some of my American Express points (which I had been saving up for years for a family trip) to purchase an iPad. Max and I love to do hidden object games, so every other weekend I would buy one and we would play it together. Often, it would be cold and rainy outside and we’d be hunkered down under the covers, playing these games together. I have to say, I miss those days. If he had been a few years older when I got sick, we never would have had those memories, but because the timing of my illness was so perfect, I was able to spend those last precious days of his boyhood with him, and it really brought us so much closer together.

Another thing that I began doing on my bad days, was baking bread. Not in the bread machine, but with my mixer. I found that because much of bread baking involves waiting for it to rise, it was the perfect thing to do when you only have enough energy to get out of your chair and walk across the kitchen. I ordered some sourdough starter online and got into baking those types of bread. The beauty part of this “activity” was that after the bad days are over, I would have delicious loaves of sourdough bread to take to my friends who brought me meals and pitched in to help my family while I was ailing. I kept my starter alive over the warm summer months (when it was just too hot to bake) and now that the weather has turned cold, I can’t wait to start baking again.

I also miss the “excuse” of breast cancer. Not so much for other people, but for myself. When I was going through treatments for breast cancer, I never felt guilty if I didn’t feel like doing things (like exercise). However, one year later, I REALLY don’t feel like doing things, yet feel guilty for it. Everyone tells me to give myself a break, but after you’ve had this illness, I think you get tired of giving yourself a break. I miss not being able to excuse myself from overachieving.

This is going to sound very strange but right now, I miss being bald. My hair began growing back shortly after I finished chemo last January. By the time I started Radiation in March, I had stopped wearing head coverings (except for the hat I wear outside in the sun- which I wore before I ever got diagnosed). Now, my hair is about 4 inches long, but you would never know it because it is extremely curly. People who have known me my whole life know that I’ve always had long, long wavy hair. Surprisingly, I actually didn’t mind being bald that much and began going out in public with no head covering (a trend I see more and more with women). But this short curly stuff is driving me mad!! My hair dresser has done a fantastic job of giving me blond highlights, which are very flattering and everyone else loves my hair (just as I love the regrowth on my friends who have had breast cancer). And I suppose it looks just fine- but it’s not me.

And there lies the gist of things. A year later, I’m not me. I really liked the person I was before breast cancer and I don’t want to lose her. I’ve changed because of breast cancer, and I’ve always felt that change was good. But now I am in menopause with short hair, no energy and an extra 20 lbs. The menopause is permanent, I realize, and I’m not as bothered by that as I am about the changes that I’m not so sure are not permanent. My hair will grow back, but will my energy? I want to get back into doing my endurance events, and I’ve signed up for Team in Training to do a triathlon in March of next year. But I also feel like I’m a completely different person. All the years I spent cultivating myself so that I could be the rose I was- were those for nothing? Did that bud die with no new ones on the horizon? I think not. I’m just in between blooms and I think the next one will be more beautiful than the one before it, because that too is another silver lining of breast cancer.


How I Bitch-Slapped Breast Cancer

I’ve mentioned before how I am an endurance athlete. Every year I run the Disneyland Half Marathon and have done so since it the first year it started. Last year, just 5 days after getting diagnosed with breast cancer, I ran my personal best with a time of 2:44:12 (not a great time by any stretch of the imagination, but not embarrassing either). This year, after going through chemotherapy and radiation I had a few things working against me. First off, while I was going through radiation, I was on anti-depressants. I really wish hadn’t taken them now, since I’m pretty sure they are what zapped my energy, which I am patiently waiting to return. As a result I have done very little cardiovascular exercise for the past 6 months (again, something very unusual for me) and put on 30 lbs. Nevertheless, I really wanted to participate in this half marathon to show that I wasn’t going to let cancer ruin my life. Note: don’t try this at home! Always, always, always train extensively for an endurance race before actually participating in one. This was the first time I participated in this race where there was even a slight chance that I might not finish. And for me, it seemed like a great chance.
The day before the race I went to the Health & Fitness expo and stopped by Jeff Galloway’s booth. For those of you who don’t know who Jeff Galloway is, he’s the running guy. He’s a columnist for Runner’s World and he’s Run Disney’s running coach. The reason why he’s so popular is that he has a method that greatly reduces your chance of injury as you train for events. It’s a combination of run/walk. I talked to a very sweet woman at his booth who runs with him and told her my predicament. She recommended that I do the race 30/30, which means run for 30 seconds and walk for 30 seconds. Even better, they have a device which will beep or vibrate at different intervals to let you know when to switch. And it was only $20. This little device was one of the best investments I have ever made and I will be using it a lot more in the future.
So the next morning I got up at 3:45 AM to catch the shuttle to the park, only to find out that my iPhone was completely dead!! I had unplugged it the night before when it was 100%, used a flashlight app for a few seconds and I guess I didn’t realize that in order to shut it off completely, you need to actually exit out of the app and shut it down. Lesson learned. My poor husband had to drive me to the park at 5 AM in order to make sure that I had enough time to charge my phone.
As I started to run, my body seemed to instantly rebel. My hamstring started first with an ache that stayed with me the entire race. Shortly after mile 6, I tripped and fell. Now because I’ve had most of my level one lymph nodes removed from my left arm, my biggest concern is breaking any skin there. This is because any infection I get in that area, my body will be unable to fight off and will be there for the rest of my life. I had some scrapes on my hand but nothing too concerning, so I continued to run/walk. About mile 7.5 I noticed that my right hand was really hurting. This was the hand I was carrying my water bottle in when I fell. When I looked down, blood was dripping from a cut I had apparently received on that hand during the fall. I was so distracted by my concern for my lymph node arm, that I completely didn’t notice the cut on my other hand.
At mile 9, I stopped at the aid station to get it bandaged. Because this race has become so congested and because Disney is so cheap, there was only one nurse there to take care of runners. They wouldn’t let me care for my own wound, so I had no choice but to wait 5 minutes for her. The problem with that is, I cooled down and really did my legs in. I was able to continue the 30/30 for the rest of the mile, but by mile 10 , my legs were D-O-N-E. I walked the rest of the way and at mile 12 even stopped again to use the restroom. I figured my time was shot anyway, so I might as well take advantage of no lines. Altogether, I’m pretty sure they added a total of 10 minutes on my time.
By the time I crossed the finish line at mile 13.1 my knees were aching, my hamstring was screaming, and I just wanted to go home. I didn’t care about my time. I just wanted to get some ice and put it on my knee, however, the aid tents were completely overwhelmed. I was able to get a bag of ice, but I wasn’t able to wrap it around my knee, because they had run out of plastic wrap. I was completely miserable physically. But somewhere in the back of my mind was an inkling that I had actually done something incredible. It wasn’t until two days later, after the aching subsided that it hit me: I had bitch-slapped breast cancer right across her face. I finished the race with a time of 3:42:16. Normally I would be so embarrassed by that time. It’s my worst time EVER! But I want to shout it from the roof tops.
I am looking forward to next year where I will redeem myself. After all, there’s no place to go but up. This is truly my slowest triumph ever.


A candid look at chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

If you are facing breast cancer or know someone who is, one of the scariest thoughts is about chemotherapy. And while not every woman will need chemotherapy, about 80% will. Chemo is truly not fun, it also isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially today with modern drugs to help you through it. I want to share with you my experience and views about some of the scariest things in an effort to put your mind at ease. You can get through this.


At the beginning of my diagnosis, as I was getting my head wrapped around the thought of having breast cancer and anticipating the treatment, I remember being struck with the notion that I might have to lose my hair. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have always had long beautiful hair. In fact, besides my boobs, it was sort of my physical trademark. I started crying and it seemed like I didn’t stop until the day I cut my hair. I cried more about that than anything else. But once I cut my hair- I never cried about it again. The anticipation of losing my hair was way worse than when it actually happened.

Now, losing your hair isn’t all bad, either. You lose ALL YOUR HAIR! You lose the hair on your arms, legs and pubic area. I used to joke with my fellow chemo-mates that if only we could just lose the hair from the neck down! Unfortunately, you also lose your eye lashes and eye brows. That usually happens toward the end of chemotherapy, and in my case it happened about two weeks after I finished chemo and they returned about 4 weeks later.

Hair loss is really more of an inconvenience, compared to everything else going on. Quite frankly, I really had bigger fish to fry. The American Cancer Society has a wonderful program called Look Good Feel Better which will show you all sorts of ways to tie scarves, or put on wigs and make up while you are going through chemotherapy. In addition, I did a very crude video about How to Fake Eyelashes and Eyebrows on You Tube while I didn’t have any so that people could see exactly what the transformation is.

I had a few wigs (one that looked just like my old hair and a few that I bought at the Halloween shop in wild colors). I actually never really wore any wigs, as I found them to be very uncomfortable. So I had a variety of caps and scarves that I wore. However, during chemo most women get very intense hot flashes. Often I would take them off so that I could just be cool. The response from people was, for the most part, very supportive. I remember the lady in front of me in line at Costco gave me a hug. But if you don’t like attention, then keep something on your head or wear the wig. One thing that I did that people really liked, was that I found a Mendhi artist and had her put henna tattoos on my head. I have a Brite I did for fun about it that I posted on another blog, but I will put here as well. The only downfall about that is the tattoos don’t last very long.

One way to look at the hair thing that worked for me was that this was the only time I was going to be bald, so I might as well have fun with it. My short hair is harder for me than being bald was. I miss my long hair and I guess there’s no more novelty to it anymore. For most women, when it grows back in, it grows in curlier and I am no exception to this rule. Eventually it returns to the way it was.

Bald Can be Beautiful


That’s a thing of the past, for the most part. There is this patch called the Sancuso patch which delivers a continual dose of anti-nausea medicine. It’s incredibly expensive and worth every penny. When I was in chemo, it was so new that my insurance company wouldn’t cover it. My insurance had negotiated it down from $300 to $220. Then I was able to find a coupon online from the manufacturer which took off $100. You wear it for one week (starting the day of chemo) and you won’t get any nausea. After my first round of chemo I remember my stomach feeling a little like it does while riding a roller coaster. But that was fleeting and only happened that one time.

The only time I did get sick was when I had eaten a bad frozen dinner. Believe me, you don’t want to get food poisoning when you’re in chemo. It was the WORST!! I had two hours of total, intestinal hell- from both ends! And then it stopped. Believe me, your body does some weird stuff when you’re going through chemo.

While I didn’t have nausea, I did get heartburn- bad. However, antacids did the trick. If I recall, there was a certain time after chemo that I would get the heartburn. The rest of the time I was just fine.

Usually you will have to come for a hydration flush the day after chemo. If you are on the A/C, T protocol, the flush should be mandatory for the A/C portion, but optional for the T portion. Your doctor might not do it this way, so be sure to check with him/her. My point here, is don’t miss any of these flushes. They help so much. And if you have an option, take it. A friend of mine said she skipped it on the T protocol and felt horrible.

Mouth Issues

This is a little lesser known issue with chemo that most people don’t talk about. First off, chemo can leave a bad, metal taste in your mouth. For me, it tasted like iodine and didn’t last long after I received my treatment. However, for many people, they have that taste for a long time after their round. I found that sugar-free mints (like Breathsavers) really helped with the bad taste.

The worse problem for me was thrush. Because your immune system gets all whacky, you become more susceptible to certain autoimmune disorders. Thrush is one of them Thrush is a fungal infection in your mouth and it is fairly painful. I was able to link it directly to sugar consumption, so for the entire time I was on chemo I ate little to no processed sugar. Believe it or not, that was fairly easy for me then. I wish it were that easy for me now, as I’ve got the extra 30 lbs. to show for it.

I will be continuing this post at a later date, where I will talk about Immune System issues and fatigue.


Preparing for Your Breast Cancer

With all the money that has been poured into the treatment and cure of Breast Cancer, very little to none has gone towards research to prevent breast cancer. What little we know is very insignificant. For example, there is evidence to support the idea that women who breastfeed have less incidences of breast cancer than women who never have. In my case, I breastfed both of my biological children for over 2 years each and still got breast cancer. In addition, women who have their first child before the age 30 reduce their risk of breast cancer- I had my first child when I was 24 years old. Physical activity is a preventer, but I was an endurance athlete. High alcohol consumption is a risk factor, but I rarely drank. A family history is good indicator of risk, but I have no family history of breast cancer. Being overweight is a factor, but I was only a few pounds overweight. My point is that I, of all people, never thought I would get breast cancer.

Of all the cancers that I could get hit by, breast cancer was the one I thought was a long shot. Why? Because I kept up on the research and did everything “right,” I was really pretty sure I was okay. I wasn’t. And that false sense of comfort almost cost me my life. Basically, I want to get the message out, that at this time, there is no way of preventing breast cancer (except for removing your breasts altogether). Let me rephrase that another way: if you are a woman with breasts, you are going to get breast cancer. Now you may or may not actually get breast cancer, but if you go off of that premise, you can take the proper steps to guarantee that you catch it early. In addition, until there is more research that goes into the causes of breast cancer, follow the current recommendations for prevention, but don’t rely upon them.

Physical Activity

I am a big exercise proponent. For me, it’s the silver bullet. It’s good for your body and mind. As I stated above, I am an endurance athlete and it was that endurance that helped me breeze through chemotherapy. I would spin 20 miles a day on the spin bike during chemo. Now, you certainly don’t need to be an endurance athlete, but you do need to exercise one hour a day at least 5 days a week. Does that sound impossible? Think of it this way: how many hours a day will you be down when you go through chemotherapy? The one hour a day you spend now will give you 10 hours a day when you need it most.

Physical activity doesn’t need to be painful (nor should it). When you are embarking on an exercise routine, the worst thing you should feel is boredom. Once you’ve established the habit, then you can start increasing intensity. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t notice the benefits of exercise right away. I remember after my first 6 months of exercise, I decided to give up on it because I couldn’t see any differences. It wasn’t until after I stopped that I realized how much I benefitted from working out. My insomnia came back, I was grumpy and I had no energy. The benefits are gradual and natural, so most people don’t recognize them.

When the word “exercise” comes up, I think way too many people think “running.” This is not something that appeals to everyone, so don’t get caught in that trap. Physical activity can also include walking, dancing, swimming, bicycling, racquet sports, soccer… the list goes on. Think of the things you liked to do as a child and I’m sure there is some form of that sport that you can do now as an adult. The following things do NOT count as physical activity: cleaning house, shopping and gardening. Now these activities can all be done as physical activity, but most people don’t have big enough houses, wallets and/or yards to really make them count. Physical activity means that your heart rate is elevated for an extended period of time.


Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. But it is so hard to find good tasting produce today. Nevertheless, you should strive to have the majority of your meals be comprised of fruits and vegetables- preferably organic. Farmer’s markets and Trader Joe’s are great places to find really good organic produce for not as much money as Whole Foods. But Whole Foods has a much better selection of these items.

A word about soy: if you currently have or have had breast cancer talk to your doctor about soy consumption. My oncologist said that a limited amount of dietary soy is fine. I, personally, love the Organic Soy Creamer from Trader Joe’s in my coffee in the morning. The few Tablespoons I put in there is not going to bring back my cancer. A few things to keep in mind about soy: unless it says “organic” or “non-GMO,” the soy beans have been genetically modified. This is a very controversial topic in the nutrition world today. On the one hand, genetically modified foods can help feed starving countries. On the other hand, there’s not been enough research to show whether or not this type of food contributes to certain diseases. I prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid all soy and corn products that are not organically grown.

In addition, many animal based food products (dairy and meats) are from animals that have been given hormones. Given the strong link between estrogen and breast cancer, I think all conventionally processed meat and dairy should be avoided. I realize that’s relatively impossible in today’s modern society and economy, but do as much as you can. Every little bit is better than none.


4 years before I was actually diagnosed with breast cancer, my mammogram showed microcalcifications that the radiologist said were benign. They weren’t. I know two other women who were told that the abnormalities on their mammogram were just something they were going to watch, and they really turned out to be cancer. The bottom line: don’t expect your healthcare provider to be willing and/or able to identify your breast cancer. If you have any abnormality, have it biopsied. That’s the safest course of action. Insist and fight with your insurance company. If you have to, get a lawyer, but don’t let any abnormality on a mammogram go unchecked.
Also, based on the number of women I know who get diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s, I really think every woman should have a mammogram in her 20s and/or 30s. Once again, this might be overkill, but better safe than sorry.


When I first got my diagnosis, the doctor said “avoid all stress.” He said that in all seriousness. Getting cancer was by far the most stressful thing that has ever happened to me. I wish he would have told me what my oncologist told me: even at as advanced a stage as mine, most women don’t die of breast cancer anymore. It still happens to be sure, but it’s by far the exception and not the rule. With that knowledge, you can sleep better knowing that your fight will not be in vain. If you’ve been recently diagnosed or are in the midst of a “scare,” please read my blog post entitled The Dandelion Seed. It will help.

For me, I decided early on that I was not going to view my cancer as a curse, but rather, as an adventure. If you think about it, we go see action adventure movies and are thrilled because the hero and/or heroine risk their lives for most of the movie. Cancer was my real life action adventure movie. It can be yours too if you let it. Parts really sucked- just like when the Nazi’s stole the Arc of the Covenant from Indiana Jones. But I jumped over each hurdle and overcame the worst of the worst, just like millions of women before me did and millions of women after me will. It will probably even be you.

A word about hair: if you have to go through chemotherapy, the chances are you will have to lose your hair. I had always had long, beautiful hair and I cried more over this aspect of my disease than even the possibility that I might die from it. Believe me, the anticipation of losing my hair was way worse than when I really did. However, I also decided that this was the only time in my life that I was going to be bald, so I was going to have some fun with it. Below is a Brite of what I did:

Bald can be Beautiful

Breast Cancer is not the greatest thing that will happen to you, but it also isn’t the end of the world. By anticipating its onset, you can arm yourself with the proper knowledge you need to know in order to be prepared. Furthermore, you can contact non-profit organizations dedicated to breast cancer and cancer research to put more money toward finding the cause of this disease. Because an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.


How to treat someone with breast cancer: Dos and Don’ts

“Oh my God, Rena! I heard!”  She said as we stood in the grocery store, me in all my bald glory.  I wanted to scream at her “Who did you hear it from?  I never told any of our mutual friends.  And if you heard, why didn’t you call?”
But I didn’t.  She was, after all, just a pawn in the dysfunction of my family dynamic and she did mean well.  However, I couldn’t help thinking how rude it was that she never even picked up the phone to express her concern, yet now she wanted me to fill her in on all the details in a public place.

In today’s age of participation from behind the video screen, our society has developed a love affair with dramatic illness, provided it can be observed from afar.  As a result, I think most people have no clue how to behave when a friend, acquaintance or nemesis has breast cancer, so I’ve come up with a few rules of etiquette to follow.

The rules will vary depending upon which category the afflicted person falls into in your life.


I am starting with this one, because it’s really straight forward.  If a person you don’t particularly care for or about (or vice-versa) gets breast cancer, you have two choices:

  •  If the person is someone you have no desire to have any further contact with in your life, don’t tell anyone about it and don’t contact the person.  Just forget what you heard and go about your business. If you really don’t like the person, you shouldn’t care anyway.
  • Do contact the person if she’s someone you’d like to mend fences with.  If she doesn’t respond, then do nothing more.  Never, ever, ever, ever tell other people about someone’s medical condition if you haven’t heard about it first hand from the person herself.  It is the epitome of rudeness and puts the people you are telling in an awkward position.

The woman who came up to me in the store is a very nice person who unknowingly got put in the middle of a family feud by my relatives, I am sure, were not wishing me well.   I’m sure she was trying to be helpful, but she upset me terribly with this very public confrontation.


The sister of a co-worker gets breast cancer.  What should you do?

  • Do make an attempt at contacting the person privately.  Don’t take it personally if the person doesn’t respond back.  Many people are very private and may not feel like discussing their condition with you.  I’ve never had this problem, so I can’t personally relate to the need for privacy, but I know a few women who do feel this way and their need has to be respected.
  • Don’t offer help unless you are willing or able to actually do something.  That’s okay if you aren’t or can’t.  You aren’t under any obligation to help, other than offering your best wishes.  If you want to help, but aren’t in a position to actually do anything, say that.  An acquaintance from high school told me that she would do what she could, but that she lived far away and didn’t have a lot of time.  I was very touched that she wanted to help.
  • Don’t spread gossip.  If the person telling you says, “don’t tell her that I told you but, X has breast cancer” it’s a sure bet that you are about to get involved in something messy.  I suggest you contact someone else who knows “X” well (preferably an immediate family member) and ask them if she wants to be contacted.    Don’t tell “X” about her friend’s betrayal.  True, she has a right to know, but not until after she’s completed treatment (which will most likely be at least 5 years).
  • Do seize the opportunity.  Breast Cancer often turns acquaintances into friends.  It is one of the many silver linings.
    Two women I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years ran into my brother and found out about my condition from him. Each one called me individually to express their concern and best wishes.  I was ecstatic to hear from them and it meant a lot to me to hear from them.  Another couple I know, who live near me, brought me fruit at least once a week.  We have become very good friends as a result.


You’ve just found out that one of your good friends has breast cancer, what do you do?

  • Don’t panic.  She’s doing quite enough of that herself, I’m sure.  There are huge strides being made in breast cancer treatment these days and it is easily the most treatable cancer out there today.  She most likely will not die from this so don’t let her stop living.
  • Don’t change too much.  If you and your friend play golf once a week, continue to do that- but realize that she may have to cancel at the last minute occasionally or that she will only be able to do it once every two weeks or that she may only be able to play 4 holes instead of 9.  Make sure she knows that you understand and that you’re okay with it.
  • Do let her bring up her illness.  It’s fine to ask how she’s doing, but if she doesn’t want to talk about her cancer, don’t make her.
  • Do offer distractions whenever possible.  Feel free to talk about your life, but try to concentrate on the positives.  It’s okay to bring up problems too- after all, you always talked about those before, but try not to dwell on them.
    I got diagnosed right after my 30 year class reunion.   A woman whom I became reacquainted  with, began emailing me about the problems she and her husband were having.  That was fine at first.  However, she began forwarding me long pages of email exchanges between the two of them.  I was going through chemotherapy and really didn’t have the energy for the drama.
  • Don’t leave your friend in the lurch.  I am very fortunate that no one offered to help and then didn’t come through when I needed them, but don’t be a flake (life happens, so if you are scheduled to do something and can’t, make sure you find a replacement or that your friend has it covered).
  • Don’t put your friend’s illness in your Christmas letter.  You are probably saying “of course,” but it happened to me.  My husband’s ex-wife sent out a Christmas letter saying that her son was being such a big help to me while I battled breast cancer.  She had never even picked up the phone to wish me well or anything, so it was quite shocking to me that she would do that.  Her reasoning was that since I had been so public about my battle she thought it was okay.  It doesn’t matter how public anyone is about her battle, it is still her choice whom to disclose her cancer to.  No one else has that right unless she has granted them permission.  Had the ex asked me, I would have probably said, “Yes.”
  • Do let your friend be in control (mostly).  There is so much about this disease that your friend will have little control over.  Anytime she can have control over something will empower her.  So let her pick the restaurant to eat at, or what book the book club will be reading.  If that’s what she wants, let her do it.  However, part of being a good friend is knowing when to step in.  If your friend is getting overwhelmed with choices or the control is going to be detrimental to her health, then intervene.
  • Don’t just pray for her.  Offering prayers is awesome when you are not in a position to do anything else.  However, if you can pick up her kids from school on her bad day, or you can do a load of laundry, then offer to do that and then do it.  I had so many wonderful friends who came through for me.  Like me, they are mostly atheists or agnostics.  However, prayers are always welcome because for those of us not of faith, because they mean well wishes.  That’s really cool.  But what your friend needs more than your prayers is your help.  If you can, why not do both?
  • Do offer to help, but don’t be offended if she declines.   Your friend needs your help (a few ideas are listed above), so help her if you can.  However, if she has a lot of friends, she probably has more help than she knows what to do with.   Don’t be offended or take it personally if she doesn’t accept your offer.  However, keep offering.  Chemo and radiation takes about 6 months, and a lot can change during that time.  Keep checking in with her, and every once in awhile, she might have a need and forgot all about you (it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the meds she’s on).
  • Do make plans for the future.  Especially if she’s very worried about her mortality with this disease.  Talk about what she will do when she’s all better.  If she wants to travel, pick up brochures or send he to websites that talk about the destination(s).
  • Don’t ask if the treatments are working or if the cancer is gone.  Breast cancer is one of those diseases that is very elusive.  The only way you know if it’s gone is if it doesn’t come back for 5 years (and really, to be safe- 10 years).   For women in early stages, they can be fairly sure they are cancer free.  But for those of us who are advanced, we are always looking over our shoulder and every shadow seems ominous.

The bottom line is that with just a little common sense and compassion, you should do fine when someone you know gets diagnosed with breast cancer.  It often just becomes a matter of being educated about the situation and everything involved.  I hope this post has given you some insight so that you will be prepared when a friend, acquaintance or nemesis gets diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you are a breast cancer patient, please feel free to comment with questions or perhaps something I forgot.  In addition, if you like this post, you might want to forward it to all of your family members and friends, so they will know (or can pass it along) the guidelines you would like them to follow.


The Dandelion Seed

There is nothing more earth shattering than a health scare. For me and for most people I’ve spoken to, the worst part is when you have more questions than answers. It is such a helpless feeling when you know that you’re sick, but you just don’t know how sick yet. After my breast cancer was first diagnosed, I found myself in a mental tailspin of worry. Ironically, the doctors tell you to avoid all stress during this time, yet the not knowing is one of the most stressful things I think a person can go through.
One day, after I picked my son up from school, he ran out of the car, grabbed a dandelion and blew on the seeds. Something struck me about those dandelion seeds: they just floated on the wind until they made it to their final destination. I often cursed the dandelions in my lawn, but on this particular day I rejoiced about them. Because I realized that the dandelion seed doesn’t worry about where it will land. It lands and does its thing. It takes root in whatever conditions in lands upon.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and imagined that I was that dandelion seed, floating on the wind without a care. I realized that it was what it was and there really wasn’t anything I could do to change the outcome. And then a miracle happened. I instantly relaxed and was filled with something a little like relief. I realized that I no longer needed to worry about what the tests said. I was healthy today and that’s all that mattered.
Now this little exercise needed to be repeated time and time again. However, each time I did it, I found that the time in between needing to do it again got longer and longer. In addition, all I had to do was think “dandelion seed” and I instantly relaxed. In fact, it still works today. And so far it’s worked for most people I know who have tried it- provided that they want to stop worrying.

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Welcome to the world of Healthy Tatas!

It started just a few days after I started the 6th grade.  Jenny Simmons came up to me just after we had changed in gym class and asked “Do you wear a bra?”
Being only 11 at the time, I replied, “no.”
To which she said, “you should.”

I was mortified, and promptly went home and told my mother about the entire ordeal.  She immediately loaded me in the car and we went to JC Penny’s to buy my first bra.  And that’s exactly what it was called:  Her First Bra.  Except that it wouldn’t be my first bra.  Her First Bra only went to a “B” cup.  And I, my friends, at the ripe age of 11 (a full two years before I would start menstruating) was already a “C” cup.
Suffering from both denial and mortification (and perhaps a little jealousy), my mother steadfastly refused to buy me a regular bra- because she was not going to raise a “bad” girl.  For two years I wore little elastic bras that supported nothing, but kept me from jiggling under my clothes.  When I finally started my period, my mother acquiesced and at last I started my journey with “proper bras” and decades of perceived humiliation due to my large and continually growing breasts.

When I gave birth to my first son in 1986, at the age of 24 years-old, there was no question that I was going to breastfeed him.  And I knew that I wanted to breastfeed him for as long as he wanted to.  Everything worked out really well, until I decided to go back to school when he was 18 months old.  At that point, it got to be much more difficult to breastfeed and study at the same time, so I decided it was better for both of us if I weaned him.  And it was.  Breastfeeding must be about what is best for both the mother and child.  I am, of course, a huge proponent of it and do agree that longer is usually better.  However, longer is not always a possible or desirable option for many women.  And that’s okay too.  No one has the right to tell a mother what is right or wrong with regard to this very personal and time-consuming commitment.  Any benefits received by the child, in my opinion, would be more than negated if a mother were forced to breastfeed against her will or at the expense of the financial well-being of the family.

It wasn’t until I got into my late 30s that the love/hate relationship my girls and I had, turned into total appreciation and love.  I bought pretty bras and low-cut tops and just let ’em show.  They were beautiful and made me feel beautiful as a result.
At 44, I got my first mammogram.  There was a small calcification on it, so they brought me back 5 days later for an enlargement.  I was told it was nothing and to just continue getting my mammograms as usual.  I went back a year later and all was fine- or so I was told.  The following year, my doctor told me that the protocol for mammograms had gone to two years, so I figured I would just wait until the two-year mark would pass for my next mammo.  I lost track of the time and didn’t go back for another mammogram for 3 years.
By that time, I had found a lump and developed cellulite on my breast (cellulite on your breast is not a normal part of getting older).  You can guess the rest.  I ended up having advanced stage 3 breast cancer.  I had no risk factors.  I was an endurance athlete, ate right, had no family history, etc.  In fact, I still have no risk factors for breast cancer.  Most women have no risk factors for cancer, yet one in nine women will get it at some point in their lifetimes.  The good news:  breast cancer is one of the most treatable cancers out there.  Even at my advanced stage, I have an 80% chance of 5 year survival.  And that’s the message I want to get across more than any other:  there is hope for anyone who has breast cancer.  My oncologist, Rupa Subramanian, has agreed to be a contributor to this blog.

But Healthy Tatas is about more than just breast cancer.  It’s about breast health and as a result, women’s health.  It’s about celebrating women’s lives or, more importantly, women living.  Squeezing the most fulfillment out of life, at any age or any stage.