Jamie's Blog

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finding Myself, The Hard Way

A few years ago my husband and I went on a tropical vacation with some good friends. I looked forward
to adventures in food and culture, world class snorkeling, and requisite beach lounging. I dreaded,
however, the big reveal—the unveiling of my post C-section, post-lumpectomy, post-menopausal, lop-
sided, and droopy form. This was in sharp contrast to the other wife who descends from Peter Pan:
she doesn’t age. At 50 her skin was as smooth and unwrinkled as her tummy was tight, and she looked
fabulous in a bikini. Not only did I not wear a bikini, I shrouded myself in "figure-flattering" sarongs.
A few days later I looked through the photos from that trip, and searing shame cut a swath through my
heart, self-hatred boiled in my veins.
I hated myself? Moi? I am a psychotherapist, for crying out loud; self-esteem is my job! Clearly I was
not where I thought I was . . . or who.
I turned to an old friend who had learned a thing or two about self-esteem when she lost her foot in
a car accident. I lamented that even when I was young and Cindy-Crawford-thin I had always felt fat
and uncomfortable in my body. “I know exactly what you mean,” she exclaimed. “I was the same way,
always thin and pretty. I just wish I had been there.”
How much of my life had I squandered wishing and wanting to be something else or other? For what, to
find acceptance in the eyes of people who were likely seeking the same from me? I knew better than
that! I also knew that diet and exercise were not the answer, because I had done plenty of both, and here
I was. I vowed to myself (whoever that was) that come hell or high water I would figure out a way to love
my elusive self.
Little did I know that hell and high water would arrive in the form of a second breast cancer: bilateral
mastectomies with immediate DIEP reconstruction, seven surgeries in all; and that was the easy part.
Flashbacks to childhood abuse erupted weeks after the surgery and suddenly my quest for self-discovery
took a turn down Alice’s rabbit hole. Surgery had given me a girlish figure, a bikini body that was
meaningless to me now as I fought my way through PTSD.
Month after month, one battle after another I seized all of my courage, anger, and intelligence to give—to
myself—good things, the way I gave them to everyone else.
Things like mercy, patience, and genuine regard. Eventually, one new choice at a time, I proved to
myself that external changes never heal twisted beliefs. This hellish journey was a crash course in
choosing to believe . . . myself.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I signed up to STOP breast cancer before it STARTS. Have you?  

The goal of the Army of Women is to recruit ONE MILLION MEN AND WOMEN of all ages and ethnicities, including breast cancer survivors and those who have never had breast cancer.  They seek to match volunteers with research projects aimed at PREVENTION.

How you can get involved:·       

  • Join today at www.armyofwomen.org

  • Invite a friend at: https://www.armyofwomen.org/invitefriend

  • Update your Facebook status with the following:  "I signed up to STOP breast cancer before it STARTS.  Have you?  Join today at www.armyofwomen.org, then copy and paste this status update as your own." 

  • Tweet about the Army Of Women and to use the hashtag #WritePink. 

Be part of ending breast cancer by participating in research.  It's free, easy, and volunteers are desperately needed.  I did it, and was even reimbursed for my time and mileage! 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Great Resource on Breast Reconstruction

 I am delighted to announce that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has produced a beautiful brochure that enables women facing mastectomy to begin the decision process well informed.  It shows before and after photos of every surgical option available, including the pros and cons of each procedure.

And I am proud to have been featured as one of  four women who have had reconstruction and are now active in breast cancer awareness.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Ethics Of Nipple Reconstruction

It is truly amazing what surgeons can do for mastectomy patients who choose reconstruction.   Gone are the days when the only treatment for breast cancer was radical mastectomy, which removed not only breast tissue, lymph nodes, and nipples, but the underlying muscles, leaving women with concave, bony, and scarred chests.  

With advancements in screening and techniques today’s women can choose among several surgical options, from breast conserving “lumpectomy,” to nipple-sparing mastectomy, to mastectomy with reconstruction of the entire breast, either with implants or autogenous tissue taken from the patient’s body.

Wait, there’s more.   For women who select the DIEP flap procedure, where the tissue is taken from the abdomen, they get a tummy tuck in the process—an extreme makeover courtesy of insurance!
Nowadays women can even choose whether or not they want replacement nipples; and many opt for nipple reconstruction and areola tattooing.  This is the choice I made.  Reconstructed nipples are notorious for losing their projection, so my surgeon saved some of my cartilage to provide a permanent point under the nipple. I thought it was a genius idea.

That was 4 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love my breasts, and l trust my surgeon:   AND I wish I didn’t have nipples that are always at attention but never any fun.  Wherever I go, whatever the climate, it is always winter but never Christmas.

Question: why bother?   Why subject ourselves to another hospital stay, another surgical procedure, another recovery time, for a temporary fix?  Why not go straight to a professional tattoo artist who can do this:

I put the question out there for my survivor sisters:  what do you think? What have you experienced? Please add to the discussion so we can improve the options for future sisters.
Permanent Areola Repigmentation And Nipple Restoration by Melany Whitney

Friday, May 28, 2010

I think of my dad on Memorial Day

Like so many young men of his time he dreamed of becoming a pilot, but after Pearl Harbor the Air Force was inundated with enlistees and could not accept them all in flight school. Dad had a magnificent bass voice and a way with words, so he was quickly assigned to radio communications. He ended up near Chichiang, China, in a coastal area directly west of northern Japan.

Dad was a great storyteller, and to this day I have vivid images of some of his experiences there: how every morning the egg delivery man loaded his baskets with fresh eggs, but that by the end of his route the last eggs were far from fresh; and how the landing strip grew up over night through the wizardry of a thousand Chinese hauling dirt in baskets.

But the story I remember most vividly happened after one of the many bombing missions that flew over Japan. It was not unusual for pilots to lose their bearings after completing a mission and start heading out to sea. As a communications specialist Dad’s job was to radio the correct coordinates to the pilot until they were safely over land. What set this night apart was that the plane was also running out of fuel. For endless, nerve-wracking minutes, he and this pilot raced against time as they barked coordinates back and forth. Just as the pilot reached safety, he broke military procedure and asked Dad for his name. Dad fired back, “Delta Uniform Golf Alpha November!” (Military code for Dugan).

Months later the war ended and Dad headed home on a troop ship. He gladly took his turn at watch so he could get some fresh air and smoke a cigarette (in those days that was not an oxymoron). Another soldier joined him in conversation, and it wasn’t long before they discovered that this was that pilot and Dad was that radio operator! They exchanged addresses, and not long after Dad returned home he received a gift from that pilot—a piece of the parachute that he had used to float to earth and safety. That was how close that call was!

I have always loved that story because it is full of drama and heroism, and a surprise twist at the end. But on Memorial Day it takes on more meaning, because it was the story my father recalled, one more time, on the night before he died. In his eighty-fifth year Dad learned he had lung cancer (those damned cigarettes) and he chose to have a third of his lung removed. It was a brutal surgery, but he surprised everyone by recovering and coming home to play golf again. Well, he puttered on the green in his back yard. It wasn’t long before complications from the surgery landed him back in the hospital, then a nursing home, where he ended his days on earth.

I live only five minutes away from that nursing home, so one night I decided to visit him again to tuck him in. When I approached him he struggled to see me, not from blindness but because he was deep in reverie. He asked me if I thought his military service was valuable. I said yes, and we recalled the story of the lost plane, the broken rule, and the parachute. I could not have known it, but Dad was spending his final hours in his own, personal memorial day.

So on this Memorial Day I cherish one unforgettable story of heroism in honor of countless others.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

What do we do when our mothers are gone?

Mothers's Day was never special, until now.
This year is the first without Mom.

My husband said, "We have no mothers," and though our relationships with them were far from perfect, we gazed in dumbstruck wonder at this incomprehensible reality.

Wanting to write a Mother's Day tribute, I watched videos of her, and felt a vice close around my heart.  I stared at the screen, hands heavy and still.

Then I heard the familiar pop signaling a friend's greeting in the Facebook chat room.  It was Shelley, a survivor sister, wishing me a happy Mother's Day.  It made me cry.  She understood. She made me laugh, too.

She gave me mother comfort.

Reminding me that no matter how good or weak our mothers might be, they can never fill every need.  Some leave patches of pain for us to mend, while others leave fathomless holes in our hearts.  All of these wounds of unmet need remain for us to comfort ourselves.

But not by ourselves.

In the eyes and arms and words of others with love, even mother love, to give.

Thank you Shelley.

Thank you, Mom.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vietnam or bust: breast cancer is coming your way.

I recently traveled with my husband to Vietnam because our daughter  is  involved in the launching of their version of Dancing With The Stars It was a thrill to see her  perform on a live TV show and to get a taste of the culture she is experiencing.  
From the bustling streets clogged with motor scooters, to the floating market on the Mekong River, to a sobering view of the Vietnam American War Remnants Museum, it was a week of surprises; some painful,  most delightful.
One disturbing sight was the proliferation of KFC restaurants.  Our guide explained that KFC is extremely popular, and that children are now rejecting traditional  healthy  Vietnamese food in favor of FAsT food.
Imagine my surprise when I came back to the US to find that KFC, world famous health food chain, has joined forces with a leader in breast cancer awareness, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  “Buckets for the Cure”  pledges 50 whole cents to Komen for each pink bucket of chicken sold.

What is wrong with this picture?  Besides the fact that many folks are already turned off by the pink-washing of the world America, Komen ignores the contradiction between their mission to end breast cancer forever, and promoting a restaurant chain that markets the world’s unhealthiest types of food.  If Komen’s mission were simply to stop deaths from breast cancer, this campaign might make a little sense. 

BUT  ending breast cancer means PREVENTION, which in Komen's own words includes eating “...fewer high fat foods and sweets”.

You can’t have it both ways.

PS the only overweight Vietnamese person I saw was a little girl entering, you guessed it, KFC.