The Secret Language

I read about The Secret Language on a few other blogs and figured I’d check it out. You plug in your full birth date and it tells you the personality traits and characteristics that go with that date. I don’t put a lot of stock into things like this, but I find them interesting. And holy crap, this is frighteningly accurate! Of course, some of it isn’t exactly right, but a lot of it is scarily descriptive of my personality. 

Mine is here, and below are some of my favorites:

May 27 people often have a wild and wacky view of the world. Indeed, their zany sense of humor can cause consternation, as they are not averse to sharing their thoughts whenever moved to do so. It is less a lack of tact or diplomacy but rather poor timing which can put others off. Because May 27 people are generally so absorbed in their presentation, they may misjudge their audience.

 

Those born during the Week of Freedom balk at restrictions and aim to maintain their independence at all costs. Generally on the side of the individual, they hate oppression and exploitation, opposing them both in theory and in practice. These people will not usually back down from a fight. Naturally combative, they stick up for what they believe is right and will not hesitate to attack wrongdoing in any form, be it moral or practical, for these individuals believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and that only the right way will yield uniformly positive results. One of their strongest weapons is laughter or ridicule, which they do not hesitate to pull out of their formidable verbal arsenal. Still, they are willing to give the other fellow a second chance. Resilient, they will not quit valuable relationships easily; instead, they hang in there, letting go of resentments.

THIS one especially:

Bright, perky and alert, but also a tad abrasive, these people are high-speed players who get impatient with other people’s slower responses. Often technically gifted, they can get annoyed when others are less skillful in performing a certain task. Given this low threshold of irritation, they may get stressed out easily, lashing out with irony or sarcasm. Their aggression is often a reaction to what they see as incompetence or stupidity, but it does not make them easy to live or work with.

I try not to complain as much these days, but it really always was that I just needed to vent and get things off my chest – not that I wanted to complain for attention or annoyance.

Those involved in relationships with them, whether family, friends or lovers, won’t need to do much guessing as to their state of mind. They are both emotionally volatile and not at all shy about verbalizing any discontent they may have. In extreme cases, in fact, they can be constant complainers, though for the most part they just have a periodic need to get their dissatisfactions off their chest. 

This is just funny to me😉

They are highly seductive, and few can resist their often considerable sex appeal. 

 

 Reflecting on those born during the Way of Grace reminds one of the children’s fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.” A young swan, mistaken for a young duck, is ridiculed by the other ducks as misfit and is labeled ugly. It is only with time that the “duckling” emerges as a full-grown swan, considered the most elegant and graceful of all waterfowl.

 

 Those born during the Month of the Diversifier like being part of a group. They tend to liven up any social situation with their flow of ideas and verbal facility. However, they may not readily accept the responsibilities of group membership. They are often accused of being fickle and even superficial, but in their view changing one’s mind is no sin. The importance of non-attachment is something they usually take to heart.

 

Generally speaking, those born in the springtime manifest an enthusiasm for life. Their energy is prodigious where initiating projects is concerned, and their ability to survive and/or adapt is noteworthy.

PBMiversary

One year. 365 days. That’s how long it’s been since November 7, 2012, forever known as the day I had a life-altering surgery. Most people’s first surgery is for their wisdom teeth; I guess you can say I don’t do anything half-assed.

In the past year, I’ve gone through the emotional wringer, dealt with disappointments and dashed hopes, and come out of it an even more awesome version of me – and cancer-free, to boot.

Last November, I spent the weeks leading up to my surgery in a constant state of stress. More stressed about the time off than the surgery itself, I was bitchy and tearful at work. The fear of all the aspects of my life I’d miss out on was overpowering. All I’d heard was that the surgery would be awful, the recovery would be awful, and life in general would never be the same.

They were wrong. Maybe it’s just because my surgery was done in pieces, but nothing was as bad as I expected. The sore throat from the breathing tube was the worst; the unexpected ab muscle pain was the second worst. Notice I haven’t mentioned my chest. That pain was negligible, especially compared to what I’d gone in expecting.

Emotionally, it sucked. Flat out. I’d argue that there are few women who would be pleased to wake up flat-chested after going into surgery planning to awake reconstructed. The following complications didn’t help, dragging the process out for the better part of a year. But did it kill me? No. I learned things – how to make prosthetic breasts look real, how to hide my nonexistent cleavage, how amazing the people in my life were with their visits and gifts and check-ins. I learned that Percocet makes me sad and that I’d rather be uncomfortable sleeping on my stomach than force myself to sleep on my back.

Maybe I was lucky. Maybe, like my mother, I have a superhuman tolerance for pain (and lack of tolerance for bullshit). Either way, I woke up groggy and sad but functional. I never needed help bathing and although I stayed with my parents for a few weeks, I managed to keep myself alive while they went to work (copious amounts of Parenthood on Netflix and leftovers helped). The aftermath of my expander-insertion surgery was hard, the first couple days being painful enough that I took narcotics, but the fills didn’t hurt. The expanders themselves don’t hurt – the stretch in my chest muscle impacts my already-chronic upper back muscle tension, but it’s nothing traumatic, nothing I can’t deal with.

I don’t cry when I see myself in a mirror; I never really did, even the day I finally ripped my shirt off and forced myself to see the post-surgery damage. In all honesty, I wouldn’t say I miss my old breasts. Even with expanders and their unnnatural tennis-ball hardness, I look normal. Nothing is missing.

The past twelve months have been quite the year. A year ago, it felt like time would never pass. Three months (ha!) to start reconstruction seemed like forever, and then it was eight months and now it’s been a year and everything feels like it rushed by. Looking back over the last year, it isn’t even this stuff that stands out. My boyfriend returned from overseas. We moved in together. Friends got married and engaged and pregnant. Work was crazy. People moved away. My brothers started college and high school. All sorts of things, none of which had to do with my chest (or lack thereof).

The second-best part of the last year was that I didn’t have breast cancer. The best part was that I got through a whole bunch of, quite frankly, crap, and came out on the other side, happy and awesome and with, if I do say so myself, a pretty nice (and cancer-free) rack. 

So hello, November 7th. Good to see you again. Until next year.

books, books, books

I’ve seen this floating around the internet and wanted to take a stab at it. I love books and I love answering questions, so there you go. I’m not tagging anyone in this but I’d love to see other people’s answers!

Favorite book cover

I actually don’t know that I have one. I hate starting this off with a big fat “I don’t know,” but…

What are you reading right now?

The second book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Ashes.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

The third book in the series, most likely. I’m trying to get through them all.

What five books have you always wanted to read but haven’t gotten around to?

Oh, there are a lot. My “to-read” shelf on Goodreads has almost 400 books listed. A few that come to mind are:

The Marriage Plot, Jeffry Eugenides
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Love Is A Mixtape, Rob Sheffield
Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?

Okay, confession time: I think it’s super weird to keep magazines in the bathroom. I do subscribe to a lot of magazines, though; I use airline miles so I hardly pay anything. Favorites: Entertainment Weekly and People, obvs.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

I really don’t know. If something’s incredibly terrible, I likely won’t finish it. That said, I did read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I had to see what the hype was about and once I started, it was kind of fun to snark on. And my final verdict? The writing certainly leaves something to be desired, and the abusive undertones make me uncomfortable about how many women want “their own Christian Grey.”

What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like it?

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. It wasn’t awful or anything, but it definitely didn’t do it for me. I forced myself to finish it.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about anyone?

I don’t know that I have one universal book recommendation; it depends what people are looking for. I would say that Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is one I’d probably recommend to most people, though.

What are your three favorite poems?

I don’t read a lot of poetry. If I had to pick a few, I’d say 

Wait, Galway Kinnell — this got me through some bad shit back in the day
Sonnet XVII, Pablo Neruda — those last few lines kill me
For Eli, Andrea Gibson — this one is intense and probably a bit too political-activist for me, but damn if it didn’t slap me in the face the first time I read it. It’s spoken word, which you can watch here.

Where do you usually get your books?

Amazon, especially now that I have a Kindle. I love bookstores, though, and wish I could live in one. 

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

Just reading, all day e’ry day. Early in my life, my parents gave up on the idea of a bedtime for me because they knew I’d just stay up reading in bed. They figured that since I was doing something awesome (reading!) they would just let me be as long as I was in bed. I read all the time – while eating breakfast, while riding in the car to the grocery store, while watching TV. I was also obsessed with Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club books and the highlight of every month was when a new one came out and I could go to Meijer and buy it. 

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?

All of Gillian Flynn’s books. I’d read Gone Girl awhile ago and then finally started reading her other books. I tore through Dark Places and Sharp Objects in a matter of days.

Have you ever “faked” reading a book?

No, I’m not sure there’s a point to that. I will admit that there are a few books in high school that I just didn’t bother reading because I hated them, but I didn’t necessarily fake reading them.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

No, but I’ve certainly seen covers I liked and then thought the book seemed interesting and bought it.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

ALL OF THEM. No, I probably had some specific favorites, but I actually don’t really remember.  Like I mentioned, I loved The Babysitters Club and Goosebumps books. The Face on the Milk Carton was a good one. And The Giver! Also a few little-known books: When The Road Ends by Jean Thesman and Where I Want To Be by Cara Devito. I own them both to this day.

What book changed your life?

The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver definitely helped change the way I look at a lot of things. Melissa Bank’s The Wonder Spot became the book version of comfort food that I returned to during a few times of emotional distress. I got through high school with the help of the Sloppy Firsts books by Megan McCafferty. I read Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris long before I was ever laid off from a job, but I’ve referred back to it for a weird sort of comfort multiple times since then.

What is your favorite passage from a book?

 That’s hard. And I don’t know.

Who are your top five favorite authors?

Curtis Sittenfeld
Lisa See
Lionel Shriver
Marisa de los Santos
John Douglas for creepy crime/murder books

(It’s interesting that I picked all women with the obvious exception of John Douglas. I actually think it’s pretty awesome.)

What book has no one heard about but should read?

I don’t know that anything I’ve really loved was all that obscure, other than the children’s books I mentioned earlier. I don’t think this is off the radar entirely, but Pretty Is What Changes by Jessica Queller would be good for anyone unfamiliar with BRCA or prophylactic mastectomies. It’s written in a way that’s accessible to everyone, but about something very dear to my heart, obviously.

What book are you an “evangelist” for?

I’m not sure I’m really an evangelist for any books. I did force my boyfriend to read the Hunger Games series; he was convinced he’d hate it and then spent multiple nights reading until 4am. I’d say that was a success on my part!

What are your favorite books by a first time author?

I’ve been thinking hard about this question, but the problem is that I don’t necessarily pay attention to whether people are first-time authors or if something is their first book. This is totally cheating, but I’m going with Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill.

What is your favorite classic book?

To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Five other notable mentions?

1. I’m a little over Jodi Picoult these days, but The Storyteller is definitely worth a read.
2. If you’re interested in the whole Amanda Knox saga, I recommend The Fatal Gift of Beauty by Nina Burleigh.
3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman made me bawl my eyes out.
4. My literary crushes: Cole from the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Finnick from The Hunger Games (and I don’t love Sam Claflin as his film counterpart), Jordan from The 19th Wife, and kind of Holden Caulfield, even though I feel like that’s wrong somehow. I like the douchebags, apparently.
5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer was amazing. 

Five Songs That Changed My Life

Today I’m over at Press Play talking about Five Songs That Changed My Life. Go take a look!

Writing a list of five songs that changed my life was hard. Not just hard, maybe even impossible, because I still feel like I’m leaving too many off. I’ve rearranged, I’ve added and subtracted, but I’m confident that every song on this last has changed my life in some way. Just know there are many, many more out there.

What I find particularly interesting is that, of the five songs on this list, four of them are songs I discovered while in college – and I’ve been out six years! It’s not that no songs have impacted me since, but that these are some of the strongest.

1. Do It Again – Nada Surf

This is one of those songs that truly altered the framework of my life. I discovered it in 2009 when I referenced lyrics to another of their songs (Always Love), and someone said “They also say maybe this weight was a gift, like I had to see what I could lift,” I immediately had to find it and hear for myself.

It became the song I sang along to while driving home from a horrible, nightmare-inducing job. It’s the song I had going through my head as I prepared for a preventative mastectomy. Not only does hearing this song bring me back to a tumultuous time in my life that I’m glad to have escaped, it reminds me that sometimes things suck – but that it’s usually worth it in the end to prove your own strength and come out even more bad-ass.

2. Xanax – Maria Taylor

I first heard this song when I was finally admitting to the world at large that I had an anxiety problem. I’d hid it for years, worrying that I’d be seen as “crazy” or that my family would worry. I heard this song and felt like I wasn’t alone, like someone else out there, somewhere, got the crazy things I felt every day – my fear of loss, my fear of love, my fear of everything. And while I know the ultimate point of the song is about love, it was never about just that for me.

Afraid when the phone rings another breath of life has ceased. It seems it’s just lost so easily. Afraid of my heart that beats too slow, or that I died and just didn’t know, or of a fate I will have to choose. And I’m afraid of how much I love you.

3. All Is Full of Love – Bjork

This is another song I first discovered in college – on a mix CD from another friend – but that’s not what makes it important. It’s the lyrics and the meaning behind them that get me.

You’ll be given love. You’ll be taken care of. You’ll be given love. You have to trust it. Maybe not from the sources you have poured yours. Maybe not from the directions you are staring at. Twist your head around. It’s all around you. 

It sounds so simple, but the idea that you are loved – even if certain relationships aren’t giving what you’re putting in – was huge to me. And it’s a good reminder for everything in life, I think. All is full of love.

4. Dear Chicago – Ryan Adams

A friend put this on a mix CD for me early on in college. By the time I really <I>heard</i> this song, I was in the midst of a dramatic, drawn-out breakup that was entirely my fault. I had no idea how to feel or what to do, and suddenly every word of this song was exactly right. That, and it led me to numerous other Ryan Adams songs that changed my life in their own way.

Since then, although I’m not perpetually suffering through traumatic breakups, it’s a perfect song for those times when you’re a little sad… and maybe just a little hopeful.

5. The First Night – The Hold Steady

I couldn’t get into The Hold Steady when I first tried… until one day I put my iTunes on shuffle and The First Night came on. It was one of those songs that grab you; you can’t help but stop what you’re doing to hear it.

I was twenty-one and living abroad, the first time I’d been out of the United States. My study-abroad experience wasn’t shaping up to be the amazing thing I’d hoped for and, to top it off, I was dealing with quintessential dramatic relationship issues. And this song – it made me feel sad and nostalgic and hopeful all at once, the perfect song that brings to mind drunken nights and broken hearts. And that last part, don’t bother talking to the guys with the hot, soft eyes. You know they’re already taken. I’d walk down Roman streets with that line coursing through my earbuds, and now whenever I listen to it I can smell Rome, can see the cobblestone streets, and it will always make me miss being twenty-one and a little lost.

things I find interesting today

A Family Consents to a Medical Gift, 62 Years Later — I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for an old book club a year or so ago and found it fascinating. Given my interest in cancer and particularly the ways genetics can impact it, it was right up my alley. It was also just an interesting study of race, class, and the way people aren’t always treated as fairly as they should be. I was glad to see that the Lacks family’s consent is finally being taken into consideration.

Friends of a Certain Age — A friend shared this with me after some recent conversations that basically boiled down to “Why the hell is it so hard to make friends?!” I mean, I wouldn’t say making friends has ever come easily to me, but it’s even more difficult as an adult. I often default to the idea that it’s just something wrong with me, but maybe this really is something we all struggle with. 

I Support You: The Conversation We Should Be Having About Breastfeeding And Formula — I’ll never be able to breastfeed my children, no matter how hard I try. It’s impossible, as I no longer have real breasts. My milk ducts were cut out and chucked into a trash can or science lab somewhere, so they’re not coming back to feed any future children. One of my biggest anxieties about having children (and there are many) is the judgment I’ll be getting from other mothers. The second I whip out a bottle filled with formula to feed my hungry baby, how many dirty looks will I get? How many snarky comments? And while I understand that breast milk is ideal, it’s just not possible for everyone. Respect people for caring for their children, don’t judge them for not doing it your way.

Suicide In The Military Rooted In Alcohol And Mental Health Problems, Not Deployment — Having been in a relationship with an active-duty soldier (who now officially out of the military), I find any information about veterans really interesting. Your thoughts on the war(s) itself aside (and my thoughts aren’t positive), I think it’s important to look at how we’re treating returning veterans and how we’re supporting them whether they deploy overseas or not. I’m not sure I totally buy that the abundance of suicides is unrelated to deployments, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Also, I cannot stop listening to The Civil Wars’ new album. At all. 

Melissa Etheridge, on BRCA

I never wrote about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a preventative mastectomy – and her discovery that she is positive for the BRCA gene mutation – but today, Melissa Etheridge stepped in to offer her two cents and I need to write about that.

“I wouldn’t call it the brave choice,” Etheridge, 52, says. “I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not.”

Not the brave choice. The most fearful choice. 

While I don’t jump to classify myself as brave, and while it’s obvious that any cancer prevention is routed in fear (really – why else would you try to prevent something other than because you want to avoid it?) – I don’t agree with her. I don’t agree particularly with her sentiment and I don’t agree with her wording.

Now, I don’t think everyone should have surgery. God knows I spend some days wishing I never had. But Angelina Jolie’s choice was just that – her choice. It infuriates me that, instead of saying “That wasn’t the right choice for me, so here’s what I did,” someone would blatantly say it’s wrong to make that choice.

Not only that, but saying we all just need to eat better or avoid stress implies that we’re responsible for our own cancer diagnoses, should they come. If you get cancer, well – you should’ve eaten your vegetables and quit your high-stress job. It’s true that a healthy diet and physical fitness can help prevent cancer, but with genetic mutations, there’s no guarantee just being healthy will help. Just as it’s true that not everyone with a BRCA mutation will have cancer, it’s true that not everyone who lives a healthy lifestyle will be free of cancer. 

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and their own choices, but everyone should also be entitled to having their choices respected. Maybe someone blatantly asked Ms. Etheridge about her opinion on this surgery and she felt she had to get the word out about non-surgery options. I can respect that. What I have a hard time respecting is her insistence on inferring that we are weak. All of us dealing with cancer – or a predisposition to it – are brave in our own ways, surgery or no surgery. It’s not a competition; these decisions suck for us all.

sharing is caring

I really just want to share a link to my story on YoungPrevivors.org. Some awesome ladies I know put this site together in conjunction with our Facebook group, and after putting it off for months, I decided to share my own story.

It’s hard, when everyone seems intent on proving how great preventative surgery is and how having a mastectomy is the best choice possible, to be honest that your situation was not ideal. I feel like a huge naysayer and like I’m overly negative, but the fact is, I want to be honest. This is what happened to me, and this is something that can happen to anyone.

And moreover, I’m realizing the importance of showing that, although bad things can happen, you can get through it. I’m still pretty kickass, good experience or bad. Boobs or no boobs.

changes

I was supposed to begin reconstruction on Monday. I’d taken time off work. I’d alerted my coworkers and hiring managers and friends. I was packing my bags for a stay in the hospital and at my parents’ house. I had all my drugs in order: Dilaudid and anti-nausea medicine and all the other post-surgery requirements. I had a plan.

And then I saw my surgeon. It was meant to be a short appointment to mark my body for surgery. He started drawing on me with a blue Sharpie before stopping and getting lost in thought. Just when I couldn’t take it anymore and was about to say “What in the hell are you thinking and why are you staring at me?” he told me there’d been a change in plans. 

“I don’t think we need to do the lat flap surgery. I have a better idea. Sorry for the ambush.” And then he told his coordinator to cancel my appointment with the hospital.

In the same minute, I was thrilled and devastated. 

The situation is this: the skin on the problematic right side has softened a lot, and my surgeon thinks he can fix the problem with fat grafting. He’ll take fat from my stomach and add it to my chest, which will create more tissue behind the skin, and then he’ll revise the scars. The fat grafting and scar revision will be a very easy, outpatient surgery that I will still have on Monday. 

Here’s the downside: once they do the fat grafting, it’s 6-8 weeks before he will insert the expanders.  I was so looking forward to having the beginnings of a chest on Monday, and now it’s a few more months. When they do place the expanders later, it will be a much easier procedure than it would have been with the lat flap. But until then, I still can’t wear most of my clothes. If Seattle has a nice summer (fingers still crossed), I won’t be able to swear a swimsuit. 

There is still a chance that it won’t work. I may still need a lat flap and will have lost months in the process. I can’t think about that, though; at this point, I’m just trying to be as hopeful as possible. I can’t let myself think about the alternative nor can I let myself really think about the next few months. If I focus on it, it’s too hard. So for now, all I can do is just go with it.

ink and music notes

I’m tattoo-less. There’s nothing permanently inked on my body, no words or pictures for everyone in the world to see. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, because I have numerous ideas for the eventual someday – and they’re pretty much all text. Song lyrics, to be exact.

It’s not that I’m still seventeen years old and telling my life story in songs. And it’s not that I don’t have numerous other quotes I love (this and this, particularly). It’s just that music has always had my heart, and song lyrics are often short and snappy in a way other words aren’t.

So if I were to be brave and actually commit to something permanently on my person, what would it be?

maybe this weight was a gift, like I had to see what I could lift
This line, to me, is perfection. It’s a little cutesy, the rhyme a little too obvious – but the meaning behind it has gotten me through some challenging times. And it’s true for me; anything I’ve struggled through, namely a soul-crushing job and my surgery debacle, have just proven I’m stronger than I thought.

all is full of love
I think this is the first thing I actually thought, “I could turn that into a tattoo,” about. I discovered this song (both the Bjork & Death Cab versions) my freshman year in college, and the line maybe not from the sources you have poured yours, maybe not from the directions you are staring at hit me pretty hard. There is love (and goodness) everywhere – you just might not be looking in the right place.

always love
I have a picture in my mind of exactly how this would look. It would be on my inner wrist and I can picture the exact font. It’s sort of an abbreviated version of “all is full of love,” but it’s from its own song.

all of our failures are training grounds
I’m well acquainted with failure. This would be perfect for me to remember.

ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in
This is a newly-discovered lyrics that is just perfect for what I’ve been going through with surgery. My body was perfect in its wholeness (although I didn’t always realize it), and now I’ve been cut open and disfigured (however slightly) and need to remember that nothing is completely perfect and that’s what makes things beautiful. I don’t know what part of this I would get, if I were to tattoo it – the whole thing, or just “ring the bells that still can ring” or the last two lines on their own.

I go back and forth about all of these, though, because I don’t want to be seen as a whimsical teenager with a sharpie, doodling song lyrics all over my body. That’s not what I’m going for. But I believe tattoos need to mean something, and these are the words that mean something to me.

This post is brought to you by the Blog Every Day In May Challenge.

day 3

Things that make me uncomfortable:
-food on people’s faces
-loud noises (!!!)
-being embarrassed. I mean, everyone is uncomfortable being embarrassed, but I think I take it to a whole new level. I freeze up and can barely even move, I’m so uncomfortable.
-awkward conversations (go figure)
-people in the car with me when I’m driving
-people looking over my shoulder when I’m using a computer
-people going through my things (are we noticing a theme here?)
-being rejected/being told no (even on a very minor level, like someone not being able to get together for a drink)
-when someone very vocally hates something I like
-when people comment on my dietary choices
-vomit
-a whole lot of other things

This post is brought to you by the Blog Every Day In May Challenge.