Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Pink Irony

Turns out this breast cancer club is kind of a woman thing. Yeah, that's a problem. I have never been good at women's club things. Never. I may not be a "group" person in general. For example, the thought of a cancer support group, to me, is worse than the disease. And not surprisingly, no one (not even my health care providers) has suggested that I attend one. Okay, well, the oncologist's office did hand me a calendar of "events" at San Antonio Community hospital (which has an awful lot of support groups--but none for generally grumpy, sarcastic souls such as me) but the calendar was for January and February and she handed it to me on February 26th. Funny, they've never given me the March/April calendar. And I was so wondering what to do with all my spare time when I manage to stay awake in between chemo appointments, white blood cell crashes, blood tests, hives, 300lb limbs and practicing law in my year-old office. But that's what blogs are for.

So here I am--breast cancer person, thrust into a world of pink ribbons, cute t-shirts, inspirational talks/signs/ poems/books, woman power and....cliques. Yeah, cliques. Now don't get me wrong, I love the shirts. The favorite I've seen thus far was one that didn't apply to me--but if it did, you'd see me with the following emblazoned across my chest: "NO, They're Not Real. (the real ones tried to kill me)." But I'm not that big of a fan of pink (fuchsia, sure, but not baby pink), I think the whole "woman power/ be strong/ sisterhood" thing is cloying and annoying, and I couldn't possibly be inspiring to a single soul. I'm more of a warning to others (Kids, don't be like me). I also tend to find myself uninspired by things that I'm just sure are supposed to inspire me. I'm fairly certain, now halfway through this "journey," that at it's end, I will be epiphany-less. I will not be one of those people inspired to quit my job and pursue my passion. I will not suddenly decide to run or even walk marathons (I consider all these breast cancer walks to be invitations to hell; I thus decline. Please note there are no "Prostate Cancer 3 days of Group Pain" events with everyone in baby blue hugging each others sweaty selves; None.) I likely won't even begin to exercise regularly. I probably won't even be a kinder person and I'm highly unlikely to consider every day a gift (unless it involves wine. Or is a Saturday at home.) I want nothing more than to get through this and return to being me. Just like I was before. Sorry.

This feeling that I'm a member of a club has been around since early after my diagnosis. And hey, it's not a club anyone wants to belong to so that's no surprise. The feeling that I might be a loser member of the club and not living up to expectations is new-ish. But the fact that there are "cliques" within this club and a sort of "rule book" is only starting to sneak up on me. I'm not sure I'm finding my clique. Maybe because my people don't go to pink events? I might now be the equivalent of the goth kids in high school.

An example of what I mean. I went to the Inland Agency "Shop to Stop Breast Cancer" event last Monday. It's a fabulous event and it raises a lot of money to provide mammograms to women under 40 who wouldn't otherwise be able to get them. In just January and February alone they provided 120 mammograms and found 5 cancers! That's unfortunate and fabulous at the same time. So I wanted to support the cause (hey, I love shopping as much as the next woman, and I was feeling good that day). I bought my agency bucks and got my friend Valerie Zucker to go with me (that's us shopping in the photo; okay, that's her shopping and me being overwhelmed).

I wore the short blond wig with a head scarf (it keeps the fake hair out of my face) and I noticed two other women who were clearly fellow chemo gals. One wore just a cute newsboy cap and the other wore a bandanna. They both looked great. There were likely others there, choosing to wear wigs and thus not as easily identifiable as chemo folks. I definitely noted this and thought about how that really is such a personal choice--how one deals with the most obvious sign of this disease (or, the treatment anyway, since that's what causes the baldness). Look, I can laugh at my chemoenstein look, but that doesn't mean I don't want to look as good as I can look throughout this and especially in public (I'm not good with sympathy, so if I can avoid it--great!). That's what works for me and that's what helps me get through this. But there are "cliques" that form around this choice and there is, it seems, a sort of judgment among the groups. I've heard the "wigs are for wimps" on more than one occasion. And at that event someone told me how another breast cancer survivor had responded to being told that I had several wigs and chose to be blond one day, red the next, etc. with "yeah, well, wait 'til it gets warmer." Hey, thanks for the encouragement. Apparently if I don't just run around bald, I'm not part of the cool kids. Okay. I can live with that. I may or may not run around bald someday. But I don't think that makes me any more or any less of...well, anything. For the record, I generally prefer just a scarf (tied jauntily and fashionably, of course, in a way that resembles either a biker or a pirate, depending on the angle of the tie) and I usually wear just that out and about and at home. But at work? I don't know. Do my clients really need to be focused on my issues when they're paying me to focus on theirs? Do I need to have such a constant reminder of this "journey"? The answer is no. I'm a little unclear on why anyone else would want to make this choice for someone else or force a viewpoint. When we don't have cancer, is it permissible to comment on each others hairstyles of choice? Because if so....I've got a few things to say to some people!

Then came the inspirational speeches from the inspirational chair and the honorary chair (I'm unclear on the difference). I knew I was in trouble. First up was one of those women who actually is inspirational--you know, she's the one who runs the marathons, beat cancer twice, is happy, perky, thin. Shit. She belongs to the healthy athlete clique of pink. They do yoga, eat right, run, all that stuff and from the looks of things they have inner peace. I have breast cancer and Lay's potato chips. That's it.

Then came the other. She emphasized how she got through it by being aggressive in her treatment and with a strong family, strong friends and strong faith--at which point I turned to Valerie and said "I'm totally f**ked." Which worked out well since she had just turned to me and said "You're totally f**ked." (There's a reason we're friends). My friends have been great and I have more than I knew, and my family seems to be taking turns being normal, so there's that, but I have zero faith. Zero. So, yeah. Screwed. As the inspirational speech went on, Valerie told me she'd be leaving me to go hang out with these far more impressive women. I can hardly blame her. She was particularly impressed with the "I went to work everyday with a positive attitude" statement. Okay, I'm thinking the inspiration meant every day that she went to work, she was positive. Because, as far as I know, there aren't mobile chemo infusion facilities that come to your positive self at your workplace, so at least a few days of work had to be missed. But Valerie was adamant this woman was stronger, better, faster than me. (Valerie was kidding. I think.) But hell, I'm sure the inspiration is stronger, better, faster. I didn't go to work everyday with a positive attitude before all this, why would I be different now?? And, I kinda wanna scream, why do I have to be?? Oh wait, I don't. I'm not part of the we shall overcome inspirational pink clique either. Phew. Okay, no yoga, no marathons, no faith, no positive attitude. Still breast cancer. That's it. That's all I've got for you. (I was inspired to have a drink with Valerie in the Marriott martini lounge after the event. Does that count?) There are thousands of breast cancer survivors. Where's my clique? (For the record, I did not have this problem in high school; sarcastic un-inspirational girls with attitude were all the rage in high school, although hair style was extremely important then too.)

There are signs my people may be out there. There is Cancer Vixen of course (and to prove my point, at the event I was the lone purple Cancer Vixen t-shirt in a sea of pink Save the TaTas t-shirts; I probably overlooked a few Avon Walk t-shirts and the inevitable "Live Love Laugh" or "Mothers Daughters Sisters Friends" pink ribbon shirts). And I found a book called "Five Lessons I Didn't Learn From Breast Cancer (and One Big One I Did)" by Shelley Lewis. I think I'm gonna like her. A sampling: "If you honestly think breast cancer is a gift, you can't come to my birthday party." And: "I guess you could say my relationship with God has been problematic for both of us." She even talks about being in a separate chapter of "The Club." This could work. Next lunch time, I'm totally taking my tray over to her table to see if I can sit with her and Cancer Vixen. I hope they like my scarf.


  1. Thanks for putting my thoughts (cancer, baldness, groups, god, etc.) to paper in such an honest and refreshing read. Your clique is bigger than you realize...

    Can't wait to read your post on your lunch with the Cancer Vixen and Shelley!


  2. How about a fuschia t-shirt with "Stop staring at my breasts" and a small middle finger? If I ever get breast cancer, I wanna sit at your table!

  3. Hey, I'm at home in Vermont this week - so you should be getting that Analytics hit from Vermont you needed!

    PS - I'm not a group person either. But have found some use in writing groups.

  4. T, Kathy is right -- your clique IS bigger than you think it is, and you, and this blog, are so necessary. Okay, I don't have breast cancer, but I'm with you on the woman power/sisterhood thing/group hugs and miles and miles of pink whatever (altho I happen to love that color!). I can't imagine dealing with ALL THAT and chemo, too! But, here's the rub: you DO it and you share how you do it with others thru this, I'm here to tell you, you ARE inspiring.

  5. You are all welcome in my clique--but I hope you don't have to join. And Kathy, I know you joined, so you are more of the clique leader at this point!

    Sara--I hadn't thought about that. My writing group is the only group to which I have successfully belonged for any length of time (5 years now). So thanks for that reminder. I feel better about myself!

  6. Yeah, cause you know how to kill a [reading] book club.

  7. Thelma-
    Damn that Valerie-she probably only buddied up to the inspirational co-cancer-co-chair to get a free shirt, or better parking. I happen to thrive on your sacastic, unclique, non-crowd, group hug be damned attitude...always have. Remember, "its them"......
    See you soon-in a not so crowded, sympathetic not, place,...with a bar.

  8. Teresa: I have been fascinated by your blog since Laureen told me about it months ago. I wanted to let you know that I was especially touched by the level of your honesty in your newest post. I cannot put myself in your place, but you continue to give all of us an incredible insight into your ordeal. Thanks for writing, Nancy Teixeira

  9. Was thinking about you and glad you got some sound sleep.Not being much of a joiner myself,esp. womens groups--I get it.I guess you got the cancer with all the frills and publicity and pink. You don't hear much about the one I suffered through- hey, do you know it has a ribbon too.With my reserved persona though it worked for me. I would not have liked all the "fluff" either. It is actually a one person journey,just like life is and must ultimately be a personal and solitary one--when its all said and done.Keep doing it as Sinatra said "my way"-

  10. "My real ones tried to kill me..." Too funny! That sticks out in my mind in this whole entry today because it's not healthy to dwell on those who seem to need to be bitchy. "I have cancer worse than you...and I'm more positive about it than you are..." Cliques suck. Where does it end?


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