Saturday, July 20, 2013

Right Now

I'm not one of those people who lives in the past but I do tend to get ahead of myself and live in the future.

The simplicity of this quote is all I ever need to remember in order to stay calm and grounded and it feels particularly relevant right now.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mastectomy Scars? Get over it!

You know how the expression goes: 

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  

In my case, it was Istanbul.

I had this romantic notion that I would spend the last day of my trip being lavishly pampered at a traditional Turkish Hamam, otherwise known as a bath house. I had made friends with the proprietor of the boutique hotel I was staying at and since she had sent me to some great sites already, I let her assist with making arrangements.  She had two places in mind.  The "better" one couldn't take me at the time I wanted to go so by default, I went to the Tarihi Galatasaray Hamami which has been around since 1481.  I figured after 500+ years they would know what they were doing.

And of course they do but as I approached the modest entryway I sensed immediately that the images on their website, a tame version of a Bacchanalian festival with bowls of fruit and people lounging about playing mandolins, were wholly inaccurate. Mind you, that wasn't exactly the experience I was looking to have either but I could deal with a few grapes if the reward was a soothing massage.


After paying for the full-service "Pasha Treatment" (around $80) which included bath+soap scrub+oil massage I was led to the ladies' side and greeted by four older, full-figured women who only spoke Turkish and were in the midst of what seemed to be a nasty sisterly spat. It was quite comical actually even though I couldn't understand a word they were saying. The facilities were bare bones and it almost felt like I was in these women's kitchen since they were doing dishes and watching tv. I was put into a windowed changing room (did I mention this place is not for shy people?) and handed a cotton pestamal, or wrap, and wooden shoes.

Allow me to backtrack for a minute. Remember the bathing suit  from J. Crew I mentioned in my earlier post that I was all excited to wear for the occasion? Well, when the hotel owner called, I had her explain that I wanted to wear a bikini top because I had scars. She said it would be no problem.  I had no idea how naive that was at the time...

There was only one other guest at the Hamam when I was there, a Greek woman who spoke perfect English and was equally confused. She had her underwear wedged up her butt, no top, and a pestamal clumsily knotted around her torso. Since none of the ladies spoke English and were too pre-occupied with their bickering, I put on my bikini bottoms, tightly wrapped the cloth around my top, and waited in a plastic chair for the games to begin. I figured I had nothing to worry about...I was getting a massage and would either be on my stomach or covered with the cloth if turned on my back, right?  Finally, I was led into the bath and through sign language was ordered to lie face-down on a hard, marble slab in the middle of the room. I clung to my pestamal for dear life as the woman attempted to yank it from my body. I won. She shrugged as if to say, "suit'll see" and walked out.


Like a salmon waiting to be gutted, I watched the final moments of the Greek woman's treatment. She had a painful looking expression on her face as she was pushed, poked, prodded, and practically water-boarded. This was not at all what I expected.

I considered getting up and leaving but it was too bather had entered.


Let's just say the women who bathe you don't look like those in the picture. They are all well over 65, Rubenesque, and with great, big boobs practically hanging on the floor. They also aren't wrapped in a beautifully patterned cloth. Instead, they wear only a pair of bunched-up underwear and proudly parade around with their undulating bellies and swinging boobs on full display.

Somehow it's easier to be naked in front of perfect strangers so I took a deep breath, pointed to my scars and made the universally understood motion to go easy. My woman nodded like it was no big deal, put on her sloughing mitt, and went to work scraping away layer upon layer of dead skin while being perfectly mindful of the no-touch zones. When I opened my eyes there were black clusters all over my body which were washed away by bucket loads of water thrown at me. My skin felt like silk.  Next came this abundantly frothy soap which is administered by wringing a long sponge over your body and you're given a quick scrub of your feet, arms, legs, and back. Interestingly, the amount of coverage from this thick soap is way more than any bathing suit would ever have provided. The picture above is totally accurate for that at least. The last step is to have your hair washed while sitting on a footstool with the woman perched behind you as she scrubs your scalp, neck, and back into another sudsy lather.

Bathing at a Hamam is basically a full-contact sport. Things move fast and there is water flowing, splashing, and rushing out of every crack in that room. After being "rinsed" I was again told to lie face-down on the marble platform and wait as my woman proceeded to bathe herself (to remove my dirty germs presumably) like a well-choreographed play. I had already watched the same scene play out with the Greek woman's bather so I knew this was truly a ritual with a precise sequence of steps.  When she was done, she simply walked out.

No one ever came to get me. I eventually wrapped myself in my towel and went out to the waiting room.  Nonchalantly, my woman handed me a bottle of water and led me upstairs for the oil massage.  Finally I thought...this is where the relaxing part happens. Uh uh...we went upstairs but stopped on the landing where a low, cushioned bench was pressed up against the railing. Where was the zen music and candle light? I was told to lie down right there in the middle of the hall where I was slathered in oil and kneaded for a quick 20 minutes. The woman slapped me on the back, smiled, and said "good?"And just like that, we were done.

Would I go again? I'd have to think about that. The funny thing about this experience is that I actually took a shower and washed my hair before I left my hotel room. I figured it was only polite after all.  Kind of like making sure to brush your teeth before visiting the dentist.  

All I know is that if you have any insecurities about revealing your scars, find yourself a 65 year-old, rotund, Turkish woman to be your witness because she definitely won't give a damn!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

C.G.G.C Is Now On Facebook!

Just a quick note to say I've started a page on Facebook for Cool Girls Get Cancer.  FB seems to be a much easier way to communicate quick bits of information to a broader audience.  The blog, as you've noticed, is plagued with fits and starts depending on whatever else is going on in my life but I will always come back to it when I want to write lengthier posts.

So please head over and LIKE C.G.G.C's page here.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

Last year at this time, I was in Florence, Italy for work. It was about 8 weeks after surgery and I remember worrying if I would have the energy to make it through 3 days of a yarn convention (very exciting stuff!) and enjoy the side trip to Barcelona I planned afterwards as a reward to myself.

I breezed through the show and I saw every inch of that amazing Spanish city.

Florence is hot, hot, hot this time of year and I had to wear 2-3 layers of shirts because the expanders were so swollen and rested very high up on my chest. I was self-conscious that every one in my industry would know so I covered-up extra. I'm still a little self-conscious but I can definitely wear less now thankfully.

I'll be in Florence again for the 4th of July and then jetting over to Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday for my latest adventure. There's been some civil unrest there but I'm excited to experience a culture that is so different from the ones I've seen before. The protests mentioned in 7/1's NY Times were about gay rights and previously the protests in Taksim Square seemed somewhat akin to the Occupy Wall Street Movement here in NYC. I'm not so worried but just in case, I printed out map quest directions from my hotel to the U.S. Embassy!

On my last day there, after I'm all toured and shopped out, I'm planning to visit one of the famous Turkish Baths that a friend recommended. And while I hate wearing a bathing suit now more than ever, I did manage to find a decent bikini at J. Crew without uncomfortable underwires that covers all my scars, dents, and divots. Naturally, they no longer carry the style I got a few months ago but this French Top is very similar with the same full coverage at the sides and no underwires.

Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New York Magazine's Best Doctors 2013

I've already posted this on Facebook and tweeted it to the world but it warrants repeating for those of you who don't follow those things.

I wanted to post a big congratulations to one of my oldest and best friends Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale on being named one of New York Magazine's Best Doctors, 2013 for Dermatology. This is a huge honor and so well-deserved.

If you live in NYC maybe you've seen Liz on "Taxi TV" or if you have insomnia you may have caught her endorsing Cindy Crawford's Meaningful Beauty skincare line or maybe you saw her the other day on CBS This Morning sandwiched between Gayle, Norah, and Charlie Rose talking about the dangers of sun exposure or maybe you saw her here on the blog running Race For The Cure with me last year just 4 months after my surgery.

Anne-Marie Slaughter should have done her homework before she wrote her piece for The Atlantic because Liz is a woman who really does have it all and can probably teach us all the secret. She's a doctor, wife, mom of 3, dedicated sister, daughter, aunt, friend, clinical professor, Skin Cancer Foundation Vice President, elite soul-cycler, and kick-ass cookie maker just to name a few of her accolades. Our group of friends who grew-up together likes to joke that Liz was born with an extra gear...we have no idea where her energy comes from but she is unstoppable. She has unbridled enthusiasm and is a relentless optimist. She is one of the smartest and most accomplished people you will ever meet but she is also one of the kindest, most humble, and funniest as well.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Liz assumed the role of master ringleader and immediately stepped in to make sure I received the best care available. When I got the results from the needle biopsy the 1st call I made was to my brother, also a doctor (I didn't even tell my parents I had had a suspicious mammogram much less a biopsy becuase I thought it would be nothing and didn't want them to worry.) The second call, actually text message, was to Liz. She was on ski trip out West with her family.  I wrote, "Can you talk?" In typical Liz fashion she replied within minutes and asked, "Did you get the results?" I said yes and that they weren't good. She said, "I just got off the chairlift and I'm skiing down to meet the kids. I'll call you in 15 minutes."And she did. Within a few hours she had spoken to her colleague Dr. Richard Shapiro, a top breast surgeon at NYU Cancer Institute, and made arrangements for me to see him the next day...all during her vacation in a different time zone. Unfortunately, the imaging center couldn't get my films and reports together as quickly as Liz could get me an appointment so I had to wait a few days.

Liz was also one of the clearest voices in helping me navigate my decision on whether to have a single or a double mastectomy. She knew I was very conflicted over the one vs. two debate and that I was too overwhelmed and not medically knowledgeable enough to understand the potential prognosis longterm. As I waited for my BRCA test results, Liz felt strongly that regardless of the outcome a bilateral mastectomy was the wisest choice. Liz may sometimes be over-the-top positive but she is medically pragmatic and responsible and her definitive recommendation was very much appreciated.  I wanted and needed someone to guide me and Liz offered exactly that. One year later I can say with 100% certainty that I made the right choice and have never regretted it even for a minute.

I realize I am incredibly lucky to have a close friend who is a top doctor in a medical mecca like New York City but the take-away for those of you who don't have a Liz is to make sure you have someone who can advocate for you, who will keep asking your doctors questions on your behalf when you're not capable of thinking clearly for yourself, and who will insist on taking care of you so you don't have to even think of asking for help. All friends and family can and should do that for you...awards not withstanding.

So thank you Liz!  I look forward to many more healthy and happy years of friendship.

You can follow Liz on twitter @dermdrhale