Search This Blog

Friday, July 6, 2012

It's been over 2 years since my first round of chemo...

It has been a LONG time since I've blogged on NFPR.

There have been times, off and on, when I've thought about logging in and sharing a story or insight or observation. There have been moments when I've wanted to write to process what I was going through.  Or to record an amusing anecdote.  Or to mark an anniversary:  The 2nd year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (which is also, unfortunately, the day after my husband's birthday--it will remain unforgettable for us on many levels).  The 2nd year anniversary of my port being put in.  The 2nd year anniversary of when I started chemo.

But, of course, I didn't.

Didn't write about these milestones.  Didn't commemorate them.  Didn't even note them, in some cases, until after the fact.

So why am I back now?

Not sure.

Maybe because in doing research for a chapter I'm writing on transracial/transnational adoptee blogs, I came across an essay by a theorist who works on narrative and new media, and she was writing about the gendered nature of cancer blogs.  And in describing the various "story-genres" and purposes for which women wrote about their breast cancer (and all of the blogs she analyzed were breast cancer blogs--at least the ones written by women--she also looked at male bloggers who wrote about a variety of cancers that they were experiencing), I was reminded of my own blog--how useful and helpful it had been for me to have a place to talk about my experiences with cancer.  To vent my rage and frustration and anxiety about going making treatment decisions, through chemotherapy, preparing for surgery, living without breasts, and thinking about my mortality.

Recently I learned that my ex-husband's stepmother (are you following that chain?) died a year ago from ovarian cancer.  She had been a breast cancer survivor.  Her ovarian cancer came nearly ten years after her breast cancer diagnosis and seems to have been a result of the chemotherapy and radiation treatment that she underwent.  I'm, unfortunately, no longer in touch with my ex-husband or his father/family (I learned about her passing through a mutual friend), but I felt sad and freaked out, both for her/her family and for myself.

This is what having cancer does--it makes you selfish.  It makes you think and wonder about whether it's going to happen to you.  I mean, of course I was sorry about her passing.  And it felt weird to learn about her death from someone other than my ex-husband--highlighting the estrangement from a family that I'd been married into for over a decade.  But part of my sadness over her passing was also a sadness at wondering whether her fate could be my fate.  Would this be my fate in another 8 years.  Could I be developing cancer in my ovaries, in my uterus, as a result of the chemotherapy or just because--just because when you have cancer, there is a potential for it to spread to other parts of your body.  And uterine and ovarian cancer is so difficult to detect because you can't see or feel the tumor.

A week ago I was having drinks with some friends, and someone brought up the fact that she sometimes forgot that I had had cancer.  I know what she means--at least, I know why she could forget.  I don't talk about it very often--I mean, it doesn't really come up in everyday conversation.  And there are few visual reminders.  I suppose the most prominent one is that I no longer have breasts, but since I was small to begin with and since I've learned to select clothes that don't enhance my bust (or missing bustline) it's easy to forget that there's a part of me that's missing, especially now that my hair has completely grown back in (and it has grown back thicker and darker than before, if you can believe that--I have less gray hair now than I did pre-cancer--not that I ever had a lot of white hair--I inherited my father's genes for that because he didn't go gray until he turned 50 and then "poof!" it was all overnight).

So I totally understand why my friend sometimes forgets that I have cancer, and why no one who didn't know me 2 years ago would even wonder about me and whether I'd had breast cancer because I just look like a normal, healthy woman in her early 40s (Matthew would say I look like I'm in my early 30s, but he may be looking at me with eyes of love).

But I don't ever forget.  And I don't mean because there's ocular evidence everytime I shower and look down at my scars.  I mean because I feel like being a person with cancer--having experienced chemotherapy and the various surgeries I had related to my cancer diagnosis--that's now all a part of who I am.  I think about being a person with a cancer diagnosis (notice that I still don't feel comfortable calling myself a "survivor") in the same way that I think about myself as a woman or as an Asian American.  These identities are part of who I am in such a naturalized, almost essentialized (I use that word, hesistantly, since I'm not trying to say that there is an essentialized element or quality to being a woman or being Asian, but perhaps I don't need to be so academically cautious in this space).

I've internalized having a cancer diagnosis and going through cancer treatment in the same way that I've internalized the fact that I have an Asian face.  These are parts of me that just are and that are unforgettable to me.

Anyway, I think it might be time for me to start writing in this space again.  I needed some distance from thinking about myself in relation to my cancer.  But I might be ready to start exploring some things that I've been thinking what the best thing is about not having breasts (I'll save that for a future post).  So if anyone is still reading this blog from its initial startup 2 years ago, thanks for being a loyal reader.  And for anyone new, I hope that this blog provides some interesting insights for you, and feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Hi Jen,
    I just found your blog - mostly because of it's title. I too HATE pink ribbons - but for me it goes way beyond just ribbons - I hate pink. I've had breast cancer. I had reactions so similar to yours in all areas - from the genetic testing (negative, but my grandmother died from breast cancer, my cousin had ovarian cancer and my little sister also had breast cancer - ????) to how I feel about being a survivor. You've captured me!

    I haven't yet read all your posts, but I also HATE how many companies are making money off the "pink" of breast cancer. It's become so commercial that the effort loses sight of the individuals going through treatment (mostly just multilation treatment).

    Anyway - thank you.

  2. Cyndney,
    Welcome and thanks for reading! I always wonder about the folks who find their way to my blog--was it that you typed in "hate pink ribbons" and up I popped? It was difficult for me to find like-minded folks when I was going through chemo--I do think there's a solid group of us who want a different type of support network and way to think about ourselves as people who had breast cancer. Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment--and I hope that you've been living with NED for a while now.

  3. Hi Jen,
    Your blog was listed as a favorite on another blog I read - not a BC blog. I guessed from the title that maybe I had found a like soul. I didn't realize until I just re-read my comment how angry I still am about some of my issues around the disease. I'm 2 years NED. How about you?

    Thanks so much!!


    1. Cydney,
      I'm always amazed that this blog still has readers--it's really gratifying to know that my words/thoughts in what I went through with breast cancer still resonate with people.

      I do understand your anger--my own anger sustained me through chemo and surgery. It's an odd thing to say, I know--that being angry was a sustaining/helpful emotion. But for me, that's how it felt. I suppose it was a way of holding back other emotions that were trickier to deal with--at least this is what I ended up processing with my therapist months after my surgery, when I realized I was depressed and ready to look at other issues post-chemo/surgery.

      I am two years NED (we probably got diagnosed around the same time--April 2010). Here's to hoping we add a zero to that number (and a few other digits).

  4. So glad you are writing again. I can't remember how I stumbled upon your blog after my diagnosis last summer, but it really helped me through those initial dark days. Fellow Asian, roughly same age (late 30s), not in academia but have a "lay person's" interest in your area. Very appreciative of your tone, your honesty, your fearlessness in laying it all out there.
    Looking forward to more, whenever you feel the muse.

    1. Hi Dianne,
      I'm so glad you found your way to this blog--or rather, I'm glad that it was helpful. That is probably the most gratifying thing to know--that recording my experience (which was very therapeutic for me at the time) has been helpful for others as they've navigated their cancer diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath.

      I also have to say that there's not a lot of forums for Asian American women with cancer--there aren't really any models. In some ways I don't think that there needs to be, but in other ways I think it'd be nice to know other women who, by age, race, position in life, are going through cancer and facing similar issues. It's one of the things I've been thinking about--models for my own life post-cancer/chemo--and how much race is a factor in all of that.

      Thanks for leaving a comment--I think I may be blogging more in this space and I always appreciate the dialogue. I also hope that you're doing well and are in the stages of being NED (no evidence of disease).

  5. Hi Jennifer. Your blog has been in my Favorites since I googled "women who choose not to be reconstructed". I commented anonymously on your Missing My Breasts article. I am 1 1/2 years post bilateral mastectomy now, all my tumor markers and tests were good in December. Do wish my oncologist would have said the NED word to me.
    I'm so glad to see you are writing again. You will never know how much support I got and get from your blog.
    I have found an excellent tattoo artist and am going forward with my plans for a full chest tattoo. I want to see something beautiful on my chest when I get out of the shower.
    So glad you're back. Keep writing. Thanks again for your words and thoughts. Deena

  6. Deena,
    So nice to hear from you again! And thank you for your kind words about this blog. It really does give me a warm fuzzy to know that what I wrote about was helpful to you and most of all supportive. It's funny--I didn't think I wanted or needed a support group when I was going through cancer, but lately I've been wanting to talk with other women who have been through what I've been through, which may be a reason why I'm starting to blog here again.

    I'm not sure if you saw the post I did about my commemorative ankle tattoo--it's of a lotus. It was supposed to be a prelude to the full chest tattoo, but honestly I'm such a wimp in terms of pain, I decided that the ankle tattoo was the last one I get. I'm so glad you are going to do a full chest tattoo! I'll live vicariously through you!

    Finally, congrats on being 1 & 1/2 years post bilateral mastectomy surgery. Without sounding too treacly, I think every year we're around is a year to celebrate!