Friday, November 25, 2016

Best Winter Weekend Getaways from NYC for Families

Now that Thanksgiving is over (already??) wintertime will soon be here and if you're a parent, a student, or have the great fortune of working at a school like my sister does, then that also means that winter break is on the horizon. I've started working for Time Out New York Kids every week writing fun events listings for their website and for this month's winter issue, I've written a roundup of the best winter getaways the family can take once the snow sets in. I've only been skiing once when I was 11 years old, but it was such an awful, scary experience that I never tried it again. Think climbing up the mountain on a chair lift with no lesson as to how to get off or skiing down a bunny hill and continually smashing up against the side of a barn in order to finally come to halt.

Now after doing research for this piece, I think I'd love to give it another try. Snow tubing and sledding sounds amazing and I've never done either so those are also on my list. Ice skating might be the only snowy sporty activity that I really enjoy especially when its against a backdrop of New York City at Central Park. What are some of your favorite seasonal activities?

For a list of wintry sports spots and more laid-back destinations to visit with your family in the coming months, read Time Out New York Kids' feature on the best winter weekend getaways from NYC for families.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stay Cozy

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Today, I am thankful for my amazing, supportive family and friends, the kind words I've received from you dear readers, the fact that I'm still alive to celebrate today, and the 10 hours of sleep I was finally able to get last night. I'm also grateful for this ginormous, cozy scarf that my friend taught me to knit last winter that has been keeping me warm these days. Big and little things!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Starting Breast Cancer Hormonal Therapy – Lupron: Month 1

fter being diagnosed with breast cancer this second time around, my doctors decided to up the ante to make sure that it wouldn’t come back again. I’d already had a lumpectomy in 2013, underwent radiation, and then started on a five-year-long plan of Tamoxifen pills. Because my cancer cells were estrogen receptor positive and fed off the estrogen hormone to grow, the pills were supposed to block that hormone from reaching the cancer cells and thus significantly lower my chances of recurrence. But turns out it wasn’t enough. I’m not even four years in and I’m battling this monster again.

Now not only did we remove cancer cells with a second lumpectomy, hopefully clearing out the area entirely with a bilateral mastectomy scheduled for December 2nd, possibly zapping the spot with a second round of radiation, and continuing a daily intake of Tamoxifen (for the time being), but I’ve also started monthly hormonal therapy injections of Lupron. The Tamoxifen might keep estrogen hormone from reaching the cancer cells’ receptors, but the Lupron will completely lower the amount of estrogen I have running through my body. In essence, I will be going into a fake menopause for the next year in the hopes that any traces of cancer still left in my body will be starved to death. Should be a fun ride.

As with most things prescribed to fix one medical issue, this one can mess you up in other ways. For example, a rare side effect of Tamoxifen is uterine or endometrial cancer. Meanwhile, Lupron can lead to a thinning of the bones and worsen depression, two side effects I’m highly wary about because of my petite frame and mental health history. Other common side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, decreased libido, and forgetfulness. And because this drug is typically prescribed to manage endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside it, a woman’s period will be spotty or stop entirely for the duration of the treatment. Anyone’s who experienced menopause will probably tell you that it highly sucks and that’s basically what I’m expecting out of this journey. When I started on the Tamoxifen, the most common and hardest side effect to deal with was the hot flashes and it took at least two years before my body temperature was able to regain some stability.

The Lupron injection itself wasn’t totally painful, but I was incredibly anxious leading up to it because I hate needles. I went into it thinking it would be a shot on my arm, but they went with my tush instead. This was fine because I think the needle might have poked right out the other end of my tiny arms; I actually have some fat stored in my ass. Some soreness followed for the next couple of days, but Advil helped me handle that.

While my mood has been bouncing around the past month, it’s hard to tell what’s caused by the hormonal change and was is just natural considering this stressful situation.

I kept waiting for the hot flashes and mood swings to immediately take over, but nothing was really noticeable for the first two weeks. By the end of the third week though, I started to get hints of a hot flash when laying in bed. I like to sleep completely covered from head to toe and I’m sure that paired with the heat going in the apartment didn’t help. The first full-fledged hot flash happened towards end of week four. Alex and I were cuddling in bed under the covers. We were both fully clothed and I had on a sweater because his apartment is usually chilly. After a few minutes of nuzzling, I felt my body temperature start to shoot up and when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I sat up, threw the covers off of us, zipped my sweater off, flung the T-shirt up over my head, and sat there wiping my forehead waiting for my body to cool down. It just sneaks up on you so quickly.

“Wait, I have something for you,” Alex said from behind me. I thought he’d go grab me a cup of cold water, but instead I felt his icy hands up against my back.

“Yes,” I moaned before exposing the back of my neck to him so that he could warm his hands on my skin. I usually shriek in pain whenever cold hits me, but this time? It was such a relief.
Damn hot flashes, I thought. And so it begins.


Friday, November 11, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election: Yeah, That Really Just Happened

It's been three days since Election Day and I still can't believe Donald Trump actually won the presidency. During the past year and a half of madness that was his campaign, I devoured any news covering him and the other candidates. I was fascinated, yes, but I just assumed that there'd be no way that such an ignorant loose cannon would get very far. But then the other candidates started falling off and a year after launching his campaign stating that Mexico was sending us its drugs, crime, and rapists, he received the Republican nomination. Surprised me for sure, but then I thought that after three dismal debates against Hillary Clinton, his bumbling idiocy would be so clear to anyone left doubting if he'd be a good president or not. "But look at him!" I'd tell my boyfriend, who was cringing too hard to look at the screen. "Everyone is going to see how terrible he is! This is perfect!"

But no, his supporters kept cheering on louder and no matter how many scandals came to light, pussy he'd grabbed, or derogatory comments he spewed, he found a following of "deplorables" eager to carry their savior straight to the White House. He'd been an entertaining hot mess to watch, but as election night wore on and all that red started covering the map, the dread and frightening realization finally set in: Donald Trump, a man who's taken to Twitter to insult everyone and your moms, was going to be the next president of the United States of America. Up until that final moment, I just could not, would not believe that such a hateful person could win out over all.

And yet he did and that fact hit me like a ton of bricks at 3:30am when the terror finally caught up with me and I started sobbing in bed. It makes me sad and terrified not just because of the direction this country will take under his leadership, but because of how many agreed with and voted for someone who's demonized entire ethnic groups with stereotypes and lies. His campaign has fanned the flames of fear in people and given them the permission to act on that ignorance. Since Trump was named as the president elect, news of confrontations, hate crimes, and bigotry against members of Black, Hispanic, and Muslim communities has been trickling in.

Like others in my social circles, I realize that I am so spoiled by living in such a culturally diverse, liberal bubble. The idea that a racist, sexist demagogue with no clue as to how to run an ethical business let alone America could ever hold the highest office in the country is just preposterous to us. But turns out there's a huge chunk of Americans, namely working-class white Americans from rural areas, who believe differently and who've grown resentful of how our government has neglected them. Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" by deporting certain people, increasing racial profiling, building walls, bringing back their coal-mining jobs, and instituting discriminatory policies based on religious beliefs resounded with them. And that's the part that really scares me. Because while most of us are hoping that he'll only be able to do so much during his time in office, it's a fact that our neighbors around the country voted for him despite a platform built on hatred and ignorance. Their worries and racist inclinations might have been kept at bay before, but once Trump came in and laughed at the very idea of political correctness, they saw someone who was finally speaking their language. So what if the message was full of insensitivity and lies? Every other politician is full of broken promises anyway. At least here we had a government outsider ready to destroy the party with a sledgehammer, someone who understood them and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. To them, this was someone who could snatch America back from the evil clutches of liberals and minorities. As Van Jones said, "This was a whitelash." Never mind that Trump is just as elitist as those they feel have shunned them in the past.

When I attended Syracuse University in 2005, my friend and I attended an Ann Coulter event. She and I were curious as to what it'd be like because we knew her to be a conservative pundit with nothing but vitriol running through her veins. I couldn't tell you what on Earth she was there to talk about because all that's been cemented in my brain are a) the insults she hurled at a young woman who dared to challenge her prejudiced viewpoints during the Q&A portion of the evening and b) how scary it was to be surrounded by an audience that cheered her on and lavished her with praise. Who were these people and why were there so many of them? Who raised them? Why were they so mean?

And now, come January 20th, we're going to have a bonafide bully leading our country and representing us around the world. "Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together," Trump said in his victory speech. "To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people." Oh, really? Now?! Now you want to "come together as one united people" after the divisive venom you spit in our faces? Please, Mr. Soon-to-Be President, how exactly do you propose we heal from the wounds you slashed into us? Because I think you'll soon find that while mere words can launch a crowd into action, it'll take more than just words to soothe the unrest it has caused.

Monday, November 7, 2016

More Decisions, More Surgery

Three weeks after September’s surgery, I was scheduled to have yet another lumpectomy. The pathology results had shown that the margins weren’t clear for one of the two tumors removed, meaning some cancerous cells might have been left behind. Two days before that surgery, my doctors called. They had presented my case at a weekly conference to the hospital’s surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists who collectively felt that I should consider a mastectomy because of the tumor’s weird behavior. They were concerned that it will spread or creep up again despite radiation and medication like it did this second time around. One minute, I’m feeling on top of the world, paying bills, pushing money into my savings account, on track with work, and texting my friends about my wonderful start to the day and the next I’m a sobbing mess. After receiving the day’s fun assignment from my Time Out New York Kids editor, I actually texted, “This is awesome!” Yeah, that kind of morning.

And then this call comes in and just devastates me. I tell the girls. “I’m about to burst,” I reply to their attempts to soothe me via Whatsapp. I run into the bathroom, close the door, and slump into the carpet. Muffled hysterics ensue.

A mastectomy. Everything gone. Mangled. Broken. Ugly. No longer sexy. Or pretty. I’ll look disgusting. No one will ever want me. The pain. It’ll hurt. What if it comes back anyway? F'ing surgery again? More intense. Will I feel an emptiness in my chest? The shock. Waking up and finding nothing there. Just gone.

The suggestion had come up in conversations before. My mom brought it up after I told my parents I’d have to have a third lumpectomy. “Mira a la Kardashian! Y Adamari L√≥pez!” I corrected her that it wasn't Kim Kardashian but Angelina Jolie who'd had a mastectomy and then shut that suggestion down real quick. That’s way too drastic and never anything I would voluntarily sign up for, I told them. Even when I wrote about Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it still felt so distant from what I’d ever had to go through. My case didn’t feel that serious. It wasn’t even genetic!

And now, three years later, here I am. It feels so unfair to have to consider this decision. I still feel little.

I showed up at my surgeon’s office the following day and asked her a list of questions my therapist helped me write down. She put me in touch with a patient of her’s who was more than happy to chat on the phone with me for an hour, share her experience, and address any concerns I had. I researched and read about the procedure online. What to expect. The benefits and risks. I met my potential plastic surgeon and cried when he told me the process would take so much longer than I had anticipated. I thought I’d be OK by next summer, but no. A year, maybe more. I thought I could put most of this behind me in a matter of months, but because I’d already received radiation once and am supposed to go in for another round, he just didn’t want to risk complications by acting too quickly.

On one hand, this whole situation f’ing blows and quite simply, I don’t want it. Nope. I’ve only just started feeling back to normal after my last surgery and now I’ll have to go through the process all over again. The being physically helpless, the discomfort, the not being able to just do things like wash my hair and shave my arm pits or wear anything other than a button-down shirt. And don’t get me started on taking time off work. But this time around I have to accept that I’m going to need help and I simply cannot do all the things. The big-deal week-long Holiday Handmade Cavalcade I was helping organize for the fourth year in a row? I decided to back out of that along with two other markets coming up in the next month.

But here are the silver linings I’ve been clinging to since deciding that yes, I’m having a double mastectomy.

- If I do nothing, my chances of breast cancer recurrence is 30 percent. After a double mastectomy it would - supposedly - go down to 1 percent. I won’t have to look over my shoulder waiting for this to return (although I can’t front, I’m still scared something will show up somewhere else so I don’t know if that total ease will ever fully return.)

- I won’t need to go in for regular MRIs and mammograms twice a year anymore, which is great because a) those MRIs are so damn loud and obnoxious and b) fewer blasts of radiation, which just cannot be good for me.

- I can turn my lifelong insecurities about my small breasts and the turmoil this cancer has caused me into something better. After seeing the possibilities that breast reconstruction can offer and how some women have reclaimed their body by challenging society's perception of femininity by going flat, getting an amazing chest tattoo, and other feats of “I am still woman, hear me roar,” I’m hoping that I can come out of this journey appreciating my body more than I have before.

It’s been a week and a half since I made my decision and I’m still waiting for this surgery to be scheduled. This is a problem because I’ve slowly slipped into a mental space that feels like it’s not really going to happen. I’m finally feeling physically better from the last surgery. My left arm is no longer in chicken wing mode. I can wear my backpack, sleep comfortably, and be social again. I can relax because I'm good, right?

But I know as soon as I get that damn call that my surgery has been scheduled, it’s going to get way too real all over again.