Dating After a Mastectomy: DOs and DON’Ts

So, Bryce and I broke up. Eight months ago. It didn’t seem like particularly crucial information to anyone’s life so I didn’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops (and by that I mean, post about it on the Interwebz). But lately I’ve received questions from other women about dating after a mastectomy, so it’s time to come clean about the break up.

Now, before I regale you with my dating experiences as of late, I want to make sure all of you ladies out there know that Bryce and I did NOT break up because of my mastectomy, my breast reconstruction, or my BRCA mutation. In fact, Bryce was 100% supportive throughout the entire process and showed a great deal of maturity, for which I’ll always be grateful. We broke up because at 22 years old, two+ years with the same person feels like a lifetime.

Sometimes I miss that Abe Lincoln lookalike, it’s true. And I definitely miss his puggle Hendrix. But I have, for the most part, been enjoying the single life. And it does make for some interesting reading material for the ol’ blog. So in order to report back to my loyal readers and answer your question “How do you tell someone you’re dating about your mastectomy/implants/BRCA mutation?”, I’ve been doing some research. And I’ve learned some DOs and DON’Ts of dating post-mastectomy. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting my findings…starting with:

googlestalkecard

DON’T ask a your date if he or she has Google stalked you. Just don’t. I met a guy at a web developer meetup event, and we went out a few times. During one date, I decided I would tell him about my BRCA mutation and mastectomy, and since he was a computer programmer and had previously told me to check out his personal website, I assumed it was safe to ask him if he’d seen mine. In my head, this is how I imagined the conversation would play out:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: “Why yes, yes I did.”
  • Rachel: “And what did you think?”
  • Guy: “I thought your decision was brave and understandable. You are very smart and wise. I am in awe of your courage and good looks. Also, your writing is hilarious and the simple WordPress.com layout on your blog is not at all outdated. I would like you to meet my rich great aunt who owns the largest book publisher in the world. Oh and would you like to get married?”
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…”

The actual conversation went a bit differently:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: (confused) “…No…”
  • Rachel: (not convinced) “Are you SURE?”
  • Guy: “…I didn’t see it…” (Probably thinking to himself: Oh my god what is her blog about? Is she a serial killer? Porn star? Cult member?)
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…well it’s about breast cancer and stuff…”
  • Guy: (Runs away, screaming.)

OK, so he didn’t really run away screaming, but the horrified look on his face made it pretty obvious that I had made a fatal boo boo. Since I write this blog and I’ve received press coverage for it, I assumed that the guy–being well versed in the ways of the Internet–had already run a Google search of my name and had come across the blog and articles about me. I thought it would be an easy way to cheat and deal with the subject without having to explain it myself.

I was obviously wrong. I still had to explain it all to him–the BRCA mutation, the family history of breast cancer, the mastectomy, the implants–but I had to do it while fighting to convince him that I wasn’t hiding something really bad. Oh well. Lesson learned. Instead of asking guys if they’ve Google stalked me, I now try another tactic:

DO look for ways for your date to indirectly mention it (BRCA mutation, mastectomy, whatever “it” is) without knowing…I call these “topic triggers.” A few weeks after the failed date (which was also my LAST with said guy…hmm, I wonder why?) I went out with another guy, who I had met online. In my dating profile, I mentioned that I blog (in addition to other exhilarating hobbies, such as scrapbooking, playing with my cat, and being a grandma). A fellow writer, he was curious about my blog.

I explained to him that my blog is about hereditary breast cancer and preventative surgeries, a seemingly niche topic with a surprisingly big audience online. I mentioned that yes, I had undergone a prophylactic mastectomy and now had breast implants, but most of the conversation was focused on the blog and the actual writing of it. It ended up being a very valuable conversation for me, because he helped me sort through some issues I’ve been having as a writer.

It baffles me that I'm still single.


With a witty OKCupid profile like this, it’s a wonder I’m still single.

This tactic of subtly sneaking topic triggers into the conversation has worked well for me multiple times. For example, I’ve used my visits to the Playboy Mansion as a segue to my BRCA mutation and mastectomy. Guys are usually so excited that I’ve met Hugh Hefner that they don’t get freaked out by the big scary mastectomy topic.

Now I realize that not all of you run your mouth on a WordPress blog or frequent the Playboy Mansion, but there are other ways to sneak in topic triggers. Do you volunteer with any high-risk breast cancer groups or participate in charity walks for breast cancer? Those are hobbies to discuss. Maybe you’ve taken some time off from work for your surgeries and you’re preparing to go back? Talk about your return to the office.

If you try this and it backfires horribly…well…sorry. 5-carat diamond engagement rings are not guaranteed with this method. But stay tuned for more DOs and DON’Ts, and maybe you’ll find a gem after all.

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I had a mastectomy before it was cool…#hipstersofmastectomies @AngelinaJolie

My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie

Last night, actress Angelina Jolie went public in the New York Times with her decision to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy. She revealed she carries a BRCA1 mutation, and that her mother passed away from cancer at the age of 56.

In her piece, Angelina writes about her children wanting to know if she would succumb to the same fate as her mother. She talks about the cancer risk associated with her BRCA mutation and the various steps of the surgery. These sentiments are all familiar to any woman who carries a hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk, but what resonated with me the most in her writing was this:

But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.

Thank you, Angelina, for sharing your story. Every time a woman is brave enough to open up about her experience with hereditary cancer–from Angelina Jolie to Giuliana Rancic to Christina Applegate to my dear friend Trisha to ME!–there is limitless potential for making a difference. How many women will opt for BRCA testing because of Angelina Jolie? How many high-risk women will be more inclined to consider preventative surgery? Even if just one woman takes action, Angelina Jolie’s revelation will be worth it.

You go, girl. Thank you for joining the ranks of selfess women who have opened up about their mastectomies.

Talking to your kids about cancer

This is a guest post written by mother, two-time breast cancer survivor Shirley Horn. I don’t have Internet access in my new apartment, so I haven’t been able to post lately. But I’ll update you all soon! For now, enjoy my mom’s writing.

Decisions about parenting are like decisions about breast cancer treatments:  only YOU know what’s best for your children and yourself, regardless of what any of your close or not-so-close relatives or friends have to say about it.  When you’re faced with a disease as daunting as cancer, how to tell the kids is one tough part of the process.

My husband is Jewish and very traditional in his cultural and secular views. “Don’t tell the Kinder,” is a phrase I’ve often heard in our 24 years of marriage. (“Kinder” is Yiddish and German for “children”.) With my husband and his generational peers, it’s a deeply held belief that children should be allowed to keep their innocence as long as possible, unburdened by the woes of the world. When Rachel was very young, it seemed a good mantra to uphold and I wanted to protect her from everything that was bad or sad.

Shirley and Rachel in 1990 in England

We had just moved from Massachusetts to California when I was diagnosed the first time.  My daughter was 9 and she was settling down in our new neighborhood and making friends in her new school. Although she was a bright and precocious fourth-grader, we chose not to share the news with Rachel until we knew as much as we could know about my cancer and treatment plan. Since I had a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, it was an outpatient procedure and although we told her I was going to have an operation, I was home when she got home from school that night and functioning fairly normally. A couple of weeks after the surgery, we were off to a family reunion to celebrate our old uncle’s 80th birthday.

Chemo is, of course, a different story, and one not easily hidden. If the sight of Mom going bald isn’t enough to scare the wits out of a child, watching Mom with her head in the toilet heaving her guts out several times a day for a couple of days every week will certainly do the trick. (Or at least make your kids think twice about eating Dad’s cooking!)

A few weeks before my chemo began, I sat Rachel down one afternoon and explained.  “Mom’s sick.  I’ve got something called breast cancer. That’s why I’ve gone to the doctor a lot lately and went to the hospital last month. I’m going to be OK, but I’m not completely done yet. Soon, I’m going to start taking some medicine that is really strong and powerful.  The medicine is going to make me sick, too, but just for a little while. It’s even going to make all my hair fall out, but it’s going to make me better so the cancer doesn’t come back.” I think I said a few more things and then I asked Rachel if she had any questions. She said, “May I have a cup of tea, please?” That’s when I knew she’d be OK, too.

Rachel went wig shopping with me. We made a day of it and went to a cool shop that had a large selection of wigs and hats. She had fun helping me try on the wigs and she even got to try on a few. Together, we selected my wig (which I ended up wearing only once) and we each picked out a cute hat. She was part of the discussion when I decided to get my “G.I. Jane” haircut before chemo began, and she defended my honor when the kids at school teased her about having a bald mom.

We were fortunate to have several wonderful friends (mothers of Rachel’s friends) who pitched right in and drove carpool, brought over meals and invited Rachel for sleepovers during my treatment. Rachel herself maintained a cool and calm composure; I don’t ever remember her showing fear or being upset. If she was, she never let me see it. Even at 9, her protective instincts were there.

How old should a child be before you suspend the “Don’t tell the Kinder” rule when it comes to something like cancer? Not every 9-year-old child is capable of handling the Big C with the poise and maturity that Rachel showed. Your 7-year-old may absorb the news and deal with your illness by becoming Florence Nightingale and never leaving your bedside. Let your motherly instincts and intrinsic understanding of your child’s disposition guide you.

I found that being straightforward with my daughter and involving her in the process was the best course of action then.  12 years later, when my cancer returned and I discovered that I carry the BRCA 2 gene mutation, it was still the best course of action.

Shirley and Rachel at graduation in 2012

Shirley Horn is a retired marketing professional living in Redondo Beach, CA. She is an avid paddler for the Los Angeles Pink Dragons, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. She is also an artist and sells her work, along with custom-made mastectomy drain pockets and pit pillows, on her online store Precious Survivors.

National Cancer Survivors Day is today!

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day, and I’m reminded today of how fortunate I am to have some special people in my life who have kicked some cancer ass: my mom; my boyfriend’s father Tim; my cousin Robbie; my friend Teresa; my dear friend’s mother Natalia; all of my wonderful blogging buddies and forum friends. And I’m sure there are more people I’ll remember as the day goes on!

Watching all of you inspired me in part to go through with my own prophylactic mastectomy. I am amazed at how many cancer patients turned their own painful struggles into stories of hope, courage, and success. You guys rock!

September 2011–How it all started again

A lot happened between December 2000 and September 2011: middle school, high school, summer camp, boyfriends, proms, driver’s license, first job, traveling to Europe, going to university, sorority, internships…”the usual” for many girls.

I started September with a really positive attitude. I’d spent the summer in Europe, traveling around with my best friend and then taking classes at the University of Cambridge for a month. I returned to an exciting job as an Editorial Assistant at a web company in Santa Monica, a loving and genuinely fun boyfriend, and my parents’ new apartment right near the beach. Senior year at USC was about to start and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me.

My mom and I were driving to Costco to buy supplies for my upcoming Oktoberfest party when she mentioned that her usual yearly mammogram wasn’t so usual. There were some spots on her breast, but she said they were most likely harmless calcifications. She seemed nonchalant about the subject, so I didn’t think about it too much.

September 27th was a Tuesday, my day for classes. At the time I worked in Santa Monica about 30 hours a week and managed to schedule all of my necessary classes into one day. I was in ITP 411, Interactive Multimedia Production, when my mom called.

She left no voicemail, so I called her back when I got out of class around 1 pm. I was headed to a friend’s apartment for lunch.

“I got the results of my biopsy today. My breast cancer is back.”

felakfjewlfjel;waj 3249 vjaldsjafl jl;fjr9124012-4012 dakl;fjdal;fjl;ds jfalwejfeljaflewjflkewj; That was my reaction.

Everything she said after that was a blur. I choked back tears on the phone and eventually hung up. I had nothing to say to my mom at that point.

I was pissed. SO pissed. Mad. Angry. Livid. Whatever.

I spent an hour stewing at my friend’s apartment. She turned on an episode of Friends and I let a feeling of numbness take over. But after a while, I felt antsy. My next class started at 2 pm…there was no way I was going. I sent the following cryptic email to my professor:

I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to ITP 300 today. My mom decided to call me right after ITP 411 to tell me some pretty shitty family news and I really don’t feel like staying around USC right now. Anyway  I just thought you should know so that you don’t think I’m just skipping class for fun. This is a pretty awkward email so you don’t have to respond to it. Sorry. I’m not feeling very articulate right now. see you next week.

I walked home and jumped in my car. I know, I know–you’re not supposed to drive when you’re emotional. But what the hell was I supposed to do at USC?

I had told my boyfriend earlier in the day that I would drive out to see him after class, so I got on I-10 East and headed toward his house. As a sort of warning I sent him an even more cryptic text message:

My mom’s breast cancer is back. I don’t want to talk about it. Just letting you know.

If it had been my choice, I would not have told him. I would not have told anyone about it.

I drove and cried. Cried and drove. Screamed, yelled, cried. Snarled even. Drove.

Somewhere along the way, the song “Walk” by the Foo Fighters came on the radio. Dave Grohl is speaking to me in this song, I thought to myself:

A million miles away
Your signal in the distance
To whom it may concern
I think I lost my way
Getting good at starting over
Every time that I return

I’m learning to walk again
I believe I’ve waited long enough
Where do I begin?
I’m learning to talk again
Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough?
Where do I begin?

The song “Walk,” besides helping the Foo Fighters to win Best Rock Song at the Grammy Awards, would become my anthem for the next few months. September had suddenly taken a very, very bad turn.