When I saw Angelina Jolie’s comment saying “I actually love being in menopause”, I rolled my eyes. I have been grateful for her honesty about carrying the BRCA1 genetic mutation. She has done much to raise awareness of the plight of previvors, as those who are cancer-free but carriers of cancer-causing genetic mutations are now being referred to as. I don’t yet know if any of my four children share the BRCA2 mutation with me, but if they do, they will be confronted with the same dilemma Jolie found herself in: what preventative measures to take?
Maybe Jolie’s menopause is more magical than mine. In the link above, she mentions how filming sex scenes with her husband is wonderful. I understand that my menopause is affected by the medications I must take to prevent my cancer from returning, but maybe I have to switch to whatever she is smoking on the side so that my symptoms can stop causing me stress in the bedroom. Would that make me want to show my scarred-up, misshapen wares for a camera? Maybe she can still feel hugs, and I doubt she has almost set herself on fire in the kitchen. The before and after of breast cancer doesn’t make me feel sexy physically or emotionally, and that may be my biggest burden to bear, since it is most definitely a private matter.
Whenever I am being brutally honest about what living with breast cancer is like, a particular friend will ask me “where the silver lining is in this.” While I may not rejoice in menopause the way Jolie (or her publicist) can, there is most plenty to be thankful for and to celebrate:
- One alcoholic drink a day: Being mother to 4 young children can drive you to drink some evenings, depending if they spent the day as darling angels or wiry devils. Most Oncologists recommend female cancer survivors and previvors limiting their alcoholic intake to one glass a day. Some days, I toast myself for surviving a day with toddler tantrums, long bouts of homework, and cruising town in the minivan for drop offs and pick ups. Some days, i drink to their good behavior. Either way, i’ve earned that drink!
- Vegetables that don’t taste as gross as they look (and actually taste pretty good): Before breast cancer, I made an attempt to eat healthy. During treatment and now here in the great beyond, olive oil and coarse salt are dear friends. If I can chop it up, toss it in oil, and roast it, I can eat it…and enjoy it! I save my favorite recipes to www.pepperplate.com.
- Big, loose, and comfortable clothing: Nothing that was in my closet before breast cancer fits me the same way now. The bilateral mastectomy, the repeat surgeries to correct what I was left with, and the damage from treatment have altered me significantly. Since I despise trying on clothing, I tend to wear the same “safe” pieces from my wardrobe that I know are flattering. Maybe some day I will be brave enough to shop and try on clothing without dread. Until then, loose and comfortable clothing–like all of my Penn State Women’s Volleyball apparel–is just right.
- Hair that needs to be styled: About two years ago, I was as bald as a cue ball. This week, I got an actual haircut…that has style to it. Kinda a big deal.
- Beauty products that are simple and cheap: When you are reading labels and need to be mindful of the composition of what your body comes in contact with, you find that all you really need are soap, shampoo, and natural cosmetics. I wash with Castile soap, an organic shampoo and conditioner, apply lotion with sunscreen, and use mascara and eyeliner. Quick and easy, simple and effective.
- Hot flashes on cold nights: I’ll admit it, I wait to get out of bed to use the bathroom until i have a hot flash. Then I don’t care how cold the tile floor is. They are also great when waiting for the kids to get off the bus on a windy day.
- Exercise 5 days a week: No, I have not been converted to the “I love exercise” team. However, I’m very grateful that the recommendation is exercise 5 days a week and not 7. I’ll hold on to what I can get.
- Oversharing my personal life: This is the nature of blogs and social media, and at times I hesitate or cringe after posting. The truth, though, is that many readers contact me privately to thank me for the raw honesty and sincerity in my posts. That motivates me to not hide behind flowery language, but to remind anyone in any struggle that all of us have sludge to wade through. Accept it, deal with it, but then continue forward. I can accomplish this myself on tough days by remembering to practice what I preach.
- Friends that laugh with–and at–me: Here is the real gem from my experiences…my expanded circle of friends. People who are willing to give hours of their day to sit with you during your most vulnerable state, and open up about themselves at the same time, are worth holding on to. Friends that console you when you smash into their minivan backing out of your own driveway, that cautiously step around the mine-field of toys in your living room without judgment, that flood your inbox with photos and funny anecdotes, that hug and console your babies like they are their own….they make it all worth enduring.
I’m not grateful for menopause or any of the side effects from what I’ve experienced these past two years. I’m not happy to have had cancer and I’m hoping I never have it again. But there are many who have struggles far worse than mine, and yet they find reasons every day to be grateful and joyful. Who am I to wallow in self-pity? I am glad for the opportunities to experience kindness, love, devotion, friendship, and generosity. I’m also glad for the adjustments to my life that have needed to be made, and that keep me humble. There are silver linings all around me, and they make me shine. For that, I am grateful.