Archive for August, 2010

Aug 31 2010

Cancer Chronicles — answers re: sexuality

One of the questions I was asked after putting up the recent “questions” post was:  “Since breasts are essentially secondary sex organs, do you find that your sexuality has changed since the surgery?”

I had an immediate response to this one, and another response after giving it some thought, I’ll share both here.

The immediate response was no, I don’t think my sexuality changed much due to the surgery and loss of breast.  I think current stress in the family causing at least my husband to have a temporary libido decrease has affected my daily sexuality more than the surgery has.  (Though we’re certainly doing what we can as energy levels permit, enjoyably!) I’ve certainly found that the cliché of an increased libido from the “new lease on life” effect of narrowly missing death has been reasonably true in my case; I’m interested in sex most days, though sometimes the physical energy doesn’t cooperate with the desire.  I also find it easy to take care of those needs myself when a partner isn’t available, but that’s not much different from pre-cancer attitudes.

One thing that I think has drastically helped my new body-shape perception internally has been the across-the-board acceptance of how I look from family and friends.  I’m told I look great, the scar is “neat” or “pretty”, and all of this matches how I feel.  Certainly early on after surgery there were some body image issues coming up periodically for me, but they were much easier not to internalize as truth due to the awesome support I received.

Another thing that sounds opposite to the above but has still contributed to a very comfortable body image is my assumption that for MOST random strangers I will meet or encounter, I will be Other and not a sexually attractive being.  Not only do we monkeys have a biological tendency to prefer symmetry of form, but our culture in America has an unhealthy obsession with mammary tissue.  So I do tend to assume that most people will not be checking me out in a crowd.  This perversely has freed me up to think about it even less than I did before — which wasn’t much — and dress how I please, look how I please, and walk as if I’m a gorgeous goddess even more easily than pre-cancer.  I also tend to assume that anyone worth paying attention to will be able to see the attractiveness in front of them and not get fixated on blemish-free symmetry.

After some thought, I think a couple of things have changed.  In general, I don’t really perceive breasts as sexual organs, though I’ll still notice with aesthetic appreciation someone with a particularly well-sculpted set.  On the other hand, my husband is helping me explore sexualizing the ur-boob, touching it during shared intimacy as well as more casually in cuddling.  I find this has done much good in assisting my subconscious to accept my new form.

These days I have a much more ambiguous relationship with the remaining breast than the mostly-missing one.  How do you continue to love and accept a body part that you’re planning to remove before it tries to kill you?  You can’t reject it outright while it’s still a part of you, or you’ll get alignment weirdnesses and messed up patterns of muscle tension and possible other health issues.  However, you also can’t fully trust it, especially with the genetic component of cancer mutation present.  Conditional acceptance of a body part is a strange thing to attempt healthily, for someone used to more comfort with my own body than that.  It varies from day to day how well I do on that front.

I feel healthier than I have in years, which I’m told is fairly normal after a life-threatening health crisis — not the least of which is now I have more visceral motivation than most to get and stay healthier.  That has certainly contributed to more emotional equilibrium as well as easier bounce-back from heightened emotional states.  It also makes it practically much easier to make myself exercise and stay active even when I’m-tired-and-don’-wanna.

I have to assume all of these factors are contributing to my current healthy and vibrant libido as well as my available physical energy for daily activities which is still improving weekly.  I’m well aware my experiences in this area are nothing like most people with breast cancer.  It’s obvious from the available e-literature on the subject that most people are expected to be sexless and hate themselves post-mastectomy, or only feel better if they get reconstructive surgery.  I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead, but I am here to tell you that those expectations aren’t inevitable.

More questions or thoughts? That was fun to think about!

5 responses so far

Aug 29 2010

week end links

Published by under follow the link chain

Got some nice creative insights from attending panels and good conversations yesterday at ArmadilloCon.  There’s still stuff happening today if you’re Austin-local!

I thought this was a well-balanced article about an interesting person in the adult entertainment industry: Uncovered — the real Traci Lords.

This looks like it would be an interesting book to read with a group and discuss/debate afterwards.

You’ve heard the urban legend, now see the news potentially confirming it: Hitler Jewish?

My futurism starts to catch up with me again, check out this cool concept design for body art computing.

For my friends with eating issues, you likely already know these things, but now they have Science! backing them up: 2 ways to feel more full and eat less

Elizabeth Moon drawing aim on how often women writers are still overlooked professionally: It Ain’t Equal ‘Til It’s Equal…

One response so far

Aug 27 2010

Where the Walls Stop

Published by under callie

The window showed a small room, surfaces padded and otherwise empty.  Curled in a fetal position in the middle of the soft floor was a person, larger than a child but small enough to be female, though no features could be seen from Callie’s viewing angle.  The door was thick and the window double-paned, but the sound of crying could still be easily heard — wracking sobs that rose and fell in time to the shaking of the grieving person’s shoulders.

Callie watched for some time but the scene never changed.  She wondered if there was a way to discover just how long a person could cry for, before the body couldn’t sustain the activity without resting.  She grew weary of watching and decided to move on, and this time her body cooperated with her intention.  At least as far as the next viewing window: as much as she wanted to leave, Callie walked only as far as the next room before she stopped and looked inside.

This room looked nothing at all like the last one — much more like an efficiency apartment than a clinic cell.  The walls were painted dark gray, and a woman sat on a low stool in front of an easel, blank canvas propped and ready.  Next to her was a small coffee table littered with clutter, not all of it identifiable from where Callie stood.  A palette, currently empty, lay across her lap as the woman stared at the easel.

Callie wasn’t sure why this scene gave her a feeling of dread to watch, but that answer was quickly forthcoming.  The young lady slowly began to roll up her cotton sleeves to above the elbow, then took lengths of latex from the table and tied them around each arm so that the veins would stand out from the skin.  When the next item grabbed was a syringe, Callie willed herself to move on but failed, beating her fists against the wall in frustration.

The sound didn’t seem heard by the room’s occupant.  Instead of injecting herself, the artist pierced a vein and pulled back on the plunger slowly.  The syringe filled with a thick forest-green liquid; when no more could be taken, she pulled out the needle and placed it above the palette, depressing the plunger carefully to make a mounded circle of pigment.  Oblivious to the drop of blood trickling from the entry site, the artist wiped the needle clean on her sleeve and began again.  This time bright reddish violet filled then emptied next to the first pigment.

What Callie could see of the woman’s face was disturbing, a blankness usually only found on warzone survivors and abuse refugees.  As the artist began the draining for a third time, this one a rich blue hue, Callie felt she’d seen enough and whatever was controlling her movements seemed to agree, letting her walk on to the next door.

Callie closed her eyes tightly and took several deep breaths, as by now she was angry enough to notice that her perceptions were being colored by her rage.  Even this attempt to exert some self-control over her experience was futile, as whoever was in here was much more audible than the cryer had been.  Primal screams echoed through the panes of the window, larynx-tearing vibrations that made Callie’s throat ache sympathetically.  She gave up and looked into the room to see the source of the sounds.

Another female knelt on the floor, her features obscured under dirt and dried blood.  Streaks of cinnabar clotted in her hair and covered her arms and hands, nails broken under the quick.  Callie could see that the room was originally another padded cell like the first, but this one had been systematically destroyed.  The padding hung from the walls and ceiling in long shreds, and clumps of stuffing were piled in corners.  All of it was stained with the same blood that decorated the inhabitant, obviously far beyond anger management’s reach.  The wild woman was currently tugging on a section of padded floor, her strongest efforts only moving a couple of centimeters each try, screaming incessantly.

Callie thought perhaps the screamer and cryer had perfected circular breathing to engage in their epic feats of lung-power, since she couldn’t see another way they could pull it off without passing out.  None of the other occupants had seemed to hear or see Callie, but this one gave an even higher shriek and launched herself at the door, yelling and spitting and smearing yet more blood across the glass, obscuring the view.

Callie concentrated with all her strength and pulled away from the door, half-stumbling down the hall toward a door at the end with a smaller window and different design than the others.  Hoping that this was the way out, she closed her eyes again to concentrate and held her hands out in front as she moved in that direction, willing herself fiercely not to stop along the way.

Either her efforts worked or whatever had been using her as a puppet had worn off or gone away:  Callie reached the end of the hall without further pause.  As her hand grasped the door handle, she opened her eyes to look through its window but saw only darkness.  Since a dark room seemed an improvement over the previous options, she tested the knob.  Finding it unlocked, Callie entered.

The blackness was as dark as an underground cavern, and feeling around on either side of the door turned up no light switches.  Callie kept one hand on the wall as she began to move away from the door, but stopped when she heard breathing.

“Hello, there.”

2 responses so far

Aug 26 2010

Cancer Chronicles: questions?

Published by under health,me vs. cancer = I win

Still writing these and thinking on these posts, but so much happens daily that knowing which part to talk about can be overwhelming at times.  Thoughts on body awareness, othering through life crisis, prioritizing spent time, cancer anger, social outrage, balance of awkward and sublime, patience, energy management, learning to genuinely care for the physical self, chronicling what happened/is happening, future treatment choices, childbirth, human neuter, infinite shades of pain, friends’ processing in life crisis times, healthy pushing of self-boundaries, mind over matter vs body-says-fuck-you, family stuff…it all gets a bit jumbled together at times.

Anything in particular you’ve been wanting to know or learn more about, in this situation?

6 responses so far

Aug 21 2010

Con Alert!

Published by under conventions

Steve and I will be at ArmadilloCon next weekend, August 27-29, here in Austin Texas!  We’ll be accompanied by as many family and friends as we can drag along, so come join us!  Some of the discussion panels look quite shiny indeed.

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Aug 20 2010

weekendy linky

Published by under follow the link chain

One of the things that has always frustrated me about our educational system is that history (and other) classes are set up to dilute, filter, and lie about what actually happened, such that only if you manage to have a good teacher in the upper grades or college (if you attend) will you start to get accurate and less biased info about America and our country’s local and global choices and conduct.  Read this link, follow its embedded links, and learn how (at least for everyone else but us in the world) Hiroshima and Nagasaki are war crimes.

Abusive relationships are sometimes tough to identify, especially when in the middle of them.  Check out a nice sample quote from this article I recommend reading:  “If somebody is investing time, resources, and energy into convincing you of your own worthlessness, that same somebody has revealed to you that they have a lot to lose if you don’t believe them. They’re protecting their own loss of power. Which means they perceive you as somebody who can take that power away. If somebody is putting in the work to knock you down, it’s because they’ve got something to fear about you if you’re standing up.'”

Parents of teens and almost-teens might want to read this thought-provoking article posted by a friend, about managing drama overload in the home and how to avoid falling into immature social dynamics with your teenager.

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Aug 17 2010

Writing conferences/conventions?

Published by under conventions

Are there any cons upcoming for the rest of 2010 I might need to know about, other than ArmadilloCon and World Fantasy Con?  Not sure how many, if any, I will make but is worth thinking about.  Thanks!

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Aug 14 2010

Weekend linkorama

Published by under follow the link chain

Nicely written, not-too-frothy examination of some of privilege’s invisibility here.

Delightfully provocative and sweet video sent to me by a friend: Love for All

Wantwantwant!  3D Printable Fabrics

Screw worrying about no coral snake antivenin, I’d have died half-a-dozen times if it weren’t for antibiotics — and I might still have that in my future, if we don’t figure out something else quickly.  C’mon, nanotech!

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Aug 11 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Recovery Room

(continued from this entry)

It’s totally cheating to wait this long to write about it.  I’m sure it won’t have the visceral impact of the original experience; there’s a large enough veil of time between to make it easier for me to look at, sideways at least.  All the cliched statements I can think up to describe it involve mythological or religious metaphors and fall short of the actual experience.

I found it an abomination.  As mentioned in the previous chronological entry linked above, I think it is appalling in the 21st century that we have any situation, much less one we voluntarily enter into, where humans are subject to that level of pain-that-could-be-ameliorated, especially “for our own good”.  Dehumanizing levels of pain: anyone who wants a clue how someone can be hurt enough to be broken need only to experience enough modern medical surgery to get a very clear taste upon awakening.  In my opinion even the excuse I was given — “we need to know you’ll wake up from the anesthesia before we can medicate the pain” — denotes our attitudes about the pain-state, as I’m sure if anyone cared enough to, the research could be done to find a way around that.

Here is how it went:

The world is not, and then the world is pain.

Unmeasurable pain even on the scale of someone just finished having an extremely painful cancerous tumor rapidly sucking my life away.  Pain at a level to make even someone with my massive levels of self-control flail and struggle against those restraining me, with a whimpering animal need to escape from the fire that burns every nerve so strongly I can’t tell where it originates from — the primal scream of a body violated enough to be missing some of the original parts it was born with.  They keep telling me “you need to breathe, honey” and my 250,000+-word vocabulary is reduced to three, said over and over between the gasps of the most powerful asthma attack since I was a small child: “Can’t breathe. Hurts.” My problem seems pretty obvious to my broken thought process, but they don’t seem to get it.  They put an oxygen mask on me but then have to take it back off as I communicate that I need to vomit, I don’t quite remember how (this is one of the few hazier memories, most of the rest are still all too clear).

They apparently injected morphine into my IV when I awoke, but it’s not working and I still can’t breathe and they have to go away to find a doctor to approve another dose of painkiller even though I’m still writhing and oh, not really breathing much.  They leave one person to manage two beds(!) while they wander off to find out if they can give me more and my world is reduced to struggling to breathe but this at least I have many illnesses’ practice with, and so I breathe and hurt.  Even in the midst of it my writer brain is awake and active, noting just how far into the realm of pain I’ve gone beyond what I previously knew, knowing that if I were Pulitzer-prize-winning material I couldn’t describe what this is like in any way meaningful to someone who hasn’t felt it.  And knowing I’d try anyway.

They finally come back and give me another dose, five years or minutes later, and soon after the world snaps back into focus, with a brief diversion into the only hallucinations I will experience on morphine. (I see the air vent moving, and can’t tell whether I’m imagining it or not, so I ask the nurse, who confirms it is not moving; a minute later I see the fluorescent ballast over me start to melt into tendrils reaching down toward the bed; I don’t ask about this since I’m pretty sure it’s not real, but interestedly watch to see how long it will last.  The tendrils extend until they’re about 1 meter above the bed, then creep back up and it returns to appearing a normal light.)

A minute after that and I turn to the doctor and say my first complete sentence since awakening: “Did you have to take any of the pectoralis muscle?”

The weird looks from the doctors start up around this point.  I continue to ask questions about the procedure while they finish up with the Recovery Room protocol, some of which they even answer, and then wheel me to the hospital room where I will spend the night, and where several of my relieved and numerous family are waiting to welcome me back into the world.

(to be continued)

3 responses so far

Aug 10 2010

Callie Coherency

Published by under callie

I finally made the page that gathers all the posts with the Callie tag in one place for ease of reading.  Enjoy!


(Edit: Also updated the Cancer Chronicles page with the most recent entries)

One response so far

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