Humiliation Hall of Fame

Does everyone spend a portion of the night awake in bed replaying all embarrassing moments? It can’t be just me. Anyone else have a Humiliation Hall of Fame that plays as a closed loop of highly edited memories when the room goes dark? Here are some gems from my highlight reel:

My crush and his ex-girlfriend rekindling their romance right after I delivered that flirty note.

Referring to my research project as “sexy” to the unamused Harvard interviewer.

Ignoring all signs that the elderly man was more randy than charming and awkwardly escaping his open-mouthed, grabby advances with backpedaling apologies for being married.

Debuting my spot on seagull imitation to partygoers who were more accustomed to girls with cherry stem tongue knot or leg-behind-ear talents. (Never was invited back to that frat house.)

These memories flood many a pre-REM moment. Sometimes the recollection of past blunders is so vivid that I actually recoil and conk Bernie in the head or loose a shiver of mortified regret that makes him fear there’s a spider in the bed. I hope we were all too drunk to remember me nicknaming that surgeon Asshole Khaki Pants. Maybe it wasn’t that awful when my charming repartee prompted, “I have a girlfriend.” Are all of you occasionally (if not as frequently) ridiculous as I am?

I hope so. Sharing the errant gaffe is the good stuff of late night cocktail parties. And those with consistently impeccable manners and good judgment are laudable, but rarely the ones to whisper with you in dark corners. And I’m a whisper in dark corners kind of girl.

Recently I learned there’s an extra level to the heights of humiliation I can reach because my husband is a plastic surgeon. Just as interior designers have gorgeous furnishings and computer scientists wield the latest iThings, plastic surgeons have injectables. And plastic surgeons like Bernie have a prop patient for poisons and lasers. I promised to love, cherish, and submit to wrinkle-zapping and fat-freezing till death do us part. Apparently.

Having your own, personal (and lovely, talented, and generally awesome) aesthetic guru shouldn’t be anything short of delightful. But I can make even simple forehead smoothing ridiculous. Here’s some handy advice: don’t go swimming after Botox. At the very least, maybe don’t squeeze goggles around your toxin-filled eye sockets and expect fantastic results. Luckily, only one lid drooped… and only for a week or so… and I’m sure no one thought my travel mug was brimming with vodka or anything. I may have appeared concussive, but I looked young, dammit.

Recently, I killed at Garden Club, winning first prize for my dahlias for the third year running. And I don’t even lift my tubers. This should have been a totally not embarrassing day. I arrived early to help other garden clubbers match genera and species to their cuttings. I chatted up other flower fanatics over buttery baked goods and coffee. I wore the girliest of dresses and it was all lovely lovely lovely. Skipping around in my cashmere ruana oohing and ahhing over foliage and photos and fall arrangements, I had completely forgotten that Bernie had attacked my lower lids with the handheld laser the night before.

To be clear, Bernie doesn’t zap me because I’m not already stunning (duh), but because the new laser is a fun new gadget. And boys must test fun new gadgets! There’s something about being a Mom that makes one forget to look really closely in the mirror. With just a smidgen of attention and a bit of concealer, I could have avoided attending Garden Club looking like an Athletic Warrior for the Cure wearing pink-hued eye-black. Until Bernie suggested I don sunglasses, I had spent an entire morning twirling around town Ridiculously Unaware. (The garden clubbers were too polite to inquire about my crosshatched half moons of sunburn.) Friends who are as vain as I am swear they would love to have live-in staff willing to zap away the years. Maybe they’d be smart enough to forgo the goggles or attack crow’s feet on the weekends.

I’m not.

The best beauty treatment probably isn’t found in a syringe or de-wrinkling light saber, at all– but in a long and restful night of sleep. And I plan to implement this regimen. Real quick. Right after I relive decades of ill-timed waterfowl impressions and other embarrassments. Sleep well, my pretties.

The quality of my impression was entirely wasted on the brothers....

The quality of my squawking was entirely wasted on the brothers….

Advertisements

A Guide for Post-Cancer Patients and their Caregivers, by Steve Safran

First, a thank you. I am overwhelmed by the reception I received for my article “After the cure, the cry.” Britt tells me 1,000 people read it. Many people—friends and strangers– have contacted me and shared their personal stories with cancer, recounting their own illness or remembering a family member who went through it.

Grappling with my own, complicated emotions in the post-treatment period, I found a great many resources out there for people suffering through “Cancer-Related Post-traumatic Stress.” The important message in all of these is this: You are not alone. These words from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) ring true.

“Symptoms of post-traumatic stress usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, but sometimes they do not appear for months or even years afterwards.”

(Mine began about three days after learning I was in remission.)

I kept asking myself, “I’m in remission. So why do I feel so miserable?” The NCI list of key triggers for PTSD made me wonder how anyone escapes this. As a cancer patient, you’re hit with a series of terrifying events, any one of which would be stressful. Combine them, and they make a mighty cocktail of traumatic triggers:

– Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

– Receiving treatment

– Waiting for test results

– Learning the cancer has recurred

To that, I would add that only doctors on TV ever say, “You’re cured!” so we live with “Learning the cancer may recur.”

Side bar from Britt: Still reeling from these events, you can imagine how odd and occasionally irritating all of these Stay Strong Be Positive Awareness campaigns can be. With everyone gleefully praising the bravery and strength of cancer patients, while walking their own healthy bodies all over town for a happy cure, we might feel a bit of guilt or anger that we’re unable to pretend it’s all over. We might have (temporarily) beat cancer into some undetectable submission, but it is an albatross to our peace.

Cancer patients aren’t the only ones subject to PTSD. Caregivers are susceptible, too.

“PTSD can also affect caregivers. Learning that a loved one has cancer, seeing a loved one in pain, and experiencing a medical emergency are traumatic events that may contribute to the development of PTSD symptoms during treatment or years after the person has survived the cancer.”

So families and caregivers need support, too. For me, cancer was a full participation, family event. My parents, my sister, and of course, my kids weren’t shielded from the times I was in pain or scared. We’ll need to keep “checking in” to gauge the fallout of this on each one of us. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how my disease would influence their feelings in the future. Now I will.

What should we do about this? Is there a way to proactively safeguard our loved ones in the aftermath? Actually, yes. There are a few recommended steps. The first is everyone should have an opportunity to talk to a psychiatrist. Having a trained professional define the trauma and help identify its effects on your worldview can be enormously helpful. Also a doctor can and will, if necessary, prescribe medication. It’s been my experience, so far, that making sense of things with a psychiatrist is as much a part of healing as growing new hair. Holding in feelings of any sort is not healthy. Exorcizing those thoughts with a trained professional– not just your friends– is the way to metabolize them. This is just as important for caregivers and loved ones to consider as well. While your best friend or loyal sister is a great listener, a third party relieves her of trying to comfort and be comforted: You can’t be the patient and the therapist.

Another way to heal? Mindfulness. I’ve only just started to learn about this, so forgive me for being new to the effectiveness of this practice. Mindfulness, to be reductive, is yoga and meditation without all the New Age, crystal-waving, stand-on-one-leg, astrology-reading bits. And there is scientific proof that it works:

“A controlled study published in 2000 looked at 90 cancer patients who did mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation for 7 weeks. They found that people who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than people who did not meditate.”

I love controlled studies. They beat the heck out of well-meaning friends who say, “I have a cousin who only eats pomegranates and he’s been in remission for 30 years.” I went so far as to switch to a specialist trained in mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness isn’t faith-based, and doesn’t actually require that you post inspirational quotes over blurry skies on Facebook. A good friend observed: “So those cultures that have been doing this for thousands of years probably knew something after all?” Go figure.

If you are in cancer recovery or in caregiver remission, please pay attention to signs of PTSD, take advantage of the many resources available to you, and never forget that you are not alone. I’m overstating the point, but as I’ve said before: “You think the treatment is bad? Wait until you’re cured!”

Britt cannot resist science puns...

Britt cannot resist science puns…

After the Cure, the Cry… by Steve Safran

I broke down crying in Target today. Just started blubbering. People must have thought I was really upset they were out of the $9.99 sale sweatshirts.

This will be heavy. This is not the usual, lighthearted stuff I want to write. But this blog has always been weirdly honest, even when Britt and I have been at our jokiest. I like to think we’ve put stuff out there that’s tough to discuss, and more uncomfortable to admit. And right now, things are difficult for me.

I didn’t cry much during treatment for testicular cancer. Not when I was diagnosed. Not when I was in pain. Not when I spent endless hours in the hospital, frustrated at the lack of attention, information, or prompt pain management. Hardly a tear. Now that I’m in remission and feeling well enough to shop for sweatshirts at Target?

I can’t stop crying.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, as Londoners were faced with being obliterated by the Luftwaffe, the incidence of mental illness dropped. Fewer people visited psychiatrists. Even as the Germans tried to kill them, Britons actually experienced less stress and need for psychiatric care. You can chalk that up to the famous British stiff upper lip, but it’s likely something more universal: when you’re under attack, you don’t have time to worry.

This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Soldiers don’t get depressed in the field. But for years after– even for the rest of their lives— they can be haunted by the trauma they saw and endured. It’s only after the battle is done that your mind takes a beat: “Hey. Wait. What just happened?”

Thus, me, cancer… and the crying.

Right up to the moment they were rolling me into the operating room, I felt absolutely fearless. I was even indignant that the surgeon was running late. I was pretty drugged up, but I know, I absolutely know, I didn’t feel scared at that moment. I said, “Let’s do this” with all the bravado of a warrior. Let’s go in and smoke out the enemy. The camo was on, the war paint was smeared, and I had readied myself for battle, albeit wearing a backless nightie in a sterile room with polite nurses and soft rock.

Of course, I had an initial cry of relief. The release. It felt good. Someone with CT scan results and authority said, “remission,” that no more treatment was needed, and boy was that cry-worthy. But within just a couple of days, I switched into a very different gear. And things got dark. And I started to think…

My body tried to kill me. Twice.

First it betrayed me with cancer, and then a week later it attacked me with a pulmonary embolism. I’m having a hard time forgiving my body for that. To be struck by an enemy soldier is one thing; to be attacked from within? My body tried to kill me and when it wasn’t successful the first time, it tried again.

Bastard.

Now my body has scars. They embarrass me and they will never go away. I have had far more difficult emotional days since being cured than I did while undergoing chemo. I have hospital flashbacks, picturing needles and bags full of chemicals and it’s all horrible like some sort of far-off, war-torn jungle. Also, now I get a lot of eye boogers. Apparently chemo messes with your tear ducts. Not enough to stop the crying, apparently, but another daily reminder that I needed tear duct-poisoning medicines to ensure my survival.

I’m getting help. I talk with a psychiatrist who says he’s a “big fan of crying.” I see what he means. It metabolizes the pain. Crying is the most human response to all of the loss: losing parts of my body and, at least for now, any sort of confidence that it won’t betray me again.

There is appreciative crying, too. These tears spring from a different place. I think back on all the people who helped me–  all of the people who volunteered their time or simply gave a thumbs up to a posting. Cancer can remind you that you’re actually very loved, and the overwhelming gratitude in the aftermath makes it occasionally hard to speak without choking up.

It has been about four weeks since I learned the chemo worked. And I’ve gone from crying all the time to maybe once a day. So maybe there’s something to this business after all. It’s not manly, at least not in the traditional “suck it up and be a man” sense. But I think I get a little leeway on the “manly” front after getting the kind of cancer that requires the removal of an intimate chunk of physical manliness. The chunk, by the way, that was trying to kill me.

How do I forgive my body for attempted suicide? How do I come to terms with forever being branded a “cancer survivor,” or letting go a carefree notion that serious illness is something that happens to old people that aren’t me? How the hell do I get over this?

I don’t know. For now, I cry.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news. Also, another example of how nurses are awesome.