The Pink Age

Breast cancer is glamourized to look pretty, easy and fun. The commercials also show older women smiling with makeup on. No wonder other cancers hate us. I was diagnosed under 40 years old with stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer five years ago. How come no one tells us how cancer drastically ages the body externally? Many of us internally feel older due to permanent side effects and other illnesses that were triggered by our cancer treatments and surgeries. I honestly never thought my face and neck would age.

Yes, I have always been on the vain side. When I was growing up, I performed in community theatre and ballet which meant always looking in the mirror. I always used to look years younger than my actual age, even in my early 30’s. This rapid aging is tough to accept because no amount of creams or concealer can fully cover it up.

I first noticed the aging of my neck four years ago. It used to be so smooth. Now it looks like lines of multilayered necklaces going down it. Quite shocking to see in the mirror. Why did I age in that area?

I honestly believe it has something to do with the radiation burns that went up the left side of my neck. I could see the beginning of lines then. I’ll never understand why I burned so terribly in so many areas (neck, back, under arm) aside from my left breast. Radiation was just as painful and horrific as chemo. That’s why I get so upset with another patients say radiation is a breeze. My flesh burned off on my under arm near the area of where my tumor once was. Yep, you read that right. It literally burned off. I felt like burned bacon. I know what it feels like to be a burn patient. The pain was excruciating.

These pictures below still make me cringe. By the end of my 33 treatments, the layered lines had formed completely down my neck. Instantly looking 20 years older in that area. As I look at this area now, it’s always irritated and itchy. It feels rough to the touch and scaly. Thanks to COVID-19, I haven’t been able to see my dermatologist. Why is it continuously itchy? I don’t use perfume or any lovely smelling lotions on it. It’s a big eye sore when I wear any type of shirt because there is no way to hide it unless I wear a scarf. I feel extremely self-conscious about it.

It has taken a full three years for the dark panda circles under my eyes to fade enough to where I no longer need to wear a pound of concealer to attempt covering them up. I only need half a pound these days. As you can see below in the pictures from four years ago, nothing could fully cover them up back then. Aside from looking fatigued, I looked haunted.

Me then and me now on a really good hair and makeup day

It’s only recently that I no longer need a pound of makeup to cover the visibly aging skin. I just need half a pound instead! Seriously though, I continue to struggle with externally looking so different and just so much older. Then add medically induced menopause to the mix, and all hell has broken loose.

It has been four years since the radiation days, and I don’t know my skin post-cancer. It’s dry and scaly in some areas now. The skin underneath my eyes took one of the biggest beatings due to constant rubbing and contact dermatitis. I was constantly trying different creams trying to find the right one to truly hydrate my skin.

I finally got to the bottom of the contact dermatitis that was so painful last summer. After an allergy test at the dermatologist, I’m allergic to the dye in antibacterial soap. Every single time I was washing my hands and using the orange colored antibacterial at home and at the cancer center and using orange or green colored hand sanitizer, I would touch my eyes to wash my face with clean hands not knowing my fingertips were causing the irritation. Now everything is clear including hand sanitizer.

Don’t even get me started on my lips! They used to be smooth. Ever since the chemo days, I continually struggle with peeling and cracked skin on each corner of my mouth. Fortunately, my dermatologist gave me some cream that I use on my lips and under my eyes to help with the dryness but it’s not a permanent fix. I never know what will cause another skin flareup. It’s a good thing I am chronically single and a hair away from being thrown into a convent because these lips would only be kissable for an alligator.

It just boggles my mind that all this aging happened without zero warning.  The physical changes are just so jarring. To everyone else, I look super healthy. Once the makeup comes off, I look a little gray, burned, wrinkly, and forever fatigued. A constant reminder of the trauma which is why I can’t ever NOT think about my cancer experience. It stares me in the face and plagues me daily.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

When Your Safe Space is Bulldozed

Have you ever been involved in a group or with a person you considered safe? They created a safe space for you to be authentically you. What happens when that safe bubble unexpectedly bursts?

That’s what happened to me recently. Without going into too much detail, once I know someone’s true stance on an issue that I find absolutely appalling, I can no longer share digital space with that person. Though it was brief, and the subject was quickly changed, I cannot unhear it. I had such a visceral reaction which let me know that I must protect my state of mind and permanently remove myself from that space.

As I’ve begun to explore, research, and learning to love my blackness, I must be even more careful of who I share space with. You know that saying, it only takes one bad egg to ruin the carton, rings true in this situation. Fortunately, I made some great friendships that have continued to develop outside of that space.

So, what do I do now? I lean on those who I know have the same values and opinions on hot button issues. I fill that time doing more to enrich and uplift my spirit and passions or just rest. My safe space is my Zen home and writing with my cat Nathan Edgar by my side.

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of receiving the biopsy of my left breast. It hit a bit harder than usual because it truly was the last time of being just a regular patient. After that point, cancer will always be a permanent word in my medical history. Even though I have no evidence of disease (NED) at this time, I’ll never be just a regular patient.

While some cancer warriors don’t like to think about their cancerversaries, I do. My experience was utterly traumatic. I can’t get away from what I experienced and the permanent damage to my body.

I remember everything about getting the biopsy. The doctor who performed it looked like she was 12 years old and her name is Dr. Grey. Initially I laughed because I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for years and told her I’m sure she’s sick of the jokes. The laughter broke the tension for a few minutes.

As I was lying there with the nurse on my right side holding my hand, I couldn’t take my eyes off Dr. Grey’s face. I watched her facial expressions and could see she found something, but my mind refused to think it would be cancer. I’m a great reader of facial expressions and body language, so I can see subtle changes that most wouldn’t notice.

To this day, I jump when I hear sounds of a stapler and especially hearing a staple gun. That’s what it sounded like with the tool Dr. Grey used to gather the tissue samples. It was so loud and echoed in the room. The nurse kept asking if I was in pain because I was squeezing her hand so tightly. No, I wasn’t in any pain, but the sounds were traumatizing me. I was counting each sample. She took more samples than she initially said she would.

I needed a safe space yesterday to talk things out and relieve some anxiety. I created one by calling a friend who never fails to crack me up and driving around just to feel like I had gotten away for a bit. I came back home feeling calmer with a half-smile on my face instead of a full-on frown.

I’ve mentioned before that ever since cancer, I’m incapable of tolerating bullshit. If someone bulldozes your safe space, know that you are strong enough to create another one for yourself.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Times of Disruption

It has been an extraordinary time filled with opportunities I never dared to dream of. My confidence level continues to rise. I’ve lived more in that past few months than I’ve lived since moving back to Georgia from Los Angeles 17 years ago.

Even with these fabulous professional and advocacy wins, including a new full-time job that I’ll begin August 17th and multiple freelance gigs, there are still feelings of uncertainty. It’s not uncertainty about my abilities as a marketing and writing professional, it is an uncertainty of my body.

Chronic pain is not something I would ever wish on someone. It’s why my cancer journey takes so many gut-punching twists and turns over rocky terrain. I’m in the body of a mummy from the neck down.

There is never a moment where I am not in pain.

There is never a moment where I forget I’m in pain.

There is never a moment where I don’t curse this pain.

As much as I stress about a possible recurrence or metastatic cancer, I stress just as equally about how long I can keep pushing with pain levels that range from 6-20. I remember a telling moment at my 8th and final surgery related to my original breast cancer surgery that I had June 3, 2019 at Northside Cancer Center. While the nurse was prepping me with an IV, she asked what my pain level was at that moment. I told her it was an 8, and she just looked stunned. I was matter of fact and told her about my pain range and that an 8 was tolerable. She just started tearing up and said, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering so much.” It was honestly the first time any emotion had ever been shown by medical staff and I found it oddly comforting. For once, it wasn’t dismissed or even questioned.

My chronic pain is multi-faceted. I wish it were only from fibromyalgia. When you add severe neuropathy in my hands and feet, my senses become overloaded. Then add a herniated disc with a tear near the nerve where I desperately need another epidural steroid injection because the first one didn’t take, then I almost can’t think because the pain is beyond horrific.

It’s a disrupter of time.

It’s a disrupter of sleep.

It’s a disrupter of peace.

So, when others think my cancer story should be over, I simply say no. It never will be because I am reminded at every moment of every day what my cancer treatments and multiple surgeries did to my body. My body is gone. I don’t know this current body. We will always be strangers and never friends because it hurts me on too many levels. Others might be able to move past it, but I cannot. 

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie