I Would Prefer Not To


I was supposed to get tattoos. You know, the final, rosy-pink cherries on top of my mastectomy cake.

It’s just what breast-cancer people do, after all. There’s a Kubler-Rossian script for breast cancer that we’re supposed to follow: Diagnosis, crying and screaming, treatment, lower-lip-trembling strength and positivity, healing, shitting up our wardrobes with pink stuff, barfing out platitudes about “awareness,” and finally, getting nipple tattoos.

I was supposed to get mine last year. I even had a consultation with a tattoo artist who upon meeting me, looked deeply into my eyes and declared there was something decidedly “witchy” about me. (She meant it as a compliment — I took it as one). I scheduled the damn things, then had to cancel for some reason or another, rescheduled and cancelled twice more, then just haven’t rescheduled. In the meantime, she got kind of famous outside of tattoo circles (she was already famous inside) because she was on “CBS Sunday Morning” and her appointments became hard to come by. And since then I haven’t really thought seriously about it.

Some people are doing amazing creative work instead of boilerplate fake nipples. There are some gorgeous, gorgeous non-nipple tattoos designed to cover all the scars that a mastectomy leaves behind. I have looked at allllll of them, and my reaction to most of them is just “meh.” (Maybe it’s because I’ve always been “meh” about tattoos in the first place — I can appreciate beautiful tattoos on other folks, but they’re just not for me.)

Here’s my secret: My scars don’t bother me. I don’t get upset when I look at them. I don’t think I’m less attractive because of them. I don’t feel like less of a woman because of them. The hip-to-hip grin of my abdominal surgery is fading from purple to pink. I’ll kind of miss it when it disappears. The vertical scars on the undersides of my breasts are practically invisible now. And my un-pigmented, reconstructed nipples look kind of like Peter Griffin’s eyes. So what? Maybe it’s because I’ve always been kind of a don’t-look-back, get-on-with-living person. I just don’t have that burning need to “finish” my breasts. They look pretty done, and just fine, to me.

Besides, I kind of like my scars. I find myself admiring them when I get dressed in the morning, even the left one that had to be stitched back together in the ER after a car accident burst it open like an overripe piece of fruit. That one looks a little hinky and Frankenstein-y (my hyper-perfectionist plastic surgeon looked so bummed when he saw it). But my artfully-reconstructed breasts don’t look incomplete without the nipple tattoos.

If you want to be honest about it, I think my scars look pretty bad-ass, like I survived a life-or-death battle. Oh wait, I DID EXACTLY THAT. Do you watch “Game of Thrones?” Well, I’m fucking Jon Snow after the Battle of Winterfell, crawling out of a mountain of death, dirty and bloody and beating Ramsay Bolton half to death with a Mormont shield. It isn’t a pretty victory, but it is mine. Some days, I wish I could walk around naked, pointing out my scars as evidence that everyone has something going on underneath their world-facing costume.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll be getting those pretty pink rosettes of closure. Simply because I would prefer not to.


I know, what a boring and un-shiny title, right?

I was in the gym the other day, and a commercial came on the radio for some weight-loss scam promising that people could lose 40 pounds in two weeks, or some equally ridiculous claim.

I can’t believe that in this day and age people still fall for such nonsense, but I suppose I underestimate both the credulity and the laziness of Americans. People really don’t want to change their eating habits and they really, REALLY don’t want to exercise. So they will recognize that there is a problem (holy shit, I’m fat), but then they believe any huckster on the radio or TV who tells them that the weight they gained over years, maybe decades, can be miraculously removed, non-surgically, by taking a pill.

My doctor had advised me for the last several years that I needed to lose weight, but as long as my bloodwork was okay and I felt good, I pooh-poohed any real efforts to lose weight. I figured that I live in NYC, I walk all over the place, and my diet isn’t really THAT bad. I ignored natural metabolic changes that occur as you age (in my head, I was perpetually 27, and losing 5 pounds was simply a matter of minor dietary adjustments for a week), and consequently, my weight had crept up and up while my overall health was flashing red flares into the sky (cholesterol up, liver enzymes up, blood sugar creeping into dangerous territory).

I posted previously about how a bad physical earlier this year prompted me to  start working out again and I changed some of my eating habits. Here are some of the insights I’ve gained from the past 6 months.

  1.  I made a commitment. I recognized that it was not going to be as easy as eating salads for lunch for a few weeks. I was going to have to change my priorities. James Fell, who writes a fantastic, no-bullshit blog called Body For Wife, writes in one of his books that claiming “I have no time,” is the number one reason people give for not working out, but he also says this is bullshit, and that the real problem is that you are shitty at prioritizing. It’s harsh, but it’s true. I was honest enough with myself that I knew that I was unlikely to use my gym membership after work. I know what I like to do after work — lay around and read books or watch television. Once I get home and take off my bra, my day is effectively over. The unappetizing trade-off was that if I wanted to work out regularly, I needed to get up really, really early, and go to the gym before work. So I reminded myself of my commitment to be healthier, set my alarm for 4:45, and started going to the gym at 5:00 am. Was I happy to be walking down Grand Street in the cold and dark in March? Not particularly. And it was sometimes scary (the guy who filched a board from a construction site and strolled along swinging it like a Louisville Slugger comes to mind — I was across the street, and stayed there.). But once I was in the gym (and I frequently arrived before the opening manager even got there, leaving me shivering and standing alone on the street for a few minutes), it was fine. And yee-haw, after a day of work, when I get home, the workout box on my to-do list has already been checked!  (Confession: Some days, I will put on my gym clothes and it will take me HOURS to jackknife myself off the sofa. But just know that dressing for a workout and not working out, then taking off unsweaty workout clothes, well, that’s how you start a shame spiral. Sometimes, the only thing getting me out the door is that shame.)
  2. I chose something I love as my primary exercise. Back in the early 90’s I joined a down and dirty Hell’s Kitchen gym, a real musclehead place. I hired a guy to teach me all the basics of weight training, and over time became friendly with other members who I looked to for mentoring and coaching. I love-love-loved weight training. I loved seeing how everything about my body changed and how my sculpted muscles looked. So when I decided to start working out again, I went back to what I knew and loved. And the best thing about weight training is that you don’t need fancy, expensive equipment, just a gym membership and some gym clothes.
  3. I started slow and didn’t expect immediate gratification. This may be the biggest reason people start a workout program and then quit after a short time. I think a lot of people overestimate their own fitness levels, or work out with more experienced friends, and they shoot out of the gate only to lose confidence when they don’t lose 10 pounds in a week, or they injure themselves, or can’t keep up with people who have been doing it much longer. I knew that I had a long road ahead of me, and that I was not nearly as strong as I was in my 20’s. So I started with the exercises that I knew how to do, with little baby five-pound barbells, and focused on perfect form on every single rep. It took a few weeks for me to see changes in my physique, but some other changes appeared more quickly. Regular workouts and improved diet led to better sleep, more energy, and a general feeling of well-being. My posture improved as my muscles became stronger. I didn’t get sick once last winter. I was better able to cope with an extremely stressful and toxic work environment.
  4. I never went on a diet. “Dieting” implies a beginning and an end. You go on a diet, and once you reach some amorphous goal down the road, you can stop being on a diet. It was really a change in my overall eating habits, with a focus on finding healthier replacements that still appealed to my taste buds. I needed to work on lowering my cholesterol, so that meant eating grains and veggies and cutting out stuff like fried food and red meat. Breakfast became oatmeal with walnuts and ground flax, or yogurt with walnuts and ground flax and maybe some sliced fruit or berries. If lunch was coming from the deli around the corner, I’d cruise the salad bar and choose a bit of barley salad, a small piece of fish, and maybe a couple pieces of sweet potato. Dinner didn’t change that much — we eat a lot of roast chicken and baked fish, anyway, so we just increased those proteins and decreased the steaks and baked potatoes loaded with sour cream and butter. I kept snacks handy at all times to avoid grazing at the enormous bowl of M&Ms in our reception area. A snack bag with almonds and dried cranberries, a couple apples and a banana. If I felt peckish, I ate something. I had read somewhere that if you feel hungry, ask yourself if you could eat an apple. If the answer was yes, eat the apple. If the answer was no, you probably aren’t hungry, but a little dehydrated and you should drink some water. I took that advice. And speaking of water…
  5. It’s a good thing I love water. And it’s a good thing we have the best tap water in the country in NYC. I probably drink a gallon of water every day. I’m a peeing machine. I mean, animals are basically just eating-excreting machines anyway, so why not help it along? I love water. I love a bottle of cold, clear watery goodness on a hot summer day. I love a giant glass of cold, clear watery goodness right after I wake up. I love a half-frozen bottle of cold, clear watery goodness when I’m at the gym. Water-water-water! A funny side note to this: I worked with a woman who claimed that plain water literally made her sick to her stomach. I nearly went blind rolling my eyes at that one.
  6. I never denied myself anything. Look, when you approach diet and exercise as punishment, you don’t have much incentive to keep up good habits. Here is a list of things I have never stopped eating: Pizza with extra cheese, cheesecake, ice cream, cookies, blah blah blah. I eat whatever I want, just less than I used to, and less frequently than I used to. I even eat McDonald’s. Yes, every few weeks, I’ll leave the gym and jaywalk my way into the McDonald’s across the street. I’ll order my Egg McMuffin and NOT FEEL GUILTY. That’s because an Egg McMuffin only has about 300 calories, to say nothing of being a delicious handful of egg, bacon and cheese. (On particularly wicked days, I’ll splurge on the extra 150 calories for a hash brown. Because I love McDonald’s hash browns.) But these treats are just treats, and not everyday things. An occasional cookie or two isn’t going to bust your whole diet. And indulging yourself one day isn’t a reason to trash the whole thing and write it off as a failure and go back to horking down fatty, cheese-covered garbage every day.

And that brings us up to here. I still have another 10-15 pounds to go, so I guess I’ll report in as I go along. I’m not a trainer, a sports physiologist, or a doctor. But I am a regular, average American middle-aged woman who saw a problem and decided to do something about it. People, I am the laziest motherfucker in the world, and if I can get my ass in gear to be healthier, I know other people can too.

You just have to want it.


Hillary voters:

  1. “She really laid out her 40-year record as a children, family, and women’s rights advocate, as First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State.”
  2. “Those were very factual and well-reasoned answers to the moderator’s questions.”
  3. “She has a demonstrated and deep knowledge of domestic AND foreign policy issues.”
  4. “Her track record and resume really make her the most qualified candidate who has ever run for this office in our lifetime.”



Donald Trump voters:

  1. “He refrained from calling Hillary a ‘bitch’ for 90 minutes. TOTALLY NAILED IT!”

I am going to endorse Old Navy. Yes, I know. That big-box nightmare of cheap crap sub-division of Gap. That Old Navy.

Yes, they still make a lot of cheap crap, and they line their checkout aisle with the most bizarre assortment of “gimmes” on the planet. Cute socks! Lip gloss! Candy! (Well, the candy makes sense if it is crowded, and the line is super-long, and before you know it you are sheepishly paying for an empty Nerds box when you get to the register).

However, I am hereby endorsing Old Navy’s leggings. I don’t know when they started making what is known in the biz as “active wear,” but by gum they did it right.

Their tights/leggings/bike shorts are a reasonably-priced miracle. They are made of a compression fabric that is just the right amount of stretchy, with the perfect amount of suckage to keep your jiggly parts from jiggling around. You actually feel supported in these tights. They are also just the right weight to prevent show-through when you’re going through your business at the gym. You can feel it in your hand when you touch them — they are substantial. The workmanship is surprisingly excellent — all of the seams are double-stitched and lie flat against your skin, and most importantly, the crotch is gussetted so you don’t have four pieces of fabric coming together right in the middle of your junk.

They are also, unlike pretty much everything else in Old Navy women’s wear, true to size.

I don’t know who Old Navy hired for their activewear division, but that person needs a raise today.

As a side note, I will say you MUST wash everything you buy from Old Navy before you put it on your body. (Generally, you should wash every article of clothing you buy before it touches your skin, but let’s be honest here, we don’t always do that, do we?). When I washed these, the wash water turned gray with whatever grime these garments picked up throughout their supply chain.

As another side note, please don’t ever put your workout clothes in the dryer. Hand wash, rinse thoroughly, and hang to dry. These leggings dry super-fast, despite their heft. If you do put them in the dryer after washing, you’re baking any residual workout stank into the fibers, and the next time you sweat in them, YOU will be the smelly person at the gym. And no one wants to be that person, do they?



Some Numbers

Before I start really blogging again (now that I have the time), here are some dates and numbers.

February 26:  Annual physical and bloodwork.

Weight: DISASTER. Fattest I’ve ever been. Depressing.  But I knew that every time I looked in the mirror. I have to be honest and say I’m not one of those “oh, I’m fat, but I love myself anyway” people. I saw a person who had taken a perfectly good machine and treated it like crap until it looked like crap.

Bloodwork: Frankly alarming numbers — Cholesterol at 278, blood sugar showing I was pre-diabetic. Elevated liver enzymes, but that’s nothing new — it’s been that way for awhile. Doc wrote a script for the lowest dose (10mg) of Lipitor.

Blood pressure: As always, chugging along at 120/80.

I made my usual half-hearted promises to change my behavior. Blah-blah-blah, this time I really mean it, blah-blah-blah.

I guess it took a few weeks, but that holy-shit, I’m-over-50 physical finally woke up something in me. Since I tend to be more like my father, physiologically, than my mother, I knew I needed to get moving, and do some serious repair work before I ended up in the ER needing a bypass or something.

March 13: Re-joined my local gym. Still the same meat-head kind of place in a basement it has always been, 3 blocks from my house, 300 bucks a year. A bargain if you are okay with the not-fancy kind of gym. Some people want the sauna and fresh towels and lots of classes kind of gym, some people want the kind of gym that serves pizza on Fridays so the fat people don’t feel bad. I just want some cardio equipment and weights.

Went after work, exactly once, and hated every single nuevo-Brooklyn idiot in the place.

Started going before work instead. Yes, hard as it is to believe, I started waking up at 4:45 and going to the gym at 5am, before it was light out, in the dead of winter. Walking Brooklyn streets and seeing people just coming home from the bars (Hi, past me!), and the guys delivering stuff to local stores.

Number of days since I re-joined the gym:  119

Number of days I have gone to the gym: 63 — 52% of the days! That’s pretty good; basically every other day. I figure if I can go 4 times a week, I’m in good shape. Anything less than that and I feel cranky and out of sorts. And honestly, I couldn’t have started at a better time, what with all of the corporate insecurity that was going on at the time. I don’t think I would have remained sane if I hadn’t been working out. Plus, I have muscles again now.

April 19: Follow-up bloodwork. Cholesterol down to 179! BP down to 110/70. I don’t recall what the sugar number is, but that improved, too.

Oh, yes, I stopped eating shit, too. It’s amazing what a difference that can make.

Last number.

Pounds lost since March 13: TWELVE.

So, that’s where we are today.


Have you ever been confronted with so many things at once that you’re just … paralyzed? Need to call insurance company, need to figure out if a personal injury lawyer needs to be involved (the $23K bill from HUMC tells me, yes, probably), need to do next year’s insurance elections and the realization I’ll probably need to adjust my coverage since there’s all this stuff that will probably need following-up for the next five years or so, need to schedule things that got pushed aside in all of the hubbub of cancer surgery, like a full-on gyno exam, colonoscopy-since-I-turned-50, an eye exam which I will probably put off until next year because the FSA dollars I had allocated for new glasses went to that other thing), need to stop avoiding looking at my insurance explanations of benefits that have been hovering in my in-box like swords of Damocles for the past couple of months, need to take a couple of days to actually unpick these knots and try to understand them without crying like a big wuss or hiding under a table, or both.

In my job, when shit is crazy and there are a million things to do, I do just one thing that I can do, and the next two dozen seem to take a number and fall into line, and I am a gettin-shit-done motherfucker. (I hate when people commend me for multi-tasking. When I “multi-task” I do a half-ass job at a lot of things, when I just do one thing at a time, shit gets done faster and better.)

But then when I get home, it all turns into a giant lake of goo that’s four inches deep, that keeps sucking at my shoes and so I plant my ever-growing ass on the sofa and just kind of stay there, with this infernal machine on my lap, and hide in the loop of social media and silly websites.

I think maybe some talking of the therapeutic type may be in order. But that would require a call to my PCP, wouldn’t it, and that just seems like too much to handle right now.

I am alive, which is great. I have bruises ALL over my body, which is not so great. I look at all of the bruises and see the bite marks of the seat belt that saved my life on Tuesday night in a high-speed crash on route 80 in New Jersey.

You can actually see the imprint of the seat belt buckle on my ribs on the left side of my torso and on my hip on the right side.

I was in the “Diana seat” — the right rear passenger seat, and we hit the car in front of us at about 50mph. I have no internal injuries, according to the CAT scan that was run at Hackensack Hospital that night. I have no whiplash, amazingly. I attribute that to the fact that I was so heads-down in my phone that I didn’t see the accident coming and was basically a rag doll in the back seat — albeit one wearing her seat belt.

Some one at work commented that I must be indestructible.

I always wear my seat belt. You should, too.