Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing my cancer story compelled me to found WWGN. I'm an inspirational speaker, blogger at Cure Magazine and The Huffington Post, contributor at Positively Positive, support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.
I'll be getting dressed up and going out for a lovely evening at the American Cancer Society's 34th Annual Diamond Ball. My husband and I will be there to cheer on our good friend Lockey Maisonneuve, who is this year's recipient of the Luster For Life Award. I'm absolutely thrilled for Lockey and elated to be part of her evening!
Presented to a cancer survivor who truly exemplifies someone who has not only conquered cancer but also used her experience, as difficult as it was, to help others, the Luster for Life Award could not be presented to a more inspiring recipient.
Lockey was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Her body was ravaged and she handled it with kid gloves - afraid of every movement. As a personal trainer, it struck her that, if she was having such a difficult time, how much worse must other women feel about reclaiming their bodies after treatment? That question and her mantra ("This can’t be for nothing, there must be something for me to learn.”) led her to create the MovingOn Rehabilitative Exercise Program.
Lockey and I met in her MovingOn class. Like no other support experience I had, the MovingOn Program worked wonders for my body and my mind. As Lockey notes:
"MovingOn seminars and classes provide information about the benefits of rehabilitative exercise for cancer patients/survivors. They also provide a space of support to let women discover they can move on from diagnosis and treatment. Of all the cancer patients I’ve met, the one thing they all have in common is, at the end of the day, they want to feel comfortable in their own skin again."
One of the definitions of luster is, "radiant or luminous brightness; brilliance; radiance." Lockey isn't exactly comfortable being the center of attention, but there is no one I know who more epitomizes Luster for Life than she does. Come Saturday night, we will all be basking in the glow of her radiant light.
"She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon." Groucho Marx
It's not easy to walk into a plastic surgeon's office for reconstruction after breast cancer. On my first visit, I sat in the waiting room and fumed. All around me were glossy pamphlets and posters promising "enhancement" and "transformative" procedures that would "rejuvenate, polish, and refine."
My transformation felt like staring into a fun house mirror. With the stereotactic and surgical biopsies, my body was becoming more and more freakish and unfamiliar. Being deconstructed bit by bit, I feared reconstruction meant more damage, not less. I wasn't one of those smiling happy pamphlet people thrilled at the prospect of bigger breasts, smaller noses, or fuller lips. I wanted nothing of lifts, tucks, fills, augmentations and reductions. And don't get me started on "mommy makeovers."
No. No. No. I was there under protest. I was not one of those happy people, submitting to the knife to find my "best and most beautiful self." I was fine with my body (such as it was) before this all started and did not want to be "constructed" like some kind of inanimate object. I didn't belong there and wanted desperately to leave.
After the plastic surgeon discussed my options, he asked if I had any other questions. I had a statement, "I just want you to know that I hate this."
It's been four and a half years and I still do.
To this day, the scar tissue created by my TRAM flap surgery causes constant discomfort in my abdomen. I'm also numb from just above my groin to the area between my breasts and my right breast is numb too. So basically, I have too much feeling and not enough feeling going on at the same time.
Aesthetically, I've been told by many medical professionals that my surgeon did a beautiful job and my breasts are certainly higher than they were before the surgeries. I've talked to enough survivors to know I'm very lucky to have the result I do. Even so, my right breast is oddly shaped and my cleavage is far from symmetrical. While medical professionals see beautiful "work," I see a transformation I never wanted.
Another struggle is dealing with side effects no one warned us about. My plastic surgeon told me about the numbness, but never discussed the scar tissue issue with me. Interviewed by writer and fellow blogger Diane Mapes, blogger Lisa Ducanson felt like she "was “sold a bill of goods" by doctors who weren’t completely forthcoming about the risks." Instead, Duncanson's first plastic surgeon told her, "You're going to have even better boobs!" My plastic surgeon used the word "better" with me too. Although I understand what he was trying to say now, at the time it just made me mad that anyone would suggest that reconstruction was a benefit of having cancer.
Thank you Diane for pointing out the many painful differences between elective breast enhancement and reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. I'm right behind you should you have to smack the next person who refers to all you've been through as a "boob job."
And God help the next person who refers to a TRAM flap as a "tummy tuck."
"This book was just what I needed to read after completing my breast cancer treatments."
"With refreshing candor, Debbie Woodbury tells how her own pain after cancer diagnosis and treatment led her to appreciate the power of fundamental solutions that are within reach for all of us. I will be recommending this book to my patients!"
"Being a cancer survivor, this book hits very close to home...it is beautifully written and very thought-provoking. I have several friends who are also survivors and I plan to recommend it to all of them...I love having it on my kindle because I can easily take it with me and refer to it as often as needed. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone starting their journey, in the middle of their journey, or finished with treatment (remember, we never quite finish our journey.)"
"Debbie's first book, You Can Thrive After Treatment, is beautifully written and very practical. She shares part of her own story honestly and offers very practical advice to us survivors. With my "chemo brain," I need to be reminded to breathe, be mindful, tell my story, and, most important, to feel and express my gratitude. I am planning to tell a few friends who are undergoing treatment now about downloading this book from Amazon, and I am looking forward to Part II. Thank you, Debbie, for reminding me what I have learned from having cancer and how good my life is now!"
After you get the book, please help me spread the word! Share the book with your friends on Facebook and in person. Please also consider writing a review at Amazon. All you have to do is go to the Amazon page for How to Build an Amazing Life After Treatment and click the "Write a customer review" button. Reviews are extremely helpful to getting the book promoted by Amazon, so I really appreciate each and every one immensely.
It's my greatest hope that my After Treatment book series offers you support, guidance and camaraderie on your after treatment journey. Thank you again for letting me join you and I wish you all the best as you go forward to create inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy!
I was recently honored to appear on "Courage and Grace: Stories of Remarkable Cancer Survivors.” The teleconference was hosted by Dr. Shani Fox, holistic physician and certified life mastery coach.
During our 55 minute discussion, we covered many issues, including cancer survivor's guilt, feeling alone, finding support, the pinkification of October, living and healing through gratitude, and my Gifts & Losses List. I was thrilled during the question and answer period to connect a caller looking for caregiver resources to two amazing people, Rob Harris of Rob Cares and Sara Barton of Practical Caregiver.
If you want to listen in, you can find the recording here. (You can download the recording onto your computer if you want to listen in at a later date.) Also, if you want access to future teleconferences, sign up here.
As I said about my appearance on the Survive and Live Well Radio Show, "I've learned that the more I talk about my life after treatment, the more I feel validated and healed. I hope listening to our conversation does the same for you."
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