What Makes You Happy?

I’ve been meaning to write about this for two weeks but got a bit caught up in the recent “Boobie Wars,” for lack of a better term. I make no apologies for that but want to get back to my original plan. I’ll admit I also want to pull back, and I’m not apologizing for that either. Stepping back is sometimes necessary, whether you’re taking a day off from an ideological battle or a day off from cancer.

So I want to call a time out and talk about what makes us happy. I’ve found it’s so often small things that seem to come from nowhere.

I remember driving to work one day while I was in the middle of my cancer treatment. The sun was shining and the birds were singing and I suddenly felt like a character in a Disney movie. And I couldn’t come up with a reason, except maybe that it was great to be alive and driving to work.

I’m not sure trying to come up with a reason is such a hot idea. I’ve also found, and bear with me if you’ve heard me say this before, that if you try to chase happiness it will outrun you every time. If you don’t worry too much about how much you have or how to get more, it will find you.

William S. Burroughs put it a bit differently. He said happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose and conflict, and those who seek it for its own sake seek victory without war. I don’t buy the war aspects but  I’ve found some truth in the function and purpose part. Part of that for me lies in creating. I can completely lose track of time when I’m working on a poem or a blog post.

A big part lies in being helpful. One example is a couple of accidental wildlife rescues, with a grackle and baby bunny. My retirement daydreams include volunteering for the Wildlife Rescue team and getting a golden retriever that can be trained as a therapy dog. Critters make me happy. Being able to help them is a bonus.

Another example is breast cancer itself, oddly enough. When I started writing about my experience for my local paper, I was humbled and amazed when women told me how much my essays helped them. I still am when women (and men) respond to my blog and book. It’s so important to know you’re not alone, and it feels so good to think I may have helped. I tell people I haven’t felt like that since I was a mental health worker in a former life.

But like my Disney moment, not everything that makes me happy is purposeful. A good cup of coffee and watching birds at the feeder is better than Ativan. So are hugs from people I care about.

If you give it some thought, I bet you’d be surprised by just how many things make you happy, and how simple they are. But don’t be surprised if some of them come from places you least expect.

Whose Breast Cancer Is It, Anyway?

Boy, does my timing suck.

Just last week, I wrote about how targeting young people and using humor and slang isn’t so bad, using the I Love Boobies campaign as an example. Then along came a skirmish on the Feel Your Boobies Facebook page that made me rethink at least some of my position. Katie, who blogs at Uneasy Pink, had the audacity to kill the collective buzz when she commented that breast cancer isn’t sexy and oh, by the way, it kills women. You can read her post for details.

I still believe in humor. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t call my blog Dispatch From Second Base. And I still don’t care whether you call them boobies or tatas or hooters.

But the FYB Foundation went well beyond using humor or slang. They made it clear they’re going after the Beavis and Butt-head crowd (“Boobies–heh heh heh.”) How? By removing Katie’s comments and keeping the “I want to feel ur boobs” comments. That would be like me posting the searches from guys who want to know how to get to second base with a girl and end up at my blog. (Come to think of it, they might be the same guys.)

If that’s who FYB is targeting, why not educate them? Perhaps a “When Boobies Attack!” campaign. “Yo, dude, chemo really makes you barf. Worse than a beer bong hangover.” Hey, how about a “Let’s keep the Bettys from barfing” campaign? Complete with spewing visuals like Tosh .0!

By way of clarification, the Feel Your Boobies Foundation is not the group behind the I Love Boobies campaign. That’s the other thing that struck me when this hit the fan. Boobies seem to be coming out of the woodwork. (Weird visual, I know.) And they seem determined to meet or surpass the mass pinkification of this disease.

And the question I have is, where does that leave us, the flesh and blood women who have experienced or are experiencing breast cancer? Women with hopes and dreams and fears? Women with lumps and bumps and scars? Women with husbands and children and siblings and cats and dogs?

I honestly don’t know. I believe we need to share our stories and experiences. I believe we shouldn’t judge each other’s choices, in treatment or in what or how we choose to advocate. But I draw the line at groups who say they support breast cancer, then censor the women who know it better than anyone while letting a bunch of knuckleheads post remarks that belong on a public restroom stall.

We don’t need to agree, but I don’t think showing each other some respect is too much to ask. In Twitter parlance, FYB had a huge respect fail.

Our Boobies, Ourselves

I can’t take sides on this.

The I Love Boobies controversy is heating up again. I wrote about it last year when I heard about schools banning the bracelets. Now a video is making the rounds for the Keep-A-Breast Foundation/I Love Boobies campaign as part of the Zumiez Couch Tour. It generated a fair amount of discussion at Peggy Orenstein’s blog.

I watched the video and I just couldn’t get worked up about it. Yeah, they come off like Stoners for the Cure, and yeah, we see guys saying they like boobies, but I personally am more offended by the wall-to-wall pink at my grocery store every October. Pink Fritos? Pink Tic-Tacs? Seriously? How many shopping days until Breastmas again?

I wholeheartedly agree that we have more awareness of breast cancer than anyone could possibly want. I wholeheartedly agree that more money should be spent on research. But I think it’s a mistake to insist there’s only one way to support breast cancer. I’m not sure we can insist on the appropriate level of seriousness either. As I mentioned in my post last year, is it possible that death is too abstract for the young? Can we benefit by reaching them where they are, not where we think they should be?

We all bring our own filters to these things, so here’s mine. I have had a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on both breasts. I am a huge believer in humor, some of which is politically incorrect. I came of age in the ’70s. I still have a battered, marked-up copy of The Female Eunuch, and I’ve been to consciousness-raising groups. (See Feminist under Wikipedia.) I think the young women survivors photographed in the Scar Project are beautiful warriors. I see none of these things as mutually exclusive.

Your perceptions are obviously shaped by a different set of life experiences. But whether you agree with the Keep-A-Breast Foundation or not, and whether you think they’re putting their money or emphasis to the best use, at least they’re doing something. That’s a lot more than you can say for the ridiculous Facebook “campaigns” where women were supposed to say what color their bra is or, more recently, where they like it (that is, where they like to keep their purse).

The best slam I saw against the ridiculous “Where I like it” FB purse campaign, as well as the best argument on how breasts don’t need any more awareness, comes from Rainbow Rowell, a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. She’s not angry or political; she just writes very powerfully about how she becomes uncomfortable every October.

I can’t take sides, but I am willing to keep an open mind, and her column really made me think. You might even say it raised my consciousness.

Finding Your Stillness

When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer,  your mind starts spinning like a caffeinated hamster on a wheel. When I was trying to decide between a mastectomy and radiation for my ductal carcinoma in situ, there were times I wished I could unscrew my head, shake out its roiling contents, and screw it back on.

If I could give only one piece of advice to people trying to figure out what to do, it would be this: Find a way to your stillness so you can make the decision that’s right for you. Not me or 20 other people–you. And just like deciding on a course of treatment, only you know the best path to that still place.

For me, music really helped calm that constant internal buzzing. For you, the answer may lie in meditation or prayer. Other than weddings and funerals, I haven’t set foot in a church for more than 30 years, but I did occasionally pray that I would make the right decision. I also prayed for calm.

Doing things with friends also helped keep the noise at bay, although I would caution you against too much busyness. I cancelled a family vacation while trying to figure out a course of action, because it just felt right in my gut. I needed that time for reflection.

My goal was to reach a place where I wouldn’t be second-guessing myself later, and I never have going on three years out. Whatever it takes for you to reach that place, just do it. It’s not fun to be alone with the contents of your head, but you will need to find that place of stillness. It’s the only way your inner voice, or intuition or whatever you call it, can make itself heard.

A corollary to the internal commotion is feeling like you have to make a decision right now. Trust me, you don’t. With DCIS or early-stage cancer, you’re not putting your life at risk by giving yourself time to think.

Thanks to a mastectomy I’m essentially cured, although I have a standing date with my oncologist every six months and I’m taking daily Tamoxifen to prevent cancer from showing up in my other breast. But the noise in my head and time pressure are back, for reasons completely unrelated to my health. More on that next time.