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A Chemo Brain, Up Close and Personal

Sunday, October 28, 2012

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.
(I originally posted this in March, 2010, but I feel the need for a little humor, so I'm running it again.)

I sometimes wonder if I’m plagued with one of those trendy alphabet disorders like “OCD” or “ADD” that are favorite topics of morning talk shows. Or maybe the wiring in my brain temporarily short-circuits, causing the bimbo wires to mingle and override the common sense wires. Personally, I think it’s chemo brain, a result of my eight rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer. Regardless of the underlying cause, foods packaged in neat cardboard boxes, like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, seem to trigger a response that makes me assign them human characteristics.<PREVIEWEND>

Most of us have personified an inanimate object by pointing out the “shapely legs” of a chair, or by calling an old pickup truck “a good old girl” or “a beauty,” but I have expanded the bounds of anthropomorphism one step further: I behave as though dried pasta has feelings. This typically happens when I open a box of macaroni and pour the contents into the pot. I imagine the stranded pieces of pasta glued to the bottom of the box are devastated at being left behind while their box mates go on to seek their destinies, tumbling and boiling together, soon to be a satisfying meal for hungry diners. I feel sorry for the macaroni left behind and find myself ripping open the box to free them, scraping away the remnants of glue and cardboard, then pushing them onto their boiling center stage.

When this happens, I know my husband wonders if I have lost my mind, but I prefer to believe my reasoning abilities are creatively expanding their horizons: The macaroni have been together since they were first extruded from Kraft’s giant pasta machines, then spread onto conveyor belts to dry. I see the blue and yellow Kraft boxes, newly crimped and formed, jockeying for position, one after the other, their labels facing the same direction, ready to be filled with newly made macaroni. One by one, cheese packets are added, boxes are sealed, then packed into larger boxes for shipping. By the time the macaroni reach my stove, I imagine how disappointed these pasta orphans must be, stuck to the bottom and denied their birthright of being “the cheesiest.”

Maybe I’ve watched too many dancing boxes of popcorn and singing colas while waiting for a movie to start, but I take comfort from the great architect, Louis Kahn, who said “a brick wants to be something more than a brick. It wants to be a great building.” Macaroni wants to be more than a dried glutinous mass. It wants to be a meal, amazing and creamy until the last bite.

My husband says bimbos and macaroni have a lot in common. He smiles knowingly as he pats the top of my head. “They both want to be more than they are, but their brains are stuck to the bottom of the box.”

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Undermining Our Self-Esteem

Sunday, October 21, 2012

©2012 L'Oreal USA, Inc.

I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but the older I get, the more outspoken and interested I become in women and their well-being, especially the demographic that includes me: Women over 45. I’ve spoken with thousands of women, and I know this age group is far from grieving for our youth, empty nests or stiffening joints. Women want honest and frank discussions, not with Botoxed celebrities, but with authentic women who’ve walked in their shoes. Real women like themselves. As someone who’s considered, but never had an injection of Botox or plastic surgery, other than breast reconstruction because of two mastectomies, I want to address the cosmetic companies that want our business.<PREVIEWEND>

Last month's MORE magazine had a misleading beauty cream ad, featuring actress, Diane Keaton. In the ad, Ms. Keaton appears to be the very best version of herself that we, or she, have ever seen. Not only does Ms. Keaton appear "ageless," no lines, sags or bags of any kind on her face, neck or hands, someone has removed the very things girlfriends of a certain age find appealing about her.

At every stage of our lives, we've seen ourselves, and the women we know, reflected in the characters Ms. Keaton portrays. During the sexual revolution of the 70’s, she was the single woman who, unfortunately, went too far when Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and she was a neurotic twenty something in Annie Hall. We cheered when her character in The First Wives Club went from an insecure divorcee to an empowered woman, and more recently, she was the professionally successful but personally unfulfilled playwright in Something’s Gotta Give. We love Diane Keaton because she’s always seemed like the "real deal." Like most of us, she needs glasses, has wrinkles and has kept the vast majority of the face she's earned, so why did the cosmetic company feel the need to turn her into an idealized version of herself?

If a cosmetic company’s products, in fact, can make us a “Keatonized” version of ourselves, then by all means; back your trucks up to my door and keep those creams and serums coming. If, however, you're attempting to con women via Photoshop, then I’m not interested in doing business with a company that thinks so little of me. By the way, in case companies don’t know this, Diane Keaton is beautiful the way she is.

The beauty and fashion industry has long undermined the self-esteem of women. Just as they've sent the message to young girls that they need to be thin to be beautiful, by digitally morphing 66-year-old Keaton into someone she’s not, the cosmetic company is sending the message that this is how women her age should look. Women over 45 are the best educated, most powerful generation in the history of the world, and it’s time companies respect that we want role models, magazines, skin care creams and clothing that are age-appropriate.

We are loyal, valued customers who've survived sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; the glass ceiling; in vitro fertilization; divorce, death, cheating husbands and breast cancer. Like Chico's retail clothing brand and MORE magazine, cosmetic companies that have turned the clocks back on girlfriends of a certain age, no longer make us feel we are valued. By using ageism and false advertising to appeal to our vanity, companies are betting we’ll trust them with our skin care dollars.

“Celebrating 40 Years... Because ‘you're worth it.’"

Really? I think you have us confused with our wallets.

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Breast Cancer, We'll Hang in There Together

Sunday, October 14, 2012

© Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

I don't think there's anyone who doesn't know this is breast cancer awareness month. In many ways, I've tried to run from October’s pink madness. I've put off writing a blog because once again, I didn’t want to address the controversy and the cloud that hangs over our community. All of us who are breast health advocates and bloggers have written and spoken out about the lack of moral compass when it comes to "raising awareness.” For those of you who don’t know, awareness usually translates into raising money for the cure, and too many of us know too much about where pink money does and does not go. For that reason, I’ve ignored dozens of requests from people who want me to promote their pink widgets.<PREVIEWEND>

However, the one thing I can't ignore is the devastating toll breast cancer--all cancers--inflicts on those who are inexorably ensnared by rogue cells that cause destruction and sometimes death. Long after I lay down to go to sleep, I hear the words of my unprepared friend, Donna, who's new doctor, the first time she ever saw him, had the "end of life" conversation with her, or Lisa, a fellow breast cancer blogger who just learned her breast cancer has metastasized, and she wonders how to tell her children.

It's getting harder for me to write about cancer. Too many of my friends, many of whom I've met here on my website, are battling Stage IV cancer, fighting with everything they have to stay alive. I care deeply for all of them and in many cases, I love them. They are men and women I've come to know on so many levels; people I admire for their spirit and in some cases, for their sheer determination and will that keeps them alive. Others are not so lucky, but not because of their lack of will and determination.

Sometimes I think I know too much about cancer and the course it can take. I often wonder why oncologists don’t burn out more frequently than I hear about? I'd like to think diet and exercise, positive attitude and meditation will trump killer cells gone awry, but that's not always the case. Then there are others, like my friend Susan Pollack, who lived for 14 years with metastatic breast cancer. She ate red meat, never exercised and drank alcohol. Go figure!

Sometimes it's really difficult to stay positive about the future of "the cure" when everyday, people I know, love and admire are hanging on to positive thinking and determination. So, if from time to time, I write about something else, like the power of friendships on the healing process, or who knows... why the sky is blue, that's why. I know too much about this wicked, evil thing called cancer, and forgive me, but sometimes it's just too difficult to slap on a happy face and say, "we can beat this thing." But if those of you who are in the trenches can do it, I will continue to be here to honor your valiant fight. Daily, I ask God to bless each of you and your families.

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