Thursday, January 29, 2015

Another Side of Breast Cancer

I'm sure most of you read the title of this post and thought you may have stumbled across another blog by accident. Breast cancer? What's a guy who writes about addiction and recovery doing writing about breast cancer?? Let me explain.

My youngest sister was diagnosed with invasive, metastatic breast cancer in July of 2011. This was a huge blow to her, because she had already lived most of her life with lupus and its many side effects, including countless surgeries. Adding breast cancer to the mix didn't really seem fair. But my sister is a fighter and was bound and determined to kick cancer's ass.

Having spent eight years as a comprehensive cancer center administrator and ten years as a medical school administrator, my sister was very familiar with breast cancer. In fact, she was diagnosed while consulting for the cancer program at one of the region’s largest medical centers. (Talk about your work life and personal life colliding.)

Following a lumpectomy in August of 2011, my sister elected to have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure. Her surgery was successful (thank God), and afterward she made another choice: to undergo breast reconstruction. Little did she know that getting new boobs was going to be a way bigger ordeal than the mastectomy.

That August, my sister's first plastic surgeon told her, "By summer, you'll be in fightin' shape." What he didn't bother to tell her was which summer.

My sister's initial reconstruction took place in September of 2011, but that was hardly the end of her journey. What followed were many complications and multiple operations. She even enrolled in a clinical research study in hopes of getting things resolved once and for all. Three years after her first reconstruction, my sister was still having issues with her newest breasts. When she followed up with her plastic surgeon, he informed her that one implant had rotated sideways and the other was upside down.

"There’s nothing more I can do for you," he told her as he hurried out of the exam room.

What. The. Fuck.

"As a patient I felt abandoned," my sister explains. "I felt like I’d lost my breasts--AGAIN. True enough, there was nothing more HE could do for me." Fortunately, my sister's journey and knowledge--which she likens to "drinking water from a firehose"--led her to Dennis Hammond, an internationally acclaimed expert in breast reconstruction revision in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dr. Hammond performed his surgical magic on my sister on Tuesday. She came home on Wednesday. So far, everything has gone splendidly. Physically, she's doing great. Emotionally, she's doing even better. She sounds like a totally new person, even if only two parts of her are actually new. It appears as though her three-year roller coaster ride may actually be coming to an end.

Hallelujah, Jesus, and praise the Lord.

My sister is quick to point out that having breast reconstruction was her choice, and that the procedure may not be the right choice for every woman who has a mastectomy. There are questions that need to be asked and informed decisions that need to be made.

Educating other women about the process is one of my sister's passions. In fact, at the onset of her reconstruction journey, my sister agreed to be one of the subjects of a powerful book about breast cancer surgery and reconstruction. The book, by veteran medical writer Patricia Anstett and award-winning photographer Kathleen Galligan, is scheduled for publication later this year and will tell women's stories poignantly through words and photos. It's purpose? To inform the more than 225,000 American women--some as young as 20--who undergo surgery every year for breast cancer, often without much information or medical consultation.

This book needs some help, though. A month-long Kickstarter campaign to raise $18,000.00 has two weeks left and is still shy of its goal. As I write this, the fundraiser still has about $6,500.00 to go. Without that money, there's a very good chance that the book won't get published. And that would be a shame.

If you could possibly make a contribution to this cause--any contribution, small or large--I would be so appreciative. So would my sister. Like addiction, breast cancer touches so many lives. And the more information a woman facing surgery has at her fingertips, the better. This book can truly make a difference.

Let me emphasize that this book is about choices and doesn’t advocate for breast reconstruction; rather, this book seeks to provide much-needed information to women as they make decisions.

"With my professional experience in healthcare, one would think I’d know the the right questions to ask," my sister says. "But I didn't. I was completely unprepared to choose my plastic surgeon, which, in my case, was one of the first steps in my treatment. The lesson: When you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t do what you should do."

Please consider helping other women get the information they need, so they can learn from others'  experiences and do what they should do the first time around.

Here is a direct link to this important book's Kickstarter campaign page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/635883113/breast-cancer-surgery-and-reconstruction-whats-bes

And for more information on the project, along with a great blog on mastectomy, lumpectomy, and reconstruction, visit the Breast Cancer Surgery Stories website at this link:

http://bcsurgerystories.com

Thanks for letting me digress a bit with this blog post. This is a cause near and dear to me and I appreciate you taking the time to read about it.

Peace.

My sister. Markings like these are often made by plastic surgeons pre-op
to indicate their surgery plan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Looking Back: Eight Years Ago Tonight

I was perusing the journal I kept before I started this blog and came across an entry from January 28, 2007. Exactly eight years ago, when my son's depression was at its peak and his addiction was getting worse. I thought I'd share an excerpt here.

January 28, 2007

I’m working at home tomorrow. Right now, I don’t even want to be home. I’d rather be somewhere far, far away…all by myself. Getting drunk and forgetting about how fucked up my life is. Because it is fucked up. For a few days there, I thought we were turning a corner. But instead we hit a brick wall.

Sometimes I feel like just walking away. Just getting in the car and driving nowhere in particular, thousands of miles away. Finding new places, new things, new people…new feelings; because the feelings I have right now hurt so bad. Why should life be so painful? Why should the suffering just go on and on? I would give my life to make [my son] happy and “normal.” And I wish I could. It would take away his pain and my pain at the same time.

Again, I say this:

I look back not to see how bad things were, but to see how far we've come.

Peace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Guest Blog: "The Other Side"

Today's guest blog comes from Chris, the founder of KLĒN + SŌBR / Since Right Now Pod. He is currently in his 18th year of abstinent recovery from alcohol and other drugs. You can visit his website at http://www.sincerightnow.com.

THE OTHER SIDE

Recently a normie friend reached out eager and excited with the idea that I’d be a perfect fit to speak to their child’s middle-school class. Someone, given my new venture here, that could put an experienced voice and face to a cautionary tale of addiction and recovery. I had to decline.

While I undeniably have a tale of addiction, an evolving message of recovery, and I believe I can have a relatable, credible dialogue with adults with SUDs [Substance Use Disorders] who are in or seeking sobriety and recovery, what I don’t have is a prevention message. I’m working on it. I have a 4-year-old daughter--a fact which almost demands I have one within the next decade or less. But I’m certainly not qualified now to be a voice of prevention. For children.

It may go without saying that the notion of substance use prevention was a message I never heeded. What could come as a surprise—though I imagine not—is that it was a message I rarely, if ever, heard as a child. I’d suggest that I was, in fact, exposed to the opposite message: substance use normalization. Often indulgence. Occasionally over-Indulgence. Sometimes abuse.

Of the approximately four parental figures (two bio, two step, & more!) I had during my formative years—let’s call that birth through seventeen--two of them smoked cigarettes; they all, at times, smoked a not-insignificant amount of marijuana; they all partook, some more eagerly than others, of cocaine; acid, mushrooms, what-have-you made appearances; and they all--without qualification--imbibed copious amounts of alcohol with great regularity. And that’s just the low-hanging fermented fruit on the family tree.

However! Let me make something (im)perfectly clear: I’m not judging them and I’m not blaming them for the inception, course or duration of my active addictions. Were they irresponsible? Maybe. An adult’s view of their own childhood is often from a grassy knoll.

What I am doing is painting a picture of the behavior-modeling available to me as a child. My childhood included, in no particular order or relevance: a Folger’s coffee can packed full of pot on a refrigerator door shelf; very memorably being taken to see Poltergeist by a parent tripping ‘shrooms; being allowed to eat pot seeds like they were sunflower seeds; between the ages of 5 and 15 having my first drink of wine with one parent, first beer with another and first toke of weed with yet a third; and being present for the planning and preparations to move one illicit substance and the transportation of another--both across international borders and each with a different parent.

So, yeah, I grew up with a fairly non-traditional model of substance use. One could say that with a genetic predisposition to a substance use disorder, in addition to my depression and anxiety, the fix, if you'll pardon the expression, was in. Yet for all the aforementioned freewheeling mind altering going on around me as a child, I remained remarkably abstinent until I left home. It would seem I had some coping mechanisms in place. Some vague notion of what was…sensible…vis-à-vis drugs. I had some measure of self-control.

So, what happened? Nurture didn’t seem to have an immediate impact. I was certainly more abstinent than almost all of my peers throughout my childhood. I would argue I was almost impervious to peer pressure. Was it simply my nature to develop a SUD? There certainly seems to be antecedent and subsequent players in the family tree to suggest it’s in the gene pool.

Would a more temperate attitude towards substance use from my parents have prevented my ultimate fall? Would an overt prevention message have helped? I don’t know. But I really don’t think it would have. It certainly couldn’t have delayed things any more than I delayed them almost unconsciously on my own.

What does all this mean for my message for my daughter? Well, first, I’m going to hope like hell she’s a normie. However, at the moment, all I’m thinking I can do is play the role of grizzled sherpa for her as she undertakes what may be an inevitable exploration and hope the descent isn’t too steep or too long. Then walk her back up.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wanted: Guest Bloggers

It's been a little over six years since I started this blog, and I can count the number of guest blogs I've published on one hand. In fact, I can count them on one finger, because there has only been one of them. That lone guest blog was written by my wife back in July of 2013 on our son's one-year sober anniversary date, and was creatively titled "Guest Blog Post from My Wife."

This morning I woke up and started thinking about having some more guest bloggers contribute to My Life as 3D. I've been keeping rather busy and have been writing for a few other outlets, so I don't get to post here as often as I used to. And with things going so well with my son these days, I often struggle with what I should write about. So why not let some other people do a little bit of the work? It would give me a bit of a break while allowing some other folks to be heard. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

So if you'd like to be a guest blogger for My Life as 3D, please get in touch with me. If you are already connected with me, feel free to contact me via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If we aren't connected (yet), you can reach me using the "Contact Form" in the righthand column of the web version of this blog. It's right under the list of "Most Popular Posts." Tell me what you'd like to write about and why. Unless it's just totally out there, we can probably make it happen. My only requirement? You must write about something that's somehow related to addiction/recovery.

Thanks for your continued support of this blog. I appreciate every single person who stops by to read any part of anything I've written. Never in a million years did I think this blog would still exist after six years. To be honest, I wasn't sure it would make it past the first post. Yet here we are.

I look forward to hearing from at least one or two of you soon.

Peace.

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." --Anne Lamott



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back with Heroes in Recovery for 2015

Despite being out of work, my life has been pretty busy over the last couple of months. So sometimes I forget to update people on what's going on with me. Or sometimes I post a status update on Facebook about something, and intend to blog about it later. But then I forget to do that, too. Maybe my brain is just too full. Or maybe the forgetfulness is a part of manopause.

In any case, I don't think I blogged about being selected to be a Heroes in Recovery lead advocate again for 2015. I absolutely loved my Heroes experience in 2014 and I'm so honored and excited to have been asked back.

If you don't already know, Heroes in Recovery is a grassroots movement determined to break the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental health issues. By sharing real stories of recovery online and holding events across the United States--including several 6K races (that extra K is for recovery!)--Heroes raises awareness and sparks conversation. Our goal is to inspire the 20 million people in the United States who are suffering in silence from addiction or co-occurring disorders to seek the treatment they need.

This year I'll be working with seven other lead advocates from all around the country, along with our fearless leader. We will gather stories from people in recovery, write blogs, host events, and spread the word that seeking treatment is nothing to be ashamed of, and that recovery can and does happen.

I'm so looking forward to heading to Nashville the weekend of February 19th for our lead advocate summit. I can't wait to be reunited with the two other returning lead advocates and meet the five new members of our team. Doing great work with great people in a great city makes for a truly rewarding weekend.

If you'd like to share a story of recovery on the Heroes in Recovery website, please get in touch with me. I can help you through the process. Whether your story is about your own recovery or that of a loved one, I can assure you that it will go a long way toward helping people who read it. Your story may convince someone who's on the fence about recovery to finally take that first step. So please consider sharing. (Note: You can reach me by using the "Contact Form" in the righthand column of the web version of this blog. It's right under the list of "Most Popular Posts.")

My passion in life is helping others, and serving a second term as a Heroes in Recovery lead advocate will allow me to keep doing that in 2015. For that I am incredibly grateful.

Peace.

P.S. I've written quite a few blogs for the Heroes in Recovery site. (And there will be more to come!) You can access them all in my author archive at this link:

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/blog/author/dean-d/

I've also shared a few stories of my own on the site. If you want to read them, here are the links:

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/stories/dean-d-s-story/

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/stories/son-addiction-strengthened-family/

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/stories/greatest-gift-ask-sons-sobriety/

In addition, my wife and younger son have also shared their stories:

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/stories/top-10-things-helped-navigate-rollercoaster-sons-addiction/

http://www.heroesinrecovery.com/stories/addiction-seen-younger-sibling/

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Blog on The Fix About Getting Back to Normal

Just a quick post to let you know that I have a new blog up on The Fix website. It's titled The Aftermath of Addiction: Getting Used to Normalcy in Life, and it discusses what things have been like for me over the last couple of years now that my son is clean. You probably wouldn't think so, but getting back to a normal life can be kind of a challenge.

If you get a chance, please go check out the blog. Here's a direct link to it:

http://www.thefix.com/content/aftermath-addiction-getting-used-normalcy-life

Peace.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Causes and Effect (or, I Can't Wait 'til December)

In 2014 my life was full of change. The biggest change, without a doubt, was being unemployed. I hadn't been unemployed for an entire year since the early 1990s, when I chose not to work so I could be a stay-at-home dad for my oldest son. That was a great experience.

Not working last year was technically my choice, but that choice was prompted by my position being eliminated by the company I had worked for for 24 years. Instead of staying with that organization and taking a newly created position, I decided to take the generous offer they made me to leave. It's not too often that someone offers you money to go away, so I jumped at the chance. I was a bit worried at first, but in hindsight I really should send them a thank you note.

I spent a lot of 2014 looking for a new job I was passionate about. I didn't have any luck, but the extra time I had on my hands helped bring some good things to my life. For starters, I was able to rejuvenate myself. My old job was incredibly stressful, and the stress had been eating me alive for years. When I walked away, I could feel a huge weight being lifted off of my shoulders. Not having that job stress for an entire year was an indescribable luxury.

Being unemployed also gave me more time to write. I definitely wrote more for this blog, churning out 114 posts in 2014, the highest annual total in the six years of the blog's existence. In addition, I was able to write for some other online outlets, including To Write Love on Her Arms, The Fix, and The Huffington Post. The money I earned from writing for those sites totaled exactly $0.00, but the exposure has been great; and you can't put a price on that. (I did take on some paying freelance gigs, too, just so I didn't feel like a total slug.)

In December another very cool thing happened to me. I was chosen to participate in a blog called Causes and Effect. Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily began in 2013, the brainchild of entertainment and culture journalist Melinda Newman. Melinda decided to donate $10.00 every day of the year to a different organization or individual that needed it, and to write about her experiences daily. As she wrote in her first blog post, "The only criteria is to give the money to some outlet that needs it that day more than I do." In 2014, Brian Mansfield, a music writer for USA Today, took over the blog from Melinda.

For 2015, Causes and Effect will live on thanks to 12 different writers, each one responsible for a single month. Yours truly has December. That gives me almost a whole year to think about charities I want to donate to, and to get suggestions from my readers. So feel free to contact me through my blog with the names of charitable organizations you think could use the money, along with a little publicity. (Note: There's a "Contact Form" in the righthand column of the web version of this blog. It's right underneath the list of "Most Popular Posts.")

In the meantime, I'll be sure to stash away $310.00 so it's ready to give away to 31 different charities/causes come December. While $10.00 may not seem like a large donation, at least it's something. I like how Melinda Newman addressed this in her first Causes and Effect post in 2013: "I don’t expect my $10 to change the world, but my hope is it will somehow change me. And I am reminded of this quote by Edmund Burke: 'No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.'"

I like to give to others and I like to write. I'm hoping Causes and Effect will be a perfect fit for me.

I can't wait 'til December.

Peace.

P.S. I urge you to follow the Causes and Effect blog via email. That way you'll find out what charities and causes are benefiting from the $10.00 donations on a daily basis. If you go to the blog, you'll see a link at the top of the page that says, "Subscribe to Causes and Effect by Email." Just click it and sign up. Here's the link to the blog: http://myyearofgivingdaily.tumblr.com.