#PlanB

Ever since my parents’ divorce 24 years ago, I dreamed about creating a happy, nuclear family of my own- one with my husband, four kids and a barn filled with animals. That was always my dream; that was always my plan.

Of course, life never goes the way you plan.

I’ve had several long-term relationships throughout my adult life but nothing lasted. The older I get, the more I feel like I’m not going to find that man I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with, that one I’m supposed to have a family with. That thought used to bother the hell out of me but over the past year or so, I’m beginning to feel better about it. Nevertheless, I always felt like I was supposed to be a mother and have my family. I am going to be a mother one day.

When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, my doctor recommended me to get a full hysterectomy. If I didn’t, there is a greater chance of the cancer coming back. I’m stubborn and opted not to get that (instead, I got a cone biopsy). I will need to get a hysterectomy sometimes before my 40s so I’m on a timeline to get pregnant.

My new life trajectory is find a better job, save and fix my finances (which aren’t too bad. I’m almost done paying off my student loan and have no credit card debt). Have a baby. Maybe move back to Nevada to be closer to my mom. Perhaps buy a house. And I’m going to do all this alone.

I know there is a great risk raising a child alone, especially mental health and financial wise. I consider myself to be my best 100% self when I’m single- it’s when I’m happiest and feel my emotionally strongest. I have given so much of my time and energy into finding someone in order to fit this perfect daydream I have. But that’s all it is- a dream. And I have new ones to pursue. I’m not completely voiding myself of a relationship- if I meet someone great and things positively progress forwards, then great! But I decided that I’m no longer going to actively pursue romantic relationships. I just don’t want the stress and complications of dating and relationships anymore, especially now that I’m working toward this new goal.

I’m trying my best to consider all my options, as well as keep them open. I talked with some of male friends about them donating their sperm- they would have no legal right to the child and their names wouldn’t appear on any birth records. I know that I don’t have to conceive traditionally (even though I always wanted to experience pregnancy). I also started looking at foster care training programs in Texas- I would love to give a child in need a home and possibly adopt them (like how I was adopted).

I read countless studies of the benefits of raising a child in a two parent household and I don’t want to be that stereotype of a Black single mom but screw that all. I know that I will be a great mom one day and that I have a lot fo love to give a child. I used to think families had to look a certain way. Now, I know better and differently. Family is whatever you make it. I look at the people I call my family- they consist mostly of my best friends from college. I may never get married or find my “soulmate,” but I am determine to create my own family and my own happy ever after.

If things haven’t worked out for you, dear reader, do you have a plan B?

#Chadwick

Chadwick Boseman died on August 28th from colon cancer. He was an actor, a philanthropist and beloved around the world. I first saw Chadwick in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” My friend, Ashley, dragged me to the theater to watch the movie. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of the Marvel Cinema Universe but when Chadwick appeared on the screen, I was charmed by his performance. I quickly became a fan. When “Black Panther” came out two years later, I watched the movie three times in theaters. When I heard the news of his passing, it felt like a friend died.

I usually don’t get caught up with celebrity deaths but for the past week, Chadwick has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about his legacy and his incredible work ethic. As a cancer survivor myself, I am impressed that he continued to work despite his illness. It makes me realize two things: 

  1. You have no idea what someone is going through. Chadwick worked during his cancer treatments, making the Marvel films and several others in a four year span. I think about the pandemic and how so many of us are struggling while keeping a brave face on, trying our best to get through the day. Knowing what he went through reminds me to be kind. These days, everyone is fighting some kind of battle. 
  2. I have to admit that when things get hard in my life, I tend to shut down. I push people away. I’ll spend hours crying in my bathroom. I’ll neglect my self-care and spend all of my free time sleeping. I throw myself pity parties and tell myself that I’m worthless and a screw-up. My cancer was caused by HPV. When I was first diagnosed, I repeatedly told myself that I was an idiot for not insisting that my previous partners wear protection: if they wore condoms, if I treated my body and sexual health better, if I loved and respected myself like I should have, I wouldn’t have had cancer. While I don’t know how he dealt with his diagnosis, I admire that Chadwick continued to work. He may have been in pain but he continued to show up and keep fighting. He may have had some break downs but he still put in his best every day. That is inspiring. Seeing that energy fuels me to keep going. Chadwick lived unapologetically, to the best of his capability, to the very end- may we all do so.

In my culture, death is not the end.” – Black Panther/ T’Challa

Rest in power, King

#Prologue

I haven’t been writing.

I want to blame a busy schedule. Or lack of a busy schedule. No matter what, there is always my to-do list and I chose to let it rule me or release me. I can blame it on laziness; how autumn finally crept in, body slamming the Texas heat to the side and letting the frozen air wake up me every morning through the unsealed cracks of my bedroom window. I’ll blame the cold if I can also blame my bed and its warmth and the inviting Christmas lights that I wrapped around the bed frame. My bedroom finally feels cozy after I lived in this space for over a year. Blame it on my intense depression and anxiety. They are the real culprits. Today, I see them as the bad guys, villains in microscopic bodies that wear cartoonish black masks of if they were thieves stealing away my happiness and dreams.

I’m going to blame them.

The last couple weeks have been hard, dear reader. I’ll spare you most of the details because frankly, I don’t want to remember them. There are a lot of things that I don’t want to remember from this year {and yes, I cannot believe that this year is almost over with). There are a few things that I have to remember, though. I need to remember my triggers- isolation. Shame. Not drinking enough water. Being overwhelmed. When someone doesn’t truly listen. Loneliness. Rejection. Those villains have been my “dearest friends,” whispering things to me. Horrible things. Things that will forever tease and taunt me, even on days like today when I feel good.

Tuesday night, I went on a date. He wasn’t the best kisser but I could deal with that. He asked me about my cancer with concern and I was honest with him. It was caused by HPV. I don’t know when I caught it. I want to, again, blame someone else for it. How about my ex who swore he never cheated but I knew that he did. I knew that I should have made him wear condoms for the duration of our relationship even if we both hated them. Another stupid mistake I made in the name of love. Could this week’s date face the same fate? No. I should have been relieved when he said that he was “freaked out” by my diagnosis. I should have just put on my clothes and blocked him on my phone as I walked home. I should have told myself that there is someone out there who doesn’t  care that you caught a disease and will still think you’re an incredible woman.

Of course, I should have. But I didn’t.

I went home and cried and cried and cried. I holed myself up in my bathroom, texting my best friend about my evening. I needed support and sympathy; When I didn’t get it quick enough, thoughts of a forever sleep entered my head. I took a handful of pills, mostly melatonin as it was the only non-vitamins I have in my medicine cabinet and swallowed each pill down, one by one. I then forced myself to sleep only to wake up an hour later with the worst dry mouth of my life and the inability to use my legs. I felt like human Jell-O as I propped myself against the walls, steadying myself as I made my way to the bathroom to pee. I fell into a deep sleep after that and didn’t wake up until the next day.

I woke up to an Instagram message, one from my friend, Annie, about a radio reporting job she thought I would be good at. It’s funny, in the weirdest of ways, how something like that can pull you out of the depth of your negative neurosis. I thanked her for sending it to me, took a shower and grabbed a ride to enjoy breakfast. I talked with my waiter, which made me feel more alive as we talked about his friend that was recently in a car accident. I ate my eggs sunny side up and cinnamon pancakes trying not to the think about the accident that I had the night before.

I hate that phrase, rock bottom. I’ve never hit it- I was born on its stone surface and have been trying to crawl myself out of its hole since infancy. Yet my fingers remain bloody with every attempt I try to climb out, hoping that one day, I will walk away from this pit of nightmares. I have the things that I want to achieve, the list beyond my current to-do list. I know that I dream big but it’s those dreams that are keeping me here. I woke up from a mild attempt for a reason- for those big, ridiculous dreams. For breakfast food. For love. For more Instagram messages. For the Christmas lights wrapped around my bed frame. For hope. I wake up for everything. Yes, everything hurts but everything will be okay.

I wake up to write.

#MoreSexPlease

One of the best scenes in “Mean Girls”

Embarrassing story time: With my recent surgery, my doctor limited me from anything too physical exhausting- including sex. Earlier this week, my restriction was lifted and I went on the prowl looking for something casual- I went to Tinder. I built a profile and wrote what I was looking for. I decided not to add any photos of my face but instead, tasteful pictures of my body. I received a ton of messages and singled out a handful of men, exchanging phone numbers with a few. The first guy was flirty until the point where I texted a photo of my face. He let me down easy, saying that I seemed cool but I wasn’t his type. The next guy I texted a picture of my face to ghosted me. I promptly deleted Tinder after that, feeling lonely, ugly and defeated.

Despite my lack of physical activity, I know that I’m not alone: Americans are not having sex anymore. The 2018 General Social Survey found that 23% of American adults had not had sex in the past year, an all-time high. Also, the share of people who are having sex once a week or more is on a downward trajectory: from 51% in 1996 to 39% today.

Why aren’t Americans having sex? Technology is a factor. The rise of social media and streaming video mean there are screens frequently competing for people’s attention. Technology has led to undeveloped social skills and wider societal stances that our parents didn’t experience. The sex recession is driven by, in a large degree, the decline in marriage, especially among young adults. Very few married Americans don’t have sex and quite a few unmarried Americans don’t have sex- a decline in marriage rates is correlated with a decline in the frequency of sexual activity among adults age 25 through 34.

There are the day-to-day struggles- more women and men are working to create a two-income family to stay middle class or above. People’s minds are occupied with things other than the physical connection, and that has increased in modern life (especially from the previous decades).

Experts in the study have further suggested widespread mental health issues (anxiety and depression), as well as concerns over sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement as possible factors in the decline in sexual activity (since the launch of the #MeToo movement, my female friends say that they never get hit on in person, in public anymore).

Porn has played a role, too. PornHub, the most-visited pornography site in the United States, has seen its daily visits triple from 2012 to 2017. Experts have noted a steady climb in the percentage of young people who are either disinterested or insufficiently interested in romantic interactions with others.

All day, I’ve been reading the many theories about the Great American Sex Drought. One opinion is access to the internet has left people with average looks in the dust. Stereotypically attractive people having sex with each other, leaving the “average” and “ugly” folks in the dust because it’s so much easier for people to just ‘date up’. People aren’t settling with just anyone because there are many opportunities for them to just play the numbers while also being very particular. Meanwhile, the rejected folks are so scarred by the heartbreak and rejection that they are apprehensive about trying to find someone for themselves (which, I sadly, totally agree with. Oh, those damn social skills).

What are your thoughts about sex and dating in today’s era, dear reader? (And if you’re in the middle of the Sex Recession, know you’re not alone. I think we should start a club.)

#AreYouThereGod

What if God was one of us– would S/He like donuts with sprinkles?

It’s me, Andrea…

I’ve been talking to God a lot lately, which is weird because this is the first time in about 12 years since we last spoke to each other. When you have cancer, your brain goes into this tailspin of emotions and thoughts. I wanted to blame getting cancer on someone (besides myself). After cursing the names of various exs, I started shouting at God. Was I being punished? Did I need to start going to church again or read the Bible more often? Was I being damned to my personal Hell?

Okay, let me back up. When I was little, my least favorite time of day was when my family gathered in the living room to read the Bible and pray on our knees. I went to church camp and sang songs about the Bible and all its “characters.” In high school, I dove into books about the occult and witchcraft (this was during my “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” phase). In college, I was challenged to read the Bible as if it was a work of glorious fiction. And what am I religiously? I’m technically Mormon. A Latter-Day Saint. I was baptized in church but I left after I realized that I liked both men and women (I didn’t want to spend every Sunday in the Bishop’s office explaining why I had a crush on my college roommate). The religion that once defined me only made me dig deeper into my relationship with God. I’ve questioned karma more times that I like to admit. I’ve celebrated Jewish holidays with friends and exs (my Hebrew name is Avivi). As of today, I’m spiritual, more or less. I know that there is something out there- I just don’t know what.

Religion is on the decline– fewer than half of Americans consider religion to be an “extremely” or “very” important part of their identity. Among younger Americans, “not religious” catergory is almost half. They disagree with a lot of conservative values that many churches preach- these younger Americans are more accepting of the LGBT community and other minority groups. They’re rejecting traditional religious views like marriage and having families (some of my friends say that religion is built on the patriarchy which they don’t support). Millennials are turning to more spiritual avenues like witchcraft and astrology. If not mysticism, they’re looking for factual insights and scientific-based evidence to explain certain phenomena. (There is also this interesting report about how our careers replaced religion.)

When my best friend, Nick, visited me in February, we went to Saint Mary’s Cathedral to light a candle for myself and my cancer situation (we actually never did light one as we stumbled in on the tail end of a wedding ceremony). In that same trip, Nick took me to a shop where crystals were sold. I picked a few that “spoke to me” (Nick’s words), took them home, bathed them in salt water and waited for their magic to work. Two weeks ago, my therapist and I talked about putting my troubles into a higher power, God or otherwise (I told him that I praise and worship cats like the ancient Egyptians). Since my diagnoses, I’ve been open to exploring whatever option it takes in order to heal fast and get some better mental clarity. I’m feeling good these last few weeks so I wonder if whatever higher power up in the sky is truly listening to my heart’s intentions. Whatever it may be, I am grateful.

Are you religious, dear reader? Do you talk to God/ Goddess/ the Universe/ Balthazar/ Allah/ Buddha/ cats?

#LoneWolf

I see you, Pee-wee…

I need help. Those are three simple words. Why then are they so difficult to get out?

I’ve been trying to do this cancer thing by myself. While I update my friends and family pretty regularly about my condition, I’ve been going at everything alone. I go to my various doctor appointments alone. I’ve been pretty hush-hush with my feelings, keeping them to myself. My friends offered to help to raise money for my treatment but I told them that I can handle paying for it by myself. At the end of the day, I tell myself that cancer is my battle and that I am my own army. I am a lone wolf.

Okay, I’m not.

I know why I don’t ask for help. I push people away, especially ones that care the most. I don’t think that I deserve their help. I don’t want to bother people with “meaningless” and trivial things and things that I should know how to do already. I don’t want to look stupid or needy. I don’t want to feel incompetent if I can’t do that thing. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to make it weird. There’s the reciprocity aspect. I have the greatest fear of rejection- in all its forms. After all, I don’t like saying “no” to people. Sometimes, I just don’t know who to or how to properly ask.

I’ve been told countless times that asking for help is a sign of strength. I still have a hard time believing that it is (I just want to be independent!). But I’m starting to work through this, slowly reaching out. I’ve always been okay asking my parents but now, I’m branching out to my friends. Instead of feeling humiliation, I tell myself that I’m depriving my friends (who’d love to help!) of the opportunity to do so. It’s one big circle of service.

My friend, Elli, constantly reminds me that cancer is treated by a village. I have my team of doctors and medical specialists but  need my team of support. Even the leaders of the teenist towns have teams- I can still be the mayor. I’m swallowing my pride and my fear and all of my other negative thoughts and feelings. It’s a tough pill to get down but I know that it’s something that I have to do and master. We can all do so much more together than we ever can alone.

How do you ask for help, dear reader?

(And ARH-WOOOOOOO!)

#LetsTalkAbout…

More specifically, let’s talk about sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

PREACH!

Last week, I had surgery to remove cancer cells from my cervix. The cancer was caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) which is usually spread by skin-to-skin contact, in the act of sex. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It’s usually harmless and goes away by itself but some strands can lead to cancer… like the cancer cells that were found and removed from my body.

I was ashamed of telling people what caused my cancer. I’ve never shied away from talking about sex before. I’ve never shied away from the word “slut.” I always believed in its positive power. The word allows women to own their sexuality. I embraced it with open arms. Hell, three years ago, I organized a Slut Walk in Reno to help reduce that stigma of sexually-celebrated women. But now, that word rings poorly in my ear. I caught HPV from a past partner. Part of me feels like if I made better choices with whom I slept with, I wouldn’t have cancer. I feel dirty (and not in a good way). I feel like a slut.

But I know that is the stigma talking.

It’s time that we destigmatized STIs especially common ones like HPV. They’re a part of being sexually active (even if you always use condoms and only have one partner throughout your entire sexual history). Yeah, they suck but they aren’t scary. Having one is not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that you’re a slut or dirty. Shit happens sometimes. But there is treatment and support. Most STIs are treatable. There are health care providers out there to help (and who will not judge!). We need to be able to talk about them with our sexual partners. We should talk about them with our friends. Maybe our parents (I talk about HPV with my mom). We’re able to talk about illnesses like colds and fevers. So, why not STIs?

I share my story because I don’t want to hide behind the truth. I got infected and that’s what happened. But I’m not going to let fear keep from being physically involved with another person nor will it keep me away from getting more regularly tested (I’m getting the HPV vaccine that the FDA just approved for women over the age of 30 with hopes I will not catch another strand). Everyone deserves good sex: sex that is healthy, consensual, pleasurable, safe and respectful- and having a healthy sexuality also includes being informed about STIs.

Regardless of your gender or lack of gender, dear reader, I beg of you to get tested. Know your status and take your sexual health seriously before hopping into bed with that babe of a babe.

#CancerThoughts

It makes me that much stronger;
Makes me work a little bit harder;
It makes me that much wiser;
So thanks for making me a fighter

In November, I visited my OB/GYN to get a Pap smear and an IUD. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the doctor, requesting a biopsy. I panicked when hearing the word and waited to after the holiday season to make the appointment. Two weeks ago, I held my friend’s hand as my doctor performed a colposcopy.  After three days of waiting for him to ring, my doctor called.

Cancer. The dreaded C-word, or how I lovingly refer to it, CC (cervical cancer).

Every day, I tell myself that I’m going to be okay, that CC is not a death sentence. This was caught early and I’m still young. My body and spirit are both fighters and I’m going to get through this. However, telling myself this is completely different than believing it. 

My friends who know me really well have told me that I’m being positive about the entire thing. They’re impressed with my outlook and perkiness. But frankly, my positivity is a front. I’m freaking out on the inside. For the last two weeks, I’ve been beating myself up for not taking care of better care of my body and for ignoring my health. I’ve spent hours projecting into the future, thinking about everything from surgical scars to cancer coming back in my old age to chemotherapy and losing my hair. (I do owe credit to the Paxil that I’m on. If I wasn’t on it, I would never leave my bed.)

My OB/GYN recommended a hysterectomy. I’m meeting with an oncologist later in the week to verify these claims but I’m already thinking about that word. Hysterectomy. It sounds ugly and depressing… I want to have a family. I’ve always wanted to. To one day be pregnant and have a little person growing inside of me. During major bouts of depression, when things felt especially hopeless and looked dark, the thing that kept me going was the thought of one day, me being a mom. I’ll have a kid that looks like me. Maybe they would have my eyes or my skin color. Maybe they would have my childhood lisp. I’ll look at them and see what my body meticulously created and perfected. And now, I terrified that that won’t happen. I know that I’m jumping to conclusions and there are others surgery options (I’m currently looking at a cone biopsy). There are also SO many ways to have a family these days. But my heart is still heavy. I get consumed with thoughts like if maybe certain relationships didn’t end, I could be married with a kid now. What would happen if that one pregnancy scare wasn’t a scare? The ifs and should’ve/would’ve/could’ve bounce around my brain. 

Cancer is such a scary word in general and to add it into my mix of all the other pieces in my mess of a life right now… POW! I’m terrified about the status of my job and losing my health insurance (my boss gave me an ADA Medical Status Evaluation Form earlier today and I had a small panic attack, thinking that she was going to take my job responsibilities away from me). I just started seeing this wonderful man but I already gave him an out. Cancer is incredibly heavy for a relationship that’s only a month old and I’m an emotional person. The other relationships in my life shifted. My friends reach out with their concerns and I don’t want to talk about it at all. They’re offering me support and advice and I brush it all in under the rug. I’m continuously asking to change the conversation when the talk goes cancer. I don’t want pity- I just want to be healed and move on with my life. 

I am going to move on from this, though. It’s just another chapter in my crazy choose-your-own-adventure of a life. My friends already call me a cancer survivor. I’m going to have surgery and I’m going to be fine. The last few days when my brain is spinning and it tell me, “Your life sucks,” I counter that thought and say, “Nah, your life is interesting.” I think about all the experiences I’ve had, all the places I’ve lived and people I’ve met and I grateful on how things fell perfectly into place. Life is going. I’m going. I’m moving and shaking. And my CC and my negative thoughts and feelings around it are, too (buh-bye).

But still… fuck cancer, dear reader. 

#JustGiveMeAReason

Love you, Amy (and you’re right…)

Everything happens for a reason… I honestly used to believe that phrase was a load of cow poo. The phrase made me question fate and free will. I always thought if things were connected, how would we be able to break the thread and choose our own adventure? And did everything have to have some sort of reasoning behind it?

I’m starting to see that maybe I am wrong…

In November, I had a pap smear that came back abnormal. My doctor called and recommended that I get a colposcopy done, as he thought he found precancer cells during my exam. So next week, I have an appointment to get my lady parts examined and biopsied (this will be another blog post but I’d like to note that I’m absolutely terrified). Since October, I’ve been questioning my decision of move to Austin. It’s been a struggle these last four months but over the weekend, I finally realized why I am here, my reason,  maybe my Texan purpose. Back in Nevada, I didn’t have proper health insurance and with the small amount of take-home pay I did have, I focused on my mental health and dental issues. With my job here, I have great health insurance and I am taking full advantage of it- which meant going to get my hoohah checked out. I’ve been thinking to myself, if I didn’t come out to Texas, I wouldn’t have my insurance. If I didn’t have insurance, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the OB/GYN. And if I didn’t see the doctor, they wouldn’t have found the possible cancer cells. And if those cells weren’t discovered, I could have full blown cancer in my late 30s.

Funny how one thing effects another, right?

I’ve been talking to the Universe a lot lately (I know IT as the “Universe” but maybe you call IT “God” or “George” or whoever), asking for guidance. The Universe and I haven’t spoken to each other much in the past but I’m ever so slowly learning how to listen to it when it beckons and trust the direction it’s pushing me to. Absolutely everything doesn’t have some life-changing or defining rational behind it. But I’m finally starting to see that down the line, somewhere in the future, somewhere in the unknown, something else happens that’s so wonderful/healthy/good, that it’s only then that you realize it would have never come to fruition had you not suffered that earlier moment (happy or sad) in the first place.

Do you believe things happen for a reason, dear reader? And if you ever had a colposcopy done, what can I expect?