Hey, it’s me again. I know the world is terribly troubled and noisy and you’ve a mile long list of things to do. But like other cancer clubbers I feel as if October, Cancer Awareness Month, has once again given me the green light to take off the breaks and plow forth with this pink awareness evangelism I’m about to spew. I remember these women before my diagnosis when I was blissfully ignorant. They were everywhere. On tv, on posters at bus stops, doctors’ offices, marching in the streets. They all seemed to have this smile I found incongruous with the cause that had them marching in the first place. Lock eyes with one of them and she might see right through you and know you haven’t scheduled that mammogram, have you?
This blissful ignorance of which I refer were those years when I sauntered into the doctor and got the mammogram and went about life unencumbered, and the letter always showed up in my mailbox with the nothing to see here box checked. There was that one time when there was a call back but it turned out to be nothing. I always landed on my feet. Until I didn’t.
I recall during many a mammogram the tech often would remark about what dense breasts I had. She always seemed surprised at what my tissue presented on screen and there was almost this Little Red Riding Hood delivery with a, “My what DENSE TISSUE you have!” What’s a patient to do with that remark? Turns out, there is plenty you can do, beginning with talking to your doctor. These days much more is known about dense breast tissue. Doctors know dense breast tissue makes breast cancer screening more difficult and it increases the risk of breast cancer.
So back to my agenda. We can all agree that mammograms don’t rise to the top of our list. We are busy, many of us with jobs and kids and partners and pets, all vying for our attention. Signing up to be flattened on a cold metal machine just doesn’t seem all that important. We are young and we are healthy, and it doesn’t run in our family, so we will do it when we do it. Also, we are scared. What if they find something?
Wait just one minute!
We think we can wait until our schedule opens up, until it dawns on us again, or when our doctor pesters us again next year to make the appointment. But you know what doesn’t wait? Cancer. Yep, that’s right. It likes to stay busy. It’s predictable that way.
Those of us who’ve had teenagers in the house know what can happen. Parents schedule a night out or a short weekend away and then what? Suddenly there’s a party at your house, and not one you planned. The guest list keeps growing and things can easily get out of control.
With mammograms and self-exams we can take the reins and ensure no party gets planned or if one does, we can throw ammo at it and create an undesirable environment should any visitors dare show up again.
So let’s shut down a party before it even begins. Get it done. Get that mammogram and do your own self-exam. It’s a good habit to start and you can stay on top of things. One less thing to worry about.
I’ve been visited by these partyers and I’d rather you not be. There is lots of clean up, lots of expense, worry, and none of it feels good. So let’s not get this party started at all. It’s your body, your house, and you can reinforce those locks and make a party at your place too difficult to bother with.
It can be scary, I know, but do it anyway. Schedule it, feel yourself, and put it behind you, until the next month or year when it’s time to do it again. Make it routine. You don’t have to join a march or answer to anyone, like me, who may be bugging you about your breast health. But your body is counting on you to watch out for it, and I believe you can and should.
They say less is more. That feeling of shedding things which no longer work for you, are broken, or are duplicates. These items are dead weight and likely never did spark joy, and they certainly don’t now. Pluck them from their spot on a table and magically the air flows freer. And your mind follows suit.
Just how many tchotchkes must a person amass in a lifetime? Is it to fill a blank tabletop, like a voice fills a silence, or maybe certain objects tug at one’s heartstrings scoring an invitation to live their lives out in our homes? Or could it be there’s a sale and getting a deal clouds our decision making?
This issue with stuff is not mine alone. It’s all of ours, and the people we share spaces with bring their baggage to the table, some acquiring more bags when already there are plenty, and some rarely pronouncing a bag primed for dismissal when it’s clearly time. Once added to the fold, these belongings sit, occasionally getting dusted and moved around, but mostly, they block the flow and if large enough, the view too.
One bizarre knickknack appeared months ago in my friend Connie’s beach condo which she and her husband co-own with another person. It’s one of dozens of things that have ended up in the place over the years, a growing collection of stuff the other owner can’t resist, many such items in disrepair and no longer useable. There are even notes he’s posted instructing that all condiments (outdated or not) stay put, despite them cluttering refrigerator shelves and leaving a shabby impression for incoming renters.
It’s become clear to Connie that the revolving door letting things in must be malfunctioning because once inside, the way out is blocked. It’s one thing to hang on to the occasional appliance that no longer works, tucking it away in a cabinet in hopes someone will get around to fixing it. It’s another to stow four of them–blenders in this case–each with various essential parts missing, and none adding up to a whole, especially when a perfectly fine blender sits on the bar in plain view ready for use. It begs the question, why haven’t these items yet been escorted into recycling heaven? To their credit, the orphaned blender components are at least hidden behind a lower cabinet door, but that was not the case for one such gaudy item the other owner, on a visit down, left front and center on a living room table.
Not typically a complainer, Connie, however, several times pointed out this silver sparkly mass to us as if to make sure we realized its addition to the décor wasn’t her doing, but also to communicate her disdain for its existence, which she found brutally detracting from her sacred happy place–and perhaps her guests’ too. Having too much stuff can even be dangerous as Connie found out. She nearly cut herself because a broken glass platter had been shoved between two pillows on the top shelf in the Owner’s closet and she’d placed her hand directly on the cut piece when she went to pull it out.
We all see things differently, but the litmus test seems to be if you move or remove an item and it is never again noticed or needed, as has been the case for several things that found their way into the condo before and have fallen apart and been removed since, perhaps it belongs with someone else, somewhere else, including the trash, particularly if it sparks not joy but despair. That at least was our thinking.
On further inspection it became clear that this object, whose bizarre form took inspiration from sea coral and organ pipes and appeared liberally cloaked in Reynold’s Wrap, was mass produced, and by all accounts, just plain ugly. It didn’t require an intervention to convince Connie it needed to go, but since she didn’t bring it into the space, it technically wasn’t hers—same for the broken blenders and strange and useless knickknacks—so there was naturally a hesitancy to act. Although we were merely guests, after a few trips to this pretty beachfront condo we’d become equally invested in protecting the calm this place brought. After enough banter about the thing over the course of several days and in the spirit of friends helping friends lighten their load, the four of us developed a plan.
We couldn’t just trash it although it would certainly be a convenient route to take, but that would be wasteful as well as deliberately inconsiderate. Instead, regifting it was its way out and ours too. But who or where would be the deserving recipient? Adjacent to the condo is the Flora-Bama, a mainstay of the area which opened in 1964, and describes itself as a down-home waterfront bar/grill which offers oysters, pub grub & live music every day. So close is the Flora-Bama to the state line that you can step four inches out of its west door in Florida and find yourself in Alabama. It has a gritty vibe, welcoming bikers and beach babes alike, and offers that certain je ne sais quoi unique to dark Floridian watering holes.
Celebrated musicians have played there including Kenny Chesney as well as the late Jimmy Buffet, who once dropped by to sit in with the house band and tore up the place with his music, triggering a noticeable growth in the lounge’s hanging underwear. Also famous are the Flora-Bama’s Bushwackers, a frozen alcoholic drink made with Kahlua, rum, creme de cacao, and cream of coconut, which was first invented in 1975 in St. Thomas, USVI, but has since become popular in Florida.
On our visits down to Connie’s, we’ve always enjoying taking in the Flora-Bama, either walking to it from the beach for a Bushwacker, or for a $5 cover charge experiencing an evening there of live music and people watching, and of course another Bushwacker made extra special with a light rum floater on top. It was a no brainer that this item belonged there, but how would we do it? They card you at the door, rifle through your bags for rifles and other such crazy things some folks consider toting and thankfully and thoughtfully they screen your entry. But would the silvery blob make it through Flora-Bama security? Could it be that we were meeting a friend for her birthday and bringing this along as her gift? A little tissue paper and a gift bag and voila, the gift and celebration were born!
Connie joked with the security man at the door, who looked through her purse and peered into the bag, that she hoped the gift didn’t look like a brain. “Indeed it does,” he remarked with a smirk, but nonetheless with our wrists now stamped we were ushered in, the giftbag too. The place is dark inside with different levels of bars and stages and has the whimsy and noise of Atlanta’s now closed Masquerade, but offers its own unique clientele and folksy Floridian grit.
We found a corner table in a small bar where a trio sang country folk covers. Our server immediately noticed the gift bag, its bulbous silveriness peering through the tissue, which we would later unveil at our pretend gifting celebration. Unwrapped, it gleamed in this dark bar and when the server returned, it was clear an explanation was in order. “It’s her birthday!” we chimed in, pointing not to a single woman, but wildly unpracticed, pointing to each other and, laughing hysterically, clearly unable to correctly identify the birthday girl. The four of us smiled like a Cheshire cat, each with a mouse tail dangling from its mouth.
Not sure if she coveted it for her own coffee table or else couldn’t believe someone’s extraordinarily awful taste, but she fixated on it each time with a frightened uneasiness as if it might move, as she looped back periodically to check on us. We felt an unspoken lightness come over us with this silvery creation now out of the condo, out of the bag, and out into the night to acclimate to its new environs. In the distance, bras hung from rafters and coat hooks or from any old place you could get a bra to hang, and on each were messages written in Sharpie ink. It’s unclear exactly how or when this tradition started, but the sheer volume of bras was impressive. These foundations aren’t just bar art, and I’ve since read that “bra slinging” fundraiser events at the Flora-Bama have raised money for groups supporting breast cancer research and other causes. Curious, I wanted in.
It had been several months that I’d been on a hunt for a comfortable strapless bra that would fit and appear effortless, a tall order, like the bra itself, which I still hadn’t filled. The one I wore this evening, the only one I owned, was over a decade old, and I didn’t much like it. To its credit it was a likable neutral nude color, and it usually didn’t show, even under my barest halter tops. However, its underwire cut into my ribs every damn time leaving my skin with grooved indentions, and the padded cups were ill fitting and gapped and formed indentions in their center.
Like all alcohol, the Bushwackers were a diuretic, so I made my way past the bar and the band to the ladies’ room. Inside the stall I pulled off the whalebone undergarment and placed it rolled up inside the pocket of my dress. Returning toward our table and passing the bar, I asked to borrow a Sharpie, but they suggested I could purchase one in their gift store downstairs. With the cover charge and two Bushwackers I’d already invested, I had little interest in purchasing a pen. Besides, I had a ballpoint in my purse and a bra in my pocket, so I was all set for this little craft project.
As if huddled for a yearbook signing, we girls took turns with the bra, passing it and the pen around, covering our work from each other and our server as we scribbled silliness across the cups and strap. Elsie got first dibs and assigned the cups an asymmetry, scrawling “B” on one and “C” on the other. I gave the garment a succinct biting parting shot with “Fuck” on one cup, “U” on the center strip, and “Cancer” on the other cup, and softened the harshness with an “xoxo Susan” before passing it to the next girl who thoughtfully scrawled her own message. When we were satisfied with our work, I modeled our creation, and a clicking of IPhones captured the moment before we fastened it around the sculpture—a perfect fit!
Once we’d settled our bill and were walking toward the door, our server stopped me and motioned to our table. “You left your sculpture,” she noted, to which I remarked, “It’s okay. I’m good.” There was nothing left to say, and I walked off risking the urge to turn around and take in her expression. I hope on my next trip down I will find this strapless wonder proudly hanging among the others, and I hope the sculpture sparks joy for whomever decides to adopt it, the Flora-Bama or otherwise.
I know Ifeel lighter, and I imagine Connie does too. And for you ladies listening, I want you to feel lighter too not only this month, October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but each month going forward. So take off your bras and check your breasts because cancer lurks in one out of seven of us, whether you live in Flora, Bama, or anywhere else. If you can feel it, you can find it, and that means you can fight it. Knowledge is power. Take yours. Love you.