The Breast Cancer You Aren’t Looking For

80-90% of the time, Virgin to Life is about me being a big goofball and telling you amusing/funny stories about the things I’ve learned in life.  As can be expected, not all of the things we learn in life are amusing or funny, yet I feel these lessons still need to be shared.  With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to share a story of a type of breast cancer I didn’t know about until mid-2009.  Unless you’ve been affected by it, I’m betting you probably haven’t heard about it either; I cannot recall learning about it in any class on women’s health, or hearing it mentioned in my annual Ob-Gyn visits.  Please take a few minutes to read my story below, and share it with the women in your life.  I originally posted this on Facebook last year.

In June 2009, my best friend Debbie was experiencing the joys of being a first-time mom.  After years of trying, Debbie was finally blessed with Adam James, who may just be the happiest, cutest little boy you’ll ever see – not that I’m biased or anything.  Seriously, if you ever see AJ, within five minutes, you’ll become a Vaudeville performer determined to entertain him and keep that sunshine on his face.  I’m not even a “kid” person, yet when I last visited Debbie, I found myself making funny faces and ready to do a song and dance for him.

Like all moms, Debbie’s body changed during and after pregnancy.  After bringing a little person into this world, you expect that your body is going to make a few adjustments.  Debbie noticed a particular change to her body while she was breastfeeding – her skin became tough, almost like the texture of an orange peel.  She assumed this was due to her breastfeeding and wasn’t overly concerned.  A few months later, Debbie did her monthly breast self-examination, and found a lump.  She went to her doctor, and after a number of tests, she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an extremely aggressive form of cancer that can occur in both men and women.   It moves fast and spreads quickly, often going into lymph nodes and into other organs.  The outlook is often poor because of its ability to go undetected for so long.  The five year survival rate for IBC is 40% compared with 87% for all breast cancers.  Due to its aggressive nature, treatment has to be equally aggressive.  Following her diagnosis, Debbie bravely went through several rounds of chemo, had a double mastectomy, and finally went through several rounds of radiation.  Thankfully, even though doctors still found cancer cells in her removed breast tissue, as of today Debbie has no cancer cells in her body.

Debbie, 34 at time of diagnosis, is in the .0013% of the population diagnosed with IBC. There is no occurrence of breast cancer in her family and, unlike most who are diagnosed with IBC, Debbie had a lump in her breast. If this is your first time hearing about IBC, I’m going to repeat that – with IBC, you do not typically find a lump.  The frightening discovery of a lump in this case is likely what saved my best friend’s life.  So, let’s break this down – my friend with no family history of breast cancer, is not only diagnosed with breast cancer, she’s younger than most people who have breast cancer, she gets a type of breast cancer which makes up 1-6% of all breast cancer cases in the US, and of that 1-6%, she’s in a small percentage who had a lump.

Here is my question to you – have you ever played the lottery or entered a raffle? Why is it, when there’s a 1 in 100,000 chance of winning a million dollars, we’ll gladly throw down a few bucks, but when we hear of an illness that affects 1 in 100,000, we say, “well, I’m not that one.”  Guess what? Any one of us can be that one. Until they can find a cure, the best way you can arm yourself against this disease is through education.  I encourage you to read the symptoms below and share your newfound knowledge with others.   Keep in mind that with IBC, the symptoms vary in occurrence and severity.  Per Wikipedia, They may include:

-       Pain in breast

-       Skin changes on the breast

-       Reddened area with texture resembling the peel of an orange

-       Sudden swelling of the breast

-       Itching of the breast

-       Nipple retraction or discharge

-       Swelling of lymph nodes under the arm or in the neck

-       Unusual warmth of the affected breast

-       Breast is harder or firmer

Also per Wikipedia, other symptoms may rarely include:

-       Swelling of the arm

-       Breast decreases instead of increasing

In most IBC cases there is NOT a well-defined tumor, however when one is present, it will grow rapidly.  The only reliable method of diagnosis is biopsy.  IBC can go undetected in a mammography or ultrasound.

The bottom line is this: YOU know your body better than anyone. If something doesn’t seem right to you, go to your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

When I showed this to Debbie to get her “ok” to post this, she wanted to point out that yes, treatment does suck, however it could be a lot worse.  In her journey with this disease, she’s learned that aggressive treatment and a positive attitude goes a long, long way.

All Hail the Mighty Pumpkin Ale

As I walked down the aisles of Heaven (a.k.a. Total Wine), I was overwhelmed by the variety of seasonal beers on display – so many pumpkin ales on the market, yet so little time to consume them all.  It almost seems criminal.  Here at The Menacing Kitten, we decided to take one for the team and rate every type of pumpkin ale within reach of our greedy, drunken paws.  But how?  This is no task for mere mortals.  We have learned one thing from our favorite heroes of anime: one must turn to their team of elite ninjas to get the job done.

We needed one individual who can take on the task of drinking a lot of beer; someone who can taste the subtleties from bottle to bottle, and appreciate a good microbrew.  On top of this, the person needed to also be a connoisseur of all things pumpkin-related.  Since I was unable to procure the obvious choice of Peter King at Sports Illustrated, I thought of the only other individual who could perform such a duty alongside me; I called upon the Pumpkin Ninja.

Armed with Sunday Night Football and a couple of frosted glasses, we went to town on the selection I picked up from Heaven.  Our rankings are as follows:

6.  Lakefront Brewery Inc. Pumpkin Lager

One would think the land of Milwaukee would offer up a good horse in this race.  Not the case.  The Pumpkin Ninja and I took a sip and gave each other a disappointed look.  Not only was there a lack of pumpkin flavor, there was no real flavor at all – no hop, no malt; a tiny bit of clove.  That’s it.  We actually thought of everything pumpkin-related to see if we could project flavor onto it.  We could not.  Our verdict?  Don’t bother.  Pumpkin fail.

 


5.  Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

The Pumpkin Ninja didn’t feel an ale with the words “dog” and “fish” in the title sounded particularly appetizing for a beer.  For me, the description on the bottle was intriguing: yes, yes I do want pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg!  Yes, please!  Upon sipping, it reminded me of the scene from “So I Married An Axe Murderer” where Amanda Plummer offered Mike Myers an amazing breakfast, but gave him Fruit Loops. “I don’t have any of that other stuff…”  Such is the taste of Punkin Ale.  It’s better than the Lakefront, as it at least tastes like actual beer, and has a kind of hoppy flavor to it.  It also has a hint of Cloves and Nutmeg.  Beyond that, it was pretty forgettable. Our verdict? Pumpkin Fail.

 

4. Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Blue Moon is the Starbucks of beer – it is corporate yet packaged to the hipster microbrew crowd.  To be fair, both The Pumpkin Ninja and I are fans of actual Blue Moon.  We’ll gladly wave the hipster flag for them.  It is a tasty beer, and is an acceptable substitute when you don’t have a craft beer handy.  Upon drinking the Pumpkin Ale, The Pumpkin Ninja looked at it and exclaimed angrily, “This tastes like a damn Fat Tire.”  Ninja took another sip.  “This tastes like a damn Fat Tire!”  Because we are both fans of Blue Moon, we again tried projecting pumpkin thoughts on our beverage.  It had no spice.  It had no pumpkin!  But?  It did taste like a damn Fat Tire, so we ranked it higher than the other two.  Again, Pumpkin Fail.

 

3.  Buffalo Bill’s Brewery Pumpkin Ale

Oh, I had high hopes for this one.  The bottle looks like it should be good.  It looks like you’d open it, and it would explode with pumpkins and spices.  We took a sip.

Pumpkin Ninja: “I don’t taste pumpkin, do you?”

Me: “No.  But it’s kind of spicy.  Cinnamon…nutmeg…”

Ninja: (sips) “Yes!  It has a good spicy flavor but…it doesn’t last for more than a second.  Just as I’m starting to enjoy the flavor, it goes away.”

Me: “It’s the Juicyfruit of ale.”

Ninja: “Yes.  It is the Juicyfruit of ale.”

Verdict: It will do if you really want a beer with some spice.  If you took this spice and added it to the Blue Moon, you’d have a pretty good pumpkin ale.

 

2.  Shipyard Pumpkinhead

When I mentioned this taste test on Facebook, several people indicated I would be remiss if I didn’t try Shipyard.  It’s the only pumpkin ale at Total Wine I didn’t get my paws on, so I headed back and bought a single bottle.  I think I skipped it the first time around because the design on the bottle reminds me of the Disney Headless Horseman cartoon that scared the living shit out of me as a kid.  Fortunately (and unfortunate for the Pumpkin Ninja, who didn’t get to try it), this pumpkin ale is worth the night terrors that follow.  It has a good taste of pumpkin and is loaded with spice! Nutmeg, cinnamon – yum.  I actually liked it more with each sip.  Pumpkin Win!

 

1.  Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal Ale

After drinking, The Pumpkin Ninja exclaimed, “now that’s Pumpkin Beer.”  Full disclaimer: I’ve had this one prior to the taste test.  I am a big fan of Wasatch beers, which you can only find in parts of the Southwest.  They are a Utah-based brewery, and they put a lot of love in their brew.  This is no exception – I drink this, and I instantly think of Thanksgiving and cooler weather.  It’s very spicy (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg) and very pumpkiny.  The Pumpkin Ninja feels it is a little too filling to have more than one at a sitting, but I could easily have a couple.  Everyone I have given it to has says a big “wow!!” after their first sip.

Some of the Shipyard fans said Pumpkinhead is like drinking a pumpkin pie.  I would argue that this is even more so. Of all we tried, this is by far the most pumpkiny pumpkin ale I’ve had.  I can definitely see where someone would prefer Shipyard – it has more of a beer flavor to it.  Wasatch, however, is a must-have if you want to have a beer with your pumpkin or pecan pie after Thanksgiving dinner.  I’ve had it with carrot cake, and it was one of the best food-drink pairings I’ve ever experienced.  If you find Wasatch, definitely try it. Pumpkin Flawless Victory!

 

Are there any Pumpkin Ales not on this list that you haven’t tried?  Have you tried any because of this list? What are your thoughts? Post below – and “cheers” to you!

Fashion Intervention Team!

Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.

Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety.  Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss.  I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression.  My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.

At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka.  They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely.  Shemeka spoke first.  “We need to talk to you about something.”

Uh-Oh.  Was it my messiness?  Was it my pathetic issues with my ex?  Emily rested her hands on her lap.  “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”

I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt.  “Huh?”

“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”

I looked at them, perplexed.  “I don’t?”

Shemeka shook her head.  “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short?  You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”

“What??  It does?”  I intuitively grabbed my rear end.

Emily continued.  “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”

Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her.  “…they don’t match with anything you own.”

I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment.  I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say.  My friends were blowing my mind.  “But…I shop at the mall…”  You can never go wrong with the mall, right?  I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal.  Wet Seal!  I put my hands on my shorts.  “I got these at Wet Seal…”

Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head.  “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them.  They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive.  You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”

My eyes widened.  “The Gap?  They are so expensive!”

Emily stood up, exasperated.  She pointed to her shirt.  “Ten dollars!  I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”

I looked at her in amazement.  Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items?  I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place!  I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass!  I thought about the bad turn my life was taking.  Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction.  I looked at them like a lost kitten.  “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”

Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee.  “Yes!”  I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that.  My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?

“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”

All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency.  I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.

The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps!  So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall.  From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe.  FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.”  We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front.  They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.

Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping:   “Never pay full price for anything.  Never!  It will all go on sale eventually.  Oh and by sale?  We don’t mean 10% off.”  We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping:  “Always start at the back of the store.  That’s where the clearance items are.”  I looked at the items skeptically.  “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”

FIT shook their head.  “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.”   They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags.  “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style.  Try this on!”  I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it.  I squinted to read the writing on the shirt.  “I can’t read what it says…”

FIT sighed.  “It doesn’t matter!  You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants.  Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…

I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap.  I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval.  They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping:  “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union).  Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs!  Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms.  The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”

We purchased the shirt and the leggings.  True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years.  I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.

Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1:  Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar.  I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.

We continued on.  I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.

“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”

“Sigh.”

FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it.  I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.

FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores.  We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards.  To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out.  Dillards was THE store for Emily.  Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness.  I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett.  She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.

At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I reading it correctly?  I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30.  “So…I can get this for… under $15?”

FIT nodded.  We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass.  A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5!  I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.

We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags.  Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased.  He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.

Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life.  I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.”  I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst.  For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.

Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance.    Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!”  I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet.  I looked good.  Well, 90s-era good.  I earned my FIT diploma that day.

Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang

Chocovine: Bringing New Meaning to “Chocoholic”

Earlier this year, we invited a few people over to serve a dual purpose: to celebrate Chris’ birthday, and to get rid of booze we’ve had for a long time.  Here’s the problem with a “help us get rid of our booze” party: you always wind up with more.  In our case, we wound up gaining about 10 additional bottles.  Those additions were not Bacardi or Cuervo; they were 10 amazing bottles of sweet German wines, Estate rums, and tasty liquors.  This makes our dear friends slightly evil, but being the hedonistic heathens we are, evil is a prerequisite for awesome.

Amongst the 10 bottles of liquory goodness, we received two things we never heard of before – a bottle of Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka and a bottle of Chocovine.  To get this out of the way right off the bat – Whipped Cream Vodka?  Yes.  Oh, hell yes.  It is as good as it sounds, and is known to turn the driest of people into frothing-mouth gluttons after the first sip.  It is that good, and after you have it, you will be finding excuses to put it in everything.  Our awesome/evil friends recommended making a martini combining the Whipped Cream Vodka and Chocovine.

Looking at the ingredients and description for Chocovine, it doesn’t sound like it would make for a great cocktail drink – it contains Cabernet, Cream, and “artificial flavors.”  The artificial flavors suggest to me that they don’t use real chocolate, which makes me really sad for the three seconds before I drink it all.  Surprisingly, you don’t taste the wine at all.  It basically tastes like spiked chocolate milk, but that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Per our friends’ suggestion, we made Chocotinis – 3 parts Chocovine and 1 part Whipped Cream Vodka.  This was exciting for me, if for no other reason than to use my pretty Mikasa martini glasses which haven’t seen the light of day since the unfortunate mid-2000s Appletini craze.  Now, I have had Chocolate Martinis before – usually they contained chocolate liquors and girly Hershey-kissed rims.  These concoctions are usually like chocolate-flavored lighter fluid that singe your nose and ear hairs.  Chocovine martinis on the other hand, are like drinking dew off the wings of an angel while you’re receiving a lomi-lomi massage from James Marsden as he sings to you.

Hmmm.  What was I saying?  Oh yes.  Booze.

The calorie content in Chocovine is rather high due to the cream, but Chris and I couldn’t resist having a drink every night after dinner until the last drop was sucked out of the bottle.  We were both sad and relieved when the last of the Chocovine was gone.  For a few weeks, we passed on buying more, knowing cream and rich alcohol don’t exactly fit into a regular part of our diet.

While at Cost Plus World Market, I strolled through their wine section and happened upon their large, beautiful display of Chocovine.  They had the regular kind, a Raspberry Chocolate flavor, and… oh no.  Espresso.  I stared at the bottles.  The classic angel vs. devil battle ensued in my mind:

Angel:  The diet.  Think of the diet.

Devil:  Think of the delicious smooth nectar of chocolate rushing over your palate.  And espresso.

Angel:  Think of the food pyramid; where does this fit on it?

Devil:  Whatever.  We both know your food pyramid resembles a martini glass.  Just don’t have it every night.  Have it as a sometimes snack.

Angel: True… true…

As I stared at the display, good and evil battling it out in my mind, at least two people came up to me.  “Have you tried that?  OhmiGOD is it good!”

I caved in and grabbed a bottle of the regular (for Chris) and a bottle of the Espresso for me.  After a long day at work, I made an Espresso Chocotini for myself and savored it sip by sip.  Rich and chocolaty with subtle coffee tones, it makes for the perfect drink to have after a rough day at the office.  Or after your kids have been difficult.  Or for breakfast, or even as a little pick-me-up to carry in your garter in a little flask (just kidding – seriously.  It has cream; you don’t want that evil on you after a 120 degree day in Arizona.  Plus, little hidden flasks kind of make you an alcoholic, unless they are super chic and cute, of course).  At any rate, whatever reason you give yourself for drinking Chocovine, it is a worthy reason.  Chill it, drink it, enjoy it, and thank me later.