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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).



Pink Ribbon Journey

My Bra-volution

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Valentine's Day is a perfect time to show our ta-tas a little love and support.  Mine have been through hell over the last year, so I decided to go out and treat them to a new wardrobe.  I learned a lot on my bra shopping expedition, so I thought you and your girls would appreciate the information (and guys, why not consider a little giftcard giving?).  Visit my blog, dailygin.blogspot.com to read my reflections on the experience.

Some general suggestions:

  • Get your bra size measured whenever possible (our bodies are forever changing)
  • It's unlikely you have just 1 bra size (I came up with 4 depending on which store I was at)
  • ALWAYS try bras on
  • Prepare for a "trying to find that perfect pair of jeans" kind of experience
  • Hand-wash bras, have 6-8 well-fitted bras that you can rotate, and get rid of any bra 8 years or older
  • A red bra doesn't show under white - I'm pretty sure my 1980s, Madonna-esque wardrobe would disagree, but o.k.

I want to give a shout-out to Athleta (Market Street in Lynnfield, MA) for giving me 2 free (awesome) sports bras the week before I had my lumpectomy.  Those acts of kindness are the positive energy that help me through the tough times.  And, if you need a sports bra, I also have to mention the Ta-Ta Tamer at Lululemon - you'll want to work-out with this sucker on.

I visited Soma and was pleased to discover that I had been purchasing bras relatively close to the correct bra size.  Your band size may not be what you think it is because the band should sit at the small of your back, not as high as you think.  Also, your cup size may surprise you especially because breasts can be asymmetrical (mine certainly are now!)  I love that Soma has a front-closure bra offering and has wonderful, breathable sleepwear for those afflicted with hot flashes like me!

Spanx is definitely a loyal brand with many followers.  They now have their own stand-alone stores, so you can get direct sales assistance more readily.  I recommend their front-closure Bra-llelujah bra for an everyday, seamless bra (sadly, my size wasn't available).

Victoria's Secret should be happy to know that they got plenty of my money in the first quarter of my life, but sadly, there is no place (bra-wise) for me there now.  It would be so easy to swoop in there during their great sales and grab a bunch of bras, but my true size doesn't live there anymore.  And wearing a bra that doesn't truly fit isn't a good idea - I finally get that now.  I love their stuff, but we aren't a match.

Department stores are a great place for you to seek out a variety of brands that might work best for you (Wacoal was a top hit on my poll of friends).  Nordstrom would be my recommended store because of their commitment to customer service and their dediction to serving breast cancer survivors.

Last but certainly not least, I have to mention the premiere bra fit experts, Intimacy.  I made an appointment to go to this store and I'm really glad I did.  I liked the education I received, both about the bras and my breasts (these experts mean business, I mean, they talked about breast tissue).  It was an hour of therapy - helping me feel better about my body and getting back to the Gin I once knew.

Make sure you show your ta-tas some extra love this week!  You or someone else ;-) should examine your breasts, schedule an annual exam if you haven't done so already, and go out and have some fun (don't forget to wear your new bra)!

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Blame Game

I was driving around one day and Howard Jones’ song, “No one is to blame” came on; it was one of those moments that I laughed and cried at the same time.  I laughed remembering the Howard Jones (do you remember this guy and his hair?!) t-shirt my sister often wore to show her alternative music “street cred” and I cried because it reminded me of the conversation I had with my OB/GYN after he got confirmation that I had breast cancer. 

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I loved my OB/GYN, Dr. E.  It was because of my desire to say good-bye to him (and dutifulness to get an annual exam before moving to Fredericksburg) that I found out I had cancer.  I often think about how long it could have been until I or a new doctor would have found the lump. 

My phone rings, I see the caller ID and I answer, with a quiet, almost guilt-ridden tone.  I hear Dr. E’s voice on the other end, saying my name loudly, in a way that I knew he was conveying a “well, this sucks” sentiment.  He let me know the team had conveyed everything to him and he asked me how I was handling the news. 

I remember kind of spinning into a guilt-ridden soliloquy about self-examinations and reflecting on how I should’ve rescheduled my August physical sooner (because viral meningitis and my mother-in-law’s death weren’t enough to release my guilt apparently).  

And then, with such great timing and one heck of a New York accent, Dr. E says to me, “What are you trying to figure out, Virginia? The cancer is to blame here…” 

I think about this conversation a lot because the guilt creeps in every once in awhile and hearing Dr. E.’s voice in my head just makes me laugh and feel better about things.  But, I also think about how Dr. E. knew that I was looking for someone to blame.  Why was I doing that?   

Searching for that person seems just as toxic as the cancer itself. 

I didn’t make my cancer happen and nobody can control whether the cancer will come back in the future.  Trying to come to terms with that is hard enough, but parenting young children through uncertainty is all the more exhausting.  Fear and anger are so very intertwined. 

Children will come across many instances in their lives when there will simply be no explanations, no one to blame.  And that’s o.k. Our job as parents is to help them develop coping mechanisms to handle such ordeals. 

Of course, we aren’t perfect - we too lash out at people when they really aren’t the problem.  But, I think when our children see us looking, searching for that person to blame, we may inadvertently teach them that it’s not o.k. to make mistakes. 

I think, in some ways, I may have accidentally created a perfectionist child (who am I kidding, children) who are afraid to make mistakes and thus don’t want to be thought of as failures.  Unfortunately, this fear of failure leads to a deflection of responsibility.  I see it all too often with my oldest child using the younger one as his target to take the blame for his mess. 

I read the other day, “The worst mistake anyone can make is being too afraid to make one.” Here’s to freeing myself (and hopefully, my children) from playing the blame game - because, what are we really trying to figure out (win)?

 

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Revolving Resolutions

It's my first blog post for 2015!  I write from the comfort of my couch with Percocet in hand and a yummy hazelnut latte chaser.

I started radiation on December 1st and it's been a tough stretch.  I know Steve and the kids are ready for us to move on.  I can always count on six-year old Jack to ask his weekly question, "When is this going to be over?"  He and his little sister love riding the clock ride at Chuck E Cheese's.  Ironic, right?

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Something that we didn't plan for was radiation being as rough as chemo.  Because I'm having pretty aggressive radiation to my breast and lymph nodes, the fatigue and pain has been a doozy!  Also, I don't think the kids dig the Frankenstein look on my neck and chest area - I have more Sharpie marks and stickers on me than a pre-schooler's art project!

It hasn't been easy starting off the new year feeling kind of stuck.  I've had moments of feeling pretty lousy about myself, especially physically, because I think I get caught up in the idea that I SHOULD be making a new year's resolution.  And the funny thing is, I think I've had this same resolution crisis every year, at about the same time each year, two weeks in.  How crazy is that?!

Then, I saw Dr. Wayne Dyer's blog about resolutions and I appreciated his different take on the idea - that the more effective resolution (if you even call it that) is to make behavioral changes in the moment, to live in the present and know you can't control what September will look like.  

You can read the full blog at: http://www.drwaynedyer.com/blog/resolve-to-get-real/

As a mom, it isn't always easy to take one day at a time; planning for the future is a huge part of the job description.  It's good that Steve has a spontaneous spirit, but it does challenge me!  Hopefully, by recognizing the value of the present a little more, I'll be helping my kids to do the same (a slow down and smell the roses kind of thing).

For me, 2014 was "a profoundly shitty year*."  It's hard not to have a lot of expectations for 2015.  What I think is helpful to remember is that it's all temporary, that things will change because of my actions and actions of others.  So, for now, I'll enjoy the view from my couch and take one day at a time.  Now, where's my hazelnut latte?

*This is Where I Leave You with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman - watch it!

 

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Survival Guide - 2015

When I volunteer at the hospital, I have to wear a burgundy lab coat and ID badge to signify that I am a volunteer.  With my tendency to get a hot flash at any moment, I decided it was better to put a t-shirt on underneath, regardless of the temperature outside. 

One morning I put on my “Making Strides for Breast Cancer” walk t-shirt (it has “Survivor” written on the back). Much to my surprise, Jack screamed, “Mom!  You are a Survivor!?  You are O.K. now!?”  It really caught me off-guard and I quickly remembered what someone said to me at the walk.  I repeated it to Jack, “you know buddy, I’m working on it and they say the minute you start fighting, you’re a survivor.”

 

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Here we are at the end of the year and I’ve taken some time to reflect about that word, “survivor.”  I don’t think I felt like a survivor until getting to this point in the year.  Of course, the care of my doctors and the support of family and friends has been an integral part of me making it through this past 8 months and will be critical for the next 8 as well.  But, I thought I’d share with you what has helped me in my private moments of fear, anger, and despair. Here’s my Pink Ribbon Journey Survival Guide: 

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

This is a transforming book.  I consider Anna to be one of my greatest teachers.  I know some may hesitate, be scared even, to read a story about the death of a child, but don’t hesitate to read it.  This book transcends beyond the tragedy and guides the reader through a beautiful memoir that is filled with love, strength, and hope despite the darkest of circumstances.

 

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton

For me, this book was the first to help me release the guilt and anger I’ve felt about my own addictive past.  It also helped me to better understand the addicts in my life.  Glennon is the best at reminding readers that striving for perfection will ruin your journey, you'll miss out on the good stuff.

 

The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs

I’ve been referring back to this book for over 10 years now.  It’s written as a manual so that you can address one or more aspects of your life that you wish to simplify.  I like that the author takes topics and breaks them down.  The financial section was paramount when we started a family.

 

The 90-minute Baby Sleep Program: Follow Your Child's Natural Sleep Rhythms for Better Nights and Naps by Polly Moore, PhD

I mentioned this book in my Carousel of Sleep post because I firmly believe that the 90-minute sleep cycle concept applies to both children and adults. My cancer was such a game-changer for both my need and my family's need for sleep, so I'm so glad I had this book to refer to.

 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Next up for me is this book (and I think Tina Fey’s Bossypants should be a co-reader).  I definitely believe that laughter is in fact the best medicine. I also can tell from watching Amy on promotional interviews that this book will be yet another reminder to not take things too seriously.

 

Music

I am truly thankful that my parents, especially my father, gave me a love of music.  It’s such simple therapy.  I learned awhile ago that waking up to the news made me anxious.  I could check my phone for weather and traffic information.  I was a lot calmer watching music videos in the morning (VH1 and CMT seemed to have the lighter music on in the mornings).

 

I also like to have songs at the ready in my car, it’s kind of like my own time-out, counting to 10.  In my car right now is Frank Turner’s “England Keep My Bones” - really great anti-establishment, get angry music; I also have some P!NK tunes to go along with those.  James Taylor’s Greatest Hits 2 is so soothing -  the song “Secret O’ Life” just puts it all in perspective.  And for those moments when the kids need to be redirected, we like to rock-out to the Peanut Butter and Jelly song on The Jimmies “Make Your Own Someday: Silly Songs for the Shorter Set.”  I clearly need to add Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” soon - if you haven’t heard that song yet, look it up, it is just a great, feel-good dance song.

 

I have a lot of reasons to be looking forward to 2015.  The end of radiation in February and the end of infusion treatments in July.  Also, I’m getting my hair back!  I just started to miss it, so I’m kind of wishing it would get here already! Forrest Gump was simply, beautifully right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” I hope that whatever is going on in your lives, you have felt supported, educated, and maybe even empowered by my words.  I hope you end 2014 with love and laughter and start 2015 with the same. 

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The Carousel of Sleep

When Steve and I found out we were expecting our first child, we became quite focused on how to handle the sleep issues that would certainly plague us. One could argue that in our conversations we obsessed over the topic. We were scared about many things, but going from being a couple who valued and prioritized good sleep to one who still valued it, but was at the mercy of a baby was terrifying.

At the time, I was working with college students, and had some understanding of how life changes can wreak havoc on sleep schedules. So, my research began; I remember being four months pregnant, sitting in a Dunkin Donuts reading "The 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program" by Polly Moore. Steve and I actually implemented a sleeping system before Jack was born to get ready for the "shifts" that would soon be our infant-driven, feeding-frenzy existence. We also used it in preparation for Anna's arrival and I can honestly say that this book helped us get the sleep we needed to keep functioning each day. Not every day (or night) was perfect, but it served as a solid foundation.

But, foundations can slowly shift or even crack a bit, especially when life changes happen all over again. When we lived in Massachusetts, it was "easier" to keep Jack and Anna on schedule because they had their own rooms. Toward the end of our time there, they wanted to snuggle/sleep with me because I was recovering from my various procedures/surgeries. It was hard to balance what was best for me with their desire to "take care of me," but we usually could get them to sleep in their beds, per usual.

Now that we live in a 2-bedroom apartment, Jack and Anna share a room. We bought a bunkbed for them and by now, five months in the novelty of it has truly eroded (this became crystal-clear a couple of months back, when Jack told his teacher how much he hated sharing a room with his sister). Steve was smart to buy a simple rollaway bed for himself so that I could have our bedroom (and our bathroom) to myself when I was feeling ill. However, in our efforts to make sleeping more comfortable for me, I think we inadvertently opened the door for the kids to want to snuggle/sleep with me again, to want to take care of me; but I could tell this time was different, especially for Anna.

A tradition in Anna's class is to create a mini-city. Each child is asked what they want to build; without hesitation, Anna said, "doctor's office."

doc-officeAnna and her doctor's office creation

This creation was happening right at the height of my chemotherapy and I could see Anna's behavior change from just wanting to snuggle with me to being pretty adamant that she had to sleep with me. She made a variety of excuses - "I'm scared, I don't feel good" or simply, "I have to sleep with you." Honestly, I was afraid to have her in the bed with me, so I told her she couldn't sleep with me. Her response was to create a bed on the floor. I decided not to even try to fight this battle - how could I?

My chemotherapy is complete and I've begun radiation, which means we are onto yet another phase of our new life here in Virginia. A couple nights ago, Anna announced, "Mommy, I won't be in your room anymore, okay?"

I'll never know exactly why Anna needed to be with me over these past weeks; it could be that she really just needed a time-out from Jack. But, I'm glad I didn't try to force her back to her bed. And I realize that, being all of three, she may revise her decision at any moment and recreate her bed on my floor. At times, it's really hard to know where to expend my limited energy; I guess it's a good thing I've got Dr. Anna on my case!

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