5 Things That Are More Stressful Than Taking Plan B

Presented by Plan B One Step

Is there anything millennials fear more than emotional intimacy? *Does an audit of my entire life thus far* Definitely not. There’s nothing more grave than the pit you get in your stomach the moment you send someone a “we need to talk” text. Except, I guess, the pit you get in your stomach when you have a birth control slip-up, like a condom breaking. As someone who used to agonize for days over what to wear for a casual night at the bar I knew I would only spend two hours at, making the decision to take Plan B after a night of failed birth control was…nerve-wracking, to say the least, when I did it the first time. I’d heard all the misconceptions, like that it has a bunch of side effects, and that it would f*ck up my ability to get pregnant later on—which is not something I want to do (even if I don’t want to get pregnant right now). But we live in the age of the internet, which means that instead of anxiety-texting an itemized list of those worries,​ ​I just went online to learn more​ and realized how misguided I was. Plan B’s main ingredient has been used in birth control pills for decades, and taking it won’t mess with your fertility​.​ I also learned ​that Plan B won’t hurt my chances of becoming pregnant later on; it  temporarily delays the release of an egg from the ovary after taking the pill so I don’t get pregnant ​right now. 

So, the process of taking Plan B was not intimidating for me at all, since I knew the facts. I took it right away (by the way, you have 72 hours to take it, but the sooner you take it the better it works) and then I went about my normal life—without getting pregnant. Thank goodness. Which got me thinking: of all the things to be nervous about, taking Plan B after the condom breaks or accidentally skipping a pill or another kind of birth control slip-up shouldn’t be one of them. Not when there are plenty of other more anxiety-inducing issues that pop up in life, like…

1. Having A “What Are We?” Talk

I would so much rather walk up to a checkout counter, hand them a credit card, and take one pill than actually have to do the whole “what are we doing?” song and dance with whoever I’ve been seeing (in a fantasy world in which I am actually dating). What’s the worst that can happen, you ask? Uhm, crushing rejection? An ambiguous answer that will keep you on the same cycle of non-commitment that you’ve been in for the last six months? No, thanks. 

2. Meeting The Parents

You could be a doctor who won the Nobel Prize and moonlights as a supermodel, and meeting the parents would still be stressful af. There are the obvious what-ifs: they don’t like you, you accidentally offend them somehow and because of that, they don’t like you, you have something stuck in your teeth so they think you have poor dental hygiene and don’t like you…Sensing a theme here?

3. Actually Cooking For Myself

“It’s easy!” they say. “Just follow the recipe!”As someone who regularly f*cks up hard boiled eggs because I get absorbed in another task while waiting for the water to boil, cooking for myself is easier said than done. There’s a lot that can go wrong when attempting to cook, and that’s not even counting the very real probability that the food can come out bad. Like, I could burn myself. Burn down my apartment. Chop off a finger. Chop off a limb—you get the idea. Better to leave it to the professionals (I say as I hit “check out” on Seamless for the third time today).

4. Doing An Exercise Video…

…and I mean actually doing it, not just laying on the floor. I know, the horror! Workout classes are supposed to reduce stress (and sure, I feel better afterwards), but the actual process of doing the class is often anything but stress-free. I never know what’s going on, and I feel like everyone else in the class had a meeting beforehand to nail down all the movements and flow and I missed it. What comes after burpees again? Plus, while everyone else looks like they’re going on a leisurely stroll through the park, I am huffing and puffing and pouring sweat from the face. I don’t think I’ve ever completed a workout class not wondering WTF was wrong with me… and that’s why I’d rather just lay on my mat, pretending to do the work.

5. Trying On Your Jeans For The First Time In Six Months

If you’ve been wearing pants with an actual button or fly during this period where nobody has anywhere to go, I’m not sure if I should be scared or impressed. Actually, I’m going to go with terrified, because nobody with that much discipline can be trusted, as far as I’m concerned. For the rest of us who have spent the past five or so months sitting on the couch in leggings, convincing ourselves that chips are a balanced meal, the time when we’ll have to put on jeans again is definitely not something any of us are looking forward to. Better to just throw the jeans away than deal with that stress, IMO.

As you can see, there are plenty of other potential issues you can encounter that are way more stressful than taking Plan B when you don’t have the facts. If you have birth control failure or unprotected sex and need to take emergency contraception, you can rest assured knowing that Plan B is the #1 ob/gyn recommended emergency contraception brand, and that it helps prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or birth control failure. It’s not an abortion pill, but it does help prevent pregnancy before it starts by delaying ovulation (no egg + no fertilization = no pregnancy). You can get Plan B at all major retail stores (like Target, Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid), without a prescription—just look in the family planning aisle. No prescription, ID, or age requirement. You got this!

Image: jeshoots.com / Unsplash

5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Going Through Chemo

I wrote this while I was on day three of my chemo flu haze, so this is authentic info. (Keep in mind that I am now finished, so this doesn’t apply anymore.) But on day three, I was like, “Holy F*CK, do I feel like sh*t. My hair is falling out all over my keyboard. I look like death warmed up and somehow feel worse. This f*cking blows.” However, I am so grateful that chemo exists, and that I was able to get it, because it was the only thing strong enough to kill cancer at this level (stage four breast cancer with mets, what up). At the time of writing this, I was two sessions down, only 14 left to go. And I was only half-joking when I asked one of my best friends who brought me pho one night to kill me, so I think I handled it pretty well.

Since I’ve been dealt the most bullsh*t of hands, I figured the least I can do is give you some insight in case this happens to you or your best friend. One in eight women get breast cancer, just FYI, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re forced to undergo the incredible poison that is chemo, there are some ways that you can prepare.

Shave Your Head Beforehand

There are some chemos that don’t cause a ton of hair loss, but most of them do. Chemo works by killing off fast-producing cells in the body. The fastest producing cells are cancer. But so are the ones in the lining of your mouth, your stomach (which is why you get sick), and your hair follicles (which is why your hair falls out). The sickness and the hair loss just really show you, hey, it’s working! Your doctor will let you know the likeliness of hair loss based on your medication. I was on the AC-TC track (very common for aggressive breast cancer) and my doctor basically was like, “You’re going to be a baldie; go get your eyebrows microbladed.”

Since I knew there was no shot in hell of keeping my hair, I got my eyebrows tatted on, bought some false eyelashes, and had a head shaving party the night before I started chemo. I also bought a ton of fun wigs. My friends came with me to the hair salon and we all shaved my head together. It was actually really fun to do something so chaotic, and made me feel more in control of the situation. I did a buzz cut because you don’t want to risk cutting your head (your skin doesn’t heal well on chemo). I’m so glad I did it, because after my second session, my little buzzed hairs fell out all over the place—and it would have been totally traumatic with my long hair coming out like this. Also, my head felt sore since the first day I started chemo, due to the weight of the hair in the follicle (even with the little hair I had), so it’s more reason to just chop it off on your terms.

You can watch me shave my head here:

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#fuckcancer 😬

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You Actually Want A Chemo Port

I had never even heard of a chemo port until I met with my oncologist, and the idea of it was horrifying. Basically, they surgically insert a sort of button under your skin that is connected to the main vein of your heart. So when you get chemo, IVs, or blood drawn, they stick the needle right into the port instead of going after the veins in your arms. They do this because some chemos (like mine) will actually collapse all of your arm veins. But yeah, go ahead and pour it directly in my heart, sounds good, guys! This really freaked me out until I got it done. My port then became my favorite thing in the entire world.

After freezing my eggs, my veins were absolutely shot from the near-daily blood draws, to the point that I was in tears every time I got an IV. The port made this so easy: they couldn’t miss, so there was no more digging in my veins and no pain other than the small needle puncture. Best of all, I couldn’t feel any of the chemo/saline/whatever they were pumping into my body. A blood draw took, like, two seconds (and they took a lot of blood at the oncology office). If you aren’t getting the really strong chemo, but are bad with needles, have small veins, etc., I would highly recommend actually requesting a port. When you’re done with treatment, they’ll just take it out.

My surgeon was really good, so you can barely see my port in this picture. This was three days after I got it in, so the incision was fresh and looks way better now. You can see it sticking out through the skin, but barely, and it doesn’t hurt at all. The port is the round circle below the incision:

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Chemo but make it fashion. 🖤 Thanks for my beautiful haircut @hair_wine_mom And thank you to @bonestructurela for my perfect microbladed eyebrows so I don’t have to look extra cancer-y

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You’ll have tiny incisions near the neck where they connect the port to the veins (gross). I also discovered that I didn’t like wig caps (too tight!) and preferred wraparound headbands for my wigs. Your skin will become really sensitive on chemo, and I preferred not to have the indents from the caps.

You’re Going To Be Sick AF

I’m not going to lie, I was so F*CKING sick. Like, I was mostly lying on the floor in the fetal position. They will give you anti-nausea drugs, and while they do work, you’re still not going to feel okay. They told me the third day after chemo was the worst, but for me, it was the same day. Everyone is different, though. I would get my chemo every other Tuesday, so I knew that, Tuesday through Saturday, I would feel like I’d had the worst flu of my entire life and that I’d also been run over by a semi-truck… and then the truck backed up, just to make sure it really got me good.

But then, come Sunday, I’d be more like could-maybe-go-to-class-if-it-was-a-test-day sick. And by Monday/Tuesday of my off week, I almost felt human. Not amazing, like I still would have major body aches and was completely exhausted, but I could at least do laundry, watch Netflix, and go to dinner with a friend. Once you know how you react, it’s easier, so you can plan ahead, and let your friends/family know when you need their help.

Getting Chemo Is Easy

I thought the experience of getting chemo would be awful—I pictured tiny, dark, crowded hallways like in the movies, with all the sick and old people lined up in chairs with their IV bags. I’m sure some places are this depressing, but mine was not—it felt like a first-class cabin. There were these cute little pods with lots of light, comfortable chairs, big windows, and seating for friends. And there was WiFi! Plus, with my chemo port, I couldn’t feel anything while getting the chemo. (The sickness didn’t hit until a few hours later.) So chemo was like social hour for me, with my friends and family hanging out for a few hours. Like happy hour, but except instead of alcohol, it was just a bunch of poison. The only bad part was that while I couldn’t feel the meds, I could taste them. (They tasted like blood and pennies, and that taste reappeared for the next week after starting the meds.)

Food Is Not Your Friend

As mentioned above, chemo causes a very metallic, very revolting blood-and-pennies taste that keeps reappearing. This makes it hard to eat or drink because everything tastes like it—even water. It’s kind of like having food poisoning—you know exactly which food poisoned you and never want to have it again. Or like how you can’t drink screwdrivers after that one time in college. Your brain knows this taste made you sick, and you get nauseous every time it comes back. So it’s like having horrible food poisoning, and then being forced to eat the same thing that made you sick every meal. You just openly reject it.

So here’s my advice: take the nausea meds before you get sick (they work better that way), don’t eat anything with strong flavor or that you really like the first few days of chemo (it will be ruined), stock up on very bland meals ahead of time (grocery store chicken soup, saltines, bagels), and buy every water flavoring product you can find to mask the chemo taste. I also found that I really liked pho during chemo, and it gives you extra hydration since it’s so hard to drink water. But, basically, the chemo diet is whatever you can keep down, so do what you’ve got to do.

I hope this answered some of your questions about chemo, but if you have any questions about my cancer journey or if there are more articles you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments. I’m a very open person, and I wish I had had more resources for this process that weren’t just about statistics. Because let me tell you—at stage four, they’re really f*cking bad, so reading them is not helpful. Also, CHECK YOUR F*CKING BOOBS. Mine are consistently trying to off me.

But don’t worry, guys. I’m a pretty tough bitch.

Me to my boobs:

(Because after chemo ended, they got chopped the f*ck out of me via double mastectomy.)

Instagram: Shutterstock.com; Giphy (2); hollydoesart (2)

IVF Is Hard AF & I’m Glad Amy Schumer Isn’t Afraid To Say It

Amy Schumer recently posted about her experience with IVF and freezing her eggs. Spoilers: it f*cking blows. I did the same process in November when I froze my eggs—when you freeze your eggs, you’re undergoing the same hormone injection process as IVF—and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through (and that’s coming from a stage IV cancer patient). And it was only two weeks! There is such a stigma around women and anything to do with children already. If you have trouble conceiving, there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t want kids, you suck. If you can’t breastfeed, the way you raise your child, etc, etc, etc. Women are constantly getting sh*t on in the fertility department for absolutely everything. Maybe it’s because of this that women, especially famous women, just don’t talk about IVF very often. In fact, a bunch of celebrities now hide their pregnancies and children just to get some privacy away from all of society’s opinions, and I don’t even blame them.

But look. IVF or egg freezing is really, really hard. And it’s hard when you’re a nobody and it’s hard when you’re Amy Schumer. Which is why I was honestly really glad when Amy posted this super real photo:

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I’m a week into IVF and feeling really run down and emotional. If anyone went through it and if you have any advice or wouldn’t mind sharing your experience with me please do. My number is in my bio. We are freezing my eggs and figuring out what to do to give Gene a sibling. ❤️

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That bruising on either side of her stomach are from the daily injections to get your ovaries bigger than grapefruits (SERIOUSLY) to release a ton of eggs at once. Amy wrote that she’s “feeling really run down and emotional” and is only a week into her injections. Girl, been there.

For the record, the injections are insanely brutal. I ended up with three daily injections that I couldn’t do myself, so I went to the clinic every single day. At first, it’s like, “Yeah it sucks getting shots every day”, but then you go about your business and it’s NBD. But then things change—and quickly. By day three, you’re starting to bloat, you’re super emotional, and your sensitivity increases. And then it just landslides. What’s worse than getting three injections a day, you ask? Doing it when your skin feels raw and every needle feels like a white-hot electric nerve. You’re also getting an invasive ultrasound with what feels like a f*cking dildo and blood work almost every day. And even better? One of the injections burns like the fire of a thousand suns straight into your soul. F*CK Menopur, guys.

I looked four months pregnant, I was so sick I couldn’t get off the couch, I could barely eat, and everything in my whole body hurt. The hormones also make you feel insane. It feels like torture, and then you just go back every day for more. By Day 10, I was too fainty and lightheaded and sick to drive, so I had a friend take me every day. My veins receded from all the blood draws. On day 11, they did the ultrasound and barely touched my giant grapefruit ovary, and I still started sobbing hysterically because it hurt so bad (I was that sensitive). On day 12, I told the doctor that I was going to kill myself or her or both of us if she didn’t trigger me (an injection that releases your eggs so that they can harvest them) that day. Day 13, a celebrity I love (that I’m not going to out for being at the fertility office) saw me essentially throwing a tantrum like a toddler before my injections, but thank GOD that was my last day.

And the worst part? No one warns you about this part of it. Probably because they don’t want to scare you. It’s similar with my cancer treatment. The oncologist told me that the meds work and I won’t be that sick from chemo. Has she ever done it? No? Then you don’t get to say that. (And btw, I’m totally sick from chemo and they can’t give me any more meds, hi.)

Bottom line, it’s important that we talk about this and that women who go through this process understand that it sucks for all of us and you’re not alone. That’s why it’s really cool and important to see someone like Amy Schumer be so vulnerable and admit how hard it is. It really did break me, even though the process takes a relatively short amount of time. I also learned that it’s a really good thing I’m just a writer and not like, someone with government secrets, because I assure you, I would crack immediately at the slightest discomfort.

More celebrities being honest and upfront about the difficulties women go through when trying to conceive helps all of us feel less alone. Being a woman is really hard and can suck in a lot of ways, but it’s comforting in a weird way to know that even the rich and famous have these same issues.

Good luck with your egg harvest, Amy! And once again, F*CK Menopur.

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🥚

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Images: DFree / Shutterstock.com; amyschumer / Instagram

5 Reasons You Should See a Gynecologist Even If You’re Not Having Sex

As someone who is not sexually active for religious reasons, I’m still *intimately* aware of what it’s like to hoist myself on a sterile exam table and mount my legs in uncomfortable stirrups at the gynecologist. You’re probably wondering why. Well, since my mother has a history of endometriosis, I’ve frequented a gynecologist to ensure that I haven’t inherited the potentially fertility-altering diagnosis (fingers crossed, I’m in the clear). Everybody knows that the first question a gyno asks before they get up close and personal with your lady parts is if you’ve ever been sexually active. Yet, people falsely assume that visiting a doctor who pokes around for STDs and preps patients for childbirth is reserved for people who are having sex. Spoiler alert: There is way more to these visits than routine pelvic exams. 

I, like many others, still check on my ovaries even if I don’t plan on having a baby or sexual partner any time soon. “It’s easy to forget that an OB/GYN is a primary care specialty,” explains Dr. Kecia Gaither, OB/GYN. “As such, it’s recommended that women have annual exams for not only Pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases—but also preventative health evaluations specific to women.” According to Gaither, there are other legit reasons why someone should visit a gynecologist. Read about them all, below.

1. Physical Exams

Many women actually use an obstetrician/gynecologist as their primary care doctor. Which, by the way, makes a whole lot of sense if you’re already at your annual checkup. Killing two birds with one stone is the way to go sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with a women’s health issue that gynos see on a regular basis. For example, if you’re complaining about fatigue and weight gain, your gyno may test your thyroid—which will save you a trip and possible vacation day to your physician. “Depending on your age, family history, medical history your OB/GYN will obtain a thorough medical history, a physical exam, and pertinent testing as dictated by history and findings on your physical,” Dr. Gaither says. But, this does not mean you should shut out your family doctor when dealing with things like mental illnesses, respiratory issues, metabolic conditions, digestive diseases, and other all-inclusive assessments. The bottom line: It’s always wise to see a specialist! 

2. Breast Exams

Like your primary care physician, your gynecologist can examine you for breast cancer with a mammogram or an ultrasound. But, if your breasts feel different than usual, you shouldn’t wait for a yearly checkup to make an appointment—especially if you have a family history of breast cancer. “, a patient should refer to genetic analysis for breast cancer,” Dr. Gaither says. This includes the BRCA gene blood test that can determine if you have changes (mutations) in your DNA that increase the risk of breast cancer. 

3. Cancer

Besides breast cancer, gynos check for other gynecological cancers like endometrial, cervical, ovarian, and vulva cancer. Most of these diagnoses are determined through pelvic exams and pap smears. They’ll then check your lower abdomen, which is by far the most uncomfortable part, to feel the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries for any abnormalities. Once it’s done with, though, you’ll feel so much better knowing that you’re putting your health first. Plus, because these doctors specialize in women’s health, they may be more attuned to these areas of your body that need special TLC.  

4. Vaginal Discharge 

If you’ve expressed concern about the odor or color of your discharge (most of us have been there!), your gyno will check for yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and STDs. Because, yes, contrary to popular opinion, diseases can be transmitted without intercourse! Additionally, your doc may take this opportunity to educate you about good hygiene routines or cleansing products that cause itchiness and inflammation. 

5. Abnormal Bleeding

According to Dr. Gaither, abnormal bleeding may be the symptom of fibroids or polyps. Which, of course, sounds like medical jargon but in reality just means non-cancerous growths that form in the uterine wall. Sounds scary as hell, but it’s nothing to worry too much about, though it can be painful and get in the way of your ability to conceive if it’s not treated properly. During a pelvic examination, your gyno may feel your uterus for any irregular shapes and ultimately use an ultrasound if they detect something unusual. Upon inspection, they can examine how these complications may affect your fertility.  

Ultimately, people will always assume gynecologists only see patients who are sexually active unless they’re educated about the many ways in which these doctors examine all women’s health issues. So, the next time you’re thinking of paying a visit to your gyno you can be sure that they’re on the lookout for way more than just STDs. 

Images: Shutterstock

Things No One Tells You About Being Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

Hi, remember when I wrote an article about finding a lump in my breast? Remember how I was like, “oh they said it was fine, it’s a less than 1% chance of being cancer?” Remember how all the signs pointed to it not being cancer? …Do you see where I’m going with this?

Not to freak you guys out, but I got that cyst drained and it turned out to be f*cking cancer. I’m now a f*cking cancer patient. If you learn anything from this, it’s get weird sh*t on your body checked out immediately. I just found out (today, actually), it’s much worse than expected, and I’ll be starting chemo immediately and then getting a double mastectomy and later radiation. I’m not joking. I’ve already had surgery to get the tumor out (5.5 cm, btw, which is bigger than a tennis ball). So, I’ll live, thank God, which is the most important thing. But I’m about to spend the next year doing basically nothing but having cancer. And I’m only 28. Now that I’m about to go through this sh*tty, draining, miserable process, since breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women, here’s what I wish I knew about actually being diagnosed with breast cancer.

It Takes Ages To Get Results

I found my lump over a month ago at this point, and I just got it finally cut out last week. In that time, it grew from the size of a golf ball to bigger than a tennis ball. And it hurt! I couldn’t sleep, like that’s basically my entire breast. This is why it’s important to go to the doctor the second you find anything abnormal: biopsies take at least a week each to get results in, and you’ll have many biopsies. If you wait, you could be growing cancer the entire time. This is what happened to me. I got into my regular OB-GYN the next morning after finding my lump. She had me go to a breast cancer center for a better ultrasound. It took a week to get that appointment. Then they drained my cyst and sent it to biopsy because it was abnormal. Another week for results. Then I had to get a core biopsy at a cancer surgeon. Almost another week to get in there. Then we waited for those results for a week. Then I had to schedule my surgery, but first I needed blood work, cardiac clearance (I have heart issues too, I’m basically an old, fragile lady), an MRI, and to get dye injected into my tumor for my lymph node biopsy. So go to the doctor right now if you have anything wrong at all, because it takes FOREVER to get some real answers or solutions.

Treatment Takes Forever

Do you like your job? Too bad, because cancer will make you too debilitated to do anything. Breast surgery restricts your arm usage (see below), you can’t do repetitive movements afterwards (hi, drawing and writing and typing for me), and chemo and radiation both make you too sick to drive or function or really do any work. Awesome. So. Be prepared if you get The Diagnosis that you’re going to have to come up with a backup plan for a while while you take a year for treatment. I had no idea that chemo took six months. Or that a double mastectomy and reconstruction is actually 3 surgeries, not just one, like getting implants is. That makes it a roughly three-month process, minimum. My doctor literally told me to clear my schedule for a year. It sucks, but what’s the alternative? “Guess I’ll just die?” Not really the way I wanted to go.

Chemo Makes You Infertile

Hi, did you know this? Because I did NOT. But to be fair, everyone I know who’s had chemo is well past childbearing years, so I guess it never came up. But *fun facts* about women. We’re born with all the eggs we’re ever going to have. So like, if you shoot your body full of poison, it’s also going to mess those eggs up. I literally told my doctor, like if I didn’t already have cancer, these treatments seem like they’d definitely give me cancer. But because of this, I am now about to see a fertility specialist and freeze my eggs before I begin chemo. I don’t even like kids or think I want them, but I’m not ready to make a decision on it yet. The cancer fun just never stops!

You’ll Have Useless T-Rex Arms

THIS is the thing that I found absolutely nowhere on all of the internet. You cannot move your arms well after breast surgery. You can’t raise them above your head. You just have these little useless T-Rex arms that can’t reach anything and hurt to move. For the lumpectomy, it’s two weeks of T-Rex arm on whatever side your tumor was on. For a double mastectomy, it’s both arms for at least a month. Here are all the things I can’t do with only having one sad T-Rex arm: wash my hair easily, put my hair up at all, pluck my eyebrows, put my dishes away, reach my tall cabinets, water my plants, put on a regular T-shirt without buttons, and the list keeps going. You also can only lift a max of five pounds, which is literally nothing. It’s a weird problem I didn’t previously consider.

They Will Tattoo Your Nipples Back On

wait what

When I was first told I had cancer, I hyper-fixated on the nipple issue. I don’t know why. I think just the thought of my nipples being cut off against my will was so invasive, I couldn’t comprehend it. I wasn’t even that concerned about the cancer at first—like, I just wanted to know, what happens if they can’t save my nipples? I guess it was easier to deal with that problem than face the horrible cancer diagnosis. But my surgeon showed me pictures, and it turns out, if you have to have your nipples removed, they can tattoo nipples on that look exactly the same. You can’t even tell. They can even make them out of other tissue from your body. I thought they’d look like horrible painted-on cartoon nipples, but no, you’d never know. So. That doesn’t exactly solve any problems, but at least if you have to have them, know that this is an option. Some people even replace their nipples with awesome tattoos, or don’t bother at all. You do you.

You’ll Need A LOT Of Help

help

I hate admitting defeat. I hate asking for help. I like to do everything myself. But with breast cancer, that is no longer an option. You’ll need rides to almost every appointment, particularly surgery, radiation, and chemo. You’ll even want moral support for biopsies and the subsequent results. You won’t be able to eat, shower, get dressed, or do anything by yourself. So, be nice to your friends because you never know when you’ll have to ask them to help you put on your squashy surgical bra with the nine tiny clasps. I’m super grateful that my friends have stepped up and are amazing, taking me to all my appointments and basically dropping everything in their own lives. Plus, you’ll need drinking buddies to cope in between treatments.

So, if you’re going through this, please know that so many other people are too, including me, and while it sucks, we will get through it. Hopefully this gives you some insight into what you’ll experience so you can be better prepared. Hey, it could always be worse, right?

Images: Ladislav Bona / Unsplash; Giphy (6)

Across The Country, Tampons Are Taxed As A Luxury. Here’s How To Fix It.

October 19th is National Period Day, which aims to bring awareness to the issue of period poverty (meaning, lack of access to hygiene products because of financial constraints) and make period products more affordable for people who menstruate everywhere. One main way we’re trying to do that is by ending the Tampon Tax—a sales tax placed on hygiene products like pads and tampons, that other items, like Viagra, do not have. We tapped Nadya Okamoto, the founder of PERIOD, to tell her story on how she found out about period poverty, why she’s so passionate to end it, and what we can all do to help.

It’s 2019. People have been menstruating since the beginning of humankind. Periods make human life possible. And yet, still today, 34 states have a sales tax on period products, basically considering them luxury items. WTF?

When I was 16-years-old, I discovered an unaddressed natural need I’d never thought about before: periods. At the time, my own family was living without a home of our own, and I was facing a two-hour commute to school on public transportation. I became friendly with homeless women who I saw at my bus stop every day. In asking them, “what do you find most challenging about your living situation?” I collected an accidental anthology of women using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, and even cardboard to take care of their periods. I distinctly remember one woman showing me how she would take a small piece of cardboard, rip off the outer layer from each side, and then rub the middle section in between her hands to make it a more flexible homemade version of a pad. 

Privilege check: Even when my family was experiencing housing instability, I always had access to menstrual products, and had never even thought about using trash to take care of my period. In fact, I had never even thought about what it would be like to menstruate without access to period products. Hearing these first-hand stories of period poverty ignited anger and curiosity within me. I kept thinking: How is it that menstruation makes human life possible and we haven’t figured out a solution for all people to have period products?! While simultaneously wondering, how far does the issue go? Who else can’t afford access to period products? 

So naturally, I took my questions to Google. In my free time, I would search keywords about menstruation, poverty, and different geographical regions, just trying to learn more.

Through my research, I learned that periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries, and often times a girl’s first period is the single event that leads to her dropping out of school, getting married early, or undergoing female genital mutilation or social isolation. It was actually easier to find information about period poverty in other countries than it was about the United States. I learned that at the time, in 2014, 40 states in the US had a sales tax on period products, considering them “non-essential goods”—so, basically luxury items. 

Meanwhile, products like Rogaine and Viagra were considered essential and didn’t have this tax. I remember reading this and refreshing the page a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly before thinking: Are you f*cking kidding me?! Old man hair growth and erections are considered more of a necessity than over half of our population feeling clean, confident, and capable 100 percent of the time, regardless of something so natural like a period? What?! 

These exact thoughts and emotions have not left my mind since I discovered the “tampon tax,” the term used to describe the taxation of menstrual hygiene products. 

Since 2014, when I started my activism in the #MenstrualMovement, we’ve seen incredible progress: countries like India and Australia have nationally axed their tampon tax, the UK has repurposed the revenue from their version of the tax to directly provide period products to girls in secondary schools, and the US is down to 34 states (still an overwhelming majority) that still have the tampon tax. 

Eliminating the tampon tax is not going to be a blanket solution to period poverty—I mean, realistically, the tax is not impacting the menstruators who have the least access to tampons. It’s affecting the people who are already purchasing the product, making the cost a burden for primarily low-income consumers. That being said, the reason period poverty persists is because menstrual hygiene is not treated like a right, it’s treated as a privilege.

Here’s an example: Just earlier this year, a GOP Representative in Maine voted against a bill to make period products accessible in prisons, saying that “the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club.” As if we can opt out of periods like they’re a Netflix subscription.

The #tampontax frames menstrual hygiene as a LUXURY—an inaccurate assumption we need to deconstruct once in for all in the movement against period poverty. At the end of the day, this fight isn’t just about periods, this is about the fundamental human right to be able to discover and reach one’s full potential regardless of a natural need. And what could be more natural than menstruation? 

Join us this Saturday for the first-ever National Period Day. On October 19, my organization PERIOD will be mobilizing rallies in all 50 states and major cities, demanding action and an end to the #tampontax. Join us at one of our rallies in-person, or share why you’re joining the #menstrualmovement on social media by using #nationalperiodday and tagging @periodmovement. There are so many ways to get involved both nationally and statewide—check out Utah’s legislative campaign and help us keep putting pressure on Ohio lawmakers to end their “pink tax”! I truly believe that if we unite and we refuse to shut up about periods, we can take down the tampon tax in the new few years. Just 34 more states to go. 

Let’s do this.

Image: Noah Shaub

The Top Mistakes Women Make When It Comes To Their Sexual Health

Hello, female brethren. Is there a female word for brethren? Okay, I Googled it, and it’s sistren, which is super weird because I have never heard this word in my life, and even spell-check is telling me it’s wrong, but IT IS NOT. Also, spell-check does not flag brethren, so yeah, that means spell-check is sexist. Do better, world.

Anyway. This conversation we’re about to have is going to be super icky and also NECESSARY, because it’s about sexual health. I literally had a conversation this evening (wine may or may not have been involved) with a friend who was not using protection with a man she barely knows because she assumed they were exclusive. Okay, first of all, NO. Assuming you are the only hole a guy is putting it in without verbal confirmation and possibly a legal contract is incorrect. Just ask Jeff Bezos. Which leads me to believe that the beautiful, smart, successful millennial women I know and love, are not aware of the importance of sexual health. So let me enlighten you. A study performed by Zava, a leading online doctor that operates in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, revealed what women are getting wrong about sexual health, and even though the survey did not poll American women, the findings are nonetheless kind of scary.

But before we get into the scary sh*t, some good news: Zava found that millennials are the most in control of their sexual health, with 29% saying they have at least one STI checkup per year, and 36% of women from 25-24 saying they pay a lot of attention to their discharge. Apparently that 29% statistic is much higher than that of other age groups, which, like, guys?? That’s not good. I get that the older you are, the more likely you are to be in a committed relationship or marriage, but still! If reading Reddit relationship advice forums nonstop has taught me anything, it’s that cheaters gonna cheat. So now let’s get into the more concerning statistics Zava found.

Not Being Tested

According to Zava, 2/5 women across the UK have never had an STI check. Did you guys have that little chart in your college medical office with the people matching? Do you know the one I’m talking about? It shows how many people you’ve basically had sex with in terms of sharing germs—like, one person has sex with one person, they share germs with one person. But one person starts having sex with someone that had sex with two other people, and now it’s like person one had sex with those people, too. And it multiplies. I’m not slut-shaming here (you do you, Samantha Jones), but for the love of God, use protection. STI rates in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2018, so clearly this is not just a problem in jolly old England. No matter where you are, be responsible, use protection, and get tested.

Assuming “Exclusivity”

LOL @ this in general. You should never just assume you’re exclusive. And if RHONY has taught me anything, it’s that even when you’re married, maybe you should just be aware, too. You’ve got to protect yourself, and unless you trust the person you’re dating, you’ve had the dreaded “what are we talk”, and you both show clean STI tests, you should definitely be using protection every time and getting tested on the reg. And even after you’ve done those things, still get tested, because it’s literally one extra form to sign off on at your yearly exam anyway. You can never be too careful, and although I’m all for love/trust/etc., you need to protect yourself. Not to bum you out, but PyschCentral says over an entire relationship there’s a 25% chance someone will cheat. Don’t be caught off-guard and risk your health. Also? A friend of mine once told me a story that I think is hilarious/sad/men for you. She was dating a guy, she thought exclusively, and could see him every day except Sunday. She was like, “of course we’re exclusive, he spends almost every day with me.” The mofo had a Sunday girlfriend that he only saw/slept with on Sundays. Protect yourselves, ladies.

Not Paying Attention

This is about to be super gross, but it’s also necessary and I’m only telling you this because I love you. A sad but real truth is that most women do not know wtf is going on in their vaginas. I don’t know where you went to school, how good your sex ed was, or what you think is normal. But according to Zava, only 16% of UK women actually follow medical advice and have a checkup once a year, and 62% don’t pay attention to what is going on down there.  Ladies, you’ve got to educate yourselves and make sure you know the signs of an infection, in addition to getting regular checkups and testing. Without treatment, you could have serious health effects, including becoming infertile, or God forbid you have an STI and don’t treat it that causes you to become infertile. Just be aware. This infograph from Zava is super helpful, especially if you grew up in an area of the country with terrible sex ed (so like, many areas).

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Thinking You’d “Know”

Have I traumatized you yet? No? Let’s go ahead and make it worse. Only 19% of women were able to recognize the symptoms of thrush correctly. I don’t even know wtf thrush is, so I looked it up, and it’s what the Brits call a yeast infection. The scary part is that women assume that they know the symptoms of disease or infection, when the truth is they do not! Also, there are some types of infection where 70% of women don’t even show symptoms at all! So how would you know? Especially when Zava states that 61% of women had little to no education on sex health whatsoever. Are you sure you’d know? Are you willing to risk it? Listen, no offense, but unless you’re a f*cking doctor, maybe leave it to the professionals. Get tested, get regular checkups, use protection, and know for sure. Part of being in charge of your sexuality is taking responsibility for your sexual health. Go ahead, be Samantha Jones. Just be smart about it.

Even though education systems and the world in general are like, biased and sexist, we as women have to take charge and be knowledgeable about our reproductive health. One more time for the people in back: if you’re sexually active, make sure you are getting tested regularly, and be sure you are checking in on your discharge and go to the doctor if something doesn’t feel/smell/look right.

Images: Yuliya Kosolapova / Unsplash; Giphy (2); Zava

I Never Thought I’d Be A Breast Cancer Survivor Before My 30th Birthday

Dana Donofree, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, HER2+, ER+ Early Stage breast cancer patient. NED since 2010. After Dana’s own experience with breast cancer in her 20’s, she took her fashion design background and experience coupled with her newfound life as a cancer patient and created AnaOno, an intimate apparel collection for those just like her. People that no longer fit traditional lingerie, and wanted and desired something beautiful that would help them feel empowered in strong in their new bodies. 

I was shopping for my honeymoon when the doctor called with a cancer diagnosis.  

It was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of my life. I had just moved from my fab fashion life in New York to Denver, Colorado with my boyfriend. We got engaged shortly after the move, and it was exciting to be sharing this phase of my life with someone I loved deeply. I didn’t own a single piece of clothing that fit a Mexican beach vacation, so my Mom and mother-in-law-to-be were treating me to my bridal shower gift: a shopping spree for our honeymoon. And then the phone rang. 

It had been just weeks earlier when I found a lump while I was in the shower (actually checking in on a pimple that was in my armpit). It was the slightest touch of my wrist that rubbed up against the inner part of my breast that said to me, “that wasn’t there before.” So I called the doc. I was still running around like New Yorkers do, business meetings here, plane there, business meeting there…so of course I did what any young person would do and called to reschedule my appointment so I could take a few more business trips to further my career. When I called to reschedule, I was given a choice: wait four weeks, or come in the following week for an appointment with the PA instead of the doctor. I took the early appointment. To this day I am thankful for this spur-of-the-moment decision, because, well, it saved my life. 

My appointment started out pretty typically. Knowing I had just seen the doctor a few weeks before, I thought, “this is more than just being cautious, this is actually extreme precaution—maybe even frivolous.” Even though I felt a little silly, I went because just months earlier my bestie and my little sister called their doctors because they had lumps in their breasts, and thought since they did it, I should too. (They were told they have dense breasts, like many young women do, and that there were no concerns, but to keep an eye on something that felt out of the ordinary.) But this lump felt “weird” to me. I had never felt something like it—it was like a pea was growing in a pod under my skin, not hard like a pimple, and the overall texture and feeling was just odd. 

The PA reassured me, several times, that since I was just 27 years old, there was only a slim chance that there would be anything wrong, and that as a young woman we tend to have dense breasts, and that can feel like a lump. But in this case, due to the lump’s location and feeling, she wanted to send me for an ultrasound, which led to a mammogram, which led to a needle biopsy, which led to a call from my doctor on the eve of my bridal shower and my 28th birthday. Even though I was reassured countless times by different professionals, “don’t you worry, it’s probably nothing, you’re so young,” I did get that dreaded call that nobody ever wants to get. I had cancer.

I was only 27 years old. Suddenly I had breast cancer. Would I even be alive to get married to the man that I love? My head was spinning, my world went black…I was now a cancer patient. 

My cancer, although caught early, was very aggressive. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 1, HER2+. My options were limited and aggressive, but they would hopefully save my life. 

I had a mastectomy on my infected breast, and because the likelihood of cancer returning was high, I made the very painful choice to remove my healthy breast by getting a preventive mastectomy. I also chose to undergo breast reconstruction after getting my breasts removed. My wedding was postponed for a year—I wanted to get all my treatments done in time so my fiancé and I could celebrate our new life together. 

 

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New to the AnaOno Community? ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Meet @DaynaDono: AnaOno’s fearless, badass, inspirational Founder and CEO.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Dana was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma on her 27th birthday. She began to design the first pieces for AnaOno out of her own necessity and desire for pretty, sexy, beautiful lingerie during a recovery period that was everything but.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ She made it her mission to design specifically for those who’ve had breast reconstruction, breast surgery, mastectomy, or are living with other conditions that cause pain or discomfort because she believes that comfort should not be a compromise.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ via @inkedmag

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My mastectomy was tough, my treatment was tough, and I experienced many changes in my life, my body, and my mind. Cancer treatment took a huge toll, and I fought as hard as I could to get through it. After my mastectomy, my life changed again. I was in pain from the aftermath of removing my breasts and replacing them with new ones. My range of motion was limited and working out became an additional challenge. I loved lifting weights and dancing, two things that, after surgery, became more trouble than they were worth. It took months, even years, to recuperate. Coupled with the side effects from medications prescribed to me, I found myself searching for what would be normal in my life, trying to navigate both pain and fatigue but keep going every day. 

That’s when I realized that cancer was more than just chemotherapy and surgery. It was going to affect many other aspects of my life. Beyond just losing my hair, gaining weight, and losing weight, cancer affected my wardrobe, too. 

All I wanted was to feel like myself again: to feel strong, to feel empowered, and to feel beautiful. But wearing the clothes I formerly loved to wear was tough—nothing fit me the way it used to. And a big part of that was because I couldn’t find a bra that fit and was not uncomfortable, ill-fitting, or painful. I found myself dressing differently because I was covering the neon green straps of my sports bra in board meetings. I started to lose myself and my identity because I couldn’t express myself in the ways I was used to. No hair, no eyebrows, no breasts, and now this. 

I woke up in the middle of the night after my final reconstructive surgery and realized that dressing myself every day had become depressing, and I was making depressing wardrobe choices because I couldn’t wear a bra that fit me. So I took my years of fashion design experience, pulled out my sketch pad, and started designing bras that would work for my new body. 

From that, AnaOno was born. I wanted other people to know that even though cancer took our breasts, it wouldn’t take our personality, self-expression, and fashion from our lives too. 

 

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We need YOUR feedback! ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ We are putting together a guide for FRIENDS and #CAREVIVERS of the breast cancer community, and need YOUR help. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Comment below something a friend did for you during your diagnosis, surgery or treatment that made you feel extra taken care of, extra special and extra loved on. Did they make you laugh during one of your chemo treatments, clean your house every week for you until you got your movement back? How did she (or he!) make you feel like you were #neveralone? ⠀⠀ Tell us below. ⠀

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Now, almost 10 years after my mastectomy, I have been designing bras, loungewear, and swimwear for others that have had breast surgery, often related to a cancer diagnosis, or who are living with chronic pain. Intimates that help keep women confident, proud, and even sexy! Because I felt so alone, living with breast cancer as a young woman, I wanted to use my skills and talent to help make life better for others just like me. I also work as a patient advocate and have helped shine a light on many topics that are often brushed under the rug, from sex and intimacy after a cancer diagnosis, to dating without nipples, to finding confidence after reconstruction. Getting the opportunity to open the door to these tough but important conversations has been what keeps us going not only to support our community but to engage newly diagnosed patients on a level that affects all of us so intimately. I just want people to know that whether you have one breast, two breasts, new breasts or no breasts, you are never alone.

Dana Donofree, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, HER2+, ER+ Early Stage breast cancer patient. NED since 2010. After Dana’s own experience with breast cancer in her 20’s, she took her fashion design background and experience coupled with her newfound life as a cancer patient and created AnaOno, an intimate apparel collection for those just like her. People that no longer fit traditional lingerie, and wanted and desired something beautiful that would help them feel empowered in strong in their new bodies. 

Images: anaonointimates (2) / Instagram