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Am I the most attractive woman to survive breast cancer?

Ever since being diagnosed with breast cancer a year-and-a-half ago, October has been my favorite time of the year. Breast Cancer is, as we all know, the popular girl of cancers, proudly parading herself around in pink ribbons and accessories, pumpkin spice latte in tow. It’s much more than a disease- it’s a business! It’s practically a party! One can’t walk into an A.C. Moore without being greeted with glittery pink ribbon tattoos, and just last week I went to the grocery store and bought myself some “Onions for the Cure”. Great! I thought. Now I can make a stew with my tears! How kitsch!

When I was first diagnosed, I was a bit upset, but I was soon shown the error of my ways. “It’s a weird kind of fun, right?” my therapist asked, the day before my mastectomy. “Because you get to pick your own size?” Right! This was not a punishment, but a gift, as is all a woman’s suffering. The surgery, the chemo — it was like I got to go to prom all over again and I didn’t have to worry about anybody showing up with the same dress because I was the only one at the dance. New boobs, new wigs, scarves… I could barely handle all the style choices that were now graciously presented to me. Which is why I’m writing this piece- I think I may be the most attractive woman to survive breast cancer.

Now, since I was diagnosed at 23, I do have sort of a leg-up on the competition, but from people’s reactions this is the only logical conclusion I can come to. From the very beginning, people told me I would “pull off” the cancer look well. For those of you on the outside, this may not be totally obvious, but being a breast cancer patient is all about the looks.

“Will I lose feeling in my breasts?” I asked a nurse, naively, before going into surgery. Of course! They cut “indiscriminately”. You’d think there’d be more research on how to preserve feeling, but ladies, breasts have never been about us, just like my breast cancer was never about me.

“I’m going to lose my second-favorite pair of breasts in the Philly comedy scene!” a peer Facebook messaged me when I came out about my cancer. Finally, I knew exactly where I stood in the rankings!

“What size are you going to get?” a man sensitively asked me the night before I had surgery to see if the cancer had made it to my lymphnodes. When I told him the same size, because that was what I was used to and what my wardrobe fit, he said, “Good choice.” Then, pointing to my still-real-flesh breasts he said, “And I mean, good choice.”

“Well, since I was there for you, I just think I’m owed something, and I was sort of looking forward to going on your body-acceptance journey with you,” a friend lamented, after I selfishly deprived him of my pretty immediately post-chemo body.

Every woman can’t be getting this reaction, right? It has to be because I’m just insanely attractive, otherwise I’m sure there’d be more of a focus on my personhood. If every woman was dealing with this weird sexualization of their disease, I’m positive there’d be more conversation around it, and less of a focus on Breast Cancer Awareness as a fun thing to do at a football tailgate. Since finishing my Herceptin treatments two weeks ago, I finally have the energy to campaign for Queen of Cancer. And I want all of you to get out there and Save Second Base!
No need to worry about the woman it’s attached to.

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my life now.

my life now.

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My “Cancer” set got nominated for “Best New Standup-Bit”! Continually humbled by the support I’ve gotten throughout this experience. Show me some love and give me some votes; I’ll be yours forever <3

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Here’s my second blog post for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. This time, I focused on letting your friends/acquaintances know about your diagnosis, and what to expect from them.

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The Year I Got Cancer: A Look Back

2013, I thought I hated you. To be fair, this was not without reason. You were the year that shattered my reality and left the pieces too jagged to ever be put back together the same way. You wore me down from the inside out and left me on hospital beds, couches, in the arms of friends, strung out on pain killers and touching with useless tenderness pieces of my flesh where I will never feel again. You washed me up on the shores of New Jersey where I sat halfway in the water, always with a book, trying to escape myself or at least polish what remained of me, like a pearl discarded in the sand. You forced me into anesthetic sleep and cut me open over and over, and instead of getting easier each time, you taught me every new needle and knife brings its own special panic. You lifted me up on false hope just so I could crash back into reality. You made me call my mother and tell her I had cancer. You broke my heart.

But, true to form, ever the (perhaps errant) social optimist, I love you in spite of these things. Every time I felt like you were drowning me, you let me claw my way back to the surface, twice as strong as I was before. You let me find new meaning in my life and you brought me back to what has always saved me- writing, comedy, a good book. Most of all, I love you for the people you sent my way. I am grateful to every fighter I’ve met on this journey, to all of those who support them (and myself) and who put love above all else. I am grateful for my new home, not just in a physical sense, but for the Philly comedians I have met in the past year who make me feel like I’m somewhere I belong. You gave me fangs, you gave me perspective, you gave me love. I will never stop fighting, learning, or paying it forward. 2013, in the end, you gave much more than you took and dropped me off exactly where I’ve always wanted to be: A woman, standing on the brink of everything at once, surrounded by those she loves.

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My Body as Canvas: Drink Me

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you have nobody to fully trust but your doctor. It is not something visible, like a rash on the skin, but something that creeps inside of you, waiting to be caught. When I felt that lump on my breast in the shower, my heart sank, but I believed at that time that I was invincible. I know better now. I know the uncertainty and the fear of having to rely on a professional with whom you do not have a personal relationship to tell you the truth about what is going on in your body. There is a trust that must be built immediately. 

So, for this edition of My Body as Canvas, I chose to represent the “Drink Me” bottle from Alice in Wonderland. In many ways, I am Alice, uncertain in a new world and drinking an elixir (chemotherapy) from which I cannot foretell the full effects. Will I be as fertile at 30 as I am now? Will this round be more painful than the last? I have no choice but to drink, to kill the parts of me that want to kill the whole of me, to trust that this poison will do me good in the end. It is a scary and strange new world, but I am embracing it to the best of my ability. 

A very good friend took these photos. This is her bed, her light, her tea, her comforts. It is the love of friends like her (and I will not lie- my love of self) that has allowed me to get through this experience and take it for what it is worth. I was dealt a hand of cards and I am playing it to the best of my ability. 

Drink me. Drink the light and dark of me, drink my experiences as your own and start to view people with cancer not as those with a disease, but as those on a journey… and please, hold their hands when the path begins to get dark. 

Photography by Lillyan Ling

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So, I just got a bunch of new followers (!) from those photos, and I have a sinking suspicion that not many of you have wandered over to the “videos” tab at the top of my page… so here’s the set I did when I first realized I had breast cancer, at an open mic in Philadelphia. 

I think Philebrity put it best:

Nikki Black is a local comedian who’s very active in the Philly standup scene; she was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer. What follows is her performance last Thursday at L2 on South Street at a comedy open mic called “Stand Up Under the Disco Ball.” It’s brave stuff, and funny too, and yes, so completely NFSW (language), so pop those headphones on, cubicle jockeys.”

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I have been obsessed with Rookie Mag for so long, so I totally freaked when my friend told me they had included me on their Saturday Links page over the weekend. The amount of love and support I have gotten for this project has been amazing. Thank you all so much <3

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My Body as Canvas: Exploring my experience with chemotherapy through makeup. 

Today I chose to do a deer skull because I’ve been thinking about growth and decay, the way one feeds into another and the bittersweet beauty found in sickness and death. The forest and field in the pictures are located behind my house. These are the places where I walk my dogs, have conversations with my mother and clear my head. I think if you were to walk through a particular cavern in my heart you’d find yourself in this place, this contained and perpetually disappearing farmland and wilderness.

I embrace this part of my life as I embrace the month of November: even as the cold begins to creep into our bones and the leaves fall from the branches, it pushes us closer, toward warmth and togetherness. When we begin to understand mortality, we begin to experience life more richly and in ways we hadn’t previously considered. I consider myself an aesthete. Beauty is the light through which life is illuminated to me. I will continue to create, to find beauty in this particular part of my life, because to ignore it would be to waste an experience, sad as it may be, that has taught me new ways to navigate my existence.

Photo Credit: Patrick Barnes

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This week, I started blogging for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. It’s a great organization and a great opportunity for me to reach out to more young women dealing with breast cancer. I will, of course, continue blogging here, but please head on over to there blog and check me out saying more words in different places.