Boobless But Bolder

I am not quiet. At all. By any stretch of the imagination. You can always hear me coming. You always know I was there.

I used to try to be quieter. I used to try to be more demure, more reserved. I used to try to take life more seriously. I used to try to not laugh as often or as loud. I used to try to not laugh at things others didn’t necessarily see as funny.

I tried to conform to others’ standards of what it meant to be a “lady” and what it meant to be “beautiful.” Really—I did try.

And then I got sick.

I’m not going to get all Pollyanna on you right now, because I’m going to debunk the urban legend that breast cancer is the best thing that can ever happen to a woman. Personally, I thought it sucked.

Why I Didn’t Wear Lipstick to My Mastectomies

(And Other Valuable Lessons I Was Supposed to Learn but Didn’t)

  • I didn’t learn to laugh at my situation, at myself—The surgeons only cut off my boobs, they didn’t cut out my sense of humor. (And if you knew me, you’d know that my thighs are a far bigger problem than being boobless).
  • I didn’t learn to turn things upside down, to stand things on end—I had been getting in trouble for this for at least 30 years.
  • I didn’t learn determination—I’m Irish. We’re stubborn. (And as any true Irishman knows, the Irish don’t want anyone to wish them well…they want everyone to wish their enemies ill!).
  • I didn’t learn about the unpredictability of life—I had four sons in six years. And I knew what caused it. But it still happened.
  • I didn’t learn to bend the rules of life to get things done—I think I invented it’s-better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-than-permission in 1977.
  • I didn’t learn to become more opinionated and to voice my concerns—Ummm……heellloooo…..
  • I didn’t have to learn that it’s okay to cry—Name any Little House on the Prairie episode and I’ll tell you at what point Pa cried (and when I cried with him).

Now, hopefully readers don’t think that I’m some callous, soulless jerk, and that I’m belittling or making fun of women who have written about their experiences with breast cancer.

Each of my breast cancer predecessor sisters did teach me a lesson—but just in different ways than maybe they intended to.

God was trying to show me through their experiences and through mine that He created me the way I am for a reason.

“And who knows that you have come to [this] position for

such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

For such a time as this. If I hadn’t been bold and loud and a laugher and a defyer of the norm, I’m not so sure I would have come out on the other side of breast cancer as whole as I did.

You see, I don’t think that God smote me with the double mastectomy smack down to get my attention, to somehow make me more reflective and quieter (as a well-meaning woman told me).

I think He wanted me to find my voice, the voice that He gave me.

So here I am today—boobless but bolder.

For such a time as this.

What things about yourself do you need to embrace? To recognize as a strength and not a weakness?

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Boobless But Not Broken

It’s Pinktober. That most wonderful time of the year, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. The time of year when you can’t find a roll of white toilet paper at Target, much less an orange M&M or an Oreo with white icing.

That time of year where people everywhere remind people everywhere else that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives.

To be perfectly pinkly correct, I thought it might be a good idea to take a little detour to share something with you about my life. But as I sit here and think about it, we’re not really going off course at all….because what I have to share with you is as much about love, intimacy, sex, and relationships as it is anything else.

I’m the boobless girl behind the pink ribbons.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an intraductal breast carcinoma. I was 36-years-old. At the time I had four boys all under the age of 12, and I had just begun work on my PhD. And just two years prior to my diagnosis, I buried my mother who died of cancer (at the age of 57). Her sister died from breast cancer at the age of 39, her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 52, and a cousin, diagnosed with breast cancer just a few months after me, died at the age of 43.

Talk about a crappy roll of the genetic dice.

Ironically, it all started on a perfectly pink October day. And once it started, it was a runaway train…..

I found a lump and went to the doctor and he said “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, I’m the doctor and I’ll do the worrying for you, come see me in 6 months,” and I thought “You’re crazy, I just buried my mom you [expletive], I’m not waiting!” so I found another doctor and [skip forward about 4 months of maaaaaaany tests and scans and needles and oh-so-painful biopsies but I still needed to be a good parent and an “A” student and a good little Christian who counted it all joy] she said, “Come into the kiss and cry room and I’ll give you the dreaded diagnosis, the diagnosis I know you know is coming because you saw my face when I drew the fluid out of your breast,” and so Dave and I sat in the low-lit room that had nothing but a box of Kleenex on the table, and we looked at each other and knew and she came in and said, “Both breasts need to be removed immediately to save your life!” and she expected us to cry but we didn’t even need the Kleenex because we were so dumbfounded and confused nothing made any sense so there were no tears and she explained how the breasts that fed all of my babies and gave my husband and I so much pleasure would be “removed” and how the surgical “procedure” would take about 12 hours and how the treatments would start about 4 weeks after the “procedure” and I had the “procedure” and the pain was indescribable and parenting and loving and living with 12 glass drain tubes and two IVs and 100s of stitches was ridiculously unbearable and insanely hilarious all at the same time and like every woman who had cancer before me, and every woman who has had or will have it since me, we took it minute by minute and sometimes we were incredibly strong and other times we were incredibly weak but we did it.

Whew.  We did it.  And that’s what Pinktober is all about.

Boobless, but not broken.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share what we learned about love through the process.
(Which, ironically, in Gaelic means “Warrior Princess.” In breast cancer survivor speak it means “bad ass”!!!)

So Simple a Cave[woman] Can Do It? Parenting Like Cavemen

Did Fred & Wilma Flintstone and Barney & Betty Rubble know something about parenting that we don’t?  According to University of Notre Dame psychology professor, Darcia Narvaez, our ancestors knew a thing or two about raising happy, healthy kids.

Narvaez, who focuses her research on the importance of a child’s first three years as foundational to their overall personality and character development, recently released several new studies. Her research shows that there are certain parenting characteristics that foster mentally healthy, smart kids who show empathy, compassion, and morality.

“The way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being and a moral sense,” says Narvaez.  She provides parents with six childrearing practices in the child’s first 0 to 6 years that lead to healthy attachment:

·Lots of continuous responsive, caring touch—carrying, cuddling, holding, patting. This includes keeping Baby with Mom and Dad, not isolating the baby in her own room.

·Prompt, patient responses to a baby’s cries—it’s impossible to spoil a baby the first several months of life, because babies aren’t biologically or cognitively capable of manipulating people or things in their environments.  It’s best to respond to a baby’s fusses, before they become fully upset. This prevents the release of toxic stress chemicals in the baby. As Narvaez says, “Warm, responsive caregiving keeps the infant’s brain clam in the years it’s forming its personality and responses to the world.”

·Breastfeeding—ideally to the age of two (Narvaez suggests even longer). A child’s immune system isn’t fully developed until about age 6, and needs the healthy building blocks provided in breastmilk.

·Other adult caregivers—grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends…babies enjoy novelty!

·Playmates—of all ages!  Freeplay (not organized play) is the best. Narvaez’s research suggests that children who don’t play enough are more likely to develop ADHD.

·Natural childbirth—Narvaez maintains that unmedicated childbirth provides mothers with hormone boosts, giving Mom extra energy to care for her baby.

Whether a parent adheres to all of these suggestions is purely an individual choice, and clearly, many of them aren’t conducive for the majority of moms who must work outside of the home.

But I think the heart of her message is what matters most:  “Kids who don’t get the emotional nurturing they need in early life tend to be more self-centered. They don’t have the available compassion-related emotions to the same degree as kids who were raised by warm, responsive families.”

Do you believe that children today have lower levels of compassion and morality?

Photo Credit: Dave Nimitz (

Your First Love Experience

As a mom of four sons, it’s tough to find words to describe how I felt when I held each of them in my arms for the first time…especially with my first son, who was pretty beat up trying to make his way into this world.

Looking at his teeny little [very] bruised, [very] scratched face, his [very] wrinkled, pug-like forehead, and his [very elongated] cone head his daddy was sure would never get better, I looked at my baby and said, “You poor, pitiful little thing. Mamma’s gonna love you. Mamma’s gonna keep you safe.”

Oh, I loved each of my babies, no question about that. But it wasn’t a love I had ever before experienced. It was warm and tender and caring, yes. Yet there was something different about this love. Something very different.

My love for my new babies was protective. I was protective. Like never before, I felt this surge of she-bearness. This overwhelming desire to keep my babies from harm. This drive-push-urge to keep them safe. To shield them from whatever the world threw at them.

I nurtured my babies. I kept them safe. I protected them.

But my babies didn’t experience me as nurturing. As keeping them safe. As protecting them. They experienced me as love.

Little did I know, I was shaping their abilities to someday fall in love and to become parents. They love today because we first loved them 20+ years ago.

You see, for most of us, the first love relationship we experience is the parent-child relationship. Born helpless with nothing more than survival reflexes, we are fully reliant upon our parents for every need.

It is this very dependency on others that propels us to form emotional bonds in which we give and receive love. And it is from the experiences of the earliest of all love relationships that our later-in-life love relationships take place. Researchers refer to this close, emotional tie in the early days/months/years as attachment.

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What Kind of Lover Are You?

You’ve done a lot of homework this week, so now it’s time for a little fun!  Let’s find out what type of lover you are.

Canadian sociologist John Lee conceptualized love in a manner similar to the Greeks, and he came up with six different love styles. Take a look at these:

  • Eros: Passionate and Tantalizing. Eros refers to a type of sensual or sexual love. Erotic lovers are passionate and romantic and seek out passionately expressive lovers. They thrive on the tantalizing nature of gotta-have-it-baby love and sex. They have an “ideal mate” in their mind’s eye and believe there is only one “true love” in the world for them. Sexual activity usually occurs early on in the relationship, and the sex is hawt, passionate, exciting, and insatiable all at once.
  • Ludus: Flirtatious and Fun. Ludus is a playful, flirtatious, carefree, and casual love. Ludus lovers don’t’ care as much about commitment as they do about playing the sport of love. Variety is the spice of life for ludic lovers, and the more partners, the better. Because ludic lovers don’t share intimacy, ludic lovers consider love to be fun and easy-going. When it comes to love, they are nonchalant and unconcerned about tomorrow.
  • Storge: Affectionate and Constant. This type of love develops over time, and engenders shared interests, trust, and acceptance. Storgic lovers are friends as well as lovers. They’re patient and consistent.
  • Manic: Frenzied and Chaotic. Jealousy, envy, protectiveness, and exclusivity (to the point of cutting off family and friends) are the hallmark traits of manic lovers. Manic love is frenzied, agitated, hectic, and chaotic. The highs are very high, the lows are very low—making the relationship very much a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
  • Pragma: Practical and Careful. Practicality and logic guide the pragmatic lover. If the “perfect mate” items on the pragmatic lover’s love map are fulfilled—suitability of education, family background, religious beliefs, and so on—the love candidate has a good chance of becoming a mate.
  • Agape: Selfless and Patient. Exemplified by Jesus, agape love is a selfless, enduring love. It is altruistic in nature, which means love partners promote the well-being of the other. It is an other-centered—not a me-centered—type of love. It is an unconditional, willful, I-love-you-because-I-choose-to kind of love. It does not demand immediate gratification of needs or wants, and it expects nothing in return. Inherent to agape love is patience, kindness, and permanence.
What type of lover are you?  What type of lover is your spouse? Find out here!
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Who Wrote Your Love Map?

A critical step in creating a long-lasting, satisfying marriage is exploring the path that guided the development of your love behaviors and patterns.

When it comes to love and loving, we all come into this world as blank slates.  Over time, each of us “loves” in certain, established ways because our past experiences always influence/shape/direct our present experiences. So–who are the authors of your love map?

You can create an instant snapshot of your family’s love and relationship history by creating a genogram:

1. Sketch out the family you were raised in: Use squares to represent males and circles to represent females.

2. Map out relationship dynamics: By using symbols (such as, ……. , used to denote an emotionally distant or indifferent relationship), you can map out the emotional connections between family members. Your genogram can be as elaborate or as simple as you want. The idea is to get an at-a-glance understanding of your partner’s and your own relational histories. This site helps you to create your genogram. (At first it might look a little intimidating–don’t let this freak you out! Again, you can make your genogram as detailed or as simple as you want).

3. Identify the authors of your love map: Looking at your genogram, identify those who are the most influential people in your family history. When it comes to love, loving, and intimate relationships, who are the most positive influences in your family history? The most negative?

4. Share your genogram with your partner: For most of us, this is the toughest part of creating a genogram. Partners are oftentimes afraid to disclose these types of things, because it leaves them feeling vulnerable to rejection or scoffing—especially if they experienced hurtful, abusive, shameful, or conditional love relationships in their past.

Have you ever given any thought about why you love the way you do? From your genogram, were you able to identify positive influences you’d like to continue to carry on? Are there any negative influences you hope never to repeat?

Feel free to email me if you want to talk about your genogram!
Photo Credit: Grunge Textures (

"Please pass the ham."

As recipes and cooking may be passed down from generation to generation, so too are the origins of our capacity to love and to be loved. These family influences ultimately shape our unique, personal love maps.

There is a story that surfaced several years ago about a newly married couple. It makes a strong point concerning the development of love behaviors and interaction patterns within families.

In preparation for their first big dinner with both sets of parents and grandparents, the new husband was puzzled as he watched his bride put the ham in the oven. He inquired of her, “Honey, why did you cut the ham in half and then put it in the pan?”

She replied, “Oh, I don’t know…I suppose because that’s how Mom always did it. It must help it cook faster or something.”

At dinner that evening, the bride asked her mother, “Mom, why do you cut the ham in half before you bake it?”

The mother, baffled by her daughter’s question, thoughtfully replied, “I suppose it’s because that’s always how my mom did it.”  All eyes in the room turned on the bride’s grandmother for an explanation.

The grandmother, quite amused, chuckled and said, “When I was first married I didn’t have a pan large enough for the ham to fit in—so I always cut it into two halves and just kept doing it that way. I guess I just got accustomed to making ham that way!”

As this story illustrates, more often than not we don’t give much thought to our behaviors. We do them simply because that’s how we’ve become accustomed to doing them. We do them because this is what we’ve been taught, because it’s what we’ve so often observed.

So it is with much of what makes up marriage, intimate relationships, and family life—we love others and allow others to love us the way we learned from the families that raised us. We communicate the ways we were taught to. We parent the way we were parented. We argue the ways we were taught to. We manage finances the way we were taught to. We express intimacy the way we were taught to. We cope with stress and crises the way we were taught to.

Experience by experience, your love map is written. And this becomes a part of who you are. It becomes your set of expectations, it becomes your marriage script.

Now, all is fine and dandy if we marry someone who was raised exactly like us. But this isn’t reality, is it?

What are some ways that you and your partner differ in the ways that you love each other?

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"I thought you had the map?"

No two people in a relationship experience or express their love in exactly the same ways. And to complicate things even more, you can love the same person in different ways at different times. This is because as you grow from infancy through old age, your concept of “love” is under construction, continuously developing over time. Ultimately, you develop your own, unique “definition” of love.

Experience after experience—from the parent-child relationship, to friendships, to boyfriends and girlfriends (and ex’s), to sexual hookups, to marriages that work and marriages that don’t/didn’t—you create a love map, or a playbook. This map is then internalized and made a part of you.

Your love map is kind of like a mental blueprint. It’s your one-of-a-kind image of what love is and isn’t. Whether you realize it or not, you use this love map to help you determine who you want to date or to marry. You use it when you begin to question if you’re “in love” with someone.

And just as important, you use the love map to determine if a relationship is over, because if elements in your love map are violated (such as trust or respect) or not fulfilled (like humor or sex), you eventually “fall out” of love.

Because your love map is an integral part of who you are, it almost always directs each and every aspect of your intimate relationships. Your love map also drives the motives behind your relationship patterns and interactions.

For example, a wife could certainly do something for her husband, she can do an unexpected act of kindness like making a cup of coffee for him in the morning—but what if her love map is written in such a way that if she gives something to her partner, she expects something in return?  And what if he doesn’t know what’s written on her love map, that she expects something back?

The first important step in divorce-proofing a marriage is to identify your love map, and to have an understanding of your partner’s love map.

Big. Huge. Important.

Are you ready to take your marriage to a level that few couples experience?

Create a love list: Take a few minutes to jot down 10 key attributes that you consider central for a committed love relationship to thrive (such as, trust, respect, humor, support, sex, etc).

Rank the order of importance of your chosen attributes, with 1 being the most important.

How does your list compare to your partner’s?  Do each of you share identical lists with identical rankings? In what ways does this help you to better understand your partner?

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"I have a weakness for, adore, worship, am devoted to, have a passion for, am fond of you!"

The hubs and I got into a particularly heated argument one day because I thought he should have jumped to my defense in a situation…and instead, he just kind of sat there, mute…and, well, bored. How could he?! If he loved me, he would have known I needed his help to get myself out of that situation!


I accused him of not loving me.

Several minutes later I found him to apologize (that’s an improvement….at the start of our marriage it would have taken me about four days to admit that I was wrong). He was crushed because he couldn’t understand how I could accuse him of not loving me.

But it wasn’t that he didn’t love me. It was that he didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved.

That really got me thinking. What did it mean when I said “I love you” to him?

The next day day I jotted down how many times I use the word “love” to describe how I feel about something.  I “love” God.  I “love” my husband and kids, my family and friends.  I “love” buttered movie popcorn (thank you, Paula Deen, for removing the butter stigma/shame for all of womankind).  I “love” teaching and writing and autumn and the prairie and college football and classical music and Donny Osmond and the Caribbean and hearing a newborn baby cry and Starbuck’s iced tea. As I thought about it, it seemed to me that I pretty much “loved” anyone and anything that didn’t make me sad or mad…and that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

So I searched the thesaurus to see how “love” is defined. It looked like the dictionary/thesaurus gurus didn’t have any more insight than I did because this crazy little thing called love has been given over 20 different definitions!  Apparently, when I say that I love chocolate, what I’m really saying is that I “have a weakness for” chocolate. That I’m “fond of” chocolate.  And that I’m “devoted to” or “adore” chocolate!   Then it dawned on me. Most of the time I tend to use the word love when I really mean that I prefer something or enjoy something or like something. Back to square one.

Now, the Greeks were really deep thinkers and paid attention to stuff like this (I attribute this to the fact that, with a name like Aristotle, you really have no choice but to be a philosopher), and they came up with different words to distinguish between the different types of love. But we’re not that fortunate–in the English language, we only have one word for love.  When we say “I love you” to someone, we almost always assume that they assign the same meaning or definition to “love” as we do. And for most people, that’s the ground-zero problem in their intimate relationships and marriages.


Big. Huge.Problem.




I learned this the hard way.  I had a southern mamma, and a person couldn’t walk through the room without her saying “luuuuv ya!”  We were (and still are) a lovey, touchy, kissy, huggy, feely kind of family.  But my husband’s family….well, that’s another story. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this about my husband’s upbringing.  So fast forward several months in our dating relationship, to when I had decided it was time someone in the relationship said “I love you.”

I did. First. And he responded. Several seconds later.

“Thanks.” Thanks?  Thanks??!! I responded.  Several seconds later.  ”You’re welcome………I think.”

Over time, he tried to express his love for me. But it always seemed to fall short of what I was accustomed to, what I was taught by my family what love and expressing love is. Hurt, frustration, emptiness, and feelings that my love needs weren’t being met, I questioned every aspect of our marriage. Over time, I realized that the way he loved wasn’t his fault. He was expressing his love for me the only way he knew how–the way he was taught to love by his family. This was the turning point in our young marriage.

Love isn’t something you do–it’s an integral part of who you are.

What are some ways that you were taught to love?  Have you ever considered that love isn’t something that you do, but that it’s instead a part of who you are?

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Everything That Comes with It


I admit it—I was the little girl who used to create Barbie doll wedding dresses out of toilet paper.  I was the little girl who pinned a pillow case “wedding veil” to her pony tail, and I was the little girl who, when asked by her ice skating instructor what she wanted to practice, said, “Let’s practice walking down the aisle!”

Falling in love.  Marriage.  Babies.  I had my entire life planned out by the time I was six years old.  Is it any wonder I had to have the wedding of the century (second only to Princess Diana, of course)?  My winter wedding day, complete with snow, was spectacular.  Perfect.  Flawless.  I was locked arm in arm with my dad, and the wedding planner was making sure my gown would make its magnificent statement (actually, in 1981 we didn’t have wedding planners….but I’m fairly certain he would have been a wedding planner if there were such a thing back then).

The music was just about to cue my entrance, and

It.  Happened.

As I tried to step toward the doors waiting to be opened by the wedding planner wannabe, my dad hesitated.  He wouldn’t budge.  At first I thought he was just trying to slow me down a bit (he had been, after all, telling me to be still and quiet down since I was about two years old).  In a panic, I looked at Dad and said, “Are you okay?”   He took a deep breath.

Oh. No.  I knew that sigh.  I knew that sigh always preceded a lecture, correction, admonishment.  Why now?  Didn’t he maybe kind of sort of think this might not be such a good time?  Couldn’t he have maybe kind of sort of told me what he wanted to say, oh, I don’t know, like a month before? Or at the rehearsal dinner?  Or the morning of the wedding?  The doors opened and I gave him an I’m-kind-of-busy-right-now-Dad-can-this-wait-oh-no-you’re-going-to-say-it-anyway-this-can’t-be-happening-everyone’s-looking-at-us look(s).

Gently, like loving daddies do, he drew me into his side and whispered in my ear, “When you take your first step down this aisle, you must do so as if the word ‘divorce’ does not exist–you must enter this marriage knowing that divorce is a possibility, but something that should be your very last resort.  Because after today, I can guarantee you that along with the happiness and joy you are feeling this very moment, this marriage will bring with it sorrow.  There will be heartbreak, there will be difficulties, there might even be tragedy.  Before you walk down the aisle, you must know in your heart that marriage–and everything that comes with it–is truly what you want.”

I would like to be able to say that I melted into his arms and thanked him over and over for his wisdom.  But, using my wedding bouquet to point toward the altar, all I could manage to get out was, “Ummmm….Okay.  Thanks.  Can we go now?”  And, like loving daddies do, he squeezed me, chuckled, and said, “I love you Chickie.  Let’s go get ‘em.”

Realistically speaking, none of us is equipped to tackle the “everything” that comes with intimate relationships and marriage.  We change.  We grow.  And we soon come to discover that the “everything” is actually quite different from what we expected.  In desperation, we consider divorce because the “everything” just hurts too much. It’s just too much work to make it right again.

But guess what–you can divorce proof your marriage.  You can have a marriage or an intimate relationship that doesn’t just survive, but one that thrives. You can experience a sex life that is almost never dull or boring.  You can be a terrific parent.  And you can leave your kids a legacy that no amount of money can ever buy….a foundation upon which they will someday build their own marriages and relationships.

About now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Here we go again, same-old-same-old tired marriage advice.”

Nope.  I won’t waste your time with that stuff, because it doesn’t work.

You see, the problem with existing books, TV talk show gurus, radio shows, and marriage or engagement weekend retreats is that they assume in their one-size-fits-all fixes that everyone defines “love,” “marriage,” or “sex” in the same way they do.  That’s why this stuff flops–almost always.

By writing with the notion that everyone follows the same pathway to marriage (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ______ pushing the baby carriage), books like The Love Dare and He’s Just Not That Into You reduce love, sex, and the “everything” of intimate relationships to something we do, instead of showing us how and why these experiences are a part of who we are.

Follow me through this blog. Spend some time with me and discover how, from the parent-child love bond, to friendships, to ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, or lovers, every past relationship writes your marriage scripts.

Come alongside and see how you can know–really, really know–who you are as a lover and who your intimate partner is.  Learn what it truly means to vow to “love” or to “honor” or to “care” for that person you’re thinking about marrying, or that person you’re already married to.  Hang out here for a few weeks, and you’ll discover how you can commit to the commitment….even when the “everything” makes it seemingly impossible to do so.