Categories
Fashion Lookbook

Tracing Virgil Abloh’s career through his finest work

From Pyrex and Been Trill, to Off-White and Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh gave new meaning to what it means to make clothing. To give Abloh the title of just a fashion designer does not do him justice. He was more than that. Powerful in his execution, he not only borrowed from fashion but from art, music, architecture, and dared to merge genres in his collaborations while producing era-defining pieces in his collections. At the height of his career, it was as though Abloh had always known that his days on earth would soon come to an end. The designer, who died of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, a little over a month ago at the age of 41, accomplished more in his career of nearly 15 years than most would long for in a lifetime.

Abloh’s fashion career didn’t pick up until he was 29, when he started an internship at Fendi and established a close working relationship with Kanye West. As he worked his way up, breaking through fashion’s high walls, Abloh became a focal point for hypebeasts, streetwear enthusiasts, and people who had been excluded from the industry. Becoming the first Black person to head up French fashion house, Louis Vuitton, was almost revolutionary. His designs and existence in the fashion industry set up a direct line for young people.

Abloh’s work was not always met with admiration. He received much criticism of plagiarism and disdain, which was prompted by the inception of cancel culture. It would be easy to say that Abloh’s legacy is unimportant because of this. But it is what he epitomized and symbolized that were the authentic devices he used in breaking through boundaries. In honor of his impactful work, we highlight Abloh’s career and fashion footprint through his most iconic designs of our time.

Watch the Throne

[caption Description: Watch the Throne album cover.] Via RobbReport

In 2011, Kanye West hired Abloh as the creative director of his agency, DONDA. Abloh was responsible for designing a few albums covers such as Yeezus and, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Of the artworks he designed, Watch the Throne, is probably one of the most memorable. Abloh created the gold-foiled artwork for Jay Z and Kanye’s project, winning a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.

Off-White

[caption Description: Virgil Abloh at the Spring-Summer 2019 Off-White show in Paris. ] Via RobbReport

In 2013 Abloh launched his label Off-White. The label merged both streetwear and high fashion which was seen as unprecedented at the time. The Milan-based label soon gained a huge following, and now has some 49 store locations around the world.

Nike and Off-White collaboration

[caption Description: Nike x Off-White Air Jordan 1.] Via RobbReport

With a collection of ten sneakers in collaboration with Nike in 2017, Abloh earned his title as the master of hype. The Nike x Off-White Air Jordan 1 was the first release where Abloh applied his signature design motifs. Abloh also designed 50 sneakers for Nike along with creating the tulle-skirted look worn by Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open.

Appointed Artistic Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton

[caption Description: Kayne West and Virgil Abloh attending the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring Summer 2019.] Via RobbReport

In 2018 Abloh was appointed as the Artistic Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton, becoming the first Black designer to lead a major luxury brand. His opening polychromatic collection was presented on a rainbow runway at the Palais-Royale gardens during Paris Fashion Week.

$1 Million raised to Support Black Students

[Virgil Abloh.] Via RobbReport
In 2020, Abloh raised $1 million through the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF). The funds will provide scholarships for black people who seek to work in fashion.

LVMH Invests in Off-White

[Image Description: LVMH invests in Off-White.] Via RobbReport
Earlier this year, LVMH announced plans to attain 60 percent shares in Off-White. The luxury corporation also gave Abloh a new role, expanding his domain of influence to reach all 75 of LVMH’s brands. This move made Abloh the most influential black executive in the industry, allowing him to work across LVMH’s portfolio, such as watches, spirits, and hospitality.

 

Virgil Abloh’s revolutionized the fashion industry and the way we dress, helping find a place for those who felt like outsiders in the fashion sphere. His career achievements and formidable impact in music, art, and design will be forever remembered.

Categories
Mind Mental Health Health Spilling The Zodiac Tea Wellness

Let this be your (zodiac) sign to practice self-care this week

Follow our Zodiac series for everything astrology related. We’re Spillin’ the Zodiac T! Stay tuned for the juice.

Self-care. At this point, we’ve all heard the phrase, but how many of us actually practice it? No matter how busy our days are, self-care should always be a priority, especially because it’s a surefire way of mentally, physically, and emotionally de-stressing. Taking time for ourselves may seem selfish, but it’s necessary in order to maintain our mental wellness and wellbeing.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start with self-care. Tonight, let your sun sign be your guide and start with these self-care suggestions.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

[Image Description: Gif of a woman dancing in her bedroom while wearing her pants in a comical way] Via Giphy
Aries, do you hear that? It’s the sound of music that makes you want to get up and dance. That’s right, it’s dance night! Put on your comfiest, most breathable clothes and bust a move. Individual sports might be your typical jam, but tonight is all about freeing yourself from the limitations of competition and just enjoying the moment. Should the need for choreography arise, go with it—but, for the most part, don’t think, just dance!

Whether you skip the dancing portion of tonight’s self-care schedule or you take advantage of every second, be sure to stretch. In addition to relieving stress, stretching regularly increases the blood flow to your muscles, improves your posture, and expands your range of motion. Stay motivated by setting stretching goals!

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

[Image description: Gif of Billie Eilish blowing out a candle] Via Giphy
Taurus, I believe your favorite scented candle is calling your name. Tonight, we’re focusing on what pleasures we can derive from each of our senses—starting with smell. If candles aren’t your thing anymore, try aromatherapy. Take stock of what your body would benefit from, and then choose an essential oil that fits the bill. Try peppermint if you need an energy boost, rose to reduce anxiety, chamomile to relax, or ylang-ylang to soothe a headache.

Another aromatherapy option is a luxurious bubble bath. Select a bath salt or bath bomb with a scent that will treat your senses right and then enjoy for as long as it takes for the stress to leave your shoulders—or for the heat to leave the water. Maybe even bring along a delectable book as you take the time to focus on what you’ve been putting off: you!

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

[Image description: Gif of Captain Holt walking with three women in Brooklyn Nine-Nine] Via Giphy
Geminis, I challenge you to tap into your well of curiosity and take a walk around your neighborhood. Rather than tread your usual trail, embark on a route you’ve never taken before. As you walk, keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes open for a couple of strangers to greet. Don’t be shy, say hello, and follow the paths of conversation. Interacting with new people can introduce us to pieces of the world we’ve yet to experience.

If quarantine is still in effect in your neighborhood, try out Window Swap! Click through until you find a view that brings you contentment. Then find a journal and write a short story about whose window you’re peering through. Let your imagination wander, and your creativity take you to places you’ve never been before.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

[Image description: Gif of the House of Evangelista cheersing to family in Pose] Via Giphy
Cancers, it could be time for another visit with your family—whether in-person or digitally. Check in with your loved ones and share how you’ve been doing. Even if you just called them yesterday, call them again today and tell them about something that brought you joy or peace. Or open up about something that made you sad or anxious. Cancers care deeply for others and thrive when helping their loved ones, so take the time to do that.

If you’re not feeling chatty today, listen to a podcast instead. There are so many to choose from, and it could be time to finally start one you’ve been meaning to listen to for a while now. As you listen, go for a drive, a bike ride, or a walk and savor the vastness of the sky.

Leo (July 23 – August 24)

[Image description: Gif of Winston from New Girl doing a puzzle while singing, “Puzzling. Winston is about to do some puzzling.”] Via Giphy
Leos, I challenge you to find the hardest puzzle you can. Then spend time every day for the next couple of weeks putting it together. It can be overwhelming to approach a task thinking we need to solve every problem or tick off every to-do in one sitting. By giving yourself time and space to piece together this puzzle, you’ll be able to live in the moment and find contentment with the progress you’re making.

Another way for Leos to check their progress is to re-watch a nostalgic movie or show (or read a book) from your childhood. Going down memory lane can be a fun way to reflect on who you were, where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come as a person. Write down a few of your thoughts as you watch/read. In a couple of years, return to those thoughts to track how you continue to grow and evolve.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

[Image description: Gif of a person attempting to organize a litter of kittens] Via Giphy
My fellow Virgos, sometimes we just need to find a way to turn off our overly critical brains. I challenge us to volunteer at our local animal shelter—if quarantine guidelines allow for it in our communities. My local shelter is always looking for people to walk dogs, socialize cats, clean, fundraise, and even foster a pet. Find where your skillset will shine and apply to volunteer. While self-care is about ourselves, focusing on others can help get us out of our heads.

Animals aren’t really your thing? Then let’s get organized! Rather than tidy up what we both know is probably already alphabetized and colorized, sort through your belongings and start making a pile of items you no longer want or need. There’s a reason why spring cleaning is a tradition that continues year after year.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

[Image description: Gif of Daria and her family from Daria playing a board game] Via Giphy
Libras, it’s time for a game night! Send a quick text to the group chat to let your pals know you’re hosting. When picking out the games, choose ones like 20 Questions, This or That, Two Truths and A Lie, and other conversational games that will lead to insurmountable discussions amongst you and your friends. Go deep or keep it light—either way, fun will be had. The best part about game night is it’s quarantine-friendly if you need to go digital.

If you’re friend group just recently had a game night, try a book club. Pick a book you think everyone will love—or hate, if you want to spice the conversation up—then be sure to chat about it every few chapters or so.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

[Image description: Gif of TWICE cooking and dancing] Via Giphy
Tonight, Scorpios, I challenge you to first cancel all of your plans. Say no to what people are asking of you as a way of practicing boundaries. You are natural leaders and great friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put yourself first from time to time. Once you’ve opened up your night, stay in and cook up that recipe you’ve been meaning to make. Focus on the directions the recipe gives and let the mindless tasks of chopping, dicing, and other prep work help quiet your mind. If you’ve been looking for a release of some sort, be sure onions are in your recipe to give yourself an excuse to cry.

Or, take a break from the kitchen and order takeout from a restaurant you’ve never tried before. Get out of your comfort zone and ask for menu recommendations from the maître d’ before placing your order. And who knows, this new restaurant could become your new go-to spot!

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

[Image description: Gif of a man attempting to cross a river, slipping on a rock, and falling into the water] Via Giphy
Sagittarius, we both know you’ve been clamoring to get out of the house and back into nature. This isn’t much of a challenge for you but schedule a hike for this weekend. Pick a trail you’ve been wanting to trek but haven’t had the chance to. If you’re feeling social, invite a few friends to join you and let the conversation flow between deep chats about the meaning of life to observations about what you see as you enjoy the great outdoors.

If trails are still closed near you, watch a nature or travel documentary that’s been hanging out unwatched on your streaming watchlists. Afterward, write down a couple of things you learned or what is inspiring you to plan your next trip abroad.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

[Image description: Gif of Alina Landry Rancier wearing a leaf crown and holding a house plant] Via Giphy
Capricorns, you are very responsible and disciplined individuals, which makes me think you’re ready for a new houseplant! Studies have shown that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity and providing a soothing sense of natural calm. Build a watering routine for your new plant friend—and consider singing to them as part of that routine.

If you’re not ready to add another plant to your collection, then a good old-fashioned deep cleaning session is another way to put your mind at ease. Cleaning is one of those tasks that are always on the to-do list while doubling as a destresser. Just don’t forget to make a new playlist before you start!

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

A woman dances while the words,
[Image description: Gif of Debra from Three Busy Debras saying, “Let’s do face masks”] Via Giphy
Aquarius, it’s time for a detox night! I challenge you to stock up on some face masks—or, better yet, find an easy-to-make face mask recipe online and concoct it with a few of your closest confidants. As you assemble, chat about what’s been happening in your lives lately. The combination of being with your friends and getting to show off your listening skills will help calm any nerves from earlier that day. I know you’re not always fond of expressing your emotions, Aquarius, but practice being open and vulnerable, too.

Since you thrive when you get to help others, brainstorm a couple of action items you and your friends can implement to help resolve any problems you vent about during detox night. Sometimes getting something off your chest is resolution enough, but just in case, make sure everyone leaves feeling like they can tackle what life throws at them next.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

[Image description: Gif of Phoebe from Friends putting on a hand-knitted scarf while saying, “Scarf is done!”] Via Giphy
Pisces, it’s time to treat yourself to that arts and crafts project you’ve been eyeing on Etsy. Buy it or try to do your own version with the supplies you have at home. Put on your favorite music album and let your brain go quiet as you complete your project from start to finish.

Not sure what your project should be? Try embroidery, paint by numbers, or making your own clay earrings. If you’re an experienced crafter, teach yourself a more advanced skillset: look up a new knitting pattern, try a more complex candle mold, or dabble in more detailed printmaking. The world is your oyster, Pisces, so take advantage of all the projects there are still to do.

Self-care isn’t just important. It’s crucial for our health. Start building self-care into your daily routine so that you can be a better, stronger, and more present you for yourself and your loved ones.

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Categories
Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

Categories
Editor's Picks Life Stories Books Pop Culture

How my brain tumor affected my career as a thriller writer

“I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.”

Such a tired opening. I was wearing a hospital gown, sitting up in a gurney, playing with a surgical glove that I’d blown up and decorated with a smiley face. It was a month shy of my eighteenth birthday.

“I’ll start with the bad news.”

I wasn’t worried, I was bored. I was rife with teenage invincibility, and nothing serious was ever going to happen to me. I fiddled with the blown-up glove.

“You have a brain tumor.”

Stop.

My hearing went fuzzy. I could feel myself falling. The doctor must have told me the good news, but I didn’t hear another word. Tears sprang from my eyes. The planet stopped spinning.

I fix things. It’s what I do, and I was suddenly faced with something I couldn’t fix. Most of the doctors I saw in the coming weeks made it clear that I may not make it. The tumor could kill me, the surgery could kill me, but either way, the “me” I had always known, was already dead. My life will forever be split into two pieces, before the tumor and after. Whether or not I would survive was out of my hands, but this diagnosis forced me to make a choice. I could stay the person I’d been, or I could change.

I wasn’t proud of myself at that age. Adults and authority figures were always telling me about this magical thing I had that I was choosing to waste, this glorious, life-affirming gift I was given. A gift I had elected not to open. Potential.

I could have been a great student if I just tried. I could have been an outstanding athlete if I just quit smoking and went to practice. I could have been an upstanding citizen if I just surrounded myself with more savory individuals. I had the potential to be great. And that’s precisely why I chose not to open that gift. Because what would happen if I tried to live up to my potential and failed? I’d have nothing left. So, I kept it tied up in a box, I stuffed it under my bed, and I told myself that I would go get it one day if I needed it.

After seeing the best doctors in the best hospitals in New York City, and having them all tell me that there’s a chance I’ll survive, and if I do I’ll have to relearn how to walk, the left half of my face will never work again, I’ll be half deaf, and all of this will happen only if I’m not a vegetable—I wrote a will. I did it during statistics class with a turquoise pen, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to give anyone. So, that was the day I reached under my bed and pulled out the box. The only thing I had to leave was a legacy, and I didn’t want to leave a tarnished one.

Seventeen years after my brain surgery, I published my first book, The Blind. Eighteen months after that, I published my second book, Once a Liar. Both books follow characters who are faced with a life-changing event.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Br-9TYslpie/

Sam James in The Blind receives a diagnosis that devastates her, and she has to choose if she will remain the person she used to be, or if she will live up to her potential. The journey is arduous—it’s easier to keep the box under your bed—but on her way, she learns the truth about herself. With that truth, with that forgiveness of who she really is, comes peace.

Peter Caine, the main character in Once a Liar, spent the bulk of his legal career defending the indefensible, and his life-changing moment comes when the tables turn, and he is accused of a brutal murder. To prove his innocence, and to be believed, Peter has to change from the person he has been, into the person he can be.

Three months after surgery, I walked across the stage at my high school graduation and collected my diploma. Two months later I backpacked around Europe, and then I started college. I survived. The recovery was grueling and lasted a decade.

My survival led to a career in psychology, a love and appreciation for everything I have, and a drive to achieve whatever I can with my limited time here. As an author, I put my characters through personal ringers, to see how they will come out on the other side. My characters are human, and they, like real people, love to keep potential partially or completely untapped.

It’s safe there, tucked under the bed, but if you never try, you’ll never really know who you are and who you can be.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

In a world that is always moving and changing, battling mental illness can be all the harder

Trigger Warning: This article mentions periods of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. 

The festive season has just ended, and much like last year, I have made sure to spend as little time as possible on social media. I don’t want to be reminded of my aloneness during this time.

Last year, I forced myself to deactivate my Facebook account and every now and then, I would check my Twitter account especially for any interesting news (or opportunities to write). That tended to be depressing because much of the world is just topsy-turvy right now. Wars, corruption, slavery and various other injustices. Staying abreast with what’s happening around us can be overwhelming.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Some social media users took the time to reflect on the past year and what they had accomplished. Some had signed book deals. Some had stories win writing competitions. Some had been promoted at work. Some had gotten new jobs. Some had traveled the world. Some had signed modeling contracts with prestigious agencies. Some had bought their first home. Some got their driver’s licenses. Some bought their first cars. Some had started their own companies. Some had received scholarships to pursue further studies or attend certain workshops abroad.  They had a productive year.

I, on the other hand, had spent the year battling suicidal ideation. I struggled with fighting my addiction to smoking and at some point, I seemed to be replacing this form of self-medication with alcohol. On top of my life being turbulent, I discovered that a loved one, who has been a great source of emotional support, had been diagnosed with cancer. As their life was involuntarily reorganized, so too, was our relationship. I could no longer dump my emotional baggage on her because “the negativity” would not provide a space conducive enough for her to come to terms with her illness and find her way on this new path.

This meant I had to learn to be my main source of emotional edification and that was hard. Last year – like many other years that have gone by – was a battlefield for me. On most days, I struggled to get out of bed. My panic attacks and social anxiety spiked. In that process, I also managed to mutate into a raging bull where my anger would become more heated when I was menstruating. I made use of various means – some healthier than others – to help me take the urge off and one of them was music. As calming as it often was, certain music often resulted in me thinking about my dead mother (and my break-up with God) and feeling as if I was in solitary confinement. Those moments always ended up with drenched pillows and puffy eyes.

While I have learned to be kinder to myself and allow myself to stay in bed if my lethargic body refuses to get up, I would be lying if I said I do not regret that, when I am in a better emotional space. I know that allowing myself to be in that emotional rut is an important part of the process of getting better. Still, I also feel that our society makes it a bit hard for us not to beat ourselves up for that “unproductive” period. The world around us is fast-paced and we feel under pressure to move with it. We need to be quickly figuring out solutions to our problems, we need to quickly get up when we fall and continue in the race. When one falls or allows themselves to take a breather when they feel burdened or unfit to effectively function in society, one can’t help but worry if it ends up looking as if they spent way too much time in that state. I don’t know about others, but I know I worry about this.

I know that expecting the world to slow down while we nurse our wounds is hoping against hope. And the truth is we are humans who are wired to compare our lives to others’. It is inevitable that I will beat myself up when I see that while I slept in other people were conquering the world. I guess all one can do, and to ensure that they don’t end up lapsing into another bout of depression over their mental battles, is to remind themselves of the reasons why their year, in retrospect, may not seem as productive or fruitful as others.

Categories
Love + Sex Love Wellness

5 pressing questions about HPV – answered

I was sitting at my desk when I got the call.

Fuck, I thought. Any call from a doctor’s office is the wrong kind of call to be receiving on a Monday afternoon. I swallowed my nerves, pretended I had to pee, and picked up the phone. “Everything’s normal,” my gynecologist said. “Except, your Pap smear results are irregular. It looks like you have HPV.”

I was flabbergasted. HPV? I have a Jewish mother neurotic enough to have ensured I received an HPV vaccine years ago! And, although it’d been a fairly promiscuous autumn, I always practice safe sex.

“Don’t worry,” my gynecologist continued, “most people get it HPV at some point in their lives. It’s pretty much the tax you pay for being a sexually active adult. You don’t have to divulge anything to sexual partners.”

HPV might be common, but having a condition linked to cancer is painstaking news for your everyday hypochondriac. If you have HPV and you’re as confused and scared as what I was, you probably have some questions. Allow me to answer them for you!

Question 1: Do I have cancer?

An ivy going into a woman's hand at the hospital.
[Image description: An ivy going into a woman’s hand at the hospital.] Via unspash

Probably not! At least, not yet. Although HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, the CDC estimates that about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60% of penile cancers, if you’ve been tested and your pap came back irregular, you do not have cancer. Repeat: you do not have cancer.

What you have are some irregular cells that, left untreated, could eventually lead to cancer. That’s why it’s so important to be screened yearly.

Question 2: Now what do I do?

A lab testing some results.
[Image description: A lab testing some results.] Via unplash

The protocol for preventing cervical cancer depends on your age. If you’re under twenty-five, the doctor will most likely repeat testing in a year to monitor the irregular cells. If the pap comes back to reveal LSIL (low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion), which could be considered the next step up in seriousness, you may have to return for another test in six months. No biggie.

If your pap comes back as HSIL (high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion), the next step would most likely be a colposcopy, followed by a biopsy if necessary. This is to thoroughly screen for precancerous and cancerous cells your doctor would treat with surgery if necessary.

Unfortunately that’s really all you can do.

Question 3: What’s the deal with penises?

A doctor and a patient, filling in forms.
[Image description: A doctor and a patient, filling in forms.] Via unsplash

You might have heard that you can only have HPV if you have a cervix. This isn’t true.

If you have a penis, you can absolutely get it, carry it, and transmit it. Not only that, but it can, albeit rarely, lead to cancers of the penis, anus, and oropharynx. The twist is, there is no test currently available to screen for HPV for those who have penises.

Question 4: Can I get HPV if I’ve had the vaccine?

A doctor looking at some results.
[Image description: A doctor looking at some results.] Via unsplash

Yes.

Unfortunately, the vaccine only protects against certain strains of the virus. Thankfully, those strains are HPV 16 and 18, the deadliest forms of HPV.

It’s still worth getting the vaccine – but do it when you’re young. Doctors stop recommending the HPV vaccine to women once they’ve reached their mid 20s. Gardasil is FDA-approved only through age 26, with the thinking that by that time folks have had enough sex that they’re probably already exposed to the virus and won’t reap the benefits.

[bctt tweet=”You can still get HPV if you’ve had the vaccine, because the vaccine only protects against certain strains of the virus. Thankfully, those strains are the deadliest forms of HPV.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Question 5: Do I have to tell my partner?

A man and a woman sitting together at a cafe.
[Image description: A man and a woman sitting together at a cafe.] Via unsplash

Due to my doctor’s original advice that fateful day in January, I have not told all my sexual partners that I have HPV.  After all, they probably already have it. However, most of the time, surprise sexcapade aside, I did divulge the information, figuring the truth is important, especially when it comes to your health.

Admitting I had a sexually transmitted disease didn’t feel great in the moment, but I was happily surprised to find that most of the guys dated were already pretty clued-up on STIs.

Before my current partner and I had sex, we made sure to do our research. We talked to our respective doctors and together, through open and honest communication, settled on a game plan.

My advice? Talk to your partners, people! It’s only fair to provide them with facts, and when push comes to shove, HPV is not a deal breaker.

Finding out you have HPV can be scary, but once you understand the facts and do some research, you’ll feel more at ease. Arming yourself with knowledge – whether you have it or not – is always a good idea when it comes to sexual health.

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Editor's Picks Health Care Gender & Identity Love Life Stories Wellness

Am I allowed to use the c-word?

“It’s not cancer, but it’s kind of like cancer. It may as well be cancer.”

This is a phrase I’ve used more often than one would expect.

I had a rare blood disease, caused by a complication of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, called Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). With this autoimmune disease, cells that are supposed to fight infections instead destroy healthy cells, rendering the body’s immune system useless. An infected bug bite once landed me in the hospital for 3 nights because the infection progressed so aggressively. Once or twice a year, I’d spend a week at a time in the hospital for fevers that may have started as a common cold but now threatened my life.

It’s not cancer, but I received chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

In the summer of 2015, after years of on and off hospitalization, I met with a team of oncologists. The disease does not include any cancerous cells, but it’s similar to leukemia, as it’s a disease of the blood. According to this HLH support site, “When HLH patients are initially being worked up for a diagnosis, they often hear from their doctors to hope for leukemia because it has a higher survival rate of 80-90% while HLH has a survival rate of 30-50% at best.”

It’s fair to say I know what it’s like to be a cancer patient. I lived in the pediatric oncology ward for 5 weeks, followed by 100 days of reverse isolation at home. My hair began to fall out in clumps. I had weird bruises and discoloration all over my body. I was so weak that I couldn’t get out of bed and roll my IV pole to the bathroom, causing me to pee the bed on more than one occasion. I became so disgusted with my own body that I wouldn’t shower.

I didn’t want to see myself.

I’ve received support from cancer patients who have gone through surgeries and chemotherapy. Both online and in real life, I’ve made friends who I’ve commiserated with about the nightmare that is being sick. I have friends I keep in touch with to this day who I can discuss the lasting emotional impact of this type of health crisis with.

My friends with cancer have given me full permission to ‘play the cancer card’ whenever I need to. (Example: “Sorry, I’m late for work. I had cancer.”) To use the word cancer basically communicates the health crisis I have been through. Yet, it doesn’t quite feel right. My main reason is that there’s really no chance of me having a relapse. Technically, I’m in remission, but I’m essentially considered cured because of the chance of a relapse is so small it’s practically nonexistent.

When I say have cancer, I can only think of my friend who I lost to cancer in February.

My journey to health was fairly straightforward and my time in the hospital had an expiration date. Hers, however, did not. She never knew if she would ever be done with treatment. When she received test results, she was terrified. I had confidence that I would be okay in time, and she did not.  I’ve always felt like my use of the word “cancer” to describe my illness co-opts the phrase. Sure, it’s an easy way to shine a light on what I’ve been through, but it’s not exactly accurate.

When I think about my friend who lost her life to cancer, it feels wrong for me to use the word. It’s similar to my experience, but not quite the same.

I’ve been given the greenlight by other cancer patients and survivors to freely use the c-word. To my loved ones who supported me and sat at my bedside while I vomited during chemo, it didn’t matter what you called it. Their experience, their emotions, and their fears were essentially the same as they would’ve been if it were cancer.

So, maybe I’m just afraid of the word myself. Maybe I don’t want to use the word because it’s so heavy, scary, and intense.

Still, the word “cancer” isn’t totally accurate. Rather than describing it as cancer, I’d prefer to take the time to have an open conversation about my personal experience.

Who knows – maybe speaking out about my experience could help another HLH patient feel less alone.

Categories
Tech Career Advice Now + Beyond

6 stages of reality when cancer bites your 30-something butt

The Doctor: “I am 99% sure you have lymphoma [cancer of the lymph nodes]. We have to do a biopsy.”

The Shock

What are you talking about? I’m only 38 years old. I’m the healthiest person I know – I eat clean, exercise… It’s just a cough!

The Denial

I’m 99% sure you’re an idiot. I’m getting a second opinion.

The Fear

What if they’re right? How soon will I die? How much will the treatment hurt?

The Anger

Why me? I give my time generously to others; I give my money generously to charity… Why the fuck am I the first of my 30-something friends to get cancer?

The Sadness

My kids… My husband… My mom… my sister… abandoning them. And the chemotherapy… they’re all going to see me struggle with pain, fatigue, and hair loss. It’s going to be so hard on all of us.

The Acceptance

Well, all I can do is put my faith in science and God and see where we end up.

The Reality

OK, so I’m sick. But that’s only part of my life. I’m also a mom, a wife and a badass boss lady. I’ve got things to do and places to be! The chemo means good days and bad – I’d say about half and half. I squeeze as much as I can into my good days.

I am extremely lucky: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is highly treatable and my prognosis is excellent. It took me some time to be thankful enough for this, of course.

I don’t want to make light of it – the bad days are bad. The nausea is under control (great meds!) but the fatigue is debilitating. For a bubbly busy bee like myself to be confined to bed because I cannot even roll over is hard, frustrating as hell. All my bones and joints ache. Then there’s the constant headache. My bad days are not actually dispersed – they come in blocks. So if the “badness” starts on Sunday, it could continue without reprieve until Thursday. I don’t feel better after a two-hour nap: I sleep and wake up feeling like shit. Do you know how demoralizing it is to wake up exhausted? And how lonely it is, on every level?

There’s also some irony in disease – everyone around you suddenly has a fucking PhD in cancer. They know why you got it – “it’s your diet”, “it’s your stress”, “it’s the pollution”, etc. and they know how to cure it – diet, water fast, affirmations, hypnosis, etc. My coping mechanism with all this (often conflicting) noise is to say – please share the clinical trials and I will look into it.

Well-meaning people keep telling me how strong I am – for the record, I know how strong I am. I am damn strong. And the universe knows it too. No reason to keep testing me!

And then on Day 6 or so post-chemo, the clouds will suddenly part and I’ll get a burst of energy. Hallelujah! And I start buzzing around doing my thing before the cycle starts again two weeks later.

What do I do?

I’m a full-time lota things! I have two babies; I am the chapter president of Ellevate, the world’s premier businesswomen’s network; I am the creator and host of podcast When Women Win which highlights awesome female role models; I am an angel investor, author and speaker. In summary, I’m busy.

The Silver Lining

It is critical to note that everybody’s experience with cancer is unique. For me, getting sick has also been a gift. I hear the groans and I know where you’re coming from. But please hear me out!

Cancer has forced me to slow down and re-evaluate my pace of life. My 2018 hashtag is #doless. I am a positive, energetic person with a natural tendency to say yes – but I am reigning that in. Just because I have a lot of energy does not mean I have to give it all away. I have learned that time is one’s most precious commodity and I am now trying to control it unapologetically. 17 years in the corporate world taught me a lot – but not this. I have to get better at saying no.

We stumble through life thinking that death is bad and is the opposite of life. That is simply not true. Death is the natural and inevitable conclusion of life. The opposite of life is fear. I had never felt fear until I was diagnosed.

Let’s noodle that for a bit: I’ve only just realized that I’ve never before felt fear – what an awesome job my parents did! But cancer will scare you – fear of going through pain, fear of inflicting pain on others… When I let my mind go into fear it is debilitating and depressing. This is the opposite of life. I’ve decided to own my fear: I let myself indulge in morbidity for short periods of time (minutes, not hours). I then assume control and focus on gratitude –  one’s situation can always be worse. I believe that three factors have helped me manage my fear:

1) Logic: my prognosis is good. And living in fear is so upsetting it must be harmful to my recovery (end goal).

2) Faith: I have a great medical team and am doing all that can be done. My life is divinely guided and I am always going in the best direction.

3) Optimism: I like feeling good!

When you lose your hair, it’s not just the from your head or face – no bikini wax necessary! Smooth as silk for months! Cancer patients also get free valet parking at hospitals – don’t knock the small wins!

The big one is kindness. I’ve been blown away by how wonderful the people around me have been. Even acquaintances I haven’t seen for years… Friends have been incredibly supportive by doing, not just talking. Although it seems all the love stops at IKEA’s door – I STILL can’t get anyone to go there for me!

Seriously though, the kindness has been humbling. And, it makes me wonder what a beautiful world it would be if we treated everyone like they were sick. Unlike cancer, kindness is contagious.

So…

I’m two-thirds of the way through my chemotherapy plan and have already learned a ton about life, about myself and about others. I have a new belief now: there is always something to feel thankful for.

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The World

Fertility clinics are huge part of women’s reproductive health, but they’re ruining women’s lives

One of the toughest hurdles a woman may have to face in her lifetime is infertility. As if that’s not enough, women are inundated by society’s expectations on motherhood, while also being fed false information that ultimately serves to make them feel like infertility is their fault. Undoubtedly, this can be a devastating experience. Many women turn to alternative methods of conception,  like tracking their ovulation, trying home remedies, going to fertility clinics and trying to preserve their eggs for possible in-vitro fertilization. For many women, fertility clinics are their last hope, be it for illness, old age, and other personal reasons. 

Imagine you are struggling to conceive a child, and you decide to trust a fertility clinic to store your eggs for possible in-vitro fertilization. Now imagine that your eggs were damaged due to mismanagement and that your chances of conceiving were forever ruined or severely set back. This is the reality of hundreds of women face due to devastating annual mishaps at fertility clinics. 

Both Cleveland University Hospital’s fertility center and the Pacific Fertility center had to disclose to their customers this month that due to temperature levels and other maintenance mishaps, their eggs and embryos were at significant risk for no longer being viable. This caused a world of devastation to many families who were probably on their last resort like Kate and Jeremy Plants, who were dealing with the devastating effects of ovarian cancer. To go through something as horrific and exhausting as cancer and then to hear that your only chances of having a biological family are extirpated due to the incompetence of a company; I can’t even begin to imagine what that detriment would feel like.

Now, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Pacific Fertility Center for this heinous mishap. According to the Washington Post, one year of storage in this facility costs almost $9,000, and that’s not including consultations, medicine, lab work, and the appraisal of a healthy embryo or egg. With the sheer number of eggs that are now conceivably damaged, this maintenance error has thrown millions of dollars down the drain for these families as well as caused insurmountable pain.

While a mistake is never purposeful, this is a pretty bad one that has ruined thousands of peoples lives. From ruined eggs to fertilization mishaps and switched embryos, these accidents continue to cast doubt on clinics nationwide with helping parents conceive. They look unprofessional, thoughtless, and to be quiet honest, they look a little evil. 

I’m not exactly sure what the right solution is in order to quel tensions, help these women, and restore faith in the capailities of these clinics, but something needs to be done so that women and families never have to go through this again. Fertility clinics are essential in upkeeping the scientific progess in regards to women’s health and they should act like it. Regulations should be tightened up to avoid frequent “low-risk mistakes” from reoccurring.  All we can hope is that this class-action lawsuit will make a difference and ensue change.  While you could never put a price on someone’s body, the money won would not only force these clinics foster new and secure regulations, but it could also fund more expensive treatments for women who may still have a chance or adoption costs for those who don’t.

Categories
Love Life Stories Advice

My brother died three years ago. So why do people want me to forget him?

Three years ago I lost my brother to cancer. Three years later and it still hurts. Sometimes it hurts like it was a fresh blow, other times it hurts like a healed spot that still remained tender. I wonder, is there really such a thing as getting over it? Some things are so profound that they change us. They impact us in such a way that they forever stay with us.

[bctt tweet=”Some things are so profound that they change us. They impact us in such a way that they forever stay with us. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

My brother died and we buried him, but that does not mean that he never existed. He is part of the fabric that makes up my memories and I don’t want to forget him. When he died, I promised myself that I’d never let his death be for nothing, that I would find a way to make his death meaningful. Whatever small way his death helped me grow would be a testament to his life.

[bctt tweet=”My brother died and we buried him but that does not mean that he never existed. He is part of the fabric that makes up my memories and I don’t want to forget him.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Watching him battle a disease as perverse as cancer was not easy. Watching my parents’ hearts break a million times over everyday was worse. There are no words to describe the feeling of impotency that comes with seeing some one you love suffer and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

[bctt tweet=”There are no words to describe the feeling of impotency that comes with seeing some one you love suffer and not being able to do a damn thing about it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

As more time passes, it becomes clearer that talking about him makes people uncomfortable. After some time, society expects you to move on, and by this they mean never mention the dead ever again. Like they never existed except in your mind.

[bctt tweet=”It is clear that talking about the dead makes people uncomfortable. Society expects you to move on: and by this they mean never mention the dead ever again. Like they never existed except in your mind” username=”wearethetempest”]

Not only is this hypocritical because we all know we never forget the ones we love, but it is also harmful.

Talking about things is healing. It helps us process emotions and categorize events. Conversations matter… so why the different attitude when it comes to death? Or deep down are we just little kids terrified of ghosts?

[bctt tweet=” Are we just little kids terrified of ghosts? ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Talking about our dead loved ones helps us get closure and a sense of community. It helps us feel less alone in our grief and make peace with the reality of our own mortality. Perhaps even prompting us to live better lives and better prepare for the inevitable.

Going about life never talking of or thinking about death is simply burying our heads in the proverbial sand. It offers no solace to our bleeding hearts and makes us terrible at comforting the bereaved. It is the reason we don’t know how to react in the face of death. It is the sole reason for all the awkward and totally non-helpful things ever said to the bereaved. We barely have a clue how to respond to death and all the ways it shutters our comfort zones.

[bctt tweet=” It is the sole reason of the awkward and totally non-helpful things ever said to the bereaved.” username=”wearethetempest”]

This has to change in order for society to function optimally and for us to be more engaged with and empathetic to the reality around us. Death is as much a part of our existence as life is… there is no escape to that.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

I had to learn to reclaim the holidays after the death of my grandparents

After dinner, my Nanny would gather all of the grandchildren into a bedroom and pull out copies of the “12 Nights of Christmas” and begin assigning us parts. Since there was only eight of us, that meant a few of us would have to take two days and for me, that was a nightmare. God forbid I was given the long-winded “Five Golden Rings!” part, then I’d have to sing something else on top of that? The absolute horror of it, even in front of my family.

Afterwards, she’d march us, red-faced and anxious, down the stairs to perform for our parents and aunts and uncles while she excitedly conducted.

These days, we don’t sing the “12 Days of Christmas” much to the relief of the grandchildren as most of us in our late teens, 20s, and 30s now. But, if Nanny were still alive today, I think she’d still make us do it.

It was only a couple weeks before Christmas when she passed away in Hospice Care, after a long battle with cancer, and that meant Christmas was a flurry. I was 15, my sister was 17 and received a college acceptance to her now-alma mater on the day of the funeral, and my brother was only 11. My father gave my mother a picture of my Nanny as a 20-something. In it, she wears a long pea coat and has her hair in a hat. Her smile makes her eyes crinkle like my mother’s eyes, like my sister’s, and like my eyes now. Christmas that year was fast-paced. We gathered in my Pop-Pop’s house, in the same places we sat post-funeral, and drank, and tried to play the usual gift-exchange games. My cousin, in an amazing act of foresight, filmed my Pop-Pop talking about meeting my Nanny for the first time. Later, she would say that her only regret was that she didn’t film more when he, too, passed away only four months later. They say grief can kill as quickly as a diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis, something that crept into his lung five years before his death.

In the wake of my grandparents and all of their Christmas traditions, things began to change. Slowly, their house that we celebrated at year-after-year, began to change as our family split up their things and the big, comfy armchair that my grandmother often sat in post-cancer surgeries disappeared.

Christmas went like this: dinner, drinks, candy, and political chatter. Then, Santa, who always sounded suspiciously similar to my uncle, would arrive with presents. Then, we would play a gift exchange game where we could steal gifts from each other. The kids would perform and sing for their parents, which was particularly fun and disruptive when we were all just learning how to play clarinets, drums, recorders, and French horns and everyone just knew a shrill version of “Jingle Bells.” Finally, aunts and uncles would give nieces and nephews their presents, final good-byes would make their rounds, and kids would be sent home and put to bed.

In the wake of their deaths, and as we got older, these traditions became harder. Nanny was no longer there to assign our parts to the song, and to ask one of us to say Grace before eating. When we played gift exchange games, she could no longer jump in when we began to cry over a stolen toys and return the gift to us. Pop-pop could no longer slip us root beer candies. To us kids, they were our biggest advocates. To our parents, they were Mom and Dad.

However, in their wake, we began to adopt these traditions as our own. We modified the gift exchange game, and began to make deals with each other—“I’ll steal the big blue one for you if you leave my red present alone.” We watched home videos instead, including “mystery movies” we made with our cousins, featuring our grandparents.

Losing our grandparents did not mean losing our traditions, but adapting them to fill the hole they left in our lives. After the initial mourning period, we had to honor them and it was through Christmas that we found a way to do it. If we never reclaimed the holidays, that void would never be filled, so we roused ourselves and did it.

So, I may not have to belt out “five golden rings,” but I will play the gift exchange games, look at old videos of Pop-pop and Nanny’s honeymoon, and remember the twinkle in Nanny’s eyes as she waved her hands back and forth, conducting her grandchildren in a chorus of holiday spirit.

Categories
Love Wellness

I thought I was just tired – but the doctor revealed something totally different

It’s my first semester of college.

I find myself more tired than I was in high school, but that’s just because I’m getting less sleep and am more stressed, right? I ignore it. I come home for winter break where my mom complains I’m sleeping too much. But she always says that. I brush her off saying that I’m just catching up on an entire semester’s worth of missed sleep. Naturally, she doesn’t buy it, and I’m happy she didn’t either. As a dietitian, my mom saw my constant exhaustion as a sign of vitamin D deficiency.

I gave into her requests to get bloodwork done, and what do you know? Mother knows best.

Vitamin D deficiency is just what it sounds like. Your body is lacking the right amounts of vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for promoting calcium absorption, supporting cell and bone growth, and reducing inflammation. A lack of appropriate vitamin D may then lead to bone and muscle weakness, abnormal fatigue, and difficulty in thinking clearly. For me, the deficiency showed up as sluggishness I could dismiss as procrastination combined with an incredible ability to sleep for hours and hours.

[bctt tweet=”For me, the deficiency showed up as sluggishness I could dismiss as procrastination.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So you see these symptoms can be easily blamed on other things, are not that noticeable, and might not even be present in some people. So why is it still important to check if you’re deficient?

If you let it go untreated, vitamin D deficiency can lead to much bigger problems like bone fragility (which can then turn into osteoporosis) and increased risk for colon, prostate, and breast cancers. There is also evidence supporting its role in diabetes, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis just to name a few disorders. It’s a good idea to test for your vitamin levels even if you think there is nothing wrong, particularly if you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Who exactly is at risk? After I figured out I was deficient, I started noticing friends in college complaining about the same problems I had.

These friends were namely women of color who also wore hijab. They fell under three of the risk categories. Since our main source of vitamin D is sunlight, people who don’t spend much time in the sun (aka college students) are more at risk. Those who dress modestly are limiting their skin’s absorption of sunlight even more. Finally, people with dark skin are more at risk since increased melanin reduces the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight. Other groups at risk include vegans and people who are lactose intolerant since they might not be getting enough dietary sources of vitamin D.

[bctt tweet=”These friends were namely women of color who wore hijab.” username=”wearethetempest”]

After my doctor gave me my blood results, she prescribed me a mega dose of vitamin D to take once a week for a month and a half. After the fourth week, I noticed myself having more energy, being more motivated, and needing less sleep. She then told me that after this period, in order to maintain my vitamin D levels, I should take an over-the-counter supplement. My friends and I can attest to the power of these supplements. Once more-than-frequent nappers and zombie college students, we became, not quite energy machines, but much more productive zombie college students.

Once more-than-frequent nappers and zombie college students, we became, not quite energy machines, but much more productive zombied college students.

Along with supplements, professionals recommend getting more sunlight. So spend more time embracing the outdoors. Walk more, get a table outside, open your window, and do homework on the quad of your campus. Small things like that may add up. If getting more sunlight is not possible or the sun is too weak in the winter, try eating more foods with vitamin D. Fatty fish, cheese, and eggs are good sources, but you should also look out for vitamin D fortified milk, cereal, orange juice, and yogurt.

If you’ve found yourself to be extra tired lately, don’t wave it off for months like I did. Take time to look after your body, and I promise it’ll lead to a more productive and happier version of yourself.