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The 'Schmootz on Lisa Bernhard

The 'Schmootz on Lisa Bernhard

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Published by mindschmootz
Interview with entertainment reporter, Lisa Bernhard.
Interview with entertainment reporter, Lisa Bernhard.

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Published by: mindschmootz on Oct 12, 2009
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08/06/2010

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THE ‘SCHMOOTZ
 
ON
 
LISA BERNHARD
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SCHMOOTZ:
What has beenthe feedback from survivorsand others that have beendiagnosed?
LISA:
 The feedback has beentremendous; it’s sort of thisclub that you don’t want to join but once you’re in it, it’sthis tremendous community of women. You can’t reallydescribe to somebody whatit’s like to go through anillness like this unless you gothrough the illness. So there’s just this comfort in all of ustalking about it.When youopen yourself up andyou share something personal, itprompts people to share all sortsof personal stories aboutthemselves and that’s a reallylovely thing. It’s kind of abizarre statement, but Iremember back when I wasgoing through the illnessthinking, boy if we all hadcancer, the world would be sucha nicer place. Everybody isemoting and opening up andsharing and it, in some regards,seems like this kind of happy,euphoric place.
SCHMOOTZ:
Medical advice isto begin yearly mammogramtesting at40, but your diagnosiscame at age 29. What was thatliketo hear the word “cancer” at29?
LIS A: 
 At29, I did not knowanyone my age who had thisillness. Itstill felt very much likean olderwoman’s disease. So, itwaslonely in that regard. And of course there was all the fear.
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SCHMOOTZ:
October is breastcancer awareness month. Prettyapropos as I could think of nothingscarier than the unknown of adiagnosis. What inspired you after15 years to tell your story?
LISA: 
I had seen these studiesthat had been quietly breakingabout how women were not beingtold about their options for breastreconstruction. My reconstructivesurgery was a key part of myhealing. It was a way for me tophysically and emotionally get back to the Lisa that I was before thisdiagnosis. That said, I am not anadvocate for reconstruction per se,I am an advocate for womenhaving choice and being able tomake informed decisions. I started piecing this all togetherand it became a very alarmingstory for me. I had so manywomen who literally exposed theirstories and exposed their breaststo show me the type of reconstruction they had. Theywere so inspirational and so heroicthat once I stumbled upon thisinformation, I wanted to put ittogether to help other women theway these women had helped me.I presented the idea for thisstory to Self Magazineand they went for it. Ihadnever done a health storybefore but fortunately, orunfortunately, knew about thetopicgoing into it. Thesewonderful doctors gave me theirtimeandinsight. I couldn’t standthe thought that perhaps therewereother women out there whowerenotgiven the sameinformation that I was given. Iwanted tobe some small part of helping other women and gettingthe word out there. You get a diagnosis and you justthink death. As much as I was indenial, thinking, well I’m young, thiscan’t happen to me, I think therewas a piece of me that knew that itwas coming. I had this lump and ithad gone unchecked for a littlewhile even though I was somethingof a hypochondriac.When I got the diagnosis, I blamedmyself. I thought I had brought thisillness on myself because I had a lotof stress in my twenties. I wasbuilding a career in the fast-pacedmedia world of NY and I was veryintent on making something of myself. I felt like perhaps I hadn’tchanneled this stress properly andthatI hadcreated this mess.Fortunately, I quickly went to thisplace of “I don’t want to die”. If Itrulybelieved that I had broughtthisillness on myself, then thereverse must also be true; I cancuremyself. I remember thinkingthank godthis isn’t my mother ormy sisterbecause that’s their bodiesandI don’t have control over that,but this is my body and I havecontrol. I’m a fairly competitiveperson by nature so I thought letme pose this as Lisa versus thecancer and kick it’s ass.
 
“My reconstructive surgery was a key part of my healing. It was a way for me to physically and emotionally get  back to the Lisa that I was before this diagnosis.That said, I am not an advocate for reconstruction per se, I am an advocate for women having choice and  being able to make informed decisions.” 
 
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The other, she said, was this muchyounger woman, who’s also great,but just hasn’t had as muchexperience. Well, I went, as I think probably most people would, to seeMr. Esteemed doctor first.He looked at me and said, “Well,you’re awfully young to have gottenthis, aren’t you?” What am Isupposed to say to that - “Well, I’vealways been mature for my age”?It made me feel like more of afreak. Then he said, “Oh I hearabout all these women who showeach other their breasts aftersurgery and I don’t quiteunderstand it,” and I just thought,you know what, this guy justdoesn’t get it. Maybe he’s good atputting drugs together, but I knewan oncologist was someone that Iwas going to have to see on aregular basis and I wanted thatperson toheal me on many levelsandnot just with the cocktail of drugs I was going to get. So I wentto see thisyounger woman. I justadored her and we hit it off right off the bat. She’s still the doctor I seefor yearlycheck-ups.So itwassix days after my 30thbirthday, it was May 16, 1995. Theygaveme achoice to have alumpectomy or a mastectomy.Knowing that I could have thisreconstruction was part of why Ichose the mastectomy. So I had thesurgery. It was a difficult andpainful recovery. Even little thingslike lauhin hurt.
LISA (cont’d): 
I’m really one of the lucky ones in that I was stageone, it wasn’t particularlyaggressive. Also, my parents wereincredibly supportive. I envisionedthem as two pillars sitting on eitherside of me who created thiscomfort zone where I could dothings to help heal myself. If Icouldn’t pay for things or if myinsurance couldn’t cover things, Ihad a financial cushion in myparents. Not everybody has that,so I don’t take that for granted forone second.
SCHMOOTZ:
 At 29 the biggestthing I was struggling with wasshould I get a tattoo or a navelring to mark the end of mytwenties. Can you elaborate onwhat the next few months werelike?
LISA: 
I did get a tattoo but Ihad to get my nipple tattooedwhen I had my reconstruction soit’s not the tattoo you’re talkingabout!I went for a second and thirdopinion. Everything shifted when Imetplastic surgeon, Mark Sultan.The f act that he talked to meabout reconstruction, somewherein mybrain I thought that if someone is willing to build meanother breast then maybe they’rethink ing Imight be sticking aroundfor afewyears. Afterthat,I had to meet with anoncologist. The general surgeonwhoI hadultimately ended upgoingwith, Alison Estabrook,recommended two to me.One was a man, very esteemedand well-known.I went back to work around LaborDay and shortly after that Istarted chemotherapy through anIV once every three weeks. I waslucky. I did not lose my hair and Inever really got sick. Basically it just made me very tired. I had afew months of the chemotherapyand then it was back to life.In terms of the emotional fallout, Ithink a lot of it came in the fewyears that ensued when I wastrying to pick up the pieces of mylife in my early thirties. When youmove away from it at first, youstart to process everything thatyou’ve been through. As opposedto the early stages, when eventhough there are moments whenyou might pass out from the fear,you’re doing “something”. Youknow that you’re actively trying toknock this thing out of your body,so that kind of forward motion, Ithink, helps.Once you’re healed from thesurgery, and the chemotherapystops, it’s kind of like, now what? Am I this ticking time bombwaiting for this thing to comeback ? The world seemed like averytoxicplace to me. When Iwasdiagnosed, I became acutelyaware of bus fumes. You justreallygo into an alternateuniverse. And then you think,should I be on a macrobiotic diet? Am Inot eating the right things?I’m an eater. I have a Jewish-Italian-Greek-food-loving-emoting-all-senses-involved family.
 SCHMOOTZ:
 As you can tell bymy writing, I tend toward dark humor and use it to abundance intimes of stress or trouble. Whatabout you? Dark humor or lightmoments during your fight?
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“..if someone is willing to build me another breast then maybe they’re thinking I might  be sticking around for a few  years.” 

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