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Been there, suffered that

HANDOUT IMAGE: "Bald Is Better With Earrings" by Andrea Hutton. Book cover. (

A girlfriend’s guide to a bad situation

‘Bald Is Better With Earrings,’ Andrea Hutton

When Andrea Hutton got a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009, she was frustrated by the lack of personal information available. "I wanted to know what everything would feel like. . . . What did they mean by 'fatigue'? When exactly would my hair fall out? I wanted a guide — a how-to for the cancer girl I had become."

So she wrote one.

"Bald Is Better With Earrings" is exactly what its subtitle promises: "a survivor's guide to getting through breast cancer." In a chatty, girlfriend kind of way, Hutton unflinchingly describes what it's like to go through diagnosis, mastectomy, scars, questions of breast reconstruction, prosthesis fitting, chemotherapy, head-shaving, radiation, wigs, the rest of life. Building on that experience, she offers advice to other patients.

Hutton found that once she had gotten over the hurdle of telling her family what was wrong, she had to solve the problem of accepting help while maintaining privacy.

“My big worry was that my mother would want to move into my house. That’s exactly what she wanted to do.” She warns of choices you’d never imagine you have to make: “Will the [mastectomy] surgeon save your nipple or tattoo one on? Ask about 3-D tattooing — yes, this is a real thing.”

She describes starting chemo, terrified, with a port sticking out of her neck, actually feeling a toxic solution leaking into her veins, followed by an injection of a drug to boost bone marrow production. “This is another lovely treat — a shot right in the belly.” Her advice: Tell your nurse that the slower he/she pushes the plunger on the syringe, the less it will hurt.

She describes the days when her chemo-destroyed hair began to grow back and had a little scalp sensitivity — then adds: “Oh, by the way, whenever you read ‘sensitivity’ in a book about cancer and treatment, insert ‘a little pain’ instead.” But it goes away soon.

And you know how doctors talk about how long you have “survived” cancer? “It turns out that the doctors start counting your healthy days from the day of diagnosis. I always thought it was the last day of treatment. Neat trick, huh? . . . So you get to be a survivor counting from the day your life fell apart.”

— Nancy Szokan