Notorious NYCK
Earth Shattering Beauty, Style and Health News from a Neurotic New Yorker

Fran Drescher Said it Best: Cancer Schmancer

by Notorious NYCK October 24

Next month will mark two years since my doctor found a lump in my breast during a routine exam. Given that I  had a clean mammogram and sonogram 9 months before, exercise vigorously nearly every day, am not overweight, eat tons of fruits and vegetables and have no family history of breast cancer, the revelation was stunning. Duh. When isn’t it?

I’ve since learned that my maternal grandfather’s prostate cancer (a form of hormonal cancer, like breast cancer) may have elevated my risk. Having particularly dense breast tissue, not having children and taking birth control pills also may have played a role. Other studies show that women with vitamin D and Folic acid deficiencies and women who drink more than 2-3 alcoholic drinks a week can also up their chances. But since it is estimated that one out of every 7 women will get breast cancer, pretty much just being a woman is a risk. Sorry to be such a downer. But there is good news, as I’m sure you’ve heard. There is a much higher success rate in detecting and treating the disease than ever before. And I know this is due in no small part to the magnificent (and I mean truly magnificent) Evelyn Lauder and her tireless and phenomenal work with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And how's this for making lemonade out of lemons: With so many women experiencing it, there is now a treasure-trove of info. to help us get through the ordeal with more dignity, comfort, and peace of mind than was previously imaginable.

So in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are the tips, tricks and products that made breast cancer slightly less of a pain in the ass for me, plus one that didn’t.

Best Advice: Don’t surf the net after diagnosis

Boy, did my surgeon have my number (I guess I’m not all that unique). After we discussed my course of treatment and probable outcome, she
strongly advised me to steer clear of the internet and most books written about breast cancer. The reason? Many sites and books paint the worst-case scenarios, which can provoke crippling fear and anxiety. Like I didn’t have enough already? She did give me a big binder of  of explanations, resources and tips compiled by California Pacific Medical Center, where I got my treatment. I chose not to look at it. And I have to say, that as crazy, neurotic and anxious as I am,  I experienced far less emotional turmoil than some of my more investigative friends. Granted, my diagnosis and proposed treatments were very straightforward—pretty much the norm for stage 1 breast cancer with a low risk of recurrence and negative tests for BRCA genes. My agreed plan of attack was a lumpectomy, sentinel lymph node biopsy, two months of five days a week radiation and a five-year course of Tamoxifen—standard operating procedure. If things had been more complicated and extreme, I would have definitely done more research and gotten second opinions.

Most Important Part of Recovery: Acupuncture

I’ve written before about how acupuncture gave me my life back in terms of helping me finally recover from the aftermath of radiation (extreme fatigue, lethargy, depression, pain and swelling (aka lymphedema) for over a year after I concluded treatment) and managing my side effects from Tamoxifen (extreme fatigue, lethargy, depression, leg and feet cramps, weight gain and insomnia, to name a few). Acupuncture helped with all these symptoms, even mitigating my advanced arthritis, and I think made me slightly less neurotic, though my husband might argue that point. 

Unfortunately, the Tamoxifen is so toxic to my system, I need to be stuck with needles every other week to maintain and hopefully advance acupuncture’s salubrious effects. And I simply loathe it. The other patients are on beds in other parts of the room thinking serene thoughts or blissfully snoring away. Meanwhile, I’m lying on the table hating their guts trying to soothe myself with the Allman Brothers Band on my IPOD so I don’t jump off the table and murder at least one of them. How Zen. But believe it or not, my one regret is that I didn’t start treatment sooner. A friend of mine who basically sailed through radiation did acupuncture concurrently. She might have had that outcome anyway—everyone responds differently to cancer and cancer treatments. And this is a great tidbit so I’ll repeat it, “Everyone responds differently to cancer and cancer treatments.” But given the myriad benefits acupuncture seems to impart, I can’t help but believe it might have made radiation a less grueling experience.

Most Flattering Sports Bra: Anita Maximum Control Momentum Wire-Free Sports Bra, $69 (

Typically, I’m a Champion Powersleek Sportsbra girl, $46 ( It’s a  heavy duty number that can withstand high-impact activity with an adjustable back and straps —crucial features for small-across-the-back, large-across-the-front me. And these bras, which are rather roomy and customizable, were fabulous post-surgery at accommodating my dressing and swelling without adding to my discomfort. They’re also great at fitting compression pads, which I need at night as a result of the lymphedema. But these bras are completely unglamorous and bulky under clothes. So when the swelling went down and the dressing was gone, but the prospect of my regular underwire bras sent waves of terror down my spine, I switched to the more streamlined, also adjustable Anita style. It’s sleek, virtually invisible and gives a terrific shape.

Magic Tricks: Coping With Needles

Given how traumatized I am by acupuncture, it probably won’t surprise you that getting my blood drawn used to totally freak me out. And it doesn’t help that I have crappy veins. (I know. I know. I am such a baby!) Now that I am an old hat at it, it’s certainly less scary than it used to be, and I credit a super-kind phlebotomist for making the process almost a snap. He suggested drinking a lot of water and staying really warm prior to the test to help optimize circulation. Dehydration and being cold can all impede it. He noted that the better circulation is, the easier it is to find a vein and actually get blood from it. He also introduced me to the Butterfly Needle, a smaller, thinner number that works better on veins that like to roll over when they’re poked than the standard variety. When he’s not my guy, I always ask for that needle specifically and it makes a huge difference.

Dumbest Move: Hopping on the Lifecycle two days post surgery

A well-meaning friend told my husband that it was really important that I get moving as soon as possible after surgery. And exercise bulimic that I am (“I’m not going to lie around and get fat just because I’m recovering from breast cancer surgery”), I seized upon this advice and went to the gym to peddle furiously on the bike for 45 minutes. The result? I felt faint, nauseous and experienced excruciating pain in my breast. I actually almost passed out in the shower afterwards. From what I understand, there are several types of surgeries where the experts like you to walk and maybe even get on a treadmill almost immediately following surgery. Walking, not intense cycling, being the operative directive here. But breast cancer surgery, at least in my case, is not one of those instances. In fact, when my surgeon called me later that day to check in and deliver my pathology report and I told her of my athletic adventures, her response was, “Really, Cara? I mean, really? I think I’ve been crediting you with having far more IQ points than you actually have.” Ouch.

Bacon-Saving Products
Not to sound superficia, but what the heck? To me, one of the biggest bummers about cancer is that you just don’t look like yourself for what seems like an interminable amount of time. And I didn’t even have chemo so I can only imagine how one feels going through those dramatic changes and acute side-effects, which are typically far more extreme than anything I experienced. I realize what a lucky girl I am. But even without it, I was just shocked to see the reflection staring back at me in the mirror. And even two years later, I don’t really feel like I’m “back.” Perhaps, because of the Tamoxifen? No one can really ‘splain it to me. Anyhow, here are some products that really seem to make a difference.

Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion, Fragrance Free, $9.49 ( I found it to be the least greasy, fastest absorbing, least stinky and most comfortable lotion to combat the “sunburn,” and extreme flaking from radiation. My radiologist recommend Aquaphor, which I love for my lips but it was just too unctuous for such a large area and under clothes.
Vaniqa, $90 (by prescription): A godsend for Tamoxifen-induced chin hairs,
Nioxin Hair System:
Successfully manages  Tamoxifen-caused hair-thinning, $37.50,(,
Bobbi Brown Extra SPF 25 Tinted Moisturizing Balm, $52 ( Lightweight yet luscious and emollient, this imperceptible cream foundation evens out skin tone and adds just a little bit of a glow.
MAC Fast Response Eye Cream, $30, ( The only de-puffing eye cream I know that doesn’t dehydrate skin and emphasize crows’ feet.
Nars Bronzer in Laguna, $34; Nars Blush in Amour, $28 ( This brownish bronzer shot with gold shimmer topped with the peachy pink blush really enliven the complexion, imparting a fresh, healthy color and radiance.
Nars Matte Velvet Lip Pencil, $24 and Nars Lip Gloss, $24, both in Dolce Vida ( The pencil delivers a precise, comfortable application of stay-put color with just the right amount of coverage—not too sheer, not too opaque. The gloss lends extra moisture and a sexy sheen. Dolce Vida, a medium-bright dusty rose, looks like my natural lip color turned up a notch or too. Pretty.
Dr. Dennis Gross Age Erase Recovery Mask, $48 ( This mask is messy, drips and tastes terrible when it gets into your mouth, which it almost always does. But it’s well worth it. No matter how drawn, pale, exhausted and miserable I look, this mask always makes me look better. Always.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy and get your mammogram!


The Notorious NYCK Summer in the City Survival Kit

by Notorious NYCK August 8

hot-sun-thermometerEvery time I go back home to NYC, I am amazed at how crazy loud it is. I have to turn the volume on my headset way up just so I can be one of those annoying pedestrians obliviously chattering away on the phone. One noise that is noticeably absent, however, is the mellifluous tone of swishing corduroy pants, which appears to be the soundtrack of a summer in San Francisco.  Nearly all of the city’s inhabitants are forced to wear them, as well as Uggs and fleece, from June through the end of August. No, this is not some anti-fashion movement (even if it feels that way to me).  It’s because summer in San Fran is cold, grey and gloomy. But this info. appears to be top secret, as evidenced by the scads of tourists shivering in tank tops and shorts on trolley cars come July. Summer in Oakland (where I live), however, is pretty perfect. It’s in the mid-70s and sunny nearly ever day. Still, it is the sixth most dangerous city in the country. But we hella <3 Oaktown and are proud it’s no longer in the top 5.

But back to the Big Apple. Lucky for me, I am not all that bothered by the sweltering heat and humidity that is the norm there this time of year. It feels sultry and kind of sexy to me, which makes sense since I am of mostly Mediterranean descent. Plus it lets me wear strappy sandals and sundresses at night, which you definitely can’t do in the East Bay, since temps drop into the 50s or lower once the sun sets. (Did anyone start singing that Corey Hart song from the 80s just now,  or was that just me?) Still, when the humidity makes it feel like it's in the triple digits even I start to melt, and the effects aren’t pretty. So lucky for me and the people who sit next to me on the subway, I’ve amassed a pretty amazing beat-the-heat beauty kit.

Clarins UV Plus HP Day Screen High Protection Tint SPF 40, $40 (
This could be my favorite beauty product ever. And I’m apparently not alone in my ardor, because it sells out faster than a New York minute. Two Sephora stores in the Bay Area were out of stock a couple of weeks ago and so was Lightweight and non-greasy, this liquidy lotion warms up my sallow complexion and provides a nice, natural coverage that evens out my skin tone and somehow makes everything look smoother and fainter (pore-size, lines and wrinkles, blotchiness, dark circles, etc.). Because Clarins uses mineral sunscreens, this product doesn’t irritate my skin and offers immediate sun protection. (You have to wait at least 15-30 minutes for chemical sunscreens to kick in.)  And bonus!  The tint doesn’t drip down my face when I’m  standing on an un-air conditioned subway platform. The one caveat is that it is really, really hard to remove (unless it is rubbing off on the neck of your shirt). So repeated, thorough, cleansings and pre-treating any “tinted” clothes are the order of the day. But they are well worth it.

L‘Oreal Sublime Sun Liquid Silk Sunshield for Face SPF 50, $10.99 ( Silky, non-greasy, fast-absorbing and long-lasting, this is my nirvana of sunscreens. It even has antioxidants to safeguard skin against free radicals. Because it’s formulated with chemical sunscreens, I can’t use it on my face. But it’s awesome everywhere else.

Revlon Just-Bitten Kissable Balm Stain, $8.99 ( Lipsticks and gloss can feel so heavy in the heat, not to mention the fact that they can both migrate out of your lip contours and give you the dreaded ring-around-the-mouth—never an attractive look. This chubby pencil lays down just the perfect amount of moisturizing stay-put pigment. “Crush,” a grapey/plum shade, never fails to draw compliments. But there are 11 lovely and virtually universal shades. I intend to score all of them.

M.A.C. Blot Film, 30 sheets for $15 ( Now that I’m 46, I don’t seem to be particularly troubled by excess oil in my T-Zone. (Hooray for middle age!) But most people need some kind of shine-sopper in the the summer.  MAC makes the gold standard. Each sheet completely absorbs grease without messing up makeup, drying out my skin or leaving a powdery film in its wake. I still carry them around with me, “just in case.”

Herban Essentials Towelettes, $15 for 20, ( These ingenious individually-wrapped wipes are saturated in amazing-smelling, germ-killing essential oils. I use them to freshen up my hands, the back of my neck--and ok, truth time, my underarms--when I am feeling extra hot and grimy. I also swipe them over not-so-clean surfaces before I sit down. Each of the 5 fragrances--orange, lavender, peppermint, lemon and eucalyptus—have other more aromatherapeutic usages. You can check out the website for particulars.

Giovanni Cool Mint Lemon Salt Scrub with Crushed Mint Leaves, $14.99 (  This heavenly-scented body-slougher not not only seriously softens and smooths, but is also infused with cooling mint that actually seems to sink into the skin, serving almost as a portable air conditioner throughout the day.

Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo, $24, Conditioner, $24 and Nourishing Styling Cream, $26 ( Traditional frizz fighters contain silicone, which leaves my fine, wavy hair flat and greasy looking. But Living Proof incorporates a molecule called OFPMA, which was designed to coat hair evenly, keep hair cleaner, longer and control frizz--without added weight. This trio of products transforms my frizzy flyaways  into bouncy, shiny, well-defined curls. Word on the street is this a great product line for straight-haired girls, too.

Secret Fresh Effects Invisible Solid in Cucumber/Aloe, $5.95 ( Let me preface this entry by saying, “I don’t really think this antiperspirant/deodorant is any better than any of the others out there.” First off, it has “invisible” in the title, which means it is destined to leave white marks on your clothes (and it does). And secondly, it doesn’t appear to have any magical powers that keep me dry and sweet-smelling above and beyond the competition. That being said, this product does a decent job, has a really nice, subtle scent (no over-powering sickly sweet floral fragrance, like its counterparts) and blends into skin well. So to me, it’s one of the least offensive solids out there. But the best sweat-proof trick I’ve ever learned (and this really does work) is to apply deodorant/antiperspirant mornings and nights. Trust me. You and your neighbors will thank me for this intel.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.

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