Annie 2.0

Annie 2.0

I used to get so frustrated when the few news articles that talked about the BRCA mutations focused primarily on healthy women choosing to get prophylactic double mastectomies. Willingly, these brave (crazy?) women in their 40s, 30s and yes, even 20s were choosing to remove their breasts; not because they had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but because of their 80%+ chance of getting it thanks to a gene mutation.

I used to get so frustrated, because I felt they were focusing more on women “disfiguring” themselves when they didn’t actually have and may never even get breast cancer and ignoring the fact that they also had a greatly increased ovarian cancer risk. Why was this the case?

Was it because you can’t see our non-sexualized ovaries? Or was it because they are our baby makers and of course, removing them meant never giving birth to a biological child and, um… “every woman on earth” should want to experience that?

I used to get so frustrated that if those articles or tv features even mentioned those same women also deciding to remove their ovaries, it was usually but a footnote. An afterthought. Not the real story, which was women were cutting off their breasts!! It’s mass hysteria I tell ya!

But of course it’s not hysteria at all. In fact, it could be the exact opposite. Maybe one of the most sane things a woman can do when faced with odds you’d never want to play in Vegas. Never mind that many of said crazy women were discovered to actually have early-stage breast cancer when they did have their breast tissue tested during their mastectomies. Thankfully, I was not one of them.

I used to get so frustrated that these women had to make such drastic decisions for their health. I truly felt for them, for I also knew I would be one of them one day. 

At age 31, just when I finally felt like my life was starting to hit it’s stride—Bill and I were planning our wedding and seriously thinking about changing careers and photographing weddings professionally—I had to watch helplessly as my Mom fought Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She suffered through rounds & rounds of chemo, losing her beautiful bottle-blond hair, completely losing her appetite for her favorite foods and experiencing extreme fatigue just walking to the bathroom, yet not wanting to fall asleep for fear she may not awake again. She eventually would vomit green bile as her liver and other organs began to fail and experience spiritual distress while floating in and out of semiconsciousness. Ultimately, six days before Bill and I were to say I Do on September 16, 2001 (what would have been my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary-Dad passed away in 1991) her body gave out and she passed away from ovarian cancer at 62. 

Several years later and after I had tested positive for the gene mutation known as BRCA2, my oncologist who specialized in hereditary cancers strongly advised me that she’d feel much more comfortable for me to have my ovaries removed by age 40 or “whenever I stopped needing them”. (I gave her until I was 42 after Bill and I decided we wouldn’t be pursuing further having children. We could no longer afford it financially and more importantly, emotionally.) She was all for me getting a mastectomy, as well, but because breast cancer is often much easier to detect, wasn’t as concerned that I was still carrying those ticking time bombs around on my chest. 

I used to get so frustrated because it’s impossible to describe what it feels like to make such life changing decisions for your health when you’re not sick. And may never actually get cancer.

But, women can and do, unfortunately, get ovarian cancer at any age and often in hereditary cases, not only can it show up much earlier, it’s often stronger if it does. Same with hereditary breast cancer. So why then do they recommend we wait at all? They generally don’t suggest we wait until a certain age to have a mastectomy. Oh, wait, yes they do. Whenever you’re done breast feeding. 

Why do so many doctors suggest putting off potentially life saving surgeries? So that you can be a mom? Is being a parent so important that you should choose parenthood over your life? What if putting off those surgeries then threaten your very existence to be around for any children you may have?

I wanted to yell at all those (often male) journalists that ovarian cancer was a silent killer. That it’s so tricky to discover until it’s more advanced, that for many people, it’s often a death sentence. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d never wish breast cancer on anyone either—I just wanted these news stories and articles to be more even-sided (and maybe be written by women.) To remind people that both can kill you and especially if you have a gene mutation, you should be getting screened for both cancers every 6 months until you make a decision on what, if any, preventative surgeries you want to have.

I used to get so frustrated because while an oophorectomy can be a much easier surgery, dealing with the significant physical changes that accompany that surgery was and continues to be incredibly difficult. If you’re a lady and curious, buy me a cocktail sometime and I can certainly elaborate. I wish I’d had someone around to do that for me. No Mom, no aunt, no older sister, not even a friend who was going through the life change. At least not any that were openly talking about it.

Because yes, removing your ovaries means instant menopause. Instant. I awoke from surgery in 2011 and along with some choice pain meds, immediately began taking hormones. This in itself is another difficult and ironic decision if you still have your natural breasts because hormone therapy can increase your chances of getting breast cancer. Even if you don’t have the mutated gene. In addition, medically-induced menopause can lead to greater health issues such as increased heart risk, increased chance of Alzheimer’s and decreased bone density and osteoporosis, all at an earlier age than if you go through natural menopause. I actually have osteo’s precursor, ostopenia, so I’m trying to eat well the majority of the time, get extra calcium and do weight-bearing exercise to increase my chances of it not advancing until I’m much, much older, if at all.

But removing your breasts? They were primarily at their core, just erogenous zones, right? NBD.

Well, that’s what I thought before my mastectomy & subsequent reconstruction. Not only is the initial surgery to remove all your breast tissue much, much more difficult and recovery quite painful, but it’s so much harder emotionally to lose such a visible part of yourself. I won’t go into all the reasons why again here, though since they’re practically the reason this journal even exists! (It is really amazing though to see just how far I’ve come from how I was feeling emotionally a few weeks after the removal of my breasts.)

I do find it slightly ironic that at mid-life, my life truly feels divided in half: before mastectomy and after.

What I’ve come to realize? Even though part of me believed that I would never get breast cancer, no matter my chances, I wanted to take control of my destiny in any way I could. In my brain, I certainly know that having the BRCA gene and having cancer are most definitely not the same thing. But, my body, my spirit, my soul, I don’t think knew there was a difference at all. I may not have had cancer, but I felt as though I already did.

Suffice it to say, I can now better understand why so many of those articles focused on breasts. Not only is a double mastectomy a more serious and difficult surgery/recovery, but because they’re not hidden away, you see and feel reminders of what you’ve lost. Every. Single. Day.

Bottom line: both surgeries are life-altering. I’m still me, but I also don’t feel like me. I think Annie 2.0 is in beta testing. Or maybe, she’s already here.

I used to get so frustrated. Now? Now I get it.

Mom and I a few short months before she passed away.

Photo by Michael Woodward

Dear Facebook….

Dear Facebook….

It’s not me, it’s you.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

I hate to put it so bluntly (kinda), but lets be honest, we both knew this day was coming and the final straw I guess for me, was your  more recent shenanigans. I don’t blame you so much as your “handlers”. Needless to say, though I simply don’t feel appreciated anymore. Now I really feel like only a commodity to you, and I would never wish that feeling on anybody. I really don’t think you even “like” me after all these years together.

It’s been ten years, Facebook, but I’ve been feeling this way towards you for quite some time. I hung in there to “stay connected” with family and friends and because I belong to a couple private Facebook groups that I really enjoy. Because of those groups, one of which I pay for, I’ll likely need to create a “faux” profile. Now it feels like you’re forcing me to lie to my friends.

And don’t get me started on how your “fake news” influenced a national election. Hell, thanks to you, my own uncle unfriended me. A couple of times! All is well right now, but I fear as the mid-term election cycle begins again I’ll find myself stressed out over all the hate and I’ll “lose” him again.

And now I learn that even though I never visited This is Your Digital Life (i.e.. Cambridge Analytical), before you broke up with them in 2015, that because a friend did and shared their news feed with them, that my public profile, page likes, birthday, hometown and current city also landed in their greedy little hands. Who really knows what damage that caused in my life–maybe none–BUT collecting my page likes so you could just better sell things to me was enough by itself. This was just the final straw.

I still remember the first time I found myself browsing shoes online. When I came back to you, there were the exact shoes I was looking at on another website. Blinking away at me. Always with the damn blinking.

But now, you’ve gotten even more creepy, Facebook. Watching (& listening?) to every single post, conversation, and photograph, and yet for all that, you never even liked them. Hrmph. Talk about feeling like this relationship was one-sided.

I recently reviewed all that information you’ve been collecting on me through the years. Yup, ALL of it. Wow. Now, I’m smart enough to know that nothing online is ever private nor disappears into the ether, but it was another thing to see line after line, after blurry line of every single status update as well, as names on my “friends” list that I didn’t even recognize!

Saturday, September 6, 2008 9:54am

Anne Holland is…“so happy her little bro is now on Facebook!!” Sorry I dragged you into this, too, Andy.

Monday, January 26, 2009 2:57pm

Anne Holland “had a great time at the bonfire with Bill and Rob, sniffles and all.” Well, at least I was talking about an offline adventure.

Saturday, April 17, 2009 8:08am

Anne Holland is…“SO excited to shoot Karen & Michael’s wedding today!! Such a sweet couple and it’s going to be a beautiful day for them. Yea!” Sigh, I will miss memories like this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010 6:57pm

Anne Holland…“totally saw FB founder Mark Zuckerberg at the VA film festival tonight and no they weren’t screening The Social Network. Wild to watch him walk by a theater that was showing it though!! Anyone else see him??” Yea, more proof that I was drinking the Kool-Aid. Seeing how unethical your “birth” was in that movie (allegedly) didn’t even get me to pause my account. You had quite the hold on me, Facebook. And it continued…

Monday, April 18, 2011 8:37pm

Anne Holland…“super fun and much needed day with two of my favorite girls! Love you fabulous ladies. Thanks for such a wonderful day!!” Before the days of “being able” to tag friends so I actually don’t know really know which friends I was talking about. Sigh.

Saturday, May 4, 2012 11:45am

Anne Holland…“thanks so much for the b-day wishes everyone! Rest assured, there is a margarita with my name on it tonight after our wedding coverage! 😉 Happy Cinco de Mayo!!” Warm and fuzzy memory to be sure. Who doesn’t love Facebook on their birthday especially?

Sunday, June 23, 2013 9:59pm

Anne Holland is…with Bill Holland. “Cocktails in hand for the Mad Men season finale! Won’t hear any spoilers from me though. Thought it was a fantastic and crazy episode!” Can now tag people and implicate them in your drinking while facebooking while watching TV. (Sorry, Bill.) And thanks in large part to Facebook, “spoilers” became an every day “bad” word in our vocabularies.

Thursday, February 27, 2014 3:27pm

Anne Holland is…with Bill Holland. “Scenery on a little overnight to celebrate B’s b-day this past weekend. #wow #justwow #abincolorado #latergram #nofilter” Holy crap! Hashtags have been around since at least 2014?!? Definitely didn’t need to know that! Way to make me feel old, Facebook.

Friday, August 21, 2015 4:23pm

Anne Holland…“shared Holland Photo Art’s photo.” Ah, yes. A BIG reminder of why I justified staying with you so long.

Friday, October 14, 2016 11:22am

Anne Holland…shared a memory. “Still do. Always will.” No idea what this one was about, but apparently I thought it so important, I needed to share it twice! Oye.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 5:52pm

Anne Holland is…with Bill Holland. “Been on an unexpected, but not necessarily unwanted, break from social media for a while, but wanted to share a new post from yours truly on Bill’s blog. Exchange surgery is tomorrow and I CANNOT wait! Link is and IM Bill or I for the new, MUCH simpler p/w that will work on this post and all the previous ones if you missed any. He’ll also post an update or two following the surgery. <3” Actually thankful, that you made it so easy for friends and family to check in with us, but honestly thanks in large part to my surgeries/health issues/long recovery, I realized just how little I’d miss you should you no longer be in my life.

Thanks to you, Facebook, I know these things happened to me and even I find them pretty boring! Maybe not boring so much, but I never signed up for an apparently secret project: Your Facebook Diary: An Intrusive Look Back.

Sure there have been so many studies in recent years, indicating just how detrimental effect you may have on my life. But I guess I had to live it to really believe it. I felt bad for not checking you out enough. And then when I did, I felt bad for checking you out. And the mindless scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

And, let’s be honest, I very likely didn’t give you the time you “deserved”. You made it so easy to catch up with friends and yet, also hard. Constantly scrolling and never really feeling like I knew, really, what was going on in their lives. It was a false sense of connection.

You were really close to good enough, but as with all social media at some point, the shine rubs off. My current love is Instagram, but since you also own that app, I fear its days are numbered, as well. I guess we’ll see.

You’ve simply become too controlling and I no longer desire to deal with all your down sides which vastly out number your good sides. You talk a good game, Facebook, but you don’t truly seem interested in changing your, much too often, deceitful ways.

I won’t miss you, but I will miss all the people you connected me to. Very much, but I’m hopeful that I will continue to be able to be in touch with them IRL and via text, email, blog, Instagram, etc.

I promise to not hold it against anyone else I know who chooses to keep you in their lives. (My husband is currently still sticking with you.) Everyone gets to make their own choice. And I get it. I truly do. Saying goodbye is really, really difficult. I’ve attempted to do so many times before over the years, but there’s simply more reasons to give you up than not these days.

And your pal, Messenger? He’s next on my “Dear John” list.

Anne Holland is…“non-regretfully no longer yours’,”

One of the first photos I posted to my profile back in 2008. One of our favorites by friend and incredible photographer, Jennifer Domenick.

How We Knew it Was Time

How We Knew it Was Time

Five seemingly short years ago last month, we pulled our jam-packed truck into the parking garage of our new home in Boulder, Colorado. Sixteen hundred miles in our rearview was the only home I had really ever known.

What happens when you think you’re living the life you were meant to live? Going along day after day in the same direction because that’s what you’ve always done? But you’re happy and successful (however you define that) and as for the future, well, it will take care of itself, won’t it? Except when it doesn’t. Life throws you a curve ball and you have to decide whether you’re going to take a swing or head back to the batter’s box with your head held low. You just might get lucky and hit that ball out of the park, but it’s also called a curve ball for a reason.

Thump, thump, THUMP. Suddenly your heart is racing and trying to tell you something uncomfortable. Something you maybe don’t want to hear. But the heart cannot be ignored forever and if we stop long enough to be quiet and start to examine why this cortisol is Indy 500’ing it thorough our veins, it might just lead us to something even better.

I know because it happened to us. We knew when we moved to Colorado in 2013, we wanted to ramp down our photography business and only do a handful of weddings a year and that’s what we were lucky enough to be able to do. Moving here was a huge life decision and one we didn’t make lightly. But we also kinda did.

My brother and his wife had been looking for a change too, so when the opportunity presented itself to head west so that our nephew (then 4) could be closer to his grandparents, they rightly embraced it. Sure, we were going to miss them, but I don’t think I realized just how much until their U-haul actually pulled away, brake lights dimmed. No longer were they just a three-hour jaunt from Charlottesville. Now they were 2,000 miles away (a three day drive), but it might as well have been 10,000 miles.

I found myself lying awake softly crying at night because I missed them so much. I never thought, nor wanted, to only see them now the once or twice a year we likely would. And on the other nights, I lay awake softly crying because I didn’t want to think about what I was thinking about–uprooting our whole lives, our business, leaving so many wonderful friends, and following them out west, as well. But the thump-thump-THUMPING in my chest only grew louder. And I could no longer ignore it.

Once we talked about it, Bill was thankfully, all for it. I shouldn’t have been surprised because he had always wanted to live further west, closer to California where he was born. The west is where we both (ironically for me), felt most at home. So the decision was made and while it was all super scary it was also super exciting. While we hadn’t foreseen that we’d be taking such a leap of faith, we knew in our heart of hearts that we were doing the right thing. But that doesn’t make it easier. In fact, sometimes (a lot of the time), it makes the transition even harder.

So you see, we were used to listening to our hearts in some areas, but not all. Why? Again out of fear. We liked our life the way it was and feared and didn’t understand  why it “should be” different.

It kept nagging us though. It sat on our shoulder and we would shoo it away, not wanting to listen to what it might have to say. Because deep down, we probably already knew. In 2015 we finally opened our hearts once again…to ourselves and to each other and after many discussions over (maybe) not enough cocktails, we knew what our souls were trying to tell us. It was time.

It was time to say goodbye to photographing weddings and to all those future wonderful couples that we would never get to know. Of course, we knew that this time would come, but it was always someday in the future. We’ve always had so many passions and we were excited to explore them someday before we were knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. Someday.

Well, that someday had now found us.

So once again we jumped into the fear of the unknown, after taking the leap almost 20 years ago to go into business for ourselves. Only this time I’m a good bit older, a little more tired and definitely smarter.

But I’m also unmoored.

They say if you love something, set it free. Of course, they probably weren’t talking about one’s boobs. Or working with your partner.

Well, in 2017, I lost both of those things. (Or should I say, all three of those things?!)

Bill knew immediately what he wanted to move on to, but unfortunately I’ve had a harder time. What was my life going to look like now? I say “my life” because it wouldn’t just be my professional life changing, it would be *everything* in my life. We’ve been married nearly 17 years and 15 of those were spent not only being life partners, but business partners, as well. So when we realized that it was time for us to step away from photographing weddings, that also meant saying goodbye to working together.

Not only was so much of my identity and worth wrapped up in my profession, now I had also lost my partner in crime. We had lived, ate, breathed weddings. We used to joke with our friends that they could talk about their kids all they wanted, as long as we could talk about our “baby”. Of course, they’re still parents even when their kids grow up and are out of their house. What were we now? What am I? Who am I if I’m no longer a wedding photographer?

As artists, we (unfortunately) feed on ego and suddenly we no longer had the joy or stimulation of creating lasting memories for those couples, their families, and friends-how could our identity not be wrapped up in that? And we weren’t with them just for one day, but for many months pre- and post-wedding for many months (oftentimes, years). Suddenly the life I’d known for 15 years disappeared. Seemingly gone in a puff of smoke that I hadn’t seen drifting my way.

And we never, ever wanted to go to a couple’s wedding dreading it. That can be a little tricky when you book weddings so far in advance, of course, which is why we knew in early 2015 that we needed to listen to that heart thumping even when we didn’t think we wanted to. At the very least, we owed it to our clients, current and future.

People marveled at how we could work together, because they felt working with their spouse was a surefire track to divorce. Yet for us, working together just worked. We loved it actually. And now that Bill is out of the house during the day pursuing other passions, I miss him and our “old” work life. Terribly. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? For us, not so much. We thrived working together.

To be honest, getting to run a business with Bill allowed me a lot of slack, though. I didn’t have to communicate to clients on the phone, he gladly did so. I didn’t have to do the majority of the talking in client meetings; I could take notes and concentrate on the details of each client relationship, while already imagining what their wedding was going to look like. We were the perfect match in that he was an extrovert and wonderful storyteller, who I have no doubt is a big reason we booked a lot of gigs. He was my business half. I, as an introvert, focused on the creative aspects of our business, keeping detailed client notes, branding, album design, etc. He took the lead during the “formal” photographs and got the “safe” shot which freed me up to disappear into the background and get the “money” shot. I was his creative half. We made a great team. But it also allowed me the freedom to slip further into that introversion, staying quiet. Staying small.

In large part thanks to writing, meditation, and rereading some of my blog posts, I recently came to the realization that it’s actually more than just analysis paralysis. Before I can decide what I want to do in this next chapter, I need to process my grief. I knew I was grieving the loss of physical parts of myself last year (see: mastectomy), but I realized that I had been oblivious to the bigger picture – what I lost of myself emotionally.

Even though it was time and we knew it was the right decision, I’m feeling that loss more intensely than I ever believed I would. Being a professional wedding photographer for almost 15 years (ie. the majority of my working life) was what I knew. I loved it. And I was good at it. But I thought once we decided to pack away our gear, most likely, for good, I would be more then ready to turn to the next chapter. The Universe, however, had different plans.

Our last wedding was in late Fall 2016 and then the holidays hit. After that I was getting ready for my mastectomy in early Feb 2017. And admittedly, freaking out a little bit that I was actually, really, truly, no going back now, going to have this surgery. I no longer had an unforgiving and crazy wedding schedule to “hide” behind.

Given the stress and pain of my long recovery into late last year, I guess it’s little wonder I didn’t realize that I had not only lost my business partner and my breasts, but also myself. And not in the good HPA way. (You know, Lose Yourself, We’ll Find You®. Still pretty proud of that one.) The true impact of the last five years hit me like a ton of bricks. And it knocked me flat.

New hometown.
New home(s).
New friends.
New boobs.
New career.

Another thing I realized is that leaving wedding photography, also meant leaving many of our friends behind as a result. A large majority of our friends are still in the wedding world and suddenly we don’t have as much in common with anymore. The industry continues to evolve and change and we’re no longer along for the ride. You start to feel that you can’t as easily relate to the people who you were once closest to, at least for those friendships based on business relationships. Add to that being two thousand miles away now from most of them and it’s no wonder that many of those close relationships begin to, sadly, fade away. Understandable, certainly and no one’s fault, but still, difficult.

So I no longer fit in that world, but I also feel completely out of place because I’m not yet in another world.

The good news is now that I know why I’ve been feeling so stuck, I’m doing the work (internal and external) and each day I get the gears get a little more greased up and it’s easier and easier to move forward. I’ve been dipping my toe, okay, maybe a whole foot, into the interior design world and absolutely loving the transformations I’m creating, not only in people’s spaces, but, as a result, their lives. I’m learning completely different tools in PhotoShop and experimenting with mood boards and floor plan software. I’m working on a personal (maybe business) labor of love that I look forward to sharing more about in the coming months. I’m also writing, taking it all Bird by Bird. And, as I sit typing this on my laptop, looking at the beautiful and inviting spaces I’ve created in our home, Callie sleeping by my side, instead of focusing on missing my work husband, I find myself grateful. Grateful for the wonderful years we shared working side by side on a shared passion. Grateful for what we taught each other. Grateful for all the amazing opportunities we’ve had to be a part of each others lives.

And who knows, perhaps someday the opportunity shall present itself again to once again team up. Never say never.

Plus, we now have way more to talk about on date night other than whose album we’re working on, when were so & so’s prints coming in and why the F self-employed health insurance has to cost so damn much!

Not only did we arrive in Boulder that day with 3k sq ft of stuff that we were pretty sure wasn’t going to all fit in our new 735 sq ft condo, we also weren’t sure how we were going to fit into our new lives here. We couldn’t have foreseen how our first five years here would play out, but we have no regrets. We know in our hearts we’ve made the right choices for us, even if it took our “heads” a little while to catch up.

And while there are a lot of things we haven’t been able to replace, like great Ethiopian food and my beloved Maryland blue crabs, it’s mostly hard to see pictures of “home”, because it reminds us how many friends we had to say goodbye to. We’ve been lucky enough to make some great friends now out here, but it’s definitely a little harder not having our trusty Client-to-Friend Generator.

Home will always be where Bill and Callie are, but as we toast to our five years here (hey, we’re almost natives now, right?), we know without a shadow of a doubt that Colorado is our home. And will be for the foreseeable future. But who knows. Maybe (likely), we’ll hear that thump, thump, THUMPING again someday. And we will listen. With any luck, we’ll hit another home run.

Photo by our wedding photographer, Johnny Chauvin! I surprised Bill with a “17th anniversary session” when we were in New Orleans earlier this year for his birthday. Feels like a lifetime ago and yet, like yesterday.


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